Trinity College sat way up in the hills that loomed over the Ohio Valley, reachable only by precarious winding roads carved out of foothills, zooming over worn peaks and dips in the ancient Appalachian leftovers. Ashton nestled between the base of the hills and the river, about a twenty-minute drive for the practiced. The kids liked to go up to Wheeling or maybe to Pittsburgh for real fun, but TJ always convinced his friends to come back to the old hometown.
Adam had always known TJ would never leave. The only real surprise was that the kid so far lacked the various chemical addictions that plagued their schoolfellows who’d remained in the valley, both from Ashton Central and St. Joseph’s, where TJ had transferred for the better swimming program his sophomore year. Adam guessed they had TJ’s addiction to adrenaline—not to mention his substantial vanity when it came to his body and athletic prowess—to thank for that. As trade-offs went, it was a good one—another thing Adam would never confess to his brother.
Not that TJ needed to hear it to know it.
It was true, though: Ashton had become TJ’s while Adam was gone. In theory, Adam was okay with that. He didn’t know the bars, didn’t know the local bands, was still surprised to run into someone he knew on the street—in a town of less than four thousand people. He mostly stayed at home, avoiding his friends’ calls and e-mails, played the guitar, worked on sketching a mural on his dining room wall, gamed, watched cartoons. He ganked his grandmother’s recipe book from his father with the intent to learn how to cook. He worked out of the spare bedroom, kept the house clean, read design magazines, went running down the avenue and up through the old graveyard three times a week.
He figured that would make it feel like home again. Like his. But by April it was obvious the theory didn’t translate into practice.
He started running in town then, like a little ritual of reclamation on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons. Down to Ohio Street, through the park, down the length of the waterfront to the wharf, then back again. It was three miles altogether, Ashton twice over. He never stopped, never paused, never looked around all that hard. Just felt the place, reminding it—or maybe himself—that he was home.
He was just finishing up, about to turn off Ohio before the park to head back up toward the avenue, when he heard a splash in the river. Sounded like there was some flailing. And then silence.
The current was mean and hard, and it’d whip a body down to the Wheeling locks before it had time to drown. Adam slowed, pure curiosity, and picked his way through an empty lot that had been overgrown as long as he could remember.
A pale figure floated off a nearby dock that was in good repair, unlike some of the waterfront shit holes. Adam paused, realizing he was seeing the Marshall kid. They had the last house before the park, the one with the old store on the bottom floor. He’d never seen the backyard; it wasn’t much, but the dock was gorgeous, freshly stained, populated by folding disc chairs, cooler, grill, picnic table.
He’d somehow had the impression they were poor. Maybe it was the cobwebbed windows in their first story, though. Maybe upstairs, the real house, was nice.
All this flitted through his brain before he noticed the Marshall boy wasn’t moving. Floating, yes, but perfectly still. Face up. Eyes closed. Hands out. And he was so, so pale—unnaturally pale. Yeah, maybe he’d been pale at the meet, but it had been a while, and people looked different at those things. This couldn’t be right. What if he’d fallen? Cracked his head on the dock? Who the hell would go in there without a life vest on purpose?
With a sick feeling, Adam took a step toward the riverbank. He snapped a fallen twig loud enough to echo over the restless water.
Marshall stirred and sat up, treading water and looking around. The water rippled where the current hit him and had to go around, but he remained stationary. Didn’t even look like he was trying.
Adam sighed, leaning against a tree. “Oh, Jesus.”
“Who’s that?” Marshall called.
“Sorry.” Adam pushed off the tree, emerged from the wooded lot, and waved. “Heard a big splash. And you weren’t moving. You, uh, forgot your vest.”
Marshall smiled, quiet but genuine. “Don’t like the vest.”
“Isn’t that cold at this time of year?”
“Feels good.” Marshall pulled to the bank and emerged, skin pebbling over tight muscle, broad, flat chest tapering into a slim waist, narrow hips, and—
Jesus, he was only wearing a pair of little gray boxer briefs, slipping dangerously low. He’d obviously been waxed during swimming season (TJ used it as an excuse to wax all year round, vain little shit), but hair on his belly and chest had begun to grow back, a faint happy trail stretching down into that distressed waistband. The clingy wet cotton displayed Marshall’s package even more obscenely than if he’d been naked.
Adam cleared his throat and forced his gaze not to linger. Especially on the crotch area. He only had a pair of shorts on himself, and his dick was already getting heavy.
Damn swimmers and their gorgeous bodies.
Whatever. The guy was probably used to it. Damn swimmers and their shamelessness.
“Were you looking to rescue me?” Marshall smiled, but his gaze dropped as if he’d just noticed that Adam was shirtless.
And kind of liked it, actually.
A trickle of sweat began between Adam’s shoulder blades and ran down his spine, ending up in his ass crack. He cleared his throat again. “Just, you know, river rats. We’re all raised to fear it.”
Marshall’s eyes met his again. His cheeks lit up. He looked down, but now at himself, as if just realizing that he
had no shirt on. And not much of anything else, either. “Uh. Shit.”
Adam barked out a laugh, and it shattered his personal awkwardness. He strode forward and held out his right hand. “Adam Kavanaugh.”
“Leith Marshall. You’re TJ’s brother.”
“Right.” They shook, and somewhere in there, Marshall started to relax too. So Adam said, “So weird. I’m older, but I’m always his brother.”
“Maybe just to the team.”
“You’d be surprised. So, seriously? River? No vest? You—” Adam almost asked if the guy had a death wish, but stopped himself. “You that good, huh?”
“It’s home. No point being scared of home, right?”
Okay, so the guy was nice but definitely strange. And yet Adam had to admit, “So I keep telling myself.”
Marshall looked down at himself again. “I…”
Right. “Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt. I’ll just—”
“No, it’s—I mean, if you’re going somewhere…”
“No, just finished my run. But—”
“Thirsty?” Marshall cocked his head.
Adam smiled. “Thanks. If it’s not too much—”
“It’s not. And I’ll, um, put some pants on.” He turned and gestured for Adam to follow to the dock.
Adam almost told him not to go to any trouble on his account but, luckily, couldn’t get the words around the lump in his throat. The wet shorts clinging to that small but muscled, round ass, waistband just low enough to let the top of the crack peek out—Jesus. Disaster waiting to happen.
A brilliant disaster, for sure. But disaster all the same, in the circumstances.