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Hallucinations of Love

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It’s his first day and he can’t be late. And even though he slept through both of the alarms he set and he’s running like a madman down the street, his coffee in one hand threatening to spill all over his clean white shirt with every jostling step, and his script clutched in his other hand nearly fluttering into the street on this blustering day, he can’t but feel a little thrill run through him. This is really happening, he thinks. My first real radio job. And even everything that has gone wrong on this horrible morning cannot keep the giddy smile off his face.
He eventually makes it to the office – with seconds to spare – and informs the cool, calm, and collected receptionist that he is there to meet with the Office Management of the Nightvale Community Radio Corporation. She is nothing but polite to him, but he can’t help but feel slightly like a scolded child as he takes a seat in the waiting area she indicated. He runs his hands through his windswept hair, trying to force some order on the unruly waves. He wipes the smudges from his glasses with the hem of his shirt and replaces them on his face. He straightens the papers on his lap and takes a sip of his, now lukewarm, coffee before grimacing in distaste and discreetly tossing the nearly full cup into the wastebasket.

He looks over towards the reception desk, watching as the woman there answers phone calls, makes appointments, and generally keeps the entire office building running smoothly. He wants to catch her eye and offer a smile now that he is less frazzled. He wants to show her that he can be just as professional as she. That he belongs in this corporate world of telephones, faxes, and suits. He is no longer the nerdy AV guy from high school or the hopeless tech loser from college. No. this is his chance to reinvent himself. He will be content to play the nerdy intern no longer.

Cecil has no idea why any of this matters to him or why he wants so badly to impart all this with a mere smile to the receptionist. But it does. Oh, it does. This insatiable need to prove himself is nothing new, but now that he is twenty-three and entering the corporate world of employment and responsibility, he feels the pressure more than ever.

Just as his foot is beginning to tap on the polished tile floor nervously, he hears a voice, too loud for this hushed space, address the receptionist. He looks up with interest, curious as to who this loud stranger could be.

He doesn’t realize it at first, but later he will connect the tightening in his stomach, his sweaty palms, and the way his eyes seemed to hyper-focus on the man’s face to the fact that he has just encountered his destiny. But at that moment all he can think about is the perfect wave of his hair, with one lock hanging stubbornly over his forehead down to dark eyes framed by thick-rimmed glasses. “I’m here to speak with the Station Management at the Nightvale Radio Corporation,” he says in a voice like velvet. Cecil wants to wrap himself in that voice.

And then his words sink in. His knees turn to jelly at the thought of working with this man. Uh-oh, he thinks. I’m in trouble now.

He watches as the man walks over the waiting area and takes a seat a few chairs away from him. He notes that he is wearing a crisp white lab coat over his work clothes and wonders if he is an expert called in for one of the segments on the radio show. Nightvale sometimes did small science segments and this man might be the consultant of the day.

Cecil only realizes he is staring intently when the object of his scrutiny clears his throat in a rather pointed matter. He immediately blushes bright red and glances away, without meeting the stranger’s gaze, back down to his shoes. The scuff marks he notices only add to the downward spiral of his self-esteem. Thoughts of failure encompass all his attention so he almost doesn’t notice the deep-voiced “hello” that is spoken in his direction.

He looks up, startled, to find that the loud man with the lab coat is, in fact, speaking to him. “H-hello,” he stammers back, still unsure of his position in this conversation. Perhaps he is about to be chewed out for staring? This scientist – if that’s truly what he is – doesn’t seem to be high school biology class material. He fills out his lab coat and the glasses add a handsome intelligence that screams “respect me” instead of “kick me.”

But his worries turn out to be frivolous. “My name is Carlos,” the man continues.

“I’m Cecil,” he squeaks back, berating himself in his head for sounding so unsure of his own name.

“Are you here for Nightvale Radio Corporation as well?” Carlos inquires, nothing but polite interest on his face.

“Yes,” Cecil answers, his voice sounding surer as he moves onto a topic he cares passionately about. He could talk about radio to anyone – friend or stranger – for hours upon end. The problem was, no one was ever interested that long. “How did you know?”

A curious smirk twists Carlos’ lips. “Good guess,” he replies.

He takes a breath, but whatever he was about to say, or ask, next is cut off by the receptionists clear, cool voice calling for “Cecil Palmer, please.”

Cecil stands. “That’s me,” he explains as he runs his hands through his hair in a nervous gesture, hoping that it won’t cause the white mop to be more unruly than it already is.

Carlos smiles a wolfish smile at him. “Good luck.” And with that, Cecil is whisked away by the receptionist’s waving hand towards an elevator. As he climbs the floors, stomach churning nervously, he realizes he is in for an interesting first day.

Once the white-haired intern disappears down the hall, Carlos saunters over to the reception desk. “Are you ready, Dana?” he asks quietly.

The blond girl behind the counter matches his smile. “Yes, sir,” she replies. “Are you sure that’s the one?”

“Oh, yes, I’m sure,” he says. “He will do quite nicely for our little…experiment.”
Meanwhile, Cecil meets the Station Management of Nightvale Radio Corporation. They are a collection of intimidating men in clean-cut suits and blank stares. No reaction is given to him or his credentials from the best liberal arts university in the city. They merely glance over both him and his papers exactly once before assigning another intern to lead him to his office. Though “office” may be too grand of a word for the corner cubicle containing a desktop, rolling chair, lamp, and two file drawers. But Cecil is secretly thrilled. He’s never had a space to work all to himself before. Turning to the intern who showed him around, he introduces himself and finds out in turn that his coworkers name is Jeremy. “Are the big guys always this silent?” Cecil asks him.

Jeremy offers a small smile. “Pretty much. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. And you’ll be mainly dealing with Daniel. He sort of runs things around here while the bosses sit in their office.”

“Is Daniel of the strong-and-silent type as well?”

“Nah,” Jeremy chuckles. “He’s cool.” After he and Cecil make plans to meet up for lunch during their break, he departs and Cecil is left alone in his new “office.” That stupid grin from this morning is back and refuses to leave his face. He does not think he could be more excited. He sits down, storing his messenger bag under the desk, and merely swivels around in his chair for a few minutes, surreptitiously observing his surroundings. However, he soon realizes that he neglected to ask either Jeremey or his cryptic new bosses what exactly his new duties are. He looks around over the top of his cubicle, but no one in charge seems to be lurking around. His nerves quickly surface again, and his hands return to card through his hair. After debating for a few minutes, he decides to go in search of someone in charge. They can’t be too mad at him, it is only his first day, after all.

But as he is getting up, he collides with someone since he is looking at his shoes as usual and not where he is going. Both he and the man stumble backwards, Cecil managing to catch himself on his desk. “Hey!” the voice shouts angrily and as Cecil begins to stammer out an apology, he finally sees the man’s face.

As they lock eyes, Carlos’s expression softens and that voice like velvet is back. “Hey,” he repeats. “You’re Cecil, aren’t you? We met in the lobby?”

Cecil is sure he is blushing bright red as he dumbly nods.

The scientist smiles and offers his hand to shake. “Well, looks like we are going to be working together for a little while, at least. That’s exciting.” Cecil is now sure that even his ears are the color of a tomato as once again, he can only helplessly nod. Carlos does not seem to notice his ineptitude at conversation. He merely smiles and walks off, towards the back of the office block where the booths are located.

“Well, well,” remarks Jeremy from the next group of cubicles.

Cecil jumps. “Oh, Y-you saw that, did you?” he asks, wondering if this day could possibly get even worse. Jeremey merely smirks at him. “Look, he wasn’t – I wasn’t –” Cecil tries to stammer out an explanation but soon stops when he realizes that he has no idea what he’s trying to explain. Surely Carlos wasn’t hitting on him, which is what Jeremy seems to be attempting to insinuate with his tone of voice and the waggle of his eyebrows. Surely, he was just being friendly. And they did meet in the lobby, so it’s not like they are totally strangers. More like...acquaintances. Yeah. And it is totally acceptable to greet your acquaintances at work. He must have been imagining that tiny spark that passed through him when their hands touched. Cecil chalks it up to stress and nerves.

His co-worker breaks in to his train of thought. “Yes, I saw that. And I see the way you’re overthinking it right now. You’ve got it bad for that science guy.” Cecil opens his mouth to protest as Jeremy walks over to him and claps him good-naturedly on the shoulder. “Just try not to be office slut,” he laughs as he walks off to do whatever it is interns actually do in this place.

Whatever Cecil was about to say is lost in a huff of indignation at the term “office slut” and he sits back down at his desk. He would prove Jeremy wrong. “Office slut,” indeed. Well, he just wouldn’t talk to Carlos anymore. It couldn’t be that hard, there were many people working here and a science expert couldn’t be need long term anyway. He would stop right now. He would stop wondering if those muscles looked as good out of the lab coat as they looked in it. He would stop wondering what that velvet voice would sound like screaming his name…

“Cecil?” The white-haired intern lets out a noise somewhere between a squeak and a shout as he bangs his knees on the underside of his desk jerking out of his daydreams. It is not a pleasant experience to have the object of your inappropriate work-day fantasies suddenly in front of you, holding a sheaf of papers and looking far too important to be dealing with lowly interns. “Are you alright?”

Despite the fact that he knows all the blood has rushed to face causing him to look like a strawberry dipped in whipped cream, Cecil manages to respond. “I’m great,” he gasps out. “Just dandy.” He instantly regrets his word choice. Until he hears Carlos laugh. He would be happy if he could hear that noise for the rest of his life.

“How’s your first day of work going? Is it…dandy…as well?” There is a mischievous glint in the scientist’s eye as he gently mocks the white-haired man.

“Oh, yes,” Cecil nods, hoping his eagerness is mistaken for sarcasm. He desperately wants to appear cool. “Everything is just fine. If only they would tell me what I am actually supposed to be doing…” He trails off, grumbling.

Carlos chuckles again. “Have you tried checking your email?” he suggests. When Cecil only gives him a blank look in return, he elaborates. “The strange, silent men in charge seem to pride themselves on having a little face-to-face contact with the staff as possible. Usually, you’ll find your ‘orders’” this word was punctuated with air quotes “delivered to your inbox each morning. At least, it’s always worked for me, whenever I’ve been around.”

“So you’ve noticed how strange they are too!” He exclaims, pushing his glasses further up his nose in excitement. “I thought it was just me since it was my first day and it would all take some getting used to.”

“No, they really are always this strange,” as he says this, Carlos glances around surreptitiously to see if any of the aforementioned bosses are lurking around to scold them for chatting instead of working. When he sees no one around besides more interns, he leans over the dividing wall of Cecil’s cubicle. The white-haired man pretends not to be alarmed, but he can tell that his slowly receding blush is back in full force at the close proximity of their faces. “But I have an important question to ask you before they turn up and we get in trouble.”

“Yes?” Cecil prompts, choosing to ignore the breathy quality his voice has suddenly taken on.

“Are you free for dinner later tonight?” The fire in Carlos’s eyes as he asks this leaves the other man only able to nod in agreement and then shakily copy down his address on a scrap of paper. “So I’ll see you at seven?”

“Yes,” the intern replies. “Seven o’clock.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” the scientists says as he disappears down the corridor.

Even though Cecil can hear Jeremy chuckling from the next cubicle over, he can’t help but smile to himself. His first day at work seems to be going quite well.

It seems to take an eternity, but seven o’clock finally rolls around. Cecil is standing in the front hallway of his apartment nervously adjusting his bowtie in the mirror. He drops his hands and scrutinizes himself in the glass. He’s worried about being too fancy, but since Carlos seemed to be a well-respected scientist, it wouldn’t do to be too casual on this date. “What do you think, Khoshek?” he addresses the white cat curled up on an armchair in the living room. She gives a meow and then hops down to twine herself around his ankles in a comforting manner. However, he quickly shoes her away, not wanting to show up to dinner with white cat hair covering his nice black trousers.

He sighs and runs his hands through his hair one final time. “This is as good as it’s going to get,” he mumbles as he shrugs on his coat. “Wish me luck,” he calls out. Khoshek merely swishes her tail at him and then he is out the door, heading down to the lobby to wait for his date.

Carlos arrives precisely at seven o’clock and Cecil has a few seconds to appreciate how punctual he is and how scientific this makes him before he sees the other man and is slightly taken aback at his appearance. Gone is the lab coat and in its place is an immaculate pair of navy chinos paired with a white sweater that seems to glow against his dark skin. He manages a shaky “Hello.”

“Hello,” Carlos returns with a smile. “Shall we get going? We have reservations in about fifteen minutes.” The white-haired man nods and they exit the building.

As they drive along the quiet streets of downtown – it’s a Wednesday evening and the nightlife isn’t at its peak – Carlos asks him about his first day at work. This is a safe topic that Cecil clings to, managing to get his first clear words out in the man’s presence since he leaned over the cubicle wall earlier that day.

“It was horrible,” he admits. The scientists glances over at him, disbelieving. “Okay, it wasn’t completely horrible,” he amends. “It just wasn’t what I was expecting.”

“And what were you expecting?”

“Well, I know I’m just out of college and don’t have any real experience yet, but I was hoping to use this internship to get a leg up in the radio business. You know, talk to some corporate heads, show them my scripts, generate a little interest in my name, the show I want to do…” He trails off, shaking his head. “I should have known it was a long shot.”

He jerks in silent surprise when Carlos’s hand is suddenly on his knee, squeezing in a reassuring gesture. “It’s not a long shot,” he says as they pull into a parking space and get out of the car. Cecil momentarily missing the hand on his knee before the same one is entwining itself with his fingers, almost absentmindedly. He feels a little thrill go through him and can’t help but feel giddy even as he berates himself for being a total girl about this whole date business.

“You just have to know who to talk to,” Carlos continues as they are led to their table in the quiet, dim-lit restaurant. Everything about their surroundings screams money and Cecil is quietly impressed. This much opulence is all new to him. He’s used to living on ramen and scraping the bottom of his “emergency fund” to pay the rent each month. He has a feeling that “knowing who to talk to” applies to all areas of this scientist’s life.

“And I suppose you know all the right people to work your charm on,” the words are out before Cecil can regret them and a blush rises instantly to his cheeks. “I mean…”

Carlos chuckles, seeming to overlook his embarrassment. “It’s true that it doesn’t hurt that I seem to attract the right kind of people. It also helps having the means to cater to their lifestyle.” He subtly gestures to their surroundings and smiles into his wine as the young radio intern makes no move to hide his amazement. The restaurant is rather on the ritzy side, he has to admit. The dark paneled walls are dotted with gold lamps which throw a soft glow over the cream tablecloths. China plates accompanied with cut crystal goblets and dazzling silverware decorate every table. The only spots of color are the crushed deep red velvet of the chairs. But it does serve one of his favorite meals and he supposes that the opulence serves as a good distraction.

Cecil seems to become aware that he is staring and that lovely blush paints his cheeks once again. Really, his face is so expressive it would be a problem if he weren’t so insistent on a career in radio. “So,” the young man begins, toying with his desert fork. “What do you even do for a living, anyway?” Carlos opens his mouth to reply with some flippant answer about science in order to deflect the conversation away from himself. “And I swear if you say science in that ridiculously pompous way of yours, I will smack you. No matter how cute it is.”

The scientist raises his glass to the other man. “Touché,” he admits. “Well, I work for Aperture Science. It’s a big lab, basically. We run experiments on new medication that could potentially be offered on the market. Of course, that still all has to go through the FDA, but we are the step before, I suppose you could say.”

“Do you test on animals?” Cecil demands. His eyebrows are knitted together in such an adorable fashion…Focus Carlos, the scientist chides himself.

“Of course not,” comes the smooth answer. Nothing seems to be able to catch him off guard. Cecil is torn between feeling impressed and suspicious. “That would be terribly inhumane of us. No, we focus on more synthetic testing in hypothetical situations. Which basically boils down to a lot of staring at computers and scribbling down facts and figures. Not at all like the exciting world of radio.”

The white-haired man smiles shyly. “I find it to be quite fascinating. All this scientific stuff.” The delicate stress he places on that word brings a smile to the other man’s face that is equal parts genuine amusement at the comment and self-congratulatory for finding someone so easily impressed with his stories about work.

“Thank you,” he says. “But why don’t you tell me about yourself now? I don’t want you to think I’m narcissistic or something…” He trails off, playing at being contrite.

“Oh no, of course not!” Cecil exclaims, pushing his glasses back up on the bridge of his nose. “I would much rather hear about you. There’s nothing terribly interesting about being an intern in a radio company. Not unless you want to hear about all the different kinds of coffee I fetched today!” They both chuckle.

“Why don’t you tell me why you got into radio in the first place?” Carlos asks.

“Well, I grew up in a small town,” Cecil begins, somewhat self-consciously. He is always painfully aware of the clichés present in his story. But the way the other man is looking at him and offering his undivided attention helps to assuage any self-doubt. “It all started when I was fifteen and began listening to my local radio station. The guy who did the evening show made even our boring town seem magical. And I realized that I wanted to be the one who brought that magic into people’s boring, everyday lives.” He chuckles and takes a sip of his wine. “I even made some practice tapes.”

Carlos’s eyes sparkled mischievously. “I would like to hear those.”

The blush is back in full force as Cecil rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. “I don’t think so,” he forces another laugh as if he can’t quite tell if the other man is serious or not. “Those belong down in the basement storage unit with my other junk.”

“I’m sure they aren’t junk,” Carlos says gently. Cecil looks up at him, lips parted in confusion. But before he can address this comment, the waiter returns with their food and the moment passes.

The rest of their dinner passes uneventfully as they discuss other aspects of their lives. After they have both finished eating, Carlos insists on paying. “My treat,” he says as he reaches for the bill, winking at the younger man. Cecil blushes.

They make their way out to the car and begin the drive back to Cecil’s apartment complex in companionable silence. Too soon, they are pulling up in front of the concrete block of a building.

The radio intern fiddles nervously with his seatbelt. “I had a nice time tonight,” he finally says, sneaking little sideways glances up at the other man. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Carlos’s voice is smooth and warm and the way he squeezes Cecil’s knee is what finally convinces him to speak.

“Do you want to come up for a drink?” he asks, all in one breath as if hoping to get it all out before he loses the nerve.

There is dangerous glint in his smile as Carlos agrees.

The elevator ride is painfully awkward, but Cecil seems to have lost all nerve to speak. He merely runs his hand through his hair repeatedly, thoroughly mussing the white strands. He unlocks the door to his third-floor flat. “Here it is,” he says, a bit of ta-da sarcasm in his voice.

Carlos chuckles. “It’s very nice,” he says.

“Make yourself at home,” Cecil calls over his shoulder as he heads to the kitchen. “I’ll pour us a glass of wine.” He still seems nervous, but being in familiar surroundings has caused him to relax some.

The scientist makes his way down the short hallway to a room with a battered leather couch and a television balanced on a too-small wooden shelving unit. The décor is almost humorously opposite of the restaurant they occupied earlier. Nothing around them screams “money.” Instead, the second hand nature of the furniture and the lack of any expensive knick knacks contribute to the “poor college student” vibe.

“I know it’s not what you’re used to,” Cecil speaks softly from the entryway. He is carrying two glasses of red wine and looking at the floor. The flowered rug is threadbare in multiple places. Carlos walks over to him and takes one of the glasses, letting his fingers rest against the white-haired man’s until he looks up, confusion clouding his eyes.

“I think it’s charming. It suits you,” he murmurs. Cecil’s blush returns as the scientists slowly draws his hand away and the two retire to the couch.

Between them, they soon kill a bottle of wine. “I really think you should show me some of these scripts you have written,” Carlos says, his fingers fluttering through the air before they come to rest on Cecil’s knee.

“No, no,” the other man is chuckling. “I’ve told you. They aren’t any good. They are just bits of pieces of stories I wrote down during my free time in college. It’s nothing serious.”

Carlos arches an eyebrow. “Methinks the lady doth protest too much,” he quotes and Cecil is sniggering again, falling over onto the scientist.

The dark-haired man rights him, his hands lingering perhaps a moment too long on his waist. “Please show me them,” he asks again.

“Ah, s-sure,” Cecil stammers, his eyes going wide. “I’ll just be right back.” With some degree of difficulty, he extracts himself from the couch and disappears down the hallway. But not before casting a glance back towards his date that is equal parts confusion and longing.

He returns moments later with a stack of papers, some stapled together, many of them single loose sheets. Shyly, he shoves them towards Carlos, and some flutter to the ground. “Here you go,” he sighs. “But don’t say I didn’t warm you.”

There is silence as Carlos reads. Occasionally, he chuckles, or asks a clarifying question and Cecil explains that many of his ideas are connected. That he had created a fictional town and written the daily news reports for over two years. “I was really into science fiction back then,” he mutters, rubbing the back of his neck and looking down at his feet.

When he finishes, Carlos pushes his glasses back up on the bridge of his nose and stacks the papers neatly back on the coffee table. “These are quite good,” he remarks. Cecil scoffs. “No, I’m serious,” he continues. “You have quite a…active…imagination.”

“I have a third eye,” Cecil remarks blithely. Carlos chuckles. “No, no, it’s true,” he insists, and the scientist suddenly notices the way his words are slurring together and the way his eyes can’t seem to focus on any one object in the room – except when they light on Carlos’ face. He realizes that the white-haired man must be more of a lightweight than he previously thought. “I can see things,” he intones now in a spooky voice before dissolving into giggles and falling over onto the scientist’s lap, his hand falling oh-so-casually on the top of Carlos’s thigh.

Oh, the dark-haired man thinks. Is that how it’s going to be? Smirking slightly to himself he makes a big show of checking his watch and stifling a yawn. “It’s getting late,” he remarks as he gently extracts himself from the couch and the closeness of the other man. “I should be going.” He can barely contain his glee at the way Cecil looks absolutely crestfallen watching him walk towards the door.

Straitening up from pulling on his shoes, Carlos looks over to the couch, arching an eyebrow. “Aren’t you going to give me a kiss goodbye?” he asks wryly.

Cecil blushes furiously again, but does make his way hesitantly over to his date. Carlos pulls him closer. “I had a really good time tonight,” he murmurs. Cecil catches his breath, but before he can the words out, Carlos is kissing him.

This must be what flying feels like, the intern thinks as he feels his heart leap at the same time as his stomach drops to the floor. It’s overwhelming and he’s drunk but Carlos smells so good – what brand of aftershave does he use? – and he’s standing in his socks in the entry of his miniscule apartment and its Wednesday night.

But all of those concerns grow smaller as Carlos keeps kissing him. Tentatively, Cecil reaches his hands up and runs them over the well-muscled shoulders the scientist keeps hidden under lab coats and sweaters. That’s a shame, he thinks. He really should take off this heavy thing. But before he can perform the action to match his thoughts, Carlos breaks off the kiss and pulls away.

His tone is nearly apologetic when he says “I really should get going.”

And Cecil – who is leaning drunkenly against the hallway, his hair in disarray, a faint blush still covering his cheeks, and his lips swollen from the kiss – says the only thing that could think of to make the other man change his plans. “Stay.”

The wolfish grin Carlos gives him in return lets Cecil know that this was his desired outcome all along.

Later – much later – Carlos slips silently out of bed, leaving the thoroughly debauched intern underneath the sheets. He steps out in the hallway and presses one on his speed dial.

“Dana? Sorry to call so late. Yes, I’m sure he’ll do quite nicely.” He listens for a moment and then hangs up, moving restlessly to the window, taking in the view of the city at night. Yes, this lowly radio intern is the missing piece needed for his plans to finally come to fruition.