[i [#a3a3c2 [b "Ira honey, you have flour on your face,"]] chuckled the older woman. She licked her thumb and swiped it across the face of a young boy. He shied away from her touch. Blushing, he jutted out his chin and threw his hands up in defense.
[b [#00075D "Gross, Ma!"]] He cried, wiping his face on the back of his hand. The woman smiled down at him. Her long locks of greying curls where trying to escape from her pony tail. Flour streaked her brown skin and coated her apron. Her chocolate eyes gazed at him with adoration, the lines around her eyes bunched together as she laughed.
[b [#a3a3c2 "What? It's not embarrassing for a mother to take care of her baby."]] She explained, wrapping her arm around the child's waist and pulled him into a hug. He squirmed for a moment before melting under her kisses. Ira's expression soften. A small smile crawled across his face as laughter erupted from his small chest. [b [#a3a3c2 "Common now, let's put these scones in the oven,"]] she instructed, releasing the boy from her hold. He nodded vigorously before carefully opening the oven.]
The sun was just beginning to rise when Ira was pulled from his slumber by the wailing of his alarm clock. Turning it off, he rolled back over before getting up. Laying for a moment in the silence, a heavy lump found refuge on the small of his back. Sharp claws pricked his exposed skin as the furry creature proceeded to kneed him like dough.
Jolting upright, the animal fell to the floor landing on it's feet with a thud. An angry yowl escaped it's lips before it sauntered towards the kitchen checking over it's shoulder making sure the man followed.
Rubbing his eyes, Ira noticed his cheeks were wet. When was the last time he had dreamed of Anais? He couldn't recall. He couldn't remember the last time he even slept soundlessly enough [i too dream at all.]
Stretching his arms above his head, Ira let out a yawn. His phone buzzed, demanding his concentration. Opening it, he read the message. [b From Jonas at 6:02 am] [i Hey sleepy head, don't forget we are getting a shipment of coffee grounds today. Dimitri will meet you out front at 6:30 sharp.] [i Ps. Aiden says hi]
Another scream from the kitchen grabbed Ira's attention. Climbing to his feet, the man followed the call. Baguette was sitting at his food bowl insisting his breakfast was the most important thing. Ira opened the cabinet beneath the sink, scooped a cup of dry cat food and dumped in into the bowl. The blonde cat stared at the food for a moment before looking back at his owner unamused.
[b [#00075D "Seriously Baguette?"]] Ira grumbled. Opening the refrigerator, he grabbed a half empty can of tuna and forked the contents on top of the pellets. With a purr of satisfaction, the unit of a cat devoured his meal.
Once Baguette was fed, Ira made his rounds watering the numerous house plants. He rotated them each a few degrees so they could get their share of sunlight. Pruning some of the dead leaves, Ira knew he could be at this all day. Checking the clock on his bedside table, it read [i [b 6:19 AM.]]
Stepping out of his pajama pants, Ira picked out a clean pair of clothes for the day and made his way to the bathroom. He brushed his teeth and yanked a comb through his hair before pulling it back into a bun. Checking himself over in the mirror, he tired to ignore the bags under his amber eyes.
Today his outfit consisted of a pair of navy slim fitted dress pants, a white button up, and a dark grey sweater. Lacing up his shoes, he grabbed his phone, said goodbye to Baguette, and headed down stairs.
Ira flicked the power on and found his apron. Pulling it over his head, he started his usual routine. He started by putting on a pot of dark roast and medium roast coffee. Next, he set the ovens to preheat. The Magnolia House took pride in their fresh baked bread every day. Once he had finish the prep work, Ira unlocked the front door.
A tall dark-skinned man stood with his hands in his pockets. His face lit up when he saw his boss. Ira's brows knitted together. [b [#00075D "Dimitri, you know you have a key right?"]] Ira asked, leading the man inside.
[b [#730099 "I know but I like when you let me in,"]] Dimitri exclaimed, his smile too bright this early in the morning. Ira rolled his eyes but couldn't help but smile back. It was contagious.
The boys met the shipment truck out back and unloaded the bags of coffee beans. Dimitri took a few minutes to chat with his father, who had been driving the truck, before meeting Ira inside. They stacked the bags in the store room and made sure to inventory the items. By 7:30, Ira had filled the display case with goodies. Smells of fresh baked sweets and bitter coffee filled the café.
Ira proceeded to pour three mugs of coffee. He handed one to Dimitri and added sugar and oat milk to the other. Right on cue, the door chimed, alerting the men to the intruder. A young blonde woman strolled through the door. She was dressed in a black sweater and a black skirt. A white apron was slung around her neck flapping as she walked. When she reached the counter, she automatically took the mug lighter than the rest.
[b [#004d00 "Morning guys. It smells good in here,"]] she greeted, taking a swig of her coffee.
[b [#00075D "Good morning, Lane."]] Ira paused, taking a sip from his mug. [b [#00075D "We are going to be busy today I think."]] It was Saturday, they were often busiest on the weekend. People came all throughout the morning to order off of their special brunch menu. Ira enjoyed cooking a real meal here and there.
[b [#730099 "Yeah and the Dominos are playing tonight!"]] Added Dimitri as he rummage through the bin of music before settling on his favorite Sinatra album. Setting it up to play on the record player, he flipped the sign from [i CLOSED] to [i OPEN] and propped the door open before returning to his co-workers.
The Dominos were a popular band that grew it's following in LA over the last two years. The Magnolia House had been known to do live music every Saturday and a lot of bands fought for a spot.
[b [#00075D "Right, could you change the chalk sign for me Lane?"]] Ira asked before heading to the kitchen to get started on breakfast.
Lane nodded and grabbed a box of multi colored chalk. She took the chalkboard sign from behind the counter and began to decorate it. In looping script she wrote, [i [b 'Playing tonight at the Mag House, Live Music from: The Dominos.']] When she was finished, she carried the sign outside and set it up for everyone to see.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Abel] [center [size15 [abel Bunny vaguely registered that it was early when he opened his hooded eyes and stared through long, pale lashes; he squinted suspiciously at his clock until the blurred lines slowly took shape at numbers. 7:02 Am. He sighed, there was absolutely no reason for him to be up already, he’d stayed up to near to four in the morning writing his review; he should, without hesitation, be asleep. Yet here he was, cuddled up under three blankets and wide awake. The more cognizant he became the more he realized he was doomed and would not be getting any rest until that night, at least he wasn’t working tonight. His stomach wouldn’t be able to handle another dinner like last nights.
The food wasn’t bad of course, you don’t get to be a restaurant of the level that Bunny reviewed by serving bad food but to be honest he’d found that the hype for this particular establishment was mostly empty. The food was adequate at best and the wine pairings were based more on price than on taste. In the end it was just one of those places people went to, to blow money and look pretentious.
The young man felt his stomach move, making rumbling noises of both protests and demands. He was hungry, he briefly considered staying in and cooking something hearty but quickly realized he hadn’t been to the market that week and had almost nothing in the kitchen to cook with. Leaving him with only the option to get out of bed and venture out for breakfast. He lifted the blankets over his head and groaned at the realization.
It was getting [i cold] outside with the approaching winter and the warmth of his bed seemed to mock him as he slowly moved out from his place under the covers. Almost immediately he felt a chill, his skin prickling before he fumbled on the bedside table and found the remote for his space heater and turned it up to full blast.
He was still tired from the night before and knew he didn’t have the energy to dress up, so instead he opted for a pair of dark blue jeans that clung nicely to his legs and a comfy, cream sweater that was easily three or four sizes too large for him. The knitted fabric was soft and warm, though the cold bit at his collar and shoulder which was exposed due to the largeness. The sweater was so large it nearly reached his knees, looking more like a dress or tunic than a shirt. He took a moment, perching on the side of the bed, to let his body heat soak into the fabrics and chase away some of the chill he’d been feeling. The heater helped with that too. Bunny fumbled about the room for a bit looking for his brown, lace up boots. His pastel mint colored hair was messy but he didn’t mind, it was so early and he was just wearing his comfy clothes so it didn’t matter if he had a small case of bedhead.
Bunny shut off the space heater as he left the room, not wanting to short circuit anything and burn down his apartment while he was out. He ducked into his home office and grabbed his laptop, putting into his leather satchel so he could finish polishing his review while he ate. The place he planned to eat at was casual enough he could do so for a while. Checking to make sure he had his wallet and keys he left his overly neat and sparsely decorated apartment.
The young critic had long since memorized the trolley routes and schedule and easily found his way toward the older district of Souver. There was really only one place Bunny went for breakfast in his personal time, [i ‘The Magnolia House’]. It had been by chance the first time he’d gone in but the exceptional quality of both tea and food had made it a regular place for the boy.
It was past 8 when Bunny got there, a couple of other customers already seated and getting their orders. The establishment served meals and was apparently a good brunch spot though Bunny pretty much exclusively ordered tea and pastries rather than actual food. For once his perpetually tired gaze matched the amount of the sleep he’d gotten as his half-lidded eyes took in the ambiance of the small restaurant. It smelled good, warm and bright and he felt himself eager to get his tea and something to eat. Though his stomach seemed almost empty enough that he could order something more. The thought made him wince; however, he’d never ordered food here before and he would hate to find the food wasn’t as good as everything else otherwise he’d never want to come back and he genuinely [i liked] it here. He wasn’t sure exactly what had endeared the place so much, there were plenty of places with good food. Maybe it was simply that this place a part of his work and thus felt more relaxed. Sure, he was critic whether he was reviewing a place or not but so far this place had met all of his standards.
Ultimately, he decided against order a meal and thus walked up to the counter to order rather than picking up a menu and looking it over. The blonde barista had moved away from the counter, going back somewhere when Bunny approached, but he was used to that, she had been doing that more and more lately when he came in. The glitter still present on his body from the night before reflecting light and making his exposed skin shimmer as he waited under the lights of the counter. His eyes drifted up to the chalk menu mounted to the wall behind the counter and looked it over trying to decide what to get with his usual tea. Unconsciously his thumb snuck between his lips, his teeth resting against it while his hand and fingers found a grip beneath his chin, as if he was holding his own face. It was a strange habit and he wasn’t really sure where it had come from but try as he might, and honestly, he didn’t try hard, he couldn’t seem to top doing it.
After a moment a man stepped out from the back, his long midnight colored hair was pulled up and away from his face and he was whipping his hands of flour on his apron. Bunny recognized him as the chef and pâtissier for the restaurant, occasionally he seemed to take Bunny’s order for him though he wasn’t clear on why. He hadn’t yet decided on what to get, perhaps he’d let him decide instead? As the one who had made the items on the menu, he had good taste and occasionally Bunny simply deferred to his suggestions on food.
[b [#60B9D6 “G’morning,”]] He greeted his voice so soft that it slurred the words together. [b [#60B9D6 “I would like a Royal Milk Tea with honey on the side,”]] It was his usual and honestly the man had shown on several occasions he remember his order, [b [#60B9D6 “can you suggest something to have with it?”]] ]]]
[#669999 [b "Want to stay for the concert tonight?"]] Sonder suggested as they took a sip from their to go cup. Their curly, ebony hair had been pushed back with a headband and a pair of thick rimmed glasses sat on the bridge of their nose. With a long, thin finger, they pushed the spectacles back into place.
The book store clerk visited the Magnolia house every morning at the same time. Lane always spent extra time perfecting their order, an iced dirty chai and a lemon scone. Today they had opted for just the beverage.
Lane leaned against the counter, her face towards Sonder. Resting on one elbow, she took her partner's hand, tracing circles with her thumb. [b [#004d00 "Yeah I get off at 6, wanna meet me here?"]] She agreed, pressing her lips to the back of Sonder's hand.
The chime above the front door to the cafe grabbed the Barista's attention. Her emerald eyes snapped to the guest, surveying the scene. A thin male with mint locks slowly approached the counter.
A squeal broke from the blonde girls' lips. Pulling away from her partner, Lane scurried over to Dimitri in a fury. Almost knocking the mug he had been drying from his hands, Lane waved her arms like a maniac and gestured to the client. Dimitri followed her gaze.
[i [b [#004d00 "He's here! He's here!"]]] Lane hissed only loud enough for Dimitri to hear.
When he recognized the man, Dimitri matched her devilish grin. [i [b [#730099 "Let's go tell him,"]]] he forced a whisper, trying to hide his excitement. The two shuffled towards the kitchen door and disappeared, Sonder watching them with confusion.
Their boss stood over the grill humming to himself. A white bandana was tied around his head keeping his stray hair in place. He had discarded his sweater, wearing only a button up with the sleeves rolled revealing his tattoos and pale skin.
[b [#730099 "Chef!"]] Lane blurted out, slapping her hands to her lips as Ira jolted in surprise. His spatula nearly jumped from his hand. Clearing his throat, he turned to look at the girl with a disapproving look. Before he could speak, Dimitri was completing Lane's sentence. [b [#730099 "[i He] is here!"]]
Ira's face lit up like a child on Christmas day. Beckoning for Dimitri, he handed off the spatula like a baton. [b [#00075D "Here, take over."]] He directed.
Taking two plates of steaming pancakes, he passed them onto Lane. She blinked at him slowly obviously confused. [b [#00075D "You can go on break."]] He instructed. Smiling, he waved a hand before exiting the kitchen. [b [#00075D "Tell Sonder hi for me."]]
Lane looked down at the two plates in her hands and smiled. Following Ira out of the kitchen, she found Sonder and took a table by the window.
Ira scanned the café and found what he was looking for. Who he was looking for. A petite boy with a permanent sleepy expression, stood at the counter eyeing the menu overhead. His oversized sweatshirt fell off of his shoulders, exposing the soft skin around his collar bones. Body glitter caught the natural light, drawing Ira's attention. For a moment, the chef forgot why he had come outside in the first place. Swallowing, he shook his head and met the boy's eyes.
[b [#60B9D6 "G'morning,"]] He greeted, his gentle voice enraptured Ira. [b [#60B9D6 “I would like a Royal Milk Tea with honey on the side,”]] he started. Ira tried to hide his smile. He liked that the boy usually got the same drink. [b [#60B9D6 “Can you suggest something to have with it?"]] He asked, catching Ira off guard.
Ira thought for a moment while he poured Bunny's usual drink. The chef liked to serve the drink in his favorite tea cup and saucer. It was a pearly white with hand painted magnolia's wrapping around the sides. The porcelain dish had been a gift Ira bought for his mother back in high school. He thought it belonged in the shop instead of collecting dust on a shelf.
[b [#00075D "Careful, it's hot,"]] He cautioned, pushing the drink towards the boy. [b [#00075D "Depends on what you're feeling. I know you like sweets but if you want brunch, I think the warm Brie and Pear panini or the bruschetta flatbread."]] He wondered aloud, he tapped his lip with his index finger. [b [#00075D "You might like our chestnut praline crepe if you're feeling something sweet."]] He inquired, furrowing his brow. [b [#00075D "Actually, just go sit down. I'll bring you all of it."]] He decided without waiting for an answer. Turning away in a hurry, he disappeared into the kitchen.
Fifteen minutes later, Ira returned with three plates perfectly balance in hand. Spreading them out on the table, he lingered for a moment studying his expression. [b [#00075D "Let me know if you need anything else,"]] he added quickly. He hesitated before turning to leave. Ira wanted nothing more than to watch the boy eat, but his staff told him it was creepy to hover.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Abel] [center [size15 [abel The chef had seemed caught off guard by Bunny’s question, or perhaps it was more of a request? But chef recommendations were normal in restaurants, but he supposed a more casual place like this saw those sorts of things less. The dark-haired male seemed to be thinking it over while he prepared the tea. Bunny watched his hands while he worked, his motions were all purposeful and direct; no unnecessary flourishes. Bunny liked that. He even wiped off the spot of tea which had splashed out when he poured the milk in from the saucer so it was nice and clean.
[b [#00075D “Careful,”]] He warned as he handed the drink to him, [b [#00075D “it’s hot.”]] Bunny placed his hands on the cup, the warmth of the liquid radiating out through the porcelain. He had noticed before that this particular tea set didn’t match the rest of the ones used. He wondered if it was a set used specifically for this type of tea, if so it was a nice touch. [b [#00075D “Depends on what you’re feeling,”]] Before Bunny could speak to answer that not-quite-a-question the chef was continuing on. [b [#00075D “I know you like sweets but if you want brunch, I think the warm Brie and Pear Panini or the Bruschetta Flatbread.”]] Bunny was going to protest that he wasn’t planning on having a full meal but again the chef continued, [b [#00075D “You might like our Chestnut Praline Crepe if you’re feeling something sweet. Actually, just go sit down. I’ll bring you all of it.”]]
Bunny stared after the chef who had disappeared after deciding to bring [i three dishes] to the mint haired boy. Did he look so malnourished that the man felt he needed that quantity of food? Bunny was clearly on his own, he never came here with anyone before so it would be strange for them to assume, he would have company. He fingered the tea cup for a moment, contemplating simply throwing down a twenty for the tea and leaving. He really hadn’t planned on eating a meal here and the thought of what it would be like filled him with a gnawing anxiety. Of course, if he did do that, he’d never be able to face coming back here again.
It was that thought that made him finally relent and sit down at a table. He chose one near the window with a nice view of the square so he could look out at people. It wasn’t as busy here as the district he lived in but the people watching was still good. Maybe even a little better since it wasn’t a crowded and he could see more detail about each person. The people watching was a habit he picked up a child, his parents had taught him that a good child is seen and not heard so when he was out in public, he’d learned to find quiet ways to entertain himself. Watching other people live their lives was certainly amusing.
Bunny sipped at his tea in silence, the warmth coupled with the rich, smoothness of the drink slowly draining the tension and nervousness about dining here from his body. He liked that they used a darker tea leaf for a more intense flavor the Assam was perfect with its slightly malty tones. Bunny barely noticed how much time had passed, he’d nearly finished his tea when the chef emerged from the back balancing three plates. He watched as he approached placing the three on his table, Bunny had decided not to pull out his laptop since there would be so many plates.
The first thing he smelled was the warm sandwich with the brie, it had a strong scent that was both sweet and savory. Despite how delectable the smell was he decided he would start with the flatbread, it was lighter and smaller in portion, so he would treat it like an appetizer and structure the meal like a three-course dinner.
[b [#00075D “Let me know if you need anything else,”]] The chef offered. Though Bunny couldn’t think what he could possibly need. He came in for a small bite and was having three plates and unlike restaurants who severed several courses the sizes here were clearly meant as meals within their own rights and Bunny hated to waste food. He got the feeling he might be sick later.
He picked up one of the slices of flatbread and took a bite, the ingredients were fresh but the bruschetta had clearly been prepared earlier, not an uncommon practice based on the type of establishment. The flatbread itself was fresh, still warm and perfectly colored. Everything was rather uniform in size making each bite burst with equal flavors of all components and Bunny could taste the sweetness of shallots rather than the harsher flavor of onions which were usually preferred. The cold feta with the slightly heated mozzarella was a nice contrast and the balsamic glaze which had been drizzled over top added just the right acidity and flavor to cut through without over powering the other aspects.
It didn’t take long for him to devour the rest of the plate. He sipped on what was left of his tea before moving on to the next plate; the Brie and Pear Panini.
His eyes fluttering closed at the warmth and taste that spread across his entire mouth. The creamy brie which seemed even more rich and palatable now that it was warm coupled with the caramelized taste of the thin slices of pears practically melted against his tongue. The bread was light and airy with just the right amount of crunch from the press and he could taste both rosemary and thyme baked into the bread. And just as he began to swallow, he got the distinct taste of fresh honey, but it wasn’t like the honey he had put in his tea, no this was a flavored honey. It tasted vaguely and lightly of citrus, maybe an orange blossom honey then? Bunny had to stop himself from making what was likely an obscene and inappropriate noise for a restaurant, stifling it in his throat. He felt heat rise to his cheeks as the chef chose that moment to come by with a glass of water. He coughed a little to hide the sound that had been building in his throat and tried not to look them directly in the eye as his face flushed.
[b [#00075D “I noticed you finished your tea; I wasn’t sure what you’d like to drink so I brought water. Is that alright?”]]
[b [#60B9D6 “Yes, that’s fine. Thank you,”]] He answered. He didn’t much like flavored drinks so water would be perfect. There was a short lull between the two of them before the chef seemed to realize something and went back towards the kitchen.
Bunny couldn’t help but fall into his usual habit of picking apart tastes and judging all aspects of a dish, it was second nature at this point. But so far, the food easily met his standards. If he was actually reviewing the place it would have gotten full stars.
He reached for the water as he finished the panini, letting the cold, clear, and crisp flavor wash away what was left of the previous plate.
It wasn’t such a bad thing that the dishes had all been brought out at once since the crepes had since cooled and were generally better served on the colder side. Bunny cut off a piece from the folded triangular side of the crepe rather than the open lip so that he could taste the filling and the crepe itself in more equal parts. Though this particular bite did have a bit more crepe than filling but he didn’t mind. The crepe had been spiced appropriately; it gave a significant feeling of fall. The spices were warm, he could taste the cloves and cinnamon with a hint of nutmeg beneath it. The filling wasn’t quite as spectacular as the crepe itself. The base cream was great with undertones of brown sugar and browned butter but the praline itself was too crunchy for a crepe in Bunny’s opinion. He preferred softer textures in crepes but he could see how the praline would add texture and interest to dish. Ultimately, he did finish the plate letting his final bites be mostly the crepe wrapping and whipped cream.
Pushing the last of the plates away from his body Bunny rested his head in his hand letting the last of the flavors linger on his tongue. He felt both a sense of contentment and the trademark fullness that told him he ate to much. The three clean plates agreed with that last feeling. The chef came by then, Bunny was a little surprised he had timed his approach so perfectly to when Bunny had finished eating.
[b [#60B9D6 “I’ve never had a meal cooked by you before, it was,”]] Bunny paused, his words and thoughts trailing, [b [#60B9D6 “really good.”]] He wasn’t sure how to describe the food without launching into what would essentially be a verbal review and normally he didn’t give his thoughts without first having time to contemplate but this wasn’t work, this was just… Him eating, and it wasn’t as if they knew he was critic so he hoped that this statement would be enough to express how much he’d enjoyed it, especially considering his trepidations. [b [#60B9D6 “The rosemary bread on the panini was a great touch and the honey you used, was it orange or orange blossom by chance? I tasted a hint of citrus in it.”]] ]]]
When Ira returned to the table, he was surprised that the three plates had been devoured. Furrowing his brows, he looked from the plates to the small man. Ira had not expected him to eat all three meals. He took a mental note to make smaller portions the next time he had the man try his creations. Scratching the back of his head, the was part of him that felt guilty for making him eat so much.
[b [#60B9D6 “I’ve never had a meal cooked by you before, it was,”]] Bunny started, obviously lost in thought, [b [#60B9D6 “really good.”]]
Ira was beaming. The chef had a habit of flashing his most heartbreaking smile at anyone who complimented his food. His employees joked about onlookers [i ‘needing a pair of sunglasses if they wanted to look directly at the sun.’]
[b [#60B9D6 “The rosemary bread on the panini was a great touch and the honey you used, was it orange or orange blossom by chance? I tasted a hint of citrus in it.”]] Bunny pondered aloud. His emerald eyes met Ira’s quizzically.
[b [#00075D “Orange blossom. I know a farmer in Florida that makes the best Orange Blossom Honey I have ever tasted.”]] Ira babbled. An excited grin spread across his face as he spoke. He often resembled a child explaining his favorite tv show more than a grown man talking about cooking. [b [#00075D “Let me get you some to take home.”]] He exclaimed, hurrying back to the kitchen.
Dimitri looked up from the grill. Smirking, he flipped a pancake before commenting. [b [#730099 “How is your favorite customer?”]] He asked in a teasing tone. Ira, oblivious to the deeper meaning behind his employee’s question, shrugged. Vanishing into the pantry, he came out moments later with a small glass jar in hand. Grabbing a paper bag, he wrapped it up nicely and abandoned Dimitri without an answer.
Snagging a pitcher of water, Ira made his rounds refilling glasses before returning to Bunny. [b [#00075D “Here’s a sample jar to take him. Let me know how you like it.”]] Ira insisted, placing the bag in front of Bunny. [b [#00075D “I am actually working on a coffee honey right now. Our farm has a few hives we are doing a trial run with,”]] he stated, his hands waving as he spoke. The cusp of his knuckle collided with a cup of water and it toppled to the floor, shattering on impact.
The broken glass pulled him from his frenzy. Ira pulled a rag from his apron pocket and began to clean up his mess. [b [#00075D “Sorry about that. I don’t notice I talk with my hand when I get excited.”]] He confessed sheepishly. [b [#00075D "Sorry about that."]]
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Abel] [center [size15 [abel The face of the chef seemed to light up at Bunny’s compliment, simple as it had been and his excitement further grew as he began to answer Bunny’s question about the honey. [b [#00075D “Orange blossom,”]] Bunny felt slightly prideful at how he’d correctly guessed but his pride was quickly swallowed by the thought that it was obvious he would know what it was. [b [#00075D “I know a farmer in Florida that makes the best Orange Blossom Honey I have ever tasted,”]] It made sense that the honey would come from Florida since Florida oranges were widely regarded to possess the best flavor out of other variations grown in other areas, [b [#00075D “Let me get you some to take home.”]]
Once again, the chef left before Bunny could offer any word of protest, it really wasn’t necessary for the chef to offer him honey, he had honey at home, honey never expired, he really didn’t need this. But something told him that it would easier for him to just agree with the energetic and enthusiastic man than to argue with him. Perhaps this would force him to make his own tea at home? Somehow that thought made him feel a little reluctance.
The chef returned in an instant carrying a water pitcher in one hand and a paper bag in the other. He flitted from one table the next filling up water, if Bunny hadn’t known better, he would have thought this man was a waiter for the establishment rather than its chef. Pale eyes watched him as he worked until the chef returned to his table and offered the bag to him, [b [#00075D “Here’s a sample jar to take. Let me know how you like it. I’m actually working on a coffee honey right now. Our farm has a few hives we are doing a trial run with,”]] Did he mean he was attempting to produce a local coffee blossom honey or was it different, before Bunny could ask the chef knocked over the half full glass of water that had been sitting on Bunny’s table.
The sound of glass shattering made Bunny flinch and a good number of people looked towards their table at the noise. [b [#00075D “Sorry about that. I don’t notice I talk with my hands when I get excited,”]] The chef seemed embarrassed by his tendency but Bunny had seen it was a common enough habit of people. [b [#00075D “Sorry about that.”]]
[b [#60B9D6 “You already said that,”]] Bunny muttered watching him lean down to wipe up the water and glass. The mint haired boy immediately moved to crouch down with him and the hand of his which was holding the dish rag. [b [#60B9D6 “You shouldn’t try to wipe it up right now, you need to sweep the glass away or you’ll cut your hand,”]] The chefs’ hands were calloused and large in Bunny’s soft grip, in truth it was almost like Bunny wasn’t holding his hand at all for all the pressure the other felt. He could feel the tell-tale signs of old scars on the fingers, likely accidents in the kitchen from many years ago.
[b [#60B9D6 “And,”]] Bunny began his hand slowly loosening from the chef’s, till he was barely still touching one of his fingers, [b [#60B9D6 “if you end up injuring your hands who will cook for me?”]]]]]
Ira felt anxiety creep through him when Bunny noted that he had apologized twice. He had never been very good at making small talk. [b [#60B9D6 “You shouldn’t try to wipe it up right now, you need to sweep the glass away or you’ll cut your hand,”]] Bunny explained, crouching down now eye level with the chef.
This was common knowledge even to Ira, but in this moment, his mind was blank. His eyes rested on Bunny’s small hands gripping Ira’s. The difference in size difference was almost comedic. Ira pictured how they’d look with their fingers intertwined. The thought caused the chef’s face to heat up. Shaking his head, he chanced the image away.
Bunny loosened his hold on Ira’s hand, their skin still touching. [b [#60B9D6 “If you end up injuring your hands, who will cook for me?”]] He asked. The two were so close Ira could feel the man’s breath on his cheek.
[b [#00075D “Probably Dimitri,”]] Ira replied with round eyes. A warm blush pained his face. He kicked himself for replying so literally. Raising to his feet slowly, Ira tightened his grip and helped the boy up with ease almost lifting him. [b [#00075D “Don’t worry about this mess, I will get a broom.”]]
Ira appeared in the kitchen, Dimitri right where he had left him. The younger chef looked up from the pastries he was packaging. He eyed his boss noticing how frazzled he looked. [b [#730099 “What happened?”]] Dimitri inquired with a raised brow.
[b [#00075D “I broke a pitcher.”]] Ira stated expressionless. Taking the broom from the pantry, he didn’t say anything more to his employee before returning to the floor.
Ira approached Bunny’s table slowly. Crouching down, he carefully swept the broken shards into the dust pan. Once all the pieces were consolidated, Ira dropped a towel on the puddle of water and stepped on it. Emptying the contents of the pan into the trash, he retrieved the towel and replaced it with a dry one.
Glancing at Bunny, he met his gaze. [b [#00075D “I will cook for you again if you come tomorrow.”]]
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Abel] [center [size15 [abel [b [#00075D “Probably Dimitri,”]] The said in response to his question. A question Bunny wasn’t entirely sure why he’d even bothered saying. After all there were plenty of chefs in the city who he’d had meals from. Leah in particular often cooked dinner for him whether he was reviewing her restaurant or she just wanted his opinion on a dish.
[b [#60B9D6 “I don’t know who that is,”]] Bunny answered as he allowed the other man to help him to his feet.
Bunny wasn’t sure if the chef had heard him or if his head was as loud as it seemed to look to Bunny, [b [#00075D “Don’t worry about this mess, I will get a broom.”]] Bunny didn’t feel that he was particularly worried about the water and glass, he’d only thought it was foolish for a chef to risk their hands trying to pick up jagged pieces of glass from the floor when they were slippery with water. The chef was barely gone a moment, though it made sense, it wasn’t safe to leave broken glass out in the open where customers were present. He quickly tied up the glass, this time sweeping it away instead of risking his hands by trying to wipe it up.
The chef glanced at Bunny who was still sitting patiently at his table for the conclusion of his meal, [b [#00075D “I will cook for you again if you come tomorrow.”]]
Bunny tilted his head curiously, the statement seemed obvious but also felt nice to hear. [b [#60B9D6 “Okay,”]] His voice was small and soft when he answered, [b [#60B9D6 “I’ll come tomorrow.”]] But he also felt anxious this was by far the strangest meal he’d had in a long time. And more than anything he felt a strange since of uneasiness that this chef wasn’t offering him the check. Maybe he’d forgotten because he was normally in the kitchen and didn’t do those tasks but if that was the case would the blonde barista bring it? Was he meant to ask for it? This felt strange and more than a little uncomfortable. [b [#60B9D6 “Um,”]] He began, his voice tentative and uncertain as he looked at the chef, [b [#60B9D6 “can I have the check, please?”]]]]]
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Abel] [left [pic https://i.imgur.com/yhMlHa8.jpg]][center [abel [size15 [pic https://images-wixmp-ed30a86b8c4ca887773594c2.wixmp.com/f/08db58bf-b2a3-4cd1-9c03-f93dcf194212/dbjobcm-f497dbfd-4a7f-482c-9263-ce1688f99d3e.png?token=eyJ0eXAiOiJKV1QiLCJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiJ9.eyJzdWIiOiJ1cm46YXBwOiIsImlzcyI6InVybjphcHA6Iiwib2JqIjpbW3sicGF0aCI6IlwvZlwvMDhkYjU4YmYtYjJhMy00Y2QxLTljMDMtZjkzZGNmMTk0MjEyXC9kYmpvYmNtLWY0OTdkYmZkLTRhN2YtNDgyYy05MjYzLWNlMTY4OGY5OWQzZS5wbmcifV1dLCJhdWQiOlsidXJuOnNlcnZpY2U6ZmlsZS5kb3dubG9hZCJdfQ.qXd_BXSEc6J-W_LcUtxsbXQHNkrfUIJc19GzuZITinI] The man tilted his head, his mint locks swept over his face. Ira caught himself memorizing his face. [b [#60B9D6 “Okay, I’ll come tomorrow.”]] He said quietly.
Ira smiled. He knew he wouldn’t be sleeping tonight out of excitement. Maybe he would clean the café top to bottom? Maybe he would organize the pantry and spice shelf? The likelihood of him doing all of the above was the closest answer.
[b [#00075D “Great. I will see you tomorrow.”]] Ira hummed. Before he could float back to the kitchen, Bunny spoke again.
[b [#60B9D6 “Um, can I have the check, please?”]] He asked, his voice unsure.
Ira’s brow furrowed; his expression puzzled. Why would he charge the man for stuff he didn’t order? The chef replayed their interactions in his mind from start to finish trying to figure why they were on different pages. Bunny usually ordered a pastry with his tea. Instead, Ira brought out three dishes to taste paired with the Royal Milk Tea. Bunny was his [i Guinea pig.]
[b [#00075D “Oh no, you don’t have to pay. I made you those dishes so you could give me feedback.”]] Ira insisted, throwing his hands up in defense. He was careful not to bring anything down with his motion this time. “This was my treat.”
[b [#60B9D6 "I can't do that. Especially when I enjoyed it so much."]] Bunny shook his head. Ira knawel on his lip, unsure whether he would in this fight. Sighing, he decided he would let Bunny win this time. Nodding, Ira reluctantly scrawled the meal on a ticket and placed it in front of his customer. Leaving the pen, he gathered the empty plates and took them to the kitchen.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Abel] [center [size15 [abel It seemed that the uncomfortable feeling Bunny had been getting from the chef was right because when he asked for the check the man looked like he’d spoken in a different language. He didn’t answer right away but when he did his response made Bunny even more uneasy, [b [#00075D “Oh no, you don’t have to pay. I made you those dishes so you could give me feedback.”]] But Bunny hadn’t actually given any feedback? All he said was that it had tasted good? [b [#00075D “This was my treat,”]] The chef’s hands went up in defense of his statement.
But Bunny shook his head adamantly, [b [#60B9D6 “I can’t do that.”]] Even when Bunny worked, he never accepted free meals or compensation of any kind, it was immoral and that was when he had the potential to greatly affect the prosperity and reputation of an establishment. So, there was no way he could simply accept a generous meal without paying for it, [b [#60B9D6 “Especially when I enjoyed it so much.”]] The last of his words were said more to himself than to the chef but it seemed his reasoning got through to the impulsive man as he finally relented and brought a receipt.
Bunny paid using his credit card, as he normally did, and it was the blonde barista who ran the card. She had given him an odd smile when she approached him which had confused him some but ultimately his thoughts were elsewhere.
So, the chef wanted feedback on his dishes? And it seemed like he wanted more than just the basic comments of enjoyment from customers. The best way to get real, constructive and informative feedback on food was to have a professional taste the different dishes. Of course, most restaurants could accomplish this by having their chefs try things out and get staff feedback or owner feedback, but perhaps they didn’t have that ability here due to their size? No that seemed unlikely, even without a large staff size an accomplished chef would be able to accurately give their opinion and based on the quality of food their chefs had to be quite talented, obviously the head chef was the most talented but he’d also mentioned if he wasn’t around someone else could cook… Bunny tried to remember the name the chef had mentioned but he’d already forgotten in.
Bunny supposed the only thing better than a chef’s opinion would be, well, [i his] opinion. Not as a customer but as a critic. He’d never intended to review this place it was a personal interest that had him coming here and he really wasn’t prepared to give a review. Even having had a meal there he hadn’t taken the proper mental notes or done any research so review now would be worthless and incomplete. He supposed he could persuade Bae to send someone here to review the food but that man would likely make a big deal out of any such request and speculate about Bunny’s involvement in this place.
The mint haired boy tapped the pen absently against the receipt after signing it and writing in gratuity. He was quickly realizing that the easiest solution was to simply review them himself, but he’d have to look into the restaurant and the chef especially. It would take a lot of time to do it on his own. Of course, he’d be coming back tomorrow as promised and could ask a few questions while he was there but the chef always seemed busy with how quickly he hurried back to the kitchen after serving him and perhaps it was inappropriate to trying and interview him during his work hours. So, he’d interview him during his off hours?
Yes, that seemed the most reasonable way to proceed. With the pen still in his hand he scrawled out his number on the receipt, briefly pausing before realizing he should probably write his name. But those that were acquainted with him called him Bunny which was also the name he used when he reviewed restaurants and those that were not close to him usually called him by his last name. Should he write his first name? The thought of being called Tristan twisted his stomach and he immediately refused. Sighing he figured that since most people thought the food critic Bunny was either an elder man or a woman that it was unlikely they’d pick up on it being him just by the name and wrote [b [#60B9D6 [i ‘Bunny’]]] just above his number on the receipt leaving it behind when he finally left the restaurant, completely oblivious to the storm he’d just caused.]]]
[b [#004d00 “Uh huh,”]] murmured the blond. She leaned across the table, her eyes on the table a few feet away.
[b [#626262 “Yeah, I can tell.”]] Sonder chuckled, forking a helping of pancake into their mouth. [b [#626262 “Why are you so focused on them anyway?”]]
[#004d00 [b “They’re in love and you don’t even know!”]] Lane shrieked, banging her fists on the table. A few patrons turned to look at the girl before going back to their meal. [b [#004d00 “They are oblivious though. Ira thinks about nothing but cooking.”]] She sighed.
Sonder eyed their partner. Pursing their lips, they rested their chin in their palm. Before they could speak, Lane was on her feet. [b [#004d00 “Be right back!”]] She exclaimed, hopping away from the table nearly knocking her chair down as she ran.
Lane took Bunny’s credit card with eager hands. Her smile was a little too big to be passed as courteous. [#004d00 [b “I’ll be right back with this,”]] she giggled, retreating to the counter. After running the card, she pulled the receipt and a pen and returned to the table. Placing it in front of the mint haired male, she waited for him to sign. Once he finished, he handed it back to the girl and left the café without a word.
Taking the piece of paper, Lane glanced over it. Her eyes widened as she processed the group of numbers at the bottom of the page. A wild grin crawled across her face. Turning on her heels, Lane made a b-line for the kitchen. Bursting through the doors, she barreled into Dimitri. Her small figure didn’t budge him an inch.
[b [#730099 “Slow down Lane. What’s wrong?”]] Dimitri questioned, raising an eyebrow.
[b [#004d00 “Ira needs to see this receipt!”]] Lane sang.
Ira looked up from chopping pears. [b [#00075D “What? Did he over tip again?”]]
[b [#004d00 “No! He left his number!”]] Lane was almost screaming at this point.
[b [#00075D “What?“]] Ira breathed incredulously. Placing his knife on the counter, he washed his hand and joined his employees in the doorway. Taking the piece of paper, he eyed it over.
[b [#60B9D6 540-XXX-XXXX -Bunny]]
Ira’s eyebrows knitted together as he processed the information. Glancing at Lane, he bit his lip. [b [#00075D “What do I do with this?”]] He questioned slowly.
Dimitri and Lane simultaneously slapped their foreheads with their palms. [b [#730099 “You text him.”]] Dimitri grumbled.
[b [#00075D "Oh.”]] Ira paused. [b [#00075D “What do I say?”]]
[b [#004d00 “Just say hi?”]] Lane offered, side-eyeing Dimitri for support.
[b [#730099 “Yeah keep it casual.”]] Dimitri added.
Ira nodded, focused on his phone. Carefully punching the numbers in, he scratched his chin. What was he supposed to say? The only people he texted were his employees and his occasional chef friend. He had never been one for small talk. Inhaling, he decided to go for it.
[b [#00075D [font "Courier New" “Hello, this is Ira from the Magnolia House.“]]
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Abel] [center [size15 [abel After his departure Bunny rushed back to his apartment, barely making into the kitchen before he become sick. He leaned as much of his body over the sink as he could manage and gripped at the sides with so much force his hands began to feel numb. The waves of nausea passed over with each lurch of his body, violently shaking him as his stomach emptied.
The feeling of uncomfortability had set in rather quickly after he left the restaurant, and after so long in this business Bunny knew the signs well enough before it got bad and was able to get back home in time. He felt much better after getting sick, of course, but felt bad he hadn’t made it to the bathroom before it hit and even worse that he hadn’t been able to really enjoy the food. Normally if he was going to eat large quantities of food, he’d have a fasting period beforehand to prepare. Then again, he hadn’t expected such a meal when he’d gotten there.
Feeling much better he proceeded to clean the sink out and go to brush his teeth to prevent damage to his enamel before getting a glass of water and dissolving some Alka-Seltzer tablets. Taking off his boots he laid out on the couch, slowly sipping the water and medicine so as to not make himself sick again. Picking up his phone he noticed he had a new message from earlier, it was from an unknown number.
[font "courier new" [size13 [b [#00075D “Hello, this is Ira from the Magnolia House.”]]]]
Bunny stared at the phone for a second before his mind processed the message; Ira, the chef’s name was Ira. It was an unusual name, though he supposed he didn’t have much room to judge in that department. His thumb hovered over the keypad, hesitating as he suddenly realized he had not thought this through in the slightest. At the time leaving his number seemed like a straightforward way to reach the desired point of communication needed for giving a review but the chef, Ira he corrected mentally, didn’t know he was a critic so how was he meant to start a dialogue or casually bring up interviewing him? Should he just ask him questions? No, that felt weird.
Bunny let his phone drop down onto his chest while he contemplated the short-sightedness that had possessed him earlier. Ira’s message had been pretty formal to. Which wasn’t bad necessarily, just unexpected. And honestly the formality made it difficult to respond to. Bunny wasn’t good at these things; it was part of why he had such few relationships outside of work or even inside of work.
However, there was one person he could probably ask advice from. Picking his phone back up he dialed one of his oldest acquaintances and probably his only friend. Leah.
[b [#EE5FA7 “Hey Bunny-Boo, I’m glad you called, I’m having a menu tasting tonight with the staff and some friends, you should come,”]] Leah’s cheerful and natural soprano voice flittered through the phone, he could hear the sounds of the kitchen prep in the background.
There was a pause, [b [#EE5FA7 “Bunny-Boo, I’d ask if you called because you missed me but we both know you don’t do that. So,”]] She drew out the word, [b [#EE5FA7 “why’d you call?”]]
[b [#60B9D6 “How do I respond to a text?”]]
Another pause, [b [#EE5FA7 “You type in the box and press send, baby.”]]
[b [#60B9D6 “Leah, I’m several years younger than you, I know how technology works,”]] Bunny said with exhaustion and exasperation in his voice.
[b [#EE5FA7 “Well, it’s you we’re talking about so I never really know,”]] He briefly heard her voice move from the phone and could hear her shouting at her staff about fish. [b [#EE5FA7 “So, I’m guessing you meant how to respond to the contents of a text?”]] Bunny hummed in affirmation. [b [#EE5FA7 “Okay, so what was the text?”]]
Bunny was loathe to give out the personal details and read the exact message out to her, Leah was big in Souver’s culinary scene she might know Ira or Ira might know her and he really didn’t want to get things messy. [b [#60B9D6 “They were introducing themselves after I left my number for them,”]] Bunny could have sworn he’d heard Leah stifling a scream as he heard the clunking sounds of her phone falling. [b [#60B9D6 “Leah?”]]
After some scuffling Leah’s voice returned, [b [#EE5FA7 “You did what? [i You] left your number? [i Willingly]?”]]
[b [#60B9D6 “I feel like I shouldn’t have to answer that, but yes, [i I] left my number, [i willingly],”]] The uncomfortable feeling he’d felt earlier when his stomach was too full was quickly returning, but this time it was appearing in his head.
[b [#EE5FA7 “Damn, who’s the guy?”]]
[b [#60B9D6 “You’re not being helpful,”]] Bunny chastised. [b [#60B9D6 “Nevermind. I’ll see you tonight.”]] Leah’s protests met only the receiver as Bunny promptly hung up on her. Whatever his response it could wait, he needed to sleep some more before going to Leah’s restaurant that night.
The tasting had gone well all things considered. All things being Leah’s near immediate interrogation of him as soon as the mint haired boy had arrived. The exuberant and lively pink haired chef demanded to be told all of the [i ‘juicy details’] of how Bunny had met the [i ‘mysterious hottie’]. Very quickly her staff, who had known Bunny for quite some time despite most being unaware of his status as a critic, joined in and began to pester him as well. They all seemed to have concocted their own ideas about who he was and the nature of Bunny’s relationships with him. Though they universally agreed he must be attractive, a fact with Bunny was unable to deny while unsure of why it would matter. Leah’s sous chef said they should have red rice to celebrate and Bunny was growing infinitely more tired by their lack of context. What exactly did they want to celebrate?
By the end of the tasting it was past 1 AM and Bunny felt like his soul was escaping him with every sigh. Leah offered to take him home, saying that with the way he was dressed he was bound to get picked up by someone, actually she said by some creep but still. He supposed that would be expected at this hour but Bunny wasn’t really worried since he didn’t see much of a problem with how he was dressed.
Unlike earlier in the day Bunny was significantly more put together, having showered and removed, most of, the body glitter and styling his hair. His soft mint locks were more tamed but still left just a little messy as a preference. His green eyes were defined with eyeliner and mascara, covering his normally pale lashes, with just a little silver glitter on his cheek bones near the outer corner of his eyes to decorate. His lips were painted with a velvety red gradient, growing richer in color the deeper in his lips it was. The black blouse he wore was more than sheer, it was transparent, decorated with small glittering stars and so large it was like a parachute on his small frame yet the sleeves fit perfectly at his slim wrists since it was custom made for the boy. Black pants were fitted to his legs so tightly they could have been painted on and paired with a heeled boot, not too unsimilar to a woman’s chunky heel boot.
For him this was hardly anything special or enticing of an outfit, it was just how he liked to dress, so he rejected her offer. Besides she needed to assist with cleaning and closing out the restaurant so they could open smoothly the next night. Giving a farewell Bunny walked for a bit, only a few trolleys ran this late at night so he’d have to go a fair distance to catch the next one but checking his phone he saw he had enough time to make it. At times like this he felt the inconvenience of not driving but after failing the test twice he wasn’t eager to try again.
He hadn’t been walking long when his neck began to prickle, it was chilly out but years of conditioning told him this wasn’t from temperature. Bunny sighed, he knew even before he lifted his phone and checked the reflection on the glass screen that it was that man.
Recently a stranger had been following him, it had been nearly two, maybe three months? He wasn’t exactly sure when it started but he noticed it about a month and a half ago. Contacting the police had been pointless since apparently following people around and making them feel uncomfortable wasn’t actually illegal. The police officer he’d spoken with had said that unless the individual did something there was nothing they could do about him. Bunny really wanted to go home but he didn’t want to go there directly if the man was following him. Despite the fact Bunny was fairly sure the man had already figured out where he lived, but on the off chance he hadn’t Bunny didn’t want to risk it. So instead of immediately heading home Bunny wandered around, at night, in the city, just [i walking]… In. Heels. He was so tired.
At some point Bunny had made it to the neighborhood that the Magnolia House was located in, he wondered if his feet had brought him there unconsciously. Thinking about the Magnolia House made him feel a bit guilty, he hadn’t responded to Ira’s message yet. He hadn’t figured out what to say, and he’d been busy napping and then getting ready and then eating with Leah and dodging all her questions that he still hadn’t even thought about what to say. The stalker had been firmly pushed out of Bunny’s thoughts as he began contemplating how to move forward with the chef.
Further down the street Bunny was shocked to see that there were dim lights on in the restaurant which was plaguing him. The front lights were off but judging by the faintness and direction of the lighting someone had kept a kitchen light on. Had they forgotten? Or was someone still there?
Bunny pulled out his phone, holding it up to the building and taking a picture of the storefront, attaching it to the text from earlier:
[font "courier new" [size13 [b [#60B9D6 “The lights are still on?”]]]] ]]]
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Abel] [left [pic https://i.imgur.com/hIJATT7.png]][center [abel [size15 [pic https://images-wixmp-ed30a86b8c4ca887773594c2.wixmp.com/f/08db58bf-b2a3-4cd1-9c03-f93dcf194212/dbjobcm-f497dbfd-4a7f-482c-9263-ce1688f99d3e.png?token=eyJ0eXAiOiJKV1QiLCJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiJ9.eyJzdWIiOiJ1cm46YXBwOiIsImlzcyI6InVybjphcHA6Iiwib2JqIjpbW3sicGF0aCI6IlwvZlwvMDhkYjU4YmYtYjJhMy00Y2QxLTljMDMtZjkzZGNmMTk0MjEyXC9kYmpvYmNtLWY0OTdkYmZkLTRhN2YtNDgyYy05MjYzLWNlMTY4OGY5OWQzZS5wbmcifV1dLCJhdWQiOlsidXJuOnNlcnZpY2U6ZmlsZS5kb3dubG9hZCJdfQ.qXd_BXSEc6J-W_LcUtxsbXQHNkrfUIJc19GzuZITinI] After the show, Ira dismissed his employees for the evening. They had been bugging him all day about the legendary text. To their dismay, the prince had not texted their beloved boss back. Ira hadn’t thought anything of it. He wasn’t much of a texter to begin with. If he had it his way, he would talk on the phone instead or in person. His staff often teased him about being an old man despite not even being thirty.
Once the store front was empty, Ira did his usual closing chores. When they had late shows, he let his staff go and did the clean up himself. They often had early mornings and he hated to keep them late. His to-do list consisted of sweeping and moping the floors, cleaning the tables and stacking the chairs, restocking napkins, and making sure the reading nook was all in order. He locked the front door and switched the sign from OPEN to CLOSED. Double checking everything one last time, Ira retreated to the kitchen.
It was habit for Ira to check that all of the appliances were off. He locked the back door and flicked the lights off. Using the flashlight on his phone, he made his way upstairs.
Baguette was sitting at the door when Ira entered his apartment. He yowled a greeting, turned to show his master his anus, and saunter to the kitchen where he waited for Ira to feed him. Dropping his sweater and keys on the table, Ira followed the feline. Pulling out a can of wet food, the chef plopped a hunk of canned meat onto a porcelain dish. He garnished the meal with a sardine and a fresh leaf of catnip he had picked from his plant in the window. Placing it in front of Baguette, he flicked his tail in approval.
Although the clock read [b 11:55 PM], Ira wasn’t feeling tired. This is how it usually went. Nights were hard for a mentally ill insomniac. Maybe a hot shower would help? Shedding his work attire, Ira drug his feet to the bathroom. He brushed his teeth and removed his contacts. Running the shower, he waited for the steam to bellow.
Ira climbed into the shower and sat in the tub. The scalding water was a relief against his tired muscles as it beat on his back. Pulling his legs into his chest, he rested his head on his knees. Closing his eyes, he focused on the sound of running water.
After his shower, Ira dried his hair and changed into pajamas. Crawling into bed, the cool sheets felt good against his hot skin. As always, the chef was not tired. His honey eyes surveyed the lines in the ceiling. Glancing at the clock, he clicked his tongue. [b 12:48]. He paused for a moment before giving up on sleep.
Ira put his glasses on and pulled his hair into a messy knot. Giving Baguette a pat on the head, he found his way back downstairs to the kitchen. He left the apartment door open a jar just in case his companion wanted to join him.
Inspecting the cooking space, Ira rested his hands on his hips. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do tonight. The last two nights he spent scrubbing the inside of the oven and polishing the counter tops. He had already organized the cooler for the week. Gnawing on his bottom lip, his eyes fell on the pantry. That could work.
Swinging the door open, he accessed what he was working with. To the average person, the pantry seemed pretty clean. But the organized chaos was not enough for Ira. Setting up his phone to play his favorite work playlist, he decided to fill Jonas in on his excursion for the night.
[font "Courier New" [size13 [b [#00075D “Organizing the pantry. I will take inventory while I’m at it.”]]]] [font "Courier New" [size13 [b [#990033 "u need therapy."]]]] [font "Courier New" [size13 [b [#00075D “I'm in therapy.”]]]] [font "Courier New" [size13 [i Jonas is typing ...]]] [font "Courier New" [size13 [b [#990033 "u need more then."]]]]
Shoving his phone back into his pocket, Ira ignored his business partner's remark. Removing everything from the shelf, he started by disinfecting the surfaces and cabinets. He took note of the ingredients he was running low on. Locating his label maker, he took the time to label each jar.
After an hour, Ira admired his progress. It felt good when he could control the small things. Despite his neurotic behavior, his therapist denied the chef had OCD. She thought it was a healthier coping skill than others.
A vibration in his pocket caught his attention. Ira pulled out his phone and squinted at the screen. His eyes were tired from focusing on the small labels for so long. Bunny’s name popped up with an image attachment. Swiping his password, Ira surveyed the message.
[b [#60B9D6 [font "Courier New" [size13 “The lights are still on.”]]]]
Underneath it was a photo of the Magnolia House store front. The warm light from the kitchen casted spooky shadows on the storeroom floor. Of course the lights were still on, he was working. Pursing his lips, it took Ira an embarrassingly long moment to connect the dots. His amber eyes lit up in excitement when he realized Bunny was waiting outside.
Pushing himself off the floor, Ira balanced himself on the island countertop with a large hand. His knees ached from sitting crisscross for so long. He hated to admit he was getting old. Adjusting his glasses, he stretched his arms above his head. A satisfying pop from his spine alerted him his body was ready for action again.
Ira flipped the light switch on to the main part of the café before exiting the kitchen. Weaving around the tables, he searched the wall of windows for his visitor. Standing at the door was a petite male with seafoam hair. Smiling, Ira unlocked the door and swung it open. The motion flooded the boy with warm air. His sheer top pressed against his body. Ira’s eyes trailed the boy’s chest up to his face. Bunny’s lips were a rich velvet color and the silver eye paint that cloaked his eyes caught the luminescent light. Ira swallowed audibly when he realized he had been staring for too long.
Judging by Bunny’s expression, Ira concluded the male was surprised to see him. Ira adjusted his glasses on his nose. He looked different than his usual business attire. His midnight hair was trying to escape his messy bun. He wore a tight turtle neck sweater and grey sweatpants that didn't leave much to the imagination. His sleeves were rolled up above his elbows showing off his tattoos.
Grinning, Ira scratched the back of his neck nervously. [b [#00075D “Hey,”]] he started, his low voice gravely from lack of use. Clearing his throat, he realized he didn’t have a clue how to talk to Bunny when they weren’t chef and patron. [b [#00075D “Would you like to come in for a cup of tea?”]] He asked with a raised brow.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Abel] [center [size15 [abel Bunny stared at the barely illuminated storefront for a moment, contemplating why exactly the lights would be on when he suddenly saw a shape moving from within. Someone was coming towards him but with their back to the light source he couldn’t see who it was. They were in a hurry though, as they practically barreled through the restaurant and opened the door with a little too much force. The blast of warm air made Bunny take a step back and squint his eyes, further obscuring who the person was. After a few slow blinks he adjusted and was able to see that it was the chef. He supposed that made sense as he’d just texted him but he wasn’t sure why the man had rushed out instead of just saying it was him? Or even just ignoring Bunny’s message altogether, it wasn’t as if Bunny was going to stand about all night wondering about a light being left on.
Looking at Ira now Bunny realized he’d changed clothes from earlier, when Bunny had eaten there that morning, he’d been wearing a dress shirt, and trousers. He must have gone home at some point, but then why was he back there already? It was far to early to be prepping of the next day, wasn’t it? Now he was dressed in a dark turtleneck sweater and sweatpants; pants which seemed to outline the chef’s… Anatomy. As isolate and work obsessed as Bunny may have been, he still found himself looking. The mint haired boy quickly diverted his eyes towards Ira’s forearms which had tattoos. His pale green eyes traced the designs of intricate and delicate flowers that littered his skin. Trying not to let it show where his gaze had been previously.
[b [#00075D “Hey,”]] Ira spoke, his voice sounding rougher than it did during the day and maybe as unsure as Bunny was feeling. [b [#00075D “Would you like to come in for a cup of tea?”]]
Bunny was supposed to be going home, he should politely decline, it was late and outside of business hours and he’d surely be imposing. Those were the thoughts in his head, yet his mouth seemed to be on a different channel as what he said was, [b [#60B9D6 “I would.”]] The restaurant was dark as Bunny walked in, trying to stay close to Ira as his ability to navigate the place was really restricted to the daytime configuration.
About twice he almost walked into a table, after that he had instinctively reached out to grab hold of Ira’s sweater, pinching the fabric between his thumb and forefinger to better know the direction to go. The sudden flood of light as they walked into the kitchen made him step slightly closer to Ira as his eyes adjusted. He was surprised to find the kitchen a mess. Not a cooking mess but more like someone had stopped in the middle of doing inventory mess? Bunny looked at the products out on the counter and scattered on the floor, [b [#60B9D6 “Did something happen?”]] Had a shelf broken earlier?]]]
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Abel] [left [pic https://i.imgur.com/hIJATT7.png]][center [abel [size15 [pic https://images-wixmp-ed30a86b8c4ca887773594c2.wixmp.com/f/08db58bf-b2a3-4cd1-9c03-f93dcf194212/dbjobcm-f497dbfd-4a7f-482c-9263-ce1688f99d3e.png?token=eyJ0eXAiOiJKV1QiLCJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiJ9.eyJzdWIiOiJ1cm46YXBwOiIsImlzcyI6InVybjphcHA6Iiwib2JqIjpbW3sicGF0aCI6IlwvZlwvMDhkYjU4YmYtYjJhMy00Y2QxLTljMDMtZjkzZGNmMTk0MjEyXC9kYmpvYmNtLWY0OTdkYmZkLTRhN2YtNDgyYy05MjYzLWNlMTY4OGY5OWQzZS5wbmcifV1dLCJhdWQiOlsidXJuOnNlcnZpY2U6ZmlsZS5kb3dubG9hZCJdfQ.qXd_BXSEc6J-W_LcUtxsbXQHNkrfUIJc19GzuZITinI] The mint-haired boy hesitated for a moment. Ira thought he might decline but his agreement said otherwise. [b [#60B9D6 “I would,”]] he said, following the chef inside. Ira carefully placed a hand on the small of Bunny’s back and guided him out of the way of the door. Clicking the lock shut, he jiggled the handle just in case.
Weaving in front of Bunny, he led the boy through the restaurant. Bunny occasionally knock into a table, unsure of his surroundings. Ira felt a tug on the back of his shirt. Glancing over his shoulder, he made out the small male in the dim light. Smiling, Ira carefully guided him to the kitchen.
Upon entering, Ira’s eyes fell on his mess. He hadn’t noticed the explosion of various spice containers and inventory that littered walkway from the pantry. [b [#60B9D6 “Did something happen?”]] Bunny questioned.
Ira shrugged. What was the casual way of telling someone he had slept a full night since his mother died three years ago? Oversharing. Right. [b [#00075D “No. I am just organizing,”]] he replied.
Crossing the kitchen, he retrieved the kettle from the shelf and filled it with water. Ira set the kettle on the stove and pulled out a box of assorted teas. Turning his attention back to Bunny, he patted the counter. [b [#00075D “Sorry, I don’t have any chairs back here but you can sit up here if you’d like,”]] he suggested.
Ira stood over his mess and surveyed it. He tapped his chin with his thumb trying to decide where to go from here. Crouching down, her collected a few jars and found homes for them on the shelf.
[b [#00075D “Would you like a snack, Bunny?”]] Ira asked, glancing up from his work. He had some leftover pastries in a zip lock bag somewhere.
A soft body brushed up against Ira’s leg. Ira turned his attention to the blond cat snaking between his legs. Placing a gentle hand on Baguette’s head, he gave him a quick scratch behind the ears. [b [#00075D “Hello, Baguette. This is Bunny.”]] Ira smiled, gesturing to his guest.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Abel] [center [size15 [abel Ira shrugged his broad shoulders at the question, [b [#00075D “No, I’m just organizing.”]] [i He’s deflecting], Bunny knew that tone, he’d used it enough times himself to ear the nuances. But it wasn’t like he had any reason to dig into the man’s business even if the behavior did seem strange to the small mint haired boy. Rather than pressing the matter Bunny looked around the kitchen, besides for the items from the pantry sprawled out it was very well organized and clean. Something about the presentation of the kitchen reminded him of the chefs he’d known in Paris. That idea of everything in its place to a degree that was near to obsessive.
[b [#00075D “Sorry, I don’t have any chairs back here, but you can sit up here if you’d like,”]] Bunny moved his head to see that the chef was gesturing to the counter. He wasn’t sure why he was apologizing about the lack of seats; it would have been stranger if there had been seats, those would get in the way of cooking. But he didn’t voice his thoughts as he hoisted himself up onto the counter space, sitting comfortably with his legs crossed in front of him, where he could see Ira work. [b [#00075D “Would you like a snack, Bunny?”]] He looked down to where he was crouching, their eyes meeting.
[b [#60B9D6 “No thank you,”]] He responded, it was strange hearing the chef call his name, though not unpleasant. There weren’t a lot of people who called him that, partially because he didn’t tell a lot of people his name and partially because he didn’t associate with many people. As they spoke an orange cat appeared, rubbing itself on Ira.
[b [#00075D “Hello, Baguette,”]] Ira patted the cat affectionately. [b [#00075D “This is Bunny,”]] The cat followed his owner’s hand gesture to look up at the counter where Bunny was seated, its eyes staring at the boy with disinterest.
[b [#60B9D6 “Hello Baguette,”]] Bunny repeated, wanting to get down and pet the cat but knowing a cat’s temperament well enough to guess that wouldn’t be a good idea. It was a little funny that he’d named the cat Baguette. Not because the name was amusing but because Bunny had named several of the stray cats that hung around the market after food as well. It seemed strange that they’d share that trait. The cat seemed to decide something as it looked at him and jumped up on the counter, sauntering up towards Bunny who slowly and gently lifted his hand to let the cat sniff. Surprisingly the cat barely seemed to bother before it was headbutting his hand and asking to be pet. [b [#60B9D6 “Ah, you’re really friendly, aren’t you?”]]
Baguette moved from accepting pets to climbing into his lap, his fluffy frame filling up the hold in between Bunny’s folded legs. Bunny smiled happily scratching and stroking the large orange cat. Off to the side Bunny noticed a board with some pictures on it, he recognized some of the people in them. One was the blonde barista with a curly haired person wearing large glasses sitting at a table, the furniture and view out the window told Bunny it was taken at the Magnolia House. Another was of the large one with dreadlocks standing next to a man that looked very similar to him but older in front of a large truck with a local coffee farm logo printed on the side. There were a lot more, some layered over top others. There was a person in a number of the photos that Bunny didn’t recognize. A red-haired man, he had photos with the blonde barista and the large one with dreadlocks but also a dark-haired man with a beard. But more than anyone else he was in a lot of photos with Ira; the two of them outside of the Magnolia House, posed next to a motorcycle, even one that had been taken from a polaroid and was faded out of the two of them pressed close together.
[b [#60B9D6 “Who is that person in the photo with you, I don’t think I’ve seen them before,”]] Bunny asked, staring at the polaroid with a feeling that made him want to gnaw at his lip.
Ira didn’t answer immediately, instead he got up and moved to where Bunny was seated on the counter, close to pictures and leaned towards him to look which picture had caught the mint haired boy’s attention. As the larger man leaned over to look at the picture Bunny could smell the scent of ground coffee emanating from his skin, like he’d been bathing in it. His green eyes stared now at Ira’s face as he spoke instead of the picture, [b [#00075D “That’s Jonas. He’s the co-owner of this place. You’ll probably meet him soon. He’s,”]] Ira paused taking a moment to find the right word it seemed, [b [#00075D “hard to miss.”]]
[b [#60B9D6 “I see,”]] Bunny said simply still looking at Ira rather than diverting his attention back to the pictures. Bunny tilted his head, the cat rumbling softly in his arms as he scratched at its chin, [b [#60B9D6 “Ira, why are you here?”]] He knew it really wasn’t his business but he wondered what the chef was doing ‘organizing’ the entire pantry at two in the morning. [b [#60B9D6 “Shouldn’t you be sleeping?”]]]]]
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Abel] [left [pic https://i.imgur.com/FtUiiva.png]][center [abel [size15 [pic https://images-wixmp-ed30a86b8c4ca887773594c2.wixmp.com/f/08db58bf-b2a3-4cd1-9c03-f93dcf194212/dbjobcm-f497dbfd-4a7f-482c-9263-ce1688f99d3e.png?token=eyJ0eXAiOiJKV1QiLCJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiJ9.eyJzdWIiOiJ1cm46YXBwOiIsImlzcyI6InVybjphcHA6Iiwib2JqIjpbW3sicGF0aCI6IlwvZlwvMDhkYjU4YmYtYjJhMy00Y2QxLTljMDMtZjkzZGNmMTk0MjEyXC9kYmpvYmNtLWY0OTdkYmZkLTRhN2YtNDgyYy05MjYzLWNlMTY4OGY5OWQzZS5wbmcifV1dLCJhdWQiOlsidXJuOnNlcnZpY2U6ZmlsZS5kb3dubG9hZCJdfQ.qXd_BXSEc6J-W_LcUtxsbXQHNkrfUIJc19GzuZITinI] [b [#60B9D6 “Hello Baguette,”]] the boy greeted. Baguette’s tail swished back and forth as he analyzed the boy with his icy blue gaze. He looked as if he were trying to decide if the boy was worth the effort it took to climb on the counter. Making his choice, he lunged for the counter top. His fat stomach nearly knocked him off balance when he landed. Regaining his posture like nothing happened, he approached the boy ready for some affection. [b [#60B9D6 “Ah, you’re really friendly, aren’t you?”]]
Ira began to move ingredients back into the pantry by section. He took the time to organize each shelf by how often he used them and alphabetically. Admiring his work, he emerged from the closet to see Bunny with Baguette in his arms wandering about the kitchen. The boy was looking at the photos pinned to the wall all around the room. After a few rows of photos, he pointed to one.
[b [#60B9D6 “Who is that person in the photo with you, I don’t think I’ve seen them before,”]] he asked.
Ira tried to squint but cursed his poor eyesight and crossed the room to see who he was referring to. His attention was on a faded polaroid among a group of photos. It was of Ira and a ginger male. The taller male had his arm wrapped around a young Ira. They looked happy. Innocent.
The chef peered at the photo for a moment. It had been a warm day in Paris. Ira and Jonas had earned the day off from work and spent their time tasting pastries around the city. Jonas always insisted on taking pictures whenever they got the change.
[b [#00075D “That’s Jonas. He’s the co-owner of this place. You’ll probably meet him soon. He’s,”]] Ira smiled, [b [#00075D “Hard to miss.”]]
[b [#60B9D6 “I see,”]] Bunny stare up at Ira with round emerald eyes. His expression was gentle, Baguette nestled in his arms. [b [#60B9D6 “Ira, why are you here?”]] He asked, his words careful, [b [#60B9D6 “Shouldn’t you be sleeping?”]]
Ira stared down at the boy with tired eyes. Tired eyes from long days and sleepless nights. His lips pressed together in a thin line. He thought about going home to an empty apartment every night. The silence was suffocating. Loneliness kept his mind in chains when he closed his eyes to sleep.
[b [#00075D “Uh I have insomnia,”]] Ira confessed. The two were standing incredibly close, Ira noticed. Swallowing, he continued. [b [#00075D “Like the real kind. I haven’t slept a full night in weeks.”]] It felt good to admit. The chef didn’t necessarily keep it a secret but it wasn’t something he brought up in most casual conversations. He searched the small boy’s eyes to see if he had scared him off.
[b [#00075D “Why are you here, Bunny?”]] Ira mirrored the question. He looked the boy up and down referring to his lovely evening outfit. The chef hadn’t seen Bunny so dressed up before. He liked it.
The squealing from the kettle released Ira’s gaze from Bunny’s. Stepping away from the boy, Ira picked out two mugs for them. One was Ira’s favorite mug with magnolias on it and the other was a fat, hand painted mug with an offset handle. He poured the hot liquid into each cup. Plopping a tea bag in each, he found a bottle of honey and pushed the floral mug towards Bunny. [b [#00075D “I hope chamomile is okay.”]] He said, blowing on his drink before taking a sip.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Abel] [center [size15 [abel The chef’s normally energetic face was replaced with one that made him look a bit like reanimated corpse. [b [#00075D “Uh, I have insomnia,”]] Ira spoke like it was some terrible thing to have, like had a contagious disease or the plague. [b [#00075D “Like the real kind,”]] Bunny wasn’t aware there was a fake kind, [b [#00075D “I haven’t slept a full night in weeks.”]] That sounded incredibly unhealthy and also a bit like torture. Despite Bunny’s sleepy eyes and tendency to speak and move slowly he slept quite a bit and was usually well rested. He couldn’t imagine how uncomfortable wanting to sleep and being unable to would be.
Bunny could feel the other’s eyes digging into him so he matched Ira’s gaze, staring at him while he spoke up again, [b [#00075D “Why are you here, Bunny?”]] Ira’s eyes seemed to run over him now, and Bunny guessed the other was referring to how he was dressed; though he wasn’t sure if it was the fact he was dressed up or the feminine edge of to how he was dressed that was making the other ask.
Before Bunny could answer the shrill sound of a tea kettle cut through. It was just as well as Bunny wasn’t exactly sure how to answer that question. If he told Ira he’d been invited to a private menu tasting at [i ‘Eclipsed’] it would probably make the other question the reason. As Ira bustled to prepare the tea Bunny tried to figure out what he would say. It wasn’t like the smaller boy had any intention of lying, but he didn’t exactly have to tell Ira [i everything]. Did he?
Ira handed a familiar cup towards Bunny, the same cup his tea was usually served in with the hand painted magnolias, [b [#00075D “I hope chamomile is okay.”]]
[b [#60B9D6 “Yes, thank you,”]] Bunny took the cup, letting the warmth sink into his hands while gently blowing on it to cool before drinking. [b [#60B9D6 “I was invited to a dinner party at a restaurant, I only finished a little earlier and was on my way home. I was taking a detour to avoid someone when I saw the lights on and wondered if someone had left one on by accident since it was so late. I didn’t think you’d be here, doing,”]] Bunny gestured with his hands to the content of the pantry, [b [#60B9D6 “this.”]]
Bunny looked at Ira, taking in how tired he must have been, [b [#60B9D6 “You should try to get some sleep, you don’t look like you’re going to be okay. I should be getting home as well, it’s late and I’m sure he’s gone by now,”]] Bunny barely registered the later part of his sentence since he was speaking more to himself than to Ira.]]]
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Abel] [left [pic https://i.imgur.com/XwAIeBq.jpg]][center [abel [size15 [pic https://images-wixmp-ed30a86b8c4ca887773594c2.wixmp.com/f/08db58bf-b2a3-4cd1-9c03-f93dcf194212/dbjobcm-f497dbfd-4a7f-482c-9263-ce1688f99d3e.png?token=eyJ0eXAiOiJKV1QiLCJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiJ9.eyJzdWIiOiJ1cm46YXBwOiIsImlzcyI6InVybjphcHA6Iiwib2JqIjpbW3sicGF0aCI6IlwvZlwvMDhkYjU4YmYtYjJhMy00Y2QxLTljMDMtZjkzZGNmMTk0MjEyXC9kYmpvYmNtLWY0OTdkYmZkLTRhN2YtNDgyYy05MjYzLWNlMTY4OGY5OWQzZS5wbmcifV1dLCJhdWQiOlsidXJuOnNlcnZpY2U6ZmlsZS5kb3dubG9hZCJdfQ.qXd_BXSEc6J-W_LcUtxsbXQHNkrfUIJc19GzuZITinI] [b [#60B9D6 “Yes, thank you,”]] said the boy as he cradled the tea cup in his thin hands. His velvet lips blew on the hot liquid before he took a sip. Ira’s focused on Bunny’s lips for a moment too long. His skin prickled and his face felt hot. When he spoke again, Ira quickly looked away.
[b [#60B9D6 “I was invited to a dinner party at a restaurant, I only finished a little earlier and was on my way home. I was taking a detour to avoid someone when I saw the lights on and wondered if someone had left one on by accident since it was so late. I didn’t think you’d be here, doing this.”]] He waved his hand towards the pantry. Ira followed the gesture with his eyes. Knitting his brows together, he couldn’t see anything wrong with organizing the cupboard.
[b [#60B9D6 “You should try to get some sleep; you don’t look like you’re going to be okay. I should be getting home as well, it’s late and I’m sure he’s gone by now,”]] Bunny remarked, his words hung in the air.
Ira narrowed his eyes at the goodbye. Who had he been talking about? A mixture of concern and jealousy melded in his stomach. [b [#00075D “What do you mean by that?”]] Ira questioned. He tried to hide the concern in his voice but to no avail. [b [#00075D “Who is [i he]?”]]
[b [#60B9D6 “I don’t really know, I’d never seen him before and I don’t think I’ve met him,”]] he chose his words carefully. [b [#60B9D6 “I only noticed he was following me a little more than a month ago. It’s fine. He hasn’t tried to hurt me.”]]
Ira felt panic wash over him. Stalking was a serious problem and the thought of Bunny walking home alone horrified Ira. Nibbling his lower lip, he weighed his options. He could walk Bunny home but he risked running into the creep. Or, Bunny could stay over and leave in the morning. Ira had a spare bedroom anyway. Nodding, he decided this was the safest. [b [#00075D “It’s already so late. Why don’t you stay the night here? I have a spare bedroom so it isn’t a problem.”]] Ira suggested although he knew he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Abel] [center [size15 [abel Ira’s demeanor changed in an instant, it was like he’d been sharpened, [b [#00075D “What do you mean by that?”]] Bunny blinked at him, not knowing what he was getting so worked up over. [b [#00075D “Who is [i he]?”]] There was a tone in his voice that set Bunny on edge. Was he upset?
[b [#60B9D6 “I don’t really know, I’d never seen him before and I don’t think I’ve met him,”]] Not that he was particularly good at remembering people. [b [#60B9D6 “I only noticed he was following me a little more than a month ago. It’s fine. He hasn’t tried to hurt me,”]] Bunny tried to diffused the strange hint in the chef’s tone that he couldn’t place.
The normally relaxed eyes of the chef seemed to widen a bit like he’d been hit by something as he sucked his bottom lip into his mouth. Bunny stared at the small sliver of teeth he could see, it was somehow hypnotic, [b [#00075D “It’s already so late. Why don’t you stay the night here? I have a spare bedroom so it isn’t a problem.”]]
Bunny reached out his hand and placed his thumb on the space above Ira’s chin but below his lip, gently tugging it free of his teeth, [b [#60B9D6 “You’re going to make your lip bleed.”]] It was a hypocritical thing to say given how often he chewed at his own lips or even more his thumb. The mint haired boy pulled his hand back, returning it to scratch at the lump of cat he was still holding. He’d barely heard any of the words Ira had spoken to him so it took a minute for him to process the invitation.
His brows drew together as he tilted his head to the side, letting his hair fall across his face. [b [#60B9D6 “You barely know me,”]] He pointed out, [b [#60B9D6 “Why?”]] [i Would you go this far], his thought continued in silence. Or maybe he was asking why he would be bothering to do this for him. [b [#60B9D6 “I’ll be fine,”]] It wasn’t like he hadn’t been dealing with it for a month already.]]]
Ira stared at the boy incredulously. It was only for a brief moment, but his skin burned where the boy had touched him. He had to fight the urge to grab Bunny’s hand and hold it in his. Ira didn’t understand the magnetism between the two men. He couldn’t deny the gravitation Bunny had. Ira felt like a moon in constant rotation. [b [#60B9D6 “You’re going to make your lip bleed.”]]
His mouth fell open, his breath came out in a hot, sharp gust. Pressing his lips together, he attempted to regain his composure. He couldn’t figure out why it was so hard to be normal around Bunny.
The boy tilted his head, his seafoam locks fanned across his forehead. [b [#60B9D6 “You barely know me,”]] he stated, confusion mixed with a hint of bitterness Ira didn’t understand, carried in his tone. [b [#60B9D6 “Why? I’ll be fine.”]] Bunny insisted.
The chef instinctively brushed tucked the stray hairs behind Bunny’s ear. His fingers lingering on the soft skin of his cheek. Ira met his eyes, intensity burned in his gaze. [b [#00075D “I don’t think I could sleep knowing you were out there by yourself.”]] He admitted. A combination of exhaustion and desperation made him vulnerable. [b [#00075D “What if you weren’t fine?”]]
The mere thought of Ira not seeing the boy in every morning made his chest ache. Ira had grown fond of the expression Bunny made when he ate delicious food. He wanted to know more about him. He wanted to cook for him more than anyone.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Abel] [center [size15 [abel Bunny almost flinched when Ira suddenly reached out to him, but those large hands ended up tucking some of his hair back behind his ear, barely brushing against his skin so much softer than he would have thought possible of the giant appendages. [b [#00075D “I don’t think I could sleep knowing you were out there by yourself,”]] Bunny felt like he should point out how the boy had told him he barely slept regardless of the situation but something kept him from opening his mouth in that moment. His voice suddenly sounded so tired and suppressed the urge to yawn and lean into the warmth he felt coming from Ira’s hand; when did he get so sleepy? [b [#00075D “What if you weren’t fine?”]]
The chef sounded genuinely terrified of the idea of something happening to Bunny on his way home and the exhaustion that tinged his voice made Bunny feel weak to his request, [b [#00075D “Please stay.”]]
He really shouldn’t, Bunny should just refuse and hand him back his cat and thank him for the tea and leave. But just like earlier when he accepted the offer to come in his mouth was disagreeing with his mind. [b [#60B9D6 “Alright,”]] His voice was so soft that he worried the chef wouldn’t hear him.
Ira’s guest room was sparsely decorated, a trait which actually suited Bunny who barely had anything person in his own apartment. Unfortunately, it was also cold. The mint haired boy had never been good at dealing with the cold since he always felt his body ran colder than normal. It was why he kept so many blankets on his bed and in his office and on the couches in his living room, that way he’d be able to warm up. But the sheets and blanket, singular, did little to help him feel warmer even as he cocooned himself. He felt so tired but couldn’t get to sleep, the feeling was fogging his mind. If it was this bad for him with just one night how bad must it have been for Ira who suffered from insomnia? Was Ira sleeping now?
Feeling a little curious and with his tired brain unable to think clearly, he got up from the bed. The sleeping clothes Ira had given him to wear were so large that the pants actually hadn’t fit but with how large the shirt was it didn’t really matter, it looked like Bunny was wearing a dress. Ira had briefly shown him where his room was located just down the hall so he silently walked towards it. The door was open, probably to let the cat come and go as it pleased.
Standing right in front of the doorway he could hear the sound of Ira’s voice. Was he still awake? But when he walked closer it looked like Ira was asleep. Bunny was standing by the side of the bed watching Ira for a minute, he sounded so distressed, was he having a nightmare?
Reaching out to try and maybe wake him he found that Ira felt warm, not like he had a fever he didn’t think but just [i warm]. The other male seemed to still a bit when Bunny touched him but didn’t wake up. The warmth of Ira’s skin seemed to seduce Bunny and make him feel so much more exhausted than before. Unable to think past how tired he was and how warm Ira was he crawled into the bed; he slipped under the covers and moved next to Ira. Ira murmured something in distress and Bunny reached out to hold his face, running his thumb over his cheek and shushing him, [b [#60B9D6 “It’s okay, just sleep Ira, I’m here.”]] He wasn’t sure why he was saying that or what was really happening, he didn’t have the alertness for that but his words and touch seemed to work as Ira’s noises and movements slowly as Bunny touched him.
Like magic Ira’s warmth seeped into his body making his green eyes heavy enough he could no longer keep them open until finally, they fell closed. Bunny nestled in to Ira’s side, cuddling up and tangling his legs with Ira’s as he slept.]]]
Ira woke with the sun. The warm light poured in through the windows igniting everything it touched. Blinking slowly, it took Ira a few moments to adjust to consciousness. Enveloped in his arms was a slumbering body. The rise and fall of Bunny’s chest was in sync with Ira’s heartbeat. Reaching up, Ira ran his fingers through the boy’s soft, mint hair. Shifting his weight, he pulled Bunny in closer. He felt at ease in their closeness.
Resting his chin on Bunny’s head, he closed his eyes for a moment and listened to the quiet moment. The steady rhythm of the sleeping boy’s breath harmonized with the purring coming from the feline nestled between the boys’ interlocked legs. Ira memorized the feeling of stillness.
After a few minutes of relaxation, Ira untangled himself from the boy, careful not to wake him. Bunny grumble in protest but ultimately rolled back over and fell back into slumber. Ira pulled the quilt over his petite body and gently brushed the hair from his still face. Bunny looked so peaceful when he slept, almost childlike. His tick eyelashes fluttered as he dreamed.
Glancing around the room, Ira struggled getting into his normal routine. He was more rested than he had been in months and it was a hard concept to grasp. The chef decided to skip his shower. He justified it by saying the running water would wake his guest but, in all honesty, he wanted to soak in Bunny’s sent a little longer.
Ira changed into his work clothes and found a clean shirt and pair of trousers for Bunny. He carefully folded them and placed them on the bedside table. Retrieving a bottle of water from the refrigerator, he left it beside the clothes. Once he was finished, he left food out for Baguette and made his way to the café.
When he arrived, both of his coworkers were already opening the shop. On weekends, the Magnolia House didn’t open until 8 am so they took their time getting ready. Ira was thankful a pot of coffee was already made. Although he felt rested, he was fighting the urge to crawl back into bed. Pouring himself a cup, he grabbed a croissant and found himself an empty chair. Picking up the newspaper, he flipped to the cartoons.
Lane found Ira first, her pale blonde hair was pulled back into a braid and she wore her usual sweater and dress shirt combo. She was nursing a cup of coffee as well. Smiling, Ira new she had questions.
[b [#004d00 “So, did [i Bunny] ever text you?”]] She asked with a click of her tongue.
Ira didn’t look up from his new paper and grunted, [b [#00075D “m hm.”]]
[b [#004d00 “Well,”]] she huffed, obviously annoyed. [b [#004d00 “What did he say?”]]
[b [#00075D “I had left the café lights on.”]] He murmured, flipping the page uninterested in the girl.
[b [#004d00 “What does that mean?”]] Lane moaned.
Before Ira could explain, Bunny appeared in the kitchen doorway.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Abel] [center [size15 [abel Bunny was very confused when he woke up, there was a large mass of orange fur directly in front of his face that was yowling incessantly at him. The confusion was mainly directed at the fact he didn’t have cat so to see one as soon as he woke up made his brain come to a screeching halt. The mental dilemma of the cat made his realization that the bed he was in was not his own come a few seconds later than it normally would. The bed was a little smaller than his own and definitely had fewer blankets, yet he could feel some residual warmth from one side of the bed. The sheets smelled like coffee and vanilla with something meatier beneath it. Bunny let himself burrow back into that smell which made him feel warm and relaxed while he tried to remember where exactly he was.
He probably shouldn’t be as calm as he was not knowing where he was or why he was in a stranger’s bed, it wasn’t like this happened to him a lot. In fact, a situation like this had never happened to the mint haired boy before. However, he didn’t really feel anything that made him feel like he needed to get out of there. Slowly the events of the night before came back, his departure from [i ‘Eclipsed’], the stalker following him, seeing the lights left on at the restaurant and how they’d talked in the kitchen until Ira invited him to stay the night. It took an extra minute for him to remember the hazy state he’d been in when he crawled into the other man’s bed and used him as a substitute space heater.
The room was empty and it sounded rather quiet as well, turning his face to the side he looked at the empty space beside him. Ira must have already woken up. Baguette pawed at Bunny’s chest until the boy began to scratch at his chin. [b [#60B9D6 “Where did your owner go, Baguette?”]] He asked the purring cat.
Looking around he noticed there were clothes on the nightstand, right next to a bottle of water, after a longer than necessary pause Bunny realized they were probably meant for him. It was a sweet gesture but considering how large the shirt he was currently wearing was and how his hips were too slim to fit into Ira’s elastic pants he doubted that those would fit him. He stood up, much to the displeasure of Baguette who he had to adjust from laying on his chest to now sitting in his lap as he reached over for the water, taking small sips while he slowly woke up. After he’d had a little bit of water, he decided he should probably try to find his clothes and phone. A part of his mind wondered if this was how people felt after they hooked up with people; blindly searching for their belongings in a stranger’s house while feeling out of place?
As soon as he removed himself from the bed, he regretted it, it was cold. He noticed among the clothes Ira had laid out for him was a jacket. He quickly pulled that from the pile and put it on, it smelled just like the bed had, robust coffee with sweet vanilla tones and a strong scent beneath it which was both meaty and luxurious at the same time. Bunny held the leather close and inhaled the scent, it seemed to dull his senses when he smelt it, like taking a sedative.
Wearing the jacket, he retraced his steps to the guest bedroom where he’d taken off his clothes and left his belongings. He took the jacket off to get dressed again but put it back on after a brief struggle to stuff the billowing sleeves of his blouse into the sleeves of the jacket. His phone had three messages from Leah and one from Bae.
Bae’s message was straight-forward:
[font "courier new" [size13 [b [#EC7A1C I haven’t gotten your article on that restaurant yet, you usually have it done by now.]]]]
Leah’s messages were initially straight forward:
[font "courier new" [size13 [b [#EE5FA7 Bunny-boo, did you get home alright?]]]]
[font "courier new" [size13 [b [#EE5FA7 I’m still your emergency contact, right? So, if you got into some horrifying, disfiguring accident and were dying in the hospital I’d know, right?]]]]
Bunny decided to ignore Bae’s message since he was just nagging for the article, it was true that Bunny usually had them done rather quickly but the deadline for the article was two days from now so the man could afford to wait. Leah on the other hand was likely to contact the police if he didn’t text her back.
[font "courier new" [size13 [b [#60B9D6 I’m fine. I’ll call later and explain.]]]]
He promptly put the phone on sleep mode so it wouldn’t go off and slid it into his back pocket. He popped into the bathroom to clean his face, his makeup had probably gotten smeared and messy while he was sleeping, especially if it was as warm as he remembered. Using a washcloth, he removed most of the remaining makeup which had gotten messy while he was sleeping but without makeup cleaner, he had some dark shading beneath his eyes and his lips were still stained a brighter than natural color.
Bunny followed the path Ira had shown him the night before down into the restaurant, he emerged in the kitchen where he saw the large man with dreadlocks who worked there, prepping ingredients for opening. He looked up at the intruder curiously though his eyes quickly widened and his mouth feel open as he looked at the boy. He seemed like he wanted to say something but wasn’t able to get any words out, after an awkward moment of staring Bunny quickly moved towards the storefront. There he found Ira sitting down in a chair while he browsed the newspaper and nursed a cup of coffee. Bunny wondered if he’d actually gotten any sleep the night before, it seemed like he was having a fitful dream.
[b [#004D00 “What does that mean?”]] The blonde barista was speaking to Ira and she seemed aggravated by something. Briefly the mint haired boy considered sneaking out and back up the stairs but the other employee had already seen him and it would be rather awkward to try and sneak out now. In that moment Ira looked up and saw Bunny in the doorway.
The blonde barista followed the chef’s gaze to Bunny and her eyes lit up like a child on Christmas. Immediately the girl made a [i terrible] noise, like she was squealing and screaming but trying to hold it in while failing and Bunny’s body flinched back from it. [b [#004D00 “OHMYGOD!”]] Her words were spoken so quickly it all came out in one breath, [b [#004D00 “Um, hi.”]] She greeted as she finally seemed to regain a sense of sanity.
[b [#60B9D6 “Hello?”]] Bunny responded hesitantly as he walked out of the kitchen and crossed over to Ira, intensely aware of the blonde’s gaze. His green eyes fell on the chef and he hesitated with what exactly he was supposed to say in this situation. [b [#60B9D6 “I should get going. Thank you for the tea and everything,”]] Bunny didn’t want to elaborate on the stalker in front of the girl or by the other worker in the kitchen. As he walked towards the door he looked back at the chef and voiced a thought on his mind, [b [#60B9D6 “I hope you were able to sleep well,”]] before he left.]]]
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Abel] [center [pic https://i.imgur.com/G16esX4.jpg] [abel [size15 Bunny swam in Ira’s leather jacket. The sleeves were far too long and the fabric wrapped around him like a blanket. Ira’s expression softened at the sight. An affectionate grin crept across his face as his eyes rested on the boy.
A shriek of excitement erupted from Lane when she saw what Ira was staring at. Her hand slapped her mouth making a popping noise. [b [#004d00 “OH MY GOD!”]] She bellowed. Shaking her head, she straightened her sweater to calm her fidgeting hands. [b [#004d00 “Um, Hi.”]]
Ira pursed his lips not bothering to hide his smirk. Blinking slowly, Ira took a sip from his mug admiring the view. “Good morning,” Ira greeted, his deep voice warm like honey.
“Hello?” Bunny replied, his uneasiness apparent in his tone. He shuffled across the store, deliberate in his footsteps. He paused in front of Ira. Hesitation flashed in his eyes when he met Ira’s gaze. “I should get going. Thank you for the tea and everything.” He turned away from the chef and headed for the door. “I hope you were able to sleep well,” he added. In an instant, he was gone.
Once the boy was gone, Lane’s composure crumbled. Like a broken dam, her excitement flooded Ira. The barista nearly tackled Ira as she clawed at his shirt, pulling him from his seat. [b [#004d00 “DIMITRI, I NEED YOU,”]] she cried, crazy burned in her eyes as she straddled the man. Ira wriggled under her weight, trying not to spill the contents in his cup.
Dimitri materialized in the door; his face unreadable. Looking down his nose, he narrowed his eyes at the sight of his coworkers wrestling. After a beat, he was towering over the two, his eyes shining like a child about to open a present. [b [#730099 “Sooooo,”]] he sang.
Ira rolled onto his stomach attempting to escape his assailants grasp. [b [#00075D “What?”]] He heaved; his obsidian locks had escaped the tie that had been holding them in place.
[b [#730099 “What my ASS Ira!”]] Dimitri boomed. Effortlessly, he scooped up the two, one in each arm and plopped them on the couch. [b [#730099 “You know exactly what we want to know.”]]
Lane nodded her head so vigorously her glasses nearly flew off. [b [#004d00 “Why was Bunny in your apartment?! What was he doing wearing your jacket? Is he your boyfriend?”]] Her questions fired one after another.
Ira shifted his weight in his seat, crossing one leg over the other. He straightened his shirt from his earlier attack. Pulling his hair back into a ponytail, he clicked his tongue. He hadn’t really thought there was anything out of the ordinary from the night before. Had it been weird he invited Bunny to stay? Did Ira make the man uncomfortable?
[b [#00075D “Well he stopped by on the way home from a party and it was late so I invited him to stay in the guest room.”]] Ira tapped his chin with his forefinger. [b [#00075D “He ended up sharing my bed with me and Baguette.”]] He noted.
Lane looked like she was about to combust. Another squeal escaped her small chest. She leapt from the couch and tackled Dimitri in a bear hug. [b [#004d00 “Dimi, it’s HAPPENING.”]]
Dimitri lifted the girl up by her waist and twirled her around, laughing along with her. Ira wrinkled his nose in disgust. It was too early for this much joy. He only had one cup of coffee and needed at least three for this level of affection.
[b [#00075D “I am not caffeinated enough for this,”]] Ira sighed. Picking up his coffee cup that had been emptied on the floor, he returned to the kitchen to find a towel.
The next two days lulled on like usual. Bunny and Ira texted during their free time talking about food and their schedules. Ira spent his day off planning his big upcoming Thanksgiving dinner. It had been a tradition his mother had created, inviting all of the chefs for a potluck and festivities. Ira had set up the guest room and made sure he had enough bedding for his drunk friends to stay the night if needed. He took his time decorating the apartment with his favorite fall aesthetic.
When Tuesday rolled around, Ira was moving faster than usual. He woke up before dawn and completed his morning ritual in a whirlwind. The chef was excited to open the café. He wasn’t sure why, but he couldn’t wait to see Bunny.
Ira put on a pot of coffee and started the oven. Pulling out his phone, he typed a good morning text to Bunny before moving onto making holiday plans. Finding his group chat, [i People I Tolerate,] he drafted a message. [tbl [font "Courier New" To] || [font "Courier New" Jonas, Dimitri, Lane, Aiden, Leo, Eloise, Athena, Lana, and Leah] Ira | Hello, Thanksgiving is in two weeks. We will be gathering at the Magnolia house on Thursday the 26th. Bring a covered dish. Alcohol will be provided as always. No Jonas, we will not get a live Turkey this year. Yes Leah, you can bring a plus one. Let me know if you have any questions. Leo | Bonjour mon cher! Eloise and I will be flying in on the 25th can’t wait to see you! Jonas | :( what about a duck? Ira | No. Athena | Why do you always type so formally, old man? Dimitri | What do you mean? Ira is literally a 60-year-old grandfather. Ira | I am turning off the notifications now. Good-bye.] Ira locked his phone and shoved it in his pocket. Although he acted like the party was a bother, he was excited to share a meal with the people he cared about.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Abel] [center [size15 [abel Bunny didn’t go back to the [i ‘Magnolia House’] that Saturday despite having promised to come again that day but it felt weird to return after he’d just spent the night. When he’d finally gotten back to his apartment, he’d taken a long bath while trying to explain the situation to Leah who had a reaction that made him remember the blonde barista. She seemed elated to hear that he had spent the night with another person, she had asked a lot of… [i Awkward] questions about Ira. Of course, he hadn’t actually told Leah Ira’s name.
After satisfying her curiosity he’d decided he needed to buckle down and finish his article so Bae would calm down. Despite having changed into his own, well fitted clothes he picked up the jacket he’d taken from Ira’s. That same intoxicating smell was still heavily clinging to the fabric when he picked it up and he inhaled it again. Bunny ended up putting it on, telling himself he’d return the jacket the next day when he went to the restaurant again.
Bunny’s phone vibrated in his back pocket, alerting him to the fact he had a new message from someone. For a moment he thought it was perhaps from Ira, Bunny was running a little late so maybe he was texting the mint haired boy. For some reason he felt a little disappointed when it was from Leah.
[font "courier new" [size13 [b [#EE5FA7 Bunny-Boo, guess who has Thanksgiving plans with a gorgeous girl?!]]]]
Immediately Bunny assumed Leah was speaking about herself, she must have made plans with a new woman she was seeing but he would play along.
[font "courier new" [size13 [b [#60B9D6 Who?]]]]
[font "courier new" [size13 [b [#EE5FA7 U! U get to come with me to a party!]]]]
Bunny didn’t really celebrate holidays, it always felt like too much work on a large dinner that was consumed too quickly and was generally prepared in very uncreative ways. It wasn’t as if he hated holidays or anything, if anything he was indifferent to them. However, Bunny knew that arguing was a pointless endeavor, if he said no Leah would just ignore it and show up at his apartment on the day of and drag him along anyways.
[font "courier new" [size13 [b [#60B9D6 Okay.]]]]
What followed was string of emojis that Bunny couldn’t decipher. He sighed, opening the door to the [i ‘Magnolia House’], letting the rush of warm air wash over him. The restaurant had been closed the day before with Ira talking about how he needed to get his place ready for the upcoming holiday. He seemed very enthusiastic about it. While he had only come by once since he’d spent the night the two of them had been texting quite a bit and Bunny had gotten to know a lot about Ira’s cooking. He was really talented and had a lot of professional training, even if he tried to downplay it.
[b [#004D00 “Oh! [i BUNNY] hi!”]] The blonde barista greeted loudly, throwing her voice back like she was trying to speak to someone really far away rather than the boy who’d just walked in. [b [#004D00 “So good to see you again,”]] She was exaggerating her words but Bunny wasn’t really sure why.
Before he could say anything to the blonde barista, Ira was coming out from the kitchen, the way he rushed out made him look a bit like a puppy running to greet its owner after they’d gotten home. It was kinda cute. [b [#60B9D6 “Good morning,”]] He spoke, his soft voice more directed towards Ira than the girl, [b [#60B9D6 “Sorry, I’m a little later than usual.”]] He hoped the chef hadn’t thought he wasn’t coming; he had said he would but he’d slept later than usual so it took a while to get there.
Bunny was dressed somewhat different than normal, mostly in the fact he wasn’t wearing an oversized sweater or blouse like Ira was used to seeing on him. Instead he wore light blue denim jeans with a few stylized rips and a black leather leg harness on his left pant leg. His shoes were simple black canvas sneakers and one could just barely see his pastel blue socks between the space of his shoe and jeans. His white hoodie actually fit him rather than swallowed him up with its size and he wore a black choker on his neck that matched the look of the harness on his leg. His mint locks were especially fluffy that morning since he’d just taken a shower and blown them dry before coming. He wasn’t wearing much makeup, since he preferred to be fresh faced when it was earlier in the day. Really just his lipstick stood out, a nice soft gradient of pink that went slightly red just at the crease of his mouth.]]]
Ira looked up from the mug he had been drying like his name had been called. The cup nearly slipped through his hands when he heard Bunny’s name.
[b [#004d00 “So good to see you again,”]] Lane sang, her tone overly excited.
Ira hung the towel up and appeared in the doorway. A feeling of relief washed over Ira when he spotted the boy. The morning light caught his mint hair, turning it a warm gold. His long eyelashes casted shadows on his pale cheeks. Ira grinned ear to ear. For a moment, the chef thought maybe the boy wouldn’t show.
[b [#60B9D6 “Good morning,”]] Bunny greeted Ira, his voice gentle. [b [#60B9D6 “Sorry, I’m a little later than usual.]]
[b [#00075D “No, it’s okay, we’ve been slow this morning,”]] Ira admitted. His hand fumbled with the hem of his apron. [b [#00075D “Can I get you something?”]]
The thought for a moment before answering, [b [#60B9D6 “I’m alright with you choosing.”]]
Ira nodded and returned to his place behind the bar. The chef opted for a blended drink today. Peaking his head in the kitchen, he whistled at Dimitri. [b [#00075D “Can you heat up an almond croissant?”]]
Dimitri diverted his attention to his boss. His eyes lit up at the request. [b [#730099 “Is he here?!”]] He trilled.
Ira ignored the question and went back to work. Filling the blender with ice, he poured in cream and a dash of vanilla. Adding a few tablespoons of powdered sugar, he saved the Green-tea Match powder for last. Blending it until smooth, he picked out a tall, dainty glass and filled it with the green Frappuccino. Adding a dollop of whipped cream, he admired his creation. Retrieving the croissant, he scanned the room for Bunny.
The boy had found a seat at the high table facing the window. His attention was on the strangers passing by. Ira strolled over and placed the drink and pastry in front of him. [b [#00075D “It’s a Green-tea Matcha Frappuccino and an almond croissant. I think nuts pair nicely with Macha,”]] he informed, anxiety pricked at the back of his neck. He never knew he if was picking the right thing for Bunny.
The bell above the door chimed as it was thrusted open. A tall, ginger stalked through the door, his scarf wrapped tightly around his neck covering his mouth and nose. His golden eyes searched the restaurant until they landed on Ira. Without hesitation, he threw his arms around the chef and planted a kiss on his cheek.
[b [#990033 “Mi amor! I am so happy to see you!”]] He cooed, nuzzling Ira’s cheek with his.
Ira wrinkled his nose in disgust. Prying the man off of him, he frowned. [b [#00075D “I saw you on Friday Jonas. Why do you always do this?”]]
[b [#990033 “What? Didn’t you miss me?”]] He pursed his bottom lip putting on his best pout. Tears welled in his eyes.
Ira knew well that Jonas could cry on command. His display of affection annoyed the chef. It had been this way between the two men since they had first met in high school. Jonas was the dramatic one and Ira was an ‘old soul.’ People were surprised when they began to date. They were even more surprised when things ended years later.
[b [#00075D “No. What are you doing here? It’s Tuesday?”]] Ira inquired; suspicion hung on his words.
[b [#990033 “What, I can’t come visit my dear Ira?”]] He teased, attempting to cup the shorter man’s cheek. When Ira swatted him away, he shrugged. [b [#990033 “I actually came to go over the product orders.”]] He admitted. His eyes fell on the boy sitting next to them who had been staring at Jonas. [b [#990033 “Who is this cutie?”]] Jonas purred, watching Ira’s expression change from annoyance to protective in an instant. Ira instinctively stepped between Jonas and Bunny.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Abel] [center [size15 [abel [b [#00075D “No, it’s okay, we’ve been slow this morning,”]] Ira said like he was trying to reassure Bunny that his lateness was unnoticed. But if it hadn’t been busy wouldn’t that have made his absence all the more noticeable? [b [#00075D “Can I get you something?”]]
The mint haired boy mulled over the options, the past two time he’d simply let Ira pick for him, the first time had been disastrous since he’d served three full meals but the second time Ira had made the portions of even a single plate more bearable to Bunny. [b [#60B9D6 “I’m alright with you choosing,”]] His voice sounded indifferent but he wasn’t always someone who accepted a chef’s choice.
Ira nodded at him and set to work so Bunny went to find a comfortable spot to wait for his order. His usual table was unoccupied so he sat down, the large windows giving him a perfect view of the street so he could look at the crowds. Since it was the middle of the weekday the crowds were much thinner than they would be on a Friday or the weekends. It only a took a minute or two for Ira to finished preparing the drink, he brought over a tall glass with a green-blended drink and a croissant with a glaze and finely chopped almonds on top, [b [#00075D “It’s a Green Tea Matcha Frappuccino and an almond croissant. I think nuts pair nicely with Matcha.”]] Bunny picked up the drink to taste first, he usually preferred warm teas or even iced teas over blended teas, but he didn’t dislike them. It was creamy and had the right hint of the powerful matcha flavor. And Ira was right about nuts and matcha, they were a good mix, obviously certain nuts went better and usually a nut-butter was recommended with pairing but so long as the pastry managed the sweetness it should be good.
The bell above the door rang as another customer entered, Bunny barely looked up instead focusing on the flavors of his food. However, the customer caught his attention as he walked over to Ira, grabbing at him and kissing him on the cheek. Bunny could tell it was a greeting, he’d spent enough time overseas to be familiar with it but it was the words of the man that Bunny felt prick at him, [b [#990033 “Mi amor! I am so happy to see you!”]] The man was strangely familiar in his appearance and very affectionate towards the chef.
Ira didn’t seem happy with the contact as he removed the man from his person almost immediately, [b [#00075D “I saw you on Friday Jonas. Why do you always do this?”]] The name sounded familiar to Bunny as well, where had he seen this person before? Bunny couldn’t really focus on the back and forth between the two men as he tried to place who this man was.
[b [#990033 “What, I can’t come visit my dear Ira?”]] Somehow his words stung at Bunny, he wasn’t sure why, they weren’t even directed at him so why did he care so much how this person was speaking. [b [#990033 “I actually came to go over the product orders,”]] His tone changed in an instant, suddenly more serious. Then the red-headed man looked over towards where Bunny was sitting, sipping at the straw to his drink and watching the pair. [b [#990033 “Who is this cutie?”]]
Suddenly Bunny lost sight of the other man as Ira moved to stand in front of his immediately line of sight. Bunny tilted his head to the side to see the man again. He spoke a lot like Bae did. Just more friendly. [b [#60B9D6 “Ah, you’re the one from the photograph!”]] Bunny finally placed the man’s face to the one he’d seen pressed against Ira in the polaroid, it had taken a moment because he was younger in the picture than in person.
A fox like smile spread across the man’s face at Bunny’s words, immediately he slipped past Ira and sat down in the chair directly next to Bunny, slinging and arm around his shoulders and leaning in close to Bunny as he spoke, [b [#990033 “Oh? You’ve seen my picture before? I’m flattered.”]] Bunny wasn’t sure there was anything to be flattered about. [b [#990033 “Honestly, I’m surprised I haven’t seen a picture of you before, I hear you’re a regular? I can’t believe Ira would try to monopolize a cutie like you.”]] Even though the man was speaking to him Bunny felt like his eyes were directed up at Ira. He really was like Bae, wasn’t he?]]]
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Abel] [left [pic https://i.imgur.com/XwAIeBq.jpg]][center [abel [size15 [pic https://images-wixmp-ed30a86b8c4ca887773594c2.wixmp.com/f/08db58bf-b2a3-4cd1-9c03-f93dcf194212/dbjobcm-f497dbfd-4a7f-482c-9263-ce1688f99d3e.png?token=eyJ0eXAiOiJKV1QiLCJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiJ9.eyJzdWIiOiJ1cm46YXBwOiIsImlzcyI6InVybjphcHA6Iiwib2JqIjpbW3sicGF0aCI6IlwvZlwvMDhkYjU4YmYtYjJhMy00Y2QxLTljMDMtZjkzZGNmMTk0MjEyXC9kYmpvYmNtLWY0OTdkYmZkLTRhN2YtNDgyYy05MjYzLWNlMTY4OGY5OWQzZS5wbmcifV1dLCJhdWQiOlsidXJuOnNlcnZpY2U6ZmlsZS5kb3dubG9hZCJdfQ.qXd_BXSEc6J-W_LcUtxsbXQHNkrfUIJc19GzuZITinI] Bunny poked his head around the wall Ira created with his body. His hair fell across his forehead, fanning around him. His face lit up like a lightbulb went off, [b [#60B9D6 “Ah, you’re the one from the photograph!”]] He exclaimed.
This statement seemed to amuse the red-head. A coy smile crawled across his face. His amber eyes narrowed as he met Ira’s fiery gaze. A purr escaped his lips as he slid into the chair next to Bunny. He wrapped an arm around his thin shoulders. [b [#990033 “Oh? You’ve seen my picture before? I’m flattered.”]] He murmured, leaning in closer to the boy. [b [#990033 “Honestly, I’m surprised I haven’t seen a picture of you before, I hear you’re a regular? I can’t believe Ira would try to monopolize a cutie like you.”]] He stared up at Ira through his eyelashes. A smirk resided on his lips.
[b [#00075D “Jonas,”]] Ira warned through his teeth. He glared at the man, his gold eyes begged Jonas to trifle with him.
[b [#990033 “What? I’m just complimenting him. You never share your toys with me,”]] he goaded, batting his eyelashes at the chef.
[b [#00075D “He isn’t a toy. Why are you like this?”]] Ira hissed. Clenching his fists, he knew Jonas had him right where he wanted him.
[b [#990033 “Oh, you know I like to tease. You haven’t dated since [i me,] so I wanted to have a look for myself.”]] Jonas purred, drawing out his words.
[b [#00075D "Kitchen. Now,"]] Ira ordered, all emotions drained from his face. Jonas cowered under Ira's gaze.
[b [#990033 "Okay, okay. You're no fun."]] Jonas whined. Hopping down from the chair, he patted Bunny on the head. [b [#990033 "See you around, Bun-Bun."]] He winked and disappeared into the kitchen.
Ira let out a sigh. He looked tired, like the interaction had taken years off of his life. Leaning against the counter, he rubbed his eyes with his hand. [b [#00075D "I am sorry about him. He means well but doesn't understand boundaries,"]] he explained. Letting his gaze fall on Bunny, he searched the boy's face for answers. [b [#00075D "Are you alright?"]]
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Abel] [center [size15 [abel [b [#00075D “Jonas,”]] Ira’s voice sounded strained, Bunny hadn’t ever heard it sound like this before and it made him realize he didn’t actually know all that many sides to Ira.
The red headed man, Jonas, barely blinked at the tone instead he batted his eyes, [b [#990033 “What? I’m just complimenting him. You never share you toys with me.”]]
Something in those words must have set Ira off because he practically hissed back his response to the man, [b [#00075D “He isn’t a toy. Why are you like this?”]]
[b [#990033 “Oh, you know I like to tease. You haven’t dated since [i me], so I wanted to have a look for myself,”]] Bunny felt himself go rigid, he felt like he was hearing things he shouldn’t or maybe just things he didn’t want to. It wasn’t like he hadn’t guessed there might have been something there, they’d seemed really close in the picture and the words and tone of voice Ira had used when talking about Jonas had been particular. Somehow Bunny felt like he was having trouble breathing, maybe it was because he was literally caught between two people fighting.
[b [#00075D “Kitchen, now,”]] Ira’s tone of voice made Bunny still, it was too controlled, almost violently calm.
Even Jonas seemed to have an adverse reaction to it as he relented, [b [#990033 “Okay, okay. You’re no fun.”]] The ginger haired man got down from the chair, he briefly ran his head through Bunny’s fluffy hair, like he was petting him. [b [#990033 “See you around, Bun-Bun,”]] The man winked good naturedly before he departed towards the kitchen door.
Ira let out a sigh that seemed to carry his soul with it, [b [#00075D “I am sorry about him.”]] The chef rubbed his eyes as he leaned forward. [b [#00075D “He means well but doesn’t understand boundaries. Are you alright?”]]
[b [#60B9D6 “It’s fine, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened,”]] It really wasn’t. Bunny had spent most of his childhood as an accessory for his mother. She’d take him to events and parade him around and people would compliment and pet him, cooing about how cute he was; all the while he’d have to remind himself not to flinch or get upset when they suddenly touched him without his permission and never let his act drop. Sure, he didn’t sit around faking a smile and acting like a child to please others now but there were still times where he felt those same commands in his head.
Bunny tried to brush off the thoughts, looking at the bags beneath Ira’s eyes. He tilted his head as he gauged how tired the chef must have been, [b [#60B9D6 “Are you okay? Have you not been sleeping the past two days?”]]]]]
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Abel] [left [pic https://i.imgur.com/XwAIeBq.jpg]][center [abel [size15 [pic https://images-wixmp-ed30a86b8c4ca887773594c2.wixmp.com/f/08db58bf-b2a3-4cd1-9c03-f93dcf194212/dbjobcm-f497dbfd-4a7f-482c-9263-ce1688f99d3e.png?token=eyJ0eXAiOiJKV1QiLCJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiJ9.eyJzdWIiOiJ1cm46YXBwOiIsImlzcyI6InVybjphcHA6Iiwib2JqIjpbW3sicGF0aCI6IlwvZlwvMDhkYjU4YmYtYjJhMy00Y2QxLTljMDMtZjkzZGNmMTk0MjEyXC9kYmpvYmNtLWY0OTdkYmZkLTRhN2YtNDgyYy05MjYzLWNlMTY4OGY5OWQzZS5wbmcifV1dLCJhdWQiOlsidXJuOnNlcnZpY2U6ZmlsZS5kb3dubG9hZCJdfQ.qXd_BXSEc6J-W_LcUtxsbXQHNkrfUIJc19GzuZITinI] [b [#60B9D6 “It’s fine, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened,”]] Bunny confessed. He went quiet for a moment, lost in thought. His expression was hard for Ira to read but it felt off. His words tugged at the chef's chest. Ira had to stop himself from hugging the boy. He wanted nothing more than to comfort Bunny, whatever the reason was.
Tiling his head, his emerald eyes surveyed the man. He looked exhausted. The bags under his eyes were a muted purple. His usually shiny midnight hair looked dull in the sunlight. [b [#60B9D6 “Are you okay? Have you not been sleeping the past two days?”]]
Ira met his gaze. He tried to come up with a lie but his reserve was empty. Nibbling his lower lip, he hid his face in his hands and exhaled. [b [#00075D “No.”]]
He was quiet for a moment, unsure how to proceed. Peaking between his fingers, Bunny’s gentle expression melted his hard exterior. [b [#00075D “I was used to it. Not sleeping,”]] he started, choosing his words carefully. [b [#00075D “But then you spent the night and it was the first time in such a long time that I was able to sleep soundlessly.”]] A soft blush painted his cheeks. He felt like he was admitting some embarrassing secret. [b [#00075D "I had forgotten what it felt like."]]
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Abel] [center [size15 [abel For a moment it seemed like Ira was trying to come up with an answer that would satisfy Bunny rather than telling him the truth. He drew his bottom lip into his mouth like he had the night before when he was worrying and chewed at the flesh before he left his face fall into his hands. [b [#00075D “No,”]] The word seemed to carry weight with it, like exhaling after holding your breath for too long.
Bunny waited for Ira to continue, unsure if he was done speaking after the simple answer to Bunny’s question. But the chef’s sharp eyes peeked from behind his fingers and he finally seemed to crumble, [b [#00075D “I was used to it. Not sleeping. But then you spent the night and,”]] It was like Ira was searching for the right words as he spoke, [b [#00075D “it was the first time in a such a long time that I was able to sleep soundlessly.”]] Ira’s hands fell and Bunny saw he was still chewing on his lip. [b [#00075D “I had forgotten what it felt like.”]]
Like the previous night Bunny reached out toward Ira’s face and used his thumb to pull Ira’s lip free of his teeth, [b [#60B9D6 “I told you, you’ll make your lip bleed if you do that.”]] His chastising was gentle as he mulled over Ira’s words.
[b [#60B9D6 “Do you want me to stay again? Would that help?”]] He asked simply.]]]
Ira was startled when he felt Bunny’s small hand on his face. His fingers cupped his cheek as he used his thumb to gently release his lip from his teeth. Instinctively, Ira leaned into his touch. Closing his eyes, he inhaled through his nose. [b [#60B9D6 “I told you, you’ll make your lip bleed if you do that.”]] Bunny murmured. [b [#60B9D6 “Do you want me to stay again?” Would that help?”]]
Ira’s eyes snapped open. Bunny met his gaze with sincerity. Knitting his brows together, Ira blinked rapidly, digesting his question. It wasn’t like he hadn’t thought about it. Every time he crawled into bed, he searched for something that reminded him of Bunny and their night together. But could he ask the man to stay with him? Did he also not have someone to go home to?
After a moment, Ira decided it was okay to be selfish even if it was for one night. Averting his eyes from Bunny’s face to his hands, he nodded slowly. [b [#00075D “I would if that’s okay?”]]
[b [#60B9D6 "If it wasn't okay, I wouldn't have offered."]] Bunny replied.
Ira grinned, [b [#00075D “I guess you’re right.”]]
A crash from the back room pull Ira’s attention from Bunny. Jonas came running from the kitchen with Lane in pursuit. [b [#004d00 “If you’re not going to be helpful then get out!”]] She scolded.
Jonas threw up his hands in defense. His body shaking with laughter. [b [#990033 “Alright, alright I am going.”]] Snagging a blueberry muffin, he skipped to the door. Blowing a kiss to Bunny and Ira, he disappeared into the street.
[b [#00075D “Is everything okay?”]] Ira asked, concern paining his face.
[b [#004d00 “Yeah. Ever since Jonas got married, he’s become such a pain.”]] Lane complained, crossing her arms over her chest. [b [#004d00 “Can you come help me in the kitchen? We’re about to get busy.”]]
Ira nodded. She had been right about Jonas. After he married Aiden, he spent less time in the kitchen and took over the financial side of the business. He only worked in the cafe a few days out of the week. Ira understood though. Jonas liked to spend as much time with his person as he could.
Turning back to Bunny, he smiled softly. [b [#00075D “Alright, I have to get back to work. I’ll see you tonight?”]] He said before returning to his place in the kitchen. Glancing over his shoulder, he caught Bunny’s gaze one more time. His smile widened.
After work, Bunny met Ira at the front door. The two locked up the shop together and retired to Ira’s apartment. Once they were settled in, Ira got to work on dinner. He decided on a penne vodka. It was his mother’s favorite recipe.
In a skillet, he browned up garlic and shallots in butter. The earthy smell filled the room with its warm fragrance. Adding chopped tomatoes and vodka, he let the sauce darken. When his pasta was done, he added the noodles and cream to the skillet. Stirring in some fresh parmesan, he plated the dish and added garnish.
Opening a bottle of red wine he liked to pair with the main course, he served Bunny and joined him at the table. Taking a bite, a shiver crept up Ira’s spine. His mother’s smile swirled in his mind. [b [#00075D “This was my mother’s favorite dish. I haven’t made it in a while.”]] Ira noted between bites. [b [#00075D “My friend Leo often sends me French vodka to try.”]]
The thought of his friend Leo reminded him of the upcoming party. Ira wondered if Bunny had anyone to spend the holiday with. He assumed the man didn’t have a partner since he was spending the night with him for the second time that week. But what about his family? He realized he really didn’t know all that much about Bunny.
[b [#00075D “Say, Bunny, if you don’t have any plans for Thanksgiving, would you like to come here for dinner? My friends and I do a potluck for every holiday. It’s usually … interesting.”]] Their parties often got out of hand now that he thought about it. [b [#00075D “The food is always good though. They are all chefs.”]]
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Abel] [center [size15 [abel Ira seemed caught off guard by Bunny’s offer to spend that night with him again. His brows knitted together while anxiety and uncertainty painted his face. After a moment the expression melted away and Ira’s jaw set as he nodded, [b [#00075D “I would, if that’s okay?”]]
The chef’s voice was still unsure, [b [#60B9D6 “If it wasn’t okay, I wouldn’t have offered.”]] Bunny said with absolution.
[b [#00075D “I guess you’re right,”]] It seemed Bunny’s words had calmed Ira as a smile broke across his lips. The mint haired boy could feel the relaxation of his facial muscles beneath his fingers. Bunny barely realized he was still touching him. But it didn’t seem as if Ira disliked it, in fact earlier he seemed to find comfort in the touch. So, it was probably fine not to move his hand, right?
As that thought crossed his mind there was a loud commotion from the kitchen that made Ira turn his head, and Bunny let his hand drop down. The blonde barista was chasing the spicy red-head out of the room and yelling at him. Bunny didn’t really pay attention to what they were saying, he barely watched the commotion and only saw the wink directed at him from the corner of his eyes as the man left the establishment holding a muffin.
[b [#00075D “Is everything okay?”]] Ira asked as he moved away from where Bunny was seated to deal with the problems arising in the kitchen. He supposed the chef wasn’t at liberty to stay with Bunny the entire time he was eating. Not that his presence was necessary for Bunny to enjoy his meal. The mint haired young man was wrestling with his thoughts and emotions. [b [#00075D “Alright, I have to get back to work. I’ll see you tonight?”]] Bunny nodded his agreement and watched as the chef walked away, their eyes briefly meeting when the man turned back to look at him again before disappearing past the doors.
The evening came fast and yet Bunny felt he had been waiting for a week rather than a few hours. This time Bunny was prepared for staying a night away from his apartment; he brought his own clothes since Ira’s clothes hadn’t fit him in the slightest and a few toiletries he’d need, as well as a small makeup kit for the morning so he wouldn’t end up walking away with racoon eyes the way he had the time before. As he had packed, he recalled the endless scenes from shows where character had ‘slumber parties’ and spent the night at their friend’s house, Bunny’s unconventional and isolated childhood meant that he hadn’t experienced that before, the closest comparison was his nomadic time spent sampling food across the globe following his parents’ death. Then again, he wasn’t sure that staying in luxurious hotels and sampling food from a variety of restaurants, almost all of them Michelin star rated, could really count as nomadic. And he wasn’t sure at his age he could really consider this to be comparable to an adolescent slumber party either. Both he and Ira were adults; no, he wasn’t sure there was really any situations that described what they were doing.
Bunny met Ira after closing, texting him when he’d gotten to the restaurant and feeling vaguely awash with déjà vu as he remembered just a few days earlier when he texted a picture of the lights still being on. After locking up Ira had quickly ushered him upstairs, it was convenient Bunny realized that he lived above his place of work. Briefly Ira took him towards the guestroom again, telling him that he could place his things there, something about privacy.
The mint haired boy tilted his head with genuine confusion, [b [#60B9D6 “But, aren’t we going to sleep together?”]] Had he misunderstood what Ira had wanted? He was fairly certain that he had asked for Bunny to spend the night with him as he did the time before.
Ira’s entire face flushed red, like he’d been burned, [b [#00075D “Ah, um, have you eaten, you must be hungry. I’m going to go cook some dinner.”]] The chef hurried away, leaving Bunny to follow but only after he decided to drop his bag inside of [i Ira’s room] instead of the guestroom.
Baguette found Bunny in the hallway and weaved between his feet making it difficult to move forward without first picking up the cat and so he did. With the orange monstrosity in his arms he went towards the familiar sounds of cooking. Ira was rolling up his sleeves while he pulled out ingredients and supplies while humming to himself. Green eyes traced his arms while he worked, Ira was more muscular than he appeared normally, the chef was clearly someone who took care of his body. Bunny stayed out of the way, though he felt the urge to move closer to see what was happening quite a few times; especially when he smelled the aromatics of the garlic and shallots. The smaller boy’s knowledge of food allowed him to grasp what kind of dish it was just based on the ingredients sitting out but he still found it nice to watch the chef bring it together. The skill and precision that Ira worked with were very French, by now Bunny was certain he must have either studied under a traditionally French chef or studied in the country itself.
Bunny cuddled with the cat while Ira finished cooking and plated the dish. It had been a long time since Bunny had last ate with someone in a house rather than a restaurant. Ira immediately began to dig in, [b [#00075D “This was my mother’s favorite dish. I haven’t made it in a while,”]] Bunny tucked into the pasta as well, though his bites were smaller and less rushed than Ira’s. The mint haired boy couldn’t really remember a time when he ate his mother’s cooking despite her being a chef. Ira must have been close to her if he had such a delicious meal associated with the woman. [b [#00075D “My friend Leo often sends me French vodka to try,”]] He wondered if Ira’s friend was French, considering that the country wasn’t really known for their vodkas.
It seemed that Ira was someone who liked to speak while they ate, it was nice since Bunny was the opposite. He liked listening to Ira’s voice while he chewed, making eye contact to Ira knew he was listening. [b [#00075D “Say, Bunny, if you don’t have any plans for Thanksgiving, would you like to come here for dinner?”]] Ira began, quickly adding on to the invitation, [b [#00075D “My friends and I do a potluck for every holiday. It’s usually interesting. The food is always good though. They’re all chefs.”]]
Bunny felt a lump form in his throat, he was reluctant to answer since he would be rejecting the chef, [b [#60B9D6 “I don’t normally celebrate holidays,”]] He admitted as if trying to soften the blow. [b [#60B9D6 “But this year I’ve already agreed to attend a party with a friend of mine. I apologize.”]]]]]
[b [#60B9D6 “I don’t normally celebrate holidays,”]] Bunny started reluctantly. Swallowing, he continued. [b [#60B9D6 “But this year I’ve already agreed to attend a party with a friend of mine. I apologize.”]]
Ira’s face fell. Taking another bite of his dinner, he chewed slowly before speaking. [b [#00075D “Don’t apologize. I am glad you have someone to spend the holiday with. Meals are better shared together.”]] He smiled although it was obviously halfheartedly. Meals were better spent with others; he was right about that. Eating with Bunny had been a nice change of pace compared to his normal nights alone. Bunny had become Ira’s favorite company before he knew. [b [#00075D “Maybe we can spend Christmas together, keep your schedule open,”]] Ira suggested, trying to make the boy feel better.
Once the two were done with dinner, Ira loaded the dishwasher and got ready for bed. He decided to take the first shower. Running the water until it was warm, Ira stripped out of his work clothes and climbed in. The hot liquid was refreshing. Ira’s mind wandered to the boy waiting for him in his room. His face flushed. Blaming the shower, he quickly washed his hair and changed into his pajamas.
Bunny was sitting on Ira’s bed when he emerged from the bathroom. [b [#00075D “The bathroom’s open if you want to shower. There is a clean towel above folded on the shelf,”]] Ira offered. Baguette was already curled up at the foot of the bed waiting for the men to join him. Crawling into bed, the cool sheets felt good against his hot skin. Nerves prickled at his skin when he caught Bunny out of the corner of his eyes. Tonight, was different. He had invited Bunny to stay knowing very well they would be sharing a bed. His teeth found his lower lip and pulled at the flesh.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Abel] [center [size15 [abel [b [#00075D “Don’t apologize. I’m glad you have someone to spend the holiday with. Meals are better shared together,”]] The last line sounded like it might adorn some kind of holiday card one would send to a relative they barely spoke to. Despite Ira’s reassurance that it was fine and that he needn’t apologize for his rejection he still felt bad. If only he’d asked him a day earlier, then he would have been able to accept. In truth Bunny could probably tell Leah that he’d changed his mind but he felt bad, if Leah was going out of her way to invite him to something it couldn’t hurt to indulge her just a bit. [b [#00075D “Maybe we can spend Christmas together, keep your schedule open,”]] Ira offered, like he was trying to appease a child. Bunny wasn’t sure why the idea of rejecting Ira’s offer was so difficult or why his offer to spend time together another time made him feel better. It was strange how the chef affected him; he’d never been this way towards anyone else.
[b [#60B9D6 “Alright,”]] He agreed, smiling at his plate half in response to the offer and half in amusement at how strangely normal this felt to him. The rest of the dinner passed with talk about the restaurant and food, Bunny asked a few questions but most of the conversation was supplied by Ira who was able to talk endlessly about dishes and ideas once prompted.
The two cleaned up the table together before Ira went to take a shower before they would sleep; Bunny preferred showing in the mornings, if he showered too late at night, he wouldn’t dry his hair properly. While Ira was in the shower Bunny decided to change into his sleep clothes. Normally he didn’t care much what he slept in so long as it was comfortable but he’d realized most of his sleepwear didn’t really consist of pants, save a few playful onesies Leah had convinced him to buy or gifted to him. And the idea of wearing an animal themed onesie in front of Ira had been an unpleasant thought. So instead he’d opted to for a white silk shirt which fell just bellow his hips and a pair of white lace briefs he liked, both which were hidden beneath a pearl pink silk robe which he tied at the waist; the robe had a floral insignia with his monogram on the left breast area where a pocket might be on a jacket.
Bunny was kneeling on the floor by the bed gently rubbing at Baguette’s jiggling belly, in awe that the cat was docile enough to let him touch the sensitive area, when Ira emerged from the adjoining bathroom. The cat seemed content at the foot of the bed being lavished with attention from the mint haired boy. [b [#00075D “The bathroom’s open if you want to shower. There’s a clean towel folded above on the shelf,”]] Ira said as he walked into the room. Ira wasn’t wearing a shirt and his skin was still red from the heat of the water, with some droplets still on his shoulders.
[b [#60B9D6 “That’s alright, I showered this morning, I just need to brush my teeth,”]] Bunny said, stopping his assault on the cat’s tummy and pulling the disposable toothbrush which already had toothpaste on the bristles so he only needed to wet it to clean his teeth. Bunny was very diligent with his oral hygiene given how important his mouth and teeth were to his job and spent a good five minutes making sure he’d properly cleaned his teeth, tongue, and gums before he threw away the brush and returned to the bedroom.
Ira had already gotten under the sheets and Bunny saw that he was once again abusing his lower lip with his teeth. When Ira’s warm amber eyes fell on him, he gave a strange smile, like he was forcing himself to do that. The other male moved the sheets and blanket down next to him and patted the space in an invitation for Bunny to join him. Bunny obliged, walking over and sitting on the bed next to Ira; he placed both of his small hand on either side of Ira’s face and once again used his thumb to pull the lip free of his teeth. [b [#60B9D6 “I told you to stop that,”]] [i Twice], [b [#60B9D6 “you’ll split the skin. If you do it again, I’ll bite it,”]] He threatened, completely serious as he stared into Ira’s eyes their faces level for a change and so close their breaths were intermingling. [b [#60B9D6 “Okay?”]]
Bunny pulled his hands back and moved away from Ira so that he could slid down from his position on his knees and instead lay down on the bed, his robe rising a bit as he did so a briefly flashing a glimpse of lace at Ira unbeknownst to Bunny. Bunny rested one of his arms under the pillow and rested his head atop it while looking up at Ira who was still seated up in the bed. He reached out and touched Ira’s nape, not really able to grip it since the other male was so much taller than him, [b [#60B9D6 “Lay down,”]] he practically ordered.]]]
[center [pic https://i.imgur.com/ZNt7Cz2.jpg]] [center [abel [size15 The boy stopped to rough up Baguette’s exposed stomach. The feline wriggle under his touch in a fit of purrs. Ira noted how much the cat liked the other boy. He wasn’t too keen on strangers but took quite a liking to Bunny. [b [#60B9D6 “That’s alright, I showered this morning, I just need to brush my teeth,”]] the boy said, whipping out his toothbrush. Retreating into the bathroom, he reappeared a few minutes later.
Ira met Bunny’s gaze. Patting the empty spot in the bed, he invited the boy to join him. Bunny didn’t hesitate as he sat. Cupping Ira’s face in his small hands, his thumb tugged the man’s lip free. [b [#60B9D6 “I told you to stop that, you’ll split the skin,”]] he scolded, staring down at the man, his emerald eyes serious. [b [#60B9D6 “If you do it again, I’ll bite it.”]] He warned. Ira could feel Bunny’s breath on his face. It’s smelled like cool mint. Ira shivered, unable to find his words. [b [#60B9D6 “Okay?”]] The boy asked, expecting conformation.
Ira nodded, Bunny’s hands following his cheeks. The boy removed his hand leaving Ira wanting more. Moving from his sitting position, his fluid motion exposed what he had been hiding under his silk robe. A pair of lace underwear caught Ira’s attention. His face flushed. Smacking his hand to his lips, he breathed shallowly.
Bunny easily nestled into bed. Ira shifted his weight in his seat, still too flustered to join the man horizontally. Without hesitation, Bunny slipped his hand around the back of Ira’s neck. The touch electrocuted the man. He had to stifle a moan. Clearing his throat, he wondered what had gotten into him all of a sudden.
[b [#60B9D6 “Lay down,”]] he ordered. His sleepy eyes were half closed, alluring. Ira studied the boy’s face. His eyes rested on the boy’s lips. Heat bubbled in his chest; his sweatpants felt tight.
‘[i Uh, oh,]’ he thought, gay panic welling in him. Obeying the boy, Ira fumbled with the bedding and snuggled in. His heart hammered in his chest. The conversation with Lane earlier that day replayed in his mind. [b ---] [#004d00 [i “So,] you like him, right?”] Lane inquired, trying to pass it off as nonchalant. She gave him a side-eye glance as she filled a to-go cup with an iced latte. Handing it to the person waiting at the counter, she turned her attention back to her boss.
Ira shrugged, wrapping a muffin gingerly in a brown paper bag. He pursed his lips and clicked his tongue. [#00075D “Yeah, he’s a good friend.”]
[#004d00 “No. I mean like [i like],”] she stressed, emphasizing the second like. She carefully studied Ira’s reaction.
The man scoffed and shook his head. His cheeks were painted a blossom pink, like a flower in bloom. He blinked rapidly like he had be put on the spot. [#00075D “What? No. We’re just friends.”] He reiterated. Turning away from the girl, he tried to hide his nerves from her by finding a new task. [#00075D “I am going to take out the trash,”] he grumbled, leaving the girl alone with her satisfied [i smirk.] [b ---]
Ira rubbed his eyes with his hands. He was in trouble. When had his fascination with the man become something more? Something warmer? He had to think of something. For the meantime, he hoped he could play it cool. But his track record showed that might be a problem.
Rolling over, he found himself face to face with Bunny. They were so close Ira could smell his soap. It was sweet like strawberries. Underneath there was also something familiar, like heavy cream. The scent was intoxicated, Ira’s mind swirled. [b [#004d00 “Good night, Bunny,”]] Ira whispered. He gently brushed a strand of mint hair from Bunny’s face.
The week came and went. Bunny spent nearly early night curled up next to Ira. The chef found it got easier each day to hide his feelings. He found his routine filled with Bunny made time fly. Nights were blissful and dream filled. He had gotten used to Bunny being the last person he saw before bed and the first when he woke. They fell into step with each other.
Ira spent Wednesday evening preparing for his overnight guests. Leo and Eloise had called Ira from the airport informing of their arrival time. The chef made sure he had everything he needed for the next day. He tidied the guest room even though it hadn’t been used since the first night Bunny had stayed over.
At 8:05, Ira’s phone buzzed in his pocket. Pulling it out, the screen read [b ‘Leo Antoni.’] Answering it, he held it a bit away from his face as the man on the other end shrieked with excitement. [b [#0000cc “Bonjour! We are here mon cheri!”]]
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Abel] [center [size15 [abel Ira did as he commanded and laid down in his bed next to Bunny, immediately the smaller mint haired boy moved in the bed. Bunny threaded their legs together as he moved closer and wrapped one of his arms around Ira’s torso, feeling the rise and fall of his chest beneath him. His face ended up half on the pillow and half pressed against Ira’s side as his green eyes fluttered closed. Ira slightly rolled beneath him and Bunny moved even closer until his head was tucked beneath Ira’s chin. [b [#00075D “Good night, Bunny,”]] Ira whispered as he brushed back a lock of hair on Bunny’s face.
With his eyes closed he could feel Ira’s presence around him and that same scent that Bunny had found clinging to his jacket filled his head. Bunny could only hum back in response as he drifted off into sleep.
[center [pic https://i.imgur.com/gb6NAmU.png]]
The following week passed by strangely quickly with the two men falling into a pattern; a pattern of Bunny being invited to spend the night by Ira, the awkwardness he felt the previous time slowly faded and now he usually stayed for breakfast and tea at the restaurant. Well, he supposed not all the awkwardness had faded, the blonde barista and the large man with dreadlocks seemed to stare at him more now and he could feel them talking about him to one another. Even on days when Bunny didn’t go to there to eat Ira would text him to ask him to stay the night, only on one occasion did Bunny have to say no and that was merely because he had a reservation at a restaurant he was reviewing. The boy hadn’t yet told Ira he was a critic nor had the talked much about his work at all. Which was fortunate since Bunny wasn’t sure he wanted to tell Ira about that yet.
Ira had gotten much better about biting his lip, partially because he found that Bunny hadn’t been kidding when he’d threaten to bite his lip. In fact just the morning after Bunny had said that Ira had been biting his lip, Bunny had reached out and pulled it back like he normally did but instead of chastising him Bunny had leaned up on his toes and gently bit at the flesh, his teeth had pulled at Ira’s lip as he moved downwards and Ira had been so shocked he couldn’t even respond; when he did respond he’d turned so red Bunny thought he looked a bit like a strawberry. Bunny had just smiled in response and remined him that he’d warned Ira not to do that again.
Before long it was the day before Bunny would be attending the Thanksgiving celebration with Leah. Ira had mentioned that he had friends coming in to stay with him from overseas. It felt strange to be in his apartment at night now, he was so used to packing up a night bag and leaving at about this time to go to Ira’s apartment. He’d found recently that his bed wasn’t as warm when compared to the body heat that Ira produced which had made sleeping on his own much more difficult.
The young man had spent the majority of the day baking, an unusual task but one he was well equipped to do. Despite his job in critiquing meals he was more than capable of making them as well. After all, it wasn’t as if Bunny ate out every night; just most of them. Leah had informed him the event they were going to was a sort of communal meal where each guest brought a dish or two, Leah was going to bring her Thanksgiving favorite; brown butter brussels sprouts with apple slices and chopped prosciutto. Bunny, being inexperienced and uninterested in most holidays ended up reaching out to a chef who wrote about these sorts of things for Bea’s magazine [i ‘The Copper Kettle’] using his work email, the middle aged woman was more than happy to give suggestions and eventually the two decided that an elevated version of a classic would be best, she suggested pumpkin pie and after some research Bunny had found two recipes he liked. Since he wasn’t sure how many people would be there or what their tastes were, he decided to make them both.
The first was a simpler recipe, or at least simple compared to the other recipe he’d chosen, a Pumpkin Chiffon Pie, which had to made the day before due to the filling needing to set over night due to the gelatin used in it. He’d liked the way the crust had sparkled due to the additional sugar in it, and he’d make the whipped cream tomorrow to go atop it. The other recipe was a Brûléed Bourbon-Maple Pumpkin Pie with a chocolate pie crust instead of the traditional crust. This pie had to baked in the crust unlike the other which was partially cooked in a bowl set over a pan on the stove before chilling, which meant he had to be careful to not let the crust get soggy. Despite the name it didn’t have too much bourbon in it, just two tablespoons of it to give the flavoring of the drink. He’d made sure not to overbake the pie, checking to see that the center still jiggled when the pan was jostled. Of course, the brûlée part wouldn’t be done until right before serving, fortunately he had a portable torch he could bring with him to do so.
And now he just had to wait, which was a terribly boring thought to have. Since he’d spent the day baking Bunny had been far too tired to cook dinner for himself and opted for one of the takeout places he liked, it had been a while since he’d succumbed to that especially now that he usually had dinner with Ira. He ordered a plate of shrimp egg foo young, fresh rice, and a few other sides from a Chinese place a few streets down, it was owned by a Chinese family and was one of the best kept secrets of the city with authentic food and fresh ingredients it beat out any other takeout place in Bunny’s opinion.
When it arrived, he tucked into the food while seated on the floor of his living room, the food network playing on his television; it had been a long time since he’d had a night in like this. Picking up his phone he absently opened up his message thread with Ira, debating if he should even bother the chef since he was with others. And it was late, he reminded himself, almost 8:30 PM. Losing his mental battle he typed something up to send to the chef.
[font "courier new" [size13 [b [#60B9D6 Did your guests arrive safely?]]]]
He wondered if Ira would even bother responding to the message. Bunny didn’t know why he felt so miserable all of sudden, he used to go without contacting people for days on end, he used to eat by himself every night regardless of if he was working or not, and he most certainly should have been used to sleeping by himself.]]]
[b [#0000cc “Je suis tellement excité mon cher. It’s been so long since we’ve seen Ira,”]] the chef purred, taking a sip from his wine glass.
[b [#ffb3ff “We saw him on the American Independence Day, remember mon beau?”]] Eloise replied, turning a page in the magazine she was cradling in her lap.
[b [#0000cc “Oh yes, Eloise I did forget. I drank enough to kill a small child that evening.”]] He mused. Chuckling at the thought, he turned his attention to the window. The clouds looked close enough to touch. Sunlight kissed the metallic wing of the jet, tuning it gold. Clucking his tongue, he smiled. [b [#0000cc “We should be landing soon.”]]
[b [#ffb3ff “Oui, I can’t wait to see that darling café of his,”]] Eloise sang with a smile.
The two chefs landed in Souver a little after 7 PM. Leo called Ira and told him they were on the way. The car ride only took twenty minutes with traffic. That was one of the beautiful things about the city, you could get anywhere in the city in half an hour. The cab delivered them to the doorstep of the Magnolia House safely. Leo tipped the driver and unloaded their things. Eloise was glued to the front window, eyeing all of the tables sitting in the dark. [b [#ffb3ff “This place is so cute. Do you think he’d sell it to me?”]] Eloise beamed, ignoring her travel companion’s struggle with their luggage.
[b [#0000cc “Hah, no trust me I’ve tried,”]] Leo replied. He tossed the last bag over his shoulder and joined the woman at the window. Although they were only staying a few nights, Eloise packed enough outfits for a month. It wouldn’t have been a problem if she were to carry the bags herself but the burden always fell on Leo. He rarely complained though.
Whipping out his phone, he dialed Ira’s number and waited for a response. Ira’s deep voice picked up on the other line with a simple, [b [#0000cc “Hello?”]]
[b [#0000cc “Bonjour! We are here mon cheri!”]] Leo trilled. [b [#0000cc “Come let us in!”]]
Not a moment later, Ira appeared at the door and unlocked it. He wore a white button up shirt with the sleeves rolled up, exposing his tattoos and toned muscles. His navy trousers were perfectly fitted to his strong legs and pump buttocks. Tied around his waist was a half apron hand embroidered with daisies. Tonight, his midnight hair was braided down the side, resting on his shoulder. He wore the same somber expression he usually did but when he saw his friends, he paired it was a smile.
[b [#0000cc “Long time no see,”]] Ira chuckled. He had spent part of the previous month with them in France enjoying the food and the company. [b [#0000cc “Come in, it’s cold out there.”]] Ushering them inside, he carefully locked up behind them. Grabbing a bag in each hand, he led them through the café.
[b [#0000cc “It smells good in here,”]] Leo noted, sniffing the air like a dog. [b [#0000cc “You must be gearing up for tomorrow?”]] The man knew his friend spent days preparing for holidays. He loved to go all out for the occasion and fill the house with all of his friends.
[b [#00075D “Yes, I just put the turkey in to cook overnight.”]] Ira replied, his tone even. [b [#00075D “You guys can use the restaurant kitchen tomorrow. We are closed so no one will bother you.”]]
[b [#ffb3ff “Oh perfect. You know how much I love this little place.”]] Eloise chirped. As the group wandered through the maze of chairs, she ran her index finger over the polished wood.
[b [#0000cc “Oui! Can we put our things in the cooler down here?”]] Leo added, gesturing to the reusable grocery bags. Stopping in the kitchen, they took a moment to unload before heading upstairs.
When the trio entered the apartment, the smell of garlic and rosemary washed over them. Ira had already set the table for dinner. In the center of the dining table was a bowl filled with fresh greens, a platter with flame grilled chicken, and a basket with fresh baked bread. The chef had opened two bottles of wine, a pink and a white.
Baguette sauntered over to the newcomers. He snaked between their legs, too quickly for them to get their hands on him. Carefully, he sniffed at their feet. His tail twitched back and forth. [b [#ffb3ff “Bonjour Baguette,”]] Eloise cooed at the feline. Baguette eyed the woman for a moment before retreating to Ira’s bedroom.
[b [#00075D “You guys will be sleeping in the guest room,”]] Ira directed. Stepping out of his shoes, he guided the pair to the empty bedroom. Dropping off their things, Ira turned to leave the two to get settled. Before he could escape, a high pitch trill of excitement left Eloise's lips.
Startled, Ira whipped around to see what the problem was. Leo was holding a pair of sky blue lace panties gently between two fingers. A smirk rested on his lips as he batted his eyelashes at Ira.
[b [#0000cc “Oui! "These aren't yours are they?"]] Leo inquired, raising his eyebrow.
[b [#ffb3ff "I thought our dear Ira liked men though?"]] Eloise giggled.
Ira's face flushed beet red. Snagging the undergarment from the other man, he buried it in his pocket. [b [#00075D "It-it's my friends."]] Ira stammered, his voice a bit too high. His lips trembled. [b [#00075D "I-I need to go check on dinner."]] Stumbling out of the room, he found refuge in his kitchen.
The chef took the time to pour Eloise a glass of pink and Leo a glass of red. It took a few deep breaths for his hands to stop shaking. The chef knew his friends’ preferences well. Taking a seat at the head, he took a glass of pink for himself. Despite his efforts, Ira's mind kept wandering the the underwear in his pocket. His guests emerged from the guest room not much later and joined the man at the table.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Abel] [center [pic https://i.imgur.com/fBPFtg9.jpg]] [center [abel [size15 After dinner, Ira pulled out his phone to check on Bunny. The two spent most days texting back and forth during their free time. Ira couldn’t help but wonder if the boy was eating a proper meal. Just as he was about to send a message, Bunny’s name flashed across the screen.
[b [#60B9D6 Did your guests arrive safely?]]
Ira bit back a smile. If his face gave too much away, he knew his friends would ask questions. Lots of questions.
[b [#00075D Yes, we just had dinner. Did you eat? I should have brought you something tonight.]]
He responded. Next time he would plan ahead and take Bunny a packed meal. Sliding his phone back into his pocket, he went back to entertaining his guests.
Ira’s day flew by in a flash. Jonas showed up early to help set up. The plan was to keep all of the dishes on the island in the kitchen with mains at the top of the line and all of the sides would follow. All of the appetizers would go on the coffee table.
The apartment was decorated with pumpkins and other adorable fall décor. The two men put the leaf in the table to give them extra room. Ira wasn’t sure what the total number of guests would be but he liked to be prepared.
Jonas was in charge of drinks. He lumped all of the different types of hard liquor together in one place. Next, he organized the wines by color. Admiring his empire of alcohol, he nodded. [b [#990033 “Aiden should be here soon with non-alcoholic beverages and ice,”]] he called over his shoulder.
Ira stuck the turkey back in the oven to keep it warm. Once he was finished double checking everything, he turned his attention to Jonas. [b [#00075D “Sounds good. Leo and Eloise should be back anytime now.”]]
[b [#990033 “Good! I can’t wait to see them,”]] Jonas beamed. Taking a seat at the bar, he rested his chin on his elbow. A coy smile pursed his lips. [b [#990033 “So, is your boyfriend coming?”]]
Ira’s face fell. He hid his expression from Jonas by busying himself with the paper appetizer plates. [b [#00075D “No,”]] Ira responded. He tried to keep his tone casual but his pitch was off. Clearing his throat, he tried again, [b [#00075D “He has other plans.”]]
[b [#990033 “That’s too bad. You are so fun to tease when he is here,”]] Jonas mused.
[b [#00075D “It’s okay, we made plans for Christmas,”]] Ira added. [b [#00075D “Anyway, I should go change.”]]
Ira decided on a tight-fitting black turtleneck sweater. The fabric pulled tight over his chest, defining his muscles when he moved. He tucked it into a pair of black trousers he cuffed just over his ankle. Pulling a tailored ebony sports coat over his sweater, he decided to check himself over in the mirror. The chef rarely kept his hair down but tonight would be the exception. His soft midnight hair fell over his shoulder and haloed his pale face. Running his fingers through his bangs, he noticed the bags were starting to form under his eyes again. Sighing, he knew he couldn’t do anything about it now. Returning to the kitchen, his guests were beginning to arrive.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Abel] [center [size15 [abel Leah carefully smoothed out the fabric of the navy blue bodycon cocktail dress she was wearing, making sure that fit just perfectly which it did. The dress hugged every curve and accentuated her model like figure. The dress was so tight it might as well have been painted on her body and she knew it would make eating difficult but there was no way she wasn’t going to wear it when she looked so damn good in it. After all, she was skinny for nothing. The dark color of the dress could have been a nod to the color of the host of the evening. But it wasn’t. No, she chose the dark color because it made her rose-pink hair really stand out. Her hair was pulled up into an intricate, braided updo with wispy curls framing her face. She wore a delicate gold chain on her neck and simple diamond studs on her ears. Her makeup was simple but sultry. And pretty much all of it was picked out by and approved of by Bunny. She’d brought over about five outfits and ultimately let him take on the burden of choosing for her.
The chef turned in front of the mirror, admiring her back and the line she cast in the dress and how her white mesh heels made her ass look perfectly perky. She was standing in Bunny’s closet room, called that because it was a literal room that Bunny had converted into a closet because he had so much stuff. Not that she could really comment, her own closet was packed to the brim and practically overspilling with clothing, not that she really wore most of it; the majority of the time she was just wearing her kitchen whites. It was sad how unfashionable the kitchen could be but it was better than ruining her Louboutin’s with tomatoes she supposed. Leah caught sight of Bunny in the background of the mirror, he was adjusting something on his pants.
[b [#EE5FA7 “Look at you Bunny-Boo, we’re just going to be the most fashionable things at this party,”]] [i Eloise is going to love him], she thought to herself as she got a look at the boy. Bunny was stunning to say the least, and adorable beyond belief to say more. He was wearing a custom white, floral lace blouse that was basically see-through. The blouse had puffy sleeves that were tapered in at the wrists, and the blouse was haphazardly tucked in letting it pool excessively at the waist; this was on purpose of course and not an accident. His trousers were black and fitted so well he looked like he must have been sewn in, and his legs looked so long and lovely in them. He was also wearing leg harnesses that wrapped around both thighs and attached at the belt, the harnesses’ lines hit right beneath the curve of his ass giving a great excuse to look at his plump rump. Bunny had an excellent figure, he was slim but had just enough fat in the right places, if he wasn’t such a damn good critic and so terrible with people Leah would have suggested he become a porn star. One side of his mint locks was swept and slicked back, away from his face but the other still hung over his cute fact. His green eyes were defined with black liner and he had a glitter highlighter on his cheekbones. Bunny’s enviable lips were painted red with a glossy finish.
Bunny cast a tired look at the pink haired girl, he had eyes like Marilyn Monroe; sleepy and sexy, [b [#60B9D6 “You’re exaggerating.”]] Leah wasn’t sure if she should feel offended that he didn’t think she was showstopping or sad that Bunny didn’t realize how amazing he looked. She decided on the later, she’d known Bunny long enough to know his perception of himself was severely damaged and muted compared to how it really was.
[b [#EE5FA7 “Bunny-Boo,”]] She called out, crossing over to Bunny and playfully enveloping him in a hug making like she was going to kiss him.
[b [#60B9D6 “Don’t, you’ll ruin your makeup, I spent forever on that,”]] He protested, wiggling in her grip awkwardly.
Leah laughed, [b [#EE5FA7 “Alright, anyways we should go. The dishes are ready and so are we. Plus, I’m pretty sure we’ll be the last ones there because it’s…”]] She checked her phone, [b [#EE5FA7 “Already, past 4:30, oopsie.”]] Leah had told Ira she’d be there at 4. Hopefully the male chef knew by now that she was always late to things that weren’t work related. She shrugged ushering Bunny out of his apartment, she carried her warm dish of brussels sprouts and Bunny carried both of his pies, a portable torch in his bag along with sugar so he could brûlée the pie before serving. It wasn’t too far a drive, unlike Bunny who couldn’t seem to pass a driver’s test to save his life Leah had a license and drove them into the older section of town where their destination was. The [i ‘Magnolia House’], Ira’s restaurant and above it was his apartment where they’d be celebrating the holiday. Her car’s clock said it was just before 5 so she wasn’t as late as she could have been.
When they got out of the car, she noticed that Bunny was hesitating as he stared at the small restaurant, she guessed it hadn’t been what he was expecting, [b [#60B9D6 “[i This] is where the party is?”]] He asked incredulously.
[b [#EE5FA7 “Yeah! Don’t worry, it’ll be great. I know the outside doesn’t look like much but the chef is amazing! He’s the one I’ve told you about, the one who keeps rejecting my numerous and generous offers to come work for me,”]] She said with a sigh. Bunny had a look on his face like he couldn’t believe she was acquainted with a chef who worked at a café. [b [#EE5FA7 “Trust me, he’s a great chef,”]] She assured again.
[b [#60B9D6 “I know,”]] Bunny said slowly.
[b [#EE5FA7 “You know?”]]
[b [#60B9D6 “I’ve been here before,”]] Bunny confessed.
[b [#EE5FA7 “Oh, for like work? I don’t remember the article for this place,”]] Leah said trying to recall if she’d ever read a review of the [i ‘Magnolia House’] but she couldn’t seem to remember. Had she missed one of Bunny’s reviews?
Bunny was quiet for a moment, [b [#60B9D6 “No, it wasn’t work. Let’s just go in,”]] It seemed like whatever reason he had for his reaction wasn’t one he wanted to talk about.
Whatever, Leah would get answers out of him later. The two ventured into the restaurant, she knew the way up to Ira’s apartment and strode confidently up to the door. Leah knocked loudly on the door, her dish balanced on one hand like the waitresses at her restaurant did. It only took a moment before the door opened and she saw the host himself standing at the door. She had to admit Ira looked great that evening, wearing black on black on black. It was a look. And a good one. Too bad he was gay or she’d try her luck. Before Leah could greet him, the chef’s eyes landed on her companion and widened before he breathlessly said, [b [#00075D “[i Bunny]?”]] Leah felt herself come to a screeching halt; Ira opened his mouth to keep talking but he didn’t get the chance.
[b [#EE5FA7 “What? Wait, no,”]] Leah interrupted Ira’s sentence before he could keep talking. [b [#EE5FA7 “Wait,”]] She recalled Bunny’s words earlier [i ‘I know’], [b [#EE5FA7 “you know. Oh. OH! Ohmygod. No.”]] Leah couldn’t even process the full extent of her thoughts. She turned to Bunny, [b [#EE5FA7 “How did I not know about this?”]]]]]
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Abel] [center [pic https://i.imgur.com/fBPFtg9.jpg]] [center [abel [size15 Guests were easily falling into to the atmosphere of the party. Ira had become quite the host in the past few years. Clusters of people formed around the apartment, chattering amongst their groups and snacking on the appetizers. Ira’s mind found its favorite place, Bunny. He wondered if the boy was already at his event. The urge to text him came and went when a knock at the door grabbed his attention.
Swinging the door open, two figures stood before him. One was an elegant woman with pink hair, balancing a few dishes in one hand. The other was a smaller male with mint hair. The woman had been expected but her companion had not. Ira’s mouth fell open. He stared incredulously at the boy. [i [b [#00075D “Bunny?”]]] He breathed.
[b [#EE5FA7 “What? Wait, no.”]] Leah stammered out. [b [#EE5FA7 “Wait. You know. Oh. OH! Ohmygod. No,”]] Her reaction was very similar how Lane reacted when Bunny had first spent the night. [i Shocked and thrilled.] [b [#EE5FA7 “How did I not know this?”]]
[b [#00075D “So, this is the friend you made plans with,”]] Ira chuckled, ignoring Leah's outburst. He couldn’t believe how small the world was. Relief bloomed in his chest when he realized he got to spend the evening with Bunny. [b [#00075D “Please, come in.”]] Ira said, stepping out of the way of the door. He took one of the dishes Leah had been holding. [b [#00075D “Food goes in the kitchen.”]] He directed, leading the way.
Eloise spotted the trio from her place on the couch. She shrieked when she saw the pink haired woman, her wine glass nearly flew from her hand. Leaping from her seat, Eloise threw her arms around Leah’s neck. Her lips found the woman’s cheeks as she eagerly kissed her a greeting. [b [#ffb3ff “Ma chérie!”]]
Ira smiled at the interaction. Turning his attention to Bunny, he let his warm expression fall on the boy’s face. [b [#00075D “I am happy you’re here. Can I get you anything to drink?”]]
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Abel] [center [size15 [abel Bunny was shocked, no shocked wasn’t really the right word simply because it didn’t feel strong enough to express the emotion he was feeling right now as he stared up at the building which was hosting the Thanksgiving party he was to attend with Leah. Because the building in questions was none other than the [i ‘Magnolia House’]. He felt himself blink a few times as if the action would cause the restaurant to disappear like an illusion. But when his eyes opened it was still there. [b [#60B9D6 “[i This] is where the party is?”]] He barely registered himself asking that questions to Leah as he looked up at the building.
[b [#EE5FA7 “Yeah!”]] Leah’s reply was enthusiastic, [b [#EE5FA7 “Don’t worry, it’ll be great. I know the outside doesn’t look like much but the chef is amazing!”]] Bunny knew that too; he knew that Ira was a fantastic chef with great culinary vision. [b [#EE5FA7 “He’s the one I’ve told you about, the one who keeps rejecting my numerous and generous offers to come work for me,”]] Leah was sighing and Bunny recalled all the times she had complained and cussed out the chef. The problem wasn’t that Leah knew Ira, it was that Leah knew Ira and Bunny hadn’t already told her that he too knew Ira. Apparently, Leah mistook his expression as something else, [b [#EE5FA7 “Trust me, he’s a great chef.”]]
[b [#60B9D6 “I know,”]] Bunny responded almost annoyed and certainly frustrated. He’d felt so bad about rejecting Ira’s offer regarding Thanksgiving and here he was about to attend that same party. Maybe he should just feign an illness and go home? There had to be some kind of social etiquette he was about to break by attending a party after rejecting the invitation even if he did so because he genuinely thought he was unavailable.
[b [#EE5FA7 “You know?”]] Bunny realized his slip a moment too late as Leah immediately inquired about how Bunny would know that Ira was such a good chef.
He paused debating how to respond, [b [#60B9D6 “I’ve been here before,”]] he finally confessed.
Leah looked confused for a moment, [b [#EE5FA7 “Oh, for like work? I don’t remember the article for this place.”]] Of course, she didn’t remember, it didn’t exist.
But how was he supposed to explain the fact this had become his regular breakfast haunt and that it had recently evolved into a relationship in which he spent most nights sleeping, not only, in the chef’s apartment but in his bed as well. He couldn’t, she’d be terrible cross with him for not mentioning it sooner as well as draw several inaccurate conclusions about his relationship with Ira the way she and her staff had done when Bunny gave Ira his number. Then again, he couldn’t lie to her so he’d simply have to avoid the subject, [b [#60B9D6 “No, it wasn’t work. Let’s just go in.”]]
His plan to avoid the subject lasted just until the door to the apartment opened and Ira stood on the other side, immediately the chef had seen him and called out, [b [#00075D “[i Bunny]?”]] Confusion readily in his voice since the mint haired boy had rejected his offer to attend the party earlier.
Before anything more could be said Leah began the fit he’d been hoping to avoid outside. Bunny tried to express his apologies with his eyes as best he could to Ira while Leah went off. [b [#00075D “So, this is the friend you made plans with,”]] Ira said with a laugh, already piece together what had happened. [b [#00075D “Please come in, food goes in the kitchen,”]] He directed as he took Leah’s dish. Leah was immediately assaulted as she entered by a French sounding woman while Ira turned his attention to Bunny, [b [#00075D “I’m happy you’re here. Can I get you anything to drink?”]]
Bunny shook his head no. He was a little glad he hadn’t decided to play sick and escape the situation at Ira’s words, [b [#60B9D6 “I wish I had known Leah had invited me to [i your] party.”]] He said slightly sullen. All that stress had been for nothing.
[b [#990033 “Bunny!”]] Another voice rang out across the room, Bunny turned to see the spicy redhead who had upset Ira the other day. [b [#990033 “And here Ira said you weren’t coming! What a terrible liar he is!”]] The man was being especially loud as he approached them. Everyone turned to looked at Bunny as Jonas spoke to him, or rather they had all turned when the man had exclaimed his name since Bunny was normally something one called a significant other or perhaps named their dog. Bunny recognized some of the faces; the blonde barista and the large man with dreadlocks looked at him with wide smiles like they’d been given a present.
The other person who Bunny recognized wasn’t an employee at the [i ‘Magnolia House’,] not this man had dark blue hair and tanned skin with a cat like smile and tattoos on his clavicle; Leo Antoni. When Bunny had last been in Paris he’d eaten at [i ‘En Bonne Compagnie’] where Leo was the executive chef, the meal had been spectacular and Bunny had been introduced by his dinning companion, a famous European critic, to the chef. [b [#0000cc “Bonjour and bonsoir,”]] The French man said as he crossed the room, his smiled said he knew something about Bunny but not that he recognized him as a former dinner at his restaurant, no he was too amused by that. [b [#0000cc “I see you like lace, un petit lapin,”]] The man began, staring him up and down blatantly. [b [#0000cc “Je suis-”]]
But Bunny interrupted before he finished, [b [#60B9D6 “Leo Antoni, chef de cuisine chez [i ‘En Bonne Compagnie’] à Paris. J'ai eu le plaisir de dîner dans votre restaurant. C'était vraiment spectaculaire.”]] Having lived and traveled to France quite often as a child his French was quite good and he spoke easily. As he recalled the fantastic meal, he’d had he couldn’t help the soft blooming smile on his face; the rich and traditional French flavors reimagined by the chef had been quite the feat and Bunny had enjoyed the meal beyond measure. Of course, he’d also given the restaurant a glowing review.
Leah, who could understand French but had been asked by numerous French chefs to never speak it, laughed, [b [#EE5FA7 “Careful Bunny-Boo, smile like that and you're bound to make Leo fall in love. And Leo,”]] Leah tsked her tongue, [b [#EE5FA7 “I feel like you’ve been holding out on us at these little parties now. Bunny doesn’t smile like that for just any meal.”]]
Immediately Bunny’s face fell back to its normal expression, [b [#60B9D6 “I smile plenty.”]]
His complaint was met with further laughter from Leah, [b [#EE5FA7 “Bunny-Boo, I say this with love, but when you’re not talking about food or eating you are an expressionless void who communicates through long stares and slow blinks. Secondly, your smile just then was your blissed out, euphoric and ethereal smile that is reserved only for the best of meals. I’ve known you for thirteen years and I’ve only seen you make that face at my food twice in my whole career.”]]
Leah had her arm gently wrapped around the waist of the woman who had greeted her, [b [#EE5FA7 “Now, I would [i love] a glass of champagne or we could use Bunny’s torch to set drinks on fire.”]] The rose haired girl began long strides towards the kitchen.]]]
Bunny shook his head. Ira retrieved a crystal glass and filled it with ice water. Placing it on the counter, he gestured to the cup. [b [#00075D “This is here if you want it.”]] [b [#60B9D6 “I wish I had known Leah had invited me to [i your] party,”]] Bunny sighed gloomily. Ira grin and shook his head, [b [#00075D “Funny how things work out, right?”]]
[b [#990033 “Bunny!”]] Cheered Jonas from across the room. He had been sitting on the couch giggling with his husband but the sight of the mint haired boy pulled him from his seat. [b [#990033 “And here Ira said you weren’t coming! What a terrible liar he is!”]] He shot a mischievous look at Ira, like he knew a secret neither of them knew.
The other guests turned to look at the boy Jonas had purposefully announced. Lane and Dimitri exchanged glances before meeting Ira’s gaze. Apprehension flooded him. He knew everyone in the room was aware of his [i feelings,] for the small male. The night would be interesting.
Leo got up from his seat as well and joined the men in the kitchen. He leaned against the kitchen island, nursing his glass of wine. “Bonjour and bonsoir,” he greeted, siding glancing at Ira. The host’s eyes widened remembering the incident in the bedroom. There was nothing he could beside watch in horror as the events played out. [b [#0000cc “I see you like [i lace,] un petit lapin,”]] he undressed the boy with his eyes, obviously liking what he saw. He knew Leo would say something inappropriate to Ira about it when they were alone.
[b [#0000cc “Je suis-“]] He was stopped abruptly by Bunny.
[b [#60B9D6 “Leo Antoni, chef de cuisine chez ‘En Bonne Compagnie’ à Paris. J'ai eu le plaisir de dîner dans votre restaurant. C'était vraiment spectaculaire.”]] He said, a radiant smile kissed his lips. His eyes fell on the man with adoration.
Leo and Ira exchanged surprised glances. [b [#0000cc [i Did you know he speaks French?]]] [b [#00075D [i No I didn’t, did you?]]]
Leah interrupted their mental conversation, [b [#EE5FA7 “Careful Bunny-Boo, smile like that and you’re bound to make Leo fall in love. And Leo,”]] she clucked at the man, [b [#EE5FA7 “I feel like you’ve been holding out on us at these little parties now. Bunny doesn’t smile like that for just any meal.”]]
[b [#60B9D6 “I smile plenty,”]] Bunny retorted, his expression reverted back to his usual drowsy look.
Leah let out a laugh, [b [#EE5FA7 “Bunny-boo, I say this with love, but when you’re not talking about food or eating, you’re an expressionless void who communicates through long stares and slow blinks. Secondly, your smile just the was your blissed out, euphoric and ethereal smile that is reserved only for the best of meals. I’ve known you for thirteen years and I’ve only seen you make that face at my food twice in my while career,”]] she explained.
A twinge of jealousy shot through Ira’s chest. He knew very well what she was talking about. The chef had gotten used to the boy’s quiet demeanor. He liked how easy it was to just exist in each other’s space. But he had fallen in love with how the boy’s face lit up only when he was eating something delicious. The way he looked at Leo was an expression Ira never had the honor of seeing.
Furrowing his brows, Ira turned his back to the group to busy himself as he mulled over his complicated feelings. He needed a drink. Grabbing a mug from the cabinet, he filled it with fresh coffee. He had an array of syrups and creamers set out for the special occasion. Deciding on pumpkin spice, he added a pump of sweet syrup and a dash of cinnamon. Instead of using cream, he poured in a few shots of Irish Cream and stirred.
Jonas peered over the counter; his eyes sparked at the sight. [b [#990033 “Ooo, make me some, darling.”]]
Ira nodded and filled another mug with the same contents. Pushing the drink towards Jonas, the red head picked it up and took a deep sniff and moaned. Ira wrinkled his nose in disgust. It was only cute when Bunny did it.
Leah laced her arm around Eloise’s waist. The lilac haired woman planted a kiss on Leah’s cheek and whispered something in French in her ear.
[b [#EE5FA7 “Now, I would [i love] a glass of champagne or we could use Bunny’s torch to set drinks on fire!”]] She pulled away from the woman and strolled elegantly across the apartment to join the men in the kitchen.
Ira narrowed his eyes at the blush haired woman and weighed his options. He knew Leah always had wild ideas and with Jonas and Leo to back her up, there would probably be a house fire. But also knew even if he said no, the trio would do it anyway. Sighing, he opened the drawer and pulled out a silver wine bottle opener. It had opal handles that sparkled when they caught the light just right.
Leo squealed with join, [b [#0000cc “Yasss! You’re using the one I got you for Christmas! Hand it over!”]] He took the instrument from Ira’s hands and began to open every bottle in sight.
[b [#00075D What drinks did you want to light?”]] Ira asked as he began unloading all of the different liquors he had been hiding under the counter.
Dimitri materialized next to Jonas, his eyes where dangerously serious. He stared down his nose at Ira, his arms crossed over his chest. He uttered only one word, [b [#730099 “Shots.”]]
That was all it took for Leo and Jonas to lose their minds. Jonas was on his feet, digging through Ira’s cabinets like a raccoon in a garbage can. He found a dozen or so shot glasses and spread the out on the table. [b [#990033 “Who wants to do a shot?”]] He howled.
Ira pinched his eyes with one hand. He felt a headache coming on. It was going to be a long night.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Abel] [center [size15 [abel Bunny watched with an ever growing since of dread as more and more people began to crowd the kitchen area after Leah’s statement. He could see an expression on Ira’s face that seemed to match how he felt about the whole situation. Ira eventually sighed, clearly giving in the demanding woman, and opened up a drawer to pull out a decorative wine opener. [b [#0000cc “Yasss! You’re using the one I got you for Christmas! Hand it over!”]] Leo, the French chef whom Bunny had greeted earlier, demanded as he made grabbing motions at Ira until the man handed him the silver instrument. Leo began opening up practically every bottle in sight with no regards to pairings.
Ira began to pull even more bottles from beneath the counter, [b [#00075D “What drinks do you want to light?”]] Bunny studied the labels, he recognized most of them and felt like this party was quickly heading towards the emergency room with a case of alcohol poisoning at this rate.
The large man with dreadlocks who worked at the café seemed to appear next to the spicy redhead from out of nowhere. His body language was imposing and his voice seemed rougher than normal, [b [#730099 “Shots,”]] was all he said but it seemed to be enough. Immediately the spicy redhead and Leo were growing louder, even Leah was starting to join in the excitement as she took out Bunny’s handheld torch.
[b [#60B9D6 “I brought a spare cannister of butane, please don’t use it. If I can’t brûlée the top of the pie I will be very upset,”]] Bunny said as he handed his kit over to her. Leah’s grin did not reassure him, she looked like she was about to have one of her [i ‘girls’ nights’], which more often than not ended with her crashing at his apartment and Bunny having to hold her hair back while she got sick. He hoped that scene would be repeating itself tonight. [b [#60B9D6 “Also, I feel I need to remind you that you drove me here, so please don’t drink too much?”]]
[b [#EE5FA7 “Fine, fine, I’ll be a responsible drinker,”]] She held up three fingers on her right hand, the thumb holding the pinky down, [b [#EE5FA7 “scouts honor.”]] Bunny doubted she was ever a girl scout but there wasn’t much use pushing the issue.
[b [#990033 “Who wants to do a shot?”]] The spicy redhead asked, his voice sounding almost manic with excitement. Bunny quickly grabbed his glass of water and excused himself from the kitchen which was slowly beginning to resemble a frat house.
The dinner itself was loud and unorganized, everyone would get up and move around, especially the spicy redhead and the French woman with lilac hair. Leah and Ira both made sure Bunny didn’t end up with a grotesque amount of food on his plate, it was still a rather large serving but not enough to make him sick; though he had brought one of his disposable toothbrushes along with him just in case. Everyone seemed to be involved in three different conversations at once and it was difficult for Bunny to try and follow any of them, a few people tried to involve him in conversations or at least make openings for him to join in; fortunately, Leah would deflect them so Bunny didn’t have to, she knew he preferred to just listen to others.
The drinks seemed to be endless, Bunny had a glass of sparkling wine with dessert but it was just the one. Everyone else seemed to be drowning in them. The mint haired boy doubted whether or not Leah would be able to actually drive them home, he supposed they could call a taxi or an uber. After eating he’d settled on the couch, mostly watching everyone else, but occasionally talking with a bearded man he’d vaguely recognized from the photographs down in the Magnolia House’s kitchen; he’d introduced himself as Jonas’s husband and reiterated who Jonas was, the spicy redhead, after getting a blank stare from the boy. The man said his name was Adrien and Bunny tried to remember it since he’d been so polite, the two had spoken quite a bit with the man talking about carpentry and some renovations he’s performed for the restaurant with Bunny asking the occasional question.
Before long, it was getting late and Bunny found himself laying on Ira’s bed, playing with Baguette. He felt over stimulated by the noise and people and ended up excusing himself for some air. Of course, rather than air he ended up retreating to the place he was most comfortable in the apartment and when he found that Baguette had so become fed up with the party, he decided he could stay a while with the feline. He could still hear the majority of the noise but it was dampened by the closed door. The mint haired boy even kept the lights off to try and help calm him down.
Bunny heard the turning of the door handle and slowly sat up on the bed; Ira was standing in the doorway. [b [#60B9D6 “Ira?”]] He questioned, the dark-haired man seemed off kilter, [b [#60B9D6 “Are you okay?”]] The chef’s eyes were unfocused, Bunny realized quickly that he’d had too much to drink and was probably drunk.]]]
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Abel] [center [abel [size15 [left [pic https://i.imgur.com/tzgxqo4.jpg]] Ira was ready to tap out after six shots. His head was starting to feel hazy, like a tv let on a channel that couldn’t quite find reception. Jonas poured a brown liquid into a small crystal glass and pushed it towards his friend.
[b [#60B9D6 “No, Joan, you know how I am when I drink.”]] Ira whined. He lifted his hands in defense like he could actually stop the tide that was Jonas Barnes.
The wild red head grinned like a hyena. His amber eyes were blazing with trouble. [b [#990033 “I do know,”]] he purred. [b [#990033 “Come on, I will do it with you.”]] He poured another shot for himself.
Ira searched the crowd for Bunny. He had found refuge with Aiden. The two were casually chatting on the couch. Jonas liked to joke that Aiden was everyone’s designated emotional support animal. He always eased tension or found the odd man out. Sighing, Ira caved. He lifted the glass and clinked it together with Jonas’s. They both knocked it back simultaneously.
The evening flew by in a blur. Ira had made his rounds adoring all of his friends, some of them got double dips. He was a fan favorite when he was drunk. It was normal for him to compliment his friends or tell them how much he loved them. He also was chattier when with a few drinks. Joking around became easier for the stoic chef.
Around 11 PM, the party was starting to dwindle. Lane and Sonder had headed home. Ira found a seat next to Leo. The Frenchmen had his head in Eloise’s lap. She stroked his hair melodically. Eloise was nestled up against Leah, the rose haired woman had one arm draped around her shoulder. Jonas was perched happily in Aiden’s lap. His husband was planting kiss on his shoulder.
Loneliness washed over Ira as he watched his friends display affection. He felt himself craving touch, [i craving Bunny.] The chef looked around but the mint haired boy was nowhere around. His eyebrows knitted together. [b [#60B9D6 “Leah, where is Bun?”]] He asked. Alcohol soaked his voice like a rum cake.
Leah met Ira’s gaze, [b [#EE5FA7 “he went to your room.”]]
Without another word, Ira stumbled to his feet. The tall man was not very graceful. He had to steady himself on whatever furniture he passed. He carefully stepped over Dimitri, who had found a spot to sleep in the middle of the hallway. The door to his bedroom was closed tightly. Ira fumbled with the doorknob. Finally, it opened. Ira nearly toppled through the doorway. The room was dark except for the streetlight pouring through the windows. It took a moment for the chef’s eyes to adjust.
Bunny sat up in bed and called out to the man in a soft voice, [b [#60B9D6 “Ira?”]] Primal instinct tugged at the deepest part of Ira. The larger male climbed into bed. He lifted one leg over the boy’s pelvis and straddled him between his knees. With a strong hand, he pushed Bunny against the mattress. He gathered the small male’s wrists in one palm and pinned them above his head. With the other, he found his way underneath Bunny’s shirt. The soft flesh of his stomach felt like heaven.
Bunny stared up at the man with wide eyes. He looked like prey that had been caught in a trap. Without another thought, Ira’s lips crashed into Bunny’s. A moan erupted between them. It had been the moment Ira had been waiting for. Every conversation, every heartbeat, every breath. He could not think. He could do nothing but drink him in. The kiss was gentle at first, like the boy would break beneath his touch. Ira took the boy’s bottom lip between his teeth and pulled. [i It was payback.] Bunny gasped; his small body bucked beneath him. Ira took the opportunity to slide his tongue into his mouth. It was warm and intoxicating. He liked how the boy tasted. Up until now, Ira had not known hunger like this. Their mouths opened and closed with each other. Hot breath mingled between them. They devoured each other desperately like it was the only thing keeping them alive.
Ira had to pull away. His chest was heaving as he gasps for air. Sapphire eyes stared up at him with lust. Desire painted his cheeks with a warm red blush. Ira liked how pleasure looked on the boy’s face.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Abel] [center [size15 [abel Ira moved much father and smoother than Bunny would have thought possible for how drunk he had seemed in the doorway. The man had surged forward, moving onto the bed and positioning his body over Bunny’s, forcing the boy to lay back on the bed instead of sitting up. Baguette had leapt from the mint haired boy’s grasp, perhaps frightened by Ira’s sudden change in demeanor. Before the smaller of the two could ask was happening Ira had grabbed his wrist and was forcing his hands above his head with such force Bunny felt they might bruise tomorrow.
Distracted by his hands being pulled up he didn’t even notice Ira’s other free hand had pulled his blouse loose until he felt the warm, calloused skin on his stomach. He shivered. It wasn’t the first time Ira had touched his bare skin, sometimes the two would move while sleeping but this time it was deliberate. The chef’s hand slowly moved upwards, stroking at his skin while pressing down into his flesh; it felt like he was kneading his body.
Then, like lightning, Ira’s lips were crashing down against his mouth. Ira’s mouth tasted like alcohol, so strong and overwhelming and Bunny wanted to get away from that taste but he couldn’t bear to pull away from the feel of Ira’s lips. Their bodies were impossibly close, Bunny could feel the heat radiating off of Ira’s skin like a furnace. That same warmth he was so normally drawn to felt searing against him now. Ira was moaning or, possibly, growling at him through the kiss. Despite the hold on his lips the kiss wasn’t rough, at least not at first.
When had he last been kissed? It had been years. But he didn’t recall it feeling like this. He couldn’t ever recall a time when his body felt like it had been lit on fire and that he [i wanted] to be touched by someone else. His mind was muddled with thoughts at Ira pulled at his bottom lip with his teeth, it felt reminiscent of how Bunny had bitten his lip after he’d been chewing on it so many days ago. The two parted in gasping breaths before Ira began to devour him again, this time taking advantage of Bunny’s open mouth and plunging his tongue inside. Bunny really felt like Ira was trying to eat him, his tongue tangling with Bunny’s and roving over the roof before pushing at the inside of his cheeks. His limbs were feeling weak, maybe from the lack of oxygen or the alcohol or quite possibly the lack of blood circulating up to his brain.
He couldn’t think anymore as his hands twisted in Ira’s grasp. He felt like he might pass out. His body rocked into Ira; they were so close but it wasn’t enough. He wanted Ira to kiss him more, touch him more, just [i more]. Whatever Ira would give, Bunny would gladly take from him and the realization scared him. He was so weak to this affection, this intimacy. No, he was weak to [i Ira].
When they parted this time Ira pulled back more, his mouth smeared with Bunny’s lipstick, [b [#00075D “You taste sweet.”]] [i Oh god], Bunny felt it hit him, it was too late to back out now. Bunny like him. Bunny really, [i really] like Ira. He maybe even loved him. [i Oh god no].
With a surge of panic, Bunny ripped his wrists free and pushed Ira off. His chest was still heaving from before and his mind was fractured but he had one clear thought, I need to leave. It was all that he could focus on as he stood up and stumbled out of the room. He braced himself against the wall, his emotions and body crashing. His hand went to his mouth and he wasn’t sure if he was remembering the feel of Ira’s lips or trying to keep from hyperventilating. [b [#EE5FA7 “Bunny?”]] His wide green eyes darted up; his pupils blown. Leah stared at him, his disheveled appearance and shaky eyes sobering what little buzz she’d had a moment ago. [b [#EE5FA7 “Bunny are you okay?”]] He couldn’t answer her, he left his hand fall a bit and she could see the mess of red around his mouth and she began to piece some of it together. [b [#EE5FA7 “Okay, let’s get you home. Yeah?”]] He nodded, unable to do anything else. He waited there, leaning against the wall while she went to grab their things and give some excuse about needing to head out. Leah took care of everything and when they left, she tucked him under her arm to keep the others from seeing how he was holding his mouth.]]]
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Abel] [center [abel [size15 [left [pic https://i.imgur.com/tzgxqo4.jpg]] When Ira woke the next morning, the sun had already been up for a few hours. His head felt like someone had hit him with a medal bat [i continuously.] When he sat up, it took him a minute to realize he had slept on the floor. Patting his pockets, he couldn't locate his phone.
Raising to his feet, a sharp pain shot through his back. He definitely felt like he had spent the night in the floor. It took him longer than he liked to admit to get to the bathroom. His joints creaked as moved almost mechanically. He felt like a marionette only he wasn't the only pulling the strings.
The man staring at him in the mirror looked undead. His long hair refused to lay flat and the bags under his eyes [i had brought luggage of their own.] The most alarming thing was the red stain around his lips. He instinctively touched his fingers to the discoloration. Ira wondered what he drank last night that was red.
After his shower, Ira dressed himself in a pair of sweatpants and a long sleeve shirt. He found his glasses and pulled his wet locks into a pony tail. The Magnolia House was closed for the day. Ira learned the hard way he couldn't run a business the day after any of his parties.
Ira made his way to the kitchen to access the situation. It wasn't as horrible as he expected. The dishes were soaking in the sink and all the food had been put away. There was a note under a glass of water with an seltzer tablet next to it.
[i 'Good morning Ira. I cleaned up a little before taking Jonas home. We will come by the shop tomorrow. Make sure you drink lots of water. Love, Aiden.]
Ira dropped the tablet in the water and watched it fizz. His stomach churned at the thought of putting anything in his mouth. Sighing, he forced it down anyway.
Leo and Eloise had safely made it to the bedroom. Dimitri was still sound asleep on the couch. He made the full length cough look like a loveseat. Ira carefully pulled the blanket up over the large man's shoulders.
He spotted his phone on the coffee table. Picking it up, he checked to see if he had any messages. There was one from Leah.
[b [#EE5FA7 [i 'Great party luv. got Bun home safely. text him.]]]
Ira opened a new message and began to type. [b [#00075D [i 'Good Morning. How are you feeling?']]] After he pressed send, he placed his phone safely in his pocket.
The chef spent the afternoon putting his life back into place. He washed the dishes and made sure Baguette had food and water. He made a light, starchy breakfast for him and his house guests.
Leo and Eloise only came out of their room for water and food before returning to bed. Ira let Dimitri take a nap in his room until he felt well enough to get home.
That evening Ira made dinner for him and his french friends. They laughed about the party the night before and asked Ira hundreds of questions about Bunny. The famous mint haired boy never responded.
The next day Ira woke before the sun. He followed his usual morning routine before opening the cafe. Ira was jittery with excited. He couldn't wait to see Bunny again. Checking his phone, the screen read [i No new messages.]
Ira frowned. He hadn't heard from Bunny for an entire twenty-four hours. Had his party scared him away? He thought back to the way Leo and Jonas behaved like fire and gasoline. Maybe they had been too much? Or drunk Ira was more embarrassing than he'd realized? Panic washed over him. He quickly typed out a good morning message.
[b [#00075D [i 'Hey Bunny, are you coming into the shop today?']]]
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Abel] [center [size15 [abel Bunny felt terrible when he woke up the day after the party. Unlike the other guests who attended he wasn’t feeling that way due to excessive alcohol consumption the night before. No, he was just emotionally exhausted and consumed with a feeling of disgust towards himself. Which wasn’t really a better option. The first thing he had done was run a bath with water so hot he could have poached an egg in it. It was an uncomfortable temperature but he felt like he needed to scrub his skin off. He washed until his body was red and raw. His eyes hurt from crying and he really just wanted to crawl back into his bed.
Instead, he stripped his bed of his blankets and sheets and set about washing them. As he sat on the tile of his laundry room, watching the window of the washer and just generally feeling mortified with himself his phone jittered; the strange combination of it vibrating while being placed on the tile. Picking it up he expected to see Leah’s name, she had brought him home and left after he’d asked but he knew she would want to talk about the party and what had happened and he wasn’t sure how to go about doing that.
When he saw the name on the screen he cringed; Ira. He couldn’t even think about the chef now. No, that wasn’t true he couldn’t stop thinking about the chef. Ira was constantly on his mind, in the worst way possible. Against his better judgment he opened his phone:
[font "courier new" [size13 [b [#00075D Good Morning. How are you feeling?]]]]
[b [#60B9D6 “Awful,”]] He replied verbally, speaking to the screen and to himself. He let his hand holding the phone fall to the ground without typing a response. When his sheets and blankets finished washing, he made his bed, only to crawl into it immediately.
Leah came by later that day, letting herself in after Bunny didn’t answer the door. She found him lying motionless in bed watching cooking shows and decided to order some groceries to be delivered, her exact words were, [b [#EE5FA7 “This looks like a gallon of ice cream situation.”]] When the food arrived, almost all of it junk food he would never normally put in his body, the two of them stayed in his bed and talked while watching the television. Bunny told her everything, the kiss, how it had made him feel and why he’d been so panicked, he even told her what he had done when she’d left him that night. Leah had told him it was okay and that he hadn’t done anything wrong; that everything he was feeling and experience was normal and fine.
But it didn’t feel fine.
Leah had asked if she could tell Bae some of the details and Bunny agreed. Honestly, he’d just assumed she’d tell him anyways but it was nice that she had asked. Leah didn’t push him to text Ira back and she told him it was okay to stay home tomorrow instead of going to the café like he normally would if he still felt freaked out the next day.
So, the next day when he got Ira’s text, he knew he wouldn’t be going.
[font "courier new" [size13 [b [#00075D Hey Bunny, are you coming into the shop today?]]]]
Just like the day before he spoke out loud to the phone, [b [#60B9D6 “How can I possibly look at you now?”]] Bunny felt like the most deplorable person. Ira had kissed him but somehow, he felt as if he’d taken advantage of Ira. He could recall how drunk Ira had been. Hell, he could [i taste] how drunk Ira had been. What if the other man didn’t even remember? It didn’t seem like he did. Could Bunny face that? The idea that he was the only one feeling this way was crushing. He was a coward. He couldn’t face Ira.
He typed out several different messages but kept deleting them until all that he managed to send was that.
[center [pic https://i.imgur.com/gb6NAmU.png]]
It had been five days since he sent that message, Ira texted him and Bunny evaded telling him why he wasn’t coming in, he simply told him that something had come up and he needed to deal with it. It wasn’t technically a lie. But it wasn’t the full truth either. And even though he was avoiding the man he hadn’t cut off his communication; he answered every text that he could. It was easy to control his emotions when he got to type out what he said and didn’t have to look at the chef’s face. Bunny was making a pot of tea for himself, boiling the water in his kettle when the buzzer for his apartment went off. He shut off the stove quickly before going to answer it, finding the owner of [i ‘The Copper Kettle’] magazine standing there. Bae Youngsoo, whose first name was Youngsoo but was called Bae by both Leah and Bunny and a few others, was wearing dark blue jeans with a cream turtleneck, ribbed sweater and a long, tan coat with dress shoes. His dark black hair was messy but not wild and his dark eyes looked tired but amused. The man smiled at the mint haired boy, [b [#EC7A1C “Morning Bunny, we’re going out to eat.”]]
Bunny blinked, [b [#60B9D6 “This early?”]] It wasn’t unusual for Bae to suddenly drag Bunny off with him to try restaurants, usually ones he wanted Bunny to review for the magazine but normally that was for a dinner service. It must have been for a brunch place. The boy sighed when the older man just smiled back waiting for his answer, [b [#60B9D6 “What’s the dress code?”]]
[b [#EC7A1C “Casual,”]] Bae answered. Bunny moved from the door, walking back into his apartment and towards his closet room. The older man took that as an invitation to come inside. Bunny sighed again. He dressed not too dissimilar to Bae; he wore black skinny jeans with lace up black dress shoes and a white turtle neck beneath a slouchy pale coral sweater over it.
The two didn’t speak until they arrived at the destination, Bunny looked up in a daze feeling reminiscent of the night of the party as he read the sign [i ‘Magnolia House’]. Why did his friends keep bringing him here? But this time Bae was fully aware of the fact this was Ira’s restaurant. [b [#60B9D6 “No,”]] Bunny said immediately, Bae was undoing his seatbelt but Bunny kept his on. [b [#60B9D6 “Why are you doing this?”]]
The black-haired man smiled like he was expecting this response, [b [#EC7A1C “The [i ‘Magnolia House’] is a very popular brunch spot in town, and it’s owner was previously a very renowned chef in Paris. When he retired to open this place, it made quite the buzz, since the sensationalism of his career change has faded, I felt it would be the perfect time to have a review done for the magazine.”]] Bae’s eyes were sharp for a moment, [b [#EC7A1C “You’re a food critic, right? So, I’m assigning you this place to review. Now let’s go eat.”]]
[b [#60B9D6 “I’ve eaten here before, I can-”]]
[b [#EC7A1C “You ate as a customer not a critic, you know the difference between the two,”]] Bae interrupted. Bunny hated this; the man was using his own arguments again him. Bunny always insisted that dining somewhere as a customer and not a critic held different meanings and influenced the way one would perceive the food. Now to have those words thrown back against him he was very unhappy. [b [#EC7A1C “Come on.”]]
The magazine owner knew he had already won the argument; as much as Bunny didn’t want to be here, as much as he wanted to refused the assignment, he wouldn’t. Bunny had too much pride as a critic to let his personal feelings get in the way of work. The bell over top the door rang its familiar chime as Bunny stepped inside with Bae. Immediately the blonde barista’s eyes went wide seeing him, [b [#004D00 “Bunny! It’s been a while,”]] her gaze was darting back towards the kitchen with a nervousness he hadn’t seen in her before.
Bae smiled, placing a hand on Bunny’s lower back, [b [#EC7A1C “Since you’ve been here before why don’t you go find a good place for us to sit while I order something for us?”]] Bunny felt a little relieved he didn’t have to go up and order with the barista who was acting in that manner. Immediately the mint haired boy went to his usual place. Ira had sat down with him there before so he knew it sat two people well. He didn’t have to worry about what Bae would order, the man had good taste and besides he could eat anything.]]]
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Abel] [center [abel [size15 [left [pic https://i.imgur.com/XwAIeBq.jpg]] Ira fell back into a pattern of long days and sleepless nights. He was spending less time at the front of the store and more time slaving in the kitchen. It was safer there. He could focus on his work without constantly searching the crowd for Bunny.
The two texted here and there but it wasn’t the same. The distance between them felt like miles after the party. Ira wasn’t sure what went wrong so he asked his friends for help. Jonas deduced the red stain on the man’s lips had not been something he dank but lipstick. Ira knew how he behaved when he drank. It was like liquid courage for him.
Leo asked Ira to evaluate how he truly felt about the boy. That would answer his questions as to why Bunny would be avoiding him. The loneliness the chef felt without his precious person spoke volumes. When did Bunny become such a permanent presence in his life? He found himself missing the boy more and more each day. Bunny was someone Ira simply [i could not live without.] He had fallen deeply and truly in love.
--- On the fifth day, Ira found himself still working when the sun came up. His insomnia had worsened with stress [s and without Bunny.] Running his fingers through his messy black locks, he slumped onto the couch in the reading nook. The bell over the door indicated someone had arrived. Looking up, it took a moment for his eyes to focus on the figure. It was Lane.
[b [#004d00 “You look like shit Ira.”]] She joked half-heartedly. Both of his employees were starting to worry about the health of their boss. He was working to hard and skipping meals. His pale face was sharper than usual. The grey bags underneath his eyes looked heavy and painful. His long hair was in a messy half bun at the base of his neck. It looked dull in the morning light.
Ira was quiet for a moment. After a long sigh, he smiled. He looked tired. Defeated. [b [#00075D “I’m okay. I just ... haven’t been sleeping well.”]] He confessed.
Lane’s eyes softened. Taking a seat next to the man, she patted her lap. [b [#004d00 “Here why don’t you close your eyes for a little bit. I will have Dimitri open up shop.”]]
Ira opened his mouth to protest but couldn’t find the words. Nodding his head, he complied. Lane’s thighs were warm against his cheek. The girl gently stroked his hair and hummed gently. It didn’t take long for him to fall asleep. The Magnolia House didn’t open until 8 AM that day despite it being a Tuesday. Ira found his rhythm in the kitchen with Dimitri. Lane manned the cash register and made drinks. Not long after they opened, a familiar face entered the café.
“Bunny! It’s been a while.” Lane exclaimed; her voice sounded off. She looked from Bunny to the kitchen door way. She was surprised to see the mint haired boy. For a moment, she thought she heard glass shattering against the floor. The man the boy had come in with gently placed his hand on Bunny’s lower back. The gesture made the barista’s skin prickle. She met the tall man’s gaze as he spoke.
[b [#EC7A1C “Since you’ve been here before, why don’t you go find a good place for us to sit while I order something for us?”]] Bunny seemed to ease at the suggestion. He didn’t meet Lane’s gaze again before wandering off.
Lane narrowed her eyes at the gentleman. He was tall and lean. The barista had to admit he was handsome even with his tired eyes. Forcing a grin, she knew she had to play nice. She couldn’t believe Bunny had the nerve to show up after a week of ghosting with a new man.
[b [#004d00 “What can I get for you?”]] She said between her teeth.
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