[A/N: This is m/m with a naughty bit towards the end. If you are too young for naughty bits, turn back now. You have been warned.]
"I will pay you three hundred dollars to go out with me."
Toby looked up, his crossword forgotten, pencil hanging in the air mid-way through 'lambda' ("Kafka follower"). He glanced to his left, then his right, making sure no one had sat down next to him while he wasn't paying attention.
"What?" he asked.
"One night, six hours at most."
"Um," said Toby. "Is this like a candid camera thing?"
"No. Three hundred dollars, yes or no."
"That's very direct."
"I'm a direct person. Is that a problem?
"I wouldn't say that was the problem," Toby said. The other patrons in the coffeehouse were starting to notice them. It was a small room and most of the regulars knew each other. The man wasn't one of them.
"May I sit down?" The man pulled out the chair before Toby could answer. He folded his hands on the table. There was an rose gold ring with stylized vines on his right hand, middle finger. It didn't look like a knock-off. Neither did his coat; napoleon collar, double rows of brass buttons, black wool. There was an air of unspoken wealth surrounding the man, a palatable form of intimidation. Toby stuck his hands in his lap, hiding his frayed sleeves.
"I'm not sure I can help you," he said.
"It's not about sex. I don't pay for sex."
"I'm sure you don't," Toby said. He guessed the man was a few years older than he was, but the man had gone grey early. Only a handful of black streaks interrupted the silvery strands. It turned him from just an attractive man to a striking one.
"If three hundred is not enough-"
"Why are you doing this?" Toby asked, leaning forward, dropping his voice to a whisper. "Is this a practical joke or something? Did Darren put you up to this?"
"I told you no."
"Than what? Do you get off on propositioning complete strangers?"
"No sex. I don't like to repeat myself," said the man with a touch of irritation.
"Then explain why the hell you're offering me three hundred dollars to date you."
The man's fingers tightened. He stared down at the table, the muscles in his jaw twitching.
"Trigram," he said.
"A three-letter combo. 53 across."
"For God's sake!" Toby snapped. The man's mouth dropped open a little, but he recovered quickly.
"I want to make my ex cry," he said. "I want him to weep until his lungs fill with salt water and he drowns. I want to rip out his soul and make him watch while I violate it in unspeakable ways. I want to grind his very reason for living into dust and use it as kitty litter. I want him to be filled with a misery so deep that it resides in his bones. I want him to flagellate himself through the streets all the time shrieking for my forgiveness."
"So, bad break-up?" Toby asked.
"You could say that, yes."
Toby nodded. He filled in 53 across, then set the pencil on the table. He flicked it back and forth, trying to see if he could make it spin.
"What does that have to do with me?" he asked.
"You're hot," said the man.
"Um," said Toby. He could feel himself starting to blush. "That's, um, well. Thanks."
"It was a statement of fact. Your features fit the current standard of beauty within our society. You appear fit, although it is hard to tell with that horrible sweatshirt you're wearing, and you are above average height. Aside from your athletic level, you have little control over any of these factors, so I don't see why remarking upon them should be considered a compliment."
"I'm sitting down," said Toby.
"Yes," said the man. "That is true, but I'm not sure it pertains to what we are discussing."
"I mean, how do you know that I'm tall? Have you been watching me?"
The man was looking at him as though Toby lacked the mental ability of a bottle of dish soap.
"We're both sitting down," he said. "In the same type of chair. You are taller than me by at least two inches, which puts you around six feet. The average height for a man in the US is about five-nine, meaning that you are above average height."
"You know," Toby said. "You're kind of a dick."
"Thank you," said the man.
"The 'kind of' part."
Toby smiled. He couldn't help it.
"I'm not sure hiring me to make your ex jealous is going to work," he said.
"Uh, I'm not sure how to put this, but you look...expensive."
"I think your jacket cost more than my rent," Toby said.
"No doubt it did," said the man. "So?"
"So I don't think I'm who you're looking for. Where would we even be going?"
"A gallery opening," the man said.
"I'm not really the gallery opening type," said Toby. "What would I talk about?"
"All you need to do is smile and drink champagne. Speaking won't be necessary."
"Wow. Okay, wow. Tell me, why exactly did your ex dump you? Because you seem like such a delightful human being."
"He didn't dump me," the man said, two red spots highlighting an impressive set of cheekbones. "I broke up with him."
"And now you want to rub salt in the wound?"
"I broke up with him," the man said. "Because he fucked three-quarters of the gay men in this city, not to mention single-handedly keeping professional escort sector afloat. And after I broke up with him, not only did he abscond with my secretary, but also informed me that I should start a course of penicillin, because he didn't even have the common decency to wear a condom while whoring himself out to anyone with a working cock."
The man's voice rose as he spoke until he was shouting, the words 'working cock' reverberating through the tiny shop. Toby tried not to make eye-contact with anyone, especially the elderly woman in the Christmas sweater who reminded him of his grandmother. He stood up, shoving his paper into his bag and slinging it over his shoulder. He grabbed the man's arm, hauling him up.
"I think we should talk somewhere else," he said, dragging the man out the door. The bell chimed merrily behind them. "Well, I can never go there again."
"Will you let go of me? I'm not used to being manhandled," said the man in a particularly snotty way that riled Toby's nerves.
"Maybe if you let your ex manhandle you a little more, he wouldn't have had to go slumming," he replied.
The man stopped, wrenching his arm free. He carefully smoothed out the wrinkles left from Toby's grip, then looked up.
"Fuck you," he said, each syllable snapping in the air. Turning, the man started striding away, spine rigid, head thrown back. A tourist jumped out of his path, clearly terrified.
"Shit," Toby muttered. "God damn it." He jogged to catch up, his bag slapping against his side. "Hey, um, guy, wait up. No, not you, the grey-haired guy. Hey!"
He reached the intersection just as the walk sign clicked on. The man clearly heard him, but he wasn't stopping. Toby ran in front of him, then spun around.
"Look, I'm sorry," he said. "That was out of line. I shouldn't have said that, and I'm sorry. I know what it's like to be cheated on and it sucks. It sucks a lot, so I-"
"Curb," said the man.
"Wha-aah!" Toby, walking backwards, had failed to remember that streets possessed curbs and as a result performed a pratfall worthy of Buster Keaton. The contents of his bag tumbled out; pens, notebooks, books, calculator, phone, miscellaneous junk and a half-eaten bag of Warheads. Toby scrambled, trying to collect everything while a group of Japanese tourists took pictures.
"Architecture: Form, Space and Order," the man read. Toby snatched the book out of his hands. "You're studying architecture?"
"Architecture engineering," Toby mumbled.
"What is that?"
"It means I make sure the buildings don't fall down."
Toby stood up, brushing the grit off of his jeans. The man reached over and flicked something off his shoulder.
"I accept your apology," he said.
"Thank you," said Toby. "So about that penicillin thing-"
"It's been taken care of."
"Ah, okay. Good." Without quite meaning to, Toby fell into step with the man, switching his bag to his other shoulder to avoid hitting him.
"Can I assume from your continued presence that you are considering my offer?" the man asked.
"I don't even know your name."
"It's a family name," the man said. "Call me Viv."
"Viv, okay. You know, I think I have a great-aunt named Vivian."
Viv made an annoyed clicking sound with his tongue.
"So what is your name?" he asked.
"I used to have a beagle named Toby."
"Ha ha, you're hilarious," Toby said.
"I had to have him neutered because he kept molesting the furniture."
"And the wit just keeps coming."
To his surprise, Viv laughed. He pointed to the entrance to a small park, the gates nearly swallowed by ivy.
"Would you like to sit down?" he asked.
Toby bit his lip. He knew he should go, tell Viv he couldn't help and leave. That was the only way this thing wouldn't end in total disaster. Getting involved in other people's relationship issues was just a bad idea. He would say goodbye and never see Viv again.
"Okay," said Toby.
It was a warm day, unusual for this time of year. The park was crowded with people squeezing out the last bit of good weather before the snow started next month. There were a group of kids playing soccer, although there appeared to be five or six different teams, depending on who had the ball at the moment. A lot of people were stretched out on blankets on the low, sloping hill, noses pressed into textbooks. It was mid-term season. Toby waved to a couple of them, recognizing them from school.
"I like this park," Viv said, taking a seat on the wide concrete lip that circled the fountain. He unbuttoned his coat, revealing a olive green slim-fit button-down shirt. When he crossed his legs, Toby noticed his socks were the same color. Toby was lucky when his socks matched each other, let alone his shirt. He hesitated, shifting his weight from side to side.
"Are you going to sit?" Viv asked.
"I can't," Toby blurted out.
"You can't sit?"
"No, I mean I can't help you. Just look at you."
"Is it the hair?"
"No, it's not the hair. I like the hair. The hair is different, but in a good way, you know?"
Viv looked at him for a few seconds, then leaned forward, curling his hands around the edge of the fountain.
"You do realize I'm not actually asking you out," he said. "This is a business arrangement."
"So hire a professional," Toby said. "I'm a student. I work at a Chinese restaurant. These are literally the nicest clothes I own. I owe eighty thousand dollars in student loans and I haven't even graduated yet. I steal cable from my neighbors. I watch hockey. The last book I read that wasn't for school was The Paper Bag Princess. I don't like sushi or pate or any food that I can't identify in the first ten seconds. I drink beer, not champagne. I'm not the right guy. Find someone else."
"The Paper Bag Princess?" Viv asked, eyebrows raised.
"I was babysitting my niece."
"Good, I was worried for a moment."
"You understand, right?" Toby pleaded. "Why it can't be me?"
"Not at all," said Viv. "None of those things are mutually exclusive with gallery attendance. I drink beer, and while I prefer watching UFC fights, I do occasionally watch hockey. I do love sushi, however, and believe your dislike has more to do with your ingrained western prejudices than the actual food itself."
"You watch UFC fights?"
"UFC fights, really."
"Yes," Viv said. "They're fascinating."
"Oh, sure," said Toby. "That's completely the word I would use."
"On a sociological level, yes. The subculture of male bonding that arises-"
"It's because it's hot, half-naked men grappling with each other, isn't it?"
Viv grinned at him.
"It's the best sport ever," he said.
Toby shook his head, not bothering to hide his smile.
"You're wrong about the sushi thing," he said. "I've tried it with fish and without. I just don't like it. It's a lump of sticky rice. How is that appealing?"
"I suppose you'd prefer a slab of meat doused in steak sauce," Viv said.
"Yeah," said Toby. "With french fries and a beer."
"You make me very sad, Toby."
"Tell the sushi thing is not some pretentious, look-how-open-minded-and-cool-I-am thing. Come on, tell me."
Viv straightened, crossing his arms over his chest, giving him a hard look. Toby mimicked him, adding a little foot tapping of his own.
"I will admit there is-"
"I knew it!"
"There a certain amount of caché," Viv continued, glaring. "However, while I am shallow, I am not that shallow. I eat sushi because I like it and I would continue to eat it even if it becomes the equivalent of potato rinds."
"Fine," said Toby. "I'll give you that if you agree that I am allowed to dislike it for my own reasons and not because I'm American and think raw fish is icky."
"Very well," said Viv, with the air of a king granting a royal pardon. An expression of surprise flickered over his face as Toby sat down, but it was quickly wiped away.
"Can I ask you something?" Toby asked.
"This really isn't for some reality show?"
"No," Viv said. "This is not a reality show. There are no cameras. You are not going to be on TV."
"Okay," said Toby. "It's just...this is really weird, you know?"
"It hasn't escaped my attention, no. Is that what you wanted to ask me?"
"No, uh, I, well, why me? And don't say it's because I'm hot. There are other attractive men in the city and I bet some of them would even go out with you for free."
"I don't want free," said Viv. "I don't want a date. I want brutal, bloody revenge."
"Why don't you just run the guy over with your car?"
"One, I don't drive. Two, Look at me. I would not do well in prison."
"Yeah, you'd definitely end up being somebody's bitch," said Toby. "All fancy and snotty and soft."
"I am not soft."
"Yes, you are," Toby said. "I bet you like to cuddle too."
"Were I less well-bred, I would push you in the fountain right now," said Viv.
"Were I more of a pussy, I might be scared," said Toby.
"All right," Viv snapped. "Fuck breeding. You're going in."
"No, no," Toby laughed, catching Viv's wrists easily. "Stop it. I'm sorry I said you were soft."
"Your apology is too late. Vengeance will be mine."
Toby laughed even harder.
"You are so weird," he said as Viv attempted to unseat him.
"Look, aren't they cute? I bet they're boyfriends."
Toby and Viv snapped apart. Toby blushed while Viv stared at the woman who had spoken until she and her companion walked away. He coughed discreetly, and stuck his hands into his coat pockets.
"So," he said. Toby glanced at him.
"If you're that embarrassed by me now, how do you plan on getting through our fake-date?" Toby asked.
"I'm not embarrassed by you," Viv said. "Although I would give you an extra hundred if you agreed to burn that sweatshirt."
"I love this sweatshirt," said Toby. "It's like an old friend."
"It's time to make some new ones."
"Look, we aren't even fake-dating yet and you're already trying to change me."
"No, just your appalling apparel."
"Appalling apparel?" repeated Toby. Viv grimaced.
"That was terrible, wasn't it."
"Oh, yeah." Toby watched a roller blading couple in matching bike shorts veer around a hot dog vendor. They were both fit and attractive in an overly groomed, Hollywood sort of way. They circled around the fountain, showing off their strong calves and thighs and displaying their straight, white teeth.
"Prats," Viv muttered.
"Six hundred," Toby said.
"I'll do it for six hundred. If you tell me seriously why you picked me."
"Are you sure you're worth six hundred?" Viv asked.
"Are you going to quibble over money? In that coat?"
"No," said Viv. "But only because you used the word quibble."
"I try," said Toby.
"Since you insist on knowing why I selected you, then I will tell you it's because of several reasons. One, your physical attractiveness we have already covered. Two, due to Sean's...generosity, I couldn't hire a professional. Three, it could not be someone within my own social circle, thus it must be a stranger. Four, not wishing any emotional attachment, it must be a business transaction with boundaries set into place, so someone-"
"Broke?" suggested Toby.
"Lacking in funds," said Viv. "Lastly, it had to be someone with some kind of intelligence. I thought a student would work best."
"So you hung around the campus until you found me."
"More or less."
"I thought you said I won't have to talk."
"Certain social niceties must be observed, but you're not required to be an expert on post-modern art."
"Is that the one where things are weird just for the sake of being weird?"
"See," said Viv. "That is the kind of thing you are not allowed to say."
"If I'm expected to coo over a toilet painted pink and stuck in the middle of the room-"
"No toilets," Viv said. "I promise."
"Okay," said Toby. "So when is this thing going down?"
Viv pulled a pen and a business card out of the inner pocket of his jacket. Scribbling something on the back of the card, he handed it to Toby.
"Meet me at that address tomorrow afternoon at eleven. I'll make the appointment."
"Appointment for what?"
"A suit fitting," Viv said. "The event is formal."
"I can't afford a suit," said Toby.
"So I assumed. Consider it a costume for your role. Don't worry, it's not coming out of your fee."
"Tomorrow, eleven o'clock. Don't be late. I can't stand people who are late."
"But what if I need to-"
"My number is on the front," said Viv. "Goodbye, Toby." He stood up, and for a second Toby thought he was going to give a little bow like they did in Jane Austen movies, but he just turned and walked away.
Toby flipped the card over. Embossed on the front, in a neat black font that said 'old money' in a discreet whisper, was the name Vivian Marwood. A telephone number was in the lower right-hand corner. That was it. The writing on the back was beautiful but illegible. Toby squinted at it, sounding out possible street names under his breath. Finally he gave up and stuffed the card into his pocket. He could use Google maps to figure it out at home. A quick glance at his watch told him he didn't have time to do it now. His shift started in ten minutes. Thanks to Viv and his insane request, he was going to be late. Somehow, Toby didn't think his boss was going to buy that as an excuse.
"Table 3 wants duck sauce," Joy set her tray on the counter and began loading up her orders.
"Yeah, okay," said Toby. He was waiting for a new batch of fried rice, the half-filled orders already on his tray.
"Let me see the card again," said Joy.
"Come on, Toby."
"Jesus, do you have to whine directly into my ear?"
"It's just like a movie," Joy gushed, her tray forgotten. In a moment of weakness, Toby had told her about meeting Viv. He wasn't sure why. Probably to stop her from talking about her cat. "You're going to have a super romantic story to tell your grandkids."
"Joy, I think it's time you brought that return ticket to reality. It's not a real date. We're not going to fall in love. There are no grandkids."
"That's exactly what the people in the movies say," said Joy. She hoisted her tray up. "You'll see. I expect to be invited to the wedding."
"There is no wedding!" Toby yelled after her. "She's crazy," he added to Jiang, the cook as he set a fresh vat of fried rice into the warming table. Jiang tilted his head to the side, his face blank. None of the cooks spoke much English. They were all sponsored by the owner and lived together in the apartment above the restaurant. Toby didn't ask too many questions about it. He needed the job.
"Joy Crazy," he repeated, twirling his finger around his ear.
"Ah!" said Jiang, his eyes lighting up with recognition. "Fucking whacko!" he added in his thick accent.
"Yeah, that's right," said Toby. He scooped mounds of the rice onto the plates.
"She you girlfriend."
"No." Toby shook his head. He pointed to his chest. "Gay. Like cock." He grabbed his own for emphasis. Jiang thought this was hilarious. Turning around, he nudged the other cook, Chen, and said something in Mandarin. Now they were both laughing. Deciding he didn't want to know, Toby lifted his tray, grabbing a bottle of duck sauce on his way out of the kitchen.
"Sorry about the wait, folks," he said, a smile plastered over his face. "Now, who had the General Tso's chicken?"
Toby sat at the tiny bar, counting his tips. It was three in the morning, the restaurant was closed up and Chris, the other waitress was finishing the last of vacuuming.
"I heard a funny story from Joy," she said once the ancient vacuum had been stowed away in its hiding spot.
"Oh, god, not you too," said Toby.
"So it's true then?" Chris pulled a bottle of Barcardi off the shelf and fixed two rum and cokes. This was strictly against the rules, but either the owner didn't know or she chose to ignore it.
"That depends. What did Joy tell you?"
"That some rich guy offered you a million bucks to sleep with him."
Toby groaned, letting his head bang against the countertop.
"I'm going to kill her," he said.
"Isn't that like the plot to An Indecent Proposal?" Chris asked.
"Yes, and it's not what happened." Toby sketched out Viv's offer, then finished up with a big gulp from his drink. The rum burned pleasantly down his throat. Chris didn't skimp in her drinks.
"Wow," said Chris. "Six hundred bucks. That's almost rent."
"I know," said Toby. "I can finally upgrade my computer."
"Or, alternatively, you can eat something besides ramen noodles for once."
"Hell, I might even be able to do both."
"Live the dream, my friend, live the dream."
They clinked their glasses together.
"So you don't think it's a bad idea?" Toby asked.
"I think it's six hundred bucks," said Chris. "I'd do a lot more for a lot less."
"Well, you are a whore."
They toasted again.
"Still, it wouldn't hurt to tell someone where you're going to be," Chris said. "You don't know this guy is who he says he is."
"I don't plan on being alone with him," said Toby.
"You never know, he might spike your drink."
"I'll be careful."
"You do that," said Chris. "Because if you die and leave me here with Joy, I will dig up your rotting ass and kill you again."
"Thanks," said Toby.
"I mean it."
"I believe you, trust me."
"Good. Another one?"
"Hit me, baby."
"Call me baby again, Toby. I dare you."
Toby had never ridden on the blue line. It ran across the Edwards River, up Birch Hill to the posh section of the city. The high-rises of the business district were gathered at the bottom of the hill, which overlooked the harbor. The streets were broad with genuine ancient street-lamps, not the cheap knock-offs found in the tourist spots. Toby had never seen so much green outside the park. There were trees and lawns and flowers. Except for huge mansions, he could have been back home.
The address scribbled on the card wasn't on the hill, but Toby was early so he made a detour. He wondered which of the mansions Viv had grown up in. There was no doubt he was city born-and-bred, with his elongated vowels and disappearing consonants. It was an accent that was fading away, but the one place it could still be found was Birch Hill. Toby didn't linger. Any second he expected someone to challenge his right to be there, demanding to see trust fund statements or a receipt for a yacht.
"You're late," said Viv as Toby approached.
"I'm three minutes early," said Toby.
"I don't like to wait."
"I'm three minutes early."
"It should have been five minutes," said Viv.
"You get hit a lot, don't you?"
"I find that surprising," said Toby.
"I'm rich," said Viv with a shrug.
"And that makes everything okay?"
"It certainly allows me some latitude in social situations."
"Translation: you get to act like an arrogant asshole."
"If you must be vulgar about it," Viv said. "Shall we?" He pushed open the door and gestured Toby inside.
The shop was small, dark walnut paneling and plush, green armchairs. There was a dais set in front of a trio of mirrors, with mannequins showing examples of completed suits. Along the wall were fabric samples and a selection of shirts and ties in every possible color.
"Um," said Toby.
"It's a formal event," Viv said. "Based on your impassioned speech yesterday I assumed you do not own a suit."
"Can't I rent one?"
Viv looked at him as though Toby had suggested they deep-fry some kittens and serve them up with a baby seal omelet.
"Clothes are not rented," he said. "You do not share clothes with strangers."
"Do you ever listen to yourself?" he asked. Viv ignored him, unbuttoning his coat and handing it to a young, efficient-looking woman. A short, slender man with a neatly trimmed beard greeted Viv with an exclamation of joy and a kiss on each cheek.
"Julio, this is Toby," Viv said.
Julio circled Toby, shaking his head and tutting.
"I know," said Viv. "Wretched, isn't it?"
"Please say you can help, Julio."
"I fix," said Julio. "Please, there." He pointed towards the dais.
"Um, why?" Toby asked.
"He needs to take your measurements," Viv said.
"What? No. That's- no."
"He needs your measurements to make the suit, Tobias."
"Don't call me Tobias," Toby said.
"Does it bother you?"
Viv settled himself into one of the armchairs, pulling a sleek smart-phone out of his pocket. The woman, now sans jacket, was offering coffee in a soft, clear voice. Toby was given only a cursory smile.
"No, it's just weird," Toby said, making a face at the departing woman. Julio was making minute, but determined shooing motions toward the dais. With the sigh of the doomed, Toby stepped up.
"I feel like an idiot," he said.
Viv glanced up, smiled at him. Toby felt his cheeks start to heat. He ducked his head, only to have Julio whack the back of his thigh.
"Stand up straight!" he barked.
"He hit me," Toby said indignantly.
"Correct posture is important," said Viv.
"Don't hit me," Toby said, pointing a finger at Julio.
"Bah." Julio pulled at Toby's sweatshirt. "Off, please."
Toby pulled off the sweatshirt, feeling exposed in his tank-top. The edges were frayed, there was a coffee stain near the collar and a hole big enough to put three fingers through near the waist. Toby knew it was three fingers because Julio demonstrated it, making him squeak. Viv looked him up and down.
"How poor are you?" he asked, his eyebrows raised.
"I didn't realize I was going to stripped and- aah! -molested," Toby said.
The assistant returned with a steaming mug and a plate of biscotti for Viv. He selected one and used it to stir his coffee. Toby hated him a little.
"I was right," Viv said, brushing a crumb off the corner of his lips.
"About what?" Toby grumbled.
"You are fit."
Toby was starting to think agreeing to this deal was a very bad idea. Julio buzzed around him with a measuring tape, moving him around like a dummy, calling out numbers to his assistant.
"Am I getting paid for this?" he asked.
"You're getting a very expensive suit for nothing," Viv said.
"And that's great, because I have so many opportunities for suit-wearing in my life."
Viv shifted, crossing his legs and resting his coffee cup on his knee. He frowned.
"What do you propose is adequate compensation?" he asked.
"Uh, a hundred?"
"One hundred dollars."
"Is that too much?" Toby asked.
"Toby, I pay more for my socks," said Viv.
"Very well, I agree to pay you two hundred dollars for your time today. What is your surname?"
"Okay, that's- what?"
"Surname?" Viv repeated, typing one-handed on his phone.
"Takahashi," Toby said, squirming. He was trying to come up with a more uncomfortable situation, but it was difficult. Being surrounded by mirrors didn't help either.
"Where are you from?"
"Is this some-aah -complicated way to-oooh -steal my identity?" Toby asked as Julio poked and prodded.
"Do you have trouble trusting everybody or only me?"
"Well, considering that I don't know you," Toby said.
Viv took a sip of coffee. It smelled dark and delicious and much too expensive for Toby.
"If we're going to be lovers-"
"That is not part of the deal!"
"I meant if we're going to convince others that we are lovers, we should know some things about each other."
Toby had to admit he had a point.
"Portland," he said. "Well, near Portland. Maine, not Oregon."
"Parents. One sister. We're twins."
"I have three older brothers, one younger sister. How long have you lived in the city?"
"Six yeee-aaaah-aaars," Toby said, his voice raising into a squeal. Julio was taking very exact measurements. "Is he going to be done soon?"
"You can't rush genius, Tobias," Viv said. "Hobbies?"
"Maybe I should have brought my resume," said Toby.
"Perhaps you should have."
Toby ground his teeth, fingers itching to smack the condescension off Viv's face.
"So do I get to ask you any questions?" he asked.
"Of course," said Viv. "Top or bottom?"
"None of your damn business."
"If we are-"
"Which are you?" Toby asked. Julio had put down his measuring tape. He and his assistant were having a quiet conversation by the fabric samples. Toby took it as an opportunity to escape. Snagging one of the biscotti, he plopped down into the empty armchair.
"Must you sit like that?" Viv asked.
"Yeah, I must," said Toby. He wiggled down even further and spread his legs, taking up the largest amount of space possible. Viv looked away.
"Sean liked being the top," he said.
"You don't like being the bottom?"
"Not all the time."
"Me either," he said.
"Sometimes," said Toby. "Happy now?"
"It was important to-"
"Bullshit, you just wanted to know."
"Yes," said Viv. "I just wanted to know."
"Why?" Toby asked.
"Mr. Marwood?" The assistant held out a selection of fabrics, all indistinguishable to Toby.
"No, I was thinking something different." Viv stood up, leaving Toby and his question on the other side of the room. Toby rested his head against the back of the chair and closed his arms. He'd gotten about four hours of sleep, same as the last six nights. This was normally his sleep-until-one day, but Viv had screwed that up. Thank god he was graduating soon. Seven more months. Then the state certification exam, but he'd worry about that later.
"Toby. Toby. Tobias."
Someone was shaking him. Toby opened his eyes and blinked slowly, lids still leaded from sleep.
"Hey," he said, stretching. "Sorry. Was I out long?"
"About twenty minutes," Viv said. He was kneeling beside the chair, one hand still resting on Toby's arm. His fingers were long and narrow, the tips rough against Toby's skin.
"Guitar?" Toby asked.
Viv drew his hand back, curling it into a ball in his lap.
"One of my friends plays. He's got calluses like that," Toby said. "I play drums." He mimed a simple 4/4 beat.
"My mother wanted me to learn the violin," Viv said. "I was a great disappointment. She was hoping for a family string quartet." He stood up, brushing non-existent dust off his pants. "Collect your horrid sweatshirt. We're done here."
The assistant handed Toby his sweatshirt with far more care than the ragged clothing required while Viv spoke to Julio.
"I've made arrangements to be notified when your suit is finished," Viv said as they walked out. "The opening is in a week. The suit will be done by Thursday. You will need to come in for a final fitting. I took the liberty of selecting a shirt and tie for you as well. The cobalt should go well with your skin tone, but it can be changed if needed. Would you like to have lunch?"
"I'm..uh, what?" Toby shook his head. "Do you do that on purpose?"
They were standing in the middle of the sidewalk, only a few feet from the tailor's door.
"Do what?" Viv asked.
"Spew out words like a typewriter, then tag a whiplash question at the end. It's some weird way to throw people off guard, isn't it?"
"Are you minoring in psychology?" Viv asked. "I was merely asking if you were hungry, but if my manner of speaking confuses you, I will endeavor to rectify it in the future."
"Okay, now you're just fucking with me," Toby said.
"True," said Viv. "Are you going to answer my invitation or not?"
"Thanks, but I can't. I have to go to the library, then I have to work,"
"Very well. I will contact you when the suit is finished. Goodbye, Toby."
"Bye," said Toby. Viv nodded, then turned on one heel, walking with quick, precise steps. He sidestepped a nanny with a stroller, then disappeared around the corner, down the hill, not up it. Maybe he wasn't going home, Toby thought. Or maybe he didn't live on Birch Hill. For some reason, Toby hoped it was the latter.
"He bought you a suit? Are you like Julia Roberts now?"
"Fuck off," said Toby. "I got paid, didn't I?"
"Whore," said Chris.
Toby arranged the duck sauce bottles into rows. A pitcher and funnel sat on the counter, Chris perched next to them. She held a bowl of friend wontons on her lap, munching on them as she talked to Toby.
"Why are you even here?" Toby asked. "You're not scheduled."
"My date cancelled," said Chris. "Bitch." She popped another wonton into her mouth. "Her roommate's having a crisis or something. Amazing how her roommate always manages to have a crisis when I have a Saturday night off."
"So you decided to come to work?"
"I came to visit you, jackass."
"Couldn't find anyone else to go out to the bar with you, huh?" Toby said, grinning.
"They have boyfriends or girlfriends, or boyfriends and girlfriends. You're my only single friend, Toby. Entertain me."
Toby held up the pitcher of duck sauce, waving his free hand over the half-full bottles.
"I'm working," he said.
"Yeah, refilling the duck sauce is of vital importance," Chris said. "Joy and Derek can handle things."
"Derek is new, and Joy is...Joy. You know she can't close up alone."
"Don't make me whine," Chris said. "I'll do it, but I won't feel good about it."
"Stop being pathetic and go home," Toby said. "It won't kill you to spend night alone."
"Do you have documented proof of that?"
The door to the dining room swung open, a nervous-looking blonde poking his head into the kitchen.
"Uh," Derek said, trying to look at Toby and Chris at the same time. "There's a pretty long line at the pick-up counter and, um, Joy said-"
"Be right there," Toby said. He handed the pitcher to Chris. "If you're going to hang around at least do something."
"Fine," said Chris. "But only because I don't want to go home and listen to my roommate have sex with her skanky boyfriend."
The dining room was packed, as usual for a Saturday night. It'd die down in about an hour, then pick up again as people started to leave the bars. Joy weaved around the tables, an empty tray held over her head.
"Love you, awesome boy!" she trilled as she brushed past Toby.
"You're a lunatic," Toby called back. The cash register was at the bar, a small group of people standing around it, wondering if they were supposed to form a line or not. Toby stationed himself behind the register and fixed smile on his face.
Seven months to graduation. Seven months to graduation. Seven months to graduation.
"Delivery or pick-up," Toby said without looking up.
Toby's head shot up.
"What are you doing here?" he hissed.
"I was thinking," said Viv.
"Clearly a dangerous activity," Toby said.
"It would be suspicious to show up at the opening without laying some foundations first," Viv said. "We need to be seen together."
"I am working. Do you understand that, working?"
"I'm familiar with the concept."
Toby smacked his head against the register keys.
"Okay," he said. "Okay. Go wait over there."
Viv looked at the beat-up bench crammed into the corner, then back at Toby.
"Sit!" Toby pointed at the bench. Viv sat, surprise and amusement mingled on his face.
"Boyfriend?" asked a woman with a sympathetic smile.
"No," Toby snapped. "Sorry, no. Can I help you?"
Fifteen minutes later the line of customers was gone, but Viv was still there. He was on his phone, engrossed in something. Toby rested his elbows on counter, watching him. The Burberry coat had been replaced by a waist-length leather jacket, carefully distressed for maximum style. Underneath was a fitted t-shirt, soft grey, printed with a swirling design in white. Dark jeans completed the outfit. Viv being casual was Toby dressed up.
"I filled your duck sauce," Chris said, walking behind the bar and grabbing a bottle of rum off the shelf. "I'm taking my payment in booze."
"Joy's still here," Toby said absently.
"I'll be sneaky," said Chris. She poured a healthy glug of rum into a cup, then added a splash of soda. "I'm like Batman."
Toby laughed, making Viv glance up. He switched off his phone, tucking it into his pocket, then folded his hands in his lap, waiting.
"All right," said Toby. "What do you want?"
"I would like to take you to dinner," Viv said.
"Fine, whatever. I have Monday night off."
"Tonight would be preferable. There will be more witnesses."
"You make it sound like we're creating an alibi," Toby said. "You're not going to actually murder your ex, right? Because I would need to be paid like twenty times more for that."
"You would ki-"
"Holy crap, you're the guy!" Chris interrupted. Viv stared at her. "You look nothing like Richard Gere."
"She thinks I'm Julia Roberts," Toby said.
"I have no idea what you are talking about," Viv said. He stood up, picking up the Neiman Marcus bag at his feet. "You'll need to change your clothes."
"I can't just leave work."
"Sure, you can," said Chris. "I can cover y- wait, he's getting paid, yeah?"
"Yes," said Viv.
"I can cover you," Chris said.
"What? No," Toby said.
"Excuse us a second." Chris dragged Toby out the door into the vestibule. They could see Viv through the glass, but it gave them some privacy.
"What is wrong with you?" Toby asked.
"We don't have time for the whole list, so I'll sum up. I need cash."
"So find your own rich weirdo."
"They aren't that easy to come by," Chris said. "I'll cover the rest of your shift and we split whatever RG plays you for tonight."
"You want to pimp me out?" Toby asked. "Seriously, you're a pimp now. And not in the cool way either."
"A girl's got to get paid and so does the electric company."
"They are bastards like that."
"I knew this was a bad idea," he said. "You're not getting half. You get thirty."
"I'll take it," said Chris. "Now go in there and work that ass."
"Chris, remember I called you baby? Go back to that moment, only reverse it."
Toby flung the door open, letting it smack against the fake potted plant in the corner.
"All right," he said, stopping in front of Viv. "Dinner. But I want five-"
"Six," Chris said.
"-six hundred. Up front."
"Very well." Viv pulled out a leather wallet and counted out six hundred dollar bills onto the counter. Chris scooped them up before Toby could move.
"I'll make change," she said. "Go put your street clothes on. I need your uniform."
Viv held out the shopping bag. Toby glared at it for a second, then grabbed it out of his hand. Some of the customers watched him walk into the kitchen. It was easy to see that something was happening, even if they didn't know what it was. Toby snagged his bag out of its hiding spot and ducked into the bathroom. Flipping down the toilet cover, he sat down and pulled out the clothes Viv had bought for him. Toby made a face. Viv apparently wanted him to dress like a hipster. There was the ironic t-shirt, the stripy cardigan, the skinny jeans, even a scarf. Toby shoved the whole mass into the shopping bag, then changed his mind and took out the t-shirt. The one he'd worn in had a huge hole in the armpit.
Toby was wiggling into his pants when the bathroom door burst open.
"Omigod!" Joy squealed. "That's the guy, isn't it? He is so cute!"
"Joy! What the hell?" Toby yelled, yanking at his jeans. "I'm getting changed!"
"Yeah, but you're gay."
"That doesn't make me a woman." Toby buttoned his jeans and reached for the ironic t-shirt. It proclaimed his love of bingo. Toby missed the days when he could just like something without qualifying it.
"Whatever. This is super romantic. He's totally falling for you."
"Joy, this is the real world, okay?" Toby examined his reflection, speaking to Joy via the mirror. "We're not going to fall in love. We're not going to get married. We can't even get married in this state. He's just a guy having trouble getting over his ex. That's not someone I want to get involved with. I'm just going to do this thing, then I'm never going to see him again."
"I will bet you a hundred dollars that you guys end up married," said Joy. Toby sighed. He picked up his bag and slung it over his shoulder, then picked up Viv's shopping bag.
"Fine," he said. "Maybe losing some cash will teach you. God knows logic doesn't stand a chance."
"Hee!" said Joy. She jumped up and down a little, then spun around, her long braid flying. "I'm going to go say hi."
"No, Joy, don't-" The bathroom door swung shut. Toby ran after her, but Derek caught her first.
"Hey, Joy, that table wants to know if they can switch the fried rice for chow lo mein," he said, empty tray held against his chest. Toby gave him a thumbs up for taking one for the team. Joy was an excellent waitress. Her tips were usually more Toby's and Chris's totals combined. But as a co-worker she was exhausting.
"Uniform," Toby said, tossing the clothes to Chris.
"Thank you, sir," Chris said. Tucking the bundle under her arm, she headed towards the kitchen, then paused and walked back. She stuck a finger in Viv's face.
"Hello," said Viv.
"Just because you have the whole Anderson Cooper thing going on doesn't mean you get a free pass," said Chris. "If I don't get a call from Toby at midnight, I'm calling the cops. Understand, rich boy?"
"I assure you I do not plan to rape and murder your friend," said Viv solemnly. "Were that my design, I would have taken more care in avoiding potential witnesses."
Toby repressed a laugh as Chris glared at Viv.
"Goodbye, Chris," Toby said. "Customers are waiting."
With one last jab of her finger, Chris spun around, stalking through the tables.
"Sorry," said Toby. "She's...She watches a lot of Lifetime movies."
"You aren't wearing the clothes," Viv said. Toby slipped on his jacket, an ancient Navy peacoat that he'd inherited from his father.
"No," said Toby. "Are you coming?" He walked past Viv onto the street and paused on the sidewalk, his hands shoved into his pockets. The Indian summer was coming to an end, bringing with it the inevitable crush of snow and sleet. Toby wasn't looking forward to it.
"So where's the limo?" Toby asked. Viv ignored him, hailing a cab instead.
"23 Trentforth Street," Viv said to the cabbie. "It's important that you look like someone I would be seen with."
Toby assumed Viv was talking to him and not to the cabbie.
"Is that how your ex used to dress?" he asked.
Viv brushed some imaginary dirt off the vinyl.
"Yes," he said.
"Well, I don't," said Toby. "I mean, except for the shirt, but that's only because my shirt had a hole in it. But no scarves."
"Your clothes will stand out," said Viv.
"So tell people you're slumming," said Toby. "Seduced by a wild, taboo-breaking, middle-class rebel."
This earned him a startled laugh. Toby smiled. Viv looked younger when he laughed, less like the perfect statue of wealth.
"Middle-class?" he asked.
"My mother's a therapist, my father's a CPA. I didn't exactly grow up on the wrong side of the tracks," said Toby.
The taxi turned onto Belmont street, then taking the exit for the freeway. Toby stared out the window as they passed under what was officially called the Henry J. Reese bridge, but what everyone called the new bridge. It was concrete with a series of interwoven white wires lit with black lights. It glowed like something out of a sci-fi movie. Toby loved it. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Viv looking out his window as well. He didn't speak until they were over the bridge.
"May I ask why it is necessary for you to work in a second-rate Chinese restaurant?" he asked.
"I have to pay for school somehow," Toby said. He shifted, unbuttoning his coat and sliding down the seat. "And it's not second-rate. It's not great either, but what can you do."
"Your parents don't provide assistance?"
"They might, if I asked." Toby yawned. The cab was warm and except for the nap in the tailor's earlier, Toby hadn't had time to stop for a break.
"Why don't you ask?" Viv asked.
"Uh, it's a little...um...I got a scholarship to Bayhill. It covered about half my tuition and my parents took care of the rest. I, um, didn't handle the jump from high school to college very well." Toby said. "My grades were crap and I dropped out beginning of sophomore year. I basically started from scratch when I went back. I blew a bunch of my parents' money the first time. I wasn't about to ask them for more just because I fucked up."
"What made you decide to go back?"
"I didn't want to work as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant for the rest of my life," Toby said. "Shocker, huh?"
"So you pay for school and support yourself on a waiter's salary?"
"It doesn't leave a lot left over for clothes."
"I'm impressed," said Viv.
"I have loans," Toby said. "Tuition is like, thirty thousand dollars a year. I just make up the balance."
"I went to Yale," Viv said.
"Wow," said Toby. "You just throw that out there, don't you?"
"I didn't have a choice in the matter," said Viv.
"Yeah, I bet you were real bummed you didn't get to go to Florida State."
"All the men in my family have gone to Yale since it was founded."
"And the women?"
"They are less bounded by tradition," said Viv.
The taxi pulled off the freeway, speeding through a toll and zipping down a one-way street to turn onto Trentforth Street. The number of BMWs, Lexuses, and Mercedes was dramatically increased over the section of town Toby usually stayed in. The street was lined with high-end shops interspaced with the kind of small stores with funky merchandise that drew in the tourists. As usual, the traffic was pure gridlock, with people crossing the street willy-nilly.
"Can I ask you something?" Toby asked.
"Does everyone in your family talk like you?"
"No," said Viv with a faint smile. "It's an affectation."
"I don't know." Viv traced circles on the window glass. "I enjoy words. I like the formality of language." He paused, obviously trying to organize his thoughts. "When I speak in a certain manner, I can taste the words in my mouth. I can feel them moving through my tongue and lips. It is...I find it pleasurable." He glanced at Toby. "I've never tried to explain it aloud before."
"Um," said Toby. He focused on polishing the buttons of his coat, knowing Viv was waiting for a response. Stop it, he told his hormones. Not everything has to be about sex. Just because an attractive man is talking about mouths and tongues and pleasure does not mean you have to relate it to oral sex. You're an adult, for goodness's sake, control yourself.
"I expect it is somewhat unusual," Viv said.
"No," said Toby. "I mean, yeah, it is, but it's not...I guess, um, I kind of like the way you talk."
The cab double-parked in front of one of the many brick buildings lining the street. A few tables had been set inside a small gated area on the sidewalk. There was no sign, but the rod iron wildflowers worked into the fence gave away the name.
"La Ville des Fleurs?" Toby said. "Are you kidding me?"
"They have excellent rolls," said Viv. He paid the driver and climbed out. "Are you coming?"
"No," said Toby. "I thought we were going to a club or something. I can't go in there. I'm wearing jeans."
"So am I," said Viv.
"Those are not real jeans. Real jeans are not fancy."
"If you're not getting out, I'm gonna have to start the meter again," said the cabbie. Toby got out. He wrapped his arms around his chest, shaking his head at Viv.
"They're going to know," he said.
"What are they going to know?" Viv asked.
"That I don't have any money," said Toby. "They're going to take one look at me and know that I shop at Wal-mart. They're going to be snooty."
"I believe I tried to warn you about your clothes."
"You didn't say we were going here!" Toby hissed.
"The point is to be seen," said Viv. "Fleurs is not a place to take a casual date. People will know that we are serious."
"We're not serious! This isn't a real date!"
Viv grabbed Toby's arms, holding his wrists in a light grip.
"Tobias," he said. "Most of the people in that restaurant waited a year or more to get a reservation. I am walking in on a whim on a Saturday night. My family has lived on Birch Hill since there were actual birches on it. On societal terms, we are in the stratosphere. Furthermore, you are an intelligent, independent, attractive man. You have nothing to prove to these people."
"I know that," said Toby.
"Good," said Viv, releasing him. "If you get nervous, just focus on me."
"Okay," Toby said. "Thanks. I don't, uh,"
"Never mind," said Viv. "Ready?"
"Sure," said Toby. "You know, you kind of sounded like my mother back there. She's very big on positive reinforcement."
"That is the manner of mothers," said Viv.
The maitre d' bowed and scraped to Viv, who took it with the ease of a born prince. A table was provided immediately, anyone inconvenienced carefully hidden away. Viv tipped the maitre d' with a casual gesture Toby wouldn't have noticed if he hadn't been looking for it. Every move Viv made radiated with nonchalant confidence. Toby could only trail behind, feeling as though his hands and feet had suddenly doubled in size.
"Thank you," he whispered as he accepted the menu from the maitre d'. He opened the menu. It was all in French. Toby stared at the unfamiliar words, hoping he could somehow learn an entire language in the time it took a waiter to show up.
A man arrived at the table with another, smaller, menu. Viv flipped through it, then carried on a murmured conversation with the man, who had to be the sommelier. Toby ignored them, trying to figure what "Port Saint-Germain Gigot d'Agneau " meant through sheer willpower. The sommelier complimented Viv on his choices, then disappeared with his menu. A woman dropped off glasses of water and a basket of light, flaky rolls. Toby didn't notice.
"Tobias." Viv pulled the menu out of Toby's hands and replaced it with a roll. "Trust me?" he asked.
"Do I have a choice?" Toby asked, biting into the roll. An explosion of warm, melting, buttery goodness filled his mouth. "Oh my god," he moaned.
"I told you they were excellent," said Viv.
"You don't understand, oh my god," said Toby. He grabbed another roll. "Can I take some of these home with me?"
"I'm sure it can be arranged." Viv smiled. The sommelier returned with a bottle. Viv went through the ritual of sniffing the cork and swirling the wine around his glass. Toby made a face at him, which the sommelier pretended not to see.
"Lovely," said Viv, setting down his glass.
"Thank you, sir," said the sommelier. He poured glasses for Viv and Toby, leaving the bottle on the table.
"I don't really like wine," said Toby.
"This not cheap plonk purchased in your local bodega," Viv said.
"Can you say that again? I didn't hear you over the heaping mounds of arrogance."
"Drink the wine, Tobias."
"Yes, sir, Vivian, sir," said Toby. He toasted Viv. The wine tasted like wine, less vinegary than the stuff he'd tried before, but it was still wine.
"I don't like it," he said.
"That is one of the finest wines available," Viv said.
"Yeah. It's wine. I don't like wine."
"You are a philistine," Viv said.
"I don't know what that means," said Toby.
"Yes you do. Don't pretend to idiocy. It's both tiresome and disrespectful."
"You were so born in the wrong century," Toby said, shoving the last of the rolls into his mouth. Viv might have commented, but the waiter's arrival prevented him. Viv ordered, the long strings of incomprehensible syllables spilling over the table. Toby, not longer distracted with food, tried to catch the waiter's eye, to let him know that he didn't usually let other people order for him. He wasn't sure why that was important, but it was somehow.
"You don't need to worry," said Viv. "I ordered you steak au poivre. It's seasoned with pepper and served with a brandy and cream reduction."
"Sure," said Toby. "Thanks." He toyed with the edge of the empty roll basket.
"You're welcome." Viv took a sip of wine, then rested his elbow on the table, his glass dangling in the air.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"I feel like everyone's staring at us," Toby said.
Viv leaned forward, a conspiratorial light in his eyes.
"That's because we're worth staring at," he said.
"Why the hell would anyone-" he stopped himself.
"Why the hell would anyone what?"
"Nothing," said Toby. "Tell me about your ex."
"We're supposed to be dating, aren't we? I should know about your ex."
Viv set his wineglass down, then smoothed out the wrinkles in the tablecloth. He folded his hands together on the table.
"His name is Sean," he said. "Sean Waters."
"That's a start," Toby said, encouragingly. Viv picked up his glass again, but didn't take a drink.
"He's a writer. An art critic, hence the gallery opening." The glass went down again. Toby pulled it out of Viv's reach. The rest of the room had dropped away. It was easier when he had Viv to focus on.
"Is he a good one? A critic, I mean."
"Yes," said Viv. "He's very well respected."
"Why'd you like him?" Toby asked.
"You dated him, you must have liked him at one point."
"He's very charming," Viv said. "Return my wine, please."
Toby nudged the glass across the table. Viv wrapped his fingers around the stem, tapping his fingertips against the curved bowl. His ring chimed on the glass.
"Sean thinks everyone he meets was an idiot," Viv said. "It amuses him. People amuse him. He likes being the center of attention. He's very self-deprecating, but tends to perceive criticism where none is intended. He's very impulsive, very into instant gratification."
Viv twisted his wineglass, his gaze had soft and a quiet smile hung on the corner of his lips.
"He made me laugh," he said. "All the absurdities of my kind of life, and there are many, none of them were sacred to Sean. He used to leave me notes in ridiculous places. My favorite one read, 'milk is to cheese as the mind is to why did people ever think rotted milk made an acceptable food.' I found it taped to the back of my sock drawer."
"You still love him," Toby said, making it almost a question. Viv's posture stiffened as he returned to the present.
"Sometimes," Viv said. "Then I remember the control issues, the jealousy, and the constant cheating. My family's wealth drove him mad. He would cover it with jokes, but they were too pointed for casual humor."
"Um," said Toby. The waiter returned with appetizers, some delicate puffery arranged in a rosette on a wafer thin plate. Viv finished his wine, than refilled his glass.
"I'd rather not talk about Sean anymore," he said. "I find a murderous rage not conductive to my appetite."
"Talk about something else," Toby said. "What kind of music do you listen to?"
"Sean has horrible taste in music," Viv said.
"Viv, come on."
"He owns every single Nickelback album."
"This isn't contributing to the murderous rage?" Toby asked.
"There are seven. None of them distinguishable from the others."
"You're a snob," Toby laughed.
"For love of God, please tell me you do not think Nickelback has made a substantive input to modern music."
"I like the one about sex. Or maybe it's strippers."
"They are all about sex and strippers. One does have to admire their consistency. It is really the only thing about them there is to admire."
"Who do you like?" Toby asked, finishing off the last of pastries. So far he'd eaten all the food and Viv had drunk all the wine. The division worked out well for Toby, who into his mid-twenties still retained a teenage boy's metabolism and appetite.
Viv liked The Decemberists, Franz Ferdinand, Spoon and a dozen other indie bands Toby had never heard of. He listed his own favorites, Daft Punk, Alabama 3 and Cold War Kids. They compared overlaps and exchanged recommendations. From there the conversation turned towards the more technical side to music, breaking down songs, talking about factors the casual listener never dreamed about. Toby loved being about to talk to other musicians about music and Viv proved to be just as obsessive and pedantic as he was. The last vestiges of nerves faded away and before he realized it was time for coffee and dessert.
Toby stirred some cream into his coffee. He wouldn't have been surprised if the restaurant kept a cow behind the kitchen for maximum freshness. The coffee was thick and dark, definitely not the standard Starbucks fare. Toby wasn't swayed by the expensive clothes or fancy food, but the coffee was making a serious bid for his soul and it was a hard offer to resist.
"Are you sure you don't want dessert?" Viv asked. He seemed unaffected by the bottle and a half of wine he had consumed. He offered Toby a spoonful of his chocolate pudding. Toby shook his head. Viv had reeled off a posh French name, but to Toby it was still chocolate pudding. Maybe a little better than the instant Jell-O stuff. Probably didn't start out as a brownish powder.
"Hey," Toby asked. "How do they make that?"
Viv looked down at his pudding.
"I haven't the faintest idea," he said.
"You think it's got, like, milk and stuff?"
"I don't know," said Viv slowly. "Would you like me to ask the waiter for the recipe?"
"No," said Toby. "I just realized I've never had pudding that didn't come from a packet."
"Truly, you have been touched by tragedy," Viv replied. "How do you find the courage to go on?"
"Listen, trust fund boy, you are not allowed to be sarcastic at me, got it?"
"I will attempt to restrain myself in the future," Viv said solemnly. Toby snorted into his coffee.
"Viv!" A woman about Viv's age approached. She was blonde, immaculately made-up and tailored to the nines. Waving her date on, she paused by their table, Viv standing to greet her. They exchanged cheek kisses, then Viv turned to Toby.
"This is Isla Turnbrook," he said. "We grew up together. Isla, this is Toby Takahashi."
"Uh, hi," said Toby. He was mildly impressed that Viv got his name right. Isla held her hand out. Toby wasn't sure if he was supposed to shake it or kiss it. His chair scraped on the floor as he stood up and for one horrifying second he thought it was going to come crashing down on the table next to theirs. Viv offered no help on the Isla-front. His voice was pleasant and calm, which struck an odd note with Toby. There was none of the straightforward arrogance or subtle humor that Toby was coming to associate with Viv.
"It's a pleasure," said Isla, giving Toby's hand a quick squeeze then turning back to Viv. "I'm so happy you decided to move on, Viv."
Viv's fingers clenched.
"Thank you," he said.
"I just never knew your tastes were so exotic," Isla laughed.
"Excuse me?" said Toby. There was an loud whooshing noise in his ears.
"Have you stayed in touch with Sean?" Isla asked. "I saw him at the Timely last weekend. I would have stayed to catch up, but he was with Henry Parker. You remember Henry Parker, don't you? He was a year ahead of us at Andover?"
"I remember Henry," Viv said, his lips barely moving.
"They were quite close," Isla said, leaning towards Viv. "I didn't want to intrude. It is a shame that you and Sean broke up. You were such a nice couple. I'm sure Henry is just a fling."
"Bitch," Toby said. His voice sounded as though it was coming from inside a long tunnel. Isla's head snapped around.
"What?" she asked, no longer friendly smiles.
"Was that too exotic for you?" Toby asked. "I have another word for you, if you'd prefer that one instead."
"Who are you?" Isla asked, her eyes narrowing. Toby ignored her.
"Can we go?" he asked Viv.
"Of course," said Viv. He signaled to the waiter for the check.
"Viv!" Isla snapped.
"What would you like me to say, Isla?" Viv shrugged. "You are a bitch. You've been a bitch since kindergarten. Everyone knows why I broke up with Sean. You're the only one to rub my face in it." Viv signed the credit card receipt and handed it to the waiter. "Enjoy your evening." He paused next to Toby.
"Shall we?" he asked.
Toby slipped an arm around Viv's waist.
"Yeah," he said. They threaded their way through the tables, Toby's hand slipping down to rest on Viv's ass. To his credit, Viv didn't react beyond a slight, inaudible gasp, just the briefest parting of lips.
The air outside was sharp after the warmth of the restaurant. Toby inhaled deeply, letting it pierce into his lungs. He began striding down the sidewalk, dragging Viv along with him.
"Do you mind?" Viv asked. "I would appreciate it if you ceased your molestations of my posterior."
Toby continued walking, his mind somewhere else.
"Let go of my ass!" Viv snapped. That got Toby's attention. He stopped and shoved his hands into his pockets. "Toby, you're shaking," Viv said in a softer tone.
"Sorry," he mumbled. "Sorry, I- I just. I just...what the fuck, Viv? Exotic? What kind of bullshit is that? Are there no rich Asians in this city?" Toby pacing back and forth, speaking more to the concrete than Viv. "I'm American, just the same as her. And I bet my family have been here longer too."
"The Turnbrooks came over on the Mayflower," said Viv. Toby paused.
"Okay," he said. "Not that long, but it's still been a pretty long time!"
"I believe you," Viv said. "However, can I just say that you might be overreacting-"
"You know what's exotic? Zoo animals. I mean, clearly being born here and raised here would have nothing to with cultural identity. How new and exciting I must be, with my mystical Eastern ways." Toby waved his hands through the air. Viv took a step back.
"Toby-" he began.
"I mean, Jesus!" Toby yelled. He'd reached the edge of the sidewalk and instead of turning around, decided to punch the lamppost. This was a mistake. Biting his lip to keep from screaming out curses, Toby cradled his hand to his chest. In the battle between iron and flesh, flesh usually lost.
"That was definitely an overreaction," Viv said with a sigh. "Let me see your hand."
Reluctantly, Toby extended his arm. Viv held his wrist, moving his hand into the light of the murderous lamppost. Already the area around his knuckles was starting to swell. Toby could tell it was going to bruised and stiff the next day.
"At least it's not broken," Viv said. "Wait here."
"Why?" Toby asked, but Viv was already jogging across the street. He returned a few minutes later with a Ziploc baggie full of ice cubes.
"The bar around the corner," he said in answer to Toby's unasked question. He pressed the makeshift icepack to Toby's hand, holding it in place with his thumbs, long fingers resting against Toby's palm. "Do you want to tell me what that was about?"
"Nothing," said Toby. "It just bugs me."
The ice dulled the pain to a persistent throbbing, but the edges of the cubes dug into the softened flesh. A drop of water escaped the baggie, sliding around Toby's wrist and into his sleeve.
"I told you I'm from Maine," he said.
"Yes," Viv said.
"Least diverse state in the US," Toby said. "Three hundred kids in my class, only five of them weren't white. All through middle and high school I was the Asian kid. I mean, I get it. You want to know my name and I'm with a group of white guys, you say, hey's who's the Asian guy. But come on, once you know my goddamned name, use it. It's like this one thing about me is everything. So what's Toby like? Oh, he's Japanese. Really? Well, I guess I don't have to know anything else." He paused, shaking his head, rolling out his shoulders. "I'm making everyone I went to school with sound like jackasses. They weren't all that bad. Little things just add up, you know?"
"In her defense, I don't think that Isla is racist, just a troublemaker," Viv said. He lifted the icepack to examine the bruise, then replaced it with care. "She was trying to bait you."
"I guess I'm an easy mark," Toby replied. "My dad thinks I'm too sensitive about it. We fight about it a lot. He tells me to ignore the idiots." He shrugged. "He's got a point. My grandfather and his parents were put in internment camps during World War two. You feel pretty stupid comparing that to an implied insult in a fancy restaurant."
Viv keep his eyes on the ice-cube baggie. Toby waited for him to say something patronizing.
"You should return home and put a real icepack on this," Viv said.
"Um, yeah. Thanks."
"In the future, perhaps you should listen to your father more or at the very least refrain from attacking inanimate objects," Viv said.
"So you're saying I can hit animate ones?" Toby asked.
"Banning one privilege does not grant legality to the others."
"You just used ten words to say no. That's a skill right there."
"You should meet my lawyer," said Viv.
Toby laughed. He pulled his hand back, shaking the excessive water out of the baggie.
"I'm, uh, I'm sorry," he said.
"I accept your apology. What are you apologizing for?"
"Freaking out like a psycho."
"Were you?" Viv asked. "I hadn't noticed. Shall I hail I cab?"
"Wow," said Toby. "Breaking out the shalls. That's a bold move." He was speaking too quickly, the adrenalin still high in his bloodstream. "I think I'd rather walk, actually."
"Would you like company?"
"Nah, you don't have to do that."
"I don't mind."
"It's out of your way."
"I don't mind."
"It's cold out," said Toby.
"Toby, if you are trying to dissuade me from accompanying you not out of societal etiquette, but because you don't want my company then please say so. If not, then believe me when I say that if I did not wish to walk you home I would not have offered."
"Yeah, alright. I mean, I'd like the company."
"See how easy that was," said Viv.
"Uh, yeah," said Toby. He watched Viv out of the corner of his eye as they walked. There was a stillness to Viv. He reminded Toby of those model houses, every detail obsessively thought out, a flawlessly manufactured surface. Except one with thirty years of junk hidden in the basement.
"What about your sister?" Viv asked.
"Huh?" Toby asked.
"You said you had a twin sister. She didn't attend school with you?"
"Oh. No. Penny's wicked smart. I mean, like freaky genius-level smart. She went to a private school and graduated early."
"Your parents didn't want to send you to a private school as well?"
"Not one that costs forty thousand a year," Toby said. "Penny got a scholarship."
Viv stopped, so Toby stopped with him.
"What?" Toby asked.
"We have reached the end of the street," Viv said. "I don't know where you live."
"Down near Creekside. Uh, I think we can walk down Cabot and cut through Daledon Square."
"Fine," said Viv. "After you."
Toby turned left, Viv following a half-step behind. The ice was melting fast, rushed along by Toby's body heat. He ditched it in the first trashcan they passed.
"What does your sister do?" Viv asked.
"Right now, she's going to school for her PhD," Toby said. "She took a break to have my niece, then went back to school. Theoretical physics."
"My sister is a professional drunkard."
"Um, what does-" Toby paused, connections clicking in his brain. "Holy crap, Marwood. Your Kiki Marwood's brother."
"Yes." The 's' sound drew out, capped with a sharp click. Toby wasn't sure what to say. Kiki Marwood was a tabloid darling, thanks to her reality show forays. She was the poster child for modern American celebrity, and that wasn't a compliment.
"Um," he began.
"She's young," Viv said. "My family never expected much from her."
"So it's like a rebellion thing."
"It's been an expensive rebellion. She was disinherited."
"Yeah, I read about that. Not that I...I mean, standing in line at the grocery store."
"A lot of people read about her. That's the problem." Viv sighed. "My family doesn't object to her behavior, but her insistence on publicizing it."
"Aren't you afraid I might sell you out?" Toby asked . "My night of gay passion with Vivian Marwood or something?"
"I'm not overly concerned," said Viv. "My sexuality is not a secret. I came out twelve years ago. Apart from my sister, I'm not very good ad copy."
"Well, damn. My dreams of mad money are crushed."
"I'm sure you could still try," Viv said politely.
"No thanks," Toby laughed. "There are some things I couldn't do and still sleep at night."
They crossed at the light, cutting across a small park to the path that ran along the river. It was popular with joggers and bicyclists, but after dark it mostly contained amorous college students. They didn't stay on the path for long, veering off towards Daledon Square.
Daledon was sandwiched between two colleges, making it a busy place, even at night. It was an attractive area, with patterns worked out in the smooth red brick. The buildings were modern, with a funky edge. There was a couple of bars, a movie theater and a rowdy restaurant popular with tourists. Dotted here and there were a handful of buskers. Viv ignored most of them, but paused by a trumpet-player. He listened for a few minutes, dropping a bill into the open case. Toby peeked out of the corner of his eye, catching sight of Grant's face.
"You always give money to buskers?" Toby asked as they moved away.
"When they deserve it," Viv said. They reached the end of the square, moving onto the quiet side-streets. Eventually they would have to cross the river, but Toby was in no hurry. It hurt to bend his hand, but tucked and still in his coat pocket, it didn't bother him much. The adrenalin was wearing off, tingeing his mind with sleep. It was a pleasant, lazy feeling that he didn't mind lingering in.
"Edwards bridge?" Viv asked.
"Sure," said Toby. It was about a twenty minute walk, with a train station nearby in case walking became monotonous.
"How is your hand?"
"Okay. A little sore."
"Is that a common occurrence?"
"Punching lampposts? No, first time. Punched a hole in a wall once when I was fifteen."
"It seems you could find a more productive way to express your anger," Viv said.
"Oh, I do," said Toby. Viv quirked an eyebrow. "I dance." Toby struck a dramatic pose, grinning at Viv's startled burst of laughter. "Not really. I can't dance to save my life."
"Let us hope that situation never arises."
"I'm not real worried about it," Toby replied. "Can I ask you something?"
"You keep asking that," Viv said. "Assume that my answer will always be yes."
"Um, okay, sorry."
They turned down a one-way street.
"What is your question, Toby?"
"Um, how did you come out?"
"To my family?"
"I said, Mother, Father, I'm gay," Viv said.
"You call your parents Mother and Father?"
"What else should I call them?"
"I don't know, mom and dad? Never mind, it doesn't matter. Seriously, that's how you came out?"
"Perhaps it's a sensitive memory," Viv said.
"You went on a rant about your ex-boyfriend twenty minutes after I met you," Toby said. "You keep trying to dress me up like your personal ken doll. I don't think you're real fixated on boundaries."
"True." Viv looked as though he was trying to repress a smile. "I was eighteen. I had just finished my first semester at college and the bravado was running high."
"I know the feeling," said Toby.
"It was suddenly of grave import that I 'be true to myself'" Viv made air quotes. "So, I waited until there was a family dinner. My parents, all three of my brothers, two of my future sisters-in-law, and my sister. We had just finished the first course when I stood up, demanding to be heard. Everyone's staring at me and I realize I'm absolutely terrified. I had no idea how my parents were going to react. Certainly no one else in our circle had come out before. My mother says something, I can't recall what, and I blurt out, 'I'm gay.'" Viv stopped, watching the sidewalk pass beneath their feet.
"World war three?" Toby asked. Viv looked up and grinned.
"It was a bit quiet for a minute, then my mother, god bless her, said, 'Yes, dear, we know. Now, sit down and eat your dinner before it gets cold.'"
"That's all?" Toby laughed.
"I believe my father told me to stop being such an idiot, but that was a daily occurrence since my thirteenth birthday."
"What did you say?"
"I don't remember," said Viv. "I think I ate, but it's all miasma."
"Really. A miasma," said Toby.
The tall modern buildings had given way to smaller, older residential buildings. It was a warren of one-way streets, some still set with uneven cobblestones. The sky glowed orange. In the distance the CITGO sign marked out Henmark Square when Bayhill University had its main buildings. Toby aimed for that direction.
"Have you told your parents, then?" Viv asked.
"Um, you could say that," said Toby. "I sort of figured it out early, you know. So when the other guys were sneaking into their dad's Playboys, I was stealing Men's Health magazines from the library."
"I assume you were discovered?"
"Nope. Eventually, I convinced my parents to get a subscription. I ran track and played lacrosse, so it wasn't that hard to convince them. So, I made do for a while, then something magical happened."
"You met a nice bi-questioning boy," Viv said.
"Still nope," said Toby. "My parents decided to get DSL. Out goes Men's Health, in comes internet porn."
"So you riddled the computer with viruses and your parents were blitzed with gay porn pop-ups."
"Actually, I got a note."
"Yup. I used to slip downstairs after my parents had fallen asleep and, um, browse. One night there was a note from my mother. It said something like, your father and I love you not matter what, etc, etc. Then, at the bottom my father had scribbled, 'Son, I don't care if you're gay, but clear your goddamned internet history. Other people have to use this computer too."
"Did you stop?"
"For about two weeks," Toby said. "But I was better about deleting the history."
They'd reached Henmark Square. Two major streets connected there, as well as a major train station. Several hotels dominated the skyline, along with the landmark CITGO sign. It'd been decades since there'd been a CITGO station, but the sign remained.
"I think, uh, I think I'm going to take the train from here," Toby said. "I'm getting a little tired. You can catch the connection to the blue line here."
"I'll get a cab," Viv said. "I avoid mass transit whenever possible, which is always."
"Snob," said Toby without rancor.
"I enjoyed your company," said Viv.
"Me too. I mean, the other way round. Um." Toby stared at his feet, wondering why in god's name was he starting to blush now?
"I'll see you in a week?"
"Sure, a week," said Toby, forcing himself to look at Viv, cursing the capillaries in his face. It seemed as though Viv was standing much too close, although neither one of them had moved. The moment dragged on, drawing out like a rubber band, ready to snap.
"So," said Viv, so softly it was barely a brush of air.
"I..." Toby trailed off, his thoughts muddled. "I-"
You don't have to be rich to be my girl, You don't have to be cool to rule my world.
"Why are your pants singing Prince?" Viv asked.
"Damn, sorry, it's Chris," Toby said, scrambling for his phone. "She's got a thing for Prince."
"You should call her back. I have no desire to be arrested."
"Goodnight, Toby," said Viv.
"Goodnight," echoed Toby. Viv nodded and turned away, heading towards the street. Toby took a seat on a bench, dialing Chris's number.
"Hey," he said, watching Viv climb into a cab.
"Hey," Chris replied. "Not dead yet?"
"Nothing," said Toby.
"I think Viv was going to kiss me,"
"Whoa," said Chris. "I thought that wasn't part of the deal."
"Did you smack him?"
"No," Toby said. "You called."
There was a pause.
"Did you want him to kiss you?" Chris asked.
"I don't know, maybe."
"Christ, you are Julia Roberts."
"I am not Julia Roberts," said Toby. "I just like him. He's...interesting."
"Interesting as in you'd like to be friends or interesting like you want to take him parts off?"
"Um, can't it be both?"
"Toby, come on."
"Come on, what?"
"You know this isn't going to work," Chris said.
"Since when are you the voice of reason?"
"Since I don't want to see you moping around the restaurant when this all goes balls up."
Toby kicked at the ground.
"If I'm Julia Roberts, you know who that makes you?" he asked.
"Fuck you," said Chris. "Are you working tomorrow?"
"Yeah, I'm opening."
"See you tomorrow."
Toby snapped his phone shut. He wasn't sure if Chris had done him a favor or not. Viv was turning out to be a complication he didn't need. Shoving his phone into his pocket, Toby started down the steps to the train. He'd have a week before seeing Viv again. Hopefully, his brain and his hormones would have sorted itself out by then.
Toby slumped against his front door, his keys dangling from one hand. Across the hall, a door opened.
"Hello, Mrs. Gerry," he said without turning.
"Dope fiend!" The door slammed shut.
"Bye, Mrs. Gerry," Toby sighed. He summoned the energy to unlock his door. He ditched his bag on the coffee table behind the door and dropped his mail on an already impressive pile. Contemplating the inside of his refrigerator only brought on depression. Toby pulled out a carton of milk, shook it and returned it to its shelf. He needed milk for coffee in the morning. Instead, Toby opted for a ham sandwich. Sticking it into his mouth, he ambled over to the bed-sit and plopped down. Flipping through the channels, he settled on a rerun of Star Trek. The exhaustion was pushing at him and as soon as the sandwich was finished, Toby drifted off.
Toby blinked, stretched and rolled over.
The door rattled in its frame. Toby groaned and got up. He stumbled to the door, his face cracking into a gigantic yawn as he opened the door.
"Were you asleep?" Viv asked. "It's three o'clock in the afternoon."
There was a moment of disconnect. Toby blinked at the man standing on his doorstep, waiting for his brain to boot up. He recognized Viv, but was having trouble placing him in a context.
"Don't you work?" he asked finally.
"I do actually," said Viv. "May I come in?"
"No," said Toby. "Go away."
"I have your suit." Viv held up a clothing bag.
"Couldn't you have had a servant deliver it or something?"
"You're not very pleasant after being roused," Viv said. Toby yawned again, running a hand over his face.
"Seriously, why are you here?" he asked.
"As I said, your suit." Viv stepped forward. Automatically Toby moved back.
Viv stopped, halfway into Toby's apartment. He looked around the small space, taking in the tiny kitchen area, the bed-sit covered in tumbled blankets, the unsteady piles of books, the clothes spilling out the closet, and looked back at Toby.
"You live here?" he asked.
"I didn't realize I was going to be having company," Toby said, picking up a stack of dirty dishes and dumping them into the sink. He scurried around Viv, tidying as best he could.
"Where's the rest of it?" Viv asked.
"There's a bathroom through there."
"Where do you sleep?"
"There, on the day bed," Toby said. Viv gaped at him.
"It's cheap and I don't have to worry about roommates," Toby said.
"Not everyone's got a trust fund to fall back on."
"I understand," said Viv.
"I'm not going to live here forever. After I graduate and get a better job-"
"Toby, I'm not judging you."
"Yeah, you were, a little," said Toby. Viv opened his mouth, then closed it. He pushed aside some of the blankets and sat down on the edge of the bed-sit.
"Offer me a cup of coffee," he said.
"You do have a coffee maker. I can see it from here."
"Would you like a cup of coffee?" Toby asked.
"Yes, thank you," said Viv. He set down the clothing bag and unbuttoned his coat. With a sense of the surreal, Toby made a pot of coffee. He sorted through his mugs, trying to find the nicest. He settled on one from his cousin with the seal of the Navy on it.
"Milk and sugar?" he asked.
Toby fixed Viv's coffee and one for himself. Handing the mug to Viv, he sat down at the other end of the bed-sit.
"Your neighbors don't object to the drum?" he asked, gesturing to the drum kit in the corner of the room. Unlike everything else in the apartment, the drums were pristine, easily the most expensive thing Toby owned. He'd sold his car to buy them and never regretted it once.
"My neighbor across the way thinks I'm a crack addict," Toby said. "But the rest of them don't mind as long I don't play them at night."
"Are you any good?" Viv asked.
"I'm not going to make it as a rock star, but I'm not bad."
"Okay," said Toby, who never had to be asked twice. Setting his cup down, he climbed behind the drum kit. Twirling the drumsticks a couple of times, Toby started out with a simple beat, layering as he continued, making the pattern faster, more complex. He screwed up a couple of times, but keep going. When he played, it didn't matter how tired he was, or if he'd been stiffed on his tips or if he hadn't done as well on an exam as he'd hoped. It was as though he drew energy from the drums themselves. When he finished, he was soaked with panting and soaked with sweat.
"So, uh," said Toby, absently twirling a drumstick. Viv was staring at him, a strange expression on his face.
"Viv?" Toby prompted.
Viv started. He stood up, looking away.
"Excuse me," he said. "I have an appointment." He crossed the apartment and stepped out. Toby waited a minute. The door opened again and Viv set his mug on the coffee table.
"Sorry," he murmured and disappeared again.
Toby burst out laughing.
"I think that's right," Chris said, stepping back and examining Toby with a critical eye.
"You think?" Toby asked.
"I'm not a expert on ties. It's straight, which is more than I can say for anything else in this room."
"I don't know. I've always considered the stove as solidly heterosexual."
Chris collapsed onto the bed-sit, retrieving her drink and topping it off with a fresh belt of rum.
"What happened to your date this week?" Toby asked.
"I'm meeting her at the bar later," Chris said. "Is Mr. Gere picking you up in his limo?"
"He texted me. I'm supposed to go to his apartment first."
"You're texting each other now?"
"No," said Toby. "Not, you know, a lot."
"Holy crap, Joy was right. You are so boned."
"Joy said I was boned?"
"No, I said that. Joy thinks you're going to magical true love land where everything is spun-sugar and gravy all the time."
"Nothing is going to happen," Toby said. "After tonight, I'm never going to see Viv again."
"Sure," said Chris.
"Seriously, I don't know what you're worried about."
"I'm worried because I know you, Toby. I know you like this guy, and I know it's not going to work out."
"Hypocrite," Toby said. "When have you had a relationship that lasted longer than a month?"
"Never," said Chris. "And I'm okay with that. But I'm not you. You're all domestic."
"Bullshit," said Toby. "I'm a drummer. I'm totally wild."
"You've got white picket fences in your DNA. You don't do casual. You want a house and a husband and two-point-three kids."
"I love you, Chris, but you're full of shit."
"Whatever," said Chris. "I warned you. My job's done." She drained her drink, tossing the plastic cup in the trash. "You want a hit off this?" She asked, holding up the bottle of rum.
"Yeah," said Toby. The alcohol burned the roof of his mouth and seared down his throat, but it didn't help his nerves. Chris stuffed the bottle into her gigantic purse. She paused by the door, looking back at Toby.
"You look good," she said. "Really good."
"Thanks. Have fun on your date."
"Always do," said Chris.
Viv lived in an high-rise at the bottom of Birch Hill. A doorman doffed his hat to Toby as he entered. The lobby, dripping with marble and chrome, dwarfed his apartment. Toby slowed, feeling out of place, despite his new tailored suit.
"Can I help you, sir?" The concierge asked. She was standing behind a long polished desk, a smooth, helpful expression on her face.
"No thank you," Toby said faintly. He headed for the elevators, certain that the concierge was going to call him out as a fraud at any moment. When the elevator chimed his arrival, he jumped.
The elevator walls were more chrome, twisting Toby's reflection back at him. He pressed a hand to his stomach. If he didn't calm down, he'd never make it through the night. The elevator stopped at the fourteenth floor and Toby got off. Smoothing his palms down his sides, Toby rang the bell on apartment 14A.
"Hello," said Viv. "Please, come in."
"No butler?" Toby asked.
"No, because I don't live in a English manor."
Viv's apartment down in warm shades of gold and brown, with accents of blue. The furniture looked as though it'd been selected for comfort as well as style. There weren't many extraneous items, no knick-knacks cluttering up the fine lines, but the high, stark white walls were covered with paintings. Viv seemed to favor surrealists and abstracts in bold colors. Toby saw a Lichtenstein, one of the few artists he could easily recognize. There was also a vintage Fender guitar in the corner, although Toby didn't know enough about guitars to place the year.
"Would you like a tour?" Viv asked.
"Um," said Toby. "I feel like I'm on a movie set."
"People just don't live in places like this."
"Come with me," Viv said.
Toby trailed after him. The rest of the apartment matched the living room. There were two elegant guest rooms (which Toby did see), a master bedroom with private bath (which Toby didn't), an office with antique secretary desk, another bathroom the size of Toby's apartment, and finally a music room. Although, it could be more accurately called a guitar room. Toby spotted a cherry red Les Paul, another one in gold, and four more he couldn't identify, although he was willing to bet there was close to half a million dollars in guitars hanging on Viv's wall.
"Wow," he said.
"This is my favorite room," Viv said.
"Do you play them all?" Toby asked.
"Sometimes. Not often." Viv lifted up a guitar case on an amp and popped it open. "Usually I play this one."
The guitar he pulled out wasn't a Gibson or Fender. It was a semi-acoustic with the classically curved body painted a warm red, darkening to black at the edges. It wasn't a modern design, but not a rare antique either. It showed its years. Viv held it in his lap, stroking the smooth finish.
"Why that one?" Toby asked.
"I don't know," Viv replied, playing a G-note, a small frown creasing his face. "It...it feels like home."
Toby closed his eyes. His stomach was tumbling as it plummeted down past his knees. He knew this feeling and he knew what it meant. Mentally, he cursed Chris, then stopped and switched to cursing Viv instead. This was his fault anyway. Why did he have to say that? Why did he have to be so goddamned perfect? Oh, god, he was gone completely. Toby had swallowed the kool-aid. He was absolutely infatuated with Vivian Marwood.
"Toby?" Viv said. "Are you all right? You look a little ill."
"Can I have some water?" Toby croaked.
Toby stumbled after Viv and waited in the living room as Viv fetched a glass of water.
"Is something wrong?" Viv asked. Toby gulped down the water.
"I'm fine," he said. "Really. Just, uh, thirsty."
Viv moved closer, frowning.
"You look pale," he said. "If you're feeling sick-"
"I'm not really. It's just nerves."
"Perhaps you should sit down," Viv said. He was standing too close. Toby stared at his lips, wishing they would curve up. He'd like to kiss Viv with a smile.
"What are you, my mother?" he asked.
There it was. Toby leaned in, sliding one hand behind Viv's neck, fingers tangling in his hair.
"What are you-" Viv asked. Toby kissed him, feeling Viv's spine stiffen, then relax. He brought his other hand up, tilting Viv's face up, diving into the kiss. Viv made a noise, deep in the back of his throat. He gripped Toby's hips, pulling them tight against his own.
"Viv," Toby said. "I-"
"Shut up," said Viv. Toby wasn't stupid enough to argue. He captured Viv's lower lip, sucking it gently, before flicking his tongue over the tender flesh. Viv gasped, his lips parting. His own tongue thrust out, stroking against Toby's.
Toby's hands moved lower, pushing Viv's coat off his shoulders. He shrugged off his own, never breaking the kiss. Viv's hips rocked. He gripped Toby's ass, kneading the flesh.
"Bedroom?" Toby gasped against Viv's mouth.
"Sofa," said Viv. He pushed Toby backwards, straddling him after he landed. Their movements grew more frantic, yanking at clothing, fumbling with buttons and zippers. Toby groaned as Viv latched onto his neck, alternating hot open-mouthed kisses and sharp bites. He tugged at Viv's shirt, working it loose, then slid his hands up Viv's back. He could feel Viv's heart beating, one-two, one-two against his chest, a counter-balance to the rhythm of their hips.
Toby shifted, wiggling a hand in between their bodies.
"Viv," he managed. "I can't...you have to get up."
"You want to stop?" Viv asked, drawing back. Toby shook his head, unbuttoning Viv's pants, pulling out the hard length and wrapping his fingers around it. "Oooh," Viv moaned. With unsteady hands he did the same for Toby. They moved together, wrists bent at awkward angles, knuckles banging together, both of them too far gone to care. Viv leant forward, the quick, hot heat of his breathes teasing over Toby's flesh. The world had constricted around them, pressing them tighter and tighter, the tension building like pipe bomb. Toby didn't think he could last much longer.
"Viv," he said in a rush of air, trying to get his attention, trying to tell him. "Viv, Viv, Viv-"
Viv wound his fingers through Toby's hair, yanking his head back, interrupting him with a blistering, bruising kiss. Then, with a smothered cry, he came. Toby felt Viv shake, felt the hot liquid slick and sticky on his hand, and couldn't hold back any longer.
Releasing Toby's hair, Viv collapsed against him, his face pressed into Toby's shoulder. Toby felt as though all his bones had been turned to jelly. With effort, he wrapped his arms around Viv's waist, content not to move for the next six centuries. Finally, Viv muttered something into his shoulder.
"I didn't hear you," Toby said.
"I said I haven't done that since college," Viv replied, raising his head.
Viv up completely, resting his palms on Toby's chest. Toby gave him a languid smile. He wished he had a camera. Viv was flushed, his lips swollen, his hair a tangled mess, a sheen of sweat over his skin. He looked thoroughly ravished, and Toby imagined he himself didn't look any better.
"So that happened," Toby said.
"So it did," said Viv. Neither man had moved.
"Um," said Toby. "Is that okay?"
"Why wouldn't it be?"
"Okay. I just wanted to...okay."
Viv glanced at something on the wall behind the couch.
"We need to leave soon," he said.
"Oh. Yeah," said Toby. "Um?"
Toby thought about everything Chris had said. He thought about Viv's obsession with his ex. He thought his own lack of free time. He thought about the differences in their backgrounds, their finances, even their standard of dress. He thought about every reason why it wouldn't work, knowing they were all true, all pointing to one conclusion. But he also knew the words were going to come out of his mouth despite all of it.
"What if," Toby said, staring at Viv's clavicle. "Um, what if we don't go and instead you take me to your bedroom and f-fuck me?" He faltered on 'fuck', his confidence wavering.
There was a sharp intake of breath from Viv. His fingers clenched, nails digging slightly into Toby's skin.
"I'll buy you breakfast in the morning," said Toby, striving for a light tone.
"You wouldn't get paid," Viv said in a soft voice. Toby shook his head.
"Doesn't matter," he said. "It's not about that anymore."
"I want to hurt him."
"We can go to the party and I can try to make your ex jealous and miserable, and when it's over you won't ever see me again," Toby said. "Or we can stay here, order pizza and screw. It's up to you."
Viv closed his eyes. Toby leaned towards him, placing delicate, drifting kisses on his temple, the curve of his cheekbone, the corner of his mouth.
"You have to let go sometime," Toby said. Viv sighed. He opened his eyes, but kept them downward, his lashes hiding them from Toby. They were black, like his eyebrows, a startling contrast to the silvery grey of his hair.
"Toby, I-" Viv began. Toby held his breath. Viv's lips moved, but Toby couldn't read them. The moment dragged on. Finally, Viv looked up, meeting Toby's eyes. Toby exhaled. He knew what the answer would be.
[A/N: There are several things I like about this story, and several things I don't. I'm wondering if people will dislike the same things I do, and if they'll have any suggestions on how to fix them. Also, I'm interested to know what people think Viv said. Thanks as always for the reviews!]