Companion Required by Brian Lancaster
When the final candidate left at four-thirty—bisexual Leon, who had been drawn to the idea of a cruise but had not realised the holiday entailed long-haul flights and had admitted to suffering from an acute fear of flying—Kennedy sat back and mulled over who he should select. As shortlists went, this one could easily be labelled concise. Two choices actually, between the twenty-three-year-old, quiet but good-looking and gym-fit blond, Francis, who spoke very little but looked cute and would fit the bill fine, and the twenty-one-year-old ginger Ed Sheeran lookalike called Steven—’call me Ven’. Unlike Ed, he came across as talentless, camp and over-groomed, but could chat incessantly about media fluff and other mindless trivia, and had an infectious if slightly immature sense of humour. So the choice fell to two very different twinks, one of whom would fill the quiet moments with mindless banter, or the other who would say little, but look good by his side.
Kennedy pushed his laptop lid down, to find the guy from across the coffee shop—Keegan?—sitting in the chair opposite him, his jacket and bag hung over the back, which did not bode well. If Kennedy was going to be brutally honest, this older man—yes, he was definitely a man compared to the non-shavers he’d interviewed so far—was easy on the eye. With palpable discomfort, the poor guy squirmed in his seat, wearing an earnest, if anxious, expression.
“I’m in,” he said decisively, tossing the single sheet of paper containing the advert onto the top of the laptop, the document landing face down. Kennedy noticed that, on the back, he had written out a number of answers to questions in neat handwriting.
“I’d like to apply for the role.”
“You’re…” Kennedy reached down, flipped the paper over and spun the advert around on the table. “Can you read the headline back to me?”
“Gay holiday companion required.”
“Gay holiday companion. Gay. We’ve already established you don’t qualify.”
“Not necessarily. I read that as Gay Holiday.” For effect, the guy produced air quotes around the two words then paused. “Companion Required. What I mean is, it’s not clear whether you’re asking for a companion, someone to accompany you on a gay holiday, in which case surely I’m still eligible, or whether you’re asking for a gay companion to go on holiday with you.”
Actually, the guy had a point. Had he shown them, Kennedy’s marketing and legal managers would have had a field day with the wording.
“I told you already. The person needs to be gay.”
“You do realise that’s discrimination.”
“Just because I’m not gay doesn’t mean I can’t do the job.” What was with this man? No fear, no hesitation. Assertive and straight to the point. Kennedy liked those traits in work colleagues. Just not in his fake beaus. “Anyway, just how gay would you want this person to be? My uni friend is gay and he’s neither blond nor muscular.”
“Get him to apply then.”
“He has a boyfriend. And anyway, he doesn’t need the job. I do.”
“Kieran, then. I’m sure there are other jobs out there for you—”
“There aren’t. And I don’t care, anyway. I want this one.”
“No, you look. I’m reasonably good-looking. I am sociable with all kinds of people in all sorts of situations. I am not homophobic—far from it. Yes, I might be older than your stated requirement—which is a bit ageist, by the way—but if you want someone to pass as a legitimate companion, then I am a way better choice than that queue of blond Justins you’ve just seen. How old are you, anyway?”
“As far as contemporary age gaps are concerned, twenty-nine and forty-two could be deemed acceptable. Anything under twenty-four could be seen as questionable. Does the contract include these guys having to have sex with you?”
Kennedy paused for a second. Was this guy trying to catch him out?
“Of course not. Sex would be by mutual consent only.”
“Excellent. So instead of worrying about whether this companion is going to put out or not, hire me and you can be sure right off the bat that I won’t.”
“And how exactly do you intend to convince my friends you’re gay?”
“I’m not. I’m guessing they know you wouldn’t bring along a straight guy. So if you’re asking whether I’ll adopt any mannerisms, or rethink my dress sense, then apart from accusing you of stereotyping—or worse still, internalised homophobia—I’d say you’re clearly out of sync with the new generation of gay men. Anderson Cooper, Tom Daley or Keegan Hirst, for example.”
Not many people had Kennedy Grey at a loss for words, but this young man certainly had a way about him. Trouble defined him. Kennedy gave him his usual professional smile and decided to run with the path of least resistance.
“Leave me your number and I’ll get back to you by the end of the week.”
“You won’t though, will you?” said Kieran, folding his arms.
“Not if you don’t give me your number,” said Kennedy, slapping a pen on top of the advert before fishing for his wallet in his jacket pocket. “Here’s my business card. If I haven’t called you by Friday at four o’clock, feel free to ring my direct line.”
Kieran scrawled his number on the sheet, then leaned back and studied the business card.
“Kennedy Grey, CEO. Grey Havens Security Systems? The Kennedy Grey? Get out of here! You run the family business that installs digitalised commercial security systems? We covered your company in our master’s programme, successful family businesses of the new millennium. In the recent edition of Business Week your operations guy—Sloan something—didn’t rule out the possibility of you going public next year. You’ve pretty much got that niche area of the market sewn up.”
The first thought that crossed Kennedy’s mind was why he hadn’t been told about the article in Business Week. Had his chief operating officer, Sloan Williamson, pulled another fast one behind his back? Not that he would be surprised, given the man’s ruthless ambition—one of the reasons Kennedy had hired him. But even so, Kennedy’s marketing team would normally have sanctioned the interview with him. And Sloan should not be speculating publicly about plans for a stock market launch. The second thing that struck him was that this man, Kieran, was clearly both informed and intelligent. And as far as travelling companions were concerned, that would never do.
“One and the same,” said Kennedy, then sat back wide-eyed as an impressively sized Kieran rose and leaned across the table.
“An absolute pleasure to meet you, Mr Grey,” he said, holding a large hand out. “And can I say, you are much better looking in the flesh.”
Still seated, Kennedy leaned forward awkwardly and shook the offered hand. Kieran gripped a little too long, squeezing a couple of times, while maintaining almost uncomfortably consistent eye contact.
“Gay enough for you?”
Kennedy smirked then and rolled his eyes. Yes, this one would certainly cause a stir.
“Thanks for your time, Kieran. I’ll be in touch.”
“And I’ll very much look forward to hearing from you,” said Kieran, grinning, before collecting his jacket and satchel from the chair and heading for the door.
Kennedy put his hands behind his head and stared at the long, lean legs of the confident figure striding out of the cafe. On the plus side, this guy was definitely attractive, with his shaggy brown mop, sad eyes and beautiful full lips. And as Kennedy had stated in his very specific demands, he expected companionship, but not sex. Besides, if he did pick straight Kieran, he could legitimately slip away for some anonymous sex on the gay cruise without upsetting anyone, something generally acknowledged as being as available as the twenty-four-hour sushi bar—not that Kennedy had ever partaken of either.
Moreover, for the three days in Singapore, his father might actually be able to tolerate this one. He would certainly enjoy being challenged on his political ideology, something Kennedy had never found of any interest. And the gay cruise? Kieran would have to fend for himself, but he didn’t seem the faint-of-heart type, more like the sort of man who could brave any storm—metaphorically speaking. And as he’d said himself, he really needed the job.
Stop, Kennedy told himself, shaking his head. What the hell am I thinking?