Billy didn’t throw up. He swallowed the pills I gave him and drank the tea, and when he was sufficiently buzzed, seemed to remember he hadn’t eaten since the mini doughnuts I’d forced on him that morning. How does he even live? I’d put away at least six sandwiches since then. “What do you want?” I asked, trying to ignore how much I was enjoying seeing him stretched out on my bed. “I can order something?”
Billy shook his head, eyes hooded and heavy. “No. I don’t want you spending money on me, and I don’t have any. There must be something in the cupboards. I just remembered I bought other stuff that’s not in the fridge.”
“What did you buy?”
“Okay…do you remember where you put it?”
Truth be told, he could’ve bought a hundred different things and stashed them in my kitchen cupboards before I noticed. It wasn’t like I ever looked.
Curious, I rolled off the bed and sloped downstairs. The fridge was as bare as I’d left it, but a scout of the corner cabinet revealed a squirrel store of baked beans, Super Noodles, and tins of tuna. I couldn’t imagine how they’d taste together, and we had no bread for toast, so I plumped for the noodles and managed to cook them in the microwave without burning the house down.
I made more tea and took it upstairs with the noodles.
Billy was drowsing, eyes barely open. I wondered if I should leave him alone, but he heard me coming and pushed himself up on his good arm, face brightening as he caught sight of the steaming bowl I’d balanced on my upturned wrist. “Noodles? Fuck, I really did forget about those.”
His enthusiasm caught me off guard. Feeding him was usually a depressing exercise in him nibbling a tiny portion of whatever I was eating, and me wolfing his leftovers like a carb-addicted vulture. I’d never seen him look at anything the way he was looking at the noodles.
I passed them over and retrieved the fork I’d tucked in my back pocket. “They smell like stock cubes.”
“So? What’s wrong with that?”
I couldn’t think of a sensible answer, so I settled in to watch Billy hoover up the yellowish, gloopy noodles like a child with a bag of sweets. It was endearing, and…hot, though I couldn’t say why. All I knew was my gaze zeroed in on his fingers as he sucked them clean, and then his tongue as I caught the barest glimpse of it, darting out between his full lips.
Billy had the best lips. If I closed my eyes, I could still recall how they’d felt crushed against mine all those years ago, but I was trying to quit that. No good ever came of it, save a grand old time with my right hand.
Yeah, that’s right. I wasn’t above jacking off over my vulnerable houseguest.
Not that Billy would ever confess to being vulnerable, but that’s what he was. Pale, underweight for his strong frame, and crippled by chronic pain. And that was only what I knew about. Lord knew what he’d been through the last ten years. But maybe I did. If he’d grieved for his dad like I had my mother, and missed his brother like I had my sister, times had been tough.
“Are you falling asleep on me?”
I blinked. For the first time ever, Billy was waving an empty bowl at me. I took it and set in on the bedside table. “Asleep? Me? Never.”
“I’ve noticed that,” he said. “Apart from that one night you dropped my bed cover on me, you’re always awake, if you’re here, I mean. I don’t know what you do when you’re not.”
Nothing, since Billy moved in, save a few aborted Grindr trips up the A road, but I wasn’t going to get into that with him. He didn’t need to know that he occupied my thoughts so entirely I’d forgotten how to get excited by any other man. Then he really would have cause to call me a creep. “I don’t sleep a lot,” I confessed. “I got out of the habit when my mum was ill, and I never really got it back.”
Billy nodded. “I get that. I remember the long nights with my dad. Being so scared I’d doze off and he’d die when I was asleep.”
“Yeah. That’s the one.”
“Drinking helps,” he said. “With a lot of things. But in the end, even that stops working.”
“Is that what happened to you?”
“In what sense?”
I passed Billy a mug of tea, claimed my own, and shifted further onto the bed, closing the distance between us another inch with little conscious thought. “I know you got into drugs after Luke left. Not on purpose, but everyone knew.”
Billy rolled his eyes. “No, everyone said they knew. That’s not the same as anyone knowing jackshit about me. Don’t believe everything you hear.”
If I believed everything I’d heard about Billy, there was no way I’d have ever let him set foot in my house. The Rushmere rumour mill had him painted as everything from a burglar to a violent crackhead, and, as I’d learned from Barry Keane, a scumbag who’d done hard prison time. I knew that wasn’t true, so who was the real Billy? And why did my chest burn at the prospect of finding out?
So many questions. No tangible answers.
I sighed. “I didn’t mean it was true. I guess I was asking what you did to cope if getting drunk stopped working.”
“How do you know I didn’t do what you did?”
“What did I do?”
Billy said nothing. Just stared at me with drug-fogged eyes that were somehow razor sharp too.
Or maybe it was my imagination. I often saw things that weren’t there when someone tried to flay me open. Warmth that wasn’t real. Attraction that didn’t last. “I didn’t get drunk,” I said when Billy’s silence dragged on. “I got laid. A lot. And I carried on long after it stopped working, so maybe we did do the same thing, just in different ways.”
Billy shifted slightly, a wince threatening his hazy expression. “We’re not the same people, though. You still managed to be a functioning adult, so maybe I should’ve joined the Grindr train instead of banging coke round the back of the Sugar Loaf.”
“That place closed down years ago,” I said absently as I fought a wave of horror at the thought of Billy on Grindr. Of him in anyone’s bed but mine. Idiot. “And do you even want to be a functioning adult? A nine-to-five job with a mortgage and two-point-four kids?”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t think anything. I don’t know you.”
Billy’s gaze flickered. “And yet here I am off my nut on trammies in your bed. Strange how life works out.”
It really was. Billy got up and drifted to the bathroom. It crossed my mind that he wouldn’t come back, but I tidied the mugs and his bowl away all the same, and shifted over so he had more room. Wishful thinking? I had no idea, and I was out of spoons to think about it. My brain was noisy at the best of times, but some days with Billy, it quieted to a dull roar. Angsting over whether he’d come back to my bed wasn’t exactly peaceful, but it beat being alone. Like, really alone, with nothing for company but silence and shadows.
“You have the strangest face.”
I glanced up as Billy came back to the bed. “Uh, thanks? I guess? Unless it’s giving you nightmares.”
“As if. No. I meant that you have this chilled-out smile that doesn’t match the rest of it.”
“I’m not going to ask what that means. How’s the shoulder?”
“And the pain?”
“Same answer? Or it hurts as much as it did before?”
“The first one.” Billy shivered. “And it’s cold out there. Or maybe it’s that muscle relaxant shit you gave me. I’ve never taken them before. How do you say it? Amo-trippo-what?”
“Amitriptyline.” I jumped up as Billy swayed. “I gave you a half dose, but it can be pretty poky if you’re not used to it.”
Billy shivered again. Without thinking, I rubbed my hand up and down his good arm, massaging warmth into his cool skin. “Come on. Get comfy. We can watch something, if you like?”
“Uh…” I searched my limited knowledge of Netflix for something he might enjoy. “Vikings? Hot dudes, powerful women, fighting and fucking. Culture. Something for everyone. Ever seen it?”
“I don’t watch TV. Haven’t had one for years.”
I was still rubbing his arm. I forced myself to stop and moved back so he could get on the bed. Movement caused the duvet to bunch up by my knees. I let it be, and when Billy was settled, cautiously pulled it up and over him.
He eyed me with an expression I couldn’t decipher. “You don’t have to tuck me in.”
“I don’t want you to be cold.”
“That’s sweet, man. But at least get in the bed with me so we haven’t got some weirdo taxi situation going on.”
“You know, like, if you give your mate a ride and they get in the back so you look like a taxi.”
He wasn’t making much sense, but if he wanted me in the bed with him, I wasn’t about to argue.
I slid under the duvet and cued up Vikings on the TV. My bed had a memory foam mattress that sucked in anything of any weight and held tight all night long. I was hoping it would do Billy some good—if he stayed all night—but when I looked at him, despite the loopiness softening his features, he was shifting around, his discomfort clear. “Can you lie on your side?” I asked. “Your good side, I mean.”
“Dunno.” Billy manoeuvred himself so he was facing me. “Yeah. Guess I can.”
I wanted to mirror his pose. To roll over and scrutinise every inch of him in case I never got this close to him again. Logic told me we were this close every day in the van, or huddled on rooftops laying felt, but this was different. I could hear his slow breaths, smell his wood-smoke scent, and if I closed my eyes, it was easy to imagine the thumping in my ears was his heartbeat, not mine.
Billy shivered again. I pressed play on the TV and lifted my arm. “Come closer. It’s a waste of time if you’re cold anyway.”
“Dude, if I get any closer, I’ll be lying on top of you.”
The word was out of my mouth before I could catch it. Every nerve in my body cringed, but I forced myself to keep my eyes on the TV screen. Norse gods lit up the darkened room. Longboats and swords. Ragnar and his warrior wife.
Billy moved, and his legs brushed mine, then his hip. His chest hit my ribs. Warmth flowed between us. I settled my arm around him, keeping clear of his painful shoulder. For a long moment, Billy was as tense as his dose of amitriptyline would allow, then the rigidity seemed to drain from him, and he dropped his head on my chest like he’d done it a thousand times. “I can’t decide if the dude or the woman is hotter.”
I smiled in the darkness. “Isn’t that the point of being bi? That you don’t have to?”
“Hmm. I suppose.”
His slow breaths evened out. He was fading. If we’d been different people who’d lived different lives to get to this point, I might’ve rubbed his back, or tangled my fingers in his soft hair. But we were the same people we’d always been, so I settled into a gentle wave of regret, and watched him fall asleep.
(C) Garrett Leigh, Carina Press, 2021. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.
Billy Daley hasn’t been home in years, and he likes it that way. He’s just fine on his own—he has a cash-in-hand job at a scrapyard, a half-feral cat to keep him company, and many miles between him, his hometown and all the baggage that comes with it.
Until the job goes sideways. Suddenly he’s back in Rushmere, working for none other than his brother’s best friend—a man whose kiss Billy can’t seem to forget.
Gus Amour’s memories of Billy Daley are all spiky edges, lips crushed against lips and a reckless streak that always ended in trouble. But when Billy needs a place to stay, Gus steps in. He’d do anything for the Daley family, including living, and working, side by side with a man who makes his heart beat too fast and his blood run too hot—two things he’s been running from for years.
It doesn’t take long before their easy banter, lingering touches and heated glances become a temptation too hard to resist. But falling into bed and falling in love are two different things, and love has never come easy to either Billy or Gus. Only when fate threatens to steal away their opportunity for a second chance will they realize they don’t need easy.
They just need each other.
About Garrett Leigh
Garrett Leigh is an award-winning British writer, cover artist, and book designer. Her debut novel, Slide, won Best Bisexual Debut at the 2014 Rainbow Book Awards, and her polyamorous novel, Misfits was a finalist in the 2016 LAMBDA awards, and was again a finalist in 2017 with Rented Heart.
In 2017, she won the EPIC award in contemporary romance with her military novel, Between Ghosts, and the contemporary romance category in the Bisexual Book Awards with her novel What Remains.
When not writing, Garrett can generally be found procrastinating on Twitter, cooking up a storm, or sitting on her behind doing as little as possible, all the while shouting at her menagerie of children and animals and attempting to tame her unruly and wonderful FOX.
Garrett is also an award winning cover artist, taking the silver medal at the Benjamin Franklin Book Awards in 2016. She designs for various publishing houses and independent authors at blackjazzdesign.com, and co-owns the specialist stock site moonstockphotography.com with photographer Dan Burgess.