Okay, so this isn’t a flash fiction piece. It’s a short story. Normally, I try to keep my Friday Flash Fics pieces around or below 1,500 words or so, but this story just kept going. The picture reminded me of an idea I’d once tried to work into a novella, about a house existing outside of time and space, and although that novella didn’t work, the idea of it stayed with me. In fact, parts of that idea turned into Cole’s gift in Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks in the sense of how Cole teleports from doorway to doorway. So, even though this is Friday Flash Fics, here’s a not-flash story for your enjoyment.
9 a.m. Monday, Sharp
“What are you doing in here, Junior?”
Porter turned, and threw a poker-face in place. False smile ready for his mother, he raised a glass. “Water.”
The line between her eyebrows made it clear she hadn’t quite believed him, but she nodded. “Well, come on through.” She gestured at the open door, then stepped back out to the reception.
Porter nodded, took a fortifying breath, and stepped through the door.
The stream of late afternoon sunlight was warm against his skin, and Porter grinned up into the air.
“Oh, thank you,” he said.
He was back at the house.
Porter turned, and the smile wasn’t at all a poker-face this time. Further down the balcony, and oddly enough, also wearing a suit, Dorian leaned against the railing.
“My sister’s wedding,” Porter said. “A.K.A. the second coming of Christ.”
Dorian’s laugh always delighted Porter. The British man often seemed quite reserved and quiet, but when he laughed, it was deeper than his usual soft-spoken voice. It suited him to laugh. It was unfortunate how rare he did so.
The first time, Porter had been heading to work. He’d pushed open the office door, trying not to dwell on yet another day doing something he barely cared about just to pay the rent and keep the lights on and then he was standing in a gorgeous library.
Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves built into every wall and stuffed with books greeted him. Between the stacks on one wall, a series of narrow windows provided daggers of light that cut across the thick rugs on the floor. Three separate seating areas were arranged in a crescent, and a pair of double doors stood at the opposite end of the room from him.
Just like the ones that closed behind him with a soft click.
Porter turned, mouth open, his backpack with his lunch in one hand, and his half-finished to-go Timmies in the other.
“What the fuck?” he said. It sort of echoed in the room. It was that big.
Had he made a wrong turn? The thought came unbidden, and he laughed out loud because how did you make a wrong turn walking through a clothing store to the employee area?
“I’m losing my mind. This is officially it. Small town Ontario has turned me mental.”
He waited for something to happen.
After some amount of time he was never clear on, he took another step into the room. His heart thudded. “Hello?” he called.
He turned around, biting his lip.
He had to slide his backpack back on his shoulder to open the large double doors, but beyond the library there was a large entrance hall, complete with a curling Y-shaped staircase and white marble floor.
“Where the fuck am I?” Porter said, stepping through.
“Excuse me?” Jan said.
Porter blinked. Jan eyed him from the bank of lockers, where she was putting her coat away.
He was in the employee office.
“Sorry,” Porter said, through numb lips.
Jan laughed. She was fun to work with, one of the good keyholders. “I’m kidding. You’re at work, just like me, and I totally get asking why the fuck we do this.”
Porter managed a nod, and tried not to think about the strange library the rest of the day.
Dorian pulled off his glasses long enough to clean them on the edge of his tie, then put them back on. “I’m at a wedding, too.”
“But not for a sister,” Porter said.
Dorian shook his head, another smile tugging at the corner of his lips. Dorian didn’t reveal much about himself, but Porter knew that much: only child.
“No. A second-cousin, I think. Probably removed.” He shrugged. “I’d rather wish I could have been removed, really.”
“Well, at least you get to look wonderful in your suit.”
Dorian had a slow blush. It started at his neck, and eventually his ears would turn pink, but it usually took Porter two or three compliments to get there.
“Thank you,” Dorian said, then chuckled. “Charmer.”
“You are charming,” Porter said.
Dorian laughed again. The blush was spreading.
“Seriously, though, it’s a gorgeous suit,” Porter said.
“Thank you.” And there it was. Ear Tip Level Pink had been achieved. “I like yours as well.”
“Now you’re just being kind. This is what we call Ontario Chic.” Porter held out his arms. “By which I mean, bought off-the-rack at as small an expense as possible, and will be used for mandatory Church until it falls apart, Amen.”
“That’s a little bitter for someone so young, no?” Dorian said.
“I’m bitter before my time,” Porter said. “Besides, you’ve like a decade older than me, right? A decade is nothing.”
“Well, I like the grey,” Dorian said, dodging as usual. “It suits your eyes.”
Porter winked. “Now who’s the charmer?”
Even the strangest things can become routine with enough repetition.
After a few more trips, Porter had found himself in a retro 50’s kitchen, a beautiful master bedroom done in a style he didn’t know at all, and a dining room lit only by candlelight.
If there were rules to his comings and goings, he didn’t quite know what they were, but there were a few things he’d figured out.
One: it was always doors. He had to be going through a door to get here, and when he went through a door here, he’d go back where he was.
Two: it was a break. No time ever passed back in the real world while he was here in the house. When he’d finally thought to check his phone—no signal, of course—that had been made crystal clear: the time never changed. He couldn’t get it to do anything, either.
Three: it happened more often when he was upset.
Those three rules had him thinking that maybe, just maybe, this house was some kind of retreat, but that made things all the more complicated: who made the place? Why were the rooms so different in style? How come it was always night in the dining room, and always day in the bedroom? Also, who restocked the fridge and cupboards in the kitchen with exactly the same items every single time?
Also, who knew Coke from a glass bottle tasted that much better?
He started carrying his backpack everywhere with him, with snacks and a book. Sometimes, even if he ended up in the en-suite bathroom, he’d just stop whatever he was doing and let himself relax for a while.
He’d taken a bath the other day and finished an entire novel. The water never cooled off.
No, Porter didn’t know what this place was, but he did know one thing.
He loved taking the breaks.
“You have me outclassed in flattery,” Dorian said. “And you know it.”
Porter grinned. God this was fun. It was so much more fun than what awaited him when he crossed the threshold again.
As though Dorian could hear Porter’s thoughts, he turned to eye the open doors that led back into the bedroom of their refuge.
“I was trying to work up the nerve to head back before you showed up.”
“Feel free to hang out with me. I’m intend to wait until the sun goes down.” Porter nodded at the horizon.
Time didn’t pass here. It had taken them a while to figure that out. Wherever—and whatever—this house was, it didn’t seem to completely exist in a real sense. Take the balcony they were sitting on. They could look out over the late afternoon view for hours. And had done, separately and together on a few different occasions. But the sun would never dip any lower. The lawn below gave way to trees, and they could hear water beyond, but there were no other buildings in view no matter which way they craned their necks.
But if they looked out the window from the en-suite, attached to the bedroom on the other side of the glass paned doors, the view was of snow-covered mountains in a bright mid-day. That both windows faced the same direction didn’t mean anything, apparently. In fact, if Porter leaned over the balcony railing a bit, he could see into the en-suite window, and it wasn’t the same bathroom.
From the inside, the bathroom looked like something from the 1950’s.
From the outside, it matched the décor of the bedroom, something closer to Art Nouveau, which Dorian had said meant it might be anything from the 1890’s to the early 1900’s, or just someone’s retro idea of decoration.
Either way, it was gorgeous, and like everything else in this house, a perfect escape.
He’d intended to get himself a glass of water before bed, but instead he was back in the library.
Porter smiled, and went to check on his experiment. The last time he’d been here, he’d left a book on the shelf, a Stephen King he’d finished reading.
It was still there.
He’d wondered about how the house seemed to reset itself. The kitchen always restocked things, as did the three bathrooms he’d seen thus far—the same towel in the en-suite was always fluffy and dry on the rack even if he’d used it on a previous visit—but he’d never tried adding to what was there.
He smiled. His odd little paperback looked a bit out of place among the mostly hardcover titles—none of which seemed to have been published anywhere beyond 1980—but he left it there. He’d bring more as he finished them, he decided. This place could use a bit of an update.
Tired enough to sleep, Porter still wondered if he should hang out here for a while anyway. He loved this room, and the reading couches were comfy. There were a couple of throw-blankets, too, so even though he was walking around barefoot in pajama bottoms, he could keep warm. Maybe he could read for a while.
He eyed the shelves, considering, but the drowsiness made it clear it wouldn’t be long before he fell asleep.
Strange. He hadn’t really needed this time-out. Usually, this place only seemed to let him in when he was on his last nerve, or just wanted somewhere he could go be himself. A break from his family and their “when are you going to meet a nice girl?” questions.
But he’d had a good day. Work had been pleasant, and maybe that cute guy at the coffee place in the mall had winked at him. That had been good.
Terrifying, but good.
He sighed. He’d go back to his bedroom. He opened the double doors and found himself face to face with a man in glasses.
They both screamed.
“How long have you been coming here?” Porter asked.
Dorian regarded him. Behind his glasses, his eyes shifted in quick calculation. “Half a year,” he said. “Maybe seven months, if you could my first tumble through the kitchen, but I panicked and ran right back out, so it barely counts.”
Porter could relate. “My first room was the library. I was heading in to work, pushed open my office door, and…”
Dorian smiled. “And there you were. Or here you were, as it were.”
“I thought I’d lost my mind.”
Dorian nodded. They regarded each other in a quiet Porter found comfortable. Too comfortable. Why was it so easy to be with a man he’d probably never see outside of a house neither of them were even sure ever existed?
It didn’t hurt that Dorian had that British calm thing going on. He was older than Porter, which might have been part of it, but it was more than that. There was something there, something Dorian had endured, Porter thought, that made him seem all the more mature.
Or, fuck, it could just be the accent. Guy sounded like Mr. Darcy for crying out loud. How was a guy like Porter supposed to resist Mr. Fucking Darcy?
As for the decade or so between them? Well. Porter didn’t care. What was a decade, really? Nothing.
Porter stopped having baths in the en-suite after bumping into the glasses guy the first time. Nothing had come of it. Once they’d both screamed in surprise, the guy had started to ask him a question, “Is this—?” but he’d stepped forward when he was talking and then he was just gone. He’d crossed the threshold to the library and vanished.
Porter assumed the man had gone back to his own life, but there was no telling really. Maybe he’d been a ghost. It made as much sense as anything else.
But no baths. He didn’t need a man in glasses stumbling onto him while he was naked in the bathtub.
Even if he was cute.
Like, really cute.
Porter had napped on one of the beds in what he thought of as “the daughter’s room.” Soft salmon walls, a large bed covered in paler pink quilt and fluffy white pillows, and a kickass dollhouse were particular highlights of the room. It had been a welcome respite after an unwelcome visit from his father.
“It’s been long enough. You’re not finding a job in your field. Come work for me.”
The argument hadn’t gone well—Porter had tried so hard to be clear there was no insult in not wanting to work for his father’s farming supply company, but his father had taken complete offence—and it had ended with his father pointing out he’d inherit the business and someday he could pass it down to his own son.
He sat up in the bed, feeling somewhat better for the nap. He knew when he opened the bedroom door and left his father would still be in his apartment, waiting to continue the conversation, but a good hour of cooling off had helped.
The door opened, and the man in glasses walked in. He wasn’t actually wearing his glasses, he was carrying them, and wiping them with a little cloth. He paused, then let out a deep, long, exhale of what sounded like relief.
“Oh, brilliant,” he said. He had an accent. He also hadn’t noticed Porter yet.
“Uh, hi,” Porter said.
The man jumped, and put his glasses back on.
“Sorry,” Porter said.
They stared at each other.
“Is this your house?” the man asked.
Porter shook his head. “No.” He wished he wasn’t sitting on the bed. “Do you… Do you just randomly come and go, too?”
The man nodded slowly. He looked really smart, and it struck Porter that he was maybe in his mid-thirties, late-thirties at most?
“Well,” Porter slid off the bed. The man tensed, so Porter slowly stuck out his hand. “Hi. I’m Porter.”
It took the man a second to take it. “Dorian,” he said.
“Well, Dorian. I have to go finish a fight with my father, so if you need a nap, the bed’s all yours.”
“What is it?” Dorian said, eyeing him.
Whoops. Busted. “Nothing. Sorry.”
That earned him a brief frown, but Dorian pushed off from the balcony and turned his face to the sun again. “It’s raining where I am.”
“We have snow,” Porter said.
Dorian closed his eyes. Then, with a sigh of pure frustration, he yanked on his tie, loosening it almost savagely. He gulped in air, a succession of breaths each louder than the rest.
Porter moved before he could think, taking Dorian’s shoulder and squeezing. “Hey.”
“I’m sorry,” Dorian said, eyes still squeezed shut. “It’s been a bloody awful day.”
He was shaking beneath Porter’s hand.
Fuck it, Porter thought, and did something he’d wanted to do since they’d met in this strange house. He pulled Dorian in and hugged him.
Dorian stiffened for just a moment’s worth of resistance, then pressed his face against Porter’s shoulder. Dorian was a smaller man, but Porter thought they fit together just perfectly. He squeezed, and Porter felt him shake in his arms.
He let him cry it out.
“Oh, I fucking hate small town Ontario.”
Dorian was sitting on one of the library chairs. He had a briefcase beside him, and his tie was rolled up on top of it. His dress shoes were tucked beside the couch, and he had one of the blankets over his lap. The top buttons of his shirt were undone, too, which Porter couldn’t help but notice.
Nice chest hair.
“Hi,” Dorian said, putting the book down. He nodded at the name-tag Porter was wearing. “Tough day at the shop?”
“It’s not me,” Porter said. “It’s this guy I know. Well, kind of know. He works at the coffee shop in the mall. He’s younger than me, but he’s always been nice and I was pretty sure he was gay, too—he’s just got a kind of look, you know?”
“Anyway, I was in line for coffee, and this asshole was mocking him. Homophobic jackass. The kid just looked so miserable.” Porter paced the length of the rug. “I wanted to say something. I should have said something. But the guy was huge, and he wasn’t alone, and I just…” He clenched his fists and screamed at the ceiling.
“Hey,” Dorian said.
Porter looked at him.
“I’m reading the book you left me,” Dorian said, holding up the book in question. On the cover, a pair of handsome men stood back to back. “It’s funny.”
“It’s one of my favorites,” Porter said.
“I know.” He patted the couch. Porter sat down beside him.
They sat in silence for a while.
“I’m sorry,” Dorian said. “It really sucks when you’ve got wankers like that. For what it’s worth, if you don’t feel safe, you’re smart to trust your instincts.”
Porter blew out a breath. “Thanks.”
“Check in with the kid,” Dorian said. “Make sure he knows you’re on his side. And maybe talk to the manager there?”
Porter rolled his head on the back of the couch, looking at him. “You’re smart. Anyone ever tell you that?”
“I’m just older.”
“You’re not that much older.”
Dorian started to blush.
“I’m sorry,” Dorian said, pulling back from him.
“Don’t be. We both know how this place works.”
Dorian snorted. “Do we?”
“When we need a break,” Porter said. “A moment to catch our breath.” He reached out and started fixing Dorian’s tie. He told himself it wasn’t to keep him as close as possible.
“She’s marrying my best mate,” Dorian said.
It took a second for Porter to catch up. “Oh. Your cousin.”
“Right.” Dorian swallowed. “He was… He and I…” He took another deep breath, and Porter finished fixing his tie, patting it once. “It was a long time ago, and I thought I’d be okay, but…”
“Oh,” Porter said, getting it. “Gotcha.”
Dorian rolled his eyes. “I’m a bloody fool. He never felt that way about me. I was just…” He paused, obviously trying to think of the right words. “Convenient.”
Ouch. Porter looked at him. “His loss.”
Dorian smiled. “Charmer.”
“Hey, if you weren’t thousands of miles away…”
“Or old enough to be—”
“I’m twenty-six,” Porter said.
“—your uncle?” Dorian finished with a little chuckle.
“You could tell me where you are,” Porter said.
Dorian took another shaky breath. “I’m at a wedding.”
Porter tried not to let the hurt show, but Dorian flinched. Poker wasn’t Porter’s game.
“I’m sorry,” they both said, then grinned at each other.
“By all means,” Porter said. “You first.”
“This?” Dorian said, gesturing to the balcony, but Porter got that he was also including everything. The house. Their strange trips outside of time. Their times together. “This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I don’t want to…” He bit his lip.
“You don’t want to ruin it,” Porter said.
Dorian sighed. Then nodded.
“I’m sorry,” Porter said. “I don’t mean to push. I really don’t. I just… you’re right. This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, too. And that’s not just because the bar is set at freaking Oneida, Ontario, where the men are men and the livestock is nervous.”
Dorian laughed. God, he loved that laugh.
“Anyway,” Porter said. “You’re right. This is…” He waved a hand. “This is magic.”
“It is,” Dorian said, and then pulled out a small folded booklet from the inside pocket of his suit. “And magic is worth the risk.” He pulled out a pen from his other pocket and flipped the booklet over and started writing. He handed the booklet to Porter a moment later.
Porter glanced at it. It was a wedding program. He turned it over, and stared.
Dorian Whitmore. It was followed by an address. And an e-mail. And a phone number.
Porter looked up. His eyes were filling with tears. “Really?”
Porter looked back down, flipping the invitation over again. “You crushed out on a guy named Angus MacLeod? Seriously? I assume he wears a kilt and carries a battle-axe?”
Dorian narrowed his eyes.
Porter grinned, and looked back down at the program.
His grin vanished. “Oh fuck.”
“What’s wrong?” Dorian said.
“Oh! I’m sorry!” Dorian blurted, stepping into the en-suite from wherever he’d been. He averted his eyes and went pink to the tips of his ears in record time. He turned his back, facing the wall.
Porter scrambled to gather some of the remaining bubbles. The one time he decided to risk a bubble-bath, and boom, there was Dorian. In boxers. In only boxers. He didn’t even have his glasses on.
“Uh, could you pass me the towel?”
Dorian fumbled to do so without looking.
Porter yanked the plug and did his best to dry off as fast as he could. By the time he was dry and in his pyjama bottoms and a T-shirt, the bath was gurgling as the last of the water hit the drain.
“It’s okay now.”
“I’m sorry,” Dorian said, finally glancing over his shoulder before turning.
He really did have a nice chest. And nice chest hair. Porter forced his gaze back up to Dorian’s face.
“I shouldn’t have risked the bath. I was just really sore. Inventory. And I don’t have a bath in my apartment, just a shower, so…” He shrugged.
“No, no,” Dorian said. “It’s… okay. I didn’t see anything.”
Porter grinned. “Well that’s disappointing.”
Dorian rolled his eyes. “My glasses are beside the bed. I can barely see past my own nose.”
“Bad dreams,” Dorian said. He looked down at his bare feet. Porter noticed he had nice legs, too. He was a compact man, but those were some calves.
“Want to talk about it?”
Dorian blew out a breath. “If I say no will you let it drop?”
Porter just raised one eyebrow, and glasses or not, Dorian obviously saw enough to read him.
“Right. Didn’t think so.”
They talked for at least an hour, as they often did, their backs against the wall, side by side. By the time Dorian admitted he felt better and thought he could sleep again, Porter realized the exhaustion of inventory—and the crushing feeling he was doing nothing with his life—had also passed.
“You’re good for me,” Porter said. “Did I mention I’ve been saving money? I think I’m going to maybe go on a real vacation. Maybe somewhere overseas.”
Hint, hint. Porter waited.
“A vacation sounds great. You should head somewhere warm.”
“We’re good for each other,” Dorian said, then glanced down again, as though he’d said something he shouldn’t have. Then he cleared his throat. “And this house, of course. Whatever the bloody hell this house is.”
“Right,” Porter said. “This house is good, too.”
“February 17th, 2029,” Porter said, pointing at the date on the wedding program. “Twenty twenty-nine?”
Dorian frowned, looking at the folded paper. “Yes.”
“That’s…” Porter had to lean against the railing. He couldn’t breathe.
“Two thousand and nineteen,” Porter said. His voice shook.
Dorian shook his head. “Pardon?”
Porter tapped his own chest four times. “Two. Thousand. And. Nineteen.”
He saw the moment Dorian got it. The widening of his eyes behind the lenses. His mouth dropped open, and his lips moved, but there were no sounds.
“You’re in the past?” Dorian said.
“No, you’re in the future,” Porter snapped, annoyed.
They stared at each other.
Then Dorian smiled. Actually smiled.
“This isn’t funny!” Porter said.
“Well,” Dorian said, raising one hand. “No. But…” His lips wiggled, and it was obvious he was fighting off a laugh despite this being very not funny.
“But?” Porter said.
“Thirty-six,” Dorian said. “You’ll be thirty-six.” And now he did laugh. “I mean, are. Where I am. When I am.”
Porter stared at him. “Seriously? You’re still stuck on the age thing? We’re bending time and space here, and you’re worried about how old I am?”
Dorian shrugged. “I can’t help it. My lot would have a field day if I dated someone fifteen years younger than me.”
“Your lot?” Porter blinked. “Who are your lot?”
“The tabloids, the business news… Everyone.” Dorian sighed. “I’m Dorian Whitmore. As in Whitmore Global.”
Porter stared. “Okay.”
It was Dorian’s turn to blink. “You don’t know what that is, do you?”
“It’s Europe’s largest…” He stopped. “Oh. Oh, bloody hell.”
“Whitmore Global. It’s nothing. It’s barely a start-up. Because as far as you’re concerned, it’s twenty-bloody-nineteen. Holy shite.”
“See?” Porter felt a little bit of triumph. “Bending time and space.”
“Wait,” Dorian held up a hand. “Wait. Porter what?”
“Porter is my last name. My first name is—”
“Joseph.” They said it in unison.
Porter leaned back. “Uh. Yeah. But I’m a junior, so everyone calls me Porter because Joseph Porter is my dad.”
“No, Joseph Porter was one of the first investors in my start up. He got in at the ground floor, but we’ve never met. Not in the last decade. Even when I reached out, there was always a reason he couldn’t… He said he was too busy, or… God, he never took a buyout, either. He… Oh my God. And Just last week, he set up a meeting for next Monday, nine a.m. He…” Dorian stared at him. “You…” Dorian’s smile grew. “Holy bloody shite.”
Porter gaped while it all sunk in. And then it really sunk in. He scowled. “This fucking sucks.”
Dorian leaned back. “What?”
“From my point of view, mister, your Monday nine a.m. is a fucking decade away!”
“Oh,” Dorian said, deflating a bit. “Oh. Right. I’m sorry.”
They sat in silence for a moment.
“How much did I invest?” Porter said, finally.
“In Canadian dollars? Probably five or six thousand?” Dorian frowned. “I’m not certain on the exchange at the time. It was a lot back then for my company. And the return on investment would have been… Well.” He blew out a breath. “You’ve been… I mean, you’ll be very comfortable for most of that decade. Two years in, we had our first offer.”
Porter nodded. Six grand? His entire vacation savings and then some. If he sold his car, that might push him over the top. He could take the bus to work. Two years more at the store…
And then eight years of waiting. Could he do that?
“You don’t have to wait for me,” Dorian said.
Porter smiled. Dorian was doing that mind-reading thing again.
“Well,” Porter said. “I guess you’ll find out on Monday.”
Dorian swallowed. “I suppose so.”
Porter leaned in pressed his forehead to the shorter man’s own. Thing was? He knew himself pretty well. Making an appointment to meet Dorian wasn’t something he’d do to the man after seeing him come apart today. Not if Porter weren’t available.
“What?” Dorian said.
“It just struck me how many times I’ve said a decade is nothing. This is sort of like karma, right? I’m paying for my hubris?”
Dorian laughed, rose on his toes, and kissed him. A soft pressing of lips, the kiss ended far too soon for Porter’s taste, and he found himself holding Dorian’s shoulders and leaning against him again.
“See you Monday,” Dorian said.
“Ten years, nine a.m., sharp,” Porter agreed.