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Home Port: Excerpt

The pulsing thump thump thump of a bass-heavy dance mix pounded through Dean as he stepped into Fuego, his favorite nightspot in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. He paused just inside the door to let his eyes adjust to the dimness of the lounge, backlit by the bright strobes of the dance floor beyond. It was early in the evening, just past eight o’clock, but the room was already packed shoulder-to-shoulder with men looking to hook up and a few women dressed to party. There was even a pair of straight couples laughing over cocktails at a nearby table. An uncommon sight here, but not surprising: Happy Hour had ended less than two hours ago, and the mojitos at Fuego were excellent. Dean soaked in the welcome novelty of being among people with long hair and dramatic makeup; who wore colors other than blue, white, or khaki. After months spent in a tiny world of gray metal floating on the vast surface of the Pacific Ocean, Petty Officer First Class Dean Mendez of the United States Navy had come home.

As he began making his weaving way through knotted tangles of lovely people drinking, gossiping, and flirting, several pairs of eyes met Dean’s with invitation. He let himself enjoy the attention; he knew that his dark trousers and blue silk shirt set off the golden tones of the brown skin he’d inherited from his Afro-Cuban father. He loved the yellow flash of the gold chain he wore over the plain ball chain of his dog tags, which hung discreetly behind his open collar. A trim mustache gave his lean face a piratical air, and his kinky black hair was cropped close to ensure that the effect was more reminiscent of Errol Flynn than Johnny Depp. Dean met the looks of unspoken inquiry bent his way with polite refusal. He wanted someone special to be with tonight, but none of these admirers were the man he was looking for.

“Mendez!”

Dean was momentarily disoriented when a voice he was used to hearing above the noise of a large war ship called his name over the din of bar chatter. He turned to see his shipmate, Chief Petty Officer Mark Lowell, moving toward him from the bar, cutting a straight path with his broad body through a group of pretty boys between them. The boys didn’t seem to mind. Lowell stood half a head taller than the tallest of them; in a plain black T-shirt and jeans, with his blunt, rough-hewn features topped by short, dark blond hair, he stood out like a bull buffalo in a herd of gazelles. Dean was surprised he hadn’t noticed the man’s presence earlier. But then, a gay nightclub wasn’t the sort of place he had ever expected to run into Mark Lowell.

“Chief, hey, it’s good to see you.” It was. Lowell had never been a dick to Dean, and while they had never hung out, not being a dick was a solid basis for friendship and respect between members of a ship’s crew. Dean’s curiosity got the best of him, and he found himself going on to blurt, “What are you doing here?”

Lowell drew himself up and his mouth went into a wry twist. “Same as you, I guess.” His hand made a little gesture that somehow managed to indicate all the men in the room but none of the women. “Came to dance. Drink. Meet some people. Well, some person. I hope.”

Dean couldn’t help it; his eyebrows lifted in astonishment. He’d always had a pretty keen gaydar, and Lowell had never registered as even a faint blip. He couldn’t think of anything to say.

Lowell’s mouth relaxed out of its twist into a proper smile. “I guess you’re surprised, huh?”

“Yeah, man, I had no idea,” Dean confessed.

“Uh-huh. Well, no one in the Navy ever asked, and even after DADT, I was kinda used to not telling, you know?” Lowell shrugged his big shoulders, stretching the fabric of his T-shirt. Dean was pretty sure he heard a gasp of admiration from a nearby observer.

Dean nodded his understanding as they reached the steps leading down to the sunken dance floor, though he realized that he really couldn’t know how Lowell had felt; to live without anyone knowing who he was. Dean’s close friends in the Navy had always known he was gay. He hadn’t made a formal announcement or anything, but since the ban against homosexuals serving had been lifted, he had made no attempt to hide his orientation. By now, he figured only the willfully obtuse remained ignorant of the facts.

“I’ve never seen you in any of the clubs before,” Dean said.

“Yeah, I had a guy for a while, we used to go out some, but we broke up a few years ago. After that, the idea of dating and not being able to even mention it at work just made me sad.” Lowell’s voice was low, but deep and clearly audible even with the techno beat blasting through the club. He heaved a big sigh. Then he gave his head a quick, hard shake, as if to knock thoughts of sadness out of his mind. “I thought maybe now I’d see if I couldn’t get back in the game, maybe find someone again.”

Poor Lowell. He’s so lonely.

Dean flashed his teeth in an encouraging smile. “Well hell, man, look around yourself. There’s like a dozen guys in here just lining up to get with you.”

It was true. Dean gave the bar behind them a glance and caught several gazes of naked longing focused on his friend. He found himself mentally compiling a list of men he knew in San Diego who might enjoy being set up with a tall, brawny, recently un-closeted sailor.

“I dunno, Mendez. I don’t go much for that whole get in, get out, casual sex thing, you know? I never really did. And in this place…” He gave a little pained look around. “I kind of think I’m not gonna find what I’m looking for here after all.”

Holy shit, he’s holding out for true love. Dean reluctantly abandoned his list. He was willing and able to make recommendations for a good time, but he drew the line at matchmaking. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in romance: far from it. But privately Dean thought that getting laid a time or three would propel Lowell further along the road to happiness than going home to wait for The One to come knocking on his door. And right now this big, tough guy looked like he was ready to bolt.

“Look, Chief, just get down there and dance with some dudes, yeah? See if someone catches your eye.” Dean’s gaze moved over the dancers on the floor below, a living sea of male beauty, churning and heaving to the infectious beat of synthpop. At that moment, while the DJ faded one electronic musical confection into another, the rhythm of the dance broke, the waves parted and there…

There he was.

The boy’s hair was lightest blond, almost white, and just a little too long, as though he’d forgotten to get it cut that week. He was in his mid-twenties, with skin nearly as pale as the white jeans and ice-blue T-shirt that clung tightly to his slim, graceful body. His face was open and sweet as he danced between two men, arms raised and hips making loose little figure eights. Among the flashy colors and dramatic blacks worn by the others on the floor, the beautiful boy, all ivory and silver, shone like a Christmas tree angel.

“I guess somebody caught your eye, huh, Mendez?”

Dean blinked at Lowell’s voice; a little ashamed that he had so instantly forgotten the big man was there. He had to slowly close and open his eyes once more before he could bring himself to look away from the dancing beauty. He gave his shipmate a sly smile.

“Oh yeah. That’s what I’ve been lookin’ for.”

Lowell’s chuckle rumbled out of him like a small earthquake. “Man, that kind of little honeybee just buzzes from flower to flower.”

“Maybe, but honey is sweet, you know?”

That got a full-throated laugh out of Lowell.

“Not my style, but hey, you go have fun. See you later, Dean.” Lowell’s eyes were still crinkled with laughter as he gave Dean a friendly whump on the back and turned to head back into the lounge. He seemed to have come out of his previous funk, so Dean reached out to stop him before he could move away.

“Chief… Mark,” he said. “Listen. Go to the bar and let somebody buy you a drink. Let somebody flirt with you. You never know, man. You might be surprised what kind of guy you meet.”

Lowell’s smile warmed up his face like he’d just stepped out into the sun. Dean had to admit it: the man was hot. He couldn’t imagine Mark Lowell being lonely for long, if he just gave himself a chance.

“Very well, Mr. Mendez. I’ll give that a shot. Good luck with your honeybee.”

***

Format: ebook. Published: February 14, 2012.

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