Make Me

by Alexandra Y. Caluen

Xi Duarte was still getting acquainted with the patients at Therapy Shop when Harry Sterling came through the door. All Xi could do for Harry that night was help the massage therapist. It was a surprise to realize he wished he could do more. Harry wasn’t Xi’s type, but something about him was hard to forget.

The latest episode of acute back pain was one too many: Harry couldn’t take it anymore. Coming that close to breaking down, in front of that incredible-looking guy at Therapy Shop, tipped him over from resigned to angry. Two years of medical consultations got him nowhere. It was time to try a shrink.

Six months later, Xi saw Harry again, outside the coffee shop. It was the perfect opportunity to get to know each other … and they were thorough. Now they needed to know if this was simply a spring affair, or if it was the connection they’d both been wishing for.

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Excerpt:

Xi was in the homestretch for the degree now. The management at Therapy Shop was already talking to him about coming on full-time after he passed his licensing requirements. He’d been working such a variety of hours that he’d met nearly all the regular clients, but he never saw Harry Sterling again. Somehow they had never coincided.

Then one Sunday he finished up a round of general office work for the therapists and decided to hang out for a while. He was at the other end of the strip mall, sitting in the sun with a cup of coffee and one of his textbooks, when he noticed someone approaching and looked up. “Mr. Sterling! You look great.”

Harry couldn’t have been more surprised if the man had said ‘let’s get married.’ First, that he remembered him at all. Second, that he said that. “I do?”

A full smile. Harry blinked. Xi gazed up at him and said, “Would you like to join me?”

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Harry had not been trying to get his attention. He was only walking by because … well, because he wanted to walk by and store away another mental snapshot. He looked around to make sure Xi was actually talking to him. Then he cautiously pulled out the other chair and tentatively sat, placing his coffee cup on the table. “Call me Harry?” He didn’t mean to make it sound like a question.

“Okay. What fixed your back?”

“One day a week working from home, getting a standing desk at the office, a personal trainer, and three months of weekly talk therapy.”

“Well, how about that. You know, after I saw you that time I talked with Melissa. I did a lot of reading about idiopathic back pain. Did you know Howard Stern had the same problem?”

“My shrink told me that,” Harry said dryly. He took a sip of coffee. On impulse, he answered the question more completely. “Aside from being a head case, I had a serious muscle imbalance. Hip flexors and IT bands and some other stuff. My trainer has me doing yoga every day, and using a foam roller.”

“Do you like it?”

“It’s torture.” Xi laughed. Harry half-smiled. “That’s a hell of a book you have there.”

“Last semester for my Doctor of Physical Therapy.” Xi saw the surprise and thought he could diagnose it. He held out his hand. “Xi Duarte. Twenty-six years old.”

Harry took the offered hand and shook it lightly. Managed to let go in a reasonably short amount of time. Felt like he was dreaming. “Harry Sterling. Thirty-four years old. I know I look older.”

“Well, disabling pain will do that to a person.”

“So will lousy hair. I kind of gave up on it.” He’d cut it short. Very short. Short enough that the hair ended before the curl began.

“It looks good this way.”

“Yours is spectacular.” Harry bit the inside of his lip, because he hadn’t meant to say that. Xi gave him a slanting look from under those amazingly-long eyelashes. Harry thought is he flirting with me?! He had no idea what kind of expression was on his face, realized his mouth was slightly open, and shook his head. “I just had the weirdest thought.”

“What was it?” Voice soft, the way it had been when he told Harry not to worry about the F-bomb. Xi was utterly, unexpectedly charmed by the man today. It wasn’t only that he was, if not at his absolute best, at least not at his worst. It was the absence of that hopelessness. The absence of resignation. There was a life force today. Benign, contained, but potent.

“I don’t know if I should say.”

“Live a little, Harry.” Voice still soft, ever so slightly suggestive.

Harry sipped coffee, wondered if he would ever know what combination of ethnicities had produced the beauty across the table, wondered if he would ever forgive himself if he didn’t try to live a little. “I thought, is he flirting with me.”

Xi drank some coffee, as if giving himself time to think. Six months ago, he was fairly sure, Harry would have immediately dismissed that thought. He must have found a very good shrink. “Yes.”

COLLAPSE

About the Author

A long time ago and three thousand miles away, I wrote my first novel - a historical romance - during graduate school. Twenty years later I finally dusted it off and published it. Since then I have written and published eleven more novels and twenty-nine novellas. My day job is in a law office, I've been married for eighteen years, and I'm inspired by authors like KJ Charles, Laurie R. King, Dick Francis, and Jennifer Crusie.


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