Junior figured it was best to just keep jogging and ignore the car. If he acted casual, no one would think twice. But when the driver’s door opened and Junior turned to look, he lost his footing and tripped on a large piece of gravel. As a runner, this wasn’t the first time he’d fallen. He experienced that awkward moment, the second his foot hit the piece of gravel, where he knew he was going down and there was nothing he could do about it. He threw out his right arm to brace himself for the fall, turning his head to the side so he wouldn’t land flat on his face and break his nose.
He skidded into the dirt on his left side, scraping his knee, but avoiding his face at the same time. He’d been prepared for the fall; he knew he hadn’t broken any bones and he knew he’d be fine. The only thing he cared about was the person in the car. He was hoping and praying no one had seen him fall. He despised the idea of falling in front of anyone, and he hated looking foolish in public.
But when he looked up, he saw a pair of pointy black shoes in front of his face. They were shiny and had two inch Cuban heels. His stomach turned and his heart began to pound. He closed his eyes for a second and grimaced, hoping it wasn’t who he thought it was.
“You okay, buddy?” a deep voice asked.
Junior rose to his knees and brushed sand off his T-shirt. He didn’t look him in the eye. There was a lump in his throat and he couldn’t find his voice. Of all the times he had to fall, why did it have to be in front of Carlo Pagano, the best looking man he’d ever met.
“You took some fall,” Carlo said, and then he reached for Junior’s hand and helped him to his feet.
“I’m fine,” Junior said. “I didn’t break anything. It looked worse than it was.” He bent his legs and stretched his arms. “See, nothing broken. I’ll live.”
Carlo pointed to Junior’s knee. It wasn’t dripping with blood, but there were bloody sections from where he’d scraped it on the stones. “You sure. Are you from around here? I could give you a lift home.”
Junior felt no pain. Even if he had hurt himself, he wouldn’t have known. His endorphins were already rushing because he’d been running, and being so close to Carlo made him feel the sensation even stronger. He clenched his fists and gritted his teeth. He didn’t want Carlo to know that he was so intimidated he could barely speak without stammering. He had to act normal; he had to force himself to be cool and calm.
“I live close by,” Junior said. “In The Farms.” It wasn’t that he didn’t want to give details about his life. He didn’t want to sound stupid and immature; he figured the less said the better he’d look. Then he looked at Carlo’s face for the first time. Carlo was wearing sunglasses and Junior couldn’t look into his eyes. But he was even better looking up close, in the daylight. His nose was the perfect length, his strong chin had a small cleft, and his skin was an unusual shade of olive and bronze. He reminded Junior of the gorgeous men he’d seen on those TV dance shows, those guys with the cool outfits, perfect haircuts, and strong confident expressions on their faces.
“I’m a dance instructor at The Farms,” Carlo said. “My name is Carlo Pagano.”
“I’m Junior,” Junior said, hating the way his name sounded coming from his mouth. He should have said his name was Maxwell. Junior was the name of a little boy, or a forty year old fat guy who still lived at home with his mother and father.
Carlo reached for his hand and shook it hard. “Nice to meet you, Junior.
Are you new? I haven’t seen you around before.”
Junior shrugged. “This is my first summer here,” he said. “My father knows Ben Timberlake.”
Carlo laughed and rubbed his jaw. “Good old Ben,” he said. It was hard to tell whether he was being sarcastic or faithful to his boss.
“I’d better get back to my run,” Junior said. The scrape on his leg was beginning to burn and he had a long run back to the house. Not to mention the fact that he was standing next to the best looking man he’d ever met and his hair was soaked with sweat, his shirt was covered with dirt, and his knee was scraped and bleeding.
“Maybe I should give you a lift back,” Carlo said. “I don’t mind. I was only stopping by here to pick up my wallet. Someone found it last night and the manager told me he’d leave it in the mailbox.”
Junior smiled and started jogging in place. “I’m fine,” he said. “But thanks for asking.” Carlo looked mean and rough, but sounded to nice and polite.
As Junior turned to leave, Carlo shouted, “Nice meeting you, Junior. I’ll see you around.”
Junior lifted his arm and waved it back and forth. His leg was killing him, but he focused hard on running smoothly so Carlo wouldn’t think he was awkward and uncoordinated. Junior had seen those gangly types jogging down the road, with their knees knocking together, their unsightly arms jerking in all directions, and their thighs jiggling.
When he reached the edge of the parking lot to cross back onto the road, he looked back quickly to see what Carlo was doing. Carlo was standing there, in the same spot where Junior had left him, with his legs spread wide and his hands shoved into his pockets, watching Junior jog down the road. Junior didn’t take a full relaxed breath until he was around the corner and completely out of Carlo’s sight.