Randall Wilson was surrounded by friendly academics, one-quarter inebriated on cheap champagne, and bored out of his skull. He’d thought that a night out at a fancy party like this would be a chance to ingratiate himself to his professors. Schmooze and network, things like that. Unfortunately the stuffy old teachers kept mistaking him for a well-dressed waiter. It was hard to discuss the potential academic merit of genre fiction when people kept asking you for more canapés. Dr. Herbig had been shooting him apologetic glances all evening. She’d been the one who invited him, but within moments of the first professor at the dinner treating Randall like a servant she’d given him a tight smile and said “It’s just about getting them used to your face. Later we can get them to respect you.” Randall had the distinct feeling that she was used to dealing with her colleagues’ bullshit. He, however, was not particularly in the mood.
He’d had almost enough of being shouted over with a call of “garcon!” that it was starting to seem like a good idea to silently sneak out the back door when the crowd parted and he spotted a familiar face. His spirits perked, like the ears of an excited puppy, and he half rose from his seat to get a better look. The man was instantly and wonderfully recognizable. The black hair pulled back in a ponytail, dark skin and knife sharp features were as unmistakable as the man’s slightly worn looking suit. Though he was clean shaven for once. Seeing him without a day’s worth of stubble was an experience.
Randall gave the slightest of waves, and the man’s eyes darted over, a relieved grin appearing on his face. He gave a curt nod to the decrepit calculus professor he’d been trapped by and navigated over to Randall. “Hello, friend. Randall, right?” His voice was a genial baritone rumble.
“Yeah. Good to see you again Salv…I mean, Professor Diego.” Randall said, standing.
“Adjunct professor, but please just Salvador.” Salvadore said with a self-deprecating laugh. “I think we’ve seen enough of each other that there is no need for politeness.”
“Okay…uh…Salvadore.” Randall said.
“You actually saved me. Professor Dodge was ready to talk my ear off about some sort of maths and propriety was keeping me a prisoner.” Salvadore said. “Would you mind stepping outside with me for some fresh air?”
“No, no of course not!” Randall nodded, picking up his glass and giving a brief wave to Dr. Herbig. She flashed him a nod to excuse him and the most curiously knowing smile. “Have to ask though, why me?”
“Among other things friend, you’re about the only person in this room under the age of 40.” Salvadore said with a grin.
“Oi!” Dr. Herbig said. “Just because I’m 65 doesn’t mean I can’t still kick your arse.”
“Right, right.” Salvadore chuckled. He put a gentle hand on Randall’s shoulder and steered him through the crowd and out onto a balcony. The night air was cool and refreshing after the crowded ball-room, and the clear sky sparkled with stars. “Much better! It was starting to get somewhat stuffy in there.” He loosened his tie and undid the top button of his shirt, flapping the collar to stir up the cold breeze. Randall tried not to stare.
“Yeah…heh…” Randall said, eyeing Salvadore’s collarbone out of the corner of his eye.
“So, what are you doing here?” Salvadore asked. “This does not seem like your kind of place to be on a Friday night.”
“It was professor Herbig. You know. She’s really taken me under her wing since I was in her first semester literature class and she thought getting to meet some of the other professors at a charity dinner would be good for my future.” He shrugged. “I want to teach modern literature when I get out of here and you know, getting my foot in the door and starting to network…”
“So she threw you to the wolves?” Salvadore said, looking over with a sympathetic smile.
“Yeah…ahaha…..she’s kind of already apologized.” Randall hung his head. “But what are you doing here?”
“I was invited.” Salvadore said. “They…like me here. I spent my senior year as a TA and...”
“You still do!” Randall interrupted. “That’s where I first saw you. You were doing a lecture for European History.”
“Yes, that canned speech the professor left for me when he was sick with the flu.” Salvadore let out a low growling sigh. “I have never had so much fun in my life.”
“You were good! You…uh…kept my on attention riveted on Celtic Territorial Disputes.” Randall said and took a sip of his champagne to try and hide the blush as he thought about how he actually just hadn’t been able to take his eyes of Salvador.
“I did adequately, friend.” Salvadore said, leaning forward on the balcony to stare down into the lake down below before glancing back over to Randall. “I much prefer getting to actually teach, though as an ‘adjunct’ I only get to teach a weekly class on Esoteric European Literature.”
“I bet you’re a great teacher.” Randall reached over and squeezed Salvadore’s arm. “It’s kind of amazing you got to teach right out of school like this.”
“They liked me.” Salvadore said, with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “And I think they liked the splash of diversity I would bring to the place.”
“The only Hispanic among all the vanilla here?” Randall said, taking another sip.
“Hispanic and gay.” Salvadore said, causing Randall to choke on his drink. “Two minorities with one stone! But please, enough about work, friend. You obviously have a great love of literature. What do you like to read?”
“Well, I mean, you know…bit of Hawthorne, bit of…uhhh…Joyce?” Randall said, nervously rubbing the back of his neck. Salvadore chuckled, his brilliant low rumble.
“No, what do you like to read.” Sal said. “Not your academic credentials.”
“What if I like Hawthorne and Joyce?” Randall grinned.
“Hawthorne I’ll give you, but if anyone ever says they like Joyce they’re probably lying through their teeth.” Salvadore returned the grin and they both shared a chuckle.
“Yeah, you kind of have me there. So, what do I like to read when I’m not trying to keep up with the Almighty Literary Canon? I like science fiction you know? Really pulpy stuff. Rayguns and green monsters and badass women. I was reading this one story about a worldwide plague that causes organ failure. That was pretty cool. And, I really like cheap paperback romances! I’ve found this one series, it’s all about these vampires and werewolves and the main character doesn’t…”
“…Realize he’s in love with his best friend until he hears him lose his virginity to another man, yes!” Salvadore excitedly finished for him. “I read that too! I rather enjoyed it myself for all its...hmm...how to describe it...”
“Soap opera-ness?” Randall offered.
“That’s it.” Sal said. “Then again, that’s why it’s fun. And the main characters sounded rather attractive.”
“Yeah.” Randall said, his thoughts turning to Salvadore as a sexy, half dressed werewolf. “But the thing is, I really hate that science fiction and fantasy get such short shrift! Because there are good works of genre fiction out there and all of my peers just talk about how it’s freaking Low Art or whatever and it drives me up the wall!”
“What about Frankenstein or Dracula?” Salvadore countered. “Mary Shelley invented the science fiction story with Frankenstein, and Dracula is still considered a landmark horror title.”
“Yeah, yeah!” Randall said, downing the rest of his wine. “But they’re…y’know…blips! They’re outliers! Half the people who say they’re masterpieces of literature haven’t even fucking read them!” Randall put his hand to his mouth, accidentally pulling his arm from Salvadore’s grasp. “Oh my god I’m so sorry I didn’t mean to curse.”
“Randall, no need to be self-conscious around me.” Salvadore gave him a warm smile that sent shivers down his spine. “This isn’t our first meeting and I’m practically a peer of yours, what only five years older, four? Not much of a gap. I’m not testing you or trying to judge, I’m just here as a...well, friend but let’s see where we go from there, eh?”
“I’m sorry, you’re just, doing exactly what I want to do. It’s admirable. I feel like I have to measure up...” Randall said and mentally added, Plus you’re hot as hell and I’m pretty sure I didn’t have a huge crush on you the first couple of times we talked.
“And soon you’ll be doing it too.” Salvadore said. “And you’ll do great things. I can tell. The times we’ve talked before, the passion you’ve shown for the craft, it’s a very attractive set of qualities to have in someone meant to pass on knowledge to further generations.” He cocked his head, and produced a napkin out of seemingly nowhere. “Still got a little champagne on your chin there.” With a deft touch he gently took Randall’s chin between his thumb and forefinger and used the napkin to clean away the remaining residue. That was practically enough to get Randall to collapse right then and there, but instead he set aside his glass, reached a hand up, and gently pulled Sal’s hand away from his chin to interlock their fingers.
“You’re right you know.” Randall said. “Every time before tonight…I’ve only ever talked about teaching or academics. Work. And I really want to get to know you. So…where are you from?”
“Starting off simple, I see. But at least you’re not asking about the weather.” Sal said, tightening his fingers just slightly enough to let Randall know he could keep holding on. “My family is originally from Barcelona, but they immigrated to the states long before I was born. I went to school here, but I spent a lot of time overseas.”
“I’m just from Kalamazoo, Michigan.” Randall said. “Nothing really interesting. My mom owns an antiques store and my dad has a local law practice. They’re both glad I’m going into teaching.”
“My father wanted me to go into business.” Salvadore said. “But he doesn’t really mind, too much.”
“For about five minutes, I wanted to be a painter.” Randal added. “Took one class and realized that I didn’t have the aptitude or eye.”
“I took a brief foray into carpentry” Salvadore scratched at his face self-consciously. “Let us say that at least the fruits of my labor would make interesting kindling for a fire. But I like to practice, and its relaxing work”
“Heh, I know that feeling. Sometimes I get some paints and just splatter them on a canvas. It looks like a drunken Mark Rothko painting, but it’s therapeutic.”
“I’d like to see one of your ‘paintings’” Sal said.
“See that splotch of mud on the pavement over there?” Randall pointed.
“That’s pretty much it.”
Salvadore let out a hearty guffaw of laughter, leaning slightly away from Randall as he did. Randall tightened his grip on Salvadore’s hand, worried that he’d pull away, and not wanting that to happen yet. “Are you enjoying holding my hand then?” Salvadore glanced back at him, giving him a soft, heartfelt grin.
“Yeah.” Randall said without thinking. “Oh, uh…do you want me to let go?”
“Not a chance friend.” Salvador smiled and tugged him a bit closer.
What happened next was a bit of a tipsy blur to Randall. He knew that Sal had only meant to give him a flirtatious tug closer. Randall, in a haze of alcohol had moved in even closer than that and pushed himself up on his toes. He became aware far too late that his mouth was pressing against Salvadore’s, that his fingers had become entertwined with Sal’s shirt. Just as suddenly he pulled away completely from Sal and clamped down both hands on the railing of the balcony, desperately wishing that what had just happened hadn’t happened, or that he could throw himself into the dark water below.
“Oh. My. God. I’m so sorry I honestly don’t know what came over me, just please ignore that ever happened what are you DOING?”
Beside him, Salvadore was also gripping the railing, doubled over in laughter. “You do not do things halfway, do you friend? I was intending to just let you rest your head on my shoulder maybe but…wow!”
“Huh?” Randall said, not processing this information very well.
“I’d imagined our first kiss as something a little more planned, maybe us surrounded by music and flowers.” Salvadore was having trouble speaking through the constant chuckles that were coming out of him like errant hiccups. “Something overbearingly romantic and you just wrecked those plans in the best kind of way.”
“You’re….you’re not mad?” Randall asked
“Of course not!” Salvadore said. “I think I’ve wanted to kiss you since about…the second time we met? I think we were talking about how you wanted to be a teacher and bring new worlds to your students and the light hit your face just so…”
“Uh huh.” Randall said, tracing a finger across his lips. “I wish I was half so poetic. I just thought you were cool and smart and then you showed up wearing a button up and I realized that you had a really nice chest.”
“So I did see you checking my neckline out earlier?” Salvadore cocked an eyebrow. He hadn’t stopped grinning since Randall had kissed him. There was a goofy lopsided-ness to it, that when combined with the affectionate crinkle that had crept upon the corners of Sal’s eyes made Randall wonder how he’d ever put off going for this wonderful, beautiful man. “Though, I’m not one to talk. I think you’ve been too distracted with me to notice that I’ve been…shall we say…returning the favor?”
“Heh. Dirty old man.” Randall did his best to return that wonderful smile. It seemed to work as Sal moved closer to him once more.
“So...would you mind…if I…kissed you again? With maybe less one-tenth drunken clumsiness involved?”
“Heh…why haven’t you already, Randall?” Sal said, reaching over to close his hand around Randall’s tie. With the gentlest of pulls he coaxed Randall closer, not that Randall particularly needed the coaxing. They kissed again, Randall gently rubbing his hand across Sal’s cheek just as Sal pressed his hand into the small of Randall’s back, pushing him closer. After some amount of time had passed, possibly five seconds, or minutes or even five days, they only barely broke apart, Randall letting out a long, contented sigh, still holding close to Salvadore.
“So,” Sal said, pecking Randall on the lips. “My next question is this. Friday or Saturday?”
“Huh?” Randall said, still under the influence of kiss catatonia.
“Well, as I understand Randall.” Sal said, tilting Randall’s chin up to gaze lovingly into his eyes. “When two people have a mutual crush on each other, they go on what are commonly called dates.”