Authors: Heidi Belleau,Amelia C. Gormley
School is back in session.
History grad James Sheridan thinks his biggest problem in life is trying to find a suitable outfit for his upcoming Ph.D. candidacy exam. That is, until he accidentally texts a changing-room selfie meant for his fashionable sister to his ex, the domineering Professor Carson.
James and Carson haven’t seen each since James fled their power games two years ago. Back in his undergrad days, Carson was his Professor, and not just in the academic sense: a man of unusual tastes and extreme sexual demands, James had been happy to sate Carson’s savage appetites. Too happy, in fact. He never could trust himself not to let Carson push too far.
Now James is older and wiser, and sharing some seriously flirtatious vibes with a cute menswear rep. When Carson replies to James’s errant text, ready to pick up where they left off, James can’t help being drawn back into Carson’s control. It’s only when Carson suggests involving the salesman that James has to ask himself how far is too far, and whether he’s willing to go there with Carson again.
To everyone who goaded us on, and to the spouses, family, and friends who cope with untold neglect when we duck into the writers’ cave.
James hated department stores. He hated the gleaming displays, hated the attractive salesgirls shilling wedding registries, hated the mannequins in their Tommy Hilfiger cashmere sweaters and leather loafers. Thousands, no,
of dollars, all spent on multicolored stand mixers and designer purses and monogrammed fucking towels.
Mostly, though, he hated how being here made him feel like an out-of-touch slob. He didn’t know the brands, didn’t know what was in fashion. Hell, sometimes he didn’t even know whether the shirt he was holding was meant for a woman or a man.
One of his old psych major friends would probably say he was transferring his anxiety about his Ph.D. program application over to the whole clothing issue, but the truth was that material culture—including technology and even basic pop culture—eluded James. Always had.
And his sister Carrie, who was way more up on these things than James could ever hope to be, had called up sick at the last minute, leaving him in the lurch. After a great deal of whining and pleading, she’d at least agreed to let him text her pictures of his various outfits, but that still left the issue of how he was supposed to
those outfits in the first place. Carrie, of course, thought he should just ask a salesperson, but James felt humiliated even doing that. After all, salespeople knew a thing or two about clothes. What would they think of James, in his threadbare old
T-shirt from the eighties and rotted canvas high-tops? Maybe that he was trying to steal something?
Or maybe that you’re a hopelessly unfashionable dude who needs help picking out a suit for a professional presentation.
Too bad voices of reason were so very, very easily drowned out by the anxious swirl inside his head. You know, swirl, as in the motion of flushing something down the toilet?
He wandered from department to department, scowling at everything, fully expecting to be booted out by some manager who thought he was an aggressive homeless drug addict or something. And there came a man now, Indian with a dark complexion and a pin-neat tailored suit.
James put up his hands in surrender and was about to protest, “I’m going, I’m going,” when the man said, “Can I help you find something, sir?”
Was this dude seriously seeing the same James—ratty T-shirt, bad hair—that James himself saw in the mirror every morning?
A quick look over his shoulder confirmed that yes, the man was for some reason speaking to
. No other sirs here.
“Uh . . .” Well this was certainly a strange turn of events. James had already resigned himself to giving up altogether on the pretense of looking professional and just getting the hell out of there, but here he was getting exactly what he needed. “Yes?”
The salesman tilted his head with practiced patience.
Oh yes, this was the part where James told him what he wanted. Right. “Menswear?” James tried, palms sweating.
“You’re in it,” the salesman said, and gestured to either side of him, where racks upon racks of men’s clothes stood waiting. Taunting James with their sheer fucking volume.
“Right. Okay. Um, I need . . .”
A suit? Is a suit too formal?
“I don’t know what I need,” he sighed at last, shoulders slumped in defeat.
The salesman chuckled, the sound not at all unkind. “How about we start with the basics, then? Are you shopping for a specific purpose or event? A job interview?” His accent was wonderful, lilting and precise, with a musicality that pleased the poet in James. “. . . A date?”
Wait, what was that tentativeness? Was he asking as a salesman, or as a
James stared at him, trying to translate the placid smile sketched across his face. Wow, he had full lips, and such a deep red-pink.
“Not a date,” he said, perhaps a little too enthusiastically. “I’m single.” Er, that definitely wasn’t helping matters. James flailed a moment longer, then added, “I’m an academic, and I guess you could say it’s an interview . . . of sorts. I’m doing my qualifying oral exam, which—oh, I guess you don’t really care, do you? Anyway, there’s going to be a panel of professors giving me the exam, people who are basically responsible for my future. So I guess it is an interview, just an interview for me to pay them and not the other way round.” He laughed awkwardly, tucking his hands in his pockets before he started snapping his fingers or falling into one of his other incredibly annoying anxious tics.
When had he started up with those again? He thought he’d shed those habits four years ago.
“What are you studying?” the salesman asked.
Nothing seemed to crack that patient, kind look. The salesman’s eyes were liquid, so dark and mesmerizing. “What field of study are you going into for your Ph.D.?”
“Oh!” James said, flushing hot. “History. Lame, I know.”
“Not at all!” The salesman smiled brightly. “It’s a fascinating subject.”
Jeeze, now the guy was just being
nice. “If you don’t want a job when you graduate.”
“I don’t have a degree in anything, and yet, I have a job.”
James, you asshole.
“Bet you didn’t have to go into as much debt as I did to get here.”
The salesman’s eyes twinkled. “That’s true. So how about a nice pair of slacks and a buttoned shirt? Not a full suit, although I could certainly show you some tie and blazer options so you can mix and match. Can I get you in some elbow patches, perhaps?”
“Elbow patches? You got some kinda dusty academic fetish there, buddy? Because if that’s the case, I’ve got an IKEA shelf just bursting with leather-bound books.” He probably shouldn’t have said that.
Get ahold of yourself, man. You’re running off the rails.
The salesman gave him a look that seemed to ride the line between scandalized and amused and possibly flirtatious. Which wasn’t really a line so much as it was a Venn diagram. “Right. So. Shirts,” he said, and disappeared into the endless racks of clothes.
The salesman assigned James a fitting room, then filled it with more shirts and trousers and blazers than he’d ever seen, much less worn. (Had he even known shirts could come in something other than scratchy polyester blend, let alone silk?) He’d expected a quick in and out: put on shirt, put on pants, snap picture, get a yes or no, move on. But instead, after he was dressed the salesman coaxed him out of the stall again and put him in front of a large, three-way mirror.
Can’t get enough of me, huh buddy?
The salesman certainly was handsy, but maybe James was just being an ass, assuming that the guy was doing anything other than his job, which apparently included fittings for alterations.
Around the time the salesman stood behind James and pinched the extra fabric at his hips, talking about tailoring and such, though, James began to think it wasn’t so much “possibly” flirtatious as “definitely.” Couldn’t go too far, of course: had to be all professional and whatnot. He didn’t do anything that James could make a complaint about if he were so inclined (which he most certainly was not), but the vibe was there, waiting for James to pick up on it.
The vibe was there and so were his hands, right on James’s hips, and this shopping excursion was about to get
awkward if James was reading that vibe wrong.
Just how distracted did he want to let himself get, anyway? He was definitely on a mission; after all, the shopping
to be done. But could he manage to work his digits into the guy’s cell phone before he left? Secure an invitation to coffee or dinner or whatever?
He pictured himself charming his way into the guy’s pants with tales of Robert the Bruce. Not that geeking out about history had
worked on a date before, but the salesman had been the one to call it fascinating first. Of course, that could just be flattery to make a sale.
Ugh, picking up guys was way too complicated in meatspace. Maybe the salesman had a Grindr app.
“Let me go grab some pins and a measuring tape,” the salesman murmured, glancing down to where the hem of the slacks dragged on the floor several inches below James’s ankles. “We can have them taken in a little at the hips and thighs as well as hemmed; a little bit of custom tailoring can take something off the rack and make it incredible.”
James nodded, because “I have no idea what you’re talking about” didn’t seem like it would be all that charming. The salesman lingered just a second more before releasing his hips and disappearing. When he was gone, James looked critically at his reflection, seeing nothing extraordinary about the slacks at all. They were . . . slacks. Just slacks.
Then he grabbed the pinch of fabric and turned sideways to try to see what the salesman had seen.
Well, hello there. He wasn’t usually one to get all vain about his appearance, but he couldn’t help noticing that the pinches did rather nice things for his ass.