Happiness for Beginners [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Zahra Owens
eBook Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
eBook Description: Jesse harbored a crush on his TV series costar, Kaye, for more than eight years, but when the show was canceled and he realized those years of playing gay hadn't convinced Kaye to leave the straight and narrow, Jesse turned his back on acting for good. Ten years later, Kaye is back in Jesse's life, on Christmas Eve--and the eve of his third divorce. Jesse's not sure his heart can take another beating, but Kaye has a few tricks up his sleeve--and a few truths from his own heart--that might just convince Jesse that the gifts of love and happiness are not just for Christmas.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, Published: 2011, 2011
Fictionwise Release Date: February 2012
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8 Reader Ratings:
"I'm sorry, we're closed...." Jesse looked at the stranger, and it dawned on him that the man standing in the doorway wasn't a stranger at all. "Kaye Bannon. Look what the cat dragged in."
Kaye nodded. "Hi, J."
Jesse waved at Kaye to enter and walked over to pull him into his arms. It was like the last ten years had never happened. The Christmas bells on the door jangled as it shut, and Kaye hugged him back.
"Where have you been?"
"You know, here and there. LA mostly. And Vancouver where we were filming."
"I heard your show got canceled," Jesse said compassionately.
"It had run its course. Wasn't a big surprise," Kaye replied, pulling himself out of Jesse's embrace.
"But knowing how these shows film, you must have done your last take in, what? April? May?"
"So what have you been doing with yourself these past eight months? Traveling?" Jesse casually gestured at his shop, which was filled with big cardboard pictures of exotic beaches and long display cases of brochures. It was no secret he was a travel agent. And not the cheap backpack-traveler sort either.
"No, pretty much stayed at home."
"Banging bitches," Jesse stated, stressing the alliteration and not hiding the mockery. He didn't need to ask. He knew his friend's reputation and doubted much had changed in the ten years since he'd last seen him. What surprised him was the pained expression on Kaye's face. "What?"
"I'm on my way to divorce number three, J."
"I'm sorry," Jesse said, trying to sound compassionate. He'd been there for Kaye's first two divorces, but didn't know his third wife or whether this marriage was any better than the first two. The only thing he knew was that it had lasted much longer than Kaye's first two efforts. Jesse put his hand on Kaye's shoulder and gave it a casual pat. "I didn't know."
"You mean I'm talking to the one person who doesn't read about me in the tabloids?"
"Don't read them at all," Jesse answered happily. It was a little white lie, but he knew how private Kaye used to be and doubted that had changed either. "I just follow the gay celebs on After Elton and After Ellen. Every new hookup means big business, since they all want to take their new conquest away to somewhere exotic. And now with the marriage equality thing here in New York, every gay couple wants to go on a tropical honeymoon. In fact, in about two minutes I have a private appointment with two guys, both rather famous, who are getting married and are taking fifty of their closest friends on a Caribbean cruise to celebrate. It'll certainly make my first quarter."
"Guess I better go, then," Kaye said wistfully.
"No! Kaye, I haven't seen you in ten years! Stay. It'll take thirty minutes. Tops." Jesse pushed Kaye to the back of the store and noticed he was trailing a small suitcase, meaning he hadn't even checked into a hotel yet. Jesse ignored it and pushed Kaye into the tiny kitchen just as he spotted the couple through the storefront windows. "Grab a cup of coffee or make yourself some tea. Don't have that fancy stuff you used to make, but I have cookies." He pointed at the cupboard and threw Kaye a smile, which made Kaye smile too. Then the Christmas bells chimed, announcing the arrival of his customers. "Gotta go," Jesse whispered as he closed the door.
When he walked over to greet his guests, Jesse found his thoughts drifting back to how he'd met Kaye. He really needed to focus, but then again, he could sell gay cruises in his sleep. He shut the blinds to close up the shop and give his clients some privacy.
In their early twenties, Kaye and Jesse had both been struggling actors doing odd jobs to make ends meet. They'd met at an audition for a popular late-night drama series that wanted to introduce a gay couple into their ensemble and had hit it off in the hallway outside the studio, dealing with their pre-audition jitters by running lines with each other. Their instant rapport had caught the eye of one of the producers, and they were both cast. For eight years, Kaye played the most iconic gay character on TV while Jesse played his long-suffering and much more monogamous life partner.
By the end of their first season, Jesse had come out of the closet and Kaye's sexuality was under constant scrutiny from the tabloids. Despite his publicist's protests, Kaye always refused to comment, and by the third season, Kaye had married the girl who played his sister on the show, putting the speculation to rest. They divorced ten months later amidst rumors of infidelity on both sides, and she was written out of the series. Jesse helped Kaye pick up the pieces after his divorce by taking him clubbing. When the gay rumors started again, Kaye still refused to comment on them, much to Jesse's surprise.
For the next six years, Jesse was always there to pick up the pieces of Kaye's heart, including after his much-less publicized second divorce, until the show was canceled and they were both out of a job. By then, Jesse was sick of being the poster boy for out actors and decided to leave the glaring spotlights, while Kaye won the lead role in a horror movie. Their paths hadn't crossed since, and it wasn't for Jesse trying to avoid Kaye. He'd always felt it was the other way around. The horror movie bombed, and Kaye took a role in another TV series. He'd married a pretty blonde starlet, and the marriage had lasted a lot longer than the two others. Although both Kaye and his wife were decidedly low-key, for a while they were TV-land's golden couple.
Jesse had lied about not reading tabloids. He just skimmed through them at the supermarket checkout, looking for snippets of news about Kaye. Stories were few and far between, and although Jesse figured this was good news--there was nothing quite as un-newsworthy as a happily married couple--he couldn't shake the idea that Kaye wasn't happy. He always could read Kaye like a book.
* * * *
Jesse pulled his mind back to his clients. "So shall I draw up the papers, or do you need more time to think about it? Turks and Caicos is a gem to visit, and chartering a private yacht means you can include pretty much anything you want. Plus, even late spring is well outside of hurricane season. You'll need to book soon, though. The best charters fill up quickly."
"When can you get us a definite itinerary?"
Jesse smiled and pretended to look at his calendar. "As soon as I get your deposit, I can book a yacht, and then it's a matter of asking the captain to confirm the itinerary. I have your requests all written down, and they seem feasible. You've made some excellent choices. I think a private yacht is perfect for what you have in mind, and I have a chef who'll make you feel like you're in a five-star hotel every single meal. Much better than one of those huge six-thousand-passenger floating hotels. You'll have a lot more privacy this way, not to mention more flexibility. How about we meet up again on January 10? I should have a definite contract ready for you by then." It was a lucrative deal and he hoped they'd bite, but he wanted to get rid of them as soon as possible. He couldn't stop thinking of Kaye sitting in his kitchen waiting for him to be done with his business.
His clients handed him the deposit check, and Jesse pocketed it. They shook hands and Jesse escorted them out, locking the door behind them.
Now alone in his shop, Jesse turned around and then hesitated. In his cupboard of a kitchen at the back of his store sat the love of his life. These past ten years, it had been easy to tell himself he was over Kaye because he hadn't seen him at all, but now that he was here, all Jesse's feelings returned with a vengeance. He kept telling himself that if eight years of being filmed pretend-fucking in the buff hadn't turned Kaye gay, Jesse's confession of undying love certainly wouldn't persuade him. Jesse needed to face the fact that his crush was straight. He'd just have to content himself with the fact that Kaye had returned for a visit and the hope that maybe they'd be able to recapture some of the friendship they'd shared before.
"Are you decent?" Jesse joked as he knocked on the door to the kitchen. It had been their running gag for eight years on the show. Back then, they'd had adjacent dressing rooms and since they regularly had to be on set naked, they'd given up being conscious of running around in the buff after the second or third week. They never barged into each other's dressing rooms, though. The last thing Jesse wanted was to walk in on Kaye banging some day actress.
"'Course I am. What could I possibly get into in here?"
Jesse opened the door and saw Kaye slumped on his seat. "My hidden stash of Stoli, obviously."
"Not so hidden," Kaye replied, waving the mostly empty red-and-gold bottle.
"I can't believe it took you only forty-five minutes to get this drunk. When's the last time you ate?"
"You took forever, J. You said thirty minutes, tops."
Jesse smiled. "This is a vacation worth close to a mil they're booking. Since I make a nice commission, this means a cool hundred thou for me. I'll spend as much time as they need with them to make this happen. Now let's get some food into you before you can no longer walk."
Jesse took Kaye to his favorite Thai place at the corner, but it took fewer than five minutes for Kaye to be recognized once they walked in, so Jesse ordered the food to go. They grabbed a cab on the way to Jesse's Bryant Park apartment.
"Oh my God!" Kaye shrieked, imitating the women who had made them dash off to the back of the restaurant. "It's Blake and Logan, and they're together!" In his normal voice he went on, "Our picture will be on Twitter within the hour. And then we'll be hunted down over the next few days. God, I hate this."
"It just reminds me why I turned my back on Hollywood. Doesn't it drive you bonkers?"
Kaye leaned back and rested his head on the cab seat. "Bat shit crazy. It was better for a while, but now the news is out that Stel and I are separating, they're all over me again. That's why I had to get out of LA."
"So you came to the other magnifying glass of a city? What gave you the idea you'd be safer from paps in New York?"
Kaye sighed. "I knew it wouldn't be any easier here, but it's Christmas, J. I didn't want to spend it alone."
"I suppose it's nice of you to think of me after ten years of nothing." Jesse sighed, knowing he sounded frustrated, but he damn well was. Kaye's explanation still didn't make sense, though. "I wasn't supposed to be home. I haven't spent Christmas at home in eight years. This time of year is our busiest season. I was supposed to be in the Bahamas sending off five gay cruises. Five, Kaye."
"Only you just broke up with your never-has-been rock-star-slash-lounge-singer, and the last place you want to be is on a Caribbean cruise with him."
"You sound just like.... You fucking called Cassie? You bastard." He was going to kill his sister. Then again, he couldn't stay mad at her any more than he could get mad at Kaye. Especially not since Kaye was giving him the most seductive look in the world. And it wasn't just his imagination. It was exactly the look that had gotten Kaye hired to play first a gay playboy, then a straight one, and then a really evil one in three consecutive Emmy Award-winning drama series. "Then Cass probably told you I was spending Christmas with her?"
"She said something about expecting you on the twenty-third. Tomorrow? Not actually Christmas."
"Peter ditched her for this girl who won that reality show to get a Broadway part. He won the child lottery and got awarded the kids this year, so Cass decided to celebrate early. She has to bring them to him on the morning of the twenty-fourth so he and the new wife can celebrate when they want. She's not thrilled with it, but it's better than nothing."
"Aaw, Jesse," Kaye lamented. "And you're going to round off the family to give those kids a real Christmas? You're such a sweetheart."
Kaye said that last bit with his lips puckered in exaggerated affection, reminding Jesse that Kaye was still drunk. Another reason he couldn't get mad at Kaye, or at least he couldn't show he was. "You might as well come with me. Just one thing. She's had the hots for you forever. So if you don't want to be the part-time stepdad to four mongrels, don't use your Kaye Bannon charm on her, okay?"
Kaye drew an imaginary X across his chest and then pretended to throw something over his shoulder. "Cross my heart and hope to die. She'll get nothing but one hundred percent-pure Kaye O'Banion."
Jesse laughed. "How long has it been since anyone's seen him?"
Kaye grew serious. "Don't know if I even remember him." Then he perked up again. "So you really want me along?"
"Of course I do. Unless you've got family obligations?" Jesse joked. He knew full well Kaye wouldn't. Other than three ex-wives, Kaye had no family, at least not as far as Jesse knew, and all the exes were TV actresses who lived in LA.
When Jesse looked at Kaye again, Kaye's face was inches away, and before he could react, Kaye's lips were covering his and Kaye was kissing him. It brought back eight years of memories. Eight years of the most intense kissing, dry humping, and totally naked fake sex ever performed in front of a TV camera. Eight years of being so comfortable with each other that they kissed without blushing in front of reporters, studio execs, and at numerous fan gatherings, sending the women in the audience into hysterics. Kaye had even kissed Jesse at that first convention after he came out, just to prove that it didn't change anything between them. But since it had been ten years since Kaye had last taken this liberty with him, the immunity he'd built up against Kaye's scorching kisses had waned, and even though he knew that this didn't mean anything to Kaye, Jesse couldn't help but get turned on. The kiss lasted long enough for Jesse's brain to kick back in, and he pushed Kaye away. "You're more drunk than I thought, Kaye."
Kaye sat back in his seat. "That's where you're wrong, J. In fact, I'm not drunk enough."
Kaye wasn't kidding. They had beer with the Thai food, but as soon as they were done eating, Kaye wanted whiskey, and by midnight he was so drunk he passed out on the couch. Jesse, not exactly sober either, covered Kaye with a blanket and crawled into his own bed.