A/N: I've been poking at this for a little while. I was inspired by a series of bits by frogs_of_war (on lj, not fp), but I didn't really understand this story till I realized it takes place in the same universe as my own A Suitable Lover. The characters from that story will not be featured all that prominently in this story, but Roxy Redtail is a major mover and shaker in this, and well -- you could blame it all on Patrick . . .
I'm certainly blaming Patrick, or maybe Roxy, for the fact that the probably four-part novella seems to be turning into an epic. I hope not. I know everything that happens in this but how long it takes to tell I do not know.
Royalty: A Cherry Street Story
Chapter 1. Blame it on Patrick.
The mess that was eventually going to emerge from Kenny's apartment could ultimately be blamed on Patrick. Not that he actually did anything, but it was his idea to merge his periodic film-and-literature hangings-out with friends with his new boyfriend's Sunday brunches. And if that had not happened, Roxy and Melinda would never have met, and if Roxy and Melinda had never met, Kenny and Yermo would never have met.
Simon knew Roxy, and Roxy knew Kenny. Just the night before this particular expanded brunch Roxy had been bothering Kenny at the Moving Eye, a particularly ill-advised dance club Kenny besieged in hopes of flushing out the prince of his dreams. Roxy had an idea that Kenny would make a great model for a not-really-friend of hers who was not interested in brooding, cutting-edge symbolic portraits with disturbing junk posed around the principal figure but who she thought ought to be doing those instead of the precise geometric meditations in sepia ink on distressed bristol board she was doing at present. So sometimes she was bothering the artist about it, and sometimes she was bothering Kenny about it, though they both remained reluctant.
Kenny had been more tolerant of her bothering him than previously, which Roxy thought might mean that he had found a prince after all. Although Kenny didn't strike her as the princess type, he was quite emphatic that what he was looking for -- in possibly the wrong places, who knows -- was "a bonafide prince." He knew what that meant, and by now, so did all his friends. "No, I have not found the merest of a suggestion of royalty lately," Kenny said. "But I have found a fantastic apartment and I can even afford it if I have a roommate. And I do, for the rest of the month. Know any really great people looking for an apartment to share?"
Roxy didn't, but the next day at Simon and Patrick's place she met this cute social worker named Melinda, a friend of Patrick's, and somehow -- you know how it goes, one minute you're talking about Queen Anne architecture and the ridiculous paint jobs you've seen around town, and the next minute you're mentioning Kenny's fabulous new apartment which is not in a Queen Anne at all but more of a Mid-Century Cinderblock Beach-Style tenement but it has great views and really nice amenities, and the fact that he has three weeks to get a new roommate or he can't afford it.
"What a coincidence," Melinda said with way too much enthusiasm. " There's a really sweet guy at my work who's looking for a place."
"How sweet is he?" Roxy asked, immediately getting another of her patented Way Cool Ideas, also known as really rotten ideas that shake up peoples' lives unnecessarily.
"Really sweet. All the patients love him."
"He's a doctor?"
"No, he's an orderly. But don't worry, I bet he can pay the rent, whatever it is: the convalescent hospital where we work is unionized."
Roxy was pretty sure her great idea wasn't going to work -- she was almost certain that a convalescent hospital orderly would not possibly meet Kenny's criteria for a bona-fide prince. However, she asked one more question before tossing it to the winds. "Is he the romantic type?"
"Oh lord no," Melinda giggled. "He's the other type of gay guy -- no, not that one, not the cruising and sexing it up kind. He's the kindly avuncular sexless type. Except he's really young. You know what I mean?"
"Yeah," Roxy nodded, happily letting her Way Cool Idea die. "What do you think he's like as a roommate?"
"Excellent. I can tell you from experience. I lived with him for three months last year before I moved in with my sweetie," thus dashing another thought Roxy had been allowing to ferment in the background. What could she say? Melinda was cute, but Roxy had not staked her heart, and might never -- the world was full of things to catch her attention.
Anyway, a nice sexless avuncular roommate for Kenny might be just the ticket. Someone Kenny could rely on for sympathy while he stalked the streets of Caltrop Valley for the elusive Mister -- no, Prince --Right. Cell phones were taken out and conversations ensued, and cell phones switched hands and Melinda talked to Roxy's friend and Roxy talked to Melinda's friend and for one insane moment they almost put the phones up to face each other and let the boys talk to each other . . . almost. They caught themselves just in time, had a manic laugh, and agreed that they were the most ridiculous people each had ever met. A date was set for early in the week, so that Melinda and Roxy and Kenny and Melinda's friend could meet at the Leaping Lox. Of course. The most neutral of territories in every possible way. Not even a fern bar, it was a fern café, with a menu you could plop in front of your aunt from Weehawken as well as your hipster nephew.
Melinda's friend was named Yermo and when Kenny saw him sit down at the table with him and Roxy and Melinda his first thought was that there had been a mixup and the prospective roommate had sent a baby brother in to pinch-hit. He was cute enough in his way, he thought, not even bothering to chide himself for shallowness, judging a roommate by his looks. Not tall, and not fashionably scrawny, Yermo had kind of all-purpose medium dark-olive coloring and a bland, almost professional smile -- :but he would, Kenny thought, he's an orderly. He smiles at anything resembling a human face. It was true, though.
They were reasonably compatible considering the deep divide on the romance subject, and they fell into an easy discussion of generalities, said goodbye to Roxy and Melinda, and went to look at the room in question. Yermo liked it, asked about the rent with just the right amount of hesitation, and actually stammered a bit when he said he'd love to move in and again when Kenny gave him another once-over, and then Kenny brought out a bottle of wine though he usually saved it for the visiting royalty candidates, and they leaned back on Kenny's black leather couch and talked all night.
Melinda chased Yermo down at work the next day. She had been impressed by Kenny's affability, his wit, and the fact that he looked twice at Yermo. ("Such a pity Yermo's gay," she had said to Roxy. "Men don't appreciate a guy like him, but a woman will, once she's had her heart broken once or twice." Roxy looked at her sharply: but no, Melinda had a sweetie, right, and couldn't possibly be secretly in love with Yermo?)
"Well?" she asked. "Are you going to move in with him?"
Yermo's face brightened. "Yeah," he said. "It's a really nice place. Convenient."
"How do you like the guy?"
"I think he will be an interesting roommate. He's going to show me a bunch of movies I've never seen, and he's more social than me. That's good. I've been less social than I ought to be lately."
Lately being the last five years, since the end of Yermo's only relationship. When Melinda met him he was less cheerful and more vulnerable. Now he was serene and easy all the time, as far as Melinda could tell.
"Sounds good for you," Melinda said, grinning, and punched him in the shoulder guy-style. "You think he might be interesting in the other sense too?"
Yermo frowned a little as if she had suddenly started speaking a non-Indo-European language. Then he barked out a laugh as he got her meaning.
"Interesting to somebody, not to me," Yermo said. "I'm not interested in any of that. And if I was, I wouldn't waste my time. I'm definitely not his type, either."
"Oh well," Melinda said, lightly. "I suppose it would be a bad idea to get involved with a roommate, anyway."
"Yeah," said Yermo.
Kenny's old roommate left a few days before the end of the month. Yermo started moving in right away. He didn't have very much stuff. He did have a what had been a very nice computer six or seven years ago, and a banana box full of adequate clothes for traveling between home and work, and a magical electrical kettle that had to go through a special transformer because ti was from Australia originally. Another banana box, very heavy, filled with books and some things he would not mention. And a very fancy little coffee maker that would only make one cup at a time.
Kenny was very glad to see the kettle and the coffee maker. He was a coffee snob himself but he had never been really into making the coffee himself, so he spent much more time and money than he would like at places like the Leaping Lox, or the old-fashioned Italian café Limone where the coffee was dark as midnight and he had to put up with mandolin quartets doing bits from Verdi. So almost the first thing he did was ask Yermo to make coffee for him. "Not now, man," Yermo laughed. "In the morning, or you'll be sick tonight."
"I'm okay with it," Kenny said. He meant that he could tolerate it.
"No, Melinda said that Roxy said you'd want to drink coffee all the time but you get sick if you drink it too late in the day, so we're going to wait, okay? Otherwise I'd feel guilty."
Kenny smirked. He wouldn't get his coffee, but he liked that his new roommate cared to take care.
He wasn't a princess, but he did like courtesy.
Yermo duly made coffee the next morning before Kenny had to go to work. It was sublime. "This tastes like Jamaica Blue Mountain," Kenny said.
"It is," Yermo said.
"What a coincidence," Kenny said. "My favorite."
Yemo blushed. "It's not a coincidence. Roxy told me. I figured on a thank you present for letting me live here."
Kenny raised his eyebrows. There was a whole world of mystery in that statement -- it could mean or not mean a lot of things and Kenny didn't even want to know what he thought about any of it right now, and anyway he had to go to work. So he did, and Yermo went back to bed. "I'm on a rotating schedule, and it's a late shift today."
"What? Why did you get up if you don't have to go to work?"
Yermo shrugged, "Well. You know," he said.
Kenny didn't know. He wasn't even sure if he wanted to know, any more than he wanted to know what the other thing meant.
Roxy asked Kenny to bring his new roommate to Patrick's next Sunday brunch.
Kenny grimaced. "Probably not. He tends to work on Sundays. So his coworkers can go to church and crap."
"Oh," Roxy said, thoughtful. "Well, at least you know he's not a church type himself, then."
"Probably not," Kenny agreed, thoughtful. "He went to the Moving Eye with me last week."
"Really? How does he dance?"
"Infrequently and awkwardly," Kenny said.
So Roxy was pretty well convinced that Yermo was not, after all, a prince for Kenny.
The Moving Eye was not as difficult an experience for Yermo as it may have sounded. He wasn't all that self-conscious about his awkward dancing. He wasn't there to catch anybody's eye, just to have a good time. And for that reason he had two beers and manipulated matters so that Kenny only had three. He did it skillfully enough that Kenny did not feel any resentment at the manipulation, only relief at the lack of hangover, and at the fact that he did not after all go home with the dashing stranger with the violet eyes and blond hair, who on sober reflection seemed less like a candidate for royalty than a possible creeper and definitely a shallow and drunken man.
The next weekend Yermo had Friday off and not Saturday, so Friday is when he accompanied Kenny to the Moving Eye. They spent Friday afternoon talking about the royalty theory while Yermo disconnected his Nintendo from his computer and connected it to Kenny's television in the livingroom.
"It's not literal, of course," Kenny said. He was lying on the couch watching Yermo at work. He had had a hard week and there was something about this conversation that was giving him a sore throat. "I don't know what I'd do if I met a real aristocrat. Probably be put off. Not really interested in wealth and crap. The Founders had a point when they put it in the constitution that nobody could have titles. But. My Prince won't be like that. Just -- "
"Oh, I get it," Yermo said. "It's just shorthand for the romantic ideal. I've come across it before.":
"Really? What's your shorthand for the romantic ideal, then?"
Yermo hesitated, but it was just a hard-to-reach connection. "Don't have one. Not a romantic bone in my body."
"Well, the kind of guy you're looking for, then."
"Not looking for anybody."
"What you would be looking for if you weren't too lazy or cowardly or whatever to put any effort into it."
"I wouldn't be." Yermo sat back on his heels, satisfied that he had gotten the thing hooked up. "I'm pretty sure I'm going to be single indefinitely. Not real interested in a relationship. Not really suited for one, really. Don't like all that smoochy stuff."
"You're pretty young to embrace celibacy."
Yermo didn't say more like celibacy embraced me, but he did say "I'm not real adverse to a cuddle here and there." He looked up suddenly, and looked away quickly, but not too quickly for Kenny to fail to see that Yermo was especially not adverse to a cuddle here and there with Kenny.
Kenny wasn't sure what he thought about that. He was far from celibate himself, but for him sex wasn't a recreational thing to be done with friends. It was Serious Business that served to sort out the real prospects for princehood from the merely attractive. So he didn't think he would pursue the matter.
They got to the Moving Eye around ten, a good time to arrive there. They stepped off the streetcar in a high mood, having had a grand time making dinner together (pasta primavera and tomato salad) and arguing about what they should wear. Kenny wanted to dress Yermo up, and Yermo wanted to dress Kenny down, a little. Just switch out the shiny tight shirt for a looser cotton one. Which Kenny allowed him to do when Yermo told him just what he looked like in the cotton one. How the blue brought out his eyes (which were not blue but apparently a shade of green that went very well with that particular shade of blue), and how nicely the cotton draped over his rangy torso. "And besides, the other one will get nasty if you end up dancing a lot."
Kenny was less successful. Yermo changed shirts, but the shirt he changed into was just like the one he changed out of. When Kenny called him on it, he went to his banana box and pulled out another one, also almost identical. Grinning at Kenny's dismay, he reached into the box and pulled out another one of the same type. "I get the point," Kenny said. "The one you're wearing is ironed at least."
They got beers and didn't bother to get a table once they found a good vantage point from which to observe the people on the floor. Yermo was intent on getting a handle on Kenny's romantic archetype. "So, that guy?" he'd ask.
"Nope. Too pushy. See how he is with his partner? I'd be afraid to go near him."
"That one? With the curly hair?"
"Which? You mean, that guy who's almost bald? I guess those are curls. Anyway, no, he's too reserved. He looks like he doesn't approve of anything anybody says to him."
And so it went. Yermo stored up every comment. Kenny was going by looks -- but it wasn't coloring, or height, or build he was looking for: it was posture, expression, gaze. There was one candidate, and Kenny went over to talk to him, but he was taken, and Kenny came back to Yermo with a grim expression.
"You know what? I've had enough for the night. Let's go home."
Yermo nodded briefly and followed Kenny to the door. He reached around Kenny and pushed the door open and followed him to the streetcar stop. On the streetcar he held Kenny's hand, and he was headed into the kitchen to get Kenny a glass of water when Kenny tugged him back and pushed him against the back of the door. Glaring into Yermo's face, he said, "You're not averse?" and roughly grasped Yermo's soft chin and hovered there, ready to kiss him or to pull away, depending on Yermo's answer.
"Not averse," Yermo said, softly, barely stroking Kenny's back.
What a bad idea this is, Kenny thought, even as he calculated whether he was strong enough to take Yermo standing up, right there against the door.
They actually made it as far as the couch.
a final note -- fictionpress is having all kinds of trouble here lately, and hasn't registered any hits in two weeks. Also, it's been hard to access stories, profiles, and communities. So I'm trying to get in the habit of leaving more reviews, myself, so people know they're getting read.