Chapter Five

River

“Joss?” I stood at least three feet away from him. I knew I had to be as nonconfrontational as I could. I kept my hands open and in view, I took a half step toward him.

The look in his eyes as he lifted his tired and heavy head had my heart-shattering. He had lost it. This man had finally given up. The pain in his eyes had my hands flexing with need, desperate to pull him into my arms and to tell him it would all be okay. But I can’t. I have my job. My standing in not just the shelter but in the community too. I didn’t, not ever, make a refugee a personal interest. I wanted the best for all the young people as they stepped through my doors. It’s what I’m good at. It was why Griff brought me here. But I’m lost. I’m lost in the pain and loss in this young man’s eyes.

He isn’t that young, though. In fact, he may be almost on the cusp of our age range. Not that we ever turned anyone away from a hot shower and a meal, but we are a youth shelter. A haven, a safe place for LGBTQ youths.

 

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“Joss?” I repeated myself.

“Yeah.” It wasn’t even a question asking for more. It was his recognition of me and only that.

“You ready to get out of this?” I looked up at the relentless sky before looking back at him.

I saw his sullen shrug. “I guess.”

“You guess? Seriously? You are debating this over a hot shower and a clean bed?” I looked at him pointedly, ready to call his bluff.

“Fuck you.” His words were cold and empty. I could feel him slipping away from me again when he shifted and stood up.

It was the first time I noticed he was taller than me. His mannerisms and body language hid a lot from me. But now his fight rather than flight instinct has taken over and he was ready to defend himself. I didn’t react, but waited patiently for him to relax or run. I wasn’t sure which it would be but I’d chase him if he bolts. There was something about him that had me drawn to him.

“Why are you even bothered?” Joss leaned back against the door. “Why wouldyou want to come on in this?” He looked up at the sky as the rain continued to pour down.

“To find you.” I answered simply.

“I’m not really worth it. You need to get out of the rain, go back, River, go back to the warm, dry, and cozy life you have.” His eyes flashed at me angrily.

This was the first time he’s used my name and the sound of it on lips made me hot. Shit, I shouldn’t be attracted to him, but my dick was arguing with my head as it throbbed in my pants.

“Nah, I think I’ll stay. I think you could do with some company tonight.” I shrugged, ignoring the constant rain.

“You’re kidding me, right? Why the hell would you do this? You’re off your head. Go away, River, leave me alone.” He kept his eyes fixed on mine. I wanted to lose myself in them. I wanted to know everything about him. But I could play this game with him.

I stepped into the doorway and slid done to the floor. I was opposite him, but it was a small doorway we’d be touching if he hadn’t drawn his knees up to his chest again. “I’m okay. This isn’t my first night in the rain. At least it isn’t cold.” I let my head clunk back softly against the door and closed my eyes. I really don’t want to be out here all night, but I was prepared to if he was going to stay being a stubborn ass.

He let out a soft breath. I noticed and recognized the tremor in it as he exhaled. He was warring with himself now, and I knew he was going to relent. I just hoped it would be soon.

Five minutes passed before the storm picked up and the first crack of lightning lit up the pitch-black night. The thunder followed only two seconds later. The storm was directly above us. His body tensed, I wished I was next to him, the desire to wrap my arm around his shoulder and pull him into my side was overwhelming, but I didn’t I waited.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, c’mon asshole, you win. I’m not letting you sit out here all damn night.” Joss pushed himself up until he’s stood over me. Just then, the lightning cracked again, followed instantly by a thunderclap that rocked through my body.

Holding out his hand for me, I reached out and grasped it, and electricity as fierce as the type in the sky above us ripped through me. As he pulled me upright, I ended up only an inch away from him. I could feel the shock that ran through his body as his eyes dilated.

Hell, he felt it too. We stared at each. I watched his eyes flick down to my mouth as my tongue licked over my lip, catching the fallen raindrops. He gasped, his breath warm as it washed over my face; we stayed locked together, his hand still gripping mine. I could so easily lean into the last fraction of space and press my mouth against his.

Another lightning flash broke our gaze as we both flinched at the sound of the thunder again. For a heartbeat of time, his face was lit up and I realized how beautiful he was.

“We need to go.” I stepped back, but we stayed joined, his hand in mine as we moved off in a run.

Chapter Six

Joss

After rushing back through the streets, River led me back inside the center. “I think I can promise the next downpour of water you have on you will be hot and long-lasting.” He smiled.

He was right; I stood under the hot water as it pounded down onto my head and neck; it had been a long time since I’d been able to wash properly. Public conveniences and trucker stop showers weren’t the safest places to strip off and wash, so I’d had to make do with quick pits and bits washes.

My mind was on River as I scrubbed the staleness from my skin and the reaction I had when I gripped his hand. I knew he felt it too, as his eyes went wide with surprise. I’d experienced nothing like it before and the thought of him made my body heat. Not that I’d had much experience. I’d spent more time choosing my studies so I could get to a good school. I knew I’d have more chances to explore and experiment. What I didn’t know was I’d have to leave before I got a chance.

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I could’ve accepted the rides with the truckers if I’d been prepared to blow them or if I’d let them fuck me. Call me old-fashioned, but I would like my first time to be with someone that at least knew my name, let alone love me. A chuckle broke free from me at thought of my idea of old-fashioned, I guess the good Christian choir boy was still in me.

I froze when I heard someone open the door. I’m in the boy’s showers, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when someone else wanted to use them. But after so long on the streets, it scared me when I heard someone approach me whilst I’m naked and vulnerable.

“Joss?” River’s deep voice filled the room. “It’s okay, it’s me, River. I just wanted to let you know I’ve sorted you a room and there’s some food for you when you’re ready. You need anything else, just shout.”

“Um, I could do with some dry clothes. Is there any you could lend me?” I mumbled, embarrassed to ask.

“There’s a new pair of sweats and a T-shirt on the bench here for you when you’re ready to get out.” He said. I could imagine him smiling. It sounded like he was. “There’s no hurry though. The hot water will last all night.”

Now I know he’s laughing, and I feel embarrassed.

“I’m sorry, I’m done now.” I shut off the water and pushed the door open. Then grabbed the towel that I’d hung on the hook outside the cubicle. “Shit!” Jumping nervously when I saw River leaning on the far wall. “I thought you’d gone.” I could feel the heat of my embarrassment spreading not just over my face but down my body, and suddenly felt very self-conscious. Being on the road and without regular meals, I knew I’d lost shape and muscle. That I was too skinny, but not having food for days at a time will do that.

“Hey, I’m sorry. I just wanted to check you were okay. I didn’t mean to embarrass you. I’m sorry.” It was River’s turn to look away, but I’d already seen his eyes roam over my body and, if I’m honest, he didn’t look like he hated what he saw. I’m sure there was a flash of heat there, but it’s hard to believe. There was no way he’d be interested in me.

“It’s okay. I’ve gotten jumpy about washrooms and showers lately. They’re not the best place to be naked in for long.” I blushed again.

This time River blushed. “Yeah, I’m sorry.”

“You really don’t need to keep apologizing. This is your place. I’m just passing through.” Unless I gathered up the courage to do what I’m came here for.

“You don’t have to, y’know.” He tipped his head at me as I pulled open the pack of new boxer shorts, then slid the soft fabric up my legs and under my towel.

The sweatpants followed before I felt brave enough to take the towel away and finished with the T shirt. I scrubbed at my too long hair with the towel. “I don’t have to what?”

“Just be passing through. This is a good place, it’s not a bad city to live in. A lot of our older guys here were just like you, only passing through, but stayed. We’ve helped them get set up with jobs and places to live.” River pushed away from the wall and opened the door. “You ready?”

“Yeah, I guess. What shall I do with my clothes? They are completely soaked and not fit for much.” I balled up the rain-soaked articles and grabbed my backpack. “I think everything in here is just about wrecked, too.” The thought of the photograph at the bottom of the bag made me grimace. It may have survived, I had it in a plastic bag so it could be okay.

“I’ll show you the laundry room and you can wash it and we can replace what doesn’t survive. What size are your feet? You’re going to need new sneakers too.”

“I bet you wish you’d left me out there now.” I joked, but River’s hand on my arm broke my smile.

“Never! I couldn’t leave you out there. You need to be here, Joss.” His face was fierce but with determination, not anger. His words speared my heart, yet I didn’t know why.

“You could’ve sent some else though. I’m sure as the boss you get to delegate the shit jobs.” I raised an eyebrow at him.

“First, I don’t ask someone to do something I won’t do myself and second, would you have agreed to come back if I’d just sent one of the guys?” He cocked his eyebrow at me, already knowing the answer.

“No, I wouldn’t have, but then you wouldn’t have expected, or wanted, them to be out all night just because I’m a stubborn prick.” I snapped at him.

“Touché.” River gave me a small smile that just lifted one edge of his mouth showing off one damn cute dimple.

Crap, I could see myself liking this guy, and that was not a good idea. I’d bet all the other guys here have had a crush on him, not that I’m going to get a crush. Hell, the twins admitted it. But no way. Nuh-uh. Not me.

An hour later, I’d had something to eat, and I started yawning as I sat at the table.

“Go get some sleep, Joss. You look dead beat. I’ll switch your clothes over to the dryer and you’ll have them back tomorrow.” River smiled as I pushed myself up to stand. “Can you remember the way to your room?”