(Set Within Chapters "I Need You" and "He's Special")
“You’re leaving? Where the hell are you going?”
The only response was the slamming of the front door, loud enough to piss of the neighbors.
Andrew stood there in the newfound silence. His breaths sounded heavy. He could feel anger still coursing through him, but without Nick there, it only took a few moments for his shoulders to slump tiredly.
“I… it’s fine,” Andrew murmured to himself, staring at the door and halfway expecting Nick to change his mind and come back in.
But minutes passed and the front door remained silent. There were no footsteps from outside. Andrew exhaled. “It’s fine,” he repeated, running a hand through his hair in agitation. “He shouldn’t have said that. I’m a good friend.”
Even Andrew could hear the pout in his voice. He shook his head.
Nick was wrong: Andrew knew that he was a good friend. He’d been best friends with Nick for eleven years, and he knew the guy better than anyone else.
That’s how he knew that he’d actually said some terribly hurtful things after all.
Andrew winced, his angry words coming back to him in a rush. He’d told Nick that his life was boring and that he basically had no one. He’d called his best friend lonely. He’d gotten so defensive when Nick too accurately pointed out that he’d been cancelling a lot to spend time with Maddie and their own circle of family and friends.
“Damn,” Andrew whispered, slumping into the couch and staring up at the ceiling. He felt like a piece of shit, like the worst, most terrible friend for using all of Nick’s little insecurities against him.
He sat at attention when the doorknob wiggled, but in a rare moment, Andrew was actually disappointed that it was Maddie.
“Okay, time to relax,” she sighed when she walked in, but raised her eyes at the stove. “Um, what happened here?”
Andrew winced at the memory of Nick throwing the pan, and could see that there was rice and veggies and sauce splattered all over the back of the stove. “I kind of… pissed off Nick,” he murmured, almost hoping that his fiancé wouldn’t hear him.
Maddie, beautiful, caring, too-intelligent-for-her-own-good Maddie, turned to him with a surprised kind of look. “You pissed off Nick? He barely ever gets seriously mad at anything. What did you do?” she asked even while checking out the teriyaki, rice, and chicken mix. Despite the splatter, she dumped some in a bowl, and that casual attitude was part of the reason why Andrew loved her.
He sighed as she took a seat next to him. “We had an argument. He said that we’d been cancelling a lot on him and I… got defensive. I pretty much told him that his life was pathetic,” he murmured, his words more painful with every second.
Andrew chanced a look at his fiancé, wincing at her horrified expression. “Andrew!” she admonished. “You said that to him?”
“I know that it’s horrible!” he exclaimed. “I just… he struck a nerve.”
Maddie put her bowl down on the coffee table with a heavy sigh. “Nick never complains much, so I guess it’s easy to forget him.”
Andrew nodded silently, guilt crashing into him in waves. He didn’t even feel better when Maddie rubbed his arm sweetly, scooting closer to hold him.
“He’ll be back,” she said soothingly, “and then you can apologize. We both can apologize.”
Andrew sighed into her, nodding. It was comforting to have her so close, and well, she knew how to distract him too as kisses turned into her on his lap and clothing on the floor.
When Andrew woke the next morning in his bed, it was to his beautiful fiancé—and then to their clothing all over the living room. He felt a spike of guilt. Nick always gave him this look whenever they left their clothing thrown around, and usually deigned to make them coffee on those mornings.
“Well, there’s no coffee,” he murmured, looking over at the empty pot as he gathered clothing into his arms and deposited it back into their room while Maddie showered.
Andrew figured that coffee would at least be a good way to get Nick to come out, but maybe his friend had gone and gotten completely wasted after all, because there was no movement at all from his room. Honestly, Andrew had really been hoping that the coffee thing would work. It was a lot more nerve-wracking to stand in front of Nick’s door and knock cautiously with a steaming mug in his hand.
The door eked open slightly, and for a second, Andrew was filled with both relief and trepidation. Then he realized that Nick must have been so angry the night before that he hadn’t closed his door all the way.
“He’s still not back?” Andrew asked himself, genuinely surprised. “Where would he even go?”
He shut Nick’s door, standing there idly for a second. He only moved when he realized how hungry he was, and how much he didn’t want to make frozen toaster waffles.
“Maddie!” he called when he found her drying her hair in the bathroom. She needed to turn off her hair dryer before he could go on, “I’m going to the diner to get us food. Nick isn’t back yet, so maybe I’ll grab some extra for him too.”
Andrew tried to say it casually, but Maddie’s brow crinkled in concern. “He’s not back yet? You don’t know where he went?”
He shook his head dejectedly and her expression softened. She leaned up to give him a kiss. “Waffles for me?”
“Got it,” he said with a nod, pulling on an old sweatshirt and heading out with his wallet and keys in hand. His keys jingled into his pocket up until he was standing in front of a waitress and giving her his order.
Twenty minutes of scrolling through his phone later, Andrew yawned and stretched, sighing at the crack in his back. He looked up at the direction of the kitchen, expecting his order any second now. Idly, he let his eyes rove over the comfortable diner—over the older couple in the corner and the group of probably hungover girls off to the side and Nick sitting at one of the tables…
“Nick?” Andrew murmured to himself, blinking a couple times just to make sure that he wasn’t imagining things.
But no, that was definitely Nick in his sweatshirt, sitting stretched out at one of those little square tables with another man on the opposite side. They were each smiling, having some kind of low conversation that Andrew was too far away to hear.
He didn’t even realize that he had shifted to see better until he heard Nick chuckle at something that the man had said. For a second, Andrew felt a flash of jealousy, wondering if Nick had somehow found a new best friend—one who apparently wore sweaters and large black-framed glasses. The two of them certainly looked casual enough.
Actually, they looked really casual, Andrew thought idly. The guy in the sweater didn’t flinch at Nick’s legs touching his underneath the table. He just kept smiling softly as he pushed his glasses up his nose and listened to Nick chatter about something. Nick must have spent the night at this guy’s place, all to avoid coming back home. He also must have borrowed those flannel pants because Andrew had seen Nick wearing the same old day-off pants for years now.
Andrew beat down that flash of jealousy—not at the pants thing—and took a deep breath. It was his fault that Nick hadn’t thought that he could return home, which meant that it was up to him to apologize.
Even if he might get that hot coffee that Nick was currently pouring thrown all over him.
Andrew was at the counter, maybe only ten feet away, when he heard Nick ask for sugar. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes; the man was twenty-seven and he literally drank coffee like a fifteen-year-old girl who thought that having coffee would make her more mature.
That man was also currently tilting his head up so that the guy could lean across the table and kiss him soundly right on the lips.
Andrew stopped in his tracks. Yes, it was rude to stare, but that guy was kissing Nick. Nick was kissing him back. Completely casually, without freaking out, obviously not for the first time. When the guy pulled away and grabbed some sugar packets, Nick stared at him with this puppy-dog lovestruck smile and made some stupid comment about sugar.
Oh, he’d meant that kind of sugar.
Andrew blinked at them. He jumped when the waitress tapped him on the shoulder to hand him a bag of food, which he basically ran out of the diner with.
That was Nick, his best friend of eleven years, kissing a man. The same Nick that had complained to him about Penny and cried about their breakup and who was now giving some random guy the same heart-eyes.
Which was fine—it was fine if Nick was into guys. He was still Nick and still his best friend, provided that Nick forgave him. Andrew just kind of thought that he would know about it if his best friend was making out with a man on a regular basis.
He was so caught up in his own thoughts that he was sure that he only made it home thanks to muscle memory. He slumped into the couch with the bag of food in hand. Maddie took it from him with a curious look.
“Did something happen?” she asked, rummaging through containers for her waffles.
“I saw Nick,” Andrew murmured.
Maddie stopped moving for a second to give him an exasperated look. “Did you yell again?”
“No!” he maintained. “He was with another guy.”
“Oh,” she said calmly, placing containers on the coffee table. “I guess he stayed with his friend.”
“They were kissing.”
“Seriously?” Maddie seemed genuinely interested, if not moderately surprised, now.
“Maddie, is he gay and I didn’t notice? Am I that bad of a friend?” Andrew blurted out, distressed. “I’ve known the guy for eleven years and I never would have guessed that he’d be into guys!”
Maddie sat next to him, placing a hand on his thigh. “Andrew,” she said calmly, “Sexuality is tough for a lot of people. Some people know when they’re young, some people figure it out later, and lots of other people just meet the right person who happens to be the same gender. Maybe Nick just figured it out.”
“But,” Andrew protested, “he looked like he was dating that guy. I thought he would have told me about that kind of thing.”
Maddie hummed. “I doubt that’s an easy thing to put into words. What was he going to say? ‘Hey, Andrew, friend of eleven years, I know I’ve only dated women, but I’m totally into this one guy—oh, and he has a totally great ass, by the way.’”
When she put it like that, Andrew had to admit that he probably would have laughed or given some other idiotic response if Nick said that to him.
“Are you okay with him being not straight?” Maddie asked gently.
He sat up quickly. “Of course! I don’t care about that.”
She nodded. “Then tell him that when he comes back.”
Andrew leaned over to kiss her, absolutely sure that he would be lost without this woman. They ate together idly with the low thrum of the TV on while Maddie figured out the perfect spread of syrup in all the little nooks and crannies in her waffles.
It was maybe an hour later when the doorknob jingled and Nick walked in. Andrew didn’t even give him a chance to speak before he was apologizing first. He was so relieved that Nick accepted his apology that he pulled the man in for a hug and agreed to let him know when he and Maddie had plans.
That left them in silence while Andrew tried to figure out how to ask Nick about that man he’d seen. With a nudge from Maddie, Andrew pointed out Nick’s pants and admitted that he saw him with that guy.
He didn’t know what he expected. Maybe he thought Nick would deny it or flush or fidget, but he only raised his eyebrows and smiled happily. “His name is Vincent. He’s my boyfriend.”
Andrew had this selfish part of him that was glad that he had only missed Nick dating a man for five months instead of eleven years, but still, he wished that he had noticed how undeniably happy his oldest friend was.
That was why it was so easy to smile calmly and say, “You look happy.”
Nick nodded. “I am,” he said simply.
And just because they had been friends for so long and Andrew couldn’t resist teasing him, he asked, “So, guys in sweaters do it for you?”
Apparently, this particular guy in sweaters did it for Nick, and Andrew definitely didn’t need all the details about what they did together when he was too busy being a clueless idiot.