As soon as Nicky walks through the door he feels immediately suspicious. Booker and Andy are at the breakfast bar, twin expressions of poorly worn nonchalance.
“What’s going on?”
They look at each other, they look at Nicky.
“Your birthday is coming up.” Andy says.
“Dirty thirty!” Booker hollers, despite Nicky being the least dirty almost-thirty year-old Booker has ever known.
“Yes. And we agreed we would stop buying each other presents,” Nicky reminds them.
Booker holds up a finger. “I actually never agreed to that.”
Andy continues like neither of them had interrupted her. “Booker and I have been talking.”
Nicky sighs, “Do I need to sit down for this?” He doesn’t wait for an answer.
“It’s been two years, Nicky, since, well...” Since he asked to be released from his vows, yes, Nicky was very much aware. “And you haven’t...” Andy looks at Booker, who helpfully shrugs at her.
Nicky knows what she means. The few times he has joined them on a night out, he keeps to himself, turns down any offers of drinks from strangers, and leaves early. He shrugs. “So what? You want me to be more like you, like Booker?”
“No, of course not.” Andy sits next to him. He sees she’s holding a tablet. “We don’t want you to change. We just want you to feel more confident about yourself. We think you can still get stuck in your head sometimes, Nicky.” She touches his arm. “You are such a kind and wonderful person, but you’re not letting anyone in.”
The seat on his other side sinks as Booker makes himself comfortable. “Andy found this website.” Booker nods at Andy who hands Nicky the tablet.
For a long moment, Nicky doesn’t know what to say. “You want to hire a prostitute for me?” He’s dumbfounded.
“Sex worker,” Andy gently corrects. “And only if you want to,” she reminds him.
“You think this will help?” He asks, genuinely curious.
“Well..." He can see Booker and Andy mouthing at each other over his shoulder. " We think if you have a professional for the first time," Andy picks up, "it would get rid of any pressure, or anxiety you might have. And it’ll be safe. You will be in control of everything. You can learn what you like. This place is very exclusive, very professional.”
“Don’t worry. Andy can get a very reasonable rate.” Booker arches an eyebrow and smirks.
Nicky narrows his eyes at Booker and then turns to Andy. “I thought you said you found this website.”
“Uh...I did. I found it in my email when it was emailed to me.”
“How many people have you told about this,” Nicky hisses.
“Only Quynh.” Andy promises quickly.
Nicky groans. “Quynh knows?” He's met Andy's on-again-off-again girlfriend a handful of times.
“Yes. But you trust her, don’t you? She’ll have vetted them thoroughly, would only have picked the very best.”
“Crème de la crème,” Booker echoes.
Nicky doesn't know if he trusts Quynh, but she had always looked very put together and in control. He sighs loudly. “I’ll have a look,” He concedes. It’s actually quite sweet, Nicky thinks. Very weird and very nosy, but sweet. They’ve all been friends for so long, whatever boundaries they have left keep getting redrawn. He knows his friends only want the best for him. “But after this, no more, OK?”
Andy kisses him on the forehead and Booker ruffles his hair before they both retreat to the other side of the room to give him some privacy.
Nicky scrolls through the profiles. It feels strange, like he’s picking out new bed sheets. All the men are extremely attractive. The type of men, Nicky suspects, who would not look twice at him walking down the street. This is not doing much for his confidence. One more, he tells himself, and then it’s over. He tried. He swipes. He blinks. His grip on the tablet tightens. He sees the face of a man who feels like he had sprung fully formed from Nicky’s dreams.
Nicky inhales sharply. Booker and Andy are hovering over his shoulder in an instant.
Booker lets out a low whistle. “Damn, Nicky. What you lack in experience you certainly make up for in exquisite taste.”
“He has kind eyes,” Nicky says.
“Yeah... His eyes .” Booker says, looking pointedly at the shirtless photo. “That’s what I was going to say.”
Nicky frowns at him, tilts the screen away from Booker.
“His name is Joe.” Nicky looks at Andy instead. “Do you think that’s his real name?”
Andy shrugs. “Does it matter?” She asks gently.
Nicky looks down at the tablet and takes in the shape of Joe’s lips, the curl of his lashes. “I suppose not.”
Nicky is nervous. He has been pacing back and forth in the hotel room for what feels like hours. He wonders if it’s too late to cancel. Of course it is. He glances at the clock. He’ll be here any minute. Joe will be here-
There’s a knock at the door. No, there is no turning back now. Nicky checks his hair quickly, runs his fingers through it a couple of times. It stubbornly refuses to be tamed. He gives up and strides to the front of the room. He takes a deep breath, and opens the door.
“Hello. Nicky, yes?”
Nicky can only nod. Joe is even more handsome than in his photos. He is taller than Nicky and that small detail somehow thrills him. They stand there for too long until Joe finally asks if he can come in.
“Of course, of course.” Nicky is flustered. He steps aside and Joe brushes past him. Nicky can smell his cologne - woody and spicy.
“This is a nice room.” Joe turns and smiles at Nicky.
He’s dressed in all black with a leather jacket. Andy had discovered you could request certain outfits as she was keying in their details. Booker had insisted on this ensemble. “Danny Zuko vibes.”
“Yes,” Andy had agreed. “Nicky does give off a certain early Sandy look.”
Nicky didn’t know what to say to that, so he had crossed his arms and huffed at them. Blinking his big, blue eyes.
Nicky fidgets under Joe’s gaze. “I’m nervous.” He admits. He sees no point in lying.
“That’s OK,” Joe says. He closes the space between them. “Here.” He takes Nicky’s hand - the simple touch sends a jolt through Nicky’s entire body - and places it on his chest. “See? Not so scary.”
Nicky can feel Joe’s heartbeat. It is comforting.
“No, not scary.” Nicky says softly. They are standing so close.
Joe smiles and lifts Nicky’s other hand to his face and kisses his palm. He feels the softness of Joe's beard against his fingertips. He wants to feel it against his whole body. Nicky shivers. He slides his hand from Joe’s chest to the back of his neck and tugs him closer. Joe comes easily. Their lips meet. As far as kisses go, it's chaste. But it excites Nicky. Every nerve ending in his body feels like it's sparking to life.
“What do we do now?” He says, when they finally pull apart.
“Whatever you want.” Joe tells him. “Tonight, I am yours.”
Tonight... Nicky buries his face against Joe’s neck, pulling him closer, chest to chest. Joe wraps his arms around Nicky. Holds him until Nicky mumbles against his skin.
Nicky pulls back far enough to say, “Some wine?”
“Sounds lovely.” Nicky leads him to two armchairs by the window.
“I wasn’t sure what you would prefer,” Nicky says, gesturing to the two bottles in the ice bucket. “So I got a red and a white.”
“That’s very considerate,” Joe says as he sits down. “Red, please.”
Nicky nods in approval. “Excellent choice.”
They talk. Well, mostly Nicky talks. Joe listens. Two glasses in and Nicky is in talk-too-much mode. “I still believe in God.” Nicky says. “But the God the church presents with this conditional love and limited understanding,” he shakes his head, “that is not my God.”
Joe has been watching him this entire time, gaze never wavering. Nicky doesn't think anyone has every paid this much attention to him in his life. He wants his eyes on him always.
Joe puts down his glass and takes Nicky hand. “You are a very thoughtful person, Nicky.” He brushes his thumb over Nicky’s knuckles. “I know we have only just met, but I can see the kindness in you. It was very brave of you to leave. It must have been very hard.” Joe's voice feels like a warm bath. He feels safe. “Come here, please," Joe asks.
Nicky does. He brackets Joe between his knees and cups Joe’s face with his hands, emboldened by the wine and Joe's words. They kiss. What starts off as gentle and soft quickly progresses into something more desperate and urgent, open and wet.
Nicky is tugging fruitlessly at Joe’s jacket. “Off,” he mumbles against their lips. Like the command alone will be effective. Joe chuckles. “Bed?” He suggests.
He considers it, but he is loathed to be parted from Joe.
Joe must see the indecision on Nicky’s face. He shifts beneath him and curls an arm around Nicky’s waist. “Hold on.” Nicky is confused. Joe pushes off the armrest with his other hand and now he is standing, staggering slightly under their combined weight. He wraps his legs tightly around Joe.
“You’re so strong,” Nicky breathes as Joe walks them towards the bedroom.
“You’re heavier than you look,” Joe replies (“Hey!”) as he tries to deposit Nicky onto the bed. “You need to let go,” Joe sighs.
“I want to take my clothes off.” Nicky’s arms drop to his side. “Proceed.”
Joe sits on the end of the bed to undo his boots. “You know, you could help.”
Nicky rolls onto his knees to crawl to Joe, his hands reaching out to yank at the jacket.
“I meant,” Joe says, laughing, “you should get naked, too.”
Joe stands and shrugs out of his jacket, and tosses it onto a nearby chair. His fingers grasp the hem of his t-shirt. “Wait.” Nicky says suddenly. Joe stops. “Slower.” Joe blinks at him. “Take it off slowly.” Joe smiles. Joe obeys. Nicky sinks back onto his elbows and watches the flex of muscles as they reveal themselves. His throat feels dry. His body feels scorched. Joe doesn’t bother with the chair, drops the shirt somewhere on the floor. He rests his hands on the fly of his jeans.
He raises an eyebrow at Nicky. Nicky nods.
He starts to unbutton his jeans when Nicky changes his mind. Already shuffling forward with his hands out. “Let me, let me.” He locks eyes with Joe as he unzips the fly, tugs them down past his hips. He then reaches for the band of Joe’s briefs and pulls them down, too. His eyes flicker down. He sees how hard Joe is already. It is intoxicating. He leans forward.
“Nicky,” Joe’s breathing is ragged, his hands in Nicky’s hair. “You don’t-”
“I want to.” Nicky insists, his breath sends a shiver up Joe’s spine. He nods.
Nicky knows how this all should work. He sucks the tip of Joe’s cock into his mouth, wraps his hand around the base. He thinks he’s starting to get the hang of it, judging by Joe’s soft groans and the way he’s thrusting in time with Nicky’s momentum. He feels Joe’s hands cradle his face, gently pulls him away.
Nicky looks up at him. “Did I do something wrong?”
Joe swallows, shakes his head. “I won’t last much longer if we continue down this path. And there are still so many things I want to do to you.”
“It was good, then?” Nicky can’t help sounding a little proud.
Joe impatiently kicks off the rest of his clothes. “You are perfect.” Nicky flushes with pleasure. He urges Nicky to move further up the bed. “But, unfortunately, you’re still fully clothed.”
Nicky lets himself be pushed onto his back. “I want you to undress me.”
“Of course, Your Highness.”
Joe touches Nicky with such care. Pressing kisses on each patch of newly revealed skin. “What do you want?”
“You will have to be more specific, my love.”
Nicky thinks it’s cruel of Joe to call him that. He tries to ignore the twist in his gut. “Everything,” he insists.
Joe huffs a laugh against Nicky’s skin. “I don’t think we have the time. But we can try.”
They’re kissing and grinding against each other when Nicky whispers, “I want you to fuck me.” He hears Joe breath hitch, feels him nod. He pulls away with great reluctance. Nicky listens to the hum of the air-conditioner, as Joe rummages through his pockets, feels the cool air on his sweat-slicked skin.
“Roll onto your stomach,” Joe says when he returns.
Nicky frowns. “Why?”
Joe rests his hand on Nicky’s hip. “It’ll be easier this way. At least, to start with.”
“But I want to see your face.” Nicky feels embarrassed to admit it.
Joe doesn't respond immediately, Nicky feels the weight of his gaze as he stares at his hands. He feels the bed dip, Joe beside him. He lifts Nicky's chin to meet his eyes. He leans forward to kiss him. “Whatever you want,” he sighs against Nicky's lips.
He guides Nicky into position, rearranging pillows, double and triple-checking Nicky is comfortable.
“Yes, yes,” Nicky repeats. If Joe can hear the impatience in his voice, he ignores it.
“We’ll go slowly,” he says, kneeling between Nicky’s legs. “If it feels like it’s too much, you have to tell me. OK?”
Nicky is again touched by Joe’s gentleness, his concern. He nods. “Do we need something like a safe word?”
Joe smiles, amused. “Sure. You pick. Something you wouldn't normally say under these circumstances.”
Nicky thinks. “Baklava?” He doesn’t know why he picks that. Tries desperately to dispel memories of Andy and the inappropriate noises she makes when eating the pastry.
Joe arches an eyebrow. “You are so strange." He brushes his thumb across Nicky's inner thigh. “I like it.”
Nicky doesn’t use the safe word. He doesn’t even think about it again.
After, when Nicky’s soul has returned to his sated body, Joe gently rolls him onto his side and fits himself against his back. “Tired?” Joe asks, mouthing against his neck.
“No,” Nicky lies. His body aches wonderfully.
Joe huffs a laugh. “Well, I am.” He admits. “But, later, if you want, you can fuck me, too.”
Nicky wriggles around until he is facing Joe. He rests his hand on his cheek. “You want me to?”
Joe smiles. “Yes.”
“You will show me how?” Joe nods. Nicky hesitates. “I won’t be very good. Not like you.”
“Nicky.” Joe rolls on his back. Nicky props himself up by the elbow. “Do not doubt yourself. You are a very fast learner.” He winks at him.
Nicky grins and lets himself be pulled onto Joe’s chest. He feels Joe’s breath even out. He feels his eyelids growing heavier by the second. He glances at the clock on the bedside table. Midnight.
Ten more hours. His heart clenches.
They both wake up a few hours later, like their bodies were aware of the limited time they had left. Joe lets Nicky fuck him. Nicky doesn’t last as long as he would have liked. But Joe, between soft moans, asks, “are you sure you haven’t done this before?” Nicky nods, he can't help the smile tugging at his lips. “You are a natural, Nicky.”
Nicky watches Joe set an alarm on his phone. “I can be a heavy sleeper, (Nicky checks the clock. 4am.) especially after such a workout.” Joe grins. Nicky doesn’t look at him, suddenly very interested in picking at the threads of the bed sheets. He frowns. “Nicky, what’s wrong?” Nicky shakes his head. “Tell me.”
“Let’s just go to sleep.” He mumbles, curling onto himself.
Joe is silent for a moment. “Do you want me to go?”
“No,” Nicky says quickly. “Don't go.” He can’t make out Joe’s face under the shadows. He wonders if Joe can see his. “Please.” He holds out his hand. “Let’s just go to sleep.”
Joe takes Nicky’s hand. Shuffles forward to get comfortable against Nicky. His arm rests around Nicky’s chest. Nicky clutches Joe’s hand.
“Goodnight.” Joe presses a kiss at the nape of Nicky’s neck.
“Goodnight,” Nicky echoes back. It sounds so sad in his own ears. He wonders if Joe can hear it, too.
He closes his eyes.