Carl didn't notice the moving van right away. He was too busy trying to wrap his mind around the events of the last eight months ... his wife leaving, the lengthy divorce, the settlement, child support, and shared custody. The creak of Carl's porch steps finally brought him out of his reverie. His head snapped up, taking in the stranger moving toward him.
The man stood maybe a couple inches over six feet, had broad shoulders, and appeared muscular without looking like a body builder. The strong legs and arms were easily discernible in the form-fitting, faded and worn blue jeans and black George Strait t-shirt he wore. The man's short, wavy brown hair flopped across his sweat glistened forehead. Carl's cop instincts took all the information in with a glance.
"Good morning," the man greeted, stopping five feet away from where Carl sat on his porch swing.
"If you say so," Carl replied, cringing internally at his surly tone. Seeing the man's dark brows shoot up, he sighed. "I'm sorry. I'm not usually an ass." He rose, moved the bottle of Budweiser to his left hand, and held out his right. "Carl Lewis. What can I do for you?"
"Nice to meet you, Carl. Vincent Androse." He nodded to the beer Carl held. "I guess the morning must have been rough. It's not even noon yet." After a second, his brows ratcheted up a notch. "Unless this is normal for you." Vincent shook his head and chuckled. "I'm sorry. I'm not making a very good first impression. Lonnie always said I let my mouth run away with me."
A chatterbox. Interesting. Not too many men that looked like this one suffered from that particular affliction. Carl held up a hand, stopping Vincent's stream of nonsense. "No, I don't normally start this early in the morning, but I've already dealt with an angry ex-wife today. Now, can I help you with something? You're not selling anything, are you?" Vincent didn't look like a salesman, but what the hell did he know?
"No! Of course not," Vincent assured him quickly. "I'm moving in across the street." He shoved a hand through his dark curls and cringed. "My buddy just bailed on me. The U-Haul truck is due back in three hours, and I need to be at the fire house right after that. I wouldn't normally do this, but I'm in a bit of a bind. Is there any way I could talk you into helping me for half an hour? I only have a couple big things."
Carl took a lazy pull on his beer, thinking maybe this man's morning wasn't so hot either. "What the hell. I've heard a little physical activity is good for relieving stress."
Vincent let out a relieved, if somewhat strained laugh, and Carl smiled for the first time since Rhonda had called that morning. "I owe you one, Carl. I'll buy you a case to make it up to you."
Draining the last of his beer and setting it on the porch rail, Carl shook his head. "Don't worry about it," he said, following his new neighbor down the porch steps and across the street. "That's what cops are for, right? To protect and serve?"
"A cop, huh?" Vincent replied, his tone deepening, probably since he was no longer stressed out by having to ask a complete stranger for a favor. "How long?"
"Fourteen years. And technically, I made detective nearly five years ago." He followed Vincent up the truck's ramp and into the cavernous box hold. "You're a fireman?" he asked, picking up one end of a deep brown leather couch. Vincent grunted, nodding curtly as he hefted the other end. "Fucking hell, man. No wonder your buddy bailed. Your couch weighs a damn ton!" he growled out through clenched teeth.
Vincent's chuckle sounded strained again, but this time from exertion. "Yeah, when it was bought, weight wasn't going through the mind. The comfort more than makes up for the weight, though."
"It better," he grunted back.
Once down the ramp, they spun the couch so Vincent walked backwards. Tilting it at an angle, they maneuvered it through the door. Fortunately, Vincent wanted it in the front room. They settled it perpendicular to the fireplace with the back to the front window. Carl turned and dropped onto the heavy piece of furniture, checking Vincent's claim.
Vincent smirked and crossed his arms over his chest. "I'm right, aren't I?"
He stretched his legs out, leaned his head against the back, and let out a sigh. "Not bad," Carl had to admit. He grinned at the ceiling. "My wife took most of the furniture. Where'd you get this? Something similar would be nice."
"Uh, I'm not sure actually," Vincent said, frowning.
"Well, if you remember, let me know," Carl said, pushing to his feet.
The fireman shook his head. "It's not that," he said. Carl paused, cocking his head in interest. Vincent opened his mouth once, then snapped it shut.
Carl frowned. "It's not hot, is it? You didn't steal it, did you?" He wouldn't have thought that about a fireman, but...
Vincent laughed nervously. "No. My boyfriend brought it home while going through a western phase. I'm not sure where he got it, but it ended up in our study after he got tired of it."