It was days like that that Keith hated being self-employed. He'd already sent Joel out for coffee twice just to get the other man out of the store, where Keith was carefully and needlessly polishing yet another display.
The door clanged open and he shouted around the cabinet. "Just leave mine on the desk and stick the change back in the petty cash, okay? And can you pull your fingers out of your ass and actually place the order I asked you about last week?"
His order wasn't met with Joel's usual scoffing disdain, so he pulled himself to his feet and walked around the display back to the front desk.
It wasn't Joel.
Instead, Anderson Cooper, all insanely gorgeous five-foot-ten-inches of him, was standing just inside the door, with a look on his face that could be either mild amusement or mild disdain.
"Em... sorry about that, I thought you were my employee, and he sometimes needs to be yelled at or he'll simply refuse to do anything. I wasn't yelling at you or anything..."
He trailed off when the uncatagorisable look flashed across the younger man's face again.
"But you don't really care about that. You're here to buy something to do with baseball. Or to browse something to do with baseball, I wouldn't want to imply that you were definitely going to be buying anything..."
He trailed off again. This wasn't his day.
Anderson Cooper turned away from the desk and wandered around some of the displays. Keith found himself paying very close attention to whatever book had been on the counter (The Mets: A History and he was pretty sure Joel had left that there to annoy him) and very much not watching the other man browsing.
After the longest three minutes in the entire history of the world, Anderson Cooper returned to the front desk and handed over a book for Keith to check out.
"Oh, good choice. I presume it's intended for a someone with a beginner's interest? If you're looking for something a little more in-depth we've got Hunter's work, or McFraser's, or something a little more wide-reaching..."
He trailed off again, scanned the purchase and completed the transaction without saying anything else. The other man took the bag and gave Keith the slightest smile in the world before exiting, and was it Keith's imagination or did he hurry out slightly faster then necessary?
Almost the second he'd left, Joel barged in the door with far more coffee then was needed, balancing three different newspapers between the cups.
"Nah, course it wasn't. What would he want in here?"
Joel pulled himself onto the counter and crossed his legs, flicking though a magazine.
“Where?” Joel flicked his head around exaggeratedly for a second before going back to his magazine.
“We could have customers.”
“The World Series is over, and we have at least another six weeks before the annual last-minute-gift-for-the-nephew-you-forgot-about rush. If we get more then three customers a day for the rest of November, I’ll… I’ll do the January stock-taking all by myself, without complaining.”
Keith just glared at him and headed into the back office.
“And they can’t be your friends!” Joel yelled after him.
About once a week, Keith managed to depress himself with the thought that he was single, whereas Joel had been in a relationship for years. But then he reminded himself that he’s pretty sure Joel’s boyfriend purposely works in a different state so he doesn’t actually have to see him every day.
His phone beeped.
What’s good for bruises? Steak, yeah? I don’t think tofu will work, will it? Do we have any of whatever? - Rachel
Sighing deeply, Keith dug through the paltry first aid kit for a tube of arnica before heading back into the shop. He grabbed his lukewarm coffee from the counter and smacked Joel on the back of the head.
“Keep an eye out, I’ve got to run home for a second.”
Joel slid down into the chair behind the counter and waved his hand dismissively, keeping his eyes on the magazine.
Keith was hurrying through the streets, his eyes down as he flicked through his message inbox. Rounding the corner onto his own street, he crashed into another pedestrian, spilling his coffee everywhere.
“Shit! Sorry, let me…”
Keith pulled a napkin out of his pocket to attempt to blot some of the splashed coffee, but snatched his hand back at the last minute when he realised that firstly, the majority of the coffee was all over the man’s lower abdomen, sticking his shirt to his stomach and waistband, and secondly, the man was Anderson Cooper.
Anderson Cooper looked down at himself with a certain amount of annoyed resignation and reached down to pick his split-apart cell phone from the ground. Keith reached down at the exact same moment and they bumped against each other again.
“It’s fine. I just need to find my car…”
Anderson Cooper looked down the street, scanning the traffic, and Keith most definitely was not staring at the area where the coffee was sticking the white shirt against his firm stomach.
“If you want, I live just across the road? I have a phone and a sink.” Keith pointed apologetically towards his door.
“A phone and a sink?” Anderson Cooper flashed him a slight smile, but he stood aside slightly, gesturing for Keith to lead the way.
Keith spent the next few minutes flailing helplessly around his kitchen until Anderson Cooper re-appeared in his hallway, now in jeans and a black t-shirt that was doing a pathetic job at concealing his biceps.
“Em, so, do you want something to drink? I have... milk? Or Sprite? Or eat? We have brie, or toast. Or tofu, even though we don't eat it, but Rachel has a thing for vegans...”
“Yeah, cool, alright. Did you get the phone alright? Sometimes Rachel falls asleep with it and it kind of pulls it out of the wall...”
“It's fine. My car should be here any minute.”
Keith showed him down to the front door, and they stood in the hallway for a second, waiting for Anderson Cooper's driver to arrive. The silence stretched between them for a second, and if Keith didn't know any better, he's say something was about to happen, when...
Rachel crashed through the front door, her sunglasses barely covering the bruise rapidly darkening on her temple.
“Oh man, do I have a story. Going down on Sarah Campbell, she got so wet I went to move slightly and slipped right off the couch. Smacked my face off the coffee table. Do we have...”
Her voice faded as she turned the corner into the rest of the house.
Anderson raised an eyebrow a fraction.
“Sorry about that. She's awesome, really. Just a little...” He waved a hand in lieu of explanation.”
Before Anderson could reply, his driver knocked carefully on the door.
“Thanks for your help.”
“It was nothing.”
After the door closed behind him, Rachel appeared at the top of the stairs, munching on a large triangle of brie.
“What are you doing home?”
Two days later, Keith arrived home to find Rachel perched on the countertop, her feet in the sink, thumbing through a notebook.
“Feet.” He yelled at her as he headed to the fridge and she rolled her eyes and swung her legs around to drum her heels against the cabinets.
Keith pulled a beer out of the fridge and gestured at her. “Is this some new part of the vegan-hippie-chick getting plan?”
“This? No, I found it in the hallway.”
“You're reading someone else's diary?”
“I can barely read the writing. Besides, it's not like I know who they are.”
“Doesn't it have a name?”
“Can't read it.” She held the book out for him to check, pointing at a scribble on the inside cover.
Shrugging, Keith headed into the TV room. “Watching the game?”
“I'll be in in a minute. Oh, someone called for you yesterday.”
He poked his head back into the kitchen. “Who?”
“Sorry! I wrote it on my arm – ” she held her arm up for his inspection, “–but then I had a shower.
“You don't remember anything?”
“He sounded fancy?”
“Fancy compared to you, or fancy compared to the Queen?”
“Me.” She twisted her arm around, trying to get a good look at the sharpie remnants. “Does... Carper sound familiar?”
“Carper... Do you mean Cooper?”
“Yes! That's it. I should have remembered that, it's the same as the news guy.”
“You should have written it down– ” she tried to cut him off, “–on something other then yourself. Did he leave a message?”
“He's at the Waldorf, but his name's not Cooper.”
“He's not Cooper.”
“Did he say what his name was?”
Rachel looked despondently at her arm and started searching the black smudges again. Keith dialled the Waldorf.
“Good afternoon, I'm looking for Anderson Cooper?... Yes, I know there's no one of that name checked in, because he's using a fake name, but I don't know what it is... Look, I'm not some stalker, he left me a message, but my roommate forgot to... I really need to talk to... Please...”
“Try Nene.” Rachel interrupted.
Keith turned back to the phone. “Is there a Mr. Nene there? Thank you.”
He flashed Rachel a thumbs-up, and she grinned and went back to the notebook.
“Hi, Mr. Cooper... Anderson.... I'm sorry I didn't call you back earlier, but my roommate took the message, and as many post-its as I buy her, she will insist on writing messages everywhere but on them... The notebook? Yeah, it's right...” He snatched it out of Rachel's hands, “–here. Of course I didn't read it. How do you want me to get it back to you? I could courier... Yes, I'm free tomorrow... Are you sure?... Okay, I'll bring it round. See you tomorrow.”
Keith hung up and, slightly dazed, retrieved another beer from the fridge. Rachel slid off the countertop and shuffled over to him.
“Was that the Anderson Cooper?”
“Not bad dude, not bad.”
It took Keith about fifteen minutes of standing outside the Waldorf before he actually convinced himself not just to ditch the notebook at reception and actually head hand it over himself.
Anderson's door was answered by a scarily polished and professional-looking woman, bearing a clipboard. She smiled brightly at Keith and the man who'd just appeared behind him.
“Good afternoon gentlemen. I'm Erica, and it's nice to see you here. If I can just get your details...”
She looked expectantly at Keith, who didn't answer, before turning to the other man.
“Of course, and...”
She was looking at Keith again, and Keith's mind was remaining blank.
“Baseball... Digest. I didn't know you were coming.”
“I'm not sure if... My name's Keith Olbermann, he knows I'm coming.”
She flipped through her clipboard with brutal efficiency before lifting her head again.
“Of course. If you'll both just wait here.”
The room was full of –Keith presumed– journalists. The majority of them were tapping away at some form of smart phone and refusing to make eye contact with anyone else. He glanced around, feeling more awkward then he had in quite some time, before Erica reappeared and ushered Keith down a hallway.
“So, Baseball Digest, eh? Didn't think this would be your scene at all.”
“Well, we, eh... We like to think people who are interested in baseball aren't only interested in baseball.”
“Of course not.” She opened a door and lead him inside, busying herself with some papers in the corner, while Anderson Cooper sat nervously on a couch.
“Mr. Olbermann is from Baseball Digest.”
His eyebrow rose at that, but Keith tried his best to shrug it off.
“So.” Erica smiled brightly. “Five minutes, okay? Excellent.”
Keith sat heavily at the other end of the couch and scanned his mind for a question. Any question that wouldn't make him sound like a complete cretin.
“So... Do you play baseball?”
Anderson was definitely trying to suppress his reaction. “I have been known to, in the past. But not really.”
“Okay...” Keith risked a glance, Erica was still hovering by the table. “Do you think you're likely to have to report on baseball issues?
“I think I could acquit myself adequately if that were to come up.”
“Of course you would.”
He was saved from grasping for another question when Erica slid out the doorway.
“Oh my god.” Anderson slouched against the back of the couch. “I'm so sorry. I thought this'd be over by now, but it seems I'm required to speak to every single interviewer on the coast this afternoon.”
“I'm sorry it took me so long to reply. The whole two-name thing kind of threw Rachel.”
“It's just a stupid privacy thing. I always use one of the Real Housewives.”
Anderson sighed again and pulled himself upright. “Look, this is unfortunately going to take another while. But do you want to get a drink later, or something?”
“I'd love too, that'd be... Dammit.”
“There's a thing I have to go to. My sister's birthday.”
“No, it's cool. She'll understand, I'll canc...”
“No, I mean, we can do that.”
Keith blinked. “You want to come to my baby sister's birthday?”
“I should re-phrase. You want to come to my baby sister's birthday, in Brooklyn, with a group of people who wouldn't know how to play it cool if you paid them?”
Anderson smiled. “Sounds like fun. Unless you don't want me to...”
“No, no, not at all. I just want you to know what you're in for.”
“Cool. Now, Erica'll be hammering back in a few minutes. Do you want to meet me in the lobby at half-seven?”
“Cool... I'll see you then.”
Keith wasn't sure if he was imagining it, but he got the feeling Erica was hustling him out of the suite slightly faster then necessary. Once the elevator doors closed, he pulled his phone out.
“Hey, Stephen. I know this is short notice, but can I bring someone tonight?”
Keith and Anderson arrive in Windsor Terrace just before eight. They stood at the doorway for about five minutes before it was answered, the aproned man immediately turning and running back into the apartment.
“That's Stephen. He's cooking, unfortunately.”
“The last time I cooked for myself I had to get the kitchen re-painted.”
“Well, nice to see your expectations aren't that high.”
A voice emerged from the kitchen. “Put. The nutmeg. Down.”
Keith gestured towards the kitchen. “Dinner will be interesting, at least.”
They emerged from the hallway into what appeared to be a detente between the man in the apron and another man in a wheelchair. Keith coughed gently and the they broke eye-contact.
The man in the wheelchair shot Stephen a warning look before wheeling over to them.
“Keith! Great to see you.”
“You too.” He turned to Anderson, “this is Anderson Cooper.”
If Jon was thrown by this, he managed to keep it under wraps.
“Nice to meet you. I'm Jon, and the man incinerating dinner over there is my enthusiastic husband, Stephen.”
“Thanks for having me.”
Jon waved his concern off and wheeled himself over to the countertop. “You're the first ones here, which means you get actual wine glasses, instead of tumblers.”
Keith crossed over to help Jon carry glasses back.
“I feel honored.”
“So you should,Olbermann. And if Ana demands a proper glass on her birthday, you're the first to give yours up.”
The woman in question crashed into the room at that moment. “Door was open.”
“Ana!” Stephen pulled himself away from the stove to hug her, passing her off on Jon immediately so he could return.
“I'm sorry, have we met?” She held her hand out to Keith. “You look very like my brother.”
“If you don't want your present...”
“Don't be stupid.” She grabbed the box and allowed herself to be wrapped into a hug.
“And who's your fri–Holy fuck.”
“Ana...” He pinched her elbow warningly, “this is Anderson Cooper.”
“Of course it is, Keith. I'm not an idiot.”
“This is my sister, Ana.”
“Hi!” She shook his hand enthusiastically. “You're kind of my hero.”
Before she could start talking again, Jon snagged her arm and steered her towards the table. “Drink?”
“Sorry about that.” Keith whispered, “she's creatively unfulfilled, it makes her a little crazy.”
“Good to know.”
Dinner was almost ready when the final guest arrived, apologising profusely.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry. The world is collapsing, you know how it is.”
Keith and Ana were helping set the table, leaving Anderson to introduce himself.
“Hi, I'm Anderson. I'm a friend of Keith's.”
“Shepard. Shep, really. I haven't held dinner up, have I? Work has an awful habit of making me late for everything.”
“No, I don't think we're quite ready yet. What do you do?”
“I'm in finance. I know, I know. But I'm not evil, I promise. Whatever Keith says. What about you?”
“I'm a journalist.”
“Oh, hard luck. That whole industry's kind of in trouble at the moment, right?”
“A little. Though that's mainly print journalism.”
“And you're in what,television?”
“Not bad, not bad. Still, must be hard to get by.”
“I do okay.”
“How much do you make, if you don't mind me asking?”
“I just changed jobs, but about 9 million dollars.”
Shep's eye's widened slightly. “Good, good.”
“I'm just going to run to the bathroom before we sit down, can you point me...”
Once Anderson left the room, Shep moved over to sit at the table.
“That friend of yours, Keith. Have I met him before? He seems kind of familiar.”
Everyone in the room stared at him.
“Seriously?” Ana asked.
“Yes. What, am I supposed to remember?”
“That's Anderson Cooper.” Stephen pointed out.
“Anderson Coop –Anderson Cooper? Fuck me.” Shep thunked his head heavily onto the table, just as Anderson re-entered the room.
The rest of the guests dissolved in laughter. Anderson glanced around nervously.
After dinner, which was not as bad as Keith and Jon had warned him it might be, Stephen leant back in his chair and looked at Anderson.
“You're somewhat of a depressing houseguest, Mr. Cooper.”
“Here you are, younger then any of us, aside from Ana, and still more wildly successful then we'll probably ever be. Combined.”
“Not your fault. You're just responsible for showing us all how big losers we actually are.” Jon pointed out.
“In fact,” Stephen looked around the table. “The last brownie to the biggest loser at the table.”
Anderson watched, amused, as all eyes instantly shifted to Shep. He laughed good-naturedly and threw up his hands.
“Well, it’s obviously me. I have a job I hate, with people I can’t stand, who all think I’m crazy. I haven’t had a relationship in… forever, my diet is doubtlessly killing me. And the older I get, the more pronounced each of those factors get.”
“True.” Stephen agreed. “But you still make enough money to live in that beautiful apartment and find people who’ll sleep with you, even they’re not people you want to actually go out with. And you have a relative amount of professional respect, whereas Ana here…”
All eyes moved across the table as Stephen continued, “Ana works for a pittance as a proof-reader at the worst alt-weekly in the city, all the while pouring herself into insightful and witty blog posts that nobody ever reads.”
“He’s right.” Ana agreed, “and I’ve just passed out of the ‘young and kooky’ age-bracket into the ‘not married yet? Sympathetic face’ age-bracket, so it’s looking unlikely I’ll ever meet the politically-involved hipster of my dreams.”
She reached across for the brownie before Jon pulled the plate towards himself.
“But you can still walk. Whereas I’m stuck in a wheelchair, and we had to move from our house into this apartment to cover all the medical bills, and I’ve had to give up smoking because this place is too small.” He took a deep breath. “And all of these factors mean that even though we haven’t explicitly been told ‘no’, the likelihood of us getting to adopt is pretty much gone.”
The mood around the table switched suddenly, and there was a heavy silence until Stephen leaned over to squeeze Jon’s hand and smiled widely.
“Not bad, but consider Keith.”
Everyone’s eyes moved again.
“Interests and hobbies haven’t moved on since he was 11. Barely financially solvent, with a single employee he’s too afraid to fire. Getting fat. Partner left him for the man who sold them their house. And probably never going to see Anderson Cooper again, once he finds out his nickname in college was…”
In a single motion, Keith clapped his hand over Stephen’s mouth and grabbed the brownie from it’s plate.
“That’s enough of that. We’re all going to shut up about how pathetic I am so I can eat my brownie…”
“Wait…” Anderson interrupted, “don’t I get a chance?”
“You think you’re more pathetic then Keith?” Shep asked, slightly confused.
“I could be.”
“I don’t know,” Ana mused. “I’ve known Keith a really long time, he’s pretty pathetic.”
“Thanks guys. You really make me feel loved.”
Anderson smiled gently. “Nobody takes me seriously. My mom is famous, so people assume that’s how I got my job, that I’m just playing at this, and people are looking for any excuse to dismiss me, so I can’t go out and enjoy myself in case someone photographs me. I can’t be out, because people will make assumptions about my politics and ignore all my opinions as biased. And I can’t do the kind of reporting I really want to do – disasters and war reporting – because the people I work for don’t want to send Gloria Vanderbilt’s only son somewhere dangerous.”
There was a pause for a moment, as Keith regarded him thoughtfully.
“Sorry, Keith’s still worse.” Stephen announced, breaking the tension.
“I finally win something.” Keith smiled. “Though I find your obvious desperation touching, so here.”
He broke off a corner of the brownie and handed it to Anderson, who smiled gently.
When they were leaving, Keith wasn't surprised when every single other guest insistently whispered that he was to expect a phone call the next day. He was even less surprised when Ana didn't even bother to whisper it, as Anderson stood slightly bashfully in the doorway, his hands buried in his pockets.
A burst of hysterical laughter escaped as the door closed behind them, and Anderson turned to him and raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah... They'll do that. Sorry.”
“Don't worry about it.” Anderson smiled and gestured around the street. “So. What next?”
“Don't you have a flight tomorrow?”
“Nothing's set it stone. C'mon, show me around. Embarrassingly enough, I grew up in New York, but I can't remember ever spending time in Brooklyn beyond traveling through it.”
They'd started wandering down the street, but that confession stopped Keith in his tracks.
“How can you have never been to Brooklyn?”
“I was busy?”
Keith rolled his eyes and turned around, leading Anderson back down the street. Before long, they arrived in Prospect Park, and the pair of them wandered through the pathways until they came upon the baseball fields. Finding a bench, they sat silently and listened to the park settling around them.
Anderson broke the silence. “This is nice.”
“My grandmother used to live near here. I grew up in Westchester, but when I was little we'd come into the city to see her about once a month. In the summer, my dad and I would come down to the park before dinner and watch all the local teams playing, and he'd buy me ice-cream and ban me from telling my mother. I always wanted to play, but I wasn't co-ordinated for anything more then catch.”
Keith laughed. “I got over it. You know what they say; Those who can't.... found niche-interest memorabilia shops.”
“Nice to see you're back on track.”
Keith turned slightly on the bench to find Anderson sat closer to him then he'd thought.
“My ex didn't think so. I think he spent a big chunk of our relationship wishing the place would fail and I'd finally join him in the grown-up world.”
“He left me for a realtor. I was probably the only person who gave a tiny but vindictive cheer when the housing bubble collapsed.”
“Well, I never pretended to be a nice person.”
“You're not so bad.”
The silence stretched between them until Keith blinked and found himself with a handful of lapel as he found himself pressed tightly against Anderson Cooper, their lips crashing together.
He lost track of time until Anderson pulled back slightly, exhaling with a tiny smile.
“Do you want to...” Keith trailed off.
“I should probably go home.”
“Can I see you again tomorrow?”
Keith blinked. “Really?”
The next evening, Anderson took Keith to a restaurant in SoHo. When they arrived, the host's eyes widened slightly before he caught himself and escorted them to the most discreet table in the room, tucked in next to a pane of heavily-frosted glass near the front, surrounded by screens and plants.
They meandered through various topics over dinner, from Anderson's time in Africa, to Keith's friends, to backroom CNN gossip and exactly where Keith had found Rachel.
“So, I thought my life was in that place. You know that place when you have the house, and the job, and the boyfriend, and you think you've got it sorted?”
“Well, I didn't. Or rather, he didn't. So then one day my boyfriend has a new boyfriend, and I suddenly have an entire mortgage to pay. Rachel was the first person who came to look at the place that didn't make me want to eat my own face. That was longer ago then I care to remember.”
Anderson was about to answer when the large table behind them erupted in laughter. A crowd of young men were in the middle of ordering dessert, their waitress standing by the table as they started arguing amongst themselves.
“Oh fuck off. You know I don't watch the news.” Someone at the table insisted.
“God no.” Another man agreed. “Completely pointless. It's all on the internet before they're anywhere near it.”
“I watch the news.” A third man interrupted.
The first man swung his head around accusingly. “Anderson Cooper on mute does not count as 'watching the news'.”
“Hey, I can still see the headlines.”
Keith glanced at Anderson to see his reaction, but he just smiled gently and shrugged, leaning over to whisper, “Neilson can't tell if the sound's off.”
The man at the other table was getting louder as he defended himself. “Hey, I'm informed. If I want to actually know what's going on in the world, I'll read a newspaper, not watch Anderson Cooper. I mean, sometimes I just want something pretty to stare at for an hour.”
Anderson flashed another self-deprecating smile.
“I don't want to know what you're doing on our couch when you're doing that.”
The second man interrupted again. “I find it impossible to be attracted to him.”
The rest of the table whipped around to stare at him. “What?”
The third guy looked shocked. “He's only gorgeous.”
“He's just so pathetic. I mean, with the whole 'I don't talk about my personal life' thing, when he'll tell anyone who'll listen about his brother and his dad? It's obvious it's just an excuse not to tell people he likes fucking men, so it won't hurt his precious career. Meanwhile, anyone who's ever been in any gay bar in the city has seen him at some point, picking up twinks left and right.”
The waitress once again tried to interrupt for their orders, but the speaker was on a roll.
“The only thing I'm surprised by is that no one's spilled yet. Can you imagine how much they'd get? He must be amazing in bed. Unless he pays them off himself.”
Across the table, Anderson looked like he'd folded in on himself. Keith couldn't handle it anymore, and it seemed like his legs were carrying him to the large table by themselves.
“Do you people have nothing better to do with your time then sit around making horrible accusations about people who's actions have no bearing on you whatsoever? Are your own lives so devoid of meaning you can only entertain yourself with this kind of baseless cruelty?”
The table was unimpressed. “Easy, grandad. What the fuck is it to you?”
“Sorry about him.” Anderson appeared behind Keith, wrapping his hand around his bicep and pulling him slightly away, “he does get defensive, but I guess that's what I pay him for.”
He beckoned the waitress over. “I hate to be any trouble, and I usually love this place, but there's jut something about the atmosphere tonight that's making me queasy. I'd like to get out of here as soon as possible, and from what I can see, I don't think I can wait until this table learns how to read their menus. Could I pay at the front desk?”
The three of them cross the restaurant, and soon Keith and Anderson were outside on the pavement, flagging down a cab.
“Check you out.”
“I shouldn't have done that.”
“I generally try not to call attention to myself like that. What if they tell someone?”
“Tell someone what? They were being bitchy about a celebrity accidentally in front of that celebrity? This is New York, Anderson, that happens every day.”
“I was overly hasty.”
“You were perfect.”
The traffic around Anderson's hotel was jammed, so the cab let them off at the end of the block.
On the pavement, Anderson turned to Keith, his eyes shining brightly. “Do you want to come up?”
“Okay.” Anderson paused, biting his lip, “look, I hate to ask, but...”
Keith cut him off. “I'll count five minutes and follow you up.”
Anderson smiled brightly. “Thank you. 4503.”
He turned an briskly walked into the hotel, and Keith tried his best to look nonchalant as he waited five minutes before following him up.
He'd barely finished knocking before the door was yanked open. Keith tried to take a step into the room but he was blocked by Anderson's arm across door.
“Look, I can expla...”
“Andy? A voice called from inside the room. A gorgeous young man, only wearing a towel, emerged from the bathroom. “Who's that?”
A panicked look flashed across Anderson's face for a split second, and he opened his mouth to answer, but Keith got their first.
“Housekeeping. Mr. Cooper's room was displaying 'Do Not Disturb' for most of the afternoon, and I wanted to make sure the room was still cleaned correctly.”
The young man glanced around the room. “I think we're cool, man. But oh! Could you get us some more shampoo? And mints?”
“That'll be replaced tomorrow, you'll be fine until then.” Anderson cut him off with another apologetic look.
“Cool.” The guy wandered forward, hooked his fingers into Anderson's belt-loops and tried to pull him away from the door. “C'mon Andy. Don't leave me hanging. If I can't tell people I'm fucking you, the least you can do is actually be available for it when I want you.”
“What? The hotel guy? He doesn't care. All these guys have to sign confidentiality things, right? It'll be fine. Now come on.” He whined insistently.
“I'll be in in a second, okay?”
“Fine.” The guy rolled his eyes and turned into the bedroom, leaving Anderson alone with Keith.
“Keith, I can...”
“No, it's fine.” Keith tried to keep eye contact, but he was failing miserably. “I don't... I don't know what I was thinking.”
He nodded goodbye and pulled the door closed after him as he headed back down the hallway.
Ashamed as he was to admit it, Keith spent the next three days on the sofa, watching the news. Even though Anderson was technically only on two hours a night, the network were putting a huge push behind their newest signing, and there were at least three ads per ad break. He only managed to pull himself away on Sunday morning when Rachel, covered in paint, collapsed on the end of the couch.
“Did you get paint on my box... Why are you wearing my boxers?”
“My clothes are too nice to paint in. And stop trying to distract me. What's up?”
“Why does something have to be up?”
She raised an eyebrow and jabbed him in the side.
“Because you don't normally spend this long doing absolutely nothing, even in the off-season.”
Keith groaned, muted the television, and pulled himself into a sitting position.
“There's... this guy.”
She rolled her eyes. “Well obviously.”
“And, I thought... I let myself think, for a moment, that something was possible. But it wasn't, because he's perfect, and I'm just not.”
“You are perfect.”
“Not so much, no.”
Rachel slid onto the couch and wrapped her arms around him.
“You going to be alright?”
“At some point.”
A week later, Keith met Jon and Stephen for coffee.
“Now,” Stephen announced, “much as you have my endless sympathy for the sad state of affairs you find yourself in, the time has come.”
“Come for what?” Keith was understandably wary of another of Stephen's schemes.
“To begin moving on.”
“And this is going to involve you?”
“Maybe.” Stephen wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.
“I don't think I like where this conversation is going...” Jon started, before Stephen kissed the back of his hand and turned his stare back towards Keith.
“His name is Rahm, and...”
“Stephen, no.” Jon interrupted.
“I'm pretty sure Rahm is actually crazy.”
“What Rahm is, Jon, is attractive and single.”
“I think I'm on Jon's side on this one.” Keith said. “I'm not sure I'm in the mood for crazy.”
“Nonsense.” Stephen dismissed all their concerns. “You're both coming for dinner on Wednesday, I've already decided. Ana's coming too.”
“Fine.” Keith gave in.
On Wednesday, Rahm arrived half an hour late, and kept answering his phone through dinner.
“So,” Keith asked. “What do you do?”
“I'm in poli–Wait.” He snapped his phone open. “Emanuel. No I don't have the fucking papers with me... Because I'm at fucking dinner... Check my desk... If it's locked, you'll just have to fucking wait until tomorrow, won't you? Fuck off then.”
Rahm snapped his phone closed. “I work in the mayor's office.”
“That sounds... exciting.”
“It would be, if the city weren't full of scum-Wait.” Rahm snapped his phone open again. “No, I don't have the fucking papers, I just told Ax... Well he can go fuck himself, can't he? Fuck herself then, that's not important... They're not going any... Fine, fine. If I get there and...”
His voice trailed off as he left the kitchen, waving a perfunctory goodbye.
“I told you this was a terrible idea.” Jon said to Stephen.
“I'm disappointed.” Ana announced. “You said he was crazy. He just seemed rude.”
“You caught him on a sane day.” Jon pointed out.
“Still, unsuccessful.” Keith pointed out.
“Momentary setback.” Stephen pointed out. “How's your Monday looking?”
Denis at least had the decency to show up on time. They made it all the way to dessert before the sports talk narrowed down, and Jon let it slip which team Keith supported. Denis slowly inched his chair away.
“No offence, but I promised my dad I'd never date a Yankees fan.”
After Denis left, Ana jumped in before Stephen even had a chance to say anything.
“I'm picking next.”
“I'm pretty sure Keith wants someone who can afford to pay their own electric bill.”
“I'm pretty sure Keith objects to this entire exercise.” Jon pointed out.
“I'm pretty sure Jon is right.” Keith agreed.
“Regardless!” Ana smacked the table. “I know just the guy.”
“Keith,” Ana insisted. “You can't just hide out in the hallway.”
“He can't be a worse choice then Stephen's guys.”
“Ana, he's twenty six.”
“And he's gorgeous and intelligent and...”
“Twenty six, Ana. I'm fifty three. Haven't you ever heard of half plus seven?”
“That's not a real rule!”
“Ana, he's a child.”
“Em...” The man in question appeared in the doorway, “so, I'm going to go...”
Keith tried to apologise as the guy shuffled out. Ana huffed loudly and followed her friend out the door.
Back in the kitchen, Stephen was looking entirely too pleased with himself.
“Now my guys don't look so terrible, do they?”
“That guy would have been fine.” Jon pointed out. “If he were a little older.”
“Nevertheless,” Stephen leant back in his chair and drummed his fingers against his chin. “My next choice will take some consideration...”
“I don't think I can handle any more of your choices.”
Stephen tugged on Jon's sleeve insistently. “Help me.”
“Fine.” Jon gave in. “I might have one guy.”
Jon's guy was actually kind of perfect.
“Jon, Stephen, much as I like the pair of you, I don't think I can finish my meal and not want to kill you both later.” Anthony apologised.
“Wow.” Keith agreed. “I was going to be polite, but now that he's mentioned it...”
“I'm going to have to point out that I can't reach the stove, and therefor I had nothing to do with this.”
“Except that you let him do it.” Anthony pointed out.
“He's right, you are directly culpable.” Stephen agreed.
“Well then, I give you both permission to skip the rest, and have ice-cream instead of what Stephen is going to persist in calling summer pudding.”
After dinner, Keith walked Anthony to the door.
“It was nice to meet you.”
“Maybe I'll see you around?”
Back inside, Jon and Stephen flashed Keith expectant looks.
“Pretty much perfect.” Keith sank heavily into the couch.
Their faces fell.
“But?” Jon asked.
Keith sighed. “You guys know what I'm like... Perfect has always set me on edge. Until The Journalist, and we know how that ended.”
“It's not always that bad.” Stephen insisted.
“This isn't new. You've all seen my ridiculously bad luck. Before this, there was Dan, who abandoned me to a gigantic mortgage, and before that there was the guy who kissed me once, before confessing that he was in love with someone far better then I could ever be.”
“Wait, you kissed him?” Stephen looked accusingly at Jon.
“Stephen, I've told you this about a million times.”
“I know. I just like to get irate.”
Stephen slid onto Jon's lap and wrapped his arms around his neck.
“You guys need to stop depressing me.” Keith complained.
“Look, it's hard now. But eventually you'll meet someone to rescue you from gigantic mortgage hell.” Jon tried to comfort him.
“Right now, I'm this close to putting Rachel on the deed and declaring us a Boston Marriage.”
“Hey, if you don't mind the constant stream of attractive ladies that'll run through your house, that might not be a –Ow. Jon, don't hit me.”
“Alright, I need to get this one to bed. Are you okay to get yourself home?” Jon asked.
“Sure.” Keith hugged them both good bye and headed towards the underground.
“Have you seen this?” Joel pointed at the computer screen as Keith left the office.
“Anderson Cooper, you know the news guy? Apparently he fucked some nineteen-year-old guys, and now it's all over the–hey!”
Keith shoved Joel out of the way and pulled the screen towards himself. It was a brightly-coloured blog post featuring what seemed to be a scan of next week's Enquirer.
I wasn't expecting it at all. I mean, I'd heard rumours, who hasn't? But I didn't know they were true until I met him at Spin. One of his friends gestured me over, and then Anderson bought me drinks all night before taking me home.”
There were two young guys pictured, and the rest of the article seemed to be mainly repetition, with a few lurid-but-printable detailed tossed in.
Keith felt sick. He tossed the keys at Joel and hurried to the door.
“Close up tonight, okay? I'm not feeling well.”
The next morning, Anderson Cooper was on his doorstop, wearing sweatpants and looking like hell.
“Can I come in?”
Inside, Keith made himself coffee and gave Anderson almost everything liquid in the fridge.
“I suppose you've seen?”
He'd figured that was what this was about.
“Kind of. Joel reads the Enquirer, but I haven't been looking.”
“I mean... It's true, technically, but it's not, not really.”
Anderson's hands were shaking as he fiddled incessantly with the ring-pull on his coke can, and Keith kept silent and let him talk.
“It's two stories, but they've chopped them up and edited them together to make it sound... I mean, the first guy, then nineteen-year-old? That was... forever ago. I didn't even remember it until I thought really hard, but they make it sound like it was last week or something. And the other guy? He was young, I know that, but I wasn't buying him drinks, not like that. The table was on my tab and he just kept ordering himself refills, and...”
He trailed off as the ring-pull came off in his hand, and jumped to his feet, pacing back and forth across the kitchen.
“And it's not just about the gay thing, because I know I didn't want that spread around, but it's not that bad, but this... It just makes me sound like some middle-aged letch who gets teenaged boys drunk so I can take advantage, and...”
He collapsed back into his chair and started breathing heavily.
“Hey, hey.” Keith leaned across the table and squeezed his hand, tramping down the flare of giddiness that flared when Anderson squeezed back. “Do you want a proper drink? Rachel won't mind.”
Keith's in the bathroom when Rachel arrives home. She kicked off her boots in the hallway before trudging up the stairs, yelling up the house as she walked.
“Oh my god Keith. You don't know hell until you've spent three hours with a lesbian collective discussing the minutiae of the political ramifications of this whole Anderson Cooper gang-bang fiasco. I mean, good for him and everything, but did he have to... Hello.”
“Hi. You must be Rachel.”
“I must. Em...” She scratched the back of her neck awkwardly. “Sorry about that, I didn't mean...”
“I'm kind of beyond offence right now, to be honest. Do you want a drink?”
“Keith made me one already.”
“Please. Keith wouldn't know a proper drink if it bit him in the ass. Which it should, if he doesn't make it.”
She quickly mixed him a giant martini before apologising again just as Keith returned to the kitchen. She flashed him a look that clearly said 'don't even think this isn't going to be discussed, at length, very very soon' before disappearing upstairs.
“I see she's been disparaging my drink-mixing skills.”
Anderson took a sip of his new martini and coughed slightly. “She may be right.”
“Hey, I'm the one defending you right now.”
“Yeah.” Anderson looked into his glass bashfully. “I'm sorry about just showing up here. But this was the only place I could think of where people wouldn't follow me.”
“Won't people be missing you?”
“I don't have to be anywhere specific for a few days. And my mom sent me a message that she didn't believe a word of it, and I could wait until I'd calmed down before calling her.”
“Well, she could hardly talk.”
Keith laughed before catching himself and reaching for the cocktail shaker, pouring himself a large measure.
“What about... em, Adam?”
“Oh god.” Anderson thunked his forehead on to the table. “That was just... I totally get how, new information and all, that probably seems way worse then it probably should.”
“Well, to be honest, that was the least of my questions.”
“I know.” Anderson paused, looking down and his glass again. “That was... I wasn't expecting him to be there, obviously. I hadn't seen him in over a month, and I was pretty sure –and perfectly happy if– that would continue. I don't even know why it kept up for so long. Pathetic as it sounds, sometimes pretty much anything is better then just being alone every day. But eventually, you get to a point where being alone means you at least get to be miserable without having to entertain anyone else, and you forget what the point was.”
Anderson finished the rest of his drink and fiddled with the glass. “What about you then, any...?”
“Oh, god no.” Keith got awkwardly out of his chair and leant against the counter. “You've met my friends, and now Rachel. You can understand how dealing with them can take up most of my time.”
He shrugged in an attempt at nonchalance, and Anderson ducked his head down, blushing slightly.
“I thought about you, after... I wanted to call you, but I didn't think you'd appreciate it, and then it was too late, and I knew I... I'm sorry.”
Keith stared down at his own glass as he shrugged it off. “Don't worry about it.”
Anderson ducked his head again, breaking eye-contact to swirl the end of his drink. Keith coughed and checked his watch.
“I hate to abandon you in your hour of need, but I have to check in on Joel at least once a day, or there's every chance he'll close up early and go home. And while I doubt that's going to result in much lost business, you never know, so...”
“I'll be fine, Keith. Don't worry.”
“Okay. Help yourself to anything in the kitchen, everything that shouldn't be eaten will probably be growing something. I won't be long.”
When Keith gets to the store, Joel is still there, but the electricity isn't. Keith spent nearly two hours tracking down the fuse box and flipping switches before the power came back on, leaving Joel to hold the ladder and complain about not hiring a professional.
He stopped to pick up a six-pack of coke on the way home, because he's pretty sure Anderson has already drank his way through their meagre supply. When he arrived back, the house was silent, and he found Anderson curled up on the sofa, reading a book with a blanket curled over his legs.
“I got you some more soda.”
“Thanks.” Anderson looked up from his book and smiled. “Bottles, not cans.”
Keith blushed. “I may have read in an interview somewhere...”
“I hope you didn't go out of your way to satisfy my whim.”
“Not massively out of my way, no. Do you want one? I'll get you some ice.”
Keith stashed the rest of the bottles in the fridge before returning to the living room.
“Hope you don't mind,” Anderson held up the book he'd been reading, “I was careful to keep your place.”
“I've read it before, don't worry. But I didn't think you were a baseball fan.”
“I'm not, not really. But my dad lived in New York in the fifties, and he used to go to games. He used to tell me stories about Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers when I was little. Of course, I didn't really have any idea why it was important at the time... Anyway, I found the book on your end-table, and I haven't read it in a while, so... Hope you don't mind.”
“Not at all. It's one of my favourites.”
That night, Keith orders Chinese food and they eat in the back garden. Rachel wolfed down her chow mein before running out the door, leaving Keith and Anderson alone.
“The worst thing is, I'm so careful now. Pretty much saintly, in recent years. I mean, who didn't have a few ridiculous one-night-stands when they were younger? I'm not fucking Jesus.”
“I didn't sign up for any of this. I'm a fucking journalist, not some... some tabloid-chasing supermodel socialite.”
“It's your own fault for being so attractive.”
“You think I'm attractive?”
“Em... Yes? I mean, I know I'm not usually one to just accept the common consensus, but...”
Keith coughed, trailing off. The was silence for a second as he poured them both another drink.
“So, what's next? This isn't going to affect your job, is it?”
“No. My contract is so tight they can't afford to get rid of me. And even if they tried, I'd sue. But they'll probably delay the full roll out of the program until it's died down a bit.”
“Is that okay?”
“It's fine. I mean, for about an hour I wanted them to transfer me to the international office, in London. But I can't imagine it'll be that different there. And I don't want to look like I'm running away, so...”
“Just a holiday then?”
“God no. More then a few days and I'll go crazy. I'm going to go down to Haiti, I think. Most of the journalists have pulled out, but it's still... Yeah.”
“And they won't be worried about you getting injured?”
“I think they'll just be glad to get me out of the way for a while. And they're probably cynically thinking this might “reform my image”” Anderson gave exaggerated air quote, “But if it'll get them to let me go down there, I don't really care what their motivation is. I might be able to look in on the oil clean-up as well.”
“Do you know when you'll be off.”
“No idea.” Anderson grinned. “Why, are you trying to get rid of me?”
Keith laughed. “Well, I wasn't going to mention it...”
“Well fine then!” Anderson stood up in mock-outrage.
Keith leaned over to grab his hand and pull him back into his seat. “Relax. You know you can stay as long as you want.”
It takes him twenty minutes, but Keith finally convinced Anderson to take his bed for the night. He was still sitting up on the couch, flicking through The Boys of Summer when Rachel came home, flopping down on the couch next to him.
“Why're you down here?”
“I told Anderson he could have my bed.”
Rachel gave him a quizzical look. “So, America's most eligible gay bachelor –who is definitely at least somewhat interested in you– is upstairs, in your bed. And you're down here, on the couch, by yourself.”
“He's feeling vulnerable, Rach. I'm not going to go molesting him.”
“Please. Of all the places in the city he could go, he comes here? Doesn't his mom live in New York?”
“He probably didn't want to drag have the tabloid photographers in the city to her house.”
“Please.” She rolled off the couch and headed upstairs, stopping at the door to throw a final remark back. “I bet you anything he's up there, wondering why you're being such a fucking gentleman.”
He rolled his eyes at her back and settled back against the couch. It wasn't long before he heard footsteps returning down the stairs. Keith huffed out a breath.
“Rachel, I've already told you I'm not going to jump Anderson in his sleep.”
“Em...” Replied a voice that definitely didn't belong to Rachel.
He scrabbled off the couch to face Anderson in the doorway. “I'm sorry. It was just... Rachel, being Rachel, and suggesting... I'm sorry.”
“Ah.” Anderson took a step into the room. “Rachel... wants you to jump me?”
“More that she doesn't know why I haven't already... Again, I'm sorry.”
Anderson took another step closer. “And, what reason did you give her?”
“That, em...” Keith paused for a second. “That I didn't think, right now, that you'd be welcoming of such advances.”
“Ah.” Another step, bringing him up to right in front of Keith. “And what gave you that impression?”
“Recent events. Why? Are you saying my impression was incorrect?”
Anderson reached a hand up to pop the top button on Keith's polo shirt. “You could say that, yes.”
“Well, I'm sorry about that.”
Anderson smiled and pulled Keith down for a kiss. “You're forgiven.”
He pulled the tow of them flat against the wall, wrapping his arms around Keith's shoulders and hanging on tight. When they finally broke apart, Anderson laughed slightly.
"It's nothing. I just feel weird asking if you want to come up to your own bedroom."
"Ah. Well then..." Keith wrapped Anderson hand in his own and pulled him gently up the stairs.
Keith woke up with his arms around Anderson Cooper, and had to pause for a moment to make sure he's not dreaming. Anderson was still asleep, so he slowly pulled himself free and wandered downstairs for toast, coffee and orange juice. When he got back to the bedroom Anderson was awake, and for a split-second looked so relieved that it broke Keith's heart a tiny bit.
“Perfect.” Anderson smiled. “It's just... I wasn't lying when I said how careful I've been in the last few years. It took my brain a couple of seconds to re-adjust.”
“Ah. Well, I brought you some breakfast. Not coffee, because I remembered you don't drink that. But once again, I'm not a stalker.”
“I'll trust you on that one.”
Keith climbed back into bed and handed Anderson some juice and toast. He took it and leaned back against Keith's arm. Keith could feel his breath gently against his shoulder, and had to remind himself that he's not allowed get used to this.
Rachel crashed into his room an hour later, once again appearing to wear Keith's boxers and a ripped white tank top. She flashed them both thumbs-up before dumping the papers on the bed and heading out again.
“I take it she approves?”
“No offence to you, but I'm pretty sure she'd approve of my sleeping with almost anyone at this point. She says she feels guilty that it's my house but she's the only one having sex in it.”
“Now I feel special.”
He wrapped his arm around Anderson's shoulders and kissed the top of his head. “Well, she definitely approves extra that it's you.”
“Excellent.” Anderson slid his hand to the back of Keith's neck and pulled him on top of him. “She won't mind this then.”
Later, they spread out on the bed and read the papers, passing the different sections back-and-forth silently. Keith balled up the first three pages of 'Entertainment' and tossed them angrily across the room. Finishing his orange juice, Anderson leaned across the bed to set it on the side table.
“Can I stay a little longer?”
“You can stay forever, if you want.”
He smiled, slid out of bed and pulled his boxers on.
“I'm going to grab some more juice from the kitchen. Do you have a shirt I could borrow?”
Keith tossed him one of the many faded Yankees jerseys in his closet just as the door rang.
“I'll get that.” he pulled a shirt on himself and headed down to the front door.
The second he opened it, he was nearly blinded by the flashing lights. It took him a couple of seconds to react, slamming the door behind himself, but it was too late.
“What is it?” Anderson appeared at the end of the hall, orange juice carton in his hand.
“Nothing!” Keith yelped, trying to keep the shock out of his voice.
“You're hiding something. C'mon, what is it?”
He pushed past Keith and pulled the door open, reacting much faster once the flashes started, yanking his jersey closed and slamming the door in one movement.
He looked at Keith, realised they were essentially wearing matching clothes, and smacked the wall.
“Did they get a picture of you?”
“I think so.”
He shoved past him, running up the stairs to the bedroom. Keith followed, finding him on the floor, searching through the pile of discarded clothes for his phone.
“Hi, Erica? They found me. Look, don't give me that, I know this was stupid, but... Okay, just hurry.”
He threw the phone on the bed and started grabbing all his stuff together. Keith tried to lay a hand on his shoulder, but Anderson sprang back.
“Did you tell someone? Or Rachel?”
“What? Of course not!”
“So every fucking photographer in New York woke up knowing I was here? Or decided to drag themselves to Brooklyn on the off-chance they found someone famous behind the red door in Cobble Hill?”
“Look, I don't know how this happened, but...”
“No, there isn't a but. I can't... I can't deal with this right now.”
He pulled himself into his clothes and shoved everything else into his bag, grabbing his shoes and running down the stairs. Keith followed, shoving past Rachel in the hallway to keep up.
“What the fuck...” She yelped.
In the hallway, Anderson paced back-and-forth by the door, checking his phone every few seconds. When Keith arrived in the hall he glanced up before immediately returning his gaze to the phone.
“Look, can we talk about this? It's not...”
“Spare me the platitudes, Keith, okay? I know that in the grand scheme of things this isn't a big fucking deal. But this is my life, my career, and right now, this is possibly the worst thing that could happen.”
“Don't be ridiculous. Of course this isn't the worst thing that could happen. I mean, my best friend tripped down his stairs and now he can't walk, this isn't the worst...”
He tried to catch hold of Anderson's hand, but the other man snatched it back instantly.
“Believe me Keith,” he said coldly, “I know all about how life can always get worse.”
“I'm sorry, but this isn't the end. This is all going to blow over, and before you know it people won't even remember it.”
Anderson laughed, coldly. “Have you heard of the fucking internet Keith? It doesn't matter what I do now, every time anyone says anything about it there'll be pictures, and links, and this will all come up over and over again.”
He leant heavily against the door. “This is the worst mistake I've ever made.”
Keith stepped back like he'd been slapped. “I'm... I'm sorry you feel that way. I know my opinion doesn't really matter, but even if it was a mistake, it's one I'm glad you made.”
The doorbell rang, and Anderson opened it a crack to reveal Erica, who pulled him out the door, sheltering him from the massive crowd of flashing lights.
Returning to the couch, Keith collapsed into the cushions and flicked on the news. A few minutes later, Rachel flopped down next to him.
“So, you know how Sarah Campbell's ex-girlfriend used to write for the Post?” She started, quietly.
“Please don't finish that sentence.” Keith whispered.
“It wasn't intentional, if that makes it better.”
“I'm really, really sorry.”
“It's not your fault.” He leaned slightly against her. “It was always going to happen. I shouldn't have let myself think it wasn't.”
She wrapped her arms around him and didn't comment when he flicked the news on.
He's not to proud to admit he spent the next week doing absolutely nothing. Eventually even the panicked calls from Joel slow down and stop, which mean he's either learned how to cope by himself or the store has burned down, and Keith finds it heard to care about which one it is.
He eventually made it back to work, to find that not only has it not burned down, but that Joel has even managed to whether the beginning of the pre-Christmas rush by himself. This only served to make Keith feel even more superfluous then normal.
After the first month, Rachel calls the cable company and manages to get just Anderson's channel disconnected. They try and cut off all of cable news, but she spins them some story about being allergic to the strobing lights in their ad-breaks, and threatens to sue if they don't just cut off that channel and they comply. She still has to monitor TiVo to make sure he's not obsessing over other appearances, but it's a start.
Christmas is at Jon and Stephen's house, and Jon vetoes all of Stephen's suggestions for making dinner more creative. Everyone is very careful not to bring the Anderson subject up for the entire day, and Keith is torn between loving them for trying to protect him and hating himself for needing the protection.
On New Year's Eve, he and Shep jokingly toast to future loneliness while Jon and Stephen approximate slow-dancing and Ana tries to keep Rachel close at hand while they wait for midnight.
After dinner on his birthday, Ana flops down on the couch next to him and hands him a scrap of paper.
“That,” she announced slightly drunkenly, “is Anderson Cooper's personal email. One of the guys at the paper used to work with him back in the day, and he managed to track it down for me.”
“Just, think about it, okay? I hate you being like this.”
She pulls herself to her feet and wanders over to wrap her arms enthusiastically around Rachel as she does the dishes. Keith stares at the paper for a second before crumpling it in his hand and letting it fall to the ground, lost amongst the scraps of wrapping paper.
In April, they got together to christen Jon and Stephen's new kitchen and celebrate Rachel's birthday. After the plates were cleared away and toasts had been made, Keith held a hand up for another minute's silence.
“Now that we're all together, I just wanted to thank you all. I know that over the last few months I have probably been approaching impossible to deal with, so the fact that you all have managed to do so without actively attempting to kill me is gratifying. And I promise that I'll be better from now on.”
Later, Rachel fed Ana and Jon a litany of brightly-coloured shots before dragging Ana up to dance carefully between the stove and the table. Jon kept accidentally knocking his brakes off and bumping into the walls as his hand-eye coordination goes, before Shep eventually rescued him. Stephen settled on the couch next to Keith and looks at him appraisingly.
“Did you mean all that?”
“Yes. I am recovered from my delirium.”
“So you don't care that he's back in town then.”
Keith coughed slightly. “He's back in New York.”
Stephen called up a page on his iPhone. “Yep. He's back from Haiti and the Gulf, wrapped in acclaim, clutching his Peabody, and shooting a series of documentaries about homelessness in the city before triumphantly returning to prime-time news in the Summer.”
“Yep. Working out of a hotel downtown for about the next week. But you wouldn't be interested in that, would you?”
“Shut up Stephen.”
Keith was trying to remember if he'd felt like this big an idiot before, but he was pretty sure standing outside a run-down office building, trying to convince a security guard that he wasn't crazy was near the top of the list.
“Look, I know you can't just let me in, but if you can just find someone who can give him a message...”
The guard was impressively impassive. Keith had almost given up and was about to turn away when Anderson walked past the door.
His mind went blank. “Hi.”
“It's okay, he can come in.”
The guard's face didn't even flicker as he stood aside to let Keith inside.
“Hi.” Anderson smiled gently.
“Yeah... Sorry, Stephen mentioned you were filming around here, and I just thought... I don't know what I thought.”
“No, it's good to see you.”
Keith glanced around the hallway. “A little more down-market then the last place.”
Anderson grimaced. “Don't I know it. But we're filming in a load of locations around here, and we needed somewhere low profile, with a lot of rooms.”
“So not quite slumming it?”
“Not yet, anyway.”
The silence stretched again for a moment, before Anderson coughed.
“Look, I've got a few things to get finished up here, but if you don't mine handing around for a bit, we could get something to eat?”
“Yeah, that'd be... That'd be good.”
“Cool.” Anderson's smile was brighter this time. “There's a coffee room that way, I'll try and be free as soon as I can.”
He scurried off in the opposite direction, leaving Keith to find the green room. He fiddled with his phone for a few minutes, texting Stephen and Jon a few 'I don't know yet whether I need to kill you' messages before heading off to search for the bathroom.
Inside the stall, he blew his nose and took a few deep breaths, before he noticed voices coming from the sinks.
“Good afternoon Mr. Cooper.”
“Who let you in, Moylan?”
“I'd rather not get anyone fired, thank you.”
“Who's the guy? New boyfriend?”
“Doesn't really look like your type though.”
“Though I suppose after... recent events, you'd probably want to re-think your type.”
“I barely know him, he's just shown up. He's nobody.”
“Good. Wouldn't want to think you'd given up on attractive men just because you'd happened to meet a lot of bad ones.”
“Can you leave now? I've got things to do.”
After they left, Keith counted to one hundred before slipping out the door and down to the street.
“Keith! Delivery!” Joel yelled from the counter.
“That's what I pay you for.” He yelled back from the office.
“Not for the store, it's just for you.”
He got up from his chair and made his way to the shop floor, mumbling. “You know, the entire point of having employees is so that I don't have to...”
He trailed off when he realised Anderson Cooper was standing in the middle of his store, between two twirly-stands of baseball cards.
“You, em. You disappeared.”
“Yeah... Something suddenly came up, I didn't want to disturb you.”
“How have you been doing?”
“Fine, fine. Not selling any baseball merchandise, worrying that my sister is trying to seduce my housemate, you know, the usual. But you, Haiti, hard-hitting reporting, just like you wanted. I hear excellent things–”
Anderson tried to shrug it off, but Keith wouldn't let him. “–and now everybody loves you again.”
“It won't last,” Anderson smiled. “Give it a few months and they'll just be waiting for some new scandal.”
“Then you'll just have to continue being brilliant.”
“Maybe.” He looked around before settling his eyes on Keith again. “Anyway, we've finished filming, so I'm flying back to LA to edit. The network's thinking of moving production on my show out there, so I'm not sure when I'll be back. I had this–” he held up a wrapped package “–and I wanted to make sure to get it too you before I left.”
Keith took the package, staring down at it.
“Don't open it yet, I'll get embarrassed.”
“I've had it for ages, and I've just been staring at it, every day. I wanted to give it too you before, but I couldn't quite bring myself to call. I was so embarrassed about the way I left the last time, or even the time before that, and I didn't think you'd appreciate my calling up to try and sweep things under the rug. But then you showed up, and I thought that maybe... That if I weren't going to be in LA, that maybe I could buy you dinner again. Or more then again, and see if maybe you could forgive me and maybe begin to like me, again.”
“But at the set, that man asked you who I was and you said nobody...”
Anderson laughed slightly, his eyes showing the first signs of getting damp.
“Believe me, Keith. You do not want Brian Moylan knowing anything about you.”
He opened his mouth to speak just before Joel shuffled into the room.
“Not now, Joel.”
“I know, but–”
“Not now!” He turned back to Anderson. “Sorry.”
“Not at all.”
They stood for a second, the silence stretching between them, before Keith finally managed to find his voice again.
“I like to think of myself as sensible, for the most part, not in general prone to irregular decisions... But can I say no? To your kind offer.”
Blue eyes have a terrible habit of looking sadder then other colours, and right then, Anderson's were shining like he was only just managing to hold on.
Keith wrapped his arms tightly around himself and flicked his eyes around the room, finally settling on Anderson’s.
“It’s just… You have so many lives, Anderson. But this… this is the only life I have, and if… When you leave me, I don’t have anywhere to escape to. And I don’t think I’ll be able to handle that. So I have to step aside now, because if it's this hard this time, I can’t even imagine how hard it’ll be next time.”
He’d barely finished talking before he had to look away, tears pricking at his eyes. When he looked up again, Anderson was fiddling with his cuffs and searching for words.
“Yeah…” He finally opened his mouth. “I… I can see that. And I’m sorry for everything I’ve done that’s made your life…But…” He pulled his hands apart and held them stiffly by his side. “You said I’ve got so many lives, but really I don’t even have one, not a real one. The only thing I want is to have one life that actually means something, that's real. With you.”
Keith was frozen to the spot, concentrating all his energy on not breaking down, and even though it made him feel like a horrible person, he couldn’t force himself to make eye contact. The moment stretched for what felt like forever, until finally Anderson whispered out a tiny ‘goodbye’ before turning out of the store.
The second the door clicked shut Keith collapsed against the counter, gasping for breath. The thunk brought Joel running from the office, where he found Keith with his head pressed between his knees, curled up as tightly as he could manage. Barely a second passed before he snatched up Keith’s phone from the counter and started dialing.
“Stephen? It’s Joel. Can you get down here? Something’s happened.”
It took an impressively short time before Jon, Stephen, Ana, and Shep were all in the store. Joel was hovering in the background as Keith remained slumped over his counter. As the rest of them struggled for something to say, Jon's eyes remained fixed on the slightly scuffed copy of The Boys of Summer.
“A first edition? Yes.” Keith whispered from behind his folded arms.
“Signed by everyone who was still alive, yes.”
“And you said no?” Ana asked.
“Em... why?” Shep asked.
“Because I can't say yes, not again.” Keith pulled his head out of his arms and leaned back in his chair. “I mean, you all know. You all saw what happened last time, and the time before that. Rachel pretty much unplugged our cable and deleted all the news on my DVR. You saw how much that... I can't do that, not again.”
“How do you know you'll have...” Stephen started.
“Because I will. I always do. I'm just destined to be unhappy.”
Ana reached over the counter to wrap her arms around him, and there was silence for a moment before Rachel crashed through the door.
“Anderson came back. Keith said no.” Shep explained.
She leaned over the counter and smacked Keith upside the head.
“What the fuck, Rachel?”
“You complete idiot.”
“No, it's okay.” Ana reassured her, “he explained.”
“Really? How?” Rachel stared at him.
Keith slouched down in his chair. “I can't deal with you right now, okay? My life is over.”
“Fine.” Rachel scowled, pulling herself onto the counter. “But at least tell me what he said.”
“He said...” Keith carded his hands through his hair, fiddling with his glasses. “He said that his life wasn't real, and that all he wanted... All he wanted was to have something that meant something. With me.”
A silence fell over the room for so long that Keith forced himself to look around. Everyone was staring at him intently.
“I've fucked up completely, haven't I?”
“Pretty much.” Stephen agreed.
“Maybe not yet!” Rachel leapt to her feet and yanked the door open. “There is always time. C'mon.”
Keith isn't entirely sure how they all get from his store to inside Rachel's car, but after less then ten minutes of everyone dancing around the subject he feels compelled to put his headphones in so they can discuss him in relative privacy. It takes nearly an hour before they pull up outside the hotel, and Shep and Ana jump out with him as Rachel goes to find parking.
They flanked him as he approached the desk.
“Hi. I'm looking for Mr. Nene?”
“I'm sorry, but we have no guests under that name.”
“How about....” His mind was blank.
Keith slouched forward on the desk and moaned, “I can't believe my life is about to be destroyed because I've never watched Real Housewives.”
Behind the desk, the clerk's eyebrow quirked. “We had a Mr. Countess LuAnn, but I'm afraid he's just checked out.”
Keith looked up, hopeful. “Do you know where he's going?”
The clerk gestured surreptitiously. “His people checked him out, I think he's heading out the back...”
But Keith was off. He raced in the direction the clerk pointed, up a few stories, before finding himself in the middle of a crowd of tabloid reporters following Anderson through the hallway.
Anderson's head was down as questions were hurled in his direction, Erica ably answering anything professionally relevant.
“No, this has nothing to do with any stories you may have heard... We have no comment on the London position, you'll have to contact the network... I think you know by now that Mr. Cooper does not answer questions about his personal life...”
On this, the elevator door closed between Anderson, Erica and the crowd of journalists, and as they dispersed Keith ran down the stairs, hoping the elevator didn't beat him down.
It didn't. He arrived in the basement just as the elevator doors swished open, catching Anderson's eyes instantly.
Erica looked between them, hiding a smile. “I'll be in the car.”
“Keith, if you're...”
He interrupted. “It's come to my attention that I'm a complete idiot.”
Anderson quirked an eyebrow. “Just an idiot?”
“Okay, a self-sabotaging, wallowing-in-my-own-misery, afraid-to-be-happy idiot.”
“And I'm sorry? And I'm desperate for forgiveness? I don't really know what to say, I've never gotten this far before without giving up.”
“Are you planning on giving up this time?”
Keith took a step forward and laid his hands on Anderson's shoulders. “Never.”
In the same moment, Anderson let his bags fall to the ground and pulled Keith right against himself. “Excellent.”
Keith moved his hands to cradle Anderson's head as he pressed their lips together. And even though they were in a concrete basement, it was perfect.