Surfeit for the Senses
With the buzz and drama of competition behind them, Alex is determined to focus on the one thing that matters most: his budding relationship with Nik. All the pieces seem to be finally falling into place, as he settles into his new living arrangements and gets back into the rhythm of the kitchen, while he and Nik spend all their precious free time together.
Life never stays smooth for long, however. The combined weight of family tragedy, television fame, and new, unexpected responsibilities strain the bonds of Alex and Nik's partnership, and conflict between them demands they settle the question of equality once and for all. Pulled in so many directions, it may be more than a new relationship can take.
Weighing the keys in his hand, Alex turned away from the high windows that provided a view of the busy street below. The realtor was gone and the condo was empty with a resounding echo that cried to Alex for completion. The place had been furnished with a frugal hand but also an eye for basic comforts, and Alex’s few belongings had already been transferred from his former apartment. It wasn’t the presence of new furniture that was lacking—it was someone beside him, sharing the moment.
Alex kept trying to convince himself not so much had changed in the few months that had passed since the end of the Five Stars competition. Life had been busy as he resumed working at Schulze’s and threw himself into the search for a new place with his parents’ expert guidance. He had used a part of his winnings from Five Stars to put his down payment on the condo and banked the rest. Dietrich and Emma had only been able to stay for so long, and between working, condo-shopping, and catching a few sights and fabulous meals with his parents while they were still in New York City, Alex had barely gotten enough sleep.
Everything was coming together. The show would be premiering the next day, and both Schulze’s and Collette’s had been packed due to the advance buzz generated by constant television commercials and the billboards that had gone up around the city over the past weeks.
A chirp from his pocket made Alex lift his head. He pulled his phone out, grinning at the message displayed on his new smart phone.
Wish I could be there too, see you tonight?
Alex tapped a quick definitely, pocketed his phone and keys, and grabbed his knife kit on the way out.
Despite attempts at convincing himself that not much had changed, the truth was that everything had changed. Dieter had ended the moratorium on Alex’s access to Koch family money, even going so far as to apologize for the oversight, clapping Alex on the back and laughing that he hadn’t realized how poorly line chefs, even sous chefs, were paid. Alex and Nik were officially dating, and Alex had a place of his own. He had quite a bit of money left, enough he could have bought a car, but he had chosen to put the remainder in a savings account. His father and Johann had both advised him to invest the money, put it into something that would make even more money down the road, but for now, Alex was enjoying a return to the lifestyle to which he was more accustomed. He hadn’t splurged on many extra frills, as most of his time would still be sunk into the restaurant, but after splurging on a new knife kit and the basics to refresh his wardrobe, he’d made sure to get a top of the line television…and the best bed on the market, long enough for Alex’s lanky height and more than large enough for two.
The empty spaces cried out for Nik’s presence, and Alex was looking forward to bringing him over. Nik had seen the place before, of course, but that had been prior to escrow. The last of the furniture had been delivered that morning, the bed for which Alex had been eagerly waiting, and he could not wait for Nik to finally see his place and banish the last of the emptiness.
Alex headed for the subway with a spring in his step, bubbling over with happiness over his new place, his gorgeous boyfriend, that fact that he had the best job in the world, and how winning Five Stars had worked out for both of them.
Everything in his life was shiny and new; or felt that way, in the case of returning to his sous chef position at Schulze’s. It was so good, and showing off his furnished place to Nik that evening would be the crowning touch.
They’d managed to carve out enough time in their schedule over the past three months for exactly two dates. Alex had taken Nik to Deluxe, all privacy and no cameras as promised, but the end of the night had been cut short because Nik had an early morning appointment the next day and Alex was meeting his parents for breakfast. By that point, Alex hadn’t had a bed of his own yet, and Nik hadn’t invited him over. He’d confessed that he felt awkward having guests in his tiny studio apartment, shared with another cook so both of them could save expenses, and it left both Nik and his roommate with no privacy.
For their second official date, they had met for lunch and stolen some kisses in a park on their way back before it was time to part ways again. It had been a taste of what Alex wanted, but not nearly enough. He’d been staying at a hotel at that point, but something in Nik’s expression had warned him off inviting him over for the night.
Everything else had been a flurry of activity, as they spent time with their families in the wake of the competition’s end, did the pick-up interviews that were needed to fill in time for many of the episodes, and in Alex’s case balanced work, parents, and condo-hunting. They’d been so busy there hadn’t been much time even to pine for Nik, though he occupied most of Alex’s thoughts, waking or sleeping.
Alex bit his lips as he slipped into a half-daze, shuffling into line at the subway. He would bring Nik over to his place to proudly show off his new home…conclude with a tour of the bedroom…Alex’s eyes snapped all the way open as he headed for the stairs, bypassing the slower-moving trickle of people that kept to the railing. Was it too soon to ask Nik to move in with him?