I never get home on time.
It’s not necessarily a problem. My bosses aren’t assholes, they don’t force me to stay late without pay, or unload ungodly amounts of work on me last minute. My best friend, Seth, doesn’t manipulate me into taking his shifts or guilt me into helping him with his work. It’s, essentially, voluntary. The longer I spend at work, the less time I spend at home. Simple.
I bang my head against the wall next to the coffee machine, groaning. Seth chuckles as he crosses the break room, grabbing my mug and putting it under the coffee pot. When it comes out, I grab it, throw a few ice cubes in it, and down it black. Then I bang my head against the wall again.
Seth raises an eyebrow. I move my gaze to glower at him.
“How long?” I demand.
“If you hate her so much, break up with her.”
I look at him. “What?”
Crossing his arms over his chest, he asks, “What?”
I shake my head and put the mug in the sink. “I don’t hate her.”
“Well, there’s something wrong.” He grabs my mug and starts washing it since I’m clearly too lazy to function. “When you’d rather be at work all day every day that at home, there’s a problem.”
There’s no denying he’s right. As the minutes tick by, anxiety and frustration build up in my stomach. Much too soon, I’m standing in the parking lot of my apartment complex and locking my car.
When I get inside, it’s close to eleven, and she’s already asleep. She’s used to me working so late, thinking I’m somewhat of a workaholic, and finally let me convince her to stop waiting for me when I get home. I spend a few hours stalling on the television and my computer, before sighing and making my way up to the bedroom.
I get into my side of the bed and pull the covers over myself. Not long after, Ro’s tiny body fits into my arms, and, even if I don’t love her, I don’t really mind this part.
When I wake up, she’s gone. I sit up and rub my eyes, looking around in confusion. The smell of breakfast floats through the open bedroom door and I perk up a little, hauling myself out of bed. I shower and get dressed, before meeting Ro out in the kitchen.
She stands from the counter and smiles cutely, wrapping her arms around me. “Morning. You slept in.”
I tense, looking at her nervously. “I did?”
Ro rolls her deep blue eyes and chuckles, leading me to the counter. Two full plates are waiting for us.
“Oh, come on,” she soothes as we sit. “You know they won’t care. You’re there so often you deserve a late day.”
I work in marketing for this important magazine in New York. Everyone I know reads it, even people who don’t conventionally like magazines, because it’s about four inches thick and has a section for everyone. Anything that starts to rise in pop culture, even just a bit, Diamond finds a section for it. And if there isn’t one, they put it in the pop culture section.
I started writing for the career section after I got out of high school, but once our bosses got a look of my advice articles and my past- And how I convinced them to hire me in the first place -they put me in marketing with a pay raise.
I grudgingly agree with her, slowly eating.
“So are you working late again?” She asks.
“Yeah,” I mumble. “Progress has stopped. I need to pick it back up again.”
“You know, you’re not the only marketer they have.” She frowns, looking down at her food. “You don’t have to do it all yourself.”
“No, I know. That’s not what I meant.”
Ro sighs and puts her fork down. “We should do something tonight.”
I look at her curiously. “Really?”
She nods, tapping her fingers against the counter. Her nails are painted pink. “I know you don’t like last minute things, but we never get to talk anymore, you know? The last time we did anything fun was Valentine’s Day.”
I nod slowly. She’s right. “Yeah. Let’s do something.”
Her eyes widen, a giddy smile spreading across her face before she can stop it. My stomach churns with guilt; She expected me to say no. “Really?”
I stand and move behind her, wrapping my arms around her waist and resting my chin on her shoulder. “Yeah,” I mumble. “I’ll come home early. We can go out to eat. Then maybe we can go to that outdoor market you like.”
She turns her head to nuzzle into my neck. “Okay. I’ll be ready when you get here. I love you.”
“I love you.”
I kiss the side of her head and thank her for breakfast, before grabbing my things and leaving for work. I pull up to the building- Tall, with seven floors not including the main lobby on the first -labeled Diamond Publishing in scratchy red letters.
Seth is waiting for me at my office when I get there, spinning slowly in the office chair and eyeing the pictures on my desk. I used to work in a cubicle- The one next to his, actually -but once my resentment for home started coming in and I began spending every free hour on work, our bosses gave me my own office.
He doesn’t wait for me to react as he says, “You’re so obvious, Jason,” still spinning.
“What are you doing?” I quirk an eyebrow.
“What happened with Ro?”
Surprised, I reach behind me and pull the door shut, before striding over to the desk. “What are you talking about?”
He laughs. “You’ve obviously had a good morning. It had to do with Ro, right?”
“Uh, yeah.” I push on his shoulder until he gets off my chair, allowing me to sit in it instead. I pull out my laptop as he sits up on the desk.
“So? What happened?”
“We’re hanging out tonight.”
“Really?” He drawls. “Her idea or yours?”
I purse my lips, focusing on my emails. “We’re going to dinner and then shopping.”
Seth gives me a flat look. “You are so obvious.”
I look at him sharply and say, “You’re gonna get in trouble if they catch you in here for too long.”
“I’m correlating the new piece with your new ad,” he dismisses. “Which is hard, by the way. If they have anything to say, it’s just plain rude.”
“Well, good luck with that,” I mutter, heavily engrossed in my work by now. “I’ll email you the progress tonight.”
After he leaves, I lean back in my chair and sigh.
I love my job. I really do. I guess that’s what makes the whole workaholic thing so believable- It wouldn’t surprise me if I would be like this anyway. I’m always coming up with new ideas on how to spread Diamond’s voice throughout New York. Eventually, our goal is to go farther than New York- Farther than the United States. We want Diamond to be everywhere.
And that’s my job.
And I’m pretty damn good at it, too.
After a few hours of creating ads, developing ideas, and looking at excerpts Seth sends me, I clock out early and drive back to my apartment. I come in to Ro sitting on the couch is a pale yellow sundress with a big white bow planted in her short brown hair.
She smiles when she sees me, getting up and kissing me. “You’re home.”
I smile, letting one arm wrap around her waist. “I’ll go get ready.”
I put on jeans and a dress shirt, before meeting her back in the foyer and leading her down to the car. Her excitement is palpable, tugging on the corners of my lips.
I drive her down to the pizzeria we used to go to during high school, helping her into a booth and sitting across from her.
The waiter comes up to us as we’re talking softly, our hands clasped over the table and our heads leaned close. It feels like it did in high school, when we were hiding and sneaking around.
He starts speaking, so I look up, and my breath hitches in my throat.
With porcelain skin and hair the colour of cigarette ash, he greets us with a crooked smile and a click of his pen. He’s tall, and lean, with narrow green eyes.
My reaction is blatantly obvious, so Ro looks at me in mild shock and the guy’s smile turns into a grin.
“I’m Jeremiah,” he says. “I’ll be your waiter. Do you have your orders ready?”
Ro orders for us, as I’m still staring. Jeremiah scribbles down our orders before tipping his head, winking, and leaving.
Ro frowns at me, looking confused and maybe even disappointed. “What was that about?”
I try to rationalize this, both to her and myself. “Did you not see him?” I keep my voice low. “The boy looks like a supermodel. Listen, if you end up cheating on me with him, I won’t blame you. I’d probably give you a high five.”
It works. She giggles and rolls her eyes. “Like I could cheat on you.”
Sometimes, I wish she could.
Jeremiah comes back with our food and drinks a little bit later. I keep my gaze stubbornly on the table, which only pleases him more, but he leaves without saying anything. Ro leans over and rests her cool palm on the side of my face, smiling.
I laugh softly and rest my hand over hers. “You think?”
“Mhm.” She pulls back and takes a bite of her pizza, before wiping her mouth and saying, “Oh- Do you remember the last time we were here?”
My face turns red. “God, that was awful.”
“One of the reasons we haven’t come back.” Snickering, she shakes her head. “He scared the crap out of you.”
The last time we were here, the day after our high school graduation, Ro’s dad came storming in. Up until that point Ro and I had been meeting here in secret, not even telling her dad we were still together. I guess Ro’s not the best liar, because he went through her computer the moment she left- Easily guessing her password -and found out where we were meeting.
“Only psychopaths look through their children’s emails,” I grumble.
She laughs. “He was worried. I mean, I still don’t know why…” Her voice takes on an unrecognizable tone. “He never said anything. Just that he didn’t trust you.”
We continue talking while we eat. Just as she’s finishing up, I step outside and pull out a pack of cigarettes. The sky is dark, like blue velvet, the moon sharp and crisp in the sky. The streets are empty and a cold breeze carries through, promising snow. I pull out a cigarette and light it up, putting it between my lips and leaning against the wall.
I jump, looking over at Jeremiah. He’s still in his work uniform- Black skinny jeans and a black polo -but the shirt is fairly unbuttoned, his hair is ruffled, and he has a white beanie on.
I look ahead, my stomach flurrying with nervousness. “Yeah.”
“Addict?” He questions. He leans the bike he was walking next to him against the wall, before coming to stand in front of me.
“Uh, yeah, I guess. Why?”
He shrugs. “I used to smoke. Quit. When did you start?”
“High school.” I look to the side. Shit, this guy is persistent. “Can we not talk about this?”
He smirks, like he knows I’m not exactly shy about my nicotine addiction. “How about we talk about your bisexuality?”
I scoff. “I’m not bisexual.”
He lets out a whistle. “Closeted, then?”
I drop the cigarette and make to go back inside, but he grabs my wrist, his fingers brushing against my skin. “Hope that’s not a wife in there.”
“Girlfriend,” I say despite myself.
His eyes flash in excitement. “Oh. Are you planning on telling her your little secret?”
“I don’t have a secret,” I snap, trying to tug my arm free.
He steps closer, his lips brushing against my ear as he whispers, “Maybe I could help you figure it out.”
“I’m not a cheater.”
He stays quiet for a moment, before stepping back and smiling. “Fair enough.”
Surprised, and a little disappointed, I get my breath back. “I’m going back to her.”
Jeremiah grabs his bike and climbs onto it. “I’m not stopping you.”
Still, I watch as he takes off down the road, out of sight. I wet my lips nervously as my heart begins to slow, letting out a shaky breath. When I get back inside, Ro looks concerned.
“What happened?” She rests her hands on my shoulders, letting them drift down my arms to take my hands. “You were longer than normal.”
“I’m okay,” I promise. “Come on, let’s go.”
I pay the tab and she follows me back to the car, where I drive her to a part of town specifically dedicated to shops. She drags me into a dress shop with some French name, and I laugh as she forces a pair of big white sunglasses on me. I buy her a dress and some shoes, before she insists I take her to a shop that I like.
I shrug, leading her down to a technology shop. The walls are covered in speakers, flash drives, and high-tech computers.
“Always working,” she teases, leading me over to a rack of gift cards.
“Hey, you don’t have to get me anything,” I say in alarm as she picks up a $100 gift card for a program I use often.
She gives me a flat look. “Don’t even act like those shoes weren’t expensive.”
I rub the back of my neck awkwardly. She’s right- The shoes had cost three times more than I would ever be willing to pay, not to mention the dress. She wasn’t dealing with guilt, though.
I bite my lip. “Still. When was the last time I got you a gift?”
“When was the last time I got you a gift?” She counters.
I cross my arms over my chest. “You made me breakfast this morning.”
She rolls her eyes. “I make you breakfast every morning.”
“Exactly!” I laugh, exasperated. “Come on, let me do something for you.”
Ro bites her lip, hesitating, before taking a $75 gift card in place of the $100. I sigh and give in.
As we walk back to the car, Ro wraps her arms around mine and kisses my shoulder. “Thank you, Jason. This was nice. I’ve missed you.”
I swallow and nod. “I’ve missed you, too. I’m sorry I’m at work so often.”
She laughs softly. “Please, you’ve landed your dream job. I would never take that away from you.”
I want to tell her.
I want to tell her that I’m not really a workaholic. I want to tell her, yes, I love my job and feel endlessly grateful I stumbled upon it, but it’s not why I’m never home. I want to tell her that I made a mistake, that I was under too much pressure. I want to tell her that I gave into my parents’ and friends’ pushing, that I love her but I’m not in love with her.
I want to tell her I’m gay.
I don’t tell her. We get back into the car and I drive us home, where I hang up her dress and put away her shoes. I carefully tuck the gift card in my briefcase, where I can use it tomorrow, at work, when I’m in the right frame of mind to be spending money.
The next day, I wake up well before Ro, trudging out of the apartment and driving myself to work. Seth is in my office again, this time my office chair in the centre of the room while he lays flat on his back on my desk, staring at the ceiling.
I stop, looking at the scene in confusion. “Seth?”
He looks at me. “I figured you’d want it closer, since you love it so much.”
I sigh. “Just take it.”
He slides off my desk and sits on the chair, spinning around slowly. “How’d yesterday go?”
I shrug one shoulder, pursing my lips. “Good.” I pretend to busy myself with pulling out my notes, laptop, and the gift card.
“Yeah? You tell her anything?”
I shoot him a glare. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Yeah, I’m the only being ridiculous.” He scoffs. “Whatever. We’ve got an intern.”
I quirk an eyebrow. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. Some goth-looking kid, he looks just a few years under us.”
“Cool. What department is he in?”
“All of them,” Seth says. “He still won’t be doing much, though. Most people have learned to get on by themselves- I doubt they’ll even remember he’s here.”
“What’s he doing right now?” I ask curiously.
“Nothing. He’s in the break room.”
I stand, Seth immediately following me as I make my way down the halls to the break room. I push open the door, and stop so abruptly Seth runs into me, nearly knocking me over.
Jeremiah looks up with raised eyebrows, and an easy smirk slides onto his face. “Closet boy,” he greets, and, to my dismay, Seth laughs.
“Shut up,” I snap at both of them, pulling Seth inside and slamming the door shut. “Lower your voice! What are you doing here?”
“I believe it’s called an internship,” he drawls.
“You already have a job,” I say dumbly.
He rolls his eyes. “Yeah, as a waiter. I’m not exactly well off.”
I go over to the coffee maker and pull out my mug from the cupboards, busying myself with making a cup of coffee.
“How do you guys know each other?” Seth asks in amusement.
“We don’t.” I take the coffee and, against my better judgment, sit across from Jeremiah at the table. Seth absent mindedly fills a cup with ice for me. I take it from him, and start dropping a few into the coffee. “He was my waiter yesterday. We don’t know each other.”
Jeremiah watches me curiously. “That is true. It’s not my fault you were checking me out.”
Seth snorts with laughter while I choke on my coffee. “I was not!”
Seth claps me on the back and, satisfied, Jeremiah leans back in his chair and goes silent.
“Don’t you have stuff to do anyway?” I grumble, grabbing my mug and leaving the break room.
Relieved to be back in my office, I abandon my coffee as I get lost in work. By noon, I have several new ad campaigns outlined, developed, and sent to the other members of my department for critiques. Just as I hit ‘send’ on the email, there’s a knock on my door.
I call for them to come in, and immediately regret it. “What do you want?”
“Seth sent me,” Jeremiah says. His voice is practically a purr, and he walks slowly, delicately, with confidence. He presses the folder that was in his hands against my desk, leaning his weight on it. “Can’t get mad at me for doing my job, can you?” He whispers.
“Are you even- Are you even getting paid?” I managed, barely aware of my still open office door.
“Not quite.” He leans back, crossing his arms over his chest and grinning. “I’m not bothered, though. I’ll get the job.”
My eyes widen. “The job?”
He rolls his eyes and clicks his tongue. “Honestly, you’re so naïve. Don’t even know when there’s an opening in your own department.”
I whip around back to my laptop and pull up the emails I sent with the ads. One of them didn’t go through- Tammy.
“Huh.” I shrug. “Whatever.”
“You don’t seem bothered, either,” he says curiously.
I turn back to him. “She was a bitch,” I say honestly, and he lets out a laugh, his eyes sparkling. “Do you know if she was fired or if she quit? Promoted?”
He drops into the chair on the other side of my desk; It dwarfs him. “You’re a gossip.”
“And you’re a child,” I grumble, embarrassed.
“I don’t know what happened,” he says. “I just know there’s a spot open, and I’m taking it.”
“Yeah, good luck,” I mutter and go back to work. After a while, I notice him still sitting there. “What?”
“Then can you go?”
“There’s nothing else to do.”
I narrow my eyes. “How do you know?”
He holds up a small, plastic black square. “They basically gave me a beeper. Except this one’s cooler.”
I quirk an eyebrow. “How so?”
“Instead of having to give them my phone number, it just shows their office or cubicle number. I go to them, do whatever they want me to, wander around until I get my next number.”
I look at him for a moment, and he laughs, standing and coming around to my side. “Here, let me show you.”
He messes about on my laptop for a moment, and for a brief paranoid second I think he might be downloading some weird virus, before a box comes up on the screen- A keypad. He writes down a six digit number on my sticky note pad, sliding it over to me.
“It’s already connected to your room,” he says.
I furrow my eyebrows. “How?”
“Through your account.” He catches my look and laughs, rolling his eyes. “They didn’t hack your computer. You’re signed into your company’s email, right?” I nod dumbly. “It automatically went through using that email, which Lacey hooked up to the beeper.” Lacey’s one of our bosses.
I shake my head. “Damn. I’ve been working here for a year and I didn’t know that. You’re here for four hours and already know more than me.”
“Technically five. I got here at seven.”
I look up at Ro, standing in the doorway in her new dress. Aw, shit.
Unconsciously nudging Jeremiah away from me, I stand and stride over to her. I pull her into my arms. “Ro! Hey, what’re you doing here?”
“Well, you weren’t around for breakfast this morning, so I thought I’d bring you lunch…” She looks between Jeremiah and I with furrowed eyebrows.
God, please don’t recognize him.
“Why is he here?”
“Uh, he’s an intern,” I say awkwardly. “Crazy, right?”
Jeremiah waves, casually sitting in my chair with his feet up on the desk. “Hey.”
“O… Kay.” She’s still confused, that much is clear, but she just smiles and holds out a brown paper bag. “I also, um,” she blushes, peeking at Jeremiah, before focusing back on me, “I know that you’re stressed, so there’s a cookie in there. And more at home.”
I smile, my shoulders relaxing. I take the bag from her before wrapping her up in my arms, hugging her tightly. “Thanks, Ro,” I mumble.
Five years together and she’s still incredible.
“I don’t want to get in the way of work,” she says when she pulls away, “but maybe you could be home in time for dinner?”
I forget how much she likes to cook. I haven’t been home for dinner since the weekend, and now it’s Thursday. I’ve been eating take out in my office while watching Netflix.
I nod. “Yeah, that sounds great.”
“Really?” She smiles. “Awesome! I’ll make your favourite.”
She gives me a kiss on the cheek, squeezing my hand, before scurrying out of the office. I turn back to Jeremiah, expecting him to tease me, but he just eyes the paper bag in my hands.
“She seems pretty great,” he says.
I shut the door, sitting, for some reason, at the chair on the other side of the desk.
“Is that why you’re with her?” He asks.
I shake my head. “No. We got together when we were sixteen. It’s much more complicated than that.”
He smiles at me, raw and heart-stuttering. “Don’t worry. Someone’ll fall in love with her.”
He leaves soon after that, and I get back to work. The hours tick by until I’m clocking out- Earlier than usual again -and heading back home, nearly swaying off my feet as I come into the apartment and smell dinner. Ro, who’s standing in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room, laughs and comes over to me.
She takes my briefcase and kisses me in greeting. “Go ahead and make a plate. We can watch movies while we eat.”
I do as she said, spooning food onto a plate and making one for her, too, before carrying them both into the living room. She comes in wearing a pink onesie, holding two glasses of wine.
She sits next to me and we put on a movie. “I promise I’ll be back to normal next week,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve just missed you, is all.”
“No crime in that.” I wrap an arm around her waist, and she leans against my chest.
When we’re finished eating, we lay down together. Somewhere in the middle of the movie, Ro leans up and presses her lips to mine, tangling a hand in my hair. I place my hands on her hips and maneuver us so I’m laying on my back with her on top of me.
She pulls away after a moment, folding her arms over my chest and resting her chin on them. “Jason?”
I brush a lock of hair from her forehead. “Yeah?”
“Can I ask you something?”
I swallow. “Of course.”
“Are you bisexual?” She bites her lip. “Or pansexual, or- or something… Do you like guys?”
I lean my head on the armrest, staring up at the ceiling. My heart is beating a thousand miles an hour and I know she can hear it.
“Just tell me,” she whispers.
“Yeah.” My voice comes out raspy. “I like guys.”
“And… Do you like girls?”
I try to say no.
I try so hard.
But I can’t.
A relieved smile pulls at her lips. “Okay.”
Ro has always trusted me far too much.
The next day, I can’t tell if I’m excited or disappointed that I only have one day of work left for the week. It’ll be frustrating not having a ready excuse for not being at home, but being able to sleep in without worry will be nice.
I wake up before Ro again, simply because I just can’t face her after lying to her like that, making it to work in record time. The place is practically dead as I clock in and make my way up to my office.
I must stare at my computer screen for hours before my hands, on their own accord, pull up the keypad and type in the six digit code. Jeremiah appears in my doorway, looking surprised and confused.
“Come in,” I say quietly, and he does, shutting the door behind him.
He sits in front of my desk. “Is everything alright?”
“I need to ask you something.” I wet my lips, avoiding his gaze. “Something personal.”
He leans forward with his elbows on his knees. “Alright… Shoot.”
I meet his eyes, his dark, dark green eyes, for just a split second, before my gaze darts away again. “How did… Um, how did you come out?”
His eyes widen for a brief moment before he relaxes and he says, “Didn’t have to.”
I finally look at him. “What?”
He shrugs, looking suddenly uncomfortable. “I’ve lived with my grandma since I was four. Don’t know why, she wouldn’t tell me. She died when I was seventeen- Heart attack -and I moved here. I hadn’t even known until after she died- I’d actually thought I was ace, and decided there was no point in coming out.”
“How…” I swallow. “How did you find out?”
He laughs. “How does anyone find out? I met a guy.”
“And… Did it… Did it come to… Anything?”
His smile melts into an easygoing grin. “I’m not a cheater.”
I nod. “Right. Okay.”
He stands and drifts over to me, that same audacious strut I’ve grown accustomed to. He leans over so his lips are right next to my ear, and whispers, “Is there something you’ve got to tell me?”
The words fall out of my mouth. “I’m gay.”
I expect him to laugh at me- Clearly he already knew that -but instead he leans back with a satisfied smirk. “Not so hard, huh?”
I just glare.
“If you’d like, I can breathe down your neck when you tell Ro.”
I cross my arms and look away.
“Would it help if I kissed your neck while we were at it?”
Colour creeps into my cheeks and I keep my gaze stubbornly on the window.
His chin comes to rest on my shoulder, and he nuzzles lightly into my neck. “Am I embarrassing you?” He murmurs. His hand crawls over my stomach, rising to brush over my chest. My eyes flutter shut my back arches a bit. He grins.
With a jolt, I grab his hand and whip around so I’m facing him again. “I’m at work.”
He gives a small nod, looking passive though his voice is arrogant. “Wouldn’t want you to get fired.”
“You’ve got to stop doing that,” I grumble as he drops back into the chair.
“Why?” His eyes flash. “Does it make you blush?”
“I don’t like you,” I say flatly.
“I don’t know about you, but I don’t react like that to just any guy.” He leans back in his chair, stretching.
“Maybe you’re demi,” I mumble, finally pulling out my notes and getting back to work.
He looks at me thoughtfully. “Huh. That would make a lot of sense, actually.” He opens his mouth to speak, but stops as something in his pocket starts to buzz. He pulls out Beeper 2.0, sighing. “Gotta go.”
He leaves without much else. I ignore the rapidly spreading disappointment in my gut and immerse myself back in my work.
After work, I follow Seth back to his apartment. In his bedroom, he tosses a shirt at me, and says, “You know you’re being stupid, right?”
I pull it over my head. “What?”
He keeps his gaze on himself in the mirror as he talks, running his fingers through his hair and pushing it this way and that. “About Jeremiah. And Ro.”
I grab the shot glass from his bedside table and toss it back. “How?”
He gives me a flat look through the mirror, before returning his gaze to his reflection. “She would understand. She probably already suspects, you know.”
“Yeah, she thinks I’m bisexual,” I mutter, and explain what happened.
He rolls his eyes, sitting next to me on the bed. “You’re a moron. Just tell her.”
We stay silent for a while, occasionally tossing back shots and steadily getting more tipsy.
“Can I ask you something?” Seth asks. I look at him, before shrugging and nodding. “Did you ever like her?”
“Well, yeah… Sorta.” The look he gives me makes me sigh. “I thought I did. I was already sixteen when we met and I’d never had a girlfriend before. My parents were pressuring me, and since I kept bringing her to the house, they were waiting for me to ask her out. I did, and they got off my back about it. I liked spending time with her, so… I thought I could do it.”
We stay silent for a moment, before he claps me on the back and stands.“Ready?”
I nod. “Yeah, for ages.”
He rolls his eyes and we start out of his apartment. As soon as we get outside, he pauses. “You should invite him.”
I eye him cautiously. “Why?”
Seth looks ready to smack me. “You like him.”
“I have a girlfriend,” I remind him.
“Yes, because inviting him to the bar with us is basically sex.” He regards me impatiently, crossing his arms over his chest. “She caught you guys in your office, right?” I nod. “Then she thinks you’re friends. Which, you know, you could be. So invite him. He needs to meet people anyway, right?”
I sigh. “I don’t even know his phone number.”
“Figure it out. I’ll meet you there.”
He leaves without giving me a chance to respond.
I pull on my hair in frustration, glaring down at the ground. I wander around town for a while, in some desperate delusion that I’ll run into him, and end up passing my own apartment complex. For once, I think of how well it would be to just go home. To just lay with Ro, quietly. To watch movies with her, or go to dinner with her.
Dinner- The pizzeria.
It’s about the time it was when Ro and I went to dinner last time; If I’m lucky, Jeremiah will be working again.
I walk back down to the pizzeria and my heart stutters as I catch Jeremiah through the glass. The place is empty, and he has headphones in as he sweeps the floor. His gray-black hair falls into his eyes, his lips pursed as he’s lost in thought.
I push the door open and knock against the doorframe. He snaps his gaze to mine, surprised. “You open?”
He lets out a surprised laugh, his eyes sparkling. “What’re you doing here?”
I walk in, hopping up on the counter and swinging my legs slightly. “I go to a bar every Friday with Seth and some other people from Diamond. Figured you’d wanna come.”
He leans against the wall, setting the broom down. “Yeah? Your idea?”
“Seth’s,” I admit.
“Maybe I should go out with Seth, then.” His eyes flash. “He gets it.”
I quirk an eyebrow. “Yeah? You’re gonna go out with my straight best friend?”
“I’m sure a supermodel could bend sexuality.”
I groan, dropping my head into my hands. “You heard that.”
He laughs, suddenly closer. “You’re not exactly subtle, Jason.”
I look up. He’s standing right in front of me now. I have a rare height advantage. “Yeah, Seth always tells me that. He says I’m obvious.”
“You are,” he says softly, and kisses me.
I’m almost surprised, and then I realize it’s what I’ve been wanting since I walked through the door. I hesitantly rest my hand on the side of his face, feeling his soft skin under my fingertips. He pushes closer to me, standing between my legs, running his hands up my arms to rest on the back of my neck.
He pulls away and rests his forehead against mine. “Still going to the bar?”
“Not a chance,” I breathe.
Jeremiah laughs softly. “Is Seth gonna be mad you stood him up?”
“I think he can put the pieces together.”
He fits his hands into mine and steps back, gently pulling me off the counter. He leads me outside, over to the closest parking garage.
“I should admit I’m tipsy.”
“Where are we going?” I ask as we get in his car.
He raises an eyebrow. “Take a guess.”
“Your place?” I ask in confusion, and he nods. “We’re not…”
He looks at me, and laughs. “You’re nervous. That’s cute. No, we aren’t.”
I relax into the seat, nodding. Jeremiah drives us down to a ratty apartment complex a few blocks down from the restaurant, grinning despite my reaction.
“You see why I need two jobs.”
I follow him up a creaky flight of stairs with lights that barely work. When we arrive at his door, my stomach is churning with anxiety, but he opens it and it’s completely different from what I’d expect.
It looks… Nice.
While the complex itself looks like some sort of abandoned hospital, his apartment is adorned with soft yellow lighting coming from various floor lamps, an assortment of red carpets covering the battered hardwood, and furniture that looks like it was just recently bought.
“I know the complex is dodgy,” he says as he leads me into the kitchen, taking out two glasses, “but it’s not too bad. It’s easy to cover up how shitty the place is.”
He fills the glasses with soda and slides one over to me, before going around to light the candles scattered about. When he catches me looking, he rolls his eyes and says, “It’s not like it smells great in here.” Which I guess is fair enough.
Jeremiah and I sit on the couch- Red, like the carpets -and he sits our glasses on the table. “So what are you gonna do?”
I look away. “I, uh… I don’t know.”
He wraps an arm across my shoulders, which is surprising but comforting. I lean into his chest.
“It can’t be easy. I’ve never had to come out- Not to anyone. So I don’t know how much help I’d be.”
I look at him curiously. “Not even to friends?”
He grins. “I don’t make friends.”
“What’s your… Plan, exactly?”
Quirking an eyebrow, he says, “Weren’t we just talking about your nonexistent plan?”
I laugh, shaking my head. “It’s just, you want something, don’t you? Dodgy apartment and double job isn’t your finale, right?”
He tips his head back, staring thoughtfully at the ceiling. “No, this isn’t the finale.” When I don’t say anything, he looks at me in amusement. “You really wanna know?”
I nod. “Yeah.”
He shifts, so we’re facing each other, and brushes his fingers against my palm but doesn’t take my hand. “You weren’t… Too far off with the whole supermodel thing.”
My eyebrows raise. “Really?”
He gives me a flat look. “You’re still wrong.”
Laughing, I ask, “Then what is it?”
“I want to make clothes,” he says simply.
Surprised, I just nod again and slide my fingers through his. “You know, Diamond has a fashion section.”
“Really?” He deadpans.
I sigh. “You knew that already.”
“You don’t just accidentally apply for the biggest magazine in New York.”
“So are you gonna ask?”
He furrows his eyebrows. “What?”
“If I can do something.”
Looking at me sceptically, he says, “Like get me a position?” and I nod. “And have you think I used you? No way.” He hooks an arm around my waist and pulls me so abruptly that I fall on top of him with a slight yelp, my face red. He grins.
“I know you aren’t using me,” I say shakily, my gaze darting between his eyes.
“I would hope not.” He leans up and kisses me again, and I melt into it, my hands planted beside his head.
He wraps his arms around my neck and pulls me closer, his lips moving against mine furiously and unstopping. After a moment, I pull away, gasping for breath, my cheeks red and my heart slamming.
Jeremiah, looking unphased besides his eyes, which are wide and glowing, runs his hand from my stomach, up to my chest, resting over my heartbeat. We lock gazes, and I slowly calm down, my breathing going back to normal.
“You should go,” he says, and I start to panic, but he says, “back to Ro.”
A guilty disappointment runs through me. I have a brief urge to whine, Do I have to?, to beg him to let me stay, just a little longer, to curl on his chest and fall asleep, but I nod and slide off him, standing.
“Should I drive you home?” He asks, taking our glasses and going into the kitchen.
“No, I think I’ll walk.” I ruffle my hair nervously. “I have to think. About what to do.”
“I think you know what to do,” he says, “but you’re too scared to.”
He isn’t facing me, pouring out the glasses and putting them in the dishwasher. I purse my lips. “That obvious?” I joke weakly, and he shoots me a smile.
“You aren’t subtle,” he reminds. He comes over to me, taking my hands in his. “Just let me know, okay? Here, let me see your phone.” I pull it out and hand it to him, and he puts his number in my contacts. “I’ll keep the ringer on.”
I take it back from him, then, curiously, ask, “Have you ever had a boyfriend before?”
His eyes widen in surprise, before he shakes his head. “Uh, no, I haven’t.”
I nod slowly, and, despite the fact that he already knows, say, “Me, neither.”
Jeremiah kisses my cheek and gently pushes me to the door. “Text me.”
I promise him I will, before leaving the complex. It’s well close to one in the morning now, so Ro will already be asleep when I get home. It’ll give me more time to think.
A light breeze carries on through as I cross a road, sending shivers through my body. It’s getting closer to Winter, and I briefly wonder if Jeremiah’s apartment has heating.
I relish the warmth in my own apartment, moving quietly to the bedroom. Like I’d suspected, Ro’s curled in bed wearing a pink nightgown, the covers pushed onto my side of the bed. I carefully change and climb into bed, delicately laying the covers over her and then turning on my side to sleep. As usual, she wraps an arm around my waist in her sleep, nuzzling into my back.
I’m just about to fall asleep when she speaks.
“Jason?” She mumbles.
I turn to look at her, pulling her closer. “Is everything okay?”
She buries her face in my neck, murmuring. She’s barely awake. “You’re home early.”
Her hair is soft against my fingers as I push it from her face, kissing her temple. “Yeah.”
“Were you with Jeremiah?”
I swallow. “Yes.”
She kisses the spot between my ear and my jaw, before mumbling, “You can tell me anything,” and falling back asleep. She almost sounded desperate. Desperate for the truth, or desperate for me to assure her nothing’s wrong? God, I don’t know.
I don’t get much sleep.
When Ro wakes up, she notices. She rubs her eyes, frowning, and asks, “What’s up?”
“I need to talk to you,” I say in a bare whisper.
Understanding, she wakes right up and sits up, pursing her lips. I sit up, too, my arm asleep from how long she was laying on it for.
“Take your time,” she says gently as she sees the stress on my face.
“Seth already knows,” I mumble, not knowing where to start. “And, uh, Jeremiah. But I didn’t tell him- I didn’t tell either of them, actually, they just knew. I, uh, Ro…”
She places her cool hand on the side of my face and guides it to face her. “Jason,” she says softly.
I squeeze my eyes shut. “I’m gay. And I’m not in love with you. And I like Jeremiah.”
She wraps her arms around my waist and pulls me against her, holding me tightly. “Oh, God,” she breathes out. “Of course you are. It’s okay.”
Confused, but taking comfort in the embrace nonetheless, I hug her back tightly, burying my face in her hair. After she pulls away, I weakly ask, “What?”
She laughs softly. “My dad knew. It’s why he never liked you.”
I blush. “O-oh.”
“I didn’t believe him.” She looks down, tracing patterns on the comforter. “And, I mean, I guess I knew, sort of. After we moved in together, and when you stopped coming home. I knew you weren’t happy, at least. But I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t want to believe you’re gay, so I just didn’t say anything.” She offers me a smile. “Are you okay?”
“Am… Am I okay?” I blink. “Are you?”
“Oh, my God, Jason,” she mumbles, rubbing her eyes. “You did not think I’d be mad at you.” I look away, and she smacks my shoulder. “Jason!”
“How was I supposed to know?” I whine.
“We have been together for five years,” she says patiently, “and you are my friend first. My best friend. I’m not angry.”
I hug her again, tighter, squeezing my eyes shut. She pulls back after a moment, and looks tired, but not sad.
“So what are you going to do?”
“I… I don’t know,” I say honestly.
She rolls her eyes. “It’s not that hard to figure out.”
She shakes her head. “I can move back in with my parents for a little bit. It was your apartment first, and they won’t mind.”
“I’m not kicking you out,” I say in shock.
“But you think I want to live with you and Jeremiah?”
My eyes widen and I jolt back. “What-? We just started-”
“You were talking in your sleep again.” She seems completely unphased, whereas I’m freaking out. “You’re worried about him- His place, specifically. And unless it was some weird nightmare, you’re right. It isn’t safe and he should live with you until you guys decide on something more permanent.”
“How are you so calm about this?” I ask after a moment.
She shrugs one shoulder and smiles sadly. “I guess I was expecting it.”
“You could live with Seth,” I suggest. “He’s kicking out his roommate for not paying rent. His rent is close to ours- You could afford it. And he wouldn’t mind.”
“You think he’d do that for me?”
“I’ll talk to him.” She climbs out of bed, but comes over to my side and hugs me from behind, kissing my cheek. “Thanks for telling me. Tell your parents, too, okay?”
“One step at a time,” I grumble, but hug her back.
She leaves the room to call Seth as I slump against the pillows. I grab my phone and pull up Jeremiah’s contact, opting to call him instead of texting him.
“I’m at work,” he says the moment he answers.
“Yeah, at the pizzeria. How did it go?”
I take a deep breath. “We have a lot to talk about.”
Several hours later, Seth and Jeremiah were at Ro’s and my apartment as Ro passed around glasses of wine, the television blaring pretty obnoxiously.
“I can’t help but think we’re moving entirely too fast,” Jeremiah mumbles into his glass, “but maybe I don’t care.”
“You’re not moving in as my boyfriend,” I say, “you’re moving in as my friend. Because I care about you and I don’t want you living there.”
He quirks an eyebrow, and I blush as he takes another sip of wine. “In that case, will we have separate rooms?”
I shrug. “If you’d like.”
He thinks about it for a moment, before nodding, and I actually feel a little relieved, too.
“So are you guys together?” Seth asks, his arm draped good-naturedly around Ro.
“Dude,” I hiss, and he laughs.
Jeremiah flicks his hair out of his eyes and says, “It’s a secret.”
“Jason can’t keep secrets,” Seth points out, and Jeremiah shrugs and agrees.
I’m about to tell them I managed to stay in the closet for twenty one years, but it’s not even remotely true so I don’t bother.
Seth and Ro stay in our bedroom that night, leaving Jeremiah and I to the couch. Comforted in the fact that they’re slightly drunk and dead tired, and therefore won’t be coming out until morning, Jeremiah lays down with his head in my lap. I run my fingers through his hair, sighing and leaning back in content.
“So how about it, then?” He murmurs, his eyes drifting closed.
“How about what?”
“Are you my boyfriend?”
I look down at him flatly. “Even I know how to ask someone out better than that.”
He snorts and sits up, crawling into my lap. My breathing hitches as he presses his forehead against mine, tangling his fingers through my hair.
His lips brush against mine as he whispers, “Do you want to be my boyfriend?”
I nod, transfixed. He closes the distance and kisses me softly, his legs wrapped around my waist. I run my hand up his back and into his hair, panting already. After a little while, he pulls back and resumes his position laying with his head in my lap, and I run my fingers through his hair again. This time, though, he takes my free hand and twines our fingers, a smile playing on his lips.
“How long?” I demand, and Seth smirks.
I tap my foot anxiously, scowling. Seth laughs. “Good to see you’re so excited to get home.”
“Fuck off,” I grumble, making my way back to my office.
I work for the next ten minutes, annoyed and impatient, until the clock hits six pm. and I’m free to go. I race out of my office and clock out, jumping into my car and hurrying home. When I open my apartment door, it smells like lemon candy and fabric.
I crash into Jeremiah from behind, nuzzling into his neck. He laughs, hugging me back and murmuring, “Every time.”
He kisses me softly before pushing me off and sitting up at the counter. “You’re earlier than normal.”
“I convinced Lacey to give me a break day,” I say. “I have tomorrow off.”
His eyes sparkle. “I knew I shouldn’t have told you I have tomorrow off. I knew you’d do something stupid like that.”
I step closer to him and drape my arms around his neck. “That’s exactly why you told me.”
“Mhm,” he hums, kissing my neck. “In that case, you can join Ro, Seth, and I for dinner. But we can spend the rest of the day together.”
I smile. “Okay.”
He tucks my hair behind my ear and smiles back.
“Jeremiah?” I ask as he rests his chin on my shoulder.
“Can we go to bed?”