Matteo had been acting fidgety all morning. Jude had originally placed the blame for it squarely on the fact that they were going to the zoo after breakfast, but Matteo seemed to get even more twitchy once they were inside Jitter Bug, where, Matteo had assured Jude on the drive over, “They have the best smoothies!”
Just as Jude stepped up to the counter to order, Matteo made a sound. “I see my friend Samuel over there! I’m gonna go say hi.”
“Matt . . . !” Jude said, but Matteo was already winding his way through the tables. Jude watched long enough to see Matteo approach a table where a young boy with dark hair sat with a man with hair that was so blond as to obviously be bleached. With a sigh Jude turned back to the counter and placed an order for two breakfast sandwiches, a large coffee, and Matteo’s pineapple-mango smoothie.
The sandwiches were served in little baskets and Jude wasn’t going to be able to juggle the two sandwiches and two drinks by himself. He called Matteo back over to help and Matteo returned quickly, grinning and talking a mile a minute. All Jude could make out was Samuel’s name and ‘sit with them’.
“So can we?”
“Can we what?” Jude said, distracted by making sure Matteo didn’t dump his sandwich in his excitement.
“Sit with them,” Matteo said with an eye roll.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Jude said cautiously. “Is that alright with Samuel’s . . . ?”
“Yes, I just told you! Come on.” Matteo began walking towards Samuel’s table without waiting for Jude to respond.
Jude shook his head and followed. His tongue felt thick in his mouth when he got close enough to get a good look at the man sitting at the table for which Matteo had made a beeline. Matteo had already taken the chair beside Samuel, so Jude was forced to sit beside the very good looking blond.
“Is it alright if we join you?” Jude managed to say before he sat.
“It’s fine,” the blond said. “Besides, it would be impossible to separate them now.” He smiled and Jude’s heart thumped loudly in his ears. The blond reached out and pulled back the empty chair. “Have a seat.”
Jude couldn’t tell if the man was flirting or just being helpful. “Thank you,” he said. Jude set his basket and coffee cup on the table, then settled onto the chair. He glanced at Matteo, who had his head tipped towards Samuel. Matteo was grinning and talking and spitting little bits of egg.
Jude kicked Matteo’s foot under the table and shoved a napkin towards him when he got his attention. “Don’t talk with your mouth full.”
Matteo smiled, showing Jude a mouthful of masticated food.
“Nice,” Jude said.
Matteo and Samuel giggled, but Matteo took the napkin and half-heartedly cleaned up some of the egg he’d gotten on the table.
“Sorry if you were planning on having a nice, quiet breakfast,” Jude said. He held out his hand. “I’m Jude, by the way.”
The blond took Jude’s hand in a grip that felt more like a caress than a handshake. “Gideon. And breakfast with Samuel is never quiet.”
They grinned at each other in commiseration at having to deal with twelve-year olds. Jude picked up the breakfast sandwich, though he felt self-conscious eating in front of Gideon when he wasn’t eating as well.
“Gideon plays basketball,” Samuel said. He was looking right at Jude when he spoke.
Jude raised an eyebrow and tried to act surprised. “He does?”
“He’s really good, too.”
Jude glanced at Gideon, who shrugged. “I’m alright.”
Samuel sputtered, but before he could dispute Gideon’s modesty, Matteo spoke. “Jude’s an agent. He represents a lot of famous people.”
“Any basketball players?” Gideon said.
“The agency represents a few,” Jude said.
“Gideon drives a Porsche,” Samuel said.
“Jude cooks so good he could be a chef,” Matteo said.
“We get it,” Jude said dryly in an attempt to cover his embarrassment. “We’re both awesome. Finish eating.”
Matteo and Samuel tipped their heads together again and talked quietly. Jude took another bite of sandwich.
“What’s your favorite thing to cook?” Gideon said.
Jude thought while he finished chewing. He took a sip of coffee before answering. “My mom’s lasagna.” It wasn’t the most complicated thing he’d ever made, and even though he used all the same ingredients and followed her instructions step-for-step, hers still tasted better, but there was something about recreating one of the first things his mom had taught him how to make that filled him with a sense of satisfaction.
“Pancakes!” Matteo supplied. “And that chocolate cake.”
“Gideon likes pancakes and chocolate cake,” Samuel supplied.
Gideon choked on the sip of coffee he’d just taken. Jude was glad he wasn’t the only one who found this line of conversation to be awkward. Still, Jude couldn’t help glancing towards Gideon’s left hand when he began stacking his and Samuel’s empty dishes. He wasn’t wearing a ring, but that didn’t mean much these days.
“We should probably get going,” Gideon said. He gave Samuel a warning look, but he did sound regretful.
“Where are you guys headed?” Jude asked. Just to be polite.
“The zoo!” Samuel said, quickly and loudly.
Matteo’s eyes went round. “So are we!”
Matteo couldn’t lie to save his life, and Jude started to get an understanding of why he’d been so jittery all morning. “What a coincidence,” Jude said dryly.
Matteo ducked his head, realizing he was busted. But Samuel was unaware, and he blithely continued with their plan. “Can we go together?” he asked as if the idea had only just then occurred to him.
Unfortunately for Samuel, Gideon was aware of his tells just as Jude was aware of Matteo’s. “Did you two plan this?”
Both boys looked guilty. Gideon shook his head. “You could’ve just said you wanted to invite your friend.”
“But then you wouldn’t have had a friend,” Samuel said with such an innocent look that Jude, if he hadn’t had experience with Matteo, might’ve believed him.
“Are you done eating?” Jude said to Matteo.
Matteo looked like he didn’t want to admit he was, but he finally nodded.
“The two of you wait for us on the bench outside so I can speak to Gideon,” Jude said. He glanced at Gideon. “If that’s alright . . .”
Gideon nodded. “Stay where I can see you,” he said to Samuel.
“Take your drink and bus your basket,” Jude told Matteo.
Matteo slid out of his seat and picked up his half-finished smoothie and the basket. Samuel, looking for points, picked up the dishes that Gideon had stacked together. The two boys tossed the napkins into the trash bin and set the baskets on the tray top. Jude waited until they were both seated on the bench in front of the cafe to speak.
“This might sound forward,” Jude said, “but are you single?”
“Yes,” Gideon said.
“Do you date guys?”
Gideon didn’t answer right away. “Do you think they were trying to set us up?” he said, sounding both surprised and proud.
“I have a strong suspicion,” Jude said. “Matteo’s been antsy all morning.”
“Now that you mention it, so has Samuel. I just thought he was really excited about the zoo.”
Jude laughed. “Me, too.”
“What about you?” Gideon said.
“Am I excited about the zoo?”
Gideon raised an eyebrow. “Are you single?”
“Oh.” Jude blushed. “Yes.”
“Hmm,” Gideon said as he let his gaze travel over Jude. “So how do you feel about going to the zoo together?”
“I wouldn’t mind,” Jude said. “You and Samuel, I notice he calls you Gideon. Step-father?”
“No,” Gideon said. “We met as part of the Big Brother program.”
“Oh,” Jude said. “That’s awesome. He seems to really like you.”
“I get him free tickets to the games,” Gideon said, but he sounded pleased at Jude’s assessment. “What about you and Matt?”
“Actual brother,” Jude said.
Gideon raised his eyebrow at the age difference. “Is there a story there?”
“Yes,” Jude said, thinking about how long it took his mom to find someone she trusted after Oscar. “Maybe I’ll tell you about it one day.”
“Over lasagna?” Gideon said.
“Or pancakes,” Jude said boldly, then immediately flushed a bright red.
“Confident,” Gideon said. “I like it.”
“Do you think we’ve made them suffer long enough?” Jude said to change the subject.
Jude and Gideon looked to the front window where both boys had their faces pressed against the glass. Matteo and Samuel quickly turned their heads around and slunk down on the bench as if that would keep Jude and Gideon from seeing them.
Jude chuckled and shook his head. “I can’t believe they cooked up this plot.” When Jude turned his head, Gideon was staring at him. More specifically, staring at his mouth.
Gideon raised his gaze to Jude’s eyes without the slightest hint of embarrassment at being caught. “I’m kind of glad they did.”
Jude ducked his head to hide the heat in his cheeks, then raised his face. “Me, too,” he admitted. “But we’re not telling them that.”
“Absolutely not,” Gideon agreed.
They both stood. Jude picked up his cup, but before he could reach for the basket Gideon grabbed it. They tossed their trash on the way to the front door, which Gideon held for Jude.
On the sidewalk Gideon held out his hand to Samuel. “Let’s go, kid.”
Samuel obediently stood, but he shared a worried look with Matteo.
“We’ll see you two at the zoo,” Gideon directed to Jude.
“Yes,” Jude said, manfully ignoring the grins and high-fives Matteo and Samuel exchanged. He looked around the parking area when they reached it. “No Porsche?”
“That’s when I want to be noticed,” Gideon said. “Today is just for Samuel.”
Jude’s heart expanded and felt squeezed inside his chest when Gideon said that. “This is us,” he said when they reached his Lexus. Jude waited until Matteo and Samuel were on the other side of the car to speak in a low voice to Gideon. “I should probably tell you that I recognize you.”
“Do you,” Gideon said carefully. “A basketball fan?”
Jude shrugged at that. “I keep up with the Devils,” he said vaguely. “I should also tell you that my last name is Kinkade.”
Zero raised an eyebrow.
“Oscar is my father. Or, as Lionel says, my sperm donor. He would probably be less than thrilled to know that we were . . . friends.”
“It’s a good thing I don’t care what other people think,” Gideon said.
Jude laughed, felt his cheeks go warm again. “Yeah, I’ve noticed that about you.”
“Are we going, or what?” Matteo complained over the car roof.
“We’re going,” Jude said. He used the fob to unlock the car. “Get in.” He turned back to Gideon. “This can just be the zoo,” Jude said. “If things are too weird we can leave it at that. There’s no rule that says we have to do lasagna.”
“Blueberry,” Zero said.
Jude frowned. “Blueberry?”
“That’s how I like my pancakes,” Gideon said over his shoulder as he and Samuel walked away to head to his car.
Jude was smiling when he got in the driver’s seat. Matteo looked hopeful when Jude glanced at him. “Don’t think you’re off the hook for this,” Jude said, but he couldn’t make himself sound too upset about it.
As Jude pulled out of the parking lot with Gideon’s BMW following (Jude did have to admit that it was slightly less flashy than a Porsche) he ran through a grocery list in his head. Blueberries were at the very top.