When the Devil Wants In(8)

By: Cate Ashwood

He didn’t have a destination in mind, but at least his truck had air-conditioning. Bob, his landlord, had promised it would be fixed by the following afternoon, but whiling away the meantime was agonizing in the heat.

Matt pulled out of the driveway, the headlights of his truck dim in the inky blackness. He made a mental note to look at replacing them with something more efficient. His truck was old. The belts squeaked and the air-conditioning only pumped out of one vent, but it had never died on him. Driving nearly three thousand miles had to have put some strain on the engine, but he hoped his luck would continue for a while yet.

Turning out of the long winding driveway onto the road, Matt squinted in the dark. Out here, the lights were few and far between, the street mostly lined with trees that threw shadows across the rough pavement. Matt reached forward and twisted the volume up on his stereo, filling the cabin of his truck with mildly staticky country music. He relaxed back in the seat and let one hand fall into his lap, steering low on the wheel with the other.

He drove through the main streets, the lights brighter the closer he got to the center of town. It was quaint, like something out of a black-and-white movie, and part of Matt still hadn’t processed that this was his home now. Maybe where he’d be forever. The idea of moving to Georgia had been one that he’d kept buried in him since he’d been seventeen years old.

The police station was on the north side of Magnolia’s City Center, nestled between the fire hall and the Dairy Delite. The lights were on, and there were people milling around inside. The warmth in Matt’s chest built as he thought about being in there in just a few short days, getting sworn in and receiving his badge. He wondered if it would feel any different than the badge he wore for the San Francisco Police Department. Without a doubt, being a cop in Magnolia Ridge would be different than working for the SFPD.

Not wanting to look like a stalker, sitting parked outside the police station in his worn-out truck, Matt turned the wheel and drove. His mind still wandered through the possibilities of what the next week, month, year of his life would hold when he realized he’d reached the city limits. Sleep was so far beyond his reach that going back home would be fruitless. He knew there wasn’t anything for miles but forest and swamp, but Matt kept driving.

HE HADN’T meant to go so far, but when he realized continuing to the next town would take less time than turning around and heading home, he decided to press on. The gnawing in his belly had only intensified, and after a quick stop at a Chevron somewhere outside of Callahan, Florida, Matt finally acknowledged the source behind that gnawing and did a search on his phone for the closest gay bar.

He hadn’t been in Magnolia Ridge long but somehow doubted there was a vibrant gay scene in the tiny town. He’d been so busy, packing in a rush to leave, there hadn’t been any time for… stress relief.

Woody’s was located on the edge of Jacksonville, a little under an hour and a half away from home. The exterior was nondescript and, had Matt not been looking for it, he probably would have continued driving right past without a second glance. It looked more like a warehouse or a factory than a club, but the little dot on Matt’s GPS was blinking in the right spot, so he assumed he’d found the place he was looking for.

After parking next to a blue Impala, he climbed out and stretched his legs before crossing the parking lot. Matt could hear the music getting louder as he approached. A group of men stood outside, smoking in a tightly clustered group next to the door. Matt nodded at them as he passed, and seven sets of eyes ran up and down his body as he pulled open the door and stepped inside.

“Evening,” the guy behind the counter said. He couldn’t have turned twenty-one any earlier than yesterday, but the accent and the dimples made Matt smile. He’d never get tired of hearing that accent. “You here alone tonight, honey?”

“Yeah, just me.”

“Nine bucks.”

When Matt pulled his wallet from his back pocket, there was a cool spot in the fabric of his shorts from where it had been for the last hour and a half. He paid the fee, and the guy beamed at him with a crooked smile as Matt added a couple of singles to the tip jar.

“Go on in.”

A Britney Spears song pounded, almost too loud to make out the melody, the bass drumming the beat in Matt’s bones as he made his way down the short hallway, past the coat check, and into the main area. The interior stood in stark contrast to the outside. Anything but drab and boring, lights flashed and almost every surface glittered. There was a stage at the back of the room, illuminated in blue and purple, and the bar that ran along one full wall was clad with men in different levels of undress.