The young girl at the counter handed me my coffee and squinted at me as I leant over to take it off her. I could see her eyes light up with recognition and I quickly mumbled my thanks as I put my sunglasses on, even though it was raining outside. I ducked out of the cafe, keeping my head down.
"Oh fuck sorry." I bumped into someone and spilled the coffee all over myself. Great. "Sorry." I mumbled again.
"Hey! Hugh? Hugh Hunter?"
"No." I said automatically. But I turned back in spite of myself. "Harry?" He grinned as I lowered my sunglasses and we awkwardly paused as we considered a hug, or a handshake, or a nod of acknowledgment. We decided on nothing, and just stood, staring at each other.
"Come here often?" He said eventually. My lip twitched.
"Come for the giant kiwi, stay for the sex shops."
"Can't believe you buy coffee from the Graze. Addiction is where the locals go." He gestured across the street to the one other coffee place. I shrugged.
"Not a local."
"Na." He said. "Kind of famous aren't you?"
"Kinda." I looked at him. He looked great. His face was as striking and his lips as full as ever. I thought maybe I spotted a grey hair and felt a little victorious, until I decided it made him look even better than usual. Distinguished. "I gotta make it to Wellington." I said. He nodded.
I haven't seen Harry in years- well. I've seen him. I usually cross the street to avoid him. Luckily I live in Auckland now and the chances of running into him there are a hell of a lot slimmer than when we were both in Wellington. We used to be pretty good friends. But I have a habit of fucking things up with pretty good friends.
It was because he used the stupid service I used to run. Hire-a-Hubby. It could be like some sexist handyman company but it's really even worse. It's what it sounds like.
When you're an actor you get used to making ends meet. I've been a bartender, I've worked for the electoral roll, I've handed out pamphlets on the street... my biggest hustle though started with a good friend Libby, who needed a beard- or do you call it a merkin? Regardless, she needed a man for a dreaded family Christmas because her Nana was on her deathbed and coming out could wait a year and she didn't want to field questions all week. I did that one for free. I was bored, I don't have a family and my last Christmas before that was Jagermeister for breakfast and acid for lunch and a huge falling out with my flatmate so it seemed like a slightly saner alternative.
Her friend Jas asked me to repeat the process with a funeral. The whole damn extended family who wouldn't shut up about her settling down would be there and she wanted someone to shove in their faces. She offered to pay me $200 for the day and a bottle of wine on top- well. How could I turn that down?
See, I'm tall- but not threateningly so. I have soft floppy hair that's usually due for a trim and falls in my eyes. Sort of smart, but you're probably smarter. Easy to talk to. I know a little about a lot- I usually cream people in Stuff quizzes. Basically I'm a damn good husband. Or at least a damn good stand in. Before I knew it, that was my business, and up until a couple of years ago when I finally landed a real gig, that was my income.
It was two and a bit years ago when Harry approached me at a friend's birthday.
"You do men right?" He said loudly into my ear. My head jerked up violently. We'd been friends for years. Weird time to proposition me. He laughed as he saw my face. "The fake husband gig." He clarified. "I have a High School reunion and I need to look like I'm successful and engaged and all that." I looked him over, confused.
"But... ." Harry rolled his eyes.
"Don't say it! I don't need the Central Hawkes Bay graduation class of 2011 to know I'm a slut." I laughed.
"Na." I shook my head as he sat next to me. "I don't do it for friends. It gets weird."
"You're only saying that because Hester wouldn't sleep with you." I cleared my throat. Yeah I got a little drunk and ahh... maybe made things a bit awkward with Hester. I liked to pretend it wasn't my fault.
"How's the um... public policy stuff going?" I tried to change the subject. He shook his head.
"Better than your acting career. Come on, I'll pay you well. And it's me, you aren't gonna hit on me in a hotel room at 4am." I rolled my eyes
"Why do you need a husband?"
"Because I was the only gay man in the whole of fucking Waipawa and everyone at my school thought that meant all I was good for for dancing and drugs and anal sex. I want to prove that's a stupid, cliched, homophobic idea."
I looked at Harry carefully and tried not to laugh.
"But..." I said eventually. He held up his hand. "Don't say it!" He sighed. Harry was, after all, kind of famed for his dancing and drugs, and probably anal sex as well. "I realise I'm not the ideal person for the job but it's who they have." He downed his drink. "What's your daily rate? I'll double it. Call me." He stood up to get a refill.
Well. All the convincing I really took was our next power bill. I called him.
"I'll do it. When are you free for an evening? I want to get to know you."
"What do you mean? You've known me for years."
"Yeah, as a mate. What if someone asks me your star sign?"
"Exactly, gotta know all those details."
"I don't care about Star signs."
"Well maybe your fiancé does. And Aquarius and Leo are a damn good match, for your information."
"Fine. Friday. Loretta."
"Aunt Meena's Maybe?"
"My shout, mate."
"In that case Loretta will work fine." I heard him laugh down the phone. "6.30."
I was running late, I'd had an audition and it hadn't gone well which I knew from the second I saw the director. He just gave me that look. That 'god another one of these fucking guys' looks. He insisted on raking me over the coals though because God forbid I escape with any sense of dignity.
Harry looked great, nothing new there. He was blonder than me, taller than me, broader than me. He held himself like a dancer, with open shoulders and a raised chin. He glanced over me as I fell into the chair opposite him.
"I hope you scrub up well." He said. I laughed.
"Eh." I said. "Don't worry. I have a suit. How are you?" We caught up and I watched him as he spoke. I do a lot of work for this gig, it's why I'm so good at it. He needed to relax around me. He was nice, friendly- but not loose. He didn't say the first joke that came into his head. I leant back as I listened and my foot grazed his calf. He moved his leg and I rolled my eyes. "Hey. Fiancé. Gotta practise intimacy. This is a trial run." He blushed and I caught his fingers on the table.
"Relax." I said. His hand was stiff under mine. "I'm a professional." I said.
I ordered more wine to loosen us up and a side salad. Harry ordered a pizza and three sides. I raised my eyebrows.
"We'll need another table." I said. The waiter obviously agreed because he asked us if we wanted to move to the larger table beside us. "You bulking?" I asked. Harry cleared his throat.
"Yeah." He said shortly.
"Alright. Good to know. You bulk. Which means you cut. I think I hate it when you cut because you're kind of an asshole." Harry grinned at me.
"And you're vegetarian now? Did I finally convince you with the last documentary on climate change we watched together?"
"I'm not vegetarian." Harry shrugged. "But when we go out to dinner I guess we share."
"Well that's cute. No wonder I agreed to marry you. Or was it the other way round?" Harry sipped on his wine.
"I proposed." He decided. "I wanted to do it on the waterfront but it was windy and I was scared I'd lose your ring. I was weird all day. You knew what I was planning on doing and insisted on a drive out the Shelly Bay, and insisted on climbing up the Massey Memorial and at the top, when I was pointing out a Karearea flying above, you told me firmly that now would be a good time if there was anything on my mind." I squeezed his hand.
"And I practically didn't let you finish asking." He blushed as he looked over the table.
"You are good at this aren't you?" He said. I shrugged.
"Contrary to apparently popular opinion I'm a damned good actor."
I let his hand go as the food and sharing plates arrived. Harry looked over the meal.
"Help yourself." He said. I didn't quite meet his eye.
"I'm ok." I said, looking at my bowl of leaves. "Not that hungry."
"I told you this was my shout." He said. "I'm paying either way, I can't eat all this."
"Get it to takeaway."
"Just eat the fucking food, Hugh." I glanced up at him. He tore a bit of pizza off and started tearing it into strips. He ate pizza in a way I'd never seen before. He ripped off the crust and nibbled on that first, then cut the pizza into little bite sized pieces which he ate with his hands. It was fascinating.
"Thank God you got pizza. If I saw that for the first time at a High School reunion I would have lost my shit." He rolled his eyes and picked up another piece, depositing it on my plate.
"Show me how it's done then." He said and I sighed. I didn't like being treated. I began to eat, the normal way, and started to get our relationship established.
"When did we meet?"
"No need to over complicate it right? We met at Mel and Chris's wedding." Yeah that was easier than a cover story.
"And what was the inciting incident? Like when did we become more than friends?" Harry poured us each a very generous glass of wine and kept playing with his pizza, not quite meeting my eye.
"Remember that Christmas a few years ago when I got stranded at yours and I'd just been dumped and I was a total mess?"
"What, we went dumpster diving and did graffiti in the Mt Vic Tunnel?"
"Yeah and then we made some food and got drunk and stoned and watched Die Hard. And I was kind of lying on you and you were kind of playing with my hair and you said 'Harry, this might be the weed talking, but I'd really like to kiss you.' And we kissed and we knew we had something special." I cleared my throat.
Yeah. I remember that night. I hadn't been sure if he did actually, we'd had a lot to drink, and a lot of weed. But he remembered it beat for beat, including me playing with his hair. Only I never asked to kiss him.
I'd held his head in my hands and he glanced up at me with a soft little smile and I said maybe the stupidest thing I'd ever said.
"If you were a girl I would kiss you."
"Yeah that's good." I brought myself back to the present. I looked up at him. He was looking deep into his wine glass, like it contained the answers to something we didn't even know the question for. A few things crossed my mind to say, but I couldn't bring myself to speak. I gulped on my wine instead.
"Top or bottom?" I asked eventually. Harry choked.
"Definitely not irrelevant." Harry sighed and I could see he was going to argue. "People literally always ask once they have a few drinks in them and I can't make a smartass comment without having context. It falls flat. I've tried it." Harry rolled his eyes. He thought I was full of it. Which... maybe a little. Maybe I was just intrigued.
"We're both verse but maybe I top slightly more." He said quietly, playing with his food.
"Hmmm. Ok. Kinky or vanilla?"
"Maybe a little kinky, but not every time."
"Dom or sub?" Harry blushed.
"We both switch." He said slowly. "But maybe I like to sub slightly more." I grinned. Harry was so well balanced.
"What do I call you in bed?"
"That's too much."
"It's not. Do I call you Daddy?"
"Do I call you Sir?"
"Do I call you pumpkin?"
"You call me Harry."
"Boring." He sighed.
"You call me Chef." He said quietly. That pricked up my ears.
"Oooh." He glanced at me.
"Don't ever tell anyone that." I grinned.
"It's ok. I like being called baby boy in bed. How's that for emasculating?"
"Baby boy?" He wrinkled his nose. "Not by me." I shrugged.
"Fine. Good boy?"
"Are you a good boy?" I bit my lip as my dick reacted to that in spite of myself. Harry has a soft, deep voice and he was keeping it down for obvious reasons. His voice was magic.
"For you." I flirted. He was so red. He rolled his eyes and pushed more food towards me.
"Eat." He said.
He got a nice Air BnB with two rooms and we had a day to unwind and see the sights Waipukurau had to offer. He drove up because I couldn't so I offered to give him a back massage. He refused, I insisted, and eventually I wrestled his shirt off.
"Oh shit." I said. He was all muscle. I hadn't expected it. He had a desk job so I thought he'd be pale and flabby... but he was fit and toned, with a six, almost eight pack softly covered in sandy hair. "No wonder I want to marry you." I admired him. "Alright, face down." Harry lay down on his bed obediently and I straddled him as I started to work his back carefully. Yikes. He had a knotty back. Tension everywhere. "Jesus Harry, do you ever relax?"
"No." He said.
"Could you try? Right now?" He sighed and maybe he tried, it wasn't really helping.
I lost track of time as I worked the muscles in his shoulders carefully. I was totally absorbed in him, trying to make him feel good. Every now and then he would let out a satisfying deep sigh. Once or twice he even moaned, sending a thrill down my spine.
Then suddenly he tensed up again.
"For fuck's sake Harry!" He sat up and looked at me.
"Sorry! It's just... you um..." He trailed off. "Your dick was rubbing my ass." He admitted. I glanced at myself. Oops.
"I'm gonna take a shower." I said. Harry giggled as I tried to leave the room with some dignity. Oh well. You try sensually touching someone for an hour and see if you stay soft.
I jerked off in the shower and my mind wandered to his ass. I was a professional. It was only natural I thought about my fiancé's ass. Even if he was a fake fiancé.
I finished up and wandered back into the kitchen. He was shirtless and staring aimlessly in the fridge.
"Oh for fucks sake put them away." I shielded my eyes as I headed to my room. He glanced at me, confused. "Your abs." I yelled as I got dressed. "Gonna fucking cut myself on them." I muttered. He rolled his eyes as I returned to the kitchen and he closed the fridge.
"Let's go for a drive." He said, stretching. "I'll take you Mangakuri and Kairakau and we'll have a bit of a walk." I shrugged. Sure.
He drove me through Waipawa, and told me all about the duck that used to be there. He showed me the Elsthorpe farm he used to have a horse on. He pointed out the Patangata tavern and told me about being roughed up outside there. We drove for ages and ages and took a few twists and turns on and off gravel roads until he parked up next to a beach.
"Mangakuri." He said, unbuckling. I looked outside dubiously.
"Weathers a bit shit." I said.
"Yeah it's always raining in Mangakuri." He shrugged. "Come on."
He jumped as I took his hand. I looked at him firmly.
"Get used to it." I said. He didn't drop my hand, but his arm was as stiff as a board.
"You know, I thought you sort of, showed up, pretended to be my fiancé, talk nice about me and that's it." He said as we began walking. I swung our arms to loosen him up a bit.
"The only thing more embarrassing than faking a fiancé is being called out on a fake fiancé." I said. "You're so fucking awkward around me. Just pretend you want to touch me or everyone will guess and think you're pathetic." He rolled his eyes and picked up the pace, battling against the drizzle and the wind.
He pointed out some anemones in rock pools and a brown bird he got very excited by.
"New Zealand Dotterel." He said. "Never seen one here in my life."
"Wow." I said obligingly. He laughed and picked me up, swinging me off the rock I was standing on.
"I love that you take an interest in my hobbies, babe." He wrapped his arm over my shoulder and I let mine snake around his waist as I caught my breath. I mean I guess I shouldn't be surprised but fuck, he'd picked me up like I was nothing.
We returned to the car and he drove to the next beach. Kairakau.
"Food- kai. Sticks- rakau." He said. "Barbecue."
"Thanks for the Maori lesson."
"Come on." He grabbed my hand and led me away from the beach and up a hill.
"Jesus. Are we going all the way up?" I panted, looking at the cliff face.
"Views worth it." He said.
We got to the top and I was red in the face and sweating my ass off. He was glowing. He wiped a bead of sweat from his brow and shimmied under the fence.
"Is it electric?" I asked. He shrugged from the other side.
"Always assumed so." He said. I clambered over it and almost fell off as I felt the shock.
"Bollocks!" I yelled, and launched myself up. Harry caught me, laughing, and stopped me from throwing myself off the cliff. We sat down and looked over the beach and at the little people. I looked at him. He was getting more tanned by the second under this sun.
"That weather changed fast." He looked away from the village and back to me.
"That's just Mangakuri, told you, it's always raining there." He put his arm around me and I flinched. He raised his eyebrow.
"Thought we were getting comfortable around each other."
"I'm just so fucking sweaty." I laughed. He leant in.
"I have a thing for sweaty guys. Sweaty, red faced, almost spent, compliant..." His lips brushed my ear as he whispered to me. He squeezed my knee. His lips curled as he saw my face. "You've got no idea if I'm joking or not do you?" He laughed and held me as we looked down on the sea.
Fucking hell. First his abs and now his fantasies. Two more days. That's all. I could do this. I'm a professional.
I leant against him and listened to his heart beat.
"Oh." He looked me over as I emerged from my room the next night, having dressed up and done my hair. I started to panic. Oh is never, ever, a good thing.
"Fuck." I said. "Do we have time to buy something else? Your stuff won't fit me." Harry laughed.
"Oh, damn Hugh, you do scrub up well." He finished his sentence with a smile. He pushed my hair off my face. "Relax. You're a professional. Or that's what you keep telling me." I laughed.
"No point in a fake fiancé unless he's gonna make all the girls jealous." Harry nodded.
"Agreed. I'd have hired a hooker if I didn't think you were prettier than any of the men for hire in Wellington."
"Did you actually look?" Harry shrugged.
"What do you think?"
"That's very Pretty Woman."
"And what you do isn't?"
"Touché." I tossed him a silver ring with a kawakawa imprint and moved my own to my left hand.
"Nice." He looked at them. "Where did you get them?"
"You know Leo? One of his staff members makes this. It's great yeah?"
"Big Maori guy? Fuck I used to have such a crush on him."
"Total babe, right?" Harry raised his eyebrows at me.
"Thought you were straight?" He teased. I double checked my hair in the mirror and picked up my coat.
"Did you?" I asked. I smirked to myself at his expression as I led the way out of the apartment.
We caught a shuttle out, where we hid in a corner and turned down the lights so he didn't have to talk to anyone until he was ready. The event itself was at a winery somewhere in the middle of Hawkes Bay about an hour from where we were staying. I don't know. It's all a bit the same for me.
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