“Toby, Mr. Johnson is requesting you in his office,” Jeanette said. She was the administrative assistant for the engineers in Toby’s area.
“He is? Did he say what for?” Toby asked. He had been working on a project that one of the senior engineers had passed off to him when Jeanette had stuck her head in Toby’s doorway to deliver the news.
“No, he just said to ask you to stop by his office.”
Toby nodded. “Okay, thanks.” He could already feel the sweat beading up on his brow.
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Jeanette tried to reassure him then slipped out the doorway and back down the hall.
Toby’s mind started reeling; ticking off the different projects he had been involved in, trying to think of which one would have been turned into Johnson already. Usually after he was through with them, the senior engineer would go over his work before passing it on.
There was one that he had been working on last week, he remembered it was due yesterday, that had to be the one. Toby remembered he had agonized over it, finally turning it in just under his deadline. Now he kicked himself mentally for not going over it one more time.
Then a worse thought occurred to him. Maybe somehow his boss had found out his secret, his meth use. Chase had assured him that as long as he wasn’t getting wasted with it, or bringing it to work with him, the bosses wouldn’t care. As long as he was getting the work done they wouldn’t care what his edge was. Toby just couldn’t believe this. No, somehow his boss had found out and now he was about to be fired. He felt his bowels roll as a new sheen of cold sweat broke out over his face. He sat there at his desk, his head in his hands while trying to pull himself together. Finally he gathered himself up and headed to his boss’s office. It was time to face the music.
“Anderson,” Mr. Johnson said when Toby appeared in the doorway. “Come on in, sit down.” He seemed friendly enough. Not angry like Toby had expected he would be. “Are you okay? You look a little pale.”
“Oh,” Toby said taking a seat. “Just a little tired maybe.” He felt anything but, it was simply the first thing he could think of. “Jeanette said you wanted to see me?”
“Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about this last project.” Mr. Johnson held up a file folder. Toby couldn’t make out the name on the label but he assumed it was the one he had fretted over.
Toby sighed; okay at least he wasn’t getting fired. “I should have put in more effort on that one, I’m sorry.”
“No, no. Not at all, Toby. I find your work brilliant.”
“Yes. That’s why I asked Jeanette to have you come see me. I know you’ve been working with some of our senior engineers and they have all been very pleased with your work. So I’d like you to take on a project for me. What do you say? Do you think you’re up to it?”
“Yes sir. Thank you, sir,” Toby answered with great relief and adequate enthusiasm.
They spent the next hour going over the ins and outs of the project and just exactly what was expected from Toby on it. It was a major account and a critical system to boot. There was no room for error. Toby left his boss’s office with his head spinning.
That evening when Toby finally left work he swung by to see if Chase happened to be home. His stash of crystal was low and if he was going to be working on the new project with his boss he definitely needed his edge.
“Hey, Toby,” Chase said answering his door. “What’s up?”
“You’ll never guess. My boss called me into his office today,” Toby said breathlessly, as he walking into the cramped apartment and took a seat on the sofa.
“Oh yeah? Good or bad?”
“Good, well I mean, yeah, good. But I’m a little freaked out.”
Toby went on to tell Chase about the project and a little of what it would entail.
“That’s great, Toby.”
“Yeah, it is, but really I’m more than a little freaked out.”
“Because, what if I can’t cut it?”
“Toby, if you couldn’t do it, he wouldn’t have picked you.”
“Yeah, I suppose so. So hey, I think I need to buy some more tina from you. Can you help me out?”
“Sure, how much do you need?”
Wednesday evening Samantha climbed the stairs up to her apartment. As she came to the landing for her floor, there stood Allen.
“Well, hello lovely lady. How are you this evening?”
She was tempted to roll her eyes at his cheesy come on, but instead she smiled. “I’m just fine, Allen. How are you?”
“Fine,” he nodded. “I’m on my way down to Lonnie’s for a beer. Care to join me?”
Lonnie’s was a little pub down the block from their building. Samantha knew she should probably say no, but really she had had a tough day and she knew Jason would be at the office until nine or ten. “I’d love to, give me five minutes to change clothes.”
“I’ll wait right here,” Allen said, a big loopy grin spreading across his face.
What are you doing? Seth’s voice rang in her head as she dashed down the hall to her apartment. She pushed that voice from her head.
Slipping on a pair of jeans and t-shirt she pondered if she was crazy. It was obvious Allen was sweet on her. On the other hand there was nothing wrong with going out for a beer with her neighbor. And if it did lead to more, it wasn’t like she and Jason had made any promises.
She ran a comb through her hair and applied a little lip-gloss. It was just a friendly beer she told herself and dashed back out the door. Allen was standing right where she had left him.
“That was quick,” he said looking at her as she approached.
She shrugged. It’s just a beer, she thought to herself again
“So,” she asked as the walked down the sidewalk, “Are you from the city?”
“Yeah. I was born and raised not that far from here. My mom still lives there.”
“Yeah. You’re from the Midwest some where, right?”
“How did you know that?” she was a little creeped out to think he might have been investigating her.
She relaxed and chuckled. “I don’t have an accent.”
“Yeah you do. So where are you from?”
They spent the rest of evening swapping stories in a corner booth at Lonnie’s over long necks and pretzels. When they finally walked back to the apartment building she was really tempted to ask him in. He walked her to her door and just as she was about to open her mouth to let the invitation roll out, she heard her phone ring inside the apartment. It would be Jason calling her as he did every night when he left work.
“Um, thanks for the beer, Allen I had fun.”
“Yeah, I did too. So how about I cook you dinner tomorrow night? I make a mean lasagna.”
“Okay, but only if you let me bring a salad or something.”
“Make it garlic bread and you have a deal.”
“Garlic bread it is.”
Wednesday night Seth had barely left his office when his cell phone rang.
“Seth? It’s Cole.”
Seth stopped “Cole, hey, what’s up?”
“Not much, just wondered of you wanted to hook up this evening?”
A smile graced Seth’s lips. “Sure - your place or mine?”
“Actually neither. There’s a club not far from where I live that’s having a drag show. A friend of mine is performing and I thought we could go and watch.”
“A drag show? Really?” Seth couldn’t see Cole being into drag queens.
“Not your thing?”
“No, it’s more that I didn’t think it would be yours.”
Cole chuckled. “Well you would never get me on stage, but yeah, I enjoy a good drag show.”
“Okay, then. What time?”
They made plans for Cole to swing by and pick Seth up little later on. Cole offered to take him to a ‘great Mexican place’ for dinner. Seth agreed and then rang off and hurried to catch his bus so he would have time for a shower before Cole arrived.
“So how do you like your job so far?” Cole asked over tacos.
“It’s pretty good. I still have so much to learn, but I like the company.”
“And Austin? You like the city okay too?”
Seth chuckled, “Yeah, it’s not nearly as ‘cowboy’ as I expected.”
“Yeah, it has a decent gay scene, for a city in Texas; definitely better than San Antonio. Dallas isn’t too bad either. But, seriously haven’t you ever heard of ‘nothing in Texas except steers and queers’?”
“No,” Seth said laughing.
“It’s true you know.”
At the club they cheered and sang along with the drag queens. Cole’s friend came over and sat with them after she performed. “You were really good,” Seth told her.
After the show Cole invited Seth over to his place for mind blowing sex.
To Seth’s surprise Cole asked him to sleep over, Seth assumed it was since they both had to get up early the next morning and he wouldn’t be hanging around.
He awoke in the dark to Cole nudging him and telling him to answer his cell. Seth felt around on the floor next to the bed until he found his pants and phone.
“Hello,” he said without bothering to look at the display to see who was calling at this time of night.
“Seth, I’m freaking out.”
“Toby, what time is it?”
“I don’t know, five.” That meant it was three a.m. in Austin.
“What are you on?” it was obvious that Toby was strung out.
“It’s not that, it’s my job.”
“Okay, but tell me what you’re on anyway?”
“Why do you think I’m on anything?” Toby was instantly defensive.
“Because I know you and I can hear it in your voice. So talk to me.”
“Fuck you.” Toby shouted and disconnected the call.
Seth sighed and rolled out of bed.
“Problem?” Cole asked.
“Yeah, sorry I woke you. I’ll go in the other room and call him back.”
“No, college friend. He moved out to San Francisco and I think he has gotten himself into trouble, but I can’t get him to talk to me.”
“What make you think he’s in trouble?” Cole asked sitting up in bed.
“Mainly that he’s shutting me out.” Seth answered sitting back down. “We met in college and he has always idolized me; followed me around everywhere and told me everything. Suddenly he won’t return my calls or answer my emails. When I finally do get hold of him he only says he’s too busy with his job.”
“So, maybe he is.”
“I want to believe that, Cole I really do, but my gut tells me that there’s something more.”
“Did he do a lot of partying when you were in college?”
“Not really. We went clubbing a lot, but Toby was usually the one that stayed halfway sober and seldom did any drugs. I was the one that was teetering out of control.”
“But you think he’s in trouble with drugs now?”
“Yeah, maybe. I don’t know.”
“Maybe you should go out there, see for yourself.”
“That’s what I want to do, but when I try to schedule a visit, he blows me off. Says now isn’t a good time. Tonight was the first time he has called me in ages and at first he sounded scared like had done something or taken something but then he got all pissed off and out of control, just like some one flipped a switch.”
“Well, if it’s drugs I’d bet its crystal meth.”
“Really? Wow. I can’t imagine Toby getting caught up in that, but now that you mention it, well, it makes sense.”
They were interrupted by Seth’s phone ringing again.
“Toby?” he answered.
“I’m sorry Seth, Really I just… Well, I guess I’m a little edgy. Work is crazy pressure and I’m not getting enough sleep. I’m sorry I snapped at you.”
“S’okay. But let me ask you one question.”
“Is it meth?”
“What? No. No, Seth, really, it’s work. And now my boss has pulled me in to do a project for him.”
“That’s great, Toby.”
“I know it should be, but it’s not. I’m so afraid I’ll fuck it up.”
“Toby, you’ll be fine. You just need to get some sleep. Quit working on whatever it is and go lay down for a few hours, okay?”
“Yeah, you’re right, I just need some sleep. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. G’night, Toby.” Seth hung up the phone and looked at Cole. ”If it’s meth he’s really in over his head because he won’t even admit to me he’s using.”
“Maybe that not it, Seth. Maybe it’s something else.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Seth said laying back down next to Cole. “Maybe.”