“Mr. Abitol.” Jared looked up from his desk at the sound of a student calling his name. His lecture had just ended, and he had gone straight for his phone without putting any real thought to the students that usually came up to him after class.
Jared put his phone away, closing his notes as he looked up at the blonde-haired blue-eyed girl that was the current the top of his course. “What can I do for you?” he asked fidgeting with his fingers as he hoped she would hurry up with what she had to say so that he could leave. He had somewhere to be, and he couldn’t afford to be late.
“I was wondering if I could come over to your office later for some help?” she asked, adjusting the strap of her bag as the background noise of students leaving their desks and heading towards the main exit filled the void. Jared frowned a bit, a little impatient with her. “Sure,” he agreed anyway, saying the one thing that would get him out of the lecture hall on time. The student grinned, saying a ‘thank you’ under her breath before hurrying away. She always insisted on coming alone. He had office hours, and he didn’t understand why she never came in then.
As Jared packed up his notes the class continued to empty out, and soon he was the only one in it. The silence was only tinted by the sound of him stacking and flipping paper. He was in a rush he had less than an hour to get to the other side of town to pick up Darnell. It would be the first time they were meeting, and this night would be the first night they’d sleep together. Jared was feeling something in the middle of excited and confused. Darnell was good looking, and for the longest time since Austin informed Jared that it was Darnell who was accepting the contract, Jared couldn’t really believe it.
He left the lecture hall when he was done packing up his notes and sorting out the assignments his students submitted. The skip in his step must have been noticeable because people he knew would pause a bit when he walked by. He paid them no mind. He would fly if he had to. He couldn’t blow this chance with Darnell. He might be the only person that would ever agree to an arrangement like this.
They might have not met yet, but Jared had a clear idea of what Darnell looked like. Somewhere along the line, Austin had shown him pictures of the young man with big brown doe eyes and full lips. He had liked that, but it was unnerving that he had to send pictures to Darnell too. Austin helped him take them, and he touched them up a bit with face tune before sending them over to Darnell. Jared bit his bottom lip as he looked for his car in the parking lot. What if Austin went too far with the photoshop and Darnell wouldn’t recognize him? What is Darnell decided to call off the deal once they met face to face? Austin had claimed that he wouldn’t do anything outrageous when editing the photos — that he would just clear up Jared’s face and make him look less tired, but despite all that assurance, Jared wasn’t sure he could trust his friend’s words. Doing the bare minimum with editing wasn’t enough to make him look presentable.
Austin was an older colleague that had been working in the university for far longer than Jared. They hadn’t talked much until Jared became a professor and Austin took Jared to a gay bar. Apart from being surprised at the fact that Austin knew he was gay, and Austin himself was gay Jared was shocked at the range of the conversations they had that night at the private V.I.P corner of the bar. Austin spoke about his lover with pride, and it had made Jared feel both uncomfortable and jealous. How was it that a man in his sixties had someone, and he himself hadn’t had sex that didn’t involve a sex worker.
Austin had stuck to Jared incredibly close for the rest of the night. He wanted to leave, but at the same time, he wanted to listen to Austin boost about his lover.
“Enough about me, how about your lover?” Austin had asked, startling Jared. Jared sighed as he shook his head, looking down at the wooden bar table in the dim light. He had nothing to say. He had never dated or been in a relationship.
Frankly speaking, Jared was ugly. How Jared looked was like most things you can’t really explain why they’re that way. His jaw was too small, his nose a little too big and his eyes sitting low and a little sunken on his face. Adding to the fact that he was now in his forties which meant wrinkles and hair loss were just around the corner. Mixing that with social anxiety and general awkwardness Jared wasn’t exactly attractive. He used to try and visit bars when he was younger, but he got ignored, or, in the rare occasion, someone would get so insulted by him looking their way that they would shout down at him and cause a scene.
It was safe to say Jared no longer tried to date, and that Jared was to some level afraid of good-looking gay men — so much so that he didn’t patronize sex workers as much as he would have liked. They were all attractive to him, and they all treated at him like a chore, which he understood he was. It was just dehumanizing and depressing because he easily got attached, and falling in love with someone providing him a service was not a pipeline he wanted to go down.
“Does that mean you don’t have anybody?” Austin’s voice made Jared looked up again. He stared at the overweight older man with greying hair and a receding hairline wondering what on earth people like him were doing to find relationships. He wanted to know, but it would be creepy to ask.
“Is it money? It can’t be money,” the fat man said, answering his own question as he lifted his cup of beer to his chapped lips. Jared couldn’t quite follow, so he had just stared, wondering what Austin was implying.
“You’re a single man there’s no way you don’t have enough money saved up to find someone,” Austin went on. “You’re a professor now, you’re making at least seventy thousand dollars a year. Hey, it’s not much, but it’s enough to get arm candy—”
“Arm candy?” Jared had asked, frowning.
“You know, a sugar baby,” Austin said with a smile as he leaned back on the chair he was sitting on.
It was then Jared realized what Austin was advising him to do. “I—” he started, but paused, swallowing the ball of saliva in his mouth as his hands got sweaty. He had considered that a long time ago, but no one replied to his forms even though he was offering a lot — no one was willing to be with him for an extended period even for a salary like monthly allowance. He was that hopeless, and Jared didn’t want to remember it.
“I haven’t had luck with that,” Jared found himself admitting after the two were quiet for a bit. “I think people aren’t just interested—”
“Nonsense!” Austin had said, waving his hand in the air and attracting a few curious looks from strangers. “You probably just suck at making an offer,” the man said with a grin. Jared wasn’t amused he just sighed and took a sip of beer from his glass.
“How about I help you?”
“I’ll help you find a match! A great one!” Austin rambled. “I found myself a good-looking young person. Don’t worry, I’ll do everything!” he insisted, reaching out to tap Jared’s shoulder like he was consoling him.
It was after that night at the bar that the two became friends. Following that was a month of tireless searching until someone finally signaled that they were interested. It excited Jared more than it should have when he got the news that someone was interested in his offer. He’d always thought Darnell was attractive from his pictures alone. For the longest time, he expected a catch to the offer. Like Darnell wanted an outrageous sum of money or there was something fishy going on, but nothing like that ever came up. The more that Austin corresponded with Darnell and gave Jared information about him the less worried and more excited Jared became. He was legal — a nineteen-year-old that would soon turn twenty, he went to college and lived with his friend who was a similar age, so Jared could safely cross out human trafficking, and Darnell wasn’t asking for too much. Jared just had to pay his rent and tuition and that seemed like a fair bargain to Jared. As someone who had a lot of money that he wasn’t using saved up away, he wouldn’t mind paying that much.
Jared was now parked at the place he was supposed to meet Darnel at. He was a few minutes early so he sat back, opening the window of the driver’s seat halfway before looking out into the empty parking lot for a while. Being impatient he ended up taking his phone out of his car’s pigeonhole before texting the number Austin had said was Darnell’s.
Message to: Darnell.
FRI, 4:52 PM.
Message from: Darnell.
I’m here. Hold on a minute. : )
FRI, 5:02 PM.
Jared blinked for a few minutes, unsure why he suddenly felt nervous. They didn’t text a lot. Jared never knew what to say, and Darnell only messaged him to clarify things, but the fact that a tangible person was replying and texting him at all made Jared’s heart race. He didn’t think he would ever get used to it.
A knock on the window by the driver’s seat made Jared look up from his phone. He sat frozen for a few seconds unable to get the words out of his mouth as he stared at the young man crouching by the widow.
“Jared?” the man said with a smile that made Jared’s heart skip a bit. Darnell was ten times more attractive than he was in his pictures. Jared could only nod and watch as the boy’s grin widened as he ducked away and went around the car to open the door to the passenger seat.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to be late,” Darnel muttered, fighting with the seatbelt until he got the hook to work. His messy dark curls bounced around a bit as he looked from side to side and then straight at Jared before smiling again. “You look great!” he chirped making Jared’s face warm up as he looked away. Sure, he had put a lot of thought into dressing up today, but that never worked, and it was odd to have someone acknowledge that.
“T-thanks...” Jared trailed, biting his bottom lip as he started the car and drove them into the road. “Y-you look good too,” he stuttered, and Darnell thanked him, taking out a book from his bag. Jared looked away, focusing on the road ahead. His nerves causing his hands to be sweaty even though the AC was one and it was chilly. And he scolded himself for not being able to keep his words clear and stuttering under control. He felt like he probably looked and sounded ridiculous, but Darnell didn’t mock him, he just kept on smiling like he had been doing since he got in the car. It was a sincere smile. Jared knew what pity smiles looked like, Darnell’s wasn’t one of them. It made Jared’s heart swell and his face flush a deep red.
Darnell started singing somewhere in the middle of the ride. He was a good singer. His voice was low and rather high pitched. Jared knew the song, so he mouthed the lyrics under his breath. He must have started singing for real because Darnell let out a chuckle before he returned to singing. If someone else had laughed at him Jared would immediately re-curl into his own space and stopped doing whatever was bringing him humiliation, but Darnell didn’t seem to be making fun of him. He had just seemed surprised, so Jared kept humming along with him.
Jared thought Darnell’s voice was soft and sweet. Like he was stroking Jared’s ego and making him shiver with happiness. It was a stinging mouth-watering sweetness.
It was a lot like sugar.