Chapter 1: Prologue
Robert Sugden was home from uni for the weekend, but it wasn’t exactly a relaxing visit. He had a favour to ask. Something that he was really not looking forward to.
“What is your problem Rob?” his sister Victoria frowned at him as they sat in Vic’s tiny cottage one evening.
“You’re acting like you’ve got something stuffed up your bum.” He raised a sceptical eyebrow, “No pun intended,” she winced.
“I’m fine Vic,” he shrugged. He couldn’t even convince himself for Christ’s sake. Vic’s inevitable lecture was interrupted by the slamming of the door and Robert jumped to his feet.
“Hey babe,” Adam, Vic’s boyfriend wandered in and kissed her, “Rob.”
“Hi,” Robert nodded, peering round him.
“Don’t ask,” Vic sighed at Adam’s enquiring look.
“Hey Vic,” Adam’s best friend Aaron entered the room and Robert let out a sigh of relief. “Oh hi,” he grinned at Robert, “Didn’t know you were back.”
“Yeah, hmm,” he cleared his throat, “Just back for the weekend.”
“Cool,” Aaron smiled and threw himself down on the sofa next to his friend.
“Don’t get comfortable,” Vic threw him a glare, “You’re supposed to be on dinner duty tonight.”
“Oh shit...” he groaned, “I forgot.”
“There’s a surprise,” Vic rolled her eyes. “You agreed when you moved in that you’d do your fair share of the cooking.”
“Yes I know Vic,” Robert watched, amused, as Aaron squirmed, “But you are training to be a chef.”
“So?” she stood up, putting her hands on her hips, “Doesn’t mean you and Adam can take the piss!”
“Oi,” Adam piped up, “Don’t bring me into it.”
“Vic, Vic,” Robert held out his hands, “Why don’t I get us all a takeaway?”
Three pairs of eyes turned to him, but it was Aaron’s bright blue ones that he couldn’t look away from.
“You don’t have to Rob...” Vic began but he cut her off.
“I want to,” he reached for his keys, “It won’t take long.”
“Thanks mate,” Aaron turned to him and Robert almost dropped his keys.
The remnants of a Chinese feast littered Victoria’s coffee table, along with several empty beer bottles, but she couldn’t care less, curled up on the sofa with Adam.
“Aaron, do you want another beer?” Robert asked and Aaron frowned softly.
“I’m all right, ta. You’ve only just got me one.”
“Oh yeah,” Robert ran his fingers through his hair for what seemed like the hundredth time.
“Robert,” Aaron leaned forward and the other man froze. “What exactly do you want?” He didn’t even try and hide his scepticism. “And don’t try that smile on me,” he warned, “It won’t work.” Vic tried to stifle a giggle while Adam didn’t even try, guffawing into his drink.
“Will you be my boyfriend?” Aaron spluttered beer everywhere, Victoria’s hand flying to her mouth.
“Pretend, obviously,” Robert squeaked.
“Say again?” Aaron wiped beer from his chin with his sleeve, looking at Robert through narrowed eyes.
“I kind of...” he rubbed the back of his neck.
“Told my friends I was going out with you.” If possible, Aaron’s eyes narrowed even more, “Right...”
“I didn’t mean to!” Robert threw his hands up in the air. “It just kind of happened.”
“Hm...” Aaron glanced across at his best friend, who was desperately trying not to laugh. “Oh shut it you!”
“What?” Adam was all wide eyes and feigning innocence.
“Why don’t you and Vic bugger off to bed before you start eating each other’s faces?” Aaron raised his eyebrows and Vic soon jumped up.
“Come on babe,” she tugged him to his feet.
“But I haven’t finished...”
“Adam!” The beer bottle was swept from his hand and passed to Aaron. “Come on.”
“I...” Adam stumbled after her, still completely oblivious.
“Good night guys!” Vic called, dragging her muttering boyfriend out of the door.
“Night Vic,” Aaron shook his head, laughing at his friend’s obvious confusion.
“So...” he turned to Robert, who was sitting in his chair, looking like he wanted the ground to swallow him up. “What do you need me to do?”
“You’ll do it?” Robert’s mouth dropped open.
“Well it depends what you need me to do...” Aaron gestured, “Spill.”
“Nothing much,” he reassured him, “Just come over for the weekend or something.”
“And do what?”
“I dunno. Go out to eat, watch a film, meet my housemates...” he winced at the last bit and Aaron sighed. “We can do whatever you like,” Robert looked at him beseechingly and Aaron chewed his lip.
“Does next weekend suit?”
“Yeah,” Aaron shrugged, “Just need to check with Cain, but I haven’t had a weekend off in ages. Be nice to see a bit of London.”
“Aaron...” Robert breathed, “You’re amazing.” There was a millisecond of silence as their eyes met and a pink flush stole along Robert’s sharp cheekbones.
“Cheers,” Aaron forced a laugh, and the moment was broken.
“How did you come to tell them it was me anyway?” Aaron took a sip of his beer.
“Can’t remember,” Robert lied, “I was probably pissed. Yours was the first name that popped into my head.”
“Charming!” Aaron rolled his eyes, but he didn’t seem too bothered, just taking another gulp of beer.
“Ooo...” Paul swiped the phone from Robert’s hand. “Who’s he?”
“Paul!” he jumped up, grabbing for the phone. “For fuck’s sake, give it back.”
“Calm down!” Paul chuckled, peering at the image, “I’ll give it you back when you tell me who this is.”
“Aaron, I’ve mentioned him before,” Robert flailed, but Paul just batted him out of the way.
“He’s your boyfriend, isn’t he?”
“Um...” he floundered, Paul taking this as confirmation. “No wonder you’ve never called any of the guys we’ve tried to set you up with.” He squinted at the phone again, “Well, despite not shopping in that department, I can see he's not a bad looking lad.”
“I’m sure he’ll be delighted,” Robert growled, “Just give the damn thing back!”
“When are we going to meet him then?” Paul tossed the phone back, Robert fumbling to catch it.
“I don’t know,” Robert muttered, tucking it safely back in his pocket.
“Come on Rob,” Paul nudged him, “You ashamed of us or something?”
“Don’t be stupid.”
“Well then why hasn’t he been to visit?”
“He’s busy, I told you.”
“At the garage, yeah I know.”
“Well then why are you asking?”
“Because I can tell you miss him.” Robert winced, he had no idea his feelings were so obvious to his friend.
“I’ll see when he’s next free, OK?”
“Good,” Paul patted him on the shoulder. Robert watched him leave before sinking his head into his hands. What the hell had he got himself into?
“You OK?” Aaron disturbed Robert from his reverie.
“You sure? You spaced out for a bit.”
“Fine, honest.” Robert forced a smile, but Aaron didn’t look convinced.
“If you say so,” he frowned, but didn’t push it.
“Rob...” Vic leaned on the door frame as Robert chucked his few possessions into his bag the next day. “Are you sure this Aaron thing is a good idea?”
“It’ll be fine Vic,” Robert reassured her, “It’s just for a weekend. He says it’s OK with him.”
“It’s not him I’m worried about.” She fixed him with a hard stare and he blushed.
“I’ll be fine, honestly.”
“If you say so,” she came into the room and slipped her arms around his waist, “Just be careful, yeah?”
“Yes Vic,” Robert grinned, but as he returned her hug, the smile slipped from his lips.
Chapter 2: Friday
Aaron arrives and meets Robert's flatmates
Thank you so much for the positive feedback on the previous chapter. I'm struggling a little to write at the moment; my heart is pretty broken, but I really want to try and finish this story. Thank you again to each person that has read the first chapter :)
“When’s Lover Boy getting here then?” Paul nudged Robert as he put the shopping bags down on the table.
“He’s getting the train after work today,” Robert chucked a bag of crisps at him before he could start rummaging through the groceries.
“Cheers mate,” Paul tore open the bag. “What time?”
“He’s going to text me when he leaves.”
“Do you guys want to come out with us, or do you want some ‘alone time’? Paul snorted, and Robert rolled his eyes.
“Let’s see what time he gets here.” He pulled out a carton of Aaron’s favourite juice and put it in the fridge. “We’re going out on Saturday night anyway aren’t we?”
Robert arrived at the station nearly half an hour early, his hands shoved deep in the pockets of his jacket. Aaron had texted him earlier to tell him he’d managed to get off work early and with details of the train he was going to catch. After fielding a barrage of worried messages from Robert, he’d even sent him a selfie of him safely sat on the train once he was on his way.
It was this picture that Robert found himself looking at as he stood on the platform.
“Aaron...” his name fell from his lips with a relieved sigh as the man himself stepped from the train and met his anxious gaze.
“Hey,” Aaron nodded, coming to a stop in front of him, a rucksack clutched in his hands.
“Hi.” They just stared at each other for a second, frozen in position, people milling around them in all directions.
“Let me...” Robert reached for Aaron’s bag.
“What you doing?” Aaron pulled it back, frowning at him.
“Being a good fake boyfriend?”
“Fine,” he sighed, thrusting the bag at him. “Lead the way then. Sweetie.”
The walk from the station to the Tube was pretty awkward, Aaron and Robert having never really been alone in each other’s company for more than about five minutes. The Tube was heaving and Aaron found himself pressed up against Robert, his nose practically buried in the junction between his shoulder and neck. As Robert clutched the bar above his head, Aaron couldn’t really avoid breathing in his scent, his heart galloping in his chest, so loudly he was surprised no one else could hear it. Robert’s slightly sweaty hand squeezed the bar tighter as the Tube jolted and he felt Aaron exhale against his neck. Another jolt and Aaron stumbled forwards into him, and Robert wrapped his free arm around his back.
“Sorry,” Aaron whispered, but didn’t move away, Robert’s arm holding him securely against his body.
“It’s OK,” Robert swallowed, his Adam’s apple perilously close to Aaron’s lips.
“Here we go,” Robert shouldered the door open and let Aaron enter the flat first.
“Cheers,” Aaron stood awkwardly in the kitchen, his shoulders slumped, bag once again clutched in his hands.
“Shit,” Robert sighed, “This is weird isn’t it?”
“Little bit,” Aaron gave a small smile.
“Look, if you want to go back...”
“No,” Aaron shook his head, “It’s fine.”
“Really?” Robert looked so bereft that Aaron smiled, moving over and nudging him with his elbow.
“Course. I’m just a bit tired, that’s all.”
“Paul and Jake, my flatmates asked if we wanted to go out tonight but I um, kind of said we’d probably stay in and watch a film or something?”
“Sounds great,” Aaron’s smile was broader now, his shoulders a little bit less hunched.
“We can order a takeaway? You’re probably hungry too?”
“Cool,” Robert grinned back, the tight feeling in his chest easing a little with every one of Aaron’s smiles. “Here,” he tossed his phone to Aaron, “I’ve got the takeaway app on there.”
“Order whatever you fancy, just no...”
“Pineapple,” Aaron laughed, “I know.”
Robert turned and frowned. “You hate it,” Aaron clarified, “Made a huge fuss when Vic accidentally ordered a Hawaiian pizza once.”
“Yeah,” Robert nodded, puzzled. “Didn’t think you’d remember.” Aaron winked back at him, finally starting to relax, “Not just a pretty face, am I?”
“Obviously not,” Robert could feel his cheeks turning pink. “I’m just going to jump in the shower.”
Leaning against the worktop, Aaron swiped at Robert’s phone, looking for the Just Eat app.
“Bugger,” he’d accidentally opened Robert’s gallery. His thumb froze over the screen, a photograph catching his eye. It was him, sitting on a bench outside the Woolpack, pint in hand, caught mid laugh, head thrown back, sunlight glinting off his sunglasses. When had Robert taken that? He quickly closed the gallery, but his mind kept working. More to the point, Aaron mused, opening the takeaway app, why?
Aaron was flicking through channels on the tv in the living room when Robert reappeared.
“Sorry,” Aaron pulled a face, “I’ve ordered the food. I was just...”
“It’s fine,” Robert grinned and plopped down on the sofa next to him. “Anything good on?”
“Um...” Aaron was flustered suddenly, “Haven’t really found anything yet.”
“Beer?” Robert leant his head back on the sofa, turning to smile at him.
“Yep,” Aaron nodded, unable to resist watching Robert get to his feet and stretch, the T-shirt sticking to his still damp skin. He had never seen Robert like this before, so soft and approachable, smelling vaguely of fruity shower gel, loose grey trousers hanging from his hips.
By the time the pizza arrived, the awkwardness had all but disappeared and Robert and Aaron had finally settled on a Marvel marathon. As Robert collected the food from the door, Aaron fetched them a couple more beers, setting them down on the cluttered coffee table.
“Thanks,” he took the pizza box from Robert and sank down onto the sofa.
“Yeah,” Aaron looked anxious, “I thought it was your favourite?”
“It is,” Robert glanced back down at the box.
“Is something wrong?”
“Nope,” he cleared his throat, “Nothing at all.”
“Sure?” Aaron leant closer and all Robert could see was concerned blue eyes.
“OK,” Aaron sat back, not entirely convinced, but flipped open his own pizza box instead of probing further. “You going to put the film on then or what?”
Aaron and Robert were in the midst of a heated discussion about the merits of Thor when the flat door opened and Paul and Jake burst in.
“Oh,” Robert jumped, startled by their entrance, suddenly aware of how close he and Aaron had migrated to each other.
“Robbie!” Paul strode over, grinning like a fool.
“Paul,” Robert rolled his eyes, “Good night?”
“Can’t complain,” Paul threw himself into a worn armchair.
“Cheeky bastard got three numbers,” Jake wandered over, perching on the arm of the chair.
“Only three?” Robert shook his head, “Sounds like you’re losing your touch.” Aaron chuckled and Robert turned to smile at him.
“Aren’t you going to introduce us?” Paul demanded.
“Paul, Jake, this is Aaron. Aaron, vice versa,” he gestured between the three of them.
“Hi,” Aaron nodded, a slight flush of colour highlighting his cheeks.
“All right mate!” Paul leaned forward and shook his hand, “Thought Robert was making you up if I’m honest.”
“Oi!” Aaron laughed as Robert bristled, exchanging a handshake with Jake.
“Nah,” Aaron grinned, “Definitely not made up.”
“Can see that,” Paul winked at Robert.
“Piss off Paul.”
“Ooo...” he pulled a face, “Sorry mate.”
“Come on,” Jake kicked his ankle, “Don’t you need your beauty sleep?”
“Huh?” Jake wagged his head in the direction of their rooms. “Oh, yeah.” Subtle was not in Paul’s vocabulary. “Best leave the lovebirds to it.” Both Aaron and Robert groaned, but Jake just laughed, dragging Paul to his feet. “Leave them alone!” He nodded at them, “See you guys tomorrow.”
“We’re still on for tomorrow night, yeah?” Paul popped his head back in. Robert looked to Aaron, who nodded.
“Cool. Night then.”
“They seem cool,” Aaron dropped his bag on Robert’s bedroom floor, “Your flatmates.”
“Yeah, they’re all right,” he grinned, “Paul can be a bit full on, but he’s a nice guy.”
“A bit like Adam then?”
“Yeah,” Robert agreed, “Still not sure what Vic sees in him.”
“Oi!” Aaron punched him lightly on the arm, “That’s my best mate you’re talking about.”
“Sorry!” Robert didn’t look it and both men laughed but Aaron quickly tried to smother a yawn. “Shit… sorry.”
“Someone else needs their beauty sleep.”
“Something like that.”
“I’ll just grab my sleeping bag and you can have the bed.”
“Eh?” Aaron frowned, rubbing his eyes.
“I’ll kip on the floor,” Robert was already rooting around in his cupboard.
“Don’t be stupid,” Aaron yawned again, “Bed’s big enough for both of us isn’t it?”
“Um...” Robert swallowed, “Suppose.”
“That’s sorted then,” Aaron grabbed his toothbrush out of his bag. “Is it OK if I?”
“Course,” Robert forced a smile and Aaron disappeared in the direction of the bathroom.
Aaron was already sprawled in bed when Robert came back from the bathroom.
“How did you know which side?” The words tumbled out before Robert could stop them.
“Your book...” Aaron pointed at the Stephen King paperback resting on the table at the other side of the bed.
“Oh yeah,” Robert winced, “Course.”
“Robert,” Aaron sat up and looked at him, “Do you want me to sleep on the floor?”
“Are you sure?” He bunched the duvet up in his hands, “I don’t want to make things difficult.”
“You’re not,” Robert sat down on the bed, “Honest.”
“But you’ve been...” Aaron rubbed at his eyebrow, “Odd.”
“I know,” he sighed, “I just feel guilty, that’s all.”
“Yeah,” he climbed slowly into bed, resting back against the headboard beside him. “It’s your first weekend off in ages and you’re having to spend it stuck here with me.”
“There are worse places to be stuck,” Aaron raised an eyebrow, “And worse people to be stuck with.”
“Really.” They smiled softly at each other before Robert turned and flicked out the light, glad that the sudden darkness hid his burning cheeks.
“Goodnight Aaron,” he whispered.