Warmth

by Kuruki (来木)

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/97872.html)

My evening starts out like any other. I sit on the bench near the corner of Jackson and Fifth with a group of my friends. This is the only time we can see each other now that school’s out for winter break; our jobs keep us busy all day.

Turk brought two beers he took from his uncle’s fridge. I pass the cans along when they come my way. No one even comments on it anymore—they know what a law breaker I am—but they do tease me when I wait at the crosswalk at night when there is no traffic.

The only difference tonight is that BMW that pulled up near sixth. Boy, he looks out of place. And he watches us. Turk, mildly buzzed from the beer he’s guzzled, stands up and shouts that we don’t have drugs, so the man should get lost.

Instead he gets out of the car.

He isn’t very tall, maybe three or four inches taller than me, the runt—although I’ve grown considerably since school started—but he has a presence. I can’t look away. Kyle wonders if he can pick up enough sleeping with the man for the CD he wants to buy. The man is well dressed and handsome or Kyle, as picky as he is, wouldn’t have said that. Kyle has two sugar daddies and it looks like he might get a third, but the man stops in front of me.

He’s young. Not young like we are, but his face is wrinkle-free, even around his eyes, which are brown–as is his hair, like mine, but straight and short, and cut better than most. His coat—wool maybe, heavy definitely, even though it is barely cold enough to see our breaths—fits him perfectly. His tan slacks match his coat and puddle lightly over his perfectly shined shoes. I can even see streetlights reflected in them.

I slowly make my way back up his body, wondering what he looks like with that heavy coat off. And when I look into his face again, his eyes are drinking me in—like he sees me in the flesh, without these pesky clothes in the way.

He reaches out a hand, but stops before he touches my chin. When I don’t pull away, I feel his icy fingers upon my skin, tracing my jaw and then my cheekbone.

“Will you come to dinner with me?”

His voice is soft, but distinctive, like he has an accent I can’t place. But then I’ve always lived in this town where I was born; I’ve yet see a lot of the world. I want to say yes, but I have to make myself clear. “I’m not a whore.”

He looks at me for a moment, but seems pleased. “I am not offering you any money. There is a party. I need you to attend. To enjoy yourself.”

I like the sound of that. Food, a party, and maybe, just maybe, something else. That is what his eyes promise anyway.

I look down at my duds. “I’ve got nothing to wear.”

He smiles like a tiger whose prey is about to waltz into his trap. But I don’t feel I’m the prey. No, I’m definitely the bait. “I have that covered.”

My friends recover from their speechlessness enough to jeer as I stand up, but the man ignores them, so I wave goodbye and follow him to his car. He opens the door for me and sets me in before getting in himself. He pulls out his cell before we even leave the curb. “What size are you?”

“Uh.” When was the last time I bought anything new? Last year maybe. Mostly I just try on hand-me-downs until something fits. “Fourteen, I think.”

He glances at me before greeting the person on the phone. After a brief exchange, he holds the phone against his shoulder, changes lanes, and then asks, “In men’s sizes.”

As if I could fit men’s sizes. “I don’t know. Maybe the smallest they’ve got.” But wait; one pair of hand-me-downs… “I can wear a 28/3o with a belt.”

He lifts the phone to his ear. “Be ready with a measuring tape. We will need the full treatment.”

A few blocks later we pull up behind a building. At least it looks like the back. There is no parking or windows and the one small door has curtains hanging on the inside.

The curtains twitch and a young man dressed in a dark red vest comes out the door. He runs around to the driver’s side of the car and stands beside it. When the man gets out, he hands his keys to the young man. I am so busy watching that I forget to get out. But my date open’s my door and helps me out.

With cold fingers, he pulls my hand around his elbow and walks me through the door held open by an older man dressed like the younger one: dark red vest, white shirt, black slacks, and bowtie.

This guy might have looked like a vampire except he doesn’t have the face for it. There is nothing forbidden or seductive there—comfort maybe, but in an elegant way.

He greets my date as Mr. Haven as he takes his coat, and Mr. Haven calls him John.

Ha. The class difference shows already.

Which way will I be addressed?

Only one or two items hang from each rack and no two are alike, as far as I can tell. This store—boutique—must be a ritzy place. I can feel the class leaking out of the carved woodwork.

John leads me to a back room that is several degrees warmer than the rest of the overheated store. Inside is a weird shower stall made of frosted glass. About three feet outside it is a waist-high, tiled wall. Between the two and against the room’s walls are a bunch of shelves covered in hair products, like at the salon where my mom works, but these shelves have only one bottle of each thing.

What makes the shower so strange is that the sides look like their tops can slide down. What is the point of a shower that can’t keep all the water inside?

John nods towards this oddity and tells me to strip.

Am I that dirty?

“Young Sir,” John says, taking in my look. “The full treatment includes washing with the correct soaps.”

I raise my eyebrows. “Do you wash with them?”

“Of course not,” John scoffs.

Class warfare at its best.

“Young Sir had better get in or Mr. Haven will be late.”

I pull off my work boots, my hoody, both my flannels, my long and short sleeved shirts, and my tank top. Then off come my jeans and long johns with my two pairs of socks.

John raises his eyebrows, but I shrug. It’s cold outside.

I get in the shower before I remove my underwear. Not that my modesty does me any good. While I undressed, John slid down one of the shower’s sides and now he stands with his arm inside the stall adjusting the water stream.

He lets me wash myself—thankfully, but insists on shampooing my hair. As he rubs my scalp with his fingertips—the same way my mom did, except she did it in the sink, until I proved I could do the job myself—I ask, “Isn’t being late fashionable? Couldn’t he just say I distracted him so much he forgot the time?”

John doesn’t dignify my question with a response. But I hear laughter behind me.

I’ve heard the phrase ‘laughter like ringing bells’ but this beautiful sound is nothing like that. It is a noise that melts into me like wax, stiffening my spine, clenching my heart, and fogging my brain.

“Would Mr. Haven please wait outside?” John’s calm voice breaks through the beautiful sound. “Young Sir is easily distracted.”

“Lucas,” I say, trying to get my bearings again. I put my head under the stream of water and hold my breath as long as I can.

I see spots before I come up for air, but I’m relaxed again. John rubs conditioner into my hair. “I could never address Young Sir in such an informal manner.”

“It isn’t,” I say, about to put my head under again, but he shakes his head. I guess it’s the stay-in kind. “It’s my last name.”

“Mr. Lucas,” he says as he turns off the water.

“Just Lucas. I don’t rate a mister.”

“Master Lucas,” John says, handing me a towel to dry off my lower half as he attacks my hair. I guess I can’t win.

Soon I am pink from the scrubbing and drying, clad in black silk boxers, being measured. John calls out the numbers to someone in the hall and by the time I’ve been measured for shoes, a suit hangs by the door.

John dresses me. I know nothing about cuff links and ties. I’ve only worn a tie once before, at my father’s funeral when I was eight. Uncle Lenny put it on me and one of my cousins nearly strangled me helping me remove it.

I look in the mirror. My hair is slicked back in a low ponytail and I feel like a million-dollar man—$999,984 for the clothes. No, $999,900; I’m worth at least a hundred bucks. Even my shoes are as shiny as Mr. Haven’s.

Ugh. I’ve got to find out his first name.

John inspects me in the mirror. “Mr. Haven?”

The man comes in, looking me over like I am a horse he wants to buy. But I think I’m already paid for. These clothes must cost a fortune.

“What do you think?” he asks me.

“I think…” I look at myself critically. “That I don’t like this tie. I want yours.”

Haven smiles, but John protests. “Master Lucas, that tie is one of a kind; we don’t carry duplicates.”

“No,” I say, not looking away from Haven’s brown eyes. “I don’t want a copy. I want yours. You can have mine.”

John bites the inside of his lip, but Haven asks why.

“Smells are important. Or so I’m lead to believe.” I nod towards the shower stall behind me. “Shouldn’t I smell like you?”

Haven reaches for his knot before I finish. John steps back as Haven slowly loosens mine. He smells of musk and something else. Maybe the correct soap. The scent fills my head until my only thought is how sensuously he can remove a tie.

I am disappointed when John steps forward to tie my new one. I watch Haven tie his in the mirror. I feel a rumble in a part of me that isn’t my stomach, a part of me that has never been filled, never even been hungry before.

Haven looks me in the eye and my body’s roar is all I hear. When I breathe in, I smell him. I don’t just want him to be my date tonight. I want him to be mine.

“Lucas,” he asks, “are you ready?”

I look around. We are alone. “No. There is something you forgot.”

He raises an eyebrow.

“Now I look as good as you…”

He smirks; I can’t help but grin.

“And I smell like you.”

He stands behind me and takes a heavy breath. “Yes.”

“But we are late?”

He nods, not taking his eyes off mine in the mirror.

“We have to have an explanation for why we are late.”

“I thought you had that covered.”

“But,” I say, turning and resting my hands against his chest. He is so beautiful up close. “It has to be subtle. We can’t say we lost track of time. We have to let them guess what we were doing.”

He nods again and I wish I was seeing this gaze filtered though the mirror, because it rouses the animal within me and sends sizzles along my spine. “I need a hickey.”

“Where?”

I pull myself away from him—much to my beast’s disappointment—and turn, walking up to the mirror where I turn my head back and forth. I point to a spot in front of my right ear, just below my collar. “Here. It doesn’t show when I look ahead, but it will when I look left. I’ll just pretend I don’t know it’s there and accidentally show it off at every opportunity.”

He laughs and follows me to the mirror, “Just a hickey. Nothing else?”

My beast responds with a roar, but I say as calmly as I can, “Isn’t that supposed to come after dinner?”

“But what,” he says, his voice silk to my skin, “if I can’t get in the mood for a hickey without kisses first?”

That isn’t true. He has been in the mood since I first met him. But why pretend more than I need to?

I turn my head just enough to reach his lips as he tilts his head down to mine over my right shoulder. He arms wrap around me. One across my chest; I can feel his coolness of his fingers through my shirt, but the other hand is lower.

After a brief pass he unbuttons my jacket, then unfastens my belt and pants.

I am in his hands. My new clothes will be dirty, but my hungry beast doesn’t care and neither do I.

I pull away from his kisses. I can’t get enough air. Warmth floods me, but my inner beast is just waking up.

“Lucas,” he growls in my ear. “The hickey. Where?”

I’m grateful I’m not the only one feeling this. I pull down my collar and he latches on. I catch sight of myself in the mirror. His mouth, his hands, his chest against my back. It is all too much. With the sight of his passionate face, I go over the edge.

I fill his hand, but even as I sag against him I’m not embarrassed. Anyone in that position would have done the same.

He pulls out his hand and licks his fingers, catching my eye. I moan and turn to kiss him again. The taste of me on him, the knowledge that he liked it, and that there is more for the taking. I want that more. My arms wrap around his neck, through his hair, and down his neck and chest.

I rub his nipples. They are so hard I can feel them though his shirt. I want. I want. I want.

John, holding a coat for me, delicately coughs from the doorway. “If Mr. Haven leaves directly, he will be precisely thirty minutes late.”

I’ve released my grip on him, but I don’t pull back. “We have to go to this party?”

Haven dismisses John and sets about righting me. I don’t look quite so well made, but I do complete the ‘we would have been on time, but got distracted’ look.

He threads his fingers through mine; his cool fingers still smell of me. Is he going to leave my scent on everything he touches?

But if that doesn’t bug him, why should it bug me?

The valet is standing by the car as we walk out the door. Haven gives me a quick kiss as I slide into my seat. The valet casts us a funny look, but schools his features before Haven sees.

Or if he does see, he ignores it.

“Haven,” I use his name like that to see if he wants me to address him differently. “Will you be the only man bringing a boy?”

“No, but most of the young men will have been brought by women.” He glances at me before turning right. “Young ladies will be there as well. Don’t get too friendly with any of them.”

As if I would get too friendly with anyone when I have this man at my side.

We pull up outside a huge hotel and a footman opens my door and hands me out to Haven. For all the footman’s practice, he doesn’t do it with half of Haven’s grace and confidence.

Haven takes my left hand and threads it through his arm. I tilt my chin up and look him in the eye. These are our last few moments in relative privacy.

He leans down and kisses me, then smirks quickly before schooling his features, and walks for the doors that are held open by two doorman.

We drop off our coats at the coat check desk and walk through the lobby to open double doors. The room inside is bright and sparkly. And loud. Not in the loud people way, but in the many people quietly talking, drinking, laughing, and walking in a large echoey room sort of way—I’d have thought a fancy hotel would have better acoustics.

The room is an art-filled L—or maybe the one side is counted as a hallway, as it’s only twenty feet across. Inside this room is a carpeted one. When we step inside, the background noise becomes a murmur.

A woman with obviously bleached hair and a dress much too young for her gushes, “Edward, I’m so glad you’ve come.”

She has the young dress and a young haircut and the wrinkle-less forehead, but the eyebrows that don’t move even when she is trying to look concerned identify her as an old lady grasping at straws. She glances at me and her smile falters. I refuse to acknowledge her. I look up at Haven, flashing my hickey. She is pale when I glance back, but a man rescues her by bounding up—without his hair moving at all, like it is molded on—and shaking Haven’s hand. “Sorry old chap,” he says, with a face that shows he is not. “Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.”

“I’m not,” says Haven, with no show of surprise or sadness. We have drawn the attention of several people further into the room. They stop talking and look our way. “This is Mr. Lucas.”

I turn my head again. The man, dressed in a navy suit, ivory sweater vest and—of all things—tan shoes, fumbles for a reply and hurries back with the young-wannabe to one of the waiting groups.

“Hello,” says a voice behind us. It belongs to a man I hate on sight. But why, other than his perfect natural-looking hair, too-perfect teeth, and perfect smile, I don’t know. His mint green ascot is tucked into an ivory sweater, which exactly matches his pants and loafers.

“Who do we have here?” he says, taking my hand and leaning forward for a whiff. I’m glad I don’t have to bluff my way through this.

“The name’s Lucas,” I say in my best Uncle Ollie impersonation. “I’m in the import-export business.”

True. I’m an apprentice stevedore. Though I might not look like it now, someday I’ll be 6’5″ and 220 pounds of pure muscle.

At least, if I take after my dad and uncles.

The smarmy man drops my hand like it’s caught fire. “Most young people here are in… sales.”

“Then,” I dismiss them with a nod of my head. “We won’t have anything in common.”

The man shakes Haven’s hand, then smells it, rubbing his hands together and then onto his pants. He should just wash his hands. All he’s doing is spreading the scent around; now he’ll wear it all night.

Another woman comes up from the back of the room. She is even older—probably—than the first, but at least she’s dressed appropriately. She looks like someone’s grandmother; someone’s rich grandmother.

“Edward. It’s nice to see you bounced back so well. Let your little friend get himself a drink.”

I glance up at Haven and he nods. How long will I have to keep myself busy before I see him again? How long until we eat?

The bar is at the back of the room. A group of bleached blondes only a little older than me watch as I pass them, but no one says hi. I guess I’m on my own. The bartender is in his mid-twenties, maybe, and looks like he was hired for appearence alone. But he has to have brains somewhere. “What’d you like?”

I look at him critically, like I’m gauging whether he can do what I ask. He laughs. “Try me.”

“I want a non-alcoholic drink and because I’m not just drinking it for the buzz, it has to taste good.”

“What do you like?”

I smile at his willingness and say, “Try me.”

Between his other duties, he fills and I sample several dozen flavors in shot glasses while I eat off the tray of cheese cubes he brought over. I tell him what I like and he mixes things together for me to taste.

His boss comes up, complaining he’s taking too long, so Claude—that’s his name—gives me a champagne glass full of carbonated milk before he fills a tray with drinks for other patrons. I take my leave. He nods and says he’ll send my drink along once he’s done with these trays. I wave my glass to him and tell him to take his time.

The blondes are watching me again. A girl with dyed black hair and enough jewelry to start her own store has joined them and she hails me over. “Claude really likes people who enjoy his work, but don’t let your boss get jealous.”

Boss? What boss? They can’t mean Uncle Lenny, my foreman. He was my father’s older brother and waited seven years after my father died to ask my mother out. She’s spending the night at his place and is probably jumping his bones right now.

The other blondes nod in unison. Maybe, like a mushroom, all the blondes are part of the same entity; born of the beige couches they sit on. That would explain their identical ‘grab the hair on the top of the head and bleach it platinum’ highlight jobs.

I look around. Where is Haven?

“Come on,” says Magpie, pointing to the cushion beside her. “Sit here.”

As I move between the couches and potted palms, I see Haven just inside the next room, talking to a bald man. I sit down where the girl indicates and sip my odd drink, watching him.

“I’m here with Monty. He’s the guy over there,” she points in Haven’s direction, “next to the handsome one.”

I can’t contain my burst of pride at her description of Haven. He looks my way and nods.

“Who are you with?”

“Haven,” I say, setting my glass down and standing up. She looks surprised, as do the clones. “Why,” one of them asks, “don’t you call him Edward?”

I don’t reply, but hurry to his side. He greets me with a smile. “Are you having a nice time?”

“Better now,” I say, taking his arm. A waiter comes up beside me. “For you, sir.” He nods toward the bar. I take the drink from the tray and sip it. The drink is sweet and kind of spicy and a little bit sour. I take a longer drink and Claude waves.

“You get along well with the bartender.”

I eye Haven. Is he jealous or simply observant?

Monty is observant; I’ll have to play it up.

“It never hurts,” I say, “to get to know the bartender. Would you like a sip?”

Haven accepts my drink. “This is good. Will he name it after you?”

I smile and shake my head, but not so much as to look away from his handsome face. “I didn’t tell him my name.”

He returns my smile. “His loss.” I take back my drink and sip from the spot he drank, looking into his eyes to see if he noticed. He did.

As did Monty, who laughs and returns to the room with the bar. Haven waves the waiter back over and tips both him and Claude. Then Haven leans close until our faces are inches apart. “How much did you drink?”

I shake my head. “How much isn’t the question you should ask—what did you drink? And I’d answer: over a dozen kinds of juice, three kinds of milk, a few sauces. No alcohol.”

He raises his eyebrows. He doesn’t believe me.

“I’m too young for alcohol.”

“And for mister.”

My smile fades as I stare into his eyes. “But not too young for you.”

“You’d better not be.”

“And,” I stroke my finger down his cheek, “you’re not too old for me.”

His kiss is quick and light. He points me to the restrooms. Dinner will be soon.

I do as I’m told. I find a comb in my pocket and take out my ponytail. The attendant watches as I comb out my hair and replace the rubber band. Another patron has to wave to get a towel. Two men look at me then at each other. Isn’t gossip in restrooms a women’s pasttime? I ignore them. Or pretend to. When I’ve wasted as much time as I can, I leave. What does the attendant think of me? Not that I care.

I spot Haven as soon as I walk out the door. He’s talking to two men, wearing the smile he wore with the first people he spoke to. He isn’t happy. Or maybe I’m assuming too much. He hasn’t used that smile on me.

I stand against a wall, between a pedestal with a vase on it and a painting of an opera singer.

Haven’s hair shines in the light of the chandeliers, and his suit fits in well enough not to look out of place, but he can’t help but stand out. He is so beautiful.

And for tonight he is mine.

He sees me but doesn’t acknowledge me. I think this means he doesn’t want me to talk to the men he’s with. One is wearing an orange tie—yuck—and the other is the smarmy guy from before, his blonde hair so dull that it doesn’t glint in the light.

Haven looks my way. I can see a message in his eyes, but I don’t know what it means. The grandmother from before joins Haven’s group. He is trapped for the time being.

“Hello,” says a man a little older and taller than me. “I haven’t seen you here before.”

He comes close. Closer than I am comfortable with. “I was hanging with Haven today,” I say, slipping to the other side of the pedestal. “He had this party to go to….”

“My name is Dustin.” He smirks as if he knows I was running from him, but he doesn’t follow. “And you’re Luke?”

“Lucas,” I say, like I don’t really care, settling against the wall again. “It’s my family name.”

His eyes only leave my face to scrutinize my body. “What’s your first?”

I turn back to the object of my obsession. “Lucas is enough.”

“But what’s your name?”

Haven doesn’t want me yet, but from the frequency of his glances my way, he doesn’t want me talking to this Dustin fellow. I glance at Dustin, giving him my brightest smile. “That’s a secret.”

I walk away.

My stomach rumbles. Those cheese cubes weren’t enough. The appetizer table is overloaded. I pick up one and don’t look too closely. It tastes good so I try another.

A waiter appears at my elbow, offering a drink. He is the waiter from before, and I tell him I’ll only drink something that Claude made specifically for me. He heads to the bar with my message and I keep my back turned, tasting different things until the waiter returns.

He carries a V-shaped glass on his tray, full of pink slush with a sliced strawberry fanned across the top. I turn to Claude and nod my thanks.

Claude is trying to get my attention, trying to get me to return. I’d love to hang out at the bar and wait for Haven to want me beside him. But I don’t think Claude is taking up my attention as a way to relieve my boredom. I turn away like I didn’t see him and look for Haven.

He stands by Monty, a man in black shaped like a lemon—his head and feet eclipsed by the size of his waist—and a couple. The skirt of her dress matches his tie. He uses a cane; one of his feet only touches the floor at his toes.

Haven is smiling. A real smile, I think, because it disappears from his eyes when the young-wannabe leans into his group, almost spilling out of the dress meant for a teenager, and says something.

I pile a dozen little snacks onto a tiny plate, pick up my drink, and go to his side. His back is tense and the woman opens her mouth—to add insult to injury, probably, but I hand him my drink. “Here. When do we eat?”

He takes a sip and looks down at my plate. “Can you eat all that and still have room for dinner?”

I raise my eyebrow in mock disdain. “I could eat twice this much and still be ready for a full-course dinner. I’m a growing boy.”

The young-wannabe laughs like breaking glass. “Just how old are you?”

I look her over, not trying to hide my disgust. “Younger than you.”

Haven’s eyes twinkle, but he doesn’t crack a smile as the woman huffs off in anger.

“Or,” I ask, thrilled by the return of his good humor, “am I supposed to keep your friends happy?”

“His friends surely,” says Monty with a grin. “But she isn’t one of them.”

I’d like to hear what Haven thinks, but he isn’t being very forthcoming. I’ll wait.

The matching pair, the Dornbeckers, take their leave right after Haven introduces me. They might be his friends but I must make them uncomfortable.

A couple passing by stop to greet Haven. He introduces me and they shake my hand. The man, Mr. Carter, asks me how business is; he runs a company that deals with shipping. I tell him I’ve worked with his company before, but mostly I deal with his rivals. I think he realizes I am a dockworker, but he never lets on.

Haven removes a snack from my plate, and I’m sure that means I’ve talked to Mr. Carter for long enough. I take the drink back and sip it, letting Haven take up the slack.

I love Haven’s voice. I love it when he talks to me, but then I’m so interested in words that I don’t listen to the melody.

“Have you been together long?” Mrs. Carter asks me. Her husband and Haven stop talking to listen.

I shrug. “Forever and not long enough.”

She gives me a knowing smile as she links her hand in her husband’s arm, and they take their leave.

I set my plate on a pedestal, near the base of a work of art made of two squiggly piece of steel, and take Haven’s cool left hand in my right, leaving my left free for my drink—bright green this time.

Haven is talking to another couple, but these people—manicured as a lawn—ignore me. I don’t mind.

The art in this room runs from marble statues of nearly naked people to splashes of paint on canvas. But mostly I watch Haven and listen to him. He doesn’t like these people, I think. When they leave he gestures to my drink and I hand it over. He drinks it like he is washing a bad taste from his mouth.

My waiter passes and I put my nearly empty drink on his tray. “Would you please give Claude my thanks for that delicious drink and ask him if I could have another. Thank you.”

A man walking by blurts out a laugh. His hair is obviously dyed black as is the chest hair exposed by his unbuttoned shirt—but whoever did the job forgot to do his salt and pepper eyebrows. “You don’t need to be polite to the staff.”

I direct my most disdainful gaze his way. “Being polite doesn’t hurt me.”

“Ha,” he jeers. “It’s because you identify with them.”

The waiter comes back with my drink and I thank him before taking a sip. The man and his companion—a stick-thin woman dressed like a whore—watch me, obviously expecting a reply. He looks smug and she rolls her eyes. Haven tightens his grip on my hand the tiniest bit. My answer will affect him. But he continues his conversation with an older man as if he is unaware of my existence.

“I just don’t see how being mean to the staff will earn me any extra perks.” I lift the glass in my hand and nod toward his empty one.

He colors—not just his entire face, but his neck, ears, and the bit of his chest that isn’t covered with hair. He turns and stomps off towards the bar; I’m sure Claude can handle him. His companion sighs and follows him, her heels clicking against the floor until she reaches the carpet.

Haven squeezes my hand again and I look into his face. His eyes twinkle, but he doesn’t smile—maybe because the old man is watching us. The old man looks me over. “Not much more to teach him, huh?”

Haven glances back at the man, but his body still faces mine. I gain strength from his nearness—not that I felt weak before. Haven doesn’t answer, so I do. “I’m a quick learner.”

“Pshaw, so far you have been polite to Edward’s friends, rude to those he doesn’t like, and careful with his enemies.”

I look again at Haven to see if this is the truth. I see the barest of smiles, but he leaves it to me to answer. “I am polite to those polite to me. Rude to annoying ones. And careful with those… I distrust. If that meshes with Haven that just proves he has excellent taste.”

The old man laughs—almost a roar and turns when someone hails him.

Haven, still facing me, steps closer until I feel his breath on my cheek. “Was I careful enough?” I whisper, and his gentle laughter sizzles through my skin, waking my beast—as if it could sleep with him near.

He kisses my neck lightly and then looks around. We are in the middle of a room full of people and in view of many more. He tugs on my arm and I follow him into a restroom. The attendant, a different one than last time, sighs—I’m sure he does—as Haven closes the stall door behind us.

My beast is fully awake. And hungry. I push Haven against the stall door and kiss him with my entire being. He doesn’t resist. I undo the buttons on his jacket and feel his hard, smooth chest beneath my fingers.

I find his nipples and rub them until he moans. I want more. I want to feel his skin without the filter of his shirt. I want to ravish him right here. I move my hands down until I reach his belt, which I undo before slipping to my knees.

My beast roars, but I work carefully, so my fumbling doesn’t make it worse for Haven, whose body is straining as much as mine.

I take him in my mouth and his hands run over my head. I reach back and pull out the band holding my hair, giving him something to grip. How I find my pocket, I’m not sure, but I reach back up and cradle his balls in my hand. I touch them, rub them, then I want to taste them.

He moans again quietly—but it is loud in the silent room.

His fingers spasm in my hair and I move back up, taking as much of him as I can into me and sucking hard. I get a small sample of his taste before it fills my mouth. I swallow hard again and again.

He is in me, filling me. I gasp for air and nearly gag as the warmth that has been growing inside me burst and floods my silky boxers.

I laugh shakily, embarrassed by my body and pull away from him.

He releases his hold on my hair and sighs against the door. I stand. I want to lean against him, to be comforted by him, but I resist. I don’t want to get him dirty.

But he pulls me close and thanks me. Then he shows me the best way to clean up. He is willing to do it, but I say no, his cool fingers on me are too much. So he watches me clean myself.

As I’m about to pull up my boxers he stops me and cleans the last bit with his tongue. My beast reacts and I hold his head against me as I fill him with my essence. I’m hard again—really, still hard, being young takes the cake—as he pulls away, but we have a party to attend.

And an attendant listening.

I pull out my comb and fix Haven’s hair before he opens the door. But in the large mirror my hair is a crow’s nest. I comb it out while Haven washes his hands and face, his eyes shining whenever they look my way.

My throat is hot, as if his essence seared me. It feels hotter now than when I swallowed it. I have a bitter aftertaste in my mouth. Would Haven be offended if I rinsed it out? Or would he laugh?

He waits as I take my time. After I am completely ready—do you know how hard it is to go when you lover is in the next stall?—he passes the attendant two fifties.

I thank the man, because that is what I was taught to do, and he looks surprised. Haven, my hand already on his arm, leads me out.

The uncarpeted room is empty. We are late for dinner and everyone is standing near the closed double doors in the carpeted room waiting for us. The grandmother lady looks annoyed—she must be the hostess—but several men and one woman lift their glasses to us as we join the group.

The big doors are open and Haven and I are among the first to enter. Haven finds his name on a plate, but he leads me back to the head of the table where he states that, as he requested before, I will be seated with him.

Pets, it seems, sit at the far end of the table, while dates and spouses sit next to or across from each other.

The waiters, perfect at their jobs, move the name cards and exchange two glasses, while the other guest look for their places.

When most of the guests are seated, the hostess says it is too late to change anything, but the headwaiter tells her that the problem is solved. She does not look pleased, but Haven slips the waiter something—probably money.

One of the exchanged glasses—the only full one at the table—is mine. I sip it after Haven seats me and then himself. It is grape juice—sparkling white grape juice, and I continue to sip it as the waiters fill up the wine glasses of those around me. The juice soothes my throat and masks the bitter flavor that I don’t just taste but smell.

I am seated to Haven’s left; the person across from me and the one to my left are men. But I am not the only one breaking up the mostly man-woman-man pattern, especially at the pet end where the girls outnumber the guys two to one.

The man across from me sniffs his wine before tasting it. That’s what I should have done, in case there had been real wine in my glass. I empty my glass while the waiters are passing out salad, but another waiter—my waiter—replaces it with a new one. I thank him, then sniff it.

The man to my left asks me if I heard the dinner gong. What gong? I take a sip to stall my response. The man asks if I was too distracted and makes a comment that I believe refers to stall sex. Bathroom sex, who could have thought I’d fall so low—but it hadn’t felt low with Haven. I feign ignorance. Why would I talk about something so intimate with a complete stranger?

As the food is set before me I watch the others, so I won’t show my ignorance again. I eat salad, soup, and many things I can’t identify. Really, I eat everything set before me.

The people around me ignore me, but that’s ok. They talk at Haven, but don’t converse. He isn’t in a talkative mood. He doesn’t even speak to me, but he rests his left hand on my thigh, so I really don’t mind.

I drink a lot of juice, the water tastes funny—salty or something. After dessert—something I can’t name, like most of dinner—everyone is served a small drink. The man across from me looks at the drink with distaste, swallows it quickly, and shudders. He looks at me and I swallow mine. Whatever everyone else got, I got cranberry and blackberry juice with just a hint of bitterness.

The bitter flavor reminds me of an earlier bitter and I look at Haven. He looks back at me and his eyes smile.

I think I’m in love.

I’ll just forget for tonight that that is the stupidest thought I’ve ever had.

I realize I’m licking my lips while looking into his eyes when I vaguely hear a comment along the lines of the stall sex one, probably from the same man. I ignore him and all the world except Haven. I take his hand under the table; it is no longer cool, as if my body warmed his. I want to kiss his hand, to kiss him.

He is my whole world and I keep his eyes trained on me as those around us stand up and move away.

Someone comes and stands near my shoulder. I don’t know who it is, but I hate this person already. I release Haven from my gaze and look around the room as if I don’t know the person is there.

Haven talks to the person beside me and then stands. I follow him to his feet. This person looks like a henchman for a super villain—or at least what I expect one to look like. He could have fit perfectly next to a bald black guy with shoulders as wide as a linebacker’s and an Amazon woman with huge breasts, long legs, and a dress made to show both off to their best advantage.

Only this one is the guy the villain hires for his brains. He is small and drab in a gray suit that might have looked good on the right person, but he definitely isn’t it.

And his hair, his hair. It is burnished gray like a really bad blonde dye job. And thin. On some people cutting hair short and standing it up masks its thinness, but he isn’t one of them. It is like a comb-over, only worse. The only thing that would make him uglier is blotchy skin. Luckily for those around him with eyes, he has been spared that affliction.

Haven agrees to meet the evil villain—or whoever that henchman works for—in a few minutes. And the man leaves.

Taking my hand, Haven heads for the restroom. I tidy up although I’m not really dirty. Then he leads me to the bar and Claude greets me cautiously. Haven sets me in a stool and walks down the bar, where he talks to Claude. Money changes hands. I’m sure of it.

Haven kisses me—on the lips—goodbye, and once he is out of sight Claude moseys down to my side of the bar. “You need a drink.”

“I really don’t want one,” I say, glancing back at the door Haven disappeared through.

“To keep you busy,” he says with a nod, “and give you a reason to sit here.”

I nod. He smiles and sets to work making a pomegranate lemon smoothie.

“Thank you.”

“For what?” he asks, setting the glass in front of me. “I’m just doing my job.”

“But,” I protest, playing with my straw. “This has to be above and beyond the call of duty.”

He smiles—for a second I think his going to pat my head, but I guess he thinks better of it. “You’re a good kid.”

He moves down the bar; a waiter has come for more drinks. I turn back to the room. Haven is still gone. Magpie sits in the field of clones, some of whom are sleeping.

This isn’t what I think of as a party. I wonder if anyone here is enjoying themselves. A drunk staggers toward a couch, angrily refusing any assistance. He almost makes it, but falls when he tries to wave away help and the waiters carry him off.

“He can’t hold his liquor,” jeers a man with a mullet, who came up for a special drink. He has Claude pour a little of this and a little of that into a glass. He walks away unsteadily.

Magpie laughs at him and comes to ask Claude for a drink with only half the normal alcohol, “for Monty. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

After he hands her the drink and she moves away, Claude nods toward two of the sleeping clones. “Some here pick a person and try to match them drink for drink. Those two and the man that was carried out were trying to match you, I think.”

I spin my stool until I face him and raise my eyebrows. “But I didn’t drink any…”

“They don’t know that. A bartender knows discretion. But anyway, I made you a dozen mixed drinks and you drank seven glasses of wine with dinner and now you are having another. If it was real alcohol, you would be in the hospital getting your stomach pumped or asleep long ago. That’s why everyone is staring at you.”

“I thought everyone was watching because Haven left his boytoy with you and bartenders are notorious.”

He laughs. “So, you know how the game is played.”

“Life’s a game. You just need to play your cards right.”

We talk of this and that—nothing personal—for a long while. I watch the door Haven went through, but I also look around. I would be extremely bored if not for Claude.

The second restroom attendant sits down beside me. He faces the bar while I face the room. He’s a man I never wanted to see again. “Is it true that you don’t work for Mr. Haven?”

“True.” I say, wondering where this is going.

“Are you freelance? Working for yourself?”

I know what freelance means; I’m not an idiot. “I work in imports and exports. You know, things coming and going on ships.”

“People?”

“No,” I shake my head. Is he thinking sex slaves or something equally disgusting? “What Haven and I have has nothing to do with business. It’s all pleasure.”

I down the last of my melted smoothie.

“It’s just…”

“Just what, Mickey?” asks Claude, his voice dangerous.

“It’s just that I’ve had three guys offer me money if you’d join them in a stall.”

Claude’s outrage is so great that he looks like his brain will explode. All he needs is armor and a white horse. I shrug. “I’m not a whore.”

“But,” Mickey goes on. “One of them offered over a hundred bucks.”

Claude looks like he will throttle his coworker, but I shake my head and he backs off. “Mickey, look at me.” When he does, I continue. “I have never been paid for sex. You got that. And I don’t plan to start now. Anyway…”

But I don’t finish. Mickey doesn’t need to know that only Haven feeds my beast. “Run along and tell your little friends I don’t want to play.”

Mickey leaves reluctantly. I ignore him and ask Claude for coffee. This isn’t the time to fall asleep. My coffee is the best I’ve ever tasted. Does Haven drink this stuff? Will I find out?

Magpie comes back and sits on the stool that Mickey vacated. “You have a job? A real one?”

“Yes,” I say after a sip. “A real one with health insurance, paid holidays, and retirement.”

“Get out.”

I turn to her and level my best ‘you’re being a real idiot and I’m pretending I don’t know you’ gaze that I perfected with my cousins.

She giggles nervously, but she’s not made of marshmallows. “Then why do you have sex with Edward?”

“Because,” I smirk, “he turns me on.”

“So,” she asks, “he doesn’t pay your rent or buy you stuff like clothes or a car?”

“I live with my mother. She owns our house.” Dad’s homeowner’s insurance paid it off when he died. If she ever marries Uncle Lenny, he’ll probably move in. “And I don’t drive, so I don’t need a car.”

I’m saved from answering the part about clothes when I see him out of the corner of my eye. I turn for a better look. The—what was it—hour apart made me forget how beautiful he is. Well, not really, but he turns me on. Hard.

Magpie doesn’t believe me. How could she? Who would sleep with Monty for free?

Haven’s progress to the bar is impeded by several of the people who spent the last hour watching me, but I will not be put off.

I lean back against the bar, throwing my elbows wide. My feet don’t touch the ground, so I rest them on the stool’s footrest and spread my knees like I’m the king of the world.

“Haven.”

I say it loud enough that he can hear it, but I don’t yell—like how my foreman makes himself heard over the noise of the crane.

He turns and notices me. I turn him on. And the thought sends testosterone into my bloodstream.

I have his full attention—what I want—and the attention of a large audience. “A couple of fellows here have the notion that our relationship is a business transaction. Have you said anything to give them that impression?”

He shakes his head, his eyes laughing. Whew, I didn’t ruin his trap. He walks closer, asking, “Does that bug you?”

“Only I can’t imagine anyone taking money to sleep with you.” He comes closer and I wrap my arms around his neck and whisper into his ear, “Maybe the other way around.”

He plants a kiss under my right ear—over the hickey and murmurs, “You’re not half bad yourself.”

Someone shouts in the uncarpeted room. As I pull away, I see his eye twinkle. His trap was sprung while all eyes were on us.

My beast roars. “Can we blow this joint?”

The commotion at the door gets bigger. “Not yet,” he says. “I don’t think we can get out.”

“We have time to kill?”

I have an idea—a better idea than stall sex anyway. I want to see what’s under his clothes.

The tumult, now in the lobby, continues, but Haven is able to catch the eye of one of the junior clerks desperate for something to do. The closings of the elevator doors blocks out the chaos. I fight to restrain myself as my desire comes closer to being fulfilled.

Our room is at the end of the hall. Simply a room with a bed, TV, and dresser. My clothes are in Haven’s car; I’m not interested in the TV. That leaves the bed.

The bed. I sit on the edge and pull off my shoes. Haven sets a small bottle on the bedside table and hangs up his jacket on the rack behind me. “Do you need to be anywhere tomorrow?”

“No,” I say and lean back onto the bed to watch him. When he untucks his shirt, I can see right up it.

Is his skin as smooth as it looks from here? I can’t wait to find out. I roll off the bed, pulling off my jacket, and wrap my arms around his back. I kiss him through the back of his shirt and slip my hands into the front.

He stops undressing; I am in the way. I step back and unbuckle my pants, sliding them off along with my boxers. Then I sit in the middle of the bed leaning against the pillows in just my shirt, socks, and this blasted tie, which I’m sure will strangle me if I try to undo it.

Haven’s nostrils flare. I move my legs to a more innocent pose—the ‘I’m kind nervous now, but once you touch me I fuck you till dawn’.

His hands falter as he hangs up my pants. His shirt is unbuttoned and his belt unbuckled. He takes a shuttered breath and lets his pants fall to the floor.

“Hang them,” I say. “Or I’ll make you forget them until morning.”

His pants aren’t hung with as much care as the other things. He slides onto the bed and against me. His fingers work slowly, taking off my tie. I moan as his hand slides down my chest. My buttons come next, but as soon as the last one is unfastened I reach for his chest. His skin is smooth and his muscles hard. I guide him onto his back and kiss him from his collar bone down…down…

When I reach his lowest rib, he runs his fingers across my head. I pull out my ponytail and toss the rubber band away. His fingers run though my hair, but my progress is impeded by his boxers.

“Let me,” he begs and I give in. His hands touch me everywhere and his mouth worships me with words, kisses, and licks.

My beast roars and warmth fills me with every movement of Haven’s body across mine. He takes me in and I fill him, but even then my beast is not sated.

I slip from beneath him and arrange his kneeling form onto his stomach. Then I kiss him down his back, slowly, thoroughly, egged on by his gasps and moans, not stopping at his boxers, but tugging them off to see the rest of him. He doesn’t resist this time.

I slip one hand beneath his hips and cradle him. I run a finger of my other hand down his crack before stopping at my destination.

He moans and so do I, but I don’t think either of us are ready yet. I want my first time—our first time—to be special, but touching him is not enough. I slide up his back then roll onto my side taking him with me. He moans and my beast responds.

He wants me as much as I want him. He reaches back for me. I want his touch. I want to be in control. I want to see him moan under me. I can’t think.

He turns to face me, sliding onto his back. My hands move of their own accord across his hard chest and down to the light hair below his waist.

I reach him, tug him, rub him with my hand. He moans and gasps, his breaths building to a crescendo. His hand covers mine and leads me. But when the first burst erupts, I cover the tip with my mouth, sucking in his liquid passion even though I know it will sear my throat.

I don’t care.

I suck and knead while his fingers clinch my hair. I am his. I will make him mine.

In his excitement, he calls out not Lucas, but Heath, my given name.

He knows who I am.

Tonight is our first time, but it won’t be our last.

I unleash my beast upon him. I touch all of him, finding the backs of his knees sensitive to kisses, the area just below his shoulder blades to licks, and any touch on his belly causes spasms. I want to take my time and enjoy him, but my beast feels otherwise.

So does Haven.

When he gets me on my back, his hands don’t quit, neither does his tongue. I am hot and getting hotter. He kisses down me and his hands—his hands.

The world fills with sparks.

My vision returns with my breath. Haven smiles. If he can do that, he isn’t feeling what I am.

I find him again, rub him, taste him, hold him. While he pants and gasps, I pull my hands from him and he reaches for me, but I grab the bottle and squirt a little lube on my fingers. Now is the time.

It is cold against my heated flesh and he gasps as I rub it on him. I slip my finger inside. He is warm. Hot. The hottest part of him.

My finger is not enough, for me, for him. He moans as I enter him. My beast takes over and we move together, my lover and I.

I cannot hold back my climax. I fill him with all I have, with all I am.

He comes as well, to my relief. I’m glad. I did not want to ruin it for him.

I pull out of him and lay at his side. He smoothes a hand over my ribs and snuggles closer to me. “You can’t expect to be an expert the first time you try something.”

I sigh and pull his arm tighter around me. I want to bury my head under the pillow. “Was I really that bad?”

“No,” he laughs, planting a kiss on my neck. His breath warms me even as my body cools. I shiver.

“Come on,” he says, sitting up. “Let’s get under the covers.” And as we lie back together under the blankets, he says. “You are the best lover I’ve ever had. Definitively the most considerate.”

My face is hot. I shake my head. That can’t be true. He holds me close and when he reaches out to turn off the lamp, his fingers come back cold.

I take his hand in mine and breathe on his fingers. “You are, you know,” he says tucking my head back under his chin. “You make me feel as if you care about me. That you care that I am happy, that I enjoy myself, that my hands stay warm.”

My chest is full to bursting. Pride and something else… pity? “Why would you be with someone who didn’t? Care, I mean.”

I hear his breath, feel his heart beat, his sigh. “Not all of us can always choose our partners.”

The pain in his voice makes me writhe. I sit and turn to him. The room is too dark to see his face, but that doesn’t matter. “I will protect you. Tonight, tomorrow, forever.”

“I know, Heath Bartholomew Lucas, I know.”

I snuggle back into his arms, my back against his chest, his knees and thighs behind mine. Should I ask him what he knows of me? How he learned? Why?

But tonight is the beginning of forever. Time enough for that after I sleep. But first I must vanquish my only fear. “You will still be here tomorrow? When I wake?”

He breathes deeply. “After wanting you for so long, you will have a harder time than that getting rid of me.”

I close my eyes on the darkness. “Ya gonna tell me about that tomorrow?”

“Of course, my love.”

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