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Author’s note:

Thank you for the love you showed to the previous chapter, dear readers!

BlowPopJ – there’s more of Mike and Ryan ahead 🙂

Hutchison12 – I knew a lot of people would cheer for Mike and Ryan, and it makes me so happy!

1moeannie – and there is more of them as follows!

Anon – you know something 😉

And now please enjoy!

Chapter Twenty-Three – A Little Help

Adrian hadn’t slept a wink all night long, tormented by questions and what-if scenarios. He couldn’t, wouldn’t allow himself regrets, but that was easier said than done. There was one particular thing that came back to haunt him over and over. Edward had said that he had decided on Sunday to call it quits, and yet, the next day, he had hurried to meet Adrian, go out to dinner with him, and later to bed.

That didn’t sound like someone who had made up his mind. It was irksome, and Adrian tossed and turned until he needed to get out of bed. He could always call Edward and ask for explanations, but he had a feeling his calls would be rejected.

Even if they hadn’t, that still didn’t mean that Edward would have the patience and inclination to listen to him. No, things like that needed to be clarified face to face. With that decision in mind, Adrian dressed for work. One last cursory look at himself in the mirror told him that anyone could read on his face what a shitty night he had had.

He pondered for a while. He grabbed his phone, and for long moments, his fingers hovered over the screen. Once in his life, he would have to swallow his pride. After all, all he needed was clarity, and that seemed to lack the most in his corner of the universe at the moment. With the risk of having Adrian Rossi’s image completely compromised, he had to do it.

***

Jared danced around the kitchen, humming a tune he must have heard during the commercial break on the radio, and grabbing the ingredients he needed for making breakfast. Shane had come home late last night, so he hadn’t even had the time to wonder why they needed to have another sleepover so soon after the other from Sunday night. Once Shane had kissed him and pushed him toward the bed, any such questions had drifted from his mind.

Even right now, Jared was in no mood to ask himself those pesky questions. Having such a close friend, a friend he had sex with, was not at all complicated. Actually, his life seemed to have become incredibly easier lately, or better said, from the moment he had met Shane. Everything was straightforward with the guy.

Now, there was a bit of a problem because Jared didn’t know how Shane took his coffee. He stopped his dance and went directly to the bedroom, where he found Shane dressed up and, by the looks of things, ready for a new day.

“Do you need to go back to yours?” Jared asked, a bit disappointed. For some reason, he was looking forward to having breakfast with Shane. He might not be able to pull something like pigs in a blanket for the first meal of the day, but he took pride in being the master of all things omelet-related.

“I think I should,” Shane said and ran one hand over his face. “I need to shave.”

Jared liked Shane like that, but it felt like it wasn’t his place to decide what Shane preferred. The short stubble became him. There was something rough about Shane that Jared liked; at the same time, he was sweet and charming, and that combination had to be Mother Nature’s recipe for making Jared go all mushy over his friend with benefits.

“Ah, okay. Maybe you should bring your stuff,” Jared said as he walked out of the bedroom, with Shane following him. “Wait, I should have some spares for one time use or something,” he added and went directly to the bathroom. He was the guy ready for an apocalypse. Surely, extra shaving supplies had to be somewhere.

“Do you want me to bring my stuff and keep it here?” Shane caught him before he could reach the bathroom.

Jared realized how ridiculous that had to sound. They weren’t living together or anything. “Well, not in particular,” he said, trying to get out of the situation without sounding like a moron.

Shane rubbed his nose against his playfully. Jared inhaled the smell of minty toothpaste when Shane pressed their lips together. Maybe the short stubble was a little bit of a problem, as Jared felt his mouth being slowly ravaged. Shane needed to sort his priorities; didn’t he need to leave? It was unlikely, however, that Jared would protest. Since the last bone in his body was turned to putty by that kiss, there was no conviction of any kind to tell the other off.

Jared broke the kiss. His sanity was at risk, and he needed to set some things straight. “Yeah, you might have to shave,” he said, patting his lips.

“So you don’t like me like this?”

It was a bit weird to be crowded in his own home and pushed against the wall. Also, it was arousing like hell.

Jared shook his head. There was just something about how Shane’s skin smelled, even after showering, that made him light-headed, like walking kaçak iddaa in a dream, if he inhaled too much. “I think I like you plenty. My ass is my witness,” he said quickly. He tried to straighten up instead of molding his body after Shane’s slow moves. His back was against the wall, and Shane made a cage with his arms, seemingly bent on holding Jared there.

Shane didn’t appear to take the hint. “Oh, do you think it’s wise to mention your ass so early in the morning?”

Jared let out a small, nervous laugh. “Why wouldn’t it be? After all, it’s part of my anatomy.”

“Yes, and you have beautiful anatomy. I recall everything about it in detail.”

Shane was such a teaser. Jared pressed against his chest, and he didn’t need to do it hard to make the other move away. “I was thinking about making breakfast for two.”

“Great. I’d love that.”

“Didn’t you want to go home so that you could shave or something?” Jared reminded him.

“I’m not a big fan of shaving. Breakfast with you, on the other hand -” Shane left the words hanging and wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.

Jared groaned. “Why do you have to be such a joker? Do you ever take a break?”

Shane appeared to ponder for a second. “I don’t see why. And I think I just complimented you. I’d rather have breakfast with you than shave.”

“Well, thanks for considering me above mundane tasks. I bet I can beat taking out the trash. Oh, right,” Jared said, smacking his forehead, “I need to do that, too. I forgot yesterday.”

“You go make breakfast. Let me take out the trash,” Shane offered.

“Really? Okay, thanks, that’s nice of you.”

Jared couldn’t believe Shane wasn’t taken. Well, of course, he was new in town, and the ladyfolk didn’t stand a chance given where Shane’s preferences lay. Therefore, Jared was fortunate to have Shane all to himself, at least for a while. That said, he needed to take advantage of the situation, but not too much. Maybe letting him take out the garbage was not that great a move, but it was too late now to take it back.

He was back in the kitchen when he realized that he still hadn’t found out how Shane liked his coffee. Well, he would ask when Shane was back.

It was undeniably nice to set the table for two. Jared wanted to sing and dance again, but he needed to keep his wits about him; he and Shane were nothing but friends, and that meant that it wasn’t wise to fall into some romantic trap laid by no other but himself.

Shane was back as he placed the plates loaded with food on the table.

“I forgot to ask you about how you like your coffee,” Jared said apologetically. “Or are you a tea person?”

“Coffee, black, is good enough for me,” Shane replied as he took his place.

“Ah, so there’s no room for sugar in your life?” Jared joked as he filled Shane’s cup.

Shane surprised him by catching his hand and bringing it to his lips. He winked at Jared before placing a small kiss on his knuckles. “I think I have plenty of it.”

Jared pulled away his hand. He used the kitchen towel in his hand to swat Shane’s head playfully. “I’m not some missus you need to seduce first thing in the morning, joker.”

“I kiss your ass to seduce you,” Shane replied promptly.

And didn’t he know it. Jared sighed.

“This was just a bit of gratitude,” Shane added.

“Gratitude? What for?”

“All this,” Shane gestured around. “For being such a perfect host. For letting me sleep in your bed. Frankly, I don’t know where you picked it, but that thing is amazing.”

Jared laughed. “Mike likes it, too.”

Shane’s amusement faded a little. “Did you and Mike ever -” He gestured with his hands to illustrate the meaning of the words left unsaid.

Jared placed one hand on his hip and shook his head, offering Shane a look of disapproval. “I think I told you I don’t have the habit of sleeping with my friends. In the sense of having sex, of course.”

Shane’s smile was back in its face-splitting mode. “Just with me.”

“Just with you,” Jared agreed. “How do you like your omelet?”

Shane was already digging in with gusto. “It’s awesome. But I’ll cook breakfast tomorrow, okay?”

Oh, so they would have another sleepover? Jared was about to ask when his phone pinged with an incoming message. He frowned as he checked it.

“Something wrong?” Shane asked.

“It’s just a message from Adrian. He wants to see us tonight. Something about trouble in love?” Jared said the last words hesitantly.

“Trouble in love?” Shane echoed his surprise.

“Yeah. Adrian never talks like that,” Jared said with conviction. “Let me just fire a quick message at him.”

“Go ahead. Ask him what’s wrong,” Shane encouraged him.

Jared typed in fast. Soon, he got a reply. “He says that he and Edward broke up, and he could use a bit of friendly advice.”

Shane seemed as puzzled as Jared felt. “Weren’t they all lovey-dovey Sunday evening?”

Jared raised his shoulders and then let them fall in defeat. “Yeah. I thought that, too. All right, this is kaçak bahis a serious type of emergency. When he’s unlucky in love, Adrian really takes it hard.”

Shane placed both hands on the table in front of him and had a determined look on his face. “Anything he needs, let him know that I’ll offer my full support. And my fists.”

Jared grimaced theatrically at that. “Let’s hope that whatever Adrian has in mind doesn’t include us getting physical. It would be bad taste.”

Shane puckered his lips like a naughty child. “Still, if he needs me for that, I’m ready.”

Jared rolled his eyes. “Are you and Adrian like peas in a pod or what? He likes to joke about that, too.”

Shane just shrugged. “Makes one feel he has something to do.”

“I suppose,” Jared agreed. “But Adrian, I think, will need lots of hugs. I don’t know yet what kind of advice we can give him -“

“I have a few ideas,” Shane said promptly.

“And why doesn’t that surprise me,” Jared muttered under his breath. As much as he wanted to deny it, he liked Shane for his can-do attitude. And Mike had turned out all right after taking advice from Shane. Maybe Adrian needed a bit of that no-nonsense approach Shane was starting to become famous for.

***

“I feel so bad for leaving you here,” Ryan said anxiously, as the car stopped.

“I’ll be fine, don’t worry,” Mike said quickly. He scanned their surroundings and then kissed Ryan quickly.

“It went out of my head that you would have to be at work earlier than me,” Ryan said with regret. He kissed Mike back.

Mike kissed him again. “I should have been the one to tell you that, and also set my alarm. It just went out of my head.” He placed one hand on the door, but Ryan stopped him with another kiss. “My Uber should be here in about two minutes.”

“You didn’t even have breakfast,” Ryan said.

“It’s all right. I’ll figure out something.”

“Please text me to tell me you’re okay as soon as you’re at work.”

Ryan worried too much. Mike needed to kiss him again and let him know that everything was all right. This time, Ryan didn’t let go, and their kiss turned longer.

“Oh, damn, we need to stop,” Mike complained.

“I know, I know.” Ryan ran one hand through his hair. “I need to plan things a little better.”

“See you tonight?” Mike asked as he opened the door on his side.

Ryan offered him a goofy smile. “To play video games?”

“I think that can wait,” Mike replied with a confident smile.

Where all that confidence came from, he had no idea. He got out of the car quickly; if he risked another look at Ryan, the chances were that they would kiss again, and he had a feeling that it would be hard to stop.

Good thing his Uber was there. Mike hurried toward it, not without throwing one last look at Ryan and waving at him discreetly. Ryan sent him a wink and a small kiss.

Mike was on the backseat and just telling the driver where to take him when his phone let him know he had a message. “Trouble in love?” he mumbled the words. Who? Adrian?

***

Mike pretended to be all cool and collected as he entered the building and headed toward the server room. Usually, he was as good as invisible to most people, but, right now, he barely kept from shivering like a leaf. He couldn’t risk one look up. His eyes set on the floor, he walked fast. It had to be his imagination, but he felt myriads of eyes on him, scanning him. If he had had a sign on his back spelling that he had slept with the boss the previous night, he wouldn’t have been this nervous.

“Good morning, Mike,” a voice interrupted his thoughts. “Running a little late?”

Mike looked up, feeling his feet turning to stone. It was just the janitor. All around him, the hallway was empty, as always. No one came down to the server room; Mike had played scenarios in his head involving a fire and him being left behind because no one knew about him. “Yeah,” he admitted and let out a small nervous laugh. “Just, um -” He stopped, his mind completely empty.

“Playing video games all night?” the man asked with a small laugh. “My grandson is just like that. Scrawny thing, too. He forgets to eat once he sits in front of that machine.”

Mike let out a sigh. “Yeah, that’s totally me, too.” It was easy to lie when it was the truth. It didn’t matter that he had been kept late by something else, or better said, someone else. That reminded him that he needed to text Ryan and told him he had arrived safely. Murmuring apologies, he hurried to the server room and closed the door behind him. For good measure, he checked it a few times, and only after that, he texted.

At work. Arrived safely. Mike stopped. Was it safe to add anything else? He hesitated. What if someone could peek over Ryan’s shoulders, and a simple text was enough to launch a nuclear disaster? But it felt like he gave Ryan the cold shoulder by sending such a short message. Thank you for everything. There. It didn’t give away anything, and at the same time, it let some of his feelings show.

His illegal bahis phone remained silent for only a minute or so.

Great. I miss you already.

Mike smiled as he read the message. I know.

Teasing me much?

What I meant is that I miss you, too.

This is better.

Mike couldn’t keep in a grin if it killed him. He sat at the computer. What could he say to keep the texts going? Then he remembered that he needed to meet Adrian that evening. How late can we see each other tonight?

Why? Do you have other obligations? (smiley face).

It was a bit funny how Ryan chose to write ‘smiley face’ instead of sending an emoji like everyone else. Actually, I have. My best friend is in some kind of romantic crisis.

Jared? The long-haired cutie from that night?

Mike smiled. Everyone thought that about Jared. He was about to reply when another text followed.

I apologize. I shouldn’t call your friend a cutie. You’re the cutest.

Don’t worry. Everyone thinks Jared is a cutie. But it’s my other best friend who needs to see me tonight. Adrian. Mike pondered for a moment. I’m really sorry about this. If you can’t meet me tonight, it’s okay.

I can. Just send me a message when you’re free. It doesn’t matter how late it is.

Mike felt relieved. I will. His fingers hovered; what could be a good way to finish that conversation? He wasn’t bold enough to send eggplants and other suggestive emojis.

This day already seems so long.

Of course, Ryan could think of something elegant and romantic, while Mike’s head was full of eggplants.

You know what else is long?

Mike scratched his head. What could Ryan mean by that?

His phone pinged again. An eggplant.

Mike burst into laughter. So Ryan’s head was also filled with suggestive emojis. He typed back. My thought exactly.

Is this sexting? I’ve never done it.

Me either. Mike was completely honest.

Unfortunately, I’ll have to go to a meeting soon.

I also need to work. Mike hesitated just a second. I can barely wait to kiss you again.

Easy on the sexting, Micah. I might not be able to control myself. Who knows? I might even knock up our business partners.

Mike winced at the reminder of his small blunder right after he had confessed to Ryan in his office barely twenty-four hours ago. Well, you’re not allowed to do that, he typed promptly.

Are you going to keep me in line?

I’ll do my best.

All right. Then I’ll behave. See you tonight.

Mike decided to reply with a kissing emoji this time.

Counting the hours … In the meantime, I’ll keep this kiss close to my heart.

Do that. Mike couldn’t believe his audacity. But he wanted Ryan to do that. I can’t believe I’m so lucky to have you.

Stop sexting with me already, Micah.

You’re the one who keeps on sending romantic messages. I can’t help it.

Then I should stop.

No, don’t stop. I mean, until you have to leave.

I’d do this all day long. But my assistant is already eyeing me with annoyance from across the room. See you tonight, my love.

Mike’s heart skipped one small beat at those words. Ryan was a busy man. He needed to be mindful of his time, and stop bothering him with texts throughout the day.

And it was going to be such a long one. Ryan was right.

***

“I hope you don’t mind my bringing Shane along,” Jared said apologetically, as soon as Adrian opened the door and held it for them.

Adrian shrugged. “You two are an item. I expected you would come together.”

To illustrate that, Adrian shared a handshake and a hug with Shane.

Jared had a mind to protest at him and Shane being called an item, but Adrian looked absent-minded and upset, so there was no point in starting an argument about where things between him and Shane stood. He risked an apologetic look at Shane only to be met with a goofy grin. Of course, Shane would find it funny, and there was no surprise there.

The number one priority was a best friend with a broken heart. There was a tension in Adrian’s shoulders as he moved throughout his apartment, gesturing for them to follow him.

“Your place is cool,” Shane said, breaking the uncomfortable silence.

Jared preferred to allow other people to speak, and he wanted Adrian to start talking whenever it felt comfortable for him. Shane was a different type of person, and, right now, Jared was happy things stood like that. Adrian would need his friends, but the addition to their group couldn’t hurt. Somewhat nervously, Jared reminded himself how well Shane had handled Mike’s insecurities before. Not that Adrian had insecurities. A different approach was needed, but he would just have to make things work on the fly.

They took place around the table, except for Adrian. Jared quirked an eyebrow at the sight of the bottle of strong liquor and the glasses. It wasn’t like Adrian to get smashed. He was the kind to think that his body was a temple, so he never overindulged.

Without asking them anything, Adrian filled their glasses. He gazed in the distance, and his lips moved slightly like there was an internal war going on beneath the surface. Jared knew that he had to ask sooner or later –

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