1 Chapter 1

1

The phone was ringing.

“Damn,” Jesse exclaimed as he placed the hot moussaka pan he had just taken out of the oven onto the stove top. He pulled off his oven mitts, reached for the handset and checked the caller ID.

“Dennis Christopoulos! You better not be calling to tell me—” he said aloud before pressing the accept call button. “Hello, Denny, where the hell are you? You’re supposed to be walking in the door, not calling me on the phone.”

“Sorry, babe,” came the response.

Jesse recognized the apologetic tone in his boyfriend’s voice. Here we go again.

“I’m in Detroit. I was waiting for a flight stand-by to get back to Chicago, and they asked me to take another trip. One of the attendants called in sick…last minute.”

“Shit, Dennis!”

“I know. You’re upset—”

“Upset? Hell, yes, I am. It’s our anniversary! I got the table all set on the patio, the candles ready to light and a fuckin’ moussaka—”

“That’s moussa-ka,” Denny interrupted.

“What?” replied a flustered Jesse.

“It’s moussa-ka,” said Denny accenting the last syllable. “You pronounced it wrong.”

“Shit, whatever!” Jesse said trying to contain his irritation. “Moussaka, moussa-ka…it’s coagulating on the stove. Couldn’t you tell them no just once? This is the third time this month.”

“Jess, please.” Denny was trying to sound soothing. He was speaking in his sexy low baritone. “You know how things are at the airline. They’re laying off attendants right and left with the merger with Delta. I gotta be co-operative. Please, sweetheart, don’t be mad.”

As usual, when handsome Dennis Christopoulos turned on the charm, Jesse melted.

“Okay, I’m sorry I got mad, but, Jesus, Denny, it’s our anniversary. You’re way over your allotted flight time this month. Where are they sending you? Not out of the country again? When will you be home?”

“No, not out of the country. It’s just to Miami. Then the return flight is tomorrow evening and it’s direct to O’Hare. I won’t have to hitch a ride to get home. Okay? I got a big anniversary package to share with you, babe. I’m rubbin’ it right now!”

Jesse smiled at the thought of that big anniversary package. Denny was hung, and being that he was a short guy with a gymnast’s build, the size contrast made it seem even bigger. He caved all the way. “Okay, okay, I forgive you. Just be sure I get to unwrap that package as soon as you get home. None of that ‘I’m too tired stuff’ this time,” Jesse admonished, but with a smile in his voice.

“I promise. Hey, I gotta go. They’re givin’ us the crew call. Time to be briefed. See you tomorrow.”

“Denny?”

“Yeah?”

“Happy Anniversary.”

“Oh, yeah, Happy Anniversary, Jess.”

“I love you—”

“Yeah…here, too. Gotta go. ‘Bye.”

Jesse sighed and hung up. He looked at the steaming moussaka still bubbling on the stove, then at Shelby, the blue tick/beagle mutt he and Denny had adopted on their last anniversary. She raised her head, looking up at him with her soulful brown eyes. Jesse crouched down and scratched behind her long, soft ears.

“Well, girl, guess it’s just you and me, again. Ya want some moussaka? Just as a special treat, now. Can’t be gettin’ people food all the time. You’ll get fat.”

Shelby licked Jesse’s hand. He stood up.

“We have to wait a bit till the moussaka sets up; otherwise, it’ll be too runny.”

Shelby got up and sat next to Jesse, stretching her nose to the countertop, as if she understood what had been offered. Jesse went ahead and tossed the salad with Caesar dressing. He was just about to sprinkle the Parmesan when the door chime rang.

Shelby was up and off to the door in a flash. Her strange crooning bark filled the room as she ran out of the kitchen.

“Shelby, that’ll do!” Jesse was right behind her.

Mrs. Kloswick, their sometimes-nice, sometimes-crabby, always-nosey, next-door neighbor in the row of townhouses, hated Shelby’s bark, although she liked the dog well enough otherwise, it seemed.

“That’ll do,” he repeated as he reached for a doggie treat from a small basket that hung from a bracket next to the door. Shelby immediately stopped baying and sat.

“Good girl,” Jesse said, giving her the treat and petting her head.

He peeked through the peephole and saw a young man standing on the stoop, hands in his pockets, bouncing on his toes. Jesse didn’t recognize the guy, but immediately appreciated the set of muscles displayed in the tight-fitting, sleeveless tee he wore. Jesse opened the door. Shelby stood up and furiously wagged her tail.

“Hey,” a deep voice sounded, “I’m your new neighbor, other side of Mrs…Klos…Klos?”

“Kloswick,” Jesse offered. Shelby now took it upon herself to give the new neighbor a proper welcome. She walked out on the stoop to sniff his crotch and then jumped on him to try to lick his face.

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