If there was one thing in this world that George Luz loves, it was games.
Games kept things interesting. Kept his friends on their toes. Brought great entertainment to parties - which George and Frank were the best at, thank you very much.
No other apartment in Toccoa Towers - mind you, “tower” is a bit of a stretch. How six apartments in a two story apartment could be called anything but a medium sized hovel is beyond any of them - could compete with the boys in 1B. Not only did they pride themselves on closing out every party in the wee hours of the early morning with at least an average of 91% attendance still in place, but because they were on the first floor, many of their shindigs stretched into the modest backyard. No matter the season.
Hell, changes in climate also kept things interesting. Every time George thought of the Game of Thrones party this past January, complete with frosted wall and wildlings hidden in the ice of the beer coolers, his chest puffed up with pride. Frank was still complaining that he couldn’t be Jon Snow, but honestly, he made a better Tyrion anyway.
Now that May had rolled in and the nearby college had emptied for the summer, there wouldn’t even be any worthwhile competition. Many of his friends, including George himself, took some night classes to experience the slow and painful death of obtaining a graduate degree while also working full time. Although he would still have one or two classes over the summer, his schedule became lighter almost instantaneously. And with a lighter schedule, the opportunity for the first party of the summer had come. And with it, the joy of seeing his friends all together, meeting new stragglers, and playing various games to keep it all together.
“Christ, Perco, if ya lock your door this time, you won’t have to worry about Lieb and Webster gettin’ it on on your precious duvet set,” muttered George as he continued to scribble lists down. “Problem solved.”
Frank rolled his eyes and huffed. “The point is I shouldn’t have to lock my damn door, George. It’s common decency not to have wild animal sex on someone else’s bed!”
“What about only semi-wild, kind-of boring, and not-worth-a-second-go-around human sex?”
Frank froze in his task of stacking plastic cups for the party tomorrow night. “If you’re talkin’ about that sleaze you brought home last month, you had better not even joke that you did it in my bed. I’m serious, George.”
George only grinned and shrugged slightly. “Fine, I won’t joke. Consider me not joking.”
“Jesus Christ. I need to go wash my sheets again.”
George cackled before counting the guest list again. Although their friends were welcome to bring whomever they’d like, there was one fateful party, back when they were all undergrads and clueless young souls, when they didn’t get enough beer and pizza. Talk about embarrassing.
After tallying everything up, George grabbed his car keys. “I’m gonna go grab the keg at Johnny’s! Want anything?”
“Yeah, my goddamn innocence back!”
With a grin to himself, George made his way out and into town.
Currahee wasn’t a big town in the northeastern corner of Pennsylvania. The local university took up much of the area, but it supported a variety of businesses, including the local hospital, restaurants, schools, construction companies, and more. Many students stuck around after graduation to gain experience with internships and entry level positions depending on their course of study. It was a quaint, but happy place, with the odd level of crazy, because, come on, it was a college town.
George pulled into the parking lot of the local beer store, Johnny’s. Johnny himself had recently graduated with an MBA from Toccoa University. But instead of heading towards Philadelphia or New York to wear double breasted suits and scream at computer screens, he bought out a local supply warehouse and created something truly special that became an immediate hit.
George chucked up his chin when he saw Johnny behind the register with a young kid, whom he’d never seen before. “Hey Martin, what’s new?”
Johnny looked up and chucked his chin back. “Heya Luz. Your keg is ready. I’ll bring it up in just a minute.”
George waved him down. “No worries. You still have that ice cream beer? That sweet stuff that rots your teeth?”
Johnny pointed to the back corner. “The Ben & Jerry’s line? Yeah, over there. I thought you hated that shit.”
“It’s disgusting, but I owe Perco. Something about defiling his personal space.”
“Why am I not surprised. I’ll see ya back up here when you’re ready.”
George made his way towards the back corner where Johnny put all the weird shit that only a few people in town came in for, but they were loyal customers. Johnny had a knack for making sure whatever someone might want was on the shelves.
He had finally picked out the chocolate chip cookie dough beer - bleh - before turning around and almost bumping into a man who stood behind him, glancing at the local bottles available on the opposite shelf.
“Christ, you must have some super secret ninja talent or somethin’, buddy. I didn’t even hear ya there.”
The stranger turned to face him and George audibly gulped because hot damn.
If George didn’t immediately get lost in the man’s huge, soulful, yet hard eyes, he would have had more time to take in the broad expanse of his shoulders in the leather jacket. The honey tone of his skin - damn it looked soft . The breadth of his hands and - dear God - the expanse of his fingers. His brain couldn’t handle anything below the belt.
The stranger didn’t answer, only hummed in acknowledgement that George even existed. He had to blink several times and swallow what little saliva was left in his mouth before he could continue. “Are all ninjas this silent?”
The man narrowed his eyes as if he couldn't really understand him, and George couldn’t blame him actually. He finally found his footing and grinned. “I guess that’s the mark of a true ninja, amiright?” George grasped the neck of the beer bottle and swung it like a sword. “Stealthiness, silence, and killer bodies in black leather coats.” He shot him a wink.
The man caught the label of the beer bottle and simply raised an eyebrow. Whether it was because of the crazy flavor or George himself, he had no idea. “Hey, don’t knock it til you try it, man.” He grimaced. “Actually don’t try it. I am one for all things sugar, but this? Hell no. But my roommate is obsessed with it.” He paused. “My non-boyfriend roommate. Because I’m single.”
Hot Ninja Clad in Leather just continued to give him a look as if he wasn’t sure if he’d ever shut up. George was used to it, but the silence was deafening. The man was either too perturbed by him or too straight to know what to say to George’s strange flirting. He shrugged, giving in. “Have a great night, man.”
George kept up a face of bravado, but when he turned away, he immediately began internally cursing himself. No one that hot had rolled into town in the five years George had lived here. The chances that the man was gay, single and/or into George were slim to none anyway, but it was worth a shot.
He walked up to the counter where the kid was standing by himself. When he saw George, he looked terrified at the concept of a customer. George tried to give him a reassuring smile as he placed the godforsaken Perco beer on the glass. “Just this and a half barrel of Mich Ultra.”
A snort sounded behind him and he turned to find the stranger there, a six pack of probably something overly expensive and way too hoppy in his hand. George raised an eyebrow just as he handed the kid his credit card, but he didn’t look away from Hot Ninja. “95 calories per 12 ounces, buddy. We can’t all look as good as you.” And he turned back to sign the receipt, a smile of triumph on his face that he finally won a hand in his mind, just as Johnny pushed the hand cart up with his purchase.
But he froze when he heard the man speak, the absolute surprise of his honey-over-gravel voice and his mouth way, way too close to his ear. “Some things are worth the extra indulgence.”
And George just died then and there.
One of the best and worst parts of having Norman Dike as their landlord was that he was never around. His disappearing act made parties go off without a hitch and without a yell from his single apartment in the attic to keep it down.
But it truly sucked when Dike didn’t show up for weeks to fix the hot water tank. Cold showers were never George’s thing to begin with, but after yesterday’s encounter at Johnny’s, he could really use one, even after an entire 29.5 hours had passed.
But he tried to push away the delicious stranger from his mind. Tonight was party night, and with it, he became the ultimate host.
Lieb and Webster had just arrived from upstairs. Lieb snorted as he took in the seemingly hundreds of flowers strewn about the apartment. “I shoulda known April wasn’t really a toga party. Who wears a towel as a toga?”
George bounced on over to them and placed a flower crown on each of their head’s, which Lieb ripped off immediately. George wasn’t deterred, his crown perfectly pristine in his soft brown hair. “You only assumed it was a toga party last month, you uncreative jackass. It was a shower party! And with April showers…” He waved his hands around towards the huge array of colorful blooms.
“Bring May flowers,” replied Webster, looking around and nodding, flower crown still in tact. “Cute, Luz. Really. I like it.”
Lieb snorted again. “You would.”
Webster narrowed his eyes. “And what do you mean by that?”
“What do you think I mean, princess? If it’s somethin’ pink and pretty, you fall over yourself to get it.”
Instead of the fight that George was waiting to erupt, Webster instead pulled Lieb in by the collar of his shirt until they were inches apart. “I can think of something very pink and pretty that I’d love to fall all over right about now.”
George held his hands up in surrender as they immediately began aggressively kissing. “Nope! I’m out!” He ran over to the kitchen to grab a slice of pizza before the savages - aka Hoobler and Bull - arrived to made it all dozen pies disappear.
George turned towards the door and grinned. A slew of people just arrived, Bill and Frannie up front and making their way towards him.
He leaned in and kissed her cheek. “How’s my favorite girl? And where’s your flower crown? Christ, where’s Perco? I need to do everything myself.”
Frannie beamed and kissed him back. “Oh, I saw them. I want to take the time and choose one special for my man.”
Bill snorted. “I ain’t wearing a tiara for ya, doll.”
George blinked innocently. “Of course you can’t wear a flower crown, Bill. How else would anyone know you’re straight?”
Bill shoved him hard but George just giggled with Frannie as the three of them made their way over to the party favors. “Here we are!” He presented the choices proudly. “We’ve got daisies, carnations - I know, tacky but who doesn’t like carnations if we’re being honest? - marigolds, sunflowers, and of course, lavender.”
Bill snorted again. “Why of course lavender?”
Before George could explain, Johnny stepped up and answered for him. “It’s an aphrodisiac. Right, Luz?”
George beamed and pointed to his flower crown that was laden with it. “Right. Who knows if Mr. Right walks through my door tonight?” Frannie laughed with Bill and tucked a piece of lavender through the open button hole of his shirt with a wink.
“Jesus Christ, why is there a padlock on Perco’s door?”
Johnny rolled his eyes at the shout across the room from Lieb before turning to Bill. “You shoulda seen Luz fawning over who he thought was Mr. Right yesterday. Damn painful to watch, lemme tell ya.”
Bill whistled and they all turned to George, whose cheeks pinkened. “What’s his name, George?”
Frannie smacked him on the arm. “Leave him alone. Can’t you see you’re embarrassing him, you beasts.”
Bill shrugged, unconcerned. “Just wonderin’ if I wasted my time talking him up to Joe the other day.”
George brightened and was thankful that yesterday’s mortification was pushed aside. “Joe? Who’s Joe?”
Frannie and Bill exchanged a sly glance. “New guy with the construction company. Had to beg, barter and steal to get him to agree to come tonight, but I got him the other day. Said he was gonna stop by Babe’s place first. You know how that kid is with showin’ off his movie collection.”
George grinned and rocked back and forth on his heels. “And you talked me up? How sweet of you.”
Bill rolled his eyes but grinned back. “More like I looked forward to you tryin’ to tap that. Should have great entertainment value.”
George rolled his eyes back. “You know my parties won’t lack in that. As soon as everyone’s settled, you bet your flat ass, Gonorrhea, that we’ll be playing some games.” He laughed when Bill pouted and took a moment to glimpse at his butt, trying to determine if it was indeed flat. “But back to your original statement - who is this Joe and when are you going to introduce him to his future husband?”
Frannie perked up. “Right now. Joe!” She waved by the door.
George turned as Babe walked in and immediately came towards them. Behind him, another man followed and as soon as George saw his face, his grin fell away and his eyes widened.
The fucking Hot Ninja.
If Joe recognized George, it was only shown for a moment before he leaned in to give Frannie a kiss on her cheek and to shake Bill’s hand. And because of it, George started to second guess himself. Maybe this wasn’t the same guy. Maybe there are two hot men clad in black leather that made George’s heart pound like a freight train in this small town.
But then Joe met George’s eyes and he knew then that he was one in the same, especially when he opened his mouth. “Are you Luz?”
George tried his best not to shiver when that voice said his name. He truly did. But if the smirk on Johnny’s face was any indication, it showed too. Damn, he needed new friends.
“Yeah,” George murmured. “Yeah, I’m Luz.” He paused. “George. I’m George. But also Luz. George Luz. My name.”
In the corner of his eye he saw Babe bite his bottom lip to try and not laugh. If the kid wasn’t careful, he was about to get a flower crown to the nuts.
Joe cocked an eyebrow at the rambling, but he held out a hand. Tentatively, George shook it and he was incredibly proud when he didn’t melt into the floor. Progress.
“Thanks for letting Bill and Babe drag me along.” He let go of his hand and then held out the other, the six pack he bought yesterday being offered. His eyebrow cocked up again and a twitch of a grin played at his too-perfect lips. “I know it’s not ice cream flavored or only 95 calories, but I didn’t want to come empty handed.”
George blinked but took the beer and tried not to jolt when their fingers brushed. “Uh, thanks.” He paused to catch his breath and continued with the only thing he could think of. “Flower crown?”
Joe narrowed his eyes, trying to figure him out once again. Bill’s cheshire grin spread further across his face. “Come on, Joe. Let’s get you one with lavender.” He threw George a wink and Frannie wasn’t much better. She looked like she was holding an internal dance party based on the amusement in her eyes. Jesus, they deserved each other.
George watched the five of them move to the table as he mentally sank into the floor. Closing his eyes, he cursed his way all the way to the kitchen. With a deep breath, he looked at the gift in his hand. Allowing himself a grin, he shoved it way back in the fridge hidden away so that no one would find it and steal it away from him.
After he got over his initial shock of seeing Hot Ninja - sorry, Joe - again, George revived into his usual cheerful and hyper self, circling around to speak to anyone and everyone, but always keeping an eye out for tall, dark and handsome.
“Luz. Earth to Luz.”
George blinked back to consciousness and looked at Lipton sheepishly. Skip raised his eyebrows expectedly. “Sorry, Lip. What were you saying?”
Lipton shrugged and took a sip of beer. “Didn’t know if you found out who was moving into Johnny and Bull’s old apartment. Any word?”
George nodded. “Yeah, I overheard Dike mention that two new guys were movin’ in by the end of the month. Hope they don’t suck.”
Skip rolled his eyes but smiled. “We didn’t know what to make of Lieb and Tipper when they moved in last year, but look where we are now. Big happy, semi-incestuous family.”
George slapped a hand on Lipton’s shoulder. “Led by Mama Lip.” Lipton snorted as George turned to Skip. “And we’re not that bad.”
It was Skip’s turn to snort. “Come on, Luz. We mate from within. Winters and Nix started it all back in school, and it had a trickle-down effect to Frannie and Bill, Lieb and Web…”
“Would we consider them a couple?”
Skip smacked George on the chest lightly. “Remember when Babe and Malarkey dated?”
George shuddered at the memory. “Ginger on ginger. Christ, that was terrible. Thankfully only the one date though. I would have hated to shun them from the family.”
After a few more minutes of small talk, George left to continue his rounds. He was thrilled to see the majority of party-goers crowned with a peppering of flowers, many of them already playing cards or laughing in groups. Damn, he loved throwing parties.
After a particularly rowdy and somehow strip-version of Spoons, George shrugged his shirt back on to see if there was anyone he missed. The time was just past midnight, and only a few people had left with an excuse here and there, but the apartment and yard were as packed as ever.
Up ahead, he witnessed just in time Babe standing up from sitting next to Joe in the back corner of the yard on a garden bench that George had put together himself. It didn’t matter that he had several extra pieces leftover, including a leg somehow, the bench was still standing, and it lived on even after holding the heavy build of someone like Joe. George’s eyes gleamed, his confidence returning once more, fueled by a few beers. And with a check of his flower crown, he sauntered over to him.
Joe looked up as George sat next him, closer than what was really needed as there was plenty of space. George turned to look at him and grinned. “Having fun, Joe?”
Joe waited a beat before humming in response. Undeterred, George leaned back and draped his arms over the back of the bench. His smile only widened. “Is that a yes ‘hmm’ or a no ‘hmm’?”
Before Joe could respond, George moved again, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. Joe was beginning to think the man never stopped moving, but he didn’t say anything. George’s eyes twinkled playfully. “I am going to say it’s a yes ‘hmm.’ Everyone has a great time at Chateau PercLuz.”
Joe cocked an eyebrow. “PercLuz?”
“Ah!” cried George. “He speaks!” He nodded enthusiastically. “Perco - Frank Perconte - he’s my roommate. And as you know, my last name is Luz, so…”
“You don’t say.”
George tried his best not to color of the memory of his earlier ramblings. It was his own fault really. But it was his turn to goad Joe. “Look at that, three words put together. I’m beginning to think you like me.”
Another grin broke out against George’s face at the blatant challenge. “Do you like games? Me? I love games. Let’s play one right now.” He bounced in his seat to face Joe better, their knees almost knocking. “What’s your last name?”
“Where did you live before Currahee?”
“Where’s that? I never heard of it.”
George scratched his chin in thought. “If you had to describe yourself, in detail, how would you do it?”
George pouted. “That’s in detail? That’s pathetic!”
Joe shifted on the bench and leaned back into the corner. “What kind of game is this anyway?”
George beamed. “Now I’m winning! The goal is to get you to make another noise besides a grunt. Actually I think we’re tied now; I wasn’t expecting a one word answer for in detail, yeesh.”
As George thought of his next question, Joe took a moment to study him silently. The soft fluff of his dark brown hair still ordained with flowers. His big eyes narrowed in concentration. His tshirt across his chest. His fingers tapping thoughtfully on his denim clad knee.
George lit up again. “Aha! If you could travel to one place in the world, where would it be and why ?”
Joe only hummed again, causing George to sigh dramatically. “Was that even a grunt? Maybe a murmur. I think I get points for a…” He stopped short.
George’s earlier assessment that Joe was a secret ninja came back full force when the larger man moved forward and leaned towards him with the stealthiness of a panther. After gazing into George’s eyes a moment, he moved his lips to be by his ear. “I wonder what noises I can get you to make, Luz.”
No one could really blame George for his jaw dropping on its own and the shiver that went up his spine at the heat from Joe’s breath on his neck and the blatant implication of his words.
But before he could recircuit his brain to form simple thoughts and commands like “blink” and “breathe,” Joe stood up and made his way out of the yard and back into the house.
Really, he would like to take a poll on what someone else would do in his shoes. Because for the second time within two days, George Luz was dead and his weapon of choice was Joe Toye.
It took a few days, but George eventually recovered. When he did, he did not annoy Babe and Bill to death to spill more details about Joe. Nope. No way.
OK, so he gave up on Bill. Jesus, he could be a grumpy bastard. Frannie offered tidbits on what she knew from when Joe came to their apartment for dinner one time, but all she knew was that he was a really nice guy, a little reserved, but he had no significant other that she heard of. Bill confirmed later that Joe mentioned he wasn’t straight, so George took both tidbits of news to heart. They were two tidbits that made Joe all the more attainable, not to mention his ability to verbally strip George if he only gave the command.
Babe was even less help.
“Christ, Heffron,” muttered George as they lounged in the backyard, “As a fellow man lookin’ for love, I figured you’d help a guy out.”
Babe shrugged from his spot in the shade, long sleeved tshirt swallowing him up. He tried not to be jealous of George’s ability to tan like a demiGod. Damn portuguese skin. “He ain’t my type so I don’t really know much more than what Bill already told ya.”
George snorted, shifting on the blanket, his bare upper body toasting softly. “How is Joe not your type? He’s gorgeous. His eyes could kill. His voice slays me. Slays. Like he’s a knight and I’m a dragon.”
Babe smirked. “But you want to be the princess.”
“Damn right I do.”
They chuckled together before flipping over onto their stomachs. “Did you meet the new guys yet?” asked George.
“Nope, have you?”
“Met one of them. A med student. Seems nice enough, but a little quiet. Hope he’s not opposed to the occasional mayhem.”
“And the other?”
George shrugged with his chin on his arms. “I haven’t seen him yet, but apparently they don’t really know each other. Took one medical class together, I guess. But Lieb said the man was damn scary.”
Heffron raised his eyebrows. “Lieb admitted someone was scary?”
“Yeah. Said he’s a firefighter too. One scary, gorgeous, jacked firefighter to go, please.”
Heffron snorted. “How do you know he’s gorgeous if you haven’t seen him?”
George gave him a look as if it were obvious. “He’s a firefighter.”
Heffron snorted again. “Like I said, those type of guys ain’t my type. I much prefer...prefer…” He trailed off, his eyes wide and looking past George.
George looked over to see what happened and he found his friend staring up at something. He turned to look and saw their newest neighbor standing then.
Jumping up with a grin, George pushed his sunglasses back into his hair and motioned to the man. “Eugene! Glad to see you out of the apartment!”
Eugene smiled softly. “Nice to see you again, George.”
They both turned to Babe who was still lying on the grass, mouth still open. It took everything in George to hide his smirk. “And this is Heffron, 1A. He lives with Lip. You met him the other day.”
Eugene simply nodded as they both waited for Babe to finally stand. The goofball finally closed his mouth and grinned slightly as he subconsciously brushed imaginary dirt from his chest. He held out a hand. “Hi, I’m Babe.”
Eugene blinked at him a moment before shaking his hand. “Eugene. I moved into 1C with Ron.” He paused a moment. “I’m sorry, did you say your name was ‘Babe’?”
Babe blushed. “Yeah, it’s my nickname. Everyone calls me that. Or Heffron. Only my ma calls me Edward and that’s when I’ve done something mighty bad. Like the time I convinced my brother to climb the drainage pipe because it was the only way to get to the roof and retrieve the frisbee I threw up there, but he fell and nearly cracked his head open.” He stopped when he realized he was spurting nonsense. “I was Edward then.”
Eugene pulled his hand back and Babe internally cringed when he realized he hadn’t let go all that time. “Well…” Eugene trailed off. “It was nice to meet you. I’ve gotta get back.”
George nudged him with an elbow. “Next party is on June 1, doc. We hope you can make it!” Eugene simply nodded and walked back into the complex.
George looked over at Babe and smirked. With a finger under his chin, he closed his friend’s mouth. “Now who wants to be the princess?”
George didn’t see Joe again since the May Flowers party, but as June 1 was fast approaching, he made Bill and Babe promise that they’d get him to show up to the next one. Bill was easy enough to manipulate to do his bidding; he only needed Frannie to give her fiance the look; and, afterall, she was all Team George. And as soon as he promised Babe to talk him up in front of Eugene, his friend agreed as well, but only after pounding into George’s head how very amazing and attractive he thought Babe was to continually repeat to be hot med student.
But all the trouble was worth it. George couldn’t remember a time that he was this excited about someone. Not only was Joe hell on fucking wheels in the looks category, but George could sense a dry humor and warm personality under that tough shell. Joe was a challenge and George loved challenges, almost as much as he loved games.
June’s party theme coincided with national “holiday” - National Dare Day. It was the perfect opportunity for a theme - and who didn’t love a good dare?
Webster was over helping Frank and George decorate old poker chips into special dare tokens. Neither Frank nor George thought that paint, glitters and ostrich feathers were necessary for the tokens’ purpose, but who could reject Web when it came to his passion for crafts?
Unfortunately, it looked like Frank had bailed on them and George was subjected to a 100% concentrated version of flushed and excited Webster as he brandished a hot glue gun and a tray of “perfectly matched pantone fire colors.” Because “fire” must mean “dare” at Michael’s.
Webster focused on the red token in his hand as he glued together a feather, length of rope, and glitter bomb into something George couldn’t recognize. “It’s not that I mind the sex. It’s still incredible,” he said thoughtfully, missing the grimace that crossed George’s face, “but isn’t it ever going to be more?”
When George met Webster's eyes after an extended silence, he realized he was supposed to answer this time. “I dunno, Web. Didn’t you say he says ‘love you’ all the time. Ain’t that enough?”
Webster only blinked in confusion. “But, what about more, George?”
Luckily Frank decided to arrive home, two hours late, but George couldn’t be happier to see him. Something normal in the sea of glitter-based Web. That was until his best bud opened his mouth.
Frank looked wildly between them, a frown on his face and brow. “I almost ran over and killed a cyclist with my truck!” George and Webster only looked at him, not even allowed the chance to make fun of his mail “truck,” a favorite past time of everyone in the complex, before he wailed, “And I think I love her!”
George hung his head, not noticing the vivid Pantone 1505 paint streaking his forehead. “Jesus Christ.” So much for normal.
George might make fun and whine at Webster's craft projects, but there’s a reason why they asked him for help nearly every month: the party was rocking. And the dare tokens, once just lowly poker chips from Goodwill, were somehow recreated into masculine and handsome necklaces, the ostrich feathers creating warrior tribal wear when paired together around the recipient’s shoulders.
Strip or Dare Poker was in full swing. To be honest, no theme was needed when it came to a strip version of something to begin, but titles were important to enhance the integrity of their celebrations, so no one asked questions.
George walked by the table, making a mental note to join after his sweep of the party-goers. Everyone seemed to be having a blast - of course - and the dare tokens were a prized possession. If one accepted a dare from someone and completed it, they won the challenger’s token. But if they didn’t complete the dare, they lost one of their own. The guest with the most tokens by the end of the night would receive a coveted prize.
Even Eugene showed up to the party, although his roommate had yet to make himself known. The elusive Ron remained elusive.
George turned and smiled when he saw Lipton. “Hey man, having a good time?”
Lipton smiled in return, his kind eyes crinkling at the corners. George was still at a loss on how his former girlfriend could break up with someone as amazing and wonderful as Lip.
“It’s impossible not to have a good time at one of your parties, George, and you know it.” Cutting George off before he could puff out his chest further, he continued. “We’re out of ice and I used up the rest of your coffee, sorry. Apparently Skip dared Don to lay in an ice bath, thinking Malark wouldn’t do it. Needless to say, I’m running out for more, and he’s warming up with the last cup of Folgers in the kitchen.”
George cackled before nodding. “No one can stop that crazy leprechaun. What was Skip thinking? And thanks, Lip, you’re a pal.”
George continued on his way after seeing Lipton off, quickly trying and failing to pass by an argument between Lieb and Webster.
Webster sighed. “No, it’s not that I mind being called by your pet names, but…”
Lieb sighed back dramatically, rolling his eyes. “What? You too good to be called ‘princess,’ Princess?”
“But I would prefer if you were serious once in awhile. What’s wrong with an affectionate ‘sweetheart’ or ‘darling’ or -”
A huge smirk crossed Lieb’s face. “Or ‘sweet cheeks.’”
“Joseph Liebgott! You are the epitome of frustration!”
George tried to get through the crowd faster, but to no avail.
“Hey, sweet cheeks, I dare you to say something that’s not grammatically correct,” taunted Lieb. “Dare you.”
Finally the man in front of him shifted and George walked faster before he could witness the uproar and/or makeout session. Catching a glimpse of Joe outside back on the bench alone, George grinned to himself before trying to make his way to his conquest. But before he could, the sight of Babe stopped him.
George’s eyes widened as he studied the ginger man sitting still as a statue on the couch. His already pale skin was translucent and his mouth was open like a fish, gaping at the carpet.
“Babe? What’s going on?”
Babe glanced up at George and it looked as if it took him a moment to recognize him. His mouth opened and closed a few times but he only sputtered a bit. If George didn’t know his friend so well, he might have gotten a little concerned at this point, but he knew the signs - Babe had just made a fool out of himself in front of a guy. And this time it seemed like a doozie.
And before George could say anything next, he watched as Babe’s eyes widened to saucers and he curled into himself to try and disappear into the leather/recycled plastic blend of the discount furniture. George followed his gaze, and sure enough, he watched Eugene pass by.
George’s smile widened and he turned back to Babe after Eugene disappeared again, but the redhead’s eyes were latched on the spot where the medic was once. George shook his head sympathetically. “Oh Heffron, what did you do this time?”
Babe looked at George and his eyes were pleading, but still no words came out. With a sigh, George slapped him on the shoulder and allowed his friend to continue to wallow in his misery and continued on his way outside.
Making his way over to Joe, his grin broadened when Joe looked up and didn’t grunt this time. Instead he murmured, “Hey Luz. Nice party.”
George plopped down on what he now christened as “their bench.” They had a bench! George made a mental note that Joe liked questionably made garden furniture. “Wow, not only did you pay me a sweet compliment that I will cherish forever in my heart of hearts, but you said four words in a row and not one grunt!” He rested his arm behind Joe, and he gave him a wink. “I think you like me.”
Joe looked away with a snort, but George swore there was a hint of a grin on his lips.
Over the next twenty minutes, George managed to get more from Joe than any other time put together. He could sense a shift in their relationship, especially when Joe began speaking in full sentences. Actually, to George’s delight, Joe seemed to be working up to ask George out. It took everything inside of him to allow it to happen and not scream “YES!” at the top of his lungs before Joe was finished speaking.
“George! We saved you a place at the poker table!” Waving away Skip, George refocused on Joe, giving him his full attention.
Joe, seeing this and knowing that the whirlwind that was George Luz had trouble sitting still for five seconds let alone focus on anything 100%, grinned slightly and leaned closer to George. “Like I was sayin’, maybe we could, you know, sometime....”
“Sometime…” George prodded impatiently when Joe trailed off, inching closer and feeling Joe’s heat.
“HAS ANYONE SEEN A PENGUIN?”
Frank’s shout caused both George and Joe to jump and before George could stop him, Joe leaned back into the bench to his original position. Frowning miserably, George knew at that moment he was capable of murder.
Sighing in annoyance for the ill timing of his friends, George began to lean back himself, but to his surprise, Joe reached over and squeezed his shoulder causing him to freeze. A lopsided grin graced his handsome face before he chucked his chin back towards the apartment. “Get goin’, George. I need to make my rounds and head out anyway.”
Sighing again, but warming on the inside at the sound of his name on those Adonis lips in that voice, George stood and looked down on Joe, who was still sitting. “We’ll finish this another time?” he asked hopefully, unsure of the response.
It took a few, long beats of silence and no expression from Joe before the man stood up and towered over George. With the briefest of touches on his jawline, Joe skimmed his thumb along George’s skin before nodding. “I’ll find you before I leave.”
With that promise embedded directly into his heart - OK, maybe his pants too -, George gave Joe another wink before strolling back into the house, knowing how well his ass looked in his favorite jeans. Before he could replay his interaction with Joe again in his head, he was pulled immediately into the poker game.
“Finally!” whined Skip, who was down only to his boxers. He tugged on George’s arm until he sat down in his vacated chair. “George is now playing for me!” he announced to the group.
Malarkey groaned good-naturedly in his chair, looking at his cards. “Come on, Skip. We were about to have a show!”
Frannie winked at him before pouting. “Yeah, come on, Skip. I’m sure Faye wouldn’t mind!”
Bill growled in his chair. “But I would. Come on, buddy. Time for some pants.”
George grinned before standing up. “I hereby invoke my ability to trade. Skip, Bill’s right. Put on some goddamn pants. I’ve got ya.”
And as if there was some sultry music playing, he slowly pulled up his tshirt, revealing a line of stomach, before teasingly hiding it again. Frannie and Malarkey immediately started catcalling and Bill moaned out, “Every time, Luz!”
Unbeknownst to George, Joe watched from the corner of the room where Babe still sat without moving. His eyes narrowed as George finally pulled of his shirt before wrapping it around Bill’s neck, shimmying it back and forth. With a huff, he left the party without saying another word to anyone.
George finally sat down, his eyes glancing at his cards before he looked around the room, watching for Joe to come by as promised. It wasn’t until another hour went by and more of his clothes disappeared, that George realized Joe was nowhere to be found.
Shrugging a few layers back on, George waved away calls from his friends to keep playing. His eyes scanned the room. Where was Joe?
“Anyone seen Lip?”
George met Skip’s eyes and he shook his head. “Not since he went out for ice, but that was hours ago.”
“Anyone seen that goddamn penguin yet?” George rolled his eyes at Frank, but his roomie had found him and raced forward. “George! Hey, did you see a penguin tonight?”
“Perco, it’s finally happened. You’ve lost it,” George deadpanned. “But it’s OK. You can get it back. The cure is to find Joe with me.”
Frank snorted before moving away to continue his own quest. George made his way around the apartment, outside, and even in the hallway, but Joe was gone. Swatting away Lieb who brandished an eye-wateringly bright Hawaiian shirt in his hands, and demanding answers from the host, George circled the entire party to no avail. Frowning to himself, he hoped everything was OK, before rejoining the group.
It turned out that George didn’t see Joe again for the next few weeks. After bugging Babe and Bill relentlessly, Bill finally gave up that Joe seemed extra scowly lately, but honestly he didn’t notice much of a difference. Babe was stuck in his own misery from whatever happened at the party, something which he still refused to talk about. George was left with nothing to go on.
Although George was disappointed, it wasn’t in his nature to mope. After a few days, he decided that he would see Joe when he saw him. He allowed fate to decide, as infuriating as it was.
Out and about with his friends, he wiggled out from the table at the local pub. “Next round is on me, fellas!” shouted George, grinning as they all cheered him on. Practically hopping to the bar, he almost skidded to a stop when he recognized a pair of broad shoulders wrapped in dusty leather. Thank you, fate. With another grin, George slowed his pace until he arrived next to Joe’s side.
“Fancy seein’ you here, Joe.” George waited as Joe looked up from his pint, his grin spreading when the man only hummed at him before looking back at his drink. George leaned casually against the bar, nudging him with his foot. “I see you still have that motormouth. That’s too bad. It’s truly a sickness to constantly run your mouth into oblivion.”
A snort. “You would know.”
A huge smile broke against George’s face and he nudged Joe again, this time making him look up and glare at the jokester. “You like it when I talk.”
A long stretch of silence bore on as Joe’s eyes narrowed at him and George could feel them. Like fire on his skin, he could only gulp. Joe only continued to glare at him. “You’re just a shameless flirt, aren’t you?”
George tried to play it off. He grinned and shrugged. “Who doesn’t like a good flirt?” He placed a hand on his arm. “You seemed to like it at the party. Well, until you disappeared on me. But I am a forgiving man, and I’ll look past it,” he ended with a wink.
Joe shrugged off his touch and glowered. “Save it. Waste your time on someone else.”
George froze and waited for Joe to say something else, but he didn’t. He swallowed nervously, his good humor evaporating. “Did I do something, Joe? I thought we were enjoying each other’s company. At least I was at the party, but I thought you were too.”
Joe snorted. “Yeah, I was enjoying myself, thinking that maybe we got somethin’ or whatever, and then first chance you got, you seemed to enjoy an entire crowd’s company.”
Slowly George put two and two together and a smile swept across his face again. “Are you jealous?”
Joe snorted again in disgust and looked away. George’s smile broadened. He leaned against the bar with his back, elbows on the wood. “Cos you know, you should go ask any of them,” he said chucking his chin towards the corner of the bar where his friends sat. “I almost got thrown out of my own party for talking about you so much.”
Joe turned to look at George, his gaze still hard and if those lips could pout, they would be in that moment. George was ecstatic to see it. Joe hummed. “I ain’t playing around, Luz. I’ve done that shit and I’m over it.”
George hummed back and inched closer to him. “I know I’m not the most mature guy, but I ain’t playing either, Toye.”
“I’m serious. I’m not one to date more than one guy at a time. And I expect the same in return.”
George shrugged innocently. “Sounds fair. How’s Friday night sound?”
Joe gave him a hard look. “Friday night?”
“Yeah,” chirped George happily, nudging him with his leg, figuring he was safe from dismemberment. “Let me take you out and then I can tell you all about the other men in my life. Cliff notes version - it won’t take that long. Really how long does verbalizing the word ‘none’ take? Because that’s how long that answer will last, so you had better come with some more conversation material. You know, beyond the odd grunt or ten.”
If George thought he gained the upper hand and caught Joe off guard, that was all thrown out the window when the first wide and full smile from Joe crossed his face and reached his eyes. Those lips were lethal weapons of sabotage and George wondered if he was finally going to find out what they felt like on Friday.
“Friday sounds good. Let me write down my number so that you can text me the details.”
George tried to swallow and coat his throat but the Sahara desert decided to move into his windpipe. With a short spasm that was similar to a nod, George regained his composure enough to take the back of a receipt that Joe handed him and then tried to breathe. But those lips. They were still smiling, but - shit - they were forming words too!
“... just promise me that isn’t what I should expect,” Joe finished, shrugging his jacket a few times before zipping it up, and his eyebrows raised.
George blinked a few times before he realized Joe was waiting for an answer. He internally slapped himself before shaking his head. “Absolutely. Totally not what you’d expect it to be.” He paused, looking at his hands before looking back at Joe with big doe eyes. “One question. Just what’s ‘it’?”
Joe sighed but he couldn’t help but allow a smile to twitch at his lips again. George was adorable, and the bastard most likely knew it. He sighed again. “Text me, Luz. Have a good night.”
George aboutfaced as Joe moved past him and towards the door. It was several moments before he raised a hand in farewell and shouted, “ Jeah!” in his best Dumb and Dumber meets Ryan Lochte voice.
Joe paused briefly, almost turning at the odd response, but thankfully just shook his head to himself and leaving.
George melted into the vacant chair before thudding his forehead on the sleek wood of the bar. “Jeah? Jeah? Christ!” But even past his humiliation, George couldn’t stop the smile sliding across his face at the thought of his upcoming date.
Not only had George not uttered one idiotic word (okay, maybe a few), but it seemed that Joe was enjoying himself as much as George was. Sure, he was a little hesitant when George told him the place for them to meet on Friday, but it turned out Currahee’s only bar-turned-retro-game-room was not half bad. Actually it became a lot of fun challenging George in Mortal Kombat, skeeball, and Mario Party 2.
Finally, Joe cried uncle when George destroyed him again on the Nintendo 64 - and to add salt to the wound - as Princess Peach. Together they lounged on one side of a booth and ordered sustenance in the form of wings, beer and nachos.
George was having hell of a time getting to know Joe. Once the former ninja who barely uttered a word opened up, George was pleasantly greeted by a sharp and funny catch, who, when passionate about something, got warm and soft around the edges. Currently, the topic was his family.
“I know they’re only a few hours away,” lamented Joe, tapping his finger thoughtfully on the table, “but it’s hard to be so far away. And I couldn’t turn down the job opportunity.”
George nodded along, turning towards Joe on his hip. “I hear ya. A few visits a year isn’t enough. Sometimes I think about moving back, but then…” He shrugged. “I’ve got my life here now too.”
Joe grinned at him. “You do have some life here, Georgie. I’ve never met someone with so many friends.”
Grinning back, he shifted closer. “I’ve got lots of friends, Joe. But I ain’t looking for any more.” George grinned mischievously before leaning in and placing a hand on Joe’s knee. Before he could lay on the flirt, he looked down at his hand before back to Joe. He squeezed his knee playfully, trying to figure out the strange, hard feeling. “Whatcha got, Joe? A wooden leg?”
Joe hummed and shrugged. “Close, but it’s actually titanium.”
George’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped before pulling his fingers from the denim. “Christ, Joe. I’m such a fuckin’ idiot. I’m sorry -”
“Hey,” murmured Joe. “George.” He looked back up to meet Joe’s eyes to find the man smiling softly. “You didn’t know. And I ain’t ashamed of it, so there’s no reason to be sorry.”
George nodded back, the blush on his neck slowly abating. “Can I -?” He looked again at Joe’s leg.
Slowly, George sank down until he knelt on the floor. Moving to go between Joe’s legs, he noticed Joe shifting his hips a bit, and he had to give him a wink before focusing once more on the right leg in question. He slid up the material until the cold metal was revealed, a wash of silver and black. George fingered the shiny bit. “Christ, Joe. This is so…”
Joe smirked. “Weird? Yeah, I know.”
George blinked several times. “I was gonna say ‘badass,’ actually. That and kinda hot.”
It was Joe’s turn to blink. “Hot?”
A wide grin spread across George’s face as his hand slowly slid up the artificial leg until meeting the warmth of Joe’s thigh. George was like a cat, prowling forward from the floor and moving closer until his hand stopped on Joe’s hip and his lips were inches from his mouth. His grin only widened. “Yeah, hot.”
Joe swallowed hard and George’s eyes shifted down to watch his throat move. With a wink, George settled back down next to him, but a little closer this time. He could feel Joe’s heat against his leg.
With Joe’s eyes on him, George finished his drink almost humming to himself. With a thrill that this attraction thing was maybe going both ways, he turned and looked at Joe through his eyelashes. “Another round?”
Joe hummed at first before a slow smile cracked across his face. “Yeah. I could go for another round.”
Hours passed as they talked about anything and everything. Joe explained how he lost his leg (car accident) and George got on topic of his huge family, which took a good chunk of time trying to explain that his crazy was indeed hereditary, but Joe didn’t mind. He was transfixed watching George speak so lively about people he obviously cared about.
George was oblivious to the way Joe’s eyes roamed his face, ending and sticking to his perfect lips, almost always upturned in a smile.
“So Ma was worried that I got Ruthie killed, seeing as that the punk disappeared from under the water,” George rambled on, extremely animated with facial expressions and his hand, “when, in fact, the little devil snuck up behind me and almost just drowned me with several pool nood…”
He was caught off guard completely when Joe pressed his lips against his a moment after the larger man gently cupped his cheek in a hand.
When Joe pulled away again, it was to see George sitting in shock, his eyes wide a moment before he mentally shook himself. “Now that’s just not fair, Joe. You surprised me so much that I wasn’t able to fully enjo-”
Joe swept in again and this time he moved his lips to deepen the kiss. He could feel George’s grin against him, and he couldn’t help but grin back in return. But that didn’t last long when George tilted his head and allowed Joe entry to his mouth, tongue teasing back in challenge. With one hand still latched on one of George’s cheek, the other explored the softness of his hair at the base of his neck. Vaguely he felt George’s fingers grasped around the lapel of his leather jacket.
When they finally broke away, both eyed each other while breathing hard. The twinkle in George’s eyes only seemed to dance now, and Joe looked away and chuckled.
George chuckled back and wrapped his fingers around one of Joe’s available hands. Joe looked down at them and smiled before meeting George’s eyes again. “Is that all I get?” he challenged Joe.
With a grumble in his chest, Joe pulled on George’s hand until the smaller man was practically in his lap. But instead of kissing him again, Joe breathed in George’s ear, “The next time I see you, I hope you can handle all that I give you.”
And before George could comprehend exactly what - in detail - Joe meant, he was easily picked up as Joe stood up and placed him back on the booth seat. Flabbergasted now with the additional show of blatant strength - not to mention increasingly discomfort in the painted-on jeans he chose to wear that night - George gulped as Joe threw him a wink. “Thanks for tonight, Georgie. I had a great time, and I’ll see you soon.”
George could only nod in reply before he watched Joe placed a few bills on the table and leave the bar. Sinking into the seat because his bones - well, not all of his bones - decided to melt into oblivion, he immediately sat up with a jolt.
Tomorrow. The next party was tomorrow, and with it, he would see Joe again.
With a delighted laugh to himself, George took another sip of beer.