#23 Teacup cactus
“Did you decide what to tell him yet?” Andre asks as he sits down across from me at the bakery after closing time, sliding a cup of steaming hot cocoa in my direction.
I groan and bury my face in my hands. It’s been three weeks since Kian asked me to move in with him, and things have been good between us since he promised to be more open with me. He’s trying so hard, and he’s cooking for me almost every night, giving me massages, telling me how much he loves me as often as he possibly can. Still, I’m on the fence. I don’t want to move backwards either, but is living together the right thing to do?
“I have no idea what to do. He’s stopped asking, giving me the space I need to figure out what I want, but I just…” I wave away the subject like it’s an annoying fly. “Let’s talk about something else.”
“Okay,” Andre agrees, giving me an understanding smile. “Kian’s birthday is tomorrow, right? Is he celebrating?”
I shrug. “His mom is coming over for lunch, and his dad for dinner. They can’t be in the same room, apparently, so… it’s gonna be one long, awkward day.”
“How old is Kian turning again?” Andre is drinking coffee, leaning back in his chair while he pulls off his backwards cap. His hair is sticking up in all directions, so I reach over to ruffle it. “Hey!” He laughs, fending me off. “Don’t touch the merchandise.”
“Merchandise?” I wink and scoot my chair a little closer to his. “Are you for sale? Is this a date for hire type of deal? Can I order a happy ending with that?”
“Please, I can’t be bought.”
“So… you’re free? That’s even worse than cheap.” I laugh at his expression. “It means you’re not a whore, but a slut.”
“How is that worse? Are you saying being a hooker is not a perfectly noble profession? And that sluts can’t be out and proud?” He’s got me there, and he knows it. His grin is infatuating, and he runs his hand through his hair again. “Back to the question. How old will Kian be after tomorrow?”
Right. My boyfriend’s birthday. Of course. “He’s turning 40.”
“Old?” I finish, laughing. “Yeah, it sounds pretty old. How old are you, by the way?”
“How old do you think I am?”
I take him in, from the top of his head to his toes. “34.”
“Should I be offended that you think I’m older than you?”
“Depends – are you? And do you know how old I am?”
He’s fighting a smile. “Of course I know how old you are. You’ve been talking about your big birthday bash for a month now, Dylan. You’re turning 33, and you think that your birthday should be a national holiday. I marked my calendar and cleared my schedule. I wouldn’t dare to have plans on that special day.”
“Good man. Now stop stalling.” I poke my finger against his chest. “How old are you?”
Oh wow. Three years younger than I thought. “I can’t believe you are younger than me. You seem older.”
“That’s because you’re mentally still 16.”
“You offend me!” I gasp, pretending to shudder. “I’m 12 at the most!”
“Of course, I’m so sorry.” He sips his coffee, smiling. I love that smile. He always looks so happy, so completely at ease. Nothing like Kian, who is so serious all the time. I wish we could joke around like this. He’d be horrified if I called him old.
“Did you get him anything?” Andre asks curiously.
“My 12-year-old inner child?” I’m confused here.
“Kian,” he reminds me. “Your boyfriend, who is celebrating his 40th birthday tomorrow. Focus, Dylan.”
“Yes, I got him a gift.” I taste my hot cocoa before I answer, moaning at how good it tastes. “Damn, Andre, you are a wizard with hot beverages.”
There’s something in his gaze I can’t quite place when our eyes meet, and he’s not smiling this time. “I try. Now focus. You’re especially distracted tonight, aren’t you?”
He’s right, and it’s because I’m very nervous about tomorrow, but I don’t want to admit that. “When I was a kid, my mom had me tested for ADHD because I was bouncing off the walls, especially at school. Turns out there is absolutely nothing to explain my behavior, aside from me just having an erratic personality, I guess. So yeah, I get distracted sometimes.”
Andre nods like he gets it. “I was tested for dyslexia, autism, and ADD. My grades weren’t great and I was an extremely shy kid. I don’t have any of those things, but I guess my parents just thought I couldn’t possibly be that bad in school.”
“Were you?” I can’t imagine that. He’s so intelligent. “Bad in school?”
He shrugs. “I wasn’t interested in academics at first. In high school, things changed. I knew I’d need a scholarship to be able to go to college, so I worked my ass off. Kind of stupid in retrospect since I hated college and dropped out.”
“Still, it all worked out. You own a coffee shop now. I’d say you’re a success story.”
He looks both shy and proud when I say that. “Thanks. Luckily, my parents feel the same way. They always wanted what’s best for me. Took them a while to see this is it, but they never made me feel like I’m less than anyone else for not being a brainiac.”
“I think you’re very smart.” I can tell he’s not buying it. “I’m serious, Andre. Maybe not when it comes to academic stuff, but you’ve got business smarts, and you’re a social butterfly. That’s a specific type of intelligence, if you ask me.”
“Stop flattering me. What did you buy for Kian’s birthday?”
I completely forgot we were talking about that. “Because I know his mom and dad coming over will be stressful, I booked a masseur to come over in between lunch and dinner to make him more relaxed. And I got all his favorite stuff for breakfast, of course. I also bought him three new shirts since I noticed he lost some weight the past months, probably from all the stress that comes with switching jobs. Tickets to see some play he has been wanting to see for ages, and of course…” I wiggle my eyebrows. “Hot sex with his boyfriend.”
“Of course,” he says, rolling his eyes. “That’s as much a present for you as it is for him, though. All the other stuff… you really know him, don’t you?”
“After almost a year together, I think that’s a given. Besides, I know all my friends. Just wait for your birthday. I will give you the best presents ever. Mark my words. Speaking of presents…” I finally dig into my laptop bag, taking out the tiny little cactus I bought on a whim when I was shopping for Kian earlier this week. “I saw this and I thought of you.”
The smile on Andre’s face is huge, and tinged with surprise. “You got me a cactus?”
“The tiniest, cutest little cactus ever. And look, it’s in a tiny little teacup!” I hand him the prickly plant in a blue and white cup. “It will look so good with all your romance novels.”
He looks at it from every angle like it’s the best thing he’s ever seen. “This is so nice of you. And it’s not even my birthday. Thank you.”
I just sip my cocoa, enjoying how elated he is. It’s just a small gift, but it’s lighting him up from the inside out, and it’s marvelous to watch. He’s an easy guy to please, and an even easier one to get along with.
“I’m really glad you became Liv’s business partner,” I confess, feeling weirdly emotional for some reason. “I know we haven’t known each other that long, but…”
“I know,” Andre says, not needing me to finish. “I feel the same way. And… it’s been six months, Dylan. That’s not long, but not short either.”
Damn. Six months already. “We should have another movie night soon. Finally actually watch that movie we’ve been putting on for a while now.” I’ve been over to his place three more times, and every single time we put on The Choice and then talk all the way through it. I know it’s about a woman cheating on her boyfriend, and it’s sappy as hell even though it doesn’t sound like a sweet love story, but I have no idea how the movie even ends.
“Sunday?” Andre asks.
Like that, we make plans to hang out again, and I find myself looking forward to it a lot more than I’m anticipating Kian’s birthday. That’s not fair and I know it, because Andre doesn’t have parents like Kian, and I don’t have a complicated history with Andre either. I’m comparing apples to oranges. Still, the orange is looking a whole lot better than the apple today.