Back in 2011, I wrote a short story, “Hometown Boy,” about an author who wrote under a pseudonym and though the lightning-in-a-bottle moment of perfect timing with an A-list celebrity on a major interview mentioning his first novel attained sudden success. In the story, he finally reveals who he is, many books later, in his hometown of Grand Rue, Louisiana, as the start of a book tour for “Hometown Boy,” his latest novel. It leads to a reunion with his high school best friend, and then coming face-to-face with someone who betrayed him, and finally leaves him with someone he loved—who tells him something he can never unknow.
When I picked this week’s Friday Flash Fics photo, I will admit I was rushing and I’d fallen behind because of Can-Con and so I just laughingly said, “Hot guy with book, done!” But as the days passed, it occurred to me that I’d like to revisit Reuben, and the buff guy with a book made a more than passable Matt Samuels, so I headed back to Grand Rue.
(Spoilers, of course, for “Hometown Boy.”)
The heat of Grand Rue wrapped around him like a long-hated relative at a childhood birthday party: too hot, too tight, too familiar, and with no escape.
I should have worn shorts instead of jeans.
Reuben tugged a cap on, already sweating and missing the air conditioning in his car, and glanced around the small gravel parking area.
There it was. The truck. Samuels’ Auto.
Some things didn’t change.
It wasn’t too late. He could always get back in his car, crank the AC, and drive away from Grand Rue. No one would know except him, and he wasn’t likely to tell.
Reuben laughed. Right. No one keeps a secret like Benny Matthews.
Except maybe the man in the woods.
“Move,” he told himself, and a second later, he did, starting down the familiar path to a hidden spot he hadn’t been to in more years than he cared to count. He walked slowly, consciously trying to keep his footfalls light, and rounded the small corner to find exactly what he’d expected and still feeling a rush of surprise at being right.
Matt Samuels was sat on a blanket, leaning against a tree, reading a book. His shirt was tossed beside him, and his rucksack—a dark and battered grey thing he’d had for years—lay near his elbow.
The only things he wore were shoes and running shorts.
Reuben had to stop at the sight of him. Big and strong, Matt Samuels had been his first everything, and even now, with two decades to spare since, the man made his brain stutter. If it was possible, he’d gotten even bigger over the last year—his hairy chest was pumped, his biceps thick holding up the slight weight of the library book—and he’d grown a beard, too, which was coming through just a bit redder than Reuben would have guessed.
Reuben froze, caught in the pull of him, then forced himself to speak.
“Hi,” he said.
Matt lowered the book. He didn’t smile, but there was something in his eyes—how did Reuben always forget how shocking a shade of blue those eyes were—that seemed warm.
“You’re back.” Matt didn’t get up.
“I’m back,” Reuben said, and then, awkwardness making him twitchy, he added, “Good book?”
“Yes.” Matt held it up so he could see the cover.
It was Benny Matthew’s latest: Just Us. The cover was a shot of a court building’s sign, up close. The “Us” was spray painted over the last three letters of “Justice.”
“I’m sorry it’s taken me so long,” Reuben said. “There was the book tour for Hometown Boy, and then I started writing… well, that.” He nodded at Just Us. “And…” His mind flailed. And you admitted you killed three people and I couldn’t decide why I didn’t care and how somehow that made me love you all over again, not that I ever stopped, and it freaked me right the hell out because what does that say about me?
Matt just looked up at him, patient and waiting.
“You look amazing with the beard,” Reuben said. “Also, this whole stud-with-a-book thing really works for you.”
Matt finally cracked a smile. He patted the blanket. “Have a seat.”
Reuben joined him. The slightest scent of Matt made him want to lean in. It was like gravity.
“Does the lawyer die?” Matt said, nodding at the book.
“You want me to spoil my own novel for you?” Reuben held a hand to his chest.
“I’m just making small talk,” Matt said. “What I want is you.”
Reuben’s breath caught, but a second later, he was finally touching Matt. His hand against the hard, warm skin of Matt’s chest while they kissed—he was definitely a fan of the beard, which rubbed so perfectly against his own goatee—and then Matt’s hands were under his shirt and he was pulling Reuben toward him and coherent thought took a back seat to skin and lips and the rough hands of the man Reuben had been in love with for most of his life.
When they finally came up for air, Reuben pressed his forehead to Matt’s and closed his eyes. He had no idea where his cap had fallen, and didn’t care at all.
“I’d like to move back. Here. To Grand Rue, I mean,” Reuben said. “I can work from anywhere. But only if it’s okay with you.”
Matt slid one hand up the back of Reuben’s neck, cupping the back of his head. “Live with me,” he said. Then, squeezing. “If you want to. I know I…scared you.” For the first time, he sounded hesitant.
“You didn’t,” Reuben said, opening his eyes. He met Matt’s gaze, willing him to understand, to believe. “And that was what freaked me out. How much I didn’t…how much I don’t…” He trailed off. He’d lined up all his words so neatly on the drive here, but now they were slipping through his mental fingers before he could get them out. He sighed. “I love you. So much it’s been all I’ve thought about since Hometown Boy, and I don’t want to be anywhere else. I touch you and I feel right. I feel good.” He smiled, pressing his hand against Matt’s chest for emphasis. “Even when we’re both sweaty.”
“Especially when we’re both sweaty,” Matt said, and that tiny smile returned.
Matt’s smile faded in the slowest of increments. “Really?” There was weight to the word. A question in it. Words they weren’t saying, words Matt had already said, last time, months ago. Death. Vengeance. Murder. Not justice.
“Really,” Reuben said, and kissed him again.
“The lawyer does die, though, right?” Matt said.
Reuben laughed. “Of course he does. He’s a bastard and he deserves it. It’s a Benny Matthew’s novel.”
Matt squeezed him. “Just checking.”