End of the Line
"Mind if I join you?"
The soft male tones that caressed David’s eardrums were far too close for the question to be directed at anyone else. He looked up from the depths of page eighty-two and into eyes as blue as a perfect summer’s day. Unexpected heat flooded his cheeks. He adjusted his glasses and scanned the array of empty Formica tables and chairs around them.
"Uh, no, I guess I don’t mind," David replied, puzzled. Not that it mattered. He’d be leaving right after he’d finished his coffee.
"Great." The guy offered a dazzling smile. Twin dimples etched perfect hollows in his cheeks. Why this beautiful man should seem so pleased about being granted permission to sit with him wasn’t something David wanted to contemplate.
"What you reading?" the stranger asked, taking a seat at the opposite bench. Completely flustered, David had forgotten about the novel in front of him. By the time he thought to look down, the book was being drawn away from him across the table. He lunged, swiping the book closed and into the bag at his side before the guy got a chance to spy the cover.
"It’s nothing," he blurted out. "Just a novel."
"Just a novel?" A spark of humour lifted the stranger’s tone.
"Yes." David shifted in his seat. "I like to read."
The guy shrugged beneath a shabby leather jacket that looked as though it had led a full and active existence. "That’s nothing to be ashamed of. I read too."
David didn’t for a moment believe someone as good-looking as this man bothered to read anything past a car manual, and certainly not romance novels. "What do you read?"
The guy’s lips tilted into a smile. "Menus, mostly." He reached for the laminated board on a stand between them. "By the way, what’s your name? I’m Alex."
Since when had this turned into the kind of conversation where first names were exchanged? The guy had asked to share the table, not life stories. Still, it was a small thing to ask, and David didn’t see any real reason not to answer. For a fraction of a second, he contemplated giving a fake name. Something like Frazer, or Zane. Something interesting and exotic, something the complete opposite of who he actually was. But then, when he stopped to contemplate why exactly he’d want this Alex to think better of him, he couldn’t come up with a reason. Not one he’d accept anyway.
"It’s, um, David," he said eventually.
"Okay, um, David." Alex lowered the menu. His blue eyes loomed closer. "You got a…um, boyfriend?"
David heard the question clear as day, and experienced the shock as vividly as if he’d stuck his finger in an electrical socket. Why would this guy—a complete stranger—ask such a thing? No one had accused him of being gay since his schooldays. He couldn’t understand what he’d done to be accused of it now. "Excuse me?"
Alex set down the menu. "I’ll take that as a no." He glanced over his shoulder at the waitress attending to another diner a couple of tables away. "Yo, sweetheart." He clicked his fingers. All four heads in the place swivelled their way. "Over here."
"Wait your turn, sweetheart," the waitress called back, busy writing in her pad.
"I think I should go." David zipped up his bag. How dare this person assume such a thing about him? What a ludicrous question to ask a stranger.
"You’ve not touched your coffee." He nodded at the still full mug sat on the table.
David glared back. "It’s cold."
"I’ll get you another. I don’t like to eat alone. Oh, hey—"
So did Alex. "At least let me buy you lunch, if only to apologise."
"For my uncouth manners. I’m new around here and I don’t spend much time in company. Sometimes I say the first thing that comes into my head. And when I do it’s usually wrong. You got any idea how many people I’ve already pissed off and I’ve only been in town a month?"
David couldn’t resist asking, "How many?"
Alex puffed out his cheeks, pressed his palms together then drew them apart like an angler measuring the size of an elusive fish. Then he pushed them together again, as if in prayer. "Please take pity on this tactless, friendless out-of-towner by allowing him to buy you lunch?" He lowered his hands and slid the menu across the table. "Please, order anything you like. It’s on me."
David still hesitated. He didn’t believe Alex wasn’t used to being around people. Men like him were never short of friends. Men like him didn’t buy lunch for men like David. Not unless they were desperate for company. Well, he had said he was new in town, so maybe that was exactly what Alex was. Desperate. David had already spent most of his wages this week on his roommate’s slice of the rent. Why he bailed Gemma out so often he wasn’t sure, but his stomach rumbled its hunger and Alex’s eyes kept getting bluer.
"All right." He resumed his seat. "I could manage a sandwich." And while he was at it he could put this guy straight about his sexuality too.
"A sandwich! No way. Go for something hot and delicious, like yourself." An odd sparkle danced in the man’s eyes. It wasn’t quite mockery, though David never imagined he’d make even lukewarm on anyone’s heat scale. "What? You’re offended I paid you a compliment?"
"No." David grabbed the menu, grateful for an excuse to hide his blushes—his cheeks the only part of him likely to be considered hot. So much for reaffirming his heterosexuality.
"You looked in a mirror recently? I mean properly?"
David shook his head from behind the menu. He had access to the bathroom mirror at the flat, which he used for shaving and combing his hair. Not for preening. He left preening to men with something to preen over. Like Alex.
David peered over the menu, curious now despite himself. "May you what?"
"Indulge me?" Alex flashed those perfect teeth again. He reached over the table, grasped the arms of David’s glasses then guided them carefully away. The world fuzzed over. "Now, if you’d quit screwing up those sexy brown eyes of yours—"
"But I can’t see."
"Wanna know what I see?"
"A squinting moron?"
A flash of white bisected the pale cream blur of Alex’s face. "Nope. Try, a handsome young guy who’s spent too long cowering behind a pair of… What are these?" He held the glasses aloft. "Titanic’s portholes?"
"They’re my prescription. I’ve always had bad eyesight. There’s nothing I can do. Can I have them back?" He held out his palm, aware of how his hand trembled, afraid this guy would toss the glasses to the ground and stamp on them like so many others had done before.