I Can't Forget
Nick groaned at the pounding in his head. His whole body felt like that time when he was a kid and he fell off his bike while riding down a steep hill. He tumbled probably twenty feet over the pavement before he stopped and just sat there contemplating his life. His little brother had been crying because he thought he was dead.
Well, Nick was pretty sure he would prefer to be dead right then because his head currently felt like it was splitting in two.
He groaned again at the light seeping in through the windows and the sudden clinking of plates from somewhere behind him.
“Look who’s finally up!” Andrew laughed, loudly enough that Nick groaned and curled in on himself.
“Shut the hell up,” Nick mumbled, rubbing his hands over his aching eyes. He was so hungover that even his eyes ached.
Footsteps approached and there was the thud of a plate hitting the coffee table. “I can’t believe that you went out and got drunk without me!” Andrew said, continuing to chuckle at Nick’s predicament. “Eat up, Nick. Some good greasy Chinese food will help.”
Nick moaned at the effort it took to move his body. He had to shut his eyes for a second when he was finally sitting up to stop the vibrating in his skull. He felt Andrew sit down next to him in the place where he had previously been laying.
“Wow, you were that drunk and remembered to get the Advil out?” Maddie asked from the other side of the coffee table. Another clink of a plate sounded.
Nick finally opened his eyes, staring at the lone bottle of pills sitting on the table. “Two Advil,” he murmured, the memory of Vincent’s soft voice and sweet lips returning to him.
Suddenly, he felt much more awake. All he could think about was how that kiss had felt, with the little tingles in his fingertips and the pressure of Vincent’s mouth on his and the way his green eyes had sparkled.
Nick had never kissed a man before last night, but he couldn’t stop thinking about that kiss.
“Drink some water, Nick. It’ll get the taste out of your mouth,” Andrew said randomly, and Nick realized that he had been touching his mouth.
He drank down the Advil quickly, eyeing the towel that was abandoned on the couch under Andrew. His heart picked up without warning, as if confirming for him that yes, Vincent had really been there. He didn’t need his heart to tell him that though, not when that kiss was still so fresh in his mind.
Andrew put an arm around his shoulder jovially. “So, I see that you had a good time last night. I guess you didn’t miss us at all, huh?” He tried to feign hurt, but he sounded too much like he was joking.
Nick hated that when he rolled his eyes, his head throbbed again. “Like I would miss you two,” he said in a scratchy voice.
There was a plate of Chinese food suddenly in front of him. “So, does that mean you’re not happy that I put a plate together for you?” Maddie challenged with a gleam in her eyes.
“I’m hungover, not stupid,” Nick murmured, accepting the plate. He started scarfing down his food, unaware of how hungry he was until that moment.
“Jeez, dude, don’t choke. I’m surprised that you didn’t eat any of this last night,” Andrew commented over his own dish.
Finally looking at him and Maddie, Nick took stock of how rumpled they were from sleep. He assumed that he probably looked much worse. “I’m not sure I had anything to eat,” he murmured. Try as he might, he could only remember drinks.
Drinks and the feeling of Vincent’s arm around him as he helped him home.
Maddie sighed at him. “Well, at least you remembered the water. That probably stopped you from getting sick.”
“Yeah, no offense, but I don’t really want to rub your back when you’re puking. I will perform the Heimlich on you if you choke though,” Andrew said matter-of-factly, humming happily at the flavor of his food.
Nick scoffed. “Yeah, whatever. You guys have a good night?” He felt like a bad friend, but it took him a second to focus on what they were actually saying. His head was alternating between slowly piecing together the order of everything that had occurred the night before and throbbing painfully.
He listened calmly while Andrew and Maddie told him about Joey and Kendra, eating his fair share of food at a rate that threatened to make his stomach turn. When they asked him about his night though, Nick lied, “I don’t really remember much. I had a lot to drink and I must have stumbled home.”
He didn’t want to bring up Vincent. The thought of Vincent was just too confusing and overwhelming in that moment.
More than that, just for now, Nick wanted to keep that kiss all to himself. Just until he figured out why some drunken kiss with a virtual stranger had burrowed so deeply into his head.
Andrew shook his head in amusement. “It’s surprising that you didn’t fall asleep in the gutter. You smell like cheap vodka.”
Nick leaned back into the couch, hoping beyond hope that his stomach didn’t reject what he’d just eaten. “Kicking a man when he’s down. Rude, Andrew.”
The man laughed and nudged him. “That’s what true friends are for, Nick.”
“I’ve known you for too long,” Nick murmured distractedly, earning himself another laugh that was much too loud.
That kiss was nothing, he decided. He’d been drunk and lonely—so lonely that a kiss from their sixty-year-old neighbor Jenny probably would have made him smile. Nick made a face at the mental picture. Jenny was very nice, but no, he definitely didn’t want to ever kiss her.
“I’m going to shower the vodka off and go to bed,” he groaned, heaving himself off the couch with difficulty. His body still felt like he’d been tumbled through a spin cycle. His head wasn’t much better.
Nick sent Andrew the finger when the man clinked his fork against his plate, likely on accident, but it made his head ache.
“Sorry!” Andrew yelled after him, but he sounded like he was smiling. Nick couldn’t help but to smile too at his lighthearted friend before he was in his room and atop his soft bed, falling asleep almost immediately and forgetting the shower completely.
So, that kiss was nothing—it was a nice memory. Nick thought about it every now and again though, like when he was at work and his mind wandered for a second, or when he was walking home and he went past the bar he’d stumbled out of that night. His mind just jumped back to it here and there.
It didn’t mean anything that he was thinking about it—nothing at all. Vincent was just a good kisser, a memorable kisser.
Then again, Nick had been pretty drunk. The details had likely gotten muddled in his brain, just like his confusing emotions—especially after three weeks.
And after those three weeks, Nick was looking forward to an evening where he wasn’t cooking and where Andrew had said that he would pay.
“Hey, you cooked us chicken parmesan last week, so this is just me making up for the fact that I’m a far worse cook,” Andrew maintained as they walked through the streets with the warmer spring weather at their backs. It wasn’t even dark yet, so when Nick looked to Maddie, her caramel hair reflected some of the sun’s orangey highlights.
She smiled up at him from Andrew’s other side. “Seriously though, Nick, why aren’t you a chef or something?”
Nick scoffed, walking behind the couple for a second to let someone else pass. “I can make adequate home meals and chop up veggies without cutting my fingers off. I’m definitely not restaurant quality.”
“Maybe,” Andrew agreed, “but you’d better not be moving out any time soon. You’ll leave us to choose between spaghetti or takeout every night.”
“When I move into my imaginary girlfriend’s apartment, I’ll let you know,” he said sarcastically. “Care to introduce me to her sometime?”
The way they laughed at his joke only made Nick smile. His heart didn’t have that lonely feeling in it just then, and for that, he was grateful.
Without that feeling in his chest, it was easy to watch Maddie lean into Andrew automatically as they walked, and to see him tug her close seemingly without thinking about it. It wasn’t so difficult to relax with them when the three of them slid into the booth, or when the two of them clasped their hands together as naturally as some people would breathe.
“If we don’t get these cheese puffs as appetizers, then I don’t know what we’re here for,” Maddie said as she perused the menu with her one free hand.
“I mean, Andrew’s paying, so,” Nick said with a shrug and a smirk.
Andrew gave the two of them his most unimpressed look. “I should have taken you two to a buffet. Nick by himself can eat a pretty standard amount, but me and Maddie could really put a dent in a buffet.”
Maddie laughed under her breath. “And the last time we did that, you got a stomachache.”
“I’ve made smarter decisions,” Andrew conceded.
“Really? When?” Nick teased, receiving a playful kick underneath the table.
Nick was truly happy that his oldest friend had found a woman who made him so happy, but even he had a limit to how many long, searching looks he could sit through before he started to wonder if his friends still remembered that he was sitting there with them.
When they started feeding each other food, Nick decided that it was a good moment to give them and illusion of privacy and take a bathroom break.
He stretched as he walked, shuffling along through tables and around the wait staff. He tried to give everyone an extra wide berth if only to avoid tripping over a chair and landing right on a waiter. Yes, that had happened when he’d been sixteen. It was what had made him and Andrew such good friends, actually, because Andrew had been the one to help him up.
Nick turned to the left, looking for the bathroom, and stopped dead in his tracks.
Vincent—that was Vincent. It shouldn’t have been surprising that he was there, but it was. Maybe because Nick had never seen the man during the day before. Or when he wasn’t completely wasted.
But there he was, sitting at a tiny square table, the big black glasses over his bright green eyes helping him read the book in his hands. He looked completely unbothered to be sitting alone, idly taking bites of a shrimp dish without removing his eyes from the book.
In the daylight, and without a fuzzy head, Nick still thought that his hair seemed to shimmer underneath the lights. His tan skin appeared just as smooth without the moonlight.
Nick stood there, probably creepily, blinking over at Vincent while the man read completely unaware. He shifted in place, his eyes moving from Vincent to the sign for the bathroom. The man was reading; he hadn’t seen Nick. Nick could just keep walking and shove Vincent and that night somewhere in his brain where he would never think about them again.
He shifted on his feet again and before he knew it, those feet were walking—and he was pulling out the other chair to Vincent’s table and sitting down.
The man finally looked up. If he was surprised to see Nick, he didn’t show it. He just raised his eyebrows curiously and let Nick stumble through his words.
“Um, I don’t know if you remember me, but er, we met a few weeks ago? It’s okay if you don’t, of course, I can just leave—”
“I’m not the one who was blasted drunk that night,” Vincent interrupted evenly, smiling amusedly. “I’m more surprised that you remember me.”
Nick laughed sheepishly. “Yeah, I was really drunk. But I remember you. You, uh, you helped me, and that was really kind of you.” He felt like his words were falling out of his mouth before his brain pieced them together properly. All those odd feelings from the past few weeks came rushing back to him at the sight of Vincent’s smile.
Vincent shrugged. “Consider it my monthly good deed,” he said with a ghost of a smile. He finally put his bookmark back in his book and set it down atop the table.
It was odd, Nick reflected, to have those green eyes focused entirely on him. It made him feel warm underneath the restaurant lights.
He cleared his throat. “Still, I’m sorry about all that. I think I almost fell on you?”
Vincent actually chuckled in this unbothered sort of way. “Yes, you did. You didn’t throw up on me though, so I’ll call it even.” He smiled calmly, taking another bite of his food.
Nick couldn’t help his own smile. “So, your good deeds only happen once a month?”
The man seemed to consider him for a second, but he answered regardless, “Well, that was two good deeds in one. Help you home, and not rob your apartment when you let me in.”
Nick laughed lowly, the sound blending in to the chatter of the tables around them. “Yeah, you look like a thief extraordinaire, Vincent,” he drawled sarcastically, eyeing Vincent’s vest on over his button-up shirt.
Vincent’s eyes crinkled in amusement. “You don’t look much like a gremlin either, Nick.”
“You haven’t seen me hunched over my desk,” Nick commented. He somehow hid his surprise at the fact that Vincent remembered him saying that. He barely remembered saying that.
The man took a sip of his drink. “Just don’t turn into a tax hunchback.” There was a joke in his tone and a smile on his face. “Sadly, I’m a poor thief though. I deal with priceless documents every day and I haven’t gotten around to taking one.” At Nick’s questioning look, he explained, “I’m a museum curator.”
Nick felt a spark of interest—when he was a kid, he’d been that dork that had loved museums and tried his best not to seem excited when they had class field trips—but he pushed it down when the waiter came by to ask Vincent if he needed anything. The man’s appearance reminded Nick that he probably didn’t have long before Maddie and Andrew started looking for him. He had faith that they would indeed notice that he was gone, after all.
“Um, I…” he started, aware of how awkward he sounded when their previous conversation had been flowing so easily. “You kissed me that night.”
Nick could see Vincent’s gaze became guarded, like he was concerned about where this conversation was going. “I did. You remember that too?”
“I haven’t been able to forget,” Nick admitted honestly for perhaps the first time since that kiss. He couldn’t meet Vincent’s green eyes as he swallowed. “I… I’ve never been with a man before, but I keep thinking about kissing you. That’s weird, right? I mean, I was pretty drunk.”
He laughed hollowly, wondering if Vincent would chuckle too and tell him that it was fine, that the fact that his mind kept going back to that kiss meant nothing.
Vincent gave him a patient look instead. “Nick, one kiss doesn’t have to change anything, but it’s also okay to feel confused.”
“It’s just… I… I’ve always been with women—I don’t like men, but… you…” Nick started, unable to piece his thoughts together. He took a deep breath. “You kissed me and no matter how much I tell myself that I was lonely and drunk, I’m not sure if that’s true.”
It wasn’t a thought that he had allowed himself to admit in the past few weeks. He would much prefer to think that the kiss and those tingles that he’d felt were just a fluke rather than to entertain the idea that after twenty-seven years of life, there was a part of himself that he didn’t know.
Vincent’s gaze was sympathetic. “This is just my opinion, but sexuality doesn’t have to be one or the other. I know that I’m gay, and I guess those friends that you were talking about—maybe they’re straight—but there are so many shades of in between.” He shrugged. “Or maybe I’m just a good kisser and you have nothing to worry about,” he joked, lightening the tension between them.
Nick exhaled, feeling some of that tension leak from him. He smiled despite how tired it felt. “You are a good kisser though. From what I remember.”
Vincent waved away the compliment. “Eh, you were drunk.”
Nick watched the same waiter move between the tables again, and Vincent took the moment to take another bite of his food. “I don’t know what I feel,” Nick admitted with no other way to explain the whirlwind in his head or the swirling in his gut, “but I think… I think I might like you.”
His stomach or heart or both had definitely jumped at his own admission. They both now felt like they were somewhere in his throat.
Pulling some noodles into his mouth, Vincent could only watch for a second until he was able to swallow and respond. He still didn’t say anything for a moment. Instead, he reached into his book and pulled out his bookmark. He wrote something on the back with a pen from his pocket, depositing the pen back into the book to keep his page.
“Nick, take some time to think. And if you want, send me a message.” He handed Nick the bookmark where his phone number was printed in neat black handwriting.
Nick swallowed. His heart was beating really quickly, like he had just run a marathon. He twirled the bookmark in his hands. “I don’t want to take your bookmark. I’d feel bad.” Especially since he didn’t know if he would actually use that number on the back.
The man shrugged. “It’s not like it was expensive. But if you’re really worried about it, text me to let me know where I can pick up the bookmark. We don’t have to talk about anything else if you don’t want to.”
Nick huffed out a breathy laugh at his solution. “I can do that.” He clutched the bookmark in his hand as if he was subconsciously worried about dropping it. He stood up, but stopped in his tracks almost immediately and sunk back into the chair.
“Vincent, um,” Nick started, swallowing. “I was pretty drunk that night, and I do remember you kissing me, but… I was just wondering… I was wondering how much of what I felt was me being drunk and how much was…” He couldn’t think of the right word to use, but he knew what he wanted to say this time. “Would you kiss me again?”
Vincent gave him a careful look, but then, his expression melted into a small smile. He stood up slightly to lean forward over the table.
Nick saw a flash of his green eyes and the light reflecting in his glasses before he had shut his own eyes at the feeling of those lips on his.
They were soft and warm, and tasted like shrimp pasta. Nick smiled at the silly thought, feeling Vincent press just a little closer and adjust their angle to be sure that their noses stayed out of the way. He could feel the outline of Vincent’s glasses again, and even though he wasn’t drunk this time, Nick felt those tingles. He felt that urge to pull Vincent closer and press their lips together more insistently.
It was Vincent who kept the kiss relatively chaste as he pulled back, smiling lightly. “You taste much better without the alcohol, Nick.”
And like a teenage girl, Nick would swear that he actually flushed. He certainly chuckled sheepishly, getting up to leave. He stopped again though, turning to say, “You are a good kisser, you know.”
Vincent smiled in this fond sort of way. Nick almost walked right into a waiter because he wasn’t paying attention when he started walking. He saw Vincent shake his head in amusement before that book was back in his hands and he relaxed back into his chair.
For a second, Nick began walking to the front doors, completely forgetting that he had been here with Andrew and Maddie. He had to shake his head to clear it again and remember that he had friends to return to.
Tucking the bookmark into his pocket, Nick made his way back over to the two of them. Clearly, from the way they each looked up at him, they had noticed that he was gone.
“Stomach troubles?” Maddie asked.
Nick blinked. He was having a hard time thinking through the fuzz in his brain. “Huh?”
Andrew raised his eyebrows. “You were in the bathroom for a while.”
“Right, but uh, no, I’m fine. I just… got a phone call from a client. Thought it was best to answer it,” he lied smoothly. He had to give himself credit for that lie considering how his mind kept wandering continuously to that kiss.
Nick was saved from any further questioning by the arrival of their food. He eyed the shrimp pasta that Maddie had ordered, the taste of Vincent’s still fresh on his tongue. He averted his attention back to his burger and quickly took a bite to prevent him from spewing out any of the thoughts that were currently on his mind.
He had to stop himself from touching the bookmark in his pocket all night.