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In the Middle

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It really wasn’t a bad deal. It really wasn’t that he would be such a rotten, spineless bastard who only ever cared about his own gain. He just happened to love money. And he just happened to know how to get it.

And to make it clear once again: it was not such a bad deal. Who wouldn’t want a nice pair of well-toned, muscular arms around themselves? Right? 

He really was doing nothing but making this into a win-win-WIN situation between their little three-way. It couldn’t be helped that his WIN was all in capitals and the other two just awkwardly hung there. They still spelt “win” though. Pablo still gets a world-famous wife, Emma still gets the hot guy, and Richard gets to bathe in money.

At times, the whole idea of people having their own free will bothered him to no end. If he told Emma that Pablo was 1) sexy 2) money, she should have just trusted him and followed wherever he dragged his strings. As she always did, by the way. No need for the whole “But I care about someone else more." 

First: SO!?

Second: he’s hot. What more is there. 

Emma was an actress. She should have known that love was nothing more than a performance. 

Every now and then this terrible tragedy happened that a famous person chose love over common sense and oh, they were swallowed whole by the indifferent waves of history in less than a blink of an eye. But when this given starlet was Emma Carter, you know, Richard's wallet was also there, watching the tragedy unfold from the side and screaming in pain. 

His poor wallet.

You do not seek fame to lose on the most delicious paychecks because of some emotions whatsoever. Feelings go by. 

Cash is forever.

Well, not really, but you get it. 

He tried everything. From yelling in hysterics, through blackmail... in one of his less proud moments, he even offered to beg Emma on his knees because nothing is sacred before the god, who bears the name money.

She didn't care. 

Richard thought about suffocating that whore of a Viennese to death. Drowning him in Edlertorte. Telling his mom! 

Even his mother could not kill him, however. So he kept being an obstacle. 

If Emma will not go to Pablo, Pablo will have to go to Emma. 

And if neither of them seems too ecstatic, Richard will have to meet them halfway.

In the middle.

The concierge was nowhere to be found in the lobby so he went to the sole front desk clerk instead. He recognized the bitch in him. (Bitch in this context was The bitch, who tweets before he thinks.) 

"Pablo García," he said, to set the tone. "Left for breakfast already?"

"Our hotel takes the privacy of our customers very seriously." 

Bitch, Richard thought. 

He had no time for interrogation. 

"The only thing this," air quotes, "’hotel’ takes seriously is clowning itself. Pablo García: left for breakfast already. True or false." 

The bellboy ducked his head into his shoulders until his neck completely disappeared. Richard leaned over the front desk and froze him motionless with a stare. 

"Come on, what do I have to do around here to get some of that famous Edler hospitality spirit. Pablo García. Left for breakfast. True or false." 

He quietly whimpered after a long, pregnant pause. "False."

"Now, that is a good boy. Thank you, Felix." He was about to leave the boy alone but changed his mind at the last second and turned back. "Is your breakfast as disgusting as the rest of this establishment? Any food poisoning accidents? Norovirus?"

Felix became difficult again and began to mutter all sorts of nonsense, which suggested nothing but the worst. Good enough. Richard manoeuvred between the countless suitcases the hotel was keeping before check-in time and went behind the counter, only to enter the back office from the door next to Felix. 

"Do you have room service?" he asked.

"We only have room service between eleven am and..." 

"Of course you don't have room service." He moved the red curtain that concealed a boring, grey door, and pushed the handle down. 

"Sir, you cannot enter the..." Felix exclaimed as he did his best to get between him and the back office, but he was no match. 

He walked past a few confused staff - who momentarily stopped with their constant chatter – and opened his arms wide. "Seems like I could."

Richard crossed the narrow, orange-lit room until he reached the door on the other side. Dust was piling up on the floor and he forced a sneeze back, which only made his nose ache. The bellboy was trailing behind him the whole time, struggling to catch up. He did not even bother to look back at the pathetic scenery of the office: every hotel is worth just as much as it is worth behind the scenes, and the Edlers were failing all classes possible at hotel school.

The orange lights of the office were replaced by virtually nothing on the service hallways. If it was not for the scarce sunlight coming from the narrow windows high up on the wall, and the green hues of the emergency lights, he would have stumbled in the dirty cleaning rags and buckets abandoned on the floor. There was also an unguarded ladder that almost fell on Felix as Richard rushed past it, and a pile of school canteen trays, straight from the seventies. 

Richard ignored several notices, printed in red Comic Sans, which reminded all staff to disinfect their hands with alcohol and gargle before entering the kitchen. He also ignored the pleas to clean the soles of his shoes at the entrance, although Felix even yelled after him. Freshly born again as a good employee, wise hotelier, Felix held back around twenty seconds before dashing after him (hands and mouth unwashed, soles dirty) and trying to remove him from the kitchen. 

He picked up a slightly more presentable tray and navigated between the restless kitchen staff moving from one counter to another. Breakfast was still in the making, with the smell of wet scrambled eggs in the humid kitchen air. Richard moved down the counters and picked out a picturesque breakfast plate.

Well, as picturesque as this garbage of a hotel allowed.  

“Sir, you can’t do that!” Felix whined, upon witnessing him grab some pastries with his bare hands.

“We’ve been through this. Bring me some coffee instead.”

At that point, caught up in this act between cooking stations, Felix decided to play along instead of wailing. He got the coffee. He got the creamer. He got sugar cubes. He got a slice of Edlertorte.

“Disgusting,” Richard scolded him.

He left it there anyway. (Later, when he took a sample with his finger, it was not as disgusting as it seemed at first glance.)

Sweaty from the steam, he escaped the kitchen with a decent amount of breakfast.

“Master key,” he told Felix. “In case the door won’t open itself.”

The bellboy didn’t even try to resist anymore, and they took the service lift. When someone important flicks through the security footage later, only one of them will get in trouble for allowing guests to peek behind the scenes. Felix diligently led him to Pablo García’s suite and even knocked on the door for him. Back of his hand, middle finger, twice.

“Room service,” Richard chirped, when no answer came from the suite, and Felix shot the most frightened look at him. “What.”

Felix readied his master key already when they heard a faint moan and a few footsteps from the other side of the door.

“You can get the fuck out now,” he hissed, and Felix gave it a run.

By the time the door opened the chirpy voice was back, accompanied with a serene smile.

“Good morning. Room service,” he purred, again.

Emma was sure a whole idiot for choosing the blandest guy in the world.

When she could just have this.

Pablo García was half asleep and still leagues better than whatever the Viennese fool was called. His ponytail came undone, naughty little hairs covering his face and the nape of his neck in a dishevelled mess. He was wearing the hotel’s crimson dressing gown (one grade up for the suite), and as far as Richard was concerned, nothing underneath.

“But you’re…”

Richard pushed into the room, using the small space between the door and García’s arm. “I am. Rough night?”

“… jet lag.”

Richard ignored him.

Whatever.

Who cares.

He put the tray down on the suite’s massive white table and pulled a chair out for García. The man made his approach, although he was a little hesitant about being served by another guest of the hotel.

“Emma would have loved to make it too,” Richard mewled, continuing his explanation, “but she is a little caught up at the moment. She wanted you to try the breakfast here as soon as possible, though. This hotel might only rival Eastern European youth hostels in presentation, but their restaurant is quite something. No chance of food poisoning. Has been norovirus free for the past three days and a half.”

Perhaps he spoke too quickly because García gave him nothing but a blank stare. As he finally sat down to the chair Richard was persistently pointing at, the front of his dressing gown slightly opened. For a second, Richard could see the money he could make out of him spreading across his breasts, and he wanted to lick all that cash, right there, right then.

“Well, well, well. Have a taste.” 

“Not hungry yet. Jet lag.”

Richard took one of the chocolate swirls and pushed the softest part out in the middle to give it a taste. It wasn’t entirely bad. He licked his finger and tossed the hard outer part back on the plate, having lost interest.

Then, he blew some air on the still steaming coffee and handed the cup over to García. “Coffee,” he announced in a chirping voice like he was talking to a toddler.

When García also did not take that, he had a sip himself. The inside of his mouth burned. “It’s not bad,” he said, albeit through tears and pressed teeth.

García took the cup from him and had a taste. If the coffee scalded his throat, he had the strength not to show any signs of it. Richard took the mini croissant and offered that too. He bit the end off when García did not want that either.

“This is a pretty room, no? A little lonely with only one person to enjoy it.”

“I arrived alone.”

Richard put the croissant down and breadcrumbs flew everywhere around him like snowflakes. He tried to brush them off of his jacket. “But you don’t need to be alone.”

García’s black eyes popped from half asleep to wide awake and he gave Richard a polite, although confused smile. “Yes?”

He whispered. “Emma Carter.”

“Oh.”

Even if he had some of García’s interest a second before, it was all gone. He could not help but feel a little offended, as dropping the name would usually do the exact opposite to people. Most would kill for the chance to rumour an affair with her, and then there was Pablo García, seeing more fantasy in an Edlertorte.

He took a sample with his finger and said. “Mm.”  It was the most satisfied he sounded the whole morning, so Richard followed suit too.

For a moment, he blacked out. The next thing he knew was that both he and García forgot about Emma momentarily and tried to get to the last cake crumbles. He wiped the corner of his mouth with his thumb.

Bitch, Richard thought.

They should close the hotel and focus more on torte.

It would be best for all of us.

“Thank you,” García told him in a slightly better mood: with a smile of a thousand suns. “Nice breakfast.”

Again, he was the hottest guy on earth, after all.

But! They were not done with this whole Emma thing. In fact, they were just getting started.

On a whim, Richard moved to the bedroom part of the suite in pursuit of the phone. He almost stumbled across a massive, open suitcase between him and the nightstand, and ended up sinking into the fluffy mattress topper. Deciding to settle in there for a moment, he dialled the front desk.

“Thank you for your call. Hotel Edler front desk clerk, Felix Moser speaking.”

His index finger was playing with the cord of the phone, tangling it up and untangling it again.

“It’s me. A whole cake to García’s suite right now.”

Under the tall archway separating the bedroom from the suite’s living space, García appeared, trying to get an update on the situation. He did not bother to gather the contents of his luggage but was rather interested in whatever Richard was doing in his bed.

“Sir, room service only starts at…”

He stopped playing with the cord and reached down deep into his trousers. “Oh yes? I will go on TripAdvisor right now and leave a one-star review on this whole tragicomedy of a hotel. Bellboy’s violation of patrons’ privacy included. In detail .”

Felix could not see, of course, but he was waiting for the answer with smartphone ready in hand. He could hear the wheels turning in the boy’s head even through the line.

“One plate or two, sir?”

“Two. Hurry up. Bye.”

He looked up at the ceiling and observed the suite room from the bed. Apart from the yellowing walls and the general signs of use, the suite was in almost an acceptable condition. Cigarette smoke stained the walls and left a permanent, ashy scent around, even if housekeeping tried to balance it out with decorative aromatic sticks.

García sat down on the side of the bed. “Nobody reads TripAdvisor reviews anymore,” he thought.

“False. I do. I love fun things – and there is nothing more entertaining than one-star reviews.” He struggled himself in a half-sitting position. “Writing them isn’t half bad either.”

He pulled the tab up on his phone and began to read in a theatrical voice. “Absolutely nasty. Horrendous. Won’t ever stay in this hotel again. I am offended to the core. When I entered the completely empty tea lounge on the first floor, the staff practically chased me out, laughing into my face and claiming that they were currently all booked up… Despite what you may rightfully think, it wasn’t written about this pile of garbage of an establishment, but Takarazuka Hotel in…”

He was interrupted by a loud knock on the door. “Room service.”

When their response was too slow, Felix proceeded to enter alone, balancing a whole cake on a tray in one hand. “Sir?”

It took him a while to find them in the bedroom. After carefully sitting the cake down on the nightstand, he walked to the window and opened the curtains.

“Good morning,” Felix whispered, although both of them were awake.

When he was still awkwardly standing here, Richard snapped at him. “Get out. We’re in the middle of something.”

García squinted. “What are we in the middle of?”

He managed to put the cake between the two of them and offered him a fork. “A discussion. Say, why won’t we have a real business meeting, the three of us, in Emma’s room tomorrow? You are certainly huge, but I think I have just the recipe for the greatest sensation to make you even bigger.”

García looked down on himself. “I don’t mind being the size I am right now.”

“Me neither. I meant figuratively.”

He waited until García lost himself in the cake a little and let his guard down. A quiet settled between them that he was not normally used to, always vibrating with restless impatience to keep going forward and forward. García sensed nothing of this, as he worked his way through the cake with childish excitement.

Is he even allowed to eat that?

Well. Who cares.

“Listen. I can feel my wallet growing fatter and fatter just by looking at you.”

The fork fell out of García’s hand and he choked on the last piece of cake he put in his mouth. When he seemed like he would survive, he spoke. 

“I understand all of those words. Not in this order though.”  

“Just come to the meeting, will you? I won’t make you regret it.” He stole some of the cream, and licked his finger. “There will be cake.”  

García fiddled with something under his pillow until he fished his smartphone out from between the headboard and the mattress. “Tomorrow?”

“I hate to let you down, but Emma can’t make it today.”

Because she is possibly kissing a Viennese bitch.

“Okay,” García sighed.

He tapped something on his phone, then rolled onto his back. With one hand, he pulled the tray with the Edlertorte closer to himself, and buried his face in the phone’s screen.

“What are you doing?”

“Reading one-star reviews of this hotel on TripAdvisor.” He patted the mattress next to him and started to read with a careful accent. “Left in the lurch by lying manager…”

He patted the mattress again. “… come on? During New Year’s Eve... But take your shoes off.”  

Richard kicked his shoes off and opened the same tab again. “I need to write my own one-star review anyway.”

The pillow he used to prop his face up smelled like a mix of freshly washed linen, Pablo García, and a million bucks.

“No, give it two stars,” Pablo asked him. “For good-looking staff.”

Richard bit a smile into his lower lip. “Absolutely not.” 

He felt as though money was in the bank already.

That morning, Richard found out whether there was a word limit to submit well-thought-out and passionately bitter reviews. García dozed off next to him several times, dropping his phone on his face each time and waking up with a yawp. 

Richard woke up a few hours later, to the sight of some very nicely toned breasts. Which was the first thing that did not seem quite right. He blindly started to feel for his phone, but he couldn’t find it anywhere. 

Bitch, Richard thought. 

“Face first into the cake,” García told him, trying to cough back an amused laugh. He pointed at the nightstand next to him. “I saved it, but you messed up the sheets anyway.” 

Richard’s phone was with him, too. He waved it in his direction. “I thought the review was very funny. Especially when you explained about the youth hostel in all capitals…” 

He didn’t remember getting that far. Pushing himself up with his elbow, he tried to snatch his phone back. “Give it to me.” 

Even though he got his phone back, he couldn’t even relax for a moment, as García reached out, and went straight for his face - with an unknown motive as well. His thumb brushed against Richard’s nose.

“Chocolate,” he said, and licked it off of his finger. “Told you, you went face first. Oh, look. It’s on your shirt a little bit too.”

García laughed: melodic, but most of all amused. Being laughed at by the hottest man on earth was not something he ever expected to suffer. “Nothing will stop me from writing a one-star review of you, either.” 

That only made him laugh even more. “Make sure to show it to me when it’s ready. You are a funny little man.” 

“You’re lucky everyone wants you.”

Storing everything in the back of his mind, just in case he would need to write up a mean review later, he finally got himself to leave García’s room. He even saw him out, suppressing his amusement with less success than intended. 

He ordered another whole cake from Felix. Also, to make sure that Emma was in her suite the next day, no matter what. If he had to nail the door shut from the outside, then be it. He was not playing this “I don’t want it” game anymore.

He wanted it. 

What anyone else wanted didn’t matter.

Richard knew best.

For everyone: but mostly his wallet.

He knocked on the door twice before pushing the door open. Emma was a good girl, for once, and decided not to disappear, or pull any other disgusting tricks. In fact, García was there already, too. And, the cake.

“Well, well, well. You’re early.”

“I heard there would be cake.”

Emma was sitting on her freshly made bed, with her legs crossed. Everything about her said she wanted to be somewhere else – but this never fazed Richard one bit. Life is mostly wishing we were somewhere else the whole time, then being grateful to Richard for his hard work retrospectively.  

García seemed much calmer, on the other hand. It was probably only the still lingering effect of the jet lag, but he seemed like a diligent puppy dog, quietly excited for whatever was coming for him. If he could appreciate something, this was definitely it.

No matter where he looked at it from, anyone would be ecstatic even if they only had to pretend to be his girlfriend. He was delivering the dreams of a whole world, straight into Emma’s suite and all she did in return was pulling faces.

As he sat down opposite him at the table, Richard slid the tray with the cake towards García, urging him to have a taste.

“Now, let’s talk like adults, the three of us.” He cleared his throat. “We are all here today because I believe we are missing out on a massive opportunity…”

García was listening with a spoon hanging from his mouth, urging him to go on with a sheepish nod. On the other hand, Emma was rolling her eyes already. Before he could continue at all, she intervened.

“We’ve talked about this already, Richard. I am not just a Barbie doll to live out your superstar soccer player fantasies with.”

García removed the spoon from his mouth, to curiously repeat as if he was tasting the words on his tongue for the first time. “Soccer player fantasies?”

“It doesn’t have to be a fantasy!” Richard exclaimed, slapping the table. The tray jiggled with the cake, ever so slightly. “Just listen to your wallet for once, Emma.”

It is singing you the most beautiful lullabies.

She stood up from her bed and walked to her door, pacing in front of it as if she was worried about being eavesdropped on. Thinking about it, the walls in this garbage of a hotel were so thin, possibly even people in the first-floor lobby could hear them, even if they were about to whisper.

He should add that to his review…

Emma folded her arms. “No, it’s going too far.”

“What is too far about it? Look at him.”

He stood up and nudged García to do the same as well. His hands tapped down on his shoulder, arm, abs, as if he was about to show a product off for sale.

He dabbed a bit more on his abs, forgetting about himself. Exquisite, really. “Which part is wrong with him? Tell me.”

“There is nothing wrong with him, of course. But… I don’t want him.”

That was incomprehensible. 1) How can you not want him? 2) How can you not want money? Why was it that everyone in the whole world was normal – which in this context meant full of desire for García -, apart from this one silly girl.  

“Nobody cares about that. This is show business – everything is about publicity.”

He turned García towards himself to take another look. Everything was in place. Dark, sensual eyes. Perfect teeth. Cute cheeks. Kissable lips. From undercut, through his shoulders, to the clothes he was wearing, not a single person could find a fault.

The whole world was thinking this.

So what’s wrong with Emma.

“What’s so hard about it! What’s so hard about hinting at an engagement!?”

García mouthed “engagement,” trying his best to keep up. This was the perfect moment to bring them all together, right here in the middle, and fill his pockets with cash.

He turned back to Emma, showcasing García to her. “Isn’t he gorgeous?”

“I suppose he is.”  

“Then why is it so hard? Why is it so hard just to … kiss each other in front of the cameras for me.” He turned García towards him by the shoulders, eyes locked. “Don’t tell me you don’t know how to. All you need to do is…”

He cupped García’s face with both hands. “And then…”

It was impossible to tell what happened first. Did García put his hands on his waist, pulling him closer? Or did he tiptoe forward, until he could demonstrate how to kiss Pablo García? The tongue was absolutely unnecessary, as judged by Emma’s groan, lost somewhere in the background.

Emma would be telling him that he would lose his cool unnecessarily ever time.

When he came to himself, he was comfortably propped up against one of the suite’s yellowing walls, and Emma was nowhere to be found in the room. He pushed García’s face aside a bit to look for her, but her bag and phone were gone, the door shut.

Bitch, Richard thought.

He would have felt bad for Pablo García kissing up his neck in someone else’s suite. Maybe. In a different situation. Or a different life.

If Emma will not go to Pablo García, then Richard will have to go to him himself.

García’s nose brushed against his. “Hello.”

Which is, incidentally, when he realized that he seemed to have regrettably gone off track somewhere.

“Where’s Emma?”

“Oh, she left. With the cake.”

Neat, Richard thought.

He forgot to think what he would normally think.

If it was anyone else, this would be the moment when things turn awkward. But everyone already knew that the whole world and their moms were attracted to Pablo García anyway. They stood there for a while, fingers interlaced. It would have been nice, if only the noise from the other rooms did not leak into the suite, ruining the illusion that they were all alone in a world where no money and ulterior motives existed.

García nudged him.

“You know, I thought you were a greedy, arrogant little man at first. And I don’t understand half of the things that come out of your mouth…”

“Oh thanks,” Richard said, and he absolutely did not mean it.

“But then, when I saw you try so hard for something only you wanted... And with your face in the torte… I thought… despite all, it is rather cool when someone has such a one-track mind. Did I say cool? Cute. Also... the review was still funny.”  

He squeezed Richard’s hand, who just let it happen, mostly because if Emma was not here to act out his marionette doll dreams, he would have no other choice to take over. Even if it will do nothing for publicity.

García tried to hug as much of Richard to himself as tightly as possible like he was nothing more but a needy child. Something about it was even better than how the whole world imagined it would be, being held in his arms. Not that he would ever let anyone know.

“Come. The housekeepers have already dealt with the chocolate marks on my sheets.”

Shameless, he let García lead him back to his own suite by the hand. He can stay in the middle for today, and get back to money-making tomorrow.

Nothing was lost yet.

“Oh and by the way?” García called out, pulling him closer. “I never once in my life said I liked Emma. Better forget it.”