Suzanne Clay © 2020
All Rights Reserved
Logan’s muscles ached like hell. It probably had something to do with the mountain of opened boxes sitting in the corner of the small bedroom. With the massive bed taking up the lion’s share of the sunshine-lit room, his empty moving boxes cluttered up the rest. Everything still wasn’t in its place, but he couldn’t be mad about it right now. This was home for the summer—away from Fulton State University.
Words couldn’t express how grateful he was not to be going back to the little town of Greenbarrow. God knew he’d have finer company here than there with his family.
The sound of footsteps crumpling plastic bags on the floor behind Logan made him speak. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
“Don’t need to change when you’re perfect.” Christian’s familiar drawl had the same effect on Logan that it always did: a slow series of tingles drifted down his spine. “Don’t be roasting me on how I pack shit.”
“You make it so easy.” Logan turned around and pointed at the equally messy pile of empty bags. “That. Look at that. I’ll buy you suitcases, duffel bags, anything you want—just stop putting everything in a goddamn trash bag.”
Christian slung an arm around his shoulder and kissed his cheek. “How much does it cost to get you to stop running your mouth?”
Difficult to think of a price, really, when goose bumps were still skittering over his arms. He turned his head and found Christian’s mouth less than an inch away. “…half an hour of making out.”
With a solid shove to his back, Logan landed facedown on the bed, then grunted when Christian’s weight crashed down on him. Instincts kicked in—he dug his elbow into Christian’s side and shoved him away, then rolled away to get a better position for wrestling.
Six months of dating, and they still acted like they had every day of their thirteen years of friendship. It wasn’t an easy habit to break. For every kiss they shared, there was Christian pinning Logan down until he said uncle and swore he’d do the dishes that night. Each evening they snuggled in one of the tiny bunk beds in their dorm, and they couldn’t keep from shit-talking each other until their eyelids were heavy.
Weirdly, Logan thought being out of college for the summer would make their relationship a little more like a movie—soft, sweet, and romantic—but as he lunged for Christian and pinned an arm to his chest, he realized things might never change. And he was okay with that.
“I said making out,” Logan gritted out as he batted one of Christian’s massive hands away before it could grab his hair. “Not me kicking your ass again.”
Christian laughed breathlessly. He snagged the back of Logan’s neck. “This is just foreplay, baby, don’t be silly.”
Baby. He still wasn’t used to that either. The air caught in Logan’s chest long enough for Christian to put him on his back. With the sight of his stunning boyfriend rising above him, all dark skin and dangerous eyes and smirking lips, he didn’t much feel like fighting anymore.
Whatever energy was overflowing in Christian seemed to dissipate. He trailed the back of his fingers down Logan’s cheek, leaving a path of fire behind them. One finger snagged in the neckline of Logan’s T-shirt as Christian bit his bottom lip and sighed.
The mood changed fast with Christian, and Logan never knew how to keep up. Not even after all this time. All he could do was watch him with a sense of wonder and see what he was going to do.
“I was gonna ask if you wanted to grab some food now that we’re done unpacking,” Christian murmured. He tugged at Logan’s shirt, and the hook in his belly yanked even harder. “Now I’m pretty sure I wanna eat you.”
Logan exhaled sharply. “You know you don’t gotta ask.”
Christian crashed down, their lips smashing together painfully, as he dug his fingers into Logan’s thick curls. As he shoved Logan back on the mattress to try to get better leverage, something fell to the floor, and Christian lifted his head with a huff. “The fuck is that? Are you already breaking shit?”
“Me?” Logan shoved him with a laugh, then rolled over to reach for the fallen binder. “C’mon, this is gonna make you feel old as fuck. You ready?”
“Aw, hell.” Christian lay on his side, head supported by his hand. “What’s this?”
Logan opened the binder. Inside were a few memories that he wouldn’t have shown anybody else for love or money—but Christian was different. He was the man he loved. And these little treasures included him too.
“Oh my God.” When Logan held a photograph toward Christian, he took it with another rough chuckle. “You’ve gotta be kidding me.”
“So cute,” Logan teased, and Christian elbowed him.
It was an old, battered photo of Christian as a child in his first-ever church play. Some girl was trying to pull off her shoe in the background, and a boy was going completely off-script and pushing someone off the stage, but Christian stood very seriously at the front of the stage as he delivered some poorly written line or another.
“Jesus Christ,” Christian breathed, shaking his head, and Logan threw an arm around his waist with a grin, snuggling closer to see better. Christian scoffed. “Damn. Probably a good thing I never went after that shit. I look stupid.”
“You’re a kid. You all looked stupid.” Logan left a messy kiss on his cheek.
“Funny.” Christian set the photo aside, then pulled something out from the other sleeve of the binder. “What’s this?”
“Oh, that’s…” Logan reached to take it away, but Christian was sitting up out of reach. “Hey, c’mon—”
“Ooh, I remember now! Baby’s first monologue!”
Logan made another dive, driving Christian to his feet. “Don’t! It’s awful, man, give it.”
“Not a chance in hell!” Christian turned his back to him and began to recite. “Family. Is there any deeper hell than family? Is there—”
Logan couldn’t listen to a word. With strength he hadn’t used since they’d started dating, he practically crawled up Christian’s shoulders and snatched the paper away with such force that he ripped it free from the fingerhold of paper Christian had. “No, we’re throwing this shit away right now.” The mere memory of how enthralled he’d been by Christian performing it when they were teenagers was embarrassing.
“Hey, hey.” Christian grabbed Logan’s shoulders, but when he didn’t reach for the paper again, Logan stayed still, tension in his chest. “Just ’cuz we were young and awful when we did that shit don’t mean we shouldn’t keep it. Remember where we came from. You know?”
Logan scoffed an unamused laugh. Yeah, great to keep it around when we’re never gonna get to follow those dreams again. Right.
“Just put it away, man.” He offered the paper over his shoulder, then turned his head to watch and make sure Christian did as he asked instead of being an asshole.
The knock on the door drew Logan’s attention back to the present. “Yeah?”
“Hey, it’s me!”
“Just Noah,” Christian said absently. “Who the fuck else would it be?”
“Shut up.” Logan laughed, but moved to open the door.
“Hey!” Noah grinned up at him, flushed from his own exertions of unpacking. “Just wanted to let you know we’ve got cookies!”
“Yep! From Daiki.” Noah gestured behind him, and Logan leaned until he could see a bouquet of sweets set up on the tiny, scratched dining room table. “He sent a note too. He says he wishes he could be here.”
The bed creaked behind Logan as Christian spoke. “You’re actually sharing your boyfriend’s cookies with both of us? Now, that’s friendship.”
Noah chuckled. “It’s not that big a sacrifice—I can’t eat that many anyway.” He blinked. “I wasn’t interrupting anything, was I?”
“Nah,” Christian drawled. “We were having a walk down memory lane. Then I thought I’d maybe fuck Logan’s brains out. The usual.”
Logan turned his head, cheeks flaming. “Shut up!”
“Just saying.” Christian shrugged.
“Oh! Uh. Right. Right.” Noah stepped back into the hallway, his hands raised. “You know what? I think I’m going to run to the grocery store, so, uh, if you guys need anything, just text me, I’ll pick it up, no problem…” He was still talking as he grabbed his keys and walked straight out the front door.
Christian immediately burst out laughing, grabbing his bare stomach. “Did you see the look on his face?”
“Oh, you don’t think he’s entitled? Are you just gonna announce every time you wanna fuck me?” Logan shut the door and went for his belt with a roll of his eyes. Christian might be obnoxious sometimes, but it didn’t stop the fact that his gut was stirred up, eager for a distraction from the binder Christian had tossed to the floor.
The look Christian gave him—dripping with heat and invitation—scalded Logan’s skin. Christian licked his lips, his gaze drifting down, down, down, until it rested on Logan’s hands. “Well, it’s just damn polite, ain’t it? Unless you don’t want me to. You want him to be surprised when he sits there and hears us fuck every time?”
That was a bizarre thought, one that made Logan snort and roll his eyes and completely ignore the lift of carbonated bubbles in his chest, around his heart. No, instead of thinking about it, Logan kicked his pants off and crawled on top of Christian and got caught up in how goddamn lucky he was. He’d spent months thinking he’d never get to have this, but here they were, safe in their own bedroom, with a bed they could sleep in side by side and a roommate who wasn’t going to throw a fit if they made love to each other in the middle of a weekend afternoon. As far as Logan was concerned, there was nothing ahead of them but hope and light.
He was lucky—too lucky—and he refused to think about what might happen if that luck ever ran out.
If there was anything that made Christian hungry, it was fucking Logan into the mattress—their mattress, he thought with a certain sense of pride. Noah might’ve donated the bed frame, but Christian had worked tooth and nail to buy them their actual mattress and the sheets that went on it, all so he could surprise Logan when they moved in. The look on his face had been worth every bead of sweat.
It could be a small thing, but after all those years of Logan giving him things, Christian being the reason they had a bed to share was huge. Poverty did that to a guy. He was damn happy Logan didn’t have to know what it felt like. Even now, sitting across from him in their favorite restaurant, Christian knew Logan was going to pick up the tab for dinner, and he had to swallow his pride.
Soon he’d be able to do better.
Christian glanced up. “Yeah. Why?”
Logan grinned at him. “You were gone. Your eyes got all foggy. I’ve been staring at you for a whole minute, and you didn’t even notice.”
My loss. I could’ve been staring at you too. Even after all their time together, Christian didn’t know how to say that without feeling like a fool—so he smirked. “I guess you liked what you saw.”
Cockiness was easier to put on than sweetness. He knew how to treat Logan like a bro, but anything more than that? They hadn’t really had the chance—not in public.
Christian knew how lucky they were to be going to college in Fulton. It was only a hundred miles away from home, but so different from where they came from. Across the restaurant, he could already see another couple—two men—together, their hands joined over the surface of the table. While he and Logan stuck out like sore thumbs in the little diners in Greenbarrow, here, they blended in with the people of color both working and eating. Nobody even looked at the two of them.
Still, it was hard. Christian had spent so long ignoring everything about himself—his sexuality, his attachment to Logan, and his dreams for the future—that getting to express any of them had seemed impossible. He was probably bi. He was in love with Logan. He couldn’t watch a movie without his heart rising into his throat as he took in the elegance of the acting. So what? He was just supposed to ignore years of conditioning and embrace those parts of himself?
“You’re about to be gone again.”
“Hush.” Christian forced himself to fixate on Logan’s face. It swam into focus, every beautiful piece of him, and the crackling static in his mind began to fade away. “I’m here now. With you.”
Logan’s grin softened. “Yeah. Good. You’d better be.” The utter adoration in his gaze was familiar, but it had the same searing effect on Christian as always.
Christian sipped his Coke. “When do you start work?”
“Tomorrow night.” Logan pulled a face. “I’ve gotta be there at nine.”
“Yep, night stockers typically work then—weird, huh?”
Christian reached out as if to smack him upside the head, and Logan leaned back with another laugh. “I swear to God.” Christian kissed his teeth. “Noah too, right?”
“Yep. Same schedule so far. We’ll see if they stick to it—I need him to be able to give me a ride there and back.”
“They’d better. God. You and me only having one car thing is gonna suck. If I didn’t have to use it for my job…”
“Yeah, well.” Logan shrugged. “We signed up for it. We’ve both gotta work. Gotta pay rent, buy food, make sure utilities get paid… I’m not gonna leech off Noah. He’s done enough for us. He doesn’t need to carry us like we’re kids.”
“You know I’m with you. That’s the whole reason I’m driving all over the city taking people where they’ve gotta go. Ugh. You learn a lot of things about people from where they want you to drive them, I swear to God.”
Christian might’ve been a driver for the local ride-share service for a few months now, but he hadn’t gotten used to it. It brought in enough for him to set money aside for the future—even buy that mattress for them—but not enough to keep Logan from having to work such a late job. “It’ll pay the bills. I’m just gonna miss hanging out with you.”
“Hey.” Logan rested his hand on the middle of the table, voice soft. “I’m still gonna spend time with you. I don’t care how tired I am or how fucked up my sleep schedule gets; I’m gonna be with you no matter what.”
Christian glanced up. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. Who do you think I am?”
The man I love.
Christian’s lips quirked. For once, the future seemed very bright indeed. They wouldn’t have homework for a few months, he already had the money he needed to buy his books next semester, and he didn’t have to report to soccer training for quite a while. All he had to do was work his ass off, spend time with his boyfriend, and make sure he hung out with Noah. Nothing else could go wrong.
Because of that, it didn’t seem right for them to be sitting so far apart—across a table instead of a romantic booth, where he would’ve snuggled any girlfriend he had. And, as scary as it was, he slid out his fingers to meet Logan’s hand in the center of their table.
As they touched, Logan’s eyes widened, and he stared at their hands with a sense of wonder he couldn’t hide from Christian. Logan turned his hand over, exposing the palm, and Christian covered it with his own.
“We’re lucky sons of bitches, aren’t we?” he whispered.
Logan nodded. “Yeah. I was thinking about that before we got here. It doesn’t seem real. Doesn’t feel as if I should get to have you like this.”
“Well, you do. Get used to it.”
Logan shot him a look, but he was already grinning, eyes sparkling as brightly as stars. “I could get real damn used to having you around all the time—in my bed, in my apartment, in my arms.”
Something snaked up the back of Christian’s throat—not quite fear, but certainly not bravery—and swallowing it was similar to pushing down a knot. It stuck there, right against his vocal cords, and ached. “…yeah.” That was all he could say for now. But the way Logan watched him told him he wasn’t upset by it at all.
Footsteps in the aisle made Christian jolt away before he realized what he was doing. He looked up at their server and blinked when he saw what he was holding.
“On the house. Compliments of the management.” He set the piece of warm chocolate cake between them, vanilla ice cream starting to melt on top.
“What? We didn’t order this,” Logan pointed out.
“I know.” The server, his name tag reading Rey, busied himself with piling their empty dinner plates on the tray he held, not quite hiding a smile. “We have too many slices, and my manager is letting us give one to a few tables.” Rey glanced up. “I’m sorry if this is weird, but you guys look so happy. I couldn’t resist.”
Do we? Christian stared at Logan. Can everybody really see how this guy makes me feel? How he makes the world light up? When Logan didn’t respond to Rey—only watched Christian back—Christian looked up before Rey could get away. “Thanks. Seriously. This…this isn’t cool where we’re from—us.”
Rey nodded, expression serious and voice soft. “I understand. Trust me. But you’re safe here. If you ever doubt it, hey, the next time you come here, ask for me, and I promise I’ll take great care of you.”
Something about this approachable man of color gave him a sense of safety he hadn’t expected. Are you like us? The words were on the tip of his tongue, but Rey had already left, and Logan was picking up one of the two spoons on the dessert plate.
The dusky shade of pink on Logan’s cheeks was all too apparent, even when he ducked his head.
Christian knew that color. Logan flushed as warmly every time Christian let himself say how he felt about him. It lit a spark of happiness right in his gut. “You’re cute when you’re happy, babe.”
Logan opened his mouth and let out wordless stammering, then immediately started stuffing his face with the cake, and Christian chuckled as he picked up his own spoon. He understood. He didn’t want to let Logan know when he was flustered either.
Still a damn pretty sight. Christian decided right then and there he’d do whatever it took to get that expression on his face more often. No more acting as if they were just friends. No more being too shy to hold hands or kiss him in public. They were safe here. They could be themselves.
Maybe their folks would find out about them someday, but not now. Not here. Not until they were ready. He truly believed that to the core of himself. All they had to worry about was getting ready for their second year at college.
As long as Logan was there, Christian knew he could do anything.
The second they got home, the sounds of Noah ripping a box open caught Logan’s attention, and he pulled Christian inside by the hand. Sure enough, their roommate was sitting in the living room, unpacking the stacks of colorful, plastic dishes he’d brought into their suite almost a year before.
“Aw, you got started on all the fun in here without us,” Logan said.
Noah snorted. “I figure one of us needed to. I wasn’t sure if you guys were here. And…well, if you were busy, I didn’t want to interrupt, uh…”
“Us fucking?” Christian asked with all of the subtlety of a stampeding wildebeest. “Nah, we were getting dinner, but you’re right. You’re probably gonna hear a lot of it. Might have to start charging you for the show in advance.”
“Will you stop?” Logan slapped Christian’s arm, then kicked his shoes off. “We’re trying to live with Noah, not get kicked out.”
“It’s fine, seriously.” Noah chuckled. “I just don’t want to invade your privacy.”
While Logan settled next to the box to help unpack, Christian swiped a stack of dishes and headed toward the kitchen, calling over his shoulder as he went. “You’ve already seen me in nothing but my boxers, dude. Trust me, I’m not worried about what else you might be seeing.”
There it was again: the tug at Logan’s gut when he thought about Noah’s knock on their door earlier. Ordinarily, Logan felt that way when looking at Christian—beautiful and resplendent, laid out on the sheets, all six feet and four inches of him naked and begging for attention. But that couldn’t be it. “Ignore him, Noah.”
“I’m not very good at that yet.”
“You’ll get there.” Logan smiled at him, and Noah answered with one of his own, his gaze lingering.
Christian came back with a cookie in each hand, working on one. “Damn, these are good.”
“We literally just ate dessert.”
“Yeah? I’m a growing boy.” Christian sat on one of the dining room chairs and kicked his legs out, crossing them at the ankles. “Anyway, I’m not gonna disrespect Daiki by refusing to eat the food he so generously bought us.”
Noah pushed the empty box aside. “He’ll be happy to hear that.” He sighed and sat back, looking at the ceiling. “I wonder if he’s in rehearsal. I’ve been meaning to call him.”
“You miss him, don’t you?” Logan asked.
“More than I thought I would,” Noah admitted. “I’m glad he’s got this acting opportunity this summer, but I can’t wait to have him back in August.”
His phone rang, and Noah looked at it. “Wow, speak of the devil.” He answered the call, but looked right at the phone screen—a FaceTime. Noah got to his feet and waved with a grin. “Hey!”
“Hello!” Daiki’s familiar voice rang out. “I miss you! Did you get the cookies?”
“I sure did.” Noah turned the phone around, and Christian waved where he sat, cheeks stuffed fuller than a chipmunk’s. “They’re being enjoyed right now.”
“Perfect. Christian, don’t eat all of them.”
Christian swallowed, then sneered at the screen. “Fuck you.”
“How’s Logan?” Daiki asked.
Logan shifted into view of the phone and gave a quick wave at Daiki, who sat in a relatively dark room, lit only by a small bedside lamp. It had only been a couple of months, but he looked exactly like he had their whole freshman year. He’d been their second suitemate at the time, sharing a bedroom with Noah, and from what Logan understood, they’d jumped on each other just about as fast as Logan and Christian had.
“Hey Daiki, how’s things?”
“Fine, fine. My folks are glad to have me back. They keep asking me how school is and talking about what subjects I’m taking next year.” He rolled his eyes. “Don’t exactly have time to talk about that when I’m rehearsing.”
Logan grinned. “Are they nosy?”
“Nope. Just invested. Are you taking care of Noah all right?” Daiki smirked. “He’s living with two handsome guys all summer…who knows what could happen?”
“Daiki!” Noah quickly turned the phone back to himself. “Don’t be a dick.” Even as he laughed, the sound was stilted, and he shot Logan and Christian an apologetic look as he headed for the hallway. “We’ll finish this chat in the bedroom so you stop weirding them out.”
As the door shut, Christian looked at Logan. “You weirded out?”
“Nah.” Logan shrugged. “Noah’s just shy or whatever.”
Logan pulled another box of kitchen supplies close while Christian worked on the second cookie. Logan would give him another few minutes of being a lazy ass before he called him on his bullshit. “You’d think Noah would be used to Daiki’s mouth by now.”
“Guy’s a force of nature.” Christian popped the last bite into his mouth and brushed away the crumbs. “Guess he’s kinda irrepressible. Must be how he aced his audition for the summer.”
“You’d know that better than I would.”
“Hey, I never did musical theater—that’s a whole different breed of monster.”
This was true. Logan’s skills lent themselves to writing, but there was a reason he’d always written straight plays rather than libretto. Then again, he hadn’t written in ages, and the last time he’d penned something was because he had the obsessive urge to see Christian perform it just for him…
Every single day, those old memories started making more and more sense: how Logan always wanted their futures to intertwine and how Christian was his greatest muse. It was just a shame that playtime was over. They were adults now. Christian might’ve been lucky enough to score a full-ride scholarship with his soccer skills, but Logan was chained to his family’s expectations so they’d pay every penny of his education fees for him—and that meant pursuing a degree in education. They didn’t need him to be wealthy, necessarily, just…safe. And playwriting wasn’t safe. They’d made that clear.
Teaching literature was the kind of security his parents wanted him to have. At least he’d have the chance to talk to kids about the words that made him passionate. Better than Christian, who’d chosen accounting. How he kept his eyes on numbers instead of acting made no sense to Logan, but they both knew the impossibility of going against what their families demanded.
Even sitting here and talking about Daiki—lucky, fortunate Daiki, able to pursue musical theater even though his traditional grandparents were concerned for his future—brought a dull ache to his chest. “…how do you think he’s doing?” Logan asked, barely aware he was speaking.
Christian hummed. He came down onto his knees next to Logan and helped him sort through the other kitchen supplies. “Fine. Probably already a star. Don’t think it’ll take too long before he scoops up that first Tony—it’s gonna be easy for him, once he starts landing the roles. His local playhouse practically begged him to come home, remember? Bet they’re hard up for legitimate talent since he ended up leaving.”
Damn. The conversation wasn’t making the pain any easier. Logan swallowed hard and nodded, then began carrying things into the kitchen to put away.
Grow up. This is your life now. You can see as many plays as you want once you can actually afford it. Right now, you’ve gotta finish your degree, get a job, and get out of Greenbarrow for good. Logan didn’t have many dreams anymore, but the one thing he needed was a life with Christian. They’d stay in Fulton, where they were still learning that they weren’t alone. He’d get a job at the local middle school while Christian snagged a starting position of his own, and they’d live in an apartment for a year or two while they saved up for a house before they got married.
Marriage. That had never come to mind before, but the thought of claiming Christian as his own for the rest of his life made Logan’s soul sing.
A hand touched his back, and he looked up at the man he loved and blinked.
“You okay?” Christian wrinkled his brow.
Logan smiled. “Yeah, fine. Why?”
The way Christian looked at him, Logan could tell he wasn’t accepting his words. Those eyes dragged over his expression, seeing the pain he held deep in his very pores. Logan could never hide from him, and he wasn’t sure why he even tried, but Christian rarely pulled his secrets out by force. Instead, Christian kissed him—softly, barely a whisper of contact—before he took one of the big bowls from Logan’s hands and reached high to store it above the sink.
“I love you,” Logan murmured.
Christian’s gaze jolted back to his own. “Where’d that come from?”
“I dunno. Just do.” Logan squeezed him around the waist in a quick hug, then headed for the living room. He never made it. Christian snagged him with two strong arms and yanked him until Logan’s back hit his lover’s chest. Logan laughed, tipping his head back to welcome gentle kisses that took his breath away.
“You know I love you,” Christian whispered when he finally broke the contact.
Perhaps one day, they’d be able to say that loudly—shout it from the rooftops, or proclaim it as law wherever they chose to tie the knot far away from their families. For now, he’d take the secret whispers in their kitchen, precious as diamonds.
Noah’s bedroom door opened, and he came out, tucking his phone in his pocket. “Sorry about that.”
“No problem.” Christian let Logan go and turned toward the kitchen door, leaving Logan a little cold and missing his embrace. “We could’ve handled the unpacking ourselves—no need to apologize for that.”
“Oh, no, um…” Noah rubbed the back of his neck. The auburn of his hair clashed with the pink of his cheeks. “I meant what Daiki said. Kind of embarrassing. He’s such a kidder. I didn’t want you to think he was serious. Please tell me you didn’t hear anything else he said.”
Logan hadn’t heard a thing. He leaned against one of the counters and looked at Christian.
“Pretty sure we didn’t…” Logan trailed off as he took in Noah’s appearance. Second by second, he was flushing a deeper shade. “Do I wanna ask why you look so red right now? Was it that bad?”
Christian grabbed one of the boxes and began breaking it down with a snort. “Probably just had phone sex is all.”
“Hey!” Noah’s voice cracked, and he covered his mouth as he stared at the floor. “…y-you know what? I think, uh, I might’ve left a box i-in the car; let me go check.” And then he was gone, leaving the door wide open behind him.
Christian gave Logan a distinct look—told you so—then began making his way through another box.
“You’re evil,” Logan said, giving him a quick pat on the back of the head as he passed him.
Christian’s response was a wordless spank that sent Logan reeling ahead two steps.