A Better Than Story
Matt Sullivan understands labels: law student, athlete, heterosexual. He has goals: graduate and begin his career in law. One fateful night, Matt tags along with his gay roommate to a dance club and everything changes. Matt finds himself attracted to the most beautiful man he's ever seen. All labels go flying out the window.
Aaron Mendez doesn't believe in labels, and he’s leery of straight curious men. He makes it clear that he’ll hide his fabulous light for no one. While Aaron can't deny the attraction between him and Matt, he is reluctant to start anything with someone who is still dealing with what this new label means—especially when that someone has a girlfriend.
Winner in the 2013 Rainbow Awards.Sixth: Best Gay DebutTenth: Best Gay Contemporary Romance (William Neale Award)
IT WAS early October. The clawing heat of a DC summer had finally given way to a glorious cool crisp autumn evening. I had been out with a big group of friends, which had dwindled to four as the night wore on. My friend Curt was one of the four, and he made a call for the remaining partiers to head over to Club Indigo in Dupont Circle. Curt was gay and was probably horny and ready to play. The rest of us were just tipsy enough to go along with him and have another drink or two before climbing into taxis to take us back across the river to Georgetown and our humble apartment near the university.
I’d been with Curt to clubs and gay bars on occasion. I just figured he was always willing to hang with us at sports bars and local straight haunts, so why not return the favor and keep him company? Besides, he was schnockered that night, and we agreed he needed adult supervision until we could persuade him to go home.
There was a small line at the club entrance. It felt invigorating to stand out in the cool autumn night and drink in the fresh air for a minute. I remember thinking it was a good thing the line was short or we would have set aside our kind intentions to keep Curt company. The atmosphere was definitely different in that part of town. It had a vibe all its own. And at one in the morning, the streets on and near the Circle belonged to the gays. Curt happily pointed out the leather daddies, twinks, and just plain hunky guys as we waited. I was amused, but I could tell Dave and Jason were uncomfortable and beginning to regret our impetuousness.
We paid the cover, and three of us headed toward the bar while Curt made a beeline for the main dance floor. The sound inside the club was deafening. The music had a jungle-like beat I could feel vibrate through my entire body. And the lights were a flashing display of color, making it difficult to focus unless you were inches away from whomever you were trying to get close to. A drink would help. I ordered a vodka soda and then made my way through the crowd to a short set of stairs leading to the dance floor below. I figured the height would allow me to scope out Curt while I waited for Dave and Jason to pick up our drinks.
Someone brushed past me in his effort to move from the bar area down to the main dance floor. He danced around me near the floor’s edge as though he was trying to make his way toward center stage. There was something in the way he moved that caught my eye. He was liquid and sure in his movements, and I could see from the hot stares of the crowd around me that I wasn’t the only one mesmerized. His hair was black in the dark club, but I couldn’t clearly see what he looked like unless I moved down toward the main level. I looked back toward the bar and saw Dave hand signal that he was still waiting for the drinks. I gave him a brief nod and then found myself moving down the steps. I didn’t intend to follow this guy, but I wanted to see his small, lithe body move up close.
I had lost him in the crowd of sweaty, scantily clad, sexy men gyrating to a Lady Gaga song, and was about to turn back to the bar when I caught sight of him a second time. The light was better where I stood, and as I got my first good look at him, my breath literally caught in my chest. I had never seen anyone, male or female, so beautiful in my life. His hair was so dark it may as well have been black. He swung his hands above his head, and his long, straight bangs fell into his right eye as his head fell forward. His hips never stopped moving. He was wearing clothes meant to show his body to perfection: tight dark jeans and a tight fire-engine red V-neck T-shirt. He was much shorter than my own six one. I guessed him to be about five eight, tops. He seemed a bit on the thin side, but toned, as though he spent some time in the gym.
I watched as he opened his eyes and leaned in closer to hear something a boy dancing near him said. He smiled at the boy and then turned to look directly at me.
I swear the noise and vibrations of the club went suddenly silent. Men may have been dancing, talking, laughing above the din of the music, but in my head it was quiet. Crazy, right? He was still staring in my direction, but my feet wouldn’t move. Should I be moving toward him, away from him? I was paralyzed. He made the decision for me. In an instant he was inches away from me, and I could see I had been completely correct. This guy was stunning.
I guess some backstory about me might be helpful. I was twenty-four and finishing law school at Georgetown while interning at a prestigious law firm downtown. I was hoping to be hired when I graduated in the spring next year. I had a great group of friends who were largely struggling students like me. All of us, for the most part, had great educations and were hopeful to find real jobs in a crappy economy.
Oh… and I had a girlfriend. I was straight. Didn’t I mention that?
I couldn’t remember ever feeling so drawn to anyone, though, and the partial truth was that I was more than half-drunk. So I decided to not question what it meant to be a straight guy dancing with a gay man. I decided go with the flow. This was something I could blame on Curt if it ever got thrown in my face. You’re supposed to dance at dance clubs, and really, that was all I was doing. So what if the guy I was dancing with was smoking hot?
I didn’t have any recriminating thoughts going through my head while we were dancing. I was truly mesmerized. I had never seen anyone who could move like this guy. He was seriously sexy. His hips never stopped, and his hands were in constant motion. I wondered, strangely, if he was a hand talker. I wondered what his voice sounded like. Now that I was so close to him, I could see he was of Latin decent, which made me wonder where he was from and if he spoke with an accent. I wondered how old he was and if he was attached. Geez, maybe his boyfriend was an old geezer who liked watching his hot young thing dance with other men, or maybe he was outside for a smoke and I was going to get my ass kicked when he returned and found me drooling over his guy. Sure, I would explain that I was straight, and he’d get a huge laugh at the straight guy who couldn’t take his eyes off his lover.
I admit a lot of stupid thoughts crashed and collided in my head as we moved closely on the overcrowded dance floor. It was as though I could tell this first meeting was something out of the ordinary. I’d had those moments before, but never with a person. For instance, I remember receiving acceptance letters from Columbia and Georgetown Law Schools and knowing instinctively that Georgetown was where I would go. I was not a “go by the seat of your pants, let fate take you where it will” kind of a guy. I was a planner. A methodical planner at times. However, I’d learned to trust my gut.
As I did my best to not embarrass myself on the floor with my superior dance partner, I also tried to remind myself to stay in my buzz-addled happy place and to not overthink. This was just a lark. A bit of fun before finally heading home for the night and dealing with the inevitable hangover in the morning.
Our difference in height should have been awkward. I was easily five inches taller than him. Where he was slender and fine-boned, I was broad shouldered and built like the former college quarterback I was. However, I got the impression he could have danced with anyone and no one would notice his partner, no matter how good-looking they were. And although I knew I was considered better than average looking, he was extraordinary.
The lights dimmed and the beat slowed dramatically, but I caught my partner’s incredible smile as he signaled me to follow him and made a get-a-drink motion. I kept close to him as we exited the floor without actually touching him, although I was very aware that my fingers itched to curl into his belt loops and draw my hand along the olive skin exposed just above his low-waisted jeans.
We made it to the main bar, and I watched him wiggle his way with a breathtaking smile or a gentle touch as he pushed through the three-person-deep line to make his way to the front and placed himself right in front of a bartender who was seemingly just delivering his last order. He looked back at me and smiled again. I gave him a little wave, but was suddenly feeling a bit silly. What was I doing? I took a minute to glance around the club, trying to spot my buddies in the mass of bodies. I guessed Curt was dancing, but I would have bet Dave and Jason were somewhere near the bar. I thought I spotted them but was distracted by a hand on my forearm.
“Hey. I didn’t know what you drank, so I just got two kamikazes. Cheers!”
He leaned in to speak in my ear as he handed the glass over. No foreign accent, I mused. A nice voice, though, and a fucking heart-stopping smile. His eyes positively seemed to light up when he gave that beautiful smile, and although I couldn’t ever remember noticing such a thing before, I wanted to tell him so. I wanted to say, “Wow, you have the nicest smile, you have the most gorgeous eyes, you must be the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen.” Thankfully, I didn’t embarrass myself quite that badly. Instead, I took the offered glass and returned his smile.
“Thanks. That was really nice of you.”
Okay. That was lame. But I was practically tongue-tied. I didn’t know what to say or how to act suddenly. It was like I was a freshman in high school trying to make time with a varsity cheerleader. Only the same-sex version. Luckily, he saved me.
“I haven’t seen you here before. First time?”
“Yeah. You come here often?”
I did not just say that.
Oh boy. I needed to make an exit or be saved by one of my friends fast. I was a drowning man. I wanted to blame it on the alcohol, but I think I realized it was just me. I was really nervous. Ugh!
He didn’t laugh at me, though. He just gave me a small grin and sipped his drink. I noticed the way his straight black hair fell into his eyes, and I felt a very real impulse to brush it away for him. I watched him swing his head back and use only his thumb to tame his bangs. Strangely, I found the movement graceful.
“Often enough, I guess. What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you, Aaron. Thank you for the drink.”
“You’re welcome. Don’t be offended, but I have to ask. You seem a little out of your comfort zone…. Are you here on a bet?”
I think I almost spit up half my kamikaze, but I managed to swallow it at the last second. Nice save.
“Ha! Actually I’m here with some friends. Total free-willing participants. It’s great here,” I added, “just loud.”
I know I am a former jock and probably look the type. I stay fit and eat right, for the most part. However, I’m not and never have been a stereotypical beer-guzzling, good-time party jock who probably got hit one too many times playing ball in college. I have a brain and can usually hold my end of a decent conversation. Why not tonight?
“Whoa! We have been looking for you, man!” Well, here was my escape. I could see Jason and Dave making their way from the other end of the packed bar toward Aaron and me.
Aaron noticed my buddies too. He looked over my right shoulder as they approached and then leaned up to say something in my left ear, gesturing at the same time for me to come down to his height.
“Nice to meet you, Matt.”
And then he kissed my cheek and turned back toward the dance floor. I was shocked, which was a little silly, but I hadn’t expected the kiss. I felt like I’d been cheated a bit. I wanted him to come back and do it again. Maybe this time I’d move my head and he’d catch my lips instead.
He quickly disappeared into the sea of gyrating bodies, thumping music, and flashing lights. I nodded to my friends, who I was sure hadn’t seen the kiss, and followed them outside.
We gave a collective sigh as we breathed in the first bit of cool early morning DC air. It felt great to be outside after fighting the press of people inside the busy club.
“Hey, Matt, who’s your boyfriend?” Dave teased. Jason was flagging down a taxi, but he heard Dave and had to add his own jab.
“Kinda hot, Matt. Should we warn Kristin she’s got some competition?” Jason jeered.
“Ha-ha,” I replied in my best deadpan voice. “Where’s Curt? Are we leaving him here?”
“Said he found a hot date. Let’s go. My buzz is fading, and I’d like to be back in hetero land before it’s gone and I’m sober, wondering what the fuck I’m doing at a gay club on a Saturday night,” Dave groused.
I barely remember the cab ride home, but the hangover I’d expected the following day did not disappoint. I’m fairly certain I woke up at noon, downed some aspirin, and chased it with a sports drink before I parked myself on my sofa in front of the big screen television to watch a day’s worth of football. Dave and Curt were my roommates. They were in the same state as me, and we were likeminded in our quest for football, greasy food, and a little hair of the dog that afternoon. Jason lived nearby with his girlfriend, Chelsea. They were a serious couple. We all joked that Jase’s night out with us had cost him the next day with both a hangover and a girl to nag at him about how much football a guy could possibly watch. Poor bastard.
I know there is an elephant in the room. I said I had a girlfriend. What was the deal?
Her name was Kristin. She was finishing her undergrad at Georgetown. We’d met about a year ago at a party somewhere near campus. Sweet, pretty, and not terribly demanding of my time, she was the perfect girlfriend for me. We called each other boyfriend and girlfriend, but I think it was almost more of an acknowledgement that we had barely any time for our classes, internships, and friends, let alone screwing around, even with each other. The sheer convenience of a date and sex when we were able to get together was probably the biggest reason we were together at all.
Don’t get me wrong. I liked Kristin a lot, but I had no illusions of this being a life-changing relationship. I was not ready to pick out china patterns, and I really hoped she wasn’t thinking along those lines either.
I was sprawled out on the sofa when Dave announced he could hear my phone. I begged him to bring it to me. It landed hard on my chest when he chucked it at me. I’d missed the call anyway. “Missed call from Kristin,” the screen read. Hmm. I figured I’d deal with her later. I wasn’t in the mood to chat in my current condition.
“Was that Kristin? Making sure you didn’t bring any hot guys home last night?” Curt wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. “I meant for me, of course. But then I guess you’d just be helping out a friend, so she’d probably be cool with that, right?”
“I didn’t think you needed any help, Curtster. We were all sound asleep when you finally made your way home,” I reminded him.
“Yeah right. More like you were all passed out, asshole. I didn’t stay much longer than you anyway.”
He took a swig of beer from the bottle and then paused to give me an “I’m serious” look when he heard “mmm-hmm” in reply.
“Saw you dancing with a sexy boy, though.” Curt’s eyebrows were wiggling again. “That guy is seriously hot. I’ve seen him a few times around the Circle. He is fiiinnne. Did you get his name?”
“Well, I didn’t ask him out or anything but yeah, we exchanged names.”
“What’s his name, jackass? Geez!”
“I don’t remember. We just danced, as you well know. Or was I supposed to introduce you?” My voice had taken on a raspy quality indicative of too much fun the night before.
“Yes! Bad friend! I’ve explained my strategy to you dumb shits countless times. If I’m going to have straight so-called friends come to gay establishments with me, they should make themselves useful. I mean, you guys are all somewhat decent-looking, and if a hot guy like your new friend starts hitting on you, it is your duty as a good friend to set him straight, so to speak, and send him my way. Why do I need to remind you boys? I do the same for you when I’m out with you guys. Girls love gay boys.”
“Sorry. My bad. Don’t get your panties in a twist. We just danced. It’s not like I was ‘getting to know him’.” I threw air quotes around the last part just to annoy Curt.
“You danced for a while, though,” Curt mused.
“He’s right,” Dave agreed. He brought a fresh round of beers with him. I took one and closed my eyes. I was just starting to feel human again.
“Right about what exactly? We danced. It’s a dance club. End of story. Next time I’ll get numbers for you. ’Kay? Now shut up and watch the game.”
“Hmm. Okay, big guy. Whatever you say.” Curt seemed to be placating me, but I was just happy he agreed to move on.
I don’t know why I didn’t tell Curt the truth. Aaron. Of course I remembered his name. All I could think of was Aaron. It baffled me. It really had been the most casual of experiences, just as I’d told my friends. No big deal. So why, when I should be thinking about my classes tomorrow and even answering my cell when my girlfriend called, was I thinking about Aaron at all? I didn’t have any answers, and I wasn’t sure my head was clear yet anyway, so I decided to put off thinking of any sort for the rest of the day.
A WEEK later, I still found myself thinking about him. I was replaying the moment we first caught each other’s eye and everything went quiet in my mind. It seemed like a sign or something. And these constant thoughts made me wonder about him. Where was he from? Where did he work? Was he with anyone? My sudden obsession didn’t make sense. Maybe I really just needed to get laid. I hadn’t seen Kristin at all that week, although we talked a little. Maybe I was just horny, and thinking about the last hot person I’d been around was doing something to me. The fact that it was a man instead of a woman didn’t bother me nearly as much as I would have thought.
The following Saturday, I walked up to Kristin’s townhouse to pick her up for a date. I put more effort into my appearance than I normally would have. I gelled my wavy dark-blond hair, which probably could have used a cut, and wore a blue button-down shirt Kristin said matched my eyes. It had been a while and I was worried about my blue balls. Kristin and I didn’t have the type of relationship where we could just say what we wanted. We were polite to one another. It was old-fashioned, but she was pretty conservative, so I figured this was how she wanted it. We’d make a date a few days ahead of time, have a nice dinner and sometimes go to a movie, and then have sex, usually back at her place. The sex was nice. Not earth-shattering, but somewhat regular, so I didn’t mind. I didn’t spend the night often. Neither of us seemed interested in the overnight thing anyway. I guess that night I was hoping whatever happened between Kristin and me would keep me from thinking anymore about Aaron.
Kristin opened the door before I had a chance to knock. She was dressed in tight jeans with high-heeled black boots and a long orange sweater that complemented her honey-colored hair. She looked stylish and beautiful. And she looked happy to see me.
“Hey there, stranger.” She reached out to touch my hand, and I moved the rest of the way in to kiss her softly on her lips. She seemed to have a lot of gloss or something on, and I didn’t want to taste it on my own lips for the next hour.
“How are you? Hungry? I was thinking maybe we could try that new Italian place on M Street. I made a reservation, but if you feel like something else, that’s cool too.”
I was doing my best to accommodate my date. She never told me what she felt like eating. Ever. It was probably something she didn’t realize she did, but when it came to food, whether it was take home or out for a meal, Kristin always deferred to me. I’d come to realize that if I didn’t want to play the “I don’t care, what do you feel like?” game when we went out, I needed to take matters into my own hands. She never disagreed about the places I chose either. You would think that I loved this easygoing culinary attitude, but honestly I felt like I was walking on eggshells. I would actually have preferred she give an honest opinion, so I was not solely responsible for food choices. She had plenty of other opinions, but for whatever reason she was never willing to share her dining preferences with me. Weird.
“Sounds great. Let me grab my bag. I’m ready to go.”
She joined me on the sidewalk outside her place a few minutes later and reached out to hold my hand. My car key was in that hand, though, so we did a clumsy dance as the key pinched her skin and her giant bag (with God only knows what in it) fell from her other arm, and I finally clued in that I was the cause. We both gave an awkward laugh and tried again. This already felt difficult. Why couldn’t this be uncomplicated? As in “we haven’t seen each other all week, let’s do it first and then worry about the rest”? I sound like a caveman, I know, but I was beginning to get a sinking feeling that, even if the evening went the way I thought it would, I still wouldn’t be getting Aaron out of my head tonight.
The quick recap went as follows: dinner, back to Kristin’s place for a drink, and yes, sex. A nice night, sure, but I was on my way home before eleven and not at all ready for bed. I called Curt at the last minute before I turned onto our street to see where everyone was. Curt answered on the third ring.
“Yell-oo!” Curt sounded a little gone and was obviously in a very loud bar. A gay bar? Only one way to find out.
“Where are you? Is Dave out with you?”
“No, he had a date. How did yours go? Couldn’t have been that great if you’re calling me before midnight. I hope you at least got some.” He didn’t sound drunk anymore at all. Just annoying. And truthfully, part of me had been hoping to go save him and run into Aaron again while I was at it.
“Where are you? You need my mad straight-guy skills to help land you a little nookie?”
“You are such a kind and thoughtful friend, Matt. I’m at the Zodiac Bar. I don’t need your so-called straight-guy skills, but come join us anyway.”
He hung up before I could ask whom he was with. Some of his gay friends are really cool and some are just not. Whatever. One drink I could handle, and it would keep me from going home to an empty apartment or having to listen to Dave and his date going at it if the apartment wasn’t empty after all. Yeah, the Zodiac was sounding better by the second.
The Zodiac Bar was a cool little gay-friendly pub in the city off of Logan. It was on a quieter street and on the small side, but it was pretty hip inside. Very sleek and trendy, with a huge fireplace lit with colored glass rocks and small ottomans used as moveable seats on one end, and a gorgeous glass bar with cool backlights just opposite. I checked my reflection before I walked in, and figured the khakis and button-down shirt would do. I wasn’t looking for a date, just a drink, I reminded myself.
I spotted Curt at a small corner table with two other guys who I think were named Randy and Dan. I nodded in his direction and then headed for the bar for my much-needed drink. Of course he was with Randy and Dan. They were cool but kind of camp. I needed a liquid equalizer. I ordered a vodka tonic from an extraordinarily good-looking bartender. I heard the patron next to me give a small laugh as my arm was gently jostled.
“Yeah, he’s hot, alright.”
“Uh, hey…,” I stammered. It was Aaron.
What were the odds that the one person I’d been thinking about for an entire week and figured I’d probably never see again was standing next to me? I felt suddenly warm all over and had a very real fear I wouldn’t be able to articulate an intelligent thought. I didn’t understand my attraction to this guy.
He looked from the bartender back to me, and recognition dawned across his face.
“We danced last week, right? We met. How funny.” He shifted his body so he fully faced me and gave me a good once over. “I forgot your name. I’m sorry. I’m Aaron.”
“Oh yes. Matt. Matt, who looked like he lost a bet Matt. And here you are a week later in—” He did a dramatic side-to-side glance around the bar, his hands gesturing alongside. “—yep, a gay bar. Maybe you weren’t coerced after all, Matt?”
His face was so beautiful, and his eyes were twinkling to let me know he was teasing me. I once again found myself under his spell and belatedly aware that he was waiting for me to speak. Somehow I found my voice, although I had to clear my throat before the words would come.
“I’m here with a friend. Actually, the same friend I was with last week at the club too.”
He rolled his eyes but smiled again.
“I owe you a drink. What would you like?” I was scrambling, hoping to keep him talking to me. He considered me for a minute before answering.
“Alright. I’ll have a cosmo, please.”
The gorgeous bartender appeared, and just as I was about to place Aaron’s order, he leaned across the counter and grabbed Aaron lightly by his collar. Aaron met him midway and they kissed. Not a passionate lover-like kiss, but a more-than-friends kind of kiss.
“JoJo, honey, this nice guy is buying me a cosmo. Heavy on the good stuff, please.” Aaron batted his eyelashes at the tall, dark, handsome, and super-muscular bartender. They would look good together, I mused. JoJo, or Joe probably, set my drink in front of me with a wink.
“Sure thing, babe.” Joe gave Aaron a bit of a lecherous look before he stepped away to make the cocktail.
“Your boyfriend?” I couldn’t help asking.
Aaron giggled, his eyes still twinkling.
“No. I don’t have a boyfriend. JoJo is a flirt. Luckily his boyfriend knows that.”
I figured I probably shouldn’t ask any other Joe-the-bartender questions. I was confused enough as it was.
“I’m going to guess you have a girlfriend, though. Am I right?” Aaron’s eyes were now lit with challenge, as if to say, “Don’t lie, I’ll know the truth anyway.” I stalled for a minute, taking a drink of my vodka.
“Yeah, sort of. I mean, we aren’t serious, but yeah, I guess.” Poor Kristin. I was sure she’d love to hear the ringing endorsement I was giving us, especially since I’d just been in her bed a couple hours ago. What a dick. What was my problem?
“Nice. I’d love to hear her side. I bet she’s all in looove. Are you one of those curious guys? Want to know if you might, just maybe, could possibly like cock and probably should give it a try before you get hitched and move out to the suburbs to start a family? Maybe just get it out of your system?” He was deliberately taunting me now. And it was working.
“Down, boy,” Joe admonished Aaron as he set his drink down. “Leave the poor guy alone. He’s just buying a drink, not a house in the country.”
“Sorry. You’re right. I’m rude. What’s new? Oops, you don’t know me. I’ll try to be good, starting now. So… tell me, Matt, what’s your story? Are you a student, a young business type, a politician in training? Where are you from, how old are you, what is your last name, your favorite color, what do you like doing in your spare time, which suburb do you see yourself moving to when you finally do settle down with your girl, and how many kids will you have?”
Aaron finally stopped talking long enough to take a drink of his cosmo, and then he gave me an expectant look when I didn’t respond immediately to his barrage of questions.
“Okay. Let’s see. I’ll tell you my story if you tell me yours. Agreed?” When Aaron nodded in agreement, I went on. “Well, you packed a lot of questions in there. Let me know if I miss something.
“I’m finishing my law degree at Georgetown and am interning with Lawton, Hughes, Banks, and Kelleford. It looks like I will have a position with them when I graduate, too, which is beyond amazing to me. I’m from Pittsburgh originally, my family is all there and it’s home, but I like the energy here. I’m not moving back anytime soon or probably ever. I’m twenty-four. My last name is Sullivan. Favorite color? Hmm, I guess blue.” I paused when I heard Aaron snort and mumble “original.” I raised my eyebrows.
He gestured with his hands. “Go on, I’m on the edge of my seat. Don’t stop now.”
“Well, since you’re so interested, I will. Let’s see, where was I?”
“Hobbies and settling down with your new wife, I think,” Aaron suggested innocently.
“Well, I love sports. Especially football, baseball, and basketball. But my real passion is music. I play guitar. Actually, there’s a bar by the college where I play once in a while with a friend of mine just for fun. And as for the last question, smartass… I don’t see myself settling down in the suburbs anytime soon. I’m not marrying anyone anytime soon either. I’d love to have kids someday, yeah, but who knows how many? I imagine my partner will want some say in that number too. Your turn.”
“Very nice, Mr. Sullivan. I’d love to reciprocate, but it looks like your friend, or just someone who desperately wants your attention, is waving at you.”
Sure enough, Curt was on his feet, waving in my direction. I didn’t want to break this contact with Aaron, so I waved at Curt but made no motion to join him at the table. Of course he came to the bar instead. I introduced him to Aaron. He looked so funny with his curiosity plain as day on his face. I loved keeping him in suspense, but even if I was inclined to share, I wouldn’t know what to say. “Don’t mind me, Curt, I’m just trying to make some time with Aaron here” would probably do the job, but I wasn’t quite sure about what I was doing.
“Hey, we’re heading to Tango to meet up with one of Randy’s work buddies. You coming with?” Curt asked.
“You go on. I’ll meet you over there.” I didn’t think my response through, I just went with what I wanted. And I wanted to talk to Aaron.
Curt gave me a short nod with a funny look I couldn’t quite read but was sure I’d hear all about later. “Okay, then. Nice meeting you, Aaron.”
“You too,” Aaron replied politely. He waited until Curt was out of earshot and then turned back to me.
“I’m very curious about you, straight boy. Why are you here with me? Or—” He paused with dramatic effect. “—are you curious and not so straight? Hmm.” He turned quickly and began to walk away. “Let’s go take their table. I’ll answer all your questions if you’re still interested in moi.” I found myself staring at his back with my mouth open. Rendered speechless again.
I followed him to Curt’s vacant table in time to overhear Aaron wheeling and dealing with another patron for first rights to sit. The bar was getting busier and this looked to be the last empty and somewhat private table.
“I’m so sorry, doll. Our friends were just leaving this table for us. Did you see them? They should have stayed till we got our drinks sorted, but they were in such a hurry!”
“I was here first” was the unimpressed reply from a bored-looking young hipster.
“Not really,” Aaron insisted stubbornly.
“It’s cool. We can go back to the bar.” I didn’t want to get in an argument with a stranger over a table he’d obviously gotten to first.
Aaron gave me a fierce scowl. Actually, it just made him look adorable, but I’m sure the message was for me to keep quiet and let him handle the situation.
“My boyfriend was just explaining to me that he thinks he’s bi and I’m trying to cope. I can’t cope at the bar. I need this table.” Aaron’s eyes filled and the guy looked alarmed.
“Whoa, don’t cry. You take it.” The stranger gave Aaron a sympathetic parting glance before turning to glare at me. “Asshole.”
“Hey!” I was offended. And boyfriend? I looked down at Aaron, who was now happily perched on a stool at the much sought-after table. He looked positively smug. And adorable. I sighed and took a seat.
“Really? You wanted the table that badly?”
“Yep. My feet are killing me and there was only one of him and two of us. He should thank us. He’ll meet more potential beaus at the bar, not sitting here in the dark. He was practically being a wallflower!” Aaron’s hands were flying a mile a minute as he shared his convoluted logic with me.
“You are devious.” I had to laugh out loud at the very self-satisfied expression on his face. It was much darker at this table than it had been at the bar. A single votive lit his face. The candlelight suited him. “I guess you have a story to tell now. Your turn,” I prompted.
“I can’t remember the questions, remind me, or better yet, just ask me new ones. Much more exciting that way.”
“Okay. Um, let’s see. What do you do? I mean for a living? Where were you born? How long have you lived here? What nationality are you? Brothers or sisters? What’s your favorite band or singer? Favorite TV show? Um, I can’t think of anything else. Go ahead. Answer away.” I leaned back and noticed him watching me intently. His bangs fell into his eye again, and my fingers yearned to touch him. Talking was better. “Well? I answered yours. Your turn.”
“I have a quirky memory, but I’ll do my best here.” He gave an exaggerated cough and began. “I work as an editorial assistant at a fashion mag. You didn’t ask but I love fashion. Specifically fashion photography. I try to get my editor to loan me out to our lead photographers to assist them when it’s slow in her office.”
“So you want to be a photographer?” I interrupted. That sounded very interesting and for some reason, I wanted to know why.
“Yes. I do it as a hobby for now because I need to pay the rent, so for the time being, that’s all it can be. I’m trying to build a portfolio, but it’s just a work in progress at this point. So… now that I’m completely distracted, what exactly was the next question?”
“What do you like about photography? If you could make a living at it, would you want to freelance or what? I’m interested.” Aaron gave me a dubious look. “Really,” I assured him, “tell me.”
“I love that a moment is captured and a story can be told all with one single shot. If a photographer is truly great, you want to go back time and again to look at that photo and see what you may have missed after the first peek. I would love to be sought after and unique enough that I could freelance at a high level. But that’s a dream, Matty. Bills must be paid. And stop interrupting me. I’ll be talking about me all night if you’re not careful. You’ll be bored to tears, asleep on this very popular table, and if anyone I know comes by, I’ll never live it down. ‘Aaron talks guy into catatonic state.’ I can hear them now.” I noticed, as he wound himself up at the end with his little speech, that his hands were moving at record speed and his effeminate vocal affectation went up several notches. I guessed I’d caught him off guard asking about something he was passionate about. Interesting.
“Matty? You called me Matty.” I gave him my best annoyed expression and saw Aaron’s shoulders visibly shift downward. He was relaxed again, and I was inordinately pleased with myself. “Okay, Aaron, please continue. But first tell me, what’s your last name?”
“Mendez. And I’m Puerto Rican. I believe that was one of your questions. Full-blooded. Both parents from there and sí, yo hablo español.” He gave me a very Americanized Spanish accent, but I would bet his Spanish was impeccable.
“Were you born there? In Puerto Rico?”
“No. I’m from a little town outside Baltimore called Ellicott. Almost local. It’s just an hour away. Forty-five minutes if there isn’t a smidge of traffic. My parents were both born in PR, though. My mom came over when she was really little and my father was in his early twenties. He learned to speak English when he was younger, but his accent is still pretty thick.”
“Three. Two older sisters, Maria and Tess, and a younger brother, Paul. And moving on and away from family fun… I love Project Runway, Heidi is adorable, but honestly I think Nina is my favorite. I love people who say it like it is, you know? And I love America’s Next Top Model. Tyra is great, right?”
Huh? I didn’t know. I had lost him at Project something, and I didn’t know who Heidi and Nina were. I thought he said his sisters were Maria and Tess.
“I’m not sure about that, but let’s stay on track. I think we move onto music. Who is your favorite band or your favorite singer?” I asked.
“I’m a huge Gaga fan. And I love Rihanna! Oh, and Adele too. And….”
Our tastes in music were polar opposite; however, music was a subject I could discuss for hours. And before I knew it, we had done just that. We talked about music in movies and television. Jazz music, American standards, commercial jingles, and even musicals. Aaron seemed to know a little bit about most genres and was passionate about those he liked the best. His enthusiasm was contagious. He was easy company and the time flew. A quick look at my watch told me it was after 2:00 a.m. The bar would be offering last call soon. I needed to get home. I had a ton of work to do for school next week. But I was reluctant to leave my new friend.
“Whoa! I had no idea it was so late. I should get going. Can I give you a lift home? Do you live nearby?”
Aaron smiled a little tiredly.
“No, I’m good. I live close. I feel like a short walk.”
“I’m not letting you walk home alone in the middle of the night. Let me take you home. Just drop you off, okay?”
“Well, since you’re being so chivalrous, I shouldn’t refuse. Thanks.”
We headed out of the still-packed bar and into the cool early morning air. It felt great, and I had to admit I felt great. I had honestly enjoyed just talking with Aaron. He was funny, interesting, and very intelligent. Our conversation ranged from music to movies to politics. I was more than a little sorry for our time together to end.
We walked the short distance to my car in silence, and he gave me directions to his place, which definitely was very nearby. I still felt better taking him home at this time of night/morning. The radio was on. Aaron heard the classic rock tune and scoffed.
“Yuck.” He changed it to a techno-sounding song. “Better,” he said and started to hum along. I should have been really irritated by his over familiarity, but I found myself mildly intrigued with his force of personality. And I could handle the techno crap for a two-minute drive.
“Thank you, thank you, kind sir. Here is my humble abode. I’m much too tired to invite you up, and I’m not that kind of girl. Actually, scratch that last part. But I am tired. It’s been great hanging out with you, Matty. See you around.”
He blew an air kiss in my direction and turned to open the car door. I stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. He turned back to face me, and suddenly we were much closer than we had been since our first dance at the club. Our eyes met, and I moved in closer still. I noticed for the first time that he was wearing eyeliner. His eyes were beautiful either way. They were a true hazel, and even in the darkened car interior, I could see the flecks of brown and green.
He moved the smallest bit closer and our lips touched. Our eyes were still open, and our lips just touched. The air suddenly felt electric in the small car. One of us moaned, and that was it. Our lips sealed in a true kiss, our eyes closed, and I moved my left arm to bring him closer to me. I needed to touch him. He licked over my bottom lip. My whole body reacted as I opened my lips to let him in. Our tongues danced and swirled. It was frenzied and passionate, like nothing I’d felt kissing anyone ever. My hands moved over his face and through his dark hair. It was soft to the touch. I shifted my hands to the nape of his neck to hold him closer as I deepened the kiss. He groaned into my mouth, and I could feel it throughout my body. I was more turned-on than even a hot kiss should call for. And it ended too soon. He pulled away from me and gently pushed me back.
“Wow, Matty. That was some good night kiss.” Aaron let out an exaggerated sigh and once again reached for the door handle. “I’ll see you around.”
“Can I get your number?” I held my breath for a second. I wanted him to want to see me again too. But I had no idea what I was thinking. To what end?
“Matt.” He paused and looked into my eyes. “Why? I’m not sure if it was apparent to you or not, but I’m gay. I’m out, I’m proud. You are maybe iffy about the gay part, bi, or just curious, I don’t know. But you aren’t out or proud. And you told me you have a girlfriend. I don’t know why you want my number. I like you and I loved just talking to you tonight, but really.”
“Aaron.” I had to try one more time. “Please. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing here. I admit it. I’ve been thinking about you nonstop for a week. And somehow I run into you again tonight. We spend the evening talking. Look, I don’t know why, but I’m….” I couldn’t think of anything else to say. Frustration was eating at me. It was silent in the car for a minute, just the sound of us breathing.
Aaron sighed heavily again.
“Okay. Give me your phone number and I’ll call you so you have it in your received calls. Good? But Matt….” He paused and looked into my eyes with a very serious expression. “I’m not playing games. You’re hot and you seem like a good guy. Against my better judgment, I like you. But you have baggage, my friend. And I prefer to travel lightly.”
He took my number and called it from his cell. Then he looked at me meaningfully before getting out of the car.
“Good night, Matty. Take care.”
I leaned across the center partition and watched as he opened the door to his apartment building. Once he was safely inside, I sat back in my seat and put my head on the steering wheel. I let the waves of confusion and frustration wash over me before I pulled slowly away from the curb.
WOW!!! Excellent!!! Lane Hayes is a debut author and she has more than delivered with Better Than Good…
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Better Than Good was a really sweet read. It’s one of those feel good stories, one that when you get to the end you’re not ready for it to be over.
Nice slow development of the love story
I enjoy a well written "coming of age", so to speak, story as much as the next person. It's always rather fascinating to me how a man can view himself as one hundred percent straight, but still notice the attractiveness of another man. In my eyes that leaves the straight factor up in the air to a certain degree. Certainly in 'Better than Good' where in the beginning my impression of Matt was as a total WASP, but deep down he had multiple shades of gray swirling around.
Matt is a meticulous planner, from where to go to graduate school to what law firm he will work at when he finishes. Matt didn't expect the utter distraction that is Aaron into his life. Matt met Aaron when he went to a gay bar with his roommate. All Matt noticed was that Aaron was the most beautiful person he had ever seen, man or woman. Next thing Matt knows he can't stop thinking about Aaron, and running into him again and spending hours talking isn't helping keep Aaron out of Matt's thoughts.
Aaron is mostly amused but a little intrigued by Matt. Aaron is an editorial assistant for a fashion magazine and he is gay, out and proud. He doesn't see any point in spending more time with a guy who seems mostly confused about what he wants. But Aaron can't deny the attraction between them and he does enjoy spending time with Matt. It took me a little longer to warm up to Aaron because I was afraid that he was just going to use Matt and then move along. I'm so glad I was wrong.
What happens next is very sweet. Matt spends some time thinking, breaks up with his girlfriend, and works on reconciling the fact that he's bisexual and what coming out will mean. He runs into Aaron and convinces him that Matt wants to spend time with him even if it is just as friends. Thus begins the friendship/courtship and Matt is very adorable in the ways he goes about this. It was so interesting to watch two men who seem to have little to nothing in common discover the subtle things they both enjoy together.
I will be completely honest and admit that I was sort of ho hum on the story until about halfway in and then it just clicked for me. I thought Matt's struggle with trying to figure out who he was and what he wanted, was written very realistically and made me empathize with him. The author also wrote Aaron's conflict about being involved with a "straight" man in a way that made it easy to feel for him, too. Their love story was sweet, funny and real which made me care for both of them. For a first time author, I think Lane Hayes did a wonderful job and I can easily recommend this book.
NOTE: This book was provided by Dreamspinner Press for the purpose of a review on Rainbow Book Reviews
Everyone was hounding me to read this series. And I listen when people speak so animatedly about a book. So, here I am having just finished book 1 of Lane Hayes Better Than Series with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face. What a poetic story. Aaron is one of the most vibrant characters I’ve ever read and I immediately fell in love with him the second he was introduced. I admire him greatly. Poor Matt. He tugged at my heartstrings quite a bit. He was confused but not confused. Fear can choke you or you can choke fear out and in the end Matt realized he’d fight for love no matter what other people thought. Honorable! Lane wrote amazing characters and wrapped them up into this wonderful world.
Terrific flow, smooth reading. I can’t wait for more.
Better than Good is the first book of the series and I have to say I am in love with Matt and Aaron ….
Matt is a good man, friend and deep inside his heart wants to find someone to share his life with … his past relationships have not been what he needed. Until he meets Aaron... For him all changes.
Aaron is proud of who he is … proud of his heritage and proud of being a gay man … but a bit reluctant to get involved with someone he feels needs to accept himself completely.
When Matt decides to go after Aaron he does it with all his heart and desire to make him happy.
They both finally become one... and it is a beautiful thing.
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