Carson’s quiet sobbing filled the early morning air. Heedless of the expensive red Chinese silk of his robe, he sat on the dusty floor of his balcony, back wedged against the stucco wall, shoulder against the sturdy wooden posts of the railing. Dawn had just broken over the roof of the apartments across the courtyard from his, washing his haven in weak golden light. Summer was on the wane, and fall had taken root, turning the leaves of some of the trees that shaded him from green to dusky brown. Hugging his folded legs, he rested his forehead on his knees and gave in to the misery that was his life.
“You better think hard, baby.
” Anthony’s cruel tone echoed in his head. “You go on and see how far you get without me.
Despite his anger, Carson knew the answer to that—he wouldn’t get very far without Anthony to support him. His job with the burlesque show would barely cover the rent on his apartment and utilities. He’d become far too accustomed to relying on Anthony for all the little extras like clothing, entertainment, and food. For a glorious six months, Anthony had taken care of him. He knew that. Silly him to think that since the man had done so thus far, he’d want to do so on a more permanent basis. He’d thought that moving in together and becoming a real couple was the next step.
Boy, had he been wrong.
Anthony set him straight and made it clear that they would not
be living together. Carson had known that Anthony had other lovers at the beginning of their relationship, but he’d honestly thought that he was now the only one. He was mistaken. Anthony might have been spending more time with him in the last few months, but Carson wasn’t his only interest, and Anthony had made that very plain after the show last night. It turned out he was just as stupid and naive as Anthony claimed him to be. He hugged his legs closer and kept his head bowed, ignoring the growl of his empty stomach. At least Anthony could have fed
him before they broke up. Of course, that had been at three in the morning. Neither of them had been particularly hungry, even after sex.
Sex. Yeah. That had started it. Carson had almost dropped the L
bomb on Anthony too. Good thing he’d kept his tongue. How could he think he loved someone like that?
Startled at the sound of another voice, Carson jerked his head up. Loose, bright crimson hair flew clear of his face, allowing his watery gaze to focus on the man who stood beyond the balcony railing. Since the balcony floor was only a few feet above the garden floor, much of the man was visible even if he was mostly in the shadow of a threadbare tree. A good but plain workingman’s face looked back at him. Eddie, the building superintendent. A roughly trimmed black beard and mustache framed a wide mouth underneath deep, sympathetic brown eyes. Brown skin was rough and sun worn, the crinkles at the edges of his eyes making him look a little older than he probably was. A faded and beat-up Los Angeles Dodgers cap shaded his face from the early-morning sun, and a light polyester green-checked shirt was open at the collar to reveal more brown skin and a hint of chest hair.
Now that he had Carson’s attention, Eddie cocked his head and raised a hand through the open slats of the balcony railing. Held between a black-nailed finger and thumb was the stem of a gorgeous red rose blossom. The bloom was full, nearly the size of Carson’s fist, with layer after layer of scarlet petals that looked for all the world like softest velvet. The heady scent of it wafted into Carson’s nostrils as Eddie held it nearer. “Please.” His voice was low and soft. Soothing. “Don’t cry.”
Carson hiccupped, his eyes widening. It was five a.m., not long after the taxi Anthony had paid for dropped Carson off. He’d come outside because indoors had felt too confining, but he certainly hadn’t expected anyone to be up at this hour, let alone to hear him cry. The building’s residents tended to keep far more normal hours, working during the day and sleeping during the night in opposition to Carson’s usual schedule thanks to the late-night shows.
Fully awake and looking like he was already well into his day, Eddie smiled and held the rose closer. He nodded.
Carson felt the smile curl his lips even though the bottom one trembled. Eddie’s smile was infectious, and the rose was beautiful. Hesitantly, he reached out. A half dozen gold bracelets jangled softly about his slim wrist as he accepted the flower from the nice man.
Dark eyes sparkling beneath heavy black brows, Eddie glanced at the blossom, then back at Carson’s face. “It matches your hair.”
A watery laugh bled from Carson’s lips. With his free hand he reached up to tuck away an errant lock of red hair that had fallen forward over his left eye. “Yes. It does.” Although the flower’s color was natural, while his was from a bottle. He buried his nose in the full bloom to take in the fresh scent. A part of him eased. There was nothing like the smell of roses, and he didn’t think he’d ever held a freshly cut one.
Eddie patted Carson’s socked foot lightly. “Please. Don’t cry.”
Carson opened his mouth to spew the dozens of reasons why he had to be miserable, but in the face of Eddie’s simple, heartfelt request and with the smell of the rose filling his head, he couldn’t do it. Wiping tears from his lashes with one thumb, knowing that last night’s mascara must be making ugly tracks down his cheeks, he laughed softly. “Okay.” Surprisingly, he meant it. Beyond Eddie’s hat, he saw the sun peek through the break in the building across the courtyard, spilling a square of light and warmth over one of the many rosebushes that filled the central area between the buildings. It looked to be a beautiful October day, and just like that, the heartache of the previous night lessened, leaving him weary.
He gave Eddie a genuine smile. “Thank you.”
Eddie closed his eyes as he bowed his head. “You’re welcome.” He stepped back and touched two fingers to the bill of his cap. “You have a good day.”
Carson blinked as he watched Eddie turn. He tucked a pair of clippers into the rawhide belt at his waist and ambled down the courtyard’s central aisle to eventually disappear through one of the apartment building’s entrances.
Carson was pleased to discover the smile was still on his face. With a lighter heart, he stood and went inside to succumb to the sleep that was calling him.