To anyone else, Micah would appear annoyed, angry even. Almost thirty years as best friends taught you a lot about a person’s tells. Max knew he wasn’t angry. He was afraid.
“You know why…”
“I don’t bloody know why! Bringing her here could ruin everything.” He turned and stared at the skyline of Manhattan. “Knowing about our lifestyle on paper isn’t the same thing.”
“Here.” Max handed him a glass of bourbon. “Drink and let’s talk it through. Best case scenarios, worst case scenarios. We don’t do it unless we’re on the same page.”
Taking the glass, he shook his head. “Like I don’t know you.”
Max grinned. “I’ll attempt to talk you ‘round to my way of thinking.” He set several plates of food on the counter. “Eat. You think better when you eat.”
Releasing a heavy sigh, Micah sat on a barstool and picked at the food. “You’re more nervous than you let on.” He held up a forkful of perfect salmon. “Cooking therapy.”
“Of course, I’m nervous. I know it could blow up in our faces but not taking the risk at all would be worse. I have to know.” Popping a scallop in his mouth, he chewed thoughtfully. “She wouldn’t have kept us on this long if she wasn’t curious, Micah.”
“She’s an erotica author. Maybe all of this is nothing more than material for her next book. The real world is very different.”
“You’ve interacted with her as I have. She’s open-minded and sexually curious.”
“If we do this, you can’t forget there are other participants involved, Max. You can’t expect her not to finish her research.” There was a slight pause. “Even if we’re not the last piece of her dissertation. Will you be able to handle that?”
“Will you? You’re far more…territorial than I am.”
“Ah, but I’m a realist. You’re an optimist and a romantic.” He speared a bacon-wrapped lobster bite. “I recognize and accept the world for the way it is, while you envision what you wish it to be.”
Crossing his arms from where he stood in their kitchen, he chuckled. “You think I’m more susceptible to her charms?”
“Boyo, I know you are.”
“I think you’ll take one look at the lady fair and throw your heart at her feet.”
Lifting one brow, Micah replied, “That a fact?”
“Oh yes. That’s a fact. I may be gentler by nature but you need someone like her as much as I do. Perhaps more. You do tend to bottle things up.”
“Invite her then. Bring her into our lair and let’s see if she’s all we think she is.” He pointed his fork at Max. “If she disappoints, you’ll have to find a new hobby.”
“Agreed.” Taking out his phone, he sent an email to the object of their discussion before the tide turned.
Micah and I would be honored to meet you in the real world. In fact, we agree it would be fascinating for all concerned. Once you know your travel plans, we’ll adjust our schedules accordingly.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
When he was certain it was sent, he winked and plated food for himself.
The silence drew out between them. He could feel Micah’s eyes staring at him intensely.
“You just played me. You just fucking played me, Max.”
Innocently, he settled on the barstool beside his oldest friend, business partner, and roommate. “Not at all, Micah. I just wanted us on the same page. Now we are.” He took a bite and chewed happily. “I wonder what order we’ll be in her list? I hope we’re last. If we’re last, I think we might be able to keep her.”
“Keep her…” Micah murmured.
“And live happily ever after. If none of the other gentlemen steal her heart.”
“Boyo, you’re delusional.” He took a long pull of his bourbon. “But…I wouldn’t hate it.”
“No. I didn’t think you would.”
A few weeks later, a woman walked into their life and changed absolutely everything from top to bottom.
Micah didn’t hate it. Max refrained from gloating.
© Shayne McClendon
If you haven’t read “The Barter System” – it’s time you did. It’s the anchor for all my other universes and you’re going to love it.