Picket Fences

A Sanitaria Springs Story

By Israfil & Dabeagle



So Jake was feeling down. I could tell he wasn’t sold on what I told him, but there was something else bugging him after his date. Something he wasn’t telling me. That left one other person.

Which brings me to why I was waiting outside Trace’s class before lunch. Creepy, yes, but necessary. Jake usually met him here, but I’d called in a favor from Seth, and he and his boyfriend were running interference. I’d give them a beer after - wait, no. What else? I knew Foster smoked, but pot was something I never really got into. Tacos? Yeah, tacos.

Students spilled into the hallway as class ended, and Trace stepped out, looking around for Jake before heading towards the cafeteria. I’d met him a couple times at school, but we’d never really connected.

Time to fix that.

I slipped through the crowd before coming up alongside my target. "Hey, Trace! My man, what’s up?" I greeted him cheerfully, throwing an arm over his shoulder - I felt him jump.

"What the- Jon?" he asked, instinctively trying to shrug off my arm. I leaned in a little more to increase the pressure. He stopped squirming.

"Yeah, we haven’t gotten a chance to talk." I began to steer him down a side hallway.

"I’m actually on my way to lunch-" He twitched his shoulders again.

"This will only take a sec." I tightened my grip - any tighter and he’d be in a headlock. I found a darkened classroom and dragged him in - still smiling. That was probably freaking him out more than basically being kidnapped. A smile at the right time can throw someone off balance better than a punch to the gut.

I closed the door, let him go, and switched on the lights. He spun around, eyes narrowed.

"What do you want?" he demanded.

"I told you, just to chat. About Jake - I think it’s time we lay down some ground rules." I crossed my arms and leaned against a desk, making sure to keep myself between him and the door.

"Ground rules?" He still looked like he was weighing his options about running - his eyes flicked to the door again. I sighed. The guy was like a scared rabbit. Jake could do so much better.

"You’ve probably realized by now that he’s a good guy..."

"Of course I-"

"Ah!" I held up a finger to cut him off. "No talking, just listening. He tries to see the best in people, and there are some things he’s definitely better at than me-"

"Yeah, like approaching someone for a real conversation?" Trace blurted, finally showing a bit of spine.

"Hey, whatever works." I shrugged. "But there are some things that he can’t see. Because he’s a good guy." Trace just watched me, not saying anything. "That’s where I come in."

"To be the bad guy?" Trace asked, breaking the "no talking" rule, but I just smiled.

"You know the phrase ‘a thief to catch a thief’?" I went on as if he hadn’t spoken. "It’s kind of like that."

"So I’m a thief now? I didn’t know Jake was something to be stolen." He even managed a cocky smirk. "Is that the problem? Cause it seems to me that he can see me just fine."

"He’s not. He deserves more respect than that or what you’re giving him." I dropped the false smile and could see Trace shore up his stance. Aw, he thought he had a chance. Cute. "Tell me, Tracy," his jaw clenched at the name, "does he see that you’re using him as an accessory boyfriend? Look man, I get it. It sucks being the only single guy in the gang, but if that’s all Jake is to you then you’re going to have to look somewhere else."

"You know what?" he snarled. "Fuck you! You don’t know the first thing about me or anything that's between me and Jake, and frankly, it’s none of your goddamned business."

I cocked my head and considered him while he stood there, cheeks flushed and breathing hard from his little outburst. As reactions went, it wasn’t bad. He hadn’t exactly passed with flying colors, but he seemed harmless enough. Whatever he had done to upset Jake probably hadn’t been on purpose. The kid was just a tool. Useless, but safe enough for Jake to play with. I shrugged.

"Fair enough," I replied, the mild response taking the wind out of his sails better than any snappy comeback. I stepped aside from the door. "Go ahead and prove me wrong. Just wanted to make sure we understood each other." I flashed him another kind of smile. "But I think it’s best we keep this little chat between us, hmmm?" There was a pause before he sneered and swept past me. "Have a good one!" I called after him down the hallway.


As I exited the cafeteria I was pleasantly surprised to find Trace waiting for me. He smiled and I walked over to him.

"Hey," I said as I returned his smile. "What are you doing here?"

"Um. I wanted to talk to you, and I just couldn’t wait anymore," he said.

To be honest that very set of words could make a heart soar. They could fill a person with ideas about how someone else thought so much of them, liked them so much that they simply couldn’t wait to converse with them again. This was not that tone and these words were not said with that intention, however. Instead they were tentative. Nervous.

"O-okay," I replied. "What’s wrong?"

He tilted his head to beckon me to follow him, and we stepped out into the crisp afternoon and sat side by side on a metal bench.

"So," he said and then paused. He reached out as if for my hand; I mirrored him and we met in the middle. It was a comfortable action, even if the moment was tense. He nodded and sighed.

"Look, Jake. I like you. You’re cute and seem like a nice guy. I know it’s only been a few dates and we still don’t really know each other....."

My heart skipped a beat. Shit. Was he about to say he’d fallen for me? My stomach quivered as I felt excited at the thought of someone confessing such a thing to me, but the rational part of my mind was screaming that his being in love right now wasn’t something I could handle.

"What is it, Trace?" I asked, my voice a mere whisper.

He turned his gaze toward me and asked, "Who is Jon to you?"

I paused, caught off guard. "Jon Ellesier? He’s my best friend. Why do you ask?"

Trace pooched his lips out and then pulled them back in, perhaps buying time as he chose his words. "Are you guys...is he your ex or something?"

"Jon? No," I said with a mystified chuckle. "Jon and I have never dated. Why?"

Trace sighed and let go of my hand, then turned on the bench so that he was facing me. "Jon came to see me today. Well, more like he ambushed me."

"He...what? Why?" I hated to be asking ‘why’ so often. I disliked being confused, and I had no idea what Jon was up to, which is doubly strange considering how well I thought I knew him.

"He, uh, seemed like he was trying to intimidate me into being nice to you. Or something. He made some kind of off the wall statements. He was scary, too."

"He...I’m confused. I’m sorry, I don’t know what he’s doing. What did he ask you? What did he say?"

Trace licked his lips and said, "He said you were a good guy, and you try to see the best in people."

"Not really," I replied. "I know what turds people can be."

Trace lifted his hands in surrender. "I know you’re a nice guy, but these are his words, okay?" I nodded slowly and he continued. "He said I needed to give you more respect and that you weren’t a place holder. He kind of implied I was trying to date you because you were the only single guy out there. He said I was using you as an accessory boyfriend."

I frowned. "What the hell is that?"

"No idea. I mean, I haven’t been disrespectful have I?"

"God, no! Not at all!"

"He seemed...seemed like he was fishing around. Did you...are you not happy with where we are headed? I mean," he said and then paused and closed his eyes. Slowly he opened them and said, "I just need you to be honest. He got these ideas from somewhere."

I sighed and leaned back on the bench. Frustration boiled along in my veins as I wondered just what the hell Jon thought he’d been doing. I had spoken to him a little about how things were going and that I was unsure it was working out, but what did Jon think he was going to accomplish? I growled to myself about how I was going to kill him, but jumped when Trace put a hand on my arm and reminded me he was there and waiting for an answer.

"Trace, I’m so sorry about Jon. I’d like to say he means well, and he probably did, but I’m clueless about what he hoped to accomplish."

"I don’t expect you to apologize for him. What I want to know is if it’s true? Are you really, like, not happy with us dating?"

I opened my eyes wide and blew out a breath. My frustration boiled over into a potent fury, distilled down into concentrated rage as I thought about the damage I’d visit upon Jon.

"Unhappy isn’t...no. Look," I said as I turned to face him. I rubbed my eyes and said, "I develop relationships very slowly. I think you’re cute and I am enjoying our dates and I definitely enjoyed the kiss."

"But?" Trace prompted, his voice soft.

I nodded miserably and damned Jon again for doing this to me. "But I’m hoping to find someone to help me...get over someone else. You have to understand, Trace," I said hurriedly. "I have no dating experience. Our dates account for my whole dating career. I had no idea what to expect or what to do. I didn’t know if we were supposed to fall in love the first night, Derek was teasing me that we hadn’t kissed goodnight on our first date....I’m a total loser."

"I didn’t think so. I was having fun." He coughed. "But you have feelings for someone else. For Jon."

I let my head drop and sighed. "Yes. I’m in love with the asshole." I brought my gaze up and said, "He’s my first real love. It’s hard for me, but I know I need to get myself out there and meet people and go on dates and be...available to get swept off my feet."

Trace smiled sadly and then sighed. "It’s cool, Jake. Believe it or not, I know what you mean when you’re trying to get over someone. I could have done without Jon’s tough guy act...."

I dropped my head into my hands. "I’m so sorry. I promise to kick his ass."

"Jake....is Jon gay?"

I sighed again. "No...not really. I mean...he sends mixed signals."

"Well, have you tried to make him yours? I mean, something besides letting him know you’re interested?"

"Um, no."

"Well, maybe you should." Trace stood up and leaned over to brush a kiss past my cheek. "I think this was just bad timing. I don’t want to lose what we were building, though. Jon is right, you’re a good guy, and I know what he meant when he said that."

I looked at him in confusion.

"Good people are...well, not exactly rare, but when you find one? If you’re smart you try to hold on to them. Hold on as hard as you can. So...little awkward but, friends?"

I reached out and took his hand. "Friends. And Trace...thank you for being so understanding and not holding my stupidity against me."

He smiled. "You know, I’ve had my own share of mixed emotions, given my recent past. I think maybe...maybe I know enough, now, to cut people some slack."

Trace walked inside, but I remained on the bench. As my thoughts turned to Jon my emotions ran from the heated highs of bloodlust to the frozen waste of fear that things were changing. Ending or beginning I had no way of knowing. Trace as a potential boyfriend had ended, of course. Should I take Trace’s advice and pursue Jon?

Maybe. But first I was going to kick his ass.


After school I walked home rather than ride with Jon. I fumed the whole way home, my emotions swinging on a pendulum as I wondered what to do and what to say. When should I...or should I even.... Enraged, I stopped on the way home and stomped the shit out of someone’s zinnias and was even more aggravated to find I didn’t feel any better. Indeed, I felt like an ass for destroying their property.

My phone buzzed, and I knew without looking that it would be Jon. I crashed through my front door and threw my book bag on the floor. I snarled into the kitchen and grabbed a plate of peanut butter cookies from a few days prior and began to stuff my face with them as I thought furiously.

Should I call him? No. This had to be face to face, no text messaging where he could pretend to fall asleep and send me gibberish. How dare he put me in such a crappy position? How dare he make me have to defend his...whatever that was?

What to do about Trace’s suggestion that I pursue Jon, though. Should I confess and tell Jon how I really feel? Will that be the spark to push him out of this holding pattern we’re in? Was it possible Jon had developed feelings for me? I’m ashamed to admit my heart leapt, and just as quickly anger burned in me. If Jon was interested why hadn’t he damn well said so? With a head of steam built up I pushed another cookie in my mouth, headed out my door and started walking to Jon’s house.

I knocked and then held the doorbell down before anyone had a chance to answer the door. I let go of the bell and took a step back so I could see the house and scanned a few windows.

"I know you're here, Jon! Open up!" I snarled.

I headed for the door again and began pounding when it opened, revealing a confused and annoyed looking Jon with his brown hair in a tangle and his green eyes wide with irritated curiosity. Very annoying to me, and thus ramping up my already boiling temper, Jon was dressed in just jeans and his socks. I’d never told him so, and likely never would, but the look absolutely drove me to distraction. As he frowned at me I couldn’t help but notice the planes of his toned chest, the aureoles of his nipples standing out in stark contrast to his soft, pale-as-cream skin. He’d never be mistaken for a steroid user, but god damn. Of course to me he was so damn sexy because of who he was... I recalled with a start, who he was was in trouble with me!

"Jake? Is there a-hey!" Jon asked and I merely grunted and bumped him with my shoulder as I charged into his home and turned in the middle of his living room to face him.

"Jake?" he asked as he closed the door by kicking it with the back of his foot. His stomach tightened for a moment and I was nearly distracted by his abs when he said, in a rather annoyed tone, "What the hell?"

"You told me I was supposed to give him a shot. I didn't really want to, but what's the point of a best friend if you don't listen to his advice?" I asked with a nasty edge to my voice.

"Uh. Did that not go well?" he asked uncertainly. That made me pause for a fraction of a second, because Jon never appeared uncertain about anything, even when he actually was. It was kind of cute, but I brushed it aside.

"You threatened Trace? I mean, really?"

"Well, I wouldn't-"

"Jon! What the fricking hell, man? Do you have any idea how embarrassing that was?"

He frowned and shifted on his feet, highlighting for the briefest moment his abs under his pale skin. "That wasn’t my-"

"Fault? Sure it is. I was trying to date this guy-something you told me to do! I didn’t want to lead him on, but you told me this was the way to go. Then you, what, sabotage it?"

Jon’s scowl deepened and his left arm crossed his body and his fingers curled around his right bicep. I wanted to scream at him to put a fucking shirt on so I could think!

"I wasn’t trying to sabotage anything!"

"Really? Seriously? Because if you go to my boyfriend and-"

"Whoa! Boyfriend?"

"-and say he isn’t respectful and...and...why is it you think that it's okay for you to date but not me?"

"Dates?" Jon scoffed.

I narrowed my eyes and ticked them off as I held a finger up for each name. "Gina Torrez."

"It was one night!" Jon protested.

"Melanie Tran."

"That was studying!" he exclaimed. I glared at him and he turned away. "Biology," he muttered.

"Ruth Anne Goldberg?"

"No! No, that never happened I swear! And why do you know all their names? I don’t even remember them that well!" he exclaimed and spread his arms out wide. For a wild moment my heart fluttered and I flirted with the idea of just crushing myself to him. "And for Christ’s sake, not that it should matter, but I wasn’t sleeping with them! It was just a night out!"

Outwardly I ignored his outburst, but inside my heart swelled to know he hadn’t slept with all of them. That didn’t abate my anger, however. "You're dating all these sluts, having one night stands and I can't have a few dates? I can't take your advice and try to work things out? But you can run around like some freaking satyr?" I demanded.

Jon's face settled into a frown. "Who says that? Satyr? What does that have to do with anything?"

I narrowed my eyes and said, "They drink too much and walk around with permanent erections."

The corners of Jon's mouth tightened and he brushed past me before throwing himself petulantly into a recliner. "Screw you. I was just trying to look out for you."

"Looking out for me by threatening my date? In what....twisted version of reality does that make sense?" I snarled.

"You weren’t happy!" Jon said with a voice that was the very definition of strained patience. "I just wanted to go and make sure the guy was treating you right and see if I could, you know, nudge him into being a better...date. Jake, you’re turning purple."

"That’s because you accused him of using me, you nitwit! You told him he wasn’t respectful of me! You accused him of using me as an accessory boyfriend, which really pisses me off because I have no fucking idea what that is!"

"It means," Jon growled, "that whole group you hang out with all have boyfriends. Looks like it’s a requirement for your little clique, and I didn’t want him to use you just to belong."

My jaw dropped. "Are you seriou.... Have you lost your mind? Were you drinking before you accosted him?"

"No! And I didn’t accost him. Jesus, we talked. I didn’t fight or anything, and why are you so damn salty about this?" Jon argued, his voice rising. "All I did was make sure he wasn’t just using you. I didn’t like that you were so unhappy, so I tried to do something about it. What the hell is so wrong with that?"

"It’s wrong because," I spat, "it is my relationship to screw up, not yours! You don’t hear me saying anything when you dodge VD from some new slut, do you?"

Jon snorted. "What does it matter if I get laid, anyway?"

I crossed my arms. "It matters because I don't approve of your relationships, but I respect you enough not to interfere. Apparently you don't approve of mine, but you did."

"Why should you approve of my relationships?" Jon asked, heading off in the least likely direction as far as I was concerned. He could be so fucking obvious when he was avoiding something.

"How about because I L-ugh! You're impossible!" I yelled, stomped my foot and pointed at him. "I don't have to approve! I just think that you should have more respect for yourself than to throw yourself away on one night stands! Why can't you look for someone that sees you as more than a casual fuck?"

Jon winced and deepened his scowl. He grunted, but I had no idea what it meant. I don't speak grunt; usually he's more verbose.

"How did you think this had any chance of success?" I asked while rubbing the bridge of my nose.

Jon cleared his throat and some of his scowl faded. The very ends of his cheeks took on a slightly pink tone and he said, "I just wanted him to treat you right. I knew you weren't happy. I just wanted to...help."

He was uncomfortable, and suddenly I wanted to take that discomfort away. I wished I could, I truly did, but to do so would negate any progress we were making. Dammit, I needed some answers, and grabbing him and holding him close wasn’t going to get me any.

"Look, Jon," I said, licking my lips. "You won't date me, and you won't let me date other people, yet you get to do what you want. You see a problem here?" Belatedly it occurred to me that I’d just confessed that it wasn’t merely a crush I had on him but a desire to date him. Just fucking shoot me now.

A spark jumped in his eyes and a trace of his smile appeared on his face. "Not entirely."

I put a hand on my hip and glared at him. His smile fled, yet the spark remained. "Why is it a problem for me to date? Why are you meddling? You want me to run off every skank you go sniffing after?"

"Studying-" he began, but I growled and took a step toward him. "Fine! Dating, screwing!" he said as he rubbed with his fingers underneath one eye and let out a bone deep sigh. "I was in a mental hospital once."

Stunned I froze in place. I had no idea why he'd say that other than to throw me off balance, but would he seriously try and manipulate me right now? I thought I knew him better than that. There was obvious shock value in making such a statement, but what was the goal? To shift the conversation from what he said to Trace to something that clearly pained him from his past?

"I'm sorry you had to go through that," I said softly.

He kept his gaze trained on the wall. He brought his arms up to hug himself and I had to still myself to prevent taking him in my arms and soothing away his pain. I had to know what was going on. Later, though, I promised myself I’d get to the bottom of his hospital stay, and I’d do everything in my power to take his pain away.

"Aren't you going to ask why?"

"No," I said with a shake of my head. Before he could ask, I continued, "If you wanted to tell me, you would. It doesn’t change anything, not for me. I don't know everything about you, Jon, but I know enough. I know who you are."

"Yeah?" he asked, his voice raspy. He turned to face me. "What if I said I was a little bi-polar? What if I said I was put in a rubber room? Maybe I tried to kill Richard or Geoff? What if...?"

I stared hard at him, my heart hammering in my chest. Jon was many things, but he wasn't mentally unbalanced. He drank more than he should and was a little reckless, but he was a good person who seemed to be in a lot of pain. But how did that tie into what he’d done with Trace? How did all of this trigger whatever....

In a flash I realized that pushing Trace from me was a way to keep me closer to Jon, and in that moment of crystal clarity I could see it all. I could see Jon, desperate to preserve our relationship and leaving me the breadcrumbs to see how scared and vulnerable he really is. It wasn’t a straight line, of course and I was making a few guesses but...

I came here to find out why he’d gone to Trace and made such trouble for me. Considering how hypocritical he was about his dating versus mine, his actions indicated he wanted me to himself. I can’t say a part of me didn’t swell with joy at the thought. But for some reason he was unable to say that. I bit my lip and thought as Jon turned his face from me and sat listlessly in the heavy silence.

Okay, so review. Jon wants me close, perhaps exclusively, but can’t say it. So he goes and aggravates my dating situation to drive the guy off, even if he says he was trying to help. Hell, maybe he really believes that. If that were true it kind of shot holes in my idea that he wants me to himself. The big hole, there, was that going and harassing my date had no ‘help’ associated with it. Jon had to have realized that Trace knew Jon and I were the closest of friends. There is no way this doesn’t come back to bite him like it was right now. So, rather than admit anything besides a misguided attempt to help, he tells me some deep pain about a mental hospital.

I sighed and looked down. Jon would rather talk to me about some horrible event in his past, something deeply painful and personal, than simply say he wanted to keep me close. I lifted my gaze to him, forlorn and crumpled in his chair, and though my anger was still simmering it was draining quickly. Instead I felt flooded with compassion as I looked at him. How damaged does one have to be to not be able to say ‘I just wanted to make sure you’d stay with me?’

Even he wasn't sure which way to jump right this minute. Sure footed, careful, suave bad-boy Jon Ellesier was off his game and I was the reason.

I crossed my arms and said, "Bullshit."

Jon paused a beat and turned his head slightly toward me. "What?"

I tried for a casual tone, but my heart was beating too fast and I was sure my voice trembled. "I know you. Whatever reason you were there, it wasn’t because you are bad or evil or anything of the sort. You’re a good, decent person." I paused. "If a little misguided at times."

Our lives, I think, are made up of little slices of magic. The really potent memories, be they good or bad, are nearly pure magic, and you can tell just because of the power they have. I felt like I was entering that envelope of magical power right then, a moment that would be luminous-phosphorescent-no matter which way it went. I rode that wave of clarity, that painfully sweet moment where everything turns on the tip of a blade.

I took a step closer to Jon and said in a low voice, "I know you. I don't have to know every detail to know what's important. It's why I love you."

The chair jerked as he started and brought his gaze up to meet mine. Jon's eyes went wide and he sucked in a breath. He shook his head as he heaved himself to his feet, but I wasn’t done harnessing the moment.

"I don't know what's going on in your head, Jon, not for sure. But you have to make a decision. Either you take a chance on me and find out where this goes..." I paused, searching for a reaction but his face was frozen. "Or we are the best friends we can be-but that means dating others. I promise I’ll be here for you, but if we’re friends... It means you can't force me to stay single for you if you won't have me."

I stared into his eyes and, sure that he was looking at me, I said, "Just so we’re clear it’s not just that I love you. No. I’m in love with you."

I had to stand on my toes a little to get my hand behind his head, but he didn't resist my gentle pull. The magic of the moment intensified as my other hand trailed across his ribs and slid behind him, the pads of my fingers feeling singed from the heat of his porcelain skin. Our lips met and parted and I pressed myself up against his strong frame. There was an unconscious timing of our heads tilting to allow more contact, extending the kiss and allowing our tongues to twist together down to the root. Of synchronous movements that stretched what might have been one kiss into a set of kisses where souls were sampled and a fiery impression of this single moment would be burned into each of our memories, shining brightly whether we wanted it or not.

And I wanted it.

My heart raced as Jon’s arms snaked around me, holding me in place and I may have let out an embarrassing moan right into his mouth. I let my hand drift down out of his hair and traced the skin of his neck, down to cup his jaw. My other hand, the one that was in ecstasy on the smooth skin of his back, I guided back across his ribs and up over one excited nipple to his shoulder to cup his face from the other side.

With some reluctance I pulled back. With a final pulse of desire to extend the miraculous enchantment of the moment, I pushed forward to kiss just his swollen lips as delicately as one might kiss rose petals and then settled back onto my feet.

"Ball's in your court, Jon." I patted his shoulder, and with butterflies in my stomach and a longing-a burning desire-to stay and take advantage of Jon's sudden compliance, I left.

The crisp evening air gently sighed down the street and tousled my hair as I walked home. Leaves, those not caught up in annual raking, stirred and danced as I replayed the kiss in my mind. There had been no doubt this time, Jon had kissed me back. He’d held me, and I think his tongue might still be in my mouth somewhere-that’s how far in he’d gone. And it wasn’t just lying there like a dead fish, oh no. The tongue had energy, fire and better moves than a professional dancer.

It had been too short, but every second burned in my memory, an incandescent fire that let me relive the pure passion of the moment. Magic? Hell yes, it was!

I was mildly surprised when I arrived at my door, because I hadn’t really noticed time passing or the ground I’d covered. If I really cared I’d have been more than mildly surprised. I let myself in and sat on the couch in the living room. The sun was nearly gone and the room was bathed in deep gloom, yet I paid it no mind.

Jon Ellesier had kissed me back. He’d held me close and kissed me like he’d meant it.

I’m not sure how long I sat in that trance-like state. I hadn’t noted the time when I’d departed from my house earlier, nor had I checked upon my arrival. My phone buzzed and I reached for it, hoping to see a message from Jon asking if we could finish what we’d started. It was Derek instead, inviting Trace and me to join them at the movies.

I came back down to earth with that text. It had only been a few dates, but Trace had looked pretty sad that afternoon. Here I was on a high and Trace was down in the dumps-and Derek didn’t know, yet.

‘Trace and I decided to cool it.’

I sighed and ran a hand through my hair, then headed out into the kitchen. I wonder if I should make something for Jon? I strolled over to my recipe book and began to idly flip through the pages.

‘I’m sorry. Austin and I are close by, mind if we stop in?’

I told him he was welcome to and went back to studying my book. I seriously considered croissants just for my French boy, but decided I’d better not get all cutesy with him. I glanced down at my phone, though I hadn’t heard it buzz, and was disappointed to see no texts from Jon. He had to have been thinking about that epic kiss, right? Was he sitting in his room in awe? Or had he dropped back into that recliner and simply sat there, stunned?

A knock at the door startled me, and I went over to let Austin and Derek in.

"Hey," Derek said and gave me a quick hug. "How are you?"

"I’m good," I said with a grin. "What are you guys doing? Want some coffee cake?"

Austin and Derek looked at each other before Derek agreed that coffee cake sounded good and then fell into step behind me as I led them to the kitchen.

I cut up slices of the cake Jon and I had eaten just that morning on the way to school and served my friends. I took a slice as well and sat down with them.

"This is really good," Austin complimented me.

‘Thanks. It’s one of my favorites. I’ve had a lot of practice making it," I told them.

"Um, Jake, excuse me for asking, since it’s none of my business," Derek said in a deferential tone, "but you seem pretty perky for a guy who just ended a relationship."

I pushed my fork around in the crumbs of my cake and then sat back, letting the fork clatter onto the plate. I didn’t meet their gazes but rather let my own glaze flit from crumb to crumb on my plate as I spoke. "Trace and I weren’t going to work because...Jon. Jon and-"

"Oh. Oh, no Jake. Really?" Derek asked in a concerned tone. I glanced up at him and nodded and rushed forward to ease his concern.

"See, Trace came to talk to me today because Jon harassed him yesterday. I guess-and don’t ask me how he ever thought this was a good idea-Jon decided to interfere in my relationship with Trace because I didn’t seem happy." I sighed and ran a hand through my hair. "Of course, as you know, I was seeing if things would develop with Trace. I mean-how fast did you guys get together? How long did it take?"

Hamster, whom Derek preferred to call by his given name of Austin, glanced at Derek and said, "I think it took a few weeks before we tried a date or two. Maybe a few months before we both told the other we had some pretty strong feelings developing. That sound about right, babe?"

Derek nodded and smiled. "Of course Lu and Robin wouldn’t just come out and let me know you were available. They let me believe you were totally straight and una...vailable. Um."

Derek glanced at me with an abashed expression, perhaps unintentionally drawing lines between his experience and my own but I waved him off quickly. "Oh, no, don’t worry. So listen to this!"

I explained how Trace and I had agreed to be friends and that I’d promised myself I wouldn’t squander that. Then I proceeded to tell them how I’d gone over and torn strips off of Jon until the motivation for Jon’s antics had hit home for me and what I’d decided to do about it.

"I mean, Derek, he kissed me back, no question. He put his arms around me and...I was just blown away!" I told them enthusiastically. "All the things I’ve heard about I’m dying to try with Jon. The very first thing will be making out on that couch out in the living room until my lips are too sore for more, and then I’m going to rest my head on his chest and take the best nap I’ve ever had. I’m going to find out what kissing his neck feels like, I’m going to...what?"

Derek was exchanging looks with Austin and they weren’t positive, happy looks. Derek brought his gaze back around to me and cleared his throat.

"Listen, Jake. I don’t mean to rain on your parade, okay? But can I offer some...words of caution?"

Confused, I said, "Okay. What?"

He licked his lips and clasped his hands together on the table. "I have no doubt Jon cares about you. You don’t spend as much time around someone as he has with you without at least liking them, not unless they are family or something. But I’m going to remind you that you just told me yesterday how he was out of reach."

I smiled. "I know! But he kissed me, Derek! I mean an honest to goodness, toe-curling kiss!"

He smiled wanly. "I know, and I can see how happy that makes you. I don’t mean to be a downer, really I don’t. I’m just worried that...well, what time did all this happen?"

I paused to consider. "Um, not totally sure. I wasn’t looking at any clocks."

Derek glanced at his boyfriend and then back to me. "And have you...well, how did you leave things?"

"Well," I said slowly, getting a sinking feeling because I hadn’t heard from Jon. "I told him he can’t stop me from dating if he’s not going to date me. I told him I love him. That I’m in love with him," I clarified. "And, after we kissed, I told him the ball was in his court to either see what happens with us as a couple or that....um, that we could be the best of friends and date...other people."

My voice had dwindled down to a whisper as I replayed my words and noted that Jon hadn’t replied.

"And have you heard from Jon since then?" Derek asked.

I let my chin drop. The joy I’d been so full of drained from me like a deflated souffle. I’d been so smug, so sure when I’d walked out that I was on my way to my first big love, a boyfriend that I had waited for and whom I could now openly treasure. But Derek’s words shook me and my core went violently cold. I wrapped myself in a hug and shivered quickly as I wondered if I’d made a dreadful, unspeakable mistake.

"I’m sorry, Jake," Derek said compassionately.

"But. If he just wanted to be friends, why would he have kissed me back?" I asked in a small voice. "Why would he have held me close?"

Austin’s face entered my vision as he squatted in front of me. "Jake, listen buddy. I won’t pretend to know what’s going on in Jon’s head. I barely know the guy. But...as a guy who is bisexual I can tell you that kissing someone, holding someone feels good. It doesn’t bother me what the sex is if I’m attracted and I like them."

I let my gaze drift up to Austin’s face. "You think he’s bisexual?"

His brow shifted in consternation. "Not the point I was trying to get across. I meant that, even if he’s not gay, he might have responded to you because kissing you felt good. Because holding you felt good. So maybe he’s sitting at home and trying to figure out what just happened. Or maybe he’s thinking that you gave him a win-win choice and he just scored the best friend ever. I don’t know. I’m just...tossing out theories other than...just trying to help."

I looked away and sighed. They stayed with me for a while longer, but eventually they departed. They were such nice people that I knew if Jon hung around with them he’d see that Geoff was...I closed my eyes and muttered a curse under my breath. Everything kept circling back to Jon. I glanced at the clock and was a little surprised to see it creeping past eight o’clock. Listlessly I checked my phone-still nothing from Jon.

I walked into the kitchen and opened my book to a random page. The recipe for a pineapple upside-down cake stared back at me, and the memory of Jon’s reaction the first time I’d made it for him brought a stinging sensation to my eyes. I blinked and rubbed my eyes a few times, then set about seeing if I had everything I needed for the cake. Confirming that I did, I lost myself in one thing that made me happy, since the other...was unavailable.

Some time later I put the cake in the oven and set the timer. I cleaned up a bit and then flipped to a cookie recipe I particularly liked and started making the dough. I paused and decided I would substitute M&Ms into the batter instead of chocolate chips because I liked the colorful candies in the cookies and the taste was slightly different. I checked through my supplies and found a nearly-empty bag; clearly my stash had been victimized by my dad.

I set the auto-off on the stove and covered up the bowl of cookie dough and set it in the fridge. I grabbed my coat, ensured I had my wallet, and started the hike to the 24 hour convenience store as my dad had the car and was working overnight again. As I trundled down the street with nothing to occupy me I let the thoughts of Jon crest the walls I’d built up while baking and wash over me like floodwaters over a levee.

Even if he rejected me, I knew I still loved him. Was in love with him. I wished he knew he was good and decent and loyal. I wished he knew that not everyone would have fought off my attackers the first day we’d met. I wished he’d accept that he’s worth more than the opinions of his brothers and their money. I wished....

I wished he would hold me right then and tell me everything was alright. I wiped my eyes and increased my pace as I shifted mental gears and tried to think about what Jon’s reaction might have been once I’d left. Clearly it wasn’t to call me back to him, but what, then? Could he have called Geoff? I shuddered at the thought. Geoff would likely crow that he’d been right all along and all I wanted was Jon’s dick.

What if he'd gone to Richard? I’d not really interacted much with him, but he’d seemed more levelheaded than Geoff. Well, a rabid animal was more levelheaded. Failing that, who would he turn to? I pulled my phone out to check it for the billionth time and was dismayed to find it was dead.

As I opened the door to the convenience store a cold chill ran down my spine. He’d turn to Johnny Walker. Or maybe Jack Daniels. Bailey and his cream, which was a joke between us. And when he was done drinking the taste of me from his lips and trying to scour his memory of me with alcohol, what then? Would he, not having gone to his brothers, try driving to Boston to be with old friends or something equally foolish?

My heart seized in my chest and, with a start, I realized I was at the counter and the clerk was asking me for money. I looked down in front of me and was surprised yet again to find that I’d picked up Reese’s Pieces, M&Ms and peanut M&Ms as well. I’d shopped on auto pilot. I paid the clerk and left the store, turning my feet toward the Ellesier home. No matter what, I just wanted to see that he was okay.

I tried to force my mind away from ideas of Jon driving, blitzed out of his mind. Instead I tried to figure out why I’d unconsciously picked up the candy I had. Mixing in Reeses would make a unique flavor, or I could make two batches with one type of candy in each. But why-oh. Even as I’d been lost in thought my body had continued to operate and I crunched down on a peanut M&M. Obviously I had decided, somewhere, that this was to keep me busy for now.

I finally arrived at Jon’s home. It was a nice house, I guess. A little big for my taste, but that was fine. I let out a breath when I saw Jon’s car in the driveway. It was blocked in by another car I didn’t recognize, so even if he did get into his cups he wasn’t going anywhere. A weight lifted from me and my worry for him, which had been steadily building, sloughed from my shoulders.

Now that I was here, though, I wanted to try and make sure he was okay. I wasn’t going to knock or anything stupid, but I felt a protective need to check on him. I moved quietly to the side of the house and walked along the hedges that separated his property line from the neighbor, glancing at the windows as I did. I saw, briefly, Richard walking through the home but no Jon.

As I reached the back of the home I took a steadying breath and looked up at the window to Jon’s room. Moving lights reflected off the glass- no doubt the television as Jon watched a movie or played a game. I waited in silence, in darkness and if I were honest in hopes that Jon would feel my presence and move to the window. That he’d see me and wave at me to come inside. But he didn’t appear and there was no beckoning to be had.

With a sigh I turned and walked back along the hedges and then paused as I passed the kitchen. Jon was descending the back stairs in a tee shirt and pajama pants. He had a glass in his hand but seemed sober enough. I bent down to limit the chance of being seen-I can’t say why. I observed him hold the glass over the sink, a small amount of amber liquid in the bottom. He moved the glass toward his mouth and a rictus of frustration crossed his face before he turned the glass over, dumping the liquid and dropping the glass.

I heard it hit the bottom of the stone sink and shatter. Jon flinched, then braced his hands on the countertop and stared down. I was near to stepping out and going to him, tapping on the glass, because I could see he was in distress, but then he threw up. I felt foolish. He wasn’t pouring out the alcohol because I’d not have approved. He had drunk too much and had just thrown it back up. At least I’m worth getting drunk over, I thought to myself, even though it seemed to be a natural response to any inconvenience or reason to celebrate in Jon’s life. With a jolt that hit me in my heart I replayed that thought and realized-I was just like everything else in his life. Not special. Not....

I turned my feet for home and speed walked all the way to my door. My mind was locked, perhaps from shock, or perhaps I’d simply reached the point of maximum input and just couldn’t handle a single extra thought process-especially if it related to Jon. Once inside I went directly to the kitchen and lost myself in baking. I set the pineapple upside-down cake out to cool and put a batch of cookies in. Then I moved to another recipe in my book and began making that. I kneaded, rolled and baked until I was disturbed by my father coming in the front door.

"Jake? Why are you baking so early?" he asked as he set his things down and entered the kitchen. I turned to face him and my gaze flitted to the clock. Five-forty-five. My gaze drifted back to my father who stood in the entryway leading to the living room. I opened my mouth but found that I was parched, and I ended up coughing lightly instead.

He walked across the room and started examining the products I’d created overnight. "Cookies-are those Reese’s?"

"Yeah. Someone ate the M&Ms." My voice sounded scratchy and I got a glass of water as he continued down the line.

"M&M cookies, banana bread, pound cake-is that a pineapple upside-down cake?" he asked, pointing down at the baked good in question.

I leaned back against the counter. "Yeah. It’s for Jon...."

"Yeah? I’ve tasted your upside down cake before! Trying to give him diabetes?" he said with a chuckle. He glanced at me and I’m not sure what happened but suddenly I felt tired and my eyes blurred. I coughed again and sipped some water but spilled it on my shirt.

"Shit," I muttered. I set the glass down and jumped as my father had closed the distance between us and startled the heck out of me

"So...what happened. It was Jon, wasn’t it?"

Without warning my vision blurred again and I fell into my dad’s arms. In between jags of crying I told him how I’d gone to see Jon the night before and how that had turned out. I told him of my high hopes and how Derek had brought me crashing back to earth. I told him of the communication blackout from Jon and how I had left him with a choice and he clearly wasn’t going to make one. I told him about getting worried about Jon, but even then I was protective of him and left out the drinking. I used the universal phrase ‘do something stupid’ to justify checking up on him.

"And did you see him?" my father asked.

In my mind’s eye I saw Jon dropping the glass and throwing up. I wiped my eyes. "I saw him inside. He was... was okay... so I left. I came home and just started...I wasn’t tired. I’m still kind of not tired. I just can’t close my eyes or...or...."

"I know," he said and patted my shoulder. He backed off a few steps and pulled a chair away from our tiny dinette and spun it backward to sit and face me. "Your mom and I, we started off hot like Fourth of July fireworks. We burned out fast, maybe a year and a half. We were...I mean we were so miserable together it was kind of amazing. Whenever I tried to sleep or had a quiet moment...I used to lie awake in my rack and couldn’t stop thinking about the situation; I was unable to understand how it had all turned to shit so fast.

"That’s kind of why I thought you and Jon had a decent chance. You guys had liked each other as people already. You had a foundation of respect and friendship to build on rather than partying and decisions to drive to Atlantic City at two in the morning."

I shrugged helplessly but he wasn’t done yet.

"Your friends sound like smart people, and I appreciate that they didn’t sugarcoat things. That’s more valuable than you might think- finding people who will speak the truth to you. But I’d like to suggest one other...avenue for you to consider."

"Okay," I replied. My voice still sounded weird, and I picked up the glass and drained the rest of the water.

"I want you to consider a guy who, by all accounts, has been a good friend to you and to whom you’ve been a good friend. Now consider he knows you have a crush on him and, as I think you mentioned, he didn’t exactly handle it in a kosher way." He paused and then said, "What if he’s sitting at home asking himself why he kissed you back? What if he’s asking himself who he is, grabbing onto you and extending that kiss? Maybe Jon hasn’t reached out yet because he’s not sure what to say."

I considered that and found that I could buy into it. I wasn’t sure if it was solely because it offered me a ray of hope, but damn if it didn’t sound sort of logical. I looked up at my dad and blinked away a few tears. "Thanks, Dad. I hope you’re right."

"Listen, kiddo," he said as he hoisted himself to his feet. "One thing I’m sure of is that boy cares for you. He’ll be back. I don’t know if it’ll be what you hoped for, but I don’t think you’ve lost him. Now. If you were ten I’d buy you a puppy, but since you’re nearly seventeen, I think we should go car shopping. It’s about time. Call it an early Christmas present."

I barked out a short laugh and rubbed the wetness from my eyes. "Thanks for the offer, Dad. I don’t need a car."

"Well, you could have used it last night. And what about driving to school?"

"Well, I ride with...." I trailed off.

"I know, I know," he said as he closed the space between us and placed a hand on my shoulder. "But look, kiddo. For one, there’s going to be days you stay after and taking your own car would help, right?"

"Well, yeah," I said.

"And for two, your old man wasn’t here to see your birthdays and all the other things I should have. Buying your first car....let your old man off the bench, huh? Let me play a few innings so I can share this with you, okay?"

I smiled at him. "You can’t buy me a car every time a boy breaks my heart. Plus I don’t want you to get me something because you feel guilty. I know you both had-"

"Now you listen, boy," he said and shook my shoulder. "You don’t get to tell me if I can feel guilty or not, and if I want to spend some of that money I’m working so hard for on my son, then who are you to deny me, huh? I ask you, how do you have the heart to take away a tender moment from your old man?"

I chuckled. "Okay, I surrender!"

"Good!" he beamed. "Let me take a shower, and we’ll go to breakfast and hit the car lots before the salesmen have had their first cup."

"But dad, you just worked all night-"

"What’re you, my mother? Go put some less...floury clothes on."

"Oh, hah. Very punny, dad," I said with an eyeroll.

After cleaning up I grabbed my phone from the charger but was dismayed to find the back of it was wet. The small screen didn’t brighten when I unplugged it. I tried to turn it on but it didn’t respond. I looked down at the counter and saw the trail of water running from the sink and having puddled around my phone.

"Shit." How would Jon reach me?

"What’s up?" my dad asked as he entered the room, fingers combing his damp hair.

"I must not have noticed the water going down the counter. It burned out my phone," I said dejectedly.

"Well, I got you that one to see how you’d take care of it. I’d say you did pretty well; let’s just get a new one. Come on, we’ve got a busy day."


After Jake left I was sort of in a haze. At the sound of the door closing, I felt my legs give out from under me, and I collapsed back into the chair.

What had I done? Well, that was pretty obvious, but maybe start with the simple questions. Baby steps. I had kissed him. Held him. What else would I have done if he hadn’t pulled away? No, let’s not go there yet. Simple questions.

Now, why had I done it? It had just felt right. I couldn’t explain it any other way, even to myself. Jake had expressed his feelings for me so clearly in more than just words. How could I not react? It had been on instinct. It was like being drunk; in that moment there was no question of what was right or wrong, good idea, bad idea-you just did it.

I had flat out never been kissed like that, with such genuine feeling. Actually, scratch that, since lust is definitely a feeling but this one was different-a lot more complicated, but at the same time so beautifully simple.

Goosebumps began to form on my arms, and I remembered I wasn’t wearing a shirt. I trudged up the stairs and moved on to the next question. What do I do now? So much for simple questions. I needed someone to help me sort through this. My first thought was telling Richard as soon as he got home, but however I spun it, there was a good chance my little chat with Trace would come up. Couldn’t see him approving of that. Geoff? Yeah, no. I didn’t need a giant helping of "I told you so" about Jake’s feelings. But Geoff sort of knew about that already - this was about my feelings, specifically, whatever the hell they were.

I walked into my room and grabbed my shirt from where I’d dropped it on the bed when I’d heard someone hammering at the door. No, maybe I'd talk later when the dust had settled, but not now. I like having all my brain cells functioning when I talk to Geoff, and just now I was way too scattered. Damn, this is when a support network of buddies would have come in handy. Jake had the rainbow brigade from school, who’d probably be telling him right now that I’m no good. This wasn’t even your normal kind of relationship problem, it was...wait. I actually did have someone to call. Someone who knew all about unconventional relationships. I felt around for my phone in my pocket, not finding it until I noticed it sitting on my desk at half battery. I grabbed it and went into my contacts, scrolling to the M’s.

Seth McAllister and his group are about as close as I get to a clique at school. Yeah, being a junior and not part of a specific "crowd" I should be a social outcast or something, but good looks let you bend the rules a bit. I’d say it was unfair if it wasn’t so damn useful. For a while, Seth had been in a three-way relationship with Grayson and Logan. Even before then, he and Logan had something between an epic bromance and, well, romance. If anyone had answers, Seth did.

He answered on the third ring. "Yo, what’s up, your highness?" I swear, I should never have told him my brothers and I were named after kings of England.

"Seth, I got a question." I cut right to the chase.

"And I have an answer." I could hear voices and the distinctive noise of basketballs on a gym floor in the background.

"You at school?" I wasn’t sure I wanted to talk about this with him while he was in a public space.

"Yeah, keeping Grayson company while he waits for Logan to get out of basketball practice. That your question?"

"No, I - look, can I talk to you privately? Like, are you free tonight or something?" I started to pace the length of the room.

"I kind of have plans..." It’s Friday, I remembered. He probably had plans with his boyfriend, Foster. Most people have dates or something set up - I would too if I weren’t questioning my whole identity. I heard the sounds of basketball fade out before he continued. "What’s going on?"

"Can I drive over maybe? It won’t take long. I just need to talk to someone, 'cause I'm totally in over my head here." Something in my voice must have clicked with him.

"What's wrong? Are you okay?" he asked urgently.

"Yes - no... Fuck if I know.... So can-"

"Meet me at school in front of the gym."

I grabbed my car keys and thundered down the stairs. The drive to school was tense. I still wasn't sure how to explain this to Seth, or if he'd even have the answers I needed, but he was my best bet. I wasn't thrilled about telling someone outside the family about this, even if they were a friend. The second I did, it was out of my hands, and I gave up any kind of control I might have over the situation.

But you never had any control over this, whispered a voice in the back of my head. You don't control Jake, even though you tried. You can't even control yourself or this wouldn't be happening. You don't-

I slammed my fist on the center of the wheel in a cry of wordless rage that was almost drowned out by the car horn. The blow turned the wheel a bit and I swerved slightly into the other lane. I cought a glimpse of silver from an oncoming car and spun the wheel to the right. I compensated to avoid going off the road and the car straightened with a jerk, the other driver’s horn ringing in my ears and my heart pounding in my chest.

I always thought my family would be the death of me. Well, considering how I felt about Jake, that still might be the case. Goddammit.

Seth was sitting on a bench by the main entrance when I got there. School had let out a while ago, so parking wasn't as bad as it could have been, but I took a spot in the staff parking lot anyway. It was closer. Sue me.

"Okay, what's wrong, man?" Seth looked me up and down as if checking me for damage.

"My head is fucked up, that's what," I answered.

"Dude, you didn't-" he began before looking at my face as I reached him. "You're not talking about booze, I take it?"

"No. I wish I was. Could really use a drink right now." I sighed when he frowned. "Okay, you know how I told you Jake sort of had a crush on me?"


"And how I told you I just like him as a friend?" He nodded slowly – okay, I told myself; I couldn’t put it off any more. "Well, things have got a bit more complicated..."

Seth pinched the bridge of his nose. "Jon, with complicated things you're trying to explain, there’s this useful strategy called starting from the beginning. Try that."

I took a deep breath, shook myself and started. "So when I had you distract Jake today so I could talk to Trace-"

Ten minutes later, we were both sitting on the bench and Seth was shaking his head. "Jesus, you scared him into going to Jake?" I had just finished catching him up to Jake coming to my house.

"I didn’t mean to-"


"Okay, maybe a little," I conceded.

"Goddammit, Jon." Yeah, tell me about it. "You still owe me and Foster those tacos, by the way."

"Seriously?" I snapped. "That’s what you’re thinking of right now?"

"Jon. Your tits. Calm them." I wanted to punch him in the face - I felt my fist clench and I took a deep breath. You’re not mad at Seth, I told myself. You’re mad at yourself. He’s just messing with you.

Okay, maybe I’m a little mad at Seth now.

"I’m kind of freaking out here, Seth. I need help." My voice was tight even to my own ears. I saw Seth’s eyes flicker to my hand and I forced myself to unball my fist. "I’m sorry, I didn’t mean..."

"Don’t worry about it," he said quickly. "So, uh, what did you want to ask me?"

I still wasn’t sure how to say it so I just went for it. "Logan...he was straight when you guys met, right?" Seth frowned again and I continued before he could reply to that. "I mean, he hadn’t been with guys or remembered being interested in them before."

"Yeah, that’s true," Seth replied slowly. "You know, maybe you should talk to Logan about-"

"No! No," I repeated, more quietly. "I don’t want anyone else to know about this."

Seth frowned slightly. "Don’t want anyone to know about whatever you said to Trace, that you stiffed us on the tacos, or Logan’s sexual discoveries? You need to help me out a little here, Jon."

I growled. "About this stuff with Jake. What else? I already don’t know who else he’s told as it is. What I want to know is, before you started like really dating, you and Logan had a thing, right? More than friends but not exactly boyfriends? How did that work?"

Seth’s eyes widened and he stared for a moment. "Oh. Uh, wow. Okay, so, Logan kind of kicked...." Seth trailed off in thought, long enough that I had to wonder if he was gone for good.


Seth shook himself. "It’s just a weird kind of symmetry, I guess. See, David Mullins was kind of a dick to me, too. I mean, it wasn’t exactly a unique experience, believe me," he said with a chuckle. "But...."

"Do I have to kick his ass again?" I couldn’t help asking, feeling a tiny smile pull at my mouth. "Maybe shatter a tibia? Something like that?"

"No," he said with a chuckle. "Never mind, I was off base a little. Just funny that Jake and I had that in common, I guess. Anyway, Logan befriended me partially because he and his group of friends had developed a little...distance between them. And he noticed me, a sad sack hanging out by myself. At first you wouldn’t have thought we’d have been friends-he’s a jock and I’m totally not. But...he’s not just a jock.

"Anyway, thing is, we discovered some mutual interests and started building from there. The...attraction built slowly. Neither of us was entirely prepared for it. Does that....help you?"

"It sounds familiar," I agreed. "So far I get it. But what made you jump to like...boyfriends? Before then, did you have rules, see other people or not? Or..." I realized what he was probably going to say, 'it just kind of happened that way?'

"Way messier," Seth said with a laugh. "First Logan was interested in this girl and he talked me into being his wingman. I know, me! Destined for failure."

"This would be...Maggie or Kristen?" I asked. The two girls who were practically joined at the hip in Seth’s group. I’d remembered hitting on both of them, but they’d shot me down.

"Maggie. Good memory, I’ll have to watch what I say around you."

"How do you not already?"

"Slow learner. Good thing Foster hung in there. Another time for that story, though." He paused and said, "Yeah, so long story longer, Logan wanted this girl, and we double dated but it turns out...well, you hit on them. You know, I’m sure."

"I’m not their type, yeah." It’s rare but it’s been known to happen.

"Something like that. Anyway, Logan didn’t talk to me for a few days and then admitted he had feelings, I told him he was an idiot because I did too, we kissed and-"

"And is that when things changed? When you kissed?" So far was pretty close to what was happening with Jake and me, or close enough it might help me figure this out.

Seth smiled. "Yeah. Kissing is Logan’s favorite way to communicate." I smiled without thinking about it. Jake’s kisses said a lot, too. It occurred to me then that I might want more of them.

"Is that when you guys actually started dating?" I prodded. It felt weird to be sitting here grilling Seth about his personal life. I was sounding like a twelve year old with these questions, but he seemed to be taking it in stride.

"I guess," Seth said with a shrug. "We acted like it even if we weren’t going around announcing it. But...well, Logan was adapting. I had already known I was bi and being with a guy was kind of new territory for Logan." I could relate to that. "We took it really slow and didn’t exactly call it anything. We knew how we felt and sort of let it sit. A little later we brought Grayson in on it, and it became more of a normal boyfriend thing."

"Yeah, after you brought in a third guy." I remembered what had happened after that though. "Oh, sorry, man..."

"It’s alright," Seth said with a sigh. "We really do love each other, but he fit better with Gray and I...well, I fit better with Foster." Even wrapped up in my own problems, I still felt a little bad for him. You’d have to be blind to not see things had been different between him and Logan when they had started out but their relationship had changed. I could relate.

"Still...I mean, I know it worked out for the best, but getting there isn’t always fun," I clarified.

"Well, that might be the whole point though, yeah? You have to see these things through in order to know if things will work or not. But, Jon I have to ask what this has to do with you? I mean, you don’t want to kiss Logan, do you?" he said with a chuckle and pushing my shoulder. "Wait, is it me? I'd have to have Foster’s permission, first."

I felt my lip curl. "No, it’s not - it’s Jake. He kissed me..."

"Again?" Seth was unfazed.

"This was different. I kissed him back," I rested my head in my hands. "I - I got really into it."

Seth stared for a moment and then blinked. "You did? So...oh. Um, do you...I mean, did you like it?"

"Yeah," I admitted, still not looking up at him.

Seth let out a low whistle. "Okay, so that’s why you were asking about Logan and me. I guess you’re freaking out then. I get it, now." Seth began to laugh. "I think you and Jake are kind of different though. Sorry, I can’t give you a step-by-step guide for best friend to boyfriend." Seth burst out laughing at his own joke. I frowned at him and felt my fists clenching, but he began to wave his hands at me as his laughter trailed off.

"I’m sorry, I’m sorry," he said and spluttered out a few more laughs. "It’s just...I know this must feel like the world is coming apart at the seams all around you, a little. But I promise, it isn’t."

"But I don’t know what’s happening to me!" I snarled before catching myself and reining in my wild emotions. Seth was watching me expectantly. My stomach churned as I tried to express the vortex of emotions I felt when it came to Jake. "Well, you know, that is, I already knew I cared about Jake. A lot. But now I’m not sure exactly what that means and where to go from here." I sighed and ran my hand through my hair. "It’s more than friendship. I’m not sure if I can be what he wants, but for me it’s like...family?"

"That you like sucking face with?" Seth asked. "Do I even want to know what goes on at your house?" I glared at him. "Look, all this stuff you told me? Have you told Jake?"

"Kind of. I think he knows, sort of..." He had to know somehow, even if I hadn’t said it flat out. Cause I was going to feel like a real idiot if he didn’t.

"Jon? He kind of knows? Really? How do you know how he feels? Did he tell you? Or was it just the kiss that gave you the clue?"

I glared at Seth. He didn’t seem intimidated, which irritated me on top of everything. Do I tell him the kiss was pretty goddamn clear? The sudden heat in my face told me that might be a step too far. Instead, with a supreme effort I pushed out, "He said he’s in love with me."

"Yeah, then fucking tell him." Seth watched me for a second. "Now!" he prompted, smacking my shoulder. I pulled myself together and got up and started walking to my car. After a few steps I stopped and turned.

"Seth? Thanks." He grinned widely.

"Anytime, your highness," he replied. "Now go get your prince."

"Shut up," I growled and turned away, his laughter following me.

Driving home, slowly this time, I tried to figure out how I’d approach Jake. I wanted to, needed to, talk to him but also had to do it right. I wasn’t going to fuck this up, whatever this was. I needed to think and - oh fuck it. I pulled out my phone and, as an afterthought, pulled over. I took a deep breath, pressed the green button and....

It went straight to voicemail. He'd turned his phone off? Or did he reject the call? But why would he reject the call? He said the ball was in my court, so wouldn’t he be expecting me? Maybe I’d waited too long and he was angry. Maybe he was still angry about Trace. But he wouldn’t just ignore me. Would he?


We left the house and had a big breakfast before going from car lot to cart lot. It was kind of funny and kind of amazing to hear my dad talk cars and bust the salesman down. It was almost like a form of combat, and yet we kept walking away. It wasn’t until early in the afternoon that we stumbled on a small used car dealer where a car caught my eye. It was a coupe with seats that folded forward to allow people to sit in the back. It had leather seats and a kind of retro appearance.

I was stunned to find it was a hardtop convertible. It was an older model of something called a Thunderbird, a 2005, but I was sold before we even turned the key. We took it for a test drive and my dad insisted we hop on the highway and give it a thorough workout. It pulled a little to one side and the ride was a little bouncy, but I was thoroughly enjoying the ride.

We pulled off the main road and onto a gravel lot and got out to walk around the car without the salesman hovering. I didn’t know squat about cars. I don’t even know the name or the model of car Jon drives. But this car was cool.

"So. It’s a little small, the roof seal will inevitably leak, and it’s totally impractical. What do you think?"

I looked at him, grinning, and said, "I love it."

"That’s my boy," he said with a laugh. "Let’s go make that salesman squirm."

Afterward we’d gone to get a phone added to his plan. It was nice, kind of like the one Jon has...well, I’m sure lots of people have this phone, not just Jon. As we sat down in the car for the ride home I groaned.

"What now?" my dad asked.

I sighed. "Dad, what was my old phone number?"

He paused. "I don’t recall. Once I put it into the phone I never...oh."

"Yeah. I don’t know anyone’s number. Not even Jon’s. Damn."

We both fell asleep not long after getting home. My dreams were tangled and I honestly couldn’t say if Jon was present in any of them, but chances were high. I rolled out of bed at nine and checked my phone-still nothing from Jon. I frowned and recalled I didn’t have Jon’s number anyway. Then, out of curiosity, I looked at the paperwork for the phone. A new number. Crap. Now Jon couldn’t call if he actually wanted to. With a sigh I set about my morning routine and then remembered it was Sunday. Jon and I ran on Sundays, and then I had movie night with the guys. I had a feeling movie night would be awkward for me and I’d skip it. At least Trace could go and not feel weird. Walking back into my room, I pulled on shorts and a long sleeved tee before covering my feet in socks and running shoes. It was kind of funny that Jon was into maintaining his body with exercise and things like that, yet set about undoing it with his indulgences. People are weird.

Like me. The guy I fell for got me into taking care of my body, and should I let that go because he’s not here to run with me? No, I shouldn’t. Should I text and see if he’s coming for a run? Maybe. I sure wanted to, but of course I didn’t have his number. It may have been just as well. I didn’t think I could stand it if he didn’t reply. It was one thing that I’d left him with a decision but quite another to be ignored when asking about one of our normal activities. Not replying would be kind of a nail in the coffin I didn’t think I could take right then.

I passed my father’s room and left him sleeping soundly as I exited the house and began stretching, just as Jon had taught me. I plugged headphones into my new phone, put some music on and started my exercise. I didn’t push myself as Jon did, or had been recently. It occurred to me then that he’d probably been trying to wear me out so I wouldn’t go to the movie nights with the gang. I really wished he’d met them and had his preconceptions smashed to tiny pieces.

I didn’t indulge myself in daydreams of making out with him or anything of the sort. In a way I felt cut off from him. Adrift, as if he’d simply shut down and I’d not interact with him again.

It was almost like when my mom left, except I missed Jon. I was missing his laugh, his wit and even his whining. He was sort of cute when he was whining, but that was yet another thing I’d never tell him. Even if we’d dated that would have been wise to keep under my hat. Jon was far too clever as it was, and handing him advantages like that was just silly. He didn’t need help from me!

My right calf began to feel tight. I slowed down and dropped onto the lawn beside the sidewalk and slowly stretched my calf out by alternatively rolling my ankle and tilting my foot to point my toes away from me and then toward me. I took my time, having nowhere to be, when I heard the sound of feet pounding down the sidewalk. I glanced up to see Trace in track pants and a sleeveless tee as he slowed down and stopped in front of me, pulling out a headphone.

"Hey," he said, panting. "You okay?"

I nodded at him and pointed my toes skyward. "Yeah, thanks. Just a little calf cramp coming on. Thought I’d sit and stretch it some more before it locked up on me."

"Ugh, those suck," Trace replied and flopped down on the grass beside me. "I didn’t know you were a runner."

"Well, not back when I spent all day baking and eating, but Jon...."

Trace chuckled as my voice trailed off. "It’s okay, Jake. I’m a little disappointed to be sure, but I’m not going to break. Besides, if we’re serious about being friends, we have to be able to talk."

I sighed. "I know, and I’m sorry. I just didn’t want to be insensitive, any more than I may have been."

"I don’t think you were," Trace said reassuringly.

I nodded, relieved. Trace had every right to think I was a dick, and I know I kind of felt like one. "I feel bad about how things went with us," I said. "I want you to know I wasn’t trying to deceive you. I really do think you’re cute and that something could have developed. But I was telling the truth that I don’t warm to people very quickly. It takes me time. I’ve seen, for most of my life, just how shitty people can be."

Trace nodded slowly. "You know, I’ve thought about this since we talked. I talked to a few of the guys. I even talked to my cousin."

"Logan?" I said with a frown. "He doesn’t really know me."

"In a way that helps. He didn’t have any reason to defend you, and I’m not really back in his good graces yet. I can say he’s willing to forgive me if I show him I’m willing to change, and I like that about him." He paused. "Anyway, he said he could see where you were coming from. With things not working with one person, why shouldn’t you date the handsome new stranger in town?" He grinned devilishly and I laughed.

"It was a reason to give it a try, I admit," I said with a chuckle.

"So, um, you said you and Jon usually run together or something like that. Where is he?"

"Heh." I shook my head. "I shredded him Friday night and then thought I had him figured. So I kissed him. He kissed me back and we haven’t spoken since. There's a little more to it, but it kind of comes down to that."

Trace let out a low whistle. "Hey, no offense. No one seems to know much about Jon except that you guys are really tight. I don’t get it, what’s the draw? He’s nice looking, I guess, but...?"

I glanced at Trace and the honest expression of curiosity on his face. He may still wonder if we could reignite things, but I didn’t think so. So I explained to him about how I’d met Jon and how we’d traded. How guarded Jon had been and how we’d grown close spending time together. I explained about some of the funny things he did and how he encouraged me not to give up and complimented my weight loss and improved fitness.

"It’s really an example of what I was saying. I’ve known Jon since the spring of last year. I’ve had about nine months to get to know him and feel good about who he is behind his picket fence. I know he’s a good person. I think it’s a shame no one else knows but me."

Trace nodded. "Yeah. I can see your point. Well, how’s the cramp?"

I flexed the muscle around a little. "Loosened up. I think I’m going to head for home. You?"

"I’m only about half done. Olive, my little sister, is usually the sweetest kid, but she woke up with PMS today."

I frowned. "Didn’t you say she’s, like, eight?"

"Yep. Hate to see her when she’s a teen," he said with a laugh and I joined him. He got to his feet and, reinserting his headphones, he waved at me and headed off.

I hated the idea of going home. All I could think about was wondering what Jon was doing. I resisted the urge to go check on him again. If Jon couldn’t even make the choice to keep me as his friend, no matter how much that would still feel like losing, then I shouldn’t go crawling to him and beg for his time. I couldn’t respect myself no matter how much it hurts me to endure this...purgatory.

I knew I was going to have to clean my kitchen and that, as much as anything, kept my ass sitting right on the lawn I’d parked myself on. With a sullen glare at my phone I realized I’d be spending my afternoon just as I always had, before Jon had showed me what I’d been missing. I’d flip through my book and bake and be alone. I’d bake until I’d used up my enormous bag of flour and my reserves of walnuts, brown sugar and even the regular sugar.

Christ. My kitchen already looked like Betty Crocker and the Pillsbury Dough Boy had filled it with their offspring. I’d say they had an orgy but can you do that with two people? Or a woman and a sentient baked...non-baked....oh, screw it. With a final sigh I put my hands on the cool grass to push myself back to my feet.


Richard was waiting for me when I came downstairs on Saturday morning, sitting at the kitchen table with his iPad and coffee.

"Look who’s up. Feeling better?" he asked without looking up.

"What do you mean..." I froze on the stairs. Last night started to come back to me. I glanced at the kitchen sink. It was positively pristine. "Shit. Richard, I’m sorry-"

"Jonathan," he sighed and put aside his tablet. "What was that last night?"

I cautiously came down the last few steps and stopped by the table. "I'm so sorry I didn’t clean it up, I just -"

"It’s not that you didn’t clean up after you threw up in the sink," Richard cut me off shaking his head, "though I wasn’t thrilled about having to deal with that either, it’s that you got so inebriated that you dropped a glass and threw up in the sink."

"I wasn’t..." I trailed off realizing that the defense that I wasn’t that drunk, even though it was true, wouldn’t fly here.

"Wasn’t what?" he demanded. He didn’t raise his voice but his tone was harsh and clipped. Suffice to say he was pissed. I kept my mouth shut, taking a seat at the table. "I’ll tell you what you were, though - reckless and uncharacteristically stupid."

"It wasn’t like I was driving or something," I tried. He raised an eyebrow. Whoops.

"You think that’s the only danger of excessive drinking? Does the term ‘alcohol poisoning’ ring a bell? What if you had passed out before throwing up and choked on it? What if I hadn’t gotten home in time?"

I struggled for words that wouldn’t make me sound like even more of an idiot. How could I expect him to believe that I was only partway through a bottle of Southern Comfort when a nagging voice in my head that sounded an awful lot like Jake started giving me the mother of all headaches? The stress, the worry and general frustration boiled up inside me and..came out, I guess.

So how did I tell Richard that? Answer: I didn’t.

"You know I tolerate this even if I’m not crazy about it, but that has always been under the condition that you keep up responsible habits. This is the second time you’ve failed to do that," he went on. I almost asked what was the first before remembering just in time that he meant the car accident. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "You know, I used to expect this sort of recklessness from Geoffrey, but lapses in judgment like this are so much more disappointing coming from you."

One of the kitchen knives being rammed into my chest would probably have hurt less than the disappointment in his voice. There’s no feeling quite like it when someone you love and respect thinks you’re a total fuck up. I felt my shoulders slump.

"I’m sorry," I whispered.

"I know you are, Jon," his voice was gentler now, but only a little. The steel in it still remained. "But I can’t just let this slide." And here it comes. "You’re grounded for the next week."

"I get it but I just need to -" I barely started before he cut me off.

"No. It’s not supposed to be at your convenience. You’ll go to school and come home - that’s it."

"I need to go see Jake though!" I sounded like a petulant kid and hated it, even if that’s kind of what I was being.

"Give him a phone call. If it has to be in person you’ll see him Monday," Richard reached for his iPad. He was dismissing me, but I wasn’t giving up that easily.

"His phone’s not working. Please, we had-" I hesitated, about to say fight, but that didn’t seem like the right word, considering how it ended, "a talk yesterday. I need to check on him."

Richard paused before picking up his tablet. "How did he seem when he left?"

"Um..." I answered oh-so-helpfully.

"Was he angry, agitated or acting in some way that worried you?" Richard asked slowly, as if speaking to a child. Which I guess he figured he was.

"Yes! He was totally-" I began but was a fraction of a second too late. I’m a great liar, but I learned everything I know about reading people from my brothers. Richard was already shaking his head.

"Nice try, but no. I stand by my statement about Monday." So much for convincing him that I needed to appease my worry about Jake’s emotional well-being....

"Can I use the car to go to school?" I asked tentatively. Richard looked at me thoughtfully.

"Yes.... But I expect you home by three o’clock." His eyes hardened. "If I have even the faintest suspicion of any detours you’re taking the bus. Is that clear?"

"Crystal." I made to get up but was too slow.

"Good." Richard settled back in his chair to read. "Now, we have a new leaf carpet needing raking in our backyard I didn’t order. Take care of it, would you?"

"Don’t we have a guy for that?"

"We do." Richard didn’t look up. "I told him to skip our house this week. Rake’s in the shed."

Wouldn’t be a proper grounding without chores, right?


I wasn’t able to reach Jake for the rest of the day. His phone kept going straight to voicemail, he wasn’t on Facebook, and Richard had made it clear I wasn’t going anywhere. The only time I left my house was for my daily jog, and if I took too long then he’d get suspicious. I wouldn’t put it past him to be timing me with a stopwatch.

By the end of the day and possibly the literal millionth time I checked my phone to see no new messages, I almost threw it against the wall. Why was he not contacting me? Why was he ignoring me? I fucking hate it when stuff like this is unresolved.

If I was being honest with myself, I didn’t know what I was going to say when I finally got hold of him, whenever that was. Somehow, that didn’t seem too important though, or at least not if I couldn’t reach him. The longer this radio silence went on, the more it felt like it wouldn’t end. It was eating at me and we had to clear the air. Whatever happened, this gnawing feeling of being incomplete would end as long as I was able to tell him how I felt.

Even if I didn’t know that myself.


Sunday morning was a beautiful fall day. Even with how distracted I was, it would have been a crime not to take advantage of it.

"Richie, I’ll be going for a slightly longer run today," I informed him, poking my head into his study.

"Are you now?" He glanced up from his laptop. "And is running all you’ll be doing?"

"Yes." I barely held back from rolling my eyes. You want real frustration? It’s people being suspicious of you and knowing they have good reason, even if this is like the one time you’re being honest. "I know I’m grounded but I can still exercise right? Yesterday wasn’t long enough - I want to do a few more laps while the weather’s still good."

"If you want a workout I’m sure I could come up with some chores for you..."

I sighed. "Richard, come on. How many more nice days like this are we going to have before it gets too cold? Please?" He studied me carefully and I tried to look innocent. Wait, why was I trying? I was goddamn innocent! Stupid parental stare.

He tapped his pencil in thought. "Alright fine. Don’t make me regret this."

"Thanks." I left the study and stepped out the front door, setting up my earbuds and music. He might still think I’m up to something but I guess he was relying on the fact I couldn’t do much without my car. It kind of stung that he didn’t believe me, but then again, why should he? I guess I should take it as a compliment someone as shrewd as my older brother thinks I’m so tricky.

It was perfect running weather, and I could feel my spirits lifting despite my tension over the situation with Jake. It wasn’t too hot or too cold, the sun was bright and the trees were beautiful. I got a great rhythm going and Pandora was playing all my favorite songs and I felt like I could run forever. Or at least until my phone died.

And then I bumped into someone who totally ruined my good mood.

"Jon?" It was Trace jogging towards me. Great, the last person I wanted to see. Why couldn’t I have run into Jake on my run instead of Ginger here? For crying out loud, his hair made him look like a goddamn Irish Setter.

"Trace," I nodded curtly. I wasn’t in the mood to put up a fake smile; I just wanted him gone.

"What are the odds, running into you?" Oh god, he’s slowing down. I made to keep going past him but he darted in front of me. "Hey, hold up a sec." He was smiling. I was immediately suspicious.

"What do you want, Trace?" I stopped, feeling the twinge in my calves as I lost my momentum and with it, my runner’s high. Any kind of patience I might have had evaporated.

He was still smiling though, his eyes glittering with smugness. Someone thinks they have the upper hand, now don’t they? I was tempted to sweep his legs out from under him just to wipe that grin off his face.

"Well, we were just talking about you - speak of the devil and all that," he went on and I felt my fingers twitch with desire to shake him. But wait-

"What do you mean ‘we’?" I narrowed my eyes.

"Me and Jake."

My hand clenched into a fist. They were out together? Had he been with Trace all weekend? A million questions, each worse than the last, flashed through my head. I instinctively scanned the area around us looking for him, even as Trace kept talking.

"He’s back there," he jerked a thumb behind him where the sidewalk turned a corner. "Has a leg cramp. I’d go talk to him if I were you. You’re on his mind." His tone still made me want to knock a few of his teeth out but now I had more important things to do. I shot him a glare and shoved past him. It was time to have that talk.

Around the corner was a patch of grass and a small tree. Jake was there, resting just a little outside the shade to avoid the chill. I would have stopped and picked my words carefully like I planned, but to my surprise found I had no trouble with what I wanted to say.

"Seriously?" I snarled. Jake looked startled from where he sat on the grass. "Seriously?" I repeated. "After all that stuff you said Friday, you ignore my calls and now you’re out with Trace? Did you change your mind that quickly?" I knew I sounded irrational and possessive, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t believe he couldn’t wait even one afternoon before going back to his tool of a boyfriend.

Jake seemed to find his voice as he scrambled to his feet and glared at me. "What? I wasn’t out with Trace-"

I snorted. "Please, I just saw him." A run shouldn’t have felt like such a big deal but it hurt. That was our thing. It felt like I’d been replaced.

"Then you also saw he just left," Jake snapped. "I bumped into him. We broke up Friday before I came to see you. We’re friends."

"Then why have you been avoiding me?" I demanded, raising my arms and dropping them to my side. "You kiss me and then freaking drop off the grid for two days while I deal with....this," I gestured vaguely.

"What do you mean avoiding you?" Jake replied. "I didn’t see any calls from - oh..." He trailed off, his eyes widening as he seemed to realize something.

"What?" I asked, still fuming.

"My phone died," he began and I rolled my eyes, "Like as a door nail. I got a new phone yesterday with a new number," he finished.

"I tried your house, though - where were you all day?"

"Car shopping with my dad," he countered. "Wait," Jake frowned, then countered with, "Wait a sec. How did you know I was gone all day?"

That threw me off a bit. "Uh," I stuck my hands in my shorts pockets and glanced at the ground, "I stopped by a few times. I wanted to talk to you." When I looked up, Jake seemed to be fighting back a smile.

"Okay, what did you want to talk about?" he asked, not even bothering to hide his smile. I scowled and looked around. The street was empty; somewhere a crow cawed, but other than that we were alone.

"What do you think?" I snapped. "Since Friday I’ve been so fucking confused. I don’t know what the fuck is happening to me or what I am anymore. You did this to me," I got a second of satisfaction in making him drop the smug look in the face of my anger, but when he looked just a little scared I felt even worse. I didn’t want him to be afraid of me.

"I wasn’t trying to - I didn’t..." he began but I wasn’t done.

"Yes, you did. I’m not talking about Friday, I mean all this time. You were different, you made me feel different. You made me need you. You....changed things. It’s your fault!" My heart was pounding, and I could almost feel a vein throbbing in my temple - it was probably bulging. My eyes felt heavy with unshed tears as I struggled to find the words.

"For being your friend?" Jake shot back. The fear was gone; now he was just as angry as I was. "Well, sorry for making you care. For not being a fake-ass creep - guess I wasn’t a real ‘friend’, huh?"

"It was more than that. You know it-"

"Of course it was more! You think you have to tell me that?" he shouted. "I knew that for ages. You’re the one who was too scared to see it." A dog barked in the distance, probably spooked by all the noise we were making.

"Because you shouldn’t be around me, dammit!" I yelled. "I’m a nutcase. I’m so fucked up. My family is fucked up! That’s not for you to deal with." He was right though, I was scared - as he should be. "We’re not good people, Jake. You don’t want me."

"You’re wrong." He took a step forward. "You’re not a bad person. We’re all fucked up somehow, so I really don’t give a crap about that. Anyway, it’s part of what makes you...you. It’s part of the whole package, and that’s who I fell in love with."

Those words still made me wince, as much as I loved to hear them. He shouldn’t waste his love on me - he needed to give it to someone who could make him happy. It was true that being around Jake made me a better person, but what would being around me do to him?

"And you do deserve to be loved," he added, as if reading my mind. "You deserve to be happy," he took a breath, "whatever that means to you."

I wasn’t sure what I could say to that. My mouth opened and closed a couple times before I got any coherent words out. "I wouldn’t know how to be a good boyfriend," I croaked. Dammit, my voice was cracking. "I don’t, I haven’t done a relationship before."

Jake smiled. "So? I haven’t either."

"You know what I mean!" I was coming to terms with the fact I liked kissing Jake, but what we had was deeper than something physical. It felt like trying to express it that way would put him on the same level as all the girls I hooked up with for fun and never saw again. He was better than that. He deserved more than that. "I...I don’t know if I can give you what you need."

He frowned at that. "Are you saying you know what I need better than I do?"

"I could hurt you!" I tried to explain. He had to see that; he was one of the people who knew me best. Even being friends with me was painful; some kind of relationship could only be worse.

"Dude, we’re all going to get hurt somehow, whatever we do. That’s life." Okay, he did see it. He was just being stubborn.

"That doesn’t mean-" I tried again but he wasn’t finished.

"I’m not going to let that stop me taking a chance on this." He planted his feet and locked eyes with me in that way of his that meant it was useless trying to argue with him.

I shook my head. "You’re not going to listen to me, are you?"

"Why did you come find me, Jon?" he asked suddenly. His voice was calm now, more thoughtful. He cocked his head at me and crossed his arms.

"To make sure we were still friends." The words spilled out. I knew there was more to say but for now this would have to do. "I need you-"

"No," he interrupted me. "You knew that already. Or I hope you did. What do I mean to you, Jon?" The question I had been waiting for, even if I didn't know it. I took a deep breath. Here goes.

"You - you have to understand," I began, "I don’t know what I am or what this is we have, exactly. But I do know you’re part of my family." I gripped his upper arms. "And my family is literally the most important thing in the world to me." He looked up at me, watching me intently. It’s weird having someone hang on your every word - it makes it harder to get each one out. "It’s the strongest bond I know. Do you get that? Does that tell you what you mean to me, Jake?"

I waited until he nodded slowly before continuing. It felt like I had to get this all out before I lost the words, and if I didn’t say it now, I could never do it properly again. "I love you. I don’t know if that means I’m in love with you, and I’m sorry. I wish I could give you a straight answer, but I can’t. Whatever else happens, though, whatever else we are, we’re family." We stared at each other for a few seconds, and I took in every detail of his face. His eyes wide and focused, his hair slightly messy from jogging, the bead of sweat running down his forehead, his lips pressed into a firm line...

Fuck it, I figured and leaned down and kissed him.


Although his kiss seemed to be in direct contrast to not knowing if he were in love with me, I surrendered to it quickly. I slid my arms around him and was pleased to find that he was doing the same. For one bright moment I was sure I knew what bliss was. When the kiss ended I stayed pressed to Jon, and he made no move to release me. I liked that, of course, but questions swirled in my mind.

"Jon. Jon, I love you too much not to finish this conversation," I forced out. He stiffened in my arms, and I felt badly for moving us back into uncomfortable territory. Rather than plunging into it, however, I continued to hold him until he relaxed a little.

"Are you alright?" I asked softly.

"I...for now."

"I know this isn’t the easiest thing, Jon. I need to talk to you some more. Can we? Please?"

He didn’t respond for a moment. We stood there on the sidewalk, a slight breeze moving over us, locked together in an embrace. He felt indescribably good in my arms and I was loath to let him go. But when he nodded his head and let out a whispered "Okay," I knew it was time.

I took a step back and looked up into his eyes. He still looked stressed, but I think not as much as before. He wiped his face with a hand, pushing some moisture from one eye. I felt terrible that he was so upset, so confused.

"I’m sorry, Jon," I said and he frowned at me. "I guess I thought I understood where you were at before I kissed you. I didn’t realize I was going to put you through such stress."

He looked away slightly. "It’s okay. I kissed you back."

"Yeah. But I started it and you obviously weren't ready. What’s happening now is my responsibility."

"I worry. Sometimes," he said haltingly. "I know I’m a better person with you than without you. But I worry that...I’ll influence you, too."

"You have," I said. Jon glanced at me and then away.


"I’m confident. A year ago I’d never have stood toe to toe with anyone and argued. I was still a fat, lazy nobody. But you took the time and made me see that wasn’t all I was. Now I take better care of myself, and I know I have value. So, yeah, spending time with you has changed me. For the better."

Jon’s gaze swiveled back toward me and, in typical fashion, avoided my compliment and changed the subject. "What did you mean by you thought you understood where I was at?"

I shrugged. "Some things just seemed to add up. Like how aggressive you got with our Sunday workouts so I'd be too tired for movie night. How you screwed up your tiramisu. How suspicious you were about me hanging with the guys. How you did...whatever that was with Trace. I thought it all fit a pattern; it all added up."

He cleared his throat. "Added up to what?"

I waited until he made eye contact. "What do you think, Jon?"

He closed his eyes. "That I wanted you with me."

"Yeah," I said in agreement. He hadn’t opened his eyes, and I reached out to brush his hair back past his ear, but at my touch he leaned into my hand.

"I have to ask you, though." I paused and licked my lips, and he continued to keep his eyes closed. "I gave you a choice. If dating me is so hard for you, why didn’t you go with being friends?"

A tear leaked out from under one eye and he suddenly pulled away from me, flexing his hands and snarling under his breath. It was a little uncomfortable seeing his emotions swing from one end to another, and I had to wonder what kind of monster I was to put him through this. He stilled, only half turned toward me, and his hands were knotted tightly.

"I...I was scared. Someone, at some point...someone like Trace...they’d see you for who you are, and they’d...you’d leave me. I couldn’t blame you, either. You’d want what I wasn’t giving you. They’d give it to you. You’d spend more and more time with them, less with me. You’d get close to them. I...I’m selfish. I don’t want to lose you."

I moved a few steps toward him and he tensed. Slowly I reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder and, as I did, his tension eased slightly.

"Jon. I’d never just leave you."

"You can’t say that," he replied with a shake of his head. "And never is a very long time."

"Jon," I said firmly. "I’m never abandoning you. Never."

He turned his head toward me, his face a mask of misery. "But why? I tried to keep you from being happy so I could be. I just don’t...."

I smiled at him. "That was the first time I suspected...truly hoped you wanted more than friendship. It’s what led me to thinking you were trying to keep me for yourself. But I have to be sure, Jon. I don’t want you to date me just to keep me close. I don’t want to...trap you. I want a relationship with you. I want to kiss you, a lot. I want to hold hands and I want to tell others I’m dating you. That you’re mine."

He wiped his eyes and turned back toward me. "I like kissing you. But what about...after?"

I tilted my head. "You mean sex?"

His cheeks colored and he nodded.

"Well, probably not a right-now sort of thing, but yeah...I hope we get there. I hope we reach a point where you'll want it. With me."

Jon ran a hand through his hair and I could see him tense. "I’ve had sex. It feels good. It’s a great...release. But then it’s over, and there’s nothing after that. That's not us, not how I feel."

I cleared my throat and was sure I was blushing as well. "You know, maybe at some point we’d be getting together with the intention of getting laid," I said and coughed nervously. "But I think sex isn’t always about straight lust and convenience. I know I’ve... uh, thought about sex... with... you."

Jon’s face turned redder and he kept his gaze turned from me.

I sighed. "If we get there, Jon, I want it to be because you want me as much as I want you. I don’t want you to date me because you are afraid. I’ll promise you to always have time for you."

"Promises get broken."

I frowned. "Have I ever broken a promise to you?"

His gaze flickered to me. "No," he said grudgingly.

"Then if you’re not ready or willing to date me, Jon...."

Jon’s gaze met mine and he asked, "And what about you?"

With a tinge of sadness as I felt him potentially retreating back away from dating and into friendship I asked, "What about me?"

"Are you just going to stop...loving...me?"

I looked away. "I don’t think that’s an option."

"So I’d be hurting you, just like I said I would."

Anger flared in me. "I don’t want you to date me just to keep me happy, Jon. What you want matters, and I can’t be angry if you don’t love me back!"

"But I do! I said I did!" he snapped.

"Don’t you get pissed at me!" I snarled. "I just want you to date me because you want to! God forbid I think you matter as much as I do!"

"Well, we’re not just friends!" Jon replied heatedly. "And there sure as fuck isn’t any of my family I kiss and I... Damnit! I don’t know about the rest of it! I just...I just...want you. Whatever name gets put on it."

My heart went out to him, and I felt like I had enough of an answer to know he wasn’t just trying to appease me. He wanted to be with me. As much as the idea scared him, he was going to try. I pulled him to me and he came willingly, snaking his arms around me, and as we stood I felt him relax. He molded himself against me, and I supported him.

"There’s going to be a few rules, Jon," I said.

He stiffened. "What rules?"

"I want you to meet the guys." He started to pull back but I held him fast.

"Why? So they can try and steal you from me?"

"So you can see not all gays are like Geoff, if I’m not proof enough. And actually, that’s rule number two. "

"What’s rule number two?" he said resignedly.

"If I'm your boyfriend, you have to trust me enough to know I can’t be stolen."

He was silent for a moment and then in a small voice I’d never have credited to Jon he said, "What if they love you better than I can?"

"I think you have untapped reservoirs of love, Jon. I’m going to find them."

He chuckled. "Anything else?"

"Your drinking."

"Oh, come on!" he said as he pulled his head back to look at me. "How am I supposed to cope with life?"

"That’s what I’m for," I told him sternly. "Besides, I never want to see you throw up from drinking again."

His eyes narrowed and he asked, "And when did you see me do that?"

I paused. "Um. Well, Friday night I got worried about you," I confessed.

"And?" he asked sternly, stepping back and crossing his arms.

I cleared my throat. "Well, don’t be mad. I was at the store to get candy to bake into cookies. I was thinking about you, and I was worried you’d get blinding drunk and try to go to Boston or something stupid."

"Would I be that dumb?" he asked.

"I seem to recall-"

"Moving along," Jon said with a cough.

I tilted my head, getting the feeling he wasn’t as put off about me checking up on him as he’d let on. In fact I hoped he kind of liked it. "Well, I was worried about you. So I went to your house to check that you were all right."

He frowned. "You didn’t just knock or come in?"

"No." I sighed. "I was waiting to hear your answer, and I didn’t want to pressure you. I saw you in the kitchen, though. Throwing up from all your drinking."

He grimaced. "You saw that? I’m sorry. I...yeah, I did start to drink. But the smell was upsetting my stomach."

I crossed my arms. "The smell, huh?"

Jon scowled and stared at me. We kept up the staring for perhaps thirty seconds before Jon looked away. "Fine. A little nagging voice in my head that sounded an awful lot like you kept telling me not to get drunk. Happy?"

I tilted my head side to side and smiled at him.

He scowled some more. "I get to make rules, too. Number one, no peeking through windows. You have to come in and check on me in person if you’re so worried."

"Agreed," I said. It amused me that his scowl deepened rather than relaxing.

"Number two is just because we’re dating doesn’t mean we’re members of the rainbow brigade."

"The rainbow....!" I burst out laughing.

He grinned. "But if you want, I’ll go. I’ll hang with them. But, just because we’re dating doesn’t mean we have to hang around with them all the time."

"Agreed. Rule number three."

"Hey! What if I wasn’t done?"

"You won’t forget. Number three-and this is important-I want you to be nice to Trace. He didn’t do anything wrong."

"He took you on dates," Jon grumbled.

"Only when you wouldn’t. It won’t be a problem, now."

"Well, that’s another thing," Jon said. Before he could finish I took his hand and started walking back toward my house. "Where are we going?"

"My house. I need a shower. What were you going to say?"

"Um. What are dates supposed to be like for us? I mean, we go everywhere together as it is."

"Probably the same thing except a whole lot more hand holding and kissing."

Jon’s face began to turn red again. "I guess I can live with that. Uh, I can’t stay at your place, though. Richard grounded me for the drinking thing."

"Hmm. Did he say you can’t have guests?"

"Well, no. No, he didn’t."

"Well, after I get cleaned up we can go to your house. We’ll make lunch and I’ll kick your ass on Call of-"

"Oh, please!"

"Then maybe we can look into some of your adventurous pizza choices for dinner."

I felt giddy inside. I was walking down the street with Jon, hand in hand, having a conversation just like it happened every day.

"So, I think there should be an exception to this drinking rule."

"Oh? What exception is that?" I asked skeptically. Of course I hadn’t said he couldn’t drink-who am I to tell him what he can and can’t do, after all?

"Yep. When Geoff is home I need that extra boost to keep me from killing him."

"Well, in the interests of staving off homicide, we can take it under advisement," I said with a chuckle. Soaring with optimism I said, "I made you a pineapple upside-down cake."

"You did? When?"

"Friday. I baked all night."

"I could go for a slice."

"Yep. Right after I shower."

"Why after?"

"Because after you eat I’m going to make out with you on the couch and get all that sugar off your lips. And then I’m going to spoon you or something. I’ll be little spoon." I paused. "Or we can do that at your house. We can just pack up the cake and take it with us."

Jon chuckled. "Idea makes me nervous, but...I’m looking forward to it, too."


"Yeah," Jon said with a quick nod. "I’ve been wrestling with myself. Coming to, you know, some understanding about myself. I’m just accepting I like kissing you. Um." He coughed. I could see he was thinking ahead, and could only hope he was more than reconciling himself. It looked like more than that to me. I hoped he was feeling excitement. Like I was.

He had to see what I was thinking. I tried to play it down and said, "Well. We’ll just have to work on that." I felt a flush burning on my cheeks at his admission, at what I was sure was coming. It shouldn’t make me feel so good, after all a kiss was a small thing. But from the right person, I guess, it means a whole lot.

Jon stopped then, and pulled me around by my hand until I crashed against him. He held me fast and said, "Yeah. We should do that."

Then, Jon Ellesier got over himself and there was no picket fence between us. No proverbial gate left open. For the first time I felt like he was completely open to me, and I knew I’d do everything in my power to keep him. Then, of course, he kissed me. I could be wrong, but during that kiss I think he tapped into some love he didn’t know he had.


I took a quick shower and spent a little longer picking out just the right jeans and a shirt with a light pullover, taking more time than I normally might have. It wasn’t a date we were going on, but it was one of the first things we were doing, officially, as a couple. I so wished it wouldn’t be stupid to go to my window and scream it to the world.

When I got downstairs Jon had started picking at the banana bread I’d made so I cut him a slice and packed the rest to take with us. I left a note for my dad to tell him where I’d be and we departed for Jon’s home.

"So you went car shopping?" Jon prompted.

"Yeah," I said with enthusiasm. "I forget what it’s called, but it’s a convertible. Maybe I can pick you up for school once in a while."

"I drive," Jon replied.

"Um, my car."

"Yeah," he said, stretching the word out. "But I drive. It’s our thing. Just like running on Sundays is our thing."

"No," I replied with a laugh. "You driving is a 'you' thing. A 'you being in control' thing."

"What’s your point?" he asked insolently.


"Your sneakers are falling apart," he said, moving on.

I glanced down. "Yeah. Since you’re my personal trainer, you’ll have to go shopping with me to find a new pair."

"Okay. Have to be next week, though. Richard grounded me for an entire week."

I frowned. "Well, maybe he’ll make an exception if I ask him."

"I doubt it. Letting me go for my run was an exception. He’s probably going to grumble at me when we get home. I've been out way too long."

When we arrived Jon called out that he was back. We walked into the kitchen and were joined moments later by Richard.

"Oh, I didn’t realize you had company, Jon," Richard said. "And one with treats?"

"I made a pineapple upside-down cake," I confirmed. "I only brought the banana bread because Jon attacked it already."

"I nibbled," he protested.

I took a steadying breath and turned to Richard. "So, Jon’s been coaching me on my workouts and our runs. My shoes have about had it, though, so I wanted to ask if he could go with me to shop for new shoes. He knows what I need."

Richard glanced at Jon who held his hands up. Looking back toward me he said, "I’m sorry, Jake. He’s grounded. I guess you guys can look online for now."

I gave him my very best puppy-dog eyes and said, "Please, Mr. Ellesier? My shoes are falling apart."

Richard stood up straight. "What did you say?"

As innocently as I could I replied, "I said my shoes are falling apart."

"Uh uh. The other bit."

I pretended to think. "Mr. Ellesier?"

He pointed at me. "That. That only applies to my employees and people trying to sell me something, and you don’t work for me."

I lifted my foot to show the worn sole. "I may be selling you something, but it’s still true. Sir."

Jon snickered and Richard looked back and forth between us. "This is bad," he muttered. "So, am I to assume everything has been worked out, Jonathan? My little prince has gone out and gotten his, um, own prince?"

"Richard," Jon growled.

"I’m just wondering," Richard said nonchalantly. "I mean, I’d guess we’re going to see a lot more of Jake if that’s the case. I know he cooks for you, but I draw the line at him cleaning your room for you."

I spoke up. "Mr. Ellesier? I appreciate that, sir. I keep telling Jon I don’t look good in skirts...." I let the thought trail off and tried not to giggle at Richard’s horrified expression.

"Whoa, do not finish that thought."

"Oh my God!" Jon said and covered part of his face, which was turning red. "I’m going to shower."

After he departed Richard chuckled and took a seat at the island. "So, Jake. I have to say I’m impressed."

"About what, exactly?" I busied myself cutting the cake and looking around for things to make for lunch. I’d done it a few times at Jon’s, so I knew my way around their kitchen and was quite comfortable doing it.

"Well, just that...Jon’s grown with you. Maturity-wise. It’s really nice to see him with a quality relationship, a good influence and that he’s responding by being a good friend to you. I have to say, though, I was surprised he developed romantic feelings for you."

My heart swelled. "Romantic feelings?" I asked as I turned to face Richard. He was giving me a studied look, though I wasn’t sure what he was looking for.

"Well, unless I miss my mark you two are dating now, isn’t that right?"

I smiled. Probably too widely to be healthy. "Yes. Jon’s my boyfriend."

Richard chuckled. "He’s never done the boyfriend thing. Or the girlfriend thing, for that matter. It’s usually the one night stand thing. It’s....his first real relationship, I think." Richard paused and let out a deep breath. "I’m just glad he’s got you in his corner. It’s good for him."

"He’s been good for me, too. I’m not sure why we hit it off and he hasn’t with others."

"Well, he can be a little closed off when he wants to be."

"Yeah, I know. He was like that when we started being friends, but it went away. Would you like a slice?"

"Are you kidding? After all the raving Jon does about your baking? Let me put some coffee on to go with it." Richard slid off the stool and set about brewing a pot. I placed slices on small plates and then turned on the stove to make grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. As I did I thought about Richard and Jon’s relationship and how, even though he was sort of young and a sibling, Jon obviously respected Richard as a parental figure. But could I speak to him as if he were just Jon’s brother? After all, my relationship with him would be different.

"So. Do you think Jon’s feelings are... I mean did he say he has romantic feelings about me?" I asked hesitantly. It was one thing for Jon to try dating me; it was another if he actually fhad romantic feelings for me. Did he or was he just seeing if they would develop.

Richard leaned against the counter and regarded me soberly. "Listen, I’m not going to gossip about Jon, but I will say this much. I know the way you guys have gotten where you are is...unorthodox. Whatever feelings Jon has for you, they are real. How they end up...manifesting themselves... is anyone’s guess."

I nodded slowly. "Any advice for me? I’d really like this to work."

Richard smiled. "Honestly? Keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t forget what made you guys important to each other."

I placed the plate with his cake on it on the island as he poured cups of coffee. "Thanks. I think I can do that." I cleared my throat. "Um, about the shoes, Mr. Ellesier...."

Richard sighed. "Only if you never call me that again."

Jon reappeared shortly afterward, dressed comfortably for staying at home the rest of the day. We had lunch with cake for dessert before retiring to his room for some video game sparring.

"So, Richard said you and I can shop for new sneakers for me," I said as he booted up the console.

"You’re kidding! How’d you swing that?" he asked as he handed me a controller and flopped next to me on the bed.

"I guess he doesn’t like being called Mr. Ellesier."

"Hah! You probably made him feel old."

"Oh!" I crowed. "Headshot! Now I’m making you look old!"

"Fuck that," he muttered and we descended into combat on the screen. We played for a while, got bored and changed games before giving up on them entirely. Jon flopped back on his bed and I, tentatively, moved to lie beside him, and then shifted so my head was on his chest.

"Is this okay?" I asked softly.

"Yeah," he said, his voice soft. I was reassured when I felt his hand settle on my back.

In a way I wanted to voice how long I’d hoped for this, how much I loved this casual intimacy. I wanted to thank him for taking the chance and, absurdly, wanted to thank him for letting his feelings for me show. I felt pretty important right then, but I didn’t think he’d like me saying all that. We’d had a lot of talk about feelings earlier, and I thought this was probably the best way to have a discussion for now.

"Did you do the math homework?"

I paused. "What math homework?"

"We had two worksheets. I really struggled with them Friday night, can’t imagine why."

"I know," I told him. "You’re good at math!"

He poked me. "Don’t get sassy."

"So," I said as I turned my head so I could see his face. "Tomorrow. With my new phone and having lost all the old numbers, I haven’t told anyone you’re mine, yet."

He looked at me with amusement. "Yours? Possessive much?"

"Fuck yeah!" I said and adjusted myself further so that I was nearly lying on top of him but getting a better look at his face. "I’m going to be thinking of fast take down moves for the people that are going to still try and ask you out."

He chuckled. "Jealous? You?"

"Damn right," I said with a nod.

"Worried one of your group is going to want me for themselves?"

I blew out a raspberry. "No. I’m talking about those sluts that might still think they can score a piece of you."

"That reminds me. I have a date on..."

I poked him in the ribs and he jumped and chuckled. "Cancel it."

"Okay, okay. I guess that means I’m stuck with my...um, boyfriend." He paused and then shook his head. "That’s going to take some getting used to."

I nodded but said nothing. I guess he took my silence in a different way because he continued. "I mean, I don’t have a problem, now, admitting I love you. I guess it’s just weird that the person I love is a guy."


"Well, not weird. Just...unexpected is probably the word I want if you’re going to be picky about it." He stuck his tongue out and I crawled up him a bit more.

"That looked like an invitation," I remarked. At that point a very pleasing development occurred; I kissed Jon, and was kissed in return, for an acceptable amount of time. We went from intense to languorous, and I didn’t care that I couldn’t breathe on occasion. All that mattered was that Jon had a hand in my hair and, eventually, rolled us over and pinned me to his bed.

Eventually he pulled back and, panting, looked down on me. "Damn. That was intense."

I nodded, panting myself and smiling ear-to-ear. "Deliciously."

He glanced at the clock on his bedside. "No wonder I’m hungry. Look at the time! Let’s order pizza."

"Okay," I agreed. His gaze had turned back to me, though, and I made no move to get out of the bed and neither did he.

"Question. How’d you get so good at kissing?"

I grinned at him. "Has something to do with loving who I’m kissing, I think."

He appeared to think that over. "Who did you practice on before me? I mean, obviously you got serious about it with me, of course."

"Of course," I agreed with a chuckle. "You’re my first. I’m actually just...doing what comes naturally."

Jon frowned lightly. "New rule. No kissing other guys."

"Agreed. Same for you."

He grinned. "I don’t want to kiss other guys."

I tapped him on the nose. "No girls either. Your kisses go right here," I said pointing at my own lips.

He lifted an eyebrow. "Oh, really? Well what about-" He broke off and slipped past my cheek and I was suddenly filled with a sexy, ticklish feeling as he kissed my neck.

"Oh my God!" I groaned.

We both jumped as a tap came at the door. "Guys? First night as boyfriends, no need to consummate things."

Jon looked a little mortified but I held a hand over my mouth and laughed. Eventually Jon joined me.

We ordered the pizza and went downstairs to watch TV while we waited. It took longer to find something we wanted to watch than it did for the pizza to arrive. We ate and then I got my wish and snuggled back against him, fulfilling my role as little spoon. He draped an arm around me and we spent the rest of the movie making fun of the actors and dialogue. When it ended I reluctantly left his embrace and told him I’d better head home and do that math homework.

He walked me to the door, closing it behind him as we stood on his stoop. And yeah, I’d be able to tell Derek, I did get a good night kiss. Plural. He even started it.

As I walked home in the brisk evening I let my mind wander over the amazing day I’d had. Just that morning I’d wondered if Jon would ever speak to me again, and now? Now I was dating him. Now I was leaving him on his step, smiling mellowly as he’d watched me back away from him. Could he be any different? It made me think of Richard’s comment about Jon developing romantic feelings for me. Could he, truly? The idea made my heart beat double-time.

I wished I’d had Derek’s number in my new phone so I could call him and tell him how well everything had turned out. That thought, though, made me think of the last time I’d seen Derek and Hamster. It brought with it a horrible urge to second guess my day with Jon and it was too much to consider.

I knew Jon better than he realized. I know he hurts. Jon’s fences were a part of him, I knew that. I couldn’t help but feel like we’d set any fences standing between us on fire today, though. I knew he was convinced he wasn't lovable. I’m was sure some of it had to do with Geoff, but it was probably rooted in losing his parents. I was hurt, somewhat, when I found out what my mother had done. We’d never been close, so it probably would have bothered me more if I’d liked her. I liked my father much more. He was honest with me, and in turn I was honest with him. I knew he felt guilty, and I was glad he did-it made me trust him.

I hoped Jon was falling for me. I hoped those romantic feelings would continue to grow. I hoped one day to show him the difference between a one night stand and someone that really loved him. Though I planned to do everything in my power to make this work, to make Jon happy....

More than anything, this day was mine. I’d won. Tomorrow was soon enough to worry about the girls he’d dated or slept with who might try to take him from me. Tomorrow would be soon enough to worry if he’d wither in front of the school, a student body who only knew him as easy. Tomorrow was soon enough for worry and doubt all together.

Today was for enjoying how we'd burned the fences between us. Today was for Jon kissing my neck and for the way he sent my temperature soaring. Today was for him telling me he loved me. Today was for understanding that he’d showed me everything he had in one day-his insecurity, his fear and his self-loathing. But he also showed me his brave core, his noble heart, and you just don’t kiss someone like that if you don’t feel anything.

Jon and I were together. A couple. We’d build a new fence to protect what we had, but we were together, the two of us inside it now, and I’d nurture him just as he made me stronger. Today...we were invincible.

Jesus, I thought, I hope he kisses my neck again tomorrow, and I hope Richard doesn’t tease him too hard for the squealing I did on their front porch when he did it tonight!

The End

Author's Note: I hope you enjoyed our story. It took a lot of work by the writers not to mention the three editors who lent their red pens. ICYMI I'm hearing from just a few of my readers about what they think, what they thought was funny or what pissed them off in a story. I pay money to host my site and post stories that you are reading. So, now that you've read, please don't assume someone else will say what they thought, go to my message board and leave a note, even as a guest. We did our job, reader, please do yours.