Interborough (A Five Boroughs Novel)

Interborough by Santino Hassell
eBook ISBN: 
978-1-62649-475-6
eBook release: 
Oct 24, 2016
eBook Formats: 
pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 
978-1-62649-476-3
Print release: 
Oct 24, 2016
Word count: 
65,800
Page count: 
249
Type: 
Cover by: 

This title is part of the Five Boroughs universe.

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The Raymond Rodriguez from a few years ago wouldn’t recognize the guy he is today. He’s left his slacker ways far behind him and is now juggling two jobs and school. But the balancing act doesn’t allow much time for the man he loves.

David is doing his best to be supportive, but problems at work and his own insecurity leave him frustrated—in more ways than the obvious—whenever he goes to bed before Raymond gets home. The heat and affection between them is still there, but they barely have the time or energy to enjoy it. And it doesn’t help that Raymond is still hiding David from his colleagues.

The stress mounts so high that a vacation in paradise is filled with turmoil instead of harmony, and culminates on their return to the five boroughs with broken promises and heartache. They have to figure out how to stop allowing their differences to overshadow their love. It’s the only way they’ll make it to forever.

This title comes with no special warnings.

Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.

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Chapter One

Raymond

I’d been waiting to watch the UFC featherweight championship for weeks, but now my attention was fixed only on David instead of the fight. His hair shone gold in the sunshine streaming through the window, a halo above his big round eyes, upturned nose, and intensely fuckable mouth.

Who had given him a popsicle? What were these people trying to do to me?

I blamed Stephanie. My Queens crew of longtime friends had finally managed to shit-talk me into driving over from Brooklyn for their Saturday night UFC ritual. In the past, we’d done it at the old Rodriguez house, but after the death of my mom, and after Michael and I had opted to rent it rather than live in it, they’d changed the location to Stephanie’s apartment, the next largest space.

Which meant she was definitely the popsicle culprit. As if I needed another reason to perv on my boyfriend’s full pouty lips. Even after dating for almost a year and a half, I was still caught on a regular basis by how gorgeous he was.

“How long are the preliminary fights?” David asked. “I’m only here to see Nate Diaz.”

“Prelims are like two hours,” Sharky said, nodding at the huge television screen. “But the fights have been good so far.”

“It’s hard to care when I don’t know any of these guys.” David licked the tip of the popsicle. “I’m terrible about sports stuff.”

“Don’t you watch with Ray?”

“Um. We used to sometimes, but now he’s never home.” David’s eyes flicked to me guiltily, as if he was admitting a dark secret instead of making a factual statement. One of his eyebrows rose, and I knew he had realized I was in lust mode—staring him down and biting my lower lip. Mad obvious.

“Oh ho!” Chris appeared in the archway leading from the kitchen with a spatula in his hand. “So, Ray hasn’t just been too busy for his old friends? I figured he thought he was too good for us now that he’s Mr. Joe College with two jobs!”

“I am,” I said without looking away from David’s growing smirk. “I’m so good that I’m working a dead-end office job, right before jetting off to my community college evening classes with a bunch of eighteen-year-olds, before going to sweat it out on the docks all night.”

“Ain’t nothing wrong with community college, bruh.” Chris swung the spatula and sent droplets of grease flying. “I did it.”

Stephanie sat up from where she was curled on the couch next to Sharky. “Ay, puñeta! If you got oil on my couch, I swear—”

“Then make your own pastelillos, asshole!” Despite the defiant words, Chris ducked back into the kitchen. Tonya’s laugh rang out even though I couldn’t see her. They’d taken over dinner duty since Sharky and I would just order a billion wings and pizza if it were up to us. They’d all mutually refused to allow David to help since he was a guest.

“You guys are all so cute.” David resumed licking his popsicle without looking away from me. “It’s obvious you’ve been friends forever.”

“Mm-hmm.” Stephanie curled into Sharky’s side again. He seemed to be pretending she wasn’t cuddling him, and was staring intently at the TV. “Aren’t you glad you used Raymond to get in with us?”

“So glad. That plan was genius.”

“I know, right?” She grinned at him. “Maybe if you guys come over more, we’ll make you a probationary member of our squad. I’ll have to think of some hazing rituals first. Handball tournaments until dawn and chancletas with socks in public.”

Sharky scoffed, and David burst out laughing.

With them joking, it was easy to tell myself that I should refocus on the fight and stop fantasizing about what I’d do to David later, but it was hard. He was right. I was barely around these days, which meant our quality time was down to a minimum. Part of the reason why I said no to constant invitations to see my Queens crew was because I tried to savor every moment I had with David, especially because those moments were few and far between.

It sucked just as hard as David as he worked that popsicle. Due to the triple whammy of my office job at Lexus Language Services, evening classes in the maritime technology program at Kingsborough, and my longshoreman gig on the docks in Red Hook (my one true love), I was working almost eighteen hours a day most days, and running between multiple boroughs on others. In a perfect world, I’d bump LLS off my schedule and work the docks in the mornings so I could go to school in the afternoon and spend every evening with David, but it wasn’t working out that way. It always seemed like something came up.

First, I’d planned to stay at LLS only until the semester started at Kingsborough, but then I’d gotten a new car with monthly payments of about five hundred bucks. It’d been my one reward to myself after making so many changes, even though the combined cost of it and my tuition at Kingsborough meant I had to stay at LLS for the extra cash flow. But even though I’d almost saved enough for the rest of my tuition, I’d yet to quit because I fucking knew as soon as I dropped the additional income, there would be some kind of emergency requiring cash.

David didn’t get it because he was used to shit going right in his world. I knew better. So, we’d compromised on me quitting LLS after our spring break vacation in April—a cruise sponsored by his ex-boyfriend’s social media startup. The amount of strings I’d pulled to get the time off at both LLS and on the docks had been impressive, and I didn’t even give a damn about an island destination. I just wanted to be with David every day, all day for a week straight. That was my idea of a break from reality.

Speaking of . . .

David had finished the popsicle and was now dragging the flat of his tongue along the stick. There was no way this was a coincidence. My knee bounced as my dick throbbed. An array of dirty images passed before my eyes. He glanced at me again, grinning wider, and eased off the couch.

“I’m gonna go make a phone call.”

“Let it wait,” Sharky complained. “You’re gonna miss everything.”

“Can’t. It’s my landlord.” David glanced at me. His brow quirked again. “Steph, can I go in your bedroom? It’s too loud in here.”

She nodded. David glanced at me again, and then he disappeared down the hallway. I waited for only a few seconds before getting to my feet. Stephanie smirked without looking away from the screen, but no one commented as I left the living room.

My pulse was racing by the time I got to her bedroom, where I found David sitting on the edge of the bed with his phone tossed carelessly beside him. Lust exploded inside of me like an atom bomb.

I shut the door and walked over to him. “Tease.”

“I wasn’t at first,” he said. “Not until you started staring at me like you wanted to eat me.”

“I do want to eat you.”

“And your dick was hard,” David pointed out. “I don’t know how no one noticed.”

“Because it wasn’t that obvious.”

“Oh please, Ray. When you wear sweatpants, everyone can see that anaconda.”

“You’re so stupid,” I said, laughing.

“That’s partially why you love me. Admit it.”

“Oh, I admit it.” I stood in front of him so my crotch was level with his face. “Among other reasons.”

David rubbed his face along the bulge in my pants. “What are the reasons? Good answers get you shiny rewards.”

“How shiny?”

“You’ll know when you get them.”

“Mmm.” He traced the outline of my dick with his lips, and my breath caught. “Because you do all of those squat challenges to keep your ass round and tight.”

My response prompted David to tug the waistband of my sweats down. My dick was doing its best to escape the tight confines of my boxer briefs. As eager as I was to be in his mouth, I loved the anticipation when he made me wait. And I knew he loved it when I was close to begging for his touch.

“And you ask for my opinions on your tenure binder when you’re stressed even though you know I’m useless at reading student data. But I like that even my worthless opinions can reassure you.”

David had started mouthing me damply through the thin cotton layer of my underwear, but he huffed out a laugh. I slid my fingers into his hair, lightly gripping.

“And you send me all of those group project memes when I’m in that shitty English class they’re forcing me to take.”

The band of my underwear inched down.

“Also, the way you automatically press against me every night when I finally get home from work. Like you’ve been waiting for me even though you’re already asleep.”

David looked up at me from beneath his long lashes. “I’m always waiting for you. And when you fall asleep on the couch, I keep waiting.”

I bopped him on the head. “Shut up. You’re ruining my game.”

“Your game is ridic adorable. I was just going to tease you, but now I really want to suck your dick.”

“Don’t let me stop you.”

“We can’t! We’re in Stephanie’s room!”

“And your point being . . .?”

“That’s not—” David gestured vaguely, eyes dropping to my dick again. In the other room, voices raised in shouts of excitement as the television boomed. “That’s not . . . the, uh, impression I want to make on your friends.”

“That’s cute, baby. But Stephanie basically just gave me a nonverbal directive to wreck your ass.”

David’s face scrunched in confusion. I laughed and grabbed his collar, drawing him up for a kiss. Because how could I not? His desire to fit in with my friends, or for them to at least like him even though they’d already adopted him (well, except Tonya—she’d come back from her deployment to the news that I was bisexual and banging a preppy white boy and had instantly wanted to interrogate him), was part of the reason why I’d been wanting to ravish him ever since he’d started working that popsicle stick while trying to impress Sharky with his newfound interest in UFC. It would have been really easy for him to try to nudge me in the other direction, getting me in with his crowd of teacher friends, since we lived so much closer to them, but David made his best effort to keep my people in our lives.

“You look so good today,” I murmured against David’s lips, reaching around to squeeze his ass through his skintight jeans. “I like when you wear these pants.”

“Do you?” He caught my lower lip between his teeth and pulled on it before releasing. “Or are you trying to get blowjob points?”

“Both.”

We stared at each other for only a moment longer, then David slid to his knees, dragging my underwear down with him. By the time I remembered I hadn’t locked the door, he was taking my dick down so deep that my eyes were rolling back in my head. My groans were drowned out by the commentators of the fight, so I didn’t hold back. The wet velvet of his mouth was incredible, and the way he dug his fingers into my ass and jerked me forward sent a zing right to my balls.

How long had it been since I’d been in his mouth? Before the semester started, we’d still been on that two-a-day high of the honeymoon period, but now . . .

David’s head started bobbing and coherent thought vanished. I hunched forward, my hair spilling out of the tie that I’d used to knot it back, and I watched him work me over. His eyes flashed up at me, and my heart expanded in my chest. How did he still have the power to catch me off guard? To activate my lust and the overwhelming power of my affection with nothing more than a look?

“Fuck, you’re amazing.”

His eyes crinkled at the sides, and he hummed before taking me down to the root. My breath caught when I came—this hoarse gasp that crept up on me unexpected. He kept sucking until my mind was whited out with pleasure and my vision was fuzzy from the force of my release.

I stumbled forward and blinked away the stars in my eyes before kneeling at the foot of the bed. He drew me into the type of kiss that would send a man head over heels if he wasn’t already there. We parted breathlessly, with his fingers knotted in the tangles of my hair. I’d started growing it out again at his request, and he couldn’t keep his hands away.

“Your turn,” I said, voice scraping out low.

David kissed the tip of my nose. “Nope. We have to go watch more sports things.”

“Fuck all that. Main card fights don’t start for another hour. I’m getting you off.”

“I dunno . . .”

“We should have tried sixty-nine again,” I said. “I’ll try not to bite you next time.”

“Try is not a good enough guarantee. Besides, it’s too hard to focus on what I’m doing.”

“I know. That’s why you felt teeth when I came.”

“So let’s just . . . not mess with that. Ever again.”

I smirked. “Guess I’ll have to stick to the regular way.”

“Well, if you insist . . .”

I swiped my tongue over his mouth. “I do. I’ve been wanting you since we left the house.”

“Is that why you were so reluctant to leave?”

“Fuck yes. We could have banged all day.” I trailed openmouthed kisses down his throat. “Rainy weekend days are perfect for sex and ordering in.”

“Mmm. Yes. And napping between rounds.”

“Damn right. I’d have woken you up with a BJ every time.”

David’s heart sped against my chest. I wondered if he was picturing it and getting excited, or if he was just . . . missing it. Missing the us we’d been before everything got insane.

The days when we’d had time to slowly fuck for hours while lying in each other’s dirt. When we’d figured out what we liked. Sometimes we were so impatient to be inside each other that our fucking danced on the edge of too rough. Other times it was fun and experimental—like the first time he’d fucked me, our failed attempts at sixty-nine, and when we’d agreed to ditch the condoms. And then there were the times when I just wanted to play with him and listen to him moan. In the past, it’d happened on those lazy mornings when we didn’t want to get out of bed. But it’d been a while. Too long.

My apology came in the form of another kiss. We shared breath, and I tasted the inside of his mouth. I closed my eyes and tuned my body to the rhythm of his still-increasing heartbeat as I undid his pants one-handed and started jacking him off.

God, he was sexy. The way one of his hands clutched my hair while the other dug into my shirt. His gasps and sobs of pleasure against my mouth, the way they heightened when I sucked on his tongue, and the way he didn’t stop thrusting into my tightly gripping hand when the door opened. David didn’t even look. It was me who broke the kiss with a ragged gasp and caught Chris gaping at us.

It was pretty annoying that he stood there like a jackass instead of booking it out the door.

I sneered at him and kept pumping David, because the pulsing in his dick made it clear he was close. Thankfully, Chris tripped out of the door just before David threw his head back with an anguished moan. I cupped my hand to catch everything he spilled out, and grinned when he collapsed back on Stephanie’s bed.

“Fuck, Ray. How are you so good at, like, handjobs?”

“I’m basically a sex god.”

“Shut up.” David pushed himself up on his elbows and watched me snag a few Kleenexes. “Am I insane, or did the door open?”

“Chris’s dumb ass wandered in and stood there watching for like a full minute.”

David jumped to his feet, instantly fixing his jeans as his face reddened.

“Don’t worry, he didn’t see your come face.”

“Oh my God, that is the worst. I’m a terrible guest!”

I snickered.

“It’s so not funny, Ray. They probably think I’m corrupting you.”

“Do you have any idea what Steph and I used to get up to in front of people? In front of him, actually.”

David zipped up and then tugged at my sweatpants. “Yeah, I do, but you all have known each other since you were, like, zygotes. I’m just some rando white boy.”

“True.”

He swatted my ass. “You shouldn’t have seduced me into coming in here. You’re a bad influence.”

“Dude, it was you who faked a phone call from our landlord. I was content to eye-bang you for the next three hours.”

“Hmph. It’s not my fault you’re completely irresistible when smoldering. Not to mention the aforementioned erection in your sweats.” David sighed tragically and looked at himself in Stephanie’s vanity mirror. He ran a hand through his hair, but nothing could be done about his swollen mouth. “I was doing a good job pretending to care about UFC too. I also didn’t complain about my downward-spiraling teaching career even once. Despite the fact that my principal keeps implying I’ll never get tenure.”

My brows drew down. “She said that?”

“Well, no . . .” David’s face clouded over. “But she mentions it every time I do something wrong. And this year it seems like everything I do is wrong. Every walk-through and evaluation has implied I’m still developing. It’s . . . not looking good.”

“That’s bullshit. You’re an amazing teacher. If any of my teachers had gone to the length you go for your kids, I’d have been motivated to do more than the bare minimum to graduate.”

David smiled softly. “Thanks. But the superintendent is coming down on her, which means she comes down on all of us. Last spring’s state test scores were crap, so now they’re micromanaging everything.” He shook his head as if clearing the thoughts. “But anyway, enough of that. Ugh. Now it will be in my head and I’ll end up talking about it during a main fight and ruin the vibe. That plus the quickie . . .” He made a mournful face. “I’m doomed.”

“Holy shit, are you seriously worried about my friends judging you?” It was pretty laughable. Stephanie was probably mentally visualizing all the dirty things we were doing. And what she was imagining was likely dirtier than anything we’d ever done. I’d seen the books on her Kindle. In fact, I was now convinced she’d left it hanging around me on purpose. Apparently, my bisexuality hadn’t been as discreet as I’d thought. “You realize no one gives a fuck, right?” When he just pouted, I came up behind him and nuzzled his hair. “They like you, David. For real. They know you get how much they mean to me.”

“But—”

“Stephanie goes to Sunset Park to visit you when I’m not even around. You two go shopping and bring home a bunch of useless shit.”

“My shoes are not useless.”

I nipped at his earlobe. “Useless as fuck and too much for that small-ass apartment. But anyways, if it’s Tonya you’re worried about, don’t be. Even before she went to Iraq, she was never the most outgoing or trusting person.” David nodded and looked at our reflection in the mirror. I grinned. “But if you don’t want it to be obvious, you should prob make up some landlord story.”

“Oh, that wasn’t a lie. Mr. Green texted me some weird message. Basically just told me to tell you to call him, and that you weren’t picking up your phone.”

“Huh.” Landlords wanting to have chats when the rent wasn’t overdue didn’t seem like a good sign. I glanced at my phone and saw that I had three missed calls and a text message asking that I return them. “I wonder why.”

“Well, I wonder why he couldn’t just talk to me. Since when am I the middle man? My name’s on the lease too.”

“Yeah, but he doesn’t like talking to you.”

David’s eyes narrowed. “Excuse me?”

“He expects you to flip out over small shit, I guess.” I shrugged. “I told him he shouldn’t hold your temper tantrums over closet size against you, but he wasn’t trying to hear it.” When David’s jaw dropped, it was an epic struggle not to laugh. “It’s fine, babe. I’ll handle it.”

“I don’t want you to handle it! What the fuck, Raymond? You let our landlord talk shit about me?”

Why had I thought he’d find it funny now when I’d avoided letting him in on this little tidbit of info for the past year and a half? Oh right, because I’d just blown my load hard enough to have lost all common sense and self-preservation instincts. My lizard brain was on a postorgasmic high.

“Look, it’s not a big deal. He wasn’t really talking shit. It only came up because that old motherfucker next door kept complaining about how loud you get when we’re fucking, and Green figured you’d get pissed and confront the guy. He was trying to avoid neighbor drama by telling me instead of you.” David’s eyes went as wide as saucers, so I rushed on. “And since I knew you really would be embarrassed, I didn’t tell you about it. It just so happened that me and Green ended up bonding.”

“You bonded . . . over how loud I get when you dick me out.”

“No. Just . . . The situation—” There was no saving this. “Whatever, man. We just had a good laugh about uptight people in the building. He didn’t care at all. From that point, he just always hit me up first if he needed something.”

“I see.”

“Why are you mad? Do you just want to be mad?”

David’s lip curled. “No, you ass. I want to not feel like you think it’s hilarious that our chauvinistic landlord has decided I’m the emotional little woman in this relationship, and you’re the one that handles things and makes decisions.”

“Wow, no one thinks that.”

“Yes. They do. People either respond with shock and awe that we’re a couple at all, or they shove us into stupid heteronormative roles.”

“Who cares? People are idiots.” If looks could kill, I would have already died like eighty-three times. So I stopped fighting. Besides, I had no idea if he was right or not. None of my friends acted that way, but who knew what people said to David when I wasn’t around. I sighed. “You want me to call him now and put it on speaker?”

“Yes.”

“Bet.” I leaned against the dresser, hit Green’s name, and hoped the shouting and laughing from the living room wasn’t too loud through the door.

“Hey, Raymond.”

“Hey, Marty. What’s good?”

“Nothing much—”

“I’m here too,” David butted in.

My boyfriend. Subtle like a brick in the head.

“Hi, David,” Mr. Green said calmly. “Thanks for passing along my message.”

David’s eyes narrowed to slits. “So, what’s going on? Rent’s not due for a couple weeks.”

“No, I know. I was trying to get in touch with Raymond about the plumbing situation.”

I could practically hear David’s teeth grinding. Clearing my throat, I avoided making eye contact. “Good, because that toilet runs nonstop, so your water bill is going to be on some next level bullshit. Also, the faucet in the shower is barely working.”

“Right, I know. I can get my son-in-law out there on Monday evening at the earliest.”

“Oh, that’s perfect,” I said. “I won’t be home, but David—”

“Uh, no, that’s not perfect.” David shook his head at me as his brows drew down fiercely.

There was an audible sigh on the other end of the call. “What’s the matter, David?”

“Look— Wait, actually, can you hold on for a minute?”

“Jesus Christ, David, what the fuck—” David snatched the phone out of my hand and jammed his finger down on the mute button. I glared and pushed him away, taking the phone back. “This is why the guy thinks you’re a lunatic. You always be doing some weird shit.”

“I’m not being weird! His son-in-law is a total fucking creep, and I refuse to be alone in the apartment with him for however many hours it takes to fix the bathroom.”

I squinted at David. “Say what?”

“You heard me. When he came to do the sink, he was being a weirdo. Staring and lingering and being a creep.”

My hackles rose. “Why didn’t you say something before?”

“Because . . .” David gestured in frustration. “I don’t know. It’s not like he did anything. He was just creepy.”

“Fine, then I’ll tell Marty to send his ass over when I’m home.”

“Raymond—”

I unmuted the phone. “Hey, bud. Can you send your boy over on Wednesday?”

“Or,” David cut in, “you could send a real plumber?”

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. This kid was dying to make an enemy of our landlord. I pinched his side and ducked out of the way when he swung out his arm in annoyance.

“Stephen is a real plumber, David,” Mr. Green said flatly. “But thank you for your concern about his credentials.” A loaded pause in which David looked close to destroying the entire borough of Brooklyn. “Anyway, he will be around on Wednesday.”

We said our good-byes, and I hung up while David seethed beside me. “What?”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“About?”

David stared at me incredulously. “I didn’t want his creep son-in-law in our apartment at all!”

“But I’ll be—”

“It doesn’t matter if you’re home. The guy is probably a sex offender.” David’s scowl deepened. “It just irritates me when you make decisions and don’t let me have a say. You could have heard me out before giving him the okay to send Captain Creeper to our apartment.”

“It’s not that big of a deal.” I put an arm around him and drew him closer. He tried to wiggle away, but I held him tight against my chest. “You’re making this into drama for no reason. If he does something out of hand, I’ll put him in his place.”

“It’s not drama, and I don’t need you to be my bodyguard. I just hate Green and his stupid son-in-law. I hope he dies on the way from Long Island.”

I couldn’t help it, I burst out laughing. “God, you’re cute when you’re fired up.”

“Fuck you.”

“Mmm.” I bumped my hips against his ass and pressed him up against the taller dresser. “Right here?”

“Stop,” he complained, but his voice dipped lower when I bit the side of his neck. “Ray, quit it. You can’t fix everything with sex.”

Sighing, I eased off. “Fine. I’m sorry I was oblivious that he’s kind of a douche bag to you. I didn’t even realize he was doing it.”

“Yeah, because you never had to deal with that type of homophobic crap. I don’t pass for straight, so I do.” David tilted his head back against me. “But more importantly, can we start making more decisions together? Even if it’s just something like which plumber comes to the apartment. I know it sounds dumb, but it bugs me.”

“We can.” I kissed him again. “And maybe we’ll actually be able to move out of that damn building at some point so you won’t have to deal with him anymore, and I won’t have to deal with our shitty neighbors.”

“Fat chance,” David said. “I look at the listings sometimes, and it seems like we got the last good deal in the city. Everything that size is like three or four hundred more these days.”

“Well, that figures, don’t it?” I shook my head. “Can we go clean up and watch the fights?”

“Promise you’ll keep me in the loop about things, and stop dismissing me when I worry about something.”

“Babe, I’m not trying to dismiss you or hide shit from you. It just makes me feel good to be able to handle things for a change. You know?”

David’s expression softened. “I know. But I still want you to promise.”

“I promise.”

David let me nudge him to the bathroom, but I had a feeling he wasn’t convinced.

 

Chapter Two

Raymond

If anyone had told me a year ago that I’d be busting my ass at a job I genuinely loved at night and toiling away at a company I loathed during the day, I’d have laughed them out of my apartment and onto the subway. But here I was at Lexus Language Services. Same dented metal desk by the window and same view of One World Trade Center. I was still creeped out by the sight of it. It would never stop being weird that an enormous grave site had been transformed into yet another corporate park that doubled as a macabre tourist attraction.

“Rodriguez, did you call FedEx about them not picking up our packages?”

I flicked a glance at Marcus, my second-in-command. That was another funny thing about LLS. All the people who’d trained me had run for the hills or been fired for some petty infraction, so now I was the one in charge of facilities (not that the upgrade in title had come with a raise). The only people who’d stayed were the fuckers in the Individuals Department who’d finally ceased trying to convince me to go to their wack mixers and happy hours. At least I had school as a good excuse these days.

“I’m on it.”

“You’ve been on it for a week now.”

This dude was phenomenally bad at reading my moods. It was like he wanted me to throw him through the window.

“They won’t come out because accounting hasn’t pushed through the payment on our account. Is there something wrong with your feet that you can’t walk your ass a block or two to the FedEx office and ship them yourself?”

Marcus stared at me. “They’re supposed to come pick it up. I don’t see why I should go after work.”

“So don’t go after work.” I jerked open the drawer in my desk and pulled out a pack of Sour Punch straws. “Go now.”

“It’s raining.”

“Will you melt?” I stuck a straw in my mouth. “Or you can be really gentlemanly and ask our elderly receptionist to do it. She’s already offered, but I figured that would basically make me a lowlife.”

“Jesus Christ.” Marcus spun his chair to turn back to his computer. “Forget it.”

“Forgotten. Thanks for the chat.”

As mind-sucking as the job was, getting to boss people around was pretty sweet.

Flipping around my phone, I took a shitty selfie and uploaded it to Instagram without bothering to get a better shot. If people didn’t like my messy hair and candy straw, they could save themselves the effort of clicking on the little heart button.

As Marcus typed loudly and pointedly to my left, I added a quick caption: Feelin like a boss today. Do i look like one?

With nothing better to do than antagonize my coworkers, I scrolled through my phone and watched as comments populated. My brother made a scathing comment about professionalism, and one of the guys from the docks, Trey, said I was always a boss.

I was really waiting to see if David would get a kick out of my rumpled appearance and text me about why I’d gone to work looking so raggedy, but there was no feedback from the boyfriend. No texts today either. The break in routine caught my attention, and I immediately opened a message.

Raymond: I miss your face

David: I love your face.

Raymond: I love your errythang

David: Sweet talker.

Raymond: Only for you

God, we were disgusting. Too bad the tension caused by my schedule kept leading to fights. Maybe the QFindr cruise would drag us out of the rut. If a jaunt down to the Virgin Islands couldn’t shake things up a bit, I didn’t know what would.

Initially, the idea of spending a week on a boat with David’s ex had seemed like a bad idea, but apparently Caleb had moved on and all was right in the world. It seemed like a safe drama-free event, and I hoped it stayed that way.

The invitation to the launch had come via email a couple of months ago. They had celebrity guests and corny Top 40 singers performing at a couple of the parties. Their queer dating app seemed to be taking off with Superman speed, and it was hard not to be impressed. Caleb had even offered to comp our ticket prices if we paid for airfare, but I’d shot that down in a hot minute. At the time, I’d been pretty insulted that he thought I needed his charity.

Then again, if I was really going to quit LLS, shelling out a ton of money on a cruise wasn’t the best plan in case anything came up down the road. But whatever. Maybe it would be fine. Maybe we’d get lucky, and there would be open bars to go along with the free food. Apparently, QFindr was making them major bucks.

Out of boredom more than curiosity, I searched for the app on Google Play. QFindr had nearly two million downloads already.

I hit the purple and black QF symbol, watched it download, and spent several minutes examining the interface. It was a lot more user friendly than the version I’d beta tested months ago, and I could already see why it had become popular. If I searched the tags Puerto Rican, bisexual, and male, it generated profile snapshots from a bunch of different dating websites where those words had been mentioned in the users’ profiles, then prompted me to go to those sites and sign up. It was the simplest access to online dating that I’d ever seen. If they broadened it to include heterosexual profiles, they’d probably be making trillions. Or they should let me market that idea and I’d be the one making the trillions.

“Rodriguez—”

In reality, I’d just be sitting here with Marcus until I busted him upside the head one of these days.

“If you ask me about FedEx again—”

“It’s not about FedEx.” Marcus swiveled in his chair. “We’re also getting cut off notices from other companies that supply our office products. What do we do?”

I sighed and tossed my phone on the desk. “I go fight with accounting.”

My fight with accounting consisted of me leaning over the sandpaper wall of their cubicle, staring at the squirrelly dude with the curly mustache, and asking why he thought we didn’t need to pay for copy paper or staples. He was new, so I felt bad for getting on his case, but on the other hand, it wasn’t like this was his first job. Or his most challenging. Unless it was. I had no idea. I never spoke to any of these people. I’d just warmed up to the last batch of drudges before there had been a mass exodus that only my simple ass had failed to get in on.

Five o’clock rolled in with a bunch of payments pending, and my irritation transitioned to the anxiety that always preceded getting on the subway during rush hour. But I had a six o’clock class at Kingsborough, so there was no way around it. Even if I decided to spring for a cab, getting one would be impossible. It would also be like forty bucks.

Before descending into the hell of Wall Street Station, I checked my phone one last time and saw no new messages from David. I did, however, have a couple from Trey, which . . . I hesitated to answer. David swore the guy was flirtatious, but I didn’t read him as anything but straight. And out of everyone I’d met in the past year on the docks, Trey was the most helpful. He knew the ropes in the union; had the right connections aside from just my friendship with our boss, Rolly; and Trey had actually gone through the program at Kingsborough.

Most longshoremen were real roughneck types—tatted up and bearded and would send a fleet of sailors running out of a bar after getting a load of their mouths—not exactly college boy material. But Trey had done it, and he had risen in the murky nepotism-riddled and corrupted ranks of the ILA—International Longshoreman Association. I didn’t know how it worked in other parts of the country, but the ports in New York and New Jersey seemed pretty shady. The longer I worked there, the more I caught wind of how many cushy jobs and six-figure salaries were handed out to guys with mafia ties or connections to city officials.

Even so, I liked the money, and Trey knew strategies to get me higher up the food chain.

Being an alleged supervisor at LLS was nice for a power trip every now and again, but I knew I’d been given the role because no one else was there to do it. If I became an inspector or supervisor on the docks, it’d be because I’d busted my ass trying, with the added bonus of knowing I’d worked hard to get it without crooked familial connection like the other guys.

The 2 Train took an eternity to come, and I cursed myself for not springing for a cab after all. I was almost always late to my crappy public speaking class. I didn’t even see why I had to take it, but apparently it was a requirement for the maritime technology program. Even if the professor made me want to slam my head into a wall because he required participation and group assignments.

The train screeched through the tunnel while I pressed my head against the door and tried not to make eye contact with the guy who’d noticed the blue, purple, and pink pin David had affixed to my jacket after I’d come out on Valentine’s Day. I’d never seen the bisexual flag before and had assumed it would be a pretty low-key way to show my pride, but the businessman with horn-rimmed glasses had obviously recognized my tiny queer symbol. When I finally met his gaze, he arched a brow, and I fought a smirk.

Dudes hitting on me in public was such a new thing.

I wasn’t out to anyone on the docks, but I’d told Trey about it because he was the only one I spent enough time around for it to become an issue with me having to constantly omit David in conversation.

When the train pulled to a noisy stop at Atlantic Avenue, I slipped out of the car with a few other people. Looking back just before the doors closed, I saw the guy frown at me with disappointment. I shot him a smile. To be courteous. And I instantly texted David once I’d jogged up the stairs to the platform for the B Train—two more modes of transportation to get to my destination.

Raymond: A dude eyefucked the hell out of me in the subway. You see what your damn pin is causing?

David: Er, sorry to inform, but they do that all the time, babe. Even before the pin. You’re eye fuckable.

Raymond: No way

David: Way.

Raymond: Why dont you come finger fuck me in an empty classroom

David: That escalated quickly.

Raymond: I had a bad day and could use a good dicking out right about now

David: . . . Really? Because . . .

Raymond: Yeees?

David: You could totally skip class and I’ll fuck the hell out of you.

My dick liked the sound of that, but my one-day-a-week night class with the one-absence policy didn’t.

Raymond: You know i cant. My prof sucks. And I work the docks tonight.

David: Sigh. I know. Sorry. I just miss you.

He’d said that so much lately that it’d started putting me on edge every time. Most likely because it tended to precede an argument. Or be the end of one.

My time was short, but I didn’t have a choice. I’d initially taken on so much in part because I wanted to make something of myself for him. Even though the schedule sucked, and I knew I no longer had to prove myself to him or my brother, part of me still wanted to prove to myself that I could maintain this steady pace. I could work hard and make money and take care of things that I’d previously avoided during the twenty-five years of me doing nothing but smoking pot and playing video games.

I wasn’t about to give up now that I’d stepped up. So I said what I always said, and hoped things would get better after spring break.

Raymond: Me too. But things will be better soon. I promise.

from Kirkus

[E]xplores the challenges and joys of maintaining a long-term relationship.