Our Moment

an excerpt



Chapter One

Chase kept his head down as he headed into the Commons. He loved when the weather changed and embraced the first warm spring day of April. Hell, he was happy to be able to wear his favorite flannel and T-shirt rather than being bundled up in layers.

He stopped at the light and waited for the signal to change. Too many students jaywalked in order to save precious minutes in getting to class. The Riordan College campus wasn't that large and he saw no point in risking his life to save a moment or two. He could walk from the freshman dorm all the way over to the football stadium in a half an hour, tops.

When the light changed, he crossed the street. He looked forward to time spent in the Commons. Everyone seemed to collect there. Being almost fourteen acres, there was plenty of space for any kind of gathering. A five-piece brass ensemble played at one corner and a girl with her guitar serenaded passersby on the opposite corner. A gaggle of students played hacky sack by the fountain, and kids rode skateboards along the sidewalk. People sat on the various swings and benches. An artist had an easel set up across from the college chapel.

The character of the Commons always sparked Chase's muse. He loved to sit at one of the picnic tables and write in his notebook. The peace of the greenspace helped him concentrate.

He spotted a pair of guys from his Sociology class walking hand-in-hand in front of him. A twinge of jealousy hit. He missed being in a relationship. He liked being part of a twosome, but his last boyfriend, Karl, had told him he wasn't a good boyfriend. He'd tell Chase he was a hopeless romantic who couldn't handle romance. He'd never explained how Chase couldn't handle it and Chase gave up arguing with him. Was it so bad to want someone without having to worry about sharing that person? Chase didn't think so.

Oh well. Karl was happy in Indiana now. Chase couldn't remember why his ex had left college, and didn't truly care.

He stuffed his hands into his pockets and kept walking. He'd be early to class, but he always was. He couldn't handle being late. Karl had called his tendency a failing and claimed Chase couldn't be spontaneous. Lateness had nothing to do with spontaneity.

He crossed the circle in the middle of the Commons. There wasn't anything magical about the rainbow-colored circle, other than being painted on the asphalt in the exact center of campus, but Chase liked to imagine crossing it took him through a portal to another world.

When he looked up from the rainbow on the circle, he spotted a man striding toward him. Chase's breath lodged in his throat. He'd never seen anyone like this man.

Vibrant blue eyes, pink hair styled in a mohawk pompadour, full contoured makeup giving him an effeminate air, but with a dark beard and a brooding quality to him. His zebra print jacket hugged his upper body like a second skin, and he walked with a confidence Chase wished he could bottle. He reminded Chase of a model on a catwalk.

"Hi," Chase managed to stammer. He'd been encouraged to speak up more and meet new people. Why not try now? "I love you." Oh shit. He didn't know the guy or even what love was, yet he'd blurted the words anyway. So much for looking cool and meeting people. Now he'd made a fool of himself.

"Oh, doll." The man winked. "I love you, too." He swatted Chase's arm as he passed and didn't break stride. He kept going across the Commons.

Chase stopped in his tracks. He needed to know the guy's name. He'd never met anyone like this man and wanted to strike up a friendship. When he turned, the guy was gone.

Like a mirage.

Chase hurried back to the circle. Jesus. The campus wasn't that big and there weren't many places to hide. Where'd the guy go?

Shit.

Chase shook his head and hurried to his creative writing class. Maybe if he wrote down the details about the guy, he'd remember him enough to look for him later. Who was he kidding? He'd never forget this meeting, or that man.

A few minutes later, he walked into the classroom. His friends Tandy and Dean were already there.

"You're late," Tandy said. "Well, late for you. We were worried."

"What happened?" Dean asked. "Did you get lost? You're pale. Did something happen?"

"No." He sat with them at the round table and pulled out his tablet. "I saw this guy--"

"There are guys everywhere." Tandy laughed. "So? He made you freak out? Or was he hot?"

"This one..." He stared at his friends. How could he explain? "The man was gorgeous."

"Oh?" Dean closed his backpack. "Tell me more. Name?"

"I don't know his name." He sank back in his chair. "It happened so fast."

"What did we tell you about hooking up at the club?" Dean shook his head. "You'll catch something that way. At least get a name, and if he's clean."

"It wasn't like that," Chase said. He couldn't remember the last time he'd visited the clubs. "I passed this guy in the Commons. Tall, blue eyes, pink pompadour...just beautiful. I didn't think I had a thing for guys with makeup, but it worked for him and I can't stop thinking about the meeting."

Tandy sighed. "Sounds like he's a unicorn."

"Huh?"

"He doesn't exist," she said. "You made him up."

"I didn't." He hated when she didn't believe him. "I talked to him."

"Why didn't you get his name?" Dean asked. "What did you say to him? Nothing? You need to speak up more, man. You need to go for what you want instead of watching the world pass you by."

"I said I love you." The tips of his ears burned.

"You're serious?" Tandy's eyes widened. "Chase." She pinched the bridge of her nose. "If he doesn't think you've lost your mind, it'll be impressive."

"I know. I should've said something more intelligent." He didn't regret what he'd said, but he did regret telling his friends about the incident. Although if he could redo the moment, he would've instantly asked the man's name. Maybe he wasn't that exciting to the man. Anything was possible. For all he knew, the guy was being nice and going with the situation, rather than making a scene.

"What'd he say to you?" Dean asked. "Tell you to go to hell?"

"He said he loved me, too." The whole conversation was spontaneous. Wouldn't old Karl be shocked? "It was a perfectly sweet moment."

"I thought you were kidding, but you're not." Tandy clapped her hands. "A mystery love. That's awesome--if he doesn't think you're nuts."

"It's not awesome," Chase said. "I've never seen this guy before today, and I don't know his name. I don't know how to get in contact with him or if he's even a student here. Could be a transfer, could be someone passing through. The whole thing is so far out there... This is my luck. I find a guy I think is interesting, and I want to at least meet, but the chances are slim I'll even connect with him. I'm hopeless."

"No, you're not." Tandy slapped his forearm. "There's a chance--slim--that you could run into him again if you're at the same place at the same time tomorrow or the day after." She elbowed Dean. "We'll help, won't we?"

"Sure." Dean shrugged.

"Think it'd work?" Chase asked. For all he knew, this might be the one time the guy was going to cross the Commons. Daily or every other day seemed so impossible. "I'm not sure."

Dean drummed his fingers on the table. "You're really caught up on him." He shook his head. "If this guy is half of what you say, then I want you to find him. We'll help." He rubbed his hands together. "I've got a few ideas as to how we might connect with him."

"It's like a fairy tale come to life," Tandy said. "I'm jealous."

"I never thought you were a romantic, Dean." Chase picked at the edge of the table. "You seem so pragmatic."

"I'm jaded where my own stalled love life is concerned. Tandy said my standards are too high," Dean said. "Maybe they are."

"You're picky, but that's not bad," she interjected.

"But your love life is different," Dean said. "Chase, one of us needs to get laid and since we're not fucking each other, then I volunteer to help you find someone. Hell, this guy might have a brother or cousin or best friend who's lonely, too."

"Anything's possible." Chase nodded. He had no idea what the guy's backstory might be, but he wanted to know.

Tandy laughed. "Operation Find Chase's Man starts right now."

Chase folded his arms and snorted. What'd he have to lose? The three of them looking for the mystery man were better than him searching alone. He sighed. "Why not?"

* * *

"Stand out from the crowd," Jamie said under his breath. If everyone looked at him, then everyone would be in awe and no one would have the chance to make rude comments. They'd be too stunned.

Normally, he strutted across campus. He also tended to stay out of the Commons until after four in the afternoon. He preferred the increase in action as the day wore on. But today, he had to get to his appointment with Teddy to discuss their installation in the main gallery on campus. The only way he'd graduate on time with a bachelor's in fine arts was to do a gallery show in the art building. He'd done plenty around Riordan and the neighboring area, but the college required a gallery show on campus with a panel review by faculty. Due to the lack of space in the gallery, he had to share his exhibition space with Teddy. He loved his friend but their styles of art weren't cohesive, with the right planning though, it could make a great gallery show. He'd never have a romantic relationship with Teddy, but the friendship was strong.

As he stood beside the band shell, out of the view of most of the Commons, he gathered his wits. He strutted and embraced his flamboyant side because he saw no other way to be authentic. Of course, being so dramatic kept a lot of suitors at arm's length, too. He hated being lonely but letting people in caused even bigger problems. He wanted the drama to be in his look and art, not in his personal life.

He rubbed a vertical line up and down his forehead, careful not to smudge his makeup. The man he'd seen in the Commons had his full attention, even minutes after passing him.

Jamie tended to be the one grabbing the spotlight because he demanded it. But this guy...the plainness struck him. The idea of being swathed in any kind of flannel made Jamie queasy, but the red, green and yellow plaid worked on this man. His jeans fit right and he walked with a purpose, even if that purpose was quiet and understated.

He'd never forget meeting the man's dark-eyed gaze. A shiver shot through him as he replayed the entirety of their conversation.

"Hi," the man had said. "I love you." He blushed, mouth open and said nothing else.

"Oh, doll." Jamie had winked. "I love you, too." He'd swatted the guy's arm and didn't break stride. He should've looked back, but instead he forged ahead. His nerve endings sizzled and the power of the meeting overwhelmed him. He'd darted behind the band shell to compose himself.

He'd never had an instant jolt with anyone else before. He believed in moving fast and keeping people out, but this guy, through a few words, managed to crawl under his skin.

What was it about this guy? Christ. He was so plain. Jamie had answered the I love you with his pat I love you, too response, but this time the feeling wasn't so pat. The only person he truly loved was his mother. Yet, he wanted to get to know this guy on a deeper level.

He clutched his shoulder bag. His heart raced still. Because of the guy? Nah. He wasn't the type to get hung up on someone.

Couldn't be.

He didn't know the man's name. So what if he looked good in plaid and made Jamie's mouth water.

Jamie closed his eyes and forced himself to walk away from the band shell. Hiding wasn't his style. What was wrong with him? He didn't get caught up. He snagged people in his web and kept no ties.

He continued to the art building to meet Teddy. He needed to get his head around the gallery show. If he could put forth a worthy plan for the exhibition and meld his work with Teddy's, then he'd be ready for the review by the faculty. If he passed the review, he'd be able to graduate in May.

Talk about pressure.

Everything had to work. He needed the job at the gallery in Cleveland once he graduated. Sure, he'd have to leave home, but being able to bring in more money with a better job meant there'd be less pressure on his mother. Damn it. This exhibition could make or break him.

He strode into the building. Teddy stood just inside the empty gallery space.

"Where were you?" Teddy snapped. "You're late."

"Late?" He checked his phone. He had five minutes to spare. "Stop."

"We need this to go well." Teddy rubbed his hands on his pantlegs. "I can't delay another year."

"I know." He put his portfolio down. "I know what I'm doing for my half of the show." Sort of. He knew which paintings he'd display, but the rest... Shit. "The paintings are done."

"Your Man series?" Teddy rolled his eyes. "We need to do mixed media. Remember?"

"I know." Which is why he couldn't suppress the nausea rolling through him. He'd figure out what to do. He always did. "Would you believe I saw the most adorable man today?"

"You? I thought you were the most adorable man." Teddy snorted. "If he's fancier than you, I haven't seen him."

"You probably haven't," Jamie said. "He's...he said he loved me." Just saying those words over again excited him. He wanted to see the lover man again. "No one ever said that." And meant it.

"You're told you're hot all the time. He probably wants in your glitter jeans."

"Jealous?" He'd never be more than friends with Teddy. He didn't need a man who required so much attention or whose art would compete with his.

"No. You're too high-maintenance for me."

Jamie shrugged. "I'm true to myself." He dropped his bag off at the counter in the gallery and strolled around the empty space. A few possibilities popped out to him. "I wonder if I can find that guy again." He spoke more to himself than Teddy. "Wonder if..." He'd love to have time with the man. He'd photograph him. Holy shit. "I know what I want to do."

"I wonder about you. The campus isn't that big, but if this was the first time you saw him, he might not be a student," Teddy said. "What are you thinking for the project?"

"True on seeing him again." Still, the moment he'd run into the guy had seared itself into his memory. He had to find the man. But how? "For the project, I'm thinking some photographs to offset the paintings. You're handling sculpture and drawing. It'll be a good balance."

"I suppose so." Teddy faced him. "About the guy? I see the wheels turning."

"I could place a personal ad." He nodded. "Yes. And one for a call for this project." All he'd have to do was call Gray to set up both calls.

"You do know every response won't be that guy. Maybe none will."

"I know." He wandered around the space some more. If he photographed couples, maybe the guy would show up to be one of the couples. It was a stretch, but he had to try something besides the personal ad. Or he could combine the personal ad into the call...

"Well? Tell me," Teddy said. "What is your theme?"

"A secret for now." He grinned. He knew what he wanted to do and how he wanted to go about it. He pulled his phone from his pocket. He'd find his man.

No question.

"I can't work with a secret," Teddy said. "Come on. Clue me in, even a little."

"Okay." He typed a message to his friend, Gray. If anyone could get a call out for models for an art project, it was Gray. If anyone could get the personal ad up in record time, too, it was Gray. Once he finished with both messages, he focused on Teddy. "Meet ups."

"One more time?"

"Meet ups." Jamie waved his hands. "Think about it. That ten second interaction with that guy inspired me. I want to capture people meeting up. Like a photo of them meeting for the first time...for the hundredth time. Two people who loved each other once and don't any longer. Two who want to try again. There are so many possibilities, but the main theme is that one moment can change everything. That's what I want to capture."

"You're going to stage it?" Teddy asked.

"Sort of." Jamie tapped his phone against his lips. "Gray's getting the word out now. I'm sure once I meet the people and let them know what I expect, I can weed out the ones that won't work. I can do this."

"I'm sure you can," Teddy said. "You're resourceful and take great photos." He clapped Jamie on the shoulder. "I hope you find the guy, too."

"Thanks, Teddy." He hoped he found him, too. The calls had to work.

Had to.