Four – Garnet
It took him eighteen days to call.
I’d thought of him daily, sometimes multiple times each day, sometimes when I was with other men who were paying me to focus on them. Sterling Vesco had a secret, and it was a big one. My experiences with closeted men numbered in the hundreds, easily. They threw off a vibe that was impossible to miss. It was a swirling mass of lust and fear wound up, many times, in the spicy scent of designer cologne. Sterling oozed cloistered gay man. If he were any more sequestered, he’d be wearing a habit.
Rolling to my side, I winced at the sound of construction workers and contractors setting into work. When Butch and Shin said they were redoing Gems, they’d not been blowing smoke up our asses. In less than three weeks, everything had flipped in our lives. We now had payroll and accounting, time sheets to hand in, health insurance plans to pick from, taxes, deductions, receipts, and credit card slips to turn in each morning. It was a pain in the fucking ass, and yet it was exhilarating at the same time.
The roar of a saw ripped through the early morning sunlight filtering into my room.
“Why do contractors have to wake up so damn early?” I asked my tiny personal space while kicking angrily at my covers. I yanked on some lounge pants, a long-sleeved t-shirt, and some socks, then stalked out of my room. My plan had been to bitch at Shin for the rude awakening, but as soon as I hit his office, which was slated for a re-do after the first floor and suites were done, I saw that he was already hunkered over Kennedy’s massive desk hard at work while four of my fellow Gems ragged on him about the noise.
“Look at the bags under my eyes,” Onyx bitched, poking at the puffy area under his deep brown eyes. “How am I to look tempting when I’m puffy?”
“Oh, please, you’re always puffy, you cow,” Ruby flung back. The two of them started queening each other. Amber slid down in the chair he was in, eyes droopy, small smile of greeting in place.
“Ladies, come on, can we not add to the noise?” I closed the door behind me. “It’s not Shin’s fault. We all agreed to this new start, right?” Onyx huffed, but bobbed his head, as did Ruby. Amber did as well, then he yawned widely, which made us all yawn. “Well, we’re going to have to put up with the work until the new Gems is ready.”
“Well, if this is going to keep up, I’m going to have to find somewhere else to hang my corset,” Onyx said, pushing to his pink bedroom slippers before putting a fist to his slim hip. The man worked his pink negligee well. The door opened, slapping me on the ass. Butch bulled in, several cups of take-out coffee in two cardboard carriers in his hands. “Ah! Praise the baby Jesus!” Onyx fluttered over, grabbed a coffee, and kissed Butch on the cheek before he sashayed out.
There was no way to miss Butch’s hazel eyes latching onto the tall black man in the lacy bit of nightwear and rosy kitten-heeled fuzzy slippers.
“He’s moving out?” Amber asked, pulling Butch’s gaze from Onyx’s long legs.
“Who knows,” Butch snapped, passing out coffee, then leaving just as he’d arrived, like a German tank rolling over France.
Shin sighed so heavily the papers on his desk fluttered. “Do you all have your time sheets and receipts?”
Amber and Ruby hurried off, with coffees in hand, to find their nightly paperwork. Shin glanced at me. I shrugged a shoulder as I sat down and pried the lid off a cup of creamed and sugared, or so it said on the side of the cup.
“Left it on your desk last night.”
Shin rubbed at his eyes. “Oh, right, yeah. Okay. This bookwork is killing me. I hope we get that new website up and running soon”
“How’s that going to work anyway?”
“Our clients will pay a small fee to subscribe and get access to premium content, which I still need those photos for.” I hid behind my coffee, looking sheepish. “Then, they’ll book their chosen Gem online, with each of you getting your eighty percent and the house getting twenty. Which goes back into the costs of the website, payroll, etc. This crap of having everything written down in old ledgers in fucking secret code sucks.”
“Well, everything he was doing was illegal so…” I shrugged.
“I know,” he sighed. “I’m so glad Fiona is helping me wade through the slag heap of papers Kennedy had stashed here and in his apartment. And the website was Ian’s idea. That will make things so much easier, but until it’s up and running, it’s going to be collecting payment on the date which is kind of tacky, but what can you do?” he said around a yawn.
“You look tired, but happy.” I took a tentative sip, sighed, and eased back into the richly appointed wingback Kennedy had left behind.
“Yeah, I am happy. Ian is…I’ve nothing to compare him to,” he replied, his voice growing soft, as did his gaze. Yep. That was love right there. Lucky bastard. “Sorry.”
I blinked. “Sorry for what?”
“For leaving you guys. I still feel guilty that I’m on this side of the desk.”
“Nope, don’t go there. Look, we’re all adults and we’re all doing what we choose to do. Before you and Ian and Marky Mark—”
“He really hates it when you call him that.”
“I know, but seriously, the guy could be his twin.” Shin chuckled softly. “Look, we’re all much happier than we were under Parks, so stop hating yourself for your good fortune. You’re entitled to some happiness.”
“We’re all entitled to happiness. I hope you and all the guys find someone special someday.”
“If I tell you that I love you, will that big Scotsman you’re living with come beat me up?”
That made Shin smile, which kind of lit up the whole room. “Probably not. I love you, too. So, anyway, someone called the main number to request your services for tomorrow night. He seemed…edgy, or something? He wouldn’t give me his name but left this number for you.”
I rose a little, took the memo that had a local number scribbled on it, then compared it to the numbers in my contacts list.
“Huh, well, I’ve handed out a lot of those cards you had printed for us.” I rose and made my way to the door. “I’ll go give him a call.” Shin bit down on his bottom lip. He looked small behind the big wooden behemoth.
“You guys are making good money now and are in control. Don’t feel pressured to take everyone who calls for an evening out.” He sounded about forty-five now, instead of four years younger than me. It was endearing.
“We’re aware and we’ll be careful, Dad. Now, get back to work.” I motioned to the mess on his desk. He gave me the finger and a grin in reply, but lowered his head to the task at hand. While I envied what he had found in Ian’s arms, I did not envy him a job behind a desk. Shouts and saws and hammering met me as soon as I stepped out into the corridor. Maybe it was time to consider moving out of here. I was making triple the money now than I had been slaving for Kennedy, and that was how it felt to me; that we’d been slaves. Bound to contracts and beaten for minor infractions. We’d been sold for tens of thousands of dollars every night but had seen pennies of the cash raked in.
Sometimes, the anger at Kennedy and at myself was close to overwhelming. Granted, I’d been young when he’d found me wandering Colchester fresh off the bus from Canada. He’d talked a sweet talk, took me to his bed, made me feel special. The same MO he’d used on all of us before we signed on the dotted line. Then, the affection stopped and the work began. And he worked us nightly. The only time we got off was when we were too sick to walk or had been severely abused by a bidder.
I peeked around the corner and gasped at the gaping hole that used to be our private suites. The walls had been torn down, the grand staircase stripped down to the original wood, and the chandeliers that had hung overhead were gone.
A few of the workers looked my way. I smiled. They looked stricken so I went to my room, closed the door, and dropped to my bed. I wasn’t working until tonight. An old customer, Alfie, he called himself, who loved to dress up as a school master while I was the student. The role play was always the same with Alfie, or Professor Alfie, as he was called when he donned the robes and mortarboard. I’d be in knee pants and a white shirt with a blue tie. He’d catch me cheating on a test. I’d suck his dick. End of role play. Two hundred bucks in hand. Gems didn’t come cheap, not anymore. Well, we never had, but, yeah…whatever. Fuck Kennedy Parks.
Lying on my back, knees together, feet angled out, I dialed the mystery number and waited. It rang several times. I was about to hang up when someone finally answered. As soon as I heard his voice, my body reacted just as it had that night we’d met at the hotel. My skin went hot, my balls grew heavy. I sat up as Sterling cleared his throat after that gruff hello. At least a full minute ticked off with no one saying jack.
“I’m glad you called,” I said, easing him out of the pit of silence he’d fallen into.
“I’m not sure I should have.”
I scooted up the bed until my back was resting on the headboard. A couple of the guys walked past my door, Diamond and Citrine by the sounds, arguing about a Marvel villain.
“We can just talk, if you’d like. What do you want me to call you?”
I waited through another long pause. “What do you mean?”
“Well, some of my clients use fictitious names like Cowboy Bob or Professor Alfie, which gives me some idea of the kind of role-play they’re looking for. What are you looking for, Mr. Vesco?”
“Don’t call me that.”
Yikes. “Okay, would you rather me call you Sterling?”
“Yes, I just…yes. I’m not sure what this role-play thing is.” Another gap in the dialog. “Can we meet up tomorrow night for…that endorsement pitch?”
I closed my eyes. Man, he was so far back in the closet he was probably playing checkers with Aslan. This beautiful man was going to need a slow, slow hand.
“We can do that. There are some really nice places over on the west side of town that I—”
“No, nowhere in Colchester. Outside of town. Somewhere discreet.”
“That’s fine. Why don’t you set things up to your specifications and then text me the time and place?”
“Understood. Goodbye.” I just caught the sound of male voices on his end when the call was cut off. I lowered the phone to the bed, blew out a breath, and reached for my coffee. I had no idea what was going to happen tomorrow night, or where it would take place, but I was pretty certain it was going to be a revelation for Sterling Vesco. And perhaps for me, as well.
To be continued…