Micah tried to keep his eyes from straying to that handsome guy near the bar. He seemed to turn up everywhere Micah went. It had to be the same guy. How many men in this white area of the country had that dusky skin that showed African ancestry and triangular prism dreadlocks that looked very well taken care of? His eyes were light brown and his hair wasn't any darker than Micah's, so he must have white ancestry as well. Was the old woman he brought to the physical therapist's office last month really his grandmother? He'd called her Grandma Rose, but she'd only called him Dear, so Micah hadn't discovered his name.
The guy also worked part time at a coffee shop Micah went past on his way to a coffee shop that was more accommodating to his abilities. And the guy and a bunch of other young people went ski boarding two weeks ago at the lodge Micah preferred. Did they go there all the time? Or had seeing him just been a wonderful coincident?
Carmen sighed and set her purse on the table. "I really should be getting home, so my kids will remember what I look like."
After weeks of ten and twelve hour days, Micah's team had just completed the features of the game. Now the product was going to the betas so the team was celebrating before they all went home to recuperate. Micah wished Carmen would just head out already. She was good at her job, but she tended to treat Micah as if he were one of her kids. He might have been the size of grade schooler, but he despised being treated like one.
He was every bit a man with adult needs, only he had a hard time meeting someone who would look past the small body and the wheelchair and see the person he really was.
Except that guy by the bar. They had talked at the PT's for almost twenty minutes and the entire time the guy had looked him in the eye. Micah had been treated like he was anyone else with thoughts and feelings and ideas. The guy had even laughed at his jokes. He was the first person Micah could recall comfortable enough to do that with him the first time they meet.
Only they hadn't talked about anything important. What he wouldn't give to know the guy's name.
Angie bumped Micah's wheelchair and Micah forced his concentration back to the table. Carmen lowered her brows. He would not give her a change to dig. "Have you bought your husband a present yet? Isn't his birthday tomorrow?"
Carmen's eyes widen. "Yes. Thanks."
Micah watched her until he was sure she had gone. The guy wasn't standing at the bar anymore, but the two Asian boys he was with still were, so he must be around somewhere.
"See something you like?" asked Angie.
Micah shrugged. "Someone I know."
"Go." said Angie with a smile. "I'll pour Vahe into his house this time."
"Thanks." Micah looked around. Where was the guy?
He was at a table not far from the bar, looking at the two Asian boys. Come to think of it, those two had gone snowboarding with him too. Or at least some Asians had. Plus two little black girls if Micah recalled correctly. The girls had stayed by the lodge and built snowmen.
The only chair at the guy's table was the one he was sitting it, which made it easy for Micah to slide his chair in across from the guy. The Asian boys looked at him and then his quarry turned around. The guy looked him in the eye, but without any recognition. Maybe he looked everyone in the eye, no matter how different they looked. Which was good on the face of things, but somewhat disappointing because it meant that Micah wasn't special.
The guy blushed and looked down at the table. "Uh, hi."
Micah grinned. "Can I buy you a drink?"
The guy shook his head and gestured with his shoulder towards the bar. "I'm designated driver tonight for Tom and Huck over there."
Tom and Huck? Like Mark Twain's boys?
"That only means you'll be stuck talking to me for the next hour." Micah lifted his hand and a waiter appeared. That was why he liked this particular bar. No one made him wrestle his wheelchair through the crowd in order to get a drink. "What can I get you?"
The guy blushed again. He licked his lips and chose what Micah was drinking, a local brew that was good, but would certainly taste better on the guy's tongue.
"Micah Winter," said Micah, but he didn't hold out his hand because if the guy hadn't noticed the wheelchair and how small Micah's body was, Micah wasn't going to advertize it.
The guy met Micah's eyes again and then looked away. "Ax Rose."
"With a K-S. I actually prefer Aksell. But I'm not the only person with that name."
Micah grinned. "Did you parents do that on purpose?"
Aksell shook his head. "No, they signed the papers that made me their son and looked at my new name and cringed. My birth mother named me A-X-L like the singer, but I was four already, and so they only changed the spelling and not the name itself. They kind of regret that now. My mom calls me AJ and my dad calls me Ace."
Micah looked down Aksell's long jaw, hairless neck, his wide shoulder and muscular arms. "Well, I like it."
Aksell blushed again. "Well, it's only that my parents love books. They even met in a library. All my brothers and sisters have names from books they both like."
Micah nodded towards the Asians at the bar. "Tom and Huck."
Aksell grinned and his tongue peeked out. "No, they are really Sawyer and Finn."
Micah looked back at the boys. "I think Tom and Huck fit them better."
"So do I."Aksell's laugh was a very sweet sound. And a hot one. Micah shifted in his chair to ease his discomfort. Aksell was dangerous, a secret weapon. If Micah wasn't careful, he'd fall in love. Or at least lust. But that was probably too late to worry about.
"First are Sawyer and Finn. I'm next. I'm older, but I'm my parent's third son."
Which meant that he had to be at least twenty-five if he was adopted at four and Finn was already born and was now old enough to enter a bar. Unless Finn was adopted too. Twenty-five was a good age, still young enough to be active, but old enough that Micah wouldn't feel like he was robbing the cradle. No matter how old, Aksell looked agelessly young and beautiful.
"Next come Gale, Lennox, Bennet, Shirley, Liddell, and Hawkins. My parents—"
Micah held up his hand. "Wait. Is Lennox for Mary in iThe Secret Garden/i?"
Micah had loved that book as a kid before he was old enough to realize that even though his legs would hold him up, he'd never be able to walk. Although once he discovered wheelchair sports, his seated state hadn't kept him from his own version of snowboarding, mountain climbing, paragliding, and racquetball. Colin had been his hero.
Aksell grinned and nodded.
"Is Hawkins for Jim?" As a kid, Micah had wanted the pirates to win. He'd thought Long John Silver made a better surrogate father than the doctor did.
"Shirley and Gale sound like first names. But they aren't, are they? Dorothy from Oz? That's Gale, right? Shirley? Anne with an E?"
Aksell laughed. "Very good. My folks will be so impresses."
Will. He couldn't mean Micah meeting his parents. That would be so far off if it ever did happen. Micah better not get ahead of himself. "Say them again."
"Sawyer, Finn, Gale, Lennox, Bennet, Shirley, Liddell, and Hawkins."
Aksell smiled. "And me."
"Bennet is from Pride and Prejudice? Just for Lizzy or for the whole bunch?"
Aksell leaned back. "I don't know. I never asked. Like I said, my parents would like you."
"They read good books." Micah smiled. But really what kind of people would want their son dating a guy half his size? He wasn't going to let that stop him. "So I've got Tom and Huck, Dorothy, Mary, I'll say Lizzy, Anne, and Jim."
"I call Sawyer and Finn, Tom and Huck, but I don't call Lennox and Bennet, Mary and Lizzy. They are fifteen and twelve and still kind of sensitive about being named after girls. Shirley thinks her name is too old fashion and goes by Lee. But Gale says her names so old it's new again. She's eighteen."
Micah nodded to the bar. "Tom and Huck?"
Aksell looked at his brothers with real affection. "Sawyer is twenty-three and Finn turns twenty-one today. He couldn't wait for the weekend to go out. Sawyer keeps telling him stories about how much fun he has bar hopping, but he never talks about the hangover afterwards. I'm here to make sure they don't do anything stupid."
"I'm glad you're here tonight."
Aksell blushed and looked away.
He was beautiful and soft, but not in a bad way. He looked strong enough to lift Micah if it came to that, but he wasn't rough with anything. He even held his glass lightly. Micah wanted those hands on him.
Aksell turned back to him. "Do you come here often?"
"Every month or two after work. I work with that guy who's making a fool of himself on the dance floor and the red head dancing with that big black guy."
Aksell looked over and sighed. "Sometimes I wish I'd gotten that tall. Or even as tall as her."
"Sometimes?" Micah was glad he hadn't. Micah was just less than four feet tall and had drawn a hypothetical line in the sand for the height of guys he'd date. Hypothetical because he'd never had the opportunity to turn someone down for being over five six. Aksell looked to be around that height or maybe a little shorter. His height was hard to judge because he had that "tall" look about him. In front of slightly shrunken furniture, Aksell could easily pass for six feet. Micah shifted again in his chair. Thinking about Aksell was getting painful, but not painful enough to stop.
"Yeah." Aksell smiled. "I'm small and nonthreatening, so kids like me. I'm going to be a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. Only…" He turned and met Micah's eye. "I've got another weird name in my family. My Grandma Rose."
The lady he took to the PT appointment.
"Some people call their grandparents by their first name, Grandma Mary, and some by their last, Grandpa Kinston, but my grandma married a man whose last name was her first name, so she's Rose Rose. She said that proves just how much she loved him.
"She's my great grandmother twice over. My birth mother was her granddaughter and so is my dad. My dad's adopted too, from Korea. I live with Grandma Rose. She broke her hip a few years ago when no one was around to help her. She didn't panic or anything, though. She told the paramedics that she had just waited for one of her grandchildren to turn up because we always did. She lives down the block from my parents, but she fiercely independent even though she's almost ninety, but she agreed to let me stay with her after my parents convinced her that their house really wasn't big enough for all of us. And because I remind her of Grandpa. We looked alike in silhouette. We are the same shape. But different colored."
Micah would know Aksell loved his grandmother from his smile alone, even if he hadn't seen how patient and gentle he was with her at the physical therapist's. "I like the color you are."
Aksell blushed. He looked at his drink. "I guess I'm a lightweight. It makes me talk too much."
"I like hearing you talk." He also liked all the love Aksell had for his family. His childhood must have been full of joy. And anyway, Aksell wouldn't be the only person in history to turn chatterbox when they were trying to impress someone. If he was trying to impress Micah.
Aksell pushed his drink away. "Anyway. I should be going."
"Wait." Micah held up his hand. "I haven't guessed Liddell yet."
Aksell sank back in his chair. "That's right."
"I'm going to guess nineteenth or early twentieth century."
Aksell nodded. "Mid eighteen hundreds."
"And it was either a book written for kids or one read by kids now."
"Liddell's a girl? Is she named after a girl?"
Aksell nodded. "But this one isn't really fair because the last name isn't mentioned in the book, I don't think. She's named after the girl that the book girl was named after."
Micah hesitated. "That wouldn't be Alice, would it?"
Aksell grinned and picked up his drink. "No one gets the right on the first try. You really have to meet my parents."
Micah would love to meet Aksell's parents if that meant spending even one night with him. But it might mean no nights. Micah had to temper his thoughts. "Maybe the reason no one guesses is because the name is pronounce 'little'."
Aksell nodded. "But little wouldn't make a good name. She goes by Liddy. She'd like you."
Micah licked his lips. He was getting drunk just being around Aksell. "And why is that?"
"We both really like blue eyes and you have the most beautiful blue eyes I have ever seen."
So that's why he looked Micah in the eye. Shifting position really wasn't helping. Micah pulled out his phone. "Give me your number. We'll get together later."
Micah held his breath until Aksell pulled out his phone. They exchanged numbers and Aksell sent him a test text. Micah wanted to take his picture. A visual was always better for him than memory. Tom and Huck—Micah would probably always think of them that way—came over and draped themselves on Aksell. They both had looked smaller at a distance, but they were probably his size or even taller.
"Aks," said the one with blond streaks. "Introduce us."
"Micah Winter. I work around the corner from Aksell's coffee shop. Although I haven't seen him there lately."
Aksell blushed. "That's because I got a job in a medical clinic last summer."
Tom and Huck pulled up chairs and sat down. The one with all dark hair glanced down at Micah's wheel. "Sawyer." He shook Micah's hand and the pointed at his brother. "Finn."
Micah nodded. "Tom and Huck."
"You told." Huck—Finn pushed on Aksell's shoulder. Aksell pushed back.
Sawyer grinned. "He told you he would."
"I thought he meant someday, not today."
The boys horsed around with each other, like brothers should. Micah's parents had always though he was too delicate for his brothers to play with him. They were only a few years older than him, but he knew nothing about them and they him, judging by his Christmas presents.
The boys all look behind Micah and hands touch his shoulders. "Micah," says Angie. "Vahe wants to hit a new bar. His stuff is still in your car."
Micah rolled back to better fish his keys from his pocket. Aksell stood up, his eyes wide. Micah hated Angie and Vahe. He thrust his keys at her. He hoped the music at their next bar was undanceable.
"Hey," said Aksell, "I know you. I met you when I took Grandma Rose to physical therapy."
Micah nodded. This was now or never time. Either he'd win or fall into ruins.
"And," said Sawyer, "You're the guy on the mountain."
Aksell opened his mouth then shut it.
"That was so cool," said Finn. "You rushing down the mountain on your board. Aksell nearly orgasmed just watching you."
Aksell smacked his brother's arm. "You weren't supposed to say that."
Then it was true.
Finn sidestepped Aksell. "So when is your date?"
"Well, it can't be tonight, genius, because Mom would kill me if I left you here."
"Sorry, Aks," said Finn as if he wasn't. "I always ruin your fun."
This time Sawyer smacked him. Finn pouted and rubbed his arm. "Did you see what he did to me?"
Aksell put out his hand. "Show it to me. You might need a cast. You better not go snowboarding this weekend just in case."
"No," said Finn, straightening up. "It feels fine."
Sawyer rolled his eyes and grinned at Micah as if Micah were part of their crowd. "Brothers."
Micah's brothers weren't like this at all with him, but he grinned back, happy to be included.
"So," said Sawyer, "we can't go anywhere else because our designated driver had a beer."
"Only one," said Aksell.
"I bought it for him," said Micah.
Sawyer grinned at him. "Then you need to keep him company for another hour or so. I'll see if I can find someone willing to dance with birthday boy here."
"Hey," said Finn. "I can find my own partners."
"Prove it." Sawyer sat in Aksell chair and drained his glass then turned to the dance floor. Aksell sat in the chair Sawyer had pulled up, which put him right by Micah. He looked down at the table and gnawed on his bottom lip. He was adorable. Micah was very glad he'd bought him that beer, since it meant more time with him.
And since Aksell couldn't leave, Micah might as well flirt. He put his hand out and brushed Aksell's. Aksell blushed. Sawyer grinned. "I think I see a woman who wants to dance with me."
He strolled across room to a woman who shook her head. He didn't give up, but she didn't seem unset or annoyed by the attention. Micah liked that persistence. "I think I like your brothers."
Aksell smiled. "They like you."
"And," Micah laid his small white hand on Aksell's bigger, darker one. "I like you too."
Aksell blushed again. He licked his lips. "And I…"
Angie dropped Micah's keys on the table. "Thanks. See you Monday."
Micah closed his eyes. He had never disliked this particular coworker as much in all the time he'd known her. He didn't trust his voice, so he just nodded.
Warm lips covered his own. He opened his eyes quickly. Aksell pulled away, blushing, and looked at his hands. "I just wanted to see if they were as soft as they looked."
Micah's heart beat loudly in his ears. "Are they?"
Aksell glanced up. "I think so."
"Do you want to try again, just to see?"
Aksell's eyes lit up.
Micah was having his best evening in forever.