Eleven – Sterling
There was nowhere to go.
As we’d ridden along, the silence between us like a leaden blanket weighing us both down, my mind scrambled to come up with a safehouse for Tucker. At one point I laughed aloud, seemingly out of the blue. Tucker gave me a worried look, his beautiful mouth tight.
“They say I’m a cerebral quarterback. You know what that means?” I asked, eyeballing the exit signs for the one that would lead us to salvation, wherever that may be.
“It means you’re smart.”
“Hmm, well, not really but yes, in a way. See, with quarterbacks, there’s a kind of sense that comes with playing the position that you either have or you don’t. I’m successful because of other things as well, intangibles, that sense that some quarterbacks have. You have to have good spacial awareness and peripheral vision.” The words just flowed out of me for some bizarre reason. Maybe just to fill the void that had grown since we’d beat a hasty retreat from Colchester. Or maybe I just needed to hear his voice. “You can’t panic under pressure. It’s fucking insane how many decisions a quarterback makes in one and a half seconds. You have to trust the choice of play, have faith in your ability to complete the pass and lead your teammates into having that same faith in your ability. You have to read the defense, throw the receiver open, see the openings and audible out of bad plays. All in a split second. Not every quarterback has that skill set. Not to sound like a braggart, but I do, and that’s why I made it to the pros.”
“Okay, I’m suitably impressed with your brain,” he said as the sound of tires splashing through slushy snow continued to be a steady companion along with the soft jazz station on low. “I mean, I’m impressed with all of you, but now I’m totally lusting after your frontal lobe.”
I threw him a queasy smile. “Thanks. The point was that after all that talk about me being so cerebral and quick on my feet, I have literally no fucking clue where to take you to keep you safe. That’s about as far from cerebral as a man can get.”
“It’s okay.” He reached over to rub my thigh. My sight darted to him and I wanted to beg him for forgiveness. I’d pulled him into my shit with the Bianchi’s due to lust. Now, I had no idea how to keep the man I loved safe. My mind, the one that I’d just been bragging up, shut down. The car veered a bit out of the lane. I jerked back to get us off the rumble strip, my palms wet on the steering wheel. His fingers resting on my leg were reassuring, in some crazy manner. Love. Love? No, surely not. I couldn’t love Tucker. Could I? Were the feelings that I had for the man love, or simply thanks for helping me to open up a bit? Love?
“We’ll work it out. Maybe your father’s God will guide us, eh?”
His reply, tossed out to be glib, I was sure, slapped me on the back of the head just like my grandmother did when she’d catch me napping during Sunday services.
“Christ, yes,” I whispered, pulling off the interstate to gather my wits. Tucker leaned over the console to look at the dash.
“Is something wrong with the car?”
“No, no, the car is fine. I just…I think I know where I can hide you.”
“Butch said not to hide.” He pulled out his phone. “If we’re going radio silent, I’ll need to text him and—what the fuck?!”
I yanked his cell from his hand, lowered the window, and whipped it out into the slush. A semi rolled over it. Then, I did the same thing with mine. It met a similar fate. When the window was up, I looked over at Tucker. His face was a mask of fury.
“They can track cell phones. We’ll stop and buy some burners,” I explained. Some of the ire leeched away from his mouth. “I’ll contact them at Gems, I promise. But for now, we have to keep our heads down until we have a good plan.”
“Butch said Ian is hiring an immigration lawyer. If I run away, that’s going to look super bad,” he argued, his blue eyes sparking with aggravation.
“I’ll reach out to them once we’re safe. I promise. For now, we’re incommunicado. Trust me. You do trust me, right?”
“I ran off into the fucking unknown with you, so yeah, I think you can say I trust you.”
I lifted my hand from the wheel to run the backs of my fingers along his cheek. His lashes lowered at my touch.
“I’ll fix this mess. I swear.” The vow was spoken as a binding contract. I cared about him, greatly. He’d become vitally important to me. His voice soothed me; his touch enflamed me. “You’re…you’re the most crucial thing in my life, Tucker. I will make sure you’re safe.”
“I know, it’s just…” He opened his eyes. I got lost in the sapphire honesty I found in his gaze. “I’m trying to not be so mistrustful, but older, rich guys have kind of fucked me over. I trust you, I do, I’m just leery, and confused, and scared. I do not want to go back to Canada, and I sure as fuck don’t want to end up at the bottom of the Colchester River!” Panic laced his words. My hand fell to his shoulder where I rubbed at his collarbone. “Sorry, I’m just freaking out. I just want to be with you.”
“I’d like that, too,” I confessed, pressing my thumb into the divot above his clavicle. “I’d like to be able to be with you everywhere, not just in some cheap hotel room, but in fine restaurants and concerts.”
“Yeah?” He rolled his head to face me, then wet his lips. That was all the invitation I needed. My mouth found his, the console and seatbelts the only barriers keeping me from pulling him into my lap.
“Yeah,” I whispered when the sloppy tangling of tongues ended. “I think I want…more with you. All of it. You think you might want that with me?”
“Oh, hell yeah.” Hand sliding up my coat, he fisted the lapel and tugged my lips back to his. “I’d love to go to dinner with you. Something that wasn’t hotel room wine and chips.”
I pressed my brow to his and held him there for a moment. “We’ll do dinner, I swear. For now, though…”
“Yeah, for now we do what?”
“We go home to Christ.”
Four hours later, we crossed over into Kentucky. Afternoon was fully upon us, and we’d not stopped or pulled over since the short break where I’d tossed our phones out and thrown my heart on the line. Every time I thought about coming out, my gut clenched and sweat popped out on my brow, but I kept that shit locked down tightly. As soon as the cool air of my home state blew in the cracked windows, my stress levels began to rise. It took little over an hour to find Daddy’s Evangelical Church of Eternal Salvation. It sat on a pretty little lot in Wallow Way, a tiny town in the northcentral part of the state. The church was a smaller one, with a congregation of fifty on a good year, but it was solid and perpetually lit-up with two white spotlights that shone on the steeple. Tucker had grown quiet once we’d crossed the Indiana/Kentucky line. Now, he sat staring at the white building as if it were a monster risen from the depths.
“My father lives behind the church in a small house,” I told him, as I drove around the back of the church, seeking out a place to park where my car wouldn’t be seen from the road. I cut the engine and unbuckled my belt. Tucker nodded, following my motions. Once we were out of the car, he hefted his tartan duffle bag to his shoulder, and grabbed my hand. I shook free instantly. Then, realizing what I’d done, I found his fingers then slid mine between them. “Come on.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t hold my hand. I think you were right.” He tugged to free himself. I held on tightly. “Sterling, man, come on. This isn’t how you want your father to see us, is it?”
“Yeah, maybe it is. Maybe I want him to see me as I am.”
The front door snapped open. I turned to face my father as he stepped outside.
“Sterling? What are you doing here on a game day?” Daddy called as he pulled his sweater tightly around his thin frame. He was a lanky man, as tall as me but lacking my bulk. Imposing in that way that minister’s with the fire of God inside them were.
“Daddy, my friend…boyfriend needs sanctuary. Will you give it to him?” I called from the driveway, my grip on Tucker’s hand so tight it was probably cutting off feeling to his fingertips. He didn’t jerk to free himself, though. It was too cold for crickets here. Pity, for their song would have filled the long silence that my question had brought.