The attraction between Chaz and Ryan is as strong as ever, but they’ve taken a relationship break, frustrated by each other’s lifestyle. Chaz is a drifter, casual to the point of carelessness. Ryan is a control freak, preferring order and organization. It just wasn’t working between them.
When Chaz moves apartments yet again, the project is fraught with chaos and plenty of breakages. Despite Chaz’s determination to be independent, Ryan comes to help out. Chaz admits he’s grateful for the friendly support. Or at least, that’s how it starts.
He realizes just how much he’s missed Ryan, just how much the other man’s care added to his life. Maybe it’s not too late to make some changes. Maybe there can be a middle ground for two such different men—because the reward is worth it.
This story is 9,000 words in length.
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© Clare London
I took a deep breath. “I think I was meant to be changing my own behavior as well. I think I made promises, too. About growing up, about remembering I might have someone else’s interests to consider. Right?”
There was wary gratitude in his eyes. “Yes, you did. You were going to watch yourself, as well.”
We did some more of the staring thing. “Haven’t been too good at it so far, have we?”
“No.” He shook his head, eyes rueful. “Control freak…you said that, plenty of times. I was sweating the small stuff. Chill out, you said. Back off.”
I winced. “Yeah, I can talk shit, too.”
He smiled, genuinely amused I think. “Look, I said before, I don’t want you to be different—”
“No,” I interrupted. “I know that, too. Wouldn’t work anyway, eh? But it wouldn’t work with you, either. You are as you are.”
“And that’s just how I like you, Ryan Crawford.”
He went very quiet. I couldn’t hear a breath, couldn’t see his chest moving. He worried his lower lip again and I couldn’t take my eyes off the gesture. My gut was still disturbed, but it wasn’t an entirely unpleasant feeling. I suspected I knew where this discussion was leading, too.
“Yeah,” I said, more firmly. “You. As you are. Liked you the first day I met you.” Fell for you shortly after. “Whatever crap I say to the contrary, it’s good to know I can rely on you. Good to know you look out for me. Yeah, you drive me mad. But…” What should I say? How should I say it? He could take a joke like the next guy, but this was something else. “You’re a challenge to me. It’s exciting.”
“You mean the differences?” He was looking at me from under half-lidded eyes.
I held his gaze, trying not to blush like some idiot. “More than that. You…yourself.”
He nodded. Didn’t answer.
It was still my spot on stage, I knew. “So, I can see that this lifestyle of mine is a problem for you.”
“Yeah. And I’m sorry about that, I genuinely am. I guess it wouldn’t hurt me to be a little more responsible. It wouldn’t hurt me to admit that just concentrating on me doesn’t always get me where I want to be. That sometimes I have to backpedal for a bit, and mop up a few mistakes. That sometimes I wish…”
Ryan’s mouth opened slightly and he moistened his lips. “Chaz…”
“I wish sometimes I’d thought things out a little more carefully.”
He looked startled. “You mean, like the moving?”
“Uh-huh.” But that wasn’t actually what I was thinking about. I was suddenly more concerned that I’d let some pushy blond with cute manners talk me into a separation that—if I’d ever had the sense to realize it—I’d never wanted. I did like the way he looked out for me, provided the anchor for my occasional turbulence. Yeah, I blustered about it but, yeah, I’d missed it. And if I’d put some kind of careful thought into the whole separation suggestion, rather than the arrogance I wore like a badge of honor, I might have been able to bring some compromise to the table, rather than a shrug and a surrender. It was a two-way street. Or so someone once told me.
Ryan’s face was a picture—a picture of strange, shocked hope. At least, I hoped that’s what it was, and not permanent hemorrhoids from sitting on the damp, crappy stools that I was sure I’d thrown out after the last move.
“I can see things a little more clearly, too,” he said. His voice wasn’t hoarse anymore. It was soft and low, issuing from those soft yet firm lips of his. Ryan spoke a lot of sense, of course. He could be a fool, same as I could, but I knew it was plain cussedness that often prevented me from distinguishing between the two. “I guess I can see that it’s not the end of the world, not having a plan.”
My turn to be startled. “No?”
His face twisted in a wry smile. “Guess that’s something from a control freak like me, eh? Sometimes I like the carefree, the sudden. The spontaneous.”
“I’m working on it. You’re worth it.”
Dammit. That sly grin of his infiltrated my defenses like a rat under a fence. I took another of those deep breaths. “Ryan, I want to do something fairly spontaneous right now, but I’m just not sure how close you are to that coffee machine, which will either explode in your face or you’ll want to beat me off with it—”
He beat me to it, instead. He took two more steps forward, slid his hand around the back of my neck, pulled me forward and kissed me. Hard. His lips were at the firm stage, his palm was slightly sweaty—just how I liked it on my skin—and he smelled like the most delicious thing I could think of, if I’d been able to think clearly at that moment, if his tongue hadn’t been sliding into my mouth, if he hadn’t been whispering against my cheek such incoherent sounds of need, such gasps of please…
It wasn’t only the cute manners I was a sucker for.