He chose to wait outside and checked the time on his phone every few seconds. No messages came from Cole, and the clock didn’t seem to be moving particularly quickly. Finally, at ten minutes past seven, he saw Cole heading up the street toward him. Ignoring the impulse to meet him, Merit stayed where he was until Cole reached him. “I was getting worried you weren’t going to show.”
“Sorry.” Cole didn’t sound especially apologetic. “I ended up having to work a little later than planned—” He broke off and stared at the passing cars for a moment. “No, that’s bullshit. I’m pissed at you, but I’m not going to lie to you.”
Merit’s heart sank, and he knew he didn’t want to hear what Cole was about to say. But he asked anyway. “Where were you?”
“Last night I went out with a guy from work.” Cole hesitated. “I thought about taking him home. I didn’t. I left him at the bar and went home alone. That’s part of why I’m so pissed at you right now. I had the chance to get laid, and I couldn’t do it because I felt like I would be betraying you. And then I find out you had the same chance and took it.”
“I’m sorry.” Merit could barely hear his own voice over the noise of the traffic.
“Don’t be.” Cole took a breath. “Tonight, I asked him out again. When you told me what you did last night, I wanted to do the same thing. And once again, I couldn’t. He was in my truck, hand on my thigh, and I told him to stop because I still felt like I would be betraying you. And I wouldn’t have liked myself very much if I’d fucked him just to get payback.”
“You’re a better person than I am.” Merit let out a long breath. Cole hadn’t done what Merit had feared he would. Merit didn’t know whether he would have fucked someone for revenge if the situation had been reversed, but he didn’t want to give himself too much credit. He might have. And Cole hadn’t. That was what mattered. Cole hadn’t done it.
“No, I’m not,” Cole said. “I thought about fucking him. I wanted to hurt you. That isn’t good. But you aren’t a bad guy, Merit. As you said, you didn’t do anything wrong. Let’s go in and talk about this over food. My blood sugar is dropping too much to handle this conversation right now.”
“Okay.” Merit’s stomach was churning so much he doubted he would be able to eat, but given that he hadn’t had a solid meal since breakfast that morning, he figured he should try to choke down some food.
They found a seat fairly easily and placed their orders before continuing their discussion. “I can’t forget about you sleeping with someone else,” Cole said.
“Can you forgive it?” Merit braced himself for the answer.
“You didn’t do anything I need to forgive you for.” Cole sighed. “I kind of think I should forgive you, or not. I feel like you did something wrong, but you really didn’t. This whole ‘we aren’t exclusive’ thing isn’t working for me, though. I know it’s only been a day, but I don’t want to do it. The way I felt when you told me you were with someone else last night, I don’t ever want to feel again.”
“Yeah, and I don’t ever want to hurt you like this again.” Merit stopped himself before he rambled on about how sorry he was. He hadn’t done anything he needed to apologize for. The only thing he had done wrong was suggest they see others in the first place.
It had seemed a good idea at the time. They were arguing too much, and taking a breather had sounded reasonable. He wasn’t entirely sure it hadn’t been, but looking at the man across the table from him, he could see the pain he had caused. He definitely didn’t want to do that again.