Dawson was a nervous wreck as he drove north out of Whitehorse. Before he could talk himself into some sort of calm, he was at the turnoff that would take him to his destination. Sure enough, it was as close as the car rental agent had said it was.
He had a good view of the Pan-Abode log buildings as he came round the bend, and could clearly see the large wooden sign that proclaimed “The Amarok Motel.” He’d googled the name before he’d packed up and left Toronto, and learned it was Inuit for wolf—part of an ancient legend about the dangers of hunting after dark when a supposedly giant wolf called the Amorak roamed. He’d also learned that while the Inuit tended to live in the far, far north, their influence could be found throughout the entire Yukon.
Situated on a high ridge with no neighbors in sight, Dawson marveled at the snow-capped mountains in the distance behind it. While he couldn’t see it at the moment, the wide, winding Yukon River he’d been following around the bend would certainly be visible from the motel’s higher elevation. He remembered Brent mentioning it as part of the incredible view from the back of the motel.
It was a stupendous setting, and he was in awe as he approached. The smaller residence was about a hundred feet from the motel, but matched it in color and style, unobtrusive and solid. It was set a little farther back which helped to distinguish it as separate, and a few tall, healthy-looking spruce trees between the buildings aided with that.
Getting closer, his heart felt like it was in his throat. Was he a fool to show up unannounced? It was a question he’d asked himself a million times. His reasoning that Brent would again tell him not to come—so he wouldn’t give him the chance to—somehow didn’t work anymore. Was he being fair? The excitement that had carried him this far, suddenly faded, and uncertainty hammered at him as he pulled into the gravel parking lot.
He noticed the sign, up close, was weather beaten, and the wolf depicted at the top was badly in need of repainting. That was something he could do—paint a sign that did justice to the interesting log structure in this truly magical setting—that’s if Brent would let him.
He thought it a shame the motel, with gravel right up to its base, was stained a dull, reddish color that was way too common and mundane. It reminded him of what everyone used to paint their backyard decks.
This place deserved a color pulled from the nature surrounding it. Pan Abode buildings were made of cedar, and its natural tone would have been ideal, but sadly, it was concealed. Maybe a deep gray like the mountains in the distance, with crisp white trim, would give it the presence it screamed for. The concrete block foundation, in its natural state, didn’t help either, nor did the plain concrete step in front of each room’s door.
Still, it was appealing, and all the structural lines appeared straight. Black, ribbed steel covered the roof, which looked in excellent shape. He had to park facing the road because there were vehicles in front of every room, and a couple in front of what appeared to be the office with its glass door and bigger windows. He’d glimpsed an extension on the far side of the building when he drove in, but he wasn’t able to tell how far it went until he got out and checked.
Turning the rented Honda Accord’s engine off, he froze. The temporary distraction had ended and now he was back to facing the reality of what he was doing. The man he’d loved since practically childhood was probably only feet away, and he couldn’t find the strength to open the door. It was a sunny morning, and the interior of the car was comfortably warm, but he broke out in a clammy sweat. He buried his face in his hands, the exhaustion of the last couple of days finally hitting him. With hands noticeably trembling and stomach roiling, he picked up his phone from the passenger’s seat, thinking of his best friend back in Toronto. He stared at the screen for a minute before he shot off a text.
“Dude, my flight was delayed a couple of hours after I boarded, but I’m finally here and I’m freaking out.”
It took only about thirty seconds for a response from Chase, and that made him smile… just for a moment.
“Ah I wondered why it was taking so long to hear from you. You’re at the motel? What did he say?”
“Yeah… nothing… I haven’t got out of the car yet.”
“Dawson, you can do this. Take a deep breath and get out of the fucking car! Don’t make me come up there.”
Dawson took the deep breath as ordered, and relaxed slightly. Chase probably would drop everything and come to Whitehorse if he needed him.
“Okay. Will do. Thanks, buddy.”
“Let me know what happens… I’m sure you’ll get your happy ending, but if you don’t, you come right back here and stay with Dad and me.”
“You’re the best, but I’m not running away, no matter what.”
“That’s the spirit… go get him, champ!”
Dawson chuckled aloud, and then sighed as he tucked the phone into the pocket of his over-shirt.
His chuckle turned to a groan as he opened his door and stood up. Stretching and grimacing, he got as far as the back of the car before the office door, about sixty feet away, swung open. He heard the tinkle of a bell before Brent pushed it closed and headed for an older, dark green Ford pickup.
He was obviously in a hurry, jumping in, starting it up and backing out in seconds. Tires spun on the gravel as he headed for the exit, but he suddenly slammed on the brakes and slid to a stop. The sun was reflecting off the windshield, but Dawson, caught like a deer in headlights, was pretty sure Brent was looking straight at him. It became a certainty as the truck crawled toward him, stopping a few feet away. He could see the man’s face clearly now, and he looked… stressed? Annoyed? Incredulous? Maybe all three.
Leaving the engine running, Brent jumped out and walked quickly to the front of the truck. He halted an arm’s length from Dawson and his expression was cloudy at best. “Dawson! What the hell are you doing here?”
Forcing a smile onto his face, he responded. “Is that how you say hello to your best friend?” The smile faltered as he stared at the man, waiting. Those vivid green eyes bored into his soul before his fierce expression softened, much to Dawson’s relief
“Sorry… I… hello, Dawson.” He held out his hand, and Dawson shook it, trying not to let his disappointment show. For some reason, Brent looked embarrassed when he spoke again. “I, ah… it’s just the timing really sucks. Sorry, but I’m running late… way late.”
Didn’t their timing always suck? “Oh, then go. Sorry, I should have called first.”
“You should have. I told you I didn’t want… what are you doing here, and why didn’t you call me?”
The man was definitely flustered by his presence, and that did little for Dawson’s already ebbing hope. “Because you would have said no again, and I came to help a friend. Go, go! We can talk later.”
“Okay, where are you staying?” Brent, hands running through his hair, took a few steps toward his truck.
“I thought I could book a room here.”
The man halted, and turned back to face him. “Oh fuck, you didn’t make any reservations? Sorry, but we’re full up… pretty much everywhere is. How long are you here for?”
“Ah… well… the fact is I’m moving here. Lock, stock, and barrel. Thought I’d give the north a try,” he said with a grin, trying to lighten the discouraging conversation. It didn’t take him long to see it hadn’t worked.
“Oh, God, man, I told you not to do that… fuck! What about the great career you had going?”
“My career isn’t as important to me as you think it is.”
Brent was frowning, and Dawson lost the last bit of confidence he’d gained from his conversation with Chase. “Look, it was my decision and you don’t have to worry about me.”
“But I do… of course I do! It took a lot of hard work to get where you are, and you’re so talented—I know that better than anyone. Shit!”
“Brent, stop! We can talk later. I’ll go look for a place to stay and you call me when—”
“No… you won’t find anywhere with a vacancy… oh, fuck!”
“Hey, stop worrying. Just do what you—”
Brent blew out a groaning breath loud enough to interrupt Dawson.
“Come on, man, you’re not responsible for me, and I can look after myself. Just go!”
Another groan blasted from the man’s mouth. “No need to now… he’s here.”
Dawson, hearing a car slow down on the highway, followed his friend’s gaze and witnessed a cab entering the parking lot. It stopped right behind Brent’s still-running vehicle. “Who is that?”
“Perry,” he answered, with a long sigh following.
Dawson took in his friend’s rigid posture. He swallowed as he tried to keep his face composed. “Oh. I see. Are you guys back together?”
“No… he wants to be—” His words were cut off when a tall man with dark, slicked-back hair got out of the cab and called to him.
“You got a twenty? I have to get to a bank.”
“Are you fucking kidding me,” Brent muttered under his breath, suddenly slumping as he reached into his pocket.
Dawson watched the unfolding scene with curiosity, trying to ignore the awful dread he felt. Why didn’t the guy just use his bank card? Surely cabs up here didn’t require cash. Brent walked to the driver’s side and handed the driver some bills. “Keep the change.” Leaning into the window, he said something to the driver, but Dawson couldn’t hear it.
Perry obviously did, though, judging by the sudden scowl that appeared. It slid off his face when Brent addressed him. “I said I would meet you at the airport.”
“I got tired of waiting,” he responded cheerfully as he reached into the open door and pulled out a suitcase. He had to admit the guy had a great smile, but Dawson’s heart sank at the sight of it… and the suitcase. Was he watching a reunion?
“I told you not to come to the motel, yet here you are?” His eyes flickered to Dawson for a split second. “Doesn’t anyone bother listening to me?” The cab, backing up to the other side of the entrance, left the two men face to face, but neither moved closer.
Dawson cleared his throat to get Brent’s attention. “Um, if you move your truck, I’ll head back into Whitehorse. Call me when you get a chance and we can catch up… if you want to.” The last couple of words were more of a squeak than actual English. As curious as he was, he needed to leave before his churning stomach tried to empty itself.
“No… can you hold on, Dawson? I’ll help you get sorted.”
“Uh, okay, if you’re sure.”
A scowl returned to Perry’s face. “Dawson? Is this the guy you spent the night with in Toronto?”
“We didn’t spend the night in the way you mean and you know that, but yes, this is my best friend. I’ve known him most of my life.”
“So what, he’s your backup plan?”
“I’m not doing this,” Brent said in a growl. “What do you want, Perry?”
“You know what I want. Have you thought about it?” He took a couple of steps closer, but Brent took one step back.
“I did. It’s not happening.”
“Why, because of this guy?” He openly sneered at Dawson before turning his attention back to Brent.
“You’re kidding, right? This is on you and nobody else.”
“Okay, fair enough. I admit I made mistakes, but what we have is good. You know it is, and when you agreed to talk, I could tell you remembered that.” He attempted to get closer, but Brent again stepped away.
“All I remember is the bullshit. You did nothing but lie.”
“Hey… I never lied, not intentionally. I had some back luck, and my finances fell through, but—”
“What about the son you didn’t tell me about?”
“I told you. He’s not my son, and Connie and I are just friends. Why won’t you just let it go?”
“Because my dad saw the proof with his own eyes.”
“Your dad,” Perry said with sudden and shocking disdain. “He saw Luke for about a minute, and he hates me. You know he wants me out of your life, so of course—”
“Are you calling my father a liar?”
“No, I don’t want to say that, but he’s old, you know, and just because the kid has the same eye color—”
“And hair color, and eyebrows, and nose, and chin. How can you stand there and deny your own son?”
“I’m not. Look, Connie’s not exactly a spinster. She’s been with a lot of guys and Luke could be anyone’s.”
“You’re fucking unbelievable, and if you knew me at all, you would know I trust my dad. Of course he doesn’t like you, because he doesn’t like liars and never has, but he would never lie about the resemblance you have to your son.”
“So, you’re willing to throw us away because of something that might have happened when I was a kid? You and I could conquer the world if you’d just trust me.”
Dawson watched Brent shake his head. “I don’t want to conquer the world, Perry. And my decision has nothing to do with you having a son.”
“What then? Can’t we just forgive and forget? Is it your friend here? Because he’s part of your past… I’m your future.”
Dawson had to fight not to shake his head too. The guy was slippery, no doubt about it. He felt awkward listening, but Brent must have wanted him to hear this.
“No, you’re not! I don’t love you anymore. And I could never trust you with my business, never mind my heart. We both know you’re all about big dreams and money… and you’ll have to find someone else for that because I’m done. You are my past, and I am never going to change my mind.”
“Then why did you agree to meet with me?” Perry asked with a whine. “You must have wanted us to work this out?”
Another head shake came from Brent. “I haven’t laid eyes on you in months—I wanted to be sure, and now I am… I’ve seen enough.”
“Come on, Brent—”
“Go. The cab’s waiting for you—don’t worry—I paid him already.”
“You’re going to regret this,” Perry snarled out, his face twisting up with anger. “You wouldn’t have this place if it wasn’t for me.”
“You’re absolutely right, I wouldn’t have ever come to the Yukon, but I don’t owe you a goddam thing. I bought your sales job and it kept me from seeing the truth—yours and mine, but maybe I can build something here despite your lying ass.”
Perry’s expression quickly morphed into something Dawson saw as sly. “We can get past this, babe. Let me make it up to you.”
Brent once again looked Dawson’s way. “I was a fool and I own that, but I’m not stupid.” His eyes shifted back to Perry. “Now get the fuck off my property.”
Dawson was astonished at the calm that emanated from Brent as he spoke those words to his one-time fiancé, but Brent had always been good at hiding his true feelings—and he wasn’t only thinking about the fact he’d hid his love for his own best friend all those years. He waited, wondering how this jackass was going to react.
“I can come up with the money if that’s what you’re worried about.” Perry was not giving up so easily, and his voice now held a soft, pleading tone. “I’ll sell my plane as soon as I get a decent offer. You can tell your dad—”
“My dad has nothing to do with this, so let’s be clear. Stop blaming everyone else for your crap. I’m the one who decided to go ahead with buying this business, and I don’t want your money… or should I say your empty promise of money. All I asked was for you to put in a fraction of what I did after you let me down the second time, but you refused, remember? You flew off in a huff, without a word or any concern for me, all because your name wouldn’t be on the deed. I don’t trust a word out of your mouth, so I repeat… get the fuck off my property.”
“I would have made up the difference, and—”
“Stop! All you’re doing is making a fool of yourself.”
“What, so it’s you and this guy now?” he asked, glaring at Dawson.
The calm façade disappeared. “Jesus, are you stupid? This has nothing to do with him or anyone else. It’s about you, and how you’ve let me down again and again. I feel sick just looking at you, so do us both a favor and get in that cab before I take his payment back. I’m done with this conversation.”
“But where am I supposed to stay? Surely you can put me up for—”
“No, I can’t, and even if I could, I wouldn’t. Clear enough for you?”
“Well then can you lend me—”
“No! No more!” He stared the man down before turning to Dawson. “Come on. I’ll show you around. Leave your stuff until we get you sorted… make sure your doors are locked.” He turned his back to his ex and began walking.
“You’ll be sorry for throwing us away, Brent. I know you’re upset right now, but we can work this out. Remember how good it was with us?”
“Actually, I don’t, and you’re the one who fucked us up,” he answered without looking back. Reaching his still running truck, he got in and backed it up until he reached its original parking spot.
Dawson shoved his hands in his pocket, and began walking over to him. He stopped when Perry called out his name. “What do you want?” he asked curtly.
“You have no fucking business getting in the middle of us.”
Dawson couldn’t help it… he grinned. “Us? Sounds to me like there is no you and Brent anymore. Look, I don’t know you and I don’t want to know you, but I’m here now, so rest assured I’ll never let you hurt him again. Clear enough for you?” He said the last words in the same sarcastic tone Brent had used seconds earlier.
Perry glowered, but didn’t answer. Dawson was unsuccessful in his attempt not to smile too broadly as the man walked towards the waiting cab, angrily wheeling his uncooperative suitcase over the gravel. He so did not like that guy.
Brent didn’t get out of his truck until Dawson reached it. As they stood face to face, the slam of the cab door got their attention. Watching Perry leave, Brent muttered, “Good fucking riddance.”
“Are you okay?”
“That must have been tough. Sorry about my bad timing.”
“Don’t be. You being here actually made it easier.”
“Absolutely. He can be really persuasive, and to be honest, I was worried about him worming his way in, which was why I didn’t want him coming here in the first place.”
“Not worming his way back in with me, Dawson. Definitely not with me. I’m done with him, but he’s really good at getting things—like a place to stay—or money, the way he did with the cab. He asked me to think about getting back together, but I never really considered it. The only reason I agreed to see him was to tell him that in person.”
Dawson felt some relief at his statement. “That doesn’t surprise me. He seems kind of slick.”
Brent laughed, and Dawson’s breath caught at the familiar sound. “That’s nothing. I think you threw him off his game.”
“Well, he sure didn’t like me.”
“Hell no, he didn’t.” He laughed again. “Thank you for that.”
“You’re welcome,” Dawson said with a grin. ”Glad I could be of assistance.”
“What did he say to you?”
“Oh… ah… that I had no right to be here. He said I was getting in the middle of you two.”
Brent shook his head in obvious disgust. “The bastard never owns up to anything.”
“If you need me, I’m here, and I’ll gladly run interference. I told him I wouldn’t let him hurt you again.” Dawson stood awkwardly, not sure whether Brent even wanted him around.
“Were you serious? Do you really plan on staying in Whitehorse?”
“I… I want to. I would like to help you if….” He left the words hanging in the air between them.
Brent’s eyes held him in their stare. “Well, I hope you didn’t burn all your bridges, because there’s nothing glamorous here.”
“Do you think I’m looking for glamorous?” He took a half step forward.
“You had a great career going, Dawson, something you’ve always wanted.”
“I did, that’s true, but I haven’t been happy, not since… not in a long time.” He swallowed nervously. “I can do graphic design or print editing anywhere there’s internet, if I choose to, but there are other ways to be creative. Look, we already went through this, and if you don’t want me here, then just say so. I’ll understand, but you know me. Do I ever say what I don’t mean?”
“Hey, I’m not saying you don’t mean it, but I also know you’re the kind of friend who would sacrifice your career to help me, and I don’t want you to do that. I don’t want anyone’s pity… especially yours. It’s been almost four years since we hung out, Dawson.”
“Yeah, so? It doesn’t feel like it, does it?”
“No, it doesn’t,” Brent agreed instantly.
“And do you really think I’m here because I pity you?” he challenged, a bit of annoyance rising up.
Brent’s eyes widened a fraction, and he faltered. “I… I’m not stupid. I know you’re all worried about me. My mom, my dad… and you, but I can do this. I got it handled—I’m covering my expenses and I see a light at the end of the tunnel. Yes, it won’t be easy, but I can do this.”
“Ah, so this is about your pride?”
“No… not… okay, maybe. Dad tried to talk me out of buying the motel, but I saw what a good business it could be. It’s not seasonal, and people in the north don’t disappear with the first snowfall. I went over the books, and I could see why it wasn’t doing as well as it should, but my parents, especially Mom, think I made a bad decision. They don’t believe I can do it on my own… and that I’ve thrown my money away on a money pit.”
“And she has a problem with you being gay.” His words startled Brent, enough that he sputtered.
“What does… that has nothing to do with anything.”
“Doesn’t it? Brent, come on. I know she wanted you to go home so she could work on you, and if you did, she surely would have. She doesn’t let things go, so you want to prove to her, and yourself, just how independent you are. And, you want to avoid the drama.”
Brent stared at him, his normally full lips forming a grim line. “Damn, I forgot how well you know me.”
Dawson smirked. “So you admit I’m right?”
He sighed, and they both turned their heads as a car drove past. “She wants me to sell, and they’ll cover any losses, and then she wants me to join Dad’s company. She sees me as a failure, Dawson.”
“But you know you’re not, right?”
“The jury is still out on that.”
“Not in my eyes, and I doubt in your dad’s either.”
“Well, he wants me to succeed at least, but I don’t like owing him. I had no choice but to ask Daddy for money, and that’s the last thing I wanted to do.”
“I get that—”
“And the guy I was going to marry turned out to be the world’s biggest loser. Yeah, that’s an epic fail all by itself.”
Dawson took another step forward and put his arms around his best friend. Slowly, the embrace was returned, and before long, he felt a gentle and sustained squeeze. “An epic fail would have been to marry that slimeball,” he whispered into Brent’s ear.
The man loosened his grip and his body started to shake. A chuckle soon became full out laughter as they separated. “I forgot about your knack for comedy,” he said, his previously troubled expression finally clear. His dazzling smile was a welcome sight. “Come on. I’ll show you the office.”
Dawson nodded eagerly, but he already missed the feel of Brent in his arms. He wasn’t sure where he stood with him, but hearing him laugh was enough for the moment.
As soon as the door swung open, something delicious assaulted his nose. He followed eagerly, and breathed in deeply. It turned out to be muffins baking in a large commercial oven. He could also smell the rich aroma of coffee. Brent introduced him to a mature woman named Elsa who gave him a shy but cheerful smile before going about her business. She was one of three full-time employees, while three others he’d just hired were part-time.
He’d been right about an extension on this end of the building, and he peeked in to take a better look. The office was, in essence, the lead-in to a café, with tables and chairs lining the far wall, and, similar to a diner, a serving counter on the near side, in front of a wall of typical restaurant equipment, like an oven, coffee machine, toaster, chest freezer, and a glass-doored fridge. Customers sat on two of the line of fixed round stools, drinking coffee and chatting.
There was a separate counter to the right of the entry, and that was where guests registered. In front of him was the computer cash system on a really cool-looking wooden bar, with souvenirs, postcards, and maps lining the wall behind it. A door was situated in the center of that wall, but it was closed, and looked like it probably swung. It was a compact but efficient design.
Brent talked the whole time, explaining they provided free coffee, tea, and muffins until noon for their guests—and that the place would soon be full—and served those and soup and sandwiches for café and take-out customers until seven in the evening. The soup came in frozen bags, he told him in a whisper, for ease of preparation, but insisted they were excellent, and the profit margin good. The wrapped sandwiches were made up every day as well, and apparently sales were so good they often ran out and had to make more ‘to order.’
Elsa worked until four, and then a young man took named Jake over the café and office until midnight, preparing what he could for the next day, while Brent filled in wherever he was needed. There was an outside buzzer customers could use after hours which sounded over in the house. Dawson took an interest in everything he saw and heard, and was impressed to say the least. The setup worked… the dark and dated décor—other than the beautiful bar—not so much.
The extension went on farther than he’d originally thought. He finally realized how big the place was after going through the big swinging door to find a storage room packed with shelving. A laundry area with oversized commercial machines was next, and one wall was filled with shelves holding numerous stacks of bedding and towels. At the end was a compact kitchen, with a stand up, double-doored freezer, and three similar sized fridges. An exhaust hood ran along one wall over a gas grill, flat grill, deep fryer, and a stacked double oven. In the center of the room was a long, stainless steel prep table. It represented a restaurant waiting to happen, and was another surprise for Dawson. The kitchen had another swinging door that led into the cafe.
Brent, talking continuously, was enthusiastic for the most part, but he pointed out everything he saw as wrong. He was right about there being a lot of wear and tear—the equipment was definitely on the old side, but it all worked, and Dawson saw incredible potential.
He followed the man out a back door at the end of the hallway, and was immediately struck by the view. It was a ten million dollar one, vast and uplifting. “Wow!”
“Not too shabby, huh?”
“That’s an understatement. I would never tire of this.”
“No, me neither. When I’m feeling done in, I come out here and chill. Watching the river helps me recharge, and if you’re careful, you can make your way down to the shore.”
“It’s unbelievably inspiring. Man, I love this place.”
“Hell yeah. It might need a little work, like you say, but I see awesome possibilities. It’s a great site, and it’s a great building… way bigger than I imagined.”
“Thanks.” He turned from the view to face the motel. “Unfortunately I can’t show you any guest rooms because we’re full up and no one’s checking out today—which means no scrambling to clean rooms and change bedding,” he added with a grin.
“Yeah, that must be hectic.”
“You know, not really… not anymore. Two of the women I hired—they’ll be here soon—really know their stuff, and they’re fast and thorough. It’s taken a load off my mind.”
“I guess good people make all the difference.”
“Absolutely. Anyway, like I told you on the phone, the windows are old and leaky, and there are none looking out to this view. I want to add those to make the experience more special for the guests, and to give a cross breeze in summer. And, I want to replace all of the front ones because my energy costs are too high. That’s going to have to wait until I can afford it, though.”
“It looks to me like you’ve accomplished a lot in the time you’ve been here.”
“Thanks. Everywhere I look, I see stuff that needs to be done, but I don’t let it overwhelm me. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
“What’s the most important thing that needs doing?”
“A new furnace, I guess. One furnace is only a couple of years old, but the other one is ancient, and it’s toast, so that means half my rooms only have the electrical units for heating, and those are ridiculously expensive to run. At least the house furnace checked out okay, and so did the central air.”
“How much is a new furnace?”
“I’ve received one estimate of eight grand for a high capacity, high efficiency one big enough to do the job.”
“And you don’t have that?”
“No, but I will,” he said quickly, as if the subject of money made him uncomfortable. “Let’s grab your stuff and I’ll show you the house.”
“Oh…am I staying with you?” Dawson tried his best to sound nonchalant. For some reason, Brent was being reserved with him. He knew him enough to know something wasn’t quite right. Those feelings the man once confessed to feeling for him… were they gone?
“Of course you are. It’s nothing fancy, and the house is like a construction site, but one spare room has a decent bed.”
“Sounds good to me. I can start looking for another place, though, if it makes things easier.”
They had reached the parking lot when Brent turned to him. “We need to talk, okay? Let’s get your stuff.”
Dawson swallowed down instant dread as he followed him to his rental car. It was a short walk from there to the house, and neither man spoke much at all.
“Home sweet home. What do you think?”
“It’s… nice. What’s going on with that?” He gestured to the bare stud walls to the left, right off the front entrance.
“Yeah, those were two bedrooms. I disconnected the wiring right at the box so none of the exposed ones are live. I took the paneling down and removed the doors, but haven’t gotten around to the framing. They’re screwed and nailed right into the log walls if you can believe it. Thank God they aren’t attached to the ceiling. You wouldn’t believe how dark it was when we first saw it… at least it’s brighter now.”
“So… this whole area should be the living room?”
“You got it. The family did their living in the kitchen and dining room, and turned the living room into bedrooms. There was the mom and dad, two grown daughters, and three grandkids living in this house. The old man passed away a year ago, and his wife was getting too frail to keep the place up. The daughters, well, they couldn’t wait to get rid of it, so that’s why it came up for sale. I’m turning it back into a three bedroom, but I’ve been so busy.”
“I could get rid of those walls for you… if you want, I mean? It would take me no time.”
Brent didn’t respond, instead telling Dawson to follow him as he entered the hall to the right, just past a decent-sized coat closet. He opened the third door on the right, and went in. “Is this okay? The bedding is old stuff from the motel, but it’s clean, and only my dad has used the pillows—that door leads to a shared bathroom that opens to the hallway and the other bedroom. It’s even smaller than this one.”
Dawson opened the door to look in, and saw a small bathroom with three doorways that needed a complete overhaul. The tub/shower combo was a sickly beige or almond—he couldn’t quite tell which, and one door was half blocked by a full-sized stackable washer/dryer. “It’s fine… it’s perfect, Brent. I appreciate you letting me stay, and I just want you to know that—”
Brent interrupted him. “I’ll show you the rest. Follow me.”
Dawson, disappointed, trailed him across the hall and into the master bedroom, getting the distinct impression Brent didn't want to talk after all. He was determined to respect that. The man just had it out with his ex. “Wow… great view from here.”
“It’s the only thing good about this room. The carpet is gross, and I’d like to replace those two dark, paneled walls at some point.”
“Or you could paint them,” Dawson suggested, tapping the solid wood paneling before peeking into the ensuite bathroom. It was roomy enough, with no extra doorways, and had a decent-sized walk-in shower. “This isn’t too bad.”
“Needs to be gutted, but it does the job for now. I had to caulk the shower because it leaked, but I checked in the crawlspace—the floor is water-stained, but doesn’t have any rot. Wait till you see the kitchen,” he warned with a grimace.
He left the room, with Dawson right behind, and walked back down the hall. Turning right, a wide, cased opening led them into the dining area. It was surprisingly large, and had an old round table and four mismatched, red, wooden chairs, that didn’t come close to filling the space. Dawson suspected the set was left by the previous owners. The aluminum sliding door unit behind the table had the same view as the master bedroom and provided a lot of light, but it had seen better days. As had the kitchen. It was situated adjacent to the dining room, and right behind the living room wall—it was grotesque.
“Oh… wow,” Dawson said as he walked through a doorway double the width of the one that led into the dining room, making the room feel reasonably open.
“See what I mean. It’s never been updated… or maintained.”
“It is kind of ugly, but it’s nice and bright in here.” Dawson took in the missing cupboard doors, horrible wall paper, and the broken edges of the pink, daisy-patterned, laminate counters. Looking up, the ceiling was badly stained, by smoke and grease from cooking most likely. The fridge was old and white, and the stove was old and gold. The door on the oven looked tilted, and the taps behind the single sink were sticking up from the counter top, revealing the rot underneath. He looked out to that view from the window over the sink, and it made the whole thing palatable. “It’s got good bones.” He turned to see Brent staring at him.
He rolled his eyes at Dawson. “You should have heard what my dad said about it. You’re still as positive as ever, I see.”
The statement caught him off guard, and he had to think about it. “Yeah, I guess I am.”
“This place doesn’t scare you?”
“Of course not. Why would it?”
“It scares me.”
He found his statement confusing. What was happening here? “Are you talking about the house?”
“No, all of it. I took on a lot—a lot of work and a lot of mortgage. I know I can wade through it all eventually, but can you imagine if my mom ever sees this? She already thinks I’ve lost my gay fucking mind.”
“What does it matter what she thinks… about being gay, or about the motel? Your dad is supportive, right?”
Brent nodded. “Yeah, but he questions my sanity too, I think. I’m pretty sure he’s convinced he’ll have to bail me out eventually.”
“Well, that may be what he thinks, but I don’t believe you’re crazy. Just the opposite, in fact. This place is incredible. You have your own piece of paradise here, and as far as this house is concerned, it just needs some simple renovating… something you and I did every summer all through high school. I think you are very fortunate to have found a business and a home like this.”
“You really mean that?”
“I do, absolutely. I thought it from the moment I first saw it from the highway, and everything I’ve seen since has just added to that. For one thing, I had no idea it had a café. Hell, it’s a full-fledged restaurant if you want it to be. That is freaking awesome, Brent.”
“It’s not really operating as either one yet. I’d need to hire more employees.”
“But it’s there, with all kinds of equipment, and imagine if you had about ten more picnic tables outside so people could eat and see that view!”
Brent’s eyebrows rose, but Dawson couldn’t tell what he was thinking. Eventually, after an awkward silence, he sighed. “True, the café could be a goldmine—it’s already quadrupled its revenue compared to last year’s books—but this place is a lot of work, Dawson. A lot of early mornings, and long days and nights. There’s no time for partying or even relaxing… there’s no time off to speak of. It’s a huge responsibility, and it takes up your whole life.”
“Well, of course it does until you work your magic, which you will, but look at what you have to show for it. Are you saying you regret buying it?”
“Oh, no, not at all, but it’s not for everybody.”
Dawson finally clued in to what was going on. “You mean it’s not for me?” He leaned his butt against the stove and crossed his arms as he waited for an answer.
He didn’t get an answer. Instead, after Brent leaned against the counter opposite him, he asked a question. “What do you want, Dawson?”
“Ah… can you be more specific?”
“You know what I mean. Why did you come here?”
“You don’t know?”
“Not until you tell me.”
“We just had this talk in the parking lot.”
“No, we talked about you planning on staying in Whitehorse, and we talked about me, but not about what you really want. Do you even know what you want, now that you’ve seen the place?”
“Of course I know what I want.” Dawson felt a tendril of panic move from his stomach to his chest, but he pushed it down. “And I came here because my best friend needs me.”
“Who said I needed you?” he challenged, his expression unreadable.
“Okay… so, that’s not really true. I came because I needed to. Ever since the night we met up in Toronto, I can’t stop thinking about you or the things we said. I let you go in my mind but… but not in my heart. No matter what I did, it didn’t stop hurting. I have this friend, Chase, and I watched him give up on a relationship. I thought it was a mistake, and I told him so. He said I’d done the same thing in not fighting for you. It really hit home, and I had to know if there was the slightest possibility….”
Brent shifted his weight on his feet, but he didn’t break eye contact. “Possibility of what?”
“That you might have felt the same way. I hadn’t heard from you for ages, and I knew it was a shot in the dark, but I really had no idea if all your plans worked out… whether you’d gotten married or… not. Once that entered my mind, thanks to my friend, I had to know. I was seeing this great guy who wanted more, and I wasn’t able to take that next step.”
A confused look crossed Brent’s face. “Chase?”
“No… no, he loves a guy named Hank, and I think Hank still loves him, but the guy has issues, so who knows. Anyway, ah, the guy… his name is Carter, and he deserved more, so I told him I still… that I was in love with you,” Dawson said, putting it all out there with no clue what was going on in the other man’s mind.
“You were in a relationship with Carter?”
Dawson shook his head. “We’d just started dating, and it hadn’t progressed past kissing. I thought I could force it, but I couldn’t.”
“You.” He hadn’t come all this way to be coy. ‘Go get him, Dawson’ rang in his ear. This was his chance at happiness, so he didn’t hold back. “Look, I know you’ve been through a lot, and I know you used to love me when we were younger, but my feelings have never changed, Brent. I don’t know why they go so deep, but they do, and I’ll respect wherever you’re at, but I don’t regret taking the leap no matter what happens. I needed to come here and tell you that.”
“So you want a relationship with me.”
“And you understand what you’d be getting into?”
“You mean the business?”
Brent nodded, his expression still hard to read.
“Brent, not only does this place not scare me, it excites me. All I want is to help you, in any capacity you see fit. If it’s just friendship you want, so be it.”
“You’d be happy with just being friends, after what you just said to me?”
“Yes… no. I wouldn’t be happy, but I’d learn to live with it.”
Brent’s face suddenly broke into a smile, and he stepped forward. Dawson’s knees went instantly weak when hands reached up to cup his face. “God, Dawson, I’ve missed you so damn much. Can I kiss you?”
Dawson couldn’t speak, but he could nod at the unexpected request. What followed let him know he’d made the right choice. There was love in that kiss, he was sure of it. Brent followed up with a bear hug that nearly crushed him, but nothing had ever felt so damn good.
“I love you too,” was whispered in his ear, and those words and the warmth of Brent’s breath gave him chills. He squirmed until Brent released his hold on him.
“You do?” he asked, but he didn’t need to hear the answer because he saw it in his best friend’s eyes.
“I do, and I have. I never stopped either, Dawson, and what I feel goes just as deep.”
“Then why did you push me away when I called you?”
“Lots of reasons, but I wasn’t in a good place. I was ashamed. You were so open with me in Toronto, and I didn’t have the guts to break from Perry. I thought I loved him too, but I can’t even remember those feelings anymore.”
“Hey, you made a commitment, and I understand that.”
“No, you don’t, not really. The warning signs were there when we talked in Toronto, but I let them slide. I was such an idiot. Then, as it all fell apart, I realized I’d made the biggest mistake of my life in walking away from you.”
“You could have called me anytime.”
“You know me, man. I figured it was too late. I’d made my bed, and I couldn’t ask you to give up everything you’d worked for because I fell for a complete loser. This place—this business—it was my compensation, but it was also my responsibility. I wanted to take you up on your offer when you called, but I kept telling myself it wouldn’t be fair to you. I didn’t want to interrupt your career, and I felt like I didn’t deserve you.”
“I was wrong… I believe you. It doesn’t feel like you’re sacrificing your life for me. I can see it in your eyes when you look around this place… and when you look at me. You feel what I feel.”
“I do, and I’m glad you got it through that thick, handsome head of yours.” This time he was the one to take the initiative, capturing the man’s lips with his own.
When he finally released them, Brent’s expression was one of pure happiness. “I love you, Dawson, and I’m all in. This is your place too, if you want it.”
“That’s what I was waiting to hear. I do want it, and I can’t contribute what you did, but I have twenty-five thousand left over from my education fund—I decided a long time ago I was never going to do the extra two years—so we can get the furnace and the windows right away, and whatever else you think is a priority. Or, you can put it towards the loan from your dad. Whatever you want.”
“I don’t want your money, Dawson. You hold onto that… I… we’re doing okay, and with you at my side we’ll do even better.”
“Uh uh. No way. You said you were all in, so that money is ours, and if we need it, my parents will loan me ten grand with no strings, so let’s get that straight now.”
“I appreciate it, I really do, but there’s no guarantees we won’t fail as a business, and I don’t want you to risk your money.”
Dawson glared at the man. “If we fail, we’ll fail together, so make a choice. Put it towards your dad’s loan or use it for upgrades. I’ll leave that to you.” He softened his words with a quick kiss, and then grinned at the man he’d loved for most of his life.
“Okay, okay… you win. We’ll do the upgrades, after we put your name on the deed. The money we save in expenses will pay my dad back sooner.”
“Sounds like a good business decision to me. What about him… your dad?”
“Oh, hell, he’ll be relieved you’re on the deed, and he loves you almost as much as I do.”
“Okay, that’s settled… we’ll do the upgrades. Now, about the love part, am I really staying in the spare room?”
Brent snorted, and then laughed. “That’s an even easier decision. Not a fucking chance, and don’t worry. Perry has never slept in this house or my bed.”
“So, what you’re saying is it hasn’t been christened?”
“Not yet,” Brent answered in a suddenly husky tone.
Dawson felt the heat rise in his cheeks and other places. “It’s not like it’s the first time we’ll share a bed. We did that pretty much every weekend.”
Brent’s eyes bored into him like lasers. “It’ll be the first time we don’t have to hide what we feel, though.”
“Yeah, thank God—no more pretending I don’t love you. What time do you have to go back to work?”
Brent’s hands pulled him closer, until they were groin to groin. “My staff knows the ropes, and they’ll buzz if they need me, so I can take a couple of hours… at least. Feel like christening the bed… or do you want to wait?”
Brent’s lips drew his like magnets. When he could talk, he muttered, “I want to christen this whole damn house.”
“We can do that,” his partner answered. “We’ve wasted too much time already, don’t you think?”
“I’m with you, Brent… let’s start making up all that lost time, but first I need a shower.”
“Well, it’s good a good thing we have one big enough for two,” Brent said with a grin.
“Oh, I like that. It won’t be the first time we share a shower either, though, will it?”
“Oh, you’re talking about the manure spreader incident… what a fucking mess we were,” Brent said, followed by full-throated laughter.
“Yeah, but we got to hose each other down and then use that old outdoor shower behind the barn. Do you have any idea how hard it was not to reach out and touch you?”
“Yeah, tell me about it. I wanted to do the same thing. It’s why I had to leave so suddenly… my dick wouldn’t stay down.”
“I had the same problem, and you left just in time. I had to pull out some leg hairs to get my hard-on to go down enough so I could walk out of there and pull on my soaking wet clothes. I’ve never forgotten that image of you, all wet and… and perfect.”
“I’ve never forgotten the way you looked either. It was fodder for a lot of jerking off… still is as a matter of fact.”
Dawson smirked. “Glad I could be of service.”
“You were, but I have a different kind of service in mind at the moment.”
Dawson, caught off guard by the question, searched the serious face he knew so well. “Are you ready, Brent?”
“I am. I really am. I’ve dreamt about this since we were teenagers but… I don’t want to rush anything… or you. I know I said we shouldn’t waste any more time, but that doesn’t mean….”
Dawson got it, and was touched by Brent’s concern for him. “Hey, let’s not overthink this, okay? This isn’t a first date. Yes, this is new, but we aren’t. I still know exactly who you are and I always have… and we love each other.”
“So, you’re saying…?”
Dawson took in the now sparkling eyes and the upturned corners of his mouth. “Yes, I’m ready… thanks for checking, but I don’t have any doubts, and I don’t want to wait either.” Dawson’s insides turned to mush when another dazzling smile appeared.
“In that case, follow me, partner.”
Dawson did, happier than he’d even been in his life.
Undressing in front of each other became a dance, and they didn’t do it hurriedly. Neither man looked away from the other—there was no shyness—only appreciation, and Dawson savored every second. Brent had matured a lot since that day in the outdoor shower, and so had he. Finally naked, and with matching arousal, Brent led him to the shower.
“No hosing you down today,” Brent joked. “I’ll be using my hands this time.”
“Is that all?” he asked teasingly.
After adjusting the water temperature, Brent’s strong hand gently cupped his neck and pulled him in. He molded their bodies together, causing electric shivers to course through Dawson’s body. “No, that’s not all… this is only the beginning for us, Dawson.”
“Love the sound of that,” he murmured before his breath was taken away by a kiss wrapped in a promise. Matching sighs followed as the real dance began….
An extra long double chapter as promised. Were you pleased to hear Dawson and Brent's more or less complete story? Were you surprised to have it included? Please share your thoughts if you can. Thanks for reading and thanks to my editor, Timothy M., for his valued assistance. Cheers!