‘Don’t look at me like that,’ Charles began as he continued to write off what they’ve done for today and what they’ve yet to do. As much as he’d like to pretend that that look doesn’t affect him in the slightest, he knew that if their eyes met, he wouldn’t stand a chance.
‘Charles, I’m dying.’
He smiled, a small one-sided smile that can’t be seen from Erik’s point of view. If the man ever knew how much Charles found his antics completely endearing, he’d stop his whining immediately and that would be a right shame.
Charles has been working as Erik’s personal assistant for almost eight months, which was a record for anybody. Erik’s previous PA’s never lasted more than three months, maybe four, because the man was demanding, hard to please, easy to anger, and at times, completely mad, as in, bonkers.
It wasn’t until the half-year mark had passed that Erik eventually began to open up, be less of a complete and utter prick and just be…well, mostly childish. And as soon as Erik showed that he actually did have a heart in that chiseled chest of his, Charles became smitten. His looks had nothing to do with it.
OK, that would be a lie.
‘I’ll make a note to get you a foot massager. Would you prefer a normal foot massager or one with a heated water bath?’
When he received no answer to his question, Charles turned to where the man sat with his feet propped up on the table and with a quiet look in his eyes. Before he could ask what was wrong, or even repeat his question, Erik sighed and stood.
‘Neither,’ he said as he stretched out the kinks in his back, pulling his arms over his head and bending his back just the slightest bit over.
Charles had to look away from the slip of skin he saw and back at his daily planner. He made a note to get Erik a normal foot massager on the side margin anyway. ‘We’ve got half an hour before your next shoot.’ He confirmed it with another look at his wristwatch. ‘It’s for the Spring catalogue.’ Which is still over two months away from release.
‘Fine, let’s go and beat the traffic, then.’
Charles closed his book with a snap and noted the tension in the man’s shoulders as he disappeared out the door. Knowing Erik, he must be dying for a smoke, so Charles took his time packing his things back into his messenger bag. Just before he left, he thanked the assistants, helpers and the photographer for their time before heading out to see Erik tapping his foot expectantly on the ground and smelling like he did just a few minutes prior – mouthwatering.
‘Are you out of cigarettes?’ Charles asked as he opened his bag back up and fished around for the extra pack he kept with him just in case Erik ever forgot his, which was quite often, and after the first time it did, Charles made sure to always have one with him at all times, as well as a lighter.
‘I’ve quit smoking.’
He snapped his head up, dropped the pack back into his bag and stared at the man with an opened-mouth expression. ‘When?’
‘Half a week ago,’ he stared at the bag with a mixture of anxiety and agitation, but tore his eyes away before his resolve could break. ‘You’ve been harping about it for months.’
‘Well, yes, because it’s bad for you and bad for others around you.’ He closed the flap and stood beside the man, who suddenly looked very restless and very much on the verge ripping something to shreds. ‘I recall you telling me that you don’t intend to—’
‘I know what I said,’ he snapped and brought a hand up to run through his artfully tousled hair. ‘Can we just move along?’
‘Of course,’ he led the way to their parked car, and within minutes, was cruising down the street towards their next destination.
Charles tried to focus on the music playing from the stereo and ignore the fuming man beside him, who he imagined must be going through a slight case of withdrawal. Going cold turkey is one of the hardest techniques of quitting, but one of the best ways to purge the system. It was going to be hard, and he mentally prepared himself for the kind of Hell he hadn’t received from Erik since the beginning of his employment with the man.
He sighed inwardly and gave Erik a cursory glance before he turned his eyes back on the road. As soon as they reached the building, Erik was out and stalking his way inside where he would probably snap and intentionally make things difficult on purpose.
Working with Erik often frustrated him, often gave him the kind of hurt that only came from affection and Charles often had to remind himself that this was a job; he was Erik’s PA, not a friend, not a lover, not anybody but an employee.
Didn’t stop him from fantasizing, though.
‘Here,’ Charles began as he gave Erik a small, brown paper bag, something he went to buy during the man’s two hour photo-shoot. ‘This ought to help you with your quitting.’
Erik eased the bag opened and peered inside, then stared at Charles with a mixed look that said: are you belittling me? And, you’ve completely read my mind.
‘I know it’s hard,’ he said as the man pulled out the pack of nicotine gum, ripped the top to shreds and popped one into his mouth. ‘But for what it’s worth, you’re doing the right thing. Smoking only harms.’
He harrumphed, unconvinced, as he shoved the pack of gum into the pocket of his ripped jeans and gave the nicotine patches and lozenges for Charles to keep in his messenger bag which was always with him every day they’re out together.
There was still a line of tension in Erik’s shoulders even as he chewed the gum that was supposed to provide the relief from not being able to smoke. Charles supposed that, mentally, it might not be helping at all because it’s a different kind of substance and doesn’t give the same feel of breathing in and holding a cigarette to the lips.
Erik always looked terribly indecent (and so damn hot) whenever he smoked, not to mention that the smell of it was always terrible and hard to get rid of. Charles has had to wash his laundry almost as many times as he’s gone out to buy a new pack of cigarettes, which was almost two to three times a week.
Before he could say anything that might provoke the man into snapping, which has a very high chance of occurring now that he’s without his stress-relief, Charles stood and patted Erik on the knee. ‘Come on, I’ll drop you back at your apartment. I’ll pick you up again at 8 in the morning; Vogue wants to shoot a few more photos of you for their last Winter line-up.’
‘It’s only 5:30.’
‘Yes,’ which is quite early, considering that they’ve often finished well past 7 o’clock in the evening because some photographers are hard asses and won’t take no for an answer when he tried to bargain for a reschedule.
Erik made a face, but before Charles could fully read it, it was gone and it unnerved him. Charles had always considered himself very good at knowing what Erik was thinking, or feeling, but recently, all of his skills concerning the man were slowly dwindling down to nothing.
‘Is…something wrong?’ He asked in hopes that Erik might clarify.
‘No, nothing.’ He stood and made his way out the door, where Charles joined him a few minutes later once he thanked the others for their time.
Erik remained silent during the entire trip, but offered a quiet mutter of a goodnight once they reached his apartment. Charles left it alone, because he knew how Erik often was when was in one of his moods. Sometimes, it felt as if he was a babysitter to a petulant child.
‘Good morning,’ he said as Erik clambered into the passenger seat, still bleary-eyed and yawning. ‘Here’s your danish; it’s apricot — your soy latte, and an extra pack of gum.’ Knowing you, you’ve probably already finished the one I gave you yesterday.
Erik was staring at him, but Charles made sure to keep his eyes elsewhere as he fiddled with the tuner on the radio, settled on a station that was more or less up to his tastes in music, then drove down the street towards their first destination of the day.
‘You have an opening in the afternoon before your next scheduled appointment; two and a half hours.’
‘Two and a half?’ He repeated, sounding just a little dumbfounded, or perhaps still in the process of waking up.
‘Yes. Is there anywhere you’d particularly like to go?’ Charles asked as he indicated to switch lanes.
‘Well, no, not really.’
‘You should think of something,’ he said as he listened to Erik’s quiet munch and occasional sip of his drink. He took care to drive slower whenever Erik had his coffee cup to his lips. ‘It’s very rare you’d get so much time to yourself during the day.’
The man hummed as he put the cup back in the holder and ate the rest of the flaky pastry in less than three bites, though a good few bits of it strayed on top of his shirt and pants. ‘What would you do with that free time, then?’
‘Me?’ He tapped his fingers on the wheel as he waited for the lights to change color. ‘Well, I haven’t been to the bookstore in a while.’
‘Then we should go.’
‘Oh, no, it’s not the kind of bookstore you’d like, I don’t think.’ He knew what Erik liked to read; men’s fashion magazines, comic books, funny calendars, and the occasional food magazine, which the bookstore he frequented had none of.
‘We should go anyway,’ he said as he finished the rest of his drink and tossed it into the paper bag the pastry came with. ‘We’ve got two and a half hours to kill; I’ve got nothing else to do.’
‘If you insist.’ The lights changed and they turned the last corner. ‘What would you like for lunch today? I’ll pick it up before we head off to your 12:30 slot.’
‘That Vietnamese dish you ordered for me last time. What was it? Lemongrass?’
‘Yes, the lemongrass chicken with rice.’ He smiled, pulled to a stop in front of their building and regarded the man just as he popped the door open and stepped out.
‘By the way,’ Erik began just before he hurried inside to get to the photo-shoot.
Charles leaned down enough to peer out of the car, where Erik was brushing off the crumbs from his clothes, and waited expectantly. ‘Yes?’
‘Thanks for the gum,’ he said with the slightest curve of his lips before he closed the door, tossed the paper bag as he passed a bin and disappeared into the building.
He couldn’t help the grin on his face, and not even the car honking behind him could deter his happy mood.
Erik hardly ever uttered a word of gratitude to anybody, but when he did, and especially when it was directed to Charles, he felt his heart swell. It was those rare times that made Charles feel that this job was worth the arguments, the constant running around, the early mornings and often late nights.
When the car behind him honked again, he gave a cheery wave before merging back into the traffic.
When Charles went to pick him up the next day, there was something waiting for Erik in the passenger seat.
‘What’s this for?’ Erik asked as he eyed the wrapped box with barely concealed glee, completely ignored his breakfast, picked the (considerably heavy) parcel up and gave it a gentle shake.
‘Consider it an early birthday present,’ Charles said with a smile as he watched Erik ease his way into the car and settled the gift on his lap.
It had arrived in his mail yesterday, probably sometime in the afternoon when he was out, and Charles had spent the better part of the night scouring through his cupboards and drawers for the right kind of wrapping paper. He settled for something blue, because he remembered in one of those interviews that it was Erik’s favorite color. Why they even bothered with such an inane question, Charles had no idea, but he didn’t mind it now that the information had come in handy.
‘It’s almost two weeks away, still,’ he said as he began to pick at the tape that held the edges closed.
‘Yes, but it’s too practical to leave it another two weeks.’
Erik laughed as he finally got one side to open only to discover a white paper cover still hiding the present away. ‘I hope this isn’t one of those stupid games where you have to keep unwrapping and unwrapping until you get to the present.’
‘Well, no, because that would require a group, and usually the first person who opens it doesn’t necessarily get to keep it, in the end.’
He hummed as he finally managed to get the blue wrapping paper off only to lose patience with the white paper. His smile dropped as soon as he realized what it was that he had received.
‘I’ve looked at the reviews, and they’re quite good.’ Charles was absolutely not fidgeting in his seat. ‘They’ve even got different settings you can choose from.’
His smile dropped – that was not the reaction he was hoping for.
‘Erik?’ As ever, the man was growing more and more difficult to read, but he could tell from the sudden tension in his shoulders and the clench in his jaw that this wasn’t what he had been expecting. Maybe he should’ve gotten the one with the heated water bath. ‘Do you—’
‘What is this about?’ He asked, crystal clear anger shining through his eyes. ‘Is this because I asked you for a foot massage?’
He flushed. ‘Well, yes, but I thought you’d want something more professional than what I can offer.’
‘It was never about that. In fact, I know it’s not about that. So be frank with me.’
‘If you don’t like it, I can return it, you don’t have—’
‘Because the noises you make when I gave you a foot massage were obscene!’ And a complete turn-on.
‘Well, I am sorry, then! I won’t ask ever again.’ He tossed it to the back seat and resolutely kept his glare focused on the world outside the tinted windows.
Charles fought a sigh as his heart trembled at the rejection. Without another word, he put the car into drive and made his way down to their first appointment of the day. It was going to be tiring, Charles just knew.
‘You should eat—’
He kept his mouth shut for the rest of the day, only speaking when necessary and no more.
The next few days proved to be more difficult than necessary. Erik no longer accepted the breakfast he gave him in the morning, nor the nicotine gum. To his dismay, Erik began smoking again, and the extra pack of cigarettes that he’d taken out has once again taken up the free spot beside the nicotine gum, patches and lozenges that were still sitting in his bag.
Erik never spoke, unless necessary and most of the time, they were merely grunts or hum or snorts. Charles hardly mentioned anything more than what was scheduled for the day and whenever he tried for light conversation, he was ignored.
The week they shared together was strained, but Charles never stopped bringing Erik breakfast, even though it was never eaten. He never took out the nicotine gum, patches or lozenges from his bag either, though he’s had to replace the pack of cigarettes three times since. And while Erik never answered or acknowledged his attempts at a light conversation, he never stopped trying.
But even Charles couldn’t put himself through that kind of emotional torture anymore.
By the end of the third week still showing no signs of improvement and with Erik becoming more and more like the man he once knew at the beginning of their working relationship, Charles printed out his resignation form. It’s been nine months, time to move on.
Time to let go.
‘No, I can’t do that. Erik has a photo-shoot with GQ magazine at 1:30; he can’t make it to the 12:45 appointment. Is there a later slot? We’ve got an opening at 3:15pm today.’ He nodded, hummed where necessary and made notes into his daily planner as he paced up and down the half-empty hallway. ‘3 o’clock might be cutting it close, but I’ll see what I can do. If there are any changes, I’ll contact you using this number?’ Charles nodded again, made extra notes onto the book and almost jumped out of his skin when the door into the studio slammed open and Erik came out, still wearing his modeling clothes and seething.
‘Why the fuck are you resigning? I haven’t treated you that poorly.’
He paused, his eyes stuck on the man in front of him, with his hair carefully gelled to devious spikes, with the kohl accenting the paleness of his eyes, and the fake tattoo on his neck making him seem leaner. All in all, he looked delicious, and Charles still had someone on the other line.
‘I’m going to have to call you back, Eugene,’ he didn’t wait for an answer before he hung up and watched as Erik folded his arms across his chest, smudging the fake tattoo onto his crisp white tank top with the severity of the force and tapped his black boot on the carpeted floor.
Charles sighed. ‘You’ve treated me very well, actually, but I do not intend to be a PA for the rest of my life.’ And I cannot continue to pine after you if the only role I am going to have in your life is that of a simple employee, and if the only reaction I’d get from you is rejection after rejection.
‘And?’ Erik took one large step forward, the metal chain he wore on his torn jeans clinking as he moved closer.
‘They’ve arranged for another PA to join you within the week. I’ll walk them through the training steps.’
‘No,’ he shook his head, as if Charles was completely missing the point and pressed again, ‘and?’
‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand.’
‘Be frank with me; tell me the real reason why you’re leaving. I’ll start it off for you.’ He began listing with the use of his dexterous fingers, decorated with large silver bands. ‘I get angry too easily, I’m hard to work with, I make you do too many things for me, I have no respect towards my peers, I’m too stressful to be around – I’ve heard it all, Charles, so just tell me.’
‘The reason behind my resignation is nothing you need to concern yourself with.’ His eyes flitted to the side momentarily before settling back onto Erik. ‘Also, it’s not you; it’s me.’
Erik scoffed. ‘Well, that’s a first.’
‘Sorry enough to stay?’
Charles shook his head. There was no way he could stay, no way he could force himself to live through one piercing ache after another, no matter how much he found Erik charming and endearing when he was capable of showing those emotions.
The first six months had been trying, as were the last. The two months in-between where he spent knowing Erik for Erik, and not for his infamous reputation, had been one of his best kept (and emotionally scarring) memories.
Erik frowned, which turned into a sneer. He said no more as he turned and disappeared inside the studio with another slam to finish off the last of the photo-shoot. He returned half an hour later, wearing the clothes he began the day with and spoke not a single word nor made a single sound.
Charles willed his heart to stop breaking, but with every slam of his car door, it only fractured even more.
‘I hate you.’
Erik was drunk, and magnificently dressed in a fitting tux that accented his lean waist and body height. He was drunk, but was quiet enough that he didn’t cause a stir or even a ruckus while they were in the middle of a successful runway after-party.
‘I hate you.’
Charles closed his eyes, willed the pain away before he opened his eyes and saw how quickly the full glass of champagne disappeared down Erik’s throat. Tonight was his last day of employment, his last night as a PA and his last few hours with Erik. He wished it would be more pleasant than this.
‘That’s enough, Erik.’ He said as he stopped the man’s still graceful fingers from collecting one more glass of alcohol. The man pulled his hand away as if burned and Charles wished it didn’t hurt to see.
‘Go home, Charles. You’re free to go,’ he said, with only the barest hint of a slur as he gave a passing waiter his empty glass.
‘I’m inclined to stay; you are still my responsibility until I’ve dropped you home.’
The man snorted, and Charles didn’t stop him this time when his fingers closed around another flute of champagne, though he had to tighten his fists to prevent himself from doing so.
‘You’re out of luck, because I intend to drink until I either get alcohol poisoning or puke my guts out.’
Both were equally terrible scenarios, especially for Erik who’s never had a bad spot on his record apart from his reputation when it comes to making PA’s cry and flee the scene, traumatized for life and never to return again.
‘Don’t oh, Erik me.’ He hissed as he gulped down the alcohol, shoved the empty glass onto a person who wasn’t actually a waiter and stormed his way outside. Two steps behind, Charles joined him just as he was trying to get his lighter to work. He managed to get the cigarette to light after four attempts.
He breathed the smoke in like fresh air, and the smell wafted around Charles nose and would surely cling to his tuxedo. He held his tongue as Erik finished off the first cigarette and reached for another, and then another in less than three minutes.
‘I hate that you’re leaving me. But I hate that you’re not telling me why even more. Overall, I just hate.’
Charles fought back another sigh. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘It’s not good enough!’ He yelled and flung his half-gone cigarette to the ground and crushed it beneath the sole of his polished shoes.
Erik was glaring at him, a mixture of betrayal, rage, and something that looked like hurt, behind his eyes. But before Charles could apologize again, the man had returned inside and proceeded to drown himself further in champagne until his first promise of getting alcohol poisoning came close to becoming fulfilled. However, just before they left, Charles having to half-drag as well as try to get the man to continue standing on his own two feet, it was the second promise that splattered itself across the pavement halfway towards their car. And one more time just as they made their way up to Erik’s apartment onto the lavender bush.
Getting Erik up to his apartment was easy, getting through the door was simple, getting him undressed was next to impossible. Erik had an incredible body, and Charles had to avert his eyes away when he loosened the tie that exposed his neck, when he unbuttoned his shirt that exposed his collarbone and firm arms, when he unbuckled the belt that surrounded his hips and slid the trousers down from his lean legs. Charles left him in his black boxers and white undershirt but helped take off his shoes and socks.
Just before he left, he heard the man murmur words in his light doze, first saying Charles and then something else. As he leaned down to listen more carefully, he caught his name again, and then I hate you for leaving me.
Charles closed his eyes, sucked in a quiet breath, and willed the crushing turmoil to leave him be. ‘You hate me almost as easily as I love you, and I don’t know which hurts more.’
As a parting gift, he left a glass of water and two pills of painkillers on the side table. Then he drove away for the very last time.
‘No, Raven,’ he sighed as he pulled his dark blue pea coat closer to his body, ‘Yes, Raven,’ he nodded and sighed again as he switched the phone from one ear to the next and tapped his finger on the steering wheel, ‘don’t worry, Raven, I’m fine.’
‘I don’t care how hot he looks, I’m gonna throttle him.’
Charles laughed as he tried to imagine his little sister beating the pulp out of a world-famous male model. Surprisingly, he could actually see it happen. Raven was scary like that. She’d probably even do it while wearing stilettos, all with a smile on her face.
‘It’s been two months; more than enough time for me to heal.’ Though, in truth, he was still very much trying to get over it. And Raven knew it, if her scoff was anything to go by.
‘I remember how much I envied you when you got the job to be his PA, now I’m just wishing you hadn’t taken it.’
He sighed again as he tapped his fingers once more along the wheel, turned his head to rest upon his shoulder and drew in a slow breath. ‘Regardless of how things turned out, I still learned a lot in those nine months. They were good; taught me a lot. It’s all about experience these days.’ His coat still smelled like cigarette smoke, and Erik. He closed his eyes.
‘Speaking of experience, my painting skills are getting better. You should come by the house sometime, the renovation’s going well.’
Charles smiled at the change in topic and went with it as his mind went from thinking about Erik, his dry-cleaning bills to the mansion back in Westchester. As he tried to settle on a date of when he’d be able to visit, the door to his car came open and he was hauled out unceremoniously to his feet by the lapels of his coat.
There, standing right in front of him still in his modeling clothes was Erik. With his gelled hair, fake nose and lip piercings, black leather wrist bands, carefully ripped black tank top, a dark colored kilt and boots that stopped halfway up to his calves decorated with silver buckles, belts and straps. He looked ridiculous, and ridiculously good.
‘Raven, I’m going to have to call you back.’ He didn’t wait for Raven to protest before he hung up the phone. He resolutely didn’t pick it up when it rang again not two seconds later. He switched it off once it stopped. ‘Erik,’ he began breathlessly, ‘what are you doing here?’ This was a suburban area; nowhere near any studios that he could remember dropping the man off once before. Maybe they changed venues?
Erik shook his head as he tightened his hands around his coat and shook him once, twice, hard enough to rattle his brain. ‘Tell me. I need you to tell me. I need to hear it. Tell me why you left.’
‘What? Erik, are you OK?’ It’s been two months; shouldn’t the man have forgotten him by now?
‘I need to hear those words, Charles. Please, tell me. Tell me I wasn’t dreaming those words you said to me that night.’
He froze as he stared unblinkingly into Erik’s desperate eyes. He had thought, had hoped, that Erik wouldn’t be coherent enough to hear his last words, wouldn’t understand them above the alcoholic haze, and wouldn’t remember come morning because of his splitting headache of a hangover. He was wrong.
‘I’m sorry, but—’
He shook him again. ‘Don’t lie. Don’t lie to me, Charles, please. I need to hear it. Say it. Tell me.’
People were staring. Pointing and ridiculing them, Charles for looking like a dumbstruck fool and Erik for wearing a skirt.
He drew in a stuttering breath as he told Erik in quiet whispers: ‘I’m in love with you,’ he began in a quivering voice. ‘And I couldn’t cope to be around you if all that I was going to feel was one heartache after another. I knew my place and it is not beside yours.’
Erik shook his head vehemently as he held on tighter. ‘You’re wrong. You’re completely wrong. You’re so wrong that it’s not even funny. Charles.’
‘Then correct me.’
In a mimic of Charles quiet inhale and equally quiet voice, he whispered: ‘I love you, and I want you by my side.’
Charles closed his eyes, felt the fractures in his heart melt together and hold strong. He couldn’t help his breathless laugh as the distance between them closed around their lips – with a clash of teeth, the tentative touch of tongue and the cool warmth of the metal clasped on Erik’s lower lip – and as cameras flashed bright enough to make him think of Heaven. There, in the middle of a street, stood the love-struck fool and the man in a kilt.
It was funny because Erik’s German, not Scottish.
‘Don’t look at me like that,’ Charles began as he tried to finish off the last part of his thesis. He only had a few more days to finish it before the deadline, and Erik begging for a foot massage was not helping.
‘Charles, I’m dying.’
He smiled, a small smile that Erik saw from where he sat on the recliner. Erik knew how much Charles found his antics completely endearing, and he used it to his every advantage. All day and every day they spent together.
‘Maybe I shouldn’t have returned that foot massager I got you for your last birthday,’ he said as he put down his pen and stretched his arms above his head.
Erik frowned, a curve of his lips that looked more like a pout than an actual scowl, though his eyes were solidly fixed on the slip of skin beneath Charles’ shirt and cardigan.
If Charles noticed his lecherous look, he chose not to mention it. ‘I demand a return of services after this.’
The man grinned, wolfish, as he settled down more comfortably on the recliner, hands behind his head in a relaxed posture.
The noises Erik made whenever Charles gave him a foot massage were still obscene, which was probably on purpose, but their romp in the bedroom was even more so, which was something that couldn’t be helped.
Eventually, after enough complaints from their neighbors, which Erik couldn’t care less about, Charles asked if he would like to permanently live with him at his house instead.
Erik, of course being no fool despite occasionally acting like a petulant child, said yes. What he hadn’t known was that Charles owned a mansion.
‘Why the fuck did you apply for a PA job when you have this?’
‘Are you seriously asking me that question?’ He deadpanned.
‘You’re right, forget it.’
Charles also failed to mention that Raven was his sister. Erik counted a total of eight threats within the first hour of arrival.
‘Are there any more surprises I should be aware of?’ At Charles’ nervous laugh, he resigned himself to the fact that it probably couldn’t be worse than being threatened with castration by his dear sister.
‘My parents will be arriving some time before dinner, and they’d love to meet you.’
Then he decided he was so very, very wrong.