He opened his eyes, taking in the dark, impersonal room in a bit of a panic. The darkened room and the pain in his head were a disorientating mixture. After a moment, however, he pulled himself together enough to take in the details. Hotel room, he thought. What the heck was he doing here?
Take inventory, he thought – checking himself over carefully: fingers and toes wiggled, hands and feet moved easily, arms flexed without too much effort despite being wrapped in another's warm arms, and his legs seemed to be entangled with the other person's legs; he could smell whoever was currently wrapped around him. The other person smelled both familiar and strange, yet comforting. Just what the hell was that about? Whoever he lay with was not his girlfriend and fiancé, Lisa Zamora.
He could hear the other person breathing behind him in the steady rhythm of relaxed sleep. His own tongue was dry and the taste in his mouth was disgusting, to say the least. Everything else, hair and skin, felt rubbed raw and over sensitized. Wrong. Oh heavens what happened last night?
There were extra pangs of discomfort, pains here and there where there should not have been. He frowned and looked down at his chest, noticing for the first time as the sleep fog finally seeped out of his brain that he was completely naked with a complete stranger in a strange bed, feeling, well, strange and, after a moment's thought, angry. Something had happened last night, something that should never have happened and he could not remember just what that was. To make matters worse, he could feel something in his bloodstream that should never have been there, ever.
Alarms were ringing in the back of his brain now, and he took a few moments to review the night before. Or at least, what he could remember of it anyway.
Last night, Arlo Hanson and Chris Topper, his two best friends, and their respective girlfriends, Doreen Collins and Zoe Hernandez, insisted on taking Ted (thank heavens he could remember his name!) out for his birthday- really? Yes, his birthday. Ted hated celebrating his birthday and tended to get depressed on that particular day. If his fiancé had been in town, it would have been just been him and Lisa going to dinner. Instead, he found himself being talked into "celebrating".
Arlo insisted that he get out and have fun and invited the others over to celebrate, "to cheer Ted up". Doreen had been very enthusiastic with the plan, encouraging Ted to "live a little". The group insisted on a club, even though Ted did not drink and normally did not like to dance. Even so, everyone hoped to get him "hooked up". Oh gods. Ted rolled his head to one side, trying to see his unknown companion over his shoulder. A bad feeling rolled through Ted then, anger lending him enough energy to get over inertia and extricate himself from the full body hug and out of the bed.
His head rang like a bell for a long moment after Ted sat up and it took several moments for the fog to clear. The feelings of betrayal and guilt began to rise in his chest. He'd cheated on his fiancé! What kind of cad cheated on his fiancé? Ted suppressed a groan of distress, determined not to wake the other person in the bed.
Last night had been a spectacularly bad idea from the get go. For one, Ted did not drink or even like alcohol. For another, getting "hooked up" was not in the cards, the plans or anything else Ted wanted in his life, now or ever. Ted was engaged to a lovely and charming young lady named Lisa Zamora, and planned on marrying her soon.
Rubbing his eyes tiredly, he took in the crack of light coming through the curtained window. It was early morning then. Clothes were scattered all over the floor in a frantic jumble, shoes and boots tangled in with jeans and shirts, jackets and more intimate apparel. All of it was male in origin. Oh lady. He could feel the blood draining from his face as the twinges and aches Ted felt finally began to make more sense. No, no, no! Swallowing back his bile, Ted stood from the bed abruptly and moved away as if he would get burned by staying near it too long. Who knows, maybe it would be a mercy?
After a bit of hunting and grimacing, Ted found his clothing and the bathroom. He went into the bathroom and stared at himself in the mirror. A dark mark on his neck made him stare in horror, fear spearing through his gut. Wrong. This was so wrong. Ted's thoughts ran in circles as he wondered how to deal with the love of his life. Would Lisa hate him? Should he tell her? And just how was he to explain the whole thing to her? Ted swallowed against the rising nausea and forced himself to focus on getting cleaned up and out of the room.
It was time go home. He had to go to work in a few hours and he needed food. Hopefully, the guy, whoever he was, would forget about Ted and go on with his life. Ted would figure out how to deal with Lisa and the cheating with what came down to a one night stand later.
Heart warm, bed somewhat warm, but someone was missing. Jonsohn Martins sat up slowly searching the room with sleep heavy eyes. The smile he'd woken up with slowly slid off his face as he realized that something was off. Scrubbing a hand through short brown hair, he took in the scattered and strewn clothing on the floor, but only saw his own stuff. There should have been more clothing, he thought. The crack in the drawn curtains showed that it was fully morning now, probably about seven, if he was any judge. Jon's new mate should not be up and about yet. Jon searched his memory and came up with Ted Frankel's name. He should have still been curled up in Jon's arms, too worn out to move for at least a day.
Jon climbed out of bed and checked the room over with another sweep of his eyes. Completely gone! Quickly dressing, Jon checked the bathroom, discovered that Ted had been there, but had not left anything behind that could be used as a focus. The hallway outside the room was quiet this early in the morning – not even the maids were up yet. Jon made his way to the elevators, focused inward, searching the link between himself and his mate, wincing as the first ping shot through him.
Ted's hands were shaking as he pulled out the keys to his car. He had no memory of the night before and this scared him. Though he had only a slight headache, he was fairly sure he had stuck to his no drink rule. Everyone knew he did not drink and it made him wonder all the sudden if one of the jerks he thought were friends had slipped something into his glass of soda. It would explain his lack of memory.
It took a couple of tries and careful focus to get the key into the ignition. Even so, Ted sat still, staring out the windshield blankly for a short time, trying to think through the haze of anger seeping in from his own stupidity and too trusting nature. This was already not a good day by a long shot, but it was a day which needed to be got through. The car started up on the first try, and after taking a long slow breath and letting it out again, Ted pulled out of the parking space and out into the light morning traffic. He hoped he never saw the guy again, regret for the lost evening making his mouth turn downward.
Jonsohn Martins arrived at the parking lot entrance just as Ted pulled out of the parking lot. He recognized the other man's car from the night before and briefly wondered how it had ended up in the hotel's parking lot, since he'd driven them both from the club the night before. Not that that matted right now, however. As Jon watched, Ted Frankel drove off without a backward glance. Jon felt another pain so sharp it left him gasping for breath.
Arlo Hanson and Doreen Collins sat in the kitchen of the house Arlo shared with Ted, when Ted arrived home. The pair looked quite happy and satisfied with each other and the world. Ted barely held back a curl of his lip in annoyance. While he was happy that Arlo had found someone who could make him happy, Ted wondered how Arlo could stand Doreen. She always set Ted's teeth on edge, though he tried really hard to be polite around her. Arlo blinked at Ted in surprise, like he had not expected him to be home. Ted ignored him.
"Hey Ted. What are you doing here so early?" Arlo took in the Burger King bag in Ted's hand and frowned. "I'd think you would be having breakfast in bed right now." Doreen's glance flicked up and down Ted's long frame, as if searching for something. Ted ignored this too and popped a French toast stick into his mouth.
"Why would I be having breakfast in bed? And the last time I looked, I live here. Also, I have to work in a couple of hours and I need a shower and fresh clothes." He sighed tiredly. He tried not to show the anger seething deep within. "'Morning Doreen." Politeness was ingrained, even as little flashes of suspicion began to alight in his mind. The suspicion only increased as Doreen gave him long look.
A smug smile played around her mouth as she spoke, "I thought you got lucky last night Ted." She gave him another long, thoughtful look. "So how was he? He was cute. I bet he was a great kisser! He looked like a total sweetheart."
Ted frowned at this, shook his head. "A mistake I hope never to repeat. What do I tell Lisa?" He could not quite keep the guilt from seeping into his voice as he glanced at the wall clock, missing the looks Arlo and Doreen exchanged at this. "I've got to get ready for work, or I'm going to be late. I'll see you two later." He turned to go, stopped, turning in the kitchen door, his eyes flashing darkly. "Oh, and before I forget: which one of you jokers drugged my soda last night?"
"Drugged your soda?" Arlo stared at Ted as if he had lost his mind. "What the hell are you saying, Ted?" Doreen managed an innocent look, though she could not quite stop the narrowing of her eyes in annoyance.
"I can't remember anything about last night after we got to that club. I never should have let you talk me into doing so monumentally stupid!" Ted swallowed back his anger with effort. His face was quite red with a mixture of anger and disgust.
"Whoa, there buddy-boy, how dare you imply that we had anything to do with whatever took place between you and your date? If you've got issues, you should take them up with him." Arlo's face closed down. "And what do you mean "a mistake"?" He paused and added, "I took the liberty of calling you in sick today, since I was sure you wouldn't be available to work today."
"You what? You jerk. I could get fired with you pulling stunts like that!" Ted growled and left the kitchen for his bedroom, gathering up the phone as he went. He needed to do damage control right now. He dialed his work number. "Hey Jan, this is Ted. Yeah, whatever gave you that impression?" He stopped, his voice raised incredulously. "What?" he threw a murderous look Arlo's way and continued down the hall. "Let me talk to Mr. Jenks, please. Oh and Jan, never accept a call from Arlo Hanson or Chris Topper again. They like to pull jokes that could get a guy fired. Yeah, ha, ha. Not funny in the least." There was a pause then Mr. Jenks was on the phone.
"Mr. Jenks, Ted Frankel here. I wanted – what?" Ted paused to listen. "No sir. My former friend Arlo thinks he's being cute with a prank call… No sir, I have no plans to play hooky from work today." Arlo, being a snoop, followed Ted down the hall. Now he came to a dead stop. "Yes, sir, I'm going to get changed now and I should be at the shop in about twenty minutes." Ted listened for several minutes, his face red now with embarrassment and anger. Arlo quietly began backing away, suddenly wary. "No sir, this will never happen again. I am making plans to find another roommate, post haste. I'll see you in a bit. Thanks Mr. Jenks." Ted clicked off the phone and hung his head for a moment.
Turning, he saw Arlo trying to retreat. "You nearly got me fired you jerk. I still have a job, but it's a near thing. Ever do something like that again and I will kick you out of my life. Oh, and you can start apartment hunting today." He went into his room and gently closed the door, before leaning on the back of it, shaking a bit.
Arlo let out a breath and returned to the kitchen. Doreen looked up worried. "How is he?" she asked.
Arlo shrugged. "Angry with us, right now, I guess. How the heck is he ignoring the mate-bond?"
"Maybe it didn't take with him? That does happen on occasion, even when the two in question are compatible and seem perfect for each other." Doreen sighed, wondering about what went wrong with her gift. After a moment of thought she said "Ted and that other guy, Jon something, looked so happy together, I was sure it was the real deal."
"Now he's claiming memory loss and accusing us of drugging him. I don't get it, Dori, what could have happened that was so bad?"
Doreen leaned into Arlo's side and shook her head. The potion was tasteless, perfect for hiding in a drink. It made no sense as to why it had not worked. "We're not going to know until he tells us what's up. And we can't force it to happen. Remember, the first twenty-four hours are critical to the bonding process. I'm amazed he's up and functional to be honest."
"It's downright worrying." Arlo stared down into his cereal bowl, looking up quickly when he heard Ted's room door open. Ted stepped out into the hall way, dressed in his work clothes. He was still clutching the Burger King bag in one hand, eyes narrowed at Arlo, though he did not speak. Ted deposited the bag in the trash and stuck his head into the fridge, looking for something to take for lunch. Doreen watched him carefully and did not drop her gaze when he turned to look at her sharply.
"I'm just worried about you that's all. Did something bad happen last night? Did that guy, Jonsohn, hurt you in some way?"
Ted's mouth flapped open in surprise and shock before snapping closed again. He sputtered over the words before he finally sighed. His dark gaze included both Arlo and Doreen. "Look, I appreciate that you care for me, but I would really be grateful if you would keep your collective noses out of my personal life and business." He grabbed a can of Pepsi a couple of boiled eggs, carrots and some cookies out of the fridge, and headed for the door. "I have to get to work and save my job. Good day."
Jonsohn followed the twanging and snapping threads of the bond to a large bookstore several miles south of the hotel. Overhead the clouds rolled in with the wind and a hint of rain. It started splattering just as he pulled into the parking lot. He trotted to the doors, only to find he was a little early for opening. He took the opportunity to check out the surrounding buildings, curious about his mate's life and work.
The strip mall was a fairly good sized one, built in a U shape, open to the main street on the north side, directly opposite the bookstore's doors. On the west side of the mall were a number of small stores including a novelty gift store, a couple of small restaurants and one dedicated to soccer. On the east side of the lot was a chain hobby store, sharing space with a small clothing outfitters and a shoe store. The bookstore shared space with a small noodle-coffee place. The parking lot was mostly empty this early in the day, but the place looked like it got a fair amount of traffic. Behind Jon, the doors rattled as locks were undone. Rain began to pelt, even as Jon stepped into the brightly lit greeting area.
Standees with newly released books stood on either side of the greeting podium and bookshelves to the right held a mix of both hard and paperback books. Straight ahead, Jon could see shelves of featured movies and music and the smell of fresh popcorn permeated the area, reminding Jon of breakfast. Something he forgot to eat in his agitation this morning.
"Hello and welcome to Bookland." The greeter was a smiling blond girl with bright blue eyes and an equally bright smile. "How may I help you this morning?"
Jon blanked for a moment, trying to remember his mate's name. "Uhm, I'm actually looking for Ted Frankel."
"Ted's in back with Mr. Jenks right at the moment." The girl frowned slightly. "I hope everything's alright. He really needs this job." She flushed under Jon's scrutiny, looking embarrassed. "I'm sorry I tend to ramble without thinking. I'll let him know you're here as soon as he's available."
Jon nodded. "I will browse in the books area then while I wait." The girl nodded quickly. The doors rattled, signaling the arrival of another customer. Jon moved away from the podium and toward the new arrivals shelf. Maybe he could find something to read while he waited. The whole time, he could feel the pull of the bond, trying to complete itself before it snapped into nothing again.
Mr. Jenks looked less than amused as Ted apologized for Arlo's "joke" again. He had the look of someone who heard this sort of thing too often and was not sure how many more times he could hear it again. All the same, he took in Ted's overall physical state, noting the hickey on the young man's neck and the way his eyes held a certain amount of fuzziness. In fact, Ted's eyes were not tracking very well at all, Mr. Jenks thought. He wondered how the kid was able to function and just how long it was going to take for the fragile mate-bond to begin fraying around the edges or begin to really impair him. Not long he thought.
Mr. Jenks had fond memories of the night he and his wife had found themselves in bed, bonding. It had been the most enjoyable twenty-four hours of his life. He and Mrs. Jenks now had three healthy kids and a nice home. He wondered at Ted's ability to ignore what fate dropped on his doorstep. "Why are you at work Ted?"
"Wha-sorry?" Ted was brought up short. "What do you mean Mr. Jenks?"
"I can see the marks on you. What are you doing at work? You should still be in bed with your bond-mate, not running around like an idiot." Ted's face went red and he looked embarrassed.
"I have no idea what you mean, Mr. Jenks. I have a fiancé who I plan to marry next year. There is no "bond-mate"." Ted responded stiffly. He refused to meet the manager's eyes. "May I return to the floor now? I really need to get the rest of the Brown books out on the stands or Ms. Marlee'll have my head." He refused to meet the other man's eyes.
Mr. Jenks waved Ted out the office. "Go Ted. And tell Arlo from me that prank calls will not be tolerated."
"Yes sir, Mr. Jenks. I will." Ted fled out the door. Mr. Jenks sat back in his chair and frowned.
Ted left Mr. Jenks office in a mood that bordered on murderous toward his so called friends Arlo and Doreen, that interfering … he tried to find a suitable alternative to the word which he wanted to mutter right now. Nothing could replace the word, however: bitch. From the get go, Darleen had done everything in her power to interfere with his life and he was less than appreciative. Trying to ask Arlo to talk to her about it had led to his friend's disbelieving laugh and a "you can't be serious." It was time for the pair of them to go. Somehow, Ted would come up with the money to cover utilities and such. Just have to cut back on things, he decided. Thankfully, the house was his outright.
He was so lost in his thoughts that Ted was not prepared for Jan's excited voice stopping him as he made to step out of the backroom door. "Ted! Ted!" She was practically jumping up and down with the same energy of a five year old hopped up on sugar. "The most gorgeous guy is asking for you! He's waiting for you near the books area 'cause I told him you had shelving to do. Wow, man, where'd you meet him? He's beee-u-tee-full!" She was breathless with admiration.
Ted gave her a narrow look, but swallowed his anger. Flaring at Jan never did any good.
"Jan, get a grip will you? What do you mean "man"?" He ignored the "gorgeous" part. And the "beee-u-tee-full" part. Jan's brain was hard wired to think almost any guy who walked, talked or breathed was "hot", "gorgeous", "beautiful" or just about any other description she could come up with for a guy who satisfied her personal parameters. Ted often wondered if she even had any parameters. The only reason she did not hang on him was his clear "I'm engaged and am not interested" from the get go.
Jan blinked in surprise. "Your bonded, of course," as if it was obvious. She studied Ted closely, but his reaction was not one she expected.
Silence, then his face went red with anger. "Excuse me," he said. He turned on his heel, heading for the stock room. "Tell him anything you like, but get rid of him. I have things to do."
"I thought he was your fiancé," Jan's slightly less excited voice stopped him and he turned back to look at her. His mouth tightened into a thin line.
"My fiancé's name is Lisa, and you have met her Jan." He sighed, scrubbing at his face. "Excuse me," he said again and headed for the stock room.
Jan blinked, not sure just what had happened. Deciding not to get further involved, she shrugged and went back to her own job.
Jon waited in the books area for quite some time before he decided that Ted was not coming out anytime soon. He made his way through the store, searching for the other man, but having no luck finally found the excitable young lady to whom he had spoken earlier. Ted had not left the building, Jon was fairly sure, but he had a hiding spot. It was time for a confrontation.
He walked up to Jan. "I'm sorry to bother you young miss-," he started. Jan looked alarmed, but did not bolt. "Could you tell me where Ted Frankel might be found? I really would like to speak to him."
"Oh, uhm, he's not come out yet?" She squeaked then dropped her gaze. "I don't know what's got into him really. He was hiding in the stock room, last time I saw him. I can have him paged, if you like. Don't know how much good it'll do though." She gave him a shy look through her blond bangs.
"That would be most kind," Jon smiled gently. Jan blushed prettily.
"May I help you?" the store manager appeared just then, his face set in his best customer service look. "Jan, track Ted down and send him to my office please. Then go ahead and take your break, since Carol's here now." Jan escaped with a nod. The man turned back to Jon and introduced himself as the store manager Mr. Jenks.
"I apologize for stepping into what is a personal matter," he told Jon as he led him through the store to his office. "Ted came in this morning after being called in sick, claiming it to be a bad practical joke played on him by a friend of his. I get the feeling that friend is about to find himself out on the street very soon." He coded them through the door and led the man to his small but neat office. The door stood open. "Please feel free to wait here. I figure the discussion you need to have is rather private and not one to be held out in the parking lot, much less the middle of the store."
Jon smiled at the unusual courtesy. "I appreciate the thought, Mr. Jenks," he responded. The little pings were turning into pangs, sharp and painful, hard to ignore. He wondered that Ted could even function right now. Jon could feel the newly formed bond growing ever thinner between him and the other man, close to snapping in half. Another snap and Jon fought down a gasp. Mr. Jenks took in Jon's pale appearance, motioned to a chair.
"Sit. Do you need some water?" Jon managed to shake his head in negation. "I'll be out on the floor. Let me know when you're done." Jon nodded his thanks and Mr. Jenks left him alone to wait.
Not quite a moment later, there was a knock on the now mostly closed door and Ted stuck his head into the office. "You wanted to see me …" he trailed off, seeing Jon in the visitor's chair. Frowning, he turned to leave again without a word.
"Please, Ted, I really need to speak to you." Jon leaned forward in his chair. He wanted to reach out to Ted, to touch him, but knew that would be a mistake. "Mr. Jenks was kind enough to lend me his office for this. Please?"
Ted paled, but stepped into the office, leaving the door open. He advanced no further into the office, however.
"Please, come into the office and close the door. We don't need to broadcast personal business to the rest of the staff." Jon looked imploring.
Ted hesitated before closing the door, but made no move to come closer. Distrust colored his eyes – they were brilliant eyes, like grayish-blue steel balls – Jon thought. The younger man wore his hair very short, Jon could see it was dark blond and Ted had clear skin with naturally pink cheeks. The fresh look which had caught Jon's attention the night before was still breathtaking.
Ted looked tense right at the moment, ready to take off if Jon said the wrong thing. This was not the same man Jon had met last night, surely? That man had been amusing, relaxed and fun.
It was the un-amused un-relaxed and unfun man who spoke now, his voice tight with anger. "What do you want and just who are you anyway?" His voice held a quaver, a sign that he was unsure of how to deal with this situation or perhaps had a good idea of who Jon was, but was not ready to deal with him.
"I'm Jonsohn Martins. We met last night at the Points Club down on Central?" Jon watched for a flicker of recognition. Hope made his heart beat faster, only to die when Ted shook his head.
"So? Last night. Gah, those jerks." He closed his hands into fists.
"What do you mean "those jerks"?" Jon asked.
Ted looked up sharply. "My so called friends dragged to that damned club for my birthday. Against my will, mind you. They, or rather, she must have put something in my soda when I wasn't looking, something which made me act like a freaking idiot. I must have been acting like a slut to wake up in some stranger's bed." Ted's eyes were hard and cold. "Last night was not normal behavior for me," he explained at Jon's puzzled look. Then his eyes widened, even as he paled with realized shock. "Your bed. Oh hell."
Jon got up to help Ted to a chair. "Come and sit."
Ted jerked away from Jon, his cheeks flaming with indignation. "Don't. Touch. Me." He moved to the other side of the desk and sat in Mr. Jenk's chair, pushing it away from the desk as he did so, gaining the maximum distance possible in the small office.
"For what it's worth," Jon sat down again, "I didn't think you were acting like a slut at all. You seemed to be enjoying yourself." He smiled, trying to hide the hurt of Ted's rejection. Ted just shook his head.
"I have no memory of you or anything after the first time I got dragged out to the dance floor by Doreen. She was so damned insistent that I dance with her, told me I needed to relax. I don't like to dance, especially in public – I look like a spaz," Ted confessed. A frown marred his features. "I …," he hesitated, "After that I have no memory of anything, except waking up in your hotel room this morning. I don't know what I'm going to tell Lisa," and said a word he would normally have censored himself for.
Jon tilted his head. "Who's Lisa?" he asked.
"My fiancé. We're planning to get married next year." Ted managed to scrounge up a small smile.
Ping. Fiancé? Oh gods. Jon fought the pain growing in his heart and head. He wanted to reach out and comfort the younger man, but knew the gesture would be wasted. Ted clutched the chair arms, angry and tense. The room suddenly seemed to be much darker. Surely he had to be hurting too? Jon looked but could see nothing of what he was looking for.
"Tell me what happened," Ted said.
Jon swallowed with apprehension, thinking back to the night before. "Well you seemed to be having such a good time dancing with that girl when I first saw you," Jon smiled with reminiscence. Ted had looked so uncomfortable at first last night, but had gradually relaxed and become more fluid in his movements, Jon had been entranced. Ted was tall, had fair skin and short dark blond hair, nicely spiked. He'd been smiling, but the memory now showed the look for what it really had been – discomfort. His dark eyes really had not been tracking too well, Jon remembered now.
Jon cut in politely, the girl grinning happily at him as she moved out of the way. She was soon joined by another man who was obviously her boyfriend by the way she hung on him. Ted, however, had given Jon a dark look and turning on his heel, left the dance floor for the bar. Jon followed, excited by the younger man's looks and worried at the same time. He definitely felt something here. Something which only happened to the right mix of two people; the mate-bond was trying to form.
"Sprite," Ted told the bartender. He leaned against the bar, his eyes firmly away from the man standing too near him. Jon got the sense that Ted was not so much shy as annoyed. Jon tried a smile.
"My name's Jon," he yelled over the music. Ted glanced his way, but did not respond. "What's yours?"
"Theodore." The other man paid for his drink and headed for the booth where Chris and Zoe were leaning pretty close to each other. He ignored them and Jon, who had followed him, as he slipped into a seat opposite the couple.
Jon joined him on the bench. He was determined to speak to Ted it would seem. Ted grimaced into his soda. "That's a mouthful. What do your friends call you?"
"My friends," making it clear that Jon was not included on the invite list of friends, "call me Ted. You may call me Mr. Frankel."
"So formal." Jon laughed. "I'll call you Ted. Hey you want to go somewhere quieter where we can talk?"
Ted turned steel ball eyes on Jon and Jon felt a thrill of excitement shoot straight through him. So perfect, he thought. Just right. Jon smiled again.
"No." Ted's tone was flat.
Jon, undaunted, smiled more widely, determined to get Ted on his side, if not in his bed soon. Ted swallowed a mouthful of soda and sat back, rubbing his eyes tiredly. "Are you sure you wouldn't like to talk at least?"
"All I wish to do right now is go home." Ted shook his head and told a small lie in an effort to get the man off his back, "Lisa'll still be waiting for me, I hope." He finished his drink and looked pointedly at Jon, indicating his desire to get up. Right then, Doreen and Arlo returned to the table flushed with dancing and, Ted was sure, sucking face like crazy. He grimaced in distaste.
Doreen grinned at the pair of them, her eyes sparkling with humor and ill disguised excitement. Ted felt a flash of apprehension. "Hey," she said, "going to introduce your dance partner?" Zoe and Chris looked across the table at them, curious.
Ted stared at her for a long silent moment. Anger colored his voice. "Thanks for abandoning me Dori. I don't who this guy is. He just followed me from the bar, where hopefully he'll return, now." He looked pointedly at Jon.
Doreen just laughed, sitting down on the other side of Jon, effectively cutting off Ted's attempted escape. She introduced herself to Jon then went around the table introducing everyone else. Ted ignored the proceedings. Jon tried again to catch Ted's attention, but Ted did not respond. A fresh round of drinks was ordered and a fresh Sprite put down in front of Ted. He drank it without looking up. Trapped in the booth, all Ted could do was endure.
As the evening continued, everyone became more relaxed and inebriated, though Jon kept his drinking to a minimum and Ted stuck to his soda. Yet, even Ted began to relax and enjoy himself, even to the point of flirting with Jon, much to Doreen's great amusement. Jon flirted back, gently, deciding that Ted really was a sweet guy, if a little uptight and distant. After luring the younger man out for a round of slow dancing, Jon offered to give Ted a lift back home. The others would catch a cab home.
"And instead of being taken home, I woke up in your hotel room without any clothes on, in some stranger's bed-your bed!, feeling like crap and wondering what the hell I'm going to tell Lisa." Ted's eyes were hard and cold now. Anger radiated off of him and he clutched the chair arms tightly. There was a suspicious glistening at the corners of Ted's eyes making him blink rapidly. "I am planning to get married for heavens' sake. Mate-bonds don't figure into my chosen life path." Ted was panting now.
Jon swallowed against the tight lump in his throat. "I-I am sorry. Truly," he finally managed. He felt like his world was quaking and crumbling around him. The foundations he thought were just beginning to form were shattering into tiny shards, ripping straight through his heart and soul. "You seemed to enjoy last night. I thought you and I might have the chance to form something solid between us. You can't feel the bond forming between us?" He looked longingly into Ted's eyes, but Ted refused to meet his gaze.
"I am sorry Mr. Martins, but I don't go in for fairy tale endings. They're unrealistic and impossible to maintain. And to be clear, what happened last night should never have happened. I think I may have been drugged, in fact. I think I know who did the drugging and she and her boyfriend are so going to find themselves on the street when I get home tonight." Ted's voice was tight with anger. "Then I have to make up to Lisa for what happened last night. I don't know how I'm going to explain this to her. I just hope she's willing to forgive me."
Ted stood up from the chair. He stared at Jon who was shaking in pain now. "I am sorry, Mr. Martins. I hope you have a good life, and that you find someone who fulfills your every wish. I have found that someone and she's a wonderful lady." He looked on with concern as Jon finally pulled himself together and straightened in the chair again. "Are you alright? Should I call for paramedics?"
Jon sighed tiredly, accepting the tightly curled ball of pain within. He looked up with glittering eyes. "Yes, I will be," he managed. "I am sorry for everything. It's just, the mate-bond only happens once in a life time and I was so sure you were the one." He smiled crookedly. "If, as you say, you were drugged, then how did it form? Why did we connect?"
Ted's mouth opened then shut as he puzzled over the questions. "I don't know," he responded at last. "All I know is that I have no memory of the time after we returned to the table from the bar. I figure Doreen slipped something into my drink to make me more willing to act like a slut. She likes to interfere in people's lives, play matchmaker when she's bored. Or she figures that she just has that right. I don't know really"
"You're no slut, Ted. You were sweet and kind, and dare I say, adorable." Ted rolled his eyes. "Truly!" Jon smiled slowly. "Look, can we at least shake hands? Then we'll go our separate ways." He looked Ted in the eye again. "Please."
Jon smiled, even as the pain of the final snapping of the bond zinged through his chest even as Ted pulled his hand back from the handshake. Gone, Jon thought numbly. The bright cord was just a finely stretched thread in his mind, the ragged end fluttering in an imaginary wind, cold and sharp. He smiled sadly at Ted, then turned and left. Ted sighed tiredly.
A year later…
Ted stood outside the grocery store waiting for his fiancé Lisa when he spotted a vaguely familiar face approaching. Ted straightened slowly from his slouch against the wall near the doors, hands jammed in his jacket pockets, staring at the other man.
Jon Martins looked older, but good, Ted thought. He stopped in front of Ted, his companion, not quite a step behind. "Mr. Frankel."
Ted nodded back, cautious. "Mr. Martins." His gaze flicked to Jon's companion, noting the way Jon seemed to lean into the other man's touch, comfortably. Something eased deep within him then, an unknown tension which made Ted breathe easier. He even managed to conjure a smile for Jon. "I'm glad for you," he told Jon. The door swished open just then and Lisa stepped out of the store, swinging a bag and tossing her scarf around her neck.
She took in the tableau in a glance before joining Ted with a smile. Jon nodded politely when Ted introduced her. Jon's companion tugged on Jon's arm, murmuring in his ear, before moving to the doors of the store. Jon stayed for a long moment, tipping his head to the side slightly. He took in the way Ted held Lisa's hand, their fingers intertwined and tight.
"I need to know," he started hesitantly. "Did it happen the way you thought it did?" He spoke softly. Sadly, as if he still felt a great deal of pain.
Ted blew out a sigh and nodded. "Yes. Doreen admitted to putting the drug in my drink while we were at the table, that conniving little-," he broke off, sliding a look sideways toward Lisa, who nodded encouragingly. "Anyway, when I confronted her, she told me that she thought I needed to "get laid and relax" and that Lisa was the absolute wrong person for me. I asked her how she came to that conclusion and she said "you need a man Theo, and I decided to help you along." Essentially, she unilaterally decided that the love of my life," Ted kissed Lisa's fingers, "was all wrong for me and that I should be married to a man.
"To cut a long story short, I kicked her out of my house. She and Arlo moved out by the end of the week and I haven't seen them in nearly a year."
Jon nodded, even as his shoulders slumped. Ted studied him for a moment. "I did remember later most of what happened that night, after the drug cleared my system." Ted started to hunch his shoulders and forced himself to stop. Lisa squeezed his hand gently reminding him of her presence. He threw her a smile and continued. "I know this sounds lame, but I really did enjoy our night together. It was loving and sweet and surprising. If I really believed in a mate-bond, it might have been wonderful. But I already have a life, plans and ideas and dreams that I wanted to follow … and having someone else decide for me what I should be doing, drugging me into making a lifetime commitment with a complete stranger …" Ted's smile was tinged with sadness. "It was just wrong all the way around." His face brightened now. "Lisa and I are getting married next month."
"Congratulations." Jon's smile looked genuine. "Look, Mr. Frankel, Ted, I am sorry things happened the way they did. I am sorry I took advantage of your drug induced state. I never meant any harm. For what it's worth, I had no idea that Doreen would do such a thing. I'd never met the young lady before, so there was no warning."
"I know." Ted smiled more widely. "I accept the apology. It wasn't your fault. Doreen's gone now and I have better things to think about than worrying about that witch." He held out a hand. "Mr. Martins, Jon, I hope life takes you to good and interesting places in the future." Jon took Ted's hand.
"And may your marriage be blessed and full of joy." Jon smiled back, bright and genuinely happy. Their hands met …