Excerpt: Second Star to the Right

Mason shifted his weight and stared down the court at the two men across the net. The sweat on his back made his shirt cling uncomfortably and he had a second’s thought on how that just wasn’t right considering how much he’d paid for it in belief of its promise to provide ‘wicking’, before he had to drop the internalizing and focus. There was no way, no way in heaven or hell, that he was about to lose another match. Not to these two. Not again.

His heel ached from pounding it off the floor, something else he shouldn’t have to be dealing with considering the inordinate cost of the tennis shoes on his feet; his hip was pinging in that way that meant he’d be sleeping on his left side all night, and his shoulder muscles felt like they’d been cinched to one another by some kind of god-awful wire that just kept getting tighter every time he moved.

“And this,” he mumbled, gripping the racket more firmly, “this is what I do for fun.”

He could hear Greg beside him, obnoxiously twisting the soles of his runners so that they squawked in angry echoes. He kept his eyes on the movement of Evan’s arm in an effort to get some kind of forewarning about the upcoming shot. He ignored Evan’s partner, Henry, as Henry flounced from side to side, right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot, like he was getting ready to sprint or some damn thing. All that mattered was the ball—that fuzzy, yellow, elusive, bitch-ass, goddamn ball. His body jumped in time with Evan’s swing, the ball soared at their side of the net with the power of a bullet, and Mason lurched to the right, swinging his racket with a grunt and every last bit of power he could put into it.

“Game!” Evan shouted, tossing his racket into the air and side-stepping towards Henry in a dance that even Mason thought was about the most annoyingly flamboyant move he’d ever seen a person make on a tennis court, complete with swaying hips and teeny tip-toe steps. Mason turned to watch the ball bounce first off the floor, then against the wall behind it, before making a half-hearted effort to tumble back towards the court. There was nothing more for Mason to do but roll his eyes and shoot a glance at Greg who was staring at the other two men as if he was trying to set them on fire with his eyes.

Mason stepped up to the net, considered it, then sighed and turned left to walk around it. Evan, instead, bounded forward and shot a hand out over the barrier. “Good game, buddy. Excellent effort. You almost had us there. Your swing is really coming along nicely.”

“Fuck that,” Greg’s voice boomed out from behind him, all play, no malice, but loud enough to make the rest of them wince. He reached around Mason’s body and smacked Evan’s hand away. “Fuck this, fuck that, fuck him, and fuck you,” he drew the last word out as if he was a toy train stuck on wail. “You both cheat and you know it. We don’t shake hands with no damned cheats.”

Evan clucked his tongue and Mason chuckled, completing the handshake anyway. “Well thanks for the game, regardless. It was, at the very least, a good workout.” Mason tapped his gut, thankfully still in fine form but nevertheless an endless battle. “Every little bit helps. Besides, what would a Saturday afternoon be without getting a good ass-kicking from the two of you, right?”

“Bah.” Greg swatted the back of his head lightly. “Get your mind off your ass for a change and we might actually win for once.” He nodded at the other two. “You guys going to join us for a beer or what?”

“Can’t,” Henry said, still swinging his racket in practice shots. “My kid’s sixth birthday party starts in an hour. Carey will shoot me if I’m late.”

Mason nodded and hurried to cut off Greg’s snort. “Totally understandable. Please say hello to Carey for me and my best wishes to … uh …”

“Connor.”

“Of course,” he nodded. “Yep, I knew that.” Mason grinned at Greg who started to dig at his right ear as if he was mining it for gold. Smile faded to mild disgust and Mason shook his head, turning back to Evan. “How about you?”

“Date,” Evan said with an eyebrow wiggle. “Twenty-six year old waitress that I met while I was at dinner breaking up with Melanie. God, that was awkward. But hey, you catch them where you find them, right?”

Greg stopped still, as if frozen in place, and finally let his mouth drop in complete, and totally feigned shock. “Oh. My. God,” he gasped. “You’re straight?”

“Fuck you, Greg,” Evan replied without missing a beat.

“Ha!” Greg pointed. He cast a glance at Mason and nodded. “Just an act. I knew it.” He leaned over and whispered conspiratorially, yet loud enough that Mason was sure the entire building could have heard, let alone the four of them. “He wants to fuck me.”

“Aaand, we’re preteens now,” Mason lifted his hand in a mock salute. “Gentlemen, I bid you well in your attempts at socializing, but I for one am off to shower and then drink my lonely self into oblivion.” He bowed with a flourish, stepping backwards. “Adieu.”

Both Evan and Henry repeated the gesture. “Catch you next Saturday then.”

Mason stopped quickly and lifted one hand. “No, actually; you won’t.”

Three sets of eyes turned to stare in shock. While they always seemed to have plans they just couldn’t get out of, families to tend to, friends getting married, and places to be, Mason always managed to make the game. It wasn’t that he had no life, Mason would be the first to argue that point if it was broached. It was just that the little he did have, he could always work around everything else. It helped that he had a strict no-work-on-the-weekend policy that was pretty easy to maintain considering he was the owner of the company. It also didn’t hurt that he had no little ones of his own, no partner to have to check with, and that most of the people in his social circle did. As such, they took very little of his time because they had so very little to give away. It meant that Mason could, and usually did, jump whenever he was asked. No doubt they were surprised.

“I have a trip planned,” Mason explained. “I’m going up north for some R&R now that I’ve finished the NYC venture.”

“Oh?” Evan smirked. “Little weekend rendezvous?”

“A week actually. Unfortunately no illicit stolen moments though. Just some down and out time. I need it.”

Henry sniffed and grimaced. “So, you’re going on a holiday alone? Like, not even with a friend? How fucking boring is that?”

Mason opened his mouth to bite a response back but Greg beat him to it. “Shut the fuck up, Henry. Just because you don’t know how to live a single moment without precious little Carey or one of the ankle-biters pawing at you for some fucking attention, don’t think the rest of us need that to survive. What the hell’s wrong with you? Do you purposely try to sound like a dick or does it just come naturally?”

“I actually like the sound of dicks.” Mason stepped between the two of them before anything else could be said. “Squishy ones, hard ones, wet ones, dry ones; they make such a lovely variety of sounds. Symphonic, even.” He grinned in the resulting silence and tapped Greg’s arm. “So? Beer?”

It took everything in Mason’s power not to laugh when Greg smiled at him and said politely, “Well now. That was fantastically disgusting.”

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