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The Invitation

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Greg had trouble thinking of himself as a ‘divorced man.’ After twelve years of marriage he was no longer Jeannette-and-Greg. He’d lost a few friends in the divorce (along with the house, half his assets and his sense of worth). But mostly the people who had always been there for him continued to be.

 

He wasn’t sure he’d have made it through without his parents and Gino Papadopoulos, without his best friend Anthea, her boyfriend Philip, and all the people of Graveley’s Hollow who had peopled his life since he was a boy. Slowly Greg began to believe that perhaps his world hadn’t ended with the dissolution of his marriage; he started to think that Jeannette might be wrong and maybe, just maybe, he had more to offer than “dull conversation and boring daydreams.”

 

Moving back in with mum and dad for a while did much to renew his feeling of security, although he swiftly began looking around for accommodations. They had their own lives and he didn’t want them to feel obligated to worry about him. Unfortunately he needed to work on his savings once more, since Jeannette had made out like a bandit. Greg was giving thought to finding a second job when the solution to his problems arrived through unhappy means.

 

Gino died. Greg was left stunned. Gino was only sixty-three, a hearty, vital man, who, it seemed to him, had another thirty years of life in him. The village was left stunned at the sudden nature of the man’s death, which had come about as a heart attack at the village observance of Remembrance Day. Although the ambulance rushed him to Moreton to the hospital, it was too late; before sunset he was gone. Already in a depression, Greg was flung into further despair. Out of respect, he and the staff closed the florists for two days, and Greg didn’t get out of his pyjamas the entire time.

 

The only thing that pulled him out of his slump was the unexpected news he received at the reading of Gino’s will. Gino, long a widower, and with no children or living siblings, had left a nice inheritance for his sister’s two boys, and bequeathed some small items to friends and charities. But the bulk of his money and his business were left to Greg.

 

It was a revelation. One that did more than anything to fill him with a sense of purpose and confidence. Gino had thought enough of Greg to leave him the business he had started all those years ago with his wife. Greg had known how valued he was to Gino, but never had he imagined his old friend would consider him a fitting shepherd for his beloved business. Some of his quiet self-assurance returned, and while a part of him wanted to find Jeannette and tell her that she was wrong and he hadn’t been “wasting his time toiling for pennies in a dead-end village shop,” the other part of him was glad he didn’t know where she and her footballer boyfriend were. Best to never talk to her again. Mum was right, she was bad news. She’d certainly proved that, and in flagrant, public fashion.

 

Greg brought Anthea in as a partner, since her business administration training and experience would be invaluable. While she had no talent for arranging flowers, she was excellent with people and her organizational skills were superb. The money she invested in the business allowed them to update the computer system and hire a delivery driver. By February the shop was looking fresh, bright and revitalized.

 

On a foggy, drizzly day early in the month, before the true rush towards Valentine’s Day began, Greg was alone in the shop. Anthea was meeting with their accountant in Moreton, Derrick was out on a delivery to the nursing home and he’d sent young Meg off for her lunch. When the bell over the door rang pleasantly, Greg was in the back, working on a centerpiece for Maisie Wainwright, who was due in the following Saturday with her mum, her future mother-in-law, two of her bridesmaids and her overbearing gran. They were to pick out the centerpieces for her wedding and between the grandmother, mums, the bride and the battle between tradition and Pinterest, Greg was going slightly mad.

 

“I’ll be with you presently,” he called, setting the delicate baby’s breath down. It was lovely, but he thought it was far too overused and had tried to suggest alternatives, only to be shot down by all concerned. Wiping his hands absentmindedly on his smart, monogrammed hunter’s green apron, Greg looked down only to realize he was in fact not wearing said apron and had instead wiped his damp hands (and several flower petals) onto the hand-knit jumper Martha had made him. Oh dear. Well, everyone in town was used to seeing Greg Lestrade look a bit rumpled.

 

“Good afternoon,” he called out pleasantly, rounding the glass case near the back where the register was located. He could see a tall form bent over the display in the window.

 

The man straightened, turning, and Greg felt his breath leave him in surprise. He was a stranger, perhaps around his own age, and slightly taller, but there the similarity ended. Where Greg was a bit fat and frumpy and dressed like an old man (one of Janie’s parting shots), this bloke was athletically slim, like a runner, with fair skin, brilliant blue eyes and ginger hair worn in an edgy undercut, the top foaming into sculpted curls combed to the right from a deep left part. The left side of his head was shaved almost to the skull, setting off three small black titanium studs in his lobe. He too, wore a jumper, but his was some trendy slashed thing in ivory, through which peeked a midnight blue t-shirt. With his skinny jeans, moto boots and butter-soft leather jacket he looked like a rock star.

 

Greg felt like an OAP in his cords and bulky jumper. “H-hi,” he stammered, starstruck.

 

The man smiled at him, warm and friendly, and held out a large hand, “Hello, are you Mr Lestrade?”

 

“I am,” Greg managed, swallowing. He felt as if he had just been swept by a fever, and his head was actually light. Good Lord, what was wrong with him? “And it’s ‘Greg.’ Something I can do for you?’

 

“I’m Myc, Mycroft Holmes, I’m moving into the storefront across the road...I thought I’d come introduce myself to everyone in the neighborhood.”

 

“Pleased to meet you,” Greg said, hoping he wasn’t blushing. “Oh! You must be the bloke opening the tattoo parlour.” Although he was a bit fashionable for Graveley’s Hollow, he didn’t have any visible tattoos. Greg wondered what the man had going on under his clothes. That thought definitely made him blush.

 

“Studio,” he corrected nicely. “We’re artists. Parlour makes it sound as if we’re preparing bodies for a funeral.” He twinkled at Greg, “Most people think of us as degenerates, despite how mainstream tattoos are nowadays. I like to cultivate a certain image, that of artists, craftsmen if you will, who take pride in our skill and produce lasting beauty.”

 

“That’s...maybe gonna take some folk around here awhile to get their minds wrapped around,” Greg said, smiling. “It’s a friendly place, but a bit behind the times.”

 

“I’m sure we’ll do very nicely,” Myc said firmly. He put his hands in his pockets, “We’ve got a few more renovations to be completed on the studio, but then we’re planning an Open House for the weekend after this. I wanted to invite you personally, seeing as we’ll be neighbors.” He nodded across the way, “I’ll be living in the flat above the studio. So I’ll be able to keep a weather eye on things after hours, if you’re worried about that.”

 

Greg felt his blush coming back for some inexplicable reason. “I, er, live above the shop as well,” he admitted, unsure what to do with his hands, which suddenly felt too big. “So we’ll definitely be neighbors.”

 

“Excellent,” Myc said softly.



******



The florist was adorable.

 

Not here to chat the man up, Myc reminded himself sternly, when he realized he was dropping into the bedroom-eyes-and-come-hither-voice which served him well in the club scene. It was hard though--he really did have a thing for Bears, and while Greg Lestrade in his cuddly jumper and shy smile was more of a teddy bear it was working for him in surprising ways.

 

Mindful of his manners, Myc smiled, easing up on the won’t you let me see you naked slant. “I won’t keep you, I’m sure you’ve things to do. I just wanted to pop in and say hello. I’ve got a few more places where I’d like to drop by to introduce myself, and then I’d best get back to make sure the builders aren’t on yet another tea break.”

 

“Wiggins and Sons?” Greg asked with a knowing smile.

 

“Er, yes,” Myc stumbled, aware he needed to watch how he spoke about locals to, well, locals.

 

“Billy’s a good lad, but not exactly motivated--you’d best keep an eye on him or he’ll be off for a smoke break every time you turn your back. If his older brother Charlie’s there then things tend to get done.” He tucked his hands in his pockets, “Their dad never let either of them shirk hard work but since his dementia got so bad the brothers are trying to run it alone and there’s been some...bumps in the road.”

 

“Good to know,” Myc noted. “I appreciate the insider information.”

 

“Anytime,” Greg said, and blushed again. Myc firmed his resolve and his spine. “It’s good to have some new faces in town--if you ever need anything, let me know.”

 

“Is there any place in the village that delivers pizza? It’s a late night again I suspect, and last night I was so exhausted I ate a piece of bread with jam and fell asleep at the table.” Actually he’d fallen asleep on the jammy bread and woken at three in the morning, feeling hungover, with a slice of half-eaten bread stuck to his cheek. No need to share that, however.

 

“No places which sell pizza--and no one delivers here. Most places are closed by six. But...my parents own the bakery around the corner and they do a great flatbread, they’re only open until six, and the flatbread usually sells out around lunchtime. The café, Speedy’s, is open til eight, and of course the pub is open until ten on the weekdays, and one on the weekends, but they only do basic pub grub.”

 

“Ah, I see,” Myc laughed ruefully, “I’ve got to adjust my expectations to village life. I’ll have to find the time to pop into the shop and stock up.” He glanced at his watch, “Sometime…”

 

Going pink once more ( damn the man for his utterly ridiculous appeal!) Greg hemmed, “Erm, you could...come to mine for dinner if you like?”

 

“I wouldn’t like to put you out,” Myc demurred.

 

“It’s no trouble--can’t quite get used to cooking for just one since my wife left.”

 

Wife...alright, scratch gay off the table. But bisexual might still be in play…

 

“I’m sorry about your separation,” Myc said, sincerely. He couldn’t imagine wanting to be with anyone strongly enough to enter into an official union--nor that anyone would want to be with him for a lifetime. It just didn’t work that way. Love was a cruel illusion. The number of times he’d done cover-ups for someone who had unwisely inked the name of their ‘true love’ on their body was testament to that.

 

“Divorced, actually,” Greg said, looking embarrassed. He picked at his thumbnail, “I...keep forgetting. After almost thirteen years of marriage I’m still getting used to being single.”

 

“Was it recent?” He asked, hoping he displayed friendly sympathy and neighborly curiosity, and not lusty lechery.

 

“Last summer--guess it was one of those ‘everyone but the bloke’ saw it coming.” Greg had pulled too hard at his cuticle and drawn a jewel-bright bead of blood to the surface. Sucking on his thumb, he mumbled, “Always the last to know, eh?”

 

Someone had cheated on this absolute peach of a man? “I’m sure it will take some time to adjust,” Myc said gently, rather than blurt out his amazement that Greg had been with anyone who would chose another over him. Granted, they’d scarcely spoken, but he was good looking, kind, generous, and apparently a successful business owner. A catch in any community, surely?

 

“That’s what they say,” Greg sighed philosophically. He paused, “Um, so...dinner?”

 

“If it’s really not too much trouble,” Myc accepted. “I’m vegetarian, however, I hope that’s okay--”

 

“S’m I,” Greg said, pleased. He smiled, “Not a lot of vegetarian options here in the village, though mum has a few things she’s created just for me that have proved popular enough to keep on rotation in the bakery, and Martha at the café does a good cholle bhature, and  sometimes the chippy does a vegetarian battered sausage.”

 

“I suspected as much,” Myc sighed. “I suppose it will be the push I need to start cooking more,” he laughed at himself, “or at all, really.”

 

“Do you eat dairy?”

 

“I do.”

 

“Good,” Greg was smiling again, and really it was criminal how bright and sparkling his eyes were. “I’ll have a treat for us then. Say about seven-thirty?”

 

“Perfect,” Myc agreed. “As I’m sure you’ve guessed, I’ve shamefully little in, but is there anything I can bring?”

 

“No worries, mate,” Greg assured him, walking him to the door. “You just bring your appetite.”

 

“I can assure you I have plenty of that,” Myc said, slipping back into the bedroom-eyes-and-come-hither-voice quite without intending to. His queer antenna quivered wildly at the swelling of Greg’s pupils, and the way his lips parted, as if he were left breathless. Almost certainly not straight.

 

Ye gods, he was doomed.



******



Despite his interest in seeing more of Greg, Myc nearly called him to postpone their dinner. By the time he’d locked up after the builders and climbed the narrow stairs to his flat, he was dusty, hoarse from introducing himself to the townsfolk, footsore from tramping through the village, and just generally exhausted. It would be terribly rude of him to cancel so late in the day, however, so he forced himself to take a hot shower, which did wonders. Staring at his reflection in the spotty mirror over the wash basin as he fixed his hair, Myc gave himself a lecture. This was just a friendly gesture by a lonely man, probably looking for a friendship.

 

Definitely not a man who’d apparently grown up in this little village and was looking to explore his possible--probable?-- attraction to men with his new neighbor.

 

More important than that was the fact that even if Greg was looking to branch out, Myc wasn’t looking for anything more than a good time. Permanent connections were nothing more than out of control hormones improperly managed which then fizzled out when there turned out not to be anything there to support more than a few fun months. Greg Lestrade had rose-covered-cottage written all over him.

 

“Friends only, you slut,” Myc told his reflection sternly, and tucked a bottle of white wine under his arm before he descended the stairs. He could manage friendship and keep it light.

 

His pep talk worked wonders for his resolve right up until he ascended the outside stairs to the door of Greg’s above-the-shop flat and the door was opened by a shyly smiling Greg looking stunning in a dark blue button down and jeans. The savoury odors of Indian food wafted out, nearly masking the smell of Greg’s cologne. Myc felt his knees go weak at the way Greg beamed at him as he held open the door to his colourful, inviting flat. “Myc, hey...come in!” His smile was glorious, his chocolate brown eyes happy, “Make yourself at home.”

 

Myc brushed past him, trying to ignore his instinctive desire to drift closer and get a better whiff of Greg’s alluring scent. When Greg put a light, friendly hand on his back to nudge him out of the way in the small entry so he could close the door, a bolt of lightning streaked down Myc’s spine, and he nearly groaned at the wave of lust which slammed into him.

 

Oh buggering fuck. He was royally screwed.