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"You think you have such a weird relationship with this guy."
"You really think I don't?"
Jude sighs, cocking his head to look at me better. Melissa's taken off to the bathroom—sometimes, I swear, it's all she does anymore—leaving Jude to feel as though he's welcome to pry and poke and prod at my relationships as much as he pleases. "All right, sure. It's kind of weird."
I want to tell him I think he's kind of weird, but I don't because I'm not twelve. Sure, Melissa said it to him five minutes ago, but it's different coming from somebody you don't know all that much. Besides, he's a close friend of hers and I don't want to piss her off by pissing him off.
"You have to look at it like this," he says when I shrug noncommittally at his words. He picks up the Styrofoam cup of coffee in front of him and takes a drink. He's way too pretentious for my tastes, although, when I told Melissa that, she just laughed. "He sounds like a normal guy. He doesn't have baggage that came from drugs or abuse or anything over-the-top. Or brainwashing, for that matter." He grins, turning back to looking out the window. "Count yourself lucky. Or at least remotely lucky. You got one of the normal ones."
Sighing, I lean forward in my seat. "Okay, but—all right, we haven't slept together since before he broke it off with his ex-fiancée. Shouldn't that say something about… about how weird things are?"
After a moment, he says, "Craig, look… Adam and I have been together for seen years. Seven."
Not entirely sure where he's going with this, I nod, raising an eyebrow. He plants his left hand on the table, completely patient. There's a gold band on his ring finger. "Okay…?"
"Married two years ago," Jude says. "You want to hear 'fucked up?' Never once has he told me he loves me."
"…Never?" My voice comes out all weird and quiet, like I'm not sure if I should be asking for clarification.
He just shrugs, though, pulling his hand back. "I've gotten a few things that are close, but never."
"But, you're, y'know…" I wave my hand in the air, staring at him blatantly. "Married."
He grins widely. "Look, I don't give a damn if he can't tell me he loves me. They're just words, and words are bullshit from him anyway." He takes another drink of coffee. "Lies too much," he says once he's swallowed. "It's the actions that make all the difference." He takes in the expression on my face, then says, "Sorta puts your issues with Grayson in perspective, doesn't it?"
"Shit," I murmur, rubbing my hands over my eyes. "Should have just taken your word for it when you said that you understood fucked up."
He smirks, opening his mouth to say something, but Melissa buts in. "Talking about… well, whatever gay guys talk about without the girls around?"
"Boobs," Jude supplies helpfully, turning his smirk on her. "Always boobs."
Elise, as it turns out, is a fairly normal person. I mean, most people are normal people, really, especially once you get to know them, but I had no intentions of 'getting to know' Elise at all, especially after how Grayson described her, like she was this horrible, destructive person that lived only for sex. For a while, it was sort of fun to imagine her in different ways, but all the images of her in my head shattered after we first met.
"You really have a beautiful place," she says as she sits on my couch, admiring the walls and photos. "I can't say I have a lot of male friends that appreciate interior design." She seems innocent enough, but it's hard not to catch onto her using the phrase male friends, because, y'know, it just sounds so…
I don't allow myself to finish the thought. "A friend of mine did it, actually. Over time. I actually didn't really notice until I came home one day and she was painting the walls."
Smiling, Elise looks down at her lap, tracing the rim of the mug with her fingers. Grayson tenses beside me. "I want to apologize," she says, finally looking back up at me.
She laughs, turning her head to the ceiling. "For the way I thought of you." She looks back, barely, before dropping her gaze again. Her legs bounce, her arms shake. It'd probably make her feel better if someone went over there, but Grayson isn't moving and there's no way in hell I'm going to console a woman I've met twice. I can barely handle Melissa. "I tried not to act on it, but… I couldn't help but think that you were, you know, one of those people."
"Elise…" Grayson says warningly, but she just ignores him.
"Well, you know how easy it is to get an image in your head. You hear about a person, especially when they… when they get a piece of the life you've always wanted, and you've never met them, images just start coming into your head. And I…" She laughs, if a bit nervously, and finally meets my eyes again. "I couldn't get it out of my head that you were just this… horrible person who seduced men just to tear apart families."
It's hard to deny that that hurts, but I do it anyway. "I—I mean, I'm not—It isn't like I hate gay people or anything, it's just…" She sighs, shaking her head. "It wouldn't have mattered who you were, but it's hard not to take something like that, you know. Personally."
I try not to let my own shaking be obvious when I gulp down the rest of my own coffee, Grayson saying, "Everybody thinks like that, Elise," in my silence.
"But not everyone needs to act on it," she argues. I'm still having trouble where she thinks she acted like such a bitch to me. "I'm not sure if Craig even thought any terrible thing about me at all. I mean, I don't blame him at all if he did—I'm sure I sounded like a terrible person."
"I try to keep an open mind," I tell her.
She smiles crookedly. "I'm just—I'm sorry, Craig, if there was a moment I treated you badly. I don't know much about you at all, but I'd like to think, if Grayson's dating you, that you're… well, you know. Grayson's a fairly good judge of character."
Grayson clears his throat awkwardly from beside me, and when a long, long bout of silence follows, the awkwardness creeping up in waves, I really, really wish that there was anywhere else I could be.
"I should get going," she says, quickly, standing up. Grayson and I follow her actions. "It was—I mean, it was nice meeting you again. Under different circumstances." Her eyes glance to Grayson, even as she sticks her hand out for mine. "Maybe—maybe we can do this again?"
Her voice is all watery and wavering, as though she's about to cry, and Grayson offers to walk her back down to her car, pulling her in close for a hug.
"No!" she says, laughing, as they pull apart. "No, come on, I'm a big girl, I can handle this. It really was nice meeting you, Craig."
When she's finally gone, door closed and locked behind her, Grayson rubs at his face and turns back towards me. "She isn't—normally, I mean, she's not like that."
"Sure," I say, because it's easy to agree with him rather than figure her out on my own. "You don't have any other, uh, exes I should be concerned about, right?"
He frowns. "No… What are you talking about?"
I shrug. "Well, you know, just that there's—I mean, everybody has someone they dated they're not really proud of, you know, and I just—I wanted to prepare myself in case there was some other strung along woman that you had."
"I did not string her along," Grayson says, scowling now, but it's far more adorable than I think it's meant to be. "I though I lo—" He sighs, shaking his head when he sees the grin tugging at my lips. "All right then, what about you? Do you have any exes I should be concerned about?"
Shit. "Well, I mean, I don't know, I had—"
"There might have been a few when I was, er, young and naïve and didn't know any better."
He just shakes his head. "But I'm sure they won't be a problem, right? Because you didn't string those guys along."
If anything, these guys were stringing me along, but, well, not knowing that won't hurt Grayson, so I keep it to myself. "I don't even know where Randy is, anymore, and, y'know, a few of the other ones just sorta cut me off, so I don't think we have a problem."
"Good," he says, stepping forward to me.
"You're not the jealous type, are you?" I ask, words spilling out quickly before I even know I'd wanted to say them.
Grayson's hands pause on their way up my sides, fingers barely touching my skin. "Jealous type?"
"Like, you wouldn't get all insecure if any of them showed up."
"…Insecure." He's looking at me weird again, eyebrows raised in question.
Swallowing, I roll my shoulders, not really sure where to go now that I've gotten into this mess. Grayson's look of amused confusion turns more into concern. "Well, y'know, they're pretty touchy. Randy, I mean. Randy's touchy, and, I dunno, he's sort of—he's the type of guy that kinda gets what he wants, you know?"
Grinning, Grayson's fingers continue their venture upwards. It feels so good, so long after he last wanted to touch like this. It's hard to bring myself back to the present when he speaks again. "This is all just a fancy way of asking me if I'd kick their ass if they came on too strongly."
"Don't make me sound like I can't do anything," I protest, even as my eyes close. "I'm not totally helpless."
"I could help you, you know," he says, leaning forward to speak into my ear. "Then you could kick ass all on your own." He starts sucking on the spot where my neck meets shoulder.
I think it'd send a stronger message if my boyfriend kicked their ass instead. "So… you trust me, then?"
He pulls away far enough to ask, "Should I not?" before he goes back to his task at hand, hands now pulling at my jeans.
I grin. "No. No, you can trust me," I tell him, not just because it's true, but because, damn, it's nice to know he does.