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Solidly Grounded in Coffee

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Shane had really not pictured himself still working at a coffee shop six months after graduating. It was cozy, it was nice, but he honestly didn’t go to college just to end up with the exact same job that he had had during high school. At least nearly all of his closest friends from college were also stuck there with him.

When Shane had applied for college after a gap year, he had stayed in Chicago mostly because, well, why not. He had been offered a scholarship, and he wouldn’t even have to move. Well, maybe - just maybe - he should have picked another major, but he loved anthropology, and he couldn’t see himself studying something boring like law or business.

“Who would’ve guessed,” Andrew said during their shift one day, sarcasm lacing his voice. They had met through friends their freshman year in college, and had been best friends ever since. “That we’d all just stay here at a job that doesn’t even remotely relate to our degrees.”

“Welcome to the American dream, my friend,” Shane muttered, finding a towel to dry the cup in his hand. “You know, there is a possibility that maybe, just maybe, we should have picked other majors and minors? Apparently the demand isn’t huge for anthropology majors with a minor in creative writing. Who knew?”

Andrew chuckled at his sarcasm, shaking his head with a helpless grin.

“Yeah, so weird, right? I imagined everyone would come knocking at my door, I mean, who doesn’t find cinema and media studies relevant?” Andrew joked back.

“Dude, you have to admit that choosing fucking Norwegian studies as your minor did not help your case,” Shane deadpanned, thinking back to when Andrew had told him his minor when they first met. He’d thought that the other man might be joking, but apparently he hadn’t been. “Like, come on. Your grandparents are all Ukrainian.”

“I heard it was easier than Russian, and I wanted to do something different!” Andrew exclaimed, throwing a piece of paper towel at him. “And I don’t think my grandparents would be too happy about me choosing Russian. Ukrainian patriotism and all that.”

“Russian and East European studies would at least be slightly more relevant,” Shane countered, throwing the paper towel right back at him.

“I didn’t see you pursuing any Polish, so shut the fuck up, Madej,” Andrew pointed out, the two grinning at each other in truce before going back to their work. Shane watched Andrew as he put icing on cupcakes with levels of precision he himself could only dream of.

“You should seriously ask for a promotion, dude. You spend more time baking and decorating than you do making coffee anyway.”

“I know,” Andrew sighed, not taking his eyes off the gradually more and more intricately decorated cupcakes. “I’m not nearly as good as Rie was, though. And until I am, I won’t get a raise.”

“That shouldn’t be legal,” Shane frowned, but didn’t elaborate as he didn’t want to distract him further. Ever since they all turned into full-time employees they’d all gotten a small raise, and Sara, Adam and Shane had all been promoted. Sara to manager, Shane to assistant manager, Adam responsible for making the schedules. Andrew and Inga did get slightly higher salaries due to the cake decorating and being shift managers, but still not nearly enough, just enough to cover what they would lose in tips.

It had been a slow day, surprising pretty much no one. Another Starbucks had opened just down the block, and everyone knows that small quaint coffee shops just don’t compete well with the big chains. Even if Shane definitely did pride himself on knowing more about coffee, beans and brewing techniques than any of the employees at the chains ever would.

"Is Adam working tomorrow?" Shane turned back to look at Andrew. “I still can’t remember the new schedules after they hired the two new part-time employees.”

The only full time employees were himself, Andrew, Adam, Inga and Sara, and usually at least two of them were working at the same time. If not, the part time employees usually kept them company, two at a time. That was mostly during the weekends and a couple of nights during the week, though. Shane didn't exactly dislike any of the students working there part time, but he would choose working with his friends any day.

"Tomorrow? Yeah, I'm pretty sure. Inga and I are opening, Adam starts at 10, and then you and Sara are closing, I think," Andrew replied, actually looking up from the cupcakes to meet Shane’s eyes . Shane noticed that there were only a few cupcakes left to be decorated, but he also knew that Andrew had a lot of work left with all the other baked goods.

"I hope that tomorrow will be slightly busier, at least," Shane sighed. It was at least comforting to know that he would have Sara there while closing up, ensuring that it’s going to be a fun shift.

He and Sara met in high school, right after their auditions for the school play her freshman and his sophomore year. It hadn’t taken long before they were nearly inseparable, one of them rarely seen without the other close behind.

Sara had applied to the University of Chicago as well, majoring in theater and performance studies. She had met Adam in one of her classes, who in turn had met Andrew, and the four of them quickly formed a weird, dysfunctional, but still strangely compatible friend group.

Ella, Niki, Kelsey, Annie, Zach and Keith had seemingly appeared out of nowhere sometime during their sophomore year, and by graduation an additional five more people had joined them for their weekly movie nights that eventually turned into a Movie Club. Shane and Sara had also managed to convince Andrew, Adam, Inga, Niki and Ella to apply for part time jobs at the coffee shop with them.

It was mostly Zach and Ned’s doing that Shane and Sara tried dating their sophomore year of college. They had been holding hands while out for a walk, about two months into their relationship, when Shane admitted that he thought he might be gay. To Sara’s credit, she’d only smiled and hugged him while declaring her unending support. Shane was also pretty sure she had let out a sigh of relief, but that was never confirmed. In the end, they ended up even better friends than they’d been before.

“Probab-” as Andrew was about to say something, the bell signaling that someone had entered their shop went off. Shane smiled apologetically at Andrew before walking up to the counter, smiling and greeting at the two men in front of him.

"Good evening, welcome to Solid Ground, how can I help you tonight?" Shane smiled politely at them. The two men were looking quite bewildered as he pointed at the menu, looking at each other with obvious confusion.

“Sorry, we’ve never been here before, we just heard that some of our friends have started working here, so we decided to check it out,” the taller blond one of the two men in front of him said.

Shane couldn’t help but let out a chuckle, briefly wondering who their friends were. "I'll help you out. First, do you want something iced or something hot?"

"Iced," the same man said, at the exact same time as the slightly shorter dark haired man next to him said that he wanted something hot. Shane took mental note of it.

"Okay,” he looked at the blond one, trying to just get done with one of them. “Iced, yeah? Do you want something coffee based, tea based, something fruity, or something like a cream frappe?”

“Maybe something tea based, but like, still fruity? You know? And preferably still with caffeine if that’s even possible,” the man replied, looking at their menu. Shane knew that their menu wasn’t the easiest to read if they’d never been there before, but he figured that was part of his job. Helping people figure out what they want.

“Oh, yeah, sure. So, how about a strawberry iced white tea, sub water with redbull?” Shane suggested, thinking through all of the options from the menu. He eventually settled on something he knew, the drink being one of Inga’s go-tos whenever she was tired of coffee. “It sounds weird, I know, but it’s good for a pick-me-up, I promise.”

“Sure!” the man in front of him lit up. “A medium one of that, then.”

“To go?” Shane asked, punching the drink into the registry once he saw him shake his head. He told the guy the total, and as he paid, he couldn’t resist looking over at the friend. The friend was still looking up at the menu, gnawing at his bottom lip and trying to figure out what to order. He was probably one of the best looking men Shane had ever seen, and he was not ashamed to admit it.

“And you?” he asked, turning to face him. “What do you want? Coffee? Tea? Hot chocolate?”

“Coffee, definitely. Probably sweetened and with milk. I have no idea what, though.”

“What flavors do you like?” Shane then asked, trying to mentally go through the list of drinks and syrups in their repertoire.

“Flavors?” the other guy frowned, and Shane let out a small chuckle.

“Yeah! Like, say, in a cookie, what flavors do you like?”

“Oh! Uhm, I guess standard chocolate chip, snickerdoodle, maple syrup. I don’t know. Just make me something you like? I’m not picky.”

“Something I like? Huh,” Shane had to think for a bit. “Sure. What size do you want?”

“Large, thank you.”

“No problem,” Shane smiled, entered a light syrup cinnabun latte into the registry, took his payment, then started making their drinks. Usually they would be one working the registry, and one making the drinks, but seeing as tuesday nights used to be quiet even before starbucks opened nearby, they had cut it down to one being at the front, and one working in the back. Not that Shane minded it much, he enjoyed both talking to the customers and making drinks.

Once he had made the drinks, he brought them over to where the friends were sitting. He didn't mean to, but he couldn't help but overhear their conversation just slightly on his way over there.

"I'm telling you, man!" the blond exclaimed. “She is totally into you, Justin told me! You should ask her out."

"I just got out of a relationship, dude," the good looking one sighed. "I'm not sure I want to be dating again just yet."

"It's been three months, it's fine, man. No one would judge you."

"I know that, I'm just not ready yet."

That's when Shane was at their table, handing them their respective drinks and telling them to ring the bell at the counter if they needed anything. He went back to the back of the store to where Andrew was. Andrew was still busy decorating, but had at least moved on to the bigger cakes that would be split into pieces the next morning.

"You good?" Shane asked, earning a hum and a nod from Andrew. He recognized the hum as a slightly dissatisfied one, though, so he wasn't exactly fully convinced. "Can I help?"

"Actually, yes," Andrew said, looking around him. "I could really use some help with the triple chocolate muffins. I'm going to be stuck here for ages if not."

Shane rarely spent time working in the back, but if he did it was either for big catering events, or baking cookies and making standard sandwiches. He sometimes helped Andrew or Inga out with the simpler decorating tasks, but never anything that involved piping. Muffins, though? That, he could do. That was just dipping them into icing or ganache.

"I really, really miss Rie," Andrew sighed.

Rie used to be the pastry chef responsible for all baked goods in the shop, but she had gotten an offer she couldn't refuse from some restaurant that had offered double her current pay. They were all happy for her, of course, but the owners insisted that they kept the same menu, so now Inga and Andrew were stuck baking and decorating nearly their entire shifts.

Both Adam and Shane himself had been rendered quite useless, and were therefore placed at the front of the store instead. It also meant that Shane and Adam rarely worked together, only during rush hours. Sara did really well at decorating, though not as well as the two others, so she was mostly covering whatever shift needed to be covered.

"Yeah, me too. She was like the big sister I always wanted," Shane nodded, grabbing the chocolate muffins from the fridge. He still found it a bit weird that they were dipping them into chocolate ganache, but it had been explained to him once that they stayed ‘moist’ for longer if they were. "I don't miss her assumptions about us, though."

Andrew chuckled at Shane’s gesticulations between the two of them. When Shane came out to all their friends and at work, it hadn't taken too long before Andrew came out as bi. As the two had been pretty close even before that, it became a recurring joke that the two of them were secretly having a relationship. He knew that none of their friends actually believed they were, but he could see how someone like Rie would assume so.

Shane and Andrew were often found in each other's personal bubble, either leaning on each other, or just holding hands every now and then. It wasn’t because they were into each other or anything of that sort, it was just something they both found comfort in. Neither of them were really touchy-feely anyway, and so they figured that the best way to get the comfort they sometimes needed, was to get it from each other.

“Don’t you have customers out front?” Andrew asked eventually, and Shane peeked out through the glass over the counter that separated the front and the back. The two friends were still sitting at the same table, the blond one showing the good looking one something on his phone.

“Yeah, but they’re just out there chilling, it’s fine,” Shane shrugged, dipping another muffin into the ganache. “Would you like to hang out on Friday? Go out for a drink or something? We work the opening shift, and I’m pretty sure we both have Saturday off.”

“Oh, yes, please,” Andrew looked over at him, positively beaming. They saw each other almost every day because of work, but they rarely spent some time together doing anything else anymore. “I haven’t had a drink in ages.”

After a small but comfortable silence had settled between them, Shane heard Andrew let out a small hiss as he decorated one of the cakes. He looked over at his friend, raising his brows.

“My hands and wrists are killing me, man.”

Shane chuckled at him, glancing down at Andrew’s hands. No wonder they were cramping up, as much as he was squeezing those damn piping bags.

“Are you sure that there’s nothing other than this I can do?” he asked him, pursing his lips slightly. There had to be something he was capable of doing, surely.

“I don’t know,” Andrew sighed, wiping his forehead with his arm. “Maybe. You could probably manage to do this, right? And then I can smooth it out?”

Shane watched him demonstrate what he meant. He was pretty much just squeezing the piping bag while spinning the cake board.

“I can try? You obviously need a break.”

“Thanks,” Andrew nodded, handing him the bag. Shane frowned in concentration, trying to mimic Andrew’s earlier piping work. It wasn’t too bad, but going by Andrew’s chuckling, he was doing something wrong.

“What?”

“Nothing, it’s good, you just look like you’ve been asked to dismantle a bomb or something. Not decorate a cake,” Andrew grinned, grabbing the offset spatula and starting to smooth out the butter cream. “Now do the eight other ones, please.”

“Yes, mom,” Shane said in a teasing voice, moving onto the next cake and doing the same thing. By the seventh cake, his wrist felt like it was going to fall off, and he had no idea how Andrew managed to decorate 80 cupcakes and 20 cakes a day. “Man, how the fuck are your wrists still attached to your arms?”

“Masochism,” Andrew shrugged, grinning over at Shane when he let out a strangled noise. “No, you just, you get used to it.”

“Damn,” Shane sighed, moving to finish up the last two. “I’m not jealous of your job. Do you ever wish you were still on coffee duty?”

“No, actually not,” the blond shook his head. “I like this, even if it hurts it can be quite therapeutic. I get to be more creative too.”

“Sucks that you’re still paid the same, though,” Shane told him, wincing as he stretched his fingers out once he was done with the last cake. “Still want me to finish up the muffins?”

“If you can? I’ll clean the floor in the café.”

Shane quickly looked out at the tables, seeing that the two friends were still sitting there and chatting. He noticed how the smaller man’s eyes wrinkled up when he laughed, how happy and enthusiastic he seemed while talking. It almost made Shane’s heart pick up a little. He was about to look away, when his eyes met the brown eyes of the customer.

“Deal,” he told Andrew, quickly turning around with a blush.

“You’re blushing,” Andrew realized with a smirk. “Handsome customer?”

“Shut up,” Shane muttered, feeling his face heat up even further. “Go back to your cakes, Ilnyckyj.”

Andrew ignored him completely and peaked out the glass, before shrugging.

“Never seen any of them before,” he told Shane who shrugged.

“So let me just crush and plan my wedding to this stranger in peace,” he said with a sigh, walking back to where the muffins and ganache were. “The chances of ever seeing him again is miniscule.”

“If you say so,” his best friend hummed, apparently piping some flowers onto a cake. “I think you need to get laid, man.”

“Eh, well,” Shane grimaced, but he realized he was right. It had been nearly a year since the last time, and that had been a very drunken hook up with a random dude from one of his classes. “I think you might be right.”

“Probably good that we’re going out on Friday then.”

“Probably,” Shane grinned. “Unless?”

He winked at Andrew, who promptly threw the towel he had slung over his shoulder at Shane’s face.

“Not happening, ever,” Andrew shook his head with a grimace. “I’m thinking of doing something that might be very stupid.”

“Hooking up with me?” Shane asked with a grin, handing him back the towel he had thrown. He knew that it wasn’t going to happen, the two of them having agreed to never take the chance of ruining their friendship ages ago.

“Ugh, no,” Andrew grimaced. “I’ve been thinking of maybe signing up for pastry classes. That way they have to bump my pay up, and I’ve kind of realized that I won’t ever get that internship I applied for. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up making baking videos on youtube or something.”

“It’s not stupid,” Shane told him after thinking about it. Andrew seemed to be genuinely enjoying his time baking and decorating, despite sometimes complaining for hours. “Sounds really expensive, though.”

“It is,” Andrew nodded with a sigh. “I still have some college savings left though, due to the scholarship.”

“I’m all for it, at least,” he told his best friend, glancing over at him as he was dipping another muffin. “You should think about it some more.”

“I’ll ask Adam what he thinks about it too.”

“Do that,” Shane nodded, finishing up the last three muffins. “I’m going back to the front, start cleaning the espresso machine and stuff like that.”

Andrew didn’t reply to him, so Shane quickly put the muffins back in the fridge before going back up front. He noticed that the customers were still there, so he walked over to them with a smile.

“Hey, just letting you know that we’re closing down in twenty minutes, but you’re more than welcome to stay until then,” he told them, mostly looking at the blond one to keep himself from blushing.

“Oh, okay! Thanks,” the smaller one grinned, Shane relented and smiled back at him. God, he was actually beautiful.

“I’m cleaning the espresso machine now, but can I get you anything else before I do?” Shane looked at their empty cup and glass. “Do you want me to take those for you?”

“Please,” the blond one smiled at him. “And no thanks, I think we’re all set.”

“Sure,” he smiled back, grabbing the cup and glass before heading back behind the counter to start cleaning the espresso machine and the counters themselves. It took him about fifteen minutes in total, and the customers were about to leave once he had finished up.

“Good night, hope to see you again,” Shane told them as they left, throwing up his hand to flip off a snickering Andrew behind him once the door was closed.

“I’m sure you hope to see them again,” Andrew teased him, before walking past him and into the closet to get the stuff for cleaning the floors. Shane sighed and moved to grab another cloth from underneath the sink to wash all their tables. Before that he locked the door and turned their “open” sign around, closing the blinds.

They finished right around 9:30, which was when they were supposed to leave anyway. They both signed out, walking to Shane’s car. He drove Andrew home, as he did every Tuesday, then got back to his own apartment.

Shane spent an embarrassing amount of time on Facebook, trying to find the guy from earlier. They’d said some of their friends had just started working there, so he quickly sent friend requests to the four new employees. Two of them had started only a week ago, but the two others had worked there for a couple of months already so he probably should have sent a request sooner.

Maycie accepted the friend request almost immediately, and he hoped she didn’t find it too weird that he’d sent one now after being totally uninterested for the past ten weeks. Looking through her profile, he didn’t really find anything too exciting. A couple of pictures with her boyfriend and one with another employee he’d sent a request to (Jen? Yeah, that sounded right).

He went through Freddie’s profile too, but nothing of interest there either. She’d sent him a message, though, asking if she’d seen a watch she’d forgotten earlier that day. He thought back to it, replying that he was pretty sure he’d put it in the lost and found behind the counter.

Jen had a few photos on her profile, including some of what he thought may be the handsome guy from earlier. They were too blurry for him to notice, though, so he soon gave up. Quinta’s profile, however, gave him his first real lead.

It was a picture of her, the blond one from earlier, and someone else that had been tagged as Justin Tan. The man from earlier had sadly not been tagged, but he went onto the Justin guy’s profile, as the name rang a bell from the conversation he’d overheard.

“This is so unlike me,” he muttered to himself, falling deeper and deeper down the dark hole that was facebook stalking by the second. He just had to find him, for some fucked up reason. After being unsuccessful in finding any further leads, though, he gave up with a self-deprecating sigh and sent a text to Andrew. What he’d just done was so fucking creepy.

You: I’m seriously contemplating whether I should just download grindr
You: I just spent nearly two hours on facebook trying to find that customer
Andrew: and you call me creepy
You: Not my fault you were coming onto ashly like a creep back in the day
Andrew: fuck you
Andrew: but did you find him?
You: Nope
Andrew: try instagram?
You: Why the fuck are you encouraging me
Andrew: don’t know. it’s fun
You: :/

Shane managed to resist going on instagram, but he couldn’t resist looking up with a way too interested look every time the bell of the door rang at work the next day.

“Are you going to tell me who you were looking for?” Sara asked him, once they had locked the shop the following day. “You looked like someone stole your candy every time someone stepped inside.”

“Maybe I just really want some candy,” Shane shrugged, completely avoiding her question. It was so embarrassing.

“Yeah, sure,” Sara rolled her eyes at him. “Who’s the guy?”

“I don’t actually know,” Shane told her. “He was here yesterday, and now I can’t get him out of my head.”

“You need to get laid, dude.”

“That’s what Andrew said too,” he admitted with a sigh, feeling a blush creeping up his neck. “I actually tried to facebook-stalk him, Sara. It was so embarrassing. I didn’t even find him!”

Sara started laughing, putting a hand on his shoulder as she did. He tried glaring at her, but his best friend did make it quite impossible to be mad at her.

“You actually tried stalking him?” she exclaimed, still laughing. “Oh, I need to see this dude.”

“Good luck, the only stuff I know about him is that he likes coffee, he got out of a relationship three months ago, he is very good looking, and probably straight. Oh, and friends with some of the new part-timers.”

“That’s a lot to go off of, what do you mean?” Sara stared at him. “You have to be horrible at stalking. Did you even check instagram?”

“No, I figured I should stop before I entered, like, creepy serial killer stage,” he shrugged, unable to help the smile appearing on his lips.

“I’m going to find your man for you, Madej,” she said, her voice way too confident for his liking. “At least tell me what he looks like.”

“Nope,” Shane shook his head. “I’m not unleashing the monster you’ll no doubt turn into if you happen to find him. Or worse, meet him.”

“Aw, what do you mean? I’m adorable.”

“You’re also scary,” he pointed out, finishing up his task of mopping the floor. “Forget it. Either I see him again, or I don’t. Doesn’t really matter anyway, does it?”

“It does,” Sara protested. “I haven’t ever seen you this hung up on someone you’ve only seen once.”

“He’s probably too young for me anyway, he’s probably, like, a freshman. I can’t be attracted to someone who isn’t even allowed to drink, Sara,” he said, eyes widening as he realized that the possibility of that was far more likely than he wanted.

“Have I ever told you that you are exhausting?” her voice was exasperated, but there was still a teasing tone to her words.

“All the time,” he nodded, still internally panicking just a bit.

“I’m still going to look for him on insta,” she told him, and he just let out a sigh of defeat.

True to her word, Sara was looking. She sent him multiple screenshots of guys the next couple of days, that he assumed she’d found on Quinta and Jen’s accounts. Apparently she’d found Justin and the blond guy - Zack, apparently - as well as a couple of others that also definitely weren’t the guy he’d served a few days earlier.

It wasn’t until Friday, a little over an hour after Shane and Andrew had opened the doors that morning, that he laid eyes on the guy again. He hadn’t noticed him at first seeing as it was during the morning rush, until Andrew had smirked knowingly at him from where he was making the drinks while Shane took orders.

He’d turned around with a frown, just to be met with the sight of the guy he’d been unable to get out of his head for the past three days. Luckily the line had cleared out, and there was no one behind him.

“Oh, hi, welcome back,” Shane said, trying to ignore the butterflies in his stomach as the man looked straight up at him with a nervous smile.

“Oh, hey,” the guy said with a small smile, frowning as he looked back at the menu.

“Have you decided on anything?” Shane asked the handsome guy from the other day, even if he was pretty sure that he knew the answer to his question. The unsure smile the dark haired man gave him told him that he was correct.

“Nope,” he said, eyes jumping back and forth between the menu and Shane. “It really doesn’t help that I forgot my glasses, and your menu is just, uh, letters.”

“Okay,” Shane laughed at him, hoping he didn’t seem quite as endeared as he was.

“Could I just get something that’s hot?” the guy eventually spoke, apparently giving up on reading the menu at all.

“Well, most of my friends tell me that I’m slightly above average, so, you know, you could get my number?” Shane’s mouth spoke before his brain managed to catch up with the words, and he felt like slamming his head against the counter. Why the fuck did he say that? He was about 90% sure the guy was straight! He pointedly ignored Andrew’s laughter behind him, resisting the urge to flip his coworker off.

Fortunately though, the guy in front of him started laughing at his stupid pick up line.

“Tempting offer,” the guy smirked, looking up at him. Shane figured that he must be nearly a head taller than him, but what the dark haired guy lacked in height, he definitely made up for in muscles. “However, I need something strong, still sweet, and definitely caffeinated.”

“Shit man, I’m pretty sweet, and definitely caffeinated, but I’m kind of lacking in the ‘strong’ department,” Shane’s mouth spoke yet again, before he let out a faux sigh that drew yet another laugh out of the guy. “I’m sorry, I’m joking. What about a double hazelnut mocha? Pretty sure that covers all of your needs.”

“That’d be great,” the guy smiled. It was a pretty infectious smile, Shane realized, unable to keep his own off his face. “A large one of that one, to go, then. Thanks.”

“No problem,” Shane smiled, figuring that he should probably apologize to him. “I’m really sorry about that, by the way. I hope I didn’t make you uncomfortable, sometimes my mouth just runs off without communicating with my brain.”

“It’s all right,” he said, smiling right back at Shane. “No worries, it didn’t make me uncomfortable. I have to be honest and say I don’t really swing that way though.”

Shane pretended not to be disappointed, even though he had already figured that to be the case.

“Again, I’m really sorry,” Shane apologized yet again, feeling awkward. “Uh, but that’s it? Can’t tempt you with a cupcake?”

“Oh, that actually sounds really good,” the guy said, grinning up at him before looking down at the cupcakes. “Just give me your best one.”

“Sure,” Shane nodded with a smile, entering the drink and the cupcake into the registry, telling him his total. The guy paid, then walked over to the designated waiting area. Shane wrote the drink instructions on the cup, handing it to Andrew with a glare.

Andrew was crouching down on the floor, doubling over with laughter.

“I fucking hate you,” Shane muttered, glaring at him once again before getting one of their lemon cupcakes and putting it in a to-go bag.

“I’m sorry,” Andrew said, although he was unable to stop laughing. Shane rolled his eyes, grabbed the cup back from him and started making the drink himself while Andrew went to the back to laugh it out. Fortunately, the other guy seemed very much preoccupied with his phone, and didn’t notice Shane and Andrew’s behavior.

Seeing as the shop was pretty much empty except for a couple of students chilling in the very back, Shane walked over to him with the coffee and cupcake once he was done.

“Here you go,” Shane said, smiling as he handed it to him. The guy looked up at him, smiling gratefully as he accepted it.

“Thanks,” the guy replied, before standing up and looking up at Shane with wide eyes. “Woah, you are really fucking tall.”

“Thanks?” Shane chuckled awkwardly, stepping back so that the other guy could get past him. “Have a nice day.”

“You too!” he beamed, before squinting his eyes at Shane’s chest. Reading his nametag, Shane supposed. “See you around then, Shane!”

“Yup,” Shane waved awkwardly, instantly walking through the door to the back with a huge groan once he was gone.

“I hate myself, Drew,” he said miserably, leaning against the counter. “Why on earth would I say that?”

“I have no idea,” Andrew said with a huge grin. “I’m sorry he rejected you, man.”

“Don’t remind me,” Shane put his head in his hands, letting out another frustrated groan. “That was literally the most embarrassing thing I have ever done.”

“Nah,” Andrew shook his head. “I can think of worse.”

“Don’t,” Shane warned him with a glare. “He told me he’d see me around. You don’t think he’ll come back and laugh at me with his friends, right? Like, he kind of strikes me as a frat boy.”

“Who knows? Maybe he will,” Andrew shrugged. “And so what? Just shows that he’s immature and you could do better.”

“Sure,” Shane nodded, sighing. “Honestly, you might have to keep me away from all men for the rest of my life.”

“Why don’t you stay back here and be on sandwich and muffin duty, and I can do the coffee for a bit? You look like you could need a break, and it’s not much I can do back here right now anyway,” Andrew suggested, looking over at him. “Just wait and see, we’ll find a cute frat boy for you to take home tonight.”

“I’m going to get so drunk,” the taller of the two said with a chuckle. “And thanks, that sounds great actually.”

“No problem,” Andrew smiled, disappearing as he went back out front.

Shane spent nearly his entire shift in the back, Andrew joining him once Freddie showed up. He helped Freddie by making the drinks as a sudden rush came, but other than that he was happy making sandwiches and dipping muffins in icing.

When Jen, one of the new employees, was the next one to arrive, Shane found himself back behind the counter and making drinks. It wasn’t too bad, though, he found Freddie to be one of his more enjoyable coworkers.

“Is it okay for you if I take a five minute break?” he asked Freddie, once they’d made all the orders and no customers were waiting in line.

“Sure, go for it,” Freddie smiled, and Shane smiled back at her before walking to the back.

To his horror, he found Andrew calling Sara and Adam over. The two had just arrived for work, and Shane was positive that Andrew was going to tell them about what happened that morning.

“Oh my god, you guys missed the best thing ever,” Andrew told the two, and Shane could already see that he was fighting his laughter. “The guy from Tuesday - the one Shane’s totally crushing on, came in this morning.”

“Andrew,” Shane sighed. “Why do you hate me?”

“No, no, he doesn’t hate you, he just loves us more. Now, tell us more, Ilnyckyj,” Sara smiled sweetly up at Shane before turning back to Andrew.

Andrew recounted the events from earlier, and Shane found himself getting more and more embarrassed by the minute. Sara was grinning from ear to ear, Adam was obviously very amused, and Andrew was laughing through every sentence.

“I honestly hate you guys so much,” Shane muttered, knowing that it would fall on deaf ears.

“Wait,” Jen turned around from where she was dipping the carrot muffins. “Ryan told me about this!”

“Ryan?” Shane frowned, looking at her.

“Yeah! He told me this morning that one of my coworkers had hit on him. I thought maybe it was Sara yesterday or something,” Jen was grinning just as wide as Sara. “Honestly, this is so much better.”

“Oh, oh! Show me a picture! Shane didn’t want to tell me what he looked like,”

“He’s short?” Shane offered, hoping to keep Sara from seeing a picture of the guy he had totally embarrassed himself in front of. Both Jen and Sara just rolled their eyes at him, and Jen pulled up a picture of what was definitely the guy.

“This is him, right?” she asked Andrew, who nodded with a smirk. “Yup, that’s Ryan. Don’t worry, Shane. It sounded like he thought you were charming.”

To his horror, she found the text she’d received earlier that morning, showing that to Sara as well.

“I don’t want to know,” Shane sighed, knowing that Sara was inevitably going to read it aloud to him.

“Aw, it’s cute! ‘Hey, Jen, I think your coworker was hitting on me’, then four question marks. Jen replied ‘tell me more’ with three exclamation marks, to which he replied ‘definitely very charming, but not really my type I think’. Jen asked him ‘who is it’ with two question marks, and he didn’t reply,” Sara said. “He said ‘not my type, I think’, Shane!”

“He told me he was straight, give it up, Sara,” he muttered, though it was definitely a flutter of hope he could feel in his chest. “How old is he anyway, Jen?”

“Uh, 19? I suppose? He’s a sophomore, that’s pretty much all I know,” Jen shrugged, and Shane gave Sara a pointed look, as if to say ‘look, he’s too young anyway’. “I met him in this movie club thing that Ella and Ashly are running.”

“I love that they continued with it even after the rest of us graduated,” Andrew said, Sara agreeing immediately. “Maybe we should drop in once, just to see if Shane can charm him some more?”

“No way,” Shane shook his head, feeling a bit overwhelmed by his friends’ pushing. “Seriously, can you drop it? He said he was straight, I’m not going to be a creep and show up to his movie club. I’m taking my break now, I’m going to get laid tonight, and then we will never talk about this again.”

He went outside via the back door, getting some well-needed air. When he got back inside, they had all dispersed and he washed his hands in the sink that was there.

“The midday rush is beginning, so everyone is at the front. You’re back on sandwich duty,” Andrew told him, looking at him with an apologetic smile. “I’m really sorry for pushing it, dude. I should have stopped.”

“You should,” Shane agreed, walking over to the counter where everything they needed for their sandwiches was spread out. “It’s fine, maybe don’t tell everyone you see about the next time I embarrass myself, though.”

“I won’t, I haven’t told anyone about the time you tr-”

“Andrew, shut the fuck up,” Shane deadpanned, making his best friend shut up immediately. “Thank you.”

“Sorry,” Andrew let out another breathless chuckle. “You’re still up for drinks tonight, right?”

“Of course,” Shane scoffed. “I’m still in dire need of a night out and a good fuck.”

“Good,” Andrew grinned, going back to whatever it was he was doing. The blond left about an hour later, his shift over. Sara joined him in the back then, Alvin taking her place in the front.

“Thirty minutes to go, then you’re free,” she told him with a small smile. Shane nodded, feeling exhausted after everything that had happened during his eight hour shift. “I’m sorry. I know we went too far.”

“It’s fine,” Shane shrugged, shutting out all his feelings. “I made a fool out of myself, you guys had your fun, no worries.”

“Stop that. You’re allowed to be mad at us, you’re allowed to be upset,” she said with a frown.

“I’m not,” he lied, looking up at her. “Just drop it.”

“Fine, we can talk about it later when you’ve stopped imprisoning your feelings. Mind if I join you and Andrew for drinks once I’m done here for the night?” Sara looked up at him with kind eyes.

“‘Course not,” he said, unable to help the smile on his lips. Sara knew him so well, and he really did appreciate her a lot. “And yeah, later.”

“Good,” she smiled. “Love you, weirdo.”

“Love you too,” he told her with a fond smile. “So, how long did it take you to find him on instagram after learning his name?”

“About one and a half minute,” she told him with a grin. He rolled his eyes at her, but didn’t stop smiling. “He’s cute. I see why you’re crushing.”

“I’m not- well- uh, yeah, he is, isn’t he?” Shane grimaced. “Why do they all have to be straight, Sara?”

“Or taken,” she butted in, making him chuckle. They were both hopeless, and he knew that. The last twenty minutes of his shift went by quickly, joking around with Sara.

[...]

Shane did fulfill half of his goals for the night at least, seeing as he was really drunk when he got home. He didn’t get laid, but that was entirely his own fault. Sara and Andrew did their best to find him a guy to take home, but at the end of the night he just wanted to go home by himself.

He was laying on his couch when the message ticked in from Sara. It was a link to the handsome guy - Ryan’s - instagram account, he realized. Too curious and drunk to think more of it, he pressed the link that took him to instagram.

Ryan Bergara. It was a cute name, he figured. Ryan’s bio consisted of a basketball emoji, his height (“5’10”? That’s surely got to be pushing it.”), and some stupid quote Shane supposed had to do with basketball. He browsed through some of the pictures, smiling to himself, before closing the app and putting his phone down.

When he woke up on his couch next day, his entire body ached and his head hurt so fucking bad. By some miracle, he didn’t feel sick or anything, mostly just like death. He groaned, and picked up his phone from where it was on the floor.

[shanemadej] @ryanbergara has requested to follow you

Shane raised his brows in surprise, but clicked the notification to see that Ryan indeed had sent him a request to follow him. He accepted it while smiling to himself, though he was a bit confused as to how Ryan found his account.

“Fuck, I managed to like one of his posts, didn’t I?” he muttered to himself, sighing deeply. He was just digging a deeper and deeper grave for himself, honestly. Luckily, Ryan didn’t message him or comment further on it, and Shane didn’t actually see or hear from him in over two weeks.

[...]

“Aw, damn, it’s you,” the customer in front of Shane said, just as he was finishing writing up the last order on a cup. Faintly recognizing the voice, his head snapped up.

“Way to make a guy feel appreciated,” he deadpanned, though he couldn’t help his smile. “I’ll help you in, like, ten seconds, I just have to finish writing down this order first.”

“Sure,” Ryan nodded, smiling at him. Shane glanced back up at him, then wrote down the last of the previous customers’ orders. When he looked up, he noticed that there were some more customers gathering behind Ryan, so he knocked on the glass window to get Ella’s attention to get her to make the drinks.

“There,” Shane said, turning his attention back towards Ryan. “‘Aw, damn’, nice to see you too.”

“Sorry,” Ryan smiled sheepishly. “I kinda hoped Brent would be working, we were talking about possibly visiting this haunted house, and I found out some really creepy details about it.”

“Haunted house?” Shane raised his brows.

“Yeah, like a real one. There’s supposed to be a demon trapped in there!” Ryan grinned, and Shane had to let out a chuckle of disbelief.

“Do you actually believe in ghosts?” he asked, unable to help the grin on his face. “There’s no way, man. I can’t believe Brent would ever believe in something like that.”

“He doesn’t, I just like arguing with him,” Ryan smiled, adorably scrunching his nose as he did so. Shane found himself looking fondly down at him.

“I’ll gladly argue with you,” he said, grimacing as he glanced behind Ryan to notice the customers behind him were getting impatient. “When there isn't a line behind you.”

“Oh, shit, sorry,” Ryan blushed. “Uh, just get me something you like. Medium, and I’ll, uh, sit here.”

“Doesn’t matter if it’s hot or iced?” Shane asked him, and when Ryan shook his head, he grabbed one of the plastic cups and wrote down the order on it. “Sure. That’s it?”

“Oh, and a cookie! Chocolate chip,” Ryan smiled another sheepish smile. Shane chuckled and put both into the registry, finding the cookie and putting it onto a plate as Ryan paid. He handed it to him with a smile, before turning to the next customer.

Once the line was gone, he told Ella that he’d be right back. By the smirk she gave him, he knew that Sara had updated her on his situation, so he flipped her off and made his way to where Ryan sat all by himself with his laptop.

“Drinkable?” Shane asked, nodding towards the barely touched cup of iced coffee next to Ryan. Ryan’s head snapped up to look at him, before breaking into a smile.

“Yeah, I- uh, I just got distracted,” he explained, taking a sip of the coffee. “It’s good. Not too sweet.”

“I don’t like overly sweet things too much,” Shane admitted, feeling a bit awkward as he just stood there. “I’m sorry for stalking your instagram, by the way. Jen told Sara your name, and she gave me your account, and I got really drunk, then yeah.”

He grimaced as he talked, but Ryan just let out an adorable giggle.

“It’s fine. I must say that I do feel very flattered,” the dark haired man said, looking up at him. “Want to sit?”

“I don’t know if I can, I’ll ask the others if I can take my break?”

“Sure, I wouldn’t mind some company,” Ryan said with a smile, and Shane pressed his lips together awkwardly before going back and asking Ella and Andrew if they would mind him taking his break.

“Go for it, man,” Andrew shrugged. “I’ll take my break once you’re done, if you think you can ice these cakes.”

“No problem,” Shane nodded.

“Have fun with your boy,” Ella told him with a smirk, and Shane rolled his eyes at both of them before grabbing a sandwich he’d made earlier and making himself a quick cup of coffee. He joined Ryan at his table, noticing that the other man had put his laptop down to give him some space.

“Jen said you were a sophomore?” Shane asked him as he sat down. “I was one of the movie club founders, you weren’t there last year.”

“No, uh, Daysha dragged me along to a movie night in September, and I got hooked,” Ryan told him with a grin. “Didn’t know you were a founder.”

“One of the original four, baby,” Shane winked, inwardly cursing a bit at himself for doing so. “It was me, Andrew, Sara and Adam at first, then more and more people joined. We were almost 20 members last year. Nice to hear that Daysha managed to drag you along.”

“Yeah I heard,” Ryan smiled, sipping his ice coffee. “We’re, uh, fourteen this semester, I think.”

“It’s nice to know that our legacy lives on,” Shane said with a grin. “So, other than movies and basketball, what do you usually do in your freetime?”

“Uh, read up on haunted places and see if I can catch any ghosts?”

“You’re kidding?” Shane raised his brows.

“No? I told you that I was going to take Brent along to this haunted house, didn’t I?” Ryan grinned playfully, and Shane let out a small groan as he rolled his eyes.

“I’m crushing on a lunatic,” he muttered, figuring that Ryan must have definitely figured out that he was crushing anyway.

“I’m not a lunatic! Ghosts are real, you just have to look at the scie-”

“If you say science, I’m actually going to walk away from this table and hope I never see you again,” Shane deadpanned. “There is no proof that ghosts exist. None.”

“Nah, you think I’m too hot for that,” Ryan joked, and Shane had to admit that the other man was right. He really was a bit too hot to be let go of forever. “And if you’re so sure, why don’t you come with me to one of my ghost hunting sessions?”

“Ghost hunt- oh my god,” Shane sighed, laughing in disbelief. “Yeah, you know what, sure. I’ll join. I can’t wait to crush all your little hopes and dreams, Bergara.”

“Oh yeah? I can’t wait to hear you admit that ghosts are real, uh-” Ryan hesitated, before laughing. “I have no idea how to pronounce your last name. Mah-deej?”

“Madej,” Shane corrected him, laughing. “And I’ll never say they’re real, because they aren’t.”

“You can’t know that for sure,” Ryan protested, making Shane roll his eyes. “How are you so sure?”

“Because I’ve never seen a fucking ghost?” Shane shrugged.

“You can’t see gravity either!”

“No, but I can drop an apple,” Shane said, looking as Ryan sagged in defeat, muttering out a ‘fuck’ through his chuckles.

“Okay, but other than chasing wind, playing with the bouncy balls and watching the moving pictures, any other interests?” he asked the smaller guy, once they’d both stopped laughing.

“Uh, I really like going to Disneyland, when I’m back home?” Ryan offered.

“Californian, huh?” Shane smirked. “Should have known.”

“Shut up. I collect sneakers, I love dogs, and I enjoy working out? Is that better for you?” Ryan asked, a small blush creeping up on his face. It was adorable.

“Yes, thank you,” Shane smiled teasingly at him. “I love reading about history, learning about weird events and trivia no one would ever need. I am really passionate about coffee, but I almost always drink it black, so making you sweet drinks I like has been such a challenge, and I like writing. If you were wondering. I also spend way too much time eating popcorn.”

“Huh,” Ryan said, actually looking a bit surprised. “Have you been working here for a long time?”

“God, yes. I started working here together with Sara my senior year of high school, when they first started, then I worked here full time like I do now during my gap year, and then part time through all of college,” Shane said, smiling. “Never thought I’d still be here, though.”

“No?” Ryan looked up at him, obviously waiting for him to explain.

“I majored in anthropology, which in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have. It was fun, though, the courses were very interesting,” Shane hummed. “I don’t know, I feel like maybe I should have chosen something more technological. Or maybe even history, that way I could at least work in archives or as a museum tour guide or something.”

“Couldn’t you do that with an anthropology degree?” Ryan frowned.

“Yeah, in theory, but almost everywhere I applied they hired someone with a history degree. So I should probably start my master’s or something next year. Aim for a PhD so I can teach.”

“I think you’d be a good teacher,” Ryan told him, shrugging. “Maybe you could start a youtube channel. Make a show about those weird history events you mentioned. Or maybe just a barista tik tok, those are quite popular.”

“Maybe,” Shane grimaced. “Eh, think I’ll pass.”

“Sure,” Ryan chuckled. “Just let me know if you ever need a cameraman. Or something.”

“Hey, Shane, your break is over in five minutes, man!” Ella called at him from behind the counter. Shane sighed and turned around in his chair before waving at her.

“It was nice getting to know you, Ryan,” Shane said with a smile, picking up his plate and empty cup as he got up. “I’m glad I didn’t completely scare you away with my bad pick-up lines.”

“They were actually quite good,” Ryan said with a grin. “Sorry for letting you down. You’re funny, I like talking to you. We should do it more often, you did promise me an argument after all.”

“Oh, no! Someone rejected me because they’re not into dicks, what will I ever do?” Shane exaggerated a sigh, hoping Ryan would recognize that he was joking. Due to how the shorter man laughed, he figured it was safe to say that he did. “Yeah, I did, didn’t I?”

“I’ll, uh, message you? On insta?”

“Oh, uh, sure. Do that,” Shane smiled. “I’ll, uh, see you around, then.”

“Yeah, see you,” Ryan grinned, pulling up his laptop again as Shane walked behind the counter to where Ella was grinning at him. He shot her a glare, washed his cup and plate, and then walked to the back to start frosting the cakes.

Andrew had written what frosting the different cakes were supposed to have, and that they had all been ordered for pick-up the next day. Shane sighed, grabbing a piping bag and the bowl of vanilla frosting. He’d helped Andrew and Sara with frosting cakes quite a few times the past couple of weeks, so he was now able to both pipe it on and smooth it out by himself. When Andrew returned, there was only one cake left to frost.

“I didn’t do the red velvet,” Shane told him, nodding towards the cakes. “The rest of them should be okay.”

“No problem,” Andrew smiled. “How was the date?”

“He’s still straight. Unfortunately,” Shane sighed. “I don’t think I could date someone who genuinely believes in ghosts anyway.”

“Wait, what?” Andrew sputtered, ending in a laugh. “Oh my god. This situation only keeps getting better.”

“I told him I’d join him in going ghost hunting, Andrew,” Shane admitted with a small groan as a blush crept up his throat. “What’s he doing to me, man?”

“I don’t know, but I sure like it,” his best friend told him with a huge grin. “Shane ‘Ghostbuster’ Madej, it has a ring to it.”

“Fuck off,” Shane rolled his eyes.

Later that night, as he and Andrew were eating a pizza on his couch, a message ticked in on his Instagram from Ryan himself.

@ryanbergara: hey
@ryanbergara: is the blond guy who works with you into guys??

@shanemadej: Andrew?

@ryanbergara: no idea. the one who was laughing his ass off when you were hitting on me

@shanemadej: Yup, that's Andrew. He is, why?

@ryanbergara: he doesn't have insta?

@shanemadej: No
@shanemadej: Why do you want to know?

@ryanbergara: my roommate is seriously crushing on him, so I wanted to play matchmaker. his name is steven, if that rings a bell for andrew

"Hey, have you served someone named Steven recently?" Shane looked up at Andrew, who had been watching TV.

"Uh, I think so? Why?"

"Apparently he has a crush on you, according to Ryan," Shane shrugged, handing Andrew his phone to show him. Andrew frowned and clicked onto Ryan's profile, scrolling until he apparently found what he was looking for. Going by the blush and quite sheepish smile on Andrew's face, the crush wasn't one-sided.

"I'll send Ryan your number so that he can give it to Steven," Shane smirked, before doing exactly that. He ignored Andrew's weak protests, knowing that the blond himself didn't even believe his own words. After he’d received a thumbs up in reply from Ryan, he put his phone back down and turned towards Andrew. “So, tell me?”

“Not much to tell. He’s come by a few times, once with Ryan, and the last time we just got stuck talking,” Andrew shrugged. “Didn’t really catch his name, though, even if I think he told me.”

“At least he’s apparently into men,” Shane said with a sigh, thinking of his own hopeless crush on Ryan. “You don’t have to worry about embarrassing yourself.”

“I’ll probably find a way,” Andrew grinned at him, then was distracted by his phone buzzing with a message. Shane smiled, finding his own phone again to see a new message from Ryan.

@ryanbergara: you guys should come by the movie night this week, eugene and ashly is hosting

@shanemadej: That’d be fun. When?

@ryanbergara: saturday at 9

@shanemadej: I’ll text the others

[...]

Shane found himself outside of Eugene, Ashly and Chantel’s apartment together with Andrew, Sara, Inga, Adam and Brent that Saturday, all of them excited to see how the movie club was getting on.

“It’s so weird being back here,” Andrew said with a chuckle, and Shane agreed. Andrew had lived together with Eugene and Ashly the previous two years, but moved out when he graduated. Brent knocked at the door, as the only actual current member of the club, and Ashly opened the door only seconds later.

“You’re here!” she exclaimed happily when she saw Andrew and Sara, hugging them both tightly. She embraced Shane, Inga and Adam too, while Brent made his way past them and into the apartment. “Ryan told us he’d invited you guys, but we didn’t really think you’d show up.”

“Of course we’ll show up if we’re invited,” Sara said with a grin, walking inside the apartment. The others followed her, until Shane, who walked in last and closed the door behind them. He was a bit nervous for the night, hoping he didn’t embarrass himself completely in front of Ryan again.

“Ey, welcome back!” Eugene told them with a grin. “You guys know how it is, just find whatever you need and settle down wherever.”

They all nodded, before going their separate ways to talk with people they hadn’t seen since their last movie night nearly five months ago. Shane ended up talking to Eugene, while Sara and Andrew talked to Ashly, Adam and Inga already finding bean bags and settling down.

Shane had very consciously not looked towards the couch where Ryan sat, browsing his phone, but as luck would have it, when they were all told to sit down, Jen forced him down in between herself and Ryan.

“Hey,” Ryan said with a smile. “You showed up.”

“Had to make sure you’re not ruining our club,” Shane retorted with a smile, before sighing and slumping down in the cushions. “Do you guys still use the bingo method to find movies?”

“You know it,” Ryan grinned at him, and Shane chuckled as he shook his head. That had been such a stupid idea that Keith and Chris had introduced during their junior year, but no one had done anything to change it either.

The bingo method was literally two bingo machines, each containing wooden balls where they’d written different genres in one of the machines, and whether it would be good or bad in the other. As Eugene brought the two machines over, Sara and some of the newer members immediately started cheering.

“As some of you guys may not know, we’re joined by the O.G. four today!” Eugene told the room with a grin. “So, of course, they’ll have the honor of rolling and picking our movie.”

The four of them looked at each other, before quickly coming to an agreement. Adam would roll for good or bad, Andrew would roll for genre, and Sara would pick the movie. Per tradition, Adam went first.

“Overhyped,” he read aloud from the ball he picked up, immediately getting some reactions from the room. Shane grimaced slightly, that was usually his least favorite category, and he’d really hoped for ironically good or hilariously bad.

“Oh, no,” Andrew sighed with a chuckle as he read what he’d picked. “Horror.”

“Yes!” Sara, Ashly and some of the new people exclaimed enthusiastically, while the rest of the room were mostly all groaning.

“But all horror movies are overhyped,” Shane complained, raising his brows. Sara turned around to look at him, shushing him.

“Shush, I’ll find something good, just you wait, Madej,” she grinned, and he rolled his eyes at her before leaning back in his seat.

“I hate horror movies,” Ryan muttered from next to him, and Shane turned to look at him. That was a surprise.

“You’re a - uhm, ghost hunter? Who hates horror movies?” he asked, chuckling a bit. “You are a very weird man.”

“I love the adrenaline rush, but I get scared really easily,” the younger man admitted with a blush, and Shane couldn’t help but laugh a little at him. “Don’t laugh at me. I know it’s stupid.”

“A bit, yeah,” Shane said with a smile. “It’s cute.”

He could tell that Ryan was blushing, but he didn’t receive a reply, and he wondered if maybe he’d taken it too far. However, he didn’t have too much time to mull over it, because Sara had found a movie.

“The Nun?” the guy next to Andrew asked, and Sara shrugged.

“Can’t think of a more overhyped horror movie, like, it was okay, but not as amazing as some people claimed it was,” Sara explained, and Shane shrugged in agreement.

“Have you seen it?” Ryan asked him. “Is it bad?”

“Depends on what you mean by bad? It’s not a good movie, it has a few jumpscares here and there,” he told the man next to him with a small smile. “But no, it’s not very scary, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Thanks,” Ryan nodded, and Shane didn’t know if he was imagining it, but it felt like the younger man had moved slightly closer to him. Chantel passed snack bowls around, Shane immediately grabbing one of the popcorn ones and putting it on his thigh. He motioned for Ryan to take some, who didn’t even hesitate before doing so.

They started the movie, and Ryan really wasn’t lying when he said he was easily scared and hated horror movies. It didn’t take too long before Ryan was pretty much grabbing onto him in fear, Shane chuckling lowly to himself as he just let him do whatever. A part of him wanted to pull Ryan even closer, wrap his arms around him and comfort him, but a bigger part just didn’t want him to be uncomfortable around him.

In front of him, he noticed that Andrew was currently cuddling up to the man next to him, and he was pretty sure that that had to be Steven. He quietly asked Ryan, who confirmed his suspicions, and quickly snapped a picture to send to Andrew later. He kept watching while eating popcorn, almost forgetting the man next to him up until he felt a head fall against his shoulder.

He looked down, and sure enough, Ryan had decided to use him as a pillow for a little while. He smiled to himself, trying not to read too much into it, and went back to eating popcorn as he watched.

Ryan didn’t move until the credits started rolling, when he did so with a blush.

“Sorry,” he said, and Shane shrugged.

“It’s fine, don’t think about it,” Shane replied to him, trying to smile warmly at him. The butterflies in his stomach were running wild, to be honest, but he tried not to let it show. “Thanks for inviting us, it was really fun to be back.”

“You should come by more often,” the younger of the two said, smiling up at him. “People obviously want you here.”

“I’m definitely not opposed to that,” he told him, returning the smile. “So, how’s that haunted house coming along?”

“Huh?” Ryan frowned at him.

“The one you wanted to drag Brent along to?” Shane cocked a brow, and Ryan immediately grinned at him.

“Oh! I figured maybe I should drag you along to that one instead. You’ve both promised me an argument, and a ghost hunting trip.”

“That I have,” Shane said with a sigh. “When are you thinking?”

“When are you free? Like, I’d go tomorrow, but I know you work a lot, and I’d prefer to stay there overnight, and it's like a six hour drive there and, yeah.”

Shane pulled out his phone to check his schedule, then frowned.

“You know what? I might be able to go tomorrow, actually. I have Monday off, and if I can get Freddie to swap shifts with me, I’m free tomorrow too.”

“Wait, really?” Ryan immediately lit up, obviously excited by what he heard. “You don’t actually have to if you don’t want to go, just so that- I’m not forcing you, man.”

“I know, I want to,” Shane smiled at him, then put his phone down. “I’ll just go ask her now.”

He got up from the couch and walked out to the kitchen, where he found Freddie, Kristin, Chantel, Ashly and Jen.

“Hey, Freddie?” he approached her with a sheepish smile. “Could you cover my shift tomorrow? I can take your shift next week. It’s just, uh, I was invited along to this-”

“Oh, did Ryan finally invite you along to the haunted house? He’s talked about it this entire week, but he didn’t know how to ask,” Jen shot in. “I can cover it if Freddie can’t.”

“Uh, yeah, he did,” Shane blushed just a bit, nodding at her.

“Tomorrow?” Freddie quickly checked her calendar. “Oh, sure. No problem. That’s actually perfect, I’d love to have the entire weekend off next week.”

“Thank you,” he said with a huge smile before walking back to where Ryan still was seated on the couch. “She’ll cover me, so I’m all yours if you still want to go.”

“Definitely,” Ryan said with a grin.

“Don’t you have classes on Monday though?” Shane asked, when he realized that Ryan was a student, with obligations.

“Oh, just one, and I’m already ahead in that class. Don’t worry,” the younger man grinned. “Do you have a sleeping bag?”

“Yeah?”

“Great! Just bring warm clothes, and stuff you don’t mind getting dirty, and I’ll bring the rest,” Ryan winked at him, and Shane started laughing. Eventually, Ryan realized why Shane was laughing, and blushed furiously. “I heard that, I didn’t- you know.”

“I know,” Shane nodded as he kept laughing. “Sure.”

“I could pick you up tomorrow? At like, 11?” Ryan asked, looking up at him hopefully.

“That works, I’ll send you my address on instagram,” he told him with a smile, when he noticed that Sara, Adam and Andrew were getting up and starting to make their way out. He sighed, grimaced slightly, and got up as well. “Looks like we’re about to head out. I’ll see you tomorrow, Ryan.”

“Yeah, see you tomorrow,” Ryan smiled. “Thanks for letting me use you as a pillow.”

“Can’t see how I’m a very comfortable one, but as long as it works,” Shane joked, catching Sara’s eyes across the room. She was nodding towards the door, and he nodded at her. “Text me if there is anything.”

“Will do, see you,” the younger man smiled, and Shane smiled back at him before hurrying towards his friends. Andrew and Adam both smirked at him, while Sara looked up at him expectantly.

“I’m apparently going ‘ghost hunting’ with him tomorrow,” he told them once they were in the car. “How on earth have I managed to be convinced into hunting air?”

“It’s so cute, you’re so into him,” Sara grinned. “He didn’t exactly look uninterested in you either, just so that you’re aware.”

“Still straight, Sar,” he told her with a sigh.

“Yeah, the man who used you as a teddy bear that entire movie really screams straight man,” Andrew deadpanned from the backseat. “And don’t you have work tomorrow?”

“Oh, Freddie’s covering for me, I’m taking her shift next week,” Shane explained, rolling his eyes as he caught Andrew’s eyes in the rearview mirror. “And you’re really the one to talk? You and Steven looked pretty damn cozy yourselves.”

“It was nice,” Andrew admitted with a blush, before looking out the window. “We’re having dinner next Saturday.”

“Well done,” Sara told the blond with a grin, before her face faltered. “Oh, God. I’m going to be a fifth wheel.”

“Again, Ryan’s straight,” Shane repeated. “And both Inga and Adam are single anyway, it’s not like you’d be alone.”

“I think I’ll have to get a cat,” Sara sighed, completely ignoring his insistence that Ryan wasn’t interested in him. “Although, remind me how the fuck hunting for ghosts work?”

“Don’t ask me, I have no idea,” Shane chuckled. “I’m honestly just looking forward to seeing him scared.”

“Kinky,” Adam quipped from the backseat, making Sara and Andrew laugh while Shane just rolled his eyes at them.

“Can’t I just be his friend?” Shane asked, exasperated. “He’s nice and funny, and so fucking weird. I like him.”

“We know you do,” Sara sniggered, and Shane resisted the urge to playfully hit her arm.

“Not like that, you fucking-”

“Hey, hey, be kind to the ladies, Shane,” Andrew chastised him teasingly, immediately making Shane throw his middle finger up at him. Luckily, they instead ended up talking about Sara’s shift that night, and how chaotic it had been.

“Like, come on, we’ve gone through the routines with them so fucking many times, and I still had to check over everything before I could decorate the last cake,” she complained, Andrew immediately sympathizing with her. Shane and Adam, who never worked a closing shift without being the one responsible for locking up, couldn’t relate in the same way.

The other two kept on talking, until Shane eventually pulled up in front of Andrew and Adam’s apartment. They all said their goodbyes, until it was only Sara and Shane left in the car. She only lived a couple of blocks away from him, so she was nearly always the one dropped off last.

“How do you feel?” Sara asked him, once they were back on the road. “About the whole Ryan-thing, I mean.”

“Like I’m slowly losing my mind?” Shane joked. “I’m voluntarily joining him in a bogus haunted house.”

“I meant the feelings part of it all,” she rolled her eyes, and he knew that that was what she’d meant, but he didn’t talk about his feelings too much really.

“Yeah, I know,” he sighed. “Uh, I don’t really know? I’ve obviously embarrassed myself immensely in front of him, he’s comfortable joking about my crush on him, but he seemed to freak out a bit when I called him cute earlier.”

“That might just be the toxic masculinity, though,” Sara explained with a small shrug. “You have to agree that he’s kind of - I don’t know, bro-y?”

“He really is,” Shane nodded. “I just don’t want him to be uncomfortable around me. I’m not, like, going to force myself on him or anything.”

“Based on how he cuddled up to you during the movie, I don’t think that should be a concern for you, Shane,” she said, smiling knowingly at him. “He checked you out earlier.”

“What?” Shane briefly looked over at her. “Actually?”

“Yeah, when you were chatting with Eugene,” she smiled. “I don’t think he’s as straight as he maybe thinks he is.”

“Maybe not,” Shane mused, thinking back to the night and his earlier interactions with his crush. Ryan didn’t seem uncomfortable around him, hadn’t reacted badly to his sexuality or attraction to him either. “Anyway, unless he tells me otherwise, I will act on the assumption that he’s straight.”

“Smart,” Sara agreed, yawning as Shane pulled into his parking spot. “Could I crash at yours tonight? I think Gaby had a date tonight, and I don’t really feel like potentially ruining her night.”

“Of course,” he nodded, getting out of the car and unlocking the door to his apartment. “Make yourself at home.”

Sara grinned and did just that, immediately walking into his kitchen and making herself a cup of tea. He made them both a sandwich each, then slumped down on the couch and found his phone. Luckily, neither he nor Sara were dependent on actually interacting with each other to have a good time, so they both cuddled up into a corner on each side of his couch, both of them on their phones.

Remembering that he was supposed to send Ryan his address, he quickly shot him a message. He got a reply almost immediately.

@ryanbergara: thanks! remember warm clothes tomorrow lol

@shanemadej: Believe it or not, I grew up here, I know how to dress for cold weather

@ryanbergara: :)

@shanemadej: Want me to bring food? I could make us some sandwiches or something

@ryanbergara: oh that’s probably smart, i forgot we’d need food

@shanemadej: …
@shanemadej: Can you remind me why I agreed to this?

@ryanbergara: you think i’m hot?

@shanemadej: 🤦♂️

“Ryan?” Sara asked, nodding towards the phone Shane was holding. Shane nodded, much to Sara’s glee. “It’s adorable how much you’re smiling.”

“Shut up,” he muttered, clicking onto Ryan’s profile to see that he had posted a new picture earlier that night. It was a selfie of himself, Jen, and Steven, the three of them probably on their way to the movie night. He liked it, then exited out of instagram all together.

After he and Sara had eaten their sandwiches, Shane decided to head to bed. As usual, Sara decided to just stay on the couch overnight, even if he always offered that she could sleep in his bed. She did occasionally, but she’d apparently found the couch more comfortable than the bed when he’d asked her about it.

“Night,” he told her, after he’d handed her his guest blankets and pillow. She only gave a tired noncommittal sound in reply, so he rolled his eyes and went into his bedroom. It didn’t take too long before he fell asleep, and he did so with memories of Ryan’s head on his shoulder.

Sara woke up before him the next morning, and had already made herself breakfast when he walked outside.

“Sleep well?” he asked her, yawning as he grabbed his coffee grinder and the bag of coffee beans he was currently drinking. “Want coffee? It’s a medium roasted Peruvian bean.”

“Oh, yes, thank you,” she smiled up at him from where she was reading one of the books she’d probably found on his bookshelf. “And yeah, I slept pretty well. You?”

“I slept alright,” Shane nodded, preparing the coffee for them. It took a while, but it was a part of his morning routine that he really enjoyed whenever he didn’t have an opening shift at the café. He handed Sara a cup, then sat down opposite her as he browsed through facebook.

“Ned and Ariel got engaged last night,” he told Sara, showing her the post as he took a sip of coffee. “Honestly, I thought he’d propose ages ago.”

“We all did,” Sara chuckled. “That’s cute, though. Remind me to send her a text later.”

“I’ll try,” he nodded, reacting to the post with a heart.

“Do you have lots to do today? When is Ryan picking you up?”

“Uh, I think he said around eleven? I’ll just have to pack my stuff, shower and make some sandwiches, really.”

“I could make the sandwiches while you shower if you want? How many do you need?” she asked, and Shane smiled gratefully at her.

“Please. And I don’t know? He wanted to stay there overnight, and I have no idea if he’s bringing anything.”

“So, a lot?” she asked, raising her brows. “No problem. Just drink your coffee and take your shower, I’ll deal with the food.”

“Thank you,” he said, looking at her as she sipped her own coffee. She just smiled up at him, then went straight back to her book as she kept on reading. Shane finished up his coffee, then walked to his bathroom to take that shower.

When he stepped out to get ready for the day, he contemplated whether he should wear his glasses or bother with his lenses, but ultimately settled for his lenses. He’d bring his glasses, of course, but he didn’t feel like wearing them the entire time.

After packing some more warm clothes, finding his warmest jacket and his sleeping bag, he put everything down by the front door. Checking the time to see that Ryan wouldn’t be there for at least another twenty minutes, he sighed and walked over to where Sara was making sandwiches.

“Again, thank you so much,” Shane said, putting the sandwiches she’d made into a cooler bag he’d stolen from work by accident a year ago. “Is it weird that I’m actually kind of excited?”

“That fully depends on what you’re excited for. The Ryan part of it, or the ghost hunting part of it,” Sara teased him, making him shove her lightly.

“Actually sort of both? Like, he seems very convinced that ghosts actually do exist,” he explained, packing the last two sandwiches before adding an ice pack from his freezer.

“You’re spending the night there, right?” she asked, leaning against his counter and sipping a cup of tea she must have made while he was in the shower.

“Yup,” Shane nodded, shooting her with a puzzled look.

“And you’re still afraid that you make him uncomfortable?”

“Well, not really,” Shane shrugged. “But, I don’t know. Straight guys usually are uncomfortable around openly gay men. Especially after hitting on them.”

“Yeah, true,” she grimaced. “I’m just going to finish this, then I’ll head home. Try to relax and have fun, okay? And don’t overthink it, he obviously likes you - at least as a friend.”

“Thanks,” Shane smiled, weirdly reassured by her words. “I’ll try.”

Ten minutes later, Sara hugged him goodbye before leaving, and Shane was checking his phone every two minutes. Finally, he received a message from Ryan that he was outside, and he quickly grabbed his stuff before walking outside.

“Ready for an adventure?” Ryan asked him with a grin as he slid into the passenger seat.

“Not really, but I’m sure it’ll be fun,” Shane chuckled. “Just let me know if you want me to drive later.”

“Oh, it’s probably fine. I love driving,” Ryan shrugged, pulling out of the parking lot and back out on the road. “Maybe tomorrow, though, if I can’t fall asleep tonight.”

“Sure. I’m paying for gas, by the way,” Shane told him, ignoring Ryan’s faint protests. “I know I have more spending money than you do, and if you’re driving that’s the least I can do.”

“Okay. Thanks,” Ryan shot him a smile. “How often do you work?”

“Five days a week, alternating between working Saturdays and Sundays every other week,” he told the younger man. “The joys of being the assistant manager.”

“You’re an assistant manager?” Ryan sounded just slightly surprised.

“Yup. Sara is the manager, I’m the assistant manager, Andrew, Adam and Inga are all shift managers, and Adam’s responsible for making the schedules. The owner doesn’t even work there, just happens to decide who gets promoted and who gets raises. And to be fair, we do have fairly high wages compared to other baristas.”

“You sound like you really like your job,” the shorter of the two said with a smile. “Jen is trying to get me to apply.”

“You could, we’ll probably need help during the holiday season soon,” Shane told him, entirely serious. “Honestly, you don’t even need to apply. Sara and I can talk to the owner, and you’re basically guaranteed work.”

“You’d do that?”

“Of course,” Shane shrugged. “You’d probably be put on sandwich duty or stuck taking orders, but I don’t see why you couldn’t. If you’d be interested we’re also in need of an on-call employee.”

“Huh,” Ryan raised his brows. “I’ll think about it.”

“Sure.”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you that you can just connect your phone to the bluetooth if you want to control the music,” Ryan suddenly said.

“I’m good, if my pick-up lines didn’t scare you off, I’m sure my taste in music will,” Shane half-joked. Going by the top 40 list that was currently playing, he was pretty sure Ryan wouldn’t be the biggest fan of some of his more obscure playlists.

“Your choice,” Ryan chuckled. “I’m so fucking excited for tonight. But like, also very nervous.”

“Please don’t tell me you’re even worse than you were last night? You nearly jumped into my lap out of fear, man,” he told the other man with a short laugh. Ryan blushed at the mention of that, and promptly flipped him off.

“Hey, I didn’t say I minded being your teddy bear, I’m just saying that I can’t imagine it’ll be much worse.”

“You’re in for a treat,” Ryan chuckled nervously, still blushing. Shane let out a playful feigned groan, before smiling at him. They ended up talking a bit about Ryan, and Shane figured that he actually really liked him as a person. Okay, fair enough, everything about him screamed L.A., but he was down to earth and had a passion and drive that Shane found admirable.

“It wasn’t easy moving to Chicago, though,” Ryan admitted, about halfway through their drive. “First of all because I hate snow, but you know.”

Shane laughed at him, before letting him continue.

“No, uh, I have anxiety? Like, general anxiety disorder, and uh, it made it really hard in the weeks before I left and the first weeks after I moved,” the younger of the two said, glancing over at Shane every now and then as he talked. “Luckily I was rooming with Steven, and we really hit it off, so he made me stick it out.”

“He sounds like a good friend,” Shane said, voice warm. He didn’t know Ryan had anxiety, but he wasn’t entirely too surprised either. “Uh, I don’t really have too much experience with anxiety myself, but just let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.”

“Thanks,” Ryan smiled gratefully at him. “Yeah, I figured maybe I should tell you before tonight, in case I get a panic attack or something.”

“Does that happen a lot?”

“Not anymore, but it still happens occasionally,” he shrugged. “If it happens, I, uh, guess you could either try to calm me down or distract me. I’m hoping it won’t, though.”

“Okay, noted. Seriously, though, just let me know if there’s anything I can do to help, even if you’re not on the verge of a panic attack,” Shane told him, looking over at the driving man. Ryan just smiled gratefully at him, muttering a small thank you.

After driving for a few more minutes, they stopped to eat the sandwiches Shane had brought.

“You made these?” Ryan asked, munching on his second sandwich. “Those coffee shop skills are coming to good use.”

“No, actually Sara did,” Shane explained, shrugging with a small smile. “But yeah, she did basically make the café sandwiches.”

“Sara’s the girl that left with you yesterday, right?” Ryan asked, looking at him.

“Yeah, she spent the night to give her roommate some privacy for the night. Offered to make the sandwiches while I showered.”

“Huh. So you’re good friends, then?”

“Oh, absolutely. She’s my best friend. As well as my only ex girlfriend, but we just laugh about that nowadays,” Shane chuckled. Ryan frowned just a bit, obviously trying to think about it.

“So you’re bi? I kind of got the expression that you were gay,” he asked hesitantly.

“No, I’m gay. We only dated for like a couple of months during our sophomore year of college, due to a couple of our friends insisting that we’d make a cute couple.”

“Oh. Get it, sorry if I was like, offensive or anything,” Ryan said a bit nervously, and Shane shook his head as he assured him that he wasn't. This made the younger man let out a small sigh of relief. “Did you know that you were gay when you dated her?”

“I think so? To be honest I probably wouldn’t have said yes to dating her if I was fully aware, but I always suspected that I was gay. I think I tried convincing myself that I was bi, but I eventually realized that I’m just not.”

“Sorry for asking so many questions or making it weird,” Ryan blushed. “I went to a catholic school, so even though I lived in LA I was quite sheltered from the lgbt community in general. I think Steven was the first openly queer person I ever met, actually.”

Well, the toxic masculinity at least made more sense now, Shane reasoned.

“You’re not making it weird, you can just ask. I won’t answer if I don’t want to,” he told him. “My brother is gay too, and we’ve both had problems with our family in the process of coming out, so I at least get that sometimes asking questions can be hard.”

“Thanks,” Ryan smiled slightly. “You seem very confident in your sexuality?”

“Not really,” Shane hesitated. “I lost nearly all my childhood friends when I came out, and endured quite a lot of teasing. So, it’s just fake confidence. I’m honestly quite terrified that someone will beat me up over it some day.”

“You are?”

“Yeah, I mean, I know several gay people who’ve been beat up, and one time at a bar, a guy tried throwing a glass of beer on me and the guy I was dancing with,” Shane explained, looking at him. “I’m not confident in my sexuality, but I try to be. Luckily, the last person I accidentally hit on didn’t seem to mind that much.”

“Damn, I thought I was special, but you’re just hitting on all your customers?” Ryan joked, before quickly turning serious. “No, uh, thanks for telling me. I’ve always heard about attacks on the lgbt community happening, but I’ve never really seen it, or known anyone that’s been afraid of it.”

“I think it’s called, like, lgbtqia plus now,” Shane mused, before actually registering what Ryan said. “And the last person I hit on was you. Only happened once before, and that time I was drunk.”

“Okay, phew, I’m back to feeling flattered and special,” Ryan grinned. “Honestly, though, I really didn’t mind. It was quite charming, I felt really bad for letting you down.”

“At least I got a new friend out of my embarrassment,” Shane chuckled, looking at Ryan with a soft smile.

The rest of the drive to the haunted house would be another three hours, so they decided to get back on the road pretty much straight after eating. They spent most of it in silence, every now and then talking about the song that was playing, and Shane told him funny stories about his colleagues. The time honestly flew by, and before they knew it, they had stopped at a diner to grab some more food before heading to the house.

“I’m honestly a bottomless pit when it comes to food,” Shane warned him, when Ryan offered to pay for them. It was mostly for fun, but also to convince Ryan to let him pay instead. According to Ryan he did get a monthly allowance from his parents until he started working, but Shane still felt like he should be the one to pay.

“When people find out that I get an allowance from my parents, they usually insist that I pay,” Ryan said with a small blush after they’d sat down in a booth. “Thanks.”

Noticing that Ryan didn’t look proud or pleased about the fact he didn’t have to work, more embarrassed, he decided to ask him.

“You seem a bit embarrassed by it,” Shane hesitated. “Any reason for that?”

“Well, mostly because I’m afraid that people will think I’m spoiled. But I did try working a little last year, but my stress levels made my anxiety so bad that I could barely get to class, so I had to stop. I talked to my parents, and we agreed that until I feel like I can handle a job, I’ll get an allowance instead.”

“You don’t need to be embarrassed by that,” Shane frowned at him, noticing how insecure Ryan felt. “You shouldn’t get teased for needing accommodations.”

“People just don’t see it like that. They think I don’t have a work ethic and stuff, but I do,” Ryan explained, looking down at the table. Shane didn’t need to be convinced, he believed him. When he talked about college and his futures, he had no problems believing that Ryan had a very strong work ethic. “Especially when I have time and energy to play basketball and go on my ghost hunting trips.”

“I’ll be honest and say that I get it, but I still hope you’re able to shut out the people who criticize you. You know yourself and your limits best, don’t burn yourself out before you’ve even got the chance to enjoy life a little.”

“Thanks,” Ryan looked up at him, an embarrassed smile playing on his lips. “You’re pretty awesome.”

“I try,” Shane winked, before finally looking down at the menu and deciding what to order. They ate their cheeseburgers in relative silence, except for talking about some of Ryan’s previous trips to haunted houses and what had gotten him interested in it in the first place. Ryan told him all about the Queen Mary, and what he’d dubbed the ‘Toothpaste Incident’.

After paying for their meals, they kept on driving to the haunted house. Ryan was much more jittery now than what he had been, and Shane couldn’t help but smile a little at how nervous and excited he seemed to be. It was well and truly dark outside when they parked the car, Ryan handing him a sleeping pad and a flashlight. He himself was also carrying some more outlandish items, which Shane made a mental note of asking him about later.

“A holy water water gun?” Shane exclaimed, unable to help himself before he doubled over with laughter. “What the fuck, Ryan?”

“It’s effective!” the shorter man argued, frowning at Shane who was still laughing loudly at the prospect of having a holy water water gun. “Look, when we meet that demon, you’ll be grateful at least one of us is thinking ahead.”

“Yeah, sure,” Shane laughed, trying to take deep breaths so that he could calm down. “And that thing there?”

“A spirit box,” Ryan said proudly, explaining to him the function of it. Shane immediately called bullshit, but let him at least finish his explanation before saying it out loud. Ryan huffed and glared at him, before muttering something under his breath that Shane didn’t entirely catch.

“Where do you want to sleep tonight?” he eventually asked, once he’d stopped laughing. They were still carrying their sleeping pads and their sleeping bags, after all. Ryan frowned as he looked around.

“Maybe the living room? Like, it’s in the middle of the house, and there has been some demonic activity reported there,” Ryan shrugged, making Shane roll his eyes a bit at him.

“Demo- okay, sure, living room it is,” he relented, shaking his head and chuckling in amusement. Ryan, who was scared shitless of this, also wanted to sleep in the middle of it. How fun. Still, he followed Ryan into what had been the living room, putting his stuff on the ground a good five feet away from where Ryan had put his.

Afterwards, Ryan handed him a camera, and started making his way back towards the entry of the house as he started telling Shane the history of it. A lot of the shit Ryan told him seemed quite absurd, so Shane, much to Ryan’s dismay, began laughing and playing out a few of the scenes Ryan recounted. Through his disappointment, though, Ryan was definitely amused, and when he laughed, Shane felt weirdly proud of himself.

They went to the kitchen, which still had a functioning lamp, so they turned off their flashlights and kept talking.

“Hey, demon,” Shane called out, wanting to tease Ryan just a little bit.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Ryan turned towards him with big eyes, the words coming out rushed and frantic. “Don’t talk to them! I told you that the Father I talked to back in L.A. said that that was a huge no!”

“Look, we’re just here, and my pal Ryan here, he really wants some proof that you exist,” Shane continued, ignoring Ryan completely.

“Shane! Don’t bring my name into this!”

“So, if you don’t want us here, why don’t you flick the lights off or something, huh?” Shane kept going, still ignoring Ryan’s protests and frantic body movements. When nothing happened, Shane shrugged at him, as if to say ‘look, nothing’. “No? So we can stay here, then? Or maybe, you just don’t exist.”

Right after Shane said that, the light in the room went out. Ryan immediately screamed, and Shane doubled over with laughter at his reaction. Still laughing, he grabbed his flashlight and walked over to him.

“Look, man, it’s obviously a busted lightbulb,” he tried explaining, still laughing a little. “Come on, take my flashlight, and I’ll find yours.”

Ryan nodded numbly, taking the light Shane handed to him and pointed it towards the counter where he had left his own. Shane took it, then walked over to the light switch. He switched it off, then tried switching it back on. Unsurprisingly, the room didn’t light up again.

“See, busted bulb,” he said, repeating the motion. However, the lights did actually turn on again that time, and Ryan crouched down to the floor in fear. Shane tried not to laugh again, but was still smiling pretty wide as he made his way over to him. “It’s an old house, Ryan. It’s no wonder the electricity is spotty. Who the fuck pays the light bill here anyway?”

When he didn’t really get a response from him, he crouched down next to him to see that Ryan had closed his eyes and was breathing pretty rapidly. Immediately recognizing that maybe he shouldn’t laugh anymore, he grabbed Ryan’s hands.

“Hey, Ryan,” he said, voice calm and stable as he spoke. “I’m sorry, okay? If you want, we can turn the light off again and make our way to another room? Maybe you can show me how that damn spirit box works in practice?”

Ryan nodded a little, looking at him as he kept trying to focus on his breathing. Shane nodded along with him, smiling a little.

“Also, remember that you have that badass holy water gun! The demons are no match for you, are they?” he told him with a grin, successfully making Ryan chuckle a little. “And I’ll protect you from that angry wind anyway.”

“Sorry,” Ryan croaked out, laughing a little. “I feel so stupid.”

“Don’t,” Shane shrugged. “I get how it can be frightening. Now keep telling me about this girl who apparently got tortured while listening to - ABBA? Was it?”

“Okay, so-”

Shane listened to Ryan as he kept telling him about the teenage daughter of the Swedish family who had once lived in the house, claiming that there was a demon there. He still kept making a few jokes here and there, but mostly just tried to distract Ryan from panicking again. In what used to be the bedroom of the ABBA-girl, they tested out the spirit box.

“If you ever want me to do this with you again, that’s staying back home,” he said while rubbing his ears, pointing to the spirit box once they were done. “It gave us nothing of importance, and I’m pretty sure my brain is turning mushy from the sound and stupidity of it alone.”

“Nothing of importance?” Ryan exclaimed, looking up at him. “That was very obviously song lyrics!”

“Yes, that sksfkefjfbkssj really did sound like Dancing Queen, you’re so right,” Shane said sarcastically, rolling his eyes at him.

“Wait, you want to do this with me again?” Ryan asked, smiling just a little. “Are you starting to believe?”

“Yes, I’m starting to believe that you need me here for your mental health and safety,” Shane deadpanned. “Anyway, I’m tired and I want snacks, can’t we just go back downstairs to the living room? We can talk more there, maybe put on some ABBA, provoke the demon a little?”

“No ABBA,” Ryan said pointedly. “Didn’t you listen when I told you that she apparently went deaf?”

“Not really, no, I was focusing more on why the demon hates disco so much,” Shane grinned. “Still, snacks. Let’s go.”

“Fine,” Ryan rolled his eyes, then followed Shane back to the living room. Shane put his flashlight down on a table against the wall, waiting for Ryan to find the snacks he’d brought.

“How often do you do this?” Shane asked him, motioning around the room. “Hunting for ghosts and demons and whatever?”

“I used to go once a month when I lived in L.A.,” Ryan shrugged. “Used to bring my girlfriend and one of my friends. However I’ve only been like five times ever since I moved to Chicago, as none of my friends here really want to go with me.”

“Girlfriend?” Shane asked, even though he already knew that Ryan was single due to the conversation he’d overheard the first night they met.

“Yeah, we started dating when we were fourteen, broke up this summer,” Ryan said, a sad small smile on his face. “She stayed back in L.A. last year, so we tried doing long distance, but it didn’t really work.”

“I’m sorry,” Shane said. “No one new now?”

“No,” Ryan grimaced. “Apparently this girl in one of my classes is flirting with me, but I’m just not interested in her like that. How about you? No new advances in your love life?”

“We already talked about this earlier,” Shane pointed out, raising his brow as he grabbed a few chips from the bag Ryan was holding. “But no. Andrew and Sara have both tried to set me up with others, but it’s just never worked out.”

“Whoever ends up with you will be a really lucky man,” Ryan smiled at him, and Shane deliberately ignored the butterflies that floated around his entire body. Still straight, he reminded himself.

“Thanks,” Shane smiled back at him, yawning as he checked the time on his phone. “I think I’ll try to sleep, if that’s fine with you.”

“Sure,” Ryan nodded, looking at him.

He quickly removed his lenses and found his glasses instead, putting them next to his sleeping pad just in case he’d need them throughout the night.

“I didn’t know you wore glasses,” the younger man commented, and Shane shrugged.

“I rarely wear them, and I think I look enough like a hipster at work without them,” he told him, making Ryan smile as he agreed with him. “I haven’t actually seen you wear your glasses yet either.”

“I just like my face better with lenses,” Ryan grinned, before following Shane and removing his own. “Is it okay with you if we keep one of the flashlights on tonight?”

“Yeah, sure,” Shane nodded, yawning once again before getting into his sleeping bag. He’d forgotten a pillow, he realized, but he just sighed and laid down on a bunched up sweater. “Night, Ryan.”

“Night.”

Honestly, Shane probably would have been able to sleep immediately if it weren’t for Ryan. The younger man was constantly rustling around in his sleeping bag, occasionally turning on his own flashlight and pointing it towards different areas of the room.

“You didn’t hear that?” Ryan asked him with wide eyes, after grabbing his flashlight for the sixth time in what couldn’t have been more than 90 minutes.

“No,” Shane repeated, as he had the past five times as well. “What did you hear?”

“A woman, humming,” Ryan said, frowning. “You really didn’t hear?”

“No, I didn’t,” Shane muttered sleepily, grabbing his glasses and putting them on his face as he followed the light of Ryan’s flashlight. “Huh, isn’t that bedroom right above us? Maybe we’ll get lucky and hear some ABBA tonight!”

“Why the fuck would you say that?” Ryan asked him, turning the flashlight towards him. Shane shrugged and chuckled a little, finding his phone as he accepted the fact that he wouldn’t fall asleep yet.

Ryan eventually put the flashlight back down, just lying down on his pad in complete silence. Just when Shane was about to put his phone down and try to sleep again, the flashlight he’d placed on the table earlier went dark, before he heard a thud as it rolled onto the floor.

Once again Ryan screamed, and Shane laughed just a little as he grabbed the flashlight Ryan had used earlier and went up to retrieve the flashlight.

“The battery’s empty,” he declared, once he’d checked it out pretty thoroughly. He went back to his sleeping bag, handing the flashlight back to Ryan. “Maybe we should just keep this off, that way we’ll at least have one.”

“Fuck it, I’m getting closer to you,” Ryan said, getting out and grabbing his stuff to put it closer to where Shane was. Shane didn’t mind, so he just chuckled a little as he watched Ryan settle down maybe six inches away from him.

Unfortunately, this didn’t calm Ryan down any more, so he was stuck listening to Ryan rustle around and frantically look around the room. Every once in a while he grabbed the flashlight just to make sure, and Shane sighed as he put a hand on his shoulder.

“Man, there’s nothing there,” he said, closing his eyes as he spoke. He was so damn tired. “I promise.”

“I thought I heard something roll,” Ryan protested, and Shane just sighed.

“It’s an old house, it’s just the floors,” he explained, opening his eyes to look at him. “We can leave, if you want?”

“What time is it?”

“I don’t know, probably like three?”

With that, there was a loud crack outside the window. Ryan took deep breaths as he once again grabbed the flashlight and pointed it towards that area of the room.

“I don’t think I can stay here, dude,” Ryan said, eyes wider than Shane had ever seen. “I’m man enough to admit that I just can’t.”

“That’s fine, if you want to give up, we’ll leave.”

“Don’t say it like that!”

“Well, you are giving up, aren’t you?” Shane rebutted. “It’s fine, Ryan. We can see if we can find a hotel somewhere, or even sleep in your car for that matter. You don’t have to stay if you’re too scared.”

“I’m not too scared!” Ryan protested petulantly, and Shane couldn’t believe that it actually seemed to work. “I’m staying here until the morning.”

“Okay,” Shane chuckled, smiling at him just a little. Ryan took a deep breath, then laid back down. It took about ten minutes before Ryan spoke up again.

“Do you mind if I get closer?”

“Of course not,” Shane shook his head. “Go for it.”

Ryan nodded with a shaky breath, before shuffling even closer so that their sleeping pads and bags were right next to each other. Shane smiled at him, turning towards him and rubbing his arm to comfort him. When he turned to lie on his back, he could feel the warmth of Ryan radiate through the sleeping bag where their thighs met.

Next to him, Ryan was still breathing a bit shakily, and the younger man seemed to hesitate a little as he lifted his upper body up from the sleeping bag.

“What’s up?” Shane asked, turning his head to look at him. Surprisingly, Ryan didn’t answer him verbally, instead just moved to lay his head down on Shane’s chest.

“Okay?” Ryan asked, voice quiet and unsure as he still tried to keep some of his weight off Shane’s chest still. Shane just smiled and wrapped a careful arm around the smaller man’s shoulders.

“Course,” he told him, closing his eyes again as he let sleep overtake him.

He woke up a few hours later by the sun hitting his face, Ryan still sleeping on his chest. His arm had fallen asleep, and his body was aching, but he just didn’t have it in him to wake the other man. As carefully as he managed, he managed to grab his cellphone. It was just a few minutes past six, and he sighed as he put his phone back down and let his hand gently run up and down Ryan’s upper arm.

The next time he woke up, it was due to Ryan stirring awake in his arms. As the younger man awoke fully, he looked at Shane and blushed just slightly as he smiled sheepishly and moved away from him.

“Sorry about that,” Ryan said, clearing his throat. “Thanks.”

“Don’t worry about it. Want to get out of here and grab some breakfast?” Shane asked with a grin, receiving a relieved grin and nod in return. They quickly packed up their stuff, then made their way out of the house and into the car. Ryan insisted he was fine to drive, so Shane let him drive them to the nearest McDonald’s, about an hour away, where they ordered food and filled gas at the nearby station.

“Look, man, you’re obviously exhausted,” Shane said, looking at Ryan as he finished up the last bite of his breakfast. “Please let me drive for a while?”

“Yeah, okay, thanks,” Ryan thankfully gave in, switching places with Shane as he got into the driver’s seat. After adjusting absolutely everything and quickly making himself familiar with the car, Shane looked over at him.

“Is it okay if I put a podcast on?”

“Go ahead,” Ryan nodded tiredly, putting his soda down in the cup holder as he leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. Shane started the car just to connect up to the bluetooth, then started driving back home once his podcast started playing.

It didn’t take too long before he heard soft snores from the passenger seat, and he smiled a little to himself as he kept driving. Listening to the podcast as he drove, Shane really didn’t mind the silence, instead enjoying it. Completely engrossed in the story, he didn’t even notice how much time had passed until Ryan woke up and asked him where they were.

“Like, an hour and a half to go?” Shane said, suddenly realizing that he’d been driving for close to four hours without barely noticing. “How was your sleep?”

“Much needed,” Ryan admitted. “You didn’t sleep any more than I did, how do you function so well?”

“Got tons of practice in college,” Shane chuckled, pausing the podcast and handing his phone over to Ryan. “Music?”

As Ryan browsed through his playlists, Shane tried not to overthink it. He usually didn’t care that his taste of music wasn’t for everyone, but he didn’t want Ryan to judge him. Eventually, Ryan chose one that he’d made his junior year of college, immediately sparking some memories.

“I haven’t heard of 90% of the bands and artists you listen to,” Ryan said with a chuckle. “In this one I at least recognized a few, and I figured the rest can’t be too bad.”

“It’s a weird mix,” Shane admitted, smiling as he hummed along to the song playing. “Do you want me to drive the rest of the way?”

“I can drive now, if you want a break. You’ve driven far more than I expected you to, anyway.”

“Okay,” Shane nodded, looking around. “There should be a gas station somewhere around here. Why don’t I top off your gas, and then we can switch?”

“You don’t need to do that,” Ryan protested.

“I want to, don’t worry about it,” Shane countered, smiling softly at him. After a few minutes, they arrived at said station, where Shane true to his word paid for Ryan’s gas and got back into the passenger seat.

This time, he was the one to fall asleep, and he didn’t wake up until Ryan gently shook him awake.

“We’re at your apartment.”

“Oh,” Shane blinked the sleep away as he looked around. Sure enough, they were in the parking lot by his apartment, which sort of made him sad. “Thank you.”

“Thanks for coming with me,” Ryan said, smiling at him.

“It was fun,” he replied truthfully, smiling right back. “I’ll never be able to not laugh while listening to ABBA, now.”

“Someone nearly died, Shane,” the scandalized tone of Ryan’s voice made him laugh once again. As he laughed, Ryan hit his arm, then smiled at him. “But I had a good time. I like spending time with you.”

“Likewise,” Shane looked at him. “Don’t be afraid to ask again.”

Ryan didn’t reply, only smiled, so Shane unbuckled his seatbelt and started making his way out the car and gathering his stuff.

“I’ll see you around,” he told Ryan, who had opened his door just slightly.

“Yeah, see you around,” Ryan replied, the two exchanging uncertain smiles as Shane began walking to his apartment.

After showering and changing his clothes, he laid down on his couch while throwing a pizza in the oven. As he noticed a text from Andrew, he rolled his eyes but still replied.

Andrew: how was the sleepover?
You: :)
Andrew: come by work later, i want to hear
You: Of course you do.
You: Sure
Andrew: :)

Putting his phone down and getting the pizza out the oven, he put on one of his favorite shows as he ate in silence. For once, he actually missed the presence of having someone else there with him. As a true introvert - as outgoing as he may be - he’d always preferred being alone, but being with Ryan hadn’t been draining. It had been fun, and he already missed it.

After a few hours, when he was sure the midday crowd would be gone from the shop, he decided to walk there. Mostly because he did sort of need the exercise, but also just because he wanted to listen to some music and enjoy the fresh air.

When he arrived, there were a few people in line, but nothing too bad, so he decided to order a coffee to bring to the back where Andrew would surely be.

“Oh, hey,” Ella said brightly, once she noticed him. “What do you want?”

“Just a cup of the brew of the day,” he said with a smile, glancing over at the cookies and muffins. “Oh, and a lemon muffin.”

“Sure,” she smiled, grabbing a cup and filling it up with the coffee before putting it on the counter. The employees all got one free drink and pastry a day, even if they were working that day or not, so he didn’t even bother finding money for it. “Andrew and Adam are both in the back. Would you mind grabbing the muffin yourself so that I can get started on the other drinks?”

“No, that’s fine. When are you off?” Shane asked, making his way behind the counter and grabbing his muffin and the cup of coffee.

“About forty minutes?” Ella looked at the clock before confirming, already prepping an espresso shot as she spoke. “Would you mind sending Adam out here in thirty?”

“Will do,” Shane smiled, making his way to the back where Adam and Andrew were already having a conversation while doing their respective tasks. Shane promptly moved a chair over to the counter next to Andrew’s work station, looking at him as he worked.

“Did you catch any ghosts?” Andrew asked, glancing up at him from where he was busy decorating a cake Shane suspected was for a baby shower.

“Of course not, but I’m sure Ryan will say yes if you ask him,” he told him with a sigh, sipping the coffee. “Apparently there was an ABBA-hating demon haunting the house, and Ryan somehow managed to hear unintelligible white-noise as an ABBA song, so he of course freaked out.”

“An ABBA-hating demon?” Andrew looked up at him incredulously, laughing. “You’re still into this dude?”

“Unfortunately, yes,” he said with a sigh, looking back at him miserably. “He slept on my chest, Drew. On my chest.”

“He’s either a man who’s very confident in his heterosexuality, or he’s not straight,” Andrew raised his brows. “Did he give you any indicators that maybe he’s not?”

“Except for the fact that he grew up catholic and hadn’t met any openly queer people before meeting Steven?” Shane deadpanned, making Andrew stop in his tracks. “I don’t know, man. As I told you guys on Saturday, until proven queer, I’ll assume he’s straight.”

“Isn’t he from L.A.?” Adam piped up. “I grew up in rural Ohio, and even I’ve met more gay people than he have.”

“Yeah, right?” Shane exclaimed, still a bit surprised about everything. “No, but really, I had a good time. He’s fun to be around, I wouldn’t mind doing it again.”

“‘It’ being ghost hunting?” Andrew asked, chuckling. “Man, you’ve changed.”

“Shut up,” Shane rolled his eyes, unable to help the blush creeping up his cheeks.

“I reckon you got to see him scared, then,” Adam smirked. “Kinky fucker.”

“Adam, I hope you cut yourself on that knife,” Shane spat, not meaning it for even a second. He knew it was just good-natured teasing, it hit a bit close to home. Not the kinky part, but more how he’d wanted to comfort him. Help him not be as scared in the future.

“He doesn’t even deny it,” Andrew gasped, making Adam laugh together with the blond.

“I fucking hate you both,” Shane groaned.

“To steer the topic away from you and your future boyfriend,” Andrew cleared his throat. “I signed up for pastry classes today. None of them clash with my schedule, yet, but it’ll be a busy six months.”

“Fucking finally,” Adam smiled. “Happy for you man. Let us know if we can do anything to help.”

“Yeah, anything at all,” Shane nodded in agreement. “Congrats. How many classes a week?”

“Three,” Andrew smiled sheepishly. “Start-up in January, so hopefully I’ll get to have a few dates with Steven until then.”

“You haven’t even had your first yet,” Adam pointed out, chuckling. “You really should stop teasing Shane for crushing on Ryan if you’re going to get that look on your face whenever you mention Steven’s name.”

Andrew blushed, throwing a piece of fondant at Adam’s head.

“Preach,” Shane agreed, grinning as he downed the rest of his coffee and started picking on his muffin. “Can you afford it, though? The class? You can lend some money if you need. I still have most of my college funds.”

“I think I’ll manage,” Andrew grimaced slightly. “Adam’s offered to pay the electricity bills for the three first months, and most of it will be covered by the rest of my college funds, so I should just have enough. Thanks, though, I’ll keep it in mind.”

“That’s generous,” Shane raised his brows, nodding over at Adam, who was shrugging.

“He’d do the same for me,” Adam just said, smiling a bit.

“I’ve already talked to Mr. James,” Andrew told them, Mr. James being the owner and their boss. “I’ll get a fifty percent pay increase if I pass the course exam, seventy-five if I pass with honors.”

“That’s not a small increase,” Shane said, immediately grinning at his best friend. “I can’t wait for you to impress us all with your new fine-ass pastry skills.”

“I just hope I won’t grow to hate it,” the blond admitted, sighing. “I don’t have too much experience with the finer French pastries that they’ll focus on.”

“You’ll do great,” Adam assured him, looking up at the clock on the wall before turning towards Shane. “Did Ella mention when she wanted me out front?”

“Yeah, I think she said thirty minutes, so that’d be ten to six,” Shane relayed the information. “You work that shift tomorrow, right? Shift three?”

“Yup,” Adam confirmed, and Shane nodded. Ever since Andrew started working there, the two of them had had closing duties together every Tuesday, and through several schedule changes, that was still the case. Even if Andrew now spent most of his time in the kitchen, it was a nice tradition to have.

“We have a catering event tomorrow at five, so I’ll need at least one of you guys to set up that with me. Sara and Alvin are responsible for decorating all the cakes and muffins tomorrow, I’ll just have to bake the cakes that need to be ready for Wednesday morning. No idea how it’ll all add up, though,” Andrew said, already looking stressed.

“Quinta’s doubling Alvin’s shift tomorrow,” Adam said, thankfully easing Andrew’s nerves a little. “That way he won’t have to be responsible for any coffee or orders.”

“That’s smart,” Shane nodded. “I’ll help you with the catering. Is there anything we could begin now, just to save some time?”

“Maybe, why don’t you look at the order and check what we’ll need?” Andrew asked, looking at him with pleading eyes. Shane shrugged and got up, doing as Andrew asked him to. Seeing that it was a vegetarian catering for twenty people, he quickly checked their catering guide to see if there really was anything he and Andrew could prepare.

“I could prep some of the veggies, I guess?” Shane asked, raising his voice so that Andrew’d be able to hear him. “It’s the veggie catering.”

“Veggie?” Andrew replied. “Nah, that’s fine. Most of that can be done tomorrow, I’ll just get a potato salad started tonight. Thanks, though.”

Shane was honestly a little relieved that he wouldn’t have to work on his day off, so he went back to his chair to sit down and eat the rest of his muffin. By the time he was back, Adam was cleaning up his workstation so that he could go back out front. Twenty minutes later, when Ella had left, and Adam was well into the coffee making, Andrew removed his apron.

“I haven’t had my break yet,” he explained, grabbing another chair and sitting down next to Shane with a sandwich he’d probably reserved for himself earlier. “I talked to Steven for quite some time yesterday.”

“Okay?” Shane hesitated, just knowing that this would somehow turn into something about him and Ryan.

“Ryan has been talking about you quite a lot ever since that time you hit on him,” he said through mouthfuls of sandwich. “Apparently he’d also tried stalking you, although with more success than you managed. Probably because of the name tag.”

“Most likely,” Shane agreed, trying not to read into the implications of what Andrew was telling him. Ryan was probably just intrigued by him. “Honestly, though, I’d prefer if you and Steven didn’t talk about that? Say he isn’t straight, great, right? I still don’t want to speculate.”

“Right, sorry,” Andrew nodded. “You must really like him.”

“I really do,” Shane admitted. “Some part of me sort of hoped that I wouldn’t after this trip? Like, come on, a 19 year old who seriously believes in ghosts? Going ghost hunting certainly should have been a turn off.”

“Please don’t tell me that it was a turn on,” Andrew pleaded, making Shane roll his eyes at him.

“Of course it wasn’t, but he was very, uh,” Shane thought about how to word it. “Endearing? Yeah, endearing. Made me care for him.”

“That’s actually pretty sweet. I’ve never seen you in love before, I think,” the blond said, just a hint of tease to his voice.

“I’m not in love,” he protested, frowning at his best friend. He, of course, knew that he was surely on his way there, but he hadn’t known him long enough for that yet. “And that’s just because I haven’t really been in love with anyone since high school.”

“Not even me?” Andrew feigned offense, making Shane smile just a little. “Ryan seems like a good dude, I just don’t want you to get hurt.”

“He’s a bit young for me, though. Right?”

“He’s only, like, two weeks younger than Steven,” Andrew shrugged, and Shane frowned. “That means that he’s 18, by the way. Steven’s birthday is this Friday.”

“He’s not even 19?” Shane exclaimed, eyes wide. He’d just been so hung up on the fact that Jen had told him that he was probably 19 that it hadn’t even occurred to him that he might not be. “Andrew, I’m nearly five years older than him. I can’t have feelings for him!”

“As long as he’s a consenting adult, I don’t see why not,” Andrew said. “Look, as you said, you’ll operate under the assumption that he’s straight. If he’s not, you can panic about that then. You don’t need to panic about it now, when, according to you, there’s no possibility of anything happening between you. I honestly don’t think it would be an issue, though.”

“You’re right,” Shane nodded, happy that Andrew was actually giving him some sound advice for once. “Are you still having dinner with Steven this Saturday?”

“I am,” Andrew confirmed, smiling with just a ghost of a smile on his lips. “He also invited us to a shared birthday party for him and Steven, it’s basically going to be a movie club night at their apartment.”

Shane ended up sitting with Andrew through his break, but once he had to go back to work, he made his way back to the apartment. Back home, he ended up browsing through Ryan’s instagram once again, a show in the background just for some noise. After stalking for just a little longer than socially acceptable, he gave in to his curiosity and searched him up on Facebook instead.

He only thought about it for a bit more than a second before he sent him a friend request, Ryan accepting it almost immediately.

Even if the two ended up texting each other every now and then - mostly memes where Shane made fun of his belief in the supernatural -, Shane didn’t actually see Ryan until Saturday. Apparently, he’d been by the café that Tuesday together with Steven and Zack, but because Shane and Andrew had to do the catering, neither of them got a chance to talk with them. Instead, it was Adam who told them that they were there, both Shane and Andrew looking at each other with slightly disappointed expressions.

So, when Ryan walked into the café an hour before closing that Saturday, Shane was happy to see him.

“Hey,” he greeted him enthusiastically while stacking some clean and dried off mugs, happy to see that Ryan seemed about as excited as he himself was. “What can I get you today?”

“Is it too much to ask for a place to spend the night?” Ryan asked, a faint blush immediately painting his face. Shane’s eyes widened in surprise, and he put the last cup and his tea towel down.

“No, of course not,” he said, although a bit skeptical. “Why do you need somewhere to spend the night?”

“Steven and Andrew are having dinner and watching a movie in our apartment, I just wanted to give them some space,” Ryan admitted, and Shane couldn’t help but smile a little. “I really don’t want to be a bother, so you can say no.”

“No, no, that’s fine,” Shane shook his head. “I don’t have a guest room or anything, though, so you’ll have to make do with either the couch or my snoring.”

“Eh, I survived in the haunted house, didn’t I?” Ryan grinned.

“Barely,” Shane deadpanned, picking his tea towel back up as he dried off a few of the espresso cups. “Really, though, can I get you anything? On the house.”

“Uh, maybe just a chai latte?” Ryan glanced up at the menu. “I can pay for it myself, though.”

“It’s on the house,” Shane repeated, getting the chai latte started for him. “I don’t have much food at home right now, so we’ll either need to go shopping or order in tonight. I’m officially off at 8:30.”

“Whatever you want is fine, I eat basically anything,” Ryan said hurriedly. “Are you and Andrew coming to the shared birthday party anyway?”

“We were planning on it,” Shane nodded. “It’s in a week? Both of us should have the day off, as far as I remember.”

“Great,” the younger man grinned at him, and Shane smiled back before steaming the milk and adding it to the latte. He handed the cup to him, looking up at the clock.

“I know it’s a while until I’m off, so you could just lock yourself into my apartment if you wanted,” he told Ryan, cleaning the equipment he’d just used. “Of course, you can also stay here until closing and leave with me. That’s not a problem either.”

“I can just stay here,” Ryan shrugged. “I have some schoolwork I can do while I wait.”

Nodding, Shane watched as Ryan found a table nearby, immediately grabbing his laptop out of his backpack and putting on his headset. With a small smile on his lips, Shane started on the closing routines so that he would be able to leave when he was supposed to.

One and a half hour later, after he’d cleaned the floors and locked the customers’ entrance, he and Ryan both left through the back door, Alvin already having left a few minutes earlier.

“You’re wearing your glasses today,” Ryan pointed out, and Shane suddenly remembered that he in fact was wearing them to work. “You don’t look that hipster-ish.”

“I do, don’t lie,” Shane joked, smiling at him.

“Okay, just a little,” Ryan joked right back, laughing to himself.

As Ryan had walked there, they both ended up driving in Shane’s car. Ryan told him about the assignment he was working on, complaining about the professor and his group members. Apparently he’d wanted to work with Zack and Justin, but the girl that had been crushing on Ryan had made sure to take the last spot in their group instead, much to his dismay. That way, he ended up with two people who barely passed any of the subjects, leaving Ryan to do most of the work by himself.

“You just reminded me why I don’t miss college,” Shane told him, chuckling. To be fair, he’d mostly worked with his friends on group assignments, but that wasn’t always a possibility. “Sounds like you’re doing a good job, though. You should be proud of yourself.”

“It’s just more work than I anticipated it would be,” Ryan said with a sigh, unbuckling his seatbelt as Shane parked the car. They kept talking as they walked inside Shane’s apartment, this time about what they wanted to eat. Eventually they decided to order in, settling on a nearby Thai place.

“Want to watch a movie?” Shane asked, grabbing drinks for them out of his fridge. Usually he would grab a beer after his Saturday night shift, but he had work the next day, and Ryan wasn’t even old enough yet.

“Yeah, sure,” Ryan nodded from where he was already seated on his couch. Shane walked over, putting the can of coke down in front of him before sitting down. He grabbed the remote to turn the TV on, immediately browsing through Netflix.

“How about Mamma Mia?” he asked, looking over at him with a teasing grin. Ryan rolled his eyes before kicking him in the side of his leg. “What’s wrong with some good, old ABBA?”

“Maybe the demon followed us home,” Ryan protested, immediately making Shane laugh.

“Fine, no Mamma Mia. I have Disney plus if you’d want to watch something Marvel? Or Disney or Pixar for that matter,” Shane said with a shrug, handing Ryan his phone after finding said app. After a bit of browsing, Ryan apparently landed on Meet the Robinsons, casting the movie to his TV. About five minutes after they started the movie, the food arrived, and they watched and ate in silence.

Somehow, they seemed to have drifted closer throughout the evening, eventually sitting shoulder to shoulder on Shane’s couch as they watched the movie. A part of him wanted to tell Ryan that he didn’t mind if he wanted to lean on him again, but the other part figured that that was probably crossing a line that shouldn’t be crossed.

However, once they had cleared the empty food containers off the table, it didn’t take long before Ryan’s head was leaning against his shoulder, one of his hands resting on Shane’s forearm. Absent-mindedly, he moved his arm from under Ryan’s hand to instead curl it around him, lightly tracing circles into his side.

As the movie finished up, he removed his hand from around him with a yawn, checking the time. It wasn’t exactly late yet, but due to a hectic shift at the café, he was still exhausted.

“I think I’m going to bed,” he told Ryan, who looked up at him from where he was still resting against his shoulder. “As I said, you can stay out here on the couch, I’ll find you some blankets and pillows. I, uh, I do have a big enough bed for the both of us if you’d rather sleep there, but yeah, your choice.”

As he finished up speaking, he was blushing at the pure implications of what he had said. He wasn’t about to take advantage of him or anything, but it still felt weird offering up to share his bed with him.

“You wouldn’t mind me staying in your bed?” Ryan asked hesitantly, looking more insecure than disgusted by what he’d been offered. “I don’t want to intrude on you.”

“Do you need me to point out that you used me as a pillow less than a week ago?” Shane asked him with a raised brow. “I don’t mind, no. As long as you’re comfortable.”

“I sort of forgot about that,” Ryan admitted, and Shane felt bad for thinking to himself that he would never be able to forget. “But you’re sure? I wouldn’t be a bother?”

“You’re not a bother,” Shane confirmed. “As I said, both are options, and I truly don’t mind either way. The blankets and pillows are in the wooden basket in the bathroom, so if you can’t make up your mind just yet, just grab them from there when you’re ready and settle down wherever.”

“Okay, thanks,” Ryan nodded, anxiously chewing on his lower lip. “Good night, then.”

“Good night,” Shane replied with a smile, going into his bathroom to brush his teeth and get otherwise ready for bed. Normally he would just go to sleep in his boxers, but seeing as he didn’t really know where Ryan would end up later, he decided to put on a t-shirt and pajama pants just in case.

After quite some time, Shane having nearly fallen asleep, that proved to be the right choice. As he felt the weight of someone laying down next to him, he just smiled, happy that Ryan was comfortable enough around him to do so.

“Night, Ry,” he muttered sleepily, not even rolling over to look at him as he did.

“Night, Shane,” was the reply he got, the other man obviously just as tired as he was himself. As he was still on the verge of falling asleep, he couldn’t be entirely sure, but Shane thought he felt a hand on top of his own just for a brief moment there.

He woke up almost an hour before the alarm on his phone was due to go off, for once feeling properly rested before work. Glancing over to see Ryan still asleep next to him, a warm smile appeared on his lips, and he tried to get out of bed without waking the younger man.

Looking through his fridge, he realized that he still didn’t have too much food to eat. Sure, they could just pop down to the store and get something, but he quickly made the decision that they could eat at work instead. That would nearly be less fuss, considering that Ryan seemed to live in an acceptable walking distance from there too.

Not wanting to wake Ryan up just yet, he took a shower and got dressed first, putting in his lenses. He eventually walked back into his bedroom, knocking on the door frame to wake his guest.

“Morning,” he said, once Ryan was stirring awake. “I don’t really have anything we can have for breakfast, so I was thinking that we could maybe eat at Solid Ground?”

“Sure,” Ryan nodded with a yawn, rubbing his face as he looked around the room. “Thanks for letting me stay here tonight.”

“No problem,” Shane said warmly, briefly looking at Ryan’s very muscular arms. Catching himself in checking him out, he blushed and told him that the bathroom was clear if he wanted to take a shower or anything. “I’ll just be waiting for you in the living room.”

After Ryan had taken a shower and got himself ready for the day, Shane drove them both to the café. He parked at an employee spot, figuring that he’d go straight to work after eating anyway.

“I just have to go to the back and let Inga know that I’m covering for Freddie today,” Shane told Ryan as they walked inside, seeing Maycie behind the counter. He hadn’t worked with Maycie in a few months as they were never scheduled together anymore, so greeted her with a huge smile.

“Long time, no see!” he told her, the girl immediately lighting up and greeting him back. “Can you take Ryan’s order while I go to the back? I’m covering for Freddie today. Oh, and I’m paying for him.”

“Of course,” Maycie smiled wide. “It’ll be nice to work with you again!”

“Likewise!” Shane told her with a smile, making his way behind the counter and to the back where Inga was busy frosting cupcakes.

“Shane, hi,” Inga looked up at him in surprise. “What are you doing here?”

“I figured I should let you know that I’m covering for Freddie today. You're the shift manager right now, aren’t you?”

“I am,” Inga nodded, looking back down at the cupcakes. “Yeah, sure, no problem. You’re not working for another 90 minutes, though. Right?”

“Right, I was out of food at home, so I figured I might as well bring Ryan here for breakfast,” he told her, ignoring the knowing look she gave him. Inga was pretty close to Adam and Andrew, so he knew they’d probably filled her in. “See you later, then.”

“Yup,” Shane smiled, going back out front to where Ryan and Maycie were talking. Apart from two couples sitting at tables in separate corners of the café, it was completely empty.

“Have you ordered anything yet?” he asked Ryan, walking out from behind the counter to stand next to him.

“Yeah, Maycie recommended I try a chili mocha,” Ryan nodded, looking at him. “I’ll just double whatever food you’re having.”

“You’d probably like that,” Shane agreed with a hum, looking behind Maycie at the different syrups. “I’ll take a double cinnamon latte, a chicken and bacon sandwich, and, uh, a chocolate chip cookie.”

“Of course,” Maycie smiled. “Double the food, right?”

Shane looked at Ryan who nodded.

“I’ll sub the cookie for a lemon muffin, though, if that’s okay.”

“Go ahead,” Shane nodded, finding his wallet to pay for everything. He insisted to Maycie he’d pay for everything, meaning that he’d still get his lunch for free later. After that was done, he and Ryan made their way over to the table where they’d sat the first time they ate together.

“You don’t need to pay for me,” Ryan insisted once again, sitting down while facing him. “I appreciate it, though.”

“It’s really no worry, and I get an employee discount anyway,” Shane said, shrugging. He sat down in the exact same share he’d sat in the last time, looking at him. “Plus, you were my guest. Had to treat you right.”

“A guest who sprung up on you at work and asked to stay the night,” Ryan pointed out, grinning at him. “Thank you.”

“What are your plans for today?”

“Trying to finish up that assignment so that I can focus on the exams coming up,” Ryan said with a sigh. “Maybe contact the professor to let him know of the situation, although I don’t think it’ll do anything.”

“Worth a try,” Shane shrugged. “You use google docs, right? You can print out the version history, he’ll be able to see who's made what changes.”

“Fuck, I didn’t even think of that,” Ryan’s eyes widened before he smiled wide. “That’s perfect. All they have done is add their names.”

“Glad I can be of help,” Shane chuckled, listening to Ryan talk some more about his up-coming exams. Maycie eventually walked over with their coffees and food, sitting down on a chair after glancing over to see that there were no new customers.

“I hope it’s all okay,” she told them, giving them both a small smile.

“Looks good,” Shane assured her, taking a sip of his latte. He’d been the one in charge of training Maycie, and she’d been a pretty fast learner. “Tastes good too.”

“I’m sorry, I had this man yell at me for pulling his shot wrong last week,” Maycie told him, grimacing slightly. “According to both Andrew and Adam I did everything correctly, but he was adamant that I did it wrong.”

“Some customers are just difficult,” Shane told her, but quickly realized that he should probably be a bit more sympathetic. “It probably wasn’t your fault, you’ve always been careful and exact when pulling your shots. If Andrew and Adam told you nothing was wrong, the customer probably had a bad day.”

“I know, it just crushed my self esteem a little,” she said with a small shrug. “I tasted one before pulling his and serving it. It tasted like it should, but I don’t know. I guess I just doubt myself.”

“That’s understandable,” Shane smiled at her. “You tasted it, you checked with your shift manager what you should do, don’t worry about it.”

“Okay, yeah, thanks,” Maycie smiled, before starting up a conversation with Ryan about a class they had in common. Shane pulled out his phone to browse instagram while they did, eating his sandwich in the meantime. Maycie stayed at their table until she got customers, leaving Ryan and Shane to themselves.

“I still stand by my statement that you’d be a good teacher,” Ryan said with a smile. “Do you get a lot of difficult customers here?”

“A few every now and then,” Shane replied with a small shrug. “That’s just how it is nowadays. I usually don’t give a fuck, just ask them if they want another drink or if they want their money back, but I can see how the new employees can get intimidated. Luckily most of the most demanding ones have all switched to the big green lady.”

“So not all bad, then?”

“Nah, it’s all right,” Shane winked, finishing up his latte.

“Would you want to watch a movie or something this week?” Ryan blurted out, shocking Shane just a little.

“Sure, I’d love to,” Shane nodded, smiling at him. “I’m not entirely sure what days I’m available yet, so maybe I could text you when I know more?”

“Great,” Ryan grinned, taking the last bite of his muffin.

They ended up sitting there until Shane had to go start his shift, Ryan telling him about another haunted house he wanted to go visit eventually. Shane scoffed and rolled his eyes at pretty much everything the younger man said, but he was secretly very charmed. The way Ryan just lit up when he talked about it almost made the torture of listening to it worth it, and it was a huge bonus that he actually laughed at Shane’s stupid jokes.

“This was fun,” Shane told Ryan, putting on his apron as they talked.

“It was,” Ryan agreed, pressing his lips together. “You’ll text me when you know more about your schedule for the week?”

“Yeah,” he nodded, smiling warmly at him. “And no matter what I’ll still be there on Sunday. I’m going to have to get you a gift, so if you have any wishes just let me know.”

“See you, then,” Ryan smiled back, waving at him as he walked out of the coffee shop. Shane sighed and walked behind the counter to help Maycie. Even if there was no one in line yet, he knew the Sunday crowd would pick up any moment.

“You make such a cute couple,” Maycie told him, smiling happily up at him. “You both look very happy.”

“We’re not together,” Shane said with a blush, leaning against the counter and looking at her.

“Oh,” Maycie raised her brows. “You should ask him out then.”

“I take it you didn’t hear about my failed attempt at that, then?” Shane grimaced, hoping he wouldn’t have to recount the events. Even if he and Ryan got along well now, he didn’t like thinking back to it.

“No?” Maycie looked at him with curious eyes, and Shane sighed before telling her about it.

“I honestly thought you guys were dating after that movie night,” she said, blushing. “Sorry to hear. He looks interested, though. If you were wondering.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard. Still, if he says he’s straight, I’m going to believe him. Not my place to judge nor speculate.”

“You would still make a cute couple,” she shrugged, and Shane was grateful to be interrupted by the bell of the door, an entire group of women in their mid-20s walking inside.

“Do you want to take orders or make them?” he asked her quickly, assuming correctly that she’d rather take them than make them. Working with Maycie was quick and effortless, and Shane was almost upset when her shift was done. However, as Chantel, Kelsey and Jen had full control of the coffee orders, he went to the back to help Sara and make sandwiches instead.

“I totally forgot you were working today,” Sara said, startled when he walked up behind her. “How has your weekend been?”

“As good as it can be when I’ve been working every single day since Tuesday,” Shane sighed, checking the time and deciding to take his break.

“Oh, shit, yeah. You’re on tomorrow too, right?”

“Unfortunately,” he nodded, removing his apron and grabbing a sandwich and a juice from the cooler they had in the back. “Ryan stayed over at mine tonight.”

“He did?” Sara looked up at him, surprised. “Why?”

“Andrew and Steven were having dinner at his place, so he came by here last night and asked if he could.”

“Was it nice?” she asked, a sly grin on her face.

“It was,” he nodded. “We ate some Thai, watched Meet the Robinsons and went to bed.”

“Went to bed together?” Sara raised her brows. “Or?”

“I- uh,” Shane didn’t know if he wanted to explain everything, so just gave up and nodded. “Yeah, together.”

“Aw, that’s cute. Andrew told me he apparently slept on your chest when you were visiting that haunted house.”

“He did, but it doesn’t mean anything,” Shane protested, already knowing that it would fall on deaf ears. “I told him I’d watch another movie with him this week. And I’m going to his and Steven’s shared birthday party together with Andrew.”

“When’s that?”

“Saturday,” Shane told her, looking at her work as he ate. “Why?”

“Adam, Alvin and I want to go out after work on Friday, we were going to invite you and Andrew along. Maybe Inga too, but I know she’s opening on Saturday,” Sara explained, looking up at him.

“I’m definitely in,” Shane grinned. “God, I need a night out.”

“We all do, I think,” Sara laughed. “I’ll just write the details in our group chat then, I’m pretty sure Ella is up for a night out too.”

“Do that,” he nodded, thinking about the chaotic group chat they had with all of their colleagues who were over 21. It mostly used to send memes and annoy each other, but occasionally it was also used to plan a night out.

With the night out planned for Friday, he realized that he really only had one or two days where he’d have time to watch a movie with Ryan. Sighing, he opened up his chat with him to send him a text.

You: Hey :) I should be able to watch a movie either after my shift ends tomorrow, or on Thursday. Let me know if that works for you
Ryan: When are you off tomorrow?
You: 6
Ryan: And on thursday?
You: No work
Ryan: Thursday, then?
You: 👍
You: We’ll work out the details later :)

Throughout the next week, Ryan and his friends seemed to show up to sit down and work every single shift of his. They didn’t really talk, but Ryan came over to the counter every now and then to either ask him for his opinion or something or just for a quick chat. Andrew teased him a little for it, but quickly shut up about it after Shane and Sara pointed out that he and Steven had been giving each other heart eyes the entire time that Tuesday.

When Thursday came around, Shane was truthfully exhausted. He’d been working every single day for more than a week, but he did have a few errands to run before the movie night he and Ryan had planned. After going grocery shopping, he had to go look for the last parts of Ryan’s birthday present, which was harder than imagined.

Eventually he ended up wrapping up a gift card from Solid Ground together with a CD of ABBA’s greatest hits - Shane thought it was hilarious - and a new wallet that he’d been eyeing for himself for a while. He knew that he’d probably gone a little overboard, but he just wanted to make sure that Ryan liked the present. That he knew he appreciated him.

Ryan showed up a few minutes after what they’d agreed on, holding a bag of chips and a couple bars of chocolate in his hands when Shane opened the door.

“Hey,” Ryan smiled, stepping inside and letting Shane shut the door behind him. “I didn’t know what to bring, so I figured this would do.”

“Oh, no, that’s great,” Shane assured with a grin. “Given any thoughts on what kind of movie you want to watch?”

“Have you watched Luca, yet? I was going to watch it with my girlfriend this summer, but then, yeah, and I just really want to watch it,” Ryan smiled sheepishly.

“That Pixar movie?” Shane frowned, trying to think of the movie Ryan was talking about. “The fish one?”

“Yeah,” the younger of the two nodded enthusiastically. “If that’s fine with you, of course?”

“Sure, I’ve heard it’s really good,” Shane told him, leading him into his living room. He was purposefully omitting the detail of having mostly heard about Luca from his other queer friends, them all saying that it sort of felt like a metaphor. He was still intrigued and wanted to watch it. “We have time to watch two, if you want to stay for a while?”

“Sure!” Ryan agreed immediately, plopping down onto Shane’s couch with a grin. “You choose.”

“Okay,” Shane nodded, sitting down next to him on the couch while making sure to leave at least a small gap between them. “No preferences?”

“Not really,” Ryan shook his head, leaning back and watching as Shane browsed through Netflix. Not wanting to overthink his decision massively, Shane ended up pressing play on a movie he’d wanted to watch for the past month or so.

“I’ve heard his performance in this is really good,” Ryan commented, seemingly leaning back even further and somehow ending up closer to Shane.

“Yeah, just too bad he was a fucking dick to Taylor,” Shane muttered, rolling his eyes. This made Ryan look at him a bit weird before chuckling, but he just smiled and tried to focus on the movie playing. However, it was a little hard when everything he noticed was how Ryan was now pressing up against his entire side, his knuckles brushing against the side of Shane’s thigh.

In the end, Shane wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the movie.

“Better than I feared, worse than I hoped,” he told Ryan with a small sigh, the shorter man’s knuckles now lightly running from side to side against his thigh. Ryan looked up at him and nodded with a shy smile, slowly moving away from him.

“I’m pretty hungry,” Shane said, checking the time on his phone. “Do you want to order pizza?”

“Pizza sounds good,” Ryan agreed, looking down at his own phone. Shane put in an order for a pizza that he figured would be pretty safe, then got up to go to the bathroom.

“Just grab yourself a soda from the fridge,” he told Ryan, who seemingly got up to do just that. When Shane got back from the bathroom, Ryan was practically laying down, drinking a coke as he was going through what Shane recognized as his own instagram feed.

“Pizza should be here in 15 minutes, we could just watch something on YouTube until then?” he suggested, deliberately not pointing out that he’d noticed Ryan stalking his feed.

“Why not,” Ryan agreed, putting his phone down and looking at the TV instead. Shane was already browsing through his home page, a bit unsure as to what Ryan wanted to watch. “Oh, I’ve seen a few of his videos!”

“James Hoffman?” Shane looked at him in surprise. “I genuinely didn’t expect that.”

“I subscribed after I got to know you. You seemed really interested in coffee, and I wanted to know just a little bit more about it,” Ryan admitted, looking embarrassed. “I’m still not a huge fan of black coffee, but I do know a little more of what roasts I prefer.”

“I’m proud,” Shane told him with a grin, chuckling. After passing the remote over to Ryan, they ended up watching cinemasins video of everything wrong with The Nun, commenting on it as they watched.

The pizza arrived a little late, with only a couple of minutes left of the video they were watching. Shane got up to retrieve it, getting back to the living room to see that Ryan had found another soda for them each.

“Thank you,” he told him with a smile, putting the pizza box down on the table before sitting down. Remembering that they were supposed to watch Luca, he put that on and then grabbed a slice for himself, leaning back onto the cushions.

“I really like this so far,” he muttered to Ryan as they watched, the pizza box sitting empty on the table.

“Yeah, me too, it’s adorable,” Ryan agreed, a grin present on his face. “I sure hope that her dad won’t find out, though.”

“Yeah,” Shane nodded, swallowing as he focused back on the movie. He wasn’t entirely sure whose fault it was, but he suddenly noticed that they were sitting rather close again. Completely engrossed in the movie, he barely noticed the hand that was resting right next to his. When he looked down, however, he saw how easy it would be to just intertwine their fingers and embrace the warmth of the other man. Unsure if Ryan wanted it, though, he tested the waters just slightly.

He let his fingertips brush against Ryan’s, then looked back up at the screen. In his peripheral vision he could see that Ryan was now the one looking down. The younger man responded to his touch by flipping his hand over, lightly intertwining their fingers before shifting his focus back to the movie. The first step already taken by Ryan, Shane let their fingers intertwine fully.

Neither of them commented on it or acknowledged it, instead just shifted their positions so that it would be slightly more comfortable for them both. They didn’t let go even when the credits started rolling, Shane gently caressing Ryan’s thumb with his own.

“That was a really good movie,” Ryan chuckled, wiping the last tear from his eye. It was adorable that Ryan got so into movies that he cried, so Shane smiled at him. He reluctantly let go of Ryan’s hand, happy when Ryan instead cuddled even closer to his side, resting his head on his shoulder.

“I really wish I didn’t have class tomorrow,” the younger man said with a sigh, tilting his head to look up at Shane. “I’m comfortable.”

“I have work at 7, I feel you,” Shane chuckled as he looked down at him, hesitating only a little before wrapping an arm around him. The shorter man made himself even more comfortable, so Shane ended up going back to youtube and playing another cinemasins video.

Ryan had put his hand over Shane’s hand which rested on his side, and Shane tightened his grip around him just slightly. He glanced down at him, watching as Ryan’s brows furrowed while he watched. When the video was over, Shane checked the time and saw that he would normally already be asleep.

“I should really get to bed,” he said quietly, removing his arm from around Ryan. Ryan nodded, moving away from him before yawning and stretching. Shane got up from his couch so that he could walk Ryan out, leaning against the doorframe as Ryan put his shoes back on.

“This was, uh, I had a really nice time,” Ryan said, standing right in front of him. “We should do it again.”

“You’re welcome whenever,” Shane told him with a smile. “I could send you my schedule if you want.”

“It would be easier to make plans,” Ryan reasoned, blushing a little. “I can send you mine too.”

“Yeah,” Shane didn’t really know what to say, too busy looking at his guest. He’d been telling himself for weeks that he wouldn’t make another move because of Ryan’s self-declared heterosexuality, but the past times they’d hung out definitely didn’t feel entirely platonic. He noticed that Ryan was looking right back, and when he notice the younger man look at his lips for just a little longer than normal, he quickly leaned in without giving it much thought.

The angle was just a little awkward due to the height difference and the very obvious surprise on Ryan’s part, but Ryan didn’t push him away or anything. But he did break it off with a very apologetic look.

“I’m sorry, Shane,” he said quietly, looking up at him. “I didn’t mean to lead you on or anything, I-I’m still straight, man.”

“I’m so sorry,” Shane said with wide eyes, scandalized by his own actions. “I didn’t even think to ask you. That was so inappropriate of me.”

“No, no, it’s fine, I’m just-” Ryan let out a shaky breath before inhaling sharply. “I’m not into you like that. I’m sorry for the cuddling and everything, I get that how could be confusing, you just made me feel so safe, and-”

“Don’t apologize,” Shane shook his head, feeling sick and dizzy. “I’m really sorry, Ryan. I shouldn’t have just assumed and taken advantage of you. I even knew you were straight, I’m so damn sorry. I- I completely understand if you feel uncomfortable around me and don’t want me there on Saturday, I can go get your birthday present now.”

“No, please, I’m not uncomfortable,” Ryan insisted, looking even more panicked than Shane himself felt. “Please come to the birthday party. You didn’t take advantage of me or anything, I’m so sorry for leading you on.”

“Ryan, you didn’t lead me on. I knew you were straight, and I still kissed you,” Shane said, feeling so disgusted with himself. He was older than Ryan by quite a bit, and he’d completely misused his trust. Maybe Ryan just didn’t understand the severity of it yet, or was scared to tell him what he really felt.

“Please say you’ll be there on Saturday?”

“Ryan-”

“Please.”

“Yeah, okay. I’ll be there on Saturday. If you change your mind and don’t want me there, just let me know, or- I don’t care, let Andrew know or something. Again, I’m so sorry, Ryan.”

“I’m not going to change my mind,” Ryan said stubbornly. “Look, you didn’t take advantage of me, and nothing is changing between us. I would probably have kissed a girl if she acted the way I’ve been doing these past couple of weeks, too.”

Shane smiled just a little at that, the feeling of sickness dissipating a little.

“So, I’ll see you on Saturday,” Ryan smiled, embracing him in a hug. “Thanks for being such a good friend.”

“See you on Saturday,” Shane confirmed, unable to help the smile that appeared on his lips as he hugged him back. “As I said, you’re always welcome, even if I’d understand if you don’t-”

“Shush, I want to, so send me your schedule and I’ll send you mine,” Ryan said, tightening his embrace before letting go. “Good night. See you soon.”

“Good night, Ry,” Shane smiled, whole-heartedly hoping that Ryan wasn’t going to change his mind about everything later. “See you soon.”

Just to take his mind off the kiss and how he felt about it, Shane ended up going to bed with earbuds, listening to a podcast. Unfortunately, it didn’t help that much, and he constantly went back to thinking about it. That’s why he showed up to work the following morning with close to no sleep, walking there just because he wasn’t confident about his driving abilities just then. He arrived 30 minutes before his own shift started, arriving just a little after Andrew had.

“Hey,” Andrew greeted him, though seemingly confused as to why he was there so early. “Good morning?”

“I just need to distract myself,” Shane said, still not entirely believing that Ryan was just fine with it. “I’ll talk to you after I’ve put the coffee on and tested an espresso, okay?”

“Okay?” Andrew hesitated. “You know you can tell me anything, right?”

“Yeah, I’ll tell you once Adam and Sara have arrived, I really don’t feel like telling the story more than once,” he said miserably, already making his way out front to get everything ready for opening. Usually that would be Andrew’s responsibility, but he figured he might as well do it himself.

“Is this about Ryan?” Andrew asked, peeking out from the door to the back. “Steven told me he was at yours last night.”

“I said I’ll tell you later,” Shane repeated, glancing over at him. “Please, just, let me at least have a coffee in silence? I’ve barely slept.”

“I can tell,” Andrew sighed. “You know where to find me.”

Luckily, by the time Shane actually opened the shop and started getting customers, he’d brightened up just a little, greeting them with smiles and making their drinks just as swiftly as usual. Freddie arrived at 10, when the crowd had picked back up a little, and Shane was grateful to be able to just focus on making drinks and calling them out to the people waiting.

Ella walked out front a little before 1, an hour after she started, so Shane assumed she’d been put on Sandwich duty until Jen’s arrival.

“Andrew told me to tell you to go to the back,” she told him, and Shane frowned before peeking through the glass plate separating the back and the front. Sure enough, Sara and Adam had both arrived at their shifts half an hour early. No doubt because Andrew had told them to.

He sighed and walked to the back, immediately being called over by his friends. They all bombarded him with questions, so Shane promptly asked them all to shut the fuck up and just let him talk.

“- so I just kissed him,” he told them, immediately seeing all three pairs of eyes widening comically. “He was so kind about it too, just told me that he was sorry and that he was still straight. I feel so fucking bad, I took advantage of him just because he felt safe enough around me to be himself and cuddle. He even told me that.”

“He told you that you took advantage of him?” Sara hesitantly asked.

“No, that he cuddled up to me because I made him feel safe. He actually told me that he was sorry for leading me on,” Shane clarified. “I’m just so disgusted with myself, and I offered that I maybe shouldn’t come to their birthday party tomorrow, but he told me that he wanted me there and-”

“I’m sorry for listening in,” Jen interrupted him, blushing. “But Ryan isn’t the type to lie about shit like that. Sure, he has anxiety, but he’ll also stand up for himself. He’s obviously comfortable around you, and if he told you that, you shouldn’t blame yourself.”

“She’s right,” Andrew nodded. “I- I kind of already knew. Ryan told Steven when he got home, so when I asked Steven if he knew anything about your bad mood, he told me. Ryan isn’t mad or uncomfortable, he’s just worried that you don’t want to hang out with him anymore.”

Adam, Sara, Andrew and Jen all kept assuring him that he hadn’t done anything wrong, but deep inside he still felt like a piece of shit for doing that to him. However, it did help a little, and when he came home from his shift he fell asleep for a few hours. When he woke up, he had a text from Andrew telling him that they were going to pregame at his and Adam’s, as well as a message from Ryan who had sent him his schedule.

Smiling a little to himself as he realized that maybe he hadn’t fucked up his new friendship after all, he sent a copy of his schedule to Ryan, explaining that next week was a shift B week. Ryan replied with a heart, and Shane hated how his body responded to that. Apparently his heart hadn’t received the message that Ryan wasn’t boyfriend material.

He made his way over to Adam and Andrew’s apartment that evening together with Sara, bringing a bottle of rum and two beers in a tote bag. He’d briefly wondered if he should bring any mixers, but he figured he could always steal some from Andrew.

They arrived to see that Inga was already there, Ella, Alvin and Chantel still on their way.

“I need to get laid tonight,” Shane announced to his friends once he was a little tipsy. “I have to find someone, and just- just get over him, y’know?”

“Yes!” Ella shouted, grinning from where she was sitting together with Sara on the floor. “We’ll find you a good, handsome man, Shaney!”

“Yes!” Chantel chimed in, even Alvin and Adam pledging to do their best to find him someone.

True to their word, the four had done their best to find someone for him, but Shane wasn’t really surprised that Sara had been the one to bring someone over to their table.

“Jeremy, hi,” Shane said, surprised. He hadn’t seen Jeremy in almost two years, when they’d had a shared class their junior year. Back then he had had a small crush on the guy, but as Jeremy had been in a relationship with another man in the same class, it had been a lost cause.

Jeremy moved over to his side of the table, leaving the others to just eye them while the two kept on talking.

“Back in Chicago?” Shane asked, smiling at him.

“Yeah, I had a job interview actually,” Jeremy said, and Shane could swear that Jeremy was looking him up and down. “And you? Still haven’t moved?”

“Nah, still stuck at Solid Ground,” Shane sighed, making the other man chuckle. “So, how long are you staying?”

“Just for another week, if the interview goes well I’ll be back in February,” was the reply he got, and Shane made up his mind.

“Why don’t I buy you a drink?” he asked, and the two made their way over to the bar. Several drinks later, Shane found himself on the middle of the dance floor with his tongue shoved down Jeremy’s throat, feeling warm and aroused at the prospect of finally being desired. He didn’t notice Ella filming them, or his friends catcalling him, he just focused on finally getting what he wanted, eventually following Jeremy out of the club.

Shane woke up the next morning in a hotel bed, the sleeping figure of a man next to him. Due to the alcohol still clouding his mind a little, he struggled to remember everything, but it didn’t take him too long to figure out that he was in Jeremy’s hotel room. He tried checking the time on his phone, but the battery was dead.

Shane rubbed his eyes and stretched, getting out of the bed and going into the bathroom. He winced as he noticed the hickeys on his chest, a few marking his neck as well.

“Ah, fuck,” he muttered, grimacing as he inspected himself further in the mirror. “Well, not much to do about that now.”

When he walked back out after getting dressed, Jeremy was awake and looking at him - no, checking him out.

“Morning,” he greeted with a yawn. “What time is it? My phone died.”

“Eleven,” Jeremy replied, smiling at him. “Last night was fun.”

“It was,” Shane agreed, looking back at him. Jeremy was still fairly attractive, definitely out of his league, but not as far out of his league as he had been only a few years ago. “I- just to be sure, we did use a condom, right?”

“We did.”

Good, Shane thought to himself. He’d been tested for STDs not too long ago, and he really didn’t feel like ordering a new one.

“So,” Jeremy’s voice brought him out of his thoughts. “Maybe we could do this again before I leave.”

“That sounds good,” he replied with a smile, looking right back at him. “How about Monday? I don’t have work, and I have a late shift Tuesday.”

“Perfect.”

“I should probably head home, but, why don’t I give you my number?” Shane asked, and the two exchanged numbers and a brief kiss before he started his walk back home.

The time to the birthday party went by pretty quick, and Shane packed a few beers as well as Ryan’s birthday present before heading out. Even if they were underage, he wasn’t naive enough to think that they wouldn’t be drinking, he’d been a college student himself not long ago after all.

When he arrived, the party was already going strong, a few people very obviously already tipsy. Most noticeably Ella, Chantel and Freddie. At first he’d tried to check for a spot next to Ryan, but the other man had barely even looked up when people greeted him. He eventually sat down in between Ella and Andrew, a bit confused as to why Ryan was seemingly avoiding him.

Trying not to read too much into that, he opened a beer, offering the other one to Andrew. Steven was sitting next to Andrew, looking very much overwhelmed where he was sitting with his soda and watching everyone else. Seeing as almost everyone else were already busy with their own conversations, Shane ended up listening to Andrew and Steven tell him about their date.

“That’s a hickey!” Ella suddenly gasped loudly, grabbing Shane’s face as she took a closer look. “Oh my God! You actually fucked him.”

“Shut up,” Shane rolled his eyes, gently shoving her away from him as he rubbed his neck. He was certain that he was blushing, and unfortunately almost everyone was now looking at him.

“You did!” Ella grinned, patting his shoulder. “How was it?”

“It was good, now can we not talk about my sex life?” he asked, rolling his eyes at her once again. She grinned and rested her head on his shoulder, telling him that she was just so very happy for him.

After some more talking and mingling, Daysha announced that they would start the movie night, bringing out the bingo machines. Unsurprisingly, Ryan and Steven got a roll each, everyone waiting in anticipation.

“Shockingly good,” Steven read from the ball he had picked, smiling to himself. “That’s not bad at all.”

“Okay, okay, my turn,” Ryan announced, reading what the one he had rolled said. “We’re watching a rom-com!”

“I know of a perfect one, can I please pick the movie?” Freddie exclaimed immediately, both Ryan and Steven nodding to her request. Seeing as they’d all been pretty much sitting in a ring until then, everyone re-arranged themselves into places where they’d be able to see the screen. Much to Shane’s delight, he found himself in-between Ryan and the right arm of his and Steven’s couch.

Shane offered Ryan a beer as he opened another one for himself, and the younger man had hesitantly accepted it with a small ‘thanks’.

“I brought your gift too, I’ll give it to you later,” Shane murmured, making sure to be quiet enough as to not disturb the movie. Well, at least not disturb any more than the drunk girls on the floor already did. Ryan didn’t reply, instead just kept his gaze fixed on the screen in front of them.

Shane was conscious not to make any sort of move that Ryan could misinterpret as him trying to come onto him, but he noticed the younger man look up at him every so often. However, when Shane had managed to accidentally touch Ryan’s hand while grabbing popcorn, the shorter man shot up from the couch and walked towards what Shane assumed was his bedroom.

Tired of whatever was happening, Shane picked up the gift and immediately followed him, ignoring Ryan telling him to leave him alone.

“Why are you avoiding me?” Shane asked, closing the door to Ryan’s room behind them. He quickly glanced around it to see several Lakers posters, then moved his gaze back to Ryan, who was still holding the beer.

“I’m not,” Ryan countered, but his facial expression told Shane that he was lying.

“Look, if this has anything to do with the ki-” he started, thinking to himself that he’d been stupid to think that Ryan wouldn’t go back on it. That he wouldn’t be uncomfortable.

“It’s not about that!”

“Really? Kind of seems like it is.”

“I just told you it’s not about the fucking kiss!”

“Then can you at least tell me what’s wrong?” Shane asked with a sigh, starting to grow exasperated.

“Nothing!” Ryan exclaimed, looking at him with wide eyes. “Just leave me alone.”

“You know what? Sure, fine. I’m too old for this shit anyway,” he said, voice tired as he put down Ryan’s gift on the dresser by the door. “Happy birthday, see you around, I guess.”

He didn’t bother saying goodbye to anyone, just left the apartment without a word before calling Sara and asking her to pick him up at Solid Ground. As she didn’t have a car she picked him up in his, looking both worried and confused when she saw him.

“What’s up?”

“Just like I thought he would, he changed his mind about it. Basically avoided me the whole time,” he said grumpily, glancing over at her. “Fuck it, if he’s being this immature I don’t want to be his friend anyway.”

“Don’t you think you’re being a bit harsh?” Sara grimaced. “Like, come on, you don’t know that it was anything you did. Although, if it was, I agree. He should at least be able to talk to you about it.”

“Unless he feels I sexually assaulted him,” Shane said, thoughts immediately darkening. “No one wants to speak to a predator. Fuck, I followed him into his room, Sara. I’m just getting worse. He asked me to leave him alone, and I just ignored it.”

“Don’t jump to conclusions, Shane,” she said with a small sigh. “I’m sure you’ll get to talk to him eventually.”

“Maybe,” Shane didn’t believe so, but he didn’t bother arguing.

“Anyway, I noticed that you didn’t get home last night on snap map. Did you go home with Jeremy?”

“I did,” he said, a small smile creeping onto his face. “We’re going out on Monday.”

“Like a date?” she asked, brows raised. “God, I remember when you had this hopeless little crush on him.”

“I don’t really know if it’s a date,” he admitted, breaking into a full smile as he told her about an incident from college where Jeremy had ordered something from him at Solid Ground, and Shane had tripped and spilled the entire cup of coffee all over Jeremy, then cut himself on the cup afterwards. Luckily, Andrew had been the only one to witness it, and had sworn to secrecy. To his credit, he hadn’t even told Rie who had also worked that day.

“How have I never heard about this?” Sara asked, having to pull over just to laugh at the story. “Oh my God, you’re an absolute mess when you like someone.”

“I know,” Shane said with a groan, grimacing before joining her in her laughing fit. When she was fit to drive again, she drove the last bit to his apartment, parking his car in his usual spot.

“Want to crash tonight?” he asked, hoping she’d agree.

“Of course I do,” she said with a grin, interlocking her arm with his.

Apparently on a mission to distract him, Sara insisted they start watching the Good Place together. He begrudgingly had to admit that it worked, and he had soon fallen asleep on his couch. It hadn’t taken long for Sara to wake him up and get him into his bed instead, and Shane surprisingly woke up feeling well-rested the next day.

Andrew didn’t ask him anything about the previous night when he arrived at work, but Shane could tell that he was aching to do so. He appreciated that he didn’t, though, not in the mood to talk about it. Sara had managed to calm him down and distract him a little, but not enough to actually make him want to tell Andrew about his and Ryan’s argument. He’d probably hear it from Steven anyway.

As planned, Jeremy spent the night from Monday to Tuesday, even following Shane into work and giving him a kiss goodbye as he left. They agreed to meet up again on Thursday, the night before Jeremy was supposed to leave, and Shane sat on the hotel bed that night as Jeremy packed his bags.

“I’ve had a really good time this past week,” Jeremy said, looking at Shane as he was folding a shirt.

“I have too,” Shane told him honestly, smiling. It had been nice, but he was honestly a little relieved that the blond-haired man was leaving. As fun and nice as it was, Shane didn’t want a relationship.

“I, uh, I’m sure you agree that this was fun, but not worth trying to continue while I’m in New York,” Jeremy hesitated, making Shane let out a breath of relief.

“Fully,” he nodded.

“Why don’t I text you if I land that job, and if not, just say goodbye and leave on a good note?”

“Sounds good,” Shane grinned, letting the other man pull him into a brief kiss. He’d already told him that he would have to leave pretty soon because of an early shift the next day, but Jeremy still looked a little reluctant when he told him that it was time to go. They exchanged one last kiss, then said their goodbyes.

Honestly, the past week had been pretty good in several ways for Shane. He’d been able to let out some much needed steam, he felt more relaxed, and he didn’t think about Ryan as much. He’d tried sending him a meme that reminded him of him once, but Ryan had left him on read, so he concluded that it wasn’t worth his energy.

All in all, it took nearly a month before Shane saw Ryan again. The dark haired man walked into solid ground in the middle of December, snow covering both his hat and jacket. He immediately walked up to where Shane was making drinks, straight past Quinta who was taking orders.

“Can we talk?” he asked quietly, startling Shane who managed to spill the milk he was steaming onto his hand. Letting out a shocked yelp as the warm milk hit his skin, he immediately threw his hand under some water, calling for Adam to help him.

Ryan still stood there, watching the entire scene wordlessly. Once Adam had cleaned up the mess and re-started the drink Shane had been making, he finally looked up at the shorter man.

“I’m sort of at work,” Shane said, really not using it as an excuse, but acknowledging that it was a busy day.

“Yeah, of course, no, sorry,” Ryan rambled nervously, looking at him. “Sorry for startling you.”

“It’s fine,” Shane sighed, looking at the line of people who were waiting for their drinks. “Sorry, I should probably just get back-”

“Go, we’re fine,” Adam interrupted. “I’ll just ask Ella to take your place for a while.”

“Uhm, okay,” Shane pressed his lips together, but didn’t protest. He motioned for Ryan to follow him, then led him to the back and into the office that only he and Sara had the keys for.

“Hi,” he said, once he’d closed the door behind them and stood face to face with Ryan.

“I, uh, I wanted to thank you for the gift. I really liked it,” Ryan hesitated, looking at him.

“You could have just texted me, you know?” Shane asked, eyeing him skeptically. He somehow doubted that was the reason why Ryan was there wanting to speak to him.

“Well, yeah, that’s not really why I’m here.”

“I figured,” Shane nodded, motioning for the younger man to continue.

“I’m sorry for avoiding you and not telling you why,” Ryan said, swallowing harshly. “I was being immature.”

“That you were,” he agreed, sighing lightly. “Still not going to tell me?”

“I was jealous.”

“Jealous?” Shane frowned, confused.

“Yeah.”

“You were jealous?”

“Of- of- you know, that guy.”

“That guy?” Shane raised his brows. Ryan would have to be slightly more specific.

“Yeah, the blond guy from the club.”

“Jeremy?”

“Yeah,” Ryan blushed, looking incredibly nervous.

“You were jealous of Jeremy?” Shane repeated, blinking in confusion.

“Yeah, you know, you kissed me, and then the next day Maycie and Jen is showing me this video of you making out with a random guy, and then you had the hickeys, and-”

“You were jealous because I made out with Jeremy?” Shane asked incredulously, staring at Ryan. “I- you told me you were straight, Ryan.”

“I know, but-”

“No, you told me you were straight and that you weren’t into me like that. You can’t go and get mad at me for finding someone who was,” Shane interrupted him, starting to get a bit annoyed. “If you’d just told me at the party that you were confused, or, or, I don’t know, anything at all, then maybe, but no. You can’t just be mad at me for moving on after not even speaking to me for nearly a month.”

“I did try talking to you, but he was here,” Ryan said, voice weak. He cleared his throat before speaking again, looking absolutely terrified. “And I’m obviously not as straight as I thought.”

“No, I think that’s safe to say,” Shane agreed, recognizing that his tone was probably a bit too bitchy for the situation. “If you’d just talked to me, we could have figured something out, but I can’t read your mind Ryan.”

“I didn’t want to admit it,” the younger man admitted. “I’ve been taught that gay people go to hell, and even though I have several gay friends now I just- I couldn’t be. Like, what if my family will hate me?”

“I-” Shane didn’t know what to say, so he just closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Look, this is very obviously not the place for us to talk about this. Why don’t you come by my apartment when my shift is over? Just give me forty minutes to shower and put on some other clothes.”

“Okay,” Ryan nodded, still looking terrified. Shane sighed, then took a step towards him and carefully opened his arms to invite him for a hug. Ryan immediately wrapped his arms around him, and Shane pressed his chin against Ryan’s hair.

“I’m sorry,” Ryan muttered into his chest, and Shane closed his eyes.

“It’s fine. We’ll talk about it later, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Shane followed Ryan back out, ignoring Sara and Jen’s confused looks as they walked past them. Seeing as it wasn’t his place to tell anyone what Ryan had told him, he ignored their questions when he got ready to leave for the day.

“I’ll tell you later,” he assured Sara, putting his beanie back on. “Promise.”

“Fine,” she sighed, smiling as he pressed a small kiss to her cheek before leaving, reminding him to text if he needed anything.

Ryan showed up at his apartment almost exactly forty minutes after his shift had ended, looking both scared and excited when Shane let him in. They awkwardly made their way over to the couch, sitting down and facing each other.

“So,” Ryan said, clearing his throat. “Talk, I guess.”

“Yep,” Shane nodded, thinking of how to start the conversation properly. “Just to make sure I’ve understood you correctly, when you said you were jealous, it’s because you have feelings for me, right?”

“Right,” Ryan nodded, a blush immediately creeping up his face.

“I- are you sure? I mean, maybe you just liked the attention? You’re obviously aware that I’m attracted to you, and seeing as I kissed you, maybe you convinced yourself that it was feelings?”

“No,” Ryan shook his head. “It wasn’t the attention. It was you. I- okay, not to toot my own horn, but I’m not ugly. I’m not lacking in the girl department. Well, at least not until they find out I’m actually a huge geek.”

Shane chuckled, but was unable to ignore the butterflies that were now swarming his stomach. Ryan had just told him that he had feelings for him.

“Anyway,” the younger man continued. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt the way I do when I’m around you. Like, like I don’t need to be afraid. Okay, I’m still anxious as fuck, but you somehow understood how to handle that immediately. And- I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that kiss.”

“Oh,” Shane said, dumbfounded. He didn’t know what he’d expected, but that wasn’t it.

“At first I thought that maybe I just thought of it so much because it was my first kiss with a dude and it weirded me out,” Ryan admitted, blushing with a sheepish smile. “Then I realized that I wanted it to happen again, and again and again. I want to wake up next to you every day, I want you to make fun of me and the ghosts and everything else. I want you.”

“Ryan,” Shane’s heart sank to his stomach. “I- What if this is some kind of fantasy version of me that you’ve created in your head? What if I’m not who you really want?”

“Did you buy me an ABBA CD just because of that demon in the haunted house?”

“Yes,” Shane confirmed, smiling a little to himself at the memory.

“Then I’m pretty sure that it’s you, not a fantasy version.”

Shane gave it some thought, the two of them sitting there in silence, before he finally spoke up and told him everything on his mind.

“Obviously I want you too,” he started, grabbing Ryan’s hand as he spoke. Just the feeling of their hands clasped together just felt so nice and familiar that it made him smile just a little. “I’ve probably wanted you since the day I saw you. But I don’t want a relationship I’ll have to hide.”

“I don’t want that either,” Ryan told him, looking down at their hands. “No matter what, with you by my side, I think I’d even be able to go through hell. I mean, you did manage to get me through a night with a demon present.”

“There was no demon present,” Shane scoffed, rolling his eyes, but still grinned at the man in front of him.

“Shut up,” Ryan said with a grin, before leaning forward and bringing their lips together. It took Shane nearly a second to actually register what had happened, but when his brain caught up, he pulled Ryan closer and brought a hand to his neck.

Maybe Ryan was right, if they had each other, no matter how long and hard the road may be, they’d stick it out to the end. Together.