Kelly walked on through the bright, cool, sunlit streets. Everything was framed with flowerbeds and the last flares of autumn's dying days. He found his way back to the house easily enough, loitering en route far more than necessary, and happy to pretend that there would be no consequences for it. When he got there, he noticed a white panel van parked at the end of the road, a hedging and gardens service advertised on its side in a lurid, blocky green font. Kelly didn't think much about it and continued on down to the wrought iron gates.
He found Anje standing by them, car keys in one hand and a bag of shopping in the other. Kelly moved to raise a hand in greeting, call out hello to her like he supposed he should, but she was busy and--judging by the red-cheeked smile on her face--she wouldn't want to be disturbed. He could see why. She appeared deep in conversation with a man of about twenty-five, a sun-kissed blond with a dusty pair of denims riding low on his hips. He was bare-chested, the crumpled flag of a white t-shirt hanging from the pocket he'd stuffed it into. His heavy boots marked him out as probably either something to do with construction or maintenance, and Kelly recalled the gardens and hedging van parked down the street. Perhaps this escapee from a Botticelli mural made his living raking leaves and spraying weeds? It seemed unthinkable, and Kelly promised himself he wouldn't stare...much.
The guy had all the sensuality of Donatello's David--the eroticised version of Michelangelo's statue, with kinky boots and come hither eyes. Just the movement of his body where he leaned back against the gate pillar had Kelly trying not to drool. Aware he'd stopped almost in the middle of the street, he looked for a reason to linger, an excuse that would mean he wouldn't have to move, to pass them and break this moment.
He found himself scuppered when Anje glanced up, caught sight of him, and waved.
"Mr. McClintock! Hello! I thought you would be going on to the golf club with your father."
Kelly curled his lip and tried to pretend it was a smile. "Um, I'm not really much of a golfer."
"Oh. Will you be wanting lunch, then?"
Anje coloured a little, and Kelly realized he'd embarrassed her, catching her out talking to this guy. He shifted guiltily, as if he could back away and never have been here. The blond's gaze did seem to have a certain heat to it, like it could cut through metal and pretensions with equal ease. All he did was smile wider, and Kelly suspected he knew exactly what kind of effect he caused.
"Nah, I... Well, I mean, I don't want to cause a--y'know. When you're ready," he finished, hating himself for sounding so much like his bloody father. "Don't let me interrupt your, um...interrupt you."
Kelly cringed inwardly. His attempt at pulling back had come out like sarcasm, and that wasn't what he meant at all. Anje's blush deepened and, for a horrible moment, he worried she might cry. Instead, she raised a hand and gestured towards the blond.
"I'm sorry. This is my...friend," she said, her face beetroot red but her tone ice-hard. "Craig Russell."
Kelly was struck dumb for a moment--partly because, though he'd just heard his own past in that clumsy, self-conscious way Anje introduced the man she didn't want to publicly call her squeeze--he'd never heard a woman do it before. He blamed his own awkwardness, the fact he represented her employers, and he hated himself for it. Kelly couldn't give too much concentration to doing so, however, what with Craig now occupying the majority of his attention.
"G'day," Craig said.
Kelly looked at the hand the blond offered, and the fact that he actually felt nervous when he reached for it surprised him. He swallowed heavily and managed a small smile, aware of the impossible warmth of Craig's skin, the landscape of calluses and smoothness and the strength of each finger. He had an expert grip, gentle and knowing, and the late afternoon light wrapped itself around every golden hair on his arms and chest. Facially, he seemed young, clean-shaven and quite fine-boned...almost too pretty for a man. The depth of his tan, his firm, square jaw and thick, straight brows lessened the effect, but his lips held a classic centrefold pout, and his blue eyes positively glimmered with the obvious knowledge of how good he looked.
Back ho--when he was at college, Kelly corrected himself--he had avoided men of Craig's apparent kind. Their arrogance, even if it was well-placed, brought more drama than he'd needed and more irritation than he was prepared to take. But here, like this, it was a draw that proved almost irresistible. All that self-assurance, that cocky, egotistical pride...it just served to underline how desirable the blond was. Kelly felt sure Craig knew it, too, which only added to his mortification. He stumbled over his words, blinked more than he should have done, and prayed no one had noticed his developing hard-on.
He averted his eyes, intending to glance down at the ground and try to think of some reason he needed to be away from here. In doing so, Kelly only succeeded in trailing his gaze down Craig's bare, incredibly well-honed chest, to the lean undulations of his belly and, just visible above the waistband of his jeans, the top half of an unusual tattoo. Craig grinned, apparently used to his midriff garnering attention from strangers.
"Oh, you spotted this?"
He stuck one thumb into his waistband and tugged the jeans clear almost to his pubis, the smattering of golden curls at that delicious swell sending pulses of desire through Kelly's gut. Craig's skin barely seemed to change tone down there--all smooth gold and naked sunbathing, Kelly supposed, or at least a very tiny Speedo. He tried not to stare. That tattoo showed a fish, a stylised version of one of those tropical beauties. A flowing, curved shape, bowed yet devoid of tension, banded blue and yellow with gossamer fins and one wide, unblinking eye, its head a delicate arrowpoint ending just on the ridge of Craig's hip bone.
It could easily have been girly ink--as frivolously feminine as unicorns, butterflies, or roses--but something about the thing spoke of so much more. Like its owner, the fish was lithe, sinews and muscles implied in terrible concert. It exerted immense power over Kelly, anyway; turned his mouth dry and his clothes to lead, as if they'd become a stifling prison against which his senses railed, desperate to break out, to cross the wire and see, smell, taste, touch... He wanted to devour every inch of the boy, attack him with knife, fork, and spoon, drink in his presence until the image, the memory of him became more than his physical whole, separate and distinct and just as powerful.
Instead, Kelly cleared his throat, dragged his attention upwards, and looked Craig full in the face.
"That, uh, that's some interesting artwork," he managed, judging from Craig's expression that he thought he'd chalked up some score for inverted snobbery by shocking the rich stiff.
In a way, Kelly supposed he had, though he felt certain his current arousal hadn't been quite the reaction Craig had meant to evoke. And yet...yet there did seem to be something that lingered a little too long in the blond's face. The slight cast of a smile, the angle of a shoulder or the look in his eye--no. Kelly dismissed it as hopelessly wishful thinking, and tacky in the extreme, given that Craig was obviously involved to some degree with Anje. Wasn't he? She stood there, pink-cheeked and hopeful, but there didn't appear to be all that much intimacy between them.
Kelly pushed the thought firmly away. He couldn't afford to start going down that road now. And not like this. He looked at Anje and gestured vaguely to the gates.
"I'll, um, I'll go and...er..."
She smiled encouragingly, as if urging on a child just learning to use its potty, and nodded. Kelly turned, began to walk away, and if he was amazed that his body still remembered how to put one foot in front of the other, it was matched by total surprise that he didn't fall flat on his face. He barely dared breathe until he passed the gates, and then the relief at being away from them washed through Kelly like water over a weir, white-tipped and churning, especially when he thought he heard laughter behind him. Faint giggles, quickly hushed, directed at his ineptitude, his sudden out-of-place awkwardness. He straightened his shoulders and carried on up the path, determined to ignore it. Everything went in phases, after all.