Block and Strike(9)

By: Kelly Jensen


Damn, he was cute. Really, really cute.

His dark hair had flopped across his forehead and Jake’s fingers itched to smooth it away. He’d seen Max attempt it a couple of times and he’d seen the wince that followed. He was in serious pain. No way he was collapsing on the couch without a shower and clean clothes, though. He reeked.

Max shifted from foot to foot and offered one of his truncated nods. “Okay.” He said something else, uttered in a low rumble that was surprising, given his lean frame. The deep voice suited him. Went with the whole gruff persona thing.

“Hmm?”

“Thanks.” Slim shoulders hitched up and down in a quick shrug. Pain pinched Max’s brow. “For, you know….” He gestured vaguely.

Picking him up off the ground, carrying him up a flight of stairs—and down again—and taking him to the hospital. Jake didn’t imagine Max actually wanted to thank him for all that. He seemed to have hated being in the hospital. But someone had taught him some manners and he was grudgingly exercising them.

“It’s all good.”

Max offered a grunt in reply and looked pointedly up the stairs.

Jake leaped up the last couple, pulled out his keys, and opened the door. “Remember being up here last night?”

A single blue eye looked up from inspecting the apartment and pinned Jake with a considered glare. Another shrug then deflated Max somewhat, returning him to his waif-like state. He looked back through the door. “Yeah, maybe. Willa was here, right?” The glare renewed itself. “I asked you not to take me to the hospital.”

“Right.”

Jake moved through the door and dumped his keys. He beckoned Max inside. Max stopped by the door and wrapped his arms around his torso. Jake watched him look around and turned to view his space through another man’s eyes. Sunshine splashed through full-length windows lining the front and rear walls, bathing his living area with natural light. Those windows had sealed the deal. The place was small, but it had two bedrooms. The second, which he’d set aside for his daughter, if Kate ever let her visit, was little more than a closet. But the bright and airy space of the main room more than made up for it. The front half of the apartment served as his living room. Couch, chair, TV, and a long, low coffee table he’d just finished staining. He’d picked it up off the side of the road one Sunday night on the way home from his parents’ place.

He had a den sort of space along the bare wall between the living room half and the kitchen half. A bookshelf and narrow table repurposed as a desk.

The kitchen had the same airy feel as the front of the apartment, even though the windows looked out over the alley. He had another half-finished project there, the round table he’d sanded, but not stained. A collection of chairs that worked in pairs, two by two. One set refinished, the other not.

The walls were brick, the floors wide, golden planks. He’d sanded, sealed, and buffed the floor before moving in. The interior doors, too. The kitchen cabinets could use a strip and sand. Or maybe he’d replace them with something from a job site.

“Nice place,” Max said.

Jake smiled, proud his home could be considered nice. “I like it.”

“Makes my place look like a hole in the ground.”

“Lair of the White Worm,” Jake reminded him.

Max’s bruised features moved toward a smile. “Nah, it’s too small for that. More like The Crypt or something. Just one. A small one.”

So, he had a sense of humor under all that piss and vinegar.

“C’mon, I’ll show you the bathroom.” Jake opened the door. “Towels are in the closet, behind here, and I’ll get you something to wear. Just leave your gear on the floor. Washer and dryer are in there, too.” He peeled off toward his bedroom. Over his shoulder, he asked, “Want something to eat? Soup, probably. Chewing will hurt for a while, I reckon.”

“Yeah.” Max touched the side of his nose. “For a few days, at least.”

“Had a broken nose before?”

“Once.” His one eye narrowed slightly as he pushed open the bathroom door and disappeared inside. He left the door ajar, which seemed odd until Jake remembered he was supposed to be delivering clothes—not standing there wondering if Max needed help undressing.