Six months after the end of an abusive relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Craig finally finds someone he’s attracted to. It doesn’t bother him that Doug is a man, much less a player. What matters is that he’s a perfect candidate for a no-strings-attached night that just might help Craig prove to himself that he’s not as broken as he fears.
One night—that’s all it was supposed to be. But one night turns into yearning, turns into e-mailing, turns into communicating, turns into Doug hoping against hope that Craig might feel the same frightening attachment that he feels, pretty please? With cherries on top?
“WOULD you like another, sir?”
Craig looked up from the small pile of beer bottle labels that he’d been shredding on the bar to find the short, middle-aged bartender smiling blandly at him.
“Not yet, thanks,” he replied.
It was only six in the evening, he was already on his third beer, and the microwave burrito he’d had for lunch was long gone. If he didn’t slow down, he’d be too drunk to string two words together by the time Doug arrived… if Doug arrived.
The bartender nodded and smiled again, though Craig caught his gaze dropping briefly to the mess on the counter before he spoke.
“Certainly sir. I’ll be right over there, when you’re ready.”
The man tipped his head toward the other end of the bar and went off to help the two ladies in tight cocktail dresses and too much makeup who had just arrived.
As soon as he walked away, Craig grabbed a cocktail napkin and swept the little bits of paper off the otherwise immaculate bar and into his hand. He shoved the whole mess into his pocket and looked around to make sure no one had noticed. In his worn leather jacket and faded jeans, Craig was already way out of his class among the business suit and trophy wife set at the bar. The last thing he needed was to call more attention to that fact by acting like a pig.
Craig shook his head at himself and leaned his elbows back on the bar. How could he ever expect to get a job at a place as swanky as this when he couldn’t even sit at the bar for a couple of hours as a customer without everyone in the place knowing he didn’t belong? The least he could do was show a little professional courtesy to the bartender. They were in the same line of work after all.
Okay, so slinging rail drinks and beer at a club full of go-go boys and drag queens was hardly in the same league as mixing fancy cocktails for Detroit’s jet-setters, but someday Craig hoped to be good enough to score a job at a classy place like this.
Craig took another swig of his beer and scanned the entrances to the bar for the hundredth time that evening, but there was still no sign of Doug. He’d overheard the gossip queens at Gigi’s saying that Doug went to the bar at the Westin after work every Thursday, but Craig had no idea when the man got off, and after two hours of waiting, he was starting to wonder if maybe they’d been wrong.
Not for the first time that evening, Craig seriously considered forgetting all about his plan and running home to his shitty little apartment. If he left now, no one would know he’d ever been there, and more importantly, Doug would never know. But Craig just couldn’t bring himself to do it. The thought of another night counting the cracks in his walls and the stains on his ceiling, alone because he was too chicken to take a chance, made him feel like he was suffocating and kept his butt glued to that barstool. He couldn’t go back there without at least trying, no matter how nervous he was.
Besides, what’s the worst that could happen? Doug could turn him down. That wouldn’t be the end of the world, would it?
Craig was startled out of his thoughts by the shrill sound of giggling coming from the ladies at the end of the bar. He followed their gazes to the far side of the room, just in time to see Doug sit down at a table, and Craig’s heart leapt into his throat. He’d never seen Doug in a suit before. The man looked really good in a suit. Craig looked down at his own clothes again and grimaced, his anxiety ratcheting up another notch.
Craig looked away for a second to calm his nerves, and he noticed that the two ladies weren’t the only ones checking Doug out. Craig couldn’t blame them. Doug was just the kind of guy that people noticed. It wasn’t that he was overly tall or model perfect or anything, he just seemed to have an aura about him or something. Craig couldn’t really explain it, but it didn’t seem to matter if it was men or women, when Doug entered a room, heads always turned.
Craig looked back at the man in question in time to see Doug flash the server his million-dollar smile and order a drink. Craig didn’t have to read his lips to know what Doug asked for: a desert-dry martini with two olives. Doug had ordered that same drink from him every Friday night for the past two years, and Craig could probably make it in his sleep by now. Even from the very beginning, Craig had always taken extra care to get Doug’s drink just right, and that should have been his first clue that maybe there was more to his feelings for the man than he’d ever thought possible.
Craig was straight… or at least he’d thought he was until he’d met Doug.
Working in a gay bar for the last couple of years had given Craig plenty of opportunities to explore that side of the fence if he’d ever wanted to, but he’d never even been tempted, not once, except for Doug. He’d never had a crush on a guy before, so it took him a while to admit to it, but now, given the cluster-fuck that was his personal life, Craig desperately needed to see how far those feelings went.
He signaled the bartender and ordered a shot of tequila and another beer. He threw back the shot and paid his tab before gathering his courage and his beer and heading for Doug’s table. He felt the ladies at the bar eyeing him as he passed, but he just ignored them and focused on his target.
His heart was thumping hard in his chest by the time he reached the table, and Doug raised curious blue eyes to meet his, but he managed to keep his voice light and even.
“Hey Doug. How are you?”
Craig was relieved to see recognition flash in Doug’s eyes a moment before they widened in surprise. Doug’s face split in a smile that never failed to warm Craig all the way to his toes, even though he knew Doug bestowed that smile on everyone.
“I’m pretty good. Craig, isn’t it? From Gigi’s?”
“Yes, you remember.”
“How could I forget one of my favorite bartenders?” Doug laughed.
Maybe it was just that he was crushing like a schoolgirl on the dude, but Craig had always felt that Doug had a really great laugh. It was deep and warm and seemed to wrap around you like a blanket.
Craig swallowed hard against the sudden dryness in his throat. “Do you mind if I sit down?”
A puzzled frown crossed the man’s face for a second, and Craig wasn’t surprised to see it. Doug had to be wondering what the hell Craig was doing there. They weren’t friends. They’d never shared anything that could even be called a conversation. A few words shouted over the music at the club while Craig made his drink hardly made them even “hey” friends, so his confusion was definitely understandable.
“I’m meeting someone in a little while, but….” Doug paused, smiled, and shrugged. “Sure, why not? I’ve got a few minutes before he comes.”
Craig was a little disappointed to hear the man already had plans, but elated that he got at least that far.
“Thanks,” Craig said as he sat down, taking the seat next to Doug instead of the one across from him. The man raised his eyebrows but didn’t comment.
“So uh, how have been?” Craig asked. “We haven’t seen you much at the club lately. I think last Friday was the first time in weeks that you’ve been in.”
Doug relaxed back in his seat.
“I’ve been good. I’ve had to do a lot of traveling for work lately, so I haven’t had much time for play. And you?”
“Oh, I’ve been good too.”
Doug took a sip from his martini and crossed his legs. He was smiling, looking perfectly at ease, but Craig could tell the man was waiting for him to explain himself.
Craig licked his lips nervously. He hadn’t really meant it as a tease, but when Doug’s eyes dropped to his mouth for a second before rising back up, Craig felt a little thrill of excitement run down his spine. He looked away and took a swig of his beer for courage. When he turned back, Doug was still studying him, but it was clear from his expression that he was beginning to lose patience, interest, or both.
“Craig. Is there something you wanted to talk about?” Doug asked.
Craig dropped a hand under the table and pinched himself hard on the leg. He was being stupid. He was a grown man, for chrissakes. This shouldn’t be so hard. He took another swig of his beer to wet his parched throat before setting it down on the table.
“Yeah. I’m sorry. This is just a little off the reservation for me, so I’m a little nervous.”
Doug’s voice, when he wasn’t shouting over house music, was calm and assured, just as Craig had always imagined it would be, and Craig felt himself relaxing. He could do this. It was just one question.
“I just wanted to ask you if you would ever consider hooking up with me… you know, for a trick?”
Doug showed no obvious signs of shock at the odd request, and at least he didn’t laugh, but he did lean forward and raise his eyebrows a little.
“Are you asking me for sex?”
Doug’s voice was quiet and his tone only mildly curious, but Craig still felt his cheeks heat.
“Yes. I mean… I know you don’t date or anything, and I’ve never seen you with the same guy twice at the club, not that that’s any of my business, and I’m not asking for a date… just, a couple of hours or a night, if you want. You know, no strings. I know you’re moving to Chicago at the end of the month, and you’re probably busy, but I figured if I was going to ask I’d better do it soon so….”
Craig realized he was babbling and closed his mouth with a snap.
Again, thankfully, Doug just looked a little confused, not amused, by his botched come-on.
“I thought you were straight,” Doug said.
Craig laughed nervously.
“So did I, but I guess you’re an exception.”
He shrugged and tried to meet Doug’s eyes. It wasn’t easy. Now that it was all out on the table, he was starting to feel like a real idiot. Especially since Doug still hadn’t answered him.
“Why now, all of a sudden?” Doug asked. “You’ve worked at Gigi’s for almost two years, right? I’ve been there nearly every weekend of that time, and you’ve never even so much as winked at me.”
Craig looked away, picked his beer back up and started fiddling with the label on the bottle. “Like I said, I heard you were moving, and I figured I’d miss my chance if I didn’t ask now. Besides that, I had a girlfriend up until about six months ago.”
Doug sat back in his chair and sipped at his martini for a little while, long enough for Craig to start to feel a little nauseated.
When the silence got to be too much Craig said, “Look, if you aren’t interested, that’s cool. It’s no big deal. I just thought I’d ask.”
He tried very hard to sound like he couldn’t care less, but he wasn’t sure he succeeded. When he pushed his chair back so he could stand up, Doug set his martini down and leaned forward again, pinning him in place with those intense blue eyes.
“I didn’t say I wasn’t interested, but if it was no big deal then why did you come all the way here instead of asking me at the club? I’m guessing this isn’t one of your usual hangouts, since I’ve never seen you here before.”
Craig was grateful that Doug didn’t mention the fact that it was fairly obvious he didn’t belong here, either.
“I’m not allowed to hit on the customers when I’m working,” he hedged.
Doug sighed and frowned a little, obviously not liking his answer, and Craig shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done this. This was a bad idea. Forget I asked and I’ll see you at the club, okay?”
Craig stood to go, but Doug’s voice stopped him.
“I’ll think about it, okay?”
“Yeah, sure, whatever. I’m sorry for bothering you. Have a good night.”
Craig’s face was on fire and his self-confidence was somewhere down around his ankles, but he managed to walk out of the bar with his head up and his shoulders back. He waited until he got on the bus to drop his head in his hands and groan in humiliation. He got off a couple of blocks before his stop to hit the liquor store before walking the rest of the way to his apartment building. He might spend the rest of the night staring at the cracks in his walls, but he’d be damned if he’d do it sober.
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