A Changed Life Ch. 01byingarlm©
Author's note: This is a slow and (I hope) romantic story that builds up to sex in later chapters. It's written from both perspectives.
If you've read any of my other gay stories, this is the tale of Mark and Charlie, who are Simon's neighbours in A New Life.
* * * * * *
It had always been my ambition to run a restaurant, since I was a child. I couldn't explain why, since I didn't enjoy cooking. I liked socialising though and I had this idea of flitting from table to table, entertaining my guests and joking with the important people as they enjoyed the fine cuisine. If I'd known when I was young how much work was involved perhaps I would have found another thing to keep my interest. I took business courses at college so I would be able to run the financial side, and worked as a waiter in my free time to keep me in beer money. That certainly gave me a taste of real life in the trade. Obnoxious customers, chefs with egos so big it was a wonder they fitted in the kitchen, long hours for low pay, and getting flirted with by old women and desperate middle-aged men.
That was the downside, but there were a lot more ups than that. There were friendly staff and customers, big tippers from time to time, I got to flirt with the customers I liked, and I lived in a strange nocturnal world, especially on days I didn't have classes, when we would finish serving late and all head out for drinks and junk food after. I figured after a day making posh food most of the kitchen staff just wanted a burger or fried chicken. I learned a lot doing the menial work, even washing up in the kitchens when they were short-staffed.
Probably the thing I enjoyed most about meeting the customers were the few, and it wasn't all that many really, that I found a shared interest with. That was my favourite extra-curricular activity, sex. There were often good-looking men having dinner and a surprising number of them would either start flirting or respond to mine. I wasn't a total slut, and I always had safe sex, but I did get my fair share. And I had some morals. If they had a ring on their finger, or were out to dinner obviously with a date either male or female, I didn't take it any further. I did take pride in the amount of phone numbers I gleaned along with my tips, but I was selective about who I called. I didn't have time for clubbing often because I needed the money from working, so I used work to find like minded people who were up for some fun.
By the time I was 25 I was working full-time in the trade and although I still did some waiting I also worked on the books and the ordering, and was assistant manager at a well-known and respected restaurant. Then the day came when my world fell apart. I would probably always remember the policemen coming in that night, assuming they were checking drinks licences or something. They came to tell me that my parents had been in a car crash. Dad was dead instantly and Mum never regained consciousness but lasted another two days in the intensive care unit. At the time they could only tell me their car had been hit by a lorry. It turned out the driver had exceeded his hours and fallen asleep at the wheel, veering onto the wrong side of the road. He got a suspended sentence for it, and I lost my whole family.
I don't really remember the next few weeks. I know I organised their funeral, and I sorted out paperwork and cleared their house. I saw the Solicitors and instructed them to deal with applying for probate. It wasn't any great surprise to learn that I had been left everything except for a couple of small legacies. It was more of a surprise that they had a lot of investments and life assurances, and I was going to be very well off. I didn't work much over the following months, drifting by and drinking too much, but it took a long time for me to come to terms with my loss.
Strangely, seeing the first big cheque sobered me up and made me think about my future. I could have just blown it on a sports car or something pointless, but I knew that's not what my parents would have wanted. Nor would they want to see me drinking myself into an early grave. I knew what I was going to do -- buy my own restaurant. I could fulfil my childhood dream. It made me smile for the first time, remembering how I would play act being the restaurant owner and organise my parents to sit down in our kitchen for dinner of chips and fish fingers as though they were in a high-class establishment.
It must have been fate, because after only a few weeks of looking the perfect place came onto the market. The owners had built up a great reputation and it was a thriving business. The head chef was not only excellent, but also not a total arsehole. He could get a bit stroppy now and again, but generally he had an easy manner and his staff enjoyed working for him and didn't live in terror that they would be hit or sacked for making a sauce wrong or overcooking something. I bought it after my first visit. When all the paperwork was complete a couple of months later I walked into my own restaurant for the first time, and just stood and stared in disbelief that it was all mine.
I could have stopped work then. I knew from the books that I could turn enough profit to live more than comfortably without having to ever set foot in the place, but I couldn't resist. Most of my friends worked in the trade as well, so I'd never see anyone if I stayed holed up at home. Also, I couldn't resist the opportunities that working presented me to meet available men. I spent the next few months much as I had been before the accident, working when I wanted but using the restaurant as a pick-up joint. There were even one or two I saw on a semi-regular basis, although one of them I had to stop seeing when he wanted something more, and I wasn't prepared to offer it. The sex was great, but I didn't want a boyfriend cramping my style.
Chef used to joke with me that I only worked for the tail it got me. I enjoyed waiting tables though, somehow more now that I didn't have to if I didn't want. It was very rare for me to need to cover a whole shift because I had a lot of good staff, and this meant if there was someone who I wanted to hook up with I could leave immediately. Sometimes I even headed back to work afterwards, so I could check on things as we cleared up from the dinner service. On those occasions Chef just gave me a wink. He was straight, but always had several women on the go and his attitude to his liaisons was very similar to my own.
In fact, Chef and I became firm friends over the following months. I was an easy-going boss and let him deal with everything in the kitchen which he appreciated, and I respected his talents both in cooking and in dealing with that side of the staffing. We went out together sometimes, getting drunk and regaling each other with stories of our latest conquests. Once in a while we would see a couple and joke about trying to split them up so he could have her and I could have him, but we would never have really done it.
We both did well for sex and didn't want more from anyone we had met so far, but in our most drunken moments we both admitted sometimes that we hoped one day we would meet someone who would make us want to settle down. I thought it more likely he would than me, but I did still hold out some hope that I could find a man to share all my life with. Little did I know then, but it was just around the corner, and more than that, it was going to be damn hard work.
* * * * * * *
When Chef told me he needed to hire someone else to work in the kitchens I left him to it. I contacted a few agencies and got resumes for him to look through. He did the interviewing and subjected the candidates to tests in the kitchen to see what they could do. He came back to me after a week and told me he'd found the guy he wanted. He was young and talented, and had a few years experience working in professional kitchens, starting off with the most menial jobs but soon gathering more skills. I told the agency and arranged the paperwork without ever meeting him, knowing that if he wasn't up to the job Chef wouldn't have asked me to hire him.
A few weeks later I got to the restaurant as everyone was setting up ready for the dinner service. The place was empty apart from the waiting staff who were busy setting tables. I said hello to everyone there and headed back to the kitchen where I knew they would also be busy getting ready, to make sure I met the new guy before his first shift started. I might not be that bothered about who Chef hired, but I wanted to make sure all the staff knew me and I was considered one of the team despite being the owner.
As I entered the kitchen there were three staff busy working to Chef's orders. I couldn't see the new guy immediately but said hi to those I saw. It turned out Chef was showing him around the larders and freezers so he'd know where to find everything. I headed to the back of the kitchen to find them and stopped dead in my tracks when I did.
He was beautiful. I felt my heart thud in my chest and my mouth went dry. I had never had a reaction like that to a man before. My cock reacted to men I liked the look of, but not my whole body. I just stood there and watched, drinking my fill. I noted the lean body and the way his whites hugged his legs and a very nice butt, his blond hair tied back in a neat ponytail showing the skin on his neck that I instantly wanted to nuzzle until he moaned. And then he turned, as he and Chef became aware of my presence, and I saw his bright blue eyes in all their glory. And I watched as they darted over my body just as I had been looking at his, before catching me in their stare again.
He gave me a knowing smile. He knew I'd been checking him out, and didn't seem to mind. My heart leapt again. I could only hope and pray he'd liked what he'd seen too. I was dressed up for work and my suit fitted me well and showed off my best features. I was slightly taller than him but also lean, and I had a good body that my suit hinted at. Please let him like me, was all I could think right then.
My perusal was broken when Chef coughed to get my attention, and I saw an unexpectedly stern look in his eyes. It cooled me down rather, and there was no doubting from his expression that he had an idea what was in my mind. He introduced us, making it clear that they had work to do and I wasn't welcome. Very odd.
"Charlie, this is Mark. He works here but he owns the place too. He doesn't run things in the kitchen though, and right now we have loads to do. I need you to get started on pastry."
Charlie shook my hand as he came past on his way back to the main kitchen. His touch was electric and when he smiled at me my stomach turned over. I couldn't stop myself from turning and watching him as he walked away, in particular one part of him. I almost moaned, but the sudden presence of Chef at my side brought me back to reality. He leaned close and whispered in my ear.
"I know what you're thinking Mark, and don't." I looked at him surprised before he continued. "You were practically drooling over him, but I need a good chef a hell of a lot more than you need another lay. I'm not going to have him leaving after you chuck him once you've had a few nights fun."
I stared hard at him, and answered firmly but also quiet so we couldn't be overheard. "And what if I want him for more than a few nights?"
Chef just laughed and walked off. And I stood there, shellshocked after seeing such a vision, then having Chef warn me off, but mostly at what I'd said. Seriously? I hadn't even thought about what I was saying but I actually meant it. I'd liked what I saw, a lot, but I hadn't immediately thought about bedding him, I'd wanted to kiss and cuddle him, not bend him over and fuck him hard. That was a new one on me. I practically ran through the kitchen to get out to the restaurant, mindful of Chef, but turned on and scared about what I was thinking at the same time.
* * * * * * *
My first day at work started well. I was so pleased to have got a job in this place I was desperate to make a good impression and eager to get started and prove myself, hopefully without getting any nerves and messing anything up. Chef was respected and working for him would do my cv the world of good when I wanted to get a head chef position in the future. I managed to keep my excitement and nerves together for a whole hour, and then I met Mark.
As Chef showed me all the storerooms so I could get to grips with the kitchens, I had the sudden feeling that someone was watching me, and when I turned there was a very cute waiter there, clearly eyeing me up. I felt a thrill run through my body. He had dark hair and eyes and was slightly taller and broader than me but not musclebound. Probably a bit older than me too but not scarily so, he ticked all my boxes. And a cute man in a suit, well, I couldn't believe my luck. I made it clear I knew what he was doing and took the opportunity to look him up and down as well. It was fairly subtle I thought, but Chef was not impressed. And then he dropped the bombshell that this guy was the owner. Not a good idea at all. I resisted the pull of staring into his eyes as I went past, and settled for a handshake that left me tingling all over. Great start Charlie, flirting with the boss before I've even done the first dinner service.
Thankfully we were so busy that I didn't have much time to dwell on being an idiot while we were serving. This place was always packed out and there was a wait for tables so there was no danger of us having a quiet evening. As things finally quietened down and I was busy cleaning down Chef headed towards me.
"Good job, Charlie. I hope we haven't scared you off already."
I shook my head no, and then wondered why Chef looked nervous. He pulled me back towards the larders away from everyone else, and practically whispered to me.
"About Mark. I know you saw that look he gave you. I want you to know there's nothing to worry about there." I must have just looked dumbfounded. I guessed Chef had not seen the look I'd given Mark in return, which was now seeming a very bad idea. Chef continued. "I don't want you to get the wrong idea, he's one of my best friends, but he's also.... well, I would say he's a bit of a ladies man, but that's obviously not the right phrase. He's not one for settling down, shall we say. And I've had a word, but there's no need to be concerned about him, he will take no for an answer."
"Okay. Thanks Chef. I wasn't worried, but I appreciate the heads up." He nodded at me and we headed back to the cleaning. That didn't keep my brain occupied and I tried hard not to analyse what Chef had told me over and over, but it didn't work. I'd met plenty of men like Mark in the past, and despite the fact he definitely pushed my buttons, that kind of guy was not for me. I had this notion of true love. Sounds corny to everyone else, but I truly believed it could be out there even for a gay man. A couple of guys over the years had got past my defences on that front, but I was pretty sure I could keep them up now, I was more confident in myself. And so what if the guy liked what he saw (or I did), he wasn't going to get in my pants. I wasn't taking them down for anything less than the man of my dreams who wanted everything, and a guy who picked up anyone he had a fancy for was definitely not that.
It was a real shame though, because aside from the fact he played the field, he was otherwise pretty perfect, and I didn't manage to stop him slipping into my dreams over the next few nights, or my fantasies when I was awake. The strange thing was, after our first meeting he'd barely spoken to me, and he'd certainly not been trying it on. It seemed that Chef's concerns were unfounded, or perhaps whatever he'd said had worked. And I was only a little bit disappointed that the flirting had stopped. I reminded myself that I didn't just want a quick fuck, but then realised that if I did, I'd want him to be the one.
* * * * * *
By the next week at work, I had forgotten about my moment of madness and Mark had been the picture of professionalism and I hadn't seen any more glances from him. I heard more stories, about his special customers who came to the restaurant and got him as a takeaway. That made me even more certain that if his demeanour did change I would not be going there. Still, I wasn't able to keep myself from looking at him when I could. I wondered why he still worked there if he owned the place, but I was told by one of the waiters with a great deal of laughter that he enjoyed giving a personal service.
I think everyone there knew about him apart from me as the new boy. It wasn't that they disliked him, and I heard the same sort of stories about Chef too, but neither of them were that discreet. The idea of boasting about their conquests seemed a little sordid to me, but then some of Chef's stories were very funny. As long as you weren't the one who'd been on the receiving end.
I'd got so used to things by the end of week three that I was no longer shocked, but I still didn't want to be the one being talked about. Not that there had been any improper comment from Mark at all. He talked to me and the others when we were working and sometimes when out for a drink afterwards, but nothing more was said, and I could barely remember the shiver that had gone through me when I'd first been caught in his gaze. I clearly wasn't his type, even though he'd eyed me up then. Probably just checking out the new guy and seeing what his chances were. I was only thankful that the fact I'd made it clear he had one had not been an issue, because now I'd have to turn him away.
On the Saturday evening my attention was drawn by some sniggering when a couple of the waiters came through to collect orders. I was busy cooking fish but managed to get myself a bit closer so I could hear what was going on.
"... One of Mark's regulars. Sitting at the window table, and he's seriously gagging for it."
"The blond one?" someone asked. I couldn't see who was talking because I had to concentrate on not burning anything.
"Yep, that's him. I swear to god, he's practically stripping to get some attention. Mark must just be playing hard to get because we know he's on a cert there."
"Isn't he serving him?"
"No. He asked me to cover the table. Maybe he's trying to give him the brush off."
The speculation stopped hurriedly when Mark came in to collect food for his tables, and the other waiting staff sped off with the plates they needed to deliver. I jumped when he called me. "Charlie, I need another tuna steak here."
I had a couple just done and quickly dressed a plate and took it over to him at the serving counter. He looked at me intently when I got to him and I wondered what was going on.
His voice was so quiet when he spoke that what he said was clearly just for my ears. "I can guess what they were just saying, but I'm not going home with that guy." And then he picked up the plate and walked away, leaving me wondering what on earth he had told me that for. Why did he need me to know?
I couldn't get my mind off that whispered sentence for the rest of the service. I burned two tuna steaks while I was thinking it over and Chef was not impressed. He ordered me to stay behind to do some heavy duty cleaning. My heart sank, but it was a pretty normal punishment for wasting food for no good reason. It's not like they were just a bit overdone either, they were practically black and it was obvious I hadn't had my mind on the job. And I still couldn't work out why.
With the place given a general clean down by everyone, Chef left me with any final pudding orders that came in and one of the ovens to clean so well he could see his face in it in the morning. I set to it with gusto, hoping it would help get my mind off things, but the look in Mark's eyes as he had whispered to me was still bugging me. I couldn't work out why he had said anything, especially not to me. I sighed and scrubbed harder at the ring where I had burned the fish earlier, some of the bits having escaped the pan and welded themselves to it.