Arthur Neufeld is an unusually late man . . . enter Simon Gaines.
|Arthur Neufeld is an unusually late man.
“Gonna fucking fire me instead of promote me,” he mutters to himself miserably. Because Janus Global frowns on many things, but lateness for a meeting with Mr. Ono? Definitely in the top five of Things That Will Put You on the Company Shit List.
He’s so late, in fact, that this is the Nth person he’s bumped into since leaving the loft, and unlike the others Arthur’s accidentally assaulted, this one doesn’t swear and keep going. No, this one oofs, and falls flat on his ass.
Mortified, Arthur’s dropping his portfolio (and the precious six months of work therein) to help the guy up before the surprise on both their faces fades.
“Ah, Jesus, I’m so sorry,” Arthur stammers, offering his hand to the guy, who takes it, still looking stunned. Like a man who maybe hit his head and is about to guilt/extort/sue money out of Arthur.
Sighing, Arthur pulls the guy—who’s still staring at him like he’s got three heads—to his feet. “Uh, you really, uh, oughta watch where you’re going,” he stammers lamely. Anything to head off a lawsuit.
“I . . . wait a minute, I ought to watch where I’m going?” The guy asks incredulously, his grey eyes still wide, but this time with disbelief. He’s got a low, throaty voice and an English accent. “There’s a laugh! I was watching precisely where I was going—you were the one looking at his feet and muttering to himself like a nutter!”
“Suing me will do you no good,” Arthur warns defensively, crossing his arms like a man who will not be moved.
This stance, however, doesn’t seem to impress the guy, who snorts and crosses his own arms. He’s built like a jock, with a tanned, perfect complexion and hair so blue a black, it’s probably dyed. He’s wearing a hideous paisley jacket with a lurid Johnny Quid t-shirt underneath, and grey-and-black checkered jeans.
It’s as if he was designed purely to make Arthur’s eyes hurt.
“’Don’t sue’? Isn’t that supposed to be my line?” the guy asks sarcastically. But then he bends and picks up Arthur’s portfolio, brushing it off. “Here.”
Eyes narrowing suspiciously, Arthur takes the case and hugs it to himself possessively. “Thanks.”
The guy waves a hand dismissively. “Not a problem, just—would you mind terribly watching where you’re going, in the future, love? Some of us don’t fancy being knocked on our perfect arses first thing, eh?”
“I'll watch where I'm going if you do the same,” Arthur sniffs, clutching at his portfolio like a shield. The guy rolls his eyes and opens his mouth to say something else just as the distant bells from Saint John’s start to ring.
Which means Arthur should’ve been to work fifteen minutes ago.
“Shit-shit-shit!” he exclaims, checking his watch just to make sure. Nine-fifteen, on the dot.
“What? What’s the matter, now?” the guy asks, looking vaguely alarmed, but Arthur’s already shouldering past him with a hurried ‘scuse me, buddy. He’s got another ten blocks to go, and though he’s tempted to run, he doesn’t want to get to the most important meeting of his young life sweaty and disheveled. Especially not when he took care to wear his best suit and tie, the choosing of which is partially responsible for making him so late (the other part being his car picking today to not start).
“I’m sorry, but—did you just call me buddy?”
Startled, Arthur looks over to his right. The guy he’d knocked over is keeping pace with him, his handsome face puzzled and disbelieving once more.
Annoyed, Arthur picks up his own pace. “What? Would you have preferred sir? Look, I’m extremely late for work, okay, sir? I’m sorry I knocked you down, but I really need to fly.”
That said, Arthur begins to trot. Better to arrive less late and slightly disheveled, than get there a whole half hour late. But he finds himself colliding with the same guy again (unfortunately the portfolio hits the ground on one lacquered edge and breaks apart like an egg). This time, however, it’s all the guy’s fault, since he’d jumped directly in front of Arthur on purpose.
Knocked flat on his own ass, Arthur would normally be frantic about the state of his best suit . . . yet all he can think about, as papers flutter to the ground around him, is his career, which is rapidly circling the drain.
“Bloody hell, mate, I’m sorry!” This time, the guy is kneeling, offering Arthur a hand, looking chagrined and apologetic as he tries to catch papers with his other hand and fails. Miserably. The pages that have already hit the ground are being kicked and stepped on by heedless feet.
“You’re sorry? Sorry?” Arthur laughs. He laughs till tears run down his face and the guy stares at him as if he’s gone mad. “My whole career just went up in flames, and this guy’s sorry?”
“Er . . . very, very sorry?” The guy offers tentatively, reaching for Arthur’s arm. But he’s barely touched it before Arthur shoves his hand away, the laughter stopped as suddenly as if his throat's been cut.
“I’m not a violent man, but if you touch me, I’ll rearrange your crooked teeth, you limey bastard,” Arthur growls, and the guy sits back on his heel, stunned. Then his face changes, falls into lines of deep offense.
“Look,” he begins haughtily. “Do you have any idea who I am?”
Wearily, Arthur starts to laugh again. Some days, he just can’t believe his life. “Should I? Because I don’t. More importantly, I don’t care. Just—run the fuck along and let me sit in the ruins of my career in peace.”
That said, he puts the guy out of his mind and begins the laborious task of gathering the now-stepped-on pages of his portfolio, more tears running down his face. Passersby skirt him, probably thinking he’s insane, but he doesn’t care. Six months of his life and his big chance at a promotion? Are all gone. Down the tubes. Even if he could teleport to work, his whole presentation is scratched and covered in dirty footprints.
Not to mention his vintage portfolio case is irreparably broken.
“Fuck my life,” he moans quietly as he gathers the last of the papers with their scraped-up pie-charts and graphs. They’d been so . . . cool. Minerva had said so, even though, she’d quickly added, she had no idea what any of them meant. “Fuck it six ways to—”
A car horn—playing the first few notes of "Rule Britannia"—honks loudly, to Arthur’s left and he starts, looking up.
A red Stingray is idling near the curb, an unfortunately familiar face visible through the open passenger side window.
It’s the guy.
“Need a ride?” he calls cheerily.
“I don’t even know why I said yes,” Arthur mutters, his first words since he got into the guy’s car. He’s been slouched down in the passenger seat, staring at his reflection in the side mirror. His normally ruthlessly-tamed ash-blond curls are a mess from running anxious fingers through them. His hazel eyes are slightly red, as if he’s been crying, and there are the very beginnings of dark circles around them. His slightly-chapped lower and upper lips have deep indentations in them from nervous biting.
He looks, in short, like a pale, thin-featured, and vaguely dyspeptic—or perhaps constipated—Yuppie. Which, he acknowledges, is exactly what he is.
“How’s that?” the guy asks. Arthur looks away from his reflection and heaves a deep sigh.
“I’m already late and my presentation is ruined . . . would it be possible to have you take me to the nearest bar?”
The guy glances at Arthur in the rearview as the Stingray inches along in rush-hour gridlock. “Oh, don’t be melodramatic. Just tell them some arsehole ran into you and destroyed your work.”
Arthur looks out the passenger window, sighing. His anger at the guy has passed. Rather, it’s shifted to himself. Everything that’s happened to him this morning is a direct consequence of his own actions and inactions. Even the car stalling—which Minerva had offered to loan him money to fix last week—is his own fault. “Mr. Ono doesn’t accept excuses. Even when they're true.”
“Ono? As in Mamoru Ono?”
“Yeah.” Arthur stares glumly at the woman applying make-up in the next car over. In his opinion, she’s polishing the silverware on the Titanic, but he's got bigger fish to fry. “The one and only.”
Neither of them speaks again until the guy pulls up to the busy front entrance of Janus Global.
“Thanks,” Arthur says, at the same time the guy says: “Look—”
“I’m sorry, what were you going to say?” Arthur asks deferentially, feeling quite generous, now that he’s accepted the utter failure his life has turned into.
The guy smiles a little. His teeth are slightly crooked, but his smile is nice. It lights up his grey eyes. “It just so happens that your Mr. Ono and I go back a bit. We know a lot of the same people,” the guy adds before Arthur can even express his surprise. “Anyway, I’m in a bit of a rush, myself, or I’d come up and explain the whole mess to him, in person. As it is—” the guy reaches into the pocket of his hideous jacket and comes out with a card, which he hands to Arthur, who takes it with numb, uncertain fingers. It’s got a strange, slightly rough texture, a vividly rendered poker chip overlaying an ace of hearts, and a phone number.
“Just show Mamoru that card, and tell him that Simon says 'hello.' And that he’s sorry for making you late and wrecking your project. Tell him that it won’t happen again.” The guy—Simon—grins, now. It’s puckish and does strange things to Arthur’s stomach. “That ought to at least get you out of his bad graces.”
“But—” Arthur shakes his head, trying to think past the ten tons of craziness that’s just been dropped on him. “You know my boss?”
“I do.” That grin takes on a brief, lazy fondness. “Well enough that dropping my name should take care of things, alright?”
Arthur nods, and Simon unlocks the door. “Off you go, then, and good luck. Oh, and if you like—” Simon gives Arthur an oblique once-over. “Feel free to give me a ring, and let me know how it all went.”
“I—okay.” Arthur blushes, and opens the door, sliding out of the passenger seat with his papers and his broken portfolio. He looks back, still confused, but hopeful. Grey eyes are still studying him and that grin has narrowed back to that small, kind smile that Arthur finds himself returning. “Thank you.”
“Not at all, er—?”
“Arthur. Arthur Neufeld.” Arthur holds out his hand, and Simon takes it, holding it for a bit longer than necessary.
“You’re very welcome, Arthur Neufeld. And I do apologize for ruining your lovely presentation.”
“Oh, it’s not a problem,” Arthur lies for no reason at all, laughing nervously, also for no reason at all. That strange feeling in his stomach is settling into something even less identifiable, now. Like a flutter of butterflies. Or bats. As he stares into Simon’s eyes, the feeling just gets stronger. “Hey, this is gonna sound weird, but . . . do I know you from somewhere?”
Simon chuckles rather ironically. “I can’t imagine where, love. I’m certain I’d have remembered you, and vice versa.”
“Good point.” Arthur shrugs and shuts the door. “Um, well. Thanks again, uh, Simon.”
“It was my pleasure, Arthur. Good luck.”
Suddenly remembering his massive tardiness, Arthur offers one last distracted smile before turning and running for his life. Or at the very least his job.
“. . . and then it turns out Ono was running late, anyway! There’d been an emergency at Janus’ London branch and his private jet was having problems, as well!”
“Ah, the trials of being mega-wealthy,” Minerva says sagely, sipping her zinfandel. Arthur raises his glass of merlot to her and grins.
“Plus, to make it back to New York in time for the meeting, he bought Transcontinental Airlines.”
“Get the fuck out!” Minerva chokes on her zinfandel, and Arthur pats her back. “He bought an entire airline just to secure a flight? Dude, who does that?”
“Apparently Mr. Ono does, according to his executive assistant. And Sal wouldn’t make something like that up.” Arthur snorts, shaking his head wonderingly. “She said that he claimed it was ‘more efficacious.’”
“More efficacious than what? Chartering a flight? Renting another jet?” Minerva’s still goggling. It makes her look even younger than she already does.
“I guess.” Arthur laughs and leans back into the couch, which is an ugly old hand-me-down, but comfortably broken in. It doesn’t fit in with the polished wood-and-brass décor of their loft, but Minerva had insisted and insisted until she got her way and a place of pride for her mother’s old couch. “Anyway, when I gave him the card and Simon’s regards, he got the weirdest look on his face. Then, he actually smiled—”
The goggling increases. “But I thought you said he never smiles?”
“I did. Because he doesn’t. At least not around me. Not until today, anyway.” Arthur shakes his head again. He’s slightly buzzed from the wine and a little dizzy. “And I don’t think he was smiling at me, per say, but because of Simon. But when I tried to give him the card, he said I should keep it. That Simon had meant for me to have it.”
Minerva’s eyebrows shoot up. “Do you still have it?”
“Asshole!” She swats his arm. “Go get it! I wanna see this magical get-out-of-jail-free card!”
Arthur rolls his eyes, but does as Minerva commands, going to retrieve Simon’s card from his jacket pocket. When he goes back into the living room, Minerva’s got her shoes and socks off and is sitting in a boneless full lotus, head resting on the back of the couch as she giggles up at the ceiling.
Looks like I’m not the only one who’s buzzed. Arthur laughs a little, himself, and plops down next to her, proffering the card with a flourish. “As madam requested.”
Minerva grins over at him and takes the card. She examines it closely, back and front, then frowns. “The logo looks sort of familiar . . . but there’s no name on the card, just a phone number.”
“So I noticed. I think the guy must be some kinda big-shot if he and Ono rub elbows.” Arthur bites his lip and puts forth his own pet theory about the mysterious Simon. “Probably he’s so powerful and rich, he doesn’t need to put his name on his card. Just his company logo.”
Eyes widening again, Minerva hands the card back. “That’s pretty badass.”
Arthur nods, running his fingers across the rough grain of the card. Warm from being held, it reminds him of Simon’s handshake. “I guess. . . .”
“You guess?” Minerva waggles her eyebrows like Groucho Marx. “The Master of the Understatement strikes again. So . . . are you gonna call him?”
“Uh . . . why would I do that?”
“Because he said you should. You know, to let him know how everything went.”
Arthur frowns and turns the card over in his hand. “He was just being polite, Min.”
“’Polite’ is a ‘so-long and good luck, pal’. Not a ‘call me, sometime, love.’” Minerva’s English accent is both painful and atrocious. Very unlike Simon’s, which had been . . . kind of nice.
Blushing, Arthur slips the card into his pocket for safe-keeping when Minerva makes a grab for it. “It wasn’t like that, Min—”
She blows a raspberry. “Did he, or did he not call you ‘love’? Twice, even!”
Refilling his wine glass, Arthur sighs. “He wasn’t calling me ‘love.’ I mean, he was, but I think he calls everyone that. Sort of how you call everyone—even your mom—‘dude.’”
“Could be,” Minerva agrees, however reluctantly. Her eyes are shining with tipsy mischief. “But, dude, he did ask you to call him, and let him know how it went. So it'd be rude not to.”
Arthur sighs again. “Listen, Minerva—”
“All I’m saying is, if he was polite enough to want to know how it went, then you should be polite enough to tell him. And maybe after you do, you two’ll find some common ground.” Another eyebrow-waggle that makes it very clear that his best friend’s mind is in the gutter.
“Oh, it’s definitely not like that, Minerva.” But Arthur can’t help remembering that once-over Simon had given him. At the time, he’d been too busy to do more than note it, but now, his mind’s going haywire with trying to interpret it. A pointless exercise, now that the memory’s been colored by Minerva’s insinuations. “He's probably not even gay.”
“How do you know he’s not?” Minerva tilts her head in consideration. “You have the worst gaydar ever. Guys practically have to beat you over the head with cheesy come-ons before you realize they’re into you.”
Arthur sniffed. “Well, Simon didn’t use any cheesy come-ons, so he’s definitely not interested in me.”
“Stuff and nonsense, dude. You know how repressed English guys are. Maybe ‘let me know how it goes’ is a cheesy come-on for him.” Minerva finishes her zinfandel in one long swallow and makes a face. “Damnit. Next time, we make sangria.”
“Motion carried,” Arthur agrees, because if there’s a girly drink in existence that he doesn’t like, he’ll smile and kiss a pig.
But, of course, thinking of kissing makes him think of Simon, and Simon’s lips, and . . . Arthur finishes his merlot so fast, Minerva applauds him.
“Bloody hell, what time is it?” a scratchy, irritated voice demands when the line engages.
Closing the door to his new office, Arthur snorts and walks over to the huge window overlooking Madison Ave.
“It’s nine thirty-seven.”
Beat. “A. M. ?”
“Unless the sun’s started shining at night, yup.”
A long string of swear-words follows, then is interrupted with a: “Wait . . . would this be Arthur Neufeld, then?”
Arthur smiles, unconscionably flattered. “How’d you guess?”
“Because only three people who have this number would be calling me this early. And you sound nothing like my mum or my sister.”
“Ah.” Vaguely disappointed, Arthur adjusts his Bluetooth headset and focuses on the view. On feeling like the newly-minted Master of the Kill that he is.
“Also . . . I remember your voice,” Simon adds softly, and it sounds like he’s smiling.
“Liar,” Arthur says, but is pleased, nonetheless. “How are you this morning?”
“Barely conscious, but otherwise fine. You?”
“Enjoying the view from my new corner office . . . fuck, I think I can see Sarah Palin’s house from up here.”
Simon snorts. “I take it things went well, then?”
“Indeed, they did.”
“Good thing, too. I didn’t want to have to call Mamoru and pester him into giving you another chance—but I would’ve.” Simon laughs.
“I believe you.” Arthur laughs himself, blushing even though he’s alone and there’s absolutely no reason to be blushing. “So, uh. Yeah. I just wanted to let you know everything went fine. Better than fine, actually. I got my promotion and for the next little while, I’m everyone’s fair-haired boy. So, yeah. I’ll, uh, let you get back to sleep. Thanks again.”
“Wait—wait!” Simon’s laughing again, but hurried and shakily, as if he’s out of breath. There’s a loud thump in the background, and Simon swears again. “What’re you doing for lunch? Being wined and dined by the uppers, probably?”
“They actually did that yesterday. I was so nervous I ate half the menu and two desserts.” Why the hell did I tell him that? Arthur wonders, kicking himself for being a fool.
But a few kicks are easily worth Simon laughing again, still out of breath. “A nervous eater, are we? I would never have guessed, you’re so bloody fit.”
“I’m hardly fit . . . but I do have a high metabolism.” Arthur stretches, and turns away from the view. His new desk is as personalized as he cares to make it—which isn’t very—and neatly arranged.
It’s still hard to believe all this—the office, the fancy leather furniture, the desk huge enough for a large lunch or a small buffet—is his now.
“. . . thinking if you’re not doing anything special for breakfa—er, lunch, I could take you to this little bistro I know. As a celebratory gesture,” Simon is saying, and Arthur sits down in his fancy new chair. It’s more comfortable than his bed.
“You, uh, don’t have to do that, Simon.”
“Love, I know I don’t have to, but I’d like to. So say yes, or I shall have to pout.”
Arthur smiles a little, opening one of his currently empty drawers and thinking with absolute glee how much paperwork he’s going to fill it with. “You’re a ridiculous man.”
“No, I’m just used to getting my own way,” Simon corrects matter-of-factly, but Arthur can still hear the smile in his voice. “So I’ll pick you up at noon—traffic willing?”
Suddenly remembering what Minerva had said last night—fuzzy though the memory is—Arthur tells his heart to stop racing like a rabbit and the damned bats in his stomach to chill the fuck out. Simon’s just being polite—or still feeling guilty about yesterday.
“I take my lunches at one,” he tells Simon, throwing self-doubt to the wind.
“What a coincidence. That’s when I usually take my breakfasts. . . .”
From the moment they enter the bistro, it seems like everyone is staring or pointing at them. Or rather—at Simon.
As they pass the six or seventh table of gape-mouthed occupants at whom Simon smiles and nods, Arthur leans in to whisper: “Do you know all these people?”
“Of course not. Why do you ask?” Simon waves at a trio of older women, all of whom blush and titter like school girls.
“Well, for one thing, they’re all staring at you, and for another, you’re waving more than Miss America.” Arthur snorts as the maître d, a tallish older gentleman with receding ginger hair, seats them at a secluded corner table.
“Thank you so much, Roland,” Simon says with a wry smile, and Roland flashes him a genuine, if quick one in return.
“It’s a pleasure, as always, sir.”
“Roland, my good man, how many times must I ask you to call me ‘Simon’?” Simon asks with fake weariness. Roland flashes that quick smile again.
“At least once more, sir, as always. Yuri will be over with your menus in just a moment.”
Then with a nod for Arthur, Roland is gone.
“Now there goes a gentleman’s gentleman.” Simon says with fond approval and returns his attention to Arthur. “Right, love, what were we talking about?”
Arthur rolls his eyes. “The fact that you’ve got an entire restaurant full of friends and admirers. Who are, by the way, still staring at you.”
“And how do you know they’re not staring at you, Arthur? You do look rather exquisite, today.” Simon gives him another one of those once-overs, and Arthur finds himself blushing again, all rabbits and bats.
“Are you trying to change the subject by f-flirting with me?”
Simon looks curious, now. “Is that the only reason you can imagine me flirting with you?”
“Yes—I mean no! I mean—” Arthur’s face feels like it’s on fire. “Oh, hell, I dunno what I mean.”
“Well, if it helps, I do.” Simon’s smile turns wicked. “And for your information, I’m flirting with you because I happen to find you very attractive.”
“Ah.” And the blushing continues, with Arthur staring down at his silverware and rearranging it nervously. At least until Simon’s hand covers his own lightly, stilling it.
When Arthur looks up, that wicked smile has been replaced with the kind one Arthur remembers from yesterday.
“Arthur,” Simon begins, his voice low and confiding. “You must know I—”
Just then, a waiter who Arthur can only presume is Yuri, shows up with water glasses, a pitcher, and two menus. Before he can put the last items down in front of them, Simon stops him.
“Actually, Yuri—” he glances at Arthur questioningly. “If you don’t mind being surprised, Arthur, I’d like to order you one of my favorite dishes.”
Startled into acquiescence, Arthur nods. “But I’m allergic to shellfish. Deathly allergic.”
“Duly noted. Yuri, my companion and I will have—” something in French Arthur can’t understand. Which is no surprise to Arthur, who'd barely passed remedial Spanish in high school.
“Yes, sir.” Yuri inclines his head, then disappears as quickly as Roland had, leaving Arthur staring at Simon’s hand over his own, while Simon stares at him.
“You must know I didn’t ask you out merely to congratulate you on your promotion,” he says conversationally, turning Arthur’s hand in his own and stroking his palm. Arthur shivers and reluctantly pulls his hand away.
“I don’t. . . .” Arthur sighs, at a loss for words. He can sense Simon smiling at him.
“What? Don’t find me attractive?”
Feeling somewhat churlish and obstinate, Arthur huffs. “Maybe I don’t.”
“Oh, don’t be silly, love.” Simon chuckles, spreading his mauve cloth napkin in his denim-clad lap. Arthur copies him hastily, embarrassed at having forgotten his manners thus far.
“Maybe you’re not my type.”
“I’m every man’s type. Even the straight ones. They’re all attracted to my massive . . . ego,” Simon finishes delicately, and Arthur laughs.
“Absolutely ridiculous,” he murmurs, taking a sip of his water. Simon’s charming grin widens.
“See? I’m cute, and I make you laugh. What’s to don’t?”
“Well, I—I barely know you!” Arthur blurts out. “And I only know you at all because you had a hand in nearly demolishing my career!”
“For which I’ve both apologized, and made up to you.” Simon reaches for Arthur’s hand again, simply resting his fingers on Arthur’s, this time. “In all honesty, I asked you to lunch because I haven’t met anyone like you in longer than I care to remember.”
Arthur’s eyebrows shoot up. “What? An uptight suit?”
“Oh, I meet plenty of those in the course of my day.” Stroke-stroke-stroke go Simon’s calloused fingertips. “But I very rarely meet anyone like you.”
“What does that even mean?” Arthur demands, noticing again how they—and it is they, now, for he can feel almost as many curious eyes on him as he sees on Simon—seem to be the talk of the bistro. “Someone like me?”
Simon’s grin turns into a wistful smile. “Yes, Arthur. Someone who’s . . . genuine.”
But Simon won’t be drawn on the matter—maintains his silence until Yuri returns with an appetizer that involves a salsa of melon and prosciutto in a small bowl, and fresh breadsticks. Both smell tantalizing.
Arthur doesn’t even realize Simon hasn’t let go of his hand until Simon does, serving Arthur first then himself with graceful, practiced gestures.
“I’m not a girl, you know,” Arthur says ironically, taking a bite of his appetizer, which is almost good enough to make him overlook the fact that Simon is—kind of—treating him like a girl.
“Well, I’m willing to take your word for it for now, love, but eventually, I’ll need to have hard proof.” Cue a leer that’s well over the top of lasciviousness, but still only half-joking.
Arthur rolls his eyes and pretends he’s not blushing again.
After lunch, Arthur returns to his office only forty minutes late. But since he’s now part of upper management, if anyone besides the office assistant notices, they don’t say anything.
Vowing to himself to stay an extra forty minutes to make up for the missed work, Arthur sits heavily at his desk—stuffed to brimming, thanks to Simon—and logs in to his computer.
The first thing he does, as always, is checks his work email. What catches his eye, amongst the half dozen new emails, is one from Minerva.
She never emails or calls him at work unless it’s important.
Skimming his work emails quickly—all make-work problems he could solve in his sleep—he then opens her email:
From: Minerva Miller [mailto:neufeld.a@cc.Janusglobal.net]
Sent: Tuesday May 02, 2015 2:01 PM
To: Arthur Neufeld
Subject: OMG!!! IS THIS YOUR GUY?!!!
I remember where I saw that logo! Is this Simon?
"Oh-kay," Arthur mutters to himself, shaking his head in confusion. The link, when he clicks on it, opens another window with a grainy streaming video. Said video announces it’s a Nicholas Rabb production of an Aces High Film. And. . . .
"Holy crap, that’s Simon’s logo!"
Make-work forgotten, Arthur leans forward in his comfortable chair and lets the video play out despite the waiting workload.
Halfway through the damn thing—about the time Wednesday’s handsome, but no doubt doomed son marches off to war—Arthur’s gone beyond confused, beyond shocked, beyond embarrassed, to absolutely livid.
He stops the video, and taps out a one word reply to Minerva:
Swinging his feet up onto his desk—something that would've been unthinkable a few hours ago—Arthur stares at the rolling end credits, then pinches the bridge of his nose to stave off an impending migraine. “It could’ve been your mother or your sister.”
And Arthur can all but hear that charming grin. “I just had a hunch it was you . . . how are you, love?”
“Fine, Mr. Gaines. And you?”
Dead silence. For nearly a minute. Arthur snorts.
“That's what I thought. Good-bye, Mr. Gaines.”
“Wait, Arthur! Don’t—”
It’s too late. Arthur’s already hung up. He has better things to do. That make-work isn’t going to do itself, after all.
“I can’t believe you, sometimes!”
Minerva’s been pacing ever since Arthur got home. Maybe even before then. It’s starting to make Arthur's head spin.
“What don’t you believe, Minerva?” he asks wearily. She whirls to glare at him.
“That you just . . . dumped Simon Gaines, that’s what!” She throws up her hands like a mad woman. “He’s only the hottest up-and-coming actor of our generation!”
“He’s a lying asshole!”
“Okay, first, he didn’t lie to you, he just . . . omitted the truth. Second, only you wouldn’t recognize Simon Gaines, Arthur!” She rolls her eyes—she’s picked up a lot of his bad habits. “And third, who immediately starts a date with, oh, by the way, I’m an international movie star?”
“It wasn’t a date!“ he insists stubbornly, crossing his arms.
“Oh, wake up, Arthur!” Minerva sits on the coffee table across from Arthur and takes his hands. Her round, dark eyes are as serious as he’s ever seen them. “A hot guy takes you out to lunch, flirts with you the whole time, and—I’m guessing he asked to take you out to lunch again, right?”
“Dinner.” Arthur mutters, pulling his hands away so he can re-cross his arms. “It was gonna be tonight.”
“Yeah, and I'm guessing that wasn't going to be a date, either. Idiot!” Minerva smacks his forehead stingingly and gets up to pace again. “You know, you’ve been living like a eunuch for the past three years. Ever since your weird, on-again/off-again thang with Josh imploded. I’ve seen you bury your head in the sand with dozens of cute, interested guys, all because you’re too much of a coward to let anyone else in.” She glares ferociously at him, something she almost never does.
“Hey—below the belt, much?!” Arthur refuses, absolutely refuses to be drawn on the subject of Josh Anderson. It’s a subject that’s been talked to death—has been for two years. So he sits there, scowling, and rubbing his smarting forehead. “Leave Josh out of this!”
“I wish I could! But you’re the one who keeps dragging him between you and every shot at happiness you get!” Minerva kicks one of the legs of the coffee table. She’s breathing hard. “It’s starting to be pathetic, Arthur. And if you let Simon go without giving him a second chance, so are you.”
She stalks off, her fury punctuated by the tossing of her long, dark curls, then the slamming of her door, two other things she never does.
“It wasn’t a date,” Arthur tells the empty living room. After a few minutes its silence seems to mock him, so goes to the kitchen, grabs a bottle of Minerva’s zinfandel, and makes his way to bed.
“Bloody hell, Angela, d’you know what time it is in New York?”
Now that he’s actually dialed Simon’s number, Arthur doesn’t know what to say. He’s been staring at Simon’s card for so long, he’s actually memorized the number on it.
Arthur glances at his clock-radio.
Three thirty-seven a.m.
Now he really doesn’t know what to say.
“Hello?” Simon sounds confused, but a bit more awake. Then: “Arthur? ‘S’at you?”
“Don’t do that anymore,” Arthur hiccups. “It’s creepy.”
Simon makes a sound that might be a snort. “I apologize.”
“Well, good, then.” Arthur hiccups again, and rubs his tired eyes. “Simon?”
“How come you didn’t tell me you’re a famous person?”
Simon sighs. “Arthur . . . don’t take this the wrong way, petal, but . . . are you drunk?”
Arthur glances at the empty bottle of zinfandel. “Of course not, just—answer my question.”
Simon sighs again. “Would you have just blurted it out on a first date?”
“It wasn’t a—”
“Listen, remember when I said I hadn’t met anyone like you in a long time?”
Annoyed, Arthur makes a face and flops back into his pillows. “How could I forget? Guess you don’t meet many nobodies in the course of your awesome, famous day.”
“I didn’t use the word ‘nobody,’ Arthur. You strike me as many things, but none of them are 'nobody.'” Simon chuckles, low and throatily, and suddenly those bats and rabbits are back with a vengeance, along with a frog, which lodges itself in Arthur’s throat. “The word I used was genuine.”
“And it makes as much sense now, as it did then,” Arthur scoffs.
“It would if you’d stop to think about it, wouldn’t it?” Now Simon sounds annoyed. “Look, you’re right, I don’t meet a lot of genuine people in the course of my—awesome, famous day. I mostly deal with a lot of bored fakes and boring sycophants. It’s rare that I meet someone who not only doesn’t know who I am, but who doesn’t care. So meeting you was . . . intoxicating.”
“Oh, really? Well, you’ve had your fun slumming, Mr. Gaines. It was nice knowing you.”
Arthur hangs up, and stares at the ceiling for five minutes.
That’s how long it takes before his fingers start itching and he reaches for his phone.
“You really must stop hanging up on me, love. It’s starting to affect my ego,” Simon says when he picks up the phone. On the first ring, no less. Arthur finds himself smiling, and to make up for it, makes his voice as gruff as he possibly can.
“Your ego’ll be fine.”
“Is that so?” Simon sounds utterly bereft now, like a man who's just gambled away his last dime. “Nothing about me will be fine as long as you refuse to see my side of the matter . . . please, Arthur-love. Give me a chance to prove myself worthy of you. . . .”
“Hah! You call that acting? No wonder I haven’t seen any of your movies.” It comes out before Arthur can stop it, not that he’s certain he would have.
“Ouch!” But Simon’s laughing good-naturedly. ”And here I thought it was less my acting ability and more you being an utter Luddite. What was the last film you saw? Assuming there was one.”
“I’m not much of a movie-goer. So, what?” Arthur scowls at his ceiling. It needs new paint. “Though Minerva did make me watch The Matrix a few weeks back.”
“Ah . . . a contemporary piece.” Simon laughs again. “I’m afraid that my paltry little films couldn’t compare to Bill & Ted’s Bogus Nightmare, or its sequels.”
“There are sequels?” Arthur’s interest is unwillingly peaked. He’d rather enjoyed the film, despite his grumbling at Minerva afterwards.
Another dead silence. “You’re joking, right?”
Simon actually giggles a little. “Oh, Arthur-love. Don’t ever change.”
Irritated once more, Arthur scowls harder, though it makes his head swim. “What would I possibly change into?”
“Just don’t ever be anything that’s not your wonderful self, alright?” Simon’s grin is as audible as his breathing. “And don’t bother with The Matrix sequels, either. They’re rubbish.”
“Oh.” And no, Arthur’s not disappointed. Much. “Well. I kinda lied. The last movie I watched was one of yours. Um. The war movie. Wednesday’s Child.”
“Ahhh.” Simon’s voice goes low and throaty again. “And what did we think?”
“It was kinda trite and heavy-handed . . . the only thing that kept it from being outright bad was, well, you,” Arthur admits grudgingly, his face heating up.
“Well, that was a kinder review than most of the critics gave it, and me, so, thank you, Arthur.”
Neither of them speaks for a few minutes. Arthur lets the sound of Simon’s breathing lull him into a half-sleep that’s broken when Simon sighs.
“I suppose you’ve passed out.”
“I have not.” Arthur blinks his way back to wakefulness.
“But you were about to. I can tell. I’ve been drunk-dialed often enough that I can always tell.” Another laugh, this one covering a yawn. “So . . . is there any chance we could continue this conversation at a more reasonable hour? Over breakfast, perhaps?”
Arthur groans. “Simon. . . .”
“Oh, don’t act as if you haven’t already forgiven me my little faux pas. And even if you haven’t, let me make it up to you with a sinfully decadent breakfast at this delightful little place I know. . . .”
“The same delightful little place where we had an audience?”
“Actually, this would be a quaint, underrated greasy spoon in Hell’s Kitchen.” Pause. “Say yes, love. Please? We both know you want to.”
“We know no such thing!” Arthur exclaims louder than he means to. Then lowers his voice. “In fact, it’s late, and I should be going to bed. I’ve got a full day, tomorrow.”
“Are you going to hang up on me again?” More of that fond amusement colors Simon’s voice, and Arthur doesn’t even deign to answer, simply hangs up, his finger already hovering over REDIAL. . . .
“The thing is,” he says in a rush, when Simon picks up his phone again. “Okay, yes, I was mad at you for not telling me who you are. I felt foolish and used. Do you get that?”
“I do,” Simon says, all traces of amusement gone from his voice now.
“And you telling me how wonderfully ordinary I am doesn’t help, okay? And yeah, I know you didn’t say that exactly, but that’s how it felt to me. Like I’m some weird talking dog that you found by accident, and you’re just bothering with me because I’m a novelty.”
“Let me assure you, that’s not the case, Arthur.”
“Yeah? Well, say it’s not.” Arthur pinches the bridge of his nose and wishes he had a glass of water. His mouth tastes terrible. “Say it’s not, and we go to breakfast. What then?”
“Then, I’d like to try taking you to dinner, since that’d be the only meal we hadn’t had together.”
“How droll . . . but what then? What happens after dinner, then the next dinner, then the next?”
“Are you asking me what my intentions toward you are?” When Arthur’s silent for a moment longer than a denial would take, Simon goes on. “Because if you are, then let me be perfectly honest, so that there’re no more miscommunications or omissions between us, right?”
Arthur nods, forgetting Simon can’t see him.
“Right. If we give it a go, and things work out between us—meaning that we start seeing each other exclusively, meet each other’s mates, start leaving toothbrushes at each other’s flats—if it goes well, then my intention is to keep doing that until we grow bored of each other . . . or we don’t.
“But I promise, I’m not just in this—whatever this is—for the novelty of dating one of the common-folk.” Which is good for a laugh from Arthur. An unwilling one, but a laugh. “God, I love to hear you laugh. I can see those gorgeous dimples in my mind’s eye.”
Blushing, Arthur tries to straighten out his face. “I don’t have dimples,” he lies.
“Yes, you do, and they’re adorable. Like everything else about you.” Simon’s voice takes on that low timber yet again, and those rabbits and bats are back. They’ve also dragged the frog with them.
“You, uh, really think so?” It slips out on a smaller voice than Arthur thought himself capable of.
All that answers him is dial tone, and he swears, moving his finger off the END button, and hitting REDIAL.
“There, that’s done it. You’ve gone and given me a complex,” Simon says woefully as soon as he picks up the phone.
“Oh, shut up. I accidentally hit a button. Sorry.”
“You can apologize over breakfast.”
Arthur sighs. “You’re not gonna stop asking, are you?”
“Not even if you say yes. If you say yes, you can look forward to having many breakfasts with me. Hopefully some of them will be in bed.”
“Jesus. You call that a line, in England?” Simon bursts out laughing, and Arthur allows himself a tiny smile. Very tiny. Practically negligible. And it turns into a yawn, anyway. “Say, Simon?”
“I’m piss drunk.”
Simon’s chuckle is indulgent. “I know, love.”
“I think I wanna go to sleep, now.”
“You’re not the only one.” They listen to each other breathe for a few seconds, then: “Say yes, Arthur.”
Arthur licks his lips nervously. “To, uh. . . .”
“To everything. Starting with breakfast.”
“Alright.” Arthur says after another nervous minute spent licking his lips and ignoring the zoo having its way with his body. “Yes. But only to breakfast. And if that goes well—”
“It’s straight to the chapel for us!”
“Asshole.” Arthur laughs sleepily. “You’re ridiculous. And about to get hung up on again.”
Simon chuckles low and long, though at least half of it is a yawn. “Oh, where’s your sense of humor, Arthur?”
“I don’t have one.”
“Now who’s lying? Anyway, let’s have your address—and your phone number—before you decide to drop this call, too.”
Arthur recites both address and phone number. And his email, to boot—the personal one, which only Minerva and a few other people have.
“Brilliant,” Simon murmurs, sounding satisfied. “I’ll call you in the morning, around seven?”
Arthur groans, glancing at the clock-radio again. “Ugh, make it seven-thirty.”
“Poor love,” Simon commiserates. “Before you go skipping off to dreamland, drink plenty of water, or you’ll be hungover.”
“I know, Mr. Gaines. Good-night.”
Simon hmms. “Actually my friends just call me ‘Gaines.’” A beat. “And my lovers just call me ‘God,’ as in, ‘oh, God, more’!”
Unimpressed, Arthur bites back another laugh. “Is that so? In that case, good-night, Gaines.”
Arthur hits END on Simon’s laughter, and stares up at the ceiling, grinning till his face aches. Then he gets up in search of a glass and some water.