"So, there's the couch. You know, it's pretty obvious. There's blankets in the closet at the end of the hall, some pillows too. You can make yourself comfortable, just try to make it neat during the day and all."
That was what my older brother, Michael, had said to me the day after I returned from Europe as he gave me the "grand" tour of his house. Obviously, such emphasis on a couch and its importance to my immediate future didn't really come across as overly "grand" to me. While Michael and his two roommates each had a room with an actual bed, it appeared that I, on the other hand, had a couch.
That was the moment, I would later reflect, that I realized that I needed both a job and an education that could guarantee me a job for the rest of my working days, the many that there are. My days of gallivanting around Europe, blowing all the money I had taken out of my school savings account in the process, well, those days were over. Ah, the monotonous, everyman life I had to look forward to now. How bleak an outlook for a twenty-one-year old who was living on his brother's couch.
It was through a simply logical process that I came to be working at Jackson's Steakhouse, a popular restaurant in my city. This process went as such: One, I need a job and/or an education. Two, I hadn't liked the brief glimpse into the scholarly world I'd gotten during my one year of university, hence the European gallivanting. Three, I had no money to explore the scholarly world any further. Which brings me to four, I needed money. And so here I am, "enjoying" my first day at my new job.
"It's not too bad," Wes calls out over his shoulder, glancing back as he pours mixtures of alcohol and fresh squeezed citrus juices into glasses on the counter. "It seems like a lot to remember, but we have a little rolodex with pretty much all the drinks we've ever made, just in case you forget something. You usually get the same drinks over and over, though, so you get used to most of the orders pretty quickly."
I'm not entirely sure that I believe Wes, mostly because watching him deftly pour drink after drink, moving fluidly from one spot to another, well, I can't imagine myself actually doing that. That's not me being modest, that's just flat-out honesty right there.
Wes, smart strapping lad that he is, must notice my admittedly obvious look of disbelief as he turns to me with a grin.
"I've been doing this a long time. You don't need to go this fast, and trust me, it's not as hard as it looks. And the first couple of days, it looks pretty bad, but it isn't, not really," Wes tells me, attempting another tactic to reassure me.
This time, I throw him a bone, and not, still not entirely reassured, or, okay, reassured at all, but not all too excited to appear a lost cause on the first night. Instead of showing my true colors, I go with the more peppy reply of, "Sure, okay. I guess that's what training is for."
I'm rewarded when Wes nods in return, his smile growing gorgeously. Have I mentioned that Wes, and not just his smile, is gorgeous? Because if not, then that's a grievous error on my part, and I apologize for it.
I stop my all too embarrassing inner worshipping of Wes when a blonde girl comes up to the bar, talking a mile a minute. "Wes, they want me to do shots with them, but it has Jag in it, and you know that I cannot stand Jag. I'm so afraid that if I don't do it though, they'll be like, 'Oh, our waitress hates us, let's not tip her,' and I've been running my ass off for them all night, you've seen me, so I really don't want to risk it. So, can you make nine banana Jagbombs and then one thing that looks like a banana Jagbomb but tastes like, oh, I don't know, a nice fruity shot that doesn't have Jag?"
"Nice and fruity but goes with Red Bull," Wes adds, a bit of a grin on his face. He sighs. "Sure, Abby, I'll see what I can come up with."
A bright grin lights the girl's face. "Oh, thanks, Wes, you're such a doll. Totally my favorite, and if it wasn't for my sister, I would be so in love with you right now."
"Okay, Abby, sure," Wes replies tiredly, as if he had heard this all before. Having already confessed my full appreciation for Wes' looks, I don't think that love declarations are entirely out of the ball park for this guy.
Wes turns to me with a sigh replacing his smile. Damn. "That's Abby. She's pretty outgoing, so you're going to have to just smile and nod along with whatever she says. I've got lots of practice doing that."
"Well, you did say you've been working here for a long time," I reply, witty as can be. My rapier wit is rewarded with another one of Wes' grins. Oh, I am a pathetic man.
"Yup," Wes answers, popping the tabs on five cans of Red Bull. "Long enough to learn how to put up with Abby Sterling, that's for sure." He stops talking as the printer at one end of the bar begins beeping loudly, spitting out a stream of paper. Wes picks it up, studying it with a pensive look on his face. "Okay, none of these are too bad. You want to give the Caesars a try? You'll definitely be a pro at those in about two days, tops; we make so many of them."
"Will you instruct me?" I ask. And no, I don't bat my eyelashes or anything like that. I haven't stooped to that level. Yet. "Or just throw me right into it? Because if it's the former, I'm game to give it a try."
"I'll help you out," Wes assures me, smiling. "Okay, so like I told you before, with any drink that has a special rim, you want to start with that obviously. It won't do you any good to be dumping a full drink upside down to add a rim. And then you add the ice. As I said, it's pretty straight-forward. This part is all logic, so no hard things here."
With these instructions, I begin to realize that Wes must think me a total moron. Why else would he begin instructions by explaining why you turn a glass upside down before you put liquid in it? Despite this, halfway through making the drinks, I feel like I'm getting the hang of this recipe at least. One drink recipe down, hundreds more to learn. It's a small victory, interrupted by the loud clank of a tray on the bar.
"Wes, where are my Caesars? Get on top of it, man! I wonder if you heard that at all last night." I look up to see a server standing in front of the bar, smirking as is only befitting of such a comment. He didn't notice me until a moment later, by which point I had already assessed his looks. Again, I am a pathetic man, falling quickly into the old habits that have got me into so much trouble in the past two years.
When the server did finally spot me, his smirk became more pronounced. "Oh! Trainee. Well, never mind, Wes, carry on your training, and I'll wait here. You know I would never want to endanger anybody's careful training here. You put the stick through the jalapeño," the server advises me, a glint in his grey-green eyes. It's a glint that I'm fairly certain is supposed to portray how much joy he takes in annoying people, but this server doesn't take into account the fact that I'm over my head enough with this job that I'm not really ready to respond to any jabs.
Wes sighs again. "The drinks will be ready soon" is all he says in response. Wes turns, obviously hoping to retreat, before the server cuts him off, leaning on the bar as if he's about to start a conversation. It doesn't take me long to realize that that is exactly what he's doing.
"Sure, fine," he says. "We could just chat about our sex lives. Your girlfriend never wants to engage in that sort of conversation with me."
"Neither do I," Wes responds stoically, pushing the glasses of the finished drinks forward. He shoots me a small grin.
The server grins mockingly. "What a surprise," he says, beginning to load his tray with the six Caesars. "Just so you know, Wes, if you ever need to talk, I'm here for you. You too, baby," he adds to the tall blonde who had walked up beside him. She rolls her eyes, a reaction that I can already tell was pretty knee-jerk when it comes to this particular server.
"Thanks, Jude, I'll keep that in mind," she tells him sarcastically, putting a name to his face for me.
He winks at her. "I know you're always in my mind."
"Jude," Wes says, a rueful look on his face. "You should get the drinks to your table."
"You're right, I'll have plenty of time to flirt with Callie later, isn't that right, baby?" he says, throwing one more wink to the blonde. I almost break a smile for, as much as part of me hates to admit it, Jude reminds me a bit of some of my high school friends. I like them, so it would be quite the double standard to dislike Jude for his remarks, wouldn't it?
That doesn't seem to be a thought that goes through Callie's mind. "Get lost," she tells him in response before turning to Wes. She leans forward across the bar, her black-clad arms resting on the sticky surface. "So, I just got here, obviously. Do you think you'll be done soon?" she asks.
In my peripheral vision, I catch Jude excitedly making a face that I can only describe as "Ooh!" He laughs quietly to himself, shaking his head, and walks away without Wes nor Callie noticing, their eyes focused on one another. I focus on them as well, interested to hear if Wes thinks we'll be done fairly soon.
Wes shrugs, glancing at the manager who was chatting up a couple at a table across the lounge. "Maybe. It's pretty dead now, and I think Mark can handle it on his own back here, so I don't see why I wouldn't be soon."
A smile lights up Callie's face, and even I notice that her looks rival Wes' for the whole "stepped out of a magazine" thing. I don't think it's hard to guess whose looks I prefer, though. Callie, obviously oblivious to the thoughts running through my head, thank God, continues talking. "Great. I'm starved, if you want to get something to eat, and not just drinks," she suggests. "I don't really want to party on an empty stomach."
Wes glances at the bubbly Abby, who is leaning against the side of a booth as she talks animatedly to one of her tables. "Sure. But only if it's not in Abby's section. No offense to your sister, Cal, but I think I've reached my Abby quota for the day."
Callie sighs, and also stares at Abby, although I can't help but notice that her gaze is more of a glare. Not being stressed about all the drinks I don't know how to make, I hide my smile at Callie's glare and subsequent question. "Is she harassing you again? Because, God, I've told her like a million times -"
"It's fine, Cal," Wes cuts her off. "Don't worry about it."
Callie looks like she wants about to say something, but is cut short by the arrival of another person, a preppy looking blond guy who looked around Wes' age. I resign myself to eavesdropping another conversation. Which, to be honest, I've always liked to do. Some say I like to study people, which I find infinitely more flattering than simply being called an eavesdropper.
"Hey, Callie," this guy says, nodding a greeting to her before turning to Wes. "You almost done, man?"
A glass slams down on the bar, cutting off Wes' answer, and spilling a bit of red liquid onto my hands. I immediately jump back, and quickly look from the sloppy counter to the face of the same server that had been haranguing me just moments before. I can already see where this conversation will be going.
"This was sent back," Jude says disgustedly, again rattling the glass in front of him, which I now recognize as one of the Caesars I myself made only minutes before. Of course it was sent back.
I stare back at Jude, stopping myself from shrugging probably just in time. I'm pretty certain that wouldn't be a reaction that Jude would welcome, but I'm at loss for any other reaction.
In a flash,Wes appears at my shoulder, wiping his hands on a white napkin, and saving me from having to have an actual sensical reaction, thank God. "What's wrong with it?" Wes asks, his eyes on the drink rather than Jude.
Jude shrugs, though Wes probably doesn't see it. That's okay, because Jude very eloquently explains the problem a moment later, again reminding me of my own high school friends. "Fuck if I know. Said it didn't taste 'Caesar-y' enough. Whatever the fuck that means. Just remake one."
Wes' smile is wry. "And if it gets sent back again?"
"Well, then, fuck me. I don't know, Wes, what do you want me to do? Make it, just make it more Caesar-y!" Jude says, waving his hands wildly as he walks away. I'll be damned if I'm not getting a little soft spot for him already. I'm probably damned for getting a little soft spot for him, to be honest.
"I'm gonna go run some salads, so that gives you about three minutes to figure out the solution to the age-old question of what makes a Caesar 'Caesar-y.' You have fun with that," Jude calls over his shoulder.
Wes sighs as he grabs a new cocktail glass from a shelf. "You get stuff like that once in a while," he tells me, which doesn't really instill a whole lot of confidence in me. "The best you can do is just remake the drink, and hope for the best." Ah, a method I can embrace, I'm sure.
"And if that doesn't work?" I ask, unable to keep a wry grin off of my face.
Wes shrugs, his own wry grin returning. "Rinse, lather, repeat," he says. "That's about it."
I can't help but make a face at this. "Well, that sounds fun," I say mildly.
Wes shoots me a grin. "Oh, it is," he agrees, his delivery heavy with sarcasm.
Another girl walks up, a martini glass balanced neatly on her tray. "Wes, someone said this Cosmo doesn't taste right. It is pretty dark for a Cosmo, so I think Mark probably messed it up. Would you mind?" she asks, smiling apologetically at him. I'm struck by the contrast between her approach to such a situation, and Jude's.
Wes has already started to rinse out a new martini glass. Now that's being on the ball.
"Not at all," Wes answers the girl, shooting his already-famous grin at her this time. "Hey, Gabe," he calls.
"We haven't made a Cosmo today, have we? You should probably learn because I doubt you'll make it through your bartending experience without having to make one of these."
"Especially with the Sex and the City movie coming out in a few months," the girl pipes up. "We'll probably need to stock up on martini glasses before that," she adds with a laugh, tapping her chin in mock thoughtfulness.
"Fair point. Okay, Gabe, so this one actually isn't too hard, to be honest with you."
This was pretty much what Wes said with every drink we - scratch that, he - made. I'm sure he'd excuse me for being a dubious as I watch him pour various liquids together, explaining what each is each time. Finally, placing the new glass with a lime wheel in it on the counter, Wes hands the martini shaker over to the girl, who grins her thanks as she walks away.
Wes turns back to me, wiping his hands on his apron. "So, remember when I said you get stuff like that once in a while? I meant all of the time. The minority of the drinks come back, definitely, but it is not entirely rare. Just to warn you. People try a drink somewhere once and like it, but even with perfectly measured drinks, they'll often taste a tad different, or people won't remember the taste correctly from before, or they just plain don't like it anymore. Or the server messes up, or we mess up. Basically, you remake a good amount of drinks, so try not to worry about that."
"I don't know why I ever thought I could bartend," is my response.
I smile ruefully as Wes grabs a few glasses out of the glass washer. The truth is, I never did think I could bartend, but rather, I've worked in a restaurant before, and a friend of a friend works at this particular restaurant, so it seemed like a good place to start when I decided to look for work. To be honest, while I'm still not feeling like I'm getting the hang of this job, I'm more the type of person to go with the flow, so at the moment, I'm not too bothered. When I'm done "training" and still know shit-all - well, then I might get a bit worried, maybe. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.
"You're probably tired of hearing me say this, but it's not that bad. I mean, okay, you make more money serving, but bartending is more fun, in its way. And while you can get behind, you're not always dealing directly with people, so there's less stress in that. Where did you work before this?" Wes asks me, winding down another pep talk, which is already becoming familiar to me.
"Well, I waited tables," I answer, pushing a blond curl off my forehead. Next task: Get a haircut. "That was my last job, but that was in England. It's kinda a different atmosphere over there. And before that, I took some university classes, and didn't work," I explain. That obviously hadn't worked out too well for me, after all was said and done. Hence me no longer taking such classes.
"Oh, yeah? Did you used to live in England?" Wes asks, leaning against the back of the bar as he once again wipes his hands on a white napkin that was lying on a shelf. For once, the printer is quiet, no longer spitting out endless tickets of endless drinks. There's something to be thankful for.
I shake my head in response to Wes' question, but pause, thoughtful. "Kind of," is the brilliant answer I finally come up with.
"That must've been pretty cool, living in Europe," Wes comments, unaware of my underlying European adventures. Adventures. I make it sound as if I was not only gallivanting around Europe, but gallivanting with various men as well. I wasn't, not really. Not celibate, perhaps, but certainly not promiscuous by anyone's standards.
Wes looks like he wants to say something, but all of a sudden, his head shoots up. "There's Kevin," he points out, nodding in the direction of the restaurant's general manager, Kevin Rook. As if he saw Wes, Kevin begins walking over to the bar. "Maybe we'll be done soon," Wes says quietly to me, shooting a quick glance to the booth where both his friends, Callie and the other nameless guy, sit, chatting as they wait for Wes.
Kevin smiles as he reaches us. "Hey, guys. Gabe, how's it going? Wes treating you okay?" he jokes. I say "jokes" because not only do I figure that they put the trainees with the nicest, least likely people to scare you away on the first day, but also because after six hours of working with Wes, it's pretty apparent that Wes treats everyone "okay."
I nod, opting for a bit of honesty in the form of a slightly cheesy joke, an old fallback for pretty much everyone in a new social situation, if I'm not mistaken. "He's not treating me like the incompetent fool I am, so that's nice," I say with a grin.
Kevin laughs, as people do. "That's Wes," he agrees. "Anyway, I think it's dying down a lot now. There's not much new traffic coming in the doors, so I think Mark can probably handle it just fine. You two are done."
Wes grins, rapidly untying the apron from around his hips. "Thanks, Kev," he says, throwing the apron into a bin that holds a pile of used white napkins. I copy him, throwing my apron into the same bin.
I notice that Wes seems to be mouthing something across the bar, and my eyes easily follow his to the his friends' booth, the server with the messed-up Cosmo now leaning against the table, and chatting with the pair of them.
Wes turns away. "I've got to get changed," he mutters, seemingly to nobody in particular.
I figure that I have no choice but to follow him back into the staff room, waving at Kevin in response to his call of "Good night, guys!" I run a hand through my hair, messing it up even more than it already is.
Once in the staff room, I watch as Wes immediately pulls a pair of jeans out a back pack, and begins to unzip the black pants he's wearing. How can't I watch this? Suddenly he pauses, hand on the top button of his pants, and I hope I'm not being too obvious with my watching like a creep and all. I'm usually pretty good about not being too creepy in these sorts of situations too - it must be some sort of cultural jetlag or something.
"You don't care, do you? The bathroom back here is always full," Wes says, his brown eyes apologetic.
I amusedly wonder if now would be a good time to tell Wes that I am, in fact, gay, and while I may not care about Wes getting undressed in front of me, I may not be able to help myself from showing a bit of interest. I decide against that form of attack, for what I hope are rather obvious reasons.
"Makes no difference to me," I tell him, opting to finish with "We're all adults here" rather than "I'm gay."
Wes nods, and slips out of his pants, throwing his work shirt and undershirt off as well, leaving him standing only in a pair of socks and some black boxer-briefs.
My newfound creepiness leaves me tearing my eyes away from Wes' toned torso, and instead, I decide to grab my own sweater out of the cubby hole where I haphazardly shoved it earlier that night.
"Hey, Gabe?" Wes ventures.
I turn back to him, and suppress a groan as I see Wes standing there, now clad in jeans, but only jeans. Somehow, he looks better with the jeans on than in only his underwear. More rugged, or something, maybe. And I'm more creepy, no "something" about it. Maybe I can fool my mind into thinking that Wes is so good-looking that he probably gets hundreds of creepy, lustful gazes everyday. Which, come to think of it, probably isn't too far off from the truth.
"What's up?" I ask, forcing my voice to come out cheerfully, and working off the buttons of my own bartending shirt.
"You heard Callie," Wes says, grinning, and potentially breaking my heart in the process. Fuck, boy, put some clothes on. Maybe. "The blonde girl? We're having dinner, her, Justin, and I, then a bunch of us staff will probably head out to a party. You want to join us?"
I have to smile at this offer. It's a toss-up, that. Let's see, be social and hang out with my incredibly good-looking coworker, or go home and go to sleep on a lumpy couch? Decisions, decisions. "Are you sure your friends won't mind?" I ask cautiously.
Wes shakes his head enthusiastically. "No, 'course not. Callie's a server here too, and Justin's around a lot, so you'll meet them soon enough anyway. Besides, other people will probably join us as they finish work too."
I consider this. "I guess I should probably try out the menu that I'll have a hand in selling," I say thoughtfully.
Wes nods, apparently satisfied as he pulls a simple white t-shirt out of his bag, and then pulls it over his head. "Exactly. You almost ready?"
I quickly pull the grey hooded sweater over the undershirt I wore. I can't change my pants, being that I'd worn the black ones to work, but that's okay. They're not too nerdy or anything, nothing embarrassing. "Yeah, I'm good to go."
Wes flashes another charming grin at me. "Okay, let's go. Do you like seafood? Because you should really try the oscar topper, it's fantastic."
I grin. "Oh, upselling already?"
"Yep," he says cheerfully, holding open the door to the bar. "You'll try everything here soon enough, if you hang out with us after work anymore."
I don't doubt that. We'll see how tonight goes, but I might be able to get into the swing of things here. That would be a nice change, a surprise for the monotonous lifestyle of sleeping on my brother's couch. That's what I figured I'd be doing tonight, so it's a relief to actually, you know, not be quite so lame.
Wes has disappeared, someone said he had went to pick up his brother from a movie while Jase, the closing manager, and a friend of his had split from the rest of us upon walking in the door. I saw Justin talking to a some guy I didn't recognize, and I can still see Callie across the room, chatting with three other girls I don't know. Jude has long since disappeared, leaving me with only Cecilia, a lounge server that I've exchanged maybe twenty words with in my entire life. All of them being not only work-related, but at work as well.
So much for a wild and crazy party.
Cecilia moves closer to me, watching warily as a couple of unruly guys gallop down the hallway, war cries all over the place. "I know, like, nobody here," she says quietly, half-laughing.
I glance down at her, a bit surprised to hear her talking. I'm sure we would've eventually got around to small talk, but I'm kind of surprised that she's making the first move. "Yeah, I'm in the same boat," I agree. "Up until about a week ago, I couldn't remember the last house party I went to."
Cecilia laughs, pushing some shiny brown hair out of her face with an impatient hand. "Oh, God, I wish I couldn't remember the last house party I went to. I hooked up with Quentin, of all people. I guess it's better than Jude," she says wistfully, laughing a bit. She glances up at me, grinning faux-innocently. "Too much information?" For me, the old gossip-hound? Never.
I shrug, unable to keep the smile from my face. I shove my hands into my pockets, and raise an eyebrow casually. "I just spent the last seven months in Europe. You know what they say about Europeans," I smirk, adopting a playful tone.
"What, they don't shave?" Cecilia laughs, causing me to laugh as well. What do you know, the silent girl actually has a sense of humor. A gem at a party when she's the only person I know, that's already evident.
"That part doesn't really bother me," I tell her truthfully. For the guys, not shaving was fine, for the most part, and for the girls, I obviously have no reason for their personal hygiene to bother me.
I lean in closer to Cecilia, and my tone changes from playful to scandalous, as if I'm telling some deep, dark secret. "I meant that they're crazy. You know, lack our North American inhibitions."
Cecilia laughs again. "Oh, you'll fit in well at Jack's," she tells me. "Try to put off hooking up with staff as long as possible. It's directly related to your dignity."
I chuckle, more to myself than anything. "I don't think that'll be a problem."
"Why, you have no dignity or you have great faith in your self-control? Because I did too, and then I found myself making out with Quentin in Chantal's bathroom." She winces at the memory.
I smile lightly. This is always the fun part, gauging reactions. And by 'fun,' I mean 'painful.' I really don't have a problem telling people about my sexuality, I don't, it's a part of me, it's so ingrained that it really is not a big deal for me to tell people. It's the reactions that aren't always as easy to handle. So I try to start by phrasing it delicately, a safe bet.
"The people I would be apt to hook up with at work? Probably wouldn't hook up with me."
"Aw, no," Cecilia says, placing a hand on my arm. I guess I'm not the only one of us to be relieved that we can actually hold a conversation. "You're a good-looking guy. And believe me, when some of those girls get drunk . . . " She trails off with a laugh, raising her arms to mock herself.
I'm careful to keep the same light smile on my face. "Be as that might, I'm gay," I tell her, inflecting a slight lilt with just a hint of seriousness.
Cecilia's eyes widen. "Oh!" she says. "Oh, I had no clue!"
This was the part I don't like, the part where it can easily take a turn for the very awkward if not handled carefully. I tend not to like people staying in any sort of semi-awkward stage for very long, so I usually attempt a joke. Another safe bet. "Yeah, so any loss of self-control for me would probably result in the same situation that it did for you. Making out with Quentin in the bathroom," I say.
Cecilia lets out a laugh. "I would almost pay to see that," she says.
I raise an eyebrow as I watch her eyes widen in realization of what she had just said. She quickly begins to laugh. "Oh, that came out wrong," she says between peals of laughter. "I meant that I think Quentin would, oh, I don't know, shit his pants if he did that? Though I wouldn't put it past him, if he were drunk."
I have to laugh too. This is good. She's easy to talk to, not obviously homophobic, and really, those are the only requirements I have for the basis of a friendship.
My thoughts are interrupted by a loud voice calling out Cecilia's name. Second later, a guy around our age, maybe a year or two younger, with some pretty gelled dirty blond hair appears, making me realize once again that I really need a haircut. He stops right in front of Cecilia, his hands jammed in the pockets of tight jean, hips slightly thrust out.
"Cecilia!" he exclaims again, pulling her into a hug. "It's been a while."
"Yeah, it has," she agrees, lightly returning his hug. "Oh, Luke, this is Gabe. Gabe, Luke," she says, gesturing from him to me as a way of introductions.
Luke looks me over, almost as if he's inspecting me, and I can see something in his eyes like recognition, though I'm fairly certain that I've never seen the guy before in my life.
Luke holds out a hand. "Hey," he says, his voice becoming conspicuously lower. "Nice to officially meet you."
I raise an eyebrow as I take Luke's hand, but this time, the eyebrow raise is almost involuntary. "Officially?" I repeat.
Luke's smile is wry. "Yeah. I've heard so much about you."
I shoot Cecilia a look, but she appears just as confused as I'm sure I look. I have no choice but to turn my attention back to Luke. "That's . . . interesting," I finally say. "Being that I'm not quite sure how that happened."
Luke's grin morphs into a full-on smirk, not a good look for someone I've just met and is already creeping me out a bit. "I guess you haven't been around for a while," he says.
"No," I agree, absolutely bewildered but fighting to keep my expression mild and polite. "I haven't."
"You used to be a regular at The Styx," Luke states, idly playing with his belt loop. I catch him studying me from eyes veiled under his eyelashes.
Oddly enough, or not so oddly, I guess, his explanation makes a bit of sense. "I did," I confirm. "I assume that you were the same?"
"Are the same," Luke corrects, if you can call throwing out some improper grammar implications correct. "I still go."
I smile softly, almost reminiscing about my past. "I haven't been for a long time," I say, my voice matching my smile in softness.
Luke's expression changes, and he doesn't look like he's challenging me anymore, but rather as if he's actually interested in where I've been.
"Why's that?" he asks.
"Gabe was in Europe. Would that be it?" Cecilia asks me, finally butting into the conversation.
I nod, smiling at her. "Yeah, that'd be it. I've been in Europe since last April, just up until a bit before Christmas," I tell Luke. "Had to come home for my mom."
Luke nods as if he understands everything about me now. "That's cool," he says. "Why don't I grab us some drinks, and we can chill? Maybe hear all about your European adventures."" The slight emphasis Luke put on "adventures" makes it sound like something grand, and from the grin on Luke's face, it seems that that's exactly how he meant it to sound. In which case, he'll be sorely disappointed by my recounting.
He'll probably also be sorely disappointed that the blatant way he's hitting on me won't get him anywhere. I mean, it's okay, him hitting on me, I'm not looking for a relationship, but then again, I never am. I'm not really the type to turn anything down, not right off the bat anyway. But I can be picky about my one-night stands. If I know them, they have to be cool with it. If I don't know them, then I have to be sure I'll never see them again. Somehow I don't think Luke fits those requirements.
But I shrug, and rhetorically say, "Sure, why not. There's an open couch and all."
"Like a sign," Cecilia says with a laugh, tossing her hair over her shoulders.
Luke looks at Cecilia with a start almost as if he forgot she's here. "Oh, Cecilia, I forgot to mention, but one of the reasons I came over here, other than to say hi, of course, was that Lyla was wondering if you were here. Lyla's my sister," he adds as an aside, presumably to me.
She shrugs easily. "Okay, I guess I should go track her down. Do you have any idea where she might be, Luke?"
It's Luke's turn to shrug now. "My best guess? The basement. Or the rec room, which is in a room down that hallway," he says, lazily throwing a hand in the general direction. "Best guesses." It doesn't escape me that both of these guesses are rooms quite far away from the open couch in this room.
"I'll start there, then," Cecilia declares. Either she's unaware of Luke's ploy to get her out of the room, which doesn't seem likely as it's overtly obvious, or she doesn't feel like putting effort into not playing along. I'll bet the latter.
She gives me a sidelong glance, and I'm pretty sure my bet's right on the money. "Gabe? You okay if I go say hi to some people?"
Of course I'm not going to stop a girl I've only just started talking to from leaving me with a guy, no matter how obvious said guy is in his plot to get me alone with him. I grin winningly at Cecilia, even though I'd rather have her here in order to keep Luke from full-on flirting. I'm not one to beg anyone to stay, I'm a big boy, I can handle myself. Besides, who knows, maybe Luke will be my one true love, or something like that. Okay, that's about as likely as me suddenly coming to the realization that I'm - surprise! - straight. It's just not going to happen.
All the same, I keep the grin on my face. "I'm sure I'll be fine. I'm a big boy, I can handle myself," I say, voicing a brief snippet of my internal monologue.
Cecilia laughs, giving my arm a quick squeeze. "Okay. I'll see you around, or if not, then I'll definitely see you at work."
I nod. "Sounds good."
She glances over her shoulder at Luke, who I can clearly see is grinning, partly happy, partly disbelieving from the looks of things. "Bye, Luke," she adds.
"See ya, Cee," he says, waving at her.
As soon as she disappears into the hallway, Luke turns to me, clutching at my arm. "Okay, you go grab that couch, I'll be right back with drinks. Beer sound good?"
"Sure," I agree amiably. "I don't really turn down free drinks." Stupidly, probably.
Luke returns a few minutes later, each hand clutching a brown bottle of beer. I take one with a quick "Thanks," and adjust my body into a comfortable position on the couch. "So, what did you want to know about Europe?"
Luke looks pensive for about half a second before bursting out laughing. "The men!" he exclaims. "Obviously." Because all we homos care about is men. Actually, I can't say that sarcastically, giving my earlier fits of fawning over Wes.
I have to laugh at Luke's tone though. "You'll need to get me a bit drunker for that kind of talk," I tease, not at all joking.
Luke winks at me. "That can be arranged."
I laugh again, having obviously set myself up for that one, and Luke takes another swig of his beer, looking quite pleased with himself indeed.
"Seriously, though," Luke says, his laughter petering out. "Why'd you go to Europe?"
"Okay, short version? Basically, my best friend and I went there to travel during summer, he went home for school, I decided not to. That incensed my mother, and then I came home for Christmas, as not to incense her more. Just a life experience, I guess you could say."
"Some experience," Luke comments mildly. "I wish I had a 'life experience' like that."
I smile. "Yeah, well, it put me below the poverty line, so take that as you will."
I turn my attention from Luke back to my drink, raising it to my lips. The beer doesn't quite tilt into my mouth as my eyes fall on a guy across the room. A man, really, still a young man, but too mature to be called a guy nonetheless. This man has rich, golden brown skin, and curly black hair framing dark eyes. Even from across the room, I can tell that he has long lashes, full lips, and a face that overall screams attractive. Am I projecting here? No, this is a face that is not only screaming attractive, but doing so from the tops of its lungs.
He's dressed casually too, nothing out of the ordinary with jeans and a shirt. In fact, there's nothing to suggest that he might just be gay. I have years of what one might call gaydar under my belt, literally, and just feel that he's gay. That may be me projecting this time, just extreme hope, but I hope, extremely hope, that's it's not just that.
There's my hope talking. Next comes Luke talking.
"Are you checking out Indra?" Luke asks incredulously. Before waiting for me to respond, which I can't without actually knowing who or what "Indra" is, Luke breaks out laughing. "Oh, my God, you're checking out Indra!"
I smile politely at him, ripping my eyes off of the man across the room. "Sorry?" I say.
Luke subtly motions across the room, jutting his chin in the general direction of the man. "Indra. The East Indian guy? You're totally checking him out, aren't you?"
I'm careful to keep my polite smile firmly on my face, even though I am, in fact, "totally checking him out." This isn't a fact I'm planning on mentioning to Luke though, for obvious reasons. "I'm simply taking in the room," I say mildly, figuring that Luke doesn't know me well enough to be able to call me on my bullshit without making himself look like an asshole.
Luke smiles back, a rather patronizing smile. No small nuances there that can be misinterpreted as me not really knowing the person. "And you were definitely taking in Indra," Luke says, his already familiar smirk making a quick return.
I feel my patience waning, and distract myself by taking a sip of my beer. "Luke. There are many people in the room that my eyes have rested on for perhaps more than a second. I doubt that it should merit this sort of reaction from you."
"If Indra was one of the people that your eyes landed on, then it definitely deserves a reaction. There are some things you should know about Indra," Luke says, folding a leg under him as he leans in closer.
Luke is obviously very much relishing his role as the authority on this man, which irritates me, sure, but I still feel me curiosity piquing despite this. I don't respond to Luke's comment though, instead simply raising an eyebrow in a gesture that I hope suggests my lack of caring, even though I'm quite the opposite right now.
It backfires, and it looks like my slight eyebrow raise signals my interest to Luke as he begins to launch into a deep-breath tirade about Indra, a tirade that promises to be long-winded. As such, I find that I have no choice but to lean back into the couch, and nurse my beer, being careful to keep my eyes off of Indra as not to encourage Luke anymore than I already have.
I only half-listen, sure that most of what's spewing from Luke's mouth is utter garbage. Okay, so I am a bit interested in hearing what Luke has to say, yes, but coming from Luke, I'm already pretty sure that most of it is gossipy garbage. I can hear the sure signs of Luke wrapping up his rant as he says, "But none of that matters, because you're young. Indra does not date younger guys. He won't date you. So, like, you can look at him, but try not to want him because that'll only make it suck more when you can't have him. Which, you know, is inevitable."
I rub the thumb over the side of my beer bottle. "And how, exactly, do you know all of this?"
Luke shrugs, his eyes not quite meeting mine. "It gets around. You're part of the gay community, you know how people's reputations spread."
I do know this. Damn, hasn't Luke just proven this by knowing who I am? So yes, I definitely know this. I know it well enough that I keep my own reputation rather spotless in all the ways that matter. But even though what Luke said here is true, I know it's not the truth, it's not his personal truth as to how he knows all of this. His awkwardness is evidence enough.
I smile, only bowing my head in acknowledgment. "I've never heard a word about him" I say. "Unless this information only became public while I was gone?" I dangle this string in front of him, and he takes it, nodding enthusiastically. Much too enthusiastically.
"Yeah, he wasn't really too involved in the whole community before. I guess," Luke adds.
I quickly tire of skirting around any real information. Actually, I'm just getting plain old tired, which, in turn, makes me impatient. It's simple math, really. "When did you hook up with him?" I finally ask, cutting right through all the formalities.
Luke gapes at me, stuttering out words that barely bear semblance to anything close to a reply. "What? I, no, I - I didn't hook up with him," he protests weakly.
I fix him with my most withering look, certain that my disbelief will translate well. It does, apparently, as Luke begins to backtrack.
"I mean, it wasn't like, I didn't just, it wasn't like that!" he finally exclaims. He sighs. "Okay, look. I saw him when I was out one night, and, look, it's not as bad as it sounds, but I, um, I got him really drunk. You know, bought him like a ton of drinks. Spent a lot of money," Luke admits, running a hand through his hair as a rueful smiles comes across his face.
I already know that it had paid off, all the money Luke had spent on his "seduction" of Indra, if you can even call it that. Already, I know how the story will end, and how, exactly, Luke attained the information about who, exactly, Indra is likely to date.
"I, you know, I managed to go home with him. And then, it was pretty obvious that Indra didn't really do one-night stands, because he was all embarrassed the next day, and it was super awkward, and then he tried to, I don't know, date me, I guess. Like, I could tell he was pretty reluctant or something, so I figure that he didn't want to start one-night stands, but I didn't care, I went along with it because why not? The guy's gorgeous, right, and I'd be a moron not to take that kind of an offer."
"And you'd already spent money on him, so why not try to get some back," I state quietly, knowing that that reasoning had to have ran through Luke's head. Anyone that puts down money to seduce a guy tries to get his money's worth in the end. That's just a fact. Shallow is as shallow does, I guess.
Luke nods, a sheepish look on his face. "That might have been part of it," he admits. "I mean, opportunity knocks and all, you know? But anyway, he waited for a week. Probably just to settle his conscience, so he can tell himself that he still doesn't do one-night stands, he does relationships, and then that was it."
I study him skeptically. "Did he tell it was because of the age difference, or is that just some conclusion you came to on your own?" I ask cryptically.
Luke chuckles, regaining his composure as he regains full control of the conversation. "Oh, he told me. Not in those words, of course, more of a 'we're in different places in our lives' kind of thing, but believe me, it was obvious. I'm not a moron, Gabe. I never had a real chance with him because I'm younger than him. Trust me, I've watched him all year - he doesn't date younger guys."
"How old is he?" I ask.
Luke laughs. "He's like twenty-six, twenty-seven, I think. So not even that old, but yes, okay, I'll give him that he's a mature twenty-whatever. Still. Fucking young for such elitism, right?" Luke takes a swig of his beer.
"Mmm," I say noncommittally. Luke smirks, acting as if he thinks my reaction to be one of interest. Interest in Indra. While not entirely wrong, it's an odd change, given how Luke seemed to be hitting on me earlier tonight so I wouldn't think such a guy would be amused by my interest in someone else. Either way, though, I frown slightly before shrugging, making my face a blank slate once more. "If you say so," I add.
Luke's smirk dissolves, and he shrugs as well. "Yeah, well, that's how he is. Just so you know, in case you decide to pursue him or something."
"Thanks. That wasn't the plan, but thanks all the same."
"You weren't planning to? What are you, crazy? Okay, Gabe, man, listen to me. You saw Indra across the room. You are a gay man, right, so I know you appreciate looking at him. So why were you not planning to go for him?"
I shrug. "I don't really plan that sort of thing," I reply.
Just like that, Luke's smirk is back. "Yeah," he says, leaning back. It's easy to tell that he's trying hard to keep his tone casual. "It's just as well, really, because like I said, Indra would never go for you anyway. So no point wasting your time."
"Or my money trying to get him drunk," I add. From the twitch of his eye, I can tell that Luke acknowledges the hit.
"You know what?" Luke says, leaning forward. "I bet you couldn't get Indra if you tried."
I recognize the challenge just as Luke recognized my insult. I don't acknowledge it like he responded to my admittedly catty remark. "Good thing I'm not trying, then," is the mild statement I elect to say.
Luke frowns. "Seriously, Gabe, I will literally make you a bet that you can't get Indra."
Now it's my turn to frown. "I forgot that I'm in some sort of teenage movie. No thanks, Luke, I think I'll have to pass," I say, voicing my displeasure with the very idea.
Luke shrugs, not looking entirely pleased with my reaction. "Suit yourself, man. Hey, I'm going to get another drink, you want anything?"
I shake my head. "No. Thanks, though."
Luke nods. "No problem. I'll be back right away, if you're still here. And if not, well, I guess maybe I'll see you around sometime." Ah, it seems that I haven't quite lived up to the promise of a good time that my reputation seemed to suggest. To Luke, at least. I'm quite okay with that, and so I only nod.
"Maybe," I agree. "No promises."
Luke scowls at this, but his face quickly smoothes over again. "Okay, well, see ya."
As soon as Luke virtually disappears from my view, I allow my eyes to wander back to Indra again. Of course I'm not going to admit it to Luke, but there is something about Indra that I find very intriguing. I tell myself that it's his looks and his mannerisms, the usual physical intrigues, and not Luke's words and taunts. I'd be a fool to let Luke's challenge determine my interest in a man. And I'm pretty sure I'm not a fool, at least not totally, not one who is susceptible to being so obviously manipulated. But here's hoping I don't see Luke again. Here's hoping I do see Indra again.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
So here it is! If you haven't figured it out, this is Gabe's story. Yes, Gabe from The Eiffel Tower. You may have also read a very similar third person account of this very chapter about six months ago. If you hijacked one of my computers, you probably read about fiver other versions of this same chapter. Needless to say, it's been heavily revised, though it still remains ridiculously long. I don't think people will be overly upset about that – at least, I hope not. Anyway, please let me know what you think. Of course, it'll be hard to say at this point if the edits are for the better in the long run, but I'd absolutely love any feedback you can give me.
Now, to get onto the more pressing matter of updates, they will be fairly frequent. (I know!) This may come as a bit of a shock to you all, I know, but I've got both a fairly detailed early outlined, and some pre-written chapters, so it definitely shouldn't be a long wait between updates. Weekly to biweekly for sure.
As always, a huge thank you to everyone who takes the time to read and/or review. I really love and appreciate any feedback, but I especially love it if you're reading and loving the story. Let me know if you are – I hope you are! Thanks, everyone!