Just Shy of Heaven
Chapters: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Tobias pulled his car up in front of the bakery and turned to look at Zander. “I really enjoyed eating lunch with you,” he remarked. “Did you enjoy it, Zander?”
He nodded, clutching the bag with the suit in it on his lap. Tobias smiled. “I’m glad. So you think you’d like to do it again tomorrow?”
Zander blinked. Seeing his expression, Tobias grinned. “I mean eat lunch with me, not rent a suit,” he said with a wink. “So do you want to? Eat lunch with me again, I mean?”
Did he want to?! More than anything else in the whole world! But all he could manage was a soft: “Yes,” instead of the vigorous affirmative he would have liked to have given.
Tobias looked satisfied. “Great. I’ll come and pick you up again. Same time, same place. Okay?”
He nodded blissfully. Then he got the shock of his life, because Tobias leaned over and kissed him! It was just the lightest of touches, like the brushing of a moth’s wings against his lips. But he froze, his eyes wide, as Tobias eased back and looked at him. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Zander,” he said.
His first kiss. His first kiss ever! Zander was so shocked and astonished that he couldn’t move or think. After a moment, Tobias remarked in a rather strained voice: “Zander, no offense but if you don’t get out of the car I’m going to have to kiss you again. And I’m not sure you’re ready for that.”
He broke out of his daze, his face flushing as he fumbled with the door handle. Tobias watched him as he got out of the car, then leaned over and spoke again: “Don’t get all worked up, Zander. People kiss each other all the time. And I don’t know about you, but I really liked it.”
He had too. He stared mutely down at Tobias’s face, and the other man smiled at him suddenly. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Zander. Though I’d better warn you - you should be prepared to be kissed again.” he moved back into his seat, waved at Zander, and started his car. Zander just stood there dumbly, clutching the suit bag, and watched him drive away.
His lips were tingling, and his mind was doing a good imitation of a rat that had been given cocaine running on a wheel. Tobias had said…that he was…going to kiss him again tomorrow! Was now a good time to start hyperventilating? Even if it wasn’t, he was contemplating doing it anyway…
He dug out his cell phone with fingers that shook, and called Jake. His friend answered promptly. “Hey, Zander, what’s up?”
“J-Jake?” he said, stuttering a little as his anxiety ratcheted up even further.
“Yeah? What’s wrong, Zander?” his friend asked in concern, unerringly reading his tone of voice.
“What’s the matter? Did that guy do something to you?” Jake asked suspiciously, “Because if he did, I’ll…”
“No! No. H-he didn’t do anything wrong,” Zander said, defending Tobias stoutly. “He just…he kissed me, Jake.”
Silence on the other end of the phone. Then: “So let me get this straight. You call me at work, wigging out, because this guy kissed you?! Seriously, Zander? I thought that he’d done something awful to you! You really had me worried!”
“I’m sorry,” he said thinly. “I just…”
“You’re just losing it because some guy finally kissed you,” Jake replied. “I get that. It’s your first time, right? First times are a bitch. I remember when Mary Kirkpatrick kissed me in the fifth grade. I lost it so bad that I started picking on her after that, just because I couldn’t handle the fact that she’d kissed me. By the end of the year, she hated my guts,” he said wryly. “I hope you don’t go that route, Zander, since you really seem to like this guy. Anyway, was that the only thing bothering you? That he kissed you?”
“No. he said that he’s going to take me out to lunch tomorrow too…and that he’s going to kiss me again!” Zander cried, his fingers spasming around his cell phone.
“Ah, gotcha. Listen, Zander, I know you. You’re going to spend half the night freaking out about that, working yourself up for nothing. Before you do that, I have a question for you. Did you like it when he kissed you?”
Silence. Then: “Yes,” in a soft voice.
“Okay. So you liked it. And you wouldn’t mind if he did it again?” Jake asked patiently.
More silence. “No. I…I wouldn’t,” Zander said in a slightly choked voice.
“Well, okay, then. What’s to get worked up about? You liked it when he kissed you, you wouldn’t mind if he did it again, so why freak out about tomorrow? There’s nothing to get excited about. Except looking forward to your second kiss ever,” Jake went on, his voice amused. “Anticipation is a better emotion than anxiety, Zander. Try feeling some of that instead. Now I’ve got to go, I have to get back to work. I’ll call you later, buddy, and we can talk some more.”
“Thank you, Jake,” he breathed.
“Hey, no problem. Who stayed up with me when I was drunk and out-of-it because my girlfriend dumped me? Who tried to make me fat by feeding me an endless parade of homemade desserts so that I’d feel better?” Jake said teasingly, his voice warm. “I got your back, Zander, just like you had mine. Talk to you later, guy.”
“Bye,” he said, hanging up the cell phone. He felt a little better just for having talked to Jake. The butterflies in his stomach had calmed down a little as he walked toward his car, still carrying the plastic bag with the suit in it over his arm.
Armed with a long talk with Jake that evening, Zander only spent half the night tossing and turning, rather than the entire night. He shuffled tiredly off to work the next mourning, yawning and knuckling at his eyes wearily. This was the second night in a row that he hadn’t gotten enough sleep, and he felt rather muzzy by now. He sleepwalked through the morning, barely able to feel any anxiety about eating lunch with Tobias today because he was just so tired. The day seemed to drag by, yet it also seemed to race by as well.
Finally his shift ended, and he hung up his apron with a mingled feeling of apprehension and anticipation, leaving by the back door.
His heart lurched when he saw Tobias waiting for him at the curb. “Hi, Zander. You looked tired earlier,” he remarked in concern. “Didn’t sleep last night?”
“Not very well, no,” he admitted, then yawned.
Tobias nodded. “I thought not. So I got us some take-out lunch that I thought we might eat at your place, then you could go right to bed and take a nap. What do you say?”
His heart started pounding very loudly. Take Tobias to his apartment? Let him inside? Oh, God! He was awake now, adrenaline pouring through his system. Tobias frowned a little. “If you don’t want to, that’s fine, Zander,” he said gently. “We can just go eat in the park again. It’s up to you.”
A way out. They could just go do the safe thing. But…Zander was so very, very tired of doing the safe thing all the time. He looked at Tobias, who was patiently waiting for his answer. He was so understanding, so kind…how many other men would be like that? Would put up with his blushing and stuttering and his almost overwhelming shyness? Most would have gotten impatient by now and moved on. Zander knew that it was a miracle that Tobias hadn’t, that he was willing to put up with his handicap. Because that’s what it was, a handicap. It interfered with most of his life, keeping him from making lots of friends or having a social life except for going to work or hanging out with Jake. Here, now, he had a chance to overcome that handicap a bit and not let it entirely rule his life. And he was going to take it, no matter what.
“You could…come to my house,” he said, although his tongue tried to tangle on him and stop him from saying the words aloud.
Tobias looked pleased. “I can? That’s great. Do you want to drive your own car, or leave it here? I can bring you back to pick it up later if you want.”
That sounded good to Zander. He wasn’t sure that he’d be able to drive without getting into an accident. W-we can take your car, if that’s okay,” he said.
Tobias opened the passenger side door for him. “Hop in.” he said.
Zander fumbled his way into the car, putting on his seat belt with fingers that didn’t quite seem to work properly. He couldn’t quite believe what he was doing, letting a strange man into his apartment. But Tobias wasn’t really a strange man, was he? Zander felt somehow as though he’d known the Man in the Suit all of his life in some strange way. He tried to relax as Tobias started the car and looked at him keenly. “Where to, Zander?” he asked.
He gave his address in a voice that only shook a little. Tobias pulled away from the curb, glancing over at him. “Are you sure you’re okay with this, Zander?” he asked quietly.
He nodded. It felt great to overcome his shyness enough to invite Tobias over to his apartment. This was a big step for him, but one he took gladly because he really was tired of being a prisoner to his shyness. Maybe he’d never be able to get rid of it entirely, but he could and would work hard to overcome it as much as possible.
Tobias didn’t say anything to him during the drive, letting him try to gather his courage and soothe his somewhat frazzled nerves in peace. Finally they arrived at his building, and he got slowly out of the car and stood on the sidewalk biting at his lower lip a little. Tobias came around to him with several white sacks in his hands. He looked at Zander and said calmly: “I know you can do this, Zander. Look at how far you’ve already come - you let me take you to get coffee, you agreed to go on a date with me, you ate lunch with me, and you let me kiss you yesterday. None of that sounds like something that an overwhelmingly shy person would be able to do, does it? You’re stronger than you are shy. I know it. I believe in you,” he said solemnly.
His stomach clenched inside of him as he looked into Tobias’s grave eyes. Yes, he was strong. He knew what he wanted, and giving in to his painful shyness all of the time wouldn’t help him to get what he wanted. It would only hinder him instead. So he lifted his head and stepped away from the car, leading Tobias toward his building. He led the way to his door, and opened it with his key. He turned to Tobias. “Please come in,” he said firmly, and his voice was shaking at all as the Man in the Suit stepped past him into his apartment.