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Carefree and refreshingly confident, Eric guides Michael to places he's forgotten, reminding him that it may not be too late to follow his dreams for something more in life. But the truth is, Eric knows exactly how it feels to be stuck in a bad situation. A failed relationship has left him with personal demons that may hurt his connection with Michael.
To give their future a chance, they both must fight being trapped in the past.
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Michael killed the truck's engine just as the train rumbled past, its piercing wail stinging his ears, even in the closed cab of his pickup. A few seconds later the trembling began, rocking the asphalt, vibrating up through the ravine and into his seat. Sighing, he glanced at his watch. The Alle-Kiski four o'clock, right on time. From the street in front of the bar, he had a decent view of the tracks, and he tipped his head back against the seat and counted the cars as they rocketed by. It had been his habit since childhoodrailroad car counting. Funny how some routines never left a person.
Like the routine he'd been following every evening for the past three years: bouncing down potholed back roads from their farmhouse to the Hickory Hotel to fetch his grandfather, Pete, from the bar.
Michael had no idea if the Hickory had ever been a proper hotel. That bit of knowledge escaped most people in town, even the ones who worked there. He imagined the three floors above the dingy bar might have been rented rooms at one point in history, at the height of the steel boom, but those days were long gone. The only thing booming in Hickory these days were the hunting rifles.
Michael watched the caboose speed past and realized he'd lost count at some point during his daydream. He climbed out of the truck, grumbling under his breath about stupid habits, drunken grandfathers, and dead towns that didn't know they were dead, and splashed through a series of rain puddles to make his way to the door. Brushing the muck from his jeans accomplished little. The dirt just stuck to his hand and rubbed off in his dark hair when he combed it back.
"Hey, Rob," he said as he passed out of the cool September air and into the smoke-filled room of the Hickorywhere four in the afternoon looked exactly like four in the morning. Smelled the same too, like fried food and stale cigarettes. "How's it going? Looks like a slow day." Michael counted three older men in the place, seated as far away from each other as possible. The afternoon crowd came to drink, not socialize.
Rob nodded at him from behind the long scarred piece of mahogany that served as the Hickory's bar. He was polishing the wood, something he did nonstop, but it deserved the attention. That slab of mahogany might be the most valuable thing in the whole building. "Yo, Mike," Rob called, drawing out his name. "IC Light?"
"No," Michael scoffed. "You know I'm working night turn this month. All I need is my boss to smell alcohol on my breath. The bastard's looking for any excuse to give the foreman job to that Delaney kid. Christ, I don't think Delaney's even old enough to buy a beer."
"Yep." Rob nodded. "Them uppity kids do a year or two at the community college and think they're some high and mighty shit, that's for sure."
They did. Which didn't stop Michael from being so jealous he could barely breathe when Delaney started talking about the courses he'd taken, and how he was going backto a four-year, next timeand finish that degree. He had a plan.
Didn't they all? Michael kept his own plans to himself. For what they'd ever amount to, he'd save himself the ridicule. He waved Rob off when the older man pushed a frosty mug in his face. "Nah, I told you, I'm just here to get Grandpap. Speaking of the old man..." Michael turned in a circle, squinting at the pool table in the corner. A half-empty mug of beer sat in the center of the green felt, and a cigarette was smoldering in a glass ashtray nearby. "Where is he?"