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Ezra’s day was supposed to start better than this.
He woke up knowing (well, assuming) he was getting a promotion, a full year after starting his first real job. That was the good part. However, Ezra was currently trapped in a long line at the corner cafe, his entire office’s drink order clutched in his sweaty hands,and he was late. Late for his own damn promotion. That was the bad part.
The lateness was Ezra’s own fault, he’d been up all night drawing. His office job was a far cry from what he really wanted to do – become an artist for a comic publisher like Marvel, DC, or Dark Horse – but he didn’t have enough sketches to fill a portfolio yet. And it’s not like drawing had paid any of his bills. For now, it would just have to remain a passionate hobby…
Ezra stood a little straighter upon seeing he was the youngest person in line. It wasn’t much of a surprise considering it was a cafe in the heart of the city’s older financial district. Plus, no one else in line looks as obnoxiously anxious as I do right now…
Ezra tucked a wavy strand of golden brown hair behind his ear when he heard a squeal of delight from somewhere in the back of the cafe. Curious, he turned to find a group of starstruck women surrounding a tall, athletic, bearded man in gym clothes. He was signing autographs for them but Ezra didn’t recognize the face. Whoever he was, he certainly stood out amongst the conservative suits and pencil skirts.
Ezra fought the instinct to roll his eyes. Although he’d spent the last year writing about celebrities for PopViral, he was never one to fawn in anyone’s presence, famous or not. Besides, he didn’t even know who this beardo was.
“Next!” the barista at the counter called. It took Ezra a moment too long to realize she was talking to him and a severe man in a grey suit stepped ahead to take his place.
“Hey!” Ezra called out, but the severe man pretended not to hear him.
“Medium latte. Extra foam. Now, please,” Mr. Grey Suit boredly demanded, not even bothering to look up from his phone.
“Hey, I was next,” Ezra said firmly, but his protest was pointedly ignored.
Ezra’s whole body tensed. Who does this asshole think he is? He didn’t normally like to raise a fuss in public but he really needed the damn drinks for his damn office, and he was already so late…
“Excuse me, sir,” a deep voice boomed. Ezra looked to his left and saw the tall beardo tapping Mr. Grey Suit on the shoulder. Up close, Ezra noticed the man’s steely blue eyes, chocolate brown hair, and the swell of his broad, muscular chest under his t-shirt.Definitely an athlete, Ezra thought, feeling flushed all of a sudden. He could probably drop Mr. Grey Suit without even breaking a sweat…
“Excuse me, sir,” the athlete repeated, his patience edging away. “But I believe you cut in front of this young gentleman, here.” Ezra couldn’t quite place the deep accent but he sounded vaguely Scandinavian. Swedish, maybe.
Mr. Grey Suit looked up from his phone. Ezra braced himself for a shouting match, but the man’s natural glare melted.
“Are you-? Holy shit, you’re The Viking! Henrik Ford!” Mr. Grey Suit held out a trembling hand. The look of pure adoration on the man’s face made Henrik frown and cross his arms over his beefy chest.
“It doesn’t matter who I am,” Henrik said. “Before you go back to the end of the line where you belong, you should apologize to this young man for cutting in front of him.”
“Mr. Ford- I’m a huge fan- I’ve been following your career since your rookie season-“
Henrik said nothing. His rugged features betrayed no emotion. Mr. Grey Suit looked from him to Ezra as confusion became shame. “I’m sorry,” Mr. Grey Suit mumbled and shot to the back of the line, his reddening face ducked low.
Henrik grumbled something under his breath in the direction of the embarrassed man then turned his attention to Ezra. Their eyes met for the first time and neither of them knew what to say immediately. An uncertain smile tugged at the corner of Ezra’s mouth.
“Thank you so much,” Ezra managed. “Nobody’s ever…” He trailed off, unsure of how much he wanted to reveal to a total stranger. He didn’t often find himself tongue-tied in front of a total Greek god.
Henrik pointed to the list clutched in Ezra’s hand. “Is this your order?”
“Yeah. It’s for my office. It’s kind of long, and I’m already twenty minutes late-“
“Here,” Henrik gestured for him to hand the list over. “Please, it’s on me.”
“Oh, you don’t need to do that,” Ezra said, though he was already giving Henrik the paper scrap. His body and his mind often disagreed. “They’ll compensate me back at the office.”
“Really, it’s no problem.” Henrik smiled warmly before he turned to submit the order to the barista. Something about Henrik’s generosity – coupled with his grizzled, dark good looks – made Ezra feel several degrees warmer. He tried to remind himself he wasn’t a teen anymore, but a 24 year old who knew Bursa escort how to control himself.
Henrik had been a professional hockey player for ten years, and captain of his team for the last four, so he knew his way around a tough opponent. And Mr. Grey Suit had not, by any definition of the word, been a challenge for him. He didn’t know much about business, but he knew an entitled corporate type when he saw one. Seeing the son of a bitch treat that poor young man like dirt was unacceptable. Especially over something as trivial as coffee.
After paying for the young man’s order, Henrik helped him bring both trays out to the cafe patio.
“I’m Ezra, by the way,” he said. He was nervous and seemed very young, handsome in a delicate way. His hair looked brown in the cafe lighting, but outside it was lighter, almost blond. “And this was really nice of you. I wish I had something better to offer than a dumb ‘thanks’.”
Henrik smiled at him again, holding Ezra’s vibrant, forest-green eyes like a warm handshake. “A ‘thanks’ is all I need. And whoever that douchebag was, I let him off easy.”
“Sadly, this part of the city happens to be douchebag central.”
“My name is Henrik. My buddies call me Hank.” He waited for a flicker of recognition to cross Ezra’s boyish features, but it never happened. No lightning strike of familiarity, no sudden change of expression.
Wow, Henrik thought. That doesn’t happen often. Guess he isn’t much of a hockey fan.
“So do you work around here?” Ezra asked, genuinely curious.
A strange relief coursed through him. Henrik enjoyed meeting his fans, a legion that only seemed to grow every season, but the hero worship often got too much for him to handle. Meeting someone with no preconceptions of him was a breath of fresh air.
“Actually, uh,” Henrik couldn’t help but chuckle, “My hotel is just around the corner. I was on my way to a gym.”
Ezra’s eyes lowered, seeing Henrik’s exercise shorts, bare legs, and running shoes for the first time. His high cheekbones went pink. Henrik felt a certain part of his own anatomy blush, but it definitely wasn’t his face.
Hey now, cool it. You’ve got other things to worry about today, like that press conference. You’re not trying to get laid here, you’re just being a gentlemen.
Ezra’s eyes danced across Henrik’s face, as if he was trying to memorize every detail as quickly as possible. “Are you here on business? Visiting family?”
Henrik couldn’t erase his grin if he tried. “I suppose you missed the game last night, then.”
“Leafs versus the Knights. Made for some quality hockey. Though your home team was beaten pretty soundly, if you don’t mind me saying.”
“Ohhhh.” Ezra connected the dots. “Hockey. Right. I’m not much of a sports fan. At all, actually. The most exercise I get is running to work.”
Explains that tight little body of yours, said a devilish voice that desperately wanted to be heard. Henrik kept that voice quiet and hidden – he might have been a beast on the ice but he was never, ever that forward with other men. Hell, it hadn’t been that long since everyone thought he dated women. Coming out of the closet only two years ago meant that Henrik, at the age of 30, was still an amateur when it came to his love life. He only hoped it wasn’t that obvious.
“I actually play for the Knights, I’m team captain. We’re here from Portland,” Henrik explained.
Ezra’s eyes widened for a moment. “When I said I wasn’t a sports fan…”
“Hey. No offense taken,” Henrik said as earnestly as he could. “It’s been a while since I had a conversation with someone that wasn’t about neutral zone trapping.”
“I’m guessing that’s a hockey thing?”
“You guessed right.”
A hesitant silence engulfed them, longer than either felt comfortable with. It wasn’t until Ezra took a glance at his phone that the quiet had broken.
“Oh, shit!” His voice spiked with urgency. “I’m getting a promotion today – I think – and I keep forgetting that I’m really fucking late for it. Listen, I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay here but I really need to go.”
Ezra tried to take the second tray of coffee but Henrik held onto it. “Wait, how far away is your job?”
“The office is about four blocks from here. But if I run, I can-“
“If you run, you’ll show up with only half of these coffees intact,” Henrik said thoughtfully. He turned to the street and whistled. A nearby taxi almost took down a fire hydrant to stop in front of them.
“Come on,” Henrik held the taxi’s back door open for him. “We need to get going.”
“Well, you can’t carry all these drinks by yourself.”
Ezra started to say something but decided not to. Whether he was impressed or put off, Henrik wasn’t sure, he only wished that Ezra took his gesture as a gallant one.
“I guess there’s no harm in that,” he finally said. Henrik could Antalya escort bayan have sworn he saw the start of an enchanted smile as they entered the backseat together.
Ezra spent the short taxi ride gripping his coffee tray with the nervous might of an Olympian. He couldn’t believe that his beardo defender was a real NHL hockey player.
Henrik Ford. Good name. Sounds like a Nordic war general or something.
He didn’t really know anything about the Portland Knights beyond their mascot – a dragon in a suit of armor. He even worried that Henrik might have taken offense to the fact that he didn’t recognize him, but the man didn’t seem bothered at all. In fact, Henrik had been nothing but a perfect gentlemen, warm and polite, if somewhat reserved.
But would a truly reserved man be touching legs with you right now?
Part of the reason Ezra held his coffee tray with such a death grip was the fact that Henrik’s bare knee was grazing the side of his left calf. He didn’t think the hockey player was doing it on purpose – Henrik was extraordinarily tall and they didn’t have much room in the cramped cab. Still, the whisper of contact sent an excited shiver through Ezra’s tight body. His only regret was how short the taxi ride was, and how quickly their subtle stimulation ended.
After a long, awkward, and crowded ride up his office building’s elevator, Ezra finally reached the floor of PopViral’s headquarters. When Ezra first started working there a year ago he was simply stunned by how hip, modern and open the whole space was. Being the world’s most popular online source of memes, listicles and social news, they certainly had the cash to burn. However, the wonder had worn off for him, and now Ezra saw what the rest of the world saw – hipsters riding hoverboards while playing Foosball and ignoring their actual work.
“People work here?” Henrik asked in amazement.
Ezra briefly negotiated the snark level of his answer. He settled on low. “Sometimes.”
The receptionist shot up from her desk and ran to his side. “Ezra! You got here first, thank Christ. Heather called, she’s stuck in traffic.”
Relief surged through Ezra and he let his shoulders relax for the first time that morning. “Praise every deity known to man.” Heather, his boss, definitely didn’t need to know he came to work thirty minutes late on the day of his (assumed) promotion.
“You better get that coffee to the kitchen ASAP,” the receptionist urged. “Kanye dropped a surprise album an hour ago and the music team has officially threatened to strike.” Her eyes flickered from him to Henrik, standing half a foot taller than her, a viking in workout gear. “Oh… and who is this?”
“Henrik, ma’am. Pleased to meet you.” He shook her hand genially.
The receptionist’s eyebrows shot up her forehead. “And this is your… friend, Ezra?”
“I…” Ezra had a bad habit of starting a sentence before knowing where it ended. “I’m going to get these coffees into the kitchen. Bee-are-bee.”
He took the second tray from Henrik and left the reception area in a hurry, his face as red as the PopViral logo that hung above the office kitchen entrance. He nudged aside a box of donut holes to make room for the trays. Ezra took the moment to calm his breathing and collect himself.
You know, for a day that threatened to start in an epic shitstorm, things actually leveled off. That happens… approximately never in my life.
Ezra leaned against the counter. His body was still thrumming with relief. Half-smiling, he picked through the donut holes until he found his favorite, the banana bread kind.
And hey, a studly stranger-turned-hockey-player escorting you to work is definitely a check in the win column. Even if he’s only here for one more day. And I’ll never see him again.
The half-smile disappeared by the time Ezra popped the mini donut into his mouth. He wasn’t sure if he had the right to be disappointed or not. Henrik had been so nice to him, nice in a way that extended beyond mere politeness to a stranger. But did that actually mean anything?
Ezra’s history with men was a minor disaster. He’d only had a couple of boyfriends – his most recent being a man from Detroit who had to commute to Toronto to see him – and both relationships ended badly. Friends encouraged him to try all the usual apps, which yielded three types of responses from men: indifference, fetishization, and open hostility. After a few dismal dates, Ezra just gave it up altogether. He always thought he was okay looking, sometimes he even attracted a few furtive glances from passing strangers. But his empty, post-apocalyptic love life appeared to say otherwise. If a ruggedly handsome athlete was showing any romantic interest in him, it couldn’t have existed anywhere except in Ezra’s head. He wasn’t trying to put himself down, he was being realistic. Things like that didn’t happen to him. It just wasn’t in the scope of his all-too mundane Escort Manavgat world.
“Ez, my man!” The voice behind startled him. Ezra turned and saw Josh, the sports editor, making a beeline for the coffee. “Think I can steal one of those lattes before the music geeks find out?”
“Your funeral,” Ezra shrugged.
“Right on.” Josh grabbed one of the takeout cups. “Hey, sorry to rush out, but I’m gonna try to get some face time with the Viking. I can’t believe he’s in the office today! Especially after that fucking epic game last night. You’d think he and the rest of the Knights would be hungover as hell from all the celebrating.”
“Wait. Are you talking about-?”
Josh frowned. “Henrik Ford. He’s the Viking, man! The Swedish Stallion! And only the best captain in the league, if my professional opinion counts for anything. And I happen to think it does.” Josh leaned out of the kitchen and stole a glance toward reception. “Shit. The girls got to him already. Guess they don’t really follow hockey.”
Ezra furrowed his brow and joined Josh’s vantage point, leaning out of the kitchen. “What do you mean, exactly?” A gaggle of writers Ezra recognized from the fashion department were jockeying for attention around a clearly flustered Henrik. Ezra stopped just short of grinning.
“What do I mean?” Josh repeated, bewildered. “You’re- uh, you’re part of the LGBT community, right?”
“Right…” Ezra trailed off, unsure where this was going.
“Then you should probably know that Henrik Ford came out two years ago. He’d only been team captain for a couple of seasons and then he became the first openly gay NHL player in history. It was huge news, bro.”
Ezra’s mouth opened but no words came out. He looked at Henrik again and found that the revelation made sense. Around him, Henrik had been effortlessly charming, but around an adoring female presence he had a sort of bashful, flattered-but-not-interested demeanor. He felt a little stupid for not putting two and two together on his own. “I didn’t know that about him. He only told me he played for the Knights… which I realize now is obvious to everyone in the world except me.”
“Wait, so you know him, then?”
“What? No. No, I just met him this morning. Total fluke. He offered to help bring coffee to the office, that’s all.”
Amazed, Josh slapped his own forehead .”Oh, man. Listen, you need to hook me up with an interview. Or a full feature! That man is notorious for shrugging off press. Getting the Viking the morning after a game? With my name in the byline? Bro, I’m not a religious man, but as God as my witness, I need to get this article.”
Ezra rolled his eyes and slid away from him. “I’m ignoring you now.”
“Ez!” Josh called out, hurt. “My man! Come on!”
Ezra left the kitchen and tapped the passing shoulder of Amanda, the music editor. “Hey, Josh in sports just took your latte.” Ezra walked away, hearing Amanda’s scowl followed by Josh’s shoes squeaking against the linoleum floor.
He caught Henrik’s glance as he re-entered the reception area, which was now entirely swarmed with women and a handful of sports department bros. Ezra hadn’t seen the office this abuzz since they held that corgi calendar shoot last year.
“Uh, if you’ll excuse me, ladies,” Henrik cleared his throat and waded through the swarm. “I have to get back to practice.”
“We can help you stretch…” Ezra heard one of the girls say, followed by scandalized giggles.
Wow. The ecstasy and agony of sports fame, Ezra thought as Henrik emerged from the crowd. They both slipped out of the front exit door and into the hallway outside.
“I’m really sorry about that,” Ezra sighed. The air was cooler in the open, empty corridor. “My coworkers are vultures.”
“It’s really quite alright. I’ve had ten years to get used to it.” Henrik found the elevator panel and pressed the down button. A knot in Ezra’s stomach formed as he remembered that Henrik’s presence in his life was only temporary.
“Thank you again for everything,” Ezra said, trying not to sound panicked or rushed. “This is the nicest thing a guy’s done for me in… quite a while.”
Henrik nodded, staying humble. “This job seems very important to you.”
“It’s my first real, adult, ‘big boy’ job, you know? And I think I’m getting a promotion today. I mean, I don’t know that officially, but my boss has been hinting pretty hard.”
“Wow. Congratulations. Or, pre-congratulations.”
“I’ll take either.” They shared another smile. Ezra rather liked the way it lit up the man’s dark, rugged features.
Henrik absently watched the elevator’s indicating light slowly ascend. “It’s a great feeling. Being promoted to captain was the best day of my life. Second best, I should say.”
Ezra tried to ignore the pit of despair that grew as the elevator drew nearer. A few more levels and Henrik would be out of his life forever. “What was your first best day, then?”
Henrik paused, momentarily caught off guard. The hardness around his blue eyes softened. “That would be the day I was finally… able to speak honestly about myself.”
A silent, insightful moment developed between them.
“Yeah,” Ezra nodded with familiarity. “I know the feeling.”
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