Happy Reading! Lane xo
A Kind of Beginning- Short Story (Part 3)
William pushed his hand through his hair distractedly as we turned the corner onto Bowery. It was a beautiful spring morning. The air was crisp and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I adjusted the strap on my red man bag when a fellow pedestrian knocked it off my shoulder. I was too intent on keeping up with the brisk pace my friend set as we hurried to the bagel store to be irritated.
“Rand is working for another twenty minutes. He told George you’d be stopping by. He left it pretty open, so if you—”
“What does “pretty open” mean?” I asked, placing my hand on his elbow to get William’s attention.
I was in danger of breaking into a sweat if he didn’t slow the hell down. Smudged eyeliner before ten a.m. was likely to give the wrong impression. The sordid “walk of shame” kind of wrong impression.
“I think he meant it’s casual. It’s not a real interview so there’s no reason to get nervous.”
William checked his watched again and lengthened his stride. I stopped suddenly in the middle of the sidewalk with my arms crossed. I was sure my expression would tell him all he needed to know. But just in case… I gave him a thorough once-over when he glanced back at me.
“What’s the matter?”
“William, I’m not running a marathon to chase down a minimum wage part-time job at a fucking bagel store. Slow down. And while you’re at it, please tell me which alternate universe has me nervous about talking to George? He’s a sweetheart. He loves me already and he even told me he likes my hair. If you ask me, he’s the one who better do the selling if he wants me to toast carb biscuits before dawn.”
William burst into laughter and nodded. “You’re right. Not about George selling you on a job, but I get it. This is casual. The truth is I’m more nervous about what this means for Rand. For all of us. I can’t help wondering what happens next.”
I cocked my head to study my best friend. William was a damn tough cookie. He had a sweet exterior and a kind, unassuming demeanor but he was no pushover. And normally he wasn’t a worrier. At least not to the degree he was before he and Rand became a couple a year ago.
“So you’re nervous,” I said. “Why? Sure, there will be changes, but you’ll be part of it too. Rand isn’t going anywhere without you.”
“I know.” William gave me a brilliant smile. It was obvious to anyone paying attention that his rock star man loved him to pieces. I was relieved he wasn’t suffering from an unattractive case of insecurity.
“Well, what is it then?”
“I’m not afraid for Rand and me. We know what we have is solid and we’re both committed to making our relationship work. But… I don’t think he really grasps how big Spiral might become and—”
“Hang on.” I whipped my Tom Ford sunglasses from my nose theatrically and widened my eyes. “Are you really saying you think Rand is guilty of under-selling his band’s potential greatness? Honey, the man thinks low-profile means wearing a baseball cap. Backwards. He’s a ham, William. Please tell me this comes as no surprise.”
William threw his head back and guffawed merrily. “I know. He’s terrible. But—”
“That’s why you love him,” I finished in a syrupy tone. “I get it. So spill the beans. Why are you so wound up?”
“Change. That’s all. It’s not going to be the beginning of a busy year, Benny. It’s the beginning of a whole new life. This trip to Europe is the band’s first international tour, but it’s not the last by a long shot. We get stared at when we walk down the street. People take our pictures when they think we aren’t looking. But it’s nothing compared to what it will be like later. I’m not worried about Rand. He can’t wait,” William said with an indulgent smile. “It’s just… balancing my school work, his success and hell… buying groceries! This is going to be a challenge.”
“And dealing with reality is your job.”
He shrugged and gave a short nod before grumbling, “Yeah. Someone has to keep things real. God, it would have been so much easier if I was an accountant.”
I huffed in amusement before slipping my arm through his and guiding us toward the bagel shop a few yards away. “Then you wouldn’t be you. Come on. Let’s see about getting me another gig in the food biz while my best friends travel the world and hobnob with rock and roll royalty.”
William snickered appreciatively as he opened the door to Bowery Bagels.
Two things struck me immediately. The first was that it was still crowded in the store for mid-morning. These bagels were good, but the affable owner holding court with a group of customers near the wall of family photos was part of the store’s charm. The second was Rand’s expression when he spotted us from behind the counter. He looked like a love-sick puppy. One glance at William assured me the feeling was mutual. They had it bad, I mused. I could only hope someone looked at me like that one day.
“William! Benjamin!” George called. “Good morning, boys! How are you this fine Thursday?”
I waved at Mr. G before whispering in my friend’s ear. “I’ll go talk to George. Go greet your man. He’s got that spacey look in his eye, like he can’t decide if he wants to put you on the wall and stare at you or devour you whole.”
William didn’t bother with a comeback. He either knew I was right or he was too caught up in the grips of amour himself to be irritated with my snark. He nodded absently and made his way to the counter while I headed toward the short, balding older man standing nearby.
“I like the blue in your hair, Benjamin. It suits you,” George said.
His eyes twinkled merrily, lending credence to his claim. And that alone was why I agreed to come by Bowery Bagels this morning to talk about a job I didn’t really want. Sure, the extra few bucks would help, but I could easily take on another shift or two at my family’s restaurant, Johnny’s. The difference was George. He was genuine. If he said he liked the electric blue highlights in my bangs, I believed him.
Everything about him screamed traditional, from his perfectly pressed collared shirt with the Bowery Bagel logo to his habit of asking and talking about family. I’d bet everything in my meager savings account he was standing by the large photo collage because he’d just posted a few new pictures of his grandchildren. Nothing about his fatherly countenance was forced or false. He was kind, friendly and best of all… he was accepting.
In the handful of years I’d known him since I was a student at New York University, George had never been anything but warm and welcoming to me. He made a point of complimenting my hair in every color and of greeting me by name whenever I came by. I didn’t bother correcting his assumption that my name was Benjamin. I had a feeling Beniamino would throw him off. Besides it would require an explanation about just how damn Italian I actually was and no one other than my mother and Nonna called me Beniamino. I preferred to keep it that way.
“Thank you, George. How are you?” I inquired politely.
“I’m very well, dear boy.” He turned to introduce me to the three older men as they gathered their belongings to leave.
I studied the photos while they said their good-byes. George’s four sons and their families were featured prominently alongside pictures of loyal customers and local celebrities. We had the same gallery at Johnny’s. In fact, ours was so large it spilled into the adjacent hallway and up the stairs to the apartment where I’d lived until I took over William’s studio a month ago. Family, family, family. I couldn’t get away from it. If I wasn’t knee deep in my own, I was looking to borrow someone else’s. Hmph.
“This one here was taken last weekend at Abraham’s house. We had a lovely dinner. The children are getting so big now. That’s Sarah and Mic— Oh, don’t get me started! I’ll never stop and I know you’re a busy man, Benjamin. I think we have business to discuss!” He clasped his pudgy hands together and grinned.
I chuckled at his excited tone. It didn’t fit with early mornings toasting bagels in my estimation, but maybe he knew something I didn’t.
“We can make this simple, George. If you need me, I’ll help. I’ll even take over Rand’s hours.”
“So there’s no need to talk you into joining us? You’re sold already?”
“Yes. I’m sold. The hours here work well with the hours I work at Johnny’s so yes… if you need me or want me, I’m in,” I said with a smile.
“Wonderful! Oh that’s fantastic news! Abraham takes care of all the tax forms so I’ll have him get in touch with you and—” George pointed to a picture of a man in his mid-thirties with a small pot-belly. “—this is Abraham. I’ll have him come by tomorrow. Is that all right?”
“Sure. Who’s the man standing next to him?” I asked, gesturing back to the photo.
“That’s my son, Ezekiel.”
“Oh.” I moved in to study the photo more closely because damn…Ezekiel was freaking hot! I supposed there was a family resemblance in the brown hair and the shape of their eyes, but Abraham had the unmistakable look of a suburban da while Ezekiel looked… delicious. He was tall and lean with a light beard that added a layer of sex appeal I wouldn’t have associated with a Gulden until this very moment.
“He’s a Wall Street investor or something like that. I’m not sure of his job title but I do know he’s very successful. And he’s single. He finally broke up with his boyfriend. Or vice versa. It doesn’t matter. I never like that man. He was after Ezekiel’s money.” George cocked his head and gave me a searching look. “If you’re interested, I could—”
“No. Thank you, though. I don’t think it’s a good idea to date my boss’s son. When do you need me to start?” I smiled a little too brightly as I turned in an effort not to steal another look over my shoulder at George’s gorgeous progeny.
“Hmm. How about next week?” he asked.
George’s gaze was suddenly calculating. It was borderline hysterical. He obviously wanted to set his unsuspecting son and me up. The wheels were spinning so loud I could almost hear the conversation he was having with himself. “Call Ezekiel. Tell him to come by the shop at nine when Benjamin is here and—”
“Oh sorry. Yes, next week is fine.”
I pasted a smile on my face and shook George’s outstretched hand. But try as I might, I couldn’t resist one more peek at Ezekiel Gulden. And fuck… George caught me. He glanced from the photo to our joined hands and back again.
Somehow I knew my fate was sealed. George was going to find a way, come hell or high water, to make sure I met Ezekiel. The extra squeeze meant marriage and children would be appreciated too. I wanted to laugh but I couldn’t. I didn’t necessary believe he was right in any way, shape or form, but I loved his romantic spirit. Romance was a kind of beginning. And everyone could use one of those.