Title: What He Really Needs
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Excerpt from Chapter One
Saturday, August 19: Washington, DC
The sticky air was thick with the ripe smell of horny men. Johnny’s was the big gay sports bar in town, and on Saturday nights there was always a kickass drag show. At two in the morning, the drag queens had come and gone, and I lost myself in music loud enough to rattle my teeth. It was that time of night when everybody was dancing together, and all eyes were on the lookout for an interested man.
I turned around, and just as I noticed a cute blond twink giving me the once-over, I saw him. A dozen yards in front of me was the man I’d moved to DC to get away from. I’d know him anywhere. Dripping with sweat and obviously a couple of sheets to the wind, Ben Roth was dancing his ass off.
You’re out of your mind. That last vodka tonic was one too many.
The flashing lights made it hard to see, so I started moving in his direction. Since Johnny’s was packed, crossing the busy dance floor wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. I sneaked under and around gyrating bodies, and slid between a few couples who were eye fucking each other for all they were worth. Soon, I was next to him, and there was no doubt. None other than Ben Roth was in one of the most popular gay nightspots in the District.
Eyes closed, head thrown back, he seemed oblivious to the madness around him. He still looked like a cross between a teen heartthrob and Prince Charming, with his wavy brown hair and boyishly handsome face. Broad shoulders, muscular pecs, and a trim waist were tantalizing under the damp T-shirt that clung to his torso.
He must have sensed someone watching him. Opening his eyes, he scanned the room and slowly turned his head to the side, toward me. His gaze, loosened by too much alcohol, immediately sharpened as he shook his head and blinked his brilliant amber eyes. He curled his lips into the smile that had launched a thousand ships—as well as countless jack-off fantasies—and he jumped at me.
“Cayo?” He engulfed me in a bear hug. Lime and honey tickled my nostrils, immediately followed by the unmistakable scent of Ben’s spicy musk. For the three years we had lived together, that peppery, mossy smell gave me a semi every time he came home from a run.
I wrapped my arms around him and reveled in the way his toned muscles resisted my squeeze. He pulled me closer, and I felt safe for the first time in who knew how long. I’d honestly thought I would never see him again. Just as his spicy-sweaty essence began to make me feel giddy, I—
Started getting hard! Shit! After the way things ended, the last thing I needed was for him to get the idea that he was giving me an erection. Which he wasn’t, of course. It was the excitement of seeing him again, the air in the club being so laden with testosterone, the feel of another man’s arms around me when I’d come here knowing I needed a good fuck. It certainly had nothing to do with—
Alarm! Get loose before he notices your cock poking into his leg! I braced my hands against his chest and pushed, successfully extricating myself from his grip. “Ben! What the hell are you doing here?”
Confusion and something else—panic?—flashed across his face as he swiped at the moisture on his forehead. He moved his hand to his throat and tugged at the collar of his T-shirt while his eyes darted around. “Let’s go outside. It’s hard to talk in here.”
Without waiting for me to respond, he took my hand and led us off the dance floor. It was slow going, but I was so distracted that I hardly noticed. Ben is in DC? In a gay club? As I tried to process that, it occurred to me that he had my hand and was leading me toward the exit of said gay club. His own hand was warm, and the calluses from his workouts were frighteningly sensual against my skin. I used to hope I might get to suck those long, supple fingers one day. Actually, his fingers weren’t the only thing I’d wanted to suck. I remembered—
“There, that’s better!” Ben turned, glancing to the side as he took a deep breath.
It was ridiculously hot and humid outside for two o’clock in the morning, but the fresh air was a definite improvement over the sweltering heat inside the club. Better still was that the insanely loud music had receded into a dull thud. Ben trained his amber eyes on me but didn’t let go. I shouldn’t have glanced down, because as soon as I did, he dropped my hand like it was on fire.
“I’m surprised to see you here,” I managed to say, a little breathlessly, barely resisting the urge to touch my hand to my face. “You’re in town?” Kill me now.
He snickered. “Your astute powers of observation haven’t failed you, I see.” Ben had this low voice that had always gotten me going, and it did nothing to deflate the hard-on that had started when he hugged me, and which hadn’t flagged in the least.
I had difficulty forming words. My lips moved but nothing came out, and an eternity passed before I was able to say anything. “Why are you here, Ben?”
He shrugged, as if what he was about to say was of no importance at all. “I live here now.”
The implications of that were too much to consider right then, so I decided to start with the question that buzzed around my brain like a plane caught in a thunderstorm, the question I had to have an answer to right this minute. “At Johnny’s? You live at Johnny’s?”
It wasn’t exactly the sentence I’d wanted to put together, but it seemed to telegraph my concern to Ben. He shuffled back and forth on his feet for a moment before he met my eyes. “Let’s go get coffee. We need to talk.”
Still struggling to come to terms with the reality that Ben Roth was standing next to me, I was slow to respond.
“Or maybe not? Are you with someone?”
With someone? Did he mean at Johnny’s with someone, or in a relationship with someone? Stop overthinking things—the answer’s the same either way. “No, I’m not with anyone.” I nodded toward Vermont Avenue. “There’s a late-night diner down the street. We can walk there.”
Over Easy was crowded, not unusual for a weekend night. A lot of the men who hadn’t found love at Johnny’s had moved the party down here, and the debriefing was in full swing. The pink plastic booths were all occupied, most of the tables were taken, and people were milling around everywhere, a few of them still in drag.
Despite the rowdy throng, we were seated at a table right away. Ordinarily, I’d have resented the claustrophobic location—in a corner in the back, between a supply closet and a wall—but the privacy would be good tonight. Ben and I were apparently going to have a conversation I’d avoided for two years.
After we ordered coffee, he passed some time drumming his fingertips against the tabletop. I stayed quiet. Acting like a bastard wasn’t my style, but I wasn’t going to make things too easy for him. After all, the last time we’d been together, he sure hadn’t made things easy for me.
The waitress brought our drinks, and Ben finally looked at me when she left. “So, Cayo…?”
Really? That’s all you’ve got? “Still my name.” I took a sip of coffee. “So, Ben…?”
“It’s not what you’re thinking.” He glanced between me and the tabletop, and kept reaching up to scratch his cheek.
I forced my lips into a smile. “You’re going to dig a hole in your face, if you don’t stop that.”
“What?” He jumped, almost like he’d forgotten I was there, before he met my eyes. “Oh, sorry.” His little snicker sounded as sweet as ever. “You always used to tell me that.”
“It’s good to see you, Ben. What’s going on? You said you live here now?”
He put both hands on the table, palms down. “I’m sorry, Cayo. Like really, really sorry.”
The din from Over Easy’s drunk and disappointed customers closed in on us while I decided what to say. I kept my gaze on Ben but had to focus on his forehead because his eyes were too dangerous. “You are?” Memories washed over me—it had been raining in Durham, the day after we graduated from law school—and I couldn’t breathe for a few seconds. “Sorry for what, exactly?”
He made a humming noise while he shook his head. His eyes got shiny, and since I knew that, I was obviously looking at them now.
“For everything.” His voice was lower than usual, and it had a quake I’d never heard before. “For being an absolute bastard to my best buddy. For being a total jerk, somebody you know isn’t me and never was.”
The emotion on his face surprised me. “Tu campo? Is that what I was? Your best buddy?”
It was perhaps the tiniest scoff in the history of the world, but I heard it. “Well, yeah. How can you even ask that?”
Because even now, I want what we had to have been more. Maybe I still believe it was more.
“Why did you act like that, Ben? Treat me like that? It fucking hurt, worse than you’ll ever know.”
“I was….” He cleared his throat and took a sip of coffee. “I don’t know. You shocked me. It had only been a year since Amy left, and I…. You and I were….”
My stomach clenched into a painful knot, and I decided that perhaps I wasn’t ready for this conversation, after all. “You said you live here now? You mean in DC?”
He opened his mouth and tried to say something. When that failed, he took a deep breath. “I tried to call you so many times. Sent you dozens of emails and texts, kept it up for a year.”
He flattened his lips into a small frown. “Come on, man. You never blocked me. The phone would ring and ring before it went to voicemail.”
At least I knew you were thinking about me. I stared at his forehead again. “I wasn’t ready to talk to you, Ben.”
He gave a small nod. “Fair enough. I left you alone for a while, but last Christmas something woke me up, and I’ve wanted to talk to you so much since then.” He set his coffee down and leaned over the table. “I’ve almost called you so many times. I decided last week to get in touch as soon as I got to DC, which was only this morning, actually. I was going to find you, Cayo.”
“Well, you found me, so talk.”
He sat back in his chair and put out his hands. “I panicked. I don’t really understand why. You know I don’t have any issues with gay people. My brother’s gay, for God’s sake.”
“I know, but you still—”
In a flash, he reached across the table and grabbed my hand, words rushing out of him in a torrent of emotion. “I love you, Cayo.” He opened his eyes wide but didn’t slow down. “I mean, not like that, but you were my best friend. We always had so much fun together, were there for each other in so many ways. When Amy left, I was so broken and needy, and you got me through it. I started depending on you, way more than I had any right to. I—” He caught himself and lowered his head, though he kept my hand.
It must have been about sixty degrees in the overcooled restaurant, but a bead of sweat rolled down the back of my neck. “You what?” He remained quiet, and I squeezed his hand. He still didn’t move. “Look at me, Ben.”
Slowly, he raised his head.
“You were saying…?” I prompted.
He exhaled, puffing out his cheeks and lips. “I’m not going to deny it. I felt things, about you. I got confused, and it weirded me out.”
I cocked my head, needing to be sure I understood him correctly. “You felt what about me?”
“I wanted you!” His voice was loud, and he brought it back down. “I wanted you in bed, but it wouldn’t have been right. I would’ve just been projecting feelings onto you because I didn’t have a girlfriend. You deserved more.”
I squeezed his hand again. “Go on. Please.”
His eyes, already bright, grew wet. “You were family to me for three years, all through law school. We shared so much, Cay. Remember how we used to talk all night long? I never pulled an all-nighter studying, but who knows how many all-nighters we pulled hanging out, talking about anything and everything?” He smiled. “We had such great times. All those road trips—going to ride roller coasters around the country, visit places neither of us had ever been. If we thought a game might be good, we’d just jump in the car and go see it. Didn’t matter where it was.” He chuckled. “I wore out a car in law school having the time of my life with you.”
His voice choked, and he struggled for control before he went on. “You were the best friend I could ever imagine. When I started having all those crazy thoughts, I was barely able to manage them. Then, when you told me you’d been in love with me all along, when you kissed me, I panicked. You needed somebody who could offer you a future, and since I’m not gay, that wasn’t me. It was either get uber pissed off, or say to hell with it and use you, but that would have left both of us feeling like shit.”
I glared at him until I could get words out. “Well, what you chose to do certainly left both of us feeling like shit.”
He still held my hand and squeezed it hard. “I’d give anything to change what happened.”
“Why didn’t you talk to me that night?” I had to clear my throat. “It took me so long to work up the courage to tell you how I felt, to ask if there was a chance you might feel the same way.” Sadness rushed into my heart and I did my best to push it away. “I had to ask, Ben.”
His voice was very soft. “I knew even then how much you trusted me, to be able to tell me, but I acted like a crazy fool and treated my best friend like a piece of shit.” He shuddered. “When I realized what I’d done, how I’d—”
Tears spilled down his cheeks, and my heart skipped a beat. I leaned across the table toward him. “Hey.” He squeezed his eyes shut and the cascade of tears continued. When he sobbed, I let go of a breath I’d been holding onto for two years. “Oh, Ben.” I sat quietly until he calmed down.
“Please forgive me, Cay. I was a damned coward, and I should’ve told you what I was feeling.” He shook his head. “I’ve been a damned coward ever since. I could have come to see you, gotten right in your face until you listened to me.”
My own eyes overflowed at that point, and there we sat—two guys, holding hands, crying in public. Anywhere else in town, we’d have probably attracted some attention, but sitting in Over Easy at two forty-five on a Sunday morning, no one even turned a head.
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Meet the Author
Ryan Taylor and Joshua Harwood met in law school and were married in 2017. They live in a suburb of Washington, DC, and enjoy travel, friends, dogs, and advocating for causes dear to their hearts. Josh and Ryan love writing, and the romance they were so lucky to find with each other inspires their stories about love between out and proud men.
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