by E.E. Grey
An aspiring Broadway writer, Jamie spends most of his time working as a bartender and bothering his roommate, Drew, to actually write down songs for the musical they’ve been working on for two years. When Jamie meets Roman, a Broadway dancer, his dreams come to a sudden potential realization when Roman gives his book to a well-known director. Jamie’s feelings for Drew, however, may get in the way of his own happiness, especially when it comes to Roman and the prospect of Jamie’s dreams finally coming true. (M/M)
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Chapter 4: Jamie in the Bronx
Jamie wasn’t sure he’d ever been this far north, almost to the edge of the Bronx, but the tall buildings of Manhattan had fallen away slightly, giving a little space between streets. A streetlight flickered as he passed beneath it and stopped at the steps leading into a tall, brick building. The directions on his phone told him to ring number six-seven-one, so he shook away his nerves and stepped up to the box.
“Yeah?” A woman’s voice came through the crackling speaker box.
“Uh, I’m looking for Roman?”
“Sixth floor,” the woman said, clipping him off at the end. The door buzzed loudly and he pulled it open.
The old elevator rumbled dangerously as it went up, and Jamie began to regret not taking the stairs, but he made it to the sixth floor in one piece. Moving down the hall, he found Roman’s apartment easily. The door stood open a crack, music and voices leaking out. He knocked lightly and the door swung inward.
Inside, people he didn’t know barely glanced at him as he stepped in and shut the door behind him.
Roman’s apartment wasn’t any bigger than his and Drew’s, though it was much better decorated with matching throw pillows on the couch and a rug spread over the hardwood. It was crammed with people and Jamie maneuvered himself around. He hated big crowds, especially big crowds of strangers.
Drew hadn’t asked where he was going when he’d asked Laurel if he could leave early. He doubted Drew cared where he went.
For a moment, he lingered awkwardly near the wall, but that wasn’t why he’d come. He’d come to see Roman, and speaking of, Roman appeared a second later, smiling widely, his dimple even more pronounced, making him look like an adorable chipmunk as he bounced up to him.
“Jamie, you made it.”
“Yeah. I didn’t know there were affordable places up here.”
Roman laughed. “There aren’t. This place keeps me squarely in the poor bracket.”
Jamie felt less awkward now that he wasn’t standing alone like a loser at his first party. “I get that. People warned me New York would be expensive but I think I might have overestimated my ability to earn money. My bartender charm doesn’t get me as many tips as I’d hoped.”
“It certainly caught my interest,” Roman said with a smirk.
Jamie flushed at the reminder. “Well, it was a party, right?”
“Yes, it was,” Roman agreed and the pause lengthened between them. “Hey, I want you to meet some people,” he said, grabbing his arm and saving Jamie the embarrassment of saying something stupid like that he liked the way Roman’s hair fell in his eyes.
Roman led the way through the crowd to two girls Jamie recognized from the party before. The girl with the long brown hair sipped her drink, standing by the wall, and nodded at something the dark-skinned girl sitting in the chair said. She raised an eyebrow as Roman led Jamie to them.
“Jamie, this is Merryn.” He nodded at the brown-haired girl. “And Sidney.”
The other girl smiled at him briefly. “Nice to meet you.”
“You were the bartender,” Merryn said, setting her glass down on a nearby table. “Are you working this party too?”
“I invited him,” Roman replied before Jamie had to, although he felt a flash of embarrassment. “Stop being a bitch.”
“Just asking a question,” she said, inspecting her nails. “If I went home with half as many bartenders as you do…”
“Then maybe you’d be a little happier.”
Merryn made a face but didn’t reply.
Roman’s arm slid around Jamie’s shoulders, and Jamie’s mind flashed back to that moment at the party, Roman’s hands curled against the sink. It was enough to distract him from the moment at hand, thinking about the way Roman had kissed him back, soft and insistent.
“Merryn and Sidney are in the ensemble too,” Roman said, drawing Jamie out of his memories and forcing him to stop thinking about Roman’s mouth.
“Dancer number two,” Sidney chimed in. “A glamorous role in which I get to ask, ‘And what did he say?’ in the third act.”
“At least you have a line.” Merryn grabbed her glass again and crossed her arms. “And you don’t have to deal with Christina’s dirty looks. How she got the lead, I’ll never know.”
“Slept with the director,” Sidney replied.
“Don’t they all,” she muttered.
“And this is what I want to get myself into,” Jamie joked. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t known about theater drama but he’d hoped that stopped after school. Apparently it was just the same in the real world.
Merryn glanced over sharply. “Are you an actor?”
“Writer. My friend and I are working on a show.”
Merryn didn’t seem too interested, making a noise and leaning back against the wall. Sidney, on the other hand, leaned forward, elbows on her knees.
“What’s it about?”
“Yeah, what’s it about?” Roman echoed. “Maybe we can play the leads.”
“You wish.” Merryn snorted but Roman ignored her.
Jamie shoved a hand into his hair, something to distract him from the way Roman’s fingers curled into his shoulder. He could feel the warmth of Roman’s body close to his side. He couldn’t think about that or he’d get hard right there, and that probably wouldn’t be the best first impression on Roman’s friends.
“It’s this kid who gets in a car crash and he’s in a coma, but in his head, life has gone on just the same. His best friend steals his girlfriend and his mother has a mental breakdown and leaves the family. In the real world, though, everyone thinks he’s going to be in a coma forever and the doctors are telling his parents they have to decide what to do. So Owen, the main character, has to fight his way out of the coma or he could die forever.”
Merryn drained her glass. “Didn’t they make that movie a few years ago?”
Roman shot her a look as she shook her empty glass at him.
“You know, Jamie, you don’t have a drink,” he said instead of acknowledging Merryn. “Let’s fix that.”
“It’s not that bad, is it?” Jamie asked as Roman led him away from Merryn and over to the counter filled with bottles of alcohol.
“It sounds awesome,” Roman replied sincerely. “Merryn’s just high-strung, but I think she’s still pissed about losing the lead to Christina. She had it in the bag, but ‘Stina’s got a little more of this going on.” He gestured at his chest. “Not hard to see what Nathan was looking for. What’s your poison?”
“Nathan?” Jamie repeated, eyes widening. “Nathan Stuggart? The guy who has directed more Tony award winners than any other director ever?”
“That’s the one. Everyone knows it should have been her, but you can’t change a director’s mind. Or she could just be pissed because I didn’t take out the trash this morning. Who knows.” When Jamie didn’t answer the drink question, Roman grabbed a bottle of vodka and began pouring two drinks.
“You live with her? And I thought Drew was bad.”
“That’s the bartender guy? He doesn’t exactly seem like the sunniest.” Roman handed over a cranberry cocktail. “How do you put up with that?”
“He isn’t always like that. He’s usually really outgoing, but lately…” He shook his head. He didn’t know what was going on with Drew lately except that he seemed to be annoyed at everything. “I’ve just known him for a long time.” Jamie didn’t really want to talk about Drew, not with Roman this close to him, close enough that he could smell his aftershave, soft and breezy like a summer’s afternoon in the park.
“Plenty of those in everyone’s life,” Roman agreed. “Come on. I’ll intro you to some of the other people in the ensemble. I promise they’re not as prickly as Merryn. Some are even nice.”
“Does that mean there’s a stagehand here?”
Roman sighed, as though put-upon. “You’re just not gonna believe me without proof, are you?”
Jamie smiled. “You started this.”
“Fine. If you insist on comparing my beautiful face to that of a stagehand’s.” Roman said it as though Jamie had asked a big favor, but he slid a hand to the small of his back and led him to a group of people. Jamie smiled behind his drink and tried to remember the names of the people Roman introduced him to.
Jamie emptied his third glass, leaning sideways into the couch as Roman sat across from him. He didn’t know what time it was or how long he had been there. The party was still going strong, but Jamie declined when Roman offered to get him another drink.
“I think I’ve had plenty.”
“As long as you can make it to the subway in one piece, you’re good.” Roman grinned. “I’ve been meaning to ask, where did you get your tattoo done?” He reached out, brushing his fingers against Jamie’s neck before Jamie could do much more than blink. Warmth blossomed over his skin at Roman’s touch, and he watched the way Roman’s eyes flickered over his skin.
“Oh, I got it done in college,” he said, but he wasn’t thinking about the questionable studio he’d gone to when he was nineteen, determined to be someone other than the too-skinny, nerdy kid he’d been in high school. The black and blue lily flower crept halfway up his neck with a trailing stem running down his collarbone. He was watching the way Roman’s tongue wetted his lips and he raised his gaze to Jamie’s.
“Let me guess: NYU?”
Jamie shook his head. “Uh, no. Drew and I just went a local community college. Didn’t really have money then. Still don’t have money.”
“And where’s local?” Roman asked, scooting forward on the couch until their knees were almost touching. Around them, groups of people chatted and laughed. Merryn stood at the counter pouring herself another drink and arguing with a tall guy about something.
“You’re kidding.” Roman laughed, but Jamie didn’t.
“But you look so New York. You don’t even have a tan.”
“I didn’t when I lived in Florida either. I hated it there.” He twisted the glass between his hands. High school wasn’t something he liked to relive, and these days, he usually didn’t have to. The only thing that had made Florida bearable had been Drew. People in New York understood him. They were like him. “When you’re not tan and you don’t want to go to the beach constantly, you’re weird.”
“You’re just creative. Creative people get a bad rap.” Roman shook his head. “All my friends in high school were drama freaks, but it just prepared me for Broadway.” He shrugged. “I bet your show is awesome.”
Jamie laughed down at his lap. “Maybe when it’s done, it will be.”
“Would you let me read it?”
Jamie’s head snapped up, meeting Roman’s sincere gaze. “Read it?”
“Yeah. I love reading new stuff.”
For a moment, Jamie didn’t know how to respond. He hadn’t shown the show to anyone. Jamie barely had half the songs and the editing process was making him want to tear out his hair most days. It wasn’t ready for consumption by other people.
“I don’t think it’s ready.”
“Think about it. I’d like to read it.” Roman’s hand rested against his knee, a warm, heavy weight.
The touch was so easy, natural, but Jamie’s heart pumped faster and he couldn’t stop himself from focusing on it. He wasn’t sure what this was, with him and Roman, but it was different. He just hoped entirely different from David.
His eyes fell on the clock behind Roman. It was after midnight already. “It’s getting late.”
“Early start tomorrow?”
“Yeah, I should get back,” Jamie said, but it was reluctant. He’d rather stay there with Roman, leaned in close to him, talking about things that didn’t matter, things that did. He’d promised himself he’d finally get Drew to commit to a timeline, if that was even possible.
“I’ll walk you out,” Roman offered, rising first and grabbing their coats from a pile on a nearby table.
Jamie smiled at the offer, taking his jacket from Roman. Together, they left the apartment and headed for the stairs. Jamie was glad; he didn’t trust that elevator.
“You know what I like about you?” Roman said as they descended and Jamie glanced over, pulling his jacket tighter as they went down and the air grew colder.
“You’re not what I expected.”
Jamie wasn’t entirely sure if that was a good thing. “What am I?”
“You’re a realist,” Roman said, pushing open the door to the street and letting Jamie go first. “You get that New York isn’t a dream factory. You’d be amazed how many people I meet think they’ll just move here and get famous like that. But you’re writing and you’re working for it.”
David would have called him delusional, moving to New York even though he knew how hard it would be. But Roman didn’t. Roman thought it was a good quality to have. It surprised Jamie slightly, more than it should have.
Roman bumped Jamie’s shoulder as they walked, heading for the subway entrance around the corner. Jamie smiled to himself but it wasn’t visible beyond the darkness surrounding them, the orange streetlights and the flash of a cab’s headlight that passed on the street.
He paused at the steps, looking up from the ground finally. Roman was still watching him and he smiled as Jamie met his eyes.
“I’m glad you came.”
“Me too.” Jamie’s breath clouded in front of him and he shivered in the cold. He wasn’t sure the way his hand shook in his pocket was from the cold or from the nervous rush that spread through him as the moment lingered.
Roman stuck his hands in his pockets and rocked forward on his feet, a smile at the corner of his mouth.
“So I’ll see you later?”
Jamie smiled at the way Roman asked, as if Jamie might say no. He leaned forward, hands sliding from his pockets as the distance closed between them and their mouths connected.
Roman’s mouth was warm compared to the chilly night, lips pressed against Jamie’s. From down below, Jamie heard the rush of a subway car and a gust of lukewarm air came up from behind him.
Roman’s hands rested gently on his waist as they stood there, mouths pressed together in an easy kiss that could have easily led to more if they weren’t already standing outside in the freezing cold.
Exhaling slowly, Jamie pulled back, licking his lips. “Yeah,” he said, pushing his hands back in his pockets and smiling at Roman.
Roman returned the grin before turning on his heel and heading back for his apartment.
Jamie watched Roman until he disappeared around the corner then turned finally, taking the stairs into the subway. It hadn’t been the night he had expected, but that had been a good thing regardless.
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