Devin squinted at the piece of code in front of him and frowned.
Well, that jerked him out of his computer-induced fugue.
“Huh?” he called back.
“I need a hand with something,” Angel yelled from downstairs.
Dev saved the code and rubbed his face. His eyes were hurting from all the intense staring and squinting he’d been doing for the last few hours. It was time for lunch, probably.
Leaving his computer on, he went to find his brother.
“What’s up, Angel baby?” he asked, plopping on the other end of the couch from where poor Angel sat wrapped in a blanket.
“I finally finished writing the thing, but it needs to be delivered on paper.” Expressive as Angel’s voice was, the first part of the sentence came out triumphant, while the latter quickly squished it again.
“Okay? You sure you can’t email your professor and have him accept it as an attachment? I mean, you’re too sick to go out. He should totally make an exception,” Dev reasoned.
“Any other professor, sure. It’s just that Kent does things a certain way, and everyone goes with it. It’s the price of his brilliance, I suppose,” Angel explained, waving a hand, then promptly dissolved into coughing his lungs out as if his body protested him moving at all.
“So you want me to drive to campus and hand-deliver it to Professor Kent?”
“Please? I wouldn’t ask if I really didn’t need you to.” Angel peered at him from the cocoon of blankets, and as always, Dev melted.
“You fucker with your big blue puppy-dog eyes. I hate you,” he lied, and gestured at the laptop. “Print it out. I’ll go and get changed.”
He got up and went to his room to figure out what to wear. Working from home had advantages, like not necessarily having to put on adult clothes. Going out was a whole other deal. He pulled on jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt, then peered out of the window and deemed the weather good enough so he wouldn’t need a jacket.
“I think summer’s coming,” he told Angel when he picked up the printed pages from their very old yet trusty printer in the living room corner, which doubled as a miniature office for paying bills and printing stuff.
Angel looked at him with a serious expression that Devin hated. “Thanks, Dev. Really.”
Dev liked that his brother worried about his occasional anxiety around crowds, but he’d felt good lately. “It’s fine. I’m okay today. And I know the campus, so that helps. I’ll be fine,” he assured, then smirked. “But if I talk with Mom, I’m so letting her know you’ve had this cough for a week now.”
“Devil child!” Angel hissed and flipped him the bird.
“Well, you aren’t getting any better, so something needs to be done. And I’m not dragging a grown man to the doctor’s against his will, brother or not.” Devin pulled on his Chucks and saluted the mound of blankets on the couch. “I’ll grab some lunch somewhere while I’m out. Be back in a couple of hours at most.”
“Okay, I’ll warm up some soup and make grilled cheese or something. Have fun.”
THEY HAD been born something like a few days apart, at least social services thought so. It was weird, how Devin and Angel had become brothers, but they had, and nobody was more important to Dev than Angel, and vice versa.
Dev drove their shared old Fiat to the campus and parked it in the first spot he found. He wasn’t too fussy about walking a bit more than necessary, especially after sitting down the whole morning.
These days, his anxiety didn’t bother him too much. New, crowded places sometimes freaked him out, but he’d built his life in such way that it made sense to him and thus calmed his anxiety. He wasn’t too concerned about going to find Angel’s mentor—the campus wasn’t foreign to him, even though he hadn’t gone to the offices before.
As if on cue, his cell rang just as he got out of the car.
“Hey, Mama,” he answered, smiling already.
“How’s my devil child today?” Her voice made his heart squeeze a little. Even after two years away from Anaheim, it felt weird to know she was so far away.
“I’m good, Mama. Walking on the campus as we speak,” he said casually, his evil side chuckling within.
“Picking up Angel?”
“No, I’m taking this assignment of his to his professor because he’s not feeling so well.”
“What’s wrong with him? How long has it been going on? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“He’s had this cold for a week or so now. Sounds pretty awful, if I’m honest. Coughing his lungs out and all that,” Devin gleefully explained as he dodged a few students on the steps to the building where he knew Professor Kent’s office was located.
“I will strangle that child myself!”
“Mama, we’re twenty-five now. We’re not little kids. I guess he wanted to just—”
“Be a man about it! That’s what he wanted to do. I’ll call him myself. Stay safe, Devin. I love you.”
“Love you too, Mama.” He put the phone back into his jeans pocket and approached the directory on the wall to see where exactly he was supposed to go.
He hadn’t met Angel’s art history professor-slash-mentor before. All he knew was that the guy was supposedly about a decade older than them and easy on the eyes. Even Angel, who was mostly straight, had paid attention. It wouldn’t be a hardship to get the papers to Professor Kent, Devin thought, smiling a bit.
It was surprisingly easy to find the right office. He knocked on the door and a pleasant voice called him in.
He still wasn’t quite prepared for how handsome Kent was.
“Uh, hi,” he said, trying to mentally take hold of himself. “I’m Devin Rice, Angel’s brother?” He stepped inside fully and tried not to fall over his own fucking feet. Clumsily, he tried to close the door behind himself, but it didn’t latch properly.
“Are you asking me or telling me?” the gorgeous man behind the desk asked him, blue eyes twinkling and crow’s feet scrunching in an extremely attractive way. “You need to really push it to latch it sometimes,” he advised, when the door refused to cooperate.
Finally, Dev’s brain caught up with the program. “Well, given that I look nothing like him, could be either, don’t you think?”
Where Dev had dark hair and pale skin with light brown eyes, Angel had light blue eyes that stood out with his much darker complexion and black hair.
“That is true,” Kent admitted, then held out a hand. “I’m Professor Kent, as you know already. Nice to meet you.”
They shook hands, and Devin could swear a hint of electricity sparked between their palms.
“So, what can I do for you, Mr. Rice?”
“Angel’s got a killer cold, and you needed this on paper,” Dev said, holding out the assignment.
Professor Kent nodded and took the sheets from him. “I’m sorry to hear that he’s ill. There’s some sort of a crud going around the campus apparently. I’ve been saved so far.”
“Ouch. Well, I won’t linger here too long, then,” Dev said, wincing at the thought of catching the awful thing here when he’d so far managed to avoid it at home.
“We have a lecture on Monday at nine in the morning. Tell Angel that if he’s still feeling bad, I’ll have my TA send him notes.” Kent looked at him with a compassionate expression that somehow warmed Dev’s heart and made him even more appealing.
“I’m sure there’s a classmate or something who can help him out. He wouldn’t want to be too much trouble—”
“Nonsense. By now I know Angel, and I know he wouldn’t skip lectures if there wasn’t a good reason. I know he would hate to draw attention to himself, but my TA always has good notes just in case someone is too sick to come to lectures. Mind you, she never gives them to people who were too hungover to show up or things like that, but, you know, illness is different, even for Antoinette.” The grin Kent directed at Dev told him this wasn’t a new topic for him by any means, and it made Dev’s stomach fill with odd flappy things.
“Oh, okay. I sicced our mom on him just before I came in, so he should be getting better soon. If not with medicine, then by pure fear of Mama getting on the plane and heading over from Anaheim.”
Kent threw his head back and laughed out loud. “She sounds a lot like my own mother,” he said, chuckling still.
“Good. I like the idea of people having good mothers,” Dev said, not really knowing where the thought came from. His expression must’ve changed, though, because Kent looked at him more seriously then.
“I take it that statement has some personal experience behind it?” he asked and immediately raised his hands. “No, never mind. I shouldn’t have asked that. It’s none of my business. I don’t know where my manners went.”
Professor Kent looked so embarrassed, Dev grinned. “Should I be calling your mom to have her tell you off?”
Kent ducked his head and chuckled sheepishly. “Yeah, might be best, to be honest….”
Since there was no reason to linger, as much as Dev would’ve liked that, he looked at the time on his cell phone and sighed. “Okay, I need to go get lunch somewhere. Then get back to listening to Angel whine about how miserable he feels. And maybe do some work too.” He smiled at Kent.
“It was nice to meet you, Mr. Rice.” Kent got to his feet to see him out, despite there being no need to do so. Not that Dev minded the guy coming closer.
“Please, call me Devin or Dev.”
“Fine, Dev. If you call me Seth instead of Professor Kent. I hear that all day and it’s just….”
“Too much?” Dev asked, turning around at the door. He realized how close Kent—Seth—had gotten when he almost bumped their chests together.
Seth opened the door for him, looking apologetic, and nodded. “Way too much.”
“Alrighty, then, Seth. Have a nice rest of the day,” he said, in lieu of his mind producing anything better with the close proximity and all.
“You as well, Devin,” Seth said, smiling as Dev threw him a small wave over his shoulder.
DEV’S FIRST instinct was to call his brother and tell him off for not letting him know how fucking scorching his professor really was. But then he remembered that their mom had probably just called him and Dev wouldn’t be on Angel’s good side right then. Oh well.
He walked to the car, trying to decide where to get lunch. Eventually, after a few minutes of his brain doing its slightly obsessive thing of comparing pros and cons without much input from Dev’s active mind, he had a decision.
“Martha’s it is,” he murmured as he maneuvered the Fiat out of the parking lot and back into the traffic.
Martha’s had been his favorite place ever since they’d moved to Colorado Springs a few years ago. The restaurant was tiny, served healthyish versions of hearty Italian food, and was open all day from brunch to late dinner.
Dev really didn’t go there often enough these days, because Angel had dated Martha’s granddaughter Olivia for a while, and it hadn’t ended pleasantly at all. Dev was still a bit pissed off at Angel for ruining the place for them. Or for himself, really. Dev wasn’t at fault and he still went occasionally, just not as often as he’d liked, because more often than not Angel was with him.
He was lucky to find a parking spot two blocks from the restaurant and walked the rest of the way, looking at the shops’ windows. He liked this part of Colorado Springs a lot. The small boutiques and random little shops, like the secondhand bookstore that only sold history books, were right up his alley. Not that he visited any of the clothing boutiques, ever, unless Mama was visiting, but the other places were enough to make his mind settle and keep his anxieties at bay.
He noticed a group of people heading toward Martha’s front door and smoothly bypassed them when they concentrated on chatting for a moment. His long legs took him inside the restaurant quickly enough to startle Olivia, who was manning the front.
“Holy crap, Dev!” she hissed, holding her ample bosom.
“Sorry, sorry, thought you’d be busy, and looks like I was right,” he said, frowning at the crowded tables.
“Yeah, it’s been busy, but Grandma isn’t around today and her table is free if you want it,” she offered, and Dev smiled at her.
“Thanks, hon, I’d love that. Where’s Martha, then?” he asked as she turned to the people coming in to tell them to wait at the small bar on the side, because there were no tables right then.
“Oh, she’s visiting Aunt Hilda in Denver for a couple of days,” Olivia said as soon as the new people moved to the bar. The door opened again, and she sighed.
Dev knew she hated to turn people away, but sometimes during the rush hour it couldn’t be avoided.
“I’m sorry, sir. We’re all out of tables,” she said apologetically.
Dev turned his head, just in time to see Seth Kent with a frown marring his handsome features. “Hey, Olivia, it’s fine, I’ll share Martha’s table with Seth,” he said coolly, ever so fucking grateful for his brain working quickly for once.
“Oh, hi, Devin,” Seth said and smiled at him. Then he looked back at Olivia. “If it’s okay…?”
“Yeah, sure. Damn, another group coming in. You better go get that table before I give it to the next lot,” she said, shooing them out of the way. “I’ll send Sammy up for your orders as soon as I catch him.”
“This way,” Dev said, nudging Seth’s arm. He led Seth to the back of the restaurant and then up the narrow stairs mostly hidden by the real, huge plants lining the back wall.
“This is cool,” Seth said as they got to the second level. “I’ve come here before, but never really realized there were tables up here.”
Dev took a seat in the little booth and smiled. “There’s just this booth and it’s Martha’s spot. They don’t normally let people up here unless it’s friends or family.”
“Which category do you belong to?” Seth asked, shrugging off his light jacket before sitting down.
“Currently the former. There was a brief chance of being the latter a year or so ago, but Angel screwed that up.”
That got Seth’s attention, not that Dev had thought he was losing it. Seth seemed like one of those people who was very much present in the company of others, at least one-on-one.
“There’s a story, I’m sure,” he stated, but didn’t quite ask.
“Angel dated Olivia for a few months. Then he went into his creative haze for something or other and forgot to call her or reply to her calls for a couple of weeks.”
“Ouch,” Seth hissed.
“Indeed. At least it was during the summer and not while studying. I try to keep him from doing that when he has lectures to attend and stuff to do for actual credit.” Dev shrugged, then smiled when Olivia’s little brother, Sammy, walked up the stairs with menus in hand.
“Hi, guys,” the teen said, smiling at them. “You need these or…?” He held out the menus.
“Nah, I’ll take the mozzarella pizza as usual. And water,” Dev said, grinning at Sam. He really liked the family and hated that Angel had ruined things. Sadly, his brother just wasn’t ready for any sort of commitment if it wasn’t to his studies or his art.
“I’ll have the veggie lasagna and any beer Ronny suggests with it. Thanks, Sammy.” After Sammy left, Seth made himself comfortable and looked at Dev.
Seth smiled. “Tell me another story?”
Dev chuckled and shook his head. “Okay, but then you owe me one too.” He raised his brow at Seth, who nodded in agreement. “So, when we were adopted, we were two and a half or so. I had a different name, one that someone in the system gave me, but Angel was already called Angel then.”
Seth nodded, his whole being concentrating on Dev in a way nobody ever had before. It should’ve been disconcerting for someone prone to anxiety, but somehow it wasn’t. Instead, it felt like a hug, almost.
“After our parents took us home, it became glaringly obvious that Angel was an easy kid, no matter what he’d gone through before. Me, on the other hand….” He chuckled. Then Sammy was back with their drinks and Dev took a sip of his water. “See, I had issues with aggression when I was little. It’s gone away ages ago—I somehow mellowed out as a teen—but our parents soon figured that if Angel was the angel baby, I was the little hellion. So they renamed me Devin as a joke… almost.”
“Angel and Devil?” Seth looked incredulous.
“Uh-huh. It was all done very lovingly, and mostly because one of our cousins had the name I’d been given before. But it fit. The whole angel-and-devil thing has become family nicknames. Terms of endearment, really. So to this day our mother calls us her Angel Baby and her Devil Child.”
Seth smiled widely, then laughed out loud. “Oh man, that’s… that’s gonna be hard to top.”
Dev chuckled. “Yeah? Well, you gotta try because you promised.”
“Okay, okay,” Seth said, took a drink of his beer, and seemed to think for a while. “When I was nine, I accidentally outed my aunt to my whole extended family.”
Dev’s eyes widened as he took in the implications. “Holy shit!”
“Yeah. See, my aunt was in her late thirties then, and she’d been living with this ‘roommate’ of hers for like five years or something like that. And I’d spent time at their place, because it was much more fun than being home alone all summer. My mom’s an artist and my dad worked a lot, anyway. So, we were at this family gathering at my grandparents’ ranch, and those with kids were starting to gather us up for bedtime routines. Somehow, and I still don’t remember the context exactly, I managed to ask in a very bright, loud voice if my aunt would sleep in the same bed with her roommate here too, just like they did at home.”
Dev groaned out loud and let his head thump theatrically against the table. “You didn’t….”
“Oh yes. Everyone froze. That I remember.” Seth took another sip from his glass. “Now, let me remind you, this was almost thirty years ago. In rural Texas.”
Dev let out another wounded sound that made Seth laugh more.
“Oh my God,” Dev finally managed to say. “This is why I’d never have kids. Well, among other reasons, but you know. Kids can be horrible.”
“Agreed,” Seth said, grinning.
They chatted for a moment longer before Sammy brought them their food.
“Now, I know a lot of people would laugh at me for going into an Italian restaurant for pizza, but….” Dev trailed off as he inhaled the scent wafting from the basil and tomatoes.
“But it’s Martha’s.” Seth nodded solemnly, cutting into his lasagna. “It’s the same with lasagna, I think. It’s a bit of a cliché, but you know….”
“Yes, Martha’s,” Dev said in a nearly reverent tone, which made both of them burst out in laughter. “We’re such suckers for this place, aren’t we?”
“Looks like it, yeah. Let’s dig in.”
They ate in silence for a while, just enjoying the food and the relative privacy the small balcony provided them.
Eventually they started to talk again, this time about likes and dislikes, and somehow Dev felt as if he was on a date.
“Have you ever even seen anything by Lars von Trier?” Seth scoffed as he pushed away the plate, then patted his stomach contently.
“May I remind you my brother is an art history major, sir.” Dev sniffed delicately. Then he grimaced and admitted, “I’ve only seen Dancer in the Dark and it traumatized me enough not to really care to see his other films.”
“See, that’s the thing, though. They’re all so different. But I would still agree that they’re an acquired taste,” Seth pondered out loud while Dev finished his pizza. “This was fun,” he said after draining his beer.
Dev nodded. “Very. I haven’t had lunch company in a while. Angel tends to grab something on campus, and I work from home, so I do the same in the kitchen.”
“What do you do? I somehow forgot to ask.”
“Our dad is one of the founders of Nemo Gaming, so I lucked out in a way. I beta test for them and do some coding and so on. Nothing important, but I have a knack for figuring that stuff out and I like gaming, so….”
“Oh, I’m not a gamer, but even I know Nemo Gaming,” Seth mused.
“Yeah, a lot of people do. With the competitive gaming scene starting to gather attention, they’re getting a lot of publicity among nongamers too.”
Seth glanced at his cell, which he’d put on the edge of the table and—now that Dev thought about it—hadn’t glanced until then. “I should get going. I have another lecture in an hour and I need to figure some stuff out,” he said apologetically.
“It’s okay. I should head back too. See if my brother is alive or has succumbed to his cough.”
“Where do you guys live?” Seth asked while standing up and pulling his coat on.
“We’re in Country Club Village, actually. I know it’s pretty weird for two twentysomething guys, but it was ‘an investment’ of our dad’s. He wanted us to have a good house, and since he has the money….” Dev shrugged.
Seth hummed. “They want you to be safe, your parents.”
“Yeah. We did give him an upper limit when he started the house hunting. But yeah, we have a nice three-bedroom place with a small backyard. It’s pretty ideal. A bedroom for us both and guest room when the parental units visits. Attached two-car garage and all. Which is ridiculous because we share one tiny old car.” He grinned.
“Sounds like a good deal, though. I’m glad you have a place like that,” Seth said, ducking his head in the way that Dev recognized meant he was feeling bashful.
“Yeah.” Had this really been a date? Dev wasn’t sure, nor did he want to be the dweeb to ask.
“Oh, you’re already done. I’ll run your check to Olivia and you can pay there, since you’re on your feet and all,” Sammy said from the top of the stairs, then vanished down again.
“That’s one efficient boy,” Seth commented.
“Yeah, Sammy is awesome.”
They went down the stairs and through to the front desk, where Olivia smiled at them.
“Together or separate?” she asked, gesturing at their check.
“Together, please,” Dev and Seth said at the same time, then turned to frown at each other.
“Well, one of you has to pay for it, boys,” she said, despite being younger than Dev and definitely more than a decade younger than Seth.
“I’ll take this one; you’ll have the next, okay?” Dev risked.
Seth’s face did something complicated, but then he nodded and made the surrender gesture with his hands.
Dev paid and kissed Olivia’s cheek, then went out through the door Seth was holding open for him.
“So, we’re doing this again?” Seth asked, nodding at the restaurant door.
“Yeah, I’d like that. I had fun.”
“Me too. I don’t have lunch company often either, unless I go with my TA or one of my colleagues, and I’d rather not. I get few breaks as it is, and frankly I’d rather not think of work when I do,” Seth admitted. He stood there with his hands in his jacket pockets and all but scuffed the toe of his loafers against the sidewalk. Adorable. With the perfect slate-gray eyes and stubble and just… everything.
“Okay. What’s your number?” Dev asked, then programmed it into his cell when Seth rattled it out. Dev texted him a generic “Dev here” and waited for Seth’s pocket to ping. “There, now you have my number. If you give me half an hour warning, I should be able to go wherever at any given weekday. If I have something planned at home, I’ll text you in case you want to join me.” Then, because it suddenly struck him, he asked, “Unless you have some fraternization rules? You’re Angel’s mentor, after all.”
Seth chuckled. “I should think it’s okay. I would have working lunch with him too, but I’m not about to hang out with him otherwise.”
“Okay, good to know,” Dev said, feeling relieved. He didn’t want to let go of this… whatever it was quite yet.
“I really need to go. Let’s stay in touch?” Seth dug out his keys from his pocket.
“I’ll hold you to that. Where’s your car?” Dev asked, and Seth pointed the opposite direction from where he’d left the Fiat. “Okay, well, see you around!”
They parted ways and Dev grinned widely. Holy fuck had that been awesome, date or no date.