The hotel doors swoosh open and we exit onto the busy pavement. I hear my new friend gasp and then he stops in his tracks. I turn to look at him and now we’re causing an obstruction, forcing everyone to wind a route around us.
His face is tilted up towards the heavens, his eyes closed and his mouth drawn wide by a smile that’s full of wonderment. “Wow!” he drawls on a breathy sigh. “So this is what the sun’s rays feel like on human skin.”
I respond with my usual pithy sarcasm. “You don’t get out much, do you?”
“Never,” he replies with such heart-wrenching honesty that I believe him.
“So, are you going to tell me your name, now that we’re friends?”
He opens his eyes and looks straight at me, hesitating a fraction too long before replying. “Ray. My name is Ray.”
I smile to myself, knowing he just made that up. I gesture for him to turn to his right and I slip in alongside him as we set off in the direction of the coffee shop.
“Ray,” I repeat in a mocking tone. “As in ray of sunlight?”
He gives me a sideways glance. “Ray of hope.”
I grunt. “Hope?”
“Yes. Hope for a better future.”
“Are you one of those green campaigners who wants to save the planet?”
He huffs. “That is surprisingly close to the mark. You impress me, friend Blake. But it is mankind I wish to save, rather than the planet.”
I snort out a laugh. “You want to save mankind? Who do you think you are, some kind of superhero? Have you been smoking something?”
“Popping pills, then?”
“So what do you think you’re saving mankind from, exactly?”
“I am not supposed to say.”
“Seriously? I thought we’d got beyond the ‘I’m not supposed to tell you’ crap.”
“From the killer within,” he mutters.
“Oooh! That sounds very cryptic.”
“That wasn’t a compliment. I was hoping you’d expand.”
“As I have already indicated, I am not supposed to say.”
“But it’s okay to tell me you’re a superhero?” I scoff.
He halts in his tracks and turns to face me, scanning my eyes with a shuddering intensity. “I did not say superhero. That is your description. A word you use to mock me.”
I gaze into those beautiful blue eyes and my groin twitches. I try to ignore it, hoping it doesn’t develop into a noticeable bulge. I can’t help my gaze dropping to his mouth, to those begging-to-be-kissed lips, and I curse my luck that this crazy, beautiful boy isn’t interested in kissing other boys.
I know he’s waiting for a response but right now I have no words.
“Why do you mock me?” he asks, tilting his head to the side.
I shake my head slowly. “I…er…sorry.” I completely lose my train of thought and then the stupidest words fall out of my mouth. “Will you be saving mankind before or after breakfast?”
Now his gaze drops to my mouth. I watch as a sexy smile trips across his lips before he reins it back in. All my nerve endings light up like a starry map of my body and my skin prickles with desire.
“I think we have time for coffee, at least,” he replies on a heavenly whisper.
We stand like that, staring at each other’s mouths for an uncomfortably long time until I’m utterly convinced he wants me to kiss him. Maybe he swings both ways. I’ve no idea what’s brought this on, but if he’s offering, I’m accepting. After all, how could anyone resist those lips?
Tentatively, I lean in. Closer. Closer. But just when our lips are about to touch, he turns away and carries on walking without me. I’m left standing there, feeling like someone just ripped the blanket off me on a cold winter’s night, leaving me naked and exposed. He disappears from sight, melting into the crowd, and I have to scurry to catch up with him.
“Is it far?” he asks, as I fall into step beside him. His voice is calm and steady, as if he’s totally unaffected by what just occurred.
Did I just imagine he looked at me that way?
He repeats the question. “The coffee place, is it far?”
“Um, no, not far. Just keep walking in this direction.”
“And after coffee, will you help me find a suitable female?”
“Don’t worry, you’re not going to be short of admirers,” I mutter. “Although, we might need to get hold of some duct tape before you bump into the next one.”
“Tape?” He throws me a look of surprise. “Are we going to restrain her?”
I huff. “Don’t go getting any ideas, crazy boy. It’s to tape up your mouth. We can’t have you spouting off about ejaculations and ovulations. You’re going to put her right off.”
“But if you cover my mouth, how will I kiss her?”
I ignore his protestations, not wishing to entertain the thought of his mouth exchanging saliva with anyone else’s. Anyone else’s but mine.
I’m pleased to note my favourite table is vacant in the front courtyard of Vivaldi’s, so I quickly claim it, shrugging off my suit jacket and wrapping it around the back of one of the seats. While Ray seats himself, I unbutton my shirt at the neck and cuffs and roll up my sleeves. It’s table service at Vivaldi’s and the waiter is always very keen, so I immediately grab the menu and hand it to Ray.
“I’m having a double espresso,” I inform him. “It comes either hot or iced, but I always prefer my coffee hot. The full range of coffees is on the first two pages, or you can have tea and cake, or—”
Before I have a chance to finish, he sets the menu down without even looking at it, his decision already made. “I shall have whatever you are having.”
The waiter turns up on cue. I order two double espressos and once he’s out of earshot I turn my attention back to Ray.
“Why do you talk like someone off an old black-and-white newsreel?”
He scowls at me. “I do not understand.”
“Don’t understand,” I correct him. “Nobody talks like that anymore. It’s not natural.”
“Oh, I see. You wish me to employ elision in my speech so it is—I mean, it’s—more fitting to the vernacular of this period.”
“I’ve no idea what you just said. Why can’t you just talk like a normal person, instead of sounding like you’ve got a silver spoon shoved up your anus.”
He chuckles. “I have spent too much time absorbed in bygone eras when language was more formal. I really must try to update my skillsets. Thank you for pointing that out.”
“You’re welcome! So, you’re a history student, huh? What era do you cover?”
He shrugs. “All of it.”