John stood there, his back to the street, his arm straight out as he held the door open, waiting.
He heard the guy cross the street and open the front gate. The slap of his shoes on the concrete changed to a graveled shuffle when he hit the path from the sidewalk to the porch. At that point John simply walked away. He moved off and went to the kitchen, not sure why he’d left him to enter the house on his own.
John leaned his ass against the kitchen counter, right in front of the sink. He could see straight through the house from here, right to the front door. The stranger came in and wiped his feet on the small rug in front of the door for that purpose. John had to smile. At least he’d been raised properly. Idly John wondered if there had been a rug there when this guy’s mom owned the house. He pulled the hoodie off and looked up to see John watching him. He had dark blue eyes and really dark brown hair, wavy and thick. That was a nice head of hair. Bastard. John had always wanted hair like that.
“May I come in?” he asked. His manners should have seemed out of place, but instead they somehow added depth to the picture he made standing there in his tattered clothes with his thick, messy hair.
John waved a hand in front of him like Vanna revealing the letter of the day. “Be my guest,” he said politely. “You wore me down.”
He was a big one. Taller than John by several inches, he barely cleared the low door frames of the old house. His shoulders were wider than they ought to be, as if they used to belong to someone who had more bulk than this tall, lean, young man. John watched him as he turned and closed the front door, producing a quiet snick in the heavy silence. He set a raggedy gym bag down on the floor.
When he turned back to John, he rubbed his palms nervously on his thighs. “Thanks for letting me come in.”
John tipped his head. “What do you want?” He was merely curious. He found himself strangely detached today.
“Just to look around,” he said in rush. “I swear. I just wanted to see the old house. I’ll leave soon.” He had a thick accent. Swear came out more like sway-eh. It was a good thing John was getting good at the local lingo.
“You waited outside for days just to look around for a few minutes?” John was suspiciously disbelieving.
His visitor smiled, and all vestiges of youth fell away. “This old place has got a hold on me, you know?”
John shook his head. “No.” And he really didn’t. He’d never been that attached to any place. Only one person, and they’d never had a place.
That brown-haired head shook, with pity or perhaps regret. He didn’t say anything, just looked around. John could see the memories swirling through his blue eyes. But he revealed nothing. John watched him walk slowly around the living room trailing his hand along the wooden chair rail absentmindedly. He yanked his hand back suddenly and wiped it on his pants again, as if he was afraid he was leaving a stain behind.
“I’m John Ford,” he offered.
Guarded eyes met his. “Connor Meecham.”
John laughed. “Meecham. Of course.”
“Meaning?” Connor wasn’t laughing. His tone was flat.
John held his hands up before him, placating. “Nothing. Just that everyone calls this house the Meecham place. If it was your mother’s house, then of course you’d be a Meecham.”
“Sorry,” Connor grumbled, blushing as he looked away.
It was clear Connor had been prepared for something else. Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice would say.
“You painted the place.”
John gratefully accepted the change of topic. “Yep. Needed it badly. But I haven’t got much eye for color. I just went with white and some kind of brown the Sherwin-Williams lady called cafe au lait.”
Connor laughed. It sounded rusty. “It’s a nice brown.” He shook his head again. “I can picture my mama here like it was yesterday.”
John didn’t know what to say to that. “You know,” he chose to observe instead, “Southern men are the only ones who can say ‘Mama’ and not sound like idiots.” That earned another rusty laugh. John had the strange fleeting thought that he should keep count. “‘Daddy’ still gives me the heebie-jeebies however.”
The laugh settled into a chuckle. “No ‘Daddy’ here,” came the laconic reply.
John was shocked when he had a flash of that heavy Southern bass whispering “Daddy” in his ear. He shivered. Then he was disgusted with himself. That had never turned him on. And the reality was, he didn’t think it would if Connor Meecham actually did it. It was fantasy material, though.
“May I?” Connor was gesturing up the stairs.
“Be my guest,” John said, surprised at his own hospitality. He followed along a few steps behind Connor. He barely glanced into John’s room on the first floor, which was the master bedroom only because the bathroom was attached. The room was actually smaller than the other bedroom. The bathroom had obviously been an add-on. John followed him up the stairs and at the door to the second bedroom, Connor stopped, his hands gripping the frame. He just stared at the room, empty except for a bed and some boxes full of knickknacks and Steve’s various trophies. Steve’s guitar sat on top of the pile. John forced himself to look away from it.
“Your old room?” John asked quietly.
Connor just nodded. “You haven’t painted it.” It was a statement, not a question.
John looked at the faded gray-blue walls full of nail holes. “No. I don’t really need this room right now. I’m focusing on the main areas and outside first.”
Connor nodded again, and then he turned and walked toward the stairs. “Is it okay if I go out back?”
John almost said no. He was a little embarrassed by the backyard. Not because of what he hadn’t done yet, but because of what he had. At his hesitation, Connor slowed down and looked over his shoulder at John, a question on his face. “Yes, go ahead,” John assured him. He followed him down and through the kitchen to the back door. His stomach clenched as Connor opened the creaky screen door and stepped out.
John knew the minute he saw it. Connor’s shoulders tensed. Then he took the three steps down to the yard and walked over to the little grave under the live oak in the corner.
When John had found the small moss-covered rock in the yard, he hadn’t been sure what it was. It was only after he’d cleared all the weeds out that he saw it was a store-bought pet headstone with the name DIGGER hand-etched in the stone. For some stupid reason he’d taken it to a trophy shop a couple of towns over and had the name professionally engraved on the stone. It looked brand-new now. He’d even planted some flowers around it. Today it seemed silly to him, what he’d done. All that work to do on the house and the yard, and he’d wasted hours on that little grave.
He waited for Connor to say something smart, trailing after him reluctantly. Instead Connor unexpectedly sank to his knees and laid his forehead on the ground in front of the headstone. His arms came up, and he covered his head as if to protect it, and his shoulders started to shake. It took John a moment to realize he was crying. Bone-shaking, silent sobs racked his big frame and froze John in his tracks.
Without a word John turned around and walked back into the house. He’d been there. Those were private tears, and he left Connor to them.
John busied himself sanding down the posts on the front porch for the next couple of hours, as far from Connor as he could get. He hadn’t done any work out front yet, and it was hard going. Eventually he thought he ought to go and check on him. The man had a breakdown in his backyard, after all. And he’d been awfully quiet back there ever since.
When he tentatively pushed open the back door, he was a little scared of what he might find since he’d forgotten about all the sharp tools back there until just a few minutes ago. He was relieved to see Connor just sitting there next to the grave. His knees were bent, and his wrists were resting on them casually. He looked calm and approachable. John released the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding.
He hadn’t made any noise that he was aware of, but Connor turned toward him. “I’m all right,” he said, and John could hear the truth of that in his voice.
He wandered over to the tree and stood off to Connor’s right, in the shade. He felt awkward and shoved his hands in his pockets. “Have you got someplace to stay?” he asked. He hadn’t meant to say that, but once the words were out, he was glad he had. He didn’t want to spend another restless night worrying about Connor. He had a lot of work to do around here and needed his sleep.
Connor shook his head. “Not really. I’m just moving around.”
John frowned. “What does that mean?”
Connor stood up, resting one fist on the ground as he gracefully came to one knee and then rose. “It means you don’t have to worry about me.” His soft smile took the sting out his dismissive words.
John sighed. “I wish it were that easy to turn it off,” he said apologetically, “but I suffer from overactive worry.”
“I’ll be all right, Mr. Ford,” Connor told him. “But thanks.”
“Come on,” John said. He turned toward the separate garage. “I know a place.” He turned back to see Connor watching him, his face unreadable. “Do you have anything you need to get? Besides your bag?”
They stood like that for a minute, a silent tug-of-war between them. Finally Connor shook his head. “No, sir. Nothing.”
John knew that was a lie. There was a lot that Connor needed. But he wasn’t going to find it here. He turned and walked to the garage, listening to Connor’s footsteps as he turned back to the house to get his bag.
© Samantha Kane
Author: Samantha Kane
Publisher: loose-id, LLC
Genre: LGBT Contemporary
John Ford packed up his life a year ago and moved from LA to small Mercury, North Carolina after the death of his long-term partner. He’s been living in a kind of suspended animation, fixing up the old house he bought there, reclusive and alone. Until the day Connor Meecham appears.
Conn Meecham has returned home, only to find it isn’t his anymore. Someone else owns his mother’s house now. But Conn needs that house to find the man he left behind more than eight years ago--before the drugs, before prison, before his life derailed. Lonely, desperate, lost, Conn finds in John a kindred soul.
Mercury is a dying town. But John sets out to change that when he learns what it means to Conn. Through home improvements, sex, old friends, sex, misunderstandings, sex, and homemade cherry pie, John and Conn may finally discover that where they are now can be heaven on earth if they want it to be.