Jacob Carlson suffered a camping accident when he was in high school that left him with a scar along the right side of his face and chest and his experiences after the recovery made him realize he had no place in the life he had once known.
More than ten years of reclusion later, a chance meeting with Tristan Palmer, the executive director of the Arts Council, changes everything Jacob had believed about himself and the world.
As their conversations and relationship grow, Jacob starts to think that maybe, just maybe, his life can be about more than his work-from-home job and his cat, Sebastian.
The concert would be outdoors, his best friend had said.
Not a whole lot of people. We can sit in the back.
We haven't seen you in forever.
So Jacob Carlson went and everything was as promised.
Until on the way home, when Chris decided to stop at Tom's for a quick beer and the whole gang was there.
Jacob physically recoiled from the light and the crowd and damn it.
Chris knows he hates this kind of shit. Has since he was seventeen. He grits his teeth and shoots his best friend a nasty look and Chris shrugs with his typical sorry-not-sorry expression.
Tom's place is basically a glorified college apartment even though it's a whole house. The mismatched furniture and lack of any real decorating skill makes it feel like a place where frat brothers go to get their kegger on. Jacob finds a chair in the darkest corner, props his fist against his chin to hide the worst of the scars and shrinks into his hoodie and the seat as much as he can.
It works. To a point.
As the night wears on, the group gets bigger and space lessens. Jacob's learned over the years in public situations if he doesn't move much and keeps to himself, he can go relatively unnoticed, but as more and more people pack into the small house, his little corner gets tighter and tighter.
There's a reason Jacob doesn't do this. A damn good reason. The scarring from the accident makes him a freak and it's just ten times easier not to have to explain or deal with the pitying looks he gets.
Why the fuck had he let Chris drive anyway? What the hell was he thinking?
"Okay, okay, hey guys?" It's Chris and he's attempting to get everyone's attention by hopping on what looks like an unsteady ottoman and Jacob can tell he's had at least two if not three beers already, so he teeters a little. "There's kind of a reason I got you all here...hey guys, can you come out here for a second? I gotta tell you all something."
Jacob kicks out with his feet and pushes his chair literally into the corner as even more people gather in the living room.
"We all here?" Chris asks the collected group. "Cool. So, listen. I got a call today and well..." He grins wide. "They want me to play at the Bluegrass Festival in two weeks."
There are gasps and the appropriate exclamations and a holy shit, that's awesome thrown in for good measure.
And Jacob has to smile. Chris has been playing music on his guitar practically since he'd come out of the womb. To make it into the Bluegrass Festival, even though it's in a pretty small town like Carlisle, says something about his talent. Over the years, the Bluegrass on the Grass festival at Dickinson College has grown and playing in front of a crowd that size will establish Chris's talent for a lot of people. This could be what he needs to possibly kick-start an actual music career.
Jacob's gonna kill him for not saying something sooner, but he's damn happy for his best friend.
"Dude! This is exactly what you've always wanted!" That's all the warning Chris gets before a tall guy--kind of ridiculously tall, really--comes out of the crowd and bodily lifts Chris off the stool with a few loud whoops.
Chris laughs and hangs on and says, "Okay, okay, Tristan, put me down you big oaf."
This guy Tristan does as asked and points at the other man's face, "I want front row seats."
Jacob frowns. Tristan. Tristan. He tries to place the name from the friends Chris has mentioned over the years, but nothing clicks. Huh. He wonders where this guy came from.
He's...something. Broad shoulders taper to a thin waist, but it's easy to see the thick muscles underneath the jeans. The sleeves of his black t-shirt hug his biceps and his hair swings almost into his face with each shake of his head. The killer, though, is the smile--wide and open and happy--and Jacob wonders why Chris never said anything about a Tristan.
People swarm Chris after that with congratulations and slaps on the back and for some reason, Jacob keeps an eye on Tristan. There's just something about him that's damn intriguing.
Jacob laughs softly at himself. He knows where this line of thought is headed and the idea is beyond ludicrous. If there's one thing Jacob's maintained over the years, it's brutal honesty with himself. There's no way a tall, gorgeous, undeniably cheerful guy like Tristan would want anything to do with a deformed, backward, recluse like Jacob.
He inhales deep and takes another look at the clock, wondering how much longer this will last. He'd be tempted to walk home if his apartment wasn't all the way across town.
There's a booming laugh and when Jacob glances over, it's Tristan. He must be in the middle of a story because he's grinning and waving his arms and there's a flush on his cheekbones that's just...kind of insanely adorable is what it is.
And Jacob wonders what it would feel like to put that expression on Tristan's face.
He shakes his head, where the hell are these impossible notions suddenly coming from? He's got his routine--get up, get some coffee, check out the morning news and get to work transcribing doctor's notes. Then lunch, more transcribing, dinner and some TV. Lather, rinse, repeat.
He likes his job because he can work from home; and his apartment may be small, but it's his; and Sebby, his tabby cat, named after the guy who plays Bucky in the Captain America movies, is the best friend a guy could ever have.
Like any other thirty-something gay man, he's got his porn and his fantasies and he's fine with that. Good, actually.
It's just...he sometimes wonders what it would be like to have someone--other than a doctor or nurse--actually touch him. Because they want to. Because they like him. Because they want to make him feel good.
Idiot. You know that's not gonna happen. Not in this lifetime. Get your head out of your dreams and back into reality.
A throat clears and two high heels appear in front of his vision of the floor and he looks up to find a petite brunette woman with a curious expression on her face. She's quiet when she asks, "You're Jacob, right?"
A quick bob of his chin is his only reply.
"Chris talks about you at work sometimes," she explains. "Says you guys have been best friends practically since elementary school."
Jacob continues to stare with his cheek covered by his fist.
"I just..." she shrugs. "Figured I'd say hi."
Jacob nods without speaking and it takes only about a minute for the woman to wander away.
The silent treatment, cold shoulder remains incredibly effective for keeping people at bay and Jacob's perfected it over the years.
A half an hour later the crowd starts to thin, people heading home.
Jacob sighs, feeling better with a little more breathing room when a shadow falls over his little corner.
He glances up--and up and up--and fuck it all if it's not this guy Tristan who's looking down at him with a stupid smile on his face.
"Hey," he says. "You're Jacob, right?"
Jacob bobs his head and apparently, the lack of any kind of real communication doesn't deter Tristan in the slightest. The other man grabs a chair, drags it across the carpet, and settles into Jacob's space. "I'm Tristan. Palmer. Meant to come say hi earlier, but got caught up in the kitchen. So Chris says you're a medical transcriptionist, right?"
Jacob blinks. Did the guy lose a bet or something? He clears his throat, "Uh. Yeah, I am."
"So you get to work from home?" Tristan asks and stretches back into the chair, kicking his long legs out in front of him and damn if a shimmer of heat doesn't flick along Jacob's spine at the sight.
Jacob nods in answer to the question.
"Must be pretty cool." Tristan decides.
Jacob shrugs, embracing the noncommittal in the hopes of ending this little exchange as quickly as possible.
Tristan sips at his beer and muses, "Not sure I'd have the discipline to work from home. I'd get way too distracted by DVDs and television and probably Candy Crush."
Jacob's optimism for a fast conversation starts to dwindle.
"Gotta be nice not to have to fight traffic every day, though," Tristan continues. "So that's a reason to maintain the willpower to not slack off, right?"
Yeah, this is insane. Jacob has no idea what Tristan's doing in the corner with him, trying to have some kind of discussion, but it's time to end this, so Jacob pulls out his ace in the hole. He lowers his hand from his cheek and kind of tilts his chin toward the light and Tristan, fully displaying the rough skin down the right side of his face.
It's ugly and Jacob knows this--can only grow half a beard because of it, can't even get his hair long enough to cover it, so he keeps it short--and it seals the deal for anyone wanting anything to do with him. Always does.
Only this time something weird happens.
Tristan doesn't change his expression in any way. Barely even looks at the scar dragging down Jacob's skin.
Instead Tristan asks, "What kind of schooling did you need for medical transcription? You have to have at least some knowledge of what the doctors and nurses are talking about, right? That's pretty cool."
Jacob glances around, trying to find someone, anyone with a cell phone pointed at them or chuckling behind their hands, proving this whole thing for the practical joke it must be.
He's more than a little surprised to find they're the only two people in the room. Where the fuck did everybody go?
Tristan shakes his head as he takes another pull from the beer bottle, "I'm no good at science and math, so even thinking about transcribing medical stuff makes my head spin. You must be pretty smart."
Maybe this Tristan guy is mentally deranged and due back at the asylum any minute. Jacob doesn't say a word.
Tristan just keeps going. "In fact, in school, I couldn't get past algebra. I had friends taking trig and calculus and just, no way. Couldn't do it. Probably why I was drawn so much to more abstract art. I mean, I know a lot of art has a mathematical element to it and that's super cool. Some of the greatest shows I've been to have created symmetrical works out of steel-like materials and God knows you've gotta have some kind of math in there to be able to do that," Tristan inhales, "probably why I'm so fascinated by it, but I know I couldn't do it if my life depended on it."
At this point, Jacob actually can't help asking, "So you're into art?"
Tristan's grin appears somewhat self-effacing. "I run the Council for the Arts downtown, so, um, yeah...you could say that."
Jacob's eyebrows lift. Wow. Tristan's pretty young to be put in charge of a nonprofit like that.
Tristan explains, "I can appreciate the technical art for the talent it takes to construct it, but it's the colors and paint strokes and story behind the art that really attracts me."
Jacob nods. He gets that. And for some reason feels compelled to add, "Yeah. It's like when you first see a picture or drawing or something and you lose your breath for a second."
Tristan's brown eyes snap up and Jacob can hear what he'd just said--more words than he's spoken to anyone other than Chris in probably years--and he sounded like some elementary school kid to boot. Jacob feels his face flush, "I mean..."
Tristan sits up a little straighter. "Don't take it back," he implores and how he knew Jacob was ready to do just that is mind-boggling. "That's exactly--exactly--what I'm talking about. That's what art can do. It's about bringing out a reaction, an emotion, in the audience." Tristan huffs a little laugh. "Damn, I wish some of my board members got that like you do."
Jacob smiles and has to look away. A warmth spreads outward through his chest and it's the first time he's experienced the sensation within the presence of another person probably since he was a teenager.
It's more than a little overwhelming.
Tristan asks, "So what kind of art gives you that reaction?"
Jacob blinks. Shit. There's no way he can tell Tristan that. "I...it's not..."
Tristan grins, "C'mon."
Jacob shakes his head, "I seriously don't...know anything about art, it was j-just..."
It's then that something happens that quite literally tilts Jacob's entire world.
Tristan leans forward and taps--just lightly--Jacob's knee. The touch curls through him like an electric shock. It takes a full ten seconds for Jacob to come back to the room to hear Tristan say, "Anything--and I mean anything--can be considered art, so tell me, seriously. What took your breath away?"
Other than you willingly touching me, you mean?
Jacob has just enough willpower not to say that out loud.
There must be something in Tristan's earnest expression that gives Jacob courage, even around his rapid heartbeat, and he hears himself say, "Wolverine seventy-five. Magneto stripped him of his adamantium and he got into a fight or something, I can't exactly remember, and without thinking, he went to extract his claws and when you turn the page, he was on his knees and there was blood everywhere and he was screaming and his claws were bone. He'd always thought they were part of the adamantium addition from the lab, but it turns out they were always a part of him. It was...yeah, pretty cool."
"Holy shit, man, yes!" Tristan flails in his chair and squeezes Jacob's knee. "I know exactly what you're talking about. Yes, that was fucking amazing. I stared at that for, like, ever. I remember looking at the artists to see the names of the people who did that. It was totally cool."
Jacob's frozen. Literally can't move. Between the shared experience and Tristan's hand still on his knee, it's too much to process.
Thankfully, in the next second, Chris steps between them and says, "Hey, glad you guys finally got a chance to meet."
Tristan pulls back and breaks contact and Jacob's able to inhale again, but it's shaky.
Tristan smiles up at Chris and says, with a finger aimed at Jacob, "This guy is awesome. I blame you for me not meeting him way sooner than now."
Chris chuckles, and says, "I'll take the heat." But glances back and forth between Tristan and Jacob and Jacob knows his best friend is drawing unwarranted conclusions here.
"You know," Chris says with mock chagrin, "I think I may have done a little too much celebrating to drive."
Jacob's ready to figure out how he's gonna spend the night here and still get to his house to start in on Dr. Masterson's notes tomorrow.
Chris continues, "Tristan, would you mind taking Jacob home?"
Jacob startles. Oh, he did not just do that. No fucking way. He looks up, eyebrows drawn tight, ready to tell Chris it's not happening when Tristan chimes in--without even knowing where Jacob lives--with, "Of course. No problem at all."
And Jacob's best friend looks like the cat that ate the fucking canary and Jacob never wanted to strangle him more in his life.