“YOU called me ‘baby’,” Julian accuses, out of the blue. He’s sitting on the end of his bed in his boxers with one sock on, stretching the other one experimentally between his hands.
“Huh?” Fletcher replies, taken off guard in the middle of buttoning his shirt. He pauses and cocks his head suspiciously. “No I didn’t.”
“You did.” Julian isn’t making eye contact. He lifts his bare foot and wiggles his toes, tugging the sock over. He pulls it up his calf, taut, then smooths his hand meticulously over the fabric. “When I was sucking off your friend.”
“I’m pretty sure I didn’t,” Fletcher protests, trying to match Julian’s matter-of-fact tone. “Because—and anyway, so what if I did?”
“Nothing, nothing,” Julian says, but when Fletcher looks over to him, his mouth is twitching halfway into an infuriating little smile.
FLETCHER can’t decide whether buying books together makes them a couple. Maybe he doesn’t really care. Or shouldn’t care, anyway. Sleeping with his slightly younger personal assistant... that’s almost a rite of passage for a shark like him, sexuality aside. Bringing him on expensive dates is just a part of the expected etiquette of their arrangement. Spending a quiet afternoon together in a bookstore on the weekend? He’s not sure where that fits in.
At least overthinking it gives him a way to pass the time. He’s standing with his arms full of pulpy Star Trek novelizations while Julian runs his long fingers along the mismatched spines of the “General Fiction” section, mumbling authors to himself and generally taking his damned time.
Fletcher leans against the shelf Julian’s browsing in a slightly childish expression of boredom, shifting his paperbacks over to the other arm like they’re a burden. Cheek to the shelf, he watches Julian’s high brow furrow in consternation at whatever he’s reading on the back of the latest Stephen King before he slides it back into its place. Fletcher can’t help but smile at how particular the younger man is about everything.
It can be a double-edged sword, that quality in a P.A. On the one hand, if Fletcher asks first thing in the morning that there be a Montreal smoked meat sandwich (hot) on his desk at 11:45 a.m., eight minutes before his afternoon meetings are due to start, he can expect that it will be there, come hell or high water, and easy on the mustard just the way he likes it. On the other, it means that if he asks Julian to have some copy translated into French, the next day he’ll be facing down several stacks of paper explained by a cheeky little Post-it that reads: “Wasn’t sure which dialect you preferred, sir—J.”
That same quality in a lover? There, he has absolutely no complaints whatsoever.
They stand like that awhile, saying nothing, just enjoying the paper smell and the feeling of secretive closeness created by the book-cluttered shelves that loom over them. Seemingly without a clear sense of purpose, Julian strolls up and down along the narrow aisle, picking up books and putting them down again at random, his footsteps padded by the carpet. As he waits, Fletcher can’t help but fall back on admiring him: his short black hair with a hint of curliness, his dark brown eyes ringed by long lashes, his trim body in that perfectly tailored Hugo Boss suit, his sweet, pink mouth....
It’s taking him so damned long.
Fletcher, on the other hand... Fletcher is decisive, foolhardy, um, indiscriminate—Cynthia in PR would say, “Mr. Williams knows what he wants.” He’d just walked up to the sci-fi section and picked up the first three Spock covers he’d seen. He has a soft spot for Spock.
The quiet is broken when, without looking up from his scrutiny of the inside flap of a David Sedaris hardcover, Julian murmurs, “There he is again.”
Fletcher looks up and down the aisle in a falsely casual gesture, swallowing down fear and paranoia. “There’s who?” he hisses back. Last time he’d been followed, it was by an anarcho-communist with a chip on his shoulder and a paintball gun.
“Your friend,” Julian replies with an eye roll, face still ostensibly tilted down toward the book in his hands. “Three o’clock. Scarf Guy.”
Fletcher looks to three o’clock, and sure enough, there’s a man in a scarf standing there, poking around in the poetry anthologies. He’s young, maybe Julian’s age, wearing impossibly tight, gray, skinny jeans, bright high-top sneakers, and the eponymous overlong scarf drooped three or four times around his shoulders.
“Oh,” Fletcher says, a little self-conscious because Scarf Guy is actually pretty cute, in a wheedly-faced sort of way, like a high-fashion model. Not that he knows anything about that. “He’s not my friend.”
“He wants to be,” Julian quips back, licking his thumb and turning a page. “Wait for it… wait for it.... All right, now.”
Fletcher looks over in Scarf Guy’s direction, and surely enough, Scarf Guy is peeking at Fletcher out of the corner of his eye, pretending to be engrossed in The Complete Works of Pablo Neruda. Fletcher should be used to this kind of attention, especially from younger men for whom a little bit of gray at the temples is some form of aphrodisiac. Even ten years ago, still in his early thirties and in that awkward closeted space between frat boy and business mogul, Fletcher had attracted a fair bit of attention. Tall and built and brown-haired, it was his eyes and smile that did men in, the former an impossible-to-ignore pale blue, the latter more a smirk than anything else, an expression that told of a cocky man who’d earned the right to be. And excuse him saying so, but he’s only gotten better with age and with more expensive suits.
So Fletcher does the only thing he knows how to do and flashes Scarf Guy the most brilliant smile he can muster, amplified by the genuine glow of flattery.
Scarf Guy flushes up red and moves to raise his book to his face, but halfway up he fumbles it, once, twice, and it hits the floor with a comically loud thump. Fletcher wets his lips and tries not to laugh. He looks to Julian for help, but Julian is just staring into his book, wearing one of his ironclad poker faces.
Down the aisle, Scarf Guy reshelves his Neruda and turns on his heel, sharp, like he’s about to make an actual run for it, when Julian’s voice rings out clear and cold: “You might as well come introduce yourself. I can assure you he doesn’t bite.”
“Hard,” Fletcher wants to add, but doesn’t. Apparently, it’s bad form to flirt using stale movie quotes. So says Julian, anyway.
Scarf Guy stops, looking between Fletcher and Julian helplessly. Fletcher, confused a little as to what Julian’s playing at, just smiles and shrugs, eyes rolled up in a patronizing “Don’t ask me” expression. Scarf Guy tilts his head as if asking permission. Fletcher looks once more at Julian, who is still poking through the book in his hands, and makes an executive decision: hands in his pockets, he nods.