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by ~MM~
Rated: ASR · Fiction · Contest Entry · #2284227
When a colleague becomes more than a friend
Marc took a sip of his wine, malbec tonight, and sloshed some more into the bolognese. A waft of garlic and chili rose up as he stirred the sauce, and he had a sudden urge just to throw the rest of the bottle in.

There was an unpleasant flutter in the pit of his stomach and he wished he'd picked something else to cook. Anything else. Would Paul read too much into a simple spaghetti bolognese? He'd cooked it several times before. Marc didn't like this uncharacteristic second guessing himself. Paul would have the spag bol or go hungry. Simple.

But... Stop it! Angrily, Marc drained his glass and poured another. Shit, how had he drunk that one so soon? Slow down, you'll be tipsy before he even gets here.

Marc glared at his reflection in the kitchen window, there was a flush in his cheeks that had nothing to do with the wine. And that's why you're mad, he thought. You got drunk last time Paul was here.

A loud knock on the door brought him out of his self-recriminations with a start.

Paul opened the door and let himself in, the black night seeping in behind him. His dark hair was damp and there were rain-streaks on his jumper.

Marc raised an eyebrow; "You walked? In this?"

Paul shook his head - and a flick of rain flew off him.

"Nah, I drove."

Marc's stomach tightened.

"So... no wine then?" He asked lightly, wiggling his own glass towards Paul.

"I didn't say that!" Paul grinned and held up a dripping shopping bag, the unmistakable clank of bottles rang out. "Thought I'd leave the car and walk back. Or stay over, if that's okay?" His voice faltered and petered out.

He's just realised what he's said. What I said last time.

Marc fought off a rising panic.

Play it cool.

"Sure." He shrugged and turned back to the cooking. "Spare bed's still made up; Lorena's had a friend mid-week, but she crashed on the floor in Rena's room."

"She's over at her mother's this weekend?" Paul pulled his wet jumper off and slung it over a chair back. He had changed his shirt since work and lost the tie - it had been navy with Shakespeare quotes in cream today. Yesterday he'd worn some awful psychedelic number that made the year sevens laugh and the sixth formers groan.

Paul poured himself a glass of the malbec and leaned over the bolognese, inhaling deeply and making an appreciative moan.

"Mmmm."

A stab of arousal shot through Marc and he twisted away. Paul lifted his head from saucepan, grinning, some witticism on his lips.

The words died.

A shadow passed across his grey eyes and he shuffled awkwardly away, the wide-mouthed grin gone.

In a stilted, slightly higher than normal voice, Marc made small talk. With difficulty, he lowered his pitch and forced his cadence back into his usual lazy drawl.

They chatted whilst he finished cooking; the miserable autumn weather, the latest Tik-Tok the year nines were driving the school crazy with, the on-going pseudo-feud between the science and geography departments. The normal, easy conversation between them held an edge tonight.

Marc plated up their food and they headed into the living room. When Lorena was home, he made a conscious effort to eat at the table, but tonight he just couldn't be bothered. He felt despondent and deflated. Yes, Paul was here. Despite last week, he'd still turned up for dinner. It was becoming a comfortable Friday night routine; Paul was currently between girlfriends as he put it and living alone. Lorena spent her weekends flitting between Marc's and her mother's; she was settling in to the new school, faster than Marc if he was honest with himself, and didn't seem to mind her father's colleague staying over. In fact, she seemed to quite enjoy Paul's company and had quit calling him 'Sir' at home with alarming alacrity.

Marc sat on the sofa, curling his long legs under himself and balancing his plate on a cushion. Paul plonked himself down at the other end of the couch and reached for the TV remote.

They ate in silence.

Finally Marc put his plate on the coffee table, his meal only half eaten.

Paul watched him thoughtfully, then he followed suit.

"Talk to me," he said.

Marc closed his eyes, a wild urge to laugh choking him. He turned to face Paul, hugging his knees, glad of the physical barrier between them.

"I... I'm sorry for what I said last week. Forget it."

"Did you mean it?" Paul's voice was soft, but there was a sternness that made Marc shiver.

"That I'm attracted to you? Yes." Marc swallowed and forced himself to met Paul's eyes. "I think I still prefer women, most of the time. Since the divorce, I've mostly dated women, but... Forget it! I value your friendship, Paul, far too much to ruin it like this. I... I was drunk the other night, I should never have come on to you like that - I'm sorry!" He blurted out.

Paul was the one that looked away.

"I've never..." He squirmed. "I mean I..."

Marc felt all emotion drain away from him; suddenly he was numb, hollow, exhausted.

"I understand. I'm sorry." He stood. "I'll ring you a taxi."

"No, I don't think you do understand." Paul rose too; stepped closer, so he was only a few inches away. He reached out and tentatively ran his hand down Marc's jaw. "I've never... not with a guy. But... Maybe? I don't know." His shoulders twitched in a helpless shrug. There as a faint note of panic in his voice, but Marc couldn't hear it over the roaring in his own ears.

Paul shuffled closer, his hand still lightly resting on Marc's cheek.

The kiss was gentle, shy almost.

"Maybe?"



Word Count: 976



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