Marie Sexton - Coda 04 - Strawberries for Dessert (8 page)

BOOK: Marie Sexton - Coda 04 - Strawberries for Dessert
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“Restructuring?” I asked stupidly. Of course, Marcus had told me back in May that our CEO was considering something like that, but after five months with no further mention of it, I had assumed that it wasn’t going to happen. Now that it was coming up again, I found myself dreading the idea.

“Monty wants to go through with it. It won’t actually go into effect for a few more months. There are other things that need to be put into place first. But I wanted you to know that it’s definitely coming down the line.”

“Meaning that I’ll have to relocate?”

“Probably. I’m not sure yet how we’ll decide who gets which territory, but I wanted to meet with each of you and find out if you have a preference.”
61

“What were they again?”

 

“Arizona. San Diego, LA, San Francisco. Vegas, Colorado, and Utah.”

 

“Well, obviously my first choice is Arizona.” But I also had to assume that was everybody’s first choice.

 

“What about the rest?”

What about the rest? Anywhere in California was acceptable to me. I knew my way around Vegas, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to live there. The idea of Utah scared me. And Colorado? Well, Colorado was a whole different issue.

Colorado was where I had gone to college. Colorado was where I had met Zach and spent three years loving him. Colorado was where I left him and spent another year of my life waiting for him to come back to me. And Colorado was where he still lived to this day, with his new partner—the partner he loved more than he had ever loved me.

I knew it was foolish, but the thought of going back was unbearable. Yes, it was a big state. If I moved there for work, I would undoubtedly be living in Denver. Zach and Angelo lived in the mountains now. Chances of me seeing them at all were almost nonexistent. On the other hand, chances of me running into them while in Vegas were probably equally slim, and yet, it had still happened.

The fact remained that, right or wrong, logical or not, moving back to Colorado would feel like a step in the wrong direction. It was linked in my mind in every way possible to my life with Zach, and it was a life I was never getting back. Somehow, being in a different state, I could accept that he had moved on. But if I were there, knowing that he was only an hour away, I wasn’t sure I would be able to keep my mind off of him. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to stop myself from seeking him out. It would be selfish and self-deluding. Zach had made it quite clear that he wanted nothing more to do with me. And Angelo would kick my ass as soon as look at me, with Matt to back him up just for good measure. And Jared would simply smile and ask about Cole. And Cole….
62

Well, there was also Cole. But I knew that I was nothing more to him than a convenient bed buddy, so I couldn’t allow him to be a factor in my decision. And of course there was my dad to consider too.

“Jon?” Marcus asked, pulling me abruptly from my thoughts. “What do you think?”

 

“Not Colorado,” I said to him. “Anywhere but Colorado.” He nodded. “As I said before, I don’t know yet how we’ll decide, but I’ll keep your request in mind.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“I’ll let you know as soon as I know more. But nothing in this place happens quickly, Jon. For now at least, it’s business as usual.” 63

Date: October 10
From: Cole
To: Jared

I’m making cioppino tonight, which really should go with Tempranillo. Of course I’ll have to buy the Barbera instead, because every time I buy a Spanish red, Jonathan starts to sulk. It’s not that I’m jealous of Zach for being Jonathan’s ex. I just wish his memory didn’t have to join us for dinner quite so often. I hate having to compete with nostalgia.

I
CAME
home that afternoon to a house that smelled like seafood and Cole barefoot in my kitchen.

 

“Are you busy tomorrow night?” I asked him.

 

He glanced slyly at me. “I don’t know, love. What are you offering?”

“I have tickets to see
Wicked
.” It was the first time in months that I would actually be in town to use my own seats at the show, and I was looking forward to it.

“Two gay men going to the theater?” he teased. “Such a stereotype, isn’t it?”

“You know, I’ve never understood that,” I answered as I opened the wine that was sitting on the counter. “I go to the theater every chance I get, and I can tell you, the vast majority of the men there are straight. Believe me,” I said, smiling at him, “I look!”

“I’m sure you do,” he laughed. “It doesn’t matter to me. I’d love to go.”

 

“Good. How long until dinner’s ready?”

 

64

 

“Long enough for you to shower, if that’s what you were going to ask.”

I emerged from the bathroom ten minutes later to find him sitting on the bed, grinning at me. He was giving me that look through his hair that told me he was laughing at me for something. “Hey, sweetie,” he said. “Did you forget something?”

“I don’t think so. Why?”

“Your phone rang while you were in the shower.” I picked my cell phone up off of the dresser to check it, but he said, “Not that one. Your landline. I hope it wasn’t terribly inappropriate of me to answer for you.”

“That’s fine. Who was it?”
“Your father.”

“My father?” And then I realized why he was laughing at me. I was supposed to have dinner with my father tonight. “Shit! It’s his birthday!” I checked my watch. I was already ten minutes late. If I hurried, I could make it to the restaurant in another twenty, but I also knew that Cole had dinner halfway ready. “Cole, I—”

“Relax,” he said in that mocking tone. “We realized you must have had your days mixed up, so—”

“Was he angry?”
“I don’t think so, but I dare say I don’t know your father—” “I should call him back.”

“Honey, just wait and talk to him in person. He’ll be here in five minutes.”

 


What
?”

Now he looked even more amused. I wouldn’t have thought it was possible if I hadn’t seen it myself. “I’ve been trying to tell you, sweetie, but you won’t keep quiet long enough listen to me. He was already on this end of town, and he obviously wanted to see you, and there’s plenty of cioppino—”
65

“You invited him over?”
“Is that not what I’ve just been saying?”

I was trying to imagine the conversation between the two of them—Cole talking non-stop, calling my father “darling,” and my dad trying to keep up. “And he said yes?”

“Of course.” I had a feeling he just hadn’t been able to come up with an excuse quickly enough to get out of it. “It’s not a problem, is it?”

“I’m not sure it’s a great idea, that’s all. My dad isn’t very comfortable with my sexuality, and—” Right then, the doorbell rang. I definitely would have preferred to answer it myself, but I realized I was still standing there wearing nothing but a towel. Cole smiled at me again.

“Don’t worry, sweetie. I’ll get it.”

 

I got dressed quickly, telling myself the entire time that it would be fine. There was no reason to assume that dinner would be a disaster.

When I came out of the bedroom, I found that Cole had managed to shepherd my father straight into the dining room, where he had already set the table. Cole was talking a mile a minute. And my father? My father had a look on his face that was part shock and part horror. It would have been comical if it didn’t confirm what I had already suspected. This was not going to be fun.

“George, I’m so sorry to have stolen your son away on your birthday,” Cole was saying to him. “I never would have hijacked him like I did if I had known. But this is nicer, anyway. Restaurants can be so noisy and impersonal. This will be much more intimate, don’t you think? We’re having cioppino, but I think I told you that already. It makes the whole house smell like fish for a week, but it’s so good, I make it anyway. I sure hope you don’t have a shellfish allergy, honey. That would put a real damper on the evening, wouldn’t it? I have no idea what we would do if you went into anaphylactic shock. I must admit, that CPR class I took in high school isn’t going to do
anybody
any good
at all
! Even if I had paid attention back then, which I didn’t, I 66

dare say I would have forgotten it by now anyway. Here, let me get you some wine.”

Listening to him, even my head was starting to spin, and my father looked like he had no idea what language Cole was even speaking. Cole, however, seemed oblivious. He went in the kitchen and came back with three glasses and an open bottle of wine, hardly breaking his running monologue in the process.

“Of course I didn’t pay attention in that class to begin with. I tried. Really I did, George. But there we all were on our knees, with those horrible dummies in front of us. And Tommy Nelson was in front of me. That boy was on the wrestling team and had a body to kill for. And I have to say, every time he bent over to blow—”

“Cole!” I snapped, horrified, and he spun around to look at me.

“What is it, love? You don’t want me to talk about Tommy Nelson?” He turned back to my dad and winked at him, and my dad’s cheeks started to turn a little bit red. “I never realized Jonny was the jealous type.”

It was strange to hear my name on his lips. I wasn’t sure I had ever heard him say it before, and I wasn’t surprised that he would choose the derivative of it that I hated the most. “He doesn’t like to be called Jonny,” my dad said suddenly, and Cole smiled at him.

“I
know
, honey. Why do you think I do it?” He slid a glass over to my dad and started to pour the wine. It was a red.

 

“He doesn’t like red,” I said. “Maybe we can open one of the Rieslings.”

“Oh sweetie, you know we can’t drink Riesling with cioppino.” He shuddered dramatically. “That just wouldn’t do at all. We could have gone with a Tempranillo, but I know how broody you get whenever I buy Spanish reds.” I felt myself bristle a little at that. It wasn’t my fault they reminded me of Zach. “So I bought the Barbera. It will be a nice pairing with the—”

“But my dad—”

 

67

 

“It’s fine, Jon,” my dad said, and I could tell he was trying to smile, although it came out more of a grimace.

Cole went into the kitchen, and my father and I sat there silently until he came back out with the food. My dad may have been looking at Cole like he was some kind of sideshow entertainment, but once he started to eat, I could tell he was impressed. “You cooked this?” he asked.

Cole actually batted his eyes at him, just a little. Was he actually flirting with my father? “Impressive, isn’t it?”

 

“I’ve never known a man who could cook,” my dad said, much to my horror.

“Dad!” I snapped. He looked over at me, confused for a moment, but then I saw a blush start to creep up his cheeks. He turned to Cole. “I didn’t mean—”

“Honey, don’t apologize,” Cole said. “Listen, if it will make you feel better about it, I’ll wear a dress next time. How about that?” “Cole!” I said, but he ignored me.

 

“It’s not something I normally do, but all modesty aside, George, I really do have fabulous legs.”

Oh my God, this was worse than I had ever imagined. I had rarely seen Cole act so over-the-top, and I was starting to be embarrassed as well as uncomfortable. I could tell my dad was tempted to laugh at Cole, and I didn’t want that to happen either. I wanted him to take Cole seriously. I wanted them to respect each other.

“Stop!” I snapped, and they both turned to look at me. My dad looked nervous and apologetic. Cole looked baffled and a little bit annoyed. “Can we just eat, please?” I asked, knowing even as I said that it sounded childish.

“Anything you want, love,” Cole said with obvious amusement, and the rest of the meal was passed in awkward silence. But the reprieve was brief. Before long we had finished eating. The empty table seemed way too big once I had taken the dirty dishes back into the kitchen.
68

Despite my assertion that my dad hated red, we had finished the first bottle of wine, and Cole came out with a second bottle. “That was fantastic,” my dad said to him as he refilled his glass, and Cole beamed at him. “What’s for dessert?”

He was partially joking, but it annoyed me that he would assume Cole had made dessert too, and I snapped, “Dad!”

“No dessert, I’m afraid,” Cole said. “I cook, but I don’t bake.” “Is there a difference?”

“Honey, they’re like night and day. Cooking is an art—you can substitute, improvise, experiment. But baking is a science. Everything has to be exactly right or it all falls apart. So many rules. It’s terribly boring.” I was thinking how that statement illustrated a great deal about Cole’s character when he turned to me. “You should try it, sweetie,” he said, with a hint of venom in his voice. It was subtle enough that my dad probably couldn’t hear it, but I could.

“Me?” I asked, wondering what I had done to irritate him. “Yes. It seems like a perfect hobby for an uptight accountant.” I tried not to be offended at that character analysis.

 

“What do you do?” my dad asked Cole, and I managed not to groan audibly.

Cole got that mocking, amused look on his face that I sometimes found cute, but tonight only found annoying. “Exactly like Jonny, aren’t you? What do you think I do?”

“Are you a chef?”
Cole smiled. “Yes. I’m a chef.”
“Cole!”

“That explains the cooking then,” my dad said, and I wondered if he meant a man would only bother to learn to cook if it was for in exchange for money.

“Dad, he’s just being elusive. He’s not a chef.”

 

“What?” my dad asked, confused, and Cole rolled his eyes at me. 69

 

“Good lord, love. I
like
to cook. I’m good at it. Does that not make me a chef? It’s not as if I’m lying.”

“But you’re implying—”
“I’m not implying anything, except that I cook—”
“Forget I asked,” my dad said, but I wasn’t listening. “I don’t know why you can’t just be honest.”

“I’m being honest. I
do
cook. You’re the one who assumes that the question ‘what do you do?’ can only refer to a career—” “That’s not just
my
assumption, Cole! That’s everybody’s assumption!”

 

“It doesn’t matter,” my dad said, louder this time. “I was only trying to—”

 

“George,” Cole said suddenly, turning to my father, “the truth is, I’m unemployed.”
BOOK: Marie Sexton - Coda 04 - Strawberries for Dessert
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