Up Where We Belong

an excerpt

I was standing at baggage claim at the Denver airport, looking for a driver in a suit who I was told would be holding a card with my name on it. Happened in every airport in every city, month after month. Part of the job. Standard stuff.

Except what happened next was anything but.

"I'm Mister Jackson," I heard. But it wasn't coming from me. Oh, sure, I was standing in front of a man in a suit holding a card printed with the name Jackson, my name, on it, but it wasn't me saying those words. Nope. Was another guy dressed like me in business attire, looking weary like me after hours on a plane, but clearly not me.

"Um, I'm Mister Jackson," I told the driver, both of us now standing in front of the confused-looking man.

The other Mister Jackson looked at me and I at him. Nice looking guy. Eyes the color of the sky on a hot August day. Dark hair, chiseled jaw, full lips. Then he looked back at the driver. "What's the first name of the Mister Jackson you're picking up?" he asked.

"Uh..." said the equally weary-looking driver as he rummaged through his slacks for a slip of paper. "...Ted. Ted Jackson." His eyes went from me to the other guy and back again.

"I'm Ted Jackson," I heard, only it was coming from both our mouths this time around.

"You're joking," said the other guy.

I reached inside my wallet and retrieved my California driver's license. He eyed it and chuckled before handing me his New York one. Same name. Same age, by a difference of three months. Same height. Two pounds lighter and different eye color. Then we both turned to the driver. "Who hired you?" I asked.

The guy shrugged. "All I know is the name. Want me to get dispatch on the radio? Gotta go to the limo then."

I looked at Ted. "Where you headed?" He told me the name of his hotel, I told him the name of mine, then we both looked at the driver, who by then was looking more than eager to get the hell out of the airport. "Well?" I asked.

"Two blocks apart." He eyed us both with hope in his eyes.

"Works for me," said I.

"Same here," said the other Ted.

The driver led, and we followed, each with a small, single piece of luggage in tow. A minute later, we were in the back seat of the limo and the driver was pulling away. I turned to my seatmate, hand outstretched. "Ted Jackson, nice to meet you."

He grabbed my hand in his and gave it a firm shake. "Ted Jackson. Ditto."

I locked eyes with him. So much damned blue you could just about take a dip in them. His hand lingered in mine, just a few seconds longer than usual, but enough to make my belly gurgle and my pants get tight around the crotch area. He smiled, I smiled, and the driver hit the highway, radio cranked to Jennifer Warnes and Joe Cocker's "Up Where We Belong."

Ted grimaced. "Blech."

"Not a fan of romantic pop music, I take it?" I asked.

"Schmaltz," he replied. "I'll take Zeppelin any day."

Not the gayest retort, but I was hopeful. After all, he was still turned my way, the smile quickly reappearing, eyes twinkling. Though that last part might've been my imagination. I blame it on the song. Which was indeed the gayest. In any case, I changed the subject. "Business trip?"

The grimace repeated. "Eighth this year. Second time to Denver. But at least it's not winter."

I nodded. "Tenth for me. Third to Denver. Last time was in February. Brrr."

He chuckled, the sound riding down my spine like a runaway freight car. Then there was a pregnant pause. One of those nine and half month ones where you're eager to push and give birth. "Um," he finally said, "you have dinner plans, Ted? All I've eaten is peanuts for the last two hours."

"Honey roasted?"

He shook his head from side to side. "Barely salted."

I patted his shoulder, again with a lingering hand, heat rising off of him like a lava pool in Hawaii. Which was the one place, of course, the company never sent me to. Go figure. "Steak place at my hotel. I can expense it if we talk business."

He groaned expectantly. "What business you in?"

Then I groaned. "Pacemakers and various heart surgery instruments. You?"

"Auditor." The groan amped up on both sides. "So maybe that business talk will be on the short side, yes?"

I nodded. "More steak, less talk." I reached my hand out. Again he took it, flesh upon glorious flesh, a hint of hairy forearm poking out from beneath his jacket cuff. "Deal."