With his right hand flat against the cool texture, he considered.
“Exposed beams,” a man’s voice said, echoing his exact thought. “I love this building. There is something very East Village about it.”
Yes. Definitely. Way less East Hamptons than the last office space they had visited. Way more East Village. Urban but earthy. And solid.
Private business was the logical step once He had tired of the world of academia and the twenty-somethings that lacked imagination, or even interest, in the vastly lucrative yet elusive art of spinning relationships and curated information into gold. All he had ever found were Gen Nexters who treated ambition like a dirty word and entitlement like the gospel. He could tell exactly which students were offspring of alumni and which were on scholarship.
But most of the young adults he taught simply lacked hunger. Even the concept of hunger was foreign to most of his students, thus putting them at a distinct real world disadvantage. There is a special brand of hunger that is engrained in the ones who come from nothing, a recognition of opportunity and luck that is rarely squandered by those who came from less. A recognition without which, He never would have found his own success.
Doing the Ivy League circuit, He had little occasion to come across students like himself who came from nothing. After four uninspired years lecturing in colleges and universities, teaching numbers and facts running, he had had enough. No longer could he ignore his own immutable hunger for personal financial success. The yearning to have more. Be more.
This 40 by 40 industrial space was unusual for an old city like Washington DC, but it possessed a certain energy in its vastness. The energy of potential. He was great at spotting potential, in things, in people; even if he rarely exerted the effort to help that potential blossom. But he had made an exception with Her. And for Her. In many ways, She was just like him. Too smart, too talented and eager to see how huge a pot of gold she could weave for herself. This would be her space too.
He turned decisively, at the thought of her. His measure of assessment shifted. Would this new space be big enough for the two of them, big enough for two uber-brilliant financial minds? Hers was the largest personality between them but there needed to be significant room for each of them to stretch their well-deserved egos.
Brooklyn versus the Bershires.
“You’re high if you think you’re getting a piece of that!”
Way Brooklyn he thought as he and the realtor both turned toward the open door and the closing door across the hall, where shouting had erupted. “And don’t think I’m gonna settle ‘til I get back every…”
With a forced smile, the realtor innocently waved a single index finger, before quickly trotting through the door and across the hall, a new crescendo of shouting as the doors open and quietly closed.
There was a reason Mia was the first and only person He had ever considered for his business partner. She was smart, she was good and they both knew it. She would pursue anything once she set her mind to it. She knew exactly how hard to push and precisely who would or wouldn’t return her calls. Mia was a great match for him professionally. But working together would always be a different test. Could they successfully transition their former teacher/student relationship into equal partners? Work Friends? He thought they could, especially since she had perhaps even more boundary issues than he did.
He studied the ceiling and his assessment meter shifted yet again. Was this office big enough to be impressive to potential clients? He had dismissed the notion as quickly as he had thought it. Mia and he would start modest, but they would not be there for long. The growth in their client base would reflect the prestige of their firm, showy office space would come later.
Chic and forward thinking versus safe and conservative. But solid. Sure.
Once again, He placed his hand flat against the space between the two windows. He closed his eyes and waited, hoping to sense the sturdiness of the structure itself. He noted how well the walls absorbed the rumble and vibrations of the street below. In fact, the sound of the street was far more present than the shockwave of the congested streets, subtly nudging at the building face.
He had learned to judge the constitution of a structure just by the simple motion of touching the walls. It was a skill developed from a childhood riddled with the terror and violence of Oklahoma’s tornado season. Nights when he shared a makeshift cellar with his family of seven because the storm had come upon them too fast and there was no time to evacuate the school gymnasium like most of the other families in the trailer park. He had acquired an almost phobic expertise for what buildings would last, what a building could take. Those childhood traumas bred a deep need to know a location’s fortitude; a need to know he was safe.
This was a good building. Solid. Sturdy. True.
Washington DC was not known for its tornadoes or earthquakes. Nevertheless, He would always be rigorous when testing a place’s structural integrity before calling it home.
“Well?” Luke the realtor asked entering the office.
“Torn,” he confessed finally. “I like it. Although I’m a little concerned with the noise level.”
The realtor darted a thumb back over his shoulder. “What that? You don’t need to worry about that.”
“But I do,” he answered wryly.
“Let me buy you a drink and we can discuss it,” Luke offered. “We’ve got big plans for this building, and the others you’ve seen today. Although, I can tell, this one is the winner, isn’t it?”
He took a deep breath, then exhaled without shaping words.
“I know. Look, don’t answer now. We can discuss it over fried zucchini. We’ve got a whole 90 minutes left to happy hour. What do you say?”
“I don’t know about you, but my work day ended…” Luke glanced at his cell phone. “…eight minutes ago?”
“So I guess that means I owe you night premium?” he joked, then suddenly heard himself.
“Well, I’ve never heard it called that before but-”
“I just meant”-
“I know what you meant,” the realtor smiled calmly. He took a step backwards, his hands showing his client the open office door. “Let’s start with a drink.”
The men exchanged a smile, a nod and exited the office space. As the realtor worked his key into the door lock, “Domestic or imported.”
He had always taken an unreasonable joy in doing the gospels. Guys named Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tended to be especially… adventurous. The moment the realtor uttered his name, Luke, He knew he would partake equal parts business and pleasure from this man.
Leo tapped softly at his laptop, scanning the market ticker alongside the business page. More than twice he stopped to gaze at the still body beside him in bed. Smooth, freckled broad shoulders. Hard biceps and strong arms wrapped in a bear hug around two lucky pillows. Thick, blonde highlighted auburn hair. This man was just want Leo wanted. Just what he needed, no more, no less.
As if he knew Leo was watching him, Luke turned over. He batted his eyes sleepily, smiling at Leo. “You start early.”
“Early bird catches the worm,” Leo answered modestly.
“I can tell. Your worm is pretty fantastic.”
“Thanks,” Leo murmured, unable to suppress the blush that followed. Rarely did he talk with a hook-up, much less get compliments. It felt weird. “Listen, I’m grateful for the guided tour yesterday. But I can’t lease that office.”
“You saying you didn’t see anything you liked?” Luke asked, tugging at the sheet tucked around Leo’s waist.
Leo couldn’t help but smile at the double-entendre. Collecting his thoughts he said, “My business office needs an atmosphere of sophistication.”
“You’re concerned about-“
“The Real Housewives of DC across the hall,” Leo finished.
Luke lazily sat up on one elbow. “It’s like I said, we want a more elite clientele in that property as well. Most of the current tenants will be bought out or have to pay a high rent.”
“What if they like the building?’
Luke sat back on his heels, his smooth naked body on full display before Leo’s eyes. “The new scale is strategically priced to attract the kind of tenants such as yourself. It’s the kind of business we both want. Although, because you would be the first to come in under the new contracts, I’m sure I could offer you a modified, introductory rate.”
“You’d do that for me?” Leo asked evenly.
Leo secretly loved how playful his conquest was being so early in the morning. Nevertheless, he maintained his composure, after all he was working. “I would appreciate that.”
“Then it’s settled.” Luke kissed Leo slowly, apparently delighted at the taste of a sale; or perhaps it was the hint of toothpaste on Leo’s lips. “How about breakfast? Do you know that you live across the street from the best bagel shop in DC?”
“Raincheck?” Leo said cautiously.
Luke sighed, knowingly. “Right.”
“Well, I’d better start my day…”
“Relax.” Luke answered before Leo could finish. He rolled out of bed. “There’s nothing awkward here. Just having a little fun. I can see myself out. After I shower, of course.”
Leo watched Luke saunter into the bathroom, silently enjoying the view. “Of course.”