Reservations – A Novel


By Drew Filchak



Chapter Three:  "Confirmed Seating"


          I paused on the corner of 18th and Stout, stopping for many reasons.  I was early for one thing.  Not ridiculously early, but out of sync with my schedule all the same.  I found myself looking across the street through the restaurant windows at my empty seat at the bar.  Then I looked towards its counterpart across from it.  It also sat equally empty.  But it was Monday.  What did I expect?

          Last week I would not have thought much about the far seat being empty, nor felt much about it except maybe a slight bit of hopeful anticipation.  My breakfast companion never showed up until 7:15 as a rule.  But today, the sight of his empty space at the bar brought a sudden frantic thumping to my chest.  My heart beat rapidly and my face flushed.  The memory of his departing kiss Saturday evening was suddenly, once again, hot on my lips along with the feeling of his touch against my cheek with the back of his hand.  My present blush doubled.  But the lingering sound of his whisper claiming how much he would miss me for breakfast today was what caused my emotions to suddenly explode.  “Ahhh!!!”  I shouted loudly as the memories collided in ecstatic union -- elated beyond containment.

          A woman coming towards me from the opposite corner caught the brunt of my unexpected cry which caused her to shriek in startled, wide-eyed surprise.  She instinctively veered towards the curb some fifteen feet from my place on the corner.  Once safe, she looked back towards me over her shoulder and chuckled a bright laugh as her own surge of adrenaline pulsed through her.  The scene I had just caused flashed before me and I too began to grin, then chuckle.

          Then I laughed outright -- the loss of inhibition infinitely satisfying.

          "Blair!  What the hell are you doing?"

          The shout penetrated my bubbling, self-induced hilarity.  I looked up to find Hank standing in the doorway of the restaurant, looking at me with his head cocked to one side, eyes wide and bewildered.  I slapped my leg as my laughter rose again.  I left the corner to join Hank.  My hands rubbed my eyes and cheeks in an attempt to control my runaway mirth.  The shriek of an air horn screamed in warning and I instinctively jumped back raising my hands in a protective motion.  The light-rail train car glided past, its bell clanging in belated warning.  Instantly sobered, I stood in the street, gazing at the retreating train then looked at Hank.  His mouth stood open and his eyes blazed widely.

          I didn’t have the words to explain myself.  "Guess I should be paying more attention this morning."

          Hank broke through his momentary paralysis.  "Jesus!  Get out of the street, Blair!" 

          I made my way to the corner unable to hide my impish grin.

          "Where the hell is your mind, man?" Hank bellowed.  "I've watched you from behind the bar stand on that corner for at least five minutes.  What was that about?"  His head and shoulders thrust towards me, emphasizing his question.  "And then suddenly, you shout out and damn near give that woman a heart attack.  And as if that wasn't enough, you almost walk into a train because you're laughing hysterically."  He grabbed my shoulder firmly, his piercing, concerned gaze studying my face. 

          I suddenly felt very stupid.

          "Hank, I'm sorry.  My mind was on ... elsewhere."  Embarrassed, I dropped my eyes.

          "No shit," he replied.  His hand squeezed my shoulder then as the intensity of the moment passed, he chuckled lowly.  "You just got off of those damned crutches and I don't see a cane, so before you suddenly need them again, I think you'd better get in here."  He gestured over his shoulder towards the diner.

          I stopped a few feet from my stool and studied it.  My grin returned.  I recalled fleeting moments from the past six weeks.  The memories caused me to touch my cheek and again hear Joel's parting words. 

          Circling towards the inner bar, Hank grabbed the coffee pot and moved towards me.  "All right," he started.  "What gives, Blair?"

          Jolted from my thoughts of Joel, I looked up from the bar stool in confusion.  "What do you mean, 'what gives'?  What gives what?"

          Hank studied me for a minute, his brown eyes searching my face.  The intensity of his look caused my blush to return.

          "What?" I asked defensively.  "Can't a guy just be in a good mood?"  I raised my hands plaintively.

          "You're in way too weird of a mood for a Monday morning, buddy."  He reached the pot towards my cup and began to pour, then stopped mid-way.  His eyes again darted to my face, dancing with playfulness.  "You got laid this weekend."

          My cheeks continued to flame as my blush deepened.  I dropped my eyes and reached for my cup.  "C'mon, Hank.  Can't a guy just be happy for no more reason than the sun is up and it’s time to start a new week?"

          Hank snorted then turned to replace the pot on its warmer.  "All I can say is the guy must be pretty fucking special for you not to be bragging about him."

          "What do you mean by that?" I asked, automatically in defensive mode.

          "It's simple," he replied as he punched his code into the service terminal. "You're just like any of us straight guys with your puffed-up-chest and swagger.  You can't kid me, Blair.  But what ..."

          "But, nothing," I interrupted.  "Can't a guy change?  Huh?"

          He snapped his head towards me.  A raw grin prefaced his words.  "So you admit it?"  He asked as his eyebrows rose playfully.

          "Fuck."  I sighed.  "I'm hungry.  Get me some food, would ya?"

          He nodded repeatedly with a pursed, smug grin that said he knew he was right.  "Coming right up, Holmes."  He punched the order into the computer and headed to the kitchen.

          Alone finally, I chuckled to myself.  A deep, contented sigh rushed from my mouth.  Joel's spot across the bar was empty and I grinned widely knowing that it was going to remain empty because the chair next to me would be permanently occupied come Thursday morning.  The thought caused me to shiver excitedly.  The past two and a half days had changed my outlook on life dramatically.



          The previous Saturday, Mikey had cried non-stop when Joel and I entered my house from the rear.  His plaintive meows filled the room, chastising me with their incessant repetition.   He ignored me when I tried to pick him up for a rub, then raced out of the room into the kitchen towards his food dish.

          I turned towards Joel and rolled my eyes.  "I'm one hundred percent certain that there is dry food in his dish.  He's just spoiled."  I laughed.   "He wants his moist food in the mornings first thing and I'm over two hours late with it.  He gets very cranky when his schedule is upset.  You'll see that the more you're around here."

          Joel stood before me, staring into my face.  His brown eyes showed hesitant desire filled with obvious longing.  Surprisingly, I realized that I also saw what seemed to be an underlying current of apprehension which confused me.  Concerned and a bit unsettled, I reached for his face.  His eyes followed my hand.  He shivered once as I touched his cheek, sighing quietly, then closed his eyes.

          "You okay?"  I asked softly.

          He remained silent, but turned his head into my hand as if he craved the security or assurance offered by my touch.  Then he shuddered.  Initially, his reaction to my touch thrilled me.  It was obvious that he liked it, but the slight trembling I felt had a hint of uncertainty about it.   Then, it hit me.

          "Is this too much for you?  Too much too quickly?"  My voice softly rose with concern.  His eyes opened as he clasped my hand in his, pressing it against his cheek.  He gave me a tiny, slight nod in response.


          His whispered confirmation shoved my heart into my throat.

          "and ... no," he finished a little louder.

          I paused, trying to read the mix of signals his eyes and words sent me.  I wanted to ease his confusion now like I wanted to ease his pain last night after seeing him sitting alone again through the restaurant windows.  A part of me also wanted nothing more than to sweep him into my life at a pace and complexity level which my personality naturally pursued.  Yet as I looked at him now and saw those unsure eyes staring back at me, I knew that my wants were meaningless.   The about-face in my thinking astounded me.  And at the exact same time, I felt it embrace me in warm, soothing validation. 

          I brought my hand to cup his other cheek.

          "It's okay," I whispered.  "You can go at whatever pace and at whatever level you choose.  You can just be here with a new friend feeding his cat if that's all you want.  This is about you, not me and ..." I paused, realizing that he might need an escape route, "and if it’ll help, I'll quickly feed Mikey and take you back to your apartment.  Maybe some time without me in your face would help with your … confusion.  We have been together for the past twelve hours."

          His reaction to my words surprised me.  "No!" He whispered forcefully after a moment.  He grasped my hands firmly and pulled them from his face.  His grip remained tight.

          "No, what?" I asked.

          "I don't want to be in my damned apartment now," he said.  "I've spent too many days and weeks there alone and I'm not going to let my fears chase me back to being alone again.  Last night and this morning are the first times that I've felt comfortable there in months and that was because you were there with me.  It's just, Blair … that I'm a little bit overwhelmed to suddenly find myself following you into your house.  It's all so foreign to me."

          His head shook once, clearly frustrated which I saw in his eyes.  They looked a bit lost, but at the same time resolved. He groaned.  "I know this all has to sound pretty silly to you." 

          "What?" I asked, interrupting him.  "No way.  Not in the least bit, all right?" 

          He checked my face to see if I was sincere.  Then he blinked and took a deep breath.

          "It's just that I move through my business day quite normally, quite confidently.  But the casual familiarity of you talking about your cat and including me and … and you being so free with your emotions and yourself and …"

          His words stumbled to a halt.  He dropped his head, eyes gazing elsewhere and let go of my hands.  I got the feeling that he wanted to scream 'hold me now' while at the same time, simultaneously scream 'stay over there because you're way too close'.  The odd thing was I sensed that he wasn’t aware clearly of his own conflict.  His words alone made that obvious. And I was at a loss for a response.  This was foreign territory for me too.  I normally pursued and hopefully caught and enjoyed what I wanted, then quickly moved on.  Now the ole 'catch and release' analogy was out the window along with what I thought I knew about how to handle someone else -- or hell, handle myself!  But I had to do something because he looked so confused and conflicted.

          "Joel?  Look at me will you?"  He met my glance looking so unsure.  I blazed on.  "Can I share with you what I think you're feeling?"

          He snorted lightly once as if to say 'sure, but you don't have a clue'.  Still he nodded and I continued.

          "I think you're feeling that for the past how many years, maybe since your wife died, that you had a level of comfort and confidence in being alone.  Your solitude, it's ... it's shielded you almost and helped to keep you from feeling too much, too deeply.  The problem is that it's also kept new experiences from reaching you and I'd imagine that while you've known this intellectually, you've not been able to do anything about it.  How am I doing so far?"

          He remained silent, but raised his chin directing me to continue.

          "Okay," I said slowly, taking a deep breath.  "So, obviously your business life and persona have expanded exponentially.  I mean the results are there for the world to see, but the critical thing is, unfortunately your personal ability to experience new things hasn't changed or grown much in that time.  So suddenly, you find yourself in a brand new personal situation, one that you've had little recent experience with because you've spent such a long time alone."  I paused and focused on his eyes."  I'm not just talking about the fact that I'm a guy."  His eyes arched and a smirk so alluring crossed his face, I almost attacked him.  "But also, and almost more important is the fact that you haven't engaged on a personal level with anyone but your daughter, Megan, for years."

          I stopped for a second to allow my words to sink in.  He again dropped his gaze to the side, but I could sense that he was waiting for me to continue.  It felt like a good sign, so I went a little further.

          "All of that said, now that I'm suddenly in front of you and with everything I bring to the table, you're in overwhelm with a part of you wanting to back away.   It's understandable, Joel.  Really.  I mean, you want to embrace and experience all the newness that's suddenly before you and, at the same time, you want to run like hell back to what's comfortable."

          He looked at me wide-eyed, not moving.  I could see the analytical factions of his mind as they worked rapidly to process and verify my words.  I watched the aspect of him that constituted the successful executive sift through and apparently reconcile his reality with everything I'd just said.   Then he paused and looked at me directly.  A minute or so passed, when surprisingly, his brows lifted in visible acceptance.

          "How did you know all of this, Blair?” His voice trembled with emotion as he tilted his head in question.

          “You said last night that you were starved for conversation other than about Megan’s health or your business.” 

          “But how did you go from that comment to here?”

          How indeed.  Because I'd lived it for too long.  If the story were really told truthfully, I was dragged kicking and screaming into facing the same things about myself many years ago by a guy who later became my first boyfriend – Brian.  He was the person that finally succeeded in pulling me out of my own self-imposed prison of isolation and withdrawal.  It hadn't been easy for either one of us, but he never let up on me.  He made me realize that just because I'd allowed someone I looked up to five years earlier during my undergraduate studies to mind-fuck me into a debauched summer of desire and submission, it didn't make me a bad person, nor did it make everyone else bad … and it was not a good enough reason to work twelve hours a day to keep me from interacting with others.  He showed me what it was like to be loved by someone and to have fun just for the sake of enjoyment.  Brian knew everything about me.  He said he couldn't stand not to.  He knew about my father allowing his feelings for me to turn into stone after my mother died and keeping me at arms length when I needed him the most.  He liked to call it the first mind-fuck that I allowed to be done to me – the first hardening of my heart.  Brian himself caused the third, but in doing so he at least accomplished the ending of my exile from full living. 

          I shrugged as I thought about Joel's question and the memories it caused to surface.  "Let me just say that it's familiar, but that's not important right now, is it?  What is important is for you to see the last bit of what I'm meaning.  I need you to realize just how much you've changed me over the past six weeks."

          He pulled his head back clearly confused, but I continued.  "I've changed because of you and due to that change or I guess ... because of the change you unknowingly instigated, you are finally safe to venture out -- try on the concept of living life again."  My eyes softened as I stroked his chin with the back of my finger.  I wanted to do so much more than just stroke his chin.  "Joel, what I mean is that I want you to use me as your safety net and your shield for when the volume of living gets too loud -- at least until you're used to it again."

          His confused and worried eyes clenched tightly for a moment.  Then, as he looked at me again, I saw that they'd changed in hue and intensity; relief and resolution looked back at me.  He smiled and sighed.

          "Wow."  He pushed a strong breath from his lungs.  "... uh, thanks.  From the point we left my apartment a short while ago, I've felt this unease growing in me.  It was almost reaching like a panic level and what made it worse was I didn't know what was happening.  I'm not used to feeling uncertain or ... afraid.  Shit, Blair, I'm not used to feeling at all."  He swallowed twice.  His head moved uncertainly for a second then shrugged.  "So … just thanks."  He grinned, then obviously needing a change in our intensity level, flipped his thumb towards the kitchen.  "I think that someone is still hungry."

          "He's always hungry."  Relief flooded through me.  His ability to accept new concepts was astounding and I found it to be very sensual.

          I sensed a great relief coming from Joel's tall frame too.  It felt good.  I winked at him. "You're amazing, you know that?"

          He shrugged and I continued.  "So … you feeling a little less scared?"

          "Yes."  He replied immediately with a relieved sigh and grinned considerably wider.  "I think I'm back to feeling like a horny teenager."  He scanned my face, focusing on my lips.  Playfully, I licked them sensually, then returned his grin.

          "See something you like?" Again, I winked at him.

          "Oh, yeah," he growled quietly.  "But before I attack you, answer me a question."

          "Shoot," I said then moved through the doorway into the kitchen.  Mikey was gonna come at me with his claws if I didn't get him some food.

          I scooped up the cat dish.  "What's your question, stud?"  I threw my best leer at him over my shoulder.

          He feigned an exaggerated sag.  "Fuck, Blair!  What is happening to me?  I feel like a ninety- pound weakling when you look at me sometimes.  I can't believe all the things you've made me feel since last night."  He shook his head then as if to refocus his thoughts.  "What did you mean when you said that by the changes I caused in you that I could now venture out and feel safe? What changes and how did I do anything to make you change?"

          I continued to mix the moist food with the dry, nodding as I did while I thought about my response to his question.  "To begin with," I started, jutting my chin towards him, "just look at you.  Even out of your power suits you are raw, barely-contained energy.  It's palpable.  Do you realize that?"

          He furrowed his brows in question.  I continued.  "A month ago, I tried to force myself on you, thinking that as usual, you would be bowled over by me and I could claim my catch.  And by the way, you were the ultimate catch!  But, what I didn't realize then was that you weren't catch-able."

          I finished mixing the food and placed it in front of Mikey, then turned to face him.  "Just like with you standing there now, a month ago and without even knowing it, I wanted you, up close and personal because of the intense energy that radiates from you."  I shook my head in dismay.  "Back then, I took it as wanting to fuck you.  That's all.  And when you," I smirked at the memory, "very effectively put an end to my pursuit, I looked at what it all meant."

          "Okay, so … I still don't understand."

          I nodded.  "I spent a very intense and long weekend rehearsing that scene in the restaurant.  At one point I realized that it wasn't your dick that I wanted or your mouth or your earlobe, but rather it was just to be closer to you so that I could … well, it's corny I know, but …  I could bathe in your energy, if you will.  See, I knew then that you were different from all the other guys I'd ever wanted.  Sure, other's have shot me down or not been interested, but the change that happened to me when I finally saw that it was the 'whole of you' I wanted to be near, well ... it really rocked me, Joel.  Suddenly, it was as if my entire bluster and cock-and-balls swagger was useless because I realized that you, for whatever reason, needed to be loved.  I saw it in your eyes right before you turned from me.  I knew you needed to be cared for and I … god, Joel.  I don't know how to say this without sounding pathetic, but … I desperately need to love someone and care for them, not just fuck 'em.  It's crude, but I feel like I've spent my whole life either being fucked or doing the fucking … doing anything to keep the feelings away."

          The reality of what I'd just admitted to him slammed into me.  I looked up.  Emotion caused my chest to pant.  "Joel, I've spent so many years in chase-mode, through a couple of doomed-from-the-start relationships, because I was running from something that happened over twenty years ago in college and … I … I suddenly found this huge hole in me.  I knew I needed to fill it and even though I knew that I couldn't fill it the way I needed to with you, I still ... desperately wanted to be near you.  But, the bravado crap was bullshit, especially with you, so I made myself happy with trying on a new, less aggressive me.  And it changed me."

          Joel moved closer to me and hesitated, but then reached to take my hands in his.  His intensity was palpable.  "Shit, okay … uh, but I still don't understand why or how any of that makes it safer for me to expose myself to other people."

          I sighed.  I knew that I'd stopped short of giving the full explanation.  It would make me vulnerable and leave me more exposed than I'd ever been in my life.  Then, somewhere in the doubt of going further, something clicked inside of me and I glimpsed what could be if I'd only let myself go.  I took a deep breath and pulled him closer to me, thighs touching as I leaned against the counter.  His breath shuddered at my touch reminding me just how new all of this was for him.

          "Look, Joel.  You haven't even been awake yet …" I winced at my choice of words.  "That's not what I mean.  You haven't been aware of anyone or anything outside of your very, small sphere for even 24 hours.  I really don't know if it's such a good idea to slam you with this really intense shit all at once."

          He pursed his lips once quickly.  "I'm a big boy, Blair."  His words were gentle, yet firmly stated.  The brown of his eyes bore into mine and I realized that all I could do was go forward and hope that I didn't drive him away.

          I swallowed once.  "Last night you heard me whisper my desire for you in your ear, right?"

          He nodded once, continuing to hold my gaze.

          "And you heard me say that I'd thought of you everyday since I first saw you."

          Another nod.

          "Well, what I haven't told you is that I've not even looked at another man since you walked into the restaurant and sat in your place at the bar.  Actually, that's not even the half of it.  I've flatly not wanted anyone else but you, period, even after you made it clear that that just wasn't going to happen. But I still couldn't stop thinking of you."

          I pinched my eyes shut tightly and grimaced before I continued.  "I've dreamt of you.  I've thought of you in meetings.  I've caught myself writing 'My Guy' on business notes because I didn’t know your name.  And the amazing thing is that through all of my obsessive actions and from all of the time that I've spent taking quick glances at you, I … uh … came to realize that protecting you from further pain and hurt was going to be my main focus from now on." 

          I chuckled wryly to myself, then continued.

          "Granted, I couldn't fully see how that was going to work because you didn't want to have anything to do with me and I thought you were one hundred percent straight, but hey, in my mind, that was a minor detail.  My confidence and bravado are still a big part of me.  Then I saw you sitting in the restaurant last night with the most painful and defeated and alone expression that I've ever seen on another person's face and all I could think about was grabbing you in a hug and making all the hurt go away."

          I snorted in amazement and continued.   "God, I can't believe that was just last night.  Amazing!"  I shook my head quickly to refocus.  "Then, you basically let that happen, meaning you let me help you with your pain.  And when I whispered in your ear that I wanted you completely, it wasn't because we'd just had sex, it was because … " my voice trailed off with uncertainty.

          Joel jumped in, prodding me.  "What?  Please, Blair … finish what you were saying."

          I growled.  "Christ, Joel.  It was because I never wanted to be apart from you again.  Now that I'd finally been granted the incredible chance of being close to you, I wanted you a thousands times more fiercely than ever before.  I want you close to me so that I can breathe you and hold you and … protect you.  I want to show you everything again that you once knew about being alive and I want you to experience that with me at your side.  I … fuck!"

          My voice cracked with the emotions my words spewed forth.  "It sounds so damned pathetic, but I want to be your champion ... be fucking Lancelot to your Arthur."

          I pinched my eyes shut tightly to close out the piercing intensity that I saw in his gaze.  I had to finish this now.

          "And I want all of this not even 12 hours after you first spoke to me.  You surely have to think that I'm fucking psycho or something, but …"

          I stopped because his lips crashed into mine.  His tongue burrowed into my mouth and his hands grabbed my face with a force equivalent to that released in a major earthquake.  I moaned in surprise, wanting him so badly, but I grabbed his shoulders, pulling us apart.

          "Joel!  Stop!"  I hissed.

          "Stop?  Why?  I've never been hotter in my life!  God!  Your words, your ... passion have me ready to scream."

          My mouth dropped open in surprise and I stared into his panting face, dumbfounded.  It suddenly hit me that he wasn't going to run away from me!  "What about …"

          "What about nothing, Blair.  Don't you see?  In the past 12 hours since you sat at my table, I've become alive.  I feel alive again … so alive it almost hurts and if you think you're going to scare me away with your honestly and the intensity of your feelings, then you're absolutely mistaken."  He launched another set of kisses at my face then laughed.

          "I feel better than I've ever felt before and you're the reason.  I want to kiss you and not stop until I've tasted every square inch of you.  With you in my life, next to me, suddenly I know I can literally do anything.  It's like … it's like I've been reunited with my missing self and that's all because of what you call your obsessive actions and your need to 'breathe me'.  God, Blair ..." he kissed me again.  "Do you have any idea what that does to me to hear you say that?  I can't believe that I've gone so many goddamned years without you in my life."  He clenched his eyes tightly and exhaled.  "What did you call me … 'my guy'?  Well, you're definitely ‘my guy’ and you definitely also have to understand the fact that you being a man makes everything all the more new and exciting for me."

          He pounced again with his lips and ground his groin into mine.  The onslaught of his passionate expression brought me close to exploding.   His ardor burned into me, searching out and cauterizing the last remnants of my worries over being exposed and then converted them into indescribably awestruck feelings; solid ones, lasting ones.

          We broke apart, flushed and panting.  He leaned his forehead against mine and, as he caught his breath, his insidious grin bathed me with emotion.  The richness of his voice as he laughed breathlessly caused shivers to race through me.

          "I'm glad we got all of that out in the open.  I know I sure feel better," he chuckled.

          I laughed with him.  My hands moved to stroke the back of his head as he continued to lean against me.  The closeness, brought on by the touch of his forehead against mine and the gentle stroking of his hands on my arms, nearly caused me to sag to the floor.  My breath slowly reverted to a normal level.  I was amazed by his comment.  It was as if he'd processed everything I'd said and every nuance of his own feelings and moved it all to a conclusion that he was completely satisfied with.

          I breathed in his masculine scent and felt his own breath flow across my lips.  My body shuddered.  "I can't believe you," I said with a quick kiss as I brushed my lips against his.  "Somehow I sense that as of this moment, you're one hundred percent okay with everything and ready to take on the world."

          He chuckled, but remained pressed against me.  "Well, I don't know about the world just yet, but I'm ready to take on 'us'."

          I shuddered again.  'Christ! Does he mean it?'

          I could not help but laugh quietly.  "So in twelve hours you've processed being locked away inside of yourself, allowed a near stranger to give you a massage and two hand-jobs, dealt with any residual demons about being with a man, learned to kiss me like a porn star and … AND … decided you want there to be an 'us'!  Jesus, Joel, you sure don't waste any time, do you?"  I kissed his nose and pulled my forehead back a bit. 

          His grin widened, revealing his dazzling, white smile.  "I guess it's just not in my nature to dwell on things for too long.  Except for being closed off for the past twelve years personally, I normally view the information presented to me, make my decisions and move on to enjoy the outcome."  He chuckled and I could feel it on my face as he continued.  "And now, with my Lancelot beside me, or better yet in my arms, I can do the same thing with my personal side.  You've set me free.  You've become my Holy Grail, if we're going to use Arthurian analogies."  He pulled his forehead from mine and looked into my eyes.  "I'm serious.  You've given me my life back, Blair." 

          I sighed and felt close to tears.  I felt his lips softly kiss my closed lids. 

          "Oh, god."  My whisper, soft and breathless, fell into the quiet spaces between our heartbeats.



          "Hello? Blair?"  For the second time Hank's voice reached into my thoughts and brought me back to the present.  He placed some food in front of me then rested his hands on the bar and leaned towards me.  "What's his name?"

          Guiltily, my gaze darted once quickly towards him then dropped to the plate in front of me.  "I … uh, can't tell you that right now, Hank.  But I promise you'll meet him on Thursday when he gets back into town, all right?"

          I felt his searching gaze as he stood frozen before me.  I knew that in one way I was being unfair to Hank.  We'd shared a ton of stuff over the past couple of years, but this was one thing that I simply couldn't share, not yet and not until Joel gave me the go-ahead.  Hank was ultimately his employee. 

          "Fine, Blair."  Hank said, his voice laden with resignation, but acceptance. 

          "Hank, if I could tell you, I would.  I'm sorry, bud."

          Hank turned from me.  "Yeah, sure, man.  I'll stay out of it."  As he approached the kitchen, the main entrance door opened and two customers shuffled in.  Hank greeted them as he shifted direction toward the coffee pot. 

          I watched as he welcomed them and provided menus.  Then my thoughts drifted back to Joel.



          Later Saturday morning after our emotional catharsis in the kitchen, Joel agreed to go where I wanted for breakfast.  As we walked into the park near my house, Joel looked at me quizzically. 

          "I thought we were heading to breakfast?"

          I grinned and nodded once.  "We are, but it's going to be a little informal if that's all right with you?"

          He shrugged.  "It really doesn't matter where we go.  It's actually very nice to be outside.  It feels like this spring has been a long time coming."  He looked at the trees around us.  "Look, they're covered in buds and it's only late March."  He sighed as he reached for a low-hanging branch.  "Wherever we're going, I hope they have a patio.  I don't really feel like being indoors right now."

          I grinned, but remained silent.  We progressed through the park and approached the park-side entrance to the zoo.  Joel looked at me in surprise.

          "We're having breakfast in the zoo?"

          I laughed.  "Not exactly.  Just wait."

          I flashed my zoo pass to the attendant and paid the nominal entrance fee for Joel and we proceeded into the main part of the complex.  I spied the vendor I was looking for and stopped in front of his cart. 

          "Joel, this is Ralph and he makes the best damned breakfast burritos in town, don't you Ralph?"

          Ralph grinned.  "How many today, Blair?"

          I laughed.  "I'll take two for myself and two for my friend."

          We added two tall coffees to our order then made our way back to the entrance and into the park.



          At roughly the same time, a kid, possibly pre-teen, scaled the fence surrounding the Denver Zoo's new exotic bird exhibit.  His thoughts brought a grin due to his desire to set the birds free, but that would bring the wardens running and stir up the unsuspecting daddies walking with their families with thick wallets in their back pockets.  He needed to have no attention called to him if he was going to be successful.  In an hour, if he was lucky, he'd be walking through the zoo's gates back into the park, weighted down with a couple extra credit cards he could sell along with some cash in his pockets.­




          Once seated on a bench along the edge of Ferrill Lake, Joel understood first-hand that I wasn't exaggerating my claims regarding the burritos. 

          "You're right, these are incredible.  Now I see what you were talking about.  Even the tortillas are loaded with flavor.  Incredible.  They remind me of some I get in Manhattan -- the same kind of tortilla packed full of the good stuff."  He took another bite and continued.  "I hope he's there tomorrow, but I kind of doubt it.  I think it's been snowing off and on there lately."

          I thought about his words as I finished chewing.  I didn't want to acknowledge what they meant.  "It's actually pretty cold there," I began.  "At least it was yesterday when I talked with my home office.  Take some warm clothes."

          Joel nodded in response to my advice and continued to chew his last bite.  Then, he froze in mid-chew.  "Fuck!" he said, his voice muffled by the remaining food in his mouth.  He quickly swallowed and looked at me. 

          "Damnit!" he swore.  "I forgot.  I never forget things."  He wiped his mouth quickly with his hand.  A sigh prefaced his words and a look of resignation and regret  crossed his face.  "I'm flying to New York tonight for a four day meeting with my top site managers and my executive team.  I leave on the eight o'clock flight to Kennedy."

          We stared at each other for a long moment.  Comprehension dawned as we each realized that in the swell of events and the surge of emotions we'd bathed in for the last fourteen hours, that we hadn't spoken a word to the other about anything but our current moments together.  I gave him a quick sigh along with a wistful smile. 

          "And so, real life intervenes.  Four days, huh?  Damn.  When do you get back?"

          "Late Wednesday night, I think.  I'd have to check with Rob, my assistant, to be sure.  But I think it's like midnight or so."  He looked at his partially eaten burrito and sighed dejectedly.  "In the back of my head, I was trying to decide where to take you for dinner tonight.  You know, get a little romantic.  You're really all I've been thinking about."  He sighed again.  "I'm sorry, Blair.  I can't cancel the meetings or else I would."

          "A little romance, huh?"  My face beamed.  "Don't worry.  It's the thought that counts, right?"  I grinned and bumped him with my shoulder.  "Now finish your burrito.  Suddenly what I thought was going to be a leisurely day spent idly gazing into your eyes while I got to know you more has to be packed into … what?"  I looked at my watch, "five, six hours?  It's 10:30 now.  I imagine that you would need to leave for the airport by six and probably need time to get yourself together, so that takes us to maybe three o'clock.  So, damn, actually, we only have four hours and …"

          Joel pulled my head to his and pressed his lips to mine, effectively shutting down my rambling.

          "That's better," he winked.  "Rob will have everything ready for me to go, so all I have to do is let him know where I'll be around 6:30 so he can have the car pick me up.  That gives us all day to spend together.  How does that sound?"

          I sighed as I grinned and leaned against him.  "Sounds good."  I chuckled silently.  "God, I sound like a love-struck kid.  What's worse is that I'm actually a love-struck 42 year old."

          He bumped me in return with his shoulder.  "Well, I think I'm pretty love-struck too."

          I looked at him incredulously then watched as he blew me a slight kiss.  I felt giddy.

          We spent the day together, some of it in the park, some of it in my bed -- all of it was perfect.  And when his car arrived, our goodbye was brief.  He held me as we stood on my porch and whispered how much he'd miss breakfast with me on Monday.



          I picked at my food, suddenly realizing that I wasn't all that hungry.  Joel's calls throughout Sunday confirmed that his feelings for me were as real as mine were for him, albeit brand new.  I finally pushed my half-eaten plate forward.  Hank grabbed my plate with a raised eyebrow, but remained silent.  He grinned as he refilled my cup. 

          "Must be pretty special indeed, my friend." 

          My smile and nod communicated my agreement. 

          Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a movement in the back of the restaurant, near the entrance to the main part of the building.  Unbelievably, Joel stood there, dressed in a dark suit with his lock of dark hair dangling over his forehead, grinning madly at me. 

          My mouth dropped open as my face exploded with an ecstatic look of surprise.  Joel moved into the restaurant.

          Hank looked at me when he heard my gasp.

          Joel approached quickly, veering to the left instead of heading towards his normal space.  As he rounded the bar, Hank turned to see what had made me react so strongly.  Surprised, he quickly greeted Joel.

          "Uh … good morning, sir."

          Joel grinned and answered him, refusing to drop his gaze from my face.  "Morning, Hank." 

          His grin widened as he rounded the last corner of the bar.  I stumbled to my feet and opened my arms as Joel slammed into me, pressing his mouth to mine. 

          I groaned loudly at the same time that I heard a crash of breaking glass followed by a curse.  I kissed Joel feverishly, returning the intense passion that flowed from him.  Finally, I pulled away and stared into his face.  His smile electrified me.  His whispered words shot straight into my heart.

          "I think I love you."

          My voice caught in a gasp.  Shit!  He said it!  I looked at him with my eyes and mouth wide open then gave my biggest grin.  My head dipped to acknowledge his words. "What are you doing here?" I exclaimed.  "You're supposed to be in New York!”

          Joel's laughter covered my own.  "I couldn't be away from you."

          Emotion chocked my words to a whisper.  “I love you.”

          "Oh ... my ... god!"  Hank's exclamation caused us both to look at him.  He stood, feet wide apart and half-bent over, straddling the remains of the broken coffee pot, yet still staring at the two of us.  

          I laughed at the bewildered expression on his face.  His eyes were wide and filled with confusion.  Shock accented his dark-toned face, but underneath it was a growing realization of what he was seeing.  His mouth was open and, as he stood up, his shock converted itself into a wide smile. 

          "Christ, Blair.  When did this happen?"  Understanding suddenly covered his face.  "So this is why you were so dopey this morning!"  He laughed as he put the pieces together.  "Now I understand.  You could have given me some hint or warning."

          Joel answered for me.  "It's not his fault, Hank.  It's mine.  I wasn't supposed to be back until Thursday."  He then turned to me.  "You were dopey this morning?  Me too!  I couldn't stay away from you.  I had to get a deep breath of you."

          His words forced out the air in my lungs while my grin threatened to split my face.  I pulled Joel to me for another kiss and heard the female customer gasp behind us on the end-side of the bar. 

          "Did you hear that," she said to the guy sitting next to her.  "Have you ever heard anything more romantic?"   The guy's stuttered response caused me to start laughing again in the middle of my kiss with Joel. 

          I pulled from him and turned to the couple.  "I'm sorry, folks.  I don't know who this guy is or why he's attacking me."  Joel bit my ear playfully.  I laughed and turned back to him.

          Hank, realizing that he had to do something besides stare at us, shook his head and grabbed the second coffee pot from the burner.  He poured the steaming liquid in the cup in front of the place next to mine.  "Uh, I take it you won't be using your normal spot anymore, Sir."

          Joel nodded and clasped my hand in his.  "No Hank.  I think I have a new place to sit.  And please, call me Joel, if you don't mind."

          Hank grinned.  "Okay, then.  Joel.  We'll consider this 'confirmed seating'."  He winked through his grin.  "Have a seat while I clean up this mess.  Uh, sorry about the coffee pot.  I just lost my grip when you and Blair … uh … never mind."

          Joel waved off his apology, then placed his hand on my lower back, gesturing towards the bar stools.  I felt giddy and light as Joel and I took our seats.  I felt as if I could float away into the clouds.  I turned and found him staring at me intently.

          "I couldn't be happier, Joel.  You know that, don't you?"

          "Yeah.  I do," he gushed intimately.  "I feel the same way.  Saturday night and all day Sunday was just terrible.  I couldn't stand being without you.  I just couldn't.  Not after just finding you.  So, halfway through our meeting yesterday, I pulled Halstead -- he's my London manager -- from the meeting and asked if he would mind flying a little further to Denver.  He agreed and so last night I had us all flown back here to continue our meetings. I had to see you ... and talk with you about a few things."

          "God, Joel, I can't believe you did that, but … I mean … wow!"  My smile mirrored the intensity of my feelings.  "What did you say to the rest of them as far as an explanation?"

          He smirked.  "Just that I had to return to Denver for personal reasons and would they mind a change of plans.  I kind of made it clear that I wasn't really asking their permission." He dipped his head in accepted resignation.  "It's one of the perks of being who I am and I rarely pull the boss card."

          "Well, I for one am glad you did," I replied.  "Does this mean that we can be together tonight?"  My voice betrayed my desire, but I didn't care.  The man that I wanted to spend every waking minute with was again before me.  As far as I saw it, we'd been apart long enough.

          "Yes, of course that's what it means.  I wouldn't want it any other way."

          I grinned at the near repeat of my words from Saturday morning. 

          "And," he continued, "I'd like you to join me for dinner with my team this evening, if you don't mind.  I know you won't know any of them yet, but it would mean a lot to have you sitting next to me."

          "I'd love to, babe.  I mean that.  But, man, Joel ... it'll be difficult trying to keep my feelings for you hidden.  I will try, though."

          "Don't bother.  I'm not asking you to be there as a friend, but as my lover.  Is that all right with you?"

          I stared at him as his words sank into my mind ... and my heart.  "As your lover … I … I'd like nothing more, Joel.  God!  This day just keeps getting better."

          His smile, while bright, was short-lived.  I saw a small cloud of thought cross his face as he went to speak.  "I also want to talk to you about something else, something both personal and professional."

          I took in his expression and a slight worry sprouted in my mind.  I nodded for him to continue.

          He swallowed once.  "On the flight back last night, I, uh … called my good friend, Rod Sampson."

          My gaze froze as the name sank into my consciousness.  Rod Sampson was the head of the acquisitions firm that I work for. 

          "What brought on that phone call, Joel?"  I had a slight sinking feeling in my gut, but I kept my voice neutral.

          He paused before responding, gauging my reaction to his surprising statement.  "I called him specifically to ask him about his Senior Acquisitions Project Manager in his Denver office."

          I nodded my head slowly, watching his expression as he watched mine.  My gut told me that there had to be a logical explanation for his call and that I would understand his motives shortly.  My heart told me to rest assured that Joel wouldn't do anything to hurt me, either professionally or personally.  The problem was though, that my mind screamed warnings to me which I had a hard time ignoring.  The firm I worked for was cut-throat and extremely competitive and if word leaked out that someone was looking for another position it went straight to the top with rather unsavory results.  Loyalty was required, not requested. 

          The buoyant, floating feeling I'd been enjoying only moments before evaporated in an instant.  I continued to hold Joel's stare, not bothering to hide my surprise, nor my growing upset. 

          "Go on."  My words came out in the form of a command. 

          He nodded.  "I started the conversation saying that you didn't know that I was calling, nor had you and I spoken the first word about what I wanted to speak to him about.  I told him that if there were any repercussions against you because of the phone call that I would no longer hold any respect for him or our friendship.  We've known each other for over fifteen years in the business setting.  He assured me of his certainty of your loyalty and to proceed with asking what I wanted to know." 

          I stared at him as he again took a measure of my response.   He licked his lips, continuing steadily. 

          "I had heard your name in certain circles before, but obviously we had never met until a month ago.  I asked Rod if the rumors I had heard about your worth to an organization were founded in fact or speculation."

          My head jerked involuntarily as I coughed angrily.  I wet my lips to unclench my jaw and renewed my stare.  My eyes began to blaze.  He didn't flinch. 

          "Rod told me that the rumors were one hundred percent based in fact and that you have twice declined vice-president appointments within the company because you refused to relocate to New York.  He also shared that because of your worth and standing in the company, you were allowed to continue in your position even though the culture in the company doesn't tolerate declinations for advancement.  Your strengths and loyalties, it seems, are worth your weight in gold in Rod's estimation."

          My patience was almost gone and with a low, controlled voice, I made my feelings clear.  "Would you get to the point, Joel?  Like now."

          Again he failed to flinch.  God!  I was beginning to see how he'd made it to where he was today in the business world -- and it pissed me off even more! 

          "Sure.  There's just a little bit more, Blair.  Rod then asked if I intended on stealing you from him."  My eyes flew open wide in surprise.  Joel noticed, but continued after a pause.  "I said that, yes, I did in fact plan to try that very thing.  He assured me that I didn't stand a chance."

          My head shook back and forth repeatedly with small, controlled movements.  Suddenly, I felt very much like a pawn on a chess board and what surprised me the most was the certain, instant knowledge that I'd bitten off more than I could chew when I foolishly, and very stupidly, failed to leave Joel's table three nights ago when I found out who he was.  For the past ten years, I had fought to make a name for myself in the acquisitions field, a tenure that is hard to match for most people.  I sensed that something vital was tearing itself loose inside me and was shocked to realize that it was my heart.

          I felt betrayed.

          "Why?"  The one word question was all that I could give voice to.

          He touched my hand as it lay clenched on my thigh and I flinched.  I saw the first sign of a crack in his steely gaze when he felt my reaction to his touch.  Then, I watched as he steeled himself again. 

          "It's simple.  I took a major risk on your part last night in talking with Sampson.  I know that, but I balanced that risk with the intensity of feelings I have for you and I banked on you having for me."

          The bile in my throat stuck on the lump that had suddenly formed at his words.  The anger and conflict I felt made me mute.

          "I knew that at that point, we'd only been together for 48 hours, but ... I was ... I am certain ... that they are true, honest feeling on both sides.  The only thing I could think about since I left you Saturday evening was that I had to have my Lancelot with me, by my side, always -- not just when I come home at night."

          His words threw me into a dizzying spiral.  They came from so far out in left field that I found I could do nothing to right myself, so I simply stared at him.

"From everything that I've heard about you and what Rod confirmed last night, you are stronger by far than anyone else in the Denver office and most of the sharks in New York."

That pissed me off.  "And so you think that because I've given you my heart that I would chuck the career that I've fought fiercely for over the past decade just to be your acquisitions lackey?  So I could insure smooth acquisitions for your future empire building endeavors?  Is that it, Joel?" I hissed, my voice never rising above a forced whisper.  My anger and hurt spurred me forward.  "God, that's so fucked up!  What do you take me for?"

I turned from him because I felt my voice begin to rise.  I grabbed my coffee cup with the intent of draining it and leaving, but my eyes caught Hank's as he leaned against the far side of the bar watching us.  He wiped his hands on the bar towel as his glance moved from me to Joel and back again.  Then, surprising me, he nodded pointedly towards Joel and turned to refill a customer's cup. 

I looked at Joel, planning to tell him to fuck off, but what I saw on his face stopped me cold.  His eyes stared at me widely and tears pooled at their base, threatening to spill onto his cheek.  He started to speak, but no words came out.  His lower lip quivered with emotion and the sight of him, upset to the point of tears, wrenched my heart.

"What, Joel?"  My voice trembled angrily.  My anger lay rooted in the obvious fact that regardless of how pissed off I was, the protection instinct in me for him flared strongly.  "What are you so upset about?  I'm the one who should be pissed off and you can damn well believe I am."

He blinked rapidly at my words, clearing his eyes.  Then in a voice raised slightly above a whisper, he blind-sided me fatally. 

"I meant for you to be by my side as my partner, as my equal.  Never as my employee."

          My mouth dropped open in stunned shock as my mind whirled with the implications inherent in his words.  I snapped my mouth shut then went to respond, but no words came forth and my mouth dropped open again.  The tsunami that had become my emotions in the last ten minutes rolled over me effectively flattening my processing and emotional centers. 

          "You win, Joel."  I groaned unable to force much else out of me.  "I'm all played out."

          "Blair?  Look at me.  What do you mean by that?  What do you mean that I win?  Win what?"

          My head hurt with the swell of tension and emotion flowing through me.  I shook my head with confusion.  "I don't know how to even respond to something like that, Joel.  I've been on such an emotional high lately and then you come in here and take off on some fucking tangent about me being your equal business partner after telling me that you told Rod Sampson that you're going to steal me.  Joel, for the love of God, you win.  You win the prize."  I shook my hands at him in resigned defeat.   "I've never felt so fucked with in my life.  I can barely make coherent sentences and I don't know how to even begin to process what you're saying to me."

          He leaned towards me emotionally, forcefully. 

          "Blair, stop.  Hang on a second, would you?  Please, you gotta believe that I'm not trying to fuck with you.  Nothing is further from my mind."  He grabbed my limp hand and pressed it to his lips.  "Let me start over, please.  Will you let me do that?" 

          I bobbed my head randomly at him then glanced at my watch.  "Look.  I have a vid conference in less than 30 minutes with New York and Sampson is supposed to join us."  I closed my eyes and pulled my hand from his.  "Joel, I need to focus on something other than … this," I said holding my hands up to include the two of us, "or else I'm gonna look and sound like a babbling idiot."

          He grabbed my hand again, forcing me to look him in the eye and not look away.  "Then focus on this one thing:  I am asking you to be a part of my life with no holds barred.  I want you with me, beside me in the boardroom and the bedroom.  I want your equal input and your expertise on my business decisions as well as what we eat for breakfast.  I'm asking you to be my shield, my sword and my mate when we decide to buy another building or we organize a new enterprise or when we pick out matching rings."  He cupped my cheek firmly for emphasis.  "Don't you see, Blair, I'm asking you to partner equally with me on everything that has to do with us.  I'm not bluffing or trying to win anything except your love.” 

          His intensity and honest passion penetrated me utterly.  In an instant, the fears, doubts and anger dropped from me as Joel's heartfelt and impassioned proposal rang in my head.  I couldn't keep up even a pretense of misunderstanding between us now, not after having it spelled out so clearly that even my bravado was forced to see it. 

          My heart leapt in my chest and I launched myself into his arms.  He hugged me close to him and I took in a deep breath of Joel ... a deep breath of Arthur. 

          A few of the other diners behind us looked our way when they heard my sigh and moan.  I realized that in the passion and intensity of our moment, we hadn't been even slightly discreet, though there were several empty chairs separating us from the other diners.  I took one last breath of the man that had thundered into my life, then pulled back from the embrace and looked into his eyes, silently nodding.

          His expression exploded in a smile.  "So … you say yes?" 

          "I think I need to call Sampson and I don't think he's going to be too happy."


          The call went pretty much the way I expected it to go.  Sampson took my call immediately and proceeded to attempt to talk me out of leaving.  The dollars he offered left me astounded, but resolute.  I thanked him for the experience, which didn't go over very well, and the call ended.  Again, pretty much like I knew it would.  The firm no longer required my services and I could pick up my personal items from Security by noon. 

          As I hit the off button on my phone, I stared at it for a moment.  I wondered, briefly, if my life could get any more bizarre, then chuckled to myself as I realized that I had no one else to blame but myself for the incredible, wonderful turmoil that was now my life.  I raised my eyes to face Joel and gave him a wry, sparkling smile and an off-handed shrug.

          Hank's voice broke into my thoughts as he addressed Joel.  "I'm sorry Mr. Summers, but..." his eyes turned towards me, "but Blair?  Did you just do what I think you did?"

          I looked at him with a grin and nodded.  "If you think that I just quit my very lucrative position to see what time with this amazing guy is like, then you'd be correct.  I did just that."

          Hank's eyes widened briefly.  "Man!  I can't keep up.  I'm so damned behind the game.  I'm still reeling from your kiss when you saw each other."  He shook his head and let out a loud wahoo.  Joel and I laughed loudly as he continued.

          "Well then, this calls for a celebration.  Everybody," he said to the rest of the customers, "this is a great day to be at the diner.  Monday mimosas are on the house!  I'll send you off to work with a smile!"  The patrons joined in our laughter and there was a little, confused applause.

          As Hank began to set up the glasses, Joel signaled him over to our corner and asked him to bring us a bottle of Moet for our own private celebration after he served the customers.  Hank winked at him.  "Right away, sir."  Then he cast a long glance at me and slowly shook his head in disbelief. 

          Once the customers had their drinks in front of them, Hank raised his glass to me in a toast.  "Congratulations on making it to the All-Stars, Buddy.  I'm sure glad you didn't follow my advice!"  There was a chorus of congratulations from around the bar even though I could see that people didn't have a clue as to why they were toasting me. 

          People returned to their private conversations and Hank left the bar to obtain the Moet.  Joel placed his hand behind my neck.

          "So, how do you feel?"

          "Like I'm not in Kansas anymore, Toto."

          Joel laughed and pressed his hand to my cheek.  "Good analogy."  His laughter quieted.  "So what did Sampson say to you?  Just curious, you know."

          I nodded.  "Well, first he began with saying he knew that 'that bastard Summers' had most likely called me and when I acknowledged your call, then gave him my resignation, he exploded, saying that I was making a huge professional mistake.  Then he offered me an outrageous amount of money and when I thanked him, but declined, he called you a ... 'fucking bastard', I think, and informed me that the firm no longer desired my services.  I can pick my stuff up at noon."

          Joel chuckled.  "How many times did he call me a bastard?"

          "Uh, three times, I think.  Among other things."

          Joel shrugged with a renewed grin.  "He'll get over it."

          "Yeah, that's pretty much what I figured.  He also said that you now owed him one."

          "I suppose.  I'll have to think of something good to make the peace."  I grinned.  “I need to call Peter, my assistant.  I want him to come with me.”

          Joel nodded.  “Good.  I know I’d be lost without my assistant, Rob.”

          Hank returned then with the champagne and two crystal flutes.  He grinned at us as he deftly popped the cork and filled our glasses, setting the bottle in front of us in a bucket of ice on the lower service bar.  He gave a slight bow and then, grinning like a mad man, turned to tend to the rest of the group.

          I chuckled, a big smile spread widely across my face.

          "What's that smile for?"  Joel asked as he leaned into me.

          I grinned.  "Hank repeatedly refused to share even a morsel about you and endlessly told me to just forget about having anything to do with you."  I nuzzled into Joel's face.  "I'm glad I ignored him." We silently raised our glasses together, touching them gently then grinned broadly as we sipped, eyes locked.

          I pulled Joel's hand to my chest so he could feel how hard my heart was beating.  My head moved back and forth in quiet disbelief.  I was filled with awe and wonder at the magnitude of changes my life had undergone in less than 72 hours and at the same time, I was more than a little unsettled with all of the 'unknowns' suddenly facing me. 

          "It's all catching up to you, isn't it?"  He asked quietly.  I nodded as he smiled to me with understanding.  "I know," he said.  "It caught up with me this morning in the elevator coming down here to surprise you.  It's quite a feeling after all of these years to be suddenly facing such incredible changes and new things, but, if I can, I want to share with you just how certain I am that with the two of us joined together," he grinned slyly,  "Lancelot and Arthur, there is nothing that can harm us, nor separate us." 

          I nodded for him to continue. 

          "Blair, I was standing in our first meeting yesterday, sharing my vision of where I wanted to take the properties and how I envisioned our expansion on a global scale to include new markets and a shift of our acquisitions into other global industries.  I told them that we cannot be afraid to change and that we must embrace the changes with exuberance and passion.  I challenged each of them to bring me one new development concept within the next month."  His eyes shined with excitement. 

          "And then, in mid-stride if you will, I was blasted with the idea of how you and I are a new concept and I instantly saw that we, together, had unlimited potential.  I'm not just talking business-wise, either.  I saw us as being unstoppable in all aspects of our life.  So … I paused in my delivery to them and held my hand up, asking them to give me a moment."  His brown eyes twinkled with excitement.  "And then, I saw it all laid out in front of me ... your reputation for flawless acquisitions, the article you published in CEO Magazine about the doom of companies and CEOs who limited their scope to acquisitions solely, and the dynamo that had resulted in our meeting on a personal level ... all of it."  His arms flew open wide to encompass seemingly everything. 

          "And behind my vision," he continued passionately, "I knew that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing in leading my company in a new direction.  But I also saw that I was cruelly short-changing us by being away from you after finally, just finding you."  He grabbed my hand in a tight, passionate grasp.  "I know this all sounds convoluted, but bear with me.  It was perfectly clear to me then as it is now.  We had to be together in order for us to unleash our own unlimited potential as a couple.  It wouldn't happen with me flying around somewhere and you remaining either here in Denver or in New York."  He paused to take a long sip of his champagne and hurried on. 

          "And then the vision clarified itself and I saw us together as one, in both our personal lives and our business lives.  I didn't see us as me being the CEO and you being my personal assistant.  I saw us as equals, as co-generators of ideas and opportunities based on the aptly stated premise in that magnificently presented article of yours.  I knew instantly that we would tear up the business world by day and equally tear up the sheets by night since we wouldn't constantly want to be where the other of us was.  Do you see what I'm saying, Blair?  I knew that even though we'd just met, that I was more certain of this than I'd ever been about anything in my life.  Does that make any sense?  I know it's a lot to grasp all at once, but it's how I am and I have to tell you, I haven't been this clear about something in years."

          His enthusiasm and vision sparked my own.  My very real questions of what I was going to be doing with Joel's company disintegrated.  My mind raced forward with ideas and possibilities like a thoroughbred on a track, newly released from the gate.  Long-held ideas that I'd wanted to put into play, suddenly flooded me and I had to force myself to return to Joel in the here and now. 

          "My god, Joel.  You are absolutely as dynamic as I've always heard.  Of course what you're saying makes sense to me.  Sampson asked me if I was going to be handling your acquisitions and I told him not exactly, even though I didn't quite know what you had in mind."

          "Handle them?  No fucking way!" he exclaimed forcefully.  "You and I are going to decide what we want to do next and then put the team to work obtaining it while we shepherd the process."

          "This is all so amazing, Joel.  I never dreamed that the man who I became infatuated with six short weeks ago, would in turn, offer me the world, but it feels like you're doing just that."

          He leaned in closely to me and brushed my lips with his own.  "No, Lover.  I'm not offering you the world, I'm offering you me.  The world is just our playground."

          As his words sunk in, I started to chuckle, but it soon turned into a full laugh.  I spilled champagne onto my slacks as my laughter increased.  Joel looked at me with a confused, yet exuberant expression.

          "What's so funny?" He asked smiling.

          "What you just said," I laughed.  "'the world is our playground'.  Gosh, it's gonna take a while to get used to how a billionaire thinks."

          Joel grinned with understanding as a faint blush covered his flawless cheeks and reddened his sexy ears.  "I know.  I get a little carried away at times.  I don't always think so grandly."

          "Don't apologize, Joel.  It's incredible and I love it, but it's just going to take a little getting used to.  I mean," I glanced at my watch to gauge the time, "my career-end at the firm has now been announced and I frankly don't even care because I'm happy to just be with you."

          "Good!" Joel exclaimed.  "Because we have confirmed seating on the 9:00 am flight to Paris on Sunday."  His eyes twinkled mischievously.  "I have my eye on an industrial manufacturing concern there that I really want your opinion on.  We'll do a little business and then I thought that maybe we could take a little sojourn into the vineyards around Bordeaux."

          My mouth dropped open and my eyes flooded with tears.  It was all too much!  I suddenly found it impossible to capture the extent of happiness that I felt with words.  I pulled him to me and poured all of the happiness and emotion and promise I felt into a soul-wrenching kiss.  His passion matched mine and we quickly forgot that the rest of the world was watching.

          "Aww.  Isn't that sweet, but get a room, already.  You're actually making me blush even though I know it's hard to tell."

          Ah, Hank.

          A couple of the customers laughed.

          "So, I guess that means you and I are going to Paris?"  Joel whispered.

          "Confirmed seating, huh?" I grinned.

          He nodded.  “I have Rob booking a bed and breakfast place in the vineyard that we can use as our own little love nest.”

          “Love nest.”  I grinned.  “I like the sound of that.”




          The teen rolled onto his back and frantically ran his fingers through the short dreads that bounced with the action.  His chest panted as his hand pawed at the opened zipper of his stained and malodorous pants.  His need pressed outward as he growled out his frustration.

          "C'mon, baby.  You know you want it.  You said you liked it young and hung.  Come back to bed for some lovin’."

          The thirty-five year old secretary pulled the hem of her skirt down as she stood up and wrinkled her nose.  "You stink like a ripe dumpster.  Take a bath.  There's a nice young thing in the mail room that I can get this from that doesn't smell."  She moved towards the door and threw a parting shot over her shoulder.  "I should have known better than to try something with a bum-in-training."

          The youth stared at the closed door and flopped back onto the bed, frustrated.  The only good thing going for him right now was that he was warm, at least for another forty-five minutes until his time was up.  Too bad the bitch hadn't paid for a room for the whole day.



Special thanks goes to Rock Hunter for his endless efforts to edit this mess.  Thanks, Bud! 


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