“So, when am I going to meet Jensen?” Chad asked as he placed a vase of freshly cut flowers down on the counter in front of Jared.
Jared’s head snapped up, his hazel eyes searching Chad’s own hazel eyes to see if Chad was teasing him. His eyes widened in surprise at seeing that Chad was being serious. His mouth opened and closed several times giving him the appearance of mimicking a fish out of water. “What?” he finally asked. That was the only word his short-circuited brain could even begin to muster up. All other words were lost to him as he stared in shock at Chad. Where had that question even come from? Since when did Chad want to meet Jensen? Sure, he and Jensen had been together for a little while; two months to be exact, but still, this had surprised him. He had talked about Jensen to Chad; mentioning their dates, how happy he was that he had met Jensen, how well they fit together, but this? This request from Chad had come from out of the blue. He wasn’t ready for that, yet.
“I said, when am I going to meet Jensen,” Chad repeated with a huff and a roll of his eyes, not understanding why Jared was having a hard time grasping his question.
“Why… why do you want to meet Jensen?” Jared asked cautiously as he pulled the vase of fresh-cut flowers closer to him to inspect Chad’s work. As he looked down at the arrangement, he had to admit, if only slightly grudgingly, that Chad was finally getting the knack for putting together simple flower arrangements, when he followed directions and had been instructed on what flowers to place together with what type of greenery filler. He turned the vase this way and that way as he waited for Chad to say something, hoping that maybe Chad was just screwing with him. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to introduce Jensen to Chad, it was that he wanted to keep Jensen all so himself. And, if he had to admit it if only to himself, he was afraid of what Chad might do or say in Jensen’s presence. Chad had a way about him. Once meeting Chad, a person either loved him or wanted to punch him in the face. While he loved Chad, the guy was his oldest and albeit best friend, there were times he definitely wanted to punch Chad in the face.
“Why do I want to meet Jensen?” Chad mimicked as his eyebrows raised into his hairline. “Why wouldn’t I? You talk about him all the time; Jensen this and Jensen that. Plus, I’m your best friend, shouldn’t I meet this guy you’re so taken with? I need to assess him.” He could see the incredulous look on Jared’s face. “What if he’s not good enough for you? What if he’s nothing but a gold digger?” He held up his hand, stopping Jared from interrupting him. “You’ve got something good here.” He waved his arms around, indicating the shop, Sweet Blossom , Jared owned. “Do you really know anything about him?” He could see the anger simmering in Jared’s hazel orbs as he looked Jared in the eyes. “I just don’t want to see you get hurt,” he explained. Trying to soften his words. He knew how they sounded; how he was basically accusing Jensen of trying to possibly steal Jared’s money. Jared had a good heart and he didn’t want to see someone take advantage of him. He’d be remiss in his duties as Jared’s best friend if he didn’t look out for him. He had already failed in that department a few years ago, he wasn’t about to have that happen again.
“What! What?” Jared asked in disbelief. He could feel himself tensing as he had listened to Chad’s speech; how Chad had asked if Jensen was a gold digger and what he really knew about Jensen? “You think Jensen’s only dating me so he can bleed me dry?”
“Dude, I’m just saying it’s a possibility, that’s all.” Chad saw Jared tensing at his words and shook his head. The last thing he wanted was to upset his best friend, but he also wanted Jared to look at things without rose-colored glasses on, which was something he tended to do. Jared’s last boyfriend had hurt him badly and he hadn’t stepped in, hadn’t said a word, despite the warning signs. He wasn’t about to sit idly by and let Jared get hurt again. “I just don’t want to see you get hurt again… Not after what Sean did to you.” He shook his head again, resting his hands on his hips. “I saw the signs but kept my mouth shut. Sean never really committed to you; he stayed with you but had his own place. Do I need to run down the list?”
“Chad…” Jared breathed out and then squeezed his eyes closed, trying to stop the memories of his past failure of a relationship with Sean from playing out in his mind. But he lost that battle as he was flooded with self-loathing at how enamored he had been with the older man. Sean had been nearly ten years older than him, and he had been naive, always trying to find the good in people. He had just discovered too late it seemed, at least with Sean, that not everyone had good in them.
He and Sean had started dating right after Jared had graduated from college. Jared had just started working for a florist, getting his feet wet as he learned the ins and outs of what it took to run a business. Sure, he had taken business courses in college, one that instructed entrepreneurs on how to own and operate a business along with biology, botany, art, and design to help him hone his skills as a florist, but the hands-on experience was what he really needed. Sean had come in one afternoon looking to buy a small bouquet of fresh-cut flowers as a thank you for a friend. They had flirted with each other while Jared had helped him pick out just the right arrangement. After Jared had rung up Sean’s purchase, he had figured he’d never see him again. To his surprise, Sean showed up the next day, and the next, and the day after that bringing him hot chocolate, coffee, and even gummy bears. After the third time Sean had shown up out of the blue, remembering things about him from the brief conversation they had, he had accepted Sean’s invite out for dinner.
He had been so taken with Sean; believing everything Sean told him, how he loved him, how Jared was the only one for him, how Jared was his one true love. Until Jared had discovered the ugly truth one night while they had been out at a party. Sean had even moved in with him on a semi-permanent basis. That should have been a sign right there. Sean had used the excuse that he couldn’t get out of his lease; he had just signed another year-long lease and it would have taken more money than he had to buy himself out of the lease so they could live together and be a couple. He had offered Sean the money to buy out his lease; happy to do it so he and Sean could be together. Sean, of course, had accepted the money, promising to pay him back and that at the end of the month, he would be able to move his things into Jared’s apartment.
He and Sean had been out at a party; having a great night together. There had been drinking and dancing going on between them and around them at the party, and Jared had been happy. He had the perfect man, and he was in love. He should have known it was all too good to be true. Sean had disappeared, presumably to use the bathroom, or so Jared had thought. After a significant amount of time had passed and Sean hadn’t returned, Jared had broken off from their group of friends, which included Chad, to search out his missing boyfriend.
He searched the rooms downstairs, including the half-bath, only to find that Sean wasn’t around. Thinking Sean might have needed some fresh air, he stepped outside to see several people milling around; some were smoking while others were talking, but none of them were who he was searching for. Stepping back inside, he resumed his search for Sean, wondering where his wayward boyfriend could possibly be.
With his hand on the banister, he climbed the stairs leading to the second floor, thinking that maybe Sean had retreated to the second bathroom. Finding that empty, he was at a loss as to where Sean could’ve been. He knew Sean couldn’t have taken off, leaving him at the party alone; he was not only the one who drove them there but he also still had the keys to his car in his front jeans pocket.
The only thing he was left with, could think to do, was search the rooms on the second floor, fearing that Sean may have stumbled into one thinking that he was home and wanted to lie down, or worse, that Sean had passed out. With his heart hammering in his chest at the thought that Sean could be hurt, Jared searched the empty rooms until he came to the last room at the end of the hall. The door was closed, no light was streaming out from under the door, but he could hear movement coming from the other side of the door. He rapped softly on the door, waiting for someone to acknowledge him. When there was no answer, he cautiously turned the doorknob and pushed open the door to see two bodies, encased by the soft light of the moon streaming in from the window. One, a man, was down on his knees, while the other, who happened to be Sean, was perched on the bed with his pants down around his ankles, his head thrown back, arms straining to hold himself up as he was getting a blowjob. “What the fuck is going on?” Jared demanded as he clicked the light on, flooding the room in harsh light, causing the two men to pull apart.
Sean watched as Jared threw him a disgusted look and then turned to leave. “Jared… Wait, it’s not what it looks like,” he had begged, pushing the guy off of him, the color draining from his face with the knowledge that Jared had just caught him with another man.
Jared turned back to glare at Sean. “Oh, really? So, are you gonna try telling me that I didn’t just find you, m y boyfriend , in a darkened bedroom, with your dick down some other dude’s throat?”
“Wait? What?” the guy sputtered as he looked from Sean to Jared in confusion. “ Your boyfriend? Sean and I have been seeing each other for three months.”
“Is that so?” Jared remarked. “Well, you’re welcomed to him.” He glared at Sean, his mouth set in a determined line as he watched Sean stand, fumbling to pull up his pants. “Fuck you, Sean! We’re through. I never want to see you again.” With that, he had walked out of the bedroom, holding his head up high and holding back his tears until he had made it outside and to his car. Chad had followed him out, joining him as he sat in his car, letting himself dissolve into tears at having been so stupid in believing that Sean was the one for him, believing Sean’s lies about everything. He had been stupid, giving the man money, giving the man his heart. Chad had never said a word to him that night; never uttered ‘I told you so’, just sat there with him until he had been able to pull himself together. Then, as any best friend would do, Chad had offered to help him hide Sean’s body, or at the very least, kick the shit out of Sean when he had finally told Chad what he had discovered. He had been grateful for the offer but settled on Chad’s help with tosing out all of Sean’s stuff.
That night, exhausted emotionally and physically, he had let Chad drive him home. Chad had stayed with him; helping him through his breakup. And somehow Chad had ended up living with him and eventually working for him when he had opened Sweet Blossom . Chad wasn’t his only employee, and he wasn’t the greatest, but he certainly wasn’t the worst either. Plus, if Chad hadn’t mixed up a flower delivery, he would never have met Jensen. Despite Chad being his best friend, he had eventually told Chad he needed to move out; he needed some separation from his friend who was also his employee. He loved Chad, even though there were times he wanted to kill him. No matter what happened over the years, Chad was a constant in his life, his best friend, and someone he knew he could always count on to have his back and his best interest at heart, even if Chad didn’t always express that in the best way possible.
He had dated a few guys after Sean, but no one he had been serious about, at least in his mind, until meeting Jensen. For him, even only knowing Jensen for only a short time, he was convinced that Jensen was the one for him; the only one for him. Since the fiasco with Sean, he normally introduced a man he was seeing to Chad; letting Chad size the guy up before he got too serious with him, which never seemed to happen. It was like his heart wasn’t in it, as if since Sean, he couldn’t or wouldn’t allow himself to fall in love again until meeting Jensen. Jared sucked in a breath, holding it for a few seconds before exhaling with a swoosh, forcing down any more memories. “Okay, I’ll introduce you to Jensen...” he started to say before Chad cut him off.
“Yes!” Chad whooped out excitedly, curling his hands into fists and raising them into the air, shaking them enthusiastically.
Jared held up his hands, stopping Chad from any more outbursts. “First, you need to calm down. Jensen is shy and I don’t need you scaring him off. Second, when you do meet him, you better be on your best behavior, or I will kill you,” he hissed out to Chad, watching as the corners of Chad’s lips twitch up into a smile.
“Of course, you know me. I’m always on my best behavior,” Chad cackled as he backed away from the counter, allowing a customer to approach with a bouquet of flowers in their hands.
With an inward sigh to himself, Jared forced a smile on his face while he waited on the customer before calling over Lily, one of his part-time employees to cover the register. Grabbing the vase of flowers, he deposited it on the workbench for it to be added to that day’s deliveries. He wandered off into the back of his store, away from prying eyes and eavesdropping ears, so he could call Jensen, hoping what he had to propose to Jensen was met with anything other than trepidation of Jensen’s part. With a glance over his shoulder, he pulled out his phone, dialed Jensen’s number, and waited for his call to be picked up.
“Hello?” Jensen’s whiskey-smooth voice called out over the line.
“Hey,” Jared husked out, his lips twisting up into a smile at hearing Jensen’s voice.
“Hey yourself,” Jensen responded with a soft chuckle. “So, what do I owe this call to? How’s work?”
“Work is steady,” Jared answered, buying himself some time until he could figure out how to approach the subject of his call. “So, I was wondering if you’re busy tonight?” Being Friday night, and knowing Jensen had been busy with a project JD had given him at the last minute, Jensen had been working nonstop and had previously told him that he had wanted to take Friday night to relax and recharge. “I know you’ve been out straight with work, but I’d like to introduce you to Chad.”
“Oh, Jared, I…” Jensen started to say and then stopped when he heard Jared’s soft plea and relented. “Chad, huh? I guess I could meet him. What did you have in mind?” How could he refuse Jared’s request? This was the first time Jared had asked anything of him. Despite being tired and only wanting to go home and crawl into bed, he could do this one thing for Jared. He would do this for Jared; he still regretted not telling Jared about his birthday and had been trying to make amends despite Jared telling him there was no need, that Jared understood why he had kept it secret and there was nothing to forgive.
“How about we go out for a drink? That way we can make it a quick meeting and then you can go home. I know you’re probably tired and I really appreciate you doing this.” Jared didn’t want to push things with Jensen. “We can meet after work at Murphy’s Taproom for a quick drink.”
“Sure, Jared, that sounds good. I’ll see you tonight around seven. I’ll be done with this project and could probably use a drink by then,” Jensen remarked before they ended their call.
With their plans set, Jared sought out Chad to let him know that they were meeting that night. He found Chad pulling orders for the following day’s work detail off their website when he walked over to join him.
Chad looked up as Jared approached him. Setting aside the work orders, he waited for Jared to tell him what the outcome was. He couldn’t tell by the stoic look on Jared’s face if he had been able to talk Jensen into meeting him. “So…”
Jared shoved his hands into the pockets of his black cargo pants and rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet, doing his best to make Chad wonder what Jensen’s answer had been. He gave Chad a smirk before speaking. “Tonight, seven o’clock at Murphy’s Taproom. Jensen agreed to meet you.” He started to walk away only to stop and turn back to Chad. “I swear, if you’re not nice to Jensen, if you scare him away, I will kill you.” Turning his back on Chad and walking away, he didn’t give Chad a chance to respond.
After closing and locking up his shop, Jared hurried upstairs to shower and change before rushing out to meet Jensen and Chad. He prayed he got there before Chad. The last thing he wanted was for Chad to get there first, and have a drink or two to pass the time before he and Jensen joined him. To his relief, he was the first one there, grabbed a table that allowed him to watch the door, and settled in to wait for Jensen and Chad to arrive. He sipped on a glass of water, waiting to see who would be the first to arrive. He looked up to see Chad, sporting a huge grin on his face, approaching the table. He groaned inwardly knowing that look on Chad’s face never resulted in anything good happening. “Wipe that look off your face,” he hissed as Chad pulled out the empty chair across from him and dropped down into it.
“What look?” Chad inquired, trying to make himself look and sound innocent.
“Right, like you have no idea that you have this shit-eating grin on your face?” Jared didn’t believe for a moment that Chad didn’t know what he was talking about. Before he could say anything else, he looked at the door to see Jensen making his way inside. “He’s here,” Jared said excitedly as he started to stand so he could wave Jensen over.
“That’s Jensen?” Chad asked in disbelief taking in the striking man that had just entered the bar.
Jared narrowed his eyes at Chad. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means, I’m straight, and I’d do him. Man, Jared, you hit the jackpot with him,” Chad offered with a chuckle and a wiggle of his eyebrows.
“Don’t ruin this for me, and be nice. I’m warning you,” Jared cautioned as he turned from the table, his attention on Jensen and not Chad as he stepped away from their table to lead Jensen over. “Hey, thanks for doing this,” he murmured to Jensen after giving him a soft kiss on Jensen’s cheek. He watched as Jensen’s cheeks darkened from a slight blush. He wanted to kiss him again, wanted to really see how much he could get Jensen to blush, but forced himself not to, reminding himself why they were there and that there would be more time in the future for that if they survived the night.
Jensen fought against his rising emotions, trying to get himself under control so he didn’t embarrass himself or Jared. He cared about making a good first impression with Jared’s best friend. He knew meeting Jared’s best friend Chad was important, not only to Jared but for their relationship. A person didn’t introduce someone they were just passing the time with to their best friend. So, to him, he knew this meant that he and Jared were definitely more than just a passing fling. Around the time of his birthday, they had passed the getting to know each other phase and dipped into the dating phase and were now heading into the establishing a real relationship phase of where they were at. Or so he desperately hoped. “So, Chad?” Jensen managed to ask as he felt fear settle into his stomach like a weight holding him down.
“Yeah, he’s usually harmless. Just try to overlook anything that comes out of his mouth. God knows I do.” Jared offered Jensen a warm smile, hoping to alleviate any tension Jensen may have been feeling.
“And he’s your best friend?” Jensen quipped, raising an eyebrow as he looked at Jared.
“Guilty as charged,” Jared chuckled as he grabbed Jensen’s hand and led him over to the table to find that Chad had gotten to his feet in anticipation of meeting Jensen. “Jensen, this is Chad. Chad, this is Jensen.” He gave Chad a pointed look and watched as the two men shook hands before they all took their seats; he and Jensen sitting side by side while Chad sat across from them.
“Jensen, it’s nice to finally meet you. Jared talks about you a lot. All good things,” Chad rushed to say when he saw Jared glaring at him.
“Nice to meet you as well,” Jensen said, his tone soft as he spoke. Unconsciously, he reached out for Jared’s hand, lacing their fingers together. He felt Jared give a soft squeeze to his hand, causing him to look down at their joined hands and then up at Jared. Seeing Jared’s dimpled smile directed at him helped to soothe his nerves. “So, you’re Jared’s best friend?” Jensen managed to ask before their waitress interrupted them to take their drink order.
Once the waitress had left, Chad leaned forward and smiled. “Yeah, best friends since grade school. I don’t know why he’s stuck it out with me this long, but he has.”
“Guess you’re both lucky to have found a connection like that,” Jensen responded and then went silent as their drinks were served. Reaching for his beer, Jensen looked at Chad, meeting the other man’s eyes. “So, you work for Jared as well?” He watched as Chad nodded his head, remembering that it had been Chad’s blunder that had caused him to meet Jared. “I guess I should thank you for getting us together, in a manner of speaking.”
“Yeah, yeah if it wasn’t for me, you two may never have met,” Chad declared happily. “So, you’re welcome.”
“Chad…” Jared cautioned as he reached for his beer, glaring at his friend.
“It’s the truth,” Jensen offered, trying to settle Jared down. “We do owe him our thanks. Of course, if I hadn’t ordered the flowers, none of this would have happened,” he reminded Chad, taking some of the wind out of the man’s sail.
Chad tipped his head back and laughed. “You got me there.” He took a sip of his beer, placed the bottle down on the table, and fiddled with it, trying to find the right words so he wouldn’t offend Jensen or anger Jared. “I love Jared like a brother. I only want the best for him.” He raised his hand, stopping Jared from interjecting as he continued speaking to Jensen. “I only want to see him happy. You, Jensen, you make him happy, and that’s good enough for me.”
“Thank you,” Jensen said so softly that it was barely above a whisper as he looked down at his hands.
“Chad’s right, you make me happy.” Jared placed his hand on Jensen’s thigh, giving it a gentle squeeze to get his attention. When Jensen looked up he saw Jared was beaming at him.
Jensen slowly nodded as he raised his head to look at Jared. “And you make me happy,” he said as he stared into Jared’s multicolor eyes. “Unbelievably so.” He felt his cheeks begin to burn from his blush and he tucked his chin against his chest as he looked away from Jared, not daring to meet his eyes again or even attempt to look at Chad, fearing that both men would be able to see into his soul and how much Jared meant to him. He wasn’t sure if he was ready to admit that to anyone just yet.
“So, you work for a publishing company?” Chad inquired, figuring it was time to change topics. Now that he had met Jensen and got a feeling for him, he was sure that Jensen was a good fit for his best friend. He would always worry about Jared, but something told him that Jensen would guard Jared’s heart against any unnecessary hurt.
“Yes, Morgan Publishing Unlimited . I proofread the incoming manuscripts, get the stories edited and ready for publishing,” Jensen explained as he settled into his chair, feeling more relaxed and opening up to Chad as the night wore on until he began to yawn. “Sorry,” he said as he covered his mouth. “I should probably get going. It’s been a long, tiring week.”
“I’m glad we had a chance to meet,” Chad confirmed as he stood and offered his hand to Jensen.
“Let me walk you out.” Jared slid his arm around Jensen’s waist, pulling him closer so he could plant a soft kiss on Jensen’s cheek. Arm and arm they walked out to the parking lot to stop in front of Jensen’s car. “Thanks for doing this.”
“I guess it wasn’t so bad, meeting Chad,” Jensen teased when he saw the uncertainty in Jared’s eyes. “He cares about you. He only wants to see you happy, and that’s a wonderful thing.” He cupped Jared’s cheeks, pulling him down so they could exchange a sweet kiss before breaking apart. “Are we still on for tomorrow?”
Jared offered Jensen a bright smile. “Of course.” He watched as Jensen got into his car, started the engine, and pulled out of his parking spot, merging his car into the flow of traffic.
“I like him,” Chad announced as he joined Jared, watching as Jensen’s car disappeared into the moving traffic around them. “He’s definitely got my approval.”
Jared felt a sense of relief flood through his body at hearing Chad’s approval. It meant a lot to have his best friend’s approval of Jensen. “Thanks.”
“Don’t thank me yet, Jensen still needs to meet your parents and pass your mom’s critical eye.”
With a groan, Jared said, “Don’t remind me.” He had been holding off on introducing Jensen to his parents, well his mom in particular. Meeting Chad was one thing, but introducing Jensen to his parents was another thing altogether. He wasn't sure if he was ready for that.
“Cheer up. I don’t think there’s anything your mom won’t love about Jensen.”
Jared felt the smile spread across his face at the mention of Jensen’s name. “Yeah, you’re right. What’s not to love about Jensen?”
“So, you love him!” Chad croaked out and then punched Jared’s shoulder.
“What are you five?”
“You love him,” Chad responded in a singsong voice.
“Shut up, Chad,” Jared responded without any heat behind his words as he turned from his friend, ignoring the kissing noises Chad was making as he made his way to his car. Yes, he loved Jensen, he was in love with him, he just hadn’t said the words out loud to Jensen. At least not yet.