The roses started in Edinburgh, twelve bright white blossoms in the middle of a cold and gloomy day.
Promotional tours were fantastic and terrible all at once. He got to meet a million people and talk about this movie that he loved and had had an amazing time making, but that was all he got to talk about. And even though this was his fifth feature film, and the last one had done pretty damn well, thank you very much, he was on his own this time because it was his film. Peter Yates was not just the lead (finally), his character pretty much carried the whole picture. It was his face on all the posters, his voice in all the radio and television ads and him in all the interviews. It was amazing and exhausting all at once.
Promotional tours that started with a fight with your boyfriend, on the other hand, were not so much fun. Peter hadn’t even talked to Jason since leaving for LAX and that had been a brusque “good bye,” no kiss, no smile, nothing to say that they would be okay. Just silence and the echoes of words Peter really wished neither of them had said. He loved Jason but sometimes it seemed like their differences were tearing them apart.
So really, the roses could not have come at a better time.
The bouquet was simple, just one dozen white roses and a one-word note: Innocence. It wasn’t even signed.
Peter shifted the vase on the table in the suite’s living room and let himself drift for a couple of minutes in the sweet thought that Jason had sent them, and then carefully locked that bit of romantic foolishness away. Jason didn’t do romance. He didn’t understand the point of roses and silly little love notes. They’d had more than one conversation about that over the three years they’d been dating.
“Why should I spend money on something that’s just going to die in a few days?” Jason had asked during one fight. “And you’ll just bitch about getting fat if I get you chocolates. So what’s the point?”
“What’s the point?” Peter had parroted back and even in his memory his voice sounded harsh and brittle. “The point is showing that you care. That you give a damn about us.”
“I do care.” Jason hadn’t raised his voice. He’d wrapped his arms around his chest and pulled in on himself. “And if you don’t know that…”
“If I don’t?” Peter had been on the edge of tears, but the quieter Jason got, the louder Peter seemed to talk. “What then? How the fuck am I supposed to know what you think? You won’t tell me. All you do is cut me off and shut me out.”
It had gone downhill from there.
The ridiculously handsome Jason Phillips — no really, ask Peter how pretty his boyfriend was — kept his thoughts to himself and locked his emotions away behind his hazel eyes and his work. Jason was a cameraman. That’s how’d they’d met, on a film set, trite and cliché but no less true because of it. Jason was the kind of guy who would get into any pit or swamp or climb any tree to get a shot. Peter had mapped each of the dozen scars Jason had gotten hunting for the best angle.
“Alligator,” Jason had said the morning after their first full night together.
“You’re shitting me.” Peter’s fingers had been tracing the jagged scar on Jason’s calf.
“Nope. I misjudged the distance and the fucker snapped at me. The safety team was right there, so it was just a scratch.”
Peter’d pressed a kiss to the raised skin and then crawled up Jason’s body, tasting each scar.
Most of the time Jason would hang back at a party or even when they had a couple of friends over, but ask him a question about cameras and he could go on for hours about the color of light, angles of view, and how to frame an image for the desired result. Peter had actually learned a shit-ton about filmmaking from listening to Jason and his friends talk shop.
The thing was though, Peter was pretty sure that Jason didn’t just like taking pictures and filming scenes, he liked the way the camera spoke for him. On Peter’s bitchier days, he would go so far as to say that it was the only way Jason talked. And for a man who had a degree in communications that simply made no sense. Of course, in Jason’s view, Peter was an actor not just because he liked to dress up and create characters, which he did, but because he loved to hear himself talk, which was also probably true. And Peter could admit that his tendency for the dramatic got him in trouble sometimes, but only because he couldn’t not talk about things, especially things that touched him deeply.
And now he could hear Jason in his head making a snarky comment about “touching him deeply”. Peter rolled his eyes and then looked back at the roses. He told himself it didn’t really matter who they were from. They were beautiful.
When Peter arrived at the studio for his photo shoot he was stunned to find a second bouquet of white roses waiting for him with a second note, also with one word: Loyalty. He buried his nose in the soft petals and took a deep breath. They smelled even better than the first bouquet.
“Got a new admirer?” Cynthia asked. She was his assistant, or taskmaster depending on which of them you spoke to.
Peter shrugged. Right at that moment he didn’t care where they had come from. Okay, he hoped, but he wasn’t going to say that, not even to She Who Ruled His Life.
“Maybe the studio loves you more than you know,” Cynthia said.
“I doubt it.” Peter snorted. They liked him all right, but the only thing he’d gotten from them besides a paycheck and a plane ticket was a fruit basket. “Wait, do you know something I don’t?” Then a horrible thought crossed Peter’s mind and he nearly dropped the roses. “Shit, please tell me there isn’t some creepy stalker following me around Europe.”
“No,” Cynthia said quickly. She placed a hand on his arm and squeezed gently. “No. There’s nothing. No one. You know I would tell you if something like that was going on.”
Peter took a deep breath and nodded. “Yeah.” She might be a drill sergeant where schedules were concerned, but she would never do anything, or let anything happen, that might hurt him. “Of course.”
“Besides,” Cynthia said, tugging the roses out of his hand. “Even if I knew about a certain set of roses being delivered to you on behalf of someone not creepy or scary, why would I tell you?”
She smirked when he whimpered and then pushed him toward the dressing room.
Smug wasn’t a good look on most people. Unfortunately for Peter, Cynthia had made an art form out of smug. Cynthia was a good foot shorter than Peter’s six foot two, but she filled up that space with more attitude than an alley cat tending to her fiefdom. And she cheated. He had learned early on not to push things when she got that smug look on her face. It always ended up costing him a new silk shirt. For her. He was pretty sure the one she was wearing at the moment was something he’d picked out. It was the right shade of blue for her pale skin.
After stripping down to his briefs, Peter let the stylists have their way with him. They strapped a brown leather kilt around his waist and tossed a Henley over his head that was a few shades lighter than his own smoke-green eyes. Then one of the guys brought out a fantastic pair of leather boots that went up over his knees to just under the kilt. As he took a few steps to settle into boots, the bottom edge of the kilt slid past the top of the boots and his skin got a tease of cool air.
“I get to keep these, right?” Peter asked as he took another turn around the dressing room.
“I’ll see what I can do,” one of the stylists replied with a wink.
A few minutes later, Peter was sitting in front of a mirror with lights shining in his eyes.
“Such dark circles,” the makeup artist murmured, dabbing concealer over the bags under Peter’s eyes.
“Sorry,” he mumbled.
He wanted to ask her what the heck she expected with his schedule. But he didn’t. He closed his eyes and let her hide the evidence of his lack of sleep and the smudge of pink across his checks that bordered on rosacea. He’d inherited his father’s Scottish-pale skin that pinked up under the slightest provocation and liked to freckle in an ounce of sun. On the plus, side he’d gotten his mother’s German bone structure and dark hair.
Peter yawned then opened his eyes.
“Sorry,” he said, and then when he saw the eye pencil in her hand, asked, “Can you give me a sec? I’ve had my contacts in since this morning. I just need a moment to put some drops in. I promise I’ll be careful.”
She pursed her lips. Peter did his best to look pitiful at her. It must have worked because the corner of her mouth quirked up in a half smile. She nodded and shook a finger at him. “Just don’t drip it all over yourself.”
“I won’t, promise.”
Peter tipped his head back and sighed as the drops cooled his eyes, then let her fuss with her tissues and her eye pencils.
When she was satisfied, she traded places with the hairstylist, who brushed and tugged on Peter’s shoulder- length hair long enough that Peter might have been worried he was going to be bald at the end, if he hadn’t been through the whole thing more times than he could count.
Then, thankfully, he was under the lights and in front of the camera. And if there was a moment, or two, when he found himself remembering a lazy afternoon with Jason behind the lens and himself lying naked in a patch of sunlight, he just used the emotion of that day to morph his face into the sultry smile the photographer wanted. Then he pushed all thoughts of Jason, pretty, pretty Jason with his amazing hands, to the back of his mind and got on with his job.
A third bouquet was waiting for him at the STV studios in time for his next interview. Its message read: Truth. Peter pulled the card close to his chest when Cynthia tried to lean in and read what it said.
“If you’re not going to share what you know,” Peter said, tossing a hint of petulance into his voice for good measure. “Then you don’t get to see what the card says.”
“Fine,” she said with grin. “But I still get to keep them.”
“Hey, no!” Peter cried when she pried the box of roses from his hand. “No fair!”
“Totally fair.” She pointed toward the waiting stagehand. “You have work to do.”
Peter’s head was so full of roses and the possibility that Jason had sent them that he nearly stumbled over a bunch of cables like the newest of newbies when he was led across the studio to the taping area.
He shook himself and tried to get his head back in the game while he waited in the shadows for his introduction. When he was ushered forward he made himself smile and step into the light and heat of the stage lamps. He clasped hands with the very good- looking morning anchorman, Scott somebody, smiled at Scott’s bubbly and petite co-anchor, and blessed the stylist from the photo studio for letting him wear the kilt for the rest of the day. Apparently kilts weren’t just good for airflow, but with the fuzzy sporran in front, they hid a multitude of wanton thoughts.
It was going to be a very long day.
When Peter made it back to his suite after that night’s screening, and the after-party with its massed wall of photographers, none of whom were his, Peter was so tired he could barely see straight. He patted each of the bouquets that Cynthia (bless her evil heart) had had couriered back to the hotel, traded his tux and too-tight shoes for a bathrobe and slippers, and made his way into a gloriously hot shower. Afterward, he crawled into bed only to find a single white rose waiting for him on his pillow.
This one had no note, which worried Peter for a moment, but then he realized that there was only one person Cynthia would help sneak anything into his hotel room. Maybe the lack of note was a message in and of itself.
One dozen yellow roses were waiting for Peter in the car at Charles de Gaulle airport two days, a dozen interviews, and no time to breathe later.
Cynthia looked as surprised as he felt when they slid across the black leather seats to find the rich golden flowers arranged for easy carrying, smelling like honey and sunshine and happiness. The note read: Joy and wiped away every ounce of exhaustion Peter had been feeling.
“Did you–” He stopped when Cynthia shook her head. “But you did help him with the others.”
She looked torn for a moment, then nodded. “Yes, but I promised I wouldn’t tell you.”
“Huh,” Peter said, a smile spreading across his lips.
He lifted the bouquet to his chest and buried his nose in the scent for the duration of the trip to the hotel.
A second bouquet was waiting for Peter at dinner that night, the perfect yellow roses glowing in the warm light of the restaurant. Cynthia said nothing about the roses as she introduced Peter to Emmanuelle, the senior editor for Paris Vogue, but she was grinning as she stepped away to let them talk.
Emmanuelle smiled at the roses, the only yellow bouquet in the restaurant, then shook his hand and waved him to a seat. She called a waiter over and ordered dinner for both of them in rapid-fire French.
Peter looked at the roses once more, feeling happiness sink into his bones, and then turned his attention to Emmanuelle. He smiled his best Hollywood smile and let her feed him foie gras and champagne and explain to him why she wanted to put him on the cover of her magazine.
The scent of honey filled their conversation throughout dinner and more than once Peter had to fight the urge to reach out and take the card nestled at the center of the bouquet.
“Oh, open it already,” Cynthia said, returning to his side when Emmanuelle excused herself to take a call.
Peter smiled and grabbed the card, then had to take a breath. The note was perfect. He turned it over to show Cynthia.
“Friendship,” he read, feeling his heart skip a beat. Cynthia smiled softly and patted him on the shoulder.
A single yellow rose, its petals just starting to open, was lying on Peter’s pillow when he got back to the hotel that night.
Kicking off his boots and draping his jacket over a chair, he pulled out his phone and hit call. The sleepy voice on the other end was one of the best sounds in the world.
“Hey,” Peter said, with a smile, holding the velvet- soft petals of the single yellow rose against his cheek.
“Miss you,” Jason replied.
“Me too,” Peter said quietly.
“I’m sorry I was such a jerk when you left.”
“It’s okay–” Peter started to say, but Jason cut him off.
“No, it’s not. You were right. I was scared. I’ve never done this before.”
“Done what?” Peter asked, a little confused. He’d never said Jason was scared.
“This. This thing we’re doing.”
Peter chuckled. “I’m pretty sure you’ve fucked before, I sure as hell didn’t teach you that thing with your–”
“Jerk,” Jason said. “No. This.” The word was laden with meaning, but Peter was afraid to assume what Jason meant by it, so he waited. There was a rustle of sheets and then Jason went on. “It’s never really been anything more than that for me. Just fucking around and having fun. But when you were getting ready –” Jason stopped, and Peter held his breath. “It sucked. I knew this kind of separation was part of it when we met. Hell, I’m off on location almost as often as you are, but — I don’t know. I just couldn’t deal with you packing, with knowing that you were going to be gone and I was gonna be stuck here without you.”
“It’s not forever. It’s not even as long as the last movie,” Peter whispered.
“I know,” Jason huffed. Then after a moment, that might have contained a sniffle said, “Can we just leave it at: I miss you?”
Peter smiled against the phone. “Yeah, we can do that. I miss you, too.”
Peter turned back to toward the studio door at the sound of his name. “Yes?”
Thorsten, the cute boy who’d been his studio liaison for his interview on Berlin Morning TV, came running out to meet him with a box in his arms. “These are for you. There was a… a mix up. They only now got brought to us. To give to you.”
The box looked suspiciously familiar. Sure enough, inside were a dozen roses, pale pink this time, with a note that read: Happiness.
At his side, Jungen, Peter’s interpreter for the day, tipped his head toward the box with a raised eyebrow. Peter showed him and Cynthia the card. Jungen’s eyes widened just a bit, which Peter was learning meant the stoic Berliner was impressed.
“Nice,” Cynthia said with a smug grin.
“Thank you,” Peter said to Thorsten. “Thank you very much.”
“Gern geschehen,” Thorsten replied. He nodded to the roses. “They are beautiful.”
Peter grinned. He imagined that he looked like the biggest lunatic in the world but he really didn’t care. “Yeah. Yeah they are.”
A second box of roses in a slightly darker shade of pink with a note that read Admiration was handed to him when he arrived at the next television studio on his schedule.
The makeup woman, Helga Von-someone, smiled indulgently when he refused to put the box down while she worked on him. Cynthia had made him leave the first one in the car. Then Helga damn near cooed at him as Jungen explained who they were from.
When they were ready for him, Cynthia patted him on the shoulder, took the box from him and shooed him into his interview. When he pouted at her, she mouthed “later” at him and sent him on his way.
When Peter was met at RTLII studios by yet another cute young thing holding yet another box of pink roses, he burst out laughing. He had three more interviews to do that day. If Jason had managed to arrange for a box of pink roses at each station, his hotel room was going to look like a cotton candy machine had exploded in it.
“Another one?” Cynthia asked, her eyes wide and deeply amused.
Peter grinned. “Yep.
“I see.” She nodded. “You’re keeping him, right?” Peter laughed all the way into the studio.
By the end of the day, Peter did indeed have six boxes of pink roses in shades varying from so pale they were nearly white to one bouquet so dark that was probably called “Voluptuous” in some catalog somewhere. The notes inside the other three had included the words Gratitude, Elegance, and Grace. He shuffled them into his wallet with the other notes, each in order alongside a pressed petal from the bouquet they’d arrived with. Yes, Peter Yates was a sap and he really didn’t care who knew it.
His room looked and smelled amazing. It was a good thing he was going to be in Berlin for a few more days so he would get a chance to watch them all open.
Sliding into bed, Peter rested his head next to the single pink rose that had been waiting for him and called Jason.
“You are crazy,” he said as the line connected.
“Hello to you, too.” Jason laughed. “I take it the pink ones arrived?”
“All six dozen of them!” Peter rolled over to look at the vases on the dresser. “They’re beautiful. And you are… I don’t even know.”
Peter stopped breathing. “Are you? Really?
“Yeah. I think I am,” Jason said softly then ruined the moment by saying, “Would I really do all this fucking shit, when you’re the big old romantic in this relationship, if I weren’t?”
Peter chuckled. “Probably not.”
“All right then.”
Peter had already been in Italy for five days by the time the roses arrived.
He’d be lying if he said he hadn’t been a little disappointed when there were no roses waiting for him at the hotel in Rome or in Milan or at any of the television stations or photo shoots in either city. He had not pestered the concierge at either hotel about his missing roses, no matter what Cynthia accused him of. And when Jason didn’t mention roses or problems with deliveries when they talked each night, Peter told his inner teenager to stop whimpering and go to bed. Peter figured the romance part of whatever Jason was up to was over and went on with work.
He should have known better.
Jason was sneaky. Oh, he couldn’t play poker worth a damn, had a terrible poker face and sucked at lying, but the man could plot with the best of them. Plus he had Luigi and the rest of his film buddies to help him, and they had a whole studio at their disposal.
Peter had two days off in Venice before another grueling round of interviews and no idea what to do with his time.
He’d gone shopping in Milan. Of course he had. He’d dragged Cynthia into every clothier they’d had time for between interviews. It had been a short, but sweet, assault on the Italian fashion houses and it had been so worth it. Peter had had more than a few things sent home afterwards, including a silk and linen blend suit that was going to look stunning on Jason.
He had tried to do some sightseeing in Rome, but the schedule there had been so hellish it was more like waving at the Coliseum as they drove past on the way back to his hotel.
And now he was in Venice and his life had suddenly ground to a halt.
After a day of nothing but sleep, room service, and really strange Italian television, boredom set in. So the next morning Peter decided to go for a walk. No plan, no specific destination, just walk and see the city however it wanted him to see it.
At first it was unnerving. He’d spent so much of his time lately in the company of other people, being taken from place to place and not having to worry about where he was, that choosing to just wander without a plan freaked him out a little. But it was also refreshing. No one knew who he was here, or if they did, they didn’t care. So he could walk without someone snapping a picture of him every block or two. He could slouch and drag his fingers through his hair and not worry about how badly he was messing it up.
He stayed away from the busy campi and instead ducked down alleyways and poked into hole-in-the-wall shops far from the hawking gondoliers. In one shop that apparently only made kaleidoscopes, he discovered a pewter and stained glass one the length of his arm. When he raised it to the light and looked through it, there wasn’t just the riot of color he had been expecting but a bunch of colored shapes as well. He grinned and bought it, knowing Jason would love it.
In another shop down a side street off yet another campo whose name he couldn’t pronounce, Peter found a woman who painted images of the city on silk scarves.
“My mother was a painter,” she told him in heavily accented English. “She used to take me with her to classes and out walking through the city. She would point to the water of the canals and tell me what colors to mix to get just the right shade.”
She pointed to a scarf in the window, two of its edges pinned up so that it fluttered softly in the breeze. “I painted that one on the anniversary of her death.” She paused, then after a moment smiled. “It felt right, like a gift to both of us.”
Peter looked through all of the scarves, listening to the woman’s stories and finally picked one for his mother and one for Jason’s mom, and then doubled back to get a third for Cynthia.
In a bookshop purported to have the largest collection of ancient master works in Italy, he discovered a libretto of The Barber of Seville that he picked up for his father, the opera buff. Then he found a handmade journal for his little sister who wanted to be a writer. This week. She was thirteen, so he tended to cut her a little slack and get her things to encourage her passions.
When his feet started to bitch and his stomach added its opinions, he stopped in a café behind an old church that had the best polenta and shrimp dish he had ever eaten and then just sat there for hours watching the world walk by.
Peter was tired when he let himself into his hotel suite, but in the best way. He felt renewed. Like he’d filled up some part of himself that the demands of the promo tour had slowly siphoned away. And there, waiting for him, in delicately cut crystal vases, were five dozen orange roses that glowed like the sunset streaming in through his window.
He gasped, surprised and awed all at once.
“Oh, Jason,” he whispered, and then one by one, he read the cards nestled within each bouquet. One said Enthusiasm, another read Attraction, the next, Excitement, then Desire and Passion.
Peter turned his head to look into the bedroom, and there was a single orange rose resting on his pillow.
When Peter stumbled into his hotel suite at the end of his first night in Norway, it was probably only a little past what normal people considered dinnertime; for him, it was three days past the Zombie Apocalypse and counting. He’d missed lunch, barely managed breakfast, and had done three interviews and a thing with the mayor of Oslo that Cynthia was going to have to explain to him in the morning. All he wanted at the moment was some form of food, a bottle of anything alcoholic — he really, really wasn’t picky what kind — a steaming hot bath, and his boyfriend. Maybe not in that order. For the last one, though, he was going to have to settle for a text message because Jason was on a plane heading to a location shoot somewhere not in Norway. And while Peter was usually all for Jason getting his cameraman on, at that moment he was tired enough to be bitchy and to want the world to stop revolving around him long enough to give him what he really wanted. Damn it.
He was so tired he missed the extra suitcase sitting beside his in the hall closet, thought nothing of the black leather jacket with its chains and Biosphere 2 patch on the arm, and just smiled at the work boots stacked neatly alongside his flip flops.
It was the smell that did it. Sweet and musky all at once, like honeysuckle, only stronger, richer, and more amazing.
Peter followed the scent into the bedroom in a daze.
There were bouquets of purple roses on each bedside table, several on the dresser, and more on the desk. But more important than all of that was Jason, Peter’s Jason, with his dark smiling eyes framed by the long brown hair that had seduced Peter as much as Jason’s laugh. And like the perfect gift, Jason was sitting on the bed, surrounded by hundreds of purple petals, and grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
“You’re here,” Peter whispered
“Here. In my hotel room.”
“Yep.” Jason pushed himself up onto his knees and made his way across the bed toward Peter. “And yep.”
Jason laughed. “It’s called an airplane? They have them nowadays.”
Peter blinked and then laughed. “Jerk.
“You’re here.” Peter sighed and wrapped his arms around Jason’s waist.
“I’m here,” Jason agreed.
“But you were supposed to be in Peru. Or Canada. Or–“
Jason grinned. “I was. Now I’m not.”
When Peter glared at him, Jason relented. “Brandon called. Some problem at the site, in Montana.” Jason smirked. “They’re looking for a new location, hoping to start sometime next week. I told them I’d have to get back to them about my availability.”
“You…” Peter stumbled over his words, completely stunned. “You told them. But you never…”
“I do sometimes,” Jason said, then tugged his way out of Peter’s arms to bend down behind him. When he sat back up, he was holding a single purple rose.
“Purple?” Peter asked with a smile, slipping his arms back around Jason.
“Red is so boring. Been there, done that.”
Peter snorted. “When?”
“Whatever.” Jason waved the rose in front of Peter.
“Do you know what purple roses mean?” 200
Peter shook his head, his cheeks aching with a real smile, not the one he’d spent the last few weeks showing to the fans and the press. He wanted to wrap himself in Jason forever and never let him go.
“Love at first sight,” Jason said softly, handing the rose to Peter.
Peter let out a soft sigh that was part “holy shit” and part “I just stopped breathing”. He took the rose in one hand, keeping a firm grip on Jason with the other. “Jason–”
“I’m sorry I have such a hard time saying it, but–”
Peter tried to tell him it was okay, that he really didn’t care if Jason never said another word, but Jason waved him to silence.
“But.” Jason stressed the word and tried to look stern. “I fall in love with you every time I see you.” Jason edged in closer, pushing his body flush with Peter’s. “Over and over again.”
Peter tightened his hold on Jason and whispered, “Tell me more.”
“I love the way you smile and the way you scrunch up your nose when you first wake up in the morning.”
Peter pulled back. “I don’t–“
“Who’s telling this story?
“Fine.” Peter pushed a hand through Jason’s hair, loving the feel of Jason against his skin.
“I love that you love me,” Jason whispered, his lips brushing Peter’s. “I do.”
“I know,” Jason said. “I love you too.”
Peter let go, let himself kiss Jason the way he had been dreaming of doing since he stepped on the plane in LAX weeks ago. Jason melted into his arms, his lips opening against Peter’s with a sigh. As far as Peter was concerned, life was just about perfect in that moment.
~ The End ~