THE small coffee table turned over twice, crashing upside down. The beveled-glass surface shattered.
“Get the fuck out of here, and don’t come back! I’ve had it with you and your bullshit flirtations. You want to pick up every random guy you see, fine with me. But no more coming home to my place.”
“But, Derek, you know that’s not true. I may be a flirt, but I’m still all yours. Besides, I thought this apartment was ours.”
“It was my place before I met you, and it’ll be my place after you’ve gone. I’m just clearing out the unwanted and unnecessary merchandise. You’ve been too well used by this point anyway.” Derek marched off toward the bedroom.
Jeff felt sick to his stomach. It was as if he’d been literally punched in the gut.
Before he disappeared from view, Derek tossed over his shoulder, “Leave your key on the way out. You’ve got my number. Just text with your address, and I’ll have your shit sent to you.”
Jeff started, the bedroom door slamming shut with a crack as loud as thunder. He gazed around, taking in the condition of the room. It was in a shambles. This was the worst in a line of incidents becoming more and more frequent the closer he tried to get to Derek. But this wasn’t what he’d bargained for.
Jeff had thought he’d found the man of his dreams in Derek when they’d met a year earlier. Unfortunately, once he moved in, with promises of monogamy from both of them, Derek couldn’t handle it any time Jeff even looked at another man for more than a split second.
He’d heard about abusive relationships, but Jeff had never been in the midst of one before. Now it was all he could do to grab a few things he’d left in the kitchen and hurry off. Although unscathed physically, his heart and spirit were broken. Fortunately, it was near the end of summer, so the weather was good; at least he wasn’t being turned out into the cold and snow. Clutching his meager belongings in his arms, Jeff didn’t know where to go.
WALKING down the streets of Boston, heading for his dead-end job as a bank teller, Craig wished his creative side was able to make him money. He’d spent his short adult life searching for the ideal job to combine his desire for the outlandish and unusual with his mercenary side. It was a merger that seemed impossible to bring about.
Backpack on his back, Craig rapidly approached the Boston Bank and Trust Company, stopping just a few yards away when he felt his phone vibrating in his pocket. He immediately thought of ten different jokes about vibrators, all of which would fall flat on the straight postgrads marking time with him at the bank.
Not caring who was on the other end, but welcoming the distraction from his depressing thoughts, Craig answered his phone. “Talk to me. I need entertainment.”
“Oh, Craig! I don’t know where to go, what to do, or who to do it with.”
Through bouts of weepy gasps in-between each word or phrase, Craig made out the distinct, almost sing-song voice of his best friend.
“Jeff, what’s got you in such a snit?”
“It’s not a snit. Well, it’s certainly not a typical snit.”
“Oh. What’s darling Derek done this time?” Craig hated Jeff’s boyfriend and wished he’d evaporate from the planet—or their lives at the very least.
“He’s not so darling anymore.” Jeff was obviously sniffling, recovering from a good cry.
“You just came to that conclusion?” Craig rolled his eyes. He wanted to belt Derek one right across the jaw. Only the fear that the creep would have him arrested and charged with assault had stopped him from doing just that many months ago, and it still kept him from belting Derek, no matter how much he deserved it.
While Jeff had never shown up with a black eye or black and blue skin, it was crystal clear Derek was scaring him into submission, and not the kind of submission that could be fun with the proper rules and regulations.
“This time it’s over for good. He kicked me out.”
Inwardly cheering, Craig knew Jeff would be devastated. His first true romance ended, albeit with a long overdue finale. “Maybe it’s for the best.” Craig arrived at the entrance to the bank but, wanting to be a supportive friend, didn’t enter and remained on the pavement and continued to talk to his friend. “Listen, I just got to my jail. How about lunch? Can you make it?”
“That would be great, but what do I do until then? I’m off today, and I have no place to go.”
Craig sighed. “You have my key.”
“I wasn’t sure if you’d been entertaining. Wouldn’t want to walk in on someone in your shower and scare the shit out of him.”
“No, Jeff. No entertaining this morning or last night. In fact, it’s been a pretty dry week.”
“Yes, me. My dick isn’t always in a state of full-alert 24/7.”
“Could have fooled me.” Jeff laughed. It sounded nice.
“I’m glad my sex life gives you such a big thrill. That alone should tell you how yours has been.”
“Hey! The sex was great.” Jeff sounded almost put out.
“I’m sorry, the sex was great. It was just his attitude the other twenty-three and a half hours of the day that sucked with Mr. Wonderful.” Craig could envision Jeff biting his lip. “I’m sorry, hon, but you know he’s a total jerk when he’s not fucking you. Maybe it’s time to look elsewhere.”
“I know you’re right, but it was fabulous having someone love and want only me.”
“Except he didn’t want you. He wanted his version of who you should be and how you should behave. He didn’t want the terrific guy I know, the Jeff who loves men, loves to flirt, and loves to get attention. He could never see the man who’s capable of flirting and still able to be in love with only one person.”
“I know.” Jeff’s voice had the distinct ring of resignation.
“That dickhead wanted to own you. You’re better than that, Jeff, and we both know it. You deserve to be in a relationship with someone who respects you for who you are, not who he wants you to be.”
“Craig, you’re the best. You always know how to make me feel better.”
Craig smiled, knowing Jeff would be okay. “Just let yourself in. You do still have the key to my place, don’t you?”
“Yes. I never seem to manage to take it off my key ring.”
“Good. Head over there, get some sleep, then meet me at the cafe near work at noon. We’ll only have about an hour to chat, but there’s always tonight.”
“We could have a slumber party! It’s Friday night.”
Craig huffed. “Yippee. That’s just how I want to spend a weekend night when I don’t have to be up for work the next morning.”
“Don’t knock it till you try it, honey.”
“Yeah, yeah. You’re the only one I know who can make small talk sound inviting.”
“You’ve said it more than once—I could sell ice to an Eskimo.”
“So, how come I’m the one gainfully employed, and you’re the one who’s still looking for a full-time job?”
“Because I was happy to be someone’s housewife.”
“It didn’t suit you.” Taking a deep breath, Craig continued, “I can tell you that. I’m your best friend.”
“Not now, Craig. Get to work. I’ll see you at noon.”
Craig closed the phone. For the first time since Jeff had moved in with Derek the Dickhead, he felt calm. Now he could go into work feeling more relaxed than he had in months.
“Good morning, Craig. May I have a word with you?” The bank manager popped his head out of his office the minute Craig crossed the threshold.
“Sure, sir.” Craig wasn’t sure if he’d actually spoken to the manager since he’d first started working at the bank over two years earlier.
“Have a seat.” Craig sat down, placing his backpack on the floor in front of him. “I’ve been watching you.”
Never a good sign.
“I realize you’ve been working with us for quite some time. We rarely keep tellers in the same position this long. Usually by now they’ve moved onto other banks or discovered other opportunities within our branches.”
Craig began to wonder if he would be up for an unwelcome promotion. It didn’t matter. The money would be good, and he could put more away for that opportunity that had yet to knock on his door. “I’ve enjoyed working at the bank. It’s a pleasant atmosphere.”
“I see you’ve been here regularly and hardly taken a sick day. But unfortunately, today is the fifth time in three months you’ve walked in after the bank has opened. You do know the hours, don’t you?”
Bastard! Of course I know the fucking hours. But I also know that you have too many tellers set for the opening of business. I’m usually twiddling my thumbs for the first thirty minutes after I’ve set up my cash drawer.
“Sorry I was late. I’ll try to be more prompt.”
“Craig, you’ve said that the last three times. It’s clear to me, as well as the other supervisors, you have little to no interest in making the Boston Bank and Trust your career path.”
“Wait a minute.” Craig sat up taller in his chair, feeling a bit too much like he was in the school principal’s office, about to get a lengthy detention. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying your time with us is finished. We’re looking for prospective financiers. People who want to be surrounded by money, let money work for them to create the ideal employment opportunity, become bank managers and investment experts.”
“But, sir, you’ve known from the start I didn’t want any of that.”
“Yes, Craig, I did. But you’re bright and you had a good resumé, so I let it go with the hope you’d change your attitude.”
“What are you saying?” Craig knew what was coming next, but he wasn’t about to make it easy for his soon-to-be former boss.
“It’s time to cut you loose, let you go. You need to find your way, Craig. Please clean out your drawer and I’ll escort you out.”
“No need. I never left anything here anyway. Maybe I always knew it would end like this.” Craig stood up tall and proud, dignity intact, backpack over his shoulder, and walked out.
The moment he was on the street, he took a cleansing breath and smiled rather than falling apart. Getting fired, with a little unemployment check to tide him over, felt amazing. The air smelled sweeter and the sun seemed brighter than it had in ages.
He opened his phone and hit the number one on his speed dial. “Jeff, pick up. We can meet earlier. I don’t need to be at work today. Can’t wait to tell you all about it.”
Closing the phone, Craig descended the escalator into the T Station at Government Center, ready to ride to Brighton and the comfort of his tiny apartment. It would be cramped with Jeff bunking in the minute living room/dining area, but somehow the thought of being greeted by the tall, slender, freckle-faced redhead gave Craig an energetic charge. He picked up the pace, looking forward to the dramatic greeting he’d soon get.
Getting fired was definitely not a bad thing at all. Craig wished he’d managed it months earlier.