[center 1. an average, yet introverted man]
[center 2. his consistent disbelief in love]
[center 3. and the man who changed all that]
James Davis was a 28 year-old American dog walker to say it quite plainly. He lived an average life and he liked it that way. He stayed out of everybody's way and they stayed out of his.
After several failed attempts at a love life, James took the easy road: he gave up. From then on, it was just him and Achilles They lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment. James had a way of cutting himself off from society the moment his door closed. And he took pleasure in the fact that he had no neighbors to either side of him.
It wasn't that he was rude or insensitive. In fact, James was quite polite. As well as awkward, and most of all: shy. Due to these factors, James wasn't one for staying out longer than he needed to. He enjoyed his time alone.
That is until that one fateful day when he finally got a neighbor. A neighbor who, to poor James's realization, played his music too loud and had too many people over. His name was ________ and it was his house-warming party when the two met for the first time. ________ decided to introduce himself to his new neighbor and invited him to pop over for a couple of drinks.
The idea of facing this guy's friends in an environment that he had never been in put fear in James, and he politely declined, closing his door on the stranger. Who- to James's disbelieve- was so attractive that his face kept popping up in his mind.
One day turned into two, and two into three, and before a week, James had himself convinced that he should take something over to his new neighbor. A cake or wine or a gift of sorts. If only to make himself appear the friendly neighbor. So he picked up a bottle of wine and headed over. But the bass was thumping and the people were laughing and James almost backed out.
He forced himself to knock, adjusted his hair, and looked to his converse as he waited. The door opened to that perfect face. James stuck out the wine.
"This is- well I just- I mean-" James had to stop himself and rethink his words. "Housewarming gift. Belated. Sorry. Also, I just came to ask how long this partying might go on? Not that you can't party! It's just- my dog- he doesn't like loud noises." It wasn't a lie. Not really. Achilles didn't life loud thumps and bumps. It's just that James disliked them even more.
Little did he know however, that ________ found James's awkward charm to be endearing and developed his own little crush on his introverted neighbor.
"Why don't you come inside and meet everyone?" he asked. "We can get to know each other. As neighbors."
And for once, James Davis listened, unable to refuse a second time.
And ________ forms a plan to get James to stop being such a homebody .
But both men have secrets.
[center [pic http://i1213.photobucket.com/albums/cc477/linkthehero6/tumblr_me7jupDsK41qa365w_zps1vfnmlsu.gif]]
[center [b I want to make this story as interesting as possible. If I choose you, I want you to throw some curve balls and bounce ideas off me. I want there to be an exciting factor involved. Something from a dead sibling to something as far as being framed for a crime and they have to run away together??? I don't know, but I want this to GO places! :)]]
+ Understand that I WILL NOT be posting everyday. I have a hectic schedule.
+ Literacy, please. To me, this means simply: grammar, capitalization, punctuation, multiple paragraphs
+ I can be picky when it comes to pictures, but don't let that scare you. I'm always willing to help find one for you as well.
+ Please send me a sample post in your PM as well as a photo of the character you plan to use in this story.
Eric woke at about 7:30ish a.m., a light sweat over his body. It wasn't a nightmare he had, but it was enough of an intense dream to get himself worked up over, and he wasn't sure how to feel about it. Hell, as the seconds passed, the memory of it was fading until all that was left was a hollow longing. Even then, he couldn't tell if that longing was for the dream or what the dream showed him.
Nonetheless, Eric dragged himself into the shower to clean up. He already had his outfit laid out for himself, so the morning didn't take much preparation aside from making sure he had all of his equipment and that he would be ready at 9a.m. sharp. He didn't like being late, as punctuality did wonders for his reputation as a photographer.
It was just a bit before 8a.m. when Eric remembered to check his phone. He had hopes that James would be able to join him for something more professional than the project that the two of them were working on. Part of him believed that he just wanted to let James feel informed and more comfortable for the shoots they would have on future dates, while the rest of him felt a subtle desire to impress James with his professional demeanor.
But the only messages were for a confirmation for the appointment at 10a.m., and while answering it, Eric wondered if James got the message, and if he did, what did he think? He found himself dwelling on the thought too much and got to making himself a small bite to eat.
Around a quarter to 9a.m., Eric gathered some of his equipment and slung the carry bag it all fit in over his shoulder. With a click and lock of his door, Eric turned around and almost ran right into James heading towards him. [b "Oh, sorry! My bad. I didn't think I'd see you this morning. Did you get my text?"]
Eric listened to James's response and tried to hide his reaction to the pause James made. Whether it was a joke or an accidental slip, Eric didn't know, and he wasn't sure if he should comment on it or not. It could mean nothing...
[b "Oh, I don't mind having you."] Eric left a little pause to echo James's before continuing. [b "Along, of course."] He lightly bumped his shoulder against James's arm as he walked past, leaving his words to hang in the air for a few seconds. It was when he reached the stairs to call out behind him, [b "Let's go. We have some rubber to burn."]
The drive out of town to his client's house took a little over an hour, with Eric keeping James occupied with surface conversation and talking a bit more about the client. They drove through the sleepy town out into the mountains, taking them through the mountains and out into a valley where, in the shade of the mountain was a sprawling city. It was large, loud even in the mid-morning, and cars lined the streets in traffic. It wasn't long before they stopped at drive-around in front of a hotel in the city heights.
Eric explained the client to James. It was an elderly couple that he had photographed for the past three years as part of the work he took while in school. They were a couple that liked to go on a breakfast date once a month at the hotel in which they met some few decades ago. However, as the years passed, the wife began to develop Alzheimer's, but only really could remember her husband when they were at the hotel. It was like every date was their first date here, where it was for her, and although it was cute and romantic to Eric, he couldn't imagine having to do that date over and over again. But still, they photographed it, and he would always surprise her and say that he wanted to take pictures of their breakfast date so that he could have a pretty picture to hang up at his house.
It felt like something out of some sort of straight-to-TV Hallmark story, but Eric stayed with the job. And as they waited in the lobby, Eric sat next to James, almost shoulder to shoulder, holding onto his bag. [b "They always show up anywhere between 10 and 11, so we might be waiting a bit, but they'll show."] He turned towards James and smiled. [b "So...what do you think so far?"]
It's true. James was asleep when the message from Eric came through. And he would have likely missed the chance to tag along so early if it wasn't for Achilles needing to go out at seven in the morning.
James pulled on some sweatpants and grabbed his phone as an after-thought before heading outside to let Achille's do his business. He sat on the bottom step outside and checked his phone, more out of force of habit than actually expecting anything.
James figured he had nothing better to do and went to type up a reply... But he remembered how early it was. The last thing he wanted to do was wake his poor neighbor up. So when Achilles was finished they trekked back up the stairs and headed back inside.
After showering, James chose an outfit much like the one he wore the day before and fixed himself some breakfast. While he ate, he looked at the text message once again. That smiley face... James realized he was looking too much into it. It was just a smiley face... Right?
At 8:45, James started listening for Eric to open his door. When no such sound came, he decided he might as well go knock on his door now that it wasn't so early. He opened his front door and turned to Eric's, but when he didn't see was Eric doing the exact same thing at the exact same moment. They almost collided and James gasped.
"Sorry!" a bashful smile crossed his face. "I didn't get your text till this morning... but if you're still willing to have me... Along! Have me [i along]!" He cleared his throat.
"A model, huh?" Eric looked at the pictures and then turned to face James. "I'm sure you could easily be one, though," he added with a smile. He looked at James for a few seconds longer before he turned back to his computer. Whatever he had wanted to say was lost in his head.
As Eric went about selecting some pictures to add to the project portfolio and began some base editing. He focused on how he could make the picture work with the natural lighting, changing some of the saturation of colors and the softness of the image. He brought James more into focus than the backgrounds in the picture, trying to emphasize the subject more than the setting. He didn't completely fade out the backgrounds, though. He did leave a bit of clarity to have some sort of understanding of where James was.
It had gotten dark when James left, and Eric found that his energy and motivation reached a slow decline on his editing process. He remembered as he saved his work and shut down his computer that he did have an out-of-town client in the mid-morning that he hadn't prepared for, so he set out to slowly set up the equipment. He contemplated asking James if he wanted to come with, but James was already gone and probably asleep now. Still, he sent James a text asking if he wanted to come along on a photo shoot in the morning and that he would be leaving at 9 am. He made sure to note that there was no pressure and that he was free to say no. It was after he sent it that he thought that adding a little smiley face to the message might have been overkill.
After he had everything set up and ready by the door, he went straight to bed. His mind was wandering too many places, and at least sleep would quiet them for a bit.
At first it was awkward. James didn't know what to do with his body, which was a usual occurrence, but now he had an observer. That only seemed to make things more difficult for him. But, as all things, he got used to Eric's presence and he relaxed. In fact, he almost forgot that Eric was holding a camera and documenting almost every move he made.
He went about it as if he was just enjoying the fresh air. At one point he picked up a decently sized stick and went to tossing it about for Achilles to chase after eagerly. The mutt had never been good at bringing his toys back to James, though. He had given up on trying to get the animal to play fetch a long time ago. It always turned into an elaborate game of keep-away.
In the end, James found himself sprawled on the ground in a failed attempt to get the stick back, but Achilles was too strong for his own good and their tug-of-war backfired. Achilles gnawed happily on his stick while James panted, staring up at the clouds.
The day moved on and soon enough they were making the hike back up the steps to the top floor. James was hoping they'd get the elevator fixed soon for Eric's sake. James might not care about the trek, but he wasn't sure about Eric.
Once back inside Eric's apartment, James followed him back into his office. Or so that's how James thought of it. A man had his office no matter the job. Just because Eric's was full of cameras and cords and other equipment didn't make it any less of his work space. James pulled up the chair from the corner of the room for a better view of the photos that James pulled up on screen. It was strange and exciting and he was surprisingly eager to see what the next shot would be. Him sticking the toe of his shoe in the grass, him scratching Achilles behind the ear, him sprawled out on the ground...
"I'm no expert but... I feel weirdly like a model," James joked when Eric asked for his thoughts.
Eric set to choosing out his favorites of the day and began to mess around with some editing. It was interesting to see him work and James stayed for perhaps too long, watching the progress. They would exchange a few opinions on a photo or talk about something random, or they just enjoyed a comfortable silence. Whatever ice breaker this was, it was certainly helping.
That night, when James finally made it back to his own apartment, he wondered where on earth this would take them...
"Just walk around. Explore the area. Play with Achilles. Anything that comes to you naturally. Even just stand there if you want." Eric offered a smile. Whatever James decided to do was up to him. Even though Eric had essentially contracted him into this project, he still treated James as if James was the client, the one who had contacted [i him] regarding some photo shoot. Besides, everything forced always showed up on camera, no matter how much effort was put into an attempt to look natural.
Normally, Eric would take a high volume of pictures without screening each one. It made the process go quicker and took up less of the client's time. But this time, Eric felt relaxed enough so that he could screen each and every picture as he took them. Partially, he wanted to get a feel for what was going on and also understand a direction for where they could go. And the rest? He kind of enjoyed spending time with James.
Eric wasn't exactly a quite person in expressing his pleasure or displeasure with each shot. Occasionally he would direct towards James a "nice shot" or "I like it," but if he had a personal displeasure with the shot, he would only mutter to himself his own fault in the shot. Sometimes, the sun would peek through the clouds and cause a blinding glare in the shot, while others Eric got too excited in taking the shot and didn't bother to steady it or pull it into the right focus and ended up with an overly blurry shot. He normally wouldn't make such rookie mistakes, but he couldn't help himself in this case. Eric attributed most of it to his excitement over being able to kick this project off the ground. The rest of it...
"Okay, sir," Eric began as he felt a slightly muddy paw make a mark on his socks. "I think we've got enough. Let's head back up and go over these."
Again, they made the trek back up to the top-floor apartments and stepped into Eric's apartment, with one small difference. Eric hadn't been pulling on James's wrist this time, and as much as Eric wanted to, he fascinated himself with idle chit chat, mostly asking James how he felt about the photo shoot. When they got there, he plugged his camera's SD card into his laptop and began cycling through all the pictures, good and bad. He stopped on a few he liked and showed James, such as a picture of James bent down to pet Achilles, or him walking around and debating whether or not to sit on the rusted benches, and another in which James tested the softness of the grass with his shoes.
"I think we did well on the first day," Eric said with a smile. "What do you think?"
James couldn't help but eye Eric as he fiddled, almost bashfully, with his camera. But it was over as quickly as it had come and James had hardly any time to register that he was being pulled to his feet and out the door. It wasn't until they'd made it down the stairs outside and around the building that Eric finally let go of Jame's wrist. It was cold now, where his hand once was. James absentmindedly rubbed the area as Eric gestured to the small sitting area.
James had never took much notice to the area. In fact, he could hardly remember ever seeing it. The grass was overgrown and the metal chairs and table were rusted by the weather. But something about it must have grabbed Eric's attention.
Achilles was pawing at the long grass excited for a new spot to roam and James was taking a casual look around. He turned back to Eric in perfect timing to get his photo taken. James smiled, biting his lip, before looking down to his shoes as he always did when feeling bashful. He dug a toe into the grass, hands in his pockets.
[i He called it perfect,] he told himself. Of course he was convinced that Eric was talking about the lighting or the framing or... something else photography related and not about James himself. But the comment still struck him and his heart missed a beat, only to pick up again, twice as fast, when Eric suggested they take more photos.
"What... should I do?" James asked, looking around awkwardly. "Should I pose or...?" He let out a small laugh. He never thought he'd be in this situation. "I don't know," he shrugged.
If it were anybody else, James would have felt foolish. He'd be worried that they were secretly laughing at him, thinking him incapable or awkward. But for some reason, he didn't feel that way with Eric. Eric seemed genuine and honest. James wasn't used to that.
Eric listened as James spoke. He could understand that feeling of dissatisfaction towards the image of self too well. Too many times over the years had he spent fixated on his own image, hoping that there was some way he could just edit it with some Photoshop tools and make the changes stick. The list went on and on along the lines of things he wasn't too happy about, but he had eventually learned not to fixate on them.
Eric was prepared to list James's finer qualities in hopes that he would be able to appreciate the picture. He could comment on the hair that rarely seemed too much out of place, or his decent posture against the height he carried. He could comment on the charm of the uneven smile that James occasionally flashed in a few pictures. There was a lot he was ready to comment on and was about to do so when James conceded a liking of the picture.
Eric couldn't help but be surprised. Often times, he would encounter clients that had a hard time accepting any sort of image captured of themselves. He would often spend more time than necessary trying to convince them of their redeeming traits and qualities but would hit roadblocks when he would eventually understand the client's belief that Eric was some sort of magician with the camera in a way that it could make them look as if they were someone completely different.
Eric stood and stretched. With the cleaning done, much of what Eric had planned for the day was pretty much complete despite it only being mid afternoon. As he played idly with his camera, he eventually came to an idea as he glanced towards the kitchen window. "I have an idea. Let's go on an adventure!" Eric pulled James off the couch and pulled him towards the door, his camera in hand. He could hear the little footfalls of Achilles as he followed with practiced ease.
A few moments later--moments filled with Eric evasively chatting about where they were going without really explaining while holding fast to James's wrist, the emerged from one of the side doors in the apartment complex to one of the little grassy enclave amid the apartment walls. It had a small sitting area composed of rough metallic benches and a wooden sun covering overhead. With the slight overcast in the sky, it still looked a bit like morning.
"I was scoping this place out the other day," Eric began, letting go of James's arm. "I snapped a few scene pictures here for a bit of backing. The views of the windows seemed to work for the theme I wanted, and the lighting here was more than I could dream of." Eric turned around without missing a beat and snapped a picture of James standing there. His gaze looked distant, posture somewhat relaxed, with Achilles a little blur at his feet. His towering frame took up most of the shot. It was a nice, casual candid. "Wow...this is perfect," Eric said with a smile. He looked up at James and his grin grew. "Let's get some more shots."
James didn't hear the question. In fact he wasn't even aware that Eric was out of the shower yet. He only shook his thoughts away when a bottle of water made its way into his sight. He took it gratefully.
"Thanks," he said softly, cracking the seal and taking a long drink. Achilles was begging Eric for attention, which was interesting, because he usually had to warm up to someone before he fell in love with them.
James listened to Eric's voice as he spoke about to-be plans, tripping over his words almost as bad as James often did. It was a good voice. Smooth. Not a minute later, he was looking at Jame's camera again. It was strange to see himself in motion, but he liked the way he looked in these candid shots. James had always tried too hard in pictures. Smiles never came easy when he had to force it. But Eric wasn't looking for smiles apparently.
When it got to Eric's favorite picture of the day, James stared at himself as if seeing himself for the first time. He was scrubbing a plate and a dish towel was draped over one of his shoulders. Yet despite the common subject, James felt like Eric turned doing dishes into something way more important.
When asked for his thoughts, James's mouth opened, yet no words came out. He couldn't look away from the photo. "I'm not used to seeing myself like... that. You get so used to just... looking in the mirror and learning to hate your face. But you never think about your body and how it functions and..." James trailed off. He knew Eric was probably the one person who understood what he was saying, but James still felt stupid for saying it. "I like it," he finally said. "A lot."
For James to say that about something he was a part of was a huge stepping stone for him. He instantly realized why he needed this project in his life. Through Eric, James could learn to love himself. After years upon years of being talked down to, heaven knew he needed it.
A shower was just what Eric needed. To feel the smell of bleach and sweat fade into the sweet scent of a sporty shower gel was among the best feelings he could hope for right now. It wasn't all that long of a shower--just a brief one in the event that James was still waiting in the living room. He felt kind of bad just leaving him there, but he could imagine the tall man finding some way to keep himself busy. Probably Achilles was some help with that.
Eric slipped on a bright blue shirt with a comic logo on the front and a pair of track shorts after drying off and stepped back into the living room. His hair was a mess of hair in all directions and, no matter how much he tried to smooth it over, he couldn't get it to go right. "Nothing a shower can't cure..." He tugged at a loose curl. "Okay, probably not wild hair. But I can say it can cure almost anything." He laughed at his own terrible sense of humor and walked to the fridge. "Do you want anything to drink?" Eric asked as he grabbed two bottles of water. He handed one to him, then realized he didn't catch James's answer, but before he could apologize, Achilles started pawing at his leg for some attention.
"Hey, there," he said, softening his voice as he bent down to pet and play with the dog. "Can I help you with something?" he asked in a playful voice. He laughed a bit and then stood up. He looked over at James for a second and could have sworn he caught a glimpse of something, but before he could even catch hold of it, it seemed to go away. Perhaps it was best that he didn't pursue it.
Instead, he thought of something different to say. "So, I [i was] hoping that we could probably go over all this stuff we'll probably be doing together." He paused for a moment, then realized the possible connotation with the camera. "I mean with the camera and the photo shoot. Not that we can't do anything else together." By then, Eric was fidgeting with the hem of his track shorts that sat just above his knee. He had to think of something to do. "Here, let me get my camera. I wanna show you the pictures from today."
Eric got up to grab his camera and sat next to James, leaning in close as he powered his camera on and pulled up the pictures under today's date. They were mostly pictures of James cleaning, with some of Achilles running about or sitting and watching. There was one that Eric stopped on of James washing the dishes. He had just looked up at the camera and hadn't smiled yet, so he had a look of concentration that just found a bit of a distraction in something going on. "I think this one is my favorite," he said, looking at the focused look on James's face in the picture as it had been when he turned towards Eric. "This is the kind of picture I want for the project."
Eric lifted his head towards James. "What do you think?"
James felt horrible that he may have woken his neighbor up, but the huge welcome he received lessened the blow. Eric was simply ecstatic at the promise of coffee. James handed one of the cups to him, which Eric promptly took a sip of, before setting it down and running to his room. James froze for a moment and when Eric returned and he saw the camera in his hands, he almost started to protest. But Eric was quick and got the shot before the look of realization came onto his face.
James just let out a shy laugh before handing the sack over to Eric. He took a seat next to him and was glad that Eric was finding his breakfast so enjoyable. There was something strangely... domestic... however. James sipping away at his coffee, Eric taking a bite out of a doughnut, and Achilles enjoying the pets he was being given. And that [i compliment].
"Oh... Thanks," he replied and swallowed, unsure how to take it. But he smiled down at his shirt as he pulled at the fabric. Had he not been bickering to himself over his wardrobe? Something about Eric's opinion, and the clear, unabashed away he said it, made James feel a little better about his fashion sense. Maybe it wasn't as boring as he thought. Or maybe, instead of boring, he could go with... minimalistic?
After the two of them had finished their breakfast they set to cleaning the place up. They found the surfaces of side tables that had once been covered in cups, they put away the leftover food, and they wiped down the counters. Without being told to, James set on scrubbing a second sink-load of dishes. Eric snapped a photo before James could realize. He'd been doing that all morning and James was surprised that he didn't mind it... In fact he almost [i enjoyed] it.
Not an hour later and the apartment was just as clean as it was before the party. Perhaps it was even nicer than before Eric had even moved in. James collapsed on the couch and sighed. His eyes found Eric as he leaned against the island. James tried not to stare, but the temptation got even stronger when the photographer peeled off his tank top. James tried his hardest not to let his eyes drop lower than Eric's face.
He almost didn't catch the words coming out of Eric's mouth. "Oh, um. Yeah... I'll wait. That's fine." He surprised himself with this answer. Anyone else and James would have been daydreaming of his own couch.
He heard the water turn on and pulled out his phone to entertain himself.
[i 3 missed calls].
James swallowed. What could it be now? Just as he went into his phone to investigate, his phone started to ring again. Unknown number. James answered.
He forgot how to breathe when he heard the familiar voice, but somehow he managed to croak out, "How did you get this number?"
"A father always knows how to find his son," the voice answered back. James didn't reply. "I'm dying," the voice lied. "I've got cancer. Only a month or two left."
James couldn't listen to it anymore. "We both know you don't have cancer."
"I do, though, son."
"Don't call me that. You don't. You-you can't just call me like this. You think I don't know you come up with all these excuses to call me?"
"It's you mother. She misses you."
"Uh-huh. Look, I'm hanging up. Don't call me again."
"I'm just..." the voice sighed. "I'm trying to make up for wrongs, don't you see that?"
James held his forehead in his free hand. "It's too late for that. Twenty years too late."
James hung up and stared at his shoes. The water turned off and James was stuck trying to figure out how to be happy again. It seemed that his father always knew just when James was finally happy again. He always knew when to butt in and ruin everything...
The evening held little in store for Eric after the party ended. He did a little pre-cleaning of some debris on the floor here and there, but there wasn't anything major he needed to do. He looked at all the bottles of various alcoholic beverages and decided on a mixed glass of something before bed. Maybe it would relax him.
Sleep wasn't an easy thing to come by when Eric finally made it to bed, riding on a buzz. His thoughts were all over the place, from the party and the people there to his photography projects and...James. He tried not to dwell on anything in those mental spheres. He wanted nothing more than to relax his mind and ease into the next day. And, before he knew it, the next day came.
With a knock on his door.
Groggy and somewhat out of it, Eric jumped out of bed and began heading to the door. It was when he realized that he was only clad in his pajama pants, he passed by his laundry room to throw on a red tank top. To his pleasant surprise, it was James at the door with a bit of a saving grace. He could smell the delightful warm aroma of coffee and heard tell of doughnuts. It was surely enough to bring a smile to his face.
"You are a saint, my neighbor! Come on in." Eric stood aside to allow James passage inside and grabbed a coffee from his hands to alleviate his burden. The smell alone woke him up more and re-inspired his coffee addiction. He was convinced James was some sort of angel of inspiration or muse at this point. "Hey...hold onto that coffee and those doughnuts for a minute. I have an idea."
Eric set down his coffee among the empty or half empty bottles before he ran to the spare studio room and grabbed his camera. He ran back into the room and called for James's attention. When he turned around, coffee in hand with the box of doughnuts on his arm, he snapped a few quick pictures of him. "Perfect. You're helping me already."
Eric set his camera down on the counter and sat in one of the four stools up there. As he did, he motioned for James to sit next to him so that he could speak without strain and also chow down on a doughnut or two. As he bit into one, he couldn't help but moan in the pleasure of the delicious taste. "Mmm...so goooood!" he said with a full mouth. He had a few more sips of the coffee and then turned to James. "I like the shirt. It looks good on you." Absentmindedly, he found himself petting Achilles gently on the head, responding to the nudges the dog occasionally gave to him. He was distracted, of course, and there wasn't much he could say to fill the silence.
"So, we should probably get to work on this, huh?"
Over the next hour or two, Eric and James got to cleaning. There wasn't much to clean, but dishes pilled up here and there and Eric was against the idea of running the dishwasher and the sink at the same time, saying that he didn't want to waste the water. In reality, he wanted it to last a bit longer, mostly because he didn't mind seeing his tall neighbor in motion. There was something awkwardly graceful about the movement, and he couldn't tell if it was he curiosity as a photographer or as a human being attracted to another.
Occasionally, Eric would snap a picture of James as they cleaned. It occasionally elicited a laugh from James or a nervous shuffle, but Eric would always say something about how it was for the project so that he could get some ideas. Whether or not that was true, Eric wasn't quite sure himself.
Three trashcans full of glass bottles, three dishwasher runs, a deep scrubbing of the counters and kitchen tile, and lastly a vacuuming later, Eric sighed with relief at his now clean apartment. "Finally," he breathed, leaning against the center island. Though it wasn't that much work, it was pretty time consuming for Eric, especially when he was a person who liked things to go either really fast or savoringly slow.
He smelled himself and inhaled a whiff of sweat and bleach and grimaced. "I think I need a shower." He started to head to the bathroom, taking off his tank top. "You're free to hang out here until I finish. I'm just going to take a quick one."
That sudden hug lingered in the back of James's mind the rest of the evening, even through Lani's game of 20 questions. James had no idea what he had gotten himself into. Just when she thought she'd run out of questions she started up again. Once in a while she would add her own opinions about a subject, then it was onto the next. James felt like he was being dissected, bit by bit.
Half of the words that came out of her mouth, James had never heard before. And when he confessed this, she set off like a dictionary, explaining every little thing she though he might not understand.
Achilles sat by his feet the entire time, letting out a tired whine every so often. James would reach down to pat the head of his friend, assuring him ever so slightly. As the night went on, James had been passed around the entire room so everyone could get their own idea of who Eric's new neighbor was.
People started to filter out not too long after, and James was thinking he should do the same. All the social interaction was making him tired, and Achilles was practically tugging on his pant leg, trying to herd him to the door. When Eric was telling him goodbye, he updated him on the schedule they would be having together. James nodded, knowing he could work anything around his work schedule. He hardly had once as it was, anyway.
Half of his clients had moved, the other half just didn't need him anymore. James had enough money saved up that he wasn't worried. In fact, he was actually looking forward to the free time he would be spending with Eric.
"Any time should work fine with me." He looked at the card Eric had given him. It looked professional and clean cut, just like his photography. It was so much better than James's own business cards. Just plain white card stock with a clip-art picture of a dog. But James didn't need anything better than that, whereas Eric had to show off his talent with one look at his card. And it worked, if James was honest. "I'll... text you. So you can have my number too," he told Eric.
The second hug they shared that evening was one that James returned. And then he was headed back home, just a door away...
That night, James stared at the ceiling as he laid in bed, thinking about the events that had taken place and wondering what he had gotten himself into. What moonlight there was drifted in from between his curtains and landed on his dog, sleeping soundly at the bottom of James's bed. This had been their routine since the beginning. And it was always a problem. With James being as tall as he was, there was hardly anywhere to put his feet with Achilles there. So he had to grow accustomed to sleeping with his legs spread out uncomfortably, or on his side with his needs curled. That night he chose to go with the former.
Morning came and James distracted himself by making an omelette. He added ham and onions, peppers and cheese and only a few tomatoes. When it was finished, he tossed Achilles a small piece. After his belly was full, James headed to the shower and found himself spending more time than usual getting himself ready for the day. Perhaps it's because he had finally decided what exactly his plans [i were].
He went to his closet and threw on some dark denim jeans and a navy button up. But he tore the shirt off when he looked in the mirror. [i too dressy,] he told himself. Next he tried a plain black t-shirt. He took that one off too. [i Not enough effort.] It wasn't until this moment that James realized how incredibly [i boring] his wardrobe was. He wondered if that reflected onto his personality. He heaved a sigh and pulled the black t-shirt on again. [i It'll have to do.]
Achilles was ready for his walk and James put the leash on him. Usually the dog didn't even need a leash, but today they were headed in a different direction, and James didn't want the mutt running off in confusion.
Their walk took them to the coffee shop around the corner. He tied Achille's up outside. "Uh, two coffees," he told the cashier. "Just talls. And... a couple of those old-fashioned doughnuts."
The walk back seemed shorter, which James hated because he was still trying to psych himself up for what he was about to do. They climbed the stairs all the way to the top floor, passed his own door, and stood in front of the second. James glanced at his watch. [i 11:03]. Perfect timing. Not to early, so he didn't come off eager. Not to late, so it didn't feel like he didn't want to come over. He knocked on the door.
When Eric answered, he shrugged, a cut in each hand and the bag of doughnuts on his arm. Achilles sat there wagging his tail.
"I hope you like coffee and doughnuts," he said with a small grin. "I thought I could help you clean the place up if you wanted... I don't really have anything else... going on..."
At James's response, Eric could hardly contain himself. In the time it took for James to say that he wasn't looking for or expecting payment and that it would be good for them to get to know each other that way, Eric had carefully set down his camera on the desk and pulled James into a hug. "Thank you sooo very much! You have no idea how much I appreciate it."
A second or two into the hug, Eric realized what he had done. He pulled back quickly and stifled a nervous chuckle. "Sorry. That was extremely unprofessional of me. I guess I let the excitement of finally being able to get this project of the ground overtake me. Please forgive that." Eric shuffled around awkwardly at the silence that seemed to sink in around them. He wasn't sure what to say after that, which was a strange sensation. He was always used to knowing what to say most if not all of the time.
"Maybe...we should get back to the party before anyone makes any assumptions about what we're doing." Eric locked eyes with James for a moment. A few thoughts crossed his mind about those assumptions, and he couldn't deny that a few of them sent him on a few, split-second mental tangents here and there. He found that his eyes dropped to James's lips for half a second, and it gave him the nervous energy to turn away and start towards the door. "Let's get back. I'm sure my sister is dying to dissect my new neighbor."
Eric spent the rest of the evening in somewhat socially-active conflict. While he kept up the appearances he was used to, he couldn't deny what had gone through his head in a momentary rush of nervous energy. The drinks didn't quell the feeling, but only his rationale of two men coming out to each other garnering some level of circumstantial attraction to each other. He passed it off as that and would see what the next few days brought them. Perhaps it was just the overflow of excitement at finally being able to get the project he had postponed for months up and running. Yeah...that was it.
Lani, of course, wasted no time in her polite but intense social interrogation of James. She asked anything from what his favorite music and travel spots were and why he may have liked living here to deeper questions like what his views were on the socio-economic status of the majority of the country was and if he agreed on such-and-such political standpoint and why or why not. While Eric was more of a social conversationalist, Lani was more of a psychoanalyst in her approach. And with her presence, it was hard to ignore her questioning.
Eric excused himself for a moment to wander and mingle, but mostly down a glass or two more of whatever he could find. His eyes eventually found the bottle of wine that James got for him. He walked over to it and examined it briefly before deciding that he would save it for another time, storing it in his cabinets. He could imagine that with the work he would soon be doing, a drink every now and then would help.
Slowly but surely, the evening died down to a few people. When Lani had left, she pulled Eric aside for a moment.
"I like him. I think he'll do nicely." Lani smiled slyly.
"I sincerely hope you're talking about my photo projects. If not..."
Lani cut him off. "Sure, sure. [i Photo projects], if that's what you're calling it now. I'll take the hint and not pry. But I do expect details, lil' bro. Mom and I would looove for this to be the topic of our next pamper day."
Before Eric could interject, Lani pulled Eric into a hug. "You know I love you, Eric. Just looking out for you." [i Sure], Eric thought, as he glanced at James over her shoulder. He had to admit that there was something about him....
When it came time for James to leave, Eric let him know his schedule. There were maybe three or four other people, and they were pretty much on their way out the door. "Tomorrow, I'll probably be recovering from all of this and doing a minor scale cleaning of the apartment as well as finding a place. If you want to hang out or go over any of what's going to be a part of the projects, I should be free. Otherwise, we can probably start either the day after--Monday, at around noon after I come back from a shoot out of town, or Tuesday when we can work most of the morning and afternoon if you're not too busy." Eric pulled out his wallet and from it, a business card. "Though I live right next door, here's my number in case you wanna reach me but have something similar to one of my extreme lazy days, I'm a call or text away."
Eric gave games a brief and more casual hug this time. "It was awesome seeing you here tonight."
James started to investigate his hands as the group broke up into their own circles. He only looked up when he heard Eric's voice beside him. And he was right: James never anticipated being so liked. Before he could reply, Eric was leaning in a bit closer, as if his words were meant just for James.
James found himself following the younger man into the small hallway and turned into the first room. He stuck his hands in his pockets again . He felt the eyes of his host's sister on their backs as they retreated from the rest of the party.
James was intrigued, of course. What on Earth could Eric need from [i him] of all people? What kind of favor could he have to offer? His eyes wandered the room when they entered and what he was faced with was a photographer's studio. It was complete with Eric's laptop, several other cameras, and a top-notch printer. The corners held other supples that James had no names for.
Eric sat in the chair in front of the laptop and opened it up. James went back to investigating his surroundings while Eric pulled up whatever it was he wanted him to see. He felt rude peering over his shoulder, so he didn't until Eric started speaking about the photos on the screen. James, being as tall as he was, had to lean over slightly to grasp what Eric was talking about. The pictures were beautiful. He was no expert on photography, but he knew what he liked and what he didn't. And he [i really] liked these photos. They captured the town in such a way that anyone would have thought Eric had been living there his whole life.
"Those are amazing," he said, and the tone in his voice said that he wasn't just saying that.
Eric turned to look at him and James straightened in surprise at the sudden closeness. The point was finally made that Eric was asking James to be a model for these other shots. James's mouth hung open slightly. He cleared his throat. [i The looks?] he asked himself. Eric turned back to his laptop for a moment before explaining the rest of the situation to James.
James was unaware that Achilles had followed him into the room until he felt the pressure of the dog against his leg. That's what brought him back to reality.
"I-" he started. What reason did he have to say no?
[i Every reason. You're not a model. You'll make a fool of yourself. He'll laugh at you and you'll go back to being a shut in. So what's the point?]
James shoved his conscience away, if only for a moment. "I'm not... experienced with anything like this but... If I can be of some use, then..." He shrugged. "Why not?"
He gave Eric one of his crooked smiles, his eyes shy. He had a way of keeping his head down, so despite the fact that he was taller than most people, he always gave the impression that he was looking up at them from under his lashes.
"And I... I wouldn't want you to pay me for... well, anything. You're the photographer. I'm just..." He shrugged again, looking away. "The scenery." He eyed his shoes once more before finally looking up to Eric once more. "I mean- It's a good excuse to get to know each other, right?"
[i 'Never been drunk?'] Eric thought with curiosity. He couldn't imagine that someone of...28 hadn't. But upon his story about it, he could understand. Lani and Eric shared a bit of a knowing look. They could at least understand some of that. Their mother was similarly, but in a quiet manner. She just wasn't [i there] all the time.
More so, Eric heard the word [i boyfriend] placed in, almost carefully or hesitantly. It came as a bit of a surprise. He had, like he had with most people, assumed that James was more or less straight. It hadn't really been a conscious query of his, but now he seemed immensely curious about it. It wasn't exactly like he could have asked before, but now it seemed that the door was open for them to talk, become friends and such. It would be nice to have a friend so close by.
With James's [i never have I ever,] the game seemed to be at an end. It killed a good half hour and loosened everyone up, which was what he was hoping for. With this, at least, there was bits of conversation people could have and some common ground some if not everyone shared. While everyone got up and began to mingle and grab another drink or two, Eric remained where he was and turned towards James. He offered a reassuring smile.
"Looks like you're a crowd favorite," Eric said with a bit of a chuckle. "Bet you never anticipated that, huh?" He looked around for a moment and then lowered his voice. "Hey, I kind of have a favor to ask of you. Nothing major, just some project I'm working on. Come with me." Eric stood up and led James to the spare room, the room he had converted into his little studio. He grabbed his camera on the way and asked Lani to watch over things. She looked from him to James and back again before she shrugged. But just as she turned away, he saw her wink in his direction. It wasn't what she was assuming....at least Eric thought so.
Once in the studio room, Eric sat down in his chair and opened up his laptop. He pulled up a file of still from around the apartment complex from all sorts of different locations. They showed the complex in an angle that made it look lonely, almost abandoned. He had drained some of the color from a lot of the shots to give it a more...melancholic tone.
"I'm doing a half-commission project called 'Morning Melancholy'. It's supposed to be a series of photos that captures the solitary life through a morning-like atmosphere. You know--tired, groggy, but at the same time kind of hopeful and reflective." Eric paused as he turned around to face James. He found himself angling his head pretty far up. "I have the idea, but I lack a [i subject], so to speak. Well, less of a subject, more of a...um model. I kind of need someone who would be nearby and wouldn't have to travel so far for the shoots. And you'd be perfect. Plus, you've got the looks..."
Eric stopped himself when he realized what he just said. To save himself from the awkwardness, he turned around in his chair to scroll through the pictures. "I'd be able to pay you for your time, so if that's something you wanna do, I'd greatly appreciate it." He closed his laptop and stood. "Would you be interested?"
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