Instead of seeing Caleb for a treasure hunt through thrift shops that Sunday, my dad announced that the roof needed reshingling and he needed help. My sister and I spent the next two weeks, outside of my own work schedule and her successfully getting a job with the town road crew for the internship she'd been hoping for, on the roof. It wouldn't have taken that long except dad found a part of the roof that had rotted, and it explained a certain stain on the bathroom ceiling which then required replacement of both...it was hot, sweaty, boring work.
But it wasn't as though I didn't see or talk to him. Suddenly Caleb was everywhere. He stopped by while I was working and bought a couple of things, or asked my opinion. I asked about his plants and he eagerly talked about them as if they were puppies reaching a new goal each time something flowered or successfully combined or something with another plant. That part of science was a long time ago, but plants have some way to have sex or something. Right?
I didn't get it all, but that's okay. The fun was in listening to him talk about something he clearly thought was important and fun to him. He made comments to me about some of my older posts online and we talked about them, and then he said he was going to make one dedicated to all the outfits I approved of on him and call it 'Hunter's Ken Doll'.
With the roof finally done I was sitting at lunch with Kari, outside enjoying the warmth under an umbrella and chatting.
“So is Caleb coming by today?”
“I don't know,” I said, glancing up at her. “Why? Are you dumping Allen?”
“Not yet,” she said. There was a story there, but she continued, “But Caleb is cute as fuck. You should take your shot.”
I chuckled. “Falling for straight boys is always a bad thing. Trust me – been there and had the high school experience of it. Overrated.”
She sighed. “Just seems like you like him.”
I sighed, a completely sympathetic response to her sigh. I mean it. “I do. He's a unique guy and I'm catching feelings for him all the time. That's why I need to do something, and now. I can't go down that path again.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Time for a new sugar daddy,” I said with a grin.
“Do you think that's a good idea?” Kari asked, frowning. “I think it's weird to date someone so much older.”
“I thought you'd understand better, with your brother and all,” I said a little defensively.
“That's different, though,” she protested. “He's married, not a sugar baby. Why do you need so much money anyway?”
“It's not completely about the money,” I explained. “Successful, rich people most often get that way because their family was rich. They get better educations, they get better networking and success comes easier. If you're like me or you, then all we have is our bodies and minds, and if we don't max out what we have, we fail.”
She frowned. “I don't think so. Some people aren't looking to be rich or famous or powerful.”
“But then they get pushed around by those that are,” I pointed out.
“So? There's always someone who can beat someone else in a given situation,” she reasoned.
My phone vibrated and I ignored it. “Sure, no one is all powerful. But the more control you have of your situation, the more you can do.”
“What does any of this have to do with being a sugar baby?”
My phone buzzed again. “Older men know more about the world. They can teach me things.”
“Like the right way to bend over so they get the most out of you? Or should I say into you?” she asked and burst out laughing at my stricken expression.
“No! I set the rules!”
She chewed her lip for a moment. “Have you done this before? 'Cause I always thought this was about sex. Like being a prostitute.”
“It's not,” I said, still feeling defensive. “And yeah, I dated a guy who was in his thirties. Well, we went out a few times. I got to go to gallery openings and some nice places for dinner.”
“And he didn't try to get in your pants?”
I ducked my head. “He did, eventually.”
“He was weird.” I hesitated. “I mean, his relationship ideas were weird,” I amended. “He said he and his wife were in an open relationship, more or less. He had kids and it just...once he wanted to have sex with me, I couldn't be part of that.”
“You mean once he told you.”
“Told me what?” My phone buzzed again and I pulled it out, but didn't check the message.
“Hunter...he wanted to bang you from the start, he just went along with what you said and tried to get you into bed later. Men are pigs.”
I grinned. “What did Allen do now?”
She rolled her eyes. “He's just being an idiot. His cousin is getting married and he asked me to plus one with him, but he thinks he's going to dress like it's a kegger. His mom is fighting with him, his cousin is telling him he'd better pull his head from his ass, and he's just being stupid about it.”
“Tell him you think he looks hot when he dresses up,” I said and looked down at my phone. Three messages from Caleb.
“I tried that,” she said with a sigh. “But he just offered to take more clothes off. Honestly, he's being a pig right now.”
“Well, tell him if he won't dress the way he needs to for this that you won't go.”
“Yeah, maybe,” she said with a sigh. Then she got a gleam in her eye. “So, looks like you missed the boat on my brother.”
“Oh? What did that little cutie do now?” I thumbed through Caleb's messages, pictures of some flowers he was working on and they were really pretty. Then he asked me where I was, so I told him. Then I hearted his pictures.
“He has a new friend from this summer job my grandpa got him,” she said. “He's a red-head, and Isaac thinks the guy is stupid cool. We saw him quit his job and it was nuclear.”
“This sounds good.” She told me about how this jerk was in line on his phone at a grocery store with our hero working the register. The guy was being rude with his responses to the cashier, and when the cashier asked if the rude guy wanted his milk in a bag the guy ignored him a few times, then said something douchey. So the hero uncapped the milk and poured it into the bag before quitting on the spot.
“No he didn't!” I said, and laughed the satisfying laugh of a retail worker hearing about the customer getting what they deserved. “He's a legend! So wait, he got a job again right away?”
“Yeah. My grandpa is retired from the school district administration, so he pulled some strings to get my brother and Derry jobs – Derry was the cashier.”
“Oh, that's fucking priceless.”
“I got it on my phone,” she offered and we huddled up. It was even better. I had to watch it four times just to see it all because I kept laughing so hard.
“What's so funny?” Caleb asked, walking up to our table.
“Oh, hi! Is that why you wanted to know where I was?” I asked, still chuckling from the video.
“Yeah. I brought you an iced coffee,” he said, holding up the drink.
“Oh my God, I love you,” I said, accepting the drink. “And oh, my God, sit down and I will fix your hair.”
I sipped the drink and sat him down, then reached into my back pocket for the comb I'd started to carry. Caleb still ignored his hair too much, but with a quick brush he looked pretty fine again.
“Hi, Caleb,” Kari said with a smiling laugh.
“Hey,” he said, his tone sounding happy.
“You have to watch this,” she said, sliding over and showing him the video. It was even funnier because he started laughing, so it was almost like seeing it for the first time. I sat down beside Caleb, who was wearing shorts, shoes and a shirt I'd picked for him. I definitely brought out the best in this boy.
“Hmm,” Kari said, tapping her lip with her thumb. “Caleb, it seems like something is missing from your outfit.”
“What? No there isn't!” I said indignantly. “He looks perfect!”
“It's just...oh, maybe a little chain or bracelet? Something small?”
“Hunt thinks I need something dark because of my skin tone,” he offered.
“Well, I was just thinking for contrast. Like they cut those black glass beads that glitter so much? They might be nice.”
“Hmm,” Kari said.
“Hey, what about your brother, by the way? You were saying I missed the boat or something?”
She glanced at me and her expression went from confused to amused. “Oh, right! So this guy, Derry? He's gay and Isaac thinks he's the coolest thing. They take pictures sometimes of them working and stuff. It's really cute, but probably just more of Isaac being a heteroflexible weirdo. He's like those...what do they call it when a TV show puts sexual tension between two male characters just to screw with the viewers?”
I thought for a moment. “The word is on the tip of my tongue.”
Caleb turned to me and stared quite forcefully at my face.
“Are you going to open your mouth so we can see what's on your tongue?”
“Oh, ha, ha. Wiseguy,” I said with a roll of my eyes. “And it's called gay baiting.”
“Right. Isaac is total gay baiting.”
“Not sure that's the way you'd say it, but I get what you mean. So what, you thought I'd throw myself at your twinkie brother? Bah. He's too young,” I said with a dramatic sniff.
“So, what's your type, then?” Caleb asked.
“Easy, Caleb,” I said with a snicker. Kari laughed with me, but Caleb just smiled his unworried smile. “So how do you have today off?” I asked him. He was working a landscaping side business for his family, and was normally busy during the week.
“The sprinkler system malfunctioned and drowned the fields we were supposed to work on at the ballfield. Our machines would have ruined the grass, so it turned into a day off.”
“Nice. So you did the only logical thing and brought me an iced coffee,” I said with a grin.
“Exactly,” he said, smiling again. He sighed, “But tomorrow we're spread thin – scheduled days off and stuff, so I'll be kind of on my own.”
“I could come help. I'm off tomorrow,” I said.
He tilted his head and seemed to consider me. “That'd be great! Except...well, you'd get dirty. Have to lift things.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Is this a crack about being not manly enough? Fucker, I just spent two weeks shingling a roof. I can work in a yard.”
He smiled. “You'll mess up your hair.”
I growled. “I can wear a hat.”
He looked surprised. “You own one?”
“Well, it'd be great to have you. But you have to be up early.”
I paused. “How early?”
“Pick you up at seven?”
I sighed. “Bring coffee.”
Kari and I had to go back to work and Caleb said he was going to look around at some of the shops and to text when I got done. As soon as we got inside Kari started prattling again about her brother – the twinkie – and I had to remind her again that I wasn't going to date the bugger.
“Well, if you're not going to go after Caleb, and I think it's a bad idea to do the sugar daddy thing-”
“You don't get a vote!” I said, laughing.
“Vote on what?” Nicole asked.
“So Caleb is hanging around with our Hunter quite a lot,” Kari said.
“We're friends!” I said defensively.
“And he won’t ask him out or even try,” Kari continued as if I hadn't spoken. “But he has feelings for him and thinks it's a good idea to get a sugar daddy instead, even though he's already had one and I told him the reason sugar daddies are out there is to pay for sweet young ass like Hunter, here.”
“Kari. Breathe,” Nicole said with a smile.
“And did you just say I have a fine ass?” I asked, smirking. She responded by trying to slap my ass! The cheek of her.
“Caleb is my friend,” I said to Nicole. “Kari wants me to date her brother, which I don't know why-”
“Because he needs to pick a damn side already!” she said with a frustrated laugh.
“Which has nothing to do with me,” I said with a roll of my eyes. “And yes, I admit my sugar daddy ended up asking for more, and I declined. I also admit there is some truth to what Kari is saying in regards to dating a sugar daddy. But there are also benefits – like getting access to their experience and, ideally, leaving out the dramatic crap you get with trying to date guys my age.”
Nicole looked down her nose at me. “Let's just circle back to you have feelings for Caleb.”
I blushed. “So? He's cute. He's nice. He's also straight.”
“What's the phrase? So's spaghetti until you get it hot and wet?” Nicole laughed and Kari joined her.
Nicole smiled at me. “Look, Hunter, I know coming onto a straight guy isn't ideal. I also know that you guys are friends, but he seems to really like you. Do you think it hurts your friendship if you admit to liking him?”
I leaned back against the counter and crossed my arms. “It changes it. It could ruin it. Make things awkward.”
“Okay, so let's lay your options out logically,” Nicole said holding her fingers up. “Kari's brother.”
I held my hand up. “Look. He's cute as fuck, but he's too young for me and he hasn't picked a side. I don't want that confusion or drama. Or being related to Kari.” I stuck my tongue out at her and she copied me.
“Two,” she said and holding up another finger. “Sugar daddy. Seems like you're setting yourself up for a dead end relationship there. Sugar daddies aren't known for being into it for falling for their sugar babies, and sugar babies are in it for the money.”
“There are other advantages,” I muttered.
“Such as?” she asked.
“Their age isn't a negative,” I said. “They have experience in a lot of arenas I don't yet – like professionally. They may have contacts that work to my advantage later on. I can learn how not to end up stuck in Park Fucking Terrace for the rest of my life.”
“So you don't want a relationship, you want a transaction?” Nicole asked.
“Well, no,” I said uncertainly. I mean, I wanted someone to love and to love me, but....
“Then option three,” she said holding a third finger up, “is Caleb.”
I sighed. “He's not gay. I...wish he was.” I was a little surprised to say that out loud, and also frightened at the implications behind the statement.
“Hunter,” Kari said quietly. “Is there some reason you wouldn't want things to work out?”
I covered my eyes. “Brett Hosten.” I briefly described the train wreck of a relationship and the fallout – which was more the point. Everyone has regrets for an old relationship, I guess. The stuff that came after Brett...that just wasn't fair. I didn't want to be controlled again – or to feel so controlled. I wanted to be the one to call the shots. Shit. Is that why I think the way I do about sugar daddies? Fucking Brett?
Kari cleared her throat, pulling me out of my thoughts. “You wouldn't know it now, given how well Isaac and I get along. But...I went through a stretch where I was a real bitch to him and to Brandon.”
I frowned lightly, wondering why she'd confess to such a thing and what the point would be.
She cleared her throat. “After my parents died I was in a weird place. Hal had come home and things were the same, but different. We...well, he started to date Brandon and I didn't know about the age difference until we went to a cookout at Brandon's – and that's when I realized Isaac lived there.” She paused. “I said some shitty things to Hal about his relationship, then I started taking out my anger on Isaac at school. It's an embarrassment to talk about, but...you deal with it. Isaac and I worked it out. Brandon is incredibly forgiving and he's given us some stability that Hal and I didn't have on our own.”
She looked up at me. “That's why I think sugar daddies are a bad way for you to go. They have their own feelings and reasons for doing what they are doing – and doing you is one of them. That doesn't sound like what you want,” she added.
I cleared my throat. Damn, I copy this girl a lot. “No. It's not what I want.”
“Then I think making a mistake with Caleb doesn't mean it has to be fatal. I know this isn't a Hallmark movie where we know you guys end up with each other, but it also doesn't have to be what you might be afraid of – losing a nice friend.”
I thought on that through the last part of my shift. It's true I have plans to put myself in charge of things, but am I really achieving any of that? If I'm doing it because Brett screwed me up, isn't that just giving him more power over me? What if something happens between me and Caleb? Isn't that okay if he's okay with it?
When I left work I felt like I should listen to Kari and Nicole. No more sugar daddies. I wasn't so sure about Caleb, because I was afraid of losing him now, but hell if I wasn't more open to the idea. I texted him, and he told me he was hanging out in a store that sold nothing but sports hats. Such a bro, I thought fondly. He was exiting the shop as I approached, and I noted he'd not bought anything.
“They didn't have your team?” I asked.
“They did. I just couldn't find a hat that really said 'Hunter', you know?”
“You were looking for a hat for me? Pass!” I said with a laugh. We started to walk and I was thoroughly enjoying the nice weather, the company and the feeling of possibility the girls had inspired. That's when I saw it – a small jewelry outlet that was having a going out of business sale again. They went out of business every six months or so, then opened under a new name. I don't think it was legal, but no one seemed to care.
“Let's look,” I said, heading inside.
The store looked like a typical discount jeweler with glass display cases that were nice, but not elegant. They were standard cases with chrome edges and the walls had no adornments to make the place seem more upscale than it was. That worked for me because that also meant it wasn't pretentious and the prices weren't bad. I'd gotten a few things here in the past without an issue – no skin turning green or anything – so I wasn't very concerned about quality. One of the salespeople asked if they could be of help, but I told them we were just looking for the moment.
I looked at Caleb and put my hand against my chin and gave him what I hoped appeared to be a considering look. In fact I was just enjoying looking at him. The clothes I'd picked for him were very good for his build and skin tone, but Kari was right – he needed a little shiny thing to enhance what was, in my estimation, a package worth getting excited about.
“What?” he asked, smiling at me.
I held out my hand. “Let me see your arm?”
Obligingly and without any indication that there was any reason he shouldn't give me his hand in a public space, he extended his arm out to me. I cradled his arm by the wrist and looked at his skin. I mean his skin tone, because he worked outside.
“You said you tan?” I asked.
“Yeah. Not as well as you.”
“Is this,” I lifted his arm slightly, “what we call a tanned Caleb?”
He smiled, his lips twisting about a bit in amusement as he did. “Yeah.”
“Hmm,” I said, still holding his arm. Okay, better stop that even if he doesn't seem to have an issue with it. I'm not sure what he does have an issue with, actually.
“What?” he asked.
I raised an eyebrow. “Thinking.” If I put a bracelet on him...well, he doesn't really do jewelry, but he didn't seem exactly opposed, either. His skin had a nice little tan, but he was right in that it wasn't as deep as my own. I was thinking about a little gold chain on his wrist. I pictured him without his shirt, arms hanging down and a little glint of gold catching the light like his golden-red hairs on his legs. Then I tried to imagine him with just that little bit of metal on him.
Of course my brain can't handle things like that and I suddenly imagined him in shorts and company tee shirt getting his chain caught on some landscaping implement. Picturing my friend naked isn't an act of evil, I told my brain.
I glanced up at Caleb's face, startled from my thoughts.
“Nope, that won’t work. I was thinking – oh, wait!” I let go of his arm and squatted down. I admit there was enough light that the tiny hairs on his legs were still doing that light-catching thing – and it was oddly erotic – but I forced my gaze down to his ankle. Because I'm a masochist I'd gotten him to buy no-show socks because more skin equals better, right?
Of course right.
His legs had taken some sun, as you'd expect, but given that ankle bracelets are a bit longer since the ankle is a larger joint than the wrist, I reasoned that the chain could be a bit stronger as well. And of course I pictured him naked with a little gold chain on his ankle, and friends and neighbors, it was hot as fuck.
I stood, then swooned for a step as I felt light-headed. Caleb steadied me with a hand on my shoulder.
“Fine,” I said. “Stood up too quickly.” I sighed. “Kari was right. You need some jewelry.”
He raised an eyebrow. “I do?”
“Yeah. Just one piece to complete your outfit, but one you can be comfortable wearing all the time.”
His expression was uncertain, but he didn't protest.
I turned and scanned the offerings through the glass. Herringbone was too rigid, and it could pull hair. I wanted him to like wearing the chain, not be bitching because it was denuding his ankle. Then again there wasn't much in the way of hair on a given ankle, right? His leg hair was so fine it might not be an issue. In the end the selection wasn't great and I wasn't seeing what I'd put on him. Then I moved to the leather bands and they had some nice ornamentation – feathers, infinity symbols, conch shells and silver fish. None of them said 'Caleb'...until the one done in black leather, a double strand, with a silver ornament that was a spreading group of vines and flowers.
I looked up at the salesperson and she seemed to have been watching or waiting for us. She headed my way with a set of keys on a springy wrist ring.
“Can we see that one, please?”
“This one is so nice, good call,” she said with a smile. She withdrew the band and I picked it up and showed Caleb. “It's dark so it'll stand out with your skin tone, even with the tan. Look at the decorative flowers and vines. That is so you,” I said with a grin.
He rubbed the side of his nose and smiled. “I guess you know me.”
I knelt down and attached the anklet – the price was small, probably because it wasn't real leather would be my guess. I leaned back and grinned at the way it looked on him and looked up to gauge his response. He wasn't looking at his ankle, though. He was just looking down at me, his expression one of mild indulgence.
Honestly it made my stomach do weird things.
“What do you think?” I asked him.
He glanced down at the anklet in a cursory way and then back to me. “Do you like it on me?”
“It completes your look,” I said with a firm tone. I stood up and looked at the salesgirl. “We'll take it.”
“Shall I get you a bag or will you wear it out?”
“That's not coming off,” I said with a grin at him.
He grinned back, shrugged at the salesgirl and said, “He's in charge.”
That. That right there. He's in charge. If ever there was a guy I liked that scared me more – and less – than anything, it was Caleb.
After Caleb dropped me off I spent most of the evening in my room thinking about him. I thought about how much I'd grown to like him, and how much he'd become part of my daily life. I thought about Brett and how he'd shaped my life and my outlook and how much I resented him that control. I knew I'd go back and forth no matter what I decided in this moment. I knew I'd question myself every step of the way. I knew a firm answer right now would be malleable and seem stupid at times, but I was going to do it anyway.
I was going to try with Caleb.