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Kris goes to work on his birthday.
Matt gives him hell for it, and Allison and Megan tease him every time he steps foot in the lobby or break room. Kris just shrugs and says he needs the pay more than he needs a day off.
That isn't why he came to the studio, though.
He feels good here; he has fun. Matt and Megan and Allison—they're his friends. Monte, too, even though he's technically Kris's boss. Kris has only been in L.A. for three months; he hasn't really met people outside of work yet. Not anyone he'd rather spend his 24th birthday with, at any rate.
Besides, he does need the pay. And he has a morning session with Cassidy, whose album is turning out amazing. Cassidy is more a friend than a client at this point. Kris feels guilty every time their recording sessions turn into rewrites or screwing around. Cassidy is paying for that time; Kris should be keeping him focused on getting the album finished, not having fun with him.
But the real reason he came in on his birthday is because…it's Friday.
Two months ago, Monte invited everyone out to the Retro Lounge to see his new band perform. Kris knew Monte used to play—he'd even toured with some major artists before he bought the studio and settled down to the 9-5. Kris had been psyched to finally hear some of Monte's guitar work live.
He hadn't expected the singer.
Monte's lead singer had this voice that reached into Kris's gut and shook him, made him drop his conversation and get lost in the sensuality and pitch-perfect accuracy as he transitioned from a wail to a seductive purr. And when Kris turned around to put a face to that shocking voice, it was all over.
The singer had stage presence; he could silence a packed room with a single look. And he had those legs. And eyes. And lips….
Kris had stood in the middle of the crowd, heart in his throat and beer forgotten in his hand. He'd listened, and watched, and afterward he couldn't remember if Monte played a single note, but he was humming the singer's melodies when he woke up the next morning.
Later, Kris had half-convinced himself that he'd been drunk; the singer couldn't be as gorgeous as he'd looked on stage. His voice couldn't be that perfect.
But the very next week, the singer—Adam—walked into Monte's studio, and just like that, Kris was half in love.
Adam has the most amazing voice Kris has ever heard, and he gets to hear it every week, when Monte brings Adam into the studio to record demos for aspiring songwriters.
Adam only comes in on Fridays.
Cassidy is completely distracted today. Kris tries saying a few times, "Hey, I wanna try the bridge again, if that's cool," but he can't get Cassidy to focus on the track they're supposed to be recording. Finally, Kris just shrugs and says, "It's your money," and lets Cassidy cajole him into some improv duets for the last half hour.
When the session's over, Kris follows Cassidy out to the lobby and freezes, because Adam is walking in the front door, and Kris always freezes for a second when he sees Adam. It's a Pavlovian response, the same way his pulse always jumps, and he starts blushing.
Kris's face heats up right on cue.
Adam is dressed down today—there's no leather or glitter, just tight jeans and a t-shirt, eyeliner and mascara, and shaggy black hair. He's wearing his biggest smile, laughing at something Cassidy said, and Kris could stare at him for the rest of his life, or at least the rest of the afternoon, because he's larger than life, the object of Kris's fantasies. And he's looking at Kris right now.
"Hey, Kris," Adam says, still smiling that breathtaking smile.
Kris pretends he isn't blushing and smiles back. "Hey, Adam."
"Tell me the truth," Adam says, dragging Cassidy over to stand in front of Kris. "How's my guy doing? Did he finish any tracks this week?"
"Nope," Kris says, giving Cassidy a pitying look. "We were doing great on Monday and Wednesday, but today he choked."
"I didn't choke," Cassidy protests, "I just needed a break from the stress. My creative juices need room to breathe sometimes."
"Cass, you can't keep booking Kris's time just to flirt with him," Adam teases, wrapping an arm around Cassidy's waist.
"Kris, don't listen to a word he says. I'm not trying to get in your pants, I swear. Adam's the one with the crush on you."
Kris rolls his eyes at both of them; he's heard this before. He knows Cassidy is only interested in club twinks, and Adam is…well. Adam is so far out of Kris's league he may as well be Hollywood A-List.
Adam pinches Cassidy's hip and laughs, "You bitch. That's it; you're off the comp list."
"What comp list?" Kris asks.
"The one for our gig tomorrow," Adam tells him. "It's at the Viper Room. You're getting in for free, but Cassidy has to pay."
Cassidy snorts, "Whatever, like I'd wanna hear you sing anyway. I only go to hear Monte."
"You're a terrible liar," Adam says to Cassidy, and then turns to Kris. "You're coming, right?"
Kris has to remind himself that Adam's hopeful expression doesn't mean what he wants it to. He shrugs and says, "We'll see. I might be too busy."
Adam looks shocked until Kris's smile breaks through, and then he shoves Kris's shoulder and laughs. "You're playing hard to get, now? Somebody's been a bad influence on you!" Adam looks around the lobby for the culprit.
Cassidy throws a hand up. "It wasn't me, I swear."
Kris grins and sticks his hands in his pockets. "You're early," he says to Adam, changing the subject.
"Oh, yeah. Cass wanted to play me some tapes." Adam raises an eyebrow at Cassidy, who raises one right back.
"Yeah," Cassidy says with a conspiratorial smile, and then turns to Kris. "We're gonna be in the listening booth for a while."
Kris raises his own eyebrows. It's none of his business what they do in the listening booth, but he's always game to play along. "Have fun," he says. "There's condoms in the shoebox under the desk."
Cassidy cackles, Adam giggles, and Kris watches them walk away, overflowing with pride at making Adam laugh like that.
"Kris!" Allison calls, and Kris heads over to the reception desk.
"What's up, shrimp toast?"
"Tell me you're doing something fun for your birthday," she says. "If all you're doing is working this weekend, I'll stage an intervention or something."
"Matt and Megan are taking me out for drinks after work," he reassures her, and then asks, "Hey, if you can take a longish break later, I was wondering if you could lay down some backing vocals for one of my songs."
"Yeah, I totally will. This is perfect; I didn't get you a birthday present, so you can have me instead!"
"I'll settle for just your voice," he smiles.
Her own smile turns unexpectedly devious, and she says, "Are you sure you don't want Adam to sing for you?"
"Ally," Kris sighs, blushing all over again.
"I bet he could lay you down something fierce."
"Don't say that," he says, checking over his shoulder in case Adam has come back.
"Mmhm," she says, looking far too knowing for her 18 years. "I know what you'll be wishing for when you blow out the candles."
Matt takes Megan and Kris in his car, and Kris doesn't really pay attention to where they're driving until they've parked.
"Dude, I love this place," he says, hopping out of the car in front of Solano Steakhouse. "They have the best half-priced burger happy hour on Tuesdays—"
"I know," Matt says, trailing behind him. "I'm the one who brought you here the first time."
Kris grins at his friends and pulls the door open. Megan enters first, and Kris keeps holding the door for Matt, like a gentleman. "Asshole," Matt snickers and pushes Kris through ahead of him, somehow stepping on Kris's heel in the process.
The restaurant is smoky from the grills in the open kitchen, the air heavy with the rich smells of hickory-smoked meats and barbeque sauces, and it feels like a little bit of Arkansas in the middle of Los Angeles.
Kris is scoping out the bar area for some seats when his name rings out, and he turns to see a table full of people waving him over.
"Oh my god, you didn't," he gasps, and Matt shoves him again to get him walking.
Kris winds his way to the long table, where Monte, Allison, Cassidy, and Adam are waiting. There's the awkward dance of trying to hug seated people, and when Kris tries to shake Monte's hand, his boss pulls him into a warm hug. And then Kris takes his seat between Cassidy and Megan, beaming at all his friends, his favorite people in L.A.
"You really didn't know?" Allison asks, winking across from him.
"I had no clue," Kris says.
"And this isn't even the real surprise!" Cassidy says. "Wait'll you see what Monte's got planned!"
Kris leans around Cassidy to ask Monte at the end of the table, "What's the plan?"
Monte snorts, "Oh yeah, 'cause I'm totally gonna tell you."
Kris sticks out his lower lip in imitation of Allison's famous pout, but Monte just ignores him.
A waitress arrives with drinks for the table, and Adam tells Kris, "I ordered you a Murphy's Stout."
"Thanks," Kris says and takes a long sip of his pint. Adam raises a martini glass in toast, and Kris takes another sip, smiling so hard his cheeks ache.
Adam came to Kris's birthday party. Adam knows Kris's favorite beer. This is, hands down, the best birthday Kris has ever had.
Some time between the crisp, iceberg-wedge salads smothered with creamy bleu cheese, and the sweet potatoes drowning in butter and cinnamon and sugar, Monte asks Cassidy how his album is coming. Kris listens with half an ear as they talk about the creative process and the rewrites since Kris started recording Cassidy's guitar tracks. He isn't nervous. Cassidy keeps saying Kris is saving his album; he's been pressuring Kris to take a co-writing credit on half of the tracks.
Adam stops teasing Allison about her crush on the Jerry's Subs delivery boy and tells Monte, "Cassidy played me some of the new versions. They're amazing. Kris," Adam calls, getting his full attention, "the things you did with the structure on Holding Down the World, with the longer bridge and new guitar line—you gave me chills, man."
"Exactly," Cassidy says. "He totally turned that train wreck around! I'm thinking of posting that as my first viral single."
"You'll never make any money giving it away," Monte frowns, and the conversation drifts into marketing strategies.
Kris can't concentrate, because Adam has listened to Cassidy's tapes. They've talked about Kris's contributions, and Adam thinks Kris is talented.
Megan leans over and says in Kris's ear, "What's got you looking like that?"
"How am I looking?" Kris asks, and then decides he doesn't want to know. "Just, Adam's talking about my work with Cassidy…."
"Not just with Cassidy," Megan smiles. "I've been letting him listen to your tapes for weeks."
"You mean Cassidy's tapes," Kris says.
"I mean yours. Your original stuff. Every Friday he's in the listening booth with your tapes."
Kris fumbles for his glass and almost spills it down the front of his shirt. He takes a big gulp and says, "You can't do that." It isn't what he means, not at all, but he doesn't have any other words.
Megan laughs, "I know, but he has the hugest crush on you. It's too cute; I couldn't say no."
"He doesn't," Kris says, but Adam is glancing at him and smiling, and Kris wants desperately to believe her.
Solano Steakhouse has incredible burgers and the juiciest pork ribs dripping with spicy-sweet sauce, but Kris splurges and gets a steak: a medium rare, mesquite grilled, bacon-wrapped sirloin steak that's so thick and perfect he almost whimpers.
By the time the waitress passes out the dessert menus, no one's hungry anymore. But dessert is Kris's favorite food group, and Monte reminds everyone that he's paying for dinner. The waitress returns ten minutes later with a tray loaded with dessert plates. There's a lit candle on top of one of the desserts, and everyone cheers as the bowl with the candle is placed in front of Kris.
"Close your eyes and make a wish!" Cassidy says, and his friends hold their breath as he leans forward, eyes slipping shut.
He blows out the candle and wishes.
"Everybody's gotta share; it all looks way too good," Allison declares, just as Kris's spoon is dipping into his bubbling, mouth-watering, peach cobbler.
"Hands off, missy," Kris says. "I haven't had cobbler in months. You're not getting your greedy spoon in this one."
She laughs like she doesn't believe him—but she should. He's not joking.
He takes his first bite of sweet, ripe peach, so hot it almost burns his tongue. The cool of melting caramel ice cream soothes the heat, and it's so good he moans a little around his spoon. His next bite brings the crunch of brown-sugar topping, spiced with cinnamon and a hint of nutmeg that sends him right back to his mama's kitchen. "Oh my god," he says.
"Yeah," Megan sighs. "Triple Chocolate Miracle is right." She licks chocolate frosting from her lips and sighs again. "If I die of orgasms, bury me with this recipe."
"Please do When Harry Met Sally," Matt begs her. "I will pay you to do that right now."
"If you and your desserts need some alone time…" Adam leers at Kris and Megan.
"On that note," Monte says, standing up. "I gotta go get the thing ready." He waggles his eyebrows at the table, to a chorus of whispers and smirks.
Kris watches Monte head for the kitchens and turns back to the table to say, suspicious, "So you're all in on it, huh?" Only he cuts off with a squawk when Megan's scarf falls over his eyes and pulls taut. "Hey, what?"
Somebody—Cassidy—catches Kris's hands before he can pull it off.
Megan sings in his ear, "It's a surprise. That means no peeking!"
Kris can hear Allison and Cassidy giggling. He imagines what he looks like, Megan's floral scarf wrapped around his face, and he wants to giggle, too. He scowls instead, and feels around the table for his spoon. "Great," he says, trying to sound long-suffering. "Now how'm I supposed to eat?"
They're talking around him, and he can tell who's who by their voices and positions at the table. He bats at his ear as something hisses loudly, and then realizes as it moves past that it's a sizzling platter bound for another table. He can hear the excited murmur when it arrives at its destination, and smell the seared meat and black pepper sauce. At a nearby table, someone is singing along to the Kenny Chesney song on the stereo. Glasses clink, and forks and knifes scrape on ceramic, and Kris can feel the happy energy thrumming through the entire room.
His fingers find his pint glass, and he takes a sip. It's bitter through and through, bracing and rich, but it clashes horribly with the lingering sweetness on his tongue, and he sets it aside. He reaches further across the table, feeling where Allison's glass had been a minute ago. His fingers find the cold glass, slippery with condensation. He steals a quick sip of her Sprite, carbonation fizzing just under his nose.
Allison doesn't protest. Instead, she gasps, "Holy crap, Kris, that's amazing!" And he hears the telltale scrape of a spoon in his bowl.
"Hey!" he says, and holds his hands protectively over his dessert.
Cassidy throws an arm around his shoulder and says, "I've got a present for the birthday boy."
The fresh peach slice that had garnished his caramel ice cream presses against his lips, and Kris bites vindictively, snatching it away with his teeth. Adam and Cassidy laugh.
"Hey, guys, gonna need a little help over here," Monte calls, not too far away.
Cassidy stands up, and Kris hears Adam and Matt moving, too. Matt's parting comment is, "Nobody touches my brownie! Heh, wait. I can do that better. Uh, the only person I want touching my brownie—"
"Go, Matt," Megan says.
Kris hears Monte say, "Nah, I only need two of you," and then the chair pulls out next to him, and Cassidy sits back down.
"Alright, pass me Matt's brownie," Kris says, grinning.
"Ah ah," Megan says. "You have to be willing to share."
"Fine," he says, holding up his hands. "Fine. Since you're already holding my spoon hostage."
"We so are," Allison confirms.
Kris sighs and waits for them to deem him worthy of Matt's brownie-fudge sundae.
"Thirsty?" Cassidy asks.
"Yes," Kris pouts. He reaches for his beer, but Cassidy turns Kris's face to the left and presses a glass to his lips. He smells lemon and alcohol, and realizes it's Adam's lemon drop martini just before the glass tips up, and liquor spills from the wide mouth, threatening to drip all down his face. Kris swallows the sugary kick and licks his lips with fast swipes of his tongue, trying to catch the drops he missed.
Cassidy makes a low noise—something between a whimper and a groan—and Kris suddenly sees outside himself, realizes what that must have looked like. He flushes, unbearably hot under the silk scarf, because he just did that with Adam's drink, and he's so damn glad Adam wasn't here to see it.
A strawberry jabs against his lips, the ripe smell unmistakable, and he flinches back in surprise. "C'mon, it's just a strawberry," Allison says, prodding him with the garnish from her New York cheesecake.
Cassidy's arm bumps Kris's shoulder as he intercepts the fruit. He chides Allison, "No no, don't rush it. Watch," and it…it isn't Cassidy.
Kris goes completely still as Adam feeds him the strawberry, brushing the cool tip against his lips. Adam…who is gorgeous, and devastatingly talented, and who Kris is almost completely in love with, and who has a crush on Kris....
No, of course he doesn't, Kris corrects himself.
He takes a shaky breath, opens his mouth, and sinks his teeth into the sweet flesh, feeling the juices drip from his lips. The strawberry is pulled back, and a warm finger swipes across his lip, wiping him clean, and Kris can barely swallow the fruit in his mouth. It's just too much, being this close to Adam and not being able to see him, to know what he's thinking.
Megan says, "Here, open up," and tugs on Kris's shoulder.
Kris goes willingly, grateful to turn his face where Adam can't see him, and Megan feeds him a bite of his cobbler. It's warm and creamy with melted ice cream, dripping messily as she tips the spoon in, and Kris wipes at his chin with his napkin and says, "Thanks," while his mind reels at how Adam just touched his mouth.
"You look thirsty," Megan says, and Kris can't handle Adam's martini again—Adam's, Jesus—but it's her vodka tonic he smells, and he takes a relieved sip of lime and bubbles, the ice bumping cold against his upper lip.
The sip turns into a gulp when Adam's fingers find the back of his neck and rub gently.
"Matt doesn't have to know who ate his brownie," Allison announces, like she's just made up her mind. "But just in case, Kris gets the first bite."
Kris feels a little dizzy from Adam's warm fingers brushing across his skin, the alcohol burning down his throat, and his friends teasing him like this. A spoon nudges his lips, and Kris opens blindly for hot fudge sauce and molten brownie, followed by a cold burst of vanilla ice cream against the roof of his mouth. It's delicious, such a simple, familiar combination, and Kris savors the way it makes sense, like nothing else does right now.
Suddenly, a deep boom reverberates through the restaurant, making him jump.
"Sorry, folks!" Monte yells.
There's a long squeaking noise, like ungreased wheels rolling slowly over the wooden dance floor. Whatever the birthday surprise is, it sounds big. And loud.
"How do you feel about key lime?" Adam asks in Kris's ear, and he nearly jumps again.
"I love it," he admits, helplessly honest.
Adam makes a pleased noise, and Kris turns toward him, opens his mouth…and gets a spoonful of whipped cream.
Kris swallows and frowns, confused, and Megan, Allison, and Adam laugh at his expression.
"Just kidding," Adam says. "Here you go." His thumb rubs along Kris's jaw, tipping Kris's face up how he wants it. He presses something creamy to Kris's lips, and Kris opens to a tangy-sweet explosion of flavor, so shocking it jolts all his senses at once. The lime custard spreads velvety-smooth across his tongue, and Kris doesn't know how much more of this he can take.
He feels way too hot, like he's burning up in his skin. The chair is uncomfortable against his back, his jeans are starting to feel a little tight, and he has to fight the urge to lean toward Adam, to just fall over into his lap.
Adam leans close and says, right next to Kris's ear, "I notice you aren't sharing your cheesecake."
Allison makes a sad noise across from them, and Megan says, "Yeah, girl! Sharing was your idea!" Kris hears a brief duel of spoons, and Megan wins the battle with a triumphant, "Mmmm."
"What, don't I get some?" Kris says, desperate for any distraction from how close Adam is sitting, his thigh shifting against Kris's, Adam's fingers still playing on his neck. Kris keeps his palms pressed flat to the sticky table top and resists the temptation to reach out and touch.
Somebody feeds him the cheesecake, milder and creamier than the key lime—it can't compare after the taste of Adam's dessert. Kris shakes his head at the thought, reminding himself that he doesn't stand a chance with Adam, no matter what he wished when he blew out the candle.
Allison mutters, "You aren't sharing yours," and she must be talking about Megan's chocolate cake.
The girls start arguing about chocolate versus cheesecake, but Kris doesn't hear them anymore. His senses have narrowed down to the heat of Adam's touch, the sweet lemon of Adam's breath, and the lingering taste in his mouth.
"Just a few more minutes," Adam says softly, and Kris full-body shivers. "Hey, you okay?" Adam asks, that hand on his neck squeezing, tugging him a fraction of an inch closer.
"I'm—" Kris says.
He doesn't know what to say. He's turned on, and feeling trapped at this table with everyone teasing him like…like it doesn't mean anything. And Adam is maybe-definitely flirting with him, and Kris just doesn't know.
But he knows what he wants this to be.
"Adam," he says, only it comes out like a gasp, so he licks his lips and tries again. "What are you doing? Because if you…I mean— If you wanted…."
Lips brush against his, soft and full, and Kris forgets what he was trying to say. They brush again, and Kris leans forward, presses his mouth to Adam's. Adam presses right back, and Kris can't believe this is happening. But Adam's hand is on his neck, holding him steady, and when Kris takes a taste of Adam's lips, he's tart and sweet, like lemon drop and key lime, and Kris melts like ice cream. Adam's hot tongue tangles with his, Adam's fingers slide into his hair, and Kris closes his eyes under the blindfold. Adam nips at his lip, makes another one of those soft noises, and it goes straight to Kris's gut. He shudders and tries to press even closer, their knees bumping awkwardly.
Matt hoots and yells, "Man, when you see this thing, you're gonna freak out!"
And he's right—Kris needs to see. He needs his eyes, needs to read Adam's expression so he can tell what this means. He starts to reach for the blindfold, but Adam stops him, pulling his hands back down.
Adam holds his wrists with one hand, slides the other down the side of his face, over the silk and his hot skin. "One more minute," Adam says, forehead pressed to Kris's. "Okay?"
"Adam," Kris pleads, and Adam kisses him again, tilting Kris's head so their mouths line up better, so the kiss is deeper. Kris whimpers and holds on to Adam's t-shirt. His body tingles everywhere they're touching, and all he can hear is the thumping of his pulse and Adam's quick gasps for air.
Too soon, Adam pulls away and calls, "You guys ready?"
Kris takes a deep breath and straightens up, and someone says, "Yeah!"
Adam tugs at the scarf, slipping it off.
Kris blinks against the light after so long in the dark, and the first things he sees are Adam's beautiful blue eyes, huge smile, and wet lips begging for another kiss. Kris grins and leans forward to kiss him again, but Adam catches his chin and turns him toward the dance floor, where Monte is standing next to something covered in a tarp. It's massive, and the wood floor has been covered in thick red gym mats, and Kris's jaw drops, because there's only one thing it could be, but that's impossible, because this just isn't that kind of restaurant….
Monte flourishes his arm, his friends yell, "Happy birthday!" and the tarp slides to the floor, revealing a giant mechanical bull in the middle of the restaurant.
Kris bursts out laughing, doubling over in his chair, and Cassidy leads the restaurant in a raucous rendition of Happy Birthday. Everyone joins in, and Kris has never heard a group of professional musicians and singers caterwaul so horribly. He keeps laughing at everyone, at everything.
Adam takes Kris's hand and squeezes it tight. He bumps his shoulder against Kris's and smiles around the words.
Kris smiles back and hums along, savoring Adam's sweet taste on his tongue.