The initial plan was to release one new chapter a week. But they're all done, so what the hell? Hope you enjoy!
Ryan knew this day would come; he’d been waiting for it for more than a week. More than a week of dreading the bar because Erik could show up at any time and force Ryan to find a way to avoid him. And now here Erik was in all his black-haired, blue-eyed glory, leaning over the bar in a way that made his muscles ripple and strain against the fabric of his shirt.
“Oh, look.” Amanda sidled up to Ryan. “Your admirer is back.”
Ryan grunted and forced himself to concentrate on the drinks in front of him.
“He’s staring at you—hard.”
Ryan grunted again.
“Damn, it’s like he’s trying to undress you.”
“Thank you, Amanda. I think I get the idea.”
“I’m just sayin’. I’d like to get me a man like that.”
“You’re welcome to him.”
“I don’t think he’ll have me. He only has eyes for you.”
“Don’t you have customers to serve?”
“They’ll survive without me for a bit. I’m enjoying myself with teasing you.”
“Well, go enjoy yourself doing something else.”
“Ouch.” she sounded kind of hurt, and Ryan gave himself an inner scowl.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean that.”
“Yeah, uh huh.”
Ryan felt bad for his rudeness, but it did the job. Amanda went back to bartending and left Ryan alone. In hindsight, that probably wasn’t the greatest decision on Ryan’s part because he suddenly found himself across the bar from Erik, who was waving a twenty in the air and being very difficult to ignore.
Ryan snatched the twenty out of Erik’s fingers. “What do you want?”
“You to tell me why you ran out of the restaurant.”
“What do you want to drink?”
Erik smirked. “Stella on tap.”
Ryan moved to pour Erik’s beer, rang up the purchase and brought it all back to him. He left it on the bar and turned away before Erik could say anything else.
If Ryan thought he could avoid an actual confrontation by ignoring Erik, he was sorely mistaken. Erik took up residence on a bar stool and watched Ryan move about. He felt those piercing blue eyes follow him back and forth, driving him crazier with each passing moment. Every time he glared in Erik’s direction, there were those eyes, twinkling and smiling at him. If Erik's goal was to taunt him, then he succeeded.
A couple of hours into what Ryan realized was a childish but gratifying game of sulking, he glanced over and didn’t see Erik staring at him. Rather, Erik was talking to Amanda, both leaning over the counter and whisper-shouting into each other’s ears.
“What are you doing?” Ryan didn’t realize he had walked over until he was standing next to them.
“Talking,” Amanda replied.
“Don’t talk to her.” Ryan scowled pointedly at Erik, who had the audacity to smile and shrug.
“He can talk to whomever he wants. And I can talk to whomever I want.” Amanda glared at Ryan with her hands on her hips. “What is wrong with you today, Ryan?”
“Nothing,” Ryan said. “Just don’t talk to him.”
He walked away. Ryan knew he was overreacting. He should have just politely declined the offer and went on with his life. It’s not as if they were deliberately trying to dig up something that Ryan would prefer to keep deeply buried. There’s no way Erik could have known about his past life. He could have said no, and they would have found someone else, and everyone could just move on. So why was he being so difficult?
He paused, one hand holding the cocktail shaker and the other hand stuck inside the ice maker. Why was he being so difficult?
“Seriously, Ryan. You need to chill out.” Amanda had followed him over. “I don’t know what crawled up your ass and died, but you need to sort your shit out. Now!”
“Sorry, Amanda.” Ryan slid a scoop full of ice into the shaker. “I just… I don’t know. He just annoys me. You can talk to him if you’d like; it’s none of my business.”
Amanda huffed and grabbed the half-full shaker from the bar counter. “Well, it’s sort of your business,” she said as she started pouring vodka.
“What do you mean?”
“He was asking about you.”
“Nothing specific—just what you’re like and stuff like that.”
“And what did you say?”
Amanda popped the top onto the shaker and lifted it above her shoulder with a smirk. “I told him to ask you out and find out.”
Ryan just barely stopped himself from rolling his eyes.
The rest of the night went something like this: Amanda and Erik kept up a steady conversation as she passed by his stool and topped up his drink, while Ryan stuck to the other end of the bar, sneaking glances over at them and trying unsuccessfully to quash the antsy-ness he felt in his limbs.
By the time the bright lights came on and Steve started ushering people out, Ryan was practically bouncing on his toes, itching for the punching bag hanging in the corner of his apartment.
Ryan wasn’t surprised when Steve let Erik stick around the bar until the cleanup was done. It looked as if Amanda was still keeping him company until they both had their jackets and were waiting for Ryan to finish up.
“Come on, Ryan.” Amanda sounded annoyed. “You can’t avoid us forever.”
Ryan draped the last hand towel over the sink faucet and finally turned toward them.
“We’re going to grab a bite at Mike’s, and you’re coming with us.” Amanda wasn’t asking.
“I’m tired; I’m just going to go home.” The last thing Ryan wanted to do was grab a bite with the two of them.
“You’re not tired; you’re just avoiding us.”
Amanda was right. Ryan almost always went out for a bite after the bar closed.
“It’s just a bite, nothing else,” Erik piped in.
To Ryan’s surprise, Erik sounded genuine—none of the teasing, flirting tone he’d used in all their previous encounters.
Just then, Ryan’s stomach let out a rumble, voicing its opinion about getting food.
“See? You want food.” Amanda smiled and led the way toward the door. “Come on, let’s go.”
Walking to Mike’s was déjà vu. Erik and Amanda were ahead of him chatting away while Ryan did his best not to stare at Erik’s ass.
At one point, Erik unexpectedly turned around, and despite what Ryan thought were his fast reflexes, he was sure Erik had caught him staring. The smirk on Erik’s lips and the twinkle in his eye that could be seen even in the dark kind of gave it away.
Mike’s was a cross between a greasy diner and a dive bar, open extra late to cater to those who themselves worked at bars and clubs. The music was kept low, and the only service available was at the bar. Everyone was expected to pick up their food at the counter by the kitchen and bus their own tables on the way out.
Showing up at this time of night meant the place was packed with other bar workers just finishing their shifts, and the three of them were lucky to snag the only open table by the door.
“So…” Amanda picked at her fries. “What else are you referring to?”
Both Ryan and Erik stared blankly at her.
“Back at the bar, you said: ‘Just a bite, nothing else.’” Amanda looked at Erik. “What did you mean by that?”
Ryan busied himself with his burger but felt Erik’s eyes on him. He took a giant bite, stuffing as much bun and patty into his mouth as he could fit, and returned Erik’s look with one of his own. Erik was the one who wanted to go out for a bite, so he could be the one to answer Amanda’s unending questions.
Erik looked like he was going to say something about Ryan’s undeniably childish move but seemed to stop himself at the last minute. Instead, he smiled at Amanda, the dimple hard at work.
“Oh, I propositioned him.” He turned a smoldering gaze back to Ryan. “And I didn’t want him to feel pressured.”
Ryan almost choked on his mouthful of food. While he struggled to breathe, Erik reached over and rubbed circles across his back, generating a heat that Ryan was unprepared for. It only made him choke harder.
“Whoa, take it easy.” Erik’s voice sounded a lot closer than it did a second ago.
“Are you okay?” Amanda suddenly sounded much more distant.
Ryan managed to swallow a chunk of food and sucked in a lungful of air to re-oxygenate his brain. In the process, he breathed in that muskiness that did nothing to help clear up his mind.
When he was confident that he wasn’t going to die from choking, Ryan opened his teary eyes to find Erik within kissing distance. His lips were full and glistening, parted just enough for Ryan to want to stick his tongue inside.
The unbidden thought was a jolt to Ryan’s cock, and he pulled away just in time to see Amanda cover up giggles with her hand. That earned her a glare.
“You should definitely take him up on the offer,” Amanda said between her giggles. “Looks like you were just about to right here in the middle of Mike’s.”
Another glare and another bite—smaller this time.
“No pressure, really.” Erik had turned to his own food, and Ryan couldn’t help but watch his lips stretch to accommodate the tall burger.
“Oh, you’ve got it bad, honey.” Amanda laughed out loud.
Ryan resisted the urge to tell her to shut up by stuffing more burger in his mouth.
Amanda and Erik did most of the talking, and Ryan offered up the necessary affirmations when he was addressed directly. Mostly, though, he focused on eating his food and ignoring the way his body was reacting to Erik’s proximity.
Sure, Erik was hot. Steaming hot, strikingly beautiful, and undeniably sexy. Ryan didn’t think he had a preference for a type of person, but if his body’s reaction was any indication, Erik was probably his type.
By the time they were back out on the street, the earlier antsy-ness Ryan felt at the bar had him practically twitching. He needed to get home and work out the restlessness on his punching bag.
Thankfully, Amanda said a quick goodbye, punctuated by a big yawn, and headed off down the street. That left Ryan standing on the sidewalk with Erik, neither of them quite knowing what to do next.
“Look,” Erik started, “I came by today because I wanted to see if you were okay. Because it was kind of weird the way you just ran off.”
“And I’m hoping I can talk to you some more about the project. We’d like for it to be a collaborative process. And a lot of it isn’t set in stone yet, so if you have any input, that’d be really great.”
The way Erik talked about it, Ryan had to remind himself that they were talking about making a pornographic movie and not discussing some in-depth research study. But Erik sounded so normal, so nonchalant, that Ryan found it hard to say no. Why did he always have to be so difficult?
Something in his face must have given him away, because Erik’s dimple made an appearance again.
“Are you free tomorrow? Let’s meet up and I can show you my ideas. There’s a coffee shop near my place where I go to work sometimes. I mean…” Erik’s dimple deepened. “You’re also more than welcome to just come over to my place if you’d like.”
“Where’s the coffee shop?”
Erik chuckled, and the bubbling brook sound rolled through Ryan’s body, feeding the energy itching along his limbs.
“Upper West Side. Amsterdam and 110th. Hungarian Café. 10:30?”
Ryan frowned. That wasn’t a neighborhood that he’d been to in a long time; it was a neighborhood he’d actively avoided for the past three years. Ryan had no interest in returning there, but before he could say anything, Erik was already walking away.
Ryan climbed up the subway steps and breathed the crisp fall air. All around him were students with book bags, academic discussions floating by, and event flyers plastered across every open surface. It was a constant exchange of ideas to challenge the intellect, the smartest minds on earth dissecting theories pulled from the messiness of real life into the sterility of the ivory tower.
At one point, this had been his entire life and everything he knew. Now, as he walked down the street, Ryan ducked his head and stuck his hands into his pockets, avoiding eye contact in case he ran into someone he knew.
The fact that Erik lived in this neighborhood surprised Ryan. But when he thought back to his few encounters with him and the references Erik had made in conversation, a blurry picture was forming.
Ryan rounded the corner and spotted the café down the street, with its distinctively striped awning and wrought-iron tables on the sidewalk. He’d been to this café before, several times, in fact. It was a popular spot for students at the university. Many of the tables were decorated with laptops; someone’s dog sat quietly while his owner chatted with a friend over coffee.
Erik was seated next to the window, reading the New York Times. A slight furrow marred his brow as his eyes darted quickly across the page. The newsprint rustled as he flipped to the next article, quick and efficient, demonstrating his dexterity over handling newspapers.
Erik looked up at Ryan’s greeting, and the grin that broke out hit Ryan with a force that felt almost physical.
“Hey.” The dimple made its appearance. “You made it. I wasn’t sure you would.”
“Yeah, I wasn’t so sure, either.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re here.” Erik folded up his newspaper and slid it into the messenger bag sitting on the floor. “You should grab a coffee and a pastry. Their pastries are delicious.”
“Yeah,” Ryan agreed as he headed to the counter. “I loved their Portuguese egg tarts.”
When Ryan returned to the table, Erik had out a moleskin-covered notebook and a pen.
“Portuguese egg tarts, huh? So you’ve been here before.”
Ryan hadn’t realized that Erik heard the remark made under his breath.
“Yeah, a couple of times,” Ryan admitted.
“This is kind of a local place. Did you used to live in this neighborhood?”
Ryan had decided to be civil to Erik during their meeting, but he was having a hard time finding something civil to say that would also stop Erik from digging into his past.
“I’ve been through here a few times,” Ryan said, but the narrowing of Erik’s eyes suggested that he wasn’t buying it. “How about you? You live here, right?”
“Yeah, just down the street.”
“It’s close to the university.”
“Yeah, it’s convenient. I’m a student there.”
Erik’s easy admission left Ryan at a bit of a loss. That was exactly the type of information that Ryan always tried to avoid, and here Erik was, offering it freely.
“What are you studying?” Ryan almost wished he hadn’t asked. Why was he suddenly acting interested when he really should just get down to business?
“Art history.” Erik shifted, placed his forearms against the table, and leaned toward Ryan. “Specifically, the commercialization of art—not just visual arts but also performance.”
“That explains the study you mentioned.” Ryan shifted, too. Farther back into his seat and away from Erik and his watchful blue eyes.
“Yeah, but my research isn’t usually about… our kind of art. I just got bored one day, started browsing through random papers and stumbled across that one.”
“So how does a… PhD?"
“Master’s,” Erik corrected.
“How does a master’s student like you, end up in… our kind of art?” Again with the personal questions Ryan couldn’t believe he was asking.
Erik shrugged, the movement fluid and graceful; his muscles glided over each other under the thin fabric of his shirt.
“Kind of fell into it, I guess. Isn’t that what happens to everyone? I’ve always been an artistic person—was a dancer growing up and through most of undergrad. Did a little acting in high school and tried to get some side acting jobs when I got to New York. And then I heard about a casting call for… our kind of art, and I showed up because it sounded interesting and it paid well. I went through a couple of different production houses before Gary’s. He’s a solid guy, not nearly as sketchy as other people out there.”
Ryan found himself nodding. “Yeah, Gary’s alright.”
“And you? How did you get into this?” Erik sounded genuinely interested, but the questions were making Ryan’s hands sweaty.
“Similar to your story, really.” Ryan coughed to get the slight tremor out of his voice. “Saw a casting call, thought it was interesting, and here we are.”
Erik shifted back in his seat. “Right, here we are.”
Ryan looked out the window as if something fascinating had caught his eye. A line of bicyclers rode past on the street.
“So let’s get to why we are here.” Erik opened his notebook and laid it flat on the table.
Ryan refocused his attention. Erik’s smile was gone; his blue eyes were clear but no longer piercing and trying to read Ryan’s soul. This was what Ryan wanted, so why did he feel guilty about it?
“I mentioned the study before. It said that there’s an increasing number of women, straight women, who prefer watching gay porn.” Erik’s voice was even, as if the study was on something much more mundane than porn preferences of straight women.
“But even within the gay porn universe, there are certain viewing trends. Specifically, women tend to prefer more realistic story lines—ideally a love story. They want to feel a connection to the people they see on the screen and want to see that there is a plausible reason for why they are together.
“So my idea is to give them that. Create two characters with full background stories; they meet under some plausible scenario and end up falling in love. The whole thing takes place over the course of a series of videos, each about 40 minutes. I was planning on doing most of the writing with input from whoever the other actor is, and Gary will direct.”
“You’re going to be one of the main characters?” Ryan asked.
“Yeah. I thought that part was kind of obvious.” The smile peeked out from wherever it had been hiding.
“You’re right. It is obvious. I don’t know why I thought otherwise.” Ryan sighed. It was a good idea—if they could execute it well.
After their last meeting, he had spent some time googling the study Erik mentioned. Based on what Ryan read and other interesting bits of information he found on the internet, Erik’s idea was golden. There were a couple of websites already doing similar projects with great success, but the market seemed far from saturated. If they could pull off quality stuff, Ryan couldn’t see this failing.
“You said you had characters already?” He didn’t want to admit it quite yet, but the idea was growing on him.
“Yeah, one’s a go-go boy at a gay nightclub. The other is a PhD student studying something about the gay nightclub scene. I haven’t quite figured that part out. The PhD student goes to a gay nightclub and meets the go-go boy; their first encounter could be a paid one in one of the club’s private rooms. But the PhD student manages to recruit the dancer to participate, so to speak, in his research. The first video will be at the nightclub on the evening when they meet. The rest will cover the progress of the research. Eventually, they fall in love. The End.”
The dimple was back again, and its appearance seemed to sooth the anxiety Ryan felt earlier.
“He wants to understand the psychology of a go-go boy.” Ryan said, carrying Erik’s thought forward. “How does go-go dancing affect his value and perception of self? Are there certain types of people more drawn to go-go dancing, or does the act of go-go dancing develop certain characteristics in people?” The words just flowed out of Ryan’s mouth, originating from a place that he had put to sleep long ago. And all it took for it to resurface was a few minutes of conversation with Erik.
Ryan blinked at Erik, who looked amused and confused at the same time.
“Yeah, yeah, exactly. That would work really well.” Erik cocked his head to one side. “How did you come up with that so quickly?”
Ryan shrugged. He wished he knew. But what really surprised him was that activating that part of his mind, that part of his knowledge, didn’t trigger the anxiety attacks like it used to do. This was probably the first time he’d been able to ask a psychology-related question without panicking at the work required to answer it.
“Oh, I don’t know. It just popped into my head.”
“Right.” Erik didn’t look like he believed Ryan, but in this instance Ryan was being completely—well, at least mostly—forthcoming.
“Which character were you going to play?” Ryan asked, the implication just dawning on him.
“The go-go dancer,” Erik replied, nonchalantly. “I used to be a dancer, so that seems to make sense.” He paused, and his eyes wandered over Ryan’s body.
Ryan knew he looked good. He spent a good deal of time when not filming or working at the bar making sure he looked good. It was necessary when one of his jobs required him to be naked on camera.
“I thought you’d make a great PhD student. At first glance, you’ve got the tall-and-lanky body type. But I’ve seen your work; you’re completely toned and well proportioned—everywhere.”
That last word came out as a whisper, and to Ryan’s dismay, his apparently well-proportioned cock took notice.
“So, what do you think? Are you in?”
Ryan thought back to the other bit of research he’d done over the past few weeks. Erik had seen his work; well, Ryan looked up some of Erik’s work, too. Needless to say, Erik was just as beautiful without his clothes as he was with them. And he knew what he was doing, knew how to angle himself for the camera, how to school the look on his face, and give off just the right amount of vocalization.
Oh, what the hell? If he wanted to, Ryan was sure he could put together a laundry list of reasons why he shouldn’t do this. But the idea was intriguing, and Erik was intriguing—so, what the hell?
“Sure,” Ryan said with a shrug.
“Really?” Erik looked incredulous.
“Yeah, sure. Why not?”
Erik opened his mouth, looking like he was about to object, but then smiled. “No reason, none at all.”