What if you had a chance to reconnect with someone, to find out what went wrong all those years ago?
When Junior Maldonado returns home to deal with a family crisis, the absolute last person he expects to encounter is his high school sweetheart, the man who broke his heart more than two decades earlier.
What if you had the chance to begin again? Would you take it?
Junior’s search for the truth about his sister’s brutal assault yields some unexpected opportunities for him, both professionally and personally. Now, he must decide if he really can come home again, or if the more things change, the more they really stay the same.
“I never imagined myself doing this again, you know.” Derek placed two bags of frozen peas on Junior’s knuckles. “God, how long has it been? Thirty years?”
Junior chuckled. “Probably. Once I enlisted, I made sure to keep my nose clean so they wouldn’t boot me out, so it was before then.”
“You gonna tell me what happened?”
Junior shook his head. “No. The fewer people who know about the specifics, the better.”
Junior flexed his left hand, forming and reforming a fist. He laid his hand flat on the table and Derek replaced the bag of peas.
A timer went off behind them.
“You want some escarole? I picked up some from McNulty’s. There’s plenty. You still eat bread?”
Derek patted Junior’s shoulder and began tearing bread from the loaf and ladling soup into bowls.
He put the food on the small kitchen table and sat down.
Junior chuckled. “You sound like my sister.”
“I was imitating Frank’s ma. As soon as we walked in the house, she was shoving food at us. That’s why I started working out.”
“Thanks, Derek. For seeing me and feeding me.”
Junior sucked in a breath when he wrapped his fist around his spoon because the splits on his knuckles reopened. “Dammit.”
“Here, let me.” Derek held the spoon up to Junior’s lips. “Come on, Tito. Open up.” Derek wiggled his eyebrows at Junior, who huffed a laugh at his childhood nickname, but took the spoon into his mouth, his eyes glued to Derek’s.
They finished the meal like this, with Derek spooning the hot, soothing liquid into Junior’s mouth and talking quietly about nothing much at all. When his bowl was empty, Junior said, “Thank you.”
Derek nodded and then leaned forward and pressed his lips to Junior’s, gently at first. But when Junior leaned into him, Derek wrapped his hand around the back of Junior’s neck and pulled him closer. Derek deepened the kiss, touching his tongue to Junior’s lips, silently asking for Junior to open up for him.
Junior answered by opening his mouth, accepting Derek’s tongue. The two men sat at the table, kissing and holding each other until Derek pulled away and stood up.
Junior sat at Derek’s kitchen table—the same table that he sat at almost three decades ago—and he felt like he was meant to be there, like no time had passed since they’d done this, since they’d been like this. So when Derek offered his hand, Junior took it, and followed him down the darkened hallway.
Junior tightened his hand around Derek’s when Derek pushed the door closed, throwing the room into utter darkness. He jerked when Derek laid his hand on his face, and tried to quell his rising panic.
“What’s wrong, Junior?” Derek’s voice was soft in his ear.
Junior sucked in a shaky breath. “Uh, I don’t do well in pitch black rooms.”
“Well, shit. Okay, hold on.”
Junior stood motionless while Derek pulled the drapes back, letting the bright light of the moon stream into the bedroom.
“Better?” Derek asked.
Junior nodded. “Yeah. Uh, sorry. It’s been ten years since . . . yeah.”
Derek stepped into Junior’s space and cupped his hands around the former soldier’s face. “Let’s just go to bed, J. You’ve had a stressful day.”
He began to unfasten Junior’s belt, and Junior reciprocated. Derek tugged Junior to the bed, pulling him close, and held him until he fell asleep.