Nothing To Gain by E.M. Denning

1

Brett

“Can I help you?”Brett asked the attractive customer. His attention snapped away from the rack of clothing and he looked at Brett with widening eyes and pink cheeks. Interesting. The guy wasn’t bad looking, if slightly on the younger side. Probably a freshman, Brett decided.

“No thanks. I’m just looking.”

Brett nodded. “I’ll be up at the counter if you need anything.” He turned and walked away. He liked the way the freshman looked at him and how he continued to when he thought Brett wasn’t paying attention.

Whoever he was, Ansel seemed to know him because when he returned a few minutes later, he spotted the lone customer over in the blue section of the color-coded thrift store and let out a laugh.

“Back again, Linden? Shouldn’t you be studying?”

Linden glanced up and shot Ansel a dazzling smile. “School just started. Let me slack off a bit at least.”

Brett glanced between them. “You know each other?” Brett asked, his voice low enough so Linden couldn’t hear. He didn’t understand his curiosity, but it probably had something to do with the way Linden looked at him.

Brett was femme. He was used to getting looks from people, everything from desire to disgust, but there was something different about Linden’s gaze.

Ansel shrugged. “He’s been in here a lot in the past few weeks.”

The brief answer sated Brett’s curiosity. “I should get to work.” He pecked Ansel on the cheek and left.

He thought about Linden all day. Stupid, but he couldn’t get him off his mind. Their encounter had been brief, and they hadn’t even exchanged names. Brett brushed it aside eventually, chalking it up to his mildly obsessive personality.

He’d gone through a six-month stint where he lived and breathed anime. That obsession went by the wayside and he got into first-person shooter video games. Then kickboxing. Brett loved to try new things, he always had. He went through fashion phases, too. Always femme. Always pretty in their own way, whether it was lace or leather. Punk or princess, or a mix of the two. That had been a fun stage. Right now Brett was into sexy sophistication. Pencil skirts. Blouses. Pretty pumps and luscious lipstick. It drove all the boys wild, too.

Brett continued to see Linden at the thrift store. Besides his job, Brett spent most of his time there. Ansel was his best friend. When Brett’s parents lost their shit when he came out, he’d turned to Ansel. And when they threw him out of the house because he made their lives too difficult, Ansel’s mom had taken him in. They folded him into their little family like he’d belonged to them all along.

Brett continued to think about Linden. He wasn’t Brett’s usual type, but something about him attracted Brett in a way he’d found no one appealing in a while. The bells above the door jingled and Linden came in. His hands stuffed in the front of his hoodie, he had the hood pulled up. Underneath it, Linden had a tight, down turned mouth.

Brett clicked his short nails on the counter. “Hey, handsome. You look positively broody today.”

Linden pushed the hood off his head and approached the counter. “Do you know a place around here where I could take Dante dancing?”

Brett hadn’t met Dante yet, but he’d heard Linden talk about him at length. He swore up and down that he didn’t have a thing for him, they were just friends, and Brett almost believed him.

“What kind of dancing?”

“He got dumped and I’m trying to take his mind off it.”

“There’re a few places around here. There’s a club nearby that Ansel and I like.”

“What do we like?” Ansel appeared from the back, where he’d been tagging new arrivals. He dropped a stack on the counter.

“Linden wants to take Dante dancing.”

“You two should come. Dante’s a bit on the shy side, but he’s a good guy. He’s usually a little more fun, but his heart is super fucking broken right now.”

“Brett owes me a dance anyway.” Ansel shrugged. “When were you going?”

“I still have to convince Dante.”

Brett almost backed out, but one look at Linden’s face and he knew he couldn’t say no. “We’ll be there,” Brett promised, earning him a hug from Linden. It took him by surprise, but he’d noticed that the more Linden got to know someone, the more affectionate he became.

The hug was fleeting, but it went on long enough to make Brett’s head spin. And that was how he’d gotten talked into going to a club with a couple of college freshman.

Linden’s casual affection was a force to be reckoned with, and Brett found himself gravitating toward him when he came to the store. Where some people looked at Brett with judgement in their eyes, he never got that vibe from Linden.

Most people found it easy to judge Brett. Whether gay or straight, man or woman. Brett was gay. He had long hair and wore makeup. He could rock a miniskirt or a cocktail dress. He was fabulous with a capital F. Plenty of people hated him for it. His parents, for example. Not his older brother, though. Chad still loved him. Brett didn’t like that Chad still talked to their parents, it felt like a betrayal sometimes, but he’d long ago stopped mentioning them to Brett.

Brett downed his drink and joined Ansel on the dance floor of the club. It wasn’t busy yet, but there were enough people on the floor to push Ansel closer to Brett. They’d danced together a million times. Dancing was one of Brett’s favorite things.

“Think this will get Dante’s mind off his boyfriend?” Ansel asked as he tugged on Brett’s braid.

“Probably not. That kid has it bad.” Brett had watched him the entire time. Linden hadn’t been lying when he said Dante was shy. He stuck to Linden’s side all night, but Brett kept an eye on them both. He was glad Dante didn’t want to dance with anyone but Linden.

Then, as though the fates took it upon themselves to fuck with him, Dante broke away from Linden and headed for the bathrooms, and Linden made a beeline for Brett. With Ansel behind him, it left his front open and Linden turned him into the filling of a sandwich.

Ansel laughed. With Brett’s luck, he sensed his distress and while he’d never milk him for details in front of people; he knew he’d have to confess his inappropriate crush, eventually.

Linden put his hands on Brett’s hips, and stepped closer. He didn’t crowd Brett the way he’d expected him too, which was a relief. And a disappointment.

“Where’s Dante?” Brett asked.

“Bathroom. He needs a break.” Linden frowned. “I think he’s having fun. It’s hard to tell.”

“You’re a good friend,” Brett assured him.

Linden shrugged. “I know I can’t fix things for him, but he seems so fucking sad. I can’t stand it.”

Brett saw Dante head up to the bar. “Here, I’ll go talk to him. You stay here and dance with Ansel.” Brett couldn’t get away from Linden fast enough. If he didn’t stop being so sweet and perfect, Brett would find himself in trouble. Deep trouble.

Brett didn’t stay to see the look on Linden’s face, or to feel the judgement in Ansel’s gaze. He knew later he’d have to come clean. Or not. Brett shoved his own bullshit out of his mind and sat down with Dante.

Dante was sweet, and he could immediately see why someone like Linden would gravitate toward him. Linden was outgoing and affectionate. He watched the way he hung off Dante all evening. It wasn’t in a sexual or creepy way, but they clearly were comfortable around each other. And obviously, it was because of Linden.

Dante, with his broken heart and his big sad eyes, was shark bait in a place like this. Or any place, really. If life were a soap opera, he’d be the character everyone hit on. Brett’s presence would keep the sharks at bay, and it gave him distance from Linden.

Dante had it bad. Whoever hurt him had been a moron, Brett decided. He didn’t know why, but he found Dante easy to talk with and he told him he preferred femme guys, like himself. It wasn’t something he advertised, because whenever people found out his type, they tried to set him up with a friend of theirs. No thank you.

But Dante wasn’t the matchmaker type. They left shortly after, though. Dante didn’t look like he could stand another minute in the club, and Brett’s enthusiasm had also waned.

They parted ways after they reached the thrift store, and Brett followed Ansel up to his apartment above the store. “Since when do you like college guys?”

Brett rolled his eyes. “Since never.” He slid past Ansel and flopped down on the couch. He wiggled his feet. “A little help.”

Ansel rolled his eyes, but unzipped the sides of Brett’s boots and yanked them off his feet. The little black boots were one of Brett’s favorite pairs, even if they killed his feet after a while. He loved the way he felt in them. And the extra few inches didn’t hurt.

Ansel sat on the couch and pulled Brett’s feet into his lap. With practiced hands, Ansel massaged them.

“It’s okay, you know.”

Brett cracked an eye open. Ansel’s foot massages always made him tired.

“What is?”

“Liking him.”

Brett scoffed and wiggled his toes. “More.” He wasn’t attracted to Linden. Not really. There was something about him. Something different and interesting. Mysterious. He intrigued Brett. That was all.