Now available in ebook from Riptide publishing, yay! Coming in print Dec. 2. Part of the Home For The Holidays collection. 20% of all proceeds from the Home For The Holidays collection and all stories in it — including Long The Mile — go to the Ali Forney Center for homeless GLBTQ youth in NYC, so PLEASE pick up your copies and help out! You can also donate directly to the Ali Forney Center if you like; CLICK HERE.
When Judah went to prison for insider trading, he lost everything he thought was important: his business, his money, his power. But when he gets out, homelessness strips him of the one thing he has left: his self-respect. When another homeless man saves him from a beating, he begins to learn to rely on the goodness of those around him.
For Toby, life on the streets has become familiar. Comfortable. So comfortable he wonders if he’s given up on changing his life for the better. Then comes Judah. Formerly rich, newly homeless, all his pride and attitude gone along with his material possessions. Helping Judah feels good. Their unexpected connection—physical and beyond—feels even better.
Their shared situation nurtures a growing closeness that blossoms into something deeper. But when change comes knocking, it will take all their strength to keep fear and insecurity from tearing them apart.
© Copyright 2013 Ally Blue
On nights like this, good weather and warmer than usual for mid-December, Toby often slept outside. A young, healthy man like him with no children to look after would be fine in a park, a vacant lot, or sharing a friend’s tent someplace. Others needed the city’s limited shelter space more than he did.
What did it say about him, he wondered, that he accepted MayBelle’s invitation to stay not because the Holy Innocents shelter was only half full that night, but because Judah would be sleeping in the next cot over?
Laying wide awake three and a half hours later, staring at the ceiling and listening to the sounds of snores and soft breathing all around him, Toby figured he’d have gotten more rest if he’d stayed in Pritchard Park. Or maybe in the church’s sanctuary. Because he sure as shit wasn’t getting any damn sleep in here. Not with Judah right there, close enough to touch. All he had to do was reach out his hand and he could brush Judah’s fingers where they lay softly curled over his palm, or run his thumb over the dark stubble rapidly becoming a beard on Judah’s sharp jaw.
Fucking hell. Why couldn’t the man have kept being a snob and a jackass, and not gone sliding down into real-human-being territory?
A low sound of distress came from Judah’s cot. Worried, Toby rolled onto his side and studied Judah’s sleeping face. The plump lips that had distracted Toby all through dinner were parted with breaths coming too fast. His eyes darted side to side beneath his lids. Sweat had soaked through the short black strands at his hairline. At least his bandage still looked clean and dry.
As Toby lay there watching Judah dream and wondering if he was all right, Judah jerked and let out a quiet oh. His eyes opened. For a moment, he stared at whatever after-images his nightmare had left in his brain. Then he blinked, turned his head, and focused on Toby. The corners of his mouth tipped up. “Hi.”
“Hi.” Toby wanted to reach across the space between the cots and touch Judah, but since he didn’t know how that would be received he reined in the urge. “Bad dream?”
“You could say that.” Judah rubbed both hands over his face. “God.”
“Wanna talk about it?”
Judah shook his head. “I don’t really remember the details anyhow.”
The man sleeping to Toby’s right grumbled something unintelligible and rolled over. Lowering his voice to a whisper, Toby leaned closer to Judah. “Hey, if you can’t go back to sleep just yet, we could head to the kitchen for some hot chocolate or something. I’m having trouble sleeping myself, to tell the truth.”
Judah lowered his hands, twisted sideways, and met Toby’s gaze. “That would be wonderful, actually. Are you sure that’s all right?”
“Yeah, of course.” Toby grinned to hide his reaction to the unexpectedly shy, hopeful look in Judah’s eyes. He found this side of Judah dangerously appealing, though he wished the man hadn’t had to lose his home for that part of him to come through. Toby rose to his feet and held a hand down. “Come on.”
He half expected Judah to ignore the offer of a hand up, but after a second’s hesitation he kicked free of the blanket, clasped his fingers around Toby’s, and used the leverage to stand. He swayed a little. In the low light, Toby saw Judah’s throat work.
Using his legitimate worry as a reason, Toby sidled closer and slipped his free arm around Judah’s waist. “Whoa. You okay?”
“I’m fine.” Judah backed away, dropping Toby’s hand with a glare. “I know you’re only trying to help, and I appreciate it, but I’m not an invalid.”
Toby raised both hands, palms out. “All right. You just looked like you were about to pass out, that’s all. No offense meant.”
“I know.” Judah shut his eyes. In the low light, the shadows of his lashes looked like bruises. He opened his eyes again and cut Toby a remorseful glance. “I’m sorry. I’m in a terrible mood, but that’s no reason to take it out on you. Especially after you basically saved my life.”
“No problem, man. Who could blame you for being kind of grumpy?” More restless grumbling from the cot next to Toby’s made him drop his voice low again. “Let’s go before we wake someone up and get in trouble.”
Judah flashed a grin that Toby decided he was willing to do a lot to see again, as often as possible. “I’m right behind you, Toby.”
Good Lord, the sound of his name in Judah’s low, velvety voice did interesting things to Toby’s insides. Not trusting himself to speak—or touch Judah, or hell, even look at him right now—Toby concentrated on leading the way through the rows of cots to the doorway into the fellowship hall.
Once they’d both gotten out of the sleeping area and Toby shut the door behind them, he switched on the light and waved a hand toward the tables closer to the kitchen. “Go on and take a seat. I’ll fix us some hot chocolate.”
“Let me help.” Judah brushed his fingertips over Toby’s arm. “Believe it or not, I know my way around a kitchen.”
Studying Judah’s face, Toby did believe it, though he couldn’t have said why. Judah struck him as the sort of guy who would’ve employed a cook before the bottom fell out of his rich-boy world.
Instinct warned Toby not to ask. He had a feeling that would end this friendly little chat pretty damn quick.
He clapped Judah on the back. “You get the milk and a saucepan. I’ll hunt up the chocolate.”
Judah’s wide, gorgeous smile made an encore appearance, and Toby had to look away. They were getting along great right now. He didn’t want to ruin it by throwing Judah down on one of the cheap-ass tables and shoving his tongue down his throat.
The milk was easy—who didn’t know what a refrigerator looked like?—but Judah impressed Toby by finding the saucepans within thirty seconds, which wasn’t always easy even for the people who volunteered here all the time. While he searched through the cabinets for the powdered hot chocolate mix he was sure MayBelle had hidden away somewhere, Toby watched Judah pour milk in the pan, turn on the heat, and stir. He had to admit the man seemed pretty comfortable at the stove.
Damned if that didn’t just make him more interesting than ever.