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The Grande Flamingo

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“I know I need to get a job, mom,” Zach groaned. He ran his hand over his face in exasperation. He had been so hopeful that his impromptu move to New York would be proof to his mother that he was making strides toward his future. Apparently, he was wrong. She was on his case now more than ever.

“Zach, moving in with A.J. was just an excuse for you to leave and be irresponsible,” she bickered. “You said you were going there to look for work. All you do is go to bars. It’s been three months and…” Zach held the phone away from his ear, since he knew he couldn’t get away with hanging up on her.

Zach sighed as he walked through the turnstile toward the subway. “Mom, I’m getting on the subway now. I have to go. I’ll call you another time.”

“Okay, but this is far from over. You will call me tonight. Goodbye, Zach.” His mom ended the call and his shoulders sagged in relief.

Zach had, in truth, been planning to find work in New York when he made the decision to move. After over a month of frustration that left him empty-handed and hopeless, he had decided to hold off on his job search for a while. He knew A. J. didn’t care, since he knew Zach would pay him back. Besides, Zach figured that if he was going to live in such a vast city, he should at least explore it a little. His mom, however, hadn’t gotten the memo.

He sat alone on the subway, staring at the strange people, his fingers picking at the worn seat cushion next to him. When his fingers wandered across something that must have been used gum, he wrenched his hand back in repulsion. He heaved a sigh and shifted around, still unsettled by the conversation with his mother.

Zach’s plan for today had consisted of dropping off a resume at a small business firm. He knew nothing would come of it, but it made him feel like he had at least made an effort. Now he was headed to a grocery store on his way back to the apartment to pick up a few things for A.J. (Part of their deal was that running errands would make up for Zach’s lack of monetary contribution). Afterwards, he was meeting A. J. for a quick lunch, and the rest of his time was, per usual, unplanned.

Zach made it to the grocery store and back to A.J.’s apartment without a hitch. He dropped the bags on the counter, nothing being perishable, and proceeded right back onto the streets of New York. It was 12:43, and A.J. had said to meet him at 1 o’clock. The restaurant they had agreed upon was nearly a twenty minute walk, and Zach couldn’t afford a cab. That meant he was hoofing it, and would likely be late.

Zach practically jogged down the congested sidewalk. He pulled out his phone to check the time: 12:56. He still had a few blocks to go. Just as he had looked down to tuck his phone away, he slammed into someone who’d been rushing in the opposite direction. A stack of papers floated through the air amidst a stream of curse words.

“They gave me an hour and a half to put all these flyers up, and now I’m gonna spend half of it picking them up,” the stranger griped.

“Sorry, dude,” Zach said, apologizing. He stooped to help gather the scattered flyers. He was already late, so he might as well stop to rectify the harm he’d caused along the way.

Once most of the flyers had been recovered, the kid had calmed down. He was probably around eighteen years old, judging by his sloppy mode of dress and the flustered look on his face. “Thanks for your help, dude. Even though I wouldn’t have needed the help if not for you,” he grumbled. He eyed Zach curiously and handed him a flyer. “This is for a new club that’s opening next week. It’s under new ownership and they’re revamping the whole thing. The only thing they still need is dancers. Maybe you would be interested in auditioning?”

Zach was surprised, but took the flyer. “Male dancers?”

“It’s a gay club,” the kid said, rolling his eyes. “So, yeah.”

Zach blushed. “Um, I’ll think about it. But I’m—”

“You don’t have to be gay to work there; I’m not. In fact, you don’t have to do anything but stand on the stage and do routines. It’s not like you’d be stripping or giving lap dances or something. Plus you’d make a lot of money.” The boy wiggled his eyebrows.

Zach didn’t want to admit it, but that last bit had caught his attention. It would be a way that he could earn money until he got a steady job. He could even pay back A.J., or at least stop mooching off him. It wasn’t like he would be prancing around in a G-string while guys threw themselves at him, from the way the kid described it. “When are the auditions?”

The teenager’s mouth turned up in a smirk. “All the information is on the back of the flyer. Open auditions are tonight, but you can also do individual appointments if that doesn’t fit your schedule.” The boy gave Zach a thoughtful smile and said, “I think they’re gonna like you.” He then turned and walked away with the remaining flyers.

Zach stared at the paper in his hands, wondering if he could really go through with this. The flyer was for a club called The Grande Flamingo. Auditions for the “flamingos,” as they were called, started at 6 p.m. Zach checked his watch and swore. 1:07. He stashed the flyer in his pocket and booked it to the restaurant in five minutes.

“Sorry, man,” Zach huffed as he slid into the booth opposite A.J.

A.J. just nodded while inspecting his menu. “Any luck today?”

“Not with a real job,” Zach began. How to explain this? How did a straight guy tell his friend that he was so desperate for money that he was going to audition to become a “flamingo” dancer at a gay night club? “I did come across this, though.” Zach slid the crumpled paper over the table for A.J. to read.

A.J. took it in his hands with raised eyebrows. “Something you want to tell me, bro?”

“No, I’m not gay,” Zach said. “I just thought it would be a good way to make money. At least that’s what the kid who was posting these told me.” He tried not to be ashamed that he was actually considering the job.

A.J. shrugged. “But do you even know what kind of dancing they’d want you to do? Or worse, what they’d make you wear?” Zach’s eyes widened. He hadn’t considered that. “You have to think about this stuff,” A.J. continued, his expression serious. “There are things more important than getting quick cash.” A.J. shook his head, clearly not on board with Zach.

“He said I’d be on a stage, but it wouldn’t be anything as bad as stripping.” Zach was starting to doubt himself now, but he was determined not to let his friend know he’d gotten to him.

A.J. laughed. “It’s up to you, bro, but I don’t know if you’d even get the job. Do you think you can dance like that? Sober?”

“It’s not stripping!” Zach nearly shouted. Half of the patrons had turned in their direction, and Zach groaned and hid his face in his hands as he slid down in his seat.

“Calm down, dude,” A.J. glared at everyone watching them before turning back to Zach. “Looks like you really want to be a flamingo, huh?” he teased.

“Shut up,” Zach mumbled, keeping his eyes cast downward.

At the exact right moment, a waitress sauntered up to them. “Would you guys like to order some drinks?” she asked cheerfully.

“Yeah, I could use a drink,” Zach said.

Chapter Text

When Zach arrived at The Grande Flamingo that night, the first thing he noticed was glitter; there was glitter in every conceivable inch of the club. It covered every surface and seemed to be embedded into not only the fabrics, but even the highly varnished floors. Thank god the lights were all dimmed or the sight surely would have been blinding.

The second thing Zach noticed was the crowd of men surrounding the bar area. These were the other prospective dancers, he assumed. From the looks of them, Zach felt instantly concerned about his likelihood of being hired. His eyes skimmed over the men and focused on the stages that were placed throughout the club. The most prominent stage was located off to the left of the club, across from the bar. There was a line of folding chairs set up facing the stage, which was drowning in neon lights, including some flamingos. All of the chairs were currently unoccupied, but Zach knew those seats were there for the club owners to view the auditions.

Zach pulled out his phone. Auditions were set to begin in about ten minutes. He walked further into the club and noticed a table off to his right where he was supposed to sign in. A woman with her blond hair piled on top of her head watched over the table.

“Welcome to The Grande Flamingo,” the woman said cheerfully. “I’m Lauren. You can sign your name right here.” She handed him a fuzzy pen. “It’s going to be a while, though,” she warned. “You’ve got 54 guys ahead of you.”

Zach shrugged. “I have nothing but time, so whatever, I guess.” Zach took the pen and signed in on the third page.

Lauren glanced at his name and handed him a piece of paper to wear with his audition number on it. “Okay, Zach, you can go have a seat at the bar with the other guys. We’re hoping to get through all of these in about two hours.” Lauren chewed her lip. “I don’t see that happening, but stick around regardless. I think we’ll find a good use for you.” She flashed him a smile, her bright red lips reassuring him for the second time that day that something about this situation just felt right.

Zach wandered over to the bar, and he instantly felt insecure. He didn’t fit in; most, if not all, of these guys were gay. Some were dressed in drag, and others were hardly dressed at all. Zach looked around uncomfortably, wondering if A.J. had been right. Maybe he should not have come at all. Zach hovered on the edge of the crowd alone, pondering leaving.

“Hey, handsome,” said a voice to Zach’s left. Zach turned to see a gorgeous man with blond hair tipped in pink seated at the bar. The man gave Zach a wink. “You’re auditioning to be a flamingo?”

Even if he felt weird about it, Zach was grateful that someone was being welcoming toward him. Zach nodded, rubbing the back of his neck nervously. The man pulled out the sparkly barstool next to him, and gestured for Zach to join him.

Zach sat beside the blond man, not knowing what else to do, but hoping this man could be of guidance. “Yeah, I guess you could say that’s what I was going to do.”

The man tilted his head, eyeing Zach as though he were something precious, yet enigmatic at the same time. “Is something bothering you?” he asked.

Zach shook his head slightly, not making eye contact. He knew he wasn’t being very convincing, which was reinforced by the man raising an eyebrow at him. A perfectly sculpted eyebrow, Zach noted. He let his eyes wander over the rest of the stranger’s face, taking in the perfect lines, the smooth golden skin, the genuine kindness in his brown eyes. This man was beautiful—an angel who was gracing Zach with his presence. When the man cleared his throat, Zach realized he’d been staring a little too long. He managed to choke out, “I don’t know if I exactly fit in here.” He gazed around the room, and the man’s eyes followed the same path, taking in the variety of men in every mode of dress…none of whom were anything like Zach.

The blond man laughed. The sound was contagious and Zach found himself chuckling along with him. He saw how laughter lit up the blond’s face. He was struck by the impulse to reach out and touch the other man, but he shook it off. What was going on? He was a straight guy in a gay bar. No wonder he was so confused. There were no hot girls, so he guessed the hottest guy here was the next best thing. He used that thought to comfort himself, and found that thanks to the man sitting beside him, he was nowhere near as jittery as he’d been before. He felt calmed, maybe even content.

The man’s voice once again interrupted his train of thought. “So I take it you’re not gay?” Zach shook his head, too confused by this… attraction…to the man beside him to speak. “Such a shame,” the blond lamented, raking his eyes up and down Zach. Zach blushed and had to turn his head to avoid being caught.

Zach was shocked when the man reached out to touch his arm lightly. “You have nothing to worry about being a straight guy here. This isn’t the type of place where you have to interact physically with the patrons.”

That was something that had been on Zach’s mind a lot. Zach turned to face the man a little more, and it caught him off guard to look into the depths of his eyes again. “Everyone keeps saying that, but…I don’t know.” Zach sighed, and ran his hands through his hair.

The man moved in closer, and the hand travelled up from Zach’s arm to his shoulder. “Seriously. Don’t worry about it. It’s just a job. You’ll get up on the stage, follow what the rest of the guys do, and that’s all there is to it. If that’s how you have to look at it, that’s okay.” Zach tried to let the words sink in, but all he could think about was the hand rubbing circles gently into his shoulder. Zach was content, yet overwhelmed all at the same time.

“I guess you’re right,” he conceded. “It’s just a job. It’s a way to make money.” Zach stared down at his hands. “That’s the only reason I’m here, if I’m being honest. My friend let me move in with him a few months ago. I left my whole family, thinking I’d be able to find a job up here so easily. It’s been three months,” Zach groaned, putting his face in his hands.

The blond just continued stroking Zach’s shoulder, watching him intently. Zach finally picked his head up again. “I just don’t wanna keep mooching off him. I feel so bad about it, you know? I don’t want to have to go back home. But I really miss Pizzle, my little brother. I just feel like I made a mistake.” Zach felt embarrassed to be telling his innermost feelings of shame and regret with a stranger. Somehow, this guy made him feel not so alone. He made Zach feel like he was interesting and worth something.

“I know what you mean,” the man said. “My little sister is always travelling and busy. Sure, I could drop everything and go along with her, and she would be thrilled to have me with her.” The man looked at Zach seriously now. “But then I realize that that would mean giving up on my own life and my goals, and I know she wouldn’t want that for me. Even when you keep getting a long line of no, there will eventually be a yes. It might not come right away or when you want it to, but it comes when it’s the right time.”

It struck Zach that this was the first time in their conversation when the blond had said anything about his own life. Until now, he had only been focusing on Zach. Zach felt selfish suddenly. This beautiful man had been so kind and helpful to him, comforting him when he felt so helpless and out of place, and he hardly knew anything about him.

Zach opened his mouth to ask him something, anything personal. Something so the man next to him would know he wanted to help him, too. That he cared, too. Just then, the girl from the table, Lauren, and a few other guys started moving around. The man checked his watch. “I guess that’s my cue,” he said, reluctantly getting up, but not removing his hand from Zach. He offered a confused Zach a warm smile.

“Wait,” Zach said, reaching his hand out to stop the other man. “What’s your name?”

The man turned back to him with a smirk. “I’m Frankie. Frankie Grande. And what’s your name?” He asked with a wistful smile.

He barely managed to choke out “Zach Rance.” Zach swallowed, panicking that this man who had brought him comfort was leaving. He didn’t understand what was going on.

They shared a moment where they both stared into each other’s eyes, saying nothing. It was peaceful. Zach felt something stir inside him, but he couldn’t put his finger on what it was.

Before Zach could process what was happening, Frankie was speaking again. “I think you’re going to be just fine in New York, Zach. You can count on it.” With that, he spun on his heel and practically danced away, before disappearing into a room in the back.

After a few moments, it finally hit Zach. Grande. His last name was Grande. What was the club called again? He looked at the crumpled flyer that he slipped out of his pocket. It read “The Grande Flamingo.” Zach’s heart skipped a beat.

Frankie, the man with the face and personality of an angel, who had just wasted a good ten minutes of his time offering an ear and many a gentle touch to a nobody having a straight- guy panic attack, was the owner of the club.

Frankie was going to be sitting in that row of chairs. Frankie would be watching his audition. Frankie had told him he would be okay.

God, Zach sure hoped Frankie was right.

Chapter Text

“So, we’re going to be doing this a little differently tonight,” said a tall guy, who had introduced himself as Paul. “We’ve decided to do individual interviews first, and then the auditions. The interviews will determine who fits in with our club and the vibe we want it to have. Whoever matches our image will then be learning a routine and dancing as part of a group. We’ll be picking our flamingos based on the group dances.”

Zach thought it was a good idea, as he sat near the edge of the group, still perched on the barstool where the angel named Frankie had left him. Now there would be fewer people watching him dance, and the process would be quicker than having each guy go up on stage one by one.

“We each drew up a random list of applicants each of us will interview,” Paul continued. “If you are selected at the end of your interview, please return to the bar and wait while the rest of the interviews wrap up.” He gestured to the blond who had been at the signup table. “Lauren here will be teaching the finalists a somewhat simple routine. Once everyone seems to have the hang of it, we’ll split you into groups and you’ll perform the dance on stage. By the end of tonight, some of you will be our flamingos. Good luck, everyone!” Paul smiled cheerfully and stepped aside.

Zach had expected Frankie to say something. This was his club after all, wasn’t it? The club did carry his last name, so cleverly dropped in the middle of it. Maybe he didn’t want anyone to know? Zach was confused a lot today, and a lot of that confusion was a result of the past half hour, a result of Frankie. Zach had been watching Frankie as he stood next to Paul, smiling. Zach wasn’t sure if he had imagined it, but he could have sworn he caught Frankie’s gaze lingering on him for a few moments, his lips twitching in a knowing smile.

Just then, the group of owners dispersed. Lauren, Frankie, Paul, and another guy, who had not been introduced, went to the table to post lists of who would be interviewed by each of them. Zach couldn’t help but be mesmerized as Frankie glided across the room and posted his list. When Frankie turned, he noticed Zach watching him. Frankie’s lips curled into that same smile Zach had seen before, and winked at Zach as he walked by. So that look they’d shared during Paul’s speech hadn’t been just in his mind. Zach’s gaze followed Frankie through to a hallway in the back, and he was struck by the urge to go after him, but he restrained himself. What was going on with him? Why was he so attracted to a guy he’d only just met? A guy.

Zach made his way to the table, pushing past a few of the other guys, to see who his interview was with. He had a feeling about this one, but he still had to look. Zach glanced at the first list, Lauren’s, and couldn’t find his name, or on the second list, which was some guy named Dominic’s. The next list was Frankie’s, and Zach spotted his name third from the top. It turned out the interviews weren’t so random after all. Frankie’s sheet said his interviews would take place in his office. Zach’s mind flashed with visions of being alone in a room with Frankie; his heart sped up. He wasn’t sure whose actions he was more worried about: his or Frankie’s.

Zach stood pacing in the hallway outside Frankie’s office with a bunch of other guys. He’d been waiting for about a half hour. Zach looked out at the bar and saw a group of guys forming. Judging by that, they were maybe half way through. Each guy who left Frankie’s office had sent a specific guy back in. When there were only a couple of guys left, Zach started to feel anxious. What was there really left for Frankie to ask him? He had unknowingly spilled his entire life situation to him at the bar. Yet Frankie had known he stood to be Zach’s boss and hadn’t stopped him. He’d instead seemed genuinely interested. What if something Zach did or said in the interview changed Frankie’s mind? After all, Zach had been searching for a job in New York for months without landing anything, and those were jobs that matched his education. How could he think anybody would hire him to do something he had no experience in?

A guy stepped into the hallway and tapped him on the shoulder. Zach looked up to see that he was the last guy in the hallway. “You’re next. Good luck,” the guy said with a roll of his eyes. What did that mean?

Zach wiped his sweaty palms before reaching for the doorknob. What if Frankie rejected him? Zach wondered why he cared so much. It was just a job, right? He didn’t need Frankie to like him. Either way, it was too late to turn back. The door he’d been waiting an eternity to enter had been left open. He took a deep breath and walked into Frankie’s office.

There was pink everywhere. There were multicolored lights and stars and sparkles adorning the walls, ceiling, and furnishings. The artwork was filled with inspirational quotes, even as simple as “shine bright.” Frankie sat at a large mahogany desk, which did not fit with the décor at all, skimming through stacks of paperwork. When he looked up and saw Zach, he perked up and his smile grew wide. What an angel, Zach thought. “Hello, again, Zach. Have a seat, rose.” At Zach’s questioning look, he explained, “I call everyone ‘rose.’ The people I like, at least.”

So, it seemed that not only were they on a first name basis, but Frankie definitely liked him more than the average person who’d walked into the club today. Zach sat down in the plush pink chair. For an office, this place was extremely comfortable. Or maybe it was just the company.

Frankie pushed the piles of paper aside, watching Zach’s face as his eyes wandered around Frankie’s office. Zach spoke first, to his own surprise. “So, do I earn any brownie points for our talk earlier? I mean, I had no idea who you were. Not like it would have made a difference. I mean, you’re like an angel. And I’m not just saying that because I need a job. I seriously think you-”

“Shhhh.” Frankie cut him off. That smile from before played on his lips. “Thank you for all of the lovely compliments, Zach, but they aren’t necessary. I’m not sure about brownie points, exactly, but maybe it earned you a cookie.” Frankie produced a plate of cookies from his desk drawer, and held it out to Zach.

Zach couldn’t stop smiling. “Wow, dude, you are so sweet,” Zach gushed, as he took a cookie. Frankie took a cookie himself, but his eyes never left Zach while they ate. “Thanks,” Zach said, finishing the cookie off. “These are delicious. Did you make them yourself?”

Frankie nodded. “Yes, with my sister. She was in town for the week. She just left again last night.” Frankie looked sad for a moment, thinking of his sister. It reminded Zach so much of how he missed his little brother, Peyton.

Without thinking, Zach reached out and put his hand on top of Frankie’s. Frankie seemed startled for a moment, but not necessarily in a bad way. “Sorry,” Zach mumbled. “About your sister leaving again…and touching you, I guess.” Zach blushed, but his hand stayed on Frankie’s.

Frankie batted his eyes at him. “That’s okay. You can touch me whenever you want.” Frankie made a face that was sexy and funny all at the same time. Zach laughed. “I call that my ‘Marilyn face’.”

“I love it,” Zach said. Did he just hear himself giggle? “You’re so funny and sweet, dude.”

“I’m sorry, but are you still maintaining that you’re straight?” Frankie joked. Zach thought he might be serious, though. “Or are you just hitting all my sweet spots so I’ll hire you?”

Zach was still laughing, but his mind scrambled for an answer that was ambiguous. “Yeah, I’m into girls, but who cares about labels, you know?” Zach hoped that left enough to be interpreted because since meeting Frankie, he wasn’t sure what the truth was anymore.

“Right. Interesting strategy, Zach,” Frankie said skeptically. “I suppose we should get around to the actual interview now.” He scanned what Zach assumed was a list of questions. “Actually, I already know a lot of this stuff from our talk earlier.” He shrugged and flipped the page. “You don’t have any dance experience, do you?”

“Not really. I mean, not professionally,” Zach admitted. “I do love to dance, though. And twerking’s my specialty.”

Frankie raised one of his perfect eyebrows. “Oh? Can I see?”

“Sure, why not?” On the spot, Zach got up and started doing his favorite twerk dance while Frankie’s glorious laughter filled the room. Soon, Frankie was joining him, and they were dancing side by side.

It took Frankie a few seconds to notice Paul, Lauren, and Dominic standing in the doorway. They started whistling and clapping. Frankie’s dancing slowed to a stop, but his laughter was still lighting his face. He placed his hand on Zach’s waist, and Zach turned and saw the three people watching them. Zach was only slightly embarrassed. At least they were all smiling, though.

“So…should we leave you guys alone? You seem pretty busy,” Paul said. “I guess we can finish without you, Frankie, but it is your club,” he joked.

Frankie sighed. “I suppose we can be done. For now,” he added to Zach. Frankie pulled Zach with him as they moved out of the room. As Frankie’s hand closed the door behind them, Zach could swear Frankie’s hand purposely brushed his butt. Frankie looked at Zach out of the corner of his eye before hurrying after his business partners. So that hadn’t been an accident, either. Zach was left watching Frankie as he walked away, his eyes grazing over Frankie’s body and wondering what had struck him so off guard. All the same, Zach followed in Frankie’s wake, as if he were being compelled by a force beyond his control.

Chapter Text

“Damn it!” Zach said as the guy dancing on his right smacked straight into him. “I mean, I’m sorry.” Zach wasn’t the worst dancer in the room, surprisingly, but being surrounded by a couple of awful dancers was distracting to him. Lauren was noticing. When they took a break, she made her way to him. “Hey, you might want to move to a different row when we start again. Don’t say that I said so, but you’re surrounded by the worst dancers in here, and I’m afraid for your life.” Lauren’s gaze wandered to the doorway of the back room where they were practicing, which had turned out to be a dance studio. Frankie, Dominic, and Paul stood just outside; Frankie caught Lauren’s eye and motioned for her to come over. “I think someone else here is concerned for your wellbeing, too. So definitely switch spots; we want to make sure you learn the dance.” With that, Lauren walked away.

Zach walked over to the side of the room where the other guys were hanging out. They still had another ten minutes until they resumed practice. He thought maybe he should try to fit in, but then decided better of it because he didn’t know where to start. Zach turned his back to the wall and slid down so he was sitting. He pulled out his phone and saw a text from A.J. asking how his auditions were going. Zach wasn’t sure what to say. Somehow, he wasn’t sure that “I think I might get this job because the guy who owns the club likes me and is turning me gay” would make any sense to his friend. In the end, he settled on saying something about making it to the last stage of auditions and being surrounded by gay guys, some of whom were shockingly horrible dancers. A.J. texted him good luck, but Zach was sure he was laughing his butt off.

Zach was thirsty. He hadn’t been expecting the auditions to include learning a whole routine in a day, so he hadn’t brought anything to drink. He looked for a water fountain, but didn’t see one, and he didn’t want to ask some random guy for a sip of his water bottle. He was just about to suck it up and ask someone for a drink anyway, when he saw an attractive man with blond and pink hair plop down next to him. “Hey, Zach.” Frankie let his hand wander to Zach’s bicep, which he squeezed lightly. “Thirsty, babe?” Frankie produced an ice cold water bottle, and waved it at Zach.

“Mmmm, yes. How’d you know?” Zach asked, grabbing the bottle. He ignored the pet name, because to him it didn’t mean anything, right? Zach opened the bottle and took a few gulps. Frankie grinned widely at him.

“Isn’t that good?” Frankie asked seductively, leaning in close. “You looked a little hot. I thought maybe I could give you something to help you cool down.”

The ambiguity of his words was not lost on Zach. Zach stayed where he sat, feeling Frankie brush up against him. It felt right, comforting. “Just what I needed,” Zach said. “Thank you, Frankie.” He saw the way Frankie was looking at him. It was like he had gone from angel to sex god in the matter of a minute. Frankie’s hand reached up to fix Zach’s hair, smiling. The other hand was resting on the floor near Zach’s thigh. Zach could only imagine what was on Frankie’s mind, and it made him blush. “Frankie, people are starting to stare. Maybe this isn’t…”

It was true. A number of the guys in the studio were watching them. Zach told himself that it must be Frankie’s closeness that was making him uncomfortable, not all the pairs of eyes that lingered on them. But who were these guys to judge him? They were probably all gay, or at least bisexual. That’s when it hit him that Frankie wasn’t just a guy; he was probably going to be Zach’s boss. Getting physical with someone who’s going to be your boss would be a bad idea. And judging by the glares and raised eyebrows, it would only make Zach more of a leper here. Zach looked down uncomfortably.

“Okay, rose. I see what you mean,” Frankie said, rising to his feet lithely. “I guess I come on a little too strong for a straight guy, anyway.” He turned to walk out of the room, oozing attitude and daring Zach to come after him.

Zach hesitated for a moment. He couldn’t let people think something was happening with their future boss, but he also couldn’t live with himself if he had offended Frankie. Zach’s feet moved of their own accord.

As Zach turned out of the room, he caught Frankie lurking outside in the hallway. Frankie was ready for this. Frankie pushed Zach against the wall, but kept some distance between them. Zach stared down at the slender hand on his chest that held him in place. Frankie was looking back at him, as if he knew something that Zach didn’t. “That’s not what I meant, Frankie,” Zach breathed. “I just – I didn’t want an audience, and it seemed like we were getting one. And I don’t know what this is, but I kind of like it. I just don’t want people watching and judging. I…I don’t know…”

Frankie considered that for a moment before nodding. “Then I guess we’ll have to go somewhere that won’t be a problem.” Frankie was smirking at him adoringly once more.

Zach raised an eyebrow. “Are you asking me out?” Wait, did he just flirt with Frankie? Oh god, was he going to go out with a guy? His mind raced. But this was different. He’d never been attracted to a guy before. Frankie was different.

“If that’s how you want to look at it, then yes,” Frankie said confidently, as if it would be absurd for Zach to turn him down. Frankie leaned in, coming so close that Zach swore Frankie was going to kiss him. He honestly didn’t know what he would do if that happened. Luckily, Frankie knew where to stop, his lips hovering just a hair’s breadth from Zach’s ear. “Maybe, if you do a good job in your audition, I’ll take you out tomorrow.” Frankie proceeded to bury his face in Zach’s neck and press a soft kiss there. The tenderness gave Zach chills.

Spending time alone with Frankie, having a job, seeing Frankie constantly, being able to pay A.J. back, getting to know Frankie…. He didn’t even hesitate to answer. “Yes, please.”

Frankie touched his face. “Just remember to dance your ass off for me, okay?” Frankie stepped back and eyed Zach appraisingly. “I have a feeling we’ll be spending a lot of time together.” Frankie turned and disappeared down the hall.

Zach slumped against the wall, feeling drained from both the workout and the emotions Frankie was putting him through already. Then Zach realized that he had only known Frankie for a few hours, and he already felt this strongly about him. He couldn’t fathom how much more intense their interactions could get, but a part of him couldn’t wait to delve in further.

Chapter Text

Zach sat by the bar watching the first group of guys dancing on the stage. To him, it was obvious who was going to make it, so he had long since stopped focusing on the group that was performing. Instead, his eyes were glued to the blond-pink hair in the second chair from the left. Frankie’s back was to him, and he sat directly in Zach’s line of sight, so Zach had the perfect excuse to stare. He watched Frankie talking to Paul, Dominic, and Lauren, watched him take notes, noticed the way his facial expressions changed as he made his decisions.

That’s when it hit Zach that he didn’t think any of the other guys knew for sure that this was Frankie’s club. Other than having his interviews in his office, which had not had his name engraved anywhere, the guys were none the wiser. Frankie was pretty smart; nobody knew that he was the one to impress. Even though it might sound egotistical, Zach was almost one hundred percent sure that he was the only guy to have left an impression on Frankie today. Judging by the way that Frankie sat still in his seat, he was underwhelmed by most of the guys, but he would hire them anyway, because they were good dancers. If he hired Zach, it would be for a different reason entirely. That was almost enough to make Zach feel guilty. Almost.

The group finished their routine in a few minutes. Zach’s group was up next. Frankie and his friends conferred while the first guys stood and waited for their final decision. Frankie leaned over and whispered to Dominic, who stood and called a handful of names. They were the same ones Zach knew would be chosen. Next to them, he wondered if he really stood a chance.

He was nervous as his group rose to walk toward the stage. They spaced themselves out. Zach risked a look at Frankie and found the other man’s gaze resting right on him. Zach found himself blushing. He almost wished he hadn’t looked up. But how was this any different, having Frankie watch him on stage, from twerking in Frankie’s office with him? Zach decided it wasn’t different at all. The most important person in the room already liked him far more than any of the other contenders. He had nothing to lose. Until the guy on his right turned the wrong way just thirty seconds into the routine. Zach smacked right into him, almost knocking the guy off the stage.

“What the hell?” the guy said, standing back up, rubbing his face where he’d run into Zach.

Zach was dazed a little, but tried to jump back into the count with the rest of the group. Then the guy came over and shoved him. “Stop it, you frootloop dingus! I’m sorry. You screwed up, not me.”
By now, the music had stopped and all eyes were on Zach and his newfound enemy.

“You ruined my audition!” the guy accused Zach.

“No, that was definitely you, when you went the wrong way,” Zach deadpanned.

“Oh, yeah?” The other guy was rolling up his sleeves, obviously planning to get physical. “Is that what it was, asshole? Do it again and I’ll make sure it’s your head going the wrong way.”

“Enough!” The voice was authoritative and strong, but not harsh. Zach turned to see Frankie on his feet, cheeks blazing. “If you want to get into a physical altercation, then fine. But let me assure you that there will be no blood shed in my club. If that is how you conduct yourself, then you can show yourself the door, Devin. There is no room for that type of behavior here.” Frankie’s gaze was as daring as his words were firm. He was glowing, not with power, but something else entirely.

The guy, Devin, mumbled something about Frankie’s “boyfriend”. Then he huffed and stalked out of the club, slamming into the door with the clichéd “you’re making a mistake.” To which, Frankie simply said, “no. I’m not. And if anyone else doesn’t like my rules, then feel free to leave right now.” Frankie waited a few seconds. The room was tense, and nobody so much as breathed. The rest of the dancers shuffled around uncomfortably.

Frankie’s eyes settled on Zach. Zach saw a determinedness there that he respected. Frankie had just defended him, and it wasn’t necessary. Zach hadn’t needed the help; Frankie had wanted to help him, and at the risk of revealing not only that he was the club owner, but his fondness for Zach. Devin’s “boyfriend” comment suddenly struck him, and Zach hoped the room couldn’t see his cheeks turning red. Zach met Frankie’s gaze, and Frankie nodded subtly at him. “Please start over.”

The rest of the audition went off without a hitch. Zach had done his best, knowing Frankie’s eyes had been mostly on him. Sometimes their eyes met and Zach had felt like they were alone in the room, the other dancers and Frankie’s business partners vanished. Lauren flashed him a knowing smile as the four judges conversed. When the selections were made, Zach wasn’t surprised by who was chosen, and he also wasn’t surprised when his name was among them. He might not have been the best dancer there, but Frankie had only had eyes for him, so he might as well have been.

Frankie stood up to address the group. “Thank you all for coming tonight. If our new flamingos would please stay behind so that we can make arrangements together for our next meeting, then that would be appreciated.” He sat down with a flourish and a smile.

Once the final group was done, those who’d made the cut, about twenty guys, were given directions to meet at a dance studio on Monday afternoon. After a few minutes of mass chaos in which they all scrambled to fill out paperwork and sign forms, Frankie snuck over to Zach. His chin rested on Zach’s shoulder as he signed his name on one of the papers. Zach giggled and almost signed his name illegibly. “Frankiiieee,” he whined. “You’re gonna make me mess up.” Frankie backed away and stood so he faced Zach.

“Oh, please. Do I look like I care?” Frankie looked at Zach, batting his eyes innocently.

Zach just giggled again, before looking around the room nervously. “So how did I really do?” he asked. Zach was really hoping he hadn’t gotten in by default. Not that his main goal was anything other than earning money, but he really wanted to make Frankie proud. He wasn’t sure why, but that was suddenly important to him.

Frankie moved closer so that less than a foot of space separated them. “Mm, anxious to see if you’ve earned that date, huh?” Frankie’s eyes slithered over him. He crossed his arms, quirking one eyebrow up.

Zach’s face blanched. He didn’t know how to respond. The short answer was yes, but the real one was so much more complex that Zach couldn’t even think about it without getting uncomfortable. By now, most of the other dancers had left, so they had less of an audience, but Zach still didn’t want to say it in front of so many strangers. Besides, he didn’t even know how he felt. Despite never having any relationships, Zach was always attracted to girls. He’d never felt anything like this toward a guy before, and he’d only been experiencing it for a few hours. How could he know if it was genuine or just a fluke?

Frankie’s hand reached out to touch his shoulder. Frankie looked into Zach’s eyes. “It’s okay.” Zach felt a thumb stroke his arm, reassuring him. “You don’t have to understand it, or question anything. Just do what feels right for you and the rest will follow.” They stood together for a moment, Zach avoiding Frankie’s gaze, not wanting to show Frankie a glimpse of his inner turmoil. “Unfortunately, I don’t have all night to wait for you to come to a conclusion about who you are,” Frankie sighed. He didn’t say it rudely, but as though he was genuinely regretful. “So I’m going to give you a choice, okay?”

Zach didn’t say anything. He just nodded.

Frankie took Zach’s hand. “I just want to take you out. I want to show you the city, show you a good time. It doesn’t even have to be a date, if you don’t want it to be. We can just do something low key, whatever you feel like doing. So what do you think, Zach? Will you let me take you out tomorrow night?”

Zach wanted nothing more than to spend more time with Frankie, but the thought of being out with Frankie alone made his heart race. Zach’s hand trembled in Frankie’s; Frankie pretended not to notice. “Yeah, I think that sounds like fun. What did you have in mind?”

Frankie’s grin grew wide before it became mischievous. “I originally wanted to take you to a gay bar, but I think that’s out for a while,” he said sarcastically. Zach’s eyes widened, and Frankie laughed. “Maybe a coffee date or hot chocolate? Depending on the time of day, I mean. And a walk through the city?”

Zach breathed a sigh of relief. “I don’t think I’m ready for a gay bar yet, but maybe I’ll get used to it. I mean I’m going to be working at a gay club. But, yeah, that sounds great.”

Frankie jumped up and down. “Perfect! I’ll text you tomorrow to discuss it more.” By now all of the flamingos had gone and he and Frankie were alone with Lauren, Paul, and Dominic, who were pretending not to watch them. Frankie leaned in and kissed Zach on the cheek.

Everything was hitting Zach at once. “Oh, do you need me to give you my number?” he asked, dazedly.

“No, silly. It’s already on your forms.” Frankie giggled, easing Zach’s nerves. “You’re so cute when you’re flustered.”

Frankie produced a business card from his pocket. It was, of course, pink and shimmery. He flipped it over and began scribbling on the back. He handed the card out to Zach. Zach felt almost as if he were taking the apple from the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Zach wanted so badly to give in to temptation. It was only Frankie, the sweetest guy he’d ever met, who’d treated him well even as a stranger. Zach felt his fingers close around the card. “Just in case,” Frankie murmured. He kissed Zach’s cheek again. “Good night, babe. I am so looking forward to spending time with you again.”

Zach managed to pull himself away long enough to say goodbye to Frankie and the others before leaving. He felt oddly different, as if something fundamental had changed within him.

When he got home, all he told A.J. was that he’d gotten the job. When A.J. asked jokingly whether he would take it, Zach’s stone face made his answer clear, and the subject was dropped.

As Zach lay in bed that night, he was in awe of how much meeting Frankie had changed him already. A chance run-in with a kid posting flyers on the street had gotten Zach much more than he’d bargained for. He only hoped things like this could happen to him every day. And then he remembered that he was going to work for Frankie. The opportunities were endless. Zach fell asleep to visions of a dancing angel with blond and pink hair.

Chapter Text

“Ugh, what the hell?” Zach groaned as the ringing of his phone jolted him from his sleep. He looked at the screen, which was lit up with a number he didn’t recognize. It was probably Frankie, he reasoned.

“Yeah? What’s up?” Zach asked groggily. He didn’t mean to sound so cranky, but it wasn’t even nine yet.

“Is that any way to talk to your boss?” Frankie joked. His voice over the phone was even more enticing than in person.

Zach suddenly felt awake. “Oh, hey. I thought it might be you.”

“You mean you haven’t even added my number to your phone yet?” Frankie was joking, but there was a hint of disappointment in his words.

“Sorry, Frankie,” Zach said quickly. “I – I just came home and went straight to bed last night. I was exhausted and A.J. was- ”

“Babe, it’s okay,” Frankie laughed, cutting him off. “I wasn’t really upset about it. I just called because I wanted to ask you what your plans are for today. It just so happens that a meeting I was going to today was cancelled. Since I know you just got a job last night and it hasn’t started yet, I wasn’t sure if you had any other obligations in the meantime.”

Frankie’s voice was so hopeful that Zach would have sworn he was about to explode. Zach wasn’t sure what to say. He couldn’t think of any other plans, but he was still unsure. Was it unwise to go out with your new boss? Frankie had said it didn’t have to be a date, but would it be? Did it make Zach gay that he wanted nothing more than to run across the city to a guy he just met yesterday? “Um… no. I don’t have anything else to do today.”

Frankie waited for him to elaborate, but Zach was silent. “So…does that mean you want to meet up?” Frankie hedged. “I wish I could tell you I’m psychic, but this isn’t Harry Potter or something.”

Zach laughed. Frankie was just so funny. “Yeah, I think I can be ready in twenty. Where do you want to meet?”

“Wow! What a change of tune,” Frankie purred. “How about I come to you since I’m already ready? I’ll even bring some bagels and coffee.”

“Yes, dude, that would be awesome! I’ll send you my address right now.”

“Okay, dude,” Frankie said mockingly. “And send me your order while you’re at it.”

“Yeah, okay.” Zach’s mind was going a mile a minute. Frankie was coming over. What was he going to wear? His room was a mess. As they hung up, Zach started to wonder when he’d morphed into a teenage girl. He headed off to the bathroom to brush his teeth for ten minutes.

Zach had just settled on a polo shirt to wear when he heard Frankie’s knock. He jogged over to answer the door, hoping he didn’t seem too eager. He swung the door open and Frankie burst in with a smile and a hug. “Gooood mooorniing!” he sang.

Zach melted into the embrace and felt his eyes close. Zach hung on a few seconds too long, making Frankie chuckle. “Um, Zach? If you ever want to see your bagel, then you have to let me go.”

Zach blushed and dropped his arms. “I am really hungry.”

Frankie was still close to him. “I know you are,” he whispered. “Should I call you my hungry boy?”

Zach hid his face. “When you say it like that it sounds bad, Frankie.”

“Correction: it sounds hot. Which is exactly what your coffee isn’t anymore.” Just like that, Frankie had gone from being sexy to sweet. Zach shook his head wondering where a guy like Frankie came from. Whatever planet was pink and had an atmosphere of glitter.

Frankie set their food down on A.J.’s table. He handed Zach his coffee, their fingers brushing. “Oh my god, your hands are so cold.”

Frankie gave a tight smile. “They always are. I have circulation problems.”

“If you ever need it, I can warm them up for you.” Zach meant it. Frankie smiled his thanks to Zach, and they sat down to have breakfast together. It felt so domestic, so natural. They chatted about nonsensical things, mainly how much they missed their families—something they had in common.

“I figured if I didn’t find a job soon, I might have to go back to Florida.” Zach shook his head. “Not that it would be all bad, because then I’d get to see my brother again, but still. My independence would be gone again, and so would all my hopes.”

“Wait…you’re from Florida?” Frankie tilted his head. “Anywhere near Boca Raton?”

“Yes, not too far from there. Why?”

“I spent quite a bit of my childhood in Boca Raton.” He reached across and brushed his fingers against Zach’s. “Even if you did have to go back to Florida, I’d be able to see you when I go visit my Nonna.”

“That sounds perfect, dud—uh…Frankie,” Zach made it sound like a question. He wasn’t really sure how to address Frankie. Maybe there was an etiquette book somewhere that addressed how to navigate a strange relationship with your new boss who just happens to be the same sex as you, who you also find really attractive, even though you’re not gay. Yeah right.

Frankie had noticed Zach’s slip up. “You can call me anything you want, but please not ‘dude’ again, okay?”

Zach could think of plenty of things he wanted to call Frankie. He just wasn’t sure any of them would be appropriate. “Okay. I’ll try.”

“It can’t hurt to try everything once,” Frankie said with a glimmer in his eyes. “You never know.”

The air between them filled with words unspoken. There was so much tension, yet also so much comfort.

Frankie’s gaze landed on Zach’s clothes. He shook his head. “Aside from whether you’re gay or straight, you have a terrible fashion sense. Get up, babe. We’re going shopping,” he declared.

The air was nippy as they walked down 5th Avenue. Frankie had made a couple of stops at what he called “gay stores” to buy some things for himself. Frankie dragged Zach along with him, stopping to look in store windows. “Let’s go in here,” Frankie said. He yanked a door open and Zach followed him through it.

One of the salesgirls turned immediately. “Frankie!” she squealed. She came running over. Then she spotted Zach lingering behind him. “Who’s this? New boyfriend?”

Frankie laughed. “This is Zach. And he wishes.” Zach shuffled behind him awkwardly, because there was a part of him that did wish he were Frankie’s boyfriend. He admonished himself for the thought immediately. After all, they had only met yesterday.

Frankie and the girl followed Zach around the store, picking up various items and piling them in his arms. Then, Frankie shoved Zach off toward the dressing room and stood outside the door. “Since I know you wouldn’t recognize cute clothes if they hit you in the face, you are required to show me everything you try on.”

“Even if they’re really bad?”

Frankie rolled his eyes. “Rose, they can’t be any worse than what you’re already wearing.”

When Zach stepped out in one of the outfits Frankie had chosen for him, he had to admit that he looked a lot better. Maybe his fashion sense was part of his problem. Nobody wanted to hire someone whose ugly polo shirts made up the best of their wardrobe. “I actually kind of like it.”

Frankie’s eyes appraised him. “You look good. It’s definitely an improvement. We’ll put those in the yes pile.”

Zach caught a glimpse of the price tags when he was taking the clothes off and his eyes went wide. He could not afford this. At all. When he came out in an even more expensive outfit, sleek and silky, Frankie’s jaw just about dropped. Zach stood in front of the trifold mirror, and he wasn’t the only one admiring the look. Frankie ran his hands over Zach’s shoulders and chest as he circled around him. “Now this…this looks hot.”

“Frankie, I know all this stuff looks good, but I don’t have enough money for a single one of these outfits.” Zach shook his head, ashamed.

“Who said you were paying?” Frankie asked him, crossing his arms.

“I can’t let you spend this much on me. It’s insane.” Zach shook his head and sighed.

“You can and you will,” Frankie ordered. “If you need to think of it as a pay advancement, then do that, but you’re not walking out of here without these clothes.” Frankie came to a stop behind him, resting his head on Zach’s shoulder. “Besides, I need you to get used to being sexy.”

Zach stared at their reflection in the mirror. It was all he could do not to reach up and touch Frankie right then. He could feel Frankie’s breath, warm on his neck. Zach sighed. He felt tortured in so many ways.

Frankie slowly backed away. “Besides, your job depends on it, too.” Zach couldn’t help but feel there was a lot of ambiguity in Frankie’s words. No matter what the case, he ended up with a huge pile of clothes at the register as the salesgirl rang them up. Frankie handed over his credit card with a smile. The total made Zach ill, but Frankie just patted his back and said, “it’s nothing, really. And you look so much better, babe.”

When they hit the sidewalk again, laden down with several shopping bags each, Zach asked, “where to next?”

“Let’s drop these off first.” Frankie turned in the opposite direction of where Zach and A.J. lived and started walking.

“Uh…Frankie? Where are you going?” Zach was confused.

“We’re going to my place. It’s close and we can’t possibly finish shopping with all of these bags,” Frankie called over his shoulder as he sauntered off down the street.

Zach’s stomach dropped, but his heart raced. Frankie was taking him back to his apartment. Zach wasn’t sure what he expected to happen, but there was a part of him that couldn’t wait. He rushed down the sidewalk after Frankie, hoping he wouldn’t mess this up like he did everything else.

“Coming, babe?” Frankie tossed a look over his shoulder and smiled as he spotted Zach catching up to him. Zach just nodded and followed the most beautiful man he’d ever seen as he floated along the sidewalk, his light enchanting and his laughter musical.

Chapter Text

Frankie’s apartment was amazing. It was sleek, but still comfortable. He had stars hanging from the ceiling in the family room, framing the expansive windows through which Zach swore you could see the entire city. Frankie had disappeared into his room for a minute, and Zach wandered over to gawk at the view. He felt a hand on the small of his back and Frankie appeared beside him. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

“It’s amazing. How do you not just stand here and stare out all day?”

Frankie was looking at him fondly. “There are more beautiful and amazing things in the world than just New York. It’s not even one of the Seven Wonders.”

“You’re so smart, Frankie.” Zach mumbled something else under his breath. To Frankie, it sounded like “and a lot of other things, too.”

“I know you want to stay and look at the city all day, but it’s already early afternoon. You want to stop somewhere for a snack first? I’m kind of hungry.” Frankie looked up at him, eyes wide and mouth pouty.

Zach grinned back and rubbed Frankie’s back. “Of course you are, babe. Whatever you want.”

“So you’re calling me babe now, huh?” Frankie moved in close, stroking Zach’s face lightly.

Zach didn’t know how to respond. It had just slipped out so easily. He only said that to girls he liked. Zach guessed he knew what that meant about his feelings for Frankie, then. Fingers trailed over Zach’s skin. He just giggled, “Fraaankiiieee.”

Frankie was pressed up against him, his lips soft against Zach’s neck. Zach melted into Frankie’s touch. It felt so easy and natural. Frankie’s phone buzzed. He pulled away reluctantly.

“It’s my sister,” he said guiltily. “I have to answer this.” He stroked Zach’s face once more before turning away and walking down the hall.

Frankie returned a few minutes later, but the mood was already gone for Zach, who just felt nervous and confused. “Ready to go, babe?” Zach nodded and Frankie led the way. At least Zach knew they’d be back. After all, all of the clothes Frankie had bought him were there.

Frankie took him to a cute deli around the corner. Frankie wouldn’t hear of Zach paying, and Zach finally gave up. “I’m the one who dragged you out today, so anything you do and anything you spend is my responsibility.” They sat facing each other in a booth by the window. “I have to ask, Zach,” Frankie said curiously. “You have a degree in economics, so why did you want to work as a dancer?” Frankie snuck some fries from Zach’s plate.

Zach shrugged. “I guess I was just feeling bad about myself and my choice to move here. I couldn’t get a job with my degree and I felt like I was failing. So when I ran into a kid with a stack of flyers for your club and he said I might get a job there, it felt like it was meant to be.” Zach hoped that didn’t sound too cheesy.

Frankie smiled bashfully at him. “Meant to be,” he mused, staring out the window. “I like the sound of that. It’s cute.”

Zach’s smile was so big that he wasn’t sure how he could contain himself. He opened his mouth, but couldn’t find the right words to tell Frankie how much he liked spending time with him after just a day. Frankie had given him a month’s worth of laughter in just a few hours and a type of companionship he had never found in even his closest friends.

Frankie reached across the table and laid his hand on Zach’s. “I don’t know what it is about you, Zach, but you never cease to entertain me.”

“Same here,” Zach said. “I could literally just follow you around forever.” He almost covered his mouth after he said it. He’d just let one of his biggest secrets slip.

“Zach,” Frankie said carefully, “I know you said that you’re straight, but I don’t know who’s more confused by that sentence: me or you. I don’t care how you define yourself, but you’re giving me all of these signals and I don’t know what to do. How you act toward me and what you say contradict completely. Zach, please say something.” Frankie was pleading with him.

Zach felt his anxiety rising. “I don’t know what to say, Frankie. You’re not crazy, though,” he said as he shook his head in bafflement. “I don’t know what’s happening between us, but I really like you. I just – I’ve never felt so close to someone so quickly before.” He glanced up quickly to read Frankie’s reaction.

Frankie seemed satisfied with Zach’s answer, ambiguous though it was. Zach hadn’t addressed sexuality, or what he meant by “like” either, Frankie noted. “I just wanted to know if there was something there for you, too. That’s all.”

Zach nodded, as they fell into companionable silence. Frankie stole a few more of Zach’s fries. When they finished, Zach consented to let Frankie drag him to a shopping center. Frankie spent some more money on Zach, buying him things that he insisted Zach should have. Zach wasn’t sure how much Frankie had spent on him today, but he was pretty sure it numbered in the thousands. He tried not to let it make him feel uncomfortable, because Frankie was buying things for himself as well.

They passed a fountain on their way through the mall. “Hey, Frankie, want to make a wish?” Zach was so excited that Frankie just nodded with an amused smile.

Zach pulled two pennies from his wallet and handed one to Frankie. Frankie chuckled, but took it anyway. “Don’t worry, Frankie. I think I can afford this the best of anything else we’ve done today.”

“You first,” Frankie said.

Zach closed his eyes and thought for a moment before casting his penny into the fountain. He wasn’t sure what to wish for, so he wished that he could have days like this all the time with Frankie. Frankie closed his eyes and tossed his penny into the water right next to Zach’s. “What did you wish for?” Zach asked.

“It’s bad luck to share your wish,” Frankie reminded him. Zach shook his head, but let it go. Not for the first time that day, Frankie wanted to kiss Zach more than he wanted to breathe. But he knew that he couldn’t. He wanted Zach to make the first move.

At around four o’clock, they had finished up shopping and were once again laden down with bags. “Now what?” Zach joked. “Round three?”

Frankie bumped his shoulder. “Knock it off, or it will be.” Frankie looked over at Zach, surveying him from top to bottom. “Now I think I’d like to see my handiwork in action. We have just enough time.”

“What? You want me to dress up for you? In all these fancy clothes?”

“Yes is the short version.” Frankie smirked. “We don’t have time for you to ponder anything more than that if we’re going to get in anywhere on such short notice.”

Then it struck Zach what Frankie meant. Zach was blushing now, and he prayed Frankie wouldn’t notice. “I’m sure it won’t be anywhere near as entertaining as my dancing.”

Frankie knew he was playing stupid. “Since we’ve already had two meals together today, why not all three?”

“I’d actually love to.” Zach couldn’t wipe the smile from his face.

“You should have enough in these bags to put together a nice outfit. I’m going to take you out somewhere nice later tonight.” They walked outside and Frankie hailed Zach a cab. “I’ll send you details,” Frankie promised. He blew Zach a kiss as his taxi sped off.

Chapter Text

Zach couldn’t believe he was going out with a guy. No, he was letting a guy take him out. It wasn’t just any guy, either; it was Frankie. Zach rifled through the bags and managed to find a really nice jacket that matched some of the dress pants Frankie had coerced him into getting. Zach hardly recognized himself in the mirror. It was like something fundamental within him had changed. For the better, he was certain. When he got to the restaurant and saw a stunning Frankie waiting at their table, dressed in a shiny silver suit that was perfectly tailored, he was even surer of that.

Frankie stood and gave him a hug and a quick kiss on the cheek. “You look sexy tonight,” he said, loud enough that anyone could have heard.

“You look so hot, Frankie.” Zach had never thought he’d call a guy hot in his life, but here he was.

Frankie smiled and they sat down together. “I wanted to thank you for coming tonight,” he said sincerely. “Not every straight guy I get close to is comfortable being seen with me.”

Zach was dumbstruck. “Why would anyone not want to be seen with you? You’re amazing.”

“Thank you, Zach. So are you.” Frankie’s eyes sparkled.

The waitress showed up just then. “What can I get you gentlemen?”

Zach looked over the menu and his jaw dropped at the prices. He looked nervously at Frankie. Frankie nodded at him. “Order a whole cow if that’s what you want. I don’t mind, Zach.”

“I’ll have the lobster, please,” he told the waitress, resignedly.

“Great choice, sir,” she said. “You’re very lucky you found him. Believe me when I say not every guy will let you order whatever you want at a place like this.”

Zach was left staring at Frankie and thinking she was right. “Tell me more about your sister. How old is she? What’s her name?”

Frankie’s eyes lit up. “I call her Ari. She’s 21, and she’s my everything.”

“Only 21 and she never stays in one place for more than a few days?”

“We’ll talk more about that some other time.” Frankie shifted in his seat uncomfortably. “What about your little brother? I know you miss him a lot, too.”

Zach’s heart swelled up. “I miss him so much I want to cry whenever I think about it. He’s ten and his name’s Peyton. He likes to play basketball, and sometimes I take him golfing with me. He’s the best. You’d love him.”

“What about your friends? Do you have any up here other than A.J.?”

“No, not really. I have an uncle who’s not too far, but that’s it. All I have are my frat bros down in Florida.” Zach didn’t know why, but he didn’t want to tell Frankie about his time at the fraternity. He was certain Frankie wouldn’t like the details of what his friends were like.

“Really? I was in a fraternity in college. I was one of only two gay brothers there.” He smiled at the memory. “They were surprisingly accepting of me, now that I think about it.”

“What did you go to college for?” Zach realized he didn’t know half as much of Frankie’s background as Frankie knew of his.

“I triple majored,” he said matter-of-factly. “I studied dance, theater, and biology.”

“You triple majored? Is that even possible? You are so smart!” Zach gushed.

They continued to chat about their families. Zach piled on the compliments. He couldn’t believe everything that Frankie had accomplished in his life. “I can’t believe you were on Broadway. I mean, yeah, actually, I can. You’re the most Broadway person I’ve ever seen.”

“And you’re the cutest person I’ve ever seen.” Frankie looked at Zach sincerely. “You’re such a good kid.”

“Here’s your lobster, sir,” said the waitress, unknowingly interfering with their conversation. Plates were laid down between them and glasses of wine were refilled. “Such a cute couple,” she murmured to another waitress as she waltzed off to the kitchen.

Frankie’s lips twitched in a smile. Zach looked at his lobster. “I think I’m going to name him Frankie,” he said.

Frankie’s eyebrow quirked up. “You do realize that you’re then going to eat that lobster, right?”

“Oh, well…yeah, that’s okay. I’m okay with eating him even after I name him after you.” He looked up as Frankie laughed and covered his face. “Did that sound weird? Sorry.”

“No, it sounded just right.”

When they were leaving, the waitress thanked them for coming and said, “I wish you two the best. You look so flawless together.”

They just nodded their thanks, not bothering to correct her. They stepped out onto the street again. “What next, Zach?” Frankie reached up and stroked Zach’s hair for a moment. Zach shivered. “Cold, rose?”

“Yeah.” Zach leaned into Frankie, whose arm wrapped around him.

“That’s a shame,” Frankie said into Zach’s ear, “especially since I was hoping we could take a walk.” The silence built between them as they wandered through the crowd of people.

“We can take a walk…back to your place,” Zach said slowly. “I mean I still have half my stuff there from your fashion intervention earlier.”

Frankie watched him carefully. “Interesting strategy, Zach.”

“What? I mean it’s really cold and I have to go pick up my things…”

“Right,” Frankie said. It was clear that Frankie didn’t believe him at all.

Zach wasn’t sure he believed himself either. He felt a brush against his hand, and then Frankie was weaving his fingers through Zach’s. Zach found himself thinking how much he wouldn’t have liked this a few days ago, and then thought how much he didn’t mind it at all right now.

Chapter Text

“Come on, babe,” Frankie said as he waltzed through the door of his apartment building.

Zach took a moment to look up at the building as it stretched up into the night sky. It was a truly awe-inspiring sight. Zach was nearly quivering. He wasn’t sure why he’d wanted to come back with Frankie, or what would happen once they were upstairs together. Bracing himself, he took a deep breath and followed Frankie inside the building.

Once they were in the elevator together, Zach tensed up. They were alone now. “It’s much warmer in here,” he joked awkwardly.

“I’d sure hope so, or else I’d be making some phone calls.” It was just the two of them in the elevator, but Frankie stayed right against his side. Zach could wrap his arm around him if he wanted to. He wished he had the courage, but he was just so nervous.

“Even if that happened, I’d be happy to warm you up,” Zach said without thinking.

Frankie turned to look at Zach, their hands touching. “Zach, you really need to stop tempting me. It’s cruel.” At first, Zach thought Frankie was upset, but then Frankie buried his face in Zach’s neck. His lips laid light kisses across Zach’s bare skin. Why was Zach so nervous again?

“Frankie,” Zach whined. His heart sped up. The elevator dinged open and they broke apart quickly. One of Frankie’s neighbors was waiting outside, a middle-aged man who looked at them tightly as they stepped out together, but said nothing. Zach’s face flushed in shame, but it went deeper than that. The elevator closed behind the other man, and Frankie was pulling Zach down the hallway wordlessly.

“Don’t worry about that. He’s irrelevant, and his parade of prostitutes is much more stare-worthy. Not to mention illegal.” Frankie smirked and Zach felt calmer.

Why did it bother him that people had been treating them like a couple today? Frankie was clearly gay, but did he seem gay, too? Zach was left wondering as Frankie opened the door and led him over the threshold.

The apartment looked different in the dark, but the first thing that drew Zach’s eyes was the view from the large windows overlooking the city. Zach picked his way around the furniture as he approached the expanse of glass that only just separated him from stepping into the sky. From this vantage point, Zach could see the lights of the whole city. There wasn’t a star in sight.

He heard more than saw Frankie come up next to him. Frankie was holding two glasses and handed one to Zach. They didn’t touch, but just continued looking out over the city that never sleeps.

Frankie raised his glass. “To new beginnings,” he said. “Especially your new job,” he added with a wink.

Zach turned to face Frankie and saw a dim light cast over the room. Frankie stood next to him, glowing against the dark backdrop of the city. Frankie looked so beautiful that Zach could have melted in that moment. He would be working for Frankie now, and would see him constantly. Zach’s stomach did a somersault. Somehow, their glasses met with a faint clink. “Frankie, you’ve done so much for me in just one day. You’ve turned my whole world upside down. In a good way….I’ve fucked up so much, but you’re helping me fix it.” Zach looked into Frankie’s eyes. Frankie was basking in the glow of Zach’s heartfelt words. The silence was peaceful, but it was filled with words that remained unspoken, what neither of the men wanted to say for fear of ruining the bond that was forming between them.

Frankie finally spoke. “Of course I wanted to help you, Zach. From the second I saw you standing there in my club, so lost and out of place, I wanted you to feel welcome and comfortable.” Frankie straightened some of Zach’s clothes for him, making Zach smile. Frankie’s brown eyes flicked down while he spoke, almost as if he were uncertain. “I don’t know who told you that you’re a fuck-up, but they were so wrong. They just couldn’t see how special you are.” Frankie cupped Zach’s cheek, and Zach leaned into the touch.

“Even the fact that I’m still in New York is because of you, Frankie,” Zach said, feeling a little breathless. “I told myself that if I didn’t come up with a job by Monday, then I would go back to Florida like a failure.” Zach paused, searching for words and willing them to come out properly. He sighed. “But then I walked into your club and it all changed; it changed because I met you. You knew nothing about me, but you cared about me more than friends I’ve had for years,” he rambled. “I guess what I’m saying is that I have so much hope for myself now. I don’t know how I’ll ever begin to repay you for everything you’ve done for me so far,” he continued, gesturing at the shopping bags by the door, “but Frankie, I’m really glad I met you.”

Frankie looked at Zach with a mixture of emotions in his eyes. Zach knew Frankie wanted to kiss him, but Zach wasn’t sure what he wanted. He couldn’t even think about what his connection with Frankie meant for his sexuality without feeling a weight drop onto his chest. Nevertheless, Zach braced himself for a kiss. Frankie seemed to understand Zach’s conflict, because when he leaned in, his lips only grazed the corner of Zach’s mouth. Zach shuddered as he felt his tension leave. “You don’t need to repay me. I helped you because I wanted to. Just having your company is more than enough, Zach.”

Zach pulled Frankie in close and they stared out into the city together, the stars on Frankie’s ceiling glinting in a way that those lightyears away couldn’t compare to.

****

When Zach woke up the next morning, he felt comfortable and warm. Zach sat up, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. He was still on Frankie’s couch. He’d apparently fallen asleep there last night while they were watching movies. Zach smelled something delicious in the air and heard the unmistakable sounds of cooking coming from Frankie’s kitchen. He rose slowly and meandered toward the kitchen.

Zach leaned against the wall watching Frankie, who wore just a pair of shorts and a tank top, as he cooked pancakes. It took Frankie a moment to notice Zach, and when he did, his face lit up. “Good morning, rose. Hungry for some pancakes?”

“Oh my god, yes. They smell delicious.” Zach got himself a glass of water and stood watching Frankie while he finished cooking.

“I’m sorry you ended up sleeping on the couch,” Frankie said. “You looked so peaceful, and I didn’t want to disturb you.”

“That’s okay. It was no problem.” Zach’s back was in pain and his neck was stiff, but he would have rather had a terrible night’s sleep at Frankie’s than woken up on a cloud with Frankie nowhere in sight.

“Next time, you can sleep in a bed,” Frankie assured him with a sly smile.

“I guess we’ll just have to watch movies in your room next time.” Zach caught the innuendo too late. He had just alluded to sharing Frankie’s bed with him after just meeting two days ago. Zach blushed at the thought of spending a night in Frankie’s room.

Frankie slid the last of the pancakes on a plate and carried them to the table. “What am I going to do with you, Zachary?” He shook his head.

“Um, I don’t know. What do you mean?” Zach was thrown off. His mind was still preoccupied with visions of being in Frankie’s bed with him.

Frankie shook his head at Zach. “That was a rhetorical question, rose,” Frankie said over his shoulder. He set the plates across from each other on the table. “Come sit down.”

Zach rushed over to pull out a chair and dig in. “Frankie, this looks amazing.” Zach shoveled down the pancakes while Frankie laughed. “You’re an amazing cook. Why do you go out to eat when you can make food that’s just as good?”

“You’re so sweet, babe.” Frankie smiled at him from across the table. “Do you have any plans today?”

“It’s Sunday?” Zach pretended to think over a schedule that was nonexistent. Other than the job he now had, thanks to the beautiful man he was looking at, his days were completely open. “No, I’m free until tomorrow.”

Frankie’s grin grew wider. “It looks like other than a meeting this afternoon, I can say the same.”

“What kind of meeting?” Zach had gotten so used to being with Frankie that he didn’t know what he’d done with his days before yesterday. Pretty much nothing, actually.

“It’s with one of our suppliers for the club. It won’t take long. We just need to go over shipping schedules and some numbers, and sign some papers.”

“Oh.”

Frankie looked at Zach with a knowing smile. “You want to ask if you can come, don’t you?” Zach nodded eagerly. “Such a cute little tiger you are. Come with me, then.”

Zach ate the rest of his pancakes. “I’m going to go get ready. It’s a good thing I have half a wardrobe sitting on the floor, or I’d be screwed.”

“Not a fan of being screwed?” Frankie shot back.

Zach’s face drained of color. Frankie laughed uncontrollably. Zach grabbed a few items from the abandoned shopping bags and marched off to get dressed. Frankie was causing all sorts of feelings in his body that he wasn’t ready to face.

Chapter Text

“I think you should dye it pink,” Frankie yelled from across the salon.

“I do like pink, you know. It’s a nice color,” Zach said. He actually considered it for a minute, but decided he couldn’t go through with it. “I think it’s staying brown for now, though. If I change it too much, I won’t recognize myself anymore.”

“You said just yesterday that you liked the changes I was making for you,” Frankie said as he walked over. He shone in his glittery shirt as he stopped to perch on the chair next to Zach’s. “But if you’re sure, then okay.”

“Are you sure this isn’t going to take too long?” Zach asked, concerned. “When is the meeting again?”

“About two hours away,” Frankie said flippantly. “We’ll make it in time.”

The hair stylist came over again with more products for Zach’s hair. He rolled his eyes, but he couldn’t deny that when it was all over, his hair was more perfect than every other day of his life put together.

They wandered down the sidewalk with their arms entwined. “Zach, you should just move in with me instead, so I can keep an eye on you,” Frankie joked. Zach laughed nervously, since he actually thought it was a great idea. He was trying to come up with a response that wouldn’t make him sound pathetic or desperate when suddenly, Frankie stopped dead. His whole demeanor changed from playful to guarded. “Babe, why don’t you go in here and get us something to eat?” He pushed Zach toward a conveniently located sandwich shop. “I’ll be right there,” Frankie said. He nodded encouragingly, but his face was tense.

Seconds later, Zach stood in line behind a few other people, trying to figure out what Frankie would want. Frankie liked fish, but Zach knew it wasn’t healthy to eat fish all the time. Maybe something vegetarian instead? Zach’s eyes caught Frankie’s reflection in the mirror behind the counter, and he couldn’t help but watch the scene outside. Frankie was talking to a guy Zach didn’t recognize. The guy was moving really close to Frankie, but Frankie seemed disinterested, crossing his arms while they spoke. The guy reached out to touch Frankie, but Frankie dodged away instead. Frankie leaned against the window, and the other guy followed him. He put his hands on either side of Frankie, so that he was pinned in place, and tried to kiss him. Frankie turned his head to avoid the man’s lips. Zach’s stomach dropped. He felt like his world was blowing to bits right in front of him. Frankie was shaking his head and yelling over his shoulder as he stomped into the sandwich shop.

“Sir? Would you like to place your order now?” The girl behind the counter was talking to Zach. He wondered how long he’d been ignoring her in favor of watching Frankie and a blush crept into his cheeks.

Frankie materialized at his side silently, like a ghost. Zach ordered randomly from the menu, no longer feeling picky. He paid and walked over to a table in the corner with their food. Frankie settled in across from him and the air was charged with anger, jealousy, and bitterness. What had happened outside had clearly upset Frankie, but Zach wasn’t sure if he should admit what he’d seen. Instead, he settled for subtly fishing for answers. “You okay? You’ve been so quiet,” Zach hedged.

Frankie looked around with a sigh of frustration. “I’m just stressed, that’s all,” he mumbled, sounding so unlike himself. Zach noticed that Frankie was avoiding looking up at him and his heart broke a little. Maybe more than a little.

“I got that much already. I just wanted to know if I could help.” Zach almost regretted asking.

“I’m okay,” Frankie said, even though Zach knew it was quite the opposite. They finished their meal in silence. There was barely a half hour left until the meeting when they were back on the streets.

They walked past a theater and Frankie gently tugged Zach’s sleeve . “Have you ever seen a Broadway show before?” Frankie asked him like it was an urgent matter.

“No. Not ever,” Zach answered quickly. He was grateful that something had breathed life into the other man, so he wasn’t wasting any time in moving the conversation along.

Frankie’s jaw dropped open. “Would you like to see one with me tonight? You can even invite A.J. if you’d like.” Frankie was trying so hard to make it seem like he was all right that Zach felt bad for him. He should be the one making things better for Frankie. Frankie was the one who’d obviously just had a nasty run-in with his ex. Maybe spending time with Frankie, watching him surrounded by something that so completely matched his personality would help Frankie take his mind off his past. “I think you’d really like it,” Frankie sing-songed.

Working to minimize the reluctance in his voice, Zach agreed. Frankie cheered and Zach knew he’d made the right choice. “What do you want to see?” Zach asked. “I’ll watch whatever you want, whatever you think is good.”

“I like a guy who’ll give me whatever I want.” Frankie said with a wink. Zach felt like he could breathe again. Frankie had no idea how much Zach wanted to give him whatever he wanted in that moment.

“You’re going to love it. You’ll see,” Frankie said playfully.

Zach just shrugged. “I trust you.”

When they arrived at the meeting, it was in a plush office building. Zach felt instantly uncomfortable around all of the shiny surfaces, but at least he looked the part thanks to Frankie’s obsession with his wardrobe.

It turns out that Zach was glad he’d made Frankie bring him. Otherwise, Frankie would’ve been alone at the meeting. His business partners hadn’t come, and Zach wasn’t left with much time to wonder why. Also, Frankie hadn’t told Zach that they were still negotiating a deal at this stage.

He realized that Frankie needed someone else there with him. Zach finally had a chance to repay Frankie for all of his kindnesses over the past two days. Numbers were tossed back and forth, and although nothing was argumentative, the room grew tenser as neither Frankie nor the potential supplier would budge. Frankie pulled out his phone and pretended to do some calculations before holding it in a position that Zach could read the screen but the others couldn’t. He had actually typed out a message to Zach detailing what his goal was. Zach thought it sounded reasonable, despite being more in Frankie’s favor than the supplier. But that was how these things worked. Zach supposed it was finally time to put his degree to good use. At least if Frankie was going to bring someone to the meeting, he’d brought someone who knew what he was doing.

Zach talked about the profit that the club would stand to make and threw out scenarios as to how much each the company and the club would profit. Zach worked out an imaginary budget for the club with Frankie’s help, having no idea how close he was to reality or if he was lowballing it. Frankie seemed satisfied, though, and that was all that mattered. Zach came up with a best and worst case scenario of how much they could afford to spend on their supplies, which Zach discovered included everything from colored lights to napkins to alcohol. “You can pick the numbers at the top of the range, but this is a new business and it would be risky to overestimate the initial profit, but I understand that you wouldn’t want to underestimate the benefits of being involved if the club is very successful, as I believe it will be.” He winked at Frankie, who beamed up at him.

“So, what would you suggest we do, Mr. Rance?” asked the kindliest of the businessmen.

“I recommend that you pick a nice round number in the middle of the range I gave you,” he said deadpan. “I’d also say you should make the contract only good for a year or two so that once we have at least a full four quarters of profit we can have the option of renegotiating if the odds aren’t what we all expected.” He made it sound as unbiased as possible.

The men nodded in agreement. Paperwork was drawn up and Frankie insisted that Zach sign it with him. Zach felt uncomfortable, but Frankie was adamant, so Zach signed all of the agreements right next to Frankie. This technically made Zach a much larger part of Frankie’s business than a dancer, but he decided to trust Frankie and ask questions later. The meeting had taken longer than Frankie had promised, almost two hours. Yet, if it ended happily with Frankie all smiles and giggles as he clung on to Zach in the elevator, then it would’ve been worth a five-hour meeting.

They found themselves on the sidewalk wandering aimlessly. “Zach, I don’t know how I would’ve done that without you! Not to sound too cliché or anything. I’m sorry it took so long, though.” Frankie looked at Zach through his lashes, eyes wide in apology.

“No, that was perfect. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

Frankie had stopped walking. “Let me take you out to a show tonight? I want to meet A.J. You have to bring him with!” He got successively more excited with every passing sentence.

Zach chuckled. “Slow down, Frankie!” He placed his hands on Frankie’s shoulders, holding him in place. Frankie looked taken aback. “I just mean that I haven’t talked to A.J. yet, and I don’t want you to be disappointed if he can’t make it.”

“How about this? I’ll make plans for four, so both of us can bring a friend. If A.J. can’t make it, I can find someone to take his spot. Deal?”

“Yes, absolutely.” Zach’s smile was so big that his face was hurting.

“Go home and talk to A.J.” Frankie said, smoothing Zach’s collar. “I’ll make some calls and get our plans in order, and then I’ll check in with you. Okay?”

“Yes, Frankie. I can’t wait to go out with you again! I had such a good time today….Even if I just sounded like a sixteen-year-old girl after a first date.” Zach cringed at how much he was wearing his heart on his sleeve. He looked away uncomfortably.

“That’s okay, babe. It’s only natural in this situation.” Frankie hugged him for a moment before backing away down the street with a smile and a wink.

Zach questioned what Frankie’s last words had meant. Did that mean Frankie saw the past two days as a giant date?

Chapter Text

************
“You really like this guy, huh?”

Zach tried to hide his face, but A.J. knew how much he was smiling.

A.J. just chuckled. “If it means that much to you, then yes. I can handle spending an evening with my friend’s newest crush, even if it’s unexpectedly a guy.”

Zach grabbed a pillow off the couch and threw it at A.J.

A.J. caught it. “Was that a little too close to home?” he teased. Zach mumbled at him to shut up. “Speaking of home, when was the last time you called your mom? Does she know about your new job?”

Zach blanched. He’d been so wrapped up in the wonder that was Frankie that he’d forgotten to call his mom back. “It’s been a couple of days. I’m surprised she hasn’t had the CIA track me down yet. What am I going to tell her?”

“Tell her the truth,” A.J. said with a shrug. “You now have a job. You were just at a meeting doing negotiations today. None of that is false.” A.J.’s smile widened. “And while you’re at it, you can tell her that you might be in a new relationship soon, and with your rich new boss, no less.”

Zach groaned. He slunk off to his room to call his mom. He couldn’t help noticing what a mess it was. For the first time ever, he couldn’t stand it. He threw his clothes in the hamper and put his other things in drawers. When he came upon the outfit he’d been wearing when he met Frankie, he saw how different it was from what he was wearing now. Casual clothes were not necessarily a thing of the past now, but even those needed an upgrade.

Something crinkled in the pocket of a pair of pants as he went to throw them in the hamper. He pulled out two things. One was the flyer for The Grande Flamingo, which he unfolded and placed in his nightstand, and the other was the business card Frankie had handed to him the night they met. There were several different phone numbers on the card, but Frankie had starred his cell phone number. Zach flipped the card over to find a quickly scrawled message from Frankie. It read “Don’t hesitate to call me, babe. We both know you want to. XO.”

It brought a smile to Zach’s face to think about Frankie writing that so soon after meeting him. Apparently Frankie knew him better than he knew himself, because there was no one he’d rather call than Frankie. Right now, however, he had a different phone call that was hanging over his head. Maybe once his mom knew he was working, she would back off a little.

Zach sighed and pulled out his phone. He pressed his mom’s contact and waited for it to connect.

“Zach! Thank God!” she huffed. She had answered on the second ring. “I realize that you’re an adult and I didn’t want to bother you, but I haven’t heard from you in two days. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, mom. I’m fine.” He rubbed his hand over his face, feeling stressed. “Listen, I’ve been a little busy. I have some good news.”

“Did you finally get a job, Zach? Because that is the only excuse for not calling me,” his mom said skeptically.

“Actually, yeah. I got a job, mom. I was just at a meeting today. My new boss is amazing and he’s taken me under his wing already. In fact, he’s taking me and A.J. out tonight.” He had tried to stick to the points A.J. had told him, but he added some details as well. Nothing he said had given away anything, and he hoped his mom wouldn’t probe further.

“Wow, Zach! I can’t believe you didn’t tell me this sooner! I am so proud of you!” his mom gushed. She sounded like she might be crying, and Zach realized how worried she had been that he would never succeed in New York. “You seem so happy, Zach. That’s all I ever wanted for you.”

“I’m glad you’re proud of me, mom. I just wanted to let you know not to worry about me. I have to go get ready now, but I’ll talk to you soon.”

“Okay, I understand. I’ll wait to hear more about the job soon. Goodbye, Zach.” She ended the call.

It hadn’t gone as poorly as Zach thought it might, but he realized how foolish he’d been to think getting a job meant he was off the hook. His mom wanted details about his new job. Of course he could never tell her what he was really going to be doing, but he hated lying to her. He would have to ask A.J. what to do later, but right now all he wanted to do was take a shower and put together a perfect outfit to go out with A.J. and Frankie.

When Zach got out of the shower, his phone rang, as if on cue. It was, of course, Frankie. He gave Zach details about the show and where to meet him. He also mentioned that he would be bringing his friend Lauren along. “Who knows? Maybe she and A.J. will hit it off.”

“Stranger things have happened lately,” Zach said nervously.

“Just because something is strange doesn’t mean it’s bad,” Frankie qualified. “I think you’re finding that out yourself right now.”

Zach was at a loss for how to respond. “I really wish strange felt a little more comfortable, though.”

Frankie sighed on the other end of the phone line. “Nothing can make you feel uncomfortable besides your own internal beliefs. When you come across something that contradicts what you’ve always thought was right and true, it’s hard to accept that something else might be just as right.”

Zach shook his head, forgetting that Frankie couldn’t see him. “It’s not that that something else is wrong….I’m just not used to it.” Zach couldn’t believe that they were discussing his attraction to Frankie so metaphorically. It’s like they were both afraid to say the words, as if saying it directly would sabotage everything.

“It takes a long time to learn how to defy those beliefs though, Zach. That’s what I’m getting at. I’m saying that that’s okay.” Frankie struggled for the right words to explain. “Just because something seems way too different to you now doesn’t mean it will always feel that way. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a transition, an experience that you grow with. You can control how you deal with something, but you can’t control that it exists.” He stopped, seeming flustered. “What I’m saying is that I will be here for you no matter what you discover or how you cope with it.”

Zach knew how sincere Frankie was. He could hear the tenderness in Frankie’s voice, as though he were dealing with a child. “I know that, Frankie. It’ll be hard for you to be unbiased, though. You’re the whole reason there’s even something ‘different’ happening.”

Frankie chuckled. “You give me far too much credit, although I have turned a few straight men gay. I’m almost certain.”

“Well that’s a relief to hear,” Zach said sarcastically. He rubbed his forehead, feeling stressed. Having these non-platonic feelings for a guy was hard enough; talking about them just made him more confused and frustrated. And yet, he loved talking to and about Frankie. What was his world coming to that it was suddenly so complex?

Noting the silence on the line, Frankie knew it was time to end the call. “I know this is hard for you, Zach. It doesn’t have to be a bad experience. I would hate it if I ended up making you miserable. There never has been and never will be pressure for there to be something more between us. You’ve come to mean so much to me so quickly that I don’t want to jeopardize our friendship. I just want you to know that it’s okay no matter what happens.”

Frankie waited with his heart pounding for Zach’s response. He’d just mentioned the elephant in the room that they’d both been working diligently to ignore. He took a deep breath, about to tell Zach goodbye.

But Zach responded before he could speak. “You’re just so different from anyone I’ve ever met, Frankie. I—” He took a breath, not sure what to respond with. “You…I’m really drawn to you, but I don’t know what it means. This is so confusing. It bothers me…but I kind of like it. A lot. I don’t know what to do about it, but I feel like I have to figure it out, or I’m going to regret it. I don’t want to hurt you, though, if nothing happens.”

“No, babe. It’s fine,” Frankie assured him. He was just glad that Zach had answered him at all. “I can handle it. Just take your time. I just don’t want you to regret anything.” Frankie paused. “That’s the only way you would hurt me,” he added quietly.

Zach smiled. “I don’t think I could ever regret anything about you. You’re perfect.”

Frankie laughed. “No, you’re perfect. I’m so glad I have you.”

“So am I, babe. You’re the best thing that’s happened to me since before I came to New York.” Zach paused and thought for a moment. He decided it was best not to hesitate, because then he would chance leaving something important unspoken. “Now I actually have a reason to stay here.”

“Zach,” Frankie admonished, “you can’t go telling someone things like that, or they might get an inflated ego.” Frankie tried to sound serious, but Zach knew he was smiling. “I guess I should let you go now, so you can finish getting ready. I’ll see you at the theater in thirty.”

They said goodbye, and for one second Zach swore they were going to play the classic game of seeing who would hang up first, but they both did on the second try. Zach flopped back onto his bed, feeling like a teenage girl whose crush had just called. What sort of power did Frankie have that he could make him feel this way? And why was Zach not only okay with it, but aching for more?

Chapter Text

rankie had been right: A.J. and Lauren hit it off. They had initially sat with A.J. on the aisle next to Zach, leaving Frankie in the middle by Zach and Lauren the furthest in. By the time the intermission began, Lauren and A.J. were making signals to each other from opposite ends of the group, as if speaking their own language. Zach and Frankie smiled at each other. “I don’t know how you knew.” Zach shook his head, a small smile on his lips.

“Let’s just say I have a sixth sense for matchmaking,” he whispered in Zach’s ear.

Frankie leaned over to whisper to Lauren, who giggled at whatever he said, nodding vigorously. During the intermission, Zach got up to go to the bathroom and returned to find his seat occupied by Lauren. The way she and A.J. eyed him as he made his way to Lauren’s seat made it clear that she would be staying there for the rest of the night.

The corner of Frankie’s mouth rose in a smirk. “Don’t worry, rose. You can still sit next to me.” He patted the seat that had been Lauren’s, and Zach felt like it was an offer of more than just somewhere to sit for the next hour. Regardless, Zach took the seat gratefully. He and Frankie chatted about the play for a few minutes, it being Zach’s first trip to Broadway. When the lights dimmed, urging patrons to return to their seats, Zach felt Frankie’s fingers brush his leg. His hand came to a stop on Zach’s thigh, resting there lightly. Zach placed his hand on Frankie’s with a flutter of his heart.

By the time the show was over, it had fully captured Frankie’s attention, and Frankie had captured Zach’s. Frankie was shining and Zach was being blinded by his light.

As they exited the theater, A.J. and Lauren were walking close together, A.J.’s arm around her. They were already posting selfies proclaiming themselves “Strigsman”.

“What’s our name, Frankie?”

Frankie stopped dead in his tracks. He aimed a glare at Zach. “What do you mean?”

“Like they’re ‘Strigsman’ so what are we?” he said slowly. Zach thought maybe he was starting to sound desperate. “Never mind,” he said, embarrassed.

“Zankie.”

“What?” Zach turned to look at him, confused.

“We can be Zankie,” Frankie announced with a smile. He offered Zach his arm, which Zach took. They walked arm in arm down the street together, following A.J. and Lauren back to Frankie’s.

When they were all settled at Frankie’s apartment, Zach found himself turning on the stereo while Frankie came back into the room carrying drinks. Zach wanted to sit on the couch, but A.J. and Lauren had already claimed it, their limbs entwining. Zach looked around uncomfortably. Frankie glided over, handing him a glass before sitting in a chair. He winked at Zach. “You can sit on my lap if you want, rose.”

Zach blushed for a second. He kind of wanted to take Frankie up on his offer, but not if they would have an audience, no matter how intensely that audience might be making out. “I want to dance. Come on, Frankie,” he whined, feeling a buzz from his drink already. Frankie’s eyes flashed with interest, and he allowed himself to be pulled from his chair.

Soon enough, he and Frankie were twerking side by side as Lauren and A.J. cheered on. When the song ended, Zach turned to go sit down, but Frankie’s arm circled his waist, holding him in place. “I’m not done with you yet, daddy,” he whispered seductively.

Zach tried to ignore how turned on he was. He willed himself to not feel aroused by Frankie’s hands on him and his warm breath on his neck. Sadly, the alcohol was not helping his case. He ignored his better judgment and took another swig anyway.

They kept on dancing for quite a while, Frankie growing bolder with each song that went by. It was shortly after midnight, when Frankie had progressed to grinding against Zach, that A.J. and Lauren decided to call it a night. Zach and Frankie were so engrossed in their own risqué interactions that they hardly noticed the other couple’s departure.

It was after one in the morning when Zach looked at the time again. “Shit. Rehearsals start in the morning, right?”

Frankie looked at him blankly. “Yes, rose. What about them?”

“We need to get to sleep or else we’ll be zombies tomorrow,” Zach said, stressed. He was torn between wanting to spend more time dancing against the gorgeous blond man and sleeping enough to keep up with the competition on his first day on the job. Both scenarios were alluring to him and he struggled to choose as the alcohol muddled his thoughts.

Frankie fingered the collar of Zach’s shirt lightly. “We?” he giggled. Frankie had clearly had more to drink than was wise, but Zach was no one to judge.

“Mmmm.” Zach closed his eyes as Frankie’s lips ghosted over Zach’s neck, leaving a trail of kisses. The music was still thumping, and the apartment was brightly lit, yet the moment seemed so intimate to Zach. His arms closed around Frankie, pulling him in tight.

“Zach,” Frankie whispered. “You mean so much to me….I don’t know what it is, but it’s like you have some sort of spell on me. Who would’ve imagined me feeling so close to a straight guy?” Frankie laughed. It sounded musical.

“Who would’ve imagined me being into a guy?” Zach’s admission came before he could stop it. He cringed and buried his head in Frankie’s shoulder, embarrassed.

“Oh? I feel pretty honored to be your first guy crush, then,” Frankie’s lips twisted into a smirk. He rubbed Zach’s ears, which Zach found oddly calming.

Zach was beside himself. There was no denying it anymore: he wanted to kiss Frankie. But Zach knew how his world would turn upside down if he acted on his impulse. Frankie was a guy, and if Zach kissed him, then everything he knew about himself and his sexuality was a lie. Beyond that, Frankie was his new boss. Zach knew it was a bad idea to mix business and pleasure. But how much more would he regret denying himself a chance with Frankie? Zach didn’t know how to choose or how he would cope with either of those situations. He looked at Frankie helplessly, and Frankie seemed to understand.

“It’s okay, Zach. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to,” Frankie assured him, looking straight into Zach’s eyes. “And you certainly don’t have to figure out the meaning of life in one weekend.”

Zach knew that Frankie meant what he was saying, but he also saw Frankie’s downcast eyes a second later. Frankie was feeling uncomfortable, and it was all his fault. Worst of all, Frankie seemed disappointed. Zach loved Frankie so much already that the thought of himself being a cause of unhappiness in Frankie drove him over the edge. Just as Frankie let go of Zach, starting to turn away, Zach tightened his grip and held Frankie rooted in place.

Frankie turned back to face Zach, his face full of suspicion. “Zach, I was just going to turn the music off. I thought we were done for the night. Let go, rose.” He tugged his arm lightly, as if testing Zach’s lucidness.

Zach stayed silent, but his grip on Frankie was firm. His eyes were fixed on the blond man in front of him. He pulled Frankie closer.

Frankie’s eyes narrowed. “What are you doing, Zach? I thought you were pretty uncomfortable a few seconds ago, but here you are pulling me back in. Talk to me. Tell me what’s going on.” Frankie was trying to remain aloof so that Zach couldn’t see how Zach’s indecision was giving him whiplash. But then Zach had to go and change his mind again. Frankie lost his grip on the act and concern wound its way into his expression and voice. Frankie reached up to touch Zach’s face, eyes searching Zach’s, which were full of fear.

And yet, fear was only one of the emotions flying through Zach’s mind. He had a beautiful creature in his arms, who saw something in him that none of the other millions of people he’d crossed paths with in New York could. Frankie was the only person who saw Zach’s potential and wanted to help him. Frankie had saved him; Frankie was his knight in shining armor, and he would continue to be, if only Zach were brave enough to let him be. Zach steeled his resolve. He wasn’t going to let fear stand in his way of happiness.

“Zach, say something. You’re concerning me,” Frankie’s eyebrows were wrinkled in confusion.

All Zach could see were Frankie’s big, beautiful eyes gazing into his intently. Zach’s whole body grew warm. Zach didn’t know anything about kissing a guy, so he hoped it was a lot like kissing girls. Frankie was squirming slightly in his arms. Frankie reached up to touch Zach’s face. Zach’s expression gave away the battle going on in his mind. “Zach, don’t make this so hard on yourself. You are under no pressure to-”

“God, you’re beautiful,” Zach said, cutting him off. A split second of glee flashed across Frankie’s face before Zach quickly leaned in. Their lips met in the lightest of touches. Zach felt cold fingers reach up to stroke his face tenderly, and he instinctively leaned into them. Zach was holding Frankie so tightly that there was not a molecule of space between their bodies. Zach deepened the kiss, parting Frankie’s soft lips with his own. Frankie sighed against Zach in contentment, and Zach gave a little moan as Frankie’s tongue brushed his for a moment before they broke apart.

They both stood stunned. Zach’s arms were locked around Frankie so that he couldn’t move still. Zach was too terrified to look Frankie in the eye, so he fixed his gaze on the floor.

“Zach?” Frankie spoke softly to him. Zach just shook his head, dropping his arms from around Frankie. Frankie rushed to turn the music off. When he turned back around, Zach was sitting on the couch, hunched over with his fingers tangled in his hair.

Frankie sighed. “Come on, it’s time for bed. You need to get some sleep.”

“Frankie…I…I don’t know.” Zach shook his head in distress.

Frankie could only guess where Zach’s mind was. He didn’t want to push Zach too hard and have them both regret the moment they’d just shared. Frankie simply held out his hand. “You can sleep in the guest room. That’s perfectly fine, but we both need to get some sleep for tomorrow.” The ball was in Zach’s court now, to take or leave.

Zach took his hand reluctantly and stood up. He didn’t know how to look Frankie in the eye. He felt so conflicted about what was going on with him and Frankie. He was attracted to Frankie; that was an absolute. He just didn’t know how that fit into his identity. The kiss, something Zach had known would help him determine the nature of his feelings for Frankie, had done its job. The kiss had been everything he’d hoped it would be and more. As far as Zach was concerned, Frankie was perfect. Zach was the one with the problem. He didn’t know how to explain himself to Frankie without sounding like a jerk, so he just stayed quiet.

When Frankie opened a door and told Zach he could sleep there for the night, Zach stayed put. He took a deep breath. “I want to bunk with you,” Zach mumbled, talking to the carpet. “If you don’t mind,” he added shyly.

Frankie’s eyebrows shot up. “Are you sure?”

Zach nodded, gaze still fixed on the floor. To Frankie’s credit, he stopped questioning Zach and merely led him to his bedroom. Frankie stripped down to just his briefs and Zach undressed as well. Zach’s eyes lingered on Frankie’s toned body. Frankie caught him looking, but made a show of pretending he didn’t notice, only the slight quirk of his lips giving him away. Frankie climbed in the bed, throwing back the covers for Zach to join him. He flashed Zach his sexiest smile and Zach nearly melted into a puddle. His legs shook for a second. He knew Frankie wouldn’t try anything intimate with him, as the kiss they’d just shared had clearly overwhelmed Zach enough. Zach climbed in, emotionally defeated and exhausted; right now all he wanted was the comforting feeling of another warm body, even if it was the one that had just sent him into a tailspin of worry.

As they settled in, Zach shifted closer to Frankie, who was afraid to move lest he upset Zach any more tonight. “Can I rub your back?”

Frankie laughed. “Of course, rose. Why?” Frankie hoped his voice was disguising his nerves well. He didn’t get nervous ever, but suddenly he was so worried about upsetting Zach that he was walking on eggshells.

“It helps me sleep,” Zach mumbled. Frankie turned so his back was to Zach, and Zach’s hand began tracing lazy patterns on Frankie’s skin. A fresh wave of goosebumps rippled across his body at Zach’s tender touch.

“You know we’re going to have to talk about what happened tonight, right? Or else it’s going to be really awkward at the studio tomorrow.” Frankie was right about that much.

“Okay, we will….In the morning,” Zach murmured, still rubbing Frankie’s back. “I promise.” The silence lingered, and it was an uncomfortable one. “I don’t want you to think that I’m upset. It’s just a lot to take in, Frankie…but that was the best kiss I’ve ever had. I don’t regret it.”

Frankie sighed in contentment. “I’m glad, rose. I liked it, too.” He finally relaxed and settled against Zach, their bodies barely touching, yet perfectly aligned.

Zach’s mind drifted off as his fingers trailed over Frankie’s skin, thinking that every night could be this perfect…as long as he didn’t screw it up.

Chapter Text

As Zach woke up, memories of the night before drifted into his consciousness. He heard Frankie’s voice coming from the en suite, singing beautifully. So he had finally done it: he’d kissed Frankie.

And Zach had loved it.

It had been so terrifying, yet it was one of the most gratifying things he’d ever done. He remembered the feeling of Frankie’s stubble against his skin, the way Frankie fit perfectly into his arms, and the softness of Frankie’s lips as they moved slowly against his own. Zach groaned, feeling himself getting aroused, but not knowing what to do about it.

At precisely that moment, Frankie burst out of the bathroom. His towel was slung very strategically on his hips, so low that Zach was sure that he was about to see everything. The thought only made him more uncomfortable than he already was.

“Oh, good! You’re awake,” Frankie declared with a huge smile. “How fast can you get ready? I wanted to go get bagels for everyone before we start training.” Frankie moved around the room, rifling through drawers and pulling out various pieces of workout gear. He dressed right in front of Zach, completely devoid of the shame that an average person would have. Zach figured that mentality was quite befitting, because Frankie was no average man.

Frankie was done dressing and Zach had yet to move. Frankie’s clothes clung to him in all the right places. He wondered if Frankie could spot his arousal and prayed silently for Frankie to leave so he could avoid mortification.

That was not to be. Frankie turned to face him. “Zach, you have to get up now, babe.” He put his hands on his hips, staring at Zach questioningly. Then Frankie’s eyes caught Zach’s embarrassed face, and traveled down to the bulge Zach was unsuccessfully trying to hide. “Mmmmm, morning wood, huh?” Frankie arched his eyebrows suggestively. “Do you want to take care of that first? Or should I help you out?” Frankie watched him with hungry eyes, like he was imagining what he wanted to do to Zach. Zach almost came right then.

Zach buried his face in the pillow, giggling. Just like that, Frankie was on top of him, tickling him. “Let me help you, daddy,” Frankie said into Zach’s ear, lowering his voice. Frankie nibbled Zach’s earlobe. “Frankiiieeee, stop,” Zach whined. He was rolled over on his stomach with Frankie on top of him.

“Not until you’re done, babe.” Frankie cupped Zach’s ass, giving it a light squeeze. Zach giggled and writhed underneath him, secretly enjoying each moment more than the last. “Frankiiieeee, please! I’m gonna…”

“Go ahead, baby,” Frankie breathed onto his neck. Frankie was pressed up against him, his hips moving slightly against Zach’s ass. Zach ground his hips into the bed, reveling in the pleasure. Zach didn’t know how much longer he would last. He didn’t even know if it was worth fighting anymore. Zach groaned as he felt the familiar tension building up, his body aching at Frankie’s weight on top of him, and his package hardening against Zach’s behind. Zach was in ecstasy. “Frankie, please…” he groaned.

“More, babe?” Frankie whispered in his ear. Zach’s response was garbled by a moan as Frankie nudged his knee between Zach’s legs, putting pressure in all the right places. Zach squirmed and spread himself out on the bed, feeling close to the edge. Frankie sucked on his neck in the most sensitive spot, and his hand reached around to brush against Zach’s erection. Zach gave up the fight and came hard underneath Frankie with a loud groan. He heard Frankie’s triumphant laughter in his ear. “Who knew you’d be so easy?” Frankie joked, kissing the corner of Zach’s mouth before climbing off.

Zach rolled over, breathless. He looked at Frankie with wonder. Frankie had just gotten him off without even really touching him. Zach had never experienced anything like it before, had never been so aroused so easily. Zach was terrified of what that meant. Was he closeted? Was it possible that he didn’t know his own sexuality?

Frankie broke his train of thought by tossing a pile of his new clothes at him. “Get dressed, baby. Ten minutes. And don’t forget to brush those pearly whites of yours to perfection.”

“Yes, Frankie,” Zach answered. Frankie danced out of the room. Zach rose and stumbled to the bathroom to change.

His mind was swimming with visions of what else might have happened if only he and Frankie didn’t have to leave. Zach looked in the mirror and saw that his face was flushed. It was as if Frankie had wound his way into every cell in Zach’s body and was rewriting his DNA to become more than he was before. Zach wasn’t sure anymore what the rest of his life would look like or who he would become. Zach wasn’t sure what terrified him more: a future that changed everything he knew about himself or a future without Frankie.

Chapter Text

Zach was stumbling down the sidewalk after Frankie fifteen minutes later, shoes still partially untied, as they entered the bagel shop. The line was long and Frankie was anxious, bouncing on his toes, but still seeming upbeat. Zach observed him, taking in his bright face, his perfect hair, his tight clothes; Zach wondered how someone so beautiful could see anything in some frat boy who couldn’t get his life together. Frankie caught him staring and smirked. “What are you thinking?”

“That it’s going to be really awkward to start a job where I’m dating my boss.”

Frankie raised an eyebrow. “Is that what we’re calling this now?” Zach blushed furiously. Frankie’s face took on a slightly worried expression. “It’s only going to get more awkward when your new coworkers take notice. I hope you’re prepared for that.”

Zach felt even more anxiety set in. Dating a boss was something that Zach would never have considered before. It would never end well. However, Frankie and this job were both entirely new territory to Zach. Frankie was so loving and self-assured that he made Zach feel like dating him could never be wrong as long as Frankie was comfortable with it. Who knew that the change of state would come bundled with a change of sexuality, social circle, and even personality?

Frankie watched Zach closely, sensing his building anxiety. He quickly sought a way to alleviate it. “If you think it’s weird now, imagine if we start sleeping together, especially if they get an accidental show.” Frankie nudged Zach as if willing him to laugh.

Zach gave no response, but remained pensive, seeming stressed. Zach wondered how Frankie could ever fathom the conflict he was going through. Frankie was out and proud, and surrounded by people who accepted him as he was. Zach didn’t have any of those things and wasn’t sure if he could ever achieve them. Zach wasn’t even sure anymore who he was. He would have to address that before things got much further, or he and Frankie were in for some rocky ground.

Frankie dragged Zach with him as the line moved. He lowered his voice and moved in close. “I know this is a big change for you. It was for me, too. You wonder what your friends and family will think, if they will treat you the same way, or just walk away. You wonder if it changes anything about who you are, and you question if you know yourself at all. You agonize over whether other people will know, as if they can see right into your soul.” He felt Zach quiver and knew his words had hit home. “That’s all normal. And I can tell you that none of it is worth dwelling on. Torturing yourself over it will make you more miserable than any change by itself ever could.” He shook his head and touched Zach’s face. Zach allowed Frankie to guide his chin up so that Zach was looking up into Frankie’s warm eyes. “Zachary, let me tell you the truth. You’re the same person you’ve always been, but you’re one step closer to finding out where you belong. Anyone who cares never really liked you anyway, and anyone who does love you will get over it. The only thing that really changes is that you accept yourself more and become more comfortable with whatever that means.”

Frankie was absentmindedly stroking Zach’s head. Zach had listened and understood Frankie, but he was still overwhelmed, so he just nodded. All Zach wanted to do was lie in bed and cry. He knew he couldn’t do that, though. They were next in line. Frankie ordered a few dozen bagels for the dancers. Frankie asked him what he wanted and Zach didn’t respond. Frankie just gave a sad smile and picked for him.

They walked to the studio together in silence. The door was already unlocked and Lauren was already there with at least a dozen of the dancers. She had them lined up and doing stretches. The other dancers watched Zach and Frankie curiously as they walked in together. Some of them were murmuring to each other, and Zach wanted to sink through the floor at the thought that they were talking about him and Frankie.

Frankie immediately took charge of the room. “Good morning, flamingos! In honor of our first day of practice, I’ve brought enough bagels for everyone, so dig in.” He smiled brightly around the room, and the dancers wasted no time in accepting Frankie’s hospitality. Frankie snuck around to talk to Lauren. Zach finally opened the bag that contained his bagel. He hadn’t paid attention to what Frankie ordered him, but he felt a pang of guilt when he saw that Frankie had guessed his favorite. Zach resolved that Frankie was a wonderful man, and that his own confrontation with his sexuality was no fault of Frankie’s. For Frankie’s sake, he would try to get through today without being a miserable snot.

It turned out that that was easier said than done. Frankie and Lauren stood at the front of the class, breaking down the routines they wanted to try first. Zach couldn’t keep his eyes off Frankie, and there was an embarrassing point when Frankie caught him ogling him in the mirror. Frankie gave a wry smile. Even if Zach didn’t want to admit it, Frankie knew that Zach wanted nothing more than to sleep with him. It was in everything the boy did. And Frankie was not the type to give up.

At break, after an hour of strenuous dancing, Zach wandered off to socialize with the rest of the guys. They were all checking their phones and talking. Zach pulled out his phone to see he had a few texts from A.J. It was mostly just A.J. bragging about how awesome Lauren was. Zach wasn’t surprised, seeing how well they’d hit it off. Then Zach scrolled down to a message asking about how the night with Frankie went. Basically, A.J. just wanted to know if Zach had given up and slept with Frankie yet. Technically, they had slept in the same bed, and Frankie had gotten Zach off with a little dry humping that morning, but that was the extent of their sex life. To think of it as their sex life was enough to make Zach’s head spin and his legs go weak. He didn’t know what he wanted from Frankie, but the events of this morning had simultaneously felt just right and downright uncomfortable. With how disengaged Zach was with the idea of his sexuality at this point, he wasn’t sure if they’d ever move past that stage. Zach didn’t know how to respond to A.J., so he just chose not to. And he knew that now was not a good time to start this conversation with himself or anyone else.

Instead, he tried getting into a conversation with some of the other flamingos. Cody was talking about his most recent modeling gig. “They paid me so much money! They said I could keep the clothes, too. At that rate, I’m going to have a whole designer wardrobe without ever buying clothes,” he bragged.

“Looks like there’s more than one way to achieve that, Calafiore,” joked another one of the guys, nodding at Zach. The rest of the guys snickered.

“I’m sure there’s a perfectly good explanation, Michael. Give the guy a chance. Before we assume he’s screwing the boss.”

Michael laughed. “Well, Zach? How many times have you had to suck his dick to get that outfit you’re wearing? We all know you’re broke, so there’s no way you could afford all this,” he said, gesturing from Zach’s brand new clothes to his unmarked Nikes.

Zach did the worst thing he could have done in that moment. He got defensive. “You guys don’t know anything about me. Here’s a clue, I’m not gay, and I don’t suck anybody’s dick for money. That’s disgusting. Maybe that’s what you do in your spare time, but I have better things to do than fuck my new boss. If you’re that desperate for new clothes, then maybe you should suck his dick yourself and see how far you get. Maybe he’ll get you diamonds if you’re really good.”

Zach turned to walk away and noticed Frankie watching him from a few yards away with his arms crossed and a cool expression on his face. He’d clearly heard everything, and he was not amused. He shook his head and glared at Zach as he walked by. Zach was horrified, but he couldn’t take the words back. From Zach’s perspective, everything he said about himself was more or less truthful. He was attracted to women, and before he met Frankie, he had assumed that was all there was to his sexuality. The words he wished he could take back were the ones he’d said about Frankie. He wasn’t sure if it was better or worse that Frankie had witnessed the scene himself. Zach hoped Frankie would understand how hard this was for him. He hung his head in shame and wished the floor would swallow him up already as he wandered to a corner to breathe.

His private moment was short-lived. “Okay, everyone,” Frankie yelled. “I think it’s time to split into groups. Practice the two dances we’ve taught you. Help each other out. If there’s something you’re stuck on, now is the time to figure it out. We at The Grande Flamingo strive for perfection. I’m going to order sandwiches for everyone as an incentive to finish off the day with a bang. We have one more routine to learn after lunch.”

Frankie and Lauren split them into four groups. When Zach found out that all of the guys who’d just been teasing him were in his group, he knew Frankie was punishing him. A smug smile flickered over Frankie’s face as he watched Zach trudge across the room to his fate with the biggest jerks in the studio. What Zach didn’t see was the look of guilt that came afterward. Frankie didn’t want Zach to suffer, but Zach needed to learn to get himself in check. Getting upset over other people’s ignorance was the worst way to respond. But Frankie’s guilt that he was making things harder for Zach made his heart ache. He stood watchfully on the outskirts of the next group over, praying that Zach would forgive him for whatever happened.

 

“Hey, so it looks like the boss’ boyfriend is with us. You go first, boy toy.”

“I think we should all practice together first,” said Cody. “Then Grande’s boyfriend can tell us all about getting cozy with the boss.”

The guys chuckled and nodded in agreement. It took just about all Zach had to stay silent, but he knew that exploding like that again would only feed them ammunition. Zach steeled himself and lined up with the other boys. Truth be told, it was easier to do the dance in a smaller group. Unfortunately for Zach, the dancing was the least of his worries. Michael kept bumping into him, and it seemed like it was anything but an accident.

“Hey, Michael, watch yourself a little better, okay?” Zach said. He worked to keep his voice even in spite of his anger.

Michael sneered at Zach. “What are you gonna do about it? Tell your boyfriend so he can come save you? I’m sure that’ll make you popular around here.” Michael snickered.

Zach couldn’t take it much longer. He had spoken so poorly of Frankie earlier, but now could be Zach’s chance to defend them both. Maybe he could stop these jerks by figuring out why they were all over him. “What is your problem, Michael? Jealous?” Zach figured it was as good a guess as any.

Michael pretended to be thoughtful for a moment. “Maybe,” he began musingly, “I mean hey, I’d love a chance to fuck a gorgeous guy like that. And a millionaire, too. Especially with that sister of his. No wonder you have all new things; he can give you the world and all you have to do is let him fuck you.” Michael paused. Zach was feeling confused, wondering if these guys knew more about Frankie than he did. He was just about to lower himself even more to ask a question, but Michael continued. “I swear you couldn’t get any more pathetic if you tried, Rance. The only reason you have anything right now is because you fucked your way into a job. Everyone knows you’re not as good as the rest of us at dancing, but apparently you excel in other areas.”

Zach was burning with rage. He crossed his arms to stop himself from instinctively punching Michael. He didn’t want to get thrown out like the guy at the auditions. He managed to swallow most of the words he wanted to say. “Are you done now?” Zach asked bitterly. He hoped his face didn’t betray his shame and confusion. He didn’t know where these guys knew so much about Frankie from, but Zach suddenly had a lot of questions for his new boss/possible lover.

Michael smirked at him. “For now.” Zach went to walk away to cool off, but Michael stopped him. “Trust me, Rance. I’m only getting started.”

The rest of the group rehearsals went much the same way. Zach did his best to block out the comments of Michael and the other guys. He didn’t even try to hide his relief when lunch came and they all dispersed. Zach went to eat in a corner by himself, intending to talk to A.J. for some encouragement.

A hand grabbed Zach’s arm lightly. He turned to see Lauren. “Hey, why don’t you come eat with us?” she said with a sympathetic smile. “Between you and me, he feels guilty. He saw the way they were treating you, and it took a lot for him not to come to your rescue, because it would have only made it worse. It won’t happen again.”

Zach sighed. He nodded and followed Lauren to a table in the corner where Frankie was scrolling through his phone. When Zach sat down, Frankie looked up. His distress was clearly visible. “Baby, I’m sorry. I was upset, and I put you with them on purpose.” He let that sink in a moment before continuing. “I knew they were jerks, but I thought you needed to learn how to handle it better. I didn’t think they’d treat you like that, though.” He shook his head. “Forgive me?” He looked up at Zach pleadingly.

Zach looked into those big brown eyes and he was done for. “Of course, Frankie. I know you would never want to hurt me.” Zach breathed a sigh of relief. He was just glad that Frankie wasn’t angry with him for what he’d said earlier.

“Never, babe,” Frankie cooed. Zach was still unsettled, and Frankie could sense it. “What’s wrong?”

Zach shook his head. “It’s just…the things they were saying about you. I probably shouldn’t say.”

Frankie raised a perfectly penciled eyebrow. “Like what? These men are my employees, after all. I’d like to know what they’re saying about me as I pay them ridiculous amounts of money to be my dancers.”

Zach bit his lip. “It was mostly Michael. He was talking about how I must be sucking your dick for money and how that’s the only reason you hired me. He made it sound like you frequently hire guys to screw you. He said something about your sister, too. He just sounded like a jealous gold digger to me.” Zach shrugged.

An abundance of emotions crossed Frankie’s face. “Michael said all of those things? It wasn’t the other guys?” Frankie watched Michael from across the room, scrutinizing him as he laughed and ate his sandwich, which he was currently using in a very inappropriate manner.

Zach simply nodded. Frankie looked back at his phone, disdain tainting his beautiful features. “If that’s what he thinks, then fine. He’s here to dance, and that’s all. Stay away from him, Zach, and if he causes you any more trouble, I’ll be happy to relieve him of any of his misconceptions. Probably his job as well.” Frankie was wearing a dangerous look, and Zach wasn’t sure if he was turned on by this side of Frankie, or terrified.

“You would think homosexuality wouldn’t be a joke anymore,” Frankie said with a sigh. “Sometimes I just don’t understand why people have a problem with homosexuality. Sleeping with someone of the opposite sex is no big deal, but if you’re a guy and you have sex with another guy you suddenly have leprosy.” He shook his head. “The funny thing is that I would swear Michael is gay. I mean, there are other straight flamingos, you know. And this is a gay club.”

The last dance of the day went off without a hitch. Zach was really starting to enjoy his new job, even if part of it was being able to watch Frankie’s ass as he danced, although he would never admit that to anyone. A few of the guys were being nicer to him, including Cody. Cody wanted to go out for a boys’ night, so Zach just said yes.

When the session was over and the guys began to disperse, Zach went over to see Frankie, still somewhat troubled about their spat this morning, even though Frankie had seemed to accept it. “Babe, why don’t you go back to my place? I’ll be there soon. I think we need to talk anyway.” Frankie pressed the key to his apartment into Zach’s hand. Zach simultaneously felt a strong bond with Frankie and a panic regarding their impending talk. “Go on, I just have something to attend to before I go,” he said nodding at Michael. “We’ll see what I can do about him. I’m not the type to blackmail, but if the situation calls for it, I’ll do what I have to.”

Zach’s eyes widened. “What are you going to do to him?”

Frankie smiled knowingly. “The question is more like ‘what is he going to do with me?’” Frankie sauntered across the room to where Michael was standing. Frankie started strutting and flirting, and Zach just felt dizzy, so he left. He only felt mildly better once he was no longer watching Frankie all over Michael. On the city streets there was so much life, and yet the only thought Zach’s mind would entertain was Frankie touching Michael. He wasn’t sure what Frankie was intending to do, but it hurt Zach, even if it was partially on Zach’s behalf.

Zach couldn’t take the unsettling feeling of Frankie…was cheating the right word? Zach didn’t know. All he knew was that he needed a distraction from the torturous thoughts bombarding his mind. The noise of the city just wasn’t cutting it, so he ducked into the next shop he saw without stopping to read the sign.

The musical tinkling of the several chimes that decorated the door was instantly calming, and as the door sealed behind him, it shut out the bustle of life outside and consequently quelled the panic rising inside Zach. He closed his eyes and smelled something burning. No, burning wasn’t quite right, because it wasn’t a bad smell. He looked around, seeing all sorts of charms and amulets and kits, and the walls were lined with advertisements for yoga studios and new age specialists. He was in a new age shop.

There was a couple in the corner looking at gemstones, and there was a woman garbed in a long, flowing dress with paisley all over it and flared sleeves. She was something straight out of a carnival booth. She approached Zach with a wide smile. “Welcome. I am Dolores. May I help you find what you’re in search of?”

“No, I just came in here to get off the street.” Zach realized how rude that sounded, so he just kept talking. “I mean, this is a lovely shop, but I didn’t come in here looking for anything.”

The woman shook her head, laughing mildly. “That is not what I meant. You take my words too literally.”

“What do you mean by that?” Zach was confused enough as it was, and this woman’s cryptic words were adding unnecessary stress to his already overwhelmed mind.

“Dear boy, I know what you are looking for. I merely asked if I could help you find it.”

Zach looked at her as if he’d been slapped in the face. What did this woman think she knew about him?

“You are experiencing that you may not be who you thought you were, yes?” Dolores asked.

Zach nodded warily. “I guess you could say that.”

“Judging by your aura, you are deeply unsettled. Give me your hand for a moment.”

Zach wordlessly held out his hand and she examined his palm. “You are very near a fork in the road. Possibly weeks or even days away from making a momentous decision. It seems that your soul is aware of this, although your conscious mind is not. That is the source of your discontent. I have just a few things to help you.” She moved carefully, selecting charms of various runes from the racks. She explained to him what they meant as she recommended them. “These few are ancient runes, protecting against repression, and enhancing your knowledge of your destiny. These are stones to help you get in touch with yourself , discern what is right for you, and help you achieve harmony.”

“Well that’s a lot of charms and rocks, but it honestly sounds like I need all of those things. I guess I’ll take them.” This woman seemed to be able to read Zach’s mind, so why wouldn’t she be right about the solution?

She began to usher him to the register. “Let me get you a chain to wear these on, or you can just keep them in a pocket or a wallet.” Zach nodded, handing her cash for the charms. He figured that this was just as good of a shot as any at helping him find his way through this mess.

When their hands came in contact during the transaction, Dolores stopped suddenly. “Hold on for a moment. I have something for someone who is with you.”

Zach looked at her, confused. She held up a finger for him to wait. She disappeared into a back room and returned a moment later with a small box. She handed it to him. “I have been waiting a long time to find someone who needed this.”

“What does this one do? And how much is it?” Zach was growing frustrated with Dolores. What more could he possibly need help with? Was he that messed up?

“Oh no. This isn’t for you. And it’s free of charge.” She smiled at him.

“Who is it for, then?” Zach eyed her strangely.

“It’s for him,” she said simply.

“Who do you mean by ‘him’?”

“You know who I mean. The beautiful man; I saw him in your thoughts. He will find out on his own what it does, but he needs this.” Zach realized she was talking about Frankie and felt embarrassed. He just nodded and took the box, thanking her for her help.

When he walked back out onto the streets over half an hour had passed. Would Frankie be at his apartment yet? Did he have a spare key? Zach set off down the street, eager to get to Frankie and give him whatever he needed that was in the box. Then he remembered the talk Frankie had mentioned, and Zach was just as much dreading seeing Frankie as he was excited. Nevertheless, his adoration of Frankie won over and he found himself wishing his feet could carry him faster or maybe even sprout wings. If he was being honest, he couldn’t wait one more second to see his “beautiful man” again.

Chapter Text

When Zach arrived at Frankie’s apartment, he realized that his detour had set him back a while. He didn’t check his phone to see if Frankie had messaged him, because it wouldn’t do him any good now. Zach’s heart was beating faster at the thought of their impending “talk”. Zach wasn’t entirely sure what direction this talk would take, but he had an inkling that it was more or less about their relationship and possibly Zach’s sexuality, both of which made his stomach churn uneasily. Simply thinking about those things was too embarrassing and anxiety-inducing for Zach. To talk to someone else (who was the epicenter of his uneasiness) about those feelings was downright horrifying.

Zach instinctively tried the doorknob before inserting the key. To his dismay, the door was already unlocked. Frankie had beaten him there. Zach reluctantly pushed the door open, hoping that Frankie would go easy on him.

“Babe, is that you?” Frankie called from his bedroom. His voice was as level as ever, giving Zach a breath’s peace.

“Yeah, it’s me. Sorry, I got caught up,” Zach explained as Frankie sashayed down the hall and into the kitchen. Frankie gave him a sexy wink as he passed and Zach nearly lost his nerve. “Um…how did everything go with Michael? Did you…get him to do…what you wanted, I guess?”

Frankie raised an eyebrow. “Did I fuck him? No, I would rather eat a tub of lard. Did I get him to cozy up to me in a back room while Lauren hid behind a table with her camera filming us? Yes.” He smirked at Zach. “I have a feeling he won’t be bothering you anymore unless he wants it to accidentally pop up on the internet.”

Zach’s stomach turned at the thought of someone so vile being so close to Frankie. Zach hoped his emotions didn’t show on his face, but it was too late. “What’s wrong, baby?” Frankie called as he started making dinner. “You know I only did it to blackmail him, right?” Zach just stood frozen with his arms crossed, looking anywhere but at Frankie. “Come here.”

Zach obeyed, albeit slowly and reluctantly. Frankie locked his arms around Zach’s neck, and aimed his pretty brown eyes right at Zach’s. Zach was ashamed that the first thought on his mind with Frankie this close was simply to kiss him—but he couldn’t. Frankie had been with Michael privately, making Michael think that Frankie could be his, making him think that Frankie was interested, that he could kiss him and touch him. Frankie had been at least as close to Michael as they’d been just this morning. It didn’t matter if Frankie was just acting. It had happened. And Zach couldn’t fucking handle it.

Zach tried to push away, but Frankie was ready for him and held him fast. “Zach, we need to talk about this.” Frankie gently pulled Zach’s chin so that Zach was looking back at him. “You can’t stand the thought of me around another guy, even if it’s just pretending, but you won’t talk to me about the fact that you kissed me last night.” Frankie shook his head. “You’re such a good kid, but you drive me insane.”

Zach was at a loss for words. He wasn’t ready to discuss his attraction to Frankie. He knew it was beyond a normal friendship, and that their chemistry was undeniable, but Zach wasn’t ready to face the idea that his attraction to Frankie might be more sexual than anything. Sure, Zach had thought about what it would be like to do something physical with a guy, but he had always assumed that that was normal, a curiosity rather than wishful thinking. Hadn’t every guy thought about another guy at some point? He was deliberately repressing every non–friend-like thought he’d had about Frankie. Since they had kissed last night and had a confusing physical exchange this morning, his mind had been swarming with visions of making out with Frankie. And here was his chance. Frankie was in his arms, and if he wasn’t such a coward…but he wasn’t into guys. Frankie just made him so confused.

Frankie caught Zach’s eyes fixed on his lips. He frowned and stroked Zach’s back lovingly. “Tell me what about all this is bothering you, baby. It’s okay. I promise I don’t bite.”

Zach saw how sincere Frankie was, and the way the light from the kitchen was gleaming in his eyes. He spit out the first thing his mind came up with. “This is so confusing, Frankie.”

“What is? Me?”

“Yeah, I just can’t understand…any of it.” Zach shook his head, burying his face in Frankie’s shoulder.

“I won’t pretend to understand your sexuality, or define it for you, but it’s important that you understand it yourself, especially if it’s causing you this much stress. Do you agree?” Frankie pulled back a little to look down at Zach.

Zach nodded, his face rubbing against the fabric of Frankie’s tank top.

“Well, I was making dinner, but this is more important. Would you like to sit down?” Frankie was leading him to the couch, and Zach was grateful that someone knew what was going on with the world, because he sure didn’t.

They sat close together, their legs brushing each other. Frankie eyed Zach carefully. “Is that better?” Zach nodded. “Do you like being here with me?”

Zach was taken aback. He wasn’t sure where Frankie was going with the question, but he figured it wouldn’t hurt to answer honestly. It was only Frankie, and he was trying to help Zach feel better. “Yeah, I do. A lot.” He swallowed hard, as if he could feel the awkwardness of the next round of questions already.

Frankie smiled. “Do you like it when I do nice things for you? When I take you out, make you dinner, pick out new outfits for you?”

“Yeah, but—” Frankie cut him off by putting a finger to Zach’s lips. “I’m just going to keep asking you simple questions, and give me the first answer that comes to your mind. No elaborating or qualifying your statements.”

“Okay. I hope you know where you’re going with this.” What else could Zach say? He was trapped. If he told the truth, he might end up admitting some things to Frankie that he wouldn’t even admit to himself. On the other hand, if the told a lie, he would forever feel guilty that he’d lied to someone who meant so much to him.

Frankie laughed. “Trust me, I do.” He scooted closer to Zach and composed his face into a more serious expression. “Do you like when I touch you?”

Zach’s heart beat faster. “Yes,” he whispered. He loved when Frankie touched him. It was so gentle and loving.

“Do you want me to touch you right now?”

Fuck. Zach tensed up. He didn’t want to look at Frankie, but Frankie was all he saw.

When it became clear that Zach wasn’t going to answer, Frankie continued with an even more difficult question. “Did you enjoy our kiss last night?”

Zach thought he must’ve looked like a deer in headlights. He supposed he should have seen that one coming. He couldn’t avoid it forever, especially if he ever wanted to kiss Frankie in the future, which he did, desperately so. He looked down at his hands. “Yeah, I think so.” It was only the tip of the iceberg, but the message would be clear enough for Frankie.

Frankie smiled a knowing smile. “Would you like it to happen again?”

Zach nodded sheepishly. “Maybe.” Frankie gave him a stern look. “Okay, yeah, I really would like it to… happen again.”

Frankie scooted even closer to Zach, so that their bodies were flush against each other. “What about what happened this morning? Could you see yourself waking up next to me? Doing more intimate things, my little tiger?” He wiggled his eyebrows to lighten the mood and Zach laughed. “Well?”

“Um, I liked sleeping next to you. The other stuff…” he trailed off, avoiding a straightforward answer, because he honestly wasn’t sure. He shrugged, avoiding Frankie’s gaze.

“Okay, maybe you wouldn’t know until it came up,” Frankie reasoned. “But have you thought about it? Doing something physical with me or with another guy?”

Zach squirmed. “Well, I’ve wondered what it would be like to do things with a guy….but I wasn’t actually thinking it was something I wanted to try. I was just curious.”

Frankie looked hurt for a moment. He opened his mouth to skip ahead to another question, but Frankie being upset was something Zach couldn’t stand. Zach finally spoke up. “I meant that I never really considered doing any of it before, when I was thinking about other guys. Meaning not you.” He looked at Frankie pointedly, but he didn’t seem to understand. “In the past when I’ve thought about guys, those guys were a little attractive to me, but I didn’t want them like that. It was just something I thought about sometimes. With you…things are…different.” Zach drew in a breath to steady himself enough to look Frankie in the eye. “I literally imagine doing those things with you, and it makes me so nervous, and my palms sweat, and my heart beats faster. And I actually want to try it for real, not just in my head. I feel like a teenage girl,” he groaned.

Frankie’s eyes lit up in surprise. “I’m sorry, rose. Did you just basically say you want me to fuck you?”

“Oh my god,” Zach said, covering his face.

Frankie pulled Zach’s hands away from his face. “Look at me,” he insisted.

“No,” Zach whined. “Why?”

“So I can kiss you because you’re so cute, and you want it so badly,” Frankie giggled. He leaned toward Zach and pushed him backward until they toppled over. Zach was staring up at Frankie, eyes wide. Nonetheless, Zach was pliant and had given up his resistance against Frankie. Their legs tangled together. Frankie reached up to stroke Zach’s cheek, gazing into his eyes as though he could see straight into Zach’s soul. Zach relaxed at his touch.

Zach could feel his heart thudding in his chest. Frankie was so close, pinning him down. Zach felt like a man in a desert, searching frantically for something to quench his thirst, but afraid that when he found an oasis it would only be a mirage. Looking into Frankie’s big brown eyes, Zach knew that Frankie was not an illusion: he was the real thing. Frankie wouldn’t disappear or make Zach sorry that he’d trusted in him. Right now, Frankie was pretty much all that Zach had. Frankie was his everything. If Zach couldn’t pull himself together and kiss this man who meant so much to him, he didn’t deserve to kiss anyone ever again. With that thought, he stopped his trembling and closed his eyes. He tilted his lips toward Frankie’s hoping Frankie would understand and meet him half way.

Although Zach couldn’t see it, Frankie’s lips twitched into one of his crooked smiles as he closed the distance between them. When their lips touched, Frankie felt his nerves on end as his senses lit up. Zach’s hands roamed his back and sides. Their legs intertwined as Frankie pressed himself closer to Zach, as if that were possible. The kiss was tender and slow. It wasn’t so different from their first kiss the night before, and yet it was last night’s complete opposite. At least this time, they were both sober and could be held accountable for their actions.

Zach’s lips parted in a small moan as Frankie trailed kisses along his jaw. When he caught his breath, Zach whispered in Frankie’s ear, “You are so perfect, babe. I don’t know why you would ever want me…but I’m so grateful you do.” Frankie shook his head, chuckling.

They got lost in the pleasure of kisses and newfound passion as the stars came out.

Chapter Text

Zach’s breath came in gasps, he was full of sweat, and he really needed to cool down. “Lauren, are we done yet?” he called across the room.

Lauren just smirked and shook her head, her ponytail swinging. “You can all take a quick break, though,” she offered.

All of the guys must have been just as dead as Zach felt, because not a second was wasted as the group dispersed. Most of them headed straight for their water bottles and subsequently took seats along the wall, chatting easily with each other.

Zach gulped down the water so quickly he almost choked. He was still sputtering a little when he felt a hand tap him on the shoulder. Zach turned around reluctantly, bracing himself for whatever these jerks would say to get under his skin today.

Zach found himself face to face with Michael. A sudden wave of anger rose in him and he was about to just go for the jugular with this idiot, but something in Michael’s expression stopped him. He looked stressed, sad, and a little nervous. It wasn’t like Zach to back down, but a strange calmness was buzzing through his head at the moment. “What do you want, Michael?” he asked warily.

Michael averted his eyes immediately. “Listen, um…I just wanted to apologize…for…how I’ve been to you,” he mumbled. Michael was wringing his hands to distract himself as he forced the words out of his mouth. “It wasn’t right. What I said, I mean.”

Zach honestly felt just as uncomfortable as Michael did. Maybe it was that he wasn’t used to being the one receiving the apology, or maybe it was that Michael’s discomfort was radiating out toward him. “Um, yeah. It definitely wasn’t kind,” Zach said, fishing for words. He just wanted this conversation to be over and to have Michael out of his face. “I appreciate you saying so.”

“Um, good. Yeah. So…” Michael trailed off uncertainly. “We should just try not to bother each other, I guess.”

“Yeah, that sounds good.” There was a note of finality in Zach’s words and Michael seemed to get the message because he wandered back over to the rest of his friends. Zach breathed a sigh of relief at his absence.

He was about to text AJ that his new girlfriend was a sadist when he felt another tap on his shoulder. This hand was different from the last. It was gentle and familiar. Zach turned around to the welcome sight of big brown eyes and a smile he saw in his dreams.
“I’m back, babe,” Frankie said, drawing Zach into his arms.

Zach tried to resist for a split second for fear of what the other guys would say. Then Zach recalled Michael’s anxious apology and figured everyone had heard by now not to razz him again. Fuck all of them. He sighed and let Frankie pull him close. He giggled at the feel of warm lips on his neck. “Thank god you’re here. Lauren is seriously killing us. Never go to the dentist again.”

“I don’t think you’d like that very much, if you really thought about it. And I can tell; you’re full of sweat.” Fuck, Frankie even managed to make sweating sound sexy. Zach pulled back, feeling self-conscious when he remembered where they were. Frankie pulled him back in, not caring who was watching. “I’ve been waiting too long to see you this worked up,” Frankie whispered in his ear. “No way am I letting you go right now.”

“Frankie, we have to get back to practice now,” Zach murmured. As much as he was enjoying Frankie’s attention, he didn’t want to push his luck with the other guys’ newfound decorum.

Frankie rested his forehead against Zach’s. “To be continued later,” he said with a wink. Zach hoped Frankie couldn’t feel his heart hammering in his chest. Frankie walked away and Zach found himself unable to tear his eyes away. A couple of the guys snickered and Zach whipped around. “What?” he asked.

Cody, the model, shook his head and chuckled. “Nothing, dude. We’re just thinking out loud. Don’t worry about it.”

Zach slowly walked back to the center of the room, where Lauren was having everyone gather for a talk. He could have sworn he heard someone say “with him because of his sister, I bet.” Then another voice responded with “and he needs the job.”

Zach’s ears were burning, but he refused to acknowledge them. He wasn’t afraid for himself; Zach could handle most things by being boisterous enough to deflect haters. He was keeping his mouth shut for Frankie’s sake. If Frankie kept having to defend Zach to his coworkers, Frankie could end up with half of the dance crew walking out. He’d have to start from scratch all because Zach was a problem. He couldn’t let Frankie fight all of his battles for him. So, he swallowed down their burning comments and joined the group congregating around Lauren, who was instructing them on yet another routine.

Zach tried. He really did. He just couldn’t concentrate on what Lauren was saying over the thoughts that were nagging him. They’d brought up Frankie’s sister again. How did these guys all know Frankie’s sister? Is that how they got their spots? Had some of them known Frankie already? Maybe they were jealous that they knew Frankie before Zach did, but Frankie had picked Zach over them. Above all that, though, was the big question Zach had: why did these guys know Frankie’s family, but Zach didn’t? Maybe he wasn’t as close to Frankie as he’d believed. The thought was a hot poker to his heart. He couldn’t afford to think that way right now, not in a room filled with enemies who were waiting for him to lose it. And Zach really wished he hadn’t told anyone his backstory about his failed New York plan. They would use it against him sixty years from now in a nursing home. He was sure of it.

Zach had been so wrapped up in the puzzle of the other dancers’ insults that he hadn’t paid attention to the moves they were learning. So, when the group spun to the left, he spun to the right…and fell off the edge of the stage. He hadn’t fallen too hard and was luckily placed in the back of the group, so he scrambled up before too many of the guys noticed. Lauren appeared in front of him, hands on her hips and a stern look on her face. “Not following very well today, huh?”

Zach ran his hand through his hair. He needed to get his head clear, but this wasn’t the time. “No, not really.”

Lauren scrutinized his expression. “What is it?” she asked, taking his arm lightly and leading him away from the group. She motioned for the dancers to keep going.

“It’s—I just….I don’t want Frankie to know because he’ll flip,” he finally admitted. He was biting his lip so hard that it hurt.

Lauren’s eyebrow quirked up. “How about you tell me what it is and I’ll help you handle it?”

Zach nodded, exhaling harshly. “It’s just that…I overheard some things today that kind of bothered me.”

“Like what?” she pressed.

Zach didn’t want to tell her, but he could tell she meant business. If he wouldn’t talk to her, she would probably just go get Frankie. He could make something up, but Lauren would probably see through it. In fact, Zach wouldn’t be surprised if Lauren already knew anyway. He looked at his feet when he spoke. “Umm, so like…I’m getting the sense that there are… some things about Frankie…that I don’t know….” Lauren just kept staring at him, like she was waiting for him to finish his point. Damn it, Zach thought. He ran his hands through his hair. “Like important things.”

“Why do you think that?” Lauren asked. Her arms were crossed, and Zach could sense her defensiveness. He wasn’t sure if her curtness was her trying to protect Frankie, or if she was just irritated with Zach.

“I just—they talk about him and say things that make me feel stupid because I don’t know what they’re talking about. And I don’t know if it’s true, but they act like they all know. It’s starting to really bother me. Like I’m the one who’s friends with Frankie and I feel clueless compared to them.” He shuffled his feet and his cheeks were turning red.

Lauren was quiet for a moment. She glanced over at Frankie, who was eyeing them curiously. She let out a sigh. “Listen, Zach. You’re not exactly wrong. But I think that’s a talk you need to have with Frankie.”

“I guess you’re right about that. I’m just nervous about asking him.” All eyes in the room were on them now and Frankie began gesturing for them to join the rest of the group. “Please don’t tell him,” Zach mumbled.

“I’m just going to tell him that maybe it’s time to talk to you. Don’t worry about it.” Lauren gave him a reassuring smile and led him over to the rest of the group.

Zach’s heart sped up. Maybe it’s time to talk to you. The words haunted him for the rest of practice. Whatever was coming, he was definitely unprepared.

***

Zach was lying on the couch in his and A.J.’s apartment bingeing on junk food. Yes, he was eating his feelings, but he didn’t care. He heard the door open and saw A.J. set his keys on the counter. “Dude, what’s wrong with you?”

“ ʼm stress eating,” Zach said around a mouthful of chips.

“Over what? Like, I thought you were happy with the job and Frankie?” he hedged.

“I am…but…Frankie’s hiding shit from me. Maybe he doesn’t even like me.”

“Oh, god.” A.J. sighed. “I am not prepared to handle boy trouble. I thought I’d get at least twenty more years before I had to face that, but I’ll try my best for you.”

Zach threw chips at him. “Go to hell.”

A.J. picked up the chips. “Not cool. We have to keep this place clean.”

Zach buried his face in his hands. “I’m a mess. I’m sorry. You should just let me drown in a pile of shitty snacks.”

“Not after all these years.” A.J. calmly sat down on the couch next to Zach. “Let’s start at the beginning.”

Zach nodded and sat up so he could talk. “The other guys talk about Frankie like they really know him. But like, they don’t spend time with him like I do. He doesn’t talk to them or invite them back to his house. He doesn’t treat them like he treats me. But they seem to know more about him than I do. I don’t understand. Am I doing something wrong?” His voice had risen to a level of almost panic.

A.J. stared at him with wide eyes. A huge grin began to spread across his face. “Oh my god. You’re jealous! I can’t believe it.”

Zach’s eyes widened in horror. “No! I’m not jealous like that! I’m just…hurt.”

“Yeah,” A.J. snorts. “Hurt that you think Frankie isn’t as close to you as he is to these other guys, even though you know he doesn’t get personal with them.”

Zach buried his face in his hands. “But they all say things about him that I don’t understand. They even talk about his sister. How the hell do they know anything about his sister?”

“Zach, if he were closer to those other guys than you, they’d practically be family or something. And in that case, you would see them hanging out with him because I literally forgot you still live here. I have barely seen you the past two weeks.”

Zach went quiet for a minute, thinking. “But still, how do they know this stuff that I don’t? And they’re saying it to imply something about him and me.”

A.J. looked at him sternly. “How do you know they’re telling the truth? What are they saying about you being around him?”

“They keep talking about him like they think he sleeps around with everyone. Like they think he’s using me or I’m using him,” Zach mused.

A.J. picked at a loose thread on his jeans for a moment. “You have two options. One is that they could be onto something. And if they are, it’s probably not as bad as you’re thinking. The other is that they’re lying to get a rise out of you.”

“How do I tell which it is?” Zach asked. “I don’t fucking get it. And what if it is as bad as I’m thinking?”

“Hey, calm down,” A.J. told him, leaning over and stealing a chip from him. “I think the best way to know for sure is just to ask Frankie about it.” Zach groaned. A.J. smiled at him. “No, none of that. It’s just…how do I say this? Frankie really likes you. Like he obviously has a thing for you.” He let his words sink in. Zach watched him silently. “He wouldn’t want to think that you are uncomfortable about him or don’t trust him. Plus, you’re in a kind of precarious situation being that he’s your boss at a brand-new job and you’re having a sexuality/identity crisis that he just happens to be at the center of.”

Zach looked downright murderous. “Could you just never say all of those things in one sentence ever again?”

“All I’m saying is that you’re undergoing a lot of change in your life all at once. That’s always stressful. It’s both a blessing and a curse that all of those changes seem to revolve around the same sparkly man.” A.J. gave him a pointed look. “I think it’s to your detriment to try to avoid discussing your problems with Frankie because he’s literally involved in every aspect of your business and personal life now. So just try to address things with him one step at a time.” He rose from the couch, still facing Zach. “And for the record…I don’t think you need to be jealous of the other guys.” He winked before turning to walk away.
Zach was left alone with his troubling thoughts circling around in his head like a twisted carousel from hell.

Chapter Text

Zach woke up to the sound of something buzzing. At first he thought it was an alarm and that he was late to work. But when he opened his eyes, he wasn’t in his bed and it was far from morning. He was on the couch, where A.J. had left him forty-five minutes earlier.

Zach slowly came to, realizing after three rings that the noise was his phone. By the time he unearthed the offending device from between the couch cushions, the ringing had ceased. Zach checked the caller ID: Frankie. His first thought was to panic. He remembered Lauren saying she would talk to Frankie. How much had she told him? It had been only an hour and a half since dance practice finished. Clearly Frankie thought the situation was too important to put off until tomorrow.

Zach didn’t want to return Frankie’s call; he was dreading what Frankie would say, and what Frankie would ask him. Most of all, Zach was terrified of what he would say back. A.J. had been right, though. His entire life revolved around Frankie now. It would be foolish and cowardly to try to avoid him. Zach didn’t know what had come over him that was making him think so logically, but he found himself hitting the call button before he could stop himself.

Frankie answered immediately. “Zach, babe. Thanks for calling me back.”

Zach felt a rush of affection run through him at the sound of Frankie’s voice. “I’m sorry, Frankie. I was sleeping.”

“It’s okay, babe. I’m sure you’re tired. It was a long day.”

“Yeah, it has been.” Zach stopped awkwardly, not wanting to be the one to bring up the elephant in the room.

There was a long pause, and Zach was about to break when Frankie finally said, “Zach…I talked to Lauren after practice and…there’s something we need to discuss.”

Zach felt the room closing in on him. His worst fear was coming true—Frankie had just confirmed it.

“Zach?” The worried tone in Frankie’s voice roused him from the pit his mind was falling into. He had to say something.

“Um…okay,” he managed. “How are we going to do this?” His heart was pounding in fear. Was Frankie seeing someone else? Was he just messing with Zach? Were the other guys right?

“Zach, please don’t be so worried. What I have to tell you won’t change anything.” Frankie’s voice sounded strained, like he was having his own moment of panic. If Frankie was worried, that had to mean he really cared about Zach, right? “Unless you want it to,” Frankie said in a small voice.

“No!” Zach nearly shouted into his phone. “I mean, I don’t want anything to change. Frankie, you’re kind of freaking me out.”

“That’s what Lauren said to me,” Frankie admitted. “I…I don’t want you to think it has anything to do with our relationship, because it doesn’t. Everything between us is fine. It was great before and it’s still great now. I just don’t want you to think I’m hiding anything from you.”

“That makes me feel a little better,” Zach told him. The relief he felt at Frankie’s words was his first warning sign—he was so far under Frankie’s spell that he didn’t know what he’d do if their conversation changed anything. But he also knew that if Frankie was assuring him that things were great between them, then Zach had nothing to worry about. Frankie wouldn’t lie to him about that.
“Zach, why don’t you come over tonight? I’ll make dinner and we can talk. Then you’ll feel better.” Frankie’s voice took on an enticing tone. “I promise, my little tiger.”

Zach smiled, even though he knew Frankie couldn’t see it. “Okay, Frankie. I’ll come over tonight.”

He heard the ease in Frankie’s voice now. “Great, how’s seven?”

Zach looked at the clock. He would have another hour and a half of anticipation. He could handle that, he supposed. “Perfect. I’ll see you then.”

Zach wasn’t sure what was making him so agreeable, so unlike himself. He caught a flash of something shiny in the corner of his vision. He searched for the source and found nothing but the bracelet from the new age shop that was strung around his wrist. He suddenly began to wonder what that woman had made him buy. But it was just a bunch of hooey, right? It was just for fun.

 

***
Zach stood outside of Frankie’s door, the muscles in his shoulders as taught as a bowstring. He could do this. He had to do this. He owed it to both of them, no matter how terrified he was. Frankie had been nothing but patient, giving, and kind to him so far. Why would he bother giving Zach so much if his intentions were anything but good? What would Frankie gain from leading Zach on just to hurt him? Zach wracked his brain for an answer. He needed to be prepared for anything before he knocked on that door. He refused to go in completely oblivious and risk being blindsided.

The answer his brain supplied was simple: Frankie wouldn’t hurt him. He knew it in his mind as well as his heart. With that reassurance, Zach lifted his fist and knocked on the door, praying he was right and that the new life he was suddenly becoming so attached to wasn’t about to fall apart.

A few seconds later, Frankie swung open the door. His smile was wide and genuine. What was Zach so worried about again? “Zach, babe, I’m so glad you’re here. Come in,” Frankie said brightly, grabbing Zach’s arm and drawing him inside.

The smell of something heavenly was wafting into the hallway from the kitchen on his left. He looked toward the kitchen, trying to catch a glimpse of whatever deliciousness Frankie had prepared for him.

Frankie cleared his throat, having caught on to Zach’s thoughts. “Hungry, huh? I made my famous fish tacos. We can eat first, if you want to,” he offered.

Zach nodded. He wanted to enjoy Frankie’s company peacefully, however much longer that might last. He could wait another few minutes. He followed Frankie through to the table.

What he found stopped him right in his tracks. The food was already artfully laid out on the brightest white dishes he’d ever seen. There were two wine glasses already poured, and from the looks of the bottle, it was Zach’s absolute favorite. In the center of the table sat a small vase of Zach’s favorite flower. He’d have to ask AJ later when he had spilled all of this to Frankie. “Frankie…wow. Thank you,” he said, eyes wide in wonder.

Frankie patted his back affectionately. “You’re welcome, Zach,” he said. “I figured we were due for some true alone time.” He pulled out a chair and gestured for Zach to sit. Zach took his seat, Frankie pushing his chair in before taking his seat across from him.

The time passed slowly, he and Frankie bantering back and forth. By the time they’d emptied the wine bottle, Zach was floating on a cloud from the pleasant combination of Frankie’s company and cooking skills. Was there anything this man couldn’t do?

Just then, Frankie reached his hand across the table to rest it on top of Zach’s. Zach’s eyebrows pinched together in concern, knowing what was coming. This was the conversation that could break them. “Don’t look so worried, babe. I promise that nothing I have to say will change anything between us,” Frankie told him, a hint of trepidation beneath his words. The vulnerability in Frankie’s voice got Zach right in the heart. If Frankie was this worried, then it meant that Frankie had something to lose. The thought hit Zach like a freight train: Frankie was afraid to lose him. Zach was determined not to let that be an option. As he looked into the big brown eyes sparkling at him from across the table, Zach hoped that whatever bomb Frankie dropped was something he could live with.

“Okay,” Zach whispered, nodding for Frankie to begin. He held his breath, his chest feeling a little tight.

Frankie’s eyes dropped to where their hands were clasped on the table. “I want to start by saying that I know that you have some concerns, and maybe some insecurities about our relationship. I want to make it clear that that’s normal, given that this situation is completely new to you, and it’s not something either of us should expect to sort out in one night.” He looked up into Zach’s eyes to make sure he understood. Zach looked back at Frankie and nodded slightly. Frankie continued. “I also know that there’s another aspect of all of this that’s bothering you. And I take responsibility for that. I know you’re having doubts, but the things causing those doubts aren’t anything to do with you. They’re all because of me.” Frankie sighed sadly, knowing he wasn’t making any sense, but wanting Zach to know he understood his misgivings.

“Go on,” Zach prodded. He felt like he would pass out if Frankie didn’t just spit it out.

“Zach, there are some aspects of my life that you haven’t been privy to.” Frankie looked at Zach, trying to gauge his thoughts. Zac h’s expression only gave away the anxiety they both knew was there, so Frankie continued. “It was never intentional on my part to hide anything from you,” he said. “It’s important that you know that. I knew I was going to have to tell you eventually, when I figured out that you didn’t already know. But I didn’t really want to give up having things the way they were. I so rarely meet anyone anymore who doesn’t already know, so I wanted to hold on to that with you. You’ve always been so genuine. Even when you think you’re being sneaky, I can always tell what you’re thinking.” Frankie smiled at him. Zach’s heart clenched. He was so lost, but he wanted to understand so badly. Frankie clearly had something going on in his life that wasn’t exactly a secret to anyone but Zach. He actually made it seem like public knowledge. Zach suddenly felt stupid and naïve. He probably could have eased his fears with a simple Google search and saved himself the anxiety.

As he looked at the man sitting across from him, who was looking just as put out as Zach felt, Zach realized he’d rather hear it from Frankie, whatever it was. “What is it, Frankie?” he said quietly. “You know you can tell me anything.” He tried to sound encouraging, hoping he could live up to his promise.

Frankie nodded sadly. “And that’s why I regret not telling you before now. It’s not for lack of trusting you, but fear that it would change things between us once you found out. And when Lauren told me what the guys were saying to you, I felt so guilty for leaving you in the dark.” Zach saw that Frankie was truly feeling trapped. “I wanted you to find out everything from me, when the time was right. But the guys have made sure we don’t have the luxury of taking this all one step at a time.” Frankie sighed, but he looked at Zach with a guarded sort of hope. “Come into the other room with me?”

Zach nodded. What else was there to do? He took the hand Frankie proffered and let himself be led down the hall. Frankie paused at his bedroom door, glancing at Zach before turning the knob. “I have something to show you,” he said. Frankie pushed open the door and gestured around the room. “Have a seat wherever you’re comfortable. I’ll be right back.” Zach took a seat on the bed, figuring that was just as good a place as any. Frankie ran off to his closet, seemingly in search of something. Within thirty seconds, he returned, a large binder in his arms. He saw Zach’s confusion and turned it around to show Zach that it was actually a photo album.

Zach took a deep breath. Frankie’s family. He was going to learn about Frankie’s mysterious family. Zach barely had time to wrap his head around the fact that that was the big secret everyone had been teasing him with. His fears were slightly assuaged. Now he only had to hope that Frankie wasn’t related to Jack the Ripper or something. The bed dipped next to him as Frankie took a seat. Frankie managed to catch Zach’s eyes as they lingered on the album that strangely held so much power over his life at this moment. “Zach, I figured that showing you was better than just telling you. So that’s what I’m going to do.” Without further ado, he flipped open the cover. A smile lit up Zach’s face as he saw a large photo of a preteen Frankie making a kissy face at a toddler, who was doing the same back to him.

Zach looked up to see the fondness that had calmed Frankie’s features. “Is that your sister?”

“Yes,” Frankie said, with a note of caution in his voice. Zach’s confusion reached its peak. The warm look on Frankie’s face was the polar opposite of his guarded tone.

“Frankie, you don’t really talk about her much,” Zach tried. “Is she part of this…I’m not sure what to call it.”

Frankie’s voice seemed to thaw, remembering that this was Zach he was talking to, not someone he needed to be careful around. “Yes, it’s mostly about her, actually.” He began flipping through the pages of the book rapidly. Zach caught glimpses of a house in a sunny area and the faces of a few adults who looked just like Frankie. Only Frankie and his sister seemed to change as the pages turned. Frankie found the pages he was looking for and abruptly slammed the book shut, using his hand as a bookmark.

Zach flinched. “What’s the deal?”

Frankie placed a hand on Zach’s thigh. “I’m going to show you some more recent pictures, and I think you’ll understand. Ready?”

Zach swallowed. “Yeah.” He watched with rapt attention as Frankie opened the album once again. What he saw were two beautiful faces staring back at him. Frankie’s hair was brown and his eyes were round, crinkling around the edges with laughter, just like those of the stunning girl next to him. Zach felt his heart drop into his stomach. His eyes roved over the girl’s face, taking in her long hair, her full lips, and her dainty features.

Zach knew that face, had seen it on his TV screen, plastered across Times Square, and on the cover of countless magazines. “Th-that’s—” Zach shook his head and tried again. He was speechless. He knew Frankie was watching him, but he couldn’t meet his eyes.

“Zach.” He heard his name whispered like a breath. A hand reached out to rest lightly on his arm. “Please say something.”

Zach turned to see Frankie’s doe eyes watching him like he held the fate of his very soul in his hands. Hell, maybe Zach did, because Frankie certainly held Zach’s soul in his. He tried to search for what he wanted to say, filtering past all of the stupid thoughts to get to what he really needed to say. He opened his mouth to speak and words tumbled out, but not the right ones. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me.”

The words hung in the air like an accusation. “Zach, it wasn’t like that. I wanted to tell you, like I said, but I—I wanted you to like me for me and not just because my sister is famous.”

“Your sister is Ariana freakin’ Grande, Frankie! That’s a big deal.” Zach stood up, his spinning thoughts rendering him unable to keep still. He paced back and forth in front of Frankie. “I can’t believe I didn’t see it before. I feel so stupid. No wonder all the guys were saying those horrible things about me. And you just let me live in the dark, not knowing why they were acting like I was using you. Now I know why. I don’t know what to think.” He came to a stop in front of Frankie, worried. Frankie was biting his lip, not knowing what to say. “I’m sorry, Frankie. I didn’t mean it like that,” he said softly. It hadn’t occurred to Zach that his words were hurting Frankie. That was the last thing he wanted, so Zach checked himself and let Frankie speak.

“I know, babe,” Frankie reassured him. “I don’t expect you to let me off easy. I should have told you before now, but I wasn’t ready. I wanted to have a relationship with you that wasn’t based on anything other than the two of us. I hook up a lot, but I don’t really meet a lot of people who don’t already know who I am. I wanted the chance for us to develop something pure and genuine, because ultimately, I didn’t want who my family was to matter to you. I wanted you to care about me for me and think of me as Frankie and not just a popstar’s brother.” He breathed a heavy sigh and looked up at Zach expectantly. “Does that make sense at all?”

Zach nodded slowly, realizing how much of a burden it must have been for Frankie to both make the decision not to tell him earlier and make the decision to tell him now. Both were equally hard, but Zach could tell how much his reaction meant to Frankie. He was afraid of more than losing Zach; he was afraid of altering their relationship irrevocably. And honestly, that was Zach’s biggest fear as well. They were both afraid of the same thing, but they didn’t have to be. They could face the challenges ahead together and choose not to let anything that they had no control over tarnish the relationship that was budding between them. “It’s gonna take me a while to process it, but yeah. I get what you mean. I really don’t want it to be something that changes us. Besides, it’s not something you can control.”

Zach saw the relief flooding Frankie’s features. “We can talk about it more, if there’s anything that’s bothering you…” Frankie trailed off nervously.

Zach shook his head. “Honestly? I don’t really need to right now. I’m too busy thinking about how much better this went than I thought.”

“Really?” Frankie’s eyebrows rose in hope. To hear he hadn’t ruined Zach’s trust or impression of him was all the happiness he needed for about the next year.

Zach stared at his feet, a blush creeping up his cheeks. “Yeah. I was really worried it was something bad.” He looked up at Frankie shyly. “Like maybe you didn’t really want anything to do with me.” He spoke the words quietly, but Frankie heard well enough. Frankie lunged forward and put his hands on either side of Zach’s face, pressing their foreheads together. “Never, Zach. It would never be something like that. I promise.”

Zach nodded. That was all he could do. “I’m glad we both got this off our chests.”

“And like I said, if you need to talk to me about it, you can. Anytime, anywhere.” Frankie closed his eyes and breathed in Zach’s breath. He’d been so afraid of a fight, but that didn’t happen. He should have known they were stronger than a secret, even if they’d been strangers two weeks ago. If they were this close already, Frankie wondered how much closer they could become. Frankie had hooked up a lot, but he hadn’t had a lot of relationships. And he certainly had never met someone like Zach. He’d never felt so free before. And just like that, his control broke. He leaned down toward Zach’s lips slowly. When he was barely a hair’s breadth away, he stopped. He needed Zach to meet him halfway, needed that reassurance that he felt the same.

Zach didn’t let him down; his lips captured Frankie’s tentatively. Frankie sighed and wrapped his arms lightly around Zach’s waist. Zach groaned into his mouth and kissed him with more conviction, as though Frankie’s affectionate touch in a moment like this was more than he could take. They tumbled backward onto the bed in a pile of giggles. They kissed until their lips were swollen and their eyes wouldn’t stay open any longer. Zach drifted off into the most peaceful sleep he’d ever had, wrapped in the arms of the man he was falling for, their worries long forgotten.

Chapter Text

The door to the bedroom swung open. “Frankie, I’m ba—Ohmygodimsosorry!” Zach caught sight of an oversized jacket and a swinging ponytail as the intruder quickly retreated into the hall, slamming the door.

It took Zach a few seconds for his brain to register what was going on. He was in bed with Frankie, who had bolted upright next to him. Zach recalled the revelations of the night before. “That was her, wasn’t it?” he asked incredulously, like he had just seen a mythical creature.

Frankie cast him a worried look. “That was my sister, yes. And I apologize. I didn’t know she was coming home. I thought she was going to LA. She must have wanted to surprise me,” Frankie said, frowning.

“I didn’t mean to make it sound like that. Sorry,” Zach said sheepishly. “It’s just…a lot.”

Frankie reached over to pat his hand. “It’s fine, babe. I don’t expect you to get used to the idea while you’re sleeping.” He slowly rose from the bed. “I guess now’s as good a time as any to introduce you,” he said brightly.

Zach groaned and got up reluctantly. Was it so bad that he’d been hoping for a chance at some morning cuddles for once?

He threw on some fresh clothes and ran into the bathroom where Frankie was freshening up. He marveled at all of the products lining the counter, wondering why Frankie needed any of them; even just having climbed out of bed, he looked effortlessly beautiful.

Frankie caught him staring in awe at his extensive collection of makeup and hair products. “Want me to show you how to use some of it?” he asked genuinely.

Zach bit his lip, trying to decide. He didn’t really know what any of the stuff was well enough to say. Frankie seemed to get the gist. “I’ll let you watch me put it all on sometime,” he said with a warm smile.

“And here I thought you wanted me to see you take things off,” Zach said, regretting the words as soon as they’d passed his lips.

Thankfully, Frankie found his slip humorous. He swiped a few products on and smacked Zach’s butt lightly as he left the room. “Go ahead and brush your teeth,” Frankie said as he pulled on a cute t-shirt that showed off his muscles. “I’ll be out in the family room with Ari.”

Zach blanched. Finally done getting dressed, Frankie came close to Zach, clapping a hand on his shoulder. “It’ll be fine. She’s just my sister.”

But Frankie didn’t get it. Not only was he meeting one of Frankie’s family members for the first time, but said family member was also an internationally famous popstar. How the hell was he, a guy with a useless economics degree who spent his days avoiding his possible homosexuality and his nights alternately on his friend’s couch and in his boss’ bed, supposed to just introduce himself like it wasn’t the biggest fucking deal of his life? He had so much to lose.

Frankie saw Zach’s face fall. He reached up a hand to tip Zach’s chin so their eyes met. “Zach, trust me: this will be so much easier than you’re imagining. It’ll be no different than hanging out with me, you’ll see,” Frankie assured him with a knowing smile.

Zach hoped Frankie was right. He stepped back into the bathroom to brush his teeth. Just when he had put his toothbrush in his mouth, Frankie danced by the door again. “See you out there in a minute, babe! It’ll be great! Plus, she already loves you!” Frankie stuck around just long enough to see Zach’s eyes widen before he dashed out the door, leaving Zach alone with his anxiety.

So Frankie had told his sister all about him already? No amount of brushing his teeth would calm his nerves now.

***

Zach leaned against Frankie’s bedroom door, listening to the hoots of laughter and yelling that drifted easily down the hallway. If he hadn’t known better, he would swear that there were two Frankies out there for all the noise. That thought comforted him, remembering that this girl was someone who shared DNA with and had grown up with the object of his affection. (He might as well just call Frankie that, since it wasn’t any less accurate than whatever else he had come up with.) It was now or never. Zach turned the knob on the door and slowly slid into the hallway. He was hoping to buy himself a few seconds before they heard him coming.

As he made his way down the hall that was becoming just as familiar as AJ’s apartment, he heard tinkling laughter as one of the siblings played a funny video on their phone. He saw a long ponytail cascading over the back of an oversized sweater as the tiny popstar stood leaning against the kitchen wall with her back to him. He heard Frankie’s voice, muffled as he ate whatever goodies his sister had brought. His heart in his throat, Zach strolled into the kitchen, rounding the corner to be faced by both siblings at once.

Ariana’s face lit up in a smile. “Zach! Oh my god, I’ve been waiting to meet you!” She threw an arm around him in a hug, looking over at Frankie to see the way he was watching them. The siblings shared a look that Zach didn’t understand. “I’m sorry it took me so long to get back to meet you. I’ve been busy promoting my next album,” she told him as she pulled back.

Zach stood with his mouth agape, wondering if he should tell her he’d only found out about her the previous evening. Luckily, Frankie saved him the awkwardness by clearing his throat to draw the attention. “Um, actually, I just told him about you last night,” Frankie said, looking down at his coffee.

“What?” she said, mock offended, covering her heart with her hand. “How could you not mention me to him before now? All you did was call me to talk about him every night! It was so cute!” she gushed.

Frankie shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t think either of us was ready yet, Ari. At least I got to it before you came barging in on us,” Frankie said, aiming a sarcastic look at her.

“I’m glad you did, or I think he’d be a puddle on the floor right now,” Ariana joked.

“Probably,” Zach mumbled. He still felt a little star struck.

“Of course, he knew I had a sister,” Frankie corrected. “He just didn’t know it was you, per se.”

Ariana stuck her tongue out at him. Then she gestured toward the counter where a collection of sweets was spread out. “I’m sorry I didn’t get you anything to drink. I didn’t know you’d be here. Help yourself to everything else, though,” she told him cheerfully. She slid over to the table to sit while she sipped her drink.

“Um, thanks,” Zach said, moving past Frankie to grab a scone off the counter. He shoved a chunk of it into his mouth, grateful to have an excuse to do something besides stand there awkwardly.

“So Frankie has told me so much about you,” Ariana said. “He said that you’re from Florida, around where we grew up,” Ariana prompted. She was looking over at him with her chin propped on her hand, smiling encouragingly. Zach could tell she was trying to make the situation easier for him by steering the conversation. He appreciated it, but he was feeling incredibly out of place in a New York penthouse with a popstar and her brother.

Zach tried to remember his manners and simply nodded. He looked around nervously, trying to think of a reason to excuse himself. He felt a warm hand come to rest on his back, and he was instantly grateful for Frankie’s support.

Frankie smiled at him fondly. “Don’t overwhelm him, Ari. He’s had so many changes to deal with lately; his life isn’t anything like it was a few months ago. Then I just threw another huge thing at him last night.” Zach could tell from Frankie’s voice that he was feeling guilty. He wanted to tell Frankie that it was okay, but the words stayed stuck in his throat.

Ariana’s brown eyes, so much like Frankie’s, came to settle on Zach as she grimaced. “I’m sorry, Zach. I had no intentions of making you uncomfortable.” She looked like a child who’d just been given a prize and had it taken back. She changed position, looking like she was about to stand. Her gaze settled on Frankie. “I can go out for a bit, go shopping or something,” she offered.

Zach shook his head vigorously; he couldn’t let that happen. He knew that Ariana was never in one place for long, and she almost never got the chance to be home with her family. He couldn’t take that away from her just because he was having a mini crisis.

“Are you sure?” Frankie asked, resting his other hand on Zach’s shoulder lightly.

“Yeah,” Zach said, his mind made up. “You deserve to see your sister for once.” He turned to address Ariana. “And you should get to be home, too.”

Frankie’s face softened. “That’s very thoughtful of you, babe. But still, let me know if you change your mind. Okay?” He tightened his arm around Zach in appreciation.

Zach nodded his agreement, knowing he wouldn’t take him up on the offer.

***

Frankie had been right and Zach should have seen it coming. The Grande siblings were incredibly alike. Once he got used to Ariana being there, he found himself losing track of which one of them he was talking to.

Frankie had canceled dance practice for the day, citing that he wanted to spend time with Ariana, but Zach knew the reason was just as much a result of his protectiveness over him. Now that Zach knew the biggest secret Frankie had, Frankie wanted to make sure things would stay the same. Zach couldn’t blame him; he wanted to make sure things were the same, too.

And so, they were huddled up on the couch in front of the TV under a pile of plush blankets while they watched a full season of Friends. Zach and Ariana sat on either side of Frankie, giggling as Phoebe sang “Smelly Cat.” He was cuddled into Frankie, resting his head on his chest while Frankie stroked his arm. As Zach looked over at the Grande siblings, a feeling of fondness settled over the scene. He couldn’t have found better friends if he’d had them custom built.

“The thing that always gets me when I watch this show is why they thought they should go on a break in the first place,” Ariana said. “Like, that’s always a recipe for disaster.”

“Well yeah, how many people actually get back together? Like two percent?” Frankie scoffed.

“Exactly my point!” Ariana said as she threw her hands up. Zach laughed just watching them argue about Ross and Rachel’s relationship.

Then Zach heard the buzz of Frankie’s phone again. It had been going off a lot the past couple of days, but Frankie seemed to stiffen every time it happened. Zach surreptitiously watched Frankie’s reaction now. The older man swallowed and squirmed a bit. On Frankie’s other side, Ariana’s expression was unchanged. What was going on with Frankie that neither he nor Ariana knew about? Zach was musing about what could be weighing on Frankie or what he might be hiding when the other man spoke.

“How about I make some lunch? I’m sure it’s been forever since you had something other than restaurant food,” Frankie said to Ariana.

“Oh my god, you have no idea,” Ariana said. “I don’t even care what you make. Ear wax casserole would be better than takeout again.”

“Gross,” Zach groaned.

“I’ll make some pasta, then,” Frankie said with a chuckle. After pressing a quick kiss to the top of Zach’s head, he rose from between them and swept out of the room. Zach was left alone with Ariana. And that’s when his nerves swelled up again. Not only was she famous, but she was the first member of Frankie’s family that Zach had met.

Ariana shifted a bit to get comfortable again. “He’s a great cook,” she said with a smile. “I’m sure you know that, though. Have you had his fish tacos yet?”

“Last night, actually. They were delicious,” Zach said, thinking fondly of the dinner Frankie had set up for them the night before. It had been such a romantic night. And it had ended so perfectly.

Ariana caught his wistful look and smirked at him. “You really like him, don’t you?” she asked gently. “Not that it’s any of my business,” she added quickly. So Frankie had clearly told her quite a lot about their situation, including Zach’s confusion about his feelings for Frankie.

Zach looked down at his hands in his lap. He guessed there was nothing left to hide from her now. “Yeah,” he said softly. “I—I do.”

Ariana must have caught onto that little bit of doubt he couldn’t hold back from his voice, because she suddenly sat up straighter. She laid her hand on his and tilted her head thoughtfully. “This is all really new to you, and I just thought you should know that you’re doing a really great job of handling it. It can’t be easy, so I understand why you feel so confused. But I can see it in the way you look at him that you really care, and I can’t tell you how much that means to him and to me.” Her eyes wandered to the kitchen and her voice dropped to a whisper. “Frankie really cares about you, too. He has a lot of friends, but I haven’t seen him get this close to someone so quickly in a while.” She was biting her lip, looking unsure of herself.

Zach wasn’t quite sure where she was headed with the conversation, but he knew he probably wasn’t going to like it. “You want to talk about my sexuality,” he guessed.

Ariana sighed heavily. “I’m not trying to discourage you. I’m glad he found you, and you’re always welcome in our family,” she told him sincerely. “You’re already so much a part of each other’s lives, and I just want to make sure you’re taking the time to really think about what you want it to be like between you two.”

Zach tried his best to remain calm, but his stomach was churning. Why did everyone have to push him about such a sensitive subject? He was getting aggravated with everyone making assumptions about him because of his interactions with Frankie. Wasn’t it okay if he just didn’t know yet? But Ariana hadn’t been there until a few hours earlier, and she couldn’t possibly know how much the discrepancy between his past and his present was weighing on him every waking moment. He knew that she only meant well in asking, so he couldn’t take everything that had happened at dance practice out on her. “I’m…not sure what I want. I just know that I really like him and I always want to be near him.” Zach pondered for a moment. He’d never been eloquent, but he needed to try right now. “He’s changed my life in so many ways, and I can’t imagine my future without him in it anymore.”

Ariana nodded, like she had expected his answer. “I’m sure you haven’t had much time to think about it. And I want you to know that we will support you no matter what.” She took his hands in her smaller ones and her eyes locked with his. “Frankie, though…he knows what he wants and I just need you to promise me something.”

Zach nodded at her. “Sure, of course.”

Her eyes were filled with something like guilt and empathy. It was a strange look. “I want you to promise that if you realize that you can’t feel for Frankie the way he feels about you, you’ll make sure he knows immediately.” She squeezed his hands tighter. “I don’t want either of you to get your heart broken. I would also hate for you to risk your friendship by forcing something that you don’t feel just to make him happy. Can you promise me those things?” Ariana looked at him earnestly, knowing the difficulty of what she was asking, but pleading with him to see the logic of her words.

“I can try,” he said simply. There were no other words that could convey what he was thinking at that moment.

Ariana nodded, knowing that the pensive look on his face meant he was taking her words seriously. That was all she needed. “Thank you, Zach.” She smiled and rose from the couch lightly. “I’m going to see if he needs any help,” she said. And with that, she left Zach alone with his thoughts.

He hoped he could make good on his promises, but every time he tried to understand his feelings toward Frankie, they were far too jumbled to categorize into “friend” and “more”. Zach rubbed his temples. He was already feeling stressed from the pressure of weighing his life decisions again. He stood up and made his way down the hallway to the bathroom. He shut the door quietly and splashed some water on his face, trying to find some peace.

He leaned over the counter, bracing his arms against it. He tried to will happy thoughts into his mind. Of course the first thought to pop up was of Frankie. He remembered Frankie smiling at him as they danced that one night in his apartment. He’d felt so alive, his body thrumming with happiness and his budding feelings for Frankie. He didn’t need to dissect his emotions to know that every feeling he had toward Frankie was affectionate and kind, regardless of if they were romantic or not. All he needed to be happy was to have Frankie in his life, and he knew Frankie felt the same. Zach smiled as he pulled the door back open, heading back down the hall toward the kitchen.

“All day, Frankie? And yesterday too? This has to stop.”

Zach froze. He thought about the way Frankie’s phone had been buzzing incessantly and the way he’d clamored for an excuse to leave the room earlier. Maybe Frankie was finally telling Ariana about what was making him so upset. Zach crept closer quietly, eager to hear Frankie’s response.

“I saw him the other day. He wanted to talk,” Frankie admitted with a sigh. “But I was with Zach. I told him no and he left. But now he won’t stop trying to talk to me.”

Zach’s mind flashed to the other day when Frankie had been corned by a man outside a restaurant. Frankie hadn’t looked happy to see the man at the time, but if it really bothered him, why hadn’t Frankie told the man to stop texting him?

“Have you told him to leave you alone? Or that you don’t want to talk?” There was a pause. The tension was so thick in the air that Zach suddenly couldn’t breathe. “Oh,” Ariana said softly.

“I was just thinking that…maybe it would be easier,” he said quietly, as though he were ashamed to voice the thought.

“Easier than what? Being with someone who treats you well?” Ariana argued.

Zach felt his chest tighten as we waited for Frankie’s answer. “He was never that bad to me in the first place. It’s just easier than trying to force someone to love me or being with someone who’s closeted again. Maybe it’s the right choice to make. For everyone.”

There was finality in Frankie’s voice, as though he had thought about this and already arrived at his decision. Zach was taking too long to figure out his feelings, so Frankie wanted to get back with his ex and leave Zach behind like he meant nothing. Zach felt himself choke. He didn’t even hear the rest of the conversation around the pounding in his ears, the sound of his world collapsing in on him set to the beat of his troubled heart.

When he finally got himself under control enough to speak, he poked his head into the kitchen. If he waited any longer, he would lose his nerve. “Hey, um…I was thinking I should head home for a while. Give you guys some time to catch up.” He didn’t make eye contact with either of them. He didn’t want to see the concerned looks on their faces. He didn’t want to see their panic at the thought that he’d overheard them.

“Zach, are you sure? Lunch is almost done,” Frankie’s voice said. His voice was strained with worry. “Are you feeling uncomfortable? What can we do?”

Zach shook his head, staring at the floor. He wanted to vomit. “I just want to go home and check in with AJ and stuff. I haven’t been there much lately.” He shrugged halfheartedly and started toward the door.

“Okay, but—”

Zach didn’t hear the rest of what Frankie was going to say. He just closed the door behind him and took the elevator to the lobby, barely noticing the floors whiz past him.

Zach stepped outside feeling more alone than ever before. He supposed that was what happened when you finally found meaning in life and it didn’t choose you back. It was in that moment that he swore to himself that he would never let someone have his heart again. And if his eyes stung as he shoved his way down the crowded sidewalks, it was only from the wind lashing across his face.

Chapter Text

Zach didn’t go in to work the next day or the day after that. He sent word via a weary AJ, who grumpily agreed to text Lauren that Zach wasn’t feeling well. Zach knew that it was more than a little suspicious and definitely not the best move for his job, but he couldn’t seem to care. The club was having a soft opening on Thursday with the grand event slated for two days later. It was already Tuesday afternoon. Zach knew they’d be going over entrances, costumes, lighting—all of those final touches that elevated the dances from robotic routines to the level of a full-blown show. Missing that crucial last week of rehearsals was a major setback for the rest of the dancers and Frankie’s staff, who would need to find a stand-in for Zach and then scramble to get him caught up to speed and in properly fitting costumes when he deigned to come back.

If he came back.

The thought had crossed his mind several times that day while he lazed around in bed wolfing down Froot Loops. He was watching soap operas because the terrible acting and overblown drama was just about the only thing that could distract him from the intrusive pain that now came with each thought of Frankie.

Maybe it’s the right choice to make. For everyone. Zach had known that whatever it was he wanted with Frankie was going to involve a battle against himself. He just hadn’t expected to have to fight Frankie for it, too. Now he felt naïve and foolish. How hadn’t he seen it before? This other guy was fighting for Frankie, while Zach was wavering back and forth. Of course Frankie would take even the shittiest guy over one who wasn’t willing to admit to having real feelings for him. Romantic feelings for him.

Zach’s eyes pricked with tears at the thought. How had he gone from having everything laid out before him to getting it all wrong in the blink of an eye? You’re a coward, his mind supplied as an answer. He knew it was true. He didn’t deserve someone as kind and considerate as Frankie. And Frankie didn’t deserve someone who was ashamed to be with him.

With that thought, Zach buried his head in the mess of blankets around him and willed himself unconscious.

~~

The next day he called his mom. “I always knew it would be temporary. I mean, the pay was good, but it wasn’t the um…lifestyle I bargained for.” He cringed at his own words. Truth be told, Frankie was nothing like what he’d been expecting when he first burst through the doors of The Grande Flamingo; he had put Zach in so many situations he had never imagined and changed his life immeasurably. But now all of that was over with a few sharply wielded whispered words. Zach’s heart ached.

He stood in front of his closet, staring blankly at the outfit he was planning to wear that day: a plain black suit, otherwise known as the outfit he should by all means have been wearing since he graduated. As much as he itched to be that person who belonged in that suit, he longed for a freedom that such a carbon-copied, bleak outfit could never provide. “It was just a stepping stone, honey. When it’s time to move on, you know,” his mom said. “At least it got your motivation going and gave you a little extra money in the meantime.”

Zach was glad his mom couldn’t see the expression on his face. She wouldn’t see the way his bland expression didn’t match his upbeat tone. “Yeah,” he said, unable to help the harsh laugh escaping his lips. “My life got a very unexpected start.”

“And now it’s about to get another one. Go get ‘em, Zach. I know you can.”

Zach just fed her the lines he was supposed to say so that she’d think he was just fine. When they hung up, Zach sat on his bed and rubbed his temples, trying to relieve the inevitable tension of the day ahead. The truth was, his brain and his heart were in two different places, and he could only please one of them today. So he donned his suit and took one last look at his reflection, telling himself that the unfamiliar man in the mirror was who he needed to become.

~~

As he stood outside on the busy New York sidewalk, gazing up at the titan of a glass building towering over him, he felt like his heart wasn’t even in his chest anymore it was beating so hard. He couldn’t believe he was about to do this. The other people on the sidewalk jostled him as they passed by, simply carrying on with their lives while Zach felt the bile rising in his throat. He knew that this was what he had been waiting for ever since he arrived in New York, and if he had never met a certain sparkly, blonde distraction, this would be the culmination of everything he had worked toward since high school. He watched a few others brush by him to get through the doors, while Zach tried to convince himself to cross the threshold. Something about being here felt like giving up, but also like everything was falling together, as if Zach were the sun and this interview, this job, was just one of the many pieces being drawn into his orbit all at once. He would have to get a real job at some point, Frankie or no Frankie, so why waste any more time? Before he could hesitate, he propelled himself forward and passed through the doors.

After he made it through security, he boarded the elevator and pressed the button for the correct floor. When the doors reopened, he took a deep breath and stepped out into the hallway. The office he was looking for was straight ahead of him. He was faced with two sets of doors framed by an expanse of glass that spanned the entire length of the hall. He placed his hand on one of the door handles and closed his eyes. He was doing the right thing; he could feel it in his gut. But why did something feel so wrong?

Zach shook off the feeling and went in anyway. He smiled at the receptionist, turning on his best charm, no matter how phony it felt. When he walked into the meeting room with its intimidating mahogany table and polished executives, he felt both like this was everything he’d been waiting for and like there was something vital missing. He blocked the thought of warm brown eyes from his mind.

“Mr. Rance,” one of the men said, holding his hand out, “it’s a pleasure to meet you.” The man’s smile was genuine as he shook Zach’s hand heartily. The same was true of everyone else around the table, who treated him like a son or a long-lost friend.

No, there was nothing wrong with this job, this company, or these people; he knew it now. There was something wrong on his end, and until he fixed it, he would never be certain of anything again.

He made it through the barrage of questions on autopilot, even passing the practical scenarios they presented to him with flying colors. And when they asked him what his best quality was, the answer was obvious to him. “I’m passionate. When I have the opportunity to do something I care about, I give it my all and I don’t give up.” As he spoke the words, something tugged at his heart and Zach realized how untrue they were of him lately. Here he was claiming to be the same old Zach, the in-your-face frat boy from Florida, when the truth was that his entire world and personality had changed since coming to New York, especially over the past few weeks. Just as he was beginning to wonder if he could ever be the same again, his thoughts were interrupted by the man seated to his left, who seemed to be the decision-maker for the group.

“Well, Mr. Rance,” he began, “we don’t normally do things so transparently, but I think we can all agree that today is turning out to be an exception.” The man cast his gaze around at the table of grinning faces, who nodded back at him, seemingly passing a message of approval along with the action. The man then turned to face Zach, eyeing him with a proud, but stern look. “Mr. Rance, as the final candidate we’re interviewing, it’s safe to say that we’ve seen what all of the competition has to offer, and that you undoubtedly come out on top. We’d like to offer you the position, if you’ll accept.”

This was it: the moment Zach had been waiting for. For once, someone was telling him that yes, he was good enough. Maybe he couldn’t be happy with Frankie, but he could still be worth something without having to change his whole life or question who he was. In that moment, the decision was easy. It was all Zach could do not to jump up and pump his fist in the air in celebration of his victory. Instead, he smiled and took the manager’s proffered hand and shook it firmly. “Thank you so much for this opportunity. Of course I accept.”

“We’d like you to start next week, if that’s okay,” one of the women across the table said. “We have a big client who’s bringing extra business and we’re hoping to get you trained by then.”

Zach hesitated a moment, thinking about Frankie’s club opening and all of the dances he was supposed to perform. Zach wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Frankie and all of the changes the other man had started in his life. But how could he go back and see Frankie again knowing he’d never be enough for him, letting that disappointment taint his memories of Frankie until they became twisted and ugly? He had to quit his job at The Grande Flamingo—it was for his own good as well as Frankie’s. This job was all he had been waiting for since he got to New York, and all he had to do was reach out and take it. He’d never admit it, but something like guilt gnawed at his stomach as he signed the papers.

~~

Zach’s thoughts were bobbing around his head like crackers in soup, getting more muddled and diluted by the minute before the best parts disintegrated, leaving behind empty shells of once-beautiful ideas and moments. Moving to New York and staying with AJ. Sitting down next to Frankie before auditions. Searching high and low for jobs. The way Frankie had looked at him when they danced. Fighting with his mom on the phone. Frankie’s smile. He came to a stop on the pavement and turned toward the building, confusion and shock spreading across his face when he saw where his feet had led him.

He took it as a sign and reached for the door handle, his senses immediately flooded with the tinkling of the door’s chime and the smoky smell of incense as he stepped in off the street.

The shop hadn’t changed since that day he’d wandered in. There were still the same crystals and stones all about, the same jewelry and books and tarot decks. “So you didn’t give it to him,” a stern voice said behind him.

Zach turned around to see the same woman from last time, who’d ushered him around handing him special bracelets and stones meant to “help” him. What a load of bull shit. What was he even doing here? He shook his head and made a move for the door, but a hand on his arm stopped him. “You didn’t give it to him.” It wasn’t a question, or even a statement, but a judgment.

Zach sighed and ran a hand through his hair, resigning himself to the conversation he knew he couldn’t escape. “No. No, I didn’t. I…” he trailed off helplessly. He didn’t have a passable excuse and he suspected she knew that as well.

She fixed him with a stern look, which he tried not to wither under. “And I see you’ve given up on your own journey as well,” she said, gesturing to his wrist, which was decidedly devoid of the bracelet she’d chosen for him. Zach tugged his sleeve down, as if hiding his wrist could hide his shame—the shame he had not because he had done anything wrong, but because he had given up on the most meaningful time of his life the second he realized he’d have to fight not only himself, but the whole world, to keep it. “It didn’t turn out how I expected,” Zach admitted.

The psychic shook her head, her flashy jewelry jingling in a chorus of agreement. “I know you think you’re doing the right thing,” she broached, “but let me ask you something. If you had the chance to erase it all from your mind and live on as though it had never happened, would you?”

Zach had run through the scene in Frankie’s kitchen over and over, had tormented himself with the words he’d heard. He knew the moment backwards and forwards; he could even pinpoint the second his heart broke. But he hadn’t allowed himself the luxury of reflecting on the time before that, when everything had been full of hope and adventure, smiles and gentle touches. He had been afraid that letting his mind dwell on the good would only make his heartache worse as he remembered the day it all ended. It’s just easier than trying to force someone to love me.

Frankie had told him so many times that he was fine with whatever Zach felt comfortable being to him, that Zach didn’t have to want him in the same way. Either Frankie had lied to him all along or he’d changed his mind along the way and Zach hadn’t gotten the hint. One option made Zach the villain, the other made Frankie the villain; Zach hated both options. Frankie wasn’t a bad person and Zach hadn’t meant to hurt him. Frankie had just been so…caring, kind, welcoming—things Zach had clearly taken advantage of. But Frankie had never seemed to mind, had just taken it all in stride, showering Zach with the love and acceptance he’d never known he was missing. “I—I can’t. I don’t know,” he finally said, flustered.
The psychic nodded. “Sometimes the past is the key to the future, but other times, the future is its only solution.”

Zach raised his eyebrow. He really could use to talk to someone and sort out the tumult of thoughts and emotions that were holding his mind hostage, but this woman was only stirring the pot. “Are you just going to keep talking in riddles, or is there a point you’re trying to make?” he asked flatly.

The psychic crossed her arms. “I am trying to help you, but I can’t do that if you refuse to help yourself. You were lost the first time I saw you, and from what I can tell, you are determined to stay that way.” She gave Zach a pointed look.

Zach huffed and shook his head. He didn’t need some random lady to tell him that his life was off track. “Look, I know that I haven’t really been making the best life decisions, but that’s not exactly an earth-shattering revelation. And it’s not something you can wave a magic voodoo wand at and fix.” As soon as the words left his mouth, Zach covered his face in embarrassment.

He expected her to look angry, to kick him and his disrespectful attitude out of her shop, but instead a smug smile rested on her lips. “That, my dear, is exactly my point. A business suit can provide you a satisfying career, but it cannot give you the sense of fulfillment you need. It is you who must find what will give you that sense of purpose, and you must also make sure that once you find it, you hold onto it.”

Zach looked around the shop again, noticing no other customers within earshot. He lowered his voice anyway and spoke more calmly this time. “I’m sorry, but how is a bracelet going to help me achieve that?”

“They may or they may not help. But what helps them work best is if you believe that they do,” she told him, shrugging.

Zach nodded slowly, considering her words. “So what you’re telling me is that all this stuff I spent money on doesn’t work at all and I’m all alone in the world,” he deadpanned.

She laughed and reached out for his hand. “You are never alone,” she told him. “Wherever you go, you will always have yourself. It is your job to harness your own power and use it to give yourself the life you want. Everything you bought here serves as a reminder, each time you look at it, to wield that power.”

“So this is one of those the-power-is-within-you pep talks?” Zach smirked, kind of embarrassed that it was already working. The thing was that it was such a logical explanation, laid out simply and handed to him on a silver platter.

She must have read the openness in his expression, because she reached up to pat him on the shoulder. “You will know what you want the moment you see it. If you are unhappy, it is only because you denied yourself the chance to keep it.”

Zach averted his eyes toward the floor. He had known what he wanted when he met Frankie, but by the time he had realized it, their relationship was in jeopardy. Frankie had watched him walk out this weekend, knowing something was amiss, and he didn’t try to stop him, hadn’t even called when Zach didn’t show up for work. What if Frankie didn’t want him at all anymore? “And what if it doesn’t want to be kept?” he asked quietly. He tried not to choke on the words that tasted stale on his tongue.

Zach felt a hand squeeze his shoulder as the psychic looked into his eyes, willing him to listen. “Then it’s not your burden to bear,” she told him clearly. “But you do owe it to yourself to try. Even if it doesn’t work out, you’ll have one less regret.”

Zach swallowed hard, knowing she was right. He owed it to himself to go after Frankie, to see if Frankie still would want him. Regardless of the outcome, he could still be proud of himself for taking the chance, for going after what he wanted. Even if Frankie didn’t choose him, a real answer was so much better than the jumble of mixed signals that kept him up all night. Zach smiled at her in thanks and turned toward the door. As he stepped out onto the sidewalk again, he felt the buzz of life in the air around him in the sirens, the laughter, the aromas from nearby restaurants; there was a grounding feeling, a vibrancy that had been missing before. He breathed it all in contentedly. As his feet fell into a natural rhythm on the pavement, he felt more in control of his destiny already.