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"It's not only me, is it? You feel this ... this thing between us."
"I feel it," Gregory conceded. "But that's just ... attraction. I love Phillip."
"I guess it's my bad luck to find an honest man, isn't it?"
Gregory smiled slightly. "I guess so. Are you going to stay for dinner?"
"Are you going to keep your hands to yourself?"
"The most I can promise is to try."
"I guess that's good enough for me," Gregory said, turning back to his pan. Jim went back to the stove. Everything was back to normal.
Nothing was back to normal.
They couldn't turn the clock back five minutes, even if they both tried to pretend it didn't happen. Gregory wouldn't be able to forget it happened. He wouldn't be able to stop hoping it had happened. And he couldn't stop imagining how Jim's lips would fit against his own.
"Where did you learn how to make lasagna, anyway?"
Gregory blinked and had to run the question through his mind twice more to even understand the words.
"The woman who watched me when I was a kid was Italian. She taught me a lot about cooking."
"And you remember all that?"
"Well, I got a refresher course when I was in my early twenties. She was sick, and I stayed with her on the weekends. I think she was disappointed she didn't have her own children to pass the secrets down to."
"So she gave them to you."
"Who will you give them to?"
"I don't know. It'll be a shame if they end with me. She taught me how to make a lot of different recipes."
"Maybe you can teach me."
Gregory smiled a little sadly. "Yeah, maybe I can."
"I thought I told you not to do that," Jim said with forcedlightness.
"Agree to something because you think it'll make me happy to hear it."
"How do you know I was doing that?"
"Because I made you uncomfortable, and now you're trying to let me down gently. Not only are you honest, you're too good-hearted."
Gregory took a deep breath. "Can you do me a favor?"
"Run down to the store on the corner and buy some wine."
"Any kind in particular?"
"Anything that's cheap." Gregory turned to face him. "Buy a lot of it."
Jim's brows knitted together in a frown. "Any particular reason why you want a lot of wine?"
"I feel like drinking tonight. Don't you?"
"I never turn down a night of drinking, personally. That would be a bad habit to get into. But you don't strike me as somebody who drinks a lot. And I doubt Phillip is a big drinker."
"He's not." Gregory closed the distance between them. "But sometimes..."
Jim remained still, letting Gregory come to him. "What happens when you drink? Some people ... act a little out of character."
"I've been known to get a little grabby, at times."
"Then it's probably not safe to drink with me. I'm not much of a gentleman."
"Phillip will be here."
"What's he going to do?"
"Make sure I don't get too grabby, I suppose."
Jim tilted his head, like he planned to steal the kiss denied him before. For a moment, Gregory thought he would let him. But then he was smiling, and stepping back, putting a safe amount of distance between them. "I'll be back with a couple of bottles."
"I'll be waiting."
The lasagna was excellent. Gregory barely tasted it, but Phillip and Jim both seemed to love it. They raved and both took second and then third helpings. Jim kept the cheap wine flowing, and Gregory lost track of how many glasses he downed. Jim didn't make any more advances, and if Phillip sensed any tension between the two of them, he didn't let on.
Gregory thought he sensed tension between them. Or he might have imagined it. Did he hurt Jim with his rejection? It didn't seem possible. Jim could waltz out of their house and pick up any number of people to soothe his broken heart. Not that Gregory had such a high opinion of himself. He never broke anybody's heart.
He studied Phillip through his lashes. And he never would, if he could help it.
After Phillip and Jim cleaned their plates--and Gregory made a show of finishing his first helping--they retired to the front room with the wine. Even Phillip indulged in a glass, though as soon as he sipped the dark liquid, he grimaced.
"What is this? The cheapest wine available?"
"Yes," Jim answered.
"Because that's what Gregory told me to buy."
Phillip's frown deepened. "Why?"
Gregory shrugged. "To stretch his money further."
"How much have you had to drink so far?"
Gregory shrugged again. He stopped keeping track after they shared the first bottle. There were still three more chilling in the fridge. "A few glasses."
Jim stood. "Speaking of drinking, I've got to hit the head."
Phillip gestured towards the hallway. "First door past the stairs."
Jim sauntered--swaggered--out of the room. Gregory stared. How could a man move that way?
"What's going on, Greg?"
Gregory dragged his attention back to Phillip. "Jim ... tried to kiss me today."
"He asked. I wouldn't let him."
"Why is that so hard to believe?"
"I expected he wouldn't have worried about formalities."
Gregory felt cloudy and raw. "What are you saying? That you expected him to kiss me?"
"He looks at you like he could eat you alive."
He leaned forward. "I don't understand. Usually ... look, remember when that bloke, Kevin, started looking at me like that? You laid him flat."
"This is different."
Phillip closed the distance between them, brushing Gregory's ear with his lips. Each bit of contact made Greg shiver, and he wrapped his arms around Phillip's body. He wanted to stay there, feeling warm and secure, for the rest of the night. The alcohol sloshed in his stomach, and he realized he was getting grabby. He wanted to nuzzle Phillip's neck, and then his chest, and then his cock.
"Because I think you two would be beautiful together."
Gregory reeled back. "What?"
"You think you're the only one attracted to him? Or the only one who enjoys the fantasy?"
Phillip gripped the back of Gregory's neck and pulled him closer. "I'm saying that if you want something from him ... that's fine. If you don't, that's fine too."
"I ... but I don't want you to..."
"You don't have to do anything."
Greg lowered his gaze. "But I want to. It's not worth it to me--none of it's worth it to me--if you're hurt. Or unhappy."
"What did he ask you for earlier?"
"A kiss," Jim said from behind them.
They both looked up, and Greg felt a slow blush crawl up his neck and cheeks. How much had he overheard? Judging from the light in Jim's eyes, he had heard enough. More than enough. And with the taste of wine in the back of his throat, the hungry look on Jim's face, and Phillip's words echoing in his head, he didn't think he'd have the ability--or the desire--to resist Jim a second time.
"I already told you once that I don't want to come between the two of you, Greg. That's not what I'm interested in."
"What are you interested in?" Gregory whispered.
I could be dreaming. This could be a dream.
Or some sort of plot? A joke?
He couldn't say for sure about Jim, but he knew Phillip would never joke like this. It would be too cruel. And Phillip, for all of his stuffy and almost prudish behavior, loved to find ways to drive Gregory crazy. It seemed to be his most secret pleasure. But until that moment, Gregory never had any idea of how deep the pleasure ran for Phillip, or how far he was willing to take it.
Phillip shook his head. "Don't ask me, Greg. I think this all hinges on what you want."
It felt sinful. Gluttonous. That was the right sin. Gregory hadn't gone to church in years, and Sunday school was far behind him, but indulging in this sort of shared fantasy was greedy. Though that was another sin, Gregory thought. Avarice. It was funny how closely those two sins were linked.
He looked up and smiled shyly. "Sorry."
"I think we might have broken his brain," Jim observed.
"I was thinking about ... sins."
"You know what's more fun than thinking about them?" Jim rested his hands on the back of the sofa and leaned forward. "Actually committing some."
"Can I make one request?"
Gregory glanced over to Phillip. He was watching intently, but calmly. There were no telltale signs of anger in his eyes, no twitching of his brow, or thinning lips. He was just waiting to see what Gregory had to say, waiting to see what would unfold.
"I want that kiss. If it doesn't go well, no harm no foul. But if it does go well, then..." Gregory didn't have to finish his sentence. Phillip leaned forward slightly, and Jim's eyes danced.
"I can live with that," Jim promised.
Gregory braced himself as Jim leaned forward. He tried to tell himself that Jim could be a horrible kisser, that after all his fantasies and dreams, the whole experience could be steeped in disappointment. He tried to tell himself that, but he knew it was wrong, even before Jim's mouth actually met his.