Nash watched Luke as they drove down the road toward town. He’d looked good at the airport, at least what Nash could remember before Luke ran through the pouring rain, but once he cleaned up he was outstanding. The pullover shirt tapered to his hips, and Nash licked his lips in appreciation. Even more importantly, he seems like a nice guy. Not that I’m a great judge.
“So what do you think?”
Nash jumped, afraid he’d been busted. But he realized the question wasn’t what he’d thought when Luke motioned at the scenery that rolled past.
“The house is cool. I mean, you have all that space to yourself. It’s so quiet too. I don’t know how I’m going to sleep without sirens and squealing brakes.”
Luke fixed his eyes on the road ahead, his knuckles white on the steering wheel. “Yeah. It’s quiet most of the time.”
“Sorry. I forgot how you got it.”
“It’s okay. I just miss them a lot.”
Nash reached over, patted Luke’s leg, and gave it a squeeze. “Sorry, but at least you had someone who loved you.”
Luke started to say something, but Nash interrupted, not wanting him to get too inquisitive. “So, we’re going for barbecue? I love pulled pork.”
“This might be more Texas barbecue than you’re used to. I always get the brisket.”
“And you like their fries, right?”
Luke glanced over at him. “How did you know that?”
“Oh I don’t know, maybe because you told me one night when we were chatting.”
Luke relaxed his grip on the wheel and a grin appeared. “Oh. Yeah, I guess I did.” He looked over to Nash and then refocused on the road. “Makes me wonder what else I’ve told you and forgot.”
Nash chuckled and twisted in the seat so he faced Luke. “Let’s see. You like corn dogs with mustard and ketchup, which is disgusting. You also like to rope, but you can’t help but worry about the calves sometimes. What else….”
“Okay, okay. You’ve made your point. Enough Luke stories. And why don’t I know any of your embarrassing habits?”
Nash’s relaxed moment faded and he turned back to the wall of trees they were driving through. “Nothing worth sharing. Especially nothing as cute as how you got the crescent-shaped scar on your butt.”
“There was nothing cute about that. The damn dog was trying to kill me.”
“It’s the owner’s fault. They make the dogs mean.”
“Whatever. The owner didn’t bite me.”
They drove the rest of the way in silence. The typical small-town business staples rolled past as they got closer to their destination. Looks familiar, a lifetime and a thousand miles ago.
“You hungry?” Luke asked.
Nash’s stomach picked that point to rumble. “From that sound you’d think I was about to starve.”
“Good, ’cause we’re there.” Luke turned into the parking lot as Nash checked out the low-slung building with its simple “BBQ” sign in front. As Luke searched for a parking spot, Nash inhaled the hickory-smoke-laden air. When they rounded the back of the place, Nash spotted the monstrous black behemoth filling the area with the scent of meats of every kind.
They found a place to park and made their way inside. Luke threaded his way to the counter with Nash close behind. A smiling woman with her blonde hair pulled back motioned them closer. “What sounds good tonight, Luke?” she asked.
“I think a couple of the sampler plates and two sweet teas.”
She looked knowingly at Nash. “And fries. He always has fries.”
Luke grinned and shrugged. “Guilty. They’re the best.”
The woman motioned toward an empty table. “Grab a seat and I’ll bring it out to you.”
A short time later Nash had both elbows propped on the table and was halfway through a side of ribs. “You were right. The hot barbecue sauce is killer.”
Luke swallowed the piece of brisket he was working on and looked at Nash. “Told you. The beans are great too. The place isn’t fancy, but it’s delicious food.”
Nash pulled off another rib and gnawed it like an ear of corn. The food was good, but he thought the company was better. Feeling a little ornery, he leaned closer to Luke, making smacking noises, knowing his face was smeared with sauce.
“Hey, what’d you think? Want some of this?”
With a nervous laugh, Luke glanced around them. “Knock it off, you goof. You’ve got barbecue all over you.”
Nash gathered up a few paper towels and wiped his face. After considering Luke, he leaned across the table. “You okay? If me teasing around is making you uncomfortable….”
“No, it’s okay. I don’t mind.”
“Then what’s making you so uptight?”
“They might think it’s more than friends out for barbecue. I haven’t really been out with anyone before.”
“You’ve never been on a date?”
“Not really. I went out a few times in college, but not since coming back.” Luke paused and glanced at Nash before he continued. “Yeah, nothing I’d call a date.
“You’ve been out of college for a while. How could you not date? I thought you were out.”
“Oh, they know, but you know little towns and all their crap. It’s—” Luke stopped, and his eyes locked on the business’s door as it swung open.
Nash wondered what was going on when a mass of people swept through the entrance. They all seemed loud and excited. He watched closely and turned to Luke. “What’s going on? Did everyone get their egg money at once?”
“The high school football game’s over. It’s more important than money, at least around here.”
Nash watched the crowd for a few more seconds before he shrugged. “Doesn’t take much to get some people worked up, I guess.”
“No, it doesn’t.” Luke glanced at the crowd again, and he went rigid.
Nash looked again but couldn’t see anything more than the same milling throng. “What’s wrong?”
“Not a big deal. You ready to go? We could stop for some ice cream at—”
Nash laid his hands on top of one of Luke’s. “You might as well tell me. I’m going to worm it out of you eventually anyway, even if it takes liquor.”
Luke sighed deeply. “I suppose. It’s not like I’ll be able to avoid him the whole time you’re here.”
Nash waited for Luke to continue, but he realized more information wasn’t going to happen soon if he didn’t help it along. So he gave it another shot. “He who? What’s going on? You know you can talk to me. Hell, if it’s making you nervous, text it to me.”
“Yeah, apparently I’m a blabbermouth around you. So, you might as well know. My sort of ex just walked in. Long story.”
“Your ex? I thought….”
“Like I said, it’s complicated. Do you mind if we go somewhere else for dessert?”
Nash considered saying something, then decided against it. Instead he looked over the people, trying to decide which one was Luke’s former lover. His curiosity got the best of him. “Which one?”
“The blond guy with the red shirt that says ‘Stillwell Indians.’”
Nash started chuckling. “You’re kidding me, right? They’re all wearing a red Indians jersey.”
“Him. The guy in the corner….”
Nash looked again, and this time immediately spotted who Luke must be talking about. Almost as tall as Nash, but with the build of a fading high school football star. He was at the center of the mob of men waiting by the door and talking loudly.
Nash glanced at Luke. “The big blond guy everyone seems to want to talk to?”
“Yeah. His name’s Bobby. Robert Doyle.”