"Hey, Jonah, you still take it up the ass?"
Jonah Chevalier froze, unable to believe anyone would actually have the balls to say that to him. In the middle of the Tim Horton's to boot. Jesus, he hadn't missed this town at all.
Looking to his left, he spied Rich Matheson standing a yard away from him. He looked just as good today as he had the last time Jonah had seen him, unfortunately. A thick mop of wavy black hair covered his head, his features were strong, cheekbones to die for and eyes so dark blue they appeared nearly the same color as his hair. Seemed his personality hadn't changed much either.
Rich smirked, obviously aware of Jonah's perusal. Those thin lips never had looked good with that cock-sure look on his face. He hated it just as much today as he had ten years ago.
"Rich, they haven't locked you up yet?"
Rich snorted out a laugh, the harsh, grating sound raking Jonah's ears. There was the other reason he'd never liked Rich. Actually, there were more than two reasons, but he didn't have all day to stand there and start listing them off.
Sauntering over to him, as if they were the best of friends, Rich patted him on the back, the good old boy movement turning into a caress at the end. Jonah stepped aside, not wanting to be touched. Where was his sandwich? He just wanted to get out of here. He gripped his coffee tighter in his left hand, raising the cup to take a bracing sip.
"If you're looking to have a good time while you're back, give me a call. You know the number?" The words, spoken in a low murmur, were just as creepy as the caress had been.
"Why the hell would I know your number?"
"That mean you want it?"
"You going to block the way all day, Rich, or let me pass?"
Jonah started, shocked at the low timbre of the voice that came from behind Rich. Almost afraid to look, he peered over Rich's shoulder, meeting an all too familiar deep chocolate gaze before he stepped around Rich.
He was tall and lean, with a shock of dark brown hair. Jonah would recognize that body anywhere. He'd have to be careful around Neil Brogan. Nothing quite like getting your ass kicked in your hometown for ogling some prime piece of man. And Neil was definitely prime.
Jonah's fingers itched to be able to touch. Run his palms down that body. Touch skin that he just knew was taut. Couldn't be a police diver if you weren't in the best shape of your life.
Rich sneered at the newcomer, ignoring him. He pressed a business card into Jonah's chest, holding it there until Jonah lifted his free hand to take it.
"Call me. I know you'll like it."
Curling his lip, Jonah refused to answer. He slid the card in his pocket without looking. He wasn't sure why he didn't just throw it away.
Left alone, finally, he went back to perusing the activity behind the counter, waiting for Neil Brogan to pass him by.
Heat seared his side; an arm brushed his right before that deep voice spoke again. "Good to see you home, Jonah, although I'm sorry for the cause."
Swiveling again, he met Neil's steady gaze. Neil was so fucking intense, it made him want to just curl up and look at him all day. Dark eyes stared back at him, set in a face that wasn't pretty as much as it was rugged. His nose had been broken more than once, he had a bump that was very visible, giving him a craggy appearance. He had a typical hockey face, not nearly as attractive as Rich, but appealing. Wholesome. So damn familiar it made Jonah ache.
Neil nodded, holding out his hand. Jonah placed his fingers in Neil's strong grip, just about moaning at the feel of the callused palm against his skin. It was one of the reasons he used to avoid him near the end of high school.
Neil held his hand for a moment, squeezing it gently before releasing it. Jonah had to squash the urge to curl his fingers and hold that heat in his palm. He slipped his hand into his pocket instead, gripping the card Rich had handed to him.
"Real sorry about your mom. My folks are in Holland on their anniversary trip or they'd be here. Mom was real upset she wouldn't get to see you."
"How'd she know I'd be here?"
"We all know how much your mom meant to you. Didn't take much guessing to figure out that you'd come home."
Jonah nodded, trying to figure out how much Neil had overheard. How long had he been standing there? Would he assume Rich was just joking around? Unable to stand beside Neil while his heart was pounding hard enough to be overheard, Jonah took another sip of coffee, holding onto the cup like a shield. Why was this so uncomfortable? They'd once been the best of friends.
"They were all set to come home, but I convinced them that if Mom could talk Dad into taking a trip to Holland now after all these years, there was no way in hell they were coming home early."
"Geez, Brogan, I would have been pissed if they'd come home. Mom wouldn't have wanted them to cancel."
"Yeah, that's what I told my mom. She sure does wish she could be here though. You know how close they were. My folks thought the world of your mom."
"Your order's up, sir." The girl behind the counter smiled at him, handing over the brown sac with his sandwich. "And here's your coffee, Neil."
He took the sack gratefully, smiling at Neil as he stretched to accept the cup. "Well, better go. Nice seeing you again."
"I'll be seeing you."
Jonah could only nod, watching Neil saunter off.
Now, why the hell did that sound so promising?
"This fucking sucks."
Jonah tipped his head back, staring out at the crystal blue waters of Lake Temiskaming. The distant shoreline of Quebec stared back at him, taunting him with memories from the past.
Tipping his head back again, Jonah drained the last of the dregs from his coffee.
Letting the cup drop to the ground behind him, he briefly debated whether he should leave or not. He knew he was procrastinating. He didn't want to go home, didn't want to walk into that house and not see his mom.
He'd come to the Lower Notch knowing he needed time to himself, time to brace himself for what was to come. It had been quite the hike down Mission Road to get here, but one he'd made countless times before in his youth. At least this time he'd been driving and not riding his bike.
Jonah just wasn't ready to go home, yet. Wasn't ready to face the father who kicked him out of his house all those years ago. He didn't know what to say to his dad, didn't even know if he wanted to see him. It was all so very complicated.
Gravel crunching interrupted him before he could decide whether to leave or not. Swiveling his head, Jonah watched the car approach. It was a dark blue sedan, the windshield reflecting the sun back at him so he couldn't get a glimpse of the driver. He was pretty sure it wasn't some employee coming to work at the dam located at the Lower Notch, but he wasn't sure why anyone else in their right mind would come out here. This was literally the end of the road. Nothing else but trees and the waters in front of them.
The car stopped behind Jonah's rental, just before the bridge Jonah was sitting precariously on. Keeping his gaze on the driver's door, he was surprised when it opened and a man stepped outside.
Jonah snorted, turning to face forward again, ignoring his new bridge mate. He wasn't in the mood to talk. Hopefully Neil would take the hint.
"Thought I'd find you here." Neil's voice was deep, rumbling up from his chest. Just the sound of that rumbling drawl was enough to have Jonah's cock perk up. He willed it to behave. There was nothing down that road. He really did know better.
Jonah stared as Neil stepped onto the bridge, coming to stand beside him. He rested his forearms on the railing beside Jonah's ass, his shoulder brushing Jonah's arm before he settled in place.
"Neil?" Placing his hands on the railing to either side of his hips, Jonah tried to anchor himself. In all the scenarios he'd run through in his mind on the way up here, this was something he'd never imagined. He thought he'd seen the last of Neil for a while.
On the flight from Calgary to Toronto, then on the hop skip to North Bay and finally the hour and half drive north to Haileybury, he'd never once imagined that he'd run into Neil Brogan. The man didn't even live here. Twice in less than an hour was just too much for his brain to take in.
"Long time no see," Neil drawled.
Jonah cut right to the chase. "What are you doing here? Rita-Anne said you moved away." He wasn't sure what to think. They'd been the best of friends in high school, both members of the football team, both played hockey, both had run around in the woods getting into all sorts of trouble. Right up until the day that had changed Jonah's life.
He'd purposefully withdrawn after that, afraid to see the disgust and condemnation on Neil's face if he found out the truth. He wasn't even sure if Neil knew the real reason for Jonah's leaving.
Not that it mattered now. There was no sense trying to go back and live in the past. There were just too many obstacles in the way for that to happen.
"I'm on my six days off. As soon as I found out, I made sure I was free to come this week. Thought you might need a friendly face."
Neil placed a hand on Jonah's arm, squeezing gently. The small gesture was almost enough to have him tearing up. Christ, he wished he'd stopped at the LCBO instead of Tim's. Maybe if he drank enough he'd be able to get through this week without completely breaking down like a baby.
Nodding, he tried to crack a smile, hoping Neil understood his gratitude. If he opened his mouth right now he'd probably lose it. He blinked back his tears, clearing his throat.
Neil squeezed his forearm again, releasing Jonah to lean on the railing.
"Funeral's on Saturday?"
"You staying at your house?"
"I guess so. Haven't seen the place yet."
"You seen your dad?"
"Not yet." Jonah swung his legs to the right, hopping off the railing to land on the bridge behind him. Stumbling slightly on his landing, he grabbed for the railing, trying to figure out when the last time he'd eaten anything before his sandwich. It was currently sitting in his belly like a lump of coal. The coffee hadn't helped any.
A warm hand reached out, steadying him.
Stepping out of reach, Jonah crossed his arms, hugging himself.
"You look like you've had a few."
Jonah snorted. "FYI, I haven't been drinking. Unless they've started putting something in the coffee here." He bent down to pick up his empty cup, holding it by his side.
"I swear they do something special to the coffee. It definitely feels like an addiction some days, eh?"
Tapping his cup against his leg, Jonah leaned back on the railing, tipping his head back. "Now if I admit to feeling the same thing, are you going to try to charge me for being under the influence? All Rita-Anne used to talk about was the big time police man."
"Yeah, it was quite the decision for me not to move back here when I graduated. Could you imagine how much fun I could have had working out of the Temiskaming District?" Neil chuckled. "Could have pulled over every asshole we played against in school."
"Just imagine how much flack you'd have gotten the first time you pulled over a relative."
"There is that. Seriously, I think that was the deciding factor for me. Well, that and the fact that I just wanted to get out of here. Needed a change, you know?"
Jonah knew how that felt. He'd desperately needed a change once upon a time. "Yeah, I know."
"So, how you been? Mom passed on that article they printed about you when your paper came out. Pretty cool. You're all famous, Mr. Chevalier. I should get your autograph." His teasing tone caused all sorts of interesting things to happen to Jonah. He couldn't believe he was standing here getting half a woody over his childhood friend. He didn't want to talk about himself anyway.
"Yeah, what about you? Rita-Anne mails me every article in the Temiskaming Speaker that Mr. Hometown Hero shows up in. Maybe I'm the one that should be asking for your autograph."
Neil ducked his head, a dull flush moving up his cheeks. Jonah hooted, slapping Neil's arm.
"I don't know what I ever did to your cousin that she feels the need to document every move I make," Neil said.
"It's probably the fact that she takes your picture every time she writes an article about you. Nothing quite like a hot man in uniform to get everyone reading."
Neil let out a snort, raising one eyebrow in question.
Silently cursing himself, Jonah froze, hoping Neil would take it as a joke.
"So, you think I'm hot?"
Jonah wiggled his eyebrows, leering in what he hoped was a comical fashion. "Oh, you know it."
Neil frowned, his jaw tensing before he shook his head on a chuckle.
They both turned without speaking, staring out at the lake. How stupid could he be? What was he doing here anyway? An ache bloomed inside his chest, that damn phone call replaying inside his mind. He wouldn't be here if his mom hadn't died. God, she was about to be put in the ground and here he was getting turned on and laughing. Rubbing his hand over his face, he blew out a breath. He couldn't go home yet. He wasn't ready for it.
"You remember coming out here?"
Jonah nodded. "We had fun, eh?" He walked to the opposite side of the bridge. It was just big enough for one car to drive across at a time, and truthfully it wasn't any longer than a car length anyway. The river flowed in from one side, the manmade banks surrounding it with large slabs of rock. The water flowed under the bridge and out to the opening to Lake Temiskaming, past the small power generator station.
A lifetime ago they used to come out here with the beer Neil had charmed out of old Mrs. Taggert. It was weird now to think about the fun they used to have in this very spot, all laughing like lunatics and daring each other to pull crazy stunts. Smiley and Jackson, Jonah and Neil. Once upon a time the four of them had been nearly inseparable. He couldn't remember the last time he'd even talked to any of them. Probably the last time he'd spoken to his mom. Fuck. He didn't want to be here.
Both men stayed silent, Jonah trying to figure out what to say. He assumed Neil was lost in memories, but he may just as well be trying to figure out how to make a clean escape.
Neil stepped to the other side of the bridge, crouching down and running his fingers over the gravel. Picking up a smooth stone, he grinned at Jonah.
Heart pounding, Jonah tried to dredge up a smile in return. This was one of the reasons he'd started to avoid Neil that last year of school. They'd been in Grade 13, so damn close to graduating, all talking about where they were going to go for university.
Hell, it wasn't as if any of them had plans to stay in the Tri-Towns. They all wanted to get the hell out and start exploring the world.
It was around that time that Jonah had first started realizing there was a reason his palms got sweaty and his knees weak whenever Neil came around.
It was the same reason he couldn't risk spending time with his friends. Every time they started talking about the girls they were interested in, he didn't know what to say. If he could have told anyone it would have been Neil.
The fact that he still didn't know how Neil would react at the admission scared the living daylights out of him. He couldn't risk losing his respect.
Now look at him. He hadn't even seen him in person in ten years. Nearly a lifetime.
"Did you hear Smiley had a kid?" Neil turned, flinging the rock into the river. They both watched it skip before sinking.
"Yeah, Rita-Anne said something about that. I can't believe he managed to get some woman to look at him, let alone decide to procreate."
Neil snorted. "I went to his wedding, you should have seen the look on his face. The dork was petrified, but he was so damned happy. He's got stars in his eyes every time they're together. Hell, I can't come up here without him cornering me somewhere and showing me pictures of his little one. Cute kid."
"Looks a lot like his mom."
Jonah started, laughing a bit at the comment made in unison. They'd used to do that back then. Finishing each other's sentences, saying the same thing at the same time.
"You ever see Jackson around?" he asked, trying to distract himself.
"Last I heard he moved down to Michigan. Working in some mine. Mom keeps track of all those guys. She's always telling me what everyone's up to."
"Must be nice." Damn, he shouldn't have said that.
"So, why Gravenhurst? You didn't want to live anywhere else?"
Neil shrugged, bending down to pick up another rock. He threw it before answering, his words slow to come. Jonah was used to it, found himself falling back into the familiar patterns of youth. Neil always had taken forever to speak.
"Had to for the team. We're based out of the Gravenhurst office. I mean, we move around a lot when we're on our rotation but for the most part, the majority of diving is done around the area. Approximately 80% of our calls are within a 400 km radius from Gravenhurst, so it just makes sense to have the team stationed there."
"You like it?" he asked, curious about what made Neil tick now.
"It's challenging. I never thought I'd be doing it but I really like it. Never thought I'd make the team, either, but it all worked out for the best. What about you? You like what you do?"
Jonah turned away, looking out over the lake. "It's not easy, but I like working with the kids. They've had a lot of shit in their lives, but most of them are good kids, they just need a bit of guidance."
"Never thought you'd be a social worker. I tell you, could have knocked me over when mom told me what you were taking in university. Then to find out you work with troubled kids. Didn't see that."
Jonah bristled. "What did you think I'd be doing?"
"I don't know. Business or something. Actually, I always figured you'd stay here. Get a job in the Tri-Towns."
"That will never happen."
Neil walked up beside him, studying him quietly. "Why'd you leave, Jonah?"
Shocked that he'd ask that, Jonah didn't know what to say. Shaking his head, he lowered his gaze to the ground. He couldn't say anything. Didn't know what would come out of his mouth if he tried right now.
Neil must have gotten the hint. "I'm glad you're back. I'm at mom's house with the hellion, David. If you want to get together, give me a call. I'm sure Smiley would love to see you."
"See you around, Jonah."
He nodded, watching Neil walk away from him, tension in his shoulders.
"Why'd you have to do this, Mom? Why now?" He flung his coffee cup into the lake, watching it bob away on the current. "I wish I could hate you. I wish... well, fuck if it matters what I wish. Isn't that the morale of our little story? You can never come home. That was your rule, wasn't it? Well, I guess I'm about to break it, Mom. Welcome home, Jonah. Welcome the fuck home."