It was early in the morning when Alex woke up. He opened his eyes and mumbled as he took in the strange surroundings, realizing he wasn’t in his own room. Only then did he remember he had spent the night in Jeremy’s apartment, where they had fallen asleep in each other’s arms.
It was definitely not how Alex imagined their first sleepover would look like. In his daydreams, he always thought it would be a lot more steamy and involving little to no sleep. In reality, it turned out to be quite the opposite. After the stress caused by the fire, both of them were exhausted and sex was the last thing on their minds. After they had dinner and watched the latest KADA wrestling show, the two guys went straight to bed, where they spent the night just cuddling and sleeping. Alex knew his boyfriend needed him and he couldn’t imagine leaving him at such a difficult moment.
As he fully came to his senses and lifted himself up from the bed, Alex could smell a warm and pleasant aroma slowly filling the air. He smiled as he put on his t-shirt, realizing why Jeremy wasn’t in the bed beside him - he was in the kitchen.
The young baker’s place was quite small - it consisted of one bedroom, one bathroom, a living room, a small pantry and a dining room combined with the kitchen. Of course, the latter was the largest room in the apartment, which made perfect sense for someone who loved cooking as much as Jeremy did.
When Alex entered the kitchen that morning, he could see his boyfriend clearly in his element. The large kitchen table was cluttered with bowls and paper bags with ingredients. Still, everything somehow looked very organized. Wearing a white apron with oranges and pineapples printed all over it, the blond guy was standing at the table, making small star-shaped cookies using a plastic mold. One batch was already in the oven, and it looked like there would be at least two more.
“So that’s what smells so good!” Alex said dreamily. He smiled and headed toward his boyfriend. “What are you making?” he asked as he went to stand behind Jeremy and wrapped his arms around the blond guy’s waist, inhaling his scent mixed with the aroma of rich chocolate.
“Your favorites,” Jeremy replied and Alex could hear the smile in his voice.
“Yeah, with vanilla.”
“Ahh, you do know me!” Alex cried out theatrically. “You know, if I lose this six pack, it’s gonna be totally your fault.”
“I don’t care if you don’t,” the baker replied, turning around in his boyfriend’s embrace to meet his lips in a sweet kiss. He held his hands out, not wanting to get any flour on Alex’s clothes or face, but Alex had no such problems - he held his hands firmly around his boyfriend, caressing his back and occasionally lowering them to cup his tight, round butt.
“Anything I can do to help?” he finally asked when they broke the kiss.
“Nope, the hard part’s all done. Not that there’s anything particularly hard about baking simple cookies,” Jeremy chuckled and Alex’s eyes immediately went to the guy’s dimples. He was so cute!! “But thanks anyway! If you want breakfast, there’s some cheese rolls, scrambled eggs and fresh coffee.”
Since he couldn’t do much to help, Alex decided to sit nearby and have breakfast while watching Jeremy in action. It was nice to see him smile for once - he was doing something he loved, something he was so good at. Alex couldn’t help but grin - Jeremy looked like an adorable cookie-making machine: one by one, star-shaped pieces of dough were falling out of the mold, and he placed them in a tray, neatly arranging them next to each other, but still far enough apart so that they have room to grow.
“Think you can teach me how to bake something?”
Jeremy stopped what he was doing and looked at Alex as if the guy just told him he was a vegetarian werewolf. “Really? I didn’t know you were into this.”
“I’m not… I mean, I wasn’t, but you look like you’re having fun,” the black-haired guy replied. “And I thought maybe it could be something we could do together.”
“Sure, I’d love that,” the baker smiled at him. He proceeded to place the final three cookies in the tray and then pulled up a chair, sitting down next to his boyfriend. He sighed and stared ahead until he felt Alex’s hand covering his own.
“I hope we’re having guests, because who’s gonna eat all of those?” Alex joked, pointing at the vast amount of cookies waiting to be baked.
“Yeah, I kinda forgot myself and made more than I wanted to. The first batch seemed small so I made two more,” Jeremy shrugged, looking at Alex with a sheepish smile. “To be honest, I guess I just needed a distraction,” the blond guy added, biting his bottom lip. “After the fire, I… I needed to get my mind off of things. You know, I woke up at five this morning, I just couldn’t sleep. I went downstairs and saw the kitchen again.”
“Hey, we’ll fix it, ok? It’s gonna be as good as new. Even better!” Alex scooted his chair closer, wrapping his arm around Jeremy’s shoulders. It hurt him to see Jeremy like that, he was such a gentle guy who never did any harm to anyone. Why did all of this had to happen to him?
“I know,” Jeremy nodded weakly. “And it’s not even that bad. But when I saw it… it made me realize that I could lose it all just like that. It’s funny, I dreamed of having a big fancy restaurant in a big city, somewhere near the water, where all tourists would flock to and be impressed… But now that I have this little bakery, I can’t imagine losing it. I’ve literally put everything I had in it.”
“You’re not going to lose it. Accidents like this happen all the time. That’s why we invented insurance. That, and to take people’s money.”
Alex watched as Jeremy produced a weak smile and turned his head to the side, eyeing him. The blond boy looked so delicate and vulnerable at that moment, awakening Alex’s desire to wrap his arms around him protectively and shield him from all harm.
“Speaking of which, have you heard from your insurance?”
“Yeah, they should send an inspector today to survey the place. I hope they get it over with quickly. I don’t know how long I can afford to stay closed.”
It was a real concern and Alex was aware of it. Jeremy needed to order new furniture and hire workers to fix the place up as soon as possible, but he couldn’t do that until he received the insurance money. Alex wanted to help – he needed to do something, make himself useful.
Just as he was about to reach out and take Jeremy’s hand, the blond guy stood up and went over to the stove.
“Let’s take these out, they’re done!”
He carefully pulled out the hot tray with his oven mitts on and placed it on the table before putting the second batch in. The appetizing aroma of baked goods filled the room.
“Mmm, these look delicious! Have you thought of doing this for a living?” Alex hungrily eyed the golden-brown cookies, inhaling the warm vanilla scent. He wanted to reach out and grab one, but he knew he would only end up with his fingers burned.
“Heh, wait till you try them! Here, take this,” Jeremy came over and handed him a knife, which Alex used to scrape the biscuits off the tray and into a plate.
It wasn’t long before they were both stuffed – at least that was how Alex felt. He could barely breathe!
“Damn, Thanksgiving turkey has nothing on me!” he sighed, patting his belly and lifting his shirt to check out his stomach.
“Oh, don’t worry, your six-pack is still there,” Jeremy said. “It’ll take more than five cookies to make them disappear.”
It was a little past noon when Alex reluctantly got up to leave. He was working the second shift that day and needed to be at the car wash by two. After Jeremy reassured him he would be fine on his own, the two boyfriends headed down the stairs.
No sooner had they opened the back door to the bakery than the phone started ringing and Jeremy walked over to the counter to answer it. Alex stood nearby, thinking it was the insurance company, but the surprised look on his boyfriend’s face told him it must’ve been someone else.
“Hello,” Jeremy answered and paused, shrugging at Alex. It was a few moments later that the young baker’s pretty face changed into a frown. “What do you want?… No, you’ve done enough… Goodbye, Brandon. Don’t call me again.”
With those final words, Jeremy hung up, almost slamming the phone back onto the counter. Alex was startled, as he’d never seen Jeremy so angry, but he couldn’t deny he wanted to punch something too. Preferably Brandon’s face.
“That was Brandon?! What the hell did he want now?”
Jeremy shook his head and approached him. “He said he’d heard about the fire and wanted to see if he could help. I told him… well, you heard it.”
“Yeah,” Alex nodded, stroking the other guy’s arm. It was difficult trying to stay calm and comfort his boyfriend when he was so mad as well. “He’s like a damn cockroach, just can’t get rid of him. I thought he’d leave us alone after the last talk we had, but I guess not.”
What made Alex even angrier was the fact that somewhere deep down, a tiny bit of him knew that Brandon could actually help Jeremy. He certainly had the money, and maybe even the connections to speed up the repairs. The question was – what would be the price of that? As benevolent as the guy tried to present himself, Alex still couldn’t bring himself to trust him, especially since Brandon still had feelings for him. Involving Jeremy in it would bring nothing good, Alex was sure of it.
“I don’t want his help anyway. I don’t need it,” Jeremy said softly.
“Damn right you don’t,” Alex agreed. “I’ll ask dad if he can help. He knows a lot of people, maybe he can get you a discount on the repairs or something. We’ll figure it out.”
“Ok. Thank you,” Jeremy said and stood up on his toes, kissing Alex on the lips. “For everything.”
“Mmm, as much as I’d love to stay and keep this up, I really have to go to work now. I’ll call you later, ok?”
“Ok. And you’ll drop by tomorrow?” Jeremy asked.
“Of course! Let me know if anything happens with the insurance people,” Alex hugged Jeremy one last time, squeezing him tight. “Just shoot me a text.”
“You got it.”
As Alex turned to leave, the wind chimes above the door sounded, drawing the boys’ attention. They turned their heads, only to see a familiar face standing in the doorway - one that neither of them expected to see.
“Ahem,” Zara cleared her throat, glancing shyly at her son and his boyfriend. “May I come in?”
At a loss for words, Alex looked at Jeremy and saw that he was in the same state. The guy nodded and seemed as though he wanted to say something, but words just wouldn’t come out. However, once Alex placed a hand on the small of his back, Jeremy seemed to come to his senses.
“Uh… mom, what are you doing here?” he finally asked, his eyes still fixed on Zara’s face. She looked defeated and nervous, nothing like her usual upbeat and chatty self. “Come on in, I guess.”
The woman entered cautiously, as if going into a lion’s den. She remained by the door, clutching her purse as if her life depended on it. For a moment, it seemed that none of them knew what to say or do, until Jeremy finally turned to Alex.
“I’ll be ok,” the baker said, squeezing his boyfriend’s arm.
“If you’re sure…”
“Yeah. You’ve got work anyway,” Jeremy nodded. “Talk to you later?”
“I’m counting on it,” Alex winked and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. “Bye.” As he passed by Zara, he paused briefly but said nothing.
“Alex… It’s nice to see you,” the woman said, her eyes meeting his just for a moment.
“Yeah,” he muttered before walking out.
That was another person he wanted to punch. What could she possibly want now after abandoning Jeremy just a few days prior? Did she have a change of heart? Maybe she heard about the accident and got worried? Whatever it was, Alex didn’t exactly feel good about leaving Jeremy with her, but he couldn’t very well treat his boyfriend like a child. On top of that, he didn’t feel good about intruding on their family moments. Still, it didn’t make it any easier for him to leave.
It was late in the evening, so the bus was nearly empty. Alex took a window seat in the back and stared outside, watching cars and city lights pass him by while music blared in his earphones. Just for a short while, he was lost to the world as he thought about the events of the day.
Fifteen minutes later, as the bus finally pulled at his stop, Alex got off and started walking in the direction of his house, absentmindedly looking at the neon signs and shop windows. It was a chilly evening but he barely even noticed it - his mind was elsewhere.
Mrs Appleton was definitely one of his concerns, but Alex was even more upset over Brandon. The guy seemed desperate to keep himself involved in Alex’s life and, by extension, in Jeremy’s life as well. It seemed his latest trick was to pretend he was interested in helping Jeremy out with the bakery. How dare he?! He couldn’t care less about Jeremy or his business, Alex thought. All Brandon seemed to want was to torture him.
But no, Alex thought, there was no chance he would let that slimeball get involved in this. Especially not after Jeremy made it clear he didn’t want anything to do with him. They would find another way.
In the heat of the moment, Alex stopped in his tracks and turned around, looking at the large green neon sign - a place he had visited many times before. He crossed the street until he reached the small door made of tinted glass and looked up at the sign above it - ‘KingsBet’.
Taking a deep breath, he pushed on the door and entered, hurrying before he had a chance to change his mind. Focused on his mission, he did not even notice the familiar figure that observed him from further down the street.
The place was almost packed - as was usual for the evening hours. A few dozen men, mostly in their twenties and thirties, occupied most of the tables in the small space, drinking and watching whatever games were being shown on the screens. They chatted quietly among themselves, no one even paying attention to Alex. Then why did it feel like all eyes were on him?
Looking around and nervously fiddling with the phone in his hand, Alex went over to the first free seat he could find and sat down next to a guy that seemed to be a bit older than him. He was beefy and had a buzzcut, nursing a cold beer, his eyes not leaving the screen for a second.
“Is this seat taken?” Alex asked even though he had already sat down, more out of politeness than anything else.
“Suit yourself,” the man replied, sparing the younger guy the briefest of glances before returning to watch the game.
Shrugging, Alex turned to look at the large screen on the left, showing the schedule of soccer matches along with the odds. Even though he was an American, NFL was never his thing. He was always more into the European soccer leagues and occasionally baseball. He even got Richie hooked on watching FIFA matches back in high school.
Now, as he studied the odds, he began to calculate how much money he needed to win and how much he could afford to lose. He couldn’t risk it all, not like before, but he also couldn’t play it too safe. He needed that win - for Jeremy.
He was so concentrated on his task that he didn’t even observe that the person who followed him inside had walked over to his table. A moment later, he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up, startled, and his eyes froze in shock.
His freaking sister.
“Liz, what the…”
“...hell am I doing here? Is that what you were about to ask?” the girl stood there with hands on her hips, eyeing him with a disapproving glare. “Because that’s my line.”
“Ok, calm down,” Alex shushed her, not wanting to cause a scene. He then pulled a chair, motioning for her to sit down next to him.
“I’m not gonna join you, you idiot! We’re leaving, come on,” she grabbed him by the arm and pulled.
“Alright,” he muttered, standing up and following her to the door. “Just... great!”
The fresh air hit their faces again as they stepped outside, the door closing behind them. Alex made no effort to move.
“So? What the hell are you even doing here? Were you following me?” he asked, his annoyance levels rising by the second.
“Yeah, I have nothing better to do!” Liz rolled her eyes. “No, I wasn’t following you. I happened to be passing by and saw you across the street, about to do something stupid. Looks like I was right.”
“Look, it’s not what you think,” Alex let out an exasperated sigh. “I promise.”
“Looked to me like you were gonna do some more gambling.”
“Ok, I was, but with good reason. I want to help Jeremy,” he admitted. “There was a fire in his bakery and he needs money for the repairs.”
“Alex…” Liz looked at him with concern. She looked so much like their mother at that moment, Alex couldn’t help but groan.
“Ugh, please, don’t go all mom on me! I don’t need a lecture. I just wanna help my boyfriend, ok?”
“Even so… Doesn’t he have other options?” Liz asked. “Does he even know about this?”
“Of course not!”
“Thought so. And what about the app you’ve been using? Are you gambling on it too?” she raised an eyebrow, glancing at the phone in his front pocket.
“No, I’m not. Look, you can check,” he replied, pulling out the phone and unlocking it. “I wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for the bakery.”
“I understand but… Just the fact that you thought this was a good idea…” Liz shook her head. “Look, I don’t want to tell mom and dad about this, but if you go back in there, I will.”
“Liz…” Alex looked at her pleadingly. His sister could be so stubborn sometimes, it was infuriating. It was even worse when she was right, and this was definitely one of those moments.
“Alex… If Jeremy knew you were here, would he approve?”
Alex sighed, knowing he was defeated. There was no chance in hell Jeremy would want him to gamble his money away, even if it was to help the bakery.
“No, he wouldn’t,” he admitted with a heavy heart.
“And do you ever think about telling him the truth?”
That was the million dollar question.
“Every day,” Alex said, hanging his head. “I know I should tell him… I should’ve told him ages ago, I just don’t know how. It’s fucking hard, Liz. I’ve been lying to him for so long, what would he think of me?”
“That you were dumb. That you made a mistake. But from what you told me about him, it doesn’t sound like he’d dump you, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Ugh, sometimes I really hate myself… and you,” Alex moaned.
“Yeah, I don’t blame you. Come on, let’s go,” Liz grabbed him by the hand and pulled him after her, starting their walk back home.
“So what were you really doing out?” he asked, changing the topic.
“Going clubbing, what did you think?”
“You can still go, you don’t have to babysit me.”
“Yeah, maybe I should call dad to come pick you up instead?” Liz replied, keeping up the pace with her brother.
“You’re terrible,” Alex rolled his eyes, pinching her by the arm.
“I know. Terribly awesome,” she smirked. “Deal with it.”
Hope you didn't forget about Alex and Jeremy! Thanks for reading!