Don’t do it. Be strong. But Parker, seated at the corner table that provided cover, couldn’t stop himself. He picked up his phone and, liked he’d done not even two minutes ago, opened Cuddlr. No new messages. He chucked it back on the table and bit down on the inside of his mouth. God, I’m pathetic.
It was hard to resist an app like Cuddlr that packaged love into the essentials — height, weight, age, race, scene and position. Fields on a screen that didn’t say much about a guy’s personality or reveal, in a meaningful way, anything about him. And frighteningly addictive, the app had thrown him a lifeline. It gave him a way to connect to a world he felt stood against him. That was what had Parker hooked, had him always reaching for his phone. Now he was trying to pull back, moderate its use.
“Morning,” the alto voice boomed.
Parker looked up, stared into the probing ocean blue eyes that sometimes terrified him and smirked. “Jacob Harding in the flesh!”
“Ha-ha.” Jacob hung his blue military-style jacket on the back of the chair. “You didn’t think I’d show?”
“Thought you would’ve gone out partying and had company this morning.”
“I’m not a ho.”
Parker raised an eyebrow. “Debatable.”
Jacob flinched. Then, after a moment, they laughed.
“Latte?” Parker asked, rising slightly.
“I’ll get it.” Jacob headed for the counter.
Parker found himself, one more time, with his phone in his hand. This time he shut it down to ward off temptation. Then his gaze landed on Jacob’s round bubble butt that had him feeling the heat burn in his cheeks. He’d never done that before … check out his friend. Now I’m just desperate.
“So, this is your spot,” Jacob said, settling into his chair.
“Yes.” Parker picked up his mug. “The coffee’s good, and so is the food.” He’d been telling Jacob about Octavo since it opened eight months ago. The cosy café-diner on Front Street West was where he stopped for an Americano on the way to work.
Parker and Jacob, junior lawyers at a prominent Toronto firm, had both just graduated with a master’s degree in international criminal law. They’d met on the first day of articling, their cubicles side-by-side. That made for an easy, if not accidental, alliance. Neither one of them could remember when it happened, but discovering that the other was gay shored up their bond. Their friendship, five years on, was anchored, real and deep.
Jacob sipped his latte. “That’s good coffee.” Then he pointed at Parker’s phone. “Make any progress on the manhunt?”
Parker bristled. “It’s not a manhunt. I’m not like you. I’m not always on the prowl.”
“And that’s why you’re not getting laid.”
“Really?” Jacob ran his hand through his dark hair. “That’s hard to imagine when you find something wrong with every guy who messages you. Who are you saving yourself for?”
“The guy who won’t give me Chlamydia or gonorrhea,” Parker said cheekily. “Besides, I’m not the type to fall in love with a headless torso.”
“Not even for an hour?” Jacob smiled.
There it was, in that grin, something that softened the harshness in Jacob’s rugged face. Maybe that was why Parker now found himself doing what most men and women did in Jacob’s presence. His eyes were glued to his friend’s ripped chest that seemed set to burst through the snug-fitting shirt. He has the GQ looks and style all the guys are after. He’s perfect. Absolutely perfect. The gurgling of the coffee machine made him look up. “You can certainly do better than that,” he said with an edge.
Jacob shrugged. “The app makes it easy when you’re horny, short on time and need a quick fix. I’m not talking about love or —”
“It’s just so…” Parker’s voice trailed off. Dirty. But he’s right. It’s the Quik Mart of sex, as if you can walk right into the store and grab sex off the shelf, whatever the fetish.
“This is how it’s done now.” Jacob drummed his fingers on the table. “So, if you’re getting laid, dish.”
“No,” Parker said firmly and reached for his mug. “You might be my best friend, but there are certain things about me you don’t need to know. And vice versa.”
“Oh, come on. I tell you everything.”
Parker choked on his coffee and coughed. “I know. Without me asking!”
They laughed. Parker only half-listened as Jacob talked about what had happened in the office while he was away. He was more concerned with why Jacob seemed so interested in knowing the details of his love life. It felt like the beginning of a deposition, but he didn’t know what Jacob hoped to discover or why. But he had no interest in turning their Cuddlr experiences into a competition. And, really, how was he supposed to compete with Jacob-the-heartthrob-Harding?
With their drinks done, they stood and put on their coats as they made for the exit.
“Have you changed your mind about tonight?” Jacob asked as they stood on the sidewalk. “The DJ’s from New York. He’s supposed to be amazing.”
“Every weekend you ask me to go to FLY,” Parker said askance. “Every weekend I say no. It’s not my scene. Why do you keep asking?”
“Because I think you might have fun if you’ll let yourself,” Jacob spat.
“I’m going to the Warhol exhibit,” Parker said.
“That’s this afternoon. You could go anytime. And the AGO…” Jacob sucked his teeth. “Now there’s a great place to meet men.”
“It could happen,” Parker said.
“And God could tap me for the next Immaculate Conception,” Jacob shot back.
“You’re no virgin.”
“Oh, fuck off.”
They stood in silence, their eyes roving the street. It was as if they were afraid that making eye contact would spark another confrontation. Why were they now on edge?
Parker found Jacob’s gaze and held it. “Have a good weekend. See you Monday.”
“Tuesday,” Jacob corrected. “I have a couple of medical appointments Monday. Taking the day off.”
“Is everything all right?” Parker asked.
“It’s just that time of year. Cleaning at the dentist. Annual physical and testing for Chlamydia … I’m kidding.” Jacob shook his head at Parker’s harsh glare. “You think I’m a cheap ho, but I’m not. I’m actually quite expensive.” It didn’t take long for Parker to crack a smile. That was when Jacob stepped forward and wrapped his arms around him. The hug was brief, Jacob tightening his hold just before letting go. “See you soon.”
Parker staggered when Jacob released him. He didn’t know what to say and watched his friend move off, disappearing a short time later around the corner. What the fuck was that? The only time Jacob had ever hugged him was at his mother’s funeral, and that felt strange. But this was different, almost … intimate. He shrugged it off and made his way towards his condo building on the lakeshore. He whipped out his phone and waited for it to power on. The first thing he did was open Cuddlr.
“You have 1 new message!”
His heart raced as he tapped View Message. The excitement didn’t last long.
Christ, not him again!