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Short story: Hot and Cold

Winter Writing Prompt: “The sky darkened as the clouds rolled in. The surrounding air was cold and frigid. Winter was upon us, and soon the white flakes of snow would blanket the Earth. Never a fan was Richard of the season, yet it came around every year. This time around, however, he couldn’t be more excited. He’d finally been accepted into the prestigious internship program at Photographic Ingenuity, Inc, and was scheduled to move to Hawaii in 2 months. This was to be his last winter in Colorado, and oh, what a wonderful time he would have…”

       It was early November when the darkened clouds rolled in over one of the Universities many dorm buildings. Outside there were armies of white girls in Ugg boots and scarves and as usual pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks. Meanwhile the air was cold and frigid settling a frost on the University of Colorado Colorado Springs’ campus welcoming sign and the shrubbery outside. The sky’s gloomy depression signaling the signs that it is officially fall and that winter is vast approaching. Richard seemed to relax easily into his normal loathing of this time of year, and not so much because of the weather. His loathing was always centered around the same thing. Like clock-work people would start acting a little more human or decent toward one another because it’s the holiday season. Then once New Years came and went people would be back to their normal spiteful selves. In addition, it was almost automatic. Once this time of year came around all the single people flocked to find that “winter fling” that they can snuggle up to and drink hot cocoa with marshmallows by a warm fire. The whole fire thing wasn’t going to happen in these dorms, though. There weren’t any fire places in any of the dorm rooms, so people would just have to result to space heaters and cafeteria hot cocoa with stake marshmallows. Glad I’m not them.

Richard, on the other hand was putting focus into both his studies and looking forward to starting his prestigious internship program at Photographic Ingenuity, Inc. in Hawaii. This corporation is responsible for most of the world’s high-tech engineering of different camera technology from the cameras built into cellular phones to the cameras used in automotive back-up cameras to even use on space rovers. They recently started getting into the field of Electrical Engineering in the past year. Richard was one of the few selected to intern with the company. He was currently in the process of schooling for an Electrical Engineering degree and this was the opportunity of a lifetime for him. Every time the thought of it came up his excitement would peak, and he felt the need to dance to a non-existent beat. His heart rate would increase tremendously and all the thoughts of warm sun rays on already sun-kissed skin and sipping colorful, mixed fruity drinks by the beach consumed his every thought. Of course, he knew his main reason for going would be both school and the internship duties, but who says that he wasn’t allowed to have fun, right? He was going to be living in Hawaii for a full year staring off at all the tan, sculpted Hawaiian bodies strolling across sandy beaches, laying in the warmth of the sun and dipping his whole body in the deep blue of the ocean’s cold water. I can’t wait! He beamed. Richard had never been lucky enough to go to Hawaii, so this was an opportunity he wasn’t willing to pass up for anything.

Richard decided to use his momentous excitement to start packing. He spent at least an hour or so of his time and focus into organizing and labeling only a few boxes while listening to his favorite tunes. He really didn’t have the slightest clue as to why he was packing already, considering the move was still two months away. He only focused on packing the things that he knew he wouldn’t need for the next few months. It wasn’t like he really had that much so he was nearly done anyways. If nothing else, it built his excitement to move and gave him something to look forward to. In the least it allowed him to fill some of the free time he had in between studies and sleep.  What was he going to do, go out all the time and party? He didn’t have time for such things. His immaculate skills of avoiding people most of the time was certainly a lot of work and took a lot of energy. His friends were always banging on the door bugging him to come out and drink with them. If the activity didn’t involve alcohol it absolutely wouldn’t involve Richard’s two favorite things loneliness and books. Of course, for keeping and maintaining the bonds of the friendships, he infrequently joined in on the orneriness and shenanigans of activities chosen by his two closest friends. Most of the time he just made excuses as to why he couldn’t go, and his buddies knowing him well didn’t usually pressure him too much. His friends would all say that he was a master stealth ninja. If there was a situation he didn’t want to be in he could slip out of it easily. Richard chuckled to himself.

Another hour went by and Richard was just staring at the pages of a book that he had meant to pack but started reading instead. He had read this book by Thomas Hardy so many times, but it was a favorite and he couldn’t put it down. He turned the books pages to Chapter 12 running his fingers over his favorite quote, “Why didn’t you tell me there was danger? Why didn’t you warn me? Ladies know what to guard against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks; but I never had the chance of discovering in that way; and you did not help me!” He always felt that the intense feeling of this quote, chills would crawl up his spine until a splinter of goosebumps would form on the surface of his skin. Even though he knew what was bound to happen he couldn’t hide from his reaction. In that chapter the quote was part of a conversation between Tess and her mother after Tess returned to her telling her she had been raped by Alec d’Urberville. For Richard he felt the quote had a strong correlation between love and knowledge. Would Tess have known what to guard against had she read about it before or if it had happened to someone close to her? He adjusted his glasses ever so slightly on his face and continued reading along with the story. While entranced by both his thoughts and engrossed in the book there was a sudden reverberating sound of knocking at the door that broke Richard’s focus startling him. He briefly clutched his chest as though to keep his heart from popping out. Without even opening the door he knew exactly who was on the other side. His pulse quickened, his breathe hitched in his throat and his breathing started to feel labored. He stood from where he sat reading setting the book down on the bed. They want to go out, I just know it. The thought made him cringe. Richard took a moment to calm himself down. In that time there was another knock at the door and the sound of shuffling on the other side. Richard inhaled and exhaled preparing himself for what he already knew was on the other side of the door. He stood from where he was sitting on the floor and cautiously walked toward the door. He slowly extended his arm grabbing onto the door handle. He held it there for a moment feeling the coldness of the brass door handle in in the palms of his hand. He breathed in and out once more before giving the doorknob a slow turn. The door was ajar, and he peeked his head out to see the faces of his two friends Armando aka Armie and Blaine aka pain in the ass, according to Armie.

He sighed, but quickly plastered a smile on his face, “What’s up?” He asked hoping that the false sound of enthusiasm in his voice was convincing enough. Judging by Armie’s expression he wasn’t buying it, but Blaine gave nothing away one way or the other. Richard opened the door a small crack more now revealing himself dressed in fuzzy pink slippers, dark gray sweats and light blue t-shirt. Upon realization of his attire Richard felt a wave of embarrassment flood over him. He felt so out of place, especially compared to Armie who was always had the best attire. Tonight, it was a brown leather jacket with a popped collar, underneath a white dress shirt with the top button undone revealing a patch of black hair peeking out and tucked into a pair of tapered navy-blue slacks, brown belt, and light brown dress shoes. His dark black hair was slicked back with a pomade or gel and a single lock of hair hung in an arch over his forehead. Richard’s gaze couldn’t but help look to his face. Those inviting lips that Richard wished to kiss, moving on up to his medium-sized nose and beautiful hazel eyes. He had that all-around beautiful Puerto Rican man. Oh boy, he was doomed if he didn’t get his mind back on track.

“That’s no way to greet your two best buddies, now is it Richard?” Blaine asked jokingly jarring Richard’s thoughts. Armie was just staring intently before sweeping his penetrating gaze quickly over Richard’s body causing his cheeks to flush. Oh man, don’t do that, he begged inwardly. Armie stared at him his eyes squinting ever so slightly. You wouldn’t have known it unless you stared at him as much as Richard had over the years. Whenever he squinted like that it was because he was thinking about something. It hadn’t dawned on Richard till that moment, but he realized that under his sweats he wasn’t wearing any underwear and his blush grew deeper. He prayed for a black hole to open beneath his feet and wished he could fall right into it. It was a shame his stealth skills weren’t helpful in this situation. He just wished he could run away. Richard always crushed majorly on Armie who is also gay, though there was never any indication that the feeling was mutual. Though crushed wasn’t exactly the right explanation, madly in love? Yea… That’s it right there. Desperately wishing this man would notice him? Abso-fucking-lutely. Blaine’s girlfriend Jessica figured it out easily and always encouraged him to say something. Instead, he always did his best to hide it whenever they were together so as not to give anything away or scare off his longtime friend. Though whenever those eyes looked his way it was nearly impossible for him to keep from reacting. His body would respond as if an actor on queue to give their lines. As though his body knew whenever Armie was looking his way. Every time. “Sooo, are you going to let us in?” Richard’s gaze moved from Armie to Blaine who stood there with an eager and impatient smile. Richard felt his face flush realizing that his wayward thoughts had gone on longer than he realized. He was just hoping his light brown skin didn’t allow the redness to show too much. Please grant me the serenity to stay calm and the ability to transport to another planet, he thought to himself.

“Sorry,” He responded. He silently gestured for them to enter, “Alright, come on in crazies.” Richard turned moving away quickly enough so that Blaine didn’t strike him in the face as he barreled through the door. Richard looked around his room suddenly aware of the mess that was spread all around. He felt a rise of embarrassment and guilt swell deep in his chest as he thought about his inevitable adventure to Hawaii. Armie followed gracefully behind Blaine pausing a moment to close the door and then looked around the room as if searching for something. His smile began to instantly fade. Probably because of the mess. There were piles of books from his shelf, a few movies, some clothes and other random items sprawled on the floor. Richard smiled at both his friends nervously.

“Sorry guys, I know, I know. I’m normally not this messy. Just been super excited about the internship and started packing already.” Armie’s brow furrowed and his eyes began darting between the different items on the floor. When his eyes landed on the boxes his frown deepened. His gaze shot to something else. Richard followed his gaze and saw that Armie had found the book he had been reading. Richard’s face flushed when his friend held it up in the light silently asking, ‘have you been reading this again?’ Richard gave a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders in response before turning away.

Armie set the book down on the bed, “Looks like you’ve been busy,” he stated looking around again. This time his arms were crossed over his chest and an evident sneer of disgust on his face. Richard whipped around now facing his two friends who were standing side by side. He made it a point to smile at his friend who didn’t even smile in return. Well. this is awkward. He turned his attention back to the mess doing his best to clear space for his friends to sit and walk. He still felt embarrassed by the hazard that was now his things on the floor but hoped his friends would forgive his behavior.

It took a moment for Armie’s comment to register and unowingly as to why it seemed to hurt a lot and a pang of guilt set in. Richard did his best to mask his feelings by busying himself. He leaned down grabbing a few books to stack then responded, “I guess you could say that, I’ve just been busy… organizing… things,” he muttered to himself. He looked around the space of his room to see what else he could move. He finished what he could turning around in time to see Armie roll his eyes, his arms still crossed and firmly planted over his chest. Richard was confused by the brush off his friend kept giving him and did his best to brush off the cold indifference he felt all the same.

Armie forcefully flung his arms gesturing to the items surrounding the floor, “I know you’re excited to leave but could you for a moment not be so excited to leave.” The disdain in his voice was evident and his clipped tone caught Richard off guard. Normally Armie was friendly, but Richard couldn’t place where the growth of cold indifference emerged from. Did he have a bad day, maybe? Richard began racking his brain for all the things that could explain his friends’ harsh tone. The news of the internship candidates had been posted up on the cork board outside Professor Graham’s classroom, one of his instructors in the program. Ever since Armie found out the news he had been treating Richard poorly. Maybe he’s jealous. He stood there thoughtful for a moment immediately dismissing the idea that his friend would be jealous. No, he can’t be jealous. He’s my best friend! Armie and him had been best friends since their freshmen year of high school and were lucky to end up going to the same University together once they both graduated at eighteen. Richard remembered feeling so relieved at the time. He didn’t have very many friends, even then, and Armie had always been there for him. Richard was nothing short of grateful when Armie broke the news back then.

Blaine chimed in breaking the silence not even seeming to notice the tension in the room, “Yea, you don’t have to be so excited to leave!” He teased laughing hysterically at his own comment. The truth was, Richard wished it was Armie that was going with him to Hawaii and he would have been lying to himself if he said that he wasn’t upset. This friend that he had a crush on and practically in love with. Richard tried to hide from these feelings knowing best that he has read books that have told him about these tricks. He just worked to think positively about the whole thing and was at least glad that he would have a familiar face with him during the internship program. The plan was to do the internship program in Hawaii and finish out the school year in a school there that graciously accepted all his transferred credits.

“Shut up Blaine,” Armie snarled punching Blaine in the arm, “You’re going too! You know spots were limited. You know there were only two lucky students chosen out of this Universities entire Electrical Engineering program for this prestigious internship.” He yelled. Armie paused a moment before releasing an exasperated breath, “I am happy for the two of you.” He paused again before glancing in Richard’s direction. The flash of pain that was there in his eyes left Richard speechless. Was his friend going to miss him? The thought of Armie missing just him threw him for a loop and he dismissed that quickly too. It was absurd! Armie wasn’t one to show much emotions other than happiness or anger. His friend might miss them both, but there was no chance that he was only going to miss just Richard. He could dream though Armie sighed again, swallowed hard and smiled, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. He dropped his crossed arms that Richard hadn’t even noticed him crossing again before continuing, “Unluckily for me though it was my best friend and a pain in the ass that were chosen. Two people that I happen to know.” Armie removed his gaze from Richard and looked at Blaine who seemed pleased with himself and still oblivious to the obvious jealously his friend felt. They are best friends and Armie couldn’t even be happy for him!? Richard didn’t want to think that way. Not about Armie, but he knew that if his friend couldn’t support him in this opportunity—the man that he adored so much—If that was the way it was going to be then he would just…

“Armando, you know you can always transfer your credits to Hawaii! That way you can be with lil’ ol’ me!” Blaine added, his grin wider than the state of Texas. Armie registered shock on his face. He looked thoughtful for a moment and then his thick lips formed into a thin line. Richard felt hopeful for a moment. He looked expectantly at Armie.

“Come on Blaine,” He hesitated a moment looking uncertain, “that’s ridiculous…” Richard’s heart plunged into sadness. “What need would I have to be in Hawaii?” Armie responded, some of the tension leaving his shoulders and a look of defeat on his face. To be there with me, Richard immediately thought. He sighed equally defeated. Maybe if I tell Armie I am madly in love with him! The moment the thought came Richard terminated it feeling this would change nothing.

Richard knew that he shouldn’t jump to conclusions, but maybe Armie was jealous of their opportunity. He vowed to try and figure out what was wrong before thinking on it further. Richard spoke before his brain even granted permission, “Then I will miss you a lot.”

Armie looked momentarily astonished by Richard’s words and didn’t even respond. He looked at him. Hopeful? Uncertainty? He didn’t quite know how to explain it. He knew that there was clearly something in his eyes that Richard couldn’t quite understand in this moment. The emotion that Richard could detect in his eyes was a glint of sadness that caused his own heart to plummet. All the excitement he felt earlier was seemingly dissipating as he continued exploring Armie’s face for answers. His full lips were set in a thin line, his brow furrowed, his eyes darting around the room as if trying to find his own answers in the space there. All these things marring the beautiful features of his face. Richard couldn’t help wondering what was wrong. He thought to ask, but before he could Blaine spoke, “The chance to transfer isn’t unavailable. I know we both want you there,” Blaine smiled sincerely with no hint of joking, “Well, enough of that. Just know your opportunity will come too,” Blaine was always positive about everything. One of the things that made him a lot of fun to be around. It was too bad that he was oblivious to acknowledging the palpable tension in the room. Blaine focused his 10,000-kilowatt smile in Richards direction. Here we go, the little sneak. “Come on, let’s go out tonight. We can cheer up our sad buddy who is going to miss us,” he stated condescendingly while messing up Armie’s hair, which he did not like. Blaine continued, “We will do an early celebration over our internship opportunity and then when the time comes have another more serious celebration before we leave this freezing state.” Blaine added as he made shivering gestures. It was obvious that Blaine was just as excited as he was to leave Colorado and start his newfound journey. Blaine was practically bouncing off the walls excited to go out, as he usually was. He looked to Richard expectantly with puppy dog eyes. This made Richard laugh and Armie only half smiled without making eye contact with him. He just blankly fixed his gaze to the floor. Richard was concerned, but uncertain of what to do. He knew he would need to figure out what was wrong with his friends’ behavior by the end of the night. I guess that means you are going out tonight. Richard hung his head in defeat.

“Fine, just let me get dressed!” Blaine fist pumped, and Richard shook his head, he continued, “You two,” pointing to his two friends, “Out.” Blaine danced all the way to the door in excitement and Armie has an expression of… relief? Perhaps that wasn’t it and he was overthinking it. That’s a possibility. Other than being a master ninja, as his friends suggested, he was a master at overthinking everything. He put the thought in the back of his mind and decided to focus on what to wear for now. Shuffling past several stacks of books and dirty laundry undressing from his lounging clothes along the way. He figured that his room was already a mess so why not add to it? He looked in the direction of the bathroom thinking to take a shower, but then decided against it after showering early in the morning. Richard continued in the direction of his small closet finally arriving in front of its plain white doors. Blast these dorms for not having enough room for more clothes. He slid the closet door open and began rummaging through the different sweaters and t-shirts. He easily decided on a black sweater, and then picked out a pair of light blue skinny jeans. Blaine always made fun of them saying that he painted them on, but he liked them just fine. He took a moment assessing what little clothes he had in his closet ruling out t-shirts on a cold night. He elected for his light green scarf as an accent to the sweater and a dark blue jean jacket, his favorite. In the same closet he opened the tiny drawer grabbing for a random pair of underwear and socks. Normally he cared more about what he chose, but tonight, not so much. He didn’t even want to go anywhere anyways. It wasn’t like he was going on a date, just to a bar with some friends. He shrugged to himself. After laying the chosen clothes on the bed he then proceeded one by one putting each article of clothing on. He had just slipped on his jacket and tucked his scarf in comfortably when the door to his room opened and a head peaked through. Armie!

A low whistle sounded, “Look. At. You.” He heard Blaine’s teasing, his heart fell. Richard looked over at him giving him a half-hearted smile, but in the dim of the room light he knew Blaine wouldn’t have been able to tell, “You ready?” He asked impatient. Richard looked at the mirror to make sure that his disappointment wasn’t showing before turning and shaking his head.

“I’ll be done and out in a moment.” He responded dismissively. Blaine gave a single thin-lipped nod, leaving and closing the door. Richard looked back at the mirror hanging on his closet door assessing himself from head to toe. I look pretty good, I guess. He posed a few different ways in the mirror smirking at his silliness. Richard thought about it a moment and decided on black boots to complete the ensemble. He sat on the bed slipping one on after the other making sure to adjust the cuff of his pants. He grabbed hold of the laces on the first boot pulling them tight and then looping them together. Once he was done he worked on the second boot repeating the same actions. Richard stood from the bed and continued to stare at his reflection in the mirror. Remember, this isn’t a date with Armie. Just another night at the bar. Of course, it would do him best to remember his place. How could Armie want him anyways? How could anyone want him anyways? Just look at him. The only time he looked good was when he had clothes on. He assessed the features of his face seeing more of his mother in him than his father. The deep hazel eyes, medium nose, and defined dimples were his papa’s Puerto Rican showing through. From his mama being Columbian, he was gifted with the softer features like plump lips, soft cheeks, a round chin, thin curves, eye lashes that would make any girl jealous, and her dark brown wavy hair. She would always say ‘you are just so handsome like your papa’ and his papa would respond, ‘you are just so beautiful like your mother.’ Though the first time he heard that he thought it was weird, in the end he just figured now that was just how his family was. Richard definitely wanted a love like his parents. They met when they were 18 and attending college in Seattle. They had been together ever since. Of course, one day Richard knew he would find the man he would spend his life with. Though he figured it really wasn’t that important now anyway, even if that was what he wanted. He was in school and about to actively participate in a great internship opportunity. Finding room for anything else just wasn’t in the cards… right now. Or perhaps with how you look, never, his mind betrayed him. Though if he had his choice he would have Armie’s arms wrapped around him tight all the time. He would be the one. Richard sighed settling back into his comfortable friendship with loneliness. Out of dreamland, he chastised himself. He stored his feelings in a mental box in the back of his mind for later self-loathing. He was making some final adjustments to his attire when the door opened again, and someone stepped in.

Without even looking Richard spoke, “Man, you are so impatient. Blaine, I told you I will be out in a second—” He turned his head to see Armie standing there, the color draining from his face. His light brown Puerto Rican skin reflecting a soft gold in the dim of the room lights. His breathe hitched in his throat.

“You look… Amazing. So beautiful. Are you ready? Pain in the ass is getting impatient.” Was all he said. Richard couldn’t much read his expression but wished he could understand what Armie was thinking. This man who was action coolly moments ago was now giving out compliments that could melt his heart. He wasn’t going to have an easy time moving from where he stood after hearing a compliment like that, and from the man he was so totally in love with. Time seemed to move so slow between them. His feet began growing roots and he started to become a tree. It seemed like a thousand years passed them by. Neither moving. Neither talking or aging. It must have only been minutes. They just stared into one another’s eyes waiting for the other to make a move or say something. “Are you ok Ricardo?” Oh man, the way he rolled those “r’s”. If Richard wasn’t in the presence of Armie he would have face palmed at the direction of his thoughts.

“I—Thank you. I am ready. To. Go,” He could barely get the words out after that, though he mentally congratulated himself for even being able to finish a sentence that time. The butterflies in his stomach fluttered furiously. Richard turned quickly to grab his wallet, keys, and phone off the night stand to break their stare and save himself from embarrassment. He then reverted his attention back to Armie, who stood awkwardly by the door. Had I imagined that whole interaction? He wondered to himself. Richard as usual decided to brush it off for now and walked toward the door, but not before tripping on a stack of books. Armie came to check on him. He opened his mouth to speak, but Richard stopped him and looked him in the eyes desperately begging him to save him by not mentioning this embarrassing moment. Armie helped him up and then was the first to open the door and walk out with Richard in pursuit. This time carefully choregraphing his foot placement on the spot so not to trip over a box along the way.

When they got out in the hall Blaine was standing there tapping his foot impatiently, “I am so impatient, huh?” He retorted. Richard nervously laughed and then ignored the scowl on his face. Standing next to him was his girlfriend Jessica who is a tall slender blonde with milky white skin which contrasted well with Richard’s slightly darker complexion, medium build, and sandy brown hair. Next to Jess was their friend Aria, Armie’s sister who had similar features to Armie except they a softer jaw line and smaller eyes. They were talking about something that Richard didn’t pay any attention to. The moment Jessica’s eyes found him her gaze flicked quickly from Armie to him and winked causing him to blush. He narrowed her with a glare, she just smirked and lightly shrugged her response.

Blaine was the first to speak, “Can we go now? I’m growin’ old here.” Jessica swatted him on the arm and he looked at her apologetically. Richard just laughed. They all walked toward the elevator just down the hall simultaneously dodging and passing people along the way. When they arrived, Blaine jabbed at the button hard signaling for the elevator to make its arrival. Moments later upon request the elevator made its arrival at their floor and the door opened. There were a few people inside already, but Richard and his friends quickly shuffled in together occupying whatever room wasn’t being taken up by other riders. Blaine as always jabbed fiercely at the button in the elevator for the first floor. Unluckily for them Richard’s room was stationed on the 5th floor so there are lots of stops in between. Richard positioned himself as comfortably as he could in the cramped space. Somewhere in the elevator he detected a powerful scent of cologne wafted into his nostrils. The scent was intoxicating and sent his senses reeling. Richard just wanted to nuzzle up to whoever it was and inhale its heady aroma. Wherever the scent was it was calling him, drawing him closer to it. His nostrils enjoyed the scent of musk and citrus that mixed so well together and enraptured him in an aromatic trance. Armie stood to his right and only realizing in that moment that it was Armie who wore the delicious scent drifting in the air of the elevator. He was looking down at his phone when Richard took a big whiff of the musk and citrus scent enjoying the tantalizing smell in his nostrils. When Armie lifted his head it was as though he could feel when Richard’s gaze on him. Their eyes homed in on one another and locked in place. They stood for a moment until he winked at Richard causing his cheeks to heat and impishly look away. He smiled to himself, here we go again. After making a few other stops to let others off and on they finally arrived at the first floor of the dorm building. Even though the elevator ride was short Richard had started to wonder if he would ever get out of that claustrophobic trap and the scent of Armie’s cologne that was driving him insane. Once outside the wind whipped up a chill that nipped at Richard’s bare skin causing him to shiver. He wrapped his arms around his body clutching his frame hoping that would provide some warmth. He just knew that he would have to get threw this time of the year and then he was on his way to Hawaii and away from the chill of the Colorado air. Even though the move was far away he planned to make the best of this night and celebrate it with the people in life closest to him. The wind whipped up another breeze causing him to shiver again.

“Is Tap Traders good with everyone?” Blaine asked breaking the silence. Everyone loudly agreed in unison and off they went. Blaine guided them away from the building, through the parking lot and to his black SUV. He unlocked it, and everyone piled in. Blaine put his key into the ignition, turned it causing the engine to roar to life. He cranked up the heat first, put the SUV into gear and pulled out of the parking space. Soon enough they were on the road. Everyone was talking, and the music was playing in the background. Jessica was often turned in her seat facing toward the back of the car chatting with Aria and Armie. Richard just remained quiet listening to the conversation between his friends. This was something that he would miss. It didn’t take long before Blaine was parking in front of the building to their favorite bar spot Tap Traders. Once the car engine was off and the warm air was no longer circulating everyone cleared out of the SUV quickly. Richard looked up taking in the white building with patios speckling the outside and a large garage door. Above the garage door the simple logo was expertly planted. Far above the tables were small led lights that brightened the area. This was the bar that Armie and Richard met Blake the first time. Jess and Blaine met at this same bar just a year later. He was sure going to miss this place but knew he could come back again someday. He smiled to himself. They all made their way to the front door. Once inside their key bartender greeted them all.

“How’re my favorite bar people?” Jarvis bellowed stopping what he was doing and walking out from behind the large brown counter. The place was packed with no bar seating available. Jarvis made his way slowly toward Richard who was the first through the door with his arms outstretched for a hug. Richard gave him a hug and once everyone else was in Jarvis made his way to giving the rest of the crew a hug. “What’s our special occasion tonight ladies and gentlemen?” He asked looking around at the group.

Armie spoke first not sounding too thrilled, “Our good pals here Richard and Blaine are going to be leaving us in a couple months to do an internship out in Hawaii.” Jarvis beamed brightly at the two of them unaffected by the mildly harsh tone.

“Congratulations boys! I remember when you three were just young 18-year old’s coming in on 18 and up night. Now look at you three years later? Hey Carmen, a round of top beers for five at table 10!” His voice bellowed above the bar sounds. In the back you could hear Carmen scream her response. “Go on crazy kids, get your usual spot, drinks’ll be along in a moment.” Everyone shuffled through toward the table that was surprisingly empty by the windowed garage door. There were no booths in the bar, just simple white chairs and folding tables. It didn’t seem like much to some, but to Richard and his friends it was like a second home when stress was high. The bar wasn’t very large, though it did have a second floor with some additional seating. There were also a lot of beer options on tap so for those who liked beer this was a great spot to visit. Everyone sat down getting comfortable taking off jackets and scarves. Blaine, Jessica, and Aria sat on one side which resulted in Armie and Richard sitting together on the other. Richard sat on the inside first and then Armie on the outside next to him. Once they sat down their beers and waters arrived almost immediately. They each grabbed one and prepared for a toast.

Glasses of beer lifted into the air, “To Blaine and Richard! May our two greatest Electrical Engineers have the greatest time in the sunny state of Hawaii!” Aria shouted. All five glasses clinked making a sound that Richard knew he would miss as well.

“So, Jess, are you going to be heading out to Hawaii with pain in the ass here?” Armie asked her. His tone sounding less threatening and harsh compared to earlier. Richard listened intently.

“Oh yea, I forgot to tell everyone that bit of good news. Yep, I got my transfer papers today. I am going to Hawaii!” Everyone cheered at the table. Another clink of glasses went around, and everyone congratulated Jessica on her news. It seems that Richard would have two of his good friends on his Hawaii journey. Just not… Armie. When Richard looked over at Armie he was just staring at a nearly empty mug of beer.

“Woah man, thirsty?” Blaine joked. Armie just smiled and nodded in response, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes. “What is your plans Aria? Going to hang out with your younger brother here?” Blaine asked genuinely curious. She looked to her brother and smiled.

“Actually, no. I’ve made plans to go to the University of California, San Francisco,” she beamed, “Since A—” She stuttered a moment when Armie narrowed her with a glare, “Since I feel they have the best programs there, I want to finish the rest of my degree there.” Jess looking outwardly excited about her new journey. Jess and everyone again congratulated on the good news, this time it being Aria. Richard looked to Armie who wasn’t surprised in the least by the news. He felt for this beautiful man. He was going to be alone in Colorado Springs. Richard wished that he could build a teleportation machine, so they could travel back and forth to see one another, but he knew there was no way.

“If you will excuse us ladies, we need to use the bathroom,” Jessica announced loudly. She kissed Blaine on the cheek before Aria and her moved their bodies out of the white chairs before skipping off toward the bathroom. “We’ll be back. Richard, keep Blaine from doing stupid things again.” Richard chuckled. She had to be referring to the time he sang karaoke drunk and started dancing on one of the tables. The worst part of that was when he fell off and broke his arm.

“Yea, yea.” Blaine responded scowling, the girls just walked off giggling to one another, “Let me go get you both another beer.” He said pointing to both Richard and Armie’s empty glasses. He hadn’t even noticed how much he had been drinking. Before either of them could detest Blaine was out of his seat and sauntering over to the bar where Jarvis and Carmen were stationed.

“Armie—” He didn’t look up immediately. He gave another moment, but his friend was hypnotized by something in the far corner. Richard followed his gaze noticing a very attractive guy in that direction giving him suggestive looks. Richard couldn’t help the pang of hurt and jealousy that swelled deep in his heart and soul. He tried for his attention again, “Armando…” Richard began more forcefully, hoping he could get whatever it was out before he lost the courage fueled by jealousy, “I want you to know that I—I wouldn’t have been able to get this internship if it wasn’t for your help.” Armie turned his attention away from the man dumbfounded, but didn’t respond so Richard kept going, “You are the greatest friend I could ever have asked for. You’ve always helped me when I struggled, encouraged me, been there for me… There isn’t anything I don’t feel capable of when you are there. I wish you were with me in Hawaii… I just want you to know that.” Richard glanced over at the man who held Armie’s attention only seconds ago who gave him the stink eye. Richard’s jealous rage grew, and he scooted his chair closer to Armie who was taken aback. Richard paused a moment trying to hold back tears that threatened to spill. He gently placed his hands on Armie loving the feeling of warmth that emanated there. He cleared his throat, “Don’t get me wrong, I am excited to go. I mean, this a great opportunity—you’ve just always been my number one friend. I just wish you were there with me. We’ve known each other for—”

“Seven years,” Armie interrupted. There was a heat in his gaze that astonished even him. Richard just nodded his head knowing that if he said anything more that he would probably cry. This man that he wishes to profess undying love for and keep with him always was going to be left behind with only his sister. They had known each other for years. There wasn’t anything the two of them didn’t talk about. Armie’s failed relationships, the fact that Richard never successfully had one, sports, video games, writing, books, anything. Richard felt that once he left for Hawaii it was inevitable for Armie and him to lose touch, maybe because of other relationships, most likely his, school, his internship, and the distance drawing them farther and farther apart. Richard imagined for a moment that the guy across the bar and Armie would end up in a relationship together and that this stranger would tear Richard from his friend. If there wasn’t anything more, he knew he at least wanted that.

“I just—I need you there with me,” Armie’s expression turned hopeful and a genuine smile lit up his face for the first time tonight.

“Richard, I wanted to tell you first—”

“Hey dudes! I am back. Here is one for you, one for you, and one for me,” Blaine said setting down three drinks in front of them each. Armie went silent quickly grabbing for his drink and taking a large gulp of it. What was Armie going to say? This started to drive Richard crazy since he really wanted to know. Would he have to get Armie alone again to find out? He wasn’t sure. Until he found out it would eat him up inside. Returning his attention back to the new beer in front of him, he took a bit gulp. They each gave a big thanks to Blaine for getting them both drinks. Moments later the girls came back giggling to one another before sitting down. No one paid them any mind, but Richard could see a gleam of determination in Jessica’s eyes. She was planning something, Richard just didn’t know what. He just ignored it for now concentrating on other things. The conversation between everyone seemed to go on and on over all sorts of different topics, like school, food, sharing their cherished memories together both at the university and in the bar, and especially making fun of Blaine’s shenanigans. Everyone agreed that the chances of Blaine doing stupid and crazy stuff in Hawaii was a good chance. Things were going fine, until…

“So, Richard. Are you excited for Hawaii?” Jessica asked, though she had that same wicked gleam of determination in her eyes. Richard knew from that he would need to tread carefully. She always had something up her sleeve. Jessica was schooling to be a journalist for school. She was both very smart and very intuitive. She was great at getting answers to questions with what she would call her Jess magic. It was a stupid name really, but Richard had seen her do it to Blaine several times, it was something to be wary of for sure. It worked every time though. Jess made the comment that it would have a 97% success rate. Richard was certainly not going to let her get him though. He would beat her at her own wicked game!

He took a swig of beer just biding his time and swallowed it down before drinking down a bit of water. He then stretched his muscles before taking another swig of beer. When he set his glass down Jessica looked impatient waiting for him to answer. Deciding to put her out of her misery he finally responded, “Yea, I am pretty excited. It’s a good opportunity.” He responded dryly. Jessica glared at him knowing that from his simple response that he was onto her. She took a quick glance at Armie that caused Richard to tense. He clenched hard on the handle of the beer mug. Jessica just smirked at his reaction with that same wicked determination staring him down. What is she up to? Richard knew that she was planning her next assault carefully. Everyone didn’t see it coming like Richard did. He lifted the mug to his mouth taking another swig of beer into his mouth knowing this method worked once before. He was going to need the liquid courage if he planned to survive her next attack.

Richard was still in the middle of gulping down his beer when Aria’s question blindsided him, “So you’re saying that you aren’t going to be staring at all those hot, sweaty, and tan sculpted muscles on the beach in Hawaii?” Richard swallowed hard on the beer causing himself to choke and gasp for air. Armie was the one that acted first patting and rubbing his back gently. While he was still gasping for air he tried to respond but no words came out. Blaine’s face went pale and his mouth was gaping.

“Oh, come on Richard. You’re never going to have another chance at prime, authentic Hawaiian meat like that here in Colorado. It’s a onetime shot. You should go for it.” There it is. Jessica came in for the kill. Richard, still trying to gain his composure took a quick look at Blaine hoping for him to interject but instead was speechless. Good going Jess, that’s never happened before. Richard cleared his throat and took a sip of water. The water felt good on his dry iced tongue, his lips parched from the nerves that were consuming him. Richard felt his face flush with what he felt like would be a deep red. Now that he wasn’t choking on beer he was certainly too afraid to look in Armie’s direction. Jessica was right, he had thought about it, but he was so in awe of the man to the right of him, how could he respond to their probing questions? Jessica knew he was madly in love with Armando. He wasn’t sure what her end game was, but he needed to find out fast.

“Come on, babe. Is that how you really feel?” Blaine finally asked still astonished by where the conversation had gone to. Jessica just ignored his question and intensely stared Richard down with her fierce gaze waiting for his rebuttal. She grinned pleased when he didn’t respond.

“Don’t do it, Jess.” Armie warned. From his peripheral vision he saw Armie’s fist clutch tightly onto his beer glass before he took a long drink. Jessica’s sly grin grew, and she was preparing to sink her journalist claws in deeper. She wasn’t going to be satisfied until she got to the end game.

“Jess, I don’t—” He tried to speak, but his voice was failing him when he needed it most. Damn nerves, damn fool. SPEAK! He demanded himself. Richard was so embarrassed he wished that a black hole would open beneath him and swallow him into it. He wished that he would wake up and this would be an introvert’s scariest dream and nothing more. He wished Jess didn’t put him on the spot like that. He cleared his throat hoping this would help his voice, “Jessica, please—”

She cut him off, “Richard. You know you want a big chunk of Hawaiian salami—”

“That’s IT!” Armie roared, Jessica’s mouth snapped shut. The shouting got the attention of several onlookers in the bar. It was like a train wreck or a car crash, you know the result is catastrophic, but you have to look anyways. Richard was taken aback instantly and didn’t know how to act. His mouth was gaping, and his eyes went wide. He tried to speak, but his voice failed him once again. Armie slammed his beer down on the table causing beer to splash everywhere and rose from his seat knocking it to the ground and stormed off. Richard was so caught up in what just happened that he didn’t know where Armie went. He whipped his head in the direction of both Jessica and Aria who were just as overcome by what just happened, both their eyes wide and heads drooping. Blaine looked stunned and uncomfortable that he slowly sipped his beer facing toward the garage door windows.

Aria was the first to break the silence, “What’s his fucking problem?” She yelled gesturing toward the back door of the bar. She began to roll up her sleeves, “I am going to teach that guy a lesson on how to treat people—” she clenched her fists tight.

“Stop,” Richard said interjecting calmly. He wasn’t sure how he sounded so calm, not even to himself when his hands were shaking, his heart was racing, and he was certain there was perspiration just above his eyebrow. He was just mostly happy in this moment that he found his voice. Aria sat down with a look of shock registering on her face. She quietly sat down in her seat before looking away. When Richard took a glance over at Blaine he was now glaring at Jessica who looked at Richard apologetically. She looked like she was about to cry. She mouthed the words ‘go get him’ and Richard stood from the table. “I’m going to check on him. If I am not back in fifteen minutes… Rescue me.” He said trying to lighten the mood. Jessica giggled, and Blaine rolled his eyes at her. Richard began walking from their table to where he thought he saw Armie go. Time to find out what this is all about. Richard inhaled deeply and slowly exhaled. He was nervous not knowing what to expect when he walked through the back door of the bar. Richard was not very good at confrontation and was just so uncertain of what set Armie off. When Richard opened the backdoor of the bar he stepped out into the nights cold air and he could see tiny flakes of snow dancing and falling. The wind instantly whipped up a strong cool breeze that instantly broke through the fabric of all his layers chilling his skin. Richard clasped his hands onto his body realizing only in that moment that he forgot his jacket and scarf inside. He turned to go back inside, but the door was locked. I’m going to turn into a human popsicle. It must have been snowing for quite some time as there was a thin layer of snow on the ground as well. Richard clutched himself trying to keep what little warmth he had left. He wasn’t sure how people could deal with this kind of cold weather. Being from Seattle he wasn’t acclimated to even this kind of cold weather. He rubbed his hands on his arms fiercely hoping that would generate warmth. He started walking away to continue his search in the parking lot. He almost slipped on a thin patch of ice but caught his balance at the last second. He sighed in relief that he didn’t fall. He turned his head to the left, then the right, however he still didn’t catch any sight of Armie anywhere. The light by the back door flickered several times behind him. This is creepy, like a horror movie, a shuttering chill ran up his spine. Richard motioned forward a few more steps sweeping his gaze throughout the space of the parking lot. When he still didn’t catch a glimpse of Armie he started to get nervous. In that moment it dawned on him that he could have gone back inside so Richard decided to also. He shifted his body shuffling toward the door he came from. The blowing wind and snow was making it hard to see and keep his balance. Let’s just bang on the back door and hope someone hears. The wind whipped up another strong breeze. He took another step forward forgetting about the patch of ice from earlier. When he stepped on it his body lifted into the air and slammed on the ground. He was lucky that his butt broke his fall. Richard suddenly heard thundering footsteps from behind him and his body froze in a panic. This is where I die, he morbidly thought. Richard made a mental note that if he lived he would have to chastise his conscious and its wayward thoughts.

“Richard! Are you ok? I saw you fall.” Armie to the rescue.

“I’m better now.” He responded and blushed after realizing what he said. Armie didn’t respond, instead he extended his arm to help Richard to his feet. Once he got his footing he flung himself into his hero’s arms and thanked him. Armie took a moment to hug him back and Richard just rejoiced in the feel of him, wishing that he could stay this way forever.

“Here let’s move away from this ice patch.” Armie suggested guiding him away, but not letting go. Richard was grateful that Armie came to help him. “What are you doing out here!?” He demanded, though Richard detected a note of worry in his voice.

“I—well—I was looking for you. You seemed so mad and—”

“You didn’t know why, I know.” Armie finished for him. Richard felt guilty for that. Even though that wasn’t what he wanted to say he knew Armie was right about that.

“Well, that too, but I wanted to see if you were alright.” Richard muttered. Armie looked momentarily surprised but gave him a crooked smile. That smile always melted Richard whenever he saw it. Any smile of his melts your heart! His conscious screamed at him.

“Yea,” He began, “I’m alright. I’m sorry about earlier.” Armie added apologetically, “I just lost my cool I guess,” Richard wasn’t entirely sure what that was earlier, but he was certain that it wasn’t simply Armie losing his cool. That never happens. He was the calmest and most collected person that Richard knew. It’s the way Richard always wanted to be, but never knew how. Social settings were not his forte, “Are you alright? You are the one that fell?” Only for you, Richard thought to himself.

“I’m just fine, it’s just…” Richard thought for a moment. “I know something’s wrong,” He hesitated another moment inhaling and exhaling, his breath showing in the cold. The snow having slowed a bit was falling around them. Richard clenched his fists at his side. He could do this. “You haven’t been yourself tonight,” he blurted out, “and then you got mad about—” he blushed just thinking of the conversation that happened only moments ago, “the—in there. What Jess and Aria were talking about.” Richard in this moment just wished he was at home in bed reading or doing something else that wasn’t this conversation. Armie looked down briefly, his breathe quickened and Richard only knew because the signs were in the chilly air. Richard waited patiently for Armie to respond. Staring into his eyes and seeing his calculating look. He was thinking about something, that much Richard knew, he just wasn’t sure what about.

“I just—I don’t want you to go. I don’t want you to leave,” Richard had never seen this side of his friend before. They always talked about everything, but Armie wasn’t always open with his feelings. Guarding them against everything. He wasn’t sure what to think or what to feel. He just stood there quiet waiting for Armie to continue. Unexpectedly Armie started to remove his jacket and put it over him. When Richard looked up he was staring at him with such warmth in his eyes. Richard mouthed the words thank you and when this beautiful man smiled at him he just about died right there. He stepped closer to Armie who’s body burned like a fire. He gingerly wrapped his arms around this man that he was so in love with and just lay his head against his chest. This jacket that covered him was so big hence Armie’s 6’3 height and wide frame compared to his 5’10 and slender frame. Richard was definitely grateful for the jacket and gesture. It was so warm and smelled of him. Shit, not that delicious scent again. Richard just closed his eyes reveling in the scent that was Armie. Just breathe, just breathe, he reminded himself.

Richard lifted his head to speak, but didn’t let go, “Wait, aren’t you going—” Armie put stopped his thinking by just laying his head back on his chest. Richard was stunned however, he welcomed the gentle way that Armie stroked his hair or caressed his arm. Even through the thickness of the leather jacket, his hands were so warm and the heat penetrating.

“Richard, I wasn’t ever sure how I was going to tell you this, but now is as good as any other time I guess,” Armie took in a deep breath and Richard looked up into his eyes. There was a reason for the hesitation. What is it? What do you want to tell me? Richard was bursting at the seems though he did his best to maintain composure and just squeezed Armie reassuringly. Armie smiled at him again and ran his hands threw his hair, “Richard, I don’t need that jacket to keep me warm. I need that jacket to keep you warm,” He looked to Armie momentarily confused, “What I mean is, I want to be the one to keep you warm. I don’t want you to go because I don’t want you to leave me.” Richard’s heart was beating so hard he wasn’t sure it was going to stay in his chest. His thoughts were as frozen as his toes. His mind was racing with all the different scenarios in his head as to where this was going to go. Armie laughed beside him breaking him away from his thoughts. “That’s what I love about you.” He said. Run that by me again. Richard thought in that moment he was going to die, that he was going to wake up and the man he has been so in love with for so long said—that word— and that it was all going to be gone. That he was going to wake up and not be wearing his warm jacket. See him looking at him with such an intense stare that could stop a stampede of buffalo in their tracks. His face contorted into worry as the silence between them stretched on and on. Come on, say something you idiot! His conscious was right. He needed to speak.

“You—” Richard tried compiling sensible words, but he didn’t know where to begin.

“Yes, Richard. I do.” Armie pulled him in closer as thought trying to keep him from breaking free. Richard didn’t want to break free. He wanted to be right here with this man. With Armie. Their eyes locked. There were no more thoughts now. No more words. Armie loosening his hold leaned down to him and his lips suddenly crushed into Richard’s. Oh my god! Richard was kissing this man. No, this man was kissing him. No wait, they were kissing. Oh my god, we are kissing, he thought. Richard could swear that his conscious was doing summersaults and backflips. The moment that he stopped Richard thought he was going to turn to putty. His knees felt weak. His senses were really. This is happening! “Richard, I do love you. I’ve loved you all these years and I want to continue loving you. Jess hit us with that bombshell of her tagging along to Hawaii, I cannot bare to be without you like this one more day—” Armie’s eyes swelled with tears. Richard almost broke down there and then.

Richard finally comprehended something out of this world. Something that he wouldn’t have been able to normally do in a million years, “You are coming too?” Armie simply nodded. A smile lighting up his face so bright that all the stars in the sky, the moon and the sun would all be jealous of. Richard squeezed himself closer to this beautiful man. He does want me! He does! Richard wasn’t sure if his mind was truly grasping what was happening here. He didn’t know if this would last and, in that moment, he didn’t care because he had wanted this man for so long. He wasn’t sure where to begin, what to say. How to say it. There was so much to be said. So much he wanted to say. He racked his brain endlessly for words. For a gesture that could say everything he wanted to say. Richard huddled close to Armie’s chest taking in the warmth. Listening to the beat of his heart. The sound of his heart pounding anxiously in his ears. It struck him. Perhaps it was a bolt of lightning, a revelation powered by all the magic in the world, but Richard knew the only way in the world he could explain his feelings was with words. The thing that he always had the most trouble with. If all else failed him Richard would use his words. There is nothing you cannot do without him there. This man that is holding him. This man that wanted to be there for him. To keep him warm. This beautiful Puerto Rican man before him. There was no other way to explain it. Richard kissed him softly on the lips loving how Armie reciprocated the action. He pulled away mustering up as much courage and putting everything into it.

“I love you too.”

 

©Donovan G. Ward

short stories

Donovan Ward from CWP View All →

I am attending college online with Grand Canyon University (GCU) for an English Teaching degree for Secondary Education. The first question I was asked when I made the decision to embark on this journey to be a teacher was, "Why do you want to be a teacher?" My response: "It is not for the money." Regardless, I am looking forward to being a teacher and am on this blog as part of a college course. I have written (never published) books and poetry of all kinds and have a love for writing in general. I have never done a blog before so we will see how this goes. Let's do this!

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