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i like you a latte

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A soft moan escaped his mouth. The silky sheets under him crinkled as he was pushed up towards the headboard. His legs were hooked over his lover’s hips, his feet touching his spine. He tried to pull him closer, entwining his hand in his hair. Their lips touched, his tongue trying to push past them, entering his mouth just as he picked up the pace. 

With a hard smack, Gene shut his laptop and let his head fall onto the table in front of him. Who was he ? And where was the steaminess in this supposedly passionate act? The sex scene was just the first of several that were sure to follow, at least if his publisher had a say in it. Which, sadly, she had. Gene resented her penchant for NC-content. Every time he tried to write a scene, he lost track of which body part was supposed to be where and who was doing what, ending up in a tangled mess of words - and limbs. 


The cool surface of the table calmed him slightly. Not too far away, a milk steamer let out a hiss and a frothing sound. The smell of freshly ground coffee wafted over, as well as a hint of just-out-of-the-oven pastry. 


This café had really proven to be a sanctuary for Gene’s frazzled mind. Writing at home had driven him to the point where he was ready to send his laptop flying out of the window, which he had decided to battle by going out – even if he disliked interruptions and noise, taking one day off from his own desk to write had sounded like a good idea. The idea had been so good, in fact, that one day had turned into three, then a week, then a couple of weeks, a month, until the place was basically his other home.


Miraculously, his editor had not yet found out which café Gene liked to frequent, which meant he could agonize over his novel in relative peace. Sure, the café was visited by a lot of strangers, but Gene had found the perfect spot, tucked away in a corner next to a huge window looking out on the courtyard, where he could observe people coming in but didn’t have to deal with interacting much. Nowadays, the table had a permanent, little plaque that said “reserved”.


Gene straightened up and leaned his head on the wall behind him, fixing his stare on one of the concrete beams in the ceiling. The chapter he was working on needed to be done by the end of the week and the sex scene was just not coming along at all. Maybe he could get away with a fade to black.


Suddenly, a person doomed up next to his table. It startled Gene out of his reverie so much that he hit his knees on his table, making his laptop skid off just the slightest bit. 


“Good thing I hadn’t put down the coffee yet,” Aoey said, sending Gene a slightly worried glance. 


Embarrassed, Gene rubbed at his smarting knees, not really knowing where to look. The owner of the café had taken to personally bringing over Gene’s orders, because apparently, Gene had been there enough to be considered part of the family. They also let him sit in the café until after closing time, and sometimes he would give them a ride home. After some pleading from Tum and some eye-batting from Aoey, Gene had accepted the occasional free, sometimes sneakily watered down coffee that they insisted would help his health in the long run.


“Anyway, I do hope you didn’t bruise yourself too hard. May I offer you something sweet in these trying times?”


Gene nodded eagerly, pushing his laptop away from the space on the table in front of him, so Aoey could put down the iced coffee and a serving of the cake or pastry of the day. 


“Thank you so much,” Gene said, already getting his fork, which he had kept from the brioche au miel he had ordered earlier that day. 


“This is actually quite an easy bake, it’s one of the first ones I learned. A basic tarte à la confiture , but very tasty nonetheless,” Aoey explained. Gene only listened with half an ear as Aoey continued to tell him about the way he sourced the jam for the pie, and cut off his first piece of flakey pie. It tasted heavenly, so much so that a slight moan escaped Gene. He washed the bite down with a hefty gulp of iced coffee and looked over at Aoey, who was still sitting beside him. 


“That is a very good piece of pie. But then again, all of your stuff is really good,” he said. 


“Thank you. I mean, seeing you eat so enthusiastically really is rewarding after slaving away in the kitchen for so long.” Aoey winked. “You moan really cutely, I must say.”


At Gene’s disgruntled huff, Aoey grinned: “Don’t worry, my boyfriend is so much cuter than you. Doesn’t mean that I can’t find you adorable. Ah, which reminds me,” he paused for a bit, looking left and right, always the dramatic. He really could have been a good actor if the whole baking business hadn’t worked out. “I think you might have another admirer.”


“What?” Gene frowned. He tried to stay hidden so he could be left in peace. 


“Well, admirer, maybe stalker would be closer to truth, although less charming.” Aoey smirked. “Anyway, a very handsome man has been coming in, always staring at you while he waits for his order.”


“Always?”


“Yeah, always, literally almost every single day. It’s been going on for a couple of weeks actually. I was waiting for you to notice, but I decided to take fate into my own hands. You are a fantastic writer, I love the way you weave details into your stories, but I think your real-life skills could do with some brushing up.”


Gene’s first instinct was to pout, but he was currently chewing on another bite of jam pie, and Aoey was technically right. Well, he wasn’t too sure about his writing skills either, since he seemed to get stuck every time when it came to anything spicier than a simple kiss, but he did appreciate the sentiment. 


The bell of the café door rang rather loudly. Shortly after, a crash could be heard from the counter, followed by a small whine. It was Tiffy, their delivery woman, who had come in and taken off her helmet, her hair spilling out of it. Apparently, it had startled Tum, who was behind the counter, enough to drop whatever he was holding. Gene watched as he scrambled to the kitchen and handed a large paper bag with the café’s logo to her with shaky hands, which Tiffy accepted with a teasing smirk. She greeted him and Aoey and left, rattling the door bell again. As the loud rumble of her motorcycle carried over from outside, Tum slumped against the counter, touching his hands to his cheeks, a dopey smile on his face. 


Gene rolled his eyes. He knew Tum from university, and had watched him pine like this once before over a rather handsome guy in a class they all shared. It was a disaster, as Tum never mustered up the courage to actually talk to him. With Tiffy, even the slightest hint of eye contact could send him into a frenzy and it was always Gene – and to some extent Aoey, if he was in a tolerant mood – who had to listen to him waxing poetic about how cool Tiffy was. The man was so gone for her it was borderline hilarious.


Sadly, he couldn’t use this push and pull as inspiration for his novel. And to his dismay, his laptop was taunting him from the other side of the table. Gene propped up his chin with hand as he opened it. He still had some flailing limbs to sort out. 

 

When Aoey brought his iced coffee with a plate of what seemed like a strawberry tart the next day, Gene was so immersed in writing he barely noticed it before Aoey pushed it purposefully into his vision field – after figuring out how bodies worked in the opening scene for his novel, he couldn’t be happier to be writing something completely else, more emotion driven and real. He muttered a quick thank you , only to follow it with a startled yelp when he felt hands turning his head to face the counter.


“My apologies for resorting to drastic measures, Gene, but this gentleman simply refused to leave before, quote, ‘he could see your cute face’. He’s been standing there and keeping the line for ten minutes because of that,” Aoey said  from behind him. “And since I know you won’t be tearing your eyes off that computer of yours for who knows how many hours, I had to improvise.”


“There’s no line there,” Gene scoffed, shooed Aoey’s hands off of him, and took a better look at the man standing by the counter, staring right at Gene. He looked like he came straight out of a magazine, all polished and cool, and Gene was instantly sure he’d never seen this person in his life. He steered clear of people who looked like they were carrying themselves like a piece of jewelry, somehow above others – mostly because he felt uncomfortable, knowing he usually gave off a vibe like he just rolled out of bed and walked out without looking into the mirror. And to be fair, he certainly gave off that vibe right now, so he wasn’t exactly sure what warranted for the curious look on the dude’s face accompanied with a quick wai. Gene nodded stiffly and just like that, the guy grabbed his coffee and walked out, leaving the coffee shop empty besides Gene, Aoey and Tum.


“Seriously? That’s all it took?” Aoey clicked his tongue, letting out an incredulous laugh. “I’m not sure if I should blame or thank your charm, Gene.”


“I don’t have charm,” Gene scoffed. He forked a piece of the tart into his mouth and turned to stare at the document he was writing, only to find out he’d completely lost his train of thought with the break up scene that’d he’d been flying through.


“Well at least you weren’t greeted with an ‘iced americano to-go’,” Tum grumbled from where he’d moved to clear out and clean a nearby table. “Seriously, would it hurt to say ‘hello’, or maybe ‘thank you’, even? And he always looks like it’s the worst punishment to him when I hand him his order. It’s rude.”


Tum’s tone was so genuinely offended it made Gene huff out a laugh. He closed his laptop and properly turned in his chair to face Tum who was gathering plates onto a tray with a visible pout on his face.


“I’m not sure if stalking counts as ‘politeness’ to be honest,” Gene pointed out, taking a sip from his iced latte only to stare at it in surprise. “Oh? No caramel?”


“We were out of caramel syrup but I figured vanilla would do since you seem to live on anything and everything that has an illegal amount of sugar,” Aoey shrugged. Gene hummed, taking a longer sip. The vanilla did work pretty well, and Aoey wasn’t exactly wrong.


“Poor guy, he was so determined to get you to notice him and you only have eyes for Pages,” Tum sighed, shaking his head. “Have you met him before to make him so keen? Though you would have said something, right?”


“No, I haven’t. I have never seen him, ever, actually, in my entire life.”


“Yeah right, it’s so easy to never see him, he’s so unnoticeable given he’s at every corner you turn,” Aoey rolled his eyes exaggeratedly, his voice dripping with sarcasm. The door clinked with some customers coming in and both Aoey and Tum greeted them, Tum hurrying over to the counter.


“He follows you around? Shouldn’t you report that?” Gene frowned, alarmed, and looked at Aoey, who stared back at him with a baffled expression.


“Well, ‘follow’ isn’t exactly the word for it, but he’s certainly present everywhere currently, as you have probably noticed.”


“Huh? He follows me around?”


“What? No!” Aoey exclaimed, almost desperately, and threw his hands in the air before gesturing out of the window. “You can’t possibly say you haven’t noticed that?


It was Gene’s turn to be confused, but he turned to look out of the window nonetheless, not entirely sure what he was supposed to find there. The thing he did see was definitely none of the things that crossed his mind: a massive advertising board across the street, presenting the said dude who’d left the café a while ago, holding what seemed to be a sheet mask package. Gene stared at the sight, completely astounded. He’d been coming to the coffee shop for so many weeks he’s lost count by now, always sitting at the same table, and somehow he’d completely missed the ridiculously glaring ad.


“Oh,” Gene finally said, feeling extremely dumb when he turned back to Aoey and Tum who walked over to them again, the door closing behind the customers he’d served. “But why would he come in to just stare at me and wait for me to turn and look at him so that he can greet me, smile, and leave? That’s weird. And actually a bit creepy.”


Aoey and Tum fell silent, both of them wearing expressions Gene couldn’t decipher. He looked back and forth with the two, feeling more and more uncomfortable the longer the moment seemed to stretch.


“What?”


“I kind of want to kick your chair over, Gene, but I can’t, because you’re actually serious. You’re adorable,” Aoey said plainly, letting his head fall back with a long sigh.


“Huh?”


“You’re one of my best friends, but Gene, it actually physically pains me how dense you are sometimes,” Tum said gravely, shaking his head as he took a step forward to pat Gene’s shoulder. “You’ll figure it out. I’m counting on you.”

 

A few days passed, and Gene found himself writing and rewriting the same scene over and over. He could whip up a decent fantasy landscape and come up with solid characters: romantic settings, however, were not his forte. Imagine him standing in a nondescript ballroom with a flimsy capelet, curtseying at some prince with a chiseled jaw, ready to take his hand and dance the night away. Or worse, lying somewhere apathetically, waiting to be kissed by a guy who would carry him around everywhere until he truly woke up. That was just absurd. He had two working legs, thank you very much. 


A glass of iced coffee with a straw was placed in front of him, and he pulled the straw towards, drinking hurriedly while he researched possible settings for the insufferable meet-cute he needed to write. As he scrolled through pictures of restaurants with the most romantic view of Bangkok, he felt around for the small plate of cake that Aoey normally brought over. However, after searching the table, he only came across a hand that was placed on top of it. Gene instinctively clasped around it - maybe Aoey was on his phone and would realize he had not brought Gene his cake. 


“Hey, uh, could you maybe-” 


The words got stuck in Gene’s throat as he looked up from his screen. It wasn’t Aoey who was sitting there, nor was it Aoey’s hand he was still holding. No, opposite of him sat an unfamiliar man who was smiling like a cheshire cat. Gene let out a rather undignified sound and retracted his hand, nervously rubbing it on his trousers. 


He gulped and forced himself to face the man, suppressing his instinct to leave the café and never look back, establishing himself in London as a bookseller in a bookshop no one ever visited. 


“Uh, sorry. I thought that Aoey, I mean, the baker, no, the owner, he always brings me coffee with cake, so,” Gene stammered out after hurriedly greeting the stranger. 


The man greeted him back and then leaned more into the table, resting his head on his hands, the smug grin firmly in place. 


“You are even cuter from close up.” 


Gene furrowed his brows and stared at the table next to him in disbelief. 


“I don’t think I know you.”


“Then let’s change that. I want to know everything there is to know about this gorgeous man,” the stranger said, his smile taking on almost comical proportions. Gene looked down at his drink, slowly tracing the seam of his trouser pocket with his hand, unsure how to respond. 


“Now, I heard you wanted cake? I’ll go ask the baker for the best one he has on offer today.”


Gene could only nod dumbly as the man got up and made his way over to the counter. He pulled over his iced coffee, clutching around it with his hands, hoping the cold would shock him into something that resembled a person, and not the goldfish he was currently impersonating. 


Just as he had started his computer, which had gone into sleep mode, the man came back with a plate of pie. 


“Here, it’s a piece of flan . The owner assured me it was good.”


Gene shook his head in amusement. 


“All of Aoey’s stuff is. I eat everything as long as it doesn’t have mango in it.”


“Noted. One: likes to sit in secluded corners. Two: drinks coffee like it’s water. Three: hates mango. Four-”


“Okay, okay. I get it. You are a stalker. You don’t have to list a top ten,” Gene interrupted him, embarrassment creeping up his spine. 


“Just an admirer. Can I add one more thing to the list, though?” the stranger looked at him with pleading eyes. They reminded Gene of a cat that was waiting around for treats, seemingly having forgotten that it had had some a moment before. Gene sighed and gave him the go-ahead. 


“What’s your name?”


“Gene,” Gene said. The man kept looking directly at him, which unnerved him. Belatedly, he realized it was probably polite to return the gesture. “What’s yours?


“My name is Nubsib. I hope to hear you say it some time soon.”


With that the man, no, Nubsib , said his goodbye, his parting smile a portion too smug for Gene’s liking. 


Which left Gene sitting there. Taking a look around his space, he took his first bite of pie. Suddenly, that romantic meet-cute didn’t seem too hard to write. He got to work, munching on the piece of flan .


A while later, he went to the counter to get a refill from Tum, who teased him about freezing up when faced with a hot man - his words, not Gene’s. Tiffy sat close, probably waiting for her next order to be ready, and seemed to be just as amused. Gene grumbled that they were no people to talk, given that they were the most oblivious people on the planet, before he took his third iced coffee of the day back to his writing corner, ready to summon more sappiness. 

 

It continued like that for some weeks. Nubsib popped in at random times of the day, brought Gene a piece of whatever cake was served that day and an iced latte with varying flavours. At first, Gene found it incredibly annoying and distracting – and honestly, still kind of creepy. But even if it didn’t seem like they had anything in common, it distracted Gene from writing, and Nubsib calling him cute every five minutes got old very fast, Gene couldn’t find himself to tell the man to stop or leave. There was something interesting in the way Nubsib carried himself, how attentively he listened and how openly he talked. 


The initial stalker vibe was pretty much gone by the next week, but the thing that continued to make Gene uncomfortable was that Nubsib only seemed to care about getting to know Gene and completely brushing off the people working at the coffee shop in the process. Not only did it upset all of them but Gene considered them his good friends after spending months upon months in the same place, so he wasn’t too pleased with Nubsib’s way of only being considerate of him and no one else.


Finally, Nubsib learned his lesson when Aoey one day made him a mango flavoured coffee to give to Gene after Nubsib was particularly rude and dismissive. Gene might have been scarred for life, but ever since getting that particular scolding – which Aoey got, too, still, he stood behind his method, claiming it was for the best and Gene couldn’t exactly argue – Nubsib had put effort into getting to know not only Gene but Gene’s friends as well. To everyone’s surprise, it turned out that Nubsib was actually quite smart and easy-going, even funny. And even more to Gene’s surprise, he found himself being comfortable in Nubsib’s company faster than he usually did.


So, Nubsib kept coming in, and at some point Gene noticed he was expecting it, looking forward to it, even –  he would never say it out loud though, because he would never hear the end of it. It was possible all the sweets were affecting his judgement slightly, too, but he couldn’t exactly help having such a strong sweet-tooth. The only difference to a regular was that now he was getting more goodies and the coffee shop doing slightly better, too. After all, the only reason he hadn’t gone bankrupt from spending his days at the coffee shop writing was that Aoey and Tum kept giving him ridiculous discounts or simply serving him new cakes for free to test them out. It was a win-win situation, really, even if Tum seemed to get more and more concerned about the amount of caffeine and sugar Gene was putting into his system and Aoey kept questioning when he last ate some actual food.


Gene stared at the text, reading the last two paragraphs he’d written for the fourth time. He leaned back in his chair and dropped his head back, letting out a long, frustrated sigh. The more he read through the text, the less it seemed to make sense. He took another look, only to lay his forehead against the cold table, banging it against the surface again for a good measure.


“You shouldn’t hit your forehead against things. I worry it might bruise your cute face.”


“Hi, Sib,” Gene mumbled against the table and turned his head a bit to see Nubsib putting down a new glass of iced coffee next to his half finished one, along with a plate of something that seemed like a tower of eight tiny ball-shaped pastries. “What’s that?”


“It’s, uh…” Nubsib frowned and turned to look over to the cash register where Aoey was busying himself with going over some papers. “What was this again?”


“It’s an altered mini Croquembouche ,” Aoey called over to them, not even lifting his gaze from his work, “a French wedding cake, to share and test for you two. It’s basically caries waiting to happen, just as Gene likes it.”


Gene lifted his head and pulled one of the small puffs loose, eyeing it curiously. It was golden brown and covered with rich, glossy caramel and a tuft of impossibly slim strands of spun sugar.


“A wedding cake?” Gene asked, biting into it and pushing the plate towards Nubsib that was now seated across him.


“Yeah,” Aoey lifted his head to look at them, smiling sweetly. “Somehow felt suitable, you know.”


Nubsib snickered and Gene glared at Aoey unamused, but the man simply shrugged without his smile faltering and went back to his papers. Gene sighed and turned back to his text, deciding to let it go since the Croque-whatever was, in fact, ridiculously tasty. Sadly the sweet taste didn’t make writing his main pair’s rocky getting-to-know any easier. 


Nubsib munched on a puff and looked at Gene, frowning a bit.


“Is everything okay?”


Gene took another bite from his own puff, chewing on it in silence before he shook his head.


“It’s nothing, I’m just having a bit of a sticky day with writing.”


“How so?”


“It’s just… I don’t know, actually. I don’t really know how to go on about this scene and my publisher sent me some more ridiculous ideas I’m not sure I want to put into the story.”


“Can’t you ignore them? I mean, it’s your story?” Nubsib seemed genuinely surprised and Gene appreciated the bluntness, but also knew they both knew ignoring requests from higher ups wasn’t exactly an easy feat.


“I really want to ignore them, to be honest. But she is my publisher and she also knows what sells, so I guess I have to be considerate about that too. Even if BL as a genre isn’t something I particularly like writing, either,” Gene sighed, massaging his brows to relieve the tension that seemed to be building there. 


The whole situation was a bit ridiculous and it shouldn’t have annoyed him as much as it did, but it still did. Gene didn’t exactly hate writing BL stories, since he did love creating characters and stories and conflicts. He also seemed to have a knack for the genre in question, but the problem was the amount of tropes and the tacky, unnecessary explicit sexual content that his publisher tried to push onto him – even though Gene felt barely confident in writing basic kissing and the inclusion of what was asked from him would be at the cost/writing her requests would result in/be at the cost of a coherent storyline. He told Nubsib as much, who stayed silent and listened to Gene’s venting attentively for a good 15 minutes, only offering a word of encouragement here and an agreeing hum there. When Gene finally ended his tirade, he took a deep breath and found himself feeling oddly lighter.


“Better?” Nubsib asked and grinned widely, pushing the still untouched iced coffee towards Gene. He accepted it and took a long sip, only now noticing how dry his throat felt from all the talking. The coffee wasn’t exactly cold anymore and had gotten a bit diluted from the melted ice cubes, but it still tasted delightfully sweet.


“Yeah, thanks. And sorry.”


“I don’t mind,” Nubsib reassured him, pushing the plate with the last cream puff to Gene’s direction. Gene took it and mumbled a silent thanks before biting into it. “I like listening to you. And this seems important to you.”


“Writing? Hmm, yeah. Even if I hate being stuck, I can’t really imagine any better suited job for myself.”


Gene popped the rest of the puff into his mouth, glancing pitifully at the empty plate. He should ask Aoey to make the puffs again. Nubsib seemed to like them too.


“I’m the same with acting. I just enjoy it a lot. Moments of difficulty are a part of the process, I guess.”


“Hmm.”


They fell into a comfortable silence and Gene took his diluted coffee, sipping it contently as he decided to read through the paragraphs for the fifth time. They didn’t seem as convoluted anymore, and he even noted that he actually liked the flow of them quite a lot. He still didn’t know how to continue, though.


After a couple of minutes, Nubsib cleared his throat, which caused Gene to snap back to reality from his thoughts. He looked up at Nubsib, finding him smiling at him in a way that made Gene think of foxes and cunning tales.


“What?” Gene asked, frowning doubtfully when Nubsib’s smile grew even more.

 

“I could help you, you know.”

 

“Help me?”

 

“Yeah. With the story.”

 

Gene stared at Nubsib, not entirely sure what to make of it.

 

“How?”

 

He regretted asking the moment the word left his mouth, as Nubsib’s smile broke into a wide grin that usually meant whatever he was about to say would most likely make Gene either groan or throw a napkin at him.


“You said you find it difficult to include certain things to your story. It could be solved by trying method acting.”


Despite himself, Gene could help but ask: “And that is?”


“That’s when you try to tune into the character on a level that makes expressing the emotions as sincerely as possible. Basically, you try to create the same feelings your role character might be feeling yourself, so that you understand them so well that you can confidently portray them.”


“How’s that supposed to be helpful to me? The scenes I’m struggling to include are the sexual–”


Gene snapped his mouth closed, realization dawning onto him as softly as a truck might crash into a wall. Nubsib’s grin had turned into a sly one and for a second, Gene contemplated on throwing the rest of his coffee on him just to wipe away his mischievously delighted expression.


“Sib, this isn’t funny.”


“I know it’s not, that’s why I thought it might help,” Nubsib answered without missing a beat, trying to feign innocence. He failed miserably, in Gene’s mind. “And I’m just saying, I wouldn’t mind. I’ve kissed my fair share of guys, and quite like it, actually.”


Gene rolled his eyes and was about to retort, when Aoey appeared next to their table, collecting the empty plate and glasses onto his tray.


“Can you imagine, Gene? Nubsib here is offering you this opportunity, absolutely without any ulterior motive, and he even likes to kiss guys,” he said calmly, quickly wiping the free area on the table with his free hand before turning to look at Sib with the most unimpressed expression. “Who could have possibly guessed that?”


The dry sarcasm dripping from Aoey’s voice, which was usually quite soft and lively, combined with Nubsib’s sour glare at Aoey made such an absurd scene that Gene had to huff out a laugh. The people around him were truly something else.


“Well, it’s too bad. I usually only go and kiss a guy I really like,” he finally said, breaking the staring contest between the two others. Aoey’s expression turned back into a soft smile Gene was familiar with, but the betrayal and shock on Nubsib face made him bite the inside of his lower lip in order not to burst out laughing.


“You don’t like me, Gene?” Nubsib asked in such a concerned voice Gene almost felt bad for scaring him. Almost.


“I do,” Gene said matter-of-factly and gestured at Aoey. “But I like Aoey, too. What I mean is that I only want to kiss a person I really like. Someone I might be falling for.”


Nubsib seemed to mull over his words before he leaned forward, resting his elbows onto the table as if he was taking part in a life-and-death situation kind of a discussion.


“So, do you like Aoey more than me?”


Gene glanced at Aoey who turned to look back at him, smiling brightly as a sun and cocking his head to the side dramatically. Gene snorted at his antics and Nubsib’s frown seemed to deepen slightly.


“I’d say I like you both the same.”


“Which you should take as a compliment, Sib, given how you first acted,” Aoey pointed out, making Nubsib groan. Gene was certain there was a flash of embarrassment on Nubsib’s face, but it was gone as fast as it came and replaced with newfound determination.


“Okay, so, hypothetically how much more’d you need to like me?”


“How much more’d I need to like you for what?”


“To kiss me?”


It was quite honestly impressive how after these weeks Gene still found himself completely tongue-tied with the bluntness with which Nubsib sometimes spoke to him. So instead of saying something, Gene just stared at him, ready to convince himself it was just another joke. But Nubsib was completely serious – Gene could see it in the way his smile turned into a more sincere, even a bit shy one, catching him even more off-guard. And if Gene was honest, he didn’t know how to answer Nubsib’s question, but he did know that his heart did a funny little flip at the thought of it.


“Oh wow, ew,” Aoey’s voice startled Gene and he snapped his eyes to him. Aoey half-heartedly smacked his shoulder with the rag in his hand before slowly backing away from them. “The Croquembouche was definitely the right choice for you two.”

 

A few days later found Gene sitting on a bench in front of the coffee shop. He was later than usual - which said something, as he never really woke up before midday. Sadly, it was not because of a good night’s sleep. He hadn’t been able to dodge Hin’s call this time, so here he was, having to justify himself to Bua through Hin. His poor editor didn’t really want to do this either, but they were both at the mercy of their publisher. 


“But Gene, your sense of romantic scenes has improved immensely. Bua is very happy with the cheese levels,” Hin said, and Gene felt like it was a way to soften the blow that Bua had been less than satisfied with the heat levels - her words, not Hin’s - of his writing. 


“Thanks,” Gene bowed his head instinctively, then remembered that he was talking on the phone and quickly sat up straight. 


“Did you meet a new source of inspiration?”

Gene spluttered and vehemently denied Hin’s assumption. Hin poked some slight fun at him for his reaction, before rushing off to do some reviewing. For a few seconds, Gene stared at his black phone screen. Unconsciously, he must have internalized some of Nubsib’s blatant flirting. He usually wrote by pulling from his own experiences, so this didn’t surprise him too much. But it was slightly embarrassing that even his editor - and well, friend - had cottoned on so quickly. 


With a sigh, he pocketed his phone and walked into the coffee shop. He headed straight for his table, ready to start the tedious task for the day: going through the chapter he had just finished and editing all his typos, weirdly phrased expressions and all the other stuff one just seems to accumulated in texts as a writer - like keysmashes highlighted in the most obnoxious color which stood in for text passages he couldn’t bring himself to write yet. 


When he arrived at his table, however, it seemed to be already occupied. First, there was Nubsib, nursing some kind of drink with a half-eaten piece of rhubarb tart with whipped cream sitting in front of him. Then there was Aoey, who seemed to be distracted by something in the front of the café.


“Gene! I tried to call you but you wouldn’t pick up. I was worried about you,” Nubsib said, a bit of heat in his voice. 


Gene started to stammer out an apology as he remembered they had been meeting up at 2 in the afternoon for the past few weeks. Before he could mention the unexpected call with Hin, however, Aoey shushed him. 


“Sit down and be quiet, you two. We are about to witness the most precious mating ritual.”


Gene craned his neck to look out of the window to see if any birds had started courting each other, but the usual loud noises that accompanied this act were strangely absent. Instead, an insistent giggling traveled over from the cash till. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be Tum and Tiffy, which was not really a surprise. This time, they both seemed to be holding some kind of piping bag with Tum in the front and Tiffy draped across his back, their shoulders shaking with laughter. Gene couldn’t see the cake they were working on, but he doubted it looked good enough to sell. When Tiffy held out a finger covered in icing, Tum gently wiped it off, which was Gene’s cue to look away. This was getting too much, even though he had definitely written worse. 


“Well, it seems like they are quite into it, aren't they? Mating ritual or not, that berry extract we use as food coloring is quite pricey,” Aoey said. 


Gene nodded absentmindedly, as he had noticed that Nubsib, who was tapping away on his phone, had a piece of rhubarb stuck next to his lip. 


“Um, Nubsib,” 


“Yes, Gene,” Nubsib said, looking up from his phone, a wide smile spreading on his face, making the piece of rhubarb wander up a bit. 


“You have a bit of pie stuck here,” Gene tried to indicate it on his own face, but Nubsib seemed to be not very good with left and right as he kept missing the rhubarb. 


After some awkward gesticulation from both of them, Gene tentatively stated he could remove it for him. Nubsib retorted that he would love nothing more than Gene touching him, which made Gene roll his eyes. When Gene gently plucked the rhubarb off Nubsib’s cheek and was about to brush it off on Nubsib’s plate, Nubsib grasped Gene’s hand. With a look in his eyes that firmly belonged in one of Bua’s beloved NC-scenes, he took the fingers holding the rhubarb and sucked the piece right off, all the while holding Gene’s gaze. 


“Sib,” Gene hissed, hoping none of the desperation he felt was bleeding through. 


Nubsib answered him with a faux-innocent expression and said: “Your hands are so soft, Gene.”


“Let me puke,” Aoey said from beside Gene, a look of contempt on his face. “Now I have seen two elements of my baked goods get defiled.”


Gene hung his head a bit, while Nubsib seemed to have no remorse in the slightest. 


“Even though I envy you, since my wonderful boyfriend has to work at his serious office job.” Aoey sternly fixed his eyes on Gene and Nubsib, before his demeanor shifted to a smirk. “ I get to go home to him and have my merry with him then.”


With a pat on the table in front of them, he took his leave. Gene could only stare after his retreating back with wide eyes. When he turned back to the table, Nubsib was eying Gene up, a determined look on his face. 


“Come home with me,” Nubsib said. 


“What?” Gene said, unable to counter the shamelessness he was met with once again. 


“Well, not now, but some time soon. You did leave me hanging today,” Nubsib held up his phone, showing it was now 5 in the afternoon, “so you owe me.”


Gene felt a pang of guilt and nodded mutely. Nubsib had really waited around for almost three hours for him. The glee that spread across Nubsib’s face at Gene's response was remarkable. 


“I’ll be sure to show you a good time.”


“Oi, Sib. Alright, alright." Gene conceded, cursing Nubsib’s penchant for one-liners. He trailed his eyes on the table and noticed the still half-eaten plate of rhubarb tart. He put on his best pleading face and looked up at Nubsib.


“Can I finish that for you?"


Nubsib nodded, and Gene pulled the plate over. It took him a few bites to devour the thing. He made sure to pick up every last crumb, before he put down his fork. 


"So, I'll text you a few dates you can choose from. I'll even bake you a lava cake as a treat,” Nubsib said.


Gene perked up at the mention of chocolate as Aoey laughed from where he had just finished serving some customers. 


“Good luck with that. Gene, do tell me how that moelleux au chocolat turns out.”


“I will blow him away,” Nubsib cockily stated, “in several ways.” 

 

When Nubsib had sent Gene his address for the date – was it a date ? – Gene was ready to call him out on falling back into his stalker tendencies, because at the first glance it had seemed to him that Nubsib had written down Gene’s own address. After Nubsib’s genuine confusion and Gene reading the address properly, it turned out they lived in the same building. It was a bit baffling at first, how they hadn’t run into each other. But with Nubsib often working long days, many times out of town, and Gene practically living in the coffee shop with a rather peculiar day rhythm – which he denied, even if it wasn’t too far from the truth – it wasn’t as a huge surprise that they hadn’t crossed paths.


So, one evening after wrapping up his writing for the day, Gene headed downstairs to look for the right door. He was in quite high spirits, since the day had been very efficient with regards to his novel, so Hin could give some good news to Bua on the progress, finally. As much as Gene enjoyed Nubsib’s company, the fact that he joined Gene pretty much for all of his freetime – which was suspiciously much, given he claimed to be working constantly – did slow Gene down since they usually always got caught up chatting, despite their best efforts. With Nubsib being absent the entire day, Gene had gotten a rare chance of directing all of his focus and energy into his text. 


Gene had to admit, though, that it had felt like something was missing. With Nubsib popping in almost daily, keeping Gene company, him not being there had left Gene weirdly restless. Aoey and Tiffy had relentlessly teased him over “sulking” – which was untrue, thank you very much. Even Tum had immediately sided with the two others, too – like a traitor – when’d he arrived for his shift. Nevertheless, he was very pleased to see Nubsib at the end of the day – and getting some chocolate cake was definitely a plus, too.


When Gene knocked on Nubsib’s door, it was quickly opened by Nubsib who was wearing the brightest smile along with about a half a bag of flour by the looks of it. Gene couldn’t help but laugh. 


“I knew you were baking a cake, but the amount of ingredients on your shirt instead of the bowl is quite impressive.”


“Oh?” Nubsib looked down on his previously black shirt, confused, “Is it that bad?”


“It looks like you were attacked by a flour monster,” Gene confirmed, gently plucking at Nubsib’s sleeve, making it puff out a cloud of flour.


“Ah yes, it was so terrifying, Gene,” Nubsib sighed, his tone quickly changing into a mischievous one, “it left me so shaken. Kiss it better?”


Gene scoffed and pushed past Nubsib into the flat, making the man chuckle. 


“Depends on how good the cake is going to be.”


“Oh! So if the cake is good I will get a peck?”


Nubsib closed the door and followed Gene into the living room. Gene looked around, noting how tidy and open it was, as if it was barely used. Maybe Nubsib was working a lot and rarely home, after all.


“I am here only for the baked goods, you know,” Gene pointed out, turning around to face Nubsib again, who was much closer than he expected. It made Gene stumble a step backwards. Something in Nubsib’s smile reminded him once again of Cheshire Cat.


“But do you promise?” Nubsib asked, his gaze unwavering. Gene looked at him for a good while, swallowing against the dryness of his mouth. It’s not like the thought hadn’t crossed his mind a few times over the weeks, and even more in the past few days or so. But the visible mirth in Nubsib’s expression made Gene huff instead of commenting.


“Show me the damn cake, will you?”


Nubsib dropped the teasing, patting Gene gently on his arm as a gesture of peace, and informed him he’d change his shirt and be right back. While waiting, Gene roamed around the flat slowly, shyly looking around the space and until Nubsib came back and showed the way to the table.


The sight made Gene stop in his tracks.


“Wait, what’s this?”


The table was filled with what looked like a three course meal – at least three, Gene couldn’t exactly count all the dishes, but they looked very time-consuming and unmistakingly delicious.

“I wanted to cook for you, properly. I mean, it’s your first time over and I’ve never seen you eat, so I thought it would be a good chance. I promise I’m a decent chef.”


“I do eat!”


“Cake does not count.”


“You promised me some, though. And I don’t see any.”


“So impatient. That eager to kiss me?”


Gene scowled and lifted his hand, feigning a punch in Nubsib’s direction.


“You want a beating, don’t you?”


“Oh, make it hurt! I’d love to be punched by you,” Nubsib replied without missing a beat, his tone uncomfortably close to a moan, accompanied by a shameless wink. “But let’s leave the kinky stuff until after dinner, shall we? The faster we start eating, the sooner you’ll get the lava cake you’re so desperately after.”


They ate slowly, a comfortable chatter taking place. Gene told Nubsib how much progress he’d made and what ideas he’d gotten for the end of the story, and somehow Nubsib told him how proud meant more than Gene dared to admit. In turn, Gene was more than happy to hear how Nubsib had learned to cook over the years when it started to interest him, and how he had scored an acting job in a series that was due to start filming in a few months. It didn’t come naturally to Gene to tell people how proud he was of them, but it seemed that him praising the hard work Nubsib had done was more than enough, judging by the way Nubsib’s eyes seemed to sparkle.


When it was time for the cake, Gene had quite honestly forgotten that it was the reason he’d come over in the first place. To Nubsib’s devastation, the center didn’t run like a lava cake was supposed to – and it wasn’t exactly a match against Aoey’s professional bakes – but Gene didn’t mind. The moist and rich cake was still very sweet and tasty and more than enough to leave him impressed.


After dinner, Nubsib shooed Gene out of the kitchen while he took care of the dishes. Gene ended up wandering around the living room curiously, picking up some photograph frames for a closer look and fiddling with the little nicknacks he found on the shelves and peeking into the script that was lying on the desk, which was titled Lovely Writer.


Finally, he noticed, in the corner of the couch, a sizable dragon plushie. Gene snorted quietly, not really expecting something like that among the rather monochrome and cold interior in the flat, and plopped on the couch. He lifted the toy in the air and turned it around to get a better look on it. The light blue fabric was impossibly soft to the touch.

“You like it?”

Gene lifted his gaze to Nubsib who was leaning on the doorway, arms across his chest. Something in the way he looked at Gene, the fondness in his eyes, made Gene feel instantly warm – almost like he was cared for in a way he couldn’t exactly explain.


“I do,” Gene replied, looking back at the dragon and dropping it into his lap. “I had a similar one when I was young, only that it was pink and the wing was sewn on again because it was accidentally ripped off once in a quarrel. I think my mom still has it somewhere.”


“Poor dragon, you pulled its wing off?” Nubsib asked and walked over to the couch, sitting right next to Gene.


“Yeah, well. I was quite fond of the plush and not too keen on sharing,” Gene said, absent-mindedly caresing the snout of the dragon. “I was devastated, of course, but luckily mom knew how to fix it.”


Nubsib hummed, shuffling on his seat. Gene was startled by a thumb gently wiping the corner of his mouth. His gaze snapped to Nubsib who licked his thumb, the smile turning into a familiarly teasing one. “You had some cake there. I only returned the favour, if you remember.”


Gene didn’t say anything, completely caught up in just looking at Nubsib. He was pretty sure he’d never seen the man this close, or if he had he hadn’t really looked. Of course he’d known Nubsib was attractive from the very start, but it had turned into more than that. The way Nubsib now looked at him was as if Gene made up the center of his world. Sure, he was curious, teasing and an insufferable flirt, but he was always considerate of Gene’s boundaries and rarely pushed too far – he also always apologized when he did. It was all very confusing at first, but for a while now, Gene hadn’t found it confusing at all any more – instead, he’d discovered how much he actually liked Nubsib.


“What’s on your mind, Gene? You’re making me shy, staring at me like that.”


Gene was startled out of his thoughts, blinking a couple of times. Arguably, Nubsib didn’t look shy at all, quite the opposite. Before Gene could defend himself, however, Nubsib continued: “Do you think it’s enough for you now, or will it still take more?”


Gene frowned in confusion.


“I–… Huh?”


Nubsib straightened his posture a bit, reaching for Gene’s hand and wrapping his index finger carefully around Gene’s pinky, as if he was nervous to do so. Then, Nubsib looked back at Gene, his face more serious now.


“Do you like me enough now? To kiss me?”

Oh. It was still impressive how Nubsib could make him speechless so easily. The truth was, Gene had liked Nubsib enough to kiss him for a while. He couldn’t really pinpoint anymore when it had started.


“I, uh, thought it was for the cake to decide,” Gene tried to joke, to lighten the mood. He felt successful when Nubsib huffed out a laugh.


“Yeah, well, you did say that the cake was ‘amazing’, even if the lava-part was missing,” Nubsib said, cocking his head to the side, “I’m serious, though. I only want you to kiss me if you really want it. I don’t want to force you into anything.”


Gene was a little taken aback by the sheer sincerity with which Nubsib spoke. He was also absolutely baffled by the flash of uncertainty in Nubsib’s expression: the mere thought that Nubsib might think he was forcing Gene to do anything didn’t feel right.


“You’ve never made me do anything. I’m here because I like you,” Gene said, doing his best to sound encouraging.


“Oh?” Nubsib leaned forward a bit, the uncertainty melting away, curiosity replacing it. “You like me?”


“I– Well,” Gene stuttered, taking a deep breath and instinctively leaning a bit back, away from Nubsib who was now impossibly close. “I do. Isn’t it obvious?”


“Hmm, it’s still nice to hear it,” Nubsib shrugged, visibly pleased. “Does that mean you like me so much you want to kiss me?”


Gene nodded stiffly, his words once again stuck to his throat. Nubsib leaned even closer, so close Gene could feel his breath on his lips. The way the mood had shifted now made him slightly dizzy.


“Can I?”


Nubsib’s voice was barely above a whisper. Gene nodded again, closing his eyes, and the kiss that followed was the most natural thing, easy and soft, almost a familiar one. They parted a moment later, slightly panting from the sheer intensity of the situation, and Gene made up his mind. 


He tossed the dragon plushie to the side and cupped Nubsib’s face, and pulled him back in.

 

Gene shut his laptop and stretched his arms up above his head, letting out a satisfied sigh. The final draft of his new novel had just finished sending, which meant it was finally out of his hands. The achievement felt particularly victorious, considering how the past couple of months had been quite a rollercoaster. First his final deadline for the first draft was suddenly moved and he had much less time than he’d originally been given. Soon after he was tiptoeing on the edge of a nervous breakdown due to the sudden time pressure, his initial schedule flying out of the window, and Bua calling him into her office only to demand more steamy hot spice into the novel. Not to mention how he was already planning the funeral of his writing career after being convinced he would straight up not finish on time when he got stuck on the second to last chapter a week before the deadline.


It had all been somehow even worse due to the fact that Nubsib couldn’t constantly accompany him anymore after the shooting for his new series began – a series that told the love story of a screenwriter and an actor, the irony was not lost on Gene even weeks after hearing more details on the series. It turned out to be very convenient that they lived in the same building and more often than not they ended up spending their nights together, as they didn’t have time to meet up during the day.  Even if Gene wrote through many of them out of the anxiety that was vibrating in his bones, he was very grateful for Nubsib’s presence and the man had really helped him through the hardest writer’s block he’d had with the chapter he was stuck on. After that, everything had luckily run smoothly, the novel going back and forth between Gene and Hin, until now it was finally done .


Gene took a celebratory gulp from his still cold iced coffee. Around him, guests started to leave, as it was nearly closing time. 


“Hello Gene, that smile makes you look even cuter than usual.”


Gene almost jumped out of his chair when he suddenly heard Nubsib’s voice so close to his ear. 


“Oi, Sib, I could have dropped my coffee on my laptop,” Gene admonished.


“What a way to greet. Are you not happy to see me? It’s been weeks since I had a proper day off,” Nubsib pouted. Gene of course had to admit that he was, in fact, very happy to see his boyfriend. After putting his coffee down, Gene couldn’t contain his happiness about sending in his draft any longer. While telling Nubsib about the draft and the server being down for a few seconds, which had stressed him out to no end, he took Nubsib’s hand and squeezed it. He wouldn’t dare kiss Nubsib this publicly, even though their audience was made up of Tum and Aoey, who were slowly cleaning away the things their last customers had left behind. Nubsib sent his usual smile Gene’s way. 


“We should get going, they’re closing soon. Do you want a celebratory coffee, though? I can ask Tum to still make you one,” Gene got up with his own glass, half in a mind to ask for a refill if he was going to the counter anyway. 


To his surprise, Nubsib’s face soured at the mention of coffee. 


“No, get me some nice black tea.”


Gene frowned. 


“Tea?”


“I, uhm. Don’t really like coffee, actually.”


“...But you have been drinking iced coffee with me since we met?”


“Well,” Nubsib shrugged, “I wanted to have something we could bond over. And I knew your order from coming in every day. And I actually have ordered black tea sometimes, but only when you were too occupied to notice.”


“Stalker,” Gene retorted after a pause, but there wasn’t a trace of sheepishness on Nubsib’s face. 


“Only desperately smitten,” Nubsib answered, looking way too smug to Gene’s liking, “and I still am, Gene.”


Really, that man was lucky he was so handsome - the bold bastard. Gene rolled his eyes and went over to order. 


He managed to convince Tum to make Nubsib some tea, handing over his old iced coffee glass instead of getting a new one, as Tum was already shutting down the machine. Gene thanked him, before going back to his table. He handed Nubsib his tea and started packing his things one by one. There wasn’t much, just his laptop, notepad and a ballpoint pen. All the while, he kept questioning himself why he hadn’t noticed that Nubsib didn’t like coffee. Now that he thought of it, he had never seen Nubsib drink a lot of his coffee cups. 


“Can I take your hand?” Nubsib asked over the rim of his teacup, a glint of mischievousness in his eyes. 


Gene huffed, but offered his hand to Nubsib. He liked the constant touching that Nubsib seemed to crave, even if he wasn’t too big on grand gestures in public. Nubsib happily laced their fingers, bringing up Gene’s hand and quickly pressing a feathery light sniff kiss on his knuckles before bringing their hands onto the table.


“Finally!”


The gesture was so small, quick and simple, but they should have known it would not go unnoticed in the coffee shop where everyone was more curious than was probably healthy. Gene gave Nubsib a sour look before looking over to Aoey who had made his way to the table. Gene wasn’t sure if it was for better or for worse how Aoey didn’t look surprised at all.


“I honestly don’t know how you two kept it in your pants this long, though. You lost me a bet!”


“A bet?” Gene asked, glancing at Tum who was making a wild – and hilariously stupid – winning dance behind the counter.


“I bet you would lay low for around a month,” Aoey confirmed, pouting, and nodded towards the counter, “Tum won with a two-month guess. Tiffy had the most faith in you, she guessed six months, bless her foolish heart.”


Gene stared at Aoey, speechless, and turned to Nubsib, shoving him lightly by bumping their shoulders together.


“This is your fault.”


“What? The bet?” Nubsib asked, faux innocence written all over his face. “They were the ones betting on us, shouldn’t you blame them?”


“You’re the one blatantly flirting with me at every given chance,” Gene said, squinting at Nubsib. “That alone makes you complicit.”


“Hmm, yeah, probably.”


Gene would’ve been more mad at the shameless tone of Nubsib’s, if it wasn’t for the most charming smile that accompanied it. Gene rolled his eyes, looked back at Aoey, nodding at his clothes.


“Where are you going, anyway, looking so dressed up?”


Aoey had shouldered his nice leather bag, wearing a rather tailored looking dress jacket accompanied with a sleek shirt and a pair of shoes that were so polished Gene could probably have seen his reflection if he looked close enough. With an amused smile, Aoey waved his car keys. 

“I’m leaving early today: my boyfriend and I are going to check out that new Italian Thai fusion restaurant. Don’t keep Tum too long, will you? I heard a rumor he, too, has some evening plans – with our very own courier,” he said, leaning a bit closer to whisper the last sentence. Gene’s eyebrows shot up and he turned to look at Tum, only to be shushed by Aoey before he could ask anything.


“It’s a very new and delicate situation, don’t you tease him.”

“New? I thought they’ve been at it since I first walked in here,” Nubsib said, not particularly aimed at anyone as he curiously glanced over to Tum.


“And all of you have been teasing us for months on end. How is that fair?” Gene asked, only to be met by Aoey’s smirk.


“Should’ve thought of that when you chose your location of courting. My café, my rules.”


Gene let out a small snort, before telling him to have fun, while Nubsib nodded in agreement. Aoey left with a wide smile, and Gene felt truly happy for him. He and his boyfriend really liked exploring a different restaurant as often as they could afford it, while Gene and Nubsib were much more homebodies. 


Nubsib brought back his teacup, which Tum, who had already changed into his regular attire, quickly dealt with before shooing them out of the café and exiting the place close behind them. When they got out of the café, Tiffy was already waiting next to her motorcycle. Gene watched as Tum walked up to her, almost falling over his own feet because he kept staring at her. Tiffy got on the motorcycle, patting the seat behind her, holding out a helmet for Tum. He hesitantly took it, and it seemed as if this was his first time riding with Tiffy. With a huff of irritation, Tiffy took the helmet from him and plopped it on this head, fastening the safety strap. Tum finally got on the bike behind her and slowly snaked his arms around Tiffy’s middle, a look of wondrous happiness on his face. 


“Bye Gene, bye Nubsib,” Tiffy shouted over the roar of the bike, while Tum demurely waved from behind her, before bringing his arm back around her and hiding his face in Tiffy’s hair. With that, they drove off into the busy Bangkok traffic. 


Gene looked over to Nubsib, who was staring pensively into the direction the bike had just left. 


“What?” Gene asked, sneaking his hand into Nubsib’s, interlocking their fingers. 


“I was just wondering if I should get a bike. You would look so cute in a helmet like that. And you could hold onto me for the whole ride, not like when we are driving and have to keep our hands to ourselves.”


“There’s absolutely no way I’ll climb on a bike like that. And I thought you liked driving places together?” Gene paused, looking up at him for dramatic effect. “You have betrayed me once before. What was that whole coffee thing?”


“Getting your attention was all that mattered. I would brave acting in the shittiest series or promoting the most damaging product if it meant I could get close to you,” Nubsib leaned closer to Gene, squeezing his hand.  


“You sound like one of those cheesy BL stereotypes. I should really record you so I’d know what to avoid when writing.” 


Nubsib just laughed, not ashamed in the slightest.


“Speaking of cheese. I was thinking we could have pizza tonight. Order in, and then…” 


He sent Gene a look that could only mean one thing. Gene shook his head, but squeezed Nubsib’s hand back. 


“Alright. I’ll order us some espresso shots for dessert.”


Nubsib let out a long-suffering sigh and Gene cackled as they made their way over to the car. 


Later in the evening Gene fulfilled his threat and chased Nubsib around the flat with an espresso shot in his hand, laughing from the bottom of his heart at the utter disgust on Nubsib’s face when he finally surrendered and downed the espresso. And somewhere in between the soft kisses of consolation, Gene wondered where the line between like and love was, and if they had already, imperceptibly, crossed it.