The more I thought about it, the more I knew I had to have the bed. My boyfriend wanted it. It was Christmas. And while it was a bit overpriced, I could afford it. Steve on the other hand, could not.
I’d thought about it for two weeks, and when Steve casually mentioned it was still at the antique store, I made up my mind. It was perhaps an excessive gift for a man I’d been dating for less than two months, but when I thought about what Steve and I would do in that bed, the scales were tipped.
A call to the antique store the night before told me the bed was still available. So it was quite a surprise when I arrived at Derringer’s early the next morning and asked for the large, oak four-poster bed at the very same time as another customer. The look on both the proprietor’s and the other man’s faces (and my own, I’m sure, had I been able to see it) were quite comedic really. Like they’d been caught doing something they shouldn’t.
“Oh, my,” said Mr. Derringer, the owner of the store. “I haven’t had anything like this happen in a long time. And it’s been sitting there two months.”
The other man, youngish, slim, with dark hair and pretty, wide startled eyes, looked like he might cry. “I… I think I was here first,” he said.
“I’m not sure,” Mr. Derringer said, adjusting his glasses.
“I did call last night,” I reminded Mr. Derringer. He knew me; I’d bought a few things from him in the past, most of them costly: a standing lamp, an oil painting, and a few other odd items (more than one with a rather naughty touch).
“So you did, so you did,” he said, looking up, down, but not seeming to want to look at either of us. “But, ah, you didn’t ask me to hold it.”
“So?” asked the young man. “Does that mean I get it or not?” He looked like he was about to go into fight or flight mode. Which would it be? I wondered.
Mr. Derringer, nervous thing that he was, began to shake, fumbled with some papers on his desk, removed his glasses and began cleaning them. He looked back and forth between us. “You both approached me at the same time,” he said in that spineless voice of his. He drove me near insane he could be so insipid. But he also found things that no one else could. He had a gift for it.
“I’ve got my card out!” the young man practically shouted.
“I’ll pay cash,” I pressed. This was ridiculous, and I didn’t want to be here all day. I did need to get to the office at some point.
“Cash?” asked Mr. Derringer, his little eyes focusing on me.
I liked the sound of Derringer’s voice now. Holiday season or not, cash was always good, and who knew if the young man could even afford the bed. His peacoat looked worn, his pants with tattered cuffs were just a little too long, and his shoes had certainly seen better days.
“I don’t see why that makes any difference,” said the young man. “What do you usually do in a situation like this?”
“I…” said Mr. Derringer, “I could use the cash.”
“I’ll give you an extra hundred,” I said and pulled out a roll of bills.
“No!” yelled the young man. “You can’t do that!”
“I can,” I said. “Do we have a deal, Mr. Derringer?”
“I’m sorry, young man,” Mr. Derringer apologized, staring at my cash like he was starving.
The young man turned to me. “Look, I really want that bed,” he said, his eyes wide and pleading. “The… person I’m seeing really wants it. Anything else would just be a letdown.”
Person? I smiled at the lack of pronoun and wondered if that “person” was another man.
“I went through hell to get the money,” he continued. “There isn’t anything else I want. It’s really important to me. Please.”
Oh, those eyes, I thought. Like a big puppy dog, but blue instead of brown. This young man was just too sweet.
But why did that matter? I really wanted the bed as well. Steve had a reason for wanting a four-poster bed, and the idea caused my dick to twitch right there in that little store. Steve was just crazy in the bedroom, any room for that matter. I’d never known a man with such a sexual imagination. My whole adult life had seemed to be filled with men who considered tickling to be kinky. They’d given the word “vanilla” a whole new definition. I’d resigned myself to sexual mediocrity, and then Steve had shown up in my life. Finally, I’d met someone with an erotic imagination to put mine to shame, a man who wanted to fulfill my every fantasy.
Yet the kid looking at me, and he didn’t seem to be much more than a kid, really did look like a puppy. One who’d been kicked just a few times too many and was expecting me to kick him as well.
“I am going to let you two decide,” said Mr. Derringer. “I have a few calls to make. You two work it out.” He turned and practically fled the room.
“Please?” the young man asked again.
Please? Did he say “please”? I almost laughed, but knew it would hurt the man’s feelings. I bet if I had shouted out “boo” at that moment, the kid might have wet himself. Shit. It would be like kicking a pup. I glanced down at my watch. Oh, to hell with the office, I thought. It wasn’t going anywhere. This young man intrigued me. “I’ll tell you what,” I said. “Let’s go have some coffee and talk about this. We’ll both present our case and see if one of us can talk the other one out of it.”
“I… I….” The young man paused and then seemed to make up his mind. “All right,” he said, nodding.
I went to find Derringer. “We’ll be back. Don’t sell that bed, you hear me?” I said.
Mr. Derringer heard me. Most people did.
We sat down at a small table outside The Radiant Cup, my pick as the best coffee shop in Kansas City. I loved everything they made, especially their lattes. The young man had some hot chocolate—cheapest thing on the menu—and when he’d paid his bill, counting out his money almost to pennies, it only confirmed my suspicions that this guy had no business buying such an expensive gift.
I took a sip of my latte. Wonderful. Perfect as usual. “You’ve been here before?” I asked.
“Nah, I usually just make my own.” The young man laughed. “I can buy a can of coffee at Aldi’s for what a cup costs here.”
I nodded. Yes, I was right. “Maybe,” I said. “But then it is Aldi’s coffee. You get what you pay for.”
“And I want to pay for that bed,” he said excitedly.
“I don’t think you can really afford it. Am I right… what is your name?”
“Shawn,” he answered.
“I’m Elliot. Shawn, I’m thinking you’ve got yourself in hock to your eyebrows trying to buy that bed. That ‘person’ you are buying it for. They know it, too, I bet.”
“Maybe,” Shawn said, chin out. “But it sure is going to shock the shit out of him when I get it.”
I raised my brows despite myself.
“Yeah,” Shawn said defensively. “‘He.’ I’m gay! You think just because you’d be having straight sex in it that you should have the bed?”
“Whoa,” I said. “Let’s not even go there. For one thing, I’m gay too.” I surprised myself at making the admission. Not that I was ashamed, but I kept my private life private. There could be many an important deal lost because of how some bigots felt about gays.
“You are?” Shawn asked, obviously surprised. “Gosh. You don’t look it.”
I laughed. Didn’t look it? Was this guy for real? “You don’t ‘look’ particularly gay yourself, Shawn.”
Shawn blushed. It was a most delightful shade of pink. “You’re just so… big. I think your arms are bigger than my thighs.”
I laughed again. “Not quite,” I said. “I just like to keep myself in shape. It’s amazing what you can do with a personal trainer keeping on your ass. And there is nothing wrong with your thighs.” Now what the hell had made me say that?
Shawn went even more red and tried to hide his expression by taking a long sip of his hot chocolate. I don’t know if was his blush or the morning sun, but I was again noticing just how blue his eyes were. Was he wearing contacts? They were the most amazing color. And huge. Otherworldly.
He really was sweet. Like a kid, but the more I looked at Shawn the more I could see he was no kid. Surely no more than about thirty, but all man. Handsome too. His skin was pale, and it really brought out the shadow of a threatening beard along his jaw. Maybe it was that complexion that made his eyes look so blue? “How long have you been out?” I asked.
Shawn almost spit out his chocolate. “What? Why do you ask?”
“This guy you are seeing, is he your first boyfriend?”
“My second,” he said, chin out again.
“You just come out recently?”
“Why do you want to know that?” Shawn asked.
I shrugged. “You seem so naïve. How old are you?”
“You sure do ask a lot of questions for a guy trying to talk me out of buying that bed.”
“Just trying to get the lay of the land,” I said. It was what I did. How I’d become so successful.
“I’m thirty-two. And how old are you, oh Master Yoda?”
It was my turn to nearly spit out my coffee. Master Yoda? “I’m thirty-nine,” I said. “And I’ve been out since I was fourteen, so I guess I know a few things.”
“Fourteen?” gasped Shawn, and once again did that thing with his eyes. Made them look huge.
Oh, if we weren’t both already taken, I thought, I’d take you home right now.
“You knew you were gay when you were fourteen?” Shawn asked again.
I nodded. “Coach Brennermyer—”
“No!” I said. “No. He never touched me. But his thighs! One look at him in those shorts of his, and Janet, my ‘girlfriend’ never had a chance.” As a matter-of-fact, it was the coach that had inspired me to get myself in the shape I was in. I liked my body. It made up for what I considered a boring face—light brown eyes, big nose, lantern jaw—and it surprised me when a trick told me it was my looks and not my body that had gotten them interested.
Shawn reddened again.
“Did you have a Coach Brennermyer?” I asked.
Shawn smiled, then nodded slowly. “He was my art teacher, though. Mr. Finsecker. He was also the track coach, and I became his assistant for the chance….”
“To see him naked? Or was it the team?”
Shawn hid his face behind his hands. “I can’t believe I’m talking to you about this.”
“Sweetie, you’re thirty-two, not fourteen,” I said. The kid—no, the young man, I reminded myself—was charming, no doubt about it. His man, whoever he was, was lucky.
Shawn peeked from between his fingers. “I guess I am naïve,” he said. “The thing is, I didn’t know I was gay. I didn’t know why I wanted to see guys naked. In retrospect, it boggles my mind that I didn't know. How could I have not known? I hung out as long as I could in locker rooms and… Oh God!” Shawn closed his fingers over his face again. “I can’t believe I just admitted that!”
“You’ve never told anybody that? What about the guys you’ve had sex with? Or your boyfriends…?”
“You’re a stranger,” Shawn said and all but giggled.
I smiled once more. I hadn’t stopped smiling around this guy. He was just that charming. “You’re a sweetheart. Your man is lucky to have you.”
Shawn dropped his hands and revealed a shy smile. “Thanks.”
I took a big swallow of my coffee, and then gave Shawn a level look. “You can’t really afford that bed, can you?”
Shawn looked down at the table, and then slowly back into my eyes. “I’m going to, if you let me. I got some money out of my savings to start. My boss said I can have all the overtime I want. I figure if I work ten to twenty hours a week extra, I can do it.”
I whistled. “That’s a lot of hours.”
“But then I’ve worked that many hours on many a week, and I’m salary,” I admitted. Of course I also earned a percentage and got some very nice bonuses. “You must really love this guy.”
Shawn smiled, and it was a sweet smile. He was this mix between man and boy, and that smile was all boy. Happy joyous boy. “I do. He’s perfect. He’s everything I ever dreamed of and more. He holds doors open for me, pulls out my seat at a restaurant!” Shawn got a faraway look on his face. “He calls me ‘Baby’,” he said, and then he sighed. Shawn looked up at me. “He doesn’t have as much time for me as I wish he did. But that’ll be easier when I’m working more. I won’t notice as much.”
The guy didn’t have enough time for him? Shit, if Shawn were mine, I’d never let him out of my sight, despite the fact that he was probably as vanilla as hell in bed. Häagen-Dazs vanilla bean maybe, but vanilla nevertheless.
But wasn’t I tired of vanilla? Isn’t that why Steve appealed so much?
“And if he likes the bed as much as I think he does,” Shawn continued, “it’s all he talks about—then maybe I’ll be sleeping in it on a more permanent basis. If he asks me to move in with him, I’ll be able to see him as much as I want.”
Whoa, I thought. Shawn had it bad. I remembered feeling that way. How much I’d longed for love. Someone to call my own, to come home to each night, to wake up with each morning. But years of disastrous relationships had made me stop believing it was even possible. I’d exchanged dreams of love for a lustful reality of hot sex.
Shit. I’d come here to lay out to this kid that I was going to buy the bed. Period. But now? It was confusing. I looked into his face, shining with an innocence I’d lost years ago, and heard Shawn’s passion, and I was tempted to just let him have it. Yet for some reason, I was also feeling like I should be responsible and talk the kid—man—out of it. Not so that I could get it for Steve, but because I knew that trying to pay for that ancient thing was going to put a ridiculous financial strain on Shawn. He was a big boy; he was a grown man and could make his own decisions. However, I found a strange protectiveness rising in my chest. What to do?
Maybe find out just how much Shawn really did want the damned thing?
And that led me to an idea.
“I’ve got a thought,” I said. “Let’s you and me go back to Derringer’s and buy the bed together, fifty-fifty. Then we’ll have a little contest.”
“What do you mean?” Shawn asked. “Fifty-fifty? What kind of contest?”
“Well, we buy the bed, and that way it isn’t going anywhere. We don’t have to worry about someone else going in there for a Christmas present.”
Shawn nodded warily. “Ah, okay…. And the contest?”
“We figure out a series of little challenges and see which of us wins them. In the end, whoever has the most wins, gets the bed.”
“Like some kind of reality show or something?” Shawn asked, eyebrows raised.
I laughed. “Yeah. Except we won’t be on TV.”
Shawn gave a half-shrug. “Weeeellll….”
“You can even figure out the first challenge,” I said.
“This is really weird,” Shawn said.
“Yeah, maybe. But it’s better than me telling you that I am going to get that bed.”
“Why do you want it so damned bad?” Shawn asked, exasperated.
“Because I do,” I told him. Like he was going to understand I was doing it for the sex. He’d get all romantic and tell me I could get sex anywhere. And I could. But Steve was special. It might not be love; I’d given up on that before I’d given up on the idea of finding a wild sex partner. And Steve was all that and more, plus he didn’t charge. Why should Shawn’s romantic reasons outweigh my sexual needs?
“And you usually get what you want?”
I nodded. “I do,” I confessed. “If you win our little contest, I let you pay for the rest of the bed, and you take it home. If I win, I pay you back what you put into it, and I get the bed.”
Shawn didn’t say anything for a minute, just stared at me. Finally, “Fine,” he said.
“What’s your sweetie’s name?” I asked.
Shawn shook his head. “You know, let’s leave their names out of it. It makes it too personal. I don’t want to start feeling guilty when I whip your ass at this.”
He was joking, but I could also see the sincerity in those pretty eyes of his.
“Fair enough,” I replied. “So, what is the first challenge?”
“The Male Box. Tonight. They’re having this charity thing. You sell tickets for people to get their pictures taken with Santa. Except he’s some leatherman. I volunteered to go through the crowd and get people to buy tickets. So you be there too. Whichever one of us sells the most, wins the first round.”
Charity, I thought. Fair enough. I only hoped Shawn was as good as he seemed to think he was, because this was right up my alley. I’d raised enough money through the years. Shawn may have bitten off more than he could chew. “You got it,” I said.