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Chapter Four – Secret Crush
Mike examined the fern guarding the door to the elevator like an extra from an alien-themed movie, something about overgrown biota taking over some distant planet. He could take the stairs, but it was just something about elevators he liked. The idea that he was, for several seconds, in the hands of a machine, pleased him and tickled his inner nerd. He felt the same thing about high-speed trains, but he wasn’t that much of a traveler to enjoy such joyrides. So, for the moment, the elevator trips he took to the basement of the building where the servers were, aka his workplace, had to do.
A few co-workers joined him. Well, maybe that wasn’t the right term to use. Mike didn’t mingle, and he was a loner by definition. No one cared about the guy in washed-out jeans and dark t-shirts operating the machines that practically kept the whole place from falling apart.
It was okay. Mike liked to be in charge of so much power and responsibility, even if he got no gratitude for his day by day work. Whenever there were troubles with the hardware, he was the man. No bit of information was lost, due to his careful backup strategy, and the company living and breathing above cared naught about the small disasters averted every day by the faithful employee operating in its bowels.
“Have you seen our new boss?” one of the female co-workers waiting for the other elevator chirped happily.
“He is absolutely dreamy. Finally, we have someone younger to run the company. Mr. Armstrong was supposed to retire eons ago.”
“Well, at least they don’t have to change the name on the door,” another said. “Our new boss is Mr. Armstrong’s nephew and carries the same name. So we practically have a prince inheriting the royal throne.”
“It must be nice not to have to climb the ladder. You know, have everything handed to you on a silver platter.”
“How old is he, anyway?”
“Thirty-two, I heard.”
“That’s nice. Not too young, but not too old. Just as I like them.” The woman laughed.
“With our luck, he’s married.”
“Lena from HR told me she didn’t see a ring.”
“Then we really have a chance, girlfriends. May the best of us win.”
“It’s not only us; you realize that, don’t you?”
“I haven’t seen him yet.” A third intervened in the conversation. “How does he look like?”
“Oh, he’s tall and dark,” the first said dreamily. “Ivy League crew cut hair, all buttoned up … you know, that kind of guy.”
“And he dresses like he’s out of a fashion catalog. Business professional, not casual.”
“You girls are missing the point. Does he have a girlfriend?”
“Unknown at this point.”
“Maybe he’s gay,” the third one said.
“Shut up!” The other two turned toward her.
Mike pretended to focus on the numbers blinking slowly as his elevator was finally coming down.
“Hey, you’re Mack, right?” One of the women talked to him.
“Mike,” he corrected her.
She offered him a forced smile. “Have you seen our new boss? Could you tell whether, you know, he’s batting for your team?”
Some people at work knew of his orientation, not that he was waving the rainbow flag or anything. Apparently, turning down a couple of female co-workers and being honest about the reason had been at the root of that. He didn’t mind, so he replied as direct as possible. “I haven’t seen him, and I couldn’t tell, anyway,” he offered in the most apologetic tone he could muster.
A collective disappointed sigh from all three women was the immediate reaction.
“Is your gaydar broken?” One ventured to ask.
“I don’t think I have one of those,” Mike replied, shifting from one foot to another.
Good, his elevator was there. Mumbling an excuse, he hurried inside. That had been enough awkward conversation for the entire week. He doubted he could be some woman’s best gay friend for now or something. Like he felt toward many guys, he was intimidated by women, too.
Jared and Adrian were both too tired to go out for a drink on Monday evening, so Mike was heading for one on his own in a pub close to his workplace, where he had never set foot before. It had been all Jared’s idea, encouraging him to go out a little and try to mingle with other people. For starters, he had decided on something neutral, not a gay bar or club, as usual when hanging out with his best friends.
He intended to go there, stay for a drink, and then head back home. That had to count as mingling, and even Jared had to admit that it was enough for a first attempt.
Mike pushed open the glass door, and the flurry of conversation was the first thing to meet him. It was the type of place where young corporate employees chose to hang out, mainly because it was close to the cluster of buildings where most of them worked.
Maybe it was too brightly lit and too open, Mike thought and was about to turn on his heels when newcomers pushed him inside from behind. Now he had no choice but to head over to the bar, climb on a stool, canlı bahis and order something simple.
Everything looked squeaky clean, and that gave the place a bit of an artificial air. Not that Mike liked uncleanliness or anything, but it felt like the smallest human imprint had been wiped with sanitizing alcohol.
Mike grabbed a stool and sat upright, placing his elbows on the shiny bar, but then reconsidering. As usual, he appeared to be invisible to the bartender who was busy serving a band of slightly tipsy young interns.
“Do you come here often?” From his right, he heard a voice with a slight pleasant lilt.
Maybe the guy wasn’t talking to him, but it would have been impolite not to look. Mike turned on his stool and came face to face with a pair of amused black eyes. His breath caught in his chest.
“I’m terribly sorry about my accent. It’s both a blessing and a curse. People often don’t understand me, although they say they like it. Should I repeat the question? It’s not just an ice breaker. I would really like to know the answer.”
Mike stared at the stranger for a couple of seconds. He was pretty sure people had trouble understanding the man simply because he was too gorgeous. The plaid shirt was open two buttons, and the stranger seemed relaxed and at ease. The rolled-up sleeves showed muscular forearms, and Mike lost a couple of more seconds admiring the bony wrists and large hands that, although not particularly callous, seemed to belong to someone working construction or something that involved a lot of physical activity. Unlike him, the stranger had had better luck with the bartender, and there was a snifter half-filled with whiskey in front of him. Neat, Mike thought and remembered something about what Adrian had once told him about the right way to have whiskey. The stranger knew his stuff; no whiskey on the rocks for him.
“I’m Ryan,” the man interrupted the awkward silence and offered Mike his hand.
“Hi,” Mike replied and shook Ryan’s hand. “Mack, I mean Mark, fuck, I mean Mike.”
What the hell was wrong with him? Great, now his t-shirt was glued to his back with sweat.
Ryan laughed softly. That simple sound tickled Mike’s ear. Did everything about this man have to be sexy? “Which one is it? Or all three? Your parents must have had a strong sense of humor.”
“Mike, sorry. Just nervous about new places,” Mike explained and looked down.
“Ah. It’s all right. I was looking for company. I’m just as new to this place, as well.”
Mike exhaled. That could explain some curious looks thrown in their direction. Or maybe he was just too awkward not to draw attention. Who was he kidding? He was invisible. Everyone must have been staring at the sexy stranger at the bar who, for some unfathomable reason, was chatting up a nobody.
“I don’t come here often,” Mike said, finally answering Ryan’s initial question. “Actually, it’s my first time.”
“Ah, so you don’t hang out with the rest?” Ryan made a small gesture, pointing around them.
Mark looked, too. There were some vaguely familiar faces around, but it was not his style to strike up a conversation with people he barely knew. Some worked in the same building as him, and he even knew a few names.
But it had to be weird as fuck to admit to Ryan that he was such a loner at work. “I don’t know any of these people,” he said.
“Are you from the city?” Ryan asked.
“So, do you know places that are more fun than this?”
For a moment, Mike hesitated. But what the hell? He would tell Jared he mingled with at least one person. “Sure.”
“Then let’s go. Any minute now, and there will be holes drilled into my back. And I seriously like this shirt.”
Mike liked Ryan’s red and black plaid shirt, too. It looked great on him. As Ryan stood up, Mike stared at the classic jeans and tan boots that completed the man’s outfit.
Ryan joked. “Do you happen to work at a fashion magazine or something? There’s something judgy in your eyes that scares me.”
Mike shook his head. “Sorry about staring. I don’t work at a fashion magazine.” He was about to say where he worked but stopped in time. Admitting that he was practically co-worker with most people hanging out in the bar would make him appear awkward now after saying that he knew no one.
“Let’s go then,” Ryan said and threw a bill on the bar.
Who did that? Everyone there appeared to be the type to pay for drinks with their phones, Mike thought. It didn’t matter. Maybe Ryan was a bit old-fashioned, but Mike liked old-fashioned things, too.
Ryan touched the small of his back as they went out, and Mike felt a bit queasy. Could it be that Ryan was interested in him? No, they weren’t in a gay bar, so that couldn’t be. Ryan was looking for a buddy to drink with.
But what if? Mike needed to get a hold of himself. That wasn’t okay. He couldn’t just mistake people’s politeness for sexual interest. Maybe his gaydar was broken, and maybe there was a workshop somewhere for getting bahis siteleri it fixed. But what if he could find out?
The words flew his mouth. “Would you have anything against going to a, um, gay bar?”
Ryan hooked one arm over his shoulders as they began walking down the street. “Hmm, I was about to propose the same thing. You know, to make sure.”
Mike wasn’t queasy anymore. The butterflies in his stomach were doing somersaults. “Make sure what?”
“You know. That we’re batting for the same team. I just had a hunch in there. But, you know, I would’ve hung out with you, either way.”
Mike made a small weird sound. Great, now he was about to lose his voice, too. Wait, he was getting ahead of himself. Ryan needed someone to take him to a gay bar because probably he wanted to hook up. With someone else. Not with him.
“Have you been in town long?” He eventually found his voice.
“No, not long.”
“What kind of place do you prefer?” Mike asked. “We have all kinds. I go with my friends everywhere they take me -“
“Well, I would like a place that’s dark, comfy, and lets me kiss you until we can’t feel our lips anymore without people staring,” Ryan replied promptly.
Mike stopped, frozen in the spot.
“Ah, sorry,” Ryan said, and stopped, too. “Do you have a boyfriend? If that’s it, I’ll back off, don’t worry. I’d still like to have a drink with you, but only if that’s okay.”
“I don’t have a boyfriend.” Mike stumbled over each word like it was a boulder. “Are you interested in me?”
Ryan burst into laughter, and Mike could feel the tip of his ears getting as red as the hair on his head. “You’re adorable, but I bet you know that. Yeah, I’m interested. I couldn’t believe my luck when you sat next to me at the bar.”
“Really? I mean, okay. I mean, I’m flattered. Sorry, I have no idea what to say. Men usually hit on my friends, not me. They’re much cooler and more handsome.” He was babbling, and it was bad.
“Maybe that’s not the type I go for,” Ryan replied. “Although I should ask. Are your friends movie stars or something?”
Mike laughed, but then tried to stifle the sounds he was making. “Adrian could be, I think. He has a, um, sculptural body -“
Ryan laughed again. “Sorry, Mike, but you should know that advertising other men shouldn’t be a topic of conversation on a first date.”
First what? Was he in a dream? Was he being tricked, like on those stupid shows?
“Are we on a date?”
“We are if you want,” Ryan replied, and this time, after squeezing Mike’s shoulder, he let his hand travel lower until it reached the back pocket of Mike’s jeans and pushed it inside.
That was practically code for an underhanded method to touch someone’s butt. Mike’s belly butterflies were in a mating frenzy now.
“Wow.” That was the single thing he could say.
“I know. I’m a forward type of guy. What do you say?”
“Yes,” Mike said in a somewhat mechanical voice.
It was awkward to walk like that, so he snuck one arm around Ryan’s waist, too. He hooked one thumb through one of the belt hoops and let his hand roll around Ryan’s hip. He was touching the guy, and he was touched, too. Jared would be so proud of him.
“I know just the place where we can hang out,” he said after Ryan asked him whether he had a special place in mind.
It was pretty much a hole in the wall type of thing, but it was cozy, and nobody cared about the clientele getting busy in dark corners. The last time he had been there with Jared and Adrian, Mike had felt like paralyzed in paradise. It seemed like everyone there was going at it, not sex per se or at least that was what he thought, but as close to that as possible, and only the sounds of people kissing and touching around him had sent him home with a huge boner. Adrian had gone through at least three or four guys, while Jared had hooked up with a man he left home with afterward. Mike had been the only loner, which had made Jared feel bad the next day, and Adrian tell him for the umpteenth time that he needed to loosen up.
“Loosen up,” he mumbled to himself.
“What?” Ryan asked, and he leaned toward him, blowing hot air over his ear.
Mike shivered. “Nothing. Just my friends tell me I’m too stiff.”
“Hmm. I have a pretty good recipe for stiffness. It involves rubbing the stiff area, maybe with a bit of lotion,” Ryan continued to whisper in his ear. “Spit works, too.”
This was bad. If Ryan kept it up, Mike would just come in his pants like a total teenager.
Good thing they were inside. Mike chose a table that was as remote as possible from the central area, which wasn’t much, either, but where a few couples still struggled to use it as a dance floor, no matter how cramped.
They sat on the comfy sofa that had just enough room for two people. The place was designed for getting busy with a date. A waiter came to their table and placed some drinks on their table in tall champagne glasses.
“Remind me if we ordered because I can’t recall,” Ryan bahis şirketleri said.
Mike laughed. “I forgot to tell you. The personnel here kind of watch the door, and send the first drinks as what they think would be fitted for the patrons. Then you can have whatever you want.”
Ryan took the flute and stared at it. “And what’s this?”
Mike could tell he didn’t know, but he wanted to impress his date. “Secret Crush,” he said. “It’s just some sparkling wine, Campari, sugar, and I don’t know how many types of bitter.”
“Secret Crush. Hmm, sounds fitting,” Ryan commented. “Let’s drink to it. Or just drink it.”
Mike raised his glass, too, and clinked it to Ryan’s flute. He had to be in a dream because there was no way he was drinking erotic cocktails with a drop-dead gorgeous guy. Maybe Ryan didn’t fit his fantasy man to a tee since he didn’t appear to be excessively muscled and didn’t have the overbearing attitude of an alpha male, but he was charming, handsome, and, what counted more, much interested in him. Also, he was pretty tall, and Mike liked that, too. He was sure that if they stood face to face, he would have to crank his neck to stare at Ryan.
At least, for tonight. That only meant that he needed to make the most of it, Mike thought and drank from his flute. Ryan rested his arm casually around his shoulders, but then his hand moved, and his thumb brushed by Mike’s cheek, making him turn his head through sheer force of attraction. It was dark, and it was comfy, just as Ryan had said he wanted, and Mike was thankful for it. He leaned in, hoping, willing himself not to be awkward, not to be that guy he usually was, the kind that left home on his own because he never dared to make a move.
“I feel really lucky tonight,” Ryan said.
Mike was about to snort and say the first self-deprecating thing that came to mind, but his lips were caught in a soft kiss. The immediate result was his bones turning all jelly, and his eyes fluttered shut. Ryan’s lips were firm but gentle, and Mike opened his mouth, allowing a tentative tongue, tasting of the cocktail they just had, to reach inside.
There was also a soft grip on his neck, Ryan moving his hand again, this time resting his fingers against Mike’s throat. Mike felt like he needed to hold on to something because it was like he suddenly jumped off a plane and floating down, inexorably, toward the earth.
But it wasn’t gravity pulling him closer, but a strong body, and soon he and Ryan were clashing, their hands a bit frantic, as their kiss deepened. Mike had only a slight feeling of eyes rolling in his head, toes curling inside his sneakers, and the entire mid part of his body getting all hard, from just one kiss.
“Wow, I knew you would be sweet, but wow,” Ryan said as he slowly moved away.
Mike had no idea what to say to that. It wasn’t often that he was told that, and his so-called success from the previous weekend when he had almost gotten caught in a threesome couldn’t count as a success. This wasn’t about being the third wheel. Ryan really liked him, and there were no hidden boyfriends around waiting to jump for joy as if at a surprise birthday party.
“Wait,” he suddenly realized he hadn’t asked, “do you have a boyfriend?”
Ryan laughed. “Is it some jet lag that makes our conversation feel so fractured?”
“Sorry. I think I’m slow,” Mike said. “I just realized that I didn’t ask you.”
Ryan caressed his cheek with his lips. “I’m the one guy’s man type, sugar.”
“Oh,” Mike managed. “So, no boyfriend.”
“No boyfriend,” Ryan said.
Now Ryan’s hand was on his knee, and Mike could feel needles and pins rising under the touch, and spreading everywhere. He shivered lightly, as Ryan kissed him again as his hand on Mike’s knee grew bolder.
Mike caught it as it rested against his unmistaken erection. “Wait, I-“
“It’s okay. I usually don’t get so much carried away on the first date.” Ryan moved his hand away.
That wasn’t what he meant to say. Mike’s primary worry right now was how not to come in his jeans from being touched like that. “It’s okay,” he whispered. “I like being touched.”
“All right,” Ryan said, and this time he snuck one hand under Mike’s t-shirt.
There had to be something he could do, too. Mimicking Ryan’s move, he tried to reach under his partner’s shirt. There was also an undershirt in his way, and while trying to remove it by pulling it up, Mike managed somehow to let his hand slide directly on top of Ryan’s crotch.
“You little devil.” Ryan laughed. “I’m trying to be nice here.”
Ryan was nice; he was very nice that very moment to Mike’s nipples, which he lavished with attention, first one, then the other, rolling them between the thumb and the forefinger. Mike counted on that as Ryan being nice. What could be more was on his mind, with that as the starting point.
“I could,” Mike whispered, unsure whether what he was saying was even normal.
That other time when he had been to that bar with Jared and Adrian, his friends had only resumed to some heavy petting. Adrian had said that after a few Power of Will cocktails, he had eventually pulled some guy out and fucked his brains out, but that was Adrian, and he never played by the rules.
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