Troy closed his eyes as the lock clunked heavily open, and took a deep breath. He could smell the promise of popcorn and the vague tang of funky socks as the door shoved inward, and then that underlying greasy smell of hotdogs despite the fact that they'd taken the hotdog machine out two years ago.
Zane was right; they were absolutely never going to get the scent of those "boiled meat tubes" out of the rink. But as he progressed into the building, locking the heavy door behind him and heading into the rink proper, other smells caught up with him as well. There was the sweet, clean smell of the wax they used to keep the skate floor shining and smooth and the slightly floral shampoo from the steam cleaner that would never quite get that many decades of grime and gum off the carpets—but they had to make the effort.
Though not all of the smells were pleasant, they were, in a way, the scents of home. More so than the house he had been raised in, this place had been his refuge, his claim to fame, his home away from home, and his unwanted summer job since he was too small to remember. It was struggling, but it had held on through a world war and a handful of recessions, passed down from his great grandparents and eventually coming to his hands... He just had to hold on for a few more months until the loan came through, and then he could convert part of the rink and the lot next door into a "fun center" and see it refreshed as a place kids would come for a couple generations more.
Knees on a soft pad, left upper hand clasping the edge of the scaffolding surrounding my section, both right hands resting on the supports to the side, I carefully brushed sand away from the lonely skull with my lower left hand. It stuck upright out of the sand, cradled in between the feet of the body lying beneath it, and I was close to uncovering the jaw. The rest of the skeleton was comets-knew-where. All the bodies we'd found so far had been complete, except this one. And we were all eager to find out what was so special about this skull.
As the LEDs placed around my work area brightened to compensate for the retreating daylight, I moved my lower right hand to cradle the skull while I brushed sand away from the jaw. I could do this for hours. I did do this for hours, even with the whole site in scaffolds to keep the porous ground from collapsing beneath us. Aura ordered me to take longer breaks at least once a day, but for me, breaks were going home at night or gobbling up a quick sandwich for lunch. Nothing was more fun than spending my days on my knees on the strangest surfaces digging for history. An image of Kabal's pale skin and inquisitive, violet eyes flitted through my mind. Well, maybe not nothing.
My time chip chimed. Half an hour before I needed to leave. I smiled, but kept brushing. I could finish this. If I dug the skull out before lights out, Aura could catalog it before she left.
A shrill whistle echoed across the site. "Ish. Get out of that section and clear off. Now!"
It felt weird, pulling up to Sully's. It never had before, but then I hadn't come alone in years, either. Not since Sean and I got together; sometimes we'd meet out front, but we always went through the door together. But he'd told me just what to do: Be at Sully's at seven. I'll meet you inside.
I looked down at the clock, glowing green in the dim cab of my truck. 6:58. Had to get going, if I didn't want to be late. With a sigh, I opened the door and hopped out. No matter how often I came here, the scent struck me every time—a mixture of smoke from the grill and the lilac bushes flanking the door. I couldn't have told you if I liked it or not, but it was certainly unforgettable. Sean and I had met here, surrounded by that smell, and we never really bothered going anywhere else. If Sully's had brought us together, there was hardly any better place to go.
I'd been to plenty of bars before—made a habit out of it whenever I traveled. But, just like the smell by the door, this place was different. This was Sully's, take it or leave it. Instead of the raucous, recorded music that blasted through most bars, a gentle piano and guitar melody floated over from the stage. It let people talk instead of shout, and made it more like a restaurant. But it still had the best, greasiest bar food you could imagine.
I made my way over to the bar, a massive expanse of solid, polished wood, the natural grain still visible beneath the varnish, and rapped on the bar top in Sully's tradition; it was the only way the bartenders would wait on you.
Bobby stirred as something pressed gently against his hip. "Ruby?" He fumbled a hand down, not willing to open his eyes but expecting to find Ruby's soft fur. Instead, he found warm skin and a familiar scar curving around a wrist bone.
That was the one thing worth pulling himself out of the warm, soft bubble of sleepiness. "Jeremy?"
A kiss to the side of Bobby's head came with the hair-gel-leather-cold smell of Jeremy at the end of the late shift. "Yeah, baby," Jeremy said softly, real close, like he hadn't moved back after kissing Bobby. "You awake?"
"Sort of." Bobby shifted, registering the solid arm of the couch under his head and a blanket half-pulled over him. He must have dragged it down when he got cold; the heat had gone out at some point, and when he forced his eyes open, the only light was coming in from the hall, casting Jeremy's face mostly in shadow. "Time is it?"
Jeremy rubbed Bobby's hip a little. "Just after two, maybe? I thought you'd be in bed."
"Yeah, I... I think I was waiting up." Bobby rubbed his eyes, trying to wake all the way up.
"Sorry. We got a call-out right as we were going off shift."
Bobby nudged Jeremy until he leaned back enough for Bobby to sit up and pull the blanket over both of them. He tucked Jeremy's head against his shoulder. In the dark, it was easy to let his eyes close and his breathing slow. He was most of the way back to sleep when Jeremy said, "You should get to bed. You've got to be up in a few hours."
"Don't remind me." Bobby loved that his job with Park Services meant he could spend all day outside climbing trees, but the early winter mornings made him seriously wonder if he shouldn't have taken his mom's advice and become a lawyer instead.
Thomas checked his watch. He stood up from his computer desk, sat down again, counted silently to ten, and before he'd gotten to four, was back on his feet. It was almost six, but the hands on the clock were not moving fast enough.
"I could go now," he told Biscuit, who cocked her head at him, perfectly calm. "I mean, I don't want to be too early, but it's only like ten minutes. It won't seem like I'm waiting for him if I'm ten minutes early. Will it?" Biscuit rolled over, unhelpfully demanding a belly rub, and he sighed and sank to the floor to comply.
"You can't even pretend to be a little excited?" he asked her. Of course, she would jump and wiggle plenty when she saw the leash, but she could no more predict what was coming next than a fish could climb a tree. So far, she hadn't caught on that once a week they had two visits to the dog park, one after lunch as normal, and one on Friday evenings, when she would be able to romp with her new doggy best friend. It was not precisely a coincidence.
When he caught himself glancing at the large steel face of his watch again a minute later, Thomas sighed and retrieved his sneakers—one from its place by the door, the other slightly slimy under his desk, courtesy of Biscuit—and pulled them on without untying them. She watched with interest as he grabbed his keys off the kitchen counter and his ball cap from the floor by the couch, but it wasn't until he scooped up her leash and doggy bag that she started to do her dance. She might not know the schedule, but she knew the signs.
"They do know I'm gay, right?" asked Phillip Hanscomb as he struggled with his necktie. He hoped the incredulity in his voice carried through the phone.
"They don't care," came the reply from his PA, Dennis, slightly muffled by the speakerphone. "You're single, you're a CEO, and you're a patron. That's all that matters to them."
"But a bachelor auction? Seriously? It's like the worst parts of slavery and prostitution crammed together and covered with a thin chocolate shell of respectability." Phillip wasn't the type to throw around words like 'heteronormative', but if he were, this would have been the perfect time.
"Look, no one's expecting you to sleep with these women or anything. No one's under any illusions that this is some kind of matchmaking event. It's one night. You take the winner out for a nice dinner, maybe a show. You make polite conversation, show her a pleasant time, take her home, and put it out of your mind."
"Yeah, right. Who's hosting this travesty, Chuck Woolery?"
Dennis was silent for a moment, and then replied, "Wow, that's a dated reference, sir."
"Oh, shut up." Phillip didn't need to be reminded that Dennis was 22 years his junior. Especially not in the context of this conversation. The whole thing was just a reminder that, just shy of his 50th birthday, Phillip was still unattached. He had a healthy dating and sex life, to be sure, but a lasting relationship still eluded him.
He shook off the distraction when he realized that Dennis was talking again. "Sorry, say that again. Something about Columbia?"
"I said, the benefit is for the construction of the new wing to house the pre-Columbian artifact exhibit that the museum recently acquired. A show of support would do a lot to boost visibility in South American markets."
"I'll write a nice big check."
"This isn't about you opening your wallet; it's about enticing other people to open theirs. A contribution from you is a foregone conclusion."