Come out of the cold, into the warm ...
Dean Chapman has always had a thing for April Reid, ‘the girl next door’, the woman he’s never had. What he doesn’t know is that while he made puppy dog eyes at her, her younger brother Jay spent time looking at him the same way.
Now, years later, he considers the two Reid siblings as close friends, nothing more. Little does he know Jay is still in love with him, always has been, always will be, but he’s about to find out. When he does, it not only throws his sexuality into question, it shines an ugly light in his direction.
Reacting as he often does, on impulse, he’s about to make an understandable but life-altering mistake ... and then he makes another one. Dean has to take a long look at himself and he isn’t sure he likes what he sees. He can’t remember being this arrogant, not to mention a control freak, and that’s only a few of the nicer things April Reid has taken to calling him in defence of her brother. Can he change? Does he want to? Does he even need to, or is it really just a question of making the right choice?
It’s winter and snow is falling, but he doesn’t yet know which of them might yet be left out in the cold. If Dean isn’t careful, he might lose the one person who can take him just as he is, ego included.
“Good thing I brought this, I guess.” Jay handed him a bottle of wine, brushing past, his gaze wandering. He’d visited before, but not for some time. What might he notice had changed?
The cream-coloured couch was old, but the glass coffee table was a newer addition, as too was the modern pebble-effect fireplace. The white bookshelves stuffed with books and model cars would be no surprise, though a few items might -- collector pieces recently bought or finally unpacked. Liking neatness, Dean arranged a place for everything and made sure everything stayed in its place, but he’d never wondered how it all appeared to an outsider. Did Jay like the room?
Bachelor, seducer, and slob -- none fitted the impression of someone who lived here. Surroundings reflected the personality, didn’t they? What did the décor say about him? As Jay scanned a bookcase, fingertip resting on a shelf, Dean waited to see if Jay checked for non-existent dust. OCD sprang to mind, and Dean made a show of putting aside the bottle while he tried to restrain his unease.
Was the dining table layout a little elaborate? As Jay was preoccupied, reading a few book titles, Dean risked checking out his handiwork. The tablecloth's deep red colour matched the burgundy-coloured candles, and the red wine he'd decanted earlier.
His preparations had been automatic, without thought. Now -- having double-checked Jay remained absorbed -- Dean marched over and whipped off the candlesticks, setting them on the sideboard. Not knowing what to do with his hands, he latched onto the concept of wine. Red ... a colour associated with love. The flat might appear to belong to a seducing bachelor, after all, even if no one could call him a slob. Visions of hearts and roses fluttered in his mind -- his reason for buying red accessories one of seduction, though he’d set them out this evening from habit, and because he owned nothing else. Too late to whisk away the tablecloth without disturbing the placemats and cutlery, he gave silent thanks that at least those were plain white and standard silver.
He poured alcohol and took a glass over to Jay, all the while running tonight's menu through his mind. Simple. Italian based. Nothing to fuck up. Should he exclude any of the dishes? Olives and a selection of cold antipasto already waited on plain, white china plates as their appetisers. After the antipasto, he’d serve a small, second course of spaghetti with Ragu before the main meal of seared tuna with caponata -- an aubergine stew. No dessert, but he’d purchased another box of chocolates -- though Jay would eat the squashed ones as well. Not too peculiar a meal.
Tired of worrying, Dean almost shoved the glass of wine at Jay, tempering his movements at the last so as not to slop liquid over Jay's shirt. He hesitated to give a toast -- To friendship? To us? -- and the moment passed. Having asked Jay to drop by without a plan, he didn’t know how to extricate either of them from an awkward predicament. Silence threatened to pierce his eardrums.
"Whatever you want."
Now, Dean faced another dilemma of his own making. Not wishing to make the evening seem even more romantic his fingers drifted over several compilations. Rock? Too intrusive. Too likely to make his aggravation worse. Something calming, then. Jazz? Definitely too romantic and not to everyone’s taste. So ... classical? If Jay favoured a composer Dean didn’t know which one, the few recordings Jay owned possibly his sister’s influence, but gentle tones might soothe rattled nerves -- his, Jay’s, or both. A collection seemed safe, varied enough not to irritate, and he set the volume low enough so each track became difficult to identify from the next.
“Hope you came hungry,” Dean said for something to say. Without waiting for a reply, he stalked into the kitchen, grabbed the plates with their entrées, held the rims so tight the dishes trembled, and took in a deep inhalation of air redolent with the scent of tomatoes. “Fuck,” he whispered to the empty room before snatching up the tableware and taking it to the dining table, where Jay already sat. Dean as good as threw his down, so startled by the bonk of his dish against the placemat, he took extra care placing the second serving in front of Jay. The journey to the other end of the table, his face burning under his guest’s scrutiny, took an age.