The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller: Excerpt

Peter was used to knowing what he wanted; feeling ambivalent made him uneasy. A streak of decisiveness was key to his trade, and Peter liked to know his own mind. So he traced his feelings back, like Ariadne’s thread. He knew he’d seen something interesting in Charles at the party; more than just sympathy for Charles’s discomfort, there had been an attraction, despite some awkwardness. He wouldn’t have made the move of inviting Charles over otherwise.

Peter looked at Charles, who met his gaze steadily and, seeming to understand Peter’s conflict, once again eased the pressure by saying, “It’s late. I should—”

Something in Peter’s throat tightened. “I don’t want you to go.” It was a realization more than anything, a moment of self-discovery given voice. He was quick to add, “But if you want to, or need to…”

Keeping his eyes on Peter, Charles gave his head a little shake. “I’m just not entirely sure why I’m here.”

A chill ran through Peter, the terrible harbinger of rejection. “You don’t want to be?”

“That’s not it at all,” said Charles. “I wouldn’t have come if I hadn’t been… Hadn’t thought you…”

Peter recognized the resurgence of the discomfiture Charles had shown at the party earlier in the evening. “Interested,” Peter supplied. “You thought I was interested. And… Maybe you were also a little interested in me?”

Charles’s cheekbones became highlighted in a pink flush. They were nice cheekbones, Peter decided, even with slightly too much meat over them, and Charles was handsome after all, not in the spectacular way of someone like Jules Maier, but in the easily overlooked way of ordinary men.

“I like you,” Peter said.

Those blue eyes again, bright and wide. “You hardly know me.”

“My work requires me to be a swift and accurate judge of character.”

“Paperwork…” Charles’s voice trailed as Peter leaned in. As if taking a measure, their lips touched briefly once, twice, before making the third time count.