I think I was in love, but I didn’t want to admit it yet. It just seemed irrational. How long had I ‘known’ him? Two months?
The tension in the workplace disappeared at least, and it was a relief. We met up for lunch and I could kiss him without a care of who saw. Amelia and Zack knew, so slowly everybody else would, too.
My phone was full of messages from Amelia, and by Monday she was in my office. She pulled up a chair, sat opposite me with chin resting on clasped hands, and gave me that cheeky smile.
“Tell me everything.”
I rubbed my brow.
“I’ve seen Tyler’s neck,” she continued.
He had quite a vivid love bite, which was my bad. “I’m not really comfortable talking about it like this.”
She giggled. “Well, that’s mutual. I tried asking him and he just told me to ask you.” She leant forward a little further. “Is this serious, Darren? Or are you just having fun?”
A hammer blow of a question like that was why I had wanted to keep it quiet for so long. There was this tone to her voice, and I’d had it from Zack earlier, too. It was subtle and difficult to describe, but he might as well have said, ‘tell me if Tyler breaks your heart so I can knock his teeth out’. Here Amelia was, studying me with that same faint, underlying concern.
“I think it’s serious,” I said after the pause. “I’ve been trying to take it slow.”
“Does Tyler know what slow means? How have you been handling him?”
“At first, with effort.”
She smiled again.
“He’s not that bad,” I said. I meant it. He had calmed down a lot.
I knew why they worried, though. There was still something about Tyler that could draw up my defences every time I thought I was getting comfortable. He was wild. There were little flashes of it at random times. Even if he could settle, I wasn’t sure I would feel right about putting a leash on a person like that.
Some people were meant to wander. The little wild flashes were what excited me so much, but some of that uncontrollable drive came from the fact that I wanted to claim the man. I didn’t know if he was a man who wanted to be claimed.
What did I really have to offer him? Money. Great. The chaotic and intense lifestyle of managing a company like mine. He wasn’t even gay. What if he tilted towards women in the future, wanted a family with kids?
I was going to give in eventually and give him all of me. What then? Would his crazy lust be satisfied and he’d move on to the next conquest?
I couldn’t love him yet. I couldn’t love him until he loved me. And it was so stupid because I was the one who had made the first move on him. I had started all this.
I had thought I was in love before, and been sorely wrong. And I had been in love before, and lost him. There might have been other problems in the relationship, but the raging homophobic abuse from my uncle was the last straw. To have someone be driven away from me like that had made me bitter. For a long time.
How strong Tyler’s constitution actually was, I had no idea. All I knew was that he bit back if someone barked at him. He didn’t take it. The thought of him clashing with certain members of my family made me sick to the stomach. If he could choose which side of the fence to live on, why would he choose to be gay? When he could be straight and never have to suffer the stigma and hate?
All these things could go through my head, then I would look into those warm brown eyes, and feel ashamed. Why was I, and even Zack and Amelia, thinking so badly of him?
A person who just wanted sex didn’t doze off on my sofa, his head against my chest, while we were both naked. He didn’t work so hard to see me smile and laugh. He didn’t tell me stories about his childhood and ask about mine. And he wouldn’t have gone home when I offered for him to stay the night.
He had turned me down. Of course wanting clean clothes and needing some files off his computer for the morning had been a part of it, but I had subtly offered him that sex he was wanting and he’d said no.
I wanted to stop overthinking things. Right now, I felt incredible. Every time stress built up, I had something to fall back on. Someone to hold, who would rub my shoulders and keep me going with his upbeat energy. He talked to me about anything and everything. Some of his opinions on the business were just as valuable to me as Zack’s.
For most of that week I was simply happy. I received comments on my unusually good mood. Just as well, because I was under pressure and might’ve been foul otherwise. That man I had spilt the coffee on was back. I hadn’t scared him off. We had a deal to seal and with the recent fuck-up of Marcus, I needed to land it.
He was testing the waters, and I had to go through the delicate negotiations, both holding my ground and not pushing him away. We sat talking in my office again, three days in a row. Zack was there as always, the same silent watcher who sniffed out dodgy business like a bloodhound.
He read people in a way I couldn’t. He had warned me against a deneme bonusu veren siteler deal a couple years back that could well have bankcrupted the company had I gone through with it – there was some nasty business with fraud a few months further down the line. Money fed into a mess like that just couldn’t be compensated. Somehow, Zack had taken one look at the two men that came to talk to us, and known they were bad news.
On Thursday, amidst all the buzz of that week, the meetings and pestering colleagues, I had to lock my office door to take a call.
Something cold gripped my insides when I saw the name. This number didn’t call unless it was important. I held the phone to my ear.
“Mister Sörensen,” he greeted. Crackly and gruff as always.
“Are you somewhere you can talk?”
“I’ll cut to the chase, if you don’t mind?”
“Of course.” I sat down in my chair and stared at my keyboard.
“We might have picked up a lead. I haven’t been able to get through to your uncle yet today, but I need to ask you some questions.”
I swallowed. “All right.”
“I need to know about your recent transactions and if anything unusual has happened.”
Shit. I started tapping away on my computer, bringing up the accounting information on the server that he needed. I scrolled through it. “Starting from when?”
“Everything has been smooth here,” I said. “But the sister company…”
I told him about the chunk of money Marcus had lost. He asked more questions that I couldn’t answer.
“I’m afraid I just don’t know. I had Amelia dealing with it. You’ll probably want to ask her.”
“I think I will.” He let out a throaty sigh that caught on the voicepiece of his phone and hurt my ear. “This looks like something I need to look into.”
“I had put it down to incompetence,” I said. “I didn’t think it could be sabotage.”
“Yeah, well, we have to be thorough.”
“Jackson, am I safe? Are my employees safe?”
“Of course. If there’s any inkling of danger we’ll have you out of there.” He paused. “Speaking of employees, has anything changed there recently?”
“Three new ones in the past couple of months.”
“And they’re clean?”
I felt like there was a stone in my stomach. “One of them has a mild record. Nothing serious.”
He must have heard something in my tone. “If anything unusual has happened I need to know about it. I need the details of this employee. I’ll have to look him up. Or her.”
“It’s not necessary.”
I reluctantly brought up Tyler’s details on the database. I could hear Jackson pattering on his own keyboard as he copied everything down. I didn’t feel like mentioning that he wouldn’t find a true, comprehensive report in the police’s files. We had been through this with Zack once. Never again.
“Don’t sound so damn offended,” Jackson said. “I’m not accusing you of hiring criminals. It’s procedure. Send me an email with this year’s transactions, too.”
“You need to take initiative and call me if anything suspicious happens in the next few weeks. I’m gonna have my hands full.”
“You should have told me about this money Marcus lost. Well, all right, Marcus should have told me. I think everyone in your family is the same.”
He hung up with a curt ‘bye’ and I stared at Tyler’s name on the screen again. This was a situation where I was actually more qualified than Jackson to do his job. I didn’t want to think about it, but I needed to be sure.
I called Tyler’s number. He picked up with audible background noise of the labs.
God, this was my latest pet name?
“Can you come to my office?” I said.
He chuckled. “What, you can’t wait ’til tonight?”
“Tyler. I need to talk you. It’s important.”
His tone dropped. “Okay.”
He came in not more than ten minutes later. The muscles of his jaw were tight and I gave him a gentle kiss to soothe him.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
I wandered over to my desk and he followed. “The drug trafficking,” I said, and he blinked at me in surprise.
“Are you still in contact with anyone from it?”
“No… no it’s been years.”
“You’ve severed ties to it completely?”
“Yes.” He leant both hands on the desk and frowned at me. “Erm. Why?”
I needed to tell him, I wanted to tell him, I was just trying to figure out what words to use. I wasn’t replying so he started talking again, to break that silence in his usual manner.
“I might have, like, one old Facebook friend from those times or something.”
“And how much information do you have on Facebook?”
“Not much, I hardly use it.”
I didn’t use social networking. I never put any personal details up online. I couldn’t.
He scowled at me. “What’s this grilling for? What have I done?”
“Nothing.” I tugged at the trimmed hairs on my chin. “I received a phonecall earlier and it’s something I should tell you about.”
“I’m all ears.”
I gestured for him to sit down and took my own seat. I tossed a look at the door, I don’t even know why.
“My father, he died in a crash.”
Tyler’s eyes were gentler and his head tilted slightly. “Your family doesn’t have much luck with cars, does it?”
“I suppose not. The information that isn’t publicly known, is that there were bullet holes in the car, and my father’s body. He crashed because he was shot.”
There was a pause where Tyler’s face fell completely.
“Barely a year later, my eldest cousin was killed. This one is known publicly as a murder, but as a mugging that turned deadly.”
“Which is bullshit?”
“It was a very well planned murder, not manslaughter. With two suspicious killings so close after one another and the nature of the attacks, the police decided that my family was being targeted. That my father had made some enemies. The main thing investigations turned up was that he’d had black market dealings, and whatever these were had gone sour and led to his death.”
“Black market dealings? Like what?”
“Nobody fucking knows. That’s the infuriating thing. There’s been an investigation going on for fifteen years, trying to figure out who killed my father and cousin, and why.”
Tyler stared at me. If his jaw was any tighter I think he’d crunch his own teeth. “Are you in danger, Darren?”
“They’ve picked up a few leads over the years but they went nowhere. I haven’t heard anything for a long time, but this phonecall was to tell me that they’ve picked up another one. Sometimes I’m surprised they haven’t just dropped the case. It’s been so long since something happened, that they don’t think my family is in any direct danger anymore, but something that happened with Marcus recently may be to do with whatever this lead is.”
I swallowed, suddenly realising how much it was bothering me. “It’s a little nerve-wracking that it resurfaces so close to home like this.”
“Darren, seriously. Are you safe?”
I met his gaze. “I think if someone wanted me dead they’d have killed me long ago.” I believed that. I really did. But it was still unsettling that I might’ve ever been on someone’s hitlist, just for my surname.
He reached across the desk and touched my hand. “You think I got involved in some black market shit with the drug running?”
“I don’t know.”
“It was just drug running. Third party stuff. I never got involved in anything like that.”
It seemed a ridiculous and far-fetched idea, that something might have been attached to Tyler and he’d unwittingly led danger to me. But the mind tried to look for patterns. If I was going to be thinking like that, then Zack was just as much a threat to me, if not more so. But Zack had made me feel nothing but safe since I’d known him.
There was a silence and I locked my fingers into Tyler’s. “There are some very easy ways to make money, if you want to ignore certain laws,” I started. “My resolve has been to never fall into that trap. Everything has always been done the right way, even if it’s the hard way. I keep things clean. Whatever mistakes my father made, I don’t want to repeat them.”
Tyler smiled slightly, but then it faded. “Darren, why are we designing drones for the military?”
“Because the military wants drones.”
He looked floored by the simpleness of that answer. “… So we just design technology for whoever pays us enough?”
“That’s a long story short, yes. The drones is one of our biggest projects to date. They want a working prototype by the end of the year.”
“Lia told me.” He flashed me one of his grins. “I suppose I’ll be working hard.”
He would be, just not that afternoon, as we ended up sitting there in my office and talking until the end of the day. He wanted to know more about my father, so I told him. Told him about how Amelia’s father had always been a heavy influence. Told him about all the work, ideas, ideals, and money, that my father had left behind, and that I had founded this company on. In some ways it was his legacy. If he were still around, I hoped he’d be proud of me and what I’d achieved in not only my name, but his. All those figurative and literal blueprints, I’d turned into something tangible. I was running his dream business.
I had truly loved my dad, and I wondered if he’d still have loved me, had he been there when I came out.
Sometimes, I didn’t know how to feel anymore. Any time I got a chance to step back and breathe, it was overwhelming.
This job. This boyfriend. It was almost unreal. How had things become so different?
I felt like I was caught up in a movie, or something. Darren was not only more rich than I could comprehend, he had this crazy patriarch of an uncle who tried to run things like a mafia. They were being hunted down by murderous criminals for pissing off the wrong people… or something. Darren assured me he was safe but there was a little flicker in his eyes as though he was wondering himself.
And there was Zack, of course, the low-time criminal turned high-time business man, who still had that shady look and bared his teeth any time he faced anyone equally sketchy. Amelia who seemed to know everybody running the country. She casually held meetings with government officials and military personnel, while I sat there trying to pretend I was a statue, wondering what the fuck I was doing.
How had I got caught up in this world again?
It was all about who you knew, right?
I remembered that saying, that everybody was the hero of their own story. I didn’t feel like a hero. I wasn’t the main character in whatever movie my life was, I was one of those side-characters. The love interest or something.
I looked at the steadily growing funds in my bank account. Fuck it. I was going to be a rich cunt.
So be it.
I was starting to genuinely make friends at the workplace. Everyone in the labs had to be similar enough in some way to have such a job. We were all a bit nerdy. I got to let out the other side of me, the side that had read Lord of the Rings five times, the side that had always spent a little bit too much time through university gaming. Games, that could open a whole can of worms. Arguments about gaming rigs, PC versus console, conversations that got way too technical and even I struggled to keep up.
There was one of those World of Warcraft addicts. One of those weirdos who had about 30GB of Skyrim mods and made a shit ton of them herself.
“Why are you still playing Skyrim?”
“Because I can mod it!”
It seemed that whatever types of people I was with, I still made them laugh, still fit into the role of clown. Turns out I had been something of a mystery to them, someone who turned up one day connected with Amelia. After training me up, she unleashed me as a supervisor. Who sort of knew what he was doing.
People just assumed I was legitimate and my authority didn’t get questioned. I ordered people around because I said things how they were. If someone was a fucking idiot for frying some circuiting then they were a fucking idiot.
They also saw Darren getting into my car at the end of the day sometimes. They didn’t instantly piece that to meaning I was in a relationship, because he frequented lifts with Zack and Amelia, and plenty of others sometimes, too. It just solidified my ranking in the company’s hierarchy. I was friendly with the boss.
I was riding on short cuts, and a weird cross of nepotism and favouritism, and I was intent on proving myself. Proving that I deserved what I had.
Outside of work, I really enjoyed spending time with Darren. Where he had once simply chuckled and shook his head at my stupid antics, he was now joining in. He answered me back when I quipped and I loved his humour, loved bouncing off him until sometimes, I was the one who cracked up first. And he could flirt. God damn could he flirt, saying all the right things to get my heart racing.
He really seemed to like eating out. Probably because he either hated cooking, or was as genuinely bad at it as he claimed. We went to all sorts of restaurants and bars. When I asked him about it he told me we were doing it because he could get me to drive him everywhere.
“And I have the money to spend so why not?” he added.
“How much money do you actually have?” I asked.
His reply was a chuckle.
“Like, seriously, if you can give me a basic number, how much?”
“Stop being a gold-digger, Tyler.”
I kicked his foot under the table. “How much?”
“My money is the company’s money.”
“Well the company’s money got you a massive house, and a two-hundred grand car you don’t drive.”
He grinned. “Income has been bigger than expenses for a long time.”
“What’s a yearly income?”
I went to kick his foot again but he caught my shoe between his.
“I only put enough money in my private account for bills and general living expenses. The rest stays with the company.” He leant forwards and touched my chin with his fingers and thumb, studying my face in that dreamy way he sometimes did. “The money fluctuates, anyways. Money that sits around isn’t money well spent. Money is meant to make wheels turn. All the people who just sit there on their piles of gold do nothing good for the economy.”
For a rich cunt, he had a pretty good attitude.
We didn’t only eat out. We did other things, like going to the cinema, and once just literally walking his dog around a park. One Saturday we went shopping. Clothes shopping to be more precise. It was actually exciting. Darren was so stereotypically fashionable that I wanted to see what he would be like.
It was one of the gayest days of my life. But that was fine.
Darren picked things out for me to try and I went to the changing rooms. Some things were good, some things didn’t fit. My usual issue with trousers was getting something the right length that wasn’t too wide at the hips. I walked out from the curtain, topless, to show him an example where it sagged down my butt like a wannabe gangster.