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19. Making New Friends

As much as Adelaide wanted to let loose, she made sure to watch Beau carefully that night. The club’s signature cocktails were ridiculously delicious, but she paid close attention to how quickly she was drinking, and counted each glass that Beau finished. To her relief, he seemed to be keeping his promise and was taking it much slower that night.

It felt like he was taking it easier in general, really. She kept her guard up for any more sad eyes or quiet moments, but it looked like he was doing a great job of genuinely enjoying himself and making the most of the night. Granted, he was still hovering around their table like he was stuck on a leash, but Adelaide knew better than to expect Beau to be a social butterfly at an event like this.

Adelaide was just dipping back to their table after having a lengthy discussion with another panellist she’d just met at the bar. She peered around, looking to check in with Beau and make sure he was still on track for a good night. When she reached the table, she perked up to see they’d been joined by two new faces.

Mark stood when he saw her and excitedly introduced them as vendors from the convention. Beau looked wide eyed and terrified where he sat between their new friends, but his smile was also big and genuine. She knew deep down that he liked people; he was just terrified of navigating through introductions, and never seemed to know how to open himself up.

Adelaide loved people and loved making new friends. So she noticed things like this, and knew how to fill in the blanks her friends were missing.

“Hi!” She greeted them excitedly, lunging forward to shake everyone’s hands. The girl, Alisha, had deep dark skin, highlighted in places with a sheer purple glitter. She was slim and summery, with her hair pulled back into a ponytail that cascaded long braids down over her shoulder. Her companion was an androgynous musician with a pasty complexion that was covered in tattoos, and decorated with all sorts of necklaces and bracelets. Mark introduced them as artists who sold their own merchandise, which immediately piqued Adelaide’s interest.

They chatted for a while, sharing a few rounds together, before the music became a little too loud to clearly converse anymore. By that point, Adelaide had noticed plenty of lingering looks and overly-friendly smiles tossed between Alisha and Beau.

When Alisha stood from the table, Adelaide caught a look from Beau out of the corner of her eye. He was smiling at Adelaide nervously as he held his half-finished drink across the table to her, mouthing something she couldn’t make out. Adelaide’s gaze shifted to where Alisha had a hand resting on his shoulder.

She gave Beau an excited, encouraging nod, then took his drink to watch over it while the two of them hit the dance floor.

After more huddled conversation and plenty of ‘pardon?’s shouted into each other’s ears, the remaining trio at the table got themselves another round, which Adelaide decided would be her last. She switched to water after that, then pulled out her phone to check her Instagram story on the Paranomads page.

She’d remembered at the last minute to take a couple of pictures with her friends, as well as selfies with all the other vendors and panellists they met throughout the night. The photos and occasional video were getting plenty of views and reactions from their fans, and she was delighted to see that the links she included to the other vendors’ profiles were getting plenty of click-throughs.

“Hey! No working!” Mark suddenly shouted to her, tapping her wrist. She looked up and gave him a sheepish grin, then pulled her phone away from him.

“Fine!” she pretended to whine. “One more video and I’ll stop for the day.”

He rolled his eyes playfully and waved her away. She jumped up excitedly, searching for a good access point in the club to take a video of the bumping music and lively crowd. Maybe she could find Beau and tease their viewers with a little more content of their elusive roadie.

In all honesty, he wasn’t hard to find. The club was large, and the crowd of dancers was thick, but he always managed to stand out. He was still dancing, and he was still with Alisha, a huge grin plastered on both of their faces.

Adelaide beamed and held her phone up to record a video. They were clearly into it, so she kept it short, just enough to show that he was out and enjoying his night. After she added a few stickers (an arrow or two pointing out their roadie, and Alisha’s Instagram handle to promote her art page), she refreshed her feed and checked the analytics again.

Almost instantly, Isaac’s icon popped up, showing that he’d viewed the story update. He was awake! She decided in her drunken state that this was an excellent opportunity for some teasing between friends, and opened up their text messages.

>> ur up late!!! i thought u wanted to decompress :P

The message was instantly marked as read. Isaac only took a moment to type out his reply.

Isaac🐈‍⬛ (1:22am): I did, and I have. The bus is so nice without you lol

>> ur the WORST LOL

>> hsoneytl cant believe u did that btw

>> also look our boy is so doing so well lolllllll

Isaac🐈‍⬛ (1:23am): ???

Adelaide was holding the phone back up, trying to film another video to show off Beau’s dancing, hoping that the footage would be clear enough for them to use as friendly blackmail someday, when Beau was least expecting it.

She filmed for a good thirty seconds or so, then sent it off to Isaac. As the video loaded, she hit play to watch it back for herself.

Her jaw dropped into a wide smile when she saw just how close Alisha and Beau had started dancing. Their faces were inches apart and his hand hovered near her waist for a while, but as she scrubbed through the video she found Alisha’s arms slung around his neck as they swayed and grinded to the pounding music.

She grinned down at her phone, but paused when she remembered Beau’s fretful confession. Even after a night full of drinks, it was a little hard to forget about his teary eyes and Isaac’s strange dismissal of it. Was that weird to send? Would they be okay with that?

She ran her thoughts back to earlier in the night, when she’d been proud of Beau and the way he’d carried himself. He’d been pretty good throughout the day as well, and lacked all of the anxious energy she was expecting to witness after his drunken breakdown. Maybe Isaac had been right, and it was just a fleeting thought that had been amplified by alcohol. Even if it wasn’t, he certainly seemed to be handling himself okay now, rebounding with a beautiful woman at his side.

Adelaide nodded to herself as she tried to predict Isaac’s reaction. He would be glad to be right, she figured. He would say, “See? He’s still the same old Beau; he just had a moment of confusion,” or something like that. He’d probably be smug about being so right, about knowing Beau so well.

She smiled, decided everything was fine, and quickly typed out an accompanying message.

>> O M G

>> just watched this back. look at him go 👅

>> we gotta pull this one up at this next birthday!! lololol

~~~

Isaac curled up on his side, his bunk curtain closed and his phone screen filling the little space with a cool blue light. He frowned at Adelaide’s messages, then his eyes widened as the video began to play.

He quickly muted the scratchy, blown-out audio from the club’s thumping speakers, and held the screen close to his face to watch Beau’s tall frame swaying and grinding with a tall, stunning woman.

He set his jaw and turned his phone over, a tightness suddenly gripping his chest.

Isaac laid on his back and stared at the ceiling for a minute, before he scooped his phone back up and reopened his text messages. His fingers hovered over the keyboard, trying to think of what an appropriate response would be. A stiff, unamused ‘lol’ was all that came to mind, so he set his phone back down without sending anything.

He squeezed his eyes shut, gritted his teeth, and picked it back up again. This time, he played the video once more.

His phone hovered inches from his nose as he stared at his friend dancing so provocatively in the centre of the room. He pinched his fingers on the screen to zoom in, his anger rising when he saw Beau’s hand press against her back. His eyes glazed over when her thigh slid between his legs.

How fucking dare he.

Isaac flipped over to press his face into his pillow, thumping his forehead down a few times for good measure. His glasses pressed uncomfortably into his face as he did, making him wince and sit up to readjust them. He was still a little buzzed from his consecutive shots, just enough for his emotions to feel loose and loud in his mind.

How fucking dare he!!!

Isaac readjusted his pillow to pull it over his head, setting his phone on the mattress beneath him so he could watch it again while he hid from the world. His eyes narrowed as he watched Beau dance, watched him flirt, watch him kiss and grind so comfortably in public with someone he’d only just met.

It angered him to see his friend flaunting something Isaac felt like he would never have.

Freedom. A lack of judgement. Normalcy. He cringed and hit play when the video ended, setting it on a loop so he could keep staring and keep judging. He couldn’t go to sleep with that anger just sitting there at the top of his chest, waiting to burst– he wanted to scowl just a little longer, to get it all out of his system so it wouldn’t haunt his dreams.

But after the next run of the video, his anger had already started to soften, and sat in his throat as a different kind of heat. He was still bitter, still mad… but he felt sad, too, mourning for something he had still never experienced for himself at twenty-six years of age. To dance with a boy in a club like no one was watching, to kiss a stranger and grind with whoever he found cute on the dance floor.

Isaac squeezed his eyes shut and tried to tap back into the anger. He didn’t want to feel sad. Rage was simpler, easier. So he played the video again and scowled at Beau.

Beau, who… Who was supposed to like Isaac!

The fire immediately rekindled inside of him when he remembered Beau’s confession, his supposed upset about liking Isaac and never being able to tell him about it. How upset was he really, if he was perfectly fine going and making out with cute girls just days later?! That hurt in a different kind of way, with a little bit of sadness, but mostly bitterness curling his lip into a sneer.

If Beau really liked Isaac, then he wouldn’t be out dancing with random girls in seedy clubs. He wouldn’t want to kiss and grind on just anyone. If he was truthful in his confession, then Beau would be pining tragically, wishing he could kiss Isaac like that.

To punctuate his own thoughts, he scrubbed back the video and hit play with a pointed jab. He zoomed it back in, eyes narrowing as he watched a thigh slip between Beau’s, watched the way his hips rolled forward into the touch. Watched Beau’s lips part and chin lift up as he teased a kiss out of that beautiful girl. That girl who should have been Isaac.

He inhaled sharply, clenching his jaw again. He scrubbed back. His eyes wandered, taking in all of him at once, then scrubbed back again. His hands shook as he positioned the video, hitting play at the start of their kiss, when Beau’s mouth opened and his tongue hovered, ready to connect. Isaac exhaled shakily.

His finger trembled where it hovered over his screen, and his eyes slipped shut. He was still mad – well, he wanted to be mad – but the roaring fire inside of him had died down to a gentle crackle. He just laid there in silence, his lower lip captured by his teeth, as he studied Beau’s kiss.

He shifted in his bed to soothe his aching shoulders, and paused when he felt an unmistakable pressure between his groin and the mattress.

Of course. Of course he was hard when he wanted to be mad.

Fuck.

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