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|Chapter 24: Worthy Opponent|
"I can't believe you're actually doing this," laughed Luke as they walked through Old Town.
"You're the one who insisted I play with your obnoxious friend," Reid reminded him. He still had no idea how he'd allowed himself to be roped into this game in the first place and he was more than happy to complain. "I said it was a bad idea, that I'd just embarrass him, but you said…"
"I know, I know!" said Luke. "You whine more than Ethan, I swear."
"That's still not more than you, so I'm not concerned," shrugged Reid. "Ouch!" he then proceeded to yell when the back of Luke's hand struck him in the arm. "Was that necessary?"
"Very," smiled Luke. Reid rolled his eyes, drifting closer as they continued to walk. When Luke linked his arm through Reid's, connected at the elbows, he didn't even flinch.
They continued through Old Town, taking their time and doing a bit of window shopping. Reid tried to convince Luke to stop at Al's, but Luke reminded him that they had just ate back at Katie's, to which Reid immediately replied, "So?"
It was nearing two o'clock when Luke suggested they finally wander over to Java. Reid groaned again, more dramatically than the last dozen or so times, but didn't fight as Luke continued to steer him toward the small coffee shop. It was getting later into the month and the air was getting cooler. The trees were starting to turn multi-colored and the wind was sharper than usual. It felt nice to walk into Java, greeted by the warm air and the smell of coffee beans.
"I think we're the first ones here," observed Luke. "How about… over here." Luke led Reid over to a small table against the far wall and pulled up an extra chair, taking a seat and watching with excitement as Reid removed the bag he'd been carrying and set it on the table. He began pulling out the fine chess set, putting the pieces in their respective places with such focus and determination that Luke swore it was like Reid was in surgery. He just smiled, adoring the concentration on his boyfriend's face.
"I'll get us some drinks," he announced. Reid barely nodded to indicate he had heard Luke before the blond was on his feet and digging through his pockets. When he approached the counter he looked up, and instantly tensed, an awkward smile floating on his lips.
"Hey Luke," said the barista, the same awkward smile on his lips as well.
The two men stood in silence for a moment, just staring and trying to figure out what to say. They hadn't seen much of each other in the past two months, even though there were plenty of things connecting their lives.
"Um, you're usuals?" asked Noah. Luke blinked, startled by the break in the silence.
"Oh, yeah, our usuals," nodded Luke, laughing nervously. "So," started Luke. "Are you going to watch the match?" He was pleased to see that Noah was suddenly smirking.
"Yeah. Promised Ashton I'd take my break at the beginning. He should be here any minute now actually," he added as he glanced down at his watch.
"Should be interesting," grinned Luke. Noah looked up at him, smiling brightly as he handed Luke his drinks.
"I think that's putting it lightly."
Both of them laughed, caught in an easiness they hadn't shared in many, many months.
Just then the bells on the front door to Java began to sing. Luke and Noah both looked up.
"Hey," called Noah instantly, his smile, if possibly, growing. "Just a sec." He turned back to Luke and quickly processed his transaction. Luke looked up and smiled at the young man who had just entered and was now leaning on the counter with a Cheshire grin on his face
"Hey, Ashton," said Luke.
"Hey," laughed Ashton. "So. Is your boyfriend ready to lose?" he winked.
"I'm not even going to answer that one," Luke laughed.
Noah handed Luke his change and his receipt, pushing his drinks forward for him to take.
"Good luck," said Luke with an empathetic laugh to Noah.
"Yeah, you, too," he chuckled. Luke nodded to Ashton before disappearing back to the table with Reid, leaving Ashton and Noah alone at the front.
"Hey, you," smiled Noah, coming over and mirroring Ashton by leaning on his arms on the opposite side of the counter.
"Hey," grinned Ashton, already looking excited. Noah laughed.
"Why do I have a feeling that this is going to be absolutely chaotic?"
"Why ever would you think that?" Ashton asked innocently, tilting his head to the side in mock confusion. Noah narrowed his eyes playfully and shook his head. "So are you going to watch?"
"Of course," said Noah proudly. "I'm just waiting for Jim to get back from his break, and I'll try to come over for a few minutes now and then once I'm back on the clock," he explained.
"Good," smiled Ashton. "Is it sad that I'm so excited for this?" he laughed.
"Of course not!" said Noah. "Hell, even I'm excited."
Ashton beamed. "Well I should probably get over there."
"Okay. Just don't kill each other, alright?" Noah smiled.
"Deal," said Ashton, leaning closer on the counter. Noah leaned in, too, at about the same time, instinct pulling them in for a brief kiss.
"You're sure this isn't weird for you?" asked Luke, his eyes returning to Reid.
"I think I should be asking you that," said Reid. Luke looked at him curiously. "I get it, Luke; it's weird for you seeing Noah and Ashton together. Hell, it's weird for me."
Luke shook his head. "No, well, okay, yes, it's weird. But I've said that before. I just… I just need to get use to it. It's one thing to hear about them," he sighed.
"It's another to see them making out at the counter?"
"They weren't making out," replied Luke quickly. "But yes, it's something else to actually see them together."
The conversation ended there and the mood instantly changed as Ashton made his way over. Luke's perception faded from seeing him as his ex-boyfriend's new boyfriend, to simply being Ashton Daniels, Luke's long-time friend. He shifted excitedly in his seat as Ashton sat down beside him, across the table from Reid.
"Hey there, Cookies," Ashton winked. Reid rolled his eyes and suppressed a groan.
A modest crowd had gathered around the table, people pulling up chairs, other standing and nearly everyone who went in or out of the shop at least stopped long enough to see what was going on. At these two words the audience burst into a small applause.
Reid was sitting back in his chair, smiling. Ashton was staring back, shaking his head and laughing easily.
"That was impressive," said Ashton, his eyes falling to the board again as he recounted the last few moves. He sighed dramatically before reaching out his hand to Reid. "Good match, Reid."
Reid smiled brightly and sat up, shaking Ashton's hand. "You're almost a worthy opponent," he grinned, and both men erupted in laughter.
"Congratulations!" Luke was shouting as soon as the two separated, leaning forward and kissing Reid quick but hard on the mouth and hanging on him in the way only Luke Snyder could get away with. A low laugh rumbled through Reid's chest.
"Thanks," he replied simply, an arm looping around Luke's waist and practically pulling him into his lap.
Across the table, Noah sat beside Ashton, his hand resting on Ashton's leg casually. "Sorry you didn't win," he said with an apologetic smile. "That was a pretty great match, though. Two and a half hours? He may have beat you but not by much."
"Thanks, Noah," said Ashton. They smiled at each other before sharing a chaste kiss. "And hey," Ashton began again, leaning close and talking so that only Noah could hear. "After last night, not even losing to Cookies over there is enough to bring me down." He had a cheesy grin on his face, knowing how corny his words were but really not caring. Noah blushed a little and laughed along, pressing their foreheads together.
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