you are cordially invited to the vow renewal ceremony of
mr & mrs higgins
“This is not a real wedding.”
The table at large groaned and Jan Maas, as per fucking usual, had the audacity to look confused as to why. “What? It isn’t, is it? They are already married,” he said, pointing out the obvious. “Do marriage licenses expire in England?”
Dani, Richard, Thierry, and even Sam all furrowed their brows, as if considering it might be an actual possibility, so guess that left it to Jamie to set the Dutchman straight.
“No, they don’t fucking expire,” Jamie said, even though admittedly he wasn’t one hundred percent on that. But more importantly—“And look, do ye see an open bar?”
Everyone at the table nodded, Isaac raising his port glass.
“Do ye see a dance floor and a bunch of old people trying out grinding up on each other?”
Necks craned around to take a peek at the dance floor where, sure enough, a whole gaggle of old geezers and their ladies were trying not to break hips getting it on to a Marvin Gaye song. Good on ‘em.
As the team turned back around, Jamie clocked various looks of confusion (Bumbercatch, Sam, Thierry), disturb (Jan, Isaac), and curiosity (Richard, Dani). But they all had to give it up to him and nodded.
“And did Mr. and Mrs. Higgins say a bunch of soppy shit that made everyone cry like they were watching the end of The Notebook?”
Murmurs of assent, and comparisons of how long each made it before they started weeping, and praise for the performances of Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams chorused around the table until Sam cut in with, “And it is sad Ryan and Rachel could not make their own relationship work, but he and Eva Mendes do make a beautiful couple.”
“And he is so supportive of her.”
“Si, they are one of the couples that make me believe in true love,” Dani said with a wistful sigh. “Just like Mr. and Mrs. Higgins.”
“So, I rest my case,” Jamie said, fixing Jan with a proud smirk. “This is a million percent a wedding.”
“There is no million—”
“That’s really all it takes?” came Colin, thankfully interrupting one of Jan’s stupid technicalities. Across the table, Colin slouched in his seat, his pink silken tie undone and his waistcoat unbuttoned. He hadn’t said much since the reception began and it was starting to freak Jamie out, just a little. Even now, with the attention of half the Richmond team on him, the distant, solemn look so unfit to Colin’s face didn’t leave it. “Booze, awkward dancing, and some stuff about love?”
Jamie shrugged—wasn’t that what he just said?—but something strange started churning in his gut when Colin’s eyes flickered up from his empty glass and locked with Jamie’s over the orchid centerpiece. Colin wanted a real answer. Jamie’s throat constricted and he snatched up his drink, throwing the rest back in one mighty gulp.
A bad silence fell over the table, no one sure how to restart the conversation. Jamie felt the sharp gaze of Isaac trying to drill into the side of his skull, as if Jamie were to blame for this weird, quiet Colin. Nope, not Jamie’s problem.
“Well,” Sam said, pushing his chair back. “I am returning to the buffet before the rest of the coconut shrimp is gone.”
Thierry shot up from his seat at the mention of shrimp and suddenly he and Sam were in a race to reach the expansive buffet tables at the back of the ballroom, Bumbercatch chasing after them with his camera recording.
Jamie snorted as he signaled to a waiter, needing another free drink or five.
“I am going to ask one of the Ms. Higgins to dance,” Richard announced, eyeing the table of adult nieces all already whispering and pointing in their direction. Jamie had talked to a handful before the vow renewal ceremony, had one even ask to save her a dance, but as he watched Richard and Isaac beeline for the table, he found himself bored of it.
The waiter appeared right on time. “Ah, one vodka soda, please, vanilla vodka…”
“This is awkward, no?” Jan fucking Maas, addressing the skeletal remains of the Richmond team table, so Colin camped out on one side and Jamie the other.
“Make that three vodka sodas,” Jamie amended. “One for me, one for the mope over there in the pink tie, and another for me.”
To his credit, Jan took the hint. He stood, momentarily casting a long shadow over the table, before he left to find the others, or drink himself stupid, or do whatever strange and unusual things Jan did with his spare time. Feeling no need to watch him go, Jamie shifted his eyes toward the dance floor again, just as a slow song with a twanging guitar began. What the Higgins got for giving Ted free reign over the music selection.
“Come a little bit closer /
Hear what I have to say…”
Okay, Jamie had to admit the song sounded pretty. He watched as Ms. Welton carefully placed her arms around the gaffer’s neck, her fingers twining together and brushing into his hair. The Higgins, newly renewed in love, had the center of the dance floor to themselves, swaying together as if the room had emptied and they were the only ones left at the party. Roy and Keeley too seemed to dance in a world of their own, her head nestled against his chest, his lips brushing against the crown of her head.
Had he ever held Keeley like that? Had he ever thought to?
Something nudged at his elbow and Jamie tore his eyes away from Keeley and her green silken dress, Roy and his well-fitted suit, his hands tracing nonsensical patterns across her back, her ear against his heart. The waiter had returned, three vodka sodas, two set in front of him. He then made to move towards Colin, but Jamie caught him and stood, taking the third glass to deliver himself. One vanilla-flavored pick-me-up, courtesy of Jamie Tartt and on the tab of Rebecca Welton, paying for the bar.
“Here,” Jamie said as he slid into the seat beside Colin and unceremoniously dropped all three glasses down. A bit of vodka sloshed onto the table cloth, no great loss. Plenty more where it came from. “To drown whatever weird sorrows you’re having.”
Instead of saying thank you like a proper gentleman, Colin merely took the gifted drink and drained half of it in one go. Jamie caught himself watching his throat bob as he swallowed and immediately coughed loudly.
“Uh, you okay there, mate?”
But rather than answering Jamie’s completely reasonable question, Colin hit him back with, “Are you still in love with her?”
Jamie choked on air. “What?”
His face must have been loony with longing if Colin Hughes, who just five days ago told the locker room he thought Ms. Welton might have feelings for Ted as if it was a revelation they hadn’t all come to months ago, called him on it.
“Keeley, are you still…” Colin trailed off and finally met Jamie’s eyes again, looking less sad and now more scared of being murdered. “Sorry, sorry, that was -uh…”
“I think I was, for a while,” Jamie said, because who else did he have to tell? That he loved Keeley for believing in the man he could become, the man he hoped he came closer to now. That he loved Keeley for never believing he was irreparably broken, some toy busted straight out the box, forever a product of his raising. That he loved Keeley selfishly, because all the love she gave to him made him better and he never could be sure he gave her anything back.
That when he saw Roy and Keeley dancing together, he longed not to be in Roy’s place, but just to have someone who’d rest their head against his chest and feel at home hearing his heartbeat.
“But not anymore?”
Jamie shook his head, smiling as he watched Roy twirl Keeley and pull her back into his arms again. “Nah, not anymore.”
“And how’d you stop?”
Jamie’s neck all but snapped with how fast he looked back at Colin. “You in love with Keeley? Is that why you’re all”—he gestured at Colin’s general state of sad, drunken lonely heart—“like this?”
Colin dropped his head to the table. “Jesus, no I’m not in love with…” He turned his head and his eyes seemed to land somewhere deeper in the room. Jamie followed his gaze to Isaac, finishing his dance with one of the nieces, his lips by her ear, whispering something that sent her into a fit of giggles. Colin’s hand appeared shaky as he reached again for his drink.
Not that he’d ever say so to Colin, but it explained a lot. Why Colin never had any girlfriends coming around the clubhouse, why he never offered up any date stories at the infamous Ted Lasso away match sleepovers, why he always seemed scarce at the end of their long nights on the town, when Isaac had a girl under his arm and started saying his good nights.
“It all passes eventually, right?” Jamie asked, and though he meant it rhetorically, he’d quite like a solid answer himself. “Feelings, and all that.”
Colin scoffed, a miserable sound. “It didn’t for them,” he said, tilting his chin toward the Higgins, now tearing up the floor to “SexyBack” by Timberlake. The old Jamie might have taken in such a scene and thought it embarrassing. Tonight, Jamie only hoped he’d still be having so much fun when he got old and unfit.
No, not unfit. Never unfit.
“Yeah, but they’re like unicorns,” Jamie said, and at once felt he had stumbled onto something. “You only get permanent feelings like that when you find the person that makes you feel like a unicorn.”
“Really?” Colin asked with the tone of a nonbeliever, but the corners of his mouth betrayed him. He wanted to smile.
“Why would I lie?” Jamie asked, wholly serious. “You’re going to find the person who makes you feel like a unicorn one day. It just might not be ‘im.”
If Jamie had shocked Colin by fitting the puzzle pieces together, he didn’t let it show. The shadow of a smile vanished as Colin went to finish his drink. To the empty glass, he said quietly, “I really wanted him to be.”
Jamie almost reached out to place his hand on Colin’s wrist, but thought better of it.
“It’ll pass,” Jamie repeated, trying to believe it himself. Then, he raised an eyebrow and said, “And ya know what helps in the meantime?”
That slightly scared look returned to Colin’s face. “...what?”
Colin dared roll his eyes at Jamie’s stellar suggestion.
“Doesn’t have to be right now.” Though, Jamie had scoped plenty of fit, eligible men and women on the way in. But if Colin didn’t want to get it on with anyone at the Higgins vow renewal after-party, lucky for him Jamie had other ideas. “And in the meantime, bet we can nick some bottles of champagne and really get our wedding on.”
The empty glasses scattered about the table glittered under the light of the ballroom’s chandelier and caught the considering gleam in Colin’s green eyes, a color brought out by the splashed watercolor pattern of his waistcoat. Jamie had been so distracted by the gloomy cloud around Colin’s head, he hadn’t taken stock of how well he cleaned up.
“C’mon.” Jamie stood and clapped Colin between the shoulder blades. “You can’t waste all”—he waved his hand to encompass Colin’s ensemble—“this sitting alone moping like a sad nob.”
Colin squinted down at his suit like he was trying to figure out if Jamie had just insulted him. Christ, how hard was it to cheer up one tiny Welshman?
“Up, up, up,” Jamie demanded, grabbing at the lapels of Colin’s jacket and finally succeeding in earning a smile.
That smile seemed to glitter under the chandelier glow, too, and Jamie’s three vodka sodas slammed into him all at once, worse than a Man City defenseman. Maybe he needed to slow down.
Then Colin’s smile softened around the edges and Jamie realized his hand was still fisted in his jacket, holding tight like Colin was at risk of floating away. Jamie let go, but Colin and his smile stayed put.
“You said something about stealing champagne?”
Bad idea, a stupid, Ted-mimicking voice in the back of his head chirped.
Jamie always did love the occasional bad idea.
So while Jamie chatted up the barman about his tats, comparing sleeves, Colin snuck into the plentiful cases of fancy champagne stacked behind the bar. Really, they were doing Rebecca and the venue a service ensuring none of the booze went to waste. He met Colin in the lobby outside the ballroom and grinned at the emerald-tinged bounty in his arms, three pilfered bottles ready to be drunk and shared and hopefully forgotten about in the morning.
“Not bad, Hughes,” Jamie said, snagging a bottle to lighten the load while slipping the number the barman gave him into his pocket.
Colin’s face flushed a shade of pink perfectly matching his tie.
“You -uh,” Colin cleared his throat. “You didn’t have to flirt with the guy, if you didn’t—”
“Yeah, I know,” Jamie said with a shrug. “But he was fit, wasn’t he?”
Colin tilted his head, his lips parting slightly, and Jamie became overwhelmed by the feeling he was being looked at without any clothes on, only it wasn’t his body that was naked but his heart. There was no reason it should be weird Colin knew he kicked the ball both ways. Solidarity, and all that.
And it wasn’t weird, exactly. Just different, like waking up in a new house for the first time and still not believing it’s quite your own yet.
For the second time that night, Jamie’s throat tightened and chugging a bottle of champagne seemed like the only way to treat such a symptom. Beating back any further thought with a mental stick, Jamie popped the bottle in his arms and watched a torrent of foam and bubbles spray onto the floor. Colin’s dress shoes were soaked. Jamie’s shoes and the hems of his pants fared no better.
“Jesus, boyo, gonna save some for yourself?” And despite his sticky shoes, Colin grinned.
Jamie took a strong sip from his bottle and decided they needed to find their teammates, immediately, or he’d indulge in another monumentally bad idea.
The rest of the party passed in surreal snapshots, as light and giddy as champagne bubbles. Ted leading the crowd in a rousing “Macarena.” Mrs. Higgins tossing the bouquet of rainbow flowers, caught by Keeley who ignored the chorus of ohs and instead gave the flowers to Phoebe. Ms. Welton raising her flute to toast the Higgins and the great family they’ve fostered, with not a dry eye amongst the Richmond team, Jamie proudly included.
Colin’s hand on the back of his neck as they drank to the Higgins, and to Richmond, and to love. Colin’s arm slung around his chair, fingers tapping a distracted beat against Jamie’s shoulder, as they watched the boys pass their stolen bottles around. Colin leaping onto his back and hanging on for dear life in the midst of jumping and flailing to an old wedding standard. Colin’s shouting in his ears, and his lips near his jaw, and his legs around his waist.
Jamie didn’t know how much he wanted to remember come the sunrise. Probably all of it.
Three in the morning had come and gone by the time he and Colin tumbled down the tricky corridors of their hotel floor. Jamie forgot his room number, but Colin seemed to know the way. He had two fingers and thumb hooked in Jamie’s sleeve and tugged him along until they reached a closed door to both slump against.
“Thank you,” Colin said, the two words so fast and breathless they reached Jamie’s ears mushed together.
“Anytime,” Jamie replied, and didn’t add how much he had hated seeing Colin so quiet and alone. “ ‘m serious about the getting laid thing. No man should ‘ave to shower alone.”
Colin giggled and Jamie needed a pressed recording of the sound to listen to whenever his nights got too dark. Christ, Ted and all his teamwork crack had turned him into such a sap. Why didn’t Jamie mind more?
When Jamie glanced back at Colin, the head tilt had returned. Jamie sucked in a breath and met Colin’s gaze head on, because really, where did he have left to hide.
“You really thought that barman was fit?” Colin asked softly.
“Yeah, do you want me to give you—”
His number, lost against the press of Colin’s lips against his. Colin kissed the same way he approached most of life—messily and with a hint of fear but bursting with an energy and enthusiasm so intense it had a force of gravity.
“Don’t hate me,” Colin whispered against his mouth, his eyes shut tight, a crease in his brow, chest heaving. Jamie gently touched the pad of his thumb to the crease, like he could smooth the worry away, his knuckles skating across Colin’s forehead. Never, Jamie thought in silent answer to his needless request.
Jamie fell in again, almost helplessly, except he suddenly had his hands on Colin’s collar, pulling him closer, and he willfully ignored the returning voice at the back of his mind chanting bad idea, bad idea, bad idea.
It couldn’t be a bad idea, not with the way Colin’s fingers tangled in his hair and tugged, not by the way Colin rushed to get his card into the lock to open the door, groaning as Jamie mouthed at his neck, not with how fast they both raced to the bed, ties and jackets casualties littered along the path there. Colin fell on top of Jamie and kissed him through laughter, any fear gone. His mouth tasted of endless champagne, happiness distilled.
Best bad idea ever.
the wedding of
roy kent & keeley jones
“It’s fucking terrible.”
Fifteen minutes before the ceremony was a little late to say such things about the groom’s suit, but it was the groom himself saying it. Personally, Jamie thought Roy never looked better, the rich burgundy of his suit making his signature well-trimmed beard pop, but he’d guess Roy wasn’t looking for his opinion, even if he was the co-best man.
Or co-best person, given the other was a seven year old girl.
Jamie still couldn’t quite believe he was in the wedding party of his former nemesis and his ex-girlfriend. In true Roy Kent fashion, the request began with a bark.
The team had scattered to batten down the hatches in the four corners of the locker room as Roy approached him.
“Phoebe is going to be my best man”—at the murmurs of incorrect gendering that went up across the room, Roy amended—“best girl, person, whatever, but as it has been pointed out to me…” The words had started coming out like teeth being extracted. Over his shoulder, Jamie had seen Ted, Beard, and Higgins idling in the office doorway, all badly pretending like they weren’t eavesdropping. “She cannot plan nor attend a stag night.”
“Wait, are you asking me—”
“I want dinner at a steakhouse, I want the club to have nothing even remotely resembling a karaoke machine on the premises, and I want everyone in their own homes or at least far away from me by one in the morning,” Roy had said, counting each point off on his fingers until only his middle remained. Dick. “No supermodels, no strange Dutch drinking games, and I mean it about the karaoke machine. If I hear even a single bar of “Satisfied” from Hamilton, every single person in this room will be disinvited to the wedding.”
Then Roy had turned on his heels and strode out of the room without another word. A moment of dumbfounded silence ticked by before Jamie had been swarmed by twenty-five sweaty, over-excited grown men. A symphony of overlapping congratulations swelled, a chorus of “Cheers, mate” and “Knew he loved you best” and an anguished “Why would he say no models?”
In his state of shock and awe, Jamie had almost missed the feather-light pat on his back. Colin hadn’t said anything, merely offered him a genuine half-smile before he returned to his locker, but that one smile had Jamie nearly grabbing him by the hand to reel him back.
Everything with Colin had been half-gestures and aimless longing since the Higgins’ vow renewal six months ago. Jamie had awoken in the morning to find Colin long gone, the other side of the bed cold and unruffled, as if the night had been nothing but a champagne-tinted dream. The only tangible proof it happened had been Colin’s pink tie, forgotten beneath Jamie’s suit jacket.
In the months that followed, Colin avoided Jamie as best you could avoid someone you spent most waking hours of the day with. They only ever talked in groups when in the locker room or on the pitch, never one-on-one conversations. During matches, in the midst of celebration, Colin always ended up on the opposite side of the dogpile. When the team went out for drinks, Colin stuck close to Isaac or Richard, but always left alone.
Jamie wondered if Colin still used Grindr or Bantr and then wondered why he cared. Colin clearly wanted nothing more to do with Jamie and that should be fine by him. Easier that way anyway. It wasn't smart getting too seriously involved with a bloke while still a professional footballer, let alone getting involved with a teammate. Even if a teammate would know better than anyone what the British tabloids and football fans were like, and would appreciate discretion, never pressuring each other to be out.
Maybe Colin had weighed the consequences of a press leak, but didn’t care. Maybe Colin just didn’t want Jamie.
And maybe Jamie couldn’t blame him.
Jamie fiddled with his cufflinks and tried to banish thoughts of Colin. He had final best person duties to fulfill, like reassuring Roy his suit looked fine in the most backhanded way possible and making sure his partner in crime had everything she needed before the ceremony began.
“You look fine, mate,” he said as he scooped up the scotches he had poured for himself and Roy and nudged him away from the mirror under the guise Jamie had to stare at himself. “Only ancient fucks wear boring black suits anymore.”
“Are you calling yourself old?” Roy asked while accepting his drink.
“ ‘course not.” Jamie adjusted his bowtie and winked at himself in the mirror. Only Daniel Craig looked better in a tux. “I’m classic.”
“Jesus Christ.” Roy sounded thoroughly unimpressed, but he had stopped worrying about his suit, so mission accomplished.
After a final once-over of his ensemble, Jamie made his way to the room's sitting area, where Phoebe was bouncing nervously on the sofa. Her tux, an exact little match for Jamie’s, had been ironed and assembled perfectly by her mother. The only difference in her outfit was the crown of snowbells slightly askew atop her head.
Jamie took the chair opposite the couch and held out his hand for a high five. “Ready?”
“I think so,” Phoebe answered and leaned in to slap his hand. “It doesn’t really feel like anything’s changing, though.”
She wasn’t wrong as Jamie thought about it. Roy and Keeley already lived together, already saw Phoebe nearly every day, already argued over whether they should get a cat or a dog and refused to settle on a rabbit. All that changed was a pair of rings and some legal rights Jamie didn’t entirely understand.
“Guess you’re right, but it’s still nice having a special day to celebrate your love.”
“Do you love anyone, Jamie Tartt?” Phoebe asked. She only ever referred to him by first and last name and it made him feel special in a way no fan, or commentator, or critic had ever made him feel before.
“Sure,” Jamie answered easily enough. “I love loads of people.”
“But you can’t marry loads of people,” Phoebe protested. “You can only marry one person.”
Once again, she wasn’t wrong, not exactly. You could marry countless people across a lifetime, but most people were hoping to just marry one.
“Your unicorn,” Jamie murmured.
Phoebe perked up. “I love unicorns.”
“Aye, who doesn’t?” Jamie said with a smile, reaching over to adjust the flower crown before it tipped off her head.
“So who are you going to marry?”
Christ, the little gremlin really wanted to see him shacked up.
“Who do you think I should marry?” Jamie countered. There, that question ought to stump her. Not like he ever brought dates around to dinners with Roy and Keeley where Phoebe was a regular fixture. He wasn’t Richard.
Phoebe hummed, putting on her thinking face. If anyone tried to call him out on it, he’d deny it, but Jamie loved watching little kids’ brains at work, especially Phoebe’s. She never came to the expected conclusions. Right now, she was probably pairing him off with various members of the Muppets.
“I like Sam.”
Or his Richmond teammates, apparently.
Jamie tried to suppress his laughter at the idea of him and Sam together, like properly together. “Sorry Phoebe, I don’t think Sam would ever love me like that.”
Phoebe crinkled her eyebrows. “But everyone loves you.”
Jamie could practically hear Roy’s painfully hard eye roll. “That they do, Phoebe, that they do. But not all love is romantic love, yeah?” At Phoebe’s confused squint, he went on, “Like you don’t want to kiss everyone you love, least not…” Jamie tapped his bottom lip. “...here.”
“You don’t want to kiss Sam?”
Jamie shook his head and tried not to shudder. Not that Sam wasn’t fit, but they’d drive each other mental.
“Do you want to kiss Colin?”
The thump of Jamie’s drink hitting the floor made Phoebe jump, her flower crown flying off and tumbling to the ground beside the miraculously unbroken glass. Jamie grabbed the crown before any snowbells could get soaked in scotch and ignored how his heart had started thudding like he had just sprinted a pitch five times up and back.
“Why—” Jamie crowned Phoebe again and brushed a few strands of hair from her curious eyes. “Why’d you think that?”
Phoebe shrugged in the oblivious way only kids could. “I like him, too. He said when I’m old enough, he would drive me in his car!”
“No!” Jamie shouted and Roy snapped in unison, and in time with Ted swinging his head into the room, a hand cloaking his eyes.
“Can’t see the groom before the ceremony,” Ted gave in way of explanation.
“You’re the bloody officiant,” Roy said, but the exasperation seemed entirely feigned. Jamie swore he was fighting back a smile, one with teeth. “Whatever, is it time?”
“Yes, sir.” Ted dropped his hand and took in the sight of Roy and his burgundy suit, Jamie and Phoebe in their matching tuxes. In his warm smile and glistening eyes, Jamie saw pride, in Roy for the family he had made and the huge step he was taking, in Jamie for being by his side for it, in both of them for the men they became and the friendship they forged.
His own eyes started itching and he didn’t dare look at Roy, so he was grateful for Phoebe pulling at his sleeve and asking, “You have the rings, right?”
Jamie nodded, but patted his pocket just to be sure. “Right.”
Ted clapped his hands and said, “Then let’s get this man married.”
Phoebe dashed through the door ahead of Ted, a burst of tiny white petals raining in her wake. As Jamie dutifully followed Ted, he heard Roy grunt behind him, “The fucking Welshman then?”
In a fantastic Roy impersonation, Jamie growled. “Yer lucky it’s yer wedding.”
And a beautiful wedding it was. Rebecca sang the Beatles’ “Something” as Keeley walked down the aisle in a gown of blush pink and with a train like a cape of roses. Ted opened the ceremony with a short speech peppered with very few culture references and many stories of Roy and Keeley’s dating misadventures at the club. Roy cried first, during Ted’s speech, and only lightly threatened the congregation of friends and family with bodily harm for witnessing his tears. With Jamie’s help, Phoebe presented the couple their rings.
As Jamie watched Roy and Keeley walk back up the aisle, hand in hand, husband and wife, he considered if the moment should be bittersweet for him. He had finally and forever lost his chance with the first love of his life.
Phoebe yanked at the hem of his jacket until Jamie crouched down and he probably shouldn’t have been so surprised when she latched her arms around his neck like a monkey and demanded a piggy back ride down the aisle. A best person’s duties never ended. The whole Richmond team cheered as they passed, Sam’s smile wide and shining, Isaac patting his cheeks with a handkerchief, Colin staring at him like he had stepped under a different light.
The moment tasted nothing but sweet and Jamie hadn’t lost anything. Things had just changed. He’d have to tell Phoebe she was actually wrong when she got older.
For now, a dance floor and an open bar awaited, another thing Phoebe would have to learn the wonders of with age.
Phoebe deposited with her mum and a Jones family ambush avoided by the skin of his teeth, Jamie made it to the bar and ordered himself a celebratory martini, stirred not shaken.
“Actually,” Jamie said as the bartender presented him his glass. “Could you make that two?”
Two martinis arrived at the Richmond team table only for the intended recipient not to show. Jamie slumped like an idiot at the table for a half hour before Thierry finally asked, “Can I have one?”
Jamie passed both martinis across the table, ignoring Thierry’s whoop of gratitude, and knocked his elbow against Isaac’s to get his attention. “Where’s Hughes?”
Isaac glanced about the table, like Jamie hadn’t already thought to do that, and then around the elegant outdoor tent, before shrugging. “Dunno, bruv. He said something ‘bout the loo half an hour ago, might have gotten lost in the house.”
His money had been on Thierry getting lost somewhere on the Welton family property and by the way he had demolished those martinis, Jamie still might be getting something from the pot. And if he found Colin before anyone else noticed he had gone missing, all the money could be theirs to split.
That’s the excuse Jamie used to slip from the Richmond table and from the tent, the big band music fading to a faint whisper as he crossed the lawn to the Welton house. Last time he had been here, the house was in mourning, yet it seemed more vacant and dark tonight as Jamie stepped inside. The kitchen had trays of food laid and ready for bussing, but the servers were all manning their cocktail hours posts still and an eerie silence followed Jamie as he went room to room, searching for signs of life.
The bathrooms were all surprisingly empty, the bedrooms equally so. Just as Jamie decided to call it quits after a second sweep of the first floor, a rattling from the pantry gave the only other person in the house away.
Jamie swung the door open to find Colin sat on a closed crate of wine, the whole pantry commandeered for alcohol storage. Colin had his tie—lavender this time—twisted around his fingers and an uncorked bottle of champagne perched on the shelf beside him. Bloody deja vu, right down to the melancholy look on Colin’s face.
“Care to share?” Jamie asked, jutting his chin toward the bottle.
Obviously pretending not to hear the question, Colin said, “I’ll be back out in a second.”
Colin’s voice sounded stuffy and that was enough for Jamie to snatch the champagne bottle anyway, no permission, and bury it on an opposite shelf.
“Prick,” Colin grumbled, without any real anger in it. Under the dim light of the pantry, he looked small, and lonesome, and unbearably tired. Even the little elephants peppered along his waistcoat seemed deflated and miserable.
“What’s with you and weddings?” Jamie blurted out, asking maybe not the million dollar question but at least a ten thousand dollar one. “You keep acting like we’re at bloody funerals.”
Colin, continuing to be an impossible git, muttered, “You wouldn’t get it.”
And if that didn’t make Jamie want to sock him in the arm. “Try me,” he said, making it a point to hop up on a wine crate and prove he’d not be going anywhere until Colin gave him a real explanation. When Colin only stewed in silence, Jamie dared ask, “You still in love with Isaac?”
Colin blanched. “What? No, I—” He seemed intent on studying the ingredients of a tomato sauce as he said, “You were right about...they do pass eventually. Feelings.”
A strange mix of relief and disappointment started coiling in Jamie’s stomach. He should be happy his mate had fallen out of unrequited love, but instead he selfishly struggled with the fact other feelings might have passed Colin by, too.
“What’s the problem then?”
Colin tugged at his collar, undoing one button and then another. He always kept himself so buttoned up, even seeing a small strip of his chest felt oddly intimate.
“You’ll get married, one day,” Colin said quietly, back to twisting his tie in his lap and refusing to raise his eyes. Jamie had just about enough of people trying to marry him off today, but he kept quiet, not wanting to scare Colin back into sullen silence. “And Isaac will get married, and Sam, and Bumbercatch, and Jan—”
“Even Jan,” Colin insisted. “And it could be soon. We already went to O’Brien’s wedding, few years back before you came from Man City.”
“So?” Jamie tried not to make the question sound dismissive, but he wasn’t seeing the issue here. The more weddings the merrier, in his opinion.
“I’m not going to get that!” Colin said, louder than he meant to, the crate beneath him trembling, the bottles inside clinking together, the sounds sharp and clear as bells. “Not for a long time, not while I still want to have a career. You’re all going to have someone and I’m…”
Jamie suddenly felt incredibly out of his depth and all he knew was that if Colin began to cry, he’d not know how to get him to stop and couldn’t guarantee he’d not start crying himself.
“It’s fine. I’ll be fine,” Colin snapped, scrubbing a hand across his eyes.
“You really think we’ll all get married soon?” Jamie asked. Colin ducked his head, but nodded. “Fuck, I’m just twenty-five, not some old geezer like Roy fucking Kent. Why would I want to get married now? Why would Sam? He just came out the bloody womb.”
The burst of laughter from Colin surprised them both.
And hearing it once, Jamie had to hear it again. “And you think Richard’s giving up his models?”
“And you think Jan is getting hitched anytime soon?”
Colin huffed. “You need to be nicer to him.”
“Sure,” Jamie said while crossing his fingers behind his back. “When you admit I’m right.”
“We’ve got all the time in the world for this marriage thing,” Jamie answered, and believed it himself. Even if he found the one tomorrow, he had no plans of rushing to the altar. He still felt like a kid most days, running around a pitch with all his best mates.
“You’re right,” Colin said, though Jamie sensed the—“But it still hurts right now.”
As something inside Jamie cracked, he leapt from his seat and moved to hug Colin. At the same time, Colin threw his arms up and walloped Jamie in the nose.
“Jesus, oh fuck, I am so sorry, Jamie. I—”
Colin kept apologizing, maybe, the ringing in Jamie’s ears making it difficult to hear. His nose felt tender to the touch, but no blood was spewing out. Not broken, at least, though it hurt like hell to yell, “What the fuck was that?”
“I don’t know!” was Colin’s unacceptable answer. The narrowness of the pantry meant their knees knocked together as he continued babbling, “You were—You were coming at me. I panicked!”
“I was trying to comfort you, ye absolute wanker.”
Colin groaned into his forearms. “Why is this so confusing?” His arms dropped from his reddened face and he turned his frustration on Jamie. “Why are you so confusing?”
“I ‘aven’t done anything!”
“What is this?” Colin asked, his hand motioning to the near inexistent space between their bodies, and with force enough to rattle the crates beneath him once again.
“No, you twat.” Colin made to backhand his chest, only for Jamie to catch his hand. Instead of letting go like he should, Jamie held on. “What is this?” Colin asked again, staring at their loosely joined hands, not fighting to be released.
“You’re the one who ran away that night,” Jamie said, not meaning it as an accusation only for it to come out tasting bitter.
“I know,” Colin said softly. He began drawing his hand away, but Jamie went with him, stepping between Colin’s legs, their interlocked hands marking the distance between their chests. A sharp inhale, and then Colin whispered, “I didn’t think you’d want me to stay. I—no one had ever seen you with a guy before.”
“No one had ever seen you with guys before either.”
“Yeah, but I—” Colin stopped abruptly, shaking his head. After a deep breath, he finally looked Jamie fully in the eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for leaving and I’m sorry for avoiding you for so long. It was wrong.”
“And I’m sorry for calling you a jaundiced worm,” Jamie said, his mouth dry, the vulnerability in Colin’s eyes hard to bear, but he’d try. “And a whole lot of other dickish stuff.”
“You already apologized for all that.”
“Yeah, but…” Jamie shoved his free hand into his pocket before he used it to push Colin’s hair back from his forehead. “Sometimes it’s worth saying sorry again, yeah?”
The clamor of metal trays and hurried feet drifted through the crack in the pantry door. Dinner was served. Inevitably, a server would be sent for more wine and champagne. Jamie helped pull Colin to his feet and rescued his tie from the ground, but instead of returning it, he tucked it in the inner slip of his jacket where the rings had once been.
“You don’t need it,” Jamie said upon Colin’s confused expression. “Come get it back from me later.”
Some promise lay in those words, but Jamie didn’t know what the promise was yet.
They made it back to the reception in time to gorge themselves on chicken in a fancy cream sauce and finally drink a pair of martinis, Colin wincing all the way through his. All of Richmond eavesdropped on Coach Beard hitting it off with Phoebe’s old teacher, Dani declaring that couples who got together at weddings were guaranteed to marry themselves. Jamie pointedly did not look at Colin, welcoming the distraction of the cake being cut. Everyone watched as Keeley and Roy lifted Phoebe so she could make the first slice and laughed as she shoved a raspberry filled chunk into Roy’s face. He still had flecks of lemon cream frosting in his beard as he and Keeley shared their first dance to “Dedicated to the One I Love.”
Around that time, Thierry stumbled back into the tent because he had somehow ended up in the neighbor’s hedge maze.
“And where were you and Colin earlier?”
Jan got some cake in his beard too for that one.
The bouquet toss ended with everyone dropping their arms except Rebecca, the bundle of yellow roses landing gracefully in her arms as Keeley surely intended it. Jamie watched as the boss and the gaffer spent the night dancing together and thought that was the real wedding Colin had to worry about next. Except Colin hadn’t stopped smiling since they had come back from the house, back to joking with Isaac, and trying to out drink Jan, and constantly stealing glances in Jamie’s direction.
It was maddening. Jamie never wanted it to end.
As he shared a slow dance with Keeley, he thought to pour out his messy heart to her once again, but settled for, “I love you, Keeley.”
Knowing exactly how he meant it, Keeley smiled. “I love you, too, Jamie.”
She might be his best friend in the whole world, followed closely by her cranky cock of a husband.
“What the fuck is my life?” Jamie asked the stars as he waited for a valet to bring his car around. He had stayed far too sober to contemplate an answer to the question.
The sound of crunching gravel had him turning his head to find Colin jogging up to meet him. His shirt had remained unbuttoned, maybe lost another along the way, and his skin glistened under the moonlight. He seemed to have come straight from the dance floor.
Without a word, Colin held out his hand, palm up.
“Oh shit, right,” Jamie said, pawing inside his jacket to grab it, shielding his disappointment. He drew out the lavender tie and reluctantly placed it in Colin’s waiting hand. “Here.”
Colin considered the tie, iridescent from so much starlight, before tossing it over his shoulder, grabbing both sides of Jamie’s face, and kissing him.
The kiss lasted five blissful, stunned seconds only for Colin to pull away, pressing his slick forehead against Jamie’s. “Good night.”
A pair of headlights cut through the dark, blinding Jamie. When his vision returned, he caught Colin wandering back towards the remains of the party, the band playing the last song of the night. His tie lay abandoned on the driveway and Jamie went to pick it up.
He’d still have to come get it back from Jamie, later.
the wedding of
theodore lasso & rebecca welton
Jamie never knew how to react to a childhood picture of his gaffer dressed in nothing but a red bowtie and a top hat.
Keeley must have spent hours with Mrs. Lasso and Mrs. Welton scouring for the most embarrassing baby photos possible for the slideshow. Must be nice, though, having albums full of memories to flip through. Jamie couldn’t be sure where any photos of him as a sexy little baby ended up.
“She could’ve been a model, right?” Keeley asked as she returned to Jamie’s side, two glasses of water in hand. As he accepted his drink, Jamie saw the slide had changed to one of a teenage Rebecca, her hair longer and swept back, showing off a red dress she could still pull off today.
“Cheers to that,” Jamie said and clinked his glass against Keeley’s.
“Bet Colin has the cutest baby photos.” Keeley held his wrist to stop him from immediately fleeing the scene. It was getting to be unfair how well she knew him. “Think you could get me his mum’s number now, so we can start coordinating?”
“I’ve told ye a million times, it’s—”
“Not like that,” Keeley said in her terrible impression of him. “Except you know, and I know, and even that man in the horrendous dalmatian suit over there knows—”
“Just leave it, Keeley,” Jamie said, and it absolutely did not come out sounding pleading.
“Aw c’mon, Jamie! My life’s got no drama anymore. Just let me, no, let us”—she touched her swelling stomach, the cheapest shot there was—“live vicariously through you!”
“Sorry to my godson, Jamie Kent-Jones...” He swore he heard, somewhere across the lawn, Roy barking not their fucking name. “But there’s nothing to live victoriously, or whatever, through.”
Another photo of Ted, this time in the bathtub, popped up and Jamie decided he had enough naked gaffer for a lifetime. Dropping a quick kiss on Keeley’s cheek, Jamie bolted towards the tables, ignoring her as she called after him, “You can run, Jamie Tartt, but you can’t hide from me or your feelings forever! Especially me!”
No, Jamie definitely could not hide from Keeley forever. She sniffed out people better than one of those cartoon bloodhounds. But Jamie wanted it on the record he was not hiding from any feelings. He and Colin were mates, just mates.
Mates who, for the last seven months, had shagged on just about every inch of their flats and various places in the clubhouse. And when you were mates who shag that much, sometimes you stayed over a little while after to rest up and watch How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days or 10 Things I Hate About You while discussing Heath Ledger’s key role in your sexual awakening. Maybe you stocked up on your mate’s favorite snacks and maybe he could now make your favorite soup, the one your mum made you growing up, without the recipe. And you couldn’t forget your mate was also a scatterbrained twat who left so many ties, and socks, and jackets around your flat he had his own drawer.
Didn’t mean anything. Jamie had a drawer at Roy and Keeley’s place and he wasn’t shagging either of them.
Colin was a fantastic friend and fantastic in bed. It never had to get deeper than that, Jamie reasoned as he headed back to the Richmond table. He meant what he told Colin at the last wedding: he was in no rush to find the one or settle down. Just imagining an afternoon wedding—blessed with a perfect blue sky day, surrounded by everyone who loved him and who he loved in return, center of attention, promising to stay with his favorite person through good times and the really, really bad—yeah, that all sounded terrible. No offense to Coach Lasso and Ms. Welton.
If he got a show of hands from Richmond, he’d bet his boys would agree. Though, as Jamie arrived back at the table, they were all a bit distracted by Isaac and Bumbercatch, in a heated debate concerning Alfred Hitchcock’s best movie, refereed by Sam.
“All I’m saying: The 39 Steps had just as much of a cinematic impact as Vertigo or North by—”
“Naw, naw, you’re out of your mind, bruv. Comparing his early work to his four masterpieces would be like comparing Romeo and Juliet to King Lear.”
“What is wrong with Romeo and Juliet?”
Jamie usually tuned out these nerd conversations and he had a more pressing problem to deal with: a tall Dutchman currently squatting in his chair.
“Eh, you’re in my seat.” Jamie nudged Jan with his elbow, but he didn’t budge.
“I thought you would prefer to sit there,” Jan said, nodding at his original seat between Dani and Colin. “On account of Colin being your date.”
The whole mini quiche Colin had shoved in his mouth fell out. As he gaped very unhelpfully, Jamie ran a lightning fast assessment of his play options. Running back to Keeley, humiliating but he avoided having to explain a damn thing to the twelve men now slack-jawed and staring. Knocking Jan out of his chair and starting a fight at the big boss’s wedding, thrilling but might get him thrown out. Or option three—
“What the fuck are you on about, Jan Maas?”
Deny, deny, deny.
Not that Jan ever granted anyone the easy out. “Well, you and Colin are sleeping together.” The table drew in a sharp collective breath. “So I assumed you would be here as dates.”
Isaac chose to use the excruciatingly awkward silence that followed to stomp on Jan’s right foot.
“Ow!” Jan scrambled right, knocking into Jamie’s arm and sending half his drink splashing onto the grass. “I’m not wrong, no?”
“Yeah, but we’re not supposed to say anything,” Thierry hissed from his other side.
“We just aren’t,” Isaac barked as he had another go at Jan’s foot. Someone should point out they needed that foot as a crucial part of the Richmond defense, but three-fourths of the table remained rapt in the drama while Colin looked like he wanted to eject himself into the sun. Jamie would happily join the launch.
“Is this how it is done in the United Kingdom?” Jan asked after narrowly avoiding five broken toes. “You pretend you do not know two people are having sex when they are obviously having sex?”
Cries of assent went up around the table, including a pointed “yes, it is very repressed” from Richard. Jamie would like to kick them all into a lake.
A horrible silence reigned again, Isaac glowering at Jan, who kept glancing between Jamie and Colin, who had turtled his way into his suit jacket and refused to come out. Finally, Bumbercatch tapped the blunt edge of his knife against a water glass and started to say, “We all support—”
“I’m going to get a new drink.” Jamie plunked his half-empty glass in front of Jan and smacked the back of his head. “Twat.”
Jamie had to suffer through the bar line and a suggestive wink from Rebecca’s mother to get his measly replacement water, which then left him with the decision of where to go next. He loved his teammates, honest he did, but sometimes they could be right pricks. Pot, kettle, whatever, didn’t mean he didn’t deserve to be cut a break. Just as he decided to bum it over at Roy and Keeley’s table, he spotted Colin darting around the cramped wicker tables, clearly on his way to him.
“Hey,” Colin said, maintaining a careful distance between them. “You totally abandoned me back there!”
“Sorry, mate, but I couldn’t listen to all that we support you, but don’t shag in front of us crap.”
Colin seemed to begrudgingly accept that. “Well, you missed Sam pulling up a note on his phone of places we’re not allowed to shag in the clubhouse.”
Jamie smirked into his glass. “Like to see ‘em try to enforce that.”
Then, out of the blue, Colin said, “I’m sorry.”
“What’ve ye got to be sorry for?”
Colin’s cheeks went a ripe shade of peach. “For being so...obvious.”
Jamie opened his mouth to protest, but found he couldn’t. Because here’s the thing: Colin was obvious. Any immediate feeling he had lit up on his face like neon. Jamie noticed Colin had a different smile for when he entered the clubhouse, one more bashful and endeared than he gave Bumbercatch or Thierry. Colin still blushed when Jamie stripped out of his kit at the end of every training, despite seeing all Jamie had to offer a hundred times over. Even the way he touched Jamie on the pitch had changed. Never caught him kissing Sam or Isaac on the temple before, or on the cheek, or centimeters from the corner of his mouth on one risky occasion.
But here was the second, crucial thing: Jamie loved Colin’s openness. Hearing someone say in words they wanted you was brilliant, but seeing it shine so plainly in someone’s eyes was in an entirely different league.
And he’d be the hypocrite to end all hypocrites to hold it against Colin when he knew being obvious went both ways. As pissed as he was at Jan Maas for bringing up the Wembley-sized elephant of every room Colin and Jamie walked into, he knew the team had caught on awhile ago. After all, he had been on the business end of enough cryptic threats from Isaac. So far, his body would never be found because it’d be sunk to the bottom of the Thames, fed into a woodchipper, buried somewhere beneath Covent Garden station, and devoured by greyhounds if their arrangement got Colin hurt.
Staring at Colin—teeth worrying at his bottom lip, face still pink, hands fiddling with the buttons of his waistcoat, this one covered in yellow starbursts and blue swirling clouds in an ode to Starry Night—Jamie fought the urge to march back over to the Richmond table and tell Isaac he had nothing to worry about.
“Do you wanna get outta here?” Jamie asked Colin instead.
Colin’s hands froze against his chest and he gazed up at Jamie with eyes the size of two pound coins. “You want to ditch the gaffer’s reception?”
“Look, they already cut the cake, and they did the first dance, and Phoebe’s old primary teacher caught the flowers, so what’ll we be missing?” Jamie took a step closer to Colin, thrilling at how his eyes darted to his lips. “We won’t be ditching. It’ll just be a short leave of absence.”
“What did you have in mind?”
The second round of McAdoo v. Bumbercatch had gotten under way, so Jamie and Colin chanced hurrying from the great lawn together, beelining for the quaint inn just down the garden path. Had to hand it to Rebecca for choosing the most stereotypical English village on the isle, ensuring all the gaffer’s Yankee relatives would swoon upon seeing the heath grass and little stone houses.
They had to duck to avoid some of said relatives snapping pictures by the inn, stealing through a back door and making it up to the second floor, breathless.
“Gotta be a washroom up here,” Jamie muttered as he pushed into the first room he found.
And behind door number one, a bedroom with two twin beds.
Door number two: a bedroom with two twin beds.
Three: two twin beds.
“Do only fucking nuns stay here or what?”
Colin shivered beside him and went to try the second to last door on the corridor. He screwed his eyes shut as he swung the door open, probably sending a prayer up to God like Jamie was. Slowly, he opened one eye to then immediately let out a cheer worthy of a championship goal.
They had found what amounted to the bloody honeymoon suite. The room, though hardly bigger than the coach’s office back at the club, had a four-post bed with a sweet floral duvet fluffed atop it. The windows looked out into the garden and Colin hurried to draw the curtains as Jamie began shucking off his shoes.
“You sure we can do this here?” Colin glanced about the room like he expected the innkeeper to crawl out from under the bed and scold them. “What if someone—”
“It’s all good, mate,” Jamie said, crossing the room to stand before Colin, starting to push his jacket off his shoulders. “Heard Rebecca’s mum say they bought out all the rooms. No one’s gonna be up yet, not while they’re still playing that hoedown music.”
Colin laughed and once Jamie got him out of his jacket and started tracing along his ribs through his shirt, he only began laughing harder. In retaliation, Colin tackled him onto the bed, the four posts shaking. Jamie’s jacket hit the floor, then his tie, then Colin’s waistcoat, and Colin nearly ripped a button trying to get Jamie’s shirt off. “Gotta be quick,” was the excuse he gave.
Jamie flipped their positions and did the rest of the buttons himself. “Why I don’t believe in fucking shirts.”
Colin had never really stopped laughing, but now he had tears gathering in his lower lashes. His nose always scrunched up in a way that made Jamie want to kiss it, or bite him, or press his hand flat against his chest to see if his heart thrummed as fast as Jamie’s did.
Before he could think better of it, Jamie leaned in and touched his lips to Colin’s nose. The laughter faded, but he pretended not to notice as he moved his lips to brush between Colin’s brow. His hands moved to Colin’s shirt, undoing one button, then two, but stopping to press his palm right over his heart. His lips found his forehead, lingering there, closing his eyes as he felt Colin begin to dance his fingers down his back.
“What happened to quick?” Colin whispered, exhaling against the hollow of Jamie’s throat.
Jamie answered with a kiss against his temple, and then his cheek, and then a trail along his jaw, all the while feeling Colin’s heartbeat beneath his hand. Colin had to understand Jamie had no idea what he was doing. He made it to his chin, kissing it softly, and finally darted his eyes up to meet Colin’s, wide open and pupils blown. He seemed almost in a daze.
The last time Jamie had seen him like that, they had both been pissed out of their minds on champagne.
Neither of them were drunk now.
Jamie kissed the corner of Colin’s mouth. “Colin, I—”
The bedroom door rattled, like something large had been thrown against it. Someone outside began fighting with the door knob, which Jamie couldn’t remember if he had locked or not. Paralyzed where he lay, Jamie looked down at Colin to see his own terror reflected back at him.
Colin shoved at his shoulders and Jamie stumbled off him, nearly colliding with the windows. The person outside must have never used a door in their life, still shaking the knob trying to get it open. Either that or—
“You said no one would be up yet,” Colin hissed, nearly hyperventilating.
What did Colin expect of him, the ability to see the future? God made him talented, but not that talented. At least he could put his speed to good use, gathering up their clothes and shoes from the floor and hustling Colin toward the walk-in wardrobe.
“C’mon, get in!”
“What? No! We can’t—”
Too late, Jamie pushed Colin into the shallow walk-in and crammed himself in beside him, closing the door in time with the new couple finally pitching into the room. The slats in the door allowed only thin strips of light, no way to tell who had just come in and how long they’d be staying.
Someone—a man, probably—moaned loudly.
They’d be staying awhile then.
What do we do, Colin mouthed at him.
The hell if Jamie knew. He had grabbed all their shit and came up with the closet plan, seemed time for Colin to start pulling his weight.
The tell-tale sound of clothes dropping reached his ears, then another long moan. “Oh, Ted…”
Just like that, Jamie’s soul left his body. He’d be found dead in a random country inn’s walk-in and they’d say he died how he most liked to live: without a shirt on.
All the color had drained from Colin’s face, telling Jamie he was not long for this world either. His panicked eyes met Jamie’s and he mouthed again, what do we do?
I don’t know! Jamie shout-mouthed. What would Beckham have done if he ever found himself trapped in a closet with Posh while his gaffer and the owner of his club started having wedding night sex five feet away?
“Rebecca, I—” The bed creaked. In the heavy pause, Jamie only heard Colin breathing. “I love you.”
“I love you, too, Ted.”
Jamie’s legs began wobbling, his head suddenly light. A hundred people witnessed Ted and Rebecca declare their love for each other a few hours earlier, but that seemed different from what Jamie just overheard. A love kept between two people, not for anyone else, nothing for show.
A hand lightly touching his side managed to ground him, but once Colin got his attention, he used it to incline his head toward the closet door.
Jamie shook his head—he’d rather lick Roy’s chest hair than go out there now.
We have to, Colin insisted. It’s wrong.
Why did such bad things happen to such beautiful people? Richard would have stayed in the closet with him. So would have Isaac, and Bumbercatch, and probably even Jan. No, of course Jamie had to fall in love with a sweet bloody saint.
And Jamie had no time to unpack that thought, not when Colin squared his shoulders and positioned himself in front of the door, counting down from five, four, three, two, one—
With the arm not piled high with clothes, Jamie shielded his eyes because he meant it when he said he had enough naked Ted for one lifetime. Colin wanted to come out, so he could do the explaining and the apologies.
“Uh, hi, Mrs. Welton,” Colin said weakly. “And -uh, Coach.”
“Colin, Jamie, what are you…” There was a thump and Jamie stupidly dropped his arm to see Ted struggling to get into his pants. “What are you boys…”
“Ted, I think it’s pretty obvious what they were doing in here,” Rebecca said from the bed. With much more grace than Ted, she sat up and began fixing the dress bunched around her waist.
“We’re sorry! We’re so, so sorry. We’re—”
“It was my fault, yeah,” Jamie said, wrapping his hand around Colin’s wrist to shut him up. “I convinced ‘im no one would be up here yet. It’s on me.”
“Now boys, I’ll admit this wasn’t how I was hoping we’d have this conversation,” Ted began, finally again in pants. “I assumed at least I’d be wearing a shirt, and I had this slide show presentation Keeley helped me with, and there was a print out, and, you know, I’d suggest we start doing a LGBTQ+ film series for our away game movies nights, starting with Portrait of a Lady on Fire, of course—”
“Ted,” came Rebecca, needing only that single syllable to cut off his monologue. One side of her dress still hung off her shoulder and Jamie tried to look anywhere but her bra strap. “Boys, of course you both have my full support and all the resources the club can provide behind you. But given this is my wedding night, I’d prefer we discuss any specifics at a later date.”
“There aren’t any specifics,” Jamie objected at the same time Colin said, “I’m good with just this, yeah.”
“So, if you would…” Rebecca nodded toward the door and Jamie did not need to be asked twice. It scarred him to even be asked once. Hauling Colin behind him, he looped around Ted, averting his eyes, and raced into the narrow corridor.
The door slamming closed behind them was one of the sweetest sounds Jamie ever heard.
Colin staggered further down the hall, one sock missing and his pants slipping from his hips, and Jamie followed after, until they reached the final door. Might as well get all the mistakes of the year done with tonight, Jamie thought as he threw the door open.
“Oh, you’ve got to be fucking joking me.”
They had found the washroom. A bloody tiny washroom, completely unfit for two grown men, but still the washroom.
“What you get for being an impatient asshole,” Colin said, shimmying past Jamie to get into the minuscule room.
“Like you’re any better.” Jamie stepped in from the doorway and shut the door, collapsing against it and dropping the wrinkled mass of clothes in his arms to the floor. He hoped there was bleach of some kind by the toilet, though if he were being honest—“Gaffer seems like a pretty good shag though, don’t he?”
“Why would you—” Colin kneaded his fists against his forehead. “I had just stopped thinking about it. I hate you.”
Safe to say the mood was thoroughly ruined. They should sort out their clothes and make their way back to the reception for last call. Jamie would have to be the one to suggest it, what with Colin still going through several stages of grief over what they just saw. His mortified face was far more adorable than it had any right to be.
Jamie didn’t want to go back to the party. Instead, he wrapped his hand around the golden tie hanging loose around Colin’s neck and pulled him in, tucking his head under his chin. “Nah, you don’t hate me,” Jamie whispered into his hair, hoping Colin could feel his smirk.
He must’ve by the way he muttered, “Do too,” against his collarbone.
Colin’s arms snaking around his waist and squeezing tight told a completely different story.
the wedding of
theodore beard & katherine bowen
“Stop suffocating me,” Colin said as he batted Jamie’s arms away, arms he had requested hug him not two minutes ago. “This is a crisis.”
While Colin resumed frantically pacing around the hotel room, Jamie leaned back on his forearms on the bed, watching, waiting for him to exhaust himself or at least stop yanking at his hair (something Jamie would rather be doing himself). Honestly, Jamie didn’t see what the huge deal was, but when he said that out loud five minutes ago, Colin had just about burst into tears.
“Coach Beard already thinks I'm a forgetful idiot,” Colin said, talking in circles. “And he’s right. Bet I’d forget I’d turned the stove on thirty seconds after walking away.” He halted by the open bathroom door, eyes flying wildly to Jamie. “Wait, do you think I left my stove on at home? I should go, right now, just to be sure. I’ll send a card saying I’m sorry with the gift I fucking left—”
“Jesus Christ,” Jamie muttered and vaulted off the bed. He caught Colin by the wrists before he did something stupid like request his keys back from the hotel valet. Colin driving his Lamborghini in a good mood was already a nightmare, but Colin driving anxious all the way back to London? They’d be spending Beard’s wedding day at the local A&E. “You didn’t leave the stove on. You just forgot yer gift. It happens, yeah?”
“Bet it wouldn’t happen to Isaac,” Colin said miserably. “Or Bumbercatch, or Richard.”
“Yeah, but their gifts probably suck.”
Colin’s frown deepened. “Bumbercatch knitted the gaffer and Mrs. Welton a blanket in the Richmond colors with both their initials and the date of the wedding on it.”
“Sure, great, if you like that sorta thing.” And fine, Jamie did like that sort of thing. Bumbercatch knitted him a hat for his last birthday and he wore it so often that one of his and Colin’s first proper fights began when he caught Colin trying to borrow it.
“They’re really not even going to be surprised,” Colin said, his voice small. “They’ll just say ‘of course, that’s just Colin for you.’”
Jamie brushed his thumb along Colin’s pulse, felt its hammering, and couldn’t take it. “Go in with me.”
Colin gaped at him, much like one of the gaffer’s beloved goldfish. “Huh?”
“Just go in on my gift,” Jamie said, going to straighten Colin’s tie, crimson and soft to touch. “We’ll put yer name on the card, say it’s from the both of us.”
“Giving wedding gifts together…” Colin trailed off again, something in his brain clearly backfiring on him. Jamie took a step back and crossed his arms, readying for this to take awhile. “That’s what couples do. Like proper couples.”
“We’ve been shagging just about every day for over a year, mate,” Jamie said, biting back a smirk. “You’ve met me mum. And all the team knows.”
Colin rocked back on his heels. “But Ms. Bowen’s family doesn’t.”
“Ms. Bowen didn’t even know my name when we met.” Jamie cringed at the memory of her extending her hand for an introduction and smiling blankly when he asked if she really didn’t know who he was. Should I? Roy Kent would never hear that story. “Doubt her family even has a team. And what kinda weirdos look at all the cards on the gift table?”
He watched Colin internally weigh his options and it occurred to Jamie that he might be weighing more than just potential consequences of going in on a gift. They never talked about their relationship in terms average people would use, never said couple, even if in the months since the gaffer’s wedding, Jamie had stopped considering Colin just a mate with great benefits. You didn’t start fantasizing about a future where you could hold your mate’s hand on the way to the shops, or take him to the new Thai place that opened at the exact middle distance between your places, or show him around your childhood home.
He just hadn’t come around to asking Colin if he thought about any of that. Asking Colin to add his name to one stupid card was the closest Jamie had gotten to laying out what he wanted. His neck felt hot and his collar started cutting against his throat—fourth wedding in a row Isaac demanded he wear a bloody shirt—and he wondered how anyone survived this. Love.
“Okay,” Colin finally said and, almost instantly, he beamed. “Like you said, not a huge deal.”
Jamie swallowed, stuck on his relieved smile, but nodded, like a liar.
They finished getting ready, soundtracked by Colin humming a Drake song, and Jamie made sure to place their gift by the door, deciding not to tell Colin he had forgotten his gift for the Higgins vow renewal because he had left it on his nightstand. Though maybe that would have been a comforting story to tell during Colin’s freak out. How was that for proof Jamie still had no idea what he was doing.
Only then Colin came up behind him, slipping his arms around his waist, and left a soft, lingering kiss against his neck. “Diolch, cariad.”
Admittedly, Jamie had fallen off his Welsh Duolingo lessons, but he liked the sound of what Colin said.
“What did you get them anyway?” Colin asked as they snuck out of Jamie’s hotel room.
“One of those air frying things.”
Colin’s eyebrows flew up his forehead.“The air fryer we got for a sponsorship last week?”
“What?” Jamie asked, heaving up the heavy box in his arms. “Didn’t see the coaches get one. Thought he’d like frying things up and we’ve already got yours.”
“No, no, it’s a good move,” Colin said, quietly astounded. “Wish I had thought of it.”
The ceremony and reception, both taking place in a converted barn on a property the Bowen family owned, proved to be the strange and low-key affair Jamie assumed it would be. The decorations had been provided almost exclusively by the children of Ms. Bowen’s primary class—paper lilies and roses arranged in glittered mason jars as centerpieces, fairy lights reflecting off hanging paper stars and snowflakes cut from golden paper, a whole wall covered in portraits of what her students believed Coach Beard to look like. Jamie felt one lad’s hairy, grumpy monster done in orange crayon really captured his essence.
Jamie would never have a wedding like it himself—though he had to admit the coach’s gray tails was a bold and impressive choice—but it fit Ms. Bowen and Coach Beard. Maybe weddings were more than just open bars, and nanas grinding, and weepy vows after all. Maybe weddings were made up of hand-crafted and hand-picked pieces of yourself and your love story, each as different as fingerprints because no two couples in the world were the same.
“You appear to be deep in thought.” Jan remained unfazed when Jamie rolled his eyes at him, but perhaps the guy couldn’t be so bad as he went to top off Jamie’s champagne. “What were you thinking of?”
“Nothing,” Jamie said, reflexively, but then after a sip of champagne, “Just that weddings are pretty fucking great, aren’t they?”
Jan nodded enthusiastically. “They are.” He tilted his chin toward the dance floor, all glittering gold. “And you made Colin love them, too.”
Jamie blinked in surprise, but followed where Jan motioned, to Colin twirling a giggling Phoebe to a Nat King Cole song. He let Phoebe stand on his toes as they danced, grinning down at her, and Jamie found himself in the bizarre position of being jealous of a little girl. He and Colin had never gotten to dance, not as a couple, not to a slow song.
“Did I say something wrong?” Jan asked with real concern.
“For once, mate,” Jamie said, clapping him on the back, “you didn’t. Cheers, I gotta go find Isaac.”
Finding his captain didn’t prove hard, though he was in yet another film debate with Bumbercatch at the bar. At least Jamie wasn’t interrupting anything important.
“Hey Jamie, tell this man here Coppola was—”
“I’ve got no idea what yer talking about,” Jamie said quickly, stepping between Isaac and Bumbercatch to get Isaac’s full attention. “Listen mate, I need your help. I don’t know if it’s possible, but I want…”
Jamie paused, not sure if this was a bad idea or not.
Back on the dance floor, Colin was letting Phoebe try her hand at dipping him. He leaned back too fast and Phoebe let her arm drop, all ending in Colin landing in a heap on the ground. At the corner of the dance floor, Roy had his son cradled in one arm while he filmed with the other. Jamie loved all these people so much he thought he’d explode from it. He never thought he’d get this feeling outside a stadium.
“Anything you need, man, we’ll try to make it happen,” Isaac said.
Jamie took a deep breath and said, “I want to dance with Colin, like a proper dance. Ya know, slow.”
“That all?” Isaac asked, grabbing Jamie by both shoulders and shaking him, so hard Jamie felt his brain rattling inside his skull. “We got you, bruv.”
But Isaac and Bumbercatch both were already walking away, Isaac shouting back at him, “Just be on the dance floor for the next slow song, mate!”
Jamie immediately turned to the bartender and ordered a double shot of liquid courage. The band played another jazzy song next, then a contemporary pop number, then a country anthem Ted had to have requested, and Jamie just about gave up on his dance with Colin. This was the wedding of a couple whose first dance had been “Modern Love '' by Bowie. Coach Beard probably didn’t believe in slow dances.
He had just requested his second shot, when—
“Come a little bit closer /
Hear what I have to say…”
The same song had played at the Higgins vow renewal, as Jamie had watched Roy and Keeley dancing and assured Colin feelings faded with time. Unless, of course, they were feelings for your unicorn.
Jamie waved off the second shot and slowly began making his way to the dance floor. Close to the elevated stage, Coach Beard and Ms. Bowen swayed together, the coach mouthing all the words. Ted and Rebecca danced as one, her arms wrapped around his back, his chin hooked over her shoulder. Roy and Keeley had their son between them, rocking him to the music. Mr. and Mrs. Higgins spun under a glowing snowflake.
But then there was also Isaac and Bumbercatch, slow dancing while continuing their argument about some bloke named Coppola. Beside them, Sam and Thierry couldn’t quite decide who got to lead, Sam wincing as Thierry treaded on his toes. Dani said something to make Richard laugh and rest his forehead against his shoulder, while Dixon and Goodman proved themselves the best dancers of the bunch, gliding smoothly along the floor.
“You should go.” Jan’s voice snapped Jamie out of his awestruck state. “It is a long song, but it does not last forever.”
“Yeah, I was just…” Jamie cleared his throat and blinked a few stray tears away. “Yeah.”
He found Colin at the brink of the floor, looking as stunned as Jamie had been.
Jamie held out his hand. “Can I have this dance?”
“When we were lovers /
I loved you with all my heart…”
In the middle of the dance floor, surrounded by their teammates and all the best love stories he knew, Jamie placed his hands gently on Colin’s waist and tried to keep his breathing under control as Colin wound his arms around his neck.
But breathing went out the barn window when Colin moved impossibly closer, burying his face in Jamie’s chest.
“I hate you,” came whispered into Jamie’s shoulder. Those words might have meant something if they weren’t followed by a kiss against his collarbone and Colin swaying in time with the music.
Jamie smiled, with no pride or teasing. “Nah, ye don’t.”
“No, I don’t,” Colin agreed. He tipped his chin and gazed up at Jamie, and everything else went away. “I actually kind of love you.”
“Good,” Jamie said, when really it was the greatest thing he had ever heard. “‘cause I kind of love you, too.”
It took a herculean effort not to drag Colin back to the hotel and show him exactly how much he loved him, especially since he had to settle for stealing a kiss against his temple. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw money exchanging hands between Thierry and Richard, and between Bumbercatch and Dixon, and even between Sam and Dani, the traitors with angel faces.
Colin must have spotted the bet collecting, too, because he grumbled, “We deserve half.”
Jamie snorted. “I just hope this means Isaac’ll stop talking to me about protecting yer virtue.”
“Sorry, boyo, think you’ll have to marry me for that.”
“Sure,” Jamie said, daring to slip one hand beneath Colin’s jacket, tracing along the silken back of his waistcoat, the one bursting with poinsettia leaves, Jamie’s favorite flower. “‘specially since you always put out at weddings.”
Their first slow dance ended with Colin wrestling him to the ground. Laying flat on his back, staring up at a sky of paper stars, Colin laughing with his head on Jamie’s chest, ear right above his heart, Jamie knew everything he was feeling right then was never going to fade.