Geoff Laughton woke in a strange bed, light streaming through the windows, a huge, hot, sweaty body next to him. His head pounded and his ass hurt. “That was one hell of a night,” he muttered to himself as he forced his legs to move. Sitting on the edge of the bed, head cradled in his hands, he tried to think where he was. Oh yeah, he’d gone out dancing last night with Lonnie and Juan.
He turned to the man lying prone on the bed. “God….” He remembered—well, at least parts of it. Tequila shooters followed by dancing with a tree. “That must be him.” Like it usually did, the rest came back to him in a rush: dancing, him climbing his dance partner. Hell, he’d even stuck his hand down the guy’s pants.
His head throbbed again, and he made himself get to his feet to stumble to the bathroom. He didn’t bother to turn on the light, probably couldn’t find it anyway, and managed to make it to the sink. Turning on the tap, he put his hands under the cool water and splashed his face, groaning with relief as the water tingled on his skin. “At least I’m alive.” Turning off the water, he used the facilities and then walked a little more steadily back into the bedroom to find his bed partner awake and groaning.
“What day is it?” He was holding his head and moaning softly. “Fuck, I hate tequila.” He looked up at Geoff, eyes as red as Geoff’s had been when he’d seen them in the mirror.
“Sunday, thank God.” Geoff started looking around for his clothes, finding his pants near the bed and pulling them on.
“Easy for you to say. I gotta go to work.” The huge man looked at the clock. “Fuck… gotta be there in half an hour.” He lifted himself to his feet and shuffled toward the bathroom, the door closing softly, very softly.
Geoff searched the room and managed to find the rest of his clothes. After dressing, he definitely didn’t want to move too quickly. He shuffled in the general direction of the kitchen.
“There is a god.” The coffee maker was plugged in and set. Geoff pressed the start button, and the machine took over and was soon filling the space with the heavenly smell of fresh brewed.
Geoff heard the shower start and then stop a few minutes later. Searching the cupboards, he found two cups. They appeared clean, unlike the rest of the apartment, and he waited until the coffee was finished before filling the cups and walking back to the bedroom.
The door was part way open and… ummm, Gary… yeah, that was his name, Gary… was getting dressed. Pushing open the door, Geoff quietly handed Gary a filled mug.
“Thanks, dude, I really need this.” Gary sipped the drink and put the mug on the table. “I gotta be gone in about two minutes.”
Geoff nodded, sipped his coffee—damn, that was good—and turned around, letting Gary finish getting ready. By the time Gary emerged from the bedroom, Geoff had finished his coffee and felt vaguely human again. “Thanks, Gary, I’ll see you around.”
“Yeah, dude… thanks.”
Gary was still finishing his coffee as Geoff left the apartment and headed down the stairs to the front door of the seventies-era apartment building. Once outside, the air helped to clear his head, and he searched the parking lot for his car, finding it right across the way.
Fishing his keys out of his pocket and getting in, he started the car, pulling out of the space and heading toward home—well, what passed for home, anyway.
His old car managed to get him there, and he parked in his reserved spot and headed up the walk to his building. It was newer than the one he’d just left: eighties chic instead of seventies. He let himself in and went up the stairs to his apartment.
Inside, there wasn’t much: a sofa, a chair, and a television on a stand. Geoff tossed his keys on the counter and looked longingly to the bathroom. He had to wash the smell of booze, sweat, and spunk off his body. Geoff headed straight to his bedroom, which was furnished in the same sparse manner as the rest of the apartment: just a bed and a dresser. Stripping off his clothes, he went into the bathroom. He made the mistake of turning on the light and looking in the mirror. “Fuck.” His eyes were dark and his skin pasty. “The mirror never lies, does it?”
Geoff began cleaning up, brushing his teeth and shaving before starting the water and stepping beneath the spray. The shower felt good—cleansing, refreshing. He started to scrub, and he could almost feel the remnants of the last night washing down the drain.
The phone was ringing as he got out of the shower. Wrapping a towel around his waist, he raced to answer it.
“Geoff, it’s Raine. How’s the hangover?”
Geoff knew that Raine had purposely started talking loudly. “Bastard.” He heard laughter on the other end of the phone. “Actually, it’s not so bad… not as bad as it could be, anyway. How’s yours?”
There was more laughter on the end of the line. “I don’t get hangovers, remember?” It was one of life’s cruel fates. Raine could drink like a fish and never seemed to feel anything the next morning. “You want to meet for coffee?”
“Sure, give me fifteen. I’ll meet you around the corner.” Geoff dried himself and dressed, putting on a sweatshirt against the spring chill in the air, and left the apartment, walking happily to the corner.
The coffee shop was packed, but he spied Raine’s head of jet black, curly hair at one of the tables, and he headed that way.
“I didn’t get anything. If I get up, I’ll lose the table,” Raine said.
“No problem, I’ll get what you want. Large latte?”
Raine nodded and smiled his agreement, so Geoff got in line. It took a while, but he finally returned to the table with coffees and two large sticky buns. Sugar. He needed sugar.
“Thanks, Geoff.” Raine took the offered cup, and Geoff sat down. “You look like hell.” Raine sipped his coffee.
“Gee, thanks. Don’t sugarcoat it.”
Raine laughed. “Well, you do.” The man was always blunt and to the point. If nothing else, you always knew where you stood with him, because he held nothing back. “You’ve been burning the candle at both ends for a while.”
“I know.” Geoff had been. Since he arrived six months earlier, fresh out of college with a degree in accounting and a libido on overdrive, he’d almost made a mission out of seeing how many men he could have, and it was wearing thin.
Raine continued sipping his coffee. “You need to take it easy, relax a little. You can’t screw your way to happiness.” There it was—one of Raine’s witticisms. The man had one for all occasions.
“No, but you can have a lot of fun trying,” the two said in unison. They laughed merrily, breaking Geoff out of his mood. Raine was good for his soul. No matter how bad things got, he could always count on Raine’s easy manner and carefree humor to break him out of a funk.
“Seriously, Geoff, you’re going overboard with the man buffet.”
They finished their coffee and sticky buns. “Let’s catch a movie and have some fun. I think you could use it,” Raine commented.
Geoff checked his imaginary calendar. “Well, I’ve got such a busy day planned, cleaning the apartment, laundry; I don’t know how I’ll fit it in.”
“Sarcasm is unbecoming.” They both laughed and cleaned up their table before leaving the coffee shop.
Geoff and Raine spent the rest of the day together, going to a movie and doing a little shopping. Since they were both fairly broke, they looked more than shopped and then went back to Raine’s apartment and spent the evening watching movies until Geoff headed home, where he fell into bed.
Geoff had to be at his office by eight on Monday morning, and he was nearly late. Unlike most of the past few weeks, he’d slept well and hadn’t spent Sunday night trolling for men. Arriving just in time, he quietly put his things away and booted up his PC, getting right to work. He’d gotten this job right out of college, working as a staff accountant for a chain of retail stores. He liked the work, and the people he worked with were nice, but most of them were older, and it was difficult to make friends. The one exception had been Raine. He’d met him the first day on the job, and they’d become fast friends. Unfortunately, he was the only real friend Geoff had made. Oh, there were acquaintances and people he went out with, but Raine was his only true friend, which made for a lonely life.
He was busy working on the accounts payable ledger, trying to find an imbalance, when heard a soft cough. “Geoff, Kenny would like to see you in his office.”
Kenny was the head of accounting, and when he summoned, you hopped to it. He was a nice guy but demanded punctuality from all his people, and being late when he called was viewed as a sign of disrespect.
An hour later Geoff returned with more mysteries to solve. This was what he loved, really loved. Numbers sang to him, and he had a talent for digging in and finding mistakes and imbalances no matter how small. In a very short time, he’d developed a reputation as someone who could locate small errors before they became big ones.
The one thing he didn’t like about his job was that it tended to be very solitary. He spent most of his days working with numbers and very little of his days working with people. He’d really like to do both.
At noon, Raine came to his cubicle, and the two of them had a quick lunch before heading to the company fitness center to work off some of the weekend’s excesses. Once they’d changed, they each got on a treadmill and started walking. The room was empty except for them, which was normal.
“I’m thinking of looking for a new job,” Raine mentioned.
“Why?” The thought sent chill through Geoff—what would he do without seeing Raine every day?
“I’m not going to go anywhere here. Kenny doesn’t really like me, so nothing is gonna happen for me.” Raine had been there a year longer than Geoff, but Geoff seemed to get better assignments and more recognition. Geoff didn’t know what to say, so he kept walking, increasing the pace of his machine. Raine must have seen the worried look on Geoff’s face. “Don’t worry, we’ll always be friends.”
“I know… it’s just that this place will be so dull without you.”
“Not that Kenny will see it that way, but it probably will be.” Modesty wasn’t one of Raine’s personality attributes. “You going out tonight?”
“No. I decided I’m going to cut back and find other things to do.” He’d been drinking way too much lately, and his liver and budget could both use a break. “Maybe tomorrow night.” One could stay inside just so much.
Raine started laughing. “You had me worried for a second.” They both laughed companionably and finished their workouts.
The small locker room was empty when they got done. Geoff stripped off his sweaty clothes and headed for a quick shower. He’d just started the water when he felt a snap on his butt. “Jesus!” His ass stung where Raine had towel-snapped him. Geoff twisted his towel and snapped it in retaliation, but Raine ducked out of the way. They were both laughing as Geoff climbed in the shower and rinsed off, rubbing his sore cheeks.
Getting out of the shower, he dried off and got dressed. Raine was waiting, and together they walked back to their work area.
Geoff went right back to work, combing the ledger for the error he knew was there… somewhere. He could hear the room buzzing, soft voices talking animatedly, but paid no attention. Rumors flew through the place with the speed of a bullet, but he made a special effort to stay out of the rumor mill.
He’d just found the error and was logging into the system to correct it when he heard a soft knock on his cubicle wall. It was Angela, the director of accounts payable.
“Geoff, I want to introduce you to Garrett Foster, the new AP manager.” Geoff stood up and greeted his new boss, extending his hand and looking into the man’s eyes. Jesus Christ… he almost pulled his hand back but restrained himself, checking that he was keeping his expression even.
“Good to meet you, Garrett.”
The tall blond flashed a brilliant smile, “Looking forward to working with you, Geoff.” Taking Geoff’s hand, he held it a little longer than he should have and then let go. Geoff had to stop himself from shivering. Then, with one of her bright, fake smiles, Angela led Garrett off to meet the rest of the team.
Geoff collapsed back into his chair, and a few minutes later Raine was standing in front of his desk. “Was that…?”
Geoff nodded slowly. “Mr. Vain himself, yup.”
Raine started to chuckle and covered his mouth with his hand to keep from laughing out loud. “Your boss is Mr. Vain.”
Geoff held his head in his hand. “Oh God, I knew this was going to catch up with me someday.”
Raine leaned close. “Who knew it would be so soon?” Raine gave him his best sympathetic look. “Sorry, man.” Then he was gone.
Geoff tried to concentrate but couldn’t. His new boss, Garrett Foster, was a guy he’d gone home with about a month earlier. They’d had a reasonably good time, but Garrett—at the time, his name was Phillip—had been a rather selfish lover. His bedroom was covered with mirrors! He and Raine called him Mr. Vain because the song was so about him. The man never passed a mirror he didn’t like. Geoff wasn’t interested in seeing him again, and Garrett being his boss was an added complication Geoff didn’t want.
At quitting time, Raine was at his desk right away, and Geoff packed up his things so they could leave as quickly as possible. “Wanna go for dinner?”
Geoff didn’t really feel like going anywhere. “I’m just going to go home.” You get what you put out.
“Then let’s get a pizza delivered and veg out.” Raine knew what Geoff needed, even if Geoff didn’t.
“Okay.” They made their way out of the building and back to Geoff’s place, where they ordered a pizza. They’d just finished eating when the phone rang.
“Geoff, it’s Len.” The man sounded choked up, and Geoff stiffened. “It’s about your dad.”
His father had been fighting cancer for a while, but the last time Geoff had spoken to him, he’d said he was feeling really good. “Do you need me to come home?” Geoff asked.
“Yes.” Len’s voice broke. “Geoff, he passed away.” He heard tears coming from the other end of the line, and he felt his own well up in his eyes as a huge lump swelled in his throat.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Geoff hung up and turned to Raine, his lower lip quivering as he tried to maintain control of himself. “It’s my dad. He passed away this afternoon.” Raine pulled him to his chest and hugged him, letting Geoff cry on his shoulder.
Once the tears subsided, Raine spurred into action. “You need to get home. Are you gonna drive or fly?”
Geoff wiped his eyes on his sleeve, “I’d better drive. It’ll be just as fast.”
“Then we better get you packed. And don’t worry about work; I’ll talk to Kenny in the morning and tell him what happened. You can call him when you get a chance.” By the time Raine left, Geoff was packed, and the car was loaded. All he needed to do was call Len back and start driving first thing in the morning.