Paul M. Rexer headed into the kitchen in yesterday's cotton trunks. He didn't have any fresh underwear with him. Or clothes. Or much else for that matter.
He hadn't expected to see the cutie from work in the street. Hadn't expected to go for lunch, or to spend the afternoon hanging out, and certainly hadn't expected dinner to be part of the equation. And then mind-blowingly good sex to top it off.
Who would have thought that quiet, unassuming little Jake Preston was so much fun? Or such a tiger when it came to sex? He had been. Responsive and vocal and surprisingly eager. And who would have thought he'd like him this much after half a day with him?
Paul smiled to himself and pulled two mugs out of the cupboard. Jake hadn't even stirred when he'd climbed out of bed, hadn't moved a hair by the time he'd used the bathroom. And he looked so sweet when he was sleeping too, with his short brown hair just a little bed ruffled and his face so soft. He slept so quietly that Paul had been half afraid he'd stopped breathing. But no. It just seemed that he was simply much more peaceful asleep than anyone else he'd ever taken notice of.
There were things in the fridge, all very neat. It made him smile. Of course Jake wouldn't just be super organised at work. So there were things carefully ordered in the fridge, but not what he was after. No bacon or tomatoes. Eggs, though. He'd wanted to make more than that though. Pancakes perhaps? He turned to the pantry and opened it up. He felt at home in this little kitchen, like he'd been here a hundred times before. It was nice. It felt... weird. Nice, but weird.
The pantry was looking a little sparse and very neat too. He wondered what Paul usually ate. Probably someone who cooked from scratch all the time. Or didn't eat much at home. He was a small guy, and in good shape, but definitely on the skinny side.
So pancakes would be cool then. If there was a cookbook in Jake's house that would have helped though.
Paul checked the other shelves, finding not a cookbook in sight, but a phone, blinking red at him.
He blinked at it. A phone in the pantry? Well, that seemed odd. The apartment was small, but not that small, right?
Messages, he realised. He wondered if they were old. Or important...
He could see himself, carrying in a breakfast tray to Jake, along with a piece of paper with his messages written on it. It felt nice. Domestic. He smiled. He really liked Jake. More than he ever thought he would like a timid colleague no one really noticed unless it was to poke fun at for his work ethic or his neatness. Never maliciously, since he'd stepped in that once, months ago now, but still. He'd never seen this happening.
Paul picked up the pen on the small pad next to the phone and pressed the button for the messages.
"Hey Jake," the message started. The voice was bright, loud in the space. "Honey, I'm so sorry, we're going to have to postpone. Joey picked up something on the flight down, and even thought I'm ok, you know how Joey gets when he's sick and if I went out now, I'm afraid he'd do something stupid like eat a whole packet of cold and flu tablets without reading the label and wash it down with vodka and then I'd find his body cooling in the middle of the floor when I got home. And I don't want that. And neither does he. Anyway, we'll see you soon. Oh, and let us know about Rex, ok? None of us can wait to meet him." The voice had gone sultry and then laughed. "Bye, sweetie." The message ended with a click and Paul stood frozen, not hearing the next message begin to play.
"Let us know about Rex?" He repeated to himself. His skin had gone cold and tight. That was weird. That was not good.
What the fuck was that supposed to mean?
Jake had bumped into him in the street outside his favourite coffee shop. His regular Saturday morning haunt. Had Jake- had Jake engineered the meeting? Had Jake followed him? Planned this?
He found himself giving a small shiver. That wasn't right. Jake... Jake couldn't have done that.
Except he could have. Jake was all about plans and lists and details. He drove them crazy at work with his careful graphs and charts. What was to say he couldn't have done this?
And told his friends? Friends who had flown in from somewhere?
Shit. What had he got himself into?
Paul stared at the phone a bit longer, and then carefully pressed a button to make it stop. His heart was pounding. His palms were sweaty.
He tried to tell himself to calm down, that Jake was nothing he couldn't handle. But obviously he watched too many horror movies, because now there was this idea nibbling at the edges of his mind that Jake was a serial killer, or a cannibal, and had plans to rape, torture and kill him and bury various parts of his body under the red flowers in the tiny front yard outside his unit and no one would ever know what became of him...
His snort sounded loud in the small space as he tried to tell himself it was ridiculous. But he'd scared himself now and he had the desperate urge to flee.
To get out, now.
To run, before little cutie Jake appeared behind him in the pantry with a smile and a carving knife and a wild, crazy glint in his pretty brown eyes...
Jake's bedroom was fairly small. He didn't mind much. It felt cosy, and it fit his double bed, so that was fine.
The lack of room was generally a problem for other people, rather than for him.
Which, he considered as he stared at the ceiling, wasn't a huge problem in itself, seeing as no one stayed long enough to really notice.
He hadn't done more than roll onto his back since he'd woken up. Well, he'd reached out, found the other half of the bed empty and cold, and had quickly drawn his hand back. And then he'd lain there, waiting.
First he'd told himself that maybe Paul had gone to make coffee or something. Except there was no noise at all.
Then he wondered if Paul wasn't trying to be quiet so as not to wake him.
Even so, it was far too quiet for him to have been in the shower or doing anything else.
Jake rubbed his eyes.
He couldn't believe Paul had gone. Not after how amazing everything had been. No way.
He supposed Paul might have got up early, that he might have slept through Paul making coffee. Even now, Paul might be reading yesterday's paper at the kitchen table, or watching the morning news with the tv on mute...
It took effort to pull himself out of bed and pull on some track pants until he could take a shower. Preferably with Paul.
But it became abundantly clear that that wasn't going to happen as he looked around his little unit.
Paul had gone.
Jake swallowed hard. He should have realised that before. When Paul's clothes hadn't been folded on the chair in his room where he'd placed them next to his own last night. Before that. When he woke up to an empty bed.
He should have known before that. Before he'd somehow convinced himself that Paul had been interested in him.
Jake hugged himself.
Should have expected it. Should have known that it was too good to be true. Should have remembered that no one wanted him. Not really. People didn't really like him, and didn't want him for anything beyond what he could give them.
And here he was, hurt again.
Hurt? Hurt wasn't the right word.
It was far more painful than that.
It was just more proof. Proof of how lame he was. Of how pathetic he was. More proof that things didn't happen like in the movies. That hoping for something better was useless. Wanting someone to care about and to care about him was no better. It was all a great big joke.
Jake prodded himself into action. It was no good moping. No good sitting around and wondering why he couldn't be more interesting, more exciting. Anything. Just more. It didn't do any good.
He stripped the bed and opened the windows to the chilly air outside, and put the sheets on to wash. Then he showered and cleaned the bathroom.
He knew he should eat, but food didn't appeal. And yet, he didn't have many more jobs to do on a Sunday.
Jake decided to dust, since that was something that could never be done too often and since it would take him a while. Windowsills, picture rails, picture frames, the tops of doorframes and light fittings and cupboards. The tops of all the furniture. The legs and backs of all the furniture. Those places that dust caught even when you didn't see it.
But it didn't take him long enough.
Jake decided to eat after all. It might make him feel better.
He ate a small breakfast. Half a cup of muesli, with a quarter of a cup of yoghurt, half a banana, and a glass of juice.
Then he washed the dishes, put them away... and noticed the two mugs standing on the cupboard.
He hadn't put them there. He knew he hadn't. He turned them both so the handles were both facing the same way. But they were still in the wrong place.
Jake put them in the cupboard, and wondered if maybe he oughtn't clean his cupboards out. It had been a few weeks since he'd done that.
So he sat on the floor and pulled everything out, wiped and disinfected all the surfaces and then washed and carefully replaced all the contents. The plastic cupboard was always the worst. Plastic containers always seemed to lose their lids in there.
But he was done with that before long too.
Jake sat back and swallowed hard. This was part of the problem. He knew it, and he couldn't stop. It was Sunday, the weekend, and he was cleaning his house. His house, where no one came.
People thought he was boring, and uninteresting. That he had a dull job and that he was even duller.
No wonder no one wanted to be friends with him. Or hang out with him. No wonder Mark had left him. No wonder Paul had gone. No wonder he ended up home alone. And when he did make an effort to go out and do something? Well. His day with Paul had been amazing, if completely unexpected. But it left him yearning and aching today, and the hurt didn't feel worth it.
Jake got his bed linen out of the drier and made his bed up.
He swallowed hard as he smoothed away the last of the creases.
Now it was exactly as if nothing had ever happened.
Paul walked into the office, trying to look as normal as he could.
Of course, he'd realised how ridiculous he was being when he'd got home from Jake's, but that didn't make things any better. Even if Jake wasn't a serial killer or a psychopath, there was something frighteningly desperate about a man who would tell his friends about someone they barely knew before they'd even had a date.
He'd given it a lot of thought. For a while he'd thought maybe Jake could have texted someone, called someone, perhaps while he was in the bathroom at the restaurant or something. Except Jake didn't own a mobile phone.
So for him to have told his friends about Paul already? That was strange. Really off. And Paul couldn't shake the idea that maybe their coincidental meeting hadn't been so coincidental at all.
Jake was already at work. Of course he was. He was probably one of the first to arrive and the last to leave. He was standing at the photocopier as Paul walked past. Paul didn't look at him directly, but he could see enough out of the corner of his eye to know that Jake hadn't looked up either. He did suspect, however, that Jake wasn't normally so red.
Paul went upstairs to his office and sat down at his desk. He let out a shaky breath.
Couldn't he go back to before? Not really noticing Jake apart from when he needed something? Knowing what he knew now? After that day he'd spent with him?
He doubted it. He really really doubted it.
Jake felt the heat of his cheeks as Paul walked past, and didn't dare move a muscle. His chest hurt from hoping so bad that Paul would speak to him this morning like nothing had ever gone wrong, but Paul walked past without hesitation, without a word.
Jake finished the copying and gathered the papers together, walked back to his cubicle.
He drew a deep breath and spent a calming few minutes re arranging his pens and straightening the few things he had pinned to the wall. A photo of his parents outside their house interstate. A picture his niece had drawn him. Two articles reviewing books he'd worked on. A couple of old postcards from his sister.
Then he sat at his desk and opened the files he was working on today.
And wondered how he was going to get through the day.
Jake rubbed his eyes and wondered if he shouldn't just quit. Save everyone the trouble.
By the end of the day it was worse.
He'd started to relax, started to believe it when he told himself things would be ok. He'd chatted with Kirsty and Melissa for a bit, and they were nice. He liked them.
Except when he'd gone back to his cubicle, Paul had arrived shortly afterwards.
Jake couldn't help the little frisson of anticipation over his skin. He still wanted Paul. Still liked him. But Paul had spoken to him coldly and quietly, told him he didn't want to hear any rumours or any talk around the office, in no uncertain terms.
Jake had frozen up, nodded jerkily, unable to speak or move away.
Paul had given him a hard look, and left. And Jake had been a frazzled mess when he'd gone. He couldn't believe that Paul would think he'd do that. Why would he tell anyone what an idiot he was? They laughed and gossiped enough about him without him handing them fuel to burn him with.
When the chief of the branch called them all together for an emergency meeting he'd gone in still flushed.
Paul had been sitting up with heads of departments. Jake had hoped to get a chair far away, but his own department head had waved him up next to her so he could take notes for her. And then he'd been opposite Paul. For the whole two hours.
Even as he'd made careful, neat notes, hardly looking up at all, he'd felt Paul's icy eyes boring holes into the top of his skull. He felt naked and raw.
The nervousness made him ill.
By the end of the meeting his nerves were wound tight and he had to escape into the stationery closet to organise things just to regain a measure of control.
He'd been feeling much calmer when he headed to his desk. He even managed to get some work done.
Then Paul appeared.
Paul had been beginning to think that the day would be ok, in the end. That it would all work out. He'd overreacted, and there was probably some highly logical explanation for what he'd heard, and if he spoke to Jake, he was sure it would all come out.
"Mail," Sarah looked bored and more annoyed than usual. He guessed she didn't much like doing the mail rounds while Steve was away. He received his mail, offering her a quick smile and a murmured thanks, both of which she ignored.
Paul saved his work, and pulled his mail towards him across the desk. There were a few more envelopes than normal. Some internal mail, external mail, some junk which should never have made it to him in the first place, and a small blue envelope.
The blue one caught his eye. He wasn't used to coloured stationary. Nor was he used to receiving letters addressed like this.
He checked the rest of them. A few of them weren't for him at all. But the blue one was the only one that was cause for panic.
His heart began to pound as he re-read the address label. His skin went cold and he felt the familiar tightening of fear around his stomach.
This was beyond slightly odd now. This was beyond weird. It was off, completely insane. Wrong.
Paul wondered what to do. Was he afraid of Jake? Jake was small, unthreatening. He shouldn't be afraid of him. But he was apparently completely crazy, and Paul was more than slightly freaked out.
Was he supposed to go to his manager with this?
He tapped the envelope on the edge of the desk.
Seeing someone in management would require telling them what had happened with Jake. He wasn't sure he wanted that to get around. And that might be bad for Jake, too. He didn't want to humiliate him. Humiliating someone unstable was potentially a very bad idea. So he'd speak to him. Just to get him to back the hell off and stay away from him.
Paul straightened his suit and took a breath, hoping his thundering heart would slow down.
He'd speak to Jake. He'd tell him firmly that this was not ok, and tell him to stop this and just stay the hell away from him. Because he wasn't afraid of Jake, and he wanted Jake to know it.
So he'd tell him.
Paul's appearance struck Jake dumb again. He'd blinked, let Paul steer him into his cubicle and push him into his seat.
"You should be ashamed of yourself." Paul hissed in a whisper. Paul looked pink, slightly wild. Jake stared at him, feeling his cheeks turning scarlet and knowing there was nothing he could do about it. "There's something very wrong with you, Jake Preston. You're already enough of a laughing stock around here. You should be thanking me for not spreading around how disgustingly pathetic you actually are."
Paul shoved some internal mail into Jake's chest. Jake jumped and clutched it on instinct.
"Stay the hell away from me." Paul hissed, then left without waiting for any response at all.
Jake sat at his desk, trying to breath evenly, trying to suppress the tears welling in his eyes. It was like his brain had stopped working. Like his brain had turned to mush.
He clutched the edge of his seat with one hand and the letters with the other and stared blankly at his screen.
When he felt able, without betraying himself by shaking or crying, he slowly got up and made his way to the bathrooms.
The disabled toilet was never used, cleaner than the others. Jake locked himself in and leant against the door. He felt clammy and sick. And when he looked in the mirror he was nearly grey.
Paul had always been nice to him. Paul had always been professional, but friendly. Jake had admired him, found himself attracted to him. Found reasons to make himself useful.
But if he hadn't bumped into Paul in the street on Saturday... even if he had... it had been Paul who'd suggested lunch. Who'd suggested dinner too.
So what was he to blame for? Why should he be ashamed? He couldn't think of a single thing he'd done. He couldn't think at all.
They'd spent the whole day talking. He'd really enjoyed Paul's company. He'd thought Paul had enjoyed his. He'd taken Paul home. Was that what Paul thought he should be ashamed of? But Paul had enjoyed the sex, he was sure. The sex had been good. Paul had been a better lover than he'd had in a long time. He'd driven Jake wild, made Jake lose control like he couldn't remember doing for years, and Jake didn't understand how that could translate any way other than Paul enjoying it too. And so they'd had sex on the first day- so what? There'd been a connection. There had been something there. And dammit, if that's what Paul was lashing out about, then he should be ashamed too.
But what if it wasn't about the sex? What was he supposed to be ashamed of? And what was wrong with him?
And Paul had called him pathetic. Disgustingly pathetic. A laughing stock. Jake pressed the heels of his palms to his eyes and let his lungs gasp for air as they would.
What had he done?
And how could Paul had gone from looking at him like that to being so cruel to him?
What was it that was wrong with him?
He'd lost track of how much time he'd spent in the bathroom, but had waited longer to make sure he looked ok before he left.
He'd been fidgety though, unable to settle.
Jake decided he needed another job that would calm him, and settled on filing.
Marissa laughed when she saw him there, feverishly tidying things, but he ignored her rather than smiling like he usually did.
He was a laughing stock. People were laughing at him to his face.