This book was given to JOANNA Rączkowska on Instafreebie. www.instafreebie.com
Table of Contents Floating Into My Life Description Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Other Books by J.C. McMurphy About The Author
Floating Into My Life An M/M Gay Romance Novella J.C. McMurphy
Description Working in the kitchen at a strip club in Hawaii isn’t the most exciting job in the world, but it pays the bills. And it gives Brandon enough free time to work on his true passion: building a sail boat by hand. Always touched by a bit of wanderlust, his dream is to build his boat and sail it around the world, seeing all the sights the world has to offer. When he meets Sean, a soldier from the local army base, their lives become entangled. Brandon is faced with a choice between giving up everything to be with his soldier, or following his dreams and leaving love behind. This is a companion story that follows Rogue Wave by J.C. McMurphy. The stories are standalones, but the location is the same and some of the characters appear in both books.
“So, why do you want to work in a strip club?” Brandon shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He cleared his throat, looking over his shoulder, then turning back to the scantily-glad brunette who was sitting across from him. “Umm, well, I won’t really be working in the club, right? I mean, I’ll be in the kitchen.” Tandy waved a hand dismissively. “Sure, sure. But why a strip club kitchen, and not, oh, I don’t know, McDonald’s? Or a nice restaurant even. Or one of the hotels on the beach.” Brandon sighed. He knew there were a lot more “reputable” places to work. He personally didn’t have any problems with strip clubs—it was honest work, and as far as he was concerned, only uptight people with judgmental moral views would give anyone a hard time about it. But of course, that didn’t mean it had been his first choice. “I need a job,” he said with a shrug. “I applied to a bunch of different places. This is the only one that called me back.” “I guess that’s fair,” Tandy said. She leaned her elbows on the table, leaning forward in a way that made her full breasts nearly fall out of her flimsy top. Brandon didn’t pay them much attention. He was more attracted to the muscular bouncer standing by the door. In truth, he probably wouldn’t have come to work in the strip club if he were straight. He couldn’t imagine how a straight guy could get any actual work done in a place like this, instead of spending his whole shift staring at the girls. “Why do you want to work here?” he asked her, glancing over his shoulder again, looking for the manager. He’d come in here for an interview with the
manager, not with one of the dancers, and while Tandy seemed like a nice enough girl, she was making him just the slightest bit uncomfortable. He couldn’t pinpoint why. Maybe, he supposed, it was the provocative way she was leaning forward, flashing her generous assets at him. Something which would have turned another man on, but instead made him keep shifting in his seat. She smirked. “I’ve got tuition bills to pay, sweetie. Just got back into school, and this is the best way I know of paying for it.” “You make that much?” Brandon asked, his eyes going wide. She giggled. “Honey, with all the boys coming in from the army base every weekend, I make so much I might keep working here even after I graduate.” “Wow.” Brandon suddenly wondered whether working in the kitchen would even be worthwhile. Maybe he would be better off finding a male strip club and dancing for tips. Though he knew he would never be able to undress on stage in front of other people. He was far too selfconscious for that. There was a part of him that considered it nonetheless, thinking about what a thrill it could be to do something so wild. But “wild” was definitely not a word anyone would ever use to describe him. “Brandon?” Brandon turned around and saw the manager, a grufflooking fellow dressed in a black silk shirt with the top few buttons undone. He waved Brandon over. Brandon waved back, then turned to Tandy and said, “I’ve got to go. Maybe I’ll see you later.” “Good luck,” she said with a wink. He headed back to the manager’s office for the interview. The manager didn’t ask him why he wanted to
work at a strip club. He started off instead with a basic list of questions about food service: Did he have prior kitchen experience? Could he work nights and weekends? Did he have a food handler’s training certificate? Was he reliable? Brandon answered all of the questions positively, trying to play up his experience and skills, though the manager seemed pretty bored with the entire line of questioning. At the end of the interview, the manager’s face grew more serious. He leaned forward and tapped his fingers on the desk. “One very important thing, if you’re going to work here. I need to know you’re not going to be harassing the girls.” “Oh, of course not,” Brandon said. “I would never.” “Yeah, I hear that all the time.” The manager snorted. “Half the guys I have to fire, it’s because they were trying to peek into the girls’ dressing room, or asking them out on dates, or trying to sneak up front to watch the show when they’re supposed to be working. You get an employee discount if you want to come see the show on your day off, but while you’re here, you’re here to work.” “I can assure you,” Brandon said, “I have absolutely no interest in the girls.” The manager frowned. “What, are you gay or something?” Brandon shrugged. “Well, yes.” The manager blinked. “Oh,” he said. “for real?” “Yup,” Brandon said. He held his breath, wondering if this would be a deal-breaker. He’d never been denied a job before because of his orientation, but it was always something he worried about. He never knew when he might run into someone with restrictive ideas about such things.
“Well,” the manager said, nodding. “Good. That’s great.” “It is?” “Yeah. I mean, you sure as hell won’t be trying to peek into the dressing room, am I right?” He laughed, clapping Brandon on the shoulder. Brandon forced an awkward laugh. “Yeah, that’s for sure.” The manager opened a drawer in the desk and pulled out some paperwork for Brandon to fill out. “Well then,” he said, “as long as you don’t start hitting on the bouncers, we’re fine. Can you start tomorrow?” “Sure thing,” Brandon said. He took the papers and started filling them out. The pay wasn’t great—just a bit above minimum wage—but a job was a job. It was a temporary arrangement anyway, not that he would tell the manager that. He had other plans for his life. For now, he just needed a way to pay his rent while he got his life started. And there just had to be enough money left over to fund his personal project at home. After all the paperwork was filled out, the manager shook his hand, then walked him to the door. “Casual dress is fine for the kitchen,” he said. “Jeans, t-shirts. We don’t have uniforms. Not like the girls would be wearing them long if we did, right?” He chuckled. “Just wear something clean. No stains or rips. And nothing offensive on the shirt, keep it civil. And bring a hat. Health code, you know? If you don’t wear a hat, I have to give you a hair net. I hate hair nets.” “Sure,” Brandon said. “No problem.” He headed out, crossing by the stage on his way. It was early in the day yet, so there weren’t many people there. A few tourists and businessmen in rumpled suits sat in the front row, ogling a blonde girl as she swung
herself around on the pole. Brandon didn’t pay the girl much mind, except for being impressed with how agile and flexible she was. He spotted Tandy on his way out the door. She flashed him a smile and asked, “Well? How’d it go?” “I start tomorrow.” “That’s great!” She stepped over to him and gave him a big hug. He awkwardly patted her back, a bit uncomfortable at such close physical contact with a halfnaked woman he barely knew. “Thanks,” he said. “I guess I’ll see you then.” He headed home, pleased with the good news. Next month’s rent would no longer be up in the air, and it was a big relief. Though part of Brandon wondered if he was getting himself into something that would be more than he could handle. Somehow he knew that working at a strip club was going to be an unusual experience.
Over the next few weeks, Brandon worked a full schedule, pulling forty hours a week in the strip club’s kitchen, and sometimes picking up overtime when another member of the kitchen staff called in sick. It was grueling work, with lots of heavy lifting when food deliveries had to be put away, and an immense amount of cleaning in order to keep the place sanitary. The manager was a stickler for making sure every inch of the kitchen was spotless. Brandon was a bit surprised that a strip club would be held to such strict standards, but he quickly learned that the manager was constantly worrying about every health code regulation out of fear that the place could be shut down over code violations. One of the other cooks told him that some of the more conservative members of the local community had tried to get the place shut down a few times in the past, and they needed to be extra vigilant to avoid any possible problems. He rarely found himself in the front room where the girls danced, since there was a separate employee entrance that he and the other cooks used. And he didn’t need to leave the kitchen during his shift, since the girls would come back to fetch a customer’s food and deliver it to their table—usually showing up topless and offering them a lap dance to go with their meal. Even during their breaks, the cooks stayed in the back, eating at a table set up in the storeroom as an employee break area, since the manager was quite adamant that none of the staff bother the girls while they were working. When they happened to get their breaks at the same time, Brandon started getting to know Tandy better. They
chatted a bit here and there, usually about little things, from the weather to politics to current events. But after he’d been there a few weeks, she started opening up to him, and the conversations became a bit more personal. “You ever think you could torture someone?” Tandy asked one day, sitting in the back with a college textbook in front of her. “Huh?” Brandon gave her a confused frown. “Torture.” She peered at him over the top of the book. “Like, electrocuting someone until they did what you wanted.” “God no.” Brandon sat up straighter, feeling a bit put off at the question. “Why…what would make you even ask that?” “It’s right here,” she said, laying the book down on the table and showing him a picture of a man with electrodes stuck to his face and chest. “It’s not real, of course. It was an experiment. They wanted to see if they could get regular people to torture someone and say they were ‘just following orders.’ Like, to see how come people like the Nazis did all that horrible stuff.” Brandon skimmed the page, frowning. “That sounds pretty weird.” “I know, right?” Tandy took the book back, flipping through it. “But it’s real interesting, right? I mean, regular folks, and they got them to do horrible stuff—fake horrible stuff, there wasn’t really any electricity hooked up —and most of the people went through with it. All because some guy in a white lab coat was telling them what to do.” “Well, I’d never do something like that,” Brandon said, leaning back in his chair. Tandy smiled. “Maybe you don’t think so. But it’s psychology.” She tapped the book cover, right under the
title: Introductory Psychology. “People can be manipulated into all kinds of weird things.” “Like how you get people to empty their wallets when you’re on stage?” Brandon asked. Then, realizing he might have offended her, he added, “Sorry. I didn’t mean that like it sounded.” “No, it’s okay.” She smirked and flipped to another chapter of the book. “There’s a whole chapter in here on how good-looking people can make people do what they want. I mean, duh, right? But there’s all kinds of studies. Even if people think they would be a bigger person, and judge someone by their personality.” She put down the book and pressed her hands under her breasts, lifting them up. “People are really motivated by appearances. Doesn’t matter if it’s the appearance of a naked woman getting men to empty their wallets, or the appearance of a guy in a white coat giving orders.” “Hmm.” Brandon rubbed his chin. “I guess I never thought about that before.” “Me neither,” Tandy said, shrugging and picking her book back up. “It’s a fun class though.” “Sounds like it.” Brandon glanced at the book again. “So, is that what you want to do? Become a psychiatrist.” Tandy shrugged, flipping through the pages of the book. “I don’t know. I’m just taking all the introductory classes right now. English, sociology, philosophy. See what I like. I dropped out of school the first time because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. So now I’m trying to find out.” “I know what that’s like,” Brandon said. Tandy arched an eyebrow. “I guess you don’t know what you really want, either, or you wouldn’t be working as a cook in a strip club kitchen.” Brandon chuckled. “Actually, I know what I want. I just
need to pay the bills until I can get it.” “Oh? What’s that?” Brandon opened his mouth to answer, then thought about it, and instead asked, “How about I show you? After work tonight.” Tandy gave him a curious look. “Oh?” “No funny business, I promise,” he said with a smile, holding his hands up. Tandy knew that he was gay, so he knew there was no way she’d mistake his invitation as a come-on. She’d told him before that she had very strict rules about not dating co-workers, or customers. Especially customers. There was one, a man named Jack, who apparently kept asking her out, and she kept saying no. She laughed. “Well, yeah. Unless you suddenly changed teams or something, I guess there won’t be.” She thought it over for a minute, then nodded. “Sure thing, kid. I’m game. Soon as I get done.” “Deal,” Brandon said. After work that night, they headed back to Brandon’s apartment together. Brandon didn’t have a car—he couldn’t afford one on his meager wages, especially since most of his money was being used for his special project—so Tandy drove them. Brandon’s apartment was on one side of a small suburban home that had been split up into two individual dwellings, sharing a common yard and front porch, but with separate entrances for each half of the house. The left half was home to a couple with a young baby, though Brandon didn’t know them that well, beyond saying hello to them when they crossed paths and occasionally chatting about the weather. The right half of the house was rented by Brandon. “It’s not much,” Brandon said as he let Tandy into the
apartment. “Kind of cramped. But the rent is cheap, and that’s a big help.” “It’s nice,” Tandy said, looking around at the cramped living room. There was barely enough room in it for two chairs and the small entertainment center that held Brandon’s TV, his old PlayStation 2, and his stereo. He also had a smaller TV and an old but still functioning Super Nintendo tucked away in his bedroom upstairs. He never had the money for more modern electronics, and he didn’t see the point in investing in such things. He didn’t want to own anything more than he could take with him when he moved. “So, what was it you wanted to show me?” Tandy asked while she looked around the room. She stepped over to a shelf hanging on the wall, examining the knickknacks kept on display there. “It’s out back.” Brandon headed back through the kitchen, waving for her to follow. They went outside into the cramped backyard, which was divided into two sections by a tall wooden fence. On the other side of the fence, the neighbors’ yard held some lawn furniture, a barbecue grill, and an inflatable, child-sized pool. Brandon’s side of the yard was filled from one end to the other with the large wooden framework of an incomplete construction project. Tandy studied it for a few moments with a slight frown on her face. “What is it?” “It’s a boat!” Brandon put his hands on his hips and grinned, studying the work-in-progress that filled the back yard. Tandy tilted her head to the side. “It is?” “Yeah. Well, I mean, it’s not done yet.” He held his hands up, gesturing to different parts of the framework. “See, here’s the bow, and that’s the stern.”
Tandy tilted her head to the other side. “I…still don’t see it.” “Well, it’s upside-down,” Brandon said. “Easier to assemble the hull that way. And I’ve got a lot of work left to do. But that’s my baby.” “Hmm.” Tandy started walking around the boat frame, studying it from different angles. At one point, she twisted around until she was nearly hanging upside-down, in order to get a better look at it. “Ohhhh, I see it now. How long is this going to take you? I mean, doing it by hand? I can’t even imagine.” “Yeah, it’s a pretty big project.” Brandon opened up the tiny tool shed that stood against the back of the house, showing Tandy the blueprints stapled to the back of the doors. “It’s just under forty feet. I’ll be able to take out at least half a dozen people on her when she’s done. The cabin is going to be back here.” He pointed to a portion of the blueprints. “Three pairs of bunk beds. The top bunks will fold up into the wall when they’re not being used, so the bottom bunks can be used as benches, and you can fit a table in between them, so it’ll double as a dining space. Plenty of room on deck for fishing, or sun tanning, or just enjoying the ocean air.” He took a deep breath, picturing what it would be like once the boat was finished and he could take it out sailing. “It’s going to be great.” “Wow.” Tandy looked over the blueprints, though from the look on her face, she didn’t seem to understand them at all. “And you’re doing this all by yourself? That must be crazy.” “Well, my dad was a carpenter,” Brandon said, closing the shed and replacing the lock. “Taught me all about woodworking. Everything from building furniture to repairing houses. Never did anything like this before.” He
gestured to the boat frame. “So it’s a learning process. But I’ve got a solid set of blueprints, I’ve got the tools, and I’ve got the time and motivation to get it done.” “How long is it going to take?” Brandon shrugged. “A couple of years, I guess. It’d be faster with more people working on it, but I’m in no rush. I work on it a few days a week, mostly on my days off. Or before work sometimes, since I don’t usually come in to work until the dinner rush. I figure I can get it seaworthy by the end of the year. Fixing up the cabin and working on all the detailed pieces, that’ll take a bit longer.” “Isn’t this expensive, though?” Tandy looked the boat over one more time. “I mean, how can you afford this on a cook’s salary?” Brandon chuckled. “It’s not a fiberglass speed boat. Every single thing on it is going to be hand-crafted from natural materials. And wood isn’t too expensive. Boat this size, bought brand new? Depending on the materials and features, could be twenty, thirty, maybe sixty thousand dollars. More than that if it’s fancy, like a yacht, but my boat is going to be pretty simple. Comfortable, warm, and perfect for getting away from it all. Once it’s finished, I’m going to live on it for awhile. Make my living fishing. Won’t have to pay rent, or an electric bill, or anything like that. Just a few hundred a month for marina fees. It’s gonna be great.” Tandy shook her head, wearing a slight smile on her face. “I don’t know about that. I don’t mind going out on a boat every now and then for fun, but living on one? I’d start to miss dry land. And electricity.” “The whole point is to unplug.” Brandon ran his hands along the smooth, sanded wood of the boat. “No phones. No TV. Just the water, the fish, and solitude. Bring some books and lay out on the deck reading all day. Play cards
down in the cabin. Sail from one place to another, meet new people, see new sights. And once I get enough sailing experience under my belt, maybe sail across the ocean. First head east to California, then sail down along the coast until I hit South America. Then, who knows? I could go anywhere.” “Across the ocean?” Tandy pointed at the boat, wearing an uncertain frown. “In that?” “Why not?” “Isn’t it kinda small for that?” Brandon chuckled. “People have crossed the ocean in boats half this size. Just need good navigation, enough supplies, and a radio for emergencies, just in case. I’m not saying it’ll be easy. I’ll want to get a few years experience on the water before I try it. But it can be done.” Tandy crossed her arms under her breasts, looking him up and down. “Well. Go figure.” “Huh?” Brandon frowned in confusion. “When you started working at the club, I didn’t take you for the adventuring type. But I guess you can’t judge someone by appearances.” She snorted. “Heck, I should know that better than anyone. Most guys I meet judge me by these.” She lifted her breasts in her hands. “I bet most people wouldn’t figure a stripper to be studying psychology, right?” “It would definitely surprise a lot of people,” Brandon said. “Well, then here’s to surprises. And hey, once you get it finished, I’ll come out with you and help you christen it. I’m not crossing the ocean on that thing.” She waved her fingers at the boat. “But I’d love to go around the islands on it. If you don’t mind some company.” Brandon smiled. “I’d love the company. You’ll have to
learn how to sail, though. Learn to tie knots and adjust the sails, that sort of thing.” She winked at him. “Honey, we do a bondage show every Thursday. I know how to tie a good knot.” Brandon laughed, then led Tandy inside. They ordered a pizza, opened a case of beer, and spent the rest of the night talking about where they would go once the sail boat was finished.
A few weeks passed before Brandon had saved up enough money to start with his first sailing lessons. His only boating experience before had been on his father’s motorboat, so while he had a general knowledge of working on a boat, he didn’t have any experience on a sailboat. He’d been studying everything he could online for months, but there was no substitute for actually getting out there on the water and doing it hands-on. He headed down to the wharf one day, ready to start the first of what he was sure would be a great many lessons before he was ready to sail on his own. The wharf wasn’t far from the local army base, and there was a beach nearby where he knew a lot of off-duty soldiers came to relax and unwind. As he made his way over to the wharf, he spotted a group of them barbecuing on a portable grill, playing volleyball, surfing, and enjoying the nice weather. Brandon had never considered joining the army, but he figured that it couldn’t be too bad for guys who ended up stationed on a tropical island. The soldiers certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves, and he was enjoying the view of their muscular bodies, especially since most of them weren’t wearing shirts. A few of the soldiers hooted and hollered at a pair of bikini-clad women who walked by, reminding Brandon that they were probably all straight. He sighed and moved on, hurrying so he wouldn’t be late for his lesson. When he reached the slip number he was looking for, Brandon found a sailboat tied there, waiting and ready to go. It was a bit smaller than the one he was building, and it was painted blue and white. He stood there on the wharf for a moment, studying the watercraft. There were
a lot more ropes and other parts than he’d expected. It was a lot different getting up close and personal with a sailboat instead of just looking at pictures of them online. “Are you Brandon?” Brandon turned towards the voice and saw a woman climbing the steps out of the sailboat’s small cabin. She was dressed in a pair of Speedo shorts over a bathing suit, and she wore a baseball cap and a pair of dark sunglasses. She looked at him over the rim of the sunglasses, waiting for a response. “Hi,” he said, offering his hand. “Nice boat.” She smiled, shaking his hand. “It gets me around. Come on board. We’ll get started.” The woman introduced herself as Chelsea. She got right down to business, asking some questions about Brandon’s previous boating experience, before showing him how to get the boat ready to sail. She guided him every step of the way, showing him how to set a rope or tie a knot, before undoing it so that he could redo it himself and get some hands-on practice. They spent over an hour just going over things while the boat was still tied to the dock, and though Brandon was itching to get out on the water, he understood the need to go over everything in careful detail before setting sail. When Chelsea finally asked him, “Okay, are you ready to get out there and do this for real?”, he was more than ready to go. “Definitely,” he said, grinning. “Let’s do it.” “Okay. Let’s see how much you remember. Show me what comes first.” She watched and offered guidance as he repeated the steps she’d taught him. Before he knew it, the boat was sailing away from the wharf, slowly picking up speed as he angled the sail into the wind. Once they really got
moving, Brandon started to relax, feeling the familiar sensation of the wind in his hair and the salty spray of the sea water against his skin. Navigating the sailboat might have been different from his experiences on his dad’s motorboat, but it was just as thrilling once he was out on the water. In a way, it was even more exciting, since adjusting the sails and steering the boat by hand was a much more personal experience than turning a steering wheel. Towards the end of the lesson, Brandon was feeling like he was getting the hang of things. Not enough that he would try to sail a boat by himself, to be sure, but enough that he could make his way through the steps without being reminded about each and every one. So when Chelsea told him it was time to head back to shore, he decided to turn the boat around without asking for guidance. Things were going fine until they got closer to shore and they had to veer around a couple of surfers. Chelsea stepped up to help him adjust the sails. “Give them a wide berth,” she said. “And slow her down a bit. You don’t want to create too much wake and knock them over.” “Right,” Brandon said, adjusting the sails to lower their speed. Most of his boating experience in the past had been in rivers and bays close to shore, and he knew how dangerous it could be when a boat was speeding past and churned up a lot of wake as they went by. Larger boats speeding past carelessly could capsize a smaller boat. His father had always made sure to warn Brandon against putting others into danger in such a way. While they were veering around the surfers, a couple of men on jet skis came racing towards them. Brandon tried to steer around them—there was the entire, wide-
open ocean to sail in, so there was no reason they should have come even remotely close to each other— but the jet skis were veering erratically in the water, weaving back and forth on unpredictable paths. The men hooted and hollered as they raced by, and Brandon wondered if they might be drunk. “Watch out for those guys,” Chelsea said, taking over the steering for a moment. She aimed the sailboat away from the raucous jet skiers, but one of the men aimed his jet ski right towards them, racing past at unsafe speeds. For a moment, Brandon worried that they were going to collide. Instead, the jet skier raced alongside them, sending up a thick curtain of salty spray as his jet ski whizzed past. The spray hit Brandon right in the face, making him stagger. His foot slipped, and he started to lose his balance. He reached out to grab hold of something, anything, but his hands flailed helplessly in the air. Before he could figure out what was happening, he fell overboard and landed in the cold water. Brandon had fallen off his father’s boat once when he was just a young boy. It had been one of the most terrifying experiences of his life. First, confusion and vertigo. Then sudden silence as water closed around his head and filled his ears. The panic that set in when he realized he couldn’t breathe. It had lasted only a few moments before his father pulled him out, and looking back on it, he didn’t think he’d really been in serious danger. But in the moment that he hit the water, there was no rational thought. Only panic. Thankfully, Chelsea had insisted he wear a life vest before they set sail, and he bobbed back to the surface right away. He coughed and sputtered, flailing about as he tried to orient himself. The taste of salt water filled his
mouth, and his vision was blurred. He started treading water as soon as he got his head together, though the water was rough enough that without the life vest, he worried he would have gone right back under the waves. He was still looking around, trying to get his bearings, when a voice called out to him, “Are you okay?” It took him a moment to find the source of the voice. A rather attractive man in tight swim trunks was paddling over to him on a surfboard. The man knelt on the board and used his hands to propel it through the water until it was right alongside Brandon. “That was a nasty spill,” the man said, offering Brandon a hand. “Thank God you were wearing a life vest.” Brandon took the man’s hand. The man helped Brandon up onto the surfboard in a sitting position. “Yeah, thanks,” Brandon said. “Those jackasses should be more careful.” He looked off into the distance at the jet skiers. They had already sped off on their way to harass someone else, showing no concern for his safety. The surfer patted Brandon on the back. “Well, glad to see you’re all right.” He shook Brandon’s hand. “I’m Sean.” Brandon gave Sean a grateful smile. “Brandon. Thanks for the help.” “No problem.” Sean smiled. Brandon looked around until he spotted Chelsea’s sail boat. She had turned it around and was making her way back over towards him. When she pulled close to the surfboard, she tossed them a rope. Sean grabbed it and used it to pull the surfboard over to the boat. “I can’t believe those assholes!” Chelsea said as she offered Brandon a hand and helped him back on board. “I should report them to the Coast Guard or something.” “It’s all right,” Brandon said, climbing on board. “I’m
not hurt.” “Well, you could have been.” Chelsea put her hands on her hips, glaring across the water at the jet skiers in the distance. She shook her head. “Well, we should get back to the docks.” She nodded at Sean. “Thanks for your help.” “Happy to be of service,” Sean said, giving her a salute before he turned his board around and started paddling away. Brandon watched him go, wearing a bemused smile. He wasn’t used to seeing people salute like that. Though as he watched Sean go, he realized the reason: Sean paddled over to the beach where the army men were hanging out. He joined them, dragging his board ashore, then disappearing into the crowd that had gathered around the barbecue. Brandon watched until he had lost sight of Sean, then returned his attention to Chelsea’s instructions as they approached the dock and tied the boat off. Once everything was secure, they disembarked, and Chelsea said, “Well, I hope that little accident didn’t put you off sailing. You’re a natural. It’d be a shame if you didn’t come back.” “I’ll definitely be back,” Brandon said. “Same time next week?” “Sounds good.” They confirmed the details of the appointment and payment, then Brandon headed off to go home. As he was walking past the beach, he scanned the group of offduty soldiers there, seeing if he could spot Sean. There was no sign of him. Brandon let out a slight sigh of disappointment, but he had mostly put the attractive soldier from his mind by the time he got home.
Chapter 4 Over the next few weeks, Brandon took sailing lessons on a regular basis, getting a little better each time. He knew he’d need a lot more work before he’d be ready for an ocean-crossing voyage, but he was confident that by the time he finished building his boat, he’d be able to at least take local sailing trips without help. His routine at work continued to be dull and repetitive. But it was a job, at it paid the bills, with enough left over in his paycheck each week for lumber and building supplies. He tried to stay out of all the drama that could pop up at the club—unruly customers were a periodic problem, but that was up to the bouncers to deal with. Though one day when he was finishing his shift, he found himself dragged into a mess that he couldn’t avoid. While he was walking out the door, Brandon spotted one of the bouncers dragging an inebriated man out the door. Brandon recognized the man as one of the off-duty soldiers who frequented the club. They usually poured through the doors on payday, spending half of their earnings on beer and lap dances. Brandon couldn’t understand throwing your money away like that, but he supposed it was different when you didn’t have to pay for rent or food, since the soldiers living on the army base had their room and board provided for them. The bouncer shoved the soldier down the street away from the club. “Next time you come here,” the bouncer said, “learn how to hold your liquor and keep your hands to yourself. Otherwise you won’t be let back in.” “Hey, screw you man,” the soldier said, making a rude gesture. Brandon felt his heart rate pick up, fearing that the
confrontation might start to escalate. But the soldier turned away from the club and started walking down the street, stopping at a bench by the bus stop and sitting there with his head in his hands. Brandon hesitated. He was heading to the same bus stop to head home, but he didn’t want to provoke the drunken man into some kind of rash behavior. He headed over anyway, staying a few steps away and avoiding eye contact with the soldier. He stood there awkwardly, with his backpack—holding his work clothes and shoes, since he always changed clothes after a day in the kitchen—slung over his shoulder. He tried to find anything else to look at other than the man on the bench. He studied the leaves on the trees, read the nearby street signs, and watched a passerby walking their dog down the street. It seemed to work just fine, since the soldier ignored him, barely raising his head the entire time they waited at the bus stop. He saw his bus starting to pull up, and he hoped that the soldier wouldn’t be getting on the same bus. When the soldier made no sign of moving, Brandon heaved a sigh of relief, grateful that there hadn’t been any sort of incident. That is, until the bus stopped in front of them and the soldier looked down the street, back towards the club. A moment later, the soldier got up and started hurrying back towards the club. Brandon hesitated with one foot on the bus’s step. He watched the man go, frowning in confusion. Then he saw where the man was heading: Tandy had just exited the club and was heading for her car. “Damn,” Brandon muttered. He watched for a moment, unsure what to do. The bouncer was back inside the building. And while Brandon normally wasn’t the type to play hero, he didn’t like the idea of leaving Tandy to deal
with the drunken man alone. “You getting on or not?” the bus driver asked. Brandon looked up at the bus driver, then stepped back, waving the bus away. The bus driver glared at him, shaking his head, then closed the door and drove off. Brandon headed back towards the club, hurrying to catch up with Tandy and the soldier. When he reached them, Tandy was standing next to her car, with her keys in her hand. He also noticed that she had a small can of pepper spray attached to the key ring, and she was clutching it between her fingers. “Go home and get some sleep, Jack,” Tandy said, holding herself stiffly with the pepper spray at her side. “You’re much more fun to be around when you haven’t had so much to drink.” “I could be fun,” Jack said, leaning forward and placing one of his hands against the car door. “Come on, Tandy. We could have a lot of fun.” “I told you before,” Tandy said. “I don’t date customers. You want fun? You get the kind you pay for in one of the private dance booths. Otherwise, you go home, drink plenty of water, and get some sleep.” “Tandy, don’t be like that,” Jack said. He was leaning forward, as if he might try to kiss her. “You know how I feel about you.” Tandy’s hand tightened on the pepper spray. “Everything okay here?” Brandon asked, stepping forward. He didn’t know what he would do if there was a problem. He didn’t know how to fight. Tandy was probably better equipped to defend herself than he was. But he couldn’t just stand there and do nothing. Jack looked his way. Brandon could see the lack of focus in the drunk man’s eyes. He didn’t look mean, or angry. Just drunk enough to be making some very poor
life choices in that moment. “I’m just talking to my girl here.” “I’m not your girl.” Tandy tried to step away from him. She gave Brandon a long-suffering look, and he got the feeling this was something she’d dealt with many times before. Jack turned back towards her. He took a stumbling step forward. He reached out, as if to caress Tandy’s cheek. She dodged the touch, throwing Jack even more off-balance. He tried to catch himself, but he tipped forward, his face smacking against the side of the car before he fell to the ground with a pained grunt. Tandy sighed, rubbing a hand over her face. “You okay?” Brandon asked. “Yeah,” she said, tucking her keys and pepper spray back in her purse. “He’s harmless, really. Just keeps making a damn fool out of himself.” She put her hands on her hips, looking down at him and shaking her head. The look on her face surprised Brandon. She didn’t seem mad, really. More annoyed, but with a touch of… affection? There was even the ghost of a smile on her lips. “I thought he might hurt you.” Brandon stepped forward, examining Jack. The soldier had passed out, and there was a large bruise forming on his face. “Well, a girl can never be too careful,” Tandy said. “But he wasn’t going to hurt me. Jack’s a good man. He just can’t take no for an answer. Especially when he’s drunk.” “If you say so…” Brandon frowned at the unconscious man. He’d known some guys who could get quite dangerous when they wouldn’t take no for an answer. He just hoped Jack would sober up and back off, so that next time they wouldn’t have to call the police. “What do we do with him?” Brandon asked.
Tandy chewed on her lip. “I guess we can’t just leave him here. Let me call a friend of mine.” “A friend?” Brandon frowned. “An army friend,” she said. “Well, at least he used to be.” While Tandy was on the phone, Brandon dragged the unconscious Jack away from the car, then stuck his backpack under Jack’s head as he laid him out on the ground. A minute later, Tandy stepped over to him and said, “My friend should be here soon. He’ll get Jack back to the base.” “I’m surprised you’re putting so much effort out for someone who was harassing you,” Brandon said. “I’m half-tempted to just leave him here.” Tandy sighed, wearing a conflicted look on her face. “Well, I dunno. When he’s sober, he’s sweet, and he’s a good tipper. Always has something nice to say. Always buys drinks for his friends. And he’s never hit me or anything like that. That’d be where I draw the line. He’s just…overly affectionate. If he gets a little handsy and flirtatious now and then…” She shrugged. “I guess that comes with the job, right?” “I don’t think I could deal with a job like that,” Brandon said, crossing his arms and staring down at the unconscious man. “Well, I won’t have to once I finish school,” Tandy said. A short while later, a jeep pulled into the parking lot. Two men got out. One immediately went over to Tandy and gave her a hug. The other hung back, but after a moment, Brandon recognized him. “Hey,” Brandon said, stepping over and offering his hand. “Funny meeting you here.” Sean smiled when he recognized Brandon. He shook Brandon’s hand with a firm grip. “Hey,” he said. “You
know Tandy?” “Everyone knows Tandy,” the other man said with a smirk. Tandy smacked him on the chest. “Hey! What’s that supposed to mean, Dean? Is that a stripper joke?” “Oh, definitely not,” Dean said, taking a step back and holding his hands up defensively. “I just mean you introduced me around the island when I first moved here. It seems like everyone knows your name.” Sean rolled his eyes. “Take it easy, guys. Where’s Jack?” Brandon led Dean and Sean around to the other side of the parking lot, where they’d laid Jack out. Jack was just starting to stir, blinking up at them wearily. “Whuzza?” Jack mumbled, rubbing at his eyes. “What’d you do, clock him one?” Sean asked, looking at the purple bruise on Jack’s face. “What?” Brandon stepped back with a look of shock on his face. “No. Oh, no. I would never.” Sean chuckled. “Hey, I wouldn’t blame you if you did. He’s a friend of mine, but even I want to punch him in the face when he’s had too much to drink.” He leaned down and grabbed one of Jack’s arms. Dean took the other, and together, they hoisted Jack up, wrapping his arms around their shoulders to support his weight as they carried him to the jeep. “Come on, Jack,” Sean said as they lifted him up. “Let’s get you home so you can sleep this off.” “I’m fine,” Jack said, even though he stumbled with every step as they dragged him along. “I’m fine, lemme go.” “The only place you’re going is back to your bunk,” Sean said. “And you’d better hope Sarge doesn’t bust your ass for coming back to base with that shiner.”
“Wait,” Jack said, trying to pull away from the other two men. “Wait, wait, wait. Tandy…” He looked blearily at her. “Tandy, I’m sorry, baby. You know I love you.” Tandy sighed, rolling her eyes. “Go get some sleep, you stupid man.” Brandon noticed that same tiny smile touch her lips again. Brandon opened the door to the jeep so that Dean and Sean could load Jack inside. After Jack was tucked away in the back seat, Sean gave Tandy an apologetic smile. “Thanks for calling us. Instead of, you know, the police or something. The last thing I need is one of the guys from my unit being brought in by the cops. We’d all end up paying for it, one way or the other.” “Man, I don’t miss that,” Dean said, shaking his head and wearing a wistful smile. Tandy snorted. “I just hope that fall knocked some sense into him this time.” “Yeah, fat chance of that.” Sean chuckled. He clapped Brandon on the shoulder and said, “Thanks for your help. Maybe I’ll see you at the beach sometime.” “Yeah, maybe,” Brandon said. He couldn’t help but smile as he met Sean’s eyes. “You miss your bus?” Tandy asked after the other guys had left. “Oh. Yeah.” Brandon looked back towards the bus stop. It would be another hour before the next bus came. “Come on,” Tandy said, touching his arm and nodding towards her car. “I’ll give you a lift.” They got into the car. As he was buckling his seat belt, Brandon noticed Sean’s jeep pulling out of the parking lot, heading back towards the army base. When the jeep drove off, Brandon found himself wondering if he could find time to get down to the beach
more often, just in case he was lucky enough to run into that handsome soldier again.
The next time Brandon had a sailing lesson, he headed down to the beach early, to see if Sean might happen to be around. There was no sign of any of the army guys on the beach that day, so he did his best to hide his disappointment as he headed up to the wharf to meet up with Chelsea for his lesson. The week after that, it was the same way, and even when Brandon swung by the beach a couple of times on his day off, he found that he was out of luck. He was starting to give up, out of fear that he was becoming too obsessive over someone he barely knew, when an unexpected opportunity suddenly fell right into his lap. He was heading to the bus stop after work one day when Tandy exited the club behind him, calling out his name. When he turned towards her, she waved him over. He hurried over to the parking lot, casting a glance over his shoulder at the bus stop to make sure the bus wasn’t coming. He didn’t want to miss it. “Hey,” Tandy said, flashing him a warm smile. “I was meaning to ask you, are you doing anything tomorrow?” “For Fourth of July?” Brandon rubbed his chin. He hadn’t really made any plans that day. “No, why?” “Well, the club’s always closed that day,” Tandy said, shrugging. “No business.” “Really? I would have thought it’d be busy.” “Nah.” Tandy shook her head. “Everyone’s down at the beach, or at barbecues, or doing the family thing. It’s not exactly a prime day for topless dancing. All the married guys are too busy with their kids and stuff, and the single guys are out being sociable.” “Ahh. Well, it’s good to have the day off at least. Did
you have plans?” “Well, that’s why I was asking,” Tandy said. “There’s a beach party with some friends of mine. You remember Dean? Me and him and a bunch of our friends are getting together. You should come.” “Yeah?” Brandon gave it a moment’s thought. A beach party certainly sounded fun, and he didn’t get the chance to be social too often. “I’d like that.” “Cool.” Tandy opened her car door, then gestured for him to join her. “Here, I’ll give you a ride home. And I’ll pick you up tomorrow for the party, okay?” “Sounds good.” Brandon headed home and spent the rest of the afternoon working on his boat. He’d been making slow but steady progress over the last few months, though the boat was a long way off from being finished. A few more months, he figured, and the main hull and most important structural parts would be finished. Then he’d move on to detailed work, particularly in the cabin. The next day, he got up early, showered, and got dressed. He wore a pair of swim trunks under his jeans, just in case he ended up going in the water, and he splashed on some cologne, something he rarely bothered with. He tried to tell himself that he wasn’t trying to impress anyone. After all, he had no idea if he would meet anyone at the party. But Tandy had said that her friend Dean would be there, and since Dean was friends with Sean… He shook off that train of thought when the doorbell rang. He went outside and found Tandy waiting there, dressed in skimpy denim shorts and a bikini top. “Happy Fourth,” she said, giving him a hug. “You ready to have some fun?” “Always,” he said.
They headed down to the party. It was at an isolated beach, away from the areas more commonly frequented by tourists. There was a small, open-sided beach house sitting in the shade of some palm trees, and a buffet table had been set up inside. There were people tanning on the beach, while a group of men played a game of touch football. There were also several coolers filled with drinks. Tandy had brought a case of beer along, and Brandon carried it from the car, unloading the bottles into one of the coolers. For the first hour or so, Brandon just mingled a bit, having a few drinks to loosen himself up. He wasn’t the most sociable person, and he didn’t know anyone there, so it was a bit awkward. But everyone was friendly enough, and they all seemed to know Tandy, so they accepted him as well. He was heading back up to the beach house for a third beer, when a familiar face approached him. “Hey,” Dean said, walking over to Brandon with a welcoming smile. “You’re Teresa’s friend, right?” “Teresa?” Brandon frowned. He didn’t know any Teresa. “Err, sorry,” Dean said, laughing. “Tandy?” “Oh, Tandy.” Brandon rubbed his chin. “Is that…short for Teresa or something?” “Tandy’s her stage name,” Dean said. “For when she’s at the club. I guess since you work there with her, that’s the name she goes by on the clock.” “Ohhhh.” Brandon laughed at his own foolishness. “I should have known. None of the girls seem to use their real names. Unless their parents were all hippies… Half the girls at the club have names like Starshine and Crystal and Candy.” “Oh, I remember,” Dean said with a smile.
“You used to come to the club?” “With some of my army buddies,” Dean said. “Yeah, they used to drag me down there every other week.” “Army buddies? Like Sean?” Brandon’s interested was suddenly piqued. “Oh, no.” Dean laughed, shaking his head. “No, Sean isn’t the type to go to that kind of club…” Brandon was about to ask what that meant, when a muscular man in tight shorts and no shirt came over, handing Dean a beer. They kissed intimately, then Dean gestured to Brandon. “Brandon, this is Bryan. Bryan, Brandon. He works at Teresa’s club.” “That so?” Bryan eyed Brandon from head to toe, arching an eyebrow. “I think I’d have remembered seeing you on stage.” Brandon felt his face heating up. He must have turned bright red, because Bryan and Dean both laughed out loud. “I work in the kitchen,” Brandon said. Dean’s face spread in a huge grin. “Do you know how to make that fried onion thing? Because if so, I might just fall in love with you.” “Hey now,” Bryan said with a slight frown. Dean chuckled, then kissed Bryan on the cheek. “Those things come frozen, actually,” Brandon said. “Oh. Oh no.” Dean put a hand over his heart, a look of mock sadness crossing his face. “Don’t tell me that. Let me have my illusions.” Brandon chuckled. “Oh, of course. We actually grow the onions ourselves. There’s a vegetable patch behind the stage.” Dean laughed, then he invited Brandon to join them in a game of Frisbee Football that was about to start. Brandon wasn’t too athletic, so he had a bit of a hard
time keeping up with some of the others, especially Bryan, who had a surfer’s muscular body. But he had a good time, and no one was taking the game too seriously anyway, so it was all in good fun. As the afternoon wore on, Brandon realized that he hadn’t seen Tandy—or Teresa, as he now knew her—in awhile. He looked around the beach, but she was nowhere in sight. “Hey,” he said to Dean as they were walking away from the completed Frisbee Football game. “Have you seen Tandy? I don’t see her anywhere.” “Oh, I don’t know.” Dean scanned the beach, looking for her. “I think she picked someone up,” Bryan said. “What?” Brandon asked, frowning. “She was flirting with some guy.” Bryan waved vaguely in the direction of the beach house. “Last time I saw them, they were heading off together.” “Oh. Damn.” Brandon rubbed my chin. “What’s wrong?” Bryan asked. “Jealous?” “No, it’s not that. I mean, if she’s getting some, then hey, good for her. But she’s my ride…” Dean and Bryan exchanged a look. Dean clapped Brandon on the shoulder and said, “No worries. We’ve got you covered.” “You sure?” Brandon didn’t want to turn down a ride— he had no idea if there was even a bus back home from where he was—but he didn’t want to impose on a couple of guys he’d only just met. “No problem,” Dean said. Then, after a moment’s thought, he added, “We’ve got another get-together after this with some of my old army buddies. You can come along, if you want?” “Yeah?” Brandon felt his mood perk up. “Sure. Sounds
fun.” They had a bit more to eat, then drove down to a different beach, which was quite close to where Brandon had his sailing lessons with Chelsea. There were several dozen people there, most of them attractive, muscular men, along with a few young women dressed in skimpy bikinis. Loud music was playing, and a couple of groups of men had broken off into some full-contact games of football and volleyball. The games were much more aggressive than the lighthearted game of Frisbee Football Brandon had played earlier; the players tackled each other into the sand and shouted victory cries when they scored, high fiving and chest bumping each other in massive displays of testosterone. Dean and Bryan were starting to introduce Brandon around to some of their buddies, when a football landed in the sand right at his feet, throwing up a spray of sand into his face. He stepped back, waving a hand in front of him to ward off the sand, then looked around to see where the intrusion had come from. A muscular man jogged across the sand, then reached down and grabbed the football. “Sorry about that. Almost nailed you with that one.” When the man stood up and smiled at Brandon, he realized that it was Sean. “Oh,” Sean said, holding out a hand. “Hey there.” “Hey.” Brandon squeezed the man’s hand, holding the grip for an awkward moment that lasted just a bit too long. When he realized he was holding on too long, he pulled away, chuckling nervously. “Hey. How’s it going?” “Not bad. Not bad. Well, we’re losing.” He nodded back towards the other men who were waiting for him to come back with the football. “But other than that, everything’s good.”
“Good. Good.” Brandon rubbed his hands on his pants. He couldn’t quite figure out what to say without coming off sounding like a dork. One of the other players shouted for Sean to hurry up. Sean waved to him, then turned back to Brandon. “You play?” He tossed the football up in the air and caught it again. “We’re actually short a man, so the teams are odd. We’ve got room for one more.” “Football?” Brandon looked warily at the waiting players. “Umm, not really.” He looked around, scratching the back of his head. He realized he hadn’t seen Dean and Bryan for a minute, and he spotted them off by one of the barbecues, getting some food. Dean smiled at him and winked, and Brandon realized he might have been abandoned on purpose. He took another look at Sean’s bare, muscular chest. Maybe being abandoned with him wasn’t such a bad thing. “Sure,” Brandon said, changing his mind. “I mean, I’m no good, but why not?” “Works for me,” Sean said, chuckling. He waved for Brandon to follow, then jogged back over to the game. He made some quick introductions, and the other players eyed Brandon uncertainly, no doubt able to tell at a glance that he wasn’t the most athletic person. But nobody protested him joining the game, and moments later they were lined up on the sand, ready for the next play. Brandon fumbled and got tackled so much that he was sure he was going to end up being kicked off the team. But while the other players teased him a bit, they kept it lighthearted. He felt like a bit of a fool when his eyes were drawn to Sean’s bare chest and all he could think about was Sean tackling him down to the warm
sand, but they were on the same team so he knew that wasn’t going to happen. The game eventually broke up as the sun was starting to set. After the last play, Brandon stayed down on the sand where he’d fallen after failing to block the man with the ball. He stared up at the sky, catching his breath. He was more worn out than he could remember being in a very long time. It wasn’t that he was in bad shape— working on his boat involved a lot of physical labor, building strong muscles—but he wasn’t used to this kind of aerobic activity, running around under the sun. He wasn’t sure if he would be able to get up, let alone make it back home. Just when he was resigning himself to laying on the beach until morning, Sean came over and offered him a hand up. “You look beat,” Sean said, grinning as he pulled Brandon to his feet. “We weren’t too rough on you, were we?” “Oh…no…” Brandon stood up, then immediately leaned over, bracing his hands against his knees. He took some deep breaths, trying to steady himself. “I get my ass kicked at football games all the time.” Sean laughed, clapping Brandon on the shoulder. “Here, come on. Have a seat and get something to eat. You must have worked up an appetite.” They headed over to the barbecue area, getting some burgers and grilled chicken. Now that the light was failing, most of the people at the party were sitting at the picnic tables, or lounging in the sand around a bonfire. They couldn’t find any empty chairs, so Sean and Brandon sat together in front of the fire, balancing their paper plates in their laps. “So,” Brandon said, feeling the awkwardness as the moment stretched out. He hadn’t really had a chance to
talk to Sean before now, and he was feeling uncertain about how to proceed. “So,” Sean said. “you been keeping your head above water?” “What?” Brandon frowned in confusion, until he remembered the awkward day he’d first met Sean. He laughed, thinking back on his clumsiness when he’d fallen off the sail boat. “Oh, right. Yeah, I haven’t fallen overboard again. The lessons are going pretty well.” “So you want to be a sailor, then?” Sean said. “Could have just joined the Navy instead. They’d have taught you everything you need to know.” Brandon snorted. “Yeah, sure. I’d probably just end up mopping the deck all the time. Or…is it swabbing? Swabbing the deck?” “Yeah, I’m sure it’s not so glamorous. Working on a ship like that isn’t exactly a pleasure cruise. Maybe you should stick with your sail boat.” “Plus,” Brandon said, holding a finger up, “if I have my own boat, I get to be the captain.” “Definitely way easier than working your way up through the ranks for that promotion.” Sean clapped Brandon on the back, laughing. Brandon laughed as well, but his laugh was a little nervous as he felt the touch of Sean’s hand against his back. It was a casual touch, but for a moment, he thought that the touch lingered longer than necessary. When Sean pulled his hand away, Brandon convinced himself that it was just his imagination, but he found himself wishing for the chance to feel that touch again.
When the evening started drawing to a close, Brandon looked around for Dean and Bryan. The crowd was already starting to thin out, with most of the party-goers having already gone home. But even with the crowd getting smaller, he couldn’t find any sign of the two men. When Sean saw him looking around, he asked, “You lose someone?” “Yeah.” Brandon frowned. “My friends…well, the guys I came here with. Looks like they ran off without me.” Brandon sighed. He couldn’t really say that he blamed Dean and Bryan. He didn’t really know them well, and he’d just been tagging along anyway. But after Tandy had ditched him earlier, he was starting to feel like a bit of a loser. “You need a ride or something?” Sean asked. Brandon’s eyes lit up. He realized that maybe there was a perk to being abandoned after all. “Yeah,” he said. “That would be great.” They headed off the beach, brushing the sand from their clothes, and got into Sean’s jeep. They made small talk while they drove, and Brandon started to feel like they were getting a little more comfortable around each other. Though when they pulled up in front of Brandon’s apartment, a sudden nervousness settled over him. “Well, that’s me,” he said, nodding to the apartment door. He hesitated, feeling like he didn’t want the night to end just yet. “Nice place,” Sean said, glancing out the window. “How’s the rent?” “Not bad. Well, not bad for Hawaii.” Sometimes Brandon thought he should move to someplace like
Arizona, where the property values were a fraction of what they were out here. Then again, Arizona didn’t have any beaches, as far as he knew. It certainly wasn’t someplace he could sail to. “Anything would be better than living in an army barracks,” Sean said. “You have to bunk with a bunch of other guys. There’s no privacy. And they’re really strict about not leaving dirty laundry on the floor.” Brandon chuckled. “I would imagine so. Do they really make you scrub the floors with your toothbrush?” “Toothbrush, no. Scrubbing, yes. I’ve done plenty of cleaning duty. They say it builds character.” Brandon briefly thought about the cleanliness of his apartment. He was pretty sure there was some dirty underwear on his floor, along with some empty pizza boxes and scattered tools. Which made him hesitate for a moment before he asked, “Do you want to come in? Have a beer or something?” A small smile touched Sean’s lips. And while he knew it might have been his imagination, Brandon thought he saw a happy twinkle in Sean’s eye. “Sure,” Sean said, turning off the ignition and opening the door. “I’d love to.” They headed inside. Brandon quickly kicked some dirty clothes under the couch, silently cursing himself for not cleaning up earlier. But he’d been so busy with work, sailing lessons, and working on his boat, that keeping up with cleaning hadn’t been a high priority. Plus he hadn’t exactly been expecting company. His social life had been somewhat lacking lately, and he hadn’t been on a date, or had a guy over, in longer than he could remember. “Make yourself at home,” he said, gesturing to the couch. Thankfully, this was the one time it wasn’t covered in old laundry. Brandon headed into the kitchen, returning a moment later with a couple of beers. He
handed one to Sean, who was sitting on the couch, looking over the scattered tools and scraps of wood that Brandon had left on the coffee table. Sean was holding a piece of carved wood in his hands, turning it over with a curious frown. “What’s this?” Sean asked, holding up the piece of wood in one hand while he took the beer with the other. “A horn cleat,” Brandon said. “They go along the railing of the boat, so you can tie ropes to them.” “And you’re carving it by hand?” Sean’s eyebrows went up as he examined the cleat. “I’m making everything by hand,” Brandon said, before taking a swig of his beer. “The only parts I’m planning to buy pre-made are the sails and the ropes, because I don’t know the first thing about weaving cloth or braiding rope. And I’ll need to buy things like mattresses, a radio, and all that.” “I couldn’t imagine something that detailed,” Sean said as he examined the smooth lines of the wooden cleat. “I mean, I’m pretty handy with a set of tools, and I can tune the engine on a tank. But that’s just grunt work. This is artistry.” He set the cleat back on the coffee table. Brandon felt a swell of pride. He took another drink of his beer, trying not to let the praise go to his head. “Thanks. I learned a lot from my dad. Though the boat is a different experience entirely.” “Can I see it?” Brandon hesitated for a moment, then smiled and nodded. “Sure thing.” They headed out back. Brandon flipped on the switch for the floodlights that shone over the backyard. They illuminated the frame of the boat, which still had a long way to go, though it was a lot further along than it had
been a few months ago. Sean walked over to the boat, setting his beer bottle down on a saw horse standing near the bow. “Amazing,” he said, running his hands along the wooden frame. “I’ve never seen anyone make something this big by hand. You did this all by yourself?” “Afternoons and weekends, whenever I have free time.” Brandon stuck his hands in his pockets, walking up to stand by the bow with Sean. “It’s a lot of precision and detail work, mostly. Everything has to be perfectly balanced, or it won’t stay upright in the water. But working on it is really relaxing. There’s nothing quite like losing yourself in a project. Working with your hands. Letting the hours pass while you take what started as a bunch of unworked lumber and turn it into your own creation. And the satisfaction of seeing the progress you make from one day to another. Here, check it out.” He pulled out his phone and opened his photo gallery, opening a folder labeled “Boat Progress.” He handed the phone to Sean and let him flip through the pictures, which showed the week by week progress he’d made as the boat slowly evolved from a pile of lumber into the partially-formed creation it was now. “I’m planning on throwing up a website sometime,” he said. “Posting the pictures to show how the construction went, then once she’s seaworthy, posting pictures of the boat on the ocean, and of the places I’m going to visit.” “Sounds like a good time,” Sean said as he flipped through the pictures. “You think of a name yet?” “A name?” “For the boat.” Sean patted the wooden frame. “It’s bad luck to have a boat without a name.” “I guess I hadn’t really thought that far ahead yet.” Brandon rubbed his chin. “Got any suggestions?”
Sean crossed his arms, looking over the boat. “Well, I know some guys in the Navy. Most of the ships they sail on are named after cities and states, or retired admirals and war heroes, that sort of thing. Or patriotic things, like the USS Independence. But private vessels are usually different. I’ve seen lots of people with boats with names like the Blue Mackerel or the Soak ‘n’ Fused. Fish and puns seems to be the way to go.” “Hmm.” Brandon put his hands on his hips, looking at his boat. “Sounds a bit cheesy to me. I might have to go with something more traditional. I’m putting too much work into this to paint a pun on the hull.” “Yeah, you’re probably right.” Sean patted the boat, then stepped back and retrieved his beer. “I’d go historical. Something with some significance. Like, named after a famous explorer, or the first person to sail the Pacific. Something like that.” “Who was the first person to sail the Pacific?” Brandon asked. “I doubt anyone knows exactly,” Sean said. “Though I know the early Hawaiians sailed here from the Polynesian Islands, and the Polynesians sailed all over the Pacific for centuries long before any European explorers came out this far. Now that kind of thing takes some skill. Making your way thousands of miles with nothing but the stars to guide you. Though nowadays I’d never go on a boat that didn’t have GPS and a radio.” “Yeah, when I set sail,” Brandon said, “I’m going to make sure I bring plenty of modern equipment. I’m getting pretty handy at sailing, but navigating by the stars? I’d end up lost at sea and stranded on some deserted island somewhere.” “Might not be so bad,” Sean said. “Lots of sunshine. Plenty of privacy. All the coconuts you can eat.”
“I could learn how to make a coconut radio.” Brandon chuckled. “Or a coconut bikini,” Sean said with a smirk. His eyes roamed up and down Brandon’s body. Brandon shivered in the cool night air. He looked up and met Sean’s eyes. He thought back to that brief touch they had shared earlier. When he held Sean’s gaze, he started to think that the intimacy of that moment hadn’t only been in his imagination. He reached out, a bit hesitantly at first, and let his fingers brush against Sean’s. Sean returned the touch, their fingers intertwining. Sean took one last swig of his beer, then set the bottle aside. He tightened his grip on Brandon’s fingers, rubbing his thumb on the back on Brandon’s hand. Little shivers raced up Brandon’s arm, raising goosebumps on his skin. Brandon reached over and took Sean’s other hand. He stood there silently, unsure how to proceed. He was with a very attractive, muscular man, and his mind raced with thoughts of what he might like to do there in the darkness, with nothing but the floodlights illuminating them in the night. At the same time, he realized that they hardly knew each other. They’d only met a few brief times, and they’d only spent a few short hours together. Yet despite that, there was a spark there that he just couldn’t deny. A spark that made his breath catch as he gazed into Sean’s eyes. In the end, it was Sean’s boldness that made the decision for him. Sean leaned in, pulling Brandon closer. Brandon gasped just as Sean’s lips found his, and his hesitation lasted only a moment before he melted into the embrace, slipping his hands around Sean’s waist and
holding him close. They shared a sweet, tender kiss, there in Brandon’s backyard, while the cool Pacific breeze washed over them, tousling their hair and sending chills down Brandon’s spine. When the kiss broke, Brandon looked up at Sean, feeling his face heat up. He barely restrained himself from giggling like a schoolboy as he wrapped his arms around Sean’s shoulders, holding him close. When they parted, Sean ran his thumb along Brandon’s jawline, looking into his eyes. “You know, you’re pretty cute.” Brandon let out a nervous chuckle, lowering his eyes. It had been a long time since anyone called him cute. “Listen,” Sean said, taking Brandon’s hand again. “I should get going. Early day tomorrow. But we should get together this weekend.” “Definitely,” Brandon said, feeling breathless. They exchanged phone numbers, then shared another tender kiss, before Sean left to return to the army base. Brandon sat on his front porch, watching the jeep drive off into the night. He was still sitting there a few minutes later when his phone chimed with a text from Tandy: Hey! Sorry I skipped out on you earlier. I forgot I was your ride. Did you get home okay? Brandon smiled, still feeling the taste of Sean’s lips pressed against his. Don’t worry about it, he texted back. Turns out it was a bit of serendipity after all…
The next day at work, Brandon was in the back, washing dishes, when Tandy came into the kitchen, topless, grinning with excitement. “So?” she asked, pulling a t-shirt overhead as she walked past the other cooks. “Tell me about last night. Details, man, details!” The other cooks—all of whom Brandon knew were straight—ogled Tandy as she walked by half-naked. She ignored them, and none of them were crude enough to make any lewd comments or try to hit on her. Probably because they knew the manager would have their asses if they started harassing any of the girls. She leaned against the dish counter, grinning at him. Brandon’s face heated up and he couldn’t quite meet her eyes. “There’s no details, really.” “Oh, bull shit.” Tandy gave him an impatient look. “You went home with Sean, and you’re going to tell me nothing happened? Something happened!” “Well, nothing really happened,” Brandon said. “Not really.” Tandy laced her fingers together, rested her chin on her hands, and looked up at him expectantly. Brandon sighed. “We kissed. But that’s all.” “That’s ‘all’? That’s awesome! Is he a good kisser?” One of the other cooks grumbled to himself and walked away. Brandon ignored him. He had to listen to the other cooks talk about their conquests all the time, and if he had to listen to them talking about the women they slept with—usually in crude, almost pornographic detail—then they could deal with him talking about a guy. “It was…nice,” Brandon said, smiling as he remembered the kiss.
“Nice or ‘nice’,” Tandy asked, grinning. “What’s the difference?” “Well,” she said, “one leaves a pleasant memory, the other leads to you breaking out the hand lotion after your date goes home for the night.” Brandon’s eyes widened. He coughed, looking away. He shouldn’t have been surprised. Tandy had never been someone to act like a prude when it came to sex. He imagined that someone who took her clothes off for a living must have a very open-minded view about sexuality. “It was,” Brandon said, hesitating, “…very nice.” Tandy laughed and held up her hand to give him a high five. He returned the gesture, feeling a bit foolish, though it felt good to share the details of the night with a friend. “So, when are you seeing him again?” “Tomorrow night,” Brandon said. “Where are you guys going?” “I don’t know yet.” Brandon took out his phone and glanced at the screen. Sean still hadn’t called or texted. Brandon wasn’t sure whether he was supposed to text Sean first, or if he should wait and see if Sean made the first move. Part of him wanted to wait, in order to see how interested Sean really was. But then he wondered if Sean might be waiting for him to text first. That train of thought ran in circles in his mind for a few moments before he tucked his phone away, sighing. “Any suggestions? I haven’t been on a first date since…well, it’s been awhile.” “Well,” Tandy said, “there’s the usual: dinner, movies, mini-golf.” “Mini-golf?” Brandon frowned. “I really don’t think an army guy who surfs in his spare time is going to be
interested in mini-golf.” Tandy shrugged. “You can go for something a little more adventurous. Go explore the beaches, or go rock climbing down by the cliffs. Or there’s always luaus going on down in the hotel district. Might be a little too touristy, though.” “Yeah…” Brandon chewed on his lip, thinking it over while he loaded a rack of dishes into the dishwasher. “I just need to make sure it’s not too adventurous. I’m pretty sure if I tried to go rock climbing, I’d end up finishing the date with a broken leg or something.” Tandy shrugged. “Might get you some sympathy points?” Brandon rolled his eyes at her. Though he did briefly fantasize about the idea of Sean nursing him back to health while he was stuck in bed. Tending to his every need, giving him massages, not to mention sponge baths… “So,” Tandy said, smiling at him. Brandon blushed, hoping she couldn’t tell what he had been thinking about. “Something a little adventurous, but still safe enough for a fun time? Hmm…” She tapped her fingers on the dish counter. Then her eyebrows shot up and she snapped her fingers. “Oh, I know!” She explained her idea to him, and Brandon slowly nodded, realizing how perfect it sounded. By the time Tandy was finished, a big grin had spread across Brandon’s lips. “Sounds perfect,” he said, pulling out his phone. He stared at the screen, taking a deep breath. “Well, here goes nothing.” He texted Sean, suggesting Tandy’s idea for their first real date. Brandon and Tandy both stood there anxiously while waiting for the reply.
A couple of minutes later, Sean texted back: Sounds perfect! I’ll pick you up tomorrow afternoon. Brandon let out a sigh of relief. Tandy looked up at him with a smug grin on her face. “Thanks,” he said. “No problem.” Tandy’s grin widened. “Just make sure you share all the juicy details with me after the night is over.”
Brandon and Sean walked across the beach the next day, on the way to their destination. Brandon was brimming with a mixture of nervousness and excitement. “You know,” he said, “I’ve never actually done this sort of thing before.” “Me neither,” Sean said, giving Brandon a warm smile. “Always wanted to try it, though. Sounds exciting.” “Really?” Brandon let out a sigh of relief. “I’d be worried you might think it’s lame. Being in the army and all.” “What would being in the army have to do with it?” Brandon looked over at the docks, where a speedboat waited for them, near a building with a sign that read “Island Parasailing Tours.” “Well,” Brandon said, “I figured you might have actually jumped out of planes in a real parachute before, and this would seem lame by comparison.” Sean chuckled, shaking his head. “Army life isn’t so glamorous as all that. First of all, paratrooping isn’t something your regular old grunt goes through. That’s for people in Special Forces, or the Airborne Rangers. I’m in artillery. We mostly blow shit up.” “Damn.” Brandon rubbed his chin. “Still, that sounds pretty cool.” Sean shrugged. “Maybe the first couple of times. But it’s really all hard work and training drills. My unit’s never seen combat. Probably never will. A pretty sizable number of enlisted men and women can serve their whole careers without ever being deployed into a combat zone, or if they are in a combat zone, without actually seeing combat themselves. It depends a lot on where
you’re deployed, of course. Every time North Korea is in the news again, my buddies and I know there’s a chance we’ll be deployed up there. But mostly, we just keep working hard and we stay ready just in case. We keep ourselves and our unit in top shape so we’re ready to do what needs to be done.” “Wow.” Brandon stuck his hands in his pockets, looking out across the vast ocean before them. It was hard to remember sometimes, when he was living in a tropical paradise, that there was so much conflict going on in other parts of the world. Some of it not so far away, just on the other side of the ocean. They made their way up to the docks, where the man who ran the parasailing business was already waiting for them. They made their introductions, and he took them through some required safety lessons, making sure they knew how the equipment worked in order to reduce the risk of injury. A short time later, they were strapped side by side in the harness, while the speedboat raced ahead of them, drawing the parasail taut and raising them up into the air. Brandon clung to the handles on the harness, clenching his teeth as they rose higher and higher in the air. He looked down at the water below, feeling a sense of vertigo wash over him. Somehow, he hadn’t expected to go quite so far up, and they were still rising higher as the speedboat picked up speed and the driver let out more line so the sail could fly higher and higher. To the right, the island stretched out before him, and Brandon could see the rooftops of the nearby buildings, and the small specks of people walking along the beach and riding their bikes on the nearby trails. To the left, there was nothing but open sky and the vast expanse of the ocean, stretching off for as far as he could see.
Sean hollered with excitement, pumping his fist into the air. He grinned at Brandon, and when he saw how tense Brandon was, he patted Brandon on the arm. “Loosen up! You’ve got to let go and enjoy it.” “Easier said than done!” Brandon said, having to shout to be heard over the wind. “You’re strapped in tighter than a Catholic girl’s garter belt! You couldn’t fall out of this thing if you tried. Let loose and have some fun!” To demonstrate, Sean released his grip on the handles and spread his arms out wide. The wind blew through his hair, and the sun glinted off his sunglasses. He let out another joyful shout, clearly having the time of his life. Brandon took a deep breath, letting go of the handles and letting himself dangle freely in the harness. For just a moment, he worried that the harness wouldn’t hold, and he might fall. The harness held, and he started to relax into the moment, enjoying the freedom of soaring through the air. He let out a shout of excitement, thrusting his hands into the air. “There you go,” Sean said, putting an arm around Brandon’s shoulders. He pulled Brandon closer, leaning in to plant a kiss on his cheek. Brandon smiled, looking into Sean’s eyes. Then he pulled Sean in for another kiss, their lips locking together. They kissed while the wind buffeted all around them, until the parasail lurched, making Brandon shift and grab the handles once again. He tensed for a moment as the parasail leveled out again, then he let out a joyful laugh, taking Sean’s hand in his. They sailed around for more than an hour before the driver brought them back to the docks. When the speedboat slowed down, the parasail dipped down towards the water, until Brandon and Sean splashed into
the ocean, buoyed by the life vests they were wearing. Brandon splashed some cold water onto his face and ran it through his hair, enjoying the thrill of the moment as he rode his adrenaline high all the way down. The waves splashed against them, and Brandon put his arms around Sean, pulling him in for a kiss. The driver helped them out of the water and unstrapped them from the harness. Brandon leaned against Sean, with an arm around his shoulders, trying to regain his footing now that they were back on their feet again. Sean put an arm around his waist, holding Brandon close. Brandon’s heart was still racing from the rush of soaring through the air on the parasail. He was filled with unspent energy, and looking for a way to expel it. Unfortunately, any ideas he had about how to do so would have to wait until after they got back to shore. They shook hands with the driver and parted ways, heading down the beach together. Brandon didn’t want the day to be over yet, but he wasn’t sure where they could go for some more privacy. He looked around at all the people on the beach. It was definitely far too crowded for the kind of intimacy he had in mind. As if reading his mind, Sean smiled at Brandon, took his hand, and said, “I know someplace a little more private. It’s not far from here.” Brandon grinned. “Sounds great.” They headed down the beach, hand in hand. They continued down a ways until they passed through a stand of palm trees, then they passed by a row of beach houses. Some families were sitting out on the decks behind the beach houses, barbecuing, playing games, or tanning in the sun. Most of them looked like tourists, most likely renting the beach houses for their vacations. Halfway down the row of beach houses, Sean turned
and walked up towards a house that appeared to be empty. There was a small box with a combination lock hooked onto the door handle. Sean punched in the combination and pulled a key from the box. “Buddy of mine owns this place,” he said as he unlocked the door. “He rents it out when he’s not using it. And he lets some of us use the place if no one’s renting it. Some of the guys from the base bring girls here sometimes.” He opened the door and they headed inside. The house was small, with a quaint living room and a small kitchenette off to one side. There were two doors leading into bedrooms, and a third leading into the bathroom. The house was fairly sparse, with nothing but some simple furniture, an old TV, and a handful of books on a shelf against one wall. It was a cozy, comfortable place, but it clearly wasn’t any place anyone would call home. Sean headed into the kitchenette and pulled a couple of glasses from one of the cabinets. He used the ice maker on the fridge to make them both glasses of ice water, since there was nothing else in the fridge aside from an old box of baking soda. They sat down together on the couch, and Sean turned the TV to a station that played soft music. Brandon took a long drink of ice water, his throat parched after the long day out under the hot sun. He pressed the cool glass against his forehead, closing his eyes. It felt good to sit down and relax. His adrenaline rush had finally faded, putting him in the mood to take things slow and enjoy what was to come. He felt a gentle touch against the back of his neck as Sean’s fingers brushed his skin, tickling the soft hairs there. Brandon kept his eyes closed, letting out a soft moan as he savored the gentle touch. Sean shifted
around, using both hands to massage Brandon’s neck and shoulders. Brandon leaned back against Sean, sighing in contentment as the other man’s firm touch massaged out the soreness from his tired muscles. He set his glass down on the coffee table, then reached back and took Sean’s hand in his. He drew Sean’s hand forward and pressed his lips against the backs of Sean’s fingers. Sean’s fingertips traced lightly against Brandon’s lips, teasing him until Brandon pulled one of Sean’s fingers into his mouth, sucking gently on the tip. Sean tensed, a sharp gasp escaping him. Sean’s other hand slipped around Brandon’s waist, pulling him closer. And as Brandon’s backside pressed against Sean’s front, Brandon could feel something big and firm pressing up against him from behind. Brandon smiled. He leaned back against Sean’s chest, closing his eyes and letting out a contented sigh. “This is nice,” he said. “I agree,” Sean said, his hands starting to stray. They slid down past Brandon’s waist, tracing lines along Brandon’s thighs. Brandon felt himself stirring in response to the touch. He held his breath, aching to take the next step, but scared to go too fast. He waited to see what Sean would do. Sean’s fingers grazed Brandon’s inner thighs, mere inches from his crotch. Sean’s touch became more firm, massaging the taut muscles of Brandon’s thighs. Brandon gasped, letting his legs spread open. Then, when Sean continued to tease him further, Brandon reached down, taking one of Sean’s hands and placing it directly over his crotch. Sean started rubbing him through his pants, while he leaned down to kiss Brandon’s neck. Brandon shifted in his seat, feeling a burning desire building inside of him.
He twisted around, his lips seeking out Sean’s. They kissed deeply, while Sean started undoing the zipper on Brandon’s pants. His hands slipped inside, finding Brandon’s hard cock. Brandon shifted himself onto Sean’s lap, pushing his pants down to his knees. Sean took a firm hold of him and started stroking gently but firmly. Brandon shifted around so he could wrap his arms around Sean’s shoulders, kissing him passionately while Sean jerked him off. He pulled off Sean’s shirt, then his own. After a few minutes of vigorous kissing, he got up, bending over to pull off Sean’s pants. Then he straddled Sean, feeling Sean’s hardness pressing against Brandon’s own as their bodies were pulled closer together. He ground against Sean’s lap, letting his cock rub against Sean’s muscular stomach, while he kissed Sean’s lips and face and neck. When he couldn’t handle the teasing any longer, Brandon got up, taking Sean’s hands and pulling him towards one of the bedrooms. They climbed onto the bed, and Brandon shifted himself around into a sixty-nine position, leaning his head down towards Sean’s crotch. They started stroking each other, then Brandon took Sean into his mouth. He felt Sean’s mouth close around his cock as well, and Brandon let out a sharp moan at the amazing sensation. Soon the pleasurable sensations grew so intense that Brandon couldn’t focus on what he was doing. He closed his eyes, clinging to Sean, moaning as Sean brought him to levels of ecstasy he almost wouldn’t have thought possible. He felt himself getting closer and closer, and he knew the moment of climax was approaching. He told Sean he was almost there, and it only renewed Sean’s efforts, his hand and his lips working even harder to bring Brandon to his climax. When the moment finally came,
Brandon shuddered, his legs convulsing and his breath catching in his throat. He collapsed against the bed, unable to think straight, or do anything other than lie there and experience the moment. When he opened his eyes, he saw Sean was still hard and waiting. He summoned his strength and shifted around, getting on his knees in front of Sean and taking Sean back into his mouth. He looked up into Sean’s eyes, moaning around his mouthful as he worked to bring Sean the same amazing heights of pleasure that Sean had just brought him. Sean reached down, sliding his fingers through Brandon’s hair, guiding his motions. He started thrusting up into Brandon’s mouth. Brandon choked a bit, but he forced himself to take it, wanting nothing more in that moment than to please Sean and bring him to climax. He could see it in Sean’s eyes when the moment was approaching. Brandon locked his eyes on Sean’s, pulling back and licking the head of Sean’s cock while Sean reached down and jerked himself off for the last few moments, until he climaxed right in Brandon’s mouth. Sean fell back against the bed, gasping for air. Brandon took a few moments to catch his breath, then he stood up and stretched, feeling his body loosen up now that their intimacy was over. He went back into the other room for a glass of water, bringing Sean one as well. Then they laid together on the bed, not saying anything, just basking in the aftermath together.
Later that night, Brandon stood by the front windows of the beach house, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, looking out into the night. He could hear the sounds of the vacationing families outside around the neighboring houses. Children were playing in the sand, parents were grilling and drinking and playing card games, and music was playing in the distance. And in the bedroom, Sean slept, still wrapped up in the post-coital bliss. Brandon watched some of the children that ran past along the beach. He’d never really thought about having kids of his own. But at the same time, there had always been a part of him that, someday, wanted to settle down with the right person. He knew he was too young to really be thinking about a Happily Ever After, but it was still something that occupied his mind. Whenever he thought of sailing his boat around the world, seeing the sights from one port to the next, he had always imagined there being someone special there along with him. He had simply never known who that someone special might be. He wondered whether Sean would be the sort to come along with him. They’d discussed Brandon’s plans to sail the world, and Sean had expressed some interest, but it was the same sort of casual interest that Tandy had when he brought up the boat around her. The uncommitted curiosity of someone who might like to sail to South America some day, but who never expected it to actually happen. The most that would ever happen with Tandy would be a few trips around the islands, when Brandon was first getting his sea legs on the new boat. It’s not like he would expect her to travel around the world with him. He looked into the bedroom, watching Sean sleep. It
was far too soon to be thinking about things like sailing around the world with the handsome soldier he’d just slept with. They’d only just started getting to know each other, and while Brandon felt a definite intimacy, a burgeoning connection to Sean, he knew that for now, it was just an infatuation. And if they were still seeing each other when the boat was complete, Brandon had no doubt that Sean would want to go out sailing with him, at least a few times. But he had to wonder, what would happen when it came time for him to sail off for good, leaving the island behind and heading off to explore new horizons? Brandon didn’t know if he’d spend the rest of his life sailing, but he planned to keep traveling for a few years at least, never staying in one place for too long. There was too much of the world out there for him to consider settling in one place. Maybe one day, when he was older and his wanderlust had been fulfilled. But that wouldn’t be for many years to come. Plus, he realized, Sean’s military career added another layer of complication. When you were in the army, you couldn’t just pack up and leave whenever you wanted. You went where the army told you to go, and stayed there until they shipped you someplace else, or until you were discharged. He didn’t know how long Sean’s obligation to the army might be, or whether Sean was planning on staying in the military as a long-term career. But it was definitely something that he would have to take into consideration, if he ever wanted to consider a longterm relationship with this man. He leaned against the door jamb, letting out a sigh. He pushed the thoughts from his mind. It wasn’t something he really had to think about right now. But he always did this, when he got involved with someone new. He always let his mind race ahead, considering the possibilities of
the future, and whether there was a committed relationship around the next bend. He’d simply never been one to date someone casually, without at least thinking about where the future might lead. His past relationships had never been too serious, the longest one lasting three months. But even then, he would daydream about what might be, just as he was now. He headed back into the bedroom and laid back down beside Sean, moving slowly and trying not to wake the other man up. He watched Sean sleep for a few moments, marveling at the rugged lines of his face, and the muscular form that lay under the thin white sheet. Even if he didn’t know what the future was going to bring, he knew that right now, he had a strong man that he was very attracted to laying in bed with him. For tonight, that was all he needed. He curled himself against Sean’s side, laying his head on his shoulder. Sean shifted, still mostly asleep, and wrapped an arm around Brandon, mumbling softly. Brandon closed his eyes, listening to the sound of Sean’s breathing, and letting himself enjoy the simple peace of the moment, without any thoughts to anything more complicated. Though before he drifted off to sleep, he couldn’t help wondering once more what the future was going to bring.
The next day, Brandon woke up to find Sean already up, doing push-ups on the bedroom floor. He watched in admiration for a few minutes, enjoying the sight of Sean’s muscles, glistening with sweat. He briefly wondered if the way he was ogling Sean was any different than the way straight guys ogled Tandy and the other girls at the strip club. But since Sean didn’t seem to mind—even grinning when he noticed Brandon looking—Brandon figured there was no reason for him not to enjoy the show. Though he knew he couldn’t sit there all morning, watching Sean work out. Brandon headed into the bathroom and showered, thankful that there were a handful of travel-size shampoo bottles in a basket on the counter. After his shower, he headed into the kitchen to look for something to eat. The fridge and the kitchen cabinets were mostly empty, since the beach house hadn’t been in use recently, but he did manage to find a box of tea bags and some sugar packets that had been left in one of the cabinets. He made some tea, wishing he had some milk to add to it, and sipped it while he watched the ocean through the front windows of the house. When Sean finished his morning workout routine, he joined Brandon by the windows, sipping a mug of tea. He made a disappointed face after his first sip. “Wish they had coffee.” Brandon smirked. “We can go out and get some.” “Yeah,” Sean said, “but then we wouldn’t get to spend all day in bed.” Brandon reached up and pulled Sean down for a kiss. “That sounds nice,” he said. “But I’ve got work to do
today.” “At the club?” “No,” Brandon said. “On my boat.” “Ahh. Right.” Sean took another sip of his tea, then set it aside. “Well, I’ve got the day off. You need a hand?” Brandon pictured Sean standing out in the hot sun, shirtless, pounding nails with hefty swings of a hammer while beads of sweat shone on his muscular skin. “Definitely,” he said. They headed back to Brandon’s place, stopping for coffee and breakfast sandwiches along the way. When they got there, they headed out back, and Brandon pulled out his blueprints, showing Sean the specs for the sail boat. Sean looked them over with a frown. He rubbed his chin. “I’m pretty handy with a set of tools,” he said, “but this is a little more complex than I’m used to. I’m more of a mechanic than a carpenter.” “No problem,” Brandon said. “I’ll show you what to do.” They got to work, measuring out planks of wood for the boat’s hull. Each piece of wood was long, thin, and pliable, allowing them to follow the curve of the boat’s hull from prow to stern. In order for the hull to be watertight, everything had to be carefully cut and measured, ensuring there would be no gaps. Later, once the hull was finished, Brandon would coat the entire thing with sealant, then start on the next layer, adding several layers to the hull over time until it was thick and strong enough to withstand the rough ocean waves without breaching or leaking. They worked for several hours, cutting the planks on the table saw in the backyard, fitting them in place, and nailing them to the frame. It was around lunch time, however, that their work was interrupted by Brandon’s
neighbor, Trevor. Trevor was a balding, middle-aged man with a thick beer belly and a poorly trimmed goatee. He lived in the house behind Brandon’s, separated by a tall wooden fence. He stood up on a chair to look over the fence, shouting at Brandon until Brandon turned off the table saw. “Do you have to do that in the middle of the day?” Trevor asked, waving angrily at the table saw. “I have people over for lunch, and we can’t even have a conversation without being interrupted by all this damn noise.” “Sorry,” Brandon said, rubbing the back of his head. Trevor had complained a dozen or more times about Brandon’s construction project, sometimes complaining about the noise, other times about the sawdust that drifted over the fence into Trevor’s yard, or about the incomplete boat frame being an eyesore that didn’t belong in a residential backyard. After the first time he’d complained about the noise, Brandon had made an effort to do most of his work in the afternoons, when the neighbors were at work. Since a lot of Brandon’s shifts at the club were night shifts, he was usually home during the day when his neighbors weren’t around. Brandon had forgotten that today was Sunday, and Trevor usually had guests over for barbecues and pool parties after church almost every Sunday. “That’s all?” Trevor asked, scowling. “‘Sorry’?” He gestured to the incomplete frame of the boat. “Do you even have a permit for this thing? I’ve half a mind to call the county and have them shut this little project of yours down.” Brandon and Sean exchanged a look. Sean’s jaw was set and a fierce glare was in his eyes. He gave Brandon a
questioning look, and Brandon knew he was ready to step in and intervene if need be. But Brandon didn’t want the situation to get any more out of hand. He gave Sean the slightest shake of his head, then turned back to Trevor. “I’ll keep the noise down. I promise. I won’t disturb you again.” Trevor cast one last glare over the boat. He almost seemed disappointed that Brandon was capitulating so easily, as if he’d been hoping for more of a fight. “Well, you’d damn well better not,” he said, before stepping down off the chair and heading back towards his own house. After he left, Sean stepped over to Brandon, lowering his voice. “That guy’s a bit of a dick.” “Yeah.” Brandon sighed. “But it’s my own fault, really. I don’t mean to be a disturbance.” Sean snorted. “You’re not bothering anyone. It would be different if you were partying and making noise in the middle of the night when people are trying to sleep. But you’re just building something. You’ve got the right to do that.” “I hope so. I never even thought about needing a permit. Do you think I need one?” Sean shook his head. “I don’t think so. It’s not a permanent structure. Though it might work better if you had a garage or workshop to use, instead of the backyard.” Brandon shrugged. “This is all I’ve got. Renting a garage would be too expensive.” His job paid him well enough to keep up with his bills, and still have enough leftover at the end of the month for tools and lumber, but nowhere near enough for him to consider renting a garage. Sean rubbed his chin. “Hmm.”
“What?” Brandon asked. “Let me see if I can do anything to help,” Sean said, smiling. “I know a few people. I might be able to set something up for you.” “Yeah?” Brandon couldn’t help but smile. He touched Sean’s arm. “You’d do that?” “I’d be happy to. Besides…” Sean stepped closer, putting his hands on Brandon’s hips. “I wouldn’t mind at all if you owed me a favor. I can think of a few things I’d like you to do.” Brandon’s face turned a light shade of pink. “I’m pretty sure you could get me to do those things anyway.” They kissed, then decided they’d done enough work for the day, retiring inside for a more relaxing evening. They took a shower together, washing away the sweat and sawdust from their hard work. Then later in the night, Brandon invited Sean up to his bedroom, where they shared another intimate night together.
Over the next few weeks, Trevor’s complaints grew more and more. Brandon didn’t know if his neighbor had a bug up his ass, or if he’d just decided to make Brandon’s life hell because he needed a new hobby, but it seemed that the complaints were nonstop. If Trevor heard the sound of a single power tool in Brandon’s backyard, he stuck his head over the fence to complain. Once he even left a strongly worded letter in Brandon’s mailbox. The letter was signed “From the Neighborhood Association,” but Brandon knew that Trevor was the one behind it. He just had to hope that Trevor didn’t take things a step further, filing actual legal papers against him. He discussed the options with Sean every chance they got. Sean assured him that he was making some phone calls and checking with the people he knew. It just took a bit of time. A few weeks later, Sean and Brandon walked into a spacious garage filled with woodworking tools. The walls were lined with tall racks that held surfboards in a variety of different designs. At one end of the room, Brandon spotted Bryan, shirtless and wearing a pair of safety goggles as he ran an electric sander over the surface of a surfboard. Bryan stopped sanding when he saw them approach. He walked over to them, brushing the sawdust from his hands, then extending a hand towards Brandon. Brandon shook his hand, looking around the open space of the garage. “Nice place you have here,” Brandon said. “It serves me well.” Bryan looked around, smiling as his eyes traced over the racks of surfboards. “Truth be
told, I’d rather be out riding one of these boards. But giving surfing lessons only brings in half the money. People pay top dollar for a well-made board. Especially tourists.” “So, surfboard sales and lessons? Must be a good business.” “Better than waiting tables,” Bryan said with a chuckle. “Though I did my time in the restaurant biz. Actually taught me a thing or two about customer service, though, which is a handy thing to know when you run your own business. Though people who buy a surfboard are less likely to send it back than they are a cold meal, so that’s a bonus.” Brandon laughed at that. Since he’d started working as a cook, he’d had more than one customer send food back, either because it wasn’t hot enough, or because the toppings were wrong, or because they were just being picky. Thankfully, however, he didn’t need to go out and deal with the customers himself. And since the girls delivered the food wearing very little clothing, they were usually pretty good at making a customer happy, even if their food came out wrong. Brandon studied the racks of surfboards. There were several dozen of them. He wondered how long it had taken to make so many, and how many more Bryan had sold. He had a hard time imagining making something like that, putting your hard work and sweat into it, only to sell it to some stranger. He couldn’t imagine selling his sail boat. Not after all the time he’d spent working on it. Though he was also sure that making a surfboard didn’t take anywhere near as long as making a boat. “So,” Bryan said, “Sean tells me you’re looking for a place to work?” “Yeah.” Brandon stuck his hands in his pockets, still
looking around at the garage. There was a lot of unused space. More than enough for his boat. And since the garage was in a small industrial zone, there wouldn’t be any residential neighbors around to complain about the noise. Just a lot of other workshops and warehouses, and a lot of blue collar workers. “Working out of my backyard isn’t the most ideal situation,” Brandon said. “My neighbors aren’t too fond of it, plus it would be nice to get out of the weather.” In his current situation, he had to put off working on the boat whenever it rained. He kept the boat covered in tarps whenever it rained, but he still couldn’t get any work done when the weather was bad. “And from what I hear,” Bryan said, “the price of rent is a bit of an issue?” Brandon chewed on his lip. He was a bit uncomfortable about this point. He didn’t want to ask for charity. “I don’t really have the money to pay to rent a place myself. Sean said you might have another kind of arrangement in mind?” Bryan nodded. “I’ve got some work that needs to be done around here. Cleaning, general maintenance, unloading deliveries when they get here, that sort of thing. Can’t really afford to hire someone, though. Not until business picks up. I just started doing this full time last year, and it’s an uphill battle.” “So basically, I can work off the rent?” Brandon rubbed his chin. It would add a lot more workload to his schedule, doing work for Bryan in addition to working his kitchen job, while still finding time to work on the boat. But if it would give him a better place to work, it might be worth it. “If that works for you, yeah,” Bryan said. “Here, let me show you around.”
They spent some time going over the things Bryan would need help with. None of it seemed too difficult to Brandon. Some of it involved caring for the tools, which he certainly had plenty of experience in. And a lot of the maintenance work involved things he could do on his own time, keeping a flexible schedule. Bryan didn’t seem to care exactly when it got done, as long as it got done. It would take some adjustments to get used to it, but it certainly seemed like it could work. They came to an informal agreement, shaking on it. Brandon wondered for a moment if he should get something in writing, but considering he wasn’t actually going to be paying any rent, he didn’t think they needed a lease agreement. The worst that could happen would be Bryan kicking him out, and Bryan seemed too laid back for that to happen. Once the details were all worked out, Brandon gave Sean a hug and a kiss. “Thanks for this,” he said. “It’ll be a big help.” “No problem,” Sean said with a grin. “Let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help out.” Brandon thought about it, rubbing his chin. “Actually, now that I think about it, there is something else I didn’t think about…” Sean gave him a questioning look. Brandon spread his hands out to either side. “How are we supposed to get the boat down here?”
A few weeks later, Brandon stood in his backyard, measuring the length of the fence between his house and the neighbor to the right’s. Back when he’d started building the boat, he’d never really stopped to think about how he was going to get it out of the backyard. Eventually he’d shrugged it off, deciding that Future Brandon could figure that part out. Well now that it was his problem to deal with, he was pretty mad at Past Brandon for leaving him this problem. He’d finished measuring the fence and the boat by the time two jeeps and a pickup truck pulled up in front of the house. A boat trailer was attached to the back of the pickup truck. Sean got out of the jeep, along with Dean, Bryan, Jack, and a few more of their friends that Brandon remembered meeting at the Fourth of July beach party. He opened the gate for them and they poured into the backyard. He thanked them for coming, and told them to help themselves to the cooler of drinks he’d set out. There would also be pizza on the way shortly. He just hoped that was enough payment for the help they were about to give him. “You ready to get this thing moved?” Sean asked, looking between the boat and the fence. “Well,” Brandon said, rubbing his chin. “It might not be that easy. It’s gonna be a tight squeeze. I’m not sure we have the equipment we need.” Sean clapped him on the shoulder and said, “You’ve got the army here, boy. This is what we do.” They went over the measurements. The width of the boat was just a bit too much to fit between the side of the house and the neighbor’s fence. Brandon could take his
own fence down—technically, he wasn’t supposed to do something like that, but he doubted his landlord would ever find out about it—but he couldn’t take the neighbor’s fence down without permission, and he wasn’t on the best of terms with his neighbors. “No problem,” Sean said after Brandon had explained the situation. “The boat’s widest at the top, narrower at the bottom, right? So we lift her up a few feet and she’ll clear the fence.” Brandon took another look at the boat. It was currently sitting upside down, since starting the construction that way made it easier to build the outer hull. He’d spent the last few weeks finishing the outer hull, and now he was ready to flip the boat upright and begin work on the interior, which would take a lot longer, since there was a lot more detailed work to be done in the cabin. He measured the width of the boat partway down from the top. Sean was right. If they could raise the boat a few feet up in the air, it would clear the fence. “How are we going to do that?” Brandon asked, crossing his arms and studying the boat. Just moving the boat by hand would be difficult, though he had planned to use a rope and pulley system hanging from an overhead tree branch, along with some long pieces of lumber to use for leverage, in order to flip the boat over onto the trailer. He didn’t know how they were going to do that while also raising the boat a few feet in the air. “Simple,” Sean said. “It’s just an engineering problem. And I brought a few guys who are engineers.” Brandon nodded. He supposed if anyone could solve a problem like this, it was army engineers. After some discussion with the engineers, they decided that the best solution was to build a ramp. The men got to work, some of them taking down the
sections of fence on the right side of the house, others starting on the construction of a crude but effective ramp. They took some of the spare lumber Brandon had on hand, bracing some two-by-fours on supports so that one end of the ramp was about two feet off the ground. They lined up several two-by-fours on each side, so that they were wide enough to support the trailer’s tires. They did the same thing on the far side of the ramp, angling it back down into the front yard and towards the street. The end result didn’t look too stable, but Brandon knew it didn’t need to be very strong. They’d be tearing it down in a few hours anyway, and it only had to last long enough to back the trailer up, then pull the boat back out. By the time the ramp was finished, the pizza had arrived. The men all took a break, eating and drinking and enjoying the nice weather. They had a radio playing, and everyone seemed to be in good spirits. Everyone, of course, except for Brandon’s neighbor, Trevor. Just as he was paying the pizza man, Brandon noticed Trevor peeking over the back fence, glowering at Brandon and his army friends. Sean carried the pizza boxes over to the back porch, setting them on the table for the guys. Then he looked back at Brandon, noticing where Brandon’s gaze led. He followed Brandon’s gaze and saw Trevor. Sean’s face dropped into a frown and he stepped over to Brandon, dropping his voice down low. “Everything okay?” Sean asked. “Is your neighbor gonna be a problem?” “I don’t know,” Brandon said, rubbing a hand over his face. “I’ll be right back.” He crossed the backyard, walking past the boat’s hull. He stopped just by the back fence, looking up at Trevor. “How’s it going?” Brandon asked.
Trevor scowled at him. “What are you up to now? You took the fence down. I don’t think you’re allowed to do that.” Brandon glanced back at the disassembled section of the fence. “We’re gonna put it back up. It’s not damaged.” “I don’t think that matters,” Trevor said. “That’s a violation of your lease. I’ve half a mind to tell Charles.” Brandon’s breath caught in his throat. His landlord, Charles Gotti, was usually a pretty laid back guy. He had never seemed to care what Brandon was using the backyard for, and he always came out to do any maintenance and repairs on the house as soon as Brandon asked. But he had been pretty clear about a few rules, such as not making any modifications to the property. Though maybe Brandon could convince him that taking down the fence was only a temporary modification… “Is that really necessary?” Brandon asked. “We’ll be done here soon. I’m getting the boat out of here. You won’t ever have to look at it again.” Trevor opened his mouth to reply, then closed it again, his expression darkening. Brandon was pretty sure the man was just looking for an excuse to keep arguing, or to call Brandon’s landlord. Brandon tried to cut off any further argument the only way he thought would work: by sucking up to Trevor, big time. “Look,” Brandon said, spreading his hands to either side, “you were right.” Trevor hesitated, a contemplative expression spreading across his face. “I was being really insensitive, disturbing my neighbors,” Brandon said. He didn’t believe it was true—
he had never made that much noise, and he had never worked at night when his neighbors might be sleeping— but if it would keep him out of more trouble with Trevor, he’d swallow his pride and do what he had to do. “I’m getting rid of the boat, so I won’t be a bother to you anymore. It’ll be gone by the end of the day. And you’ll never hear a peep out of me again. I promise.” Trevor frowned slightly, rubbing his chin. He didn’t look ready to stop arguing, but it was a bit tough to argue with someone who was telling you that you were right. “Well,” Trevor said, giving Brandon a curt nod, “you see to it that it’s out of here before sundown. I’ve got guests coming over for dinner tonight, and I don’t want our dinner plans disturbed by…by that.” He gestured vaguely towards the boat and the makeshift wooden ramp. “No problem,” Brandon said, offering Trevor a diplomatic smile. “We’ll be out of your hair in no time.” “See that you are.” Trevor shot him one last dirty look, then he stepped away from the fence. Brandon sighed, rubbing his hands over his face. He looked back at the boat, trying to picture the work they’d need to do to get it onto the trailer. It would be a few more hours of work, at the very least. But as long as they got it done by dinner time, then it looked like he was in the clear. He headed back to the porch, where the guys had already demolished half the pizzas. Brandon realized he should have ordered more, considering he was feeding a dozen big, muscular men. He made a mental note to place a bigger order for dinner, after the job was done. Sean stepped over to him, wiping his hands on a paper napkin. “Everything okay?” he asked. “Yeah,” Brandon said with a sigh, glancing back over
his shoulder at Trevor’s house. “At least, I think so. We just need to get this done.” “Then let’s do it,” Sean said, clapping Brandon on the back. They got back to work, setting up a ladder under the big tree that stood in the corner of the yard. One of the guys climbed up with a rope and some pulleys, and they worked on setting up a rig that would flip the boat over onto the trailer. Once the rig was set up, they backed the trailer into the backyard. The makeshift ramp creaked and groaned under the weight of the truck, but it held. Once the trailer was in place, they wedged some two-byfours under one side of the boat, ready to lever it up and lower it onto the trailer, supported by the rope and pulley system along the way. When they were finally ready to move the boat, Brandon watched the scene with a sense of dread filling him. He’d spent months working on this boat, and he didn’t want anything to happen to it. He supposed if there were any damage, he could repair it, but he worried that something might happen that he couldn’t repair. Or that might set him back months of work. Sean’s friends seemed to know what they were doing, and he was sure he could trust them, but accidents still happened. He took hold of one of the ropes and called out, “On three. One… two… three!” The men hauled on the ropes, while others used the two-by-fours to lever up the far side of the boat. Despite the great weight of the boat, it rose with relative ease, thanks to the combination of the pulley system and the strength of a dozen men working in unison. They raised the boat until it was up on its side, the majority of its weight supported by the ropes. Then they started flipping it upright, slowly lowering it onto the trailer.
They had almost settled it into place when Brandon heard a loud cracking sound. He looked up and saw the branch overhead splintering. The boat lurched, nearly falling. The sudden movement yanked harder on the branch, and it cracked even more, ripping from the tree and tumbling towards the ground. “Look out!” Brandon shouted. Everyone dove for cover. The boat slammed down onto the trailer with a loud crash. The branch plummeted downward. Brandon was sure it was going to hit someone. At the last second, he yanked as hard as he could on the rope, pulling the falling branch to the side. It barely missed Sean as he dove out of the way. There was another loud crash, then everything was quiet. Brandon looked around, gasping for air. He’d fallen to the ground, right next to Sean. All around them, the other guys were slowly getting to their feet. It looked like there were some scrapes and bruises from when they hit the ground, but no one seemed to be seriously injured. Brandon got up and checked the boat. The hull looked intact. He’d have to do a more thorough inspection later, to make sure there were no cracks that might leak once the boat was in the water. But the boat seemed to be okay. A shout from behind him drew Brandon’s attention. He turned around. He saw Trevor, standing on the other side of the back fence, glaring at him, red in the face. The fence had been smashed by the heavy branch, which lay in a tangled mess of rope, pulleys, and broken bits of fence. “Oh, shit,” Brandon said.
“What the hell is this?” Trevor shouted, waving a hand at the broken and mangled fence. “You little shit! I’ve had enough of you. I’m calling the police!” Brandon and Sean exchanged a panicked look. The other guys stood around awkwardly, looking uncertain what they should do. Brandon knew they couldn’t afford to get in trouble with the police over this—if word got back to their commanding officers that they’d gotten into legal trouble, there was no telling what might happen. “Mr. Nolan, wait!” Brandon hurried after Trevor as Trevor headed towards his house. Trevor ignored him, but Brandon reached out, grabbing Trevor’s arm. Trevor spun on him, his face red, spittle flying from his mouth as he screamed at Brandon. “Get your hands off of me!” Trevor batted Brandon’s hand away. “Look what you’ve done! You’re damn lucky I wasn’t standing under the tree when that happened. I’ve half a mind to sue your ass!” “I’m sorry,” Brandon said, holding his hands up to ward off another outburst from Trevor. “It’s my fault, I admit that. I’ll fix it. I’ll pay for the damages.” “You’re damn right you’ll pay,” Trevor said, turning back towards the house. Brandon tried to think of what else he could do or say. He didn’t want to get arrested. He didn’t know if he actually would get arrested for something that was clearly an accident. But regardless, getting the police involved wouldn’t help the situation at all. He turned back to Sean, giving him a pleading look. Brandon didn’t know what to do. Sean hurried over, getting in front of Trevor and
planting himself in Trevor’s path. “Listen,” he said. “Mr….” “Nolan,” Brandon said. “Nolan. I’m sure there’s a way we can work this out.” “I don’t think so,” Trevor said. “Now, get off my property.” “There must be something my friends and I can do to make this up to you,” Sean said. “They’re good men. Hard working soldiers. We just made a little mistake, that’s all.” “Soldiers?” Trevor asked, a slight frown touching his face. Sean stood up a little straighter. “U.S. Army,” Sean said, professional pride seeping into his voice. “Artillery unit. Some of my friends there are infantry. Couple of them are in the engineering core.” Trevor rubbed his chin, looking Sean up and down. “Yeah? I was in the service myself. In my younger days.” “Is that so?” Sean cast a conspiratorial glance at Brandon before turning back to Trevor. “Where’d you serve?” “I was in the reserves, at Fort Bragg,” Trevor said, standing a bit straighter as well. “Got my GI Bill. Changed my whole life.” “Serving will do that to you,” Sean said with a proud smile. “I know I’m not the same man today I was before I enlisted. I’m a better man.” Trevor nodded thoughtfully, then glanced back over his shoulder at the damaged fence. “Listen,” Sean said, his tone softening, “we’re all terribly sorry about the damage. We’d be happy to do the repairs ourselves. My boys and I can have that fence back up and looking good as new by sundown. But we’d really appreciate it if this stayed between us, you know? Word gets back to our sergeant about something like
this, and, well…” He spread his hands to either side. Trevor nodded along with what Sean was saying. “Be a damn shame if you got in trouble over something like this.” He cast a glare at Brandon, then stuck a finger in his face. “I got your word that this is all over, after today? That eyesore is gone?” “Absolutely,” Brandon said. “It’s already loaded up and ready to go. As soon as we fix things up, that’ll be that.” Trevor looked back at the damaged fence, then looked at Brandon and Sean once more. He considered it for a moment, then said, “All right. You get that fence fixed up before my dinner guests get here. You understand?” “Yes sir,” Sean said, giving Trevor a salute. Trevor returned the salute, then he headed into his house. Sean and Brandon hurried back to Brandon’s yard. Sean took the lead, gathering the men around. “Listen up, boys, we’ve got a new job. Got to fix this baby up, quick.” He gestured to the fence. “Jack, Dean. Drive the boat off to the garage and unhook the trailer. We’ll leave it there for now and worry about unloading it later. Then head to the hardware store and pick up whatever we need. The rest of us will start cleaning this mess up and fixing what we can until you two get back with replacement parts.” They made some quick measurements of the damaged fence, and Dean used his phone to snap a few pictures of it so they would be able to find replacements in a matching color and style. They made sure the boat was strapped securely to the trailer, then drove off, heading over the ramp and out to the street before disappearing around the bend. Brandon and the others worked quickly to clean up the broken, splintered wood. Once they got a good look at
the damage, Brandon was relieved to see that it wasn’t too bad. Only one section of the fence had taken any serious damage. They tore down the damaged boards, then made sure the fence posts on either side were still stable and secure. By the time Jack and Dean returned with the replacement parts, they had the area cleared out and ready to go. The new section of fence was the wrong color, but Jack and Dean had brought a couple of cans of stain as well. With all of them working together, they were able to get the new fence installed and stained with a bit of time to spare. Brandon looked over the finished project as the sun was starting to set on the horizon. The repair itself had been fairly simple, though when it was complete, Brandon could immediately tell that the repaired section of fence didn’t quite match. The stain was a much lighter color than the fence sections to either side of it. He didn’t know if it was because they needed to add a couple more coats, or because the older sections were weathered with age. But either way, he expected Trevor wouldn’t be too pleased with it. He noticed Trevor peeking out of the window at them as they worked. When the work was finally complete, Trevor stepped outside, stalking across the yard towards the fence. “We’re going to give it a couple more coats of stain,” Brandon said, hoping to cut off Trevor’s complaints before they could begin. Trevor crossed his arms, studying the repair job. He didn’t say anything for a long moment. “I can put the next coat on tomorrow,” Brandon said. “After it dries.” “Hmm.” Trevor rubbed his chin, still silent for the
moment. “We’d be happy to re-stain the rest of the fence as well,” Sean offered. “We’ve got enough stain leftover to do your whole fence.” “Oh yeah?” That brought a slight smile to Trevor’s face. He nodded in approval. “It’d be our pleasure, sir,” Sean said. “Well. Good.” Trevor nodded. “That’ll be just fine, then.” Trevor glanced over his shoulder. His wife was watching through the window, waving at him to come back inside. Brandon could see a few other people inside. Trevor’s dinner guests, no doubt. “Well, see that you get it done,” Trevor said, turning back towards the house. He headed inside without another word. Brandon and Sean exchanged a look. Brandon let out a sigh of relief. “Come on,” Sean said, putting an arm around Brandon’s shoulders as they headed back to Brandon’s yard. “Looks like you could use a drink.”
“Everything’s on me tonight, guys,” Brandon said as they walked into the restaurant. “It’s the least I can do.” “Hey, no problem,” Jack said, clapping Brandon on the shoulder. “Happy to help.” Jack headed right to the bar, along with a couple of his buddies. Before going to join him, Dean leaned close and whispered, “I’ll make sure he doesn’t drink too much. Don’t want to bankrupt you on the bar bill.” Brandon laughed, though a moment later he got a bit worried. He’d brought the guys to a small place that served pizza and cheap beer, because it was all he could afford. But he suddenly wondered how much beer a dozen army men could go through in a night. He made a mental note to check the available credit on his credit card. “Let me buy you a drink,” Sean said, leading Brandon over to a table. “You deserve it, after what you had to deal with today.” Brandon sat down, relieved to finally be off his feet. What he really needed was a shower and a long night’s sleep, but unwinding with Sean and his friends was certainly a good alternative. “I’m just thankful that you guys could help. I never could have done it on my own.” The waitress came to their table and they ordered a pitcher of beer. She delivered it a minute later and they poured a couple of glasses. Sean raised his in a toast. “To teamwork,” he said. Brandon clinked his glass against Sean’s. “To saving my ass.” Sean chuckled. They both took a drink, then sat there in silence for a moment. The other guys were spread out
around the nearby tables, ordering food and drinks. A couple of them were at the bar, flirting with the girls there. They all looked tired, but in a good mood. Brandon supposed they were used to working hard. A normal day of military exercises was probably a lot more exhausting than moving a boat. The rest of the guys gave Sean and Brandon some privacy, seeming to know that they wanted some time alone together. Brandon didn’t know if the other guys knew Sean was gay, and he didn’t want to do anything to out Sean, in case they didn’t. It hadn’t really come up yet, but Brandon had had enough bad experiences in past relationships to know that sometimes discretion was the wiser path in a new relationship. Sean didn’t make any intimate gestured while they sat and talked and drank. Brandon didn’t mind at all. He felt comfortable around Sean, as a friend as well as a lover. He was more than happy just to have an ordinary guys’ night out, hanging out together and sharing some beers, without worrying about whatever else was going on between them. There would be time for intimacy later, when they were alone together. “So what do you think of the new place?” Sean asked. “Working with Bryan, I mean.” “I think it’s going to work out great.” Brandon had been down to Bryan’s garage a few times recently, getting things set up for the boat’s arrival. “So far I think the only hard part is going to be getting back and forth. I’m used to being able to just head into the backyard to work. But it’s a forty minute bus ride to the garage.” “Forty minutes?” Sean frowned, his face scrunched up. “How? It’s only like a ten minute drive. Fifteen with traffic.” Brandon shrugged. “The bus doesn’t go straight there.
The only route between my house and the garage is one that loops around the long way. Nothing much I can do about that.” “Nonsense,” Sean said. He nudged Brandon’s shoulder with his fist. “I’ll drive you.” “Don’t you have your own obligations?” Brandon knew that his schedule and Sean’s didn’t line up so well. Brandon mostly worked nights and weekends, whereas Sean’s usual schedule had him up at the crack of dawn every weekday, with weekends off. There were usually only a couple of evenings each week they could get together, except when Brandon specifically requested a day off of work, like he had today. “So you can borrow my jeep,” Sean said. “I don’t need it when I’m on the base anyway. I only use it for R&R on my days off.” “Really?” Brandon smiled. “You sure that’d be okay?” He didn’t want to impose on Sean. They’d been seeing each other pretty regularly for a few months now, but there hadn’t been any talk of a real commitment. He was glad Sean would trust him enough to loan him his jeep. “Just don’t scratch it up,” Sean said. “It’s on a lease. Never know if I’m going to be deployed or transferred somewhere else, so it didn’t make much sense to buy something I might have to leave behind.” Brandon reached out and touched Sean’s hand. It had been an instinctive movement, but afterwards, he remembered that he wasn’t sure how the other guys would react to such a thing. He hesitated, looking around the room. No one seemed to be paying any attention to them. Sean smiled, lifting Brandon’s hand and pressing his lips against Brandon’s fingers. Then he let go, and Brandon let his hand drop back to his side.
The night wore on. A couple of the other guys ended up going home with girls they’d met at the bar. The rest slowly filed out, most of them taking Jack’s pickup truck back to the base. Dean and Bryan left together, taking Bryan’s jeep. Brandon knew they were the only two in the group, other than Brandon himself, who didn’t live on the army base. Towards the end of the night, Sean leaned close and whispered to Brandon, “Listen, I’ve got to drop some of the guys off at the base. But after that…” He winked. “Well, if you’re not too worn out from a long day’s work, I wouldn’t mind taking this party back to your place. Just the two of us.” Brandon smiled. “I think I like the sounds of that.” They drove back to the base to drop off the rest of the guys. As they were climbing out of the jeep and saying goodnight, one of them punched Sean on the arm and said, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” Sean chuckled. Brandon’s face heated up. He didn’t say anything, but now at least he felt like he had his answer about whether or not Sean’s friends knew about their relationship. They drove back to Brandon’s house in silence. When they got there, Sean excused himself to the bathroom, while Brandon went into the kitchen to make them some coffee. He looked out the window into the backyard while the coffee was brewing. The yard was still a bit of a mess —with the extra time it had taken to repair the damaged fence, they hadn’t had enough time to do more than a perfunctory cleanup. The extra lumber from the temporary ramp was now piled on the back porch, along with the broken pieces of fence, the fallen branch, and the tangled rope and pulleys. The backyard looked depressingly empty. Brandon had gotten used to seeing his boat out there every day.
All that was left now was the supports that had been holding the unfinished hull up. He’d have to tear all of that down, and see if any of the lumber was reusable. If he cut off any splintered ends, he was pretty sure he could still find a use for most of it. He was pretty sure he could even reuse the parts from the makeshift ramp. Lost in thought, he didn’t notice Sean stepping up behind him until Sean’s arms wrapped around his waist. Brandon jumped in surprise, then relaxed into the embrace. “Everything okay?” Sean asked, planting a soft kiss against Brandon’s neck. “Yeah.” Brandon pulled Sean closer, leaning back against him. He started to feel signs that Sean was a little more than okay, and Brandon couldn’t help but chuckle. They didn’t say anything else. They stood there for awhile, holding each other. Then Sean started kissing Brandon’s neck and shoulders. His fingers toyed with the hem of Brandon’s shirt, slipping up underneath and grazing the flesh of Brandon’s stomach. Brandon closed his eyes, enjoying the touch. He pressed more firmly against Sean, feeling something else press firmly against his backside. He ground his hips teasingly, drawing a sharp grunt from Sean. “Tease,” Sean whispered. He nibbled on Brandon’s ear. “It’s only teasing if I don’t follow through on it.” Brandon grinned, reaching down to unbutton his pants. Sean’s hands slipped inside, reaching lower until they found Brandon’s hardness. “Is that a promise?” Sean asked. Brandon twisted around, reaching up to cup Sean’s face in his hands. He pulled Sean into a deep, sensual kiss.
“I promise you’ll get exactly what you want,” Brandon whispered. He turned back around and rubbed his bum against Sean’s crotch. Sean pulled him close and began grinding against him. Brandon could feel Sean’s hardness and he wasn’t sure how long he could keep up the teasing without giving in. He kept rubbing himself against Sean’s hard cock. Sean pulled Brandon’s shirt off and began licking and kissing his neck and shoulders. The soft touch of Sean’s lips were driving him mad. Brandon was panting while he slipped his pants off the rest of the way and leaned forward, gripping the counter while Sean pulled his own pants off. When he pressed himself against Brandon again, he licked a fingertip and slipped it into Brandon’s entrance. Brandon could feel Sean’s finger making small, gentle circles. “Okay?” Sean asked. “Yes,” Brandon croaked. Then Brandon felt Sean withdraw his finger and his throbbing cock began rubbing against Brandon harder and harder until he finally, slowly pushed himself inside. Brandon shuddered, still clutching the counter in front of him. He moaned when Sean reached around and started stroking his cock, making Brandon crazy with the gentleness of his touch. He was consumed with the feeling of the man inside of him and Sean’s soft grunts of pleasure. Brandon’s entire body quivered when Sean touched an especially sensitive place. Brandon cried out. He felt a force slowly building up inside of him, and he put his hand into his mouth, biting down as moans of pleasure built up louder and louder with every breath.
After he climaxed, Brandon clung to the counter, gasping for air. His legs felt like rubber, and he nearly collapsed, having to hold on to the counter to keep steady on his feet. He hung on until he heard Sean’s moans reach their peak, then felt the shuddering jerk of Sean reaching his own climax, before he collapsed against the counter himself, gasping for air, with beads of sweat running down his face. Laughing, Brandon slid down, feeling the wooden floor against his bare skin. He pulled Sean down next to him, sitting on the floor and wrapping his arms around Sean. They kissed, and held each other tight, the sweat from their bodies mingling, until their trembling faded and all that was left was the wonderful afterglow.
The rest of the summer was a busy time for Brandon. When he wasn’t working at the club, he was either taking sailing lessons with Chelsea, or else he was usually down at Bryan’s garage, either working on his boat or helping Bryan with whatever work he needed done. He spent so much time at the garage that it became a sort of home away from home. He enjoyed it more than he expected, since he was around another craftsman. He and Bryan even started trading notes, with Bryan showing him the basics of shaping a surfboard, and Brandon getting Bryan’s help on the boat from time to time. He spent so much time working on the boat that Sean started coming down to the garage to help out several times each week. He jokingly said that if he didn’t come down to the garage, he might never get to see Brandon at all. Brandon laughed at the joke, though at the same time he felt a bit guilty, like he was neglecting their relationship. But Sean seemed happy with the time they spent working together, so Brandon supposed it was all working out for the best. Progress on the boat moved a lot more quickly than he’d expected, especially when some of Sean’s army buddies volunteered to come down and help out from time to time. Soon it became a regular Saturday thing for some of them. A few of the guys would come over with some pizzas and a case of beer, and they would spend the afternoon pounding nails and cutting wood. Of course, once they’d gone through an entire case of beer, it became more of a hangout than a real job, but despite that, all the extra hands meant Brandon was making
progress much faster than he’d ever expected. Several months later, Brandon and Sean were sitting in the sail boat’s cabin, assembling the counter tops and cabinets for the cabin’s little kitchenette area. The main hull and all of the heavy construction work were complete. Most of what they were doing now was detailed work, putting on the finishing touches. Brandon had sanded and routered every piece of cabinetware they were installing, putting his own personal touch on all of it. He actually preferred this part of the work to the heavy construction on the boat’s hull. It was more like the furniture-making he’d done with his father, when he was first learning to be a carpenter. Sean had been quiet for most of the day. Brandon hadn’t wanted to press the matter, but he could tell that there was something on his mind. After awhile, he asked, “You okay?” “Yeah.” Sean didn’t make eye contact. He kept his eyes on the cabinet hinges he was screwing in place with an electric screwdriver. Brandon could tell by Sean’s tone that he wasn’t really okay, but he wasn’t sure what to say. “You ever think about doing this professionally?” Sean asked, still not making eye contact. “Building boats?” Brandon asked. “Well, carpentry.” Sean shrugged, screwing on another hinge. “You’re good at it. Really good. Too good to be a cook in some sleazy club.” “The club isn’t sleazy,” Brandon said. He didn’t know why he felt the need to defend his place of employment. He supposed it was because Tandy, and the other dancers, were really nice people, once you got to know them. He didn’t think it was fair for anyone to judge them just because of the kind of work they did. Especially
when people like Sean’s own friends were the customers who kept places like that in business. “Well, regardless,” Sean said, “you can do better. Flipping burgers is fine for a temporary job. I did my time in fast food, when I was a teenager. But you’ve got a skill here you could use to get a much better job. Why haven’t you tried to find a job in construction? Or even cabinet installation for Sears or something like that?” Brandon was quiet for a moment as he considered the answer. But deep down, he knew the real reason he had never pursued such a job. “I guess,” he said, “because I know it would be temporary.” “Temporary?” “Yeah.” Brandon sighed, packing up his tools after the last cabinet was installed. “I mean, I’ve got other plans, right? I’m going to see the world. Go sailing. Never stay too long in one place. I don’t see the point in getting involved in a serious career, when I’d just be leaving it behind, you know?” Sean looked at him for a long moment, silent. Then he set down his tools and turned away. “What?” Brandon asked. “Nothing.” Brandon stepped forward, touching Sean’s shoulder. “Come on, what is it? Did I do something wrong?” “No.” Sean shook his head, rubbing a hand over his face. “It’s just…” “Just what?” Brandon wracked his brain, trying to figure out what he could have done. But as far as he knew, he hadn’t done anything wrong. “Your life,” Sean said, looking up at him without quite meeting his eyes. “It’s all temporary, right?” “What?” Brandon asked. Then his expression dropped, his face going pale.
“Oh,” Brandon said. He understood now. Sean turned away. “Hey,” Brandon said, touching Sean’s arm. Sean started to walk away, climbing the stairs onto the boat’s deck. Brandon followed him up onto the deck. “Hey, let’s talk about this. I didn’t even know you’d been thinking about this.” “Well, I have been,” Sean said. He put his hands on his hips, looking out across the garage. Bryan was on the far side of the garage, polishing a surfboard. He glanced up at the two of them, then turned back to his work. Brandon lowered his voice. “I don’t think of us as ‘temporary,’ okay?” “Well maybe we are,” Sean said. Brandon took a step back. He didn’t know how to respond to that. “What? What are you saying?” Sean started heading towards the ladder that stood alongside the boat. “I’m saying both of us have lives that aren’t grounded in one place, okay? Maybe that’s how it has to be. Maybe we’d be better off…” Brandon stood on the boat, watching as Sean climbed down the ladder. “Better off what?” Sean stepped onto the ground, looking up at Brandon. He took a deep breath, letting it out in a long sigh. “Look, I haven’t been sure how to tell you this.” “Tell me what?” Brandon scratched his head, confused. He’d thought they were talking about his eventual plans to sail off and see the world, but now he wasn’t so sure. “I just found out the other day,” Sean said. “Found out what?” Sean finally met his eyes. “That I’m being transferred overseas. The beginning of next month, my unit is
moving to Japan.”
Sean headed out of the garage. Brandon hurried down the ladder, then stopped after taking a few steps towards Sean. Sean was already out the door, and Brandon didn’t know if he should follow or not. If Sean was running off, maybe he really wanted to be alone just then. Brandon wasn’t sure what he should do. Part of him wanted to follow, but part of him was afraid. Bryan looked up at him with a concerned frown. He set his tools aside and crossed the garage, stopping by the ladder next to Brandon. “Everything okay?” he asked. “No.” Brandon rubbed a hand over his face. “I don’t know. I just got some bad news.” “That’s a shame.” Bryan looked off in the direction Sean had gone, shaking his head. “Anything I can do to help?” Brandon thought about it for a moment, then sighed, shaking his head. “No, not really. Though…I guess I need a ride home now.” Bryan clapped him on the shoulder. “No problem. Come on, we’ll clean things up, then I’ll drive you home.” They cleaned up the garage, then Bryan dropped Brandon off at his apartment. Brandon paced around his living room for a bit, pulling his phone out a few times and considered giving Sean a call, but chickening out each time. Eventually, he grabbed a 6-pack of beer from the fridge and went out to the back porch. He sat on the porch, nursing a beer, and staring at the empty space where his boat used to be. He’d cleaned everything up and moved his tools down to the garage. Now there was nothing in the backyard but empty space and dead, trampled grass.
He’d been sitting there for awhile, lost in thought, when his doorbell rang. He twisted in his seat, looking at the apartment, wondering who might be dropping by unannounced. He got up and headed inside, cutting through the kitchen and then the living room on his way to the front door. When he opened the door, he stared blearily at the shadowed figure standing there. He had enough beer in him that it took him a few seconds to realize he hadn’t turned on the porch light. When he flipped the light on, he saw Tandy standing there, giving him a concerned look. “Hey there, stranger,” she said, stepping past him into the apartment. “I’ve been a little worried about you.” “You have?” He frowned in confusion, shutting the door. “I’m…I’m fine.” He wasn’t fine, really. But he wasn’t sure how to begin telling anyone what was wrong. “Don’t give me ‘fine.’” She put her hands on her hips, looking him up and down. “I heard about Sean.” Brandon blinked. He didn’t know how she could have known that. “How did you…?” She smirked. “Jack came by the club tonight. Paid me extra for a private dance. He was a bit bummed…said he wouldn’t be seeing me again. Poor guy, seemed all heartbroken about it.” She sighed, shaking her head. Brandon wasn’t sure sometimes whether she really cared for Jack at all, or if she just tolerated his affections in order to avoid losing a good customer. But she seemed a bit distraught. It might have been the effects of the alcohol, but Brandon couldn’t quite put two and two together. “But how did you hear about Sean?” he asked. Tandy rolled her eyes at him. “Jack and Sean are in
the same unit. Jack told me they’re shipping out, beginning of next month.” “Oh.” Brandon hung his head. “Yeah. It…sucks.” “Wanna talk about it?” Brandon shrugged. He finished off the last gulp of his beer, then headed to the back porch where he’d left the rest of the 6-pack. “I don’t know,” he said as he stepped outside. Tandy followed him, taking a seat next to him on the porch. He offered her a beer. “I just…I guess I never thought about something like this happening. We never really talked much about the future. And now it looks like there won’t be a future.” “Why not?” Tandy gave him a confused look. “I mean, it’s not like he’ll be there forever, right? In a year or two, he might get shipped someplace else. Or he might quit after he finishes his active duty commitment. You guys could do long distance until then. Talk on the phone, video chat, whatever it takes. And I’m sure he’d visit when he gets leave.” “I don’t know.” Brandon looked up at the stars overhead. “You don’t think he would?” “I mean, how do I know he cares enough about me to bother?” Brandon shrugged, then opened his new beer and took a long swig. In all the months he and Sean had been seeing each other, they’d never discussed their feelings. They spent a lot of time together. Sometimes it was just hanging out with the other guys, other times it was private, intimate moments that they shared only with each other. But they had never talked about how they really felt about each other. “Well,” Tandy said, giving him a weighted look, “there’s only one way to find out…” He looked at her blankly, too drunk to read between
the lines. “Talk to him,” she said, leaning forward and giving him a stern glare. “Geez, what is it with you men, sometimes? You’ll get all moody and emotional, but you try to pretend like you’re not moody and emotional, and you won’t admit what’s really wrong. Maybe if you’d just talk to someone once in awhile, and tell them how you really feel, then you wouldn’t have to go through all this! Maybe you’d even find out they feel the same way.” Brandon looked at her, his thoughts slowly slogging their way through the haze of alcohol around his brain. “Are we talking about me and Sean?” he asked. “Or you and Jack?” Tandy froze with her beer bottle halfway to her mouth. “What are you talking about?” she asked. Brandon shrugged. “I dunno. It just seems like every month or two, Jack has a little too much to drink, and he starts spouting his love for you. And you never seem to mind it so much.” In the time he’d been working at the club, Brandon had seen Jack repeat the same performance over and over again. Every time, he tried his best to get Tandy to go home with him, or to at least agree to a date. And every time, Tandy turned him down. But Brandon hadn’t been able to help noticing that she never really got mad, never tried to kick him out of the club. He almost thought she was a little sweet on him. “Jack’s a sweet guy,” Tandy said, with a far-off look in her eyes. “But I’ve told him a million times, I don’t date customers.” “Well,” Brandon said, raising his beer bottle, “starting next month, he won’t be a customer anymore.” Tandy opened her mouth to reply, then closed it again, a contemplative look on her face. “Hmm.” “Hmm?” Brandon arched an eyebrow at her.
She shrugged, turning away and taking a swig of her beer. But it certainly seemed like she had a lot to think about. Brandon pulled out his phone, scrolling through his contacts and staring at Sean’s number again. “You should call him,” Tandy said. Brandon sighed, tucking his phone away. “Not tonight.” “Why not?” “Well, for one thing,” Brandon said, struggling to get to his feet and swaying a bit once he got there, “I’m drunk.” Tandy laughed, getting up and putting an arm around him to help balance him. “That you are, my friend. Maybe you should sleep it off and call him in the morning.” She helped him upstairs and got him into bed, leaving a trash can by the side of the bed, just in case. Brandon was practically out cold by the time she covered him with a blanket, turned the lights off, and closed the door as she left.
Brandon couldn’t quite work up the nerve to call or text Sean over the next few days. And Sean didn’t call him, either. He didn’t know if it was because Sean was waiting for him to call first, or because Sean was simply too busy getting ready to transfer overseas, or what. But the more time that passed, the more miserable Brandon got. He spent the majority of his time working on the boat. He’d get a ride down there from Tandy or Bryan, or else he’d take the bus. A few times, he slept on the boat; the cabin was pretty much finished by now, and he’d installed a thin mattress on one of the bunks. He spent his time putting finishing touches on various things here and there, mostly doing the detail work that would make the boat more than just a sailing vessel, but instead more of a home. He hadn’t taken it down to the water yet, but unless the boat suddenly sprung a leak somewhere, it should have been seaworthy. He just needed to buy some ropes and life vests and other odds and ends. He figured it would take him another few months at least to finish fixing up the cabin the way he wanted it, not to mention painting the boat, staining and polishing the deck to a pristine shine, and giving it a name. But it was ready for the water, and he was itching to take it down to the docks and set sail. Maybe even sail away from this life, and all of his problems. Just start over someplace else. One afternoon, he was attaching a blank wooden nameplate to the back of the boat. He still hadn’t decided on a name yet, but once he picked one, he planned to carve it into the nameplate by hand, then paint it. He hoped that the nameplate would be big enough for
whatever name he picked, but he figured he could change the size of the letters to make it fit, if he picked something particularly long. He was staring at the blank nameplate when a voice from behind him said, “It looks good.” He twisted around on the ladder and saw Sean standing down below. Brandon turned back to look at the nameplate, taking a deep breath to center himself while he collected his thoughts. “Yeah,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of time lately to work on it.” Sean didn’t say anything for a moment. Brandon kept his back to Sean, running a polishing cloth over the nameplate. “I leave tomorrow,” Sean said. Brandon froze. He’d lost track of the passing days. He hadn’t realized the end of the month would come so quickly. Thirty days has September, he thought to himself, April, June, and November… He sighed. He’d thought there were thirty-one days this month. “Aren’t you going to say anything?” Sean asked. Brandon started climbing down the ladder. “I don’t know what to say.” “I thought we should talk about it,” Sean said. Brandon turned to face him. “So. Talk.” Sean rubbed his chin, looking Brandon up and down. He was lost in thought for a moment, then he said, “You know I don’t have any choice in this, right? I’ve got two more years before I could ask for a discharge. And that’s assuming I don’t decide to stay on.” Brandon nodded. He leaned against the ladder, sticking his hands in his pockets. “I know,” he said. “It’s not your fault.”
“Do you even care?” Sean asked. Brandon’s expression dropped into a scowl. “How can you ask that?” “Well, you haven’t spoken to me for days.” “You’re the one who ran out of here!” Brandon gestured angrily towards the garage door. “I can’t help but notice that you haven’t taken the time to call me, either.” “I’ve been busy,” Sean said, his face turning to steel. “There’s a lot of work to do before we ship out.” “Yeah.” Brandon looked away, the fire fading from his voice. He didn’t know what else there was to say about it. “So are you going to talk to me?” Sean asked, stepping closer. “Or are you just going to keep being moody?” “What do you want me to say?” “I don’t know.” Sean threw up his hands. “I want to know how you feel. I want to know if you care. I want to know how this is going to change things.” “I don’t know how I feel,” Brandon said. He couldn’t get his thoughts and feelings sorted. He knew that he was upset, and lonely, and scared. But he didn’t know what any of it meant. And he had never been good at expressing his emotions. “Do you still want to be with me?” Sean asked. “Yes.” Brandon looked away, unable to meet Sean’s eyes. “So does that mean you want to make this work?” Sean stepped closer, reaching up to touch Brandon’s cheek. “We could do the long distance thing. Lots of guys do that when they’re overseas. I know guys that are married and have kids back home. They make it work.” Brandon shrugged, still looking away, not sure what to say. He’d tried to do the long distance thing a few times
with people he’d met online. It had never lasted more than a couple of months. Sean sighed, letting his hand fall away. “It looks to me like you’re not trying here.” “I am,” Brandon said, finally looking at Sean. “But I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how this is supposed to work.” “I don’t either,” Sean said. “But it’s either figure out a way to make it work, or give up.” “I don’t want that.” Brandon looked down at his feet. “Me neither.” They stood there in silence. Eventually, Sean said, “You know, you could always come with me.” Brandon snorted. “Move to Japan?” “Why not?” Sean gestured to the boat. “Wasn’t that your plan, anyway? Pack up and sail off, see the world?” “That’s not the same thing.” Sean’s arms fell to his side. “So you can sail across the ocean to go visit new places, but not to visit your boyfriend.” Brandon met Sean’s eyes. That was the first time Sean had used that word: boyfriend. They’d never really said before what they were, what their relationship was. Now that Sean had finally said it, Brandon didn’t know whether to be happy or upset. It felt like their relationship was just getting started, and now it was on its last legs. “Sailing around the world,” Brandon said, “is a lot different than just sailing to one place and staying there. You know? I want to travel. I want to go from port to port, seeing everything. Moving to Japan would be picking one place and staying there.” “Yeah, well…” Sean shrugged. “It’s the place where I’ll be. If that matters.” “It does.” Brandon lowered his eyes again. He didn’t
know what to say. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to go with Sean. Part of him did. But he wouldn’t have any kind of life in Japan. It was on the list of places he wanted to visit, but he had a hard time imagining living there for what could end up being years. Sean reached up and cupped Brandon’s cheeks in his hands. “I don’t want to lose you.” Brandon held his breath. He looked into Sean’s eyes. He didn’t have the words for this moment, so he let his actions speak for him instead. He leaned forward and pressed his lips against Sean’s. Their bodies came together, and they embraced, kissing with a deep and urgent need. Brandon grabbed Sean by the belt and held him tight, afraid to let go. Part of him thought that if he let go now, they’d be torn apart forever. The feeling of Sean’s lips against his soon led to another kind of urgent need. Brandon’s hand slipped lower, groping hungrily at Sean’s crotch. Sean gasped, pulling back from the kiss for a moment to look around. There was no one else around—Bryan was out of the garage today, giving surfing lessons down at the beach— but the garage doors still stood open. The garage was part of a small, relatively secluded industrial complex, so there wasn’t a lot of foot traffic. But there was still the chance that someone could walk by. Somehow, the idea that the might get caught only spurred Brandon on more. He started undoing Sean’s pants. Sean laughed nervously, glancing at the open garage door. Sean whispered into his ear, “Here?” “Why not?” Brandon whispered, a mischievous smirk on his lips. Before Sean could protest further, Brandon had dropped his pants to his ankles. He took Sean’s cock in
his hand, stroking it firmly. Sean groaned, leaning forward and gripping the ladder for balance. Brandon grinned, kissing Sean’s face and neck while he felt Sean getting harder and harder in his hand. Sean closed his eyes, his breath coming in sharp gasps. His hands tightened on the side of the ladder until his knuckles were white. For a brief moment, Brandon considered climbing the ladder and going into the boat’s cabin for some privacy. But the open garage door was spurring him on, and he didn’t want to stop. He dropped down to his knees, opening his mouth and letting his tongue dart out, teasing the head of Sean’s cock. Sean groaned, holding onto the ladder and looking down at Brandon with a desperate lust in his eyes. Brandon looked up at Sean, meeting his eyes, still teasing his cock. When he could tell Sean couldn’t take the teasing anymore, he closed his eyes and dipped his head lower, sliding Sean’s cock into his mouth. Still holding onto the ladder with one hand, Sean reached down with the other, cupping it against the back of Brandon’s head. He pulled Brandon’s head closer, thrusting forward with his hips to drive himself deeper into Brandon’s throat. Brandon choked, but forced himself to take it, closing his eyes tight and focusing on the task at hand. He heard voices coming from outside. He looked up at Sean. Sean glanced over his shoulder towards the doorway, then he started thrusting faster into Brandon’s mouth. The sound of the voices got louder. Sean muttered a curse under his breath, closing his eyes and focusing his efforts. Brandon reached up to massage Sean’s balls, spurring him on and bringing him closer to the edge. Then, before he knew it, he felt the warm spurt
as Sean climaxed in his mouth. Sean quickly pulled back, zipping up his pants. Brandon wiped his mouth on his sleeve. Just then, Bryan came around the corner, carrying a surfboard. Brandon coughed, clearing his throat, and gave Bryan an awkward little wave. “Umm, hey.” Sean wiped a hand over his sweaty face. “Hey Bryan.” Bryan took a look at the both of them, a knowing grin spreading on his lips. He nodded. “Fellas.” He headed over to the racks to put the surfboard away, while Brandon and Sean headed out, trying not to make it too obvious what had just happened.
Later that afternoon, Brandon and Sean lay in bed in Brandon’s apartment. They’d gone out to dinner, then come home to share Sean’s last evening in Hawaii together. Brandon knew Sean had to return to the base soon. He was leaving first thing in the morning. While Sean snoozed, Brandon pulled out his sea charts. He’d been collecting charts of different parts of the world for years now, planning to be prepared no matter where he might go. He looked over them now, studying the Pacific ocean, the islands of Japan, and the surrounding area. He heard Sean get up from the bed and cross the room. He stepped up behind Brandon, putting his arms around him. “What’s that?” he asked, nodding to the newest chart Brandon had pulled out. “The Philippines,” Brandon said. “The Philippines?” “Yup.” “What’s in the Philippines?” Sean asked. “It’s not so much what’s there,” Brandon said. He traced a line across the charts. “As what’s nearby.” “What’s nearby?” “Everything.” Brandon started pointing out a number of different ports. “Taiwan. Shanghai. Tianjin. And right around the corner is South Korea, which is just a hop, skip, and a jump from Japan.” Sean studied the charts for a moment, rubbing Brandon’s shoulders. “Planning a trip?” he asked. Brandon looked up at Sean and smiled. “Well,” he said, “there’s lots of places I want to see. And quite a few of them are pretty close to Japan. There’d be plenty of
opportunities to sail around the area, with frequent stops back in Japan. I figure with all the ports I’d want to visit out in that area, I could be in the West Pacific region for a few years, before it’s time to head back east and hit up Alaska, California, Mexico, and South America.” “A few years, eh?” Sean smirked, a delighted look entering his eyes. “By then, I might be getting shipped someplace else.” “That’s the idea,” Brandon said. Sean glanced at the charts again. “Can you sail all that way? Hawaii to Japan?” “Maybe not. Not all at once.” Brandon traced a line along the chart, between Hawaii and Japan. “It’s about 4000 miles or so. Doable for a more experienced sailor, but even with all the lessons I’ve taken, I’m not ready for something like that yet. But there are alternatives.” He traced a line south from Hawaii, touching on a few other islands in the South Pacific. “Hawaii to Napari or Kiribati. A little over a thousand miles. From there, American Somoa, then Fiji. The Soloman Islands. Papua New Guinea. Indonesia. Then up to the Philippines. And from there, I’m right around the corner.” Sean looked at the distance between those places on the charts, his face going a bit pale. “How long would it take to do all that?” “Well, I’ll probably average something like 120 miles per day. First leg of the trip, about ten days? The entire circuit, depending on how long I spend in each port, something like four months.” “You know,” Sean said, “I’ve got thirty days of paid leave accumulated. I could take a couple of weeks for a trip to the Philippines in a month or two. Whenever you’re in the area.”
“And I’ll have WiFi when I’m in port,” Brandon said. “So we can keep in touch then.” “And then I’ll see you in Japan. And I can take the rest of my leave a little further down the line. This doesn’t sound so bad at all.” Brandon smiled. He reached up and took Sean’s hand, holding it against his cheek. “There’s just one problem,” he said. “What’s that?” Brandon looked up and met Sean’s eyes. “The boat still needs a name.”
“Bring it on back,” Brandon said, waving from the dock while Sean backed the trailer down the ramp. “You’re good, just a bit further. Okay, stop.” Once the trailer was far enough down the ramp, buoyancy did the rest, and the boat started drifting back away from the trailer. Brandon hauled on a rope to pull it further along, then he tied the rope to the dock, keeping the boat in place while Sean drove the rental truck back up the ramp, hauling the trailer away. While Sean went to park the truck, Brandon started prepping the boat for launch, making sure the sails were ready to deploy. The sun was about to set, and Sean had to be back at the army base before long, so it would be a short voyage. But Brandon had been determined to share the boat’s maiden voyage with Sean, on their last day together before Sean was transferred overseas. He looked around at the boat while he prepped it. There was still a lot of work to be done on it. The cabin was missing a door, the deck needed to be smoothed and polished, and some of the fixtures were still roughhewn wood, waiting for the personal touch Brandon planned to give to each piece. But after he inspected the boat, he found there were no leaks, and it was staying upright and balanced. The boat was seaworthy, even if it still looked a bit ugly. When Sean returned to the boat, he was carrying a cheap bottle of champagne. “Do you want to do the honors?” Brandon took the champagne, climbing onto the docks and sitting on the edge, near the stern of the ship. “She’s still not quite finished yet,” he said. “But then, knowing
me, she never will be. My dad never stopped renovating his house. He’s always doing one thing or another, fixing something that isn’t broken, redoing a guest room into a game room then turning it into a study. I’ll probably still be tinkering with this baby for years.” He patted the boat affectionately. He reached over and grabbed the cloth that covered the newly-engraved nameplate. He yanked the cloth free and revealed the name he had chosen: Wanderlust. He tapped the champagne bottle against the boat, but didn’t break it. Instead he popped the cork, letting the foam spray onto the boat’s hull. “Waste not, want not,” he said as Sean produced a pair of glasses. He poured the champagne and they drank a toast. Then they climbed on board, untied the boat from the dock, and started making their way out to sea. “You’ll have to teach me how to do this,” Sean said. “I’ve never been on a sail boat before.” “It’s easy,” Brandon said, getting the sails ready to unfurl. He’d done this dozens of times during his lessons with Chelsea, though this was the first time he was doing it on his own. The practiced motions came with ease, however, after all the months he’d spent learning them. He guided Sean through the process, and soon the sails were raised and filled with wind as they cruised at a gentle clip across the cool Pacific waves. Once they were cruising steadily at a good pace, they sat side by side on the bench seat at the stern. The boat was sailing west, into the sunset. Further west, beyond the horizon, there was another whole continent out there that Brandon wanted to explore. And even though Sean’s duties would keep them apart for a time, there would be plenty of opportunities for them to explore the world together. The time they’d be spending apart might be
hard, but Brandon knew that was part of the package when you fell in love with a soldier. They leaned close to each other, Brandon sitting with Sean’s arm around him, sipping champagne. And Brandon thought ahead to the journey he was about to embark on. He’d always known he was destined to wander. But now he had a new sense of hope about the journey, because he knew there would be someone waiting for him at journey’s end. THE END
Other Books by J.C. McMurphy Fighting Fair Small Town Scandal From Here On Rogue Wave South Jersey Gay Men’s Choir Series
Bold Moves When Hearts Collide The Favor Hard Truth Broken Heart Balancing Act To view these books on Amazon go here.
About The Author
J.C. McMurphy grew up in a small town on the Jersey Shore. He has worked as a food server, tutor, college counselor and librarian. When he’s not writing he enjoys reading, traveling, watching movies and singing.
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TheVietnam Experience Flags Into Battle l&fc;. TheVietnam Experience Flags Into Battle by Michael Casey/ Clark Dougan, Samuel Lipsman, Jack Sweetman, Stephen Weiss, and the editors of Boston Publishing Company Boston Publishing Company / Boston, MA B