Reed obsesses over a fight with his boyfriend and worries Kristos walked out for good.
There was nothing spectacular about their first meeting. Nothing earth-shattering, in fact it was all so very ordinary, it made Reed feel unremarkable. Who wanted to admit they met the love of their life reaching for the same box of cereal? One box of bran flakes with raisins led to him falling head over heels for a man with smiling eyes and the sexiest mouth ever created. He had stared too long…he always stared too long at Kristos. It was impossible not to, so fucking impossible. A man like Kristos was hard to ignore, harder to resist when he smiled back and proceeded to take the darned cereal box hostage.
Reed had clung to it too, as though there weren’t a whole row of the same brand. Why that particular box had seemed so relevant, Reed didn’t know. Well, to be honest, he had wanted a reason to continue staring at Kristos. To keep talking to him, to see his eyes brighten in amusement. That deliciously sexy mouth curved just so, into a smile that made Reed’s heart dance and his blood pressure rise in all the most delicious of ways.
Reed pressed his hand to his chest to calm his fluttering heart now.
There wasn’t a part of him that man didn’t own. It was unfair. How thoroughly Kristos mattered. Utterly devastating.
Because, after three years of merging their lives into one big wonderful entity: molding routines around each other, carving their loft in Brooklyn into a gorgeous space, getting grocery shopping down to an art, and finally getting Kristos to stop dropping towels on the bathroom floor…their world crumbled into pieces.
They had fought three days ago.
Loud, mean, and damaging. Enough for Kristos to walk out of their shared loft. He wasn’t sure whether Kristos had left to save them, or end them.
Reed closed his eyes at the memory of their war of words.
Make no mistake. Their fight felt like a WAR.
Yes, the word war fit. There just was no other way to describe it. Reed rather imagined bombs dropping, like in the 1920s, like in the WWI and WWII documentaries Kristos liked to watch on NatGeo. A bit dramatic to describe their fight, but shit, that was what it felt like. Walls crumbling around them, debris in the air, making it hard to breathe. The man he loved walking out the door after calmly saying they needed space from each other.
As though their life had a stop button to push and say, enough, let’s stop for a minute. Oh hey, that’s blown over, push the start button again, let’s keep moving forward.
Reed scoffed, still rubbing his chest. It was necessary. The ache in his chest wasn’t something he could stop. Not with medicine, not with sleep, not with oblivion from drinking bottles of wine. He’d tried each one, and still, the ache stayed.
Reed was terribly afraid the feel of Kristos in their bed was the only thing that would cure this pain, his arms thrown over Reed in possessive abandon. Or the simple pleasure gained watching Kristos working at his desk in the corner of their living room on Monday evenings. Having Kristos sit at the kitchen table helping him cut green beans for Thursday dinner. Or folding laundry while Kristos ironed on busy Saturday mornings. His personal favorite was late Sunday afternoons, cuddled together on the great couch in the living room at their loft. Reed reading a book, while Kristos dozed and read whatever page Reed was reading. This ache inside him would only be cured if he got that back. Get back to those beautiful ordinary experiences that turned their life extraordinary.
The ache grew wider, deeper somehow, when Reed imagined that Kristos might not want to come back home. He had thought that he was over this terror of losing Kristos, but it seemed like it existed, still.
Reed bunched his t-shirt, and for a full minute, feared he might not make it to the next breath. A bit juvenile, but there was no other way to describe it. Heartbreak was not easy. It wasn’t, and he hated every minute of it. Hated the idea of Kristos breaking his heart and leaving him.
A gentle voice cut through his tortured thoughts, bringing him back to the present. The sun was in his eyes, blinking; Reed reached up and brought down the sunglasses from their perch in his hair. He focused his gaze on the brunette sitting across him, and gave her a small smile.
“Thinking about Kris?”
Reed ignored her question, and instead picked up his stylus, scribbling notes on his tablet under the coffee cup designs.
“Serena, let’s finish outlining your ideas,” Reed said, hoping he sounded like a man in control.
He wasn’t, far from it, so it was important to sound like he was. Otherwise, he was likely to fall apart, and that just couldn’t happen. Not to him.
“It’s alright to take a break, Reed.”
Reed leaned his elbows on the table, watching Serena, half his face hidden behind his sunglasses. Thankfully, they sat outside on a sunny day, so he wasn’t totally crazy looking. Serena sat back in her chair studying him. Her lips a vibrant shade of salacious red. Her brown eyes highlighted by mink black eye color. Serena fit the descriptions in books when writers attempted to define sultry, sexy, and sophisticated. Well, when he read those kinds of descriptions, Serena always popped into his head. She was a petite woman, who fit into her clothes to perfection, comfortable in her own skin, confident in business.
She owned the coffee shop they were now about to spend half the day in with no real progress into what had brought him here.
“If you want a whole new set of menus and coffee cup covers, we’re going to need focus.” Reed felt compelled to point out.
He hated non-productive days, and this was turning into one.
“I trust your creativity,” Serena said. “Why don’t you design it all? I always love it anyway. Why don’t we focus on what’s important?”
“And what’s that?” Reed asked, clipping his stylus onto his tablet knowing Serena was not going to change her mind. Which suited him actually, then he’d have free reign to design her stuff without extensive meetings. He loved that about Serena.
The constant trust.
“Have you talked to Kris?” Serena asked, already moved on from her business.
Reed reached for his coffee mug and took a healthy sip. The coffee was perfect at the Riddle Me coffee shop. Serena’s secret blending tricks brought in hordes of people, keeping the coffee shop running in the black. Serena’s only goal in life, it seemed.
“Is he calling at all?” Serena asked, her tone gentle, as though she were dealing with a feral animal.
It annoyed him.
“I don’t want to talk to him,” Reed answered. “We said all we could to each other. He left. I’m coping.”
“So, he’s calling, and you’re not answering,” Serena deduced. “Reed.”
“I’m not some mangy cat about to scratch your eyes out,” Reed snapped when she kept up that gentle tone. “Let’s drop the subject. If you’re not going to talk about your ideas, I’m heading back to my office. I have a ton of work—
Reed started to stand, but Serena was faster. She shifted into the chair beside him in record time. Her arms going around his shoulders, stopping him from leaving.
“Come stay over my house for the weekend. It’s Friday night. We can go out.”
For a crazy moment, he contemplated it, wanting nothing more than to forget the absolute emptiness inside him. But—
It wasn’t fair to subject anyone to his mood right now.
Actually, that wasn’t right.
He did not want to see other people having a good time when he felt so down, so utterly wrecked. It would only make him feel worse.
Reed sighed and turned to face Serena.
Her brown eyes were full of worry, for him. She always worried for him, and he appreciated it more than anything in the world, because she was his big sister. They had seen each other through a lifetime. Being only twenty-six years old, lifetime was a bit of an understatement, but whatever. He had the right to that statement because lives could be classified into a thousand different lifetimes.
Pulling her into a tight hug, Reed buried his nose into her shoulder and breathed in the scent of roses. Serena always smelled like roses.
Serena rubbed his back, offering comfort.
“This is enough right now,” he murmured, holding her tight. “I need time.”
“Kris loves you.” Serena stated, there was no doubt in her voice. “He loves you, Reed.”
Reed closed his eyes. He loved Kristos too. More than himself, but that still didn’t stop the hurt, or fix their shouting match the other day. Love could be so inadequate.
“Answer his calls,” Serena advised. “You know you need to.”
Reed squeezed his eyes shut, let out a soft sigh, and then moved to let go of Serena. He pressed a kiss on her smooth cheek and touched the sparkly earring on her earlobe.
He got up and picked up his tablet and his phone.
“Answer Kris’s calls,” Serena repeated, as though willing him into submission.
Reed gave her a small wave, and walked away, headed out of the courtyard and into her charming coffee shop. Once outside, Reed went to his car and decided to head home. No work would get done today. His brain wasn’t in it. His heart too damaged, which was bad for business. Creativity deserved full dedication, and he didn’t have it in him today.
Stopping at a junction, waiting to turn left, Reed looked out the window, and stilled when he saw the Pratt Institute buildings. He passed by them daily, especially after visiting Serena’s coffee shop. Kristos was probably inside, teaching students the great art of architecture. Kristos was respected for his skill, his firm having been commissioned for numerous private and public work projects. He lectured at the Pratt Institute, his class sought after as students wanted to learn from him. Reed, sometimes, stopped by on a free day like today and they would go out for lunch, or coffee. Today though, Reed kept driving, turning left headed back to their loft, his heart aching even deeper.
Home was a renovated warehouse loft in Clinton Hill. Their unit was in the top floor: a penthouse graced with double-height ceilings, oversized windows that flooded them with light, and a private balcony where Reed loved to work. Opening the door, Reed paused to drop his keys on a table right by the entrance. He stopped when the scent of freshly brewed coffee filled his senses. His gaze flew to the open space to his right where the kitchen was and froze when he saw Kristos leaning on the kitchen counter.
Closing the front door, Reed stood staring at his lover. Every cell in his body demanded he run to Kristos. Reed leaned on the door, until he had control over the urge.
Kristos’s voice filled him up inside, his slight accent sending thrills running through him as it always had for as long as he could remember.
“You’re not at the institute.” Reed noted, knowing it was a stupid observation, but unable to help it.
He pushed off the door and forced himself to walk into the living area. Placing his tablet and phone on a short table, he took in a short breath. He touched the couch arm, wanting to sit and ignore Kristos in the kitchen, but he couldn’t. Instead, he leaned on the back of the couch, his gaze on Kristos who still stood in the kitchen. A mug of coffee sat steaming on the counter table. Kristos left it untouched, instead his gaze on Reed.
“Can we talk?” Kristos asked.
Reed crossed his arms against his chest, his gaze on the red carpet in the living area.
“The last time we talked, we tore each other apart.”
When silence filled the room, Reed looked up to find Kristos standing a few feet away from him. Kristos looked too good, even with his clothes wrinkled, and dark circles under his eyes. Reed was a little ashamed at the happy jolt that Kristos was not getting enough sleep away from him. Still, Reed felt relieved that he wasn’t the only one unhappy.
“I love you.” Kristos opened, shattering Reed, turning him weak at the knees. It was a good thing he was leaning on the couch. “That will never change, Reed. I need you to know that.”
It took Reed a moment to find his voice.
“I never want to fight with you the way we did on Tuesday. I haven’t been able to think since. You wouldn’t answer my calls, and coming home after I left—
“Why are you here now?”
“I needed to see you.” Kristos took a step closer, then stopped, hands at his side. He looked nervous. “I—I was worried about you.”
Reed looked away then because he suddenly wanted to run into Kristos’s arms and hope that all would be fine. But their fight on Tuesday didn’t allow for it.
Thinking about their fight, Reed bit his bottom lip. It started simple. A heated discussion about visiting Kristos’s family. Reed wanted to meet Kristos’s family. Yet, Kristos refused to tell him anything about where he had come from. He hadn’t thought it mattered, until Kristos told him that he wasn’t in a relationship with the Stephanos family.
Reed had felt insulted by that statement. Kristos knew every part of his life, had met every single person he knew, from Serena, to his mother and his crazy big brother who was married and living in Virginia. Kristos had seen Reed through his father’s funeral, and helped Reed’s mother move houses when she couldn’t stand living in their childhood home.
So many memories made with Reed’s family, yet, Reed had none with Kristos’s family.
Kristos’s need to keep his family away from Reed felt like a rejection, a slap on the face.
“Are you ashamed of me?” Reed asked on Tuesday, left with no other explanation.
“Am I someone to hide away from your family? Is that it, Kristos?”
“Don’t be over dramatic.”
“No, I think I have to be,” Reed argued, hurt and confused. “That’s why you won’t tell me anything about your family, or how we’re able to afford living in this loft, because I certainly can’t pay for it.”
“What? Comment on how I’m a kept toy living in your loft for your convenience, your pleasure, not good enough to be your partner. To introduce to those who are important to you. Your blood family.”
Reed rubbed his forehead now, unable to dwell on the rest of their argument. It had gotten too dirty. They had scraped the barrel on insults, thrown them at each other until Kristos walked out. How they had gotten there, Reed didn’t know. But that they had, meant they needed to talk, and be honest with each other.
Looking at Kristos now, Reed started to bring up the topic only to have Kristos close the distance between them. He started to protest but then Kristos wrapped strong arms around him, filling his nostrils with the scent of sandalwood. Kristos lips took his in a breathless kiss and Reed melted into him. He clung to Kristos’s broad shoulders, hunger filling him as it always did when they kissed. He wanted everything Kristos had, everything…and this kiss wasn’t enough. Bunching Kristos’s shirt, he broke the kiss and buried his face into Kristos’s chest.
“This isn’t fair,” Reed complained, his voice muffled against Kristos’s chest. Familiar hands rubbed over his back, righting his world. “You can’t walk in here, tell me you love me, kiss me, then—
“I’ve kissed you because I didn’t think I could stand another minute not being able to touch you, Reed,” Kristos whispered into his ear. “I know, I know what the fight on Tuesday cost us. I’ve had a lot of time to think sleeping on the couch in my office.”
Reed closed his eyes at the thought of Kristos spending his nights on the couch in his office. It wasn’t long enough to fit his large frame. What about meals? Had Kristos even had a decent meal since that Tuesday? The man tended to rely on fast food when he was too busy.
Reed wrapped his arms around Kristos and held on.
“My father is Estevan Stephanos,” Kristos said, his tone low. “Lives in Athens with the woman he married after he left my mother. It wasn’t a neat separation. He cheated and treated my mother and me terribly doing it. We don’t talk about family, just business, through his staff. I never want him to hurt you as he does me, Reed. So, I didn’t want you to meet him because he is not a pleasant man.”
Reed opened his eyes, staring at Kristos’s blue shirt.
“My mother is Adara Stephanos,” Kristos said, his arms tightening around Reed, pain in his voice. “The divorce changed her. You would have loved her before it. She was vibrant and her laugh as beautiful as the sunshine breaking over the Aegean. Her laugh made you happy just hearing it. After the divorce, she turned bitter, and unhappy.”
“She left home, and me. She spends my father’s money traveling and never stops long enough for me to reach her. Most days, I feel that’s better because it hurts talking to her. When I hear her voice, I remember the woman she used to be, and want her back, but can’t. When I moved here to the States for work, I took it as a clean slate, a clean start. Then I met you, and it really turned into a new life. I don’t like discussing my family because they have issues, and sometimes I feel that I might carry what they have inside.”
“Kristos,” Reed murmured, now holding Kristos tighter too.
“I love your family, because they include me, Reed. Serena, your brother, your Mom,” Kristos said, his voice tight. “You, Reed. You’ve become my family, baby. The family I choose and I should have told you that on Tuesday instead of letting us fight the way we did.”
Reed felt tears sting the back of his eyes. All the reasons he loved Kristos welling over in one big wave. This, right here, the way Kristos undid him with a few words.
“As for the reasons we’re able to live here,” Kristos sighed. “I—
“Stop,” Reed said, clearing his throat when his voice sounded rough around the edges. “I wasn’t being fair. We’re not—, I was being an ass.”
“You’re important to me, Reed.” Kristos pulled back so that he could look into his eyes. “The only person I care about, more than my life. Do you understand? I can’t—, I can’t be without you.”
Reed pressed his palm to Kristos’s jaw.
“Me too, it’s been insanely hard to get through a day,” Reed confessed. “When you walked out Tuesday, I got scared, and have been thinking the worst. You have no idea how relieved I was to see you standing in the kitchen today.”
Kristos smiled for the first time, and Reed felt his wayward heart skip as it always did in the presence of this man.
“I have something for you,” Kristos said, brushing a soft kiss on his jaw.
Reed allowed Kristos to take his hand and lead him to the kitchen table. Kristos urged him to sit on a chair. Pushing a tablet toward him, the screen already turned on, Reed stared at what looked like numbers.
“Kristos?” Reed frowned.
“I’m not a drug dealer,” Kristos stated, making Reed chuckle. “I know you didn’t mean it when you said it, but it stuck in my head. I get money from my father, and use it for the business because it’s good sense. We’re able to afford living here because of the firm.”
“You’ve never let me help you pay rent,” Reed complained, wanting to air that out.
“Because the property is owned under my firm’s name,” Kristos said gently.
“Anyway, how can I take rent from my husband?”
Reed was busy studying the accounts Kristos was showing him, that for a second Kristos’s words didn’t register. When they did, he lifted his head up in surprise and stared at Kristos.
“What did you just say?”
“Marry me,” Kristos said.
Reed gaped when Kristos reached into his pocket and pulled out a ring. A gorgeous black and blue cobaltium mokume band, handsome and wearable. Reed loved it at first sight.
“Why are you this unfair?” Reed asked, pushing the tablet away. “You leave me no reasons to stay mad at you, Kristos.”
Kristos smiled then, that smile that set Reed to staring, to thinking that he didn’t know how he had gotten this lucky.
“I want to keep you for good. The only way to make sure that happens is if I marry you, that way no matter how much we fight, you won’t get away from me.”
Reed chuckled and pushed his chair back. He moved the kitchen table aside and straddled Kristos’s lap. Taking the ring, he sank his fingers into Kristos dark hair, tracing a soft kiss on Kristos’s lips.
“Kristos,” Reed murmured.
“Yes, my love.”
“When I marry you, it’s for life,” Reed said, looking into beloved eyes.
Kristos chuckled and held his gaze, his expression filled with hope.
“It’s become increasingly obvious that without you, I might not survive. So, I hope you marry me soon, Reed, and let’s never fight like this again. My heart can’t take it.”
Reed wore the ring on his left ring finger, and smiled when Kristos captured his hand and pressed a soft kiss on his knuckles.
“First,” Reed said, pressing a kiss on Kristos’s forehead. “I’m sorry about going off about money. We’ve been running the house jointly, let’s continue doing that, Kristos. Your accounts are yours.”
“If we ever need to change it up in the future we will, but I’m content with our setup now,” Reed cut in gently. “Okay?”
Kristos studied him for a moment, then nodded. “Okay.”
“Two,” Reed wrapped his arms around Kristos, holding his gaze. “I love you too. So, I’ll one day have to meet your parents, Kristos.”
When Kristos started to shake his head, Reed sunk his fingers into Kristos hair to sooth him.
“They might be messed up, love, but they did one thing right,” Reed said. “They gave me you.”
Kristos stilled then, closing his eyes when Reed pressed a soft kiss on his nose.
“Three,” Reed said with a quick smile. “You, Kristos Stephanos, are my family too. My most important person in the world. I don’t ever want to be without you, so yes, I will marry you.”
Kristos let out a soft breath and held him tight.
The heavy weight that had filled Reed’s heart lifted, disappearing in the scent of sandalwood and kisses that healed and aroused. The past three days disappeared, and when Kristos stood, lifting him along, Reed couldn’t help the happy laugh, grateful for this love that was his to keep.