Trevor watched Dan pace the short section of pavement between the parking lot and the corner of Germantown Avenue. He had, in no way, imagined that a proposal of marriage would change him. That it might magically calm Dan, turn him into a man who did not need to turn short circles.
Was he talking to himself?
Trevor peered at Dan’s lips. Yep, they were moving.
Though tempted to lean in and listen, Trevor let him go. He liked watching him pace. Loved Dan’s energy. Had asked this man to spend the rest of his life with him because where Trevor sometimes did suffer from inertia, Dan only ever thought he did.
A scuff on the pavement behind him pulled Trevor’s attention away from Dan and back toward the parking lot. Two men approached, one tall with warm brown skin and a killer smile, the other pale, bespeckled, and anxious. Batman and Robin. Or Sean and Robin.
Should he let Dan know he could stop spinning now? Nah. Where was the fun in that?
Putting on a smile, Trevor extended a hand.
Sean offered a firm shake. “You must be Trevor.”
“And you would be Sean.”
“Could be, would be, probably am.”
Chuckling, Trevor released his hand and smiled at Robin. “Robin. It’s nice to finally meet you.”
Robin adjusted his glasses, wiped his palm over his thigh, and extended his hand. His shake was surprisingly firm and warm. “Hello, Trevor.”
It was weird, wasn’t it? Doubtless, they both felt it. Robin had nearly dated Dan. They’d connected on the dating app Let’s Connect and had become friends. If not for Trevor, they might have become more.
Trevor didn’t sense any weirdness, though. Not right then. Only Robin’s slight unease at being in an unfamiliar location with strangers. Unease that seemed to dissipate as Robin sighted Dan making one of his circuits of the pavement.
“That is Dan. As you can see, Dan is a little anxious about today. If we were in kindergarten, I would suggest we sit crisscross applesauce and share three facts about ourselves. But as, sadly, we’re all very adult, we’ll have to pursue Dan’s rather interesting plan for the day.”
“We’re not all going to spin in circles on the pavement, are we?” Sean asked. “Coz, I’m all for weird, but that’s bat shit right there.” He gave Robin a look that clearly said, ‘Where did you meet this guy?’
Trevor laughed. Then he took mercy on his lover and reached out to snag his arm. Dan stopped muttering and pacing and looked up. Surprise washed across his face like a sunrise. “Oh, God. You let me keep spinning, didn’t you?”
Dan smacked him on the forearm. “I hate you.”
“I happen to have it on good authority you do not.”
Gritting his teeth, Dan pushed out five short words. “We’ll talk about this later.” Then, he bounded forward to greet his pen pal. Or online friend. The man he’d nearly dated.
Trevor drew in a slow, cleansing breath.
Dan pumped Robin’s hand and turned to Sean. “So great to meet you! Wow. This is great.”
“Same here, man.” Sean had the easy manner of the not easily phased. “So, Trevor tells us we’re having interesting coffee?” Sean looked up and down the street as though expecting to see a café called Interesting Coffee. When his search failed, he glanced at the store on the corner and frowned. Then he looked at Robin. His full lips compressed a little, his dark brows twitched together.
Inwardly, Trevor sighed.
Meanwhile, Dan was tossing questions at Robin like raisins to squirrels. Most of them were about the book they’d decided to buddy read. Trevor had been invited. Sean too. Both had decided now (or never) wasn’t a good time to try literary science fiction. Not that Trevor didn’t appreciate the art. He liked sci-fi. He liked literature. He could see how they could work together. But when he read to relax, it was with a history book. Maybe some poetry. Perhaps a little Stephen King.
Sean leaned around Robin, who, thankfully, appeared to be relaxing more every minute, and spoke quietly enough that only Trevor would hear him. “Please tell me we’re not planning to do an escape room.”
“I wish I could.”
An old pickup rattled along the avenue, its exhaust swallowing all sound for a few seconds. After it had passed, Sean spoke again. “I’m not sure if—”
“An escape room?” Robin squawked.
“If you’re up for it,” Dan said.
Robin shook his head, his glasses catching the sunlight, and Trevor mentally prepared to soothe Dan’s ego. But Robin was grinning. “That’s so cool. Weird, but, yeah, sure. I’ve sort of always wanted to try one.”
Well. How about that?
Since when had Robin wanted to try an escape room? As if failing to escape from his house for three years wasn’t challenge enough. Sean filled his lungs in preparation for a sigh, then stopped.
No, you know what? This is good. Robin being excited about this is good.
It was also time enough for Sean to stop worrying about shit he couldn’t control. Robin was a grown-ass man. If he didn’t want to escape from some locked box of clues, he’d say so. Maybe escaping things was a new hobby.
Sean felt one of his eyebrows twitch upward. Would Robin maybe like to play games like that in bed? They hadn’t talked kinks. Things were still new; sex still a discovery. Sean liked what they were doing. Didn’t feel the need to—
Robin was standing in front of him moving his lips. Probably talking. And Sean hadn’t heard a word.
Tilting his head, Robin touched Sean’s arm. “Everything okay?”
Sean let a slow, easy smile claim his lips. The sort of smile Robin would feel all the way down. The kind of smile that made promises for later. “Yep.”
Robin’s cheeks pinked. Just slightly. Enough for Sean to see. A flash of color he’d never get tired of appreciating.
“So, an escape room,” Robin said.
“Didn’t think it would be your thing.”
“Because I couldn’t find my way out of my own house?” Robin smiled. “It’s all right. I was thinking it too.” He glanced over at Trevor, who’d very obviously been thinking it, but only now, and then at Dan who was standing in the middle of the pavement, both hands flattened across his mouth.
“Oh, my God. I didn’t think!” Dan moved his palms to his cheeks where he looked very much like a middle-aged version of the kid from those Home Alone movies. “I mean, I did? But I thought coffee might be awkward. As in, we’d all sit around a table and look at each other and have to think of things to say, which obviously wouldn’t have been a problem, I mean, it’s us. We, ah, oh, fuck.”
Robin was laughing. “We could at least have talked about monks.”
Monks? Sean arched an eyebrow in Trevor’s direction. Trevor shrugged.
Dan had managed to remove his hands from his face. “Should I cancel? There’s a coffee shop next door. I had planned to suggest we stop in there afterward.”
Sean recognized the gentle emphasis Robin put on the ‘fine.’ He absolutely would be fine if the conversation ended now, or shifted to another subject.
Dan seemed to get it as well. He nodded and then grinned over at Trevor. “Well, I’m nothing if not consistent.”
“Mm-hmm.” Trevor slung an arm around Dan’s shoulders and they shared the sort of smile Sean and Robin had started to develop for themselves. Not quite intimate but more than companionable. The ‘couple smile.’
Sean very much liked the ‘couple smile.’ Liked being a part of something with Robin. Knew Robin liked it too. Both had been living alone for way too long.
Gesturing toward the glass front door of the very last place he thought he’d be visiting today, Sean asked, “Should we head inside?”
Dan nodded. “Okay, so I’ve booked us into the time travel room, but if you like the idea of the zombie attack scenario better, we can change. They still have an opening for that.”
“Time travel sounds good to me.” Robin shrugged and looked up at Sean. “How about you?”
“I’ve never escaped anything before, so I’m easy.”
“Time travel,” Trevor voted.
Dan grinned and clasped his hands together. “Time travel it is!”
The inside of the store resembled the waiting area for a doctor’s office with a windowed reception desk and two rows of lightly upholstered chairs along the windows. While Dan chatted with the young man behind the reception desk, Sean wandered over to the framed pictures of what he assumed were the escape rooms.
Robin appeared beside him and squinted at the first picture. “Is that supposed to be a mummy?”
“Maybe one of the zombies?” Half the bandages were missing.
“I didn’t think they had actual people in escape rooms. Except for the people escaping, that is.”
“I didn’t think so either.”
Robin moved on to the next picture, which showed a rather unremarkable home office with a late 70s personal computer on the desk and posters from arcade games along the walls. “Okay, this is more my speed,” he said.
“Unless we have to use that computer to get out. I mean, would it still work?”
Robin laughed. “You’d be surprised. I have an old IBM ThinkPad with a Pentium processor stuffed away in a closet. It still boots. Every time.”
“I have no idea what you just said.”
Robin elbowed his side. “Yes, you do.”
Chuckling, Sean moved on to the next picture. “Huh.”
“Disco?” Robin asked. “Maybe that’s our room. Time travel.”
Robin’s hand touched his and Sean looked down for long enough to slide his fingers around Robin’s palm.
“I know you don’t like to make a big deal out of anything, except when you do,” Sean began.
“What’s that mean?” Robin bobbed his eyebrows up and down. His glasses flashed.
“You don’t mind a little drama. Not like Dan, though.”
“Not like Dan. No.”
“You sure you’re okay with this? Trevor and Dan seem cool. They’d be up for something else.”
Robin squeezed his hand. “I’m good with it. Honestly. I think it will be fun. Dan’s right about that. Coffee could have been awkward. I’d already started spiraling about what we might talk about. Other than monks.”
“You’re going to need to tell me about this monk thing.”
“One day.” Robin tugged him toward the next framed picture and they both tilted their head at the laboratory setup. “Okay, that one could be the zombies.”
“I don’t know if the zombies are real. I think we’d be escaping the threat of them.”
“You’re probably right. Using actual zombies could pose a public health hazard. What if one got loose?”
Sean tossed his head back and laughed. Robin grinned.
Trevor had wandered over and was looking quizzical.
“We’re wondering where they keep the zombies.”
“Hopefully in a deep, dark hole.” Trevor shuddered. “Though, if there were enough of them, I suppose they could pile up and over.”
Robin winced. “Nope. No. Did you see that movie? World War Z? When they piled up over that wall, I threw up my hands and surrendered. Not that I was there, but you know what I mean.”
Dan had rejoined the group. “I know exactly what you mean. That many zombies, I think I’d just lie down and let them take me.”
“I don’t think they’d take you in quite the way you’re implying,” Trevor quipped.
Dan smacked his shoulder. “Ugh! Why? Oh my God.”
The receptionist poked his head through the window. “Time Trap, party of four?”
Sean glanced around the waiting room. They were the only customers there. Dan had just picked up the tickets.
Regardless, Dan held them up as though he’d won the lottery. “That’s us!”
Okay, play it cool, Dan.
He’d just booked an agoraphobic into an escape room experience. What the ever-loving…?
He could do that.
Trevor put a hand on his shoulder, and Dan smiled at his lover. His husband-to-be. Wow. Life was so weird. Good. But… He looked down at the tickets clasped in his hand. Really weird.
And he only had himself to blame.
Best foot forward.
The attendant led them into a short hall populated by three doors. Each was a different color and had a sign overhead. The Time Trap door was blue. The attendant rested his fingers on the door handle. “Okay, you’ve built a time machine and turned it on. The world blurs around you. When it settles, you find yourself in this room. The time machine is on the desk, but all the lights are dead. It’s broken, and the only way you’ll get back to your own time is to fix it. Good so far?”
Four heads nodded.
“Once I close this door behind you, it’s going to lock, and it won’t open again until you solve the puzzle. If, for any reason, you need to leave before then, hit the emergency exit button inside. It’s red and says exit. If you don’t solve the puzzle in ninety minutes, the door will unlock on its own.”
Dan stiffened his neck against the urge to look at Robin.
Trevor’s fingers tightened over his shoulder.
“Inside the rooms, anything that’s supposed to move will move. If it doesn’t, don’t force it. That’s about it! Any questions?”
Dan allowed himself to look around, checking over his shoulder for Trevor first. Then Sean, then Robin. Everyone shook their heads.
The attendant grinned. “Have fun!” He opened the door, and they filed inside. The door closed and locked behind them.
Dan looked around. They were in a small home office that might have belonged to Indiana Jones if he was a time traveler and lived in the eighties. The walls were covered in maps, movie posters, and odd Escher-like prints featuring keys. There was a window, but the curtains were drawn. Dan suspected pulling them back would break the illusion.
Bookshelves lined one wall. An angled fireplace filled one corner, an easy chair and a small round table occupied another. An oak pedestal desk took up the middle of the room, and in the center sat what Dan assumed was their time machine.
Chuckling at the collection of clock dials and gears, Dan wandered toward it. “If only.”
Robin appeared at his side. “Right? Where would you go first?”
“Not to this stuffy little room,” Trevor said.
From his place by the wall where he’d been studying the posters and prints, Sean added a grunt.
“Has anyone done an escape room before?” Dan asked, looking around. They all shook their heads. “Aw, we’re virgins.”
“Uh-huh.” Trever touched the back of his shoulder before going to stand by Sean.
Dan looked at Robin and did not ask: How are you doing?
“I’d go back and visit the dinosaurs,” Robin said. “Not very original, but if you have a time machine, why not start at the beginning of what we know?”
“What if we went back further and found another civilization? A precursor race that left Earth before the dinosaurs.”
Robin grinned. “What if we didn’t? Also, you should play Assassin’s Creed. I think you’d like it.”
Random, but okay.
“You know, you look exactly like your picture,” Dan said. Seeing as they were being odd. They were, weren’t they?
Robin lifted his chin in a soft laugh. “So do you.”
“Refreshing, isn’t it? Pity we’re not actually dating. We’d probably be the only two people to have our expectations met.”
Robin had a nice smile, Dan decided. Not that he was cataloging what he liked and didn’t like. It was just good to connect in person. To inhabit the same space as someone he’d come to count as a friend, regardless of how they’d met.
Turning to the time machine, Dan flipped a few of the switches mounted to a rather sketchy-looking panel in the middle of two larger dials. As promised, nothing happened. He fiddled with one of the dials. Or tried to. “This one is stuck at twelve-oh-five,” he noted.
“Is that a calendar around the outside?” Robin asked, leaning in for a closer look.
Dan squinted at the tiny print around the outside of the right-hand clock face and nodded. “Yep. So, I guess we know when we are.” December fourth, 1981. How uninspiring.
“Oh, wow.” Trevor had pulled something off the bookshelf that looked like a flat beige box with metal handles at the top end.
“What is it?” Dan asked.
“An old Compaq PC. Check it out.” He laid it on the desk and did something to the front. A keyboard flipped down to reveal a small screen, rounded like an old TV, and slots for floppy disks.
Sean produced just such a disk, having peeled it away from a poster for the movie War Games. Robin started pulling open the drawers below the desk. All were locked but one. Thankfully, it had what they were looking for—a thick, black power cord. He held it up with a grin.
“I predict we’ll be out of here before the next millennium!” Dan declared.
None of his companions chose to remind him that in ninety minutes—or roughly eighty-five—their puzzle-solving skills wouldn’t matter.
The old computer booted up with a lot of whirring and clicking and green type marching across the screen, scrolling up and away until a simple cursor blinked at the bottom.
Before anyone could touch the keyboard, the cursor disappeared, and a program loaded.
“What?” Dan glanced around. Was something about to explode?
“What?” Shouldn’t that be door, singular? Their one and only escape.
Grinning, Trevor waved toward the screen, which did indeed say Doors.
“I’m missing something,” Sean mumbled. “Also, the tiles around this fireplace are all the same except one.
Dan hurried over to look at the tiles while Robin explained his and Trevor’s excitement. “It’s an old text-based computer game. You had to type the code in manually before you played. Inevitably, you’d get sixteen doors in and find an error.”
I. Am. So. Confused.
“It’s a logic puzzle,” Trevor clarified.
“Ah.” Dan shifted his attention to the tiles and located the one Sean had pointed out. “The pattern is reversed. I wonder if it means anything?”
Sean shrugged. “Could be. There’re a lot of visual cues in the room. Not sure all of them are a part of the game. Background noise, most like.”
Dan nodded. Made sense. Absently, he reached out to trace the pattern of the odd tile. It felt less than secure against the wall. He pushed a corner, and the floor beneath his feet lurched. Dan clutched at the mantel and noted Sean doing the same. They were moving. No, spinning. Not fast, but fast enough to feel disoriented.
Robin and Trevor glanced up from the computer, both of their mouths forming perfect O’s. And then Dan and Sean were in a new room, this one less eighties and more seventies disco.
Somehow, they’d managed to move back in time.
Dan had disappeared with his boyfriend. Robin glanced at Trevor, hoping the other man would provide a template on how he should feel about this. Trevor remained fixated on the fireplace—which was no longer a fireplace. A glass-doored cabinet had appeared, one filled with what appeared to be the components they’d need to fix the time machine: dials, diodes, LEDs, and even little hands for the clock faces.
As though they hadn’t just lost two members of their party, Trevor pulled open the cabinet doors and started sorting through the paraphernalia. “I doubt it’s going to be as easy as just slotting things in and waiting for the lights to work.”
“It might be? But we’re, um, down two people.”
Trevor grinned, and Robin noticed—not for the first time—just how attractive he was. No wonder Dan was smitten. Engaged, apparently. And Robin was super-duper happy for him. Them. Because for all Trevor’s rugged blonde boyishness, he didn’t have Sean’s smile. Or eyes. Or presence. The quiet gravitas that suggested Sean was waiting for cosmic elements to align.
Never had Robin met such a patient man.
Meanwhile, Trevor was speaking. “I mean, it’s not as though we get extra points for all making it out alive.”
“You’d seriously abandon our other halves?”
Trevor laughed. “Of course not. Just playing with you.”
“Dan strikes me as the sort to complain all the way home,” Robin pointed out.
“Are you talking about us?” came a faint voice from the other side of the wall.
Robin immediately felt guilty for not checking on their health. They could have, well, ended up in another room. This was a game, after all. Not real life. A game. Right. He liked games.
His palms itched.
“Okay, so what do we do first? Solve the Doors puzzle?”
Trevor carried a handful of components over to the desk. “Yep. You want to work on that while I sort these pieces?”
“Sure.” Robin knocked on the side of the cabinet. “How’s it going over there?”
“We’re in the seventies!” Sean called back. “There’s a mirror ball and everything.”
Robin chuckled and relaxed. This whole thing was rather silly, but he’d decided it was fun.
Pulling out the chair in front of the desk, he inspected the seat in case another clue or trick lurked there and then sat. Okay, so the point of the game was to navigate through a maze of doors. It was like Minesweeper, only text-based. With the size of the screen, he’d have to rely on his memory for moves past the five on display.
He started playing.
Beside him, Trevor was sorting components into three neat piles. “How long have you known Sean?” he asked.
“Hmm, about five years? He’s my neighbor.”
“That’s right. Dan mentioned that. I looked up his website yesterday. Guy is super talented.”
“Isn’t he? I love his new series. Post-apocalyptic deserts.”
“Reminds me a bit of one of the Resident Evil movies,” Trevor noted with a grin.
“Right?” Robin frowned at the screen, then pulled out his phone to make some notes of his moves. “I’m too old to remember more than five back.”
“Tell me about it. Okay, so we have four of these little pinwheel things. I can see where they might slot into the mechanism, but I have no idea which one goes where. Then we have seven little LEDs and two diodes.”
“Can you see where they go?”
“Sort of? I could mess around, but I think I’ll wait until you’re done with the game. How’s it going?”
“I haven’t ended up back at the beginning yet.”
Trevor peered at the screen and nodded at the next clue. “The second door.”
They deciphered the clues together, having to backtrack only once, and high-fived when they made it through the last door. A schematic flashed up on the screen, and Trevor cheered again.
“So, that’s where everything goes.” He frowned. “Except we’re missing a few parts.”
“I’ll check the cabinet.” Robin jumped up. The cabinet held more bits and pieces, but none of them matched what they were missing. “I think the rest of it’s in the seventies.”
Trevor chuckled. “Yep.”
“It’s pretty quiet over there.”
“I’d be jealous if I didn’t know how noisy Dan can get.”
Robin laughed—and was surprised to not feel a single jealous twinge at the thought of Dan and Sean getting more than comfortable next door. He couldn’t imagine it. Not that Dan wasn’t attractive or might not be susceptible to Sean’s charms.
Neither of them was the type to indulge in casual flirtation.
Sean might wish he’d been trapped with someone else for another reason, though.
“Does Dan talk in his sleep?” Robin asked.
Trevor grinned. “You mean, even in his sleep. Yes. Yes, he does. He can do thoughtful silences. But not often. He had a hard time after his divorce. I was worried for a while. Dan can do quiet, but not absolute stillness. I thought he was going to fuse with that couch of his.”
“Why didn’t you chivvy him up and out?”
“Ever tried rolling a rock with no round edges?”
“I see what you mean.”
Trevor shrugged. “It’s not a completely apt analogy. For as much as I hated seeing him in pain, I knew he needed time to get over Chris. I’d waited for six years. I could wait a little longer.”
“I hope he doesn’t regret making you wait so long.”
“What do you mean?”
“He met you first, right?”
“He did.” Trevor leaned a hip against the desk and folded his arms. “Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes we have to be patient.”
“I’m glad it worked out for you two.” Robin was. Genuinely. As much as he liked Dan and had felt a genuine connection with him, Trevor was his perfect match. He could zig where Dan zagged. And he loved him through and through. Robin had gathered that much from long conversations with Dan, but seeing it first hand? Trevor and Dan fit.
Just like him and Sean. Different shapes, but just as solid.
Sean didn’t see it. Not that he was predisposed to like Dan a whole lot. The guy had led Robin pretty far down the garden path before dumping him in the weeds.
Trevor was hot. For a white guy. A tall, well-built, obviously fit, and seemingly intelligent white guy. In another universe…
Sean glanced around their disco inferno—minus the inferno part—and acknowledged that at another time, or another place, he’d have been tempted by a guy like Trevor. But Dan? Not so much. Way too much energy. And the dude never stopped talking.
“I’m sure these are clues,” Dan was saying as he caressed the buttons on the jukebox set under a giant mirror.
Like in the other room, posters lined the walls. Cheap ambiance, Sean figured, but he supposed the revolving fireplace must have taken a bite out of the budget. It looked out of place in here against the linoleum floor and dark purple walls, but lower the lights, find a way to illuminate the mirror ball over their head, flip on the smoke machine, and who would care?
“I don’t suppose you like to dance?” Dan was still talking.
“I do.” Not that he was inclined to do it here, in this box of a room that smelled disturbingly like fried chicken. Sean’s gut gurgled.
“Someone’s hungry!” Dan smiled. “The café I thought we could visit next has these amazing doughnuts. Bomboloni, I think they’re called.”
“Yep. Italian doughnuts.” Kaleb loved those things.
“You’ve had them before? Aren’t they delicious? So much lighter than a Dunkin’ and the filling is worth the workout.”
Dan’s smile narrowed and then disappeared. He made a small flailing motion with his hands and began circling the room. He wasn’t going to start spinning again, was he? “I suppose we should be looking for a way out of this room.”
Sean tipped his head toward the fireplace. “Same way we came in unless we find a hidden door. We just need to figure out how to unlock the mechanism or whatever.”
“Right. I’d suggest random songs on the jukebox, but I imagine there are clues to the one we need, which would save us from trying out all seventy of these records. With the B-sides, that’s 140 attempts to unlock the door.”
Yikes. “Okay, do any of these posters mean anything to you?”
Dan studied the movie posters on the wall, his head moving incrementally as he took in each one. “I’ve seen most of these. What about you?”
“A couple of them. Westworld was crazy.”
“I know! What about Logan’s Run?”
Sean’s lips twitched. “No, but I’m sure Robin has. If it’s anything science fiction or fantasy, he’s probably seen it.”
Dan smiled. “I wonder if we’re supposed to connect music from these movies to the songs in the jukebox?”
“Would make sense.” Sean approached a poster featuring a large rat. “Didn’t Michael Jackson do a song for this one? Same as the movie title. Ben.”
Dan gave a mock shudder, and whether it was for rats or all things Michael Jackson, Sean felt it.
“If this works, we may have to talk with the owner about their choice of clues,” he said.
“Seriously,” Sean agreed.
Dan crossed to the jukebox. “Okay, I’m seeing a lot of Jackson Five, but no Michael.”
Sean moved on to the next poster. “Know any of the music from A Clockwork Orange?”
Brow scrunching, Dan thought for a while before shaking his head. Then his face brightened. “Oh, wait. “Singing in the Rain.” Not very seventies disco.”
“Check the jukebox.”
Dan did and shook his head again. “Nope.”
The next poster sent a shiver down Sean’s spine. Apocalypse Now. “The Doors. Look for The Doors. Um…” He tapped his thigh. “The End.”
“Yes!” Dan punched a button, and they both watched as the small vinyl disc was loaded.
The sound system was surprisingly good, the haunting sound of a synthesized helicopter moving left and right before the guitar floated in. Then Jim Morrison’s voice. Oh, man, that voice. Sean closed his eyes a moment, letting the music move into and through him. Why wasn’t Kaleb’s band playing The Doors?
When he opened his eyes, Dan was watching him. “I can see why Robin likes you.”
Loves. The word you should be using is love. “What do you mean?”
“You’re both thoughtful people. And you feel things as deeply as he does.”
“Well, I don’t know about that.”
A banging sounded on the wall beside the fireplace. “What did you guys do? Whatever it is, do it again. A picture frame flipped open here and gave us a key for the desk drawers.”
“Awesome!” Dan yelled back. He clapped his hands. “Okay, next poster?”
“Saturday Night Fever” opened another picture clue in the other room. Dan boogied down, and Sean couldn’t help laughing at his moves.
“Xanadu” did nothing, but Dan insisted on singing anyway.
“You two sound like you’re having way too much fun in there,” Trevor called through the wall.
“You have no idea,” Dan called back before sashaying over to wait for the next song cue.
Sean grinned at the next poster. “Car Wash?”
Nodding, Dan punched another button.
Sean tried hard not to dance, but his hips betrayed him. Soon enough, he and Dan were circling each other on the stupid linoleum floor, clapping, stamping, and swaying. And singing, God help him.
Next up was— “Oh, my God!” Dan yelled before jumping up and down. Without even consulting with Sean, he twirled back to the jukebox and punched another button.
Sean resisted for as long as he could. He lasted until the third repetition of “young man.” By the time the Village People reached the chorus, his arms were ready. Together, with Dan, he belted out the words: “Y, M, C, A.” Yeah, he was doin’ the moves. He was in the all the way.
At the second chorus, the lights switched from shady club in the daytime to nighttime ambiance with a spot on the now spinning mirror ball. Smoke poured out of somewhere, and they were there. In the seventies.
Sean wasn’t old enough to have lived the life, but he loved the music. Who didn’t?
They were still dancing when the fireplace swung around again, and Robin and Trevor jumped into view, arms waving in the air, both of them singing.
Dan played In the Navy next. Whooping, Sean caught Robin’s arm and spun him into position. “We march!” he said over the music.
Robin laughed and fell into line with him, knees jerking up as he marched and clapped.
Sean would admit he’d had his doubts about this plan. But seeing his man smile and move to the music erased every single one of them.
Over Robin’s head, he caught Dan’s eye and nodded. Grinning, Dan nodded back.
Trevor hated to be the one to ruin the party, but they had the last piece of the puzzle, and time was traveling by without them. “We’ve only got about half an hour left and a desk full of time machine parts to sort.”
Dan, bless him, pouted. Trevor bent to kiss his pushed-out lips and felt them curve into a smile.
“We’ll dance again, just not in this century,” Trevor said.
Sean laughed, the sound deep and surprising. “Maybe next time we get together? My son’s band plays the old stuff. Mostly Hendrix and friends, but I’m pretty sure I could convince him to try some disco.”
Robin perked up like the small bird he was named for. “Oh, that’d be so cool! You think he’d go for it?”
“I’ll ask him next time he calls for a handout.” Sean winked good-naturedly.
Trevor decided he really liked the man.
Having begun the push to return next door, Trevor made shooing motions with his hands. “C’mon, let’s go before the fireplace locks again.”
Dan inspected the now side-turned wall, both the fireplace and bookcase leaving very little room for passage. “I think we’re going to have to ride it back around.” He patted his midsection. “I’ve been eating too much cake.”
“You are not fat.” Trevor marked the weekly reminder in the appropriate corner of his head. “Stand there.” He nudged Dan toward the fireplace half of the wall and then leaned against the exposed edge to turn it. Sean helped.
Robin hopped onto the floor in front of the bookcase and grinned. “Seeing as you’re pushing.”
Shaking his head, Trevor continued pushing until the wall had done a full revolution, dropping off Dan and Robin. He looked at Sean. “Want a ride?”
“Nah, we’ll go together.”
They each put one foot onto the floor in front of the bookcase and pushed off with the other. The wall didn’t budge.
“Oh, come on.” Trevor put his shoulder into it again.
“Robin!” Sean called. “Try pushing that tile again. On the front of the fireplace.”
From next door, indistinct conversation preceded a very audible click. The wall started to move. Trevor and Sean tucked themselves close to the bookshelf for the ride and jumped off as soon as they could.
Sean caught his eye. “I don’t trust the thing not to keep spinning and trap us again.”
The wall did just that. Spinning until the fireplace was restored, then locking. Pushing on the tile had no effect.
Despite the fact this was all very much make-believe, Trevor winced. He wouldn’t have minded another dance party, but what he really wanted was to solve the puzzle and leave a room that felt smaller with four people inside it. And a little airless.
He glanced at Robin. How had he ever managed to stay inside for three years?
Robin was plugging parts into the time machine. Sean picked up an old-fashioned key on the side of the desk. “What’s this for?”
Robin looked up. “From one of the picture frames.” He indicated the row of frames that had opened out from the wall to reveal the keys they’d needed for the desk drawers, each of which had contained another missing part.
They’d never actually used that one, though.
Once the time machine was assembled, Trevor figured out why. They were missing a part. They must be. Because the damn thing wouldn’t turn on.
“Okay, one more search of the room.”
With nods and grunts, everyone took a corner and started looking. Trevor approached the window and lifted the curtain aside. No clues and the window had been bricked over. He turned to the bookcase.
“How about this?” Robin held out a book opened to reveal a cutout in the shape of a key.
Sean fit the key over it, but they could all see the big iron tooth at the bottom was too high.
“Try other books,” Dan suggested.
They tried seven and didn’t find a good fit. One almost worked, but after forcing the key in there, nothing happened. Not that Trevor could imagine anything happening. Unless the book was somehow wired? He took it out of Dan’s hands and peered at the pages. Didn’t seem to be.
“Well, shit.” Sean was standing beside the time machine, a smile brightening his already attractive features. He pointed to the side, then held out his palm.
Robin dropped the key there, and Sean poked it toward a small, dark slit on the side of the right-hand dial.
“Wait!” Dan held up his hands.
“We should set the time. Before we try the key. Just in case.”
One side of Robin’s mouth curved into a wry grin. “What, you think if we don’t set it to the right time, we’ll be transported somewhere else?”
Dan laughed at himself and lowered his hands. “Well, no. But it might reset everything, and as Trevor pointed out, we don’t have time for another dance party.” He managed a mournful look.
Trevor patted his shoulder.
Robin pulled out his phone and checked the time. “Okay, let’s set the dial for two-seventeen on Sunday, October fourth. That’s two minutes away.”
Dan set the dial, Sean hovered with the key. Robin monitored the time. Trevor folded his arms and watched.
Robin started counting and gestured toward Sean. “Ten, nine, eight.”
Sean put the key to the lock.
“Seven, six, five.”
He slid the key inside.
“Four, three, two, one.”
Sean turned the key.
If asked how their escape from the time trap would proceed, Dan might have guessed the lights on their odd little time machine would do a sort of dance—bringing the disco theme forward to the eighties—and the door to the real world would click open.
Absolutely nothing to scream about. Or yell. And yet, there he was, hot-cheeked and embarrassed as he fumbled around the dark room, bouncing off elbows and bookshelves, and was that a chair?
“Dan?” A hand closed about his elbow.
Dan didn’t care who it was. He found the hand, worked his way up the arm to the shoulder, and clung. By height, he judged it to be Robin.
“What happened?” Dan asked.
“The lights went out,” Trevor said out of the darkness.
“Is anyone near the door?” Sean asked.
“I have no idea where I am.” With his other hand, Dan checked his side as though looking for a wound he did not have. Why on Earth had he screamed? Yelled. He’d yelled in an entirely masculine manner. He cleared his throat. “Did we kill the machine too?”
Judging by the lack of light anywhere in the room, the time machine had ceased operations.
A beam of light poked across the desk. Recognizing Trevor’s jeans and sweater to one side, Dan determined Sean was the one who’d found the flashlight app on his phone. I should have thought of that. Then again, he hated using his phone for much more than calls and the occasional text. The keyboard was much too small.
Dan let go of Robin’s shoulder and patted pockets for his phone. He’d just wrapped his hand around the case when the door to reality opened wide. Dan swallowed another yelp as the shadowy figure in the entryway spoke.
“Is everyone okay?”
“We’re fine.” In the low light spilling into the room, Dan checked in with everyone to see that they were upright and standing. “What happened? Did our time machine short the whole building?”
“Ah… Yeah. Um, sorry about that. We’d been told it was fixed. Tested it even. So, ah, the good news is, you solved the puzzle!”
“Is there any bad news?” Trevor asked.
They followed the young man back out to the lobby, where afternoon light flooded the windows. The posters and chairs and absolute lack of ambiance hadn’t changed, but the room seemed different somehow, as though they really had returned from another dimension. Or time. Or, whatever.
The idea for a story tickled the back of Dan’s brain, but he nudged it away. Bookstore owner, he reminded himself. And quite content to read the stories of others.
“So, again, I’m super sorry about the blackout. Um, in more good news, I’d like to offer you tickets to another experience. We have two other escape rooms.” The kid beamed as though the four men he’d rescued from the pit of darkness should be falling over themselves at the opportunity to be locked into another room.
Having failed to elicit a positive reaction, the young man wilted a little. “You could give the tickets to friends.”
Sean was the one who finally responded. “Yeah, sure. That’d be great.” He turned to Robin. “We can bribe Kaleb with them.”
“He’ll probably insist on bringing us along.”
Sean’s smile widened. “The family that gets locked in—” His eyebrows twitched together. “Yeah, I don’t know where I was going with that.”
Robin laughed anyway.
Dan glanced at Trevor, who was watching all of it with a smile.
The receptionist returned with a printout and handed it over. “So,” he said once more. He chanced a smile. “We’re all good?”
Oh. Dan got it. The kid thought they might be upset enough to sue him for the pain and suffering of being surprised by and then trapped in darkness for all of ninety seconds. “We’re all good,” he said in his most reassuring voice. He turned to the rest of his group. “How about some coffee?”
Robin had been cleaning his glasses using a small cloth plucked from a pocket. He slid them back on and smiled almost shyly. “I’d like that. A chance to sit and talk for a while.”
Which was what Dan had assumed would be boring and not thrilling enough for the first time they all got together. But after the escape room, dramatic ending notwithstanding, he could only agree.
“Maybe next time we get together, we could skip the excitement and get right to the caffeine and cakes,” he said.
“Don’t forget the monks,” Robin reminded.
Trevor and Sean were exchanging puzzled frowns and shrugs.
Dan looped his arm through Robin’s. “They don’t get it, but they will.”
With a soft laugh, Robin followed him out onto the street.
In person, Dan wasn’t quite what Robin had expected—not that he’d spent an inordinate amount of time imagining how he’d be. Who he’d be. Mostly, Robin had flailed about what to wear. He had tried on and rejected three outfits that morning before settling on a fourth.
He’d thought he looked good. Dark brown trousers, a light blue button-down, and a bone-colored sweater he’d found at the bottom of the pile. He had no idea when he’d bought it, but there it was, waiting to be worn. According to Sean, he looked like he’d dressed for a job interview.
Robin was now dressed in outfit number three, which was scarily like Dan’s choice in clothing: dark denim, the same button-down, a more casual sweater. Had Sean known?
Robin glanced over his shoulder at his lover and caught the smile curving Sean’s full lips.
Dan let Robin’s arm go to pull open the door to the coffee shop, and Robin stepped inside. The aroma of roasting beans and freshly iced scones and buns nearly weakened his knees. Damn, he’d missed coffee shops.
Spying a table that would easily accommodate the four of them, he made his way toward it, then sat, grateful to be off his feet. He and Sean had been skipping their evening walks. They should pick them up again. A secret smile edged across Robin’s lips. What they’d been doing instead should count as exercise, though.
Sean sat beside him and nudged his elbow. “Thinking about me, I hope.”
A not-so-secret smile, then. Robin nudged his nose against Sean’s ear. “You know it.”
Trevor was still standing. “I’ll organize the coffee. What does everyone want?”
Sean leaped up. “I know what Robin wants. C’mon, I’ll give you a hand.”
And that left Robin and Dan at the table. Robin and the man he’d sort of come to know but perhaps didn’t really.
Dan was watching Trevor and Sean walk away. He turned back to Robin and grinned. “This is weird, isn’t it?”
Robin coughed out a soft laugh. “Little bit, yeah.”
“I’m glad we finally got together, though. You’re exactly like I thought you’d be, by the way.”
Dan’s eyebrows rose. “Yeah?”
“I thought you’d be quieter.” Well, that was tactful. “I mean, I always imagined you in your bookstore talking under your breath or telling people to be quiet.”
“Yeah. Also, you’re very chatty online, so I should have been prepared.”
Dan smiled at that. “Again, if the escape room was a stupid idea, I’m sorry.”
“No! It wasn’t. I enjoyed it. Even the dramatic conclusion.”
“I’m glad.” Dan tilted his head. “If we get together again, what would you like to do?”
“Do we have to do anything?”
Breath rushing out, Dan flopped back into his chair. “No, we don’t. Sorry. We could get together and talk. Like we are now. I guess I just thought that might be too much pressure. I had this idea—provided by you, I might add—that you weren’t great around strangers. So…” He shook his head. “I figured getting us all locked in a room might be better.”
Robin laughed. Then reached across the table to squeeze Dan’s hand. “It’s fine. Really. I had a good time. And now that we’ve broken the ice, we can get together and eat or talk. Go dancing if Sean can convince his son to play our music. Or go to see him anyway. His band is quite good.” And watching Sean watch his son always filled Robin with a sense of completeness. Or perhaps contentment was a better word.
“He’s a great guy. I know I’ve only just met him, but I already think he’s great,” Dan said.
Robin’s chest grew warm. “He is. I like Trevor, too. He’s funnier than I thought he would be. Drier. More…”
More laughter. “Yes, that. I think that’s what surprised me about today. I didn’t have a clear idea of who Trevor was or who you would be with him. But you were just you, and he seems like a good guy.”
It was Dan’s turn to gaze back toward the counter and smile softly. “He really is.” He turned back. “I’m lucky. We both are.”
“And through all of it, we got to be friends.”
Robin considered Dan for the barest second before agreeing with a nod. “Friends,” he repeated.
“I wonder if we’re the only two people on the whole app who met their love offline while trying to connect online.”
“I doubt it. I think it’s probably pretty common. When I think about how I’ve met the men I’ve been with, they’ve always been right there. Almost too close for me to see them. It’s only when I look away that they become obvious.”
Dan was nodding. “You’re so right. Damn.”
“But maybe that’s just us. I’m sure plenty of folks are matching up and having a great time.”
“Talking about monks.”
Robin laughed again. “Let’s agree never to explain the monks to Trevor and Sean. Their look of puzzlement is just too much fun to leave behind.”
Dan slid his hand back across the table. “Agreed.”
They shook on it, and when Trevor and Sean returned, they were still sitting there, hands separated, but smiling at each other. And Robin felt good. Happy. Not in the same way that he was with Sean. The man sliding an orange glazed scone in front of him was the most beautiful person he’d ever known. Robin thanked his lucky stars every day he’d finally made it outside, across those few feet of lawn, and into the house next door.
But he was equally glad to have met Dan. Because without Dan, he might have stayed locked inside his house forever.
Robin picked up his mug in a toast. “To new friends.”
Four mugs clinked together as Trevor, Sean, and Dan, repeated their versions of the words. “Friends. New friends. Can always use good friends.”
Robin sipped his hot coffee, and the warmth of the beverage and company moved down to spread across his chest. He reached for Sean’s hand and threaded their fingers together.
Good friends and the perfect lover. This was worth every escape.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this extra time with Dan, Trevor, Robin, and Sean.