“So this is how I’m spending my Christmas Eve – at a sound stage supervising the commercial shoot from hell,” Luke lamented as he sat on the most uncomfortable chair in all creation watching super model Seamus McGwire flub his lines on take after take while filming a men’s cologne commercial.
He continued complaining under his breath, “I begged them not to give him any lines. Let him do what he does best I said, flash his signature smoldering expression and be done with it, but nooo this imbecile wants to be a serious actor and thinks a TV commercial is going to be the vehicle to launch his career. Well good luck with that, numb nuts.”
The whole Roma di Notte fragrance campaign was Luke’s baby. As the brand new senior account executive at Pulse Advertising he had a lot riding on its success and if he didn’t make that happen his ass was on the line. The agency was ecstatic when it landed this impressive multimillion dollar account and Luke was over the moon when it was awarded to him. Now that he had spent an excruciatingly annoying week with the talent, he had a strong suspicion regarding why.
The strikingly handsome and equally mysterious ladies man Seamus McGwire was actually good ole boy Billy Joe Babcock from Jackson, Mississippi and the only hot blondes he enthusiastically pursued were of the male persuasion. Luke was openly gay. Everyone at the agency knew it and since the agency’s owner Cary Lange would stop at nothing to make a buck, it was his idea to dangle Luke in front of Seamus like a worm on a hook.
Luke figured this out right away and considered filing a formal complaint, but how could he prove it? The only evidence he had were rumors and suspicions so he decided to make the best of the situation and gain points with his boss by doing his best to create a successful campaign.
Luke had to admit that at first he was somewhat flattered and amused by Seamus’s conversations loaded with sexual innuendo, after all its not every day you get hit on by a gorgeous model, however Luke had no interest whatsoever in being his latest conquest. He was a big boy and he could handle himself – or so he thought.
Luke shifted in his seat, trying hard to find a comfortable position, but gave up trying and stood leaning against the wall. "Take seventy-two," shouted the visibly frustrated director and filming began once more. This is how the scenes are supposed to be played out.
Seamus appears and begins walking through theatrical smoke dressed in a Roman Gladiator’s costume. He continues through sheer curtains and into the boudoir of a beautiful blonde woman in a skimpy negligee, then speaks his line, “This night, my lady, I have conquered the world and placed it at your feet.” He throws down his sword, approaches her, kneels beside her bed, and takes her hand. In the next scene she awakes in the present day, sees the handsome and obviously shirtless gladiator lying asleep in her bed, and speaks her line, “Viva Roma di Notte.” Her fantasy of spending the night with a buff gladiator has become reality.
Luke wasn’t exactly thrilled about the ad. In fact he thought it was cheesy beyond all reason, but the client loved it and so did Cary. The print ads had been a hit so he couldn’t argue with success. His dazed boredom was interrupted by the director’s announcement. “That’s a wrap!” His weary heart leapt for joy!
Finally! This damned thing is finished and I can get the hell out of here!
By the looks on the faces of the crew as they scampered off the set, they were just as relieved as he was. He knew about the party being held that evening by the fragrance reps, but he had no interest in attending. All he wanted was to get home, take a shower, and relax with a tasty bowl of corn chowder and a good book.
He was courteous enough to congratulate the remaining cast and crew before he headed out and wished everyone a Merry Christmas even though he didn’t feel very merry himself. Seamus made a beeline to get to him, wearing nothing but a skimpy pair of briefs, his costume for his final scene, placed a hand on his shoulder and said, “So Luke will I be seeing you later tonight?” He playfully wiggled his eyebrows.
Luke responded with an exaggerated frown, “Excuse me?”
“You’re coming to the party right?”
“Oh, no sorry. I won’t be able to make it. I’ve got places to be, things to do. You know; all that holiday stuff,” although he really wanted to say, “Not a chance in hell!”
Seamus playfully pouted and teased, “Aww, you just broke my lil ole heart. He leaned in and whispered in Luke’s ear. “I’m staying in the penthouse suite at the Drake Hotel. It’s so awesome it’ll blow your mind. It comes with a butler and anything a sweet thing like you could ask for. How’s about you let me play Santa Claus and you can sit on my lap all you want.”
Luke wanted to read him the riot act, not just for that lame pick up line, but for all the times he’d accidentally brushed up against him, or just happened to use the urinal in the men’s room the same time he did or for the many times his hand mysteriously landed on his thigh or his ass. But he just swallowed hard and with a fake smile he replied, “That sounds like loads of fun, but I have other plans.” Then he swiftly walked away without waiting for his reaction.
As soon as he pulled into the parking garage of his apartment his phone rang. It was Jade. He answered it with, “Hey Jade, what’s up?”
“Hey Luke. Where the hell are you?”
“I’m at home. Where are you?”
“No you’re not, you little liar. I’ve been waiting in your lobby since forever and I haven’t seen you.”
He laughed, “That’s because I just got here. Don’t go anywhere I’ll be right there.”
Luke sat in his car for a moment and let out a deep sigh. He already knew why Jade was there. That damn Christmas party she was trying to convince him to attend. He had turned her down several times and now she had come to his home to persuade him in person. He loved his cousin dearly, but when it came to his social life she could be a royal pain. He knew she meant well, but he just wasn’t ready to start dating again and he especially was not attending a Christmas party this year after what had happened last Christmas.
A year ago on Christmas Eve he and Noah were preparing for their Christmas party. They were both looking forward to having a wonderful time with their family and friends. That same day Luke received the news that he had been hired by Pulse Advertising and he was ecstatic.
He could now breathe easy because their financial troubles would soon be over. The two of them had shared a luxury apartment in downtown Chicago and were having trouble paying the rent. Noah worked on the occasional directing project that didn’t bring in much money and Luke wasn’t getting paid a lot either as a freelance writer. He hated dipping into his trust fund and Noah hated it even more.
Luke decided without telling Noah he would remedy their situation by getting a steady job. As soon as Noah returned home that evening he told him the good news. Noah’s reaction was not what he expected and Luke became upset that his boyfriend wasn’t happy for him. He was disappointed that Luke had given up his dream to become a famous author. He made a harsh comment that he would be stuck wasting his talent writing forgettable ad copy for tacky commercials when he was so much better than that.
After that a full-fledged no holds barred argument ensued. Noah said something about Luke not having the guts to pursue his dream which got Luke so enraged he made the nasty comment that he wasn’t going to be the one who sat around dreaming when the bills had to be paid. They went through with the party, bitter and sniping at each other every chance they got. They both drank too much and when Luke started flirting with an attractive male guest Noah got so angry he wanted to strangle them both.
Instead he went to their bedroom, stuffed some of his belongings into a suitcase, and walked out. Luke was expecting him to come back home all apologetic and that they’d make up and make love, and everything would be back to normal, but that never happened. Noah didn’t return. Luke felt like his heart imploded when he learned from his mother that Noah had moved in with Casey. That day Casey became Luke’s sworn enemy and he never spoke to him again. Luke was so upset he skipped spending the holidays with his family and considered staying away this year as well.
He still wasn’t ready to face Noah and he wouldn’t put it past any member of his family to invite Noah to celebrate the holidays with them for the sole purpose of getting them back together. He felt like the ball was in Noah’s court. Luke hadn’t changed his address or phone number and if Noah wanted to apologize to him he knew exactly where to find him. Luke got out of his car and closed the door. Then he stood there for a moment and sighed.
I wonder what Noah’s doing this Christmas.
He still often thought about Noah and how he was faring, but was too damn stubborn to call him and find out.
Luke sat cross legged on his bed, slumped over with his chin resting in his hands while Jade rummaged through his closet.
“Luke it’s Christmas Eve! What kind of fuddy duddy would rather sit at home all by himself on Christmas Eve instead of going to the Christmas party to end all Christmas parties?”
“Jade you can call me a fuddy duddy, a lame ass, a geek, a nerd or whatever other insulting label you can think of, but you’re not convincing me to go out into a freaking blizzard to some pretentious hell hole populated by a bunch of pretentious idiots. You’ve asked me at least a half dozen times and each time I’ve told you no.”
“I’m not listening,” she sang as she continued to rifle through his closet. “Where’s that silk fuchsia shirt I got you for Christmas last year?”
“Hmm, I don’t know. Probably in a landfill by now.” He laughed loudly at her expense.
“Ha, ha, has anyone ever told you how hilarious you are? Actually your fashion sense isn’t exactly horrendous.”
He sarcastically replied, “Thanks a lot Jade. You’ve made me feel so much better about myself.”
She pulled out a jacket and announced, “When in doubt, go black.”
“Do I have to explain everything to you? Black shirt, black pants, black jacket, black shoes…”
“Oh, ok I see what you mean… and no. I won’t be wearing all black because I’m not going anywhere.”
She found the rest of the ensemble and spread the pieces of clothing on the bed beside him. “You’re gonna look hot as hell in this tonight.” Luke rolled his eyes and sighed.
An hour later he was riding in the backseat of a taxi with his intrepid cousin as the driver carefully navigated through a blinding snowstorm to the dance club No Exit. Jade worked as an event planner for several of Chicago’s top PR firms. She had the good fortune to be awarded the job to plan a Christmas bash for a New York celebrity who was in town for a few days to launch a new product line. Although this was a private party, the big name local celebrities were out in force and so was the media.
When the taxi stopped in front of the club Luke saw the ads out front and his stomach turned flip flops. When it dawned on him that he had been talked into attending the party for Roma di Notte he wanted to scream.
“Jade, why the hell did you bring me here? Why didn’t you tell me this was Billy Joe Babcock’s party?!”
“Luke you never once asked me where we were going. You never do when I drag you to these things… and who the hell is Billy Joe Babcock?”
“Jade, I’m not going in there! Go on in and have a good time, see ya.”
“Luke, seriously?! I can’t believe you’re doing this to your own cousin. Do you know how hard it was for me to organize this damn thing? Or how hard it was for me to get this assignment in the first place? Where I work the competition is cutthroat. I had to fight really hard to get to where I am and now I have to fight equally as hard to stay there. These parties may be a silly waste of time for you, but they’re my livelihood. I thought you understood that. I thought you cared enough about me to support me.” She had tears in her eyes by the time she had finished her rant.
After hearing that, Luke felt like the most selfish and inconsiderate louse on the planet. He draped his arm around his cousin and replied, “Aww, Jade I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to… it’s just that… never mind, I’ll go. I’ll do whatever I can to help you out. I’ll even pretend I’m having a good time.” He made a goofy face and got her to laugh.
She punched him on the shoulder and teased, “Luke, you’re such a dweeb.”
He mockingly replied, “And damn proud of it.” They shared a warm hug and then went inside.
Jade loved her cousin dearly and couldn’t help feeling guilty for not telling him she had an ulterior motive for bringing him there. There was a very special guest she had invited as well and she knew that Luke would be outraged by him being there, but if things worked out as planned she knew he’d eventually thank her and so would Noah.
Earlier that week
Noah was just ending a meeting with his staff in his office regarding which story would lead the evening’s newscast when his phone rang. As the newly minted news editor at WOAK his input was required for practically everything. His job was hectic and extraordinarily time consuming, but he loved it. He rolled his eyes when he saw it was Jade. He assumed she’d be badgering him for the umpteenth time about why he hadn’t called Luke. He took a deep breath, let it out and then answered it, “Hello Jade. How are you?”
“I’m fabulous as always. What are you doing Christmas Eve?”
Now that was a loaded question, for Jade knew very well that he’d be spending another lonely night at home by himself. He had his own place now, but spent more time in his office than at his apartment.
Even though he lived in Oakdale he managed to avoid Luke’s family. He felt it would be easier for him to cope with his heartbreak if he wasn’t constantly being reminded of Luke and he didn’t want to risk running into him at one of their holiday celebrations or at one of Grandma Emma’s Sunday dinners. So he suffered in silence, missing them and Luke.
It will soon be a year. A whole year since I walked out of our apartment and out of his life. It’s been a year since I’ve seen his face or heard his voice. How could I have let that happen? I’m tired of being lonely. I’m tired of missing him. Maybe it’s time to make things right again.
“I’m not doing anything special. What do you have in mind?”
The inclement weather could not keep the hard core partiers from No Exit this Christmas Eve. Even though Seamus’s party was confined to the VIP room on the second floor, a huge crowd had gathered to catch a glimpse of the glamorous celeb and his equally glamorous celebrity guests.
The VIP room could be described as the epitome of extravagance with its own private bar and dance floor. Jade made sure that no expense was spared as she put together what she considered the pinnacle of entertainment. That had to include the best food, the best champagne, the best music, and most importantly the best guest list.
As soon as Luke had followed Jade into the VIP room her assistant Elyse rushed up to them and with a panic stricken expression on her face she screeched, “Crisis mode! We’re nearly out of Cristal!” Then they both vanished into the crowd, leaving Luke behind to fend for himself.
“So typical of Jade,” he bemoaned, “but a promise is a promise so I’ll stay.” He looked around and observed what could only be described as an explosion of Chicago chic all over New York trendy. Much of the crowd looked like super models or super model wannabes. “Oh God, it’s worse than I imagined. I need a drink,” he lamented as he made his way through the crowd and to the bar.
He had no idea what to order since he hadn’t been to a trendy dance club in years so the bartender suggested that he try a concoction curiously named Wanker’s Delight. He agreed with a smirk and after a minute or so he raised an eyebrow when an oversized martini glass filled with marshmallow flavored vodka, mixed with sweetened cream and with a fancy whipped cream topping, sprinkled with nuts and with a cherry on top was placed in front of him. He was pleasantly surprised that it tasted as good as it looked. After downing a couple of them he was slowly beginning to loosen up and enjoy himself.
This isn’t so bad. I could probably have a little fun as long as Billy Joe Blockhead stays away from me.
As soon as that thought crossed his mind he felt an arm snake around his waist. He heard a familiar male’s voice whisper from behind him “To what do my wondering eyes should appear?” Filled with dread he slowly turned around and looked into Seamus’s grinning face. “Merry Christmas beautiful! So you came after all.”
Luke, peeling his arm away from his body, nonchalantly replied, “Well you know how it is. A senior account executive’s work is never done. I’m just taking one for the team.”
Seamus’s smile quickly faded. He had tried every trick in the book to gain Luke’s interest and had failed miserably every time. Since he had become famous he was not used to that happening to him, in fact it never did.
Suddenly Luke felt something very strange. It was akin to the intense stare of a pair of eyes. The sensation was eerily familiar. He was in the presence of someone he couldn’t mistake. Had he been drinking too much or was his mind playing tricks on him? He turned away from his ardent suitor and saw who the eyes belonged to.
There was a man staring at him and that man sitting at the other end of the bar was none other than his ex-boyfriend Noah Mayer! Luke’s automatic response was to smile. His heart was pounding out of his chest. Noah was here. He looked gorgeous, so gorgeous it nearly brought tears to his eyes. His joy was soon crushed when Noah, with an expressionless face, casually looked away.
Luke felt very small and worthless. His heart could withstand anything except being rejected by Noah again. It could have been anger or revenge that made him do what he did next, but whatever his motive, his behavior was impulsive and reckless. He grabbed Seamus by the hand and seductively growled, “Let’s dance.”
Then as the song Royals assaulted everyone’s eardrums, Luke put on a show that would have made Miley Cyrus green with envy. He did things even he didn’t think he was capable of doing, all the while savoring the childish amusement of making Noah jealous.
And it worked, oh boy did it work! Noah sat sipping from his beer bottle and seething, strangely mesmerized and uncontrollably aroused by Luke’s sensuous moves and erotic gyrations. Noah assumed that the guy he was with was obviously his new boyfriend and that felt like a kick in the gut. He forced himself to turn away and ordered another Heineken.
The erotic show continued until Seamus, turned on beyond all reason attempted to slide his hand down the front of Luke’s pants. Luke suddenly came to his senses and embarrassed as hell he pushed Seamus away from him. He looked in Noah’s direction just in time to see Noah witnessing the act, then, more ashamed than he had ever been; he stormed off to the men’s room. His jilted dance partner was in hot pursuit.
Noah’s first thought was to go after Luke, but as much as he couldn’t stand the idea, Luke had a new man in his life. Maybe Jade hadn’t invited him to the party for the purpose of them getting back together. Maybe this time she just wanted him to get out and have some fun. But, why would Jade want him to be subjected to that kind of torture?
Didn’t Jade know that Luke would be here with his super model boyfriend? Something weird’s going on!