This outtake, a rewrite of the beginning of Elements of Retrofit, was written for the 2015 re-released edition, but never made the cut. It is now a free-read, to remain as such, on my blog. It is not to be copied, sold, downloaded. The Thomas Elkin Series and characters, property of N.R. Walker, appear courtesy of Pride Publishing. Copyright: N.R. Walker 2015 Banner art made by N.R. Walker Cover art by Pride Publishing This has not been edited. It is intended to be a free-read. Enjoy it for what it is.
FALLING FOR TOM
(Tom. Thomas. Mr Elkin… whatever)
New York. There was no place like it.
I’d grown up here, but moved to Chicago with my parents a few years ago, though I always knew New York would be where I come back to. It was immense and overwhelming and alive, and it was now, once again, my home.
I’d secured the internship of a lifetime, what I’d worked my ass off for four years at college to achieve. Brackett and Golding Architecture was the best of the best in NYC, if not the country. Possibly the world. And knowing I had a foot in the door as a lowly intern was the buzz I hit the streets with.
I’d arrived barely hours before, signed my lease on a shoebox-sized apartment, picked up the keys, threw my bags inside and went in search of food.
A dozen dining options on every block, with just me and a million people other, hitting the pavement was like putting on a pair of my old favorite jeans. It was getting on late afternoon, almost everyone was finishing their working week and heading home so the sidewalks were bustling. I was immersed in people, traffic, noise, sights, smells, fumes. It was awesome.
Then someone grabbled my arm. “Hey.”
I recoiled automatically, until I saw who it was.
Holy shit. “Ryan?”
Ryan Elkin pulled me in for a brief, one-armed hug. “Man, it’s been years!” He hadn’t changed at all in the five or six years it’d been since I’d seen him. I mean, he was grown up I guess, but he still had that shit-eating grin I’d spent my teenage years laughing with.
“What are you doing here?” he asked. “You visiting, or what?”
“I’m back for good,” I told him. “Well, I hope to be. I start an internship on Monday. I just got here,” I checked my watch, “two and half hours ago.”
I looked up at the walls of steel and glass that seemed to meet the sky. “Man, I’ve missed this place.”
He grinned at me. “What’s your plans for tonight?”
“I was just gonna grab something to eat actually. I’m starving!” My stomach growled as I mentioned food. I looked up the street. “There’s gotta be somewhere close by I can grab a slice from. A Seven Eleven or something.”
Ryan screwed up his nose. “Man, as an intern you’ll be living on pizza till you can’t stand it.” He checked his watch. “I’m headed to my dad’s for dinner. Come with me, then afterwards we’ll hit the clubs.”
“Come on, man, you got better plans?”
I scoffed. “Hell no.” And the truth was, I didn’t. Of all the people that lived in this city, I literally had to run into one of my oldest friends. It was like freakin’ fate, or something. It cemented the realization that I’d made the right choice by coming here.
He pulled out his cell, pressed some numbers and put it to his ear. “Hi Jennifer. It’s Ryan. Can I speak to Dad?… Thank you…” He looked at me and, grinning again, he said, “Hey Dad it’s me…. Yeah, yeah, it’s all good. Just about dinner,” he hedged, “I was just wondering if you’d mind if I brought someone?” He snorted. “No nothing like that.
Just ran into an old buddy from school. He just got into town, he’s by himself and I told him he could have dinner with us.” He listened for a while, smiled as he said he’d see him soon and clicked off the call. “It’s settled. Dad’ll order something fancy, he always does. You can eat your pizza every other night.”
Ryan cocked his head to the side. “You know, you don’t have to come.”
“Nah, it’s not that, it’s just…” I sighed. “Well, my internship is at Brackett and Golding.”
Ryan stared at me for a beat, then burst out laughing. He actually laughed so loud and long people took a wide berth around us. “You gonna put the hard word on my old man?”
I thumped his shoulder. “Oh fuck off.” I found myself laughing with him. “He might think I’m trying to brown-nose him or something though.”
“So don’t tell him,” Ryan said simply. “Man, it’s not like he’s gonna probably see you there anyway. I hate to burst your bubble, but interns don’t fraternize with the senior partners.”
I laughed, because he was right. I looked down at my travelled-in clothes. “Though I’m hardly dressed to be meeting a senior partner of Brackett and Golding.”
Ryan rolled his eyes. “It’s just my dad, Coop. You’ve met him a hundred times.”
I didn’t bother reminding him that was when I was a kid. It wouldn’t have mattered. Ryan was clearly not giving any fucks. And twenty minutes later, we were walking into a five star hotel-looking foyer that was four times the size of my whole apartment.
Ryan greeted the doorman. “Lionel.”
The older man smiled warmly and as we walked through. “Ryan.” He gave me no more than a nod. “Your father’s expecting you.”
We took the lift up to the top floor. Jesus. Extravagant, much?
Just before Ryan knocked on the door, he stopped me. “Um, Mom and Dad split. So just don’t ask where she is.” He grinned at me. “Don’t wanna be pissing off the boss before you start.”
Oh, fucking great. “Thanks.”
He snorted and knocked.
“It’s unlocked,” came the response. It’s weird how a voice I hadn’t heard in years could sound familiar.
Ryan opened the door and stepped inside. “Hey, Dad,” he called out.
“In the kitchen,” his father replied. “You boys want a drink?”
I closed the door behind us and followed Ryan. His dad was, as he said, in the kitchen. Wearing jeans and an expensive button down shirt, he looked just as I’d remembered him. Only different. Gone was the ‘Ryan’s dad’ look he’d worn for all my childhood, and in his place was a… fuck. Ryan’s old man was fucking hot. His hair had flecks of gray, there was a few crinkles at his eyes, smooth skin, slight stubble and soft-looking lips. He looked like he could be a model for middle aged successful men. “Dad, do you remember Cooper Jones? We went to high school together.”
Mr Elkin looked me over, and I felt a pang of disappointment when it was clear he didn’t recognize me at first. I mean, I’d studied his work in college—he was an inspiration to me and where I wanted to be in life. Then he seemed to do a double take.
“Yes, I remember,” he said, extending his hand for me to shake. “You just grew up.”
Ryan rolled his eyes. “That’s what happens, Dad, when you don’t see someone for five years.”
I swallowed hard when I felt his warm grip in mine. “Nice to meet you, sir.”
“Can I get you boys a drink?” he asked, oblivious to my checking him out. Jesus fucking Christ. He was seriously twice my age. I mean, there was nothing wrong me finding him attractive, and admiring good looks, because damn. But the heat and spark in my groin was completely left of field and a little weird. I clearly needed to go out, put on the Cooper Jones charm, and get laid.
Mr Elkin smiled and went back to the wine he was opening. “Dinner will be here in about half an hour.”
Ryan handed me a beer and gave his father a brief rundown of how my family had moved to Chicago but I was here for the summer at least. He never mentioned my internship at Brackett and Golding and I was grateful. “I literally ran into him on the street, called you to see if he could join us, and here we are.”
I looked at Mr Elkin and did my best at ignoring how intent his steel-grey eyes were. “Hope you don’t mind,” I said with a forced smile. “I was only going to grab something passable as food from a 7-11 or something.”
His nose scrunched up, making me laugh. It was a nervous sound that thankfully neither of them picked up on. “That’s the same reaction Ryan had.”
Dinner arrived and I settled in to chatting with Ryan about old friends, and what we’d done at college but after a little while, Ryan eyed his father. “You’re quiet tonight, Dad.” He had been quiet, I thought he’d just been letting me and Ryan catch up but there seemed there was more to it. “How’s things?”
Mr Elkin gave half a smile. “Good. Work’s been busy.” It was clear that whatever was between them was not open for discussion with me sitting there. Mr Elkin looked squarely at me and smiled politely. “So, what brings you back to New York?”
“I have a summer internship,” I answered, stopping short of telling him where. Then thankfully before he could ask, I was saved by Ryan’s ringing phone.
“Hey,” Ryan said loudly into his phone. “Hell yes, I’ll be there. I’m bringing an old friend of mine who just got into town… Okay, see ya soon.” Ryan clicked off the call and looked at me. “Man, you definitely have to come out with me tonight. We got tickets to the hottest new club.”
Excellent. I needed to get out and get laid, because finding a friend’s father attractive was a neon flashing sign of its-been-too-fucking-long. “Um, sure.”
Ryan made our excuses, Mr Elkin told us to have a good night, and we left. We only made it into the lift before I asked, “Everything okay? You wanted to ask him something but not in front of me.”
Ryan sighed. “Yeah, yeah. It’s just… since the divorce, things have been a bit tense. I mean, I don’t blame him, or Mom, it’s just… I dunno. Weird. They both say they’re doing fine, but Mom’s still hanging onto some sliver of hope they’ll get back together.”
“Do you think they will?”
Ryan snorted. “Not unless she grows a dick.”
I stopped walking. “What?”
Ryan smiled back at me. “My dad came out. He’s gay. So yeah, Mom didn’t exactly take it well.”
Mr Elkin’s gay? “Shit,” I mumbled. “I had no idea.”
He chuckled at me. “Don’t you guys have some like Bat-code or something?”
“Yep, sure do. When we go out, our secret Bat-code question is ‘can I suck your dick?’ and our secret Bat-code answer is ‘yes’ and that’s how we know who’s gay or not.”
Ryan threw his head back and laughed. “Ah, Cooper Jones. You haven’t changed one bit.”
* * * *
The next Monday, I was up before dawn. I was so nervous, I was almost making myself ill. It wasn’t like me to be nervous, but I wanted this internship to be my first stepping stone in what was going to be a long and serious career. I was top of my class, and I needed to be on my game. So, with that in mind, I put on my best suit, got my shit together and was the first intern there.
I made small talk with the other hopefuls when they arrived, but I was shortlisted to intern for one of the four senior partners. It seriously didn’t get any better than that. Then an older woman, impeccably dressed with her gray hair pulled tight back off her face, and pinched lips, came up to me. She reminded me of my old library teacher from second grade who I swore secretly loved to make little kids cry. “Mr Jones?”
“Come with me,” she said curtly. Her facial expression didn’t change. I had the distinct feeling I was wasting her time. Jesus. I followed dutifully as she walked down a wide corridor to some double doors with a gold plaque. “You’ve been selected to work for Mr Thomas Elkin.”
At least I didn’t have time to panic. Without another word, or even a glance in my direction, she knocked on the doors and entered. She didn’t even turn to see if I was still behind her. She spoke as though she assumed me at her heels. Which of course, I was.
Mr Elkin sat at a large desk in front of a wall of glass that overlooked the city. The view was phenomenal, and I’d say it was the most stunning thing in the room but my eyes were drawn back to the man at the desk. If I thought he looked good in jeans and a casual shirt, then he fucking rocked a tailored Armani suit. Jesus Christ. Ryan’s dad was a fucking fox.
“Mr Jones, this is Mr Elkin. He’s a senior partner here at Brackett and Golding. You will do everything he asks, when he asks you to do it. You’ll be here when he gets here, you’ll be here until he leaves. Keeping up?”
I was thankful for her distraction. “Yes, ma’am,” I answered.
“You may call me Jennifer,” she told me, then she nodded toward Mr Elkin because I’d clearly not acknowledged the man who was now my boss. Ogled yes, acknowledged, no.
And in that one heartbeat, I knew what I had to do. Play it cool, and act like this wasn’t a favor because I’d spent my teen years hanging out at his house, or that I’d had dinner with him three nights ago. He didn’t owe me anything, and I sure as hell didn’t want the other interns to know that there was every chance I’d only been selected by the Thomas Elkin because I knew his son. So, I pretended as though I’d never met the man. “Mr Elkin, it’s an honor.”
I knew I’d done the right thing to do when he smiled. Jennifer didn’t seem to notice, or care. “Right, come with me. I’ll show you to your desk.”
And so began my internship working for the Mr Thomas Elkin.
* * * *
The next two weeks were some of the best, and some of the worst of my life. Oh, who the hell am I kidding? It was all fucking good. The hours were long, the work was amazing, but the way my body reacted to Mr Elkin was confusing and shocking to me. I had a type, for fuck’s sake. And a guy twice my age was not that type. I liked guys my age, funny, smart, guys who did interesting outdoorsy things. But Mr Elkin was something different. Not different in a weird way, he was different in a remarkable kind of way.
The more time I spent working with him, the worse it got. Or the better it got. I was still on the fence. I was having a hard time getting my head around the attraction I was feeling.
I chalked it up to admiration and awe at his brilliance. I mean, how could it be anything different? He was the same age as my dad, for fuck’s sake. The nervous jitters in my stomach, the heat in my groin were just my imagination getting away from me. Or my libido was. Because the more time I spent with Mr Elkin—and I did spend more time with a senior partner than any other intern—the more it was consuming me. I was sure I was imagining the way he’d look at me, though the heat on my skin told me otherwise. He’d have me on his work team, doing actual work, whereas all other interns were stuck doing menial jobs like filing and mail outs.
At the end of the second week, we’d spent the afternoon having a think-tank meeting and as the after afternoon wore on, as everyone got called away, it was just myself and him in the conference room.
I wanted to say something—anything—to spark up a conversation with him. It was like a forbidden fire I knew I should have been dampening out, yet all I wanted to do was pour on some gasoline. I wanted the warmth of this, whatever it was, to burn.
But he spoke first. “So, how are you finding your time here?”
“Oh, I love it,” I answered quickly. Too quickly, and now he probably thought I was an over excited school boy. I tried to slow it down. “Everyone’s great, very helpful. I tend to ask a lot of questions…”
He smiled at me. “An inquisitive mind.”
“When I’m learning something, yes,” I said, grateful he couldn’t hear how my heart was hammering. “And there’s an awful lot to learn. I think I’ve annoyed a few of your drafts people.”
He laughed quietly, and so God help me, those little crinkles at the corners of his eyes made my stomach flip. “Good. Pick their brains, ask them anything.”
“I have already,” I told him. I had to shake my head to clear it, to get back to the conversation at hand. “It’s surreal, you know, that some of the most recognized buildings in New York have their blueprints framed on these walls. That I’m walking past them like they’re just pictures…but they’re not. They’re real.”
He seemed happy with this. “Some of them are incredible.”
“Oh, they are,” I said. I didn’t want this to end. How ridiculous was that? But he seemed just as keen to talk to me, and I was not gonna let this opportunity slip by. “The Woolworth building is amazing. The original blueprints are on the wall,” I said. “I can’t believe it.”
“Well, that’s a little before my time,” he answered.
“Have you designed any?” I asked. “That are framed on the walls?”
“Sure,” he said, suddenly brightening. “Come on, I’ll show you.” He stood up and by the time he got to the door, I was right beside him. A subtle whiff of his aftershave made my head swim. And he took time, just for me, to show me the blueprints on the walls. He explained things to me, some I knew, some I didn’t, and we talked of minimization and contrasts, elements of architecture everyone else found boring. But not me. I loved it, and I could talk about it for hours. When I’d finally finished raving about the Woolworth Building, I realized he’d been quiet and listening, watching me use my hands to describe aspects. Embarrassed, put my hands behind my back. “Sorry. I get carried away.”
He stared at me. Not in the usual glazed-overlook my friends or dates would get when I talked architecture, but a look I recognized as one I quite often wore myself when someone finally understood my passion. It was a look of wonder and gratitude.
“Don’t ever apologize” his words were both soft and rough.
And then it happened. A look. From him, to me. Jesus. Well, I thought it did. I couldn’t be imagining it, could I? The way he looked at me just then, focused and fiery.
Someone walked past us, distracting him, and I didn’t know if I was grateful or pissed off.
Mr Elkin cleared his throat and pointed out another blueprint hanging on the wall further down the corridor.
He seemed unfazed as he described construction guidelines, rooflines, and I’m sure there was something about inertial dampeners, but all I could do was stare at him.
How was it possible that he got me? He understood me. The words that came from his mouth were like music to my soul. He was so intelligent, so clued in on the world of architecture, and he clearly loved it as much as I did. But it wasn’t just that. His eyes sparked with life when he talked of design and function, aesthetics and purpose.
He stopped talking and I realized I’d missed the end of his discussion. “Sorry, I get carried away,” he said, repeating my words back to me.
I couldn’t help but smile, but I also couldn’t stop starting into his eyes. “Don’t apologize,” I murmured. Jesus. I definitely wasn’t imagining this. He was looking at me like he could eat me for dinner, and from the flare of heat in my belly, I would have let him.
Actually, if it were anyone else but Mr Elkin, I’d have dragged him into an empty office and done some very unprofessional things to him. But it wasn’t. It was Ryan’s dad.
Jesus. I took a slow breath and made myself look back at the blueprint. “That is some incredible engineering.”
He cleared his throat, seemingly as baffled at this… whatever it was—attraction? Fascination? Curiosity? I didn’t know what to freakin’ call it. “Yes, it is.” Then he looked around as though mapping out the nearest fire escape to bolt to.
But I needed to know something, now, while I had the chance. “Can I ask you something?”
He answered cautiously, his professional façade back in place. “Yes.”
“Did you take me on because of Ryan?”
He blinked at my blatant question. “No. I took you on as an intern because of your credentials. You were top of your class.”
I smiled with relief. I really hadn’t known just how much I wanted to ask that until it was already out of my mouth. “I didn’t want to be here on some favor, that’s all. I mean, it’s a dream to work here. I’d just hoped that I earned my place.”
He gave me an honest smile. “I’m sure you have,” he answered. “I’ve been watching you. You have a very good eye for detail.”
He’s been watching me? I liked that more than I should. “Really?”
He didn’t answer my question. He just smirked and turned to walk to his office. “Have a good weekend, Cooper.”
“Same to you, Mr Elkin,” I called out behind him, then kicked myself for playing it so uncool.
No sooner had he gone, did I pull out my cell. “Hey, Ry!”
“Hey Cooper, wassup?”
“We on for drinks tonight?”
“Sure. Sound like you need it. My old man’s not working you too hard is he?”
I barked out a laugh and ran my fingers through my hair. “Uh, no.” Not like I wish he would work me over anyway… And that right there, that sexual desire for Mr Elkin was why I was calling Ryan. “Just need to let loose, clear my head, you know how it is.”
“Sure do. See you at nine.”
I clicked off the call and sighed. I needed to go out, get really fucking drunk and find some random guy to help get this nonsense out of my head.
* * * *
After four beers and three failed attempts at picking up, I told Ryan I might bail.
“Wassup?” he said, leaning in to speak over the music. “You’ve been out every weekend since you got back to New York, but you haven’t pulled one yet?” He nodded toward the third guy I’d turned down. “It’s not like they’re not interested.”
Normally I’d make a guy laugh in the first ten seconds, and he’d pretty much do whatever I wanted. But not now. I shrugged. “That guy couldn’t string a sentence.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s not a sentence he was interested in stringing, Coop.”
I laughed him off. It was hardly like I could tell him I wanted someone who stimulated my mind before my body, because I’m pretty sure he’d have laughed for a week. Talking to guys at clubs was nothing more than cheesy pick-up lines and blatant offers. I wanted to talk to someone, I wanted to connect with someone, have conversations where we lose track of time…
Like today with Tom.
I mean Thomas. I mean Mr Fucking Elkin. Jesus.
“I’m gonna go,” I told Ryan. I slipped out a twenty bill and slapped it into his palm. “Have some shots of something good.”
I didn’t let him argue. I was already gone.
* * * *
I spent all weekend telling myself I’d imagined the whole thing. Ryan’s dad couldn’t have looked at me that way. He couldn’t have felt that buzz that I felt when I was around him. I was kidding myself, and by the time the weekend was done, I’d convinced myself I was an idiot.
I mean, I was confident enough in myself to know I was a catch. Guys chased me, and I usually had them eating out of the palm of my hand, or swallowing around my dick, in no time at all. They loved my cockiness… and the fact I could use the word cockiness and not even make a dick joke told me I’d taken my eye off the ball.
But not Mr Elkin, surely. He wasn’t like other guys. His sense of confidence was a league all unto its own…
So telling myself I was an idiot was fine, until I saw him first thing Monday morning. All immaculately dressed, suave and knowledgeable. My heart tripped in my chest, my mouth went dry and I knew, I just knew, I was kidding myself.
I officially had a crush on Mr Elkin.
“Mr Jones,” Jennifer said, startling me. I think I just got caught drooling over Tom. Thomas. Mr Elkin. Whatever.
“Jennifer,” I covered well. “I’m ready for a monster week. What have you got for me?”
One eyebrow quirked a little, though her expression remained unchanged. She liked me, I knew she did. She just didn’t know it yet. Then she gave me a list of jobs for the week, possibly two weeks that she obviously wanted done by five o’clock. It was really fucking long, and really nowhere near Tom.
My heart sank.
I gave her the best smile I had. “Excellent,” I said, looking over the list. “Mr Elkin-”
“Mr Elkin’s busy,” she cut me off. “Start with the preliminaries,” she glanced briefly at where the other interns were. “You’ll stay there getting your work done until told otherwise.”
I nodded. “Absolutely.”
And the work was great. It was awesome, actually. I loved it. Yes, it was menial paperwork, but it was the fundamental basis of what we did and I was just truly grateful for the job.
But then Tuesday was the same.
And then Wednesday.
And by Friday I was beginning to wonder if Tom had put this deliberate distance between us. Maybe he recognized the moment we had in the corridor the other day, and panicked. Maybe he should.
By Friday afternoon, I was ready to give up on any such stupid notion, when a pile of files landed on my desk. “Mr Elkin will need to sign off on those,” the drafter said as she walked away.
And that was my opportunity to see him.
I grabbed up the manila job folders and walked to his doors. Jennifer was gone already, so I knocked and entered when called. He smiled when he saw me, but quickly schooled his expression. Or did I just imagine that?
Not wanting to leave just yet, I scanned the room for something to talk about. Then I saw his drawing board. Oh, boy. It was old, and worn, and a glorious piece of furniture. I could just imagine him sitting at it, bent over, concentrating, maybe his tongue peeks out when he’s focused…
“I’ve seen you eye it a few times. You can go look at it,” he said casually.
I couldn’t help but smile, and I couldn’t help but touch it when I was close enough. “It’s like touching an artist’s easel,” I said quietly.
“I guess it is.”
I looked at him then and found him smiling at me. A flare of heat bloomed in my chest. I quickly turned back to the drafting board. “This is the Mosconi job,” he murmured.
Then he stood up from his desk and walked over to me. “Yes, it is.”
“It’s a beautiful building,” he said, having to push the air out so I could speak. I needed to focus on something that wasn’t him standing so close to me, or his cologne that made my head spin. So instead, I traced my fingers down the strong lines of the building and said the first words that came to me. “The lines are definitive, it’s streamlined and geometric. It speaks of elegance that comes with history, yet it’s sustainable and retrofitted for modern living.” Then I realized I was doing that nervous rambling thing again. Jesus Christ. As if that wasn’t bad enough, embarrassment crept across my face. “Sorry, I get carried away.”
His voice was gruff. “Don’t apologize. Architecture is a beautiful thing.”
My eyes darted to his and he held my gaze. Not as beautiful as him… “Yes, it is.”
I could barely breathe. I wasn’t imagining this. There was something between us. I tried to speak, to say something smart or funny—because I loved those little crinkles at his eyes when he smiled—but I couldn’t even form words. I wanted to take hold of his face and kiss him, I wanted to feel him against me, to feel his arms around me. I wanted to… I wanted him.
He wasn’t twice my age. He wasn’t Ryan’s father. He was my intellectual match. He challenged me, he made me want to succeed. He was someone I could see myself being with.
He cleared his throat and took a small step back.
“I uh, I think…” he stammered, “I’ll be working from home this weekend.”
“Oh.” Did he just ask me to his place? Play it cool, Cooper. Don’t act like a kid on Christmas morning. “Okay.”
He walked back to his desk. “I have a few things to catch up on here, but you can finish early if you like,” he said. I knew when I was being dismissed. It wasn’t like we could do anything at his office: there was a very clear line of professional etiquette that personal desires just didn’t cross, and I was fine with that. I understood that work was work, and personal relationships were left at the door on the way in. But his apartment was not technically work premises, and his offer for me to see him outside of work was one I wasn’t prepared to let pass me by.
I was up early, dressed in suit pants and a business shirt, but sans the jacket. It was a pretense of work, but I was also going for relaxed and the fact the pants hugged my ass didn’t sway my decision at all. Much. I may have also worn a dash of cologne, because well, you know, if he wanted to smell me, I’d be okay with that. I grabbed my satchel and briefcase, called by the office first, picked up the file I’d been working on all week, collected two coffees from the café Jennifer made me buy him coffee from, and made my way to his apartment.
The doorman stopped me. He was an older man, kinda short but stoic and I think Ryan had called him Lionel. “Can I help you, sir?” he asked.
I gave him my best grin. “Sure. I’m Cooper Jones. Thomas Elkin is expecting me. We work together.”
He raised one eyebrow at me.
“Well, I work for him. He told me to be here this morning.”
“I was here the other day with Ryan, his son, you might not remember but I’ve been to his apartment before. Only today I’m working.” I held up my briefcase. Did he think I dressed like this for fun? I gave him my everyone-likes-Cooper smile, and he pressed some buttons on the phone intercom.
Even I heard the gruff response. “What?”
“Sorry to bother you, Mr Elkin,” Lionel said, giving me a death-stare. “I have a Cooper Jones here. Says he’s working with you today.”
I held up my briefcase again and told him what I’d brought with me.
“Cooper Jones, sir. He says he brought the Lewington files…”
“Tell him I brought coffee as well,” I blurted out. Lord knows it was the first thing Jennifer had me do each morning. I looked at the intercom phone thingy. “It’s important that you tell him that.”
Lionel rolled his eyes. “He said to say he brought the Lewington files and coffee. Apparently the coffee is important.”
I didn’t hear what the reply was, but Lionel—who I was certain didn’t like me—told me I could go up.
I took the lift, gave my reflection a nod of approval as I got off at the top floor, and found his door ajar. “Hello? Mr Elkin?”
“Yes, come in, Cooper.”
He was in his kitchen, wearing faded jeans and bare feet and a confused look on his face. It was like he wasn’t expecting me at all…
It made me nervous, and when I was nervous, I babbled. “I called into the office and picked the files up. And coffee from the café you like.” I looked around the apartment, seeing it with fresh eyes in daylight instead of at night when I’d seen it the first time. It was clean lines, minimalistic, warm and expensively furnished. What I didn’t see was a designated work space. “So, where are we doing this?”
He paused. “I, um…well, when I said I was working from home,” he said quietly, “I didn’t expect you to work as well.”
“Oh. Oh, shit.” Fuck, fuckity, fuck, Christ on a cracker. When he said he was working from home, that didn’t include me. At all. “But Jennifer said specifically I was to work when you worked. No exceptions. It was one of the first things she ever said. She was rather specific.”
He clearly found me funny, and not in a good way. “It’s fine, Cooper.”
“Jennifer scares me,” I rambled. “I mean, I’m sure she’s nice and all, but she has a ferocious glare. She makes me nervous. Anna, one of the other interns, is scared shitless of her.” I handed him a coffee to stop myself from babbling like the village idiot I clearly was.
“Cooper, it’s fine. We’ll set up at the dining table. Pull all your files out and we’ll have a look.”
“I’m really sorry,” I said. “I feel like an idiot.”
Now he was laughing at me. “It’s fine, Cooper. It shows great work acumen that you’d be at work at,” he checked his Rolex, “eight o’clock on a Saturday morning.”
Oh, fuck. Again, with the idiot. “Am I too early?”
“No, you brought coffee, so it’s all good.”
He got his work set up and smiled as he sipped his coffee, and I joined him at the dining table. I felt like an idiot. Not just an idiot-intern, but an idiot-schoolboy with a crush kind of idiot. Maybe he didn’t think of me in the way I’d imagined he did. Maybe those intense moments we’d had were all in my head.
Maybe he wasn’t watching me from the corner of his eye as we worked together at his place like I thought he was. Maybe I couldn’t feel the welcome burn his gaze left on my skin for the hours that we sat, side by side, rattling off reports, having discussions on the work in front of us and maybe I was imagining how damn easy it was for us to talk. Maybe I was dreaming to think the way we talked for hours wasn’t anything special. Maybe I was hungry. Yes, that was it. I needed food.
“Hungry? It’s lunchtime.”
He seemed surprised. “Jeez, I didn’t realize the time.”
I didn’t want to be a bigger pain than I’d already been, so I figured I’d help myself. “Can I make myself a sandwich? Want one?”
“Um, sure,” he said. He just didn’t sound it.
Then I opened his pantry and realized why. There wasn’t much in the way of food in there. “Have you got peanut butter?” he asked. “I can’t find it.”
“Peanut butter?” he asked, his eyes wide. “No, I don’t think so.”
“How can you not have peanut butter?”
“Um, not since Ryan was little,” he said, then cringed at his own words. He shook his head and jumped up from his seat. “Come on, we’ll go out and grab some lunch. I need to grab some coffee anyway.”
“Uh, Mr Elkin?” I said, before he walked out the front door. I looked down to his feet. “Shoes?”
“Fuck,” he mumbled.
“Does Alzheimer’s kick in at your age?” I couldn’t help but laugh.
He gawped at me. “I’m not that old, thank you very much!”
I laughed again then realized I probably shouldn’t have said that. “I’m sorry, was that out of line?”
“What for? Making fun of Ryan’s father, or your boss?”
“Neither,” I answered with a grin. “For making fun of the elderly.”
He snorted and pulled on his shoes. “So, the attitude? Is that a hunger thing?”
“Yep. That’s an ‘I’m on my lunch break and can say what I want’ thing.”
Now he had shoes on, he walked to the door and held it open for me. “Oh, is that the same as ‘you work for me, you’ll watch your mouth or you’ll spend the rest of your internship sorting mail’ kind of thing?”
I laughed as we walked to the elevator. “You win.” We both stepped into the lift and I smiled at our reflection. We looked good together… “So, the lack of humor? Is that a hunger thing?”
“No,” he answered dryly. “It’s an old age thing.”
It made me laugh. “Such a vicious circle.”
* * * *
Talking about work and impersonal banter between us was so easy. Too easy, in fact. We clicked on levels that I hadn’t experienced with anyone else before, and I wanted to test the personal waters as well. So after lunch, after I’d worked out the best way to broach non-work related subjects, I told him I knew why he’d divorced Ryan’s mother. He was clearly surprised, but when I touched his hand he didn’t pull away. He just stared at me, really stared at me—like he finally realized I understood his troubles—and the moment was over.
But it was clear to me, right there and then, that I wasn’t imagining things. So when we were done with work and he said I didn’t really have to work on the Sunday even though he was, there was just no way in freakin’ hell I was gonna let that opportunity go.
* * * *
I left it a little later in the morning, given it was a Sunday, before I turned up at his apartment. Armed with coffee and peanut butter, I grinned at Lionel.
“Back again?” he asked.
“With essentials,” I told him.
He looked at me like I was five years old. “Mm hm.”
Before I could speak, he pressed the intercom and apologized for interrupting. He told him I was here, and I reminded him about what I’d brought with me.
“Yes, sir,” Lionel said. He didn’t roll his eyes this time though. “He said to tell you he has coffee…”
I held up the peanut butter, because it was important. Lionel groaned. “And peanut butter, sir. He said to tell you he bought you peanut butter.”
Lionel let me up and when I got to Tom’s door, he was waiting and grinning. “What are you doing?”
“If you work, then I work,” I told him, handing me a coffee. “Jennifer’s rules.”
“I work every day.”
“I don’t mind,” I replied. “If I want to be the best, I need to do what the best does.” And it means I get to spend time with you…
“Is that flattery?”
I offered him the jar of peanut butter and grinned. “No, this is flattery. I can’t believe you don’t have any.”
He looked at me in a way that made my stomach flip and my balls tighten. And I knew I’d done the right thing by turning up. I asked him how he spent his night and a warm thrill coursed through me when he admitted to spending the night alone. Was it relief? Desire? I didn’t know. Jesus, I’d only been there for two minutes and I already had a semi. I needed to change the subject. “So, what’s on the agenda for today?”
“I, um, I’d like to get started on the Cariati file,” he said, clearing his throat.
“Okay,” I said, excitedly. “You’re doing the facades for that job, aren’t you?”
“Can I watch?”
He gaped at me. “You want to watch me draw?”
Of course I freakin’ did. Regardless of how embarrassed was to admit that shit out loud. “It’s like watching a masterpiece from the beginning,” I admitted quietly.
He smiled his eye-crinkling smile. “Flattery will get you everywhere.”
I waggled my eyebrows at him, despite how my stomach flipped again. “Really?”
I refused to break eye contact with him, I wanted him to move first: he would either look away, or he’d kiss me…
He did neither. He snatched the jar of peanut butter from my hand and inspected it. “Flattery in a jar, huh?”
And it seemed to work perfectly. Jesus, my heart was hammering. Instead of jumping his bones right that second, I sipped my coffee and looked around his apartment. “So, are we working today?”
Please say no, please say no.
“Yes, we are,” he said, putting the peanut butter down. “You can keep going with the specs on the Lewington job while I get started. It takes a while to grid it all out.”
“I can’t believe you really start each job by drawing it out,” I said, walking over to the table. “You know it’s the twenty-first century, right? We have computers now.”
I was going to see just how many jokes I could make about our age difference in the one day. But then he had to go all be all awesome and superior with his free-hand drafting skills that I sat my ass down in the seat and did some work instead.
I did suggest we have a bet with the loser buying lunch, knowing damn well I’d lose but my motive was to simply ensure that I would still be there at lunch time.
I shouldn’t have worried though, because that easy, feels like home familiarity settled over us as we worked. God, I could spend every minute with him and it wouldn’t be enough. It was just… comfortable yet exhilarating at the same time. And I’d almost forgotten about how infatuated I was with him, until he took a spoonful of the goddamn peanut butter in his mouth and groaned.
Because seriously, him making those sex sounds took me from work-focused, to sweet-mother-of-God-fuck-me-now in a nanosecond.
He worked the peanut butter off the spoon and mumbled, “This is good.”
“Told you,” I replied, sounding like a chain smoking old whore. God, I was going to throw myself at him at this rate. I shook his head, and firmly focused on work instead showing him my computer generated drawing.
“You’ve done a really good job,” he said, seemingly pleased. Or surprised, I wasn’t sure which. “The façade looks good, the elevations are clean. It looks good.”
I wasn’t completely happy with it, but whatever. “Righto. Let’s have a look at yours.” I stood up and walked around to his side of the table, and picked up the grid pad he’d used to hand draw what I’d done using the CAD program. And it took my breath away. “Jesus. It’s…this is amazing… The shading, the perspective, the lines…” I trailed off. “Wow. It’s um, it’s…”
“It’s lunchtime and you’re paying,” he said with a grin.
I made some jokes about his age.
He called me a little shit.
It was perfect.
And as we ate our stupid pretzels for lunch, we sat in the park and talked architecture. It was something I could go on and on about, and I had the distinct feeling Tom could too. We had the same drive, the same passion, we loved the same things, and I realized right then what I wanted.
I really wanted a successful career in architecture. I could never see myself doing anything else, and I’d work a hundred hours a week if I had to get it.
But I also wanted Tom.
I wanted that connection, that comprehension. And Tom understood me.
Sure, I’ve spoken to a hundred architects my age, or in their thirties at least, but none of them—not one—understood me like Tom did.
And sitting there on the edge of Central Park with Tom, on a peaceful Sunday afternoon, I told him things I’d never told anyone else, about how I truly see the beauty of architecture. And he never scoffed, or laughed or dismissed my ideals as foolish romanticism.
He just looked right into my very soul and told me he felt the same.
And if I were to ever look back in my life and wonder just where it was exactly that I knew I was falling for him, it was then.
And from the way he looked at me, I was pretty sure he felt it too.
On the walk back to his apartment, he pointed out buildings he’d worked on, describing exterior and interior designs and I had to stop myself from grabbing hold of his hand.
I made him promise me he’d show me how he drew freehand, and we were no sooner through his front door that I pulled my seat next to his. Right next to his. So when we both sat down, our legs would touch.
He certainly didn’t object.
And as he drew, the one and only great Thomas Elkin, I sat right there and watched as his hands made magic happen from no more than lead and paper. I watched as the muscles in his forearms flexed as his pencil created art in front of me. I watched how the line of his neck would stretch as he tilted his head just so. How the grey flecks of hair at his temple made him look distinguished and wise.
But we talked as well, and he was so close I could almost feel the vibration of his voice, and when I tried to draw like he showed me, our hands touched and a rush of heat swept through me. I turned to him to say something, and he was right there. So close, his lips barely two inches from mine.
I wanted to kiss him. I’d never wanted to kiss someone so bad in my life. And I lost myself. I licked my lips and leaned in…
And he shot out of his chair, away from me.
My heart was pounding for all the wrong reasons. I was wrong, and rejected. And foolish, and stupid. The balloon of excitement in my chest had turned to lead.
I made myself stand up. “I should probably go,” I said quietly. God, I felt numb. And stupid.
“Okay” was all he said.
I shoved my stuff into my satchel as fast as I could. I was confused, and hurt. More hurt than confused, but without looking at him, and without him stopping me, I let myself out.
I might have only been twenty-two, but I wasn’t blind. I knew want and lust when I saw it. I knew desire, and I knew restraint. And god fucking damn it, he wanted me.
I knew it. I just knew it. And maybe he didn’t want me like I wanted him, maybe just one kiss would get it all out of our systems.
I didn’t even get to the lift. I turned around and knocked on his fucking door. Because really, I couldn’t leave things unsaid.
Tom opened the door. He looked awful. “Everything okay?”
Was everything okay? Of course it fucking wasn’t. So I said the first thing that came into my stupid head. “I think we should kiss.”
* * * *
“I think we should kiss,” I said again. It was out now, so I went for broke. “We should just do it, and get it out of the way. Then we can forget about it and get over it, move on, clear the air, whatever. But it’s just always there. It’s right there between us and it’s driving me mad. I can’t concentrate, all I can think about is what the fuck kissing you would feel like, or taste like.”
Oh, then there’s the whole situation with you being my boss and all.
“I’m not concerned about work,” I explained. Or ranted. Whatever. It was a moment of undue stress and I was not prepared to give up on what could possibly be the best thing ever. “Because I’m sure, I’m absolutely certain that if I just kiss you once and get it out of my system, I’ll be fine. I’ll be back to normal and we can just act like nothing happened. I know you want to kiss me too.” Yep, I was ranting, but I wasn’t innocent in this. It wasn’t just one sided. It wasn’t. “I can see it when you look at me. You stare at my mouth and you lick your lips, and it’s like you’re trying to not want to kiss me and I don’t blame you, because it’s weird, I get that. But I think if we just did it and got it out of the way, we could work together without all this wondering about what you might taste like…” Then I realized he wasn’t responding. Or smiling. Or kissing me. “Or not,” I mumbled, taking a step back. “I’ve obviously misread the signs and you’re not saying anything and I’ve just ruined everything.” And because the universe wouldn’t let me shrink and die, I had to turn and walk away.
“Cooper, stop,” he called out, grabbing my arm. He stared at me for a long, long second and slowly shook his head. “You haven’t misread anything.”
I almost sagged in relief, but my thumping heart kept me upright.
“But I’m not sure,” he said, stepping right in close.
My body was on fire. “We don’t have to,” I said quickly. “I shouldn’t have suggested—”
But then he reached up and slid his hand along my jaw, and I thought I might die. He leaned in and I could feel his warm breath on my lips. He whispered, all sexy as fuck. “I’m not sure if once would be enough.”
My voice barely made a sound. “Probably not.”
But then he kissed me. It was so soft and surreal, not a real kiss, just a brush of lips. It was experience and patience. It was perfect.
Then he pulled my bottom lip between his, and it got really fucking hot.
I couldn’t help it. My satchel fell to the floor, laptop be damned. I needed two hands to hold him. I opened his mouth with my own, held onto him tight and tasted his kiss with my tongue.
He groaned like I was better than peanut butter, and his hands went to my face as he deepened the kiss. This was the desire I’d seen, this was the want. I knew I’d seen it, I knew I wasn’t imagining this. Sweet baby lord Jesus, I wasn’t imagining his tongue in my mouth.
But then the elevator dinged and he was pulling my hand, dragging my kiss-drunk ass back into his apartment. I somehow managed to grab my satchel off the floor. Some little old lady walked past just as Tom was closing the door, he waved and I burst out laughing.
He leaned against the closed door and grinned with swollen lips. “Mrs Giordano doesn’t need to see that.”
I put my satchel back on the ground, softer this time. “Mrs what’s-her-name might like to see it.”
He said something else about his neighbor but I wasn’t listening. He was leaning against his front door and I was nowhere near done kissing him yet. All I could feel was the heat coming from his body. I could still taste his kiss in my mouth, and he had such perfect lips. I moved in closer, wanting more.
His voice was rough and low. “I thought you said just one kiss?”
“I thought you said it wouldn’t be enough,” I answered, kissing him again. It was a slower kiss, deeper and more deliberate. Soft mouths and sure tongues. Because I knew, without any flicker of doubt, it would never be enough. And the thing Tom was about to learn about me was, that once I’d made a decision, I wouldn’t be swayed. And I’d made up my mind.
Now I’d had a taste of Thomas Elkin, there was no going back.