“Dean, there’s another one.”
Dean looks up from the negatives he’s just put together to the crisp white envelope in Jared’s hand. With a heavy sigh, he takes it and opens the invitation – grateful to find that beyond the invitation to the happiest day of his friend’s life, it’s a job, too. That much is a relief (because the money never really hurts).
By Wednesday, Dean’s not only agreed to be a groomsman, but he’s agreed to do the photography for the event. He’s well-aware that his friends know the way to his heart and saying ‘but you’re the very best photographer I know’ charms him and then locks him into the commitment. For Adam, though, he’d do anything – especially considering he’s technically a groomsman twice over, having introduced Adam to Graham.
“One day, you’re going to have to stop being a wedding photographer,” Jared says over lunch. They’ve worked together for nearly a decade and form an impeccable team. Jared does public adverts and Dean makes sure everything looks perfect.
Oh, and he’s also head over heels in love with him. That’s something Jared doesn’t know and something Dean’s not keen on telling him.
Dean flashes his most charming and winning smile. “As long as I’m needed, I refuse to stop.” Besides that, it gave him the chance to trot out his best tux and tie and get all cleaned up. Sure, he’d only ever pulled once or twice at one of those things, but the romantic at heart kept insisting that one day he’d find the right way to tell Jared that this was what he wanted.
Of course, it was slightly difficult to say that when Jared was dating the nicest, kindest, and most giving woman that Dean had ever met.
Sometimes Dean hates the fact that nice people like Jared get wonderful people to fall in love with them.
“Do you need time off to cover the event?” Jared asks, poking his head in from the door to give Dean a quick look, like he’s appraising how much time he’s planning to give Dean anyway, because he’s nice and perfect like that. Dean spends most of his spare time bemoaning his horrible luck with men to his friends, but this is starting to get ridiculous.
Dean shakes his head. “No, it’s a weekend. I’ll be back without a trace of scandal or fun on me.”
“Don’t stay too straight and narrow,” Jared advises. “You could use a little fun. Hey, you think you can handle closing up shop today? Fern wants to head out for a lunch and I feel ready to oblige. This place is driving me insane.”
Dean nods wordlessly, hating the sinking feeling in his stomach at the thought of another happy picnic happening without him there. If there were gold medals for unrequited love, Dean would have a whole array of them by now. He can’t stop, either. He wishes he could find someone better or more attractive, but they’re either taken or they’re straight – and in Lee’s case, they’re both.
It leaves him with no choice but to complain about it to his friends on a weekly basis.
“He gave nearly a hundred thousand dollars to a children’s charity today,” Dean drunkenly slurs, resting his chin on Richard’s elbow – Richard, one of his ex’s, is the world’s most patient friend and Dean wishes that he hadn’t gone and married some stupidly gorgeous bloke from back home – John or Jonas or something ridiculous. “How the hell am I supposed to not be desperately and madly in love with him?”
Richard rubs his fingers through Dean’s hair. “Because you’re a romantic and you’re madly in love with a good man.”
“You mean, I’m an idiot.”
“That could be interpreted that way, as well,” Richard says. “You should let me hook you up with someone I know. Not entirely a philanthropist, but he’s smart. He’s an actor.”
Dean makes a face.
“Don’t be so quick to judge,” Richard warns. “Besides, you’re not getting any younger and if you spend your whole life pining away for a taken man, you’re going to wake up one day very old and very alone and it will do you no favours to have spent so long yearning for someone whose heart was already taken.”
“When did you get so wise?” Dean wonders.
“When I got married. Now, speaking of, what are you wearing to Adam and Graham’s event?”
Dean tells Richard that he’ll have to show up and find out, but Richard’s going to be there. They’re all going to be there. Adam’s one of the darlings of their group and Graham makes him so incandescently happy that it’d be a shame for them not to have their happily-ever-after. Dean’s there to chronicle the event in both speech and photo. In the same tux and tie as ever, he begins his checklist.
He gets about two checks in before he feels cool liquid sploshing all over his torso. Dean lets out a cry of shock, glancing down to see champagne covering him completely and when he looks up, a recalcitrant puppy of a man is gaping at him in horror.
“It’s…” He swallows back the ‘fine’ because it’s not. He doesn’t have another shirt and he’s running on limited time to get the shirt off before it stains yellow. He foists his most expensive camera into the stranger’s hand and starts yanking off his tie in a hurry, tossing his jacket onto the nearest chair, and stripping out of the shirt efficiently and madly.
The strange man looks at him like he’s gone insane, which…is not entirely out of the question.
“I feel like I should get some bills out,” the man says, his Irish accent coating the words in this luscious and teasing way that Dean doesn’t pay much attention to because his equipment is in a stranger’s hands, his shirt might be ruined, and the wedding is going to start soon and Dean’s supposed to be out there. “I’m so sorry. It’s my first event, suppose I got a bit nervous.”
“What are you…? Who are you?” Dean asks, gesturing for the man to come with him. “That camera cost two grand. I’m not letting you out of my sight.” He leads them to the bathroom and begins to soak his shirt in the sink, glancing in the mirror at the unruly state of his hair – the humidity beginning to curl it. “What are you doing here? I’ve never met you before and I’ve met all of Adam and Graham’s friends.”
“I’m new. At least, to Graham’s circle,” he confesses. “Aidan Turner. I’m a writer, Graham convinced me to do a piece on their wedding. Normally, I do charity events and the like, but…you can’t really say no to Graham, can you?”
Dean snorts and shakes his head. “Much as I’ve tried, you really can’t.” He yanks the shirt out of the sink and stares at the see-through fabric with disappointment. “I’m fucked.”
“Here,” Aidan’s saying, resting the camera on a dry part of the counter and stripping off his ruffled shirt. “I know it’s not much, it’s all I could get on a moment’s notice, but we’re sort of the same build. It might be a little long,” he says apologetically and Dean’s stupidly pleased that didn’t devolve into a height joke.
Time’s running out and Dean’s running low on possibilities. He grabs the shirt and pulls it on frantically, grabbing his camera as he checks his watch. “You said you’re a mate of Graham’s, yeah?”
“Can I get your number from him?”
Aidan flushes pink, eyes widening.
“So I can return the shirt,” Dean hurries to add, aware that he’s not with Jared, but this feels strangely like he’s cheating on him and, fuck, but he needs his priorities resorted if he can’t even have a conversation with a nice bloke without thinking of his boss. “Shit, I’m supposed to be at the altar.”
Aidan reaches over and presses the camera into Dean’s hands. “I’ll see you at the reception after?”
“Maybe,” Dean says, not wanting to make any promises.
He tries his best to haphazardly tuck in the extra fabric of the shirt and bolts for the church, making it to the front of the church just in time for Nesbitt to give him a once-over, his gaze stuck on the ruffles of his shirt – and the top two buttons being undone. Dean swallows and focuses on snapping pictures of the guests and the parties, grateful that he’s not going to be in the photos since he looks a mess.
“What happened to you?” Nesbitt asks. “Where’s your tie?”
Dean opens his mouth to respond, but he actually doesn’t know. At least, he doesn’t until he takes a shot of the crowd and checks it to see Aidan wearing Dean’s bowtie wrapped around his wrist like he’s a present waiting to be opened.
Flushed and bothered by someone who isn’t Jared for the first time in years, Dean doesn’t know what to make of the situation.
He makes it through the ceremony mostly intact, checking the camera and grateful to find that he’s got hundreds of good shots to use. He grabs Graham and Adam for their portraits and starts putting away the equipment, wearily watching the way the two of them seem ready to jump on Dean’s current clothing status.
“What happened to you?” Adam asks, sounding thrilled. “Please tell me you let someone get one into you before the wedding?”
“Ding dong, the unrequited love is gone?” Graham suggests hopefully.
“Your new writer friend dropped champagne all over me,” Dean mutters, staring down at the ruffles with dismay. “I barely had time to get his shirt off his back before I had to get to the wedding.”
“Well?” Adam prompts.
“What did you think?”
“Of what?” Dean asks, placing caps on lenses and trying to find some sense in Adam’s words. “What…?” he sputters a laugh. “Aidan? No way,” he insists.
“Why not? True, you two aren’t exactly made for each other, what with his distaste for weddings and your inability to stop attending them because you secretly want to marry a wedding,” Graham notes. “He’s young, you’re young, you’re both attractive, and you so desperately need to fuck someone. We love you, Dean. We do. You can’t keep pining over Jared like your life depends on it. One day, he’s going to get married too.”
“And then I’ll be old and alone,” Dean sighs. “Richard gave me this very speech last night. I’m not fucking some friend of yours because of fear.”
“No, fuck him because he’s gorgeous,” Adam reasonably insists.
“He hates weddings?” Dean murmurs, choosing to ignore Adam’s ‘advice’. “Why’s he covering yours, then?”
“It’s his job. And I asked nicely,” Graham says, beaming proudly at Adam. “We’re going to be front page of the lifestyle section. Besides, he’s a good kid who wants to be a proper writer and got stuck doing the obits and the write-ups of charity galas. And, again, it’s not like you’re going to be marrying him.” Graham digs out a piece of paper, scribbling a number. “Here. That’s his number. Ring him,” he commands. “And let him get his shirt off your back. Slowly. Preferably with mood lighting and some wine.”
Dean plucks the card out of Graham’s hand, but only because the shirt was part of the rental and he doesn’t want to pay a fee on that.
“I’m not shagging him.”
“Of course not,” Adam agrees, a wicked smile on his lips. “Making love.”
“I’m not going to gag, but only because you two are newlyweds and I refuse to ruin your night,” Dean says, snapping one last photo with his Polaroid – so he can add it to his wall of weddings – and pressing a kiss to each of their cheeks. The rest of the night is fairly predictable apart from the fact that he keeps looking through the crowd to see if Aidan is still wearing the tie around his wrist.
It’s Jared who shows up, instead, and Dean’s entire world becomes focused on how perfect Jared looks and he’s giddy to see that Fern isn’t there with him.
Dean licks his lips and grabs a drink for courage. “What are you doing here? I thought you were working!”
“And miss this?” Jared grins, pressing a kiss to Dean’s cheek and officially becoming Dean’s wank-material for the next week. “I thought I’d drop by and see how you’re wasting your ungodly wonderful levels of talent on weddings again,” he says, sliding his fingers over Dean’s wrist to pry the camera loose. “Look at these,” he praises. “Honestly, you’re ridiculous. You’re so talented.”
Dean swallows back the lump in his throat, wishing he could say something about how stupidly in love he is with Jared.
“There you are,” a voice interrupts Dean’s current fantasy – which involves waking up on the weekend and making omelettes – and Dean realizes that Aidan has picked the worst possible time to find Dean in the crowd.
Jared turns, a wildly amused look on his face. “I didn’t know I was interrupting.”
“You’re not, you’re…” Dean exhales and stares at Dean’s shirt on Aidan’s torso and the way it fits perfectly apart from how short it is. Every time he reaches up, a sliver of Aidan’s stomach shows and Dean spends a few seconds too many looking. It’s long enough that Jared seems to notice, which isn’t what tonight is supposed to be about.
Aidan brightens. “I’m Aidan Turner, Graham’s friend. You are?”
“Dean’s boss, and friend.”
And love of my life, not that you know it, thinks Dean hopelessly.
He sighs and Aidan looks at him curiously. The small talk goes by and Jared excuses himself to head to the buffet, leaving Aidan at Dean’s side. “I thought I was bad about wearing my emotions on my sleeve.”
“What?” Dean asks, finally looking at Aidan. He reaches over and grasps for the bowtie around his wrist, sliding his thumb under the tie to loosen it. It’d come free, except that Aidan steps back and Dean winds up stumbling along with him. “Give me back my tie.”
“Can I have back my shirt?” Aidan asks with a wink. “Not that it doesn’t look amazing on you.”
Dean flushes, his cheeks going pink, and even though his fingertips are still flush against Aidan’s warm skin and the pulse is going to his head – or maybe that’s the champagne and the proximity to Jared that’s doing it.
“So? Boss, huh?”
Dean tugs on the tie, which brings Aidan flush against Dean’s body and if he’s not wrapping an arm around Aidan’s waist, they’re going to end up on the floor. Dean looks up at the height difference between them, and stops thinking about Jared.
For the first time in years, Jared isn’t the first one who comes to his mind.
Dean ought to be relieved or worried or something, but he’s not entirely sure what to make of the fact that his palm is flush on Aidan’s forearm and suddenly they’re dancing. They’re wearing each other’s clothes and now they’re dancing to a slow song. Dean’s fairly sure Adam’s bribed Aidan to do this because it doesn’t make any sense.
“You’re painfully obvious about how you’re crazy in love with him,” Aidan teases.
“It’s not like he’s noticed,” Dean scoffs.
“And it’s not like you noticed how much time you’re wasting.”
“I’m sorry, you did just meet me,” Dean retorts, yanking on the tie, which brings Aidan even closer. “I don’t think you have any right to lecture me about whom I’m in love with.”
“Oh, you’re in love,” Aidan drawls. “That makes all the difference.”
Dean glares at him crossly. He yanks the tie off and shoves it into his pocket, glaring at Aidan and storming away. If it weren’t Graham and Adam’s wedding night, he’d give them a piece of his mind for putting him in this awkward position. Dean’s pissed, beyond pissed, and he’s in such a rush to get away that he doesn’t even notice that he’s lost the Polaroid until two days later. He’s in the middle of tearing apart the office and cursing loudly when he hears the door open.
“That doesn’t sound good,” a female voice comments.
Dean peers up to find Fern at the door. “Fern,” he says tightly. “Hi. Jared’s not here.”
“I know,” she says, her shoulders high and a grin on her lips. “It’s you I wanted to talk to, actually. I know that you’re Jared’s best friend and I know it might be weird, I know that you don’t have to say yes, but…”
She laughs and a frisson of dread sinks into Dean’s stomach.
“He proposed!” Fern says with giddy delight. “And I wanted to know if you’d stand at my side and…maybe be our photographer?” She keeps talking, but Dean tunes out, nodding and managing to agree to everything that Fern asks for. By the time she leaves, Dean’s signed his own death certificate.
He’s still sitting at his desk, stunned, when he remembers that the Polaroid of Graham and Adam are still missing – and that soon, there’s going to be one of Jared on his wall of weddings.
“I need a drink,” he mutters.
Even though he’s got hours on the clock left, Dean heads to the nearest bar and sends out a 911 text to every friend he knows. He always knew this day would probably come, but he’d tried to ignore reality for fantasy. Some part of him kept holding out hope for Jared to see how aligned they were and how good they could be together.
Now, Dean’s day-drinking to drive away the sick feeling in his stomach and he's not entirely sure it's doing any good.