Scene designer Charlie Cox is in a clandestine relationship with the theater's lead actor, Ricky Moore. Charlie knows it will never be more than that because Ricky is too egotistical to want to be seen in public with a man who has deep burn scars on one arm. Not that Charlie blames him, since he's certain he’s a freak in almost everyone's eyes.
Jace Parish, the scene shop boss, is in love with Charlie but will never let him know. Jace thinks he’s uninteresting because he’s thirty and starting to bald, which makes him look middle-aged. He also has never admitted to anyone he works with that he’s gay.
Liam Dolan owns the gym where Jace comes to work out his anger and frustration. Liam has been drawn to Jace from the beginning but believes Jace is straight, so has never revealed his feelings to Jace.
Ricky Moore knows he is using Charlie for his own selfish ends. What Ricky can't figure out is why, when he can and does have anyone he wants in his bed, he keeps coming back to Charlie.
These four men have preconceived ideas about themselves and each other. What will it take for them to realize love is possible, if they will only give it a chance?
Jace didn’t mind Charlie being in the midst of everything at times. Far from it. He admired the fact that Charlie could see when something wasn’t coming out the way he’d planned and make suggestions that didn’t mean a major overhaul of one piece of the set or another. He also liked that when he made a suggestion, Charlie didn’t get on his high horse and ignore it. Jace had worked with a designer at another theater who did just that. It was the reason he’d quit the job and accepted the one here when it was offered to him. Jace knew his business, and understood what it took to make everything fall into place the way it should.
Jace also loved being in close proximity to Charlie on a semi-regular basis for more personal reasons. Not that he would ever say anything to Charlie. That wasn’t his way.
The reason I’ll never find the right man.
He often considered that. His reticence to make the first move, or any move. Hell, look at me, he’d think, staring into a mirror, thirty and counting, skinny, okay wiry according to someone a long time ago. Already showing a trace of male-pattern baldness. He’d rub the thinning spot in his blond hair in disgust. Hardly in the same category as Ricky, or half the other men around here.
Definitely not in the same category as Charlie.
Jace watched the younger man as Charlie studied the set that the crew had just completed for act one of the upcoming show. His mass of dark auburn hair was a tangled mess at the moment from his running his hand through it. His body tapered down from fairly broad shoulders to a narrow waist and an ass that, in the tight jeans he was wearing at the moment, almost made Jace lick his lips.
“He’s pretty fine.”
Jace turned in embarrassment to see Merianne standing there. “When did you slip in?”
“Just long enough ago to see you admiring him.” She cocked an eyebrow. “So are you going to do something about it? Him?”
“Jace. Why not? I was watching you the other night. Ricky wasn’t the only person at the bar you were checking up on. I didn’t want to say anything just in case someone overheard me.”
“Thank you,” Jace replied ardently.
“My question still stands. Are you going to do something about him?”
“And my answer still stands. Hell no. Why would he want someone like me?”
“Why wouldn’t he? How many times do I have to tell you what a wonderful man you are before you believe me?”
“You’re prejudiced because we’re friends,” Jace told her with a bit of a smile. “But you’re also female. Women look for different things in a man than another man does.”
“Pardon my French, but bull. I don’t care who you are, a person wants someone who will love them, care about them, care for them when the need arises. Someone who accepts them in spite of their faults and above all else, at least in my opinion, doesn’t try to make them into something they aren’t just to satisfy their own ego.”
“Whoa,” Jace said softly. “That’s quite a list you have there.”
“Am I wrong about any of it?”
“No, but you forgot one thing. The average person wants someone they feel proud to be seen with. Someone ...”
“So help me, Jace Parish,” Merianne broke in, “if you say handsome or beautiful I’m going to smack you. That’s just exterior. It’s what’s inside that counts when it comes to loving someone.”
“You two seem to be deep into a very serious discussion,” Charlie said, walking up to them. “Deciding the fate of the world?”
“No,” Merianne replied before Jace could say anything. “Debating if our leading actor is just a conceited ass or if he thinks the pedestal he’s put himself on is his God given place so that everyone can kneel before him and pray for his attention.”
“Wow. You don’t like him much, do you?” Charlie said with a tight smile.
“I don’t like anyone who uses people for his own ends,” she replied, giving Charlie a pointed look. “And on that note, I’d better get back to rehearsal before they send out scouts to find me.” She gave Jace a peck on the cheek, whispering, “Remember what I said,” and hurried away.
Charlie asked, “Are you two ...?”
“No,” Jace said, smiling. “We’re just good friends.”
“You could do worse.”
Jace shrugged. “If I were looking to have a woman in my life, yeah, she’d be a good catch. But I’m a confirmed bachelor.” Changing the subject before Charlie could reply, he said, “So, is there anything you want modified on the set before we start painting?”
“Nope. It’s perfect. I’ll leave you to it.”
When he rubbed the scar tissue on his left arm, Jace wanted to ask if it was bothering him -- almost didn’t, thinking it was none of his business -- and then did anyway.
“I’ve been so busy today I haven’t had time to exercise it since I got here.”
“Then go do it. Damn.” Jace shook his head.
“Going ... Dad.” Charlie turned to leave, stopped, and said, “Thanks for asking, and for caring.”
Jace winced at the ‘Dad’ then quickly covered it with a smile. “That’s what us father figures do.”
“No,” Charlie told him, “that’s what friends do. And I was out of line with the dad thing. Sorry.”
“Not a problem. Now go before I have to lecture you about taking care of yourself.”
“Going.” Charlie grinned and took off for his office.
I guess I know how he sees me. Jace sighed. No, Merianne, I am not going to say anything to him about my feelings. Getting shot down is not my favorite thing. Now, or ever.