By Lugnutz

"DAMMIT, can this thing go any slower?" Jake muttered to himself as he picked up his time slip and returned to the pits. Once at his pit space with his truck and trailer, he began to tear into the engine looking for clues as to why the car was running slower than usual. The car in question was an almost perfect 1969 Camaro that ran in the Super Pro class in the mid nine-second range and around 150 mph in the quarter mile.

‘If I were a gremlin, where would I hide?’ Jake asked himself. He quickly removed the hood along with the spark plugs and valve covers so he could check spring tension and the color of the plugs for any sign of problems. Seeing none, he sighed and buttoned the engine back up and readied the car for his next pass.

Once in the staging lanes, he talked about the car's problem with some of the other racers, mostly getting shrugs in response, but did hear a couple of ideas that he thought he might look into.

Finally the time for his run arrived and he pulled onto the track, being guided to the burnout box where he heated his tires prior to making his next pass. He heard something odd during the burnout but shrugged it off, unable to do anything about it at that point. Jake staged the car at the line. When the lights finally come down, the car did its normal wheels-up launch and flew down the track. About three quarters of the way down, Jake heard a sudden 'tink-tink', immediately followed by a huge BANG. The engine had exploded with Jake running at over 135 mph. Jake fought to control the car as it began running over parts of the engine and at least eight quarts of oil. He did an incredible job of keeping it on the track as the car swung from side to side riding the oil slick.

When the car finally stopped, Jake climbed out and paced the edge of track until the safety crew could haul his broken car to his pit stall.

Finally in his pit, he removed the hood to survey the damage before loading it onto his trailer. A quick look showed a giant hole in the side of the block and most of the oil pan missing.

"Wonderful, great, marvelous!” he said out loud, but mainly to himself. “The season just starts, and I'm out a ten-grand engine. If nothing falls out of the sky to help me, I'm sitting the season out." The last words were spoken to himself.

When he was finally on the road home, Jake pondered his options, and seeing none, he decided he’d go to the track the next weekend. Hopefully, something would present itself.

Watching the races from the stands, Jeremy sat in a deep depression. A couple of weeks earlier he’d wrecked his 1982 Malibu. Part of the rear suspension had broken, turning him into the wall at over 100 mph, basically destroying his car. Remarkably, he himself and the engine had survived virtually unhurt. But he was now a driver without a ride. Watching a very familiar '69 Camaro make its pass, his mood lifted just a little as his thoughts turned to Jake.

Jake was a fellow competitor in the same class, but it had always seemed to Jeremy that there was something other than competition between them that Jeremy had never quite been able to put his finger on. He wasn’t even sure his impression was correct.

Jeremy walked the pits, talking with friends as he came upon them. When he walked up to Jake's pit, he sensed the usual ambiguity he felt around the man and kept moving. He went back to the stands to watch the second round of eliminations. He didn’t watch any car in particular until Jake pulled his Camaro to the burn box. With a stellar burnout complete, he watched Jake roll to stage, and as usual, when the lights reached ‘go’, Jake’s car left the line with a foot and a half of air under the front tires and scooted down the track. With about three quarters of the track behind Jake, Jeremy heard a loud noise and saw a huge cloud erupt from under Jake's car, and the car began skating all over the track. How Jake kept it from nailing the wall, Jeremy had no clue. Finally seeing Jake climb out of the car, knowing that he was alright, Jeremy realized he’d been unconsciously holding his breath, and explosively let it out.

Jeremy left the stands and walked to Jake's pit, along with a few other racers, to check on Jake and to see what had happened.

In the pits, Jake had gotten the hood off and had started looking the car over while a couple people were talking to him. Seeing that he was tied up, Jeremy hesitated, then turned and headed to his car and home, with an idea going through his head.

Once home, Jake put the car in his shop so that he could start the tear-down and see what he could salvage. Rather amazingly, none of the under-car seemed hurt from the shrapnel, and Jake thought that just a good cleaning would be enough. The next day, he pulled the engine and got to work. Finally, looking through all its separate pieces, he discovered a couple of broken connecting rods. This made him closely inspect them all and he found several that were bent and broken, and several others with stress cracks. They’d all have to be replaced.

"Well, I'm screwed. There goes the season," Jake said out loud, speaking to no one but himself, a trait he’d adopted as he spent so much time alone working on his car. The only things not damaged were the intake manifold and the carburetor. The heads would need to be repaired because the pistons had beaten the snot out of the chambers.

Jake decided to clean the car up and put all the salvageable engine pieces into boxes until he’d need them, or he decided to sell them. With the car on jack stands, he put the cover on and called it a day.

Once in the house, thinking what the hell, the season probably was over as he’d thought, but why not see if that really was true, he made some telephone calls to see if he could scrounge up what parts he’d need before the next race. But fate was working against him; everyone that he called came up empty.

‘Screw it, I'll drag my ass to the track Saturday and shake some trees there,’ he thought.

Jeremy was home going through his shop looking for all the proper pieces to make his engine live in another car. He had gotten everything in order after an afternoon of digging and assembling. His biggest and best idea was to talk with Jake on the prospects of a partnership. While waiting for Saturday to arrive, he kept thinking of Jake, a good looking guy, 5' 10", pretty solidly built, with bleached white hair that got tossed whichever way the wind blew. Jake never seemed to have any ladies around. Jeremy had noticed that, but also thought how that wasn’t unusual in drag racing.

Finally Saturday arrived and Jeremy was at the track a little early, anxious about what he was going to do. After walking the pit area awhile and talking with the racers, he saw Jake parking his truck. Seeing Jake, his heart sped up, the uncertain and half-understood feelings he had surfacing. Jeremy had an idea of why Jake stirred him in a way no other person seemed to be able to do, no female anyway. Now, Jeremy was going to talk to him. Just thinking about that was making him sweat.

Once Jake had stepped out of his ride, Jeremy took a deep breath and walked over to him.

"Dude, how you doing?" Jeremy asked as casually as he could.

"Eh, not too bad, considering my engine blew lunch last weekend."

Jeremy nodded sympathetically, then probed a little bit deeper. "How bad is it? Anything salvageable?"

"Just the intake and carb. Unless something happens, like a miracle, it looks like I'm sitting the season out. The rat's dead."

Jeremy tried to hold back his nervousness, knowing this was it. It was time to pop the question. "So, Jake? If you had an engine that could keep you in competition, would you be interested? Face it, you're usually in the top three for points and it would suck to lose that momentum."

"Yeah, I would be interested, if the right deal came along. I would jump on it like stink on a cow-pie."

So far, so good. It was time for Jeremy to test his sales skills. "Well, I do have an engine, the one from my Malibu, and you know it can run the number. My car is heavier than yours, so this should keep you in the mid nines or even drop you to nine flat."

Jeremy watched as Jake thought about it.

Finally, Jake looked at Jeremy and grinned. "Let's go to my office."

Saturday finally arrived. Jake piled into his truck and headed to the track to see what, if anything, would come up. Once parked, he headed for the pits. Approaching the pit area, Jake saw a racer that he had talked with on occasion. He remembered that this guy was a great engine builder and that he had wrecked his own car here a couple of weeks back. Jake remembered his name, Jeremy. Good looking guy, too, dark blond, kinda thin, about 5' 7" and this insane haircut, kind of Mohawk like, but not that extreme.

'I'd like to get to know this guy better,' Jake thought.

As Jake walked toward the concession stand, Jeremy came up to him and started to talk.

"Dude, how you doing?"

Jake thought for a moment, watching Jeremy approach. "Eh, not too bad, considering my engine blew lunch."

Jeremy came back with, "How bad is it? Anything salvageable?"

Here was where Jake came clean. "Just the intake and carb. Unless something happens, it looks like I'm sitting the season out. The rat's dead."

Jeremy had an odd anxious look on his face when he said, "If you had an engine that could keep you in competition, would you be interested? Face it, you're usually in the top three for points and it would suck to lose that momentum."

Jake thought 'no shit' to himself and how much he wished he could keep racing. "Yeah, I would be interested, if the right deal came along. I would jump on it like stink on a cow-pie" No lie there.

Jake was delighted with what Jeremy said next. "Well, I do have the engine from my Malibu, and you know it can run the number. My car is heavier than yours, so this should keep you in the mid-nines or even drop you to nine flat."

He spoke true about that, Jake knew. His own car weighed about 500 lbs less than Jeremy’s. Jake thought about it for another moment. This would be his chance to get to know Jeremy better, he realized, and liked that thought very much. "Let's go to my office."

Once in the office, his ‘office’ being the grandstands, the two of them made small talk to begin with, but then spent the next hour going over some of the details involving the car and the engine. Jeremy's name would be on the car as the engine builder, and he would also be the crew chief, making engine adjustments and helping with any chassis modifications that Jake felt may be needed. Jeremy would drive on 'test and tune' nights so Jake could see how things were acting.

While in the bleachers, Jake and Jeremy hammered out a lot of details, including driving chores. They would both drive, but Jeremy insisted that as he wasn't running for points, just for fun, Jake should do a majority of the driving, and Jeremy would play crew chief. Jeremy's name would go on the car as the engine builder since that happened to be his forte. The engine was his baby. They continued to sit in the stands, eventually ending up chatting about the usual nonsense that motor-heads talk about.

They decided that they would meet the next day, Sunday, at Jake's place to look over everything and see if anything else was needed. Jeremy went home to make sure there wouldn’t be any last minute foul-ups, knowing what Jake had on the car. He packed up everything, even stuff he was sure wasn't going to be needed. The next day, Jeremy loaded the engine and the boxes of extra parts into his truck. Experience had taught him that you never knew exactly what you were going to need.

When Jeremy arrived at Jake's place and drove back to his garage, he saw that Jake had already been there getting things in order. After parking his truck, Jeremy said his morning howdy, and then commenced to unload. Once the engine was on the lift they decided to go ahead and install it, there being no reason to wait. It didn't take long getting everything bolted up, wired and plumbed. They figured, screw it, and Jake turned on the battery, hit the switches and the engine roared to life, even louder than his old engine had run. They let it warm up, ran it through the gears while in the air, and then shut it down, looked everything over, and got the car back on the ground. Much to the disappointment of his neighbors, Jake rolled the Camaro down the driveway just to test a couple of things, but he ended up tattooing the driveway. The tattoos, of course, were laid on top of many previous ones.

They were surprised the police didn't show up, as the only exhaust outlets on this car were the race headers and those were huge. Once they were satisfied that all was ready for some test runs, all they could do was to wait for Friday night for the 'test and tune' session.

'Damn, Jeremy is a nice guy, and we got things dealt with so easy,’ Jake thought, looking back Sunday. Things had gone well. Jeremy had shown up with his engine and boxes of extras, the engine was installed easily, everything falling into place. Before long they had the thing fired up and damn near rattled stuff off the garage walls. Jake smiled, remembering his decision to mess with his neighbors a bit and do a couple short runs down the driveway. He’d made even more of a mess out of his driveway before they’d got the car parked and ready for some runs Friday night. Jake had to smile at how good it had been.

Jake had invited Jeremy inside for some drinks and chow, seeing that they had spent most of the day in his garage getting his car ready to race. They’d ended up settling in the living room after ordering a very large pizza, and once that had arrived, they’d tucked into it.

“So, what do you think?” Jeremy had asked.

“I think the upper classes would have had something to be scared of if we’d decided to move up a class,” Jake had told him with a grin.

“We'll see Friday, then you can gloat. Damn, this is some good pizza. Who did you get it from?” Jeremy had asked.

“I got it from this nearby hole in the wall place with killer grub.”

“Nice. I'll have to remember that when I'm on this side of town.”

“Well, don't be a stranger. My door is always open, unless it closed.”

They’d talked about inconsequential stuff for the rest of the evening until it was time for Jeremy to head home. Jake couldn’t help but think it had been what seemed the beginning of a good friendship.

Jake and Jeremy arrived at the track Friday for the 'test and tune' session. They unloaded the car and got it ready. They then waited until their class was called to the lanes.

Once in place and next up for a pass, Jeremy told Jake to beat it like a rented mule and see what kind of number it’d put up. Jake grinned. “I’ll do that,” he said.

Jake did his burnout, getting the tires sticky, then pulled to the line. The tree came down, the car launched with the front tires two feet in the air and it was off like a shot.

Jeremy was watching and listening until the scoreboard lit up with the numbers, 8.94 @ 155 mph. His eyes opened wider; he was stunned.

Jeremy almost bounced back to their pit stall and waited for Jake to return. When he did, the grin Jake was wearing almost wrapped around his head.

Jake got out of the car and rushed up to Jeremy, grabbed him around the waist, picked him up and they both spun around.

“I can't believe it, my first eight and you got me there.” Jake screamed. “I didn't even beat on it, just a normal run. Imagine what it could run if I stretched things out a fuzz?” he finished excitedly.

“Time to look things over before we run again. How did it feel?” Jeremy asked.

“It's like a totally new car. The engine runs strong and the car feels good. No complaints at all.”

“Let's get it ready for another pass. One more like the last one and you will need a change of pants.” Jeremy smirked at him.

“Yeah, I'll blow a load if I can repeat.”

Jeremy’s grin widened and it felt like his heart jumped a beat when Jake winked after his reply.

It had been a couple of months since their inaugural session and things couldn't have been better. Not only did the car repeat the first run, when pressed it went even faster. Jake was elated.

Life was good.

They readied the car for the national event coming up the following weekend and they were both keyed up anticipating it. A couple of friends, Nigel and Darren, were coming along to help or ridicule, whichever was appropriate at the time. Jake had met them briefly after his engine had blown and they’d helped him get it loaded onto his trailer. They had all became good friends over the last couple of months.

They all met at the track gates on that early morning.

"Dang! Looks like we're not the only early risers here," Jake remarked. There was a backed up line at the track’s entrance gate stretching onto the road, people and cars waiting because the gate wasn't open yet. Their group found their place in line, in front of Nigel and Darren's car, and parked there, waiting for the track to open.

"Cripes! At least we can get a decent pit stall now. I forgot the turnout a national event brings," Jake said, voicing his surprise at seeing the line.

"Want to go over the race strategy for this weekend?" Jeremy asked.

"Yup, we race, we win. How is that?" Jake answered, having fun with Jeremy.

"Good enough for me, what about you two?" Jeremy said looking toward Nigel and Darren.

"Don't look at us, we're just here for the free hot dogs and Goodyear freckles," Nigel answered, deadpan.

"Cool, guys. I just hope you brought the hot dogs and fixings. You did, didn't you?" Jake asked, looking serious.

"Sure did, they're in that big box over there." Nigel pointed to the concession stand. "All you can eat as long as you brought enough money." Nigel started laughing, and that got the rest of the gang going.

After waiting over an hour for the gates to open, they found a nice pit spot and settled in for the weekend. Once Jake and Jeremy unloaded the car, they gave it a thorough look over, dusted it off, then waited for the call to the staging lanes.

The car was flawless. Jeremy had been spot on with the tune up as the car ran the same number pass after pass. As the end of the day approached they had advanced far enough to be able to race on Sunday. After the car was loaded onto Jake's trailer, they all set off in search of dinner.

They found a nice sit-down restaurant, found what they wanted and then placed their order. The place was deserted for the most part, so they didn't have to watch what was said.

"Nigel?" Jake asked leaning over the table towards him.

"Yeah?" Nigel asked quizzically.

"I hope I'm not going to shoot myself in the foot for this, but... how close are you and Darren?" Jake asked, his nervousness bringing him almost to the point of shaking.

"What do you think?" Nigel asked with some uncertainty.

"I think..." Jake looked around to make sure no one was listening. "I think you both are closer than you let on. Not that I have any problems with it; I don't. It's just..." Jake started to sweat, so Darren decided to interrupt the conversation and let him off the hook by getting it out in the open.

"Jake, I know what you're getting at, and you are right. Nigel and I are together for the long haul." Darren stated this with confidence and then continued. “My question to you is"—Darren took a glance at Jeremy, then back to Jake—"is when are you and Jeremy going to say something to each other? We can see it, and it looks good."

Jeremy turned pale while Jake started to stutter.

Their food arrived at that point, which gave them something to do rather than look at each other, allowed things rest, and incidentally, allowed them to eat so they wouldn't starve.

"We can talk about this after dinner, just come to our house. Is that fine with you two?" Darren asked.

He and Nigel looked at Jake and Jeremy, and those two, without asking the other, both nodded an affirmative.

"Good! Let’s eat," Darren said.

The conversation turned to Sunday's race, and what was going to happen.

"The car felt good today, I don't think we were a tenth off our time the whole day. If the air is better tomorrow, we can go faster, but we will take what we can get. This is top competition,” Jake announced.

"Damn straight!" Nigel said.

"Straight? Hardly," Jeremy quickly responded.

Jake didn't think someone could blush that deep of a red. That set their table off into hysterics.

They settled the bill, left the restaurant and searched out their car and truck in the parking lot. Darren, at the last minute, got out of Nigel's car and pulled Jeremy out of Jake's truck and had him ride with Nigel in case they got separated. Darren said that it was a precaution in case anyone got lost.

'Good point,' Jake thought.

"Pretty perceptive, aren't you?" Jake asked Darren.

"That, and I have a big mouth. I couldn't sit any longer and watch you two make eyes but not make a connection, so I said something. I just hope I didn't overstep my bounds by saying what I did," Darren said, looking anxious.

"Actually, I think we owe you and Nigel. You were right, there is something there, but I’ve been scared shitless to say anything to him, thinking he would turn tail and run. From the way Jeremy’s reacted since you spoke, you did us a favor and I...umm...we thank you." Jake reached over and patted Darren's shoulder. He felt better then.

Jake began wondering what kind of conversation Nigel was having with Jeremy.

They finally pulled into Darren and Nigel's driveway and got everyone parked. Darren grabbed Jake and Jeremy and started to give them a tour of the place. He started with the barn, of course.

After Darren had showed them around for a few minutes, Nigel continued giving the tour. "Here is my next sleeper," he said, pointing to a stock-looking Fiero. "It's getting a heart transplant as soon as I can find someone that can build up the transmission so it won't self-destruct on me."

"What are you putting in it?" Jake asked.

"I splurged and got a Chevy 454 small block engine. It should give your Camaro a run for its money when it gets dialed in."

"You’re going to rip that poor car in half!" Jeremy exclaimed.

Nigel started laughing. "Darren said the same exact thing when the engine was shipped."

"No wonder you're worried about the transmission; I would be too," Jeremy said in awe.

They then walked over to a vintage Corvette, still covered. Nigel pulled off the cover and all Jeremy and Jake could say was a respectful, "Woah!"

Jake and Jeremy were all over the car like muck on pig, asking questions. Then Nigel opened the hood.

Jeremy was the first one to speak.

"Are those the original aluminum heads? Tri-power too? Holy cow!" Jeremy was obviously impressed.

Then Nigel told them the story behind it. "This car is a piece of history, and you pound the crap out of it. I wanna shake your hand." Jake stated, with a wide grin.

Jeremy was still beside himself.

"Ok. You bums about done out here? I'm thirsty." Darren was getting antsy to get in the house.

"I think we're done in here, unless those two..." he pointed at Jeremy and Jake "...aren't done drooling yet," Nigel said, chuckling.

"Yeah, we're done. I'm thirsty too." Jeremy said.

Everyone helped put the cover back on the 'Vette, closed up the barn and then headed back to the house.

Once settled inside, Nigel took drink orders. As Nigel returned to the kitchen, Jake, Jeremy and Darren adjourned to the living room.

Jeremy was the first to speak. "How did you two hook up? This isn't exactly the big city here."

"As long as you two have time, we'll tell you." Nigel answered.

"Well, we don't have to be back to the track till morning, so we have time," Jake said, settling more comfortably into his chair.

"Well, it started..."

Darren regaled Jake and Jeremy with their tale, telling them most of everything that had happened since their beginning. It took the better part of two hours, along with the inevitable questions during the story.

"What about you two?" Nigel asked when their story was finally finished. No one had noticed that he had entered the room, still holding their most recent drink orders.

"What are the odds?" Jake started. "I never really believed in fate controlling where we go or what happens, but right from the get go, there was something there, right from the time I saw Jeremy coming to me at the track for the first time. I still can't believe we're actually talking about this. I never saw it coming."

"Yeah, it's a trip, but we're going to stop beating around the bush, aren’t we?" Jeremy stated, looking directly at Jake. "I'm glad it's out in the open. Maybe we can concentrate on racing now. One thing for sure, Jake, we are going to have a long talk in the next couple of days, because if we do this, it will be on even ground. Does that sound good?"

"Sounds better than good, it sounds great." Jake looked at the assembled party. "Who would've known? Blowing my engine in that race, meeting you two later that day, then meeting Jeremy the next week and hammering out a partnership, all the way to what’s happened today. Nobody could write a book like this. It's too odd, but I'm not complaining." Jake felt a silent tear roll down his cheek.

Jeremy got up from where he was sitting, knelt in front of Jake, looked directly into his eyes and gave him a tight hug.

"It don't get no better than this." Nigel said quietly to nobody in particular, feeling proud.

"This has been a great day Nigel, but what about tomorrow?" Jeremy asked.

"If we win, we are having one hell of a victory party right here. Heck, we have the room for it," Darren told everyone, getting a bit excited.

"And, if we don't win?" Jake asked, looking sad.

"Then, it will be a coming out party. How does that sound?" Nigel said, with some finality to it.

"Sounds good. But we're NOT painting the car pink!" Jake said, and the mood was suddenly lightened.

"Now there’s an idea. We can use it as a psychological advantage. Think of the possibilities!" Jeremy was having fun with this.

All of a sudden, three voices raised the sound level in the room with, "HELL NO!” and Jake continued, saying, “Motion carried, the car stays red.”

Jeremy let out a yawn, and when Jake heard his jaw pop, he looked at the clock.

"Dang, it's 2:30 a.m., and we have to be at the track by eight. You guys want to crash here tonight?" Darren asked.

"Yeah, we'd better." Jake looked at Jeremy with a question in his eyes, and Jeremy smiled, giving Jake the answer he’d wanted. "You have a spare bed that'll fit two?"

"Yup, but you'll be tight on it. It's a double, but it's yours if you want it." Nigel tossed the offer out.

"That will be fine. Let’s do it, I'm beat," Jake happily slurred.

As Nigel would say, they were soundly trounced. They went several rounds, but were eventually defeated in the semifinals. It was a stellar weekend, race-wise. On other fronts, it was the culmination of a life changing event.

It was a couple of months since the big race weekend, and no one could say the past several weeks hadn't been interesting. Jeremy and Jake had grown closer together and finally Jeremy had moved into Jake's house—which quickly became their house—a few days after the race. Things had settled, aside from the squabble about how the toilet paper roll went on the holder. Jeremy was a firm believer of under while Jake bowed to the over gods. If it came to it, they'd stick another holder on so Jeremy could go under while Jake went over.

Jake and Jeremy spent a lot of time at Nigel and Darren's place. Nigel found someone to build a transmission that wouldn't self-destruct behind his engine in the Fiero. It ran like a scalded dog and as of yet hadn't broken anything. It was a fun ride, all that horsepower in a big go cart.

Even D.C., Damn Cat, Jake’s feline friend, seemed to adopt to Jeremy, and Jeremy gave her treats when she complained to him, which was probably why the cat liked him. Jeremy was a good cook which was lucky since Jake couldn’t cook his way out of an unlocked cupboard. He'd made some interesting things that Jeremy had thrown out uneaten. Jake, looking puzzled, complained his mom had taught him everything he knew about cooking.

Life was good in the house for the first time in Jake's memory. He’d thought being single was nice but there’d always been something missing.

There wasn’t any longer. Jake was happy. He knew Jeremy was, too. And he knew, after reflecting on it awhile, just what it was that had been missing, just what it was that he now had. He now had someone to share his life with.

This was the beginning.