“Dude, you’re going to choke like that.”
Nick looked up from his plate of spaghetti, deliberately taking a long moment to chew and swallow if only to prove his friend wrong. “What do you mean?”
Andrew raised an eyebrow, leaning back into the couch after shaking more parmesan onto his pasta. Maddie returned to her place leaning against his side when he settled. “I mean that you’re practically scarfing down your food,” he pointed out. “Skip lunch today?”
“It’s Saturday. Why would I skip lunch?”
His friend shrugged. “I don’t know. Extra work?”
Nick had eaten lunch with Vincent, actually, and surely hadn’t been working when they went to an old arcade. He’d already known that Vincent was good with his hands, but he had some solid hand-eye coordination too.
He rolled his eyes at his friend. “It’s just good spaghetti,” he tried to say, although even he knew that it was a pathetic excuse.
“You made it!” Andrew argued, laughing.
Maddie shrugged. “It is good spaghetti. And I’ll give you the Heimlich if you choke.”
“Maddie is officially my new best friend,” Nick deadpanned, earning himself a thrown napkin. He laughed to himself, feeling the tension in his chest dissipate.
It was just Andrew and Maddie. They were his best friends. He’d known Andrew for almost half of his life by now.
Nick could tell them that he was in love with Vincent without worrying about them hating him. Even though they would probably tease him for the silly kind of smile that was threatening to break out on his face, he wanted them to know.
He probably shouldn’t have eaten his food so quickly in some effort to give himself time to put his thoughts together though, because his stomach flipped uncertainly as he took a breath and looked up at his friends.
“Oh, that’s cute though!” Maddie was saying.
“Not when the kid tried to bite me ten minutes later,” Andrew argued, taking a bite of his spaghetti.
Evidentially, Nick had tuned out of the conversation for a solid minute or two. He placed his own plate atop the coffee table, clearing his throat. “Hey, guys? Could I tell you something?”
The words felt heavy coming out of his mouth, heavy enough to prompt both Andrew and Maddie to turn to him with their full attention.
Andrew swallowed a bite of his food before he nodded. “Sure. What’s up?”
They were both looking at him, still eating, Maddie smiling kindly, and Nick took a breath. He didn’t exactly know what his sexuality was, but he wasn’t afraid to be open about the fact that he was dating a man. Not when that man was Vincent, and not when he was telling his two best friends.
“Actually, for the past few months I’ve—”
Nick felt very much like he had in college whenever he was doing a presentation and someone’s phone went off. He blinked at the sound of Maddie’s phone chiming, his words fading out as she immediately picked it up and sucked in a breath.
“Oh, crap, I forgot that we’d made plans with Jacob,” she said apologetically.
Nick could only blink again. His brain needed a second to process her words. “Jacob? My brother, Jacob?”
Andrew nodded easily, sitting up with a smile on his face. “Yeah. We were going to do a virtual couple’s game night. Kind of dorky, but Jacob and Cassidy are fun people. They said that they would help us with some of the wedding planning too.”
“We can tell him to wait though. Or you can join in too!” Maddie said quickly, although it felt a little too much like she only made the suggestions to be nice.
Nick put a smile on his face to cover the disappointment flooding his chest. “No, no, it’s fine. You guys have a good game night.”
Andrew frowned over at him. “You really are welcome, you know. He’s your brother, after all.”
“I know,” Nick said, standing up with his dish. “I just don’t want to be the fifth wheel. You guys have fun. I’ll be in my room.” He left feeling disappointed and pouty, and maybe slightly jealous that his brother had his friends’ attention instead.
Falling into his bed, Nick listened for a moment to the sounds of Jacob and Cassidy talking animatedly. He opened his phone to make sure Vincent was around for a call.
“It didn’t go well?” Vincent asked sympathetically when he answered.
“They made plans with my brother that I didn’t know about,” Nick pouted. “I kind of see why you just blurted out you were gay when you were seventeen now.”
“There never seems to be a good time to just say it,” the man said with a hum. “Well, if you ever need me there to just make out with you in front of them, I’m available.”
Nick shifted in his bed, lying more comfortably on his pillows. He chuckled. “With how oblivious they are sometimes, I’m not sure they’d notice even that right away.” He wished that he had been able to keep the disappointed tone out of his voice. “I’m… I’m feeling really sad, Vincent. I was all ready to tell them.”
“I know, Nickolas,” Vincent said in a warm voice. “You spent a lot of time thinking about this.” His voice was understanding, with the kind of tone that usually accompanied a firm hug.
Nick curled up in his bed, ignoring the conversation outside his door. “I did. I mean, I haven’t really cared if they know about us, but it’s kind of hard to find the right words. I just… those two morons are important to me. And so are you.” He frowned, sure that he was rambling.
Vincent didn’t sound bothered. “It is hard to find the right words. Believe me, I understand. The right words, the right time—it can feel impossible. Especially when we don’t want the people close to us to think of us differently.”
Nick let out a breath that he didn’t realize he’d been holding. “I’m starting to think that there are no right words or right time.”
“Says my very smart boyfriend,” he smirked, his smile fading a second later. “I want them to know how important you are to me. But I also want to… I don’t know, let them see this part of my life.”
Vincent made an understanding hum on the other line. “I know, Nickolas. That’s why I brought you to meet my sisters—I get it.”
“How are they doing, by the way?” Nick asked, messing with a loose thread on his comforter.
“The two younger ones have been bugging me to meet you. Don’t be surprised if they randomly show up in the city at some point.”
Vincent chuckled. “They really do want to meet you, but they wouldn’t show up randomly. Gracie is at grad school pretty close to us though, and Luce is thinking of taking a job that’s closer.”
Nick smiled now, some of his disappointment ebbing out of him as he listened to Vincent speak. “How are Isabella and Marianne?”
“Eh, Marianne is Marianne. She’s always got something to do. You know that Bella teaches high school, so she’s been trying to preplan everything for when, as she says, ‘the substitute ruins things during her maternity leave.’”
“That sounds like her,” Nick commented.
“So, was all that because you were really interested or because you wanted me to talk to you because you’re sad?”
He smiled to himself. The rest of his disappointment seemed to be gone for the moment. “Both. Your sisters are cool. I also do like to hear you talk. Have you read any good books lately?”
Nick listened as Vincent told him all about the last book he’d read—a book about food in the Middle Ages that he’d picked up for cheap. He found himself smiling calmly. “You’re going to run out of shelf space eventually.”
Vincent sighed in acceptance. “Yeah,” he responded, obviously pouting.
Nick chuckled. “I’ll build you those shelves that hang on the wall. As long as your landlord doesn’t get pissed.”
“You really are an amazing man,” Vincent said, somehow sounding both teasing and yet serious.
“Not really,” he said bashfully. “I just like it when you smile. Your eyes light up and everything.” Nick could still hear Andrew and Maddie talking outside, and debated walking past them to go to Vincent’s. He didn’t feel like leaving the comfort of his room just then though.
“You’re sweet,” Vincent intoned playfully. “Oh, damn. Hold on. I’m baking and I dropped the bag of flour.”
“Like… on the floor?” The silence on the line told him all that he needed to know. “How much cleaning do you have to do?”
“It could be worse,” Vincent grumbled unconvincingly.
Nick chuckled to himself despite his boyfriend’s struggles. “Talking to you makes me feel better, Vincent,” he said honestly, listening to his boyfriend curse at the flour on the other line.
It took a second, but Vincent responded, “I’m glad” in that same soft, understanding voice that made Nick’s heart melt in his chest. He settled into his bed, content to listen to Vincent complain about the state of his kitchen.
So, he hadn’t told Andrew and Maddie that he was head over heels in love with this man. He would. And he would make sure that they didn’t have any other random plans when he did.
Even if that meant enticing them to stay home with the promise of pizza—which he paid for—the following Friday night.
Nick struggled to get the door open with two boxes of pizza in his hand, wondering if he perhaps should have just ordered in rather than picking them up on his way home from an extra-long day at work.
“Don’t fall, don’t fall,” he murmured to himself, praying that the top box didn’t fall to the floor. It had happened before. He and Andrew had still eaten the shaken pizza anyway.
Nick shook his head at the memory, dumping the boxes onto the dining table unceremoniously. “Andrew! Maddie! I got the food,” he called, but only silence answered him. He frowned and straightened out, hearing nothing except the low hum of the fridge.
Taking out his phone, Nick frowned when he saw that he hadn’t gotten any messages. His two friends should have gotten home before him, and should currently be complaining about the fact that he had to stay a little late at work. They hadn’t even texted him back when he told them that he would be late.
Hey, Andrew—you guys around?
Nick wasn’t exactly sure what kind of situation could happen at a dental office, but maybe a patient had needed an emergency appointment or something. Maddie certainly struggled sometimes with getting off of her hospital shifts on time.
He had the paper plates out when his phone vibrated in his pocket.
Oh, hey—sorry, Nick! Maddie wanted to get drinks after work with some of our friends. I know that we said that we’d be back, but we’ll do pizza later. Don’t eat all that yourself lol you’ll get sick.
Nick took a breath and let it out. It didn’t quite get rid of the deep stab of annoyance that made him frown.
More than annoyance though, he felt a spark of anger. It was stupid and childish to be angry at them, especially when he didn’t blame them for having their own lives and their own friends, and when this had happened way too many times for him to be legitimately pissed, but he was angry.
He had made plans with them, and even though it was probably much more fun to have drinks with their couple friends than eat pizza at home with him, it shouldn’t have been too much to ask for the two of them—his two best friends—to actually show up when they had promised.
Nick huffed, clutching his phone in his hand. In that moment, he wasn’t even sure why he cared so much about having an honest conversation with them about Vincent when they couldn’t even bother to let him know that they made sudden plans.
Then again, he had been dating Vincent for four months without telling them, so maybe he was being a little hypocritical.
Nick sighed, annoyed anyway. Hey, honey, he texted, Hope you’re having a good night with Colleen.
He could tell Vincent what happened later, and hopefully not overdo it on the pizza before then. But Vincent texted back before he had even gotten a slice out. Are you okay? I thought Andrew and Maddie were supposed to be with you.
They blew me off. Nick felt pathetic just typing it. I’ll just hang out here tonight though—it’s okay.
His mind was so far away that he barely tasted the first slice. That only made him more irritated at his friends for ruining a good meal too.
Nick jumped when someone rang the bell for the door. Unless it was Andrew and Maddie and they were wasted beyond belief, he couldn’t think of anyone else that would show up. Cautiously, he checked the peephole and blinked in surprise, immediately opening the door.
His boyfriend smiled sheepishly. “Hey, Nickolas. Sorry to just show up here,” he apologized. “I just figured that you would probably tell me that you were fine being here alone if I’d asked. Since I was with Colleen.”
Nick hadn’t even let him in yet, but he leaned forward to kiss him soundly on the lips anyway. There was something comforting about having a person out there who knew him so well. It made the annoyance in his chest begin to loosen and ebb away.
Vincent was smirking when he pulled back. “I was going to ask you if you wanted me to leave actually—if you really did want to be alone, it’s okay.”
“I feel better already now that you’re here,” Nick said honestly. He frowned a moment later. “Um, but Colleen…?”
“About that…” Vincent hedged.
Nick jumped when the woman appeared from around the corner when a cheerful smile and a wave. “Just so you know, I didn’t watch you like a weirdo when you were kissing,” she said easily. A lock of her hair fell out from behind her ear. “And I can for sure leave if you two want some alone time together.”
The way she said it, it was obvious that she really wouldn’t have minded leaving; it wasn’t one of those offers that people made for the sole purpose of being polite.
Maybe that was why Nick smiled at her. “As long as you don’t mind eating some of the pizza I bought, you’re welcome to come in.”
“Oh, cool—free pizza,” Colleen said, stepping in without the tell-tale click of her heels. Only then did Nick notice that she was indeed a few inches shorter than usual. It made her look even smaller.
Vincent shut the door behind him, pulling Nick down for another kiss. More of the irritation in his chest ebbed away. “So, is the plan to eat all the pizza to piss off your friends?” Vincent joked, smirking.
“Originally, no, but I guess it depends on how hungry you guys are,” Nick quipped in amusement, accepting a paper plate from Colleen and handing one over to Vincent.
Colleen shook her head, already eating a slice before she noticed that they were looking at her. “Hey, I’m hungry,” she shrugged with no sense of shame.
Vincent shook his head at her, smiling. He gave Nick a loving little pat on his chest. “If you couldn’t tell, Colleen’s pretty happy about the invite.”
“I mean, I do like Nick too. It’d be fun to hang out without food,” she argued, taking another bite.
Nick found himself smiling, no longer bothered or angry as he got drinks for the two of them and another slice for himself. The pizza already tasted better with his thigh pressed against Vincent’s on the couch and Colleen’s cheerful conversation.
“I was shaking so badly that I couldn’t even do the test!” Colleen was saying. “I stayed until the end of class just to tell the professor that I hadn’t been cheating. That was the last time I put my to-do list on my palm.”
Nick winced in sympathy. “That happened to me—sort of. Except I had a test after lunch and a nervous stomach and so I went to the bathroom like three times. Also got accused of cheating.”
Colleen shook her head with complete understanding. “I feel so close to you right now, Nick. Vincent—embarrassing college story: go.”
Vincent chewed thoughtfully. He pushed his glasses back up his nose as he answered, “I had a panic attack in class, right when someone was doing a presentation. I fell out of my chair and someone almost called for paramedics.”
Colleen put a hand to her chest in what could only be described as a sympathetic gesture. “Oh, that’s pretty bad too. Were you okay?”
“Sure, after a few minutes in the hallway. The professor brought me some tea from the department office though,” Vincent shrugged. “It was mostly embarrassing walking back into class.”
“So, we’re all in agreement that we’re just awkward people,” Colleen said matter-of-factly, raising her slice of pizza like one would raise their glass for a toast.
Nick did the same, taking another bite. He swallowed and said, “Yeah, that’s pretty true. When Vincent kissed me the second time, I almost walked into a waiter.”
“I almost forgot about that,” Vincent said with a smirk.
Nick smiled bashfully, his mind flashing around to all of the kisses they’d had since then. “You still make it tough for me to put my thoughts together, you know.”
Vincent simply smiled up at him, patting his thigh but keeping their interactions chaste in front of Colleen. Nick appreciated it; he had never quite mastered the effortless shamelessness that Andrew and Maddie had perfected.
Shifting, Vincent reached for everyone’s cups instead. “Here, I’ll do refills.”
Colleen watched him step to the kitchen for a moment. She turned back to Nick casually. “For the record, Nick, I really am sorry that your friends blew you off. Vincent’s never done that to me.”
“Never?” Nick asked, partially out of curiosity and partially to cover up the hollow hurt in his chest.
She shook her head. “He’s been dating you for a while now, but he still has lunch with me most of the time, and he always tells me when you’ll be around instead. We hang out some nights too.”
Nick opened his mouth to speak, but he didn’t know what to actually say. He still hadn’t said anything by the time Vincent was sitting back beside him.
“I’m kind of mad at them,” he finally settled on. “They always seem to think that I’ll be around whenever they have the time, like I don’t have anything important going on in my life.”
Vincent slipped his hand into Nick’s, rubbing his thumb over his knuckles. “I’m sorry, Nickolas. I’m sorry that sometimes your friends don’t appreciate what an amazing person you are.” He kissed his cheek tenderly and Nick had the urge to just bury himself in his arms.
He squeezed Vincent’s hand instead. “I just want them to show up when they say they will,” he pouted. “They’re supposed to be my best friends.”
“I know, Nickolas,” Vincent said understandingly, leaning forward to kiss his other cheek.
As much as Nick wanted to fall into his boyfriend’s arms, he found comfort in his closeness for now. “Thanks for not blowing off Colleen for me,” he teased lightly.
“Thank you from me too,” Colleen volunteered.
Vincent chuckled. “It’s nice that you two get along,” he said idly.
Colleen gave him an obvious look. “Of course, we do. We both stopped you from dying from a nosebleed. That’s a real bonding moment,” she said sarcastically, unable to keep the serious look on her face.
“Oh, shut it about the nosebleed,” Vincent reprimanded good-naturedly, going back to his food. Nick was actually glad that it was just pizza, because he wanted to keep his hand in Vincent’s for a little longer. Yes, it was sappy, but maybe he was feeling a little clingy.
Nick didn’t want to say goodbye to Vincent for the night, but he was glad that his boyfriend would be walking Colleen home when it was so late and raining—with all the leftover pizza too.
“Are you sure you don’t want the rest of this?” she asked, pizza box in hand.
He shrugged. “I think you’ll enjoy it more than me. Plus, I just know I’ll get a comment about leaving only four slices if you don’t take it.”
She had to get up onto her toes without her heels to give him a one-armed hug. “Thanks for a good night, Nick. Sorry for stealing your boyfriend for the rest of the night.”
“It’s alright,” Nick said truthfully, although his eyes did rove over Vincent’s beautifully lithe form.
Vincent smirked up at him. “We have a date planned for tomorrow anyway,” he said, pulling Nick close for a quick kiss and the warm hug that Nick had been craving.
Nick was indeed taller than his boyfriend. He had always been the taller one in his relationships, but he had never felt as safe as he did when he was in Vincent’s arms. He let himself fall into those arms, shivering at the sensation of Vincent’s fingers dancing up and down his spine.
He accepted another kiss before Vincent stepped away. “I love you, Nickolas. Get some rest tonight, okay?”
Nick smiled happily. “I love you too, honey. Text me when you get back home.”
The apartment didn’t feel so quiet or empty even when the two of them had left. Nick cleaned up the coffee table and retreated back to his room. He felt content now—more than content, he felt happy.
Vincent had a way about him that just made him happy.
Nick figured that he would tell Andrew and Maddie about how wonderful Vincent made him feel when they actually kept their plans with him. He wished that he didn’t somewhat sarcastically wonder when that would be.