You Meet Your Soulmate in the Strangest Places

You meet your soul mate in the strangest places. I met mine on the train.

It was a Thursday morning; I remember that much. Thursdays are dull, especially in the morning. The weekend's not quite there, you're run down from actually working during the week, and the train's well on its way to being packed -- everyone goes to work on Thursday to try and get things done so they can take Friday off.

I was dozing, ignoring the homework I'd promised the kid next door that I'd look at, my headphones on and playing something I couldn't really hear over the noise of the train anyway. I wasn't alone, half the people on the train were asleep. The other half were getting their morning BlackBerry fix.

"Is this seat taken?" The voice was nice enough -- masculine, baritone, confident. If it had been later in the day, maybe after a second cup of coffee, I'd have looked up. It wasn't, so I didn't.

I shook my head 'no'; I wasn't awake enough to talk. Not awake enough to look up, really. It was morning, I was on the train. You just don't talk to people on the train in the morning.

You can imagine my surprise when, instead of sitting next to me, the guy sat on me. I mean ass right in my lap, his back against the train windows and his feet on the empty seat to my right. He even snaked his right arm behind my head and wiggled a little to get comfortable.

"Morning," he said in my ear. His breath tickled a little, but not as much as his tongue did when he licked the top of my ear.

"Uh, morning?" Surprised or not, it was going to take me a little while to wake up enough to figure out what to do. This was not something I had habits for.

He chuckled a little, the vibration of it sending a little thrill through me.

"Not a morning person, are you?" he asked.

"Mrf," I replied.

At this point I was starting to get reacquainted with consciousness. There was a guy. Sitting on my lap. On the train. Part of my brain registered that as very unusual. Another part registered that he smelled nice, a mix of cologne, soap, and guy. He was too close to really see, but he was a brunette. Definitely lean, given how comfortable he was in my lap. There was a pretty good chance he was wearing a suit, too.

"'s okay," he said. "The sleepy look is cute on you."

That's when he kissed me. No, nothing passionate, just a nice peck on my forehead. His breath smelled of peppermint. It matched the cologne somehow.

I just snuggled into him when he did that. I was sleepy and warm, and he was just so damn comfortable. I felt safe. I'd never felt that way with anyone before.

"Go back to sleep," he whispered in my ear. I may have heard him say "I love you" as I faded back into sleep.

I woke up with a start as the train pulled to a halt into Grand Central. My mystery man was gone, leaving nothing behind but the smell of peppermint and a lingering warmth on my jacket.

* * *

It was bright and sunny the next morning. It matched my mood and just seemed appropriate. Four of the women on the train platform even gave me a hard time about my passenger yesterday. They nearly always rode together, joking around and having a good time.

"No boyfriend this morning?" one of them asked me.

I admit, I blushed. I never blush. But, then, I had never snuggled up with a guy on the train either. Nor, come to think of it, ever talked to the other people on the platform.

"No," I replied. "Not this morning."

"That's a shame," another said. "You make a cute couple."

Now it was really getting embarrassing. "Thanks," I said as the train pulled up. Lucky me, no more talking.

I stayed awake the whole way into New York, so I'd be there when he got on. It was the first time in a long time I'd done that.

He never came.

* * *

Three days later I had mostly gotten back to normal. There was no sign of my mystery guy, and if it hadn't been for the other people who'd seen him, I'd have chalked it up as a really nice dream.

I was in the main lounge at work. It was up on the 30th floor, and the architect had ripped out everything from the elevators at the center to the windows on one side of the building. It was open, airy, bright, and well-stocked with every type of junk food known to mankind. Had a nice view north towards mid-town, too.

I was standing in front of the windows, just staring out at the Chrysler Building in the distance and mourning the untimely death of Art Deco architecture. It was bright without glare, the summer sun high enough that it didn't reflect directly off the windows of the buildings in front of ours. Bright and open and cozy, all at the same time.

Someone walked up behind me, and I felt a pair of arms wrap around my waist and pull me back. You'd figure I'd have flinched or pulled away or something. Hell, I'd figure that. Instead I just melted into the embrace. It was... nice. Warm, and comforting, with that familiar smell of cologne, soap, and guy, swirling around me.

"Hi, there," he said, his mouth right next to my ear. I felt the baritone voice just shoot right through my chest. "Miss me?"

I smiled a little. He couldn't see it, but I knew he could feel it.

"Yeah, I did," I replied.

I felt his arms tighten around me.

"I missed you, too."

"Why'd you leave?" I asked.

His response was interrupted by Angie, one of my co-workers. "Drew, the boss called a meeting on seven. Gotta go!"

I groaned inwardly. I did not want my guy to let me go. The sun was warm, the view was spectacular, and I was more comfortable than I could ever remember.

"You better be going," he said in my ear. The things that did to me weren't encouraging me to go. I felt his arms start to go loose, and I grabbed on tight.

"Don't wanna," I whined.

He pulled me in for one last hug. "We don't want you to get in trouble," he said.

He was right, though I didn't want to admit it. Duty, or whatever it was, called, and I had to answer.

I sighed and let go. "I know," I said, turning to look at him. Today he was in a charcoal grey business suit, which fit him very nicely. The jacket and loose pants hid the fine details, but I was pretty sure the details they hid really were fine. They also covered the temporary name badge Security made all visitors wear, but there was enough showing for me to see his first name. Peter. Pete, rather, since only his mom called him Peter. I wondered, as I made my way to the elevator, why I knew that.

* * *

"So who was that?" Angie asked, after the meeting broke up. She had the cube next to mine.

"Huh?" I frowned at her, my head still trying to wrap itself around the formulas in the spreadsheets that the marketing department had sent us, trying to justify their budget. I wasn't sure if they were outright lying, deeply delusional, or living in a fantasy realm where math worked differently than it did for everyone else. Maybe all three.

"That guy you were with this morning. The cute one with his arms wrapped around you."

I blushed down to my toes when she said that. Somehow I was thinking that nobody had seen us. With his arms around me it felt like the rest of the world had just faded away, and I guess I figured nobody would notice.

"Oh, um ... that was Pete."

"Boyfriend?" she teased. "You two make a cute couple."

"Thanks," I said. "We're not exactly...." Exactly what? That was a good question. Here was this guy who'd just come up to me, out of the blue, twice. I didn't know his last name, where he lived, what he did, or how he managed to find me. I didn't know anything about him, I realized.

Except that wasn't true. His name was Pete, though his mom called him Peter. He liked model railroads, watermelon sherbet, Jacuzzis, German Shepherds, and really spicy Thai food, though it always gave him heartburn. He couldn't stand country music, and the 'Three Stooges' could make him laugh so hard he'd pee himself. I knew that, and I had no idea how.

"Hey, Earth to Drew!"

"What?" I shook my head, trying to clear it a little.

Angie gave me a grin. "Thinking about your boy, huh?"

"I guess," I said, feeling a little bashful. I'd been with him all of maybe twenty minutes, and he could drag me into a daydream.

"You've got it bad, my friend," she said.

"Maybe just a little," I allowed.

"Uh huh," she replied with a smile. "Get it any worse and you're going to be doodling his name in little hearts on your desk."

I looked down and realized that I had been doing exactly that, all over the top page of the monthly departmental budget summary. Angie followed my eyes down and broke out laughing.

"You just better invite me to the wedding," she said as she went back to her desk. I could hear her snickering over the cube wall for the next half hour.

* * *

On impulse, I picked up a pack of Skittles at the newsstand at Grand Central along with my paper. Dunno what flavor they were, but the bag was a bright sky blue, and blue was his favorite color. Also chocolate was bad, anything sugary was good, but sweet and chewy was best. I slipped the bag into my jacket pocket. Wouldn't hurt to be prepared, just in case.

I carried those things around with me for the next week.

* * *

It had been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. My morning train was late, someone at the office had managed to switch the decaf coffee for the regular, and I'd spent nine damn hours trying to make sense of the numbers they'd dropped on me for an emergency audit report, only to find out at half past six that someone had put four-year-old data into the reporting system by mistake.

I was tired, and cranky, and just wanted to go home, or maybe to Australia, not that I'd get either place any time soon. Between the subway and the commuter train, I was more than an hour out, and that was if I made my connections right. The only redeeming feature of the evening was that, given the time, the uptown five express train was pretty empty. Only a few stops and I'd be at Grand Central, then at least on the last leg to home.

The subway platform was crowded, and I had to fight to make my way onto the train. That was kind of ironic too, since after all the trouble, the car was half empty. I still barely made it on.,.

At the last minute someone yelled out "Hold that train!" You'd think that, this being Manhattan and all, he'd be soundly ignored. Just my luck someone took pity on him and stuck a foot between the closing doors. They bounced back open, and he ducked in.

By he I mean "he". Pete. My mystery guy. Today he wasn't in a suit; instead, he was wearing a pair of those thin fashion jeans, a charcoal grey t-shirt, and a pair of boat shoes without any socks. He had a leather satchel slung over one shoulder, the strap crossing his chest. The clothes were snug and showed the body that his dress clothes had hinted at.

"Thanks," he said to the guy in the doorway, flashing a massive smile. I felt a big jolt of jealousy shoot through me.

"Hi," he said to me as he walked up.

I debated what to say to him. This was the third time he'd just shown up, no warning, no nothing, like it was the most natural thing in the world for us to be running into each other. I wanted to yell at him for leaving, bitch him out for even talking to another guy, ask him to dinner, throw him on the ground and rip off all his clothes. Hell, I'd love to find out his name.

Instead I reached into my pocket and pulled out that bag of candy I'd been carrying around for a week.

"Skittle?" I asked.

Pete's face -- hell, his whole body -- lit up when I held the things out to him. I made a mental note that my guy had a serious sweet tooth. He gave me an impish little smile, hooking one arm around the pole in the middle of the subway car and the other around me. He pulled me in and kissed me.

Not a little kiss, either. This was a kiss with full body contact and tongue. Every thought in my head went missing, and I kissed back before I could even think about it.

I'd thought that being held by him had been great, but it was nothing compared to this. I had an instant erection and was doing my best to pull the two of us together. His lips were soft, his stubble was rough, his body was hard, and all of it was perfect.

I'd lost myself in the kiss, just holding him tight. We stood nearly motionless, but fireworks were going off in my head. The jolting of the subway car as it moved down the tracks made our bodies shift against each other just enough to make my brain melt and send me over the edge. I didn't know how long that kiss lasted. It went on forever, and ended too soon.

"This is my stop," he eventually said, breaking away from me. He left me gaping and a little chilled as the breeze from the air-conditioning unit above me washed down across where his body had just a moment ago pressed against mine.

"But ...," I started.

"Sorry," he said, with a grin. "Gotta go." He darted forward, gave me a quick peck on the lips, then bolted out of the train just before the doors closed.

I stared after him, watching him vanish into the swirl of people heading up the escalator. The station sign just barely registered in my brain as the train started pulling out. 59th street.

"Next stop, 86th street," came the recorded voice over the speakers.

That brought me back to reality. I was one stop past where I should've gotten off, and on my way to the second. I'd kissed Pete up half the length of Manhattan. I seriously debated catching the next train heading back downtown and waiting for him on the platform to see if we could kiss all the way back down again. I probably would've too, if I hadn't suddenly felt something cold and sticky at my crotch. I looked down and realized that, somewhere between Fulton Street and 59th, I'd managed to come in my pants.

* * *

It'd been three weeks. Three weeks since I'd seen Pete last, and I was starting to get despondent. I was constantly looking around as I went about my day. On the train, on the streets, in the supermarket -- everywhere. I'd tracked down a pair of model railroad shows and drove for hours hours to one of them the past two weekends, spending whole days stalking around and staring at people. I'd even embarrassed myself a couple of times, grabbing at people I thought were Pete. It was driving me nuts.

I couldn't eat, I couldn't concentrate, and I couldn't sleep more than an hour without dreaming about him. I'd taken to changing my sheets every morning, since more often than not I left them sticky, sometimes in more than one place.

It was insane -- I hadn't been like this when I was in high school, and that was half a lifetime ago. I was worse than a lovesick teenager, and I hadn't been this horny since, well, ever. I'd even had to stop wearing boxers -- they revealed far too much of what I was thinking, as I found in one staff meeting that I'd let my mind wander in.

"You OK, Mister G?" Darren asked me. We were in my living room, working on his math homework. Darren and his mom rented part of the house next door to mine. She was a single mom, her husband having gotten killed in a traffic accident a few months before they'd moved in, nearly two years ago. She was working a weekend shift, so I was watching Darren.

He was a nice kid -- eleven, good natured, pudgy, and dark skinned. I figured he took after his dad, since his mom was pretty fair. They'd come here from Bridgeport not too long after the funeral, looking for better schools. We'd met when they'd moved in, and I'd been helping Darren out with his math homework ever since.

"Nah," I said. I know that, as an adult, I was supposed to lie to kids about life, but I'd never really got the hang of that. It was easier to tell the truth, and it wasn't like they weren't going to find out soon enough. "How about you?"

Darren thought about it for a moment. I had only a vague idea what his life was like -- he was almost always upbeat, but his world was a mystery to me.

"I'm good," he said.

"You know what? Screw this," I said, dropping his homework onto the coffee table. "Let's go to the beach instead."

"All right!" Darren scampered out to go get changed, while I got myself ready. Swim trunks, beach towels, a cooler with a few bottles of water, and some sunscreen. SPF 30 for me and 10 for him since, dark or not, it was mid-May and he could still pick up a nasty burn if he weren't careful. I threw the stuff into the back seat of my car as Darren raced back through a gap in the hedge and jumped into the passenger seat.

When we got to the beach, the first thing we did was hit the snack bar. I was having a craving for something sweet.

"I'm not sure this is really ice cream," I said, frowning at the cone I was holding. "Actually I'm not sure this is food."

"It's good," Darren protested.

"True," I said, taking another bite. "But that doesn't make it foo...." My voice trailed off as I saw him. Him. Pete. He was standing at the water's edge, wearing a pair of blue swim trunks that went down nearly to his knees, with a dark green towel slung over his shoulders. It was really him this time, not some very confused Croatian tourist.

"Hold this," I said to Darren. I handed him my cone and took off down the beach.

Running barefoot on sand's tough, but I did it anyway. There was something weird about the situation -- it didn't feel at all like the other times Pete had surprised me, but I guess that was OK, since this time I was surprising him. And boy, was he surprised when I tackled him.

He was even more surprised when I laid a hell of a kiss on him. This time he was the one who froze, but only for a second before he wrapped his arms around me and was kissing me back.

"Um, hello?"

That very uncertain sounding voice brought me back to reality. I'd vaguely remembered someone with Pete, but I'll be honest and say I wasn't paying any attention. Apparently it was a woman of some sort. I hoped it wasn't his wife or girlfriend. Or that I'd actually kissed his twin brother instead. That seemed unlikely, but then so did everything involving Pete, so I wasn't going to rule it out. If it were true, then his twin was a hell of a kisser, so I was good with it if that was the case.

I stood up and smiled. "Hi," I said. "Nice day, isn't t? I had a stupid grin on my face so big it made my cheeks hurt, and I think I could've put someone into a diabetic coma with the sweet I was oozing.

Then I turned and jogged back to Darren, leaving Pete lying dazed in the sand and the woman standing confused next to him. I'd like to say that only a small part of me felt smug that I'd left him so clearly tenting his swimsuit, but that'd be a lie.

Of course, it hit me when we were getting back in my car that I still had no idea who he was.

* * *

"Well, you seem cheery," Angie said as I got into work the next morning.

I was, too. Seeing Pete had brought me out of my funk. Kissing him had me ready to dance on the rooftops. Now all I needed was to figure out who he was and I'd be all set.

"Yup," I said, sounding smug.

"Aw, you and your boy get all snuggly over the weekend?" She was teasing, but it was close to the truth. Well, mostly close, since I'm not sure I'd classify it as snuggling. Snuggling usually involved less tongue.

"Something like that," I said.

"Well, you really need to bring him up and show him off the next time he's in the city. You made the girls down in payroll jealous."

That's when it hit me. Pete had been here. More importantly, Security gave him a badge, and they keep those records nearly forever. Sometimes they only kept the name, but that was all I needed. I knew he had to live somewhere near me.

"You're brilliant, you know that, right?" I asked, as I dashed past her and towards the elevators.

The wait for an elevator and the ride down 12 floors was almost more than I could take, and I was bouncing on my toes by the time the elevator touched down. I took so long getting myself composed I almost ended up making the return trip.

"Hi," I said, as I approached the Security desk.

"Morning, Mister Whittington." I got a little pang about that. I knew the guard by sight, but I had no clue what his name was. I felt a little stupid because of that -- I'd seen him every day for the past six years and didn't know who he was.

"Listen," I continued, "I wonder if you can help me. Last month on the seventeenth we had a visitor come up, Peter somebody or other. The boss didn't catch his last name, and now he wants to call this guy up. I don't suppose you keep records that far back?"

I had my fingers crossed. They did keep the records, but I wasn't sure if he'd look anything up for me, or whether there'd been a thousand Peters who had come through.

I got lucky. "Sure, no problem," he said. Clacking keyboard noises made it clear he was doing something. "Don't suppose you know when he was here?"

"Well, I saw him around ten thirty, so he must've come in a little before that."

There was a little more clacking. I heard the printer fire up.

"Is this him?" the guard asked, handing me a copy of the badge photo. My throat tightened. That was him, alright. My pants were suddenly way too tight.

"Yep," I said, trying to sound casual. "That's the guy."

"Peter Maxwell," the guard said, reading off the screen. "Don't have any more contact info than that, though."

"Good enough," I said. "Boss said he knows where, just not who."

* * *

When I got home I spent a frustrating hour trying to find a phone number for Peter Maxwell. There were seventy-three different Maxwells within reasonable distance of my house, but no Peter, Pete, or P Maxwell amongst the lot. The Internet wasn't a whole lot of help either -- while I got some 'interesting' results, it didn't help me find him. That's what I get, having a mystery boyfriend with a first name ripe for double entendre.

I was tempted just to start calling numbers from the top of the list, but that seemed a little stalkerish. As if spending my day quizzing Google and security guards for him wasn't -- but at least nobody knew that. I toyed with the idea of hiring a private eye to go find him for me, but that seemed way past extreme and into deeply obsessive. I'd hold off on that for at least a week.

Yes, I will freely admit that I was so far gone on this guy, it wasn't funny. If the fact that the three weeks without him had ripped my heart out wasn't enough to convince me of that, the boost I got just from seeing him would have. I was dancing on the clouds and I was happy to stay there.

The weird thing is, my big break came from Darren. He hadn't said anything Sunday about what happened at the beach, either in the car or after we got home. That surprised me a little; I figured he would have at least asked who it was that I'd kissed. He'd known I was gay ever since a very embarrassing afternoon a year ago, when he'd found some of the DVDs I kept on the shelf inside my closet. It wasn't a big deal to him then, and as far as I knew it still wasn't. Still, when he did ask, it wasn't the question I was expecting.

"Why did you kiss Ms. Keller's boyfriend?"

"Why did I kiss who?"

"Ms. Keller's boyfriend," he repeated, as if I were an idiot. Maybe I was; it was hard to tell these days.

"Oh," I replied, stalling for time. Didn't help; I still had nothing.

"I didn't realize he was her boyfriend," I said.

He looked puzzled. "Oh," he said. It was a very expressive 'Oh', but I had no idea what exactly it meant.

"Who's Ms. Keller?" I tried.

"She's the principal of my school," he said. He shot me a look that made it clear he thought I should have figured that out.

* * *

As much as it hurt, I knew I had to let him go. It didn't matter if he'd started it, hell, it didn't matter if he'd made me cream in my pants in the middle of the subway, I wasn't going to steal someone else's boyfriend. Definitely not a woman's boyfriend. I preferred my guys out and comfortable, thanks.

So, ignoring the knife that seemed to be stuck in my guts, I picked up the phone and dialed Darren's school. Each ring twisted it just a little more.

"Northmont Junior High, how may I direct your call?" asked the pleasant voice that answered.

"Principal Keller, please," I said, trying to keep my voice professional.

"One moment, please," she said, before hooking me up with Kenny G hold music. Guess they want to lull angry parents to sleep before they get to talk to anyone real.

It felt like forever, as my stomach churned in time with the music. The perfect guy had found me, and chased me, and caught me. And he had a girlfriend. Life's viciously ironic that way, I guess.

"This is Principal Keller, how may I help you?"

"Hi. This is Drew Whittington. We met briefly last weekend."

There was a pause. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm afraid I don't remember you."

"I'm the guy who kissed your boyfriend. I wanted to apologize for that. I didn't realize he was taken."

There was a long pause, long enough that I thought we might have gotten disconnected.


"I'm still here, Mister... Whittington, was it?"

"Yes," I said. I was sweating a little. She had the elementary school principal voice down, and I guess you never grow out of the fear it can bring.

"Mister Maxwell and I don't have a relationship," she said. "He's a teacher in the school district, and that would be inappropriate."

"Oh, thank god," I said, letting out the breath I hadn't realized I was holding. "Is he single? I mean, is he seeing anyone right now? I've been trying to find him, but ...." I babble well under pressure. It's a particular talent of mine.

"Calm down," she snapped. I sat down by reflex. Then her tone softened. "No, Peter's not seeing anyone at the moment."

"Good." Right at that moment the knife got taken out, and I relaxed. "Is he ... I mean, do you know if he might, y'know ...." There was something about her that turned me into a stuttering idiot.

"Yes, Mister Whittington, he's interested. Despite my better judgment, he's interested."

I let out a relieved sigh. "Thanks," I said. "Really, I'm not normally such an idiot."

"I certainly hope not, sir," she said. "I expect we're going to see each other with some frequency." And with that, she hung up.

Teacher. That made sense, and explained why I couldn't find him in the phone book. His number was unlisted, probably to give him some measure of protection from practical jokes and angry students. I probably should've asked what subject he taught, but finding him was enough.

He'd found me three times then left. Beats the hell out of me how he found me, but he did. Well, I'd found him once. Twice more would make us even, but there was no way I was going to leave him. He was mine, and I wasn't going to let him go. I now knew who he was, and I knew where he worked, and I even had a sort of a lukewarm 'Okay' from one of his colleagues. All I needed was a plan.

While it probably would've been best to stretch out the encounters like he had, I couldn't do it. And as much as I really wanted just to drag him home, rip his clothes off, and throw him into bed (not necessarily in that order), I wanted romance too. This was going to be forever, dammit, and it just didn't seem right to start off with sex, no matter how badly I wanted to. Sex could wait. Half an hour, at least. Maybe forty-five minutes.

So, flowers, dinner, and a movie. Preferably a short movie.

* * *

The flowers gave me a really good idea. Dinner was going to be our third, and final, meeting, but the flowers gave me in an in for the second. A quick search of the school district's website told me he was an English teacher at Eastmont High. That and a quick lunchtime trip to a theater supply shop in the Village to score a generic delivery guy's outfit was all I needed to put things in motion.

Wednesday afternoon I called the florist closest to my house to order flowers. Lots of flowers. Three arrangements of lilies, which I knew Peter would like, three vases full of orchids, which I really liked, and three dozen red roses. Maybe a little bit overboard, but we had a theme. Besides, they weighed less than I did, all together. I think.

I picked the flowers up Thursday morning and loaded them into the back of my car. The woman working at the flower shop didn't say a word as I loaded up, but the grin she gave me made it clear she approved of whatever she thought I had in mind. I walked into the school office, clipboard and papers in hand, hoping I looked official enough to pass. It was nearly as bad as talking to the principal friend of Peter's. Some fears are too ingrained to ever go away, I guess.

The office was standard industrial dingy. Counter in front with some in-trays and a few piles of Xeroxed forms. Behind the counter were a pair of desks, and along the back and side walls were doors with frosted glass windows. There were some of those industrial plastic chairs that seem to accumulate in places like this, where you have to wait but they'd rather you didn't enjoy it. There were three people in the office; at one desk was an older, graying woman who looked like she'd been here forever, and probably had. A younger woman, almost a girl, was at the other desk, and there was a boy, maybe fifteen, squirming on one of the chairs.

"I have a delivery for a Mister... Maxwell?" I said, trying to sound like I didn't have the name memorized, didn't go to sleep with the whisper of it on my lips.

The older woman gave me a glare. "We don't take deliveries," she snapped at me. "They go to the district warehouse."

"It's flowers," I said. I lifted my papers and pretended to read them. "A Principal Keller okayed it."

That perked the office staff up.

"Flowers? Who from?"

I shrugged. "Card doesn't say," I said. And it didn't, because I hadn't put my name on it.

The two woman looked at each other and I swear, they giggled. In unison. It was very disconcerting. The kid waiting in purgatory rolled his eyes at the women. I gave a half grin and shrugged.

"I'm going to need a cart, I think," I said. "Any chance I could get one for a minute? There are a lot of flowers."

"How much is a lot?" asked the older secretary who was clearly in charge.

"Nine arrangements," I replied. "Got my car mostly filled. Now, about that cart?"

The younger of the two women had dashed into one of the offices as soon as I'd mentioned the cart, and she came out right then with one. It was a metal wheeled one that probably usually had a movie projector or something on it, but was empty now.

"Will this do?" she asked.

I gave it a look. The thing had three shelves, counting the top, and was pretty roomy.

"Should," I said.

It only took a few minutes to run the cart out to my car, load it up, and run back. The younger secretary went with me, ostensibly to watch school equipment, but really just to pump me for information. Or she would have, if she had actually stopped chattering long enough to let me answer a question. I tuned her out after about ten seconds. Rude, maybe, but I was nervous enough as it was.

She gasped when we got to the car, and gave me a hand loading the flowers up.

"Mister Maxwell has room 156," she said as we wheeled the cart up to the school doors. "Just down the front hall here, and on the left."

"Thanks," I replied. I didn't look back, but I was sure she was waiting and watching.

The hall was a long foreboding thing, with cinderblock walls but paneled with rows of grey lockers punctuated with the occasional door. The rooms were numbered starting with 101, so I had more than enough time to work up a good case of nerves. The cart squeaked just a little, which didn't help any.

I took a deep breath, knocked on the classroom door, and retreated behind the cart of flowers. I had my head down a little, my face hidden by the bill of the cap. Hardly anonymous, but he wouldn't be expecting me, and I'd get at least a few seconds of surprise.

Lucky for me, it wasn't even Pete that answered the door -- one of his students opened it. She was sixteen maybe, had on way too much makeup, and was showing more skin than seemed right for school. Guess I'm getting old or something.

"Delivery for Mister Maxwell," I said.

She boggled at the flowers. Stacked on the cart they pretty much filled the doorway, and it reallt was an impressive sight. It was clear she didn't have any idea what to do.

"Are you sure those are for me?" Pete asked, coming up behind the girl. I didn't think he had any idea who was delivering them. Between the hat, the surprise, and the huge spray of flowers I was pretty well hidden.

"Definitely," I said, trying really hard not to grin at him. That one word was enough -- he knew who I was. I watched his head snap up and his eyes go wide.

"Uh..." He was speechless, and very, very attractive. It was a good thing there was a cart between us, or I'd probably have jumped him right there. Hell, it was a good thing there was a cart between us or the whole class would've seen how much I wanted to. I just smiled, tipped my hat at him, locked the wheels of the cart, and moved as fast as I could down the hall without actually running. By the time he recovered and dragged the cart out of the way I'd be long gone.

I had made sure there was a card, tucked in with the roses. "Hempstead Inn, Darien, Friday, 7:30". One of the best restaurants in the area, and clear enough, I hoped. Oh, boy, I hoped.

* * *

Friday I was an absolute mess. Hell, Thursday I was a mess, which is why I took Friday off. I spent the day getting my place ready and trying not to think about dinner, and the evening that would follow. Not that stripping the bed, digging out the condoms, and putting the lube and massage oil in the bottle warmer next to the bed helped there.

Most of the afternoon was spent getting the living room set up. The rest was spent toning it down when I realized I'd set out enough candles to set off the smoke detectors in the house next door. That, I figured, was a sign I was a little too nervous, so I changed and went for a walk on the beach.

You'd think that a public town beach would be busy, but you'd be wrong. Not too much of a surprise, I guess. It was late, the sun would be setting soon, and Long Island Sound's pretty chilly even in late spring.Even so, it's a nice beach. The sand goes back forty or fifty feet, depending on the tides. Beyond the sand is a little rise covered in grass, then it's trees and park to the street. The city has those standard permanent barbecue grills and picnic tables scattered around, and along the top of the rise they've got benches so you can sit under the shade of the trees and watch the Sound, the islands, the boats, and the birds.

I like the place, and when I need some time to think it's where I'll go and take in the quiet. Other people do too -- I'm rarely the only one around.

As I walked along the grass, I saw a familiar head hanging off the end of a bench. Pete. He was sprawled out, lying flat, eyes closed, all relaxed and looking like a rag doll. I wanted to jump him right there. Instead I walked over as quietly as I could.

"Needed some time to think?"

Pete jumped. Well, bounced, really, as he was flat on the bench. He tumbled to the ground, and I winced when he hit.

"Just a little," he said, pulling himself back onto the bench to sit. He shot me a look that said he knew I was being a shit on purpose.

"Me too," I said, sitting down next to him. I started rubbing his shoulder, working on the one that he'd landed on when he hit the ground. We just sat there like that for a while, all quiet.

"I had the whole night worked out, you know," I said, suddenly. "Dinner, movie, some ravishing ...."

"Ravishing ... really?" Pete asked, perking up and turning to look at me.


He smiled a sweet little smile. "Candles too, I bet."

I gave an embarrassed chuckle, thinking of the box full of the things I'd hastily shoved into my closet. "Just a few."

He laughed, a rich laugh that sent shivers down my spine.

"You like to overdo, don't you?" he asked. He reached out and ran a finger lightly down the line of my jaw.

"And you love it, too."

He leaned against me and I reached around and held him close. We fit together better than I'd ever hoped.

"This scares me, you know," he whispered.

That took me by surprise.

"Really? You seemed so confident, so ... perfect."

He snuggled in closer, and I found myself stroking his hair. I knew he liked that. He was almost purring.

"That was different," he said. "That wasn't real. This ... this is real."

I could feel him tremble as I held him. He really was afraid, and more insecure than I had realized until just now. "You were thinking of skipping out on me, weren't you?"

Pete didn't say anything, just gave a little nod.

"Good thing you didn't," I said. "I would have had to hunt you down and kidnap you."

He looked up at me with a shy grin. "I know."

That grin was more than I could take. I slid off the bench and pulled Pete with me, so we were lying face to face on the grass. The next logical thing seemed to be to kiss him, so I did. A lot.

After a while, though not nearly long enough, a thought hit me. I pulled back and asked, "You said that wasn't real. What did you mean, 'not real'?"

"It was ... um."

"Come on," I said, giving him a little prod. My guy was being coy. It was cute, but I wanted the answer. "It was what?"

"I got you at a carnival for twenty bucks."


He ducked his head a little, and the tips of his ears turned red.

"There was a fortune teller's booth, and I was with Jennifer. You met her on the beach," he said when I gave him a puzzled look. "She said she'd tell me where I could find my soul mate, but it'd cost me twenty."

Realization dawned. "So that's how you always found me."

"Yeah," he said.

"And you didn't ask who I was?"

"That would've cost me another twenty and I didn't have it. She told me what to do and where you'd be. I kinda blew it off as a joke, but I had to go into the city anyway that first day, and there you were."

I smiled. "I was. Why didn't you ask my name?"

He kissed me for a moment. "She said if I didn't do exactly what she said, I'd lose you, and you were so ... right, I didn't want to take a chance. Even after the last time. I hoped you'd come after me."

I smirked, thinking about the subway. "I came before you, actually."

He laughed, knowing exactly what I meant.

"The kids liked the flowers," he said. "You had the whole school talking. They're wondering who my secret admirer is."

I smiled back. "You'll just have to introduce your husband around, then."

He arched his eyebrow at me. "Aren't you getting a little ahead of yourself?"

He was right, I was, just a little. So I dropped to one knee, took his hand, and asked. "Peter Maxwell, will you marry me?"

He gave me a smile, one that turned me to mush, one I hoped I'd see every day for the rest of a very long life.


* * *

With thanks to Kitty for edits, and Dio for the readthrough.

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