“Hello, Mister Christopoulos,” the building manager said, ushering me through the heavy cherrywood door into unit 12N. I looked up at him, taking in his slim, well-groomed appearance before I realized he was sizing me up—all 5’6” and 120 pounds of me. With my pale face, weedy body, and cheap closeout-store clothes, to him I must have been the definition of unimpressive.
I had a chance to see the look on his face revise itself from the vaguely underwhelmed that I usually got into something strangely thoughtful and mischievous before I hurriedly looked away, looking quickly around the simple, cleanly designed foyer. It was uncluttered by more than warm white walls and a simple parson’s table on which was set a blood-red, hand-thrown vase, but I didn’t get much more than a glance before he had turned and was leading me on the nickel tour, his dress shoes clacking on the rich hardwood floors as he tossed his opening spiel over his shoulder. “I’m so glad you were able to come look at the apartment,” he was saying, his voice warm and honeyed, though I had a sense it was his natural way of speaking and not any kind of faux salesman’s demeanor. “I’m confident you’ll find the Benjamin Arms to be everything you were looking for.”
I trailed after him uncomfortably, guessing he was probably right, apart from the fact that there was no way in hell I could afford a three-bedroom co-op in one of the most celebrated buildings in the Upper East Side. I’d made the appointment mainly as a kind of joke, a relief in the tedium of looking at studio shoebox apartments in neglected, litter-strewn neighborhoods. Given the so paltry as to be almost nominal salary I earned at my beloved but very junior-junior-junior-level IT job (thanks to an impulsive career switch out of the increasingly intolerable doldrums of advertising after my 35th birthday—my own little mid-life crisis), my biggest decision regarding my next living-space would probably end up being which species of vermin I could most see myself cohabitating with. “You’re not the one I spoke with on the phone,” I ventured awkwardly as we moved into the middle of the large, sunlit living room.
“No,” he said, glancing down at me with a quick smile, as if he were pleased that I had been more than normally observant. Well, it was true: I did try to pay attention. “I’m usually involved in… well, my own things. But today, can you imagine? I had a sudden urge to take over for my black-sheep brother and see what the hell he does all day at this… job of his.” He put his hands on his hips, shaking his head as he looked off into the middle distance. “Managing an apartment building,” he said, as if it were as strange as choosing to pursue a career in yodeling. But he cocked his head to consider me, and the eye contact he made seemed to latch into my insides somewhere. “But I begin to see the appeal,” he said thoughtfully. “You meet the most interesting people. So… normal. And yet so unhappy,” he added, musingly, as if unaware it was indecorous to comment on such conditions aloud.
I stared levelly at him. The fact was, not very many people found me “interesting” in the slightest, so I was reasonably sure such a comment was probably meant snidely. Or perhaps he meant “interesting” in the same sense of young boy being fascinated by a brightly colored bug he found under a fallen log. And as for the rest—well, I wasn’t keen on having my nose rubbed in my own misfortune. A warm feeling of resentment welled up in my chest, and I was suddenly interested in how “unhappy” I could make him. I had been planning as I went into this charade appointment to politely bail, but now I was thinking I should lead him on and make him think he had the sale—only for him to find out I couldn’t even afford the current occupant’s huge leather sofa that we were standing next to. “Thanks,” I said drawled. I adopted his mannerism of inserting meaningful pauses into my statements. “I’m glad you find me entertaining.”
I expected him to react to my cheekiness with scorn and disdain, since he obviously enjoyed looking down his nose at me, so I was surprised when his face bloomed into a broad grin instead. “Ooh, I like you,” he said happily, and strangely enough he seemed to mean it. He brought his hands together and I noticed him give a half twist to a broad, silver ring on the index finger of his right hand as he held my gaze. “I shall enjoy devoting myself to your needs.”
“I’m sure,” I said, making no effort now to hide my sarcasm.
He seemed to grin even wider, then, closing the little space between us (so that I could feel his warmth in the comfortably cool apartment) he lifted up a hand and, to my amazement, actually tweaked my cheek. “You’re so handsome, after all,” he said, the appraisal sounding somehow, well, authoritative in his silky baritone voice. He stepped back, considering me appraisingly. “I’ll bet people just stare at how cute you are in sheer wonder.”
I sighed, keeping eye contact but not smiling. Yeah, people stare at me, I thought. Like you are now, actually. Not that it has kept me from being pretty damn lonely the last few years, I mused glumly. Usually I didn’t really mind people stopping to just look at me for a few seconds before going on about their business with a bit of a smile, as if my cuteness had brightened their day just a bit. I kind of liked that part of my beauty. But a steady, fascinated gaze—like the one I was getting now—could start to unnerve me. Normally, when I got a stare like this, it was just simple appreciation at the bright-eyed good looks everyone felt a need to check out and even remark on half the time, just like he had. But this stare—his stare felt a little too appraising, almost like a butcher trying to decide how to carve up a particularly choice side of beef. I swallowed and, still unable to break eye contact, I gestured jerkily to our upscale surroundings. Time to redirect the conversation. “Shall we talk about the apartment?” I said, internally rubbing my hands together.
“Of course,” he said. He looked around, giving me a strange sense of having been freed, though only momentarily. Then he said, “Well, as you can see, this is the main living space.” He paused as I looked around. The lush, rust-red carpet was set off nicely by white walls, a deluxe brown-leather sofa, armchair, and love seat, cherry bookshelves, and matching low coffee and end tables. I didn’t know much about interior decoration, but all it seemed really nice, and way too rich for my blood. My tormentor went on, “The person who lives here now has furnished it well, but I’m sure you’ll be able to do even nicer.”
Feeling a little taxed by my encounter with the manager’s strange brother, I took the opportunity to flounce into the arm chair, instantly wanting never to get up from it again. “I doubt it,” I muttered, envisioning moths flying out of my empty checking account. He must not know my situation, though a few ideas about the space were ghosting around the back of my mind.
“Now now,” tsked the manager’s brother. “I’m certain you have excellent taste and a splendid eye,” he said judiciously. “You could set up this place well enough to be a magazine spread if you wanted.”
I shrugged, rubbing my hands on the armrest’s not-quite-thick-enough Moroccan leather and thinking absently that it wasn’t the best choice for long-term durability. “That’s not really the problem,” I said, getting up reluctantly.
“Surely you’re not concerned about the expense,” the manager’s brother said disbelievingly.
I remembered my pretense of being able to afford this grand demesne. “No, of course not,” I said, wandering with forced casualness over to the bookshelves to see if there was anything interesting shelved there, wondering why the manager’s brother was so good at getting under my skin. To my surprise, there were quite a few well-creased spines, and more than a few books I knew. I expected books to be mainly décor in a rich guy’s place, but this was a real book-lover’s collection.
“Of course not,” the elegant man was saying from where he remained standing, behind me near the living room’s broad, arched entrance from the foyer. “Why, the yearly interest on the smaller of your trust accounts could buy and furnish two apartments like this!”
I was barely listening, but his words registered as something that should not have been public knowledge. I whipped around to stare at him sharply. “How do you know about that?” I demanded. I didn’t like people to know how well off I was, especially once I’d decided to quit laying about doing nothing and learn IT from the bottom up, posing as if I were a regular paycheck-to-paycheck stiff to ensure I’d be treated like one of the guys, only to have fallen in love with systems and servers.
He arched an eyebrow at me. “It’s all in your application,” he reminded me matter-of-factly, and I grimaced. I’d forgotten the financial statements that he, as the manager’s proxy, must have had access to. He inclined his gaze upwards as if calling my file to mind and started rattling off the list. “Big inheritances from two parents and an uncle including several trust funds,” he said, ticking off his fingers, “twelve lucrative patents, silent controlling interest in two fast-growing renewable energy firms—”
I waved him off. “Okay, okay,” I said. “You don’t have to tell me.” Nervously I scratched my flat chest through my deceptively inexpensive-looking hunter-green tee shirt. “Just keep it under your hat, okay? It’s not like any of that means anything.” It occurred to me again that this apartment was too deluxe to match up with my workingman persona, and that I was just looking it over for a break from the nicer, more modest places I’d be able to get away with. At least I wouldn’t have to go for an actual shitty apartment.
“I’m just saying,” the guy said. “By my humble estimation you’re probably one of the richest and handsomest 18-year-old scions in the world. You could probably do pretty much whatever you want.”
I sighed, turning back to looking over the book spines, but I wasn’t really seeing them now. Being rich hadn’t helped me not be alone either. Other guys my age I encountered tended to turn out to be either jealous sycophants or privileged assholes. I ran my finger along the spine of a copy of Donna Tartt’s Secret History. Sure, the money meant that I could fill this place with a dozen of the city’s sexiest and best-hung rent boys if I really wanted, but I knew something like that would only make me feel emptier. Eventually, I added to myself, the corners of my lips quirking.
There was a pause, and I looked back over my shoulder at the manager’s brother. He was frowning, as if he had not achieved something he had expected. I stared back at him, then prompted, “Shall we look at the kitchen?” I gestured behind him. The living room bent around to a small, casual dining area with a round table near a double set of French doors opening onto a balcony. On the other side of that was a wall with a doorless entryway and a wide pass-through.
As we headed through the dining space the guy said, almost apologetically, “The ceilings are fairly high in this building, but the doorways are the standard height, so I’m afraid someone as tall as you are will need to bend down to go through them.” He glanced up at me as we got to the entranceway into the kitchen.
“Sure,” I shrugged, stooping to go through. Being a seven-foot-tall beanpole meant that bending down to go through doorways was one of the mundane constants in my life. I was just glad there weren’t any hanging lamps in the apartment so far, though I did dread seeing how low the shower-head would turn out to be. Fortunately, the ceilings were indeed high, even here in the kitchen, and there was none of that let’s-hang-all-the-pots-and-pans-from-the-ceiling-so-I-can-bash-my-noggin-into-them-every-day malarkey going on, like I still had at my current abode, what had previously been mom and dad’s beautiful but inconveniently-far-out-of-town Manhasset country house.
We ended up on the modest balcony. No need to worry about head clearances out here. It was a pleasant day, warm but with a nice breeze. I leaned against the marble railing, trying to wrap my head around the possibility of living here. I hadn’t really been serious about the place when I’d come here, though I couldn’t quite remember why. The main stumbling block now was the manager’s unctuous brother, but… well, it sounded like the actual manager was nothing like his sibling, so maybe there were no worries on that front either. Then again, there was something about him. His started out blustery and officious, but I sensed a real curiosity about me, and even an interest in taking care of me for some reason.
My guide glanced over at me as my shirt fluttered in the wind. “There’s an extensive gymnasium in the building, as you probably know,” he said. “Of course, as you’re naturally so muscular you might not have need of it.”
I shrugged my bulging shoulders. I wasn’t sure how he’d pegged my genetic predisposition for being ripped even without working out, but maybe I just gave off that vibe. “Still have to keep toned,” I said indifferently.
“Naturally,” he said. “And of course, you clearly meet the 12-inch minimum phallic length requirement for the building,” he added, glancing at my crotch.
I glanced down—had my stupid dick escaped by briefs again? Sure enough, there was a hefty bulge down my pants leg. Then his words registered, and I looked up at him in shock. “Only jesting,” he said. “I assure you there is no such requirement.” I glowered at him before turning away. Honestly, sometimes it felt like I was so allergic to attention because my too-big dick wanted to grab it all for itself.
He trailed me into the bedroom. I sat down on the lovely mahogany chest that was positioned at the foot of the four-poster king-sized bed. The room was decorated very tastefully, with muted greens and blues colors and wood accents that appealed to me. I might not have to change much about the place after all.
The manager’s brother was leaning against the doorframe with his arms folded, eyeing me as though I were a puzzle that he was committed to solving. “It seems you are still not happy,” he said, sounding a little put out.
I shrugged again. “I like it fine,” I said. “I’ll probably take it.”
He picked up on my hesitance. “There is still something missing, though,” he said probingly. “Am I not correct? What does this apartment lack for you to be content here?”
He met his gaze with a wry half-smile. “A boyfriend?” I joked.
But he nodded, as if this were something he could equip the place with alongside the Subzero fridge and the Jacuzzi tub. “And what kind of boyfriend do you require to make you happy?”
I had nothing better to do. I decided to play his game. “Well, I’d want him to be tall and built, like me,” I said dryly, as though such things really were of vital importance to me. “Maybe just a couple inches shorter. And equally hung, of course.”
The guy nodded seriously. Strangely enough, I felt like I was just noticing how tall he was, topping out past the top of the doorjamb in a way I was used to seeing only in myself. And… I had clocked him as slim and elegant before, but he was actually filling out his tailored suit very nicely in the chest, shoulders, arms, legs… and in the crotch, too, unless I was very mistaken, though his hefty bulge was better concealed than mine was at the moment. “Go on,” he said.
I frowned at him. “He’d be my age, too,” I said more slowly, still making shit up to try and see where my host was going with all this. “Boyishly handsome, in a ‘50s malt shop sort of way, but you can tell he knows how to kiss really well.”
The manager’s adorably cute and hunky kid brother nodded again encouragingly, his bright blue eyes shining with interest. His dark hair was very short but a bit longer on top, combed back in a way that was actually quite fetching. He was wearing a white button-up shirt and dark trousers that managed to show off his supertall, impressively fit body, especially with his sculpted arms crossed over his chest like that, and his smile kind of made your heart skip. If there were a 1950s version of Instagram, this guy would be all over it.
I cocked my head at him curiously. “He’d be really nice, and kind, and compassionate,” I said, very deliberately. “Not a jerk at all.”
He smiled and nodded quickly, his expression attentive and genuine. “What else?” he prompted eagerly. He uncrossed his arms and moved to sit next to me on the mahogany chest.
I looked him in the eyes, and saw somehow that I should continue. So, taking a deep breath, I kept my gaze locked on his as I said, “He holds me in his heart, and I hold him in mine,” I said. He took my hands in his. They were warm and strong and comforting. “He cherishes me as I cherish him. We love each other, we protect each other, and we have each other’s backs. And,” I added, my lips twisting in a crooked smile, “we fuck each other like we invented it, because it’s amazing for both of us every time.”
His gaze grew dark, and I felt the lust coming off him in waves, almost strong as the eternal love he felt for me. I couldn’t blame him—I felt the same way. He still seemed to be waiting for something, so I dropped in the last piece. “And of course,” I said, “he uses his eldritch magical powers only for good.”
I gave him a knowing look, but he just smiled, wide and utterly sincere. “Of course!” he agreed, as if it were silly to think anything else were possible. Though… was that a glint in those striking blue eyes? Maybe he wasn’t completely incapable of mischief. His love for me was stronger than anything, though, and there was almost a gratitude there, like he’d found something he was missing. He squeezed my hands, and I instinctively squeezed back, still slightly dazed. Then he seemed to remember something. “Oh!” he said animatedly. “So does that mean you’ll take the apartment?”
I hesitated only a moment before saying, “I’ll… take everything. The whole shebang.”
“Yeah?” my boyfriend said with a grin, his eyes wide with excitement. “You will?”
I huffed. “Why not,” I said. My eyes fell to his sweet-looking lips, and before I could even start moving forward they were planted on mine and he was showing just how good he was at kissing. Why not, I repeated in my head, and let pure, unadulterated happiness sweep me away. With my luck, it would be for good.