THE door of Fresco! Day Spa opened and the nail tech entered with somewhat less than his usual exuberance. “Hey, Catman,” he said, his voice grainy with exhaustion. “How do the bookings look today?”
Mickey Koshare—a.k.a. Catman—looked up from the appointment book on the front desk and smiled at his best friend. “Light traffic today,” he said, trying not to stare too long at Jayson Midlake’s sleek figure. It wasn’t easy considering the way the extremely fit young man dressed for work. In contrast to lanky Mickey’s drapey black pants and smock, Jayson wore skin-tight white jeans and a soft pink T-shirt that stopped just short of his waistband. The strip of smooth fawn skin that showed between the hem of the shirt and the faux cowhide belt made Mickey’s fingertips itch with the desire to stroke it, but in the year and a half that they’d been friends and co-workers, Jayson had never shown any interest in being anything more. “You had that big party coming in at two-thirty for mani-pedis, but they canceled for reasons best left unsaid.”
“Why didn’t you call me?”
“I did call you.”
Jayson groaned as he pulled his phone from his pocket, glared at it, and turned it on. “I totally forgot it was off.”
“That’s not like you. You love that phone more than chocolate cheesecake.”
“Doesn’t matter. I’m just glad I don’t have any appointments.” Jayson sighed as he sat down in the salon chair in front of Mickey. “I’m in no mood to be cheerful for the clientele today, but I don’t really want to be alone either.”
“What’s the matter, white boy? You don’t look like you’re one with the universe this fine day.”
Jayson’s eyes rolled up to meet Mickey’s in the mirror. “I’m also not in the mood to have your mystical Native-American ways held over my head.”
“Can I help it if I was born one of Mother Nature’s favorites?” Mickey picked up a comb and began to arrange Jayson’s thick dark hair into something less like a witch’s nest. “Did you even look in a mirror this morning?”
“I put my shades on when I got up, and I didn’t take them off until I got here.”
Jayson shook his head. Mickey automatically stopped Jayson with a hand on either side of his skull, forcing him to face front.
“You’re not going to make me keep guessing, are you?”
Jayson fetched another heavy sigh. “It’s too depressing, Catman.”
“You’ll feel better if you let it out,” Mickey coaxed.
“I broke up with Brian last night. Early this morning, actually.”
“I’m sorry,” Mickey lied. Brian Tanner was the latest in a string of boyfriends with more attitude than brains who didn’t deserve a sweetheart like Jayson. As far as Mickey could see, Brian cared more about his motorcycle than he did for Jayson. Mickey was sorry Jayson was hurt, but he was glad he wouldn’t be seeing anymore of the swaggering, swearing punk who had to be reminded not to smoke in the apartment or take the last beer in the fridge—especially since he never replaced them. “Are you doing okay?”
“Why can’t I keep a boyfriend?”
“I keep telling you: it’s not you. You’re fine. Those guys… they’re assholes who don’t know a good thing when they’ve got it.”
“I really like Brian. He’s got a cool bike, and he looks so hot in his leather jacket. We have a good time when we go out, and he’s a good lover. I really thought we had something that could become more.” Jayson looked up. “Why did he have to turn out to be a jerk?”
Mickey bit his tongue. He wanted to tell Jayson that all his boyfriends were jerks, but that wouldn’t help right now, and Mickey would rather cut off his own finger than hurt Jayson. What was it about bad boys that made the sweet ones melt and roll over like puppies begging for a tummy scratch? Why couldn’t Jayson see that all these guys wanted was a day-pass into his pants? Jayson was gorgeous, thoughtful, and kind and he deserved a lot better, but each time he got rid of one asshole, another showed up to fill the empty space, and Mickey ended up with a tear-soaked shoulder.
“Seriously, Cat, what’s wrong with me?”
“For the two millionth time, there’s nothing wrong with you.” Except your taste in men.
“Then why did Brian cheat on me? I did my best to keep him happy, but I guess I just wasn’t good enough in bed or something.”
Mickey opened his mouth to answer, but he was pre-empted by the arrival of the salon’s temporary manager. Parker Turineau was filling in for his Aunt Brenda, and the rest of the staff couldn’t wait for her to get back from her vacation.
“Why are you just sitting around?” Parker started bitching before he was all the way in the door.
“Good afternoon to you,” Mickey said with the thinnest edge of sarcasm to his voice.
“We don’t have any customers right now,” Jayson pointed out as he rose from the chair.
“Why not?” Parker spun the appointment book around and scanned it, as if he thought his employees were lying to him.
“Because it’s twelve forty-five and we don’t open until one on Wednesdays,” Mickey answered placidly.
Parker absorbed this piece of information as he looked around for something else to make a fuss about. “Where’s Damon?”
“He doesn’t have any clients until two,” Mickey replied.
Jayson turned away to hide a smile, pretending to straighten the little bottles of candy-colored nail polish in the rack by his station. He loved Mickey’s laid-back, unruffled cool. It was why he called his best friend the Cat, or Tomcat, or Catman, or Catscan, or Catalog, or Catapult, or almost anything with the letters c-a-t in it. No one could get a rise out of tranquil Mickey, and Jayson suspected that this fact annoyed Parker to no end.
“Well….” Parker took another sweeping look around the modern yet elegant premises, but he couldn’t find anything else to complain about. “Find something to do besides gossip.”
“We can’t very well talk about you until you leave, dear,” Mickey said in the reasonable tone of a hostess explaining a minor point of etiquette to an ill-mannered child.
Parker snatched at the flimsy lure, clearly bursting with the need to vent some resentment. “You’re not the only person in this town who can cut hair, you know,” he said.
“No, he’s just the best,” Jayson spoke up.
Parker had no answer for that. Mickey Koshare was generally regarded as something of a wizard with hair and could have been booked for every minute of every day if he chose. Fresco! Day Spa was lucky to have him and Parker knew it, even if Parker didn’t want to admit it. “Well, I’ve got other things to do,” the manager said. “Don’t forget to put the deposit in the bag—and leave it where I can find it easily this time.”