Genre: Gay Romance
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The hardwood floors creaked happily beneath Adam O'Neill's feet, making him feel at home. It was early. The sun had only just risen above the horizon as the mandatory pot of coffee began spitting and steaming. Its aroma drifted out from the back office, mingling with the lingering scent of sweaty young bodies. Adam set his posture and studied himself in the panel of full-length mirrors that ran from one end of the ballet studio to the other.
They were all the same. Not the mirrors. Ballet studios. Worn wooden floors, stretching out from beneath massive warehouse windows. High barre on one side of the room. Mirrors on the other. Dusty little rosin box in the corner. Check. Decrepit piano. Check. Predictable. Yes. But also comforting. Especially when you were starting off in a new city with a new ballet company.
Adam rose up on the balls of his feet and tested the give in the floor. It sprung back nicely, tempting him to begin his warm-up before he'd downed his first …no, make that his third cup of coffee. He might even forego his next cigarette if he became distracted enough.
"What do you think?"
"The lighting is good," Adam said, turning to face Carolyn, his new ballet mistress, and as his finances required, his new boss. He'd moved clear across the country after a closed audition had landed him the principal male role in one of the fledgling company's productions. A lofty accomplishment, except he needed to eat and have a roof over his head. Something not attainable strictly on a dancer's wage. He had arranged to teach a few classes for Carolyn to supplement his income. The first of which was due to start in a few minutes.
"Are you prepared for this first lot of students?" Carolyn asked, her eyes crinkling merrily at the corners. She could barely contain herself. "They'll definitely present you with that challenge you were so anxious to undertake."
"Not quite what I had in mind when I said it," replied Adam as he set his posture in front of the mirrors again, examining his lines. He rolled his eyes as the first of his alleged students came barreling loudly through the doors, shoving and jostling their immense bodies against each other, before dropping their bags like weighted sacks of potatoes on the floor.
"Gentlemen!" Adam shouted as he clapped his hands together briskly. "This is a ballet studio. Not a football stadium. Kindly keep your voices down." He spun back toward the mirror, annoyed, and caught a glint of amusement in Carolyn's eye. "What?"
"Nothing." Carolyn smiled knowingly. "I think perhaps these young men will be begging their coach for a reprieve from ballet hell once you're through with them."
Adam frowned, dipping his eyebrows. "You know what they're probably thinking, don't you? That they're big football stars, and what we do here, in this studio, is for sissies." He set his shoulders, prepared. "They'll be lucky to walk out of here alive."
"Of that, I have no doubt." Carolyn patted Adam's shoulder. "I'm heading out for a smoke. Are you coming?"
"And let the hellions run free in here. I think not." Adam grinned at Carolyn, loosening up slightly. "I'm trying to cut back."
"What kind of dancer are you?" Carolyn asked as an unlit cigarette bobbled about in her mouth, immediately endearing her to Adam.
His first ballet mistress had wandered about the studio with an unlit cigarette dangling from her lips. That had been twenty-five years ago, and he hadn't looked back. Ballet was his entire life now, and he couldn't imagine doing anything else. It was his true love.
"Next you'll be telling me you're thinking about giving up coffee," Carolyn continued as she headed for the door.
"Ha!" Adam coughed. "My life blood …never." He rotated his neck to relieve the stress as he watched Carolyn leave. Three more men had arrived. They were quieter than the first two, but there were supposed to be eight of them in all.
He checked the clock. Tardiness was high on his irritation list. Luckily, one more stepped through the door before Adam strode over and locked it.
Carolyn would have to come back into the building through the office door after she finished her smoke. He had certain expectations. If his students couldn't be bothered coming on time, then why should he be bothered teaching them? Respect and discipline. Cornerstones of his world that these football hooligans would have to get through their thick heads.
Adam clapped his hands loudly, startling the six men standing idly by the windows, peering down at the street below.
Perhaps warming up might've been a better choice, gentlemen.
Even his five-year-old students knew that. He brushed off the thought. His own son would be turning five soon. Joyous, except he wouldn't be there to celebrate his only child's birthday. Too far away, and too little money.
"Gentlemen," Adam began, speaking briskly. "Bare feet please, no talking, and take your places at the barre."
A snort of laughter had Adam grinding his teeth in annoyance.
Not that kind of bar.
He withdrew his cane from behind his back and cracked it sharply across the front of the piano with stunning results. Their coach probably didn't carry one of those around. The threat of getting their little asses whipped had got their attention.
"Places please," Adam repeated and smiled demurely as the panic stricken men figured out what a barre was and attempted to stand correctly at it.
He approached them with the optimum speed and direction to make them feel uneasy. It was a skill really. The first man jumped as he stepped up behind him. "Name please."
"Ted …sir," the first man said.
"Lovely, Theodore. Thank you." Adam stepped up behind the next man and adjusted the spacing between the two. When the man didn't speak, Adam tapped him lightly on the ass with his cane.
"Sorry. The name's Bill …sir."
Adam nodded and stepped forward to the next man in line but looked back over his shoulder. "Stand up straight please, William. You don't have permission to slouch because I'm not looking."
"Master O'Neill," Adam said as he perused the man standing barely a step in front of Bill. "While in class, you will refer to me as Master O'Neill."
He directed the current man to take a few steps forward. Why on earth people felt the need to bunch up like that, he'd never understand. Better to be independent and have the freedom to move around. Free as a bird. After two failed marriages, that was his new motto.
"What's your name, sweetheart?" he asked.
"Marc, sir …short for Marco, not Marcus."
"Well, Marc, short for Marco, not Marcus, you need to stay well away from William here. Unless, of course, you were hoping he'd fuck you the next time you bent over."
Adam let the rush of coughs and groans of amusement go unchecked. He wasn't a complete monster. Classes with him could be fun as long as everyone remembered who was in charge.
He hadn't meant to pick on the man lighting up his gaydar, but in his world, gay men made up a large percentage of its male population, and they were used to the ribbing. Expected it to be honest. And dished it out as readily as received it. It was part of their everyday banter. The comment had slipped out as naturally as breathing.
"That's enough, boys," Adam said as he tapped the floor with his cane, striding forward to the next student. "Name please."
Once the names were gathered and everyone was evenly spaced, Adam stood back to examine his group. It was obvious these weren't players from their defensive line. They were too leanly muscled to offer any kind of forceful resistance. These were their runners and receivers. These men needed to learn how to fly gracefully and land without breaking or twisting anything.
"Turn your heads, not your bodies. Watch me, please. We're going to start in first position of the feet. Like so." Adam placed his feet and waited for the men to copy. "One hand on the barre. The other in first position of the arms."
Lord help me. They've all got two left everything.
"Quickly please, gentlemen. If this is all we get done today, I'll have to take a Valium to soothe my nerves."
Walking down the line, Adam checked the positioning and posture of each man. Making slight adjustments as a means to exert his authority rather than correct, although they were responding well and making an effort to hold the corrections he'd made.
"Your hand should be resting lightly on the barre. I don't want to see anyone gripping it like their dick on a lonely Saturday night."
This statement brought on a round of snorting that had Adam smiling. He might actually have fun teaching these guys. They were boorish, but then, who was he kidding, so was he. One of the many reasons both his wives had left him. That and the smoking, drinking, and general fucking around behind their backs. Those days were behind him. As long as he remained single, he felt no inclination to smoke, drink, and fuck around. Well, maybe smoke but that was it. For some reason, having a woman tied around his neck made him crazy. Drove him to do stupid things. He was better off alone. At least that's what he kept telling himself.
"We are going to start with plies in first position. Which in layman's terms means you are going to bend your knees, without sticking your ass out, and you're going to keep your knees nicely placed over your toes." Adam's eyes narrowed. Young Theodore appeared to be balking at the idea of doing plies. "The reason we do this exercise is to strengthen the muscles we require to keep our knees nicely placed over our toes at all times."
Ted exhaled sharply as he turned away from the barre. "Why? Why the fuck should I care about that?"
"Firstly, because, I swear to God …if you ever speak to me like that again, I will cane you. And secondly, because doing so will reduce the chance of you fucking up your knees and ankles next time you receive a pass that might do just that ."
"Coach already explained all this, Ted," Bill said, peering over his shoulder, not wanting to mess up what he'd achieved by turning around fully. "Flexibility, core strength …agility. It's all good stuff."
Marc grunted and exhaled heavily through his nose.
"Did you have something to add, Marco not Marcus?" Adam asked as he stepped in to adjust Marc's posture. He tucked the cane under his arm, running one hand up Marc's chest to encourage him to straighten up, and the other hand down his back, pressing Marc's ass back under his hips.
"You need to keep your ass tucked under," he said. "If you keep tipping your hips back like that, people are going to talk."
And so they should with an ass like that.
Stepping back, Adam looked at Marc, who was blushing furiously.
Christ. I said that aloud, didn't I? Typical. Absolutely fucking typical. Would you like to embarrass yourself on the very first day of work, Adam? Yes, sir. Yes, please, sir.
"Center floor, gentlemen. No talking."
Marc fussed about with his bag as the other men gathered up their stuff and headed out the door. He watched them leave but showed no inclination to follow them.
"Did you wish to speak with me, Marc?" Adam asked. His back was turned to the room, but he'd caught Marc watching him in the mirror. He had been attempting to begin his own center floor warm-up, but Marc's roving eyes were distracting him.
He looked at himself in the mirror. There was nothing extraordinary about him. His body was developed as a dancer's should be, and his hair and eyes were an unremarkable brown. He'd often been told he was boy pretty. What that meant, he wasn't sure, but over the years, he'd received his share of attention from the gay men he worked with, and he'd soon learned how to handle them.
He directed his gaze at Marc's reflection in the mirror. Better to get it over with now, otherwise the obvious attraction Marc felt for him might flourish unchecked.
"Marc," Adam began. "I'd like to apologize for calling you out in front of the class today. Twice, no less, but after my first remark amused rather than surprised your team mates, I assumed they already knew." He turned to face Marc and tilted his head. "Again, I apologize. I shouldn't have done that. I didn't mean to make you feel uncomfortable."
"No, it's fine," Marc said. "You're right …they know. They harass me all the time."
Adam tucked his arms across his chest. A stance unfamiliar to him, but Marc's steady, hungry gaze was making his gut twinge. He pinched his face up, uneasy. "Was there something else?"
"We were wondering if you wanted to come to breakfast with us."
"The guys all thought it would be a good idea," Marc continued. "Maybe you wouldn't bust our balls so bad next week."
"That's unlikely to be the case," Adam replied, amused. "I suppose breakfast would be alright though." He hadn't eaten anything that morning. Not an unusual practice for him, but agreeing to head out for breakfast with people who were practically strangers was extremely unusual. He'd already been in the city for over a week. Perhaps it was time to start making some friends.
But football players?
Sure, what the hell. Hot football players could be his thing.
Adam's face flushed.
Fucking hell. I said that aloud too.
"I'm sorry," Adam said as he tried to regain his composure. "Sometimes my mind and my mouth have a miscommunication problem. My mouth doesn't know when to keep quiet."
Marc shrugged his shoulders. "No problem. At least I'll always know what you're thinking." He paused, eyebrows raised. "What should we call you now that class is over? Master O'Neill seems too formal for breakfast."
"Adam. Outside the studio, my name's Adam."
"Nice to meet you, Adam." Marc looked over toward the door. "We should go. The guys will be waiting for us downstairs."
"Let me slip on some street clothes."
Predictably, his sweatpants were at the bottom of his bag, forcing him to dig for them. While doing so, a handful of brightly colored jockstraps landed on the floor.
Damn, I hope Marc didn't see those.
He peered over his shoulder and smiled with embarrassment. Marc was still watching his every move. His mouth had lifted into a cocky half-smile.
Great. He could almost see the assumption wheels spinning in Marc's mind.
Finding the worn gray sweats, Adam pulled them on over his tight black leggings. He was glad to get them on. And not just because it was cold outside. Marc's attention had wandered over the lower part of his body more times than he was comfortable with.
Adam turned to face the mirror, preferring not to make direct eye contact with Marc. Despite the discomfort of being visually devoured, Marc's attention wasn't as unwelcome as he would have preferred it to be.
"Marc, before we go, I think I should explain to you why I joined ballet in the first place."
"Sure." Following Adam's direction, Marc took a seat on the piano bench. "Although I would assume, it's because you like dancing."
"That came later. When I was nine years old, my mother took me to my first ballet. I was in awe of the principal male danseur, and not for the reason you're currently assuming."
Adam smiled, remembering. "There he was …dressed in his elegant costume, strong and confident at the center of the stage, girls spinning delicately around him, fawning over him, and desiring his attention." He sighed for emphasis. "To a nine-year-old boy, it was pretty powerful stuff. The thought of having all those girls dancing around me, desiring my attention, and my being required to lift them into the air, permitted to run my hands over their thinly clothed bodies …it was like discovering the keys to a candy store."
"Damn, I'm sorry. I just assumed you were interested in guys." Marc wrinkled his brow. "The stuff you said to me at the barre…"
Adam waved his hand dismissively. "Habit. Just ignore me."
Marc laughed softly, seemingly resigned but unconvinced. "When I was twelve years old, my mom took me to a college football game. I became fixated on the quarterback receiving the ball from the center. The thought of running the back of my hand down a guy's ass crease to receive the ball was my inspiration for becoming a football player." He leaned back against the piano keys and jumped when they sounded off. "How did your dream work out?"
"For the most part, the girls all thought I was gay. So they didn't come anywhere near me, except to be my friend. I had my own troupe of fag-hags following me around before I was twelve." Adam grinned as Marc creased up laughing. "As soon as I was old enough, I had to do some serious fucking around to change their minds. Judging by the results though, I may have overdone it. What about you? Any willing ass creases in your career choice?"
"God, no," Marc replied emphatically. "The very idea of imagining my teammates in that light turns my stomach."
"So, lesson learned," said Adam. "Do not determine your life's work on the advice of your dick. They should teach that in school."
Marc snorted out another laugh. "Luckily for us, our dicks steered us right. We both love our jobs." He lifted his cell phone from his pocket and checked a message. "The guys got tired of waiting. They're going to meet us there."
Adam slipped his feet, ballet slippers and all, into a pair of large furry boots, and lifted his tattered but adequate coat from the floor.
"Okay, let's go," he said.
They decided to walk. It wasn't that far to the diner and it was mid-morning. Plenty of light. That was the other thing about ballet studios. They were frequently located in the worst possible neighborhoods. It was nice to have Marc at his side as his very own protector. The guy might be an offensive player, but he was built like a house.
"So, truthfully. Why were you hovering after class?" Adam asked as he lit a cigarette. "It wasn't just about breakfast, was it?"
Marc grinned. "I was going to ask you out."
"Really." Adam slowed his progress to remove a bit of tobacco that his filter-less cigarette had left on his tongue. "Out where?"
"I was thinking a movie," Marc replied.
"I don't know. Maybe Warrior Inferno. I was going to ask what you wanted to see."
Adam stepped through into the diner as Marc held the door open for him.
"I wouldn't mind seeing that," he said. "My roommate, Kelsey, hates action movies. She drags me along to the most nauseating romantic comedies. They're really not my thing."
"Did you want to go with me then?" Marc slipped into a booth next to one of his teammates.
Dropping into the seat across from Marc, Adam couldn't help but notice the plethora of expectant faces staring at him.
"Yeah, sure," Adam said, then cringed at the response.
"Score," Ted shouted, leaning over the divider of an adjoined booths to slam his hand down on Marc's shoulder. "I told you not to sweat it, didn't I? Didn't I say he was into you?"
"Would you relax, Ted," Marc replied, lifting Ted's hand away. "Adam and me—"
Marc closed his eyes and shook his head as a taunting chorus of, "Oh, it's Adam and me already," surrounded him. "Stop. We're going as friends. Adam's not gay, alright?"
"Well, that's no fun," Ted said, sliding back into his seat.
"We were looking forward to harassing you," Bill added as he perused the menu. "I had a whole selection of twinkle toes remarks ready and waiting."
Marc snorted happily. "Thanks a lot, guys. It's nice to know you've got my back …or my backside as the case may be."
"Only for you, baby," someone chimed in, but Adam couldn't see who'd spoken. Marc was fortunate to have such a tight group of friends. He'd seen a lot of guys side-railed after coming out to their friends but then maybe Marc had never been in, in the first place. He appeared to be one of the lucky ones.
"What are you going to have?" Marc asked Adam, breaking his thoughts. "I'm going for the full deal. Eggs, pancakes, sausage, bacon, and hash browns."
"Good Lord," Adam said as he raised an empty coffee cup into the air, waggling it at the waitress to get her attention. His coffee high was waning. "I'll have toast."
"I guess you have to keep your body all slim like that?" Marc asked as his gaze drifted over Adam's shoulders and chest, his desire overtly evident. Either Marc wasn't convinced he was straight or he was having trouble controlling himself.
He would have to talk to Carolyn. He might have to pass this class off to someone else.
Then Marc licked his lips and Adam almost dropped his freshly filled coffee crashing onto the table, in utter shock as he felt his balls warm.
Nothing to do with Marc.
It's been a while since I've been with anyone. That's all.
"I'm not very hungry," Adam answered finally, after distracting himself. The truth was, the entirety of the money at his disposal was the small amount of change drifting around in the pocket of his sweats. Not enough to buy anything more than coffee and toast, and even then, he wasn't entirely sure he could cover the bill.
When the food arrived, Adam dove into the carousel of condiments, removing every last offering of peanut butter. He desperately needed the protein.
Confused, he looked up as a strip of bacon, a pancake, and a sausage was discreetly slipped onto his plate.
"I can't eat all this," Marc explained, unconvincingly.
"Thanks," Adam replied.
Marc grunted softly and dug into his food, leaving Adam to examine his plate, his mouth-watering over the virtual feast in front of him. He wondered if anyone would notice if he tucked the pancake away for later but then decided he wanted to enjoy it now instead. The thought of smothering its hot goodness in butter and syrup had his heart racing.
Marc touched his hand. "I'd like to see that movie tonight if you're up for it."
Adam set his fork down and almost burst into tears. The touch of Marc's hand on his and the low husky tone of Marc's voice had warmed more than his balls this time.
This isn't happening.
Can't be happening.
He was powerless to say no. There was something different about Marc. The guy was seriously flustering him. He needed to follow this through, so he could reassure himself that what he was feeling was a fluke. That he wasn't attracted to Marc in any kind of sexual way.
"Adam?" Marc removed his hand from Adam's, permitting Adam to breathe again. "I'll give you my cell number. If tonight isn't good, you can let me know when you're free."
"Tonight is fine," Adam blurted out. "It's playing at the Paramount, a few blocks from where I'm living. I could walk and meet you there."
Because there is no way in hell you are picking me up. That would be too much like a date. And this isn't a date. If it was a date, I would have said so. You would have said so.
Marc winked at Adam. "It's a date then."