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Part 24: Emmett

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“So,” I ask Justin, as he reaches for another snickerdoodle, “how’s married life treating you?”

He grins. “Basically exactly the same as our old life, except that I get to introduce Brian as my husband to everyone at the gallery. The look on his face never gets old.” He takes a bite of the cookie. “And we’re having even more sex than usual. So overall, I’d say it’s going great.”

I frown. “More? Is that even possible?”

Justin laughs. “I think Brian’s trying to prove that we’re not going to be one of those cliché couples who lose the ‘fire of passion’ after getting married. Which, obviously, we’re not, but it’s not like I’m complaining.” He breaks off a piece of cookie, smiling dreamily. “I could barely walk for three days after the honeymoon.”

I’m sort of tempted to ask for details, but in reality I probably don’t want to know. One difference between dishing with Ted and dishing with Justin, I've discovered recently, is that Ted isn't an agelessly beautiful and self-assured idealist married to a legendary sex god.

“So, have you told people back home yet?” Given the oath of Pittsburgh-specific secrecy they’d made me swear at the courthouse, it’s in my best interest that I find out if it’s safe to spill about the (touching and wonderful, if not especially well-planned) ceremony rather than having an irate Brian show up at my door if Teddy slipped up, which he almost certainly would.

Justin bites his lip. “We’re not sure how. Well, I’m not sure how. Brian doesn’t want to deal with all of the inevitable tears and why-weren’t-we-inviteds, so he’s pretending we’re just never going to tell them.”

I can’t hold back a smirk. “Showing off his infinite capacity for emotional suppression, as usual,” I say, and Justin laughs again.

“It’s not like I was expecting anything different, really. And he’ll have to face reality soon, given that everyone we know in Pittsburgh is coming up for the opening two weeks from now.”

I must have my thinking face on, because he asks, “What?”

I smile. “I think I might have a solution to your problem. And I think both you and Brian will love it.”

***

After some back-and-forth over the planning for my brilliant idea, we walk downtown, talking about the show and my neighbors and the city, and I realize how much I’ve missed spending time with someone who really knows me.

“Thanks for coming over today,” I tell Justin, as we reach the start of the main street.

He smiles, gorgeous and genuine as always. “Thanks for inviting me. We should do this more often.”

I smile back and nod. “Definitely. I need someone around to eat all my baked goods.”

Justin snorts at that, then softens. “And you’re always welcome at our place. You know that, right?”

“Not sure Brian would appreciate me bringing a pan of lemon squares over.”

He laughs, looking at a woman on the other side of the street carrying a dog in a purse. I love New York. “Don’t worry, I wouldn’t tell.”

“So,” he says, turning back to me, “meet anyone cute recently?”

I consider avoiding the question, but really, who else do I have to talk to about this? And, as it turns out, I don’t even need to answer - apparently my pause is enough to set off Justin’s romance radar.

He backs me towards a shop window. “Okay, who is he?”

I sigh. “We’re not- dating, or anything.”

“Hookup or crush?”

“Crush. Definitely. We haven’t even really talked.” I twine my fingers together. “I actually don’t know for sure that he’s into men.”

Justin takes that in, looking pensive. “Where’d you meet him?”

“He owns a bookstore a block away from here.”

He beams. “Well, that’s simple enough. We’ll go in there-”

What?”

“-and I’ll watch to see if he’s checking you out when you’re not looking.”

I groan. “Do we have to?”

Justin grabs my wrist and starts pulling me down the street. “I’m not going to let you miss out on finding your soulmate just because you’re afraid to find out whether he wants to stare at your ass or not.”

“I don’t know how I feel about you living your romantic life vicariously through me.”

“Brian’s plenty romantic for me,” Justin says, grinning. “You should have heard him getting me out of artist’s block the other week. It was the hottest thing that’s ever happened to me, which is saying something.”

I decide, again, that I don’t want to know.

“So what’s his name?” Justin asks.

“Duncan,” I tell him, and let myself get all fluttery for a second. “He’s from Scotland.”

“Oooh. Accent?”

Beautiful accent. Big strong arms, great hair, green eyes-”

“-you’ll probably want to keep him away from Brian, in that case-”

“And he’s sensitive, and kind, and handsome, and he likes gardening and collecting old books,” I say, and sigh. “He’s perfect.”

Justin looks like he’s trying not to laugh. “Not to be cynical or anything, but is this what I was like after I first met Brian? Because if so, I have no idea how anyone put up with me.”

I slap him on the arm for that, but only lightly, because I have to admit that he has a point.

***

The store is crowded with people when we get there, but Justin tugs me cheerfully through the browsing visitors towards the register.

Duncan looks up from a big book on the counter and smiles right at me. While I’m doing my best not to melt into the floor, Justin, in full Sunshine mode, says, “Hi! I’m looking for something kind of unusual, and Emmett says this is the best place around. Do you think you can help me?”

Duncan smiles at me again, so I abandon my quest to elbow Justin in the ribs hard enough to get him to lay off a little. “I’ll do my best. What are you looking for?”

Justin names a book I’ve never heard of - art-related, I think - and soon Duncan is leading him over to a dark little corner of the store while Justin looks back at me and winks.

They’re over there for a while, me standing by the register and breathing in the old-book smell and something musky and sweet that I hope might be Duncan’s cologne and Justin casting furtive glances between him and me while pretending to be engrossed in a catalog.

They finally make their way back to me, deep in conversation. Justin flashes me a smile, then says, “Thanks for your help! Mind if we look around a little more?”

Duncan waves a hand at the rows of shelves. “What’s mine is yours.”

I recover my ability to put words together, sort of. “Is that a good rule to have as a shopkeeper?”

He laughs. “Well, what’s mine is yours inside the store. To go outside, you should probably buy it.”

Justin pulls me over to a set of bookshelves on the opposite side of the store before I have a chance to come up with a charmingly witty comeback. “So he’s definitely into you,” he says.

I stare at him, feeling all the butterflies flapping again. “You can tell?”

He grins. “He asked me if you and I were dating, in a way that meant he was definitely hoping we weren’t.”

“Really?”

Justin turns me around and pushes me back in the direction of the register. “Don’t overthink this,” he says. “Go get him.”

Duncan is giving me an adorably confused look from behind the counter, so I adjust my flame (and my shirt), push off the nervousness just for a moment, and walk over to get my man.