Taking a Chance
Emjay Haze © 2017
All Rights Reserved
A loud knock on his bedroom door startled Ethan. Expecting his mom or brother, he glanced up from his laptop. “Come in,” he shouted, looking past the scattered drawings on his bed and back at the screen, opened to a job website. He’d applied to advertising companies all over the country but hadn’t received any responses to his resume, so he kept searching online.
“Hey, buddy. Is this where you’ve been hiding?” His best friend poked his head in and opened the door fully before stepping inside. Realizing it was company, Ethan quickly gathered his drawings into a neat pile and sat up.
“Mark.” Ethan shut the screen. “What are you doing here?”
He shrugged. “It’s kind of boring being back home. Thought I’d see what you’re up to.”
“Gee, thanks.” Ethan chuckled, not taking offense at all.
“You know what I mean.”
Ethan put the laptop down and lay back on his bed, his hands folded behind his head. He did. He’d been bored too. Ethan couldn’t wait to get out of this place, and he’d only been back for a few weeks.
“Have you started looking for a job yet?” They both had graduated from the University of Iowa in the spring. Ethan’s degree was in advertising and marketing with a minor in graphic design. He’d always been a doodler.
Mark shook his head. “I’m working with my dad again this summer. I was accepted into grad school in the fall.” Mark was the business major, and his dad was prepping him to take over the family business.
“Oh, right.” Ethan felt like a loser. All their other friends seemed to have everything already figured out. Maybe he should go to graduate school. “I’ve applied everywhere but haven’t heard from anyone yet.”
“Where?” Mark asked, interested. He took a seat next to Ethan on his bed.
“Boston and New York, mostly.”
“Those are big places, and far away.” Mark never shared Ethan’s aversion to their hometown. But then again, he wasn’t gay.
Ethan stood up and walked over to his door, peering out to make sure they were alone, and then he closed it and sat on the bed again. “I can’t wait to get out of here. I’m going crazy already.”
Mark looked at him and shrugged. “It’s not that bad.” They lived in a small town west of Omaha, just over the border into Iowa. Ratchet Falls, population 6200. Who the hell names a town that?
Ethan sat on the edge of his bed. “Are you kidding? There’s not even a gay bar here.”
Mark laughed. “You wouldn’t go even if there was one.”
True. Ethan was only sort of out. He’d been so afraid of anyone finding out in high school that he even had a girlfriend. She was cool though when she figured it out, and they became friends. She called herself his beard, but he never liked the sound of that. When Ethan went away to college, he met a few guys, but he didn’t like the weird feeling he got the next day after a hookup and had to face the guy on campus. That was never not awkward—for Ethan, at least.
“Maybe I would if you went with me?” They’d had this conversation many times. The closest gay club was thirty minutes away, in the city. It was far enough no one would recognize him, but he didn’t have anyone to go with, and he was too chicken to go alone.
“I love you man, but sorry. No way.”
“Afraid of a guy hitting on you? Girls go to those clubs too, you know.” He already knew his friend’s answer.
Mark patted him on the back. “Oh man, I forgot this was in my hand.” He handed Ethan a letter. “Your mom gave me your mail on my way up.”
Ethan snatched it, looking at the return address. “Oh shit,” he said, sitting up.
“What is it?” Mark leaned over to look at the envelope.
Ethan flipped it over. “Ashton Lake. One of the firms where I applied.” He felt his nerves rise. What if it was a rejection? What if it wasn’t?
“New York?” Mark asked.
Ethan ran his finger through the glued flap. “San Francisco.” He’d only applied there on a whim. He thought he had no chance of getting a reply from that place, so his heart sped up as he tore open the envelope.
“That’s really far, Ethan,” Mark sat next to Ethan and read the letter out loud while Ethan’s eyes scanned the words on the page. “Ethan Moore. That’s you.”
Ethan rolled his eyes.
Mark continued, “We have scheduled your interview for the junior account executive position at the Ashton Lake Advertising Agency for Monday, June sixteenth in our downtown San Francisco office. Please call to confirm…” He looked up from the letter. “Wow, Ethan, that’s great.”
Ethan grabbed the letter and finished reading. They were sending him an airline ticket and reserving a hotel room in his name for two nights. Ethan set the letter on the bed. “Hey, would you want to go with me?”
“I don’t think they’ll send you an extra plane ticket so you can bring a friend, Ethan.” Mark laughed, slapping him on the back.
“No, but we could drive. Maybe take a detour to the beach?”
Mark’s face lit up. “Doesn’t Curtis live out there? Montega—rey or something?”
“Is that far from San Francisco?” Ethan wondered.
Mark shrugged. “Let’s look it up.” He texted Curtis, who confirmed he lived in Monterey. Then he added, “Get your asses out here so we can party.”
Ethan reached for his laptop and Google-mapped directions from San Francisco to Monterey, California. Looking over his shoulder, Mark read, “Two and a half hours.”
“We could go there first, and then I’d drive to my interview the next day.”
“And hang out for a few days afterward?”
“Definitely.” Ethan stood up and paced his room. California. Could he do this?
Mark handed Ethan his phone. “Get it over with, so you don’t obsess about it all night.”
Mark knew him so well. Ethan overthought everything. He’d finished top ten in his class because he obsessed about his grades—well, that, and he heard his parents’ words in his ear saying “hard work will earn you respect.” His mom always worried he’d get picked on. Another reason he hid his sexuality at school. It was bad enough he was smaller than most of the guys in his high school. He’d grown a few inches his senior year, but topped out at five foot eight and could eat a pound of pasta and not gain an ounce.
He sighed and took the phone from Mark’s hand. “Here goes.”
Three days later, Ethan and Mark packed up Ethan’s old Corolla and took off for the West Coast, driving the better part of two days. After a good night’s sleep, the boys spent the morning at the beach with their friend Curtis and his girlfriend. “You sure you don’t want me to come with you?” Mark asked.
“Nah, stay and have fun. I’ll be fine,” he assured his friend.
Ethan spent the time alone in his car thinking about the upcoming interview, and asking himself possible questions out loud. He’d researched online how to ace an interview. “Mr. Moore. What is your best and worst quality?” he said in a deep voice, giggling. “I am very detail oriented and a hard worker.” He smiled at his response. “Now, weaknesses.” He’d read that you shouldn’t say your weakness is actually a strength, and he didn’t think telling them that he worried about everything would be a valued weakness. He’d get back to that one. “Next question, why do you want to work for Ashton Lake?” Why did he?
Before he knew it, Ethan arrived at the hotel. He parked in the circular driveway and handed his keys to the attendant. Then, he walked through the revolving doors into the impressive lobby of the Sir Frances Hotel. “Holy cow,” he whispered, taking it all in. Ornate woodwork decorated the walls and huge chandeliers hung from the ceiling. He nearly tripped over a large pot of fresh flowers, looking at the walls instead of where he was going. Still gawking, Ethan stepped up to the front desk. A cute guy behind the counter politely asked for his name.
“Ethan Moore,” the clerk repeated, typing on his keyboard. He smiled. “Your room’s been prepaid, including all amenities,” he said, as he handed Ethan two keycards. “Let me know if you need anything.” He drawled out the words, giving him a seductive glance. Feeling self-conscious, Ethan turned away so the guy wouldn’t see him blush. He thanked him and walked away, feeling the clerk’s gaze follow him to the elevator.
The bellman met Ethan outside his room with the bag from his car, even though Ethan had told the guy he could carry it himself, and opened the door with a master key. Ethan peered inside. The spacious room was decorated in black-and-silver tones from the curtains to the furnishings. Ethan spotted the king-sized bed first. The fluffy black-and-white comforter called to him, but Ethan just walked inside and took in the rest of the room. The bellman followed Ethan with his luggage and placed it on the floor next to the bed. Then he retreated to the door.
“Thank you,” Ethan said. The man stood with his hands folded, and Ethan realized he was waiting for a tip. “Oh.” He reached into his wallet and pulled out a five-dollar bill and handed it to him.
The man bowed. “Good evening, sir. I hope you have a pleasant stay.”
Ethan wondered if he’d given him enough money or too much, as he didn’t know about things like that. He thanked the man again.
Once alone, Ethan turned toward the bed and grinned stupidly as he hopped on top of the cover, smoothing his hands over the soft material. He stood for a second, getting his balance, and then jumped up and down. The mattress was nice and firm with a little bounce. He jumped a few more times and then fell onto the soft comforter and laughed. Holy cow, this was some fancy room.
After unpacking his suitcase and hanging his suit in the closet, Ethan went back to the lobby to ask where he could find something to do.
The clerk leaned over the counter and in a soft voice said, “There’s this club called Cruze. It’s sooo hot.” He gave Ethan another once-over, making Ethan nearly shiver.
He tilted his head like Ethan had spoken a foreign language. Of course, it was.
“I don’t know.” Ethan had never been to a gay club before. Not even in college. “What’s here in the hotel?”
The guy, whose name tag read Cliff, rattled off the names of several restaurants and a lounge. Ethan was a simple guy. He wouldn’t feel comfortable in a fancy restaurant or snobby cocktail lounge, so he decided to order room service instead. “Thank you.”
“Any time.” Ethan caught Cliff eying him up and down and felt his cheeks flush. “Good night.” He scurried toward the elevator.
Ethan greeted the man at the door, who pushed a silver cart with dome-covered dishes inside the room. “Good evening, sir,” he said. “Where would you like me to set everything?”
Ethan pointed to the desk by the window and led him to the other end of the room. “It smells amazing,” The waiter nodded as he placed the dishes on the table without saying another word. Ethan noticed the real silverware. This was by far the fanciest burger he’d ever ordered.
When he was finished, he nodded to Ethan and wheeled the cart to the door. Ethan thanked him, taking out a couple of bills from his wallet, and handed them to him. The man accepted the money and pushed the cart out the door into the hallway, shutting the door behind him.
Ethan sighed, once again taking in the aroma of his dinner. He sat at the table and lifted the lid off the main dish, revealing a juicy burger and a pile of steaming French fries. It was definitely the best-looking burger he’d ever seen. If it tasted only half as good as it looked, he was in for a treat.
Diving into the meaty goodness of his burger, Ethan moaned, not realizing how hungry he really was. After taking another delicious bite, he chased it with a fry and then a sip of beer.
After devouring every last morsel, he removed the smaller dome and chuckled at the single chocolate chip cookie lying on the fancy dish. It looked almost too good to eat—well, almost. His thoughts were confirmed as he took the first bite. Ethan was used to his mom’s home cooking and the school cafeteria, but this was on a completely different level. After he finished every last bite, he placed the tray outside to be picked up.
Yawning, he dragged himself into the bathroom to shower and get ready for bed. Nerves overpowered him as he thought about the interview the next morning.
The halls of the Ashton Lake Advertising agency were intimidating, as men and women in sharp business suits hurried to their destinations, folders and briefcases in hand. Could he fit in at a place like this? A few people gave him polite smiles, but most ignored him, thankfully.
Bradley Parker, the hiring manager, ran up to meet him in the lobby, looking winded, and shook his hand. Then he led Ethan down the hallway to a suite of offices. He seemed nice, but a little frantic. “Sorry, we’re trying to land a new account, and everyone’s a little crazy today,” he said, bouncing. Ethan assumed he was always like that, but nodded anyway.
Ethan knew he looked good in the suit his brother let him borrow for his interview, but he felt like a little kid playing dress-up from his dad’s closet. Mr. Parker was almost the same height as Ethan; however, he looked suave in his light-gray pinstriped suit. When would he be able to afford a suit like that?
Mr. Parker asked him every question he’d rehearsed, plus a slew of others. Ethan realized from the start canned answers wouldn’t fly. This was a creative firm, and he needed to show he was worth taking a gamble on as a recent college graduate. He brought out his portfolio and showed him the few designs he’d done in school along with some more recent drawings. Ethan was pretty good at sketching, but his true strength was coming up with ideas. His little lightbulb went off. He’d need to remember to say that. He’d researched the company online and knew the types of clients they served, and their past successful and not-so-successful campaigns. He was prepared, and as much as Mr. Parker tried tripping him up, he felt pretty confident by the end of the interview.
After a full hour and a half of questioning, Mr. Parker walked him out to the lobby. “Thank you for coming, Ethan. You should hear from me within a couple of weeks.
“Thank you so much, Mr. Parker. I really appreciate your time,” Ethan said, shaking the man’s hand. Mr. Parker—he couldn’t be much older than Ethan. And Ethan’s gaydar pinged furiously at him—but this was San Francisco.
“I hope the hotel is satisfactory?”
“It’s amazing. I had the best burger last night…” He stopped himself. He sounded twelve. “I mean, everything has been wonderful.”
Mr. Parker chuckled. “They are good, aren’t they? Have a safe trip home, Ethan.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Call me Brad.”
Call me Brad? That didn’t sound like a brush-off. Ethan knew he’d done well, but he wouldn’t get his hopes up.
A car pulled up to return Ethan to his hotel. Brad Parker must have arranged it. They certainly did everything first class at Ashton Lake. Ethan melted into the leather upholstery and finally relaxed after his exhausting interview. Just as he began to nod off, the driver announced, “We’re here, sir.”
“Oh—thank you,” Ethan said, yawning. He pulled out some money, but the driver put up his hand, stopping him.
“It’s already taken care of.”
Ethan strolled into the lobby, catching the front desk clerk, Cliff, watching him. Ethan waved and Cliff smiled back. He thought about the information he’d given him last night. Gay club—what was the name? No, he couldn’t. Should he? No one knows me here.
Back into his room, Ethan took off his suit and hung it in the closet, contemplating if he should go or not. When would he have another opportunity like this?
He showered, shaved, and dressed in black jeans and a blue button-down shirt while still arguing with himself. His adventurous side won in the end, and he went back to the lobby to ask the name of the club again.
“Cruze,” Cliff told him. “You’re going to love it. Best club in the district.” He flashed Ethan a grin and then leaned over his counter like he wanted to tell him something.
Ethan gave him a funny look.
“I don’t want to seem unprofessional or anything—but you are hot. Guys will pounce on you in that place.”
Ethan blushed again. Is that what he wanted? What would Mark say? He knew exactly what his friend would say: “Go for it, buddy, just don’t tell me the gory details.”
Butterflies infiltrated Ethan’s stomach as the cab pulled away from the curb, heading in the direction of the Castro district of San Francisco and Club Cruze.