As the music blasted from the speakers, Jeremy stood in the middle of the room, looking at the screen. He and Alex were playing Just Dance, and he was trying his best to hit all the moves of the choreography.
Somebody stop me, I’m bout to pop off!
Too busy, you know my body ain’t enuff!
The blond guy mouthed the lyrics as he copied the moves, but Alex’s laughing was distracting him and he struggled to keep up. He somehow powered through until the end of the song and then turned to Alex, faking anger.
“Hey, what’s so funny?” he asked, playfully hitting the other guy on the arm, not wanting to hurt him. That was not going to happen anyway - he had never been in a fight, which was fairly obvious to Alex. The guy was simply too nice for that.
“Sorry, it’s just you and that song,” Alex smirked. He wasn’t trying to get Jeremy to mess up - at least not too much - he just found the whole scene genuinely funny.
“What? I love BTS!” Jeremy defended his choice. For years he had been one of the many members of the ARMY - the name for fans of the South Korean boyband.
“I know, it just doesn’t really suit you,” the black-haired guy shrugged. “I never imagined you as the type to flex on his haters like that. Not that you’d have any haters.”
The comment made Jeremy laugh and Alex stared at his face, enjoying his wide smile. Even though it was his birthday, the young baker hadn’t exactly been in the best of spirits earlier that day.
It was all because of Natalie. She and Jeremy seemed to be back on speaking terms, but the ice between the two former best friends hadn’t really thawed yet. Now that Alex was in the mix, things were even more awkward. After the girl had left the house, it took some time for Jeremy to get back in a good mood. The fact that Alex felt guilty about his role in the situation didn’t help things either.
“Sorry I’m being lousy company today. I should be entertaining you,” Jeremy apologized, placing a hand on Alex’s. It was a rare display of affection for the blond guy, as he was always too skittish, afraid his mom might suddenly appear out of nowhere and see them.
Alex understood that and didn’t push him; still, that moment of tenderness came as a pleasant surprise. He smiled and turned his hand over, entwining their fingers together.
“You’re always good company, so shush!” he said, trying to put on a happy face for Jeremy. Sometimes he wondered if Jeremy would be better off without him, as he only seemed to be causing problems for the young baker. But Alex knew this wasn’t about him - it was about Jeremy, and he wanted to make the guy feel good.
So, he put on his best sexy smile and leaned over, giving him a light kiss that just barely grazed the boy’s lips, leaving him hungry for more. At least that should distract him from his problems, Alex thought.
The birthday boy started to open his mouth, clearly hoping for a full-on tongue kiss, but Alex got up with a smirk and went over to the other side of the room to get his bag from the floor. Now that should be on his mind for a while, he thought, planning to treat Jeremy with a proper kiss later, before he leaves.
“I almost forgot, I brought you something!”
“You really didn’t have to,” Jeremy protested as Alex sat back down next to him and shoved the bag in his hands with a grin. Alex made sure to sit very closely, so that their legs touched. “How’d you know it was my birthday, anyway?”
“Saw it on Facebook,” Alex shrugged, watching the other guy unwrap the gift.
Jeremy started peeling the wrapping paper off, and as soon as he saw the logo on the box, he knew what it was.
“Aaaahhh! I love them!” he squealed, holding up the boxes with the Sonic and Knuckles figurines and admiring them. They were about six inches tall, made of what seemed to be high quality plastic.
Alex was glad when Jeremy started opening the boxes to take the figurines out and inspect them more closely. He never understood it when people got toys and kept them on a shelf in the packaging, never to open them. What’s the point of buying one if you’re not even going to use it?
“Are they really ok? I didn’t know which characters you’d like...”
“Seriously, they’re awesome! I’ve been playing Sonic since I was like five! At one point I even got Emily hooked on it. Thank you so much,” Jeremy gushed and gave Alex a hug, but a knock on the door caused them to draw apart quickly. “Come in!”
“I just wanted- oh hey, Alex, when did you get here?” Zara appeared at the door, smiling.
“Hi, Mrs Appleton,” Alex greeted her.
“I came to see if anyone was up for some cake?” the woman asked, and both guys nodded. “Ok, coming right up!”
It was a few minutes later that Jeremy’s mom returned to the room, carrying two plates with cake on a tray. As she came over to hand them the dessert, Jeremy noticed a suspicious smirk on his mom’s face. Only then did he realize it wasn’t a tray she held in her hands - it was a big photo album.
“Oh, no,” he sighed as she held the album up and winked at them.
“What? I thought it’d be fun to see some old family photos! I bet Alex wants to see your pictures as a kid, right?”
“I would love to!” Alex smiled when he saw Jeremy squirm. He had never seen any of the guy’s old photos. Jeremy’s Facebook profile was pretty barren, having only a few photos, mostly with his family, so Alex was curious to see what he was like as a little kid. He scooted over to let Zara sit between them, and the woman put the album on her lap so that all three of them could see.
“If you ever order something from the bakery, I’m gonna spit on it,” Jeremy fake-threatened, pointing a finger at Alex. The black-haired guy leaned back so that Zara wouldn’t see him and just shot a dirty look at Jeremy, mouthing “can’t wait”.
“Ahhh here we go,” Zara announced with glee as she opened the album, which turned out to be filled with plenty of Jeremy photos - some with his sister Emily, others with his parents, friends or just him alone.
The first few pages were just baby pictures, which Alex found cute, although a bit boring. How many photos of a baby smiling or sleeping in different positions does one really need?
“Remember this one?” Zara pointed to a photo of a herself as a young woman, with little Jeremy beside her, sitting on a beach towel, covering his eyes with one hand. “You were three. This was the first time we took you to the sea. You were too scared to get in the water so you just stayed at the beach the whole time with me or your dad. One of us always had to stay with you while the other went swimming. You cried even at the mere sight of water!”
“Umm, I don’t remember any of that,” the guy shook his head.
“Are you saying I’m lying?” his mom teased.
“I’m just saying… All we have is your word for it.”
“How dare you insinuate!” Zara pretended to be offended, placing a hand on her chest.
Alex looked over, grinning at the little three-year-old Jeremy. He looked adorable!
As they went through the next several pages, the photos showed Jeremy’s first day of school, his first school excursion and plenty of photos with his little sister.
“What about this one?” Alex pointed at a photo in the corner, which showed the thirteen-year-old Jeremy in jeans and a Ninja Turtles t-shirt.
“That was from the year we went to the summer camp,” Jeremy explained. “I think this was taken a few months before.”
“Ahh memories… Too bad we didn’t take any pictures then,” Alex said.
“Say no more,” Zara stood up and held out her hand, waiting for someone to give her a phone.
Alex had to suppress a laugh - it was clear the woman was trying to play the cool mom and failing miserably at that. He still took out his smartphone, opened the camera app and handed it to her.
“Ok, boys, let’s get you a picture or two,” Jeremy’s mom said as she moved away, motioning for them to sit closer next to each other. Alex glanced at Jeremy, feeling incredibly awkward. There he was, with his secret boyfriend, whose unsuspecting mom was taking their photos. As far as birthdays go, he had definitely been to better ones.
Once Zara snapped a few shots, they continued going through the album. Alex noticed Jeremy had once again went quiet, especially when his mom found a picture of him and Natalie and commented how it was a shame they broke up.
“I thought you were such a cute couple! I never saw it coming,” she lamented, as if having a monologue. Alex just glanced at Jeremy, but didn’t dare say anything, just wishing for the awkwardness to pass.
Once Zara finally left the room, leaving the two guys alone, Alex turned to Jeremy and took him by the hands.
“I’m so sorry, Jer,” Alex looked at him apologetically. He felt even more guilty, as if he had made Jeremy’s birthday unnecessarily complicated just by being there.
“For making things weird with Natalie, and now with your mom.... For insisting that we look at the album. I thought it’d be a bit of fun, I didn’t know she’d do… all this.”
“Hey, none of this is your fault, ok? This is just how mom is,” Jeremy shrugged. “I’m surprised she didn’t invite some customers to come look at the photos with us.”
“That’d be a sure way to lose customers,” Alex chuckled.
“Yeah... I just wish mom wasn’t so… overbearing. I don’t think she even does it on purpose, she just can’t help it.”
“Look at the bright side. At least you have the new employee, so your mom doesn’t have to stay here much longer. She’ll move back home soon and you’ll have this place all to yourself.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. But I’m glad you’re here. You made the day so much better,” Jeremy squeezed Alex’s hand in appreciation. “I didn’t even want to celebrate at all, but I’m glad you came. Now it feels like a birthday.”
“Of course, Jer, I wouldn’t miss it! And you know, the day’s not over yet - we can still have fun, just the two of us,” Alex smiled at Jeremy and leaned in. “If you’re into playing games, that is,” he whispered in his ear, grazing it with his wet tongue.
Jeremy inhaled and held his breath, closing his eyes for a moment. Alex placed one hand at the back of Jeremy’s head, and the other on his thigh, slowly stroking it, making sure to get close to his crotch, but not actually touch it.
“Alex…” Jeremy whispered, but Alex quickly silenced him with a kiss. It was brief, but searing hot, enough for Alex to get aroused. He had to stop himself before they went too far.
“We can’t,” he said, barely audible. His heart was already racing and he was close to tearing Jeremy’s clothes off.
“I know…” the blond guy agreed, finally opening his eyes, as if waking up from a magnificent dream.
“As I was saying, we should play some games,” Alex stood up and went over to the shelf, picking up a copy of Just Dance and presenting it to Jeremy with a silly grin. “What do you say?”
The other boy returned the smile and got up on his feet, quick as a whip. “I say bring it on!”
“Waaait a minute. Are you a good dancer?” Alex asked, suddenly scared.
“You’re about to see,” Jeremy raised an eyebrow, looking suspiciously smug. Alex wasn’t sure he liked it. He was about to get his ass handed to him.
Jeremy turned out to be amazing at moving his body to the rhythm, and ended up a clear winner in the game. Even so, Alex was glad the mood had improved by the time they were finished. They were both nearly crying with laughter and struggling to catch their breath, exhausted from all the choreography.
“Thanks for coming today,” Jeremy hugged him once they were outside on the street. “You made my day, X!”
“I had a great time as well, old man,” Alex smiled. “See ya tomorrow?”
“You bet. Now go home and practice those moves.”
“Cheers!” Alex and Brandon said in unison, raising their cold beer cans in the air before taking a big gulp.
It was late in the evening and the two guys were relaxing in Brandon’s living room and drinking, while a Hollywood action flick was playing on the large flatscreen, providing background noise more than anything else.
Brandon had recently gotten a new job and invited Alex to celebrate, promising it would be just the two of them. Since he didn’t manage to come up with a good excuse quickly enough, Alex agreed to come.
“I can’t believe you quit on your dad!” he said as he put the can between his legs, comfortable on the big leather couch.
“Sometimes I can’t believe it either! But it’s not like dad’s mad about it. If anything, he supports me starting my own business rather than depending on him,” Brandon explained. “Mom and Dan were not so thrilled, though.”
“And you dared defy the family expectations?!”
“Shut up,” Brandon rolled his eyes. “But I gotta say, it’s scary. Doing everything on my own… Ok, I have dad and his whole team of experts at my disposal to advise me, but still...”
“Really? You don’t seem the type of person who gets scared easily.”
“Well, maybe you just don’t know me that well,” Brandon cocked his head and Alex looked away staying silent.
It was true, he realized, he didn’t really know Brandon well. Not knowing what to say, he decided to steer the subject in a different direction.
“So, your own software company… How are things going so far?”
“It’s still too early to say, but we’re all optimistic. Our profession is among the safest when it comes to job security right now, so hopefully it’ll turn out well.”
“I hope so,” Alex nodded, raising his beer can again and taking another sip.
At one point, during a brief lull in conversation, he turned his attention to the action movie playing on the TV. However, Brandon interrupted him as he came over from the kitchen, bringing more snacks and sitting right next to Alex – much closer than they were before.
“So tell me, how are things with you and Jeremy?” Brandon asked, seemingly keeping his eyes on the big TV screen mounted on the wall.
The several beers he’d had convinced Alex it was a good idea to open up to someone about his concerns – and Brandon was the only one available at the moment. He swallowed the pretzel he was chewing on and sighed, still looking ahead, not sure where to start.
“It’s good, you know…”
“That look on your face says differently,” Brandon replied softly. “You can tell me stuff, you know. If I had guy issues, I’d tell you.”
“Ahh… It’s just that, he’s got some problems and I can’t help him. It makes me feel useless.”
“What kind of problems?”
“First of all, there’s his best friend. They’ve fallen out and I feel like it’s all because of me,” Alex explained.
“Oh, so you blame yourself for it?”
“They were fine before I came into the picture... But I blame her too. And then there’s his mom. She wouldn’t react well if she knew Jeremy was gay. At least he doesn’t think so,” Alex shook his head. Beers or not, it felt good to share his worries with someone. Even though he was no closer to finding a solution, he felt slightly better after getting those things off his chest.
“Wait… So he’s not even out yet?” Brandon asked, raising an eyebrow.
“No, he’s not.”
“I see… You know, Alex, things will work themselves out. They somehow always do in the end,” Brandon said, and Alex suddenly felt a hand on his thigh. “You never know why this could turn out to be good. I know it’s a cliche, but things do happen for a reason.” As he said those words, Brandon removed his hand from Alex’s upper leg, waiting for his reaction.
“Yeah, maybe you’re right,” Alex finally replied, deep in thought. He then downed the rest of his beer and abruptly got up, in a rush to leave. “I should go now. Thanks for listening, man.”
“Uh... don’t mention it,” Brandon nodded at him, walking him to the door.
“And good luck with your new company. You’ll do great.”
“Thanks… See ya.”
Alex was in the passenger seat of his dad’s car, going back home from work, when his phone rang. He was surprised to see Jeremy calling, since the guy usually prefer texting. As soon as he picked up and heard the weeping voice on the other side, Alex’s stomach dropped and the feeling of anxiety invaded his body. Something bad had happened.
“Jer, babe, are you alright?”
“Alex, can you come over?” Jeremy asked, his voice cracking. There was no doubt he had been crying.
“Of course, I’m on my way right now,” Alex assured him, gesturing to his dad to turn the car around. “What happened?”
“It’s mom… She knows about me.”
“Baby, I’m so sorry. I’ll be there in fifteen, ok?”
“Ok. Thanks, Alex,” Jeremy replied in a sad voice that broke Alex’s heart and then hung up.
As his dad drove him to Jeremy’s apartment, Alex stared ahead into the distance, wondering what to do. He had no idea what to say to Jeremy, how to console him in a moment like that. At least he would be there for him and maybe that would be enough.
I don't think I did a cliffhanger in a long time, so... As usual, I am most thankful for all of you who are reading, commenting, etc. Have a lovely day!