Friends, Sexcapades and Love Affairs Ch. 18

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Chapter Eighteen – A Whole Lotta Benefits

“So, would you guys like to tell me the whole story?” Shane asked, after their first round of shots.

Mike looked like a lost puppy, and Jared still waited for the good buzz to start. He didn’t plan on helping his two friends finish the bottle, but he licked his lips in satisfaction. “The whole story?”

“Mike, why don’t you just go for what you want?” Shane was direct, and Jared loved that about him, yet, right now, his protective side surfaced in an instant.

“Mike is shy like that. And such complications -“

“I’m a dumbass and a coward.” That was Mike, who took the second shot and threw his head back to make the booze all disappear down his throat.

“Hey, you’re not at all a coward. A dumbass either,” Jared replied, feeling a familiar sting at the way his best friend saw himself. Mike had always been like this, shy and unsure. Jared had tried to make him think otherwise, but he wasn’t sure he was helping much. Adrian tended to be rougher in his encouragement, but that approach hadn’t worked too many wonders.

“Yeah, I am.” Mike looked down and sighed so deeply that his shoulders slumped.

Jared caressed his back, and a bit of frustration grew inside him. Why wasn’t he better at this? Mike had no reason to think badly of himself.

“Why is that?” Shane intervened. He poured another round with confidence. Jared wondered, for a moment, if they weren’t going through that bottle too fast.

“Because I should just go work someplace else.”

It looked like that particular logic eluded Shane because he looked at Jared, in search of an explanation.

“That would solve everything,” Jared said. “Once Mike is no longer an employee working under Ryan -“

“Under Ryan.” Mike snickered and hiccupped.

“Easy with the booze,” Jared warned. “In a nutshell, no one would have everything to say against them if they weren’t boss and employee.”

“So, Mike only needs to hand in his resignation, and then that’s all. He could go ahead and be with Ryan.”

“Yeah, pretty much. But that means a lot to Mike. He worked hard to get where he is now.”

“Mike, what do you think?” Shane’s attention turned to the person being the main topic of that conversation.

Jared felt a bit annoyed. Was Shane trying to ignore what he said? But, in a way, it was only fair. Mike could speak for himself, and it was only because of Jared’s overly protective nature that he often found himself obliged to speak in his friend’s name.

“I don’t know. I’m afraid to quit my job. What if Ryan’s not the one? Then what do I do?”

“You find another job,” Shane said promptly. “What’s the full half?”

Mike twiddled his thumbs. “I guess it’s that Ryan is the one and that I might not be a homeless person for long.”

“Homeless?” Shane turned toward Jared, in search of additional explanations.

Still miffed over being ignored earlier, Jared kept his mouth shut.

“If I quit, and I don’t land another job soon, I will be unemployed. Then, the months will pass, with me out of a job. I won’t be able to pay my bills, and my landlord will kick me out.” Mike was talking without pausing for a breather. “Then, I’ll be homeless.”

Shane’s eyes grew wide. “Is he always a worrier like this?”

Jared quirked an eyebrow. “Are you sure you want to ask me that?”

A puzzled look welcomed his words. Jared looked away, feeling a bit guilty. After all, Shane was just trying to help. He was the one jaded, trying to jump and notice the slightest sign that he was taken for a fool.

“Yes, I’m always like that,” Mike replied, oblivious at the exchange between the other two people at the table.

“You don’t mind me saying, Mike, but aren’t you too … What’s that word? Self-absorbed?”

“Self-absorbed? Mike?” Jared crossed his arms over his chest. “He’s the selfless guy I know.”

Shane didn’t seem fazed by Jared’s display of annoyance. “Then that’s the problem. He thinks that he is the root of all problems and the only one with all the solutions.”

Jared bit his lips in thought. “Yeah, I guess that’s true.”

Shane nodded shortly. Jared could swear Shane had stared a bit too long at his mouth right that moment, but it was gone, so it could have been nothing but his imagination.

“Mike, you’re not going to be homeless.” There was finality in Shane’s words.

“I’m not?” Mike didn’t appear for one moment, insulted by Shane’s characterization of his person.

“If you ever run out of options, which I don’t think it’s possible, and if you’re half the brainiac Jared tells me you are, you’ll find a job fast. Also, you can always stay with one of your friends. Jared here cares for you like he’s both your momma and papa. Do you see him letting you live on the streets?”

Jared was speechless, and so was Mike.

Shane continued. “Let’s play your worst-case scenario. My good guess is that you never really thought of it to the end. So, you’re out of a job. For months. You don’t have a place to stay. Ryan’s not the bahis şirketleri one.”

Each of Shane’s sentences was met with exclamations and grumbles from Mike. Jared was still a complete mute.

“Here’s the solution. I’ll hire you. I don’t know as a what, but cross my heart, you won’t be out of a job for long. Jared here, I bet he will let you sleep in his bed, you lucky dog, until you’re eighty. And Ryan? Well, I’m sure there will be someone else if he’s not the guy you think he is. Which, again, I think you might be wrong in worrying about it.”

Astonishment was too little a word to describe what Jared felt. That little personal envy that Shane inserted at one point hadn’t been lost on him, but that wasn’t all. Simply put, things stood like that. Jared was too caught up in helping Mike never feel the slightest discomfort, and now, in a few minutes, he had been proved that he had been wrong all along.

He stole a glance at Mike. His friend was staring at Shane like he had just had the epiphany of a lifetime. “You’re absolutely right.” Mike’s voice was a whisper, but his shock wasn’t of the unpleasant type. He grabbed his glass again and downed it in one gulp. “I’ll quit.”

“Atta boy.” Shane smiled, and Jared wanted to pinch his cheek, mostly because he was envious of him and his problem-solving skills than anything else.

Mike sunk into his seat and giggled. “I can’t believe I couldn’t see it until now.”

“You saw it, but -” Jared intervened.

“Not really,” Mike replied. “I was too busy thinking of what could go wrong. Just like you, J.”

Jared opened his mouth and closed it. Mike giggled again. All right, this one was toasted. “Maybe you just had a shot too many, Mike.”

Shane placed a warm hand on his shoulder. “Let the boy grow up a little, Jared. He might puke his guts and curse his life tomorrow, but he’ll be a man.”

Jared had a mind to argue, but the satisfied smile on Mike’s lips convinced him to let it go for now. “Sleep on it, Mike. It’s not all bad advice Shane here offers.” He turned his head to stare down the imp who was getting his tail in all things that weren’t his business. A naughty smile was the answer. No wonder there. “Do you always offer jobs to people you barely met?”

Shane shrugged. “It’s a solution. I didn’t say it was the ideal one.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

Shane winked at him. “I know.”

Jared shook his head and smiled. Yeah, it was a solution, and one to offer Mike a bit of peace of mind while he could work on his own. Shane wasn’t just a cowboy; he was a smart cowboy. “You put me to shame as a best friend.”

“Nah, no way.”

“Yes, you do.”

“This tequila is so awesome!” Mike interrupted them. He licked his lips noisily. “How about more?” He raised his glass and then pushed it toward Shane, who was the designated bartender as it seemed.

Jared couldn’t argue with that. And if Mike would be sick tomorrow, he had just the remedy for a hangover.

***

“Guys, I’m afraid we hit the bottom.” Mike hiccuped.

“The bottom?”

Mike pointed at the empty bottle. “We drank everything.”

Jared had a dazed look on his face, and the only one who seemed to be still in full control of himself was Shane. Mike had to admit inwardly that he was a big fan of the guy. If only Jared could see how awesome he was. Maybe he could play matchmaker somehow. Maybe there were books on how to be one, and Mike only had to google them. Right now, though, there were more pressing matters, like figuring out if getting on his feet was a good idea or not. The room was not spinning yet, but his legs were all jelly.

“We could have more,” Shane suggested. “It’s on my tab, so don’t be afraid to splurge.”

“That’s not fair,” Mike slurred. “You’re my future boss, so I should butter you up while I still have money.” Another hiccup made both Shane and Jared snicker. “Hey, how come I’m the only one toasted?”

“We might have a bit more practice under our belts,” Jared explained.

He was talking. Mike wanted to laugh so hard. Jared and Shane had sunken into the love setee they were sharing, and they leaned against each other as if that was the only thing keeping them from melting to the floor. Mike closed one eye and framed his friends with his hands improvising a rectangle. “You know, you two look great together.”

Shane didn’t say a thing, but Jared snorted. “Shane would look great with anyone. You know, make everyone shine by association.”

“No,” Mike protested, keeping his improvised frame up with some difficulty. “There is just something about you two, side by side like this. You fit. Shane is so dark and sexy, and you, J, are so cute and soft.”

“Soft? I’m not soft,” Jared said and tried to straighten up. Shane’s arm was around his shoulder, so he eventually gave up on that feat.

“I mean, your face,” Mike continued to argue. “You’ve always been the prettiest of all of us. No wonder Chris wanted you, even with a husband at home. He couldn’t resist you.”

Jared’s face darkened. bahis firmaları Mike swallowed; of, fuck. His mind was all fogged up, but even so, he realized what a horrible thing had just left his mouth. “Oh, shit, J, I’m sorry.”

Jared waved, but he wasn’t smiling anymore. “No worries, Mike. Water under the bridge.”

“No, no.” Mike shook his head with vehemence. “I shouldn’t have said such an insensitive thing. It’s not your fault Chris is a cheater.”

From the corner of one eye, Mike could tell Shane was watching their exchange with growing interest. Clearly, he was the least drunk of them all.

“And you’re not just pretty,” Mike rambled on. “You’re also smart and funny and a good cook. And the best friend I could ever have.”

“Mike, honey, don’t worry.” Jared reached him with one hand and caught his arm. “Don’t sweat it. I mean it. I know exactly who’s fault it was that Chris thought he could take advantage of me.”

“His,” Mike said with aplomb.

“Mine,” Jared replied, and his voice was hard when he said that.

Mike fell silent. “You know what, guys? How about you put me in a taxi so that I can hit the hay? You can stay here and have fun.”

“No way I’m going to leave you to ride in the backseat of some unknown car. I’m taking you home.”

“We’re taking you home.” Shane stood up and offered Jared his hand.

To Mike’s relief, Jared took it and didn’t seem as upset as earlier. “You are so cool. The best. Both of you.”

Jared smiled at him, and the hardness was gone. “You’re drunk, Mike. Let’s get you home.”

Mike was pleased to see that being on his feet was not that big an ordeal as he had expected. He turned slightly and risked a look at Ryan’s table, something he hadn’t done for the entire evening. His eyes met Ryan’s in an instant as if that was meant to be. He smiled, and Ryan smiled back. Even if the music blared around them, and the light wasn’t that good, Mike could clearly see that.

That was it. Shane was right. The full half and everything. Mike put all his strength into anchoring himself on his feet. Then, it felt like his entire body moved on its own accord.

“Mike,” Jared called for him. “Mike.”

His friend’s surprise was clear as day, but Mike couldn’t stop now. He walked over to Ryan’s table, his eyes never leaving his prize. When he stopped inches from the table, Ryan’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.

Now or never. Mike steeled himself and bore his eyes into Ryan’s. The other people at the table interrupted their conversation and turned in their seats to look at him.

All eyes were on him now. If he backed down, he was a total coward. Mike raised one hand and cut the air with it. “I quit.”

That move almost caused him to lose his balance, but Mike managed to turn it into an impulse for a pivotal pirouette that put him on his way back to his friends who were looking at him in awe.

His face was stretched into a big grin. Jared caught him into his arms. “Mike, I thought you would sleep on it.”

Ah, Jared was worried. Mike patted his head. “Don’t worry, J. It was long overdue.”

“Mike, can I have a word with you?” That was Ryan, but Mike found it difficult to turn and look at him. His feet were done for, and if Jared didn’t hold him, Mike was sure he would be a puddle on the floor.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Armstrong,” Jared said in an apologetic tone. “Mike is not quite himself right now. Please, don’t mind him.”

“All right. Will he be okay? Will you take care of him?”

There was genuine worry in Ryan’s voice, but Mike no longer had the strength to take the reins and follow up on his act of courage. “It’s all good now,” he said, but his forehead was on Jared’s shoulder, and his friend could barely hold him.

A stronger arm wrapped around his, and Mike moved his head to see Shane. “You’re the best cowboy that ever lived, Shane.”

“We will take care of him, Mr. Armstrong,” Jared said politely. “No need to worry.”

“Okay. But, please, here is my card. If you could send me a short message to tell me that Mike got home all right, I would be grateful.”

“Of course,” Jared replied.

“We will talk on Monday, Mike,” Ryan said, and his voice was stern.

Couldn’t Ryan just see it already? Mike would have explained everything at large, but his mind was jiggly pudding, and his feet were no better. Yeah, they would talk on Monday.

“Monday,” he shouted and raised one arm.

Jared caught him and dragged him along. “I’ll never let you drink again, Mike.”

“Tequila,” Mike hooted and then made a poor impersonation of a popular cartoon character of Mexican descent.

Jared clamped one hand over his mouth for a second. “Now, let’s get you out of here before we all get thrown out by the personnel.”

Mike kissed Jared’s cheek as soon as his mouth was free again. “I love you, J. You’re awesome.”

“Yeah, I know. And you really can’t hold your liquor.”

If Mike had said that he could remember how he got out of the club, into a cab, and back home in his bed, kaçak bahis siteleri he would have been the biggest liar in the universe.

***

“Will he be all right?” Shane asked. “If I’d known he was such a lightweight, I wouldn’t have let him drink so much.”

“He will be fine. I’ll leave all the instructions on what to do the first things he wakes up, and he will surely call me. He didn’t have that much to drink, but I think he drank too fast.” Jared shook his head. “It had happened before, which is why I am not as worried as you might think I should be.”

“I don’t think anything,” Shane said. “You’re the boss here since you’ve known Mike for much longer than me.”

“You sure hurried to give him advice.” Jared didn’t want to sound pissed, but he was a little and couldn’t hide it.

“Sorry if I trespassed. It wasn’t my intention.”

Jared turned with a smile toward Shane. “I meant it. Not all the advice you gave Mike tonight was bad.” He tucked Mike in and brushed one hand against his forehead. Mike was already snoring and in dreamland. There wasn’t anything else left for him to do here.

“Can I know which one was not that bad?”

“Mike needs to be a little more courageous. His natural shyness, although endearing, might just stop him from being his best self. And also, happy, in this case. Ah, I almost forgot. I’ll send Ryan a quick text.”

“The poor guy looked like an angel from heaven struck him down.” Shane chuckled. “I’m not sure he understood the situation.”

Jared laughed, too, while he typed fast. “That’s true. But it’s all on Mike to explain it. And I won’t get involved since I don’t want Ryan to think that Mike has bragged all over the place about sleeping with the boss. It’s just that, the three of us, we don’t have many secrets worth keeping from each other.”

The midnight air had cleared his head a little, as well as his need to care for Mike, but Jared could feel the buzz from earlier returning, in the warmth of the room. Maybe they all needed to head over to the bed, after all.

“The three of you,” Shane said.

Jared threw him a guilty look. “I didn’t mean to make you feel excluded. We’ve known each other since forever. But I hope we’ll all get to know you, too.”

“What about you?”

“What about me?”

“Do you want to get to know me?”

“I’m pretty sure what I said covers that.”

Jared stood up from Mike’s bed and closed the bedside lamp. Shane walked out of the room without being told what to do. With the spare key he kept for such occasions, Jared locked the door to Mike’s apartment and followed Shane outside. It looked like there was some conversation they needed to have.

“Shane,” he asked, the moment they were out in the street again. “Give it to me straight. Who was the guy you said you liked tonight?”

“You guessed it.”

Jared fell in line with Shane and took the offered arm. There had been no talk of asking for a cab and be on their way, too. A walk on quiet streets at midnight sounded like a good idea right now. “I didn’t guess anything since I asked you who it was.”

“You wouldn’t have asked if you hadn’t known already.”

Jared sighed. Well, Shane wasn’t the type to beat around the bush, so he shouldn’t be, either. “You were talking about me.”

“Yes.”

Shane disentangled his arm from Jared’s hold and then hooked it over his shoulders. It could look friendly to anyone who might have seen them walking at that hour, but Jared knew better. Shane’s body heat was coming at him in waves, and it felt so good. There was a kind of tiredness making his legs heavy now, and it wasn’t just the booze. It wasn’t all unpleasant, either.

“We are friends. We decided that.”

Shane remained silent as they continued to walk. “Yeah. But there are all sorts of friends in the world.”

Jared shivered lightly, and Shane pulled him close. “Beats me what you’re trying to say, right now.”

“Chris was that guy, the married one.” Shane didn’t ask. He was just stating facts, and now Jared had no idea what Shane wanted to know.

“Yes.”

“He broke your heart or something.”

“Or something,” Jared admitted.

“So, you don’t want a boyfriend right now.”

“That’s pretty much what I told you before.”

“But you want a friend. You want me as a friend.”

“Yes. You’re an awesome guy. I would hate to lose you only because we met at the wrong moment.”

Shane seemed lost in thought again. “How about another drink, Jared?”

“Maybe we had enough.”

“The night’s still young, and I’m your newest friend. You can’t let me drink by myself.”

“Are you trying to get me drunk, Shane? That’s not very nice of you.”

“It’s my plan.”

“Oh, I really didn’t think you would admit it like that. Why do you want to get me drunk?”

“It worked the first time,” Shane said.

“Ah, but then I wasn’t drunk. I had only a few shots, and I wanted it. I won’t be a hypocrite and blame it on the booze.”

“That’s good, then. Still, how about not calling it a night just yet?”

“You know what, Shane? I’d like to spend more time with you. But not drinking. I want to see you dance.”

Shane looked pleased with the prospect. “Then, we could just go back and dance some more.”

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