Taylor stood off from the main throng of his colleagues. It was a dreary Friday morning, cold for June and wet, although the forecast Taylor had looked up on the Met Office app on his phone suggested conditions were due to improve later in the day. It hadn’t escaped Taylor’s notice that, thanks to the team-building weekend, he was at work earlier than normal. He was trying to distract himself from dwelling on that fact, by people-watching his colleagues.
It said a lot about Taylor’s time at Webb that, despite spending almost every day for the past six years with these people, Taylor knew next to nothing about them. In a way, it was strange to think he might soon never see any of them again, but Taylor didn’t think it likely he would lose sleep over it.
Taylor had never felt like part of a team, but that had been his choice. He took the job at Webb Glasgow when he was eighteen for the simple reason he needed a wage. Working for a company specializing in commercial and industrial building ventilation systems and products was, Taylor was pretty certain, never going to be anyone’s dream job. On the day he signed on the dotted line, in his cheap supermarket suit, he made himself a promise that in ten years his time at Webb would be a distant memory.
Six years later, more than half a decade of training courses and personal reviews and continuous professional development sessions, he was about to begin cashing in on that promise. Of course, his changed fortunes had nothing to do with anything learned at Webb. Instead, it had everything to do with Taylor having spent those same six years working nearly every evening and weekend on the project that, only a few months earlier, had paid off in spectacular fashion.
He wondered if the managing directors realized how fucked they were going to be without him. Taylor doubted it. He knew a lot of them saw him as just another corporate lackey willing to jump through any hoop presented to him. That was a reputation earned during his first few years with the company when Taylor had chased every promotion and pay rise even when at times he thought the amount of sucking up might kill him. Taylor thought it was because of that and his fake smile and even faker attitude that the bosses didn’t seem to realize that despite the other colleagues in his office, including Malcolm, Taylor was the IT Department. That wasn’t arrogance on Taylor’s part, it was simple fact, and Taylor wished he could set up a hidden camera to see the chaos he knew was inevitably going to follow his departure.
A lot of sacrifices. That was Taylor’s overwhelming memory of his time at Webb, but then that had been the running theme of his life since his early teens. It didn’t bother him. Not really. Especially not now it had paid off. And he hadn’t gone completely without. Time could always be found for jaunts to Glasgow’s gay bars and nightclubs, and there was never a self-imposed deadline so pressing a pretty, pampered twink couldn’t take precedence.
But no relationships, no friendships requiring any sort of effort, and no other commitments that he couldn’t get out of in a hurry. Ensuring he never got tied down had always been central to the plan.
Taylor dumped his bag on a bench. The bus that was to take them to the hotel they were staying at for the weekend hadn’t turned up yet, and from what Taylor could gather from his colleague-watching, the appropriate response to the delay seemed to be to hurry up and wait. That suited Taylor fine. He was in no rush to get on with the weekend, although he supposed the sooner they got started, the sooner it would be over, and he was intrigued by the final event that Malcolm had organized, all by himself, for Sunday.
They were going to round off their team-building nightmare with a motivational speech. Normally, Taylor would be plotting ways of avoiding such a highlight, and if he were forced to tell the truth, he would have to admit he still might, but it was Malcolm’s choice of speaker that interested Taylor.
What qualified a mountaineer, who had lost his left hand to frostbite, to speak to IT professionals about the challenges they were facing at work—namely establishing stronger firewalls, security protocols for personal data, and keeping up with new technology in an ever-changing global market—Taylor could only begin to imagine.
Having said that, the weekend was no longer exclusively for the IT and administration department staff as it originally had been. A meeting held on Monday morning had seen their numbers swell to include directors, department heads, managers, and senior staff. Maybe, for a reason Taylor couldn’t imagine, they would be more able to relate optimistic mountain-based metaphors to their daily BMW-commutes to and from the office.
Taylor wasn’t especially bothered about the inclusion of the bosses, but he knew his apathy wasn’t shared by all his colleagues, and he could sympathize. It did seem unfair to take staff out of their comfort zones and make them do things they didn’t want to do, all while putting the fear of God into them that their bosses were watching, and any sign of reluctance or ineptitude in a kayak might land them on the unemployment line come Monday morning.
One thing that was proving fun was seeing people Taylor usually saw in polyester suits or black trousers and floral blouses, bundled up in waterproof trousers or cargo pants with fleece jumpers and raincoats. A symphony of browns, dark greens, and navy blues. A few of the women were sporting richly patterned jackets, but that was it in terms of joy. There wasn’t much excitement on faces either. Only Malcolm was bustling about like a mother hen, wasting oxygen as he tried to look busy and important.
As far as Taylor was concerned, he was only succeeding in coming across as clueless. Why the man was head of IT, Taylor would never know. Ask him to install a printer, and he would adopt a facial expression like he’d been asked to turn his granny into gold. It was a shame because given a job more suited to his skill set—whatever that might be—and a complete personality transplant, Malcolm might be an all-right guy.
Taylor pulled out his phone. He checked a few e-mails, focusing on the latest communication from the San Diego game developer who had reached out to him. They wanted to conduct a series of video calls, but time differences and his job at Webb meant Taylor had been forced to request any interaction be put back until his notice period was over.
The e-mail he was reading was confirming his suggested time for the first call. Taylor had a feeling they wanted to offer him consultancy work, or maybe a full-time position, and if they did, he wasn’t sure what he was going to say.
They were the sort of company Taylor’s younger self dreamed of working for, but now that he was worth a lot more money than he ever thought he would be, Taylor had begun to entertain the idea of investing wisely and retiring at twenty-four to a nice beach somewhere. He had a feeling his time at Webb had tainted his ideas of what working was like, but did he want to take that risk only to prove himself wrong? To find out that, even if a person landed their dream job, the basic act of working for a living never improved. Best to think of it another time, he decided, as he swiped to close the e-mail.
A gust of wind got up, making Taylor shift on the bench. He tugged at his jacket collar, trying to get more protection from the elements, but after his adjustments he could feel the hairs on the back of his neck standing up. Resting his phone on his knee, he started to struggle to free the hood of his gray zip-up from his jacket. He succeeded, eventually, and pulled the hood over his hair.
Instead of going straight back to his phone, Taylor checked out the parking lot once more. Something felt off. It was the feeling his mum used to refer to as someone walking over his grave. He looked around, but he couldn’t see anything amiss.
The larger groups were fracturing apart as people collected in twos and threes for muted conversations. The younger ones were, like Taylor, busy with their phones.
Taylor fished his MP3 player from his pocket. While almost every other item of technology Taylor owned was the latest model, his MP3 player was old. Taylor preferred its huge memory capacity and navigational wheel to the sleeker, more modern touch-screen options. He tried to focus on picking something suitably loud and angry to drown out the noise of his soon-to-be fellow bus passengers, but he couldn’t shake that weird feeling that he was being watched. The most likely candidate for that was Malcolm, but when Taylor looked in the direction he last saw his boss, the man was nowhere to be seen. A further scan of the parking lot came up empty. No one seemed to be paying him any attention. In fact, he was so far removed from the rest of their group he suspected only his clothing and rucksack made him identifiable as one of them. Taylor put the strange feeling down to anxiety about the weekend ahead and went back to methodically working his way through the names of British rock bands who had their heyday around the turn of the millennium.
Finally, Taylor picked an artist and moved on to debate playing the band’s first album, which was considered a modern classic, or their more difficult second album that Taylor had always defended. He was lost in trying to figure out which track list best suited his current mood when, over the noise of the wind picking up, he heard someone clear their throat. It was a deliberate sound, and it was loud. So loud, Taylor jumped, coming close to dropping the device in his hand. He jerked to attention, wincing as his phone clattered off his knee onto the tarmac.
Taylor stooped to pick it up and, after checking the screen for damage, turned to search for the loud throat-clearer. He found the culprit, or at least, he thought he did, standing a few meters away from him.
An older man, tall and slim with salt-and-pepper hair, was leaning against the bonnet of a beautiful vintage McLaren that didn’t look like the sort of car anyone should be using as a perch. He was staring straight at Taylor, and when Taylor met his eyes, he didn’t look away.
The feeling, that feeling
, hit Taylor like a punch to the gut. Want. Outright want so intense it was frightening. The analytical part of Taylor’s brain fought to define it, to categorize it. The only thing he could liken it to was being in a club, half an hour before chucking-out time, when every fiber of his being was focused on pulling whatever guy had been eluding him all night. Except it wasn’t like that. It was similar, but this level of want, the heat Taylor imagined he could feel burning back and forth between himself and the man, was magnified to the extreme. Taylor wanted to scratch at his skin, he wanted to claw into his stomach and yank out that sensation, throw it on the floor and stomp on it, make it stop right away because Taylor knew what was going on, and now was not a good time. And that man was definitely not Taylor’s type.
Taylor managed to break eye contact, but it felt like a Herculean effort. He tried to force himself to look at the ground, but that was a hopeless cause. Instead, Taylor was drawn back to the man, only just managing to avoid those dark eyes in favor of his body.
Taylor was certain he’d never seen the man before, yet the man was dressed the same way as the rest of their group, only better. His clothes looked more expensive and less shop-fresh, like they hadn’t been bought specifically for the occasion. He looked fit. Healthy. Strong. Hot. The adjectives came out of nowhere as Taylor checked out those broad shoulders, that narrow waist, those thick thighs. Helplessly, Taylor looked back at the man’s face. There was a smile playing on those plump lips that broadened into a grin when Taylor did so.
Second time around, Taylor couldn’t look away. Some small part of his brain was still taking notes. The man had to be double his age, if not older. He looked too sure of himself, too confident. And he was bigger than Taylor. Probably stronger. In short, there wasn’t one thing about him that fit Taylor’s type, but something about the man was sinking its claws into Taylor and threatening not to let go.
Taylor forced himself to turn the volume up on the part of his brain that was trying to reason through his feelings logically, but he knew he was fighting a losing battle. Even those thoughts seemed to be slanted in the man’s favor, as though Taylor’s body had decided it could handle this particular situation perfectly well alone, without the help of Taylor’s thought police.
Age difference notwithstanding, there was no denying the man was attractive. His bone structure was strong, classically handsome, and in addition to the other features Taylor had just finished leering over, there was the richly tanned skin, the legs that seemed to go on forever, and that small scraping of neatly groomed stubble that decorated the man’s face like the shadow of a beard. Unbidden, Taylor imagined it scratching his inner thighs.
He forced that thought away. It was an image he didn’t think he’d ever entertained before. His inclinations lay firmly in the hairless twink category, and at twenty-four going on twenty-five, he was coming to consider himself one of the elder statesmen on the Glasgow scene. But old enough to be his father? That was a realm of sexual fantasy Taylor had never imagined himself entertaining. He wasn’t interested. It wasn’t his thing. So it was a shame he still couldn’t look away.
The man unfolded his arms. He slid his hands into the pockets of his black waterproof trousers as Taylor watched, helplessly focusing on the man’s groin as he made his body more open, made himself look more approachable. It was a move Taylor used often enough himself. As was the tilt of his head the man now offered. An invitation. Get off that bench and come to me. Taylor was appalled when he almost did.
Cocky. Confident. Self-assured. Taylor liked quiet, innocent, overeager, and maybe even a little nervous. Still looking at the man, Taylor forced a shake of his head, both at the suggestion and to try to break free of his thoughts. The man’s smile dimmed, but the intensity of Taylor’s feelings didn’t. He turned his attention back to his phone, mentally chastising himself when he discovered at some point he had started to bite his bottom lip.
Despite Taylor’s pretense of checking e-mails, he was solely focused on the man he could still feel watching him. He was starting to wonder what it would feel like to be evenly matched for strength in bed, or to be overpowered. To submit to someone older, stronger, potentially more experienced. It had been an awfully long time since Taylor had done anything close to the latter.
Since Taylor’s brain was the sort that always needed answers, he tried to distract himself by coming up with an explanation for such unexpected and unprecedented feelings of attraction. Most likely it was the months away from the clubs and the weeks since he’d last taken someone to bed. Life had been hectic of late, and his rule of making time for pretty playthings had fallen by the wayside in the face of all the contracts, deadlines, and lawyers demanding his attention.
No wonder Taylor was starting to think like the sort of guy who took it wherever he could get it. He looked up at the man once more, only to discover the man was still watching him. Too long without sexual distractions was as good an explanation as any. Taylor didn’t offer a smile, but the man seemed to take Taylor’s looking back as carte blanche to keep checking him out.
That was fine, Taylor decided. Look all you want, old man. It ain’t happening
. Taylor tried to shut his mind down, but he was a fraction of a second too late. His belly that felt like a fire pit of nerves and his hands which were shaking with adrenaline combined to ask what would be wrong with making the best of a bad weekend with a handsome stranger. It wasn’t like Taylor ever needed to see the man again. But no. That wasn’t happening. Taylor couldn’t let it. Not his type. Not interested. No way. Taylor repeated the phrases over and over again like a mantra until, a few moments later, he caught sight of movement out of the corner of his eye.
The man was moving toward him. Taylor held his breath, still staring without focus in the general direction of his phone, as the man crossed the short distance between them. He walked closer to Taylor than was necessary, and Taylor’s mind went blank. He wanted the man to approach him. Wanted that so much it was frightening, but he couldn’t think of a thing he would say if the man did. Taylor felt a mixture of disappointment and relief when the man slowed but didn’t stop walking.
Taylor watched, trying to be subtle, as the man made his way over to a group of assembled directors. Before he reached them, he looked quickly over his shoulder and caught Taylor staring. Taylor blushed, another involuntary reaction not usually in his repertoire, and the man slowly turned away from him with what Taylor could only describe as a smirk.
The directors welcomed him warmly. Handshakes all around for the men and a brief kiss on the cheek for the two women. The familiarity of the greetings reminded Taylor of the other problem he had with the man.
Taylor didn’t know who he was, but it was obvious other people within the company did. In six years, Taylor had solved the IT problems of everyone who worked at Webb, from the CEO to the janitor, but he was certain he had never seen that man before.
“Hey, Malcolm,” Taylor called, as Malcolm strutted past.
Malcolm fixed Taylor with a withering stare as if Taylor was constantly interrupting Malcolm’s day with questions when in reality it was the other way around.
“Yes?” Malcolm asked.
“Who’s the old guy?”
Malcolm followed the direction of Taylor’s gaze. He turned back, looking a little pale, before walking on without answering.