Each time Paul and Evan meet at another friend's same-sex wedding, they're interested...but the timing is always wrong because one of them is involved with someone new. They try to make do by falling in and out of the beds of several different men as they search for their own Mr. Right, and along the way, they learn new skills, like the secrets to Tantric sex, or the moves required to succeed at lube wrestling.
Yet all through the hot summer months, they flirt and eye each other by the buffet tables and open bars of reception halls crowded with men, even though they never get a chance to take their relationship to the next level. When the summer draws to a close and their two best friends are about to marry, the stars might finally align for Paul and Evan. They might just get to be each others' forever 'plus one'.
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Loose Id, LLC
June 13, 2011
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Excerpt from Plus Ones by Hank Edwards
Evan could not pull his gaze away from the dazzling teeth shimmering before him. Alden had introduced him to the man more than an hour ago, but now his name and everything else about him had slipped from Evan's mind since he had caught sight of the whiteness of his teeth. They were distractingly white and even and so perfect as to seem unnatural. As the man talked about his background, interests, and career, Evan focused on his teeth, wondering if his talkative new friend wore dentures.
A great-aunt of his had worn dentures and used to pop them out at inopportune moments during family visits. The first time she had done it, Evan had been young--no more than six--and it had left him wide-eyed and trembling until his sister, four years older and wiser, had explained it to him. He had never again been able to relax around his great-aunt after that, always on alert for the slick, sucking sound of her pulling out her false teeth.
Evan shuddered at the memory, then blinked, remembering he was at a party and talking to someone. He then noticed his new friend--dear God, what the hell was his name?--looking at him expectantly and realized he should be responding to something. He blinked again, smiled, and tried to put a thoughtful expression on his face, but finally gave up with a sigh and said, "I'm sorry; I became distracted by all the conversation around us. And I'm very bad with names..." Evan raised his eyebrows questioningly.
"Bill," the man said and smiled.
"Bill." Evan nodded and looked away from the glare of Bill's smile.
"It's an exciting night, isn't it?" Bill dipped in close and then moved back, like a chicken pecking at grain.
Evan smiled quickly, knowing his teeth were nowhere near as white as Bill's, and twisted the empty glass in his fingers. He really could use another vodka-and-lemonade. "It is exciting. There seems to be a lot of momentum behind this vote. Positive momentum for a change."
"I've felt the same thing," Bill said. "I think we've really got a chance this time." Evan noticed that Bill was actually very attractive; his teeth simply distracted from the rest of his face. He was a bit older than Evan, probably in his midthirties, but Evan had always been drawn to older men, which Alden knew. Dark hair cut short, blue eyes, good build, a good personality; really, there was nothing wrong with Bill.
Except for the creepy perfection of his teeth. And the fact that Evan didn't feel a true spark of attraction for him. Or maybe he was just burned out on dating and relationships. It seemed the last few years had been the same dating pattern on repeat: meet, date, sleep together, date some more, think he was falling in love, then get the inevitable "we need to talk." And always six weeks in, just as Evan had settled into calling his new man his boyfriend.
Well, he wasn't going to fall for that again. He was determined to find Mr. Right, not just the next six-week infatuation. It was time for him to start looking for someone who shared his outlook, someone more serious about being in a relationship.
Was Bill that kind of man? Could Evan see himself falling in love with Bill somewhere down the road? Or would this just end up as another six-week-and-out experiment?
They talked a little longer before Evan noticed Alden was missing from the room. He also discovered that the number of guests had increased tenfold, at least, and the room had become much too warm. He turned back to Bill and leaned in to say, "Excuse me just a moment. I'll be right back."
Bill nodded, and Evan stepped away to forge a path through the crowd toward the patio door. The volume was low on the flat-screen TV that hung on the wall, showing a running graphic of the latest vote count alongside the talking heads of the local news channel--KBIT, of course--where Alden's partner, John, worked. Now and then, each person in the room glanced up to see the latest numbers, then returned to their conversation. After setting his empty glass on an occasional table, Evan worked his way around--and a few times, through--knots of people, including one embarrassing instance when he stepped between two men coming up for air from a soul kiss. A variety of men nodded and smiled at him, knowing his face if not his name, and he greeted them in return. Alden and John knew quite a few people, and Evan had seen most of them at a variety of parties through the years. He had even dated a few of them; more than a few, really, but as usual, nothing had ever clicked, and after the dreaded six-week mark, it had ended.
At the patio door, he slid the glass aside, admitting a wave of fresh, crisp air that drew some relieved sighs and a few startled curses from the crowd behind him. He stepped outside and closed the door, the noise of the party dimming considerably. With the door shut, he exhaled, his breath fogging before him as the cool, late-April air nicely chilled his skin. The well-tended lawn stretched away to end in a tuft of land at the edge of Lake Aspen, and Evan held his breath as he listened to the night sounds, the susurration of the low waves bringing his shoulders down a full inch. Alden had inherited a successful family business after his parents' deaths years before Evan had met him. Though Alden knew the business inside out, he did not have the same burning interest in running it, so he sold it to a competitor for an outrageous sum that had set him up for life.
"I must say, you talked to Bill much longer than I expected, what with your recent vow to only date men serious about relationships."
Evan jumped and turned to squint toward the heavily shadowed patio furniture, barely able to see someone sitting on one end of a suspended glider love seat. The figure leaned into the light spilling through the second patio door that led to the kitchen, revealing his face, and Evan smiled. Alden.
"What are you doing out here?" Evan asked.
"Same as you," Alden said, smiling and patting the cushion beside him. "Taking a break."
Evan crossed the patio and plopped down beside Alden, the glider then swinging them gently back and forth. They sat in comfortable silence for a long moment, listening to the ebb and flow of the party as people moved through the house, and the quiet lap of the lake on the rocks. Evan took a moment to survey his friend's profile, taking in the strong jaw, the nose that on any other face would look too big, salt-and-pepper hair swept dramatically back from his forehead, and hazel eyes. Handsome and stoic, Alden was almost twenty years Evan's senior--forty-five to his twenty-seven--but the man was still young at heart, sometimes younger at heart than Evan himself.
"Bill seems to be a good guy," Evan said.
"Uh-oh." Alden grinned. "Your interest must be waning, then; you usually go for the heartbreakers."
Evan shrugged. "Maybe I'm due for a nice guy, huh?"
Alden let out a quiet snort of amusement. "I think you've been due for that and a lot more as long as I've known you."
"You've got that right," Evan said, and they both sighed, then laughed at themselves. "It's a big party," Evan noted. "More people than usual."
Alden grunted. "John's idea. He has a good feeling about this vote and wanted to celebrate with more than just the core group of friends."
Evan snickered. "As if the core group is so small."
Alden smiled like a proud father. "Fifteen members, plus their various dates."
"Various dates that you usually end up adopting into the group after the inevitable breakup," Evan pointed out. "Speaking of which, how do Jeff and Ted feel about my being here tonight?"
Alden shook his head and took a sip of his drink. "Who cares? You take precedence over all of them. John knows that, and if we were to ask, I'm pretty sure they all know that as well."
"Aww, thanks Alden." Evan couldn't stop the goofy smile he felt bloom on his face.
"It's true." Alden turned to look at him, and in the odd half-light from the kitchen door, Evan saw him smile. "You're a good friend."
"Thanks. You are too." Evan leaned over to put his head on Alden's shoulder. "Even if you did introduce me to..." Evan's mind went blank, and he raised his head and widened his eyes. "Oh my God, I just can't keep this guy's name in my head."
"Bill," Alden offered. "Bill Williams."
"Thank you! Yes, Bill." Evan threw up the hand not holding his empty glass. "Bill Williams. That's another thing; his first name is the same as his last. William Williams? What parent does that to their child?" Evan sighed. "And his teeth are too perfect."
"Explain, please," Alden said.
"They're perfectly even and glaringly white and distracting, and I can't focus on anything else, including what he's talking about." He narrowed his eyes toward Alden. "Are they dentures?"
Alden grinned and shook his head, turning to look toward the kitchen window. "You're just looking for any excuse not to date him, aren't you?"
Evan smirked. "You didn't answer my question."
"Maybe I don't know myself." Alden glanced back at him. "Or, maybe I think it would add a bit of mystery to Bill, and you might give him a chance."
Evan shook his head and turned to look at the moonlit lake. "I've given a lot of men the chance to get to know me over the past few years. None of them wanted to stay around long enough to find out what I'm like."
"Someone will, Evan," Alden said. "You've got a lot to offer. Some men are just put off by that. Give Bill a chance; he's a good man. He's a few years older than you, which you like, he's got a good job--"
"Yeah, and what is that job again?" Evan asked. "He told me, but I was distracted by his teeth."
"He's a civil engineer."
"Ah yes," Evan said with a nod. "Civil engineer. A very technical job."
"Yes, quite." Alden smiled at him a moment, then placed a hand on his shoulder. "I'm glad you decided to come tonight."
Evan smiled and reached up to grasp Alden's hand. "Where else would I be?" A figure visible in the kitchen window caught his attention: tall, ruggedly handsome with dark hair parted on the side, square jaw, and eyes a brilliant shade of blue. He nodded toward the house. "Looks like John's home."
Alden looked through the window, and they sat in silence, watching John move around the kitchen as he talked to someone over his shoulder. "He's quite a catch, isn't he?" Alden asked, his voice low and warm.
"That he is," Evan agreed. "You lucked out."
"I really, truly did." Alden watched his lover a moment longer before turning to smile at Evan. "We'll find you a catch someday, Evs. It doesn't have to be Bill, but give him a chance. You never know."
Evan shrugged. "Yeah, you never know."
"You could meet someone in the next five minutes or the next five days," Alden said. "If this vote goes our way, there is going to be an abundance of weddings and receptions to attend in the coming months, and you're friends with many of the men in that room. You'll be on the guest lists. You could meet Mr. Right at any one of those events."
Evan nodded. "Never know who's waiting just around the corner, right? Could be a lover; more than likely it's a mugger." He smiled. "I'm going to head back in and get another drink. You coming?"
"I suppose I should." Alden sighed. "Otherwise, with John in the kitchen, the good crystal will end up in the dishwasher, and the guests will be drinking from plastic party cups."
Evan laughed, and they timed their dismount from the glider to save them both from ending up on the patio bricks. Evan turned toward the lake for one last look at the water, then drew in a lungful of crisp, clean air before following Alden inside.
"Hey, there," John said with a smile and leaned over to give Alden a kiss. He noticed Evan behind him and leaned a bit farther to kiss him on the cheek. "Had to escape again, Evs?"
Evan rolled his eyes. "Just needed some air, is all. Your friends like to talk a lot, and they're sucking all the oxygen out of the room."
"Speaking of which"--John gave a wicked smile--"I'd like you to meet a friend of mine from work: Paul Cooper. Paul, this is Evan Dresden."
John moved out of the way, and Evan saw a man across the kitchen, butt leaning against the counter, muscular arms folded over his broad chest. His blond hair was cut very short, and his eyes were bright blue sparks. Evan's gaze locked with Paul's, and a sudden sense of vertigo swam through his head. The conversation in the other room, the back and forth between John and Alden, the startling brilliance of Bill's teeth--all of that faded away as Paul stared back at him. Evan found himself inside a strange bubble that blocked all outside stimuli. He had never experienced a connection this intense before, especially with an initial look, and even though it terrified him in a thrillingly sexual way, he didn't dare pull his gaze away from Paul's for fear of breaking the timeless moment between them.
"Evan?" The sound of Alden's voice pierced the bubble.
Evan blinked, shattering the spell and allowing the sounds of the party to again wash over him. Paul blinked and smiled, showing a narrow gap between his front teeth that Evan suddenly wanted to feel beneath his tongue. He tried to gauge if Paul had experienced the same sensation, but then Alden said his name again, and Evan snapped his gaze from Paul's to stare blankly at his friend a moment. "Sorry?"
"I said," Alden replied slowly, "why don't you show Paul where the bar is in the living room. And while you're at it, be a dear and make me another drink, will you? You're so good at it."
"Oh, yeah," Evan said and shot an embarrassed glance toward Paul as heat flushed his cheeks. "Sure. Come on, Paul. The bar's in here."
"Good to see you again, Paul," Alden called after them.
"Good to see you, Alden." The timbre of Paul's voice rattled down Evan's spine.
"So, Evan," Paul said from behind him, "have you known John and Alden very long?"
Evan nodded, walking up to the bar in the sitting room that was miraculously empty of people, and turned to face him. Paul's stare was intense, his expression calm and searching, blue eyes locking on Evan's face like heat-seeking missiles and seeming to draw every desire to the surface of his skin. Evan could only manage to hold Paul's gaze a moment at a time before he had to force himself to look away.
"I, um, I have known them a long time," Evan stammered. "I met Alden in college."
"You went to college together?" Paul frowned. "You don't seem as old as Alden."
Evan laughed--a little too loud, he could tell--but he seemed to be having trouble controlling the volume of his voice. He cleared his throat and nodded as he mixed Alden's favorite drink: an old-fashioned. "Yes, you're right. He's older than I am, but he was going back to school to finish his degree. We became friends about seven years ago, two years before he met John."
"Oh, yeah?" Paul leaned against the bar, and Evan almost groaned aloud at the size of Paul's hand. A flash of fantasy seared his imagination: Paul's hand around his cock, stroking slowly as Paul's tongue slipped into Evan's mouth. He could imagine running his own tongue along the edge of Paul's teeth, feeling the small gap between the two in front as his orgasm climbed steadily up from his balls.
"What're you making?" Paul asked, interrupting his thoughts.
"Pardon?" Evan looked down to where he crushed sugar in the bottom of the glass. "Oh, this is an old-fashioned. It's Alden's signature drink."
"Looks pretty complicated," Paul said.
"Yep, just like Alden." Evan added bitters, whiskey, and a lemon twist, then held it up and waved a hand around the glass. "Ta-da. The old-fashioned."
"Very nice." Paul's smile revealed two dimples that made Evan catch his breath. "Can you handle a whiskey sour?"
Evan made an "oh please" face and turned back to the bar. As he mixed Paul's drink, he asked, "So, you work with John?"
"That's right. I'm his assistant editor at the station. I just started there a few months ago."
Evan nodded down at the bar top, his mind placing Paul at KBIT, the news station where John worked as a sports editor. In his mind, Evan could see Paul sitting in a dark editing bay, blue-eyed gaze locked on the small monitors in front of him as he tried to find the perfect clip of a football or hockey game. His big hands would press buttons and turn knobs as he chewed on the straw from his drink at lunch.
"Is John a merciless boss?" Evan asked, glancing up with a smile.
Paul shrugged and grinned. "No, not merciless. He knows what he wants, just not always how to ask for it."
Evan stopped in his drink preparation and gave Paul an assessing look.
"What?" Paul blushed. "Was that too mean?" He leaned in closer and whispered, "I sometimes forget to use my mental filter."
Evan breathed in his scent. It wasn't a cologne, but something masculine and clean. Then he blinked and looked away. "Sorry, I... No, it wasn't mean at all. It was actually a very astute description of John. Most people just see his bluster."
He glanced at Paul, and their eyes locked again. Evan felt the same vertigo he had experienced in the kitchen addle his brain, the party sounds fading away as if he and Paul were the only occupants of Alden's large, lakefront home.
"The numbers are coming in!" someone shouted from the other room, snapping him out of his trance.
Evan took a breath and dropped his gaze, his system flooded with adrenaline and testosterone. He had never experienced anything like this before and had no idea how to deal with it. When he met Paul's gaze, it was like a magnet grabbing steel, and he could not look away. What the hell was this about?
A shout of surprise that sounded like it came from John in the upper level of the house roused Evan from his internal musing, and he grabbed both drinks. Holding up the chilled glasses, he flashed Paul his brightest smile and said in a singsong voice, "And that, class, is how you make an old-fashioned and a whiskey sour. Questions?"
Paul chuckled and reached out for his drink, but before he could take it, Evan heard a sound from behind him followed by shouts of alarm. It was a familiar, galloping sound, and a knot of anxiety tightened inside him as he realized what it meant. He tried to will his legs to move, but he wasn't fast enough, and before he could set the drinks on the bar or press himself against the wall, a heavy, solid body struck him from behind, furry legs clamping around his waist and driving him to the floor. As he collapsed beneath his attacker, Evan saw the contents of both drinks fly from their glasses as if in slow motion, and watched helplessly as the sticky, sugary bronze of the old-fashioned coated Paul's chest and the concoction of sour mix and whiskey splashed across Paul's crotch.
Then he was on the floor, the empty glasses rolling away across the cream carpet as the large, furry form started humping him from behind. He knew it was Bandit, of course--Alden and John's Great Dane that only humped Evan and did so every chance he got. Evan tried to break the dog's grip around his waist, but the animal was strong, and he could not squirm away as Bandit humped him fast and rough.
People streamed into the room, drawn by the commotion, and laughter soon followed. Evan's cheeks grew hot in embarrassment, and his forehead burned where it scraped across the carpet from the force of Bandit's motions. He heard Alden enter the room, scold Bandit, and shout to John for help. Evan's hips lifted and fell as Alden tugged repeatedly on the dog's collar, trying in vain to dislodge the Dane. The crowd in the room laughed louder, none of them offering to help, and Evan's forehead scraped harder across the carpet.
Finally Evan felt the dog's grip on his hips loosen, and he crawled away. He got to his feet and turned, attempting a dignified stance despite the situation. The crowd grew quiet, most of them holding a hand over their smiles, some with eyes watery from the force of their laughter. The man Evan had been talking with in the other room--the man with the very white teeth--Bill, if he remembered correctly, knelt near the fallen glasses, one hand hooked alongside Alden's through Bandit's collar. The dog coughed and gagged from the force of Alden and Bill's struggles, tongue hanging out and brown eyes gazing up at Evan with unabashed glee. Paul was nowhere in sight, and Evan felt an odd mix of relief and disappointment.
"Are you all right?" Bill asked, genuine concern on his face.
"Well," Evan said with a huff as he smoothed out his clothes, "that wasn't any worse than my junior prom." The room exploded in laughter and, smiling as brightly as possible, he nodded to the group and turned for the stairs, meeting John in the hallway on the way.
"Evs! We won!" John exclaimed and grabbed him in a hug that forced all the breath from his lungs.
"What?" Evan's mind was focused only on the embarrassment he had just endured and unable to remember why he had even come to their house in the first place. "Who won?"
John pulled back and frowned at him. "We won. All of us. They just announced that the gay-marriage bill passed. We actually won!" John squinted at him. "What happened to your forehead?"
Evan took a breath as his memory came back. The gay-marriage bill had been on the Michigan ballot before and lost, but this time the gay organizations had funneled truckloads of money into supporting the bill, and it had apparently paid off. He gave John a small smile and patted him on the shoulder. "That is great news. Excuse me just a moment, won't you?"
He took the stairs two at a time, cringing as he heard someone say to John, "Damn, after all that, I'm surprised he can take the stairs that fast."
Evan reached the top of the stairs and walked directly into the master bedroom. He moved through the open space, sparing just a glance at the king-size bed, overstuffed furniture near the fireplace, and French doors that opened to a small balcony looking out over the lake. He grabbed the knob of the bathroom door and pushed it open, trying to hold back frustrated, embarrassed tears until he could hide for just a moment, out of sight of the partygoers, in the safety and solitude of the master bathroom. No one ever used Alden and John's master bathroom.
"What the hell?"
The deep voice made Evan jump, and he turned wide, startled, tear-filled eyes to find Paul standing by the sink. The man had stripped down to his underwear and draped his pants and shirt on the counter by the sink. He clutched a washcloth in one large hand that hovered over the stains left by the drinks Evan had spilled on him.
"Oh shit." Evan gasped and looked away, but not before noticing the neatly trimmed blond hair that covered Paul's chest and stomach, the impressive ridgeline of his abs, and the rounded bulge in his crisp, white briefs. Evan stepped out of the bathroom, pulling the door closed, then leaned his forehead against it, wincing at the sting from his carpet burn.
After a moment, Evan cleared his throat. "Paul, I am so sorry."
"Ever hear of knocking?" Paul's agitated voice seemed to stab through the door and directly into Evan's chest.
"I'm sorry, I really am," Evan said, trying not to sound as if he were pleading. "I didn't know where you went, and no one ever uses the master bathroom at these parties."
"Which is exactly why I came in here," Paul said. "Look, just leave me alone, okay? I'm trying to get these stains out, and then I just want to go home."
Evan nodded to himself and turned to move away from the door, then leaned back in to say, "Um, sorry. Me again. Don't know if you heard, but the gay-marriage bill passed." Silence greeted this statement, and Evan cleared his throat. "Okay, just thought you'd find that to be a little ray of good news among the ruins of the evening. Again, I'm very, very sorry."
With his heart feeling as though it had dropped to the bottom of his stomach, Evan walked out of the master bedroom and down the hall to the guest bathroom, where he locked the door behind him. He stood for a moment at the sink, gripping the edge of the smooth granite counter, eyes closed while he caught his breath. When he was ready, he looked up at his reflection and gasped. An angry red rash of carpet burn seared the smooth, pale skin of his forehead. His thinning brown hair stood up in short, rebellious spikes, and his watery brown eyes were shadowed with sad embarrassment.
"Woo-hoo," he said quietly as a single tear spilled down his cheek. "We won."