“Be Mine: Part One”
An In The Kitchen Valentine’s Day Story
By Eileen Griffin and Nikka Michaels
New York: February 13th – Five Years Ago
“And that’s a wrap, folks!”
Jamie leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath. The stress of the last few days had finally hit him. Trevor had been working hard on building Jamie’s brand within the foodie circle in New York with the hope of going beyond his head chef status at Cielo. Today marked the fifth appearance on TV he’d made this week alone. Valentine’s Day was huge in the food and restaurant industry, and his best friend and manager, Trevor, had made sure to capitalize on it. Jamie still felt like a total dork on the talk show sets, but if he helped his career, he was willing to suck it up.
“Hey, you okay?”
Jamie felt his first real smile of the day cross his face when he turned to look behind him.
“Hey there. Long day. Scratch that. Long week, but yeah, I’m okay. I’ll be much better once we’re finally out of here and on our way to dinner.”
“Oh, yeah. About that.”
Jamie’s gut clenched when he saw Riley’s smile tighten just before turning away to busy himself with a non-existent prop. They’d met on the set of “Good Morning New York” three months ago, giving Jamie the first real feeling of hope for a relationship since moving to New York. It had been rough finding any time to spend together since Riley worked early mornings and Jamie frequently worked until well past midnight. They’d worked around it by spending their free time together at Jamie’s new condo, but Jamie wanted more than a few stolen moments behind the confines of his condo. For too many years, he’d hidden his sexuality. After he’d come out, with Ethan’s help, he’d sworn never to go back in that proverbial closet.
Jamie watched Riley straighten and re-straighten the fake plant next to the desk Jamie was seated at. The more Jamie pushed for them to go out on a real date, the more excuses Riley made as to why he couldn’t make it.
“Riley, is there something I should know?”
Jamie sighed when Riley turned back around to face him. If Jamie hadn’t known better, he totally would have bought the fake regret in Riley’s eyes.
“Sorry, Jamie. You know how much I wanted to go out tonight, but Donna’s been out sick all week, and the tapes from today have to be edited before I can even think about stepping foot outside this building. It shouldn’t take all night, but I’m pretty sure I’ll miss our seven o’clock reservation time. You understand, don’t you?
Jamie understood. He understood all too well. He understood that in all the time he’d known Riley, they’d never gone on a real date. When they’d first met on the set of “Good Morning New York” three months ago, they’d decided to take things slow. Funny how that word had meant something different to Jamie than it had to Riley. Sure they’d hung out with Trevor and his flavor du jour at either Jamie or Trevor’s condo, but every time Jamie suggested any plans that included anywhere public, Riley conveniently balked. Not once had Riley come to visit Jamie at Cielo. Not once had he introduced Jamie to any of his friends. And not once had Riley invited Jamie back to his place.
Jamie hated to think the worst of people, but even he had to admit it was pretty shady he’d never once seen, let alone stepped inside Riley’s apartment. After three months without even so much as an invitation, Jamie didn’t know what to believe anymore and was exhausted just by simply thinking about it.
As if on cue, Trevor appeared behind Jamie, his strong, confident hands resting on Jamie’s shoulders. Drawing on his best friend’s strength, Jamie squared his shoulders and met Riley’s guilty gaze.
“You know what, Riley? I don’t understand. In fact, I’m pretty sure the lack of understanding is all on you. I don’t think you understand it takes months, not weeks, to secure a reservation at Alegretti, but I managed to snag one in exchange for helping the head chef with a training session for his new line crew on one of my rare days off. You also don’t seem to understand that in the six months we’ve been dating, and trust me I’m using that term lightly, we’ve never once had a proper date outside the confines of my condo. And I’m sorry, but a proper date – outside of my goddamn condo – is a non-negotiable in any relationship I have. Most importantly, though, I don’t think you understand I’m not some vapid blond who got where he is by blowing the big wigs in New York’s food industry and is so clueless I don’t see the fear in my supposed boyfriend’s eyes every time a public outing is suggested.”
Jamie leaned forward and added, “Even though an outing is obviously what you need the most.”
He heard Trevor snort behind him and whisper, “Please, please tell me you’re about to fire him like Donald Trump on ‘The Apprentice.”
Jamie bit his lip to keep from laughing and kept his attention directly on the pale man in front of him.
“Jamie, you know how much I was looking forward to dinner tonight, but between both of our schedules, there hasn’t been time for anything more than a few hours here and there.”
Jamie sighed and settled back in his chair, Trevor’s hands still keeping him grounded. “I need more than that, Riley. No, I deserve more than that.”
Riley opened his mouth to argue some more, but Jamie cut him off. “Have fun editing tonight. Don’t bother calling or coming by later. I won’t be home. Not tonight. Not for a few stolen hours safely tucked away from the public eye. Not ever.”
Riley didn’t say a word. He simply turned and left.
It stung like hell to watch Riley nod and walk away without a backward glance, but Jamie had made a promise to himself a long time ago never to deny who he was or who he wanted. Being with Ethan had been a roller coaster of ups and downs, but during the year they’d been together, he’d learned there was nothing more important than being true to himself.
“Thank fucking God.”
Jamie couldn’t help it, he laughed. Only Trevor could ease the tension of the last few minutes, softening the blow of Jamie, once again, being single on a holiday meant for couples.
“Admit it, Trev. You never did like Riley.”
Trevor squeezed Jamie’s shoulders one last time, chuckling as he bent down to mock whisper in Jamie’s ear, “That dude is so deep in the closet, he has Aslan on speed dial.”
Trevor walked around to face Jamie, his expression softening. “That’s why you love me.”
Trevor had saved Jamie too many times to count over the past four years. First, as a friend and confident in Paris when Jamie had felt so alone and overwhelmed. Then, as a shoulder to lean on when he’d moved to New York for the job opportunity of a lifetime, all the time mourning the first and only real relationship he’d ever had. And now, as the one person who picked Jamie up and believed in him unconditionally, even when Jamie didn’t always believe in himself.
“I have no idea why, but I do.”
Trevor winked and held out his hand, pulling Jamie up from his chair.
“Luckily for you, we have just enough time to change before our reservation at Alegretti.”
“Trevor, you don’t have to babysit me tonight. I’ll be fine.”
Trevor was already pulling Jamie toward the exit, his ‘I’m in charge here and don’t you forget it’ expression firmly in place.
“I’m not babysitting you. I’m being treated to an awesome dinner at an incredible restaurant by my best friend. And it’s the day before Valentine’s Day, not the day itself. Did you really think I’d babysit your ass on the one day the bars are packed with very single, very horny men?”
Jamie wrapped his arm around his best friend, smiling as Trevor tugged him closer.
“Of course not. Even I wouldn’t do that to you.”
Trevor mocked sighed as they made their way out of the studio.
“I’d let you, you know. I’d do anything for you.”
Jamie looked at Trevor and knew Trevor meant every word. But no matter how good Trevor was to him or how hard Jamie tried to move on, his heart just wouldn’t give up the past and Ethan that easily. Jamie still had hope, though. One day, he’d celebrate this sappy holiday with the right person. Flowers. Maybe even a candlelit dinner he didn’t have to make himself. All the while knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, he was right where he was supposed to be.
Seattle: Early Morning Hours: February 14th – Five Years Ago
Ethan groaned and rolled over, a warm hand sliding from his hip and back onto the bed. He should have been out of here hours ago. It was the one rule he’d followed religiously for the past four years: Thou shalt make a speedy and drama-free exodus once the horizontal calisthenics were officially over. He’d never broken it. Until tonight. It wasn’t his fault, really. The exhaustion of pulling doubles the past few weeks coupled with the “couple” at Sharpe’s tonight who kept calling him to their table over the course of their dinner to fawn over every dish he’d prepared had finally caught up with him, making it all too easy to succumb to falling asleep amongst the mountain of pillows and tangled limbs.
A quick glance at the clock did nothing to quell the pit in his stomach. He had less than four hours to make it home, catch what little sleep he could in his own bed, then drive over to Sharpe’s to open up for the morning shift.
Ethan sat on the edge of the bed and scrubbed a hand down his face. He needed more than a shower. His five o’clock shadow was steadily approaching a ten o’clock hedge, and even he didn’t need Claire to tell him the new lumbersexual look wasn’t one that would work for him. One look in the mirror after not shaving for a week had been enough to convince him he didn’t look sexy. Instead, it made him look like a serial killer. And despite some of the current TV shows, serial killers just weren’t sexy.
After fumbling his way through a pile of plaid boxers, a lacy bra, some skinny jeans, and a skimpy tank top, Ethan found his clothes, slipping them on as quickly as he could. Just as he’d pulled his hoodie over his head, a warm hand encircled his hip, pulling him back toward the bed.
“Dude, where’s the fire? It’s three in the fucking morning. Just come back to bed. I promise I won’t bite. That is, unless you want me to. Then I’ll be more than happy to oblige.”
Ethan turned to face the voice, the warm hand finding its way to his belt loop to tug him forward. The darkness of the room made it difficult to see much more than a mess of dark brown hair that covered deep brown eyes and plump, kissable lips. Just beyond him, Ethan could barely make out long, blonde tresses against the dark silky sheets. Normally blonds were off the menu. Sure, this blonde had a rockin’ body and a pair of tits that he’d thoroughly enjoyed feasting on last night, but it was still too close to home. Another tug on his belt loop sealed the deal.
Yep. Time to get the fuck out.
With a quick scoop of his fingers, Ethan unhooked the hand from his jeans and took a step back from the bed.
“Can’t. I’ve got an early morning at the restaurant.”
“Early shift, huh? So you’re free tonight? Jenny’s here for one more night before heading out of town. We could eat in this time.”
Could Brown Eyes have smirked any wider when he offered to be on the menu for their dine in? And Jenny? For fuck’s sake? How many fucking rules was Ethan going to break before this night was over? J names were strictly verboten. How the fuck did he not know the chick’s name was Jenny?
Too many fucking shots at the bar after closing, that’s how. Time to nip this shit in the bud, right the fuck now.
Ethan took another step back, creating as much distance as he could between himself and Brown Eyes.
“No can do. We’re short-staffed, so I’ll be pulling another double.”
Brown Eyes propped himself up on his elbow, no doubt smelling the bullshit Ethan was serving.
“What about next weekend?”
Okaaaaay. Last night had been just what the doctor ordered. The long ass shifts at Sharpe’s were a necessary evil to get through this month, but they’d been hell on his body and sanity. Sure, the train with Brown Eyes and Jenny had been an awesome sexcapade, but it was time to get the fuck out.
Ethan took another step away from the bed.
“I’ll text you if I’m free.” Which will be never seeing as how I don’t have, or want, your number.
Brown Eyes tilted his head, again, leaving no doubt this time he smelled the bullshit that was so thick even Ethan could cut it with a knife. After a few seconds, Brown Eyes nodded once, then lay back down, pulling his pillow over his head.
“Twist the lock on the door before you leave.”
In other words, ‘It was fun. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.’
Without another word, Ethan hightailed it out of the room and through the apartment to the front door. As soon as the door shut behind him, he leaned back against the door and closed his eyes.
“Fuck a goddamn duck and call me George.”
Too fucking close. There was a reason for the rules Ethan he’d set for himself four years ago. If he stayed within the parameters of the rules, no one got close. No one got hurt. Last night had been the first time he’d not only broken some of his rules, but he’d done it in a spectacular fucking fashion.
February had always been a hard month. In fact, he’d never actually fucking celebrated it. He and Jamie hadn’t been officially together to celebrate it during their junior year in school. Then, the following year, they’d been “together” only to be separated by five thousand of the most miserable miles known to man. After that, Ethan refused to give it a second thought. It was a huge date night, giving Ethan more of an excuse to lose himself in creating masterpieces that would garner bigger tips and paychecks for Cal’s employees. Valentine’s Day was for saps who allowed themselves to get sucked into the fairytale of red hearts filled with overpriced chocolates given by someone who was probably cheating on them with the guy next door. Well, fuck that and fuck St. Valentine.
And fuck Ethan for losing his shit because he couldn’t deal with one fucking little holiday. He headed toward the stairwell, each step strengthening his resolve. No matter what else happened, he refused to get sucked into the drama and faux fantasy of the mega-million dollar industry a greeting card company created to boost their profits. Spending a crapload on cards, pink bears, and chocolate hearts might be okay for some people, but Ethan was smarter than that. He might have broken some rules tonight, but that was one he wouldn’t break.
There would be no sappy ass Valentine’s sentiments in Ethan’s future.
Not tonight. Not Ever.
© Eileen Griffin and Nikka Michaels, 2015