I took a deep breath and knocked on the door. Holy shit, I was really doing this.
The door opened and he smiled, gesturing me inside. He wore leather pants and a black t shirt that showed a slim, leanly muscled figure.
“Hey,” he purred. “I’m James. What shall I call you?”
His voice wasn’t as deep as mine, but oh so smooth. I wanted to close my eyes and just listen to him talk. I turned when I was halfway across the room and looked at him.
“Shall I just call you Babe?” he prompted.
Oh shit, I hadn’t answered him. Fuck, I can’t even get it right when I’m paying for it! I felt my old insecurities rushing in. “Um, I… Um…” I felt heat flood my face, and I closed my eyes. “Chris.”
“Hey, it’s okay, Chris. Relax. Nothing to be nervous about.” He strolled toward me, a smooth, graceful glide. Fuck, he was so sexy.
I froze when he reached out a hand and ran it down my chest.
He noticed. Of course he fucking noticed. “Okay?” he asked, in a gentle voice.
I closed my eyes and sighed. “Uh, yeah,” I nodded. “I, uh…”
“It’s okay.” He moved behind me. I felt his breath tickle my nape, and the heat of him against my back. He grabbed my hand, and led me to the bed.
My breathing quickened when he tugged me to sit on the cover beside him.
“Was there something specific you wanted to achieve, or did you just want to do whatever feels good?”
I snuck a sideways glance, and found him watching me intently. “I haven’t… I don’t…” For fuck’s sake, Chris, spit it out! “I don’t know what I want,” I growled.
He eyed me up and down, and I fucking knew what he was thinking. I wasn’t some spotty teenager. I was a grown man, with a good body, a decent face, and money. He didn’t say it though, thank god. He ran his fingertips over my hand, then pulled it to his mouth for a warm press of his lips. He was smiling again.
How could he be so relaxed and smiley while I was so fucking tense?
“Let’s go with the flow, and if you wanna change anything up, just let me know, okay?”
I nodded, then jerked back when he leaned towards me.
He stopped and raised an eyebrow. “No kissing?”
“Uh, kissing is okay. I was just… I wasn’t expecting… Fuck!” I tipped my head back and looked at the ceiling instead of his sympathetic face. “I’m so fucking useless at this.”
“No, you’re not,” he cooed. He fucking cooed. Like I was a frightened horse he was trying to calm. Which probably wasn’t a bad analogy. He ran his palms up and down my thighs. “Nothing to be embarrassed about. Everyone has a first time. No shame in that.”
I nodded, but looked away. “I don’t know what to do or say. To anyone. I’m useless at talking to people, being with people. I’m just… useless.”
“Aw, honey, no.” He tugged at my forearms, drawing me to my feet.
I was a couple of inches taller than him. Broader too.
He reached up and ran his fingers into my hair, then gently tugged my head down until our lips met. His kiss was sure and I let him run the show. His lips were smooth and warm, and I shuddered when his tongue teased mine. His hands slid around to cup my face, and I placed mine on his hips.
He pulled back and tilted my head to better suit him, before diving back in. Nips and licks, and his tongue stroking mine. Fuck, it was hot.
He pressed himself up against me and I realised with a jolt of surprise that he was hard. So was I. Holy shit, I had a hot guy in leather pants pressing his erection against mine. I pulled back, gulping for breath.
He sucked my neck, and my whole body went taut.
“Shiiiiit,” I moaned. I felt him smile against my skin as his hands slid down to clench my ass.
“You like that, huh?” He backed away a step and pulled off his t shirt. While I was running heated eyes over his chest, I absentmindedly helped him draw my own shirt over my head. He was perfectly defined without being bulky. I knew I was in good shape, but I was pleased when he eyed me with smouldering eyes.
His hands were all over my chest, gently teasing my nipples and stroking over the ridges of my abs. He dipped his fingers into the top of my jeans and peered up at me with a smirk. “Shall we take these off?”
I nodded. “You first, though,” I said, gesturing to his leather pants.
He grinned, and unfastened the button. My breathing picked up pace. There was no hair on his lower abdomen. I wondered if he was that smooth everywhere, and bit my lip as my pants got even tighter.
He slid the pants off, and somehow made it look graceful and effortless. If I ever managed to get the courage to wear a pair of leather pants, I know it’d be a fuckload more gawky getting them off than he’d made it look.
“You’re frowning,” he commented.
“Oh! Sorry, I just… Fuck, you’re gorgeous.”
“And that’s a bad thing?”
“No! No, no, of course not. I just felt a bit…inadequate.”
James smiled, and my eyes widened in shock as he reached out and cupped the bulge in my jeans. “You don’t feel inadequate to me.”
You blog, you write short stories, you’re a novelist and a poet. Do you have a preference for a particular format? Do you find it hard to switch between them?
I seem to focus on a format for a while and not touch any others. Right now that means short stories. All the short stories! As I play with characters and ideas.
I haven’t done much with novels lately because my life is just crazy and I haven’t got sucked into the worlds. Doesn’t mean they aren’t there, just haven’t been sucked in.
My poetry is more a catharsis. I don’t really write it unless I need to get some feelings out. Or it was assigned in college.
I take your picture.
Your hair flying.
Your body dancing.
I take your picture.
Tears falling down.
Frowning smiles on your face.
Eyes cloudy–salt water clean.
I take your picture.
Hands raised in self-defense.
Black and blue.
Fear etched on your face.
I take your picture.
Finally at peace.
As for my blogging, it’s part of my way to get my name out to readers and I try to make it more of a conversation.
Apart from blogging, do you do anything else to promote your work?
Not at the moment. If I have a sale or something I post on Facebook. And I make comments on WDC, but I don’t have an author page anywhere. At some point I’ll do more, but not until I have more books published.
You refer to yourself as a life-long writer. What has been the hardest thing for you so far on your writing journey?
Two things really.
I submitted what I thought was a really good, solid piece of writing to an editor. An editor I know and consider a friend. And she rejected it. What made it less hard? She didn’t know it was me until after it had been rejected (it was a blind submission).
The other is sometimes just finding time to write is sometimes a tricky balancing act.
When your submission was rejected by your editor friend, what did you do?
I’m going to revise it, although I haven’t yet. She’s actually offered a more in depth critique so I’m waiting to hear back. I’ve written a lot new since then including another story for submission to her–which also got rejected but I didn’t like it nearly as much. And yeah I did wallow around for a few days.
You primarily write science fiction and fantasy. What appeals to you most about those genres?
I like the escapist qualities of fantasy. I was always fascinated with mythology as a kid and a lot of my stories have that type of idea in them. And Narnia, oh I loved Narnia. So I always wanted a world like that to play in that was all my own.
As for science fiction, although I’m not as good at the hard science part, I enjoy the “what if…” idea of science fiction.
Are there any genres you’re afraid to try, or struggle to write in?
I wouldn’t say afraid to try or struggle with any genres. I’m willing to try anything once. Maybe. I’m not a huge fan of horror though. And although romance creeps into my stories, I wouldn’t say I write much romance. Because of my day job, you will probably never see any erotica under my name either. Not my real name anyway.
Do you read the same genres that you write in?
Absolutely! I won’t get any better if I don’t read in my chosen genre. And honestly I just read.
What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas from?
Life inspires me. Which sounds funny considering what I write, but it’s true. I get ideas from friends, conversations, prompts, teaching moments. Just life. I also sometimes just get ideas from letting my mind wander.
Do you have a favourite author? Or perhaps an author you view as an inspiration?
Hahhaaha. Do I have a favorite author? Come sit down and let me unroll the REAMS of authors I adore and explain why I have a Kindle now and why my moms banned me from buying books for a while. But seriously right now I would say my top four are Jasmine Walt, Pippa DaCosta, Jim Butcher, and Tanya Huff. Oh and Mercedes Lackey. My moms would say Dean Koontz, but I’ll counter with none of his recent work—he’s become too commercialized. So…five really; maybe six.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
“You just write like you got words.” From a friend on WDC. Not very grammatically correct, but it amuses me and at the time got me to write. It often prompts me to keep writing and I actually have it as a wall hanging.
Other than that? My freshman year in high school, my English teacher was always very encouraging as was another teacher in middle school.
What drives you to be published?
I don’t know that I have a drive per se. I write because I need to. If I feel I edit it into enough shape, I share my babies with other people. Sometimes that means publishing.
What defines success for you as an author?
Having someone enjoy my work and telling me so.
Your published book – When the Prince Didn’t Come in Time – is marketed as a ‘comic retelling’ of a fairy tale. Tell us a little about it.
I know this is supposed to start “once upon a time” but since it doesn’t end “happily ever after,” I’m not going to bother. I didn’t mean to kill her. Honestly that wasn’t my intention at all. I mean I grew up in the shadow of a great big hulking relic from another time. How was I supposed to know she was waiting for her prince to come? The stories never told us that. All they said was that she was asleep and would sleep for a hundred years. Can I help it that I hit that hormone driven age just as she hit those one hundred years? I’m telling you it seemed like a really good idea at the time. Sneak into the castle, kiss the princess; hey, instant wife or concubine or whatever.
When the Prince Didn’t Come in Time by Reb Kreyling
I can’t say too much or it gives away the whole thing but it’s based off a quote from the David Crosby/Phil Collins song Hero. And wonders what would happen if someone other than the prince kissed Sleeping Beauty. The narrator is a bit of a sarcastic smart mouth which is where the comedy comes in.
You describe yourself as ‘a novelist who is yet to finish a novel’. What’s stopping you?
Honestly, I’ve been trying to figure this out for YEARS. I think it comes down to three main things:
- I have this irrational fear that once I finish and/or publish something I’ll never be able to modify or add anything, and I hate that thought (generally because of point 2 below)
- I like writing my characters’ lives, so I just keep going. Generally each novel has a plot but I’m in no hurry to actually bring it to an end. And I can be found adding on short stories even while the novel itself is languishing.
- I write for myself. Means I’m not all hot and bothered about actually publishing anything and therefore I don’t have any pressure on me to finish.
Having said all that I’ve got one novel in the process of being finished so that it can be published. It’s been with a writing coach who is the only other person to have read it in its 21 years of life. Great feedback, and good tips. Does mean huge amounts of extra ‘life’ being cut, but I’ve almost come to terms with that. The published story is for the public, but I’ve still got the ‘real’ story for me.
A lot of authors publish extra chapters or short stories to accompany a novel, usually as freebies on their websites. This can be appreciated by fans. Have you considered doing this with your related short stories and/or cut content? It might help you accept that the story doesn’t really need to end with being published. Also, some authors publish novellas that are like extended epilogues, especially where there are multiple books set in the same world and the characters from multiple books can be featured in a single novella.
Ah yes, I’ve kind of done that. I have a piece from Watching Clouds and a piece from another novel linked under the Characters part of my website, and I’ve actually got Fire Red Leaf there too – under Snippets. I suspect I will put other things up there, almost like ‘cutting room floor’ pieces. I really should add a few more things but I have been entirely slack with the website (and even the blog).
Where do you get the ideas for your novels and short stories?
Dreams, mostly—for novels anyway. And, given some of the contents of my novels, that probably should worry me a bit. News items or even a single name have also inspired stories. Lately, I’ve been saving prompts on Pinterest but none yet has grown into something.
I generally only do short stories when I’m writing for a contest and, in that case, it’s the prompt that gives me the starting framework. But, I’ll only write if some sort of inspiration comes to me.
How much research do you do for your writing?
Starting out? None. I need to get the story out before I figure out what might be wrong or right in terms of reality. However, for a story I’m serious about (as in publishing serious) then I’ll research – places, laws, food, weather facts. And in fact I love doing research; I’m a knowledge/trivia geek. I’m even learning Welsh via Duolingo.com because I’ve a story set in Wales! And I’ve been learning about famous Japanese swords lately because of a story that’s sort of set there but also isn’t. A lot of my novels are set in vague places and/or times so that lets me be lazy with regards to research. However, the novel I’m looking to publish is set in Chicago and talks a lot about the city. There’s no way that I can’t be serious about getting information right. I’m actually spending a month there early next year to write and research.
You’re a self-titled ‘pantser’, yet you do research. Do you store your information online or are you old school and have binders or notebooks filled with handwritten notes? How do you organise all the details and ideas?
Oh man, notebooks, notebooks, notebooks. One in every bag/handbag, one on my bedside table, one in drawers beside my couch etc. Can get a little messy when I’ve got sequential notes but in multiple notebooks! And the one in the bag I take to work is often filled out while on the train, so the handwriting can get tough to read. I also use little pieces of paper (often when at work when I daren’t bring out my notebook). I shove those in my glasses case so they can safely get home. Sometimes they get transferred to a notebook, sometimes they just get stuff in the notebook. Early on I used to use hardcover 1B5s to write my notes – though more for a particular novel than just general notes. I do like that way of keeping things together but I’ve not really kept it up. Sometimes notes are just on A4 and put into the binder that carries the rest of the story. For Watching Clouds I do actually have a research/notes binder that was split into notes, ideas, stuff for characters, dates etc. But no matter the notes these days, they’re pretty much always handwritten.
Of course, none of that means I plan. I don’t, though I love the idea of planning and I have tried several times but never really pulled it off.
Why did you choose to set your novel in Chicago? Why not a New Zealand city that would have been far easier and cheaper for you to research?
Because I fell in love with Chicago when I was there as an exchange student in 1993. And back then I probably also thought it would be a little more vague. You know, things can happen there that never make the news but which would here. I didn’t want to deal with all that. Also…. Owen’s age is a key factor in the story. 16 is the legal age here for sex whereas it’s 17 in Illinois. I could have made Owen even younger but thought that he’d be able to handle things at 16 (and get away with them) but not at 15. 15 was too young.
When I returned to Chicago in 2011 and then again in 2014 the city was so much more awesome, so I also didn’t have any trouble making my story leap forward from actually being set in the 90s.
Home will always be home, but Chicago has a big chunk of my heart.
As a New Zealander, what are the difficulties of writing for an international audience?
Well, when I read about the huge successes of New Zealand authors with international audiences (mostly the US, admittedly) I come to the conclusion there aren’t many difficulties. And definitely not with the rise of self-publishing.
However, language can be an issue. I know that my story set in Chicago will need to get the ‘u’ removed from ‘colour’ etc so as to be ‘truly’ set in the US, and of course the slang in that story is all very much Kiwi at the moment. My writing coach asked where my MC was from because he’s obviously not American, due to his speech/slang. Well, at that time he was only from Arizona but obviously that wasn’t going to wash. Fortunately, with a major plot black-hole now fixed I actually can get him to have lived in New Zealand much of his life and so I won’t have to change the slang. Kind of relieved about that, but I’ll still need to change the spelling.
Tell me about your passion for reading and writing gay characters.
I don’t consciously think of my characters as gay and I don’t write them as that. They’re just normal guys who happen to love other guys. Actually, I wonder why it’s even considered a genre.
My passion, though? When I look back over all the stories I’ve written with gay characters, it all seems to have started in about 1995. This was the year I met Antinous in Roman Art at university. Aside from the statue we were shown being so amazingly beautiful, the tragic tale of his life with the Emperor Hadrian really got my attention. I started looking for gay fiction (they were kept separate back then!) and read what I could. They tended to swap between being fantasy (female writers) and about the serious AIDS issues of the 80s and 90s (male writers). I don’t really remember any of them being simply about a guy who loved another guy. There was always something else.
Anyway, I just started writing gay characters (and my own version of Antinous’ life with Hadrian) and kept going. I do have some f/m stories but 90% now are with gay characters. It’s just what I write. But it wasn’t until I joined Writing.com a few years ago and found that people liked my stories and found others who wrote them that I really felt like I wasn’t doing something weird.
I like that gay fiction now (most of the time, in any case) treats the characters as normal, just going about their lives. If only some people didn’t think ‘porn’ when hearing I write gay fiction!
‘What caught your attention?’
Gale turned. ‘Huh?’
‘Josh,’ Eric clarified. ‘I guess he was cute but were the others ugly?’
‘You’re seriously asking?’ Gale got out. ‘Looks aren’t everything.’
‘Aren’t they, beauty queen?’
‘Shut up,’ Gale growled and glared out the passenger window.
Eric grinned and remained quiet.
‘His smile actually,’ Gale muttered at the glass.
‘Not the crap bowling?’
Gale turned his gaze on his friend. ‘If I was attracted by crap bowling I’d have gotten myself a harem.’
Eric snorted. ‘Well, worked in your favour, didn’t it? And the fact it was something you could correct… Though,’ he added in a drawl, ‘I didn’t notice you offering advice to anyone else.’
Gale simply kept up the glare.
Eric bit the inside of his cheek. ‘His smile, huh?’
Gale sighed, leaned his head back. ‘Yeah. I just happened to look up when he was smiling at something or someone.’ He closed his eyes. ‘Bugger, I’m screwed.’
He felt a hand touch his arm briefly. ‘Hardly the first or last, mate,’ Eric told him.
‘Great pep talk, cheers.’
Eric laughed. ‘And so the smile egged you on?’
‘No, it was the bowling that did that.’ Gale smiled briefly. ‘Like you said, worked in my favour.’
‘Helped by your own bowling.’
Gale snorted. ‘Made me legit, I guess.’
Eric cracked more laughter. ‘You made his legit.’
‘Well, as I told you, he listened to me,’ Gale said.
‘Ah so… a cute smile and a pair of ears.’
‘Do you know how dirty you just made that sound?’ Gale grinned as he saw the flush rise. ‘And look at this, home. We can stop the inquisition.’
‘Fucking A,’ Eric said with a grin. He applied the handbrake. ‘You know I’ve got your back.’
‘Jesus, Eric, I’m not gonna do anything stupid.’
‘Yeah well,’ Eric said. ‘That’s debatable but I meant the boyfriend. Now I know there is one, I really don’t think things are fully right there.’
Gale considered his friend, was pretty darn sure Eric wasn’t joking about this. Damn, had he really missed something? He swallowed. ‘I’m not going to steal anyone from anyone,’ he said. ‘That’s not my intention. If I contact him that’ll be clear.’
‘I hope so,’ Eric said. ‘But I meant what I said, you know.’
‘I know and I’m grateful.’ Gale got out of the car, then leaned back in. ‘You know you’re just like Morgan.’
‘Yeah, that thought crossed my mind too,’ Eric said wryly. ‘Wing man for the gay guy.’
Gale snorted and swung the door closed, but Eric saw him grin as he walked to the front door.
– Love is Complicated by S Jade Castleton
Many of your characters are male, yet you are female. What are the challenges of writing from a perspective you’re not familiar with?
I’ve never really thought of challenges, to be honest. I write my characters almost without specific thought to their gender, even though I know what it is. I do sometimes pick up where a response or action may be too ‘girly’ but it doesn’t happen much. If I need to check something then I go to my friend, the Internet, mostly to online manga. I’ve found that ‘seeing’ helps clarify things I might be struggling to write correctly. But, I’ve been writing male characters all my life so I don’t feel weird doing so. Even if I have a dream where the character is female, when the idea is fleshed out the character invariably becomes male.
Do you have a favourite author? Or perhaps an author you view as an inspiration?
Well, I collect series. Does that make those authors favourites? If so, I have a whole lot of them across many genres! I’m more likely to admit to favourite books, than authors, but I do consider S.E. Hinton as an inspiring author. I read The Outsiders back in about 1988 and ever since I’ve been addicted to first person narrators. But I also loved the way she told that tale, both serious and funny. There’s one particular section of the book that can still make me instantly tear up.
What is your purpose in writing?
My purpose is selfish: I write to keep calm and sane. I write only when inspired but if I haven’t written anything fresh in a fortnight or so I get anxious.
I do aspire to be published, despite what I’ve said. But I’m not really sure why. It’s definitely not to make money and it’s not even really to have others read my things. I guess it’s more so I can say ‘I’ve published a book. See, writing isn’t a waste of time.’ I want to feel vindicated for all those years people’s eyes have glazed over when I’ve told them that I write.
You mention in your blog that none of your family have read your work. Do you think you’ll ever break that barrier between real life and your pseudonym? If so, when? What about friends and other people in real life?
Eek, I need to update that particular bit obviously as my parents and brother/sister know at least know I write gay fiction. My brother’s read a (non gay fiction) short story and my mum has in fact read a couple of my gay fiction short stories. No one’s batted an eye lid about it, and mum’s been good on editing too. Has never read my novels though and may not until they’re published. Could be because they’re darker, they have sex etc. It’s probably just me. I do have one friend who has read short stories and with whom I’ve talked about Watching Clouds. Was great to chat to but she has just retired so that link has been cut just a little. However, I’m writing a YA paranormal novel (parts thereof are actually on WDC) which she is keen to read the entirety of and so eggs me to finish.
As for breaking the barrier between real-life and pseudonym. No, not really. As daft as it is, all my gay fiction will be under the pseudonym. I don’t want it linked with ‘me’ and my friends who may just all freak out. Silly fear, I guess, but I also want to publish non gay fiction and I don’t want the two mixed up.
You can read more of Jade’s work, and her blog, at her website: www.sjadecastleton.com
Each piece of armour, selected with precision and ridiculous overthought, sat in a pile on the corner on my bed. I stood in my underwear and tried to inhale peace and tranquility, but only managed to suck in a faint taste of dust and desperation. This was it. This was the point of no return.
I drew on a pair of jeans that were so tight they redefined the term ‘skinny jeans’. I nearly fell, and ended up in an ungainly sprawl across my unmade bed. I tugged until my fingers ached, inching the jeans up my thighs. There was something ridiculously satisfying about gliding the zip up and pushing the button through the hole. I stood up and did a few knee bends, reminding myself that walking like a bow legged cowboy wasn’t part of the plan.
A white crew-neck T-shirt followed. It had that brand-new, straight-off-the-shop-shelf blindingly white glow, but I’d run through it through a wash cycle so it had that comforting fragrance of fabric softener. It smelled like home, even if home was an illusion. Maybe I just liked the smell. Was it lavender? Jasmine? I tugged it on over my head, wondering at the train of my own thoughts. Was I really contemplating fabric softener perfumes right now? I smiled a little, kind of amazed that I even could.
I left the jacket for now, and reached for my pride and joy – a pair of knee high vegan-leather boots. They’d cost me a shitload, but they were perfect. As I slid one foot in, then the other, I felt my smile grow. Fuck yeah, I loved these boots.
I sat down on the chair that accompanied the desk in my room, and reached for the items I’d set out earlier. I started with the tinted moisturiser. I’d thought about using a proper foundation, but I found the moisturiser had a more natural feel. I could forget I was wearing it. Nothing about this look was supposed to be subtle, and comfortable wasn’t what I was going for either, but fuck it, I wanted to be… me. I wanted to feel real. Fan-fucking-tastic, but real.
I applied the eyeliner with a steady hand, grateful for the wonder that is Youtube and the people who put makeup tutorials on there. You really can find anything online these days.
I finished my makeup and speared gelled fingers through my hair. I was going for that carefully mussed look, the one that says I don’t mind getting dirty, but also screams ‘You want this!’
When I was happy with my hair, I anointed myself with a cacao and amber scent that made my senses tingle. I grabbed the jacket that matched the boots, and glanced around the room before sweeping the few items I’d used into a backpack and reaching for the door handle. Shoulders back, chin up. I looked amazing, and I knew it. Tonight was my night.
I walked down the stairs, and was nearly at the front door when my father yelled my name from the living room. “Liam!” I spun on one heel and cocked an eyebrow. “What the hell are you wearing?” he growled, looking me up and down. “You look ridiculous. Are you wearing makeup?” I nodded, smirking. “Boys don’t wear makeup! You look like a goddamn girl! Tell him, Margaret. Tell him he looks like one of those pansy sissy boys. I didn’t raise no goddamn pansy. Get back upstairs and wash your face.”
I reached for the handle behind, and swung the door open. “No,” I replied. I wasn’t wasting emotion on this argument. Tonight I was embracing myself, and anyone who didn’t like it could go screw themselves. I’d had enough of caring about other people’s opinions.
“If you walk out of here like that, you can forget about coming back,” he spat. I smiled. Goddamn predictable as always. Good thing I’d packed my shit and had somewhere else to stay.
“Don’t wait up,” I tossed over my shoulder as I sauntered down the drive. I ignored the blustering and smiled up at the evening sky. Oh yeah. Tonight was definitely the point of no return.
“It’s a bad break. We need to get him to a doctor.”
Sam gritted his teeth against the pain while he listened to the McKenna brothers argue over what to do with him.
“I know,” replied Jack, “but it’s a good half day’s ride to the house and it’s damn near dark now. It’s not safe. He’s going to have to wait until morning.”
Sam breathed deeply, trying to find the strength to fight the pain. The last thing he wanted was to look like a weakling, a child, in front of his best friend Mike, and Mike’s older brothers. He was the youngest, but it didn’t mean he’d bawl like a baby or he needed rushing to the doctor for the smallest scratch. Okay, it wasn’t scratch, it was a broken arm, but still… “I’ll be fine,” he grunted. He looked up to find the other three men staring down at him, identical frowns on their foreheads.
“We don’t even have any painkillers, Sam,” Mike protested. “Dude, that’s gotta hurt.”
“I’ll be fine,” Sam repeated.
Jack’s face changed as he thought. Jack was the oldest of the McKenna brothers, with Riley between him and Mike. Sam and Mike had been best friends forever. “I might have something…” Jack murmured.
The other two brothers spun to look at Jack with narrowed eyes.
“What do you mean?”
“What have you got?”
They spoke in near unison, both clearly curious.
Jack smirked, and Sam tensed. It was bound to be something terrible, knowing Jack’s sense of humour. You’d think he’d be the responsible one, being the oldest, but he wasn’t. He loved dragging the younger guys into whatever mischief he’d cooked up.
When Jack drew a bottle of whisky from his saddlebag, jaws dropped.
“You can’t give him that,” hissed Riley. “He’s underage! He and Mike aren’t legal yet!”
Jack rolled his eyes. “I wouldn’t normally, but he’s broken his arm, Riley. He needs something for the pain. We can’t head back tonight, and even if we did, the trip’s going to be hard on him. This,” he lifted the bottle up, “will make it easier.”
“Oh god,” groaned Riley. “We’re going to be in so much trouble.”
Mike was grinning gleefully. “We won’t tell anyone, will we, Sam?”
Jack frowned. “You can’t have any. It’s for medicinal purposes only, and you ain’t hurt.”
“No way! If Sam’s drinking, I’m drinking!”
Despite the pain throbbing in his arm, Sam had to chuckle at the familiar sight of the brothers squaring off.
“What’s it gonna hurt, Jack?” asked Riley, playing the peacemaker as usual.
“Yes!” Mike did a fist pump and turned to grin at Sam.
Jack grumbled, but eventually gave in. “Set up camp first. Mike, since you’re all excited, you can take on Sam’s usual duties. Ah ah ah….”
Sam froze in a crouch and looked up at Jack.
“Sit your ass back down.”
“I can help.”
“Nope. You need to be as careful with that arm as possible, or you’re going to make the damage worse. Sit down, and let Mike do it.”
“It’s fine, Sam,” Mike yelled out as he ran to find firewood. “I got this!”
With a relief he didn’t really want to admit to, Sam leaned back against the saddlebags behind him and let the pain wash over him. The throbbing was radiating all the way up his arm and into his head, not to mention the searing pain every time he accidentally moved his arm. He knew he’d get through the night, but he wasn’t looking forward to it.
“Here,” Jack said, leaning forward with a small glass of whisky. “Sip it. Don’t gulp.”
Sam reached out with his good arm and took the drink. It smelled strong, with a faint hint of ash that reminded him of his father’s cigarettes. He sipped and gasped as the liquid hit his throat.
“Easy,” Jack cautioned. “Just let that settle and then take another. Slow and easy does it.”
Sam took another sip. He wasn’t sure he liked the taste, which seemed to be of smoke and chemicals, but if it was going to help with the pain in his arm, he was happy to give it a shot.
It wasn’t much longer before Mike was giggling and Sam was falling asleep. The warmth of the fire and the whisky combined to relax him, and the pain in his arm wasn’t bothering him as much anymore.
“You good, Sam?” Riley leaned over to ask. “You want me to help you move so you can go to sleep? Probably the best thing for you. Be a good idea to get a decent night’s sleep, since the ride in the morning will be hard for you.”
Sam smiled, but it felt a little lopsided on his face. “You guys are the best,” he murmured. Did his voice sound right?
Riley laughed, and the other two sat forward with eyebrows raised.
“What’s so funny?” they asked.
“Sam’s a bit pickled.”
“Maybe,” Sam mumbled, feeling his cheeks heat. “My face feels funny.”
Jack burst into peals of laughter. “Shit, Riley, don’t give him any more! He’s wasted!”
Riley wrapped an arm around Sam’s shoulder, careful not to jostle him. “You’re not truly wasted until you tell your friends that you love them, right, Sam?”
Sam felt a wave of ice wash over him. He stared up at Riley with wide eyes. “I wasn’t gonna tell him!”
The laughter from the other three faded into uncertainty in the face of Sam’s expression. “Dude, he didn’t mean you really loved us. It’s just something drunk people say,” Jack said. “And he didn’t mean love love, just mates. It’s not a gay thing. Chill, dude.”
“Oh shit,” Sam whispered. He looked up at Riley with worry in his eyes. “I fucked it up, didn’t I?”
“Fucked what up?” Riley asked.
“They didn’t know, but I thought they knew, but they didn’t, but now they do,” Sam babbled.
“What?” Riley frowned and smiled at the same time. “What did they know? Or not know? Shit, I’m confused.”
“Wait,” said Mike, “does this mean Sam’s in love with me?” His eyes grew wide and his mouth fell open.
Jack slapped a hand under Mike’s chin, causing him to howl in protest as he narrowly missed biting his tongue. “No, you dumbass,” Jack said, rolling his eyes. “He’s not in love with you. Who would love you?”
“Shut up. I’m loveable.” Mike looked over at Sam and Riley. “I’m totally loveable, right, guys?”
Riley laughed. “Sure, Mike, whatever you say.”
“Sam?” Mike asked, crawling around the fire to where Sam and Riley sat. “Tell them, Sam. Tell them how loveable I am.”
Jack groaned. “Dude, you’re fucking wasted. No more for him either, Riley.”
Riley reached over to push Mike away. “Don’t touch his arm, Mike.” He eased back and looked down at Sam. “You okay? You’ve gone quiet. Tired?”
“Um…” Sam tried to gather his wits, but his head was foggy and his thoughts were slip-sliding all over the place. “So, does that mean you guys know I’m gay or is it still a secret?”
For a moment, the only noise was the crackling fire, before Mike let loose with a loud “Fuck!”
“Mike!” Jack and Riley scolded in unison.
“What?!” he protested. “That’s…. That’s… Fuck!”
Jack pushed himself to his feet before walking around to cuff Mike on the back of the head.
“Ow! What’d you do that for?”
“Shut your mouth before you say something you regret, dumbass.”
“Shut it,” growled Jack.
Mike slumped, his mouth in a pout.
Jack circled around to crouch in front of Sam, careful not to get too close to the fire behind him. “Sam, you okay?”
“I dunno,” mumbled Sam. “I think I’m drunk.”
Jack laughed. “Yup, you certainly are. So is Mike.”
“Yeah,” said Sam with another lopsided smile. “We’re drunk.”
“So…” Jack drew out the word. He looked up at Riley as if seeking inspiration.
Sam felt Riley shrug.
“I’m guessing Mike didn’t know that you’re gay, huh?” Jack offered.
“Nah,” said Sam. “Nobody does.”
“Uh huh,” Jack nodded. “Is it okay that we know now?”
“I dunno,” shrugged Sam.
Riley squeezed him with the arm still wrapped around his shoulders. “Yeah, Sam, it’s okay.”
“Yeah,” Riley and Jack replied.
“Okay, good, I guess. I mean…” Sam trailed off and closed his eyes. “I’m tired. And I think I’m drunk.”
The older men laughed, and Riley withdrew to help rearrange Sam’s saddlebag so that he could lie back and use it as a pillow.
“Mike will be okay with it too,” Riley whispered. “He was just surprised.”
“He was?” asked Sam.
“Yeah. Not that you can tell now.” Riley gestured to Mike who lay on his side in the dirt, snoring. “Just give him time to get over his hangover and adjust to the news, and he’ll be fine. Now, get some sleep. And for god’s sake, don’t roll onto your arm in the middle of the night.” Riley reached down and rearranged Sam’s limbs into something resembling the recovery position. “Good night, Sam.”
“Night, Riley,” Sam mumbled.
I jolted out of my daydream as a foot caught me across the shins, sending me sprawling. The heels of my hands skidded along the grass as I tried to break my fall, smears of green and brown streaking up my wrists. My breath wooshed out as I landed, my backpack thumping into my lower back. As my chin thumped down on the ground, I was grateful I hadn’t been standing on concrete.
A shoe-clad foot smacked into my ribs, dislodging the left earpiece of my ipod, and the jeers and taunts filtered through.
The slurs and obscenities were unimaginative, to say the least. I knew better than to point that out though. I rolled in the direction of the kick, but my backpack was still on my back, preventing me from facing upwards. Not sure there was any point in seeing their faces though. They weren’t hiding from me. They knew damn well they were safe from any consequences. Even if I went and saw the dean or the principal, their rich-ass parents would pull some sob story and save them from any fallout. I’d probably end up expelled, knowing my…
I yelped as a foot caught me in the jaw, damn lucky that I hadn’t bitten right through my tongue. I was still reeling from the blow when a kick caught me on the side of my stomach. I gasped for air, drawing my knees up and wrapping my arms around my head. Someone placed their foot on my backside, shoving hard, causing my defensive pose to unravel and I sprawled forward. A blow to the temple had me seeing stars, and it took me a minute to register that something had changed.
“You all right?”
The voice came from close by, as if someone were kneeling beside me. A guy. I whimpered, unable to expose myself in case the danger hadn’t really passed.
“Jesus, you okay? They’re gone. Can you sit up? Shit, do I need to call an ambulance?”
I shook my head, but I wasn’t really sure. That last blow to my head had left me dazed.
Large warm hands grasped my shoulders, and I whimpered again. Despite myself, I winced. Could there be a more pathetic sound? Puppies whimper, not men. Only, I wasn’t much of a man, was I?
“Sorry, sorry,” came the voice again. “I’m trying to help you up, not hurt you. Can you sit up? Um….” He trailed off.
I pressed my palms against the ground and heaved up, my arms shaking. I rolled to a sitting position, wincing at the pain in my chest and my jaw. My backpack pulled me off balance, so I struggled to pull my arms through the straps.
“Let me help.” He gently tugged the straps down my arms and helped me ease the backpack off.
I slumped forward and pressed a hand to my ribs. With effort, I lifted my chin to look at my rescuer.
Just my luck. I’m a pathetic, dribbling mess and he’s gorgeous. I lifted one shoulder to wipe my chin on my t shirt just in case I really was dribbling. Drooling? Ugh. I bet he didn’t even need to style his hair, it just fell into perfect waves as he rolled out of bed. And those eyes! They should be illegal! I stared into them, imagining myself disappearing into their depths.
I jolted when his hand landed on my shoulder, my whole body lurching with the movement.
“Sorry,” he apologised again, his eyes crinkling at the corners as he frowned at me. “Are you with me? I think you need to get checked out. Maybe you have concussion. What’s your name?”
I dragged in a deep breath and pressed my palm harder against my ribs as pain shot through me. “Mason,” I said.
“Okay, Mason. I’m Ben. How’s your vision? You seeing double of anything?”
“Nope. Not unless there’s only one of you,” I joked.
He smiled at me. “Wanna try standing?”
I grabbed the warm hand he offered me. I swayed slightly on my feet, then released his hand and stepped back when I realised I was still holding on to him. My foot landed on the side of my backpack and I went sprawling backwards, my fall only arrested by his grasp as he snatched me back upright.
“Shit, maybe you were better off sitting. Damn it.” He looked around, but I wasn’t sure what he was looking for. “I really think you need to be checked out. I wonder…” His warm gaze stroked over me and I felt like I was about to melt into a puddle where I stood. “You think you could make it to my car if I helped you?”
He had a car? I had figured he was a high school student, same as me. Maybe a year older, but… I cut off my train of thought as I realised he was still waiting for an answer.
“Sure?” I offered.
He flashed me a quick smile then wrapped an arm around my waist. “Let’s give it a go.”
I found myself concentrating so hard on the warmth of his arm and the strength of his shoulder beside me that I barely noticed the aches and pain from my beating. I glanced up at him, only to find him staring down at me, our faces just centimeters apart. I quickly looked back down.
I didn’t understand why he was helping me. He was gorgeous and built, clearly one of the popular crowd, and didn’t he realise I was gay? If anyone saw him helping me…
He paused our journey toward the car park that was still a few meters away and turned to face me. “I don’t give a shit what people think. If they’re so small minded and bigoted that they’d judge me for helping someone in need, then their opinions are irrelevant. Who cares if you’re gay? You’re still a person, and no one deserves to get beaten up for something they have no control over.”
My eyes felt like they were going to pop out of my head. “Ahhh….” I scrabbled to get my brain back on track. “Did… Did I say that out loud? I only meant to think it.”
“You shouldn’t even be thinking it. You shouldn’t even… Argh, don’t get me started.” He took up his position beside me and we started off again. As we reached a dark brown sedan that looks like it had seen better years, I leaned back against the cool metal and realised I’d left my backpack behind. “Oh shit, my backpack! It’s got all my school stuff in it and my…”
He swung it off his shoulder.
“Oh. I didn’t see it there.” Duh, obviously. I didn’t even remember him picking it up. Maybe I was concussed. Or maybe this guy, Ben, was so freaking hot he was melting my brain cells.
He asked me questions as we drove to the hospital. About myself, what I was studying at high school, my family, even questions about the family dog. I was puzzled by his interest, but flattered, until we pulled up at the hospital and the metaphorical lightbulb in my brain came on. Of course, he was just checking I was alert, and wasn’t going to doze off into a coma. He wasn’t actually interested in me. God, I was stupid. I would have smacked myself in the forehead, but frankly I hurt enough already.
We had to wait an hour to see a doctor, and by then I was stiff and aching and my head felt like chipmunks were practicing the anvil chorus in there. Ben knew pretty much my entire life story by then, but hadn’t shared a lot about himself. Typical. No, I shouldn’t think like that. A typical guy would never have bothered to check if I was okay, let alone take me to A&E to see a doctor. Really, typical was about the last word I should use to describe Ben.
The doctor said I had mild concussion, and was told to take some over-the-counter pain relief and ensure someone checked in on me over the next 24 hours. Ben drove me home, and I wasn’t sure if he was unsurprised at the dump I called home, or if he was just very clever at hiding his expression.
“There’s someone here who can check up on you?” he asked as he parked up against the curb.
“Yeah,” I replied, careful not to nod in case my aching head rolled straight off my shoulders. “One of my folks will be home at least.”
Even as I said it, the front door opened.
“Mason! Where have you been? Your boss rang.”
I groaned. I had totally forgotten about my after school job at the bookstore. “I forgot to call him. I, uh, had an accident and Ben took me to the hospital.”
Ben climbed out of the car, and walked around to shake my mother’s hand. Seriously? Who does that anymore?
“Sorry we didn’t think to call, ma’am. Turns out Mason has concussion and so he probably shouldn’t be working in any case. The doctor said he needs to rest for at least 24 hours.”
Watching my mother fall under Ben’s spell, I was glad to know I wasn’t the only one who found him irresistible.
“Mason,” he said, nudging me.
I glanced up, my cheeks heating as I realised I’d been lost in my daydreams again. “Yeah?”
“I’ll pop by tomorrow and make sure you’re feeling better, okay?”
“Why?” I waved my hand at him. “You don’t need to. I really appreciate your help today though. Thank you.”
“You have so many friends that you can afford to turn a new one away?”
“What?” I frowned at him, then tried to uncrinkle my forehead as frowning apparently doesn’t go with concussion headaches. “You… What?”
He laughed, and I knew I was doomed.
“I’ll see you tomorrow.” He nodded at my mother. “Ma’am.”
I stood stiffly by my mother as we both watched Ben clamber back in his car and drive off.
“So, new friend?” she asked as I shuffled my way up the path to the front door.
“Mum, don’t start. I’m 99% sure he isn’t gay. I’m sure he would have said so.”
“Maybe not. But he seems like a lovely young man. Now, you park yourself on the couch, and then I want to hear the whole story.”
I groaned. “Can I at least have some Panadol before the interrogation?”