Sean Vargos is quiet, well respected, and dedicated to his job. But Dave Simpson sees Sean as more than a coworker. He's fought his attraction to Sean for months but can't get him out of his thoughts.
They tentatively embark on a relationship, but Sean isn’t all that he seems. He struggles to put his past behind him and overcome his fears.
Dave, with his good looks and open nature, accepts that sometimes Sean’s doubts get the better of him and he runs. Dave just wants the chance to show Sean he can be trusted and the past doesn't have to dictate their future.
ONCE AGAIN the photocopier was on the blink. The small screen was flashing a number, although Dave had no idea what the error actually meant. Judging by the crumpled piece of paper he’d had to wrench from between the rollers, he figured it was safe to say it was a paper jam. Swearing under his breath, he wadded the paper and jammed it into the recycling bin. Why was it that no one ever seemed to clear out the copier? It was always out of order whenever it was time for him to print his monthly report.
The end of the month was always busy with all the crap that was required to close out the reporting period—submitting next month’s forecast, gathering the data on the current month’s sales performance, and planning how to close the gap. In the current economy, things weren’t going according to the annual operating plan, and everyone was working extra hard to try to turn things around. As a result the atmosphere in the office was tense, with everyone focused on their own performance—or lack thereof.
Dave had been with the company for only a year, so he hadn’t known things to be any different. Each day was much like the last—meetings, phone calls, preparing documents and reports—basically chasing his tail from morning till night trying to please those higher up. He’d always wanted to work in marketing, though, so he wasn’t going to give up the opportunity, particularly given that it probably wasn’t much better at any other organization—frying pan, fire, and all that.
As he fought with the photocopier, opening and closing all those flaps in his attempt to get the thing to reset itself, he pondered what he was really doing there. Sure, he loved the field he worked in and got an immense sense of satisfaction from his job. He enjoyed planning new campaigns and all the work he was doing trying to reach new markets, but there had to be more to life than pure work. For a few years, since he’d entered the workforce, he’d made his career a focus, making sure he gained strong experience to guarantee a successful career progression. Sure, he wasn’t at the top of his field, but he wasn’t doing too badly in middle management and had a nice salary to prove it.
The salary paid for rent on a decent apartment, and his savings were proof of his longer-term plans. After growing up in an unstable home after his parents’ divorce, with a father who was a workaholic and a mother too focused on trying to find another husband, Dave was determined to provide a home of his own. His dreams weren’t big—just a nice apartment or ideally a small house he could call his own. Somewhere he could start to lay down roots and build a place in the community. Moving around from rental to rental had left him with a hankering to stay in one place for a while.
With a final whack of the last compartment door, Dave stood and said a little prayer. For the love of God, please work, you piece of shit!
“You know what they say. Talking to yourself is the first sign of madness.” He jumped as Roger chuckled behind him. He’d snuck up while Dave’s thoughts had been drifting toward real estate. “You really shouldn’t be so hard on the poor photocopier. It cops enough abuse as it is, and I don’t think banging on it’s gonna help.”
“Well, it certainly can’t hurt!” Dave realigned his document on the glass surface before closing the lid again. “Wish me luck.”
He crossed his fingers as he hit the copy button. With a grind and a whir, the machine started pushing out copies. He needed thirty. So far, so good.
“How are you going with your report?” Dave asked his friend and colleague.
He and Roger had been friends since the first day Dave joined the company. Roger had shown him the ins and outs—important stuff like where to buy the best coffee and how to get the admin staff to do him favors. More importantly he had given him the rundown on who was who in the office—who on the management team he had to please, which executives to be on the lookout for, and details about his colleagues. Roger’s assistance had really helped him settle in, and Dave was sure this insider knowledge had helped him get where he was today. Sure, he had skill, but sometimes it was a case of “who you know, not what you know.” But Roger was more than just introductions—he had become a true friend out of the office as well.
“All done. Well, I would be if you’d hurry up with the damn photocopier. I’ve got an hour, and all I need to do is make the copies. The presentation is good to go. It’s a great day!” Roger laughed.
He was the most cheery person Dave had ever met, which was also another bonus when so much glumness surrounded him.
For the next ten minutes, they stood side by side, watching the counter move upward on the little screen while page after page ejected from within the depths of the copier. As he stood there, Dave looked beyond the utility room out onto the office floor. He couldn’t help himself—his gaze drawn, as usual, to the cubicle three down from his own.
Sean was hard at work, typing furiously and looking down at the desk to his right every now and then. He was obviously reading from a document on the work surface and using this information to complete whatever was on his screen—his own monthly report, no doubt. They all had to produce them by the last Friday of the month.
Dave had a thing for Sean. He was the first to admit it. There was something about Sean that spoke to Dave, drew his attention. Sean was good-looking, but it was more than that. There was a shyness about him. He was quiet and almost introverted, but it was his determined nature that really called to Dave. Dave wanted to protect Sean and had a huge urge to make him happy, even though Sean didn’t really need any protection. He might have been shy, but Sean could stand up for himself when needed, as he proved on a few occasions. There was nothing quiet about Sean when he stood at the front of the boardroom quoting facts and figures and justifying the actions of his team.
Dave never missed an opportunity to gaze at the man. Sean might have been sitting on a standard office chair in a bland office, but he moved with a graceful fluidity that suited his lean frame. He swung a little in his chair as he concentrated on the report and tilted his head to the side in contemplation. Dave was now able to admire his slightly angular profile with its straight nose and strong jaw. His hair was unruly, just touching his collar, which caused it to curl up slightly on the ends. Dave often wondered whether Sean was bucking convention or just didn’t have time to get it cut regularly. Whatever the reason, Dave fantasized about running his fingers through those tempting locks. The unflattering overhead light did nothing for his coloring, but Dave knew Sean’s brown hair was full of fair highlights and complemented his naturally golden complexion. Yes, Dave had no problem admitting that Sean captivated and intrigued him.
“Earth calling Dave. Earth calling Dave. You copy?”
He became aware of Roger’s voice just as Roger poked him in the ribs with the edge of the report he was holding.
Dave rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah. I copy.”
“You’ve either got to stop dreaming about him, or do something about it and cut out the drooling.”
“Doing something about it wouldn’t stop the drooling,” Dave muttered.
“Seriously, man, you’ve got it bad. Just ask him out already.”
Roger had been hassling Dave to ask Sean out for a drink for six months now. At first Dave was reluctant to get involved with anyone at work, thinking it wouldn’t be appropriate and might reflect negatively on his performance. Then, as he’d gotten to know Sean a little better, he’d sensed that the guy just wanted to be left alone. Sean seemed so reserved, not really participating when they all got together for after-work drinks. More often than not, Sean declined the offer to join the group at the local bar, preferring to stay late in the office to work by himself or maybe just head home.
“You know the merger party is next month. Maybe you should use that as the opportunity to ask him out. I mean who can resist Valentine’s?” Roger winked suggestively.
The company didn’t usually celebrate Valentine’s Day as such, but this year they were having a corporate celebration for all staff to celebrate a recent merger. Because the event was scheduled for February—albeit the last week of February and not the fourteenth—and was all about celebrating the successful union of the two companies, some bright spark had suggested they make Valentine’s the theme: pink, red, balloons, hearts, and flowers. He’d heard they’d even gone as far as arranging a chocolate fountain—not Dave’s idea of a good time. But so long as they didn’t expect him to dress up as Cupid, he’d be fine. Not that he would mind actually having someone to celebrate Valentine’s Day with—it had been way too long between boyfriends.
“You know, Rog, you’re not as dumb as you look.” And on that parting remark, Dave collected his copies from the tray and headed back to his desk, leaving a stunned Roger looking after him.
BACK AT his desk, with half an hour to go before he had to be in the boardroom, Dave collated his copies and made sure the prints were all good quality. The last thing he wanted to do was mess up in front of the director of marketing. But he couldn’t keep his thoughts from drifting back to Valentine’s.
His first boyfriend, Jason, had been his best friend in high school. When they’d realized they were gay, one thing had led to another, and their friendship had quickly become more. When he looked back on it, though, it was more a case of friends with benefits. Dave was now sure that he and Jason had turned to each other because they were the only gay boys they knew. Dave wasn’t sure if it was luck or fate that made him befriend the only boy at school who would really accept him, but he wasn’t going to argue with whatever power had brought Jason his way.
Jason had been the first guy for many things. They’d been very willing to experiment with each other, from the first shy kisses to the first lingering glances at each other’s naked bodies, to finally getting more hands-on. Dave could still remember their first real sexual encounter. It was the hottest thing he’d ever felt, when in reality it was a simple case of two young boys rubbing frantically against each other until things reached the inevitable conclusion. It wasn’t until college that things went much further, and even now Dave blushed at the memories.
They were never meant to be, him and Jason. They realized that when Jason moved away to study and the long-distance relationship took its toll. Things petered out, and they went from “boyfriends” to just “friends.” This made much more sense because the “benefits” part of the relationship was so much harder to get when they weren’t even in the same city.
After Jason, Dave had focused on his study and then establishing himself. He’d prioritized attaining financial stability, so the search for love had taken a backseat. Sure, he had encounters—one-night stands and even the odd couple-of-week stands—but he’d never found anyone worth making room in his life for. Maybe the time had finally come?
Sean had been on his mind for so long now. The attraction wasn’t going away. But it was more than the physical stuff; he could get sex anywhere. He had come to know Sean over the last year, more so in the last six months, and he’d come to like what he saw.
Quiet, committed, and caring were words that described Sean perfectly, and the respect he had from his team members reinforced how highly Sean was held in regard. People genuinely respected his expertise and his ethics. Sean’s focus was not only what he did but how he did it, doing everything with integrity. God, Dave sighed, I sound like the president of the Sean Vargos fan club.
With a groan he turned back to his reports, placed them into a pile, and tamped the edges to straighten the stack. Finally he woke his computer and powered up the e-mail client—nothing like responding to inane e-mails to bring him back to earth.
Just before 2:00 p.m., Dave, Sean, and the other marketing managers headed upstairs to the boardroom, which was located on the floor above. This floor was more enclosed than the one below. The stairs opened onto a landing that looked like the foyer of an upmarket hotel: sleek wood-paneled walls, a sofa on one wall with matching armchairs, glass coffee table, typical bland modern art on the walls, and a smiling receptionist behind the counter.
“The meeting has been moved to Boardroom A,” she announced. “We have a few more attendees than expected and needed to relocate to the larger room.”
They trooped down the corridor in single file, hardly making a sound due to the deep-plush-pile carpet.
When Dave and the others entered the room, it became all too clear the meeting would not go well. The additional attendees were from the finance department. Stephen Chan, head of finance, had already taken his place at the opposite side of the conference table. He wasn’t sitting at the head; rather, he was positioned in the middle of the long side, surrounded by his accounting team. Laptops at the ready, they were perusing reports, and Stephen was scrawling notes onto a spreadsheet while his colleague whispered rapidly in his ear.
Dave, Roger, and Sean, plus the rest of the marketing team—Mary, Joanna, and Simon—looked at each other warily before taking their seats. They sat in a row on the side of the table facing Stephen and waited for the head of marketing, Alison Smith-Higgins, to join them. It felt like facing a firing squad.
“SO, THAT went well!” Joanna said sarcastically as they traipsed back down the staircase. Her glum expression belied her words. “Ridiculous! How can they hold us responsible for the sales results when they won’t give us the advertising budget? In this economy we’ve got to invest money to make money.”
She continued muttering under her breath as they descended back to the floor of greenish-gray office cubicles. The bland interior of the office, so different to the plush executive levels, further highlighted their place within the company—expected to achieve results but reliant on the powers above.
Sean agreed with her, nodding in sympathy, but in usual Sean fashion was already looking beyond the current situation and trying to find a way forward.
“We’re all in the same boat, Joanna. It’s been a really tough quarter, and it’s definitely not getting any easier. I’ve had a few thoughts about some low-cost ways of reaching new markets. Why don’t we get the team together and brainstorm a few ideas? I know you’ve been spending some time thinking about this yourself, and between all of us, we should be able to come up with a plan. We’ve got nothing to lose, right?”
He gave her shoulder a friendly squeeze. Dave had to acknowledge they made a good team, having worked together for a long time. Joanna was the one exception to Sean’s “no socializing with workmates” policy. The two of them often went out for lunch together and Dave gathered they sometimes met for dinner or over the weekend, so Dave was glad Sean had at least one good friend.
As Joanna wandered back toward her desk, Dave found himself following after Sean into the small kitchenette. They seemed to have the same idea—a midafternoon coffee pick-me-up.
“So you really think we can get over this slump?”
Sean looked at Dave as if surprised by the question. He took a coffee mug from the overhead cupboard and put his hand on a second. “You having one?”
“Yeah, thanks,” Dave replied and reached for the coffee pot. “Fingers crossed it hasn’t been sitting there for too long.”
Sean grunted out a laugh. “Let’s hope the caffeine will reenergize us.”
Dave poured the steaming coffee from the pot into the two mugs. “But getting back to what you were saying to Joanna about having some ideas. Anything that will really work?”
“I don’t think we’ve tapped the full potential of social media. We should be moving away from the more traditional methods of reaching our customers. Not only will it cost less but we’ll have access to a younger audience. I think we can reach an untapped market of people willing to give our new product a try. We’ve had a good initial response to the restaurant-booking app and the local focus it provides, but the take-up rate would be improved if we could enhance the content on the app itself. We need to target the content to the user—it needs to be relevant and useful. It’s all about the customer experience. We should be using social media to create a community and using our own customers to promote the product.”
“True. It’s probably something worth trying.”
Dave retrieved the milk from the fridge, holding up the carton toward Sean. “Full cream okay?” At Sean’s nod he splashed the milk into the mugs.
As he turned to replace the carton in the fridge, Dave wondered if he had sounded too skeptical before. In reality, he admired Sean’s passion and the way he never admitted defeat. Mustering more enthusiasm, he said, “I must admit we haven’t done anything like it in my area yet. There’s not a lot to lose, and it’s a relatively low-cost marketing strategy, something we should be able to implement quickly. I like it, and I wanna hear more if you’re willing to share your ideas.”
Sean gave him one of his friendly smiles. “You don’t even need to ask. I’d be happy to share our plans with you. I’m going to arrange a meeting with my team to work through all the ideas. Why don’t you come along and bring the key members of yours?” It was a generous offer and not entirely unexpected from Sean as they had done some similar things in the past.
Only Sean always called him David. Did it reflect the fact that the man didn’t know him very well? Only one way to solve that. “Actually, Sean, I thought maybe we could meet after work, grab a beer or some dinner. You know, get out of this place for a bit.”
Sean avoided Dave’s eyes, instead giving all his attention to his mug of coffee, stirring in a heaped spoon of sugar. Around, around, around, Dave followed the spoon, thinking Sean was never going to stop stirring. Suddenly Sean pulled the spoon out of the liquid and tapped it briskly, three times, on the side of the mug.
To Dave’s surprise Sean then looked at him and said “Sure. When do you want to get together?”
3.5 Stars ~ Office romance. It can go really well, or horribly, horribly wrong. Luckily for Dave and Sean, they've known each other a year, and have gotten closer in the last six months, so they know the type of man they each are. Their first date is so sweet, it's not surprising when they make a second, and then find themselves moving forward into a relationship.
Dave's life is on track. He's been with the company for a year, is working hard in middle management with ambitions to move upward, slowly and steadily. He's got a nice apartment, with his eye on someday having a little home of his own. Dave has been watching Sean for a long time now, and wanting to get to know him better. Sean has spent the past two years cut off, emotionally, from any thoughts of dating or getting to know someone. A tragedy in his past has left him wary and vulnerable, so he is surprised when he feels himself opening up to Dave. But Sean's doubts about his inability to trust, and commit, have them going one day at a time.
'A Day At A Time' was my first introduction to the writing of Nic Starr. I enjoyed this short story, and Dave and Sean's romance was very sweet. If you like a romance where they take their time, and it really is a true blue romance, then this might be the book for you.
NOTE: This book was provided by Dreamspinner Press for the purpose of a review on Rainbow Book Reviews.
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