Title: Not So Safe
Author: J. Rosemary Moss
Genre: Contemporary Romance (Gay; Poly)
Warnings: Adult language and situations
Summary: Zev learns that his crush on his straight boss isn't as safe as he thought . . .
Not So Safe by J. Rosemary Moss is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
I had my jacket on and my hand on the doorknob, but I still turned around one last time. “Are you sure you want to be alone tonight?”
Marc, my boss and house-mate, rolled his eyes from his spot on the couch. He was ensconced there with his feet up on the coffee table and a bottle of Guinness in his hand, watching the Yanks on the ridiculously large flat screen we had mounted on the wall. “Get out of here, Zev. Go enjoy your date.”
“But I can cancel--”
“Go. Ross is waiting outside, right?” He was wearing a tired, exasperated smile, but those hazel eyes of his were warm and there was no hint of judgment in his voice. He might look and act like the stereotypical straight guy he was, but he’d never given me a hard time about being gay.
I nodded. “Yeah. Ok. Call me if you need anything.”
I sighed. Marc can be such a martyr.
Not that there was anything martyrish about his behavior. He was acting as if he just wanted to relax and watch the game--not fall to pieces because I had left him alone. But I was worried that he would crumple by the time I closed the door behind me.
Tonight was his wife’s second yartzeit. She had died exactly two years ago, right around midnight. It was cancer.
Marc had kept himself busy today by barking orders at me and swearing under his breath because old lady Harris wanted to make sweeping changes to her will yet again--and she wanted them made yesterday. But what would happen when he was alone with just the game to distract him?
He was going to drink himself into oblivion, that’s what. I still remembered the state he got himself into last year.
“Zev, why are you still here?”
I shrugged. “Because I’d rather keep you company.”
‘I outrank a hot date, huh?“
“Hell, yeah,” I answered, letting a familiar teasing tone creep into my voice. “You’re my ideal guy, Marc. A smart, successful Jewish attorney who can keep me in line? If you’d just switch teams, even my parents will be thrilled.“
He snorted as he leaned further back into the couch. “I didn‘t have much luck keeping you in line today. Why‘d you have to mouth off at Mrs. Harris?”
I grinned. “I didn’t mouth off--I just got a bit snarky.”
He raised an eyebrow at me.
“Come on, Marc. You enjoyed that as much as I did. Besides, you needed to let off some steam--I figured lecturing me would do you good.“
“So pissing off one of my oldest clients was a favor to me, huh?”
“Yeah. You’re lucky to have such a dedicated employee.”
He grinned back at me. “Uh-huh. I’m blessed.”
“Hey, I made it right with her before she left.”
“You did,“ he admitted. “Good thing she thinks you’re so adorable.”
“It’s my baby blues.“
“Probably.“ Marc paused to nod at the door. “Now get your ass out of here.”
“Ok, ok. I’m going. But call me if--”
I sighed, recognizing defeat, and headed out the door.
“Maybe he should fall to pieces.” That was the opinion Ross gave after I climbed into his Jag and blurted out my concern. “I mean, come on, Zev. Why shouldn’t he grieve tonight?”
“I’m ok with him falling to pieces,” I said. “But I should be there to put him back together.”
Ross rolled his eyes. I was getting a lot of that tonight.
Ross, I should explain, was not my boyfriend. He could stand listening to me fret over Marc because we were just friends. Well, ok. Friends with benefits.
Too bad, really. Ross is a catch. The skinny, awkward kid I’d known in high school had grown into a guy who could at least fake confidence. The perfectly mussed hair and killer smile helped with that, I think. And those doe brown eyes of his, which used to look wide and uncertain, now held more friendliness than fright. He was still too skinny, but I couldn’t complain about that. I’m wiry myself.
Ross was also a decent human being--not to mention filthy rich. I had an idea of just how rich, because Marc handled all the estate planning for Ross’s family. I shook my head. If I had any brains, I’d being doing my utmost to get myself civil-unioned to this guy.
But in truth, I was satisfied with my nice, safe crush on my hetero boss. And Ross didn’t want to be anything more than fuck buddies. He was bi, not gay, and someday he intended to marry a girl his father approved of. So no filthy rich husband for me.
Ross likes to go into the city for our dates, but I wasn’t up to Manhattan tonight. That was my excuse, anyway. In truth, I wanted to stay close to home so I could rush to Marc‘s side if he happened to call. I’m pretty sure Ross guessed that, but he had enough tact to keep quiet about it.
So we went to see that Facebook movie and then headed for a Cuban diner that was a few blocks away from our old high school. They have the best sweet plantains in town, fried up to perfection.
“I wonder if Marc called Sean tonight,” I said, spearing another plantain with my fork.
“Who’s Sean?” Ross asked in between bites.
“I told you about him--he’s this guy Marc knows from back in high school. He’s a widower now too.”
“He went to Roxburg High? What‘s his last name?”
“Something Latino. Valencia, I think. But this would have been twelve years before our time.“
Ross grinned. “Yeah, I keep forgetting that Marc’s a cradle robber. Or he would be if he showed the slightest interest in you.”
I flicked the crushed paper from my straw at him. “Twelve years is not cradle-robbing.”
“Uh-huh. If you say so. I don’t want to wreck your fantasies.”
I smiled. “They’re damn good fantasies.”
“I’ll bet. So what’s with this Sean guy?”
I slumped back in the booth. “I’ll get to meet him tomorrow. He’s flying in from Miami.”
“To visit Marc?”
“In part. His parents still live in town, so he’s staying with them.”
“You don’t look excited about his visit.”
I shrugged. “I’ve heard Marc talking on the phone with Sean. He seems pretty close to this guy--and not in a hang-out-at-the-bar-or-pool-hall way.”
Ross raised his eyebrows. “Jealous?”
“No, just curious,” I said, bristling. But maybe I was a bit jealous. Especially since it just occurred to me that Marc could share more of his grief with Sean than with me. “Damn it. Why are they so close? Because they‘re both widowers?”
Ross put his elbows on the table and leaned forward. “Any chance I can make you forget about Marc for the night?”
I sighed and tried for an apologetic smile. “Probably not. Sorry.”
He rolled his eyes again, but in a good-natured way. “No worries,“ he said. “Come on--finish up. I’ll bring you home.”
I opened the front door softly, in case Marc had already gone to bed. And he had, in a manner of speaking. He was still ensconced on the couch, only now he was snoring.
I stepped inside and shut the door behind me. Then I walked over to the couch, furrowing my brow at the number of empty Guinness bottles on the coffee table. But I smiled a little as I turned back to my boss and took a seat beside him. Even drunk like this, he took my breath away.
I’m not sure what it was about him. He was a decent looking guy: he had short, sandy blonde hair, peppered with gray. His face was square-jawed and just a little crinkled, and he worked out enough to maintain his athletic build. But none of that explained why my stomach tied itself in knots around him.
I had plenty of reasons to be grateful to Marc--he had given me a job and a place to stay when I really needed them--but that wasn’t what drew me to him either.
I shook my head a little, thinking of how I had turned myself inside out for this man. Left to myself, I have no work ethic. But from the moment I met Marc, I had wanted to impress him. That was partly out of gratitude, but partly because I knew from the start that his approval was worth having.
Marc must have felt me staring at him, because his eyes squinted open. “Zev?”
“Yeah, I‘m home.”
He yawned. “What time is it?”
I glanced at the clock. “It’s almost midnight.” Almost the time that Miri passed. I didn’t add that, but I didn’t have to. “Come on, Marc. We should get you to bed.”
He shook his head. “Just get me a pillow and some blankets.”
“No way--I don’t want to listen to you kvetching about your back tomorrow.”
That took a moment to sink in, but then he grinned. “Fair enough.” He pushed himself to his feet, swaying just a little. I stood up too, propped him up with my arm and then somehow managed to walk him up to his bedroom.
He toed off his sneakers while I pulled down his blankets. There was no need to get him undressed; he had changed into sweats and a tee-shirt after work. So it only took a couple of minutes to tuck him into bed--the same bed he used to share with his wife. Marc hadn’t changed the décor of the house at all since she died. Sometimes it felt like Miri still lived here.
“I’ll clean up downstairs,” I said as I pulled the last blanket up over him. “Get some sleep.”
He grabbed my arm. “Wait. I need you to make sure I wake up early tomorrow and get to Ralph and Karen‘s house. I have to--have to say Kaddish for Mir.”
I nodded. The Kaddish is a community prayer; you needed ten adult Jews--a minyan--to say it. Fortunately a couple from our synagogue hosts a sunrise minyan every Thursday morning.
I sat down on the bed facing him. “Don’t worry. I’ll wake you up. And I’ll come with you to help make the minyan.”
He didn’t answer. He just shrugged instead. “I don’t know. I miss her.”
“I know. I miss her too, Marc.”
I regretted the words as soon as they were out of my mouth. I had only known Miri for a few months before she died. My grief couldn’t compare to his.
But he didn’t seem offended. “Thanks,” he said, releasing his grip on my arm to pat it instead. “Do me a favor?”
“Find the remote and turn on the TV. I’m not going to sleep yet,” he said, pushing himself to a semi-seated position. “Hang out for a bit?”
I grinned. “So now you want my company?”
He gave me a sheepish look. “Yeah--turns out I missed you tonight after all. Where’s that remote? Let’s see what’s worth watching.”
I dug around for the remote and switched on one of the late night programs. Then I leaned back against the spare pillows. Eventually I toed off my shoes and stretched out my legs on the bed. It felt weird to be relaxing in Marc’s bedroom like this--but not so weird that I wanted to leave.
Besides, he was drunk and lonely and missing his wife. I couldn’t leave him like that, right? But I was sitting pretty close to him. Close enough to smell the beer on his breath. He didn’t object, but he was only half with it.
I tried to focus on the late night show--I knew it was dangerous to keep thinking about the fact that Marc was right next to me, and that despite the beer breath I liked the way he smelled, and that I liked the rumpled look of his faded blue tee-shirt. Hell, I liked just being with him, even though I knew this crush of mine would never go anywhere.
He was snoring again before long, and I started fading soon afterward. I caught myself nodding off, and knew it was time to turn off the TV and head for my own room.
I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket first and set the alarm for 5:30 the next morning. We’d have to be at Ralph and Karen’s by 6:30. I should have put the phone right back in my pocket and then dragged my ass to my room, but I didn’t. I put the phone on the night table instead and closed my eyes again. I never even bothered to shut off the TV.
I woke up before the alarm went off--and before I remembered where I was. I yawned and stretched and then finally opened my eyes to find Marc propped up on his elbow, staring down at me.
I stared back at him, wide-eyed and painfully conscious of my morning erection before I remembered what the hell I was doing in his bed.
“Morning, Sleeping Beauty,” he said, his voice half-amused and half--well, half something else.
I panicked. “Ah, last night you, um--”
“You begged me to stay. And before you ask, yes, I‘m completely serious.”
He looked me over. “You’re still dressed, so I’m guessing I didn’t ravish you.”
I laughed, and that seemed to break the tension. “No. You weren’t that far gone.”
“Just hit the ‘I love you, man’ stage, huh?”
I furrowed my brow, pretending to think that over. “No, you just wanted me to hang out and watch TV with you. You didn’t tell me how much you loved me. You can remedy that now, if you’d like.”
He laughed, but he didn’t say the words. Then he met my eyes with an expression I couldn’t quite interpret. It was some combination of warmth and gratitude and--and appreciation.
Appreciation for what? I’d swear it was for my tousled morning look, but that was impossible. Yet Marc was suddenly brushing a stray curl out of my eye. And then he was moving his mouth closer to mine--so close that I could smell the stale beer on his breath. But I didn’t mind, because my heart was pounding and my dick was ready to salute him.
I didn’t think about it or analyze it--I just lifted my head to meet his lips with mine. But the alarm on my cell phone chose that moment to go off, breaking the spell.
Marc snapped back. He stared at me for a moment and then shook himself. “I, uh--I’m going to go get ready for the minyan,” he managed as he rolled away from me and climbed out of the bed. He didn’t even spare me a backward glance as he strode into the master bathroom and shut the door.
Fuck. What just happened?
Marc was my safe crush--my unattainable fantasy. When had that changed?
I swore under my breath. Then I grabbed my cell phone, turned off the alarm and forced myself out of bed. Marc was just--he was just a little drunk still. Or maybe his sudden interest in me was a result of the hangover. Or the fact that he was still grieving for Miri. I’d be an idiot to make anything of it.
But I couldn’t convince my dick. I fled into the other bathroom to shower and find some relief.
LINK TO PART TWO