She was a ramshackle beauty, an old Thunderbird, aquamarine with a white porthole hardtop and a turquoise leather interior. Race wanted her bad. He'd been on his bike, riding home after work, and the little car had been sitting on the corner sales lot, Main and 13th Street. She hadn't been there when he'd ridden in to work that morning.
"This baby has been kept garaged, my friend, only two owners, and she's ready for a body-off restoration. You want to check the numbers on the engine?"
The salesman was talking too fast, and Race was starting to suspect he knew even less about T-Birds, if that was possible, than Race did himself. "Does it run?"
The salesman laughed, tugged up the waistband of his trousers. The buttons on his shirt were straining over a round little potbelly. "You don't buy old T-Birds to drive. Have you ever been on the classic car circuit? Those old boys would wet their pants to see this cherry little car, ready for resto. Only twenty-four thousand, my friend, and that's a steal, and I'm giving you a steal because she just hit the lot an hour ago. You're the first person to check her out." The salesman eyed his bike. "And you look like a man who needs a car."
Race shook his head. "I don't need a car," he said. "I commute on my bike. I just wanted to look, really. These old Thunderbirds, they sure are..." He didn't know what he wanted to say.
The salesman understood him, and dropped some of his huckster. "Yeah," he said, resting a hand gently on the battered top. "They sure are. Everything that came after this was just trying to be as cool as a T-Bird. Listen, if you're really thinking about taking this car home, maybe you better get your mechanic to look it over, talk to you about what it'll take to do a decent restoration."
"That's a good idea," Race said, shaking his hand. "You're right, I don't know anything about cars. But I do know a mechanic."
The salesman slapped him on the shoulder. "You go find your man and bring him out here pronto, my friend. She won't last long."
Race studied the little car again. She had a long bench seat and the biggest, roundest steering wheel he had ever seen. He remembered the night of his high school graduation, his grandfather's '48 Ford pickup, the long bench seat. He had climbed in the truck with Danny Peters, punched in the cigarette lighter on the dashboard and pulled out a couple of smokes. When the lighter popped out, it startled them both, because Race had been staring into tender brown eyes, had been watching the wild rose color flood Danny's cheeks. Since that night he had loved the taste of damp male skin on Ford leather, couldn't get anywhere near an old bench seat without his cock giving a thud in his jeans. "How about I give you five hundred bucks, and you hold it until I get back?"
The salesman looked startled, but he agreed, and after they concluded the deal Race climbed back on his bike and headed home. It was Tuesday, and he thought he might stop in at Yen Ching for some potstickers. He was a regular there, and they took good care of him. Jeffrey, his usual waiter, had a bit of a crush on him. Race appreciated his soft voice and gentle hands, and the admiring glances out of big eyes the color of caramels. But he'd never slept with Jeffrey. He didn't want to ruin a good thing, and he was, after all, a regular. Yen Ching was just a block from his apartment at the old Idaho Building, one of the original buildings in downtown Boise. From his apartment he could bike to work at St. Luke's, hit the bakery, the co-op, the coffee shop, the theater, or Yen Ching for Chinese.
He knew a mechanic, and his mechanic knew Thunderbirds. He had a vivid, uncomfortable flash of memory, Vin walking toward him, pulling his T-shirt over his head, his jeans already unbuttoned, flat brown stomach, smooth brown chest. The T-shirt he tossed on the floor said American Street Machines over the wide silver wings of a Thunderbird.
Shit. What had he just done?
Jeffrey brought him a pot of pale green Jasmine tea, and he sat back in the booth and brooded. He didn't need a car. He didn't even want a car. Especially not one that didn't run, and needed, what had the guy said? An off the body restoration? He lived downtown, with no place to park a car, or even clean one up. And he wasn't a man who was given to sudden crazy impulses.
But he was honest with himself, and he ignored Jeffrey's soft glances and stared at his reflection in the window. Maybe this was about Vin. He'd had a dream a couple of nights ago, so vivid and real he'd awoken with the sheets twisted wet between his thighs, his cock still spurting in his hand. He missed Vin so much some nights that it felt like his heart was weeping in his chest. There was the dream, and then this car appeared as if out of nowhere with those wide, silver wings on the trunk. Thunderbird.
Well, that was all over with. He didn't need that sort of trouble. Vin was, what, twenty-seven? And he was forty. When you were twenty-seven, you wanted to screw anything that moved. He understood that. The difference, he thought, lifting a potsticker to his mouth, was that Vin went down to the baths and screwed anything he wanted. When Race had been twenty-seven, he was studying, working, in the last year of his residency in eye surgery. He hadn't had time to screw around when he was young. And now he didn't have any interest.
He rubbed hard across his eyes. Okay, maybe there was more to it. The picture he really couldn't get out of his head was Vin leaning his long, curvy body up against the cool blue tiles of the sauna, his black hair curling in the damp heat, sticking to the skin of his back. And he had looked over his shoulder at Race, let two strangers put their hands on him, two good-looking guys his own age, let them slide their hands over brown skin Race had touched an hour earlier.
Race had stood up and walked out, and they hadn't seen each other since. And every day he wondered if he had blown the best chance he'd ever had.
Back in his apartment, he picked up his cell. Vin's number was still number two on his phone, though they hadn't spoken to each other in nearly six months. The ER was number one, of course, and his mother was number three. He punched the speed dial, and Vin picked up after a couple of rings.
He didn't sound very friendly.
"Vin? It's Race."
"I know, Race. The whole world has Caller ID." The silence lasted two long beats. "Did you want something, or did you hit my number by mistake?"
Jesus, he was in a mood. "Did I call at a bad time?"
"I don't take the phone with me when I'm screwing in the public baths, if that's what you're asking. I'm at work. Did you want something?"
"Forget it," he said, and punched the button to end the call. He threw the phone down on the table. What the fuck was wrong with that guy? Why did he sound so pissed? Race was the one who should be pissed. He ignored the phone when it rang, didn't even bother to look at the Caller ID.
In the bathroom he stripped down and stepped into the shower, soaped up and ran his hands over his skin. He thought about a colleague of his, an orthopedic surgeon. They had been in medical school together, and now the man had a gorgeous house in the foothills, a gorgeous wife who worked as a docent at the art museum, a couple of blonde kids who appeared to have a number of creative accomplishments.
He drove a Jag and weighed a hundred pounds more than he had in med school, and when Race had gone to the Christmas party at his house, he was disturbed at how much Crown Royal the man had managed to put away. How much they had all put away, while they shook their heads at him. Still not married! Lived in an apartment! Rode a bike to work, for God's sake! Didn't he realize he had made it? He was at the top of the American dog pile, and why didn't he have the material goods to prove it?
Race didn't want what they wanted. He didn't have any doubts about that. But he also knew that he was floundering a bit. For so long he had been head down, nose to the grindstone that he felt a bit lost with free time. He didn't know what a hobby was. Maybe he needed a new challenge.
For the last six months, he'd undertaken a systematic study of the roots of Rock and Roll. He'd just finished reading Hickory Wind, by Ben Fong Torres. Cream was up next, and after Cream, he had Arthur Lee and Love. Race had listened to the Forever Changes album for the first time just a couple of weeks before. He was enjoying this study, but if he was being honest, it felt a little bit like filling his time. He loved his work, but it was just work. It didn't love him back. He missed... feeling passionate about something. He needed to find something to be passionate about again. He thought about Thunderbirds.
Someone knocked on his door while he was drying off from the shower. He stepped into a pair of athletic shorts and opened the door, toweling his hair. Vin still looked pissed. Pissed off, but tired, like he had worked a long day. His jeans were dirty and his T-shirt today said American Muscle. Race didn't recognize the car under the slogan, but it had big jacked-up wheels and a long hood. He realized for the first time that American sports cars were shaped like penises.
"Sorry," Vin said, stepping inside. "Did you need something, Race?"
"You want to sit down?" Race wrapped the towel around his neck. Vin shook his head. "I wanted to ask you if you know a mechanic." He suddenly felt tongue-tied. He didn't know what to say.
"I'm a mechanic."