Jay walked into the kitchen, his hand subconsciously rubbing the back of his neck. He’d woken this morning to the reverberation of Greg and Mark going about their normal day to day routine. He’d found the sounds strangely relaxing and comforting, the noise reaffirming his feelings of well being. Greg had reiterated their offer last night of a place to stay until he could find something more permanent, that in itself had been a relief but he didn’t intend to outstay his welcome.
“Morning,” Mark indicated the teapot on the work surface, “Want one?”
“Please, milk, no sugar.”
Greg entered the room, his mobile tucked between his chin and shoulder. He was currently glancing though the day’s post.
“Fine. See you in half an hour.” Dropping the mail onto the counter, he turned slightly and smiled at Jay.
“Sleep well?” Without waiting for a reply he indicated towards the toaster. “Help yourself to toast, I’m afraid neither Mark nor I eat breakfast so that’s all there is. We’ll get some cereals when we go shopping, maybe you’ll be able to teach us some better habits.”
“Toast’s fine. I’ll need to sort out paying you something towards my keep; I don’t expect you to let me stay here for nothing.”
“No you don't, tell him Greg. You’re a friend, if it was the other way around you’d do what you could to help us.”
Before Greg could answer, Jay cut in,
“Thanks Mark, but I don’t expect you to give me a roof of my head or feed me for nothing. I like to pay my way.” Jay smiled to take the sharpness out of his words.
“Of course.” Greg quickly replied, quelling any further argument from Mark. “But we’ll wait until you get some money behind you, OK?”
“Thanks.” Jay smiled in response. “I was going to ask you if there were any shifts going spare at the club. I’m going to register with an employment agency later and I’ll call into the Jobcentre to see what jobs are going.”
“James will be here in a bit,” Greg stated. “I’m sure that he’ll agree to you doing some extra work.”
“I thought you were the Manager. Why do I need to ask James for work?” Jay demanded, rather impertinently.
Greg studied him for a few seconds before replying.
“What is your problem, Jay? He’s the owner of the club after all, why shouldn’t you ask him? And he’s gone out of his way to try to help you, the very least you can do is be a bit more civil when he’s around. Good manners alone dictate that, don’t you think?”
Jay felt his face go hot, instantly regretting his ill-mannered reply; he seemed to be doing that a lot lately. Snapping at people, losing his temper. And although Greg may have been right he didn’t appreciate being reminded of the fact; James came over as being very arrogant at times - he can’t have been the first person to clash with him. Of course, thrown into the equation was the fact that he couldn’t help feeling drawn to the guy, although heaven knows why; his whole high-handed attitude rubbed him up the wrong way most of the time. He'd have loved to see him taken down a peg or too, not that there was much chance of that ever happening. He turned his attention back to Greg who was clearly waiting for an answer.
“Yes, I suppose so. I’ll try… it’s just that he’s, well…. patronizing, for want of a better word. I don’t like the way he talks to me. He orders me around like I’m some irresponsible teenager.”
“Maybe because you act like one at times?” Greg raised his eyebrow questioningly. “I’m not saying that you have to agree with everything he says, and I know that he can be an arrogant son of a bitch at times, but he’s genuinely trying to give you a helping hand. Do you really need go head to head with him at every opportunity? Can you not give him a chance?” Greg softened his words with a smile.
“OK. Don’t go on. I’ve just told you I’d try. Maybe you should try talking to him about his attitude instead of always taking his side.” Jay turned away and busied himself making some toast. He couldn’t help thinking that once again his mouth had gotten the better of him and he didn’t really want to end up picking a fight with Greg. He had a feeling that he’d come off the worse if he did – Greg could put you in your place with a look and a few well chosen words.
“You know, it’s that tone of voice and attitude that gets you into trouble; I suggest you try working on it yourself before someone sees fit to offer you a helping hand. One day you may not like the reaction that it brings.”
Jay looked up into Greg’s face; although there had been a sharpness to the words, he showed no real sign of anger, more annoyance.
The ‘sorry’ had come quite naturally and he’d felt himself blush again. He wasn’t going to start crossing swords with Greg and he decided there and then that in the future he’d try harder not to act quite so impulsively. His temper had been getting the better of him way too much of late and he wasn’t exactly proud of the fact. He liked and respected Greg and was grateful for the support that both he and Mark had offered. For the first time in ages he’d started to relax and he didn’t want to jeopardize that in any way, he was happy here. If that meant that he needed to keep a civil tongue in his head then so be it, unfortunately worse still was the fact that he’d have to swallow his pride and ask James for help. That wasn’t going to be easy.
I have to admit that I was preparing myself for a battle of wills when meeting up with Jay; we’d hardly got off to a promising start. I’d had a conversation with Greg on the phone before arriving although the word 'conversation' indicates that I had some input. He’d politely and very pointedly informed me that I needed to think of how I ‘expressed’ myself when offering Jay some extra work. You see that’s the trouble when you’ve been friends with someone for a long while, they have a nasty habit of being bluntly honest. In fact he went into some detail about my whole demeanour, not all of which I wanted to hear. No one likes to listen to someone telling them about their less favourable characteristics; even when it’s a good friend and someone that you both respect and trust.
Greg and I go back a long way and his friendship means a lot to me. There was a point in our very distant past that we considered we might have more than that, but it never worked out that way. I was genuinely pleased when he met Mark at the club and their teasing and ribbing turned into something more serious.
They were all in the kitchen when I arrived, but Mark quickly excused himself on the pretence of finishing some course work. I thought for a horrible minute that Greg was going to follow suit and it was going to be a case of rats leaving the sinking ship, but he passed me a mug of coffee and then settled himself in a chair.
OK, time to set the ball in motion then? So far Jay and I had only exchanged a brief greeting and the air between us was that thick you could have cut it with the proverbial knife. I leant against the work surface and wondered if we could at least get through the next ten minutes without trying to kill each other, but before I could say anything Jay butted in.
“I spoke to Greg this morning about the possibility of some extra shifts but he said that by rights I should ask you.” He rushed on as if he just wanted the words out of the way as quickly as possible, the next sentence was spoken to my shoulder; he couldn’t quite bring himself to look me in the eyes. “I know that you’ve gone out of your way to help me just lately and I’ve hardly been appreciative of the fact, so I think I owe you an apology. I have been brought up with better manners than that and I’m sorry for the way I’ve acted towards you.”
He then looked up at me and once again I ended up thinking what amazing colour eyes he has, they seem to change tone depending on his mood.
“If you could give me another chance I can assure you that I’ll behave in a more appropriate manner. I’m prepared to cover any of the shifts available. I really need the work.”
He came to a stumbling halt, the apology and the request for extra hours must have cost him dearly and judging by the colour of his face he was clearly embarrassed. It would have been hard enough to just apologise to me but with Greg in the room he’d had an audience; he’d really had to swallow his pride. And from the look I was getting from Greg, this was obviously the point at which I accepted the apology graciously. Greg doesn’t do the sort of looks you ignore as I’d discovered for myself over the years; I for one wasn’t about to act the high and mighty business man.
“Thank you, Jay. I appreciate your apology.” Yes that does sound like I’ve a broom handle stuck up my backside, time to shift down a gear.
“Greg could of course sort out some extra shifts, but I’ve been thinking, obviously running the club is time consuming and there’s loads of paperwork that needs completing, ordering stock, just general day to day things really to make sure everything runs smoothly. Greg covers most of it, I help out when I can but I’ve other business opportunities on the go so my time is limited. I was wondering if you’d be interested in a full time job as Greg’s assistant?
I’m not sure who looked the most surprised, Jay or Greg; neither had been expecting that offer.
Surprisingly enough, now an unspoken truce had been agreed Jay and I started to enjoy each others company. After the pair of them had got over the initial shock of my job offer, both had seen the advantages to my idea. Greg works long hours and rarely takes time off. Having Jay working for him meant that he and Mark were now considering a mid week break away together. It’s the weekends that are the busiest, Monday to Wednesday are slow. As long as I promised to keep an eye on things whilst he was away, he was more than willing to drive down to the coast and stay in a Bed and Breakfast. Both of them could do with a break; I should have thought of it sooner and pushed them to take time off. The thing is, Greg is the major share holder of the club. Not that many know that; they all assume it's my business and I suppose it suits Greg to let them keep thinking that way.
The security attached to a regular wage had without a doubt taken the pressure off Jay too. His attitude had changed; although he still had the odd moments when he opened his mouth without engaging his brain. But on the whole things settled smoothly enough into a routine.
I even managed to get Jay to lighten up enough to joke with me and we all noticed a change in him. He started to tease us; he was relaxed and cheeky but not in that insolent way of his. I started to look forward to the time we spent together. I’d got into the habit of calling in to the club everyday around lunch time and we’d all stop for a sandwich and just generally chat about mundane things – football, what was on telly last night, nothing really deep and philosophical, but never the less enjoyable.
It was during one of our lunch time discussions that we got talking about a property auction I was going to attend later that day, Jay showed an interest and before I knew it I’d invited him along to watch the proceedings for himself. It came as a bit of a surprise when he jumped at the idea, he seemed really keen to go with me. Whether that was just an interest in what went on or he saw an opportunity to spend a bit of time with me, I don't know.
I picked him up from Greg’s and Mark’s that evening and we chatted amicably about the auction and what property I was interested in. Needless to say when the opportunity arose to tease him, it was too good an opportunity to miss. I looked at him in horror and said that he’d made a bid for a rather dilapidated building when scratching his head. For a few moments he’d obviously thought I was serious until it clicked that to bid you needed to hold the card up with the number on that we’d collected before the auction started. He’d called me a swine and started to thump me on the arm, both of us laughing, me trying to fend him off.
Then something happened, the mood changed between us. It sounds rather far fetched I know, a bit too much Mills and Boon, but for a few seconds the room faded and we were just staring at each other, holding onto each other – except there wasn’t a fight going on any more. We both sprang apart like scalded cats.
The rest of the auction was spent in relative silence apart from the necessary few word we needed to say to each other; obviously the spark that had jolted me had been felt by Jay too. Neither of us seemed to know how to handle it or what to do about it. I was going to suggest we went for a drink after the auction had finished but changed my mind. I couldn’t get back to Greg’s quick enough to drop him off and Jay was out of the car with just a customary thank you, I got the impression that he didn’t want me to follow him inside either.
I’d sat there for a couple of minutes undecided on what to do – it was obvious that Jay hoped I’d just leave but with Greg standing at the front door patiently waiting I could hardly drive away again. No matter how much I wanted to be alone with my thoughts I was going to have to face him. I suppose you could say it had come as a bit of a shock – the realisation that this jumped up little toad, who had lead me such a merry dance since I’d nearly knocked him down, was someone I really enjoyed spending time with. Even more frightening was the fact that I now knew that I wanted to take this friendship further.
I’m not a man for rushed decisions; I’m a business man – quite coldly calculating at times. To be successful you have to be; I don’t make rash choices so what the hell was I thinking wanting to get involved with someone with more attitude than even he knew what to do with. I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that not only did I want to take Jay to bed but I wanted him in my life too. The sex bit I could have understood, accepted and without a doubt done something about. There have been more men in my bed than I care to remember, I’ve scattered my wild oats as the saying goes, but I’ve never felt the way I was feeling now. This time I wanted more than a one night stand and the shock of this realisation had knocked me off my feet somewhat. Maybe once we’d slept together I’d feel different – maybe I could get him out of my system and I’d stop feeling this way. I’d lose interest. For heaven sake, why the hell would I want to get involved with someone with more baggage than Heathrow airport on a Bank Holiday weekend?
I got out of the car and walked over to Greg, who was still waiting patiently by the front door.
“So what did you buy? Interesting night, was it?” The question was casual enough but I wasn’t fooled, for a start he’d have picked up on Jay’s mood and want to know what had gone on.
“Nothing worth bidding for, that house on Runnymede Drive went for too much. It needed too much doing on it for it to be a worthwhile investment. I was going to suggest we went for a pint afterwards but Jay gave the impression that he wanted to come home, so I cancelled the getting him drunk and then having my wicked way with him. So... here we are, safely home ready to be tucked up in bed - you can call off the police search now.”
Being flippant with Greg was never a good idea, as I’ve found out to my cost on more than one occasion. His eyes had narrowed ever so slightly and I was getting one hell of a frosty glare.
“Your attitude needs adjusting, change it quickly or I may just give you a helping hand. And you had better be verycareful with how you behave towards Jay, I know you well remember and he isn’t going to be one of your one night stands."
And that was Greg, dominant male, acting big brother and best friend, making it very clear to me what would happen if I overstepped the mark. It would appear that Jay was now under his jurisdiction, although I doubt very much that he knew it. Greg tells me I have a look when I’m interested in someone that resembles a panther hunting its prey. Well the look I was receiving at the moment was primal too and one that you ignored at your own cost.
“Oh for God’s sake, Greg, relax. I’m not that much of a bastard. OK, so I’m interested and we’ve been getting on so much better of late, but you can put your hackles down. I can assure you my intentions are that of a gentleman.”
“They’d better be, James, because you know full well what happens when you piss me off.”
With that he stepped back allowing me into the house and I walked into the kitchen where Mark appeared to be grilling Jay on his evening out. My entrance put a stop to that and Mark excused himself on the pretence of speaking to Greg. Jay glanced at me and then busied himself adding sugar to a mug of coffee.
“Any coffee going spare?“ I followed the question with a smile.
“Um…yeah, sure.” Jay reached up and took another mug from the cupboard and then nearly scalded himself in his haste to fill it with coffee from the percolator.
“Shit!” He shoved his fingers in his mouth.
I moved quickly, turning the cold tap on and taking hold of his wrist held his hand under the running water. I could feel his pulse quicken at my touch – Mr Cooper wasn’t indifferent to me either by a long shot.
“Careful. You can’t expect me to be around to save you every time you know.” I teased.
I was surprised by his reaction when he pulled savagely away from me, his famous temper rising to the surface again. And before I knew what was happening we were off arguing.
“I don’t need you to save me at all.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake, Jay, it was a joke. Don’t start getting uppity with me now; I thought we were past all of that. You’re acting like a stroppy teenager again.”
“I Am Not. Just who the fuck do you think you’re talking to? How dare you call me stroppy, you arrogant, conceited…”
I never got to hear what else I was, Greg stopped us both in our tracks – we were that engrossed that we hadn’t even heard him enter the kitchen.
“That’s Enough.” His features were like chiselled ice; cold and unmoving.
“Sit down the pair of you and Shut Up, I don’t want to hear another word from either of you. What the hell has got into you both tonight?”
Oh great, now we’d rattled his cage and there’d be hell to pay. The Alpha Male had spoken. I just hoped Jay knew that we were both about to be put very firmly in our place. I had the rather embarrassing urge to say ‘it’s not my fault, he started it’, but battled valiantly to overcome it. I also had the feeling Jay was thinking much the same thoughts. But we took a seat at the table very shame faced without uttering another word.
Leaning his knuckles on the table he glared at us both individually before continuing;
“Now the pair of you can listen to me for a change and you had better listen good. Mark and I are going on holiday tomorrow, it’s been arranged for weeks now and we are both looking forward to it. Which means I’m leaving two responsible adults in charge of the club – not two ill mannered adolescents who can’t be left alone in the same room together for more than five minutes without squabbling. You’re both adults, act like bloody adults. And if I come back to find you’ve had another of your disagreements I shall be annoyed, extremely annoyed and I promise that neither of you will like the consequences. I hope I’ve made myself clear?”
We both chorused out an instant ‘yes, Greg’. Jay was looking a little bemused, he looked at me and then back to Greg. It must have come as a bit of a shock to hear me spoken to in that manner, up until now I was the one who appeared to be running the show, not Greg. Well he was bound to find out sooner or later, the best I could do was try and at least save face.
“Greg, it’s been a long day and we’re both tired. You’ve make your point and we’ve both taken it onboard. Enjoy your holiday, we’ll be fine, just fine. We get on like a house on fire most of the time, don’t we Jay?”
“Um, yeah, we’re great.” Jay was obviously still amazed at what he’d just witnessed; the arrogant, conceited, businessman getting his comeuppance right in front of his very eyes. He must have dreamed of this one. It didn’t take him long to rally…
“Any problems and I’ll dial 999 and ask for the fire brigade.” He then smirked at me, and I burst out laughing. The whole situation defused in seconds. How can someone blow so hot and cold so quickly?
“Oh, very droll.” Turning back to Greg I asked, “So what time are you leaving in the morning?”
“Well, if I can get Mark out of bed I’d thought about 9ish, we’re planning a leisurely drive down and maybe a stop at a pub for a bite to eat at lunchtime. I’m really looking forward to it now, this year Cornwall, next year some hot Mediterranean island. That’s if I can be reassured that it’s safe to leave the business with you two in charge.”
I raised my eyebrow. “Excuse me? I’m sure that we can manage perfectly well without you breathing down our necks for a few days, we’ll both enjoy the rest.”
“Yeah – and I promise not to jump out in front of his car, throw any whisky over him or faint at his feet. I can’t say fairer than that, now can I?” Jay replied cheekily.
“You better not, or I won’t be responsible for my actions.” I threatened with a growl.
“Well, Mr Alexander, you’ll have to catch me first.” With that he thumped my arm and skittered over to the door laughing. “I’m off to bed, see you both in the morning.”
We both wished him goodnight as he shut the kitchen door.
“Tell me what just happened?” This time it was my turn to look bemused.
“I honestly haven’t the faintest, and to think I was concerned about how he’d handle you coming on to him. Maybe I should be more worried what he’s going to do to you.”
“You’re worried – I’ve a bloody awful feeling I’ve met my match!”