It’s aliiiiiiiiive!! *insert demonic cackle here.*
Ollie Becker’s family fled Mason’s Landing, MO, 12 years ago, leaving everything behind—including Ollie’s boyfriend, Kane Wright. When Ollie returns, reeling from another devastating loss, he didn’t expect to find Kane waiting for him. But second chances aren’t simple when violence threatens to keep them apart. Can Ollie and Kane pick up the pieces, or is there nothing left but twisted metal?
Twisted Metal excerpt
Duke’s was a small establishment, a dozen or so tables inside and half as many again under an awning out back. Regulars propped up the bar along the right-hand wall, conversing with neighbors over beers or watching that night’s game on the big screen TV. A few families were finishing up late dinners consisting of burgers, fries, and fried pickles.
Ollie’s nostrils flared as the door swung closed behind him, soaking in the spit and sawdust, old fry grease, and stale beer scent. He knew dive bars—Chicago had plenty of them—and this was the real deal. No amount of gentrified redneck chic could touch the authenticity of Duke’s, where every last inch of the walls and ceiling were plastered with dollar bills signed by the regulars.
Nobody knew who’d started the tradition. Some said it was Johnny Jefferson’s grandpappy who stuck the last dollar from a long-overdue tab to the wall. Another rumor held that the habit started when a rash of counterfeits wound up in town. The fakes were pinned to Duke’s very own “Wall of Shame.”
Whatever the reason, the tradition had stuck, and now nobody knew what color the walls were, because there wasn’t a bare spot to be found. Ollie leaned against the bar and read a few of the scribbled messages while waiting for service. “Ellen and Bob, Xmas 97” fluttered in a draft alongside “Cards vs. Royals 1985” and “Donnie done got drunk again,” followed by what looked like a scrawled signature.
He ordered a beer and took a long pull from the cold glass. A furtive glance along the bar was enough to confirm that Christy hadn’t lied. Kane was hunched over a bottle, head down, but Ollie would recognize those broad shoulders, that shock of dark hair, anywhere.
His heart lurched, and he gripped the edge of the bar to anchor himself. He wasn’t ready for this. He’d thought he was—told himself it had been twelve years, he was over it—but goddamn if Kane still couldn’t take his breath away.
He wanted to turn tail and flee, but he held steady until the panic subsided. He wasn’t going to run out again. Not this time. This crappy, godforsaken corner of the Missouri backwoods might not have much going on beyond deer hunting and Jesus, but it was where he’d grown up.
There was more here he needed to do, and it went beyond packing up the old family home. It spoke to the heart of who Ollie was, and he was still trying to untangle the effect Mason’s Landing had had on him. He’d grappled with it for years through his art, but if one thing had become plain, it was that he’d never find the answers in Chicago. The Landing was where he needed to be, no matter who else happened to be there.
Another beer, and he loosened up. Nobody approached him except the middle-aged woman tending bar. The families finished their meals and left. One table was getting a little rowdy in the far corner, but otherwise the place was clearing out. It was late on a Thursday night, and mornings started early in this part of the world. Just two other souls propped up the bar alongside Ollie. Then the heavyset fella between them paid his check and left, and only Kane remained.
The game had long since ended, the TV turned over to classic rock music videos. Ollie watched Jimi Hendrix without seeing more than a blur on the screen, all his senses attuned to the man sitting in the corner.
Kane eased off the barstool as though everything ached. He moved heavily, with the gait of someone much older than his twenty-nine years. Beer in hand, he sidled alongside Ollie, casting him a quick glance before fixing his attention on the TV. “Thought one of us had better say something.”
“Go on then.”
“Say something.” Ollie cracked a smile.
“Fuck off,” Kane said without malice, lifting his beer and taking a long swallow. “You always did like word games.”
“It’s good to see you.” The words slipped out before he could stop them, but he couldn’t deny their truth. Some days he’d hoped Kane was long gone. Others, he’d imagined their reunion in his head, orchestrating every word. Sometimes Kane was sorry, other times they fought. In more than one fantasy, they’d tumbled straight into bed like they were seventeen all over again.
Kane put down his beer and gave Ollie an appraising look. “You, too,” he finally admitted. “Never thought I’d see you around here again.”
“Me neither.” Ollie laughed. “But it turns out my parents never sold the house, so here I am.”
“How’re they doing?”
“Dead.” His tone flattened, the word coming out too harsh, too abrasive, but all the therapy in the world wasn’t going to fix that anytime soon. Saying it hurt every time.
Kane startled. “What—?”
“Car crash. Six months ago.”
“Oh man, I’m sorry.”
“Save it.” He shook his head sharply, pushing away the sudden pang that ached deep in his soul. “No sympathy, okay? I’ve heard it all, and it doesn’t help.”
Kane nodded. “I know something about that.”
“My old man, when he had his accident.”
“Of course, I heard. He doing okay now?”
“If you can call drinking all day and criticizing me ‘okay,’ then sure.” Kane snorted.
“Criticizing you about what?”
“Oh, everything. I ain’t tending the crops right, or oiling the machinery, or making the pens strong enough to keep the coyotes out.” He shrugged. “Makes him feel useful, I guess. Gives him a break from Fox News.”
Ollie groaned. “Don’t tell me they watch that rot.”
“All day, every day. I’m tempted to cancel the cable.”
“I’d never hear the end of it.”
“You still should.”
Their eyes met, and Ollie snickered. Suddenly, he didn’t feel like he was almost thirty. He was seventeen, sharing a joke with his best friend. “I was looking at some old pictures of you before,” he confessed.
He smiled softly. “You grew up even more handsome than I remembered.”
Kane’s gaze flickered over Ollie’s shoulder, and the barroom flew back into focus with a sickeningly familiar wrench. “Not here, yeah?”
“Forget about it.”
“No.” Kane stood, throwing his head back to finish his beer. “Come on.”
Heart thumping, Ollie tossed a couple bills on the bar to cover his drinks and tip and followed Kane into the parking lot. He didn’t know where this was going—if Kane’s only interest was silencing him or if he really wanted to have a more private conversation elsewhere. As Ollie glanced around the empty, dimly lit lot, cold fear oozed into his veins. It had been on a night just like this, in another empty part of town, that his life had changed forever. Laughter echoed from the darkness, and he flinched, clutching Kane’s arm instinctively.
“Wh—oh.” Kane gave him a knowing, sympathetic look. “Don’t worry. It’s just the folks on the patio.” He squeezed Ollie’s hand and dropped his voice. “Ain’t nobody going to hurt you around here.”
“I know. I’m okay.” He stood taller, pulling the hem of his shirt straight. He hadn’t been scared to be out at night in years—but then again, he hadn’t been back in Mason’s Landing in years either. Chicago had its own reasons for caution, but it wasn’t in Chicago he’d been beaten half to death.
Taking a deep breath, he willed his pulse to stop beating like his heart would fly out of his throat. He’d studied self-defense. He worked out. He wasn’t as buff as some of his gym buddies, but he could bench 240 and figured he could throw a punch if he had to.
“Let’s get out of here,” Kane said. “You got a truck?”
Ollie nodded toward the new Ram 1500, red paintwork gleaming in the low light.
Kane let out a low whistle. “Nice!”
“It’s a rental.”
“It’s still nice.”
The doors unlocked with a loud beep, and they swung into the cab.
“Very nice,” Kane continued, stroking the finish on the black center console.
“Did you just want to talk about the truck?”
Kane lifted his head, but in the darkness, it was hard to see his eyes. “No.”
“You want to come to my place?”
Anticipation raced down Ollie’s spine in a delicious shiver, all his primal senses reacting to the husky quality of Kane’s voice. Fuck. This wasn’t supposed to happen. He hadn’t intended to do this. But he’d already gunned the engine and swung the vehicle out of the parking lot.
In no time, they were home. He killed the engine, and the silence of the humid night settled like a thick blanket. Of course, the countryside was never truly silent—just like the small hours in Chicago were punctuated by the far-off wail of sirens and relentless drone of traffic, out in the Missouri backwoods the tree frogs croaked and crickets sang and a million things buzzed and chattered and howled in the distance. The cooling engine ticked in time with his heartbeat, and he held his breath, hoping… wishing… longing….