“I don’t know, you think that’s a good idea?” Gary started in on a series of hamstring stretches. “Maybe in the spring, after we get out booster shots.”
“I’m not talking about going to a club.” Kenneth dug a clump of Gelato out of the container. “They have online lessons. No Covid contamination involved.”
“Okay, it’s been a while,” Gary said, switching legs, “but I don’t think we need lessons on how to grope each other to music.”
Kenneth slipped the lid back on the container. “Not that kind of dancing. Real dancing. You know, like the waltz,” he said, popping the Gelato back in the freezer.
“Oh, my God. This is about that TV show.” Gary gave up on his pre-run routine and and waved a hand over his ratty T-shirt and faded sweatpants. “Do I look like Fred Astaire?”
Kenneth laughed. He figured the more he teased Gary about the age difference between them, the sooner the man would get over his ridiculous sensitivity. Maybe. He crossed the kitchen, fisted his hand in Gary’s T-shirt. “You look like the man I want to dance with.”
Joel worked late, the desks outside the glass walls of his office empty. The lights on the floor low, but…he flicked a glance at the corner of his screen…not for long.
He read through the report he’d been working on, checked the numbers again, and hit save. His eyes on the outer office door, he leaned back in his chair, stretched his legs out under his desk, and waited.
The frosted glass door, the company name and logo etched front and centre, swung open. The lights came up, and a cleaning cart bumped over the threshold.
The orange vest was hideous. You would think, after all these weeks, Joel would be inured to its repellant neon sheen, but no. Too long, too wide, it hung on the man wearing it. Granted, the damn thing was probably one size fits all, and the guy wasn’t big.
Tell-tale white plastic hanging out of his ears, head bopping to music only he could hear, the man pushed the cart to the first desk. Black hair pulled into an undercut ponytail hung past the guy’s shoulders as he grabbed a spray bottle and cloth.
Desk cleaned, computer wiped down, and waste basket emptied, man and cart moved to the next cubicle. After almost two months of watching this man work, Joel had the routine down. The outer office first, desk to desk, cubicle to cubicle. Next, the vacuum cleaner mowed under chairs, and between desks. Joel’s office, the only enclosed space on the floor, was tackled last.
A knock on his open office door, a nod of greeting, and green eyes smiled in at him. Joel never got used to that smile either. He shut his laptop down, grabbed his suit jacket off the back of his chair, and got out of the guy’s way.
Same routine, desk, laptop, wastebasket. The vacuum cleaner whirred and was hooked back into place on the rolling cart. Joel, leaning against a desk in the cubicle outside his office, watched and waited. The earbuds disappeared into the guy’s pocket. The neon vest dropped onto the collection of cleaning supplies.
Hand on his cart, the man turned, tossed a smile at Joel. “Good to go?”
Arms full of boxes, Martin emerged from the basement. Charlie took his eyes off the game long enough to ask, “What are you doing?”
“Could use some help here,” Martin said, kicking the basement door closed behind him.
“With what?” Charlie didn’t move, didn’t so much as take his feet off the coffee table. It was Sunday, the game was on.
“When’s halftime?” Martin dumped the boxes near the front door.
“Why?” There’d been a time when the break between quarters meant quick and dirty groping on the couch, but they’d been a lot younger back then.
“I need a hand with the coffin.”
Martin glanced at the TV, at the game clock. “Call me when it’s halftime.”
Charlie turned back to the game undisturbed by the noise Martin made getting the boxes out the front door. The clock ran down on the field, but he didn’t call Martin. He’d never had any intention of calling Martin. Charlie walked into the kitchen and cracked open a beer.
The front door opened. “Halftime,” Martin said, slipping his phone with its Google informant away, and heading for the basement.
“Ah, crap.” Charlie grumbled on his way down to the basement and on his way up. “Every year, every freaking year. Why can’t you just stick a skeleton on the door like normal people? Plonk a pumpkin on the front stoop? No, it’s got to be a grand production.”
Martin wasn’t bothered by the whining, it’s not like he hadn’t heard it all before. Plus, part of his job as Charlie’s partner was to give the man something to complain about. Worked out nicely. “Watch the walls,” he cautioned, as they maneuvered the coffin through the hallway and out the door. “Here,” he said, walking backwards, guiding Charlie into the temporary graveyard he’d set up. “Yeah, that’s good. Thanks, babe.”
“Yeah.” Charlie turned back to the house, left Martin to fiddle with spider webs and ghouls. He didn’t get it; they didn’t even have that many kids in the neighbourhood anymore.
Hours later, after the game, after dinner, after Charlie turned out the lights and made sure the front door was locked, he opened the bedroom door on a pitch-dark room. “Martin?” He hit the light switch, but nothing happened. “Shit. Martin? The power’s out. Where—?”
A body at his back, an arm locked around his chest, a hand tugging at his belt buckle.
“Pancakes?” David said, sliding onto a stool at the kitchen counter.
“Observant.” Joel grabbed two mugs, set one by David’s plate, and slipped onto the other stool. His stool. It was undeniably his kitchen too, although technically, he was a guest. The condo was David’s.
Eyes on their tablets, they forked up the pancakes in silence. Neither one of them was much of a talker before the caffeine kicked in.
“You see this?” David asked, pushing his plate aside. “We’re starting Stage Two on Wednesday.”
“We can get a hair cut.” David smiled, waiting for the inevitable what-hair crack from Joel, but he got nothing, not even a smirk.
His mind obviously on something more serious than David’s ever-widening bald spot, Joel gathered up his plate and mug, and slotted them into the dishwasher. He snapped the door on the machine shut and leaned against the counter. “I can go home.”
No! This is your home. Here, with me. “You think that’s a good idea? A five-hour flight, recycled air, germs floating about in a confined space?”
“Air Canada is enforcing a mask policy.”
“Yeah, that will be comfortable.”
“No, but…” Joel shrugged, shoved his hands in his pockets, his eyes finding David’s across the space between them. “This was never supposed to be permanent.”
True. When the country had shut down in March it had been chaos, flights cancelled, stores and businesses closed, the government pleading with people to stay off the streets, to stay home. Joel, a sales manager from their Vancouver branch, had been stranded in Toronto, and David had offered him a place to stay. Sure, they knew each other. They’d hooked up a few times, but they weren’t a thing. Not then.
“It could be. Permanent, I mean,” David said, walking around the counter. He gathered a handful of Joel’s terry robe and pulled him close. “It could be very permanent.”
Too freaking hot. Too many people. Glen much preferred to watch Pride from the comfort of his living room. He was too old for—Hello, someone’s been working out. Glen eyed the young man shouting into a microphone atop the float rolling down Yonge Street. Nice. When was the last time your abs looked like that, huh? Never.
He wouldn’t be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with half of Toronto if it wasn’t for his nephew. No, not fair, this wasn’t Tony’s idea. This was his sister’s fault. Blasted Type A personality. When Tony came out a few months back, Karen couldn’t leave it at we-love-you, use-a-condom. Nope, she had to join PFLAG, and volunteer with EGALE, and drag the whole family down to Pride. Overkill.
Not that he didn’t support his nephew, he did, but Tony didn’t need his family here. Somewhere between the parking lot and Yonge Street, he’d disappeared into a gang of his friends and more power to him. Glen wouldn’t mind ducking into the nearest pub for something cold himself. Beer on his mind, he tried to wedge himself out of the crowd and stepped back—onto someone else. “Sorry.”
“No problem.” The guy moved back, clearing a few inches for Glen. “Bit tight in here.”
“Yeah.” Glen shifted to the side, but the crowd surged forward and he found himself chest to chest with the stranger he’d stepped on. Green eyes bracketed by age lines, sunglasses set atop waves of grey hair. Lucky bastard. Glen was not okay with his own shrinking hairline.
“Had enough?” The grey head nodded at the crowd.
“Too old for this.” Glenn winnowed his way through the glut of bodies, aware of the stranger at his back.
“Me too,” Grey Mop said, as they reached the relative quiet of a store front. “Only came to support my son.”
“Long day?” Claire, his housekeeper/cook/lifesaver asked.
“Board meeting,” Sebastian said, liberating a beer from the fridge.
“Upstairs.” Claire shut the oven, set the timer. “You might want to check on Ethan.”
Claire shrugged. “You know Ethan.”
Sebastian nodded. “Yeah.” On a good day, Ethan wasn’t a talker. On a bad day, Sebastian had to beat the words out of him.
“Okay, the chicken’s got another fifteen minutes,” Claire said, washing her hands and slipping her wedding rings back on. “Everything else is in the warming drawer. See you tomorrow.”
His boys meant everything to Sebastian. They were the family he’d never thought he’d have. Halfway up the stairs, he knew Claire had been right. Ethan was worried about something, Sebastian could hear it in the tones he was pounding out of the piano.
The family room sprawled across the top of the house, Ethan’s piano sitting at one end, a seemingly never-ending sectional facing a large flat screen at the other, and various exercise stations plunked in the middle. The flat screen was dark, and it would stay that way until Sebastian gave permission for it to be on. It was a house rule, meant to remind and reinforce their central family dynamic—Sebastian was in charge.
Mark, racing against himself on a stationary bike, didn’t see Sebastian standing in the doorway, but Ru, sitting cross-legged on the sectional with his ever present laptop, did. A smile lighting his face, he closed his laptop and crossed the room to Sebastian. At thirty-nine, Ru was on track for tenure next year, and Sebastian couldn’t be happier for him.
Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony ended with a crash of fingerwork, and Ethan seeing Sebastian, smiled and abandoned his bench. At twenty-eight, Ethan was the youngest of his three boys, and played with the city’s symphony orchestra.
Ethan stepped in front of Mark’s bike, pointed at the doorway. Mark turned, grinned, and shut the bike down. The newest addition to their family, Mark had been Ru’s personal trainer. He still was.
“Boys,” Sebastian said, happy to be home.
With the ease of practice, all three men went to their knees.
“No?” One hand sliding up Michael’s chest, Jared laughed. “Cute,” he said, thinking Michael was joking.
Michael shot a pointed look at the hand on his chest and tried to walk away, but Jared grabbed his shoulder and pushed him back against the wall, smiling because Michael was here for him. Obviously.
Michael didn’t struggle, but he didn’t have to, the look on his face enough to burst the alcoholic bubble Jared had been floating in. Shit. What was he doing? “Sorry.” He snatched his hand off Michael and buried it in his pocket, hiding the evidence. “Wasn’t thinking.”
“Yeah, you were.” Michael walked away from him, lost himself in the bodies clogging the main floor of the frat house.
Okay, he’d screwed up. Michael wasn’t into drunken asswipes pawing at him. Noted. Jared pushed his way through the crowd and out the front door, to see Michael heading back towards campus. He launched himself down the steps and onto the sidewalk, chasing after Michael.
Jared slowed to a walk at Michael’s side, and Michael ignored him. Okay, the guy was pissed. Jared could work with pissed. “You want me.”
Michael shrugged. “Not tonight, I don’t.”
A grin sliding across his face, Jared strolled at Michael’s side. “Tomorrow night?”
The music was loud, the strategically erratic lighting was a prelude to a migraine, and the men were all too young for him. Didn’t matter, he wasn’t hoping to talk any of them off the dance floor and into his car. This club, all the lithe swaying bodies, were his gift to himself.
His eyes on the dance floor, David toasted himself and remembered when he had been one with the press of flesh in the middle of the club, when the music had beat through him…when he’d found himself, who he was and who he wanted, in the arms of strangers.
He didn’t regret those years, but he didn’t wish them back again either. He didn’t have the energy anymore, or the interest. He’d long ago learned that new didn’t mean better.
He wasn’t looking to hook up, he was just looking. Enjoying the view. Happy that he could enjoy the view. Happy that he was here at all, when for a while there he’d thought he might not be.
David nursed his drink, watched bodies merge and separate, heads thrown back and arms punching up into the storm of flashing lights above. He inhaled the life in the room, the laughter on the air, and smiled at the thought of next year, and the year after that.
He set his empty glass down and stood, dropped cash on the table.
“You leaving?” Blue eyes grinned up at David from under a mop of dark hair that was shaved on one side.
“Uh, yeah, I was just…”
“Looking?” The kid stepped into David’s space, brushed against him at thigh and hip. “Yeah, me too.”