“You’re not dressed.” Michael put his hands on his hips.
Crap. Michael’s better half was wearing jeans—not the party kind—and a Christmas green sweater. A cup of cocoa sat on the table next to him. The scent of chocolate and peppermint Schnapps wafted over.
“I thought we agreed: you would choose the Christmas Eve activity, and I would choose the New Year’s Eve plans.”
Cobey flipped the book face down on the arm of the sofa and met Michael’s gaze. “Yeah. But I didn’t think you’d choose a sushi bar followed by Stork’s party and then Turbulence.”
Oookay. “Something going on here I don’t know about?”
“That place is a meat market. Turbulence, I mean. It smells of alcohol and sex and man sweat. That’s not the kind of atmosphere I want for a special time.”
“Oh.” It was kind of smelly. Before Cobey, Michael had considered those aromas to be an appetizer. Admittedly, he hadn’t been there in months, but Turbulence really knew how to throw a party. Michael sank onto the couch. “I wanted to go dancing. And live it up a little while you’re on break from the university.”
Cobey sighed. “I know. I just…it should be memorable. In a good way.”
Memorable equaled romantic. Like in front of the fountain at the university a couple of weeks ago. Like going caroling on Christmas Eve and then coming home to spend time with friends and feast on homemade Christmas cookies. Like a late night present exchange followed by making love in the glow of the Christmas tree lights.
Ah, yes, romance.
There had been a time when Michael would have laughed off all of that and opted for a holly-jolly one-night stand. But that was before Cobey.
Michael scooted closer. “What would you like to do?”
“You make the plan. Just something that we’ll always remember.”
Cobey leaned in and pressed their mouths together. It made Michael warm inside, the taste of hot chocolate and peppermint and Cobey. “You know what I like.”
Great. Obviously Michael was on his own. “I’ll be back.”
“I’ll be waiting.” Cobey grinned.
Cobey couldn’t see a thing. “Is the blindfold really necessary? I feel weird.”
“You look great.” A grin tinted Michael’s words.
After Michael had disappeared, Cobey had wondered if he’d return wearing jeans and announce they were staying in. Cobey wasn’t the best at speaking up about what he wanted. Probably ridiculous not to offer an alternative when he’d shot down Michael’s plans. But Turbulence—yeesh. The place would be packed; the crowd would be drunk. The groping would be rampant.
Maybe Michael was taking him to the movies. There were a few Cobey wanted to see, and that’d be cozy. Afterward they could have a drink at that new English pub downtown. Or the Museum of Natural History had a sort of highbrow champagne dinosaur tour. Or…the college had a “Winter Wonderland” sculpture garden walk, complete with bubbly or hot buttered rum.
The car slowed, turned. “Almost there. Keep the blindfold on.”
“Are we someplace people are going to see me like this?”
Michael laughed. “Nope. Hang tight while I park.”
The window hummed as it lowered. Cold air poured into the car, carrying the smell of exhaust. A ka-ching, a snap, and they moved forward. Cobey shivered. Probably headed for a movie at that vintage theater downtown. What had been playing there? A romantic comedy, maybe.
The car turned, stopped. Cobey reached for the blindfold and Michael grabbed his wrist. “Not yet, not yet, not yet, my son.”
“ I’ll come around and get you.”
This was unique; Cobey had to give Michael props for that.
The door opened. Michael gripped his forearm. “Pivot and step out. Watch your head.”
A leather-covered palm curled around Cobey’s neck and then into his hair. Gingerly Cobey stood, clutching Michael’s elbow. “Can I take it off now?”
“I’ll let you know when.” Michael’s arm wrapped around Cobey’s waist and pulled him forward. The car door slammed. “Let me guide you, okay?”
“I don’t want to run into anyone I know like this.” Cobey ducked his head. This was getting a little extreme, now that they’d arrived.
“I won’t let that happen.”
Cobey snorted. “No way to avoid it, I’d say.”
“Do you trust me?”
During the summer, trust had been their watchword. Cobey had trusted Michael to teach him the ropes of intimacy, and Michael had never pushed, never broken his word.
“Yeah, I trust you.”
They strolled–at Cobey’s speed—across the space. Their footsteps echoed, and there was the idle of an engine in the distance. The smell of concrete and mud and melting snow got stronger as they made their way.
Must be a movie.
Then why dress up? At home, following a mysterious thirty minute interval, Michael had waltzed into the living room. He cut a dashing figure wearing a black long-sleeved T-shirt, black pants, and a charcoal jacket. Cobey had whistled, and Michael had sent him upstairs with the caveat to wear what Michael had laid out.
Black pants, black long-sleeved Tee, dark pin-striped jacket. White silk briefs.
He could feel the slide right now if he concentrated on it. So soft. And Michael hadn’t gotten to enjoy them—
“Stop.” Michael’s arm tightened. “We’re at an elevator.”
“Ah. Can I take it off?”
“So impatient. Soon, I promise.”
“I don’t want a bunch of people on the street to see this.” Cobey waved a hand in front of his face.
“Mmm.” Michael nuzzled Cobey’s ear. “No worries.”
The air pressure changed and Michael tugged him forward. “Straight ahead three steps.”
Cobey hesitated. The game was getting old. This was too much cloak and dagger to attend a movie. Or…was there some solve-the-mystery thing downtown? That might be fun.
“There’s no one in the elevator, Cobe. C’mon. Almost there.”
“Okay.” He shuffled his way forward. The doors closed them in. There was a hint of floral perfume in the space. Lips nibbled along his jaw, and then Michael kissed him on the lips. And again. Cobey smiled and reached for him, teasing with a bit of tongue.
Michael pulled away. “We better stop.”
“Are we almost there?”
“Yep.” The car slowed, stopped. “Now.”
Cobey slid off the blindfold, tucked it in his jacket, and squinted at the lights. Now what? The doors slid open. Cobey’s jaw dropped. Oh my God, Michael. What did you do? He turned to Michael.
Michael had a huge grin. “Yeah?”
“I…you…wow.” Cobey exited the elevator, Michael at his side.
It was bright, but a different kind of bright; an elegant bright, the kind borne of dozens of tiny lights. Cobey directed his attention upward. And no wonder. There was a giant chandelier illuminating the area. And what an area. The space rose high above, a giant atrium. Richly patterned carpet in shades of navy, purple, and cream stretched ahead, punctuated by a round table bearing a vase of white roses which scented the air. Marble pillars, a mezzanine with arched openings, and wrought iron railings. And everywhere gold and silver: balloons, streamers, confetti, all gilded.
A band played somewhere.
It was amazing and daunting and delicious all at once.
“Michael…you brought me to the Palace?” Guilt poked at Cobey. This place cost a fortune, and they were on a budget. Assistant art professors didn’t make much, and neither did self-employed graphic artists.
“You like it?” Michael ran a hand up and down Cobey’s back.
“I love it. But it’s so pricey.”
“Ah. But look what I have.” Michael reached inside his jacket, pulled out two tickets, and handed them to Cobey.
The heavy card featured a drawing of a man in a gold mask, wearing a wicked smile while another masked man shown in profile kissed him on the cheek. The sketch was rendered in gold on a black background. Below the figures it said:
Figlio New Year’s Gala 2014
Who was Figlio, and why did Michael have tickets to Figlio’s Gala? “Where did you get these?”
Michael’s eyebrows rose. “Do you not recognize the drawing? I’m no art professor, but it turned out well, I think.”
Oh. Yeah. The original drawing had been graphite on white. “You designed this.”
“Guilty as charged.” Michael put one hand on his chest and took a slight bow. “Mr. Figlio was so happy he invited me to his party.”
“You never mentioned it.”
Michael’s smile faded and he pulled Cobey into an alcove occupied by a confetti-strewn white buffalo sculpture. “I…didn’t think you’d want to go.”
“Why?” No way. No. Way. “This is a work event?”
Michael shook his head and leaned in. Against Cobey’s ear he said, “It’s a private party. Mr. Figlio owns Escalade Underwear.”
“That expensive brand that caters to…” Cobey swallowed. “To gay men?”
“The very same. In fact you’re wearing a pair from the new line.”
The briefs seemed to caress him and he shivered. “Thank you.”
There was a sharp nip on his ear. Cobey sucked in a breath. “Mr. Figlio is gay, Cobe. We can dance and drink champagne and kiss at midnight.”
That did sound good. Cobey pulled back and gazed into Michael’s eyes. “Lead on, Captain my Captain.”
The dancing was the best part. Michael snuggled Cobey against his chest for a slow dance. It felt so good to be in an atmosphere where no one batted an eye about men with men. The big band music was more fun than the teeth-rattling boom-boom-boom of club music. No one had shed their clothes. The restroom had an attendant and was nicer than most living rooms. No screwing in the bathroom.
Not a problem. Cobey seemed in heaven. He hadn’t been the typical shy professor tonight. Maybe it was the comfort of the circumstance, or maybe Cobey had sneaked a second flute of champagne. Whatever it was, he’d been animated and charming with Mr. Figlio and guests.
“Michael…” Cobey spoke low, against Michael’s shoulder.
He spun them and began moving them toward the tables. “What?”
“You are amazing.”
Michael laughed. Must be the champagne talking. “Mmm.”
“No really. I’m serious.” Cobey pulled back and gripped Michael’s shoulders. “This is the best New Year’s I’ve ever had. The first celebration I’ve ever had.”
Michael stopped dancing. “Seriously?”
“Yep. There was never a suitable party for me to attend.” He gave a shy smile. “And who wants to kiss a girl at midnight?”
“Gentlemen, and gentlemen.” The voice came from in front of the band. Mr. Figlio stood there with a glass. “It’s nearly time. Grab your drink and your man.”
Michael grabbed Cobey’s hand and they hustled to retrieve champagne from one of the waiters.
“Thank you,” Cobey whispered, eyes wide.
“You’re welcome.” Michael pulled Cobey in.
“This is romantic,” Cobey breathed.
Bingo. Michael grinned.
“And you are so getting laid.”
“Good thing I have a room upstairs,” Michael murmured in Cobey’s ear.
“Two, one…Happy New Year!”
Noisemakers rattled and horns blared around them. Michael pressed their mouths together. “Happy New Year,” he said, voice sultry and low.
“It is,” Cobey said with a grin. “The best.”
Happy New Year, everyone. Thanks for a great 2014, and here's to a fabulous 2015.