The sounds of loud laughter and pounding bass greeted Vincent Norton as he reached the second floor of his apartment building. His neighbors across the hall, college kids, must be having a party. The young men had moved in recently. So far they hadn’t been bad to live near. They kept the noise level to a minimum, for the most part, and they didn’t bother him, which was pretty much all he asked for.
He’d nearly reached his apartment when he saw a young man sitting on the floor near his neighbors’ door, his head resting against the wall and his eyes closed. Having not seen much of the four young men who lived in number 203, Vince wasn’t sure, but he thought it was one of them.
“Are you all right?”
The brunet’s eyelids lifted, revealing a pair of liquid brown eyes. “I’m fine. I needed a little break from the party.”
To his surprise, Vince found himself stopping and smiling at the young man. “What’s the occasion?”
“It’s my birthday.”
Oh, to be young enough to look forward to birthdays. His smile widened. “Happy birthday.”
“Thanks. I think my roommates just wanted an excuse to have a party, though.” The boy shrugged, his expression rueful.
At that moment, the door opened and another young man poked his head out. This one, a lanky redhead, was definitely one of the neighbors. His eyes narrowed when he saw his roommate on the floor. “Rob. What are you doing, dude? Get in here. You’re missing your own party!”
“I’ll be there in a minute.” When the door closed again, the brunet—Rob—rolled his eyes and stood. “It’s so crazy in there, I thought maybe they wouldn’t notice I was gone.”
Looking at the way Rob’s T-shirt clung to his tall, well-built frame and slimly muscled arms, Vince found it hard to believe that anyone could not notice him. “How many candles on your cake?”
“Twenty-one. Woo.” By the expression on Rob’s face, he wasn’t all that enthusiastic about the party.
Great. I was checking out a kid less than half my age.
His own students were the age of this young man. Vince covered his discomfort with another smile and a shooing gesture. “You only turn twenty-one once. Go enjoy your party.”
“I guess I’d better, or Dustin’ll be out here looking for me again.” He sighed. Then he stuck out his hand. “I’m Rob Bridges.”
Vince accepted the handshake. “Hello, Rob. I’m Vince Norton.”
“You’re a professor over at Washington University, aren’t you?”
Surprised, Vince nodded. His occupation wasn’t a secret, but he didn’t go around announcing it to everyone in the building either.
Rob gave him a wry grin. “I saw the faculty parking permit on your car a few weeks ago.”
“And you and your roommates are at Saint Louis University.”
“Yeah, we’re all seniors this year.”
For a moment, Vince thought back to his own senior year in college, so many years ago. His senior year had been the year he’d finally gotten up the courage to come out. Although his parents had never accepted his sexual orientation, to the point that he and his father still didn’t speak, he’d never regretted the decision. After all, he’d met Dean that same year.
Thinking of Dean brought up a lot of memories, most of them more sweet than bitter after three years. He smiled, shaking his head at his own sentimentality. His neighbor probably thought he was odd. Turning the smile on Rob, he said, “Good luck with the rest of your senior year. And with the party.”
“Thanks. It was nice talking to you.”
“I’ve enjoyed talking to you as well.”
With a quick grin, the younger man turned and went back into his apartment. Vince tried, and failed, to keep from glancing down at Rob’s ass. Feeling like a dirty old man, he unlocked his door and went into his empty apartment.
* * * *
“You need some help with that?”
Vince turned his head to see his one of his neighbors jogging up behind him. He wasn’t sure whether to be insulted or pleased at the young man’s offer of assistance. He wasn’t so old as to need help carrying a single box of books. At least he didn’t think so. His forty-five years probably seemed ancient to a twenty-one-year-old kid. “No, this isn’t heavy. Rob, right?”
Rob grinned, looking pleased he’d remembered. “Let me get the door for you.”
With as much of a shrug as he could manage with his arms full, Vince walked through the outer door Rob held open for him. Juggling the books to open the door would have been irritating. He appreciated the thought even if he didn’t really need help. “Are you trying to tell me I’m old?”
The younger man’s brown eyes widened with horror. “No, not at all, Dr. Norton. I’m sorry. I was just—”
“I was joking, Rob. And you’re not one of my students. You can call me Vince.”
They walked through the entryway and up the stairs together. When they reached the second floor, Rob nodded toward the box. “Want me to hold that so you can get your door?”
“Thank you.” Vince handed it over and fished his keys out of the pocket of his slacks.
Once his apartment door was open, his neighbor handed him his books, the muscles in his arms flexing. “You must be pretty strong. That was heavier than I expected.”
Not sure how to reply, he smiled. Rob gave him a slight smile in return and headed across the hall.
Vince watched him walk away for a moment before pushing his door open and entering his own apartment. He carried the books over to the kitchen table and set them down, thinking about what Rob had said. Had there been a hint of admiration in the younger man’s tone?
“Wishful thinking, old man,” he scoffed aloud. An attractive young man like his neighbor would have no interest in a man Vince’s age, even if he were gay, and Vince had no reason to believe he was.
The boy had to be a heartbreaker, though, no matter which sex he favored. With those big brown eyes and his toned body—which Vince should not
be checking out, he reminded himself—Rob could probably wrap just about anybody around his little finger.
But not me.
After all, he’d had his happily ever after. The twenty years he’d had with Dean might not have been as long as he’d wanted, but they’d been wonderful. In the three years since the accident, Vince had never even been tempted to date or look for a new relationship. Teaching and his friends kept him busy. He was content with his life as it was.
Anytime a friend suggested he move on and find someone new, he only laughed. Love was for the young, like he and Dean had been once. Like his neighbors were. Men his age were better off being satisfied with what they had.
* * * *
Running late for the night class he taught on Thursdays, Vince hurried out of his apartment. He locked the door and rushed toward the stairs, right into someone coming around the corner. The man reeled back. Vince reached out and gripped his arms, steadying him. It was the young man from across the hall.
He opened his mouth to speak, but Rob beat him to the punch. “Are you okay, Doc—I mean, Vince?”
The concerned look on Rob’s face made him smile. “I’m fine. Maybe this will teach me to watch where I’m going.”
The concern melted into a grin. “Nah. It’s more exciting not to. You never know what’ll happen.”
He couldn’t help laughing at that. “I suppose not.” He realized he still held Rob’s upper arms and dropped his hands. “I think I’ve lived dangerously enough for one evening.”
Rob laughed with him. “Watch out on the stairs, then. The guys are right behind me.”
At the first floor, he understood the warning. Rob’s three roommates came charging up the stairs, but he was able to avoid them.
On his way to the university, however, Vince’s mind refused to consider possible topics for next week’s class discussion. Instead he found himself thinking about a sweet smile and a pair of warm brown eyes. He frowned at the turn of his thoughts. He’d only spoken to Rob a few times, and for only a few minutes, so why this strange, unwelcome attraction?
The man was good-looking. Anyone with eyes could see that. He obviously worked out or played a sport of some kind. And he had a boy-next-door face, handsome without being too pretty. The thing Vince found most attractive, though, was Rob’s personality—or what he’d seen of it so far. Rob always seemed to be laughing or smiling, and he was polite and helpful to a fault. Something about his sunny happiness made Vince want to smile.
He groaned. How ridiculous would a crush on a neighbor less than half his age be? Was he having some sort of midlife crisis?
By the time he pulled into his usual parking spot in the faculty lot a few minutes later, Vince was thoroughly disgusted with himself. He was determined not be one of those men who bought a sports car and found a pretty young thing in an effort to reclaim his youth. He had a perfectly good life already. If
he ever decided to date again, he would find someone near his own age, with similar interests and goals.