Nathan and Jaymes join Clifton and his husband in the swanky West End restaurant.
Nathan smirked as he peered into Benedetti’s, waiting in line with Jaymes to talk to the maître d'. Jaymes had described the place perfectly. Large mirrors lined every wall, just above the top of each burgundy leather booth, but tilted gently in such a way that diners got a full view of the whole floor space. Even the ceiling had been mirrored in places. Just a quick glance into the heart of the place, and Nathan spied a sea of celebrity faces, both major and minor, all immaculately turned out in their weekend finest.
“Do you think if I shout the word ‘cut’ at the top of my voice, they’ll all freeze in place?” murmured Jaymes, leaning into Nathan, his warm breath dusting his ear, as though hearing his thoughts. Nathan chuckled and caught the eye of the equally amused maître d'.
Nothing seemed to faze Jaymes, who had been upbeat all the way to town in the taxi. Nathan had been looking forward to Saturday night all week, not so much because of meeting with Clifton and his husband but to having Jaymes to himself in his bed later without having to worry about waking early Sunday morning. Better still, he knew Jaymes had been looking forward to the same thing. He and Polly had been clothes shopping earlier in the day because Jaymes felt he had nothing showy enough to impress Nathan’s celebrity friends. Honestly, Nathan no longer cared what Clifton thought about Jaymes, but he had to admit, seeing Jaymes dressed up in a black silk shirt and snugly fitting grey trouser suit, two thoughts came to mind. One, to show this incredible specimen he happened to be intimate with off to the world, or otherwise to cancel the dinner date altogether in favour of slowly stripping the man and having his way with him. Fortunately, before they’d dressed, he and Jaymes had put aside time in the bedroom to ‘take the pressure off’, so to speak. Blow Jobs only, admittedly, but enough to take off the sexual edge.
Since last Saturday—it had only been a week—his life had been transformed. Jaymes’ books and a few photos now filled the previously half empty bookcase. Jaymes’ clothes hung alongside Nathan’s in the master bedroom, and they had even rearranged the kitchen to suit them both. Breakfast together at five-thirty had become a ritual. Fresh fruit, muesli, coffee, freshly baked Fresher wholewheat toast and conversation—largely instigated by Jaymes—against a backdrop of subdued news from the small television, became the order of the morning.
After a short wait, one of the servers led them to the booth, where two men already sat. Holding a conversation behind their menus, with only their similar dark hair visible, they looked like a couple of naughty school kids. Neither noticed Jaymes and Nathan heading their way. Only as the server stopped and introduced Jaymes and Nathan, did the pair emerge smiling.
“Apologies,” said Clifton, placing his menu down on the table. “Raul was catching me up on some of his antics in the States.”
With his bronzed skin, Raul Jurado glowed with veritable health. Absently, Nathan wondered what Doris would make of his aura. Something positive, no doubt. His alert brown eyes seemed happy in the way they assessed the new guests, and his generous smile felt authentic. If anything, he stood out among the sea of celebrities as the genuine article. Unlike Clifton, he got to his feet—a little awkward from behind the booth table—and reached out a hand to greet them, leaving an amused Clifton still seated.
“Nathan, Jaymes. Meet the husband, Raul,” said Clifton. “Hope you don’t mind this place. Bookings are hard to come by, but my manager, Giorgio, has connections here and managed to pull some strings. I just hope you don’t mind authentic Italian.”
“Who doesn’t like Italian food?” said Nathan, sitting in the chair opposite Clifton.
“Actually, to be absolutely precise, it’s Sicilian,” said Raul, clarifying. Nathan instantly liked his voice. A deep, soft, staccato Mexican accent evident on certain words and syllables, combined with American pronunciations, his voice like a younger Gael García Bernal.
“Mafia inspired, then?” quipped Clifton, to Nathan. “Watch out for bullets in the food.”
“Many people refer to Sicily as God’s Kitchen because of the variety of dishes and natural ingredients. While for others the cuisine is considered peasant food.”
“I’ll be right at home, then,” added Jaymes, seating himself next to Nathan, opposite Raul.
“Both you and me,” said Raul, grinning back.
Nathan felt himself relax. Jaymes’ approval of anyone did not come lightly, so he felt relieved to see him warm to Raul. Hopefully, there would be no need to leave early tonight. But he also loved seeing Jaymes relax and enjoy himself. Already he had turned on his charm offensive. As though hearing the voice in his head, and although they had agreed to no PDAs, Jaymes’ warm hand landed on Nathan’s thigh and squeezed.
“There are six place settings. Are you expecting someone else?” Nathan asked Clifton.
“Giorgio and his girlfriend might join. He’s dropping the kids off to his ex-wife’s place. So as long as there are no dramas and he can get away, they’ll join. Whenever he comes here, he chats with his pal, the chef, and we end up getting amazing things that aren’t on the menu. So I suggest we order drinks and maybe a sharing platter of appetisers while we wait to see if he shows.”
“Fine by me,” said Jaymes.
“And apparently, he needs a chat with you, Nathan.”
“Me? Why me?”
“I have no idea. But, hopefully you’ll find out later.”
Raul ordered a cold Sicilian antipasto platter of assorted cured meats, eggplant, stuffed olives, assorted bell peppers, artichokes, and a long roulade of vine tomatoes and mozzarella, all served with a basket of fresh Pane Siciliano with its sesame seed crust. For the table, he ordered the house red wine, a very decent Chianti, saying that Giorgio would probably insist on a particular wine once he arrived.
“Nothing fancy, I’m afraid,” said Clifton, grimacing at the huge serving dish.
“Are you kidding?” said Jaymes. “This is what I call good honest food. Give me this any day of the week over some poncey, flavourless, overpriced, tiny-portioned nouvelle cuisine creation.”
Nathan’s head snapped to Jaymes. Had the remark been meant for Clifton at what Jaymes had labelled the pretentious meal he’d endured at Clifton’s grandparent’s house? Fortunately, Clifton didn’t seem to register the comment and instead Raul began to respond.
“I like you already, Jaymes. When it comes to food, I am like you and I often tell Clifton he favours style over substance,” said Raul, before placing a hand on Clifton’s arm. “But I must also say, to his credit, he’s taken me to a few amazing places where they produce both. So I’m always open to new food experiences. Except when I’m training, of course. Then my coach gets to dictate everything I eat, down to the last stick of celery.”
“You’re not training at the moment?” asked Nathan.
“Nothing intensive, no. I still have my regular fitness routines, but the intensive competition training will begin in early June.”
“You know, I think I remember your debut performance,” said Jaymes, stroking his chin. “At the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, wasn’t it? Took everyone by surprise. You performed to the Mission Impossible theme. Mesmerising. When the American commentator introduced you, he quipped about you skating for that well-known Winter Olympic nation, Mexico, and I remember a few people in the background laughing. Then he went on to make some smartass comment about not many ice lakes to practise on in Acapulco. Man, did you shut that idiot up with your performance. You came fifth, if I remember correctly?”
“You do, and I did. In that particular heat, anyway. Thank you for remembering.”
“I would never have taken you for a figure skating fan, Jaymes,” said Nathan, breaking a bread stick and bumping shoulders with Jaymes.
“And you’d be right. I’m not, specifically. I’m more of a toboggan and ice hockey fanatic,” said Jaymes, catching Nathan’s eye and winking. “More rough and tumble than finesse. But when Winter Olympic sports are on the television, I’ll binge watch all the events. And Raul’s performance that year really stood out.”
“You are now officially my new best friend.”
“So how’s the television series coming along, Cliff?” asked Nathan, realising Clifton’s attention had drifted elsewhere, scanning the room.
“On and off. The big boys at HBC4 had a screening of the pilot last week and, as a result, want changes made to tighten up the script, especially the dialogue. So we’re furiously reshooting scenes right now to meet the May deadline. Which means days of very early mornings.”
Welcome to my world, thought Nathan.
“Something you and Nate share in common,” said Jaymes, echoing Nathan’s thoughts. “What’s the name of the show?”
“Candle Wishes,” said Nathan. “At least, that’s the working title of the pilot.”
“Sounds like a birthday party. What’s the story about? Or are you not allowed to tell us?”
“Can’t give the wider plot away, mainly partly of being held to secrecy, but also because I don’t know. We’ve only been given the script for the pilot, so a lot either hasn’t been written yet or is under wraps. We tend to find out a week before shooting. But it’s a modern day thriller. Part political, part conspiracy, partly a modern social commentary. Very disturbing, if what we’ve filmed so far is anything to go by. Headless twin boys found in a houseboat.”
“And what part do you play?”
“CID. A British detective inspector working the case from the UK side, alongside my US counterpart played by Helen Monash. The case—or cases, I should say—straddle both countries, both continents.”
“Wow,” said Nathan. “I’m already hooked. Have you been on set, Raul?”
“He doesn’t really get the time. Not at the moment, anyway.”
Clifton and Raul shared a knowing look, before Raul spoke.
“I’m retiring from the sport this year.”
“Huh? How old are you?” said Nathan, aghast.
“Twenty-six. But I’ve had a couple of recurring injuries which aren’t getting any better. Plus the fact that Nathan and I are expanding our family. Can I show them?”
“Of course you can.”
Raul pulled out his wallet, and prised out a photograph from one of the compartments. After leaning into Clifton, with both of them grinning at the image, he passed the picture across the table to Nathan. The image showed a pregnant woman leaning into a man who was clearly an older version of Raul.
“It’s my sister-in-law, Miguella, with my older brother, Javier, next to her. They live in San Diego with their six kids, aged between four and twelve. I send them back money when I can, but they simply can’t afford to raise any more kids. They’ve been very careful since little Marco was born, but shit happens. When she found out they were expecting twins, they told the family they’d decided to give them up for adoption. Clifton and I were planning to adopt anyway, but maybe not for another year. But when we stepped in and offered to be the adoptive parents, we weren’t sure how they’d respond—my family are staunch Roman Catholic—but everyone was stoked at the idea, even my grandma. Clifton and I have a place in San Jose, around seven hours drive up the coast, so we’d raise them up there. Means the families still get to see each other regularly.”
All the time Raul had been speaking, Nathan tried to read Clifton’s face. But although he had his usual fixed grin in place, his eyes did not meet Nathan’s, instead looking to Raul from time to time and then scanning the other diners.
“That’s amazing. How long until they’re due?” asked Jaymes.
“She was around twelve weeks in that photo. So if all goes to plan, we’re probably looking at end of June, early July.”
“And do you know the sex of the babies? Or is it too early yet?”
“At the time of the picture, they didn’t know. But now it’s confirmed. They’re—,” said Raul, stopping and squeezing Clifton into him. “We’re—having a boy and a girl.”
“Even my mother has offered baby-sitting duties,” said Clifton, smirking, his attention returned to the table. “Can you imagine, Nate?”
Both Raul and Nathan laughed.
“Why’s that funny?” asked Jaymes, who appeared irritated at the private joke.
“Cliff’s mother was never what you’d call maternal. I once heard her describing her experience of having Clifton saying bringing one child into the world was enough for a lifetime. Totally ruined her figure, complexion, nails, and gave her permanent bags under the eyes. Maybe if she’d waited until she was in LA, it might have been a different story.”
“But then I’d never have known you,” said Clifton, quietly, smiling at Nathan.
“And let’s not forget, she also managed to produce an in-demand movie star,” said Jaymes, an arm landing around the back of Nathan’s shoulders. “Who has an equally hot husband.”
“Yes, well, all that came a lot later,” said Clifton, smiling his understanding at Jaymes. “She’s flying over in March. You ought to meet her. I know she’d love to see you, Nate.”
“We could present her with your calendar as a keepsake, Nate,” said Jaymes.
“Oh, my God, Jaymes,” said Nathan, putting his head in his hands. “I swear, you are evil.”
“Hey, I forgot to ask,” said Clifton. “How did that go?”
“It went,” said Nathan, meeting his gaze.
“Let me tell you,” said Jaymes, pulling Nathan’s body into his own. “My man rocked the shoot. No kidding. The photographer said she produced some of the best shots she’s ever taken. And this from a professional. Wait until you see. I had a hard-on for most of the session.”
“Jaymes,” said Nathan, looking mortified onto Jaymes’ eyes, but grinning still.
“What?” said Jaymes, kissing him on top of the head. “Just telling it like it is.”
“Well, I would love to see the finished product,” said Raul. “When does it go on sale?”
“I’m guessing you guys will get free copies as you’re hosting the event. But I’d imagine it’ll be ready to go on sale in April or May. I can text you when I know more. Or you can keep an eye out on the Crumbington Summer Fête website.”
“Don’t worry, we will,” said Clifton. “Ah, here’s Giorgio.”
Giorgio and a pretty girl half his age approached them. After Giorgio introduced her, Toni, they began to play musical chairs but Giorgio insisted on everyone staying put, and seating themselves either end of the table. As Clifton expected, the first thing Giorgio did was to head to the kitchen, to sort out platters of main courses. All in all, the evening went extremely well. Toni turned out to be a minor celebrity too, openly admitting to using Giorgio to give her career a boost, even though she was also really fond of him. On a couple of occasions, people stopped by to say hello to either Clifton or Raul, and during another occasion, when Clifton excused himself to use the washroom, Nathan found himself chatting to Giorgio.
“Not sure if Clifton told you but I have a favour to ask. How would feel about us using your baker’s shop for one of our episodes? It would mean filming on your day off, and although there’d be a nominal fee involved, this kind of thing always brings in publicity. Maybe even get the local reporter to snap some shots and publish them in the weekly rag. All media interest has got to be good, eh?”
“I suppose that would be fine. As long as we could get everything done and dusted on the Sunday,” said Nathan, noticing Jaymes deep in conversation with Toni. “Jaymes is living with me now, so I’d need to check with him to make sure he’s okay, too.”
“Good. And I was going to suggest the pair of you come up to Oxford, to see what’s entailed. The men you met at Clifton’s dinner party—”
“Martin and Gallagher—”
“That’s right. You remember them?”
Nathan had received a friendly email from Martin a few days after the party, telling them to pop in if ever they found themselves in Oxford. As if that could ever happen with his working hours.
“We got on really well.”
“Brilliant. So we’re setting up and starting the shoot in three weeks. Their home will be Clifton’s home in the show. Wondered if you and your partner would like to come and see what’s entailed. You know; setting up cameras and lights, meeting the crew and some of the cast. I’m sure having you there would make Gallagher a little less anxious. Martin seems to be fine with the idea, but Gallagher usually has a million and one questions. You’d be doing Clifton a big favour, too. How does that sound?”
“Sounds great. Once again, as long as it’s on a Sunday.”
“Okay. Leave things with me. I’ll contact them and get back to you. In the meantime, thanks.”
“How long is Clifton over here?”
“For the first stint? Until July. Then he heads straight back to start shooting a movie in LA. As well as an important—uh—personal matter he needs to take care of back there.”
“He told me.”
“He did?” said Giorgio, his stern gaze swinging to glare at Clifton. “What the hell? He’s not supposed to be breathing a word just yet. If the press gets wind, it’ll be all over—”
“Hang on. Surely starting a family’s a courageous thing. Why would he need to keep that under wraps?”
“Oh,” said Giorgio, his concern melting, his gaze coming back and his head nodding. “Oh, I see. That. Yeah. He has that as well, although Raul is gonna be the principal stay-at-home parent in the arrangement. Hoping to get some positive PR coverage outta that little life changer.”
“And I’ve no doubt you will,” said Nathan, intrigued now as to what other personal matter Clifton might be dealing with. Should he approach Clifton directly? Maybe they could have an informal chat later.
Conversations came to a temporary end when sharing plates arrived, of grilled mixed seafood, cooked meats, pastas, cannelloni, arancine—rice balls—and other of Giorgio’s personal favourites. At the end, everyone chatted happily, immersed in their own conversations while waiting for coffee to arrive. Nathan took the opportunity to sit back and glance around himself.
Giorgio and Clifton had their heads bowed together, with Clifton listening intently, his expression neutral, nodding occasionally at something Giorgio said. No doubt at all, Clifton’s features had sharpened over the years, were more sculpted and breathtaking. Even his eyes shone with life and attraction. An adjective used more often to describe women, the man was truly beautiful. At the other end of the table, Raul, Jaymes and Toni laughed at some shared joke or another, nothing forced or guarded in their reactions, clearly enjoying each other’s company. Leaning back, Nathan stared up into the tilted mirror and his eyes were naturally drawn to Jaymes. And something that should have been obvious struck him then. Of all people around the table, only Jaymes brought a smile to his lips and made his heart beat faster. Absently, Jaymes ran his tongue across his own bottom lip, wetting the rim, and something in Nathan’s stomach wriggled, his cock stirring. As though sensing the scrutiny, Jaymes gaze raised to the mirror to meet Nathan’s. With a lopsided grin, he winked at him, before returning to the conversation. A moment later, however, Nathan felt a foot hook around his ankle beneath the table. Eventually conversations were interrupted temporarily by two waiters bringing a selection of coffees on silver trays and serving them to everyone.
“How are you doing?” asked Jaymes, leaning into Nathan and leaving Raul to chat privately to Toni.
“Great. I’m really enjoying tonight. I haven’t done this in— You know, I don’t think I’ve ever done this.”
“Poor Nate. They’re good company, aren’t they? Did you know Toni’s father works in my field of work. Bit of a rock star, actually, he’s a famous dendrologist. Studies and classifies all types of trees, shrubs, and lianas. Published a number of books. And Raul is such easy company. They’re going to make amazing parents, him and Clifton. I’m glad we came along.”
“Me too. Thanks for coming, Jaymes.”
“Hey,” said Jaymes, leaning in and kissing Nathan on the cheek. “If it means I get to spend more time with you, I’ll come anywhere and anytime you want me to.”
Jaymes eyebrows flicked with humour at the comment but Nathan’s heart filled, and he had to look away for a moment. Fortunately, Giorgio silenced the table with a fork clanging against his glass.
“So,” he announced, at around ten-thirty. “There’s this tiny private jazz club around the corner, not Ronnie Scotts, but one where Toni has a private membership. We’d normally head there on our own, but you guys have been so much fun tonight we wondered if you’d be interested. Anyone fancy a cocktail nightcap to the cool strains of Unthinkable Things?”
Jaymes leant into Nathan and whispered into his ear.
“How tired are you?”
“Me too. And I’m really enjoying tonight. What say we join them for a drink or two, watch a couple of numbers, and then disappear before the witching hour arrives? Because there are a few unthinkable things I still want to do to you tonight.”
Nathan turned and kissed Jaymes full on the lips.
When he turned to nod to Giorgio, he noticed both Raul and Clifton had been watching, intrigued.
“You know,” said Clifton. “I had my reservations about you two. But I can see I was wrong. Good for you both. Nathan could do with a bit of good luck in his life.”
Nathan didn’t have the heart to tell him his good luck came with a June expiry date.
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