It begins with the need to defend their respective masculinity.

Actually, Luke recalls, it begins with coffee. Someone's doing a coffee run and everyone's barking out their order—latte, cappuccino, cream and sugar, black, de-caf. Noah orders his with sugar, hold the cream, plenty caffeinated, and his eyes move to Luke. Luke can practically feel Noah judging him, and as he says his order out loud, it catches halfway out of his throat. "A mocha…"

Well, so what if he likes mochaccinos with whipped cream, Luke thinks. Sure, it's kind of the caffeinated equivalent of ordering an appletini, but does liking delicious drinks have to be a gay cliché?

"-ccino," Luke finishes, and his eyes slide subtly to Noah's. Naturally, Noah's holding back a smile. "Shut up," Luke mutters. "They're delicious."

"Mmm-hmm. Real men always drink mochaccinos."

"Don't test me, Mayer." Damn his heart for beating too fast when Noah looks at him.

They stand outside in the alleyway behind the WOAK-TV station and drink their coffees, glancing at each other awkwardly. Luke's fine with this, this uneasy friendship they've fallen into. So what if he keeps mistaking Noah's shyness for sexual tension. So what if Noah keeps taking too large of gulps of his coffee as if scalding his tongue is enough to prove he's a tough guy (or a straight guy, or a real man).

So what if Luke wants to take a step closer.

Noah tries to step back when he sees Luke come closer, but ends up hitting the building wall. "You've—" He stops for a moment and looks away, half-smiling.

"What?"

"You've got whipped cream on your nose."

"I do not."

"Hmm," Noah says, non-committal. But he shivers in the early autumn breeze.

Moments like this are what keep Luke awake at night. If Noah weren't quite so tall or fit, if his hair weren't quite so dark and waved, if his eyes weren't quite so mysterious. He's like a character from a novel you never quite believe could be real, for god's sake, and here he is, leaning against red brick and laughing at Luke.

If only all that hadn't ever entered Luke's life, walked into his TV station, made being an intern quite so filled with angst—if only.

Then maybe Luke could stop himself from kissing him.

But it did. And he does.

And Noah doesn't push him away. He parts his lips and pulls Luke in with one arm and he's so damn cool he should be wearing a leather jacket. Luke only half-registers the two coffees hitting the ground.

And they kiss as the sun sets behind them and everything's too blinding and too warm for September.

Then Maddie's voice enters the haze, calling Noah's name from inside the building. So Noah yanks away and coughs and throws Luke a terrified look before wiping his mouth and darting back inside.

It always starts with the masculinity thing. It always ends like this.

~x~

Noah,

While you were out scouting locations for your next short film project, I took the liberty of cleaning up the spare/bedroom office. And by "cleaning up," I mean I unpacked and arranged everything, down to the last paper clip. Hope you don't mind that I did it without you, but I thought you might like to come home to, well, a home, rather than an apartment with a lot of boxes inside. But change it up however you want.

Just one request, please. Don't rearrange the DVDs in order of release date. I know it's cool and all, but I maintain that "ease of use" kicks the ass of "knows a lot about old movies" every time.

Love,
Maddie

~x~

It's not as hard as Maddie might have guessed to give up going to Wesleyan. It's not that hard to find a great apartment with Noah. It's not even that hard to fit all of her clothes into the tiny bedroom closet.

In fact, everything with Noah has been pretty easy. So maybe it doesn't blow her mind, or send tingles down her spine at the very thought coming home to Noah every night, and maybe she doesn't go out of her way to make him love her. In other words, so maybe her relationship with Noah isn't the same as it was with Casey.

Well, that's a good thing. Of course.

It's good that nothing with Noah is too difficult.

The only thing that Maddie wonders about is whether it should be.

~x~

"He's just a friend I've happened to kiss once or twice."

"Aww, Luke."

"Faith. It's true." Luke pulls off his work gloves and tosses them on the wooden work bench at the back of the stable, and waits for Faith to do the same.

"Luke. Don't think so." Faith peels off her gloves and shrugs off her jacket, despite the brisk early-morning temperature. Wiping her brow, she sighs. "I can't listen to you tell me about how you have this wild makeout sessions with this guy and then in practically the same breath tell me how he's just a friend. You know he's not. Not to you."

Luke groans and leads the way back through the stable. "Don't try to act older than your age. No one likes it."

"Oh, grow up, Luke. Tell me more about the coffee."

"You've heard enough."

"What, who am I gonna tell? Maddie?"

Luke turns back sharply. "Don't even joke. It shouldn't have happened and if Maddie knew, she'd be hurt. And she doesn't need to be."

"Relax, Romeo."

He rolls his eyes as they make it to the door and out into the dim morning light. "I don't know why I started telling you anything. A guy's supposed to torture his kid sister, not the other way around."

Faith flips her hair, a move she's obviously been practicing. "Is he ever going to come around?"

"Who, Noah?"

"No, the youngest Jonas Brother. Of course Noah."

Luke exhales slowly through his teeth. He looks out at the fields behind the stable and shrugs, hands in his pockets. "Dunno."

"I think so."

"Well, you've got faith, Faith."

"Har, har."

He shakes his head and rolls his eyes. "Go to school." He watches his sister trudge back to the house and feels a pang in his chest. Faith's got it so easy. Friends at school, talent coming out her ears, probably a whole line of decent boyfriends somewhere in the future.

And he's got coffee stains on his Nikes.

~x~

Dear Dad,

I know I haven't written awhile. I guess this letter is probably coming out of the blue. But I'm home alone tonight and well, I guess I missed you a little.

Am I allowed to say that? That I miss you? Is it tough enough? Manly enough? Truthful or honorable enough?

I want to be all those things, Dad. I think in some ways, I am.

Maddie and I moved in together. Did I tell you that yet? She thought some things over and decided to stay in town, go to Oakdale U, and spend a little more time with her brother Henry. And of course, time with me. Still feeling a little guilty that she made a pretty big life choice based partially (well… mostly) on me. But I can't help being a little selfishly glad. Things feel pretty safe with her.

There's this other person around though who won't leave me alone. Not harassing me or anything; in fact we're decent friends, but I keep feeling like I'm being pushed. And the thing that's tricky is, I like that feeling sometimes. It's like skydiving. You know it's dangerous and there're a hundred people who aren't going to approve, but you keep giving in and you don't realize until afterward that indulging in the moment was a huge mistake.

I keep making mistakes, Dad. And the worst part is hiding it from Maddie. Or hiding it from you.

I'm not perfect. In fact, I've got glaring flaws. We both know it. I just wish we could both get past it.

And wish I had the guts to send you this letter. If I did, I might be half the man you always expected me to be.

Give it time, I guess.

Noah

~x~

Dear Casey,

So I hear you're back in town. That's the nice way of saying it. I could say something like, so I hear you finally got sprung from jail, or the hoosegow, or whatever tough guys say… okay, probably no one calls it the hoosegow anymore. I know, I know. I watch too many old movies. You told me enough times. Anyway, I could say it with a lot more of a negative vibe than just, "I hear you're back in town," just so I could hurt you, the way you hurt me.

But I won't.

Not that I wouldn't like to. I know you think dumping me was the right thing to do, but—

Actually, no. It was the right thing to do. Because I've got a boyfriend now. Noah. In fact, I even live with him. And he lets me watch however many old movies I want.

Okay, that came out like I have to ask him for permission. Well, I don't. He likes old movies, too. He's going to be a director. He's dark haired and tall and all the things you're not.

There, I said it. Tried to hurt you some more.

I'd like to ask if you still love me, but as you can see, I've moved on. So really this letter is just a request for you to leave me alone, even if you were thinking about coming to see me.

Yeah. That's it. Goodbye, Casey.

Maddie

~x~

She's sitting on a bench downtown when Casey sees her for the first time. She's hunched over a notebook, writing as if her heart depends on it. A low whistle comes from his lips at the sight, because damn if she isn't even more beautiful than when he went away… her dark, wavy hair falling over her face, lip caught lightly in her teeth as she concentrates, cheeks blushed with chilly autumn wind…

"Casey!"

He jumps, almost as if he'd forgotten he was standing there or had made a sound. "…Maddie," he says.

Maddie doesn't stand or move to touch him at all. "I—I heard you were back." She glances down at her paper and frowns. "But I'm not going to call it the hoosegow, if that's what you're afraid of."

"Huh?"

She looks flustered. Her notebook slams shut. "Nothing. Forget it. I wrote you a letter. Here." She rips it out and begins folding it for him, as if they're in fifth grade. He almost expects a "Do you like me, check yes, no, or maybe" box inside. The chuckle that escapes makes her look up, eyes flashing.

"What?"

"A letter? Mads… I haven't seen you in months. Let's sit down… talk." He's got his cool back. His hands find their way into his jacket pockets, and he leans back on one foot. He loves her like this, disconcerted and flushed.

"No."

"No?"

"No, I…" Maddie looks down. Then she flips open the paper and actually sets her legs apart in a firm stance as she begins to read. "Casey. I know you think dumping me was the right thing to do, but— actually, no. It was the right thing to do. Because I've got a boyfriend now. Noah. In fact, I even live with him. And he lets me watch however many old movies I want."

"Yeah, Maddie, I'm gonna stop you right there…" Casey reaches out with one finger and lightly pushes the paper down. "I heard about your boyfriend already."

"You… you did?"

He shrugs sheepishly. "I asked around."

"Then you know I'm over you. And I think you should stay away."

"Look, I'm not trying to bug you. I just saw you sitting there, and you looked so…"

"So?"

Casey gives her a half-smiling, half-pleading look. "You know. Like you used to. But not."

For a moment, her face finally softens. She looks away and shivers as the breeze picks up. There's a long pause before she speaks. "Don't talk to me like that anymore. We're over." She crumples the paper in her hands, turns, and walks away.

"Yeah," Casey mumbles, watching her. "Over."

~x~

Luke doesn't intend to be overbearing. He doesn't try to act like anything's different. He doesn't even attempt to give Noah any longing looks when he sees him at the TV station a few days later. He just walks over to the work table and sits down next to him.

Noah doesn't look up. He's writing something on his laptop—working on notes for their new intern cell-phone serial project, Luke guesses. He keeps typing for at least a minute, and Luke waits patiently to be acknowledged. Finally, Noah lets out a sigh and glances over. "Need something?"

"No. Just thought we'd work together today." Luke is slightly taken aback by Noah's tone, but he puts on a crooked smile and shrugs. "I've got some great ideas for a follow-up to Invisible Girl."

Noah scratches his forehead with his knuckle. "Yeah… about that." There's a slight pause. "I was thinking of proposing a new project altogether. I mean, not cell phone serial-related."

Luke shifts a little. "Well… that's fine. We're still all going to work together though, right? You, me, Maddie?"

Noah's eyes meet his for the first time. "You really think that's such a good idea? After…?" He swallows, and the look on his face says it all.

"Yeah, but—"

"My mind's made up, Luke. And I don't think you and Maddie should work together either." Noah turns back to the laptop.

Luke bristles. "If you can't work with me, don't dictate what Maddie and I do. It's not like I don't feel a little guilty too, but hey. It was a mistake, right? I'm not going to tell her about it. No one needs to get hurt." The sarcasm edges too far into his voice. His throat feels tight.

Noah gives him a long stare. He looks him up and down, and his gaze is so penetrating that Luke actually moves his arms as if to cover himself up.

He's never felt so much like a stupid kid in his life. Only Noah can cut him like this. Pull him so close, push him away.

When Noah finally speaks, he hardly needs to say it. Luke already knows. "Luke…"

"Don't say it."

"I'm not—"

"Gay. Yep, got it."

Noah winces, looking around to make sure there aren't any other interns nearby to overhear the dreaded word. "Dammit, Luke. You say nobody needs to get hurt, but look at yourself. You're already hurt. It's written all over your face."

Luke stands, pushing his chair back, so far that it nearly topples. He catches it awkwardly. "I'd rather have it written all over me than suppress my true feelings like you."

The words feel good. Walking away doesn't. But he does it anyway.

~x~

Noah.
You're:
About as subtle as a knife
(I know it's a cliché)
You bury your feelings like a shameful coffin
You plant inoffensive flowers over the grave
(She's not going to fall for it forever.)
You make me feel like I'm decomposing.
It's grim. True.
But you're not subtle
Not to me.
Not when I've tasted the lie on your tongue
Or felt the trembling ribs under your T-shirt
(It's just a crush,
Luke,
Remind yourself:
Crushes flatten boys like you.)
You and me, the flattened pair
I want to come up for air.
There.

~x~

When Faith decides that she wants to start drinking coffee, Luke smirks and warns her she's not going to like it, but promises to take her to Java after she finishes school and he's out of class. She's wearing a new dark blue pea coat with faux-fur trim, and reapplies her lip gloss as they approach the coffee house, as if some high school boy might be inside, just waiting for a sophisticated girl who drinks coffee and wears fashionable coats.

Luke asks her if these are her motives.

"You know, Luke," Faith says, "You might start thinking a little more about what you wear. I mean seriously? What's with all the polos?"

"I like polos. I'm comfortable in polos."

She holds the door open for him. "Aren't you the one always trying to push certain people out of their comfort zones?"

"Shut up."

They go to the counter and Faith waits for Luke to make a suggestion. "I don't want coffee like Mom and Dad drink… no regular drip, or whatever. I want something… you know."

"Fancy?"

"Fashionable."

"Fashionable coffee. Got it." Luke shakes his head and looks at the menu. A latte sounds good to him, but he doesn't know what the heck teenage girls like. It's not like he spent his youth studying up on them.

"I've got a suggestion, if you're up for it," a voice says.

Both Luke and Faith look to the edge of the counter, where a tall, golden-locked barista with shockingly straight teeth is leaning over the glass and beckoning to them like a Greek god. Faith immediately steps forward, drawn like a maiden to Adonis.

"Try this," the guy says, holding out a to-go cup. Faith gently takes it from his hands and sips. "It's a mix of cocoa and coffee. Kind of a… training coffee."

"It's delicious," Faith breathes, and Luke wonders if she even tasted it.

Adonis gestures to Luke. "You want to try it?"

Luke's put off guard. "Um… sure." Faith hands it over and he takes a drink. It tastes… well, exactly as the barista described it. Like cocoa and coffee.

Adonis smiles. "You like it, right?"

Luke narrows his eyes. Is this guy flirting with him?

"I'll take it," Faith interjects. "For here." Adonis busies himself making up a new cup. Faith nudges Luke. "He's so hot," she mouths.

"Shut it, dork," he mutters.

"I think he might like you." Her cheeks are pink with amusement.

"Will you shut—thanks," he says loudly as Adonis hands Faith her drink.

"And for you?"

"Nothing. I mean, a latte. To go."

The guy gives him a slow, perfect smile. He's so beautiful that Luke swears his toes are curling. "Anything you want." Somewhere, angels are singing and Faith's dancing on a cloud.

Letting out a sharp breath, Luke turns and leans, his back to the counter, while he waits for his coffee. "I want to leave. You should've gotten yours to go."

"Heck no, I want to stay!" Faith laughs quietly. "Stay—flirt a little! Come on Luke, this guy is obviously—"

Adonis sets the Luke's latte on the counter, his presence making them both jump. "Th—thanks," Luke stammers. As they go through the ritual of paying, he can feel sweat trickling down his back. Adonis keeps smiling and at one point he winks—actually winks. Finally, after his fingers brush tormentingly over Luke's palm as he hands him the change, Luke marches to the corner table, as far from the counter as he can get.

"What is wrong with you?" Faith hisses, sitting down.

"Nothing. Let's just drink up and go."

"That guy likes you. He—oh my god."

"What? What?!" Luke swivels.

"Nothing. Just—look." Faith points to Luke's paper cup. A phone number is written over the Java logo. She giggles. "Oh, he's definitely into you."

He stares at the number for a long time. "Greg" is written next to it, but he'll forever be known as an Adonis in Luke's mind. "I don't care," Luke says, and he feels nothing. "Let's just finish up and go."

He hides his face when they leave.

~x~

If it weren't for Maddie, Noah would starve.

He walks home from class, and the apartment is filled with the warm scent of lasagna and garlic bread. "You… are my favorite girlfriend," he says, wrapping his arms around her waist and hugging her from behind. Maddie just smiles and keeps cutting the bread, but she leans back to feel him against her.

"It's freezing out. I thought something warm would do us both a little good."

"You do me a little good."

Maddie turns in his arms and kisses him. She kisses him again, and a third time. So maybe her heart doesn't spring into action, but everything about Noah is warm. His body, his smile, his personality.

Not that she's convincing herself or anything.

"Hungry?"

"You bet." Noah disengages himself and drops his bag in the corner before sitting at the table. "Hey… Maddie?"

She brings the bread over and grabs him a Diet Coke from the fridge. She's never really thought about it before, but she sort of likes being domestic like this. She can't imagine being that way with Casey.

Okay, yes she can, but it's different. Doesn't matter.

"Hmm?" she says.

"I heard Casey's back." Noah bites into the bread and moans. "God… you're a good cook."

"It was a package from the freezer aisle," she laughs, ignoring his news.

"Anyway… you want to talk about that?"

"Nope."

"You're sure?"

"Yup." She pulls the lasagna from the oven and sets it on the table. "Ta da! What do you think? Only a tiny bit burned on that side."

He can take a hint. "I think… let's eat."

And they do, in comfortable silence.

~x~

Maddie had been slightly surprised by the variety of classes that Oakdale U offers. Sure, it's no Wesleyan, but it almost feels like she didn't give up much (if she squeezes her eyes tight and concentrates on the good things, never the future). She managed to register for a crowded Gothic literature course during the first week of classes, and had been burying her nose in novels like Frankenstein and Dracula and The Mysteries of Udolpho for six weeks now.

Frankly, it made the turn of autumn feel creepy, and she liked it.

Noah complained once or twice that she was staying too late at the library, that they didn't spend enough time together, that she should let him cook dinner for her one of these nights, in return.

And she will. Tomorrow.

Tonight she huddles in a dimly lit area of cubicles and desk carrels at the Oakdale U library, next to a window where a naked tree rattles against the pane. The atmosphere is delicious, perfect for the stories she's marathoning—"The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Monkey's Paw"—and then she'd planned to move on to Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera. At this point, she'll be at the library until 2 A.M. when they close, but the thought of texting Noah to let him know she'll be late feels irritating. She's a free woman, isn't she?

She turns another page, promising to text Noah at the end of the story. But she sneaks a peek at "The Monkey's Paw" and is sucked in, and before she knows it, it's nearly one A.M. and she's still hungrily turning pages.

Just as the corpse of the main characters' dead son comes knocking at the door near the end of the story, there's a sharp rapping at the side of Maddie's wooden carrel.

She screams, the book dropping from her hands.

"Sssssssh! Mads, this is a library!" Casey is laughing.

"Casey! Christ Almighty, what the hell?!" Fumbling for her book, she tries to catch her breath.

"Relax," he chuckles. "I brought you something."

She looks up at him, eyes still wide, and can't help but notice how adorably disheveled he looks… his hair is too long, for one thing, and his old grey zip-up sweatshirt is beginning to fray. There's a shadow of stubble on his face. For a moment, she can't even speak.

Then she notices that he's holding out a cup. "What's that?"

"Cocoa. I was wandering around and I saw you up here. Did you know this stuff is free?"

Grabbing the cup, she sighs. "It's not free, you're supposed to pay for it."

"Well there wasn't anyone around collecting money."

"They probably just went on a bathroom break!"

He groans. "Sheesh, you try to be a nice guy…"

She takes a sip of the drink and has to admit it hits the spot. "What… what are you doing here so late, anyway? It must be almost one."

"Try one-thirty."

She bolts up. "God, really? I have to go."

He grabs her backpack for her. "I'll walk you. It's late."

"No. I'll be fine." Maddie pulls on her coat and takes another gulp of the hot chocolate. "Just need to get home."

Casey picks up her book and examines it carefully. "Classic Horror Stories of the Nineteenth Century? Wow. Didn't ever take you for an Edgar Allen Poe type."

"Yeah, well," she says, snatching the book from him. "There's a lot of things you don't know about me, Casey. I'm evolving."

"Mmmhmm. Into the kind of girl who would rather spend all night at the library than home in bed with her boyfriend?"

"I have an appreciation for fine literature!" She pulls the backpack from his shoulder and tries to ignore how haughty she's beginning to sound.

"Maddie."

She begins walking away.

He takes her elbow, and it's all to easy to stop her. Before she knows what's happening, Casey's mouth his covering hers and it's warm and chocolaty and she's melting into him…

"No." She pulls away, eyes still closed.

"Yes." He pulls her back, moving his hand to the back of her neck, kissing her in a way that's soft and firm and oh-so-Casey. Finally he stills, their noses still touching, and the only sound is the dim buzz of the library's fluorescent lighting. "I know I'm not supposed to be doing this," he says, his voice hoarse. "And you can go back to this other guy of yours. But I know when I've made a mistake, Maddie. And I own up to it."

Maddie pulls back, shivering, her eyes locked to his. "Well I haven't made a mistake."

He looks at her for a long moment. "Good night, then."

"Good—good night."

She turns, and the walk home in the dark is enough to make her never want to read another horror story.

~x~

Maddie-

Look, I'm sorry for what I did in the library last night. It wasn't fair. I get it.

I just need you to know I'm here. And I'm not going away again. And if you want to be mad forever, or push me away because I'm not exactly boyfriend material, hey, I get it.

But I still love you. Okay? That's it.

Casey

~x~

Dear Casey,

I have absolutely no idea what you're referring to regarding the library, nor am I angry, nor am I holding a candle for you.

That's it.

Maddie

P.S. I did appreciate the hot chocolate, though. I'm not totally heartless.

~x~

Luke's Journal

Okay, so I can't help thinking about him. The Adonis guy. Not because I see the two of us riding off into the sunset. More like because I'm a regular* guy with regular* urges.

*Regular as defined by non-homophobic parties.

And yeah, it'd be great to go out on a date with this guy and maybe find ourselves tangled up in the back of his car, doing things that… well, things I shouldn't write here. I know you're looking for this journal, Faith.

But it feels like a goddamn betrayal. To a guy who can hardly even look at me after we kiss. A guy who's totally committed, god knows why, to a perfectly nice girl.

And really, it is a betrayal, to hold this pathetic torch, when Maddie's trying to make it work with him.

But this guy… he wanted me. I saw it in his eyes. Felt it in how he touched me. He'd do things to me, things I really only want from you, Noah, but at least it'd be something.

I'm sick of being plain old lonely Luke, the guy everyone feels sorry for.

~x~

Dear Dad,

Hey look, another letter from your disappointing son!

Sorry. I probably shouldn't start off with such a bitter tone.

Let's start over.

Dear Dad,

I need to ask you something you've probably been wishing I'd asked you years ago, but never did.

I need to ask your advice about girls. Relationships. Maybe even sex (which is okay, since I'm definitely not sending this letter).

Basically… how do you know? How do you know if you love a girl? I mean, I think I love her… I definitely care about her. We do it… sometimes. And it's good. It isn't wild or crazy or terrible or awkward. It just… is. It is what it is? And I get annoyed sometimes, when she's gone, but I'm not sure whether it's because I miss her or because I need her around to remind me who I'm supposed to be.

How pathetic is that, Dad?

Remember that friend I told you about? The one who's driving me a little crazy? He just seems to know who he is and what he wants. He doesn't seem to need some kind of reminder like I do. I want that and yet I don't. Maybe I'm not ready for that.

I don't know.

I guess the real question I have here is this: why do I cling to something that makes me feel like I'm suffocating? I mean—she's amazing. She really is. But the more I need her around, the more I need her, the more I need her, the more I need her…

Do you know what I'm saying?

Is there ever going to be a time where I'm okay with just me?

Noah

~x~

Maddie suggests that the three of them go out to lunch on Wednesday. They've all been working on separate projects at the station, and only a hint of that summer camaraderie still remains, but Maddie's determined to make it work—Luke can tell. And anyway, he likes spending time with her and Noah, despite the fact that he feels awkward knowing that he's kissed her boyfriend, on more than one occasion, and he'd do it again if given the chance.

The awkwardness is set off by guilt, so all in all, it's a beautiful day to walk over to Al's Diner for a bite.

First Henry comes over and ribs his little sister for never coming around enough anymore, and Maddie hugs him around the waist without standing up, and there's enough laughter to pull a little tension from the room. Then they tuck in to cheeseburgers and fries and Cokes and Noah and Maddie start talking about Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn and Luke's so used to it, the way he was over the summer, that things almost feel normal again. Pretty soon they're making him jot down titles of movies he has to rent, and Noah's giving him that I can't help but find you clueless and adorable look that makes Luke's heart want to explode, and then… Adonis—well, Greg— walks in.

And then Luke's heart is in his throat and he instinctively moves closer to Noah, but he can't help but keep his eyes on those blonde locks and impossibly smooth skin.

And then Adonis catches sight of him.

Luke always wondered where people got that confidence, the kind of confidence that allows you to just walk up to a person and start talking like you're old friends (or lovers) and you've got the right to smile that bright, brilliant smile any damn time you please. He thinks his father might've had it, back when he first met his mom and they fell in love despite everything. No wonder. Confidence, Luke thinks as he swallows a dry French fry and coughs, is attractive.

"Hey," he says.

Luke coughs again, blinking. "Hey."

"Remember me?"

"Yeah, yeah of course." A pause. "Maddie, Noah, this is… Greg."

Maddie smiles adoringly at him, every bit as enamored as Faith had been, and Noah seems—well? Luke can't tell. They each shake his hand, and Adonis returns to Luke. "So. You never called."

Maddie's eyes shoot to Luke, a puzzled smile on her face.

Luke can feel himself blushing. "Oh, ah… yeah, I just never… ah… you know, I'm not really looking to, uh…?" He is horribly aware of Noah's gaze on his face.

"Hey, it's cool." There's an easy grin. "You just think it over. That is, if you're not…?" He throws a questioning look toward Noah, the way he and Luke are sitting so close at the corner of the table their shoulders are touching. Instantly, Noah moves left, putting an arm around Maddie and shaking his head… not mad, not even confused—simply defensive. Adonis nods and slowly smiles again. "Right. So… call me?" He saunters back to the counter, picking up a to-go bag, and heads out the door with one last look to Luke.

Maddie snorts with laughter. "Who was that?"

"Um… Greg. I call him Adonis."

Maddie whistles low. "Um, I think he likes you, in case you didn't notice by the blatant hitting on you."

"Yep." Luke looks up at Noah, looking for some small sign of reaction.

And it's there. Noah's eyes squint, just for a moment, and he looks down and licks his lip. Almost a sadness.

Luke grabs his Coke and takes a swig. He should feel glad. Glad that Noah's jealous. Glad that this gorgeous guy wants to be with him. He should feel elated.

Instead, he's just pissed as hell.

"Listen guys, I think I'm gonna go… catch up with him." He slaps a ten on the table and scoots out of the booth. "See you back at work?"

Their eyes follow him, Maddie's amused, Noah's unreadable, and when Luke catches Adonis's elbow outside, it feels like a cheap victory.

~