The Running Zachariah Meets The River Leith
New York City was far enough from Louisville that Zach felt safe. He’d run far, far, far away from home years ago, traveling the world with his job on a cruise ship for years, and he never intended to go back. Now it was time to put down some roots, though. And if he didn’t like the roots he put down, he’d just tear them up and run off again. After all, running far away from places and things that hurt him was what he did best. But, in the meantime, he needed a place to crash.
Park Slope was baby-land from what he could tell by the number of strollers and actual children running, laughing, and hopscotching up and down 7th Street, but he didn’t mind. He liked kids. If life worked out the way he hoped, he might even have one someday. He’d enjoy showing a child the world, holding their hand by the Eiffel Tower, or throwing them in the air in the Riveria sun. He’d never, ever hit them or tell them they were shameful or make them want to run away from home forever.
Dismissing memories of his grandmother’s belt and his mother’s hateful words, he jogged across 5th Ave and hooked a right. He glanced down at the paper in his hand, double checking the address. Yes, he was on the right street now. He grinned at a little Asian girl on a tricycle, and nodded toward her German-looking nanny while hunting for the building number on the doors. The one he was hunting for was nice enough, with windows that jutted out toward the leafy green of a nice-sized tree.
He folded the paper carefully and squinted up at the apartments above the bar below. Then he looked around, taking in the prime location—close to the subway, the shops of 5th just down a block, and the shops of 7th Ave just a little further upslope. It was perfect. Now, he just needed to make them like him. He was good at that. He could be charming and sweet, loving and open, and they’d like him. Well, so long as they never saw the dark spots his family had left on his heart, anyway. He could hide his wounds. He was almost as good at that as he was at running when someone got close enough to spot them.
And, really, all that mattered was that they liked him for just long enough anyway. He could leave again. There was always Italy, or California, or Alaska. There was always somewhere to escape to and a way to forget if things here went bad.
The doorbell chimed and Zach sucked in his breath, stunned at the sight of the sweaty, flushed, goddamn-gorgeous man who answered: blond hair, hazel eyes, and a body to fall to his knees for. All displayed beautifully in a white sleeveless t-shirt and jogging shorts. “Hey, yeah. Can I help you?”
“Hello,” Zach said, sticking out his hand and telling himself to pretend he was vlogging. He could do anything and say anything if he was vlogging. He could be real without having to suffer for it. It was a good trick he’d learned over the last few years. “I’m Zachariah Stevens. I’m here for the extra room?”
“Oh. Right.” The guy took his hand and they stared into each other’s eyes. A handshake failed to form and the touch turned into an awkward almost-hand-holding clench that morphed into further weirdness, until the guy jerked his hand back. “I’m Leith.”
“Nice to meet you, Leith. Been out running?” Zach asked, gesturing at his sweaty state when Leith looked confused.
“Yeah. In training.”
“For a marathon?”
“No. I box.”
“Oh.” Well, that explained those muscles and his tough-guy look. Zach’s knees went a little weak.
“Uh, come in. The girls are upstairs.”
Zach followed him up the stairs to the apartment, his eyes on Leith’s firm, muscular ass, and he shivered. A hot, boxer roommate? Oh, hell, yes, this could be a good place to live for a while. How much fun could he have seducing the guy? And if by some miracle things actually got real between them? Well, that’d be awesome for as long as it lasted.
And if things turned bad? Well….
Leith looked over his shoulder at Zach, his hazel eyes confused, as though wrestling with something down deep inside. “The room’s kind of small.”
“That’s fine. I don’t have a lot of things. I travel a lot. I don’t keep much to hold me back.”
“You gonna travel a lot while you’re living here?” Leith turned and took the next flight up to the third floor.
“No. I’m sticking around for a while. Trying to build a real life for a change. It’s an experiment.”
Leith stopped on the landing and waited for Zach to join him. “You’ve got a job?”
Leith gazed at him and the air between them seemed to thicken. Zach nearly took a step forward into the space separating them, but held back. Get the room first. Then see what happens.
“A real job?”
“Do I look like a vagrant or something?” Zach laughed. He was wearing jeans, sure, but they were expensive jeans and he knew he looked nice.
“Uh, no. You look….” Leith swallowed. “Like you’ve got a job. But, you know how it is. You can’t be too careful. We’ll check your references.”
“Of course. And, to answer your question, yes, I have a real job.”
“Good. Well, come in and meet the girls.” Leith keyed open the door. “It’s up to them if you get the room, anyway.”
Zach followed him into the small but clean apartment. The sofa wasn’t new but it’d obviously been quite nice once. The throw on the loveseat matched nicely, and the tv was big, but there were a lot of books stacked around, too. Always a good sign.
Leith clapped him on the shoulder as he called out, “Marian! Ava! A guy’s here for the room.”
His hand was warm and stayed just a moment too long. Zach shivered. Yes, this could be nice and if things didn’t work out here, he could always go. He’d made a career out of leaving.
Leith smiled at him, his eyes crinkling at the edges. “Would you like some water while they grill you?”
“Sure.” Zach licked his lips. “Thanks.”
But maybe, if he was lucky, he might find a reason to stay.