NEW RELEASE: “Always Three” by J. P. James.
I was left at the altar by my
fiancée, but my two groomsmen are only too happy to comfort me.
I thought I was in love with Janine. She’s beautiful, sweet, and we’ve been dating since freshman year of college. It was the best day of my life when I asked her to marry me, and she said yes. But then Janine jilts me at the altar and leaves me like a fool before three hundred guests. I want to cry. I want to break down, and sob like a baby while sitting on the church steps. Good thing my groomsmen Hudson and Hayden are on hand to comfort me. But when their comfort goes beyond mere friendship, suddenly I’m forced to come face to face with the real Ricky who’s been hiding in the closet his whole life.
My twin Hudson and I have been friends with Ricky since we were tots. We defended him against kindergarten bullies and did our best to shield him from the ups and downs of life. But now, Ricky’s been left at the altar by his long-time sweetheart. We never thought it was going to work with a woman, but it wasn’t our place to question his sexuality.
Now Ricky tells us he has feelings. For us. Real feelings that run deep and strong, not to mention a magnetic physical attraction that pulses in the air. However, he’s conflicted because after a lifetime of living as a hetero man, the adjustment is difficult. He questions himself, thinking that his attraction to men might just be a reflexive reaction to his recent trauma of being jilted at the altar. How can we help him find himself and see the light? Living as a gay man is never easy, but Ricky’s emotional conflict is taking a toll and breaking our hearts. How do we help Ricky accept himself, when he’s afraid to batter down the closet doors for good?
***Always Three is a full-length MMM novel with a HFN/HEA and no cliffhangers.***
What the fuck, Ricky?” Hudson says, taking a step away from me.
Okay, not how I thought this conversation would go. Then again, I didn’t think I’d be having this conversation at all.
Hayden rests his hand on Hudson’s shoulder, probably sending a burst of calming twin energy into his brother. “Easy there.”
Hudson does as Hayden commands. His shoulders relax, only a bit, but enough that his mind seems to calm down. He looks at me, his eyes apologetic.
“Sorry, this isn’t about us. I know that.”
My chest rises and another laugh leaves me before I know what’s happening. Everything feels absurd, but maybe that’s exactly why I’m laughing.
“Trust me, I wish this weren’t about me,” I tell them. “I hate that all eyes are on me. Half of those guests pity me, and half wonder what I did to make Janine run away.”
“Ricky,” Hayden says.
I had let my eyes drift to the floor, but his voice brings my head back up to meet them.
“Which are you guys? Do you pity me, or blame me?”
Hayden leaves Hudson to walk towards me. His hand comes up to my neck, his fingers digging into the nape of my neck, grounding me.
“Neither,” he says confidently.
Hudson clears his throat, and my eyes shift to him.
“Neither, but we’re your best friends. You didn’t think you could talk to us? You could have called off the wedding,” Hudson says, wounded.
Guilt rise in my stomach like bile, and stays in the back of my throat.
“How do you tell someone you’re having doubts about your fiancé?” I ask them, genuinely curious.
I’ve been having doubts about Janine, about this marriage, for a while, but it’s not like there’s a good time to bring it up. Jack Sparrow talked about the opportune moment…screw that! There’s no such thing.
“I didn’t want to bother you guys,” I say lamely.
Hudson turns to punch the bed, and then bury his face in his hands. Meanwhile, Hayden stays close by, but I can see the sadness in his eyes. I can’t stand to see them like this.
I feel tears, hot like boiling water, push against my eyes. My legs are wobbly, but I don’t want to fight gravity anymore. I drop to my knees, but Hayden moves too. His hands are on my shoulders, holding my chest up since my legs refuse to work. I really messed up this time.
“Who am I kidding? I never had the guts to do something like call off a wedding,” I tell them.
Hayden’s fingers grip my skin. It’s nice, but it also brings back an old memory. Sometimes the other meathead jocks would push me into the lockers, grabbing my hair and shouting slurs to me. They never did it in front of the twins. They knew better. I tried my best to hide it, but I never did anything about it. I’m spineless. I always have been and always will be.
“I’m just glad Janine has the balls I don’t,” I reiterate. “She’s a stronger person than I am.”
“You don’t know that for sure,” Hayden says.
Hudson grumbles. “He’s right.”
Hayden and I both look at Hudson. Hayden leaves me, and I swear he may just punch his brother.
“Take it back,” Hayden warns.
“No,” Hudson says confidently. “At least when it comes to this wedding, he’s right. Janine was the bigger person.”
“What do you mean?” Hayden asks.
Hudson looks at me, without an ounce of pity. All I see is anger. He looks back at his brother, but his finger points directly at me.
“He was going to commit his life to someone he didn’t want to be with, someone he doubted. Think about it. What if Danny had stuck by us another ten years,” he says hotly.
Hayden falters, and his eyes drop to the floor. He’s speechless.
I look between them. Even though Hayden can’t find a retort, I feel like the one out of the loop.
“What exactly happened with Danny? Did you guys have a fight?” I question them.
Of course, I remember Danny. I didn’t see him much, but whenever I came around their apartment, he’d be home. He usually stuck to his phone. He preferred to scroll through social media instead of talk, but he seemed nice enough. I certainly didn’t think he was the piece of garbage that he is now, but I guess we don’t always know the people we love.
I saw how the twins looked after him. They treated Danny like royalty. Once when they were both sick with the cold, they told me Danny refused to see them for two weeks until they got better. I’m no relationship expert, clearly, but what kind of douchebag leaves their partners in the dust like that? Still, they cared about him, so they ignored all the small issues out of love. Sometimes love seems so stupid I don’t know why we bother with it.
I focus on the guys once more, and realize that they are staring past me. Realization flashes through their minds, before their eyes refocus.
“We weren’t good enough for him,” Hudson says lamely.
What? My throat goes dry and it takes a moment to force my voice to work.
“He couldn’t be free with us, so he cut himself out,” Hayden adds.
The guys break their eye contact, licking their lips like the memories have a bitter taste. For them, I know it does. They always fall hard and fast for their guys.
“You guys have to know that that isn’t true,” I tell them between sniffles. “You are two of the best people I’ve ever met. Screw Danny. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be okay. I’ll figure things out. I want you to focus on yourselves, okay?”
I step closer to them. They let me, but approaching them feels like walking up to an animal in the wild. Hayden shakes his head. It’s a small gesture, but I can tell he’s trying to shake the weight of the world off his shoulders.
“We should be the ones that should be telling you you’re okay,” he tells me.
His posture tells me he wants to run a thousand miles away from this conversation, but I know he won’t move. Not while I’m here.
“I’m fine. I mean–,” I pause, trying to gather more of my thoughts. “I mean, this is traumatic, of course it is, but life goes on. Janine leaving isn’t the end of the world. I’m such a coward that she’s doing me a favor.”
“You don’t love her,” Hudson says. There’s an accusation in his tone, but mixed with pain and sadness.
“I told you to lay off him, Hudson,” Hayden grumbles.
Hayden watches as Hudson and I stare each other down. He’s waiting for me to give in and admit he’s right. Fine.
“I love Janine, but I’m not in love with her,” I tell them. “She’s been my support but I don’t think I feel about her the way a husband should feel about his wife.”
I chuckle then, remembering the wedding presents stacked in the corner of the ballroom.
“We’ll have to forfeit the registry, and return all the gifts,” I tell them. “It’s a shame. I was looking forward to a nice set of knives.”
Hudson and Hayden consider me for a second, assessing my attempt at a joke during a time like this.
Hudson chuckles first, shaking his head the entire time. Hayden smiles, and it’s simple and wonderful. With that, it feels like a layer of tension lifts out of the room. Even when they’re mad at me, no one is as good at comforting me as these two are. With one laugh, my fears melt away. Their words are armor for when I go back out into the real world.
“Ricky, we’re always looking out for you. You know that,” Hudson tells me.
I nod. I can feel my guilt rise back up in my throat.
“I only want what’s best for you guys too. You mean the world to me,” I admit.
Hayden crosses the room first. When he reaches me, his hands go to my shoulders. He doesn’t hold me, isn’t trying to ground me, but his touch is reassuring nonetheless.
“Be honest. What can we do to help?” He asks.
I study his face, especially the laugh lines around his eyes. Looking back at Hudson, he has matching ones as well. They’ve always been big belly laughers, so full of fun and adventure that they can’t contain their excitement with the world. I want that. I want to feel carefree.
“Can you unwind the last five years?” I say ruefully.
He laughs as I bump my head to the side, feeling the top of his hand against my ear.
“Don’t you think that’s a little dramatic?” Hudson wonders.
Why can’t Hudson stop being right today? It’d be infuriating, if I didn’t have such tremendous respect for my friends.
Hayden’s hands clasp my shoulders then, and it pulls me out of my head. He lifts one hand, and wipes away a tear falling down my cheek. I pull back, scared that I didn’t notice I was crying.
“Shit, I’m sorry,” I say quickly.
Hayden shakes his head. “You said you’ll be alright. It’s also okay if you aren’t,” he assures.
The tears stop, but I lose my breath and gasp loudly into the room. Hudson closes in then, watching my trembling hands.
“You said it yourself. Today has been traumatic. You might feel a little manic for a while, but it’s normal. Don’t worry on anything except feeling better,” he explains.
Here they are again, calming me down when I can’t deal with life. It’s been so long since we’ve spent this much time together, been alone just us three. I think I’ve craving it without realizing as much. I’ve been starved of my best friends for too long, and I don’t want let go now.
“I have a favor to ask,” I say under my breath.
Their eyes tell me everything, but Hudson goes ahead and says it out loud.
“Anything. You know that,” he confirms.
My eyes drop, first to Hudson’s lips and then Hayden’s. They’re nearly identical, both full and pink. They’re a little chapped, but that doesn’t surprise me. In their line of work, I’m surprised they aren’t in worse shape.
My throat tries to close, but I fight it. I gulp on nothing, wishing I had water, booze, or something cool to extinguish the fire in my lungs. My face feels hot. I might just burst into tears again, but I won’t let my nerves get in the way. Not now.
“I want a kiss.”
They lick their lips at the same time, my eyes searching their faces for a sign. Yes? No? Their eyes dart to each other quickly, not long enough that I can read what it means, but Hayden cuts the silence first.
“A kiss?” His voice is breathy and unsure.
His hands come up off my shoulders. Suddenly, the heat subsides, and I realize that isn’t a good thing. He should have left them where they were. I want his hands on me.
If I can’t have that though, then I need to put distance between us all. I step back. I force us to stand in a triangle, eyeing each other equally.
“You heard me. A kiss. From both of you,” I state, rather confidently if I say so myself. Where this newfound gusto is coming from, I have no idea.