It had been hard at his wedding with Alex in the kitchen. Wade always did his own cooking, always looked after his man. Letting other people get dinner ready and clean had been...strange. But on Noah's birthday it's just him, a rack of lamb and a pot of carrot-yellow pepper soup on the stove.
"That isn't for you," Wade says without turning around. Living with Ricky--or, whatever it is he does, coming in and out of the house at will--has sharpened his peripheral vision to schoolteacher points. He swears the man is better preparation for fatherhood than Kenya and OJ combined.
Ricky shuts the refrigerator door, makes a show of licking his fingers. "Needs more sugar." Soon he's standing over Wade's shoulder, hands in his pockets. Ricky's eyes are on not-him, as if looking directly at Wade would trap him forever. Sometimes Wade likes to think it would. "You're making soup? And turkey? Christ."
"Lamb, actually." He tries not to notice that Ricky's wearing one of Noah's nightshirts, purple-plaid and unbuttoned. He especially tries not to notice that what's baggy on Noah is rather tight on him.
"Jesus," Ricky says. "It's the man's birthday, not his funeral." By the time Wade realizes that Noah would have a smart-ass remark about now--"Where'd you get religion all of a sudden?" maybe--Ricky's asking where Noah is. "Did Baby Gat whisk him off to a nude beach in Spain or something?"
"Alex and Chance took him out for the day," says Wade. "They're probably at the movies by now. You'd know that if you would've got up before the crack of noon."
"It's my day off--sue me. Raphael can handle things just fine." Wade feels Ricky rolling his eyes. "You know what? You're way too uptight to be a writer."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means, aren't you starving artists supposed to be free spirits?" Ricky takes a handful of potato chips from the pantry: the breakfast of champions. "Work when you want? Work while you drink?"
Wade grits his teeth. He wants to say that screenwriting is hard work, unlike screwing guys in your own store. But maybe that would give Ricky the win. Throwing people's vulnerability in their faces is a game to him, one Wade doesn't know how to play. Alex just smacks him on the shoulder; Chance does somersaults with words. But Noah's the expert--he volleys insults back in Ricky's face as if the whole point is just to keep the knives in the air. Sometimes Wade thinks Noah is the worst of them all.
Right now he watches the counterclockwise swirls of carrot-pepper puree as if divining something from their patterns. How to get Ricky to leave, perhaps, or to shut up.
"Cayenne pepper," Ricky says suddenly.
"What are you talking about?"
"The soup--my mom would put a dash of cayenne pepper in it."
"This may come as a shock to you," Wade says, not taking his eyes off the soup, "but I'm not your mother."
"You're not Noah's, either."
Wade stops stirring. He can accept that Ricky loves Noah. He can even accept that Ricky makes Noah happy. But he will not accept Ricky's bullshit in his own house. "And who the hell are you?"
There's a pause. Just as Wade starts to wonder if he's finally beaten the man at his own game, Ricky changes the rules. "You're a much better lay than a conversationalist, you know that?"
"You would know." Wade realizes how childish this sounds, but then, Ricky started it. ("He started it"? Did he just think that?) Wade stirs harder without knowing why. "Are you going to just stand around my kitchen, or what?"
"I'll take my chances with 'what.'"
"Why, you mother--" He remembers the bastards that ganged up on Noah like cowards outside a gas station, the look on Noah's face when he got bailed out of jail for beating the crap out of them. And he realizes he can change the rules too. "There are dishes in the sink. Do them."
Over the sound of running water, Wade wonders, not for the first time, how this had happened. When he used to think of sharing his life with someone--before he thought he'd be sharing it with a man, even--he never imagined he'd be sharing it with two people.
But it's not himself he's sharing. It's his man.
Wade's job is to protect, to care, to do. Long before he was cutting out pictures of Halle Berry or Holly Robinson Peete (and stealing glances at Denzel Washington and Antonio Banderas, even then), he had a poster of Axel Foley on his bedroom wall. His heroes ignored proper channels to stop drug cartels, blew up armored cars to save little girls. Wade loved Noah and so he protected him, even if he had to break the rules to do it. Even if it was sometimes stupid and Noah said, "Wade! I'm not a child, for Heaven's sake."
And Ricky is the same.
Wade remembers Ricky's hand on Noah's shoulder, his, "Oh, God, what's wrong?" when Noah'd came out of the bedroom with a blank expression and his cellphone loose in his hand. ("We're...going to the Image Awards," Noah'd replied.) He hears the jokes that go further back than he and Noah do, knows that Ricky is still the first person Noah asks for advice.
"What movie did they see, by the way?" Ricky asks, up to his elbows in suds. "Noah and them?"
"They didn't say." Wade turns the stove down.
"Happy Feet Two, I bet."
Wade turns a chuckle into a cough. Amid all the less-theaters-means-it's-better stuff he'd dragged Wade to, Noah'd taken him to see Hoodwinked on a date. He'd claimed it was because it was up for an Oscar. Then about halfway through he breathed into Wade's ear as if for a kiss or to whisper sweet nothings and murmured, "The rabbit did it."
"One time," Ricky was saying, "he made me see that 3D Spy Kids movie and pay extra for the glasses, because--"
"'Robert Rodriguez is a genius!'" they finish in chorus, and Wade does laugh then.
Suddenly, Wade's phone rings. There's a mysterious whisper: "You in position?"
("Alex, tell me you're not breaking into someone's house again," says Noah in the background.)
Wade glances at Ricky; he's dumping the dishwater down the sink. "Just about. How far away are you?"
Wade takes the cellphone from his ear. "How are you at setting tables?" he asks Ricky.