Fletcher Andrews never believed in promises. Or monogamy. Or love. When you’re tall and gorgeous, New York City is one big all-you-can-eat buffet of hot young actors, models, and baristas. Even when he was living happily with Roger, his sweet, sexy violinist boyfriend, Fletch couldn’t resist an occasional taste. Too bad you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s thrown you out for cheating with half the cast of Disney on Ice.
Two years and a chance meeting later, Fletch desperately wants Roger back. Roger’s new boyfriend, Jeff, will do anything to stop that from happening. But Fletch has a plan to make amends. And with a little help from friends, colleagues—even Roger’s Scottish terrier, Haggis—they might find that the love you don’t believe in can sweep you right off your feet . . .
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A Night at the Opera
"Man-oh-man," I said. "Not too shabby."
I was looking at my reflection in the glass that separated the front seat from the back. I was in a limo, I was wearing a four-thousand-dollar custom tux, and holy moly, I looked frigging fabulous.
I suppose that's as good a place to start as any.
That night, in that limo. Even if it is sort of smack-dab in the middle of the story. But as Roger later explained to me, sometimes when you don't know where to begin, maybe it doesn't matter, just as long as you do. Begin, I mean. He said he'd learned that from his dog. I'm not really sure what he meant by that, but I can tell you this: Roger has a seriously cool dog.
So I don't know if this is the best place to start, but this is where I'm starting.
I was in a limo, all dressed up like I'd never been dressed up before, and checking out my reflection.
"You're gorgeous-just-gorgeous," yapped Darwin in his odd combination of a southern drawl and a machine-gun delivery. "No need to keep checking because I'll just tell you." He also liked to speak in triplicate. "Gorgeous-gorgeous-gorgeous."
Darwin was my date, and the reason for the limo. And the tux. And the tickets. And everything else.
I was pretty much psyched out of my mind, and it was really hard to sit still. This had to be — hands down — the best day of my life.
Okay, we were going to the opera, which might not exactly thrill you, and I'm not the world's biggest opera fan myself — in fact, I know almost nothing about it. I'm not like a total musical idiot. I'd been exposed to some classical music — just not opera.
But this was the opening night of the season of the Metropolitan Opera. In case you didn't know it — and I didn't before this — the opening night is like a mini-Oscar night here: tuxedos, designer dresses, celebrities, a red carpet across the plaza, photographers.
You're thinking, all of that for the opera? I know, crazy, right? Welcome to New York.
"I was just admiring the lovely clothes you bought me," I said, answering Darwin's question. "Thank you again."
"You're-welcome-you're-welcome-you're-welcome. Again. You look magnificent-just-magnificent."
When Darwin asked me if I wanted to go to the opera, I wasn't all that stoked about it, but when he told me what it was going to be like, I jumped at it. Then he told me I would need a tux, and of course, I didn't have a tux, so we went shopping, and the next thing you know, he didn't rent me a tux, which was what I'd expected. He didn't buy me a tux. He'd had this whole suit made for me: cream-colored jacket, black pants with a satin stripe down the side, fancy shirt with a wing collar. The whole enchilada — con queso. My shirt studs were sterling silver and onyx, if you can believe it.
And right now, I was trying really hard to keep my leg from bouncing. I was too big for my body.
"No need to be quite so tense, Toots. All you have to do is look fetching — something you're so very good at."
Yep, that's what he called me. Toots. Embarrassing as it was. Toots, like Tootsie, as in Tootsie Pop. Something to do with an old TV commercial — don't ask. All I can tell you is I winced every time he said it. But — you know — you don't bite the hand ... so Toots it was.
Other than that, I was pretty proud about Darwin. Darwin Stewart Harrison, famous Broadway costume designer.
"How many Tony Awards do you have, Darwin?"
"Not-so-many-not-so-many-not-so-many. Six. But who's counting."
Famous Broadway costume designer with six Tony Awards. For those of you from out of town, those are like the Academy Awards for theatre.
I don't want to tell you how we met.
Darwin also had more money than God, and a huge apartment overlooking the East River. And he had asked me to go to the opera with him, which was kinda cool, don't you think?
I've been with lots of guys — something which I'm sure is going to come up later — but Darwin was easily the oldest. He was in his forties somewhere, I guessed. Okay, I "hoped" would maybe be more accurate. He wasn't exactly a fit forty-probably-fifty either. He was funny, though. He could be really funny.
And the paunchiest. But he was also extraordinarily generous. Really, practically every week he had some pricey gift for me.
I checked my reflection again.
Man-oh-man, who wouldn't go out with me?
The car moved forward a bit.
Darwin had classical music on in the car, and I realized — "Hey — I know this," I said.
"I'm so glad. What?"
"This piece of music. It's a string quartet — Schubert." Like I said, I'm not a total idiot. How I knew what I knew about Schubert is something else I'm sure you're going to hear more about later. "It's called 'Death and the Maiden.'"
"If-you-say-so-if-you-say-so. I'm sure I don't know."
The opening notes were really distinctive.
Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah Dadada dum.
I'd even made up stupid words for it, like
Dweeeeeeeeeeeeeeb! Where are my shoes?
It went on from there and just got sillier. Yeah, it was dumb but pretty funny at the time. Dweeb was my nickname for the guy I knew who played string quartets. Point is I knew this chunk of a string quartet from before, and thinking about back then distracted me from how scared I was now.
"The title's from a poem, but I think that was just sort of a starting place for Schubert." I wasn't really showing off. I was just so nervous.
This might be the best day of my life, but it was also pretty damned scary. I'm generally a confident person, but this? This was way out of my range of experience. And you can always tell when I'm nervous because my right leg bounces like crazy. Like now. My hands were shaking too.
And I was blathering.
To be really honest, I didn't believe for a second that I belonged here — in this place, in this car, in this suit — and I was scared to death that, before the evening was over, someone would figure that out. If I let my guard down, if I stopped flashing this smile, if I stopped being dazzling for even a second, someone would see right through me and know.
But hey, I'm Fletch, I reminded myself. I'll be fine, right? I'm always fine.
I just needed to keep that smile going, needed to keep the dazzle working, needed to keep up the act that I was born to all this.
In the meantime, if I talked enough, maybe my hands would stop shaking.
"For Schubert, I think it was mostly a kind of metaphor," I finished.
Darwin just blinked at me. "You do astonish me sometimes, Toots, simply astonish me."
"You thought I was just another pretty face."
"Not for a second, Fletch, not for a second. Okay, well, maybe for a second."
Yep, that's my name. Fletch. Fletcher Andrews. And I certainly do have a very pretty face, or I would never have found my way into that limo.
The car pulled forward again, and we were finally there.
Wow, the place was really lit up. The driver hopped out, ran around, and opened the door.
"That's your cue, Toots."
"Go-go-go." Darwin goosed me out of the car.
So I climbed across the car, got out, and stepped aside so that Darwin could be seen coming out of this huge black limo next to the tall, blond trophy pet — which would be me.
"Know what time it is?" said Darwin as he got out and scanned the Plaza with a huge grin. "It's showtime!"
The plaza was really bright. And really loud.
There were people behind barricades who didn't care crap about opera but who were just there to see people like us. And for those slobs who actually liked opera but didn't have these stupidly expensive tickets, there was a gigantic screen in front of the opera house, stacks of speakers like a rock concert, and hundreds of folding chairs. At least it was a nice September night, if you're going to sit outside on a folding chair for four frigging hours, the poor bastards. As for me, for the first time in my life, I was on the inside looking out, so forgive me if I gloated just a little.
We walked across the plaza past the big fountain, me just slightly behind Darwin, and people took our picture. I thought there might be local TV there, but there were television crews from Italy, Germany, Japan even! There was a big clump of professional photographers set up with a gigantic board in the background saying Metropolitan Opera a thousand times in case people didn't know where they were, and we stopped there for a bit. Lots of pictures of Darwin, pictures of me and Darwin, a couple pictures of just me even. Somebody actually asked me who did my suit.
The photographers suddenly abandoned me. Ferris Bueller and what's-her-name — the Sex in the City woman — were coming up the carpet behind us. Damn — Ferris got fat. He was sooooo cute back in the day.
"Good Lord," said Darwin. "Just look what she's wearing. Who did that to her? A travesty. Merciful heaven, it just gets worse the closer she gets. And tomorrow, her picture in that walking nightmare will be everywhere-just-everywhere."
"You don't like it?"
"I could eat a bolt of taffeta and shit a better — darling!" And he pulled away from me to go gush over Mrs. Ferris. "That dress is stunning-stunning-stunning! I — I don't know what to say!" At least he didn't lie. Hugs, cheeks nearly but not really kissed. It was too early in the evening to mess up anybody's makeup — hers or Darwin's. Photographers went gonzo taking pictures of the lovefest.
From the middle of this clutch, Darwin stretched out a left hand to Ferris, who seemed a bit confused. I tried not to laugh. I mean what was he supposed to do, kneel and kiss the ring? And if so, which one?
Ferris settled on a wave, and then he waved to me a little, like maybe he thought he should know me. I smiled and nodded.
Maybe he should know me — I ushered his last Broadway show, so you'd think I'd be able to remember his name! That was my brush with show business until that point — I'd been a Broadway usher before Darwin whisked me up.
We went inside. The lobby was surprisingly loud, three thousand rich people all talking at once. Darwin schmoozed while I stood around behind him and tried to be decorative and tried not to show how unbelievably awkward I felt. Gradually people moved into the theatre, and we took our seats. The lights went down (they actually pulled the chandeliers way up to the ceiling, which I thought was incredibly cool), applause-applause for the conductor, and the music began.
The opera. Okay, real quick. It was Otello, from a play by Shakespeare, but the opera is by Verdi. Even though it's Shakespeare, they sang in Italian, which makes no sense, but they had these cool little screens on the back of the seat in front of you that ran subtitles.
It's about this guy, Otello, his wife Desdemona, and his best friend Iago. Spoiler alert: Everybody dies in the end, and I mean everybody.
The audience? Apeshit.
It wasn't as boring as you might think.
You won't be totally surprised when I tell you Darwin thought the costumes were awfuljustawful.
But I want to skip ahead because, little did I know, the big event of the evening was waiting for me at the party afterward.
Darwin seemed to know everybody, and anybody he didn't know, he wanted to know, so he was busy. Me, not so much. I stood around trying to look confident, trying to look like I belonged there, and trying to pretend that standing by myself in a crowded lobby surrounded by rich and famous people all yammering to each other while no one was yammering to me was exactly where I wanted to be.
Doogie Howser and his boyfriend crossed the lobby in front of me. Man-oh-man, they're so hot together. Wouldn't mind ditching Darwin and talking my way into their limo.
Anyway, there I was, six foot two, alone, and unmoving in a sea of expensive clothes, babbling faces, and jewelry. I felt like the frigging Statue of Liberty. Only prettier.
And then the miracle happened. I saw somebody I knew. Besides Doogie, I mean.
Coming back from the bar with two glasses of champagne was Tommy Radford. I hadn't talked to Tommy in a long time, but I always liked him and I was really glad to see him there.
"Hey, handsome," I said, coming up from behind.
"Well. If it isn't the whore of Babylon."
"Wow, nice, Tommy. Real nice," I said.
"Thanks," he said, leaned up, and kissed me on the cheek. "You know I'm never going to forgive you."
"I'm honor-bound as his best friend to hate you for all time. But da-yam" — that's a really gay damn, stretched to two syllables — "you look fabulous!"
"I know, right?"
"Of course you always did. But let me see. Here." He handed me one of the champagne glasses. "That's not for you." He pulled my jacket open to check the label.
"Sweet. Bespoke. Our little Fletchy is moving up in the world. No need to ask you what you've been up to."
"Don't be a bitch. It's really good to see you, Tommy."
"Do you know any of these people?"
"Not a soul except for ... guess whom."
"Of course he is. How do you think I got here? He had to go tinkle, so I went to the bar. It's like a jungle over there. I backed up and stepped on Alexander Skarsgård's foot, and it was all I could do not to faint."
"How's he been?"
"Alex? Kinda cranky but still sooo hot!"
"You know who I mean, you twerp."
"Oh, him? Since you smashed his life to bits, you mean? He's fine, and while we're on the subject, you should go before he gets back."
"Do you really need to see him? And — way more important — does he need to see you? What's the point, Fletch? I always say when an ex calls, hang up!"
Ouch. I don't know what I really expected, and I guess I should have expected exactly this.
"You're right. It was good to see you, but yeah, I'll —"
And then I heard Roger's voice behind me.
"Gwyneth Paltrow spilled a glass of white wine down my leg, and then she was a complete jerk about it. You'd think it was my —"
He looked up from mopping himself with a paper cocktail napkin that was just leaving little white flecks of stuff on his navy-blue suit, and he saw me.
"Hey, Dweeb," I said gently as I could. I know that sounds sort of nasty — it wasn't. It was exactly the opposite. "This is for you," I said and gave him the glass of champagne.
I tried to hide my shivering.
"Fletch. Wow. This is weird."
"Yep, prit-tee much."
Roger's face is always a bit flushed, but it went almost pale now. Was he thrilled to see me again? Or outraged? Horrified, more likely.
"What brings you — I mean, kind of the last — why?"
"A date. His idea."
"Ah. Of course. You're with somebody."
"Hey, Fletch, you remember Katrina?" said Tommy, jumping to the rescue or I swear we would still be standing there, miserable, me staring at Roger and Roger staring at the carpet. "Katrina got the shingles, poor thing, and Roger got her tickets."
Roger. A little shorter than me, he looked up at me now from under this adorable clump of brown curls that always flopped over his forehead. He blushed through the scatter of freckles that ran across his nose and cheekbones.
I didn't really believe in love or relationships and stuff, but if I'd ever had a boyfriend, Roger had been it. No. I definitely had had a boyfriend, and it had been Roger. We had even lived together for like a year and a half. But there in the lobby of the Metropolitan Opera House — don't ask me why — it was like — I don't know what it was like. I mean he looked exactly the same, but somehow now, the cluster of freckles was the cutest bunch of freckles in the universe. Those big brown cow eyes were — I literally had to struggle to breathe. I'm not really the mushy type, but it kinda broke my heart, seeing him standing there. There should have been something I could say, but I had no idea what it was.
He looked so shy. Okay, he always looked shy. And he seemed embarrassed. And hurt.
"Hey, how about that Verdi, huh?" said Tommy. "I mean, they sure don't write tunes like that anymore!" Roger gave a little half-laugh. I couldn't stop staring at him.
"Did Gwyneth Paltrow really spill wine on you?" said Tommy, still valiantly trying. "That's frigging awesome! Although honestly, it just looks like you peed yourself."
"You look — wonderful," I said.
Excerpted from "Where Do I Start?"
Copyright © 2017 Chase Taylor Hackett.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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