Ahhh, tension, the spice of life

Sexual tension? Romantic tension? Who’s the odd man out here tension? Are you a solo-city saver tension? Why is Tyler a control freak tension?

A little of this, a little of that, stay tuned for more….

~*~

“Honey, this is Asher. Asher, this is our friend Brandon, and this is Malik,” Tyler says brightly.

“Hey,” Malik says. His smile seems genuine and his handshake natural. He doesn’t do that extra-strong handshake guys sometimes do. Asher hates it when guys do that. Posturing annoys him.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Asher says and means it. He shakes Brandon’s hand and remembers that this is Tyler’s other roommate. He doesn’t talk about him much, other than to complain about the mess he leaves behind in the apartment. Sometimes Asher has a degree of sympathy for Malik and Brandon. He doesn’t think of himself as a terribly messy person, but he doesn’t have Tyler’s constant need to put things in order.

“So what brings you out tonight?” Asher asks. Apparently everything he says tonight is going to be clumsy.

“Just wanted to see what the fuss is about,” Malik says. He tugs on Tyler’s hand to get him to sit. Tyler darts his eyes over at Asher to be sure it’s okay.

“I’d give you a tour, but this is pretty much it,” Asher offers. Luckily they seem to get that he’s joking. Sometimes people don’t.

“You picked a great time,” Tyler says. “The rush is over, finally.”

“Why don’t you take your break now,” Asher offers. Technically Tyler should be off, but he knows Tyler won’t leave without helping with the closing work the other servers have to do.

“Take one with us,” Tyler says. Asher can’t read what’s in his eyes, but he can read the awkwardness that springs up between everyone when he does.

“Yeah, take a load off,” Malik says. Asher glances back at Claudia, who is cleaning the bar rail. She catches his eye and nods, signaling that he should hang out there. He drags a couple of chairs from a nearby table and offers one to Tyler first. Tyler pulls it closer to Malik.

“Do you guys want another drink?” Asher asks before he sits.

“Tyler?”

“I’m on the clock, boss,” Tyler says. Asher smiles, then gestures Claudia over.

“I’ve officially clocked you out for a bit,” he says.

“Do I get to un-clock you so you can drink?” Tyler says, then makes a face. “That sounded dirtier than I meant it to.” Asher laughs but then straightens out to address the table so it doesn’t seem as if he and Tyler are in their own world.

“No, someone has to steer this ship,” he says.

“And of course it can only be you,” Tyler teases.

“You’re one to talk. Tyler has control issues.” Asher points out.

“Oh man, tell us about it,” Brandon says while Malik nudges Tyler playfully with his shoulder. Tyler makes an indignant huffy noise that’s downright adorable. Asher bites the inside of his cheek to keep his smile disguised.

When Claudia comes, they all order drinks—except Asher who won’t be swayed so long as the restaurant is open—and begin picking their way through awkward conversation. Asher worries that he knows too much: about Tyler, about Malik, about their relationship through guesswork and his tendency to observe Tyler and puzzle him out. He’s hyper-aware that Malik has been told more about him than Asher is comfortable with. Asher is intensely protective of his own life, of the precarious balancing act between knowing too much and trying not to be too familiar with Tyler, that he’s trying to execute. Malik and Brandon are into their third beers, and Tyler his second drink, before things thaw enough for smoother conversation. Brandon’s drawn Tyler into a side conversation and Malik has turned his full attention to Asher.

“I’ve been wondering, man,” Malik says. He runs one finger over the menu, tracing the scripted font at the top. “Why Idlewild?”

“Why… the bar?” Asher asks.

“Well, that too, but no, the name.”

“Nothing special, honestly,” Asher says. “Before we knew this was really going to happen, we used to sit around dreaming things up.”

“You and your husband?”

“John, yeah.” Asher drags his finger through the puddled condensation on the tabletop, feathers it out into little designs. “You know, pipe dream-type things. What it would look like, colors. A lot of times it was just goofing off, making up the ugliest color schemes and worst menu items we could. Idlewild was a name that came up one night. Later, when this actually happened,” he says as he gestures around them, “I remembered it.”

What Asher doesn’t tell him is the part that’s closer to his heart. They’d been in bed, late at night. The windows were open with a box fan propped in one of them, which couldn’t dispel the August humidity. Every time they stopped laughing, John would throw out something else, setting off another round of giggles. Asher’s not sure why, of all the names John had tossed out over the years, Idlewild had stayed with him. But he remembers laughing until he cried that night, and kissing John’s neck where it was damp with sweat, but refusing to cuddle because it was so damn hot.

“It’s a good name for a bar,” Malik says. Asher wants to thank him, only Malik’s voice isn’t quite genuine. Or maybe it is, but there’s also an edge. Still Asher errs on the side of manners.

“Thanks.”

“Did you always want to run a restaurant?” Malik’s gaze is unwavering.

Asher’s a little surprised by the question; he and Tyler have talked about this a lot.

“No, not at all. John kind of talked me into it. The idea of doing it one day. So when the opportunity arose, it was my dream, too, by then.”

“And you chose Detroit.” There’s definitely an edge to Malik’s tone now, even if his body language and words and face seem perfectly fine. It’s not aggression. Asher can’t put a finger on what it is. He wants to ask Malik what answers he’s really searching for.

“Feel free to ignore him,” Tyler butts in. Asher wasn’t aware that he’d been listening. “He’s fishing to find out if you think you’re singlehandedly going to save the city with one bar.” Tyler smiles, bright and wide, in Malik’s direction, though Asher can clearly see that he has a hand on Malik’s knee, probably trying to squeeze it so he’ll stop talking.

“Well, I wouldn’t have put it like that,” Malik says. Brandon chuckles and Tyler rolls his eyes.

How would you? Asher wants to ask; his hackles are up. He can’t tell if it’s because he wants to defend their choices or because there’s something about Malik that seems so at odds with the Tyler he knows. Putting them together creates an unsettling dissonance.

“No solo city-saving here,” Asher says, forcing himself to speak lightly.

“I’m sorry, man,” Malik says, and this time his smile is more sincere. “Tyler knows me. I can be an ass about some things. I have a hard time sometimes, with all these folks coming from all over the place, acting as if this here’s empty land waiting for someone to rescue. Like some of us haven’t been here all along doing our best.”

Asher remembers Tyler telling him about Malik growing up in Delray; that, like Tyler, he’s worked hard to get himself through school.

“We never thought we were saving anything,” Asher explains. He doesn’t want to admit it, but Malik’s words give him pause. He doesn’t think that’s what he and John intended or felt, but it’s hard to articulate the difference between intention and action. “A lot of people believe in this city. Have believed. I wanted to be a part of that. Maybe that sounds the same, but it’s not.” He wishes he could find the right words to explain; he never could lay them out plainly for John in a way that made sense. He’s not sure he can for a boy who sees Asher as an interloper.

~*~

Don’t want to miss the scatter of breadcrumbs? I’m doing my traditional #lineaday (One line from the book every day leading up to release) on twitter, and also character excerpts on my tumblr. If breadcrumbs can be counted as appatizers, prepare for a feast….

Or…more terrible puns.

Idlewild will be available for purchase December 1st, 2016. It is currently available for pre order: if you put both the print and ebook version in your cart and order before Dec. 1st, you’ll get the eBook free using discount code IDLEWILD.

Also, if you preorder and send me proof of purchase, you will receive a personalized postcard from me and be entered to win a signed copy of the book!

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