The next few weeks were a misery for Damien. Because he worked at home, he saw his new housekeeper often. Rahul was in-and-out of the living room as he dusted and polished the furniture or vacuumed the carpet, and he often sang to himself in lyrical Hindustani as he bustled around getting his work done. And if he went into the kitchen to get a snack or a meal, Rahul was generally there cooking, cleaning, or doing the dishes. He was like some elfin spirit, flittering around the house making all of their lives better.
Damien was in torment. He wanted desperately to ask Rahul out, but he was afraid that the housekeeper would say 'no', and then everything would get awkward. Maybe Rahul would even quit. And he couldn’t afford that; Rahul was both an excellent cook and an excellent housekeeper, as well. Also, everyone in the apartment building loved him. Damien might have a riot on his hands if Rahul quit because of him.
He knew that Rahul liked him, but the housekeeper genuinely seemed to like all of the inhabitants of the apartment building. Even Brandon, who continued to cheerfully hit on him and occasionally tried to grope him. He took this behavior in his stride, and seemed to consider it as just part-and-parcel of Brandon being Brandon. But as for any other, more personal liking...he hadn't seen any sign of that. Rahul treated him the same as he did everybody else, which often made him feel completely glum and depressed. The man of his dreams was living in the same building as he was, was working for him, so near and yet so far...it was almost unbearable.
But he would bear it. Because Rahul was such a good housekeeper, he'd grin and bear it no matter how much it hurt. Damien was in his own private hell, and it didn't look like he'd be climbing out of it anytime soon.
He was sitting in the living room, watching Rahul chatting with Brandon, Josh, Isaiah, and Caleb, when Bill came and sat down in the chair next to him. "Damien," the teacher said softly.
"Yeah? What is it, Bill?" he pulled himself together enough to ask.
The teacher's tired but kind eyes met his. "I have to ask you something," he said softly. "Are you...in love with our housekeeper?"
Damien was flabbergasted by this question. Bill smiled slightly at his expression, and told him: "Relax, nobody else knows. It's just that I've seen you watching him every night, and I know that look that you wear when you do so. You look like a starving man looking through the window of a restaurant at a smorgasbord, knowing that you don't have any money on you."
Damien laughed a little, in a cracked sort of way, at his words. "Yeah, I guess that's how I feel," he conceded. "Since the day he arrived on our doorstep, I'll admit that I've been totally attracted to Rahul. I'm just scared to ask him out or rock the boat in any way - what if he says no? Can you imagine how awkward that would make things? And what if he quit because he felt awkward after that? Everyone would kill me!"
"It's true that you'd have some unhappy campers around here," Bill agreed with a crooked smile. "But at least if you ask him and he days no, you'll know where you stand and can stop tormenting yourself. And if you're careful about how you ask, it shouldn’t be too awkward for either him or you. Just don't be too pushy or act like a stalker. If he turns you down, smile and thank him and then go back to treating him like you always have. It won't be easy for you, but at least you'll have tried. That’s the important part."
Damien just looked at him. "Do you think that you could do it, Bill?" he asked.
The teacher shrugged. "I've done harder things, Damien. And look at the alternative. You'll still be alone if he says no, but at least you won't be miserable and uncertain on top of it. I say, go for it. At least try."
Damien nodded. "You're right," he said. "I'll try. Thanks, Bill."
"It's no problem. Good luck, Damien," he rose to his feet and pottered away, back to his own chair and the cup of tea sitting on the arm.
Damien took a deep breath, trying to work up his courage. Not that he was going to do it right now, not in front of everybody else - that would be horribly embarrassing for them both, especially if Rahul said no. He wanted to do everything that he could not to embarrass Rahul or make things awkward for him, so that the housekeeper would stay no matter what his answer to the question that Damien meant to pose to him. Tomorrow, when everybody else was out of the building, would be time enough.
That was a long night for Damien. He spent most of it restlessly tossing and turning, trying to decide which would be worse - continuing on with the status quo, or asking Rahul out and being turned down. But in the end, he decided that Bill was right. It was better to try, even if he got shot down. He'd learn to live with it if Rahul didn't want to date him, but at least he'd know where he stood.
He got up late after catching a few hours of sleep, and trailed into the kitchen bleary eyed from lack of sleep. Rahul was just finishing up a set of sausage and eggs for him, and he set it on the table with a concerned smile on his face. "Damien, you look so tired," he said. "Did you sleep at all?"
"A little bit. I just had trouble getting to sleep," Damien said as he yawned and scrubbed at his face.
"Well, eat up. A good breakfast won't make up for losing sleep, but it'll help a little," he set the plate in front of Damien and bustled away to feed Cleo, who was sitting by her bowl and yowling loudly.
Damien ate his breakfast, savoring the excellent food. He watched Rahul moving around the kitchen, admiring once again the slender, lithe form and the beautiful face under the mass of wavy hair. He could have sat there watching Rahul all day long.
He finished the last bite of eggs, and Rahul swooped in to pick up his plate and carry it to the sink to rinse it. "Thanks for the food, Rahul," Damien said gratefully. "It was really good."
"You always say that," Rahul remarked merrily as he rinsed the plate in the sink.
"That's because it's true," Damien replied stoutly. “Umm...Rahul?"
"Yes?" the housekeeper turned around to look at him, And Damien took in a deep breath. Here went nothing. he felt sick to his stomach with nervousness as he said slowly: "I was wondering? If you might like to go to dinner with me Friday night, and let everybody fend for themselves for one night."
Rahul blinked, looking startled. "Go to dinner with you? Are you...asking me out on a date, Damien?"
Oh, man. He swallowed heavily, but nodded. "Yes, I am. It's okay if you say no," he replied hurriedly, "I won't be mad or anything. I just thought I'd give it a try," he added with as casual a shrug as he could manage.
Rahul's brows drew down a little. "Are you asking me out because you feel sorry for me?" he asked, a tinge of anger in his voice.
Damien's own brows shot toward the ceiling. "Hell, no!" he cried. "What gave you that idea?!"
Rahul frowned. "It's just...I spend all of my time here at work, I don't have a boyfriend, and..."
Damien laughed rather harshly. "If I was going to feel sorry for you about that, I'd have to feel sorry for myself, as well," he pointed out acerbically. "I spend all of my time at work, and I don't have a boyfriend, either. No, I asked you out because I really want to go out with you, Rahul. But I don’t want you to feel awkward or uncomfortable about saying no if you don't want to go out with me, so I'm trying to be as causal as I can about it."
"Oh," Rahul studied his face, and a small smile flitted over his mouth over whatever he saw there. "Then if that's the case, I'd love to go out with you, Damien. I've been on so few dates since I came out to my parents. It will be nice to get another one under my belt."
Now it was Damien's turn to frown. "Are you just going out with me for practice?" he asked, his voice tight. "Because if that's the case..."
"No, no. I worded that wrong. I'd like to go out with you," Rahul assured him. You're a nice man, Damien."
He relaxed in his chair, drawing in a long breath of relief. "Thanks, though I'll admit I don't always feel like being nice when I look at you, Rahul," he went on with a crooked smile. "You're the most beautiful person that I've ever seen, and it makes me a little crazy sometimes."
To his delight, a charming color swarmed up in Rahul's dusky cheeks. "I'm not..." he began helplessly, making an awkward gesture with one hand.
"Yes, you are. Trust me on this. You're gorgeous. Though if you'd been a jerk underneath the looks, I wouldn't have been interested in you. But you're not. You're a real sweetheart."
All of these compliments had clearly flustered Rahul. He squirmed in place, still blushing. "You don't need to say stuff like that," he began earnestly.
I wouldn’t say it if I didn't mean it. But I'll stop if it's embarrassing you," Damien rose to his feet. "I'll get to work and leave you alone now. But thanks for saying yes, Rahul. I can't wait to go out with you."
"I'm looking forward to it, too," the housekeeper admitted. "Even if I shouldn’t really date my employer," he added with a saucy twinkle in his dark eyes.
"Well, your employer appreciates it," Damien told him with a grin, before he left the kitchen and retreated to the living room, where he did a wild but silent victory dance around the room.
Brandon came sailing into the kitchen later on, and latched onto Rahul immediately. "Hey, baby, did you miss me while I was gone?" he purred as he stepped up behind the housekeeper and wound his arms around Rahul's waist.
Rahul laughed. 'I always miss you, you know that, Brandon," he replied in amusement.
"If that’s true, why won't you give me the time of day?" the hairdresser pouted, rubbing his chin against the back of Rahul's t-shirt.
"Because you're a darling, Brandon, but I'm not into guys who sleep around," Rahul said as he stirred the pot on the stovetop. "But if you were to give up sleeping with anyone else, I might consider it."
Brandon sighed, releasing his waist and stepping back. "I thought so," Rahul commented, laughter in his voice. "I think it would take somebody really special to make you stop sleeping around, Brandon, and that person isn't me. But I hope you meet him someday."
"I hope it isn't soon," Brandon replied saucily. "I LIKE sleeping around!"
"I know you do. Why don’t you go and help set the table? I'm making your favorite, glazed ham."
"Yummy!" Brandon scurried away to fetch silverware from the drawer, and Rahul smiled as he turned back to his pot.
He was glad that he'd been able to divert Brandon so easily; he didn't want to tell Brandon that he was going out Friday night with Damien. The hairdresser was sure to pout and act all depressed, and would badger Rahul about why he'd want to go out with Damien and not Brandon! And the housekeeper didn't want to be too blunt and hurt his feelings by telling him that he much preferred a guy like Damien to someone like Brandon. He was really looking forward to his first date in months, especially since he was going out with a guy he'd thought was hot ever since the first time he'd come to the apartment building about the housekeeping job.
He'd kept his thoughts to himself before this, because Damien had seemed nice but disinterested. Now that he knew that Damien really was interested in him, he could indulge in a few fantasies featuring himself and a certain blonde building manager in the privacy of his own head. And who knew? maybe someday he might get the chance to turn those fantasies into a reality...
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