It's Only Love
Steve licked the edge of his wine glass and sipped at the sparkling white wine. He crossed his legs and dusted off one knee, then put his wine glass back on the table. He adjusted his jacket and glanced at his watch again. Half an hour late.
He was accustomed to being stood up by her. She had been working later and later hours, never at home, always needing to meet him directly after work. And then she wouldn't show. There would be excuses later, some deadline that she simply had to meet, she left as soon as she could, but he was already gone, and if he'd simply waited a little longer...
Steve began to wonder if the new mail clerk in her building had anything to do with her latest project, then clamped down on the thought. That was unfair. She'd only cheated the one time. She'd said she was sorry about it. And it was, after all, Steve's fault. He was never attentive enough, never supportive enough. He was always in a hurry, always had something he wanted to do, always rushing her. He'd pushed her into the arms of another man. If he kept up his current line of thinking, he would only wind up doing it again.
Steve ran a hand through his choppy bangs, trailing long fingers through his soft, silky hair, playing with the collar length tresses behind his ears. He thought about how she'd grimaced when she'd first seen the new haircut, how bitterly she'd complained about the once shoulder length hair he'd chopped off, how she refused to touch it anymore. Not that she'd been touching any part of him with any regularity for some time.
He took another sip of wine, and noticed movement out of the corner of his eye. Glancing over, he saw a couple having a heated discussion. They were clearly disturbing the diners nearest to them, and the man looked rather embarrassed. The woman was gesturing wildly, narrowly missing the table's centerpiece with each swipe of her hands. After a moment, the woman stood up, shouted something unintelligible, and stormed out of the restaurant. The man looked almost as if he wanted to cry.
Steve turned away. None of his business - he had enough problems of his own. He looked at his watch. Forty five minutes late. He glanced towards the door. Nothing. She wasn't going to show. Again. Steve started to flag for his check, and noticed the man was still sitting at his table. Steve could see that the man hadn't ordered yet. Steve looked at his own empty table, and wondered if the man wanted some company. Steve certainly didn't want to eat by himself. He stood up, adjusted his coat and tie, and approached the table.
"Excuse me," Steve said softly. The man looked up sadly, then sat up a little straighter when he saw Steve standing over him. Steve smiled. "I noticed you and your lady friend seemed to be having a bit of a... disagreement. My own date hasn't shown up, and I really hate to eat alone. I was wondering if you would like to share my booth? I can pick up the tab, if you like..." Steve trailed off.
"You don't have to pay for my dinner, sir," the man said quietly. "I'll join you."
Steve's smile broadened. If the man recognized Steve, he didn't show it. "Great. I'm over here. More privacy." Steve gestured towards his booth. The man stood up and followed Steve to his table. They sat down and adjusted themselves for a bit. Steve immediately felt awkward. What if she showed up? What would he tell her? What would he tell the gentleman across from him? What was he supposed to tell the man across from him, anyway?
The man lifted a long, elegant finger and tucked a glossy, crimson strand of hair behind one ear. His pale green eyes scanned the menu carefully, pink mouth pursed in concentration. He looked up suddenly, as if he could feel Steve staring at him.
Steve started, unaware that he'd been staring until his guest caught him in the act. Steve licked his suddenly dry lips and put his wine glass to his lips.
Steve looked up at the man. "I beg your pardon?"
The man was still looking at Steve as if he'd caught him doing something naughty. "Christopher. Christopher Martin." He held his hand out as if to shake.
Steve blinked, then grasped the offered hand. "Stephen Perry."
There was no sign of recognition. Steve was surprised by the vague feeling of disappointment when the man didn't comment on his name. Instead, the man nodded and went back to his menu.
A few moments later, a waiter showed up and took their orders. While they waited, Steve decided to try a little small talk. "So, uh, Christopher, what do you do?"
Christopher seemed to consider Steve for a moment. "I'm... a jack of all trades."
Steve's eyebrows went up. That was evasive... "I see... Are you in... a particular industry, or just all over the map?"
Christopher shifted slightly in his seat, clearly uncomfortable. "Er... I'm... a performer."
It was clear to Steve that he needed to change the subject quickly if he didn't want his guest to run off. "Hmm. What do you do in your spare time?"
"I like to shop. Er, for, um, collectibles. Yeah..." Christopher looked at his napkin as if it held the secrets of the universe. "But what about you? What do you do, Stephen?"
Steve looked at the ceiling. Tell the truth? Or perhaps a version of the truth? Steve reached for his wine glass. "I'm a performer, too." Christopher's head snapped up at Steve's response. Steve smiled and nodded, then licked the rim of his glass and took a sip.
He could see Christopher lick his own lips, could see the way his chest rose and fell in quick, shallow breaths. It startled Steve. He lowered his glass, frowning at Christopher with concern. "Are you alright?"
Christopher blinked, then laughed nervously. "Sure. I just... get a little spacey from time to time. Don't mind me." The man looked away.
Steve said nothing. The food arrived shortly after that, and the men ate in silence. Steve kept stealing glances at Christopher, and usually caught the man staring at him. Or is he catching me looking at him? When they finished, Steve called for the check. Christopher began to pull out his wallet, but Steve put his hand out to stop him. "I told you, I'm paying."
Christopher shook his head. "I insist."
"No, I insist."
"If you pay, then I'll owe you for it. And since we don't know each other, I won't be able to pay you back," Christopher said.
Their waiter approached the table, and Steve snatched the check out of his hand. "Thanks, I'll take care of that," he said with a smile. The waiter just looked at Steve as if he'd lost his mind. Steve gave the waiter a credit card without even looking at the check. The waiter glanced at Christopher, then walked away shaking his head.
"Look, if you simply must pay me back, we can meet for lunch sometime," Steve said. "Besides, strangers are just friends that haven't met yet. And we've just met."
Christopher shrugged and smiled. "Okay, Stephen. I'm available all week."
Steve smiled back. They made arrangements to meet the next day for lunch, on Christopher's tab, then said goodbye. Steve left the restaurant in a fine mood. He didn't remember until the next morning that his girlfriend had never shown up.
The telephone startled him from a deep, peaceful slumber. Squinting in the early morning light, Steve fumbled with the alarm clock before realizing where the damned ringing was coming from, then snatched the receiver from its cradle. "What."
"Oh, baby, did I wake you? Oh, I am so sorry! Here I was calling to apologize for last night, and I've just made things worse."
Steve struggled to a sitting position, knowing that he was all finished with sleep for the morning. "No, it's okay, Monica. I'm supposed to be up anyway." A bald-faced lie, but he had to tread carefully, lest he hurt her feelings.
"But I'm sorry anyway, Stevie. And I'm sorry about our get-together. The boss laid a big one on me at five-thirty! Can you believe that? I tried to call before you left, but you had already gone...."
"I see," Steve murmured. He hadn't left the house until a quarter to seven. She was lying, again. No, not fair! Maybe her clock was slow. "Well, did you call the restaurant?"
Silence. Then, "Look, I said I was sorry, okay? Not everybody is as fucking perfect as you are, okay?! I just wanted to say that I'm sorry I couldn't make it to your little thingy, and here you are, Mr. Accusation!" She was half-shouting and half-sobbing, defending herself as best she could against Steve's terrible verbal onslaught.
"Wait, baby, please! I- I didn't mean anything by it! I just wondered- "
She cut him off. "Hey, you don't have to believe me if you don't want to, but I told you what happened!"
"I know you're telling me the truth! Please, baby, I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!" He was near tears himself, having gone and pushed her over the edge yet again. "I didn't mean it, Monica, I swear I didn't!"
There was heavy breathing for a moment. "You see, Steve? Do you see? This is why I have to have my own place." She sighed. "Listen. I'm still at work. I have a couple more loose ends to tie up, then I'm leaving. I was going to come see you, but I don't think I'm up to that kind of pressure today."
Steve bit his lip. He hadn't seen Monica's face in four days. He'd asked one stupid, insignificant little question, and as a result, he probably wouldn't see her for another week. "I... I have some plans this after-"
"Plans?!" Monica screeched. "Now you're off making plans without me?!? What the hell do you need me for, then, Mr. Big-Shot Rock Star?! Huh?! Why am I breaking my back trying to keep you happy?!?"
Steve felt his belly flip-flop. "I... he's... a potential back up singer! That's all! It's just business!"
"I don't believe you! You've got some slut on the side! That's why you don't care that I have my own place!"
Steve squeezed his eyes shut, trying to hold in the tears. "No, that's not true! I wish you were here all the time-"
"So you can control me? Just admit it, Stephen! Just fucking admit it!!"
"Monica...please..." Steve couldn't hold it anymore. The floodgates opened, and he wailed pitifully. "I'm sorry!"
Monica's response was quiet. "Yeah. We'll see. I'll be around after six. Don't make me wait." Then she hung up.
Steve put the phone back on the hook, and buried his face in his lap, gathering the sheets to himself. He cried for at least an hour, then lay back in the bed, too tired to cry, too miserable to do anything else. He berated himself for hurting Monica - again - and promised himself to be more attentive to her needs. Then he forced himself to get out of bed.
It took him the rest of the morning to pull himself together. By the time he was finally presentable, he was already ten minutes late for his lunch date with Christopher. He drove like a madman, praying that the cops weren't looking for a speed demon. He was only fifteen minutes late when he got to the table.
"Sorry. It was my turn to fight with the girlfriend." He smiled and held his hand out as Christopher rose to greet him.
"No problem. I took the liberty of ordering an appetizer." They sat down and looked over the menu. A waitress came with a sampler platter, took their orders, and left the men to their appetizer. Steve commented on the food, and Christopher explained everything on the plate in detail.
The entrées came shortly, and Christopher continued his lecture on the restaurant's cuisine. Steve sat back and let the man talk. Christopher seemed to be more comfortable than he had been the previous evening, which was a relief after his fight with Monica. When the check came, Christopher paid, and they walked out of the restaurant together. Steve figured he had probably reached the end of the road with Christopher, and turned to say a permanent goodbye.
"So, Stephen, when do you want to meet next time?" Christopher was smiling brightly. "On me, again, if you like."
Steve blinked in surprise, then slowly returned the smile. "No... I do believe that it's my turn. But... if you want to pay for anything else we do today, I'm free until six."
Christopher turned serious. "I'm free all day. You wanna hang out?"
"Yes. And call me Steve."
"Okay, Steve. You call me Chris."
They wound up at the Pier. Christopher was like a big kid, going from ride to ride, booth to booth, back and forth, up and down. Steve was amused. The Pier had been Christopher's idea. Steve had always thought that he didn't like the Pier, but he was beginning to realize that it was probably Monica that he wasn't enjoying. No, that's not true. She doesn't enjoy me. He shook his head, clearing his thoughts. He didn't want to think about his inability to keep her happy. He was supposed to be hanging out with Chris.
"You like Ferris wheels?" Chris asked breathlessly. Steve blinked, then shrugged. Why not? He followed Chris to the line for the Ferris wheel.
Steve noticed that everyone in the line seemed to be a couple, except for himself and Chris. He felt mildly self-conscious about that, but he kept his mouth shut. No need to ruin Christopher's good day, after all... They paid their fare and got on the wheel. Steve ignored the odd look they'd received from the girl at the turnstile. Who said two men couldn't ride a Ferris wheel together?
He settled in and looked at Christopher. Chris was flushed, eyes shining with glee, a big, silly grin plaster on his face. "I love heights," he said, practically giggling.
Steve gulped. He hadn't thought about that. He was about to get back off, but the wheel began to move. Maybe if I don't look... He closed his eyes.
"Steve? Are you alright?" Steve opened his eyes, and saw Chris watching him with a stricken expression. "Do you need something?"
"I'm fine," Steve said tightly. He turned away, and realized that they were several feet off the ground. He stiffened and tried to force down his panic. He jumped when he felt a hand on his back. He looked at Chris again, who was reaching for Steve's arm.
"It's okay, Steve," he was saying. "I'm sorry... I should have asked if you liked heights. You know, sometimes it helps to look at something stationary... maybe you can just look at my hand." Steve looked down at Chris' hand, which was resting lightly on Steve's arm. That helped... a little. He stared at the hand until he felt the wheel pause. Steve hazarded a look around, and started to shake. They were sitting at the very top of the wheel, overlooking the entire Pier. The hand that had been patting his back slipped over to his shoulder, and Steve was pulled into Chris' embrace. "Don't be afraid, nothing's wrong. They're just letting people on and off."
Steve found himself relaxing despite sitting in the arms of a strange man in a little metal swing fifty feet off the ground. Before long, the wheel began to move again, and Steve pulled away, not wanting to be seen in Chris' embrace. He heard Chris sigh, but Steve didn't say anything.
When the ordeal was over, Steve hurried away from the Ferris wheel. He went over to the edge of the Pier and sat down on a nearby bench. Chris caught up with him and sat down, a little ways away. They didn't speak for a long moment.
"I'm not gay."
Chris laughed out loud at Steve's declaration. "The very fact that you feel the need to clarify makes me wonder, Stephen." He sobered. "Doesn't matter, though. I wasn't coming on to you."
Steve looked at the water, embarrassed. "I just... nevermind..."
"What," Chris prodded gently.
Steve turned to Chris, and looked at him with fresh eyes. Long, dark red hair, pale green eyes, ivory colored skin. He wasn't very tall, not much taller that Steve, but his long legs gave him the illusion of height. His lips were full and pink, his cheekbones high, perfectly chiseled, his chin coming to a perfect point. He was a good-looking young man.
He was better looking than Monica...
Steve turned away again. "Nothing. I'm fine."
He felt a fingertip under his chin, and turned to face Chris again. Chris' face wore a guarded expression. "No pressure, Steve. I keep secrets, and I keep promises." He dropped his hand.
Steve frowned. What the hell was he getting at, anyway? "You put your arms around me, remember?" Steve hissed.
Chris was impassive. "You approached me, remember?" He smiled coolly. "But there's no need to be hostile, Steve. I was simply making a statement."
Steve stood abruptly. "Good-bye, Christopher."
"Why are you leaving? Sexual preference is not contagious, Steve. If it were, I would never have made such a statement to you, and you would never have approached me, because we'd both be chasing our girlfriends." Chris gestured at the bench. "Please stay."
Steve glared hotly, but he sat down again. "Better?"
Chris nodded. "Yes. Much." He brushed a crimson strand out of his face and smiled. "Is there anything else you'd like to do today?"
Steve looked at his hands. "I'm really not gay."
"Yes. I believe you."
Steve looked up. "You do?"
Chris chuckled. "Of course I do. Homosexuality and bisexuality are different, Steve."
Steve felt his hackles rising again. "Of course."
Chris leaned close, as if to tell Steve a secret. "But just between you and me... most people that say they're bi are just hiding from themselves." Then he sat up again. "But that's none of my business. Do you like movies? We could go see a movie..."
Steve looked at the water again. He keeps his secrets... "I've never...." He trailed off.
"Seen a movie??"
Steve laughed, a nervous, high pitched giggle. "No! I've never... you know... had the need for secrets..."
Chris nodded sagely. "Ah." Then he stood. "Come on, Steve. Let me show you something."
It was almost eight when Steve got home. He went to the front door, and was surprised to find it unlocked. He frowned and eased the door open, wary of intruders. He could smell fresh bread and basil, tomatoes and garlic. I didn't make any pasta...
Monica was sitting in the kitchen, arms folded, face thunderous. "Where the fuck have you been?"
Steve blinked. He'd forgotten about her. "I..."
"You what," she pressed, slowly getting to her feet.
Steve didn't know what to say. Everything he'd ever accused Monica of doing, he was guilty of that very moment. "I lost track of time..."
Monica turned on the water works. "I can't believe you forgot about me! After all the fuss you made this morning, and I went and made dinner for you and everything!" She went on and on, screaming and crying and making the biggest production out of it.
Steve just stood there. He knew he was supposed to be remorseful, but he just couldn't bring himself to feel it. He'd had an excellent evening, and there was nothing Monica could do about it. He wasn't sorry - if he had to do it all over again, he would. She could say he was a bully, or insensitive, or manipulative if she wanted. He wasn't going to admit what he'd done with Chris. It wasn't her business. Just like it hadn't been his business when he'd made Monica admit she was having an affair.
"Are you even listening to me!?!?"
Steve blinked, realizing Monica had been waiting for a response of some sort. "Huh?"
She stomped her foot impatiently. "You're two hours late, you self-centered sonfabitch! What the hell do you have to say for yourself?!?"
"You got toilet paper hanging out the back of your pants."
It was Monica's turn to blink. "What?" Clearly, that was not the response she expected.
Steve didn't bother to repeat himself. He went over to the stove and looked at the cold linguine in the pot. "You still wanna have dinner here?" he asked over his shoulder.
"You know, Steve, I don't think we should have dinner together tonight. You don't appreciate me," Monica pouted.
Steve shrugged. "Suit yourself." He started digging around for containers to put the food away. "Did you want to take this stuff with you?"
Monica sputtered behind him. "Y-you don't - you aren't - Steve! You can't - you can't just -"
Steve turned to face her. "What? You said you didn't think we should have dinner together tonight. Did you change your mind? I'll heat this up, if you want."
Monica stood there, nonplussed. "I..."
"You what," Steve said sweetly.
Monica sat down in her chair again. "This is the only time I will allow you to get away with this, Stephen."
Steve just shook his head and turned on the stove.
Monica refused to stay after dinner. Steve didn't mind. Instead, drew himself a piping hot bath, settled into the steamy water and relaxed, considering the day's events.
It was not as foreign an experience as he'd expected. Granted, it wasn't like being with a woman, but it wasn't as... awkward as he'd thought it would be, either. In fact, he was surprised to discover that he was more at ease with Chris than he had been with most women he'd spent the night with. There was no pressure to perform, no need to live up to an impossible standard which over time had been compounded by fame, no accusations that he was only interested in pleasing himself.
When the lovemaking was over, Christopher had been kinder still, inviting Steve to stay and nap if he so desired. No need to run, no need to stay and 'talk'. Steve slept for a bit, then made a date to meet again for lunch, with or without the hope of another skin to skin encounter. No pressure. It was only sex.
Steve finished his bath, toweled off, and went to his room. He started to pull on the old sweats he liked to sleep in, but paused. His sheets were soft, fine Egyptian cotton - a gift from Monica. He pulled back the covers and touched the white sheets, so soft and cool, and opted to sleep in the buff. Crawling into bed, he smiled a secret smile, recalling the feeling of soft, fine Egyptian cotton sheets, dyed a pale green to match their owner's eyes.