Authors: Vanessa North
Tags: #M/M Romance, Love’s Landscapes, gay romance, culinary/bartenders, reunited, second chance, long distance, businessmen, masturbation, switch/versatile
My breath catches a little. So damned unfair of him to flirt with me like this. I don’t know how to respond.
“Nick?” he prods.
“Sorry, I’m exhausted. I have no witty rejoinders.”
He chuckles. “Okay, I can take a hint. I was going to angle for some phone sex, but…”
Oh good grief. “Are you kidding me?”
He laughs outright. “Only a little. I’d totally sex you up over the phone. Do you have to be in love with someone to have phone sex with them? Because I’m okay with being taken advantage of.”
“Well, I’m not.” It would be just as easy to love him now as it was ten years ago. I worry that I’m halfway there already. Just the thought of phone sex with him has me grinding my dick into the mattress.
“No phone sex then.” His voice sounds sad. “That’s cool. It’s good to talk to you anyway.”
“Yeah. I almost didn’t expect to talk to you again after Christmas. I’m sorry I was an asshole.”
“Well, I happen to like assholes, so you’re forgiven.”
It takes me a minute to put the pun together. I half-laugh, half-groan into the phone. “That is the worst joke ever.”
“Hey Nick, what’s it like?”
“What’s what like?”
“Sex with someone you love. I mean, I’m assuming you aren’t still a virgin— oh, God, tell me you aren’t still a virgin.”
The question takes me by surprise, but not for the reason I would have thought.
“You’ve never been in love?”
“Once. I was in love once.”
Wow. I’d never realized it before, but jealousy
“Well then you know.”
“No, I never slept with him. It was an unrequited thing. Very angsty.”
I try to imagine him pining away for this unknown someone who was stupid enough not to love him. I can’t— the whole situation seems absurd to me, so I answer his question instead. “I’m not a virgin. I loved the guys I’ve been with, but I don’t know that it was ever really in-love-kinda-love, now that I look back. I’ve had some relationships. It was… good. I loved connecting with someone emotionally and physically at the same time.”
“Okay, so I’m trying to picture it… you’re a bottom, right?”
I snort. “Um, sometimes. Sure, I like to bottom.”
“Okay, I like this picture. Continue. What happened next?”
I laugh out loud then. “Still angling for phone sex?”
“Can’t help it, your voice is sexy.”
“I need to go to sleep.” I yawn.
“Okay. I’ll let you go. Happy New Year, Nick.”
“Happy New Year, Kev.”
It takes me a very long time to fall asleep.
January 6, 2014
Nervous butterflies stirring my guts wake me before dawn. I might see Kevin tonight. I armor my heart with the knowledge he’s only here temporarily, that this reunion, however welcome, is not some fairy tale with a happy-ever-after ending. Stupid heart doesn’t seem to care.
I head over to the Drop at ten thirty to get the pub ready to open, wondering if he’ll stop by. Jenny’s kids are still out of school on holiday break, so I handle the lunch crowd by myself, thankful it’s busy enough to keep my mind off the impending reunion with Kevin. But when the lunch rush is over, my thoughts go straight to him. Stupid brain.
The text comes at four-thirty.
At the hotel— gonna take a shower and then check in with work. Are you at the Drop?
I almost succeed at not picturing him in the shower. Stupid dick.
Yeah. Come by when you finish up with work. Jenny comes in at six. Dinner?
He doesn’t answer for a long time. Finally:
Sorry. Was in the shower. Date dinner???
Your overuse of punctuation is very romantic. Friends dinner.
I can almost hear his put-upon tone when he replies.
Fine. Friends dinner. I’ll meet you at the Drop at 6???! xo, Mr! Romance!?!
I can’t help it, I laugh.
No, I smell like a brewery. Gonna go home and shower. 7.
I start wiping down the bar and my phone buzzes again.
See you then.
I can’t wait. Stupid, stupid heart.
He’s waiting at the bar, wearing dark jeans that are borderline too-tight and a tight black T-shirt. It’s a good look for him, drawing the eye to the athletic lines of his chest and shoulders. When he sees me, his face lights up with one of those gorgeous smiles of his.
“Hey.” I approach, not sure whether to shake his hand or hug him. I want to kiss him, I realize. The thought terrifies me but refuses to leave my head. The memory of our first desperate kiss in an almost-bare dorm room competes for dominance in my brain with wondering what ten years has done for his technique. I’m so gone.
“Hi.” He stands and pulls me into a hug. He’s a few inches taller than I am. If I were brave enough, I could fold my head onto his shoulder and breathe in his scent. The hug lingers a little longer than it should, then he lets me go.
“Buy you a drink?” he asks, gesturing at the row of taps and grinning.
“Not here. Come on, let’s walk.”
We end up at my favorite noodle place, and it’s crowded but comfortable for a weekday evening. He charms me over dinner with stories about the travel he does for his dad’s company.
“The boss is a jerk, but there are perks.”
“Went to Paris for a month last year and was wined and dined by sexy French men. I gained ten pounds and a healthy appreciation for dirty talk.”
“You speak French?” Why did I not remember that?
“Just enough to get by.” He flashes me a shy smile. “It was fun, being a novelty to them. A big dorky American who accidentally says ‘fuck me’ instead of ‘kiss me.’ End result was the same though.”
“How do you mix up the words for kiss and fuck?”
“It’s easier than you think.”
I’ll have to take his word for it. “So, last time you came to town it was to fire people. And this time you’re doing job interviews? How does that work?”
“I already interviewed them by phone, but a face-to-face interview is the final step. We’re going to transfer someone from New York to be the general manager, but I need a new sales manager and a new HR manager. Once those two are in place, they’ll take over future hiring decisions.”
“Hard to imagine you have many employees willing to leave the city to come here.”
He shrugs, giving me an odd look. “Asheville has its charms, I’m learning. Besides, it only takes one.”
He looks like he’s about to say more, but my phone rings. I check the caller ID, and it’s the Drop.
“Sorry, I have to take this— Hello?”
“Nick, it’s Jenny. I’m sorry to interrupt your date.”
“It’s not a date, it’s dinner with a friend. What’s up?”
“Daniel came by the house and he was all drunk and threatening. Miriam called the police, and he took off, but she’s scared he’s going to come back and try to take the kids. I’m not sure what to do— Miriam’s threatening to quit, and I need to go home and calm her down.”
“Whoa, slow down, Jenny. Does Miriam have a car?”
The noise she makes sounds affirmative, so I continue, “Give her directions to my place. You all can have a sleepover there. For God’s sake Jenny, tomorrow you are going to file for sole custody and a freaking restraining order. I’ll go meet her at the house and get them settled, then I’ll come take over at the bar. As soon as you leave the Drop, head to my house. Do
even think about going to your place alone, okay?”
“Are you sure, Nick? You don’t need my drama.”
“Jenny, you’re the most irreplaceable employee I have, and you’re my friend. Yes, I’m sure. And I’ve already got your drama since it affects the workplace. That’s not a judgment, sweetheart— Daniel is his own person, you aren’t responsible for his issues. But, let’s do what we can to get you out of this situation once and for all, okay?”
“Thank you, Nick.” She sniffles into the phone.
“You’re welcome. I’ll see you soon.”
I hang up and turn to Kevin. He’s already procured our check from the waiter and paid it.
“I’m sorry, I hate to cut the evening short—” I start to explain, but he holds up a hand.
“No worries. Besides, now I get to see your house.”
Miriam and the kids are sitting in Miriam’s car in my driveway when we pull in. I wave to the three of them, and they get out and follow me up the steps. Kevin gathers their bags from the trunk and joins us.
Samantha, Jenny’s three-year-old daughter, wipes her nose on a sleeve and looks up at Kevin warily as I unlock the door and usher them inside. “Who are you?”
“I’m Kevin. I’m Nick’s friend.”
“Are you his boyfriend?” Blake, the six year old, asks. “Mom says he dates guys instead of girls.”
“Um, no, I’m not his boyfriend.” Kevin glances over at me. “But I date guys instead of girls too.”
Miriam, a pretty college student who has been watching the kids for Jenny since before she was divorced, herds them into the bathroom to brush their teeth before they can ask any more questions, leaving me standing in my kitchen with Kevin, who is looking around with curiosity.
“Wow, this place is so… oh.” I look at his face to see him staring at a set of copper measuring cups sitting on the counter. They’d belonged to my grandmother, then my mother, and now me. They’d been a familiar sight in Mom’s kitchen.
“I use them every day.” I pick up the tiniest one, the quarter-cup measure, and stroke a finger over the engraved measurement on the side. “It’s nice to see something of hers getting everyday use.”
“She had me polish them once.” He comes and picks up the one-cup measure, mimicking my actions, stroking the engraving with his thumb. “We went to visit for Thanksgiving, remember? I had never washed up after Thanksgiving dinner before.”
“That’s because you were a spoiled rich brat.”
He laughs. “I hated being a spoiled rich brat. Which is such an entitled, shitty thing to say.”
He sets the cup down, takes the small one from my hand, and sets it down next to his.
“What are we doing, Nick?” he asks softly, not letting go of my hand. “I know this is going to be cut short tonight, and I understand why, but I need to know what
I swallow hard, forcing myself to meet his gaze. He’s more vulnerable in this moment than I’ve ever seen him. “I don’t know, Kevin. I thought we were just… friends again.”
“That’s fine. Just so you know, I wouldn’t mind it being more.” He runs his hand up my arm, slides it behind my neck. His thumb tracing the line of my throat, he moves in close like he’s about to kiss me. “I think about that afternoon in my dorm room, the day before graduation. Do you ever think about that? Our first kiss?”
My eyes drift closed, amplifying the warmth of his hand on the sensitive skin of my neck. Of course I think about that kiss. With him this close, the scent of him in my nose, his touch on my skin, I can almost taste him. When his lips press gently against mine, it takes everything I have to pull my head away.
“Kevin… I can’t. You come here, you stay in a hotel for a few days, and you go home. You might sleep with someone while you’re here and have a good time— that works for you, and I’m not judging you for it, but I can’t be someone’s Mr. Right Now.”
He closes his eyes and sighs, looking like he’s going to reply, but then Blake and Samantha come running into the kitchen and I’m reminded why our evening is being cut short.
“I have to go back to the Drop so Jenny can come over here,” I tell him.
“Will you drop me off at my hotel on the way?” he asks, resignation in his voice. “I have an early morning tomorrow.”
I show Miriam where to find the guest rooms and the remote for the TV, and we say our goodnights to her and the kids.
Kevin is so silent on the drive to the hotel, if I couldn’t smell him, I’d swear I was alone in the car. I pull up in front of the Haywood Inn and turn to say goodbye and apologize again, but stop short when I see the smile on his face.
He reaches out a hand and brushes a fingertip down the length of my nose, then drops it.
“Call me tomorrow, okay? I’ll come by and have a pint.” he says brightly, and a flush of relief washes over me. I’d been so sure he’d decide he didn’t want to see me again now that
was off the table.
“Okay, sounds good. Good luck with the interviews tomorrow. I hope you find someone good.”
He smiles. “Thanks. Me too.”
And then, he’s gone.
January 7, 2014
Kevin strolls into the Drop right in the middle of happy hour. Jenny, having spent a chunk of her day with her lawyer, is closing the bar, but I need to stay and see her through the post work-day rush. I give Kevin a little nod as he approaches the bar, and he smiles wearily. I pull an IPA for him and set it in front of him as he sits down. When he reaches for his wallet, I wave him off.
“On me. You bought dinner last night, the least I can do is buy my old buddy a beer.”
“How’d the interviews go?”
“Good. I think I have my HR manager. Still undecided on the sales manager, but I still have a few more interviews to go through for that position.”
I nod. “Hiring is tough. Any chance of promoting from within?”
“Nah, the sales team is a mess. If their sales had been stronger, they might not have needed to go looking for a buyer. Ugh, I don’t want to talk about work. Please tell me there’s a good gay dance bar somewhere in this town.”
I laugh. “Yeah, but the scene over there won’t get good until about five hours from now.”
“Come with me? It’ll be like old times.”
Old times. Wingmen again. Getting all hot and bothered watching him dance, and then going home alone while he picks someone up. Oh, yeah.
“I don’t really…”
“Oh, you really, really do. Come
, Nick.” He rolls his eyes and starts ticking things off on his fingers. “Dancing. Loud music. Sweaty bodies. Cute twinks and big hairy bears and flashing lights and boners for days. And if you don’t, you ought to. It’s called fun, and people have it sometimes.”