I was encouraged when we reached his apartment, despite the fact that he hadn’t spoken a word to me since we got in his jeep and drove away from the club. I figured if he really wanted to be rid of me he could have just driven me home and dropped me off. Things grew even more promising when he made no objections as I followed him to his door. He hadn’t exactly encouraged me, either, but still...
The real test came when he stepped inside and I waited to see if he’d simply close the door on me. He didn’t. Just left it open as he walked into his place towards the kitchen as an excited Chey kept close to his heels, waiting for him to greet her.
I let myself in slowly, closed the door behind myself with equal precaution. Luke had made his way to the kitchen and was staring into the fridge when I caught up to him.
He looked over his shoulder, his expression unreadable.
“I do have a past,” I said, just in case that revelation was a shock to him.
He turned back to the refrigerator and I heard him sigh. When he straightened and faced me again, he had beer. When he handed me one I took that as a good sign. Angry men didn’t tend to share their beer. But even as he opened his, I put mine down on the shelf, needing more than a cold bottle as invitation to stick around. When he met my eyes, I watched him from across the counter, waiting patiently.
“My past includes falling for a lot of wrong guys,” he finally said, sounding almost bored with himself.
I frowned. “Luke...”
“I’m not exaggerating,” he interrupted. “Like, I’m the idiot who falls for the straight guy.”
“That’s one thing you don’t have to worry about with me,” I assured him. “Fall away.” I held out my arms as if to catch him. He didn’t seem to think I was very funny so I allowed them to fall back to my sides.
“That guy’s still my best friend,” he informed me, and I felt myself wince for him as he drank on his beer. “And then there’s the one who got me arrested on my birthday. It wasn’t as fun as it sounds,” he added, reading my next reaction. “And you...” he shook his head, seeming bemused.
I frowned. “And me?”
“You’re still hung up on your ex,” he informed me accusingly, all the while looking disgusted with himself. “Who, by the way, is a jerk.” I watched him remove the phone number James had given him only to watch him roughly toss it in the wastebasket. I kept to myself how relieved I was when his blue eyes snared me again, his hand waving helplessly at the trash. “That’s the guy who’s been on your mind.” His tone was both disbelieving and insulted.
I took a breath. “Do I get to say something now?” I asked cautiously.
With his beer in hand, he rolled his eyes at my question and headed to his sofa to do that indecisive thing with his remote again, waving Chey away when she sought attention.
“That wasn’t all entirely accurate,” I informed him as I approached the back of the sofa.
He glanced back at me, clearly begging to differ but not so rude that he’d completely deny hearing me out, so I continued. “I do think about him,” I admitted. “But it’s not the way you think. I think about... a lot of things, not so great things. You saw how he talks to me. Compared to our relationship, tonight was actually kinda mild. Trust me, you’re not the only one who falls for the wrong guys.”
He looked at me again, this time more curious, and I became comfortable enough to move to the couch where I sat next to him, my eyes turning to the flipping channels just as his did. I heard him let out a breath, and then slowly he said, “Liking you... freaks me out. I can’t handle another guy being ashamed of me. It took a long time to figure out I don’t deserve that, and going back...”
“Um... my ex just hit on you in front of me. Last week a girl ran into a door trying to check you out and I’m pretty sure apart from not returning your calls for a week, you know you can flash a nipple at me and I’ll do anything you want me to, because I’m that disgustingly whipped every time I’m within five feet of you; so where the hell would you get the idea I’m ashamed to be with you? Better yet, what dumb-ass would be?”
Luke frowned. “I’m not talking about... attraction,” he replied, not needing to argue with anything I’d said. “It’s me.... at least, for the longest time I thought it was. There was another guy once. When I was with him, it was great, just like it is with you. Then I’d call him, and he wouldn’t call back.” He looked at me pointedly, and I felt the guilt I deserved as I realized that I wasn’t the only one worrying about falling prey to past mistakes. “When he finally did it was too easy to forgive him. We’d go out, and he’d flirt with other people, and I could be standing right next to him and he still didn’t want me to have anything to do with his friends. I let him know me better than anyone else did and in the end I still had no idea who he was, except that everything he knew about me turned into a weapon. I won’t go back there.”
I frowned, easily understanding how he’d relate my actions to his past. But I didn’t know how to explain to him that he shouldn’t be worried about me hurting him, that my concern was him hurting me. So I placed my hand on the sofa between us, palm up, just the way that Jude did. I waited for him to take it just as Quinn would, because if he took it, for just a moment everything would be just fine.
“You don’t have to go back there,” I said. “And I want you to know my friends.” He started to protest, as if he felt I was blowing smoke up his ass, but I interrupted it. “I just want to make sure... I don’t want to... James didn’t like them. Actually, the feeling was pretty mutual, and it was easier to keep him separate.”
Luke studied me for a moment, attempting to dissect that. He looked annoyed. Offended. But whatever he wanted to say, he ultimately kept to himself as he placed his hand over mine. “Okay.”
“Okay?” I repeated, uncertain of what conclusion we’d just come to.
“Okay,” he said again, meeting my eyes. “So keep me separate... but don’t pretend I only exist when it’s convenient for you.”
There was a warning in his expression, and I felt myself frowning as I considered his words. He was taking everything all wrong, and I was frustrated that it was probably my fault.
“That’s not....” I held my breath for a moment, let it out slowly, and then met his eyes. “I don’t want to keep you separate,” I explained. “That’s just it... I don’t want another James. I want...”
“You don’t know what you want,” he said when it took too long for me to continue. “It’s what you’re showing me... you treat me like I’m James.”
Now, there was a thought. Frankly, I knew I should feel bad over that remark, but all I could think for a very long moment was that despite his issues with my friends, I hadn’t treated James bad at all. Often times I’d thought for him more than I thought for myself. Thinking about it, I came to the sudden conclusion that Luke was wrong. I didn’t treat him like I’d treated James. I’d treated James better.
That, was something to feel guilty over. I was so busy trying to protect my fragile feelings that I was making Luke pay for James’s mistakes, and he wasn’t even reaping any of the benefits.
Again, I didn’t know how to explain my reasoning to him, nor did I really want to. So instead I held his hand tighter when he attempted to remove it from mine.
“Are you doing anything on Saturday?” I asked.
He shrugged, looking annoyed. He probably assumed I was trying to change the subject. “Work in the morning,” he explained. “I’ll probably meet up with my study group later in the afternoon.”
“Around six o’clock,” I said, “we’ll be having a little get-together for Jude. His boyfriend’s mom is throwing it--she’s been trying to make gestures lately. The whole gay thing with her son has had her head spinning for a while. Do you wanna come with me?”
Luke looked skeptical. “Do you want me there?”
I sighed. “My friends want to meet you.”
“That’s not what I asked,” he pointed out, and then raised a blond brow. “Your friends know about me?”
“Well... my sister knows about you. Bree knows about you, which pretty much means they all know. If they don’t... then I want them to.” Because I could be ready for that. I think.
It was all worth it, anyway, when Luke smiled again, and then kissed me.
Nice to meet you
It occurred to me running into James was an experience that was as good as forgotten. In fact, I couldn’t think of one reason for why I’d want to think about him as I stretched out on Luke’s living room floor enjoying every minute of him winning at a card game. I would have enjoyed it more if I was winning, but only because he’d announced: loser loses his shirt.
And just in case there’s any mistaking it, my head is always in the gutter. Like, all the time. At three in the morning and Luke polishing off a twelve-pack, it was a little extra in the gutter.
And then the phone rang.
My first thought was wondering who would be calling him in the middle of the night, but I only smiled back at him as he forced himself off the floor to go answer. After a short greeting, I forced myself to roll onto my back as I watched him greet Jase, a familiar enough name.
“... yeah, obviously I’m still up,” Luke said into the phone as he rolled his eyes in my direction, hinting that he was amused. “... Never mind why I’m up. What are you doing up? I thought you were supposed to be old.”
I smiled at his banter as I pretended to look at his cards, and then laughed when he threw a ballpoint pen at my head.
“Why would Rory call me?” Luke asked, his back suddenly to me as he gave the call his full attention. “You’re the only one who’d do that in the middle of the night... Jase, relax. You didn’t lose him.... Did you guys have a fight or something?.... Then he’s mad at Eddie, not you, and if Eddie’s out of town there’s no way Rory took off on you. He probably fell asleep at Seth’s and has no idea he’s missing.” Luke turned back so I could see that he definitely was amused, and he shook his head patiently. “If you already thought of that, then why are you calling me?”
Whatever Jase’s response was, Luke didn’t seem to like it as he mumbled under his breath and released an exaggerated sigh. “Fine. Give it a minute.” Then, he simply hung up and stared at the phone.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Family crap,” he replied, and then picked up the phone again. I sat up to watch him, wondering if the way I found his fingers sexy as he dialed a number would be considered creepy. When Luke spoke into the phone again it was in a whisper, as if afraid anything louder would be considered an offense. “Seth?” There was a pause, and then he released a sigh of relief. “Cool. I was afraid I’d get your parents... yeah, I know. Sorry, I know it’s late.... Yeah, I’m calling for Jase again.” Luke listened for a moment and then laughed, nodding his head in agreement. I found myself smiling at the way he moved his hand through his hair, tugging at his curls. He caught me and smiled back. “Look, Seth, could you just... please, wake Rory up and tell him to call home... Of course he’s gonna get his ass chewed.... Uh-uh. Not my problem. Tell him to call Jase.... Thanks. Bye.”
Luke rolled his eyes and sighed as he turned to give me his full attention again. “Sorry about that. Rory is....”
“Kinda the brother,” I said helpfully.
Luke laughed at that. “Right. And a drama magnet.” I watched as he moved back towards me and reclaimed his position on the floor. “He gets into it with his dad at least once a month. Big fights.” Luke smiled to himself. “I kinda miss it.”
“Jase is his dad?” I asked, remembering Rory’s comments the one time I’d spoken to him over the phone. If they didn’t get along, it would make sense.
“No, Eddie’s his dad. Jase is my cousin.”
“And you all lived together?” I asked absently, my attention having been turned to his sock-covered foot, which had landed not far from me. I found myself reaching out to pull it into my lap, smiling at the way he laughed when my palm covered his heel.
“Yep,” he answered. “Eddie and Jase raised me... Rory came along a lot later.”
“Eddie and Jase,” I repeated, watching his toes wiggle beneath cotton when I tickled them. And then the idea of two grown men and two teenage boys living under the same roof occurred to me, and I felt the odd expression cross my face before he laughed at it and I met his eyes.
“Four gays under the same roof isn’t anywhere near as fun as you might think it is when you’re related to all of them in one way or another,” Luke commented.
“That’s still an interesting... upbringing,” I decided. “Could see why it gives Rory a headache to explain it.”
Luke’s brows drew together. “Huh?”
“Never mind,” I said, pulling his foot closer. “How come you never mentioned it?”
Luke frowned. “Because when I tell people my cousin raised me they usually ask where my parents are, and it’s not exactly a topic that impresses the guys I’m really into.”
I found myself smiling at his choice of words, the way his eyes were capable of softening on me despite our trouble earlier in the evening. “At this point I don’t think I could be unimpressed,” I informed him.
He seemed to consider my invitation to tell me anything he wanted to, and finally shrugged. But, despite my claim not to be bothered by anything he could say, I found myself frowning over the first words out of his mouth.
“My mom died when I was young.”
I guess it seemed a little strange to me that he hadn’t mentioned that in particular before, especially since during our first meetings together when he’d asked about me living with Audra I’d openly told him about the untimely death of my own parents and explained my aversion to fire. I suppose it was unfair to feel offended that he hadn’t bothered to confide in me then, but I couldn’t help but wonder why he’d want to hide it. I suppose Luke seemed to be the type who didn’t like any kind of pity pointed in his direction. Or maybe the way I’d been acting since we met had caused him to hold back. That, anyway, I couldn’t fault him for.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
He shrugged. “It was a long time ago... and it’s not like you don’t know how it feels, right?”
I nodded. “Right.”
Luke pulled his foot gently from my grasp and scooted himself closer until he was seated next to me. “I miss her,” he admitted. “But I don’t think things got good for me until I moved in with Jase. I was happy, you know? And it was easier to... not think about my dad... he’s in jail.”
Luke’s eyes shifted in my direction, as if waiting for a reaction. It took me a moment to come up with one that didn’t involve prying questions. “Oh... and that doesn’t impress the guys?”
Luke smiled. “Not really... my dad doesn’t really impress me, either. He’s never really wanted to get to know me, anyway. I tried... when I was little. It didn’t go so well. Um... when Rory called, the day you answered, it was to tell me I got a letter from my father.” Luke smiled to himself. “I think it’s driving him nuts that I wouldn’t let him open it.”
“What did it say?” I asked curiously.
“I don’t know. I haven’t decided if I want Jase to send it.”
“Oh.” I’m not sure what else I could have said. There was an odd expression on his face, and I wondered if it was there to hide what he was feeling. It’s not like he was asking me for my opinion, and even if he had been, I don’t think I’d be the right person to give it since I’d do anything to be able to hear from my own father like that.
I don’t think Luke expected anything more from me, since suddenly a familiar smile was touching his face as he lifted the deck of cards and started shuffling again. “We should finish this game before the sun rises, and your shirt’s coming off.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, but found myself taking the cards from him and tossing them aside in a messy pile. “So, you win.”
He laughed as I pulled my shirt up, and he was kissing me before I had it over my head. The carpet in my apartment was coarse on my back when it landed there, but I didn’t care as I felt him leading my hand under his own shirt, his skin hot and smooth against my hand before I froze as his fingers moved over a stretch of scar tissue on my wrist that always seemed uglier to me when someone discovered it. I felt him tracing the same lines I did every night before I went to bed, but he didn’t ask, or wait for an explanation. He moved on slowly until his hand was on my side and his eyes met mine.
That’s when I knew we weren’t going slow anymore. It seemed like odd… timing, I guess. When it came to Luke sometimes it was hard to tell if we were moving forward or moving back. I figured I’d take most of the responsibility for that. When it came to where we were going now, I figured I was over-thinking things. It tended to be a lot easier to let a guy into my pants than it was to let a guy into my life. But, Luke wasn’t just a guy.
“Okay,” I decided, not sure I meant to say that out loud when the corner of his mouth quirked upwards and he cocked his blond head at me
“I didn’t say anything.”
“That’s okay,” I replied, earning myself another odd look. “Look... we should start over, okay? I want to be different... than I’ve been with you.”
Confused, Luke started pulling away but I pulled him right back. “Not that different,” I corrected, and then rolled my eyes at myself. “I’ll try to explain later.” And when I pulled his mouth back to mine, I felt his gentle laugh against it as we went back to kissing. I liked kissing him, and there was nothing left to think about.
I was okay with being naked. I was okay with being naked on Luke’s couch. We’d moved there after he’d noticed a case of rug burn developing on my elbow from his scratchy carpet. He’d effectively used the opportunity between getting from there to here to help me out of the rest of my clothes.
He’d forgotten the sock on my right foot, but I wasn’t going to nitpick. However, I think I would have liked it better if Luke was naked with me.
Believe me, the trouble wasn’t because I wasn’t trying to get him there. I’d made more than one reach for his securely zipped-up pants. It was his hands that continued to get in my way, guiding my fingers to his chest, his face, even through his hair. There wasn’t an inch above his narrow waist that I hadn’t touched. I was sure he’d like the results if he’d just let me touch below it. It was almost frustrating, but then, I couldn’t be bothered with more than one frustration at a time as he deepened our kiss and pulled me more closely against him, until my cock was jumping against his thigh.
Frustrating, indeed. It felt like I wanted to move everything along faster, greedy for the finale, but knew I needed to slow down before my excitement caught up to me. That would be embarrassing. I figured I had plenty of time to embarrass myself with him, and not wanting to start tonight, I moved my hands to his waist--knowing now that he wasn’t ready for me to go below it--and pushed him away, lifting my head to follow his lips with mine, not wanting him to think I wanted to stop altogether.
Control. I needed some of that. But he smelled good, and he was soft even when his muscles were moving under my fingers, each time sending a thrill through me as I moved my tongue against his. And that was just me touching him. He slid his fingers against my thigh, just inches away from the part of me that was most impatient. Too close to keep trying the whole control thing.
I suddenly wished that we’d just done this on our first date. Before I cared what he thought about me. The lights probably would have been off. I wouldn’t be thinking so much. I’d know the lyrics to “99 bottles of beer on the wall” and I’d be using them every time I needed to take a step back and avoid a premature end to the physical part of the night; and he definitely wouldn’t have seen the look on my face that indicated I was completely losing it.
But he did see it, and his eyes glazed over before he moved his mouth to my neck, a small groan escaping him as he slid his knees onto the floor. Everything about him was a turn-on as he took me into his mouth for a few short moments before everything in the room turned into white lights.
The tension in my body relieved, I found myself reaching for him, pulling him closer until his mouth covered mine again. I only realized those locked-up jeans of his were open now moments before he found his own release in his own hand.
It would be much later that night, after he fell asleep next to me, that it would start to bother me that he never let me touch him, or that I’d wonder why. But we were starting over, and I figured there was time to worry about it later.
And he holds my hand, too
“Are you alright?” I asked, unable to make myself sound more concerned than amused.
We’d parked on the street in front of the Moores’ house. Luke had insisted on driving, as usual. He’d seemed happy enough when we’d left his apartment, but now that we’d reached our destination he was beginning to look nervous. It was cute, but I didn’t dare say that as he attempted to assemble a confident, and maybe somewhat macho, face.
“I’m okay,” he insisted. “I mean, why wouldn’t I be? Everything’s good, right?”
“Yeah... so should we go in?”
“Yeah... I mean, your friends are expecting you, right?”
“Us,” I corrected him. “I told them you were coming, too.”
Luke slowly smiled as a pink hue crept up his cheeks. “Right. And I guess after the big deal I made about meeting them it would be stupid to be freaked out about it.”
“Why would you be freaked out?” I asked him.
He shrugged a shoulder. “I dunno. Maybe because there’s a reason why you didn’t want me to meet them.”
“Oh. Well, that’s because I was being stupid,” I assured him. “You’ll like them. They’ll like you... Look, I have issues sometimes, but we’re starting over again, right? I want you to meet my friends.”
Luke rolled his eyes, as he’d been doing over the last few days every time I brought up that starting-over business. My guess is he didn’t understand it. I guess I didn’t need him to. But the whole concept was doing wonders for me. It was easy, actually. Every time I worried about something that would have worried me with James, I told Luke we were starting over, and I’d get on with whatever was bothering me until I realized there was no reason to have the same doubts with him. Thinking like that left me unburdened, and while I would have been worried about him asking for favors due to that ever-present fear that I’d be taken advantage of again, I found myself doing things for him without him having to ask. Not that he would ask me to clean up his place when I woke up before he did, or to stop and make sure I had dinner with me when I showed up at his place, especially when I knew he’d had a busy day.
I guess those were things I should want to do for him, and I did. It was easier to see now that the only reason I hated doing it for James was because there was a serious difference between the two of them. James had expected it, made me feel like I was flawed when I didn’t think of it on my own. Luke expected nothing, and had a smile whether or not I was empty-handed. Overall, I liked the way things were going.
“Alright, let’s go,” Luke finally said, making the first move out of the vehicle. Willing to go at his pace, I followed his lead and we moved towards the front door together.
The unusual number of cars parked over the Moores’ driveway and on the block suggested that we weren’t the first arrivals. I doubted we’d be the last. Mrs. Moore had been trying to prove to her son for a while now that she was completely accepting of his boyfriend. Not that anyone questioned whether she liked Jude. She did like Jude. It was just my belief that she’d like Jude a lot more if he wasn’t dating her son. Bree always said the gay thing still had her mom a little frazzled. I’d once told Mrs. Moore that it could be worse; that it could have been me. She’d given me a hug and then shortly after asked Jude to go to lunch with her. Not a month later and the woman was insisting on throwing him a birthday party even though Jude had insisted he didn’t want a big deal made out of it. He wasn’t lying. He would have much rather spent the night with Quinn; but since his boyfriend’s mom wouldn’t take no for an answer, I’d provided a decent guest list out of his less-questionable friends and hoped he’d still have a good birthday, anyway.
Luke and I paused in front of the door and I saw his nervousness return only a little when I bypassed knocking and simply let us in. We were immediately assaulted by the scent of frying onions and french fries, and then by a cute brunette in a blue dress who threw her arms around me, stepped back and twirled in her new outfit.
“Skirt too short?” Bree asked me. “Mom hasn’t seen it yet.”
“Wouldn’t make a difference to me,” I told her. “But I’d watch out for your brother.”
Bree rolled her eyes. Either she was oblivious to how overprotective he was of her, or she just didn’t care. Either way, it left plenty of entertainment for me.
She turned her attention to Luke, and as if he couldn’t see her, gave me a too-obvious look of approval. Luke laughed outright before she extended her hand to him. “I’m Bree.”
“Luke,” he replied, eyes widening when she pulled him into a hug.
“Hey!” I objected when she felt up his muscles. Dismantling my best friend from my boyfriend, I looked around, wondering where that overprotective brother was when I needed him.
“Where is everyone?” I asked.
Bree shrugged. “I’ve been upstairs. But they’re probably where the food is.” She shoved me ahead of her, towards the kitchen, and I made sure Luke was with me as I went. Shortly after we were greeted by Mrs. Moore, who fed us half-frozen french fries, and we easily moved into a crowd of people.
Some I knew from school; most I knew from before Jude or I even acknowledged Quinn Moore’s existence. I introduced Luke to everyone we bothered to talk to, and felt myself easing into a social situation even more when it became apparent that he was leaving no question about whether or not we were there together. I liked it when he held my hand.
When we finally ran into Quinn we exchanged insults after I made comments about the way he was trying to clean up after everyone. Luke only seemed put off by it for a few minutes before he realized that Quinn was, in fact, a friend. We stayed around him long enough for Jude to make an appearance, and not long after, the four of us, plus Bree, ended up on the back porch, party forgotten as we exchanged stories with Luke in the way that most people did when they were getting to know each other.
“Will you guys get in here?” Mrs. Moore said somewhat impatiently when she stuck her head out the back door. “We’re going to be out of cake.”
“Yeah,” Quinn promised. “Just a minute.”
The door closed, and Bree made a face at her brother. “You told her that over an hour ago.”
“Come on,” Jude insisted, attempting to pull Quinn up with him. “Let’s go inside.”
Quinn pulled him back down. “No rush. And stop trying to make my mom happy.”
Jude smiled patiently. “If you did it every once in a while I wouldn’t have to. Besides, I’m good with her not showing up at my place every time she knows you’re there.”
Sighing, Quinn rose with his boyfriend and the rest of us followed. Cake--what was left of it--came next. I shared mine with Luke and got a kiss out of the deal before people started handing over presents to the birthday-boy. Jude got plenty of gift certificates--one from Luke, too, which surprised me as much as it did Jude. I got to introduce Luke to my sister, who’d shown up late, and then gave Quinn his porn well away from his mother. Bree made a point to look disgusted, Jude threatened me with bodily injury, probably to impress Quinn, and for a second Luke looked embarrassed to be there with me. I let it slide because he didn’t let go of my hand.
I’d also like to note that Quinn never tried to give back the movie. I knew I’d havethe best gift.
Although, in Jude’s opinion he’d probably say that title fell to Quinn when he hauled us all--us all being the same five of us who’d avoided the rest of the party all night--into the garage.
A thick white cover was formed to the shape of a car. There was excitement before Quinn pulled it off. Then, it was just Jude who was excited. There were expletives involved. Happy ones, I think.
“Do you know what this is?” Jude asked Quinn, who stood by, amused. “How did you... and when...how did you even get it here?”
More like, why would he even want it there? There was more rust than paint on the surface of an old car with a flat back tire and two missing in the front, which sat on cinder blocks.
“Murphy,” Quinn explained, referring to Jude’s part-time boss. “He said you wanted it.”
“Yeah... but how did you get him to give it to you?” Jude asked as he forced the rusty hood open and sighed over what he found inside.
Quinn shrugged. “I gave him money.”
Jude glanced up from his new toy long enough to look offended. “I tried to do that. He wouldn’t give it up.”
Quinn smiled. “That’s because I beat you to it.”
Jude couldn’t have looked annoyed even if he wanted to. “Have I told you how much I love you?”
“Me or the car?” Quinn wanted to know.
Jude stopped swooning long enough to thank his boyfriend properly while Bree and I exchanged eye-rolls and confused stares over the rust-bucket. Luke took a step closer. “Skylark... Seventy, right?”
Luke didn’t sound like he was confused about the matter, and I feigned horror. “You’re not a car guy?”
He smiled at me. “Not really, but I once liked a guy who liked cars.”
“You should’ve stuck with him,” Jude teased as he moved back towards the car, staring for a long moment before shaking himself out of it. “Wow.”
“Why would you want to?” Bree asked, then looked at me. “Am I missing something?”
I cocked my head at the thing. “Maybe. Try looking at it from over here. It’s kind of... sexy.”
Bree moved closer to me and mimicked my serious expression.
“Can you fix it?” Luke asked Jude.
“I hope so,” Jude replied. “It’s been sitting at the shop for months. I’ve replaced a few things in my spare time, but it’ll be the transmission that’s the big issue.”
Yeah, like that wasn’t the last thing you wanted to hear from your mechanic.
I found myself smiling at Quinn as he realized that his gift was about to be his number one competition for his boyfriend’s time. Note to self: never get Luke a broken-down, rusty muscle-car.
Bree Moore and the rest of her family were always interesting to me. Like Bree, her mom and her brother had the same dark hair and green eyes, and always seemed a little more pretty than what should have been natural. Mom looked too young for her age, and when Bree bothered to put makeup on they looked more like sisters all the time, especially since Bree chopped her hair short. Quinn Moore was a different matter entirely. Different, in that I’d never really been able to control the thoughts about him that crept into my mind. Obviously, as Jude’s boyfriend he was off limits. For a while now that same rule had applied because he was my friend. I wasn’t complaining. It’s just, for a minute there, having him and Luke in close proximity to each other, it was difficult not to compare their differences.
I’d always thought I’d fall for someone like Quinn Moore. That alone should have clued me in to how far off base I was with James. Quinn wasn’t unnecessarily fancy. He was clean. In some ways he reminded me of the attractive boy-next-door that I’d find in the movies. The kind of attractive that didn’t make sense, and he was often too self-centered about what was he was feeling to notice the effect it all had, a quality I always managed to find sexy when it came to him. Of course, he could also be incredibly obsessive at times and came with a temper it wasn’t wise to be on the wrong side of. Some of those qualities had always provoked imaginative ideas regarding how passionate I thought he’d be in a relationship.
Luke was nothing like Quinn. Luke was calm and steady but could be charming and seductive all at the same time. He understood the effect he had on me and others and he wasn’t afraid to use it, wasn’t shy of it, and I doubt he’d ever feel ashamed of it. I got the chills just thinking about it. I suppose in many ways, Luke was a lot like Jude in that regard. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, mostly because when it came to Jude, we’d had our fun in the past, but never had either of us been deluded enough to think a real relationship other than friendship could work. Jude would say it was because I’d be too obsessed with sex all the time, if the two of us were having it. I’ll admit I’d given him reason to believe that. But if I were the one being asked, I’d say it was because Jude was a rescuer, and I didn’t want to be rescued. I liked to think of myself as a generally happy person, but I had my dark moments. Sometimes it felt like I needed those, because without them, being happy would mean nothing.
Like, being there with Luke. I doubt I would have appreciated a simple situation such as his meeting my friends as much as I did if I didn’t know I’d almost prevented it. Just knowing that made me want to take care with what we had. Call it backwards thinking, but it made sense to me.
I think as I sat there on an old bench against the garage wall with Quinn, watching Luke explore the rust-bucket with Jude, I had an epiphany of sorts. Luke fit in. So well, in fact, that I couldn’t remember what I’d been worried about in the first place. He caught me watching and winked at me. I heard myself sigh before I looked at Quinn, a gloating grin on my face.
“My boyfriend’s hotter than yours.” I was sure if Bree hadn’t been called in to help clean up, she’d back me up on this.
Brow lifting, Quinn looked back towards Luke and Jude, as if to assess the situation for himself. It wasn’t long before he shook his head. “No fucking way.”
“It’s true,” I insisted.
He shrugged. “Your opinion.”
“Yeah, but my opinion’s right.”
He rolled his eyes at me, and knowing he’d get nowhere with this, decided to change the subject. “We’re gonna head to Jude’s after a while here. Are you guys coming?”
“Are we invited?” I asked, making sure to sound surprised.
“You’re less annoying when he’s around,” Quinn remarked, nodding in Luke’s direction.
I smiled at that. Quinn had gotten a lot better at tolerating me since we’d met. He even liked me, not that he’d admit it to my face.
“I’ll ask Luke,” I told him.
Quinn nodded, and for a moment we sat in silence, listening to Jude’s voice as it grew louder with his excitement over plans for his newest project.
“He’s a step up from the last one,” Quinn said of Luke, and it took me a moment to realize that he had made the inevitable comparison between Luke and James.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “I know.” Because I’d be a complete idiot if I fucked this up with Luke. At least, that’s what I heard in Quinn’s comment. But I told myself I shouldn’t be worried about it. I was slowly making amends over my sabotaging behavior and Luke was obviously still interested. There was that little matter of what happened when it came to sex, but I told myself it was too early to read anything into it. We’d only gotten close that one time, after all. I was probably concerned over nothing. I was sure that once he knew what a good participator I could be that little issue would sort itself out. And to get started, the moment he approached us with Jude I stood up and initiated a kiss that had his arms around me before Quinn cleared his throat uncomfortably and we pulled apart. Luke was smiling. I liked it when he did that.
“Jude asked us to stop by before I take you home,” he told me. “Your call.”
I shrugged. “Whatever’s good with you.” Because all night it had sunk in with me that I didn’t have to be alone with him to be with him. And I smiled because I was starting over, it just happened to be with him.