The farther from Hooperstown, the less stifling the summer humidity became and the more effective the breeze. The nearer to the lake house on Golf Course Road, the sharper my memories.
The only surprising thing, really, was that most of them were pleasant.
I parked halfway down the Wynnes’ gravel drive, then circled the towering A-frame on foot in search of surveillance equipment. I found only a single camera mounted to the roof above the upstairs deck, focusing on the door and steps. Nothing I’d need to hit with an EMP burst and fry—at least not yet—though the sight of it made the electricity coiled deep inside me jump to my fingertips, ready.
In spite of this heightened state of awareness, I still considered certain familiar spots with a little smile. There was the tree Andrew and I had raced to climb, bereft of branches until nearly halfway up the trunk like all southeastern beasts. The boathouse where Amelia Wynne used to keep her stash of liquor, and where I’d first let Andrew kiss me. The dock, brownish water lapping at its algae-scabbed pylons, and the Wynnes’ little cove just beyond. We’d taken the boat out so many times to escape my father, Andrew’s mother, the awful pair of them.
I bypassed the lakefront sliding glass door and opted for the main entrance on the deck, affecting ignorance of the camera. Only the interior screen door kept out the massive southern insects. I knocked once.
Quick footsteps pounded up the drive. As I moved to take stock of the new arrival, the first step sounded on the wooden stairs.
I looked down at him.
He looked up at me.
We paused. Ten years had changed Andrew Wynne in ways the file photographs had been incapable of communicating. No doubt he was surprised to see me grown too.
His hair was of an absolutely medium shade—a reflection of both parents, his mother pale, his father dark. It hung long enough to cover his ears, even curled tightly with sweat and humidity, clinging to his cheeks and forehead. His coffee-and-a-touch-of-cream skin was extra sun-browned and pink with exertion, the contrasting hazel of his eyes at least as arresting as I recalled. He wore no shirt, exposing a less familiar feature: the long, lean, muscled body of an avid runner or swimmer. His shoulders, his arms, and his flat, defined stomach showed evidence of extreme training. He wore only expensive running shorts and shoes, apart from a uniform sheen of sweat.
Which was notable, since Andrew had the sort of awakened superpowers referred to within the community as cold-thermal. Not only could he freeze anything he liked simply by thinking hard enough, but he cast a vague aura of cold unless he actively attempted not to. Which meant he must’ve worked very hard to get so…warmed up.
I had thought him magnificent when we were boys, but in retrospect knew that his arms and legs had been long and skinny, not quite suited, and his face had been fuller, masking the gentle downward sweep of high cheekbones, the powerful rectangle formed by the chin and jaw. He had grown into himself, and the effect was remarkable.
Beyond that, so much care poured into maintaining such a physique generally indicated it was used for something that required intense training. Athletics, for example. Competitive kickboxing—which, according to his record, Andrew had done in college. Firefighting. Arduous construction or outdoor work.
Alternatively: vigilante jackassery.
“Holy shit,” he said, drawing me out of my analysis. “Gabe?”
“No one calls me that anymore.”
He laughed and bounded up the stairs like a puppy. “Gabriel.”
By this time, he’d reached the top. Even outdoors, I still caught his scent. It triggered an overwhelming memory of burying my face in his hair and breathing deeply. I used to imagine his sweat smelled like freshly cut grass.
I smiled and said, “Hello, Andrew. You’re looking well.”
“Yeah, look who’s talking.” He grinned and opened his arms, but paused to look down at himself.
If I looked too, well, I’m a special agent, not a corpse.
“I’d hug you, but I’m nasty.” He shook my hand instead, already cooling off. He kept hold just long enough to tug me toward the house. “Jesus, man, come in. What are you doing here?”
And with that invitation, he spared me the need for any extra warrants. As I had perhaps not quite expected, but certainly hoped.
He held the door, and I stepped into the dining room, the memories returning faster and faster. I hadn’t known what to expect but had prepared myself for the worst; I was still pleasantly surprised. “Thought I’d spend a few weeks unwinding in some slow, southern locale. Didn’t actually think you would still be here, but someone in town told me. So…”
The dining room connected to an open living area just beyond, both of which were two stories high, mostly windows and sliding doors leading to the deck that looked out over his little piece of Lake Rutledge. Above was the loft—a large bedroom with the same view and a private bath—and below that the small kitchen just off the dining room. I recalled a few bedrooms with a connecting bathroom down the back hall, and then a maze of rooms down the stairs.
One of which I suspected would be of particular interest. But there would be time for that later, if our reunion continued in a successful vein. Given the way Andrew’s gaze practically seared my ass at the moment, I had no reason to think it wouldn’t.
“It’s just me, actually,” he said.
I feigned mild surprise. “Oh.”
“You thirsty?” He stepped around me and made for the kitchen.
I returned the favor by checking him out from the back. The effect was not unexpected but satisfying all the same. “Thanks.”
“Some things never change. I haven’t had it in ten years.”
He ducked into the fridge and jostled the glasses and poured. “What are you doing now?”
“Friendly neighborhood police officer. I made detective this year.” The lie stung my pride, though I’d practiced it all the way from Washington.
“Wow, nice. ’Gratz.”
“Just hanging. I mean, I do things. Property management, boring stuff.”
“So it’s not all parties?”
He grinned and lifted a sweating tumbler of tea. Ice crystals crept from beneath his fingers, spreading a delicate web of frost across the glass. The humidity allowed little clouds to form, and they rolled off him like dry ice. He said, “Heard about that, huh?”
I’d forgotten how handy it was to have a cold-thermal around. I accepted the glass and sipped, grateful for the chill though the amount of pure sugar in it made my teeth ache.
No, some things certainly never changed.
I took a slow breath and an easy swallow to prepare myself to broach The Subject. “I suspected it was your mother. She loves company, if I recall.”
Andrew glanced away, the green rings about his pupils vivid in the sunlight streaming through the sliding glass doors. “Guess the apple didn’t fall far from that tree.”
“There are worse fates.”
But he’d composed his expression. “Damn, man, you still say the weirdest shit, don’t you?” He smiled crookedly. This time when his gaze dropped, it wasn’t from discomfort.
At precisely the moment it reached the crotch of my jeans, which I’d chosen because I knew very well they displayed my package to advantage, I asked, “Why the intense workout regimen?”
He flushed, though whether that was because he’d been caught ogling the goods or on account of my flattery, I couldn’t say. Some combination of the two, perhaps. “It’s not that intense.”
I raised my eyebrows and fixed him with a pointed look. “I doubt that.”
He grinned and waved me over to the dining room table, which was strewn with piles of junk mail but otherwise in good order. “Wondered what happened to you. After—” He bit back a laugh.
Another memory, this one of the last time I’d seen him. It had been in one of the back rooms—technically mine, though I preferred to pass out on the downstairs couch and spare myself the indignity of my father’s nightly charade. The one wherein Dad sneaked out every night at eleven, shut the door with painful slowness behind him, and tiptoed up the wooden steps to the loft to join Amelia Wynne.
I was never sure if it was the insult to my intelligence or the insult to my absent mother that made it so intolerable. Another of those mixed effects, I imagine.
On that particular day, the bullshit was at an end at last: my father had told me to be ready to leave in half an hour. I’d dragged Andrew upstairs, pinned him against the door, and finally given in to the urge I’d previously repressed for almost two months in favor of torturing him. It wasn’t the first cock I’d ever had in my mouth, but it was certainly the most impressive. And as I slipped into the attached bathroom to spit out the evidence, Andrew hard on my heels and begging me to let him try, the bedroom door swung open. I’d been well out of view, but there Andrew stood, red-faced in his freshly replaced, rumpled shorts and nothing else. The look on his face startled and mortified as his mother’s voice said, “Andrew, why aren’t you dressed? We have to say good-bye to Gabe and Charles in a few minutes! Hurry up!”
When she shut the door, I spit into the sink, laughing so hard it was a wonder she didn’t hear me. God, I’d wished she’d come in a minute earlier. Or, better yet, five minutes later; so much the better if it had been her son on his knees. Alas, he never made it there, and I endured the longest eight-hour drive of my life soon after.
I laughed out loud at the memory, and once he saw I was following his train of thought, he did the same.
“Well, here I am,” I said, “and here you are.”
He ran a hand through his hair, which, sticky and wild as it was, made it stand up in odd places. “Nice, huh?”
It was key that he should think so, anyhow. I left it at that with a, “I didn’t mean to interrupt your afternoon.”
He waved it off. “Place might as well have a revolving door.”
“Good to know.” Easy access was key too. “I just wanted to see if you were around. I’d better go and arrange my stay.”
“Oh yeah. Sure.” Andrew chewed the inside of his cheek and ruffled his hair again. “So you busy tonight?”
“I refuse to be busy. I’m on vacation.”
“Lemme cook you dinner.”
“A chef too?”
“I’m a badass in the kitchen.” That dazzling smile again, and he leaned back with his hands linked behind his head. “Hell, I’ll even take a shower for you.”
Oh look, he remembers the game: taunt each other with innuendo and see who breaks first.
He’d matched me for competitiveness yet seemed to enjoy losing that game in particular. “What time do you want me?”
“Seven for drinks, eight for dinner?” He licked his lips as if to add, Nine for dessert.
“I’ll be here.” I made for the door, partly because my reaction was becoming impossible to hide. Mostly because it was time to get out of there and regroup.