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Bittersweet & Sugar Free

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Andrew was sitting on the old green couch with Renee sitting across from him, her sock covered feet tucked into his lap, when she said, “Our friends are betting on you and Neil.”

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, because their friends bet on virtually everything under the sun, but the sudden confession sent Andrew through a bit of a loop. It was against their betting protocol to make one of the subjects of a bet aware of said bet. Andrew turned away from the show they were watching and gave Renee an unimpressed look.

“And?” He asked, trying to sound unimpressed.

“And-“ Renee started, dragging the word out, “I thought you would like to know.”

“Why?”

Renee shrugged and went back to picking apart the blueberry croissant she had nestled in her lap. They had been experimenting with recipes for work just that morning. Blueberry was Renee’s favorite.

“That’s not really an answer,” Andrew said, he tried to look back to the tv and distract himself but found that it was no use. He was too transfixed on the words, Neil and bet. “What’s the bet?”

Renee hummed and Andrew turned his attention back over to her. She had a smug look on her face and a small smile on her lips. Andrew scowled.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Renee replied.

“So you’re making me aware of the bet, but won’t tell me what the bet is?” Andrew asked, “Don’t tell me they’re betting on us getting together.”

Renee shrugged and hummed something that sounded vaguely like I don’t know. Andrew’s frown deepened. He watched Renee for any clues but she gave none away.

“Why are you telling me?” He asked. He leaned across the couch and stole a piece of the croissant off her plate. Renee didn’t even blink.

“I told you,” Renee replied, “I thought you would want to know.”

It was a non-answer if Andrew had ever heard one. He shook his head and turned back to the TV but didn’t really watch what was happening on the screen in front of him. Betting was an awful ordeal between their friends. They bet on anything and everything including each other and apparently now Neil and Andrew.

If the bet was about them getting together, then they were going to be very disappointed. Neil had never shown any signs of being interested, even if Andrew wasn’t subtle about his obvious affections. It wasn’t enough that he had to carry his crush around quietly, but now he had to think about his friends seeing it as well.

Maybe he had been too obvious. It was clear to everyone other than Neil how Andrew felt. It was a disaster. A really embarrassing and frustrating disaster. Andrew let his head fall back on the couch and let out an annoyed groan. That only served to make Renee laugh at his obvious misery.

“Don’t let it bother you too much,” She offered, “They bet on everything.”

“I don’t care,” Andrew said, then he turned to give her a look, “Did you bet?”

“Maybe,” Renee said. Andrew hoped she was smart enough to bet against them. Otherwise she was going to lose a lot of money.

“Hope you know that this is a conflict of interest,” Andrew pointed out, “You live with us. You have an unfair advantage.”

“Maybe,” she replied, “Or maybe not.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Renee opened her mouth to reply but was interrupted by the sound of the door opening behind them. Andrew didn’t have to turn around to know who it was.

“Hel-lo!” Neil called out. Andrew looked over his shoulder and watched as he walked into the living room, dropping his bag and keys by the front table.

“Hello, Neil,” Renee said calmly, but there was something mischievous on her face. Andrew sent her a warning glare that said don’t be obvious. Renee only smiled sweetly at him.

“Whatcha watching?” Neil asked. He was wearing that stupid sweater that Andrew hated so much. The oversized soft purple sweater that was far too big for his slight frame. The sleeves were curled around his fingers and made him look like he had paws.

Andrew looked away because it was too much. Neil was just so soft. Sometimes it made Andrew’s heart hurt.

Neil stopped by the back of the couch and leaned over the back, kissing Andrew on the cheek as he always does before walking around the couch. Andrew rolled his eyes as Neil lifted Renee’s legs and sat down, dropping her legs across his lap.

“Parks and rec,” Renee replied, “We’re on season three.”

“Arguably the best season,” Neil said. He relaxed into the couch and then leaned over to steal a piece of croissant from Renee. Once again, she didn’t even blink.

Neil kicked his feet up onto the coffee table and leaned into Andrew’s side. It was a casual touch, one that they had done a million times before, but this time Andrew felt the weight of the action as if it was a physical pain. Renee caught his eye from across the couch and wiggled her eyebrows knowingly. Andrew glared at her.

“You okay?” Neil asked, he turned to look up at Andrew. At this angle Andrew could make out every single freckle across his face.

“Yes,” Andrew bit out. He reached out and pushed Neil’s face away, “Just watch the stupid show.”

Neil shrugged and settled back down, his head pressed against Andrew’s shoulder and his arms curled around Renee’s legs.

Andrew was fucked. It was time to come up with some type of game plan to halt his affection before it became too much.

He would be damned if he let any of his so-called friends win this stupid bet.

*

It wasn’t working.

Sunday’s were a ritualistic day in their apartment. Renee and Neil woke up at the ass crack of dawn and met Kevin for a run in the park. They would come back around eight am, shower and then split. Renee going off to church and Neil going to the kitchen to make coffee and breakfast. Andrew usually rolled out of bed around nine and would come into the kitchen to find a plate of food and a cup of coffee waiting for him.

Neil smiled warm and sweet and leaned across the table to kiss Andrew on the cheek. This time Andrew leaned away from the touch under the guise of getting up to get himself a glass of water. He tried not to think about the confused look Neil sent him at the gesture.

Simply Sweet was closed on Sunday which was a blessing most of the time but today felt like a curse. Andrew would have prefered to be elbow deep in sugar than walking on eggshells in his own apartment. It was his own fault. He had let his affections for Neil become all consuming. It took a bet for him to come to his senses.

Renee came back around eleven to find Neil and Andrew on the couch watching a rom-com that wasn’t romantic or comedic in any way. It was the type of movie that they liked to watch because they would spend the majority of it talking over the shitty dialogue and making fun of the terrible characters and plot line.

Andrew had managed to keep his anxiety to himself throughout the majority of the movie. He had even made a point to sit on the other side of the couch, as far away from Neil as he could manage. Neil didn’t seem to mind the distance, but he gave Andrew a vaguely concerned look when he sat down. Andrew ignored it completely in favor of talking about the frustrating protagonist and her sad looking perm.

“Hello, you two,” Renee said in greeting. She walked into the kitchen and dropped off two grocery bags. Andrew watched her with interest. She noticed him watching and smiled. “I picked up ingredients to make Battenburg cake.”

Neil immediately perked up at the words. “I love Battenburg cake!” He cooed, “When are you going to make it?”

Of course he liked Battenburg cake, Andrew mused to himself. It was the type of sweet that Neil enjoyed, fruity and nutty. Neil went to his knees and bounced a bit closer to Andrew so that he could watch Renee in the kitchen. Andrew momentarily forgot that he was trying to avoid physical contact with Neil, he nearly reached out and pushed Neil back down across the couch for being so excitable. Instead he leaned further into the arm rest and pretended that he couldn’t smell Neil’s shampoo.

“Right now,” Renee said with a smile, “Sundays are for baking.”

“We bake every other day of our lives,” Andrew pointed out, “Maybe we can take a break.”

“Creatures of habit,” Renee said sweetly. She turned away and started to unpack her ingredients. Neil was practically vibrating in his spot on the couch.

“This is a different type of baking,” Neil said, “This is baking for fun.”

“You’re just saying that because you want cake,” Andrew replied. Neil shrugged and smiled like it was an inside joke. Andrew pointedly looked away.

“Neil,” Renee called, “Do you want to help?”

Neil bounced off the couch at lightning speed and went straight into the kitchen. Andrew tilted his head back to watch him go. He was wearing a pair of leggings that left literally nothing to the imagination. Andrew let out a quiet groan and looked away.

“What? Neil asked Andrew, “I can help!”

Andrew was very, very glad that Neil was completely oblivious to his torment.

“You burnt our banana bread last time we let you ‘help’ bake,” Andrew said, making finger quotes. Neil sent him a pout and then grabbed the paper towels from the counter and chucked the entire roll at Andrew’s head.

“Rude,” Andrew said, catching the roll before it could hit him and then saying, “You’re out.” Because he knew how much Neil hated baseball.

Neil’s pout deepened, “Can you not bring baseball into this household?”

Renee laughed. “Come on, Neil,” She said, “Help me put the dry ingredients together.”

Neil stuck his tongue out at Andrew and turned away to help Renee. Andrew watched them for a moment before turning back to the shitty rom-com that was still playing on the screen.

The main character was currently crying while her unattractive love interest confessed his feelings for her. Andrew scowled at the screen and reached for the remote to change the channel. Romance was boring anyway, he told himself, friendship was much easier and safer.

*

The Battenburg cake was nearly a disaster but Renee held it together for the both of them. Neil was not good at baking. He could throw together simple things like eggs, bacon, oatmeal, pasta, but anything else was completely out of his realm. Andrew thought it was sort of endearing, it also gave him an excuse to shower Neil in affection by making his favorite foods and treats.

That was something he had to stop, considering that he was attempting to cut back his obvious feelings for Neil and melt them into something more companionable. He tried to mimic the relationship he had with Renee. Casual and platonic. He rarely touched Neil anymore, in fact he avoided contact at every turn. Neil caught on rather quickly and completely stopped reaching out as he would before. He didn’t kiss Andrew on the cheek when he got home or before he left, he didn’t sit next to Andrew on the couch or lean on his shoulder, and he didn’t take his hand when they were out in public.

Andrew wanted this. This was his idea, he would cut out any physical and emotional connection with Neil and that way he could move on and completely cut the bet that their friends had made about them. It was a win-win in his opinion.

What he didn’t account for was that it made him feel like shit. He missed the easy affection. He missed running his fingers through the soft tresses of Neil’s hair, he missed the familiar weight of Neil on the couch next to him, he even missed when Neil would crawl into his bed in the middle of the night after a particularly rough nightmare.

He reminded himself again that this was what he wanted. There was no reason to be upset. Which is why he very much did not watch Neil with longing as he went across the table to sit on Renee’s lap rather than take the very empty seat beside Andrew.

Their friends watched the action with great interest. Allison was playing with a strand of Renee’s hair and watching Neil with her eyebrows raised, while Dan and Matt shot looks between the empty seat and Neil.

“Trouble in paradise?” Allison asked smugly, “Is that why you’re stealing my girlfriend’s lap?”

Neil gave her a confused look and grabbed Renee’s soda so he could take a sip. Renee didn’t say anything, she had her arms wrapped around Neil’s middle to keep him from slipping off.

“What does that mean?” Neil asked.

“Oh you know,” Allison started, releasing Renee’s hair and leaning her elbow on the table in a gesture that said she was about to stir up some trouble, “You usually cling to Andrew like a baby koala. I’m just surprised to see you sitting over here instead of over there.” She pointed to the empty seat with her free hand and gave Neil a dangerous smirk.

Several emotions flickered across Neil’s face. First was confusion, then understanding, and then hurt, and then indifference.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” He pronounced.

“Sure,” Allison said, “Of course you don’t.”

Kevin appeared at the table at that moment and took the empty seat beside Andrew. He was two sheets to the wind and slightly damp from the mass of bodies inside the bar. He leaned onto Andrew’s side and rested his head on top of Andrew’s in an affectionate sort of way.

He was always touchy feely when he was drunk, it normally wasn’t a problem but Andrew was missing Neil’s touch so much that he almost pushed Kevin straight out of his chair. Instead he let out a sigh and took a drink of his beer, letting Kevin lean his sticky mess of a body all over him.

“You’re disgusting,” Andrew said, “It’s not even that hot in here.”

“I’m hot,” Kevin complained in a whine, “I think I’m dying.”

“Hell yeah you are!” Allison exclaimed. Dan laughed and they tapped their glasses together as if it was the funniest thing in the world.

“Dying?” Kevin asked, concerned, as if Allison and Dan were medical doctors that saw something he couldn’t see.

“I hope so,” Neil bit out. Andrew snapped his gaze to see that Neil was glaring daggers in Kevin’s direction. Andrew felt his whole body go stiff at the sight of that look. A look that Neil usually reserved for real assholes, not his best friend.

“Whoa,” Matt said raising a hand, “Calm down, tiger. You look like you’re about to bite Kevin’s head off.”

Neil turned his glare to Matt’s direction.

“Touchy,” Matt said under his breath before taking a drink.

“So there is trouble in paradise,” Allison cooed, “I knew it!”

“Alli,” Renee warned softly, which caused Neil to stiffen.

“What are you guys talking about?” Neil asked, frustration seeping into his voice, “What do you mean trouble in paradise?

“Oh Neil,” Allison began, “You innocent newborn baby.”

“I’m getting a drink,” Andrew announced. He pushed Kevin off of him and stood from the chair, walking off into the crowded bar. He didn’t need to hear how absolutely out of the loop Neil was. He was already aware. Four years of sticking around the idiot was enough for him to see how out of touch Neil was with his own feelings.

Andrew caught sight of Aaron and Katelyn dancing in the crowd. He rolled his eyes and went straight to the bar.

Roland was off today and in his place was a girl around his age. She gave Andrew a pleasant smile as he settled on one of the stools at the bar.

“What’re you having?” She asked, her voice dripping with a southern accent.

Andrew decided to take a leap.

“Whisky,” He replied, “Neat.”

The girl gave him a thumbs up and turned to get his drink ready.

“Tough night?”

Andrew turned to watch as an attractive stranger leaned against the bar at his side. He lifted one pristine eyebrow at Andrew and his lips curled in one direction when he smiled.

“Something like that,” Andrew replied. The bartender dropped off his drink.

“Nothing for me,” The stranger said, he waved her away and she went off to help another customer.

“So,” The man said, “Can I be blunt?”

Andrew really didn’t like where this was going. Or maybe he did. Maybe this is what he needed. A distraction. A way to prove to himself that he wasn’t completely ruined for all other partners outside of Neil.

Andrew lifted his glass to his lips and gestured for the man to continue.

“What do you say we go to the back and I blow you?” The stranger asked, his eyes shining, “Too forward?”

Andrew shot back his entire drink and stood from the stool. The stranger looked mildly dejected for a second before Andrew was pulling on his sleeve and dragging him away from the bar.

It was worth a shot, he decided. There was nothing wrong with taking a shot.

*

It didn’t work.

The stranger, whose name Andrew pointedly did not care to ask for, had dropped to his knees and looked up at Andrew and the only thing that he could see was a mop of red hair and bright blue eyes staring back at him. His immediate reaction was to go completely still. His second reaction was to push the man away, zip his pants back up, and walk out of the backroom.

He went straight for his car, avoiding the table where his friends were sitting, and sent Renee a text letting her know that he was leaving and they would have to hitch a ride back with Allison or Dan. Renee only sent him a thumbs up and then a single question mark. Andrew pointedly turned his phone off and pretended that it meant nothing.

It meant something.

He was ruined, objectively. There was once a time where Andrew would have jumped on the idea of getting off with someone in the backroom of some seedy bar. Of course that had been before he decided to fall in love with his best friend.

Wait- shit, love?

Andrew spent the entire night laying in his bed, wide awake, staring at the cracks in his ceiling and pretending that he was definitely not one hundred percent in love with one Neil Josten.

It didn’t work.

The next couple of days went by with Andrew actively avoiding being in the same room as Neil. He kept his door closed and locked, he would peak out into the living room and double check that Neil wasn’t there before going out to the kitchen to grab something to eat. He went to work earlier, right at the time that Neil would be out on his run, so that he could narrowly avoid running into Neil in the hallway.

It was a nightmare. His life was becoming a nightmare. Renee noticed but said nothing, although Andrew noticed how sometimes she looked a bit guilty when she saw the way Andrew receded back into himself. Andrew didn’t blame her for any of this. It was his own decision to cut Neil out, in fact, he should thank her for helping him realize what a fucking mistake he had been making. Pining for your best friend, especially one that never really showed any interest in anyone was a dangerous game.

Simply Sweet was quiet Thursday morning. Andrew was baking in the back and Renee was currently restocking candies in the front of the shop. Andrew enjoyed the monotonous work. It was an easy distraction from his spiraling thoughts.

The bell over the front door rang. Andrew heard Renee call out but he had barely any time to register the words before the door to the kitchen was being flung open.

Neil stood in the doorway in his stupid purple sweater with a stupid angry look on his face. He pushed his way in, let the door slam closed behind him, and walked straight over to Andrew.

“Why are you avoiding me?” He asked.

“What?” Andrew replied. His brain couldn’t seem to catch up to what was happening. Neil was breathing heavily as if he had run to the shop from their apartment.

“You’re avoiding me,” Neil said, “Why?”

Andrew sighed and took his tray of unbaked apple fritters over to the oven. He placed them inside and then stood back up, leaning against the counter and whipping the flour off his hands and onto his apron.

“I’m not avoiding you,” Andrew lied.

Neil didn’t look impressed. “You’re a terrible liar. I know you enough to know that’s bullshit.”

“Do you have to do this here?” Andrew asked, “I’m working.”

“It’s the only place I knew I could corner you without you running away,” Neil confessed. He suddenly deflated and then looked down at his hands. His fingers fidgeted with the loose material of his sweater. “What did I do?”

Andrew’s heart hurt.

“Nothing,” Andrew said, “You didn’t do anything. Just forget about it.”

Neil looked up and caught his eyes. Stupid blue eyes and his stupid soft lips, and his stupid flushed cheeks. Andrew wanted to reach out and pinch the soft flesh until they were beet red.

“I don’t want to forget about it,” Neil said, “Clearly something is bothering you. Did I do something? Did I make you uncomfortable?”

Andrew crossed his arms and let out a deep sigh. He had several options. He could confess to Neil that he was avoiding him because he liked him and he knew Neil didn’t like him back. But that had the potential to ruin their friendship and throw off the entire dynamic in their apartment. Which Andrew now realized he had done anyway. Another option was that he could confess that he just wasn’t feeling himself lately. Maybe he could fake an illness that he didn’t want Neil to catch. The last option felt like the worst of them all. He could tell Neil that he was seeing someone and didn't know how to tell them. That felt stupid. Neil would see right through that one.

He decided to say, “Our friends are betting on us.”

Neil looked surprised, “They’re what?”

“Betting on us,” Andrew repeated, “I decided that none of them deserved to win any money. Better to keep them hanging with no answer.”

“What was the bet?” Neil asked.

“If we’re going to get together,” Andrew replied. Which was more of an assumption than a cold hard fact. Andrew didn’t actually know what their bet explicitly stated. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know.

“Oh,” Neil said dumbly.

“Oh,” Andrew parroted.

“So you’ve been avoiding me because you don’t want them to win the bet?” Neil asked, “Wait-” He paused, “Do you like me?”

“No,” Andrew replied automatically.

“Oh,” Neil replied. He looked confused for a second and then said again, “Oh.”

“Yeah oh,” Andrew said. This conversation was going nowhere quickly. He could see the wheels turning in Neil’s head and wondered if he was going into system failure.

“Don’t hurt yourself,” Andrew said, “It’s nothing.”

“Nothing,” Neil repeated.

Andrew rolled his eyes. He went to the fridge and pulled out a piece of carrot cake that he knew Neil liked. He placed it in a clear take out container and handed it off to him.

“Go home, Neil,” Andrew said, “Don’t worry about it.”

Neil nodded slowly and gave Andrew a long, sad look before turning and walking out of the kitchen door. Andrew stayed frozen in place until he heard the front bell ring.

The door opened a crack and Renee stuck her head in.

“So, That went well,” She said teasingly.

“Shut up,” Andrew replied without any real heat, “Don’t you have a job to do.”

Renee tsk-ed at him but retreated back into the front of the store. Leaving Andrew alone with his thoughts.

Not for the first time, Andrew realized that he was an absolute fucking idiot.

*

Neil had a wedding to photograph, which meant that he would be out of the apartment for an entire day. This gave Andrew a reprieve from having to look Neil in the face whenever they ended up in the same room together. Renee just kept sighing at Andrew’s dramatics but said nothing to try and deter him from acting like an idiot.

Saturday was the wedding so Neil was out of the house and out of town which meant that Andrew found himself on the couch with Aaron seated next to him. They didn’t spend much time together, not since Andrew went off to live with Renee and Neil and Aaron moved in with his girlfriend. Both of them were far too busy to spare each other much time, but today was special because Katelyn was off with her sister and Andrew’s apartment was painfully empty.

Aaron had a plate of sweets on the coffee table in front of him. Clone Wars was playing on TV but Andrew was barely paying attention. He was far too tired to maintain any one thought other than I’m such an idiot.

“So,” Aaron started, “What’s going on with you and Neil?”

“Don’t tell me you’re in on this bet,” Andrew said quickly, turning to look at Aaron with accusation.

Aaron shrugged and grabbed a piece of homemade licorice off the plate before leaning back on the couch.

“Oh my god,” Andrew sighed dramatically, “You fucking are.”

“No,” Aaron clarified, “I’m not. I’m just aware of said bet.”

“What the fuck is going on with all of you?” Andrew asked, “They’ve known Neil and I for years. If we haven’t gotten together yet then we aren’t going to.”

Aaron shrugged nonchalantly but it felt anything but.

“I thought you were my brother,” Andrew said.

“I thought you were a clone,” Aaron retorted.

“I should have eaten you in the womb.”

“Boring,” Aaron said, “There is still a chance for us to Cain and Abel each other.”

Andrew let out an annoyed groan and looked away.

“I didn’t bet,” Aaron said, “But I can see it.”

“See what?” Andrew asked, suddenly very tired of the conversation.

“You’re basically already dating Neil,” Aaron said, “You touch all the time. You’re attached at the hip. You sleep in the same bed sometimes. You’re basically boyfriends without any of the sex.”

Andrew didn’t really have a whole lot of experience when it came to relationships. So if they had been acting like a couple, well Andrew would have had no idea. He had nothing to compare it to. The only comparisons were the relationships that happened around them and Neil and Andrew were nothing like Matt and Dan or Allison and Renee or Aaron and Katelyn.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Andrew said, “Neil doesn’t have feelings for me.”

Aaron gave him an unimpressed look and then said, “You’re so fucking stupid. I can’t believe we shared a womb.”

“Fuck you,” Andrew replied.

“Fuck you, too,” Aaron said, “You’re still an idiot.”

He turned away and went back to watching the show in front of them. They didn’t bring it up again but Andrew didn’t feel any better than he had at the beginning of the night. The only thing Aaron’s words had solidified for Andrew was that he was in fact an idiot and that his pining was far too obvious to hide.

Andrew spent the rest of the night brooding.

*

Andrew was stress baking. He had already finished baking two dozen kitchen sink cookies and was now frantically rolling cannolis as if his life depended on it. He was a mess. A real big mess in and out of the kitchen.

Renee was staying at Allison’s house for the weekend which left Andrew alone in the apartment with Neil. Which meant that Andrew really wanted to avoid being left alone with his thoughts. So he had unpacked the entire baking cabinet in their kitchen before he decided on what he wanted to make.

It wasn’t until he was halfway through making the cannoli flour that he realized he had reverted to making Neil’s favorite desserts out of habit. That made his cannoli rolling much more fevered than it had been before.

He was an idiot. An idiot that was in love with his best friend. An idiot that wanted to kiss his best friend senseless and then curl up on the couch with him and hold his hand. He was becoming a soft mess like the inside of an under baked cake.

One of the cannoli’s ripped from his angry rolling and he let out a string of curses while he tried to put it back together again.

“Wow,” Neil said suddenly, appearing beside him at the counter, “Are you stress rolling cannolis?”

Andrew shot him a glare and went back to the sad excuse for a cannoli that he had just managed to butcher. He ran his thumb over the broken dough in an attempt to mend the wound.

“No,” He lied.

“Could have fooled me,” Neil said. He leaned back against the counter and looked over the mess around the kitchen. The cookies were cooling off on racks across the stove and counter. The rest of the space was covered in flour and rolled cannolis.

Neil was standing closer than he had been in days. Andrew could feel the warmth rolling off of him even from the few inches between them.

“What do you want, Neil?” Andrew bit out. He dropped the cannoli down to the counter and watched it completely fall apart again. Neil let out a deep sigh and reached out, picking up the broken dough and started rolling it back together again.

“I’m starting to wonder if it’s you who wants something,” Neil said casually. He fixed the dough with practiced ease and placed the perfectly, but slightly warped, dough down onto the pan.

“I don’t want anything,” Andrew replied, “I want to be left alone to bake in peace.”

“This is not peaceful baking,” Neil pointed out, “This is I’m-having-a-hard-time-stress baking if I’ve ever seen it before. Which I have, by the way. You’re not exactly subtle.”

“Tell me more Dr. Josten,” Andrew mocked, “What is causing such horrible stress baking?”

Neil shrugged and started to push around the cannolis that were lined up on their baking sheets. He rolled one over a few times before he stopped and looked Andrew straight in the face.

“I like you,” Neil said.

Andrew lost all motor function. He opened his mouth and then closed it and then opened it again until Neil was rolling his eyes and reaching out to push his jaw closed.

“Not as friends,” Neil clarified, “I didn’t figure it out until you started acting weird. I know now that you don’t like me and that it’s awkward. But I thought that if I talked to you about it that maybe we could go back to normal.”

Andrew had literally no idea what to say to that. Actually he knew exactly what to say to that.

“You’re so stupid,” He said suddenly. Neil sputtered.

“That’s just rude!” Neil said, looking offended, “Why am I stupid?”

“Clarification,” Andrew said, he reached out and hooked his finger into the collar of Neil’s shirt, “We’re both very stupid.”

He tugged slightly on the cotton fabric, not hard enough to move Neil in any way but Neil came anyway, and waited until Neil was close enough to kiss before saying, “I lied.”

“About what?” Neil asked.

“About not stress baking,” Andrew replied, “I am stress baking.”

“Clearly,” Neil said, with a slight smile on his face, “Why?”

“Because I like you too,” Andrew said.

“Oh,” Neil was somehow surprised by this. Andrew realized that they really were fucking stupid.

He leaned forward and kissed Neil.

It wasn’t exciting or thrilling like they made it seem in the stupid rom-coms they watched together. It was awkward and a bit messy but it felt right, felt like coming home, felt like waking up in the morning with Neil’s familiar weight in the bed with him.

Andrew pulled back just enough to gauge Neil’s reaction. He looked stricken. He gave Andrew a long hard look before saying, “Can we do that again?”

Andrew rolled his eyes and leaned in.

*

He still really didn’t want anyone to win the bet.

They kept it a secret for as long as they could. Which was very difficult because they were both touch starved and craving attention from one another at every waking moment. This made going to the bar difficult because Neil kept hanging all over Andrew at their table and Andrew had to pointedly look away from Allison’s probing gaze so as to not give anything away. It was also a miracle that Renee hadn’t managed to walk in on them when they made out on the couch regularly. They actually avoided contact when the three of them were home together. Neil would force Renee into the seat between them on the couch. She never asked, probably assuming that something was still wrong.

It came to a head about two weeks after they officially became something. They were at the bar, Andrew, Allison, and Neil were leaning against the counter top waiting to be served, the others sitting at their usual table behind them. The bar wasn’t as packed as it usually was for a Friday night. Roland was behind the counter serving drinks and laughing with customers.

Neil kept close to Andrew’s side but gave him a healthy amount of space to make sure it wasn’t so obvious. They had both agreed on dragging the bet on for as long as they both could manage. It wasn’t anything more than spite really. Andrew didn’t enjoy the others betting on him and Neil was annoyed that the bet had caused them to sort of drift apart for a while before coming back together again.

Roland finally came over and started taking their drink order from Allison. Neil was leaning on his elbows, facing their direction, which unfortunately left Andrew open to the wilds. What he didn’t expect was a familiar face saddling up to the bar beside him.

“Hey,” The stranger said. Andrew immediately recognized him as the guy that he had pushed away several weeks ago. Andrew sucked in a breath and debated how to get this over with quickly without drawing too much attention.

“You know,” The guy said, “You left rather quickly last time. I thought maybe we could try again?” He looked hopeful, which was pretty shitty, because Andrew didn’t really want to hurt his feelings but then again he didn’t really care either way. He opened his mouth to say something but was interrupted by Neil letting out a snort of amusement from behind him.

Suddenly there were arms around Andrew’s waist and a chin tucking itself into the dip of Andrew’s shoulder and Neil’s voice saying, “Sorry. He has a boyfriend.”

The guy raised his hands in surrender but smirked when he said, “No worries. Sorry to bother you.”

He made a quick retreat from the bar and Andrew let out a sigh of relief.

“Amused?” Andrew asked, looking over his shoulder to watch as Neil dissolved into laughter against his back.

“Was that the guy?” Neil asked.

Andrew sighed. “Yeah.”

“Cute,” Neil commented. He stood on his tiptoes and pressed the most casual kiss to Andrew’s lips. It was as if he hadn’t even thought twice about the gesture.

They probably should have thought twice.

“Oh my god!” Allison practically yelled, “What the fuck was that?”

Andrew let out a groan and buried his face into his hands.

“Did you guys just kiss? Are you together?” Allison asked.

Andrew turned around in his chair and Neil stepped aside so that they were shoulder to shoulder and facing Allison with mirrored looks of contempt.

“Yes,” Neil said, he started smiling like an idiot and Andrew felt all annoyance at the admission completely slip away.

“Holy shit!” Allison said, her face splitting into a grin, “You just won Renee and I so much money.”

Neil let out a groan and turned around to hide his face in Andrew’s shoulder. Andrew rubbed his hands up and down his back soothingly.

“There, there,” Andrew said dryly, “Maybe we can bully some money out of Renee for her troubles.”

Roland brought their drinks out and Allison immediately grabbed the tray before hurrying off to the table. Andrew and Neil reluctantly followed her.

“So guess what the fuck just happened,” Allison said as soon as she was within earshot of the table.

Dan, Matt, Renee, Kevin, Aaron, and Katelyn all looked up expectantly. Andrew took a seat and pulled Neil down into his lap.

“These two,” Allison said, pointing in their direction, “Just confessed that they’re dating.”

“Wait really?” Matt asked, “Congrats!” He grabbed a drink off the tray and shot it back as if it was something worth celebrating.

“Hold on,” Dan said, “Did they just get together or have they been hiding it from us? We need clarification for the bet.”

Neil looked confused and asked, “What was the bet anyway?”

“The bet was that you were already dating,” Renee clarified, she looked rather proud of herself, “Allison and I bet that you weren’t but that you needed a little push.”

“You’re all awful,” Andrew said. Aaron hummed in agreement from beside him.

“Terrible people,” Aaron added.

“We got together two weeks ago,” Neil said, “Wait you guys thought we’ve been together for longer than that?”

Allison cooed and reached out to pinch Neil’s cheek. “You are so fucking oblivious it’s adorable.”

Neil pushed her hand away and leaned further into Andrew’s chest.

“I’m not a child,” Neil declared.

“You are a baby,” Allison corrected, “A newborn baby and we love you for it.”

“Hear hear,” Dan said, lifting her glass in a mock toast. Allison threw her head back and laughed.

Andrew caught eyes with Renee across the table. She winked at him and Andrew couldn’t help but scoff and look away.

*

It was a rigged bet, apparently. No one had to know but them, which was probably funnier than keeping their relationship a secret to begin with.

Renee came home on Sunday after church with a giant box that was far too large for her to carry on her own. Neil jumped over the back of the couch and went to help her carry it in.

“What is it?” He asked, looking it over as he discarded it on the kitchen counter. Andrew walked over from the living room to join them.

“An ice cream maker,” Renee said proudly, “I bought it with the bet winnings.”

“All this for an ice cream maker?” Neil asked.

“Did you set us up Renee?” Andrew asked.

Renee gave him a knowing smile and started to unbox her new toy.

“I can make any ice cream you want,” She said, as if it was enough to make up for the entire ordeal.

Andrew quickly realized he wasn’t even mad about it. He couldn’t stop himself from huffing in amusement before saying, “Chocolate. Obviously.”

“Oh, I want to make blueberry!” Neil announced, “It would be amazing!”

“I also want blueberry,” Renee said, giving Andrew a knowing look, “So you’re out voted.”

“This house is a nightmare,” He complained. Neil laughed and kissed him before going to help Renee pull the ice cream maker from the box.

It could have been worse, he guessed, they could have never gotten together at all.