After his last long-term relationship ended because of his nightmares, Mark closed his heart to the possibility of finding love again. He's certainly never considered Gabe, the orderly who works at Miller's Retirement Home where his father lives. But there's more to Gabe than meets the eye, and if Mark is willing to let Gabe in, he might just discover the most important buried treasure of all.
Mark jerked his head up to look at Gabe, glaring. “That’s odd coming from someone in your position.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you visit weekly. Some of our residents don’t ever get visits, just phone calls on birthdays and holidays, and some don’t even get that much.” Gabe inclined his head and frowned. “But it’s hard on”—the heat of a blush filled his cheeks at the choice of his own words, and he cleared his throat—”it’s difficult for you, never knowing which dad you’re coming to see. It is stressful for you and him. Besides, not to sound cruel, but it’s not as though he enjoys your visits when he’s like he is today. Not that you can predict it, of course. Maybe you can call ahead? I can...” Gabe trailed off and cleared his throat, hoping Mark hadn’t noticed his slipup. An orderly wouldn’t be answering the phone, after all, and he wasn’t ready to tell Mark the truth about his real role at Miller’s. Not just yet. “I mean, the girls at the front desk can tell you how things are going.”
“That might work.” Mark nodded. He pulled off another chunk of doughnut and popped it into his mouth. “I just feel guilty not putting in the effort. We’ve already lost so much time together over my decisions.”
Gabe snorted. “You didn’t decide to be gay anymore than I did. Evelyn came by yesterday, by the way.”
“My sister was in town?” Mark’s eyes went wide and his mouth turned down into an almost childlike pouty frown, bottom lip sticking out just so.
“She didn’t stay or anything. She said she was passing through on a business trip,” Gabe offered, hoping to soften the blow that Mark’s sister had been in town and hadn’t bothered to see him. “She dropped off some early birthday cards from her kids.”
“She didn’t visit with dad?” Mark’s frown deepened. He shifted and looked out the window, absently stirring his coffee.
“She can’t stand to see him like that.” Gabe gnawed on his bottom lip. Watching patients fade away wasn’t always the worst part of his job. Sometimes, watching their families splinter apart was even worse. He wished he knew some magic words to heal the growing rift in Mark’s family.
“Yeah? Well, neither can the rest of us.” Mark pushed his coffee cup away and glanced at his watch. “I have to get going.” He pulled out his wallet, tossed down some money, slid from the booth, and walked away.
Gabe heaved a sigh. He’d known Mark would be a difficult catch— the man was aloof and seemed to be one of the most antisocial people on the planet. Though there was surely a reason for Mark’s private nature, Gabe suspected that something else lurked on the inside, underneath all that bravado: a soft-hearted, passionate man. And even better, Gabe knew in his gut that Mark was someone he could reveal his own hidden secrets to, and finally not be rebuffed. He quirked an eyebrow as Mark came back to the booth.
He hovered for a moment, driving a hand through his hair. “Thanks for the coffee.”
Gabe shrugged. “Thank yourself. You paid for it.” He pointed at the cash Mark had left.
“Yeah. Well, thanks for the invite, anyhow.” Mark lingered at the table, and Gabe couldn’t help but seize the opportunity.
“Wanna do this again? We could make it a weekly thing, you know? Get together for lunch every Wednesday.”
Mark frowned. “Wednesdays are bad for me. I do the dad thing,”
“Right.” But Gabe wasn’t about to give up that easily. “Thursdays, then? Or Fridays? Or Mondays? Tuesdays, even?” He smiled what he hoped was the sweetest, most irresistible smiles in the world and batted his eyelashes at Mark. “Please?”
Mark’s frown deepened and he glanced again toward the door of the café and back several times, and Gabe half expected him to start pacing like a caged animal. Mark sighed and nodded. “What about just next Thursday?” Another quick look at the door. “I don’t want to get your hopes up if I can’t commit. You know, because of a work conflict or whatever.”
Gabe grinned widely. Success! “Sure. Next Thursday to try it out. You never know, you might find once a week of me just isn’t enough.” The comment earned him a half-hearted chuckle before Mark strode away, pausing at the door to cast a look over his shoulder.
Gabe waved, grinning as Mark left. He sat back and sighed. So. He’d managed to chip at that frosty exterior of Mark’s after all. He downed the rest of his coffee in four gulps and signaled the waitress again.