A birthday one-shot for Shell Shock. Having one day received a pre-read comment ("meh") from yours truly, Shell set out to defend her characters' dialogue using this argument: "Sometimes, people are just boring, B!"
I took it as a personal challenge.
I give you…Boringward.
Summary: Is it possible that Edward Cullen really is boring? A certain dishwater blonde bartender holds the answer. E/J Slashish
"What the fuck is taking you so long, Sted? You know you're gonna wear your "going out" jeans and one of your famous grey button-downs. Just pick one and get it over with, will ya? I have reservations."
I have reservations, too, spending my twenty-fourth birthday with Emmett McCarty. Why I put myself through the daily torture of being his best friend I will never know. Actually, the better question is: why does an attractive, tragically straight, happily married retired rugby player with a promising future in broadcasting hang out with the likes of me—a professional Pilates instructor whose work day, wardrobe, and penchant for quiet, dishwater-blonde men haven't varied in over ten years?
I run my fingers through my hair one last time as if it might actually matter. My hair may be the most boring thing about me—it never moves. No matter what gel or mousse or style I get, it's always a wild tangle of rust. "Not rust," Alice reminds me constantly, "copper…or maybe brass, something positive." Yes, positive, not something everyday and boring like oxidized metal…like me.
Galloping down the stairs, I find a highly amused Emmett waiting at the door with crossed arms and a smirk drawn on his ruggedly handsome face. He can't let it go. "I swear you own fifty of the same exact shirt."
"They're all different shades," I insist vehemently. "Anyhow, what do you know? You're color blind."
"Good point. How'd I do tonight, by the way?"
He gestures down his chest and waist, making me look where I've trained myself not to. I roll my eyes. "The girls will be flocking us all night."
"So I match?"
"Who cares if you match? You're Emmett McCarty. Can we go now?"
Emmett smiles until his famous dimple appears, but I don't hate him for it. He doesn't do it on purpose, and I'm mostly desensitized to his charms. He also happens to be the best friend I've ever had. From the day he first set foot in my Pilates studio, I felt pulled to him beyond his magnetic personality and physical lure—Emmett gets me and even better, he accepts me.
Let's face it, I am not the most interesting person on the planet, but from the get-go, Emmett saw that I genuinely cared about his progress in the class and I wasn't out for his money or his body (since I couldn't have it anyway) or the association with his celebrity.
"You're genuine, Ed. I should call you Genu-Ed. Gen-Ed. Jeannette? Nah, that's a dead end."
"What's wrong with just calling me 'Edward'?"
"That's no good. Anyone can call you Edward. I want something only I can call you. How about True Blue? Blue…nah, that's a cartoon dog. Plus, you never wear anything but grey," he muses.
"Whatever, dude," I chuckle, attacking my chef salad while Emmett swallows around his triple-decker deli sandwich. He has the appetite of three healthy horses, but not an ounce of fat sticks around to tell the story.
"Authentic-Edward. Edwarthentic. Ugh, this is really a challenge. Usually, I come up with the perfect nickname right away and it just sticks. But I'll nail you yet, Cullen. I promise."
I try not to whimper imagining being nailed by the starring loosehead prop on the Potomac Athletic Club Rugby Team, now that he's spent the first half of our lunch explaining to me exactly what that is. My head is spinning with scrumfuls of grunty, beefy, sweaty athletes piling up on top of each other for no apparent reason. My mental notepad fills with terms to Google later tonight, and if I'm very lucky, I might even find some video.
"…Stedward. That's it! I've got it!"
"Got what?" I flick the corned beef projectile off my cheek, but he doesn't even notice in all the excitement.
"Sted! You! Short for 'Steady Eddie.'"
Steady, a euphemism for boring. I guess I should be grateful he didn't settle on Bo.
"For the last time, are you sure you want to go to Copes' again? There's a new place—"
"Yes, Em. I love Copes'. I feel at home there. Seth makes my drink just the way I like it."
"I guaran-damn-tee you Grey Goose on the rocks tastes the same no matter where you get it."
"Not true," I protest. "You have to get just the right ratio of ice to glass to vodka."
"You are a piece o' work, Stedward. Have I ever told you that?"
"You tell me that every chance you get. It's my birthday; aren't you supposed to be nice to me today?"
"Sure, man. Okay, Copes' it is."
"And don't worry. I reserved your favorite booth."
"Thank you, Emmett."
"Sure thing." He sighs loudly as he settles behind the wheel of his bright red Jeep Wrangler. Poor Emmett. It's not easy to be best buds with Mr. Boredom.
"I'm sorry, Mr. McCarty, but your table is not ready. Seth brought his family in tonight to celebrate his wife's birthday, and I'm afraid your table was the only one large enough to accommodate them all. I'm guessing they'll be done eating in about twenty minutes, and then we'll send in our HAZMAT team, what with the three kids flicking French fries all over the place…" Alice grins good-naturedly and points to the scene at the table.
I peek around the corner and my irritation melts away when I catch sight of the little family—three little towheads munching on chicken fingers and bouncing from one end of the circular seat to the other, hopping on both parents, who are desperately trying to shovel in their burgers while guarding their baby-making parts from errant little feet. Seth sees me and waves me over. He wrangles one of the little guys and tucks him into his hip while sliding out of the booth to greet me.
"Hey, man. Happy birthday. Quil, tell Mr. Cullen happy birthday."
"Appy buh-dee, missuh cun."
The other kids have now attached themselves to Seth's legs, apparently wanting to meet me as well. "This is Quil's twin sister Bella, and here's my big boy, Embry. Can you guys say hi to Mr. Cullen?"
"Hi, Missr Cun," Embry answers. Bella wraps herself tighter around her dad's leg and I squat down to meet her eye-to-eye.
"You really enjoyed those French fries, didn't you, Bella?"
She nods warily, but I see a ghost of a smile. I wink and add, "I love French fries. I'm gonna eat a whole bunch tonight. And a big ice cream sundae with hot chocolate when I'm through."
"Ice keeeeem!" Bella shouts, the smile finally lighting up her tiny face.
"Now you've done it," chuckles Seth's wife. "She won't eat another bite of chicken."
I rise and greet the woman I've heard so much about through the years of sitting at the bar with Seth—the amazing Shelley. The way Seth's described her, I find myself half-expecting to see a gold tiara and magic lasso.
"Babe, this is Edward Cullen, you know, my favorite regular. Edward, my wife Shelley."
I extend my hand and she wipes hers off on her pants before slipping it inside mine. "Sorry, night out with the kids," she shrugs. "It's so nice to meet you, Edward. Seth's told me so much about you. And isn't today your birthday as well?"
"It is. Happy birthday to us, I guess."
Though my preference is decidedly masculine, I can still appreciate a beautiful woman when I spot one. Blue-grey eyes that dance with humor, a sweet, open smile that draws you in, and a head of shoulder-length hair my favorite shade of blonde.
"Right. So nice to put a face to the stories. Okay, I better get these guys back to their food or you'll never get your table. Have a great time tonight."
"Thanks. You, too."
Shelley rustles the kids back to their plates, and I try not to feel guilty as little Bella refuses to eat any more until her "ice keem" comes. Seth claps his hand on my shoulder and leans in to say, "Listen, I've hired a real pro to cover for me tonight. Don't worry, I told him exactly the way you like your drink."
"Thanks, Seth. You guys have a great time. I'll catch up with you next week."
Seth nods, turns me to face the bar, and lets out a high-pitched whistle that catches the bartender's attention. Basically, time stops, just like a cheesy Hollywood film, as the guy peeks around the customers he'd been chatting up and looks our way. Leaning forward on the bar, his well-sculpted arms extend beyond the short sleeves of his black Copes' tee, forming an upside-down "V" with his face at the top. Realizing it's his boss who's just summoned him, he tips his chin and smiles, his lips opening just enough to reveal a perfect set of teeth. His golden hair catches the halogen light off the mirrored shelving behind him, reflecting a complex layering of deeper tones that beg for fingers to riffle through and explore. Even from twenty feet away, I can see that his eyes are an iridescent light grey—my favorite shade—I definitely need to see at close range, because if they're even half as captivating as they appear, I'm diving in.
I feel like one of those plasma balls pulsing with energy, and I'm sure if I look in the mirror, I'll find my hair glowing bright purple and standing on end. I resist the urge to run my hand through my hair and remind myself to breathe.
Seth grabs me around the shoulders and points to my head. "This is the guy, Jas. First drink is on the house!"
He nods and turns his smile and his eyes on me. My armpits prickle with excess heat, but I hold myself together—that is, until the bartender (Jazz was his name?) taps the empty space in front of him at the bar and says, "C'mon over, birthday boy. I've got something special for you."
"There you are," Emmett booms, meeting me in the middle of the room as I start walking toward the bar, toward this man I need to know better. "I was just greasing Alice's palm back there. Turns out they have another table exactly the same shape right on the—"
"I'll wait," I answer him in clipped tones, not taking my eyes off the prize. "Let's sit at the bar for a bit."
I can see Emmett's grin out of the corner of my eye. "Well, look at you, all changing it up tonight. Okay, sure. Let's sit at the bar."
The bartender drops a cocktail napkin at my spot first, then his gaze shifts to Emmett. "Hello, friend of birthday boy."
"Emmett McCarty," he says easily, offering his hand.
"Yeah, I know. Big fan. I'm Jasper, by the way. You can call me 'Jas.' "
Fantastic. Game over. I've been Emmettized. Not his fault, but my gut twists just the same.
"What can I get you?" he asks.
"I'll take a Gibson, hold the onion."
"One martini coming right up," he answers with a chuckle. "And don't you worry, Edward. I already have your order."
He offers me his hand, and I can't help but notice his strong grip and his long fingers. I'm so taken by how perfectly we fit together that I don't notice at first that his hand is freezing cold. He laughs when I jump back, but he doesn't let go. "Sorry," he says, his eyes dancing in a way that tells me he's not sorry at all, "occupational hazard. Seth told me to make sure your glass was well-chilled, so I've just been chillin' back here waiting for you."
Emmett's chuckle rolls beside me, and Jas finally lets go. It could be my imagination, or maybe just some seriously powerful wishful thinking, but it seems like my handshake was longer and stronger.
"Be right back, guys." Jasper nearly throws me off my stool when he tosses me a wink, and Emmett does not fail to notice.
He leans in and nudges me with his elbow. "Dude, he is so into you."
"He's just being nice because Seth told him to."
"What-the-fuck-ever, Em. What would even make you think he's into guys at all?"
Emmett just shakes his head and grins.
Jasper's back with my perfectly chilled glass, which he sets on the center of my napkin. "Three rocks, right?"
He sets the bottle on the bar and slides it toward me for approval. "Plain, right?"
Emmett scoffs next to me and I kick him in the shin, well, the side of his shin; it's all I can reach. "Yeah. Plain and boring, that's me."
Jasper grabs the bottle and looks at me intently. "I like a man who knows exactly what he wants."
I nod at the compliment and pray my face isn't bright red. It certainly feels bright red. Emmett covers his mouth with his hand to hide his smile, and I block him out of my peripheral vision. Jas pours the drink with flair, swirling it enticingly over the ice.
"I know you don't normally take it with a twist, but I was wondering, since it's a special occasion and all, if I might garnish that for you tonight."
I'm as surprised as Emmett at my uncharacteristic response, but he chooses to express it much louder. "Dude, you are really living dangerously tonight."
Jasper smiles to himself as he reaches for the fruit. "Lime okay?"
"Sure," I answer again. I'm pretty sure if he offered to drop a Brussels sprout in there, I'd just smile and agree.
"Okay…" he says, and I watch, spellbound, as he twists the thinly-sliced rind and molds it into a tight corkscrew using his index finger as a base. "Excuse my fingers," Jas says, and if he's not flirting, my Gaydar is seriously out of whack tonight. As he slides the coil over the tip of his finger, I feel the jolt inside my boxers, and I know I'm in big trouble. I haven't been hit this hard, this fast, since Emmett brought his teammates in for a private session and I developed a nasty crush on Tommy Lowe.
Jasper makes me wait a whole extra minute while he bends down and artfully arranges the garnish around the edge of my glass, then turns it carefully so the presentation is perfect. "Grey Goose on the rocks with a twist. On the Copes. Happy birthday, Edward."
Emmett and I are at the bottom of our second round when Seth comes up behind me and claps his hand on my shoulder. "How's it going over here, guy? My man Jas taking good care of you?"
I glance down the bar to where Jasper is filling an order for one of the waiters. I've noticed that aside from actually serving drinks, he's spent all of his free time with us. I've had plenty of time to get to know those dazzling grey eyes and even better, plenty of chances to check out his tight-fitting black jeans from both the front and the rear.
And oh, what a rear.
"He's taking great care of us," Emmett answers for me, because I've clearly checked out.
Seth takes one look at my face, lifts his eyes to Jas, and chuckles knowingly. "Listen, I'm gonna take my wife home now and give her her real birthday present, if ya know what I mean…"
"Aw geez, really, Seth? Must you?"
"Must I? Hey, man. Look at her. She's gorgeous. Of course, I must."
"I didn't mean must you do her, I meant, must you tell us about it?"
He chuckles. "Your booth is free. I think they've just about finished getting the ketchup out of all the upholstery, so it should be all set. I'll send Alice right over with menus."
Oh, hell no.
"We're gonna eat at the bar tonight."
Seth's eyebrows pop up at my announcement, but he just smiles. "Enjoy it. See you, buddy. G'bye, Emmett."
"Thanks, and thanks again for my drink."
"So, we're staying, huh?" Emmett grins, flicking his eyes dramatically back and forth between Jas and me. "I can't wait to see how he garnishes your sole."
"Ho, ho, Emmett."
Now that I've made up my mind, I'm impatient to tell Jasper. I raise my hand like a douchebag and catch his eye. He smirks, then nods, letting me know he saw. My pulse picks up as he finishes topping off the martini down the line. He wipes his hands on the towel and tosses it aside, sliding into place in front of me. "Ready for another?"
"No. I mean, maybe, but not yet."
Emmett busts out laughing at me and proves his drunk reflexes are faster than mine by moving out of the way before I can kick him again.
Jasper leans forward, placing one elbow on the bar right in front of me and his chin in his hand. With a giant smile on his face, he asks, "Did you just call me down here to chat, then?"
I manage to sputter, "Could we get a couple menus please?"
He pops up and glances over at the newly-vacated booth. "You're eating at the bar now?"
"Excellent. Best service in the house," he says, winking at me again and making my stomach flip over. He reaches us a couple menus.
Emmett stops him as he's handing one to me. "He doesn't need that. He gets the same thing every time."
Just as Jas pulls his hand back, I reach out and grasp the menu, locking us together. "I'll take a look."
"Wow," I hear Emmett say, though in his defense, he does try to muffle it with his hand.
Jas looks back and forth between us uncertainly. "I don't want to confuse the issue, but we do have some specials tonight. Would you like to hear them?"
I look over at Emmett, and he lifts a questioning eyebrow. Your move.
Nothing better than calling Emmett's bluff.
"Sure," I answer Jas, setting down my menu and giving him my full attention. I feel like a real jerk when he's done reciting the specials, because I could not repeat a single thing he said to save my life. I can, however, describe exactly how his Adam's apple bobs when he swallows, how he licks his lips before taking a big breath, and how he uses his hands to draw pictures in the air while he's talking. All of those things, however, don't amount to a hill of beans when trying to decide what to order for dinner.
I already know the menu by heart, and there's nothing on there I want besides the sole, but I've backed myself into a corner, and I certainly can't order it now. Short of asking Jasper to repeat himself, I only have one option left, and I use it. "What do you recommend?"
Jasper's face lights up. "If you normally like the sole, I'd go for the skate special. I had it earlier tonight, and it was phenomenal."
"Perfect. I have a 2009 Domaine Franck Millet Sancerre Rouge from the Loire Valley that would pair beautifully with that."
Holy hell, the French rolls off his tongue as easily as the nightly specials, and now I'm picturing the two of us frolicking inside the hallowed chambers of the Louvre.
I feel my lips curl into a smile as I take a look over at Emmett. "Is it expensive?"
"It's closer to Boone's than Chateau Margaux. I'm sure your friend here can afford it with his Rolex endorsements."
"Are you about done putting me to sleep, Sted?" Emmett complains.
Jasper's forehead crinkles. "Sted?"
"That's his nickname for me. Short for Steady Eddie. Emmett's polite way of saying I'm boring him again," I tell my new friend.
"Wine's boring?" Jasper asks.
"Hunh," Jas observes.
Emmett tosses his napkin down on the bar and rubs his belly. "I'm stuffed." He looks antsy, and I'm starting to realize exactly how gloomy I'm going to be when this night comes to an end. I don't even know if Jasper will be here next time I come in—he was just helping out so Seth could do the family thing tonight.
I will miss watching him move behind the bar. He has a mastery of his space that is beyond sexy; even the slightest gesture has a purpose and an efficiency. I could watch him for hours more and not grow bored. I've had a lot to drink tonight—more than I usually allow myself—and I'm warmed by the alcohol, but even more so by his attentive service. Jasper has been spoiling us all through dinner by refilling our wine glasses the moment there was any room to top them off. Emmett started covering his glass a while ago, and after that, Jas paid all his attention to me. Of course, it's his job and he works for tips, but a large part of me needs to believe he's paying attention because he cares.
Emmett draws me back to reality. "Edward, I feel like a real shit, but I'm gonna have to go soon. I have an early practice tomorrow."
"It's fine, Em. I had a great time tonight. Thanks for taking me out."
He leans into me and wraps his arm around my shoulders. "You gonna get his number?"
I take a deep breath, and just when I'm about to answer, I hear, "Happy birthday to you…" and Jasper emerges from the kitchen holding a hot fudge sundae with a candle in it.
"Happy birthday to you…" All conversation stops as everyone tries to calculate the final resting place of the birthday candle. Jasper marches toward me, his eyes gleaming in the flicker of the candle.
Emmett's booming voice drowns out Jasper in the pivotal verse, "Happy birthday, dear Stedward…"
Jasper rolls his eyes at Emmett and sets the dish down in front of me. Everyone chimes in on the last line, "Happy birthday to you."
Emmett squeezes my shoulder and urges, "Make a wish, big guy."
My eyes click to Jasper's against my will, and I give myself away. Jas smiles, "Don't forget to close your eyes, or it won't come true."
I take one last look at his perfect face before squeezing my eyes shut tightly and wishing to be held in those well-developed arms and kissed by those enticing lips.
I take a few polite spoonfuls of the hot fudge, but nobody wants a fat dude as a Pilates instructor. Not to be ungrateful, but my eyes drift to the credit card receipt. I know Emmett's generous, but it would kill me if Jasper didn't get a huge tip. Then again, I don't want his attention to have been about money.
Emmett stands and claps me on the back. "Don't worry. I gave him an epic tip."
"Don't thank me now; just remember this next time you make me do one of your Jedi moves in class, and show a guy a little mercy, huh?"
I wipe the hot chocolate off the sides of my lips and push my stool back to stand. Emmett puts his hand on my shoulder and firmly pushes me back down.
"What's your problem?"
"What do you mean, I'm staying. Didn't you just say we're leaving?"
"No. I'm leaving. You're staying. I arranged a ride home for you."
Emmett smiles his full-dimple, special-occasion smile and looks over at Jasper, who is leaning back against the shelving with his arms crossed waiting for understanding to dawn on me. When it does, I'm dizzy with joy.
"Happy birthday, Sted. Have fun." I'm still reeling from shock as Emmett waves to Jasper and slips out the front door of Copes'.
"How about a glass of port?"
"Only if you'll join me," I answer.
Jasper looks down the bar, where a handful of customers are still chatting and drinking and making no move to leave. "I can't quite yet," he says, "but soon."
"I'll just have water then."
Jas smiles and pulls the hose over my glass. "You know I've been filling this all night, right? You've had about two gallons of water tonight."
"You have? I have? I wasn't paying attention."
"Shocking," he says with a chuckle. "No worries, that's what I'm here for."
"Oh yeah? You're the water boy?"
He retracts the spigot and locks it into place. "For now."
This guy loves teasing me.
"Did Emmett even tell you where I live?"
He folds his arms over his chest and smirks. "What makes you think I care?"
"What are you going to do, chop me up and toss me in the dumpster out back?"
"Not right away…first I'm going to have some fun with you."
"Fun, huh? Did you not hear the part about how boring I am?"
"Yeah. I heard that. Your friend's not very bright—no offense."
"No offense taken."
"You know what 'boring' means, Edward?"
"Pretty sure I do, yeah."
"No, you don't." He startles me by setting his folded arms onto the bar and sliding his arms and chest and incredibly handsome face halfway across the polished cherry surface, stopping just short of my water glass. "'Boring' is what people call things they don't get. I mean, don't tell McCarty this, but how interesting do you think rugby would be, if not for the mass of sweaty guys all locked together in the scrum?"
I open my mouth to try and defend the game, but honestly, I've always felt the same. It took me a whole season of one-on-one tutoring to even understand the rules, but if I'm honest, I've always watched it for the male gropage factor, the huge piles of prime man flesh, the bulging thighs and the beefy chests—"
Jasper chuckles. "Have I lost you to the rugby field?"
"No." Not hardly.
Jasper notices a couple leaving, and he stands up to wave. "Night, folks. Drive safely now." I tally up the stragglers—one old guy who looks like he's been sitting here drinking since three this afternoon, a couple of ladies around forty who've been huddled together giggling practically non-stop, and me.
"I'll be right back. Don't go anywhere, birthday boy." He chuckles when I shake my head. As if.
Luckily, he's not gone long, and when he returns, he has two glasses of port. He offers me one, and I take it gratefully. Jasper leans in and says, "Taylor's twenty-year tawny, ever tried it?"
"On rare special occasions."
"Like tonight," he says, lifting his glass to toast. "Happy birthday, Edward. This one's on me."
"Jas, that's really sweet, but you don't have to—"
"Hey. Don't you know you never turn down a drink from a bartender? I've got all the good stuff back there." He winks again, and for the third time tonight, I feel painfully constricted by my jeans.
"Okay, fine. Thank you."
He nods, and we both lift our glasses to enjoy the aroma. "I love the spicy nose on this, don't you?"
"God, Jas. Do you know how boring you are right now?"
He breaks into a broad grin behind the rim of his glass and lifts it to his mouth. I gape as he has his first taste and his eyes roll back in his head. "Nnnn, so smooth. I forgot how much I love this stuff."
"How serious are you about your wine?"
"Serious enough to travel all over the world sampling the best vineyards."
"Wow! That sounds incredibly…boring!"
"I know. Last winter, I took a tour of the wine regions of New Zealand—a real snoozer."
"Thanks, girls," Jas says rather suddenly, and I see that it's just us and the old guy. "Mack, whaddya say? Can I put you in a taxi?"
"I guess. If ya ain't gonna share the good stuff with me, may's well."
Jasper looks over at me with a gleam in his eye, then back at old Mack. "I would, but we're celebrating a very special occasion over here, Mack."
"Oh yeah? Wassat?"
Jasper reaches his free hand across the bar and covers my hand with it. "It's our first date."
I wonder if he can feel the leap my heart just took.
"Aw, for the love o' Pete," Mack grumbles. "I'm outta here. If I'da wanted a mushy love story, I'da stayed home and watched the boob tube. Go on, you two…" he calls over his shoulder as he heads for the door.
And then, there were two.
"So…" he says, smiling so hard his cheeks disappear into his ears.
"So…" I repeat, grinning like the biggest fool.
"So much for scintillating conversation."
I shrug. "I warned you. I'm bo—"
He grasps the collar of my shirt, pulls me into his lips, and swallows the word with a kiss.
A/N: I love you to bits, Shell Shock! Hope you enjoyed your little birthday story. Love to Kitkat and Les Sharpe who both pre-read the boy-boy love when I freaked out about ending it with that kiss...just so you know whose fault it is that you didn't get more!
Speaking of more, those of you who may be new to my writing or my slash...I do have a few more slashy ones here and on my blog...come and play! bornspumpkinpatch . blogspot . com (remove spaces) then hit the slash tab! MWAH! XXX ~BOH