Terrance signed off of his computer with a sigh, knowing he simply wasn't going to get anything done for the rest of the night. His deadlines would just have to wait, and if his editor called to complain…well, he'd deal with that when it happened.
He looked at the clock resting on his desk, pondering what to do for dinner and smiled. He could still get dinner at Le Schifezze if he hurried. Alexander wouldn't be expecting him, but it would be a nice surprise.
He shoved his computer away and spent a few minutes fixing his hair and splashing water on his face to wake himself up before grabbing his jacket. Once he added shoes, he was out the door. Le Schifezze was a nicer restaurant, but he wasn't wearing ratty jeans or anything, so he knew he would be fine.
For a moment, he toyed with the idea of calling Alexander to warn him, but then he remembered how much the manager hated when he did that, so he kept his cell phone to himself. Alexander wouldn't need a warning, anyway. Terrance made a point to visit his boyfriend at work, if not every night at least a few times a month. They didn't have money to pay for Terrance to eat out all the time, especially if they ever wanted to actually go anywhere together.
The restaurant wasn't busy when he pulled into the parking lot, which was good. He hadn't made a reservation for the night, like he normally did, so if there were too many people there, he wouldn't even get in, let alone get a table in Alexander's section.
There was only one party ahead of him in line, and once they were led away, Terrance walked up, smiling. "Hi," he said. "Party of one. And can I have a table in Alexander's section, please?"
The host, whom Terrance recognized well enough after the year and a half Alexander had worked at the restaurant but only knew by name because of the nametag that read "Peter", frowned.
"You again," he said.
Terrance's smile dropped a bit. That wasn't exactly polite or professional. "Uh, yeah. Me…again. Can I get that table or not?"
Peter looked down at the book in front of him. "Well, you can get a table in his section, but he's not here tonight."
"Excuse me?" Terrance asked. He had watched Alexander dress and leave for work that evening. He was there, that was certain. "What do you mean? He works tonight."
"He took tonight off," Peter said, adjusting his glasses. "Said he wanted to spend the time with his boyfriend."
"I'm his boyfriend."
The host looked up and caught the other man's eyes. "Look, I know you come in all the time to see Alexander and I've watched him flirt with you. I hope you realize that he's only doing it to get tips. He's been with his boyfriend for a very long time, and they're quite happy together. No matter how he treats you, you aren't the one he goes to dinner with here. I think it would be best if you didn't come to see him anymore."
Peter looked behind him at the couple that had come up behind Terrance. "Hello."
Terrance forced an awkward smile and stepped out of the way before looking between Peter and the door uncertainly. After a long moment, during which the new couple was seated, Terrance decided it was unlikely that Peter was ever going to let him get a table and walked out.
He made a stop at McDonald's on the way home. It was pathetic that he had to eat there, and he felt pathetic, but the cashier didn't sound sympathetic enough to complain to. He took his cheap hamburger with a scowl and decided he would rather eat it at his own dinner table and wait for Alexander than in the overly bright restaurant.
Alexander owed him an explanation, that was for damn sure. Taking the night off to spend with his boyfriend? What was that supposed to mean? Alexander had told him he was going to work. So either Peter was full of shit, or…well, Terrance didn't really want to consider the other option.
He didn't turn any lights on when he returned to the apartment he shared with his boyfriend. He felt like keeping the dark mood lighting, which in turn made him feel like an angsty teenager, but the lights stayed off.
Terrance made it through his entire dinner in less than half an hour and glanced at the clock again. Alexander wasn't due back home for another hour and a half. He tapped his fingers on the table impatiently. Then he picked up his cell phone, saw that he had no messages, and decided to leave one on Alexander's phone.
"Hi. So this is your boyfriend. Terrance. I know you can't answer the phone, but I thought it was only fair to warn you that we need to talk tonight. Make sure not to get too tired. Bye."
He hung up the phone and tossed it onto the table. After staring at it moodily for a few moments, he stood up and started pacing back and forth. Alexander hated when he did that, saying that he was going to ruin the carpets, but if Alexander was there to complain, he wouldn't be pacing.
Alexander. Cheating. Or at least, that was what Peter seemed to think. But what did Peter know? Terrance had barely even spoken to him beyond, "Hi, table for one? Yes, reservation for Terrance Palmer."
But then, maybe that made it more accurate. Peter wasn't invested in their relationship. He didn't know Terrance, and Alexander never talked about him. So why would he lie? He couldn't possibly have anything to gain.
Unless, of course, he knew that Terrance was Alexander's boyfriend and wanted to make a move on Alexander. No, that was ridiculous. Peter looked like he was in his late thirties instead of his mid-twenties, like Terrance and Alexander. That was a bit old, in his opinion. Maybe he didn't know what he was talking about, though. He and Alexander had been together since high school; he knew little about the dating scene.
Maybe that was a problem. Maybe Alexander wanted to try dating someone else after so long with Terrance. He'd only had one boyfriend before Terrance, and that was an immature high school relationship, nothing like he could have with an adult.
And who was the other guy Peter said he was going to dinner with? Alexander never wanted to go eat at Le Schifezze when they went out together—he said he was sick of being there. But maybe he was just afraid the wait staff might say something about the other guy.
Dammit. A few simple comments from someone he didn't even know, and now he was questioning his entire relationship.
Alexander had better have a damn good explanation waiting.
Alexander walked in the door of their apartment exactly twenty minutes after he was supposed to. Terrance stopped pacing, sat on their couch, and pretended like the last twenty minutes hadn't been possibly the worst ones of his life.
"Uh, hi," Alexander said, hopping on one foot as he struggled to take one of his shoes off. "I got your message. You sounded angry. What's wrong?"
"Piqued. I was piqued, not angry."
Alexander rolled his eyes. "Fine. You sounded piqued. What's wrong, Ter?"
"I went to go see you at work today."
"You did?" The brunet sounded genuinely confused as he took off his other shoe and sat down on the couch next to Terrance. "How come you didn't sit in my section? I never saw you." From this distance, Terrance could see the blue of his eyes even though Alexander hadn't bothered to turn the lights on when he arrived, either. Damn. Terrance never could resist those eyes.
"Yeah, I did. The host, however, Peter, told me you took the night off to go on a date with some 'boyfriend' of yours. Also, I apparently shouldn't come by anymore."
"What? That's ridiculous. Why would he tell you that?"
"I don't know. You tell me."
"Terrance, I don't have any idea. None of that's true. I was at work all night." The man waved at his shirt. "I've even got stains on my shirt, and I can show you my tips. I swear."
"How come he doesn't think I'm your boyfriend?"
Alexander scratched the back of his head. "I don't know, Terrance! It's not like I ever formally introduced you or anything, but he knows I have one…"
"Do you flirt with customers to get tips?"
"Jeez, Terrance, are you trying to interrogate me?"
Terrance shook his head. "I'm curious. Damn, Al, wouldn't you be?"
"Maybe…" Alexander admitted, white teeth biting at his lip. "I guess, yeah. Sometimes. But it's not like I do with you. You've seen me."
Terrance nodded. He had seen Alexander, and while Alexander was always friendly with his customers, it was nothing to get too jealous over. And they both used the money.
"I heard you go eat there with some other guy."
Alexander's brow furrowed. "Wait, huh?" After another moment of tense silence, he finally said, "Oh! God! That's just Marco. He said that he liked the damn place, so whenever it's his turn to pick where we go to dinner, he always chooses it."
Terrance thought about that. They did have nights out with their friends at least once a month, and Alexander and Marco were close enough that Terrance could understand how they might be mistaken for something more when someone knew that Alexander was gay and didn't know Marco was straight.
"Look," Alexander interrupted, pulling out his phone. "I'm going to call Peter, and we're going to get this straightened out right now. Nothing I say is going to convince you if you don't know why he said that, and I can't tell you."
He dialed a number, set the cell phone on speaker and waited while the phone rang.
"Hello?" Terrance recognized the voice as Peter's, if distorted over the phone line.
"Hi, Peter, it's Alexander. I have a mix-up I need you to explain."
"Uh, sure, no problem. Can you take me off of speaker phone? It's hard to hear you."
"No, I can't, actually. See, my boyfriend is sitting next to me on the couch, and he'd like to know why you told him that I skipped work to go on a date tonight."
There was silence over the phone line. "Shit. That was him?"
"Of course it was him!" Alexander replied, sounding half exasperated and half furious. "And now, thanks to you, he thinks I was cheating on him."
"I'm sorry!" Peter replied. "I thought it was just some guy who liked you a lot or something. So I tried to make him leave so that things wouldn't get screwed up if your boyfriend did see you with him. What about that guy you eat dinner with?
"That's my best friend, idiot. You plan worked out real well, thanks. Maybe you should trust me a little more next time."
"Look, I'm sorry. And tell your boyfriend I'm sorry. Do you want a free meal? I can do that. Would that make up for it?"
"We'll let you know," Terrance said curtly, hanging up the phone. He turned to Alexander. "You need to introduce me to your coworkers, obviously."
Alexander looked at him with pleading eyes. "You're still mad. Why are you still mad? Most of my coworkers do know who you are."
"I'm mad at your idiot coworker. Not you. I'm sorry. I don't know what I was thinking. Why would you cheat on me?"
"Because you force me to use words like piqued," Alexander replied, deadpan.
Terrance was tempted to laugh, but settled for looking at him sharply.
Alexander grinned. "What? I'm just saying."