Head back. Chin forward. Nose pinched. Dylan instinctively remembered the drill for the respiration part of CPR, but he had never done this before except in training with lifelike dummies. How was he going to save Jake when the water was so deep he couldn’t stand up and he needed solid ground beneath his feet for support? He wasn’t even sure he could keep him steady on his longboard and get close enough without spilling him into the ocean. He stared anxiously down into his friend’s pale face and pushed Jake’s wet curls away from his nose and mouth. Even with the steady heartbeat fluttering in his throat, Jake looked so lifeless, so still. Precious seconds were being wasted with his indecision.
“Let’s go, guys,” he told Marcus and Noah. “We have to get him into shallower water so I can work. Try not to jostle him too much and whatever you do, don’t let him slip off the board.”
As a unit, they began to move quickly towards shore, letting the surging current propel them. By now a group of fellow surfers who had noticed Jake’s wipe-out rushed in, eager to assist and circling around them. Some helped tow Jake, others folded their arms over his legs and torso so he wouldn’t fall and two grabbed the three long-forgotten surfboards belonging to Jake’s friends. Within half a minute, under the momentum of a few strong crests, they were standing in water chest-high on the welcomed sand where Dylan felt he could successfully perform rescue breathing. It was now or never, and he quickly slipped into authority.
“Noah, you and…” he pointed at several tanned, muscular men in their late twenties, “you five, hold the surfboard steady.” He stared at a young teenager. “You, watch out for breaking waves and give me fair warning. Marc, I need you to plug his nose.”
Dylan knew that, no matter how inelegant his technique would be in the oscillating water, he had to get air into the boy’s lungs immediately. He slipped his hand underneath Jake’s neck to brace him properly, used his other hand to grasp his chin and leaned into him to seal his mouth with his own. He felt Marcus’ hand snake in and pinch the nostrils shut and nodded that he was ready to begin. Timing silently in his head, he gave Jake three deep, slow breaths, noticing with relief the steady rise and fall of his chest in his peripheral vision. Suddenly he sensed Jake stirring to life under him. Oh, thank God.
Needing to gasp deeply for oxygen, Jake felt himself being yanked from a twilight of sorts into the sensations of chilly wetness surrounding his body, the taste of salt on his tongue and someone’s soft lips on his own. His gut hurt like hell and nausea turned it upside down. All of a sudden he was gagging and retching.
“Hold him steady now,” someone said. The voice sounded commanding and familiar.
Sturdy hands rolled his upper body against a hard surface. Tilted on his side, he began to throw up what seemed like gallons of seawater. Dimly, he heard cheering and felt someone hitting him firmly between his shoulder blades to help empty his stomach. Once he finished choking, the blows soothed into calming circles.
“Slowly,” he was instructed. “Take it easy.” Jake knew that voice. He craved that voice.
“You scared the shit out of us, Jake.” That voice was Noah’s.
“Wave,” somebody screamed frantically.
Dylan thought fast. It would be disastrous for Jake to get sucked under yet another large swell. He would have to guide him over it, if possible; through it, if necessary.
The same toned arms grabbed Jake up and nestled him firmly into a wetsuit-covered torso. “Hold your breath, Jake,” came the well-loved whisper into his ear. “Don’t breathe the water.”
The roar of the comber engulfed him and his rescuer, and he felt the arms tighten around him more securely and clasp him fast even as the other’s feet dug in against the uneven ocean floor to stay upright. It was good that Dylan was holding him because Jake was so weak he could barely move his own legs. They were plunged into the swirling foam that gushed over their heads and battered around them, and he did what he was told. Once the breaker passed, Jake finally opened his green eyes and stared thankfully into the cerulean blues of his hero as water streamed off the two of them. Smiling at him in relief, Dylan still had him by the shoulders as Noah and Marcus rushed to hug them both with huge, joyful grins plastered on their faces. The morning blazed sunny and warm without a single cloud in the sky.
“Are you okay?” Marcus asked tremulously. It was quite obvious that he had been crying because his eyes were swollen.
“I think so.” The crowd around the four boys pressed in on them. “What happened?” he asked dully.
It all came back to him now. The set-up into the perfect barrel, the immediate realization that his stance was wrong and inability to correct it, falling head first and being slammed to the bottom. He rolled his head slowly and felt the muscles of his neck spasm. Yeah, that was the contact point.
“You went over the falls on that last wave,” Noah replied in a hushed voice. “Dylan found you unconscious underwater, and you weren’t breathing. He had to give you CPR.”
“Thanks,” Jake mumbled, hanging his head. He felt his face get warm remembering the soft, cool lips fastened to his mouth. Knowing they belonged to his longed-for boyfriend was both hot and embarrassing. And, as silly as it seemed in the face of his almost-tragedy, he was humiliated by getting forcibly bailed off his board, dragged to the bottom and being saved from drowning. By Dylan.
He seemed to sense Jake’s discomfort and let go of him, but not before giving his shoulder a squeeze. “It’s alright.”
At that moment, their attention was diverted by the arrival of the two rescue personnel in a small motorized craft that pulled up alongside and cut the engine. Against his vehement protests, Jake was quickly loaded on board, and his three friends followed them to shore. The lifeguards used their first aid training to assess him and took vitals, insisting that Jake lie flat on a provided backboard although he complained that he was fine. When they asked him whether he lost consciousness, he couldn’t remember, and Dylan explained the accident from his point of view.
“You did good,” one of the lifeguards nodded to him and then looked around at the crowd of surfers. “All of you did.”
They heard an approaching siren. The rescue squad from the local fire department pulled off the small access road and gingerly made its way across the sand to stop next to them. The crowd parted when three firefighters jumped out and began to unload their equipment before approaching the injured boy.
That’s when Jake began to lose it. He had been brave when he came to and found himself floating in the middle of the ocean and being kissed by Dylan Moore. Puking his guts out and water crashing around him while his friends treated him like a fragile piece of glass. Knowing that if it wasn’t for Dylan, how close he’d come to dying.
Ever since, he had been fighting a growing sense of panic and unreality from his ordeal, and this was just too much. He knew that the EMTs would insist on taking him to the emergency room. He loathed hospitals. The smell of disinfectant, the bright fluorescent lights and the noise of the incessant intercom calling doctors here and there, the whole idea of illness and injury made him feel like puking again.
Jake flailed his arms and pushed into a sitting position. “I am not going to the hospital,” he yelled. “I’m fine.” Throwing himself against the lifeguards hovering over him, he tried to stand and staggered against the dizziness that came out of nowhere. He pitched sideways into the nearest warm body, which was Dylan’s.
Dylan reached for his shoulder to halt him and was practically bowled over. One arm encircled Jake’s waist, the other made contact with damp brown hair. Entwining his fingers into his curls he grasped the back of his head and refused to let go. “Jake, stop it and listen to me.” He gave him a little squeeze that miraculously calmed the younger boy enough to make him pay attention. Jake turned his frightened gaze up toward him.
“Let these people help you,” Dylan pleaded. “They need to check you out and make sure you didn’t get any salt water in your lungs. Go with them. I promise you’ll be okay, and we’ll be right behind.”
Jake tried to shake his head and it just made him feel worse. “N-n-not alone, they can’t make me.”
Marcus turned to the nearest EMT. “I’m his cousin. Can I travel to the hospital with him?”
The technician was about to say no when Jake looked at him pleadingly. It was easy to see that the kid was terrified and a thrashing patient would be dangerous in the vehicle. There was also no mistaking the fact that they were related, not with those identical green eyes and dimples. Realizing that Marcus’ presence might keep him from freaking out more, he nodded. “As long as you stay out of the way.”
Once the decision was made, Jake settled down and let the emergency workers take over. He mentioned the stiffness and pain in his neck and one of them fitted a cervical collar on him. Leads went on his chest, an oxygen mask placed over his nose and mouth just to be on the safe side. Dylan assured them that he would personally drive Jake’s truck home. Marcus was already on the telephone with his mom, and once she got over the concern of Jake’s near miss, she promised to meet them at the hospital. She would leave the back garage door unlocked so Dylan could store their gear.
Jake was put on a stretcher and loaded in the back of the ambulance with Marcus hopping in behind him to make the three mile journey to Samaritan Medical Center in San Clemente. Dylan and Noah loaded up their belongings in Jake’s Ford pick-up and Noah’s newer Silverado and drove off right after.
For all his earlier distress, numerous procedures and tests revealed that Jake’s injuries were shockingly mild. He sustained mild damage to the soft tissue of his neck but no spinal cord damage, and the muscle strain would work itself out over time with some light prescription pain medication. Chest x-rays and ultrasound revealed no sign of water in his lungs, nor had he suffered any ill effects from the short-term oxygen deprivation. He had a mild concussion and was kept in the ER most of the day under observation until the doctor felt it was safe for him to return home.
Aunt Pat in her colorful clothing and with a strident laugh covering her anxiety had flown into the medical center like a ship under full sail, followed shortly by a more composed Uncle Avery, and they provided a comforting presence for Jake. Noah and Dylan, who sped to the hospital after they took care of securing their belongings, left early under the Walkers’ urging when they realized they were not going to be allowed back in the cubicle for more than a few minutes at a time.
Not before teasing Jake unmercifully, however, with Marcus’ assistance and winks at his aunt and uncle, for being such a daredevil. The staff was quickly filled in to the reason for the cute teenager’s ER visit in no time. Finally calmed down when he learned he was relatively unscathed and would not be spending the night, Jake took the banter in stride but was relieved to depart the hospital late in the afternoon with his family.
One of the first things Aunt Pat did once they arrived was discreetly call Jake’s mother and tell her about the accident. The reason was two-fold; as his parent she deserved to know that he had been injured, but just as important, Carolyn needed to intercept any insurance information before it landed on her husband’s desk. As expected, she reacted with distress and immediately demanded to speak to Jake.
“Mom, I’m fine,” he tried to soothe her. “Please don’t worry. They didn’t even keep me overnight.”
“Don’t treat this like it isn’t a big deal,” Carolyn exclaimed frantically. She was free to speak openly only because George hadn’t returned home from work yet. “I’ve always worried about your surfing and the risks you take.”
Jake sighed. “I wasn’t taking any risks. It was a freak wave, Mom, and it could’ve happened to even the most experienced surfer. Nothing’s broken.” He and his aunt had decided it did no good to tell her that he lost consciousness and needed to be brought back with CPR.
She asked a few more questions and, once satisfied that he was going to recover fully, Carolyn changed the subject. “Have you been in touch with any of your friends here in Madera?”
With the threats of his father ringing in his ears, Jake had been so careful to keep his new life separate from his old. He realized the danger of alerting anyone who might turn informant, but it was more than that. Following his one and only drinking mistake from just over a year ago, Jake didn’t have a lot of friends in his high school that he trusted to keep a secret. The students he remembered, even the ones he had played baseball with for three years and should have known better, had whispered behind their hands even if they hadn’t snickered outright in his face. Trust them? No way!
Carolyn told him his father had gone through old cell phone records to locate telephone numbers Jake had called frequently while living at home, making inquiries to see if anyone had heard from him. Jake’s face set itself in a scowl. He could just envision the horror stories good ole Dad was sharing with the guys he stopped hanging out with for good reason. His only consolation came in remembering he never planned to return to the area and, therefore, didn’t have to worry about any of those assholes. They were his history, not his present or future. They could believe any number of trumped up tales about him that had circulated as rumor from his senior year at West Madera High. George’s opinion of him was already bad enough; if they maliciously shared them with his father, it wouldn’t change anything about their relationship.
Jake would have loved nothing more than to go to bed after he finished the telephone conversation, but the doctor had warned Pat that, because of his concussion, he needed to stay awake for several hours. He was therefore allowed a quick shower to wash out the remnants of the itchy sand from his hair and private places and settled close to family activity. Dressed in a t-shirt and track pants, he bundled under covers on the couch to watch boring television. Pat fussed around him and tried to get him to eat some light fare but he wasn’t a bit hungry.
His neck hurt when he tried to turn it, and he had a mild headache. He took the Tramadol prescribed by the ER physician, but it made him sleepy. Every time he closed his eyes he felt like he was still floating in the cold water of the Pacific and the sensation made him queasy and lightheaded. He supposed this could be the physical reaction to the concussion, but it was unpleasant and he forced himself to think of something besides vomiting over the side of his surfboard.
He settled for a sweeter image. Recalling the point just before he got sick, Jake felt anew the very first impression he’d been conscious of. The slightly chapped lips that had lingered warm and reassuring and tasting of sea salt, firmly affixed to his own and passing needed air into his starving lungs. Jake let his emotions carry him along, not up to battling an unhappy fact that left him feeling depressed. The reality telling him that Dylan had a job to do- saving Jake’s life- and it was not in any way romantic. It wouldn’t have mattered whether he was a friend or a stranger; the results would’ve been the same. That was the kind of wonderful person Dylan was. It was what he had been taught to do.
Even if the older boy hadn’t been kissing him, Jake could still make believe and savor the moment. He allowed himself to drop into his own little fantasy world where Dylan wasn’t straight and was into him and they were in love. As he had already discovered, it was his favorite place to live. He had no doubt that he loved Dylan Moore absolutely, and he longed for a real connection with him but he felt so torn. Jake was already miserable enough for not being able to let him in on his secret, but nothing good would come of it. He didn’t even have the courage to tell Dylan he was gay. What would happen when he could no longer fight the common sense that kept his feelings hidden? Well, that wasn’t hard to guess, and he cringed at the thought of Dylan’s disgusted reaction.
If only Dylan was gay and wanted him in the same way, Jake would show him more devotion than he could ever imagine. He’d surround him with tenderness and the depth of a solid relationship that would bind them in total commitment. He knew he could be all the man Dylan would ever need. They were so in sync with each other already, and add passion into the mix along with a healthy sex life…
Stop it! It was not to going to happen. Dylan was not in love with him and could never be. He was a good friend, and that should be enough. Jake certainly didn’t need to muck it up by inserting some unwanted agenda that would drive him away. He assessed it for what it was- a weakness in him to let these headstrong desires take charge. But just for today, couldn’t he let himself be weak? Give himself a pass for this one time because he was too tired and sick to fight it off? That sounded reasonable. Today he would indulge himself mentally, but starting tomorrow he would work more diligently to put Dylan out of his mind. Dylan had made it clear that he wanted Kelsey and he would not stand in their way.
Unfortunately, Jake was weak in other places and, as the visions in his head soared so did they bring forth the lust that caused his other head to make its needs known. He recalled that Dylan’s chest was completely hairless and absently wondered if he shaved everywhere like many collegiate swimmers did. His tight washboard abs were perfect, the requisite board shorts hid lithe hips that nestled his unexplored package and couldn’t hide the good muscle structure of a well-toned ass needed by an athlete. What Jake wanted Dylan to do with that ass and hips was nothing short of X-rated.
Jake felt his dick harden and fill and was glad to have the lower half of his body covered by the quilt. How his hand wanted to take care of this affliction was not for public viewing either and would have to wait for the privacy of his bedroom. Even if his only reality was lying on a rolling surfboard with his stomach twisting as if turned inside out, he could see himself naked on a soft bed and moving feverishly underneath the strong but slender body of the tall, blonde boy. He moaned quietly with an ache even his fingers couldn’t relieve.
“Are you alright, Jacobaby?” Aunt Pat had slipped into the family room unnoticed, and now she observed him carefully for signs of pain. “Do you need more medication?”
He ducked his head to hide his pink cheeks and shifted beneath the covers to unobtrusively straighten out his erection.
“I’m fine. My neck… um, the muscle spasms hurt a little, but I’ll be okay.”
She pulled his earlobe in fun. “Let me know if you need anything.”
“I just wish I could go to sleep.”
“Nobody said you can’t,” Pat laughed. “You just can’t stay asleep. I’ll wake you up when I need to.”
Several short naps and a light meal of chicken soup later- his aunt insisted it was good for everything- and Jake felt much better. It was early evening. He was dozing again on the sofa when wild ringing of the doorbell startled him. Marcus ran to let in Sage, Spencer, Luis and Noah. They were all talking at once when they trooped into the family room.
Sage immediately rushed over to Jake, her long hair flying behind her in braids, and leaned over to give him a sound kiss on the forehead. “Glad to see you’re not dead, you idiot,” she beamed in amusement.
“Sorry to disappoint, but no.”
Jake looked up from his vantage point on the couch past her long, tanned legs in her ripped denim shorts to her quirky smile and returned one of his own. No matter what Dylan ultimately decided to do about Kelsey, he was glad the others in Marcus’ group of friends liked him well enough to make sure he was still in one piece. They settled in a circle around him, with Marcus, Spencer and Luis taking the floor while Sage sat on Noah’s lap in an armchair.
“Didn’t yo’ mama teach you to stay out of the deep water?” Luis teased, his dark eyes glowing against his olive complexion.
Jake broke into giggles with the rest of them. “Since when do we listen to our mom’s?”
“Maybe you need to,” Spencer chided him with a wink, throwing his long blonde hair over his shoulder. “What, are you turning into a grom or something?”
“Marcus, Spencer called me a grom,” Jake fake-whined like a child, pouting at being referred to as an inept newbie. He turned to his cousin, wincing slightly in pain. “Kill him for me.”
Marcus tackled Spencer to the floor as Sage shrieked, overjoyed at watching her twin getting manhandled. Chaos ensued for a few minutes as everyone joined in until a playful “settle down, kids” from Uncle Avery echoed in from the other room.
“Yeah, settle down, kids.” Noah repeated. “Mind your manners.”
Luis leered at Jake. “Who were you showing off for on the lineup?” He cackled and elbowed the beleaguered Spencer in the ribs. “Some cute chick paddling around out there?”
Noah and Marcus smirked at each other, and Jake shot them a dark look. He couldn’t hide his discomfort. “No distractions, just stupidity. I got caught up in a rogue that was heavier than I thought.”
There was a pregnant pause in the conversation. Sage glanced from a grinning Noah to Spencer’s crossed eyes and back to Jake. “The real reason we’re here is to personally invite you to our annual ‘Finally School’s Out’ bonfire tomorrow night.”
“Is it that time already?” Marcus piped up, an excited gleam in his green eyes. He turned to Jake. “It is the biggest, most bitchin’ party you’ll see all season. Sage and Spencer’s Aunt Roz has this huge house in a gated community on the coast with a big garden patio and a beach that is more or less private. She has the food catered, and it’s good stuff. She even hires a local band. Swimming, drinking, dancing- everything’s free.
“We really want you to come,” Spencer said earnestly. “I mean, if you’re feeling better by tomorrow night.”
Jake rolled his eyes with a grin. More wealthy people, he reflected; they seemed to grow like weeds here. The best part was that, despite their money, they were all down-to-earth and likable. With the exception of Kelsey, nobody was a snob.
Speaking of Kelsey…
“Look, Jake.” Sage’s voice was apologetic. “I know she can be…”
“First-class bitchy?” her brother offered.
“Whiny?” Luis added, the red highlights of his hair turning to flame in the dim lamplight.
“A snotty brat,” Noah insisted, “unable to see beyond her own selfish needs?” He kissed Sage’s cheek in apology for his harsh pronouncement.
“Try all of the above,” Marcus said darkly, playing with a loose thread on the quilt and throwing meaningful glances at Jake. “So does that mean you invited her, Sage?”
“She helped me plan the party. I can’t just uninvited her, but I did speak to her Tuesday night after the episode on the beach.”
“More like, yelled at her all the way home,” Spencer grinned in glee, remembering the quivering mess of teary-eyed girl huddled in the back seat of the car, apparently realizing she was going to lose all of her friends if she didn’t grow up. “Kelsey was, uh… more subdued, I guess you could say… anyway, I’d never seen her totally speechless before.”
“I merely said if she wasn’t so jealous she’d be more fun to be around,” Sage sniffed, hurt at the way they were dissing her best friend. “Maybe she should just let us all get along instead of starting fights and forcing people to take sides. You know, because you and Dylan are guys and he’s besties with Noah and Marcus, it’s natural that you’re friends too. I told her to stop worrying so much. She has the most to lose if she keeps it up.
“Please, Jake,” she entreated. “I think she finally understands, and she says she’ll behave. No more outbursts and blaming you for things that aren’t your fault. We truly want you there.”
Jake sighed. He really did want to attend the bonfire because he needed some fun after the week he’d had. If he was going to make Aleppo Park his home he had to start branching out and making more friends. Besides, Dylan would go.
Then he mentally slapped himself. He had vowed to put thoughts of the older boy away and stop dreaming about him. Still…
“Okay, I should be mostly recovered by tomorrow. Unless something weird happens where I suddenly get worse overnight or something else crops up, I’ll be there.”
There were triumphantly happy smiles all around, and Jake felt a sudden warm glow at being liked.
Later that night, in bed and finally able to safely fall asleep after his concussion, his drifting mind relived the events of the day for him. His hand reached out to grasp his semi-hard cock and take care of business, but his eyes closed before he had the chance to touch himself. He would not remember what he dreamed about but it wasn’t Dylan.
After departing the hospital Friday morning, Dylan let Noah take him back to his house where he’d left his Honda and drove home. He was exhausted but revved up in exhilaration at the same time. Never before had he needed to use his lifesaving skills, and the fact that he’d known how to react to an emergency and rescued a friend from drowning did wonders for his self-esteem. That he had also provided Jake a calming influence when he was freaking out after the accident and refusing to go to the hospital made him feel even better.
It had been a week to pull him in all directions. Obviously, Jake’s near-tragedy was the lowest point on the scale of events, but there were other things to consider. Tuesday night when Kelsey had accused Jake of using his influence to kick her off the yacht on the Catalina Island trip was nearly as bad, at least in an emotional sense. He had never grasped how possessive she had become of him until he observed her wrath and heard each taunt fall from her spiteful mouth.
Despite being angry and wounded, Jake hadn’t resorted to her tactics; he had disappeared into the dark to lick his wounds. Dylan still felt awful for being so indecisive and not following him. Working the pieces of information like a puzzle brought him no reassurance, and if saving Jake today was a triumphant achievement, then that night was etched in Dylan’s memory as one of his most dismal failures.
Dylan had watched Sage and Spencer stomp back over to them a half-hour after following Jake down the beach, angrily collect the weeping Kelsey and leave. Noah showed up next to gather up his gear as well as Marcus and Jake’s. He didn’t even acknowledge Dylan’s presence, so the blonde knew they were not cool with each other.
“Is Jake okay?” he asked anxiously.
Noah looked at him square in the face. “No, and why should he be? Are you too blind to see that what Kelsey did tonight was uncalled for?”
Caught in between two friends, Dylan had made a vague vacillating gesture that Noah caught immediately. “Everyone else but you noticed it.” he exclaimed angrily.
“I did notice but…” Dylan shrugged feebly. He hated confrontation like this when the solution was just out of his reach. He felt it was his duty to make things right for everyone with no hard feelings.
“Why does Kelsey treat him like he’s such a threat to her?” the redhead asked, exasperated.
Dylan thought a moment, venturing, “Maybe she feels threatened. We should have asked Kelsey to go with us on Sunday.”
Noah looked at him as he’d grown antlers. “Are you fucking kidding me? This all started Friday night at the cin… no wait, it started the first time Kelsey laid eyes on Jake. She is so jealous of him that her face is turning green. Putting the two of them together on the confines of your yacht would’ve been like hitting a beehive with a stick.”
Deep in his heart, Dylan knew Noah was right, but he still wasn’t ready to concede defeat. “Maybe she doesn’t understand what she’s doing.”
“Dylan, that’s bullshit. Excuses like that enable her behavior.” Noah knew about these kinds of things because his oldest sister was a psychologist and often threw those kinds of words around. “People always feel sorry for poor little Kelsey, not the people she destroys with her temper tantrums. It’s sickening.”
“I wanted to go and tell him…” Dylan looked crestfallen, wondering again if maybe he should’ve left Kelsey to work out her problems by herself.
“Yeah? Well, you didn’t. You’re too busy making sure she was okay. Kelsey is never going to stop acting like a bitch until she’s forced to. It’s going to take effort on all our parts.”
Dylan hung his head, unwilling to admit he knew what Noah was talking about. He changed the subject by indicating Noah’s full hands. “Do you guys need any help?”
Noah shook his head. “I’ll get it. Jake’s really hurt and just wants to go home.”
“Well, at least let me put the boards in the back of his truck.”
“No, Dylan.” He twisted to move Jake’s surfboard out of his reach. “Leave him alone and let him get over it. You stayed here with her, so you made it very plain you took her side. If you go over there, you’re just rubbing his face in it.”
Dylan had watched helplessly as Noah moved off in the darkness toward the parking lot and leaving him by himself, feeling like shit. And now here they were, three days later and bumping up against the Caldwells’ bonfire the next night, and he shuddered at the possibility of Kelsey going off on him again. Only this time, Dylan was going to do the right thing.
Gah! Dylan tried to make himself think of something more pleasant than the Kelsey situation. Catalina Island! He smiled about the trip with his friends. Talking to Jake had been fun. He was in Boy Scouts just like him at about the same time and even worked on the same badge. He’d been clearly impressed with the yacht too and had enjoyed his crewing chores. The whole day had been nice, at least up until the point where Erin had overreacted to Spencer’s kidding and almost disclosed something he wasn’t ready to share.
Would he ever be? Dylan sighed.
By the middle of Dylan’s senior year he was no longer willing or able to commit emotionally to girls or endure shallow relationships with them even for the sake of appearances. Not even to stifle gossip at school about why one of Aleppo High’s most popular seniors had suddenly stopped dating… anyone. He couldn’t care less about having a girlfriend, but why he wasn’t able to fall in love and stay there became an obsession.
Then one day he was in the locker room after swim practice. Almost fully dressed and ready to head out for the parking lot, he observed four members of the varsity squad on the butterfly relay team enter after a thorough drumming down by their coach for sloppiness. A new senior, tiny with black hair and hard muscles across his back and shoulders, slipped off his speedos to go shower, and Dylan felt his dick harden in his jeans at the sight of the boy’s sleek ass cheeks rising and falling in rhythm to his easy-going gait. Sinfully smooth-looking skin that glowed and the sway of his hips below a well-proportioned back. Dylan was dismayed by his quick arousal, and he fled the school in panicked denial.
However, from that point on he noticed male body parts everywhere. The brightness of a neighbor boy’s shy eyes, the soft lips of the kid who owned the locker three down from his, the slender fingers on a fellow swimmer’s hand; it drove him crazy. He could be sitting on the senior patio eating lunch and subconsciously checking out a male student before abruptly returning to attention, hoping desperately nobody was watching. He only knew one solution to hide behind, and that was to jump back into the social scene and fake his way through dating girls. Not sex, but at least take a girl to dances. Or allow himself to flirt with his gaggle of female admirers, headed by Kelsey, who followed him around to the swim meets. And if he was secretly terrified about what he thought it all meant and he lost his self-confidence nobody else had to know.
By the time Dylan began his freshman year of college, he acknowledged that he was probably gay. He didn’t consider himself bisexual or that new term, pansexual, because he’d lost all interest in women. They were fine for friends, but he wouldn’t be caught in bed with one under any circumstances. Like a metaphorical stepping stone on his travels to self-discovery, he could look back at his dating history and easily see the clues he’d missed along the way, even if he did get a late start on figuring out what he really needed. It wasn’t necessary for him to announce it to the world.
Maybe it was being in the new, less-of-a-fishbowl environment of a large, anonymous university campus where Dylan didn’t have to concern himself over what his friends might think. Strangely, once he accepted the truth, it settled him down and he stopped pretending to be straight. That didn’t mean throwing himself in the opposite direction by dressing in rainbow colors and plastering his car with No H8 bumper stickers. His sexuality was his business, not for public consumption. The only ones he owed an explanation to were his parents, and they had always been so open and unbiased in their opinions he didn’t even fear telling them. The first thing they did when he came out to them was send him over to talk to his father’s youngest brother, Uncle Christopher, and his husband, Uncle Bruce.
It took the patience and wisdom of these two men he had known his whole life, whom he loved and admired for their candor and joie de vivre, to convince him he would get through this. They had come of age in the less-tolerant eighties and knew a few things. First of all, confirming that at this stage of being single, Dylan was only responsible for being true to Dylan and it did not mean he had to stand in the middle of the Long Beach campus and shout out that he was gay. He didn’t even have to tell his best friends in Aleppo Park until he was ready. Go quietly about his life, stay alert to those who might offer support and be cautiously receptive toward new experiences. This would teach him everything he needed to learn.
Dylan returned to college for his second year and followed his uncles’ advice. He had met an openly gay student, Troy, the previous term who was looking for a roommate to share his four-man dorm with, and the other two sophomores in it were friendly and easy-going. He told Troy he was gay, but neither of them was attracted to the other, so they remained friends. Dylan didn’t date at all. He was too closeted to get involved in the university LGBT-community activities and wasn’t even tempted to try out any of the downtown clubs. Frankly, he was a little intimidated by the idea of intimacy with another man and decided sex could wait.
When he approached Christopher and Bruce with his fears, they told him he was perfectly normal. No, more than normal; he was being level-headed and mature. Being gay in some ways wasn’t any different than being straight, and he didn’t have to prove himself by falling into some stranger’s bed. Sooner or later he would meet somebody who would mean the world to him, and he would want to share every aspect of his life with him. Dylan now began to sense he’d found that somebody.
Except that Jake wasn’t gay.
(To be continued...)