They passed a brick store with a huge plastic Santa and flying reindeer suspended over the rooftop. Mitch remembered his crazy vision of the night before. Maybe he had been falling asleep. But man, it had seemed real for those few seconds.
“Do they still do the lighted Christmas parade?”
Web said, “Uh-huh. First week of December. Right now they’re doin’ the Starry, Starry Nights on the river. They’ve got a fifty-five-foot Christmas tree in the park this year and a thirty-foot snowman.”
“That’s nice.” Mitch stared out the window as the shop windows painted with Christmas trees and bells and stars flashed by in the bright winter sunlight. Did Web remember that final Christmas Eve when they had walked through the lighted Christmas Park with its thousands of twinkling lights and animated displays of cute animals in toukes? Did he remember the ugly argument that had followed? Did Web remember that it had been Christmas Eve twelve years ago that Mitch had lit out for parts unknown and never looked back?
“I guess it’s a change from New York City.” Web’s voice broke into Mitch’s bleak thoughts.
“Yeah. Although in a way New York is just a bunch of little villages all crammed into one big village.”
Mitch thought of his apartment and was suddenly intensely homesick. He didn’t belong here anymore. He never had.
“Do you like being a Texas Ranger?” he asked, talking himself away from the loneliness.
“Yep. I sure do.” Web smiled. Well, that had been his dream as long as dancing had been Mitch’s.
“Are you—” Mitch stopped. It wasn’t his business for one thing.
The easy good humor faded from Web’s face. “I’m as out as I need to be. But I don’t guess I fit your criteria for bein’ out.”
Just like that, the old resentment and hostility was back. “How do you know what my criterion is? You don’t know anything about me.”
“I don’t think you’ve changed that much.”
What the hell did that mean? “I doubt if you’ve changed that much either.”
“Folks don’t tend to,” Web agreed maddeningly.
Mitch simmered over that for a time. “I just wondered if being gay made your job harder. That’s all.”
“It doesn’t make it any easier, but then again I don’t sashay around in tights and eye makeup.” Web pulled neatly up in front of the rental car office.
“Whatever,” Mitch muttered, unsnapping his seat belt.
Web sounded brisk. “What are you gettin’ riled up about now, Mitch?”
“Gee, I don’t know, Davy Crockett.” Mitch opened the car door. “Thanks for the ride.”
The hand that landed on his shoulder startled him. Even more startling was the way that casual touch shot down through every nerve in his body and centered in his groin.
“That wasn’t aimed at you.”
Web drew a breath. He said in painstaking tones, “I said that about tights and eye makeup because of what Mamie was talkin’ about at breakfast.”
“I know why you said it.”
Web’s blue gaze held Mitch’s. “I’ve never known a touchier bastard than you. You’re worse-tempered than a stripper in a cactus patch. What I’m tryin’ to say is, it’s okay for your job. It wouldn’t be okay for mine.”
“Maybe that’s part of what you’re saying, but I don’t think that’s all of it. It doesn’t matter because I stopped caring what you think a long time ago.”
“Then I guess I won’t waste any more breath apologizin’.”
“Fine by me.”
“Okay. Glad we got that settled. See you tonight?” Web’s blue eyes smiled teasingly into Mitch’s, and to Mitch’s exasperation, his bad temper faded beneath that double dose of deliberate charm.
Well, that was how it had always been between them. Mitch, moody and oversensitive, taking offense at some dumb thing, and Web, easygoing and low-key, joking him right out of it.
Until the last time.
There hadn’t been anything funny that night.
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