ALL I can say is, that Sunday wasn’t a dark and stormy night. Far from it.
In fact, the spring air was cool and dry, and the wind had settled into a gentle breeze through my bedroom window. It was around midnight, and I’d snuggled up in bed after a hot shower, reading what the papers had laughably called “a good book,” but which was boring me to sleep.
Maybe I should have been out clubbing, visiting friends, going to the movies. Something that twenty-year-old single men like to do, gay or not. After all, I was a sociable guy, right? I joked around at work, I chatted with the girls at reception, I bought cakes on colleagues’ birthdays, I enjoyed the scandals from the latest TV reality shows.
But when I went home to my own place, that was just what it was—mine—and I was happy with that. I liked company and dating, don’t get me wrong. But there wasn’t a hell of a lot of point to it when I hadn’t met anyone I really wanted for a very long time. My recent social life consisted of a few fun parties and a couple of casual relationships. But never anything that lasted.
Did I say I was happy with that? Well, I was, more or less. Enough of the navel-gazing. I yawned and wriggled down in the bed to get even cozier.
And then he was there.
A man, standing at the foot of my bed. Smiling at me.
My heart hammered, and for a second I couldn’t speak past the lump in my throat. I darted a glance at the bedroom door. It was closed. So was the window, apart from the thin opening at the top to let in the fresh air. How the hell had he got into my second-floor flat, let alone my bedroom?
Perhaps I was hallucinating. The cheese on toast I’d had for supper had been pretty pungent. Would pulling the duvet over my head look too weird? Well, no more weird than an uninvited man suddenly invading my personal space. And smiling at me.
“Hi,” he said. He wasn’t flirtatious like someone trying to pick me up in a bar. His smile wasn’t predatory. It was… warm with familiarity. Had to say, it was having a very warming effect on me. He was tall and lean, his dark hair tousled and his chocolate-brown eyes gazing at me as I clumsily pulled myself up to a sitting position. He was wearing a smart dress shirt with pale stripes and suit trousers that were creased at the tops of his legs as if he’d been in them all day at a desk. No necktie, and the top button of his shirt undone. The clothes didn’t hide the shape of a very fit body, or the confident way he held himself. He was good-looking in that haven’t-noticed-it-myself way that some self-assured men have. Super good-looking. And despite the suddenness of his appearance, he seemed perfectly relaxed, his arms by his sides.
“Hi there, gorgeous,” he said.
I blinked hard. I knew how I must look—tousled hair, hadn’t bothered shaving that second time before bed. I was wearing my favorite “Joe Internet” T-shirt, with ingrained tomato sauce stains on the misshaped hem, over a rather old pair of striped boxers. To say nothing of my Disney sleep socks, which thankfully were hidden under the sheets. “Um… hi.”
His eyes narrowed, though he was still smiling. “What’s up? I know I’m late, but I couldn’t call you.” For a moment, he looked puzzled. “I can’t recall the reason. Anyway, I’m sorry.”
I just stared. I was waiting for the Twilight Zone theme to stop playing in my head. “Um. It’s okay.”
“Are you sure?” He rubbed a hand across his eyes and peered around the room. “I’m not sure what time it is, I’m afraid. Did I wake you?”
I shook my head. This was bizarre, but no point in antagonizing him further.
“Good.” He looked reassured. “We both need our sleep since we have a long week ahead of us. There’s a hell of a lot of preparation to do for the Sherringham presentation. Much as I like you bringing me my morning cup of green tea, I’d better pass on it tomorrow. Need to get in early to the office.” He must have noticed my mouth hanging open because he frowned and took a step toward me. “Kevin? Is something else wrong?”
I shook my head again, feeling like one of those dogs on the back shelf of a car. “No. No problem. Um….” Inspired conversationalist, that was me. “’Night, then.”
He smiled again. “Good night.”
And he came right over to the bed and put his hand on the coverlet, as if to turn it down. On the other side of the bed. The empty side. The one beside me.
I think I might have yelped because his head jerked back up. I know I pulled the sheet up to my chest like some virginal heroine in a romance novel.
“There is something wrong.” He looked concerned now. “Are you really annoyed?” He kept his hand on the sheet but he didn’t move any closer. An expression of confusion flickered across his handsome face. “I don’t understand.”
You and me both. I could smell a familiar cologne and the fresh-laundered scent of his clothes. “Look. It’s just….” That conversational finesse of mine was way gone by now. I sucked in a breath, trying to calm my fast-beating heart. “I don’t know what you’re doing here.”
This time, the expression on his face wasn’t confusion but distress. The dark eyes widened, and his face flushed as if something had hurt him. As if I had, I suppose.
“I mean….” What did I mean? “I wasn’t expecting you. Tonight. Here.”
The change of phrase seemed easier for him to accept. He let go of the sheet and took a small step back, his puzzlement returning. “I can tell. I know what’s happening here.”
“Do you?” I blurted out.
He smiled, though a little sadly. “There’s still a lot about each other we need to learn.” Then, before I could anticipate what he was going to do, he leaned over me, cupped my face, and touched his lips to my cheek.
He was no ghost. Definitely. The caress was gentle, and his palm warm on my skin. His lips were moist and firm. Real lips. What’s more, my whole body flushed with a heat that owed nothing to the sleep socks and everything to desire. My hand lifted from the bed to touch him in return.
“Marcus…,” I whispered.
And then he was gone, just like that.
I sat there for minutes, not moving, not getting up to close the door after him or anything. Because it had never been open in the first place. I peered into the dim light of the bedroom for a while, but there was no hint left of him, no shadow, no lingering aura.
It was like he’d never been here at all.
I didn’t actually touch my cheek like they do in the films, but I could feel the imprint of his lips for a long time afterward. And I was in shock.
You see, I knew him. I expected to see him first thing tomorrow morning, at the start of a new week at work. I had a cubicle a few yards down the corridor from his office at the accountancy practice where we both worked. He was bright, determined, technically brilliant, and just as handsome as he’d appeared here tonight.
But I’d never have dared say anything about that aloud.
He was my new boss, Marcus Armstrong. And he’d barely spoken a dozen words to me since we started working together.