Holiday season in dingy Stevenage, with its High Street fairy lights and cheap fake spray snow, was further removed from New York than could be accounted for by mere geography. If it hadn't been for a couple of things Ed might have thought the whole past few months had been a dream.
One was a random crowd of girls on the street – the first of many. It wasn't even his neighborhood, so it wasn't as if he'd been at school with them. Maybe with their older sisters, because the first ones brave enough to get their magazines out and approach him must have been all of twelve. Jesus. He was going to leave the scarf at home next time – it was a dead giveaway.
The call with Chace had been even more excruciating.
"So… I wanted to say thanks. For, you know."
"No need, mate. What are friends for, if not to—"
"Drag you into some hot man-on-man action?"
"I was going to say stick their dick up your ass, but somehow you made it sound dirtier."
"So. Have fun in Miami, yeah? For your Uncle Ed."
"Yeah. Yeah, I will."
So that was that, and apparently he hadn't imagined any of it. Chace really was going off to Miami with – okay, so Ed didn't even know the guy's name, but whatever. Chace was going off to Miami to be seduced by this guy of his quite happily now that he'd had chance for a quick practice shag with Ed, and Ed was…
Jimmy raised his eyebrows. "You are…?"
"I'm in the pub. I've missed this pub." Ed tipped Benny's cigarette packet upside down and shook it, but nothing fell out. He crumpled the packet and dropped it in the ashtray. There were at least fifty people between them and the bar, and they'd moved the cigarette machine since he was here last. "And I'm absolutely fucking fine. Too fine for Chace fucking Crawford, some might say." He leered unsteadily over the table.
"You like him," Jimmy crowed, and Ed remembered why New York was so great now.
"I need new friends," he grumbled, thumbing uselessly at his lighter. His lighter which was no good because there weren't any cigarettes. "I've broken you lot. None of you love me any more and Benny's out of cigs."
"Christ." Jimmy frowned. "You really do like him."
"Fuck off." Ed pushed his pint aside and pulled the next one closer to him. Ah, beer. Beer was his friend. One that didn't try to pull his secrets out of his brain, although sometimes it helped them along the way. "It was a charity shag, and it won't happen again. He's a nice boy, and I think we all know that's never been my type."
"Yeah." Jimmy nodded sadly. "Those are always the ones to watch out for."
Ed was tempted to tell him he looked like a constipated beagle when he did that, but Benny was pulling out another packet of cigarettes with a put-upon sigh and the lighter was enough of a challenge for now.
Fucking thing was probably broken too.
* * *
Two weeks later, of course, it was nights in the pub with the band that seemed a distant memory, and New York—ah, New York was just how he'd left it. His apartment was just how he'd left it too, which was more of a problem.
He really did need to find a new place.
"Wow. Didn't you say you only smoke when you drink?" It looked even worse with Chace standing in the middle of the overflowing ashtrays a week later. He was clean and shiny, all white teeth and unnaturally healthy glow.
Not my type, Ed reminded himself. And he really wasn't, but there was something about him today that made Ed want to smile back, and keep on smiling.
Chace looked happy. Not doing his usual Nate-style brooding, not faking a big smile for the cameras, not holding back his laughter at Ed's antics as if it would embarrass him if he burst right out with it. Just… relaxed and happy.
"I do," he said, raising an eyebrow. "Want one?"
Ed didn't just know the rules of guy interaction, he had the book memorized. The only way straight men are comfortable around a bi guy is if he knows how to pass. So, first beer for sports and work talk, second for family and significant others, and personal questions between guys have to wait until at least the third drink. And if the question is along the lines of 'So how did your big gay adventure in Miami go, straight boy?' that should never, repeat never be attempted before the fourth, and maybe not before words are slurred, songs are sung, and at least one teary 'I really love you, man' has been exchanged.
Chace, it seemed, had never been within a mile of the book. And about halfway through his shy recounting of the – thankfully – less intimate highlights of his trip and the days since he arrived back in the city, it occurred to Ed that this was probably because Chace was anything but straight.
It should have been less of a surprise. Chace, after all, had asked for advice on how he'd know if a guy was interested in him, not about how he might be gay. And then there was the whole thing where Chace had begged Ed to fuck him. Yeah, that had been a big clue.
Time to throw the rulebook out, then. "So, what about women?"
Chace stopped mid-sentence and screwed his eyes up. "What?"
"You've got a girlfriend, man. And you might not have been with a guy before, but if you were a blushing virgin then I'm the Queen of England."
Chace shrugged. "They don't last long if you don't sleep with them. And the sex is okay, you know?"
Oh, Ed knew. "They don't last long if you screw around on them either, baby." He grinned and raised his bottle in a mock toast. "Score one point for the guys."
"JC thinks it's better to keep seeing her. Or a girl, whoever."
Ed had to concede it was probably a good decision if Chace wanted to be able to cast reasonable doubt on the relationship at some point. But JC? Stupid fucking name. He toyed with the lighter, even though he no idea why he was fidgeting like a teenager on a first date. "And he doesn't mind?"
"We don't own each other," Chace said, and reached for a cigarette. It twitched between his fingers, so Ed flicked his lighter open and steadied Chace's hand while he lit it for him. He held on just long enough for Chace to notice what he was doing and lower his hand. Chace's eyes were soft, and his gaze seemed to be fixed on Ed's lips.
Not his type? Fuck types.