Least Resistance by Andrew Grey

ChapterTwo

Ivan shookhis head. “Sorry about that. But if you want something from the winner of Father of the Year in there, I suggest you pick another day, or maybe another decade. It will probably take that long before the old bastard’s biorhythms swing upward once more.” The last thing he wanted to do was to mess things up for Marti. It had taken all his reserve not to flirt like hell with the cute hipster. But with a dysfunctional family like his, Ivan was fully engaged in making it on his own so he could walk away from his controlling, money-grubbing father and co-dependent stepmother. The two of them made quite a pair, and their favorite hobby seemed to be butting into his life with their opinions of how he should be living it.

Actually, that wasn’t right. They loved trying to force him to live and act the way they wanted him to. Opinions were one thing, and they were welcome to theirs, but control was completely different and something he wasn’t willing to give up. His father and stepmother didn’t understand his interest in bodybuilding. They thought he should choose a career more commercially productive, like squeezing every dime out of every property the family owned. Granted, his career was a source of frustration, even to himself. There were times when he knew exactly how all those Oscar nominees felt, always coming in second or third. At the top of the pack, certainly, but the top prize, being the best, always seemed to elude him.

Marti looked toward the still-closed door and then at Doris, like she could do anything. It would take a miracle for Dimitri Detrikov to take more than five minutes to stop counting his piles of money like fucking King Midas. “Okay. So, I guess….”

Ivan shook his head. “Go on and talk to him. Maybe he’ll pour all his anger issues on me and actually be nice to you. What is it you want?”

“He’s the landlord of the flower shop I work at, the Flower Basket. And, well, we need him to not raise the rent so we can have a chance to build the business instead of folding up altogether.” He seemed defeated, and Ivan knew in part that was his fault, though he knew his father, and frankly, Marti had about a snowball’s chance in hell of getting what he wanted.

“You can go on in,” Doris told Marti, who now seemed almost ghostly white. “He isn’t going to eat you.”

Marti didn’t look like he was so sure of that. Still, Ivan had to give him credit. He stiffened his back, and Doris opened the door and then took her place at the desk once more. She was the only person Ivan’s father didn’t intimidate. Sometimes Ivan wondered what she had on the old bastard, but whatever the reason, she simply went on with her work.

Marti went into Mr. Detrikov’s office, and Ivan stayed out of sight, near Doris’s desk. He wasn’t sure why, other than the fact that Marti amused him and his father was in a really foul mood that was to a large extent his fault.

“Mr. Detrikov, I’m here to discuss the rent on the Prospect Avenue home of the Flower Basket,” Marti said.

“You aren’t the tenant,” Mr. Detrikov said in that way he had of dismissing people.

“I’m here on her behalf.” Marti cleared his throat. “What I’m here to ask is that the rent stay the same for the next year.”

“Why in the hell would I do that?” Mr. Detrikov demanded in a tone that sent most people running for cover.

“Because it will cost you less and in the end and make you more money,” Marti said, and Ivan wanted to punch the air. “We need the rent to remain at the current rate so we can build the business back to where it was after the last years’ hardships. I’m sure you understand what happened. An increase will mean that the business will close.”

“And that’s my problem… how?” That was Ivan’s father—always a caring and compassionate man.

“Simple…” Marti’s voice grew stronger.

“I think I’ve heard enough already. I don’t have time for people who want me to give them a break. If I did, I’d never get any work done. Show yourself out.”

Ivan winced at the dismissive tone, but it was one her had heard many times over the years. The kiss of death.

“Excuse me,” Marti snapped right back. “You need to listen to me. I walked all the way down here to speak to you, and you’ll listen. If we have to close, then the building’s condition and code issues, which are grandfathered in, will need to be remediated, at a cost of thousands. And the building department will be sure to hear about them. Also, you’ll have to make the building ready for a new tenant and then find someone to lease the space. It will take years for you to recoup the costs. All that can be alleviated for you by simply not raising the rent.” Damn, Marty was good. “But since you were such a dick, I think a rent reduction is in order since there are issues that you are responsible for that have not been fixed, which the building department will also be informed of. Those will cost you plenty to repair, but we can make those repairs over the next year, with a reduction in the monthly rent of, say, five hundred dollars this year and then a two-hundred-dollar increase in each of the next three years. In the end, you’ll get a better building, no building department violations and reports that you’ll have to deal with, and no huge cash outlay to bring the building up to the current code.”

Ivan glanced around the door to see Marti with his Easter-egg pink hair leaning over his father’s desk and his dad as pale as the white sheets of paper he was holding.

“I think that sounds more than fair to me,” Ivan said as he strolled into the office.

“You don’t make those decisions,” his father countered.

“And you don’t want to spend twenty thousand dollars bringing a small building up to code. Just agree to what he wants, and you can save yourself a huge number of headaches and still have the building rented each month.”

Ivan’s father looked like he was about to explode, and his cheeks grew redder as Marti pulled a folded sheet of computer paper out of his pocket. “These are a list of the changes that will have to be made to bring the building up to code. I have it right on my computer, ready to email away.” He set it on the desk, and while Ivan couldn’t read it, he could see his father pale just a little more.

“Fine,” his father snapped, glaring at him, but Ivan didn’t really care. It was time someone stood up to the old bully. “We’ll make the changes with the new lease.” And Ivan was pretty sure his father would forget all about them by then. It was one of his usual ploys.

“Excellent.” Marti smiled, leaving the paper on his dad’s desk. “I’m sure that Doris can type up a letter of understanding for us, and then you can sign it before I leave the office, just to make sure we have our agreement in writing.”

Now his father really was going to explode at being outmaneuvered.

Marti left the office, and Doris had a grin on her lips the likes of which Ivan had never seen before. Her printer was already whirring, and she handed Marti the two pieces of paper.

Marti read them over. “Thank you,” he told Doris, then returned to Mr. Detrikov’s office, where Ivan’s father’s scrawled his name on the letters. Ivan signed them as well, just to add his emphasis in case his father pulled anything. “Good doing business with you,” Marti said as he headed for the door, followed by Ivan. “Have a nice day, Mr. Detrikov,” he added, then closed the door to the office behind them both.

Ivan thought he was going to fall over laughing right there. “That was glorious,” Ivan said. “Dad didn’t know what to say. I’ve never seen him speechless before.” He grinned and said goodbye to the long-suffering Doris before opening the outer office door. “What do you say to dinner to celebrate?” Ivan asked Marti as he followed him out. Something like getting the better of his dad should definitely be marked as a special occasion.

“Why?” Marti asked as he stopped on the sidewalk. “You never showed any interest in me before, other than acting like I’m… well, not worth your attention most of the time.”

Ivan knew he had that one coming. Oh, he’d noticed Marti. How could he not? His flaming hair and intense blue eyes, along with a compact little body that radiated sex on a fucking stick. Damn, more than once he had wondered what it would be like to bend that lithe little body of his into every position in the Kama Sutra just to see what was possible. “I’m sorry about that.”

Marti turned on him. “Well, I appreciate the apology and all, but I think it’s best that I just go and leave you to whatever you’re doing. It’s become obvious to me that you aren’t very interested, and asking me to dinner as some sort of up-yours to your father… well, that isn’t my style.” Marti turned and strode down the sidewalk, away from him, though Ivan didn’t want him to go.

“It isn’t that at all,” Ivan said, hurrying after him, and Marti paused. “It’s kind of a long story, but I’m willing to tell you about it, over dinner, say. I could pick you up at the flower store at six?” Ivan held his breath and waited.

“Okay. That’s when we close, so be there a few minutes early and we can leave as soon as we’re done.” He strode away once more, his tight little backside swaying from side to side. Ivan swallowed hard before heading in the opposite direction to his car. Then he drove to the gym to get in a cardio workout.

At threeminutes to six, he pulled open the flower shop door, the bell tinkling overhead as he did.

“Can I help you?” a woman asked as she hurried out, flipping the door sign to closed and turning the lock. “We’re about to close for the night.”

“I’m here to meet Marti for dinner,” Ivan said. “Have you closed the register?”

“I was about to,” she said.

Ivan opened the cooler, taking out a bouquet of white and red roses. “Then I’ll take these before you do.” He pulled out his wallet and handed her his credit card. Once she rang them up, Ivan signed the slip and took back the card while the lady wrapped the flowers for him.

“Is he here yet?” Marti asked as he came out of the back, looking very different in light, almost white pants and a light-blue shirt that screamed summer. “I guess he is,” Marti added with a smile as Ivan handed him the flowers.

“I still can’t figure out how you got our landlord to agree, but I’m glad you did, and you deserve a nice dinner.” She hugged Marti, and Ivan felt a jab of jealousy. “Now you two go on out and celebrate while I close up here.” She smiled and ushered them out of the store, relocking the door behind them.

Marti held the flowers, smelling them. “You know, I’ve worked with flowers for a long time, but these are the first that someone has given me.” He seemed so happy. “Where are we having dinner?” He looked across the street at the garish lights and statues of the Italian restaurant, but Ivan shook his head.

“Don’t worry. Not there,” he said softly, then led Marti down the street. The Italian place was okay. It was more atmosphere than good food, but Ivan wanted something special for tonight. At his Honda, he unlocked the doors and waited for Marti to get in before he slid into the seat and started the engine. He had planned on a nice dinner, so he drove to Oakland Avenue, where there were a number of fine restaurants. “How about Middle Eastern?” he asked, parking in front of Shahrazad, an amazing restaurant with light but flavorful food.

“I love this,” Marti said, practically bouncing in the seat. “The saffron butter rice is so good.”

“I like it too,” Ivan said, getting out and waiting for Marti, who carefully set his flowers on the seat. “Will they be okay? It isn’t too warm.”

“Susan put them with an arrangement sponger, so the stems should stay wet for a few hours.” Marti closed the door and walked with him down the sidewalk to the restaurant. “Why did you stand up for me with your father? I know he isn’t going to thank you for that.”

“I guess it’s a way of giving him one,” Ivan answered. “But it’s more than that. My father and stepmother want to decide the rest of my life. Dad wants me to work for him, and I’d rather gouge my eyes out with a spoon. Growing up, my father wasn’t so bad. When my mom passed away, he threw himself into work and built up the business, becoming pretty ruthless. But then he met Gladdy, my stepmother, and she’s a real money-grubber. She pressured him for more, and that made him even worse. At heart they’re both alike, but they play off each other, and it’s been difficult to watch.”

“But why don’t they leave you alone?” Marti asked as he reached the door of the restaurant and pulled it open.

“Dad had a heart scare about a year ago, and suddenly it wasn’t enough for me to have a career of my own. Dad started pressuring me to come work with him and eventually take over. My mother left me her money when she died. It’s in a trust, and Gladdy has been trying to use that as a way to get me to do what she and my father want. Dad is the trustee, but I came of age, as far as the trust is concerned, last month and I demanded a full accounting. It seemed my father had borrowed money from it some years ago, and I made him pay it all back… with interest.”

Ivan paused his story and asked for a table. They were seated right away and brought glasses of water by the server.

“My father wasn’t happy and tried to pay me off with a share of his business. I told him I wanted cash. That was what he borrowed and what he had to pay back. My father figured he could just help himself. He paid it back, but then started trying harder to get me into the fold. I really think that he looks on my trust fund as a source of money for his business interests.” Ivan sighed. “I don’t want to be part of that world. I know there are good landlords and property management companies in the city. My father just isn’t one of them.” He opened the menu, scanning it over. “So now you have the sordid tale of my family.”

Marti watched him with rapt attention. “Why doesn’t he just give up and go on his way?”

“Because, while he owns a lot of properties, he doesn’t keep them up and just keeps taking the money, month after month. You’d think he’d have good credit, but he doesn’t. Banks don’t want to do business with him because of all the complaints to the city. In part that’s what got to him today. You managed to hit him in his soft underbelly.”

“I’m glad it worked out. The lowered rent is going to help us really build up the business again.” Marti looked briefly at his menu and then set it down, giving Ivan a real chance to look at him. “Maybe you can answer one more question.”

Ivan nodded, looking into Marti’s intense blue eyes.

“Why the cold shoulder all the time?”

Ivan had that coming and he knew it. “I’ve really been trying to concentrate on my career. I always seem to come in second or third, so I’ve been working extra hard to gain some kind of edge, and I….” He took a drink to give him a chance to find a voice for this thoughts. “I never had much luck when it came to relationships, and I figured with me working as hard as I am, there isn’t time, and… well… most of the time they’re a distraction, and I need to stay focused.”

Marti leaned across the table. “Relationships are a distraction? What kind of them have you been having? Wait, don’t answer that. I just met with your father, and I think I get it. But not all of them are dysfunctional pains in the ass brought on by selfishness and our asshole families.” He smiled. “Though if you try to make me think of one, I’ll probably come up empty. Okay, well, Reg and Jack are pretty amazing, and no assholeness there.”

“How do you suppose that happened? Everyone is miserable and just using one another. My father and stepmother are a good example.”

“Well, put them aside. Jack and Reg did it, and it hasn’t stopped Jack from being on top of his game. He’s happy.”

Ivan forced himself not to grind his teeth. Jack was a good friend, but also his steepest competition professionally. “But Jack is… Jack. He has this way of moving that the judges love. It’s like he’s fucking dancing when he’s on stage, and yet he’s just posing like the rest of us.”

“He has a niche, and it works for him. He found a way of standing out in a sea of gorgeous muscled men. If you want my opinion, you just need to find something that’s your own. You can’t try to be Jack because you aren’t him. You’re Ivan, so be the best Ivan you can be.”

He wished it was that simple, but the way Marti smiled was enough to take his mind off professional troubles. Very few people had ever looked at him like he was really important. His family thought what he did was frivolous, but Marti seemed to actually see him. “Can I ask you something?”

The server came to take their orders. Ivan ordered a chicken dish with their signature rice, and Marti got a goat dish that sounded amazing.

“What did you want to ask?” Marti said once the server was gone.

“Why are you interested in me? Is it because of the way I look?” It was one of the things he had to know. “Be honest.” He got lots of men and women who followed him or tried to get his attention because he had huge arms, cannonball shoulders, and abs that you could lose your keys in.

Marti shrugged. “I first noticed you because of how you look. I mean, I’m a guy, and I liked what I saw. But I hope it’s more than that. Sure, you’re hot and you know it. But there’s something else.” He leaned over the table like he was sharing a secret. “You’re smart and strong, not just physically. Most guys would just go along with what their parents wanted and take the path of least resistance, but you didn’t. You work hard at what you do, and as far as I can tell, you’re a nice guy… well, most of the time.” Marti took another drink of water. “A nice package might get attention, but once it’s unwrapped, there has to be something interesting on the inside too.”

“Most guys take one look at me and have one thing on their mind.” Part of the reason Ivan had stopping dating was that guys would say anything to get him into bed and then disappear once they had what they wanted.

“And then most guys would love to have someone like you paying attention to them.” Marti smiled warmly. “The easiest thing is to remember that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Though I can tell you that a nice package is, well… a really nice package.”

The double entendre had Ivan grinning. “You’re a nut,” he couldn’t help commenting.

“I know I am. Do you think that a guy with this hair color is all buttoned up and serious? I like to have fun, and I’m not about to hide my light under a bushel.”

“I take it your family knows that you like guys,” Ivan said, remembering the fights and stupidity he’d endured when he’d told his father. His mother had taken it all in stride, and it hadn’t been a big deal for his father either, not until Gladdy stuck her two cents in. Then, suddenly it was a completely different matter. There were times when he wanted to torture her by having her fake nails ripped off one at a time.

“Please. I think I came down the birth canal in a shower of glitter. I remember, at seven, using spray glue to add sequins to my jeans. I dyed my hair purple when I was twelve, and it’s been so many colors since, I can barely remember what I look like with my real hair color. There was little doubt that I was the gay kid in school.”

“Did you get picked on?” Ivan could only imagine the kind of harassment Marti had endured.

“I don’t know. A few kids decided they were going to be mean, but when they tried to pick on me, I owned it. I was gay and I knew it, so I just fessed up to it and that was largely it. Every now and then, a guy would decide he’d try to be a big man by giving me shit, but I had a sharp tongue and would put them in their place with ease. After that, they left me alone, and I pretty much went on with my life. I was friends with a lot of the girls, some really popular ones, and that only increased my value. So if any of the assholes wanted to date any of my friends….” Marti grinned, and Ivan got the picture. “How old were you when you told your family?”

“Nineteen. The beginning of my second year of college. I’d met a guy in class and we hit it off, so I told them. Phillip was nice, and we were dating. I thought it was serious. It turned out I was more serious than he was.” They were young, and Ivan had jumped in with both feet. But still, his life had changed forever, though Phillip simply went on.

A warm breeze reached their table, and Ivan turned toward the door, sighing and shaking his head. Just what I need.