Date: April 10
Cole—We were in Vegas a few weeks ago and ran into a friend of Zach’s. He lives in Phoenix, and he said you should look him up. Good looking guy and he seemed nice enough as long as you’re not the one dating his ex. I think the two of you might hit it off. His name is Jonathan Kechter.
Date: April 11
Hey Sweets! It’s good to hear from you, even if your email is dreadfully short. What happens in Vegas doesn’t really have to stay in Vegas, honey. Would it kill you to give me some juicy details?
So, you think I should look up this Jonathan fellow? I’ll take your word on the good-looking part. After all, you do have fabulous taste in men, even if that big pissed-off cop you’re with now isn’t exactly my type. As long as I’m “not the one dating his ex”? That’s terribly intriguing. I suspect there’s a good story to go along with such a cryptic statement. You never were much of a gossip (you really should work on that, Sweets). I’ll be in New York for the next few days, but when I get back home, maybe I’ll give him a call. God knows Phoenix has been awfully dry lately—and sugar, I’m not talking about the weather!
The flight from LA to Phoenix took about an hour. One hour that I had a perfectly legitimate excuse for turning off my cell phone.
What did it say about my job when the commute was the fun part?
I’d just spent a week in LA helping our newest hotel client transition their accounting data into my company’s software. Next week, I would be doing the same thing for another client in Vegas. Between those two cities and Phoenix, I was currently juggling six different clients in various stages of the transition process. All of them seemed inclined to call me at all hours.
And then there was my boss.
The calls started at six a.m. and usually ended by ten at night. Although I was skeptical that my simple cell phone really posed any threat to modern aviation equipment, I was quite happy to abide by the FAA’s rule that it be turned off during the flight. But all too soon we were on the ground in Phoenix, and my reprieve was over. As I walked from the gate to the baggage claim, I turned my phone back on and was immediately informed that I had four voice mail messages. Four messages in one hour?
I bit back my annoyance. Another year or two in this position, and I would be eligible for a promotion. I tried to keep my eye on the prize. Still, four messages waiting for me was a definite sign that my arrival home in Phoenix was not going to be the end of my work week, even if it was Friday afternoon.
Before I could even listen to the first one, my phone rang. Shit. Here we go again. “This is Jonathan.”
“Jonathan! Where the hell are you?” It was Marcus Barry, my boss.
“I’m at the airport. Is there something wrong?”
“That woman from the Clifton Inn has been trying to reach you for the last hour.” I had only left the Clifton Inn four hours ago. What could possibly have come up in that time that was so urgent?
“I was on the plane,” I said, trying not to let him hear my frustration.
He sighed. “Well, she’s driving everybody here nuts. She wants answers now.”
“I’ll call her right away.”
“Good,” he said, and hung up without saying goodbye. Not that I minded.
I made it to the baggage claim carousel and confirmed that my bag had yet to be spit out onto the conveyor belt. I stood there watching for it while I called Sarah, the accounts manager at the Clifton Inn. It went directly to her voice mail. I left her a message saying that I was now back in Phoenix and for her to call. Before I could even hang up, my phone buzzed again.
Five voice mails now. Great.
I saw my bag spill out of the chute, and I shouldered my way to the front of the crush of people so that I would be able to grab it when it got to me. I was just about to reach for it when my phone rang.
“This is Jonathan.”
There was a half a second of silence, and then a voice I did not recognize said, “So formal, aren’t you darling? I wasn’t expecting that. This is Cole.” The voice was light, the tone mocking. Definitely a man’s voice but with a very feminine quality.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Who—shit!” Because I realized at that moment that in the process of answering the phone, I had missed my bag and would now have to wait for it to make another circuit on the conveyor before I could retrieve it.
“Is something wrong?”
“No.” My phone buzzed in my hand. Six voice mails. I at least managed to keep my obscenities silent this time. “I’m sorry,” I said, trying not to let him hear the annoyance in my voice. “Who are you?”
“I’m a friend of Jared’s. He gave me your number, darling.”
Darling? Really? “My name is Jonathan.”
“Yes. You said that already,” he said with obvious amusement.
I managed to not sigh audibly. “I only meant—”
“I know what you meant,” he said, interrupting me. There was a lilting cadence to his voice, which only amplified my perception of him as overly feminine. “Jared led me to believe you would be expecting my call.”
“He did. I mean, I am. I was.” I stopped short and took a deep breath. I hated being flustered, and I was a little annoyed that he had managed to make me that way so easily. I made myself count to five. Ten would have been better, but I had learned that people rarely gave me enough time to make it that far. “Jared did mention a friend in Phoenix,” I said, feeling calmer, “but he never actually told me your name.” And to be honest, that brief exchange between Jared and me, made in a busy Vegas casino more than four weeks ago, had completely slipped my mind.
“So it’s okay that I’m calling?”
“Of course. You just caught me off guard, that’s all.”
“You’re at the airport.”
It wasn’t even a question, and I asked in surprise, “How did you know?”
“I can hear it. I’m quite familiar with that particular brand of chaos.”
“Oh,” I said, because I really couldn’t think of an intelligent response. My bag was headed my way again, and I was determined not to miss it this time.
“Is this a bad time, darling? Are you getting on a plane?”
“Getting off,” I said. “I just got back into Phoenix.”
“Perfect timing, then. Are you busy tonight?”
“Tonight?” I asked in surprise, and my bag rolled past me again. “Shit!”
“Would you like to join me for dinner?” he asked, ignoring my outburst.
“I… well… I have to unpack, and—” I was stalling, trying to decide if I really had the energy for the conversational gymnastics a blind date would require. It sounded exhausting. On the other hand, the thought of what would probably come after was of course appealing. I hadn’t had time in LA for any type of sexual encounter that involved anything more than my own hand. In fact, I hadn’t had time for anything more gratifying in more than three weeks. Still, there was no guarantee he had the same agenda, and it seemed rude to ask.
Like he was reading my mind, he said, “Darling, it’s a yes or no question, and it’s only dinner. Let’s leave the rest open for negotiation, shall we?”
My phone buzzed again. Seven.
Jesus, what the hell did I have to lose? “That sounds great,” I said.
The greater Phoenix area sprawls over more than five hundred square miles. Where other cities build up, we build out. Cole and I were lucky to both live on the north side of the city. He named a restaurant, and I agreed to meet him there at six.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. This was a friend of Jared’s, and Jared and his partner Matt were both strong and masculine. They were both football-watching, beer-drinking, outdoorsy guys, and my first assumption was that Cole would be cut from the same mold. Just hearing his voice, though, had changed that. Then there was the restaurant. I hadn’t been there before, but I knew it was one of the more expensive establishments in the Scottsdale area.
I didn’t have enough time after work to drive home and change, although that meant that I arrived at the restaurant early, still wearing the same suit I had been wearing since six o’clock that morning. The only thing that saved me was that in mid-April, Phoenix temperatures were peaking in the seventies rather than the low hundreds. Thank goodness for small favors.
The restaurant was small, quiet, and incredibly busy. They told me it would be at least forty-five minutes before they had a table for us. I decided to wait for Cole in the bar. I was about to order a drink when my phone rang. I halfway expected it to be Cole, calling to say he was running late or wasn’t coming, but it wasn’t. It was my father. My father also lived in Phoenix. He and I weren’t exactly close, but since the death of my mother nine years earlier, we made an effort to stay in touch.
“Jon! Where in the world are you now?” I was out of town as often as I was in Phoenix, and he seemed to find it amusing to start our conversations with that question.
“I just got back into Phoenix tonight.”
“That’s great! How about dinner?”
“I can’t, Dad. I have…” I hesitated over the sentence. It wasn’t as if my dad didn’t know that I was gay, but he never seemed to be very comfortable with it. “I have a date.”
“A date?” he asked, as if the term was completely foreign to him.
“Yes, a date. You know: dinner, drinks, small talk”—sex, if I was lucky, but I didn’t say that to him—“with another person.”
“Oh,” was all he said, and I wondered if he was fighting the urge to ask if it was with a woman. He still did that sometimes, as if I might suddenly surprise him by announcing that I had changed my mind about the whole male/female thing. I decided not to give him the chance.
“Listen, Dad, it’s good that you called. I’ll be out of town again next week. I have tickets to a show. I wondered if you wanted them.” I had season tickets to the theater, but I rarely got to use them anymore.
“I don’t know, Jon,” he said reluctantly. He didn’t share my love of the theater. He preferred baseball. And that pretty much summed up our entire relationship. “What show is it?”
“West Side Story.”
“No, thanks, Jon—”
“You might like it.”
“I already know how it ends. The Capulets and the Romulans—”
“The Capulets are Romeo and Juliet—”
“Same story, different music.”
“—and I assure you there are absolutely no Romulans in either story.”
“More’s the pity, too. That probably would have livened things up a bit.”
I made an effort to not sigh. I hadn’t really expected him to be interested in the show, but I hated to see the tickets go to waste. Maybe I could give them to my neighbor, Julia.
My phone started to buzz in my hand, signaling another incoming call. “Dad, I have to go.”
“Okay, Jon. Good luck on your date.”
I knew it took a certain amount of effort for him to say that, so I said, “Thanks, Dad,” before hanging up and answering the new call.
It was my boss again.
“Jonathan, did you get that Clifton Inn issue resolved?”
“Not exactly. Their records were a mess. They were using two different systems to—”
“I think you’re going to need to fly out there on Monday.”
“I leave for Vegas on Monday,” I said, although I felt that he should have known that already. “Franklin Suites. Remember?”
He sighed. “You may have to cut that short. The Clifton should be your top priority right now.”
Deep breath. Count to five. “I suppose I could leave Vegas on Wednesday and fly directly to LA. Assuming that Franklin has their books in order—”
“Let me look into it and call you back.”
I hung up the phone and checked my watch. It was exactly six o’clock. Cole wasn’t late yet, but he could very well have arrived while I was on the phone. I looked around but didn’t see anybody that seemed to be looking for anybody else. I wondered how I would identify him when he arrived.
I shouldn’t have worried.
There are more stereotypes about gay men than I could even name—bears, twinks, leather-clad bikers, fairies. The list went on and on. Most of the men I knew didn’t fit neatly into any of those categories. But when Cole walked into the restaurant, the word that jumped into my head was “flaming.” He was about five nine, shorter than me by two or three inches. His body was thin, his features slightly feminine. His hair was almost the same color as mine, light brown, well cut, but with a long fall of bangs that tended to hang in his eyes. His clothes were obviously expensive but slightly eccentric—black, tight-fitting pants that might have been suede, a close-fitting lavender sweater that was probably silk, and a light scarf around his neck.
I’ve never been into effeminate men, but I certainly couldn’t leave now. And he didn’t necessarily need to be my type if it was only one night.
He walked up to the podium where the hostess was taking names, and she seemed to recognize him. She immediately smiled at him, and it looked genuine. He tilted his head, causing his bangs to fall over his eyes. He smiled at her flirtatiously, and I thought maybe he was even batting his eyes at her. I couldn’t hear what he said, but she laughed and then pointed my way.
There was a slight sway to his walk when he came over. “I think you’re waiting for me.”
“I think so too.” I held my hand out and he shook it. I expected his grip to be weak and limp, but that wasn’t the case. His hands were slim and incredibly soft, but his handshake was firm. “I’m Jonathan Kechter.”
He tilted his head again, but to the right this time, so that his bangs fell away from his eyes, and smiled at me in a way that made me think he found me incredibly amusing. “Cole Fenton,” he said, in a somewhat sarcastic tone. He cocked his head back toward the hostess, who was waiting with menus in her hand. “Come on, then. Our table’s ready.”
“They told me it would take a while,” I said in surprise.
He was already walking away, and he glanced at me over his shoulder, smiling. “Darling, I never have to wait.”
They seated us, and Cole handed his menu back to the hostess without even opening it. He leaned back in his chair and regarded me with his head tipped to the right so his hair was out of his eyes. His skin was almost a caramel color—a shade too dark to be called white, but too light to be called anything else. I couldn’t see his eyes well enough in the low light to determine their color—I thought brown—but I could see his expression. It was mischievous, almost mocking, as if he took nothing seriously, and it annoyed me for no good reason. “So, you’re Zach’s ex.”
It wasn’t even a question, and I tried not to act too surprised. Zach and I had been apart for more than ten years now, and I had spent those years thinking of him as the one that got away. I hadn’t ever stopped loving him. A chance encounter in Vegas had made me remember all the ways we had been good together… and all the ways we hadn’t. “Jared told you that?”
“Not exactly. But it wasn’t hard to figure out, darling.”
I bit back my irritation at both him and Jared. “My name is Jonathan.”
“I know. You’ve told me four times now.”
I debated briefly whether there was any point in asking him outright to stop calling me “darling.” I had a feeling he would only laugh. “And you’re a friend of Jared and Matt? Do you know Zach and Angelo too?” I asked.
“I’m sure Matt would object to being classified as such. The only one of them I really know is Jared. I’ve known him for nearly twelve years now. We’ve been friends since college. The others I’ve only met once or twice.”
The waiter arrived then. “Hello, Mr. Fenton. It’s good to see you again. I assume you don’t need to see the wine list?”
“It’s wonderful to be back, Henry. You’re correct, of course, I don’t need the list. I’m not sure quite yet what we’ll be drinking though.” He looked over at me. “Do you know what you’re ordering, darling?”
I swallowed the urge to tell him my name again and said, “I was thinking the lamb chops.”
He smiled. “Excellent.” Then to the waiter, “I’ll have the same. And a bottle of the Tempranillo Reserva, please.”
A Spanish red—Zach’s favorite. What were the chances Cole would pick that? Not many restaurants even carried Spanish wines. Zach was always bemoaning the fact when we ate out.
“Did I say something wrong?” Cole asked suddenly, interrupting my thoughts. I realized I had been staring absently at the tablecloth, and shook myself out of it.
“No. Just the wine you chose—it reminded me of Zach.”
“Then you shouldn’t have ordered the lamb, darling.”
I had no idea how to respond to that.
The waiter brought the wine. As he was pouring it, my phone rang. It seemed impossibly loud in the hushed dining room, and everybody around us turned to look at me. I felt myself blush. I pulled my phone out and hit the button to turn off the audible ring. I looked over at Cole and found him looking slightly amused.
“I’m sorry,” I said, pointing to it. “I really have to—”
“Be my guest,” he said, and I answered.
“This is Jonathan.”
“Jonathan, it’s Sarah!”
“Sarah, can I call you back?”
“Jon, we put in all of the charges for the spa products we sell, but when we try to enter the state tax—”
“You don’t do that until checkout.” I was certain I had already told her that, but it was a common mistake.
She sighed in frustration. “I’ll never figure this out!”
“Sarah, you’ll be fine. It’s Friday night. Go home and get some rest. You’ll do better if you wait until morning and look at it with fresh eyes.”
“Maybe you’re right,” she said, but I knew she wouldn’t take my advice.
“I’m a little busy right now, Sarah. Can I call you first thing in the morning?”
She sighed again. “Sure. All right. Good night.”
I hung up and said to Cole, “I’m really sorry about that.”
He smiled. “Duty calls?”
“Always. I’m sure you know how it is.”
His smile got bigger. “Not really.”
“What do you do?”
His haircut was perfect. If he cocked his head to the right, his bangs fell to the side, allowing him to make eye contact. But if he looked down, or cocked his head the other way, as he did now, his hair fell in front of his eyes, making it harder to read his expression. “Such a predictable question, darling. What do you do?”
“I’m the Senior Liaison Accountant Director for GuestLine Software, Incorporated.”
His mouth twitched into a smile. “That’squite the title. What exactly is GuestLine Software, Incorporated?”
“We write software for large hotels and resorts. Reservations, spa services and room charges, payroll and staffing. We put it all in one place so that—”
“I don’t own a hotel, darling. You don’t have to sell it to me. Is that why you were in Vegas when you ran into Jared?”
“Yes. We have three new clients there.”
“And what exactly does a Senior Liaison Account Director do?”
There was a mocking tone to his voice, and I tried not to be annoyed. It had taken a great deal of time and hard work to achieve that position in such a short time. “I help our new clients transfer the bookkeeping portion of their records into the GuestLine software.”
“I see,” he said. “How long have you worked for them?”
“Eight years. Tell me, darling”—and now he tipped his head again so I could see his eyes— “are you happy being the Senior Liaison Account Director?”
“Well, ultimately I would like to travel less. Another year or two, and I should be able to move up and start doing more of the in-house accounting. Another few years after that, and—”
“Is there a position you’re aiming for, or do you just climb and climb until you can’t climb anymore?”
The question seemed odd to me. Of course promotion was always the goal. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, will there ever be a point where you’re happy with what you have and you can sit back and relax?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer him, but it ended up not mattering because my phone rang. Again. And once again, everybody at the surrounding tables looked my way. I answered as quickly as possible.
“This is Jonathan.”
“Jonathan!” It was Marcus Barry again. “I’ve arranged for Lyle to cover Franklin Suites. I want you on a plane to LA Sunday evening.”
“Let’s get this one wrapped up before they drive us both to drink.”
I couldn’t have agreed more. “I’m sorry,” I said to Cole as I hung up. “It’s a new client, and—” He waved his hand at me dismissively, although it was obvious he found it less amusing the second time. “I don’t think he’ll call again,” I said as our food arrived. I turned my phone to vibrate and put it on the table next to me. We ate in silence for a while. The wine really did complement the lamb chops perfectly. I broke the silence by asking again, “What do you do?”
He looked up from his plate, tilting his head so that his hair fell into his eyes again. I couldn’t tell if he was annoyed or amused by my question. “Is it so important?”
“No,” I said, although I found it odd that he seemed unwilling to answer. “I was just curious.”
“You’re curious, because somehow your image of who I am is all tied up with my profession?”
“Well…” Wasn’t it? “Yes.”
“What if I told you that I was a hustler?”
“I—umm—” I realized I was stammering and stopped short. Was he serious? Had Jared given my number to a hustler? I had no idea how I was supposed to react. “I would tell you that I’m not paying you for anything tonight,” I finally said. On the other hand, it would mean that I could quit trying to make conversation with him. “Are you?” I asked.
“Of course not,” he said, grinning at me, and I figured it was a good sign that I was relieved to hear it. “But the thought that I might be changed everything, didn’t it?” I had no idea what I was supposed to say. I felt like I was caught in some strange game of twenty questions. He laughed at me, and I tried not to be irritated by it. “You’re still dying to know, aren’t you?” he asked as he flipped his hair out of his eyes.
Of course I was. His reluctance to answer only made me more curious. “Yes. It’s a simple question: what do you do?”
He seemed to consider for a moment, drinking his wine, and then he said, “I travel.”
“You travel?” I asked. I was racking my brain in an effort to figure out what in the world he meant. “I don’t understand.”
“Is it a word you’re not familiar with?” he asked, and I could see in his eyes how amusing he found it all. I felt like he had been quietly laughing at me ever since we had introduced ourselves, and for better or worse, it was starting to annoy me.
“Of course I’m familiar with it,” I said, “but don’t see how you can make a career out of it.”
“I never said that I did, darling.”
“But you just said—”
“I like to cook, too.”
“So, you’re a chef?”
“I guess you could say that. But I don’t do that for a living either, if that’s what you mean.”
“Of course that’s what I mean!” I said, and even I was surprised by how angry I sounded. Several of the people at nearby tables had turned to look at me, and I felt myself blushing again. I closed my eyes and made myself count to five.
“Have I upset you somehow, darling?”