Status Update(10)

By: Annabeth Albert

“Better get the dogs out.” Noah slipped on his parka, pulling the hood tight.

He dug out Ulysses’s spare leash—it was way too much lead for such a small dog, but it would do. He let the dogs pull him out of the RV, resisting the temptation to get another look at Adrian’s torso.

Did you see his pierced nipple? His subconscious was relentless, and shame swamped him as he led the dogs away from the RV. He had no business ogling anyone, definitely not a guy, and specifically not Adrian, who was young and vulnerable and lived in a world where he could tattoo his sexuality on his arm. Noah lived on a different planet entirely.

Trying to juggle both dogs with zero caffeine in his bloodstream only worsened his mood. The rain slapped against his face, and he didn’t bother taking them to the dog run—just ran them down the gravel drive. Or more accurately, attempted to run. Ulysses wouldn’t stop sniffing Pixel, and Pixel wouldn’t stop trying to get Ulysses to play.

“Just pee, darn it!” Finally, the dogs cooperated, but he ended up carrying a shivering Pixel back to the RV.

“Here. Better wrap him up,” he said as he entered the RV, but Adrian didn’t look up. He sat on the couch, head in his hands. He didn’t move as Pixel tried to nuzzle in under the covers.

“What’s wrong?” Noah had the strangest urge to rub Adrian’s neck. That wasn’t happening, so he busied his hands with starting the kettle for tea. Everything was better with a strong cup of tea.

“He’s not coming back, is he?” Adrian scrubbed at his hair, making it even more of a mess.

Oh hell. How to tread delicately? Noah thought back to how his sister had reacted after breaking up with that car salesman who was terrible for her. At least Adrian wasn’t in tears.

“I don’t think so,” he said finally.

“God, I am so well and truly fucked.” Adrian flopped back onto the sofa bed. “Seriously. I’m the stupidest judge of character ever.”

Seriously, an appendectomy might be preferable to this conversation. There was a reason he kept his distance from his undergraduates and their volatile emotions—he was quite possibly the world’s worst comforter.

“Were you together a long time?” Noah asked, getting two mugs from the dish drainer.

“Depends on how you look at things.”

Oh hell. They were in for a long story. Noah smiled tightly and made a little go-ahead gesture before surveying his cupboard for something Adrian might be able to eat.

“We met online about five months ago. But this trip was our first in-person meeting. We left LA two days ago. We’re going to spend Thanksgiving with my family. So...less than a week or almost six months depending on how you count.” Adrian laughed, a bit too self-consciously.

Noah wasn’t sure what he could say to put him at ease. “So you don’t really know this guy? You definitely need to cancel your credit cards.”

Okay, that definitely didn’t qualify as comfort, but like always, Noah’s mind was too focused on the practical.

“I know,” Adrian moaned. “Can’t even do that because my phone’s dead.”

“You can use mine.” Noah slipped his own off the charger. His psyche hummed at being useful for something. “Then we can search out Billy. Maybe Trent’s been in contact with him.”

Adrian didn’t accept the phone Noah held out.

“Or maybe you want to call your family first?” Noah tried again. Please. Let me help you.

When Adrian still didn’t grab the phone, Noah set it next to him. He poured Adrian a mug of tea. “How about you start with some tea?” Help me out here. You look like you need a hug and I am the least equipped person on earth to give you that.

“Yeah.” Adrian accepted the tea.

“Milk?” Noah offered the quart he kept in the fridge.

“No thanks.” Adrian made a face, then stood up, jeans riding low on his hips. “I’m sorry. You’re being nice, and I’m being a total whiny brat. Let me drink this, then I’ll figure out how to get out of your hair.”

He was silent for several moments while he drank his tea but his mind was obviously still spinning, judging by the furtive glances he kept giving Noah.

Also By Annabeth Albert

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