Terrence was surprised and grateful when he got the call saying he had been hired as the supervisor for the San Merino Animal Library. The animal library allowed people to check out pets for a time period; either for them to try their hands at caring for a pet or just to keep them company without a long-term commitment. And if they found they liked the experience, they could pay a small fee, and keep the pets permanently. This was a quasi-government funded project and didn’t pay all that well, but Brad was grateful nonetheless. Working with animals suited him just fine. They were warm and cuddly and did not talk, and they never ever betrayed you.
He didn't think his interview with Joe Banks had gone too well. Joe had asked very direct questions in a way which made him nervous, and that in turn had made him sound unsure and incompetent. Or so he thought.
Well, the man must have thought different, Terrence thought to himself, if he had agreed to take him on after all. Deep down, Terrence was relieved. After returning from San Francisco, he had not wanted to go back to stay with his family. Things were different between them even though they had been very understanding and supportive. His affair with Robert Curtin had been disastrous. How could he have been so blind? Everyone had told him Robert was wrong for him. His dad had been the most candid in his opinion. That man is too worldly for you, my son. It will lead to no good, you mark my words. He is playing a different game, one that you will never understand.
Terrence cringed every time he remembered those words. Was he the only one who had been blind? Was his own judgment that bad? Even his sister and brother had not approved of Robert, yet he had willingly given him two years of his life. And all for what?
The Animal Library provided Terrence with a safe haven. He threw himself into the job. Without realizing it, he was becoming more and more withdrawn from the rest of the world, preferring to read and create toys with his own hands in his free time. His job required him to stay at the Library long hours and sometimes over the weekends as well. He didn’t really mind. It gave him a good reason to not move back with his parents. He still visited them often but the conversation was guarded, all mention of Robert carefully avoided by all parties. It drove a wedge between the siblings too as they had been used to discuss everything and anything that affected their lives. It wasn't a conscious thought but Terrence was becoming aware that Robert had managed to ruin his life in more ways than one. Never again, he thought to himself. Never again will I be so stupid to let someone into my life. This cost too much!
Karl walked into the San Merino Animal Library and was at once impressed with how clean and orderly everything appeared. There were pictures on the walls of various animals, and towards the back of the building he could see fish tanks and bird stands. Obviously this business was well organized.
Karl saw a young man behind the counter and headed for him. "Hello,” Karl greeted.
Terrence looked up from the book he was reading and smiled at the man standing in front of him. “Hey there, how may I help you?”
Karl liked what he saw. Sandy blonde hair, blue-green eyes, wide open smile. “Hi,” Karl said again. “I'm interested in getting a cat," he said with a smile, “one that is somewhat independent as I am at home most of the time, but not all the time. Which ones would you suggest? Oh yes, and what are your rates?"
Terrence put a bookmark on his page, closed the book, and got up. “We currently have only two cats in-house. Come take a look; they’re back here. Both of them are males that have been fixed. One is tan, with gold stripes; the other is black with a white star on his forehead and white paws.” He led the way through a glass door and took Karl to a row of cages.
Karl looked at the cats, and asked if it was ok for him to hold the black and white one. As soon as he held it he knew it was the one for him. It had looked him questioningly, and then curled up in his arms as though Karl had been his owner forever. Karl laughed and said, "Well, it looks like this is the one. What do I have to sign to take Mr. Midnight Star here home with me?"
“OK, here you go, and how would you like to pay for it, Mr ...?” Terrence looked over at Karl questioningly.
"My name is Karl Whittier, but please, call me Karl."
"I’m Terrence,” Terrence said with a shy smile. He quickly wrote out the receipt. “Just give me a call if you have any trouble, Karl. Or if you wish to extend beyond one week. Here is our card with our telephone numbers. If I am not on duty, then someone else will be here and should be able to assist.”
"Thanks, I appreciate the information." Just then his cell phone rang. With an apologetic glance at Terrance he answered it. "Karl here. Yes, Mr. Hewitt I can bring the books by tomorrow. Two o'clock? Perfect. Goodbye, see you then." As he closed the phone he looked at Terrence and said, "Sorry about that, but I'd been expecting the call. I collect and restore old books and the two of us have been playing phone tag for the last two days. And," he laughed, "Mr. Hewitt wanted his books back."
"So you collect old books and repair them too? That’s an unusual occupation. How did you get into it?" Terrence wondered what the hell was wrong with him. He was almost babbling, in an attempt to keep Karl talking.
"Well," Karl said, blushing slightly, "I always was a reader and always kept all my books, and when needed I fixed them. You might say I just grew into the job as I grew up." He laughed and added, "I must admit though, that repairing books is not the most lucrative of jobs, but it gives me a lot of satisfaction."
Terrence nodded his head, thinking all the time what a great voice Karl had.
A month later, Karl came by the Library and dropped off Midnight Star. His one week had extended to four, and he would have continued if not for the fact that he was going away for a few days to a book collector’s convention. In the last four weeks, he had made a habit of coming in weekly to pay the week’s fees, and he usually hung around a bit, looking at the other animals, and having a chat with Terrence.
Having said goodbye to the cat, Karl hesitated a moment before asking, "Say Terrence, I am about to go for a bite of food. Would you like to join me? You do get time for lunch, right?"
The tone was casual but Terrence instantly stiffened. He hesitated, a faint flush creeping into his cheeks. To say he was indifferent to Karl would be untrue; he had felt attracted to him right from the beginning, despite his vow not to get involved. A part of him was thrilled at the invitation. But he hadn’t dated since splitting up from Robert, and he wasn’t sure what this was, so his first reaction was to say no.
Seeing Terrence's reaction Karl hastily changed course. “I skipped breakfast,” he said casually, “and my stomach is actually growling. Can’t you hear it?”
Terrence relaxed; the danger seemed to be over. He had grown accustomed to Karl, and they got on well enough together. In fact, he felt very comfortable with him, but only so long as there was a counter between them. Having a meal together was a definitive step forward.
"Well, I do get an hour for lunch,” Terrence said, thinking secretly to himself that the man was just so damn cute. Trying to buy time, he tried to laugh it off. “But I don’t know if that is a good idea ...”
Karl raised his eyebrows and said jokingly, “It’s not a good idea to eat lunch?”
Terrence turned bright red and said with a short laugh, “No, I just wondered if it’s ok for us to have lunch with the customers ...”
“Aw, come on; is that in your handbook or policy? No? I didn’t think so. Of course it’s not. I can’t imagine why two friends can’t go buy a burger and eat it together!”
Terrence heaved a sigh of relief, and smiled back at Karl, finding his enthusiasm infectious. “Oh, I guess you’re right. Yeah, I do have to eat and it is lunch actually. Um, give me a minute, I need to get my jacket from the back."
They grabbed a couple of cheeseburgers and headed to the nearby park to eat. Conversation once again flowed easily, with hardly any awkward moments or uncomfortable silences. Karl somehow made Terrence feel relaxed, unthreatened. It was a lovely day and they both leaned back to let the sun warm their faces.
After a while, Terrence glanced at his watch and saw regretfully that his hour was almost up. As they got up to leave, Terrence suddenly asked in a conspiratorial whisper, "Hey, see those guys over there?” He nodded towards a group of youths, probably in their early twenties, who were similarly soaking up the sun. “They’ve been looking over at us ... do you think they are up to anything?"
Karl cast a casual glance back and grinned. "No, I don't think so. They’re just a bunch of kids!”
Terrence was unconvinced. “They’ve been staring at us.”
Karl looked again and caught one of the boy’s eyes. “Have they? Perhaps they are checking you out?” he said lightly, watching Terrence’s expression.
“What?” Terrence flushed.
Karl quirked an eyebrow and decided to take the plunge. “Do you want me to go over and ask them? I may be gay but I can certainly hold my own against them if I have to.”
Terrence's eyes widened. "Really?”
“You doubt me?” Karl flexed his arms, showing off his muscles.
Terrence shook his head, laughing at Karl’s antics. “No, no, I mean, you are gay?"
"Yes, sorry, I thought you knew. I hope that won't cause a problem with us being friends."
Terrence's head dipped in embarrassment. "No ... well, actually...."
"Um ... I should tell you ... I am gay too!"
Karl tried not to look too smug. He had hoped to get confirmation of his suspicion, and he just did. "Really!" After a few seconds Karl asked, "Ummm, so are you seeing anyone right now?"
Terrence took a deep breath and slowly expelled. "No," he said with some difficulty. Then he made himself look up and into Karl's eyes. "And you? Anyone special in your life?"
"Well, there is this guy I just met whom I would like to ask out." He rushed on before Terrence could respond, "Terrence, would you like to go to dinner with me Wednesday night?”
Terrence flushed hotly, suddenly shy. His immediate reaction was again to reject the invite; all the warning bells were going off. It didn't help that he liked Karl and wanted to see more of him too. But Terrence had told himself he wasn’t going to get involved with anyone, at least not for the moment.
"Come on Terrence, I won't bite, promise!" Karl softly teased.
Terrence was so tempted but he regretfully shook his head. "Um ... thanks for asking, but I ... can't.” He thought of a way to let Karl down easily. “It's just that this entire week we are preparing for a state health and hygiene audit on the premises and we all may have to work late." At least he didn't have to lie! They were having the audits and he had been asked by his supervisor to put in extra hours.
Karl was disappointed. A whole week? He wasn't sure he wanted to wait a whole week before he could take Terrence out. Sternly suppressing his impatience, he said lightly, "Its work, I understand. So, how about next week then? After I get back from that convention I told you about."
Well, this guy was persistent. It would look so unfriendly if he said no, besides it was only dinner, so Terrence found himself answering hesitantly. "Well, um ... next week? Yeah, that would be nice ..."
Terrence sighed to himself, though he was not sure it was with relief, or panic.
"Well, I need to be getting back. I'll call you soon, to fix up our date, ok?" Karl added, with a twinkle in his eye, looking forward to the following week.
Karl took a deep breath and picked up the phone. He'd memorized the phone number of the Library from the first week, now all he had to do was call Terrence. Resolutely he dialled, hoping that Terrence would be the one to pick up.
"Hello, Animal Library. This is Terrence."
"Terrence? Hi, this is Karl Whittier."
Terrence's heart did a little leap and he firmly suppressed it. "Oh.... Hi Karl, nice to hear from you. How was the convention?"
"Good, I’ll tell you all about it when we meet ... so are we still on for tomorrow night?"
Yay! He had been waiting for the call despite himself. A grin split Terrence’s face. A slight pause, then "Ummm...Yes, I'm free."
"I was thinking of Joe's Steaks? Do you know where it is?"
Terrence was glad Karl couldn't see him as his grin widened and split his face. "Well, uh, yes, it’s not too far from my place actually."
"Great! So where’s your place? Ok if I pick you up at six?"
"Well....I um...." The brakes came on again and Karl mentally kicked himself. He sensed Terrence's hesitation and swiftly changed tactics. "Or if you prefer, we could meet there."
"Yes, that would be easier. Thanks."
"Ok, I'm looking forward to it. See you tomorrow."
"Ok, goodbye." As Terrence hung up the phone, he wondered what had he got himself into.
The First Date
"Terrence I am so glad you made it. I thought there had been an emergency." Karl said as Terrence walked up. He had been waiting for Terrence outside the restaurant, wanting to escort him in when Terrence arrived.
Terrence looked surprised. "Emergency?"
"Yes, we were to meet at six?"
Terrence stared, a slight flush on his cheeks. "Not s..seven? Oh God!"
Karl smiled and said, "That's ok. As long as you came!"
"I am so sorry .... "
"It's ok. Really! Lets go in and have dinner," Karl said as he opened the restaurant door.
As they ate Terrence looked relaxed and happy; he'd enjoyed himself much more than he'd anticipated, and he had not thought of Robert even once the entire night.
"Do you want dessert?" Karl asked, as dinner drew to a close. "I think I'd like a piece of apple pie."
Terrence shook his head, saying "Oh no, I don't think I can manage that."
"Well, would you like half of mine? I don't mind sharing with you."
Terrence liked the sound of that. Sharing a dessert was certainly on! "Oh ... well .... um ...."
"Say yes, please."
Terrence gave a sudden grin; his eyes alight with a warm glow. "Well, if you insist," it felt so good to be talking to someone charming and witty after such a long time. He must sound like a complete idiot to Karl. "I er ... haven't dated in a while ..." Terrence blurted out.
"Me either. This has been a great evening." As the waiter laid the bill on the table, Karl picked it up, glanced at it, and took out his wallet.
"Are you seeing anyone special?" Terrence asked on impulse, and then shook his head. "I'm sorry, shouldn't be prying. Didn't mean to."
"No, not until tonight."
Another blush spread over Terrence's face at the implication. Hiding his embarrassment, he said quickly, "Oh, let me know what's my share."
"No, really. I invited you, and I'll pay."
Terrence raised his eyebrows but capitulated. "Perhaps next time round then?"
"That sounds good; I would love for there to be a next time." Karl paused, and then asked, "Terrence, do you have a cell phone?"
"Sure ... um, let me give it to you, and yours?" Numbers were speedily exchanged.
Feeling pleased with themselves, they exited the restaurant. On impulse, Terrence turned to Karl, and said. "Hey, so if I am to return the favour, how about this weekend ...? Or maybe that's too soon?"
"That sounds great. When and where?"
"How about a hike up to Merino Point? There is a nice little cafe on the top, that serves sandwiches, home made pies and coffee; we could have lunch there. I try to hike there every weekend ... would be great if you could join me."
"Great. I haven't hiked in a while, though. Fair warning, I may hold you back," Karl added with a laugh.
"I don't think so," Terrence cast a rather mischievous glance up and down Karl's form.
Karl secretly enjoyed that look. "Where do you want to meet?"
Terrence named a meeting spot, and after agreeing on the time, they headed to their cars.
They met as arranged Saturday; they hiked and had a lovely lunch at the cafe in a secluded spot in the garden. By the time they reached lower ground, their fingers were casually brushing against one another and both of them were feeling decidedly heady.
By mutual consent they agreed to meet mid-week, and within a month they were more or less including one another in their plans. So far, they confined their dates to movies, meals, walks in the park and other activities that did not lead to spending significant time in either of their homes. Karl usually picked up Terrence, who would be ready and waiting so that Karl hardly ever had to get out of the car to fetch him. When he dropped Terrence off, he had waited a few times to be invited in but it never happened.
What Karl thought of that, Terrence didn’t know but it was becoming harder and harder to avoid this issue. Karl obviously wanted much more.
Their first kiss took place a week after the hike. They were in Karl’s car in the parking lot, and it was just after a movie. Karl started the engine and Terrence had just buckled his safety belt when he looked up and Karl’s face was right in front of him. Karl leaned forward and placed his lips gently on Terrence’s. It was a sweet kiss, nothing more than two sets of lips lightly touching. Before Terrence could react, either positively or otherwise, Karl had pulled back.
“Care to grab a bite before I drop you off?” Karl said as if nothing had happened.
“Um, I’m not really hungry. Are you?” Terrence said as he tried to stop his heart from racing.
“Not really. How about coming back to my place? It’s Saturday and you don’t have to work tomorrow, do you? It’s not even ten yet.”
Karl watched Terrence struggle and waited. In the end, Terrence capitulated. “OK,” he said, his stomach churning.
Karl lived in one of those open lofts – modern concept living – with long windows, nice view, huge bed partially hidden by drapes, which Terrence tried very hard to ignore. Karl pushed him towards the sofa, offering to get him a drink.
“OK,” Terrence said, sinking into the sofa with relish. The white leather was gorgeous.
He smiled at Karl when he came over with a glass of juice and he unconsciously moved to make space when Karl made to sit next to him. Karl began to tell him some story and Terrence laughed, relaxed. Afterwards, he could never recall how it happened but one minute he was laughing at Karl’s anecdote, the next he found himself in Karl’s embrace and they were kissing.
It started out as a playful nip on the lips, followed by a longer, deeper kiss, and finally Karl was pushing Terrence’s mouth open and pushing his own tongue in. To Karl’s surprise, Terrence did not protest. In fact, he kissed back rather fiercely. Just when it looked like things were getting heated up, Terrence pulled away. He was panting slightly and he caught Karl’s hand as it wandered to his thigh.
“Karl, stop!” He said softly, almost apologetically. “Stop please.”
Karl leaned back with a sigh. He watched Terrence silently.
Feeling that some kind of explanation was required, Terrence said, “I am sorry. It’s not that I don’t want ... it was ... I just ...”
Karl tried to ease the uncomfortable situation. His voice was light and casual, maybe a little cool even. “It’s ok. “
“NO!” Terrence cried, hating that look in Karl’s eyes and the tone he used. “It’s not OK, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I am sure this is a cliché you loathe but you are not the problem. It’s me. But I don’t know how else to say it.”“Say ... what?”
“Karl, you know I was with someone for two years in New York. And a lot of bad things happened between Robert and me. He was an ass and I was a fool, I ignored my family and friends, just went headlong in, and I got – badly burnt. He was a ...”
"Hey, I'm so sorry, I didn't realize!"
“So that is why ... I ... My God! I sound like a wimp, don’t I?”
"NO! You don't sound like a wimp," Karl said emphatically. "You sound like a person who's had a very bad experience in the past, and you're hesitant about starting a new relationship. I understand, truly. But, I do want us to be together and I will go as fast or slow as you need. "
Terrence nodded. “I do want to go on seeing you, if that is ok with you?” Terrence looked at Karl from below his eyelashes, relieved now that they were getting somewhere.
Karl gently took Terrence's chin in his hand and raised his head so that he looked him in the eye. "Of course it's ok with me and I'll try to not rush you. But, if I end up doing so, just let me know. You are what's important to me and I'll go as fast or as slow as you want." Karl repeated firmly.
Six months later, they were sitting on the couch in Karl’s loft one evening when Karl casually turned to Terrence and began, "I've been thinking. You know how I feel about you. What I really want, more than anything, is for you to move in with me."
Terrence had secretly considered that possibility too; how could he not, when they had had such a great time together the last few months? The affair with Robert had been long buried, together with all the hurtful memories. Once or twice though, Terrence had compared Karl with Robert, and wondered how he could have ever considered himself in love with Robert. Well, thank God he had come to his senses.
Karl took Terrence's hesitation and silence as doubt, and he studied Terrence with anxious eyes. "I wouldn't ask if I wasn't serious about you and me being together."
Terrence realized with a pang how very patient and understanding he had been. “Honey, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it to look like I doubted you or anything. God, you’ve made me so happy the last few months.”
“Don’t tell me Robert is still haunting you! You haven’t thought about him in weeks! I know you haven’t. You get that haunted look when you do, and I haven’t seen that look lately.”
Terrence smiled. “You’re right – I’ve let go of all that crap Robert put me through.” Terrence was relieved they could talk about Robert so openly. “To tell you the truth, I have been thinking of moving in together too. But what if ...?” he trailed off.
Before he could finish his sentence Karl said, "Honey, there are no guarantees that a relationship will work. All I can tell you is that I know that I want us to be together permanently, and I will do my best to make it work. I'm also sure that you want it to work. And I think that's all that is needed."
Terrence broke into a smile and moved closer to Karl's side. He felt Karl' arms close around him and he sighed with contentment. "You really think it's a good idea?"
"I think it's a GREAT idea; I really want us to be together all the time."
They came together and kissed for a while. When they surfaced for air, all doubt was removed from Terrence’s mind.
Karl read Terrence’s body language easily. “So it’s settled! How much time do you need to give up your lease, pack up?”
They spent a few pleasurable minutes making plans and discussing timelines. Then Karl ruffled Terrence’s hair and asked, with an eyebrow raised. “You do realize I am a Top, right?"
Terrence glanced at Karl, a little shyly. "Top? I know that you always top."
Karl replied with a wink. "I meant more than just the position. Top has other meanings in this context."
"What other meaning?"
"Well, when a major decision has to be made on something, I would make the decision for us, but only after getting your input. Some things would go your way, some mine. And, maybe after discussing it, we might come up with a totally different solution."
Terrence nodded his head. He didn't have a problem with that. Karl had more or less been in the lead since they had become serious in their relationship and so far he had been fair.
Karl continued his explanation of Top. "I would never just decide without getting your input!"
Terrence shrugged. "I'm ok with that, Karl. I trust you to be fair."
Karl took a breath before continuing. "One more thing I need to clarify. There are other expectations I have in our relationship, such as rules and an agreement on a certain mode of behaviour for both of us. And I need you to understand that as your Top, I would have the right to punish you if you break those rules, or lied to me, or made rash decisions without consulting with me first. Especially if those decisions involve endangering your well being."
Terrence's mouth opened, and then shut without saying anything. He was having a hard time wrapping his head around this whole new concept of Topping.
Karl gave him a minute to digest his words before saying gently. "When we do live together, that would be how I see us running our lives. Trust would be a major element in how this works. Do you think you'd be able to accept that lifestyle?"
Terrence looked a little panicky but he did not object, which Karl took as a positive sign. Terrence said softly, "I do trust you, Karl. It's just that I don’t have a very clear idea how this works? I have so many questions ..."
Karl hugged Terrence closer and kissed the top of his head. "Don't worry; we have all the time in the world to work out the details; don't be nervous about the rules, we will work on them together. And questions are good.”
Questions ... right now, the dozen or so were chasing themselves in Terrence’s head, and some of them had no clear shape or form.
“All I ask is your trust in me, and for you to know that I love you very much and I will never do anything to harm you." Karl continued.
Did he trust Karl?
A hundred memories flashed through Terrence’s mind, all clearly saying one thing. Karl cared for him. Karl always looked out for him, and kept him safe. Karl was firm when he was undecided. Karl was steadfast when he wavered. And Karl always put his wellbeing first.
Suddenly Terrence’s mind cleared; he did trust Karl and he could not imagine life without him. So whatever it was that Karl wanted, he would to the best of his ability try to provide. The questions could come later. And they would work it out. Karl would help him work it out.
With that, Terrence committed whole-heartedly to the relationship.