TRISTAN MOREAU strolled into his favorite coffee shop with the morning paper tucked under one arm and a loaded-down backpack over the other shoulder. He had about two hours to kill before his next class, and he thought he’d eat an early lunch, catch up on the latest news, and maybe even get in a little studying before he had to leave for his next class. He was a senior at NYU majoring in business administration and had a pretty heavy schedule. Three days a week he had back-to-back classes, but the other two days he had only one class in the morning and one in the afternoon and today was one of those lighter days. He took his place at the end of the line with his mouth watering for the first taste of his favorite mocha-flavored cappuccino.
The broad shoulders of the man in line in front of him immediately caught his attention. I know that back. Where have I seen it before? Continuing his summation, he followed the muscular shoulders down the natural V shape to a small waist and beautifully rounded ass. He held his gaze there a little longer than he should, savoring the view, but eventually moved back up to the sandy-brown, shoulder length hair. The package seemed so familiar, but from where? Why would someone’s back be so memorable?
With nothing else to do while he waited in line, he racked his brain trying to remember where he’d seen that physique. Probably sensing Tristan’s stare, the man turned around rather nervously. When their eyes met, the familiar man did a double take and held Tristan’s gaze. Tristan was stunned by the depth and beauty of the rich emerald-green eyes staring back at him. Then it all clicked: Professor Scott.
Justin Scott had been his business communications professor during his sophomore year, and Tristan quickly remembered having the biggest crush on him. The professor was rumored to be bisexual, but bisexual or not, Tristan would have never gotten involved with one of his professors. So the best he’d hoped for was to attempt to sit in class and not drool. How many hours had he watched those broad shoulder muscles flexing as the professor raised his arms to write on the whiteboard? And even worse, how many times had he gotten lost in those emerald-green eyes, face-to-face with the professor just feet away from him?
“Tristan?” the man asked with a surprised look on his face.
Shocked that the professor even remembered his face, not to mention his name, Tristan’s heart skipped a beat and he felt a blush cover his entire face.
The man stuck his hand out. “I thought it was you. It’s great to see you.”
Tristan shifted the papers to the other arm and nervously accepted the outstretched hand and returned the firm yet tender handshake.
“Good to see you too, Professor. I’m great, how about you?”
“Oh you know, the same ole same ole.”
The barista called “Next!” and Professor Scott moved up to the counter, placed his order and gestured over his shoulder to Tristan. “And whatever he’s having.”
Tristan stepped up to the counter and stood next to Professor Scott. “Thank you, but you don’t have to do that.”
The professor laid a hand on Tristan’s shoulder. “No really, I want to.”
“A large mocha cappuccino with skim milk and a ham and Swiss on rye, please.” Tristan turned his attention back to Professor Scott and smiled. “Thanks.”
They stepped aside and exchanged a little more small talk while the barista completed their order. When the professor’s name was called, he scooped up the tray of coffee cups and sandwiches and headed to a table. “Will you join me?”
Unable to say no after the professor had bought his lunch, he graciously accepted. “Sure, Professor, if you don’t mind hanging out with a lowly senior.”
The professor chuckled. “First, please stop calling me professor. Justin will be fine. And secondly, I’d enjoy it. Don’t tell anyone, but most of the other professors are pretty boring.”
Tristan smiled and twisted his fingers in front of his lips. “That will stay our little secret.”
They ate their lunch while casually catching up and chatting about everything under the sun. Tristan realized that he really enjoyed the professor’s company. He had a dry sense of humor, which Tristan loved, and he didn’t take himself too seriously, which Tristan especially loved. And in addition to all that, he was very easy on the eyes.
With lunch long gone, and a split-second lull in the conversation, Tristan glanced at his watch. “Wow, Prof—I mean, Justin, I can’t believe how quickly time has flown by. I’ve got to go. I have a class in fifteen minutes.”
Justin also looked at his watch. “So do I. Come on, I’ll walk with you.”
Tristan smiled again and nodded, warmed to the heart that Justin wanted to spend a little more time with him. “That would be nice.”
They both stood and Tristan took their empty tray to the trashcan while Justin took Tristan’s backpack and waited for him at the front door. When they met again, Justin handed him his backpack and held the door open for him to pass through. Tristan was assaulted by a beautiful day. Although it was the end of February, they’d had a mild winter, and the temperature felt like it was in the high sixties. He was starting to see small hints of spring as they walked through Washington Square and talked. He knew after graduation, which was a little over four months away, he would surely miss the beauty of the campus, but certainly not the schedule.
“So, any prospects on a job yet?” Justin asked.
Tristan nodded. “As a matter of fact, a few, but one I’m particularly interested in.”
Justin cocked his head. “Really, good for you. You want to tell me about it?”
“It’s an entry-level position with an agency called Media America, one of the leading advertising agencies on Madison Avenue.”
“I’m impressed,” Justin replied. “I’m very familiar with them and it’s not that easy to get a foot in the door.”
Tristan felt a sense of pride. Justin was right; it had taken him three separate interviews just to get an interview with his potential boss. “Thanks, I am rather proud of myself.”
“And rightfully so. It just so happens that I have a good friend who is in the creative department, and maybe I could put in a good word for you.”
“Hey, that would be great. But please don’t feel obligated.”
Tristan noticed that Justin’s smile faded. And was that an expression of hurt on Justin’s face? Wanting that smile back Tristan added, “But look, if you’re willing, I’ll take all the help I can get.”
Justin smiled again and Tristan felt warmed to his toes.
Justin gazed into his hazel eyes. “Then consider it done,” he said, their eyes locked in a virtual embrace.
Feeling a little shy and uncomfortable, Tristan broke the connection by nervously pointing out that they had reached the building for his next class. “Here we are.” And, glancing at his watch again, “And not a minute too soon. This has really been nice, and thank you so much for buying my lunch.”
Justin smiled and nodded but looked as though he were contemplating something.
“Well, thanks again,” Tristan said as he turned.
Justin gently laid his hand on Tristan’s arm, spun him around, and again looked him in the eyes. “Would you ah… like to have dinner with me tonight?”
Tristan tried to mask the look of surprise but probably didn’t do a very good job.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have—”
“Yes,” Tristan said before thinking. It had just come out of his mouth. All his life he’d fought the mouth/brain thing. Having no filter between his brain and his mouth was really going to get him in trouble one day. “Yes, I would love to have dinner with you tonight,” he repeated.
“Really? I mean… please don’t feel obligated.”
“No! I really enjoyed lunch and it’s not like my grade depends on it or anything,” Tristan teased.
Justin beamed. “Okay then, it’s settled.”
Tristan reached into his backpack and pulled out paper and a pencil and jotted down his address and handed it to Justin.
Justin glanced down at the paper. “Seven okay?”
Tristan stuck out his hand. “Perfect, I’ll see you then.”
They shook hands and Tristan bolted for his class, hoping he wouldn’t be late.
Later that night, Tristan couldn’t remember when he’d had such a good time. The dinner was great, the company was great and the sex afterwards, well that was simply incredible. When Justin left his apartment very early the next morning, they made plans for a second date and as the weeks passed, they became closer and closer.
They’d been dating for about three months, seeing each other a few times a week, schedule allowing, when Tristan had his epiphany. It was a week before graduation and he was sprawled out on his couch in comfortable old sweats going over some of Media America’s literature in preparation for his new job. As he read page after page, thinking more about Justin than what he was reading and not really concentrating, he recognized that for the first time in his life, he was in love. He cringed when he realized that it had only been three months, and although they had never shared any thoughts about where they were headed, he’d fallen hard. He thought the only fair thing to do was to tell Justin how he felt and hope that Justin felt the same way. The next night they had plans for dinner, so Tristan invited Justin to his place and spent the entire day cooking and making a very special meal for a very romantic evening.
When Justin arrived, Tristan was flying high on pure adrenaline. He’d never told anyone he loved them before and his nerves were getting the best of him.
When they sat down for dinner, Justin looked at him with a raised brow. “You all right?”
Tristan fidgeted in his seat. “Yeah, why?”
“You just seem a little nervous.”
Tristan had this terrible habit of answering a question with a question when he was nervous. “Do I?”
Justin laughed and rolled his eyes. “Yes, you do.”
Tristan didn’t want to spoil the surprise, so for once, he kept quiet. “I’m fine, let’s eat.”
After dinner, which Tristan thought was incredible, they settled on the couch. Justin removed his shoes and put his feet on the ottoman and motioned for Tristan to join him.
Tristan sat next to him and kissed his cheek. “I want to talk to you about something.”
Straightening up, Justin cocked his head, looking at Tristan. “I knew you had something on your mind. I could tell the moment I walked in.” Justin smiled and kissed Tristan back. “So what is it that has the normally cool and collected Tristan Moreau a nervous wreck?”
Tristan rubbed his sweaty palms on his blue jeans and felt the blood drain out of his face. Get a grip, Tristan; you’re not twelve years old. He took a deep breath, leaned in, kissed Justin softly on the lips and whispered. “I’m in love with you.”
The look on Justin’s face was not at all what Tristan had expected. It was Justin’s blood draining out of his face this time and he suspected it wasn’t for the same reason. “But….”
Tristan pushed himself away from Justin and glared at him. “But what?”
Justin took his feet off the ottoman and planted them firmly on the floor. “I thought we were just having a good time.”
Tristan jumped up and started pacing. He was breaking out in a cold sweat and he couldn’t stop his heart from pounding. “A good time? That’s what we’re having?”
Justin looked down with an embarrassed expression on his face. “I thought we were.” He stood and put both hands on Tristan’s shoulders to stop him from pacing. “I’m sorry, I thought we were on the same page. Tristan, it’s a well-known fact that I’m bisexual. In fact, I’m engaged to be married in a few months.”
Tristan shrugged Justin’s arms off. “Engaged to be married? To whom?”
“Who doesn’t matter,” Justin whispered.
Tristan walked back to the couch and buried his head in his hands. He finally looked up and met Justin’s eyes. “How could I have not known about her? Why didn’t you tell me?”
Justin held his gaze, apparently having a difficult time trying to find words. “I didn’t… didn’t think it mattered. She lives abroad and we currently only see each other about once a month for a day or two.”
“And you’re marrying someone you only see for two days a month?” Tristan asked.
“Not exactly,” Justin tried to explain, pain obvious on his face. “She’s moving here right after the wedding.”
Getting angrier by the minute, Tristan spat out, “And when were you going to tell me this?”
Justin wiped the sweat off of his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt. “I didn’t think it would affect us. She travels extensively and will be gone most of the time. We would still get to see each other as much as we do now.”
Tristan forced out a dry laugh. “So you just expected me to be your squeeze on the side, a place you come to when you need a dick up your ass?”
“Tristan,” Justin pleaded. “You know it’s not like that.”
Tristan slammed his hand on the end table. “Then tell me how it is, Professor.”
Justin was silent for a few minutes. “I care for you Tristan, I really do, but I never made any promises to you about a future together.”
Knowing he was never going to win this battle, Tristan sighed, leaned back, and rested his head on the back of the couch and closed his eyes “So why didn’t you just tell me you were engaged and had a girlfriend?”
Justin joined Tristan on the couch and put his hand on Tristan’s knee. “I guess I was afraid of losing you.”
Tristan raised his head and opened his eyes. “Well guess what, Professor, your fears just came true. Now get out!”
Justin stood and started pacing. “You don’t mean that. What can I do?”
Tristan reached down and picked up Justin’s shoes and tossed them at the front door. “You can walk out that door and never fucking come back is what you can do.” He watched as Justin picked up his shoes and opened the door.
Justin looked back over his shoulder. “Are you sure?”
Tristan glared at him and pointed to the door.
Although Justin closed the door very gently, the sound reverberated through Tristan’s head like an explosion had gone off. Then there was dead silence. The only sounds he heard were his breathing and the beating of his empty heart. A tear slid down his cheek and he wiped it away with defiance. I will not cry! Damn it, I will not cry!
Seven Years Later
TRISTAN had been studying financial reports since he’d arrived at work a little after seven that morning. He blinked a couple of times in an attempt to keep the lines from running together, but it was no use. Accepting that he’d reached his limit and needed a short break, he hesitantly put down his pencil, leaned back in his chair, and closed his eyes. “I’ve got to get through this,” he whispered to himself as he ran both hands through his thick brown hair, stopping at the base of his neck and massaging the knot that had formed between his shoulder blades.
One last squeeze to his tired muscles and he turned in his chair and poured a glass of water from the pitcher on the credenza. He glanced around his spacious office and realized the sun had set and the moon was high in the deep blue Atlanta sky. What happened to the daylight? He lifted his wrist and stared at his watch as if what he was seeing was somehow wrong. Nine thirty-eight?
Shaking his head in amazement at the time, he stared momentarily at the beautiful downtown skyline. He downed the last of his water and turned back to the work at hand. Spreadsheets and other paperwork, illuminated only by a small lamp perched on the corner of his desk, completely covered his work surface.
He remembered switching the overhead lights off when he left his office somewhere around three o’clock to grab a quick salad, but when he returned he’d heard his phone ringing from down the hall and ran for his desk to answer it, never bothering to turn the lights on again. One call led to another, and then something else urgently needed his attention, and everything led up to this moment in time. Another Friday night working alone in my office. I’ve got to get a life.
Refilling his water, he looked around again and decided that he didn’t mind the dimly lit office. He’d always hated the harshness of the overhead florescent lighting universally used in every office building in the world, and he cherished the times when his coworkers were gone and he could loosen his tie, crank up his small stereo, and simply get lost in his work. He turned again to his desk and the waiting pile of financials he’d been evaluating for the upcoming board meeting, along with the smaller stack of things to do that had been continually building up since the beginning of the week. Slowly pushing away from his desk, he walked over to the bookcase on the opposite wall and scanned his stack of CDs. He settled on Etta James, and in a few seconds, her soulful sound filled his ears as she sang “Sunday Kind of Love.” He kicked his shoes off and returned to his desk. Comfortably sitting cross-legged in his chair, he studied what was in front of him. He felt a twinge of anxiety realizing just how much work he still had left to do before the board meeting on Tuesday and the earnings release on Wednesday. I’ve got three full days if I work through the weekend and that should be just enough time to get everything done. He relaxed momentarily, and then looked at his to-do list again and realized he hadn’t even started on the script for the conference call with the industry analysts scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. He sighed and picked up his pencil.
As he worked, the world outside of his office was silent with the exception of the distant hum of a vacuum cleaner and the muffled voices of the janitorial staff milling about emptying trashcans and exchanging polite conversation. Every single associate had left hours ago. Some early in the afternoon, excited to be heading out of town for the long Memorial Day weekend, while others who weren’t leaving town opted for a three-day weekend at home. Just before five o’clock, someone down the hall had shouted “happy hour downstairs,” which meant the Agency Lounge in the lobby of the Kincaid building would be hopping for the next few hours.
With no plans to go away for the weekend because of his current workload, not to mention the fact that he wasn’t in the mood for happy hour, he hunkered down, resigned to a long night of burning the midnight oil. Time passed slowly as he finished one task and closed the file, sorting through the untouched pile, categorizing file folders and prioritizing what he would attempt to finish tonight and what he would work on over the long weekend. Tristan was the ultimate professional. He’d graduated at the top of his class with a degree in business administration and was very career-driven. Since taking this job, he’d kept his personal life to a minimum and didn’t allow himself many distractions from his work. He was learning everything he could about mergers and acquisitions and one day hoped to head the business development group at Kincaid International. The only caveat to his picture-perfect career was that over the last two years, after fighting it tooth and nail, he’d somehow managed to fall hopelessly in love with his boss. Of course his boss didn’t know Tristan was in love with him, and he never would. The pain from his first love, while no longer front and center, was still a strong enough memory after seven years to keep him from ever going down that path again. But not giving in to it didn’t make it any less real. He was resigned to the fact that all he could do was love from afar while taking advantage of any opportunity to work alongside him and that would have to be enough.
With Etta James still singing in the background, he was completely lost in his work when the muffled sound of the phone buried in a mound of paperwork startled him. He glanced at his watch again, deciding on whether he wanted to answer it or just let it go to voicemail. Its nine fifty-five on the Friday night of a holiday weekend. Who could be calling at this hour?
He dug through the paperwork so he could read the display on the caller ID, and then a slight smile formed on his lips. He quickly reached for the phone. “Webber Kincaid’s office, this is Tristan.”
“Why in the hell are you still at work, Tris?” A strong familiar voice said wryly. “It’s ten o’clock on Friday night.”
Before he could answer, the chastising voice added, “Friday night of a holiday weekend, no less.”
His smile broadened and his heart began to flutter. He shook his head in amazement as the caring voice on the phone sent the blood rushing right to his groin. God, after all this time just hearing his voice still does this to me. He looked at his watch again and did a quick calculation. “Good afternoon, Web,” he said with a smile on his face. “How’s Australia?”
Webber James Kincaid was the chairman of the board, president, and CEO of Kincaid International Corporation and just happened to be his boss and the man he was secretly in love with. KIC, as it was commonly called, was a major advertising holding company owning about 40 percent of the largest advertising agencies in the world. With Webber at the helm, it had become a major force to be reckoned with and in the past five years had grown in leaps and bounds.
Tristan’s official title was chief administrative assistant, but in actuality, he was Webber’s guy Friday. He’d worked by his side many long hours, innocently at first, soaking up the knowledge freely being passed on to him. But somewhere along the way, during the many hours they’d spent together, he’d fallen head over heels in love, and his job became every bit as much about spending time with Webber as it had been about learning all he could from the master. On a daily basis, he struggled to hide his feelings where his boss was concerned, and so far, to his knowledge, he’d succeeded. He didn’t even know if Webber was gay, but Webber’s sexual preference didn’t really matter. His boss would never know how he truly felt. Sure, Tristan’s career was very important to him, but the combination of his first attempt at love and the potential of damaging Webber’s reputation was what kept him at arm’s length. He couldn’t and wouldn’t risk everything he held dear for simple matters of the heart.
So day after day Tristan told himself that he was content just to be near Webber and quietly take care of him under the cloak of doing his job. He knew he was being deceitful and cowardly, but at his weakest moments, he always thought back to his first and only love before Webber and how horribly that had turned out, and thinking about that made it all too easy to justify his actions. He constantly told himself that even if Webber was madly in love with him, it could never work, and he’d spent most of his waking hours convincing himself of that. Besides, it was much easier to love a man who didn’t have a clue how Tristan felt about him. No chance of getting hurt, no chance of betrayal, and never any chance of ruining his or Webber’s career. On a daily basis, he imagined what the board would say to such a scandal, not to mention how that scandal could hurt Webber, KIC, and its stockholders. He could never allow his feelings to jeopardize his heart or Webber’s future, so he’d kept everything on an even keel and his personal life to himself.
He’d never actually told Webber he was gay, although he’d never tried to hide it because there was really nothing to hide. Once, out of the blue, Webber had casually asked him about his social life, and since he had none, it was easy to be honest, thinking it was better for both of them not to elaborate. And after that, Webber had never asked again.
He was startled out of his thoughts by Webber’s voice. “Please go home, Tris, you’re making me look really bad,” Webber chuckled. “How long have you worked with me now, ten years?”
Tristan laughed, “Just two.”
“Are you sure it’s just two years?”
“Yeah, but it does seem like forever, doesn’t it?”
“How many times in the last couple of years have I preached to you about having balance in your life? All work and no play make for a very frustrating and lonely life.”
Tristan smiled to himself again because he loved it when Webber called him Tris, and he thought to himself, you have no idea.
There was a short silence on the line when Webber spoke up again. “I hope you mean ‘feels like forever’ in a good way?”
Tristan laughed. “The very best, Web. I’ve learned so much from you; I can’t begin to tell you. I’m so grateful for this opportunity.”
He knew he sounded sappy, but even after all this time, the sound of Webber’s voice and his concern for his happiness, in and out of his job, still sent butterflies right to the pit of his stomach. “So what can I do for you, boss?”
“You can come downstairs and have a drink with me.”
Tristan furrowed his brow. “Downstairs? I thought you weren’t due back from Australia until tomorrow night?”
“Yeah, well, I flew in a day early and was on the way to the office to pick up my car when the jetlag took over and I realized I wasn’t the least bit sleepy. I decided to have a drink before I went home, and when I walked into the Agency, I ran into everyone still downstairs wrapping up happy hour. Hoping you were here having a little fun, I asked around, and one of the guys told me they left you at your desk hours ago, and knowing you, I thought I’d give it a shot and see if you were still there.”
“Who made all the arrangements for your early return?” Tristan asked, ignoring the invitation and feeling a little jealous.
“It was late when I decided and I didn’t want to bother you at home, so I called the pilot and made the arrangements myself.”
Surprised and feeling a little relieved, Tristan said, “Really? It wouldn’t have been a bother, Web, it’s my job.”
“Yes, Tris, I know it’s your job, but I can do some things for myself. And besides, I know you would have done it if I asked, but you already work too hard.”
Suddenly realizing how that sounded, Tristan did a little backpedaling. “I know you’re not helpless and I know you’re very capable of making arrangements, but hell, if you keep that up, why will you need me?”
“That’s funny, Tris. Me picking up the phone to change one flight doesn’t mean I can function without you. Trust me, your job is very secure. Hell, you’re getting better and quicker at the mergers and acquisitions than the business development department.”
Feeling a little proud and smiling again, Tris said, “Oh thank God, for a moment there I thought I might lose my job and have to start selling my body to make ends meet.”
Webber laughed nervously but ignored the joke. There was an awkward silence and suddenly Tristan felt embarrassed and smacked himself in the forehead, a habit he was desperately trying to break, for making such a stupid comment. Webber must have heard the smacking noise.
“What was that?” he asked. There was a short silence on the line. “Tristan, I know you pretty well, remember. Did you just smack yourself in the forehead?”
“Guilty as charged,” Tristan admitted.
“Why?” Webber asked wryly.
“Because there’s no filter between my brain and my mouth.”
Webber chuckled softly but apparently decided to pass on the opportunity to tease Tristan a little more. “So are you going to join me? I have something I want to talk to you about.”
Relieved to be over that awkward moment and feeling the least bit curious, Tristan sighed. “Give me about fifteen minutes to finish what I’m doing and clear my desk and I’ll be right down.”
“Good boy. I’ll see you in a few, and Tris?”
“Don’t get lost in your work and make me call you again.”
“See you soon.”
Tristan hung up the phone and sat at his desk, starry-eyed. He thought about how he’d gotten to this place in his life. He was in the middle of the corporate ladder, steadily climbing his way up, all the while wanting to climb his way onto his boss. That mental image of him on top of Webber sent the blood rushing right to his groin again, and he shook his head, trying to clear his mind before he went downstairs and joined the man face-to-face.
A little over two short years ago, he’d been the chief administrative assistant to the president of Media America, the most successful advertising agency on Madison Avenue in New York City, which just happened to be owned by KIC. He was excellent at his job and had earned the reputation of being smart, efficient, hardworking, and most of all discreet, which was very important for a person in his position in a publicly traded company. Word of his performance had obviously traveled to KIC because he’d been sought out by the human resources department and flown to Atlanta in one of the company’s private jets to meet with Mr. Webber Kincaid personally to interview for the position of his chief administrative assistant.
Although he’d been happy in New York, with a close-knit group of friends and a rising career, he’d been twenty-eight years old and single, so he thought if he was going to do something like this, now was the perfect time. He decided to at least explore the opportunity and boarded the tiny corporate jet bound for KIC headquarters in the biggest city in the South. At one point during the fli