Marc Restor’s misguided loyalty has made the wrong decision for the right reason that ends up shattering two lives. On the surface he has it all unfortunately it includes an abusive relationship.
For weeks Joey Mann has worked up the nerve to talk to Marc. From the first moment they exchange words the attraction is intense and immediate but to Joey’s dismay they agree to remain only friends due to Marc’s rocky relationship. Marc will not cheat, and neither will Joey.
As things get worse, Marc turns to Joey for support. Joey however is impatient with Marc’s absurd loyalty; he has been there himself and knows what is coming. Hurtful words exchanged in anger ends their friendship leaving them both devastated.
Can Marc be strong enough to break free of his abusive past, and can Joey forgive his angry words to reignite those burning embers started so long ago?
- 3 To Be Read lists
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 5
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Bad Breakup, Cheating, Coming Home, Fated Mates / Soul Mates, Office / Workplace Romance, Second Chances, True Love
Word Count: 46620
Setting: Bay Area California, Sedona Arizona
Languages Available: English
Turning Back to the Flame
Almost daily over the last several months, I noticed a scruffy yet handsome guy walking close to me on the way to the parking garages. It wasn’t an unusual thing as I saw several recognizable faces on a daily basis during my trek, people who seemed to keep the same long hours that I did.
However, in this case, the handsome and somewhat shy man had certainly caught my eye.
The other people often changed where they walked or where they stood in the elevators, but this very noticeable man was always a few steps behind me on my right, and never took the same elevator that I used.
If I happened to catch his eye, the sexy stranger would shyly glance away, immediately breaking eye contact with me. It was obvious he was nervous, stirring my curiosity even more, and causing me to smile to myself, secretly flattered.READ MORE
One warm spring day and later than usual, I finally left my building and headed for the garages. There were fewer people going my direction due to the later hour, but I was truly surprised when I saw the same bearded, shaggy dark reddish haired man fall into step behind me. Without giving it too much thought, I strolled a little faster toward my destination, as it caused me a momentary concern.
When we approached the building’s elevator banks, I reached out to touch the Up button but I heard a noise directly behind me as the man cleared his throat.
I then heard him say softly, “excuse me,” his sexy deep voice stopping me cold.
Taken back by his intense and nearby body heat, I rapidly turned around to find the other man almost too close to me, and I involuntarily took a quick step backward to protect my personal space.
“Hi, I’m Joey, Joey Mann, and I guess I’ll just say it. I’ve wanted to talk to you for some time now but never had the nerve to say hello before. I work in the same building that you do only ten floors above, actually I’m a programming director and am a close personal friend with your manager Sally Adams,” he explained, smiling and holding out his hand.
After the exhausting day I just endured, all that came to me was ‘what the fuck’ so I just stared at him for several seconds too long, unable to answer him as I tried to process what I was hearing. Trying to smile, I held out my hand.
“I’m Marc Restor, but I would imagine you already knew that since you seem to have an inside source,” I finally replied, instantly feeling like a total bitch from the way it must have sounded. He also lowered his hand before I could shake it.
I saw how Joey visibly reddened with frustration, and he must have evaluated the effect his few words had on me.
“Damn it Marc, Sally told me to keep it casual or you would think she was somehow behind this, which she isn’t, I promise. Okay look, I’ve wanted to meet you for some time, and now I’ve just fucked the whole thing up and sound like an ass. Let’s just forget I said anything, and I’m sorry for seeming so stupid,” Joey rushed his words, and then promptly dropped his messenger bag on the ground as he turned to leave.
I stood there with my mouth open, now feeling amused and hardly able to take in what just transpired after such a grueling day. The thing that surprised me the most was that I wasn’t a bit put off, but totally charmed and very flattered by this handsome unusual man.
“Uh Joey, hold on a sec. You have not fucked up anything at all, and I’m glad you decided to say hello. I’ve known and worked with Sally for years now, and I know she is not like you think you described her so don’t worry about it,” I tried to explain and calm him down, as I had noticed a slight trembling when he tried to pick up his things.
I stooped down to help him pick up some loose papers and hand them back to him, papers that he promptly stuffed back in his bag looking mortified and avoiding my eyes.
“Thanks Marc, Sally mentioned you were a great guy but I should never have said anything, you are way out of my league,” he muttered quickly, again starting once more to turn away.
On an impulse from out of nowhere, I reached out, took hold of his muscular arm, and stopped him, almost jerking him back.
“Bullshit to the league thing Joey, I’m not like that. It has been a long day for both of us I’m sure. Look let’s go grab a table at the outdoor restaurant and let me buy you a drink and we can talk. I know I could sure use one right about now,” I casually offered, now hoping he would accept.
During the few seconds before Joey gave me his answer, I silently ran through my alternative that was spending another night alone in my big house overlooking the San Francisco Bay.
Earlier that day my partner Brad had texted me that he would be back late on Sunday due to a scheduling glitch, and needed to meet with prospective customers before he left the east coast. Yet again, he was leaving me alone, a common occurrence lately for one of way too many weekends over the years.
Joey looked up at me in surprise, his light green eyes staring back at me in obvious shock that I’d asked him for a drink, and he swallowed hard before he spoke to me.
“Are you sure? I don’t want to keep you from anything or your plans for the evening,” he stammered, starting to smile.
“You aren’t keeping me from a thing and I have no plans. Now let’s go try to grab a table before someone snags the last one,” I laughed.
He followed me trying to keep up with my rapid pace, and it suddenly dawned on me that I felt happy if only for a friendly chat, as I swiftly walked toward the restaurant with Joey trailing behind.
Once our drinks were delivered, I smiled at him and then I lifted my wine glass to touch his.
“Here’s to new and unexpected friends, the end of a super busy week, and not thinking about work for a couple of days,” I toasted, watching Joey’s beautiful smile when he touched his glass to mine in return.
We sat silent for a few moments, and I was surprised when I realized just how incredibly sexy this handsome shy man truly was.
In addition to his shaggy hair and great beard, he was probably the furriest man I’d ever encountered, and his light green eyes were a knockout.
Following our first sip, the waiter showed up and placed our plates of crisp deep fried vegetables on the table, and it was then that I looked back over at Joey.
“So, from what you say you are a director here in programming, I’m, as I’m sure you know, a principal technical writer. Now tell me Joey, just why did you want to meet me?” I prompted.
I knew I was putting him on the spot but I wanted to hear his strangely attractive sexy deep voice.
I was half teasing and half serious, but I had to look away when I saw the look of distress flash across Joey’s handsome features, coming from my direct question, and he seemed somewhat trapped as he pondered an answer.
He picked up a spear of crispy succulent zucchini and then without dipping it, he took a bite and closed his eyes in enjoyment. He then smiled almost coyly at me, and pointed the rest of the zucchini spear at me.
“Well to be honest Marc, I have seen you around for some time and when I finally noticed you walking with Sally one day, I asked her who you were. She gave me very basic details and told me to say hi to you. She said that you were a nice guy and liked to meet new people and make friends. I asked her if you were involved with someone and she told me that had to come from you, and she would not talk about private details. She said that since it was in the personal information realm, that you needed to answer me yourself if you wanted to talk about it,” he told me honestly, and quickly glanced away from my surprised stare.
I smiled back at him, feeling very pleased.
“Impressive, I’ve always really liked her and realized that I could trust her. And for your other question, yes I am in a long-term relationship, but as the caveat goes, it is complicated, and yes I know how cliché that sounds,” I began, but Joey cut me off while looking stricken by what I just said.
“Marc I am sorry about this, and now feel like even more of an idiot than before. I won’t lie to you and say that I’m not attracted to you because I am, how could I not be? You are a handsome guy and you stand out. If I had known that you were involved I never would have bothered you and made an incredible ass out of myself. I just wish Sally had been open with me and saved us both an embarrassing situation. I should probably go and again, I’m so sorry about this,” he told me sadly.
However suddenly I couldn’t say why but needed this time with him, and I didn’t want it to end like this. It was not very often that I found someone like him who was a unique and very honest man.
I also felt a strange pang of something I could not begin to describe. I was completely and personally shocked at the new and unexpected connection I was experiencing with this man. I knew right away that I didn’t want Joey to leave me like this, and just walk away from me and out of my life.
“Please,” I said and reached out to touch Joey’s hand. “Don’t leave me. There is no reason for you to feel uncomfortable and to be honest with you; I’ve noticed you as well, several times in fact. I don’t know about you but I could use a new friend if you can deal with that much, at least for now,” I mentioned, trying not to sound too eager or give him any unfair false hopes.
Joey nodded at me, and turned to face me. He picked up his glass and took a deep sip before he spoke, obviously stalling for time.
“Thank you Marc, and yes I’d really like a new friend too. One thing you should know about me upfront is that I don’t play around with attached guys, or hardly any guys for that matter. If you are in a relationship, then I completely respect that but I won’t take things between us beyond that point while you have someone else. I was in a relationship years ago myself, and even though I loved the guy, and honestly still do, I could not handle him cheating on me and I ended it,” he told me firmly.
I leaned back in my chair, and was surprised by his candor and how quickly he was setting up boundaries. In addition, privately I couldn’t help but think this multi-faceted man was becoming sexier by the moment.
“This is understandable Joey and I’m glad to admit that right away we have one thing in common; I don’t cheat either. Brad and I have been together for the last twelve years. We were close college friends and it just grew from there. In honesty, there was never a ‘grand passion’ between us but we were always good friends. Over the years as our careers took off and he traveled more, we naturally started seeing less of each other due to the demands made on us. Finally, about three years ago I discovered he was seeing someone else and I was deeply hurt. I confronted him and he came clean about it, told me it was a fling, and it never should have happened. He didn’t want me to leave him. It took several months to set things right, and our relationship changed for us for the better, at least for a very short while,” I began.
I felt oddly comfortable telling a relative stranger about the personal intimate details of my life.
Joey shook his head and ran his fingers through his shaggy dark reddish hair, while deep concern for me washed across his features.
“I’m sorry to hear that Marc, but I’ve been there and done that, and I know how it feels to find out you’ve been betrayed. There is nothing that can stop your world as when you realize that the closest person to you, and the one you’d believed in was an utter sham. You suddenly realize every hope and plan, and all that you knew about the person you trusted the most, was a lie. It is at that moment that everything is suddenly shattered, never, at least for me, to be restored.”
I was stunned by how clearly he explained my most secret feelings and resentments to me. I could not help but half smile at him then took another sip and waved to the waiter to replenish our glasses.
“You hit the nail on the head there Joey, are you sure you aren’t a writer?” I asked, trying to make a weak joke to hide how exposed I felt at that moment.
While I waited for his answer, I spent several seconds processing and trying to subdue the precise rancid memories that drifted through my racing mind, threatening yet again to bring me down on this beautiful late afternoon.
“No one has ever accused me of that I’m afraid,” he answered me, also reaching for something to say.
I could see that his own sad memories of the past were vividly reflected on his face as they raced through his mind, and my heart went out to him.
I laughed with a hint of sadness, and then I carefully put my glass down and locked eyes with Joey.
“I mentioned complicated to you earlier, and I think I owe you an explanation of why,” I offered to even things out a bit.
Joey shook his head, and started to reach out to touch my hand, but pulled it back at the last moment.
“You don’t owe me a thing, just what you want to talk about and feel comfortable saying to me.”
“Strangely I feel very at ease talking to you,” I answered too fast.
“Then talk to me Marc,” Joey requested, holding my close attention with his startlingly light green eyes.
I could imagine from the eager look on his face that his heart must be racing, driven by our recent words, and engendering an elusive unspoken hope.
It was my turn to swallow hard this time, and take a sip of the wine before I could manage to speak. I carefully set my glass back down, feeling a surprising slight tremor and looked up once more, to be confronted by those same caring eyes.
“I have a feeling but nothing for a fact that Brad has someone else again. Before you spoke to me earlier, actually just before I left my office, I had a text from Brad that stated he was detained on the east coast. He said he will not be here until late on Sunday and I know he will be leaving again on Tuesday to go back. I have no proof, but things between us are very polite and sterile. It has been several years since we had any type of sex if that is what you want to call it to be frank. Even then it was more like a script and could not end fast enough for either of us,” I explained to him.
I then breathed deeply as if a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders and sincerely hoping I had not said too much to a stranger. I felt driven to speak as I finally had a sense that at last, I had someone I could trust and talk to about my innermost fears and they would understand me.
Joey was obviously stunned. Whatever he expected to hear from me, this certainly wasn’t it.
From the moment, I had confirmed for him that I was in a relationship I’m sure he’d suspected all I wanted and was going to suggest was a little fun on the side. Now however, I could see from the confusion on his features that he actually didn’t know what to make of my candid statement or where I was going with this highly personal topic.
“So then why do you stay with him Marc? I told you how I handled the same situation. I just do not understand this and why you would put up with it. I’m sorry if I’m being too opinionated, and I know it isn’t my place to understand or question your relationship. At least now, I can appreciate what the look on Sally’s face was all about when I asked her some questions regarding your availability. Does she know what you’ve just told me, that is if you want to tell me, and obviously I’m not going to repeat it as you know,” he added.
I nodded sadly and I’m sure I showed my feelings in my expression.
“She has the general idea I’m sure. We’ve known each other for a long time and she helped piece me back together the first time it happened. Now she is done with the sympathy and is totally on the same page as you. I might also add she hates Brad’s guts and she won’t deal with him at all,” I explained, feeling the sudden bitterness creep into my voice as I answered his question honestly.
“Our gut reactions might be fine in some situations, and I admit to being guilty as charged about that one. However, after speaking to you for only a little while, I can tell there is so much more to you than lives on the surface. Our judgements can come quickly and decisively but we are not in your shoes so to speak. You have the history with him, I don’t and neither does Sally. Am I wrong in assuming she’s met him at some earlier point as it sounds like she has?” Joey asked me.
I could tell he was feeling more drawn into the situation since he wanted to know more about me, and my personal feelings regarding my current relationship. I was beginning to like the way he felt concern for me, it was surprising for such a short acquaintance.
“She has met him yes, and like everyone else he charmed the pants off her, not literally though,” I laughed. “Brad is super outgoing, handsome, and appealing to a fault. I tend to be more introspective and like being at home a lot. Don’t get the wrong idea here, I’m not a recluse by any means, but for me I’m not into partying much of the time.”
“Me either on that one, I like my gardening and being with my two dogs,” he added with a shy smile.
I grinned at him knowing we again shared a common trait.
“I love dogs, but Brad considers them a nuisance and a mess. I’ve wanted to have a dog for years but there was no wiggle room on that topic at all. He simply didn’t want animals in his life to crimp his style.”
Joey stared at me for a moment trying apparently to get up the courage to voice his thoughts again.
“So then to repeat myself, why do you stay with him? You keep giving me all the reasons to support a split. It sounds like he doesn’t make you happy, and certainly doesn’t respect you at all if he keeps this crap up,” Joey asked.
Before I could respond, he smiled when he jumped as the waiter surprised him by setting down our second glass of wine.
I know I must have looked lost in thought. At first, however I was beginning to think Joey was going too far with his pointed repeated questions and direct speculations. I probably began to look irritated, and he had evidently noticed it.
“Marc, that question I asked you, and I keep asking you is out of line, so please don’t be upset and don’t answer it,” he quickly told me, with his shyness very evident.
Hearing those words took all my irritation away and made me see his question for what it was; he was concerned about me and didn’t think I was seeing my situation as clearly as I should.
“I’m not upset with you, and it is a valid question. So I also ask myself, why do I keep acting like a doormat? I guess the best and only answer is that I love him. In some strange way, I believe that when you make a personal commitment to someone you follow it through, even if they do not. As the saying goes, ‘it is my story not his’ on how I act when confronted with difficult situations.”
Joey hit the table with his fist in frustration.
“But even at the expense of your own happiness Marc? When does it come to an end?” Joey blurted out before he could stop himself, and then stared down at the table. I’m sure he was mortified.COLLAPSE
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