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our subtle lives

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There’s a certain foreign feeling that goes along with not knowing anything about the car you drive. Like being asked, “How’s the engine?” and sort of floating up out of your body while you scrabble for the blue book info you’d googled the day before you bought it, or the last few things the saleswoman said before she handed you the contract, keys dangling just ahead like a terrible carrot on a terrible stick.

Donald Doyle doesn’t know anything about his car, but it’s definitely smoking, and that, he knows, is an issue.

“Oh, dear.” He walks a big circle around it, watching the last vestiges of grey plumes rise up and dissipate in the cool morning air. He digs his hands deep in his jacket pockets, like the solution might be scattered at the bottom with a paperclip and the fortune from last week’s Chinese take out. “Right,” he says, and calls a tow truck.

The man who picks him up is silent — Doyle had just taken out his phone and searched emergency roadside service because, of all the other practical things he’s done in life, getting AAA when Vanessa had suggested it simply didn’t happen. One thing would lead to another and for the love of God, she’ll say, when he tells her this story later, haven’t you learned anything?

About cars, he’ll say. Not a thing.

About how well he is in this specific crisis, a fair bit.

About how much he enjoys riding in the passenger seat of a tow truck, holding the buckle into the latch while the driver makes turns that are far too sharp, considering the weight of the cargo being pulled behind him — too much.

“Could you, um, slow down? Please?”

“We’re here,” the driver says, and stops the truck in front of a garage with more precision that Doyle might have believed a tow truck driver possessed. “You can get out.”

“...Right.” He releases the buckles and clambers out of the truck, dropping to the ground with an audible “Oof!” before standing up —

And looking into the eyes of Adonis.

Is it appropriate, he wonders, to refer to any incredible man as an Adonis? He did die by the tusks of a boar. He is desired by women.

But a god of beauty is still a god of beauty. Whoever pursues him.

The man says something to the driver, who unhooks the car from the truck before pulling away. He walks a large circle around the car and whistles long and low.

“You did a number on her.”

“Um, yes. I suppose. Wouldn’t know much about that, actually.”

The man glances up and chuckles. “Not a gear head, then.”

“Ah,” Doyle says, and he will confess only to himself in private later that his knees tremble and his breath catches. “Whatever gave it away?”

The man laughs again. “Well, doesn’t look like she’s in too bad of shape. Why don’t you give me the keys and Lopez and I’ll get her inside.” He holds out his hand and Doyle, without much thought, simply shakes it. The man hesitates, then returns the gesture. A firm grip with warm, rough hands, peppered with callouses and a thin layer of grease.

Doyle stares into deep brown eyes that live under a quizzical brow as the man says gently, “Uh, the keys.”

“Oh! Oh, of course.” Doyle fumbles with his keychain until he can get the key separated from everything else and hands it over. “And you are…”

“Just call me Sarge. I’ll have one of my boys get your info inside. Don’t worry on all this too much, I’m sure it isn’t anything we can’t fix.”

He has his car back in his possession in an hour, with strict orders from Sarge get better about maintenance.

“Car’s like that, they last ‘til you’re buried, so just keep an eye on her.” He hands off the receipt and Doyle pockets it. “Anything else comes up, just give us a call.”

God above, he winks when he says it, before going back inside.

In his car, finally, Doyle slumps in the driver’s seat, staring at the little side door Sarge disappeared into. “Good heavens,” he breathes, feeling the after effects of three straight hours of attraction. He shakes himself back to reality and sticks the key in the ignition.



He doesn’t expect to see Sarge again. At least not for a long, long while. It’s true, the memory of him suffices for a short time. It’s been actual years since Doyle’s felt so drawn to someone. He finds himself in the weeks after driving past the shop, trying to invent excuses to go inside. I think I left my lucky pen here, or, Did my payment go through, I haven’t seen it show up on my account. Something sensible and easily believed. Nothing like —

“It’s been making a strange whistling noise lately. No idea what it could be, obviously.”

Sarge nods, popping the hooding and fiddling around under it for a moment.

Doyle tries for humor. “Perhaps there’s a small bird caught in there, somewhere?”

Sarge laughs. “Oh, you’d know if there was a bird in your engine. Hell of a mess that’d be.” He sighs and steps back. “Well, I can’t for the life of me see what could be the problem, but give me thirty minutes underneath her and I might know more.”

Phrasing, he wants to say.

You’re more than welcome to thirty minutes under me, he wants to say.

“Yes, well. Whatever you think is best,” he says instead, and leaves the man to his work.

Nothing comes of it, of course, except a thirty dollar bill that Donald thinks is heavily discounted.

“Couldn’t find much wrong with it. Checked your breaks and that’s about it.”

“Well that was much more than thirty dollars worth of work—”

“Nah.” Sarge waves him off. “I’m only chargin’ you something because I know a guy like you enjoys payin’ for his services.” He wipes the oil from his hands and Doyle briefly wonders the kind of marks his fingers would leave if he were to touch his cheeks with those hands, or press him to the wall with those hands —

“Right,” he manages. “Thirty dollars it is then.”



He tries to stagger his visits. Too frequent and Sarge will suspect.

(“And what a tragedy it would be,” Vanessa had said, “if the man you were infatuated with discovered the truth.”)

But admissions were never Doyle’s strong suit. His father always said he was a coward at heart. No proclivity for the military legacy his family carried on from one generation to the next. None of the boldness his siblings possessed. In his early fifties, now, and unmarried, with no children. Not that he needed to any of that, but it carried a certain stigma, where his family was concerned.

They were all terribly relieved when he'd left London for California. After that, they could pretend he wasn’t one of them at all.

Doyle has never confessed that the isolation was freeing. That cutting himself away was being reborn. It’s easy, he knows, to fall into his old habits and be his old self. To hide feelings behind ignorance or ineptitude. What is he good at, other than educating others about the past? History felt a natural path to take, allowing him to appreciate the bravery and achievements of others.

It would be nice, he thinks, to have an achievement of his own to speak of.

At least — one of the heart.

Very rare achievements indeed.



Sarge steps out of his office and grins. It’s been three months to the day since Doyle first arrived, tumbling from the tow truck and looking up at a truly inspiring profile. Now, he stands awkwardly by his car, as Sarge crosses the lot to him.

“What’s wrong with her this time?”

Doyle swallows thickly. “Ah, nothing. Actually. There’s nothing...well. Well there’s something, but it isn’t about...about her—”

(He loves the way they speak about the car, like it’s a prized mare and not a Subaru Outback with ninety-thousand miles on it.)

He sighs. “It’s about me, and this...perilous attraction I have to you.”

Sarge stops.

Doyle hadn’t considered, for even a moment, that Sarge wouldn’t at least understand. He hadn’t considered that Sarge might not be attracted to men at all, that even if he were he might find Doyle absolutely repulsive.

He’d considered none of this because, in the end, boldness had won out. What did he have to lose, really? It was a big town, there were other mechanics. And besides, he could always just let the car fall apart in the spot outside his condo and ride his bloody bike to school.

Sarge tips his head, a bit like a cat perched on a ledge, considering a leap into the abyss below.

“It’’s not terribly appropriate, I know. A confession, I mean. Coming here, where you work, as if it’s the right place or time, but—” He takes a breath. “It’s been twelve weeks of agony, where I’m concerned, and while I’m not a brave man, I am an honest man, and I—”

“That’s enough,” Sarge says. “God almighty. Take it easy.” He puts a hand on the hood of the car, and Doyle realizes that, to Sarge, every car sort of is like something to be prized and cherished. He tapes the metal. “I figured out about two months ago you were makin’ all this up. The problems and such.” He glances over and grins. “If you wanted attention, all you had to do was ask.”

“It isn’t just...just about attention. I knew this was a mistake, I’m sorry to have bothered—”

Doyle moves to get back in the car, but Sarge’s hand is on his arm.

“Sorry,” he says. “Came out wrong. I only meant...if it was a date you wanted, I’d have given that up weeks ago.”

Doyle blinks. “...Oh.”

“But if you’re gonna rush off, I won’t stop you.” Sarge lets go and takes a step back. “I understand if I’ve offended—”

“But you haven’t,” Doyle says quickly. “Of course you haven’t, how could you—”

“Oh, you’ll learn I’m pretty damn offensive pretty damn quick.”


“Well—” Sarge leans against the side of the car, arms folded over his chest in a way that shouldn’t be allowed. “Folks tend to learn about each other when know.” He gestures out toward the street. “Get out there. Together.” He huffs. “I’m as bad at this as you think you are,” he mutters, shaking his head.

“On the contrary,” Doyle says, and steps closer. “I think you’re rather brilliant at it, if you don’t mind my saying.”

Sarge raises a brow. He turns, angles himself closer and laughs. “No,” he says. “I don’t mind that at all.”



It turns out Sarge cleans the grease from his hands before a dinner date, because why wouldn’t he? And so, when he reaches up and cups Doyle’s cheek, it doesn’t quite align with his fantasies — marks and smudges against clean, clean lines. Doyle turns, catches lip between teeth, grips Sarge’s red sweater in his hand, tips his head forward —

“I’m glad you lied about your carburetor.”

Doyle laughs, breaking the spell. “I had to google that.”

“Yeah, I kinda figured.” Sarge leans in again, puts a hand behind Doyle’s neck and draws him back in. “Considering you thought it was under the passenger seat.”

Doyle pulls back. “What is it then?”

“How ‘bout I take you to car school when we’re done here?”

Doyle’s heart skips a beat. “Yes,” he says. “Yes, alright.”

And it’s very easy, he realizes, to fall for someone. It’s very easy to take what you are and pour it out, into another person, let it flood their palms and cover their hands like paint. Doyle pours and is released and Sarge — withholds. It’s obvious when he’s doing it, obvious when he is holding back.

But Doyle is patient. Truths and secrets are not as important as —

Mornings, spent just before the sun comes up, sharing air and complaining about the day ahead. Doyle likes these moments because, even when Sarge isn’t completely open, he is completely himself. He’ll sit up and roll his neck, pop his shoulder and mutter, “I’m gettin’ old.”

“I disagree,” Doyle will say, and reach out to draw his knuckles down Sarge’s spine, tracing the edge of a tattoo here and there, things that mark him as so very different from Doyle and the entire life he’s led. “I disagree in the absolute.”



“I have a dinner this week,” Doyle says one afternoon, shifting his office phone to his other ear. “On Friday, with the rest of the classics department. I thought you’d like to join me.”

He hears some shouting and the sound of metal on metal before Sarge says, “Hang on—” and shouts something before he finally finds a quiet place to talk. “Lay that on me again.”

“A dinner. Friday. It’s nearly finals week, so the head of the department is treating everyone to a dinner. I’m allowed a plus one and I thought you’d like to come.”

“Interesting. This like a, uh, a formal event?”

“Well not formal, but it’s a nice restaurant, yes.”

Sarge grunts. “No denim, I take it.”

“Unfortunately no. I do know what you prefer to wear, and if you’d rather not meet my colleagues I completely understand—”

“This is important to you though. Isn’t it?”

Doyle hesitates. He could confess that he always attends these alone, that most of the people in his department are married and he and Vanessa are often the odd ones out — though even she has secured herself a date this year, reminding Donald that he has a partner now, so he should enjoy the perks that come with it.

“Yes,” he says. “I would like you to be there with me.”

“...I’m not much to show off, Donald. If that’s what you’re implying.”

“I disagree,” he says. “In the absolute.”

At that, Sarge laughs. “Well...well alright. I’ll go, then, if it means so much to you.”

You are what means so much. Dinner is dinner. It is the company I’m happy to enjoy.”

And while Doyle assures him that his colleagues are enjoyable, that he will absolutely adore Vanessa — Sarge is uncomfortable from the start, tugging on the edge of his jacket, fiddling with the salad fork, keeping his answers to peoples’ questions very short and curt. After, Doyle drives him home and says in the dark of the car, “I’m sorry to have done that to you.”

“Wasn’t your fault.”

“I insisted you go, you didn’t enjoy yourself—”

“Not much for academic types,” Sarge says. “Don’t know if you’ve noticed.”

Doyle slows down at a red light and looks over. “I hadn’t,” he says. “Because I was under the impression we were doing quite well.”

Sarge shifts uncomfortably in his seat. “S’not what I meant.”

“Then what did you mean?”

“Light’s green.”

“Oh for Christ’s sake—” Doyle takes off from the light, and they fall into a stifling silence. When he pulls into Sarge’s driveway, he cuts the engine, and they sit together in the dark for a moment before Doyle says, “Do I make you unhappy?”


“What is this, then? You find my colleagues, my peers, too stiff, but what does that make me?”

Sarge shrugs.

Doyle sighs.

“Right,” he says. “Well. First mistake, then. I won’t make it again. I never meant to put you in a situation where you were unhappy—”

“I am not unhappy.” Sarge turns to him. “I am the goddamn opposite of unhappy. But I sometimes think about how damn smart you are, how much you’ve worked to get where you are and I just...I wonder if I’m good enough—”

Doyle surges forward, but gets caught by his seatbelt. He swears, undoes it as Sarge unbuckles his own and Doyle winds up in his lap. His leg hits the emergency break but that doesn’t matter. That doesn’t matter as much as telling this stupid, ridiculous, insufferable man that he doesn’t need to be with someone just like him, that Sarge is one of the brightest, cleverest people he’s ever met —

“I don’t want you to feel like I’m takin’ something from you—”

Doyle kisses him. “It is in your best interest to stop. Talking.” He kisses him again, desperate and full and trying to drag out the truest parts. “I adore you. Don’t you know that?”

Sarge pulls back, and he grins. “I didn’t. I do now.”

“Good god,” Doyle mutters, shaking his head. “Insufferable. Absolutely insufferable.

“But you will, won’t you? You’ll suffer through this.”

Doyle sighs. “Nothing about being with you is suffering.” He kisses him again. “Nothing.



It takes a few months for Doyle to meet Sarge’s boys. “Boys” he’d realized was a misnomer — Grif, Simmons, Donut, and Lopez are full grown men, and the first time they meet Doyle properly, they grill him for nearly half an hour.

Sarge whacks Grif in the back of the head. “Knock it off, dumbass.”

“Simmons started it!”

Simmons looks pleased with himself, Cheshire grinning behind a glass of wine as Grif rubs the back of his head and sulks for the remainder of the evening.

But they like him, Sarge says later, while they stand shoulder to shoulder in the kitchen doing the dishes after dinner.

“Did they tell you that?”

Sarge shakes his head. “Nah. I know my boys. Stay the night,” he adds, as they finish the last few plates.

“Of course.” Doyle sets down the towel and turns, finding himself brought in close, enveloped by strong arms that make his knees weak even now, months later. “Good lord,” he murmurs.

“What is it?”

“It’s...well this sounds ridiculous,’s you. You surprise me at every turn. You let me into these parts of your life and it endears you to me more and more.”

Sarge laughs. “I know I made it hard, at first. I know that I...I’m—”

“You are exactly as open as I need you to be. I love you,” he says, then stops. “Oh, dear. I...well, I mean to say—”

Sarge leans in, kisses him. “Say what you mean.”

Doyle pulls back, but Sarge doesn’t let him get far, crowding him against the counter, bringing a hand up to cup the back of his neck.

“ you,” Doyle says. “I love you.”

“Yeah.” Sarge kisses him again. “I love you, too.”