I've got a new snippet for you from THE TRUTH AS HE KNOWS IT (Perspectives #1). It's from the start of Chapter Three. Noel is out for lunch with his best friend Tristan, and he runs into a familiar face.
Mineo's had been busy every time Noel stopped in, and today was no different. A line of at least six people stood between them and the cash register. You placed your order, paid, took a number, then waited for it to be called, because everything was assembled to order. Besides deli sandwiches and hoagies, they also offered wraps, soups, a variety of personal sized pizzas, and six different kinds of wings.
Noel perused the vast menu board of options, unsure what he was in the mood for. "What are you feeling?"
"I don't know. You decide."
Tristan seemed genuinely perplexed, and it struck Noel that for the last few years, Tristan ate the food that was put in front of him. He didn't have to make a choice. Noel thought back to college and the things Tristan liked to eat.
"How about the turkey club?" Noel said. "You like mayo, right?"
"Yes. Okay, that sounds good."
By the time they reached the register, Noel had decided on corned beef on rye with mustard. A classic combination. He gave their orders to the girl at the register, plus two large sodas they could fill at the dispenser. She slid his debit card through the machine.
A dark head of hair slipped past behind the counter, the owner wearing a blue Mineo's apron. He sidled up to a sandwich station, then grabbed two red baskets. Lined them with waxed paper. Noel stared, willing the man to turn around. He took his debit card by rote, then his order number the same way.
Reaching for a bag of rye bread, the man in the apron showed his profile, and surprise sent Noel's heart racing. Shane. The stripper from the party. Shane turned back to his sandwich making quickly, but Noel had seen him.
Tristan touched his elbow, cluing Noel into his holding up the line. They filled their soda cups, then found a table as close to the service counter as possible. Noel sat facing it. He couldn't explain his newfound fascination with Shane. He hadn't honestly expected to see the man again, assuming that no one would strip at a party in a town they lived in. Assuming, again, that Shane lived in Stratton. Which was a logical assumption, since he worked at Mineo's.
So many assumptions when the object of his interest was assembling his lunch less than ten feet away.
And Tristan, bless him, noticed. "Do you know him? Do I know him?"
"No, you don't know him." Noel tried not to stare. "I barely know him. We crossed paths the other night."
"And probably taken by an equally cute girl."
Tristan angled himself to study Shane, his sharp gaze so like his old self when they'd go out looking for action. "Dunno about that. I'd lay odds he swings our way."
"Based on what?"
"Instinct." He leaned forward and pitched his voice low. "You know my gaydar has always been better than yours."
"Number four-oh-six!" Shane's shouting voice made Noel jump. He glanced down at their order number: 406.
Noel stood to fetch their order. Shane had the tray in his hands. His eyes widened briefly when he saw Noel, startled. Trapped. He blushed, then dropped his gaze to the tray. The two feet between them suddenly felt like a chasm. Noel took their food without a word, unwilling to speak up and embarrass Shane further.
"Okay, I don't know how you know him, but that was kind of awkward," Tristan said when Noel sat back down. "You two hook up or something?"
"No, nothing like that." He couldn't make himself tell Tristan about Shane. The entire situation was too personal—not for himself, so much as it was for Shane. Noel could read people pretty well, and he'd seen the shame in Shane's eyes. The fear of people knowing too much.
Lunch passed pleasantly enough with inane chatter. Noel didn't see anyone he really knew. He'd lived in Stratton for about two years, but his overnight shifts left little actual interaction with the town, and he wasn't a social butterfly. The few friends he had were fellow officers, including his weekly workout buddy, and that was okay with Noel.
He couldn't help a few more glances at Shane. Even though he'd seen the man practically naked, he was just as stunningly handsome in a polo and khakis. He worked with the precision of someone with years of practice, reaching for ingredients almost blindly. Noel found himself insanely curious why Shane made sandwiches by day and played stripper by night.
It wasn't the time or place to ask.