Here is part 2 of my short story featuring Paul and Seth from Better Than Safe and Rand from A Kind of Truth. In some places, we’re mere hours away from release day, January 8. Woohoo! Part 2 is told from Rand’s POV. You’ll notice a change in tone and attitude from Paul. They’re nothing alike! Lol! 🙂 Enjoy!
A Kind of Safe, (part 2, Rand’s POV)
The soft click of a nearby bedroom door yanked me from sleep. I opened my eyes and tried to remember where I was before I went searching for coffee in my underwear. I stretched my arms over my head and let out a yawn then slowly sat up. Nice place, I mused as the light blue duvet slipped from my waist. Fine linens, fancy furniture and a mountain of decorative pillows. Definitely not my apartment. Light filtered through the patterned roman blinds, splashing sunshine across the pale carpeting and the high backed striped chair I’d piled my clothes on the night before.
A funny memory surfaced of Paul giving Seth a “please tell me you didn’t invite him to stay for the week” look the night before. I chuckled as I reached for my jeans. Poor guy didn’t know what to think of me. And yeah… I fucking loved it. I considered walking downstairs in my tightie-whities but that might be overkill. It was best to play it cool and see if he was anything like Seth’s last so-called “amazing” boyfriend.
I made my way downstairs, through the tidy living area and into the kitchen. I noted that the video game console had been neatly put away and there was no sign of the wineglasses we’d left on the coffee table the night before. To his credit, Paul hadn’t seemed particularly bothered after he got over the shock of having me for a guest. He’d been very pleasant all evening. A perfect host. If I hadn’t promised not to put my feet on the coffee table, I would have done it just to get a rise out of him. He was so cool and calm about everything. The immature teenager still living in my twenty-five year old body wanted to ruffle his feathers.
“Mornin’ sunshine,” I said, flopping unceremoniously onto the nearest barstool.
Seth turned with a grin. “Morning. Coffee?”
Seth puttered around the cheery open space, humming softly as he opened a cabinet and pulled out a gigantic mug. Little details caught my attention. The way he smiled as worked, as though lost in happy thoughts and the way he moved. There was a bounce in his step indicative of a guy who woke up on the proverbial right side of the bed. I leaned on my elbows and let out a half laugh.
“What?” Seth narrowed his eyes as he slid the coffee mug toward me.
“You were really fucking loud last night,” I commented in a matter-of-fact tone, wrapping my hands around the warm mug.
Seth cocked his head to the right and crossed his arms. “Fuck you, Rand,” he said without heat.
“Don’t get pissy. I’m just calling it like it is. Listening to sex is nowhere near as fun as having it. You could have invited me to join you guys. It would have been the polite thing to do.”
Seth snorted. His lips quirked into lopsided smile that quickly became a megawatt grin. He’d always been a really good-looking teenager, but Seth had become a startling gorgeous man. His dark hair was a beautiful contrast to his blue eyes and sharp cheekbones. It was funny to think we’d known each other for more than half of our lives. Two smart ass kids who’d grown up in suburban Maryland in very different homes with very different families. Mine parents were kick-back, granola types while his were conservative, religious assholes. We’d weathered many storms over the years, and though a trip from DC to New York City wasn’t a big deal, I couldn’t help worrying about the chasm that distance might put between us.
“I thought you were going straight, O’Malley.”
“I’m not in Manhattan yet,” I said with a theatric sigh. “Anything goes, baby. So if you guys are looking for a threesome tonight to add a little spark, I’d be more than happy to oblige.”
“Hmph. I don’t suppose your husband would approve.”
“We aren’t married. Yet. But don’t think—”
“Whoa! What do you mean, “yet”? Are you planning on tying the knot?”
Seth turned a pretty shade of pink that made me want to tease him, but that chasm had just widened and I was too afraid to look down for fear I’d fall.
“Really? But—how do you know he isn’t like that other British fuckhead? How do you know you can trust him?” I stood abruptly and paced to the other end of the small island and back again. “How do I know I can trust him? Fuck. I can’t leave you like this.”
“I’m serious. I’m having palpitations here. It was one thing to live forty-five minutes away from each other, but—”
“But what? Nothing’s changed, dummy! Why are you getting so freaky? I love him. I told you that a million times already. We aren’t getting married tomorrow, but we know we will someday. He’s it for me, Rand.”
I gaped at him in disbelief. “How the fuck do you know? How can anyone know shit like that? This is what I’m talking about! I can’t go now. You’re nuts.”
“How is that nuts? Hey! Take a seat.” He pointed at the barstool I’d abandoned and gave me a fierce look. I stared at him for a long moment, wondering why I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. “Please,” he added in a soft voice.
I trudged back to my chair like a defiant kindergartner who’d been told he better his Cheerios or else. Some part of me knew I was acting like an idiot but I couldn’t help it. Seth mattered to me. Maybe this New York thing was irresponsible of me.
“Come with me,” I pleaded for the umpteenth time.
“No! Geez Rand.” Seth skirted the island and sat on the stool next to me. “I told you months ago… you’ve got to let me go. We have to live our own lives. You aren’t responsible for me, man. You’ve got big dreams and I won’t let you waste time here because you feel like it’s your job to babysit me. I lived in Europe for years on my own. What is it about me being here that makes you worry about me?”
My chest went suddenly tight and to my extreme mortification, my eyes watered. Holy shit. As the wave of emotion intensified, I was propelled backward ten years to that fateful day when Seth’s father caught us kissing in their basement. I’d never forget the horrid look on that bastard’s face. It twisted his normally handsome features into something macabre and frightening. When he’d launched at Seth, every instinct in me went on high alert. I threw myself between them and took the first blow and—
“Stop! That’s over.”
I blinked and refocused on Seth. Ten years later, he was nothing like that scared kid who’d been beaten to a bloody pulp in spite of my effort. He was strong, brave and so fucking beautiful. I wished I could be the man for him. I wished we wanted the same things. Maybe we knew each other too well. Even when we tried to be boyfriends in high school, we both knew our friendship would outlast the sex. So why couldn’t I let go?
I shrugged and offered a weak smile when words wouldn’t come. The water was too deep here. I didn’t know how to explain the way I felt. I’d have to write it down later and maybe turn it into a song.
“Rand, I love you. I want you to rule the music world. I want you to chase every dream you’ve ever had and fucking own it. And I want you to know I’ll always be rooting for you. But I’m happy here. I like this life. I’m doing what I want to do. My art career may take off after all. My show in October went really well but—even if it didn’t… even if I flopped and had to find a different path, I found the person I want to be with forever. He makes me feel… safe somehow. I don’t mean boring safe, I mean grounded. I’m not afraid of those shadows anymore. I’m not afraid of my past and I’m not afraid of the future. I’m finally free to just live in the moment. I want the same thing for you.”
A silence filled the space and the chasm became flat land again. I nodded and reached out to brush a strand of hair away from his eyes.
“So that’s a yes to the threesome?” I joked lamely.
Seth rolled his eyes and tousled my hair playfully. “You’re hopeless.”
A coughing noise made us both turn. Paul stood a few feet away. He was dressed in a chic navy suit I bet cost more than all my current worldly belongings combined. Paul looked pretty damn hot in a corporate executive way I was surprised appealed to Seth. He’d always been a bohemian at heart. Like me. I glanced at my friend hoping for a clue to what he saw beyond Paul’s clean-cut, tall, blond, hot bod. I opened my mouth to say something I was sure would piss one or both of them off, but stopped when I saw Seth’s face.
He smiled at Paul and stood to greet him with open arms. And I disappeared. I was a ghost now. A visitor who knew secrets and lies, but who was no longer of this world. I wasn’t unwanted. I just didn’t belong here. And for the first time since I’d met Paul in the back alley of a dive bar in Baltimore, I knew Seth was going to be fine without me.
I cleared my throat loudly when their lip lock went on a few seconds too long. Just because I vaguely approved didn’t mean I wanted to fucking watch.
“What’s for breakfast, boys? I hear you make a mean pancake, Paulie. Show me your stuff.”
Paul rested his forehead against Seth’s for a moment and probably whispered something like, “how many more days?” before turning to face me with a friendly-ish grin.
“I’ll have to show off my breakfast making skills another time. I’ve got to get to the office. Will you be here this evening?” His British accent was thicker than normal, which probably meant he hoped the answer was no.
I grinned. “Yep! See ya tonight, hon. Have a nice day at work making up fancy slogans that make people want to part with their dough.”
He gave me a tight-lipped smile while Seth glared at me. “Right. I’ll see you tonight then.”
I looked at Seth and shrugged. “He doesn’t sound so enthusiastic. Maybe the hot sex I heard through the wall last night wasn’t enough. Maybe you oughta blow him before he leaves.”
“Rand,” Seth snarled while Paul gave me an insipid smile that clearly said, “bugger off, arsehole.”
I held my hands in the air and widened my eyes in a show of innocence. “My bad. Sorry.”
They spoke in hushed tones as they moved through the kitchen to the mudroom leading to the garage. I heard Seth say he forgot something. When he raced back into the room and headed for the stairs, I stealthily made my way to the garage. Paul tossed his briefcase into the passenger side of his Audi and looked up with a smile that quickly turned into a frown.
“What is it?”
“Hey, um… I just wanted to say thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” His brow was furrowed, like he was waiting for the punch line.
“Not for letting me spend the night, but— Look, this sounds weird, but it’s coming from a good place. I think.” I took a deep breath and tried again. “Thank you for being what he needs. He’s happy and I can tell he makes you happy too.”
This time his smile was sincere and even a touch cocky. “Are you giving me your approval?”
“Yeah. I suppose I am.”
I inclined my head and turned toward the kitchen when I heard Seth’s footsteps. “Don’t fuck it up, Paulie,” I said with a wink.
“Rand!” Seth punched me square in the gut as he passed and shooed me toward the house.
“I’m going, I’m going.” I kissed his cheek, scooting out of arms reach when he swatted at my ass.
I pulled out my cell and returned a text to Tim, my friend and Spiral’s drummer, assuring him I’d be in Baltimore the following morning. I pushed send then impulsively sent him another one with three upside down happy faces. He fired back quickly with an eye roll emoji that made me chuckle. I set my phone on the island and looked around the beautifully appointed townhouse. This was a nice place and a nice life. For Seth. But it wasn’t for me.
Life was a funny game of give and take. The best way to navigate was to be in constant motion, trying to give where you could and avoid being taken. At least that’s what I’d always thought. I was moving to Manhattan for myself. I wanted a new start and shot at something bigger than me. But I couldn’t help admiring that some people found that kind of contentment at home… with a person, rather than a big lofty dream. It made my wonder if I’d ever long for this simpler life.
I reached for my now lukewarm coffee with a wicked grin. “No fucking way.”