All Bets Are Off
By: Marguerite Labbe | Other books by Marguerite Labbe
Published By: Dreamspinner Press
Published: Dec 09, 2011
ISBN # 9781613722527
Published By: Dreamspinner Press
Published: Dec 09, 2011
ISBN # 9781613722527
Word Count: 101,161
Available in: Epub, Mobipocket (.prc), Mobipocket (.mobi), Adobe Acrobat
Available in: Epub, Mobipocket (.prc), Mobipocket (.mobi), Adobe Acrobat
Click here for the print version
DescriptionIt only takes one night with Ash Gallagher to make Eli Hollister think he’s finally met the right man at the right time. Good thing he doesn’t bet on it, because Ash turns out to be a student in Eli’s class at the local college. Eli can’t deny he’s attracted, but now it’s complicated. He’s already in enough trouble with the department head, a man who would like to see Eli denied his tenure and fired.
Ash is looking forward to taking his life in a new direction. After serving one active-duty stint in the Marine Corps and another in the Reserves, he’s ready to put his military life behind him. The last new experience he’d planned for this semester was to fall in lust with his English professor, but the more Eli resists, the more Ash is determined to have him. Then he discovers Eli’s playing for keeps, and Ash is only interested in a fling... or is he? Between these two, when it comes to life and love, all bets are off.
Reader Rating: (11 Ratings)
“OH, FUCK me,” Eli Hollister muttered under his breath as he pulled his motorcycle to a stop in front of Dingers Sports Bar and Grill. His heart sank at the sight of the “Closed” sign over the doorway and men crawling all over the roof. Not that he normally minded seeing a bunch of sweaty and shirtless men working hard in the sun, just not when his stomach was trying to gnaw a hole through his spine. Eye candy was one thing, food was another.
He took another glance at the men on the roof, who were tearing up shingles and tossing them into the dumpster below. Eli knew all but one of the men up there. Jonas Quantrill ran the local construction company with Craig and Lee, two of his sons. However, it was the man Eli didn’t know who caught his attention.
He had the hard, muscular build of a man who used his body to make a living. It was difficult to make out any more details with the sun glaring in his eyes, but Eli watched his silhouette. Eli liked the sure, agile way he moved across the sloping roof. The man set down the boards he was carrying and straightened, wiping the back of his hand across his forehead. The action sent a quick punch of lust to Eli’s gut. He bet the guy had rough hands and Eli did enjoy the feel of rough hands on his bare skin.
“Move your bike away from there before you pick up a nail.” Neil Ryder, the owner of Dingers, emerged out onto the sidewalk with his arms crossed over his chest. “I’m not coming to pick you up if you get a flat halfway up the mountain.”
Eli could see the sense in that. Some of those shingles were barely ending up in the trash bin. Eli moved his bike further down the street and walked back toward Dingers. Neil stared up at the men working on the roof, his bald pate gleaming in the sun.
“Neil, what are you doing to me?”
“You?” Neil turned a hard look at Eli, who grinned back at him. Neil looked like he belonged more on a lumberjack crew than tending a bar. He was a big, rangy man with a thick, silvering brown beard. Sweat glistened on his bald head, and he mopped it with a handkerchief before glaring back up at the men on the roof. “The damn thing sprang a bad leak over my office. Dumped a shit-ton of water all over the place. Now I’ve got to replace the whole thing. You know how much money I lost over the Fourth of July? This is going to set my budget back months.”
“You’re exaggerating. You’ll be fine.” Especially once the college town of Amwich filled with the autumn glut of students. “Why didn’t you use the opportunity to take off for a few days and relax?”
“And leave them to mess with Dingers unsupervised? I don’t think so. Not all of us can go prancing about the country like you do.” Neil growled, scowling again up at the roof where the men were hauling up supplies through the scaffolding and tromping all over his beloved bar. It looked like a hot mess with a chimney jutting out like the last forlorn soldier standing amidst the carnage of a battlefield.
Once again, Eli’s gaze strayed to the newcomer as he dropped a load of shingles over the edge. He thought their eyes might’ve met, at least he hoped that’s what the hot tingle he felt meant.
“It was just a suggestion.” Eli pulled his eyes away from the other man. Neil’s sour expression made Eli decide not to poke any more fun at him. It was one of those rare scorching summer days, and Neil’s face had taken on a florid cast.
“A bad one.” Neil turned toward the bar and held open the door for Eli. “It’s too hot to stand outside and jibber jabber. Want a beer?”
“Is it safe to go in there?” Eli followed Neil into the slightly cooler, dim space of the bar. Inside, the sounds of the men moving about overhead and tearing up shingles were amplified tenfold.
It was strange to see the bar empty of customers, the flat-screen TVs quiet and dark, covered up by the heavy blankets that movers used. The baseball memorabilia that wasn’t nailed tight to the walls had been taken down and stored in more wrappings on the tables, leaving pale patches on the walls. The rock-hewn chimney stood solid amid the polished wooden tables with worn and faded red leather padded benches and chairs. At least that hadn’t changed one bit.
“Sure, the break happened over my office, but Jonas says I should get the area over the kitchen replaced too.” Neil poured some water over his head and mopped it up with a dishtowel.
“Are you going to listen to him this time?”
“Yeah, smart ass. I told him to go ahead since they’re already ripping the rest of the shit up.” Neil shot him a sour glance. “I bet you’d like to know where your cousin is, since I’m not feeding you. Lu should be here soon. She promised Jonas and the boys some lunch.”
“Oh thank God, I do not want to suffer the horror of my own cooking.” Eli would be doing enough of that on his backpacking trip and didn’t want to start early. It wasn’t that he couldn’t cook; he just hated it with a passion he reserved for the New York Yankees and closed-minded bigots in equal measure. And as much as he wanted to eat, he was also looking forward to getting a real look at that new guy. It was impossible to ogle properly with the sun in his eyes.
“I don’t know how the hell you’d survive if everyone stopped feeding you.”
“Don’t even joke like that. Come on, I’ll help you push some tables together. Lu is liable to bring enough to feed half the town.”
They cleared off two tables and pushed them together, setting up a mini buffet off to the side of the bar. Eli dragged the chairs to the back so they wouldn’t get in the way of the hungry workers and cleared some more tables so they could sit and eat.
Eli straightened when the familiar honk of Lu’s horn came from outside. “I’ll go help her unload.” He left Neil setting up sodas and bottled water. His cousin had parked haphazardly in front of the bar, the tail end of her car two feet out onto the street. “Lu, you’re the only person I’ve ever met who cannot park alongside a curb when there’s nothing hindering you,” he said to his cousin as she emerged from her hatchback.
Lu Pelland paused, hands on her narrow hips, and with pursed lips she surveyed her parking job, then shrugged. “Close enough for me.”
Eli enfolded his cousin in a hug. She was all bones and angles, her graying chestnut hair pulled back into a braid. Out of everyone in his family, Eli felt the closest to her. She’d been older sister, confidante, and counselor for as long as he could remember. And when he’d been banished here to Amwich for six months when he was fifteen, it had been Lu who calmed his fears and taught him that being different didn’t mean there was a damn thing wrong with him.
“When did you sneak in?” Lu asked. “I woke up this morning to find that crazy mutt of yours gone and a scribbled note that I couldn’t make any sense of.”
“It was almost two in the morning. I didn’t want to bother you.” Eli lifted a heavy pot out of the back. “So, what have you gifted me with today?” Whatever it was, the aromas made his stomach rumble even more.
“I didn’t make it for you, glutton, but there is enough for you to mooch. It’s chilled tomato basil soup, turkey and havarti on ciabatta rolls, and a pasta salad.” Lu frowned as she looked over the array of food. “Do you think I made enough?”
“Name me one time when you ended up short,” Eli said with a chuckle.
“One time is all it will take to make me neurotic,” Lu said, following Eli into the bar with the pasta bowl.
“I don’t understand why you insist on waitressing when you could run my kitchen,” Neil grumbled as he took the bowl from her.
“If I take over your kitchen it becomes work and no longer fun. I cook when I want to. I get to decide what I’m making, how much, and who I want to give it to. Besides, I’d miss talking to everyone.” Lu tied on an apron and flipped her hands at Neil. “Go get the boys while Eli brings in the sandwiches.”
Eli shook his head as Neil opened his mouth to retort. “I wouldn’t. It’s just easier to do as she says. You know, you should marry her,” Eli teased, then burst out laughing as Neil shot him a horrified glance.
“Don’t I have enough gray hair?” Lu asked.
“Are you crazy?” Neil burst out. “I’d never know any peace. The woman would take over and run the whole thing, leaving me with just the bartending.”
Eli refrained from pointing out that Lu had already taken on far more than waitressing and that Neil would be in hog heaven if all he had to do was run the bar, talk baseball, and buy more memorabilia.
“I was just throwing it out as an option.” Eli lifted his hands in surrender as he backed out.
By the time he finished carting in the last tray of sandwiches, the crew had climbed down from the roof and congregated in the restrooms to clean up. Lu was nowhere to be seen and Eli took full advantage, loading up a plate with sandwiches and pasta salad before grabbing a bowl of soup.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Lu asked as she returned from the kitchen carrying small dishes filled with condiments.
“Getting lunch before the hungry mob appears.”
“I can see that.”
“Then why’d you ask such a silly question?” Eli gave her a cheeky grin and then took a step back as she brandished a wooden spoon in his direction. “Besides, I had to taste it all to make sure it’s okay for the audience you wish to dazzle.”
“Don’t try to charm me, Eli. I know you too well.” Then Jonas appeared and she stopped her lecture to smile at the foreman. “How’s Rebecca doing, Jonas? I haven’t seen her in a few weeks.”
Eli greeted Jonas, then took his purloined food over to his favorite table in the far corner of the bar and cleaned off his space. He bit into his sandwich, watching the rest of the guys trickle in. His gaze immediately honed in on the newcomer, and his senses sizzled. That man was worth any amount of anticipation.
His height and broad shoulders kept his muscles from bulking him up too much. The wifebeater he wore showed off his chest, flat stomach, and tight nipples. God, Lu would flay him if she discovered Eli ogling nipples during lunch, only he couldn’t help himself. The man was tasty from head to toe. As he turned to get his food, Eli bit back a groan. The cargo shorts he wore clung to his muscular ass just right, and what an ass it was. Eli would love to get his hands on it, just a quick squeeze to see if it was as firm as it looked.
He’d have to ask Lu who he was and when he had drifted into Amwich. The town held an interesting mix of people. On the northern side were the locals who had lived here for generations and who knew everything about everybody, or so they believed. The southern part of town was where everyone else lived, in a series of refurbished apartments: the students from Amwich State College who didn’t want to stay in the dormitories, along with the short-term professors and specialists who wanted to stay close by campus.
At that moment, his cousin caught Eli’s gaze and gave him a small shake of her head. Eli could almost hear her tsking under her breath. That he was openly gay did not bother Lu one bit. In fact she had been the first person he’d talked to when he started suspecting that he was different from the other boys around him. Only after Eli had gotten decked for casting glances at a guy had she become overprotective about his discretion.
Eli grinned and shrugged, deciding to humor her. It wasn’t as if he really wanted to engage in a flirtation before he left town again anyway, unless that flirtation translated into a night or two of hot sex. Provided that the guy even swung his way. Still, he couldn’t help one more glance as the other man turned back around with his loaded plate. His red-gold hair had been cut short in a Marine-type buzz. And damned if he didn’t have freckles, too, a nice smattering of them across an open and friendly face.
As the man pulled out a chair at the same table as his coworkers, he glanced over and caught Eli looking. Eli’s stomach fluttered, and he couldn’t help the mischievous grin that crossed his lips. Hey, no harm no foul, right? Maybe the guy wouldn’t take offense. Another, stronger flutter went through him when the other man smiled back with a wink before Craig said something and drew his attention away.
The new guy had a nice smile too. One of those genuine smiles that lit up his face. Eli gave a mental sigh at that and wondered what color his eyes were. Maybe hazel or a warm brown that would offset his hair.
Eli was definitely going to have to grill Lu for details. Neil set an old TV on the bar and fiddled with the cable on the back until the screen cleared and he was able to change the channel to ESPN for a recap of last night’s game between the Red Sox and the Orioles.
“The man has only two things on his mind,” Lu huffed as she joined Eli. “Beer and baseball. And you, Elijah Hollister, need to keep your eyes where they belong.”
“Neither of us are going to change at this point, Lu.” Eli chuckled and moved his chair over as Neil approached, so he could sit with them. “So how long is Dingers going to be closed?”
Neil grimaced as he reached for the pepper. “Jonas said it would take about four days to do the job right. Then I figure I’ll need at least another day to clean up and put everything back. We should be open by Sunday’s game if the damn noise doesn’t drive me crazy before then.”
“I’m not leaving until Monday so I can help you put everything back together,” Eli offered.
Neil’s face brightened and he gave Eli a rare smile. “Thanks. You’re still not getting that photograph, but I’ll agree to feed you in exchange.”
Eli glanced at the bare spot on the wall where the picture of Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams in their respective uniforms usually hung. Eli coveted that photograph and nothing would induce Neil to part with it, no matter how hard Eli tried. He really needed to get a replica of his own. “I think I can agree to those terms. It’ll be good to see Dingers back to normal before I go. So catch me up on the gossip. I’m not going to be able to get any messages soon.”
“That’s because you’ll be out in the middle of nowhere, gallivanting about the States with that crazy mutt of yours,” Lu retorted.
“That’s the second time you’ve mentioned he’s crazy. Did Jabbers misbehave that much while I was in Tennessee?”
“You’re the only one in town that doesn’t know he’s certifiable, Eli.” Lu didn’t like the idea of him going off on his long, solo camping trips with only a beagle for company. At least she didn’t badger him about it too much. “So how was your trip? How are your southern cousins doing?”
“The Smoky Mountains are nice, though not as pretty as the ones in New Hampshire.” Lu hadn’t asked about his parents, whom Eli had gone to visit. That was one rift he didn’t think would ever be healed, and it made him uncomfortable that he was at the heart of the conflict between Lu and his dad. “And the cousins are doing well. Most of them have married and moved off. Only one left is Gareth, and he’ll never settle down. He’s enjoying life too much.”
Eli rose to get seconds. As he did, he was able to get a better glance at his new dream guy. The lighting in the bar was terrible and Eli still wasn’t able to catch the color of his eyes, but the man had the undertone to his skin of a true redhead that would never tan, no matter how much time he spent in the sun it would only burn or freckle more.
He did catch Jonas saying his name: Ash. Finally, a name to go along with the face. He wanted to introduce himself, but Jonas was talking business and he wouldn’t be pleased with an interruption, so Eli returned to his table with another loaded plate and contented himself with quick glimpses. The crew finished lunch quickly, and as they trooped out again, Ash caught his eye and gave him another wink, a good-natured smile on his face.
“Oh, man, I think I’m in love,” Eli said under his breath as the door shut behind Ash.
Neil shot him a skeptical glance. “You say that all the time. Call me when it actually happens so I can point and laugh.”
Eli ignored him and turned to appeal to his cousin. “You have to know something about Ash. Is he gay? Is he single? Is he one of those itinerant construction workers who will disappear before I come back home and break my heart?”
“I’m sure your heart is quite safe,” Lu said with a dry tone. “He’s renting one of Abraham’s places. I think the construction gig is part-time. I know I’ve seen him leaving his apartment in cammies once or twice.” Lu rose and started to pack up the leftover food, dividing it into two containers before Eli and Neil could start arguing over who got to keep them.
A military man. National Guard, maybe, or one of the Reserves. Eli thought there might be a Marine Corps headquarters somewhere south of here. That clinched Eli’s interest. He’d always had a soft spot for military men, and it seemed that the worst trouble he’d ever gotten into followed them, but that had never stopped him before. Eli cast Lu a look of appeal. “So you’ll ask around for me while I’m gone, right? Inquiring minds need to know these little details, Lu, and it’s your duty as my loving cousin to investigate them when I can’t.”
ASH GALLAGHER returned to tearing up rotten shingles as the hot July sun beat down on him. He’d laughed when the rest of the crew had complained about the heat. This was nothing compared to the summers in Savannah, where he grew up, where the air was liquid and heavy and sweat would just pour off a body. And Savannah hadn’t prepared him at all for Iraq’s dry heat that blasted right off of him and sucked every drop of moisture from his body before he even had a chance to bitch about how hot it was. At least in Iraq, shade had provided welcome relief.
Dingers sat in the middle of a long row of connected buildings lining one side of the street. The town common sat across from it with the red, white, and blue bunting still decorating the gazebo from the Fourth of July celebration earlier in the week. Ash had enjoyed the small town festivities more than he’d thought he would. He wiped the beads of sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. He needed a bandana. His short hair did nothing to soak up the sweat that ran into his eyes and stung.
“So who was that with Neil and Lu?” Ash asked Jonas, who worked beside him. He thought he’d met all the locals since he’d moved into town. Clearly he hadn’t or he would’ve remembered that guy, for sure. The sudden brilliance of the man’s smile had caught his wholehearted attention. There had been no embarrassment or coyness when he’d been caught staring, just that boyish “oh well you can’t blame a guy” smile.
Jonas gave him an odd, measuring look that made Ash wonder what was going through his head before he shrugged. “That’s Eli. He’s Lu’s second cousin on his dad’s side. He’s good people.”
The culture of a small town would certainly take some getting used to. Everyone had deep-seated opinions about each other that they often didn’t hesitate to share. Ash had found that he didn’t get introduced to a person without finding out who else they were connected to and how long their particular family had lived here.
Sure enough, Jonas continued, and a smile tugged at Ash’s lips. “He took over the Hermitage from his grandfather about five years ago. Cared for his grandmother till she passed a year later. Unlike most of the rest of his family, it doesn’t look like he’s leaving the area anytime soon.”
Ash supposed that was pretty good praise in Jonas’s mind. So Eli was a man who had put down roots, unlike Ash, who was still wandering about, searching for a place he could claim. An old restlessness tugged at him. It was the same restlessness that had caused him to join the Marine Corps right out of high school. Then he’d been looking for an exciting challenge; now he was looking for a place where he belonged.
After the way his second tour in Iraq had ended, he’d started questioning what he wanted out of his life. As much as he’d loved being a Marine, he’d opted out and gone into the Reserves so he could go to school. Now that was almost over with. One more year and he’d have his degree and the freedom to go where he wished. Even if he wasn’t sure where that was yet.
Eli. He tasted the name. A strong name for a man with such a quirky, sexy smile.
Jonas exchanged a quick, concerned glance with his sons, but didn’t offer any further details when Ash didn’t ask. Ash set aside the roofer’s spade and gathered an armload of shingles that hadn’t already skittered down the roof. He spotted Eli walking out of the bar and watched him help Lu load up her car with empty trays, a bowl, and a Crock-Pot. He hugged her and kissed the top of her head in a gesture that reminded Ash of the way he was with his youngest sister Katie.
Eli wasn’t at all like the men Ash normally found himself attracted to. There was a bohemian look about him with his long, auburn hair caught back in a neat braid, clad in scarred boots, worn jeans, and a fitted black T-shirt. Eli glanced up at him, another broad smile crossing his face as he waved, and the flash of desire that struck Ash took his breath away.
Yeah, there was definite interest there, and it was mutual. Not like there were many other options off campus, and Ash definitely hadn’t found anyone on campus who came close to catching his eye. They all seemed so incredibly young.
Not that Ash was that old, even if he’d been on his own for the past ten years. He’d seen war and blood. He’d witnessed the worst acts of depravity someone could imagine, yet some of the most compassionate too. He just didn’t have anything in common with the rest of the students in his classes. This was his final year at Amwich State College. Once he had his degree he could move on.
He was glad that he’d moved closer to his school instead trying to stay halfway between there and his Reserve unit in Londonderry. Concord had been okay, and he’d liked his roommate and the dating opportunities in a larger town, but when his roommate had gotten serious about his girlfriend, Ash had decided it was time to move on. This year’s classes were going to be intense enough without having a long daily commute on top of them.
Once Lu had driven off and gotten her car out of harm’s way, Ash dropped his armload of shingles into the trash bin below. Eli was walking back toward the motorcycle Ash had noticed earlier, a gorgeous dark-blue Valkyrie. A motorcycle was one of those things he’d always wanted, but had never gotten around to buying. He planned to rectify that once he graduated.
Jonas glanced up from where he was testing the wood for rot as Ash returned. “Some might say Eli’s odd. He can be a bit of a loner, and it’s no secret about town that he doesn’t prefer women,” he said, his eyes sharp on Ash. “Not sure what he did to catch your attention, but whatever it was, he didn’t mean anything by it and isn’t looking for trouble.”
Ash chuckled and shook his head as he grabbed his spade again. “I’m not looking to cause any. I don’t judge what a man does on his own time or who he does it with.” It would be rather hypocritical of him, all things considered. Ash had known he was gay since he was fourteen. All of his friends had been hot for this one girl at school, and he’d only had eyes for her older brother.
“Just making sure.” That being said, Jonas went back to what he was doing without another word.
A bit surprised, Ash returned to tearing up shingles. He hadn’t expected the people in Amwich to be so broad-minded when he’d moved here a month ago. Maybe it was the influence of the college, or maybe it was just easier to accept people as they were when you’d known them their entire lives. The reasons didn’t matter. It was just nice to be in a place where he could be at ease in his own skin.
ELI spied Wayne Grayson’s truck, bristling with compartments for tools, parked by the town common and paused, struck by a pang of empathy. Remembering the grim news he’d received while he had been in Tennessee, Eli stored his leftovers in the saddlebag of his bike and turned back. He waved at the other man as he jogged across the street. “Hey, Wayne.”
Wayne dragged along a large trash can as he systematically cleaned up the common of debris from the Fourth of July festivities. Confetti covered the grass in a colorful carpet, with the added adornment of empty beer bottles and spent sparkler sticks scattered about. “Back already? Thought you’d be gone the whole summer.” He straightened as Eli approached, and tied off another bag of trash. Though they were close in age, Wayne’s long, narrow face had new lines etched around the mouth and eyes. The thick, black framed glasses on his upturned nose gave him a studious look, but the other man was far more comfortable with tools in his hand than a book. Wayne had always been like that, ever since they were kids.
“I’m home for a week and then I’m off to Colorado and northern California for a while. I heard about your dad being rushed to the hospital last week.”
Mr. Grayson and Eli’s dad were best friends until after high school, when they both went their separate ways. Eli had never understood what had happened, and the few times he’d tried to ask his dad about the antagonism between them, he’d been rebuffed. But when he’d heard that Mr. Grayson had been hospitalized, his dad had unbent enough to send him a letter with Eli.
“What happened? What have the doctors said?”
“He had a pretty bad stroke in the middle of the night.” Wayne took off his stained work gloves and stuffed them in his back pocket, the lines of tension on his face deepening. “He’s still in the hospital. They’re trying to make sure there aren’t more complications. He’s got a long rehab ahead of him. Can’t barely talk, and now he’s stuck riding in a wheelchair for a while until the physical therapists get a go at him.”
“I’m sorry. Tell me if there’s anything I can do to help. You know Lu wouldn’t mind fussing over your dad too.”
A smile lifted some of the anxiety on Wayne’s face. “She’s visited every day. Keeps bringing food too. Enough to feed a whole family, not just me. My freezer’s likely to burst.”
“That sounds about right, knowing her. Don’t complain; just savor the bounty while it lasts.” Eli clapped Wayne on the shoulder in sympathy as the man’s face fell once again. He couldn’t begin to image having to watch his dad recover from a sudden illness like that, estranged or not. “I’ll stop by the hospital before I go. And like I said, let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
“Actually there is.” Wayne took a swig of water from the bottle hanging from his belt. “I need to hire a live-in nurse for him when he comes back home and I’ve got to pay for Tilly to run the store full time now. I don’t know where the money’s gonna come from since Dad didn’t have any medical insurance. So if you could put in a good word for me at the college for anybody looking to have some jobs done around the house or yard, I’d appreciate it. I’d even be willing to go out of town to Concord or Dartmouth to drum up some business, just as long as it’s not too far away.”
“Not a problem. I’ll post something up on the community board, and if anybody asks I’ll drop your name. Speaking of which, I have some stuff around my house that could be taken care of since I’m going to be gone pretty much for the rest of the summer. The gutters won’t last another winter, and the door on my shed is starting to sag.”
A relieved grin broke out over Wayne’s face. “I’ll tell you what, Eli. Write out a list of what you need, and I’ll work up an estimate for you. Then when you come back, all you have to worry about is a bunch of smart-mouthed kids and Britton.”
“Please don’t invoke that name,” Eli said with a grimace. “I refuse to let him in my thoughts over the summer.”
“Forget I mentioned him, then.”
“The kids are fun and I can handle Britton. I think what irks him the most is that I don’t get upset with him,” Eli said with a chuckle. “Sometimes it’s even fun.”
They talked for a few minutes more, catching up on news, until Eli could see that Wayne wanted to get back to work. Eli promised to drop off the work list at the hardware store, and then headed off across the square toward his motorcycle.
“Hey, Eli,” Wayne called after him. “You think you might have some time before you leave to show me the baseball card collection our dads had?”
“Ha! My dad saving something sentimental? Remember who you’re talking about.” A flash of acute disappointment crossed Wayne’s face, and Eli wished he could’ve told him otherwise. “Sorry, Wayne, he’s not that kind of a guy.”
Wayne grunted and pulled the trashcan to another section of grass that needed to be cleared. “Well, if you get a chance, ask your dad if he kept them.”
Eli wasn’t looking to talk to his dad anytime soon, especially over something he’d consider frivolous. “I’ll keep it in mind. See you, Wayne.”
He glanced at Dingers’ roof as he turned away and immediately picked out Ash’s silhouette from the others. Smiling to himself, he returned to his bike. He could count on Lu, being the gossip that she was, to find out more about him while he was on his vacation.
In the meantime, it was a perfect day for riding, with the brilliant July sun shining and puffy, low flying clouds dappling shadows on the hillside as he left town. Eli wanted to make the most of such a day.
The motorcycle roared along the curved road, and Eli opened the throttle, grinning and whooping in delight when the bike sped up in response. The wheels kicked up dust as he turned off the main road and headed up Mount Abenaqui toward the Hermitage. It was good to be back home among the weathered, exposed granite and tree-covered peaks, and all the more poignant because he would be leaving again in a few days.