The door to the pick-up closed with a thud, one barely heard over Antoni’s protests of ending up in the middle seat. “I’m just saying, when was the last time Karamo was sandwiched between anyone?
“I believe it was when you navigated us two towns too far.” Jonathan replied cheerfully. “Face it honey, you are one with the hump. Now, lets focus on today’s hero. His name is Evan Buckley, and he holds the Queer Eye record for most independant nominations.”
“Really?” Bobby asked from behind the wheel. “The record was four. How many people nominated him?”
“Let’s see.” Jonathan scrolls down, looking for the nomination information. “Evan was nominated by his sister Maddie, two coworkers, Chimney and Hen, one friend, Carla, his boss, Bobby Nash, his boss’s stepdaughter, May, and his partner, Eddie.”
Tan counted the tally. “Seven people, none of whom worked together, all felt he needed our help? That cannot be right.” He leaned around the seat and read over Jonathan’s shoulder. “That’s actually right.”
Jonathan smacked Tan gently. “Of course it is. Now, Evan is a bona fide hero: he’s a firefighter in LA’s Station 118. A few months ago, he was injured in the line of duty. He’s recovered, but took it very hard. Maddie, that’s the sister, described him as sweet, generous, and warm-hearted, but is concerned about how he sees himself, and that he feels his only worth is as a firefighter.”
Karamo sighed. “Firefighting is a rough job, physically and mentally. I can see how he might have issues coming off something that took him away from it.”
Looking back at the others, Jonathan grinned. “Looks like our job this week is to help Evan find the person underneath the public servant. To the firehouse!”
When they pulled up to the firehouse, there was a sense of gleeful excitement in the air. The five men walked in and were greeted by immediate screams of joy and a glomping hug from a teenage girl. Bobby, as the primary recipient, stumbled back but returned it with enthusiasm once his feet were under him.
“Hey, May, please don’t tackle the guests.” An older man called out from the upper level. “Especially ones here to help Buck.”
She giggled and let go. “Sorry, Bobby. I’m just so excited!”
Bobby chuckled. “It’s fine.”
“Oh! Not you Bobby, him Bobby.” She said, pointing at her reprimander. “Although sorry to you too.”
The older man reached them, flanked by an asian man and a black woman, all in uniform. “I’m Captain Bobby Nash, this is Chimney and Hen. Thanks so much for doing this. Buck’s a good kid, but I think he got a little stuck after his leg.”
Hen nodded. “His golden retriever thing is endearing, I’ll give you that, but he’s honestly a disaster.”
“Amen.” Chimney added. “I live in fear of him winding up on my couch again.”
Bobby paused. “What do you mean?”
“Ask him where he’s lived for the last year.” Chimney said with gaze of man who’d seen far too much.
“Inventory’s done, Cap.” called out a voice from behind them. They turned to see two men coming out from the ambulance, one a very attractive latino man, the other the embodiment of blond frat boys.
“They’re gorgeous. Why is everyone in this firehouse gorgeous?” Karamo turned to Bobby. “Is that a requirement for the LAFD, ‘must be hot’?”
The frat boy laughed and enveloped Karamo in a tight hug. “Thanks, man. I’m Buck. I, uh, appreciate you all coming here. I mean, there must have been people who needed help more.”
“Come on, brother.” The other man, Eddie, said, pulling Buck into a one-armed hug. “We’ve been through this. Now, go show the nice men your den of sadness. I’m making fajitas for dinner, they’ll be done by the time you come over.”
“Wait.” Chimney said. “You’re letting him stay with you? He’ll never leave.”
“At which point I gain free childcare, and my evil plan will have succeeded.” Eddie snarked, giving Buck a high five.
The fab five all piled into their truck and followed Buck back to his apartment. When he opened the door, they all fell silent.
“Oh. My. God. ‘Den of sadness’ does not properly describe this.” Bobby said in horror. “You have a couch and nothing else.”
Karamo went over and examined it more closely, noting the blankets piled up on one side and the head dent in the pillow. “Have you been sleeping on your couch?”
Buck blushed and ran his fingers through his hair. “Uh, when I got hurt, I couldn’t get up the stairs to the loft, so I just slept down here.”
Tan looked at the stairs, then at Buck. “But you’ve recovered. Why are you still sleeping on your own couch?”
“I, uh, don’t actually have a bed.” Buck admitted. “This is my first place all my own, and I got it a couple days before the accident.”
Tan remembered Chimney’s comment. “Let me ask, where did you live before this?”
“Before this, Maddie’s place, before that, Chimney’s couch, then Maddie’s previous couch, then my girlfriend’s apartment. She wasn’t there; she was traveling the world, before Abby’s, I just rented a room.” Buck listed off, while the fab 5 became more and more heartbroken.
“Well, that explains why you own nothing but a couch and some weights.” Antoni remarked. “However, it doesn’t explain your kitchen.”
The rest of the guys swarmed over to examine the contents of his cupboards. “You have dry beans, brown rice pasta, kale, everything’s really healthy, but there’s nothing here for taste or a treat. You don’t even have spices.”
Buck grinned sheepishly. “Food’s fuel, man. I eat what I need to in order to maintain muscle. Yeah, it’s boring, but between Bobby and Eddie, I have good food. By myself, it’s just maintenance.”
“Pardon me,” Tan called out “But am I correct in assuming these duffel bags are your wardrobe?”
Buck came over. “Yeah. Duffel bags, boxes, whatever’s around. I rock the floordrobe.”
Tan began to examine Buck’s clothes. “I’m seeing a lot of workout gear, a lot of LAFD t-shirts and jeans, nothing really nice.”
“Hey, I’ve got a suit! Maddie made me get it for her wedding.” Buck explained. “But as far as clothes go, I just keep it casual, it’s not something that really matters, you know?”
Karamo came over and led Buck to the alcove under the loft. “I noticed this because this is really the only thing here that looks personal and lived in.” It was a bookshelf filled with photos.
Buck grinned a blinding smile. “Yeah, this was something I could actually manage on crutches. That’s Bobby and Athena, May’s mom, at Christmas, Hen and her wife, the firehouse at a community festival, Chimney and Maddie’s 6-month anniversary, me and Eddie took his son, Christopher, to Disneyworld to celebrate getting the cast off.”
Karamo’s heart melted at the adoration Buck gave the last photo, a shot of the three men wearing Mickey Mouse ears in front of Cinderella’s castle. “I’m glad to see you have so many people you care about. However, I can’t help but notice there aren’t any photos of your parents.”
Buck avoided his gaze and set the photo of himself, Eddie, and Christopher back down, in the center of the pictures. “When I was 16, I came out to my parents. They kicked me out. I kind of floundered for a while before I fell into firefighting. It’s the only decent thing I’ve ever done.”
After they got back to the loft, the fab 5 went over what they’d learned. “It’s obvious that Evan has extremely low self-esteem.” Karamo said. “He feels that he’s not worth the effort he puts into other people, and we need to help him understand how much it hurts them when he doesn’t care about himself.”
“Food is a huge connecting point” Antoni stated. “He eats healthy, but it’s so bland and tasteless, especially considering his boyfriend comes from such a big food culture. I want to be able to help Evan see food as something to be enjoyed rather than endured.”
“This is his first space that’s truly his.” sighed Bobby “And while I understand the leg injury came at the worst time, we need to get his place looking less like a storage closet and more like a home.”
“Self-care is always important” Jonathan lectured, “But it’s even more important when you work in such a high-stress job. I want Evan to be able to go into work every day feeling 100 percent.”
Tan gazed into the camera. “He’s one of the warmest, sweetest people I’ve ever met, but looking at him from a distance, he screams ‘douchey bro’. He’s already transformed from Buck the frat boy into Evan the responsible public servant, and I want him to be able to present that to the world.”