A Casual Weekend Thing
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An AMB Ovation Awards - Outstanding Author in GLBT Literature nominee!
On Top Down Under Book Reviews says, "One of the best debut novels I have ever read." Read more...
Live your Life, Buy the Book says, "This was a fantastic book! The writing was amazing, the plot was amazing and I loved all of the characters." Read more...
M/M Good Book Reviews says, "Wow, just wow, this story is absolutely fantastic, a brilliant mystery, and with a suspense that keeps you guessing." Read more...
Multitaskingmomma says, "Hilarious at times and chilling the next, this is a Must Read for those who like MM and whodunnit plots." Read more...
Reviews by Amon Lassen says, "mystery and suspense as well as wonderfully drawn characters and excellent writing." Read more...
Reviews from Goodreads.com
“YOU’RE going to tear those stitches,” Ray Delgado said from somewhere over Christopher’s head.
Christopher wanted to curse at him. At the moment, though, the extra weight was making it difficult for him to breathe through performing a single bench press. Talking wasn’t possible. The muscle just below his left shoulder felt like it was on fire. The surgical strips holding the stitches closed strained as the skin and muscle tightened for the first time in weeks. He wasn’t even sure he would be able to keep the bar up off his neck much longer. A few weeks of bed rest and he felt weak as a kitten.
“This is stupid,” Ray said as he hoisted the bar off him with ease. “You really shouldn’t push it. Staying in shape isn’t going to get you back on duty any sooner.”
“Getting back into shape,” Christopher corrected him, ashamed that he was breathing heavily. “I’ve hardly gotten out of bed in the past few weeks.”
“You’ve gone running three times since you were discharged.”
“Running doesn’t count,” said Christopher. “That’s not exercise, that’s running.”
“Only for psychos, Hayes. The rest of the world doesn’t run for hours on end for fun.” Christopher’s partner stared at him like he was an idiot. “Aren’t you supposed to do physical therapy or something? Work out with a resistance band and a cute little nurse spotting for you, instead of me?”
“I need to be medically cleared before I can even schedule the physical therapy appointment. And I’ll pass on the cute little nurse.” Using his legs for leverage, he sat up on the weight bench. The sight of his own reflection in the mirrored wall caught him off guard. His hair was a mess. He nearly had a full beard because the tiny row of stitches across his left cheek prevented him from shaving, and he could see a checkerboard of white bandages and bruises peeking out from beneath his T-shirt.
“You haven’t even been back for your first checkup yet, have you?”
Christopher refused to look at him.
“If you hurt yourself worse, it’s going to be more than three more weeks before you’re cleared to go back to work.”
“That’s why I’ve got you. I kept you from getting shot, so you’re obligated to keep me from spraining a muscle.”
“And that’s precisely what I’m doing. Go hit the treadmill if you’re going stir-crazy. Or go out and get laid. Watching you try and lift right now is funny as hell, and even though it’s helping my ego, it’s also pathetic.”
“I’m done. I don’t think I could dead lift the barbell right now. Just doing this was exhausting. But you said you’d fill me in on what’s happening at work.”
Ray shrugged and watched a petite blonde woman move across the gym floor doing lunges.
“Delgado….” Christopher waved his hand in front of the other man’s eyes.
“I did,” Ray said quietly, not taking his eyes off the woman. “I’ve been stuck in training seminars. Eight fucking years on the gang task force, and the captain’s got me going through the gang enforcement class again. I’m qualified to teach the class, and I have to sit there and take notes.”
“Has anything in it changed much?”
Ray shrugged. “New tattoos. There are always new tattoos, though. Personally, I still say we should just lock them all in the same yard in San Quentin and let them sort it out for themselves, but that’s not the popular approach. None of the rookies even laughed when I suggested it in the class. One of them had the gall to tell me it wasn’t socially appropriate. At least an old guy from the prison thought it was funny. You want a copy of the handouts?”
Christopher shook his head with a half smirk. “I think I’ve still got my copy from going through it at the academy. I wouldn’t mind seeing the new tattoos, if you’ve got pictures of them.”
“You got it. I’ve got a weeklong session on interpersonal communication skills coming up on Monday, if you want that too.”
“Fuck no. Remember, I was stuck with two weeks’ worth of hospital food,” Christopher reminded him. “One form of torture is enough.”
“I’d rather eat the hospital food. Well, if you’re done trying to kill yourself, I’m going to take off. I need to get home and get some sleep.”
“You want to go run tomorrow?”
Ray shook his head and sniggered. “If I say yes, are you going to kick my ass?”
“No, no, I feel worse than I look. Five miles, max.”
“Five miles? It’s your shoulder, man. Still, I suppose I’d better be there to pick your ass up off the pavement.”
“I could drag you out to the mountains for a long run, if you don’t have anything better to do. Seven too early?” Christopher asked, knowing it was. When there was no response, he glanced up at Ray. He watched his partner as his partner watched the blonde.
They had worked together for nearly four years, and during that time, Christopher had done his best to ignore his partner’s handsome features and well-defined body. Ray had known that Christopher was gay from the start, and the only thing the other man had ever said about it was that he was straight, and that he didn’t want Christopher to hit on him. After that, it had never come up again. They had merged into a seamless partnership and tight friendship that had left many of the other detectives wondering if Ray swung both ways. Christopher, however, had gone out of his way to think of Delgado as nothing but a friend. While the other man had made it clear that he didn’t want to know about Christopher’s sex life, he was always there with a pair of boxing gloves or a six-pack of beer when he knew Christopher was upset about something. That type of open and honest friendship was something Christopher had known very little in his life, and he was determined to protect it.
His partner was incredibly hot and exactly his type physically, but Christopher never spent more than a moment even thinking about the other man’s tan body, in case it somehow eroded away the trust they’d built over the years. Still, the idea of staring at his partner’s ass over five miles of trails held an undeniable appeal.
The blonde adjusted her iPod headphones and eyed both of them. She pushed out of her lunge and walked, very slowly, over to the cardio equipment.
“Delgado? Mountains? It would do you good to get out of the city.”
“No chance in hell, Hayes. An entire day trying to run up a sheer wall just to be too sore to move for the next week is not my idea of a good time. Five miles is fine. We can run to Coronado. But you know, make it nine o’clock.” Delgado smiled brightly. “I think I’ll stay awhile, maybe hit the elliptical.”
The clock hanging above the mirrored wall beside the weights said it was ten minutes after eleven. Christopher shook his head and wiped at his beard with his sweat towel. “Good luck with that,” he muttered.
He nodded when Ray tapped his left elbow with a soft fist as he walked past. “Try to rest, man, you look like shit.”
“Yeah. See you in the morning.”
Christopher wasn’t really surprised when there was no answer as he rapped on his partner’s door at ten minutes before nine the next morning. He had a spare key and let himself in. From the silence of the apartment, it was obvious his partner was still asleep. “It’s nine, Delgado!” he shouted in a voice that carried through the entire apartment. “Get your ass out of bed!”
He headed for the kitchen and pulled out a couple of coffee mugs. Even if his partner wasn’t always up on time, the man’s programmable coffeemaker was always set for six each morning. Christopher closed his eyes and cocked his head, listening to the sound of water running in the shower and shuffling from the living room.
He bit his lip and pulled down a third coffee mug. He had nothing to do today except go for a long, slow run, so he wasn’t going to let anything throw him into another bad mood.
Christopher plastered a smile on his face. The girl who’d just come into the kitchen wearing one of his partner’s T-shirts sounded like she was fifteen years old. Christopher glanced at her briefly, deciding she probably wasn’t more than twenty at the oldest. “Are you Raymond’s gay partner?”
He felt his smile twitch, wondering if Ray even cared about how bad that sounded. He made a mental note to tease him about it as soon as they were alone. “Christopher Hayes,” he said, introducing himself.
“Not that you look gay or anything, but I think it’s totally hot. And it’s so cool that he’s totally open about things like that. I’m Michelle, by the way. Oh, hey, there’s coffee!”
“Yeah,” Christopher managed, not trusting himself to say anything else without laughing. He poured two cups of coffee and set one on the end of the kitchen counter for her.
She bounced past him, pulled open the fridge, and hauled out a small carton of milk. “So he mentioned you two work together,” she said casually. “How long have you been a trainer there?”
“At Around-the-Clock Fitness. I just go there because of the student discount, so my membership’s only good semester to semester, you know. It is just so sad that the only two guys there with nice bodies work there. I mean, it just figures. So is that how you two met? At work? Or were you together before that?”
“We met at work,” Christopher muttered, then bit his tongue again. “Did, um, Ray mention how long he’s worked there?”
“Well, sort of. He said you two have worked together for years now. That’s got to be a dull job, though, just watching the same blubbery people in baggy clothes huff and puff on a treadmill all day. I go insane if I’m stuck there for more than half an hour without music and a magazine, you know?”
Christopher shrugged and said nothing. He didn’t like going to the gym either, but mostly because it was full of people all trying to convince themselves that they weren’t in the gym. They tried to close themselves off from everything, usually with headphones and magazines, so you couldn’t even smile and nod at them without them glaring at you for somehow violating their personal space. At least people who opted for basketball or soccer at the city park would say hi.
He sipped his coffee and tried to decipher the noises coming from the rest of the apartment. He’d go running alone if Ray didn’t hurry up. After a moment, he realized the girl hadn’t stopped talking yet. She was rambling about majoring in sociology now. Christopher listened for a few more moments, then realized what must have happened the night before. As Michelle talked bluntly about being open-minded and about sexual experimentation, poor Ray probably started talking about his gay partner, and how he was just fine with different lifestyles, to try and relate to the hot young co-ed better. Had the man even realized that the word “partner” wouldn’t mean quite the same thing to a bisexual sociology major that it did to a straight homicide detective?
As Ray stumbled into the kitchen, dressed to run and pulling on his socks as he went, he met Christopher’s eyes with an apologetic look. Christopher schooled his face and forced himself not to laugh. Ray took the cup of coffee out of Christopher’s hands and drained it in two long gulps.
“That was mine, you know,” Christopher pointed out.
“Would take too long to pour my own,” Ray hissed, giving him back the coffee cup. He leaned against the counter and began to pull his shoes on while standing up. His fingers blurred as he fumbled with the laces. He glanced up at Christopher and stopped. “You finally decided to shave again! About time.”
Christopher refilled the coffee cup and was about to take another sip when Ray pulled it from his hands too.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Ray gasped, and then he finished draining the second cup. “If you expect me to keep up with you for more than a mile, I need the caffeine.”
“OMG, you guys really are serious! You’re going running after working out last night! That’s the real secret to getting those abs, isn’t it? That is so hard core!”
Ray cringed and kept his gaze on the tile. Christopher knew if he could just get his attention, he could rub it in without ever saying a word. Then the part of his brain that was always spinning in the background told him he’d missed something. “Did you actually just say OMG out loud?” Christopher asked.
“Yeah.” The girl looked a bit deflated. “Would you mind if I come along? I’ve still got all my workout stuff from last night!”
Christopher saw the horrified expression that flittered across his partner’s face. “Yeah, come with us! It’s a great workout. Grab your shoes—we’ll wait.”
Michelle squealed and hopped out of the kitchen.
Ray stared at the tile beneath his worn-out running shoes while Christopher stared at him. Finally, out of pity, he poured him another cup of coffee. “Pedophile,” Christopher whispered, trying not to laugh. Christopher almost lost control of himself when he saw his partner shake from the effort of not laughing.
“Asshole,” Ray finally whispered back, taking a slow sip of coffee.
“You realize that your new girlfriend thinks we’re lovers, right? The whole gay-partner thing….”
The way Ray shut his eyes tight and cringed told Christopher his friend knew he had a bit of a misunderstanding on his hands, but had no clue how to fix it. “I promise I’ll explain later,” he whispered, as the girl bounded back into the kitchen, still wearing Ray’s T-shirt, but also wearing a pair of shorts and tennis shoes without socks.
“Totally ready!” she announced.
“Great! Let’s go, baby.” Christopher slapped Ray on the ass and then jogged out of the kitchen, ready to sprint just in case he actually had to outrun the other man. He had to stop and wait for them at the elevator, but by then he could see that his partner was torn between being mortified and laughing hysterically.
Christopher started out at a slow jog and then worked his way up to a comfortable pace he knew Ray could keep up with. They were barely out of sight of Ray’s apartment building when he began to listen to the rhythmic footfalls of his partner and the random shuffling footsteps and heavy breathing of his partner’s newest girlfriend. He was surprised she kept up with them for a good two miles before she panted out something about heading back so she could get to class on time.
Ray glanced back and forth between them, trying not to look too sheepish as he fell back.
“Go on. Be a gentleman, walk her home.”
“Fine. Call me if you get into trouble, right?”
“My legs work just fine,” Christopher reminded him. “Do us both a favor and tell her what we actually do for a living.” He waved with his good hand and sped up until he felt his heart racing in time with his stride, falling into the pace with practiced ease.
It wasn’t long before his mind emptied and all the stress of the past three weeks began to seep away. The only time the world seemed to come into perfect focus, when everything was clear and understandable, was when he was running. Otherwise, his brain would keep spinning endlessly. And the last thing he wanted at the moment was to keep thinking about the very real possibility that his life was over.
Three weeks ago, things had been perfect. He had one of the best track records of any of the detectives in the department. His captain had been coaching him for next month’s promotion board, a grueling three-hour oral exam on every detail of the department’s policies, procedures, and all of the duties he would tackle when he was promoted to lieutenant. He was sure he’d ace it. He’d been in the best shape of his life too, on track to take a good ten minutes off of his best marathon time. Then he and Ray had listened on the radio as a traffic stop just a few blocks from them exploded in gunfire. The radio traffic got muddled, but they knew one of the officers involved had been shot and that the suspect had fled on foot. And Christopher had never met a single criminal in San Diego who could outrun him. For a moment, when the suspect stumbled and turned toward them, firing while he tried to get around a corner, Christopher actually cursed being fast. The bullet had pierced his right shoulder, missing bone but tearing through muscle, arteries, and tendons.
Now, after two surgeries and weeks of sitting in bed recovering, Christopher didn’t want to admit just how bad his shoulder was. The dull constant ache was something he could learn to live with, but it got so stiff it felt like it was on fire if he stopped moving for long. When he started moving again after sitting still, the entire muscle became hot and swollen, until his shoulder locked and he couldn’t move at all. The worst part was a tingling dead feeling from his shoulder all the way down the outside of his arm. The last three fingers on his right hand were completely numb. He remembered the doctor going over the list of possible complications from the gunshot wound and the surgeries, how she had brushed over the slim chance of nerve damage and hardly mentioned the symptoms at all. From the thick packet of discharge paperwork, though, Christopher had learned that the dead tingling that signaled a damaged nerve wasn’t something doctors could fix. Muscles healed, nerves didn’t. Once the damage was done, it was done.
He was supposed to have gone back to the doctor to get the stitches taken out two days ago, but he had skipped the appointment. If he told the doctor the truth, he would never be medically cleared to go back on duty—not unless he could learn how to shoot left-handed. If he could work up the nerve to lie about it, he didn’t deserve to go back to work anyway. Only a real bastard would put his teammates and partner at risk by going back on duty when he would likely end up dropping his gun if he ever had to use it.
He shook his head as he tried to imagine life without his job.
He had more or less fallen into police work, but it had become his life. While he was finishing his undergraduate degree, intending to teach English and coach track and field, he had gone out with a guy who wanted to be a cop but couldn’t work up the nerve to go to the preemployment test session alone. Their relationship had ended the moment Christopher passed the tests and his boyfriend didn’t. The job turned out to be the best thing that had ever happened to him. He loved being a police officer. And the thought of starting a new career, when he was already well past thirty, was terrifying. The thought of taking early retirement on disability was even more frightening.
Christopher wiggled his fingers again, watching to make sure they were actually moving. There was no way to know for sure if he would be able to handle a gun again until he tried it, and he didn’t dare try until he’d had a few more weeks to heal. Just trying to hold his gun had been a disaster. He had dropped it on his bed four times before he decided to tuck it into his nightstand until he went back on duty.
He curled his fingers into loose fists, let his gaze settle on the ground in front of him, and just ran. He ran until he couldn’t feel the pain as the tendons in his shoulder caught with each swing of his arm, until he didn’t care about the tingling and numbness in his fingers, until he forgot what extensive nerve damage to his gun arm would mean for his career, until he let go of the petty jealousy he felt toward the girl his partner had picked up at the gym. He ran until he couldn’t feel anything at all.
Life was a lot like the grueling long-distance races he ran. He knew he had to keep moving forward, even if there didn’t seem to be any hope of his shoulder recovering. There were desk jobs with the department, and training and consulting positions. He would find a way to move forward if his arm didn’t heal, and until then, he would run until he didn’t have the energy to worry about it anymore.
It was nearly one thirty by the time he finally staggered the last half block back to his condo. He fumbled with his door key and felt his stomach seize as the knob turned in his hand. His right hand twitched toward his left side, to the spot where his gun would have been if he’d been wearing his harness. The door was yanked in as Christopher let go of the knob and stepped to the side. He didn’t make it very far.
“Where the hell have you been!” Ray, still dressed in his running clothes, grabbed Christopher by the shirt and hauled him inside, then slammed the door behind him. “How does five miles take you five fucking hours? Why didn’t you call?”
Christopher tried to swallow but found his mouth was too dry. He had worn himself down so far that he was dehydrated and his blood sugar was low. He had felt a headache creeping up on him during the last two miles back to his place. If he didn’t rehydrate, cool off, and get some electrolytes soon, he was going to end up stuck on the couch with chills and nausea for the rest of the day. He had refilled his small water bottle at least three times, but he should have had more.
Unfortunately, it was hard to come up with an explanation for all that while the world was still spinning. “Water…,” he rasped, trying to move past Ray and get to his kitchen. “Salt. Aspirin.”
“Sit your ass down!”
Christopher would have laughed about how easily Ray shoved him down onto his couch, but he was too tired. Ray didn’t even try to be gentle as he ripped Christopher’s shirt off over his head. Christopher stared at the yellow jersey, wondering how he hadn’t noticed the bloodstains on the front and back. After thinking about it for a moment, he chalked it up to endorphins. He’d been really embarrassed during his first marathon when he hadn’t noticed bloody outlines of his nipples on his white shirt until after the race was over. There was a lot of blood on his shirt now. That was strange.
“Fuck.” Ray’s hands ghosted over his shoulder and back, picking at sweat-soaked bandages. “Is there anything I can say that would get you to go back in to the doctor?”
Christopher shook his head slowly. “I need some water. And a Snickers bar. And a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Then I’ll take a shower. It doesn’t hurt, so I’m sure it looks worse than it is.”
“Don’t move,” Ray ordered in his most authoritative voice.
A few minutes later, Christopher found a cold bottle of Powerade and two aspirin in his hand while his partner mopped at the blood on his back with a dark washcloth. Then, while Ray put a clean, dry bandage on his back, Christopher fiddled with the shirt in his hands to distract himself from the heat of the other man’s fingers. When Ray pushed him back against the couch and walked around to stand in front of him, Christopher felt the euphoria give way to panic.
“I’ve got it.” He grabbed the washcloth and tried to hop up from the couch. He ended up bumping into Ray and stumbling backward to avoid the physical contact. He scooted to the side and escaped to the bathroom with the washcloth in hand. He cleaned up the blood on the front of his shoulder, shocked that he had actually managed to tear the small wound open again after it had nearly healed. He rinsed out the washcloth, dried himself off with a towel, and then turned to find his partner leaning against the door frame with a box of large bandages in hand.
“What the hell, man? Weight lifting wasn’t stupid enough? You had to try harder to really fuck yourself up?”
“Didn’t even notice,” said Christopher. He grabbed the box and fished out a bandage before Ray could volunteer to help him. “It’s not bad,” he said, poking at the tiny pinpricks of red along the top and bottom of a raw, red stretch of new scar tissue. “I pulled the stitches, but the skin is fused. Was my back all right?”
“What do I have to do to get you to stop this? You think I enjoy going to work every night and watching other guys work our cases? I would like to get back to work sometime this year, so do you think you could find a bit of fucking self-control so your body can actually heal?”
“Self-control?” Christopher laughed. He wiped at his face with the rinsed-out washcloth. “The man who takes home a new twenty-year-old twice a week is lecturing me about self-control?”
“Me having a sex life makes this less stupid?” asked Ray with a calmness that never failed to infuriate Christopher.
“I tore the stitches, that’s all. They were supposed to come out two days ago. I really don’t get why you’re making such a big deal out of this.”
“You got shot! The bullet hit an artery! Do you have any idea how it feels to sit there and watch someone you care about bleed to death on the sidewalk? How it feels to watch you do this to yourself?”
“No,” Christopher admitted. “Thankfully. I’m sorry, all right? I should have… I should have done a lot of things differently this week.” Like told the doctor about the numbness in his hand before he left the hospital. Told his captain the truth, so he could assign someone else to work with Ray instead of forcing him into classes and desk work while he waited for a full recovery that wasn’t going to happen. He should still tell Ray the truth—tell him that the next time he needed Christopher to be there to back him up, Christopher would fail him. The next time he needed to come through for his partner, Christopher was likely to get him killed instead.
“Come on, Hayes, I didn’t mean to turn into some kind of drama queen on you.” Ray rubbed a soothing hand up and down the middle of his back for a moment, and then his partner awkwardly stepped back to the bathroom door. “Come on, get over it and I’ll spring for lunch and a beer.”
“Can’t. I have to go talk to Captain Jenkins.” Christopher shut his eyes and tried to force his brain back into the calm quiet from his run. His skin still felt warm where Ray had rubbed his back, and no matter how much he tried to keep his thoughts under control, he couldn’t seem to stop focusing on that warmth. “And I need a shower before that. Pull that off my back so it doesn’t get all gooey?”
“But I just put it on there!”
Christopher opened his eyes and met his partner’s gaze in the bathroom mirror. “Gooey,” Christopher enunciated carefully.
“You’ve got to eat, idiot. The captain can wait.” Ray smirked at him and ripped the bandage off fast. “Hurry up, I’m hungry. Although, after listening to what’s-her-name talk about us, I got the impression you should be buying me lunch.”
Christopher felt a blush rising fiercely. In the mirror, he could see that his partner was blushing too, but he was smiling. No way was he going to let Ray get the last word. He pulled up the same smile he used to break the ice with guys in bars and let his gaze travel noticeably up and down his partner’s body. “It’s just because I’m taller than you,” he explained, dropping his voice a little. “Trust me, though, you’d be the one opening doors and pulling out my chair in the relationship.”
Ray’s blush turned crimson. “You mean….”
“If I spell it out for you, do you think you’d turn purple?”
Christopher pointed to the mirror. “You’re blushing like a kid who just got caught with a dirty magazine. Who knew that infamous sex life of yours was so dull?”
“It’s not dull! I just… I never thought about the logistics of….”
“Ha! Purple!” Christopher didn’t even bother trying to hide his laughter as his partner ran for the safety of the living room.
He showered fast and got dressed, pulling on some khaki shorts and then wincing his way into a polo shirt. He found Ray, dressed in clothing he’d stolen from Christopher’s closet, reclining on his couch flipping through his newspaper. He stopped himself from wondering if he looked as good in his clothes as his partner did. Joking aside, he would not allow himself to follow where those thoughts led. “Ready?”
“Yeah. Hope you don’t mind.” Ray gestured to the button-down shirt and black slacks. “I figured we should go somewhere nice. I owe you for not sneaking a beer into the hospital last week.”
“Belated beer is still beer,” said Christopher with a happy smile. “I can’t say I’m all that eager to celebrate getting older, though. Another few years and I’ll be as slow as you.”
Christopher smirked at the way Ray rolled his eyes. Talking to his captain and admitting his career was all but over would keep.