A/N: This story can stand alone, but it probably wouldn't hurt to read Coincidences first. Things might make (a lot) more sense that way.
I shut the door with a soft creak, smiling as I locked it behind me. It was a rare day indeed when I came home from work in a good mood. Although people still couldn't seem to get it through their enormously thick skulls that the sixth Harry Potter wasn't coming out until next month, I had generously decided that I wasn't going to be angry with them today. After all, it was Reid's turn to cook tonight, and that was definitely something to look forward to.
It had taken a while, but eventually Reid had secured a job at a nearby restaurant called Bristol's where he got regular practice, and all of us were happy to find that his cooking just kept getting better and better. Unfortunately, his laziness was one thing that hadn't changed, and Ben, Josh and I could only convince him to cook once a week as opposed to every day.
Although I supposed it was easier to keep up my girlish figure that way.
I dropped my keys onto the kitchen counter with a soft sigh, forcing back a frown at the blinking red light of our answering machine. There was only one person who called regularly, and I wasn't sure whether or not I wanted to hear what she had to say.
I eased out of my jacket and slung it over a nearby chair, debating on whether or not I should just press the button and get it over with. Of course, if I didn't listen to it now, then I would have to explain to her why I had no idea what she was talking about the next time she called.
I grimaced and hesitantly pushed the button, listening as my mother's voice bubbled out of the speakers excitedly, if not a bit fuzzily. I sank down into a chair in relief. My big brother, Danny, had gotten engaged to his girlfriend a few months back, so of course that was what she was rattling on about.
"We just mailed the invitations the other day, so you should have one today or tomorrow," she informed me in a lively, cheerful tone. "If you don't get one, then just call us." She paused to giggle happily. "I'm so excited, honey! Just think what it'll be like when you get married." I couldn't suppress a snort at that mental image. I could scarcely begin to imagine what a mess that would be. "There's a cute girl at the office that sounded interested in you," she started to continue, but I cut her off with a swift jab of my finger as I deleted the message.
Tiredly, I rubbed a hand over my face and stared at the tiled floor. I was really starting to wonder if Mom would ever notice that I hadn't gone out with a single girl she'd set me up with. I'd stood up every last one of them, and I wasn't one fucking bit sorry about it, either. It was her fault, not mine.
I looked up at the sound of footsteps to find Josh shuffling into the kitchen, Ben trailing behind as usual.
"You know," he said as he reached for an apple, "you should really just tell her that you're still gay." After cleaning it with his shirt, he took a large bite and chewed thoughtfully, adding after a moment's silence, "After all, it's been almost a year now, hasn't it?"
Ben sneakily stole a bite from Josh's apple and joined me at the kitchen table. "Yeah," he agreed, somewhat muffled by the food in his mouth. "Reid said that he's tired of hiding in the closet every time she comes over to visit."
I had just opened my mouth to retort when the kitchen door banged open and Reid appeared from the garage, untying his apron as he crossed the room. "Hell yes," he said as he dropped his jacket and apron onto the chair next to me. "Closets are for clothes, not boyfriends," he insisted, leaning over to kiss my cheek.
"Whatever," I grumbled and sank lower into my chair. Reid only chuckled and wrapped his arms around my waist, probably to pull me into a hug, but I quickly waved him off. "Go get the mail for me, would you?" I asked.
If he was annoyed with my lack of affection, he didn't show it, because he only flashed me a smile and bounded out the front door towards the mailbox.
I leveled a glare at Ben and Josh as a silent warning to keep their mouths shut. If they mentioned one word about my mother, I would kill both of them in their sleep. Viciously. With a machete.
The front door slammed as Reid slinked back into the room with the mail tucked under his arm. "Hey, Joel," he said, sliding back into the seat next to mine, "you have one very fancy envelope addressed to you here."
"Thanks," I said as he handed it to me, smirking when he tipped the bills and magazines in Ben and Josh's direction for them to play with. However, they didn't seem to have much interest in them today, and all three of them stared at me as I tore open the dusty gold envelope.
"My brother's getting married soon," I explained, flicking my gaze rather disinterestedly across the fancy, scrawling script. Place, date, time, guest…
Wait a minute. Guest?
Apparently Reid had seen it too, because he immediately tossed his arm across my shoulder and grinned. "Look at that, you can bring someone!" He squeezed my shoulder. "I'm coming, right?"
"Well, um…" I winced and shifted out of his arms, afraid to break the news to him while he still had me trapped. "No."
His jaw dropped open in surprise. "What?" he asked, just as Ben and Josh echoed in the background, "Why not?"
I rolled my eyes in contempt at their stupidity and tapped Reid's nose with the invitation. "Did you forget that you're not supposed to live here anymore?"
"Joel, don't be silly," Reid said, a grin curling his lips. "We're just friends now, remember?" And he slyly shifted closer, already trying to put his arms around me again, and I had to push all my weight against him to hold him back.
"No," I replied as stern as I could. "See?" I said, nodding at his persistent hands. "This is why you can't come."
His lower lip jutted out in a pout. "I promise I'll be good," he insisted and reached out for me again. Exasperated, I caught both his hands in mine and held them firmly.
"Reid, I know you better than that," I said slowly, watching his eyes for a reaction. "You're never good."
He bristled and drew himself up, offended. "Maybe if you quit shoving me inside a closet all the time I'd have a reason to be better behaved," he snapped.
I dropped my eyes to the floor. Unfortunately, he had a good point, and I didn't know what to say to that.
Ben's chair scraped against the tile as he suddenly jumped to his feet. "Joel, this is perfect," he shouted. "You could finally tell your mom!" Seeing my dubious glare, he ducked his head conspiratorially and continued in a low voice, "Your brother's getting married, right? So then she'll be so happy about the wedding that she won't even care!"
I shot him a hard, disbelieving look that sent him cowering. "Seriously, who are you kidding?" I growled.
"So you're just going to go to Florida without me?" Reid asked in a hurt voice.
"Well, yes," I said bluntly.
His lip stuck out even farther at that, his eyes wide and watery in preparation for the infamous puppy look that had gotten me into so much trouble in the past. I quickly tried to look away, but a pathetic moan caught my attention and I just didn't have it in me to ignore it.
Shit. How could anyone say no to that face? I purposely turned my head, trying to muster as much resolve as possible to just say no, and refused to look back at him.
Sure, it would be a lot more fun if Reid came along, but there was no way in hell that Mom wouldn't recognize him. And, on the off chance that she didn't recognize him, Reid still couldn't keep his hands off of me nine days out of ten, if that. For crying out loud, he wouldn't even leave me alone when I had mono!
I knew that going dateless and alone would probably raise a few eyebrows, but going with a guy who constantly grabbed your ass would elicit too many questions, and that was a chance I just wasn't willing to take.
I was just about to tell Reid this when he leaned over to whimper softly in my ear and nuzzled my neck tenderly with his nose.I was suddenly struck by the realization that if I didn't agree now, then Reid would spend the rest of the month trying to convince me.
"Fucking hell," I hissed and shook him off me. He refused to let go until I continued, glaring, "Okay, you can come, but we are just friends, do you understand? And you're carrying my luggage."
I jerked out of his grasp and held him at arm's length, frowning at him for all I was worth just to make sure he got the message.
"Yes, absolutely," he said with a smile that plainlysaid he didn't understand at all. "Just friends."
Ugh. Well, I supposed I had plenty of time to work on the just friends thing. Hopefully he'd eventually come around and get the point.
In a burst of sudden movement, Josh sprinted across the room and grabbed Reid's hand in a high five, his face splitting in a huge grin. "Dude, you have to teach me that kicked puppy look," he gushed, sounding truly impressed. "It's awesome!"
Reid's expression was undeniably smug as he buffed his nails on his shirt and said, quite satisfied with himself, "It works every time."
A/N: Wow, Joel developed a sense of humor. That was almost as unlikely as me putting Field Work on hiatus. How both of those things ended up happening, I have no idea.