How I Got Carter

Chapter 19

By Roe St. Alee

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I can't believe I let him talk me into this.

The second I hear Ko's tires rolling out the end of the driveway, I have to fight the urge to pull out my phone and text him: Come back and get me!

I would never hear the end of it.

I turn around and shove any thoughts about bailing as far away from my mind as humanly possible. I can do this. I can hang out with Carter's friends.

I look up at the house and I'm amazed at how out of place it looks. Most houses in our town are straight out of suburbia. Cookie cutter sameness all the way across, from end to end. Our little downtown area has a few older houses from way back, but everything else has popped up in the last twenty years as rich folks fled the city looking for greener suburbs.

Lucas's house is totally different. It looks like it should be about thirty miles outside of town in the middle of nowhere. It has a much more rustic style, but with big windows all around the front. Instead of a garage, they have a big, old-fashioned looking barn with four full garage bays, but the depth to easily fit twelve cars. In lieu of the picket fence or hedges that everyone else has around here, the property is neatly tucked into its own little forest, effectively blocking the view from the road and the neighbors, and making it seem like you're anywhere but a busy street in the middle of town.

“Yo, Jackson!”

I hear a voice and look up to see Lucas waving at me from the front door. He's a year ahead of me in school, but I see him around enough that I know who he is. I crunch through the gravel of the driveway and walk up the front porch steps. He slaps me a sort of high five handshake combo and gestures inside the house.

“Take off your shoes,” he warns me, “or my folks will be all over me for having people here while they're out of town.”

I lean down to unlace and take a look around. Their house looks more like a hunting lodge than a home. Everything is wood paneled and rustic, but in a way that also manages to look expensive. It's really nice.

“My parents are from North Carolina,” he says, picking up on my appraisal of the room. “They sort of brought it with them when they moved here.” He laughs as he finishes and I do too. “We're out back, so come on.”

Lucas leads me through the kitchen and to a sliding glass door, which he opens to reveal a good-sized back porch, complete with a grill, two tables, and a hot tub. Not to mention a bunch of teenage guys drinking beer and carrying on. I guess I’m late to the party.

As Lucas leaves me to go tend the grill, Carter hops off the bench he's sitting on and greets me with a big smile. I can tell he's had a beer or two. He's so cute.

“Dude! I'm glad you could make it,” he says, giving me a hug. Not a real hug, but more one of those bro hugs, with one hand clasped and a slap on the back. Still, it's something.

“Yeah, for sure,” I say, and I can't help but mirror his big smile. As usual, Carter's mood is contagious. “This place is awesome.”

“I know, right? They’re gone for like two more weeks.” He shakes his head in disbelief that any respectable parents would leave their teen son unattended for two and a half weeks.

“Yo, guys!” Carter calls out. “This is Jackson if you don't know.” Everyone turns to looks at me. “That's Lucas, Ricky, Gray, and Matt,” he says, pointing them out as he moves across the patio.

They nod and raise their beer cans up to me in response and acknowledgment. I know most of them already, although I've never actually talked to Ricky or Gray. They all give off a good vibe, at least so far. I wasn't sure if they'd be cool with me being here.

“Jackson!”

I turn to look at Ricky, just in time to catch an ice cold can of beer as it whizzes toward my head. After an appreciative nod to the thrower, I crack it open and take my first sip as we walk over to the table where everyone is congregated.

I'm surprised at how easy it is to get along with them. Within minutes we're all talking about all sorts of stuff, sometimes three conversations at once. It's hard to keep up with at first, but I eventually get a handle on who talks when and how the conversations tend to flow, and I fit right in.

It turns out that Ricky and Lucas are both huge soccer fans. They follow the Premier League even more than I do, and both of them pull for Everton. Thankfully I know a lot about the team this year and we get wrapped up in a lengthy conversation about all the issues they've been having with their keepers. Ricky and I keep the conversation going, and Lucas jumps in from the grill whenever something we say catches his attention.

Before too long Lucas interrupts all our conversations by bringing over a huge platter of grilled chicken and pork. He sets it down in the middle of the table without a word, and the rest of us dig in without missing a beat. All our discussions are momentarily forgotten in a flurry of grilled goodness. That’s the sign of a good meal. When everyone shuts up and eats.

Ricky was actually the guy I was most nervous about hanging out with at this thing tonight. He plays wide receiver on the football team, just like Carter, so they're naturally pretty good friends. You'd think that would make it easy for me. He's buddies with Carter and I know a surprising amount about the football team this year. We should have plenty to talk about.

But that's not what's intimidating about Ricky. He's intimidating because he's insanely hot.

If anyone at school could claim to be the typical All-American football player, it would definitely be him. He's good-looking, friendly, and has just a little bit of that country boy charm to him. The girls at school swoon over him, and I'll admit, I'm no different. He's a little bit cocky for my taste, but that's pretty much the only thing preventing me from drooling about it like so many other people at school.

And yet, here we are, talking about soccer and the implications of relegation at the end of the season. Thank goodness.

I'm glad it was so easy to find an in with at least two of the guys, because I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about this whole thing. Honestly, I was surprised when Carter asked if I wanted to hang out with the guys tonight. It's not like he's bringing his boyfriend by for dinner or anything like that, but it isn't nothing.

No. I need to stop thinking like that. Tonight is just a bunch of dudes, hanging out, drinking some beers. They don't know that Carter and I have anything going, and this isn't a big deal.

But on the other hand, he's testing me out tonight, at least a little. Making sure I'm cool with the guys, and making sure the guys are cool with me.

I know it's more than just a simple get-together, because of how Carter was acting when he invited me over. He was all flustered and nervous, stuttering a little and getting flushed while we talked about it. It was adorable, and it made me feel special, knowing that it was important to him. It's how I would feel if our roles were reversed, and that's a good sign, right?

I feel like I can check the box for Lucas and Ricky. I already sort of know Lucas from swim team, and Ricky and I are hitting it off. Matt and I are cool, with him being Katy’s cousin and how much I see of him in the summer.

That just leaves Gray. He’s a mystery to me, quiet and completely outside any of the social circles I run in. I’m hoping I’ll have a chance to get to know him after dinner, and more importantly I’m hoping the two of us can find some kind of commonality.

“This is amazing,” I choke out a few minutes later through a mouthful of pork chop.

The rest of the guys chime in with their own praises, prompting Lucas to stand up and take a bow.

I wipe my face, which is fairly covered in meat juice, with a napkin.

“Seriously, this is good, man. Where did you learn to cook like this?” I ask.

Ricky jumps in to answer before Lucas has a chance. “His parents have a deal. They buy the meats, he grills 'em.”

I raise my eyebrows. That's a pretty sweet deal for a dude in high school.

Lucas shrugs. “I've been doing it since I was like ten,” he says. “My folks stock our freezer with all this stuff for me, and I crank out the magic a few times a week.”

“And they don't notice when a few packs of pork chops go missing,” Ricky adds, getting a laugh out of everybody.

We eat in peace for a few more minutes before Gray speaks up for the first time in a while.

“So, Jackson,” he starts, already making me bristle with nervousness.

When I said Ricky was the most intimidating guy here, I meant that in a social sense. Gray is intimidating in a completely different way. He's a lineman on the football team, and if being absolutely massive in every way wasn't enough to make him a little bit scary, he also tends not to talk very much. He's not an easy guy to approach and conversate with, and I don’t know much about him.

“Why don't you play football?”

Everyone goes quiet and turns to me. Gray has spoken, and he's put me dead in the center of the spotlight.

“Um...”

Is this some sort of test? It's hard to gauge what my response should be, but I better think of one soon, otherwise things will get awkward. I fumble for another second, and I feel like my face is under a heat lamp made of five pairs of staring eyes.

“I guess I'm just better at kicking stuff?” I say.

I flinch internally and wait for Gray's response. He mulls it over and I hear a snicker coming from behind me, probably Lucas.

Finally he slowly nods. “That makes sense, man.”

I thought it would break the tension, but it doesn't. Gray just keeps looking at me. Testing me with his eyes, sizing me up. I start to wonder if he didn't want me here tonight, some outsider trying to wheedle my way into their crew. And now he's thinking about what he could say to cut me down, prove to everyone that I'm not one of them. Or he could just punch me in the face, which I’m assuming would instantly kill me.

Suddenly his expression breaks into a grin and he laughs. I don't think I've ever heard him laugh, and it's kind of terrifying. Huge laughs, like James Earl Jones doing Krusty the Clown.

The rest of the guys all laugh too and I remind myself again to relax. These guys are alright. They joke around, just like anybody does. I can't be so damn sensitive.

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

Gray seems to have a knack for asking tough questions. So much for relaxing.

“A girlfriend?” I repeat back to him.

“Yeah,” Ricky says, punching me in the arm, “they're these people who make you buy them stuff so you can make out with them.”

Everybody laughs again at that and I use the time to think of what I want to say. Obviously the answer is no, but I feel like they won't just accept that and move on.

“Nah,” I say as the noise dies down. “Too much work.”

That gets another round of laughter from the boys.

“I hear that,” says Ricky. “I had to give mine the boot.”

The guys perk up at that. Ricky can have pretty much any girl he wants, and last I heard he was dating Jessica Barton, unquestionably one of the hottest girls in the school. I imagine half of the guys' interest has to do with Ricky's personal life and the other half has to do with the outside possibility that one of them could pick her up on the rebound.

“Dude, when did that happen?” asks Matt.

Ricky shrugs. “A few days ago. She kept giving me crap about some other girl I'm supposedly talking to.” He holds up his hand next to his head and spins it around, signifying that she was crazy.

“Were you?” asks Lucas.

“Of course not,” he shoots back, but then reconsiders. “At least not any more than usual.”

Ricky has a reputation as a bit of a playboy, and with his looks it can't be hard. He has a long frame, but ever since about 9th grade he's been packing on a good amount of muscle. Not so much that it's all you notice about him like Gray, but almost a deceptive amount of muscle. Like you think he might be skinny at first glance, but then you start to notice all the various ripples and bulges around his body. At least that's what I notice.

“But you fucked her, right?” asks Gray.

Gray doesn't mess around. And when the questions aren't aimed at me, I'm starting to appreciate it.

Ricky sadly shakes his head. “All I got to show for it was one terrible blow job.”

The porch erupts with laughter. It's not just the fate of Ricky's relationship, but the true, powerful sadness in his face as he says it.

“I don't understand it,” says Matt. “There has to be a way to tell. The hottest girl in the world can give the worst head, it just doesn't make sense.”

The rest of the guys nod in agreement. I didn't realize this was a problem. You learn a lot when you hang out with jocks.

“You're just upset that no one will ever compare to Louise,” says Carter, directed at Matt.

Ricky stops what he's doing and stares at Carter, then back at Matt. Then back to Carter again. Then back to Matt. It's fairly dark out on the porch, but I can still see that Matt's face is a bright shade of red.

“What did he just say?” Ricky asks.

“He's just uh... talking about Louise,” mumbles Matt.

“What?!” says Ricky.

For a second I think Ricky is mad about something, whoever this Louise person is. But no one else is reacting to it. In fact, most everyone else is snickering.

“You didn't know about that?” asks Carter. I know Carter well enough to hear the smirk in his voice. It seems like everyone is in on this joke except Ricky.

“I need you to explain yourself right now,” Ricky says.

Matt throws up his hands in defeat, but he can't help smiling. “I got Louise to give me a blow job last summer.”

Ricky can't believe what he's hearing. He can't even sit still. He's pacing back on forth on the porch and flailing his arms around. He looks like he's about to explode, or scream, or punch someone. I've never seen him act like this. Like a crazy person, I mean.

Matt notices my blank look and laughs.

“I guess I'll tell you the story, but not because of him,” he says, jerking his head towards Ricky. “Hearing it might actually destroy him.”

“Ugh, I'm not sure I want to listen,” Ricky mumbles. He thinks better of it and sits back down at the picnic table so he doesn't miss a fragment of a detail.

“Louise is this girl we all knew last year,” Matt begins. “She went to Green Lakes, and she was two years older than us. We all just started like, hanging out towards the end of the school year.”

Gray and Lucas are nodding in concurrence. They all seem to know the story already, but I've never heard of this girl. I don't know but a few people who go to Green Lakes, and they're all our age or younger.

Matt continues. “I dunno why, but she just started coming to everything we did. Anytime this group was hanging out, she was there.”

“It's 'cause she could drive,” says Gray.

The boys laugh.

“Yeah, but it wasn't like we were just using her or whatever. She was sort of invited to everything by default because she had a car,” he admits, “but she was cool.”

Matt is interrupted by a weird mix between a sigh and a growl from Ricky.

“I was getting to that,” says Matt, patting Ricky on the head.

“She wouldn't sleep with me!” he yells in the night, like a wolf howling at the moon.

The rest of us sit in stunned silence for a second, all startled by his outburst. Then the dam breaks and we all laugh our heads off. Even Ricky smiles at his own misfortune, clearly more interested in seeming upset than he actually is bothered by it.

“She wouldn't sleep with any of us,” adds Lucas once he catches his breath. “The whole summer single and hanging around these horny dudes, and she never did anything with any of us.”

It never ceases to amaze me. The expectation these guys have that every single girl in the world is secretly trying to get with them. I mean, they aren't miles off target or anything like that. They're probably one of the most attractive and popular groups of dudes in our school, but it isn't always just about sex for everyone. At least not that I know of.

Ricky shakes his head. “It isn't possible that you...” He can't even finish the sentence. I think it would hurt him too much to say it.

“Anyway,” continues Matt, rolling his eyes, “it wasn't just the fact that she was a girl, it was more her reputation.”

“She was a legend,” says Ricky.

The guys notice my confusion and Lucas jumps in.

“She was a legend at giving head,” says Lucas. “Gray’s buddy knew a few dudes from Green Lakes and told us about it. They made it sound like it would change your life.”

Ricky shakes his head sadly again. “From that point we were obsessed.”

“You were obsessed,” Carter corrects him. “We were...”

“We wanted her to blow us,” says Gray. Again I’m struck by how much I appreciate his brutal simplicity.

“But Ricky more than anybody,” Matt adds. “And yet, he managed to find the one girl who wouldn't do it.”

Now it makes more sense. Ricky never gets rejected. He’s the ultimate boy for every girl in school. He’s hot, smart, and very well-mannered – you could bring him back to your parents if you wanted, and they would love him too.

But not Louise, apparently. And while I know it must drive him crazy to think about that one elusive girl he couldn't have, I know it must be positively killing him to know that Matt was able to make it happen.

“Ok,” says Ricky, “Just tell me what happened. I can handle it.”

He's calmed down a little bit, but he still bouncing up and down with nervous anticipation. While he hasn't fully relaxed, I think it's probably safe for Matt to finish the story.

“It was Thanksgiving weekend and my parents took me out to the lake. It was kind of warm and some people down the street were doing a bonfire.”

Katy has told me about the lake house before. Matt's family has had it for a few generations, so she's spent a good amount of time out there, but I've never been. It's a little cabin on the lake where you can swim and boat in the summer, then ice fish and snowmobile in the winter. Typical stuff that we do around here.

“We get to the bonfire, and it's all just old people. My parents were having a good time and all, but I was looking for anyone my age to hang out with. All of a sudden, someone grabs me from behind in a huge hug.” Matt smiles at Ricky with a devilish grin. “Guess who it was.”

Ricky has been keeping it together for the most part, but now he's getting more agitated again.

“Louise,” Matt says triumphantly. “Her family is friends with this guy down the street and she was there for the bonfire too.” He leans in towards Ricky for dramatic effect. “And she was drunk.”

“No,” Ricky says. “I don't believe it.”

“Believe it,” Matt responds.

Ricky takes a deep breath and composes himself. He nods to Matt to continue the story.

“She was all over me. Within five minutes she dragged me off to the dock and three minutes after that...” Matt raises his arms in triumph. “Three minutes after that I was getting the best head in my life.”

Looking around the table I get the impression that no one else has heard the story either, except maybe Carter, which makes sense, as he's probably the closest to Matt of any of these guys. Lucas looks floored, in awe of Matt's big win. Even Gray is emoting a little, his usually stoic features contorted in slight amazement. Ricky is lightly pounding his head against the table and moaning in agony.

I look over at Carter, and he's just laughing. He's definitely heard this before, plus he looks a little bit buzzed too. It's a good look for him, a little looser and he smiles more. The best is his eyes though, and even in this light I can tell that they’re sparkling in the way they only do when he's had a few beers or he's really excited about something. In this case, both.

“So, how good are we talking?” asks Lucas.

Matt scrunches up his face in thought. “Like, five times better than anyone else?” he asks rhetorically.

“Ugh, I can't listen to this!” Ricky says, throwing his head back and pushing his chair away from the table. “I can't even tell you how bad Jessica was. All this pulling and tugging and twisting.” He notices some skepticism from the other guys and elaborates. “Not in a good way,” he adds, “in a very, very bad way.

“Seriously though, how hard is it?” he continues. “There's like three parts, and you can see them right in front of you. Just get down there and...” He bobs his head up and down to show us what you have to 'get down there and do.' The thought of him giving someone a blow job makes my cock twitch, so I try to put the image out of my mind, at least for now.

“What about Stephanie?” Matt asks, turning to Lucas.

Lucas has been dating a girl at our school, Stephanie, for about three months if I'm remembering right. She's cute and is a cheerleader, but I don't know much about her besides that.

Lucas smiles sheepishly. “That's why I was wondering about Louise,” he says, “because Steph is really, really good. So I was kind of wondering how good it gets. She's definitely the best I've ever gotten.”

Ricky sighs and mumbles something to himself, probably wondering why everybody else is striking gold while he's striking out.

Lucas turns to his left and fixes his eyes on Carter, the next person around in the circle.

“Well? What about you?”

Carter blushes and plays dumb. “What do you mean?”

“What was your best blow job?” asks Matt. He must know about most of them, but he's probably never gotten to hear them compared.

I have my own stake in this story. Carter hasn't talked to me at all about his past experiences, or who he's done what with, and I haven't asked. It feels like a touchy subject considering the situation we're in. Too touchy to bring up unless I want to make a big deal about it, at least.

Plus as curious as I am, I don't necessarily want to talk about how I stack up against the girls he's been with. As far as I know he's always had a girlfriend, as early as middle school. It's only been Beth since the end of school last year, so there might be plenty to choose from, and I don't want to know if they're better at it than I am.

“Um...” He thinks for a second and I'm treated to his 'thinking hard' face that I like so much.

“Quit stalling and get on with it!” says Matt. “I know it isn't Beth, so pick one of the other ones and dish up.”

The rest of the guys have a laugh at Beth's expense and Carter turns a little bit redder. I'm a little relieved to hear that. I know she's not great, but I'll take any Beth-bashing I can get.

“Faster, funnier, faster, funnier,” Ricky starts to chant.

“Ok, ok!” Carter throws up his hands to quiet everyone down. “I've got one.”

I feel my stomach clench up. Nobody likes to hear about the amazing sex that somebody's ex was dishing out.

“It was a quick one, but a good one,” he says. “Uh... They just really went for it, and I wasn't expecting it, so it was kind of a surprise.”

“Surprise blow jobs,” says Ricky shaking his head. “You guys lead a charmed life.”

Lucas punches him in the arm to get him to shut up so Carter can keep going.

“So, that's pretty much it. Fast and furious, and really good,” he says. “Best I've ever had.”

“Did she swallow?” asks Gray.

Carter nods. “Yeah, every drop.”

Gray looks skeptical. “That's it?” he asks. “Just a quick little blow and you're done? That's your best ever?”

Carter shrugs, but then I see his snarky little smile start in the very corner of his mouth.

“I was driving the Tesla.”

The patio goes mental. The guys are laughing and hooting, slapping Carter on the back.

And me? I'm trying not to let my smile actually split my head in half.

“Who was that?” asks Matt. I'm not surprised he wants to know, since it's a story he hopefully hasn't heard before.

Shit.

Come to think of it, this could be awkward. I hope Carter has a plan to deflect, because he obviously can't tell the truth.

Before Carter can answer, however, Gray surprises everyone and speaks up.

“He can't tell you.”

Everyone turns to him, waiting for an explanation.

“He was driving,” says Gray.

Matt holds up his hands in a shrug.

“He was driving,” repeats Gray. He tries to let it sink in for a few seconds, but even I'm not seeing where he's going with this. “He was driving a car that's still brand new, and it wasn't Beth.”

Slowly it starts to sink in. I see Lucas nod, and almost as though his recognition it contagious, I suddenly realize what Gray is talking about. The Tesla is only about six months old. If Carter was driving the Tesla, and the person giving him head wasn't Beth, then that means...

“You're getting some side action?!” says Matt.

Carter turns to him and shrugs coyly. “Yeah,” he says, as though there's nothing strange or surprising about it at all.

“Why didn't you tell me? Who is it? When did you...”

Carter shrugs again. “I can't really talk about it,” he says.

His entire manner has changed. He's so confident and mysterious suddenly. Running with the story, he’s turned on the charm to hammer it home.

And everyone drops it just like that. I can tell Matt wants to ask him more about it, and I'm sure the other guys would love to hear the details too, but no one presses him for more info. It's that quality Carter has sometimes, to take over the situation with nothing more than an easy smile and a few words. He can make you believe or understand anything, if only he tries to make it so.

And thank goodness. We dodged a bullet. The interrogation to follow a story like that could have been a disaster.

“Gray?”

Carter turns things over to Gray, who is already smiling fondly at what must be the memory of his best head.

“Ugh,” says Ricky, “I already know this story.”

Gray sticks up his middle finger. “Don't be jealous,” he says.

Ricky shudders and holds up one hand, as though to stop Gray from telling us any more.

“I'm not jealous of getting my butt hole licked,” he says.

The rest of the guys lose it when they hear this, and it takes at least a minute before everyone's regained their composure enough to let Gray continue. He's not the type to talk over people. Once things calm down, he goes on.

“This chick from summer camp,” he says. “She gave me head a few times and it was good. But the last night of camp she uh...” He looks around the room for help. “She moved around to the back, I guess.”

Everyone cracks up again. Even I can appreciate what must be a typical story from Gray. Short and to the point.

“Dude,” says Ricky, “that's gross.”

“No,” says Gray, “it's fucking amazing. And if you don't believe me, then you're just missing out.”

Gray turns to look at me.

“New guy,” he says. “You ever get your asshole licked?

That gets everyone laughing again, but this time all eyes are on me. Gray's brutal simplicity and directness are awesome when they don't put you under the gun directly.

“Yeah, let's hear about it,” echoes one of the guys.

I was secretly hoping they would skip me since I'm the new guy, but that probably only makes them even more interested. I try to think of how I can downplay this or weasel my way out of having to answer. My experience is so limited, there's really only one person I can talk about, and he's sitting three feet away from me.

“I haven't really been with a lot of people,” I admit, hoping they'll just give me a quick ribbing for my lack of options and leave it at that. It's bad enough having to admit that I'm so inexperienced, so that will be good enough, right?

“And?” asks Lucas.

The rest of their faces mirror his curiosity, except Carter, who has his body turned toward me but isn't making eye contact. I'm glad. This will be weird enough with him in the same room, even if he isn't looking directly at me.

“I dunno,” I say. “It was just a regular blow job, I guess.”

I look back at the circle around me and realize that won't be nearly enough.

“It wasn't just the head,” I mumble, trying to figure out what I'm actually trying to say. “I was more like...”

I risk a glance at Carter and it pulls me back to that first time he went down on me. What was it that made it so important to me? I'll never forget it, but what was so memorable? A big part of it was that he was finally taking the initiative, and it was almost like another line he was crossing, one more sure sign that he might be into me.

No, it wasn't that. Even now I'm not totally sure where we stand, and the blow job raised as many questions as it answered. But there was something about it that made it stand out, even better than Sam's. And Sam’s was undeniably more skillful, at least from a technical standpoint. What was it that Carter said and did to make it so special?

It was his questions. He kept asking what to do, or asking what felt good and if he should keep going. He was so unsure of himself, and so far out of his comfort zone. He hates being bad at things, and here he was, taking a huge step off the diving board and jumping into something new. And more importantly, doing it for me.

“I think it was just that they were really trying, you know? Like, they...” I suddenly realize my error and correct myself. “Like she was just trying to make me feel good, and making that the most important thing.”

I try to think of the best way to sum it up, to put it in words that even a bunch of horny teenage boys will understand. “When a person wants to do it, and wants to make you feel good. That's when it's really good.”

Half of me expects them all to start laughing at my sappy story, but the reaction is more mixed. I see Gray nodding in understanding, and Matt shrugs like he gets it, even if he isn't a hundred percent on board. Ricky looks skeptical. Lucas, however, is shaking his head.

“I dunno about that, man,” he says. “I'll take my dick in a mouth when I want it over a special little love fest any day of the week.”

Against my will I feel the blood rush into my cheeks. I must have overdone with all that sappy, feelings bullshit.

Lucas surprises me though, and he seems to pick up on my discomfort. “No, I totally get it,” he says. “But I've had both kinds of blow jobs, and to me, they were both just blow jobs.”

“So you're like a 'technique' guy?” Matt asks him sarcastically.

We all laugh and it helps break the tension. I was able to getting away with being a little bit sensitive. The guys didn't seem opposed to it, but I make a mental note to go easy on the deep, emotional stuff in the future. Just blend in with these dudes. Beer, ribs, and blow jobs. If I need to share my feelings I can go hang out with Katy.

“So, who was it?” asks Ricky.

Shit. I steel myself against giving anything away and try to imitate Carter’s sense of easy dismissal.

“It's not important,” I say with a shrug.

“Not you too,” Ricky says, rolling his eyes. “Come on, just tell us.”

“No.”

As soon as I say it I know I’ve made a mistake. A one word answer is only going to make this worse.

“What, are you embarrassed?” he asks.

“No,” I repeat, “it's just not important. You don't know her,” I add for good measure.

“Come on,” he insists. “We've all been with people we're not proud of.” He's grinning now, and I'm sure he's enjoying having me on the defensive.

“Was it a dude?”

I will myself not to react, but I must have done something, because the rest of the guys start getting in on it too.

“Holy shit,” says Matt. “It was a dude, wasn't it?”

“What was his name?” asks Gray, snickering.

I shake my head and redouble my efforts to just let it slide off. They do this stuff with each other all the time. They're just poking fun at me, and as soon as someone changes the topic no one will ever think about it ever again.

“Ha!” says Ricky. “I bet it was Sam. That dude's a total fag.”

“No, he's not!” I say, more forcefully than I was trying to. I instantly feel the rest of the guys back off, but Ricky keeps at it.

“Yeah, he is,” says Ricky, oblivious to how angry I am. “He sucked off Brian Myers in the locker room, he's totally gay.”

“Don't call him that!”

“What?” he looks around the room for support. The rest of the guys have gotten quiet. “He's totally gay,” he repeats.

I think he's done, but he suddenly turns back to me.

“So, was it him? Are you a-”

“Shut the fuck up, Ricky!”

Before anyone can react, Carter reaches across the table and grabs the front of Ricky's shirt. It pulls him off balance so he just sort of hangs there for a second before Carter pushes him back down. He hits the edge of his chair and bounces off on his way to the floor.

He looks up at Carter, then at me, then back to Carter, bristling with anger, almost like he has one more thing to say on the tip of tongue. I hold my breath and wait for someone to make the next move.

Ricky seems to have thought better of whatever else he was going to say.

“I'm just kidding around, man. Take it easy.”

Carter doesn't respond, he just stares down at Ricky. I've never seen him like this, so serious and angry. If I could forget about the situation, I'd have to admit that he's really sexy when he's fired up.

“I'm sorry,” says Ricky, holding up his hands in deference. “I'm drunk, and I'm being an idiot.”

“Ladies!”

We all turn to look at Gray, who's holding up a six-pack of beer in each hand.

“How about a little less fighting and a little more driving?

We all stand in silence for a few seconds before Matt lets out a whoop and jumps up from the table.

“I thought you'd never ask,” he hollers, giving Gray a nice, crisp high five.

En masse, everyone gets up from the table, and without another word the confrontation seems to be forgotten. Even Ricky pops up off the ground like nothing happened and joins the rest of us as we head inside. What is Gray talking about that could defuse a situation like that so quickly? Driving?

As I'm stepping in the door, Lucas grabs my arm to get my attention. As he's the only person behind me, we're alone on the porch.

“Jackson,” he says, once he makes sure that we're alone.

I swallow hard and wonder what this is about.

“You play Mario Kart, right?”

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