Despite the three beers he’d drunk at Noah’s house on Saturday night, Dylan awoke energized and feeling pleased with himself the following morning. He had told his best friends he was gay, and they had reacted better than expected. They were mostly compassionate, a little amused maybe but with no drama, no threats and no evident disappointment in him. Nobody had even asked why he was so tardy in revealing a detail that important when they had been friends for the past three years. Relieved to the core, he had much to be grateful for.
Jake, for one. As if he was floating like a feather, Dylan felt lifted by hope, weightless on a soft gust of air that was nearly electrified. The dance steps that waltzed him through the house the previous weekend had nothing on the wings that guided him after yesterday’s breakfast at Denny’s. The memory flashed again and again like pulses in his brain. Jake, his mouth half-open, smiling at him in bewildered joy. What were the chances that a man he liked- the very first he was ever attracted to- would be gay? Better than that; seemingly delighted that Dylan was too?
Beyond that point, he was stumped. He had never before cared about anyone at this level of intensity, so what did he do to find out if the feeling was mutual? He figured it couldn’t be too different from getting a girlfriend. The mechanics should work the same. They were already friends, so that barrier had been breached, and he assumed the next step would be seeing if Jake wanted more than the friendship. Even though they already hung out a lot, maybe he would go out with him on a date to see if they clicked. Wondering if Jake was willing to take a chance on him was agonizing uncertainty, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. Dylan knew it was on his shoulders to make the first move and that would take more courage than he possessed at the moment.
Even though he’d been raised in an environment where he had never encountered much bigotry and had certainly never been the target of it, Dylan wasn’t a head-in-the-sand kind of guy. Still, he was shaken over the way that asshole kid from Jake’s baseball team had treated him. So, cutting the guy a partial break, maybe this Tony had a right to be somewhat upset when he was kissed, but the level of violence aimed at Jake was plain scary. And then to turn around and trash his reputation like that! It made Dylan so angry he was nearly shaking thinking about it all over again, wondering how Jake couldn’t catch a break anywhere. A prejudiced jerk of a father, a shattering experience the first time out of the gate he tried to be affectionate with another guy, and they both turn out to be homophobes. All it seemed to get Jake was pounded.
Dylan idly wondered if Jake would be afraid of him if and when he had an opportunity to get physical. He remembered his textbook and lectures from his freshman psychology class where people who had traumatic experiences tended to associate similar actions with pain and sometimes couldn’t move past them. Man, that would suck if Jake wouldn’t allow Dylan to kiss him because subconsciously he thought he would be hurt. Suddenly, Dylan wanted to kiss Jake in the worst way, not only because he knew his lips would be soft and taste good, but because he wanted to replace those ugly mental images with sweeter, more positive ones.
With that course of action on his mind, Dylan began texting his friends. Pool party- his house- one p.m. He invited the whole crew so his intentions wouldn’t be so obvious and he wouldn’t freak Jake out when he showed up and nobody else was there. Unfortunately, Marcus texted right back and said he and Jake had a prior engagement and couldn’t make it.
Later that afternoon, he was hanging on the side of the pool with Noah, Luis and Spencer. “Marcus and Jake were invited,” he told them in a light voice that was purposely devoid of disappointment, “but they’re doing something else.”
“They went to Palm Springs,” Noah confirmed, dipping his head in the water to slick his hair back before shooting a knowing glance at Spencer. It was like walking on eggshells, wanting to shake the boy and scream out that how he felt about Jake was obvious to the rest of them.
“Marcus’ cousin is getting married,” Spencer added, swallowing a leer. “It’s an all-day event.”
Dylan’s face went pale with concern. “With his dad and all, isn’t that risky for Jake?”
“Nope. The cousin is from the Walker side of the family, not his mom’s. They’re all good.”
The side gate opened and Sage and Kelsey stepped through. Dylan wasn’t exactly happy to see the tiny, dark-haired girl, but Sage kept saying she was honestly sorry for her earlier misbehavior and wanted to get along with everyone, including Jake. Luis had advised that, in order to keep peace with the overly-lenient Sage, he owed her another chance to redeem herself.
They spent the rest of the day swimming and lying around the pool talking. Mrs. Moore invited all of them to eat dinner with the family, and everyone rushed to call home for permission. As the shadows began to lengthen, Kelsey, who for most of the afternoon had been firmly rebuffed in her numerous attempts to cling to Dylan, finally maneuvered him alone in the deep end of the pool. He was treading water, the clear ripples creating wavy shadows of his tanned, muscular legs and maroon board shorts, while Kelsey was sitting alongside drying herself with a large beach towel. Even his body being mostly submerged couldn’t hide what she wanted, and she perched to show herself off to her best advantage.
“I heard you and the guys went surfing yesterday and then ate breakfast at Denny’s,” she said evenly, pulling on the clip to free her hair from the top of her head where it wouldn’t get wet in the pool. “You should’ve called Sage and me to join you.”
Dylan frowned trying to decipher what she was really saying. “I didn’t think you would be up. Nine is early for you, Kelsey.”
Tossing her head so her hair fell around her like a cloak, she giggled, and only she knew it was forced. “Well, give me a good reason and I can be up as early as anyone else. Although, I expect that Sage and I would have probably interrupted some important male bonding ceremony, and we can’t have that. All of you guys full of he-man posing and talking about water conditions and your boards as usual.” She paused as if in thought. “Or maybe, how much Jake Nielsen likes you.”
Aha, Dylan thought, now we come to the meat of the conversation. He wondered what Kelsey had up her proverbial sleeve, and it didn’t hurt to be cautious where she was concerned. There were also a lot of different definitions for the ‘L’ word.
“What do you mean by like?”
Kelsey pounced. “You know, like. As in, you’re the only one for him, and he’s into you. The feeling you plow through on your way to love. I’m sure you heard that Jake is gay. That kind of like.”
To his credit, Dylan stayed calm and didn’t jump for joy at the offered tidbit. “How do you know?” He was pretty sure this wasn’t an altruistic attempt to simply help their relationship along.
Kelsey pouted because Dylan was not acting anything according to script. He climbed out of the pool and sat next to her, looking vaguely interested in what she had to say but was cool and unruffled. No angry screaming or vows to go to Jake’s house and tell him to keep his perverted thoughts and feelings to himself. Maybe she hadn’t explained herself well enough.
“Sage told me,” she lied. “She heard from Noah how Jake was watching you at the restaurant the whole time with this look on his face that said he wanted to take you to bed and… well, seeing as how he would rather have you in it than any girl, it explains everything.”
“So what is everything?”
“He’s gay, Dylan,” she said as if talking to a child. “He’s had his eyes on you since he met you.”
“Honestly?” he asked, struggling to keep his voice even despite the way his heart was doing cartwheels in his chest.
“Jesus, you men are so fucking blind sometimes.” Kelsey crossed her arms and pursed her lips in a fake scowl.
Figuring a little desperation couldn’t hurt at this point, Dylan begged, “Please, just tell me what you know.”
“Well, I can’t tell for certain,” she replied fervently, thinking she was finally getting through to him, “but I should have realized all the little clues the first time I saw you and him together at your pool party. He had that whole ‘where you are, he is’ phenomenon going on that I totally ignored. He’s so into you it’s nauseating.”
Dylan decided that, while nauseating might be her description, it surely wasn’t his. He’d rather call it glorious. Or miraculous. Or a word that hadn’t been invented yet to explain how the man he wanted to talk into going out with him might not need as much persuasion as he thought. Maybe even none at all.
With a pat on her shoulder, he moved off to say goodbye to Luis. “Thanks, Kelsey, I’ll keep it in mind.”
She watched after him as she stood up and pulled on a pair of shorts. She wasn’t positive, but it felt like the discussion hadn’t gone the way she had hoped. Where was the anger and raging? Dylan didn’t even look upset.
Noticing her sour expression, Sage walked up to her. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” Kelsey ground out between her clenched teeth. “Is it almost time to leave? I’m tired.”
Later, Dylan was rinsing off the pool deck in the near-dark after everyone had bid their farewells and gone home. He was sporting a big smile on his face. It felt peaceful under the stars, the crickets chirping from the lawn below him. Despite missing Jake, he’d had fun swimming with his friends. Even with Kelsey, and he was actually glad the girl showed up because of what she revealed to him. It was sort of amusing how, without even realizing it, she had done him a huge favor.
“He’s so into you…”
It’s another step in the right direction, thought Dylan happily, watching a fan of water hit the concrete and push a clod of dislodged mud back into the grass. One he wouldn’t have to lose sleep over for a change. On the flip side, finding out if Jake was mutually interested might even be enjoyable.
The third week of baseball day camp began the next day with a new set of campers in each session. It was more or less a repeat of the two weeks before, although much less taxing mentally because Jake was better prepared. Putting the boys in two lines thirty feet apart to begin with, Jake and the other assistants watched their tosses and demonstrated the proper way to throw and catch a baseball. While Chance and Whitley taught pitching tips and Manny worked with the boys interested in being catchers, Evan and Jake demonstrated the rest of the positions to the other kids.
Jake sought Dylan out for lunch that afternoon. He was standing in the parking lot when he spied Dylan sauntering out through the pool gate, and they met at his SUV. Dylan fixed him with a brilliant smile which Jake returned briefly before dropping his gaze to stare at the gravel at his feet. His friendliness warmed him to the core, but if Jake came on too strong he’d give it all away. Be patient, he told himself as he gamely followed Dylan to a nearby picnic table on the shady side of the administration building. They unpacked their meals brought from home.
At first, the silence could be explained by eating, but as it stretched out, it became a little unnerving. What was going on, Jake wondered, noticing how the ever-confident Dylan was just as tongue-tied today as he was. They had never had a problem with conversation in the past. What did you say to a situation like this? Hey, you’re gay and I’m gay so let’s go out together? It seemed so overly-assuming.
He wanted so much to reach across the table and touch Dylan’s hand, but he concentrated on taking small bites and chewing with his mouth closed. He didn’t think he’d scare him off, not after his revelation from the other night, but he didn’t want to put undue pressure on him either. What if Dylan rejected him and it messed up everything? It was better to have him in his life as a friend than not at all.
On the other side of the table, Dylan kept his thoughts fixed on what he’d learned from Kelsey and surreptitiously watched Jake gather up his lunch trash. He seemed a little distracted, and Dylan chalked it up to shyness. Knowing that they both wanted the same thing, that they had that in common, should have given Dylan confidence, but now that he needed to make a deeper connection, every subject he might have brought up fled his mind. For the past month they could fluidly talk about anything without reservation. Today, it was like a wall going up, leaving these awkward pauses and no way to get around them. If they were going to build some kind of relationship with each other, this would never do.
Dylan stretched audibly, his back cracking. At the sight of those lean muscles flexing under his t-shirt, Jake almost sighed out loud. It made him remember that intense dream of Dylan sucking him off from the previous Friday, and he squirmed on the bench as desire filled him and his dick plumped. He had to use all his willpower to refrain from throwing the glorious blonde a hungry look. Don’t just sit there, say something, his brain screamed at him.
“How are the swimming lessons going?” he blurted out. It was a benign enough question, too benign. He wanted to melt into the ground over how lame he sounded. So much for opening his mouth and taking charge.
Dylan was relieved for a topic, any topic, and didn’t even notice Jake’s consternation. He took the cue and explained that, despite how easy it looked, teaching a child to swim could be demanding, especially in the first couple of days.
“A lot of children have a natural fear of laying back into the water and can’t relax. But floating is such an integral part of teaching a child how to trust in the water’s buoyancy and it won’t let them sink, they have to get over it fast.”
Jake laughed and relaxed. “Would you believe that I flunked my first beginner’s swimming class at the ‘Y’ when I was five for that exact reason? Dad was so angry I had to take it over again, he threatened to stand at the side of the pool watching until I overcame my anxiety. Fortunately, my swim teacher decided his methods were counterproductive and explained to my parents that replacing my fear of the water with fear of him wasn’t going to turn me into a better swimmer. Oh, did he hate her! Mom took my side and insisted he stay away from the pool, and at the end of the session I got an award for Most Improved.”
Dylan chuckled, staring at Jake’s beaming smile, noticing anew the tiny gap between his front teeth and loving it because it added to his charm. Most guys probably wouldn’t share a story that put them at such a disadvantage with a potential to make them look ridiculous. It just went to show how different Jake was from most guys and why Dylan could feel a growing love for him building inside.
He swallowed hard and looked down at his hands. Jake wasn’t going to make the first move, so it was up to himself to do so. “If I made us lunch on Wednesday, would you eat with me? You know, like a picnic here in between sessions since we don’t have enough time to go anywhere decent?” He held his breath.
Jake could hear Dylan’s voice shake as he extended the invitation and knew without a doubt this wasn’t merely a convenient lunch for the two of them. It was equal to first date status. “That sounds like fun,” he breathed quietly, scarcely daring to look up at him. But look up he did to find Dylan dazzled by his simple acceptance.
“Okay, what do you like?”
“I’m not picky,” Jake shrugged, grinning back. “As long as it doesn’t have pickles in it, I’ll eat it.”
“You’re picky over pickles?” Dylan laughed at the joke.
Jake shuddered in pretend, knowing he was flirting with him. “What’s to like about dead cucumbers? They’re sour, slimy and disgusting.”
“Okay,” Dylan assured him, “no pickles.”
On Wednesday, Jake met up with Dylan in the lot as he was pulling a small cooler out of the back of his CR-V. He admired how crisp and cool Dylan looked in his board shorts compared to his own sweaty self, complete with smudges of dirt on the hem of his parks and recreation staff t-shirt. As much as he liked Dylan, he had no idea what the taller boy saw in him. Dylan was positively drool-worthy, what with his silver-ringed eyes and the palest blonde hair Jake had ever seen. The skin covering his strong shoulders and back was a golden tan, and he wanted to run his fingers over his washboard abs and the well-defined muscles in his broad chest. Blushing, Jake could feel his dick twitching in his cargo shorts. It was getting to be an every-day thing now that they spent so much time together.
Dylan threw on a bright-colored Counting Crows t-shirt, much to Jake’s disappointment, and solicitously guided him to the far edge of the recreation center lot. They slipped through some bushes into an adjacent city park. It was just a short walk to a quiet, isolated corner of lawn that afforded them some privacy, and the boys spread a blanket under the oak trees. They sat down across from each other, knees almost touching and comfortable in their friendship despite a bit of bashfulness in this early stage of going forward. Opening the cooler, Dylan handed Jake a Coke, a snack bag of Cheetos and a ham and cheese on rye which he first pretended to check carefully.
“I just want to make sure I’m not giving you the one with the pickles,” he teased.
Jake playfully smacked him on the arm. “Lips that have touched pickles will never…”
He stopped, horror-struck at his faux pas, and looked up to see Dylan regarding him with an amused smirk, delight brimming in his blue eyes. “Please continue,” Dylan said. “I’d love to hear the rest.”
Jake felt his cheeks warm in a blush but Dylan didn’t seem taken aback nor was he actually laughing at his discomfort. If anything, the misspoken words seemed to break the ice and get them over that last bit of uneasiness so they could settle down with each other in silence that wasn’t awkward. In no time, they had finished their meal and stretched out to relax for the fifteen minutes they had left before reporting back to camp.
“Thank you for lunch,” Jake said quietly, looking around them curiously. “I’ve never been to this part of the park before. I used to have birthday parties here when I was a kid, but I didn’t even know this section existed.”
“I didn’t either until I was in middle school. I got dropped off at the rec center for a lifesaving class, but the teacher was sick and canceled. I forgot my cell phone at home and had an hour to waste before Mom picked me up. So I explored.
“I’m not trying to hide who I am,” Dylan stated, seeing the vague indecision in Jake’s eyes. “This feels new to me so you might think that I’m sneaking around, but I was told by two people I really trust that there’s a big difference between lying and taking precautions. I only personally know a few of the guys I work with, so why ask for trouble?”
Jake knew what he was saying was true. If there was one day he would gladly live over and do it all different, it was the day of the baseball party when he was eighteen and Tony beat him up. “I see your point,” he said steadily.
A light breeze ruffled the blanket and Dylan was distracted by an oak leaf falling from the tree above which landed on the back of Jake’s head. It was a narrow, flat dark green with spiny ridges that caught in his brown curls and, even with shaking, resisted all Jake’s attempts to dislodge it.
“Here, let me get it.”
Dylan rose up on his knee and bent over, running his hand through the sun-streaked brunette strands to find and remove the leaf. The hair was soft and warm under his fingers, and his face was mere inches from Dylan’s. Those bright jade eyes gazed into his with such tenderness, so expressively they seemed to talk to him, almost begging for a kiss. Knowing he couldn't refuse, Dylan leaned closer and dropped his hand to Jake’s throat. He could feel his heartbeat as it sped up, throbbing under the soft skin. The distance between their bodies disappeared, and his lips passed lightly over Jake’s.
The first fleeting touch of Dylan’s mouth on his made Jake hear sunlight and taste summer. Dylan was kissing him. Yes, oh yes. His heart turned over in a loud thump before galloping away. It was like living the purest dream, and he knew if he closed his eyes and held very still it would never stop. He wanted to sit there forever, kissing him.
Dylan felt Jake’s tranquility. It was much different than surprise at the kiss, it was total acceptance of it. Like a form of ESP, he almost knew what Jake was thinking. He wasn’t afraid, nor was he pushing him away. All this time, Jake had liked him without saying a word. The small escaping sigh and peaceful look on his face gave mute evidence of his happiness, and Dylan felt lighter than air.
When those lips pressed against his the second time Jake kissed back firmly, bringing his hand up to Dylan’s jaw and gently stroking it, the pale stubble barely there under his finger tips. Achingly slow, they connected without scurrying away. Dylan’s mouth was pliable, and his calm acceptance of what Jake knew to be right was the best feeling in the world.
“I’ve wanted you to do that since I met you,” he breathed. Dylan’s scorching gaze held him. “But after Tony…”
Dylan shook his head and put his fingers over Jake’s mouth to stop the apology. “Shh, no explanation needed.” It was simple practicality. Given Jake’s history, not only would he not automatically assume Dylan was gay, in the beginning he would be afraid of even inquiring. His heart soared at realizing that for once Kelsey had been dead on the mark, and Jake did have feelings for him. He wanted to burst in happiness.
One month, Jake reminded himself in surprise. It had only been a month since he moved back here and met this amazing man. Without a doubt, it was the best month in his entire life. Like the wish he made when he was recovering from his surfing accident- someone he could love who returned his feelings. He leaned into Dylan and lifted up to him, and this time when their lips met, the kiss lingered. Dylan opened his mouth and Jake’s tongue darted inside to caress his timidly. He tasted the salt from his chips and the sweetness of the soda at the same time.
Dylan settled back into the blanket and took Jake by the shoulders to guide him down next to him. For several moments they lay in a gentle embrace of sinuously connected lips and tongues that sucked and glided. He swept his arms around Jake’s neck and waist to pull him closer and gasped almost soundlessly as their cocks rubbed across each other. The layers of clothing that did nothing to stop the magnificent friction, and Dylan could feel his lengthening in his board shorts.
Jake was trying to ignore his embarrassment over how rapidly making out with Dylan was exciting him, and he willed his instant erection to go down without success. A moan rumbled up from deep in his throat as hands touched and familiarized. He slid his fingers up through Dylan’s short, white-blonde hair at the hairline and up to the longer wave on top. Jake’s vision went hazy as oxygen depleted in the long kiss, and he heard Dylan’s tortured breath catch.
“Oh god, this is more awesome than I ever dreamed,” Dylan sighed.
Jake smiled into his mouth. “And you don’t even taste like pickles.”
Dylan laughed, pulling Jake’s hair out of his face. He rolled on to his back letting the smaller male relax against his shoulder.
“Do you have time in the afternoons to wait for me after camp?” Jake’s baseball session ended at four o’clock, but Dylan didn’t finish up his lifeguarding job until half an hour later.
“Eww, I’m all sweaty and gross in the afternoon,” Jake stated, making a face. Grimy with dust and stinking was not a great impression he wanted to make with a new boyfriend who always looked so well put together, no matter what he was doing.
Dylan thought for a moment. “You could rinse off in the pool house,” he suggested brightly. “We’re allowed to use the staff showers, and they are usually empty that time of day.”
Jake vaguely remembered Manny suggesting the bathrooms in the pool area, but he hadn’t known the staff side was open for the assistants. “Okay,” he said. “Starting tomorrow I’ll bring clothes to change into.”
He got a thoughtful look on his face. “Dylan, I’d like to take you out to dinner tomorrow night.”
Dylan began to protest, more out of concern for the burden it might place on Jake who had no parents to rely on for any kind of financial support. He was completely on his own except for the bed and food the Walkers were providing; whereas, he, himself, had parents who thought nothing of shoving a couple twenties at him every so often.
But Jake’s mind was made up. If he and Dylan were going to date, it would be as equals. He wasn’t penniless, nor would he be made to feel like the indebted half in this relationship. So instead of arguing, Dylan said he’d be happy to go out and suggested an Italian buffet that prepared delicious authentic Tuscan and Florentine dishes for a decent price. He looked excited to be spending more time with Jake, and that made them both happy.
By then it was time to get back to work at the recreation center. They packed up the remains of their lunch, shook the ants and leaves off the blanket and casually meandered back through the shrubbery, parting at the edge of the parking lot with a quiet kiss and promises to see each other the next day.
“Aunt Pat?” Jake called out that night while Marcus was in the shower. It was nearly 9:30, and he knew she was somewhere downstairs. She poked her head out of the laundry room beyond the kitchen.
“Here, Jake,” she answered and smiled when he appeared at the door. Over the past couple of days he had begun to show some of his old spark, turning back into that carefree young man who, since moving to Madera, had kicked about their place a couple weeks or so every summer. That is, up until the summer after his senior year of high school when he had arrived ashen and skittish, afraid of every sudden noise and movement, showing every sign of having gone through some kind of terrible ordeal. Pat never did know what that was about. Jake hadn’t confided in any of them, not even Marcus.
He smiled at her hesitantly. “I wanted to let you know I won’t be home for dinner tomorrow night,” he all but whispered, scratching his chin nervously. “I’m going out.”
“Out?” Pat asked curiously. Her eyes sparkled with a knowing leer when he began to redden. “Out, as in on a date- that kind of out? And why are we whispering?”
Jake leaned back and stuck his head out the door, making sure his cousin wasn’t around and was relieved to still hear the shower running. “I do have a date,” he acknowledged, “but I don’t want Marcus to know because he’ll tease me.”
Pat was pretty savvy about what went on in her house. She wasn’t as naïve about the furtive glances and down low talks as her boys hoped, even about Jake’s love life. Dylan Moore’s name had begun to pop up with increasing frequency, and she already suspected they were sweet on each other. Putting two and two together, it wasn’t hard to figure out why Jake was in such good spirits.
“My lips are sealed. I’ll see what I can do about Marcus.”
Jake sighed in relief. “Thanks, Aunt Pat.”
She gave him her best innocent look. “Why don’t you ask Dylan to come over for dinner on Friday night if he’s free?”
He began to stutter in confusion, ready to deny what she knew to be true. But it wasn’t supposed to be a deep, dark secret. If their relationship took off the way he hoped, sooner or later they would each meet the other’s family. So, fighting his blush, he agreed to invite him.
Pat took the couple steps up to him and looked him straight in the eye. “Don’t be afraid,” she told him before giving him a big hug, her softness comforting to him. “It’s all going to work out for the best. We love you.”
“Love you back, Aunt Pat,” he said into her ear, trying not to mist up.
(To be continued...)