A Few Months Back
The flashes of the cameras were blinding. Add in the chorus of cheers and some chants, and the atmosphere was electric. I hugged my friend Ryan close, saying, “We’ve got you, man,” then moved on to embrace his boyfriend, Nate. Both were overwhelmed but clearly trying to keep themselves together and their reactions controlled.
With a quick glance at Jayden at my side, whose idea this cheerleading-slash-welcome party was, I had to hand it to the guy. He’d done the right thing. He tended to joke around and play up to the media—both on and off the basketball court—but he’d read this situation right.
Ryan coming out on his terms was a hell of a thing, and Jayden immediately dragging me on a plane from Minnesota to Vegas so that when Ryan returned from his break in Mexico, it would be to a support party was genius.
While Ryan would hate the media attention, there was no getting away from the stories that were already blowing up after he came out on Instagram. This way, Jayden had made sure our friends had support. Heck, Jayden had even got Ryan’s new coach and a bunch of his new teammates on board too.
Jayden was lapping this up, and I couldn’t fault him for it. He was good at this sort of thing—playing the media, helping to shape narratives. He played a part and put on an act, a cockier version of himself. It was his big personality that had swindled me into being his friend years back when we spent summers at basketball camp together. I’d known then that it was likely I could never be rid of the guy whose smile was contagious and whose hairbrained schemes were questionable.
Our Ryan loves Nate tees were probably one of those questionable touches, but the smiles they’d earned us from Nate and Ryan meant they were the right decision.
“You’re not expected to do anything. Maybe wave and invite us all in for a beer.”
Jayden’s words drew my attention to him as he spoke to Ryan. Grinning widely, Jayden looked so pleased with himself. I held back my smile, proud of him for trying his hardest to be the best friend possible. I understood his motivation. It wasn’t like I was any different, especially when it came to Jayden and making him happy.
“Really?” Ryan’s relief was palpable. “You know I’ve been on vacation and have no beer or food, right?”
I gave him a chin lift. “All taken care of.” It hadn’t taken much to sweet-talk my way into Ryan’s condo to take in the beer and enough snacks to feed a group of hungry basketball players.
In convoy, we headed off the small stage area that Jayden had arranged. That was the thing about my best friend: he tended to go over-the-top and all-out, especially when it impacted someone he cared about. I kept my expression light as we made our way to the building, Jayden before me. At this side of the media circus, we were closer to a cluster of reporters. I tried hard to keep my face neutral as questions were thrown out, most aiming to get a rise out of Ryan.
“What do you say to the fans who are saying they’ll no longer support a team with men that kiss?”
I locked my jaw despite my best intentions at hearing the absurdity of the question. Where did this guy get off asking something so asinine? My tight jaw threatened to pop when “Men kissing are sick” made its way through a small group of bigoted dickheads.
Jayden abruptly pausing almost had me running into him. He angled to look at the small group of idiots, and I winced and reached for him, hoping he didn’t do anything rash.
“The stupid fuckers,” Jayden sneered just as my hand latched on his forearm. It was his “I’ll fucking show them” that had me worried. His gaze snapped to mine, and I searched his expression, wondering what he was playing at.
My “What—” was cut off when Jayden cupped my cheek and leaned in, too fast for me to react beyond staring wide-eyed as his lips pressed against mine. I froze as our mouths touched, and then my brain blanked when he opened his mouth. My body reacted, my lips following his lead as he kissed me.
Heat and shock unfurled in my chest, and when his tongue touched mine, awareness zapped through me. And then he was pulling away, grinning, his smile so wide and satisfied that you’d have thought he’d won the playoffs.
He tossed me a careless wink, laughed, smacked my arm, and carried on walking, completely unaffected. Nate’s “Holy shit” got me following, but beyond putting one foot in front of the other, everything else faded away.
What the fuck had just happened? More to the point, why the hell did I want my friend to kiss me all over again?
It was that thought that plagued me throughout the impromptu party, just like it lived with me for the next few weeks. The whole time Jayden alternated between being proud to have flipped the haters off, helping take the heat off Ryan and Nate, and shrugging the whole thing off with a laugh while ribbing me about how hot a kisser he was.
There was no apology for putting me in the spotlight, regardless that I didn’t mind assisting. There was definitely no “sorry” for stepping out of bounds and planting one on me. And there sure as shit wasn’t any hint that his kiss had shaken something loose in him as it had me.
All it took was a joking moment for him to unravel our friendship. It took weeks of me shifting from confusion, anger, lust, and something so much more, the four cycling in a loop, for me to finally say enough. I’d slammed the brakes on our friendship, leaving Jayden perplexed. And the reason? Despite me talking a big game about friendship and honesty and how I was a man of integrity, I didn’t sit him down and tell him the truth.
What was the point? Sharing my truth would have meant I’d lose him anyway. At least this way, it was on my terms.
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