Somewhere near two in the morning, the droning tones of my alarm clock seeped through my sludge of sleep and rudely dragged me back into the world of the living. I blindly reached out to slap at my bedside table, hitting the lamp, my cell phone, and wallet before ever coming in contact with the OFF button.
"Stupid early flights," I yawned, burrowing back into the mattress. "I don't even like weddings."
Deciding another five minutes of sleep couldn't make us miss our flight, I pulled the blankets tight around my body, cocoon-like, and rolled onto my stomach to press my face against the pillows and block out the lights.
...er. Wait. Why were the lights on?
I suddenly sat up bolt straight, worried we'd missed our flight entirely and that 'light' was actually the sun creeping through the blinds. The sheets flew in a frenzy on the floor, and I squinted around, half-blind without my glasses, but I could see well enough to make out an orange head of hair in the corner of the room. Feeling slightly less panicked, I sorted out where my glasses were (I had knocked them off the table in my fight with the alarm clock) and slipped them on.
Reid was staring worriedly at the closet, alternately biting his nails and picking out a piece of clothing, eyeing it critically, then either throwing it into a growing pile of clothes on the floor or folding it neatly in his suitcase at his feet.
"Reid," I said, already feeling the first stirring of anger in my stomach. "Please tell me you're not packing. I told you to finish packing last night."
Reid turned around and tried to charm his way out of the situation with a big smile. "Not packing," he chirped. "I'm just rearranging a little."
"Reid," I said again, with growing urgency. "Our flight leaves in two hours. You were supposed to finish that before you went to sleep, not after you--" I abruptly trailed off, staring at him, at his unkempt hair, drooping eyes, limp shoulders, and resisted the urge to smother him with the pillows. "Fuck," I hissed. "Tell me you slept!"
"I slept," he said, and his smile wavered as he reached to grab a coffee mug from the top of our shared dresser and took a generous sip. "Just not much."
I wiped my face irritably. "I thought you packed most of your stuff yesterday. Why the hell did you feel the need to stay up all night rearranging, as you put it?"
"Well," he said, rubbing the back of his neck. "I don't know. I started thinking, and I realized that I'm about to trap myself between two large Jewish families, including your mother, who hates me, and I'm going to be the only gay, skinny Irish boy within a ten-mile radius."
"And you only realized this last night?" I asked, raising my eyebrows in disbelief. "We've been planning this for months. Besides, how does that even matter?"
If I hadn't known better, I could have sworn that a flush crept over Reid's cheeks. "I want to impress them so that I can still date you after all this is over."
I managed a little scowl at that. "As far as this wedding is concerned, we're just friends, remember?"
He rolled his eyes, mouth curling distastefully into a frown. "Fine," he muttered. "I want to impress them so I can still be your friend," he said, dragging out the last word sarcastically.
"Better," I said, smiling a little. "So, the terrifying thought of my family kept you up, for what?" I glanced at the clock: 2:15. "Four hours?"
"I didn't know what to wear," he said bluntly.
"You what?" I stared at him, jaw slack, unsure whether or not he was serious. Was he really that worried about my family that he'd re-pack his entire suitcase with only two hours before we had to leave? I sputtered uselessly for a few moments, trying to think of a nice way to say 'that's sweet, but you're kind of an idiot' and eventually just blurted out, "That is so gay."
He gave me a significant glance from the corner of his eye. "Ever wonder why?"
"Shut up," I muttered and pushed myself out of bed to find some of that coffee Reid was drinking.
"Shut up, huh?" Grinning mischievously, Reid caught my waist and tugged me up against his chest. "I seem to recall that being code for something…"
I smirked at him and tugged away. "Yeah, well, I'd like to indulge, but someone hasn't finished packing yet."
He refused to let me go. "Wanna help, then?"
"No, this is your own fault," I said firmly. I turned to leave, but I had only managed a step and a half before Reid clutched the hem of my shirt and made me turn around. His green eyes were wide and watery, and he had his lower lip jutted out in that famous pout. Instantly, my anger began to melt away, and I was lucky I saw his suitcase on the floor, barely half packed, to knock some sense into me.
"Oh, no," I growled and backed away. "You're not getting me with that again."
"No." I shook my head vigorously, prying his fingers away from my shirt. "I didn't even want to bring you in the first place, and if you're not packed in time, then I'm leaving without you, and that's that. Do you understand?"
Reid furrowed his eyebrows and scrunched his nose thoughtfully. "But do you really want to face all of those relatives without a date? Alone? You're expected to bring a guest. What will they think when you don't?"
"That I'm single," I said reasonably.
"But Joel!" He sprang forward and grabbed my shoulders, pulling his puppy face again. "I love you!"
"Oh, for the love of" My eyebrow twitched irritably at his expression, irresistible as it was, and I threw him off in favor of stalking over to the closet. "I hate you sometimes."
"Does that mean you'll do it?"
"Yes," I snapped, scarcely believing the words even as I spoke them. Crossing my arms, I stood in front of the closet and surveyed the contents ruthlessly, carefully ignoring Reid when he settled behind me and hugged my waist. If I let him distract me, we'd never get out of here on time.
Lips pursed, I continued to scan Reid's closet, trying to find a shirt that didn't make him look like a gay pride poster boy. Nothing that made him look too good, no pants that showed off his ass, nothing tight…
"This is harder that it should be," I grumbled. I was about to give up when I saw a few plain button-ups crushed in the corner. Quickly, I grabbed them and tossed them unceremoniously into Reid's suitcase, not even bothering to fold them before I resumed the hunt for some decent pants.
"Joel!" Reid shrieked, crouching over his suitcase. "What the hell are you thinking? It's going to be wrinkled!"
I snorted, "You can iron it. If you want it folded, do it yourself, Mr. Waits Too Late to Pack."
"Fine," he grumbled, and set about folded everything quite neatly before he stacked them in his suitcase, sparing me a smile when he was done. "Thank you for helping."
"Hmph," I said and turned back to his closet, standing stiffly so he wouldn't know he'd won me over. I threw a few more things over my shoulder, hoping they landed somewhere near his suitcase. I didn't dare turn around for fear of one of Reid's famous looks..
"I mean it." Standing to press a quick kiss at the corner of my mouth, Reid wrapped my fingers around his coffee mug and nudged me toward the bathroom. "I'll finish the rest real fast while you go get ready, okay?"
"Okay," I mumbled as I drank from his coffee. "And don't think for a second you can charm your way out of this. No matter how nice you are to me, if you aren't ready to leave in an hour, I'm leaving your sorry ass behind." I gave him one last strict glare over the edge of the coffee mug and stalked away to let him get to work. I sincerely hoped he finished in time.
Thanks to Reid's incredible procrastination, we were late, and I had to let him drive to the airport. He was only one short step away from competing in a NASCAR race. If you asked me, that tiny missing step was sanity.
"I told you we'd make it," Reid said as he took the parking ticket from the little machine, ignoring the shaken looks of the pedestrians standing in the parking garage. I smiled nervously at them, but they just scowled and stalked away like... well, like a crazy redhead had just tried to mow them down at top speed. Which was basically true.
"We're not on the plane yet," I retorted, throwing open my door as soon as Reid swerved into a decent-looking parking spot. Dashing around to the back of the car, I opened the trunk, pulled out our two suitcases, and thrust them both at Reid as he came around the car. He just smiled and wordlessly picked them up, trailing behind as I half-ran to our terminal.
We checked in fairly quickly – I say fairly because no one was really there at four in the morning, but security was still crazy. The one benefit to being so late was that we didn't have to wait long for the plane.
Our flight had open seating. Reid made a beeline for the first available window seat before I could even suggest a place to sit, and I momentarily entertained the thought of sitting behind him to kick his seat the whole way, but I ultimately decided that was somewhere along the lines of cruel and unusual punishment. So I just took the seat next to him instead.
"I think I'll go to sleep," Reid said immediately, pushing up the arm rest and cuddling up against my side like a giant puppy. "Be my pillow?" he asked.
"I think we should talk about the rules first," I said quietly.
"Rules?" He sat up, blinking.
"Rules," I echoed.
He looked unhappily suspicious. "Like what?"
"First of all, absolutely none of this," I said, grabbing his hand, which he had already conspicuously worked inside my shirt.
"Not even in private?" he whined.
I sighed, knowing that since Reid had the tenacity of a horny monkey it was probably better if he had his way when we were alone, rather than taking the chance his sexual tension might explode near one of my relatives. "If you lock the door," I allowed. "And you'll have to be quiet for once."
He smiled impishly. "I guess that's fair. Anything else?""
"Yeah. It goes without saying that we don't talk about my sexuality, but I'd appreciate it if you didn't let them know about yours, either. I don't want anyone to even have that possibility on their mind." I glared at his crestfallen expression and snapped, "Come on. If they know you're gay then every male in the wedding party will automatically assume you're hitting on them."
He blinked at me. "That's ridiculous."
"I know," I said, mildly sympathetic. I felt bad about all these rules, but I also knew they were necessary. "Also, try not to act gay."
Reid raised one eyebrow inquisitively. "What exactly does that entail?"
"Just tone yourself down a little, that's all."
"That's not fair," he said, and before I could open my mouth to reply, he continued, "I'm not like you, Joel. I've never been straight." As though to demonstrate this, he picked up my hand and laced our fingers together.
"Then this week should make up for it." I said, delicately extracting my hand from his, and bent over to pull my book out of my carry on bag.
"Joel… is this really worth it?"
"Do you want a free vacation or not?" I snapped.
"It would be so much easier if we just told everyone," he said, watching disinterestedly as the stewardess began her safety explanations.
"No," I growled. "Not today. Not this week. I like my brother, and I want to be in his wedding, and if that means keeping my mouth shut about my boyfriend for seven days, then that's what I'm going to do, and that's what you're going to do. Got it?"
"Whatever," he said glumly, and turned away to rest his cheek against the window.
"Reid, I'm serious," I hissed. This issue wasn't up for debate. "Don't just brush me off."
"Fine, okay, I got it."
I felt guilty already. "Do you want a pillow?" I asked softly.
Turning away from the window, he glanced at my lap and asked hopefully, "Do you mean you, or one of those crappy rectangles from a stewardess?"
"I mean me," I said, tucking my book into the flap on the seat in front of me. "But as soon as we land, you have to keep the rules. Okay?"
"Okay," he said, and easy as that, he was back to his usual self. He settled down on my lap with his fingers curling around my knees, and I smiled a little as I rested one hand on his hair.
Reid slept the entire way to Florida, which made me insanely jealous. I spent the whole flight reading my book, which turned out to be not so great, and eating peanuts and sipping coffee, careful not to spill anything on the sleeping man in my lap. Just as the seatbelt sign flipped off, Reid began to yawn and hug my waist sleepily.
"Good morning," I said.
"Morning," he mumbled, rubbing his eyes as he sat up and stretched. "That sure went fast."
"Yeah," I said, rolling my eyes. "I wonder why."
"Does the hotel have a pool?" Reid asked, unbuckling his seat belt, and stood. He had to hunch a little so he didn't hit his head on the ceiling.
"Probably," I answered and tried to ignore the way Reid had not tried to grab his hand or put his arm around me or anything since he had woken up. I didn't want to admit it, but it felt strange. Empty.
"Mm, cool." He stumbled behind me as we made our way off the plane and towards baggage claim, where my brother was supposedly waiting to pick us up. We made our way through the airport almost silently, and I was about to comment on it as we were riding an escalator down one level, when he tapped my shoulder in a very just friends way and smiled at me. "Hey. You'll be fine, okay?"
"Okay," I agreed, and broke my own rules to discreetly squeeze his hand just before I got off the escalator and walked towards our baggage carousel. Leaning against a railing was a taller, curly-haired, smaller-nosed and glasses-less version of myself: Danny. He hadn't seen me yet, so I called his name and started over towards him.
Danny spotted me halfway there and ran over to give me a rib-crushing brotherly hug. "Joel!" he said happily, pulling me back to grin at me. "I haven't seen you in so long, man! We missed you at Passover."
"Yeah," I said, trying to laugh and not think about holidays. Mom had still been angry and confused then, so she'd told me to stay home and lied to everyone else that I was sick. I'd tried very hard not to be hurt. "Yeah, I wanted to come, but I wasn't feeling very well, so I stayed home."
"That's what Mom said." Danny's smile only wavered when Reid appeared at my side, toting our suitcases. I hadn't even noticed him pull them off the carousel.
"Danny, meet my friend Reid," I said, moving aside so they could shake hands.
"It's nice to meet you," Reid acknowledged with a smile.
"You too," said Danny, nodding. They shook hands.
"Congratulations on the wedding and all," Reid continued as he pulled his hand away.
"Thanks, I'm glad you could come." Danny paused for a moment, then broke into a mischievous smile. "So, Joelie, is he your date?"
"What?" I squawked indignantly, even though I knew he was only kidding. "No! My girlfriend dumped me last week, and I already had the plane tickets."
"I sure didn't mind a free trip to Florida," Reid chimed in.
"You had a girlfriend?" Danny asked in disbelief.
"Yes, I lied."
He crossed his arms over his chest and raised an eyebrow. "So, what was her name?"
"Um." I hadn't planned my excuses as well as I'd thought I had. I blurted the first name I could think of. "Rita."
"Rita who?" His eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"Skeeter." Why, oh why did I have to work in a book store? Why couldn't I have said a normal name, like Megan Smith? At least my family wasn't composed of rabid Harry Potter fans, so maybe no one would notice I'd just claimed to have dated an obnoxious fictional character. I quickly changed the subject. "So, is Mom here yet?"
"You kidding?" Danny laughed loudly. "She's been here longer than I have! Setting everything up just right all week. You know her."
"Yeah, I know her," I said, forcing a laugh as he led me and Reid out of the door. I had a bad feeling about this.
That bad feeling basically vanished as soon as we were at the hotel, because it was pretty hard to feel bad about anything when Rachel, my brother's fiancée, was hugging me.
"Joeeel," she said, rubbing her cheek against my shoulder, "I missed youuu! Have you been keeping busy?"
"Yeah," I said, stifling a smile, and pushed a piece of her hair out of my face. "I've had a lot of things going on lately. You know how it is."
"I know exactly how it is," she agreed, pulling away to smile at Danny. "Med school and a big family wedding keeps you pretty busy, right?"
"Right," he said with a smirk.
"I would imagine so," Reid said, popping up at my shoulder with our suitcases. He fixed Rachel with the widest smile I'd ever seen and held out his hand. "Hi, I'm Reid McMalley."
"Oh, you're Joel's friend!" she said, taking his hand. "It's so nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you too. It's good to finally put a face to the names Joel talks about all the time."
"He's only told you good things, right?" Rachel asked with a playful glare in my direction. I held up my hands defensively.
"Of course, all good things," Reid said, coming to my rescue, and winked at her. They both laughed.
I probably should have expected Reid to win over Danny and Rachel without even trying. He'd been able to win me over, after all.
"Hey, Joel, let's go check you in, okay?"
"I don't need you to check me in," I mock-argued, even as I walked with him towards the front counter. "I'm old enough to do it myself."
"That's not what I meant and you know it," he said, putting his arm around my neck, and prepared to noogie me to death just as the clerk popped up behind the counter and politely asked if he could help us.
I told him our reservation and he smiled courteously, nodding as his fingers clicked steadily across the keyboard. His smile suddenly faded.
"Is something wrong?" I asked.
He looked up with an uneasy expression. "I apologize. It appears we have over-booked the hotel for the week, and we're out of double rooms." He clicked something on the computer. "We still have plenty of singles left, however, and we'll give you a discount and our very best cot. Would that be acceptable?"
"Ugh," I said, burying my face in my hands. If Mom found out I was sharing a single with Reid, she'd blame me. At least I had Danny as my witness, even if he was being a general ass and laughing at my misfortune. "Whatever, that's fine, I guess."
"I'm terribly sorry," he said again and left to fetch our keys. Danny clasped my shoulder before he went to tell Reid and Rachel about the situation, and they all laughed.
"I'm sure we'll manage," I heard Reid saying, and I rolled my eyes.
"Manage," I muttered to myself. "If he thinks he's sleeping in that bed with me, he's got another thing coming."
The clerk returned quickly enough with our keys, one of which I gave to Reid as he carried our suitcases to the elevator. Just before the doors closed, Danny put up one hand to stop the automatic doors from closing and said, "Hey, Joel, how about meeting us for lunch? Mom wanted to see you, and I'm sure it's fine if Reid comes, too."
Before I had a chance to make up an excuse, Reid said, "Yeah, that sounds great!"
I heaved an inward sighed and tried not to think about a disaster this was going to be. "What time?"
"About an hour. Just meet us at the front of the hotel, okay?"
"Okay," I said, dreading the situation. "We're going to go unpack now."
"Sounds good," Danny said brightly, and I could see Rachel waving merrily in the background. "See you later!"
"Sure, see ya." I jabbed the elevator button viciously to vent my anger.
"Nice meeting you!" Reid called happily as Danny and Rachel walked away. The elevator swished shut and I sagged against the wall unhappily.
"I like them." Reid said. "How come you never told me you had a brother hotter than you?" I glared at him viciously and he let out a nervous laugh. "Just kidding. You looked like you could use a joke."
"Well, it wasn't funny," I grumbled as the elevator opened on the fifth floor. I recognized some of my relatives at the end of the hall and ran straight for the room, hoping they wouldn't stop to talk to me or ask who my friend was. As quickly as possible, I slipped the key card into the slot and rushed into the room.
"This isn't so bad," Reid said cheerfully as he put our luggage by the TV.
"I guess," I said, peering out the window and frowning at our fantastic view of the parking lot. At least we had a balcony.
"Convenient mix-up, I'd say." Reid grinned and jumped onto the one bed in the room, stretching out to nearly take over the whole thing.
"A little too convenient," I agreed and crossed the room, unzipping my luggage to find something more suitable to wear than sweatpants and an ugly black hoodie, and allowed myself a small smile. "But I'm used to coincidences by now."
A/N: A little late in coming, but better late than never, right? I hope there are still people out there reading this.