Tuesday started strangely for Frank.
"Um, sure, Ike. We can talk." He scratched his head as he slid behind the wheel. Ben frowned over at Frank as he shrugged. "Yeah. After work is fine. Ben has to work some things out with Devin anyway, so I'll be in town. Sure. I'm glad you're feeling better. Okay, see you then."
Ben cocked his head as Frank hung up. "Soooo. What's going on with Ike?"
"I’m not sure." Frank started the car and they were on their way to the city. "He sounded … I don't know. Hard to put a finger on it."
Ben wet his lips. "You, ah … you think he's having second thoughts about the divorce?"
Frank clenched his jaw. "I hope not. I guess I'll find out."
The rest of the drive and, in fact, much of the day was fairly quiet.
As they wrapped up their work writing the next episode, the men split up. Ben walked to the docks where Devin waited for him at their co-owned houseboat, while Frank drove to Ike's new apartment some blocks away from their work.
Frank had never been to the place, but after a bit of hunting about, his iPhone announced that he had arrived. In a bit of a minor miracle, he found parking close by. He got out, shivering in the early evening air. Flurries had begun, and he hurried across the street to Ike's building.
The building had a revolving door. A sign indicated the door would be frozen into a static position at 11:00 p.m. That meant only those with keys could get inside the locked door beside it. Maybe it was an old hotel once? Frank pushed the door to get it moving and walked inside.
In the small vestibule, Frank scanned the names listed, and finding Ike’s, pressed the buzzer firmly. The internal door vibrated without preamble, and Frank made a little noise of surprise as he opened it and went inside.
After a look at the aging elevator, Frank took the stairs. Three flights up he stepped off the landing. The strange building had plush, gray carpeting in the hall and Frank smiled in bemusement. "Weird." He wasn't there to critique the building's decor, so he took a few steps and quickly found apartment 3B. The door was cracked, and Frank frowned.
"Ike?" He pushed the door open and entered. In front of him was a closet and to the left a small dining area. Frank moved in a few additional steps and peered into the small living room.
Ike sat on the couch, which was pushed against the half-wall that separated the two rooms. He didn't look at Frank. Instead, he stared down at the floor, his arms resting on his knees and his hands limp.
"Hey." Ike's tone was flat. "Thanks for coming."
"Well, sure." Frank returned to shut the door and turned back to Ike. Something was wrong. "Ike, what's going on?"
The fireman took a shaky breath. "I don't know." As Frank walked around in front of him, Ike steadfastly kept his eyes to the front, never looking at him. "I don't know anything."
Frank stopped and stared. In the six years we’ve known each other he’s never admitted anything of the sort. He sat beside Ike. "Hey." Frank reached and took his unresponsive hand. "Hey, what's wrong?"
The muscles in Ike's face moved as the big man struggled for control. Finally, he turned to Frank. Frowning, he set his jaw. "I'm sorry." He seemed to master his emotions. "I shouldn't have called." Ike stood up, pulling his hand out of Frank's grasp. "Do … do you want anything? Coffee, or tea?"
Frank watched in confusion as Ike went into the kitchen. "Uh, no." He walked over to the breakfast bar that split the kitchen from the living area. Frank leaned against it on the living room side and chuckled. "Ike, tell me what's going on. I know something is."
Ike's back was to Frank, and he pulled a beer from his fridge, holding it in one wide hand. Frank noticed his knuckles whiten. "Nah. It's nothing." Ike opened the beer.
There was something in Ike's voice, and he raised his other hand. Frank watched as Ike wiped his face. The hand that dropped back to his side glistened wetly with what could only be tears.
"Devin, what is wrong with you?" Ben tried to keep the conversation about the houseboat on track, but Devin kept losing focus. A few times he had caught Devin slumping in what appeared to be misery as they spoke. "You do want to sell, right?"
"Nothing's wrong. And yeah. Yes, absolutely." Devin's voice had an odd waver. "We can sell it, and we'll split, ah… split up the…" Devin cleared his throat. He quietly stared at the papers Ben had spread on the table in the kitchen of the boat.
Devin suddenly stood up. "I can't do this. I'm sorry. I just need to be ... alone right now." He nearly choked as he spoke. His arms were crossed over his chest, his head down.
"Aww, Dev, what's wrong?" Ben came around the table, putting his hands on both of Devin's shoulders. "What's going on?"
Devin gulped. "No. No, it's nothing."
Ben knew better. "Hey. We're still friends, you know. You're still my best friend!" Ben smiled and tried to be reassuring. "If you can't tell your best friend what's bugging you, then you're really screwed, right?" When there was no answer, he leaned down so he could look into Devin's face.
Ben's expression slackened when he saw the utter despondency wracking Devin's features. Before he could ask anything more, Devin frowned, tears leaked from his eyes, and the shorter man leaned into him.
Ben hugged Devin against his chest, confused and angry at whatever it was that would upset Devin, and in his arms his ex-lover began to sob.
Ike continued to face away from Frank, still holding the beer tight. Frank took a couple of steps into the kitchen, and now he saw Ike in profile. For the first time in Frank's life, he watched as the fireman cried great, silent tears. Frank's mouth slowly opened in disbelief. "Ike." He put a hand on the big man's shoulder. "Ike, what's wrong?"
Ike looked at him, and the tears continued. His face was almost neutral, which only added to the hollow sadness Frank felt for him. Ike swallowed, blinked a few more tears free, and said, "I feel this fucked up shit, and I don't know what to do." Ike frowned. "I think I fucked up."
Frank was still confused. "What? What do you …" The light went on and Frank inhaled as he realized. "Devin?"
Ike opened his beer. He nodded, then commenced to down the contents of the can.
Frank waited until Ike lowered the empty container. "What'd you … " Frank realized he was staring at the shiny tracks of tears on Ike's face. “Sorry. What do you mean, you fucked up?"
Ike pulled out another beer and his tongue wet his lips. "It fucking hurts. It shouldn't fucking hurt. It didn't hurt this much, losing you." Ike turned lost eyes on Frank. "I don't like it. I made him leave, and now all I can think about is him. I fucking hate it."
Frank cocked his head. "You're in love with him." He said it as much to himself as he did to Ike. "You're in love, and yeah, when that happens, shit gets scary and real." Frank laughed. "Did you seriously run him off because you're afraid of loving him?"
Ike never answered. Frank grimaced as his ex opened the can and downed another beer in seconds.
"That motherfucker." Ben squeezed Devin. "What the hell? You go and help him when he's sick, and as soon as he's better he just …" Ben stopped when Devin’s sobbing intensified. "I'm sorry. Sorry." He bit his bottom lip as he held on. If that bastard was in front of me, I’d fucking slug him.
Devin struggled to take a normal breath. "I, ah." Ben eased up on his tight hug allowing Devin to wipe his face. "I don't have any right to expect anything." He took a breath through his mouth, then laughed scornfully. "This is exactly what I deserve. Exactly."
"Dev, this was shitty of him. No matter what, okay?"
Devin pushed away. He sat heavily in a chair, closed his eyes and massaged his temples. Through bleary eyes, he gazed at his soon-to-be ex-husband. “How can you say that? This is my doing." Devin put his face in his hands.
Ben watched him, still seething with anger. "You know what? Frank's there at Ike's." He took out his phone. "I want him to know what Ike did, right now, before he leaves."
Devin looked up at him, loss and sorrow written in his gaze. "It doesn't matter. It won't change anything."
"It'll make me feel better." Ben dialed, clenching his jaw as it rang.
"God, I fucked up so bad." Ike was openly bawling on his couch. "He hates me. I deserve it, and he hates me."
Frank was at a loss. He didn't know how to handle Ike in the condition he was in. He had pounded four beers and showed more emotion in the span of a half-hour than he had in years of marriage. "I don't think Devin hates you, Ike." Frank was beside him and patted Ike's leg.
"He does. I … I told him that we weren't dating, that he was just a …" Ike took a breath. He didn't seem able to finish his sentence. "He hates me."
"Ike, why don't you call—" Frank jumped as his phone vibrated.
Ike noticed as he withdrew the device. Frank's lips were a thin line as he glanced up at Ike's worried expression. "It's Ben."
Ike objected. "No! Don't answer."
"Ike, stop freaking out." Frank put out an arm to keep Ike at bay as he tried to take the phone. "Hey, Ben."
"Is your asshole of an ex there?" Ben sounded hot. "Do you know what he did to Devin?"
"Yeah." Frank stood up to get away from Ike's flailing arms. "Yeah, he told me. How's Devin doing?"
"Oh, great! He has his head in my lap right now, so you know … just peachy."
"Is he still there with Devin?" Ike had gotten to his feet and approached. "Is he okay?"
"Is that Ike? Let me talk to him." There was an edge in Ben's voice.
"I don't think that's a good idea. Ike's pretty upset."
"Ike's upset?" After Ben asked, Frank heard muffled conversation over the line. Ben sighed. "Devin wants to know if he's okay."
Frank bit his lip. "You know … why don't you give Devin the phone?" After Ben agreed, Frank held out his phone to Ike. "Here. It's Devin."
Ike stared at Frank, then his eyes shifted to the phone. Slowly, he took it and put it up to his ear. "Devin?"
Hearing Devin's meek voice broke something loose in Ike. As fresh tears began he spoke softly, "Dev, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you, and ... I'm sorry."
There was a pause. "Well, I'm just for fun, so …"
"No." Ike sat on the couch. "No, that wasn't true." He held his head in his hand. "Can we try this again? You're not just for fun, okay?"
This time the pause was a lot longer. Devin's voice came again. "Don't do this to me again."
"I won't." Ike sat up, hope on his face. "I won't, I swear."
Frank watched as the Ike he didn’t even know existed apologized, cried, and swore not to hurt Devin again. Finally, the big fireman finished and handed the phone back to him. "So, I have to go pick up Ben." Frank grinned at Ike. "Wanna ride down to the dock?"
The next day started, thankfully, with less drama. After another successful mystery lunch, Ben sat back in his office chair and rubbed his stomach. “I don’t think I’ll want much for dinner.”
Frank smiled fondly at his partner. “Nope. Here’s what I was thinking. Store, fresh pizza dough, sauce, a few excellent toppings like goat cheese, dried tomatoes, diced onion and some herbs. Bake. Eat with a bottle of good red and you.”
Ben was nodding. “In front of the T.V. watching Episode Four?”
The pair were quiet for a few minutes.
“What about our own soapy lives? Have you heard from Ike?”
“Not since I dropped him off at the docks, when I came to get you.” Frank stopped typing. “Anything from Devin?”
“Nope. And I won’t go a-knocking if I see that boat a-rocking.” A loud laugh escaped Ben.
Frank groaned. “God, I do not like that picture! I still see Ike walking into the kitchen, in that Lycra suit and his dick just … right there.”
“Yeah, I know. Let’s talk about what to do with Gerry.”
The pair talked and typed until they decided they’d finished for the day.
“It’s four-fifteen, Ben. Let’s pack it in for the weekend. I am seriously done for the week.”
“Good idea.” Ben got to his feet and stretched. “Let’s get out of here. Should we buy wine?”
Frank pressed the power button on his computer, turning it off. “Not exactly sure what we have at home. Let’s pick some up anyway.”
Ben stood quietly. Let’s … at home … we. Does he know he’s saying those things? I want this … but I’m afraid to …
Pushing in his chair, Frank noticed Ben staring. “Hey, you okay?”
“Yeah, just daydreaming.” Ben grabbed his wallet and phone. “Let’s get out of here.”
Once the elevator arrived, they got in. Frank moved close and pressed his shoulder against Ben’s arm. He slipped his hand into Ben’s. He whispered huskily, “Is this okay?”
Ben squeezed back. “Perfect.”
They walked hand-in-hand to the car.
On the way home, they stopped for wine and decide to buy a few bottles to keep in the house.
At home. Ben mused as he closed the trunk.
Then it was on to the grocery store. Dough and toppings were purchased, as were a couple of nice pastries. They were in answer to Ben’s craving.
Once home with groceries put away, both men showered. They each returned to the kitchen to prepare their meal.
As Ben took the dough out of its bag, Frank waggled his eyebrows and held up a bottle of wine. Ben laughed. "Yes. By all means, wine me."
Frank poured each of them a glass while Ben wrestled with the dough. Frank set the glass on the counter. "Do you want some music?"
"Sure." Ben picked up his glass. As he sipped the aromatic red wine, he watched as Frank searched through the choices for music on his phone. God, he's handsome. Ben smiled as Frank's tongue appeared at the corner of his mouth. And adorable.
"Okay. Indie it is." Frank hit a button and he grinned as music began to play over the speakers installed in the corners of the room.
While the pizza baked, the two men prepared their salad and plated it. Frank then washed up and they put away everything they had used.
Frank dried his hands and turned around as Ben hovered near the oven. Yep, I just need to do this now. With that thought in mind, he walked to his partner and slipped his arms around him.
“Oh, hey …” Ben stiffened at first and then returned Frank’s hug. “Hey.”
“Hey, yourself. Sorry, if I surprised you. You were simply irresistible to me,” Frank whispered into Ben’s neck.
“I could get used to this kinda surprise.”
Frank could feel Ben relax in his arms. “That’s a very good thing.”
The pair stood quietly for a few moments, simply enjoying the warmth of each other. Ben was the first to gently move away.
“I don’t want to … but I think our pizza is done.”
Frank grinned. “Right! Let’s eat that delicious thing. And we have a show to watch!”
The pizza was bubbling with some browning on the edges. "Oh man." Ben's mouth watered as Frank slid it from the pizza stone to the cutting board. "That looks delicious."
Frank smiled and cut the pizza while Ben dressed their salads. Soon both guys had a couple of slices of homemade pizza on their plates, and they settled in front of the television on the couch.
Ben debated for a moment, then scooted up against Frank's side. He let a hand rest on Frank's leg and smiled hopefully. "This okay?"
Frank nodded. "I like it. It's nice to be … just to be close to someone." He looked into Ben's eyes. "It's nice to be close to you."
The decision happened for Ben and he leaned into Frank. They closed their eyes, and oh so softly kissed. Frank's hand slid up to the back of Ben's head as it drew on, remaining a sweet, searching moment. Finally, Frank smiled and pulled away. "I could get used to that, you know."
Ben chuckled as he tried to get himself under control. "Ah, yeah. Me too." He grimaced and shifted his hips. Frank laughed and did the same, adjusting his erection into a more comfortable position.
"Let's watch." Frank patted Ben's leg.
It was time and the soap began. Both guys happily ate their pizza and salad and they watched as their creation played.
"Ah, Stella." Ben laughed as the woman appeared on the screen. "Man, she's a crazy character." Stella read a book, a prop for the scene. "I love the way she …" Ben's voice cut off, and he leaned forward, a dumbfounded expression on his face. "Pause it!"
Thanks to the miracles of modern TV, Frank paused the broadcast of the soap. "What? What is it?"
Ben's jaw dropped as he stared. "That's … oh, God." He pointed. "That's my book! My book! That's Let the Wind!" The title of the book was prominently displayed as the close shot of the actress lingered on her, and her apparent interest in the novel.
"Holy crap." Frank blinked. "How did that happen?"
Ben remembered the conversation he'd had with Gail in her office. Disbelieving laughter spilled from him. "Oh, God. Gail. She liked the book. She must have done this." He put a hand over his mouth as he stared at the television.
Frank rubbed his back. "Well, this is good, right? I mean, it's free advertising. There are a lot of eyes on this show now."
Ben made himself function. "Yeah." He sat back. "Yeah, it's great! I just didn't expect it." Ben tried to temper his expectations. "I probably won't see much effect from it. I mean, who's going to notice the title of the book she's holding?" Ben waved a hand at the remote. "Go ahead and play it. Let's finish the episode."
The episode rolled on, but there was something odd about the timing. Ben frowned as the end scene played of Lupe carrying Weatherby into the boat. "It's shorter. The episode is short …" He quieted as an additional scene began.
Weatherby sits up in bed. The room is bright from sunlight filtering through the windows of the boat cabin. He smiles as Lupe enters with a tray of breakfast, orange juice, and coffee.
"Here. You needs ta rest today." He puts the tray on Weatherby's blanket-covered legs.
"Thank you, Lupe." Weatherby smiles up at him. "I feel a lot better." To punctuate his statement he holds up a hand and electricity crackles between his fingers.
"Dat may be, but yous still rest today." Lupe puts his hands on his hips and examines Weatherby. "Does you needs anything else?"
"Oh, that book." He points at the shelf against the wall. "The one Stella had. I started reading it."
Lupe nods and grabs the book then hands it over. "Yous really likin' dat book, eh?"
"It's good!" Weatherby smiles as he opens the novel to a bookmark. "Let the Wind is great so far. You should read it."
The episode ended shortly after with Lupe promising Weatherby a ride on his cock once he felt better. Ben hardly heard any of it. He stared at the television even after Frank had turned it off.
"Ben?" Frank gently shook him. "Hey, you doing okay?"
After a few moments Ben nodded. "I… I think I need to call Gail."
Gail smiled as her phone rang. "Hello, Ben." She lay back on her comfortable couch. A fire crackled in the oversized hearth and a glass of wine awaited her on the coffee table.
"Gail." Ben seemed at a loss. "I… I don't know what to say. Ah, thank you."
"I disagree - you knew exactly what to say." Gail smirked and reached for her wine. "You're welcome. Perhaps you didn't think I was serious when I said you needed to write a sequel?"
Ben laughed. "Oh, I didn't doubt you meant it, I just wasn't prepared for the title drop of the book in the episode."
"It seemed the most efficient path. And it's my network, I'll do what I want." She took a sip of her wine.
"Well, thanks again. This, ah, this was huge."
A pleasant glow of a secret well kept and executed lit in Gail's chest. "It was one minute and twenty-six seconds of air-time. I feel it was well spent." She forced hardness into her voice. "Don't prove me wrong. Keep those episodes coming, and write that book. Understand?"
"Yes. Yes, ma'am. You got it."
"Good. Enjoy your weekend." Gail hung up. With a satisfied sigh she leaned back, enjoying both the heat from the fire and the wine.
"Ah, Terrence! So good to see you, my boy." Halsten Fosterling, the board president of SNET, put a big, sweaty hand on Terrence's shoulder as he sat at the private table. There was already a bottle of expensive wine and some sort of bread sat on a board together with a ceramic ramekin of pâté. Though Terrence was right on time for the seven-thirty reservation, most of the bread and pâté was already gone. Terrence noted happily the bottle of wine was relatively intact.
Jacques Bistro Du Parc was one of Terrence's guilty pleasures. It was a bit rich for his income before his raise, but now, perhaps he'd be able to afford to go more often. Halsten knew he favored the place, and the attempt at manipulation wasn't lost on Terrence. However, two could play that game.
"Thank you for seeing me, Mr. Fosterling." Terrence smiled pleasantly and picked up the menu. He scanned the offerings of the evening while he spoke and lowered his voice so he wouldn't be overheard. "I'm glad that you've met me alone. Though I have reviewed the board's plan to oust Ms. McAlister, and I agree - this path is the only one, I still prefer to deal with you." Terrence glanced at Halsten and caught the pleased smile from the president. "However, for payment of my work surveilling her, I request shares of the company instead of currency, and a guarantee of my continued employment with SNET."
Halsten grinned broadly. "Of course! I'll have Marsha draw up the documents and shake loose some shares. I'm sure some of the board would provide some in order to see this business closed." He gave a relieved sigh. "This nasty situation with pornography is making many of the board nervous. With Gail's forty-nine percent stock ownership, we all have to be on the same page, and this was the final straw!" He leaned over the table, closer to Terrence. "Between you and me, if you wanted a spot as an executive within SNET, it'd be as good as yours when she's gone."
Terrence smiled, his perfect teeth on display, contrasting against his dark skin and glossy lips. "Sir, you say the nicest things."
Dinner was delicious, as usual. As Terrence ordered dessert, his mind turned over the pleasurable thought of a plan well-laid, and a trap about to be sprung.
Oh, my. 😮
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