Deep Dish is a spinoff of my first serial, Over The Top. Jack Charles is an original character I created in that story; as such, he belongs to me. :) Any recognizable characters which may appear throughout the course of this story are the property of their respective owners. If you're joining this story by referral from DS, thank you, and welcome! :)
deep-dish: a pizza style developed in Chicago in 1943, characterized by a crust that is up to three inches tall at the edge
deep:(adjective) heartfelt; sincere; absorbing; engrossing; intense; profound; dark and vivid.
dish: (British, slang) A sexually attractive person of either sex.
It's the flyer that catches my eye, the bright white sheet that lies out of place, in the middle of the wood floor just inside the door of my new apartment.
I step carefully over it, not wishing to slip and fall as I carry a large box full of breakables. When I've set the box on the kitchen counter, I walk back through the empty apartment to the front door. My steps echo off the bare walls and floors, reminding me that I'm alone – not just alone in the apartment, but alone in the city, alone in the world.
Alone in my life.
I stoop to pick up the flyer. Best pizza in the city, it screams. Authentic Chicago Deep Dish.
I sigh wearily; my life might be on its ear, but some things – like junk mail – never change. I don't know whether to be comforted or offended.
I decide that until I've brought up the rest of my luggage and boxes from my car, I can afford the luxury of neither. Over the next hour, I make several trips up and down the stairs, bringing up the items I decided to bring in my car instead of sending them with the moving company. I'm tired out from driving for three days, ten hours a day; and my furniture isn't arriving until tomorrow. With me I've brought an air mattress, intending to inflate it and camp out on the floor for the night; but my body is stiff and sore. An air mattress is among the least inviting options I can think of, right up there with a bed of nails.
I waffle a bit between toughing it out or allowing myself some comfort. Comfort wins out and after I unpack the few boxes I have with me, I'm on the way to a comfortable hotel, where I'll have 500-thread-count sheets and room service. I'm lucky – it's a Sunday night and I'm able to get a decent room without a reservation. After I've called the moving company's driver to let them know I won't be staying at the apartment overnight after all, I sink into a hot bath – not having brought my swim suit, I can't take advantage of the hotel's Jacuzzi – and soak away my stiff muscles. I stayed in hotels during the trip, but nothing fancy. Reasoning that I was only there to crash, I looked for hotels that were clean and utilitarian. But tonight, this is much-needed...and it's heaven.
I order from the room service menu, opting for the veggie burger and fries and rolling my eyes at the $20 price tag. An hour later, I'm full, tired, and ready to stretch out and watch TV for a while before bed.
Being Sunday night, of course, there's absolutely nothing on, unless I want to watch the E! True Hollywood Story on Sonny and Cher. Not so much. I wish I brought my book from the car, but I won't bother going down to get it now. Instead I turn off the TV and roll over onto my stomach, stretching out in bed. I should be nodding off almost right away; instead, my mind won't settle. I keep thinking about the last four months of my life, how much has changed...the things I could change, at least.
It's late February now; Ashton and Kathleen got married eight days ago. Because they had such a short engagement, only four months, I stayed in Seattle until after their wedding. There was no way I could escape being Ashton's best man – nor did I really want to escape it. I also wasn't going to attempt to pull some half-assed best man duty from halfway across the country. So, as they were counting the days to I Do, I was counting down to I'm Outta Here.
I grimace as my mind wanders back to the conversation I had with Ashton the morning after he and Kathleen told me they were getting married. We were all in Austin that weekend for Jasper and Edward's wedding. Ashton and I were in my hotel room. He'd stopped by as I was packing up for my flight back to Seattle, and the conversation led to me telling him I was leaving.
"Well, my plans aren't definite yet; but I'm pretty sure I'm moving."
"Cool!" he said. "Are you buying a place of your own?"
"Not exactly," I said. I took a deep breath, steeling myself for his reaction. "I've decided I need a change. I'm leaving Seattle."
"Leaving Seattle…?" he said blankly. "Where are you going?"
"I think," I said slowly, "…Chicago."
He was completely silent…motionless, even…for long seconds, before sucking in a deep breath. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm going to look at jobs in Chicago, and if I can find something I like, I'm going to take it," I replied.
"How long have you been thinking about this?" he asked quietly.
"A while," I hedged, not adding that I'd been thinking about it only since he'd announced his engagement the night before.
"Well, there you go", he said. There was a long pause as we each looked anywhere but at each other. "I'm getting married, and you're moving two thousand miles away."
I didn't answer, looking at the floor. He was pacing the room now and I sat silently as my best friend came unglued before me. "It's been you and me, Jack, since our freshman year. You're my best friend – and you're leaving Seattle?" He was becoming upset, his voice escalating in both pitch and in volume as the reality set in. "I can't believe you're not going to be a part of my life anymore! Kathleen and I will have kids and you should be their Uncle Jack. Now they'll barely know you!" I winced, and he noticed. "Have you really thought about everything you're leaving behind here?"
"I've weighed it all, Ashton," I assured him. The last thing I wanted to do was confess that I simply couldn't have a front-row seat to his happy life with Kathleen any longer.
"I'm not satisfied with my life here anymore," I said, trying to be as gentle as possible. "I feel restless, like I'm stagnating. I want something new."
"You're restless," he repeated, clearly hurt despite my efforts to be kind. "Well, isn't that a kick in the ass. Easy come, easy go, I guess."
"Now, wait a minute. My friendship with you and Jasper and Edward, are the only things that really gave me pause when I was considering this," I contradicted. "So don't tell me that your friendship doesn't mean the same thing to me that it did yesterday – that's unfair."
"No, you know what's unfair? My best friend told me last night that he'd be by my side when I got married, and this morning he dropped a bomb that he's moving two thousand miles away." I didn't bother to argue, knowing that there was nothing I could say to improve the situation, and anything I did say while he was upset would only inflame it more.
"Good luck, Jack," he said bitterly. "Good luck with the move and Chicago. Enjoy the snow." With that he left the room, closing the door loudly behind him.
I wanted to throw myself down on the bed and scream, but I was becoming seriously short on time to pack and get to the airport and I hadn't showered yet. I forced myself to work quickly, taking a quick rinse-off and throwing everything into my luggage before checking out and driving my rental car back to the airport. Once I was on the airplane I finally allowed myself to process the conversation. I lay my head back against the seat and stared out the window at the airport crew working as I thought about my friendship with Ashton. We had both gone to Harvard, each having uprooted ourselves from California to head to Massachusetts. We ended up the only two Californians in our dorm in freshman year. We bonded over our mutual distaste for all things cold and white and quickly became best friends. In our sophomore year we roomed together, and as we were both into outdoor sports in California we made a pact that we would at least try the winter sports that weren't afforded us back home. Sledding and skiing quickly became our favorites, and on Sundays you could always find us hitting the slopes of one of the many ski resorts within a 2-hour drive from Boston.
After college we sought out jobs that were closer to home, bound and determined that we would be in the same city. I located my job first, at a brokerage firm in Seattle; and within a week Ashton had landed his job as well. We remained best friends, in spite of our differences, or perhaps because of them.
Ashton had always been friendly and outgoing, but in a soft-spoken, gentle way. He immediately made people feel at ease, which I admired tremendously. I tended to be more taciturn, and definitely did not draw people in. It was through Ashton that most of my friends had been made, and I'd come to rely on him to break the ice in new friendships. The exception, of course, was when I went out to Spin or XY to find a trick.
I wasn't wholly dependent on him, of course. He relied on me, as well, to help him get his finances organized. He was terrible with numbers – much too mundane for his artistic personality – and eventually asked me to prevent him from writing endless checks to every charitable group around. He was less discriminating than I was, definitely a sucker for a sad story. Not that he was gullible by any means, simply that he had a very soft heart. Organizations that helped children or animals were his particular weakness. I taught him how to say, "I'm sorry, I've already committed my charitable donation for this year to another organization." I made him practice saying it out loud. Then I made him stick to it.
Aside from that, there were so many other things, the intangibles that meant we just got each other: the quirks I knew I had that didn't seem to bother him at all; his habits and absent-mindedness that I knew how to work around. It was everything your relationship with your best friend should be.
Until shortly after we moved to Seattle, when things changed – for me at least.
I can't explain how it happened, or even when. It was like a gradual, creeping fog, the kind that settles in around you when you're out for a walk in a field. You barely notice at first – maybe you're consumed in your thoughts or watching the ground to be certain you don't stumble. The veil is drawn closer and still you are ignorant, until you abruptly realize that you don't know where you are. Worse, you can't find your way back, swathed in the haze that has obscured the path you believed you were following.
That is to say, one day I looked at Ashton as he sat across the table from me at a restaurant and realized I'd been in love with him for some time. I couldn't define when my feelings had changed - only that the attachment was formed, and it was as strong a feeling as I'd ever experienced in my life.
Of course I didn't tell him. I knew Ashton was straight – he had received and turned down enough offers in my presence that he could have had a very active sex life if he'd been a gay man. No, he was the strongest ally I could have, but straight nonetheless. There was nothing to be gained if I'd admitted it, and everything to be lost. He wouldn't have been threatened but he would have hated the thought of me feeling sad or uncomfortable in his presence – even if neither of those things actually happened. So I kept it to myself. Ashton didn't know, or if he did suspect, he never let on, which was best for both of us.
Naturally, though, it didn't make my current decision any easier to explain to him. After the confrontation in my hotel room I didn't hear from him for three days until my phone rang on Wednesday evening. On the line was the person I knew as my best friend – the one who was calm, warm and understanding. He apologized for his emotional reaction to my news; I admitted I'd chosen an absolutely rotten time to tell him. He told me that he and Kathleen had decided on a relatively short engagement, less than four months. Kathleen didn't want a large wedding – just something intimate at her parents' home with only closest friends and family. They'd be doing it the weekend before Valentine's Day.
"I know I was an ass to you on Sunday," Ashton said, "and I'll understand if you've changed your mind, but…I'm hoping you'll still be my best man?"
"I was afraid you wouldn't want me to," I admitted. "I'd be honored to stand with you."
"Good," he said with a sigh of relief. "I couldn't do this without you, Jack."
I gulped, knowing he couldn't understand the full weight those words had on me. I replied, "Since it's such a short engagement, I won't go anywhere before the wedding. I haven't even started looking for a job yet - chances are I wouldn't get anything right away anyways. I'll give it till mid-December to start looking, with a view to moving mid-February or later."
He thanked me, replying, "You don't have to do that…but I'm really, really glad you are."
"Hey, I have to take advantage while I can," I said, only half-teasing. "Soon you'll be an old married man."
"Can't wait," he said, quite seriously.
The months leading up to the wedding were busy for everyone. For Ashton and especially Kathleen, they were in a maelstrom of wedding planning. I was looking for employment, beginning with contacting the person who'd given me his business card. He had survived the economic downturn and was doing quite well. He said he didn't know of any openings at his firm, but that his friend worked at a firm with an incompetent who was inches away from being shit-canned. I sent my resume and a kickass letter to the supervisor there, and the first week of January I got a call asking me if I'd come for an interview the following week. Since my interview was on a Friday morning I decided to make a weekend of it. I booked a hotel and planned to stay till Sunday, figuring I could check out some clubs, look for a place to live…familiarize myself with the city. Edward had lived there for a couple of years after college. He gave me some tips on clubs and helped me avoid the sketchy neighborhoods.
Three days before I was to leave for my interview, I got a voicemail at work that nearly knocked me flat.
"Hi, Jack, this is Jacey…Jacey Dawes? We met in Austin a few months ago. I hope you don't mind me calling you...you gave me your card, so I guess it's okay…um, I'll give you my number…" After he left the number, he continued softly, "I've been thinking about you. A lot. I hope to talk to you soon…Bye."
I hadn't heard from him since that weekend. Honestly, after three months I figured I wouldn't. I'd thought about him, of course. In the rare quiet moments my life allowed me, my thoughts often wandered to Jacey and the two nights we'd spent together in Austin. He was sweet - not in the cute way…in the "I've just tasted the most succulent fruit ever" way. We'd parted on the understanding that maybe we'd see each other again, if life allowed it. "You have my card – use it," I'd urged him. But for months he didn't, and I had no way to contact him. He was a precious remembrance for me, his delicate beauty and soft nature. When I thought about him I had a twinge of disappointment, a wondering what could have been, if life had been in our favor. I didn't expect him to call.
Hearing his voice again in the message gave me a flutter of excitement in my sounded just as I remembered, and he wanted me to call him. I listened to the message several times, saving it before I dialed the number he'd left. It rang a couple of times before he answered.
"Hello?" in his soft voice.
"Hi, it's Jack," I replied.
"Hi Jack," he said shyly. "I'm glad you called back."
"It was a surprise to hear your voice," I said.
"I wasn't sure if I should call…" He hesitated.
"I'm really glad you did," I said honestly. "I've thought about you a lot since that weekend…a few times I wished I had your number."
"I'd have called you sooner but I didn't know if you'd want me to call just to talk," he said quietly.
There was an awkward pause until I said, "So, how have you been?"
"Okay," he replied. "Just got back to school after winter break. That's what made me decide to call you, actually. I had a lot of time to think about you while I was off."
"And what were you thinking about?" I prompted.
He spoke slowly, haltingly. "I was thinking about your ice-blue eyes…your hair that's black as coal…your smooth body…your, um...your cock…" He paused and I swore I could hear him swallow on the other end of the line before continuing, "The fact that you came back to the bar to find me again, the way you kissed me, the tenderness you showed me, calling me 'sweet boy' and telling me I was precious…and how much I'd like to be with you again."
Instantly I was aching for him – not just physically, but desperately wanting to be in his presence again. "I miss you too," I said simply. "I would fly to Austin this weekend just to see you…"
"Yeah?" he said, sounding hopeful.
"But I'm already booked to go to Chicago this weekend," I continued. "I have a job interview Friday morning."
"You're thinking of moving to Chicago?" he said with surprise.
"Yeah – more than just thinking about it, actually. Actively seeking. Maybe next weekend, though…" I grimaced, thinking of two weekends in a row spent flying, before the idea struck me. "Yes!" I suddenly exclaimed. "Meet me in Chicago this weekend, Jacey – what do you think?"
He hesitated. "Um…I'm not sure…I know I can swing the airfare, tickets are cheap, but the hotel…"
"I've already got the hotel booked," I assured him. "And the rest, food and whatever, is on me." He was still debating, and I added, "I really want to see you."
He sighed. "Yes. I want to see you too. When are you going?"
I told him my plans: I would arrive in Chicago Thursday night and have my interview Friday morning. He could join me Friday evening and then we'd both fly out Sunday afternoon. That would give us almost 48 hours together. As much as I'd already been looking forward to the trip to Chicago, now I couldn't wait.
After my interview on Friday morning, I headed back to the airport to wait for Jacey's flight to get in. The plane was on time and I stood waiting for him to emerge amid the sea of people who flooded from the gate. Soon I saw his shoulder-length brown hair, half a head taller than many around him, and my whole body tensed in anticipation. He saw me and his face lit up with a brilliant smile. Moving towards each other, we closed the gap fairly quickly, stopping with about two feet left between us. The attraction fairly snapped in the air, it was so intense. We stood that way for several beats, just looking at each other, before he dropped his bag on the floor and launched himself into my arms. And then...bliss. His lips met mine and I could have cried with relief at how good and how right it felt to have him in my arms. His soft full mouth caressed mine once, twice, a third time, before he tucked his face into the side of my neck. We held each other like that for a few moments, stepping apart after I whispered to him that we were drawing looks.
We had our weekend together and it was a turning point for me, for my life. Acerbity had almost become a disease with me since I'd realized there was no hope with Ashton, but when I was with Jacey I didn't feel that bitterness. He made it so damn easy to feel something close to happiness. I could be unreserved with him. He would listen to me without judgment, sometimes disagreeing but always in his gentle way. And the sex was mind-blowing – as good or better than what I remembered from Austin. I hadn't been celibate in the interim and I don't know if Jacey was. I didn't ask; it didn't matter. He was the same responsive, passionate boy. After such a long time of feeling that I was out the cold, I was irresistibly drawn to his warmth.
When we parted at the end of that weekend, we promised each other we wouldn't let three months go by again without talking to each other. We now had each other's various phone numbers, email addresses, Skype and so forth. What's more, we had an understanding: without being exclusive, we would try to get together as often as possible. I knew it would be easier if I got the job in Chicago – the flight was neither as long nor as expensive as it would be to Seattle. One way or the other, though, I knew it would happen. I knew we'd see each other. This thing between us wasn't just some booty call. It was more than sex. It was the connection we had – the comfort of being together, the rightness of it. If it never developed beyond what we had now, it would still be an intensely intimate experience every time I was with him.
My last thoughts before I finally fall asleep are of Jacey, how the last time I was at a hotel in Chicago he was with me, tangled up in my arms.
The next morning I'm up early. I shower, dress and have breakfast, and I'm at the apartment by eight. The movers arrive about twenty minutes later; and before noon, all my furniture and boxes have been moved in and the movers have already gone on to their next delivery. I work pretty steadily for several hours, unpacking the kitchen first; then the bathroom essentials and my clothes. As the afternoon wears on, I realize I'm starving, having ignored lunch altogether. I throw on my coat and boots and head out into the bright, cold winter day.
When I was looking for apartments, I found others that were just as nice as this one; some were a bit closer to the L, Chicago's elevated train; some had a bit more space or a small second bedroom. One of the main features that sold me on this particular apartment was its proximity to a fantastic vegetarian restaurant, Chicago Diner. I was lacto-ovo vegetarian as a teenager and recommitted to it after I finished college. Recently I added the occasional meal of fish or shellfish – having developed a taste for it when I lived in Boston – but for the most part I've stayed lacto-ovo. It's challenging, though, since I don't particularly like to cook, and decent takeout vegetarian isn't available everywhere. Knowing that the Diner was half a block from my place sealed it. I saw myself walking home from the L, stopping in to pick up my dinner and then relaxing at home with it.
After a dinner of the most amazing avocado tostadas, I ask for their takeout menu, and make my way home again. I know tomorrow I'll have to do some grocery shopping, but for tonight I just want to go home and relax…and call Jacey.
Jacey helped me find this apartment the weekend we were here in Chicago together. I realized that weekend what a great eye he has for detail – naturally, he's pursuing a Fine Arts degree in Design – and he was enthralled with the scrollwork around the front door of the building. I liked it too, of course, but was rather more concerned about the concrete details – the apartment itself, the fact that I could walk to the L in about ten minutes which would take me straight down to my office building, and the building's proximity to other 'neighborhood amenities'. As I now walk back to the apartment, though, I realize how many trees line my street and that it will be really beautiful in the summer.
Overall, I'm feeling less alone today. I know I'm living in a vibrant neighborhood, next week I'll start my new job and possibly prove to myself that I can make friends even without Ashton's help, and I'll have Jacey in my life by phone, email and as many visits as we can steal away.
For the first time in a long time, I feel hope.
Ohhh – had to steal that line! One of the few lines my bb Jasper was actually given in the books, and I just handed it off to our Jack.
Hope you enjoyed this peek at Jack's transition from Seattle to Chicago, as well how he and Jacey found each other again. I'm writing a Deep Dish outtake for the Friday Free-For-All, of Jack and Jacey's weekend in Chicago; it won't be up till December 4th, though!
My blog continues to be the place for me to share songs, inspiration, news and other goodies. I want to share with you all, though, that I am co-hosting a writing contest called When Love Was New. Check it out at www dot fanfiction dot com / ~whenlovewasnew . We've got some great entries so far; and the entry deadline is coming up fast - November 6 is the last day to send submissions!