Jase stepped off the plane and inhaled airport.
Okay. So in all of his thoughts about how this would go, Terry was with him. Didn’t matter. Terry was gone. Terry had been gone for three weeks. Now Jase had to figure out how to break the whole thing to Truman without getting a lecture.
Who was he kidding? He’d be lucky if he only got one lecture.
He strolled to checked bags and picked up his second bag, which could have counted as carry-on, but why would he bother carrying it if the airline would do it for him? While he waited for the carousel to bring him his bag, he turned the sound back up on his phone and texted Truman.
The reply, which came through almost immediately, said We’re looping arrivals. What’s your ETA?
No hope for a reprieve, then; “we” probably meant Hugh, at least, if not Hugh, Will, and Will’s girlfriend Molly. Jase sighed, tugged his old duffle off the carousel, and turned to face the music.
Truman was out of the car immediately, waving. Despite the lecture he knew was coming (and the two weeks he’d committed to watching Truman and his happy extended family), Jase was intensely relieved to see his oldest friend.
“You look great,” Tru murmured, giving him a tight hug.
Truman had gained a bit more weight, but Jase wasn’t about to say that. “You look disgustingly happy and it makes me nauseous, so stop smiling.”
“I am disgustingly happy, especially for a guy who just turned forty. Where’s Terry?”
Here it was. He canted his eyes toward Will and hoped evasion would be enough.
“Hey, Jase!” A patented Will Derrie hug. “How are you? Where’s this boyfriend I’ve heard all about?”
E tu, Will? “He’s not here.”
Will blinked. “Oh shit. Sorry, I thought he was coming up with us.”
“So did I,” Truman said from behind him.
“Well, he didn’t.” That they’d been broken up for three weeks wasn’t relevant, was it?
“Sorry, Jase,” Will mumbled, blushing. “Uh, I guess the back seat will be roomier now, anyway. You got out of sitting in the middle.”
“What, no Molly?” Good point; they wouldn’t have all fit in Hugh’s car anyway. Which meant Tru had known Molly wasn’t coming.
Hugh honked and leaned out his window. “I’d prefer the tearful reunion to be in the car, if you three don’t mind!”
“Good to see you too, Reynolds!”
He waved and rolled up his window.
“Want me to get your bag?” Will asked.
“I got it. So tell me what’s been happening. Where is your lovely girlfriend?”
“She’s in Amsterdam with a friend of hers.”
Will shrugged. “Nah, it’s okay. She’s just getting back into traveling like she used to, and she loves it, so it’s all good.”
Truman came up between them, threading an arm into theirs. “Plus, we see Will more when Molly’s out of the country.”
“Yeah, I’m not exactly lonely.”
“Oh, I bet you aren’t.” Cute little Will. How old was he now? Still not thirty? With a committed girlfriend who didn’t mind if he saw other people, and two boyfriends who’d probably do just about anything for him?
You are not jealous of Will. You’re just being a baby. Stop it.
They crammed his bags into the trunk and he climbed into the back with Will. It would have been a bit cramped with three, but even three adults could sit back here.
“This car is made for sex,” Jase said to Hugh’s reflection in the rearview mirror.
Hugh met his eyes for a second. “Don’t think that didn’t factor into the purchase.”
He always forgot Hugh could come back like that. Hugh seemed like the kind of uptight guy who couldn’t deal with a mention of sex, but obviously that was just an act.
Jase leaned back and stared out the window for a second. It was raining lightly, but not particularly cold. Nowhere near as cold as Boston. He’d planned to tease Tru about being a weather lightweight, but now that he was here, he found it harder to maintain the fiction that everything was great.
Hugh and Truman were discussing the house, and the furniture left after the previous owners moved out.
“We bought everything we liked, but we had a few new beds delivered that we’ll need to build before anyone can sleep downstairs,” Hugh said. “And if you could glance around for some improvements along the lines of ADA standards, we’d appreciate it, Jason.”
“Sure thing. I have some ideas from the video, at least for the front entry, but I think you’re looking at a remodel if you want Ally’s boyfriend to be able to spend the night.”
“We’re open to that.”
“Hugh, you heard the stories of how hard it was to get the last remodel approved by the locals—”
“Does it sound like Ally’s serious about Paul? Because to me it does, and we can hardly insist they sleep in the living room.”
“The living room is a step down,” Will added.
“I forgot about that. What about the sun room?”
“The door’s narrow,” Truman said thoughtfully. “He might be able to get there, but it wouldn’t be pleasant.”
“And even if we managed to get the planning board to okay an elevator somehow, I’m not sure he could maneuver downstairs. The bathroom in particular.”
Truman waved a hand. “I know. I just hate to spend more money when we’ve barely spent a night in the house ourselves.”
“We have the money. And this year I couldn’t extend an invitation to Paul because the house isn’t accessible. Next year, I’d like to be able to invite him, even if they do end up deciding to go to his father’s instead.”
“Just how serious is this guy about our little Ally?” Jase asked, leaning forward.
“Serious,” Truman said.
“They’re totally getting married. It’s sick.” Will grinned.
“And we like this guy?” He’d already asked Truman, but it didn’t hurt to get all three of their opinions.
“Paul’s good people,” Will said. “And he’s good for her. Like you know how sometimes she gets a little carried away?”
Carried away was one way of describing it. “You mean when she starts babbling and you lose all track of what she’s saying because she sounds like a crazy homeless person after an eight ball?”
“Uh, yeah, well, a lot of guys would roll their eyes or be dismissive, but Paul just waits for her to kind of chill, then refocuses on whatever they were talking about, which is cool.”
Right, Will and Ally were roommates. Jase sensed a touch of protectiveness in him, which he applauded.
“And you, Hugh? You like this guy?”
“I do. I think they are well-matched. Paul sees in Ally someone more capable than a lot of people have seen in her. She looks at him and sees a gentleman.”
“Yeah, all that’s real nice, but I mean when you look at him, do you like him?”
Hugh caught his eye again. “Of course I do.”
“Hugh totally set them up.” Will reached across to squeeze Hugh’s shoulder. “It’s adorable when you play matchmaker.”
“Watch it, Mr Derrie.”
“What? Plus, I don’t really have to, not yet. Nick and Bernie and Lucy and Leo and Eddie aren’t getting to the beach house until tomorrow. You can only embarrass me a little until then.”
“I sense a challenge.”
“Both of you,” Tru said. “The only thing that matters is how they feel about each other, and Ally and Paul seem to get along well.”
“That’s a real subtle way of saying when Ally got home the night they met she was already pretty much head over heels.”
“Are we stopping for coffee before we commit to the drive?” Hugh asked. “Speak now. I’d rather stop on this side of the Richmond Bridge.”
“Coffee,” Jase said. “Yes. I vote yes.”
Will nodded. “And bear claws. And more coffee. I vote yes, too.”
Truman sighed. “I will not get a bear claw. I will not get a bear claw.”
“Uh, I’d offer to not get a bear claw in solidarity, but I just escaped Derrie Christmas and I totally earned one.”
“Derrie Christmas?” Jase asked.
“Starts at Midnight Mass, continues in our nuclear families on Christmas morning, then we all get back together again in the afternoon for Christmas dinner. I’m like exhausted.”
“How is Miles doing? I forgot to ask earlier,” Truman asked. “This is his second Christmas, right?”
“He’s good. He’s totally walking now, and he obviously has no idea who all the crazy assholes are, but he looks great. Sorry, Jase. My cousin and his boyfriend are adopting a little boy.”
“Yeah. Well, rocky and nail-biting sometimes, but also cool. Miles is cool, though they cut off his hair, which is a bummer because his little baby-’fro was adorable.”
“Coffee,” Hugh announced, pulling in front of one of those California chains where everyone feels superior because they’re not sitting at Starbucks.
“Oh, Peet’s. Thank god. I’m gonna be fried in like half an hour, fair warning.”
“I’m sure we’ll manage, Will.”
The three of them fit together so well. Jase followed them into the coffee shop, watching the spaces between them, the casual touches between Will and Tru, the way Hugh was apart from them but also obviously tied to them. People probably wondered what the hell was up, because it was almost impossible to come to any conclusion aside from the truth: Truman and Will were obviously fucking, Truman and Hugh were obviously in love, and Hugh and Will, well, you couldn’t get that kind of tease from people who’d never fucked or loved each other.
Happy face, happy face. Jase clapped and said, “So, what’s appropriate culinary preparation for the beach shack? One of those salted caramel things? Or a coffee cake? They look a little sandy.”
Thankfully, Will—high on caffeine and sugar—carried the conversational burden for the rest of the drive. Look happy, Jase told his reflection in the window of the car. Everything’s fine. You’ve been without a man before and survived to tell the tale.
The problem was he’d started thinking Terry was the last in line, and now that Terry wasn’t he couldn’t quite remember what this felt like. The searching. The hollowness.
Happy face, he resolved, and tuned back in just in time to tease Will.