Today’s Friday Flash Fics made me think of a gay bar I stopped at for approximately four seconds in Louisiana once, many years ago. I was there for a literary conference, and I walked in, felt the entire room give me a look, and then pretty much scarpered out of there as fast as I could, and waited for the people I was meeting there to arrive so we could go in together. I had a great time, once I was there with friends, but there was no way I could have stayed there on my own.
Deacon frowned across the table at Boone. “Did you just say ‘Dibs’?”
Boone picked up his beer and took a swig. He nodded.
“You’re shitting me. Dibs?”
Boone put his bottle down. “Hey, if you wanted him, you should have called it.”
Tyler watched them both, his eyes going back and forth and his eyebrows inching higher.
“I did call it. When he came in.” Deacon said.
“No, you said, ‘Check out the new guy.’” Boone said.
Deacon leaned forward across the table. “That’s the same as dibs.”
Tyler blew out a breath. “Are you two for real?”
They both turned their annoyed glowers at him. Back when he’d first met them, Tyler might have been intimidated by it. They were both the kind of guy he found attractive, but that came with an admixture of worry and anxiety. After all, many blue color guys didn’t take well to being hit on by… well… another guy. Especially not guys like Tyler, who even on the best of days didn’t pass like they did. Lean and wiry, for one, and kind of soft looking, the way Tyler appeared was often enough, but if Tyler opened his mouth, his voice betrayed him. The whole world assumed he was gay, just by virtue of his lilt.
So, yeah. Talking to Deacon and Boone that first time had been terrifying. He hadn’t been in the states long, and he was sure someone at the somewhat rough-around-the-edges bar was going to take one look at him—or one listen—and tell him he wasn’t butch enough to be there. But it was a gay bar, so he’d plucked up his courage.
And it had turned out fine. Neither Deacon nor Boone had shown any romantic interest in him, of course, but the three of them had formed a friendship, and Tyler had found he enjoyed their company.
Most of the time.
“What?” Deacon said.
“You can’t call ‘dibs’ on a person,” Tyler said. Even if said person was smokin’ hot. He was definitely new. Maybe he was traveling? Just passing through? Either way, the chambray work shirt was tight across his shoulders and the plain jeans were worn in all the right places, and there was just something about a guy with a buzz-cut, no?
“Fine,” Boone said. “Not dibs.” He put his elbow on the table, and opened his palm.
“Really?” Deacon smirked. “That didn’t work out for you last time.” But he pushed up the sleeve of his sweater and put his own arm in place.
“Want to make it interesting?” Boone said.
Deacon used his free hand to flip open his wallet. A twenty hit the surface of the table. Boone added a wad of smaller bills.
Tyler rolled his eyes. “I’ll leave you to it, the testosterone is getting a bit thick in here.”
Deacon and Boone’s gazes were locked.
“Fine,” Deacon said.
“See you later,” Boone said.
Tyler got up, and took his drink with him. By the time he got to the bar, a small crowd of people were gathering to watch Deacon and Boone arm wrestle. It was by no means the first time they’d done it.
“Another G&T?” the bartender asked.
“Please,” Tyler said. He glanced back at the table when a chorus of voices rose. Boone had started to tilt a bit. But slowly, he recovered and they were once again straining against each other, fists clasped, more-or-less upright between them.
“Not a lot to do around here, I guess?”
Tyler turned at the voice, and then swallowed convulsively. It was Buzz-cut.
“They’re competitive.” Tyler squeezed the words out. “Friendly rivalry.”
“Doesn’t look completely friendly.” The man took a sip of his beer and Tyler watched his Adam’s apple bob. It was delightfully covered in stubble.
“Well, they’re like that. They’d take a bullet for each other, don’t get me wrong, but then whoever did would never let the other live it down, either.”
Buzz-cut laughed. A deep, rumbly sort of laugh. He held out his hand. “Cash.”
“Tyler,” Tyler said, shaking. “New to town?”
Cash nodded. “A couple of days now.”
“It takes some getting used to, but it’s not a bad little town.” The bartender returned with his drink and Tyler thanked him, leaving a few extra singles on the bar top for him.
“It’s bigger than where I was born,” Cash said.
“That’s terrifying,” Tyler said.
Cash laughed. “It wasn’t so bad.”
A mix of cheering and jeering rose again. They both looked at the table. Boone had Deacon nearly two thirds of the way to the tabletop… but then Deacon started to inch Boone back to the middle ground.
“They take this seriously,” Cash said.
“Well, they’re fighting over you,” Tyler said, and winked.
Cash blinked. “Beg pardon?” He had a bit of a drawl. It was a very nice sound.
“The winner will be coming over to introduce himself, I believe,” Tyler said.
Cash looked back at the table again, paying more attention than before. Tyler tried not to let it bother him, but on some level, he couldn’t help it. It was more or less always the same. Part of the small town thing, he supposed. The real men found the other real men, and that left… well, if Deacon and Boone and Cash were real men, he supposed that made him… well, what exactly?
He took another big swallow of his drink, deciding not to finish the thought.
“I guess I should be flattered?” Cash was frowning a bit.
“They mean well,” Tyler said, suddenly wanting to defend his friends. “And between you and me, They’re not used to being outclassed. You’re probably the finest looking man to come through that door in months.”
Cash’s smile tilted on one side a bit, and revealed dimples. Between the buzz-cut and the scruff and the dimples, Tyler stood by his assessment.
“Now that can’t be true,” Cash said.
Tyler put a hand over his heart. “I swear.”
“But y’all were already in here.” Cash gestured at the Deacon and Boone—and included Tyler In the gesture, too. “Which means you came through that door. So I already know that’s not the truth.”
Tyler’s mouth opened, but nothing came out for a couple of seconds. “Uh. I. I did?”
“Right,” Cash said, and nodded. Then that little smile returned. “You’re blushing.”
“I’m…” Tyler finished his drink. “That’s…”
Cash took a sip from his own bottle. Small lines appeared around his eyes. Amusement. “You don’t know how to take a compliment, do you?” he said, putting the drink down.
“Did you just tell me I was fine?” Tyler said.
“Where I’m from, we just call it truth telling.”
Tyler’s cheeks burned. Again. “Well,” he managed. “Thank you.”
Behind them, another mix of cheers and howls made it clear the arm wrestling match was at another close call, but the hoots and hollers that followed meant whoever had been in danger had once again recovered. Neither Tyler nor Cash looked to see who was in what position.
“So,” Tyler said, leaning forward just a little. “When they finish over there, one of them is going to come over and make a pass at you.”
“So you said.”
“Well, I’m thinking…” Tyler cleared his throat. “Y’know, to spare their feelings, it might be a kindness to have you…” He took a quick breath, and blurted out before he could stop himself. “Not be here. So as not to have to let them down in front of the whole bar?”
Cash’s lips did that little twist again. The dimples returned.
“Seems to me you care an awful lot about your friends.”
“I do,” Tyler said.
“Well then,” Cash rose from the stool, leaving his bottle behind. “I wouldn’t want to upset your friends none, either. I find it helps to have friends on your side if you’re planning to court someone.”
Tyler rose. “You know, I think that’s pretty wise.”
As the door closed behind them, they just caught the sounds of loud cheers. Someone had just won.
Tyler was pretty sure it was him.