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Authors: Frey Ortega

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She once again smacked him on the shoulder, making
Daniel gently rub the spot. “Don’t talk to your momma that way. You weren’t
really one to think through what you were doing, bless your heart.”

Daniel grinned. There was the Southern mom he
remembered.


Well, come in, come in! Lordy, it’s a hot one today. Ya’ll want some
sweet tea? Maybe some lemonade?” she said, letting her son in before casually
walking into her home and straight into the kitchen, hollering up the flight of
stairs to the side of the entrance. “Mike! Daniel’s home!”


Danny’s home?” As always, Mike looked pretty good for a man of his age.
Flecks of white made his blond hair seem downright silver, giving him one of
those distinguished, DILF-y looks that made him much more attractive than the
usual man. If Daniel had a daddy complex, he might’ve hit on Mike once or
twice.

Fortunately, he wasn’t attracted to the guy in that
way. And knowing Mike was definitely in love with his mother was enough to put
out any embers of attraction on Daniel’s part.


It’s Daniel, not Danny,” Daniel answered, trying hard to contain his
exasperation, and
 
offering up a smile at
Mike. “Good to be home, though.”


Well, considering you missed two Thanksgivings, two New Year
celebrations, two Christmases and a bunch of barbecues, I reckon you really
will miss a slice of home,” Mike said. Daniel immediately shifted
uncomfortably, as though he’d just gotten kicked in the ass from that guilt
trip. “You and your ma have a lot to talk about, though, so I’ll get outta your
hair.”


She’s going to chew me out for going away for a little while, isn’t
she?” Daniel muttered. Mike patted him on the shoulder, like a father would his
own child.


Son, a little while is two or three days, maybe a week. You left for two
years. If I were you, I’d run out and pick a switch before you come see your ma
in the kitchen.”

Daniel chuckled and shook his head. “I think I’m too
old to get spanked by my own mother.”


You’re never too old to get spanked, Danny boy. Just ask any human adult
with a healthy sex life.” Mike shook his head. “I’ll see ya later. You stayin’
for dinner? I reckon you should. Your ma won’t take no for an answer.”Daniel
almost stood there, utterly surprised at Mike’s words, but he also went back to
the fact that his mother was probably waiting for him in the kitchen with a
glass of sweet tea and a readily prepared snack of some kind. He hurried there,
and surely enough, his mother was washing her hands in the sink. On the counter
in front of one of the stools was a large glass of iced, sweet tea and a plate
of crackers and some pimento dip.

Daniel definitely felt like he was home.

As he plopped on one of the seats, his mother stood in
front of him, casually wiping one of her dishes. She had a smile on her face as
she regarded him up and down. “I reckon you look like you haven’t eaten in
years,” Catherine said after a few moments. “Didn’t like the food in Southeast
Asia?”

She was staring him straight in the eyes. It felt like
one of those National Geographic shows where one baboon was challenging the
other. Daniel could feel his heart beating faster and faster.

Daniel now knew he was standing in front of a
minefield. One wrong word and he was going to be blown to smithereens. Maybe he
should have picked that switch…


The food was okay,” Daniel said noncommittally, before grabbing a
cracker and spreading some pimento dip on top. “Nothing beats my ma’s home
cooking, though.”


Flatterer.” Catherine rolled her eyes and set her dish down to the side.
“So now that you’ve seen the world, you’re speakin’ all fancy now?”

Daniel sighed in exasperation. “Mom, I’ve never spoken
fancy to anyone in my life. This is just the way that I talk.”


Don’t sass me, or I reckon I’ll bring up all the holidays you spent
abroad again like last time,” Catherine said warningly. “Yer brothers are gonna
rip ya a new one.”

 

Yes, ma’am,”
Daniel immediately said, straightening up his posture and popping the cracker
into his mouth with an audible munch. His mother’s food was always the best.
Taking the moment to chew, then swallow, Daniel awkwardly kept peering up at
his mother, and down at the platter. The silence that hung over them was almost
deafening. “For what it’s worth, Ma, I’m sorry I left without saying a proper
goodbye.”


You should be,” Catherine said with a little harrumph, glaring at her
son.
Well, there’s the stink-eye,
Daniel
noted to himself, but her face softened a bit. She even extended her hand to
clasp Daniel’s. “I really missed ya, you know? Sunday barbecue just isn’t the
same without my little baby around.”


Ma, it’s not like I’m your only gay son,” Daniel murmured as he
tightened his grip around his mother’s hand. “But I missed you, too.”


That ass-wipe kept coming over here trying to find you for the first
couple of weeks,” Catherine said. “Seems he didn’t get the memo about cheating
boyfriends getting their butts kicked by angry mothers, bless his heart.”

Daniel gave a little awkward smile at his mother. It
didn’t surprise him that Thad thought he could just up and do what he wanted
without suffering the consequences. He’d always been an ass. “Let’s not talk
about him. He’s in the past.”


All right, fine. Just wanted ya to know that we always have your back,
Daniel
,” she said, emphasizing that last
bit and making Daniel shake his head. “You’ll always be my Danny boy to me.”


Thanks, Mom.” He had to fight the welling of emotion that bubbled up
inside him as he gazed at his mother. She gently caressed her thumb over his
hand. They stayed quiet for a few moments, but it was his mother who spoke
first, breaking the silence.


So are you staying over for dinner? We’re having some meatloaf and mash.
I reckon me and Mike can give you a ride back to the apartment tomorrow when we
head into the city to do some errands.”


Sure,” Daniel replied. “I guess I’ll just tell Cece I won’t be able to
cook us dinner tonight.”

Catherine smiled. “You do that. I’ll go get dinner
ready and on the table. Go freshen up in the guestroom. You’ll know it’s yours,
it’s got your stuff in it.”

Daniel nodded, offering his own soft smile at his
mother. “It’s nice to be back home, Ma.”


It’s good to have you back, dear.”

And for the first time since actually coming home,
Daniel actually felt good about coming back.

Chapter Two

 

As Daniel finished up on his snack and was about to
head up to his room, the doorbell chimed.

He blinked, stopping in his tracks and peering at the rather
large silhouette from beyond the frosted glass.
Who could that be?


I’ll get it!” he hollered.


Wonder who that could be,” his mother hollered right back, turning to
look down the hall at the door. Daniel sauntered over easily to the door,
pulled the latch and gazed up at the man standing there.


Hi there, how can I help—”

Daniel couldn’t really finish the sentence when he
realized just who—or
what
—he was
talking to. Was this guy even
real
?
He was a stranger, to be sure, but a
very welcome sort of stranger. One with large muscles and a handsome face. And
dimples on his cheeks as he smiled. One who made Daniel’s heart race because he
never thought he’d see the picture of perfection stand right on his mother’s
doorstep.

Why couldn’t a guy like this be living in my apartment building? Hang
on—if he’s here on my mother’s doorstep, does it mean he’s my half-brother, or
something? Dear lord, I hope not, then these thoughts I’m having would be
considered really, really gross.

He was maybe six feet and four inches, maybe six feet
and five, Daniel didn’t really know. But what he did know was that the man was
well-stacked with muscles. Maybe it was because of the white V-neck shirt that
hung loosely around his body but clung tightly around his arms, or maybe it was
because the way he was holding onto that small box made the muscles in his arms
clench in
just
the right way, but it
made Daniel’s mouth dry up. Daniel also swore he was smelling toast, but God
wasn’t cruel enough to give him a stroke right then and there, not when Adonis
personified stood in front of him. Or was he? That would have been par for
course where it came to Daniel’s personal life.

The metal chain with the dog tags that hung around his
neck clattered lightly. He had silky, wavy black hair and a pair of brown eyes
so light it was almost the color of amber, maybe hazel. He also had a five
o’clock shadow that perfectly covered the bottom half of his face.

Daniel was immediately smitten. And if he were a man
of lesser strength, he’d have probably fainted, or caught the vapors, or some
shit like that.


You?” Daniel said, then cleared his throat. “Ahem. How can … can I help
you?”
Smooth. Real smooth.
Daniel
welled up with a sense of embarrassment. He blinked a little faster, felt his
pulse race, and then he cleared his throat again like there was suddenly a bug
there.


Yeah, uh, hi.” Daniel swore the man was as surprised as he was, and God
damn
if he didn’t hear the sexiest
baritone voice he’d ever heard. “Is this Catherine Walsh’s home? I think I received
some of her mail by mistake.”


Oh, okay,” Daniel said, nodding. “Ma, I think you better come to the
door. Your neighbor might’ve gotten some of your mail, and he’s here to give it
back to you.”


Oh, ol’ Larry gave me some of his mail, too, I think. Let me just—”

Catherine walked toward the door and seemed visibly
startled by the man that stood in front of her, even slightly jumping a little
bit. “Oh my. Well, howdy.”

Daniel would have
rolled his eyes if he could
. He was just as
star-struck, for a lack of better term, but his mother’s voice had gone an
octave lower as though she were flirting.


Uh, howdy, ma’am,” the man said. “I’m Nicolas Castillo. I just moved in
next door. Seems the new mailman mixed up our mail.”


Oh? Where from originally?” Catherine asked, scanning Nicolas from top
to bottom as though he were a piece of meat. Although that might’ve been a
little too kind. Truthfully, it seemed more like she was looking up and down at
a stranger, and where Daniel was from, that was a little worse.


Uh, well, I’m from California, but me and my friends just moved here.
Thought it’d be a nice change of scenery.” Nicolas pointed his thumb over to
the house next door, where there were still boxes strewn over the lawn.

Daniel turned to gaze at Nicolas, to his mother, and
then back again. How was his mother able to have such a regular conversation
with this man?


Oh! You’re the new neighbors Mrs. Johnson was talkin’ about. Welcome to
the neighborhood. Thank ya kindly for bringing my mail,” Catherine said. “Oh,
but where are my manners? This is my son, Daniel. My husband Mike’s somewhere
in the house.”

Catherine gestured over to him, and then to the inside
of her home. Daniel weakly gave a little raise of his hand. He felt like the
nervous loser on the first day of school again. He looked frumpy, and he
knew
he was kind of tubby. Bloated was
probably the right way to describe it. He’d gained a little bit—well, no, a
lot
of weight was more appropriate—and
wasn’t as spectacularly twink-like skinny as he was just a few years back. He
definitely didn’t have the same metabolism as when he was in his teens. He
almost wanted to hide behind his mom, and how pitiful was that?


Hi.”

Nicolas gave him a lopsided grin, showing off those
dimples. “Hi,” he answered back. “You can call me Nick, by the way.”

Simple, succinct, direct, but that baritone voice made
Daniel’s body quake in a way it never had before. He was gushing like some sort
of teenage girl. It was kind of really pathetic.

Catherine leered at her son, blinked as a smile
widened on her face, and then turned back towards Nicolas once more as though
something just clicked in her mind. “Lordy, it’s a hot one today, innit? Would
you like some sweet tea and some pimento? We’ll have the AC turned up before
you head on back home. Maybe a little dinner?”

Yet again, Daniel looked to his mother, as if to ask
if this was a good idea.

Catherine seemed to willfully ignore him.


That’s awfully kind of you, Mrs. Walsh,” Nicolas said. “I guess I can’t
say no. I’ve always been a good eater.”

Catherine chuckled, shaking her head before speaking
offhandedly. “Oh, I bet you are.”

Nicolas seemed confused for just a split second, but
as Catherine sauntered inside and Daniel held the door, it seemed the next door
neighbor’s questions were going to go unanswered.

And Daniel? Well, he was still fighting off the desire
to faint.

This had been a doozy of a day, and he hadn’t even
told Cece he wasn’t coming home yet.

She was going to kill him.

****

It was a good thing that Daniel’s mother knew how to
fill the silence while moving through the kitchen. Like a whirlwind of
activity, it seemed like she had cleaned up Daniel’s mess, gotten a new glass
of sweet tea, and sat down right in front of Nicolas like she was some sort of
matchmaker meeting a prospective candidate for the first time ever.

The way she leaned forward, staring at Nicolas in an
unsettling way, hanging on to his every word, would have put off any lesser
being. Whatever angle his mother was working, it was
definitely
uncomfortable. More so for Daniel, but he could almost
feel the discomfort rolling off of Nicolas like an aur
a
.

Or maybe Daniel was reading too much into things. It
wasn’t like he was a body language expert. What he
did
know, however, was that his mother was acting very oddly. And
it was killing him that he couldn’t ask why.

He had to be polite, after all.


So, Nick, ya’ll moved here from California?” Catherine said, as sweetly
as possible. “Must have been a heck of a move.”

Daniel knew his mother to be pretty friendly compared
to some of the more distrustful folk around these parts. Heck, it had taken
their next door neighbor, Mrs. Johnson, a full year before she’d started to
consider them as neighbors.


Actually, I grew up in California, but I’d just come back from overseas
a little while ago. I was in the Marines, actually,” Nicolas explained, taking
one of the crackers and popping it into his mouth. There must have been more to
it than that. Not that Daniel wanted to pry.


A military man, then!” Catherine exclaimed. “Thank you for your service
to our country.”


Yes, ma’am. It was my pleasure,” Nicolas answered back dutifully.


I shoulda known men like you don’t grow from the trees around here.”
Catherine winked. Nicolas gave a polite chuckle. “What brought you all the way
over here?”


No, ma’am. But Texas has been nice, so far. We’ve only been out for
maybe two months from overseas,” Nicolas answered. “Almost everyone in my
battalion decided to get out and come back. Figured we’d all gotten a good deal
of excitement out in the field and were ready to go back to civilian life.
We’ve all basically been together, kinda like brothers, since basic, so we just
decided to bunk together again. This just happened to be the best place since
the house is owned by one of my friend’s uncles.”


That’s a surprise! Daniel over here just got back from a trip to the
Philippines.” A sparkle appeared in her eyes as she turned to Daniel, and when
Nicolas wasn’t paying attention because he was spreading some dip on a cracker,
Catherine mouthed a quick “Oh my God” to her son.

Daniel tried, oh so very hard, not to pinch his mother
out of a sense of embarrassment at the moment, and instead motioned for her to
settle down, all with a single widening of his eyes and a look. Catherine
sternly stared back.

Daniel immediately turned away, as though ashamed.


We were actually stationed in Okinawa, but I hear the Philippines is
nice. Lots of beaches and a lot of friendly people,” Nicolas said.

Daniel, still tongue-tied as ever, just nodded dumbly.


I just meant that if you wanted someone to help you get acquainted with
the area, maybe my son can help you out. I reckon it’d be nice if he stayed
home a little while. Maybe he can take you and your friends out for a nice bite
to eat somewhere!” Catherine said, clapping her hands together. It was like she
was setting up a play-date with a bunch of five year olds, and not two grown
men.

Nicolas considered Daniel for a moment, and then a
smile spread on his face. Still and silent like some kind of strong tree, there
was the faintest glimmer in those eyes. Was he … was he flirting? It seemed
like Nicolas was interested. But that couldn’t be true, now could it? He was so
frumpy, and this guy, this next door neighbor, he was … well, he was hot. That
was the lamest way Daniel could put it, because he could have written sonnets
about that face, but again, everything was happening so suddenly that he
couldn’t really come up with a sassy remark.


I’d like that,” Nicolas said. “It’d be nice to be shown around by
someone who knows the area.”


Well, perfect. Why don’t I give you Danny’s number over here, and—”

Catherine was cut short by Daniel immediately and
firmly going, “Mom, I think I hear Mike calling for you upstairs. Should we
check up on him?”

He sternly regarded his mom, frowning, exasperation
rolling off of him in waves. Catherine chuckled, unfazed. “Oh, yes. Do excuse
us for a little bit, Nick.”

The much larger man nodded, and like an odd, awkward
little duck, Daniel waddled over away from the kitchen and toward the nearby
stairs before turning to his mother, speaking in a loud, harsh whisper. “Mom,
what are you doing?”


What do you think I’m doin’?” Catherine replied in the same, whispering
tone. “This ain’t my first rodeo. I’m just tryin’ to feel him out for you. You
know, see if he’s single.”

Daniel’s eyes widened. “Mom. Are you … are you trying
to get me laid?”


Now I wouldn’t go that far,” Catherine said, though there was a wicked
smirk on her face. “But I reckon if he’s gay he ain’t the worst lookin’ kid in
the world. I mean, can you imagine having those arms wrapped around you?”

At that moment, Daniel was teetering in between
awestruck and grossed out at seeing his mother wrap her own arms around her
body and wiggle like she was being embraced.

He was trying to be a good son, and decided to be
awestruck.


Mm-mm-mm! Like a sexy blanket. Made of beef.”

Okay, maybe grossed out was a better response to this
situation.


Mom, I … I can’t really even tell you how upsetting that was for me,”
Daniel answered, shaking his head. “But also, what gave you the idea he was
gay? He might not like having someone insinuate that sort of thing.”


Hey, we’re all adults here. Besides, I’m not doin’ anythin’ you aren’t
thinkin’ of doin’ with him either.” Catherine shrugged and gently patted him on
the shoulder. “And there ain’t anything wrong about likin’ another man, no
matter what Sunday school teacher tells you it’s wrong.”

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