I always thought of myself as a roll-with-the-punches kind of guy. I could adapt to any situation, much like a chameleon. Being calm and never buckling under pressure was an attribute I held dearly. An attribute that seemed to be slipping further away with each passing day. Leaving me feeling a little rougher for wear.
Wayne and I stayed up late, discussing work.
I resigned from Yevo. Now I had to wrap things up. I always imagined that if I ever left, I’d finish out the year. That would allow lots of time to find a replacement and transition them in. That wasn’t the case. Basically, I resigned on Sunday and would announce it on Monday. Then I was done.
It was the hardest Monday of my life.
I held an emergency meeting with all the volunteers. They couldn’t hear this from anyone else, it had to be from me.
They were shocked. There were lots of questions, a few tears, and more questions. I wanted to find a solution, find someone to take over, but Wayne said it was taking care of that and I had to trust him.
Everyone rallied and we came up with a plan. It would be a normal club, we’d do everything just the way we always did except I wouldn’t run the show, the volunteers would do everything. That was good, I wasn’t sure I had the emotional capacity to do much. At the end, I’d use my time up front to announce I was leaving.
I picked up the kids, like usual. We ate dinner, like usual we played games, like usual.
Except it was nothing like usual. I was barely holding myself together. I loved these kids and now I had to tell them that I was bailing on them. I didn’t have a full speech prepared but I did have an outline. I wanted them to know that I would still be around and I’d still support them, but I wouldn’t be at club. I wanted to promise I’d be back in one year but I couldn’t. It wasn’t fair to them or to me to make that commitment.
As the last game wrapped up and upcoming announcements were made, the leaders nodded for me to go up front. It was one of the bigger turn outs. It felt like the room was packed as every eye in the room watched me walk to the front of the room. My heart was racing as I stood there, trying to pretend like I wasn’t breaking in two.
“Did you guys know that Youth Evolution Outreach was around when I was in highschool? In fact, I was one of the first student leaders. I loved it, it changed my life. I graduated highschool, studied two years at college before getting hired on staff full time while finishing my degree. The rest is history, so they say. I’ve always seen myself doing something with Yevo. I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life, which is why this is the hardest club talk I’ve ever had to do.”
The kids glanced around the room. They weren’t dummies, they knew something big was coming. They might have even known exactly what was coming except it was the last thing they expected.
I could feel the lump building in my throat. “This is my last club,” I choked out. The room filled with murmurs. “Every single one of you has impacted my life more than you’ll ever know. If I had a fraction of that impact on you, then we’re changing the world, one person at a time. If you leave tonight knowing one thing, it’s that very little changes. I may not be here on Mondays, but you’ll see me around. Most of you have my number and I hope you’ll use it—”
The kids started shifting around. They started taking off their sweatshirts and tossing them aside. It took me a minute to realize what was going on. They all had matching shirts. I looked at the volunteers, they were standing in a row, wearing the same shirt that every other person in the room was wearing. It was black with white lettering and said Nash Vision.
Terri and Mark came and stood on either side of me.
“Nash has been a cornerstone for so many of us,” Terri said. “Every week he brings us together, encourages us with his words, leads us with his actions, and makes us laugh with his videos. Visa might be everywhere you want to be, but Nash is everywhere you are, without fail. Nash has a vision and that vision includes every single one of you in this room. My question is, what’s his vision mean to you?”
David stood up, he grabbed a cardboard sign he’d been sitting on and held it up. It read my broken home.
“When I first met Nash I was in the foster system. Nash’s vision for me was that I was worthy of being loved. That was a foriegn concept to me, growing up in a home where I was hit everyday just because I was born. But he was there, at games, at school, giving me rides, encouraging me. He was the only person in my life who cared enough to show up. I don’t always believe I’m worthy of being loved but I’m getting there, because Nash showed me.”
I wiped my eyes.
David sat down and Jay, Len and Tia’s son, stood up with his own sign. My own way.
“I know a lot of people look at me and think that I want for nothing. I was given a nice car, wear brand name clothes, and I’m a decent athlete, but I’ve always struggled with my family's expectations. They’ve always been vocal about what they think I should do but it hasn’t always lined up with what I think I want to do. Nash’s vision for me has always been my own. Time and time again he reminds me that I’m the one that has to live my life, not my parents, not my family. He’s even offered to help have hard conversations when the time comes,” he looked at me and smiled. “And I’ll probably take you up on that when I’m senior.”
I couldn’t find the words so I gave him a thumbs up.
Kid after kid stood up, holding a sign and telling a story of how I impacted them and what my vision meant to them. So many testimonies.
I cried. I didn’t even try not to. It was too authentic to try and downplay the significance of their words. When they finished their presentation we hung out. The mood was somber and sad.
Turned out the leaders had worked tirelessly prepping for club. They found someone to print shirts last minute and then met the kids at lunch and explained that they wanted to do something special for me.
It was late when I got home and I was a total mess. I went to bed crying; sure I’d made a terrible mistake, mad at Lee for stacking the deck against me, and questioning what I’d done in life to deserve everything I was going through. Then there was the guilt for leaving them behind.
Tuesday was a continuation of Monday’s guilt plus the dread of all the Mondays to come. Wednesday brought momentary relief. I met with the lady lawyer Chambers had recommended. It wasn’t an easy meeting but it gave me some much-needed direction. I left encouraged that I might finally move away from a marriage I was slowly detaching from.
To add a splash of irony, the meeting was Wednesday morning and then I had lunch with Lee. Surprise ending: it didn’t go well.
I listened as he quietly ranted about outing our problems to the entire committee, causing problems for Paul and Shayla, and blah blah blah. He said a bunch of crap but I was too busy reading between the lines to pay attention.
“You fucking son-of-a-bitch,” I growled. “You’re still fucking with Paul.”
Lee’s eyes went wide. “No, no,” he held his hand up. “No.”
Articulate for a lawyer.
“Then how the hell do you know all these details?”
“Just because Paul told me doesn’t mean anything,” he defended.
“The fuck it doesn’t,” I seethed. “The fact you make me come to counseling while you’re still talking to Paul in any capacity is insane. I can’t—” I grabbed my jacket and started out of the booth. “I can’t even deal with this. Who the fuck are you?”
We didn’t do counseling that day and I was in a piss poor mood when I got back to the cottage.
The only thing for me to do was to try and find something in my life that wasn’t affected by Lee’s infidelity. No job: Lee. No money: Lee. Meeting with a lawyer: Lee. Counseling: Lee. Alone in a home that wasn’t my own: Lee. Soon to be divorced, jobless, lying face down on the couch with my arm dangling over the edge as I stared into the grains of the hardwood floor: Lee.
I was a far cry from Nash Cushman of two months ago. The quintessential image of success was no longer my tagline.
My blanket of pitiful silence was broken by the deep rumble of Penn’s truck. The engine cut out followed by gravel crunching. The front door squeaked softly as he opened, then closed it behind him. Ten steps across the wood floor was all it took before he saw my pathetic existence splayed over the couch like an unwanted throw.
Penn gently lifted up my head, slipped in, then set my head down on his lap.
“Is this even safe?” I asked.
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
“Uhm, because you could be covered in human shit,” I said matter-of-factly.
Penn laughed. “Nah, I did other things today. No shitters.”
“Good. I like ass as much as the next guy but—”
“Fuck,” he laughed. “Don’t be gross.”
“It’s not gross when done right. It’s actually quite—”
“Nash,” he laughed some more. “Stop.”
I shrugged and relaxed in his lap. He smelled like man work. Not the gravel and dirt smell I remembered from Ryan’s clothes. Penn was more sawdust and power tools. It was oddly therapeutic.
“How’d it go with the lawyer?”
“Good,” I flipped onto my back so I could look at Penn while we talked. “I feel better about everything. She seemed competent, sharp even. I’m confident she can hold her own. I’m not looking to screw Lee over or anything. I just don’t want to walk away with nothing. She said I’m eligible for spousal support. It makes me feel like a housewife so I doubt I’ll go that far. I guess we’ll see. On the plus side, there’s no waiting period in Oregon. So, unless Lee contests it, it could go quickly.”
“Do you think he’ll contest it?”
“Hell if I know. I never thought he’d cheat on me, but he did. He lied, cheated, and manipulated. I don’t think I’m qualified to make any guesses on his behalf.”
“Do you think he was always that person?”
“I fucking hope not. I want to keep what was good between us—good. I don’t want to hate all the years we spent together.”
“You’re a better man than me,” he said, twirling his fingers in my hair.
“You’re just realizing that?” I smirked. “That’s old news.”
Penn’s fingers tightened in my hair until he was pulling my hair hard enough to hurt a little. He raised his brow, challenging me to continue teasing him.
“I tease, I tease!” I wiggled my body toward him to alleviate the pressure. “You’re the man. No one is better than you.”
He released my hair and smiled his charming-as-shit smile then resumed petting my hair like he hadn’t just tried to rip a chunk out for good luck. It reminded me that I needed a haircut. The problem was, Kelsea, Lee’s cousin, was my hairstylist. I wasn’t eager to face her. I wasn’t even sure if she knew what was happening between us. If she didn’t, then that news shouldn’t come from me.
I told him about the day, which consisted of Lee freaking out because he was worried that people were going to find out, now that committee knew. He was more concerned about how this would affect him and/or Paul than what I was going through. When he found out that I had told Ryan and Logan, he about shit his pants.
‘How am I supposed to face them now? They’re my clients for Christ's sake! Why would you do that to me?’ Oh, the things I wanted to say back.
“Why would he care that we know? We’re not even friends.”
“I see your logic but you underestimate Lee. He’s had a straight crush Logan since high school. Well, until he got to know you,” I winked.
“What does that even mean? Straight crush.”
“Exactly what it sounds like. A crush who’s straight and out of your league. It’s kind of like crushing on a celebrity. A total fantasy but fun to joke about.”
“Well I can attest that there is no way Logan or I would have ever gone for Lee,” he laughed.
“Never thought you would.”
“It explains so much about this last summer.”
I nodded. Lee hadn’t been subtle in his desire to hang out with the Knotts. Watching him pine over them had never bothered me because it was harmless. Well, supposedly. Now I was questioning everything. Was Paul the only person he slept with?
I hadn’t really considered if Lee had slept with more people than Paul. As much as it piqued my curiosity, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to know the truth. What would I gain besides more heartbreak?
“Who’s yours?” Penn nudged me back to reality. It took a second to recall what he was talking about.
“My straight crush?” Penn nodded. “Oh, no one,” I lied.
“Based on your devotion to Lee, I’m inclined to believe you never had an impure thought...but I don’t.” He teasingly bounced his legs, making my head wobble in his lap.
“I had an impure thought once—maybe twice, but that’s it, I swear!”
“Don’t I believe it,” he paused, watching his fingers toy with my platinum strands. “So, who is it?”
“It’s for me to know and you to never find out.”
“C’mon,” he pouted.
I gave him a serious look. “Can you keep a secret?”
“You know I can.”
“So can I.”
It took him a beat to realize I’d just told him I wasn’t going to spill the secret and, despite his frustration with my silence and the fact he had no clue my straight crush was his brother, he laughed.
“It’s fine,” he sighed, so dramatically it caught my attention. “According to you, we’re best-friends. I always thought best friends told each other everything. I guess I was wrong,” he goaded.
“Are you serious right now?” I laughed at his childishness.
He continued to try and look innocent, which he wasn’t. When he didn’t get his way, he started walking his fingers over the sensitive flesh on my side, much like I’d done to him on Sunday. My natural reflex against being tickled kicked in. The next thing I knew, I was on the floor, scrambling away before I embarrassed myself.
I stood, straightened my clothes, and glared at a smirking Penn. I was naturally affectionate and quite enjoyed his playful side. The more we hung out, the more I realized he shared the same love language. There was definitely an innocent flirtatiousness between us.
I may have enjoyed being touchy-feely with him but I had no illusions of him falling in love with me and living happily ever after. Hell no. I was in no place for that kind of thing and Penn was married. I wasn’t about to look a gifted horse in the mouth. I was incredibly thankful for our budding friendship and had no intention of doing anything to jeopardize it. I especially had no plan of sinking to Paul’s level and messing with someone else's marriage.
“Dinner?” I shouted from the kitchen as I looked between the small fridge and minimally filled pantry.
“Of course,” he came and stood next to me, taking stock of the inventory. “What are we making?”
I named off a few options, none of which he seemed overly excited about. We settled on grilled chicken salad.
“Don’t you ever crave a big juicy burger?” He asked as he unenthusiastically chopped salad greens.
“I enjoy them but I wouldn’t say I crave them.” I oiled the pan and seasoned the chicken. “I take it you don’t like salad?”
“Sure, as a side dish. It’s not what I’d pick for a meal.”
“Ahh, too many vegetables?”
“Kind of,” he laughed. “My family has always more steak and potato people.”
“I’m going to tell you a secret—” He paused his chopping and looked at me, waiting for me to continue. “You’re a grown-ass adult, if you don’t like what I’m cooking, you can go get a big, juicy Big Mac or something.”
“Hey,” he said defensively. “I wasn’t dogging on your food. I’m just not used to your ratios. I usually have seventy-five percent meat and twenty-five percent everything else. You don’t. It’s strange to me is all. I’ll survive.”
I grabbed an extra chicken breast from the fridge. Eating healthy was the byproduct of being an athlete. After years and years of eating healthy, heavy meals like alfredo or anything greasy, made me feel like crap. I still ate them but it was on rare occasions and in moderation.
When everything was finished, I handed him his plate; extra chicken with a side of salad. He glanced between our places and smiled.
“You’re a good husband.”
His response made me think of Lee. It was hard to feel like a good husband after everything I was going through. “I know,” I sighed. Because despite how Lee made me feel, I had been a great husband.
“None of that,” he scolded. “Everything happens for a reason and in its own season. Who knows, maybe you’ll meet someone who will make the life you had with Lee look like Toys R Us child’s play.”
I nodded and took a bite of dinner so the subject would drop. It wasn’t that my life was over at thirty-three. It wasn’t that I thought I’d never find love again, but I was realistic, Lincoln wasn’t that big. The gay population was scarce at best. What few there were, were either married or complete man-whores, or, in the case of Lee, both. I knew I had a long road of singularity ahead and I was okay with that. I enjoyed my independence. But I knew there was a real chance I wouldn’t experience love again and that made me sad.
Penn and I stopped making plans. He just showed up at the cottage everyday and we did life together. It was nice. It helped me feel normal.
Saturday, I decided to change things up. I had never been to his place before. He always came to me and it was high time I changed that. I wanted to surprise him so texted Ryan for directions.
His driveway was long and lined with old trees. I was starting to think I’d taken a forestry road instead of a driveway when the trees finally cleared and his truck, which was parked next to a nice travel trailer, came into view.
He was in the middle of construction. The home was only a shell but I could tell it was going to be stunning. It was the country home you saw in magazines down to the wraparound porch.
I followed the sound of power tools until I found Penn running a portable sawmill (because everyone had those, right?). It wasn’t a surprise to find him using the tree’s he’d cleared from the property to build the house. It was such a Knott thing to do.
His clothes were worn and his shirt was nothing but shreds, showing his muscular arms and waist. He wore his hat backward and safety glasses to protect those browns from sawdust. I watched as his leather-gloved hands guided the wood through the machine with patience and determination.
On the scale of a stereotypical-city-boy whose only knowledge of power tools was watching HGTV, to a rugged man’s man who was the definition of a provider, I put myself somewhere in the middle when I compared myself to Lee.
Penn blew the scale. The numbers didn’t go that high. He probably set the bar to which all were to be measured.
You must be this tall to ride the ride.
I could’ve stood there all day and watched him. He was in his zone—completely calm and relaxed like he didn’t have a care in the world. I was almost sad when he finally finished the cut and turned off the machine. Then he saw me. There were no words to describe the moment. His whole body radiated joy; from the brightness in his eyes to his oversized smile and barely-there dimples.
He used his hands to shake the sawdust from his hair and walked toward me. “To what do I owe this surprise?” He said, pulling me into one of the famous hugs I’d become accustomed to.
“What? You show up unannounced every day. It’s about time we balance the score.”
“It’s not unannounced if you know I’m coming,” he laughed. “And I’m not complaining.”
“Good, because I’m not going anywhere until you show me around.”
“Sounds good,” he looked me over. “You got a little—” he waved his hand at my entire chest. I looked down to find I was covered in sawdust. He looked pleased with himself as I dusted myself off.
The inside was nothing but studded walls. He explained what everything was. A bedroom here, a bathroom there, living room and kitchen between. He was hoping to have it weatherproofed before the weather turned so he could spend the winter working inside. I tried to track what he was saying but I lacked the experience to see past the two-by-fours.
Lee and I had never stopped by the site while our house was being built. I mean, I drove by occasionally to see how things were going but never did a walkthrough. Watching Penn’s excitement as she cast the vision for his home, made me wish I had been more involved all those years ago.
Although, knowing Lee had defiled my home, made me glad for the lack of emotional investment.
“What is that over there?” I pointed at the machine he was using when I arrived. He led me over and explained what a portable sawmill was, how it worked, and that he was cutting beams for the porch, a mantel for the living room, and a few other pieces he wanted to use in the home.
“It’s incredible,” I said, looking at the tree that he was cutting. “Not only are you building a house from the ground up but you’re repurposing the trees that were cleared from the property. And to do it all yourself—you’re like, the perfect man.”
Penn rolled his eyes then looked at me like he was considering something.
“Here,” he grabbed a set of gloves, glasses, and earplugs then led me to the sawmill. He showed me how to pull start the gas-powered machine. I thought it would be hard but it was a lot like the pull start mower I used in high school. After a few seconds, he killed the motor and smiled.
“Maybe I should explain what we’re doing before turning it on.”
So he did. He made using the saw look easy but I wasn’t fooled. If I ever had to do it without his help…Lord help us all. Penn did most of the set up before letting me make the cut, therefore, taking the glory.
Penn insisted I do the second cut on my own. It wasn’t perfect and, having Mr. Perfect judging your every move was more than a little nerve-wracking, but I did it. The pride and accomplishment I felt when the cut was finished was a high I hadn’t felt in a long time. I had done odd jobs around the house but nothing like that.
Millenia ago men cut timber for their homes. There I was, in the woods, cutting timber, building a home. I was practically a man of ancient times.
“I’m a real man,” I mimicked Pinocchio. Penn laughed.
I was on such a high that I didn’t want to stop and Penn was kind enough to amuse me. He didn’t care that I slowed him down. In fact, he seemed to enjoy it as much as me.
After a while of manual labor, we took a break. We sat on the tree we’d been cutting and drank water from the porch cooler. The late October chill felt good and I understood why Penn was wearing a cutoff when I arrived, the work was no joke.
“I need to run to the valley. Ride along?” Penn asked after a few minutes of relaxed silence.
“The answer is yes but why do you need to go?
“I never got a costume for the party.”
I froze and slowly lowered the bottle from my lip. “You didn’t get a costume?” I asked. “The part is tonight.”
“I know,” he smiled. “That’s why we need to go shopping.”
“You. That’s why you need to go shopping.”
Penn smiled and nodded. It was disgustingly sweet, a little placating, and a lot fake. I knew right then that he thought I was going with him. If I fought him, he would throw me over his shoulder and take me kicking and screaming. No doubt about it, I was being kidnapped. The best line of defense was a good offense. Or, in my case, avoid it until the last minute and bail.
He took the air-compressor and blew most of the sawdust. He took one look at me and motioned for me to follow him to the trailer.
“Here,” he tossed me a new shirt which I caught effortlessly.
I looked around his trailer. It was nice but I wasn’t sure I’d want to spend all my free time in such a small space.
“I see why you’re always at the cottage.”
“Give yourself a little more credit than that,” he laughed, then he looked around at his love shack and shrugged. “I know it’s ideal but it’s all I need for now. I’m usually at work, with you, or working at the house, anyway. That doesn’t leave a lot of downtime.”
“Is that where you sleep?” I pointed to a small cove that was almost flush to the ceiling. It couldn’t have been more than a two-foot crawl space. “That explains why you’re always offering to sleep-over,” I laughed.
It also explained why Cam was always gone. I don’t imagine she was game on living in the trailer.
“Again, give yourself more credit,” he said, throwing a pile of clean clothes in my face.
It had been an unwritten rule that we took Penn’s truck . I could play dumb and pretend I didn’t know why but that was a colossal waste of time. His truck was nicer than mine. My suburban was old when I bought it and that was thirteen years ago. But for some reason, we ended up taking my car to the valley.
“It’s a little stuffy,” Penn said. “Can you unlock my window?” he asked after tapping repetitively on the window button when it didn’t yield results.
“Can’t, it’s broken.”
I rolled the back seat window down. He glanced over his shoulder and rolled his eyes but it was the best I could do. Since he couldn’t get fresh air, he decided to use the AC. He fiddled with it for a minute. When the air never got cooler, he looked at me.
I shrugged. “Broken.”
“Okay,” he resigned, looking out the window. We drove in comfortable silence for a few miles. I was used to driving with no music but Penn wasn’t. I smirked when he reached for the radio. It didn’t take long for him to connect the dots.
“Let me guess…broken?’
I held back a laugh and shrugged. No doubt it was the first and last time we used my car to drive anywhere.
“What are you going to wear?” He asked as we walked into the giant costume store. It was the kind that popped up once a year and had more costumes than you could imagine. The kind we had to travel over an hour to shop at since they only opened in big cities.
Halloween was a favorite of Lee and I. Our open house had become the go-to destination on October 31st for all the high school kids. We pulled out all the stops; tons of decorations, themed food, games, and a haunted trail walk through the wooded area behind our house.
The Lewis’ threw a big party every year. We never went because, while Lon and Tia entertained the adults, Lee and I entertained the kids. Showing up at Lon and Tias would raise a lot of eyebrows and—
Nope. Not a chance.
“I’m not?” I asked, rifling through the rack to avoid Penn’s gaze.
“Naked? Niiiice,” he nodded with a teasing smile. Even though I didn’t take his comment seriously, it still made me blush. I punched his arm and walked away.
Avoidance was key.
The store had every costume you could ever want. Unless you wanted something modest. It was no wonder so many women dressed provocatively on Halloween; they didn’t have any other options. It seemed like costume after costume had a slutty theme.
I rummaged through racks of neatly hung outfits. Occasionally, I’d hold one up for Penn to look at. Beer can costume; declined. Greek warrior; declined. Mad scientist; declined. Mime; declined. Lumber Jack; declined.
“Okay, maybe you could give me direction since you don’t seem to like any of my options,” I huffed after flipping through an entire rack empty-handed.
“This—” he held up a costume and smiled. I recognized the costume instantly. It was a police uniform from Super Troopers or Reno 911. I don't know, one of those funny cop shows. The one with short shorts and a super tight shirt.
Maybe guys wore that kind of thing in bigger cities but I had never seen any guy in Lincoln wear such a scandalous outfit. They were usually dressed as Joe Dirt, a can of beer, or something with fake muscles.
I’d happily see Penn wear that police uniform.
I took the costume from his hands and inspected it closely. The first thing I noticed was that it was a decent quality. It wasn’t one of those cheap one-time-use outfits you find at Walmart. It was really nice.
Penn held up another, identical costume. I furrowed my brows. He gave me the ‘don’t fight this, it’s happening’ look.
“No way,” I shook my head. “Not a chance.”
He nodded his head. “Yes, you will.”
I glanced down at the price tag and shook my head. “It’s two-hundred dollars!” Fat chance my zero a month salary could afford that. He rolled his eyes and grabbed the costume from me. The next thing I knew, he was walking toward the register with both costumes draped over his arm.
There were two outcomes for the evening and neither of them involved me spending two-hundred dollars. I really, really didn’t want to go to the party but if he was going to drag me there, then he was definitely taking the financial burden. If he wanted me to be the Adam to his Eve for Halloween, then it would come from his pocketbook.
He smiled excitedly at the cashier then shook the bag in my direction. The shit-eating grin he wore made me forget all the reasons I didn’t want to go to the party. Screw the Spanish Inquisition.
It took Penn so long to pick out costumes that we were running behind schedule so we showered and changed in Penn’s tiny trailer.
“Penn,” I laughed. “Your panty lines—” I pointed to the obvious bunching of his boxers under the tight, tan fabric. He frowned and tried to adjust the fabric with no success.
“I don’t suppose you have any tighty whities?” he shook his head. “Speedo?”
“We should’ve gotten ready at the cottage,” I mumbled as I took my costume out of the packaging.
“Wait, you wear tighty whities?”
“No, they’re mostly black. Though I have a few other colors, too…and a couple of Speedos.”
That got his attention. Straight guys—especially ones from small towns—would never be caught dead in briefs or Speedos. They were too simple-minded and thought that only fat men in the south of France wore that kind of thing.
I offered to stop by the cottage but he said commando was fine. I tried not to watch him undress but the trailer didn’t leave a lot of options. He did a decent job of trying to hide his man bits but Insaw more than enough.
I cursed his perfection.
He wasn’t chiseled like the firefighters you found in calendars but he wasn’t lacking, either. His stomach was firm with a trace of definition. He didn’t have the tapered waist I had, his was wider and far more masculine. He had muscles in all the right places and just enough body hair to make me a little lust crazy.
And the costume. Oh Lord. The shorts were tight over his thighs and waist. He wore it well.
The shirt was so tight I worried for his safety. He moved around, trying the outfit on for size and comfort. “Okay, maybe we should go with undies,” he laughed as he adjusted himself. I didn’t have a chance to reply when Penn’s phone beeped. “Shit,” he said, glancing at his phone. “C’mon, get dressed. They’re waiting for us.”
If I thought he was going to turn around or give me privacy while I dressed, I was wrong. He watched as I shimmied, and I do mean shimmied, into my outfit.
“I think it’s too small,” I panicked as I tried to stuff my junk in the shorts. “I’m legitimately nervous to zip. There’s no way I can wear anything under this.”
Trying to give myself more room, I sucked in.
“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it,” he tossed me the shirt.
“Easy for you to say, you bought yourself the correct size.”
The shirt was every bit as tight as the shorts and tugging on the fabric did nothing. I was so screwed.
“I’m definitely going to eat more salads,” Penn whistled as he watched me dress.
We were about the same height but I was a bit leaner where he was bulky. Twenty years of running and maintaining an active lifestyle did that. I wasn’t even skinny like most runners. In fact, I was pretty damn muscular.
“Salads are good for you.” I pinched his side, where there was a healthy (sexy) amount of not-so-soft tissue. “And why do you pretend like you haven’t seen me half naked before.”
He saw me change in the parking lot with Ryan and then we’d spent most of the summer on the lake, in nothing more than swim shorts.
“This outfit, uhm, accentuates, more.”
I tucked my shirt in and laughed at his fumbling awkwardness. I continued to try and get the pants zipped but I couldn’t get the zipper pulled up without harming my dick.
“Here,” Penn grabbed my fly and held the fabric together so I could zip up. I mean, he was practically grabbing my dick. No big deal.
It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything’s fine.
“There, it fits perfect,” he said when I finally got my pants closed.
I looked myself over. The costume wasn’t forgiving and it hugged every inch of my body. Being a runner paid off. If I was ten pounds heavier, things would’ve looked a lot different.
“Don’t forget I need underwear,” he reminded me when we pulled up to the cottage.
“Nah-uh,” I shook my head. “I barely got these pants up the first time. A second seems unlikely and I’ve never been a gambling man. If I’m commando, you’re commando.”
At first, he looked apprehensive but then he smiled that cocky smile and I knew it was on. He nodded toward the house and I followed his lead. I stole more than a few looks as we walked to the house. He looked fucking delicious.
“I want a goddamn liter of Cola!” Penn yelled and we posed at the door, catching the attention of everyone in the room. I’d never seen him do anything to attract attention to himself. He was always the reserved one while his brothers stole the show.
I quite liked this Penn.
It took two seconds for people to take it all in before the room erupted in laughter.
“Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!” Ryan rushed past others to get to us. “This is the best Halloween, ever,” he smiled as he looked between the two of us. Ryan was dressed as a pirate, I think he was aiming at Jack Sparrow but, eh—no.
“You two look sexy as fuck,” Abby winked. She was wearing a barely their devil’s costume while Logan wore a white sheet and a halo.
“Are you the ghost of Angel's past?”
“First of all, rude,” he scowled or tried to. He was too drunk to hide a smile if he tried. “How’d you do it?”
He nodded toward Penn, who was laughing along with a couple of friends a few feet away. “How’d you get him to dress up like that?” he looked at his brother. “Never in a million years—”
“You’re kidding, right?” I gestured at my outfit. “He’s the one that picked this crap out. I wasn’t even planning on coming, let alone dressing like a male stripper. This is all your brother.”
Logan and Ryan glanced at each other. It was out of character for Penn to pick such attention-grabbing outfits. Not that I had a problem with what he was wearing.
“Go, Penn.” Jane lifted a drink toward her oblivious brother-in-law who was on the other side of the room. The others lifted their drinks and silently cheered Penn’s bold choice. He must’ve felt everyone staring because he glanced over and glared at the attention.
“Nothing. We want to get a picture of you and your husband. These outfits are one for the books.”
She meant photo books, which they had millions off. They took pictures of everything. I would’ve been unnerved by the constant picture taking but Yevo had me immune. If you thought it was just the girls who took pictures then you’d be wrong. Ryan and Logan were just as bad. Penn was the only one who wasn’t obsessive about it. What Penn lacked, his siblings more than made up for. Honestly, I think there’s at least one picture commemorating every time we’d ever spent together and that included the mid-week lunches.
We posed for a thousand pictures before they finally let us go. Everything from a classic cop poses to an awkward prom picture. They even made me kiss his cheek, claiming something about husbands. Not that I needed convincing. I was more than willing to play along.
I couldn’t remember the last time I went to an adult party. It was so much fun. Penn and I stayed in character most of the night. He’d obviously watched the movie a lot more than me because he was constantly quoting it and making people laugh.
At some point, Cam showed up. I was definitely not jealous when I saw Penn smile at her arrival, or when he wrapped her in a giant hug, or when he slung his arm over her shoulder as they walked away, talking.
Nope, not jealous at all.
I was totally happy and my smile was not fake at all when I saw him dragging her toward me, smiling like a puppy with his favorite toy.
“You guys look really fucking hot tonight.” Cam's eyes were glossy and her face was flushed…tell-tell signs she’d been drinking before she arrived.
“You too.” I didn’t know what else to say. She was an attractive woman. Put her in a tight catwoman outfit and…well it was no wonder Penn was smiling like a dumbass.
“Ugh, I wish I had your legs,” she groaned. “Why do guys always get the best features. I mean, look at you, you’re like, perfect,” she pouted.
It was a weird comment. I understood when girls commented on guys' eyelashes but comparing men’s legs to women’s legs? Not the same. Yes, I had long legs but they weren’t anything a girl would find special unless she wanted hairy man legs.
She kept rambling on about how I had the perfect platinum hair that she had to pay ‘up the butt to get’. Something about purple shampoo to keep it from getting brassy. Then it was my eyes, my eyelashes, my skin, blah. I awkwardly looked at Penn, not sure how to react to her ramblings.
He smiled as if to say well, you can’t argue with the woman.
I had all these great features but she had Penn. Oh yeah, and I had a soon-to-be ex-husband that slept around behind my back? Life was super fair.
“Leave the boy alone,” Ryan pulled Cam into a hug. “You’re just jealous you’ve been replaced with a better, younger model.”
Cam pulled from their hug and slapped his chest.
“Jealous?” she scoffed. “Not a chance. I’ve been dying to spread my wings. Nash is doing me a favor.”
Cam winked at me then kissed Penn on the cheek before sauntering off to the designated dance floor. That was that.
It wasn’t long before everyone was drunk off their asses and I was reminded why I never attended adult parties. Being sober around drunk people got old, fast. I was careful to keep my distance from Cam on the dance floor. I wasn’t looking for a repeat of last time.
Dancing was something I was good and and enjoyed doing. Everyone kept shoving Penn and me together. I tried to joke it off but after a while, it was easier to give the people what they wanted. And what they wanted was for two sexy cops to dance. We did the YMCA, the disco, and a few current dances that I had to teach Penn. I laughed non-stop.
By two in the morning, I was done. The crowd had thinned, though there were still a lot of drunk people milling around.
Penn was leaning against the kitchen island talking Cam's ear off about something or another. He was happy—like really, really happy.
Cam was smiling too. She must have felt me watching because suddenly we were looking at each other. Penn was talking to her but she’s staring at me. She got this look—like she knew I liked Penn. I wasn’t even nervous or embarrassed about it. He was my best friend. He was also attractive inside and out...and I was gay. Sue me for having eyes.
I didn’t need to be at the party any longer so I decided to walk back to the cottage. I texted Penn, letting him know where I put the key in case he needed to drive home or something.
The cottage was quiet. It was a nice change from the loud thumping music of the party. Getting out of that godforsaken costume was heaven. You know what they say, you don’t know freedom until you’re free. That’s all I had to say about that.
The long day of manual labor, shopping, and partying had me out flat the minute I crawled into bed.
I was roused from sleep when I heard shuffling in my room. It took me a moment to realize that something or someone was in my room. I was so sleepy I couldn’t quite get my bearings to turn.
Unsure if I was being robbed, I grabbed the cup from the nightstand and chucked it across the room at the offending shadow.
“Ouch! What the hell Nash?”
I squinted. “Penn?”
“Yes, Penn,” he shot back, clearly offended that I didn’t know it was him. “Damn, who did you think it was?”
I was too tired to answer. It was Penn, which meant I could go back to sleep. I don’t even think I replied to his question before I closed my eyes and passed back out.