“Sweetie, is that place the first or the second street on the left? I know it’s here somewhere. Right?” Gaby Hartley asked her son as they drove through town. She was in the driver’s seat, since Alex wasn’t allowed to have a car yet, so he took the opportunity to hitch a ride with his mother.
“Mom, how should I know?” he frowned as he looked around from the passenger seat. “You’re the one who goes to furniture stores, not me. And besides, you forget I haven’t lived here in four years.”
“Yeah, but I thought maybe you remembered. You know how old people are, we’re so forgetful.”
“Oh give me a break, you’re only fifty. What’s gonna happen when you’re eighty?” he rolled his eyes as he took his phone and googled the store his mom was looking for, trying to find the location.
“Well, then you’re gonna have to put me in a home. Unless you want to take care of me personally,” Gaby replied with a chuckle and Alex just shook his head in amusement.
“Here, it’s at 46 Lincoln Street. That’s the second on the left,” he read the address from the store’s website.
Making his mom use modern technology such as computers or GPS was a mission impossible, one Alex had given up long ago. Liz would still tease her relentlessly for not knowing how to use her laptop, but Gaby didn’t care. She knew how to operate the cash register at work and that was enough for her. She had better things to do with her time, like cooking, doing yoga, hanging out with friends and decorating her home. Spending hours in front of a screen did not sound like fun to her.
“Well, here we are,” she announced, parking the car in front of the furniture store. “Do you want me to wait for you until you’re done with Brandon? I’m probably going to be a while, so it’s no problem,” she offered. The plan was to look for a new dining table and chairs, a new chest drawer for her bedroom and possibly some new carpets.
“No, that’s ok, I’ll take the bus back,” Alex shook his head, getting out of the car.
“So, you’re really breaking up with him, huh? And I never even got the chance to meet him!”
Alex couldn’t help but smile sarcastically at his mom. He knew it was killing her that she didn’t meet his boyfriend and have the opportunity to give Alex her detailed opinion of him - all of his flaws, qualities and her prediction about the guy’s future. She just knew it all. Or so she liked to believe. Well, mom, I guess you’re just going to have to accept I made this decision without you, Alex thought.
Still, he couldn’t deny he was grateful their relationship was improving and they were able to talk almost like before, without his mom reminding him that he was a disappointment and a constant cause of her high blood pressure.
“Yeah, I’ve made up my mind. I really want to try and make it work with Jeremy,” he nodded, smiling at the thought of the sweet guy he was getting so fond of.
“Ok, then, you’re technically an adult, so I hope you know what you’re doing,” she replied with a tone that conveyed quite the opposite message.
Gee, mom, thanks for all the confidence in me, Alex thought. He then realized she was probably right. Have I given her a reason to trust me lately? Not really.
“Well, I hope so too.”
Waving goodbye, Alex left his mom to her shopping mission and headed toward a nearby bar where he was supposed to meet Brandon. The place was large but in a not so busy neighborhood, making it the perfect spot to have a private conversation without an entire mob surrounding them from all sides.
As expected, when Alex walked in there were not even a dozen people inside. He picked a table in the distant corner and ordered his Coke, waiting for Brandon. It was merely a few minutes later that the other guy arrived, but just enough for Alex to figure out what to say.
Dressed quite casually compared to his usual outfits, Brandon wore a black leather jacket, dark jeans and a tight indigo shirt, carrying a small gift bag in his hands. He sat down with a big smile on his handsome face, showing off his perfect teeth. How can someone have such a smile, Alex wondered. It almost looks photoshopped. The guy may have won the genetic lottery, but he clearly worked on himself as well, which was to be admired.
The two guys greeted each other and conversation started flowing, briefly interrupted only by the server coming to bring Brandon’s order. There were only three other couples in the bar, but none of them sat closely, which provided them with plenty of privacy.
Taking a sip of his cappuccino with almond milk, Brandon almost started to moan in satisfaction, but then quickly frowned as he swallowed the rest of the sip.
“What’s the matter?” Alex asked.
“Umm not quite what I was expecting,” Brandon replied with a grimace, putting down his white mug.
Alex smiled, fighting hard not to roll his eyes.
“But anyway, I’m glad you called, I wanted to see you too. I, uh, wanted to apologize,” Brandon said, eliciting a look of confusion in the other guy.
“Um, apologize? For what?” Alex asked. This was not how he thought this conversation would go. He thought he’d be the one to have to apologize.
“Well, I felt really bad about what happened with Dan that day. So I talked to him and told him about where you really work and that it was my idea to lie.”
“Oh,” Alex was at a loss for words. “You-you didn’t have to do that.”
“I know, but I wanted to. It was stupid of me to lie in the first place, made it seem like I was ashamed of you or something,” Brandon confessed, looking Alex directly in the eyes and making him almost uncomfortable. “Of course, he gave me the whole ‘overprotective big brother’ crap, you know…”
“Well, I do. I am a big brother myself,” Alex chuckled.
“Oh, yeah, I guess you are! I forgot,” Brandon reached out and took Alex’s hand, squeezing it gently. “So I wanted to apologize, I felt so dumb about that whole thing. And, um, I have something for you.”
Picking up the mystery bag he’d brought, Brandon handed it to Alex with a look of anticipation, oblivious to the fact that Alex had been looking less than thrilled the entire time.
Oh great. As if I wasn’t feeling bad enough, Alex thought as he hesitantly took the bag and opened it. A small box was inside, wrapped in shiny, silver wrapping paper.
“Brandon, you shouldn’t have bought me anything, really-”
“Oh, come on, open it, it’s not a big deal,” Brandon waved him off, still forcing himself to finish his cappuccino.
Alex unwrapped the box and opened the lid, revealing a simple, yet elegant gold necklace. His heart fell as he thought about the reason he invited Brandon there in the first place. If he hadn’t already felt like the biggest shit in the world, he did at that moment.
“I noticed you weren’t wearing any jewelry and I thought it’d look sexy on you. So, do you like it?” Brandon asked, unbuttoning the top button of his shirt. “I have a similar one, see?”
“Brandon, this is too much, I can’t accept this.” Closing the box, Alex placed it on the table between them, looking as if he just ran over Brandon’s puppy.
“Why? It’s nothing! You don’t have to feel obligated or anything. I just wanna know if you like it.”
“It’s lovely, but I can’t,” Alex shook his head guiltily. “And now I feel fucking horrible.”
“Why? I don’t get it?” the brown-haired guy frowned at him, trying to discern the look in his eyes.
“The thing is, I called you here today because I wanted to tell you something,” Alex hesitated, his voice trailing off.
Brandon gasped, covering his mouth with his hand. “Are you breaking up with me?” he asked jokingly, faking a shocked look on his face.
When Alex remained silent, looking down to avoid his date’s eyes, Brandon realized it was no joke.
“Wait, you’re serious?” he asked, shocked beyond belief.
“I’m sorry,” Alex spoke softly, flooded with guilt. Just by looking at the other guy it was clear to him that no one had ever broken up with Brandon before. He was probably always the one to call things off, if he ever even had a serious relationship. All of Brandon’s confidence, evident through his straight posture and dazzling smile, now crumbled before Alex’s eyes.
“Ohh … Well, then,” Brandon stuttered, finding himself at a loss for words. He looked at the gift box on the table, at his mug, everywhere he could except at Alex’s face. He couldn’t look him in the eyes.
“Brandon, I do feel bad about this. I just don’t think we’re a good fit,” Alex opened his mouth and words just came out. He didn’t even know what to say anymore. This was definitely not the way he imagined things would go. Never having been in a relationship before, this was new territory for him as well.
Things were so much simpler back at college, when he would have only casual hookups. There was never any expectation of keeping in touch. Just great sex, no obligations.
“Is it-is it someone else?” Brandon asked, finally bringing himself to make eye contact. There were no tears in his eyes, just disbelief and a hint of sadness, as far as Alex could see.
Was he really that into me, Alex had to wonder. He never once got the impression that things between them were getting serious. Still, he felt bad and didn’t want to lie.
“To be honest, yes. I never cheated on you, I just want you to know that. But I’ve realized I started having feelings for someone else and it’s not right to-”
“I understand,” Brandon replied, a sad smile flickering for a moment across his lips. “Hey, maybe-uh, maybe we could still hang out sometimes?”
“Sure, why not?” Alex nodded with a smile, pretty sure that was one of those things that would never happen.
The “Slay the Spire” soundtrack was blasting on Alex’s computer as he changed into clean sweatpants and t-shirt after showering. He had just spent the last half an hour helping his mom with the new furniture she purchased. Although he failed to see what was wrong with the old one, he learned not to ask such questions.
“We’ve had this dresser for ten years!” his mom would say, pointing to a perfectly fine piece of furniture with not a single scratch on it. However, it was clearly out of fashion and had to be replaced.
Alex would just shrug it off, fully at peace with the fact that he was neither good nor interested in decorating and design. So much for that stereotype about gays, he thought.
Once he got changed, he made himself comfortable in his bed, taking his phone and dialling Jeremy. He was eager to tell him about his meeting with Brandon and that he was now a free man. He was just about to hang up when the other guy picked up.
“Hey, you sound busy? Want me to call later?” Alex asked, remembering that the guy was working a shift and was probably in the middle of serving customers.
“No, I can talk. I had some people but they just left. It’s been crazy busy today, though,” Jeremy replied. “By the way, we’ve been getting a bunch of likes on Instagram!”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed,” Alex exclaimed, happy to hear Jeremy so enthusiastic. “The photos look amazing, let’s hope they bring you more business.”
“Yeah, if every day was like today, that’d be great! Anyway, what are you up to?”
“Well, I’ve got some news to tell you,” Alex said, wishing he had gone over to tell him in person, but this would have to do for now. Jeremy was working, so they wouldn’t have much time to hang out anyway.
“Oh, I have some news too, but you go first.”
“Ok, now I’m curious,” Alex chuckled, wondering if his lovely friend had maybe come out to his mom. It was an entirely unrealistic prospect since the guy sounded too cheerful. Besides, it was only a few days ago that he said he wasn’t ready yet. “So, I went to see Brandon today and, well, we’re over.”
“Ohh. How did he take it?” Jeremy asked and Alex could clearly pick up the concern in his voice. It only reinforced his opinion that Jer was always considerate of other people’s feelings. He was maybe too nice for his own good.
“I gotta say, it was harder than I thought. It was awkward to say the least. He came over thinking we were going to have a date and then I dumped him.”
“Sorry to hear that. I don’t imagine breaking up with someone is fun. Actually, I kinda realized it myself today, although my situation doesn’t really compare.”
“You mean - Natalie?”
“Yeah. I think you were absolutely right, I think she might have feelings for me. I, uh, I told her that we should stop pretending and go back to just being friends.”
“What did she say? Did she admit to feeling something for you?”
“No. She said it was ok, but she definitely looked a little down. I mean, I don’t want her to waste her time on me. She could’ve found someone by now if she wasn’t stuck with me. But I don’t want to lose her as a friend.”
“Of course, I totally get that. And what about your mom?” Alex asked, knowing that Zara was pushing for her son and Natalie to be together and probably even get married one day.
“I don’t know. I guess I’ll just tell her that we broke up.”
“Maybe you don’t have to. You know, maybe she won’t even notice,” Alex suggested, drawing a chuckle from the boy on the other side.
“Yeah, right. Have you met her? As soon as she sees we’re not holding hands, she’ll know something’s up,” Jeremy replied, amused by Alex’s naive suggestion.
He’s probably right, Alex thought. Still, he was glad at least some of the truth was slowly coming to light. Now, they could only hope Jeremy’s mom would be a bigger, more open-minded person than they believed and accept her son as he is.
However, that would have to happen in its own time. Even though Alex wanted to kiss Jeremy senseless and show him how he felt, he knew he had to wait and was more than willing to do it. As long as it takes until Jeremy is comfortable with the two of them being together, out in the open.
And as if Jeremy’s mom wasn’t enough, there was another ever-present concern looming above Alex like a dark cloud, following him everywhere he went. How to tell Jeremy the real reason he came back? What would the guy think of him? The more he put it off, the harder it was to come clean. Some moments, he contemplated not saying anything. Maybe the whole thing would just blow away and Jeremy will never have to know. Other times, when he was thinking more rationally, he knew he’d have to tell him sooner or later. But there was no easy way to do it, no one to take the fall for him.
I should’ve just told him right away, Alex realized. If I tell him now, he’ll hate me for lying to him all this time.
That particular Sunday afternoon, Alex sat in his room and held his phone, checking the app he’d recently installed - a popular new app for sports betting. It quickly became his favorite thing to do when no one was looking. Jeremy almost caught him using it the day they came over to his place, but Alex managed to quickly lock the phone and hide it.
As he was browsing through recent matches, Liz came barging into his room, startling him.
“Hey, lunch is ready. You hungry?” she chirped, plopping on the bed next to him.
Quick as a whip, Alex locked the phone and put it away. This fast maneuver did not escape his sister’s attention, who immediately shot him a knowing look, wiggling her eyebrows.
“Whatcha doin’?” she cooed, suspicious of him. “Looking at Jeremy’s nudes?”
Oh, you have no idea how off you are, little sis! But I’m glad that’s the first thing that popped into your dirty mind, Alex thought.
“No, I’m sending him my own,” he replied with a smirk.
“Eww, that’s gross! Thanks a lot, there goes my appetite,” Liz moaned, pretending to be disgusted with her brother.
“Come on, you big baby, let’s go eat!” he led her out of the room and headed downstairs, to the kitchen. They weren’t even halfway down the stairs, when they heard their mom calling from the living room.
“Alex, you have a visitor!”
The surprise on his face was more than obvious when he entered the room and saw Natalie standing at the front door, Alex’s mom next to her.
“Well, I’ll leave you two alone,” Gaby smiled politely and went back to the kitchen.
Natalie crossed her arms across her chest and pursed her lips, clearly irritated. Alex looked at her, knowing that whatever she came for, it wouldn’t be pleasant.
“Natalie, uh, hi. How can I help you?”
“Um, you can help me by not trying to stand between me and Jeremy. How ‘bout that?"
Thank you for your patience and I hope you enjoyed this chapter! I appreciate all of you who are reading my stories!