The first time it crossed my mind was the day we met.
He was kind of a jerk, admittedly, but he was hot (let's not forget that memorable first view, sitting with his shirt off in the examination room). I was interested from the start.
After that whole zoning/truck thing, when we were standing up and brushing ourselves off and obviously both feeling a little awkward about having had our bodies pressed together like that (not to mention the adrenaline pumping--that's how I wrote off my instant erection, at the time), I wondered if something might happen between us.
But it became clear pretty quickly that that was not what Jim Ellison was into. And hey, whatever, it wasn't a big deal, there were plenty of other people in the world to date.
There still are; I don't seem to date any of them; neither does Jim. Sure, we go on dates now and then--but the relationships always fizzle. Hell, most of 'em don't make it as far as "relationship."
This stopped seeming odd to me a long time ago. We have our routine; we like things the way they are. So what if we're two single men who live together, work together, and spend all of our free time together? I don't even think of wondering whether he might be interested in me, anymore.
Except sometimes I do. Wonder, I mean.
I know it's probably just wish-fulfillment. I'm a little chagrined that the urge I thought I'd stifled all those years ago appears to still be around. Okay, so it isn't a crush. It probably never was. But that's totally not the point. The point is, Jim doesn't date men--if he did, I'd fucking well know it by now.
And we have our routine. We like things the way they are. Nothing's going to change our m.o.
But it's been on my mind again. Because either I'm crazy, or Jim's been about this close to flirting with me.
Touching me, for instance. Okay, he's always done that. But lately it seems like maybe it means something. Something other than the alpha-male dominance thing he's always had going on.
And he's been smiling a lot. Like he knows something I don't know, some kind of dirty secret. Dirty in the good way. It makes my skin burn.
It feels like maybe he's noticing me. In all the ways I've always wished he'd notice. Like he caught one of my surreptitious glances and figured out what it means, like he overheard me telling someone that I'm dying to suck his dick. But I don't talk about my interest, and I never have; and I'm sure he's caught me staring before and found some other way to explain the look on my face.
I mean, how pitiful is this? I know I'm operating on flimsy evidence. Half a dozen smiles from Jim and I'm leaping to conclusions that my rational mind knows have to be totally wrong.
How likely is it that suddenly, against all odds, he'd decide to swing both ways? That after four years he'd suddenly realize that I'd pretty much roll over and beg if he snapped his fingers? Not fucking likely, ladies and gentlemen. So I try to just enjoy the attention and let the fantasies go. At least until I'm in my room alone, at the end of the day.
"It can't be that hard to use a caulk gun, Jim."
Jim's face smoothes into that patient look he always gets when he's trying to explain carpentry tasks to me. You'd think he'd know by now that I know my way around most power tools.
"It's not difficult, Sandburg, but if you don't cut the hole right your bead will be too big and the seams will be a mess."
"And you could show me how to do it now, but Laurie and Dave are coming over sometime in the next hour, and the minute I get myself and the apartment grimy, that's when they'll show up." I nod; I get the point.
The very small glint in his eye is my only clue that I've fallen into a trap.
"Yeah, you'll just be getting into it and then you'll have to stop," he says, his voice a perfect imitation of ruefulness, "and you know everybody hates a caulk tease."
During my split second of shock, he stands up, pats me on the shoulder, and goes to get a beer. I'm trying to stay deadpan, but I can't help a snort of stifled laughter.
He's grinning when he comes back in the room with two bottles, and that does it--I'm laughing like a maniac. Just then, of course, Laurie and Dave knock on the door.
Jim didn't have to stick around, but he does anyway. I wonder if that means anything? I mean, what kind of room-mate stays with you for moral support when your first serious girlfriend drops by with her husband and child?
I admit it, I'm not crazy about Dave. I still love Laurie, though. The baby's cute, if a little devoid of personality at this stage.
But all through their visit, part of my brain is still on Jim's stupid caulk-tease line. And the way he touched my arm. Which he does all the time; it's some kind of dominance thing, I know that, and I let him do it because I like it. I try not to think too hard about how pathetic that is.
He touches my shoulder all the time, I remind myself, and then the other part of my brain counters with yeah, but not usually after cracking jokes about dick.
The fantasy I jerk off to when night finally comes is even more vivid than usual. My imagination breaches the thin boundary between the way Jim sounds when he's frustrated, and the way he might sound if he were, say, hard as a rock with his hands tied, and when I come I bite my lip so hard I draw blood.
He notices the lip. At breakfast. First thing.
He's always up before I am--even with the sleep mask, he tends to be up with the sun, no matter what ungodly hour the sun rises at--and he's already halfway through his cup of coffee when I stumble out of my room and into the shower. When I come out, wrapped in a towel, he stops me.
"Hey," he says. Voice still a little morning-rough. Mmm.
I look at him, vaguely bleary-eyed.
"What'd you do to your lip?"
Part of me wonders how far down my chest the blush extends, but most of me hopes he won't push the subject further. I decide to state the obvious. "Bit it."
"Hm." He shifts in his chair and sips at his coffee again. His eyes seem amused, but he doesn't say anything else, so I go into my room and get dressed. Half-wishing it didn't feel quite so much like he had x-ray vision. Half-wishing he actually had it; maybe my body could have told my secret for me, spared me the hours of agonizing over how you ask your best friend of five years whether he might be flirting with you.
I mean, how do you ask? "Hey, Jim, excuse me, I know we haven't had many chances to talk in the years we've been living together so maybe you neglected to mention it, but do you maybe have the hots for me?" Um, no.
Especially since I'm oscillating wildly on whether I actually think he's flirting with me or not.
A week goes by without any more caulk cracks, without any lingering touches, and I convince myself that I've been delusional. Again.
I'm used to the whiplash: he might be interested, he'll never be interested, whatever. I've been doing this to myself since we met.
And then I get home a little late on Friday evening, having stopped to buy groceries and rent a movie on the way home, and the apartment's all steamy. The bathroom door is open and the mirrors are still fogged. Weird: Jim doesn't usually shower after work, not unless a foot chase has taken him through a garbage dumpster or something.
But shower he has, and he comes down the stairs looking like a photo from GQ: wide-wale black corduroys, a soft grey shirt that looks like some kind of woven silk. Clean-shaven. Polished shoes. It's all I can do not to lick my lips.
"What's the occasion?" Peppers in the crisper drawer, cheese in the dairy drawer, milk, beer, a place for everything and everything in its place.
"I guessed that part." The next brown bag is all pantry stuff--bread, cereal, pasta--so I move to the cupboard and start stacking things inside.
Jim leans on the island, feet crossed at the ankles, nonchalant. "With an ex." Is he really nonchalant, or is it an elaborate act? Suddenly I'm not sure. It seems like he's being just a little bit too blase about this whole thing.
I wish, not for the first time, that I had Jim's ability to gauge truthfulness with cues like heart rate. I fold the empty grocery bags and put them away for next time; I lean on the counter, mirroring Jim's pose, trying not to look like I'm about to pump him for information. He's being too casual: it's an act.
"And nothing," Jim says.
I can't let that slide; I'm curious as hell now. My hands leave my sides, because I can't hold them still when I'm about to start talking, and Jim quickly amends his statement, fending me off.
"Look, it's no big deal. We dated when I got back from Peru."
Time for some quick mental math. That's ten years ago. "And?"
Jim shrugs. "Just didn't work out. You know."
I do, in fact. Not working out seems to be a prerequisite of my relationships. Jim's, too, though, so at least I'm miserable with good company.
But I've never heard a word about this woman, which surprises me. Carolyn, plenty; Laura, I can give Jim a hard time about; Alex we don't discuss, but it's not like I don't know she was there. This woman, though--a complete cipher. I don't even know her name.
Just then there's a knock at the door. I can't wait to see who's on the other side. Jim picks up his leather jacket, slings it over one arm, and walks casually over.
When Jim opens the door, I get the shock of my life. Rivalling the time I walked in on Naomi and the baseball guy, Pete whatever-his-name-was, going at it in the middle of the living room. Worse than the first live grub I had to stomach when I was living with the Kayapo.
The person on the other side of the door is male.
"Hank," Jim says, his face breaking into a smile.
"Jimmy!" They embrace for a second longer than seems appropriate. I can feel my face flushing. It's uncomfortable, but I can't help watching out of the corner of my eye.
Hank's easily as tall as Jim, and he's built. His sweater's so tight it practically shows the lines of his pecs. And the belt and shoes look like real alligator. Jesus.
After a moment, Jim turns. "Hank, this is Blair Sandburg, my room-mate."
It takes Hank two steps to stride across the room to shake my hand. His grip is firm and his smile seems genuine. I hope mine looks that way, too. "Pleasure to meet you, Blair."
"Yeah, you too, man." Wishing my voice were a little deeper. I stand up as straight as I can without going up on my toes.
Jim clears his throat. "Shall we?"
And Hank smiles at Jim, and nods me a goodbye, and the two men walk out, closing the door quietly behind them. I just stand in the kitchen for a while. Five minutes, maybe. Staring at the door as though it held answers.
I'll be damned. He was flirting with me. He does go for men.
Monday around two Jim's cell rings. He flips it open.
He smiles, almost instantly. With so much warmth it's stunning.
He turns half away from the rest of us, trying to make the conversation a little more private.
"Yeah, I did, too...You realize we have to do it again so I can pick up the tab."
He's talking to Hank. My stomach flutters unpleasantly. I've spent most of the weekend planning how to broach the fact that we're apparently both bisexual--after a couple of glasses of good Scotch, maybe--but it's looking like tonight's not going to be the night.
"No, I've never...nope...uh-huh, supposed to be pretty good."
Okay, no seduction this evening. He's flipping open his Palm.
"Yeah. Seven-thirty sounds great."
There's another pause.
"Okay. See you." I can hear the smile in his voice.
There's a moment of awkwardness when he swivels his chair back around. Am I supposed to act like I don't know who that was? Am I supposed to care?
I'm saved by the bell: Simon's door opens and he calls our names. Time for another briefing. Social lives return to the back burner, and frankly I'm a little relieved. So he's going out with Hank twice: big deal, right? I'll find some way to let him know I'm interested tomorrow.
Tuesday night they go to a movie. Must have been a late movie. At least, that's how I rationalize the fact that he's not home yet at one a.m. when I go to bed.
Wednesday it's bowling--bowling, for Christ's sake. I can't believe Jim can stand the crashing, but he doesn't say anything about it, and I don't feel like offering to help. Being a third wheel is not my idea of a good time. Besides, I look like an idiot in bowling shoes; Hank probably manages to make them look good.
My plans of hitting on Jim have gone down the toilet. And what's worse--I'm realizing that I don't like going a week without spending any time with him. We see each other at work, yeah, but the minute the day's over, he's off to do something with Hank. It's making me surly.
Thursday I bring it up mid-morning. "We on for dinner tonight?"
Jim has the grace to look embarrassed. "Oh--I made plans with Hank. He has an extra ticket to the game. Courtside."
Like you need to be courtside to see the action. I almost snap that, but I manage to hold my tongue. The silence stretches just slightly too long.
"S'okay." I know I sound plastic, but at the moment I don't care. I want him to know I'm not happy.
Unfortunately, if he picks up on it, he doesn't give any indication--just picks the Jackson file back up and starts reading again.
I waffle for a few seconds on whether or not to say anything else.
"How about tomorrow?"
He looks up, eyes startled. He's already deep in the case again. I don't know how he switches gears so quickly.
"Tomorrow? Sure," he says, with a little shrug. "I've got a coffee date after work, but I can be home for dinner."
"Dinner. Great. I'll cook," I add, unnecessarily, and he smiles, and returns to the case file. The smile keeps me going the rest of the afternoon.
Friday I'm planning menus in my head in the car the whole way home. Pasta with white beans and hot Italian sausage. No, no, pork with garlic sauce and sticky rice.
Whole Foods turns out to have ripe plantains, a serious fucking rarity in the Pacific Northwest at this time of year, so I shop for West African instead: plantains, red-red, a good groundnut stew. Jim's gonna be psyched, I know it.
My heart does a little dance when I see his truck in the lot. He's home, he's home, finally we get to spend some fucking time together!
But when I get home the apartment is dark and the message light is blinking. Somehow I know what it will say even before I press the button.
//Hey, Chief...it's Jim...//
I slam my hand into the table, which hurts. The answering machine rattles but keeps playing.
//Hank and I got caught up talking and I didn't realize what time it was--we're gonna grab a quick bite dockside. Sorry to screw up our dinner plans. Might be home late, so I guess I'll see you tomorrow.//
I set the groceries gently down on the counter. I open the fridge, pull out a Corona, and open it quietly. I place the bottle cap in the trash can. I move to the living room and sit down to drink my beer. Every motion slow and deliberate, like I'm afraid the air is going to break if I make any sudden moves.
I'm most of the way through my second bottle when the frustration wells up again. Drinking on an empty stomach is making me maudlin, being in the house alone is depressing, and my imagination is running away with me. I'm picturing Jim and Hank at some trendy little bistro on the waterfront, leaning towards each other in the dim light, maybe even playing footsie under the table. I'm picturing Jim going home to Hank's place--sleek carpets, quiet jazz coming from hidden speakers, an opulent black-framed bed, everything nice and neat and in its place, just the way Jim likes it, the way, let's face it, I'm never going to be. I'm picturing Jim telling me that he and Hank are back together, that Jim's moving into Hank's apartment and the loft is going up for sale--or, worse, that Hank is moving into the loft, my room becoming his office.
I put the beer down on a coaster. I look around the empty room. And I scream at the top of my lungs.
I've barely had time to take a deep breath and see whether the primal scream has done me any good when the door slams in. I almost jump out of my skin, but it's Jim, gun drawn, eyes a little wild.
His shoulders go down a half-notch, in what I'm hoping isn't disappointment but relief.
"You okay?" He's closing the door, shrugging out of his jacket and shoulder holster, putting the safety back on his gun and the gun on the counter.
Now that the endorphins from the door slamming open are waning, I'm feeling sheepish. "Yeah, I'm...I'm fine."
He eyes me like he doesn't believe me. Not that I blame him, really.
"You, ah..." I make a gesture that doesn't really mean anything.
"I was in the parking lot. Hank just dropped me off."
My brain graces me with an image of Jim and Hank leaning in for a goodnight kiss in Hank's car. His undoubtedly expensive car. Frustration flushes me hot again.
Jim sits down at the edge of the couch. "You want to tell me what the shouting was about?"
I put my head in my hands. No, I don't, not really, but some imp of the perverse takes over my vocal cords and I hear myself say "I couldn't take it."
"Couldn't take...?" His voice trails off, dry as dust but at least not condemning. Not yet.
I sigh and look up. "I'm gonna regret saying this."
The flicker of confusion in Jim's eyes is almost imperceptible, but I catch it. It almost makes me smile. I like being able to read him so clearly. Of course, I remind myself, I can read his minutest facial expressions, but I couldn't read at any moment over the last five years that he was queer...
"Earth to Sandburg."
"Start talking." His tone doesn't brook discussion.
So I comply.
Five minutes later, which feels like a year, I finally wind up. "I just...can't believe I never noticed. Until Hank showed up. And the worst part is, I've missed my goddamned window of opportunity--maybe I could've, I don't know, wined you and dined you, but now it's too fucking late."
Jim stands up, without answering, and goes to put the kettle on. Uh-oh. That can't be a good sign, can it?
Then he comes back in, rejoins me on the couch, and looks at me. Earnestly.
I'm preparing myself for the worst: "Hank and I are back together for good, Sandburg." Or, worse, "Chief, you're honestly just not my type."
But that's not what he says. He says, "Blair, I'm not interested in Hank. Not even remotely."
I open my mouth, then close it again.
"Nice fish impression."
I give him the finger, starting to feel a little less miserable, but no less confused. "Jim, you haven't spent an evening at home all week."
"He goes back to Japan on Monday."
Back to Japan. Huh. This I did not know.
"Still. He's obviously interested in you. And you've been so happy to see him." I don't know why I'm arguing this with him; he's just told me what I want to hear, but I can't believe it. I don't want to protest this, but I can't help myself.
"Yeah, 'cause we're old friends, not because I want to be dating the guy again." Jim scrubs a hand over his face. "Look--I'm forty. Last time Hank saw me I had more hair and less gut. It's...flattering that he's still interested, okay? Contrary to popular opinion, my ego could use the stroke."
I'm sitting there mulling over this new information.
"So no, I don't want you to move out. Actually, I'm kind of offended that you assumed that, Chief. After all this time."
Jeez. I've really put my foot in it, haven't I? A couple of sentences from Jim and my nightmare turns out to be a house of cards. He's not interested in Hank. I'm not about to be booted out of my home. I'm just being a jerk.
Of course, he hasn't exactly been Mister Communication, so it's not like I had information to keep me on an even keel--but I jumped to some idiot conclusions.
I'm feeling kind of lousy now, and I'm not sure what to say, and the teakettle becomes silent which means it's about to whistle, and Jim stands up to get the kettle off the stove. I hear him pour a cup of tea.
He walks back in and puts the mug in front of me. Mmm: cardamom cinnamon, herbal. He looks at me for a second; the set of his mouth is still serious, but I can see the smile in his eyes. It sets my heart to racing.
"Lighten up," he says. There's a slight spark to his tone that suggests the conversation has just shifted tenor. "Just FYI, Sandburg, you haven't missed your window at all." Pats me on the cheek with two fingers, smiles at me in a pleasantly predatorial way, and walks up the stairs to his room.
Half an hour later, the tea long gone, I'm still grinning like a maniac and my heart is still pounding.
But I'm not sure what to do. Was that an invitation, exactly?
He didn't mean for me to follow him up the stairs, did he?
I brush my teeth on autopilot and wind up sitting on my own bed, in boxers, indecisive. It was an invitation, I decide, but not for tonight. He wouldn't have meant anything that fast, would he? I'll just have to start working on it first thing tomorrow. Some wining. Some dining. See where it gets me.
I'm happier than I can remember being in a long, long time.
I'm also far too wired to sleep.
Orgasms are a great sleep aid. I'm just trying to calm myself down. That's my justification for winding up with my legs wide open and my hand down my shorts, my eyes shut tight, tantalizing myself with some pretty pictures.
Like coming home at the end of a long day, finding Jim cooking in that seriously warped June Cleaver apron of his, and coming up behind him to kiss the back of his neck and press my dick against his ass.
Having him turn around and kiss me. Long, slow kisses that leave us both hard.
Or--this one's better, forget the whole coming home thing--lying with him on his bed. Slicking up my finger, watching him draw up one bent knee, giving me access. How hot and tight he'd be around my finger. The way the flush would spread up his chest to his face, the little noises he'd make, unable to help himself.
I'm using both hands now, my shorts pushed down to mid-thigh, breathing hard, imagining. I bring my right hand up and lick the palm, lick again to wet the fingers, wanting to imagine Jim's tongue--
--and his voice breaks my reverie. From, oh, a foot in front of me.
"Chief. Allow me."
My eyes snap open and I can see his charcoal-grey form in the darkness. My brain barely gets as far as "holy shit!" before he kneels on the bed, tightens one hand at the base of my dick, and slides my cock into his mouth.
I groan and he chuckles, a low sound that I feel as much as hear. He's doing things with his lips and tongue, his hand moving down to rub the skin behind my balls, and I'm trying with every neuron in my body not to come right away, not to succumb to this delicious heat.
But then it hits me just who's sucking me, and I gasp, and I come so hard it leaves tears in my eyes.
He pulls away and slides up alongside me, head propped on his folded arm, watching me recover. After a second I rouse myself enough to kick the boxers the rest of the way off my legs, and turn towards him, and then we're pressed together kissing.
Some dim part of my mind wonders how I feel to him. Mostly I'm focused on how he feels to me: legs longer than mine, and as strong, twining to hold me steady. His dick hot and hard against my thigh.
These kisses could get addictive. My tongue in his mouth, his tongue in mine, little bites that send shivers through me. Slow and languid, which suits me just fine, but maybe he's looking for something a little more...goal-oriented. So I roll on top of him and move to suck gently at his throat. He takes a long, shuddery breath and his dick twitches.
Working my way down seems like the right call, so I pull back enough to slide between his legs. I place a kiss on one nipple and he inhales hard and fast, almost a gasp. I want to see more of that, so I try a tiny bite. Jackpot: he groans, his whole body straining like he wants inside my skin.
Turns out Jim likes tongue. Pretty much anywhere. Especially on his nipples, if his rough gasps are any indication. When I pull his shorts off his breathing gets shallower. When I lick his balls (gently--I have no idea how sensitive he is here, and our first time doesn't seem like the time to find out) he honest-to-god whimpers, easily one of the hottest things I've ever heard in my life. Finally I slide my mouth over his dick and he just says "ohh," sounding surprised to be coming.
I don't want to let his dick out of my mouth; I want to stay there, but he's softening now, probably tender, so I reluctantly move back and wipe my lips. My eyes have adjusted to the dark a little, enough to see Jim lying in my bed, and my dick tries to wake up at the sight.
The spirit is willing, but the flesh...the flesh winds up lying close to Jim again, curled together with my legs behind his, his back against my chest. I like this position: it lets me feather the back of his neck with tiny kisses. His buzz cut is softer than I expected.
"Know what the best part is?" His voice vibrates, low, where our bodies touch.
"Mmm?" I'm floating, but I can muster a nonsyllabic response.
"No alarm," he confirms, and I can hear the smile in his tone. "Means we can sleep late and then do this again."
"I like the way you think."
His arms, wrapped over mine, tighten for a second and then let go. We disentagle, roll a few inches apart, prepare to sleep.
Just as I'm about to drop off he chuckles very quietly, and I open my eyes. He's lying on his back, staring at the ceiling, smiling like he's trying hard not to laugh.
"What's so funny?"
"You," he murmurs, turning slightly towards me. "'Missed your window.' Jesus Christ, Sandburg, what kind of idiot are you?"
"A happy one?"
We grin at each other in the darkness.
And that's the last thing I'm aware of as sleep claims me. Naomi always said opportunity was "not a lengthy visitor," but it looks like this particular one is sticking around for good.