Leo Secombe loves his life, and he’s convinced himself he’s happy to be single. In his spare time, he keeps himself busy at a local LGBTQ centre that pairs a younger person with a community elder to help them feel included in today’s rainbow family. Leo and Clyde have been buddies for a few years now, and signing up for a pottery class seems like fun.
Merrick Bowman has been so focused on getting his pottery business up and running that he’s forgotten how to date. How to live, even. But when a young, bubbly Leo and an older, grumpy Clyde walk through his door, Merrick has no idea how much Leo is about to centre his world.
Throwing clay has been Merrick’s entire life, but Leo’s about to change all that. Maybe Merrick’s ready to throw caution to the wind. And maybe he’s ready to finally throw his heart on the line.
I was still smiling when I got into Merrick’s car. He’d pulled into the street as I got to the footpath, so I climbed straight in. “Hey,” I said, trying not to notice how particularly gorgeous he looked tonight. He wore a navy button-down shirt and faded jeans, his short hair was glossy black, his smile, and his smell . . .
Jesus. I was ready to forego dinner and just get straight to the dicking.
“Hey,” he replied huskily. He looked at me like he might want to devour me. “You look so good.”
Yep. Straight to the dicking. Please, and right now, thanks.
He let out a laugh as though he was nervous. “I told myself to try and play it cool. That didn’t last very long.”
He laughed again, but then his gaze darted to the rear-vision mirror. “Oh shit.” There was a car behind us so he kept driving, and that was a good distraction. “How was work?”
“So busy. Actually, it was crazy-busy, but that was possibly a good thing because I was too busy to overthink everything and have a nervous breakdown before you picked me up. How about you?”
He grinned at me. “About the same.”
The electricity between us was insane. I was surprised there weren’t actual physical sparks. My heart was doing some squeezy-hammering thing; I couldn’t seem to breathe properly, my skin was warm all over, and all I wanted to do was laugh. “Ooooh boy,” I said, trying to catch my breath, grinning like an idiot. “So where are we going for dinner?”
“It’s an Asian-fusion noodle bar,” he answered. “They have everything. You hungry?”
“I am, actually. I didn’t really get a lunch break.”
“Well, the food at this place is amazing.” He looked down at my shirt again before meeting my eyes. “I really like that shirt.”
I almost said where I would like to see it end up but decided against it. “Uh, thanks.”
He shot me an odd look. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing.” I was still grinning, and I figured what the hell. “I was just thinking . . . if you really like my shirt, I’ll be only too happy to leave it on your bedroom floor tonight.”
He burst out laughing, surprised but amused. “Is that so?”
“Yeah, sorry. Corny pickup lines are terrible.”
“Not completely terrible. I liked where that one was going.”
He pulled the car into a parking spot and I realised then where we were. We were at his studio, or more significantly, at his house. “Oh. Was the offer of my shirt on your bedroom floor better than dinner? Because seriously, I won’t mind.”
He laughed again and got out of the car. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t.” He nodded up the street. “But the restaurant is within walking distance.”
We got out of the car, and I kind of felt bad that he had come to pick me up only to drive straight back to his house. “I could have driven to your place,” I said.
He put his hands to his heart. “But it’s a date. My dad always said I had to date properly. Pick them up, drop them home. Be a gentleman, that kind of thing.”
“Pretty sure your dad was just looking after your virtue. By picking your date up and then dropping them home, you’d be minimising the time spent at your place.”
Merrick laughed. “Maybe.”
I looked at the studio, at the darkened windows, at the privacy. And my empty stomach was forgotten, because inside that ceramics studio—or rather, in the loft above it—was privacy for kissing, touching, tasting . . .
I pointed my thumb towards the front door with the closed sign. “If you’d like to take me upstairs right now, I could help you find that virtue . . .”
Merrick barked at a laugh and grabbed my hand. “Dinner first. Conversations and questions. Then we can worry about virtues.”
As we walked up the street, Merrick kept a hold of my hand. I threaded our fingers properly, and the adrenaline and the nerves, the anticipation, and the sexual tension manifested as a shit-eating grin.
The restaurant was only a block away, but there wasn’t just one place to eat. There were heaps on both sides of the street. I could see lots of people, smiling and eating, seated at tables inside each one. “Man, I wish Kell and I had a dozen different restaurants a block away.”
“Perks of living in a semi-commercial zoned part of the city,” Merrick said as he held the door open for me. “Means I don’t have to cook very often.”
It was busy inside, but thankfully Merrick had made a reservation. We were shown to our table by a woman who knew Merrick by name, and we each ordered a Coke. “You do come here often.”
He nodded. “The japchae is to die for. And the shoyu ramen is better than my grandmother’s, but if anyone else asks, I’ll deny I ever said that.”
I chuckled and sipped my drink. As much as I had wanted Merrick to take me upstairs at his studio, I was really glad he had opted for dinner first. He was right; there would be time for that later. Getting to know each other and being certain that this thing between us was right was too important to ignore.
“So,” I began, “you wanted conversations and questions . . . What did you want to ask?”
“Everything,” he replied simply. “I want to know everything.”
God, that could be dangerous. “Such as?”
I snorted, because that was not what I expect him to ask. “Um, it depends. Are we talking about Skittles? Or having to choose one colour to wear for the rest of your life? Because they have vastly different selection criteria.”
My answer clearly surprised him. He almost choked on his drink. “Okay, sorry. I should have been more specific. Favourite colour Skittle?”
“The purple ones, of course.”
“No one eats the yellow Skittles.”
He grinned. “Favourite colour M&M’s?”
“The normal ones or the peanut ones?”
“I prefer the peanut ones, not gonna lie. Blue ones are my favourite. Yours?”
“I like the normal M&M’s better, and I eat the brown ones first. The red ones die last, and all other colours are indiscriminately picked off at random.”
“Ooh, organised chaos. I like that.”
Merrick laughed again. “And if you had to choose a colour to wear every day for the rest of your life?”
“Probably blue. It’s more adaptable for more situations. I love splashes of pink, but wearing it head to toe every day of forever would be a bit overwhelming.”
“Agreed. Very Umbridge.”
Now it was me who laughed. “God, I didn’t even think of that. She was so evil.”
The waitress came back and took our order, but because we hadn’t even looked at the menu, Merrick ordered for the both of us. I figured it’d be interesting to see what he chose, what he thought I’d like.
“Okay, my turn to ask a question. Dating history. And go . . .”
He made a face. “Wow, okay. You just jump right in.”
“Well, we have discussed Skittles and M&M’s, so there’s nowhere left to go, really.”
She is many things: a mother, a wife, a sister, a writer. She has pretty, pretty boys who live in her head, who don’t let her sleep at night unless she gives them life with words.
She likes it when they do dirty, dirty things… but likes it even more when they fall in love.
She used to think having people in her head talking to her was weird, until one day she happened across other writers who told her it was normal.