When One Door Opens
Published By: Dreamspinner Press
Published: Dec 28, 2012
ISBN # 9781623802530
Available in: Epub, Mobipocket (.mobi), Adobe Acrobat
Click here for the print version
Caleb is deceptively normal for a guy who hasn't left his apartment in three years, and his friendly, caring personality tugs on heartstrings Logan didn’t know he had. But hitting on his boss’s nephew is asking to be unemployed. Logan has enough problems with booze on every corner and a supervisor trying to jump into his bed. He doesn’t need to work out how to free Caleb from the anxiety that keeps him in his apartment; he needs to keep his nose clean, attend his AA meetings, and make a fresh start—alone.
If only his heart would get with the program.
LOGAN SELLERS grabbed another box off the truck trailer and placed it on the conveyor belt, sending it down the line to the mail sorting station. He was only an hour into his shift, but his back and thighs burned from the repetitive motion. He was glad the company’s dress policy allowed him to wear shorts and a tank top. He couldn’t imagine surviving the heat otherwise. The industrial fans positioned throughout the warehouse were more likely to render a guy deaf than fend off the roasting temperatures of Chicago in July. Swiping a bead of sweat from his forehead, he reached for another package. The boxes and mailers of various sizes filled the truck bed. Being six feet seven inches was coming in handy for once; he spent less time climbing in and out. The work was hard, fast-paced, and monotonous, leaving no time for idle thoughts. It was the perfect job for him. Idle thoughts had caused him enough problems. He’d been lucky to apply during a time when they were short on package handlers. While he was still considered part-time, according to his supervisor, he would be needed for at least five hours most days. He earned only enough to scrape by, but the early-morning shift meant he could hopefully find another job during the day.
Logan turned toward his supervisor, still holding a box that had to weigh at least seventy pounds. He’d hold the box all day if it meant not dealing with the obnoxious redhead. She wore a pair of hip-hugging jeans and a T-shirt so tight you could ski down her cleavage. “What can I do for you, Ms. Foster?”
“I thought we agreed you’d call me Karen.” As she ran her eyes over him in appreciation, Logan resisted the urge to roll his in return. She pouted her too-red lips at him when he didn’t comment. “The boss wants to see you,” she said before twirling away and sashaying her ass down the line.
Logan sighed, slipping the box onto the conveyor belt. Only one week on the job and already being called into the boss’s office was not a good sign. He made his way through the warehouse toward the back offices, passing a long line of workers pulling boxes from trucks and depositing them on the conveyor belt that ran the length of the warehouse. Rounding the corner, he found the floor manager, Harrison Klass, hovering outside his office. When he caught sight of Logan, Klass’s eyes widened like those of a raccoon facing down a semi. Logan’s height and build meant Logan was used to seeing the look, but now people had a new reason to be skittish around him. Ex-con. He’d been honest when he filled out the job application, but he wondered if the bigwigs had changed their minds about letting someone with a record work here. He hoped not. A steady job was a condition of his parole.
Klass ushered him into the office with a wave of his hand. “Have a seat, Mr. Sellers,” Klass said, sounding calmer than he looked. He was on the short side and sixtyish, with a narrow, lined face. Behind an uncluttered mahogany desk, Klass manhandled a black leather swivel chair into position and lowered himself into it with a sigh. The bookshelves on the wall behind him held binders, books, and folders, all arranged with enough precision to make a drill sergeant smile. “I asked to speak with you to see if you’re interested in making a special delivery for me.”
Logan frowned in confusion. Drivers made deliveries, and as he understood it, it would take a year before he was eligible to apply to the drivers program.
“It would be a—” Klass cleared his throat. “Personal off-the-books delivery.”
Logan had just gotten out of prison. He had no intention of doing anything to get his ass put back. He folded his arms across his broad chest, flexing his biceps just a bit. “I don’t get involved in drugs, not for nothing.”
“Oh, no,” Klass stammered, his eyes skittering between Logan’s face and the hard muscle of his arms. “It’s not what you think.” He rubbed his beak of a nose. “I need your help with my sister’s kid. He’s housebound and needs someone to help him out. You’d be paid a hundred dollars a week plus travel expenses.”
Logan dropped his arms to his sides, thinking over the offer. An extra hundred would make life easier until he could find a better job or another part-time one. He didn’t mind the idea of helping a guy out, but he wasn’t cut out to be anybody’s nurse. “What would I be doing exactly?”
Klass smiled and settled back into his chair as if he’d been sure Logan would ask that question. “Twice a week after your shift, you’ll retrieve mail from his PO box and take back any he gives you. He prefers Monday and Friday, but he can be flexible if needed. Every couple of weeks, you’ll also need to get his order from the grocery near his apartment.”
Klass started fidgeting, twisting the sleeve of his button-down shirt in his hands and looking everywhere but at Logan. “I’d also like you to spend a little time with him just to make sure he’s doing okay.” He scratched his snow-white hair. “Caleb’s an agoraphobic—gets that from his mother, she was a worrier, God rest her soul—and because of his condition, he doesn’t leave the apartment. Are you interested?”
Logan hesitated, wondering why his boss would want an ex-con to take care of his nephew. Maybe he doesn’t like his nephew? If the job turned out to be a nightmare, he’d have a hell of a time getting out of it.
Seeming to pluck the thought from Logan’s head, Klass said, “Give it a try and if you decide it’s not for you, I’ll understand. The last package handler, Marco Rodriguez, did it for over a year before he moved to Florida.”
If the last guy did it for that long, how bad could it be? “Okay.”
AFTER giving the cab driver the address, Logan looked at the innocuous mailer with the name Caleb Klass scrawled on it. The guy goes by his uncle’s last name. He realized Klass hadn’t mentioned Caleb’s dad. Maybe he’s dead or a complete bastard. He hoped that wasn’t the reason the guy never left the apartment. When the cab hauled to a stop, Logan paid the driver and climbed out of the car with the envelope mailer tucked under his arm. After unlocking the door with the front entrance key Klass had given him, he made his way into the medium-sized brick apartment building. He considered himself a fit guy, but climbing in and out of a truck bed for the past five hours had left his calves feeling like jelly. The place was in a decent neighborhood, a far better one than the rathole he lived in. No blood on the walls or stench of urine on the stairs was always a good sign.
He got to Caleb’s floor and found his apartment. Number 401. He knocked. And waited. Just when he was about to knock again, he heard a muffled voice through the door: “You’re not Marco.”
Logan peered at the peephole. “Marco moved to Florida and I’m the new delivery guy,” he said, wondering why Caleb didn’t already know this. He heard the lock unlatch, and the door slid open, catching on the still attached chain.
“S-shove the p-package through the gap, please.”
Logan looked at the instruction sheet Klass had given him. Feeling ridiculous, he said, “It says you’ve gotta let me in before I can give it to ya.” He thought he heard a mumbled curse before the door closed and he heard the slide of the chain lock.
The door reopened enough to allow a pale arm to poke through. “My uncle has a twisted sense of humor and loves screwing with the new guy. P-please, just hand over the p-package and we can both get back to our lives.”
Logan hesitated. It had been a long, hot day, and he’d like nothing better than to get out of here. His plans for the weekend included parking his ass in front of the fan and not moving until Monday. He sighed, looking at the sheet of paper again. Watch out, he’s sneaky, was the second instruction. “You’re not getting this package ’til ya let me in.”
The arm disappeared, and the door opened far enough for Logan to make his way inside. His eyes took a few seconds to adjust to the dim interior. Floor-length black curtains covered the right wall completely, blocking out the natural light. The main room was spacious, but it had been crammed so full of mahogany and leather that the effect would have been stifling if not for the air conditioner set to arctic. Logan took a moment to savor the icy air on his heated skin before continuing to look around. An L-shaped leather couch, a massive mahogany desk that looked just like his uncle’s, and a wall of bookshelves dominated the room. Unlike his uncle, Caleb’s books appeared shoved into all available space and filled with everything from paperbacks to leather tomes to cookbooks. A black entertainment center with a flat-screen TV and a shelf filled with DVDs gave Logan a pang of longing. He couldn’t afford a radio, let alone a flat screen.
Drawing his gaze away, Logan noticed the man hovering in the kitchen that opened into the main room. He was as far away as he could get without climbing onto the back countertop. Caleb had his back pressed against a stainless steel fridge that matched the rest of the appliances in the kitchen. A light sheen of sweat dampened the hairline of his blond hair.
Logan held out his hands, still holding the mailer. “Don’t freak out.”
Caleb’s green eyes narrowed, and he put his hands on his hips. “Is that supposed to be funny?”
Logan winced. “Didn’t mean it like that.” He ran a hand over his shaved head. “People tend to get jumpy when they first meet me.”
Caleb attempted a smirk, but it came across strained. “That’s because you’re a giant.” He took a step forward, keeping the kitchen island between them. “I wouldn’t be surprised to learn you eat angry villagers for breakfast.” He had his uncle’s talent for sounding calmer than he looked, but his body language screamed “scared rabbit.”
Logan noticed the kitchen was spotless, not a dirty dish, half-open cabinet, or food stain to be seen. He remembered Klass mentioning he needed to take out the trash once a week too. He couldn’t imagine being so afraid that a trip to the dumpster seemed impossible. Looking around the kitchen, he didn’t spot a garbage can. Or smell one for that matter. What does the little neat freak do? Wash his trash before hiding it away in a cabinet?
Hoping to put the man at ease, Logan said, “I only eat villagers when I run out of maple oatmeal.” That got him a fleeting smile that looked more genuine and drew Logan’s attention to the rest of Caleb’s face. His hair was shaggy, not like a rock star, but like a woman’s hair gets when she’s growing out a short style, awkward angles of blond locks. Guess there aren’t many barbers who make house calls.
“Now that we’ve bonded over breakfast food,” Caleb said, stepping around the island, “how about you hand over the package?”
Logan eyed his boss’s nephew head to toe, taking in his form-fitting sweatpants and Chicago Cubs T-shirt. According to Klass, they were the same age, but Caleb looked closer to sixteen than twenty-six. Glancing at his watch, he said, “Not for eight more minutes.”
Caleb rolled his eyes, giving Logan a ridiculous craving for the lime Jell-O they served in prison.
“Marco never stayed for the whole ten minutes.” He licked his lips, his gaze drifting down and back up again. “He just came in, asked the three Hs, and left.”
Logan squinted at the paper. “How are you?”
“I’m agoraphobic. How are you?”
“I’m an ex-drunk,” Logan answered automatically. His jaw dropped, and he heard his brain spin in the awkward silence that followed. What the hell?
Seeming to take pity on him, Caleb said, “I once offered to host an agoraphobic group meeting, but nobody showed up.”
Logan snorted, glad the guy could laugh about his condition. He himself had covered his minifridge with every tasteless joke and cartoon he could find about AA and being an alcoholic. Laughing about it made it somehow easier to deal with. He had the bizarre urge to tell Caleb about his fridge decorations, which made no sense. It wasn’t like him to want to share something like that, especially with a man he’d just met. Reading the next question, he raised his brow. “How’s your sex life?” he asked. He stared incredulously at the paper. “Why the hell would your uncle want to know that?”
“I try not to think about it,” Caleb deadpanned.
Suddenly, Logan could think of nothing else. Caleb was the perfect combination of wholesome appeal, with his big green eyes, and sexiness, with the type of lips that made Logan’s dick twitch. High cheekbones and a narrow chin gave him a boyish appearance, making Logan wonder if he tasted as sweet as he looked. His thoughts derailed when he read the last question. “Have you left the apartment?”
“No,” Caleb said, his cheeks flushing bright against his pallid skin.
“How long has it been since you left?”
“That’s n-not on the l-list.”
Logan looked away. “Sorry, not my business.”
Caleb surprised him by answering. “I sometimes go into the apartment across from me when Mrs. Simon needs something, but I haven’t done that for a couple of weeks.” He looked at his clutched hands before continuing. “I haven’t left the building in almost three years.”
Logan glanced at Caleb’s pale face, noticing the dark shadows beneath his eyes. He felt like apologizing again, but he held his tongue. He doubted Caleb would appreciate pity from a total stranger. He wouldn’t in the same circumstances. Glancing at his watch, he struggled to think of something else to talk about; small talk wasn’t one of his strengths, especially not while sober. “Do you have any mailers for me to take back?”
Caleb sighed as if relieved to have a question to answer. “Not today.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “I run a small web design and editing business… from home.” He winced. “Obviously.”
Logan had wondered how a guy who never left his apartment could afford the rent. Caleb had to be pretty good if companies hired him without even meeting him. Given the jumpiness, he doubted Caleb entertained clients here. A trained monkey knew more about computers than Logan did, so the conversation stalled once again. It had been a long time since he’d been so tongue-tied around someone as attractive as Caleb. But setting his sights on a hot guy and making a move wasn’t the same as making chitchat. No wonder Marco usually bailed in the first few minutes.
“You’ll need me on Mondays and Fridays, right?”
“Yes, and I’m hoping you can pick up my grocery order this coming Monday from Meng’s Market.” He walked over to the desk, giving Logan a nice view of his tight ass. “Meng’s is just three blocks south from here.” He brought back a store flyer and handed it to Logan. “If you need to switch days, just let me know. I listed my number.” Shifting his weight from side to side, he continued. “Leave a message on my voice mail if I don’t answer.”
Logan blinked. “Because you might be with your neighbor?”
“Right.” Sighing, Caleb rubbed the back of his neck. “Or, I don’t always do well on the phone.” He looked straight at Logan, his eyes verging on desperate. “Please tell me it’s been ten minutes. I swear I’m not normally such a freak. I just have trouble with first-time meetings.”
“You’re no worse at it than I am,” Logan muttered. He didn’t have the excuse of a severe phobia. He’d never been much of a conversationalist, but he didn’t remember being this bad before prison.
“Do you want something to drink?” Caleb’s eyes widened in realization at the implication. When he continued, the words poured from his mouth. “Water, water to drink. I don’t have alcohol, and I never do, or coffee or pop because the caffeine makes me hyper, or more hyper and—”
“Water’d be great.”
“Right, sure.” He headed for the kitchen. “Oh, the part about me not being a freak. Total lie.” He pulled out two bottles of water and handed one to Logan.
Grinning, Logan accepted the bottle. “At least you’re an honest freak.”
“Only when forced,” Caleb said.
LOGAN unlocked the door to his studio apartment and made his way inside. After securing it, he stood in the middle of the dank room, his mind going back to the conversation with Caleb. Three years! This place wasn’t much bigger than the cell he’d lived in for the past year. He’d been sentenced to three years, but lucky enough to get out in one. Caleb was as much a prisoner. Except he hadn’t done anything wrong and had no guarantee of ever being released. That’s a fucking depressing thought.
Logan walked over to his kitchen, which consisted of a wheezing minifridge covered in cut-out comics, a microwave, and a coffee machine. He opened the fridge and pulled out a bottle of water. It wasn’t the drink he wanted, but he unscrewed the top and downed the contents. Needing to rein in that train of thought, he dropped to the floor and did twenty push-ups. He alternated between sit-ups and push-ups until all thoughts of oblivion in a bottle fled his mind.
Recovering, he lay back with his arms folded and cupped behind his head, looking at the water-stained ceiling. He’d considered himself lucky when he’d gotten the “no deposit necessary” lease even though twenty-five ex-druggie, ex-crazy, or ex-con residents also called it home. It seemed like a bad idea to have that many unstable individuals in one place, but choices had been limited to say the least. He needed to open the windows and get the fan blowing. Not that it would do much to stifle the oppressive heat. Catching a whiff of himself, he cringed. He was ripe before the workout; now he smelled like a dead skunk. Maybe that was the real reason Caleb was standing on the other side of the room. The thought made him smile, and he hauled himself to his feet.
After opening the windows and starting up a white, plastic fan, Logan entered the cramped bathroom, turned on the shower, and adjusted the spray to just above lukewarm. Removing his clothes, he got into the stall. He slid the glass shower door shut and let the water wash over his face and body. Even after a week of being on the outside, the luxury of showering without an audience and taking as much time as he wanted was still a heady feeling. He toyed with the idea of a cold shower to get relief from the heat, but his calf muscles whimpered at the thought.
He ran a washrag over his broad chest. He’d always kept in shape, but he had packed on more muscle after his conviction. There hadn’t been much else in the way of entertainment in prison. The weight room became his main escape from tediousness. There were other reasons to want a hard, strong build in prison, but he didn’t like to think about them. He’d closed the door on that life. After he lathered his shaved head, he squatted and turned to try to get the spray to hit the top of his head. The world was built by midgets. Ridiculously, the thought made him think of Caleb. Caleb was probably just shy of six feet, which made him tiny in comparison to Logan, but hardly short.
Logan closed his eyes and leaned forward, resting his hand on the shower wall in front of him as tepid water poured over his back. Thinking about Caleb was a bad idea. He knew it, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself. The subtle once-over Caleb gave him after he’d calmed down had sent a thrill running through Logan that he hadn’t felt in a long time. Picturing Caleb’s face as Caleb licked his full lips, Logan slid his hand to his hardening shaft. Caleb’s long fingers would be satin-smooth but firm as he gripped Logan’s cock. For a guy that never left home, Caleb had the lean build of a runner. Logan figured he’d find pale skin rippling with tight muscles under the clingy T-shirt and sweatpants Caleb wore. He squeezed the base of his shaft once before pulling away and applying soap to his hand. He imagined what it would be like to feel that lean body under his, hot and eager to be stroked. Had it been years since Caleb had been touched? He let his hand slide up and down in a slow and steady rhythm over his cock.
As the pressure built, Logan started moving his hips, thrusting into his tight grip. Feeling himself about to explode, he leaned forward, resting his head against the cool tile. As his body rushed toward release, he couldn’t help imagining Caleb’s face, his green eyes turned dark with desire. Logan’s breath caught in his throat, and he dropped his other hand to fondle his balls. One touch was all it took. He threw his head back and shot his load against the tiled wall. Knees wobbling, he made a halfhearted attempt to clean off the tile before shutting off the shower.
As he reached for a towel to dry off, Logan wondered how Caleb would feel if he knew that Logan had just jacked off thinking of him. He cringed. The guy isn’t freaked enough? He’s got to worry about an ex-con wanting to bend him over and fuck him against the countertop? He didn’t know why his libido had suddenly gone into overdrive, but considering Caleb was his boss’s nephew, he needed to get a handle on the feelings.
THE sound of the phone startled Caleb, causing him to spill chamomile tea on the kitchen countertop. With a sigh, he put the kettle back on the stove and snagged a dishcloth from the drawer. He didn’t need to look at the caller ID to know who was calling. Uncle Harrison had been phoning every half hour for the past four hours in an attempt to badger Caleb into talking to him. Why didn’t he tell me he had found a replacement for Marco? Picking up the mug, he cleaned up the spill. Does he expect me to forget to be phobic if I’m surprised? Caleb knew he could answer the phone and ask his uncle directly, but he stubbornly refused to do so.
After the voice mail kicked in, he picked up the kettle again and filled the mug with the fragrant brew. He needed the soothing properties of the tea to untangle his jangled nerves. Taking a deep swallow, he let his thoughts shift to the new package handler. He didn’t know what to think of Logan other than he was huge and hot. There was something strangely vulnerable about the way Logan had sat with his broad shoulders hunched as his secret spilled from his tongue. Shock had been plain on his face when he admitted to being an alcoholic. The look was quickly replaced with resignation. He expected me to be afraid of him. For some reason, Caleb had felt compelled to show Logan otherwise.
When the phone began ringing again, Caleb was tempted to disconnect it. But he wasn’t sure if his uncle would follow through on his threat. Uncle Harrison had found a behavioral therapist that was willing to come to the apartment. He said he would show up at the apartment with the therapist in tow if Caleb disabled the phone again. Caleb couldn’t take the risk. What if the therapist declared him unfit? Would they force him to leave his apartment? A tingling shiver raced up Caleb’s arm, chasing away the warmth of the tea. He snatched the phone from the charger and hit the Talk button. “I’m fine.”
“You’re angry with me. Is that why you refused to answer? I’ve been worried sick.”
Caleb wanted to ask him why he had called instead of coming over and knocking on the door if he was so concerned. Hell, he had a spare key. He could walk right in. Caleb hadn’t bothered to get the lock changed after the last time his uncle showed up unannounced six months ago. “It would’ve been nice if you had told me Logan was coming today. What if I had been out?”
Caleb bit down on the urge to say am not like a recalcitrant child. He’d be listening to his uncle spout pop psychology proverbs all night if he didn’t get a better handle on his emotions. “Like I said, I’m fine.”
“Do you want me to try to find someone else to deliver your mail? Did Logan upset you?”
“Logan didn’t do anything to upset me. I’m fine with him coming over,” Caleb said, surprised to realize it was the truth.
“If you are sure,” his uncle said, sounding doubtful.
“I am. Good night, Uncle Harrison.”
He sighed. “Goodnight, Caleb.”