The Bed & Breakfast was tucked away in a quiet part of town just outside the city. It was a three-bedroom home nestled in a cove on the Istanbul Strait, just North of the Sea of Marmara. The exposed brick was cracked and dry, baked from constant exposure to the sun. Flower boxes perched at every window were overflowing with tulips in bright reds, yellows, and oranges. Wild vines wove their way up the sides of the little building, blue buds bursting every few inches.
Carlisle checked in just after ten, exchanged a few pleasantries with the little old lady at the desk – hi, how are you, I'm well, thanks, – more than half the Turkish he knew – and dropped his bags in his room. He had no concrete plans for this trip only that he get away for a true vacation. His cell phone was turned off, stuffed in a sock which was stuffed in a shoe at the bottom of his suitcase. He had refused to even pack his laptop.
He found himself wandering through a local spice market when it happened. He was marveling at a stand of produce, a dried apricot in his hand, about to inquire as to its price – one of the other Turkish phrases he had the foresight to learn – when it happened. A man plucked the dried apricot out of Carlisle's hand and plopped it back into the bin, then greeted Carlisle as though they were old friends, kissing him once on each cheek before taking his hand. Desire rippled up his spine at the man's touch touch. He threw a quick thank you - teşekkür ederim - over his shoulder to the vendor and pulled Carlisle away.
"I'm sorry, I hope I'm not being too forward, but you really don't want to buy from Aro," the man said as he wove through the crowded market with Carlisle's hand still in his grasp. He almost had to shout over the din, but his voice was a sweet song to Carlisle's weary ears.
He came to a stop in front of a nearly-identical stall. Trays were piled high with fresh pistachios, dried apricots, Turkish delights and a dozen other things Carlisle didn't recognize.
"This is the best dried fruit and nut vendor in the market. Aro's fruits are always over-ripe before drying and he buys the cheapest nuts. Dimitri here," he indicated the man in front of them, "on the other hand, only uses the freshest ingredients and will never overcharge."
"Wow, umm, thank you." Carlisle was, rather uncharacteristically, at a loss for words.
"No problem. Just stay on this end of the market and you'll be in good hands."
Only when the man let go of his hand did Carlisle realize their fingers were still intertwined. Then he realized he didn't want to let go.
"Wait," he called out, but the man was already getting lost in the crowd. Thankfully he turned, though he continued walking backwards.
"Sorry!" he shouted back. "I'm late for work!" Moments later he was swallowed up by the crowd.
Carlisle stood rooted to the spot staring at the place in the crowd where the man had just disappeared. It could have been hours before the vendor got his attention.
Dimitri had a bag of assorted fruits and nuts in his outstretched hand. Carlisle took it and patted his pockets, absently feeling for his wallet. The vendor held up his hands and motioned for Carlisle to put away his money.
"You friend of my friend," he said in broken English. "No pay. You like, you come back tomorrow."
Despite his protests, Dimitri refused to accept Carlisle's money. It wasn't until much later that evening as Carlisle was returning to his hotel that he realized the vendor could have told him more about the man in the market.
That man had been on Carlisle's mind all day. Though he had taken in many sights throughout the city, it had only been with one eye. The other had been searching, scouring every face to see if he could find the man from the market.
Carlisle saw the man's blue eyes in the sky and the water and the brilliantly-colored tiles adorning many buildings. The man's hair had been nearly the same golden color as the local pilsner he had with dinner. He was American; that much was obvious. But he spoke Turkish fluently as far as Carlisle could tell, and the vendor had called him a friend. It was a puzzle that Carlisle very much wanted to solve.
Walking along the water on the way back to his hotel, Carlisle resolved to go back to the market at the same time the following day. Not that anyone would ask, but if they did he would say he was visiting with the intention of paying back the vendor for the delights he had been given. While he certainly did want to repay the vendor's kindness, his real hope was that he would run in to the man again. He thought it was odd, just how much he was thinking about a complete stranger with whom he had only spent a minute. But the man's mark had been indelibly imprinted into Carlisle's mind. His eyes, his touch, his voice, his kindness... they were all that Carlisle saw or felt or heard. And all he desired.
Just as he began to worry that he was lost, he spotted the little cove in which his hotel was hidden. He was once again thankful that he had opted for the quiet seclusion of the B&B instead of something more luxurious in the heart of the bustling city.
He rang the bell at the little front desk in order to get his key and retire for the evening. Then he turned, leaned back against the desk and closed his eyes. He was truly exhausted but as soon as his eyes shut, he saw the man from the market. Carlisle felt his mouth curve into a smile. He looked forward to returning to the market the following day and at least learning more about the stranger who had been on his mind all day.
A throat cleared behind him and Carlisle turned, embarrassed that he had been caught daydreaming. For a moment he thought he had fallen asleep and was truly dreaming: the very same man whose presence had permeated his every thought that day was standing before him, holding his room key.
"I-... you-... but... how did-?" Carlisle tried to speak, but nothing intelligible passed between his lips.
"I, umm... I own this place," the man replied, a lovely, deep blush spreading up to his cheeks.
Carlisle took a moment and just stared, still slightly disbelieving that the man was really in front of him. He was just as Carlisle remembered – wavy blonde hair, eyes of the brightest blue, tall and tanned and gorgeous. The white linen shirt the man wore had the top few buttons opened, and the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. Carlisle wanted to explore every inch of the man's exposed skin, and then remove his clothing and start all over again.
Only when the man cleared his throat a second time did Carlisle realize he had been staring – caught this time – and it was his turn to blush.
"Thank you for your help in the market today." He finally broke the heavy silence. "Your friend was very generous; he wouldn't let me pay for anything."
"That's Dimitri, alright," he said with a chuckle.
"I'm Carlisle," he said and extended his hand.
"I know," replied the man, taking it. "It's the off season. I only have one other guest and she didn't look much like a 'Carlisle'," he added with a shrug and a wink upon Carlisle's questioning look.
"Oh, so we're not alone?" Carlisle was inexplicably disappointed at the realization.
"We can be," replied the man. He came out from behind the desk and pulled Carlisle along behind him, for they had never broken their handshake. Carlisle took this time to admire the man more closely. He was slim but muscular, and tan but not overly so. It was a pity that the man's backside was hidden by the tails of his untucked shirt.
He led Carlisle through a door and closed it behind him. Carlisle had time only to register that they were in what appeared to be a small studio apartment off the back of the house before the man pushed him up against the door, their bodies perfectly aligned, pressed tightly to one another.
"I'm Jasper, by the way."
"Jasper," Carlisle only whispered the name before his lips were otherwise occupied.