THE COLOUR OF COLLARS
You can feel a kiss long after it’s been given.
The touch can linger for days, weeks even. Confusing you, thrilling you, causing a million and one thoughts and emotions to whirl inside threatening to break free at any given moment.
In the meanwhile you’re just going along. You get up in the mornings, hop on the train to work, chat with you colleagues and sometimes you join them for lunch. At the end of the workday you clock off and catch another train home. You talk to your cat while making dinner and maybe watch a movie before bed.
Then late at night just before you fall asleep, you feel it. You touch your neck and you don’t just feel it, you remember it.
You remember one night your friends dragged you to a club you never visit in clothes the light of day should never see. You were nervous, you felt out of place and the least attractive man there surrounded by hundreds of the most good-looking half naked men.
After an hour of feeling foolish and feverish a hand grips yours. Attached to this hand is the arm of a rather nice looking guy. He’s smiling as he pulls you away from the anonymity of your circle.
He guides you to the middle of the dance floor and before you know it you’re dancing. In complete surrender to the music you dance while time evaporates and during a slow your cocooned in his arms, pressing your chests together as you sway to the music.
Right then and there that's when it happens a squeeze of the arms and a kiss on the neck. The second the song ends tragedy strikes and you get whisked away by those well meaning friends of yours. Before you can object you’re in the club next door and by the time you get back to where you came from, he’s gone.
Every weekend I look out for the man I pulled on the dance floor. I haven’t seen him since. I’m not sure what came over me that night my body moved as if I hadn't been at the helm. I saw him and that was it. It’s not surprising he doesn’t remember me, back then I wasn’t very rememberable.
He was always shy, always kept his eyes down in class and hardly ever spoke up. I too lived in a fringe area between social accepted and dismissed. In my case it wasn’t cause I was shy but I mostly couldn’t be bothered with school. Existing in that gray area gave me the advantage to be noticed when I wanted to be and forgotten when I needed to be. High school was a horrible time for many different reasons but during those angst filled years I always kept an eye on Max.
Max with the caramel dark skin, large curls and thin lips. He always attracted my attention whenever he was around. Shy and cute but I’d seen different sides to him over the years too. Max took his stances quietly yet in such a way it astounded everyone, especially me. He’d been teased and picked on in school, not relentlessly yet it did make him despise all forms of bullying.
The day he came across Clarkson pushing this skinny little kid around he simply walked up and calmly stood in Clarkson’s way. He stood and stared and I could see the beads of sweat forming on his neck yet he didn’t move. Right as Clarkson was about to pounce on him to exact bully judgement he kicked him right in the gonads. Clarkson didn’t bother anyone ever again belief me. Or the time a biology substitute teacher was flapping his gums about dinosaurs being a hoax and evolution theory was just that a theory. Maw quietly and methodically packed his stuff and left the room without a word.
That was Max.
He was always there in my peripheral vision right up until graduation. When our paths differed so radically I never saw him again until that night at the club. He’s grown in the ten years since high school filled out some and ditched the glasses. Pity though cause I’ve always been fond of guys with specks. The sight of him lured me like a homing beacon, I recognized him instantly and being where we were there wasn’t a single thought running through my mind.
No contemplation just action.
You’ve all stood in front of the mirror thinking: Fuck.
Which is exactly what I’m doing right now. Looking at myself and thinking: ‘It’s time you grow some balls Max and go back to that club!’
I want to, I really do. I physically want to go back and find my mystery man. Why I want this so much has me confused. I’m not usually the go-getter type. It’s something I have been working on but approaching someone is daunting. I don’t consider myself a coward but when it comes to dating, well lets say I’m less than forthcoming.
I don’t know why.
You should see me during a strategy meeting, I’m known to bite through steel. A romantic interest however and I’m reduced to sweaty palms and selective mutism. Just like my old teenage self. When I do find my voice I say the most idiotic things. I feel like the Jeff character from Coupling if anyone remembers that, although luckily I don’t go around shouting vulva everywhere cause that would confuse things terribly. Then again I’ve had the urge to shout out phallus, which is the opposite of helpful in any given situation.
Standing in front of the mirror like this I feel like I’m attending an AA meeting. Except in my cause it wouldn't be Alcoholics Anonymous should be Apishly Awkward.
“Hi, I’m Max.” Hello Max “… and I’m Awkward.” *Applause*
My hand slowly crawls up to my neck and I feel it. I swear I still feel those lips presses against my skin. I need to go back.
Without my friends this time and probably in different clothes…
No. Definitely in different clothes.
Ok, in different albeit new clothes I’m standing in front of the club entrance thinking: Fuck, what the hell do I do!
Should I stay or should I go now?
Immediately the song tune plays in my head. Trying to ignore the Clash and debating if they’re indeed will be trouble, I step inside and hardly a second later I’m stepping out again.
This was a terrible idea. What the hell was I thinking? Shaking my head I walk home. If I go there will be trouble… If I stay there will be double…
You awkward fool.
You awkward spineless fool
Trammelant lane 87
Even lives in the same goddamn town as I do. I never knew he came back after college. Don’t the majority of the people that disappear off to a fare away college end up staying in the area they graduated? Or at the other side of the country whisked away by some big company…
I googled him. Of course I googled him it’s what you do nowadays, isn’t it? You google.
I know I shouldn’t have but I did and I’m surprised I found his address at all. Don’t judge me he hasn’t come back to the club and I’m getting desperate.
I need to devise a plan for us to meet again. In movies it’s always some serendipitous circumstance that makes it all happen but this isn’t the movies and I need to make this happen for myself.
Owning an electrician business does give me a lot of freedom in this area. Maybe I could show up at his house to fix something but got the address wrong… or… every scenario I come up with all just sounds stupid.
The trick would be to get him to contact me…
I woke up in a foul mood today. I guess it happens to everyone once in a while; you get up on the wrong side of the bed and you’re a royal asshole for the remainder of the day. I’ve been fully aware of my abdominal behaviour every time I snap at a co-worker or chewed out an underling for the smallest reason I feel awful afterwards.
Gilles my secretary took the brunt of my mood and by midday the guilt had me buying him box seat tickets for his favourite basketball team; he’s an avid sports fanatic. To safeguard the remainder of the staff I shut myself up in my office for lunch and get some much-needed work done with orders not to be disturbed. Although I only get half the work accomplished spending the other half of the time drumming my fingers on my desk, clicking the computer mouse unnecessarily and staring dejectedly out of the window.
What a fantastically rotten day it has been so far.
That night I feed into my need for affection and cuddle my cat. I’m lucky she lets me manhandle her like this. Ebony loves the attention and has a very won’t-claw-this-particular-human policy with me, which I’m grateful for. She also had a tendency to meow back at me when I talk to her and I talk to her all the time.
Crazy cat man yup that’s me…
We watch ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ together and I fall in love with the director all over again just like every time I watch one of his movies. The vibrant colours the dialogue, the humour filled with well know actors in cameo rolls. I love it.
At least I go to bed with a smile on my face that night, hoping tomorrow will be a better day than today.
The birds are chirping!
The sun is shining!
Even the air is crisp!
I’m thrilled I woke up in an exhilarated mood and the weather just seems to fuel me today. Tomorrow is Friday the last day of the workweek thank god. Checking the forecast I plan a hike this Saturday. This time of year is perfect to be outdoors, the summer lingering a little winter still a whiles away. I call a few of my well-meaning friends but all of them have plans this Saturday and suddenly hiking alone isn’t as appealing but I need to get out so I don't change my plans.
Maybe I should get a dog.
With a spring in my step and a tune to my whistle I greet my colleague’s with a smile that day. Gilles gives me raised eyebrow, he’s received the tickets cause I see them stalled out on his desk but only nods me good morning. We’ve been working together for a few years now. I know what he’s saying to me.
After an hour or so he comes into my office and sits down with his notepad in his lap.
“You seem in a better mood today.”
“Good rumour was already circulating you’d been infected with your sisters PMS.” He tells me dryly which has me cracking a smile leaning back into my chair.
I grew up with four sisters they call my office at every interval so naturally Gilles knows them pretty well by now. I’ve caught them calling the office just to talk to Gilles instead of me on more than a few occasions. My youngest sister Amelia has a thing for him and I’ve often noted the smile he sports when she calls. They've never met but I have a dozen family portraits on my desk.
“It won’t happen again.”
“Well not for another 28 days.” He grins. “I don’t mind getting tickets every time you get your panties in a wad.”
Like I said we’ve worked together for a good few years now and build a very good working relationship. Plus he’s been a good friend to have.
“I don’t wear panties Gilles.”
He raises his eyebrow again clearly wanting to comment on this but chooses not to for the time being.
“Any good mail today?” I ask as way of shifting this away from my undergarments.
“No, just the usual psycho crap.” He sigh but then slips into a more professional attitude he proceeds to give me a rundown of the day handing over several files he’s prepared. Gilles is a fantastic secretary, our job is teamwork and I’ve always treated him as an equal and he’s always behaved like one. Expect I sometimes loose my cool like yesterday, I still feel bad about that.
I step into the elevator and press the button to the seventh floor. I clutch my tool carrier and I swallow hard. I’m nervous. Today is a scouting mission. Again I’d been surprized how easily I found out where he worked. If I ever get to know him better i should raise the subject of safeguarding his privacy. Anyone could do what I did.
I don't quite know how to feel about that yet.
On the seventh floor I’m greeted by reception. Flashing my most charming smile and confident voice I lean against the reception desk acting as if I'm expected.
“Keegan Electrical, we were called in for a power disturbance?”
The skeptical look on the receptionists face has my confidence wavering, she’s seen right through my blatant lie. Oh shit. I had hoped to at least get a look around.
It seems though lady luck is on my side today.
“About time they called someone.” She grumbled lifting off her chair. Trying to mask my surprise I follow her through the maze of corridors and office spaces, checking every name plaque we pass. She leads me to a small kitchenette, she wasn’t joking cause already I could spot several problems in need of urgent repair.
“All the coffee machines have been out for about two weeks.” She informs me. “Do you know what that means?”
“Cold coffee?” I venture but my smile is wasted on her unimpressed stare.
“It means I’ve been having to make the coffee myself the old fashioned way. Do you have any idea how cranky these guys get when they don’t get their coffee?”
“Why weren’t we called sooner?” I ask setting my carrier down assessing what needed to be done. I catch myself acting on the job in front of me instead my actual intent in coming here. I have to remind myself I wasn’t called in at all but there’s no way I can leave this place like it is.
Every one has their professional pride whatever their profession may be.
“The computers work, the lights work and the Internets connected.” She says. “Anything else is low on their priority list. There is another one down the hall to your right and at the other end of the office.” With this she leaves me alone and I pry open an electrical socked.
I’m reaching for my cell within seconds.
“Hey Kevin, it’s Niko I’m at a rush job down on High Street and I won’t be able to make my 2… or 4 o`clock appointment today. Can you find cover?” I listen to his grumbles and hear him work magic arranging schedules. After my call I spend some time assessing the situation I’m in, the electrical one that is. I pry open several other sockets in the described areas in need of repair.
This does not look good. This does not look good at all.
I stretch out from behind my desk noting an empty coffee cup. Deciding to get my circulation going I step out of my office to find Gilles swamped in calls and files piled on his desk. He hasn’t ended a call or the phone is ringing again. I tap his equally empty cup and he gives me a grateful nod.
Making my way to the closest coffee pot I’m happy to see an electrician engrossed fixing the wiring. He’s sitting crossed legged on the floor with his back to me. Several tools are spread out beside him and I wish I could say what they were meant for but I don’t have a clue. I can barely operate my fuse box at home when needed so I have a healthy respect for people with skills far beyond my own.
“Oh, will we finally have our coffee machines operating again?” I ask conversationally while I fill my two cups from the gigantic thermos Alice makes every few hours to keep us all caffeinated and happy. His has his company cap turn backwards on his head to get better light to do his job. 'Keegan Electrical. We say let there be light!'
Keegan… the name sounds familiar. Not an uncommon name.
At first I get no acknowledgment on my comment and I guess the guy’s just too focused on his job to hear me but then he sighs loudly and shakes his head.
“I don’t know if I’m going to get this all repaired today.” His voice is deep and gravely holding my unwavering attention immediately. That is one hell of a vocal timbre. Forget electronics this guy should get into voice acting. He’s got a sturdy lean build from what I can spot as he’s bend over his work. He’s facing away from me and his head is mostly hidden away under his company’s cap with a few blond hairs peeking out from under it. “To be honest I …” he starts but stops.
“I’m surprised this places hasn’t burnt down as of yet.”
His statement has me frozen on my way out. “Why do you say that?”
“These wires have been tampered with.” His voice is set in deep concentration and as he sighs again. “Could you see send a supervisor or one of the bosses to me please? Then I think someone should call the police.”
“Are you serious?”
He half turns to look at me, the second our eyes meet his pop and I gulp audibly. His jaw drops and I guess my reaction is just about the same as I feel my mouth dry out.
“Er… Yes… Yes I’m very serious. This is serious.” He croaks and I nod fleeing the kitchenette. I speed walk back to my office, hurriedly put down both coffee cups on Gilles desk spilling some in my haste. Ignoring him for now I try to calmly rush over to Felix’s office my direct boss.
I enter his office without much ado since the door was open. Sitting as his desk he’s surprised to see me approach him in this way.
“There’s an electrician here telling us we need to call the police.” I breathe out getting a very confused frown for my effort. I take a deep breath and try again. “The guy that was called in to fix the coffee machines says there is something wrong with the wiring and it’s been done intentionally.” This gets Felix’s attention instantly. “He says he’s surprised the place hasn’t burned down yet.”
He’s up and out of his chair in a flash and I lead him to the kitchenette. I hear them discuss the issue noting the deep concern in the electrician’s voice. He’s picked himself up off the floor and I swallow hard standing so near to him as I am. He’s slightly taller than my height, broad shoulders and long legs where I have shorter legs but a long torso. He’s taken off his cap revealing his short blond hair and his light brown eyes dart to mine as he’s explaining his suspicions. I gulp again less audibly this time.
Felix turns to me and I’ve never heard his voice sound as serious as it does in this very moment. “Max call the police right now.” I nod and flee the kitchenette. By this time there is a small murmur spreading through the office and Gilles throws me a questioningly look as I approach.
I have the police on the phone within seconds. After the call with a unit on their way I once again speed walk out the door. Gilles opens his mouth to say something but I wave him down and finally reach the restroom. Locking myself in an empty stall I sit down and two simultaneous chills run down my spine.
One as I’m clutching the base of my neck remembering the kiss once again and having the giver of said kiss in the same building as I am. The other is at the thought of someone wanting to burn down our building. I inhale and exhale a few times calming myself and exit the restroom. In my calmer state I re-join Felix and the electrician.
“Mr. Keegan I need you to stay here to give the police a statement.”
“Please Felix it’s Niko.” The guy smiles. “I think we need to check the whole building Felix. Your receptionist told me the problem was contained within the kitchenettes but maybe this isn’t the only floor affected.”
“Good idea. Max take Niko to the first floor and work your way up I’ll come and find you when the police get here.”
“Of course.” I nod trying to hide the clearing of my throat. “Follow me please.” I lead Niko – at last a name! – to the elevators passes Gilles on the way. He’s off the phone for probably the first time today and eyes me concernedly ‘What’s happening?’ he mouths and I gesture to him ‘later’.
Waiting for the elevator I nervously stand beside Niko. Stealing a glance at him I’m caught in his full on stare but before anything could be said the elevator announced it’s arrival and the doors slide open. Once inside the silence between us is filled with corny generic elevator music. For the next 30 minutes I explain to each company in the building why we need to check their electrics. No other company has reported any faulty electronics or power disturbances. By the time the police arrive we’ve checked two floors and cleared them both.
I feel helpless and a little stupid standing by Niko watching him work leading him like some handler through the building but the fact this needs to be done scares me even more.
This day hasn’t turned out like I expected it would at all. For the life of I never imagined I’d be giving statements the police at three in the afternoon with Max standing beside me. I fudge the details about being called in but nobody really questions me about it. They all assume it was someone’s job to call me and that someone did their job whoever they were.
Honestly… It scared me to death finding the wiring in the state it was. It was expertly done, if they'v already had electrical trouble for the passed three weeks it wouldn’t have been long until something terribly wrong was about to happen. So far the sabotage could only be traced to the seventh floor. I told Felix and the police I’d be staying to check all the floors just to be sure after that it’s up to the police to do whatever they do and however they do it to investigate the whole thing.
I hadn't realized it was Max who’d spoken to me in the kitchenette. That night in the club I hadn’t actually heard his voice and for the life of me I can’t remember his voice from back in high school. I’d been entirely absorbed with the faulty electrics, for a moment there I’d actually completely forgotten about him. What scout mission?
Looking up, the shock of seeing him and the acknowledgement on his face brought back the reality of the situation. Though nothing was said. Our communication consisted out of on topic questions and answers, expect for the glances. They told me that night at the club had been memorable for him too, in some way at least.
Or is that what they call wishful thinking...
Felix hired me to come back tomorrow after the police gathered what evidence they need, to fix all the faulty wiring. The building consists out of fourteen floors and by seven o’clock at night I had checked every single kitchenette it contained. Max had stayed behind to lock up after I was done. I wasn’t sure if this meant he didn’t trust the security guards to lock up after me or that it was me he didn’t trust. Before long we were the only ones there.
“It’s getting late I’ll finish for the night so you can head home.” I try to make conversation once again while packing up my tool carrier. I’ve been trying to get him to talk all afternoon to no avail. He strictly keeps to business and I can respect that to a certain extent but now I just want to talk to him.
“Yeah.” He smiles a first for the day; I can’t remember him smiling much in high school. “Wouldn’t want to keep the mistress of the house waiting.” His sentence is immediately followed by the clatter my pliers falling to floor. I turn my back to him as I pick up my tool hiding my face.
Mistress of the house?
I hide my face cause I would surely betray my shock. If he was at that club it mostly only means one thing, so if he’s married or has a girlfriend and still goes to clubs like that dressed the way he was...
Then he isn’t the kind of man I want or could be with. In a split second my whole understanding of the situation shifts. Max Hastings isn’t what I thought he was. I know we all change over time; the man I am now is certainly no the boy I was in high school.
Though I had thought deep down somewhere the foundations of our character stay the same.
He’s quiet behind me and I copy his mute manner as I pack up. The silence remains as we enter the elevator and he presses the button for the ground floor. So far during our time together I’d always stood at that fraction closer than social convention warrants. Now I’m standing that fraction further away. Standing there crossed armed I tap my fingers on my forearm impatiently. In the small confined space of the elevator with the walls barely inches away the same old generic elevator music fills the air.
Keeping my eyes on the floor lights as we descend 7 – 6 – 5 I notice him fidget out of the corner of my eye. I ignore it and keep watching the lights 4 – 3 – …
“FF-“ a sound comes out of his mouth and I automatically glance at him. His face is as pale as I’ve ever seen it and he’s wringing his fingers together 2 - 1 .
“F—Feline!” he all but shouts out.
- 0 -
The elevator doors slide open to the now deserted lobby but all he does is stare at me as if I’m crazy. I feel crazy don’t worry, from the second he’d dropped his pliers earlier the realization of what had just come out of my mouth hit my like a ton of bricks.
Panic surged through me while we made our way to the elevator he didn’t look at me again and his stance significantly colder toward me. I knew this the short elevator ride was going to be the last time we’d be alone like this if I didn’t change my mistake and change it bloody fast.
I’m just happy the word didn’t transform from feline to phallus en route to my mouth. It’s played trick on me before. I took advantage of his momentary confusion to push to the 14 and the elevator doors slide closed once again.
He frowned at this and his lips tightened clearly annoyed but silent. “Feline.” I repeated again berating myself to actually form a sentence instead of a word.
“She’s feline.” Better though not quite there yet. Again he frowns but his body turns to me giving me his full attention as the elevator rode up the 14th floor. He furrows his brow waiting for me to continue. “My cat she’s feline…” of course a cat is feline you idiot! “I mean. She’s my mistress.” I burt out feeling the tension in my hands as I’m apparently wringing through them. “No, I- I mean the cats like the mistress of the house…” I fizzle out deflating as the elevator dings it’s arrival on the 14th floor and the doors slide open.
This time the elevator doesn’t reveal a deserted floor but a young woman holding a stack of files. She enters and pushes the button for three floors down only giving us a slight nod acknowledging our existence. I push button for the ground floor otherwise the elevator will stay on the eleventh floor. Niko’s stance hasn’t altered his face has lost his confused look but apart form that he's unreadable. Only his eyes stay fixed on mine as the elevator dings and the young woman exits.
The second the doors slide closed again his whole body language changes. Every single muscles relaxes, letting his tool carrier slide of his shoulder to floor as his face changes into one intense relief.
“Oh thank god.” He breathes shifting one foot towards me, taking my face in his hands and my lips to his in one fluid motion. His movements pull me up against his chest and although I’m stunned at the suddenness of this ‘attack’ I clutch to him and press myself closer still.
I feel his thumb stroke my cheek and unbeknownst to him it’s the one gesture that makes me melt instantly. He releases my lips, kissing down my jaw down to the back of my ear keeping tightly ahold of me. “Please Max, please.” He pleads softly
I’m nodding before I manage to croak a Yes.
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