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Bob doesn’t like other people handling his rig. He doesn’t. It makes his fingers itch, his stomach tighten just a fraction when someone else climbs under his cab. But he’s been dealing with this fucking rattle since Pittsburgh, and he can’t for the life of him figure out what it is.

So now there is a pair of strong thighs poking out from his hood, attached to a bushy red ponytail and a wide, friendly smile, and Bob is trying to keep his hands to himself on a number of fronts.

“Not the carb, not the exhaust pipe, not the brakes,” he’d said brusquely when he brought it in, and the guy—Ray-- had been courteous enough to not even bother checking any of those systems. Bob thought that was pretty cool of him.

“Hey, you know your rig, man,” he’d shrugged and grinned and jumped right in.

“You have any trouble with the engine on this trip?” Ray asks from somewhere near the engine block.

“Not really,” Bob calls back. “Takes a little longer to cool down, but—“

“Ha!” Ray yanks hard at something and Bob’s intake breather is in his hand, already in two pieces.

Bob isn’t sure if he should be pissed or impressed. “Ray? Did you break my truck?”

Ray jumps down in one clean motion and wipes his free hand on his coveralls. “Nah, came this way,” he says and waves the pieces at him. “What do you say we get you a new one of these?” Bob squints and Ray grins wider until Bob ducks his head and sighs. “That’a boy!”

*

The sign on the side of building is new, and Bob shakes his head at the cartoon monkey carrying a box on his shoulders. He’s pretty sure the senior Way wouldn’t have approved that, but ever since Mikey and Gerard and Frank took over the business, Wayro Shipping has had a touch of whimsy. Bob doesn’t generally like whimsy, but he knows better than to say so in front of Gerard.

“Bryar!” Frank comes around the corner fast enough that Bob can’t quiet escape the full body hug. “Heard you were in town, dude, what’s up?”

Bob shrugs a little, shakes Frank off his shoulder and reaches into his pocket for a cigarette. Frank says “uhhh, Bob?” and points to the ‘No Smoking’ sign over the door. “You’re kidding, right?” Bob asks. Frank and Gerard smoke enough to keep Phillip Morris in caviar for the rest of the decade. If Phillip Morris is an actual guy, which Bob kind of doubts, now that he thinks about it. Frank plucks the cigarette from his lips and drops it in his hand.

“State law, man. Can’t smoke in a place of business.” He looks wistfully at the cigarette for a second, then back to Bob. “How’s Bessie?”

“Had a rattle. Your new guy is fixing her up,” he notes, not adding anything at all about the new guy’s ass, or the fact that his hands are huge, and what that probably means. He clearly doesn’t need to, since Frank grins slyly and says “I know, right?” Bob just glares.

Frank leads them into the staff lounge and Bob shrugs out of his coat. He still wears it out of habit, even though the truckers up in Yellowknife would laugh at him. It’s spring in Jersey; they’re close enough to the water that it’s chilly, maybe fifty degrees, but the girls would already be in bikinis at Walt’s bar. He’s only been back from Canada for three weeks, the first two spent uncomfortably at his mom’s in Chicago, glad-handing relatives, and trying to not notice how she shot him worried glances when she thought he wasn’t looking.

Frank stops short in the middle of a sentence when he turns around. “What?” Bob asks, defensive out of habit, and Frank bites his lip.

“You look. Wow,” he says, and Bob flushes.

“Fuck off,” he says as Gerard walks in the room.

“Bob, fucker, we thought you’d be out until summer!” Gerard grins at him, and Bob notices when Frank catches Gerard’s eye, wary. Gerard looks back at him, critically this time, and Bob can’t fucking deal with this right now.

“I’m fine,” he growls and Gerard puts his hands up.

“Yeah, no, of course,” he says and Frank huffs on the other side of the room.

“You’ve lost weight,” he says, flatly, and Bob turns to look at him.

“Yeah, well, I was fat,” he answers, glowering, but Frank doesn’t budge. Bob wonders how Frank has managed to stay alive this long, with no sense of self-preservation.

“Bob—“ Gerard starts, and Bob yanks his coat back on.

“I’m not using,” he grits out. “I wouldn’t touch that shit. Fuck you both for even thinking—“

“No, hey,” Gerard’s hand is on his elbow, and Bob would hit him if he didn’t think that would make Frank actually a little dangerous. Also, his eyes are wide and warm, and Bob kind of missed Gerard a lot the last few months. “You look good,” he smiles and Bob sighs. “You just. If you come to Ma’s for dinner, she’s going to make you eat, like, half a cow.” Frank snorts and Bob rubs a hand over his face to hide his grin.

“I’m fine. I just. It was too cold to eat, you know?” he tries, and Gerard just nods and hugs him tight. Bob lets him, mainly because when he knows what he looks like. He’d think the same thing. Hell, his mom thought the same thing. Bob found a brochure from her church tucked into his bag as he was packing: ‘Facing Your Addiction With Christ’.
He kind of wishes she was right.

“Hey, lets go for a smoke,” Frank says roughly, and he’s not quite meeting Bob’s eyes. It’s as much of an apology as Bob wants, and he nods and lets Frank lead him to the designated smoking area, next to the parking lot. Gerard begs out, saying “Mikey’s on dispatch and I have to make sure he doesn’t spend the whole afternoon flirting with Pete.”

“Mikey and Pete?” he asks around a cloud of smoke and Frank rolls his eyes.

“It’s like listening to a terrible romance novel on tape, only with more fart jokes,” he says and Bob actually laughs. He’s impressed his body remembers how.

*

Ray has the part in, but it takes another day in the shop—Bob’s at the bottom of the queue since he doesn’t have any runs scheduled yet, still living off his late winter hauls. Frank’s been sick, and Gerard is making him rest up (“meaning no benders at the bar with Bryar,” he said pointedly), so Bob spends a lot of time on the ratty couch in Ray’s shop.

“Sorry, hey,” Ray says, a little breathless and wiping his hand on a rag as he sweeps in from the floor. “You want some coffee?” Bob holds out a paper cup and Ray scoffs and grabs him a mug from the sink in the back room. The coffee is hot and a little bitter, and Ray laughs at his face as he tries to drink it black.

“I didn’t take you for a cream and sugar guy,” he grins and sticks his head in the minifridge. His hair is held back by a plain black elastic, but a wisp has broken free and is bobbing up and down as Ray talks. Bob wonders if the rest of Ray’s hair is that expressive, usually. “We keep all the good shit down here, third shelf, so help yourself,” he says.

“Thanks,” Bob manages with a smile that’s small but genuine. Ray smiles more than anyone Bob’s seen in a while… or, okay. Not more, just. He looks like he really means it. “You don’t have to worry about me, I’m just,” he makes a vague gesture towards the stack of magazines on the table.

“I’m not worried,” Ray says, and he means it, and Bob smiles around the rim of his mug. “Just had a little free time and figured it was you or Maxine.”

“Who’s Maxine?” Bob asks and Ray’s face lights up.

“You want to meet her? She’s out back.” Bob follows as Ray leads them past a pile of tires and a wall of bright silver exhaust pipes, and through the back door of the lot. Maxine is a gorgeous 78 footer parked at the back fence.

“She’s yours?” Bob asks with a hint of surprise.

“Yeah,” Ray nods. “Had her about a year and a half now.”

“I didn’t know you drove,” Bob crosses his arms and Ray shrugs.

“Not for a while, ever since my dad wanted me back for the shop. Someday me and Maxine’ll get back out on the road though,” he smiles and swings the door open, motioning to Bob to haul up after him.

“Hold on,” Ray says, and stops dead for a second. Bob’s face is about half a foot from Ray’s ass in this position, and he feels his cheeks flush a little. It’s been a long time since he was anywhere near a guy as genuinely hot as Ray Toro, and even longer since he’s been that near to said hot guy’s ass. “Sorry, minor seat adjustment,” Ray says and he’s moving again. Bob remembers to breathe.

The inside of the truck should be spacious, but, “Holy crap,” Bob laughs and Ray laughs along with him, flopping back on the bed. There’s a small kitchenette table for two, and a mini-sink, microwave, all the basics, but the whole back wall of the cab is taken up with an incredibly large bed. There are storage cabinets above it, and when Ray flips a switch, soft lighting illuminates a padded headboard.

“I like to read in bed,” Ray shrugs again, but Bob can see the hint of a blush on his cheeks.

“Toro. This is a fucking massive bed,” he grins and Ray puts his hands over his face.

“I know,” he groans, embarrassed, and Bob thinks it’s fucking adorable. “I just. I don’t entertain in my truck, you know? And God knows I don’t cook, so. I figured I’d spend the most on the part I’ll use the most.”

There’s a logic in it, but Bob still shakes his head.

“What, you’re not going to make a joke about how much I use my bed?” Ray asks, teasing. “This is the part where most people do.”

“No, I. It’s, you know. Your rig, man,” Bob stammers a little, because honestly he hadn’t even though to go there, but now that he has, it’s going to be a really hard picture to get out of his head.

Ray just laughs, oblivious to Bob’s uncomfortable shifting. “You’re a pretty okay guy, Bryar.”

They end up at Arthur’s Pub, playing darts in the back room until Frank and Mikey show up, Nick and Chris in tow. Frank makes Mikey promise one more time not to tell Gerard they went to see the new Tarantino without him. Chris gives him a bear hug and promises him a Dirty Sanchez (“the drink, unless you’re extra lucky,” he adds with a wink). Nick’s hug is gentler and he squeezes Bob’s hip. “You doin’ okay, Bob?” he asks softly. Bob nods reflexively and glances up to make sure Ray is looking elsewhere. “Gettin’ there,” he answers.

By two am, Bob’s jaw hurts from all the smiling, only some of it forced. Ray is telling a story about his first year on the road, age nineteen, and his first encounter with a truck stop hooker. “Her nails had to be three inches long, no joke, and, like, blood red. And as she was coming at me, all I could think of was Freddy Krueger. It was fucking traumatizing,” he says, but he’s laughing so hard that his cheeks are pink and his eyes are watery. “I ran back to my rig and spent the whole night with the lights on.”

“Hey, I didn’t know your mom was still working,” Chris says to Frank with sly grin, and the whole table is almost upended when Frank dives for Chris, Nick throwing himself between them and Mikey doing almost nothing to hold Frank back. Bob salvages his beer and drains the last few drops.

Bob’s never really talked about the ice road, but Frank’s got a big mouth, full of questions, and Ray sits next to him, smiling at him encouragingly. “The ice road, man, that's cool. You gonna be on that show?” he asks, and Bob doesn’t know what it is about Ray that makes him blush and talk.

“No, didn’t sign that waiver,” he says, and Ray laughs. “Honestly, it’s mind numbing up there, just white and cold,” he says, shivering a little from the sense memory. “I should probably go try and get some sleep,” he says. Sleep’s been evasive for a while, but he thinks maybe tonight it’ll be easier. Ray stands up as he’s putting on his coat.

“It was really good to meet you, Bob,” he sticks out his big hand to shake and Bob thinks it was. It was really good.

*

Bessie is fine in early June, when Bob rolls back through Belleville, but Ray notes that Bob’s tires probably should be switched out—he’d gotten new ones up in Yellowknife, but it is coming up on summer in Jersey, and the winter tires will last fine in Ray’s garage until Bob needs them.

“You only got these in January?” Ray says, squinting at Bob’s tires piled up in the back, cordoned off from the rest. Bob nods. “It’s just, there are a few of these you should probably just write off, they’re worn down enough. How fucked up is that ice road of yours?”

“The road’s okay,” he explains. “I mean, made of ice, but not really anything that’ll wear down. It’s the rest of the fucking town.” He remembers having to dig Bessie out from under eight feet one morning and how he couldn’t feel his feet for half a day after, and the burning pain when he finally could. “She all set to go?” Bob asks. He doesn’t want to talk about it.

Ray claps a big, capable hand on his shoulder and grins. “She’s gorgeous. I even had my guys detail the inside a little. There was blood under your dash, you know that?” he asks incredulously, and Bob flashes hot-cold.

“You cleaned my cab?” he says, and his hands are shaking just a little, just enough for him to stuff them in his pockets. His voice is low, breath pulled from his lungs, and his skin feels prickly, numb. “What the fuck gave you the right to do that, Toro? Who the fuck said—“

“Hey, I mean. God, sorry, I thought it would be okay? I’m sorry,” Ray cuts in, his eyes wide and worried and Bob takes a deep breath, blinks at his shoes.

“No it’s,” he starts, but it isn’t fine, it isn’t fine at all and Bob can hear the crunch of metal in his ears.

“Bob?” Ray is at his elbow, and Bob pulls away quickly.

“Fine, I’m fine,” he says and Ray is looking at him oddly, like he’s fragile, and Bob rolls his hands into fists in his pockets.

*

It’s July before he sees Ray again, and Bob is glad for the time alone. He listens to a lot of books on tape, some Crichton, some Clancy, some Nora Roberts. Patrick lent him ‘Guns, Germs, and Steel’ but he can only get through a chapter at a time before he needs something with a bit more plot, more distraction. It's the only distraction he has on the road, other than the ongoing saga of Pete and Mikey (he can tune into that one any time, channel 38) and his own right hand. His bunk has always seemed plenty big enough, but when lays down at night and jerks off, he keeps picturing Ray's massive bed, and what it might be like to stretch out and feel Ray close by, wonders if Ray has thought about him in it.

He's not sure whether he hopes so or not.

He reacquaints himself with the stops along the way; Greta squeals when she sees him in Rockland, her long hair tucked in its usual ponytail, bobbing as she runs to give him a hug. She's got a new kid working at the diner—Darren, gangly and eager to please, but smart. They talk for a long time about friends in common, and Bob remembers why he loved talking to her; all her gossip is sweet and sunny. "Tyson says next time they head through Massachusetts, he's just gonna make Nick do it," she giggles as Darren brings them more pie.

"They should," Bob says before he thinks about it, because it’s Nick and Ty. Of course they should get married. Greta puts her hand on his and squeezes lightly.

"Good to have you back," she says with feeling, and Bob concentrates on his pie, trying to will the hot knot in his throat away.

*

He doesn't mean to get this drunk, but he's had a cold, and skipped lunch in favor of driving straight through DC to get to Belleville by nightfall. Ray had grinned as he pulled into the lot and Bob's stomach was tight from too much anticipation, too many nerves. "Art's?" Ray asked as he swung down, and Bob couldn't say no.

They're both wasted, with a line of empty shot glasses lined up on the bar like mini trophies on a sticky mantel. For the last hour, all Bob's been able to focus on is bits of Ray. His hair is finally free of its elastic and brushes Bob's cheek when Ray leans in, talking into his ear over the din of the jukebox. His hands are scrubbed clean, the skin almost pink, and when his fingers brush the outside of Bob's thigh, he can feel it everywhere.

Ray was in the middle of a story, Bob's pretty sure, but he's silent now and Bob looks over at him. Ray's looking at him, eyes a little glassy, lips parted. "What?" Bob asks. If it’s a little breathless, he'll blame it on the laughter.

"Nothing," Ray shakes his head, cheeks pink. "Just. You wanna get out of here?"

There's a cheap motel two blocks down. It's easier than stumbling to the shop for Ray’s car, or paying a cab. Bob pays for a room while Ray slips off down a side hall. There's a condom dispenser on the wall near the men's room, and Bob hears the slide-click once, then again, and his stomach flip-flops.

This is going too well.

Room 47 is clean and well-kept even if all the furniture is worn and beige. He doesn't register much of it before Ray has the door closed and is pulling him close, fingers tucked in the beltloops of his jeans. The kiss isn't urgent, just full and sweet like Ray's mouth. He lets himself fall into it, ignoring the way his heart speeds up in response. When they stop, Ray's big hands are hot on his back, inside his shirt, and Bob's hand is fisted in the sleeve of Ray's jacket.

"Hey," Ray smiles shyly and Bob thinks Jesus, fuck, he really likes me. "Been thinking about this a lot."

"Yeah?" Bob says. He wants to add me too, every night, but it doesn't come, and Ray just ducks his head. His fucking hair is tickling Bob's cheek again, ridiculous and gorgeous and Bob wants to feel it everywhere, wants to feel. "Come on," he rasps and tugs them away from the door, toward the bed.

Ray's thorough. With trucks, with his hands, with his mouth. Ray seems to be everywhere at once, his tongue drawing circles on Bob's inner thigh, then suddenly kissing his shoulder. It’s too much, too fucking much, and Bob hasn't felt this alive in… fuck. A long time.

He thinks he might be sick.

"Bob, fuck," Ray pants against his neck and Bob can feel the way their cocks slide together, slick and hot and perfect. Bob feels the panic rise in his chest, the familiar you don't get this, this isn't for you feeling he hasn't been able to shake, not by running away, not by coming back. His fingers tighten on Ray's hips, trying to slow him down. "What… shit. Bob, tell me what you want."

"Fuck me," Bob says, and Ray groans and stills for a second, kisses Bob's mouth once, twice before rolling away to find his jeans. Bob rolls onto his stomach and closes his eyes.

Ray's big. He's not scarily huge, but he's thick and big enough to give Bob the fucking of a lifetime if he wanted it, if he let Ray open him up and slide in slow and deep. Ray could fuck all his secrets right out of him. He pushes to his knees when he feels the bed dip again, Ray sliding between his legs and gently, oh so fucking gently, pressing a finger against his ass. Bob clenches his jaw.

"Don't. Just do it," he growls and Ray takes a sharp breath.

"Bob, I don't—"

"Don't fucking think, Toro, just fucking do it," he spits out and Ray's hand gets tighter on his hip.

"I just. You're sure?" Ray sounds less than sure. Ray sounds downright worried and Bob has had fucking enough of people sounding worried about him to last a god damned lifetime.

"Yeah, yes, just. Fucking do it, Ray, fuck."

He can feel Ray breathing above him, can almost picture the way he's biting at his lower lip, uncertain. Then he takes a deep breath and pulls Bob's hips toward him with enough force to knock him to his elbows. "This is how you like it, huh?" he asks, and his voice has this tinge Bob's never heard before. Bob shivers.

"Oh, fuck," Bob's stomach is like lead now, and he can feel where Ray's cock is hot against his ass, pushing insistently. It's gonna hurt. Bob's already tense everywhere, and its gonna fucking hurt but when he opens his mouth, all he says is "Yes, fuck, don't be nice about it."

Ray's not nice about it. Ray presses into him in one long, hard push and Bob can feel the tears pinprick at the corners of his eyes, his arms shaking. His whole body is screaming get the fuck away, but Ray's hands are like vices on his hips, pulling him back into each pounding thrust and Bob bites his tongue to keep himself from saying stop. He can feel his own erection ebbing away fast, hopes against hell that Ray doesn't notice, buries his face in his pillow and thinks, yeah. This is familiar.

It doesn't take long for Ray to come, and Bob is silently grateful. Ray collapses on him with a full body shudder and Bob tries to breathe. He doesn't mean for his exhale to sound like a sob, but Ray's cock is still inside him, raw and painfully hot, and his body is rebelling against his careful lies. "Bob?" Ray says, and his voice sounds as used as Bob feels. "Bob, are you—"

"Yeah," Bob says into his own arm. He's not going to cry. He's not going let Ray see this, not now. Ray is shifting, pulling out slowly, planting a row of soft kisses along his shoulder, fingers soft in his hair. "I think you should go."

The whole room goes quiet, like Ray is holding his breath too. "You. What?" He puts one warm hand on Bob's side and leaves it there. It might be shaking, but that could still be Bob.

"Just." Bob takes a breath through his nose and slides away from Ray a fraction. It hurts to move, and he's pretty sure his flinch is visible, but right now he just wants Ray to not touch him. Not like that. "Go, okay? I just. Want you to go."

Ray takes long minute before he's moving. Bob can't look up from the cocoon of his arms. He can hear Ray's breathes coming in short, hard pants, and Bob doesn't move a muscle until he hears the door open. "I'm. Fuck. I'm sorry," Ray says from the doorway, and Bob can hear the anguished question underneath before the door clicks behind him.


*

It's only three weeks before he's back in Jersey. He's tried to not think about Ray, and manages to only think about those last few moments in the motel room, and what Ray's face had probably looked like when Bob had told him to leave. Wonders if it was angry. He hopes it was, actually. Ray deserves to be full of righteous indignation. Ray deserves to hate him. He swallows hard around the bitter taste in his mouth.

Bob's fucked up a lot of things in his life, and he doesn't know why this one hurts as much as it does.

He's dropping off his logs when Frank finds him, arms crossed and eyes flashing. Bob wonders what he did this time, thinks oh, shit, and still isn't prepared when Frank opens his mouth.

"You know, we fucked up." Frank is leaning on the closed door and when Bob tries to respond, Frank steamrolls right over him. "We fucked up, okay, fine, I admit it. You wanted space, we gave you space. You didn't want to talk about it, and we let you pull your strong silent bullshit. Hell, you wanted to go do the fucking most dangerous thing you could do with your truck, we said 'sure, Bob! Here's a leave! Go have fun and try not to die!' But that does not excuse you from being a human being, Bryar. You want to fuck yourself over, fine. And maybe its partly our fault, me and Gee, but whatever the fuck happened with Ray, you fucking fix it, now."

"I. I can't." The room is suddenly really fucking small, and Bob will totally toss Frank out of the way to get to the door. He absolutely will.

"You can, and you will. Fucking hell, Bob, you were never that kind of guy, and I can't believe—"

"I can't, okay!" Bob's voice is loud, louder than he's heard it in a while. He's yelling, and wow. That's unexpected. "I never asked you to cut me any slack! I never asked you guys for anything, okay? I fucked up, and I can't take it BACK, and maybe I am that kind of guy, okay? Maybe now, maybe—"

"You never had to ask us for anything, Bob. That's the point of having friends, man!" Frank is across the room in three steps, in Bob's face, and Bob wants to hit him, hard. "You want to hit me?" he says suddenly and Bob twitches like he's been caught. "You think you're so fucking hard to read, Bryar. You think you're so fucking tough, and you're not. You're the same guy who used to tuck Gee into bed after a bender, and got me to stop fucking my life away, and let Joe cry on you for a night when his dad died, and drove with Nick all the way to Anaheim when Ty was sick that time. You took care of us, man. Just. I'm sorry we didn't return the favor very well."

Frank's looking right at him, his chest rising and falling a little too fast. His eyes are shining and for a split second Bob is terrified Frank is about to hug him. "I'm. I don't. I’m sorry. About Ray."

"I know," Frank nods and takes half a step back so Bob feels like he can breathe again. "So fix it. He deserves an explanation, at least. Don't you think?"

Bob just stares at a spot on the wall past Frank's shoulder. "I'll try.”

*

Ray's easy to spot. Bob catches sight of him in the garage before he even gets out of his cab—strong hands maneuvering an engine block into place, one arm pushing an errant stand of hair out of his eyes. He sees Bob when he looks up and he falters a little; an assistant yells up at him to watch it. Bob tucks his hands in his pockets and nods toward Ray's small office door. Ray nods back, just a small tilt of his chin, and Bob thinks that the punishment may actually be worse than the crime.

It's another ten minutes before Ray comes in, wiping his hands off and taking his seat behind his desk. He doesn't look Bob in the eye. Bob doesn't blame him. When Bob still doesn't say anything after a long minute, Ray leans his head on his hands. He looks really tired, worn around the edges. It's a look Bob knows all to well from his mirror and it kills him a little that he might have done that to Ray.

"Look, I don't know why you're here, but if this is—"

"I'm sorry," Bob says roughly. Ray looks up at him, eyes wide and wary. "I'm. There was no excuse for what happened, and I don't want you to think..." He trails off, unsure of where the conversation is supposed to go. He's not expecting forgiveness, so he's not going to bother asking.

"Don’t want me to think what? That you hate me?" Ray says with a bitter laugh. "Maybe you should hate me," he adds softly and looks away again, and Bob thinks he is probably the worst person in the world.

"I don't. It wasn't your fault, Ray. I'm just," he shakes his head, sits heavily in the black folding chair against the wall and stares at his hands. "I don't hate you," he says, and wishes he could say more. It's another minute before Ray huffs again, impatient, frustrated, and Bob knows he's going to leave, that he's blown this chance at a clean slate. He's not sure what makes him say anything at all, much less "So, you want to hear a funny story?"

Ray goes deathly still and Bob keeps his eyes on his hands, even though they aren't focusing very well anymore. "Bob…"

"It's not really all that funny, actually, I'm not sure why I said that," he laughs a little, and its tinged with the hysteria he can feel strumming just under his skin. It's been almost a year, he thinks, and then it’s out: "It's been almost a year, now, so." He stands up and paces a little, just to feel the blood moving in his body. "I was on a long haul, and I had a few hours left on my log for the day, so I kept going even though I was fucking tired, man. It was Idaho, you know? The long stretches of nothing just wear me the fuck out." His shoes don't make a sound on the concrete flooring and he's not sure why, but its comforting. "It was late. I hadn't passed anyone in twenty minutes, and then this car's coming toward me, no lights, so I didn't see it until it was already almost in front of me. Fuckin' Jetta, tiny, like a tin can."

"Bob, fuck—" Ray cuts in, standing up slowly, but Bob just shakes his head. If he doesn't finish it now…

"Nowhere to go, you know? I swerve, but Bessie's hauling 20 tons and she doesn't move very fast, and then there's this sound, this crunching noise, and I swear, I barely felt it, so I'm thinking 'Hey, can't be that bad' right? But it's a fucking tin can, and we're in the middle of fucking nowhere, and the kid was seventeen. Drunk and seventeen and—"

"Hey, hey—" Ray is standing close and his fingers brush the back of Bob's neck and Bob can feel his knees go loose like jelly, like someone just cut all his strings. Ray's arms are strong around his waist, around his shoulders, and Bob sags into him.

"Took fifteen minutes for emergency response," he says dully, resting his forehead on Ray's shoulder. "He was alive for the first ten," he adds. He's pretty sure not even Frank knows that part.

Ray holds him tighter. "That wasn't your blood we cleaned out of the cab, was it," Ray says quietly, not really a question. Bob just turns his head, presses his nose to Ray's throat. "It wasn't your fault," he says, and Bob has never wanted to believe that more. "You've got to let it go, Bob. It wasn't your fault."

It's another few minutes before Bob can stand on his own, his breathing harsh and heavy in his own ears. "You okay?" Ray asks, voice soft and serious, and for once it doesn't set Bob on edge. He nods and raises his left shoulder in a half shrug.

"Yeah, I mean." He tugs on the hem if his shirt and avoids Ray's eyes. "Probably not? Frank thinks I should talk to somebody."

"Frank's right." Ray's hand rubs in comforting passes over his back. Bob sighs. "You can talk to me, any time. But I think you should ask Gee if his guy can refer you."

Bob always forgets about Gerard's therapy, except sometimes when he hears Gerard laughing, loud and bright, and remembers the years when that sound was startlingly rare. "Yeah, okay. I'll talk to him."

"Soon," Ray presses and Bobs jaw clenches. Ray leans in and places a soft kiss on his temple, whispers "Please?"

Bob feels like he's just run a marathon, but he nods. "Tomorrow."

*

Ray has to work, and Bob's already got a room at the same motel. Ray says he'll come by later, "to check in", and Bob thinks fleetingly of going to Art's and getting hammered in the meantime, thinks that would be easier, but he doesn't. He doesn't want to disappoint Ray, not again.

It's nearly ten when Ray knocks on the door. Bob steels himself quickly before opening it. "Hey," he says, really smooth, and Ray's smile is genuine, but nervous.

"Hey," he slips past Bob into the room and takes a quick look around. It's the same set of shabby furniture, but the room is configured completely in reverse, like a mirror flip of their last one. Bob isn't the type to believe in cosmic signs, but he can't help a slight swelling of hope that things might go better, here.

"Um, I didn't know if you wanted to go out or—," he starts, but Ray steps close enough into his personal space that the words dry up in his throat. Ray runs his palm over Bob's side, tugs him a step closer. "We could order in?" he tries to keep going, tries to ignore the way Ray's eyes are searching his face.

"That night, when we slept together. I need to know if—" he starts and Bob's face flares hot.

"I wanted to. I swear to God," he says, fast and a little desperate. He can't talk about that. He can't even think about it, about the worried tinge in Ray's voice, the bruises he couldn't bear to look at in the mirror the next day.

"Good. Good, I just," Ray starts, and slides his tongue lightly over his lower lip. "I don't know if you want me to do this or not," he says with small, nervous laugh. Bob feels his blood speeding up in his veins again, tries to tramp down the wave of panic that always seems to come along with it. "Stop me if, you know… I'm wrong." His kiss is soft, sweet and open, and Bob closes his eyes and lets it wash over him.

Ray’s hands are gentle as they guide him to the bed. Bob registers warm fingers on his back, hair brushing his cheek as Ray’s lips drift over his cheek, his jaw. When Ray’s tongue slides over his neck, the slow glide setting every nerve ending on fire, Bob can’t stop the small whimper that escapes. Ray pauses, panting lightly against his throat, and seems to come to some sort of decision. He slips his hands under Bob’s shirt and yanks a little. “Off,” he says, and that’s an order Bob is okay with. Bob pulls the shirt off and when he drops it to the floor and glances over, Ray has fumbled his belt open. He catches Bob’s eyes and rises to his knees on the bed, sliding it slowly out of his jeans. Bob’s heart skitters every time it pulls free from a loop, and he closes his eyes when Ray reaches down and takes his hands, stretching his arms over his head, pressing him into the cheap mattress and looping the belt around his wrists once, twice, before tying the leather to the flimsy slats of the headboard.

This is what Bob should want. For Ray to take over, to take what he wants; to take whatever he needs from him. He earned that right, he earned his chance to use Bob like this.

It doesn’t stop the trembling in Bob’s shoulders.

Ray kisses the inside of Bob’s elbow, the crease where his arm hits his elbow, his cheek, and Bob keeps his eyes closed. “That okay?” Ray asks. “Not too tight, right?”

“N-no, fine,” Bob says, trying to get his breathing under control. It is fine, actually—the butter soft leather is tight enough to hold him fast but it doesn’t hurt, not even when he tugs a little, experimentally. He hopes Ray won’t mind that he’s not hard, tries to will the blood to his groin.

“Good,” Ray says seriously. “Bob. Look at me.” Just fucking do it, he chides himself harshly and pries his eyes open. Ray’s face is close, eyes open and searching, kind and gentle, and Bob is caught in them as Ray smiles. It’s a smile with intent, but without any of the edge Bob was expecting. Ray leans in and kisses him on the mouth, his tongue just teasing Bob’s lips open a fraction before pulling back.

Ray kisses his chest, right over his heart. His hand wraps around Bob’s hip, and Bob remembers the last time, the way Ray’s touch was always sweet, until Bob pushed him, forced the gentleness out of him. Ray leans up and whispers in his ear. “What do you think I’m going to do to you?”

Bob’s mouth goes dry. He doesn’t have an answer, realizes he has no idea. Ray chuckles a little at his obvious confusion. “Wanna know what I think?” he says and presses his lips to the shell of Bob’s ear, speaking low and soft. “I don’t think you have a pain kink, Bryar. I think you like pain because you think you deserve it. I’m going to go so slow you’ll be begging me for it, and then I’m going to go slower.” Bob shudders as Ray’s fingers ghost over his zipper, and his cock jumps just a little, enough that Bob’s eyes close in silent, hopeful prayer. “I’m going to get you so open, use my tongue, use my hands, gonna get you so fucking ready for it, and then I’m going to fuck you slow and easy, make you feel so good, until you come so hard you can’t see.”

It’s like his body has been suddenly set on fire, his skin flushed to his toes, and Bob gasps when Ray’s deft fingers undo his jeans and slip inside. “Fuck,” he says, and turns his face into the soft flesh of his arm.

“Does that sound okay?” Ray asks, and Bob can hear the smile in his voice as he palms Bob’s cock. Bob’s hips buck into the touch.

“Ray, s-shit,” he manages, and Ray laughs a little, delighted. He pushes to his knees again, sliding back from Bob’s body and off the bed. Bob turns his head to watch as Ray slowly pulls off his shirt, then his boots, socks, jeans, underwear. He’s still gorgeous, his cock hard and heavy between his legs, mouth red and wide and smiling. He pulls off Bob’s shoes and socks next before hooking his fingers in Bob’s jeans and peeling them off his body in one slow, easy stroke until he’s naked too. Bob can feel Ray’s eyes on him, all over him, and he wishes he wasn’t so pale, so easy to read, the hot flush of his skin visible wherever Ray looks.

“Fucking hell,” Ray says, almost a whisper, and leans in to mouth at the crease of Bob’s hip. His thumb runs in agonizingly slow circles around Bob’s navel, and he feels like he should look away but he can’t. He follows the arc of Ray’s wild hair over his torso, his thighs, his side. Ray’s mouth is magic, he thinks, in its ability to be everywhere at once.

Or, almost everywhere at once. Bob can feel the ghost of Ray’s hot breath slide past his cock, a half a dozen passes each doing its ample best to make sure Bob is hard and panting. But Ray isn’t putting his amazing mouth to use where Bob wants it most. The next time Ray slides his tongue over Bob’s pubic bone, Bob actually whines, high in his throat, and blushes crimson as Ray looks up at him with a grin. “You want something, Bryar?” he says, teasing, and Bob wants to be able to tease him back, but all he can manage is a slight arch of his back.

“Please, Ray,” he says with as much dignity as he can muster, and he says Ray’s eyes darken at the words.

“Shit,” he says, his big hand going immediately to Bob’s cock and stroking him a few times. “Bob, hey,” Ray says and waits until Bob is looking at him before closing his lips around the head of Bob’s cock and sliding them down to meet his fist. Fireworks go off in the base of Bob’s spine and he mutters a quick “shit, sorry, sorry” when his hips buck up, his cock hitting the roof of Ray’s mouth. Ray just groans and sucks harder.

It’s not like Bob hasn’t gotten good head before. It’s just. It’s been a while, and Ray is really good. Bob doesn’t even want to think about how fast he’s seeing stars, cursing as Ray’s tongue circles the crown in tight, hot arcs. “Ray, Ray, god, you should, I’m gonna,” he manages, but then Ray’s hand is painfully tight around the base of Bob’s cock and Bob takes a deep, surprised breath.

“Sorry, got a little ahead of myself,” Ray pants, his cheek pressed to Bob’s thigh, and Bob isn’t sure if he wants to laugh or cry. Ray meets his eyes with a sheepish shrug and laughing wins out.

“You fucker,” he says, tears pricking the corners of his eyes and Ray pushes to his knees and leans over him, kissing him softly between giggles.

“You okay?” he asks a few minutes later, fingers running along the edge of his belt where leather meets skin. And... yeah. It’s weird, not being able to tangle his fingers in Ray’s hair and kiss him harder, pull him closer, push him away. But he thinks maybe that’s the point. “Yeah, I’m good,” he smiles up at Ray and revels in the smile he gets in return.

“Good!” Ray nods and sits up again, grabbing two pillows and hooking a hand under Bob’s hip. “Up, come on,” he says and Bob arches back until both pillows are snug under his lower back. It’s a weird angle, but Bob really ceases to care when Ray’s hands drift from his thighs over his balls and back, stroking against his entrance lightly. Bob tries to push down on his finger but he doesn’t have the right leverage, and Ray just shakes his head. “My show, Bryar. You just sit back and relax.” He grins as Bob huffs in annoyance, then stretches out on his stomach and, oh. Christ.

Ray’s mouth isn’t teasing anymore. It’s on some sort of mission to get Bob to make every embarrassing sound he possibly can, to get him to writhe on the bed like he’s in heat. Bob’s heels are planted firmly—one on the mattress, one on Ray’s back-- and Ray’s tongue is hot and insistent and opening him easily. Bob’s cock is throbbing but Ray’s focus is pretty singular and Bob wants his hands, just one, so he can take care of it himself. But Ray actually chuckles when he mentions it, the sound reverberating off his skin. “Okay, okay, we’re getting there,” Ray says as he sits back, and rubs the back of his hand over his wet mouth. Bob is amazed he doesn’t come right there.

There’s a bottle of lube in Ray’s pocket and Bob has a few seconds to regain his sanity while Ray hunts for it. His body is bowstring taut, his cock hard and leaking against his belly. Ray Toro, the guy he spent two months thinking about and another month trying desperately to forget, is snapping open a bottle of lube and smiling over at him like its his own birthday. Bob just. It’s not that he doesn’t like it. He just... “I don’t get it,” he says, before his brain can catch up with his mouth. Ray looks at him as though he was expecting the question.

“I know,” he says fondly.

Bob rolls his eyes. “Ray, I just—“

“I want to,” Ray says simply. “I want to do this for you. With you.” Bob swallows hard once, then again when Ray gets one slick, long finger pressed against his ass. He pushes in slowly, pausing until Bob gets his breath back and then pushing some more. Surprisingly, it’s harder to get his body on board with Ray’s skilled fingers than he thought it would be. He’s gritting his teeth at the ceiling, willing himself to calm the fuck down, when he feels Ray laying gentle kisses over his stomach. “As long as it takes,” Ray murmurs into his skin and Bob’s next exhale relieves half of his tension. He can feel Ray smile.

The second finger burns some, more than Bob wants to admit, but Ray can read him like a goddamn book now and waits for long minutes as Bob’s body stretches and relaxes around him. His fingers stroke with a slow gentle build of pressure and speed and Bob rocks back into every thrust until Ray’s fingers brush his prostate and he rattles the headboard, he shakes so hard. “Ray, fuck, Ray, please, please, fuck me, please,” he says in a heady rush and Ray’s next breath is harsher too.

“Not yet, almost,” he says and Bob can feel the cool wet of more lube as a third finger presses inside him. It’s a lot, more than enough, but Ray is at least as wide. It’s easier, now, to force his body to open up, to let Ray in. He wants Ray in, all the way, buried to his balls and fucking him, and he knows how this game is played now. He lets his eyes drift closed and breathes steadily, feeling the slippery glide of Ray’s fingers through every inch of his body, and when the burn is finally almost all gone, he opens his eyes and looks down at Ray. Ray’s whole body is thrumming, pupils nearly blown as he catches Bob’s eyes. He’s been holding back for who knows how long, and Bob’s chest aches a little in wonder, in gratitude. “Come on, Ray,” he says, and he’s not begging this time. He’s telling. “I’m ready. Come on.”

Ray’s already got the condom on by the time Bob thinks of it, and it’ll waste some time, sure, but Bob needs it, he needs... “Ray, hold on, just,” he brushes his leg against Ray’s side and Ray looks up at him, head tilted in question. “I just. My hands. Wanna touch you, please, let me,” he says, and its not embarrassing at all, not even a little, not with the way Ray’s eyes flash, the way his hands shake just a little as he leans over Bob’s body and fumbles with his belt. Bob takes the opportunity to kiss Ray’s collar, his chest, taking one hard nipple between his teeth gently and savoring the way Ray’s hands stutter on his wrists.

Then he’s suddenly, blissfully free of his constraints, and he ignores the tightness in his shoulders in favor of running his hands over Ray’s skin, hot and slick with sweat and lube, the tiniest scratch of hair under his fingers. Ray’s mouth falls open as Bob’s hand finds his cock and he says “wait, wait, I can’t,” his voice almost pained, and Bob lets go.

“Now, come on, Toro,” he says in Ray’s ear, hips hitching forward, and Ray doesn’t waste another second before he’s reaching between them and lining himself up, pushing into Bob, a slow drag of sensitive skin that makes them both hiss. Bob’s hands are restless on Ray’s back but when they drift lower, fingers brushing the lift of Ray’s ass, Ray shakes his head firmly.

“Don’t, just. Let me, okay?” And Bob gets it, gets that Ray doesn’t want to be pushed into doing this any faster than he wants, that Bob will wait and he’ll like it, fuck, he’ll love it. Bob just bites his lip and nods, one leg wrapping loosely around Ray’s waist. “Yeah, okay,” Bob says. “Just, I’m okay, just so you know.”

Ray smiles down at him. “I know,” he answers and lets his hips snap back and in once, hard enough to shift Bob up the mattress and Bob groans deep in his chest. Ray is in deep, deep enough to drag over his prostate on every god damn in-stroke and Bob isn’t going to last long. Maybe a minute. Maybe less, he thinks right before Ray’s hand closes over his cock. He chokes out a whimper. “Come on, come on, Bob, yeah,” he mutters, and Bob can see the muscles in Ray’s shoulder shake as he puts all his weight on one arm, jerking Bob off in quick, tight strokes that match the rhythm of his cock. Bob tangles one hand in the bedspread and one in the hair at the nape of Ray’s neck and he comes so hard he can hear himself sob a little at the relief, the sheer force of it making his whole body convulse and shake. Ray drops his head to Bob’s shoulder and Bob can feel him talking, babbling a little, but the words are lost in his skin.

His hips roll hard into Bob a few more times before Bob wraps his arms, loose and heavy, around Ray’s shoulders and says “It’s all you, Toro, come on, let me feel it.” Ray’s hips snap once and he’s coming hard, Bob’s hands running in comforting strokes across his back until he collapses with a sigh into Bob’s chest.

They lay there, sweating and sticky and sated, for a long minute before Ray shifts a fraction. “Hey,” he says, raising his head to look Bob in the eyes. “Sorry, I have to,” he says and Bob bites his lip and exhales as Ray pulls out slow and easy. Bob tugs him back down a second later, ignoring Ray’s protests.

“You’re not going to squash me, Toro. I’m a pretty solid guy,” he says gruffly and Ray stops squirming and falls into Bob’s body bonelessly. Bob pushes Ray’s hair back off his forehead and runs a thumb over his cheek down to his mouth. “You’re. Thank you,” he says quietly, and Ray’s eyes flutter open.

“Any time,” he smiles and Bob grins.

*

It's mid-September when Ray finds the application in his duffle, looking for the peanut butter fudge Bob promises is stashed in there from Jeannette Hopkins of Redkin, Kansas. “Best in the country,” Bob calls from the bathroom where he’s shaving. They have to get to Mikey’s birthday party at Art’s, and he’s barely had time to get cleaned up since he rolled into town that afternoon. Well, he did spend thirty minutes making out with Ray on his couch, but that was time very much not wasted. Ray barges into the room as Bob is washing his face.

"What the fuck is this?" Ray asks, shaking it at him.

"Um," he says, because Ray looks really mad, and it's not a look Bob is used to on him. "It's. My application for next season?"

Ray crosses his arms. "Yeah, I'm not illiterate, asshole. What the fuck are you doing applying for the ice road for next season?"

"It's… I mean, the money is really good. And it not like it's that bad, once you know--" but Ray is already not listening, throwing his hands in the air and muttering in what Bob is pretty sure is really unflattering Spanish. “What?” he asks and Ray just stops and stares at him.

“Does Dr. Ruggerio know about this?” he asks and Bob winces a little.

“I don’t talk to my shrink about my career decisions—“ he starts but he can already tell that’s the wrong answer by the way Ray is turning purple.

“This is not a career move, Bob! This is the thing you did last year when you were stupid and a little suicidal! This is not the sort of thing you just do again, especially without talking to your shrink, and your mom, and hell, I don’t know, your boyfriend!”

He stomps out of the room before Bob can react to any of it, and it’s a good solid minute before the last part sinks in. He sits down heavily on the toilet seat and stares at the wall. Boyfriend? He’s pretty sure he would have known if he and Ray were dating, but it’s a little hard to parse out right now. Sure, the last month and a half had been a lot of Bob staying at Ray’s and Bob and Ray getting food, and Bob and Ray having sex, and Ray helping Bob talk to Gerard about finding a decent head doctor, and Bob waking up with Ray every morning he was in Belleville, smiling at the sleepy, annoyed noises Ray made whenever Bob tried to get out of bed too early, and... wow. Bob is an idiot.

“Hey,” Ray sighs from the doorway. Ray’s face is pinched, even his hair looks deflated, and Bob wonders how long he’s been sitting there. “Look, I just. I know you hated it, and it just seems like a shitty idea—“ he says before Bob reaches out a hand and tugs him closer, closer, until Ray is standing between his thighs.

“You’re right. I just... I forgot. That other people would give a shit.”

Ray huffs a little and shakes his head. “You know, that’s a little insulting to those of us who love you, dorkface.”

“I know,” Bob says, and he can feel his throat closing up, tries to breathe through it like his doctor taught him. But Ray leans down to kiss him softly and he forgets to breathe entirely. When they pull apart, Bob rests his head against Ray’s chest. “Love you too,” he says and Ray scratches his fingers over Bob’s scalp.

“I know,” Ray says, and he’s smiling again. “Just. Can we at least talk about this ice road thing before you send this in?”

Bob’s chest is so tight he’s not sure he can form words. “I would, but. This summer’s been... slow,” he says, thinking of the runs he turned down to stay here with Ray, to start getting better. He’s got serious payments due on his truck, bills that he can only pay if he gets a serious income in the next six months. “I just. I need the money, Ray.” Ray goes silent above him, but his hand drifts down Bob’s neck and squeezes lightly.

“Let’s go to the party,” he says quietly, and Bob is glad to put the conversation off, at least for a little while.

*

On Monday, when Bob stops by the office to pick up a new log book and hassle Frank about his new, half-tar cigarettes, Gerard asks to see him for a minute. Gerard’s office is always a minor disaster area—Frank isn’t a help in the organization department—but there is clearly method to the madness because it only takes Gerard a couple minutes to find the papers he’s looking for. They’re truck specs, nice new ones, and Bob looks at Gerard questioningly.

“Here’s the thing,” Gerard starts, hand running though his hair like he’s nervous. Bob’s stomach flips. “We have this whole new business idea we’re planning to roll out in the new year, and I’m hoping I can get your help on it.”

Bob opens his mouth and then clicks it shut and nods. “Yeah, sure,” he says and Gerard smiles.

“Cool, awesome.” He hands over the specs, talking as Bob takes them in. “We’re getting into the high end side of trucking—art, antiques, electronics, that sort of thing. It was Mikey’s idea, if you can believe it,” he says with not a little pride in his voice. “We’re getting four custom trucks in December, high tech shit that comes with electronic temperature and humidity controls and crazy shock systems, all that stuff. Mike and Nick and the boys are already getting two, and ‘Sashi and Eric are teaming up, and we were going to give the third one to Patrick, but he’s still pulling his “I’m a Lone Wolf” bullshit, and since these are custom, they’re kind of a two man operation each.” Bob looks up from the specs and narrows his eyes. Gerard barrels forward, his expression hopeful, but his eyes part-manic, part-concerned.

“Gee, Bessie’s not really set up for a two person team,” he says, and Gerard shakes his head.

“Right, no, of course not. That’s kind of... You’d kind of have to get a new rig, if you went with us on this. And we’ve already talked to Louie Toro, and he’s happy to take Bessie in trade for something they have at the shop. A good rig, big... you know, lots of amenities,” and Gerard flushes pink when Gerard leans forward on his knees.

“Gerard, are you talking about Maxine?” he asks, a little viciously, because no way in hell is he stealing Ray’s rig.

“The pay is really good!” Gerard continues, and his voice is pitching higher. He keeps glancing at the door, like he’s hoping Frank will come and save him. “And I know you usually work alone, but Ray’s been looking to get back on the road for a while, and we thought it might be a good fit, since he’s out of practice, a little. It’s really delicate work, and its not like we can turn it over to Pete and Trohman, for fuck’s sake, and we just thought it might... be a good idea,” he finishes, a little deflated, and Bob’s mouth is hanging open.

“Have you talked to Ray about this?” he says softly, eyes fixed to the specs on Gerard’s desk.

“Um, maybe?” Gerard says brilliantly and the corner of Bob’s mouth quirks up.

Bob’s not an idiot. He knows a setup when he sees one. He also, for the first time in a while, is maybe thinking straight. This is kind of a decent deal.

“Sounds like a interesting proposition, but I have to run it by my boyfriend first,” he says with a nod, and Gerard practically launches himself over his desk to wrap Bob in a hug.

*

“Belleville to Maxine,” Mikey’s voice crackles over the radio and Ray picks it up before Bob can take his hand off the wheel.

“Hey Mikes,” Ray answers. “Did you know that glassblowing’s been an art form for two thousand years?” Bob rolls his eyes and Ray leans over to hit him in the arm with his book. It’s called “The History of Glass” and Ray’s been boring him to death with excerpts from it since they headed out for the job three days ago. The sculptures themselves are actually pretty cool, surprisingly. It’s kind of the opposite of last month, when Ray’s book was on NASA explorations to Mars, which Bob thought was fucking cool until they showed up in Houston to a truckload of tiny electronic doodads that were indistinguishable from one another if you didn’t have, like, four Ph.Ds.

It’s better than hauling cement truck parts, that’s for damn sure. And warmer, when Ray climbs in their huge bed with him at night.

“Uh. No,” Mikey says dryly and Bob snickers. “You got everything okay?”

“No problems,” Ray replies. “The artist left about an hour into loading—said we were going to give him a heart attack, but Bob and I handled those crates like little glass babies, so I don’t know what his deal was.” Ray sniffs, still indignant that anyone would think they wouldn’t do their job properly. “We’ve got three million in glass sculptures heading your way. Should be in New York by Thursday.”

“Cool,” Mikey replies, then “Hey, quit it, fucker!” and Bob laughs when he hears Frank’s voice.

“You boys up for some home cooking?” he asks brightly and Bob mutters “not if it’s his” just as Frank adds “My mom’s, not mine.”

Ray laughs, swiveling in his chair so he can tuck his toes under Bob’s thigh on the driver’s seat. “We’re always up for your mom, dude.”

“Fuck off,” Frank says, but Bob can hear his smile. Ray and Frank get talking about a punk show Frank caught in Hoboken that week and Bob concentrates on the road ahead. It’s a beautiful March day, visibility for miles on the flat plains of the Midwest. Spring is coming, Bob can already feel it, can see it in the buds on the short, fat trees they pass. They’ve got another six hours on the road before they switch off, and if Bob pushes just a little they can stop in Rockland for some pie and a quickie before it’s Ray’s shift.

It’s a pretty decent life, Bob thinks, and Ray wiggles his toes under Bob’s thigh as if in agreement. When he looks up, Ray is smiling at him. Bob smiles back and shifts into fourth.

**