1 Chapter 1

The worst about October was days getting shorter and cooler. It drove everyone to wearing extra layers and while I didn’t consider myself a voyeur, I liked to watch people. Especially guys. So I spent the evening at The Hangout looking for my soulmate.

The Hangout was a leather bar proudly waving the rainbow flag over the main entrance. Inside the lighting was subdued with murals of near-naked males wearing leather jockstraps and caps. The bar was covered with chromed steel grip plates and metal chairs. The bartenders wore leather vests and very tight jeans showing impressive packages. A few went with a wipe cloth in the left back pocket to indicate he topped. Usually the bar was crowded Wednesday through Sunday, this night being no exception.

As far as finding my soulmate went, despite a few offers of bathroom sex and one invitation to view a leather daddy’s etchings, which I imagined would be marks left by a whip on my delicate skin, I went home with my hormones between my legs and no prospects for love.

At least I had a decent night’s sleep and woke rested despite the evil eye of my morning wood glaring at me from the waistband of my shorts. I was debating going for a run, sleeping in, or chopping that wood when my phone went off. I had one of those smartphones that can slice and dice in the blink of an eye and do so many other useful things that I’d needed to figure out how to surf the internet to learn them all. I had no idea why I had it set for vibrate andringtone, but I decided one will have to go. In the meantime, I slid my thumb over the green icon.

“Morning big sis, why are you up so early?” My sister lived on the east coast with her husband and close to her adult children.

“Hi, Jacob. It isn’t early here. And I always like to give my little brother a call to see how his life is going.”

I’m twenty-four and my sister is sixteen years older than me. Ever since I was born she was stuck with the job of looking after me or trying to get rid of me when her friends were around. “I’m doing okay. Got my routine; eat, sleep, work, and gym.”

She chuckled. “There has to be time to get some romance in your life as well. Have you found anyone yet that is worthy of my brother? Not that I think that person exists where you now live.”

“Nope. All the good ones are either married or taken…or both. I’m not looking all that hard. No rush. I’m still young enough to enjoy life without a ball and chain.”

“Yeah right. Cut the crap. Anyway, the reason I’m calling is, well…we have a proposal. The kids, Leo, and I all chipped in to buy you a return air ticket to come visit in a few weeks. Call it an early Christmas present. We’re planning a big Aloha party, so bring a gaudy Hawaiian shirt.”

My gut clenched as awareness dawned. “Shit! You’re not doing so well, are you? I mean, having a Christmas celebration in October? What happened? Things seemed to be going so well. What’s the score, Lynn? I need to know.”

Lynn had been in remission for eighteen months after a nasty and harsh battle with colon cancer.

“It’s back, Jake. Not a good outlook. Depending on which specialist I see, they figure six weeks to six months. So we’re hedging out bets and celebrating Christmas early and we’ll keep going until…well, until I can’t.”

My head began spinning and I tried to imagine life without her. She was all I had left unless you counted our estranged brother. Parents and oldest brother were gone—it had been just Lynn and me and her family for years.

She brought me back to earth. “So, will you have any problem getting a week off? Ten days total if we plan it so you can return on the holiday weekend.”

“I wouldn’t miss it for anything. Tell me, does Ronnie know? Have you been in touch?”

I braced myself for some choice words about our brother. He was younger than her, older than me, and somehow he turned out to be a total asshole. When we were kids, he was the tough guy around school and the neighbourhood. If anyone hassled his brothers or sister, they would answer to him. In private, I was the object of his rage. He beat the crap out of me for no reason I could figure. He did some serious damage at times, but other than our parents telling him to stop, there were no consequences. For him anyway. I dealt with fractured ribs, a bruised kidney, and a wide assortment of marks and scars on my body.

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