Chapter 1: To Walk or Not To Walk?
Gavin and Matthew pushed through the theater’s outer doors into the chilly night along with the rest of the holiday revelers. Matthew made that purring hum that landed somewhere between a sigh and a soft laugh on the scale of sounds Gavin used to read his husband’s moods. That particular noise meant Matthew was contented.
They’d come out to watch the cinema’s annual double feature of It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story. Personally, Gavin would rather have watched Bad Santa, but the sappy movies were well worth sitting through, because Matthew was so easygoing and never complained when they went with Gavin’s preferences. Besides, a contented Matthew invariably morphed into a cuddly Matthew. And that was never a bad thing.
Gavin stepped nimbly, warmed despite the brisk, fresh air. He pulled in a deep lungful. The mostly full moon lay hidden behind a sky full of clouds. None but the brightest stars would have been discernable anyway due to the ambient big-city lights.
A light snow was falling. Granny would have called it “Christmas snow,” large, wet flakes drifting gently from the clouds high above. The kind that made one want to turn their face to the sky and open their mouth to catch a flake or two on their tongue. “Snowman snow,” if enough of the stuff fell to the ground. Scattered flakes adorned Matthew’s chin-length, floppy brown hair and short, tidy beard like he’d had glitter tossed on him.
No doubt snowflakes landed on his own head, but Gavin figured they probably looked more like dandruff on his short, wavy, black hair.
“Let’s walk home.” Matthew clasped Gavin’s hand and flashed his eyebrows.
“I don’t know.” Gavin gave that hand—warm even through their gloves—a firm squeeze. “It’s pretty late.” Although, a growing number of people were hailing taxis, so most likely he and Matthew would be waiting a while if they held out for one.
“It’ll be fine.” The light from the streetlamp reflected off Matthew’s dark chocolate-brown eyes, making them shine, and Gavin’s heart melt. “I don’t want to risk a stinky cab messing up the beauty of this night.”
Getting mugged on the walk home would screw it up even more, but Gavin glanced down the street. With plenty of people still out and about, that outcome was unlikely, and he kept that pessimistic thought to himself. He needed to stop letting his military background affect everyday decisions here in the real world.
“Okay.” Gavin lifted Matthew’s gloved hand to his lips for a brief kiss. Matthew’s eyes glimmered merrily from the twinkling lights around the movie posters they passed. Romantic gestures like that always brought a smile to Matthews’s lips, and Gavin loved nothing better than to make the love of his life smile.
The thud of their steady steps, sounding heavy with their solid thick-soled boots, blended with the general background clamor of footsteps and cars buzzing by. None stood out until they’d traveled several blocks, and the traffic—both foot and vehicular—thinned.
Even then, none of the noises stood out as exceptional or disquieting in any way, only now Gavin could distinguish the individual sounds. He listened out of habit rather than because he felt any undue concern.
Matthew’s movements remained buoyant even with the solidity of his strides. A pair of footsteps behind them took a right turn, and others replaced them, merging from a side street to join the handful of others still there.
Halfway home, foot traffic dropped to a trickle, and a streetlamp ahead of them winked out. The alley behind it lay pitch black.
Likely, the timing was coincidental. Lights went out, and odds were someone would be around to see it when it happened. Just because Gavin and Matthew were the people to see this one shine its last lumen didn’t mean there was anything nefarious about the timing.
Nonetheless, no sense in inviting trouble when there were easy options to avoid it. Gavin slowed and checked over his shoulder to make sure the street was clear, then steered Matthew across the expanse of pavement. They would pass an alley on that side, too, but the streetlamp at its end shone brightly, and nothing—or rather nobody—was visible from their vantage point.
“You know”—Matthew sounded droll—“if somebody with the ability to turn off a single streetlamp at will is after us, they’re going to get us eventually anyway.”
Gavin wasn’t that paranoid. Nobody was after them in particular. Why would they be? Well, gay-bashers might single them out, but not to the point of planning ahead and lying in wait. It was possible someone with that kind of technology might target random passersby, though. Most likely it was a legit blown light, but even then, someone who happened to be lurking in the alley might take advantage of it.
“I know. Just humor me, darling.”
Better safe than sorry, that was Gavin’s motto. But when that second light went dark just as they passed under it, Gavin realized it was possible to be both—doing the seemingly safe thing, but still ending up sorry.
In the fraction of a second that he had to consider their situation, the thought that he hadn’t been paranoid enough passed through his mind. But surely the idea that someone could and would turn off one streetlamp to lure them across the street before turning off the second flirted with the edges of extreme conspiracy theories. Didn’t it?
2018 Addison Albright