One: Wednesday afternoon
“We have new clients.”
Sebastian opens both eyes and doesn’t bother to pretend he’s not been napping on his office sofa. It’s a stouthearted sofa. Stalwart. “We have new clients every day.”
“We have famous new clients.” Anthony ambles in to drop two folders on his chest. Afternoon sunshine slants across them, helpfully highlighting names. “Recognize these?”
Sebastian looks at the first name. Nearly falls off his sofa. Stops to breathe. Okay, okay, they can handle this—
He reads the second name.
This time he sits bolt upright, and gulps, “Oh my god…”
“Robert Downey Junior,” Anthony rhapsodizes, “and Chris Evans. Not together, I mean. Of course. But here. Partaking of our fabulous amenities.”
“We are fairly fabulous,” Sebastian agrees dazedly. He’s distracted by names. Big names, so big they rattle around this tiny escort service and shake cheery white walls until they’re dizzy. Robert. And Chris. Here.
Their agency occupies a serene skinny turn-of-the-century renovated old hotel in New York City. They’re not big, but they’ve built a reputation, the kind that’s not too shabby for an idea they’d had as two out-of-work actors in the big city. Everybody needs friends, after all. Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie provide exactly that: a kind of friend-for-hire, a literal escort service, a way for the celebrated-but-lonely to borrow a pal for the afternoon or evening with no expectations and no strings attached. Sometimes people need hugs, sometimes people need people; Anthony’d said as much during a tipsy pie-in-the-sky planning session three years ago. Sebastian’d smiled.
He knows precisely how hard being lonely can be. He knows he’s never been good at being alone.
He knows how much having someone to hold him, to sit beside him—even a paid someone—would’ve meant, some nights.
He doesn’t generally think about the rough and empty and heavy years, nor about the thin pale razor-straight lines along one forearm. That’s over a decade ago, anyway, and he’s doing fine, he’s got Anthony and this agency and their employees and they’re helping people, they really are. That thought makes his chest glow. Fulfilled and fuzzy and fizzy as triumph. Banners waving, trumpets blowing. Helping people: yes.
Their little agency’d skyrocketed to some lists of desirable services, composed by desirable persons, and their client files’ve more than quadrupled this last year alone. Apparently people do need friends. And sometimes, yes, sex; Sebastian’s not averse to letting their escorts take those assignments, as long as it’s arranged in the contract and consented to by the escort in question beforehand. He’s not naïve. Sex matters. Sex creates closeness, even if temporary. Their clients hope for that.
Robert Downey Junior: that’s a coup. The man in question seems to be a celebrity for, well, everything: an actor, an activist, an author of three bestselling healthy-living cookbooks, a life of the party. People invite him places just to say he’s come. He’s reportedly happily married, but that doesn’t mean he’s not lonely or in need of a companion while on the road; Sebastian makes mental notes while flipping through Anthony’s physical ones based on the telephone appointment. Sunlight glances off pages as he shifts position.
“When’s he coming in?” He or Anthony always tries to meet potential clients in person, at least the first time. “Does that say next Friday? Or…Fribsday? What the fuck is your handwriting, this is terrible.”
“It says Fabulous Day, we’re fabulous, didn’t you hear me, and yes Friday, and shut up and fix my commas when you type this up, kid.”
“I only fix your commas because they annoy me…like you annoy me…awful, why’re we friends…he wants someone for company, mostly? And this note says…does that say bang like a screen door? Seriously?” Anthony’s a handful of years older. Sebastian does not feel older most of the time, being young enough to have tried to fit an entire can’s worth of whipped cream into his mouth the week before, but when it comes to grammar, he’s a cranky eighteenth-century editor. He’s aware.
“He said he’ll talk more about it in person, which is always code for I want someone to have sex with. I like him. I want that interview.”
“Of course you do,” Sebastian says wearily, and opens the other folder. “Chris Evans.”
Chris Evans. Relatively new on the film-industry scene, but making a splash in a pool that’s got a lot of splashes already, so not to be ignored. Reputedly a brilliant young director, two films under his belt, both bittersweet romantic-comedy-realism, small-scale but critically acclaimed and full of heart. Sebastian’s seen both. Sebastian’s gotten a little teary over both.
“They both want to come in on Friday,” Anthony explains, both exaggeratedly helpful and genuinely professional, sitting down beside him. Sebastian just barely refrains from making a face. He’s a morning person and a night person but not an afternoon person. He’d wanted the rest of his nap. “Same time, too. Which is why you need to do the interview with Evans.”
“I honestly can’t read your writing. What does he want? The standard friend package, an escort around town, the whole ravishment in a hotel room extravaganza?” Chris Evans isn’t from New York, being a native son of Sudbury, which is essentially but not quite Boston. Sebastian might’ve done a bit of poking around online. He’d been impressed by Chris Evans. By Chris’s charity donations and obvious gift for storytelling. Which has nothing to do with any shirtless rock-climbing pictures or rippling biceps or tempting tattoos. Clearly.
Nothing to do with that in any way. The man’s directorial talent is not in his biceps.
Or in his ridiculously tiny waist.
Or in his splendid long eyelashes and tiny boyish freckles.
“Just company.” Oh. Yes. Anthony’s still here. On his couch. “He said it’s hard for him to meet new people, he’s kinda nervous, and someone recommended us, y’know, no strings attached, and he thought it might be worth a try. Not sex.”
Ah, well. So much for that fantasy.
Sebastian blinks. He hadn’t even realized he’d had that fantasy. But evidently his brain’s decided to play a high-resolution daydream about the muscles and the big ocean-blue eyes and the strength, coming into his office, inquiring about escort services and potential ravishment, and bending him over on the spot, taking him and claiming him and, yes, ravishing him, right there atop his own sofa.
He blinks again. Hopes the sofa—and Anthony sitting on it—can’t read his guilty mind.
“Friday,” he says. “Right. Yes, fine, I can do that.” He’s only doing paperwork otherwise, updating a few client records. Friday’s busy for their escorts but not as much for himself and Anthony. Usually.
“You okay, kid?”
And then there’s the fact that Anthony knows him irritatingly well. “I had elaborate exciting plans involving strippers and balloons. Since you’d be busy with Robert. No, it’s fine, you know I’m a fan, that’s all, it’s not as if we’ve not had big names in here before. I can handle Chris Evans.”
“I want to be here if you’re calling strippers,” Anthony says. “He seemed cool on the phone. A little skittish, but most people are when they call an escort agency for the first time. If he’s a dick in person, you yell for me, all right? I’m just down the hall. Or call Don up here. He’s just waiting to threaten someone on your behalf.”
Their downstairs security is a friend of Sebastian’s who’s gone from gym trainer to workout partner to employee and friend. Don Saladino adores Sebastian, albeit in the manner of a slightly older sibling who’s put a lot of work into both their muscles, and has taken personally a few irate phone calls from a certain former client, one who’s a bit too angry that Sebastian no longer accepts appointments but only manages them.
“I appreciate the concern,” Sebastian retorts, as dryly as he can, “but I can handle it, Mack Attack.” The return of this years-old nickname—it’d been hilarious at the time, though neither of them can recall why—makes Anthony chortle. “And you’ll be occupied. With Robert. The client you want for yourself, remember? Go away now, I need to fix your grammar and set up new client files and finish taking a decent nap before Elizabeth checks in at two am. Get out of my office.”
“You doin’ that follow-up? Thought I was.”
“No, I am. It’s…she’s…it is an engagement with sex, and she said she was fine with what the client wanted, nothing that’s even a soft no, but he did want some…let’s say a little kinky, not too out there, nothing I’ve not done…don’t say that’s a nonexistent list, thank you…but you know I have more experience with that than you do. You can go home.”
“Hmm.” Anthony gets up, but leans in the doorway, shoulder propped on comfortable wood. “You also know you don’t have to do everything yourself, Sea Bass. Yeah, you used to get tied up and put on your knees and spanked and all that, but you told me what to ask, how to handle that kind of aftercare, we bonded over that shit, kid. I can do that follow-up as well as you can. Or almost. Close enough, unless there’s a real problem, and then we’d call you.”
“I’m trading you tonight for tomorrow night, then. I’ll stay up. You can be all fresh and rosy for Chris Evans Friday afternoon.”
Sebastian throws a sofa-pillow at him. Anthony escapes down the hall. The pillow misses, but Anthony’s laughter floats back to haunt him as he goes to retrieve it, like a prophecy, like a shape of a future to come.
Sebastian, pillow in hand, shakes this thought away. A huff of amusement at himself. A smile. And puts his fluffy ammunition back in place—it grins too, possibly at him, or hopefully with him—and curls up in his desk chair, which he’d splurged on because he finally could. It’s huge and navy-blue plush and lets him drape long legs over the side or tuck them up crosslegged if he wants. It’s got side-wings and rolling arms and it looks like something out of a mid-century fairy-story, and it cuddles him in softness and he loves it and it loves him right back.
He grabs his laptop, and opens a new client file, and names it Evans, Chris.