illustrated by cloven
“Please,” Avery said, “please, please tell me you’re all kidding.”
They grinned; and then, across from him, in unison, Elise, Shayna, Simon, and Nicky shook their heads.
“You’re getting married.” Avery put his head in his hands. That couldn’t be right. “All of you. This spring.”
Shayna rubbed her brown knuckles against her smiling mouth. Avery couldn’t quite blame her for it; Shayna was two years older than Avery and Elise and a year older than Simon and Nicky, and she and her fiancée had been engaged for around a year. The rest…Elise had gotten engaged right after the end of their senior year, but Avery was fairly sure Simon and Nicky had agreed to get married purely to spite him.
“I tried to talk ’em out of it,” Shayna said. Her engagement ring gleamed rose gold. “Sorry, Aves.”
“I didn’t wanna be a part of it either,” Nicky said. “Neither did Nina, honestly. She knew you would flip.”
Avery pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes. Sitting on the lumpy brown ottoman in the center of Nicky’s living room, across from his friends–his engaged friends, his soon-to-be-married friends–he felt like an island. “Seriously, though? This year? Like, four weddings in this exact spring? The same one?”
“Oh, come on. Don’t act like y’all two are the good friend couples here,” said Elise. A hand landed on Avery’s knee and gripped it; he opened his eyes and saw twin sparkles of blue and white. Hers, then. Blue for her birthstone and diamond for her fiance’s. She was rolling her eyes, wry-lipped, when Avery looked up. “Nicky said he thought it would be funny–”
“Yeah, in a–”
“In a shitty way, yeah, yeah, I know, but you still said it.”
“Now, now,” said Simon, and stretched his arms out placatingly. “Not to worry. We’re all morally bankrupt. I would say all of us except Avery over there, but everyone here remembers summer before senior year, so it’s a we thing.” He clapped a big hand down onto Avery’s knee too and added, “I think this is funny too, though, so that’s about all the speechmaking I can do.”
“Thanks,” Avery said. He wanted to put his head back in his hands again. He wanted to pretend this wasn’t happening. He wanted a drink. “Do I have to go to all of them?”
“Yup,” Shayna said, smiling broadly. “Because you love us. And because we don’t actually hate you, you only have to be best man for two of them: mine and Nicky’s.”
Avery pressed his knuckles to his temples and rubbed. “Oh, so you don’t hate me, you just want me to suffer a little bit. I’m just so glad to hear that.”
Simon’s laugh was booming. It always had been, especially when it was most inappropriate, and this time was no exception. Avery was torn between joining in and maybe crying.
“Simon, stop that. Look, Aves, we know you’ve been going through it lately, so we figured that, like, the weddings will actually be good for you! Think about how many guys will be there…” Trailing off, Elise wiggled her eyebrows at him.
Just the thought of Elise tampering with his love life made Avery cringe. “No way. I am not letting you set me up on another apocalypse blind date again. I don’t care if I’ve slept alone for the last four months. I would rather be alone forever, and ever, until death do me and Netflix part, before I let you set me up with some guy who thinks sour gummies are a fruit and refuses to jerk off with his gaming hand again, thanks.”
Elise cringed; Shayna laughed. “C’mon, think about it.” She bent her head to Avery’s sunken level and gave him a sly, sparkling smile. “Free food. Free booze. At least one semi-presentable bachelor on the grounds. And we’ll let you pick at least half of the songs on the playlist for the reception.”
Elise made a squawking noise and said, “We?”
“Yes, we,” Nicky said, rolling his eyes. “We talked about this already. I said it would be shitty of us to make you go through four weddings without having some of the fun, Simon laughed, Elise whined, Shay agreed, and that’s what we decided. So, Aves, you can pick the music and dance your ass off.”
Tempting. Very tempting.
Although Avery was loathe to admit it, they made good points; there was nothing free food and alcohol hadn’t been able to get him to do, and besides, maybe it would be good for him to get out and…mingle, socialize, flirt, whatever people called hooking up at weddings these days. His love life had been abysmal for months; it couldn’t get much worse now, could it?
“Fuck,” Avery said, and threw his hands into the air. “Fuck, fuck it, fine, I’ll do it. But if any of you get divorced, I will have nothing to do with your remarriages. Nothing at all. Ever.”
It was almost worth it to see his friends beaming at him. Almost.
“Aww,” Simon crooned, and threw himself to the floor to slump dramatically on Avery’s lap. He was a big guy, a head and a half taller than Avery and at least fifty pounds heavier, and while that made him a great pillow, it also meant that an elbow to the gut felt something being bodyslammed. Avery groaned. “You do love us!”
“No, I still hate you, actually. Don’t get ahead of yourselves.”
“But Avery,” Nicky simpered in Simon’s sugary drawn-out whine, “we love you–”
“I hate you,” Avery groaned, and let himself crumble sideways off the ottoman. Simon’s arm dug into his hip, and Elise was pinching his leg with her toes, and Shayna and Nicky were both laughing, and Avery was smiling, too. Laughing, almost.
“You won’t be saying that in three months,” Shayna told him.
“Watch me,” Avery said, determined. He lifted his chin and said–
“I hate you. Remind me why I’m doing this again?”
Elise, slumped against Avery’s side, giggled and kicked her foot up. Her heel–silver, dusted liberally with glitter–dangled from her toes, dyed pink and purple and blue by the strobe lights overhead. Beyond it, the reception buzzed on, a pulsing mass of happy conversation and light-footed bodies. The wedding itself had been beautiful, if a little monotonous; it was sheer determination that kept Avery whining.
“Because you love me, and because you know you look damn good in a suit,” Elise said. Avery craned his neck a little to look down at her. Her head was on his shoulder, probably leaving glittery makeup all over the fabric of his jacket; from this angle all Avery could see was the sweep of fake eyelashes and the way her cheeks turned rosy and bunched up when she was smiling. He didn’t have to look to know her eyes were on her husband, who was across the room watching Simon tell what, judging by the expanse of his gestures, must have been a good story. Fondness welled up in Avery like a line tapped.
“Don’t tell anyone,” Avery said, and squeezed her hand. “Now get off of me. You’re glittering everywhere and if you don’t stop radiating love near me I’m going to puke.”
Elise giggled and twisted a little to plant a smudgey kiss on Avery’s cheek. She was warm and a little wobbly as she stood, and she smelled like wine and sweet perfume. Avery took the cup she’d left on the table–mostly full, still, a familiar sign–and pulled it toward himself, ignoring her pout.
“Love you, Aves,” she said, and patted his cheek.
“Love you too, you gross beautiful bride.” Avery blew her a kiss for the road.
From the sidelines, the reception was a little easier to comprehend; through a haze of just-more-than tipsiness everything spun like cotton candy and was colored just as sweet. Avery let his heavy head sink onto his own shoulder and watched. There was music, and smiling, and dancing, and people leaning close to talk, and Shayna coming toward him, and–
Oh, thought Avery, somewhere in the back of his head. That couldn’t possibly be good.
Shayna was a lanky vision, though good or bad, Avery wasn’t sure. She wore purple tonight, deep as an iris, a flowing, light gown that shone against the brown of her skin and fluttered breathily around her feet even as she stopped just short of Avery’s chair.
“Boy,” she said, grinning, breathless, “you will never guess who I just found.”
Definitely a bad vision. Avery held up his free hand to ward her off. “Uh-uh. I won’t guess. I won’t do that. What do you want?”
“Come with me–that’s what I want, don’t be stubborn! Get up, get up, I’ll get you another drink if you come with me.”
Shayna was smiling, laughing, tugging at Avery’s wrist, and again that wave of fierce fondness wore his resolve down to nothing. Grumbling, he let himself be pulled from his seat and trotted alongside Shayna. “You,” he said, “are a terrible influence, and I want a margarita but with the rim dusted with sugar instead of salt. I’m already too salty.”
“That you are,” Shayna said, and bumped him with a solid hip. She was a few inches shorter than Avery, but the force of it and the alcohol in him made him stumble a half-step sideways. Shayna laughed; Avery grunted and elbowed her back. “Now,” she said, walking closer and giving Avery a conspiratorial look, “don’t be mad, but I might have mentioned you to this guy, and you’re literally never going to believe who it is, it’s kinda wild.”
Avery eyed her. “Who is it? What did you do?”
“Oh, just wait. You’re gonna hate me, but you’re also gonna love me. Maybe more hate than love, though. How drunk are you?”
“Enough,” Avery said, frowning. Shayna steered them toward one of the open bars–more specifically in the direction of someone standing at one of the open bars, drink in hand, watching the play of lights over the free spaces on the dance floor.
He was tall, a little more so than Avery, strong-jawed and wickedly dark-eyed, broad in his navy suit jacket and a mile long through the legs. A spray of faint freckles washed across his cheeks; dimples sat unassumingly on either side of his lips. His smile, when he flashed it, was both alarming and disarming at the same time; charming in its even-toothed appeal, yet worrisomely attractive. Avery resisted the urge to punch himself preemptively.
Shayna had stopped between the two of them, but now she stepped back to let them face each other. “Avery,” she said with all the slow deliberacy of an executioner, “you remember Beau Collins, right? From college?
Maybe–but he was loath to say yes, since there was no way to be sure where exactly he faintly remembered Beau from. It could be anything as innocent as a prereq Humanities class or something as condemning as a half-remembered weekend. Either way, there was something familiar about the cocky set of his mouth and the way his grip felt when he reached out to shake Avery’s hand. Firm, warm, a little rough; it was the kind of handshake that made Avery take people seriously.
“Sure,” Avery said, and lifted his drink to his mouth like a shield. “Nice to re-meet you.”
He was attractive; Avery let his eyes travel the length of him, toe to head, as unabashed as alcohol would allow. Beau caught it; grinned. “Likewise,” he said.
There was a brief pause, and then: “Well!” Shayna clapped her hands summarily. Avery’s stomach dropped. “I’ll leave you two alone then. I’m sure y’all have some catching up to do, right?”
Shit. Wincing, Avery reached out for her as she turned. He missed by a single violet chiffon inch. “Oh–Shay, Shay, no–”
Shayna winked at him, mouthed, have fun, and then, braids flying, spun away.
Avery squeezed his eyes shut. Clenched his fist. Took a breath. He was acutely aware of Beau’s eyes on the back of his head; watching, probably judging. Avery couldn’t blame him, really.
“Don’t look to excited to see me, now,” Beau said dryly.
Another grimace. Avery downed the rest of his drink and set it down on the table behind him with a clunk. Things could only go uphill from here, right?
He turned. “Sorry,” he said, and flashed his best please-don’t-think-I’m-weird smile. “Shayna’s, uh…my friends think I’m–ugh.” He shook his head. Uphill, no; embarrassing, yes. “I’m gonna stop talking, actually.”
Beau was smiling, and then he was laughing. It was a good laugh, hearty and deep and booming, the kind that you would think were mocking if the smile that went with it weren’t so genuine. Nice teeth, too. Shayna really could’ve done worse.
“No,” he said, and the laugh petered down to a chuckle that made Avery blush and preen all at once. “Keep talking. You’re funny.”
The curve of his lips was the kind that sent cars careening unexpectedly off the road. It was devilish; it was gorgeous. Avery licked his lips, opened his mouth, and said–
The steady pulse of a bassline thumped in Avery’s chest. His wrist was wet, already sticky with fruit juice and vodka mixed in an unfortunate ratio; he lifted it to his mouth and licked away a stray drop, sweat and sugar, flashing teeth as he laughed. He felt giddy already, but his nerves sparkled when the eyes of the boy scant inches away darkened.
The boy took Avery by the hand, thumb in the cradle of his palm. He dipped his head, brought his mouth to Avery’s wrist–paused when Avery pulled his wrist back an inch.
“What’s your name?” Avery asked.
The boy grinned. “It’s–”
“–shit. Beau?–oh, shit.”
Beau raised one eyebrow, hesitated, and then raised the other. “That is indeed my name.”
“We, uh.” Avery touched his fingers to his temple, Heat prickled at his neck, his chest, his ears. “Oh, wow. This is awkward. We made out at a party once. Senior year. It was a–well, you probably don’t remember, but–a, uh–”
“Spring concert afterparty,” Beau finished. He was grinning. “Yeah, yeah, I remember that, actually.”
Jesus. Avery ran a hand through his hair. It figured that even at a wedding reception swarming with eligible and at least fairly attractive people, he would gravitate toward the one person with whom things could get really. Fucking. Awkward.
“Wow. That, uh, that was…”
Avery stopped. Blinked. Mouthed: ‘hot’. What the hell was he talking about?
“Hot?” Avery was hot now, from head to toe. Jesus. Beau had to be fucking with him. “Are you messing with me?”
“No! No, definitely not.” Beau took a step closer. No self-preservation or this can’t actually be happening reflex kicked in, and so Avery stayed still, watching, eyes on Beau’s jaw or hair or shoulders or nose or anything that wasn’t his mouth. “I would never joke about that. I take my hookups very seriously.”
His voice said ‘serious’, but his face said ‘mischievous’; he was smirking everywhere from the curl of his lip to the gleam in his eyes. He was messing around, Avery realized.
Well. Two could play that game.
It was a calculated move that almost always worked on Beau’s type: Avery sank back on one hip, put on the sauciest pout he could stomach being as sober as he was, and said, “You’re joking with me.”
Beau’s eyes widened. Caught between amused and what looked like impressed, he laughed. “No, I swear I’m not. Look, it was at Green House, right? I don’t remember what you were wearing, but I know you were drinking some gross fruity shit.”
“Hey. Vodka and mango juice is good, thank you very much.”
“Whatever. Point is, I remember what happened. And I’m pretty sure it was hot, otherwise I wouldn’t remember it at all.”
Beau’s teeth were bright, even in the purple-blue-pink rhythm of flashing lights. He was handsome, Avery had to admit, even though it seemed like the remnants of his college days still lingered in his mannerisms and the vague smell of cheap beer. Even so: he was charismatic, and he was kind of nice, and most pressingly he was there, in Avery’s space, head angled like he was primed to make any move Avery so desired and radiating heat.
He was hot, he was willing, and so was Avery. And even if this went sideways, even if Avery was somehow misreading the signals–well, Beau was just an old college acquaintance. After tonight, they’d never see each other again.
What was the worst that could happen?
Avery looked at Beau, at the breadth of his shoulders and the way the muscles in his forearms shifted when he flexed his hands and the narrow taper of his waist and the way his smile pulled up a little higher on one side, and found himself wanting.
Half an inch forward put the two of them toe to toe, knee to knee, hips and chests and mouths close. Avery tilted his chin up, let his lips part slow, and watched Beau watch him with intent.
“I bet you don’t remember how it felt,” Avery murmured.
He let his mouth quirk up a half-step. Beau’s eyes widened again, just a fraction. That–the anticipation in his eyes, the eager shape of his mouth–that was desire, and Avery felt it like a heatwave.
So close their lips nearly brushed, Beau said, “Let’s see if you can jog my memory.”
Beau’s mouth was soft, unexpectedly so: from the easy blooming way he opened his mouth to the gentle swipe of his tongue against Avery’s lower lip, he was soft, and something about that softness made Avery push for more. He nipped at Beau’s lower lip, and, when Beau made a startled noise in his throat, stopped, kissed it, and did it again. He pressed his tongue into Beau’s mouth and met no resistance and wondered, vaguely, if that was what he was looking for, if biting down on the soft curve of Beau’s upper lip would satisfy the want that itched under his skin. Avery pressed closer, curling his fingers in the collar of Beau’s shirt, and tilted his head to kiss Beau deeper. Beau’s hands, which had been resting lightly on Avery’s hips, slid up his back, fingers skipping across his vertebrae like stones over water, until they came to his neck. A new haircut left the back of Avery’s neck exposed; Beau’s fingers found that skin and danced there in sweet soft patterns that made Avery shiver. It was an unexpected touch, nothing like the firm hold Avery hadn’t realized he expected from someone like Beau, and it was–it was–
Avery pulled back. His heart was pounding. His mouth tingled. The look on Beau’s face did nothing to help lessen that; it was inscrutable, tinged here with lust and there with softness, that damn softness, and Avery wanted to kiss him again until he found something sharp.
“Wow,” Beau said after a moment, surprised like someone had prodded him into speech. “That was. Wow. Better than I remember.”
Avery grinned. “Good. I think. Depending on how good it was before.”
“Good,” Beau said, tapping his temple, “better,” and touched his thumb to Avery’s mouth. It was still sensitive, unused to the pressure; the gesture set Avery’s nerves alight again. “You’re a wild one, huh?”
Usually Avery would have said that ‘huh’ was right; but now, with his blood loud in his veins and his body buzzing, he couldn’t quite disagree.
Why that was, he didn’t know. What he did know, though, was that Beau smelled very good, and that the was his mouth had flushed was very attractive, and that there were at least eight other things he’d rather be doing than talking right now, but that kissing Beau was the most tempting.
Fuck it, Avery thought. He leaned up again and, against Beau’s mouth, said, “Why don’t you find out?”
“I think I’ll take you up on that,” Beau said, and closed the distance.
Three weeks later found Avery downtown, weaving through the crowd thrumming at Simon’s reception to find the open bar. It was almost like a game, in a way: his objective was to get to the bar as quickly as possible, while fending off conversation as best he could, and also without losing the bouquet fate had ever-so-kindly dropped into his hands. So far, Avery was doing pretty well; he hadn’t run into anyone important enough that he had to stay and talk, so it had mostly been elbow pats and shoulder taps and faux-surprised smiles that he could shrug off with a “hey, how are you, yes I caught it, just a sec”. All that was left between him and his goal was five mostly empty feet of space, the home stretch–
The gesture was bold, surprisingly so, and into the thoughtless space in the back of Avery’s head popped a name.
“Shit,” Avery breathed, out of reflex, and, clutching the bouquet to his chest, spun around to face– “Beau?”
Beau made an offended face, but underneath it, he was smiling. “Are you going to say that every time you see me?”
“Depends.” Avery’s heart was racing; it didn’t slow down at all when Beau’s smile shone through. “Are you stalking me?”
“What? No! No, of course not. I just saw you stomping around and wanted to say, y’know, hi.”
Avery raised an eyebrow. “So you’re stalking me.”
It was gratifying to see Beau’s face twist up like that, like he’d never been told he was anything less than charming, and that it was both confusing and amusing to hear it now. The expression started with a furrow between his dark brows and trickled downward: a wrinkle of his nose, the pull of his mouth, the way he tensed up all the way to his toes. If it hadn’t been so funny, Avery would have felt a little bad.
He let Beau stew for a moment; and then, when Beau looked like he was about to bluster his way into an apology or some sort, Avery cracked a smile and said, “I’m joking. Relax.”
Beau did so visibly, sagging in a way that made his breadth even more apparent. This time he’d ditched his suit jacket in favor of dress shirt alone, a warm cream-colored fabric that made his skin pull warm tones. It was rolled up to the elbows; which was something that Avery only noticed because it was casual, and certainly not because the muscle of Beau’s forearms was notable in any way. His lips were curling rakishly, and his color was high; there were, Avery noted, worse things to look at than Beau.
“However,” Avery said, tone just regretful enough to make Beau tense up again, “you do owe me for being so gullible.” He grinned. “Buy me a drink?”
“What,” said Beau, “how,” and then, sighing, he settled on, “It’s an open bar. I don’t have to buy you a drink.”
“It’s the principle of the thing,” Avery said lightly, and swatted Beau on the arm. It was not a ploy to feel his bicep; it just turned out that way, and it just so happened that Beau was very solid, and that that was something that Avery could appreciate. “C’mon. See if you can guess what I want.”
Beau snorted. “Principles, huh,” he said, but changed his grip on Avery’s wrist and tugged him toward the bar. He leaned one elbow against the bar, looked at Avery, looked at the selection of alcohol, looked at Avery again, and signalled for one of the bartenders. “Can I get a Long Island iced tea and a…a vodka cranberry? Yeah, one of those.”
Avery raised an eyebrow but said nothing. After a moment, Beau pulled two loose dollar bills out of nowhere, slapped them down on the bar, and turned around with drinks in hand.
“Here.” He handed the vodka cranberry over to Avery, expectant. “How’d I do?”
Stiff and sweet. One thing Avery would always love about receptions, no matter whose they were or how bad the playlists were, was that the bartenders were always very liberal with the alcohol. He took another sip and said, “Not bad, big guy.”
“Thanks,” Beau said dryly, and tapped his glass to Avery’s before taking a sip.
Avery took another long sip of his drink, and waited until Beau was doing the same to ask, “So, why exactly are you stalking me, again?”
Beau choked; not enough to warrant concern, but enough that he had to spit part of his drink back into the cup. Avery hid his laugh behind his glass.
“Jesus,” Beau rasped, and gave Avery a harried look. “Would you stop doing that? People are going to think I’m a creep.”
Avery dipped his head to catch his straw between his teeth. He looked up from under his lashes and asked, “So how do I keep running into you, then? Are you one of those guys who hangs out around chapels to find weddings to crash or something?”
Beau rolled his eyes. “No. I’m friends with Simon; I’m actually putting together his bachelor party next month. And Nicky. Not his party, but we’re friends. And Shayna now too, I guess.”
“Shay?–I don’t want to know.” Avery pressed the glass to his temple, rethought its use, and took another long sip from it instead. Ice rattled around at the bottom; Avery frowned at it. Trying to figure out what Shayna was doing cozying up to Beau would require more alcohol than he currently had. “But that does explain it, I guess.”
Beau did a snort-and-eyeroll combo that shouldn’t have been endearing in any way at all, but kind of was anyway. “Don’t sound so excited to see me.”
Avery found himself opening his mouth, and promptly snapped it shut. He wasn’t excited, but he was….glad. Happy. Something like that. There was a part of Avery’s heart that hadn’t quite stopped racing just yet, the same part that made him tingle, just a little, whenever Beau looked at him in a particular way: head cocked, lips parted, eyes dark and wholly focused.
He was doing that now, but with a little bit of a smile added in, teeth gleaming. His turn to catch Avery off-balance, then.
Avery took his loss as graciously as he could. “I’m just glad there’s someone here who recognizes me as a vodka cranberry and not a tequila sunrise,” he said, turning up his nose. “You wouldn’t believe how common a mistake that is.”
“I think I would, actually,” Beau said, laughing. He took a sip from his drink like he hadn’t just spit into it a moment ago. Part of Avery was disgusted; part of him was sure that was exactly on-brand. “Especially with you holding that bouquet and all.”
“What–oh.” The bouquet was made up mostly of roses in sweet shades of peach, here and there shot through with lilies, tied off with a navy bow. Nick had very clearly not been in charge of the color scheme, and for good reason; Jamie had enough taste for the both of them. Avery held the bouquet up next to his face, cocked his head, and asked, “Does this make me look like a tequila sunset kinda guy?”
“Makes you look like the kind of guy I’d wanna buy a tequila sunset for.” Beau winked. “Or like, anything else you wanted, really.”
Avery’s eyes went wide. “Oh my god,” he said, a little stunned. Heat crept up his neck. “Are you serious?”
“I mean, yeah. Well, okay, I’m not a millionaire, so don’t expect anything too big, but yeah.”
“I meant about the pickup line, asshole.” Beau raised an eyebrow; Avery flushed, but went on. “We just met.”
Beau leaned back on one elbow to regard him. “Well, technically we’ve known each other for…what, three years? And we’ve already made out twice, so I don’t think we’re really strangers..”
Avery pursed his lips. Beau wasn’t exactly wrong, but he wasn’t really right, either, and when he said as much, Beau rolled his eyes and held out his hand.
Avery clutched the bouquet; Beau rolled his eyes again, harder, and said, “Your phone, dude.”
“Oh.” Avery dug his phone out of his pocket and handed it over.
“No case, huh? Power move.” Beau pretended to drop Avery’s phone, and then almost did when Avery smacked him on the arm. “Jesus. Alright…here…you…go.” He started to hand Avery’s phone back, and then thought better of it. “Wait. This too…okay, here.”
He held Avery’s phone out; Avery snatched it away, eyeing Beau suspiciously. “What did you do?”
“Gave you my phone number, duh. And my Snapchat.”
“Oh, God.” Avery opened the app; Beau had indeed sent himself a snap, and looked pleased as punch about it. The prospect of getting snaps from Beau wasn’t at all off-putting–he was handsome and visibly well-built even through his clothes–but for the sake of appearances, Avery made himself look stern as he could and said, “If you send me a dick pic, I’m going to punch you.”
“That would require you to see me again first, so who would be the real winner?” Beau winked.
“Like, still me,” Avery said, but his cheeks were hot. Beau was goofy, and he made talking easy, but trading numbers had jolted Avery back into reality. They were flirting, underneath all the playfulness and the weird ease; Beau, with his open smile and his intent eyes, was flirting with him. And sure, Avery had flirted a little during his dry spell, but he’d hadn’t gotten all the way to courting since his last legitimate relationship.
Well. Avery shook his head. Maybe this wasn’t courting–that seemed a little serious for having only traded numbers and made out a few times–but definitely flirting. And Avery couldn’t say he minded.
“So,” said Beau, snapping Avery out of pink-tinted reverie, “We’re not strangers, right?”
“According to your standards, we’re not.” Avery put his phone in his pocket and, casually as he could manage, moved a little closer. There was something magnetic about Beau, and Avery didn’t want to fight it enough to question what exactly it was.
“So” –and there was the glint in his eye, the devilish curve of his lips, the look that let Avery know Beau was more than just a charming ex-fratboy– “we can make out again, right?”
Avery’s heart tripped.
What, he wanted to say, but it was empty, just something to help him stall. Why, he wanted to ask, but Beau was moving closer and he was too, tilting his head, parting his lips, breathing in the smell of alcohol and cologne, and then he didn’t care much about why Beau was kissing him so long as he kept doing it.
There was a brief pause in the moment Avery leaned back for air. “We,” Beau murmured into the brief space between their mouths, “have got to stop meeting like this.”
Avery squeezed his eyes shut. It was a joke, but underneath the silliness of it was a truth: Beau had come on like a sudden summer storm, and Avery had gotten drenched by sheets of effortless, boyish charm. All Avery knew about Beau was his last name, his tenacity, and the fact that he was a very good kisser. The last one Avery was tempted to weight extra, but even so…
“Yeah,” Avery sighed. “We do.”
Beau’s eyes widened. He startled upright, put his hands up between them in surrender. “Sorry, I thought–signals–y’know.”
“Oh–oh, no, you read them just fine.” He patted Beau on the chest. Beau tilted his head. Saccharine, Avery said, “I just figured I should ask what you think you’re after.”
“I,” said Beau, “uh,” paused, “you,” and then, finally: “Do you do this to everyone who hits on you, or is it just me?”
“Do what?” Avery gave his best sweet and unassuming smile.
“The headgames,” Beau said. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m into it, I’m just wondering.”
Beau was an unusual combination of flustered and forward that Avery had never quite seen before. It was refreshing in a strange way, and endearing in a way even stranger than that. Avery found himself smiling. “Only if they’re worth my time.”
“Oh.” Beau raised a strong eyebrow. “So am I worth your time?”
He was, most likely; but, in the interests of keeping Beau’s ego somewhat deflated, Avery wasn’t about to tell him that. Instead, he tilted his head coy, put on his best smile, and said:
“You’ll find out.”
Avery knew that tone. Moreover, he feared that tone, and knew better than to let Shayna get out more than a few words when she sounded like that. “No,” he said, jabbing the ‘send’ button on his last text message before looking up. “Stop saying it like that, whatever it is.”
Shayna rolled her eyes. “Alright, chill. I was gonna ask how you and Beau were doing, that’s all.”
“Uh,” Avery said reflexively. Six inches below his nose, next to today’s fourth sample of wedding cake,, a message from Beau lit up his screen. One of the things they had in common was a love for Forensic Files; ever since he’d found that out, Beau had insisted on making Avery the recipient of his livetexts of the show. They were very funny texts in a gory, flippant sort of way, which was usually fine, but today, when Shayna could catalogue each instance of Avery laughing at his phone, had become a problem. “I’m not. I mean, we’re not.”
She laughed; belatedly, Avery realized he hadn’t answered the question she asked at all. “Wow,” Shayna said, looking pointedly at his phone. “You are really not on your game, dude.”
“Fuck,” Avery groaned, burying his face in his hands. “I–do we really have to talk about this? Not just right now, but like, at all?”
“We absolutely do, now that I know there’s something going on. You know the rules, Aves.”
The damn rules were the bane of Avery’s existence, and would likely be the cause of at least one major meltdown one day. The rules, established the summer before Avery’s senior year of college, had several different subsections, but the most important–and the most used–of the clauses was this: that if anyone set anyone in their friend group up with someone, that person got details. And since Shayna was the one that had reintroduced Avery to Beau, that meant…
“Details,” Shayna said, grinning. She pulled Avery’s hands away from his face and said, “You know the drill.”
Avery let out a long, grating groan. What was there to know? He could barely make himself think the word ‘crush’, let alone say it aloud. It made him feel like he was fourteen again, which wasn’t how Beau made him feel: with Beau, Avery felt…confident. Attractive. Good. The word ‘crush’ didn’t describe the way he felt when Beau sent him shitty pickup lines in the morning, or the way he looked forward to hearing from Beau every day–and it certainly didn’t describe the number of times Avery had jerked off thinking of Beau, of his mouth and his hands, wondering if phone sex would be much too forward.
Avery shook himself out of that particular line of thought. Heat had already begun to stir in the pit of his stomach; that wouldn’t do with Shayna around. “I don’t know, Shay. I–we’ve been talking since he gave me his number at Simon’s wedding, so, what, two weeks? He’s…he’s Beau. That’s really all I can say about him.”
Shayna gave him a flat look. “You can do better. Have you guys made out again?”
“Well, we–wait.” Avery paused. “Again?”
“Yeah, again. Everyone saw you making out at Elise’s wedding, and I’m pretty sure at least eighty percent of anyone who had eyes saw you at Simon’s.”
Avery ran a hand through his hair. “Fuck,” he muttered, shaking his head. “Then no. We haven’t hung out in person since then. Just texting and stuff.”
“Sexting?” Shayna wiggled her eyebrows.
“No, unfortunately.” Avery gave up a laugh. “I wish–I fucking wish. You would think he’d be all over that, right, but no. He’s–”
“Different,” Avery finished after a moment. “He’s different.”
Shayna’s smile was slow to spread, but when it did, it was ear to ear. “I knew it,” she said, smacking Avery on the arm. “I could tell y’all were gonna get along when I ran into him, I totally called it, I knew this would work! You can thank me for salvaging your love life any time,” she added, grinning as she flexed not-so-imaginary biceps at him.
“Alright, you,” Avery grumbled, pushing her arm away. He rolled his eyes. “I’m not thanking you just yet, anyway. He almost thought I was a tequila sunrise guy; there’s no telling how it’ll work out.”
“Oh, stop that.” Shayna said, licking frosting from the back of her hand. She pointed at her eyes and then at Avery’s, and said, “Just you watch. You’re gonna thank me for this one day.”
Avery thought of Beau, of his easy smile and his gentle hands and his terrible humor, and bit back the beginnings of a smile. “We’ll see about that.”
By the time April rolled around, Avery was beginning to think he’d developed an allergy to the word ‘wedding’, or anything that could be found within five degrees of it on a word tree. Either that, or he was sick, and in that case it was probably wedding-related too. An excess of stress, having to attend too many planning sessions, eating too much wedding cake–whatever it was, it was evil, and Avery was never getting married.
No, I seriously can’t come, he texted for what felt like the umpteenth time. It was nearing eleven, Simon’s bachelor party was still going strong, and Avery was losing track of the number of texts he’d gotten from people begging him to come out. Nicky, Simon, Shayna on Simon’s behalf, two friends from college and one from high school, even a random number he didn’t recognize. Beau had been texting him, too, but once Avery’d told him he wasn’t coming out, he’d let the issue slide with a series of frowny face emojis and an inappropriate innuendo. That was par for the course for Beau, though; most of the texts they traded were saturated with innuendo, even when there was nothing in particular to be made lewd.
He shook that stray thought away. Nothing good could possibly come from letting himself think about Beau and lewdness when he was alone; that would be about the same as drawing up a pentagon and summoning Beau himself. Besides, fantasizing could only do so much good; at some point, Avery had to face reality.
A reality which, apparently, included someone knocking at the front door.
Pizza? No. Avery shook his head. He hadn’t ordered pizza, which meant it was probably someone coming to visit. Not anyone from the bachelor party, most likely, which left a very small list of people who would drop by his apartment uninvited. Avery ran through that list as he forced himself up off the couch and cocooned his blanket around himself as best he could. It could be Elise, but she’d been in honeymoon mode since tying the knot, so she was probably home; maybe Shayna, but she usually called when she got there; and if not them, then–
“Shit,” Avery said, squinting. “Beau?”
“Avery,” Beau said. Blinking, surprised, he asked, “You look like hell. What’s wrong with you?”
If Avery weren’t sick and crotchety besides, he’d have been a little more embarrassed. His hair was sticking up strangely–he could feel it–and he was warm all over, probably smelled like sleep and heat and chicken noodle soup, probably looked nothing like the sharp face he put on for parties. Shit, he thought vaguely.
“Sick,” he said aloud, and shuffled back into his house. “Come in. Being vertical is hard.”
Beau followed Avery inside. Avery slumped back onto the couch and pulled his feet back within the warm confines of his blanket. From there he could hear the twin thumps of shoes being toed off and the soft slap of bare feet. There was quiet; and then the couch dipped under Beau’s weight at the far end.
“This is definitely the worst I’ve ever seen you look,” Beau said.
Avery pushed himself up on one elbow to give Beau a nasty look. “Rude. Why are you even here? And how? Are you actually stalking me?”
“I’m not.” Beau rolled his eyes. “Look, everyone kept saying you were sick, and then Simon said you were dying, and Nicky gave me your address, so…” he spread his hands. “Here I am.”
“I’m not actually dying.” Beau was radiating warmth near Avery’s legs; without thinking, Avery pushed his toes underneath Beau’s thighs and shivered at the influx of warmth.
“I was hoping not.” The smile Beau gave him now was different from the ones he’d seen. There was no flirt in it, no slyness or coy gleam; instead there was softness, and gentleness, something earnestly sweet that made Avery smile back without ever deciding to smile himself.
He hid it behind his blanket and squinted at Beau over the striped fabric. “I can’t believe you’re flirting with me right now,” he said, sniffling. “I haven’t showered in two days. And I smell like snot.”
“Ooh,” Beau said, faux-lascivious, and draped himself over Avery’s legs, propping himself up on Avery’s hip. “Sexy.”
Avery made a face. “You’re disgusting. I’m serious and also disgusting. Stop flirting with me.”
“C’mon, now.” With his free hand, Beau reached up and peeled the blanket away from Avery’s top half. Avery watched, wary; but all Beau did was take Avery’s hand in his, palm warm on Avery’s knuckles, and set his thumb to the skin of Avery’s palm. He rubbed there in small swiping motions that made Avery’s nerves tingle.
They were holding hands. Avery tried to keep his voice even. “C’mon, what?”
Beau gave him a flat look. “Are you really gonna make me say it?” he asked.
Either Avery had lost his edge from sickness, or he was really just behind the curve on this one. Regardless, he was confused. “Say what?”
“Jesus.” Beau gritted out a sigh and dropped his head onto Avery’s hip, mumbling to himself.
Even with his cheek squished and one eye shut, he was endearingly handsome. Absently, Avery freed his other hand from his cocoon so he could stroke Beau’s head.
Beau’s attention snapped upward. He looked so–so alarm mode that Avery couldn’t help but laugh. “What the hell,” Avery said, pausing the motion of his hand. “Do you want me to pet you or not?”
“I–yeah, but–ugh!” Beau made a frustrated gesture. “This is what I’m talking about. You do shit like this, like–like fucking petting me, and texting me shitty jokes, and being mean to me, and you actually wanna ask me why I’m flirting with you?”
Avery’s eyes went wide. The urge to laugh was still there, bubbling beneath the surface, but the furrow in Beau’s brow made him try a little harder to hold it back. “Yes?”
“It’s because I like you, you asshole.”
Avery blinked. Took a breath. Blinked again. If this was a fever-born hallucination, it was either really great or–was it a hallucination?
Really? He mouthed at Beau. Beau nodded emphatically–and then tilted his head and added, “Like, I’m not about to propose, but I want to like…take you on a date or something.”
So it wasn’t a hallucination, then. Which meant that Beau was really in his house, lying along his legs and looking up at him with something like harried conviction in his eyes, telling Avery that he liked him, and that he was an asshole–which was true and even probably warranted, but still.
There were a thousand things he could have said. About half of them had to do with the fact that yes, he really did like Beau, and half of that half had to do with the fact that, despite the making out and the flirting and the texting, he couldn’t believe this was actually happening, and then another half of that half was devoted to inappropriate things, like the fact that Beau’s sheer proximity made Avery itch to touch him, or the fact that he was about two poorly-thought-out seconds from asking Beau to warm him up with his body heat. Luckily, the part of Avery’s brain that wasn’t sick-slow or absolutely giddy took over and settled on, “Don’t call me an asshole, asshole.”
“Sorry,” Beau said automatically, and then cursed. “Do you see what I mean? You’re driving me out of my mind. I usually wouldn’t say anything, but you’re cool, and I…wanted to tell you. I don’t know. Maybe I drank more at Nicky’s than I thought.”
Beau looked so torn, and sounded so sincere, and Avery’s nose started running again, and then he just couldn’t help it: he burst out laughing, quaking underneath the blanket. Beneath his hand, he could feel Beau shifting, looking up at him, and he shook his head, eyes still closed, saying, “No, no, I’m not laughing at you, I promise, I just–oh my god, Beau. Look at you, and look at me. I’ve been wearing the same pair of underwear since Tuesday.”
“What day is it?”
“I don’t know!” Avery’s stomach was starting to cramp up.
“Okay, well, I don’t care!” Beau fired back. He buried his face in Avery’s hip, grumbling. “That’s the thing. You’re saying all of this gross shit and I honestly don’t give a shit, I just…want to kiss you.” He squeezed his eyes shut. “Fuck. Can I?”
Avery hummed. That didn’t sound like a bad idea at all, except for the fact that sickness took a toll on his personal hygiene and he needed time to clean up a little so he didn’t scare Beau off. “Make me soup first?”
Beau perked up. He squeezed Avery’s hand a little and said, “Is this like a dinner date?”
“It won’t be if you keep messing around instead of making me soup,” Avery said.
“I love it when you tell me what to do,” Beau said, making a face that was probably supposed to be ridiculous but was actually just cute, and untangled himself from Avery’s legs to get up. “Where are my tools?”
Avery wiggled his hands in the air until Beau took them and helped him up too. He pointed toward his kitchen nook and said, “Kitchen. Bowls are above the microwave. You can just use the pot that’s on the stove. And soup is in the cabinet. I’m gonna go do something about” –he gestured to his face– “this.”
“Still wanna put my face on you anyway,” Beau said, but left for the kitchen with a shrug. Chuckling to himself, Avery broke off for the bathroom.
He unraveled himself from his blanket cocoon, let the water run until it went hot, and bent to wash his face. The water made him shiver uncomfortably, but also sobered him up a little. This, the process of cleaning himself up for someone he wanted to impress, someone he–oh, hell–someone he liked, was familiar. This was something Avery recognized instinctively still, even though he hadn’t done in months. This was…dating, kind of.
“Shit,” Avery murmured, and squirted a glob of toothpaste into his mouth.
A shower would take too long, but now that the datelike turn his evening had taken had finally sunk in, Avery wanted to at least seem semi-presentable. He dried his face and shuffled to his room for a change of clothes. It wasn’t too messy, which was–
Irrelevant. It was irrelevant, because they weren’t going to end up in here, and was that soup Avery was smelling, anyway?
It was, he decided, and shimmied out of his boxers and t-shirt in favor of sweatpants and a long-sleeved shirt, kicked a clear path from his bed to his door, and went back out to the kitchen. His stuffy nose hadn’t fooled him: on the counter was a steaming bowl of soup, probably tomato, and next to it was Beau, wiping down the stovetop.
He looked…sweet. Domesticated. Like there was a place for him in Avery’s home.
Against better judgment, Avery padded over and leant against Beau’s broad back, pressing his cheek between Beau’s shoulderblades. To keep himself from saying anything ridiculous, he said, “I didn’t know you could clean things.”
“Hey. I can clean plenty of things.” Beau dried his hands and turned, leaning against the countertop. Avery stepped close again–for warmth, of course–and slipped his hands under Beau’s shirt. Beau jumped, but let him do it anyway, saying, “You look fresh. Less like a ghost. It’s a good look.”
“I don’t know if that was a compliment or not, but I’m gonna let you live.”
“Just assume everything I say to you is a compliment. That’s the best way to go.” Beau settled his arms around Avery’s waist. His hands were large and warm on the small of Avery’s back. “Are you gonna eat the soup or not?”
Avery moved closer again, nudging at Beau’s feet until he took the hint, and situated himself between Beau’s knees. With Beau slouched a little they were the same height, and Avery could watch the way Beau’s eyes widened when Avery traced the lines of Beau’s abs with his thumb, the way he shuddered when Avery drew his fingernails across his side. He could feel, acutely and immediately, when Beau got hard, and that was the headiest feeling of them all.
“Depends,” Avery said. He straightened up just so he could lean down from above, and Beau compensated without question, tilting his head back to match Avery’s angle. His eyes were dark; his lips were parted. This was something Avery wanted–and, wildly enough, it was something he could have. “Will you still kiss me if i taste like tomato soup?”
Beau laughed. “I would probably still kiss you if you’d just eaten a bucket full of like….mayonnaise or something, I don’t know. Yes.”
“Wow.” Avery grazed a kiss against Beau’s cheek. Beau leaned into it; chuckling, Avery leaned away. “You,” he said, and dipped in to press his lips to the corner of Beau’s mouth, “must really be into me.”
“Balls deep,” Beau replied without a second of hesitation. Avery snorted. “Like, not yet, not right now, but figuratively.”
“Is it because I’m mean to you?”
Beau laughed. “That’s part of it, yeah. No, I mean, you’re cool. You’re funny, you’re hot, y’know, whatever, and also I really want to pull your hair, if you know what I mean. Besides, I’ve never met anyone who made a wedding actually fun.”
“I’m flattered,” Avery said. “You can kiss me, if you want.”
“Oh, good,” said Beau, and leaned up to close the gap.
There was a split second in which Avery realized he was probably going to get Beau sick just in time for the wedding, and then there was nothing but lips and teeth and tongue and Beau. There was that softness, but this time it was different: Beau was gentle but firm, persistent, and this time when Avery nipped at his bottom lip Beau returned the favor, drawing a pleased little hum from Avery’s throat in response.
That was better; that was closer to scratching the itch just under Avery’s skin. He pressed closer, bracketing his hips with Beau’s thighs, and clutched at him, at the layers of muscle and smooth skin. Beau was solid, unbelievably so, and something about it made Avery want to sit in his lap and do things that even Beau wouldn’t want to talk about in public. But he couldn’t, so for now he would settle for pushing so close there was nothing but fabric between them, for sucking Beau’s bottom lip between his teeth, for clutching hard at Beau’s hips when he slid one hand around to press against Avery’s belly and then down, down, down.
“Is this–is that okay?” Beau paused, fingers hovering near the drawstring of Avery’s sweats. Avery’s cock strained against gray fabric, eager and ready, so obvious that the question made him laugh. “I’m serious!”
Avery nudged his hips forward. “I know,” he said, biting his lip to keep calm. “It’s just–yeah, yes. Touch me before I decide to do it myself.”
Beau’s thought process was practically visible; Avery headed it off at the jump. “No,” he said, and, before he could lose steam, grabbed Beau by the wrist and pressed his palm against his cock.
“Oh,” Beau murmured, appreciative. He changed his grip a little, tightened it, made Avery go weak in the knees. Beau’s expression changed then: it went hot, open and intent, full to the brim with want. Already it was too much; groaning, Avery pressed into Beau’s touch.
“Don’t fuck with me,” Avery warned. He squeezed Beau’s wrist for a moment, and then let go, wary. He really would do it himself if that were the only way he could find some sort of release, but hell if he didn’t want Beau to do it for him. “Just–touch me.”
“I’m on it,” Beau said, which wasn’t a very sexy thing to say–but then he slipped his hand inside the waistband of Avery’s sweats to touch his cock, and Avery could honestly care less what exactly Beau was saying.
Now, Avery had had his share of handjobs. He wasn’t particularly fazed by them anymore, but between the dry spell and the weeks of sexual tension, this one was turning into something else entirely. It was like each stroke lit a tiny fire in his belly, made him weak-kneed and needy, drew him toward Beau like a magnet. He curled his fingers in the fabric of Beau’s shirt and clung to him, shameless, sighing out his name like a mantra.
“Wow,” Beau murmured, nipping at Avery’s earlobe. He moved lower, mouthing at the sweet spot just by Avery’s jaw, and Avery arched at the sensation of it, would’ve twisted away if Beau hadn’t caught him by the waist with his free hand to pull him close. “Feels good, huh?”
“Hush,” Avery breathed, burying his head in the crook of Beau’s neck and sinking his teeth into the skin there. Saliva slicked his lips, but he couldn’t care less; all that mattered was Beau’s hand on his cock and the sensations that shot through him every time Beau stroked him, kissed him, thumbed over the head of his cock. The pleasure was so acute and so new that it felt sharp, almost overwhelming, like Avery might end up keening if Beau kept up his pace.
Beau gave a particularly inventive flick of the wrist, and, oh, Avery was going to wake up the neighbors if he didn’t come soon, he could feel it, welling up in him from head to toe like a glass of water whose meniscus was quivering, quivering, and then bursting, giving way to a flood.
“Shit,” Avery gasped, right up in Beau’s ear. His toes curled against the hard tile of the kitchen floor; he was fidgeting, restless, pushing into Beau’s touch, wanting more, somehow. He wanted more skin, more pressure, more Beau, and that need made him rawer, made him wilder, made him dig his nails in deep and groan out, “Oh, fuck, Beau,” as he came.
His eyes were closed, but he could see the smile on Beau’s face clear as day. He could feel it, too, when Beau leaned in close to press a lingering close-mouthed kiss to Avery’s mouth and said, “High-five?”
“Don’t–oh, ew.” Avery unclenched his fingers from Beau’s back and pushed Beau’s hand away from his face. “You’re gross.”
Beau winced. “Thank you, Captain Obvious. I think you destroyed my back, by the way.” Mournfully, he added, “I knew you were a scratcher.”
“Ha,” said Avery, and he would’ve said more if exhaustion hadn’t hit him like a rogue wave just then. As it was, all he could muster up was an “Oh, boy,” that ended up muffled in Beau’s shoulder as he slumped forward.
Laughing, Beau rubbed Avery’s back. “So you’re one of those, huh? No pillow talk, just drool?”
“Shut up,” Avery muttered, and nipped at Beau’s shoulder just for good measure. “You can stay over, but you gotta decide, like, now.”
Beau said, “Ooh,” and then “ow” when Avery bit him again. “Yeah, I’ll stay over. That way you can take care of me in the morning when I wake up sick.”
“Shut up,” Avery said again, and pulled his sweats back up so he could guide Beau to his bedroom. Part of him, as he was kicking aside stray socks, wished he’d cleaned up a little more–but that part was very small, and easily drowned out by the part of him that was saying: sleep.
Beau, standing near the door to Avery’s room, paused. “Can I take my pants off?”
“Why would I ever say no to that?” Avery crawled into his bed, shivering beneath the covers. “Don’t answer that. Get over here.”
This time Beau had no snarky answer prepared; he simply flicked off the lights and took up a space in Avery’s bed. He’d left some measured distance between them, but Avery wriggled closer, nudging Beau’s arm up, and put his head on Beau’s chest.
“You comfortable?” Beau asked.
He was, both inside and out. “Sleep now,” Avery said, feeling warm and content and only a little sniffly; and sleep he did.
Wedding ceremonies, Avery discovered, were a lot more bearable when he could sit with someone he liked–even if that someone made fun of him when he teared up and whispered bad puns into his ear during the vows and put his arm around him when Nicky and Nina exchanged rings. No, they weren’t that bad at all; especially when that someone was Beau.
The text came through on Wednesday night, three days before Shayna’s wedding.
Hey, it said, casual as could be. You got plans for the weekend?
Avery laughed around a mouthful of pasta. Patently ridiculous, as always. He wouldn’t dignify that with a response if he hadn’t found out over the past few weeks that Beau was prone to double-, triple-, and quadruple-texting if he felt the need–or even just the impulse, really.
He picked up his phone, wiped a smudge of sauce off of the screen, and texted back, Absolutely nothing. I’m totally free all weekend.
Ridiculous, he thought to himself again, and shook his head. That was something he’d gotten used to, though; even without an audience or, presumably, a suit, Beau was just the same as he was at weddings: a high-energy, easily flustered, charming guy slowly breaking his way free of a fratboy shell. He wasn’t the kind of guy Avery would have been into in college, but apparently he was the kind of guy Avery was into now.
Very into. Avery shook himself hard, but that realization dug its claws into him and refused to let go. Shit, he thought, shaking his head. How embarrassing.
After just enough of a delay that Avery had officially begun to feel ridiculous for waiting on it, the message came through: cool. So that means you’re available to go to a wedding with me Saturday, right?
He read the text again, and again, and again, and it still said the same thing, and he was happy about it, and, oh, shit.
Are you propositioning me?
There was a moment Avery was sure had to be Beau running through at least twenty different innuendos. What he got back instead was: I’m asking you to be my date
And then: But I can proposition you if you want. That sounds like it could be more fun.
A laugh shook up out of Avery’s throat. Both, he wanted to say, but that was too bold, even for him, even if it was the truth, which it–
He could still remember the way Beau’s mouth felt against his. The way he kissed–soft, too soft, like Avery was something lovely and prized–and the way his fingers felt warm on the back of Avery’s neck. Avery knew his skin, his touch. He knew Beau’s laugh, his smile, the way he went deer-in-the-headlights whenever Avery teased him, the small things that someone might not pick up on if they’d only met him in passing, just another face at a wedding reception.
Avery knew those things, and he liked those things, and he liked Beau, and he really, really hated it when Shayna messed with his love life, if only because sometimes she knew better than he did.
Ugh. Do we have to wear matching ties? Avery texted back. He tried to feed himself, missed his face, and left the pasta sauce on his cheek so he could add, But I guess I don’t have anything else to do so why not.
Another moment passed.
A Snapchat notification from Beau dipped down onto his screen.
“What,” Avery said to himself, bemused, but tapped it anyway and opened the snap.
Beau’s face popped up onto the screen. He was grinning ear to ear, brilliant and gleaming. Avery felt his mouth curve up to match as Beau squealed, “He said yes!”
The camera flipped around; on the other side of it were two dogs, a sweet brown labrador and a bulldog, panting at the screen. Beau got himself in the shot too, bending down to loop his arm around the bulldog’s neck. “Can you believe that?” he asked the bulldog. The lab shoved its nose into Beau’s face and licked at his chin, whining. “He said–”
The video cut off.
“Oh,” said Avery, smiling so hard his cheeks hurt a little, “my God, Beau, you…”
He replayed the video again. Focused on Beau’s face, his smile, the way his eyes turned into crescent moons when he really, really laughed. And in the silence that followed a second time, Avery flopped down sideways on his couch, threw his arms over his eyes, and let himself think, just for a moment, about the arc of an airborne bridal bouquet.
Beau showed up at 11 AM sharp. It was entirely possible he’d picked that time for dramatic effect instead of timeliness, because the sunlight dripped down on him, kissing the gold undertones in his brown skin to life, honing all of his edges, making him look like the kind of guy who picked people up for first dates instead of making out with them at receptions. Diamond studs glimmered in his ears; the navy of his suit deepened in the light. He was dressed up, Avery realized, much more so than usual. It made him acutely conscious of the fact that his plum bowtie was probably crooked.
Beau batted Avery’s hands away and straightened the bow tie himself. “Shayna wasn’t sure if purple would be a good color for you, cause, y’know” –he ruffled Avery’s red hair– “but I told her you would look great, and guess who was right?”
“Don’t say Shayna,” Avery said dryly, and reached up to fix his hair.
Beau beat him there, too; he ran gentle fingers through Avery’s hair, sweeping it out of his face. “No,” he said, and traced the lines of Avery’s face with his thumb, sliding smoothly, slowly downward. He cupped Avery’s jaw. Mapped his cheekbone with his thumb. Avery let himself lean into the touch, looking up at Beau from under his lashes. “It was definitely me.”
Hearts belonged in chests, not in throats, but maybe that was just what Beau did to people. Avery let himself lean toward Beau like a flower bending toward the sun, and said, “Good answer.”
A pleased noise rumbled up out of Beau’s chest. He curved downward, closer, as though the thread that tugged tender at Avery’s heart was tugging at his too, until his mouth was only centimeters from Avery’s own. Each of his breaths cost Avery one of his; he felt weak, lightheaded, like his blood had gone dizzy in his veins.
Shit, Avery thought, and closed his eyes. Oh, shit.
“You know,” murmured Beau, so close Avery could feel the warmth of him, “if we do this now, we’re not going to make Shayna’s wedding.”
Avery ached. “I know.”
“She would kill us both. Me first, probably. She likes me less.”
“I don’t know,” Avery said, and pressed his nose beside Beau’s. Their lips brushed when he said, “She must not like me very much if she sicced you on me.”
Beau laughed. He fit his free hand to Avery’s waist, sparked his blood; pulled him flush, and lit a fire. Avery’s heartbeat pulsed hard between his legs. “It’s too late to act like you don’t like me,” Beau said, and pressed his smile just beside the corner of Avery’s mouth. “You already made out with me after that time I spit my drink back into my cup and drank it again. I’ve got you hooked, and you know it.”
The memory came back to him acutely. Avery barked out a laugh, wrinkling his nose, and leaned back to see Beau’s face in full. He was cocky, pleased and sweet; Avery’s heart throbbed again, but this time in a way that just made him want to slap his hand over Beau’s entire face before Avery could do something sappy and ridiculous.
“I don’t know if I would brag about that,” Avery said. He checked his pocket for his phone and his keys, and then shut the front door. “C’mon,” he said, and wiggled past Beau. “Like you said, Shayna will indeed kill us if we’re not there when she wants us to be.”
Beau harrumphed. “Funsucker.”
“I’ll suck your fun,” Avery said jauntily. Behind him, Beau choked; Avery looked back over his shoulder and added, “Not in the car, though.”
Beau unlocked his oil slick of a sports car and opened the door. Avery slid in, tossed him a wink for good measure; he earned himself a roll of the eyes, but was compensated with a prime view of Beau’s ass as he rounded the hood of the car to get in.
“You’re ridiculous.” Beau’s weight made the car dip. It was bizarrely attractive. “I can’t believe you won’t suck my fun in the car. Actually, you know what, you’re still being a funsucker now. Unbelievable.”
Laughing, Avery laid his hand to Beau’s thigh. It was taut beneath the fabric of his pants. Higher up, Beau was twitching to life.
Avery raised an eyebrow. “Already?”
“You won’t be complaining about it tonight,” Beau said, and put the car in drive.
The jury–Avery, rather–was in: he never wanted to attend another wedding possibly ever again, but, while wedding season had lasted, it had been fun.
Sure, he’d had brief flashbacks to his days as a host at the local Italian place in his hometown from having to stand for an hour straight as Shayna’s maid of honor without actually doing anything, but Shayna had been beautiful in her mermaid cut gown, and her girlfriend–fiancee–wife–had been beautiful too, and if Avery had cried when Shayna read her vows, nobody would ever know.
Shayna had snagged him, Nicky, Elise, and Simon for pre-toast pictures, and Avery had read his speech without his voice breaking, and then they’d taken a post-toast picture to go with the other three post-toast pictures, which all looked the same: everyone smiling, teary, Avery’s face red around the nose and eyes, with either Simon or Nick–this time Simon–ruffling Avery’s hair into some ridiculous state.
And then, of course, shots with the bride. And then shots with the other bride. And then shots with the bridesmaids, and high school friends, and then with Beau, who appeared out of nowhere, caught Avery around the waist, took both his shot and Avery’s, and said, “Can I steal you for a minute?”
“Please do,” Avery said under his breath. He turned and threw a bright smile in the direction of Simon and Nicky, who were leering–Simon–and cheering–Nicky–as he let Beau lead him away. Once Avery could breathe again without smelling vodka, he said, “Thank God. I thought I was never going to get out of there. I mean, I love them, don’t get me wrong, but if I had to take another shot I was going to puke. Everywhere.”
“Ew.” Beau wrinkled his nose. “Good thing I got there when I did, then. I’ve never tasted someone else’s vomit and, like, I hadn’t considered doing that tonight, but I probably wouldn’t be into it.” He looked skyward. “Probably.”
Avery swatted his arm. “Oh my god, that’s…like, it’s sweet, but it’s gross. You’re gross.”
He was actually very handsome, and more sweet than he was gross. Avery found himself smiling as he looked at him. Beau had ditched his suit jacket once again, and was rolling his sleeves with quick firm flicks of his wrist as they walked; he muscles of his forearm flexed in a way that, now that Avery was paying attention to it, was something close to mesmerizing. Bulge, relax, bulge, relax, shift–
“See something you like?”
Avery startled out of his reverie. Beau’s eyes were very warm, very intent, and very, very close.
So was his mouth, which was infinitely more tempting. Avery leaned up an inch, reaching, and–
Beau took Avery by the chin. Gentle, but firm, a steady hand and a steady gaze. Something in Avery felt the carefulness in his touch and soared.
“Hey,” Beau said again. He smiled with that beautiful mouth. “You good?”
“I’m fine,” Avery said, and leaned up again. Beau backed out of the common area and into a table; Avery pressed up against him, opened his mouth, and let out, “Just horny.”
“Oh, wow. Uh. Well. Let me get you some water real quick. You sit here–no, in the seat, not–okay, you can sit on the table if you want. I’ll be right back.”
Beau stepped away–and then, quick as a blink, turned back and pressed his lips to the corner of Avery’s mouth, once, soft. “Don’t go anywhere,” he said, and then he was off.
Avery’s heart fluttered; something giddy welled up behind his eyes. Shots always hit him a little hard when they first sank in, made him spacey and hyperfocused, but this feeling was something else: it was what had been humming under the flirting and the kissing all along, brought to the surface.
God, Avery thought. He liked Beau more than he’d thought, and that was sort of saying something.
He scrubbed his hands over his face, but couldn’t quite manage to make his smile go away. It was embarrassing, but, hey–where better than a wedding to feel something for someone?
The someone in question reappeared like he’d been summoned, weaving through the crowd with a glass held over his head, out of the way of being jostled. Without really thinking about it, Avery waved. Once he’d cleared the worst of the foot traffic, Beau waved back, laughing.
When he was within earshot, he said, “Did you think I’d forgotten what you looked like?”
Avery blushed. “No, asshole. I just wanted to say hi.”
Fondness touched Beau’s smile. He didn’t comment, though, just handed over the cup and said, “You look better already.”
“Yeah.” Avery took a long, long sip. Beau watched him do it, and Avery watched him watching, and by the time Avery put the cup down, they were both smiling.
“You’re funny,” Beau said. “Do you wanna dance?”
Yes, Avery almost said; but then he caught a glimpse of something glimmering over Beau’s shoulder, and all other ideas suddenly seemed to pale.
Shayna being Shayna, and therefore being prone to excessive spending when the occasion let her get away with it, had rented out a little portable gazebo for photo ops. It sat on one side of the room in a little gold-touched bastion, away from the worst of the music and the dancing and the spilled drinks. There had been a huge line for it at the beginning of the evening, of course, so Avery had decided to wait; but there were only a few people there now, taking the kind of goofy photos that usually meant they were almost done, and before Avery could think about it he was saying, “Let’s go take a picture.”
He grabbed Beau by the hand. Beau said, “Wait, what?” but followed along anyway in Avery’s wake. “Picture where?”
“At the,” Avery began, tilting his head toward the gazebo, “the gazebo, look at it, isn’t it pretty?”
“I mean, yeah, it is.” Beau was squinting when Avery turned back to look at him. He reached out and guided Avery to the left an inch or so, just enough that he wouldn’t knock into a woman holding a very full-looking drink. “If you like lights and shit.”
Avery rolled his eyes. “Clearly I do,” he said, and tugged Beau up to the right of the gazebo, next in line. He thought about letting go of Beau’s hand, and then thought better of it. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be here. So shut up and take the damn picture with me.”
“Isn’t that kind of….coupley?”
“Coupley.” Avery rolled the word around in his mouth. Beau watched him do it, like he was half expecting Avery to spit out a rose or something. “I guess it kind of is, isn’t it.”
Beau hummed into Avery’s ear, and then, laughing, wrapped his arms around his waist and spun them into motion. Kicking did no good; all Avery could do was cling to Beau’s neck and yelp out a protest into his ear as Beau twirled him up and into the gazebo.
It was much prettier inside than from the outside, which was saying something. Fairy lights curved from the arched roof of the gazebo and dripped down the struts like ivy; plum-colored ribbons snaked around white wood; confetti and glitter carpeted the floor so thick Avery nearly slipped when Beau set him down. Whatever magic made the gazebo seem so oasis-like was affecting Beau, too: he was glowing, and his smile was electrifying, and he was holding Avery like he would never let go and Avery didn’t mind at all, couldn’t if he tried.
“Hey,” Beau said, and the softness in his eyes made Avery’s heart so tender it ached. “Be coupley with me?”
“Yes,” Avery breathed. Too eager, he could hear it in the pitch of his voice, but he couldn’t bring himself to care; “Yes,” he said again, and pushed up on his toes to kiss Beau on the mouth.
Beau being Beau meant he was over-the-top; he put his weight against Avery’s until Avery had to step back once, and then twice, and then again until he hit something that had enough space for him to sit on. Beau nudged at Avery’s knees with his hips. Avery didn’t think: he parted his legs willingly and let Beau fit between them, reached up to cup Beau’s face and kissed him until his chest felt a little like it might burst. There was cheering, and some whistling, and someone very carelessly tossing around the word proposal, but Avery shut it all out and focused on the plush of Beau’s mouth, the warmth of his chest, the way Beau made him feel like a glass of freshly poured champagne. Here there was him, and Beau, and that was really all that mattered.
“Wow,” said Beau when they were done, smiling a gentle smile that touched Avery somewhere behind his breastbone, “I should take you to gazebos more often, huh?”
Affection loosened his tongue; reckless, Avery said, “Build me one.”
Beau’s face lit up. His grip shifted: he moved his hands to the small of Avery’s back and settled them there, held him close. It was gentle; it was firm; it was Beau, and Avery loved it. “Sure, yeah, fuck it, anything you want.”
“Romantic,” Avery said, and rolled his eyes.
“Like I said.” Beau pressed his nose to Avery’s cheek, nuzzled him, held him close. Tenderness made Avery feel electric everywhere Beau touched. “Anything for you–except another wedding. Please don’t make me go to another wedding.”
Avery snorted. “God,” he said, scratching gently at the short hair on the back of Beau’s head. Beau made a pleased little noise, and a thrill ran down Avery’s spine. That was something he was allowed to do now, as–as part of whatever they were, whatever this was. “No more weddings for at least a year. Possibly two.”
“I’d agree, but you’ve caught one too many bouquets for that to be a guarantee,” Beau pointed out.
God. “Don’t remind me,” Avery groaned, slumping against Beau’s chest. “I’m doomed.”
“Oh, c’mon, sunshine.” Beau wiggled a hand between them, caught Avery by the chin, and tilted his face up. He looked almost angelic against the shimmer of gazebo lights. Almost. “At least you’ve got me. I’ll fend off any potential suitors and you can avoid weddings forever, how’s that?”
His smile was sweetly genuine; in the breadth of it was something that made Avery’s heart sing. Feeling dreamy-eyed, Avery said, “How are you gonna protect me from yourself?”
Beau’s eyes went wide.
Shit, Avery thought; but before the panic could sink in, Beau leaned in, laughing, and brushed a kiss across Avery’s mouth. “I don’t know,” he said, and drew his thumb gently down the line of Avery’s jaw. Avery leaned into the touch, into the feeling, into Beau. “But I can already tell I’m not gonna do a good job.”
Avery laughed too. “Good,” he said, and tugged Beau in for a kiss. “Can’t let that bouquet go to waste.”