On a scale of one to ten, DJ Joe Salinas considers himself a four, five on a good day. Actor/part-time stripper Fess Kedley is definitely a nine, however, and Joe's pretty sure that slides into a ten as soon as the clothes come off. So when the outgoing Fess recognizes a shy Joe from his midnight radio show at a bachelorette party and proceeds to ask him out, Joe turns Fess down, convinced the man's either crazy or stupid.
The only problem is, Fess takes rejection as reason to keep on trying.
The two become unexpected friends, so when the thought of trying a date comes up again, Joe decides to take a chance. Though he doesn't understand what someone like Fess can see in someone like him, it's hard to say no when everything else feels so right.
The Hollywood Grill wasn't haute cuisine, but it was cheap, it was filling, and best of all, it was always open when Joe got off work. The kitschy decor featured the typical movie memorabilia, bright and comforting in its familiarity, but sitting in the booth by the window, Joe felt anything but. The paper from his straw sat in a shredded pile next to his second Diet Coke, the broken lines of the tic-tac-toe game he'd played against himself dried in the ring of condensation.
Casual as it was, it was his first date in ten months. The first one he'd instigated in two years. Fess might believe he was overthinking, but Fess probably got hit on all the time. He had no idea what rejection felt like.
Joe glanced at his phone. Five twenty-eight. Fess wasn't going to show.
The door swung open. Right on cue, Fess came strolling in.
He looked both different and the same. Joe knew those dancing dimples, the laughing eyes, but without the cap to hide them, his blond curls were a veritable riot, tumbling across his forehead, over his ears, at his nape, making him look barely legal to drink. He seemed smaller out of the costume, too, though not in a Michael J. Fox way. More of a "holy crap, he doesn't have a single pinch of spare fat anywhere behind those muscles." He wore a plain gray T-shirt that had seen better days, washed thin enough to reveal the tight peaks of his nipples against the fabric, and jeans that hugged his slim hips and strong thighs.
Joe froze. He was Bigfoot trying to get it on with Captain America. This had disaster written all over it.
Then Fess saw him and broke out into such a wide, excited grin, Joe couldn't help but smile back.
"You have no idea how good it is to see you," Fess said as he slid onto the opposite bench. "I had all these scenarios going through my head on the drive over here where I walked in and you were nowhere to be found."
His words so closely echoed Joe's thoughts, he couldn't help but say, "Why wouldn't I be here?"
Fess shrugged. "You could've changed your mind."
"I'm the one who asked you."
"You're also the one who kept turning me down." He grabbed the menu Joe had set aside and began scanning over the options. "You're lucky I'm an actor so I know how to take rejection."
Joe let that sink in, more than a little agog. Fess was right. He'd been so wrapped up in his own anxieties, his own head, he hadn't considered how it looked to Fess.
"I'm starved." Fess was oblivious to Joe's speechlessness. "Did you order yet?"
Fess waved over the young blonde waitress, flashing her a thousand-watt smile. "Can I get the veggie skillet with a side of multi-grain pancakes and coffee, please?" He slid the menu back to Joe as she wrote it down. "Your turn."
His debate about changing his mind on what he wanted lasted only the time it took to remind himself if Fess didn't want to date him the way he was, it wasn't worth it. "The Bahama pancake with extra nuts, a side of bacon, and another Diet Coke, please."
"I am so jealous," Fess said once they were alone again. "Your moneymaker doesn't rely on hours at the gym to work off that bacon."
Joe bit back his natural inclination to snipe about gym rats. The date would fail for sure if he went judgmental when Fess hadn't said a derogatory word yet. "Why acting?" he asked instead. They'd never discussed it before. "For that matter, why stripping?"
"The stripping was an accident. A buddy got a callback at Second City and begged me to take over his assignment so he didn't lose his job in case he didn't get the gig. The tips were so good, when they offered me a job, I decided to take it."
"So you do it for the tips? It's not ..." He searched for a word that wouldn't be bitchy. It wasn't easy. "Embarrassing?"
"Not any worse than some of the shit I have to do for auditions. Besides, it's got definite pluses." He ticked them off on his fingers. "It forces me to stay in shape, I make a ton of contacts, and I never have to deal with reprimands because of unfortunately timed hard-ons in front of clients."
"How is that possible?"
"Gay guys don't care enough to complain, and I never get hard when it's women." His gaze flicked downward as he started to twirl his silverware along the table. "Well, once I did. But it didn't last long enough to be a problem."
"What happened that time to make it different?"
The look Fess shot up through his lashes was shockingly shy. "I talked to you before I went on."
As a line, it was a good one. Unexpected. Flattering.
The weirdest part about it was, Fess looked like he was telling the truth, too.