Benny swiped one last time the counter, checked that all the drinks were well-stocked, inspected at the glasses to make sure there were no fingerprints on it, and decided that he was good to go.
Six days a week, Benny opened his bar from 5 pm to midnight. It was a hole in a wall a little farther away from the center. Sure, he never really had a big crowd, even during the week-end since people usually went downtown to fancier bars. His clients were mostly workers during the week and college student the week ends.
Benny didn’t mind. He had inherited the bar from an old family friend who was the first person to give him a chance after he went off the rails, and it was a way to keep him occupied. In the end, he grew to love working at the bar.
Benny had an ulterior motive. Two weeks ago, the bar had gained a new regular customer. Every day, without a miss the man came in at exactly 9pm.
He always wore a three-piece suit. It highlighted his broad shoulders, hugged his powerful arms and chest, and perfectly framed his ass. His hair came down his chin with a slight curve that might mean that he kept his hair in a ponytail or fastened in some way during the day. His eyes were green, and grey, and brown and a mix of those colors depending on the light. There were mostly sad. He had a nice smile, not that Benny saw it much, and a face entirely too pleasing to the eyes.
So, yes, maybe Benny was a smidge smitten. Maybe, he was waiting for that handsome man to come in, sit at the counter and order a whiskey neat, and not drink the entire evening. Maybe he stayed longer than usual on his side of the counter.
Benny went to the door and flipped the sign to “Open”. Almost instantly, three people came in. They ordered their drinks and Benny served them. Then he started waiting.
As the customers trickled in throughout the evening, Benny couldn’t help but watch the clock. When 9pm sounded, he stared at the door intently, not wanting to miss Handsome’s entrance. Not a minute later, he finally came in.
He was wearing one of his usual suits (a blue navy one), his briefcase and the usual tired and sad expression on his face. Handsome went to the far side of the counter, and sat down with a sigh, putting his briefcase on the ground.
Benny furrowed his brows as he watched him. He seemed… burdened, even more so than usual. He looked as if he was literally carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Worrying his lower lip, Benny cleared his throat gently to call his attention.
Lost in thoughts, grey eyes blinked and looked at him. Benny wanted to believe that the little crease at the edge of his eyes meant that he was happy to see him. He could very well indulge in his own delusions for a few hours, right?
“What can I get you, darlin’?” he asked with a soft smile. Handsome’s own lips twitched a little, probably at the nickname. That was the first time Benny used it out loud, but he had been itching to call Handsome that way since he started coming in. The man didn’t comment on it and didn’t seem uncomfortable. It was as much as an authorization Benny was going to get.
“A whiskey, neat, please,” Handsome answered with a raspy voice. Weird, Benny thought as he went to fetch the 15-year-old single malt bottle, his voice wasn’t raspy usually. He took a glass and brought it back to Handsome. He unclasped the cap and poured the drink in the glass under the watchful eyes of the man. He put the glass on a cork coaster and slid it off to Handsome.
“One whiskey, neat.” Benny announced grandly.
A quick smile and Handsome took the glass in his hands and kept it there.
“Holler if you need anything else.”
Handsome’s eyes flickered to him, surprised, and slowly nodded. Benny nodded too and went back to his other duties.
The hours passed, and every time Benny looked at Handsome, his drink was still untouched. Benny had always wondered why he ordered the drink if he never intended to drink it in the end. The man always paid for the drink, so it wasn’t a money problem. Benny was just… intrigued. When the bar was virtually empty, Benny let the curiosity get the better of him.
“You don’t like the drink?” He asked, coming up to the other man. Handsome started a little and looked up at Benny.
“I… I’m sorry, what did you say?”
Handsome chuckled to hide an embarrassed cough, but the rosy tint of his cheeks betrayed him.
“I was asking, you don’t like the drink? I can make you something else if you want.”
“No! I like it.”
Benny smiled at Handsome’s confused face.
He thought he might have pushed too far when the other man averted his eyes and didn’t answer. He was going to apologize when Handsome spoke.
“Actually… no, I don’t like it. I never liked it.”
He wasn’t looking at Benny, his eyes were lost on the drink’s surface.
“If it’s not too personal, why do you order it then?”
He was curious, sue him. And well… Handsome had this way to hunch on himself to make himself look smaller and less imposing… it made Benny want to comfort him.
“It was my father’s favorite drink.”
Ouch, Benny thought when the past tense of the other man’s sentence hit him.
“I don’t know why I do that. I hate the drink, my father and I never really got along but I…”
He paused, choking on his words. He passed a quick hand over his eyes and sighed miserably. Benny felt guilty for reminding him of something so obviously difficult and upsetting.
“‘M sorry, darlin’, didn’t want to make you feel bad.”
Handsome chuckled wetly and looked back at Benny.
“It’s fine. It’s not your fault I screwed everything up.”
Benny didn’t like the sound of that. The man seemed so defeated.
“What do you mean?”
Handsome shook his head and smiled sadly at Benny.
“I don’t want to bother you.”
“You won’t, I promise.” Benny reassured quickly. The other man bit slightly his bottom lip before nodding quietly.
“You probably already guessed but my dad died three weeks ago. Heart attack. Nothing too surprising. He lived… a full life.” Handsome scratched his forehead, eyes back on the amber liquid. “Yeah, let’s say that. The whiskey was half of it.”
Benny tensed unwillingly. Alcohol was fun until it becomes a problem.
“So, he died, and I couldn’t go to his funeral. Well,” The man amended, snorting deprecatingly. “I could have gone but I had a really important case. It was the life of a person.”
Handsome raised his head and looked back at Benny.
“So, I thought, what was the point to go to a funeral if someone’s else life was on balance? I know that a funeral, the ceremony and all that, it’s not for the dead, not anymore. It’s for the living so that they can feel good and move on.”
He passed his finger on the rim of the glass.
“My brother, um, my brother’s not talking to me because I didn’t want to take three days off to come back home.” He chuckled darkly. “And then, we lost the case.”
Benny leaned toward him. He didn’t touch him, but he stayed close, hoping to be a comforting presence.
“And here I am three weeks later. Ordering my father’s favorite drink and wondering why.”
“I’m sorry, darlin’” Benny said when he saw the other man’s eyes filling with tears. None of them fell, though, and Benny could only admire the strength this man had.
“Sam,” He blurted out. Benny looked at him with a confused look. Handsome’s eyes crinkled, and his lips turned up, thrilling the older man.
“I don’t mind you calling me darling, but my name is Sam if you wanted to know.”
Benny softly and nodded.
They shook hands, lingering a little too long to be a casual handshake.
“I should go,” Handsome — Sam — sighed. “Thank you for listening to me and letting me order a drink I never drink.”
“You’re a paying customer, I don’t mind.” Benny winked, seeing as Sam seemed a little better now.
“Well, thank you anyway. I should go.”
“You know, you’re always welcome here if you need somewhere to hide for a while.”
Sam observed him with a neutral expression. Benny wondered what he was thinking, hoping he didn’t overstep.
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
With this last statement, Sam waved and walked toward the exit.
Benny smiled and watched him leave, a little wistful. He wished Sam had stayed. It has only been a few weeks since his father died, and it seemed that Sam didn’t get the closure he needed, especially with his brother’s resentment. Benny just hoped Sam would take him up on that invitation. He’d rather have Sam here, in his bar, than outside where Benny couldn’t help him if needed.
When midnight struck, Benny closed for the night, weirdly satisfied with his evening.
The rest of the week passed quickly. Friday and Saturday were rowdier than the other days of the week as expected, and Benny had to hire two more bartenders for the evening. On Sunday, Benny spent half the day sleeping and the other half doing inventory. Monday rolled around and brought a new week. Benny would deny it forever that he was walking with a skip that day. No one was here to see it anyway.
He opened on time, and as usual, the customers trickled in. Benny couldn’t help but keep glancing at the clock, wishing the time went faster. Unfortunately, he didn’t have that kind of power, so he grudgingly waited like any other person for 9pm to sound.
Like clockwork, Sam came in, sat on the same seat and ordered the same drink. Benny, while a little disappointed, was mostly worried. Sam didn’t look better. His face was drawn, his eyes had dark rings and he seemed paler too. Was he sick? Benny went to see him, antsy to find out what happened.
“Whisky, neat, please.” Sam ordered without looking at him.
Benny wanted to say something, but the look Sam sent him made him revise his judgement. If he didn’t want to talk, that was fine by him. He didn’t want to pressure him in any way.
For the next few days, the situation repeated itself every time. For a moment, Benny almost believed he had dreamt that conversation with Sam. But sometimes, the other man would offer up a smile or a quip, reassuring Benny that he hadn’t gone crazy. Yet, nothing changed much.
Benny tried a few other times to start up a conversation, even going as far as calling Sam “darling”, “sugar” or “Cher”, hoping it would make him react. And it did.
For a few seconds, Sam smiled sweetly, a private little smile, and blushed. And then, the moment had up and disappeared. It disheartened Benny a little who thought that they were going somewhere. Clearly, he had misunderstood.
One week later, Benny took Monday and Tuesday off to see his niece who lived a couple of hundreds of miles from him. When he came back on Tuesday night a little after midnight, he saw someone sitting down on the sidewalk on his doorstep. Sliding his duffel bag from his shoulder to his left hand, Benny walked cautiously to the person. He tried to keep a calm demeanor on the exterior, even though his heart was racing in his chest. Drunk people weren’t easy to handle, you never knew how they react to alcohol.
As he came closer to the hunched figure, he asked, “Hey, you ok?”
The head shot up and Benny instantly recognized Sam.
“Sam?” he asked softly, “are you OK?”
“Hey, Benny,” Sam giggled drunkenly, “you’re here. Was waitin’ for you. Weren’t there.”
“I’m sorry, darling,” Benny replied, kneeling in front of Sam, “I went to see my niece for a couple of days.”
Sam nodded, sighing. Benny’s heart squeezed painfully at Sam’s utterly dejected expression.
“s ok. Can’t expect people to always be there for me,” Sam said, slurring, “that’s what m’brother said anyway.”
He sighed again, a forlorn expression on his face. It made Benny want to throttle this brother who couldn’t see past his nose and notice that Sam wasn’t doing well.
“Can you walk?” Benny asked, putting a hand on Sam’s shoulder to bring his attention back to him.
Sam put his hands on the ground and pushed. Thankfully, Benny was here to catch him when he started lean too much forward.
“Slowly, we don’t want you to faceplant on the sidewalk.”
“t’at wouldn’ be goo’.” Sam commented, slurring his words.
Benny couldn’t repress his chuckles.
“No, it wouldn’t.”
Benny helped the other man stand and walk to the bar’s service door. Sam stumbled on the way to the door, not able to walk right. He was lucky Benny had a bit of muscles on him, otherwise he wasn’t sure he could have kept him from toppling over.
The older man dropped his duffel bag on the ground. With one hand, he kept Sam steady while he used the other to open the door.
“Come on,” Benny grunted, gently pushing Sam inside. The other man didn’t resist and sat down on the stairs leading to Benny’s apartment. When Sam seemed to stay relatively upright, Benny dragged his duffel bag in and locked the door. He turned back to his surprise guest who was looking at Benny through half-lidded eyes.
If he weren’t so drunk, this was the sort of look Benny would be thrilled to receive from Sam. Another time, Benny told himself, feeling guilty at the thought. He shouldn’t be thinking of that when Sam was in this state. He needed someone to help him, not someone who was fantasizing about the ways he would make love to him.
Sam unexpectedly moaned, furrowing his brows, face scrunched up and paler than he was before. Benny’s eyes grew wide when he realized what was happening.
“Shit, you’re gonna be sick.”
Benny scrambled to the bar and searched for a container, anything. He found a jug and hurried back to Sam. The man had a hand in front of his mouth, eyes squeezed shut. Benny knelt next to him and with a brush of his fingers on Sam’s hand called for his attention. The other man opened his eyes, grabbed the jug and threw up.
Benny couldn’t repress the disgusted expression on his face. Luckily, Sam was busy emptying his stomach in the jug, so he didn’t see it. When the other man’s stomach seemed to settle, Benny took the jug and dumped its content in the private bathroom, then he put it in the sink. He would wash it the next morning. He came back to Sam and helped him get up.
“Come on, big guy. We need to climb those stairs. Then, you’ll take a good shower and sleep.”
They started climbing, Benny half-carrying Sam who had trouble evaluating the distance between each step. They finally reached the top after a few scares. Benny opened the door and led Sam inside. He let the other man look around for a bit while he went to fetch a towel and a change of clothes. When he came back, Sam was looking at the pictures he had on the mantle of a fireplace he never used.
“Hey, Sam? Wanna take a shower?”
The young man turned around, and Benny was relieved to see he looked less drunk. Or at least, he seemed to be much more in control of his limbs.
“Yeah, that’s a good idea,” Sam replied with a smile, his voice hoarse. Benny winced a little and admonished himself for not proposing water. Before he could say anything though, Sam gently took the change of clothes, waiting for Benny to indicate him where the bathroom was.
“Right through here,” Benny said, pointing at the door next to the entrance.
“Thanks. I won’t be long.”
Sam went to the bathroom and closed the door. When the water started running, Benny briefly closed his eyes and shook his head. He hoped he wasn’t messing things up by bringing Sam here. Especially from Sam’s point of view. Maybe he just saw Benny as the creepy bartender who always called him darling and took him upstairs while drunk.
No, no, Benny thought, Sam wouldn’t have come if he thought that, right?
While the other man took a shower, Benny prepared the bed for him, a glass of water and an aspirin.
A few minutes after the shower stopped, Sam came out wearing only the boxers Benny had lent him. The older man had to consciously keep his jaw shut at Sam’s sculpted body. Coupled with the wet hair and the way he was looking at Benny, it just gave him many, many dirty ideas.
“So, hm,” Benny started, clearing his throat. “You’re not wearing the clothes?”
Sam smiled sheepishly, shrugging from one shoulder.
“Sorry, they don’t really fit me.”
Benny shook his head, “No, it’s fine. Hm. You take the bed. There’s water and an aspirin if you want.”
Sam’s eyes went to the bed and nodded.
“I don’t want you to put you out.”
“It’s fine,” Benny replied, waving in the air. “The couch is comfortable.”
Not really, but he wasn’t going to make Sam the giant sleep on his average couch. And well, maybe, there was also a little voice in his head that said it might be the only time he would have Sam in his bed, even though he wasn’t in it personally.
Sam flashed him another smile and walked to the bed. Benny watched him sat down, drink the glass of water and lie down. Benny went to the bathroom to take a shower too. After brushing his teeth, he came back to the main room. Sam had left the light on and was snoring softly. Benny switched it off and went to the couch. He put the plaid over his body and waiting for sleep to take him.
Benny groaned and turned, almost falling from the couch. He was changing his earlier comment. That couch was fucking horrible and he didn’t sleep well at all. He groaned again and turned on his back, shuffling a bit so that none of his limbs would be on the risk to fall off.
He was on the verge on falling back asleep when he sensed movement next to him. He snapped open his eyes and sat. Sam startled, not expecting Benny to spring up like that.
“Sorry,” he said with a sweet but awkward smile, “I didn’t mean to you wake you up.”
Benny returned the smile, passing a hand in his hair and beard.
“‘S fine. I was awake anyway.”
He was going to stand when he noticed that Sam was half dressed, unfastened pants and naked chest on display. His hair was wet, and Benny had to swallow down whatever lewd comment he wanted to make. He was a gentleman, dammit, not a horny 15-year-old.
Sam made a face, tucking a strand of hair behind his ear.
“I didn’t really take a shower yesterday, I just sort of let water fall on me. Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize, Sam, it’s fine.”
Benny stood, yawning. He stretched and turned to the kitchen.
“Want something to drink? Or eat?”
When silence answered him, Benny looked at Sam whose eyes quickly met Benny’s, pink hue dusting his cheeks.
“Hm. Just coffee, if you have it.”
Sam cleared his throat. He let his hands fall in front of his unfastened his jeans and shuffled back toward the bed. Benny didn’t hide the pleased smirk. He was only wearing a boxer and a t-shirt, so it was damn enjoyable to have Sam look at him like that.
“You got it, darling.”
After one last glance at a flustered Sam, Benny went on to make the coffee and some toasts. If he could get Sam to eat a little, he would feel better. He took out the butter and jam from the fridge and put them on the counter. Once the coffee machine started to make the dark liquid, Benny took a quick shower too.
When he finished, he found Sam on the bed, staring at his phone with a grim expression.
“Hey,” Benny said softly. “You OK?”
Sam looked up, and it broke Benny’s heart to see unshed tears in his eyes.
“Yeah,” Sam’s smile was wobbly, “I’ll be fine.”
“Sam,” Benny called when the other man averted his eyes. “Look at me.”
Sam exhaled and briefly closed his eyes.
“I’m sorry for last night, and I—”
Benny sat beside him and gently took the phone from his hand.
“I didn’t mind, Sam.”
“But I didn’t have the right…”
“I gave it to you, remember?”
Sam worried his lips and finally looked back at Benny. It was extraordinary how his eyes could change colors. Shut up, Benny admonished himself internally, this was not the time.
“Yeah, I remember,” Sam confirmed with a small smile, reassuring Benny that it hadn’t been unwelcomed.
“Then, I’m glad you came to me, and I’m glad I could be there for you.”
Benny chuckled embarrassed at himself and looked away, feeling his cheeks warm.
“I like you Sam, even though we’ve only said more than two words to each other exactly twice.”
The other man’s face had a strange expression, a mix of shyness and smugness with a little uncertainty thrown in.
“I like you too.” Sam simply answered.
Benny took a deep breath and willed himself to stand and take a step back, otherwise he might just lean in and kiss the young man right now.
“Good. You hungry?” Benny asked as he walked away from the bed.
He turned around, opening his mouth to say something when the words were swallowed by Sam’s mouth. For a hot second, Benny froze, taken aback by the kiss. However, when he felt Sam starting to pull away, he stood on his toes, passed his arms around Sam’s neck and deepened the kiss.
Sam sighed against his mouth and pulled away to look at Benny. Even though he had been the one to initiate the kiss, he seemed unsure.
“You know I’ve been waiting to do that since you first came in,” Benny admitted in a low voice.
Sam’s eyes widened and a pleased smile stretched his lips.
Instead of answering, Benny kissed Sam again.