Nervously pacing up and down the sidewalk on Main Street, I pulled my phone out of my pocket and checked it for the eleventh time. I’d told Andy to text me as soon as he and Chance were done having lunch with their parents. It was nearly 5:00 p.m. I groaned, “How could lunch possibly take three hours?” I looked down at Gayby, who was resting in my arms, and giggled. “You look cute as fuck,” I said as I scratched the little brown spot on the top of his head. He was wearing a green graduation robe, just like mine.
Our graduation ceremony was over. I was officially a graduate. A Gilcrest University graduate just like my brother, my father, my uncle, and grandfather, who all came before me. If someone would have asked me four years ago what I’d be doing after graduation, I would have sworn I’d be getting the hell out of Gilcrest, North Carolina. But the sleepy little college town had become my home.
I let out a sigh and walked over to a bench on the sidewalk and sat down. There were a lot of things to love about Gilcrest. Like the perfect views of the Appalachian Mountains, the old brick sidewalks and historic buildings. There was also a strong, but close knit LBGTQ community. But what I loved most about Gilcrest were the guys. My best friends. They had become family to me. I looked down at Gayby and situated his graduation gown. It fit him perfectly.
The guys gave me shit about having Gayby’s clothes custom made. But really, there was just nothing cute off the rack for puppies. I ran my fingers over his soft, floppy ear. I’d swore I’d never have a dog after my evil father had made my own dog, Lulu, disappear when I was twelve years old. But I’d made an exception for Gayby. He wasn’t actually mine anyway. I was just his uncle. He belonged to my roommate, Andy and his hot AF fiancé, Chance Wyrick, former quarterback for the Gilcrest Lions. I was just Gayby’s uncle. “Seriously, where the hell are they?” I asked the puppy, who opened one eye and immediate closed it again to resume his nap.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I reached in my pocket and pulled out my phone, opening our group text.
ME: 911. Meet on Main Street immediately. Hurry!
I smiled when I saw that Andy typing.
ANDY: Where are you?
ME: Across the street from the coffee shop. Hurry!!!!!
ANDY: Is this an actual emergency?
ME: YES. COME NOW.
ANDY: Last time you sent out a 911 call it was because you couldn’t decide what Gabe should wear to Wild Orchid.
I snickered when I read Andy’s text. It was true. Wild Orchid was the only LGBTQ friendly bar in Gilcrest. Me and the guys went at least once a week. Despite violating a number of health department codes, I’d some how convinced the owner to let us bring Gayby. Now he was a regular at Wild Orchid just like us. “That was an emergency, wasn’t it, Gayby?”
ME: ANDY!!!! 911
ANDY: What’s the emergency?
JORDAN: I’ll bet $5.00 it’s a celebrity siting.
BEN: $10.00 Gabe pooed on the sidewalk and Cam doesn’t want to clean it up.
I rolled my eyes, “It’s a good thing this isn’t a real emergency. You’re the only one I can count on.” I said to the sleeping dog in my lap. I crinkled up my nose when I saw Chance send a string of laughing/crying emojis. Then another text came through.
CHANCE: On our way.
I sighed in relief as soon as I saw Chance’s text. “At least you have one smart daddy,” I said as I picked up Gayby. That wasn’t really true. Andy was probably smarter than all of us combined. He’d graduated with highest honors with a degree in Biological Chemistry. But for some reason, had decided he wanted to bake cookies for a living. Chance and Jordan were in the Architecture Program and they had another year left of school. Ben was an Education major and had a year of student teaching to go to get his Masters degree. So, Andy and I were the only ones who’d graduated. But still, it was the beginning of the end. It made me sad.
I stood and walked over to the old store front and ran my fingers across the butcher paper that covered the front door. Andy was going to freak out. He was going to say it was too much. He was going to get mad. He would say that I was too generous. He would refuse to accept my offer. But I would convince him.
Andy only saw good in me. Maybe that’s why I loved him so much. But I wasn’t good. I wasn’t generous. I was selfish. I was an asshole who manipulated people with my money, just like my father. I was a spoiled brat. I wanted us all together in Gilcrest indefinitely and I’d figured out a way to make that happen for everyone but Ben. But I’d figure that out also. I sighed and kissed Gayby on the head. “He’s gonna be mad, isn’t he?” I needed it to all work out. My uncles had just left for a two-month trip Europe. Ben, Jordy, Andy, and Chance were my family and I needed us all to be together.
About ten minutes later, the four of them were crossing the street. “What’s the emergency?” Ben asked. I ignored him and waited for everyone to gather around.
“Cam, what are we doing here? I’m exhausted,” Andy complained.
“Will you keep your panties on? I’m trying to give you a graduation surprise,” I snapped, immediately wishing I hadn’t said it. Andy looked nervous. Probably because we were standing in front of what used to be Sam’s Bakery, where he’d worked for the last four years until Sam decided to retire and sell the place.
“Cam, what have you done?” Andy asked.
“Okay,” I said, handing Gayby over to Ben to free my hands, “You have to promise not freak out. You have to hear me out before you say anything.” Andy furrowed his brow in confusion.
I reached up and ripped off the butcher paper to reveal the new “Andy’s Bakery” logo that I’d had made for the door. I glanced back at Andy who was staring at it. His hands were in his pockets. He looked shocked.
“Holy Shit,” Jordan whispered.
Ben’s laughter rolled through the air as he patted me on the back, “This may be craziest and greatest thing you’ve ever done.”
“Oh my god, Cam. You can’t. What did you do?” Andy asked.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out a key and unlocked the door. As I stepped inside, I looked back at the guys and said, “Well, are you all just going to stand there?” Everyone shuffled inside except for Andy, who was just standing there staring at me, frozen on the sidewalk. “Well, come on, Andy,” I said.
He shook his head. “No. Nope. No.”
“Andy, quit acting like a child, come inside.”
“Cam! You can’t—this isn’t—you can’t just buy someone a bakery for graduation. I got you a pen. A pen! No. This is ridiculous. Everyone come out, we’re going home.” His cheeks were an adorable shade of red.
“First of all, you got me a Montblanc, not a ‘pen,’” I said using air quotes. “Second, you promised you wouldn’t freak out and that you’d listen.”
He shook his head. “I totally did not promise that.”
Chance pushed in front of me and grabbed his hand, “Come on, monkey, at least hear him out,” he said, pulling Andy through the door.
“Oh my god, no. This is too much. Chance, you know this too much,” he said frowning at his fiancé.
“Just listen,” I interrupted. “I’m sick of all of your baking stuff all over the kitchen and random people keep showing up at the apartment for cookies. It’s unsettling. You need this. I need this.”
He shook his head. “No. This is crazy. I can’t afford this. I’ll never be able to pay for this. I won’t be able to pay you back. This is wrong. I can’t let you do this.”
Clearly this is going to be harder than I thought, “First of all, you will be able to pay me back. I saw Sam’s books when I bought the place. I figure you can give me ten percent of the profits for the first couple of years until I get my money back and then I’ll take five percent. It’s an investment, Andy. Second, I didn’t buy this place for you, I bought it for me.”
I grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the hallway. The guys followed as I pointed toward the door leading upstairs.
“What’s up there?” Jordan asked.
“Sam’s old apartment,” Andy replied.
“Not anymore,” I said dramatically before I ripped off the butcher paper revealing the ‘Ansley Designs’ logo I had made for the door. The truth was that I didn’t really need the space to start my interior design business. But it would be nice to have a studio where clients could come to me. Besides there was room to have two extra offices built for Jordy and Chance after they graduated and I convinced them to come work with me. But I decided that it would be best to save that idea for another day.
I turned by to Andy, “Now do you get my point?”
“No, no I don’t,” he said. His cheeks were still bright red.
“My point is,” I said, making up lies as I went, “I need a bakery at the entrance of my studio. So, when people come in, they smell fresh baked cookies. Fresh baked cookies remind people of home. Fresh baked cookies make people think of interior design.”
All the guys burst out laughing except for Andy, who stood there with his hands on his hips shaking his head. “Well done, Cam,” Ben said.
I crossed my arms and stomped my foot. “Fine Andy, if you don’t want to, introduce me to some of the people in that pastry class you take, I’ll find someone else to do it.” I looked down and examined the fingernails on my right hand, pretending to be hurt.
Chance put his hand on Andy’s shoulder, “Andy, maybe you should think about it, if you can really pay him back in a couple of years and he wants to do this—”
Andy interrupted Chance, “But he doesn’t want to do this. He did it for me and it’s too much. Where did you get the money for this anyway? You told me yourself that you didn’t have access to your trust fund for a couple of more years.”
This might have been a good time to make a confession about a certain billionaire I’d been extorting money from for the last two years. But I wasn’t ready to go there. “I had savings and with some creative financing, it’s taken care of. I’m telling you Andy, this place makes enough money and I know you can make more than Sam. I’ll make my investment back in two years, three tops.”
Andy groaned. “Jesus Cam. If I do this, and that’s a big if, I’m giving you more than ten percent. We’ll be equal partners and we’ll pay off whatever you owe as quickly as possible. I love you, but you’re fucking crazy. I can’t believe you did this.”
I squealed and wrapped my arms around Andy’s neck. “Oh my god, this is gonna be so great. Just wait! We’re going to make this place so cute.” Gayby took that second to bark. Probably because he thought I was trying to kill his daddy. I grabbed Andy’s hand and pulled him back into the bakery. “I’m so excited. I already have a million ideas.”
“I haven’t said yes,” Andy said stumbling behind me.
“Yes, you have.” I replied grinning back at him.
Twenty minutes later, the five of us stood in the bakery kitchen sipping champagne in celebration of me getting my way. I had to admit I was proud of myself. I’d managed in less than an hour to keep Andy and Chance in Gilcrest indefinitely. Andy, because he’d agreed to take the bakery and Chance, because I knew that he’d never go anywhere without Andy. I was feeling a bit smug when I ran my hands across the stainless-steel ovens behind me. “Do we have to keep these? They’re so ugly and dirty.”
Andy choked on his champagne. In between coughs, he said, “Oh my god, Cam. Those are the ovens. You can’t have a bakery without ovens.” I tried to hold in my laughter. I loved that even after all the years he’d been my best friend, he still couldn’t tell when I was teasing him.
I was about to fuck with him some more when I heard the bells ring. Someone had come in the door, which made no sense, because no one knew where we were. “Cameron?” As soon as I heard him call my name, I panicked and fell to the floor behind the stainless baking table. As I fanned myself, I whispered, looking up at Chance. “I’m not here. I was never here. You haven’t seen me,” I babbled.
Chance furrowed his brow and left the kitchen. I heard Chance’s voice, “Can I help you with something?”
The disgustingly charming voice answered, “Yes, I’m looking for Cameron Ansley, can I trouble you to go to the back and ask him to come out?”
“Umm…I’d like to. But he’s, uh, he’s, not here.” Chance’s voice trailed off. Jesus he’s a terrible liar.
“Cameron, I know you’re back there. I’ve tracked your phone.” He called out.
Goddamnit. Who the fuck does he think he is? Stalker. The more I thought about it, the more pissed off I got. I looked up at Andy, Jordy, and Ben who were all staring down at me in confusion. “Cameron. You’ve got exactly thirty seconds until I come back there.” Prick.
Chance spoke up, “Listen, I’m not sure who you are, but maybe it’s best if you come back another time. I don’t think he’s interested in seeing you.” I looked up to see Andy. He looked nervous. I immediately felt bad. I jumped out and stormed out of the kitchen.
“What do you mean you’ve tracked my phone?” Jesus, he looked perfect standing there in his navy Armani suit. Beard trimmed to perfection. Not a chestnut hair out of place. Laughter dancing in his matching chestnut eyes. He fiddled with his platinum cufflink and looked up at me flashing his stupid charming smile, which revealed his stupid dimples. Motherfucker.
I could feel all the blood rushing to my face. “Jesus, do you have a private detective following me? What the hell? Who did you pay to track my phone?”
His laughter carried through the bakery. “Don’t be so dramatic. You do remember I pay for your phone, right? I didn’t have to pay anyone to track you. I used the ‘Find My iPhone’ app.”
Asshole. “Well, that’s a complete invasion of my privacy.”
He shrugged. “Well, you haven’t answered my calls for weeks.”
“I told you, I was busy. I’ve been very busy.”
He grinned, “I can see that. Graduating from college. Buying bakeries. Aren’t these things you generally discuss with your fiancé?” Holy shit.
I heard an audible gasp come from behind me. I wasn’t sure if it came from Andy or Jordy. Andy passed by me and held out his hand to the dickhead, “Hi, I’m Andy, Cam’s—”
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Andy. Rein Davenport, Cameron’s fiancé.” I watched him grin and shake Andy’s hand. He turned to Chance. “You must be Chance Wyrick.”
Oh jesus, this is getting completely out of hand. I stormed over and grabbed Rein by the arm, “Can I have a word with you outside please?”
“Well I was just meeting your friends—”
“Now.” I said, not in the mood for his shit.
Once we were safely out of the bakery and standing on the sidewalk, I looked up at him. Damn, he’s so tall. He was smiling down at me as he rubbed his left arm in the spot where I’d grabbed him to pull him out of the bakery. I didn’t even want to think about the shit show waiting inside for me. “Why are you here?” I snapped.
“To attend my fiancé’s graduation, why else would I be here?”
I gritted my teeth. “Your fake fiancé.”
He shrugged. “Semantics.”
I shook my head. “No. Not really.”
He sighed. “I’ve been trying to get in touch with you for weeks. We have things to discuss.”
“Fine. Call me when you get back to Chicago or wherever you’re going. I’m in the middle of something.”
He furrowed his brow. For a second, he almost looked hurt. If I didn’t know better, I might have thought I hurt his feelings, but I knew better. Rein Davenport didn’t have feelings. “Come on Cameron, I’ve come all this way. You looked great crossing the stage by the way,” he said before he winked at me.
I rolled my eyes. “What do you want?”
“I want to talk to you. I wanted to see you graduate.”
“Why? Why do you care?”
He sighed and looked up. “Look this is a crucial time in the merger. I need you. How would it look if I weren’t here?”
I rolled my eyes again. “Rein, you don’t need me anymore. Those guys don’t care. The only thing they care about is money at this point.”
“That’s not true. Any hint of a scandal could blow the whole thing up.”
I reached inside his coat pocket and pulled out his cell phone and held it up to take a selfie of us. I kissed him on the cheek. I tried to ignore how good his skin felt under my lips as I snapped the picture. I turned towards the camera and plastered a fake smile on my face and snapped another photo. “There. Post them on your facebook or myspace or whatever you old people use these days. Proof of the happy couple. That’s what you needed right?”
He smiled at me. “I’ve missed you.”
“You’re full of shit.”
“Please give me an hour. One hour to talk. That’s all I’m asking.” He looked at me with his stupid, dumb, puppy dog eyes.
“I’m staying at the Gilcrest Inn.” I couldn’t help but laugh. The place was a dump. But it was the only hotel in town. It gave me pleasure to think about him staying there.
“Fine. I’ll see you there in twenty minutes.”
A giant smile creeped across his face. Smug much? He nodded toward the bakery. “Perhaps I should go inside and properly introduce myself?”
That was the absolute last thing I wanted. “No! You stay away from my friends, got it?”
He offered a small smile as held up his hands in a defensive posture. “Fine. I’ll see you in twenty.” I watched him walk away before I summoned the courage to go back inside.
Inside the bakery, I was surprised to find my four best friends sitting quietly around a table, until I looked closer. Shit-eating-grins. On every single one of their faces. “Okay, get it all out. Say whatever it is you have to say. Let’s get it all over with,” I said crossing my arms in frustration.
Chance looked up at me and smiled, “What? He seems like a nice guy,” he held up his phone and waved it, “for a billionaire luxury hotel tycoon.” Oh, sweet jesus, they googled him.
Jordy gasped, “Oh my god, did he really break up Princess Charlemagne’s marriage?”
Before I could respond, Ben asked, “Are you aware that he was voted number four on the list of the World’s Most Eligible Bachelors in the January 2016 issue of People?” His perfect British accent grated on my nerves. They were all grating on my nerves.
“Not so fast, Ben,” Andy said, “It seems he’s officially off the market and has found the love of his life, Cameron Ansley, sole heir to late media mogul, Samson Waterford. It’s such a sweet picture, don’t you think?” Andy asked, holding his phone up. I rolled my eyes. It was a picture taken of us at a charity benefit in Chicago. Andy looked up at me and smiled, “I’m happy for you, Cam.”
I scrunched up my forehead. “Wait. What? No. Eww. He’s old. No.”
I let out a deep breath as they all broke out in laughter. “He’s thirty-three. That’s not old,” Chance said.
“And he’s fucking hot,” Andy said.
Chance narrowed his eyes at Andy. “He’s not that hot.”
Jordan laughed. “Sorry, Chance. Andy’s right, he’s fucking hot.”
“Smoking.” Ben added.
I stomped my foot. “Ugh. I don’t know what you gays are thinking right now. But none of that is real. This isn’t real. It’s all fake. It’s a business arrangement. So, shut it.”
“I don’t know, the way he looked you seemed real to me,” Andy said smiling.
I shook my head. “He looks at everyone like that. It’s not what you think. It’s not what any of you are thinking.”
Andy raised an eyebrow at me. I could tell he didn’t believe a word of what I’d said, “Fine. Pull up a chair. Tell us what it is then.”
I frowned at him. “It’s long story, okay. I have to go meet him. But I promise, after my meeting, I’ll tell you guys everything.”
Ben asked, “When you say meeting, do you mean meeting in the biblical sense of the word?”
“No! Jesus. It’s business. It’s all business. I’ll see you guys back at home and tell you the whole story.”
“When will you be home? Can we expect you before tomorrow morning?” Andy asked.
I rolled my eyes. “An hour, tops,” I said, turning on my heels to get the hell out of there.
As I walked out the door. Andy yelled, “We’ll be waiting.”
I let out a breath as walked slowly down the sidewalk. I tried to figure out what I was more nervous about, spending the next hour alone with Rein Davenport, or facing my friends to tell them the truth about Rein Davenport. Neither option appealed to me at all. But it seemed I had no choice. As I walked towards the Gilcrest Inn, I thought about the day it all started …