Emil watched the street through the restaurant window. He'd brought the book he was working on, but the words all blurred together. What would Kurt be like? Emil only knew him second hand. Kurt had gone to the art college downtown with Peregrine and several of the friends Emil and Peregrine saw all the time. Greg, Mike, and Zan talked about Kurt the way one would any old friend. He filled the stories of their first years in college. Peregrine didn't talk about Kurt, though, which was one reason Emil knew that Peregrine wasn't over him.
The door opened and a Norse god walked in. Thor in a business suit. The pale blues of his tie were darker than his steel gray eyes. That suit must have been expensive; maybe it was tailored for him. How else would it keep all those muscles from looking bulky?
Kurt's eyebrows dipped as he looked around the restaurant. Maybe no one had told him what Emil looked like. Maybe no one told him that Emil existed. No, if Greg was the kind of guy to tell Emil that Peregrine had gone home with Kurt, he was the kind to tell Kurt that Peregrine was taken.
Emil stood up and waved Kurt over. He came, but he still looked around the room. When he got close, his eyes met Emil's. He gave Emil a slow once-over. "Not that I don't like what you have to offer, but I'm meeting someone."
For half a second Emil considered getting to know Kurt without letting on who he was, but beginning with a lie—even a white one—would start them out on the wrong foot. He put out his hand. "Emilio Bonsa-Faie."
Kurt took his hand and looked him over more carefully. "You're Emil?"
Emil grinned. "Expecting someone white?"
Kurt put his left hand to his heart—he was still holding Emil's hand with his right. "I must admit that is the truth."
Kurt's hand was huge. Emil had kind of expected that. Guys don't get to be six eight with small hands, but Kurt's made Emil feel like a child. Kurt jerked his hand from Emil's then tightened his grip again briefly before letting go. Emil bit his lip to cover his grin. Well, at least he didn't have to worry about mutual attraction.
Stupid, stupid. Kurt had held Emil's hand too long and then he'd let go too fast, drawing attention to the fact he'd held it too long. That quick squeeze hadn't helped anything. Peregrine was the man he loved. The only man he'd ever loved. He waved Emil back into his seat and sat down opposite him, back straight with his meet-the-opposition smile in place. "What's good here?"
Emil grinned, bringing a twinkle to his eyes. They were dark, like the best kind of chocolate, like midnight, like damp coffee grounds. Kurt wondered if he smelled as good. He pulled his gaze to his menu. Why had he managed to remain celibate as he finished college, went through law school, and worked his way to a job on this coast, but two weeks with Peregrine and now his bone wouldn't stay soft?
"I come here for the beef," Emil said and licked his soft lips.
Kurt looked back at his menu, but he didn't see anything. Thinking about another guy while he was seeing Peregrine was cheating even if this was the man Peregrine was cheating on to be with him.
"Peregrine stopped eating meat before I met him—after you left, I think. He lets me bring chicken and fish into the house, but no red meat." Emil's voice was like a melody. Kurt glanced around. He wasn't the only person here who was appreciating it.
He dared to lower his menu.
The waitress appeared, wearing a red gingham apron. "Are you ready to order?"
"I will defer to your judgment," Kurt said to Emil. Should he risk a beer? He could really use one at the moment. But only one; he needed his wits about him.
The smile Emil shot him should be outlawed. "Do you want a microbrew?"
Kurt nodded, grateful Emil offered, especially when Emil only wanted water.
"Separate checks?" the waitress asked, glancing between them.
Kurt was about to agree when Emil shook his head, his hair shifting across his shoulders. Was it as soft as it looked? Why did he wear it so long? Emil ran his teeth over his lower lip. "I invited you, so I'm paying."
The waitress waited a beat, glancing at Kurt. She thought this was a date, didn't she, and that Kurt as the older, better dressed man should pay. Kurt nodded to Emil. "Thank you."
If he was going to argue over who picked up the tab, he was going to do it after the waitress left, which she finally did.
Why had Emil invited him here? But Kurt was a man of patience and he had a meal in front of him, so he was in no hurry to find out. He just had to keep reminding himself of that.
Two young women walked by, their eyes in Emil. Kurt could sympathize. Emil was clean shaven and his straight, dark hair glistened in the dim light. His dusky skin was flawless and he had a lanky build, every part of him long and thin. Greg had said Emil was twenty-seven, but he looked about six years younger, like an innocent angel just spreading his wings. His clothes were nothing special, a purple t-shirt and black jeans, but if he looked this good in casuals, what would he look like dressed up? He was well above average height, but still shorter than Kurt. Maybe about the same height Kurt had been when he'd dated Peregrine the first time.
But of course the man was good looking, Peregrine loved beautiful things. Was Kurt simply seeing Emil through Peregrine's eyes? That would explain his body's reaction.
Emil glanced down at the table, so Kurt couldn't read his inner laughter—Peregrine said Emil's face was the window to his soul. He didn't want Kurt to read his soul yet. That would come later. Right now he needed to know this guy, the one who still held a part of Peregrine despite their dozen years apart.
"So, you went to school with Peregrine and Zan?"
Kurt nodded. "And Mike and Carly and Greg. Back then Zan was still Susie."
Mentioning the names of those old school mates meant that he'd spoken to them. Those were just the ones that still lived in the area. Emil watched Kurt closely as he told stories of his college days. When he spoke of Peregrine, he smiled and his eyes were bright like he was seeing some longed for thing. Their breakup must have been devastating for both of them. Kurt nursed his drink, supplementing it with sips of water. He tipped the bottle as he spoke of a long ago time that would never return. Emil had heard most of these stories from the others, but it was nice to hear Kurt's take on them. He was much more humble than Emil had expected, attributing good ideas to the others even though Peregrine's friends agreed that Kurt was the brains of their little group.
The waitress brought out the freshly charred meat. The steak was really more than Emil could eat, but this might be the only red meat he'd get all month. He carefully cut up a quarter of his steak and then took a bite. It was well worth the money.
Kurt ate each piece as he sliced it off. He even ate like a god, big bites but his hands, chin, and suit stayed immaculate. That must be an art. Halfway through his steak he put down his fork and ate a fry. "You said Peregrine went vegetarian?"
"Yes, he doesn't even like the smell of meat on my breath."
Kurt's face stilled. Did that mean he was thinking? Fighting an inner battle? Deciding what to say to keep the conversation going without giving away that he was sleeping with Emil's lover?
"He didn't tell you, did he?" Emil asked. That would be just like Peregrine not to say something he thought the other party didn't want to hear. That's probably why he hadn't told Emil that Kurt was back in town.
Kurt's face gave nothing away. Mike said he was worse than Japanese grandparents about that.
"When you took him out," Emil prompted.
"So you know about that."
"Yes, I know a lot of things. I know that while I was on a business trip you met Peregrine again at a fundraiser for the youth shelter. You took him out afterwards and then home with you."
Kurt picked up his utensils and dug back into his steak. He must fidget when he was nervous. Emil watched him eat. After three bites, he stopped. "Isn't this where you tell me to get lost?"
Emil laughed. "I really am the better lover."
Kurt carefully put down his fork. "What makes you say that?"
"Because I will never ask him to give you up."
How in the world did this man, this kid, know Kurt had asked Peregrine to leave him? Had Peregrine told him? Had Peregrine finally broken from the stress?
Emil laughed sinfully again. Kurt shifted in his chair.
"See, I know everything. I know you love Peregrine. I love him, too. I want what's best for him, what will make him happiest. Do you agree?"
"That Peregrine should be happy? Yes."
Emil nodded and brushed his silky hair over his shoulder. "I'm willing to let you make love to him, but I need you to agree to certain terms."
Kurt's heartbeat pulsed though his body. He was getting a headache, maybe from clinching his teeth. "Like what?"
"We have to let Peregrine know that we are aware of each other and that we are all right with sharing, but we do actually need to be all right with it. That can't be a lie. I've made up a schedule." Emil pulled a piece of paper from his messenger bag.
This kid couldn't be serious, could he? There had to be something wrong with his head.
Emil cleared a space at Kurt's left elbow and laid a year-at-a-glance calendar down. Some weeks were crossed through with purple. "You're in the unmarked weeks because I didn't know your favorite color."
"Green." Kurt looked over the page. All the first weeks were purple, as was next week, but every other line from then on was blank. Did Emil really mean to let Kurt have Peregrine half the time?
"Pastel, forest, neon, or bright?" Emil held up four green pens.
Kurt touched the darkest one and watched as Emil drew green on the empty weeks.
"Now," said Emil, "You've had him the last two weeks, so I'm next, see? He still only wants it once a week, less if he's working. All his sexual energy goes to art. And don't tell me he put out more for you. Mike and Zan told me you used to complain about the same thing."
How much did Emil know about him? How much did he understand? Greg said that Peregrine had been dating Emil for six years. Had Emil soaked up stories about Kurt, so he could win against him when he returned?
Emil sighed. Kurt wasn't taking this as well as he hope—better than he expected—but not as well as he would have liked. Kurt studied the calendar as he ate, not giving the steak the attention it deserved. "You can't be serious?"
Kurt really didn't know Emil at all if he didn't realize just how serious he was. Hadn't he asked anyone about him? Emil was disappointed.
"Facts: When I got back from the convention this time, Peregrine was happy. That was the first time, even when I'd just been gone overnight. He hates being alone. He can't sleep, he can't eat, he doesn't do his art. He just goes on a cleaning spree, you know how he is." But maybe Kurt didn't. Was that one of the coping skill Peregrine learned while he was alone?
Kurt put down his fork. "I do remember that he liked to clean up after me."
Emil nodded. He'd been told what a slob Kurt was. The man today looked very different from how he must have in college. "But I don't just mean keeping the top of the refrigerator clean and dusting soup cans, I mean waxing the legs of the kitchen table and washing everything in all the cupboards."
Kurt raised his eyebrows. "Like vacuuming the closets."
"He does that all the time. Didn't he do that when you roomed together?"
"Why is your hair so long?"
Emil let his fingers drop. He hadn't even realized he was playing with his hair. "Peregrine likes it this way."
"So he can grab it during sex?" Kurt's face looked almost predatory for a second.
Emil shook his head. "He likes to play with it when we are sitting on the couch. He likes long hair, but he says it gets in the way of his art."
"So you grew yours out for him."
Emil pulled up a lock and let it run though his fingers. "I haven't cut it in six years and eight months."
"Since you started dating Peregrine."
"We met at the International Film Festival here in town." Emil knew that was unfair. Kurt hated subtitled movies or, at least, he used to. But all was fair in love and war and Emil felt he was waging both.
"So what kind of career lets you have hair this long?" Kurt looked around as if imaging Emil waiting on tables.
"I write books. Didn't you ask anything about me at all?" Did Kurt just think he was going to growl and Emil would bare his throat? The five year age gap really didn't make that much difference. They were both adults. Emil had been taking care of himself for almost twenty years as he was shifted from foster home to foster home. He wasn't going to let some guy who only just stopped getting handouts from his parents take Peregrine away from him.
"What kind of books?"
Emil took a slow deep breath. He wasn't going to let this guy rile him. Even if he didn't answer questions. "Science book for children."
"Like volcanoes and dinosaurs?"
"Cats, at the moment. I've done lions, tigers, cheetahs, ocelots, and cougars. I'm working on jaguars. Leopards, lynx, and bobcats are next along with oncillas and other lesser known cats."
"A book for each?"
"And how many books have you written? I didn't see your name on Amazon."
Emil smiled. Kurt had tried to look him up. "Did you look under Emilio Rainwater? Sounds Native American, doesn't it, but it's Puritan. My mother is about as white as they come." Emil felt his face heat. Years ago he'd thought up that little speech, but he'd never before used it on someone paler than his mother. "Well, I guess, not as white as you."
But Kurt wasn't eating again or blanking his face, so maybe he hadn't caught Emil's gaffe. "But you have some color in you."
"I'm my mother's Mexican Spring Break Surprise." She didn't have any recollection of that week, but she gave him a Hispanic name to commemorate it.
"Rainwater doesn't sound Puritan."
"I come from a family so extreme that they didn't just abstain from alcohol, they didn't drink anything stronger than rain water, so no tea or coffee."
"Is that why...?" Kurt pointed at Emil's water glass with the bottom of his beer bottle.
Emil shook his head. "My mother is an alcoholic. It's easier not to get addicted if you never drink the stuff."
Kurt nodded slowly while nibbling on his upper lip. How could the guys say Kurt's face wasn't expressive? His whole body was expressive. Of course, Emil didn't know him well enough to understand what this particular expression meant, but he would.
Kurt did not understand this kid at all. He didn't even know why he was here. Was Emil trying to show just how much Peregrine had changed? If so, he was doing a spectacular job. But that wouldn't explain why Emil seemed willing to share Peregrine with him.
Kurt finished his steak before he realized it. What was a giant amount of meat for a skinny guy like Emil didn't quite fill Kurt up. He picked up a fry, but then decided not to eat it.
Emil was still working on the second quarter of his steak. He had eaten most of his fries and all of his coleslaw. No wonder he didn't have room for more meat. Emil looked up and caught his eye. "I can't take any leftovers home. Do you have any room for more?"
Emil drove his fork into his steak and lifted it before Kurt could decide whether to be truthful or polite. Kurt lifted his plate to the meat.
"If it makes you feel better," said Emil, "I'll take your veggies."
Kurt gladly let him have them.
Emil picked up a fry. "This is what I mean. If we can share a meal, can't we share Peregrine?"
"Do you really think he'd be happy switching between us?" Kurt didn't think so himself, plus Peregrine lived with Emil which gave Emil an unfair advantage. "What's in it for you?"
"To answer you last question first, if Peregrine is happy, I'm happy, but only if I'm with him. I might be selfless, but I'm not that selfless."
Life would be easier if Emil would just step away, but that wouldn't make Peregrine any happier. He seemed to spend all his time thinking about Emil or at least talking about him, even in bed, like he wanted Kurt to know just what he'd be giving up. Kurt had been taught though years of experience never to show his hand, but maybe it was time to lay his cards on the table. "Peregrine loves you."
"He loves you, too. To make him happy we have to make this work."
"Again, how is this going to make him happy? We are already tearing him apart."
"Ok." Emil took a deep breath. "This is where we have to make the leap of faith. Right now we are pulling him in two different directions. He feels guilty for loving you, but he can't help himself."
"He told you this?"
"He didn't have to. I love him. I can read it on his face, in his posture, in what he says or fails to mention, like the fundraiser where you met again. He is pulled in two, but only because you and I are apart. If we were also lovers, he wouldn't have to feel any guilt."
Kurt swallowed hard, shifted in his seat, and picked up his fork. Emil didn't just say what Kurt thought he heard. Kurt dug into the steak. This beautiful kid was asking to sleep with him. Just sex or real lovers? Where would they live? Kurt wasn't going to let those two share a house without him. He was looking for a condo anyway. They would need a room for Peregrine's studio, and presumably one for Emil's office and Kurt needed an office, plus they needed a bedroom big enough for a king sized bed, three dressers, and all their clothes. Did such a place exist? Kurt should check with his realtor.
But he was getting ahead of himself. "Say again?"
Emil was grinning. His eyes sparkled. His whole body was jubilant. He was a ball of concentrated energy, as if he could read Kurt's mind and know he had agreed. "I want," he said, taking Kurt's right hand in both his small ones. "I want to sleep with you. I want to fall in love with you and you with me."
"And this will make Peregrine happy?"
Kurt stroked Emil's palm with his thumb. "I sure hope you're right."