Patrick gets the call a little past noon on Friday. He's just finished working out at the gym and takes his phone out of his locker for a quick check to see if Julie's got an appointment set up for him that evening; there's nothing from her or the agency, but he's surprised to see that he's got seven missed calls, all from an unknown number. Huh. He knows it's probably one of his clients, but the few who do have his business number usually don't bother calling this many times when a text suffices for what they need.
He's still looking at his phone when it starts buzzing in his hand, lighting up with the unknown number again. Whoever this is, Patrick thinks, is clearly desperate to get hold of him.
"Hey, this is Patrick," he says, pitching his voice low and sultry. It's always wise to sound sexy around potential business, even though he's uncomfortably sweaty and all he really wants is to get into the shower and peel his soaked clothes off.
"Hi, Patrick?" a deep voice says. "This is, uh, Jonny. Jonathan Toews. We - met last week, if you remember."
Jonathan Toews. Patrick remembers him all right - how could he not? He remembers being stunned when he stepped into the hotel room and was greeted by the Blackhawks captain; he counts several Chicago politicians and minor celebrities in his clientele, but Toews was probably the last person on earth he'd think would require his services. He remembers Toews was good with his mouth, and his hands, and, well, everything else. Nice guy, too. Called a cab for him, walked him out of the hotel to where the cab was waiting, sent him off with a thousand-dollar tip and a surprisingly sweet kiss.
The tip was what made Patrick give Toews his namecard with his business cell number. He likes giving the high rollers direct access to him, and that way he gets to keep the payments entirely to himself without the agency taking their twenty per cent cut.
As for saying they met - that's a polite way of putting it, Patrick thinks, when what really happened was that Toews made a booking with his agency, they sent Patrick, Toews spent three hours fucking his brains out, and paid for the privilege of doing it.
But he really had been nice, and actually kind of - gentlemanly about it all, so -
"Of course I remember you," Patrick says, letting his voice turn warm and soft. "I had a great time meeting you."
"Uh, well, yes," Toews says, and Patrick hears the catch in his voice. He frowns. The Jonathan Toews he'd been with last week had been confident and self-assured, knew exactly what he wanted and how he wanted it; it's miles apart from the strangely hesitant, uncertain way Toews is speaking now.
"Is something wrong?" Patrick asks.
There's a pause that stretches so long that Patrick speaks again. "Mr. Toews? Are you still there?"
"Listen, I'm really sorry if I'm intruding on your time," Toews says. His words come out in a rush, and yeah, there definitely seems to be something up with the man. "But - I really need to meet you right now. Do you have time?"
"I - well, yes," Patrick says, "but - "
"Good, great, fantastic," Toews says distractedly. "Where are you? I'll send a Lyft for you."
"Mr. Toews, wait a minute," Patrick says. "I have - there are terms we need to discuss before you can expect me to go rushing off to you."
"Terms?" Toews repeats. "What do you - oh. Oh. Fuck, no, I'm not asking to meet you for - that. This is something else, but it's very urgent. Please, I really need to speak with you, face to face."
And - what the fuck. Patrick's mind flashes onto all kinds of unpleasant possibilities as to why Toews would need to meet him this urgently when it's not for sex. What is he even playing at? Patrick doesn't think Toews is like, a murderer or something, not someone as high profile as he is, but still.
"If it's just to talk, you can tell me over the phone."
"No - listen, I'll pay you," Toews says. "Same amount I paid last week - that's fine for you, right? I just - we need to talk, and I can't tell you over the phone."
"Let me just - get this straight," Patrick says. "You want to pay me my usual rate - just to talk?"
Toews sighs audibly down the phone, and Patrick suddenly realises how - tired he sounds, his voice a little scratchy. "Yes," he says. "Please."
As if Patrick's going to turn down money for not having sex; and well, sex is only part of his job, after all. There are some clients who book him for doing nothing more than being their arm candy at a dinner gala sometimes, no sex involved. Besides, he's kind of curious now to know what got Toews this worked up. "Where?"
"Uh, my home," Toews says. "Just so we can have some - privacy."
Okay, Patrick thinks, this is really weird now. Why would Toews want privacy if he doesn't intend to fuck Patrick? Unless - okay, yeah, male escort, wouldn't do at all for the captain of the Chicago Blackhawks to be publicly seen in his company, he guesses. Not that a random passerby is going to know Patrick's an escort, obviously, but maybe Toews is one of those men who think they're too good to be seen with Patrick in the light of day. God knows he's met enough of them, the ones who are glad enough to paw at Patrick in darkened hotel rooms, and then turn the other way if he happens to run across them in a restaurant.
Patrick's been in the business too long to feel any kind of disappointment at the shit men do, but he'd thought Toews was a nice guy. Maybe he'd been wrong. He's usually not wrong; he's learned to trust his gut about people, but there's always a first time for everything.
"I charge a higher price for house calls," he says slowly. If Toews is going to be a dick about him, he might as well upsell himself, charge him more. It's not like Toews can't afford it.
"Okay," Toews says immediately, as if he doesn't even need to think about it. "Can I - could you just give me an address, for a car to pick you up?"
Patrick gives him the name and address of his gym, and then says, "Give me twenty minutes, I need to shower. I just finished a workout."
"Of course," Toews says. "I'm really sorry I interrupted your day. And - thank you for agreeing to meet me. I appreciate it."
There's Mr. Nice Guy again. Honestly, Patrick's getting confused. Is Toews a jerk or a nice dude? He has no idea right now.
"Sure," is all he says in response.
"Thanks so much for coming, really," Toews says when he buzzes Patrick up to his apartment, relief evident on his face alongside the signs of strain: dark circles and frown lines around his eyes.
Toews lives in a swanky, luxurious condo building in the Gold Coast; of course he would live in a place like this, Patrick thinks. He remembers reading in one of those gossip sites a few months ago that the building was newly built and that Toews had spent seven million on a three-bedroom apartment in it. He certainly hadn't thought he'd be here one day.
The view is great, though, with floor to ceiling wraparound windows overlooking the lake. Patrick gazes out, staring at the wide expanse of blue waters and equally blue skies. He wonders how it feels to live in a place like this, to have millions just to splurge on a view.
Toews is walking past him into the open-concept kitchen. It's very modern, all stainless steel and chrome, with pale grey granite countertops that match the huge island in the middle. There's a Macbook open on the island, and some papers scattered around it. "Do you want a drink?" he asks. "I've got wine, beer, grapefruit juice, kombucha - "
"Kombucha would be nice," Patrick says.
Toews gets him a bottle out of the fridge; it's one of the good brands too, more expensive than the stuff Patrick usually buys.
"Thanks," Patrick says, and watches as Toews settles himself on one of the high stools at his island, in front of his Macbook. He's wearing a tank top, and his biceps bulge visibly when he lifts himself onto the stool with his palms flat on the island. Patrick remembers the strength in those arms and how it had felt when Toews lifted his hips bodily off the bed like Patrick weighed nothing, and -
Nope. That's not a road Patrick wants to go down right now.
"Have a seat," Toews says, nodding at the stool next to him.
"So," Patrick says carefully as he climbs up and swivels the stool around to face Toews, "is something wrong, Mr. Toews? To be honest, if you had an issue with me, you could have provided your feedback to my agency, and - "
"Oh - no, it's not that at all," Toews says. "I had - no issues with you at all. It was really - yeah, it was good. You were great."
"Okay," Patrick says, dragging the vowels out. "If that's the case - what exactly is wrong?"
Jonny sighs and scrubs his hand down his face. He's got some scruff going on today; he'd been clean shaven that night last week. It doesn't detract from his good looks. "Okay, well, the reason I asked you to meet me here and talk is because of - this."
He tilts his laptop towards Patrick as he speaks; it's open to a page on Barstool Sports. The headline blares in stark black letters: Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is GAY. Below that is a picture of Toews - and himself, Patrick realises with a start. It's dark in the picture, but it was taken from fairly close by, and it's clear enough that neither Toews' nor Patrick's faces can be hidden. Patrick recognises it right away; it was in front of the hotel he'd met Toews at, when they were done and Toews was walking him out to the cab. Toews has his arm around Patrick's waist, and when Patrick reaches out to the laptop and scrolls down, there are more pictures. They've even captured a picture of Toews and him kissing just before Toews put him in the cab.
Patrick skims the rest of the article quickly; the first line says Jonathan Toews was spotted last Wednesday evening canoodling with a mystery male companion outside the Waldorf Astoria Chicago…, and further down, he catches the words "scandal" and "gay", helpfully repeated several times throughout the article.
The last damning paragraph says: We hear from a source that Blackhawks brass are furious at Toews for the scandal. Does that mean Toews will be on the trade block soon, with the deadline coming up on February 25? We'd think Chicago would never trade its two-time Stanley Cup winning captain, but there's no doubt the front office will be hopping mad about all of this, and looking to shut down the bad publicity by any means possible.
Patrick lifts his eyes to Toews; he's looking kind of - embarrassed, actually. Sure, Patrick thinks with some resignation. He's embarrassed about me, and he's going to offer me money to keep my mouth shut about sleeping with him, and -
"First off, I just want to say that I'm really sorry I got you involved in this," Toews begins. "It's not fair to you, because you're not - I mean, you were doing your job, and it was pure shitty luck that you were with me, and now your face is going to be all over gossip sites, and I'm sorry about that."
Wait, what? Patrick blinks at him. That was unexpected.
"The second thing is - well, obviously this thing is going to blow up - has blown up, and the front office - they are pretty mad at me."
Patrick frowns. "For you being gay, or for you fucking an escort?" he asks bluntly, throwing off all semblance of being mannerly or nice. Fuck Jonathan Toews if he's going to put the blame on Patrick for this, when he was the one who'd called an escort agency.
"Okay - shit, I'm going about this all wrong," Toews says, an edge of frustration creeping into his voice. "They know I'm gay. It's - "
"Okay, yeah, so it's because you fucked an escort, got it," Patrick says, flinging the words at Jonny with as much viciousness as he can muster.
"No, not really," Toews says. "I mean, the organisation knows I'm gay, but the public doesn't - and well, that's why I, uh, would call for such services. Because people didn't know, and I needed to be discreet. But they sure as hell know now that I'm gay, and that in itself has blown up enough but - look, it's not your fault. I know it isn't. I was the one who called for you, and I was going to own up to that publicly so you wouldn't be harassed - "
And now Patrick's stunned again.
He doesn't know how his face must look, but Toews pauses, and adds, "I'm not judging you, okay? I wouldn't do that - hell, I'm the one who booked an escort, you're doing nothing except making an honest living. I promise, I don't - I would never judge you for your job. You've done nothing wrong."
"Uh, okay," Patrick says slowly, wondering what Toews is going to say next. Everything that comes out of his mouth is a surprise to Patrick right now.
"The thing is, the Blackhawks - and I feel like I need to apologize to you for this - don't exactly, uh, feel the way I do. I'm sorry," he says quickly. "Essentially, the main thing they want to do is to contain the scandal - and these are their words, not mine - and they think they can spin the gay thing into a positive narrative, but they don't want anyone finding out that their captain is, uh, booking escorts. So - "
He trails off and rubs his hand over the back of his neck, looking embarrassed. There's a slight flush high on his cheeks.
"So I need you to uh, pretend to be my boyfriend, and kind of - go along with it for a couple of months, and then have an amicable breakup with me," Toews says, his words tumbling out in a rush. He puts air quotes around 'amicable', and despite his head reeling, Patrick finds that stupidly endearing in the dorkiest way possible. "Honestly, if it was up to me, I wouldn't want to put this on you, but the organisation thinks this is the best way to defuse most of the worst parts of the situation. And - I mean, I know this is asking a lot, but it really would help me if you agreed to it, and I'll pay you. Obviously. Two months of work, and all you need to do is move into my condo so it looks like we're really living together, go out with me sometimes, hold hands in public, stuff like that. Nothing else. I'll pay whatever you ask for."
And - holy shit. Holy shit. Patrick's head is spinning.
"Like I said, I intended to own up to all of this," Toews says, sweeping his arm out in a vague gesture that Patrick takes to mean 'paying for the use of your hot body', "but the Blackhawks are strongly against it. I don't care about what people think of me, but - they're right in a sense, it'll reflect badly on them as an organisation. And I can't - do that to them. I hope you understand."
Patrick wets his lips, trying to think. God, why is it so hard to think right now? Too many bombshells, he thinks abruptly, and has to work to suppress a bubble of hysterical laughter rising in his throat.
Only he and his life would end up like this.
But - as he stares at Toews' hopeful, anxious face - he's beginning to think it might not be as bad as he thinks. He looks around, just to break the intense eye contact Toews is holding with him, and takes in the luxurious surroundings of the condo with all the blond wood and marble, the amazing entertainment system setup in the living room in front of a gorgeous sectional which looks wonderfully wide and soft, and that breathtaking lake view.
Two months of living here. Two months of pretending to be Toews' boyfriend and getting paid for it. And really, it's not that different from what he's doing now, is it? He gets paid to have dinner and dance with men, with sex thrown in.
But Toews had said -
"You said we're going to just - pretend to live together? And go out on dates? And - nothing else?" he asks.
"Nothing else," Toews says firmly. "I'm paying you because I know I'm asking for a big favour, for you to help me out like this. Not because you're - what you do."
Patrick bites his lip and looks down at his hands. He's rubbing his fingers together; it's a nervous tic, he knows, and he makes himself stop, forces himself to place his hands on his knees instead.
"How - how much are you going to pay?" he asks slowly.
"Whatever you ask for," Toews replies immediately.
Patrick swallows against the little knot of bitterness swelling in the back of his throat. It must be nice, he thinks, to have this much money to throw at all your problems.
"Really? Just like that? You don't even - I could ask for all of your money. I could ask for ten million."
Toews shakes his head ruefully. "And I'd deserve it if you did, because this was my mistake. But - and I don't think I'm wrong here - you don't seem like that kind of person."
Patrick barks out an incredulous laugh. "You don't even know me. You met me once, and let's be honest, we weren't doing a lot of talking that night."
Toews just shrugs. "I've learned to go with my gut when it comes to people."
And that - that really resonates with something in Patrick, actually. Going with his gut, trusting his instincts - that's how he's been able to protect himself in this business.
He turns Toews' offer over in his head again one more time. It's tempting, he can't deny that. Two months of work that's barely even any work at all, and he could have enough money to pay off the remainder of Erica's and Jess' tuition costs, maybe even enough to set aside in a fund for Jackie, when it's her turn to go to college. And then he can actually quit escorting, get a normal job -
He does some quick mental calculations and makes up his mind; then he's surprised at how quickly he's actually decided on this.
But it's good, easy money, and he needs it. The girls need it.
"A hundred and fifty thousand," Patrick says out loud; that should be enough, and if it's not, it'll still go a long way towards the girls' education. Enough that he won't have to work at escorting for much longer. He watches Toews' face closely as he speaks, waiting to see if he'll balk at the sum, if he'll try to bargain it down -
"That's fine," Toews says right away; Patrick can see his shoulders, held taut throughout their whole conversation, sag visibly with relief. Damn. He really wasn't kidding about how much he needed Patrick's help for this. Patrick thinks about the Blackhawks, about how much pressure they must be applying on Toews over this, that Barstool article mentioning their fury, and guesses that he can maybe understand why Toews needs to do this.
"I want half now and half at the end of two months," Patrick says; he can play nice with Toews, but he's not stupid.
For the first time, Toews narrows his eyes at him. "And then how do I know you're not just going to take seventy-five grand from me and walk out?" he asks, and - yeah, okay, Patrick can get where he's coming from on that.
"I'll sign a contract, if you get it drawn up," he says.
Toews nods. "Fair enough. I can get my lawyers on it now. And - "
He stands up and holds his hand out to Patrick; Patrick stares at it dumbly.
"Thank you," Toews says, and he looks and sounds so formal that Patrick finds himself dumbstruck for a moment at the juxtaposition of Toews in his tank top and sweatpants, waiting for a handshake like they've just completed an official business deal - which, in a sense, they kind of have. He reaches out and grasps Toews' hand; it feels just like he remembers, firm solid grip, calloused from hockey, strong thick fingers that felt good on his bare skin.
"I really do appreciate your help," Toews adds. "I hope you know that."
Patrick shrugs uncomfortably. "Hey, you need help and I need money. Win-win."
Toews gives him a strained sort of smile. "Here's to our shiny new relationship," he says, sardonic, and pumps Patrick's hand twice before letting it go.
It's not exactly how Patrick imagined himself getting a new boyfriend, but he'll take it for a hundred and fifty grand, thank you very much.