Home > Off Base (Out of Uniform #1)(13)

Off Base (Out of Uniform #1)(13)
Author: Annabeth Albert

    “No, you won’t.” The senior chief gave him a stern look. “The work will get done. Make sure you get your R and R in too. I don’t want you dragging in drills because you’re killing yourself here.”

    “That’s why he has me,” Pike said a bit too brightly. “This place has decent bones. It’ll be fun work.”

    Zack did not “have” Pike, but he knew that any protesting was only going to make him look more suspicious, so he settled for a noncommittal noise.

    “Which room is Pike’s?” Dorrell called.

    “First open door on the left.” Finally, a question Zack could answer. He’d given Pike the larger of the bedrooms, not that any of the rooms were particularly huge. He took his stack into the house, figuring that Pike would want his gaming stuff in the living room, like he’d had it at his apartment.

    “No couch?” Harper set the boxes labeled Games in the living room, next to the electronics Zack unloaded. “That’s shitty for gaming.”

    “No couch,” Zack said. See, you don’t want to hang out here. All we’ve got is musty carpet that needs pulling.

    “I can fix that.” The senior chief passed through, carrying a desk with Josiah. “Dorrell, call your mama. Tell her I’ve got a taker for the couch in the back garage.”

    “You don’t have to—”

    “Take him up on it.” Harper slapped his back. “Doesn’t matter how crappy—no offense, Senior Chief—free is better than sitting our asses on the floor.”

    Damn. Harper seemed pretty serious about making himself right at home.

    “I’m down with a free couch.” Pike came through with an office chair that looked like it was made out of spare rocket parts. “All I’ve got is the bed, and we could all squeeze in—”

    Zack made a warning growl, a low sound that escaped entirely of its own impulse.

    “—but a couch would be way more comfortable,” Pike finished with a grin.

    “We could use the truck to pick it up before I head back,” Josiah offered.

    Fine. Zack figured he was getting a couch whether he wanted it or not. Might as well save his energy for the next battle.

    Pike really didn’t have that much stuff, and it didn’t take too many trips until Harper and Zack unloaded the mattress from the back of the truck. They wrestled it into the house, pausing to dog-leg it into the bedroom.

    Pike came up behind them, box labeled Shirts in his arms. “Need a hand?” he asked, setting the box down.

    “We’ve got it,” Harper answered before Zack could. “Say, Mountain Boy, what part of LA did you live in? I’ve got some friends up there.”

    “West Hollywood.”

    “WeHo?” Harper snorted. “Dude, that is so gay.”

    Zack knew what Pike’s answer was going to be, even as he tried to beam him a cease-and-desist order with his eyes. But Pike being Pike simply gave Harper a bland smile. “Yup. So am I.”

    “Dude. Seriously? You fucking with me? You’re a—”

    “Harper. You will watch your language around my kid,” the senior chief cut in. And fuck, that meant he had heard Pike’s announcement too. Talk about the opposite of discreet.

    “Sorry, Senior Chief.” Harper didn’t sound particularly sorry. They finally got the mattress into the room, onto the frame. Harper dusted off his hands and turned back to Pike. “Seriously?”

    “Seriously.” Pike set his box next to a dresser whose last good decade was probably before Zack was born. “That going to be a problem?”

    “Nope,” the senior chief said firmly before Harper could answer. “Let’s bring in the last few things so we can get that couch.”

    Well, that was that. Well, other than the searching look Harper was giving him. “Dude. Nelson. Are you...”

    “Nope.” Zack looked away, afraid Harper might see the lie in his eyes.

    “Let’s go.” The senior chief motioned them out of the room. “And let’s see if we can tear Dorrell away from your stack of games.” He clapped Pike on the shoulder.

    It was a nice gesture, but Zack had a feeling that any chance of Harper coming over to play video games had died a quick death. And why that made him sad, he couldn’t say.

    * * *

    Pike really liked Zack’s senior chief and his large, active family. Dorrell was a great helper and Pike counted three more kids at the sprawling, newer Southwestern ranch where they picked up the couch. Harper, whose first name Pike never got, had taken off as soon as the truck was unloaded, not staying for the couch run. Pike supposed it was understandable—four guys for one couch was a bit overkill. But still, the guy had been so fun and friendly right up until Pike said he was gay.

    And he didn’t care what Zack said about being discreet—Pike wasn’t the type to let a gay joke slide or to lie about who he was. Did he want to hang more with Harper, who looked like he could easily play a Greek god while bench-pressing Pike? Absolutely. But not if it meant hiding who he was. Zack was just going to have to deal.

    But Zack really wasn’t saying much at all, especially once Josiah helped them get the couch into the living room and left with the truck, leaving him and Zack like the world’s most awkward newlyweds standing apart in the living room, neither sitting on the misshapen blue plaid couch, neither looking at each other.

    “So,” Pike said, trying for some cheer. “Dinner? Want to order a pizza?” Josiah had declined the traditional post-move pizza-and-beer fest because he wanted to get home to Ryan, but Pike was getting hungry and willing to grasp at anything that might help defuse the tension.

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