Just One Starfish

by Grasshopper

Midnight Blue
Chapter 3

Gabriel spent the night in the WeeHours Motel. It was the only place close to the campus he could find that allowed big dogs, especially muddy filthy dogs.

He opened the door with the cardkey and threw his duffle on the bed. "Well, come on in. Don't just stand there looking pitiful."

The dog stuck its nose in the doorway and looked around. "Come on," Gabriel repeated. It sniffed the carpet and sneezed. "I know. It's not the best place, but then have you looked in a mirror lately?"

"Not here even a day and I already have problems," he muttered. Now that the dog was in close quarters with Gabriel's nose, not flying along in the open Jeep, the smell was excruciating. "Mother of God, what IS that smell?" Dog just looked at Gabriel with liquid eyes and stayed hovering by the door his thin body shivering.

His exasperation melting away, Gabriel left the dog in the room, took the steps two at a time and got a pile of thin much-washed towels from the night clerk. "Okay, Dog, let's see what's under all that stink."

The bathtub half-filled, Gabriel dragged Dog into the bathroom and shoved him over the edge. Grabbing his shampoo, Gabriel lathered him up and watched as the clean water in the tub turned brown. Letting the smelly water out, the dog got a second shampoo and rinse and Gabriel was beginning to see the real dog under all the grime.

The water guzzling down the drain, Gabriel urged Dog to shake. "Shake in there, please. Shake!" but of course, he waited until he was in the middle of the bathroom floor and then showered Gabriel. "At least its clean water," he sighed. "Let's see what we have here. You don't look too bad now that I can actually see you."

The dog looked to be part black Lab with lots of something elses in the mix. He had huge feet and the saddest eyes Gabriel had ever seen. After a complete towel down, his fur was short and soft and the best part, he smelled great. "You owe me $10 for the shampoo, buddy."

Gabriel jumped in the shower, scrubbed up and then pulled on clean boxers. "Let's get some sleep. Tomorrow we'll figure out what to do with you." He climbed into the bed and was almost out. A slight sound made him pry his eyes back open. "What?" He heard it again and realized that the dog was over by the door. "Oh Jesus, sorry."

Dragging on his wrinkled shorts, Gabriel opened the door and walked the dog down to an open space beside the motel. Practically asleep on his feet, he swayed slightly as he waited for the dog to take care of business. He watched the funny dog search for just the right spot to deposit his gift. Why would anyone do what those creeps did, dump him out in a parking lot? He felt a gentle nudge on his leg and looked down. "All done? Good boy." Back in the room, Gabriel was out when his head hit the pillow and the dog let out a huge contented sigh as he stretched out on the carpet beside the bed.

Gabriel rolled over and felt the warm body pressed up to his in the bed. He took a deep sniff of the tantalizing fragrance and caressed the soft hair. 'What a way to wake up,' he sighed, 'In bed with ... with ...," His eyes popped open and he looked directly into two very liquid brown ones. "Oh, Shit! Get off me, Dog!!" Jumping up, he cringed, not wanting to even think about what he had been feeling two seconds ago. "Get out of my bed!!"

The poor dog slunk over into the corner and lay curled up in as small a ball as possible. Shaking his head to clear it, Gabriel wanted to stay angry, but he looked at it out of the corner of his eyes. Well, Dang! "Come here, boy. I'm sorry I yelled. I was just ... just ...." Nope, not going there ever again. Rubbing behind the dog's floppy ears, Gabriel yawned. Stretching and then dropping to the floor, the dog watched as he did 100 quick pushups.

"Okay, the first thing on the list today is hot food. After that, we gotta find you a home." Gabriel picked up the Tucson phone book and thumbed through looking for Humane Society. "Got it." He scribbled down the address and pulled on some fresh clothes, gathered his stuff together and they paid the bill.

Drive thru: Six sausage biscuits, four hashbrowns, a large Coke Zero and two bottles of water. Gabriel found a small park and he and Dog settled down on a shaded wooden bench to eat.

"It's great here. You're gonna like living here. Some cool people will pick you right away and you'll have a doghouse and lots of food." Trash thrown away, they climbed back in the Jeep, Dog took up his place sitting right beside Gabriel, head held high to catch all the smells.

Turning right on North Kelvin, Gabriel saw the sign up ahead. "Here we go," he murmured, more to himself than to Dog. Jumping down, boots and paws hitting the already warm sand, they walked toward the building. Dog leaned into Gabriel's leg as the barking got louder and louder. He hesitated, and his pace slowed almost to a standstill. "Come on, boy. You're gonna be fine," Gabriel said, more for himself than for Dog. "I can't have anyone depending on me right now. We talked about that. You understand, right?"

The lady at the counter smiled and Gabriel told her how he had found Dog. Shaking her head sadly about the cruelty of some people, she began to fill out all the forms. "If you'll just fill out all the information, Mr. Parelli, we'll just take this sweetie down to the pens."

"There won't be any trouble finding him a home, will there?" Gabriel asked, not looking at Dog's eyes that seemed to be drilling holes in him.

"We sure hope not, but if you'll look out that window to your right, you'll see how many beautiful dogs are already waiting." Gabriel turned his head and saw pen after pen filled with all sizes and shapes of dogs.

"But, there's a good chance, right?"

"Of course," she smiled brightly. "There's always a chance."

"But, if no one wants ...... if nobody ....." He finally turned his eyes toward Dog. Just four days ago, someone had said those same words to him .... nobody ~ no one .... He wasn't nobody and neither was Dog. He saw the same look in Dog's eyes that had been in his at his father's house; a look of total despair, hurt and humiliation. He would never cause that look to be in anyone's eyes, especially not this dog that had done nothing to deserve the hurt.

"Changed my mind," he said, crumbling the paper into a ball. "He goes with me, right, Dog?"

Dog felt the change, saw Gabriel hold out his hands and made it across the room in one leap.

Armed with an appointment with a local vet to get Dog's shots and a checkup, Gabriel and his new partner left the animal shelter. "How did this happen? Yeah, get off me, you big bottomless pit. I'm really gonna have to find a job fast now with you to feed." Fussing, Gabriel shook his head, "I couldn't leave you there. You knew it, didn't you, you big furball."

Heading back to campus, he pulled into the Guest parking lot. "I've got so much to do today. I've gotta get a parking permit, check to make sure my on-line registration is complete and get my books. I'm going in here. You're gonna have to sit tight." Gabriel took Dog's chin in his hand, "Dog, you need to stay in the car. No matter what, you have to stay here, capisce?" (understand). Dog, with the wisdom born of those who were saved from the abyss, flopped out his huge tongue and swiped from Gabriel's chin to forehead in one drippy lick. "I'll take that as a 'Yes'," he laughed.

Gabriel fretted as he stood in one line after another, concerned that Dog had jumped out and been hit by a car, stolen, or just run off. With his parking permits and schedule spreadsheets in hand, he practically ran back to the Guest parking lot. Walking fast toward the Jeep, he saw people standing by the open car. "What the...?" He watched as three very cute girls held out ice cream smeared fingers towards Dog.

"Is this your dog?"
"He's adorable."
"Sweet doggie."
"What's his name?"
"We fed him some ice cream."

Well, what he'd always heard was apparently true. Dogs ARE chick magnets. Thing was, he needed the magnets to work in quite another direction. Smiling and introducing himself and Dog, he finally escaped, leaving the girls to squeee about the gorgeous new guy on campus.

"You did good," he said, ruffling Dog's fur. "Let's go get my books and then we've gotta go see if the place Jordan and Dan found for me this summer will take dogs. See what a big pain in the butt you are?" Dog replied with another slurpy lick to Gabriel's ear.

Gabriel turned down Mesa Drive and pulled up in front of the main duplex with the sign 'Office' on the door. He remembered how impressed Jordan had been with the clean safe area and Dan had liked the smell of juniper in the air. The duplexes, ten of them, ran down either side of the street, ending in a dead end with woods beyond. His small half was number 7 and he hoped whoever was in number 8 liked dogs.

Mr. Krenney, the manager, a nice old guy with two cats and a little yipping dog named Fred, said that, as long as Dog was friendly and didn't make a nuisance of himself, he'd be fine. He added that if Gabriel needed to make any extra money he could do handyman stuff around the buildings. The college student who'd been helping out graduated last spring and it was all too much for Mr. Krenney to take care of by himself.

Gabriel took the key, thanked God one more time for Jordan and Dan, and drove down to #7. He opened the door, the whoosh of newly cleaned carpet and paint hitting his nose. A small place, all he needed, a bedroom, bathroom, main room with a tiny kitchen in the corner. It was furnished with the essentials and he'd make it his sooner or later with stuff he found. For now, he just wanted to get unloaded, get some food in and sit down.

Jeep unpacked -; Check.
Grocery store -; Milk, bread, peanut butter, jam, Cheerios, Ramen Noodles in a twenty pack, six ham and cheese Hot Pockets, twelve pack of Frost Gatorade, twenty-four pack of bottled water, twenty pound bag of, not the most expensive, but not the cheapest dog food. - Check.

Sit down. Check.

"Well, Dog, what ya think? You think this'll be a good place for us?" Gabriel asked as they sat on the front stoop. He lazily scratched Dog's ears and realized that he was glad he wasn't alone. "You know who'd love you?" he smiled thinking of the bouncy boy. Pulling out his cell, he punched in #2, the beach house.

"Hey, Markie."
"Yeah, it's all good."
"Yeah, the apartment is perfect."
"No, I haven't met a nice boy yet."
"Yeah, I miss you guys too."
"JD there?"
"Yeah, love you too."

Gabriel heard Markie call JD and the beach screen door bang. He laughed as he heard JD yelling at Nikki to go away, that Gabrel didn't want to talk to girls. "Gabrel? Gabrel!! It's me, JD."

"Hey, Lil Bud !" How's everything over there?"

"Good as good," JD said loudly. "I am learning my timez tables, Gabrel. Wanna hear?" He launched into 2x0=0, 2x1=2, 2x2=4 and probably would have gone to the 10s if Markie hadn't stopped him.

"Whoa, whoa! I have something to tell you. Guess what I have?"

Silence -; then, "A spaceship? A bulldozer? An elephant? Five fire trucks?"

"JD!!! Whoa! I have a dog. He is big and black, kinda like Fiddle and you'd really like him."

"Gabrel has a dog!!!! Oh, Gabrel, what is his name? Is he real big? Does he bite? Does he poop in the house like Dot? Does he ......"

"Slow down. His name is ........." Gabriel looked at Dog and realized he hadn't given him an official name. He'd have to have a name for the vet. "You want to help me out on that, Lil Bro?"

"ME!!! Gabrel wants ME to give his dog a name -; ME! Okay, Okay! Ummmm, Okay! This is his name," Gabriel heard JD take a deep breath, "Michaelangelo Leonardo Donatello Raphael."


"That is his name," JD said firmly and Gabriel could just see his face, the face of Joshua Daniel's made-up mind.

"What is all that?"

"Daddy and Papa D took me to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

"Oh," was all Gabriel could manage. Markie took the phone out of JD's hand.

"And I'll never forgive them for it either. Now I have three ninja turtles of my own leaping from the furniture with bandanas tied on their heads." Gabriel heard her hold the phone away from her ear and yell, "JD, get your little brother down off that porch railing."

Gabriel visited a bit more with Markie and said bye to JD and Bug. Switching the phone off, he laughed, "Well, I'll have to put all that on your papers cause we all live in fear of JD's powers, but to me, I think I'm kinda already stuck on Dog."

A bright red Dodge Dakota pulled up in the slot marked for #8. Gabriel sat, his hand on Dog's back, waiting to see if this was his neighbor. The truck idled for a minute, then the driver climbed out. For a second, Gabriel thought it was a slender boy, then the black ball cap gave a flip and a long ponytail flew around to show the small tan face of a very cute girl.

Walking toward him, Gabriel could see suntanned legs sticking out of khaki

shorts, a trim waist with a white tank tucked in smoothly and a pleasant, not quite smiling, face. Her long blonde sunstreaked hair was pulled through the back of the cap in a neat ponytail. Small breasts, small hands, small everything. She couldn't be over five feet one or two. Funny, what he noticed the most was that she wore the same brand of hiking boots as his. Just the kind of girl he'd like if he was so inclined.

"Hey there."

"Hey," he replied, "You got some serious boots on."

She looked down and then back up at him, "Yeah, all the others wore out too quickly. Got these REI Spirits on sale. I do some heavy packing and I need the ankle strength. Who's your friend there?"

Gabriel nodded toward Dog, "This is Dog and I'm Gabriel. You live in #8?"

"I'm Sam. Sure do, been here over a year. I'm doing study work with Professor Kelman over in the Saguaro National Wilderness. You here at the University?"

"Yeah, I transferred from North Carolina. I hiked all the trails in the Appalachians and wanted to take on the bigger ones."

"What's your major?"

"Geo-Science. What are you studying at the Saguaro Park?"

Plopping down beside Gabriel, absently rubbing Dog's offered belly, Sam launched into a detailed explanation of the work she was doing studying the rate of water absorption in the saguaro cactus and how it might help humans conserve water. "We hope to publish our findings next year. You got any food for supper?"

Gabriel laughed, "Not much. Some Hot Pockets if you want one."

"No, I meant you could eat with me if you want," Sam grinned. "I've got leftover pizza and cold beer."

"You got me on the beer," Gabriel replied.

Pizza eaten, Dog sleeping by the front door of #8, Sam clicked on the TV and checked for a movie. She sat down on the sofa next to Gabriel, very next to Gabriel, and the tone of her voice dropped an octave. "You got a girlfriend at home?"


"You thinking of getting one out here?"


"Too busy?"

"Nope, too gay."

Sam blinked. "Damn it to the holiest hot fires of the pits of hell," she growled. "All the great ones, it's always the great ones."

"I beg your pardon?" Gabriel was laughing now.

Sam threw her arms above her head and shrieked, "There has to be something dreadfully wrong with this picture, God." Sighing, she turned quickly and gave Gabriel a big smacky kiss on the lips. "There, over and done. Now I can just go about my business, you gorgeous guy whom the gods refuse to let me have. I should have known," she shook her head, "The great manners, not burping the National Anthem or anything, the hot black fuckmobile parked outside, and not once giving me the look."

"What look?"

"Oh I bet you have a killer look," she squinched her eyes into slits and wiggled her eyebrows, " Just not for girls, am I right?"

Gabriel laughed, "Okay, okay, you got me, but not quite that look."

Sam thought for a minute, "You know," she said slowly, "This might just work out great. You're all muscle, dark and menacing and I'm small, blonde and look powerless."

"Yeah, well, I hope no one ever tests you on that. You'd probably kick the crap out of them."

"Well, duh, but hey, we might make a great team, you and I."

"And what do I get out of this deal?"

"You, my gorgeous gay friend, will be able to scope out the terrain with me as your lookout, while I get to do pretty much what I want without fear of, well, anything."

Gabriel shook his head. "You're too much."

"I know. First thing we'll do is go to that new dance club over on Laredo Road. I've wanted to, but never got up the nerve to go alone."

It had been almost a week since Gabriel said goodbye to Naz back in Wrightsville. He felt an ache low in his belly at just the thought of someone touching him again. "You're on."

Classes didn't start til Monday and Gabriel was dying to get out in the wilderness and work all this tension off. He and Sam were going to the dance club on Friday night, and then he wanted to get up into the hills on Saturday.

"I need a good map of the area, Dog. Let's go see what the bookstore has."

It was late, but there were still lights on at the bookstore and a few cars. He pulled into a slot and turned off the engine. "You stay right here, okay? Remember what we talked about. No matter what, you don't get out of this Jeep."

He walked into the bookstore and picked up a map of Tucson and surrounding areas from the rack. Heading over to the magazine rack, he thumbed through a few sports magazines and then picked up the latest copy of Southwest Hiker World. He started reading a great article on Southwestern Mountain trails and decided to buy the copy because it had maps. As he read, he felt someone staring at him.

Turning to walk to the counter, he saw a boy looking at him from over the top of the candy displays. Why did he look so familiar? He was adorable with a mop of brown hair falling in his eyes, and those eyes ..... they seemed to hold the promise of something Gabriel had lost a long time ago ... innocence flavored with hope.

Staring at the boy without wanting to, he raised one eyebrow as he walked by. He knew if he stopped and made conversation, he could have him, right out in the parking lot. He didn't work the streets anymore, but the lessons he'd learned hadn't faded from his memory. There was just something in the boy's bashful stance, the way he was almost falling across the aisle that let Gabriel know he was a virgin. That snapped Gabriel back into the present.

Straight -; Gay -; whatever.... That kid didn't need Gabriel messing up his life. Gabriel had done more, seen more, than that kid would do in his entire lifetime and there was nothing like him in Gabriel's future. 'Be glad, Kid,' he muttered as he paid for the magazine and got the hell out of the store.

"Dog, it's just you and me. I don't want any attachments. No problems. I can't ever explain to anyone what I've done, who I've been and then watch their eyes fill with disgust as they begin to hate me. You don't ask questions, Dog, and you need me. No one else ever will."

He had made one friend today. He had Dog. He had Sam. Neither would trespass beyond the wall that was standing firmly between Gabriel and the world he wanted. Neither needed that part of him that was dead -; that made him no one -; nobody.... especially not some young kid looking at him as if he was a chunk of chocolate candy. It was a big campus. He'd lose himself on it and just take what was offered after dark. Suddenly, he remembered where he'd seen those bright shiny eyes before; the kid crossing the street the day he got here; the kid with everything ahead of him, no worries, no fears. He wished the kid well. In another lifetime, that might have been him. In another lifetime, they might have had a chance.

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