The scream jarred Noah awake and nearly off the couch. With eyes wide and his heart in his throat, he darted his gaze around the large living room, expecting big foot or murderers or at the very least a hot guy running naked across the floor. But there was none of those things. Just Griffin’s latest, his longest actually, standing there trying to cover her nakedness with perfectly manicured fingers. Her hair was only a bit out of place. However, she had no doubt gone to bed with her makeup on.
“What’s wrong?” Noah croaked out, trying to calm his heart as Griffin came tearing―okay, stumbling―up the hallway behind her, yanking on a robe.
“Lauren? What the fuck?” Griffin made it into the living room to stand beside Lauren. He, too, had perused the room with eyes that were barely open, squinting against the bright early sunshine already pouring in the windows. “Why are you screaming?”
She pointed a finger, having to bare a plump breast to do it, right at Noah. “There’s a man in our house.”
Griffin glanced at Noah and grinned. “Where?”
“Funny,” Noah deadpanned as he flopped back into his pillow, blood still pumping loudly in his ears. “What time is it, anyway?”
“Fuck,” Griffin grouched. “Six. Lauren, what the fuck are you screeching at six in the morning for?”
“I’m not screeching!”
Oh, she so totally was, and it grated on every nerve in Noah’s body.
“There’s a stranger sleeping on the couch in my living room!” she insisted.
Wait. Her living room?
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Griffin yawned. “That’s Noah. You know Noah.”
Which was true. It would be hard not to know him if anyone met Griffin even a little. They were pretty much inseparable.
“How did he get in here, and what is he doing in our condo at six in the morning?”
“He has his own… wait…” There was movement and suddenly Griffin was hunched down near Noah’s head. “Hey buddy, she has a point. What are you doing here? What happened?”
“I was kicked out,” Noah moaned sleepily.
“What? That asshole!”
“Who’s an asshole?” came that shrieking voice again. Evidently, she felt it safer to shout from a distance.
“Can you tell her to tone it down a bit?” Noah whimpered.
“I can tell her. She won’t listen.”
talking about me like I’m not here!”
“Pretty tough to forget that,” Griffin murmured.
She squealed again but seemed to storm off because it was blessedly quiet again. Noah really did need to learn to like her better. Or at all. The problem was, she hated Noah.
“You’re going to pay for that,” Noah said.
“Believe me, I already am. Tell me what happened.” Griffin picked Noah’s head up, scooted himself under it so he was sitting on the couch and laid Noah’s head in his lap.
“You need to go do this with Lauren.”
“Do what? Besides, I want to find out what happened.”
Damn. Noah should never have come here. He wished now he had barged in on Genny and Marcus instead. Of course, he didn’t have an open invitation there like he did here. Still… “Sorry for… well, ruining your morning with Lauren.”
“You didn’t ruin anything. Quit stalling. Was it that asshole, Sabastian?”
“Who else? He…”
“He’s a jerk. They’re both jerks. They threw me out last night.” Literally. But he didn’t say that out loud. He was still pretty freaked out about it.
“Fuck, Noah, you’re the one on the lease. Not that asshole you let move in with you. Why do you…? Wait. You’re shaking. What else happened?”
“I’m… just cold.” Lie.
“Hmmm. Well, never mind. I’ll deal with it.”
Oh shit. “How?”
“I don’t want you to worry about it.” He patted Noah’s head and smoothed his most likely wild hair. “What time did you get here?”
“About two.” He had somehow misplaced his wallet. Most likely it was laying on his living room floor having fallen out during the scuffle. Having no money or bus card meant he had to walk instead of being able to take a taxi or even mass transit. Thankfully the doorman knew Noah, and Griffin had left explicit instructions with the building’s staff that if Noah ever needed anything, including a spare key card to Griffin’s condo, he would be given it.
“Really? Wow. Go back to sleep.” He continued to stroke Noah’s hair. “Even I got more sleep than that.”
Noah opened his eyes and turned his head to stare up at Griffin. “Are you serious? Two o’clock, Griffin. You guys were going at it like… like…” His anxiety tamped up a bit. “Well, whatever. I shouldn’t have come.” Especially since it always depressed him to be reminded Lauren was front and center. And other things.
“Of course, you should be here, you know that. Why didn’t you just sleep in the guest bedroom?”
Noah rolled his eyes and turned back away. “You mean the one next to your room? You know why.”
Griffin harumphed. “Really? What? We were noisy?”
“You were deafening. Earsplitting. God. I hate the sound of hetero sex.”
Griffin laughed. “Sex? Huh. I guess I remember something going on. But I think I was just watching the action at that point. Well―maybe dozing through it. So, it wasn’t me you heard.”
“No, no, no!” Noah moaned as he momentarily put his hands to his ears. He did not want to know that…
“Yeah, I think she was trying to put on a show for me, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh my God, Griffin, Stop! I don’t want the image in my head.” But… Griffin dozed through it? Was something wrong in paradise? “Ug,” he moaned as he dropped his arms. “It’s kind of sad, really. For what you must pay for this monstrosity you live in, you would think the walls wouldn’t be so paper thin.” He cuddled into the warmth of Griffin’s lap, feeling more guilty than ever. But to be fair, this position was common for the two of them. Especially on Thursday nights when the three of them, Genny, Griffin and him, would go out to dinner, a tradition that had started a year and a half back. “Anyone can fake a Friday,” Genny would say. Then they would usually end up back at Griffin’s pricey condo to watch something on Griffin’s monster TV with Noah right here, head in Griffin’s lap. Nothing calmed him better. He loved it.
But he shouldn’t.
Because things had changed.
There were five of them now that both Griffin and Genny had significant others and insisted on bringing them on what they called their Thursday Date Nights. Well―Genny insisted Marcus come, but Noah was pretty sure it was Lauren who tagged after Griffin, hell or high water. Griffin didn’t seem to care one way or the other. He still sat next to Noah. They still shared their meals, talked each other’s ears off as if they hadn’t seen each other in ages, and argued like an old married couple.
“You guys are so damn cute,” Genny had gushed once. “The only thing missing is the two of you kissing and making up.”
Unfortunately, Lauren just happened to be there at the time, and she proceeded to basically take Genny’s head off.
“Oh my God, Genny, that’s disgusting!”
Of course, it didn’t help that Genny had also leaned into Lauren to make sure she heard the next part. “And especially,” she had whispered loudly. “The making up part, right?” All while doing air quotes and wiggling her eyebrows.
Lauren seemed quite taken back by that and told Genny so. There might have also been some derogatory comment that substituted the word “gag” with “gay.” Noah hadn’t caught the whole of it. Whatever it had been pissed Griffin off. Which might have been the reason Lauren being in the room didn’t stop Griffin from being just like this.
It wasn’t right, obviously. Griffin should have quit this type of behavior and certainly Noah could have stopped it too. Except, it was simply second nature now, habit. And Griffin meant nothing by it. Even so, it always warmed Noah’s heart to be the recipient of his attention.
Mainly because he loved Griffin.
Okay in love was the proper order of words. Yep. With his best friend. And had been for a while.
So very not cool.
Thankfully, Griffin was clueless about it. He wasn’t into men in that way and that meant he would marry someday and have kids and a life Noah prayed to stay a part of. But that was just it. He would only be a small piece of it. He had always known that, worried about it, bothered, fretted, and agonized over it. Still, he told himself day in and night out, especially Thursdays, Griffin was not his. He would belong to some girl down the road and even though Lauren had been a steady presence lately, it wouldn’t be today.
Which became his mantra.
It would happen but not today.
Except Lauren had been by Griffin’s side off and on for the better part of two months now. Which brought that fateful “someday” closer than ever.
It did make sense. They wouldn’t be young forever. And in fact, none of them were all that young right now. He supposed Lauren was probably late twenties, early thirties like the rest of them, most likely hearing that biological clock ticking loudly away. And Griffin? Not only wildly handsome and attentive and protective and funny and smart and, oh, so many things Noah couldn’t name them all, he was rich to boot. Sure, he started out that way, but Griffin was brilliant and had strengthened his family’s coffers and world-renowned name with the ideas and changes he had already brought to the board table of Colewater Properties. He was an incredible catch. The bachelor of the century.
And then there was the fact his parents were also on him all the time about “finally settling down” and “when are you going to give up those friends and give us grandchildren”. A sentiment that was as archaic as dial phones, actual cash, and eight-track tapes. They also had this thought that Noah would give their son a “reputation”. An incorrect public image. Right to his face Griffin’s mother accused him of trying to turn Griffin. Yeah. Turn.
“If Griffin wouldn’t hang around gay people all the time, maybe he could keep a girl,” she had seethed at him, well out of hearing range of Griffin naturally. “Just what is it you are trying to do? He will not be turned!”
Noah had wanted to shout right back Just what is it that you’re trying to do? He will not be bullied! Even drew in the breath to do it but did not have the guts. Instead, he ended up with a raging headache and tried to stealthily call a taxi to take him home. Somehow Griffin found out, he always did, and, much to his mother’s disappointment, took him home himself.
“For God’s sake, Griffin. He’s not a child. Let him go by himself,” she demanded.
“He’s sick!” Griffin growled at his mother. “I’m not going to let him take a taxi! I need to make sure he gets home.”
“He’s not sick. He has a headache. Good God, Griffin, you treat him like he’s fragile, and I am very tired of it.”
“I will not discuss this with you.”
“Fine. But there’s someone I planned on introducing you to.” She pouted.
“Again? No!” Griffin rolled his eyes. “Please, Mom. I don’t want to meet any of your Greek Isle princesses and oil barren heirs. No more blind dates!”
“Does that mean you already have a girlfriend?” she badgered. “Or is there a particular problem your father and I need to be concerned about?” she ground out, glaring right at Noah.
“Mom, there is no problem. I’ll simply choose my own dates, okay?”
If Noah hadn’t been in such pain, he would have cheered. As it was, he only just resisted the powerful urge to stick out his tongue at Griffin’s mother, which would have accomplished nothing but proven how childish he was. He also thought better than to lay his aching head on Griffin’s shoulder as they headed out the door. Oh, he wanted to, badly. Not only because it would have pissed Griffin’s mother off, but he really was in agony. Even so, he finally did once they made it out of the house. Griffin didn’t mind at all. In fact, he patted Noah’s head and cooed at him, “You’re going to be fine. Get you home in no time. In fact, I’ll take you to my condo. I can keep an eye on you that way.”
The problem was, Griffin really did struggle with pleasing his parents. He wanted them to be proud of him. He pursued that dream every day of his life. Noah wished Griffin could break free of the prison he created mainly because he doubted Griffin’s parents would ever be impressed with anything he did. They were too centered on their own image to be worried or even concerned what it was that Griffin needed. It was as if Griffin were just an appendage. An extension of their own bodies.
And image was everything.
It’s my name, my company, and I will not have it tarnished!
Yeah. He said that. Such a comment encompassed a whole lot of things, but Noah believed it was aimed in one direction for sure. If Griffin was going to be out there representing the Colewater name, there were certain protocols and rules to abide by. Being gay was definitely not allowed. They made it clear being friends with a gay man wasn’t either. However, thankfully, that was something Griffin seemed able to ignore.
was so wrong and hypocritical about all of this was Noah was quite sure the
elder Colewaters “tolerated” and even financially supported all kinds of
politically correct viewpoints. Just as long as none of it walked in the front
door of any of their mansions.
It was why Noah’s anxiety went haywire whenever he actually did that very thing.
Griffin had been so upset that his mother had once again tried to set him up with some random girl, he had told Noah on the way back to his condo that evening that he would never again go to his mother’s house or any of her gatherings alone. And he didn’t. He always made sure he had a woman on his arm after that. Unfortunately, his anger wasn’t at his mother for interfering in his personal affairs. It was at himself for disappointing her that he didn’t have an approved girlfriend. That his mother felt it necessary to find one for him.
Griffin was the oldest son of the owners of a multi-gazillion-dollar hotel business, which he was expected to take the reins of at some point. Even though Griffin was already well along in that extensive process, it would begin in earnest as soon as he graduated with his MBA from the very expensive top-rated Ivy League university, Hamilton. With honors, of course. Not that Griffin didn’t deserve it. He did. He studied hard, did well on all his academics, and stayed out of trouble. Unlike his semi-sort-of-rich-but-not-really-compared-to-the-Colewaters so-called friends. Which they weren’t. Friends, that is. Having money meant parties and skipping classes and whole semesters altogether. After all, what was mama and daddy’s money for if not to slick up the rails of life?
The Colewaters unfortunately didn’t feel any different. In fact, Hamilton University had an entire wing of the main building named after Griffin―Griffin Colewater Hall. Genny and Marcus still teased Griffin sometimes, often calling him Lord Colewater or Prince Griffin or some such nonsense. Noah never did. It was a very tender spot for Griffin who was torn between horror and embarrassment wanting to believe his parents meant well when they paid a fortune for the naming privilege, most likely believing Griffin’s good grades came from that alone.
“It’s always something with them,” he would moan. “An Italian sports car, a quaint twenty-three room cottage on the ocean.” He held up his arm to show his Patek Philippe. “Some outrageously expensive watch. I wish they would just―I don’t know―send a card on my birthday, not a private chef.”
Noah had chuckled that time. “You’re exaggerating. Your cottage has only ten rooms, not twenty-three but―oh―that Chef Raffiel! He was adorable, you must admit.”
“He was straight.”
“Yeah,” Noah had sighed wistfully. “I know.”
“And too old for you,” Griffin had protested and cuffed Noah on the back of the head.
It wasn’t that Griffin was a poor little rich boy. All Griffin really wanted was his parents’ love. He truly needed his parents to be happy with him, not of what they envisioned his future to be. It broke Noah’s heart how often Griffin’s parents’ behavior seemed to break his.
“Come on. Up.” Griffin tapped Noah’s head.
“Where we going?” Noah yawned.
“I’m tucking you into the bed in the guest bedroom. You can sleep for another hour or so.”
“I have to go to work.”
“I’ll get you up in time to get you there by nine. I’ll even stop at our favorite coffee shop, Wicked Java, and buy you coffee and breakfast, okay?”
That got Noah’s attention. “The breakfast crepe with extra whipped cream? Oh! Wait! It’s Thursday. They’ll have the Maple Waffle sandwiches! I think I want the strawberry and blueberry one. No! The burnt brown sugar and peanut butter!”
“I’ll get you both. All of it. Whatever you want.” He slapped Noah’s bottom. “Now up!”
And just like that, all Noah’s anxiety disappeared. “You’re my hero.” Noah rose to his feet, drawing the blanket, which he’d pulled off the guest room bed earlier, tighter around himself. He turned to tug Griffin up with his fingers just peeking out of the folds.
“Of course,” Griffin chuckled. “It’s my only aim in life.”