Chapter One
 
  

Chapter 1

“If you pick me up and put me in your truck, I will kick you in the balls.”

Carlos looked down at Amy with one skeptical eyebrow raised. “You couldn’t reach my balls.”

Amy scowled at him before turning to face the obstacle that had her so out of sorts: the passenger seat of Carlos’s F-350 truck, which might have been high for someone of normal size to reach, but for Amy, who topped off at four feet, it would require an impressive feat of gymnastics. 

“Should I get you a ladder?” Carlos joked, knowing he was about one zinger away from having a foot stomped on. 

“You could try to stop compensating for your dick by buying huge fucking trucks.”

“You’ve seen my dick. I don’t need to compensate.”

“If that makes you feel better, Rodriguez.” She rested her arms on the passenger seat and dropped her head between them with a defeated sigh. “I’m so glad I didn’t end up marrying you.”

“I’m not going to make fun of you if you ask for my help.”

Amy tensed, and Carlos felt bad for making fun. Amy had dealt with “midget” jokes her whole life, not so much from Carlos but from a variety of other people—strangers, even, who considered her more of a circus freak than someone deserving of respect. People always wanted to help her do everything, and because of this, she was the proudest person Carlos had ever met—and he grew up around Cubans. 

“If I make a stirrup for you with my hands, pretend you’re mounting a horse.”

“I’ve never ridden a horse.”

“I assure you this is kind of similar.” Carlos knelt down and cupped his hands together in front of her, hoping his honest expression assured her he wasn’t being silly. “Wanna try?”

Amy gave him a heavy-lidded look before placing one boot in his hands and letting him hoist her up to the leather passenger seat. Amy and his roommate Noah liked to make fun of his affection for large trucks, but they were the ones calling him up whenever they needed to move furniture. Besides, as a contractor of sorts, he needed it to haul equipment around, since Amy’s tiny Mini Cooper wouldn’t cut it. 

Once Amy had gotten settled, Carlos rounded the truck and hopped up behind the wheel, slamming the door shut behind him. As he pulled out of the driveway, he noticed Amy rubbing her head.

“Hangover?” he asked.

“Yup. You don’t have one?”

“I didn’t drink that much.”

Amy dropped her head back against the seat. “God, three wine coolers and a few shots shouldn’t wipe me out like this.”

“Welcome to your thirties.”

“I assume Noah is still sleeping off his boozing.”

“Who knows. He sleeps like the dead no matter what.”

Amy, Noah, and Carlos had celebrated Amy’s thirtieth birthday last night, and she’d been too tipsy to suffer through the long car ride to Fort Lauderdale, so instead she’d spent the night on Carlos’s couch, which was why she now, for the first time, had to figure out how to get into Carlos’s truck. It hadn’t been a wise decision to make on a Monday night when they had work in the morning, but they hadn’t planned on drinking any more than one or two beers. Like always, that plan didn’t work out too well. Carlos wasn’t nearly as wild as he’d been during his early twenties, but he still knew how to have a good time.

“Ugh, fucking traffic,” Amy muttered as they pulled into the end of a long line before a traffic light. “I hate this city. The shit I put up with for a warm January.”

“What? You aren’t excited about Miami Beach?” Carlos said with a grin. Most of their clients were located along Miami Beach, and Amy had a hate-love relationship with the place. She loved the houses; the people, not so much. 

“The only thing that makes me like Miami Beach is the knowledge that all of these mansions will be underwater in fifty years.”

“You know the government will bail them out. They like doing that with rich people.”

“Don’t remind me.” 

It might not be fair to disparage rich people, because they were the majority of Carlos’s customers. They kept him gainfully employed and relatively comfortable. In a little over a decade his mortgage would be paid off, and in another twenty years, maybe he’d finally own his truck. 

Amy pulled out her phone and flicked through it for a moment. “So because this John Weimer is out of the country since last night, he said we should speak with an Alex if we need anything.”

“Is that his personal assistant or whatever?” Every guy with as much dough as their client John Weimer had a person assistant, usually busty and blonde. 

“Probably. He didn’t give us a number though, so maybe Alex will be stopping by.”

“I want to know how these women get these gigs. I mean, sure, you gotta let some old dude ogle you every now and then, but you probably make four phone calls a day and bring home six figures.”

“I doubt it’s just ogling. It probably includes sexual favors, too.” Amy wrinkled her nose. “You’re a man. You don’t understand how degrading this shit can be.”

“I’m not saying it isn’t degrading, but some people have a high tolerance for it, and I personally would grant said favors if he were paying me three hundred grand to follow him around in a pencil skirt and stilettos.”

Amy snorted, then started laughing. “There’s a mental image. Macho man Carlos Rodriguez in a pencil skirt and heels.”

“I’m sure there’s some old oil baron who’s into it.”
 “Nah, for the most part their tastes are pretty mainstream. They like hot white women under the age of thirty. Bonus points if she’s willing to tell him he’s the biggest she’s ever seen.” 

“Sounds like you, ‘cept for the ‘under thirty’ bit,” Carlos joked, wincing when Amy reached over to flick him.

“Oh yeah, these billionaires are all hot and heavy for little people,” Amy said with a roll of her eyes. “And I never told you that you were the biggest I’d ever seen, because that would be a lie.”

“You wish.”

Amy smirked as she pushed him lightly. “You’re so full of yourself.”

Despite terrible traffic conditions and a security guard at the Indian Creek Community gate who didn’t like Carlos’s darker-than-snow complexion, Amy and Carlos were able to make it to John Weimer’s address within five minutes of the time they’d agreed upon. The house wasn’t the sort of sprawling mansion you’d find in Hollywood, but it was easily worth a couple million dollars, like any house with its own dock access to Biscayne Bay. Carlos believed the dude was worth way more than this house. During his free time, Carlos had looked him up. He was CEO of some importing and exporting company, so it would make sense that he’d have a house in Miami. But he also traveled a great deal, so surely he had places to crash around the globe. The webpage for his company seemed very corporate, so he was probably worth a couple hundred million. 

They parked the truck on the side of the driveway and walked up the shallow steps onto the front porch, which had some kind of trendy wooden pergola providing shade. The house was white and modern, the kind that would be ugly if it didn’t look obscenely expensive. Carlos looked around while Amy knocked and waited for an answer.

The door was answered by a small Hispanic woman who spoke in broken English to Amy until Carlos jumped in and conversed with her in Spanish. This was the Flores John had mentioned—the head housekeeper. She was warm and welcoming and ushered them into the house, which was washed in light from the huge windows and the skylight above. The floor was polished marble, the walls hung with paintings that probably cost more than Carlos’s truck. It looked spotless, cold, and as neat as a staged home on the market to be sold—not like something regularly lived in. 

“This way,” Flores said, gesturing, leading them through a glistening stainless steel kitchen and dining room painted in marine blues with white wainscoting. After several turns, they arrived in the personal theater, the site of construction. It had once been a master bedroom, but Weimer had added a huge bedroom upstairs, negating the need for this one. So he planned on renovating this room, which required Carlos and Amy’s expertise in wiring and installing professional sound systems. The screen and seating had not yet been put in, but they had enough room for about twenty people to recline and throw down some popcorn in luxury.

“There will be two more showing up in about a half an hour,” Carlos told Flores. “Santiago and Kane. Would you please show them in when they do?”

“Of course.” Flores nodded and wandered off, trusting that Carlos and Amy knew what to do from here.

Some people liked to hover; they didn’t trust strangers in their precious homes. But John was gone and his housekeeper didn’t seem intent on backseat driving, so Carlos and Amy jumped into work without upset. Santiago and Kane were more construction-minded than Amy, as her strength was wiring. She and Carlos had been in the same electrical engineering program in college, but since Carlos had spent several years after high school dicking around, he was five years older than her. Because of his time spent working in a custom car stereo shop, he already knew what he planned on doing after school, and Amy had followed him into it. She had tried working regular hours at a company and she’d hated it. They hadn’t expected business to be as good as it was. Wealthy people always craved new fads, and personal home theaters were a hit.

Carlos had no idea why John would want a home theater; he didn’t strike Carlos as the sort to sit around watching Hollywood thrillers. Yesterday when John had showed them around, he’d been straightforward, polite, and professional, but he had about as much charisma as a soggy piece of lettuce. He hadn’t a sense of humor or any desire to small talk, unless that small talk involved business. That sort of person didn’t want to relax and watch Transformers on a big screen TV with top-of-the-line sound systems. 

“Happy birthday, Amy!” Santiago blurted when he arrived, throwing open his arms for a hug. Because he was only five-foot-three, he didn’t have to bend as low as Carlos would to embrace her. “The big three-oh!”
 “I can’t believe you remembered. You forget your own anniversary.”

“Yeah, but that’s not important,” Santiago joked, and Kane laughed. When Carlos and Amy had gone looking for more employees once their company got its sea legs, they’d been more interested in finding reliable people than they were in people with experience and impressive resumes. Because it was hands-on work, Carlos believed anyone could pick it up as an apprentice. Santiago had been unemployed for six months when they’d found him, struggling to support his four kids and handicapped wife. Kane had served jail time for drug charges and couldn’t even get hired working at Target when Carlos and Amy had taken a chance on him. Thank goodness they had; he was punctual, professional, and hard working, as if he had something to prove. Both had picked up the trade with ease, and they were good with their hands. Santiago had some accounting skills too, which didn’t hurt. Carlos was shit at taxes and invoicing.

John had provided Carlos blueprints of how the theater would look once a sloping platform had been installed for staggered seating. The platform wasn’t large, but it helped to know where to install any switches and the source module. Carlos had been subcontracted for this project by a contractor he regularly worked with on these home theaters. They’d taken a walk around last week just to scope it all out.

Carlos was cutting through the drywall for a low voltage box when Amy tapped his arm. Carlos looked up and twisted in the direction she pointed. They had been joined by someone new, a young man in a tank top and jogging shorts, his hair plastered to his temples with sweat. Carlos’s eyes burned with the effort he made to keep from looking him over in appreciation. He was painfully handsome, clean-cut and chiseled like he’d just been yanked off set of a movie. Blonde and dark-eyed, he had the sort of body only rigorous training and good genetics could achieve. 

“Can I help you?” Carlos asked, jumping to a stand and smiling in a way that had Amy rolling her eyes beside him.

“Oh, hey. You must be the guys coming in to work on the sound system. I’m Alex.”

This was Alex? Of course Alex was a boy’s name most of the time, but Amy and Carlos had assumed it was short for Alexandria because most of these blue bloods had female personal assistants. Was Alex a personal assistant? Considering he was damp with sweaty from a run, Carlos doubted that. He had to live here, or at least nearby. A neighbor? A son? Alex looked nothing like John Weimer, whose looks were pretty underwhelming, even if he was in good shape for his age and still had a full head of hair. 

Which made it possible that Alex was the trophy wife. 

Working with obscenely wealthy people often meant working with their spouses. Since most of the clients were male, Carlos was well acquainted with two types of spouse. The first type was the Power Wife, the one in the same age range as her husband, the kind who wore pant suits and had her own device full of business meetings to keep her occupied. Even if she didn’t take part in the business, she was usually high energy and full of romantic stories of how she’d met her husband—at law school, at work, at some networking event. 

Then there was the Trophy Wife.

Sometimes the lines blurred between what made a power wife and what made a trophy wife, but usually the trophy wives were young, much too young for their husbands. They didn’t seem to share many interests, and the trophy wife was more laid back, the kind to let her husband take care of affairs while she headed out to go shopping. Carlos never blamed them for their hustle; most of the time he was jealous. 

Alex was definitely not a Power Husband. There was a soft glow to him that few working people had, the kind you could get if you spent most of your time exercising and eating gluten-free artisanal bullshit. He certainly had a body and face that could get you anyone you wanted. Carlos didn’t think he’d ever seen such a nice mouth on a white boy before.

Carlos’s gaydar was pretty reliable. It hadn’t pinged with John Weimer, but it screeched for Alex. Not that Alex acted gay. To any hapless straight, he’d surely pass. But Alex had a hard time looking at Carlos, his gaze skating around the edges of Carlos’s body as if trying to avoid being sucked in. It took some effort to keep from smirking.

“Mr. Weimer mentioned you,” Amy said, dusting off her pants and extending her hand to Alex. To his credit, he showed no surprise at her size or shape, and didn’t hesitate to shake her hand. “I’m Amy, this is Carlos. It’s nice to meet you.”

“I’m sorry John can’t be here, but he’s in Dubai right now. Well.” Alex looked down at his sleek watch. “Almost.”

“It’s no problem. We’ve got pretty much everything we need. We should be all set in a few days.”

“If you need anything, please let me know. I’ll be kind of wandering around.” He twirled a finger to indicate the entirety of the house. His gaze bounced toward Carlos before darting nervously away. Carlos felt incredibly pleased with himself.

“We’ll keep that in mind.”

Alex nodded and vanished. Kane and Santiago returned to work, and Amy slapped Carlos’s leg.

“What?” Carlos asked with a chuckle.

“I don’t know, but stop doing whatever you’re doing.” Amy waggled a finger at him before returning to her voltage box.

Carlos was an incurable flirt, something even his own mother knew. He’d had his first girlfriend in first grade, though he hadn’t kissed a girl until eighth. Since then, he’d worked his way through a stream of women and then, at some point in college, a few men. It came naturally to him, so naturally that he wasn’t sure how to turn it off. His easy charm amazed Amy, who had once been ensnared by it like the rest. It had bothered her, too, and back when they’d been together, she had subjected him to plenty of silent treatment after he thoughtlessly flirted with a waitress. Once he came in contact with very attractive and very expensive women, he couldn’t help himself. Some women flirted right back, and if Carlos didn’t have impressive self-control, he could have easily fucked at least a few of them. He would have been doing them a favor, considering the sort of old farts they were married to. Not that older gentlemen couldn’t be sufficient lovers, but if you could buy a beautiful woman, there was no point in trying to impress her with anything that wasn’t green.

Carlos went back to voltage boxes and Cat-5e cables for several hours until Alex appeared again around noon, this time wearing jeans and a slightly too-small T-shirt that highlighted the shape of his arms and chest. He had the kind of swimmer’s build that had Carlos glued to the television screen whenever the Olympic swimming was on. 

“Do you guys want anything for lunch?” Alex asked. “Because there’s a Panera nearby. I can stop in and pick something up for you.”

“Free lunch!” blurted Kane, jumping to a stand. “Sounds like a deal!”
 This sentiment was shared by all, so Alex typed in their preferences on his rose gold iPhone. Carlos stepped in closer than needed to make his order, and he was treated to a very quick once-over followed by a slight blush and a flicker of eyelashes. Oh, this kid was too easy. Carlos put his age around twenty-two. Usually people with his looks in his position were a bit more self-confident, but he could just be playing coy. Carlos liked games, liked the thrill of the chase. Obviously Alex was off-limits—Carlos wasn’t stupid—but God, he’d like the privilege of just looking at him for a few minutes. In the meantime, he didn’t mind putting some color in Alex’s cheeks.

Alex left to fetch lunch, and the others sat down to relax in the dining room while Flores offered a variety of juice. Carlos caught her in a bit of small talk, which was all it took for her to launch into a long sordid story about her daughter’s ex-husband and her custody battles. She reminded him of his Aunt Elisa, who loved to inform strangers of family drama. He found it endearing.

When Alex returned, Carlos asked if he’d like to join them. Alex waffled, biting his lip in a way that was both adorable and fucking hot as hell until finally nodding and perching his butt on a chair next to Amy. Once he’d unpacked all the sandwiches and soups from the bag, Carlos noticed he hadn’t gotten anything for himself.

“It’s fine. I already ate,” Alex said. Flores placed what looked like a protein shake in front of him, and Alex thanked her with a warm smile. Carlos felt an acute urge to have that mouth, then tucked into his wrap in hopes his attraction wasn’t obvious. He never wanted to be rich more in his life. Forget the huge houses and sports cars. If he could fuck something like that into the bed every night, he’d be a happy man.

Carlos didn’t know how to approach conversation with Alex. The most natural question was what do you do? But Carlos was afraid the answer to that might be “sucking dick”, and he didn’t want to put them in any awkward situations. He still didn’t know if Alex was the boy toy. He might just be the neighbor kid. But he treated Flores like someone he knew well, and when he rose to get a fork for Santiago, he had no trouble finding the right drawer in the kitchen. 

“You from Miami?” Carlos asked, because it was the only thing he could think of that sounded natural and wouldn’t result in an awkward answer.

Alex nodded. “I grew up in Fort Lauderdale. You?”

“Miami, born and raised. I went to Florida State up in Tallahassee though.”

“Oh? What did you major in?”
 “Electrical Engineering. That’s where I met Amy. We majored in the same thing.” Carlos paused but decided to forge ahead. “You in college right now?”

“I’ve never been to college.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-four.”

So older than Carlos had initially thought, but not by too much. 

“There a reason you didn’t go, or are you just not interested?”

“In college? Um, I guess it’s kinda been on the back burner, but John and I traveled so much together that college would have been difficult. I only started spending more time here a year or so ago, because I was getting burned out. He’s better at that sort of thing than me.”

“Oh, you travelled with John?”

“Yeah…” Alex trailed off and fell silent, and Carlos got it. He was a contractor in Florida with Cuban heritage, which wasn’t a recipe for “accepting of gay lifestyles.” So he decided to save Alex the concern.

“You two are dating then.”

Alex’s gaze flickered to Carlos before darting away. Softly he said, “Yeah.”

“That’s cool.” It wasn’t cool. This kid was being totally wasted on an old fogey who spent most of his time abroad. But what else could he say to let Alex know he wasn’t homophobic? “I’m bi myself.”

“Really?” Alex perked up, and Carlos tried not to smirk too much.

“Yeah. Took me a while to come to terms with it. I used to drink way too much and mess around with guys and then blame the alcohol for it. Not the best way to do it.” Carlos took another bite of his wrap. “But what I’d been afraid of—losing my friends and family—never happened. So it worked out.”

“That’s good. My parents… uh, well, they didn’t take it so well.”

Carlos wasn’t sure if it was Alex being gay that upset them or the fact that his boyfriend was nearly forty years older than him. Because Carlos could totally understand the latter. But hey, Alex was an adult, right? If he wanted to suckle on an old man’s balls to live in luxury, then Carlos couldn’t fault him for his game. Carlos understood why a young man might offer himself to an older man for a glamorous lifestyle, but Carlos didn’t think kindly of older guys who needed young ass to feel good about themselves. If they couldn’t find someone their own age, there was usually a reason. 

“That’s unfortunate.”

“I don’t really talk to them anymore now.” 

Carlos couldn’t think of anything to say, and his silence must have inspired a response, because Alex said,” I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be telling you this. Uh, I should leave you guys to do your thing. You can call for me if you need anything else. It’s a big house though so if I give you my cellphone number, you can get me wherever I am.”

Carlos made a show of reaching for his phone and plugging in Alex’s cellphone number, all the while throwing furtive glances at Alex until the tips of Alex’s ears turned red. Alex was trying to make it seem like a professional request, but Carlos couldn’t help but look for an ulterior motive.

Alex excused himself and headed upstairs, and Carlos appreciated the view of the back of him until he vanished. Once he and his colleagues crinkled up their wrappers and headed back to work, Amy slapped him on the thigh.

“What?” he asked.

“Don’t flirt with customers.”

“Might as well ask me to climb Mount Everest.”

Amy rolled her eyes. “You’re so insufferable.”

***

Noah was in a frenzy when Carlos got home, because when wasn’t he? Noah had an anxious personality, and while Carlos loved the guy, he could only stand to be around him for so long when he was in one of his tizzies. Usually the source was stupid, and today was no different.

“I have no clothes,” Noah whined when Carlos made the mistake of asking him what was wrong.

“You have a whole closet full of clothes,” Carlos replied like an idiot.

“Not good clothes. Not sexy clothes. Uuuuuugh.” Noah tossed himself face first into the bed with a long whine. 

“What are you even talking about?”

Noah shot up with a scowl, removing his glasses to clean them with the edge of his sharp pink button-up shirt. Carlos had no idea why he dressed so well in Florida heat. He inevitably sweated through everything. It was best to give yourself over to the inevitability of pit stains and just wear dark cotton tees and shorts. But Noah was originally from Minnesota, and for some reason he hadn’t learned this yet, despite living here for more than ten years.

“I’m packing for my trip, and I’ve got nothing to wear.”

“Noah, you have more clothes than my mother. Who is a seamstress in her free time. You are a clothes addict.”

“I think I gained ten pounds, so I don’t fit into half of my shorts.”

“That’s because you buy them too small to begin with.”

“I’m an optimist, okay?” Noah sighed melodramatically. “He’s going to think I’m a fat slob.”

“Who is?”

Daniel, you idiot. The one I’m flying to fucking Mexico City to meet.”

“Right. Daniel.” Carlos knew all about Daniel, because for the past six months Noah hadn’t shut up about him. Apparently they played some online roleplaying game together, because Noah couldn’t interact with people off the internet. Noah had spent months agonizing over whether or not they should video chat, because he found a picture of Daniel on Facebook and thought someone as hot as Daniel would never want to talk to Noah again if “he knows I’m a fat Jewish princess.” This was all before Noah even knew Daniel was gay. Because Carlos couldn’t stand it anymore, he got onto Noah’s computer and messaged Daniel through Noah’s Facebook account, exposing Noah’s real name and identity. Noah hadn’t talked to Carlos for three weeks because of it, but it had worked out. Daniel turned out to be gay and, apparently, had no problem with fat Jewish princesses, because now Noah and he were going to meet in person for the first time. Carlos wasn’t sure if it was going to be a romantic meet up or what, but Noah had been having conniptions for the past few weeks about the whole ordeal.

Carlos wasn’t sure how Noah would manage. Noah had minored in Spanish in college, but his accent was awful and his grammar wasn’t too great either. He spoke to Daniel in English. Carlos imagined Noah would be calling him from the Mexico City airport, freaking out about something that had gone slightly wrong, all while looking painfully white and American. 

“He already knows what you look like,” Carlos said.

“It’s different though. I know how to look my best in the photos I post on Facebook. In real life it’s different. Oh God, I’m sweating like a pig.”

“You always look great, Noah.”

“No, I look terrible.” Noah twirled to face the mirror, patting his cheeks. “Why did you let me eat that cake last night? Look at this.” Noah clutched his a stomach roll between his hands. “I hate this.” 

“You know I’ve offered to take you to my gym.” 

“I’d rather just starve myself.”

Carlos sighed. Before he’d come out as bi, Noah had been the only gay person he’d made friends with. They’d been freshmen roommates in college, and at first Carlos didn’t like Noah much because of his exaggerated mannerisms and tendency for hyperbole. Noah was also a huge nerd, which didn’t always jive with Carlos’s construction and car mechanic background. But through a series of events that put Noah through hell, they were able to bond, and now Carlos thought of him as that annoying little brother he couldn’t live without. Noah had been renting a room in Carlos’s house for cheap for the past two years because his job had shitty pay and he could barely take care of himself anyway.  

“You’ve seen what Daniel looks like,” Noah said, still running his hand over his stomach. “He could have anyone he wanted.”

“Not really. He probably doesn’t get out much, what with all that World of Warcraft playing he does.”

“It’s not World of Warcraft, geez.” Noah bent over his dresser and leaned closer to the mirror, plucking at his dark curls. “I can’t believe I’m friends with you.”

Carlos left Noah to his own devices, figuring he’d work it out. As Carlos was making dinner, Noah came scuttling out of his room, peeking into the kitchen with interest.

“What are you making?” he asked, his nose perched on the kitchen threshold. 

“Weren’t you just saying you wanted to starve yourself?” Carlos asked with a smile.

“That was before I smelled food.”

“I’m making pork. Go away.”

Noah frowned. “I can eat pork if I want.”

“No you can’t.”

“I’m Jew-ish, Carlos. Emphasis on the ish. I haven’t been to a synagogue since my sister’s wedding.”

“I’m not going to let you eat pork, because you’ll end up in Jewish hell.”

“There is no such thing as Jewish hell. It’s called Gehinnom, and it’s actually a process by which the soul is cleansed, not really the eternal damnation you supposedly merciful Christians love so much.”

“I’m going outside to grill this pork. You want a chicken leg or something?”

Noah’s eyes narrowed in thought before he said in a small voice, “Yes, please.”

Like a good Cuban, Carlos always had fresh meat on hand, so he was able to snatch up a few thawed chicken legs for Noah and head out to the patio, where he fired up the grill. His dream as a young man had been to make enough money to buy himself a modest house, a new car, and a nice grill. Now he had all three, and he couldn’t complain.

Noah finally joined him out on the patio, his fashion crisis put on hold. With him he brought his dog, an old black Pomeranian he had picked up at the local shelter. It didn’t like Carlos at all, but it adored Noah. Carlos had wanted his own dog for years, but because the Pomeranian seemed to hate any other four-legged beast, he had to wait for it to keel over before he got the pitbull he wanted. 

“So how was work?” Noah asked as he set up the patio table with plastic cups and plates. 

“Normal, I guess. I met my first trophy boyfriend though.”

Really? Was he hot?”

“Obviously.”

“Blond?”
 “Yup.”

“Plastic surgery?”

“Hard to tell.”

“Damn. I wish I looked good enough to be a trophy husband. I could probably suck dick on command if it meant a free Porsche. Please tell me you flirted with this guy.”

Carlos twisted around to smirk at Noah. “Did I flirt with this guy. Noah, please. Give me some credit.”

Noah grinned. “You’re such a charmer.”

“He was totally into me.”

“Of course he was. Empty-headed twinks love you, especially the white ones down here for spring break from Iowa or whatever.”

Carlos did get his share of booty when March rolled around and colleges released their most privileged students with enough money to fly down to Florida to drink and party for a week. Lately he felt too old to be hanging around college kids, but when they flooded the bars he frequented, he couldn’t turn someone down for being younger than he preferred. By now he took a hard pass on older teenagers, but anyone in their twenties was fair game.

“This guy grew up in the area, so at least he’s not a dumb college kid from the Midwest.”

“That’s actually more alarming to me, someone growing up in Florida, the craziest state in the union.”

“You’re thinking of northern Florida.”

“I saw a guy streak naked down past my office yesterday and then tackle a bunch of cops who tried to apprehend him. He was obviously on PCP or something. Don’t give me that ‘north Florida’ shit. Shit like that didn’t happen in Minneapolis.”

Nothing happens in Minneapolis.”

“Hockey happens.” When Carlos gave him a look, Noah frowned. “Hey, don’t shit on Minneapolis! It can’t be blamed for its shitty weather.”

“You want this chicken? It’s looking about done.”

Noah held up his plate. “Por favor.”

“I hope Daniel helps you with that accent.”

“Oh, shut up. Cubans have the worst accent. Why not just drop all my the s’s in my words? Sounds like a great way to talk!” Noah bit into the chicken leg Carlos gave him and through a full mouth said, “I will be speaking proper Spanish with Daniel and people that haven’t been sequestered on an island forever.”

Carlos picked at the pork with a fork as it sizzled. “When he puts you up in his house and makes you food every other night, then we can talk who’s superior.”

“Well, I could certainly use your charm. And financial resources. And body. Everything, actually.” Noah pouted, then sighed dramatically. “He’s going to be so disappointed.”

“He’s gonna love you enough to forgive your bad Spanish, trust me.”
 “You don’t even know him.”

Carlos pulled the pork off the grill, smothered it in the mojo his mother made and brought over during her weekly visits, and collapsed into a chair across from Noah. He was fortunate to live on a quiet street, but his neighbor beyond the fence and narrow alley between them loved to play rumba music as loud as possible whenever he fixed cars, which seemed to be every evening. 

“Must be a big nerd if you met him playing a video game.”

“Role playing game.”

“Whatever. You two get along great online.”

“Because we don’t look at each other.”

“Don’t you Skype?”

“We use the chat function.”

“Why?”
 “Because I don’t want him to see my face and I don’t want to hear my voice through his speakers.”

“Jesus, Noah, give yourself some credit.”

Noah tapped his chicken leg on his plate a few times, nudging away his nosy Pomeranian whenever she tried to jump on his leg. “I just really want it to work out. I think I’m already in love with him.”

“Wait, seriously?”

“Yeah.” Noah’s whole face turned red, which wasn’t difficult with his milky complexion. “He’s so nice. Like, when I had the flu two months ago, he had cans of chicken noodle soup shipped here.”

“I remember that.”

“By the time it arrived I was mostly feeling better, but I appreciated the forethought.”

“He sounds great, Noah.” Honestly, Noah needed someone painfully kind and sweet, after what he’d been through in college. His ex had shredded Noah’s self-confidence, and it had been up to Carlos and Noah’s theater friends to stitch him back together. Even years later, there was still work to do. “You deserve the best.”

Noah smiled and took another bite from a chicken leg. “I know.”