Nicky turns up at my doorstep in the middle of the night, face drained of colour and petrol station carnations in hand. He and the flowers are dripping wet, and this is such a surprise that I step back into the hall and let him in.
He always stuns me.
"These are for you," he blurts, thrusting the bunch of flowers into my hand. "Please don't argue—or ask."
"Okay," I say, shutting the door. "You're making the carpet wet."
"I know, sorry. Look, I really needed to talk to you—"
"Has your phone broken?"
"Ben, don't be a dick."
I raise an eyebrow and take the flowers through to the kitchen. I guess I should put them in a vase, but I've never been given flowers before. I'm not sure many twenty-six-year-old guys have. I settle for an empty beer bottle and stick the flowers straight in.
"Thanks," I say, when they're positioned on my kitchen windowsill. "Were they on offer or something?"
"No. It was just the right thing to do."
"What do you mean?" I face Nicky again and fold my arms. In all our years of friendship, he's never shown any interest in flowers—never mind buying me gifts for the hell of it. Turning up at midnight, though, isn't entirely unheard of.
"I need you to know you're special," he says.
My heart flutters.
Nicky pushes his hands through his wet hair, sending droplets across the wooden living room floor, and his chest jumps in an anxious gasp. With his hands back like this, his white T-shirt stretches and threatens to come un-tucked from his jeans.
I pull my eyes back up to his face.
"I know you've had a bad week—"
Self-conscious, I hold my arms behind my back.
"—and I've thought about it. I've really thought about it. I don't want you to think you owe me anything, or to think I'm trying to save you, because I'm not—I just know I'd regret not giving us this chance. I love you."
"Not like a friend. Well, yeah—like a friend. But more than that. If I didn't tell you, and you died without knowing, I'd never forgive myself."
Nicky is vibrating with energy. He fills the room, even though his hands are meeting behind his neck and his arms are attempting to shield his chest, and I couldn't escape him if I tried.
I don't want to let myself believe this.
I don't want to let myself hope for this.
"Thank you," I begin. "And thanks for the flowers. If you think this is gonna stop me being depressed, though—"
"No, I know. I know I can't save you but I can't lose you, either."
Is this stupid?
"I can leave, if you—"
"Don't leave," I sigh. "I just don't know how to process this. You don't like guys, Nick."
The pause is long enough to convince me to squint at him. His pale face is blushing red, lips parted but unspeaking.
"Is this you coming out?" I ask, inching towards him. "Because you can do that without declaring your love—"
"This is me telling you I'm in love with you," Nicky says, nervous voice loud. "This is me telling you that, yes, I'm queer. I love you—I'm in love with you—and I want to take you on dates and sleep with you and—"
I cut him off with a kiss.
Nicky staggers back and covers his face, gasping. I stand there, wondering if I've somehow misunderstood, and my eyes flash to the dusty rainbow flag hung behind my TV. Nicky's eagerness to come with me to pride makes a bit more sense, now.
"I mean this, Ben," he sniffs, wiping his face. Seeing him cry has never been comfortable, and each tear tugs at my chest. "I really mean this. I think you're hot as fuck, and—"
I laugh, blushing enough to faint, and catch his hands. They're cold. "Thanks. I—are you asking me out?"
I bow down to kiss his cold knuckles. "And you couldn't have done this in the morning?"
"I'd love to date you," I whisper, admitting it out-loud for the first time ever. "Thank you."
We stand there for a moment, awkward and uncertain. Is Nicky my boyfriend, now? I look at him through my eyelashes and he's still crying, biting his lower lip like he wants to say something else but can't find the courage.
I grab him for a hug.
He feels solid and real in my arms and, when he puts his hands low on my back, I feel something in me tremble. Nervousness leaves my stomach and I feel light, like dandelion seeds in the wind.
"Wanna stay?" I ask, cheek against his neck.
"Was I wrong to kiss you? I'm sorry, I got over-excited—"
He laughs and squeezes me, twisting a handful of my T-shirt. "It was lovely. You just surprised me. First kiss from a guy, y'know?"
Each breath smells of him. "Are you sure you wanna do this?"
We keep hugging for a moment longer, comfortable in each other's arms and reluctant to let go in case the other gets caught by the wind and drifts away.
"I've always loved you," I whisper. "Right since you first drunk-called me. I just wanted to cuddle and kiss you until you felt better."
Nicky chuckles, sounding more like his usual self, and slips his hand into my back pocket. "I remember that. Can I really stay?"
Quick as a flash, he presses a kiss to the side of my neck. My pulse skips, electrified, and I pull back to look at him.
We make eye contact and something in me takes flight.