Just Kiss Me

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Third Degree

Nick wondered if maybe he should have kept his car. He’d owned one up until a few years ago when he’d moved to New York and public transportation made a car more or less unnecessary. Vincent didn’t have one either, sheepishly admitting that he’d only even gotten his driver’s license a few years ago.

He hadn’t thought about having a car in years, but the thought hit him in the uber on the way to visit Vincent’s family.

Nick squeezed Vincent’s hand. He was twenty-seven, meeting his boyfriend’s family, and feeling somewhat nervous about it. The way Vincent moved his thumb along his knuckles helped, but Nick still felt awkward standing with Vincent outside a home in New Jersey.

“I forgot to ask, but what do your roommates think you’re doing?” Vincent asked casually on the way up to the front door.

Nick shook his head in exasperation. “They were a little… wrapped up in each other when I left. I left a note on my door that says ‘not dead, just out.’”

Vincent snorted in amusement; it was something Nick noticed he did whenever he was trying not to laugh out loud. “It’s nice that they’ve kept their romance alive,” he said with a hint of sarcasm.

“If only they didn’t keep it alive on the couch. Or with their door open,” Nick said with a roll of his eyes.

He earned himself a sympathetic glance, feeling much better already as Vincent took out a key. “Bella says that we’re always welcome,” he shrugged. “Really gives me a lot of keys to carry around though.”

He put the key in the door, but the second before he actually had the door open, he turned. With a hand on Nick’s cheek, he pulled him down for a quick kiss. “You’ll be fine,” he said simply. His green eyes glittered underneath the sunlight.

Nick felt the tension bleed out of him. He took a breath and nodded, gesturing for Vincent to open the door. He was glad anyway that Vincent reached back to hold his hand on the way in.

His first thought was that it was obvious that there were kids in the house based on the mess of shoes by the door, not to mention the random toys sprinkled around in odd places. Like the dinosaur on the stairs or the horse standing guard over the family pictures. It was a nice house though, with high ceilings that made it feel large and spacious.

He didn’t have space for any further thoughts before a little girl with brown hair gasped from the stairs and barreled down to jump right into Vincent.

“You’re here!” she exclaimed, holding onto his legs tightly.

“Hey, Amber,” he greeted kindly. “It hasn’t been that long since I’ve last seen you, has it?”

The girl, Amber, pouted cutely in her thin-framed glasses. Nick recalled Vincent saying that she was seven now. “It’s been months, Uncle Vincent. Months.”

“Sorry, kiddo,” Vincent apologized, smoothing her brown hair back. “But I’d like to introduce you to someone. This is my boyfriend, Nick.”

“A guy in my class is named Nick,” Amber noted, looking him up and down suspiciously in a way that only a kid could truly pull off.

Nick leaned down to avoid towering over her. “Yeah, it’s a pretty common name,” he said sheepishly. “Hello, Amber. Nice to meet you.”

She nodded. “You’re dating my uncle? Mom says that Uncle Vincent really likes you. Oh,” she interrupted herself suddenly. “I’m Amber. Nice to meet you too.”

Nick smiled at her. “You have good manners, Amber. And I really like your uncle too.”

Amber beamed at the compliment. “Well, my teachers do say in my parent-teacher conferences that I’m like the nicest in the class.”

“Make sure they teach you humility in class too, Am,” a new voice said.

Nick assumed that she was Marianne—she was obviously not pregnant—as she stepped forward in a form-fitting hoodie. She had a sort of cheerful vibe to her, with a lighter skin tone than Vincent’s. Her smile was much more casual too.

“If it isn’t my brother,” she said with a light laugh, smiling with ease and wrapping him in a hug. “And the boyfriend!” she greeted a second later, practically squealing.

Nick was surprised that she wrapped him in a hug so casually, and that for a thin woman, she was holding him kind of tightly.

Marianne didn’t give him a chance to reply before she was pulling back to really look at him and saying, “He is good-looking. He’s taller than you.” She gave Vincent a kind of smirk.

Vincent huffed. “And I’m taller than you.”

She rolled her eyes, waving him off. “Yeah, and you’re a guy, so your height doesn’t count. It’s basically a given that you’d be taller than me.”

“Dad’s the same height as mom.”

Marianne leaned into Nick to murmur, “It so obvious in our parents’ wedding pictures. Anyway, good to meet you, Nick. Vincent tells me that you only have one brother?”

Nick needed a moment for his mind to catch up to the conversation. “Yeah, he’s two years younger than me.”

“Aw, just like me and Vincent,” Marianne said, pulling her brother in for a squeeze. She put her hand on Amber’s back. “Lead the way to the kitchen, Am.” In a lower voice, she added, “She was really into being the line leader at school.”

True to form apparently, Amber did take her little job seriously. Vincent smiled over at Nick, taking his hand and shaking his head at his sister.

It was somewhat overwhelming meeting a bunch of new people all at once, especially since Nick was hoping that he wasn’t being too awkward, but Vincent kept his hand in his even when they entered the kitchen. Nick appreciated his silent support as his own head spun with new faces and details that he was trying to keep track of.

“Mom, I brought everyone!” Amber exclaimed excitedly, going right to a woman who was clearly her mother.

Isabella easily tucked Amber into her side despite the size of her belly, giving her a squeeze. “Nice job, Am. Can you go grab dad and your brothers for me?”

“Got it,” Amber said like a little soldier, nodding with determination and whizzing past them to the stairs.

Isabella shrugged. Her dark hair—the same shade as Vincent’s—fell over her shoulder. “I’ve been avoiding the stairs,” she explained amusedly, gesturing to her protruding stomach.

“You could just yell, Bella,” Vincent said, smiling as she wrapped him in a hug.

She chuckled. “Yeah, but Amber needs to use up some of her energy anyway. Oh, Vincent, it’s so nice to see you.” She fixed her stretchy dress when she straightened out. “And if it isn’t the infamous Nick.”

“Infamous?” Nick questioned with a raise of his eyebrows.

Isabella smirked. She had the same kind of intelligent gaze as her brother. “Kidding, Nick. It’s really nice to meet you.” There was a shrewd look in her eyes when she shifted her gaze to Vincent, who very pointedly ignored her.

Vincent sighed and explained flippantly, “They’re just annoyed that I didn’t tell them about you sooner.”

“Not annoyed,” Marianne clarified, “but come on, Vincent, you didn’t give us enough time to talk about him without him knowing. Or to needle you for details.”

“I gave you like a month, Marianne.”

Nick laughed to himself, aware of all of their eyes turning to him. “Sorry,” he apologized through another laugh, “It’s just that I can imagine why you’re the one who asked about my ass.”

Marianne punched out a laugh herself, clapping her hands. “You told him about that?” she asked Vincent, continuing to laugh with ease.

Nick allowed himself to relax, listening to Marianne’s easy conversation over the sounds of Isabella cooking something atop the stove and Vincent’s clever responses. He was able to keep his hand in Vincent’s this time when Amber returned with her dad—Richard, as Vincent told him—and her two little brothers, Aaron and Evan.

He only separated his hand from Vincent’s to start a paper airplane tournament with the kids, where he found out that Amber was a little competitive, Aaron liked to be as self-sufficient as a six-year-old could possibly be, and for a three-year-old, Evan was surprisingly well-tempered.

Many paper airplanes later though, Nick was glad to leave the tournament to Richard so he could stand and stretch his legs on the way to the kitchen. It was nice to have a small moment with Vincent too.

“Are you doing alright?” Vincent asked once they were seated atop the barstools and the lull of sound covered their words.

Nick let out a breath, but he smiled. “More or less. My family is much smaller than even this.”

“It probably takes some getting used to,” Vincent sympathized. “Does this mean that I can expect awkward silence if I meet your family?”

“When.”

“What?”

Nick turned to him, leaning into him to feel their shoulders bump against each other. “When you meet my family. Not if.” He smiled softly, watching Vincent’s eyes sparkle. “Oh, and I’m not sure about the awkward silence. Usually no, but I’ve also never brought a guy home before.”

Vincent smiled without averting his eyes. “I can’t quite keep up with Marianne, but I can be a good talker when I want to.”

Nick scoffed. “You just don’t care about awkward silences like most people do.”

The man didn’t bother to deny it. “Well, I like listening to you anyway, so you can just fill the silence yourself.”

Nick forgot that it was highly likely that he had at least one person watching him when he leaned in to give Vincent a kiss. He didn’t care anyway; it wasn’t a bad thing anyway to show Vincent’s family that he enjoyed being with him.

“You’re sweet, honey,” he quipped lightly, watching Vincent shake his head fondly.

“Just like sugar, huh?” Vincent joked, trailing his hand along Nick’s back before he shifted to get them drinks.

He had two glasses of water when Marianne seemed to appear out of nowhere and grab onto him. “Perfect timing!” she exclaimed, jostling him.

Vincent glared at her, annoyed. “Marianne, you just made me spill this.”

She waved him off, looping her arm through his. “I need your help, so you’re with me. And what do you know—Nick, how about you help Bella with some stuff?” She dragged Vincent off before he could protest, spilling more water along the way.

Isabella shook her head from her place leaning against the counter. “Well, that wasn’t too obvious,” she murmured sarcastically, grabbing a towel. “Sorry to ask, Nick, but there’s no way I can lean down to clean that up.”

“I’ve got it,” he said, mopping up for her. He supposed it was true that he cared at least a little about awkward silences, because he felt the need to speak again when an oddly tense second passed. “I’m guessing you wanted to talk to me alone?”

When he straightened out, Isabella gave him a wry smile. “You’re good with kids. Thanks for entertaining them for us.”

It was obvious that her kids weren’t the main point of this conversation, but Nick went along with it. “Well, I’m sure that it’s a lot easier to hang out for an hour with them rather than to be a parent all the time,” he shrugged.

Isabella let out a breath. “I can’t wait for one of my siblings to have a kid so that I can be the aunt,” she murmured, shaking her head and holding her hand out for the towel. She placed it back by the sink, another moment passing in which Nick knew that she was considering her words.

“Nick, do you and Vincent ever fight?” she asked.

He frowned at the random question, but answered honestly. “Sure, here and there. I’m pretty sure that couples who never fight are the ones who end up on the news.”

It really did feel like an accomplishment to get this woman to smirk. “True enough.”

Nick tilted his head at her. “Why?”

Isabella seemed to get serious. She had this kind of gaze that somehow made him feel shorter than her. “Look, Nick, I know that Vincent is really into you, and that he is perfectly capable of taking care of himself without me butting in. But I also know that you’ve only dated women before and Vincent doesn’t need to be hurt by some guy who doesn’t know what he wants.”

Nick finally understood where the tension was coming from. A few moments passed between them where the thought that was easiest to decipher was the assumption that Vincent must have mentioned his dating history.

“I know what I want,” Nick said seriously, resisting the conflicting urges to get defensive and yet to simultaneously back away from her gaze. “I get it: I’ve only dated women and it probably seems weird that I’d suddenly want to be with a guy. But…” He shrugged more casually than he felt. “It’s Vincent.”

Isabella shifted, placing a hand on her stomach and adjusting her feet. She was standing on one of those dishwashing matts that were meant to help with back pain. “Did Vincent ever tell you about how he came out?”

Nick nodded. Recalling that conversation, he said, “He told me that he made himself sick over it, and was really worried about your dad.”

“He was,” she confirmed with a sigh. “He’d been acting weird for a while and me and Marianne cornered him to get him to tell us why. He looked terrified when he admitted it, and made us promise not to tell our parents.” She shook her head. “He was so anxious though that he ended up blurting it out himself. Hid in his room for days until dad forced him to come down for dinner.”

Nick added, “He told me that your dad basically said that the ‘no boys in your room’ rule now extended to him.”

Isabella chuckled at the memory. “And that our house would be all about acceptance and encouragement, and that there was no room for any bullshit, yes. But Nick,” she said, serious again, “Vincent struggled for years to be okay with himself. I want to make sure that you’re not just being casual about this, or experimenting about being with a guy.”

“That’s why you asked about the fighting?” Nick asked curiously.

She shrugged and nodded. “It’s not like you’d work on a relationship you’re not serious about.”

Nick shifted. He had so many words on his mind, too many to speak right away. He needed a moment to gather his thoughts underneath the muffled noise coming from the other room.

He met her eyes with determination. “When I first met Vincent, I was worried about leading him on. I didn’t want to be that asshole that you’re trying to decide if I am or not.”

Isabella looked at him appraisingly, but said nothing as he went on, “But I’m not worried anymore, because I don’t care about his gender or about whatever my sexuality is. I care about how happy Vincent makes me, and how I look forward to spending time with him, and how I can’t wait until work is over so we can text or kiss or whatever. I’ve only dated women, but what I felt with them doesn’t even come close to what I feel with Vincent. I really lo—”

He cut himself off, frowning and flushing. His heart skipped in his chest at the thought of that word.

Something about his awkwardness made Isabella’s gaze soften. “Aw, you love him,” she said matter-of-factly. “Haven’t told him yet?”

“Uh, no,” Nick stammered out. In truth, he hadn’t even fully formulated the thought. It had been something vague in his mind until it just slipped out—not that it wasn’t completely true. “Could you not…?”

“I won’t tell him,” Isabella agreed. “I definitely shouldn’t be the first one to hear you say that.” She stepped forward to stand in front of him, looking up to meet his eyes. “You’re really serious about dating my brother,” she said not as a question but as a fact. “Good. He’s had too many idiots hurt him before.”

Nick gave her a small smile. “He’s told me. I know that you don’t know me, but please trust me, Isabella. Vincent really does mean the world to me, and I’m not out to hurt him. A lot of people say that kind of stuff with the best of intentions, but Vincent is…” He couldn’t think of the word after so much rambling. There were too many that came to mind.

Isabella thought of one for him. “He’s your guy. Just like I’ve got my guy. And before this conversation ends—one more thing.” She made sure that he was looking directly at her before she said, “I don’t care how pregnant I am. I will very literally drive to you even if I’m nine months in and put my foot in your ass if you screw with him.”

It probably should have been a serious moment, but Nick smiled. “Good. I’d deserve it if I hurt him.”

“Oh, good answer,” she smirked. “I’m glad that Vincent’s got a smart one.” She patted his arm, relaxing now. “So, was I too bitchy there?”

He scoffed. “You’re smart and tough and care about your brother. That doesn’t make you bitchy.”

She shook her head with a smile. “Another good answer. Careful, Nick, or I just might like you,” she joked, resting her hands on her stomach and leaning back against the counter. “My kids already like you.”

“Yeah, sorry about all the paper airplanes you’ll probably find,” Nick said apologetically.

Isabella was smirking now. “For the next few months, it’s Richard doing the picking up anyway,” she shrugged with a teasing lilt to her voice.

“When’s the baby due?” he asked, feeling the tension fade out of him.

“Early November. So, I’ve got a little over two months left, but it’s my fourth kid. I know the drill by now.”

Nick had to wonder how tough this woman could be to sound so unconcerned. “Is this the last kid, or…?”

Isabella rubbed her hand over her belly with this gentle motion. “Unless we get careless and get a surprise, probably. Four is a good number, and considering that this one in here is a girl, it evens things out nicely.” As strong as Isabella was, she was also very soft in that moment, from her smile to the way she held herself.

Nick simply smiled at her. “I only have one brother, so I can’t exactly relate.”

She pushed herself off the counter. “If you stick around, you can join our family. Zero sisters to four is kind of a big change though.”

“I plan on sticking around,” he said to her seriously, earning himself a smile and a hug.

“Glad to hear it,” she said to him. When she pulled back, she directed him to the stove. “That’s basically done. Just keep an eye on it? I love my girl in here, but she’s really sitting on my bladder right now.”

He nodded, standing guard over the food while Isabella waddled from the room. There was only about a minute of silence before Vincent reentered with a wet splotch on his sweater-vest.

“Marianne,” he explained when he noticed Nick staring. “Bella didn’t interrogate you too much?”

Nick needed a second to speak. His heart skipped again just seeing Vincent there with that adorably curious look on his face. He didn’t answer before he leaned in for a kiss that only lasted as long as it did because everyone was out of the room.

“It went well, I guess?” Vincent said when they separated, a smile peeking out at his lips.

“Isabella says that she basically likes me now,” Nick said with no small amount of pride.

Vincent chuckled. “A true accomplishment. I got the third degree from Marianne, so it’s probably best if we just stay together from now on.”

“Yeah, that’s the reason why,” Nick chirped playfully. His heart felt light and he had to tell himself that it wasn’t the time to grab his boyfriend and make out with him.

Vincent made it really hard not to though when the man leaned in for another kiss that went on long enough for Isabella to reappear with a laugh.

“Now, that’s the kind of kiss that gave me my fourth kid here,” she teased, patting her belly.

Vincent snorted at her. “And that’s the most amount of detail I ever want about how you and Richard made your kids.”

“Eh, you’re part of the group chat. You’ve already read way more than is socially acceptable,” Marianne interrupted suddenly, slinging an arm around both Vincent and Nick. Nick hadn’t even heard her sneak up behind them.

“You could just text Bella directly,” Vincent pointed out.

Marianne shook her head at him. “Oh, little brother, and what? Just leave Luce and Gracie out like that? How inconsiderate,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Hey, you three—help carry things to the table. Richard!” Isabella called, moving aside so that they could get plates and utensils and oven mitts to carry the food.

Nick ended up in the kitchen with Vincent again, although the heavy pot he was currently carrying made it difficult to lean in for another kiss. Maybe that was why Marianne had handed it to him.

Vincent looked up at him with a wry smile, burdened with plates and utensils. “Let’s get going before they come back. Come on, Nickolas.”

Nick was caught in his green eyes. His voice had that hypnotic quality to it that was simply magnetic.

He’d meant every word that he’d said to Isabella, and he even meant the word that he hadn’t quite been able to say.

But for now, all he said was, “Okay, honey. Sit next to me?”

“Of course. That’s the best seat in the house,” Vincent said with a little smile, leading the way.

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