Working three jobs between college graduation and law school seemed the only way Alex could survive until his financial aid package kicked in. He made enough to cover his few bills and he put all of his remaining money aside to pay for his housing, books and supplies. To save money, he took advantage of his allotted free meal while he was on the clock at the coffee shop and to make money, he took as many extra shifts as he could at the library. Customer service jobs could be a pain, but the lawn service job was hot and backbreaking and Alex always finished his shifts covered in dirt, scratches and stings. This was the job he looked forward to quitting the most.
Alex could feel the sun beating down on his head through the hat he had bought specifically because it claimed to have UV protection. He could feel the heat on his cheeks and the tip of his nose and hoped it wouldn’t burn. Clearly, the hat didn’t work as well as promised and Alex started crafting a review in his head. Maybe he’d get a refund and still keep the hat; it was good for shading his eyes, if nothing else. He let go of the lever on the handle of the mower and it stopped automatically, giving him a moment to wipe the sweat from his face and take a drink of water. Like him, the water had also become warm in the sun and stopped being refreshing an acre ago. He regretted his decision to use the small self-propelled mover to finish up rather than the riding mower because it increased his time in the sun. But the area had some tight corners and he hadn’t wanted to run over any of Mr. Washington’s prized plants.
Everyone in the lawn service knew how particular the great lawyer was about his garden; he put as much interest in growing his herbs and vegetables as he did in cooking them and had recently begun taking flower arranging classes using his own blooms. So Alex used the small mower to get as close as possible to edge of the flower bed, then used his shears to manicure it. He got down on his knees, turned up his music, and focused on the task at hand. He didn’t hear the buzzing of the first wasp as it alit on his arm, but when he tried to swat it, he felt the sting. He jumped up and shook his clothes, almost falling with the sudden motion and accidentally kicking the nest.
The swarm rose quickly, with an almost deafening buzz. Somewhere in Alex’s mind, he remembered a scene from a movie where the antagonists were being attacked by some kind of lethal hornets. One died from the stings, her hand frozen around a weapon. That’s not going to be me, he thought, and took off running, wasps in hot pursuit. He had almost made it to his truck, and safety, when he tripped and fell. He covered his face as the wasps stung his arms. As he lost consciousness, he had the sensation of being wrapped in warmth and floating away.
George watched Alex as he did almost every week when he took care of his lawn. He knew from the owner of the lawn service that Alex was smart and driven, ready to fly through law school and take the legal world by storm. He should have focused on how he could mentor the boy; instead he admired his smooth movements and lithe body. He felt like a dirty old man but he couldn’t resist the desire he felt. He didn’t want to resist if he was honest. He watched as Alex took off his hat and dried his face, then removed his hair tie and let his dark hair fall over his shoulders. He ran his fingers though it and put it back up into a loose and messy ponytail, followed by the hat. George watched his taut muscles pulling against the chest and sleeves of his tee shirt and decided they both needed a break and something cold to drink.
George had poured two ice cold lemonades into insulated travel mugs and had barely taken two steps into the yard when he saw the boy suddenly start running, screaming and flailing his arms as he tried to outrun a swarm of wasps so dark, it blocked the sun behind him. He tripped on the lip of concrete at the edge of the lawn and fell. George dropped the mugs, sprinted to where Alex lay covering his face and scooped him up, taking no notice of his own stings as he ran back to the house.
“We’ll just let him rest,” Dr. Craik said as he injected Alex with a dose of diphenhydramine and a steroid. “These should help with the itching and swelling. I’ll leave samples of both, pills though, until he can get a prescription filled. Did you call anyone to come get him?”
“I left a message with the lawn service right after I called you, so his boss knows what happened.” His message had been simple; just that Alex had been stung several times and seemed to be allergic, had gotten immediate treatment and would be staying the night to sleep off the medications. No one would question Alex staying overnight. George was well known in their small community. He had a reputation for helping those in need and everyone trusted him. He knew he should have tried harder to reach Alex’s emergency contact, a John Laurens according to the note in his wallet, but as he sat next to him and dabbed calamine lotion on the stings, he just wanted to be close to him and take care of him. He would admire his beauty tonight, then send him on his way in the morning and wish him well.
Alex awoke to soft voices and though he couldn’t make out most of the words, he could make out his name. He heard a heavy door close, followed by approaching steps and he tried to sit up before the pain knocked him back down.
“Hey, hey, slow down,” George said as he knocked and stepped into the room. “I’ve seen you working on my lawn all summer but I don’t think we’ve actually met. I’m George Washington.”
“Alex. Alex Hamilton. You probably knew that from the invoices, though.” He licked his lips and George’s eyes involuntarily tracked the motion.
“Yes, but it’s nice to put the name and face together. I’m glad you’re awake. I was starting to worry.”
When he saw Alex trying to sit up again, George crossed the room and propped several pillows behind his back. He reached out to brush his hair back from his face, and then caught himself before he carried out the overly intimate gesture. Instead he poured a glass of ice water from the pitcher on the nightstand and held it to Alex’s mouth, encouraging him to sip through the straw.
The water soothed Alex’s parched lips and throat but forced his attention to the numbness and stinging on the rest of his body. He looked at his arms and saw the gauzy bandages covering them. “Wait, what happened?” Fuzziness shrouded his brain. The sun had set and he was lying down in what was obviously a guest room. “Why am I in bed?” he croaked.
“You looked hot and I was about to bring you a cool drink when I saw the swarm. You fell and I grabbed you and brought you inside before they did too much damage. I called my personal physician to check on you,” George continued. “I probably could have treated your stings myself but I was worried you had hit your head when you fell. You’ve been asleep for a few hours but Dr. Craik thinks it’s because you’re allergic to the wasp venom and not because of a concussion. He gave you something for the itching and the pain and he removed about a dozen stingers from your arms. It’s a good thing you covered your face. Those wasps seemed like they were out for blood.”
It all started to come back and Alex blushed in embarrassment. Here he was, a grown man being rescued by a stranger, a handsome stranger, but still a stranger, and being given the full ‘damsel in distress’ treatment. He was grateful, though, that Mr. Washington had not called an ambulance. There was no way he could afford that and an emergency room visit.
He started pulling back the blanket. “Thanks for your help. I should be going, though. You’ve really done enough.” That sounded angrier and less grateful than he had intended and he sighed and started over. “Thank you. I appreciate everything.” He noticed two red spots on Mr. Washington’s hand and realized he had been stung during the rescue. “I hope the doctor looked at those, as well.”
George held up his hand and looked at it as if he hadn’t noticed. “I’m fine. They didn’t even leave the stingers behind.”
“Well, thanks again. I should leave, though. I don’t want to ruin your evening any more than I already have. Please let me know what I owe you for the house call. We’ll have to set up a payment plan, though.”
George raised his hand in a gesture to stop both the movement and the words. “Don’t worry about the money. You were injured on my property. I’m responsible. And your job probably has coverage for on the job injuries, too, right?”
Alex shrugged. He was paid in cash every week and he’d never met with anything that even resembled a human resources department to discuss any benefits. But he knew with certainty that his boss was a cheapskate and he doubted he’d get more than a day off. He might even somehow end up owing money to the company.
“So, let’s deal with all of that tomorrow. You can leave now if you feel up to it but I’d feel better if you stayed the night and rested. Your boss knows where you are and the bedroom door locks.” He looked over his shoulder at the partially closed door; half wishing Alex would lock them both on this side of it and half understanding how creepy it might seem to offer a stranger a bed for the night, then try to stay in the room, too. “The bathroom is right there. Towels and toiletries are on the shelf, pajamas, too, if you want to change into something more comfortable. Dr. Craik left your next dose on the nightstand; you should probably take it now.” He handed the pills to Alex and held the water to his lips again. “There’s also some oatmeal bath on the counter in case you want to soak. I’ve heard it helps.”
Alex weighed his options. The bed was much more comfortable than the couch he was camping out on at John’s apartment until he could move into student housing, if he could afford to move into student housing. It was even more comfortable than the bed he sometimes shared with John. And the idea of a warm bath appealed to him. “Thank you. I am pretty tired. And sore. If it’s not too much trouble, I think I will stay.”
“It’s no trouble at all. Sleep well, Alex. I’ll see you in the morning. Ask Alexa to ‘drop in’ on me if you need anything.” George headed for the door, not daring to sneak a glance back at the handsome boy in his bed.
Alex had let himself sink back into the pillows as he listened to Mr. Washington’s instructions. He had a deep and soothing voice and to Alex it felt like a lullaby. What are you doing, he wondered. His eyes closed before he could answer the question.
The itching and soreness returned before sunrise and woke Alex from a surprisingly sound sleep. He swallowed the pills that sat on the nightstand and checked his phone for the time. 4:30am. He called the coffee shop and let his boss know he wouldn’t be in for his shift, then called his boss at the lawn service to ask him to have someone come pick up the truck and the lawn equipment. He wasn’t going anywhere near that nest to retrieve the small mower and his arms were still sore enough that he was sure he wouldn’t feel like shifting the gears on the riding mower.
He carefully pulled the gauze bandages from his arms as he walked to the bathroom and found the aftermath of the stings was not nearly as bad as he had expected. The single sting on his face was a different story and he realized why Mr. Washington had seemed to be looking at him with such concern. It had caused his eyelid to droop and the white part of his eye to turn red, though he suspected it looked better now than it had the night before. He washed his face carefully with the cleanser on the sink and decided to take Dr. Craik’s advice for the oatmeal bath. He sat on the edge of the tub pondering his predicament. He held his hand under the water until it was the right temperature, then put the stopper in place and sprinkled the powder.
His clothes had also suffered from the attack. Both his tee shirt and his jeans were covered in dirt and grass stains. The knees of his jeans, which were already thin, now had just a few denim strands keeping them together. He folded both items and placed them on the closed toilet lid, knowing there was no way he would want to put them back on after his body was clean. And since that turned out to be correct, he had no choice but to try the pajamas Mr. Washington had left in the bathroom. He had to roll the sleeves, waist and legs and he looked like a child wearing his father’s clothes.
“Good morning,” George said when he saw Alex enter the kitchen several hours later. He didn’t laugh at the way his pajamas fit Alex. On the contrary, it gave him a warm feeling seeing the boy dressed in his clothes, surrounded by his scent. He wondered how the soft cotton felt against the boy’s skin. He shook himself out of his reverie and continued, “I thought I might need to check on you soon. How are you feeling?”
“Much better. That oatmeal bath was surprisingly soothing. I wouldn’t have thought of that.”
“I’m glad it helped.” George removed a pancake from the skillet and placed it with several others on a plate he had warming in the oven. “I hope you like bacon. I made a ton.” Alex nodded. “How do you like your eggs?”
“Scrambled?” Alex wasn’t sure why it came out as a question.
“Coming up. Pour yourself some coffee. The mugs are by the pot. Creamers and sugar are in the cabinet.”
“You didn’t have to fix breakfast. You’ve done so much already and I’m not usually that hungry in the morning.” Just then, his stomach rumbled loudly and exposed the lie. He realized he hadn’t eaten anything since his last shift at the coffee house, which a quick calculation told him was more than thirty-six hours ago. Maybe forty-eight? “I guess today will be the exception,” he laughed.
Mr. Washington’s cooking tasted as good as it smelled and Alex enjoyed the way it satisfied his taste buds and filled the empty space in his stomach. What surprised him, though, was how their easy conversation satisfied him as well. Not only was George, he’d asked Alex to call him that, a practicing attorney, he taught a third year course at Alex’s law school. He gave tips on surviving first year classes and challenged Alex’s opinions on current events. Neither of them noticed the antique grandfather clock in the foyer counting off the hours until a reminder on Alex’s phone brought an end to their leisurely breakfast.
Alex returned to the guest room to gather his few belongings. He reluctantly changed back into his clothes from the day before and found that he missed the scent of his borrowed pajamas. He called John for a ride, knowing he would be teased mercilessly for incident. He thanked George again for his help and hospitality and tried to hide his surprise at the man’s response.
“Alex. I’ve enjoyed our conversation and I’d like to see you again under better circumstances. Do you think you might be interested in a date? Maybe something that doesn’t include doctors or injections?”
It’s amazing how many thoughts can go through a person’s mind in a matter of seconds. Alex wondered why a man of George’s stature would be at all interested in him, a poor, loud-mouthed student. He wondered what it would be like to have a relationship with an older man, if people would stare at them and assume George was just a sugar daddy. He wondered what George smelled like and how it would feel to be curled in his embrace. Oh. Oh. Where did that come from?
“Yes, I think I would,” he answered with a smile.