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A mid (summer) life crisis

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“What the fuck happened to the flowers?”

“No reason to cuss, sir.”

It was five pm, and Robert was five minutes away from having a meltdown; at that point, using the f-word was the nicest way he could’ve possibly expressed himself.

Because the fucking flowers weren’t there, were they? Not the ones he’d ordered.

“They will be here any minute, sir,” the bored-looking girl said with a shrug, because of course a complete idiot had been in charge of receiving the bouquets that had been picked and ordered eight weeks ago – that is, if the kid had remembered the order in the first place, not to mention she actually thought getting the right flowers after the fact was something to celebrate.

If Robert had had his way, there would’ve been a dozen meltdowns already, a cleansing plethora of contemptuous words directed towards stupid people at an impressive volume, things thrown and folk scandalized; he didn’t enjoy the shock caused by his menace like he had when he was younger - and let’s face it, by society’s standards he was getting too old to be menacing in the first place, but right now Robert didn’t care. He had promised himself he’d take the liberty of exiting the premises for a moment and going off on one in the next flippin’ five minutes.

It was his little sister’s wedding reception, and it was going to hell in a handbasket – granted it was a meticulously picked, perfectly weaved, pure white, tulle-decorated, filled-with-expensive-keepsakes sort of basket, but it was still going to hell, riding on an overly tuned, cheap motorcycle with an environmentally unfriendly motor and a noise that will make one’s ears ring for days.

It wasn’t just the wrong looking flowers, it was the last-minute change to the perfect menu, it was the dodgy decorations, the not-so-great champagne, the low-quality music.

Robert had been putting endless effort into the process, rightfully driving florists, dessert chefs and dressmakers up the wall with his lists and questions – to everyone else it seemed a complete mystery why his sister had agreed to her brother crowning himself the wedding planner, but Victoria knew her brother well, which was why she’d known he’d be the best – only – choice.

Robert ignored those who claimed she was letting him do it just to shut him up because he knew better.

He was the best planner around, and that included weddings too, obviously.

It was just a tad unfortunate that he couldn’t’ve picked the groom.

The bloke – a little halfwit called Terry – was mouthy, sarky and generally exhausting with his grating voice, black messy hair and big grey eyes that were always a little glazed. Not because he was high, no, it was worse; he was just that uninterested in most things that it left a strange, shady membrane into his gaze, like he was hiding behind a curtain of juvenile indifference.

That little shit didn’t even do it on purpose because it would’ve been too much effort.

Speaking of, the little shit was approaching Robert now, looking like the casual second-rate human that he was.

“Mr S, there you are!” Terry beamed, handing him a glass of champers.

Robert knew damn well the bloke wasn’t that excited, and he didn’t call him Mr S to be polite, he did it because he could get away with something that sounded an awful lot like Mr Ass.

He didn’t bother to get offended though, knowing that the things he called that two-bit wrong’un behind his back were ten times worse and more to the point, in a completely different league of intellectual wordplay.

Not that Terry knew about intellect or wordplay in general.

Robert took the glass from him and nodded with a fake smile, wondering if there was time to entertain himself by challenging the bastard to a game of Scrabble, just to sharpen his smugness to its shiniest state.

“Vickybear is outside, so I better scarper,” the hideously dressed man-child said, clinking his glass against Robert’s – his words could’ve given Robert the push he needed to sling him out, but sadly Terry wasn’t going to scarper for good, was he - he was about to go entertain the last person that should be interested in said entertainment.

But scarpenter or not, he had no business calling Robert’s sister Vickybear because it was stupid and offensive.

It was a pet name for a child or a dog, and Victoria was neither.

Robert flinched at the thought.

She indeed was not a child anymore.

She was twenty-four, a tiny, fierce woman with a sincere laugh, an intricate brain and the sweetest of hearts.

She was Robert’s favourite person – now officially married to the worst person.

He downed the rest of the fizz with one gulp, just to wash the thought back into that part of his brain where he kept the file of brotherly denial, sealed tightly for the rest of time.

Terry the prat started banging on about the upcoming honeymoon, and Robert zoned out decisively during the first seventeen seconds because he didn’t need yet another reminder of the cold hard fact that his sister was shackled to this discount deuce for all eternity - and after he’d pretended to listen for a couple of minutes, he was getting ready to leave when a certain woman appeared.

Oh look, it’s all my favourite people.

Chrissie waltzed over – quite literally, as she was taking dance-like steps towards them, looking so happy that a part of Robert was certain it was just to spite him; after all, she was just annoying enough to do so.

Once she had grooved her way to them, she smoothed down her blue satin dress and flipped her shiny Louise Brooks-type of bob hairdo, moving like it was the highlight of the day everyone had been waiting for.

Robert gave his ex-wife a forced smile.

“Chris,” he said calmly, proving to be one heck of a trooper, considering the amount of stress he was under already without having to deal with this lot.

Chrissie scoffed, because she didn’t have Robert’s nonchalant elegance.

“Terry darling, shall we go and check on the evening’s itinerary?” she cooed, linking her arm around the bloke’s.

“The itinerary doesn’t need checking, I’ve got it under control,” Robert cut in, picking up another flute of champagne.

Chrissie raised an eyebrow.

“I hope your drinking is under control too,” she said evilly, throwing a condescending smile into the mix.

“Of course it is, I haven’t felt the need to get sloshed since I divorced you,” Robert replied happily, matching her smirk.

Chrissie huffed out a fake laugh.

“You look lovely, Christine,” Terry sidetracked sweetly – well, it was sweet in a way that overeating candy floss was; sticky, nauseating and making one grind one’s teeth until there’s no teeth left to grind – but Chrissie just giggled like an idiot and mumbled something classic akin to oh Terry, you flatter me.

It was flattery, because Chrissie wasn’t all that, was she?

Robert blew out a breath and decided it was time to grab his phone and go yell at the florist because that was a legitimate reason, not an excuse - but boy, was he keen to get away before Terry would start calling him all sorts of fake names.

He would rather remain Mr Ass for all eternity than become mate or even Robert to this parking lot random who would get lost chasing his own tail.

“Where’s Victoria?” Robert asked, perhaps accentuating her name, just to point out there was no need for dodgy nicknames.

Terry’s face broke into a wide grin.

“She’s outside with her mates, she’ll be here in a minute, Mr S.”

Sounding more like Ass by the minute, isn’t it?

Robert felt a tiny wave of sadness; he wasn’t ready to acknowledge that Vic wasn’t with him, because he was still her best mate.

Right?
Chrissie looked at Terry with adoration.

“I’m so glad she’s got you,” she said with a sigh of relief.

“I could say the same to you, Chrissie,” Terry beamed.

Robert held back his scoff and gave them a nod as he excused himself to make the rounds, hoping to find people who had earned the right to call him Robert, and did so without unintelligent sarcasm.

After he’d chit-chatted with a few people, Robert stepped outside through the backdoor; he didn’t feel like throwing a tantrum anymore, which was unfortunate because now would’ve been the perfect time to get rid of some of that rage he was holding back, but all he felt was the sweet breeze of the wind, the warm sweep of sunlight, indulging in the fresh air and the break from all the hassle.

He watched the venue staff checking the fairy lights and little lanterns hung in the lush maple trees in the yard; it was a beautiful garden, with tiny ponds, gorgeously carved stone fixtures and endless rows of flowers – a thoroughly romantic place, and Vic had been smitten as soon as she had laid eyes on it.

She had kissed her brother’s cheek, offered a big hug and said Robert’s favourite sentence in the universe.

Thanks bro, you’re the best.

In your face, Terry, Robert still was and would always be the best.

And thank goodness his and Chrissie’s son was still aware that Robert was his number one hero and expressed that on a regular basis with all his six-year-old enthusiasm.

Seb was probably doing a silly dance right that minute, telling adoring tales of his dad.

Robert felt a yawn escape him; he was exhausted and it wasn’t just the wedding stress, it was the previous night getting to him.

It had been one strange evening.

There was something proper weird about stag dos in general but attending one that was arranged for the fiancée of one’s sister was alarming; Robert had agreed to go to that shindig just to please Vic, and he could honestly say he’d been on his best – well, decent behaviour. He had bought everyone drinks, he had told them stories about his dating history, embellishing only when he felt a need to make the groom particularly uncomfortable, he had paid for dinner, he had paid for the taxi.

He had left early, because when going out with a group of younger, daft blokes, a mature person knows to head for the exits before the youth start getting on one’s nerves.

He'd done well, and once he had ended up at the restaurant a few miles from the wedding venue, he had run into another party group and joined their drunken forces, entering a hotel bar just to make sure no one in the building would get decent shuteye.

Robert hadn’t been that drunk, but he had been in an anxious mood, dreading the upcoming nuptials, battling between wanting to make his little sister happy and his ever-growing need to go a bit Tarantino on her groom, and that made him restless, itching to blow off some steam.

As the evening turned into night and Robert was behind the hotel in the big yard, staring into the little midsummer bonfires lit in barrels, sat on a lounge chair, watching the nightless night keeping the pale shades of daylight in its palette with a warm persistence, someone very pretty from the afterparty sat down beside him.

They chatted.

They laughed.

They kissed.

And once they ended up in one of the rooms at the hotel, they didn’t really have time to chat or laugh.

The kissing continued, and then things got very naked.

Robert was a little ashamed now; hooking up the night before his sister’s wedding might have been a tad questionable, but then again his steam had been properly blown off in a rather literal sense, and he knew he’d be ten times more wired if that hadn’t been the case.

Nevertheless, Robert was on edge now and the need to scarper would’ve gotten the best of him if it hadn’t been for Vic.

"Terry, congrats! So good to see you,” a voice came from behind them.

There was no sarcasm in the words, and now Robert was morbidly fascinated to see who would say such a thing.

He glanced at the man who had appeared beside Terryble, smiling so widely that he must’ve been having some liquid courage of his own.

Robert heard something crash – in truth, there probably was no crashing sound, but a thing or two took a plunge in the universe and rearranged the space time continuum as Robert locked eyes with the man.

Jesus Christ.

Not quite, but a revelation of his own right for sure.

There was a pair of ice blue eyes staring into his; those eyes framed by a slightly smug face, casual in a confident sort of way - a nicely trimmed beard, and the most curious little smile.

Robert just stared; he could honestly say he had never seen a more gorgeous man in his entire life.

He hadn’t dated a bloke since his early twenties, as he’d been married for years and after that, there’d been a couple of girlfriends – he’d never been one to favour either gender, but the interesting blokes seemed to have gone into hiding.

Until this one.

This one was definitely interesting.

Also definitely the same bloke that had shagged Robert to oblivion the previous night.

“Hiya. I’m Aaron,” he said nonchalantly.

Robert knew that already; it’s a bit difficult to forget a name once you’ve said it about fifty-three times in one night, usually adding a fuck, right there, harder, oh God to go with it.

Aaron was smirking at him now, looking very pleased with himself- with those kinds of skills, one should be pleased but it wasn’t fair, making him blush like that, because blushing he was; Robert never blushed, but first time for everything, eh?

The idea of berating a florist couldn’t’ve been further from his mind.

He wasn’t really thinking about flowers at all – well, not in a wedding bouquet sort of way, it was more in the lines of the birds and the bees.

His skin felt tight; it tingled with the memory of being touched by the beautiful man standing in front of him, unfortunately not naked now.

“This is Vickybear’s brother,” Terry said because he just couldn’t not use that infuriating term of questionable endearment, “Mr S.”

Aaron’s eyes widened; for a moment he looked like he was about to fly off the handle, but then he just nodded.

“So, this is Mr S,” he said, giving Robert an entirely different look now.

And it sounded a lot like Mr Ass.

Robert wouldn’t’ve minded Aaron calling him Mr Ass, had it happened twenty hours ago.

Or nineteen, or eighteen, because there had been a lot of…opportunities.

“Just Robert will do,” Robert said quickly, reaching out his hand.

Aaron didn’t take it, he just scowled.

“Not a handshaker, eh?” Robert joked, to which Aaron gave a sloppy smile, not really making an effort.

It was as if though Aaron had never shaken his hand.

But in all honesty, he hadn’t.

Pretty much every other body part, but not his hand.

“Robert,” Aaron said, in a pondering sort of way.

Like he had to be reminded, even though much like Robert, he had repeated the name just as many times, adding a just like that, you feel amazing, don’t stop, I’m close to it.

Now Aaron couldn’t’ve looked less close if he tried.

He looked annoyed.

True to oblivious form, Terry didn’t notice the tension – he simply pushed a tray of some bite-sized nibbles in their faces– something coated in liquorice, wrapped in bacon and stabbed with a stick full of dates – and grabbed two more glasses.

Robert shook his head at the glass offered; he had been evening out his sleep deprivation, but it was such a short journey from self-medicating tiredness and a sore body to being that brother who thinks he’s making an epic speech and impressing people, when they’re actually slobbering into a microphone all breathy and slurry, hugging guests by leaning on them with full bodyweight and filling the air with a very, very bad case of salmon breath.

Now he would keep things sharp, although it was a bit difficult as he was failing to do so in the presence of the bluest eyes ever.

“I’m gonna go check on my wife,” Terry said happily, making Robert cringe at the word wife, “I’ll see yous later!”

Then he simply swanned off, leaving Robert standing there with his beautiful, but very much scowling hook-up.

“Fancy seeing you here,” Robert said, flashing a smile that said fancy seeing you with your clothes on.

Aaron just hummed absentmindedly, looking at Robert with a tad intense gaze.

No, it was a very intense gaze.

A jolt sparked in Robert’s system; maybe this gorgeous man was looking for a repeat of last night and wanted to skip the talking?

He had that hostility to his desire, which had made things a lot more interesting between the sheets.

Robert leaned a little closer, feeling a rush from the scent of the other man filling his nostrils.

It was one truly nice scent.

“So how do you know Terry?” Robert asked.

Please don’t say you’re related, please don’t say you’re related, please-

“I’m Vic’s best mate,” Aaron said tightly.

Robert felt his eyes widen.

Oh, so this was that mate Vic and Terryble had been banging on about several times; the hero who was so inspiring, an incredible mate and apparently a life-changing teacher too and all that – according to the stories Robert had heard, the Mr Keating of the eight-year-old’s Dead Poet’s Society - a proper role model.

Role model who looked devastating in a suit.

Robert couldn’t decide which he wanted more; to see Aaron in a suit or see him out of it.

Then again both options would be pleasant, as the previous night had proven.

Robert gave Aaron a once-over that left absolutely nothing to the imagination.

“Why don’t you give me your number,” Robert said lowly, “I’d like to call you later.”

Aaron scoffed.

“Why would I wanna do that?” he asked, his beautiful eyes narrowed.

“I think you know why,” Robert said with a smirk.

Aaron put away his champagne glass, crossing his arms.

“Listen, mate, last night was a one-off, and I’m not looking for anything else.”

“It doesn’t have to be anything else,” Robert replied smoothly.

Aaron huffed, rolling his eyes.

It was annoying, but it was also really cute.

Cute?

Robert flinched, quickly forcing his mind to retreat back to the images from their tryst, because he didn’t use words like cute.

Maybe Aaron was cute, but that didn’t mean one should go acknowledging such.

He was hot, and that was a word Robert found acceptable.

Hot man Aaron stared at him with cold eyes.

“You’re a prat,” he said with an absolute confidence one used when stating that the sky is blue.

Robert ignored it and just smiled.

“Aaron, I don’t think prat was a word you used last ni”-

“Shut up,” Aaron cut in, “I’m not doing a flirty-bantery routine here, mate, the fact remains that you are a prat, and I’m not going to waste my time on you. I’ve heard the stories from Terry and I’m not impressed, so how’s about we just keep things cordial and be done with it.”

With that, Aaron turned his back and went about his way, soon crossing paths with Chrissie, greeting her, and giving her a hug.

Robert was seething, but it was mostly about Terry once again ruining a good thing for him, the dismay over Chrissie’s existence was one he was used to by now.

But he wasn’t about to back down because Robert Sugden didn’t do such, and Aaron was too gorgeous to not go after.

He waited a couple of minutes before he casually walked past his ex-wife and his grumpy hook-up; then he threw a calculated glance over his shoulder, searching Aaron’s gaze.

God, could he be any more gorgeous?

Aaron looked at him with an impatient scowl, and then his lips moved, mouthing two words at him.

Robert could read those words very clearly.

Do one.

Robert felt a familiar sensation in his gut; one that confirmed he wasn’t about to comply.

If anything, he was gearing up.

He kept on smiling at Aaron, raising his eyebrows.

Aaron looked away, biting his lip with yet another eyeroll, completing it with a sarcastic smile.

Robert’s smirk widened at that.

Hard to get. I like it.