A Heart Back Home by Andrew Grey

Chapter One

Have you ever had one of those days when nothing seems to go right?

I arrived at work to find my boss at the door telling everyone to go home. The printer I worked for had put out their last piece of mailbox-clogging junk mail. Not that I relished the job or anything, but it paid enough for me to make the monthly rent, pay for my car, and buy groceries.

“Will I get my last pay?” I asked, staring into the harrowed eyes of my once-confident manager. He was in his midfifties, but in a day, he seemed to have aged a decade.

“Yes. You will be paid, but that’s about it. I wish I had more answers for you, but I don’t at this moment.” As the others came in, he told them all the same thing.

Not knowing what else to do, I turned around and got into my four-year-old Camry, glad it was almost paid off, and tried to figure how I was going to apply for unemployment and then find another job. I was too stunned to think very much about anything else on the drive back to my tiny apartment in Schaumburg, Illinois.

When my phone rang, I answered through the car’s Bluetooth connection.

“Hey, Clay, how’s it going?” my best friend, Alan, asked. He always called first thing in the morning before I started work, while I was getting coffee, mostly so he could talk about his conquest from the night before.

“Crappy,” I answered as levelly as I could. “My company went under, and I’m driving back home. It looks like I’m going to need to polish up my résumé and try to find a new job.” In this economy, that seemed like a daunting task, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. Hard work didn’t scare me, but I wanted more out of life. Though I’d been raised on a farm in Wisconsin, I had escaped the rural life for the wider world as soon as I was able to find a job as far away from that life as I could get.

“You’ll find something. I know you will. You’re one of those people who’ll land on his feet no matter what.” Alan barely stopped for a breath before he was on to another subject. “Man, you should have seen the guy I met last night….”

I drove away from the city, making the reverse commute that had been part of my life for the past five years and now was a thing of the past. I was still trying to figure out what I thought of that. The changes would sink in—I knew they would. It was just going to take some time to figure out and process. In the meantime, I listened to Alan, hoping for a sense of normalcy.

“Yeah, he was something else. I swear he must have started lifting when he was twelve or something. Huge arms, great legs, and a chest to die for.”

I rolled my eyes and pulled to a stop as a sea of red lights appeared ahead. “Yeah, but could he put two sentences together?”

Alan laughed. “That’s the really cool part. He’s a high school football coach, and he actually has opinions about shit.” I could almost see him sticking his tongue out at me through the phone. “And he was amazing once I got him back to my place. Like a yummy, delicious pile driver. And the best part? He left his phone number and took mine. He wants to see me on Saturday.” Alan sounded as happy as a pig in shit.

“Wonderful,” I told him, trying to sound like I meant it. Things had completely turned upside down for me, and it was difficult to get excited about anything right now. Thankfully, Alan didn’t notice and continued on with his tale of debauchery. “You know you’re talking to a guy who hasn’t had sex, let alone a date, in months.”

I knew Alan’s response by heart. We’d had this conversation multiple times. I mouthed the words as he said them: “Then why don’t you come out with me? You’re plenty cute, and you know the guys would like you.”

“Because those aren’t the kinds of guys I’m interested in.” I had gone out to the bars and clubs plenty of times, and I always came away disappointed and feeling like I was in a meat market. That wasn’t what I was looking for, but it was hard to explain that to Alan. He saw the world his own way, and I had long ago given up on making him try to understand. He was a good friend who existed in his own happy, gay, sex-for-dinner-and-breakfast kind of world. Who was I to try to burst his bubble? “I’ll be fine. You go on to work and have a good day. I’m heading home to sit in front of the television, eat my weight in chocolate, and try to figure out what my next steps are.” It was best to get him off the phone so I could be miserable on my own. “I’ll talk to you later, okay?”