Block and Strike(10)

By: Kelly Jensen

Max had a girlfriend.

Casting a sideways glance at the bookshelf beside his desk, Jake looked for the picture of him and Kate together. They’d been seventeen at the time, and supposedly in love. Old hurt circled his heart for the space of a breath until he looked away.

He chose an old pair of sweats for Max, the soft and comfortable kind, debated including underwear, and settled on a pair of shorts. Shorts didn’t hug a guy’s junk, so it wouldn’t be as weird, right? He snagged an old Phillies T-shirt from the top of the pile and, as an afterthought, a pair of socks. The shower started before he left his room and Jake paused outside the bathroom door a moment, thoughts running wildly and inappropriately. He needed to get laid. It had been, what, a year in prison, months before that and three months since? Too long, man. If he was fantasizing about the beat-up kid from the basement apartment, the guy with a girlfriend, it had been too damned long. He’d give Eric a call, but his oldest friend and regular booty-call was not currently in between.

Suppressing a sigh, Jake nudged open the door, slid the clothes onto the corner of the vanity, and pulled the door closed behind him. In the kitchen, he inspected the contents of his fridge and pantry, wondering what sort of soup Max might like. Maybe he should just get some egg drop from downstairs. Wu did make good soup. How hard it could be to actually make egg drop soup? Wasn’t it just chicken broth with some tofu, green onion, and an egg? He’d give it a try, minus the tofu because he wasn’t some hippie-dippie vegetarian. He’d use some leftover roasted chicken instead.

The soup was about done when Max emerged from the bathroom, pulling the drawstring on the sweatpants tight around his lean hips. Jake caught a flash of material at the waist there, the shorts—good call—then the T-shirt flopped down, looking something like a sack slung over a clothes hanger. Max had fairly wide shoulders and his arms were long. Legs, too, under the sweats. Despite his slim appearance, Jake knew Max had a little heft to him. He’d carried him up and down the stairs last night, after all. Max might look like a waif, with his large eyes (one) and pale skin—but he wasn’t. He had presence. It was just a shorter presence than Jake was used to with everyone in his family being tall.

“Feel better?”

Pushing wet hair back from his face, Max nodded. “Yeah.” He moved slowly, obviously in pain, and the shower had done little to improve his appearance. He had a pair of stitches closing a cut over his swollen eye and a couple of moist scabs near his hairline on the opposite side.

“You need to cover those?” Jake couldn’t help wincing slightly as he pointed out the cuts.

“Nah, they’ll heal quicker if I let ’em dry out.” The voice of experience? “Soup smells good.”

“We’ll reserve judgment until we taste it. I probably should have just gone to Wu’s.”

“You eat there much?”

“Not really. The hall always smells like Chinese food. Sort of puts me off.”

“I know what you mean.”

Jake waved at the table. “Have a seat. Can I get you a drink?”

“Just water.” Max pulled out a chair and sat carefully. “How long have you lived here?”

“Just over three months.”

“Dang. So if I’d ditched my old place a couple of months earlier, I could have had this one.” Max’s crooked smile looked like it hurt. “Not that I could afford it, mind.”

“Where were you before?”

Max waved in an easterly direction. “Closer to the park. I was sharing with some other guys, but it ended up just being too noisy. I guess I’m a country boy at heart.”

“So, you’re from the country, then?”

“Mechanicsburg, it’s—”

“Out past Harrisburg, yeah, I know it.”

Max nodded. “You from Philly?”

“Doylestown. I moved down here a few years ago to be near….” His gaze flicked to the picture of him and Kate, then back to the soup pot. “Friends, and work, I guess. And my sister.”

“What’s your work?”

“Construction. Residential, which is mostly renovation at the moment.”