Paul Rosenberg never stayed up for New Year’s Eve anymore, so it was the morning of January 1, 2000 when he sat down with a cup of coffee and told himself it was time to start living again.
He’d lived in this house for three years now, in Los Angeles for just over seven. Making new friends, building a new business, taking his history of success in New York and turning it into even bigger success here. Coming home alone every night of every week of every month of every year, because no matter how many attractive men he met in the West, none compared to Mark, the man he’d loved and lost before.
Then he ran into a man who looked so much like Mark that Paul almost couldn’t believe it. Jan de Witt, an aspiring jeweler: well-educated, well-mannered, and much too young. Once he got over the shock, Paul couldn’t stop thinking about how he could help de Witt launch his career. He really tried not to think about anything else.
Once he agreed to Paul’s proposition, Jan put his whole heart and soul, and a lot of work, into launching the business. And he didn’t care about the age difference. He hoped the business partnership would lead to more. Maybe to everything.
- 1 To Be Read list
Publisher: Independently Published
Heat Level: 3
Romantic Content: 5
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 46-65
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Age Difference, May/December, Slow Burning Love
Word Count: 31500
Setting: Los Angeles
Languages Available: English
Jan went to the elevator bay, went downstairs, walked slowly across the lobby, and thought about that strange near-collision at the door. What on earth had been wrong with the man? He’d looked as though he’d seen a ghost.
Outside to collect his bike (securely locked up), then to ride the short distance into Beverly Hills. Locking up the bike again in the parking garage down the alley from the jewelers, and half an hour to get a bite to eat before beginning his shift. Maybe he’d get lucky today. The place wasn’t commission-only, but the hourly wage was so low it might as well have been. Another thing he had to put away. Couldn’t be bitter. At least he had a job and at least it was in the field he loved. So long as he sold a good piece three or four times a week, he could make his share of the rent. And maybe, who knew, he’d be called back for a second interview.READ MORE
But he wasn’t. Two weeks later, he’d heard nothing. He told his roommates. Accepted their commiserations, their assurances that a great new job was right around the corner. Which corner, he thought, bitterly, behind the smile.
Ironically, he had a stellar month at the jewelers. Evidently the fact that the world hadn’t ended at midnight of December thirty-first meant it was time to buy a new watch, or tennis bracelet, or cocktail ring. Jan smiled, and flattered, and sold. His winning streak continued through Valentine’s Day. The manager made a point of singling out his sales performance. Jan hated it when she did that; it only made the other sales associates resent him, and try to take customers out from under him. They were all competing for the sales. It didn’t come naturally to him; he’d had to learn and practice the skills. It was work, hard work, and the snide comments from the others about his blond hair and blue eyes making the sale invariably came at a moment when he’d been about to steer a client their way. It was exhausting, dispiriting, and what he was stuck with. He wished he’d studied anything but art. He’d had this idea that he could design. He’d forgotten that after leaving university, he wouldn’t have a place to fabricate anything. His half of a bedroom in an apartment building with no garage was not enough to set up any tools, not even the hand tools he had. Certainly not the tools he needed. A flex-shaft, a polishing wheel, a torch, a kiln.
Jan was studying the glittering contents of one of the cases, trying to decide if there were a more felicitous arrangement, when the door opened and someone came in. He glanced up reflexively and thought Oh. It was the same man. Maybe not too surprising, rich people did tend to congregate in Century City and Beverly Hills, and this man looked rich. He hesitated for a moment, then approached. “May I help you, sir?”
There it was again, the look of shock. The man – older, mid-fifties perhaps, bearded and dark, well-dressed – stared at Jan without speaking. Then the other one on today was at his elbow. “Is there something in particular we can show you, sir?” At least she said ‘we.’
Paul couldn’t believe it, on several levels. First that he was seeing this person again, second that he hadn’t been imagining things, third that he was so utterly incapable of speaking to the man. He wanted to apologize. He wanted to say ‘who the hell are you.’ Instead he blinked, turned his head, and spoke to the woman. “I was hoping to find a gift for a young lady. She’s an architect and her daughter’s about to turn three.”
“Is that the occasion?” The salesperson stepped to the side, as if she could tell Paul couldn’t bear to look at the blond man.
He went with her, saying, “Actually no, it’s more of an anniversary present. She and her husband got married eight years ago.”
Jan turned away, trying to regulate his breathing. He was furious, upset, insulted, embarrassed. The man looked at him as if he were a monster. He couldn’t remember what he’d been doing when the man came in, so he retreated to the back of the store and simply stood there, hands clasped tight behind his back, taking in the whole scene without really seeing it.
Paul was not so unsettled that he couldn’t recognize the other man’s reaction. He knew his manners had been atrocious. When another customer came in he was relieved, because now the blond man had something to do besides stand there looking as though he’d been slapped. Paul carried on talking to the saleswoman. He wanted to buy something – anything – just to get out of there. Not to run away again, but to finish what he’d come to do so he didn’t have to think about it, or about this, anymore. He ended up telling the woman quite a lot about Andie.
After a few near-misses, she came up with something he thought Andie would actually like. “These might be the only pieces we have in mokume gane,” she said, retrieving the earrings from one of the cases. Then, with an arch look, “Are you sure her husband won’t mind you giving her something like this?”
Paul glanced up from the earrings. They were just right; screw-on backs with a three-quarter-inch metal square dangling by one corner from a pillowy square moonstone set in white gold. The metal pieces were rounded at the corners and shimmered like silk with folded layers of sterling silver and white gold. “What? Oh. This particular young lady worked for me years ago in New York. She house-sat for me while I was in Europe. My partner was dying. It was good to know I didn’t have to worry about my apartment.” He had no idea why he said all that, except he had a feeling the blond man was listening. Would he pick up the subtext? Why did Paul care? The saleswoman was making some kind of apologetic sound. “No, it’s fine. Thank you. These are very nice. I’ll take them.” He followed her to the discreet cash register. After she ran his credit card and produced the receipt for him to sign, he pulled out a business card and wrote something on the back. “Would you give this to your colleague, please?” He said it in a way that didn’t invite questions.
She nodded, took the card, and stepped away to hand it to the blond man. Then she returned to hand over the glossy little bag with his purchase inside. “Thank you very much, Mr. Rosenberg. I hope we’ll see you again.”
You might, he thought illogically, and said, “Thanks to you too. Have a nice day.” He turned around and headed for the door. As he pulled it open he looked back for a moment. The blond man was staring at him, with the card in hand. Paul made a slight, helpless gesture and went out.
Jan looked at the card again. Paul Rosenberg of Rosenberg Dershowitz West. He was unlikely to ever be in the market for one of the condos those people built. On the back was written, neatly and very small, So sorry to be so rude twice. You look exactly like someone I lost who I was very close to. Please forgive.
With that, he could easily forgive. Could Rosenberg possibly mean his partner? The one who died in Europe? What did he mean by writing this on his card? Was it an invitation to call? Jan had no idea, didn’t want to make assumptions. ‘Partner’ could mean ‘lover,’ but that assumption could be disastrous. He put the card away and put the questions out of his mind.COLLAPSE
SUGAR DADDY is set in the year 2000 and features a main character who has lost a previous partner to HIV/AIDS.