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Across State Lines

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It was Thursday again. Ian had gotten permission from his supervisor, Sue, to swap his shift. He wondered why she couldn’t just schedule him for Thursday on a regular basis, knowing that was his preference. Probably because Ian was still new to the department.

Agricultural Officer Gallagher. Had a nice ring to it. And it was a decent paying job that only required a high school diploma and a letter of recommendation from his JROTC Colonel. So far, Ian’s co-workers seemed cool—he’d felt comfortable telling them he was gay. No one seemed to care.

Florida was interesting like that. You could find yourself surrounded by either the “live and let live” types, or the other end of the spectrum with hard-core conservative extremists who’d want to send you to conversion camp or give you a beat down to remember. 

Ian wasn’t as open about his personal life with the hundreds of people who passed through the Florida inspection center. Farmers and agricultural workers and importers came from all over the country to bring produce and goods into the state. It wasn’t Ian’s job to be overly welcoming, just to make sure that there were no harmful elements coming through and no unauthorized products. He hadn’t busted anyone yet, but he’d heard stories.

Out of all the people Ian had met during his first months on the job, there was someone who’d caught his attention. Every Thursday around 3 o’clock, Mikhailo A. Milkovich would present at Agricultural Inspection Station #16 off of Interstate 95 with his unmarked white trailer. And Ian was smitten with him.

Mickey, he’d said. Call me Mickey. Not that bullshit name on my license.  

The first time he’d had an actual conversation with Mickey, Ian had been training with the on-duty senior officer, Jorge. Just a few weeks into the job, Ian was still nervous about following the protocols he’d recently learned. Then, along came Mickey with his clear-as-the sky blue eyes and swagger. Ian felt an instant attraction to him, and probably did a pretty poor job of hiding it.

Hard as he tried, Ian couldn’t stop staring at Mickey. There was something endearing about his scruffy appearance, mud-caked boots, and a slight, faded smudge of dirt across his cheek. He was sexy in his own way—strong arms and a nice ass. Beautiful smile.

Mickey laughed easily with the senior officer as he led them to the back of his trailer. He unlocked the door and waved his hand over the contents—boxes and boxes of peanuts.

Ian stood outside with Mickey while Jorge climbed into the trailer to look around. Mickey pulled a pack of cigarettes from his front shirt pocket. 

“I know your boss won’t take one. How about you, newbie?” Mickey held out the open packet towards Ian.

“Oh, um. He’s not my boss, he’s just, uh, training me.” Ian figured he was coming across as a total idiot, but he continued talking. “Anyway, we can’t accept items from, well…”

“Inspectees?” Mickey offered. Ian smiled and nodded, in spite of the made-up word. 

Mickey started fishing around for something in the back pocket of his jeans. “Shit. You got a lighter? Mine’s probably in the truck.”

“Yeah, I think so.” Ian fumbled with his clipboard while he checked his pockets. He held up a red Bic lighter, eager to accommodate his new acquaintance.

“You mind?” Mickey cupped his hands around the cigarette dangling from his mouth as he waited for Ian to do the honors.

Ian complied, his hand shaking slightly as he flicked the lighter on. “S-sure thing.”

Mickey took a drag from the cigarette and released a puff of smoke from the corner of his mouth. “So, you got a name?”

“Yeah. I’m Ian. Ian Gallagher. Nothing fancy like yours. How do you pronounce it?” Ian could have kicked himself for wasting time with such a lame question. He knew it wouldn’t be much longer until the inspector finished his checklist.

“Like I told you. It’s just Mickey.” He laughed as he exhaled more cigarette smoke. “Hell, to tell you the truth, I don’t even know how to pronounce it.”

Ian laughed too, more curious than ever now about this guy. His drivers license had a South Carolina address listed, but he didn’t have even a touch of a southern accent. Quite the opposite.

Before Ian could get in any more small talk, Jorge emerged from the trailer with a thumbs up. “You’re good to go, son.” Then he turned to Ian. “Gallagher, you need to come inside the trailer with me next time.”

Ian felt his face turning red. “Sorry, Jorge. I mean, sir.” He cleared this throat and handed Mickey’s drivers license and paperwork back to him.

Mickey’s fingertips brushed against the back of Ian’s hand, and Ian looked up quickly, certain from Mickey’s expression that he had done it on purpose.

“Same time next week, fellas.” Mickey dropped his cigarette butt on the ground and snuffed it out with his heel. 

“No littering,” gruffed Jorge.

“Yeah, I know.” Mickey held up his hands innocently. “Was gonna pick it up.” He shifted his feet slightly and bent down to retrieve the discarded butt.

Ooh. That ass. Was it Ian’s imagination or had Mickey turned around on purpose so that he could enjoy the complete picture?

Ian pulled at the stiff white collar of his uniform shirt and quickly made an excuse. “It’s a scorcher today, huh?”

Jorge was already heading back to the station for their next assignment, and Mickey had started towards the door of his truck. 

“Yeah, but it’s gotta be worse down here in the middle of summer.” Mickey shoved a pair of sunglasses over his eyes.

“True.” Ian shielded his face from the sun as Mickey climbed into his truck and shut the door. “Probably the same up your way. South Carolina’s pretty humid, right?”

Mickey lowered his sunglasses down to the bridge of his nose, and Ian got another glimpse of his sparkling blue eyes. “Whoa. You stalking me now?”

Ian let out a nervous laugh and ran his fingers through his hair. “Not stalking you, just noticed from your license.”

Mickey gestured for Ian to come closer. “Cuz if you were,” he whispered, “that’d be okay with me.” 

“Oh, well I...uh...” Ian couldn’t quite get his words out.

“See you next Thursday,” Mickey said, starting the car. He tossed a small bag of peanuts to Ian. “Freshly roasted. Enjoy.”

Mickey was gone before he could decline the gift. Ian looked back at the inspection booth to make sure no one was watching and tucked the bag into the back of his pants.

He’d take them home to share with his brothers and sisters. There were six of them total. And that’s the way their family operated—communal sharing of all goods and services acquired.

^^^^^^^^^^

The peanuts were a hit with the Gallagher crew. And so was the next batch. And the next. Four weeks later and four more flirtatious encounters between him and Mickey, and Ian was finally ready to make a move.

The day was dragging by. Ian felt like his co-workers were watching him. He hadn’t told anyone he was interested in Mickey, but people must have noticed Ian was no longer moping over his ex.

His ex. Caleb. Firefighter by day. Bar crawler by night. They’d bumped into each other on the dance floor at a club one night and hit it off. Ian had spent most nights at Caleb’s place, and they’d met each other’s families.

It sucked to hell when Ian found out Caleb was cheating on him. Caleb didn’t even have the decency to be discreet, leaving his phone lying around for Ian to discover the dick pics he’d been sharing.

Then along came this flirtation thing with Mickey Milkovich. The peanut guy. Simply put, Mickey had found his way into Ian’s psyche, and he wanted more of Mickey, in whatever way, shape, or form he could have him. He knew Mickey was interested, but to what extent? Ian was ready to find out.

3 o’clock came and went. By 3:15, Ian was practically crawling the walls of the inspection booth. By 3:30, he was outside pacing back and forth, having just finished an inspection of a tomato truck. By 3:45, Ian was convinced he would never see Mickey again.

So when the unmarked but very-familiar-to-Ian trailer rolled in at 3:58, Ian was both relieved and ticked off. He felt as though Mickey had almost stood him up for a date...that wasn’t even remotely a date. 

As he walked outside to greet Mickey, Ian relaxed his shoulders and took a deep breath. He needed to lighten the fuck up.

To his surprise, Mickey actually seemed to feel bad for not arriving at the usual time. 

“Traffic,” was the first thing he said after rolling down his window. “Sorry I’m late.”

“Are you?” Ian asked. “I hadn’t noticed.” If he was trying to sound convincing, he was failing miserably. A trickle of sweat dripped down his forehead in the cool-for-Florida 66 degree weather. They both laughed awkwardly. 

“Ready for the inspection?” Ian had his clipboard and pen posed for action. He knew his co-workers were watching his interactions with Mickey.

“Yeah. Sure. I’ll get her unlocked so you can have a look.” Mickey hopped out of the car and was wearing a navy polo shirt—instead of his usual white t-shirt—and jeans. He looked even more handsome than ever, his hair neatly combed and no dirt smeared across his face or his hands. 

Ian knew if he opened his mouth, something lame would come out. Instead, he nodded and followed Mickey to the back of the trailer, staying quiet as he climbed inside and went through his checklist.

Mickey was leaning against the open door, waiting for the results. Ian started towards him, having worked up the nerve to ask him out, but Mickey spoke first.

“All good? Can I go now?” he said hurriedly.

“Uh, yeah.” Ian was trying to hide the disappointment in his voice. He was hoping for a few extra minutes to chat with Mickey. “Everything checks out.” He jumped out of the trailer to hand Mickey the approval notice.

“This it?” Mickey held the paper up and had a puzzled look on his face.

“Well, yeah. Same as always.” Ian shrugged sheepishly, not wanting to keep Mickey from whatever important matter he had to attend to.

Mickey looked annoyed, and Ian was confused. He hadn’t even had a chance to give Mickey his number or ask him out. It was over before it had even started.

“Oh, fuck it!” Mickey threw his hands up in the air. “I want your phone number, Gallagher. I wanna take you out. Tomorrow. I’ll be coming back through town.” 

Ian was practically speechless. Mickey was staring at him with his arms folded over his chest, and it sounded like he muttered “Jesus” under his breath.

“Oh. I thought that I would—”

“What?” Mickey practically shouted back. “Not interested?”

“No! I mean, yes!” Ian wanted to grab Mickey by the shoulders and reassure him, but he showed restraint. “Yes! I’m interested.” 

“O...kay.” Mickey didn’t sound quite convinced. 

“I wanted to ask you out. I was going to give you my—” 

“Gotta be faster next time.” Mickey smirked and pulled out his cell phone. “Put your number in here. I shoulda asked you for it weeks ago.”

Ian smiled. “I would have given it to you.” He typed his number into Mickey’s phone and then handed it back to him. 

“I’ll text you tomorrow with the time I’ll be gettin’ in. Probably around 7 o’clock. You pick the place. Somewhere with some decent grub.” 

Ian nodded. “What do you like?” 

“Food,” deadpanned Mickey. “And redheads. More specifically, you.”

Ian knew he was blushing, but he liked Mickey’s directness. He wanted to be just as direct back to him, swoop in for a kiss. Or fuck, Ian was so turned on, he’d be willing to blow Mickey in the back of his trailer.

Except why rush things? If that’s all Mickey wanted, he wouldn’t have suggested they go out.

“Yeah,” agreed Ian. “I’ve had my eye on you too. Looking forward to tomorrow night.”

They were walking over to the driver’s side of the truck and Mickey paused. “You know, there’s something I wanna do, but not with a damn audience.” 

Ian looked in the direction where Mickey was gazing and realized all four of his fellow officers were still watching them.

“Tomorrow then.” Ian grabbed Mickey’s hand and gently stroked the center of his palm as he held it. “Drive safe.”

^^^^^^^^^^ 

Ian sat at the kitchen table, chugging his coffee and waiting for his brother Carl to wake up for their morning run. His older sister Fiona had just passed through and asked him what was new. She also asked him where the bag of peanuts was.

“Peanuts?” It suddenly dawned on him what she was referring to. How could he have forgotten? The peanuts had been a big hit with his family. “I didn’t get any yesterday.”

“Maybe next week.” She smiled at him reassuringly. “At least your job has some perks. I mean, my tips aren’t bad, but how many slices of days-old peach pie can one family eat?”

Fiona was the head of their household. She had been since she was about ten years old. Their drug addict parents were pretty much a waste of space and oxygen, so Fiona had raised all of the Gallagher siblings. 

She tended to look to Ian for support and guidance. Neither of them had wanted to pursue college—not yet anyway. It was unspoken between them, but they preferred to work and keep the household running, which allowed their brother Lip to go to college. He had the brains.

Ian didn’t mention his upcoming date with Mickey to Fiona. He only talked to her about relationships if there was an actual relationship. He wondered if Mickey was looking for something serious, although that might prove difficult with an entire state between them. 

Ian would have told Lip about Mickey if he was living at home instead of the dorms. They liked to swap war stories from their dating battlefields. Ian was hoping to have at least one story from this encounter.

And if this goes anywhere, Ian mused, maybe I’ll get something more than peanuts.