‘Happy birthday, babe.’
I moaned as his weight left me, not at all happy not to feel him on top of me any longer.
‘If you want to make this a happy birthday,’ I grumbled into the pillow. ‘You’ll come back here again.’
He laughed from somewhere in the room, then threw himself back on the bed beside me. ‘Here.’
He nudged something against my shoulder, and I turned my head with a tremendous effort to see what it was.
A nicely wrapped present met me… and for a moment I lay stunned.
‘Aren’t you going to open it?’ He nudged it against my shoulder again.
I pushed up until I was sitting on my arse—my eel-fucked, raw arse—and took the gift from him. ‘What is it?’
‘Open and see. I’m not telling.’ He stretched his arms over his head; his whole body laid out on display.
All I wanted was to straddle him and get right back to business, but the gift drew my attention too.
‘Did you wrap it?’ I turned it around in my hands, looking at how nicely done up it was.
‘Hah, no. Does that look like something I’d do?’
I chuckled. ‘Not really.’ I slid a fingernail under the tape and tugged, one corner coming off. After the other came off too, I slowly unwrapped the present to uncover…
The Hunger Games Box Set.
I turned it around to look at the spines of the books, then took the first one out to read the back of it.
‘And in English.’
‘I saw it at the bookshop and thought of you. You haven’t read them, have you?’
I shook my head quickly. ‘I’ve meant to get to them, though. Thanks.’ I leant down to kiss him, to show him just how thankful I was.
‘We’ve got to get dressed. We’re having lunch with Sarah and the lads.’
My eyebrows inched up my forehead. ‘We are?’
‘Birthday lunch. Or brunch? We’re going out to eat, anyway. To celebrate your birthday.’ He pushed me off him, and I flopped down on my back.
‘Can’t we just stay in bed?’
He shook his head. ‘Nope. Either you come shower with me, or you’ll come to dinner smelling of sex.’
I grimaced. That wasn’t much of a choice, was it?
I couldn’t exactly show up at wherever we were eating all sweaty and sexed up.
The shower it was.
Andreas and I walked side by side downtown and without thinking about it, we took the shortcut through the marina.
I didn’t even notice at first, to preoccupied with him next to me and thoughts of lunch with our friends. It only dawned on me when I saw the gate leading into the most secluded part of the marina, the part with the old houses no one used anymore except as a museum of a sort.
My steps slowed.
Andreas slowed too—and I could tell from the look on his face that he hadn’t thought about where we’d been going either.
We’d both taken this shortcut to town all our lives—separately before we met—and we’d both avoided it after I got bashed in the head.
‘Fuck.’ He ran a hand over the lower part of his face. ‘I hate this place.’
‘Yeah.’ I looked around. I could clearly see the old houses and the old boats and the water. That night it had been too dark to see anything but the gravel we walked on.
I didn’t feel a particular sense of deja vu being back here, but that might be because it was so different now in the light of day. It was spring now, and we were here during the day.
Maybe if we’d walked through here when it was dark, perhaps I would’ve felt some emotion then, but as it was now… I didn’t. It was just a place like any other.
Andreas didn’t seem to feel the same as me. The expression on his face told me loud and clear that everything that had happened that night ran through his head.
‘Hey, come on.’ I slid my arm around his elbow and quickened my pace.
He followed my lead and we walked past the place they’d cornered us and the place where Marcus had taken the iron bar to my head—not that I remembered exactly where the place was, and frankly, I didn’t want to know. But Andreas’s body stiffening up even further gave it away.
Andreas didn’t say anything as we walked through the last part of the marina. He buried his hands in his pockets, trapping my arm in-between his elbow and side. He was warm, as usual, and I didn’t mind at all that I now had to walkclose to him.
We arrived at the Brasserie ten minutes later. Sarah, Glenn, and Peter were already there, occupying a table in the corner that had space enough for all of us.
As it was for lunch, they didn’t have servers going around, so we ordered our food and drinks at the bar before heading over to our friends.
‘Hey.’ Andreas fist-bumped Glenn and Peter and hugged Sarah gently.
‘Happy birthday, Alex!’ Sarah hugged me a lot more enthusiastically.
‘Happy birthday, man.’ Peter smiled at me.
Glenn nodded but didn’t say anything.
‘Have you ordered?’ Andreas asked them.
‘Just before you two arrived.’ Sarah sat down next to Peter again.
‘Is it too early to order drinks?’ Glenn asked no one in particular.
Andreas looked at the clock on his mobile. ‘I’d reckon one o’clock is too early, yeah, even on a Saturday.’
‘Well, shit.’ Glenn crossed his arms on the table, fingers drumming impatiently.
He seemed uncomfortable. I had no idea why we’d done better after winter holiday.
‘I’m sure it’s not too early for a beer,’ I said lightly. ‘It is my birthday after all.’
Glenn grinned and got up from the table.
‘You’re encouraging him now?’ Andreas rolled his eyes at me.
I shrugged. ‘It’s my birthday.’
Sarah chuckled. ‘Alcohol before food?’
‘Nothing wrong with that. Here.’ Glenn plopped a glass of beer down in front of me and slid into the seat opposite Andreas again. He took a big gulp of his glass.
I wasn’t fond of beer—but he’d got it just for me, so I took a tentative sip of my own.
‘Why didn’t you get me one?’ Andreas asked him and I was pretty sure he kicked Glenn’s shin under the table.
‘It’s not your birthday,’ he pointed out dryly.
A waiter arrived with our food, and in the commission, Andreas leant in close to me. ‘Playing nice with him?’
‘Can’t hurt,’ I whispered back, bumping his shoulder.
‘When we get home later I’m going to play nice with you.’ He nipped my earlobe.
I liked the promise behind those words, except… ‘I don’t want you to play nice with me.’
His pupils dilated a little, eyes narrowing. ‘No?’
‘No.’ I did not want him to play nice. I wanted what we’d done this morning—what we did often and which was my favourite—me on my stomach, him fucking me hard and fast and with his hands braced on my shoulders, pressing me into the mattress until I almost couldn’t breathe.
A wry grin spread on his lips. ‘No. Okay. You’ve got a deal.’ And he squeezed my thigh under the table, entirely too far up—but very promising for what awaited when we got home.
The food wasn’t that tempting anymore, to be honest. I drank more of my beer, picked at my food, but Andreas’s hand stayed on my thigh, thumb rubbing this close to my cock—so it was a little hard to concentrate on anything else.
‘So what’re your plans afterwards?’ Sarah asked, halfway through her Caesar salad. ‘We thought maybe we could go bowling?’
I glanced quickly at Andreas, not at all interesting in bowling at the moment.
Andreas didn’t so much as look at me, but I knew that smile. I knew he wasn’t into it at all either. ‘Sorry, we’ve got… plans.’
Glenn snorted. ‘Yeah, I reckon they’re dead important plans.’
‘They are.’ Andreas waggled his eyebrows.
Oh god. I reckoned all three of them had figured it out easily enough without Andreas confirming it without actually confirming it.
Sarah laughed. ‘Leave them to it. We can go bowling, just the three of us.’
Glenn grimaced. ‘Bowling for three is fucking pathetic. I’d rather go off and do something else.’
Sarah rolled her eyes. ‘Well, Peter and I can go to the cinema then. Since you shot that one down earlier as well.’ She hooked her arm around Peter’s elbow as we left the Brasserie.
‘I don’t fancy RomComs. And since I’m not your boyfriend, and you don’t have my balls in a vice—I’m off.’
Sarah groaned. ‘Why is he our friend again?’
Peter chuckled and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. ‘Come on. I can do a RomCom now and then.’ He lifted his hand in a wave at us. ‘See you later!’
As we walked back home, Andreas wrapped an arm around my shoulders exactly like Peter had done to Sarah.
‘Happy birthday.’ He kissed my temple.
‘You’ve already said that. And given me a present. And fucked me silly.’
‘I’m going to do a repeat of the last one.’ He grabbed my arse playfully.
I stepped away from him, laughing as I did so. ‘Yeah, you better.’ I grabbed his dick in retaliation.
His hand locked around my wrist, carefully removing it from his private parts. ‘If you want me to use them later, you better behave.’
I wrapped my arms around his waist, chuckling, kissing his cheek. ‘You’re fucking amazing; you know that?’
What would my life had been like if I hadn’t met him? I probably wouldn’t have had a life anymore, to be honest.
If he hadn’t said hi to be that day, if he hadn’t pushed me into spending time with him and going out to the party with him… if I hadn’t had those experiences that weekend, I would’ve trudge home, and I would’ve killed myself.
I would’ve to slit my hands from wrist to elbow or maybe a main artery somewhere else—throat or thighs or whatever. Maybe I would’ve swallowed pills. Maybe… hung myself. I hadn’t had a proper plan in place; I just knew I’d had enough and I couldn’t deal anymore.
But thanks to him I was still here, and I was happy. I had friends—for the first time in my life and a proper family. Also for the first time in my life. I loved, and I was loved, and it was wonderful.
We were past the marina now, stopping in front of a bus shed. ‘Hmm?’
I stepped in close and kissed him. ‘Thank you.’
He frowned slightly. ‘For what?’
‘For everything.’ I slid my arms around him in a tight hug. ‘Without you, I never would’ve been here now.’
‘Alex…’ He cupped my cheeks in his hands, eyes dark and intense as he stared at me. ‘That day I spoke to you was the best day of my life.’
I tried to swallow the lump that stuck in my throat, but it was persistent. When I couldn’t get any more words out, I settled for leaning in for another kiss.
The day he spoke to me was the best day of my life too.
He’d given me a reason to stay alive.
A reason to live.
And for that, I’d always love him.