pain his dad had been in—not just toward the end, but for decades before others noticed how sick he was.
When Kevin was cleaned up, he tossed his dirty clothes into a coin-operated washing machine and went to buy fresh supplies. When he came out of the outfitter and general store with fuel for his stove, flour, pancake mix, pasta, and everything else he saw that looked light and tempting, he saw Anders standing with his arms around the neck of an attractive, tall young man in the parking lot.
A NDERS FELT like a bastard. Kevin had done nothing but help him, and he’d repaid that kindness by insisting that the man was either a gay-bashing asshole or was trying to get into his pants. The wounded look in those chocolate eyes made Anders want to smack himself. Instead, he’d taken Kevin’s advice and gone into the outdoor gear section of the store and asked about Joel. The clerk said he hadn’t seen him. Anders was less disappointed than he should have been. He thought about asking the clerk what they charged for a ride into town, but decided against it.
When he turned toward the exit, he saw Joel’s familiar red Jeep Wrangler pull into the gravel parking lot, kicking up mud as it skidded to a halt. Anders could make out Joel’s uneven brown hair through the windshield. His hair stood up at impossible angles, courtesy of an expensive stylist and even more expensive hair gel, so there was no mistaking him.
Anders stared at the Jeep, wondering if Joel was still going to be angry. He watched as his boyfriend climbed out and slammed the door shut, then scanned the gravel parking lot. Anders could tell just from his posture that Joel was still mad, even though his face looked calm enough.
He flashed Anders a bright smile and strode toward him. As soon as he was within reach, Joel pulled him into a quick, hard kiss. Anders had to wrap his arms around Joel’s neck just to keep from being swept off his feet.
“You made it!” Joel grinned into the kiss. “I was so worried about you that I couldn’t sleep last night! I’m so proud of you, baby!”
“Joel, Joel, stop! Put me down!”
“I’ve just missed you so much! Come on, get your stuff!” Joel opened the back door of the Jeep with the key fob. Anders looked into the storage area and realized there was no chance he would be able to convince Joel to come with him. Joel had left his own backpack and gear in Jacksonville.
“Where’s your stuff?” Joel asked again.
“Over by the store,” Anders said, trying to slip out of Joel’s arms.
“Go on, go get it already.”
“So I can take you home. I’ve got to be back by Monday so I can start on my project for this workshop. If I do well, I’m all but guaranteed a spot in the master’s program next spring. I told you all about it. Or I would have, if you had kept your phone turned on. You know I hate it when you don’t answer your phone, Anders. I worry about you.”
“I didn’t want to waste the battery.”
“You should have brought a spare or two. You have to leave your phone on, Anders, especially when we’re apart.”
“I don’t have a spare. I didn’t think we were going to be apart,” Anders pointed out.
“I know. And I’m sorry, but I can’t walk away from the English program right now. If my career stalls at this point, I’m going to be stuck in some minimum-wage job in Ocala forever. I need to stay involved with the university writing program. I don’t have to be back until Monday morning, though, so I thought we could get a hotel in Blairsville tonight, just you and me, and drive back to Florida in the morning.”
Anders spun out of Joel’s arms. “You came all this way to take me home?”
“Of course. I’m not going to abandon you out here all by yourself. Baby, I wouldn’t ever do that to you.”
Anders chuckled, until he realized that Joel was serious. “Joel, I don’t want to go back to Florida. I just got here.”
“Are you serious?