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Brighter than Grace

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It had been years since Gabriel was anywhere along the West Coast. He loved the feeling of the sun on his skin and snapping up a cold cocktail while sitting on the beach, but he shied away from the more populated areas of Northern California. Pulling tricks in densely populated areas too often tended to attract a lot of attention, both upstairs and among other deities. Gabriel didn’t fancy running into anybody at the moment, but there was one thing in Stanford, California that was worth risking it for: The Sweet Place.

It had been about 20 years since he first discovered the place, and its façade and interior had changed over time to match the trendy student lifestyle of the local college kids, but their classic recipes hadn’t changed a bit. It had been a couple of years since he popped in for a treat, and he had a craving. He also figured that while he was here, he may pull a trick or two – he didn’t the last time he was here. Maybe he would make a slight detour and give a couple nearby celebrities or rich socialites and elitists some needed scares. While he couldn’t do anything dramatic or with his usual flair under the limelight, he could always work with subtle when he had to. He would think about it over some cake and a latte.

˜*˜*˜*˜*˜*˜*˜

Sam blindly reached for his cup to find it devoid of coffee. “Shit,” Sam muttered. He lifted his chin and scanned his eyes around the coffee shop. There were only a couple of people waiting in line to purchase their coffee or food. The entrance door opened, and another man had just walked in to get in line as well.

Sam looked back at his computer to read the last few lines of his essay. He had been at The Sweet Place for a couple of hours already and his eyes were feeling a bit heavy from looking at a screen non-stop. He rubbed his knuckles across his eyes in an attempt to try and wake himself up a bit. Deciding that he was at a good stopping point in his assignment and could use the opportunity to stretch his legs and walk around, he started rearranging his things on the small table. After double-checking that his work was saved and closing his laptop, Sam pushed up from the table. It was a tight squeeze to get between the table and the tall wooden barrier between his study nook and the next one. With most of his weight on one foot, Sam accidentally bumped his hip against the wall, knocking him unbalanced. He pivoted in order to regain his balance and avoid tripping, when suddenly his arm collided with a solid figure.

“Ompf!” Gabriel huffed out. Out of nowhere, something large hit his forearm, jostling his coffee cup out of his hand and spilling the liquid all down the front of his shirt. He looked up to see who bumped into him and found himself face to face with a broad chest and collar bones – he always did prefer a broader man. His eyes continued up but could only take in the tops of the shoulders before he had to tilt his chin up to see the person’s face.

Sam whirled around to see who he bumped into and saw a halo of light brown hair. When the man looked up at him, Sam saw warm amber eyes with flecks of pure gold - a spark of some kind seeming to shine in them. After a couple of seconds, he noticed that the man’s shirt is wet and stained a light brown color and realized what happened. “I am so sorry! Are you ok? I didn’t see you when I was getting up.” Sam turned to collect some napkins from the dispenser on the table and glanced back at the shorter man. “Please, let me buy you a fresh coffee. I was actually just going to get a refill on mine. It’s the least I could do for spilling yours.”

When Gabriel’s eyes connected to the tall man’s, his chest stopped moving, and he was still. The longer Gabriel looked, the more he realized that the man’s eyes just couldn’t decide what color they wanted to be at any given moment. They were constantly shifting in the light between brown, green, and blue, or sometimes were a combination of two or all, making them hazel. When the man turned back towards the table, Gabriel kept staring, this time looking beneath the surface to peer at the soul of the person who had grabbed his attention. Had Gabriel still been breathing at that moment, he would have ceased now. The person’s soul was stunning – brighter than any other soul that he had stopped to look at and dwarfing the glow of the other souls in the room. Gabriel had been staring for so long, he almost missed the other’s offer for coffee.

“Oh. It’s alright. It’s just a cup of coffee,” Gabriel said, taking the proffered napkins from the man’s hands. “Really, it’s no trouble,” Sam insisted, “I was just going to get another cup, so I can just add yours to my order.” “Well, if you’re going to be over there anyways, I guess I can’t stop you from adding another one,” Gabriel grinned. “Though if you’re going to buy me coffee, at least let me keep you some company to give you my thanks.” Gabriel scanned slowly down the man’s body and made his way back up to catch the slight blush appearing on the man’s face. Seeing the reaction made him hopeful that he could stay close to the captivating soul and its handsome vessel just a little bit longer.

“Uh….sh-sure,” Sam stammered, a little flustered after he saw the appreciative glace, his face heating up and his heart beating faster in his chest. “But we’ll have to get a different table. This one is for single patrons, so there’s only one chair.” Sam started to gather his things into his bag to start making his way over to the register.

“Oh, so you’re single? Good to know,” Gabriel teased, wanting to see a deeper shade of red grace those cheeks and see if it would spread to the man’s neck. “Oh, uhh….hmm,” Sam cleared his throat. “I am, but, uh, coffee first? What did you have earlier?”

“Oh right. Coffee. I had a large salted caramel mocha with two extra pumps of syrup and two extra pumps of chocolate sauce. Extra whipped cream.” Gabriel beamed, knowing that his order seemed outrageously sweet, but that was exactly how he liked it. “And I can grab a table for us. One of the lovely people behind the counter is supposed to bring me the slice of cake I ordered in a bit anyways.”

Sam’s eyebrows seemed to touch his hairline, but he made no comment about the man’s choice of beverage or additional sweet treat. “Sure thing, and thanks. I’ll meet you there in a bit.” Sam shouldered his bag and took a step forward to make his way in line, but quickly halted. “What’s your name, by the way? I don’t think we got that far.”

“Gabriel. And we could go even farther, if you’d like.” Gabriel couldn’t help himself with another sly comment. “Sam.” Sam glanced down while trying to stop himself from smiling at the heated remark, his dimples creasing on his cheeks from the effort. “I’ll get you your coffee now.” Sam walked off to get his refill and Gabriel’s coffee and had to stop himself from looking back at him. Gabriel continued to stare as Sam walked off, his soul twinkling in merriment, and Gabriel had to snap himself out of it to find them another free table - one with just two chairs.

Gabriel ends up nabbing a small table in the back corner of the coffee shop, and one of the workers finds him to bring his generous slice of red velvet cake. “You know that’s basically just chocolate cake, right?” Sam said, settling into the chair across from Gabriel, placing their coffees on the table and his bag on the floor by his feet. “That, Samoose, is where you are absolutely 100% wrong. A true red velvet cake has a little something special added into it. And look me in the eye and tell me if you would put cream cheese frosting on a chocolate cake. You wouldn’t, making red velvet inherently different from chocolate cake.” Gabriel pointedly looked at Sam, taking a large bite of the slice of cake.

Sam rolled his eyes, smiling and shaking his head. Gabriel took a sip of his latte, getting a small whipped cream mustache and having to lick it off. “Can’t complain when there’s a delicious slice of cake, a good coffee, and a gorgeous man in front of me,” Gabriel sighed. “So Sam, what are you doing here in Stanford? You a student?”

“Yeah, I’m a junior here at Stanford,” Sam said, trying to keep his face from flushing and keeping his eyes on his hands rather than on Gabriel and his gem-colored eyes. “Really?” Gabriel asked. “What’s your major?”

“Double major in Poli Sci and English with a minor in History.” Sam interlaced his fingers, placing his arms on the table and leaning forward. “Wow. That’s pretty impressive. It’s a lot of work. Were you working on an assignment before we had our lovely collision?” While Sam seemed to refuse to look at him in the eye, Gabriel took the opportunity to let his gaze linger on Sam’s soul, seeing the colors and changes of light it would produce in reaction to what they talked about.

“Yeah. I was working on an essay for my American Road Trip course,” Sam chuckled softly to himself, and Gabriel wondered if he was missing out on some inside joke. “It’s an analysis of the various themes of symbolism in the poems of Walt Whitman.” Sam finally glanced back up to see Gabriel taking another bite of his cake, and he brought his coffee to his lips, black with only one sugar packet to take away the worst of the bitterness. “Leaves of Grass is a particular favorite of mine from him,” Gabriel waggled his eyebrows at Sam. “Do you like poetry in particular?”

“Absolutely not,” Sam laughed. “Poetry is not my strong suit at all, and I was never really into it. Novels and fiction are fine, but poetry can stay at the other end of the library for me. Though I’ll admit that Whitman’s poetry is pretty bearable.”

“Bearable? How are you an English major that doesn’t appreciate poetry? Strange,” Gabriel teased, taking another large gulp of his latte, making sure to keep eye contact with Sam as he licked any coffee or cream remnants from his lips. Sam cleared his throat. “I’m an English major because I want to be a lawyer, so I’m in it mostly for the writing courses. It’ll help when I’m in law school and actually practicing.”

“Ooh. Smart, sexy, and wanting to take charge with the law. You seem to be a man of many talents, Sam,” Gabriel sat back in his chair, his plate now cleaned of cake. “You gonna be the one to put the bad guys away?”

“Maybe. I’m actually not entirely sure what area of law I want to get into once I’m done. I’ve thought about criminal law, but it doesn’t hold enough interest for me, especially since most criminal charges these days seem to be petty drug charges. I think I’ll focus more on constitutional law. At the end of the day, I just want to help people, you know?” Sam asked, distracting himself by playing with the rim of his coffee cup. “Yeah. I can totally get that,” Gabriel mused, taking another glance at Sam’s soul, which seemed to nervously shift just like Sam’s physical form, almost as if it was waiting for approval for its desires.

“So what do you do?” Sam asked, wanting to take some of the attention away from himself. The more Gabriel looked at him, the more he wanted to keep staring back – wanting to see if those eyes would change color with the light and wanting to reach out and test whether his hair was as soft as it looked from across the table. Sam clenched his coffee cup harder.

“Oh, nothing incredibly interesting. I’m just a travel writer.” Gabriel waved his hand flippantly by his face. “Nothing interest? You get to travel the world and get paid for it, and you think it’s ‘nothing interesting’? I’ve never even been outside the continental U.S.” Sam raised his eyebrows, leaning forward on the table, putting his weight on his elbows. “What’s the most interesting place you’ve been to?” Sam looked straight at Gabriel, eyes curious.

“Morocco. Everything there is just so vibrant. And the pace that people move around in the city centers seems almost chaotic, but it’s not. If you stop and watch long enough, you start to the see the patterns people take going from shop front to market stand, buying food and textiles. And the food!” Gabriel leaned back, eyes glancing up and taking a far-off look in remembrance. “It’s just unique. I haven’t visited there enough times. I’m always wanting to go back.”

“And…and do you live here in Stanford? Or are you here to write a piece?” Sam hoped it was the former. Although their first meeting had not been ideal – even somewhat embarrassing – Sam hoped that this wouldn’t be the only time they would ever meet. Something about the older man intrigued him, and he was curious to explore that feeling.

“Not exactly,” Gabriel said, noticing the dejected look on Sam’s face at his answer. “But I do live nearby in Palo Alto. I’m in town for the week before heading back out.” Sam perked up, shifting in his seat and wondering whether or not he should take his chance and ask the man out for a proper date – one that didn’t include spilling coffee on him. He felt a bit out of his depth though. While he had admitted his sexual attraction to men by the end of his freshman year, he had never come across a man that he had wanted to explore a more intimate relationship with. It was unknown, and it scared him.

Gabriel took the last sip of his latte and began to stand up. “Well it looks like I’m all out of coffee and cake. Thanks for getting mine, by the way. I guess I’d better head out. Good luck with your studies.” Sam frowned and looked disappointed at Gabriel leaving the table. “Oh. You’re welcome,” he whispered, sadly.

Gabriel turned towards the front door and took two steps before stopping suddenly. The thought of never seeing Sam’s face or his unique and bright soul suddenly scared him. He didn’t know if he would ever run into it again, and the thought was almost impossible to comprehend. For the first time since leaving Heaven, he felt lost. He twisted around to face Sam again. “You know, this might be incredibly presumptuous of me, but I’d like to see you again. Maybe get some dinner? It would be my treat this time.” Gabriel grinned, but he was slightly panicking, not knowing exactly how his invitation would be responded to.

Sam could feel his face heat up at the question, and he hurried to respond. “Uh, no.” Sam saw the look of shock on Gabriel’s face. “I mean,” Sam rushed to explain, “no, it’s not presumptuous. I’d like to get dinner sometime.” Sam could feel a deeper flush on his cheeks but was glad of the look of relief from Gabriel. “Great! Tomorrow then. 6 o’clock? I know a place that serves great Italian food.”

“Sounds good.” Sam reached into his pocket to grab his cell phone. “Can I get your number? You can text me the address, and I’ll meet you there.” Sam flipped open his phone and started to type out the beginning of the contact information. Gabriel quickly conjured up a phone into his jacket pocket and some cell service to it. “Sure thing.”

Once they exchanged numbers and goodbyes, Gabriel made his way out of the coffee shop. Knowing that he would see Sam again gave him a bounce to his step. Though as he made his way down the street, the reality of what just happened hit him. The choices that Gabriel made to say that he lived in the area and to ask Sam out on a date were split-second ones. He just hadn’t been able to take the look on Sam’s face and couldn’t resist the opportunity to see him again, though he was questioning why. He didn’t really do connections anymore. Not since Kali and their decision to split. It just seemed easier that way. No connections meant no responsibilities. He could do whatever whenever he wanted, and he didn’t have to worry about disappointing anybody. Gabriel shook the thought from his head, keeping the memories of his brothers and his time in Heaven at bay. He couldn’t afford to get dragged down by them. He had a place to live to conjure up and a date to plan.

˜*˜*˜*˜*˜*˜*˜

Sam stared at the new contact in his phone, wondering how circumstances got him to this point. He had just wanted to replace the man’s coffee, and now here he was with a new phone number and a date. He had never even been on a date with a man before. He knew that he was sexually attracted to both women and men, but romance was another thing entirely. He had yet to experience romantic attraction towards a man. He rarely ever felt a romantic spark with another person. The closest he’d gotten so far was maybe Jess. But she and him were just friends at the moment, and he could only handle trying to date one person at a time. And he wanted to see how far he could go in a relationship with Gabriel.

Sam closed his phone and put it back in his pocket. He pulled his bag up to the table and removed his laptop and other materials to continue his assignment. It wasn’t due until the day after tomorrow, but he didn’t want anything to distract him on his date.

Chapter Text

Gabriel looked around his new apartment, wondering if he needed to make any adjustments. The apartment was simple: a one bedroom with an extra space for laundry and a small office space off from the living area. The main portion of the apartment was an open concept, with the kitchen flowing into the shared living and dining space. The apartment was not too large since Gabriel did not want to expend too much energy on creating a space when he didn’t know how long he would need it for.

In fact, Gabriel didn’t need to create a space at all under the circumstances. Sam didn’t know where he was supposedly living, and he would be meeting him at the restaurant for their date. If he wanted some private time with Sam, he could just insist that they go to Sam’s place for it – provided that Sam either lived alone or didn’t mind whether his roommate overheard any activities. But that was the problem, wasn’t it? Gabriel wanted to bring Sam home, or at least have quality time that was just the two of them. He wanted to see the soul that captivated him without distraction or interruption, so he had to create a space for them to come back to. With any luck, they would come back tonight, and Gabriel’s curiosity could be satiated. Perhaps then he could forget about Sam and move on to his next trick. He didn’t do connections. He couldn’t afford it – but Sam’s dimples had been so endearing, especially when he blushed and ducked his head and tried so desperately to not look at Gabriel in the eye.

Gabriel shook himself from his reverie and got back to the task at hand. He changed the color of the walls and curtains a few times, seeing what color combination would look best, finally going with a cream color for the wall and a bolder red for the curtains. For décor, he placed a collage of selfies around the world, some simple landscape paintings, and a few framed records of his favorite music artists. Checking his watch for the time – about half an hour until he had to be at the restaurant – quickly snapped up some food and drinks in the fridge as well as essentials for use in the bathroom. He also made sure that the shower head was tall enough for someone of Sam’s height – just in case.

˜*˜*˜*˜*˜*˜*˜*˜*˜

Sam opened the door to his apartment, hanging his keys up and heading towards his room.

“Is that you, Sam?” a voice called out from the kitchen. Sam sighed to himself, bracing for the conversation coming his way. “Yeah! It’s me!” Sam yelled, closing his eyes and tilting his head back.

“Where’ve you been all day? Hangin’ out with Jess again?” A man walked out of the small kitchen, off to the side of living room. “No, Brady,” Sam sighed, “I was at the library studying, as I do most afternoons. You know this.”

“Yeah, but any day, I’m half expecting a tie on the apartment door because of you two.” Brady leered at Sam, making him uncomfortable. “How many times do I have to say this? It’s. not. happening. I like Jess, but not like that.” Sam had lost count as to how many times they had this conversation.

“I introduced you guys last year, and you’ve been hanging out on and off with her ever since. How are you not dating yet?” Brady leaned against the side of the door of the kitchen.

“I told you, Brady. Jess and I are just friends, and I am more than comfortable with that.” Sam pinched the bridge of his nose, hoping that Brady would just drop the subject for once. He seemed far too concerned with seeing Sam and Jess getting together. It was getting to the point of obsession.

“I’m just saying. Jess is hot. You’re hot. And you guys seem to really click. I just don’t get it.” Brady sauntered from the doorway to the couch in the middle of the living space to casually sit down, stretching his legs along the cushions, throwing his arm over the back, and looking over to face Sam at the front door.

“If it’s just about being attractive and ‘clicking,’ why don’t you just ask her out?” Sam huffed out. Brady smirked, “Because I told you that I am not looking for commitment right now. I’m enjoyed the single and free lifestyle.” Sam rolled his eyes. “Yeah. I know, but I’m not looking to date Jess. I’m happy with where we are now.”

Sam’s phone pinged. Thankful for the distraction, Sam pulled it out from his jean pocket and opened it to find a text from Gabriel with the address of the restaurant. Sam couldn’t keep the fond smile from his face, his eyes softening and his heartbeat kicking up in his chest.

Brady noticed the change in Sam’s demeanor, a reason for Sam’s refusal to ask Jess out entered his thoughts. “Is that why you haven’t asked Jess out this whole time? Are you seeing someone?” Brady couldn’t believe that would be the reason though. Sam would have told him whether he was dating someone, and it would have been hard to hide the fact since they had been roommates since the start of sophomore year.

“Not exactly,” Sam sighed. He had been hoping to avoid this conversation until after he had figured out where things might head with Gabriel. It almost seemed like bad luck to bring him up before they established anything noteworthy. “What do you mean, not exactly?” Brady questioned. “Either you’re seeing someone or you’re not.” Brady shifted to his knees on the couch cushion, his torso leaning against the back cushions of the couch and folding his arms to lay his head on as he interrogated Sam.

“Well, we haven’t even gone out yet. Our first date is tonight. I’m not sure how it’ll go.” Sam nervously shifted from foot to foot, his hand coming up to run his fingers anxiously through his hair. “But you’re hoping it’ll go somewhere?” Brady narrowed his eyes. “Yeah. I do.” Sam dropped his hand to rest at his thigh while his other typed out a reply to Gabriel, saying he would meet him there.

“Well look at that. Little Sammy’s all grown up.” Brady grinned up at him, but his eyes were sharp. “Don’t call me Sammy,” Sam grumbled. “You know I hate that.” “Yeah. Yeah. Whatever. Why don’t you just go get ready for your date.” Brady flipped around, lounging along the length of the couch, and turned on the tv.

“Whatever, dude.” Sam stormed off to his room to drop off his bag and went to hop in the shower, wondering if he should dress casually in jeans and his usual plaid or if he should dress up a bit. He had forgotten to ask whether the restaurant they were going to was the fine-dining kind of Italian or the “just like mama makes it” Italian. He decided he’d split the difference and wear jeans with his dark blue, long-sleeved button down.

˜*˜*˜*˜*˜*˜*˜*˜

Gabriel arrived at the restaurant with a few minutes to spare before the reservation time and was seated in a quiet booth. He told the hostess that he was expecting company – a very tall, handsome, young man with cute floppy hair – and to please direct him to the table when he got there. The hostess smiled and told him that she would keep an eye out and to enjoy his meal before walking back to the front desk.

Gabriel began tinkering with the items on the table, fiddling with the tablecloth, picking up the silverware to inspect its quality, waving his hand over the candle in the center of the table to see if the flame was real or not. It was.

Sam seemed to have a habit of appearing out of nowhere. He was suddenly climbing into the booth across from Gabriel, needing to shift a few times in the space to get comfortable due to his height. “Sorry that I’m a couple minutes late. It took me a second to find this place. The hostess up front was pretty quick to point me over to you.”

Gabriel leaned back in his seat, relaxing a bit now that Sam had showed. “Well, I may have warned her that you were coming, and you’re kinda hard to miss, Samsquatch.”

“Haha. Like I haven’t heard that one before.” Sam rolled his eyes but grinned over at Gabriel. At that moment, a young, blonde waitress dressed in a white button down, black tie, black waist apron, black pants, and ballet flats came by their table with a pitcher of water to fill their glasses.

“Good evening sirs, is there anything I can get you besides water for drinks? – Oh hey Sam!” The waitress smiled over at Sam, who looked surprised but smiled at her shyly. Gabriel shifted his eyes back and forth between the two. “Uh, hey Jess! I didn’t know you worked here.” Sam shifted a bit in his seat, glancing over at Gabriel for a moment. “Yeah. I just started a couple of weeks ago. Finished up my training yesterday. Now I’ve been unleashed among the patrons.” Jess smiled brightly and looked over towards the other man in the booth. “Hi, I’m Jess, a friend of Sam’s.” She reached her hand out, which Gabriel shook firmly. “Gabriel. Not exactly a friend of Sam’s though,” he smirked, eyes sparkling with mischief and pride.

“Oh.” Jess’s eyebrows raised, her hand going back to support the pitcher she was still holding. She looked back towards Sam, her smile getting wider as she took in Sam blushing at Gabriel’s remark and seeing that he wouldn’t meet her gaze. “I see then. Well I’ll leave you two to look over the menu then and be back to get your order in a few minutes.” When she finally caught Sam’s eye, she sent him a wink and giggled to herself as his blush continued to redden before walking off.

“I think I like her.” Gabriel said, leaning forward on the table. Sam covered his face with his hand. “Yeah. I honestly didn’t know she worked here.”

“Was this supposed to be a secret?” Gabriel asked quietly, hesitant. “No!” Sam looked right at him, hands flat on the table. “This is not a secret. My roommate knows that I’m on a date right now, and Jess is aware of my sexuality. I just haven’t seen her since earlier this week, so I haven’t had a chance to say anything about this.” Sam waved his hand between them. “Sam, I appreciate the explanation, but you don’t owe me one. What you tell your friends is up to you. Though maybe I shouldn’t say that when I wasn’t exactly subtle during our introduction.”

“Well either way, you’ve got it.” Sam took a drink of his water and picked up the menu. “So what’s good here? You promised me some excellent Italian food, and I’m cashing in now.”

Gabriel chuckled and picked up his menu. “Well you can’t go wrong with classic spaghetti and meatballs or lasagna, but I personally love their pasta carbonara. They make it authentic here, and all of the pasta is fresh. You just can’t beat that.”

“Uh,” Sam paused, looking at his menu to see if anything stuck out to him. “What exactly is ‘authentic’ carbonara?” Gabriel placed his menu at the end of the table. “It’s basically pasta that uses egg to make the sauce. Most places cheat and use a cream sauce and just call it ‘carbonara.’” He picked up the wine menu, debating if he should order a glass or a bottle with his choice of meal.

“To be honest, I don’t really think I would be able to tell the difference.” Sam scratched at his hair. “Ugh. Sam. You clearly know nothing about food. We’re going to have to work on that.” Gabriel gave Sam a wry grimace.

“Can’t say that I do,” Sam smiled to himself. He turned his head, shoulders hunched and curving inwards, his eyes taking a far-off look. “You know…growing up, my dad wasn’t around all that much, so my brother had to take care of me.” Sam played with the edge of the tablecloth in front of him. “He’s only a few years older than me, so he couldn’t really make more than Spaghetti O’s or cereal for me at first. It moved on to whatever diner or fast food was nearby as we grew up.” Sam took a sip of water to clear his throat. “These days I only cook simple things or get takeout, but I try to eat healthier, maybe to make up for all the junk food I ate as a kid. Is that weird?”

“That’s not weird at all Sam.” Gabriel gazed at Sam for a moment before reaching for his glass and looking down at the tablecloth. “It’s not fair, is what it is. That kind of responsibility should never have been put on you or your brother. You were children, and children are not supposed to have to take care of themselves or of each other that way. Your brother was not supposed to be your parent. Your father was, and he didn’t do that.” The more Gabriel spoke, the angrier he became. His hand tightened around his glass. His nose scrunching and his lips pressing together, as if to stop another outburst. He finally looked up at Sam to see his eyes glistening with moisture and his mouth slightly open in shock.

“I’m sorry.” Gabriel said. His shoulders slumped down, his body relaxing. He hadn’t realized how tense he became. “I’m sure you love your father very much. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“No. It’s alright,” Sam said, taking another sip of water to try and clear the lump forming in his throat and holding on to the glass. “I’ve just never had someone tell me that what my dad did was wrong before. But you’re right, and I do love my dad. But I’m also glad that I’m not alone in thinking that maybe my dad’s not a perfect person.” Sam gave a weak smile, and Gabriel broke, reaching his arm across the table to grab Sam’s unoccupied hand. A spark shocked both of them when their fingers touched, making them flinch their hands apart and pulling them out from the tense moment.

“So,” Sam straightened in his seat, “if I know nothing about food, does that mean you’re going to try and teach me?” Gabriel saw the out that Sam was giving him to move the conversation away from more serious topics and took it. “I’m not sure I can teach you about food. You seem to enjoy eating it more than learning about the artistry and science involved.” Gabriel leaned back, taking a long sip of water. “That’s probably true,” Sam chuckled. “Well maybe that means I’ll just have to cook for you sometime and just hope that you appreciate my efforts and savor it that much more, Sammich.” Gabriel wagged his finger, leaning forward on the table.

“I’m sure I would, but you’re gonna have to put your money where your mouth is. Now that I’m about to have a taste of something not takeout or college student-made.” Sam laughed, his dimples creasing on his cheeks. Gabriel thought that he could look at his smile all day and not get bored of looking at those dimples.

“So what did we decide on fellas?” Jess was back at the table, notepad in hand. Both men jumped slightly in their seats, breaking eye contact and looking up at Jess. She couldn’t help but grin down at the two of them. “Hate to break up the moment, but I imagine you’ll want to eat something eventually.”

“Yeah.” Sam cleared his throat. “I’ll have the eggplant parmesan, please. And a beer – whatever’s on tap that’s good.” He handed her his menu. “I’ll have the spaghetti carbonara,” Gabriel winked at Sam, “and a glass of your best chardonnay.”

“You got it! I’ll be back in a few with those drinks.” She took the menus from the table and walked away to put in their orders. As she put in the request and asked the bartender for the drinks, she thought about the moment she interrupted between Sam and his date. It seemed intimate, and she slightly regretted having to break the tension. She was glad that Sam was opening up to someone. While she and him were good friends, he always seemed to keep her at arm’s length, always holding secrets back. She hoped that maybe this Gabriel person would be someone Sam could lean on the way he couldn’t seem to lean on her. After knowing him for the past couple of years, she loved Sam. He was her best friend, and she wanted to see him happy, however that took form. When she went back to place their drinks on the table, they hardly noticed her presence, engaged in conversation. She left again to attend to her other tables while their food was being prepared.

Gabriel took a sip of his chardonnay, closing his eyes slightly while appreciating the crispness in its flavor. “I’m assuming that your friend didn’t card you since you’re over 21, and she knows it, but how old are you exactly? You’re a college student, but your stature doesn’t exactly scream teenager.”

“Yeah. I started college a little late.” Sam took a hold of his beer glass with both hands, rubbing his thumb along the side. “I turned twenty-two a few months back. I’ll be twenty-three going on twenty-four by the time I graduate.” He took a long drag of his beer, which was definitively better than his usual PBR. He would have to ask what Jess got him later. “What about you? Your personality screams ‘in touch with his inner child,’ but you’re definitely not near college age. Should I be worried?”

Gabriel placed a hand to his chest, gasping, “You mock me, sir! I am not that old! I’m thirty! And I never went to college, so you got me beat there.” Sam laughed, eyes crinkling at the sides, dimples once again making their presence known. He took the opportunity to peer deeper, wanting to see the light of Sam’s soul in this moment, when he made him laugh. Somehow it seemed even brighter, the glow at the edges taking over the space. The soul was dazzling, giving off mostly blue and green colors of light. Gabriel thought of contentment and happiness. He guessed that was what the colors meant, and he briefly had the thought that he wanted to see every color variation that this soul had to offer. It was terrifying. How long would such an endeavor take? A week? A year? An entire lifetime? He drew back, wanting only to be in the present moment. Thinking too far ahead was dangerous.

“And yet look who’s the one with the jet-set life, traveling all over the world?” Sam gave out a few more chuckles before settling. “For your information, I fly coach. Thank you very much. Writing may pay the bills, but I’m not exactly shelling out cash for first class.” Gabriel took another sip of his wine, the remaining tension from earlier finally dissipated.

“And if you could go anywhere, Sam?” Gabriel swirled the wine in his glass while keeping eye contact with Sam. “I’m not entirely sure. I’ve never really thought about it. It’s never been something that I thought I would be able to do in the future.” Sam had a far-off look on his face, as if trying to imagine going to a foreign environment for the first time. Perhaps he was.

“Tell me more about Morocco.” Sam said, suddenly. He couldn’t seem to make a mental picture of himself traveling, so he wanted to hear Gabriel’s stories instead.

“Gosh. Where do I start?” Gabriel took Sam’s request in stride but with so many experiences, he didn’t know where to begin. He also didn’t know what Sam would be interested in hearing. He could only guess at this point. “Is there a place there that is your favorite?” Sam asked, taking another sip of his beer, leaning further into the table.

Gabriel paused, shuffling through his memories and deciding on a place that stuck out to him in his reveries. “Tangier. It’s a coastal port city along the Strait of Gibraltar, and the city is just alive with history. The people have been there since ancient times, and there are parts of the city that seem to practically transport you. You walk into certain neighborhoods and you’re completely surrounded – walls, windows, archways. It’s a complete maze, and you have no idea whether you’ll end up in a shop, a restaurant, a random plaza, or even someone’s home. You could be lost in there for days and never find the same place twice. It’s almost terrifying, but it’s also invigorating. You turn the corner and you don’t know what’s waiting for you, but you just want to keep going and never stop exploring.”

“Wow,” Sam breathed. “Sounds incredible.” “It can be,” Gabriel smiled softly.

At that moment, Jess came back with their plates. “Hello again. A carbonara for Gabriel, and an eggplant parmesan for Sam. If you need anything else, refills, just let me know.” She placed the food in front of them. “Thanks, Jess,” Sam said as she walked away.

Sam placed the cloth napkin in his lap and picked up his silverware, digging into his dish. “Wow. This is really good,” Sam said as he chewed around his mouthful. “What did I tell you? I always deliver on my promise of good food.” Gabriel took a bite of his food, savoring it and moaning slightly in satisfaction.

The two ate in companionable silence for a few moments until Gabriel piped up. “Did you want to try some of my carbonara? This is my only warning because I am going to finish this bad boy.” Gabriel pointed his fork at his plate while looking directly at Sam, who had another mouthful of food.

Sam scrambled to chew as Gabriel giggled at his antics. “Uh,” Sam coughed, “sure. Just give me a sec.” Gabriel held out a fork with a bite. Sam glanced at the proffered fork and Gabriel, sensing an intimacy in the moment. He hesitated slightly, but leaned forward to take the bite, never taking his eyes from Gabriel’s.

“H-how is it?” Gabriel cleared his throat, his arm still extended with an empty fork in his hand. “Delicious,” Sam whispered, licking his lips, “but I still don’t think I could tell the difference.” Gabriel burst with a laugh, drawing his arm back. “Well, I’m glad you liked it anyhow.”

They continued their meals, talking on and off. Gabriel insisted on getting dessert for the both of them - “Dessert is the best part of any meal,” he said, with a serious look on his face, but his eyes were twinkling with mischief, as if it were his own private joke. They enjoyed a plentiful slice of tiramisu before finally asking for the check from Jess.

The two left the restaurant and began to wander the surrounding area, chit chatting about the weather, the shops on the block, and other random topics. After a while, Gabriel stopped in front of a red brick multistoried building. A black door with ironwork over the glass windows stood between a bookshop and bakery.

Sam shivered slightly when a cold breeze blew by. While the weather currently didn’t require a coat, Halloween was a week away, and there was a threat of a cold front coming soon. “This is actually my place. Wanna come up?” Gabriel asked Sam, giving his face and body a clear look over, making his intentions known.

Sam pulled one of his hands out of his jean pockets to run it through his hair, shrugging his shoulders and sighing. “I really, really want to. You have no idea. But,” Sam paused and met Gabriel’s eyes, “for once, I really don’t want to rush this. For some reason,” Sam teased, “I like you, and I don’t want to ruin things by moving too fast.” Sam dropped his hand by his side, looking nervous but determined while waiting for Gabriel to respond.

“Mmm. Can’t say I’m not disappointed, Sammoose.” Gabriel took a step forward towards Sam, tilting his head up to maintain his gaze. “But you’re lucky I like you too.” Gabriel glanced down at Sam’s lips and back up to his eyes.

“Should I be worried?” Sam took a step forward as well, getting further into Gabriel’s space. “No. I do like you, for some reason,” Gabriel parroted back at Sam, who grinned, “and I find myself wanting to stick around with you. I’m actually a bit sad to be leaving next week.”

“But you’ll be back, right?” Sam’s jaw tensed, hoping that this wouldn’t be their last encounter. “Yeah,” Gabriel whispered, staring up again at Sam’s lips for a few moments before looking again at those green-hazel eyes with conviction and promise, “I will.”

In that moment, Sam broke and closed the gap between them, grabbing Gabriel’s face between his large hands and bending down to press his lips to Gabriel’s. Gabriel responded immediately, reaching one hand behind Sam’s neck to keep him in place and placing his other hand in the middle of Sam’s back. Gabriel licked the seam of Sam’s mouth, begging for entrance. Sam obliged, and Gabriel licked into his mouth, wanting as much contact as Sam would give him.

From behind Gabriel’s eyelids, he could see a light growing in intensity. Gabriel realized that it was Sam’s soul. How bright was it that he could sense its light without looking directly at it? The realization floored Gabriel, knowing that he could make this soul react so intensely. By the Father, who was Sam? That this soul would find such joy in him that it would brighten this way. He couldn’t fathom a reason why.

Gabriel broke the kiss, both men panting heavily but keeping their hands on one another. Sam’s hands had migrated, one in Gabriel’s hair while the other had snaked its way to hold Gabriel’s upper back. “We better stop now, Sam. I am not above trying to convince you to change your mind right now.” Sam laughed softly, pressing another chaste kiss to Gabriel’s lips before pulling out of the embrace. “It wouldn’t take much convincing, but I’m standing by it.” Sam took in another lungful of air, trying to calm his beating heart. “I’d better get home.”

“Let me drive you?” Gabriel leaned towards Sam again. “It’s getting late, and I’m sure that it’s quite a walk back to your place.” Sam looked at him with suspicion. Gabriel placed his hands up. “It’s just a ride. I’ll try and keep my hands to myself as much as I can on the way.” Gabriel winked, and Sam chuckled. “Alright. Thanks for the ride, then.”

“Come with me. My car’s parked around the block.” Gabriel grabbed Sam’s hand without thinking, leading them around the corner to his car. It was a cherry red, 1960s Ford Thunderbird convertible, complete with white fuzzy dice on the rearview mirror. Once Sam realized which car was Gabriel’s, he burst into laughter.

“What’s so funny? This is my baby here!” Sam squeezed his hand and grinned at Gabriel. “Nothing. It’s just so you.” Gabriel shook his head and let go of his hand to unlock the car, and Sam suddenly missed the warmth. He strode over to the passenger side and climbed in. “So where to, Sambo?”

Sam gave him the address and general directions as Gabriel pulled out of the parking space. Sam fiddled with his hands, wondering how to broach the topic, but before he could say anything, Gabriel started, “So Sam, I’m wondering, gripping the steering wheel firmly, “when would you like to do this again?” Sam looked towards Gabriel to see him staring straight ahead. “Well, I’ve got classes till three most days, so I’m available after then. I also try to keep my Saturdays free, but that means I’m busy doing leftover work on Sundays.”

“Well I guess that means I’ll have to take you out again on Saturday,” Gabriel grinned, “I’m leaving on Sunday anyways for work.” Gabriel snuck a look at Sam, who was smiling with those irresistible dimples. “Yeah. I guess you do.” Gabriel smiled, enjoying the rest of the ride in silence.

“Well, here we are. Home sweet home.” Gabriel parked the car just outside the complex, shutting off the car for the time being and looking over at Sam.

“Thanks again for dinner. It was great.” Sam knew he should leave the car, but he found himself hesitating. He had a strange thought that if Gabriel left his sight, it would be harder to find him again, but he brushed it off as paranoia. “I should get going.” Sam didn’t move from his seat.

“Yeah. Maybe.” Gabriel leaned across the seat. “I know I said no hanky-panky, but can I convince you for one more kiss for the road? Saturday is an entire two days away. I may not make it until then.” Gabriel stared at Sam’s eyes, now a rich brown in the low light, before glancing down to his lips.

Sam chuckled softly, leaning forward to capture Gabriel’s lips in another kiss, moving his mouth softly, nibbling and sucking on his bottom lip a few times before finally separating.

“Ugh. You’re really making things difficult for me here, Sam.” Gabriel squeezed his eyes tight and shook his head before bracing himself to look at Sam again. He fell into temptation again, wanting to see how his soul shone. This time it was glowing softly, almost like a warm fire. It gave off a pinkish hue throughout, and Gabriel couldn’t decide if it meant desire or fondness. Perhaps both, and Gabriel felt that he had the first one in spades for Sam. As for the second, there was a spark. He just didn’t know how quickly it would spread if given the chance. At that moment, he felt that he wanted to both run away without looking back and hold tightly to Sam, never letting him out of the car at the same time. It was terrifying and invigorating at the same time. He found himself wanting to explore. But he had to let Sam go upstairs first.

“It’s not any easier on myself either.” Sam laughed softly, and when Gabriel finally opened his eyes to look at him, Sam was lost again. He could barely see the ring of warm gold of Gabriel’s eyes, being swallowed by the dark pupil. As he kept staring, the gold color seemed to shine brighter, as if there was a light from within.

A loud laugh was heard from the corner of the block, a group of students yelling and stumbling back to their apartments from a bought of drinking. Sam cleared his throat, “I should get going. Thanks again for the ride. I’ll text you tomorrow?” Sam put his hand on the door but hadn’t looked away from Gabriel.

“Yeah. We still gotta plan for Saturday.” Gabriel turned the car back on, and Sam stepped out, waving goodbye as Gabriel left and turned the corner. He went up to his apartment, feeling high on how the evening went, and looking forward to Saturday.