The Scariest Valentine

A Sanitaria Springs Story

By Dabeagle


I used to think I was normal. There wasn't anything about me that stood out – average student, average athlete, average everything. I figured I'd grow up, get a job in an office somewhere, buy a house and have two and a half kids or whatever the average was. The only thing about me that wasn't average was how I treated the person I was dating – I couldn't get enough. Calling. Texting. Hanging out. I wanted all their time and energy, and that was usually good in the beginning.

But then would come the sighs and the slow responses and the missed calls. Then it would turn into snark and a break up.

“Come on! Let's go! Up on the field for stretches!” My coach's voice bounced off the tile walls of the changing room.

I hated sweaty shirts, so I left mine in the locker and went upstairs in just my running shorts. I guess this was another area I wasn't all that average in – I could run for a long time. It gave me time to think. It was debatable if that was a good thing or not. After our stretches we set out as a group to run along our route through local neighborhoods. We could have used the track, but the football team – a sport that gets everything – was on the field, and they frequently took up space on the track as well.

Soon I hit my stride and fell into a familiar routine of mastering my breath and my pace and enjoying the solitary feel of the wind moving over me, drying my sweat as I went along.

Now Zac – Isaac – isn't much for running. He says it's okay if he's running from a murderer or something, but outside of that he's not a big fan. We went hiking a few times, and he was actually okay with that. I was thrilled, because it was something else we could do together. We stopped along our route and took pictures and just talked – we talked so much!

Zac was probably the other big, non-average thing about me. Really, nothing was average with Zac, not even how we met. One thing I'd discovered in the year and a half I'd been working slinging coffee was that I wanted nothing to do with food service. Ironic that food service – that job – had brought the single most impactful person into my life. He's taken me from average to unusual.

When Bellamy joined the staff, I wasn't sure what to think at first. I'd never met a gay person, and even though I like to think I'm an open-minded person, I guess I can be dumb, too. After a few shifts with Bell, and interacting with his bisexual brother and his boyfriend, I felt like I had a pretty good handle on the whole gay thing. That made it a ton easier for me when my cousin, Cole, came out and I met his boyfriend, because it wasn't new to me anymore.

My grandpa Mike was always an asshole. I don't base that just on my own experiences – my dad even said his father was someone he didn't want poisoning us. My aunt on my dad's side was a lot like her dad, which meant we didn't hang out much, even though we lived in the same town, more or less. When Cole's parents were divorcing and there was a ton of drama, we had a few family reunion things and got to know each other. Cole was athletic but also a reader. Zac likes him because he thinks those two traits are stereotypically opposites, and that's the kind of thing that makes Zac's brain light up.

Anyway, so Zac started hanging out at the shop sort-of frequently, enough that I recognized him as a regular customer, and I'd slip him the occasional coffee on the house. I do that every now and again, ever since corporate told us no raises. My way of sticking it to them. But it's also nice when people get a little surprise of something for free they were expecting to pay for. So with Zac hanging out, the store staff kind of got to know him a little. Like, Bellamy has this thing about trying to write a play or something, and he's always bouncing ideas off the staff. It's kind of funny, and it helps to pass the time, but I have no idea if he can ever actually write something out of the weird things he talks about. But Bell started making little hints like he thought someone was into me.

Now...I don't care who you are, knowing someone may be perving on you a little is kind of exciting. You start to wonder who it could be, do they actually like you and stuff like that. At first it doesn't really matter who it is – it's just a good feeling that someone is into you. But as time went by I realized he was thinking Zac was into me. At first I kind of deflated a bit, because it was not someone I'd have considered. I'd dated my fair share of girls and messed up plenty of Kleenex while thinking about various girls, and I thought I knew myself. I liked girls, and that's what I saw in my future.

So I blew off his idea that Zac was into me. But I made me think about Zac sometimes. Like, his name might come up at school, and I'd just listen, see if he was actually gay or not. Not for me, but so that I could go back and tell Bell how wrong he was. The thing is, if Zac came up at all, there wasn't a damn thing said about him dating. When I saw him at school, he was usually with a couple of friends – a girl and a guy I'd heard was gay, but I wasn't really in on gossip and stuff. I wondered if that could be Zac's boyfriend, but I didn’t think about it all that much.

Then one night a little over a year ago, Zac was camping out in the 'dining area', as they call it. He was just chillin' and drinking this Chestnut Praline flavored coffee that he'd been into for a few weeks, and Bellamy was going on and on and on about how something was up with Zac and he seemed different that night.

“I'm telling you, he's here for you. I think he got up the courage to ask you out,” Bell said, probably a hundred times.

“Yeah. Okay, Bell. Just like all the other times you said he was into me. I think you just want him to be into me. Jesus, that's not what your latest play is about, is it? Weirdo.”

“ a shitty idea. Unless you guys work out and have gay babies, then it could be fabulous. Seriously, this is not a case of 'please-be-gaydar'!”

“Jesus Christ,” I said with a sigh.


What if Bell was right for once?

The thought was on my mind, and I made a lame attempt to solve the mystery of what Bellamy claimed was going on. I gave Zac a free coffee, and I thought, I guess, that it might cause him to spontaneously confess he was after my dick, but he just said thank you and went back to his seat. As I went back to work I thought about how I'd gotten into relationships before, and it occurred to me that they were kind of organic. We'd meet at a dance or a game and talk a little, and that led to something else. I guessed if I wanted to prove Bell wrong I could just chat with Zac.

“I'm going to find out what's up with him – he hasn't even told anyone he's gay,” Bell said as he headed out to the floor for his break. My manager, Tara, is scary to look at but is nice enough to work with. She'd had her break, and she told me she didn't want to deal with the window, so she left me to that while she went to finish some paperwork before she'd cover my break and then go home. I was mildly curious what Bell was saying out there, wondering if he was trying to set me up. It wasn't really fair to Zac if Bell was doing that, though. I'd never dated a guy and I wasn't gay, so....

I had a few customers and had cleaned up some of the counters by the time Bell came back from break.

“I asked so many leading questions, and he dodges like he's so innocent, but I'm telling you – he's waiting for you.”

I rolled my eyes and punched out for my break – and then I had an idea. Okay, so if Zac was waiting for me, then I'd invite him to go get a burrito with me across the street. It was weird, but it would prove things one way or another – then Bell could shut his giant, gaping face hole. I pushed through the staff entrance from the dining area and spotted Zac in his accustomed chair.

“How do you not just vibrate from all the caffeine?” I asked.

“How do you know I don't?” he challenged.

I rolled my eyes. “You're not in line for another, are you?”

“Nah. Was thinking about some food.”

There it was, just the opening I'd been thinking of. Okay, no hesitation. “Me too. I was going to hit the burrito joint. Want to come with?”


Wow. The whole way over I was just thinking, What the fuck do I do now? I mean, I'd expected him to say his ride was about to get there or he was heading home or he wasn't hungry – anything but agree to go with me. Did that mean he was into me or just hungry?

After we ordered and sat down, we had a pretty odd conversation, but not like weird odd. It was entertaining odd. I'd never really talked to Zac that much, but I was getting the idea he was kind of quirky, and I suddenly was kind of curious about him. I made a few statements about how I'd dated girls, and he seemed to just take that as part of the conversation, not me trying to poke Bell's theory. By the time we'd gotten back to the shop, I had worked on trying to let him down easy, but he kept perking my curiosity with the way he strung words together that he thought made sense but left whole concepts out to connect his words.

It was kind of endearing.

And then I told him flat out that Bell thought he was waiting for me, and he kind of admitted he was, and I clarified that I'd dated girls, and he didn't seem to think the two things were related. So Zac spit out this sentence that made no sense, except it sort of seemed like it could, if he tried a little. I figured, screw it, may as well see what this is all about, and I told Bell he was right – Zac wanted to talk.

“I knew it. Are you dating?”

I rolled my eyes. “He hasn't exactly asked me out. Actually, he's confusing as fuck, but I just need a minute to square this away. You mind?”

“As long as you tell me everything!”

“Fucking weirdo,” I said with a grin and went back out to sit across from Zac and demand he clarify himself.

What happened next was the oddest mix of chemistry and entertained amusement I'd ever experienced. Looking back, it's kind of easy to say that my being around Bell and getting close to Cole had maybe opened my mind up about gay people in a different way, but Zac was up front that he wasn't gay – wasn't putting a label on himself yet – or maybe ever – because he was who he was, and he wasn't sure who that was yet. So the longer Zac talked, the more curious I got.

We started dating that night. I almost said it like it was a joke, that he'd regret dating me 'cause I'd want all his free time, but he deflected pretty well, and I was downright curious. I brought up the whole thing about being physical, and he was kind of 'meh' in his response, so I figured I'd just kiss him and see if I liked that.

I admit when the idea crossed my mind I was wondering what I thought I was proving and asking myself what sort of guy kisses another guy to prove if he likes that or not. So I stopped thinking a little, and I kissed him. It was...good. At first it seemed like he was surprised, but that passed pretty fast, and he was into it, into me kissing him. He said he wasn't gay, and I didn't think I was, but there we were, two guys kissing in a coffee shop, not being gay.

And that's when I stopped being average.

People at school found out about us shockingly quickly. Cole'd had some trouble, but his boyfriend was surprisingly protective. I mean...Drew had – according to rumor – beat this kid for insulting and trying to fight Cole and warned him he'd knock his teeth out or something. Drew wasn't what you might call imposing, but that rumor took on a life of its own, and Drew was kind of looked at as someone you don't fuck with, and by proxy, you don't fuck with his boyfriend.

Me, as the average guy, didn't have that protection. It wasn't that bad, but there were plenty of people running their mouths. One normal day at school Becka Hunter, an ex of mine, decided she had to run her mouth to me while we were in the lunch line.

No. I didn't threaten to knock her teeth out.

“So. No girls will put out, so you jumped on a dude, huh? Bending him over the coffee counter?” she asked, sort of laughing and sneering all in one.

“Dude, I'd rather be single,” her boyfriend said, snorting beside her. “He's got bad taste and low standards.”

“Yeah. That's why I liked her,” I said, looking at Becka.

“I ruined him,” she said, smiling at her boyfriend and trying to ignore what I'd said. “He couldn't get laid, so now he's fruity.”

I shrugged. “I've been called worse.”

Her boyfriend snorted. “Like what? Fag?”

“Her boyfriend.”

He snorted.

“That's not funny,” she said; my back was turned, so I think she was talking to him. “I do think it's funny that Marshall – and what kind of fucked up name is that? I think it's funny how he scares girls away and then all of a sudden he likes dick. Like, how do you go from this to that? You know what I mean? There is probably something in a medicinal journal or a book for studying strange things people do, right?”

I turned to look at her, kind of just...Zac says weird things, but he's cute when he does it. Her? “It's, um, entertaining listening to you try to fit your whole vocabulary into one sentence. I mean sad, but funny too.”

“I know words!” she snapped. “Stop trying to insult me.”

“I'm not insulting you. I'm describing you.” I started to turn around and then turned back. “And why is it okay for you to be an idiot, but somehow I'm the problem for pointing that out?”

“Oh, burn,” her boyfriend said with a laugh.

“What? Stop laughing!”

“Babe, you had that coming,” her boyfriend said with a snort.

“You were lucky I dated you at all!” she snapped, and I wasn't sure if she meant me or him.

“I'll never forget the day we met,” I said to her, trying to fake some sincerity. “But I'll keep trying.”

“Bro!” he said, laughing and covering his mouth.

I frowned. “You called me a fag, and now you want to laugh with me? I don't know what makes you so stupid, but it really works for you.”

That was how I ended up in my first fight in high school.

Of course that wasn't the only thing. As we got closer to the winter holidays, and Isaac was around more and more, it was hard to miss that we weren't just friends. I'm not sure which one of them figured it out first – my sister was at college, so she was no help to them – but one night at dinner, things got awkward.

“So, Isaac seems like a good kid. Where'd you meet him?” my dad asked.

“We go to school together. Plus he gets coffee at my shop. I think he's going to apply there.”

My mom chimed in next. “It's always nice to make a new friend. Isn't it?”

I looked at her and realized something was off. “Uh. Yeah.”

My dad cleared his throat. “ Isaac a bit...more than a friend?”

Ah, crap. “Like...super friends?”

He tilted his head and narrowed his eyes a little in exasperation.

I looked down and pushed the broccoli with my fork. “Yeah. So, um. Yeah. More than a friend.”

My mother let out a shaky breath. “Marshall...I'm confused. This seems like it came out of nowhere. Have you...I mean, it's okay if you do, I just...I thought you were into girls.”

Well. Being over at Isaac's house had given me a clue I'd have to deal with this at home eventually. Parents are inquisitive, if they're any good at being parents.

“Yeah. Well,” I said, rubbing the back of my neck. “I don't think… Let me start over. I think I dated girls partly because it seemed like the thing to do. Like, I knew about gay people, but I didn't think I was like that. I guess I'm finding out that gay people are not this...big ball of sameness.” I looked at my dad. “Just like straight people are different. Like there's a big difference between you and Aunt Voldemort.”

Dad smiled thinly. “While that is true, sexuality doesn't seem like one of those things that changes from day to day.”

I tilted my head. “I don't think it was so much a change as...I got new information. Zac is...quirky. He makes me think, which I didn't always enjoy in some situations, but he fits with me in ways other people never have.”

“Oh, God!” my mother said, covering her face.

I blinked and looked from her to my dad. “Uh. I miss something?”

My father rubbed the side of his nose. “When you say 'fits', could you clarify?”

I blinked a few times and wrinkled my forehead. “Uh, yeah. So Zac has this habit of just vomiting out whatever is swirling around in his head, and sometimes it's like a puzzle you have to figure out. But he says it like it all makes sense – and it does, to him. I still need an interpreter.” I thought a moment. “I think Zac just talked to me at the right time. Someone at work thought Zac was into me, and I kind of dismissed the idea. Later, though, I started to think about it, and I guess the idea didn't seem so strange anymore.”

“And that was it? Just thinking a little?”

I shook my head. “Nah. I was okay with the idea someone liked me – even though Zac hadn't said a word about that – so when Zac and I had something to eat on one of my breaks, I was kind of set to bring it up and let him down. But...he did that thing where he said a bunch of words that didn't really go together, but it made me smile. Like inside. I realized I wanted to know a little more – like, he makes me curious. I told him how I overdo things in relationships, and that wasn't a deal killer for him. So I...uh...figured if you're seeing someone, at some point, it's going to get. Um. Physical.”

“Oh, my God!” my mother groaned.

My dad moved to rubbing the palm of his hand on his forehead. “Go on.”

I rubbed the side of my head, wondering if I was just copying my parents – maybe genetics? Zac would have a field day with that. But anyway. “Well, you know, you date someone, and you hug and kiss sometimes. I wasn't sure I could do that, and I figured if we kissed and, um, I didn't like it, know. It was an answer.”

My dad lowered his hand and tilted his chin down and looked at me. “And?”

I shrugged, trying to look less concerned and embarrassed than I felt. “Uh. I liked it. Him. So...just not the answer I was expecting. I guess.”

“Jesus Christ,” my mother said from behind her hand.

“'re gay? Isaac is gay?”

Why is it during serious things, some part of you suddenly itches? I scratched the side of my head and then shook my head at my dad. “No. I mean, I don't think so? I know that sounds weird because we're dating.”

“Oh, God!”

I looked at my mom and then at my dad. “Um.”

He shook his head quickly and motioned for me to continue.

“ Zac says he doesn't really think about it. He says whatever our relationship is, it is. He thinks he's more about the person – the commercial – than...well, he said it better.”

My dad raised his eyebrows and closed his eyes at the same time before letting out a slow breath. “And you?”

“Me? Oh, you mean gay? I don't know. I mean, it seems like if you date a guy you're gay. Or Bi. I guess, for right now, I'm just...figuring it out.”

He pursed his lips a little and nodded his head slowly, while my mother looked like...well, I'm not sure, since her hand covered a lot of her face. Honestly it was starting to make me feel bad, on top of being uncomfortable.

“Well. I think you're doing the right thing,” my dad said eventually. “You have to judge things on their own merits rather than just assume. I think...your mother and I were just going based on your history. This is a bit of a shock. We suspected a bit, but you know we support you. Zac seems like a good guy.”

I nodded. “Yeah. He is. I like him a lot.”

Eventually my mom came to see me later that night and told me she supported my relationship; she said she was just shocked. I guess dad told her about what he thought he was seeing, and it kind of threw her. But she wanted me to know she didn't love me any less or anything. She'd adjust and all that.

I don't think I really get that, sometimes. If you meet someone and you like them and then find out they own a house versus renting an apartment, what changed? I mean, sure, maybe you thought they had more or less money – if you'd thought about that at all – but basically they are still the same person; you just know a little more about them. So yeah, I dated some girls, and now I'm seeing what dating a guy is all about, but not because I felt a sudden need to. I just...found the right person, I guess. Seems pretty rare. Seems like people should be happier about that.

Of course I told Cole. Cole is Aunt Voldemort's middle child. Starting in the fall, Cole and I got to see more of each other, and we get along really well. After things really blew up between his folks – I mean like Grandpa Mike, the OG Voldemort, went to jail twice because he wanted Cole to be straight. I admit it was a new thing to me, and I guess I didn't really ask Cole if I took it well or anything, but we got along right away just because neither of us liked our grandfather.

Shared hate, what a bonding agent.

The thing that kind of stuck with me after was that Cole was still Cole. I didn't know him very well, but he didn't stand out in an odd way or anything. After that, though, we started talking a lot through text and Snap, plus talking more at school. I met Drew, and we got on pretty good. Then Zac happened, and my next family experience was when my sister came home from college at the end of the semester.

I was in my room when she got home. I was Snapping with Zac, so I didn't go downstairs. She and I got along pretty well, but I knew my parents were going to need some time to gush over her, since she'd been gone, and all I could do was stand around and wait for that to get done. So naturally she threw my door open and demanded to know if I was whacking it.

“Hey, Gretchen,” I said lazily from my reclined position.

“Really? Months away and all I get is a 'Hi, Gretchen'?”

I smiled. “Did you get laid as much as you wanted at college?”

“Oh, I think the answer is more of a question – are we both getting dick at the same time?” She flopped on my bed and grinned at me. “Came over to the dick side, I hear.”

I laughed. “Mom just kept covering her face and saying 'God, oh my God'.”

She laughed with me. “Seriously. Way to throw a curve ball. I want to meet this guy. Is he hot?”

I shrugged. “He's Zac. Sort of a category all by himself.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Interesting answer.”

We talked more, and she met Zac over the holiday – he bought me these red flannel pajama bottoms with some kind of plaid pattern, and I happened to buy him the same thing but as a blanket, so everyone thinks we share a brain now. I thank you. I spend enough time understanding how confused I am without adding in whatever tempest of shit flies around in his brain.

I guess that's one big development with Zac. As I say, I used to think I was just average. Just kind of drifting along, going with the flow, unless I was dating. Then the circumstances started up that enabled Zac and me to become a thing, and it set my mind going. All the things I used to not think about – stuff that just happens, just gets done – all of sudden opened up in my head. It was like I was awake and engaged for the first time, and I started to get this idea about how little I really knew about...stuff. Kind of intimidating.

Of course, Cole decided to be helpful over that break, too. He brought me 'the box'. I didn't find out until Valentine's Day that he gifted a box to Zac, too, and I just don't know, man. What was he thinking? Some kind of gay angel, teaching the masses about safe butt sex? The whole thing seemed so weird. I actually don't know what is weirder – butt sex or the fact I was dating a guy and hadn't thought about butt sex. I mean, I did after, but come on!

Cole was visiting my house, and we were hanging in my room when he asked about Zac and how things were.

“Copacetic,” I replied. “We're all the stupid cliches without the boring part. Peanut butter and Jelly. Jam and toast. Pineapple and pizza.”

He shook his head. “You had me, and you lost me.”

We laughed, and I asked about Drew.

Cole rolled his eyes. “Drew has been...just the best part of life, man. He's this really confusing dude sometimes, from the way his mom fucked with his head, but sometimes he makes me feel like I'm the only thing that matters to him – and oh my God, sometimes when I talk about him I think I'm going to grow a vagina!”

We both burst out laughing. “Bro,” I said through my snickers. “That was pretty Hallmark.”

“Yeah,” he said sheepishly. “He's...he's got some damage, you know? You can't have someone treat your feelings like a fucking soccer ball and come out well adjusted. I still have issues between us, because he'll say things, and my mom's programming hits me, and then we fight some. It's not simple, but it's totally worth it.”

I nodded. “I hear ya.”

“So. You and Zac. Um. Valentine's is coming. You guys...thinking of something romantic?”

I looked at him with curiosity. “I was looking at cards and stuff, but I want to take him to dinner. Like someplace as quirky as he is. Dinner for two is romantic, right?”

He smiled crookedly. “I meant after dinner.”

I looked at him blankly for a second, but then my brain caught up and I blushed, giving him a nervous smile. “Oh. I mean, I don't think so. We've kissed and stuff, but I'm not sure...where any of that's headed, really.”

He leaned back, propping himself against my bed. “Yeah. I admit I never picked up any ideas you could go for a guy, but then I desperately wished for Drew to be gay so much I didn't see the signs that he could be into me.”

I cocked my head. “So. You and Drew...hooked up? Like right away? Me and Zac have been just a few months.”

He grinned while his cheeks turned red. “Nah, not right away. I mean, we had a little shit to deal with just to be together. We started kind of slow, went in steps, I guess. We didn't go all the way until last Spring Break when my good grandparents took us to Florida.”

I admit, now I was curious. “So...was it like it is with a girl? You banged the fuck out of Haylee – if anyone could.”

Cole blushed again and laughed at me. “I'm pretty sure her best option is a dildo, just for reliability., it's not the same. Some basics, but beyond that, no.”

I grunted, not really knowing what to say to that. He rolled to one side and then crawled on the floor to his bag and pulled a box out – kind of fought his bag to get it out, actually – and then scooted back to where he'd been.

“So Drew has a gay brother named Teo, and Teo wanted Drew to know a few things before he thought about...going all the way with me.”

I stilled a little and looked at the box. Back to Cole and then back and forth again. “Like...that box?”

“Well, not the exact same, but yeah. I figured...I'm your cousin, and what kind of guy would I be if I let porn be your only guide?”

I shrugged. “I admit I looked at some. Seems pretty similar. Dick goes in, bunch of back and forth till things are over. What's the big deal?”

“A few things,” he said, smiling and still blushing a little. “Tell me if you don't want to do this. I can just let you look this stuff over if you want. Honestly, not trying to push you somewhere, I just...Drew and I were talking, and it seems like straight people get all the sex ed, and us gays are left like you are, asking what's the big deal.”

I tilted my head. “Not sure I'm actually gay. I mean, I know it seems weird, since Zac and I are dating and neither of us really identifies that way.”

Cole waved a hand. “Gay, Bi, curious – pick a letter; it's somewhere in that group. I'm just saying it was good for us to know stuff way before we got to that point.”

I considered for a second. He made some sense. I mean I assumed the mechanics were the same – insert penis here, kind of thing. But if Cole said there were things I should know, and he wasn't here to troll me...then maybe I ought to listen.

“Okay. Zac and I...haven't talked about that, but I guess I hear what you're saying. I guys did it so...what was it like for you?”

Cole glanced at my bedroom door to verify it was closed, then moved over by me with the box between us.

“I don't want to get into too many details, but let me start by saying Drew is fucking huge.”

I widened my eyes.

Cole laughed, and I joined him, just nervous, weird laughter.

“So wait, Drew's got a log between his legs, huh?”

Cole grinned and shrugged. “It feels like a fucking tree, but he's definitely above average. So for us, when we got there-”

“Wait, wait,” I said. “You've said that a couple times. When we got there. What are you talking about, like, before?”

He shifted. “Okay, so, kind of like stages, right? You kiss, make out, grope each other. Clothes come off eventually. When you get naked you might just hump, maybe jerk each other off, then maybe oral before you get down to going all out. Lots of steps you can take before you get there.”

I looked at him a little blankly and said, “You know what? I think I just thought of that. I mean, when Zac was first talking to me about there being an us, I asked him about getting physical, but we were kind of both talking about kissing and cuddling, not sex. When we make out, we're both definitely bricked up, but neither of us has gone anywhere else with it. I don't know why, but now I'm kind of curious.”

Cole bobbed his head. “Yeah. It's funny, because some people probably go right to getting naked and fucking, but other people take their time. I don't know if it's a maturity thing or what. But when you're with a girl, sometimes they need lube. Like Haylee always had some in her purse. I wasn't really into Haylee-”

Not the rumor,” I said with a grin.

“Fuck you,” he said with a roll of his eyes. “But what I wanted to say was we didn't do steps or other stuff you might do to get your partner horny, like oral or foreplay. It was right to the main event, you know?”

“Okay,” I agreed.

“But with Drew it was more...figuring things out. We definitely took steps, and when we went all the way it took some planning.” He patted the box. “This helped. It's not the same thing, but it helped. Like...your...ring is a muscle.”

“What ring?”

“You know...your hole.”

I thought, and then felt shocked and a little dumb. “You mean my asshole?”

“Yeah. What did you think I meant – your ear hole?” he asked, and we both laughed. “So it's a muscle, but it's not used to you telling it to relax and let something in. So you have to exercise it like you would if you were weightlifting, and when you start – you know how your muscles can get sore? Well, so does this one.”

“I mean...I've had Taco Bell before, so....”

Cole busted up laughing, and I chuckled a little. Then he started pulling things out of the box and explaining – a bulb for 'cleaning out', and that was weird. And the dildo – which was weirder – and the lube, and all of a sudden I'm wondering if Zac is thinking about any of this stuff.

So I guess a little like what happened before Zac and I got together started rolling through my head. I genuinely hadn't gone down the road toward sex, mentally, before. But now that Cole had planted the idea, it was on my mind. I had stashed the box, but I pulled it out once in a while to look at some of the stuff. It just looked alien, like something you'd use for a joke. I didn't really think Cole would steer me wrong, but there are ads for those bulbs; I even found a guy that does porn who does TikTok videos, and he talks about ways to bottom. That's what you call it – bottoming.

As Valentine's got closer, I started getting a little out of my head about expectations and what might be going on in Zac's head. He'd never brought up doing anything, but I wasn't sure if he wasn't curious, just hadn't gotten comfortable, or if we hadn't been dating long enough or exactly what – and I was nearly certain if I asked him that I wouldn't understand his answer. That's not anything against me – I'm pretty sure he wouldn't understand his answer, either.

My parents have this thing about me being home on Sundays. We don't go to church or clean any more than we do other days, but they are kind of big about me being home, especially by the evening. They always give general reasons like it's a nice family day or something. But...the more I hang with Zac, the more I want to hang with Zac. So I snuck out and got caught and got grounded for a week.

But then I ended up having the best Valentine's ever, because Zac showed up with all our favorite stuff, and we cuddled and watched our show. And we talked about sex for the first time. He'd brought clothes to change into, and I'd gotten kind of reckless and suggested he change in front of me instead of in the bathroom. I thought I'd seriously fucked up and was kind of beating myself up while he was out of the room changing.

Then he'd come back, and he brought out all our favorites, and I saw how he'd made an effort to make this an 'us' night, and I freaking whispered that I loved him, and oh my God I have never felt so awkward. Thankfully I don't think he heard me, but I was just giddy from him going overboard for me.

After he'd gone home, I was lying in bed and thinking about our conversation where he'd asked me if I wanted to have sex with him. I mean, talk about blunt. Then I found out he'd also gotten a box and was sort of relieved he thought it was weird, too. I mean, maybe disappointed, but also relieved. Then he Snapped me and told me to let him in, and I was confused until he tapped the window.

So that happened. I still think about it.

“It's after midnight,” he said, taking his kicks off and tossing them to a corner.

“Yeah,” I said, confused but happy he was back.

He looked at me with this really serious expression and said, “It's not Valentine's anymore.”

And I was thinking that, technically, he's right, although most people probably don't really think of it that way...and then he went right back to confusing me.

“I want to know things, Marshall.” I blinked in response as he started to pace a little. “I don't like trying to meet other people's expectations. I don't like other people thinking there are certain steps to take or special conditions that have to be met before you do one thing or another. It's nosy, it's gate keeping, and I don't like it.”

“I...think I agree with you, even though I'm not really sure where you're going with this.”

He looked up at me and blinked a couple of times. “Right. I did it again.” I opened my mouth, but he continued. “I want....” He seemed to kind of shut down for a second and worked his mouth without speaking. I was thinking maybe he was having a stroke or something when he took a step closer to me.

“Marshall. I...we talked earlier...and I'm not ready for, you know, everything. But...I also want to find out what the big deal is. I want to find that out with you. Because you...” He threw up his hands and spun away from me, and I made a frustrated whine, because I felt like we were both leaning into something important, something that was building, and I was desperate to see it through.

“We talked about a lot of things, Zac. What's wrong?”

He crossed his arms and then put one hand up against his chin. He looked back to me and sighed, letting his arms fall. “I have no idea what I'm doing. I mean, I do and I don't. I got home, and I was all 'Okay, on my terms, let's fucking go,' and then I got a ride share and snuck out-”

“You snuck out? You're always lecturing me about doing that!”

“Because you get caught,” he said absently. “Even my parents were like 'What, no Marshall?' and as I told them about you getting caught I was kind of mad you got caught and kind of...missing you. I'm not sure this is healthy.”

“Wait, what? What's not healthy? You and me? Did you come over here just to break up after Valentine's?”

“What? No! Where did you get that from?”

I waved my hands around. “You're talking about how I get in trouble and how you're mad and disappointed, and now you show up here all agitated!”

“I'm not agitated!”

I heard feet on the stairs. “Shit! My parents!”

Zac's eyes got big, and he scrambled to get under my bed moments before my door opened.

“Marsh? What on earth are you doing? You should be in bed!” my mom said.

“Uh, sorry. I was, uh-”

“I heard voices?”

I swallowed. “I was talking to Zac on the phone, and uh, I thought I had my charger, in my bag but I couldn't find it, and I was looking around while I was talking.”

She sighed. “Look, I know you love him and how important you guys are to each other, but Marshall – you have to get to sleep. Don't make me take your phone.”

“Okay, Mom. Sorry,” I said, trying to sound contrite.

She sighed and put her hand on my shoulder. “Did you guys have a fight? He seemed fine when he left.”

“No, no fight. We know, we talk a lot.”

“I know,” she said, taking her hand back. “It's a good thing you communicate. But do it tomorrow.”


“Good night.”

“Night, Mom.”

The door closed, and I listened to the sound of her steps as she headed back down. I turned as Zac carefully slid from under the bed.

“Holy shit, how many fucking socks do you keep under your bed?” he whispered.

“Only my used ones,” I replied, knowing we had to whisper the rest of the way or get caught.

“That was stressful,” he said and stepped into me, burying a laugh in my shoulder, and I chuckled lightly, holding him close. You know what, that hug was us in a nutshell. Whatever we were at odds about just before that door opened was gone, and we were together again. Zac turned his head so his mouth was aimed at my ear.

“I'm not mad at you. I'm trying to figure out how to talk. I seem to have trouble getting things from my brain to my mouth with you, sometimes.”

“Oh? Just with me, huh?” I asked, feeling pretty good.

He sighed and nestled against me, then tilted his lips toward mine, and I met him halfway. Kissing Zac is pretty cool in just about any way I can think of. We weren't to the point where people just kiss to kiss, like it's an expectation. Like kisses goodbye between older people. Zac was present in every moment of a kiss and – oh, that was new. His hand snaked up behind my head, and his fingertips were on the back of my neck. He turned his head a bit, and his mouth opened wider, and we went into a full make-out.

He pushed against me, and I pushed into him, each letting the other know exactly how turned on we were. We'd been here before, but kind of different circumstances. Before this was the end point. We'd kiss, cuddle and get bricked up, sure, but things always ended when we got all hot and heavy. We never pulled shirts off or anything else. So when his hand moved down from my neck and started to lift my shirt, instinct took over and I pulled it off for him.

Zac took a half-step back and looked me up and down. I wasn't expecting that, either. In fact, this was all new territory for the most part. I'd had my hand up a few girls' shirts before and made out pretty intensely, but everything with Zac felt more real.

“I...can I...touch you?” Zac asked, his whisper coming with nervous stutters.

I licked my lips. “Yeah. Touch me.”

He lifted his hand and put it on my chest, slowly moving across my skin. I let out a shuddering breath at his exploration, my breath hitching when his fingers glided over my nipple. He brought his gaze back to mine, then he deliberately caressed my nipple, and I responded again.

“Does that feel good?” he asked, not breathily or sexily but with genuine curiosity.

“Y-yeah. Want me to do it to you?”

He seemed to think about it for a moment, stroking my nipple and listening to my breathing. “I like this,” he said softly. “It feels good to do this.”

“I-I want to do that to you, too,” I said, surprising myself. I mean, I did want to touch him, but I was surprised how much I meant it. That I wanted him to feel good – that I wanted to be responsible for that.

He looked up at me, and I wasn't sure if he was thinking about it, assessing me or just watching me while he rubbed my nipple into a rock.

“Okay,” he said and peeled his shirt off. He reached back out and resumed stroking my skin, and I copied him. His breath sped up, and I watched in fascination as his chest heaved a bit and goosebumps stood up. His nipple hardened under my fingertips, and I worked to steady my hands to make gentle, feathery contact with his skin.

“Marsh,” he whispered, almost too quietly for me to hear. “Can I”

My lower jaw trembled a bit, and I followed his gaze down to my very clear erection. A wave of giddiness, a lack of control, sped through my nerves, and I stupidly said, “I'll show you mine if you show me yours.”

I mean.

What a moron.

Am I right?

Looking back on that night, I still shake my head in amazement. I'd never wanted to see someone's dick before, and even though it had been on my mind since Cole had stopped by, I was still kind of on the fence about it. Sometimes I thought I really wanted to see and maybe more, and other times I was kind of just thinking about vibing with Zac. That night turned into the first time someone touched me like that, and the first time I touched anyone down there.

I'll be honest – it was kind of a thrill. I liked making his breath catch, and I liked the way another hand besides my own felt. I liked stroking his skin, like making a ring with my hand and just really gently, lightly going over his skin and how he'd squirm and tighten his grip on me while he started pulling. It was kind of weird and shouldn't have surprised me at all when he came all over my hand, but I returned the favor.

He studied my face afterward, and it was kind of odd – which sums us up pretty well. We still had each other in hand, but we weren't bricked anymore.

“Marshall...I think...I mean, that was pretty amazing, and I shouldn't say this after that maybe. I mean I don't know when people say things, and I don't want to check a box off for someone else-”

“I love you,” I whispered.

He stared at me for a second. “I...think I'm in love with you, too.”

Then we kissed some more and got cleaned up, and he snuck home, but man. I thought about that night a lot. It was raw and real, and I was pretty damn sure I was never going to feel like that with anyone else again. I might have sex or be intimate with someone else in my life, but I'm not sure you get too many chances like that. Everyone gets just a little magic in their life, and I was pretty sure Zac was that for me.


I slowed to a stop as the group got back to the school. Thinking of that night had me half-hard already, and I walked around and tried not to think about Zac for a few minutes. Shortly we were dismissed. I had to work, so I took a quick shower at school before changing and walking to my job. I wanted a car, but I'd failed my first driver's test, and my parents were making me study up before taking another shot at it. Really, it's the parallel parking. Our car has a backup camera, but they won't let you use it. If you even glance at it, they fail you. At seventeen I felt like I was the only one in the world that didn't have a license, but to make matters worse, Zac showed no interest in getting one. He'd turned sixteen, and for a few months we'd been the same age. I'm a year ahead of him, and I'm already dreading graduating a year ahead of him.

The summer had been pretty eventful. My sister came home from college and moved back into her old room. We took a family vacation, which wasn't much fun, because Zac wasn't there. Outside of that, I think every minute I could get where I wasn't working was spent with Zac. We hung out with his friends Derry and Jack – Derry's boyfriend – and we vibed with Cole and Drew as well. We drank coffee, stayed up all night sometimes talking about weird shit, gamed a ton.

And yeah, we had some pretty deep talks about what had happened on Valentine's. Some people might have thought it was embarrassingly intimate, but I liked hearing what was going on in his head. I also liked making him blush, which he did when I told him I wanted to see him naked again. We fooled around some more over the summer, but not really what anyone might call taking steps to go farther. It really just depended on the mood – we'd be vibing and then the sexy thoughts might get going, but it mattered what came along with the sexy. time we wanted to see how many times we could finish. Another time it was how long we could stay hard without finishing, but trying to get the other one to finish.

Sometimes the vibe was just feeling good while feeling each other. They were all good, but that one was my favorite. I always felt closest to Zac when we hit that mood and vibe combo.

The summer had come to an end, and we were back in school. I was a senior, and he was a junior, and my parents were on me about looking at college. I wasn't so sure, but part of my hesitation was because of Zac. How could I ever leave him behind? My parents tried to tell me I had to think about my future, and it was hard to make them understand that I felt like Zac was part of my future, too. Maybe that's not true – maybe they do understand, but they just don't place the value on it that I do. They remind me sometimes that I'll meet more people and that high school romances aren't always built to last. It pisses me off, even if they are right. Lots of people break up; sexuality doesn't protect you against that. But unless Zac doesn't want to see me anymore, I just can't see that perspective.

One thing that did occur to me, though, was to make the most of my time with him. My parents were right – lots of high school relationships didn't last, many not longer than a few weeks. Zac was my longest relationship, and easily the best one. Partly because he made me a better person. I was more well-rounded now, thought more about what was going on around me, both with people and events, and I always, always wanted to come back to Zac, to share with him and have him share with me.

So I started to think. Zac never said much about holidays. Maybe his mom never did much for them, so he never felt like they were special days. His dads made a pretty big deal over his birthday, and I think maybe that was what I wanted to aim for. He'd taken Valentine's and turned it into something amazing for us both – both the day of and how he came back to me that night. I wanted him to feel the way I had, and I had some pretty good ideas about it.

I was aiming for Halloween, and I was keeping a close eye on the weather as the day drew closer. This year it would fall on a Friday, but that was all right. I started setting things up by talking to my parents about having Zac overnight. That was a bit harder to work around, since they were kind of convinced they were giving us permission to fuck in their house if he stayed, but I worked on them for the whole month and got permission.

Meanwhile, I went to Zac's dads, not only to get their okay, but also because I'd need their help. I made sure I had Halloween off, and then I started to blow some of the money I had saved up. By the time Halloween rolled around, I was more than ready. We started the evening by taking his little cousins trick-or-treating. I know, it sounds like work, but I was hanging out with Zac, and it was bonus points with the adults.

“Did you get candy as a kid?” I asked.

“Like door-to-door? Nah. A few pieces in school, probably from teachers, and once my mom took us to the mall, because you could trick or treat with the stores there.”

We were dressed in identical back robes with the Scream mask, and I thought we probably looked pretty funny like that and holding hands. We didn't do much in the way of PDA, but it was kind of fun due to the costumes.

“I can't believe Bell moved to Sanitaria Springs,” he said. “I mean, I'm glad they'll hire me to replace him, but I liked Bell.”

I shrugged. “He's in love. He's been dating Phil for over a year. They worked really hard to make the long distance thing work out. I'm glad Phil's mom let Bell move in. They're both looking at some school; community college.” I squeezed his hand. “Now they have to see if they can handle so much together time.”

Zac hummed. “Do you think we'll do okay with long-distance?”

I sighed. “No. I'm already hating just the idea.”

He glanced at me, and I imagined I heard a smile in his voice. “Maybe you'll have your license and can come back on weekends or something.”

“Maybe – hah, very funny,” I replied, bumping my shoulder into his. He giggled. “Are you seriously saying you won't miss me, babers?”

“Ugh. I won't miss you trying to make up pet names for me,” he growled.

“Baby? Babes? Sweet baby boy? Bae?”

He turned and punched my shoulder, and I laughed as we broke our grip.

“What is wrong with using people's names?” he growled.

“I need something short that isn't your name,” I replied.

“Zac isn't short enough? I mean my name is Isaac, but that seems to be too long for people.”

“It's a term of endearment,” I said. “Plus...saying 'this is the person that makes me a better human' takes too long.”

Again he turned his masked face to me. “Are you up to something?”

“What?” I asked, chuckling.

“The compliments. Is this some anniversary I don't know about?”

“No,” I laughed. “Why would you say that?”

“You spent a hundred and fifty dollars for our six-month anniversary.”

“It was my first one. I told you. Have to celebrate the milestones, babe.”

He sighed loudly, and I laughed to myself. As the night got colder, we gathered the little ones for the walk home and then headed back to my house.

“So, you want to sleep over tonight?” I asked.

“I could ask. Won't your parents get all bent out of shape?”

“We could...not tell them?”


I laughed. “They already said it was okay.”

“Oh. Well then, yeah.”

“You were thinking of saying no? You know your aunt might have wanted you to babysit, now that we took your cousins back all sugared up.”

He laughed. “No. I thought we'd walk back to my house and cuddle up for a gory movie with my dads or something. Your house is good too, though, 'cause we can still get our cuddle on.”

“Yep. Among other things.”

His mask in hand, he looked at me. “What other things?”


“You said among other things. What other things?”

“I don't know what you mean. Did I say that? I think it's just an expression.”

He narrowed his eyes. “You are up to something.”

I pulled him around so we were facing each other. He had a vaguely amused expression on his face. “Yes, you've figured me out – I'm up to spending the whole night with my boyfriend. I'm up to squeezing every bit of time I can get with you, because I love you like I've never loved anyone.” I paused, kind of surprised at my own words.

He pressed his lips together for a moment. “I love you, too. It's kind of a surprise for me. I'm not sure I knew what that really was until B-Dad came along. When I'm with you, though, I feel like...Like....”

“Like you're it. You're the love of my life, the one no one can ever measure up to,” I said softly.

He blinked, and I was sure I saw a little moisture in his eyes. “I was going to say I've never been more comfortable – never felt more compatible. There's been a few times in my life where I thought I just didn't care or feel like other people do. Like maybe part of me didn't work like it should. But it wasn't that, not really. It was that I just don't fit with many people. You get me.”

“And because I get you,” I said, leaning my forehead to his, “I get you.”

He gave me a nervous smile. “You do.”

I kissed him quickly, just a peck, because the moment was so heavy, and I felt like my chest was going to burst, and I'd say all kinds of sappy shit – and worst of all, give away my surprise. I took his hand and set off quickly, him laughing and asking what my rush was. Once back to my house, we left our shoes at the door and went upstairs to my room, where we dumped the costumes.

“Here, I have these for you,” I said, tossing him a pair of flannel pajama pants with ghosts on them. I pulled on one with jack-o'-lanterns. My deal with my parents was that we'd be in the 'playroom', because it didn't have a bed in it. There really was no logic to the idea, but my parents had agreed and that was all that mattered. But since we were in my room and Zac's cheeks were this awesome rosy red from the cold air we'd been in all night, I pushed him against the door and leaned forward.

“Hi,” I said with a grin.

He smiled back. “Hi.”

I touched my lips to his and then pulled back, and he griped as his lips tried to follow mine. I did it two more times before he growled my name and pulled me down for a proper kiss.

“Come on,” I said, opening the door and taking him to the playroom.

He paused in the doorway. “Uh, what? What's going on?”

“Well, I thought we'd start with Zombie Apocalypse,” Cole said.

“That's only because he's good at that,” Drew scoffed.

“Is that my PC?” Zac asked me, pointing to his PC.

“Yep. Your dads brought it over while we were trick or treating. Come on.”

I'd strung some Halloween decorations up, pushed the couch into a corner and set up tables so we could all have our PCs or laptops together. Then I'd sprung for a few games we could all play together. Yeah, the big thing I did to show my boyfriend how much I loved him wasn't to take him out to dinner like on our six-month anniversary or to try and push the envelope and have full on sex in a backseat somewhere, but to take one thing he truly enjoyed – video games – and get our friends together for a LAN party.

“Happy Halloween, Valentine,” I said with a grin.

He hugged me and gave me an odd look. “Valentine?”



“Nope.” I leaned in closer. “But if you're a good boy, after midnight I'll have some candy for you and maybe something else in the other room.”

He leaned back and looked at me, studying my face. “I love how you surprise me. Every day.”


“But you better not be trying to slip 'Valentine' in for 'babe' or any of your other pet names.”

I grinned. “Val?”

He crossed his arms. “Single?”

“Zac it is,” I replied with a laugh.

We gamed. We watched movies. And after my parents went to bed, by pre-arranged agreement, we left Cole and Drew in the playroom and I took my boyfriend to my room. We couldn't stay there all night, in fact it had to be a little quick and quiet to keep my parents in the dark, but Zac naked and on a sugar high is kind of fun.