Read Bookended Online

Authors: Heidi Belleau

Bookended

Bookended

 

 

“Y
OU
called me ‘baby’,” Julian accuses, out of the blue. He’s sitting on the end of his bed in his boxers with one sock on, stretching the other one experimentally between his hands.

“Huh?” Fletcher replies, taken off guard in the middle of buttoning his shirt. He pauses and cocks his head suspiciously. “No I didn’t.”

“You did.” Julian isn’t making eye contact. He lifts his bare foot and wiggles his toes, tugging the sock over. He pulls it up his calf, taut, then smooths his hand meticulously over the fabric. “When I was sucking off your friend.”

“I’m pretty sure I didn’t,” Fletcher protests, trying to match Julian’s matter-of-fact tone. “Because—and anyway, so
what
if I did?”

“Nothing, nothing,” Julian says, but when Fletcher looks over to him, his mouth is twitching halfway into an infuriating little smile.

 

F
LETCHER
can’t decide whether buying books together makes them a couple. Maybe he doesn’t really care. Or shouldn’t care, anyway. Sleeping with his
slightly
younger personal assistant... that’s almost a rite of passage for a shark like him, sexuality aside. Bringing him on expensive dates is just a part of the expected etiquette of their arrangement. Spending a quiet afternoon together in a bookstore on the weekend? He’s not sure where that fits in.

At least overthinking it gives him a way to pass the time. He’s standing with his arms full of pulpy Star Trek novelizations while Julian runs his long fingers along the mismatched spines of the “General Fiction” section, mumbling authors to himself and generally taking his damned time.

Fletcher leans against the shelf Julian’s browsing in a slightly childish expression of boredom, shifting his paperbacks over to the other arm like they’re a burden. Cheek to the shelf, he watches Julian’s high brow furrow in consternation at whatever he’s reading on the back of the latest Stephen King before he slides it back into its place. Fletcher can’t help but smile at how particular the younger man is about
everything
.

It can be a double-edged sword, that quality in a P.A. On the one hand, if Fletcher asks first thing in the morning that there be a Montreal smoked meat sandwich (hot) on his desk at 11:45 a.m., eight minutes before his afternoon meetings are due to start, he can expect that it
will
be there, come hell or high water, and easy on the mustard just the way he likes it. On the other, it means that if he asks Julian to have some copy translated into French, the next day he’ll be facing down several stacks of paper explained by a cheeky little Post-it that reads: “Wasn’t sure which dialect you preferred, sir—J.”

That same quality in a lover? There, he has absolutely no complaints whatsoever.

They stand like that awhile, saying nothing, just enjoying the paper smell and the feeling of secretive closeness created by the book-cluttered shelves that loom over them. Seemingly without a clear sense of purpose, Julian strolls up and down along the narrow aisle, picking up books and putting them down again at random, his footsteps padded by the carpet. As he waits, Fletcher can’t help but fall back on admiring him: his short black hair with a hint of curliness, his dark brown eyes ringed by long lashes, his trim body in that perfectly tailored Hugo Boss suit, his sweet, pink mouth....

It’s taking him
so damned long
.

Fletcher, on the other hand... Fletcher is decisive, foolhardy, um, indiscriminate—Cynthia in PR would say, “Mr. Williams knows what he wants.” He’d just walked up to the sci-fi section and picked up the first three Spock covers he’d seen. He has a soft spot for Spock.

The quiet is broken when, without looking up from his scrutiny of the inside flap of a David Sedaris hardcover, Julian murmurs, “There he is again.”

Fletcher looks up and down the aisle in a falsely casual gesture, swallowing down fear and paranoia. “There’s who?” he hisses back. Last time he’d been followed, it was by an anarcho-communist with a chip on his shoulder and a paintball gun.

“Your
friend
,” Julian replies with an eye roll, face still ostensibly tilted down toward the book in his hands. “Three o’clock. Scarf Guy.”

Fletcher looks to three o’clock, and sure enough, there’s a man in a scarf standing there, poking around in the poetry anthologies. He’s young, maybe Julian’s age, wearing impossibly tight, gray, skinny jeans, bright high-top sneakers, and the eponymous overlong scarf drooped three or four times around his shoulders.

“Oh,” Fletcher says, a little self-conscious because Scarf Guy is actually pretty cute, in a wheedly-faced sort of way, like a high-fashion model. Not that he knows anything about that. “He’s not my friend.”

“He wants to be,” Julian quips back, licking his thumb and turning a page. “Wait for it… wait for it.... All right,
now
.”

Fletcher looks over in Scarf Guy’s direction, and surely enough, Scarf Guy is peeking at Fletcher out of the corner of his eye, pretending to be engrossed in
The Complete Works of Pablo Neruda
. Fletcher should be used to this kind of attention, especially from younger men for whom a little bit of gray at the temples is some form of aphrodisiac. Even ten years ago, still in his early thirties and in that awkward closeted space between frat boy and business mogul, Fletcher had attracted a fair bit of attention. Tall and built and brown-haired, it was his eyes and smile that did men in, the former an impossible-to-ignore pale blue, the latter more a smirk than anything else, an expression that told of a cocky man who’d earned the right to be. And excuse him saying so, but he’s only gotten better with age and with more expensive suits.

So Fletcher does the only thing he knows how to do and flashes Scarf Guy the most brilliant smile he can muster, amplified by the genuine glow of flattery.

Scarf Guy flushes up red and moves to raise his book to his face, but halfway up he fumbles it, once, twice, and it hits the floor with a comically loud thump. Fletcher wets his lips and tries not to laugh. He looks to Julian for help, but Julian is just staring into his book, wearing one of his ironclad poker faces.

Down the aisle, Scarf Guy reshelves his Neruda and turns on his heel, sharp, like he’s about to make an actual run for it, when Julian’s voice rings out clear and cold: “You might as well come introduce yourself. I can assure you he doesn’t bite.”

“Hard,” Fletcher wants to add, but doesn’t. Apparently, it’s bad form to flirt using stale movie quotes. So says Julian, anyway.

Scarf Guy stops, looking between Fletcher and Julian helplessly. Fletcher, confused a little as to what Julian’s playing at, just smiles and shrugs, eyes rolled up in a patronizing “Don’t ask me” expression. Scarf Guy tilts his head as if asking permission. Fletcher looks once more at Julian, who is still poking through the book in his hands, and makes an executive decision: hands in his pockets, he nods.

 

T
HEY
wind up in the bookstore’s coffee shop, clustered around a table so small their knees knock together underneath it. Julian’s hand rests on Fletcher’s thigh, stroking slow and sure and possessive.

Scarf Guy’s name, as it turns out, is Ogden. He’s twenty-four, Californian, an anthropology student, and he takes his latte with soy milk. (“Lactose intolerant, not vegan,” he tells them, catching the rise of Julian’s eyebrow when he orders.)

At first, it’s all small talk—incredibly awkward, bordering surreal, if only because Fletcher’s in a social situation he isn’t quite sure the nature of yet. Julian spins his spoon through his coffee idly, asking Ogden nonthreatening questions and speaking in that university jargon of “credit hours” and “thesis defenses” and “textbook buybacks”. Fletcher only half-listens to the conversation, interested instead in how they trade body language: the way Ogden half smiles, nervous, and taps an anxious toe under the table, and Julian maintains a level of unreadability Fletcher hasn’t seen on him in a long time, eyelids low and posture artificially relaxed, removed.

As if suddenly satisfied with the quality and length of the small talk, Ogden lurches forward over the table, eyes narrowed in an expression of bullheaded determination. “So, uh, you two.” He gestures to Julian and Fletcher in a big, vaguely circular motion, as though he’s tying them together with his finger. “What, uh, what’s the dynamic here?”

Fletcher grins and looks to Julian, who doesn’t miss a beat. “He’s my boss,” he deadpans.

Ogden shoves back in his chair, face as red as a cherry Popsicle and expression pained. “Oh. Oh God. Oh
God
!” He grimaces.

Fletcher flashes Julian a chastising look.

“Oh,” Julian says, offhandedly, “It’s
all of that
, too. It’s just... first and foremost, he’s my boss.”

Fletcher can actually see the
whew!
crossing Ogden’s features. His posture relaxes a little. “Gotta give you credit. I’ve always
hated
my bosses.”

“Who says he doesn’t hate me?” Fletcher teases, tilting back in his chair. He suddenly sees Julian’s game: the appeal in knocking their third wheel off balance, toying with him like two cats.

“I
definitely
hate him,” Julian confirms. He crosses his legs at the knee casually. “It’s just a shame he has to have such a big cock.”

Fletcher and Ogden nearly spit-take simultaneously.

Ogden excuses himself. Julian just smiles.

On his way to the men’s room, Ogden casts a pleading look over his shoulder to Fletcher, and Fletcher smiles placidly back, waving him forward. As soon as he’s gone, he turns to Julian.

“All right,” he demands, turning all business, like flicking a switch. “What’s your angle?”

Julian takes an innocent sip of his coffee, avoiding eye contact. “Don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You asked him out. Why?”

“Fletcher, are you really asking me that?
Me
, the man who’s waiting at your desk with a mug of coffee before you even realize you need one?” Julian actually looks offended.

“I always thought that was a little creepy, Julian,” Fletcher teases. He looks in the direction of the washroom to check for Ogden’s return, but for the minute, they’re alone.

“Creepy,” Julian counters, “but remarkably astute.”

“Yeah, but Julian, some perspective, please. That’s
coffee
. This? This is—”

“Sex. Yes.” There’s something wicked in Julian’s eyes, in his smile. It’s a challenge. “Don’t coddle me, Fletcher, I’m a grown man. ‘Some perspective, please.’”

Fuck
, the face Julian’s making right now. Totally dismissive, imperious, a little cruel, and a lot calculating.

Fletcher takes a deep breath. “All right,” he says. “Just so long as you know what you’re getting into here.
Do
you know what you’re getting into here?”

“Not really,” Julian admits, but that smirk, half-assedly suppressed, tells Fletcher everything he needs to know. He wants this. “But I’m adaptable.”

 

“I
HOPE
you don’t mind coming back to mine,” Julian says, all manners, and puts his key to the lock. Although the slip-up isn’t obvious, Fletcher sees him jab the key forward two or three times before he manages to hit the right spot and slide it home. Fletcher puts a steadying hand on his lower back, rubbing it in soothing circles. He turns to Ogden.

“He barely lives here, honestly,” Fletcher tells him, “So it’s clean. Neutral territory, I guess. Just a little less impersonal than a hotel, don’t you think?”

Ogden’s white as smoke, body tense to the point of quivering. He doesn’t give a shit.

“You don’t have to do this,” Fletcher says to him, voice low, but he means it for Julian too. “You can back out any time.”

Julian shoulders through the door, saying nothing; and jutting his pointy little chin, Ogden follows.

Fletcher dusts off his thighs and goes in after them.

He finds Ogden sitting alone on Julian’s sofa, his scarf folded neatly into a little pile on top of one of Julian’s hip-high bookshelves. Julian is in the kitchen, rooting around in the fridge. Fletcher strips off his coat, tosses it over Julian’s disused white POÄNG chair, and takes a seat next to Ogden on the sofa.

He puts a hand down on Ogden’s thigh. Ogden flinches at first, but then smiles, shy but interested. Fletcher just rests it there, palm flat, like he’s calming a skittish horse. The lengths of their thighs align. Ogden isn’t as tall as Fletcher, but he has long, narrow legs; sitting, his knees extend several inches past Fletcher’s own.

Julian returns with three water bottles. He’s lost tie, jacket, and vest, and his shirt is open down to his chest hair. It’s appealingly seventies.

Are we running a marathon?
Fletcher nearly asks when Julian puts one of the bottles into his palm, but Ogden beats him to it, bursting out, “I’ve never done this before!” His hands stretch and clutch over his knees, tendons popping.

“What, a threesome? Don’t worry, I’m experienced enough for the both of you.” Fletcher smiles. He strokes his hand up over the gray denim; it’s rough and warm under his palm, and he can feel the shape of Ogden’s tight muscles.

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