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Their mansion is always kind of eerie at night. During the day, there are always at least a few people – maids, chefs, florists, photographers, even wigmakers – around somewhere, performing some sort of service. David tends to stay in his room to avoid running into these people (except Adelina. He loves Adelina. He doesn’t understand why she can’t just live there with them.) but he’s always aware of their presence, of the humming activity of the house.

At night, it falls silent. He sees his parents a little most nights, but then they either go back out or retire to their wing of the house fairly early. Then it feels like it’s just him and a huge empty house, silence deafening around him.

A soft knock on his bedroom door reminds him that it actually isn’t just him.

He looks up from where he’s in bed, in his pristine silk pajamas against pristine white sheets, and says, “Yeah?” because he knows exactly who it is from the rhythm of the knock alone.

Alexis peeks her head inside his door, eyes wide and bright.

“Can I sleep in here?” she asks.

David doesn’t know why he always makes this as hard as possible, because of course she’s going to end up sleeping in his room. She’s done it before, she’ll do it again.

“Why?” he asks, looking back down at the Spanish textbook he’s been fighting with for the past hour. He wishes Adelina was here. She always explained things so much better than the book, and when he finally got something right she’d hug him and tell him how proud she was of him.

“There’s something in my room,” Alexis says, pouting, and David, predicting the answer, responds immediately.

“There’s nothing in your room.”

“There is.”

“Is not.”

“David,” Alexis whines. “I can’t sleep in there.”

“So go sleep with Mom and Dad.” He doesn’t even know for sure his parents are home, but it’s part of the script.

“I don’t want to walk over there by myself,” Alexis argues, as usual.

He holds out for another ten seconds or so before rolling his eyes and nodding, scooting over in his bed to make room.

Alexis smiles and runs over to climb up next to him, dragging behind her the stuffed koala Dad had brought her back from Australia forever ago.

“Not that,” David says, pointing at the bear. “It’s gross.”

“Fuzzy isn’t gross!” Alexis says, hugging it to her chest defensively.

“You were chewing on its foot again. It’s still wet, I can see it. It’s gross.”

Alexis bites her lip and hugs the bear tighter.

David sighs. “Just don’t let it touch me,” he says, and flips back his blanket enough for Alexis to get under.

Her feet are freezing, and David fights the urge to push her away when she gets too close with them.

“Thank you,” she says, smiling, and David thinks that for the rest of her life she’ll be able to use that smile and those bright aqua eyes to get everything she could ever want.

“You’re welcome,” he mutters, and reaches over her to turn his bedside lamp off. “Just be quiet and go to sleep, okay?

Alexis hums in agreement, pulling more of David’s blanket over herself and squeezing her bear tightly against her chest. She falls asleep quickly, but David lies awake for a little while longer, just listening to her breathing, until he drifts off himself.

-----

Being on his own for the first time is a study in contrasts.

It’s terrifying. It’s liberating. It’s lonely. It’s exciting.

He hates it. He loves it.

He’s a few months into his Art History degree and he’s made no friends.

His dad had gotten him a one-bedroom off-campus. He spends most of his time outside of class either there or at one of the many galleries New York has to offer.

One night goes to a party at a truly hideous frat house. He wanders the house and mentally critiques every single design choice. It’s truly tragic. He has no idea what he’s even doing here.

Then a shockingly pretty girl is standing in front of him, smiling. Smiling at him. Oh.

“Hi,” the girl says, not especially eloquently but with a charming smile and a light spattering of freckles and truly gorgeous curly brown hair.

“Hi,” David says, somehow even less eloquently.

He has less experience with girls, which is pretty embarrassing and something he likes to keep to himself. He figures guys are just more likely to approach him because girls tend to think he’s gay so there’s no point in trying, but whenever he has that thought his stomach hurts and he starts itching inside whatever sweater he’s wearing so he tries to tamp it down.

It turns out the girl actually lives in the sorority house across the street. She laughs when he makes disparaging remarks about the party and while he’s never been to a sorority house before, it’s not as trashy as he’s always pictured.

“You’re cute,” she says when David thoughtlessly makes this observation aloud. They’re kissing on the bed before David can figure out what he’s supposed to say to that.

She knows what she’s doing and it’s far from David’s first time, even with a girl. They finish efficiently.

“I knew it,” the girl says, laughing, flopping onto her back beside David.

“Knew what?” David asks, still trying to catch his breath.

“Okay, so there’s this girl at the party, Jessie. I told her you’d been checking us out and she said no, you were totally gay. You’re straight, I win.”

“Oh.” David has no idea what to say to that. He wonders if he should be hurt. He doesn’t tell her that he hadn’t been checking them out, he had probably just been silently judging the crowd at large at the time, because he doesn’t want to hurt her feelings. Instead, he says, “I do like girls.”

“Obviously,” the girl says, looking very self-satisfied.

“But, um. I’m not straight.”

The girl laughs again, but not unkindly, trailing her fingers up David’s bare chest. “You sure about that?”

“No, I mean, I do like girls, but I like guys. Too. I don’t really have a preference.”

The girl thumbs David’s nipple, and he reacts before he can stop himself with a low noise and a tightened fist.

“I think you have a preference,” the girl says.

David doesn’t really feel like arguing. “I’m really tired,” he says instead. He wants to take a shower but he thinks sorority houses have communal bathrooms and he can’t deal with that right now.

“Hm,” the girl hums, considering. “How about you get some rest and see what your preference is in the morning?”

She’s teasing, but it’s just on the wrong side of mean. So David just nods and hates himself for nodding and rolls over, eyes watering a little.

He’s angry because he can’t figure out if he should be angry and he is anyway. David is trying harder not to get upset about things most people wouldn’t be upset by. Most people wouldn’t be upset by a well-practiced blowjob from a cute girl with a surprisingly nice room and an offer to sleep over. He shouldn’t be upset.

So he tells himself he isn’t, over and over and over until at some point he must believe it enough to fall asleep.

-----

If there’s one thing Sebastien Raine is good at besides somewhat pretentious photography, it’s making people feel special.

And if there’s one thing David loves, it’s feeling special.

He feels special now, blinking up from his favorite memory foam pillow at Sebastien, who is running his fingers gently over David’s cheekbones.

“Someday I’m going to photograph your eyes,” he mumbles. “Just your eyes. They’re fascinating.”

David’s always felt fairly ambivalent about his eyes. Brown is kind of boring, and his are such a dark brown they don’t even really show much of the color. He’s always thought his eyebrows kind of pulled focus from them anyway.

“Really?” he asks. Sebastien smiles and touches David’s eyelids like he’s trying to magically put him to sleep or something. David lets his eyes flutter closed under his touch. He feels so, so special. Sebastien loves to look at things, to find beauty everywhere, and being the thing he’s looking at is always overwhelming and wonderful because David hates being noticed but he loves being looked at.

“So I was thinking,” Sebastien says, “we should extend the show. Give it another week.”

“Um,” David says, opening his eyes. “I don’t know, remember that woman who does the found object self-portraits? I kind of promised-“

Sebastien’s eyes slide away from him and he panics.

“But yeah, another week should work,” he says quickly. “They’re really selling well.”

“Mmm ,” Sebastien agrees, and thank god, he’s looking again. “I met an art critic at that new club the other night, and he’s really interested in coming to see my work. Really interesting guy.”

What new club? Why didn’t you ask me to go with you? Who is this guy, anyway? Did you ask to photograph him?

David forces himself not to ask. He’s working on not being as needy, and while he’s probably always going to be paranoid, he’s working on not showing it so much.

“Okay,” he says instead.

Sebastien falls asleep before him. David lies on his side and watches and wonders what kind of beautiful things Sebastien dreams about.

-----

Stevie eventually tires of teasing him about Patrick, and it’s not long before she’s snoring gently beside him. David stares at her ceiling and pulls her surprisingly comfortable blankets tighter over his chest and tries not to believe her about Patrick. Patrick wanting him would just be too good. Things that good happen to David Rose very rarely. One of those things is asleep next to him, but another hasn’t even opened yet and could still easily be ruined if he starts to believe Patrick wants to be with him.

Patrick has a nice smile. It’s usually at least a little teasing, especially when it’s aimed at David, but it’s not malicious. It makes his heart quicken like that time he had a multi-day panic attack but it makes his breath slow which makes no sense at all. Sometimes he’ll look over and see Patrick working on one of his many, many spreadsheets and just try desperately to think of something he can say to make Patrick smile, just so he can see it again. He usually fails and stays silent, but Patrick seems amused by David plenty when he isn’t even trying so the smiles are still frequent enough.

He’s not supposed to be thinking about Patrick, so he thinks instead about how he has to sort what feels like a thousand lip balms into five different flavors in the morning. He’s still working on ranking the flavors in his head.

Patrick uses the honey vanilla flavor. He bought it his first day officially working at the store. He actually paid for it. He’s been using it ever since and hasn’t lost it, in stark contrast to Alexis, who keeps stealing tubes and losing them after just two or three uses.

David wonders if he can convince Patrick to try more of their products. He already has good skin and he’s probably one of those annoying people that does nothing but wash their face and shave, while David has to fight for his with a nine-step, twice a day regimen. But you can always have better skin. He could definitely stand to use their hand cream on a regular basis. His hands look fine from a distance but when his fingers have brushed against David’s when he’s handed him his coffee or jars of whatever they’re stacking together, they’ve been kind of rough, with calluses that feel like they’ve been there for years.

He wonders if Patrick plays guitar. He’s dated guys with those same calluses that have, by very loose definition, played acoustic guitars. They were all pretty mediocre but having a boyfriend means pretending to like his mediocre music so David always did.

Patrick’s playing probably wouldn’t be mediocre, though. When Patrick does anything, he works and works and works until he does it really well. He would never sit someone down and make them listen to an original song he wrote about their high school heartbreak unless he knew it was perfect, just like he’s working and working and working on the store so it will be perfect.

David still needs to call the electrician. There was someone else he was supposed to call, too, but he can’t remember. He’ll ask Patrick in the morning and Patrick will give him a small, exasperated smile but tell him and be way too nice about it.

Stevie sort of snuffles beside him, which reminds him that he’s not supposed to be thinking about Patrick. He squeezes his eyes shut and rolls over on his side and tries desperately to sleep.

Adelina taught him how to fall asleep by counting to 100 in Spanish in his head. He hasn’t tried that in a while.

He starts to doze off as he tries to remember how to say 50, allowing one flash of a fond, quick, honey vanilla smile to flash in his mind before he falls asleep.

-----

The first night David stays over at Patrick’s (well, Ray’s), they don’t even do that much. Ray is downstairs watching some documentary that David could immediately tell would be painfully boring, so they’d gone upstairs together to Patrick’s room like horny teenagers trying to steal a little privacy in their parents’ house. David almost feels like they should be leaving the door open six inches. His parents never had that rule, but he’s seen enough television to know that’s a thing.

But they’re taking things slow, so even though the door is firmly shut and they can hear Ray’s movie well enough that they’ll be able to tell when he pauses it to come upstairs, they don’t really do more than kiss.

David is good at kissing. Specifically, he’s good at kissing different people and quickly figuring out exactly what they want him to do, then doing it, and he’s had practice doing pretty much everything. He’s got Patrick’s mouth all figured out already and he revels in how well he’s doing, how desperate the noises Patrick makes in response are.

Patrick is good at kissing, too, in the way that Patrick is good at everything he sets his mind to be good at. He’s been working hard, learning how it’s different than kissing a girl, how it’s the same. He lets David lie under him for a long time, even though his arm has to be getting sore from how long he’s been using it to prop himself up.

The living room goes silent, and Ray’s tell-tale footsteps get louder.

David kisses Patrick again, takes his bottom lip between his teeth and tugs gently before pulling back for real, because Patrick likes that.

“I should go,” he says softly.

“You should stay,” Patrick argues playfully.

“Really, I should go. It’s late and you’re opening tomorrow.”

“Am I?” Patrick asks, smile quirking.

“Well, I was going to ask you to, and then you distracted me.”

“Hm,” Patrick considers. “How about you stay, and I’ll open tomorrow, and you can sleep late in this very large bed that has to be more comfortable than the one at the motel?”

David blinks and buys time with, “The décor is worse than it is at the motel, though.”

“So it’s a wash, then.”

David considers. He won’t be able to do his skincare routine tonight, which he’ll probably regret, but he can do a sheet mask in the morning and the bed really is comfortable.

“Just to sleep?” It’s a strange concept.

“Just to sleep,” Patrick confirms.

“I’ll need to go by the motel for a while after I wake up. I don’t know when I’ll get to work.”

“Sure.”

“I’m going to need at least two thirds of the blanket and something besides this to sleep in.”

“Noted.”

“You aren’t allowed to look at me in the morning before you leave.”

Patrick barks a short laugh. “Okay, David,” he says, and David knows he’s being humored but Patrick seems to enjoy humoring him and David loves that.

He actually has gotten Patrick to buy their tea tree face wash, toner, and moisturizer, and he manages to make do with that and a brand-new spare toothbrush Ray has in the bathroom cupboard. He notes that the face wash has been used but the toner and moisturizer bottles are still basically full but decides to let that go for now. Patrick provides him with sweatpants that are probably Costco or something and too short on him but are really soft from numerous washings. When he thinks too hard about the fact that they belong to Patrick and probably have for a while and he’s worn them a lot David’s breath goes funny so he tries not to think about it.

When he gets back to Patrick’s room, he hesitates by the door, wondering why he feels like he needs to ask permission to come in. But he doesn’t ask, because Patrick seems to read his mind and just kind of rolls his eyes and pats the side of the bed he’s left clear, blankets pulled down.

“This is weird,” he says as he settles in and lets Patrick pull the blanket over him, which he didn’t mean to say out loud.

“You usually sleep in a twin bed next to your sister,” Patrick points out. David wonders if he’d had that ready.

“She has her own twin bed.”

“That’s barely less weird.”

David tries not to look below Patrick’s face. He’s seen Patrick’s nipples before because they aren’t going that slow but somehow it feels more invasive to see them through his tight white t-shirt.

“Do you think I’m weird?” He hadn’t meant to say that out loud either. People didn’t like answering questions like that. Needy questions.

Patrick tilts his head, considering.

“I think you’re incredible,” he finally says, so casually and easily that David kind of can’t stand it because he thinks Patrick is pretty incredible too and has no idea why he can’t just say it back. Then it doesn’t really matter anyway because a second later Patrick adds, “Get the light?”

The lamp is on David’s side of the bed so he reaches over and clicks it off and wonders what to do next.

“Come here,” Patrick instructs him, so that’s what he does, he lets Patrick pull his back against his own front and kind of tangle their legs together. He tries not to jerk away when Patrick’s hand brushes that one spot under his arm.

“Sorry,” David says, and adds, truthfully. “Um, I’m really ticklish like right there.”

He can hear Patrick’s grin, even as he pulls his hand away from the spot. “I’ll file that away for later. Anything else?”

David can’t think of an answer that isn’t way too revealing so he just shakes his head. His pillow smells like Patrick. He wonders if he can get away with stealing it tomorrow. Probably not. Patrick only has the two pillows.

“I can hear you thinking too hard,” Patrick says. “Go to sleep.”

“You go to sleep,” David retorts, but he fails at sounding at all rude so Patrick just laughs.

“Okay, David,” he says.

-----

He’s getting married tomorrow.

He’s getting fucking married tomorrow.

He should be sleeping. The last thing he wants is to show up at the alter with baggy eyes.

But he can’t sleep because he’s getting married tomorrow.

David spent more time of his adolescence that he’d like to admit thinking about his wedding.

None of this is what he pictured.

It isn’t at the Plaza. Madonna won’t be there, and she definitely won’t surprise him by dedicating a song medley to him at the reception. He’s not marrying a rich, famous, ideally royal bachelor who will wear a Tom Ford tuxedo that complements his own outfit but doesn’t pull focus, nor is he marrying a rich, famous, ideally A-List bachelorette who will wear a dress custom-made for her in Paris with plenty of David’s input.

He’s getting married outside a motel that has become his home. It’s going to be beautiful. He made it beautiful, just like Patrick said he could.

He’s getting married in front of a group of people that have supported him and Patrick since day one and were all so excited about their engagement that the news spread like wildfire through the whole town as soon as it was leaked. There will be decorations and wine and cheese that he got at a great price from vendors that supply the store that he and Patrick created together.

He’s marrying Patrick, who wears jeans from the Gap and will wear a tuxedo bought in Elm Glen and has soft eyes and a sweet, teasing smile. He’s marrying someone kind and smart and loving. He’s marrying someone he loves. He’s marrying someone who loves him.

All that childhood wedding planning, and he’d never thought to consider how much he would love the person he was marrying. They’d be almost as fashionable and charming and fabulous as himself, he knew that much, but he’d never thought much about the actual loving or even the being loved part. Now, underneath all that wine and cheese and beauty, that feels like the part that matters most.

Just a few feet away from him, Alexis hums in her sleep the way that drove him insane when they first started living in this room but is now weirdly comforting to hear late at night when he can’t sleep.

Alexis will be there for the wedding but she won’t be his maid of honor and she won’t have flown in from some island paradise at the last second with some douchey playboy for a date. His parents won’t foot the bill but leave the reception early due to his mother’s ostensible “exhaustion.” They’ve all been here this whole time and his father is only paying for the food and Alexis is walking him down the aisle.

This is the last time he’ll sleep in this stupid twin bed, five feet away from his sister but otherwise alone. It’s the last time he’ll sleep separated only by a flimsy door from his parents. Pretty soon he’s going to move into a beautiful house that Patrick got for him just because he knew David liked it.

And everything is so, so much better than he ever could have imagined it.