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Genre: Contemporary, Military, Romance
First comes love, then comes marriage. Assuming you survive the wedding.
Mikey Washington really does want to be married.The whole thing had been his idea in the first place. So maybe “Do you want to marry me or not, pendejo?” wasn’t the world’s most romantic proposal, but Mikey had meant every word of it. Besides, Benny Quintaña had been making Mikey crazy since they were twelve-years-old. Mikey was used to it.
So why did planning this wedding feel like facing a firing squad?
When Benny had asked Mikey to marry him, Mikey’s answer had been “I’m going to fucking kill you.”
“Is that a yes?” Benny had asked. He liked to be clear on things.
“Yeah, for real, even though you’re an idiot,” Mikey had answered. That sounded like true love to Benny.
So why does Benny have the feeling Mikey has one foot out the door?
Bonus Honeymoon in Puerta Vallarta chapters included! (You knew they'd make it, right?)
Paper Roses is a direct sequel to Paper Hearts but can be read as a stand alone.
Also in this series:
The atmosphere in the house was a little odd that evening, and it had Benny on edge. Far from being angry or distant, both of which Benny had expected after their abortive attempt at discussing wedding plans last night, Mikey actually seemed in a better mood than he had been lately; touching Benny more, asking Jasmine to show him what she’d been working on. They even played Candyland, and Mikey despised Candyland. Privately, Benny thought it was because he lost a lot. But there was a sadness about him that Benny hadn’t felt before.
It was Mikey’s turn to put Jasmine to bed, a production that could take an hour or more from start to finish. Benny cleaned the kitchen and puttered around the living room, straightening already-straightened art supplies and cushions. He found himself actually a bit nervous about what might happen when Mikey came back downstairs. Poochie must have picked up on his nervousness because he followed a half a step behind Benny the whole time. After the third time he tripped over the big dog, he ordered him to his living room dog bed.
Benny turned the television on, turning the volume down low and the captions on. They’d gotten used to watching TV that way. All the voices sounded muddled to Benny anyway. Hearing loss was just another souvenir of his time in the Marines. And sometimes simply the noise of the TV got to him. With the captions on, he could follow the story and enjoy the visuals. Mikey had started playing some of his jazz favorites as they watched. Benny had given him crap for it at the beginning, but it was starting to grow on him. He stretched out on the purple couch that had made the move from Mikey’s parents’ house in New Mexico to their house in Colorado.
Mikey walked down the steps and into the living room. He’d changed into his sweats and a t-shirt. The soft smile on his face when he saw Benny eased the bands of worry about Benny’s heart a little.
“Hey,” Mikey said as if they hadn’t spent the whole evening together.
Mikey walked to the couch and leaned over Benny, kissing him gently.
Benny reached up and put his hand on Mikey’s head, holding him close for a second.
Mikey pulled away. “We have to talk.”
Oh great. “Four scariest words in the English language. Probably in Spanish, too, but then it would only be two.” Benny swung his legs off the couch and made room for Mikey.
Mikey looked around the room as if it was his first time seeing it. Benny looked with him, trying to see what he was seeing.
“I love those photos,” Mikey said, pointing at the pictures Benny had framed and hung on the walls. They were some of Benny’s Photoshop experiments. Pictures of Jasmine, Mikey, and Benny shopped into different locations – walking by the pyramids, canoeing down the Amazon River, and with their faces superimposed on Mt. Rushmore. Poochie’s profile filled in for the fourth president.
“Just say what you have to say,” Benny begged. “I’m dying here. And I have brain damage.” Another souvenir of the war. “Stress is bad for me.”
Mike shook his head, laughing, and dragged Benny’s legs onto his lap. He started massaging Benny’s feet, and Benny relaxed further. No one broke up with someone while giving them a foot massage, right? “You wouldn’t break up with me while giving me a foot rub, would you?”
“I wouldn’t break up with you at all,” Mikey said quietly.
“Oh, thank god.”
Mikey’s hands moved up to Benny’s shins. He wouldn’t make eye contact, but Benny was okay with that. He was down with whatever Mikey had to do in order to get out what he needed to say.
“I’m sorry I ever gave you a reason to think I would leave you. And sorry I’ve been so difficult lately,” Mikey said. “I know I’ve been kind of a dick.”
“No. Don’t say that.”
“Just let me say this. I know I haven’t been behind you in planning this wedding. I know you and Jasmine have been trying to hold onto the excitement, and I’m just this black cloud bringing you down.” His hands dug in hard to Benny’s calves.
Benny blinked back the sudden tears. It hurt to hear it, but in a way, it was a relief to know he wasn’t crazy. Crazier. He let out a huge sigh as some of the tension he’d been carrying left his body. He hadn’t realized how hard he had been working to convince himself that he was just imaging Mikey’s reluctance. But convincing himself he was paranoid was less painful than thinking that maybe Mikey really didn’t want to get married. “Yeah,” he said, voice rough. “That kind of sucks.”
Mikey leaned over and kissed Benny’s knee. “I know. And I’m so sorry. But I want you to know, it was not about you or even about you and me. I love you, and I want to be married to you.”
“Then what is it?” He grabbed Mikey’s hand, and Mikey held on tight.
Benny hadn’t expected that. Mikey didn’t talk about her all that much, and he had no friends left from that time in his life to give Benny any more insight. From the few stories Benny had heard about her, she sounded like she had been a great person. “What about Julia?”
“I’m mad about her. Vanessa helped me see it today at lunch. I hadn’t realized I’d been so angry.”
Mikey shook his head hard, dreadlocks slapping against the back of the couch. “No. At the universe. At everything. And how unfair life is.”
Benny leaned his head back against the arm of the couch. That he knew a lot about. Where to even start? The IED? The traumatic brain injury? The other than honorable discharge he was currently fighting to get changed? Sometimes stuff just sucked. But he still isn’t quite sure what Mikey is thinking. “So are you angry at Julia for dying?”
“No. I didn’t tell you this, and I don’t know why, but we actually had been planning to get married. Had the place picked out and everything.” Mikey’s smile was sad.
Now it was starting to make sense. “Oh. Let me guess. A small elegant place with a judge marrying you?” Benny wasn’t even remotely angry. That’s all he had wanted. To know what was going on.
Mike laughed sadly. “Yeah. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. Are you sure you want to do this? Do you want to wait? We don’t have to get married right now. I’m not going anywhere.” He scooted down the couch so that Mikey was tucked up under his knees.
“I really do want to marry you,” Mikey smiled, his fingers trailing over Benny’s knees. “I love you.”
“I love you, too, and I want to marry you. Which is ridiculous somehow.” How had they gone from best friends in high school to strangers to this?
“Isn’t it though?” Mikey gave his attention to Benny’s knees.
Benny groaned. “You are so good at that. You should think of a career change. Lawyers are a dime a dozen. But massage therapists are worth their weight in gold.”
“Maybe I switch. What’s a little poverty among friends?”