Leave it to Pierce to let the meeting last ten minutes longer than the agenda. Sam fumed all the way to his new Corolla, loosening his tie with impatient fingers while he clicked the lock. The alarm chirped back at him, and Sam hissed in annoyance at the time. Ray-Anne read him the riot act for showing up late at his nephew’s last school play. Sam didn’t relish scooting in front of all the other parents shoehorned into those kid-sized plastic chairs lined up in the cafeteria while they glared at him, and did Sam blame them? Sam had been bumped in the face by many a butt at many an assembly, school play, Little League game and movie theater, and it didn’t get any more fun with repetition.
If Sam made all the green lights on the way home, he could shower and change out of his suit, wolf down a protein bar, and grab his phone charger. His battery died by the beginning of the meeting, and Ray-Anne warned him in dulcet tones that she expected him to take pictures since “you’re taller than me, anyway, and you can see all over those heads. Simon looked less than amused when Ray-Anne made him try on the costume for last-minute adjustments, giving his favorite uncle Sam a long-suffering look while she knelt down with a mouthful of pins to re-tack the hem.
The Corolla dinged at him until he buckled his seatbelt. Sam turned on the A/C, even though it was late autumn. The sky looked cobalt blue already, and he smelled the fast food restaurants out on the main strip pumping the scents of French fry grease out through the vents to entice the rush hour crowd.
Sam checked the rearview camera and sensor as he prepared to pull out of the lot. All clear. Sam took his foot off the brake and backed up, already dismayed at the number of other drivers leaving the lot and merging into traffic. Sam wondered dimly if there was gonna be snacks at this thing, or if he was going to have to-
"SHIT!!!" Sam felt himself jolted forward in his seat with the impact, and instant, cold dread and panic rushed over his flesh, spearing into his heart. “Oh, my God!” He put the brakes back on and turned off the ignition, yanked off his seatbelt, and rushed around to the rear of the car. “Oh, sweet Jesus… I’m SO SORRY! Oh, my God, I didn’t see… I didn’t see you, and my car… I’m still getting used to the sensors! ARE YOU OKAY?!?!”
The man was tiny, wearing a dark hoodie and black skinny jeans. His knit beanie and dark-rimmed glasses fell off when Sam hit him - when he HIT him - and he stared up at the sky, eyes glazed.
“God, it’s like Coachella all over again,” Sam thought he heard him mutter. “Ow…”
“Please be all right!”
“Been better… you do this all the time, pal?”
Sam knelt down over him, hands touching him gingerly as he checked him for injuries. “Does anything feel broken?”
“Just my pride.”
“That’s… this is no time to be funny. I’m calling nine-one-one, anyway, buddy, but tell me what’s wrong, so I can tell the paramedic-“
“Pal. Hey. Chill.”
“Don’t worry about calling the hospital. Call your mechanic. You have this thing under warranty, I hope?”
“Take a look at your bumper, buddy.”
Sam shook his head at him, but the man on the ground, tiny and looking so done with Sam’s shit, lifted a slender hand with long, artistic looking fingers, and pointed at Sam’s back end.
“Oh. Good. LORD.”
It looked like someone punched it down like a mound of pizza dough.
Sam had no clue how he was going to explain this to his insurance adjuster. Or to the DMV. Or the repair shop.
He could tell that none of those problems were foremost on his new friend’s mind as he glared up at him from the asphalt.
“Nice goin’, jerk.
Sam deflated. He was still looking stunned as he stared at the guy, then back at his car, and back at the man again, who was now propped up on his elbows like he was planning to get up. “You should lie down, don’t-“
“Look. I’m okay.” Then he glanced down at his jeans, which now featured a fresh tear. “These were my favorite pants, though.”
“I hit you with my car!”
“Yeah. That, you did. Didn’t exactly tickle. But it takes more than that to take me out of commission.” Then he grinned at Sam. “And there are better ways of getting me on my back, if you know what I mean.” He wiggled sandy, thick brows at Sam just for good measure, and Sam stared at him, flummoxed. The guy just sighed and stood up, waving away Sam’s attempt to make him stay down, or even to help him up.
“My camera didn’t see you! I didn’t even see you in my rearview!”
“Funny thing about that.” And just because Sam hadn’t had enough surprises already as he was just getting off of work, minding his own business and about to play favorite uncle, the man’s intelligent blue-gray eyes slowly shifted to a glowing, garnet red, and he smiled Sam. Sam watched his canine teeth lengthen, gleaming a perfect, stark white in the light from the street lamps.
Sam’s stomach dropped into his shoes, and he felt sick with fresh fear. Cold sweat broke out over his flesh. “You. Y-you’re-“
“Don’t freak out.”
“I-I…y-you’re… those are-“ Sam’s hand shook as he gestured to those fangs. The dark sky began to spin, and Sam realized he was about to embarrass himself.
“Aw, darn it!”
Steve scolded himself sternly for his own lack of subtlety. He didn’t mean to make the guy faint like that.
Because, y’know. He was pretty cute. Seemed nice.
The voice speaking just overhead sounded deep and smooth. And apologetic. Sam wanted to know the story behind that.
“…I think he just had a low blood sugar episode. Went down like a stone. Wait a minute, he’s coming around.”
“Wilson?” That was Clint, Sam realized as he cracked open his eyes. The world still felt like it was spinning, but he felt secure, like someone was propping him up. “Hey, pal, you’re supposed to wait til we have a status meeting to fall asleep!” Clint patted him on the shoulder, more roughly than you were supposed to when you wanted to show someone you were concerned. “You okay?”
“What day is it?”
“Tuesday night. And you were in a hurry to get home.” It was that deep voice again. Sam noticed a hint of a Brooklyn accent, this time, too.
“What happened to your bumper, man?” Clint demanded.
“You don’t… wanna know, Barton.”
He felt whatever – or whoever – it was that was supporting him twitch, along with a huff of laughter. Sam shifted his attention from Clint’s face, who was crouched over him and close enough for Sam to see the pores and blackheads on the tip of his nose, to the other face hovering above him.
Blue eyes. Long licks of sandy blond bangs tucked under a beanie. Reading glasses. A spray of pale, tiny freckles across his nose. The kind of guy that was normally just Sam’s type, minus the likely taste for Sam’s O-positive.
“Took quite a tumble there, fella.”
“S-Sam,” he told him.
“Sam,” the guy considered. “Yeah. So, I’m Steve. When I’m not helping to scrape random guys up off the pavement, I do night security at the art museum on Fifth. I do a little drawing on the side. I was running early for my shift before this happened.”
“You’ve gotta get that blood pressure checked, Wilson,” Clint told him as he and his new friend (Steve?) helped him sit up. Sam felt the back of his head throb, telling him he’d had a spectacular landing. “You’re carrying too much stress. Might wanna cut back on the salt, too.”
“I don’t eat too much salt!”
“Iron might be low, though.”
And Steve’s eyes glinted with amusement behind his glasses, taking Sam back to that moment before he passed out. Sam gave him a measured look, questioning the intent behind that claim. Could he tell if Sam’s iron was low?
He jerked away from Steve, realizing that he’d been cradling Sam in his arms while was unconscious. Sam scrambled up to his feet and straightened his suit jacket. “Okay. Um. I’ve gotta get home.”
“Aren’t you gonna call the cops, Wilson?”
“Your bumper!” Clint reminded him as he swept his hand toward Sam’s mangled car. “That ain’t just a scratch!”
“Uh… it was a hit and run,” Sam lied. Steve had the decency to keep a straight face and tuck his hands into the pockets of his hoodie.
“What? Did you get the license plate number? Make and model? Anything?” Clint sounded annoyed on Sam’s behalf. “It still looks drivable, but you’ve gotta file a claim! Your deductible’s gonna take such a hit, man!”
“Fuck,” Sam hissed. “Just… don’t worry about it. This is a lot to unpack.”
“Are you all right?” Steve asked. Genuine concern shone in his eyes. He lifted his hand as if to touch Sam to check for himself, but then stopped himself from proving it. He just tucked his hands back into his pockets, looking a little guilty.
“I’ll manage. I’ve gotta go. I have to meet my sister. I’m already late.”
“Yeah? What are you two doing?” Clint asked.
“My nephew’s school play.”
“Aw, school play, no! You can’t miss that!” Clint looked aghast. “Run, then! Get moving. Call your insurance company in the morning. You could take pictures now, if-”
“No. It’s fine. I’ll work this out.”
Sam waved Clint off, watching his coworker lope off to his garish purple Harley Davidson. He yanked on his helmet, cranked the engine, and roared off, waving at the two of them as he left the lot.
“He always that chatty?” Steve asked.
“Just another one of his many charms.” Sam glanced around the lot. It was still dark out. “You aren’t gonna drag behind the dumpsters and eat me, are you?”
“Not… not unless that’s your thing. It’s kinda not mine. I mean, I like organic blood. It’s best when it’s locally sourced. I like to go out and hunt it myself, because you can’t trust blood banks, these days.” Sam’s eyes widened. “I’m just yankin’ your chain, Sammy.”
“Don’t call me that. Sam’s fine.”
“Okay, okay. Sorry.” But a note of regret slipped into his voice. “Hey. Um. M’sorry I scared you. That’s… none of this is how I usually like to make an introduction.”
“You work a night job,” Sam mentioned, wanting the clarification.
“Yeah. Kind of the only shift I can manage, considering.”
“I don’t know. You might have made a good bouncer at a strip club.”
“Not my scene, either.” Steve smirked, making his eyes crinkle, and Sam felt himself warming toward him despite reason.
“My sister’s about to kill me. She’ll freak out when he sees my car, but mainly, she’s just gonna kill me.”
“School play, huh?”
“I hate walking in late.”
“Guess I should let you go.”
“Hey, Steve?” Sam rubbed his nape. “God, I’m so sorry! I feel like a complete jackass. I shouldn’t have trusted my cameras-”
“Then what’s the point of buying a car that has them?”
But Sam looked miserable and contrite.
Steve edged closer and reached out, patting Sam’s upper arm. “Please don’t fret about this. I’m okay. See? All right?” He gestured to himself as a whole and held out his hands. “Don’t lose sleep over this, Sam. You’re a nice guy. I’m sorry if this shook you up.”
“Don’t lose sleep…” Sam rolled his eyes and laughed helplessly.
“You’ve… you’ve got a really nice laugh.”
And to Sam’s surprise, Steve blushed.
“Good night, Steve.”
“Yeah. Uh. G’night, Sam.”
Ray-Anne hissed at him and gave Sam her Sunday-best death glare as he arrived, but thankfully, she managed to save him a seat on the end of the aisle so that he didn’t have to hit a whole row of parents in the face with his backside. So, small mercies.
“You missed his scene in the beginning. He had three lines.”
“I’m sorry,” Sam whispered back.
“What took you so long?”
“Traffic. And I had a little fender-bender.”
“Wow,” she mused. “Here I thought Gideon was the bad driver in the family. Glad you made it here in one piece.” She nodded to the stage. Simon stood off to the left, dressed as a tree. His face lit up once he noticed Sam in the audience, and he waved at him for a moment, breaking character. Sam waved back, feeling a flicker of warmth in his chest.
Since there was no other driver’s insurance to bill, Sam’s deductible was astronomical.
Sam didn’t sleep well for the following week. All he saw was Steve lying on the ground, even though there was no blood. Sam still felt shaken.
But when Sam came back from his lunch break, Clint rapped on his doorframe as he was clocking in. “Hey, there, Romeo. You’ve got a secret admirer.”
“I’ve got a what…?” Sam’s brows flew up into his hairline at the sight of the enormous bouquet. It was gorgeous, filled with pussywillows and succulents, cattails, birds of paradise, eucalyptus, and so many other flowers Sam couldn’t even name.
“Nice, isn’t it? Whatever you’re doing, Wilson, I wanna know your secret. Somebody’s got moves! Somebody’s got tricks!”
Clint snickered. “Man, I didn’t know you could blush.”
“Wanna just set it down?”
“This is really nice. No one ever gives me flowers.”
“Hey, there’s a business card tucked in here,” Clint mentioned. “Looks like it’s for an art museum. I didn’t know that was your kinda thing.”
“It usually isn’t.”
A light went on in Sam’s head.
Clint set down the flowers on Sam’s little credenza and handed him the business card and the gift envelope. “Well, enjoy.”
Clint ambled back to his desk, leaving Sam to open the tiny envelope with trembling fingers.
You seem nice. Sorry I scared the crap out of you.
Can I buy you dinner?
Sam turned the business card over. There was an email address on the museum’s domain, and a cell phone number printed in small, neat handwriting.
When Sam texted him, he told Steve, Uber’s on you. My car’s in the shop.
Steve’s reply moments later made Sam wheeze.
Well, I wasn’t exactly gonna let you drive us anywhere anyway, Wilson. I’m cute, but I ain’t brave.