Neither Rhett nor Link could recall afterwards what they had been arguing about, only that they had been laughing and Rhett had his arms wrapped tightly around a squirming and shirtless Link, trying to tickle him (as it was one of the few things guaranteed to make him crack when he was being moody), when Gregg and another student that neither Rhett nor Link recognised walked into their share house.
“This is Rhett, the tall one, and Link, the short one,” Gregg introduced the two, pointing to them in turn. They flipped him off in practiced unison. “Fellas, this is Tim.”
“Hi,” They both replied, not moving from their previous positions, though Link had stopped struggling, in a vain attempt to make a better first impression. Unfortunately, by suddenly ceasing their earlier movement, they were now simply embracing, a fact they seemed oblivious to.
“Hey, guys,” Tim looked at them, looking somewhat confused and scared when faced with the two hugging men. “Are you, um…?”
“Ignore them. They flirt like that all the time, just to mess with people. Don’t let it bother you,” Gregg said, waving a dismissive hand and walking through the shared living room into the kitchen. Tim followed him with a brief apologetic smile at the other two men.
As soon as they were gone, Rhett and Link pulled apart quickly, avoiding eye contact. The atmosphere had suddenly become much more awkward.
“We don’t flirt, do we?” Rhett asked.
“Of course we don’t. Gregg’s just being a dick as usual,” Link yelled the second sentence, so that Gregg could hear them from the kitchen.
“Sure thing, princess,” Gregg yelled back.
The heard the answering laughs from Gregg and Tim.
Link flopped down on the couch and flipped on the TV, not overly concerned with what was on, though glad that it was a basketball game, as it was likely to take Rhett’s attention quickly and completely. Link just desperately wanted to dodge the embarrassing conversation that Rhett apparently wanted to have.
Link had been avoiding this conversation, or at least variants thereof, since he was 13 and realised that what he felt for Rhett wasn’t exactly friendly. Well, they were friends and he certainly liked being friends, but what he felt went a little beyond that.
So, Link being Link, thought that he’d use his endless charm and wit to convince Rhett that maybe he also had feelings for his best friend. It had started off fairly harmlessly, a few taunts and innuendoes here and there.
When he realised that Rhett wasn’t getting the message, he’d kicked it up a few notches to skinny dipping and, once they’d moved to college, lounging around their shared dorm room in his boxers or at least shirtless. Rhett still hadn’t seemed to notice or care. It was becoming a little frustrating at this point.
To have his behaviour called out like that really hurt, but he couldn’t exactly say so. It’d blow his cover. So he laughed it off anytime Gregg, or anyone else, implied anything non-heterosexual about their relationship, because Rhett did too.
He hadn’t realised that he’d been that obvious. He wanted to be obvious to Rhett, of course, otherwise his plan was useless. But he hadn’t fully understood, until this very moment, that maybe other people had seen what he’d been doing.
Had anyone said anything to Rhett about it? If so, Rhett definitely hadn’t brought it up with him, so he assumed that nobody had.
But people had made fun of them for being gay since they’d been kids, so he didn’t have a hard time believing that if someone had said something, Rhett would’ve just laughed it off.
Rhett plopped his gangly body down on the couch next to Link, snapping Link out of his self-reflection. Rhett didn’t seem phased nor did he seem to notice Link’s inner dialogue, which Link was thankful for.
They were soon enthralled in the game on the screen and when Gregg and Tim joined them with a few drinks and some snacks, it turned into a regular guy’s afternoon. Link consciously didn’t cast any unnecessary glances Rhett’s way.
Two days later, Rhett was sulking in the living room. Link was in class and would be for another few hours. Gregg had just woken up, despite the time being well past midday.
Gregg noticed the glum look on Rhett’s face, so once he’d poured his cereal lunch, he headed back to the couch to talk to his roommate.
“What’s up, man? Why’re ya moping?”
“Nothin’,” Rhett grunted. Gregg shrugged and went back to eating his cereal and finally noticing the day time soap opera that Rhett didn’t seem to be actually watching.
“Seriously, soap operas? Did some girl break your heart or somethin’?” Gregg joked.
“I wasn’t really watchin’ it,” He looked a little pink around the collar, but Gregg didn’t comment, taking the proffered remote and switching it over to the sports channel.
A few minutes of silence went by between the two men, before Rhett turned to Gregg.
“Has Link said anything ‘bout bein’ mad at me?”
“That’s what this is about?” He gestured at the TV, to indicate the travesty he had walked in on.
“No,” Rhett replied, not looking at Gregg at all. Gregg sighed.
“I dunno, man. He doesn’t seem angry. He hasn’t said nothin’. Why do you think he is?”
“We were meant to see a movie last night and he blew me off to study.” Gregg resisted the urge to make a dirty comment about Link blowing Rhett off, just this once, in favour of being a good friend.
“He missed a date and now you’re all bent out of shape?”
“It wasn’t a date. We just have a scheduled movie night once a month. We’ve never missed it before.”
“Like a date night, like my parents have,” Gregg teased. Rhett glared at him and looked as if he wanted to hit him, so Gregg let it go.
“Y’all don’t have to be joined at the hip and you know how Link is about studyin’,” Link, unlike his housemates, studied the college recommended amount, which the other two thought was at least 5 times too much.
“I know,” Rhett sounded defensive.
“If Link was mad at you, I’m sure he’d tell you. He’s not exactly shy, ya know?” Gregg had heard the two best friends arguing over everything and anything before. Neither man seemed the type to hold a grudge and not talk it through.
“I know. I’m just worried about him, is all,” Rhett pretended like it was no big deal. Gregg decided to let him.
“He hasn’t said anything to me, so don’t worry, man. He’s probably just got some test comin’ up or somethin’,”
“Don’t you have most of the same classes?” Rhett asked.
“Yeah?” Gregg seemed confused as to why Rhett was asking, so Rhett shrugged it off and internally hoped that his housemate would pass all his classes, while sincerely doubting its probability.
The three housemates were at a party that weekend, when Gregg finally saw what had Rhett all upset.
Link flirted like he breathed. Gregg had always been a little jealous of that, but he didn’t say anything of course. Rhett was stood with some of his basketball buddies, while Link flirted his way around the room, as was his custom.
But every time he found his way back to Rhett, his demeanour changed. He stood stiffly, not making eye contact more than was necessary and Gregg noticed that he spent less time with Rhett than he usually did at parties. Link always took it upon himself to introduce Rhett to people, or if Rhett wasn’t in a social mood, to spend at least half the party by his side to keep the introverted man company. It was sweet and something that Gregg had never really analysed before.
Now, he couldn’t help but notice its absence. And Rhett looked even more out of his depth as a result.
Next time Link walked by him, Gregg hit his arm, making Link turn to him with a glare and a few slurred choice words.
“What’s up with you and lover boy over there?” He gestured to Rhett, who was easily visible, still crammed in the corner he’d claimed as his for the party and towering above all the other party goers. Link’s glare only got fiercer.
“Nothin’, man. Stop sayin’ things like that, alright?” Link looked around as if to make sure no one had overheard them. The room was packed though, with people getting drunker and louder by the second. No one was paying them the least amount of attention.
“Y’all know I’m only jokin’ around.”
“Well, it ain’t funny.” Link looked seriously bent out of shape, so Gregg held his hands up in surrender.
“Ok, OK. Are you angry with him or somethin’?”
“No. ‘Course not. Why’d you think that?” Link cocked his head, clearly a little fuzzy from the drink in his hand.
“Because you aren’t flirting with him like you usually do and he asked if you had said anything to me ‘bout being mad at him,” Gregg felt a little bad about going behind Rhett’s back to tell Link that he’d said anything, but they both were clearly unhappy and it was in his own best interests to get them back to normal.
“I don’t flirt with Rhett.” He looked as if he wanted to punch Gregg, but Gregg just laughed.
“Of course you do. You flirt with everyone.” He gestured around the room.
“No I don’t,” Link was pouting like a petulant child.
“Dude, I’m pretty sure you’ve propositioned me at least three times,” He laughed. Once was only last week when his mum had sent him a batch of cookies and he’d hidden some from Rhett’s voracious appetite so that Link could have a few when he got home from class. Link had enjoyed those cookies a little too much and offered to show Gregg his appreciation in ways Gregg really didn’t want to ever think about.
Link seemed to think over Gregg’s statement and his eyes went glassy. He’d definitely had a little too much to drink. Before he could retreat too far into his inebriated mind, Gregg pulled him back.
“So you ain’t mad at him?”
“No. I’m not mad at him.” Link looked over at Rhett with a thoughtful glance and Gregg hoped that it was enough to knock some sense into them both before he went crazy.
The next week went by quickly. Gregg couldn’t help but notice that both of his housemates seemed much happier. Almost happier than ever.
They found themselves at another party the next Friday night. Exams were coming up and the student’s needed an excuse to unwind. Well, they never really needed an excuse, but they’d take one anyway.
Gregg once again found himself observing his housemates. While Link still made his rounds of the party, he wasn’t flirting with everyone anymore and he spent more time than usual at Rhett’s side. It warmed Gregg’s heart to see them back to normal, though he wouldn’t admit it under any circumstances. He wasn’t getting all sappy or anything.
During the week, Link had thought over what Gregg said and it was true. He did flirt a lot, more than he realised. So, he’d decided that he would tone it back. Maybe the reason Rhett hadn’t figured out his feelings was because he’d been flirting with everyone. He needed Rhett to put the pieces together and come up with the answer that his best friend was in love with him and had been for years, therefore, he needed to flirt exclusively with Rhett.
Tonight was the perfect excuse to put this into practice. He pulled out all his best moves. He laughed, he joked, he touched him and he used the growing crowd as a means to get closer and closer as the night wore on. Still nothing.
The next morning, as Link was taking his daily 30 minute shower, Rhett cornered the extremely hung over Gregg in the kitchen.
“Has Link been acting weird this week to you?” Gregg groaned. It was déjà vu, only this time, he had significantly less patience for it.
“You mean, the fact that y’all had three date nights and he hasn’t been flirtin’ with anything that moves? If that’s what you mean, then yes, he’s been actin’ weird,” He drank his coffee, though it was still too hot. He really just wanted to escape this conversation and crawl back into bed so he could die in peace.
“They weren’t date nights,” Rhett began the excuse, but Gregg cut him off with a wave. He was going to need to spell this out for him.
“Rhett, Link flirts with anything and anyone.” Rhett nodded, as if to imply ‘obviously’. Gregg wanted to slap him, but settled for rolling his eyes.
“How many people did you see him flirtin’ with last night?” Gregg asked. Rhett reflected for a moment.
“No one.” He said after a moment, looking confused at the discovery.
“Wrong.” Gregg finished his coffee, put his mug in the overflowing sink and went to walk away.
“Who?” Rhett yelled after him. Gregg poked his head back into the kitchen, just as the water stopped running in the bathroom signalling an end to Link’s shower.
“He only flirted with one person last night, Rhett. Figure it out by yourselves, OK?”
Rhett wanted to yell after Gregg, but Link had emerged from the bathroom in nothing but a towel and suddenly whatever he’d wanted to say had disappeared as a lightbulb went off in his head. He couldn’t fight the grin that overtook his features, which the mostly naked and dripping Link mirrored, before entering his bedroom to change. Rhett followed.
The next day, Gregg invited Tim over to watch the basketball game. When Tim walked in, Rhett again had his long arms wrapped around a giggling Link, this time they were entangled together on the couch.
“Hey, guys. Um…” Tim began.
“Just ignore those two. They flirt like that because they’re in loooove,” Gregg laughed. Rhett and Link flipped him off in practiced unison, but didn’t attempt to untangle themselves, perfectly content, even as Gregg and Tim laughed.