FELIX leaned over and pulled me into a hug. “We should do this more often. I miss spending time with you, Jack.”
“Miss you too.” I hugged him back and caught a whiff of his shampoo. I missed that scent almost as much as I missed him.
When Felix was a male escort like me, he was my best friend and roommate. He was still my best friend, but he’d moved out to live with his boyfriend a few months back. I wasn’t mad at him or anything—especially since I’m the one who helped him get with Julian in the first place—but it made the apartment seem too big and a little lonely. Felix and I got together for a guys’ night out a couple times a month, but after years of seeing him every day, those few nights weren’t much. I reluctantly let go and opened the passenger door. “See you next time.” I started to get out, but he put his hand on my arm to stop me.
“Julian’s throwing a holiday party at the hotel on the seventeenth. You should come by.”
“Who’ll be there?”
“Mostly Julian’s friends from his book club, so it’s not going to be very exciting, actually. Still, you should come.” He shot me a half smile. “Will you?”
I thought about it for a moment. Julian used to be one of my regular johns, and even though he and I were still okay with each other, I felt a little weird around him now that he was in a relationship with Felix.
“Julian would really like to see you. You rarely come to The Portara anymore.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“You don’t have to feel weird around him. Really.”
I chuckled. Felix could often tell what I was thinking. We knew each other far too well. “All right. I’ll come. What time?”
“From eight until midnight, so don’t make any appointments for that night.”
I rolled my eyes and shook my head. “Man, you’re always making me lose work.” I turned down potential johns on the nights Felix and I got together, and there was that time I pretended to be sick and cancelled my appointment with Julian so Felix would have the chance to fill in for me. At the rate those two had been going, they never would have gotten together if I hadn’t done something to help.
“You’re never going to let me forget that, are you?”
“’Course not. Why would I?” I got out of the car. “Then I guess I’ll see you on the seventeenth. Want me to bring anything?”
“No, we’ve got it covered. Shelly and Tom are throwing together a full dinner with appetizers and desserts.”
“Awesome. Why didn’t you start with that? I would’ve agreed without hesitation.” The Portara’s new cooks were the best.
Felix laughed. “Maybe because I wanted you to come for me and Julian, not the food. Now close the door. It’s freezing.”
“Night.” I closed the door and headed up the walkway to my apartment. Once I’d entered the building, I turned and waved to let him know he could go, since I knew he wouldn’t leave until I was safely inside. Even though we didn’t live together anymore, we still had each other’s backs.
I went to bed right away, but I had a hard time falling asleep. Granted, I had nights like that a lot thanks to my messed-up schedule, but this time, it was for a different reason. I hated to admit it to myself, but the loneliness was getting to me, and it wasn’t just because I didn’t have a roommate. After seeing Felix fall in love and end up in a relationship, I started thinking I might want to try that too.
Shit. It wasn’t something I ever expected to feel, at least not while I was tricking. Damn you, Felix. It was all his fault. He and I tried a relationship together once, but we were at each other’s throats the whole time. Luckily, we were smart enough to quit before we hated each other. It made me think guys like us weren’t meant to be in love, but then he had to go and prove me wrong. Maybe I need to get a cat or something.
I SPENT the next several days taking care of johns as usual. The busier I was, the less time I spent thinking about wanting a boyfriend. It was better that way.
When the time came for the party, I thought about skipping out on it. I loved Felix and liked Julian, so I wouldn’t mind spending time with them, but I wasn’t too keen on the idea of hanging out with a bunch of Julian’s book nerd friends—not that I had anything against book nerds. I just didn’t think I’d have much to talk about. Eh, who knows? Maybe one of ’em will be lonely and in need of my services. I decided to make an appearance, at least.
As I was getting ready to go, I realized I forgot to ask Felix if the party was casual or formal. I decided to go for middle ground and put on my black sweater and khakis. That was about as dressed up as I usually got, anyway. Then I looked in the mirror and ran some gel through my hair to fix my spikes. I was going to have to bleach the damn things again pretty soon. My roots were starting to show.
I got to the party a little after eight, and it looked like most of the guests were there already. I’d always thought people showed up late to parties, but things must have been different with Julian’s crowd. I glanced around but didn’t see very many people I knew. Just Marcus behind the front desk.
He gave me a polite smile. “Shelly and Tom are in the kitchen. Felix had a final exam, but he should be here anytime. I’ll get Julian for you, though.” He leaned back in his seat and knocked on the office door.
A moment later, Julian opened the door, and when he saw me, he came out from behind the desk. “Jack. Hello!”
“Hey, Professor.” He wasn’t actually a professor, but he got his nickname because of his glasses and his stacks of books. It seemed like I was the only one who still called him that. “Felix invited me. I hope that’s all right.”
“Of course it’s all right.” He grinned and pulled me into a hug, which kinda surprised me. I may have taken care of his sexual needs in the past, but he’d never touched me in front of other people before. “I’m glad you could come.”
I hugged him back, and I realized I actually did miss him. I couldn’t say I missed the sex, since for me it wasn’t anything different from sex with any other john. However, the two of us had a lot of late-night conversations and had gotten to be friends. That’s what I missed.
“Sorry I haven’t been by.” I didn’t offer an excuse since I didn’t have one that wasn’t lame.
Julian let me go, squeezing my shoulder as he pulled away. “The deal on hotel rooms still stands you know, if you ever need it.” Back when Felix and I first met Julian, he gave our johns and us discounts on the rooms at The Portara—if I returned the favor with discounted services. I knew it wasn’t a kosher business practice, and I never figured out exactly why he did it. He said it was because we brought him business, but I think it was more because he was lonely.
“Thanks, man.” I rubbed the back of my neck and looked around. “So, those are all your reading buddies?”
“Mostly. Let me introduce you.” He draped an arm around my shoulder and led me to the lobby, where most of the guests were sitting near the big fountain with the Greek statues. Julian was a Greek mythology nut, so there was Greek stuff everywhere. “Um, hi, everybody,” he said nervously. Felix once mentioned how Julian hated talking to groups, even if the people in the groups were friends.
“Hey,” I said, trying to jump in to his rescue. “I’m Jack. A friend of Felix and Julian.”
The men and women around the fountain all introduced themselves, but there was no way I could remember all the names, so I didn’t even try. When they invited me to join them, I thanked them, but said I was going to give Julian a hand. Julian didn’t seem to mind.
Julian made small talk with me while I helped him and the cooks get the dining room ready. He asked me what was going on in my life, but I didn’t have much to share. I didn’t think he wanted to hear about my tricks. He did ask if I’d thought about looking for “another job” yet, but I just shook my head. I knew it was something I’d have to think about eventually, but right now, I didn’t have a reason.
As I set the trays of sun-shaped cookies on the tables—Julian said they were to represent the winter solstice—I heard the door open and a familiar voice call out, “Hey, baby!”
I knew Felix wasn’t talking to me. I looked up and watched as he walked straight to Julian and threw his arms around him from behind. He’d gotten mushier since the two of them got together.
Julian’s face turned pink as he smiled and patted Felix’s hand. “How’d your exam go?”
“Excellent, mostly thanks to you.”
“You’re the one who took it.”
“But you helped me study.” Felix walked around Julian to face him and then pressed their lips together.
I looked away from the scene. Not that I had a problem with it, of course, but it gave me that weird lonely feeling again. Tom made eye contact with me and pretended to gag until Shelly cuffed him on the shoulder and told him to knock it off.
He shrugged. “I don’t care if they’re both dudes, but my God. Sometimes the sap gets so thick around here I feel like my boots are going to stick to the floor.”
Shelly rolled her eyes. “Oh please. They aren’t that bad. I think it’s kind of sweet, actually.”
I laughed a little. “The sweetness is a little sickening, but yeah. They really are into each other.”
Tom smirked and folded his arms across his chest. “That’s putting it mildly. How about you? Been seeing anybody?” As far as I knew, he didn’t know about my work. I wanted to keep it that way.
“Nah.” I ate one of the cookies as I thought about how to change the subject.
Felix saw me and saved me from the conversation altogether. “Jack! I’m glad you came.” He disentangled himself from Julian and hurried over to join me. “I was worried you were going to skip it.”
“I knew you’d never let me live it down if I did.” I turned my head and waved to Shelly and Tom as Felix pulled me away from them.
“You’re right. I wouldn’t.” He lowered his voice. “Sorry about the other guests.”
“They seem all right.”
“They’re nice people, but they’re nothing like us. But never mind them.” He led me to the Christmas tree in the back corner of the dining room and bent down to pick up a small wrapped box. “It’s from me and Julian both. I know it’s early, but Julian’s dragging me to visit some of his relatives for Christmas. We’re leaving the day after tomorrow, and won’t be back until the twenty-sixth.”
“What?” That hurt a little. I’d spent at least part of every Christmas with Felix since we were teenagers. My blood family stopped talking to me after I came out to them the day of my high school graduation, and since then, Felix had been the only family I had. “Who’s gonna man the inn?”
“Marcus and the rest of the staff can handle things. It’s only a week, and Julian will have his cell phone with him just in case.”
“I see.” I tried to hide my disappointment as I accepted the package and stared at the happy Santa Claus pattern on the wrapping paper.
“You can open it now. You don’t have to wait until Christmas.”
“I didn’t get yours yet.” I looked up and saw Felix smiling at me.
“Don’t worry about it. I didn’t give you much notice. I would have told you sooner, but Julian sprung it on me two days ago. Go ahead. I want to watch you open it.”
“All right.” I peeled off the paper. “Holy shit.” I dropped the wrapping on the floor and gaped at the box. It was one of the newest iPod models. The one that costs around four hundred bucks. “You didn’t have to do this.”
“We wanted to. I remembered you saying you wanted to get a new one since your old one was full.” He put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. “It’s our way of saying thanks.”
“For helping Julian and I find each other. Jack, if it weren’t for you, I never would have met him. You’re the one who found The Portara, and you’re the one who pretended to be sick so I could have a night with him.”
I looked at the box again. The sting of the news that I’d be spending Christmas without Felix faded a bit. “Oh, yeah, but I’m not sure what to get you guys now.” I couldn’t think of anything quite as valuable.
“You don’t need to get us anything, really. You already gave us the best thing we could ever want.”
Best thing. Just when I was starting to feel better, he had to go and remind me how he had love and I was alone. “I still feel like I should get you a little something.”
“It’s up to you.” Felix pulled me into a hug and kissed my cheek. “You know I love you, right?”
I hugged him back, the box still in my right hand. My eyes got a little watery, and I squeezed them shut for a second to take care of that. I’d never been one for showing any mushiness—not even to Felix—and I didn’t want to start right then. “I love you too. Even though you’re abandoning me, you jerk.”
Felix pulled away and let go. “Hey now, don’t go making me feel bad.”
“Kidding. Jeez. Don’t worry about me. You go have fun. I don’t mind.”
He gave me a sympathetic smile, and I took a wild guess it was because he didn't believe me. “I don’t know if I’d call visiting Julian’s relatives fun, but who knows? It might be.” He paused and took a breath. “If I had my choice, I’d spend Christmas with just you and him.”
“Nah. That would make me into a third wheel, and being a third wheel sucks. Unless there’s a threesome involved.”
He laughed. “That might not be a bad idea. We could probably make it work, seeing we’ve all been with each other at some point before.”
I dropped my jaw in mock shock. “Felix. I can’t believe you’d say such a thing.” After a brief pause, I cocked my head, trying to look interested. “When should we set this up?”
Julian walked over right then, grinning when he saw the iPod in my hand. “He was so excited to give it to you. I hope you like it.”
“It’s the best Christmas present I’ve ever gotten. You and Felix rock.”
Felix snorted. “We do our best.”
“That we do,” Julian said. “Dinner’s about ready. I’m going to have everybody come in here. You guys go ahead and sit where you want. I’ll join you when I can.”