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 . . .
LINK TO PART ONE
Not So Safe by J. Rosemary Moss is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Marc didn’t say much as he drove us to Ralph and Karen’s. Funny, he was usually talkative in the mornings. But he was probably dying from shock and embarrassment. I tried to think of a way to set him at ease, but then I decided that I didn’t want to. My head was spinning; his should be too.
Not that I was angry, exactly, but--I didn’t know what I was. I’d worked for Marc and shared his house for two and a half years. I’d had a harmless crush on him the whole time. Now I didn't know where I stood.
Marc found a spot near Ralph and Karen’s split-level ranch. He parked, turned off the engine and then turned to face me.
“Thanks for coming, Zev,” he said, putting a hand on my shoulder. “I appreciate you being here.”
I managed a nod. He nodded back and released me. We grabbed our tallis bags and climbed out of the car.
The hand on my shoulder, I guessed, was meant to reassure me that nothing had changed between us. Marc might have lost his mind this morning, but he wasn’t going to be weird around me.
Great. Now I would just have to manage not to be weird around him.
We walked inside without knocking; the front door was wide open. Everyone was either milling around the kitchen or sitting out on the deck, enjoying the burgeoning sunshine and mild May weather. My Mom and Dad were here somewhere; they were regulars. Marc’s Mom would probably come too, for Miri’s yartzeit.
I went to greet our hosts. After exchanging pleasantries I ran into my Dad.
My father and I didn‘t look much alike, but I had inherited his blue eyes. I also blamed him for my lack of height. He was only five foot seven; I had barely made it to five foot eight. That wouldn’t have bothered me so much, except that Marc was six foot two.
My Dad smiled at me and filled me in on his gardening. That had become his passion since he retired from teaching last year. I listened to his concerns for his tomatoes and then strolled out to the deck to find my Mom.
She had staked out a good seat. She was sitting near the railing with a discreet kippah on her head and a classy, feminine tallis wrapped around her. My Mom was the first women at our synagogue to embrace egalitarianism and don a prayer shawl. Most of the women wore one now, so I credited her with starting the trend.
I smiled as I took a seat next to her. She was a petite, elegant woman who had bequeathed me her dark, curly hair. Not that you could tell; she lightened her hair at the beauty parlor and took a flat iron to it every morning.
“Hello, darling,“ she said, but I could tell she was distracted. I think she was counting.
I leaned over and whispered in her ear. "There's a mitzvah that says you're not supposed to count heads for a minyan, you know."
"That's a stupid rule. How else are we supposed to know if we have enough people?"
I shrugged. "Don't blame me; talk to the rabbis. Besides, there are more than ten adult Jews here. If we condescend to include you females, that is. I mean, it's not a real minyan that way, but--"
She elbowed me. "If we waited for ten men we'd never have a weekday minyan."
"Ow! I know. Just teasing. And believe me, I'd count anyone in order for Marc to say Kaddish."
"How's he holding up?"
I thought back on this morning and realized I had no idea how to answer that. “He’s--he’s managing.”
She nodded. “And how is Ross?”
She lowered her voice. “Any chance you two will become more than, ah, friends with benefits?”
I rolled my eyes. I‘d never told her that was the state of our relationship--she had just drawn her own conclusions. “Mom, if you don‘t mind . . .”
“Well, you’re not getting any younger. I’d like to see you settled.”
“I'm only twenty-six. And I’ve got a good job and a great place to live, thank you. I‘d call that settled.”
She treated me to an elegant snort. “But still no college degree.”
That was a sore point between us. I had dropped out of college; school had never been my thing. But maybe she was right. A little higher education wouldn’t kill me.
“Relax,” I said. “Marc wants me to go back and take paralegal courses. He‘s willing to foot the bill as part of my employee benefits.”
“Well, that would be a start. Good thing he's here to look after you.”
I bit back a sigh. My mother was of the opinion that I needed someone to boss me around. That should have annoyed me--except that I agreed with her.
Ralph and Karen came over to claim her attention, so I stood up and pulled my tallis out of its bag. I whispered the blessing as I wrapped the thin, tassled shawl around me and then sat down again. Then I looked around for Marc. He was standing up by the railing, talking with his Mom. He had already put on his tallis; now he was taking out his tefillin.
I frowned. You had to be a pretty hard core Jew to wear tefillin. I mean, yeah, it's a mitzvah. We're supposed to bind some of the words of the Torah to our arm and forehead. But it seemed so--I don't know. Too Orthodox for me, I guess.
Granted, a few other guys were laying them on, including my Dad. Our synagogue was traditional that way. But still . . .
Marc paused in his conversation with his Mom to murmur the blessing. I watched him as rolled up his left sleeve and began strapping the first phylactery to his arm. The black leather strap tightened over his muscles as he wound it seven times, moving steadily down his arm as he went.
I felt my dick harden. Damn it! It must be an anti-mitzvah to be turned on by this, but I couldn’t help it. That strap was sexy as hell. It filled my head with outrageously impious thoughts--mostly concerning bondage.
He wrapped the excess leather around his palm and paused to put a separate phylactery with its own leather straps on his head, muttering under his breath again as he did so. The thing sat just above where a new-ager would locate his third eye, and the straps hung down over his shoulders, close to his neck.
I kept watching him, trying not to be too obvious about it, as he turned back to his left hand. He loosened the strap and rewound it around his fingers, forming a sort of wedding band. The idea, I think, is that you’re symbolically marrying yourself to G-d. Then he wrapped the rest back around his palm, somehow forming a pattern that looked vaguely like a couple of Hebrew letters.
I forced myself to take a deep breath. I could not get through this service with a hard on. I tried to think boring, platonic thoughts that had nothing to do with the leather binding Marc’s arm. My, lovely weather we’re having, isn’t it?
Marc, meanwhile, was blissfully unaware of just how far gone I was. He was back to chatting with his Mom.
I closed my eyes, thinking back to the way he had looked at me this morning. Bad idea--that did nothing to deflate my erection.
But that look couldn’t have come out of the blue. Had Marc convinced himself that he was straight because he was religious? No, that didn’t fit. Our branch of Judaism was ok with homosexuality.
But it hadn’t always been. If Marc had been a religious kid growing up, any homosexual inclinations would have horrified him.
No. There was no way Marc was gay. He’d been happily married to Miri. I knew what they’d been like together. I’d never seen two people so in love.
Maybe he was bi. Maybe he’d been attracted to me for a while now. Maybe--
I stopped and shook myself. It was just the alcohol and the loneliness that almost had him kissing me this morning. I was kidding myself if I thought it was anything more.
Marc took a seat beside me just before the service began. Damn, we were so much like a couple. Yeah, I had my fuck-buddy relationship with Ross and Marc was just starting to date again. Half-heartedly, but he was trying. But we still spent most of our time together.
And we were right together. Right together as boss-employee, right together as friends, and maybe right together as more.
But even if, by some miracle, Marc really was attracted to me, there were good reasons not to pursue a relationship with him. Right now we had a great working relationship and a great roommate relationship. Was it worth screwing those up?
Plus he was still grieving for Miri. It had been two years, but he needed more time. I respected that.
I turned toward him and put a hand briefly on his arm. It was a gesture of comfort. That earned me a smile from him--a smile that seemed to wrap me up in its warmth. It might have been the kind of smile a guy gave to a favorite younger brother, but I read more into it.
I decided then and there that a deeper relationship with him was worth risking our friendship for.
The sunrise service was traditional, with a bunch of Buddhist-style meditation thrown in. No surprise there. Ralph and Karen were devout Jewbus.
Marc was the only one to stand up for the Mourner's Kaddish. Well, except for Karen, who was leading the service. So they said the ancient Aramaic words together, slowly and reverently, while the rest of us intoned the responses.
I felt a stab in my gut at the expression on Marc's face. Not because I was jealous of what he had felt--and still felt--for Miri; I'd never been jealous of her. No, the sharp pain was because I didn't know what would fill the hole she had left in him. I only knew that I wasn't enough.
That wasn't false modesty on my part, or me thinking that I wasn't good enough to fill her shoes. I'm not modest and I have a very healthy self-esteem. Too healthy, according to my Mom and Marc and Ross and just about everyone else I know.
No, this was just a plain fact. Marc loved me--but even though that platonic, brotherly love suddenly had a sexual charge, it still wasn't the same love he had for Miri. And it never would be.
C'est la vie.
“How religious are you?” I asked Marc as we climbed back into his car.
He shot me a questioning glance. “Huh?"
I repeated the question.
He looked amused as he started the engine. “Zev, you’ve been living with me for over two years."
I rolled my eyes as I unclipped my kippah from my hair and tossed it into my tallis bag. "So?"
"So you know me."
"I don't know this."
He shrugged. "You know I keep the house kosher and eat what I want outside of it. I don’t work on Shabbat but I watch the baseball games.”
“I know how observant you are, Marc." I paused to frown. "Well, I didn't know you were the tefillin type, but I knew the rest. I meant--well, do you believe in G-d?”
“Why do you ask?“
Because I wanted to know if his religious beliefs were stopping him from jumping my bones, obviously. But I decided not to put that thought into words.
I shrugged instead. “Just curious."
He shrugged back. “Ok. Fine. Yeah. I do.”
“Just yeah? You’re not going to elaborate?”
“What do you want me to say? I believe in G-d. Doesn’t mean I don‘t have issues.”
I considered that. “Fair enough.“
He paused as we turned a corner and then glanced back at me. “What about you? Do you believe in G-d?”
“Depends on what day you ask me,” I answered. “Sometimes I do, sometimes I’m more agnostic.”
I paused, wondering how far I could push this conversation. “But I‘ve never believed in a personal G-d,” I continued. “A G-d who listens to us and answers prayers, I mean. That kind of G-d doesn’t make sense to me.”
“So what do you prefer? The Force? Aristotle's Unmoved Mover?”
“Either. Or maybe Plotinus‘s transcendent One instead,” I mused. I might not have a college degree, but I wasn’t uneducated. I had done my own reading on Plotinus and Neo-Platonism, and I liked the idea of this transcendent One who emanated creation the way the sun emanates rays of light. “How about you?”
He smiled. “I’m naïve enough to believe in a G-d who hears and answers prayers--or sometimes answers them, anyway.”
I considered that as I tapped my fingers against the console. “Ok. But just because you’re kind of religious--I mean, you’re still ok with gay relationships and gay marriage, right?”
“Yeah. And so is our synagogue, remember? You could get married there.”
“Yeah, I know.” But I was still tapping my fingers. I couldn’t help myself. I was dancing around this. Should I come right out and ask him?
Marc glanced at me yet again and then rolled his eyes. Next thing I knew, he was pulling over to the side of the road and stopping the car.
“Ah, we’re not home yet,” I reminded him.
He turned to face me. “I know. Want to tell me what’s on your mind?”
Tap, tap, tap. “Nothing. Let’s just get home.”
“You know you‘re a terrible liar, right?” he asked, smiling. “That‘s why I hired you. I knew you‘d always be honest with me--if only because you have a lousy poker face.”
I smiled back, admitting defeat. “Ok. It’s about this morning.”
Marc turned away from me and sighed. “I figured we’d have to talk about that.”
I took a deep breath. “Look, we don’t have to make a big deal out of this. If you just--you know. If it was just that you were still a little drunk or really hung over or whatever, let me know.”
Marc was still turned away from me. In fact, he was staring out the driver window.
“I wasn’t drunk,” he said. “I was hung over, but I knew what I was doing.”
I digested that. “So, ah, has all my flirting paid off? Are you thinking of switching teams?”
His voice was completely flat--like there was no room for compromise.
“But you want me?”
He sighed. “I’d just be using you, Zev.”
I smiled, hoping he could see my reflection in the window. “I can work with that. I’m not looking for you to declare your everlasting love, Marc. I’m really good at the whole fuck-buddy thing. Just ask Ross.”
“Or if you just want some temporary comfort, I’m good with that too,” I persisted. In truth, I’d take Marc on any terms he cared to set.
He finally turned back to me, but then he shook his head. “No. This isn’t negotiable. I’m sorry about what happened this morning. I was way out of line. I was just--damn.”
He paused as his mouth hardened. “I can’t even explain myself. But I’m not going to start something between us. I’m sorry.”
I swallowed, but managed a nonchalant shrug. “Ok, that’s fine. I’ll drop it. And I won’t bring it up again. Consider the whole thing forgotten.”
Trouble was, we both knew I was lying through my teeth.
~End of Excerpt~