A Life Discovered

Chapter 3

By Bensiamin


Bailey found it a little odd to wake up in his new apartment, but appreciated the sense of accomplishment that came with it. He ate a bowl of granola and was out the door early. Alicia had told him the new hire orientation began at 9:00 am, and he was there at 8:30. She came down to the lobby and led him back to his cubicle that was across the aisle from hers.

“This will take most of the morning, but will be easy. HR will give you a basic orientation on the company history, then go through standard company values and the policies. You’ll be issued a company ID that also is the keypad for those areas you are authorized to enter. For example, you won’t be able to enter locked doors into manufacturing after hours, but you can open the front door and the doors to this area after hours because you’re authorized to be here. Make sense?”

Bailey nodded and Alicia went on. “When HR is done, they’ll turn you over to IT and they’ll issue you a company laptop computer with all the applications you’ll need, and get you set up on the company email system. That’ll probably take more time that you think. I requested the laptop on Friday, so they’d already have it with all the basic Office apps on it, but email takes time and there’s always some complication.” She smiled at Bailey, who commented, “Didn’t a guy named Murphy make a law about that?”

“He did indeed, and it’s very true. Let me show you where our office supplies are located, and I’ll walk you down to HR.”

The history part included a film about company history, and then a tour of the main areas of the buildings. It turned out that the new construction he’d seen from the parking lot was an expansion of the manufacturing area by fifty percent. After being walked through company policies and values, he was turned over to IT to get his computer set up, and was back at his cubicle shortly before lunch.

“Ahh, there you are,” Alicia said. “Did they work you over?”

“It wasn’t too bad. I’m excited about the new laptop. This is a lot more powerful than my old school one.”

“Good. Why don’t you put it on your desk and we’ll have some lunch in the cafeteria. I’ll introduce you to some people as they come by. If we can schedule it, you’ll be meeting with the other executives this afternoon just to be introduced, and I know Everett will be asking you to sit in on his staff meetings and such.”

After lunch Everett stopped by his cubicle and welcomed him aboard and told him to spend the rest of the day getting organized and meeting the other execs that were available. “You didn’t see any of them this morning because they were in my staff meeting. That will be a weekly standard for you too, sitting in on that meeting. Tomorrow you’ll be shadowing me. On Tuesdays, I try to at least show my face or join part of the department staff meetings the VPs lead. It’s a good way to stay in touch with what’s really going on.” By the end of the day, he’d been introduced to the CFO and VPs of Engineering and Marketing, and had located supplies to get his cubicle stocked and ready for work the next day.

The next morning, he went with Everett to the Engineering staff meeting where he was introduced, and got his first exposure to a high level summary of major projects and their schedules. The Manufacturing meeting was even more interesting because they were already planning the relocation and expansion of manufacturing areas.

As they walked from that meeting to Marketing, Everett said, “The completion of the new construction on schedule and budget is key. You can see that manufacturing is already planning their equipment moves and purchases. If the new wing opens late, then all that gets screwed up. We have a regular Friday morning status meeting with the architectural and engineering firm. That’ll be a regular for your weekly schedule too. I’ll need you to cover for me when I’m traveling and keep me up to date on progress and especially on any problems.”

Everett led them back to the exec offices and said, “I likely have fifty emails to catch up on, I’ll let you go. Do you want to join me for lunch?”

Bailey nodded his agreement and headed for his cubicle where he found two welcome emails on his new computer. One from HR and the other from IT providing him with the Help Desk information. He assumed it wouldn’t last in as much as Everett had told his staff to copy Bailey on relevant communications. Lunch was as relaxed as lunch with the CEO could be. On the way to the cafeteria Everett had grabbed the VP of Marketing, and quite a few people stopped to say hello, which meant Bailey was introduced to a handful of new people.

On the way back to their office Everett asked if he was keeping track of all the new names. “No, but it’s not a bad idea. I’m really good at remembering faces. The trick is attaching the names to them. Carrying a notebook would probably be a good idea.” They had two more staff meetings in the afternoon, then Everett had him sit in and observe a teleconference with the corporate office in Chicago where he and the heads of other companies and divisions were providing their weekly updates. Most of Everett’s update was about new product releases and schedules with the associated timelines for new sales revenues, and the construction and manufacturing expansion schedule. He realized Everett had been serious about the importance of that schedule if it was one of the two things he reported on.

When the meeting was over Everett asked if he had any questions, and Bailey said, “Yes, but I don’t know enough yet to ask intelligent questions.”

“You know there aren’t any dumb questions?”

“I do, but I also know that uninformed questions aren’t helpful. I need to get my head around the day-to-day operations first. It got my attention how important the new construction schedule is.”

“Good, because it is for this fiscal year and next. You saw that manufacturing is already planning equipment and production line relocation. If the occupancy date slips, then all those plans have to be modified, and that will negatively affect production outputs. On top of that, we don’t purchase expensive new equipment and store it on-site. The delivery and installation is tied to the occupancy schedule, and the last thing we need is a half million-dollar machine ready to be delivered and we can’t accept. That is painful and expensive. See why I need you as my eyes and ears on that front when I’m not here?”

“Sure do. Do you need me for anything else?”

“Not today.”

“Okay, I’m guessing I’m starting to get emails so I should go get on top of them.”

“Good. Tomorrow you should start lining up sitting in on the weekly sales and marketing functional area meetings. That way you meet more staff, and you’re understanding the issues and problems one or two levels down from the VP staff meetings.”

Bailey nodded and took his leave. He had been copied on enough emails that he spent the rest of the afternoon reading and beginning to formulate an operational image of how the company ran.

On the drive home he realized he hadn’t done enough shopping to have food for dinner, so he stopped for takeout. As he ate, he felt satisfied that the day had gone well, and he was off and running.

Over the next two days after he’d sat in on various staff meetings, Everett asked for a quick synopsis, especially about what he’d learned that was new and what he heard that was concerning. They’d talk about it for a few minutes, and Everett assured him he wasn’t looking to have him spy on the various staff and leaders. “Most of the time I expect you to say everything is cool. There’s a thing about problems, though. Usually when one comes along you address it and solve it, and then you do an after action debrief. That’s when you usually realize that the signs were there, they just weren’t seen early enough. It’s hard for people in their own functional area to see the signs early. That’s why it helps to have someone that’s outside the functional area listening and watching. They can often see problems forming early. Sometimes the same thing goes for opportunities as well.”

“That makes sense,” Bailey replied, “I’ll make sure to have that as the perspective I take.”

Everett nodded with a smile. “I’ll give you a good and all too common example. The sales organization uses a form of customer relationship management software that has forecasting built into it. Almost all salespeople think it’s about management seeing their opportunities for revenue purposes, and then they get paranoid about someone stepping in on their sales. They often completely miss the fact that most of our equipment is made of hundreds of components, and we don’t manufacture them all. We have to rely on our suppliers. So, when a big sale of a complex product comes along, we need early visibility to make sure we have all the components to manufacture and deliver on time.”

“That makes sense.”

“And you can imagine how most sales reps react when they find out that delivery is going to be delayed, and so is their commission.”

Bailey rolled his eyes, “Got it. I bet that never goes down well.”

“Nope, it doesn’t. Don’t forget we’re having the status meeting in the morning with the architectural and engineering firm. That’s at nine o’clock. Can you be here around eight, and I’ll walk you through what we covered last week so you feel up to speed?”

Bailey said, “Of course,” and that was it for the day. On the way home he stopped at the market for a few things and decided he’d do a major food shopping trip on Saturday.


It only took Everett half an hour to walk him through the documents from the project meeting the week before and then summarize the project status. Everett emphasized that so far there had been no architectural changes, and that the meetings were now more engineering reviews covering progress from week to week, discussing any challenges and emerging problems. They were done before nine o’clock and had time to stop in the men’s room before heading to the main conference room.

Bailey was pouring coffee for them from a carafe on the side counter when the head of facilities and the VP of manufacturing led a group of four people into the room. It was obvious they all knew each other and that the visitors had been here before. Everett introduced Bailey to them and then pointed at the coffee on the counter and said, “Help yourselves, then let’s get started.”

The group was made up of an older man, two middle-aged men, and a young man who looked to be in his mid-twenties. The older men were the project engineers, and the younger man was the architect. His name was Eric Tester, and he had very curly, dark-blonde hair that had a reddish cast to it that reminded Bailey of the tight curls he’d seen on a statue of Marcus Aurelius in history class. He also had bright, blue eyes, and when Bailey stepped forward to shake everyone’s hand, Eric looked him straight in the eye, holding his gaze for a second with a smile on his face. They were both the two youngsters in the room, and Bailey assumed that was the basis of the friendly approach. But as he returned to his seat he wondered if Eric hadn’t held his hand a little longer than usual.

The meeting was two hours long and involved a slide presentation on the project steps, review of all change orders and then a review of the planned future timeline to completion. It was much like the content of the meeting from the week before, and Bailey took that as a positive sign. However, it seemed like a couple of times when he looked over, he found Eric looking at him.

When the meeting concluded Everett thanked everyone for their time and then turned to Bailey and said, “You’ll have to excuse me for a while.” He pointed at the older man who was the VP of project engineering and said, “Reed and I need to have a one-on-one. He’s trying to convince me to join the local Rotary Club.”

Bailey nodded in agreement, the two other project engineers said they were riding together, and Reed turned to Eric and said, “Do you mind waiting for a bit?”

As Eric shook his head, Everett said, “Bailey, why don’t you take Eric down to the cafeteria and buy him a cup of coffee? We’ll come find you when we’re finished.”

Bailey nodded again and turned to Eric and nodded at the door. Outside he said, “Let me drop off my laptop and notebook.” Eric smiled in agreement and followed him down the hall to the exec area. “Back in a flash,” Bailey said, and Eric waited in the hall till he came back empty handed. He nodded down the hallway and said, “You already know your way around here, right?”

“Yeah, it’s becoming second nature. Every Friday a drive down from Syracuse. Not bad, though, in the grand scheme of things.”

They were ahead of the early lunch rush and were quickly served and sat down next to a window. Bailey looked over the cup he was blowing on to cool it off and said, “You know this is my first week, right?”

Eric’s eyes twinkled. “I caught that and found it the most exciting part of the meeting.”

“What? My being so new was exciting?”

“No, Bailey, you being part of the meeting was exciting.” Eric was looking him directly in the eyes again.”

“And that is a compliment, I suppose?”

“Of course, it is. I’m the junior architect in our firm, so now that the design is done and the project is moving forward, I’m the one assigned to tag along to assure that the design side of the house knows what’s going on so that if there are design changes it doesn’t come as a total surprise.”

“You make it sound like it’s beneath you.”

“I didn’t mean it to sound that way. It’s the kind of task you get assigned when you’re junior. You know, at the bottom of the totem pole.” He smiled in a self-deprecating way.

“You mean like me? I mean, I’m Everett’s new assistant. That puts me at the bottom too.”

Eric’s smile widened. “Then we have more in common than I first assumed.” Bailey thought he saw Eric blink a couple of times, so he steered the conversation back to the project.

“Everett walked me through last week’s slide deck first thing this morning. Seems like everything’s holding to schedule and budget?”

“It is. That makes it a little boring for me, but that’s life.”

“You know staying on schedule and budget is a big deal for Everett?”

“It is for all our clients. I understand this company is part of a large corporation, and if things go sideways, however minor that may appear to be, it’s Everett that has to deliver the bad news.” He paused and his smile turned into a grin, “Well, that after Reed delivers the bad news to Everett.”

He waited for Bailey’s reaction and Bailey smiled back and then said, “One of the advantages of being on the design side, right? You’re not responsible for project problems?”

“Not unless the problem goes back to a fundamental design flaw or oversight. Then the heat is on, and you can be sure the project engineers would be throwing us under the bus in a New York minute.”

Bailey chuckled. “Then you get to step in and fix the mess. I hope I don’t have to see that.”

“That’s the plan,” Eric replied, “and why I get to spend every Friday morning down here instead of in the office doing the rest of my work. None of which stops because I’m down here.”

“Well, you know what they say about the price that has to be paid?”

“I do. But having you on the team has just made it a lot more fun and interesting.”

Bailey was beginning to try and figure out if there were layers of meaning in Eric’s last statement when he heard Everett’s voice saying, “There they are.” A few seconds later he and Reed stood at the table and Reed said to Eric, “Thanks for waiting. Are you ready to go?”

Eric nodded and they all stood. When they left the cafeteria Everett turned to Bailey and said, “Would you walk them to the front door? I have to get back to my office.” He turned, said thanks and shook hands with Reed and Eric. When they crossed the lobby, Bailey paused by the main door and said goodbye to Reed, who seemed in a hurry and went straight through. Eric took his time, and when Bailey extended his hand and said, “It was a pleasure to meet you,” Eric smiled and replied, “The pleasure was all mine. I’m already looking forward to next Friday.”


Bailey found himself thinking about Eric on the drive home. He was a cool guy. Confident, good looking, and had an interesting sense of humor. He liked him. It was okay to say a guy was good looking and that he liked him, right? He called Dan and asked if he was free, to learn that he was, his weekend date was on Saturday. “You know, it’s important not to be with them every night. What do they say? Absence makes the heart grow fonder?”

“Says the guy who will be home every night after he gets married,” Bailey retorted.

“Well, it’s the price you pay for getting laid. I mean, for a relationship.”

“Yeah, right. Anyhow, I’m cooking a lasagna when I get home. Do you want to come over?”

“That’d be cool. Better than what I’ve got in my freezer. I’ll get a bottle of red wine on the way.”

Bailey hadn’t said the lasagna was frozen, but figured Dan would know that. The salad and garlic bread would be fresh. As he prepared dinner, he realized how empty the refrigerator was, and added a lot of items to his grocery list for the next day. Annabelle and Flynn had invited him for dinner Saturday night, so he expected a full interrogation about the new job and who he worked with. That didn’t surprise him, but what did was Annabelle telling him over dinner that she’d had to clean out the back of the office to make room for the new salesman and had found two boxes of his dad’s paperwork.

“I don’t know what they are. I just lifted the lids, and they’re full of folders with papers. I have them in my car. They may be nothing after this much time, but you should take them with you when you go.” He did and planned on looking through them on Sunday.

He slept in the next morning, then after some breakfast decided that he’d gone too long without any real exercise, and went for a short run, promising himself that he would make a regular schedule of it for the rest of the summer. In the afternoon he turned to the boxes and found they were mainly filled with old business forms, old purchase records, and folder after folder of car specifications. He realized quickly that his dad had those so that he had ready access to the specs when he bought new used car inventory. As much of a car guy as Colin had been, he couldn’t remember all the specs on all the cars. What caught his attention, though, was a folder marked ‘SPCA,’ which turned out to be filled with brochures and correspondence to and from the Finger Lakes SPCA, as well as donation receipts. It was located north of Auburn, and at first, he didn’t understand his dad’s involvement. He’d never gotten another dog after Daisy died. But then he realized that was because he’d re-focused his life on Bailey, Dan and Dan’s sisters. But he hadn’t lost his interest in animals. The most intriguing document in the folder was an early architectural rendering of a new shelter building. He smiled to himself. His dad had loved his dogs almost as much as he’d loved him, and he hadn’t lost interest. He’d just transferred it.

Bailey put the architectural drawing aside, having decided the rest of the papers weren’t worth saving, and took them out to the dumpster behind the apartment building. Then he decided a little housecleaning was in order and then he’d think about a cold beer while he cooked some Thai food for dinner.

Monday afternoon Everett informed him that he had to fly to Chicago on Wednesday for a two-day global planning session. “That means you’ll be handing the construction meeting for me on Friday.”

Bailey said, “Really?”

Everett grinned. “Like John Adams said, ‘sink or swim.’ You’ll do fine. Should be status quo.”

“Do you want a report on Friday? When will you be back?”

“I’ll fly back Friday night, so an email after the meeting would be great.”

Bailey confirmed and went back to work. He was now writing up summaries of staff meetings, realizing that long-term doing so probably wouldn’t be necessary, but minimally he needed to type up his meeting notes in case Everett later had a question about something that had been discussed.

The week went by, and he said goodbye to Everett at mid-day on Wednesday when he headed for the airport. Thursday was a mix of meetings, answering emails for Everett and typing up notes, and suddenly the day was gone.

He got in early on Friday morning to be sure everything was set. He checked the main conference room to make sure the cafeteria had delivered the coffee service, confirmed the overhead projector was ready to go for the project engineering presentation and then realized he had twelve minutes before the meeting was scheduled to start. He pulled up his laptop and worked on his email until he heard the door open.

The VP of Manufacturing led the group in, and Bailey rose to greet them. Eric was the last to enter, and Bailey noticed the smile on his face and sparkle in his eyes. What was it about this guy? It wasn’t that he oozed charm, though maybe he did a little, but it was more like he seemed to be enjoying himself, even when he was working. Like he was comfortable in his own skin or something. Bailey shook his hand and heard Eric say softly, “Good to see you again.” He smiled back and said, “You, too.” He had to consciously break his gaze away, and then turned to the group. “As you can see, Everett isn’t here today. He got called to a corporate meeting in Chicago, but, as he’d say if he was here, ‘let’s get going.’” He smiled and waved everyone into their seats.

Just like the week before, and the summary of the meeting from the week before that Everett had walked him through, this meeting went according to the agenda, and he took notes that basically came down to ‘on schedule’ and ‘no problems.’ He’d looked up a few times to see Eric watching him, but today, unlike the previous Friday, Eric smiled at him a couple of times and he struggled not to smile back. He could see Eric roll his eyes as the meeting droned on to its inevitable ending and this time, he couldn’t prevent himself from smiling back. Once, though, he swore he saw Eric’s eyelashes flutter. Was that for real, or was he just imagining it?

When they broke at a little after eleven, they headed for the lobby. Eric held back to walk next to Bailey and said, “I drove my own car today, so I was wondering if you’d have lunch with me since you bought me coffee last week.”

It took Bailey a moment to understand the words he was hearing, and he stuttered out, “You want to have lunch with me? Don’t you need to be back at work in Syracuse?”

Eric flashed him a smile and said, “The answers are yes, and I’ve arranged to take the afternoon off.”

Bailey looked back at him. “Well, okay then.” He paused, his mind spinning. “I’ve got to write up my meeting notes and send them to Everett. Can you wait a few minutes?”

“No problem. I’ll be in my car out front. It’s the blue Audi. I’ll see you when you come out and pick you up out front.”

They drove to town and Eric pulled into a parking place in front of the Bluewater Grill on the lake. When they’d been seated, Bailey said, “You live in Syracuse. How did you know about this restaurant?”

“What? You’ve never heard of Google? I did a little research, hoping you’d agree to have lunch with me.”

“So, you planned this. That’s what you’re telling me?”

“I’m telling you that I planned to ask you to have lunch with me. I did a little simple research, and that meant I was ready to execute when you did what I hoped you would and said yes.”

Bailey was quiet for a few seconds and then said, “And why would you want to have lunch with me?”

“Let me put your mind at ease. It has nothing to do with work. This is personal. I like you. You’re kind of fun. I want to get to know you.”

“I don’t think anyone ever told me I was fun to be with.”

The waitress arrived with their menus, and as Eric took his he said, “Then they missed out.”

As they ate, they talked about Bailey being such a new employee and on a pretty steep learning curve. Then they talked a little about the construction project. Bailey asked, “Is it really as under control and on schedule as it seems?”

“So far, yes. Plan on something going wrong, it always does. But if we’re lucky, it’ll be on the construction side and not on the design side. The further along we get with construction the more difficult and expensive it is to change the design.”

The conversation grew quiet as they finished eating and Bailey found his mind wandering, assessing what was going on. He lost focus and just a minute or so later he heard Eric raise his voice a little and say his name. He shook his head and caught Eric’s gaze. “What? Sorry. My mind was wandering.” He knew what he’d been looking at and felt a little embarrassed.

The smile on Eric’s face widened into a grin and he said, “I know what you were doing.” He made it sound like it happened all the time.

“I don’t know what you mean?”

“Yes, you do. You were checking out my hair.” He paused a few seconds and added, “Weren’t you?”

Bailey felt a little blush on his cheeks and said, “Yes, I’m…I’m still trying to figure out if…”

Eric cut him off. “It’s natural. I’ve never permed my hair. I was born with these curls.” He paused again. “Do you like them?”

“Well, yeah. My hair’s got a little wave, but nothing like that.”

“You should try running a comb through it,” Eric replied with a little snark. “That’s why I keep it reasonably short so it’s easier to take care of. But I’m glad you like at least one thing about me.”

“No. I mean, it’s not like that’s the only thing I like about you. I mean, I’m having lunch with you so…” The sentence died and Eric just waited, smiling softly.

The questions and concerns that had been spinning in the back of Bailey’s brain started to come together and he felt a sense of déjà vu. Like those two ‘dates’ with his fellow business majors the year before. Finally, he said, “Eric, I heard you say you like me, and you want to get to know me, and that’s cool. But I have to ask, are you gay?”

Eric smiled at him, his eyes twinkling in the light that reflected off the lake. “Yes. Out and proud. Is that a problem?”

“No, no. It’s not a problem. It’s just that I’m not gay.”

“Does that fact prevent me from liking you or wanting to get to know you or wanting to be your friend?”

“Well, no. Of course not. I just want to be clear, that’s all. I got asked out a couple of times last year down in Binghamton by other business majors and didn’t even know they were gay or that it was a date… and then had to clear up the expectations.”

“And what expectations would those be?”

“Well, you know.”

Eric smiled at him wryly. “I’m not sure that I do Mr. McKenzie. I mean, I’m just getting to know you. What specific expectations are you concerned about? Or is it frightened of?”

Bailey licked his lips and said, “It’s not that I’m all that concerned or frightened. More that I don’t want you to think the wrong things about me.”

“And why would what I think about you be the wrong things?”

“Eric! We’re going round and round on this.”

Eric’s smile became a grin again. “Bailey, relax, okay? Yes, I’m gay. And, yes, I like you and want to get to know you better. Trust me, I have straight friends, okay? I don’t want to jump into bed with all my straight friends.”

He paused and Bailey didn’t respond, so Eric continued. “For the record, I not only like you as a person, I find you attractive. That doesn’t mean I’m going to jump your bones, okay? For the record. I mean, you felt obligated to tell me about you, and I’m telling you about me. Is that a deal breaker?”

Bailey felt suddenly embarrassed, like he’d made a bigger deal out of this than he needed to and had offended Eric. “No, it’s not deal breaker. I like you too. Look, I just moved back to the area after I graduated. I don’t have many friends so I’m happy you want to be my friend, okay? And I didn’t mean to offend you, if I did. I just thought it best to clear the air.”

Eric’s smile stayed on his face. “Alright, the air is cleared, and no apology is necessary. Okay? But just like you think it’s important that I know you’re not gay, I think it’s important that you know I am and that I’m attracted to you. Do you have any idea how cute you are when you’re taking notes on your laptop, with that focused look on your face and those little wrinkles on your forehead?”

“What? You think I’m cute?’

“No, Bailey. I don’t think you’re cute. I’m telling you that you’re cute and I’m attracted to you. I’m happy if we’re friends and that’s as far as it goes. Now, let’s change the subject. What are you doing this weekend?”

Bailey took a deep breath and said, “Grocery shopping and laundry. Then a run, because I’m trying to re-establish some kind of training regimen. Nothing too exciting. How about you?”

“Same kind of things. I’ll probably work out tomorrow sometime, then go clubbing with some friends tomorrow night.” Eric let the comment hang and watched Bailey’s eyebrows rise.

“Yes, that would be to gay clubs. There are a couple of good ones in Syracuse. You should come with me sometime. They’re lots of fun, especially if you like to dance.”

“Do I have to commit now, or can I keep that in mind?”

“No commitment required. You just let me know,” Eric replied. Then he continued, “Do you need to get back to work? I took the afternoon off, you didn’t.”

Bailey nodded and Eric said, “Let’s go,” and picked up the bill and headed to the cashier. As Eric dropped him off, he asked if he could have Bailey’s contact info, and they exchanged them.

When Bailey got back to his cubicle and sat down in front of his laptop, he found himself looking through the screen into nothingness while his mind tried to process what had just happened. It hadn’t been that radical or dramatic, but he’d just been told some things about himself he’d never heard before, by a man he didn’t just like but had acknowledged was good looking. And Eric said he was attracted to him. What did he do about that?


The short answer was nothing. He was busy all weekend, as planned, and got in two training runs. He was settling into a pleasant routine. Either Friday or Saturday he and Dan would get together, mainly to eat and have a beer or two, and often watch a movie on TV. Dan had brought over a couple of pieces of furniture he’d picked up somewhere, so now the apartment had a coffee table and a small bookshelf. When he got his first paycheck, he’d buy some more furnishings.

Sunday evening, though, he got a text from Eric.

<I got a decent workout in yesterday. Did you get your training run in?>

Bailey found himself smiling and replied.

<Yes, and in fact two short ones. Don’t want to overdo it at my age, you know.>

<Right! Wouldn’t wanna strain anything! Just wanted to tell you again I enjoyed lunch on Friday.>

Bailey paused before replying. Would it somehow be out of his comfort zone to confirm again that he did too? Why not?

<I did too. I didn’t mean to get all flustered. It was fun. I’m looking forward to next time.>

He hit Send and then wondered if he’d gone too far, and it’d sound weird.

<I am too. But I know why you really want to see me again. >

Bailey found himself smiling. Eric was fun.

<Okay, I’m pretty sure you’re older than me, so that must mean you know more. Why is it I really want to see you again?>

He didn’t want to come off as a smartass, so he watched the dots move on his phone while waiting for a reply.

<Ouch! That’s a low blow. I’m not that much older than you. I’m just more experienced.>

Bailey knew he hadn’t touched a nerve, but that Eric liked a give and take.

<I’ll buy that. But you still have to tell me why I want to see you again.>

Eric had gotten his attention with that challenge, and he wasn’t going to let it go.

<Because I caught you looking, and you want to run your fingers through my hair.>

Bailey’s eyes widened a little because it was true. He’d not just been surprised by the dense and beautiful curls, he’d wondered that very thing. He thought for a minute. Don’t rush the response, be careful and disarming.

<I was looking because the last time I saw curls like that it was on the statue of a Roman emperor. Very attention getting!>

He hit Send and hoped it didn’t come off as snarky.

A minute later Eric’s reply came across.

<I’ll accept that. Put’s me in good company! Friday you’ll have to tell me about your favorite emperor!>

Bailey was happy. Eric was into banter and was good at the give and take.

<I’ll tell you it’s not Nero or Claudius, but I’m not sure telling you who it is would be a good thing. It might bump your ego.>

Bailey bit his lower lip. That could be read as a little insulting. In no time Eric replied.

<I know I have an ego. I also know for a fact that having a healthy ego is a good thing. If you don’t believe me, I can introduce you to an expert on the subject.>

What did that mean? Maybe this was going a little too far.

<Hey, I’m not trying to offend you. Sorry if I said something stupid. I’m looking forward to seeing you on Friday.>

Hopefully that was enough to pull back from the edge.

<Stop worrying. I’ve got thick skin and a good sense of humor. Is it ok to text you during the week?>

Bailey smiled at himself.

<Yeah, I’d like it. Nice to hear a cheery voice during the week. >

<Cool. I’ll let ya get back to what you’re doing. Talk soon.>

Bailey sent him a quick OK and left it at that.

He got himself another beer and sat down on the couch seemingly happy with what happened, but then asked himself what he was doing. He’d just been in a banter with a gay guy who he’d gone out of his way to tell he was straight. He’d probably done more texting with Eric in the last ten minutes than he’d done in the last ten months.

He told himself it was because Eric’s a new friend and turned on the TV.

Monday was back to the schedules he was becoming used to, and the week started to move forward. Tuesday evening, he got another text from Eric, and they went back and forth about how the last two days had gone.

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