*This scene takes place the following fall after Misha and Ryen finish high school. J.D., Ten, and Manny are home for Fall Break. Although, Devil’s Night characters do not appear, for purposes of the timeline, this night would take place the same night as the showdown in Kai’s house in Meridian City during his book.



“I swear, I can’t take you anywhere,” Ten says, climbing out of my car.

I slam my door and round the vehicle, tucking my hair behind my ear. “That’s alright,” I mumble. “I’m quite happy with our arrangement—you talking wine, indie films, and artisanal cheeses while I’m off, happily spending my time…avoiding all of that.”

He flips me off, pockets of humidity hitting me as we walk for the front door. It should be cold by now—the late October sun quickly setting—but the welcome comfort of the warm breeze isn’t calling for more than a T-shirt tonight.

It isn’t my T-shirt he’s pissy about, though. I glance down at my knee-length black kilt, chains and silver hooks holding it closed.

I hook my arm around his neck. “We have fun sometimes, right?”

Despite our differences?

But he shoot back, “I have fun all the time.”

True. Nothing ever cramps his style. Not the whispers at the end of our senior year when he was all over me all the time. Not when I came out to my parents last summer.

Not the separation when we both left for universities on opposite sides of the country a couple of months ago—him in California and me in New York.

His emotional investment in anything is like swirls of milk in coffee. You see it.

And then you don’t.

Ten never really fights for anything. He just adapts.  

“Did you hear from Ryen?” he asks.

I pull my arm off him, knowing his linen shirt will wrinkle if I keep it there too long. “Misha is playing a gig in Boston.” I stretch my arms over my head, my black T-shirt riding up. “She went with him this weekend.”

“Damn,” he grumbles. “It’s going to be up to you to make sure he doesn’t drink too much then.”

He. Ten doesn’t have to clarify who he’s talking about.

I eye him. “Where will you be?”

“I’ll be drinking too much.”

I roll my eyes. Right. 

J.D. doesn’t need a party. He needs to be slapped. Over the course of the last several months, we’d seen him at his best.

And his lowest. And his lowest was more frequent.  

He lost his girl and his best friend, two fucking cunts he was well rid of you ask me, but I still don’t understand him. You’d think he’d feel like a new man, free of the weight of their bullshit.

But he’s also like milk in the coffee. Except he doesn’t adapt. He just disappears.

And I certainly didn’t come back on Fall Break to babysit while they get plastered.

“My sister invited me to Hilton Head this weekend, you know?” I tell Ten as we step up to J.D.’s door.

I could be sitting on a porch, listening to the waves right now.

“I heard.” He hooks an arm around me, pulling me in. “And I love you for being here. You didn’t want to be stuck in North Carolina with three screaming brats.”

“That’s my other sister, Aracely,” I say. “This is the one getting married in two weeks.”

“Oh, right, right.” He rings the doorbell. “Veronica.”


She and her husband joined the Peace Corps, so they decided to take their honeymoon before the wedding. Everyone is invited.

As usual, I let Ten wrangle me into something I didn’t want to do instead. I hate this town. There’s nothing for me here.  

“But seriously…” He slaps at my black kilt, the fabric brushing the bottoms of my kneecaps. You’re not wearing that tonight. You do this just to piss off his dad.”

“Like I don’t have better things to obsess over.” I like the kilt. It’s hot. And it pairs nicely with my combat boots. “You’re the one that sat Mr. York at the dinner table for two hours last time, outlining your “homosexual agenda” and scaring the shit out of him. And then you didn’t even tell him you were joking!”

Ten snorts, the memories of J.D.’s father’s scared-shitless-face probably running through his head. He loves messing with boomers.

The door opens and J.D.’s father, white hair and checkered shirt, stands there, staring at us.

“Hey,” I said, forcing a smile.

He doesn’t like me.

He doesn’t like us.

“Mr. Cortez.” He nods at me, lips tight as he turns to Ten. “Mr. Nielsen. What can I do for you both?”

Like he doesn’t know why we’re here.

But Ten won’t be contained. “Ber-nard!” he exclaims, amplifying the flaming homosexual stereotype, heightening his voice and cocking his head like he’s thirteen. “How are you?”

I bite back my smile as Ten barges in, pushing the dude out of the way as I follow.

“Please tell me you’re still dating that yoga instructor from the Greens & Proteins shop,” Ten sing-songs like they’re two girlfriends, catching up on gossip. “And you painted.” He looks around at the foyer. “Would you call this orange or tangerine?”

Mr. York cocks an eyebrow, and my jaw tickles with amusement that I can’t let loose.

Ten adapts. Bless him.

Instead of answering him, J.D.’s father keeps his hand on the door, turning his eyes on me.

His ice blue gaze trails down my clothes, lingering on the kilt. “Cortez isn’t a Scottish name,” he informs me.

Mm hmm.

I refuse to indulge the man like Ten does. I could thank my friend for showing me a way out of the misery I’d been in in high school, and I appreciated Ten for giving me the courage to become the man I wanted to be, but I’d spent enough of my life braving it with a smile.

And then wasted even more time escaping into household chemicals when the smiling hurt too much.

No more pretending. Not even for J.D.’s sake.  

When J.D.’s father and I don’t break eye contact, Ten sweeps in. “Oh, you know…America, the Beautiful. One large melting pot.” Then Ten looks at me. “I mean, he may have Scottish in him sooner or—”

I hook my arm around Ten and clamp a hand over his mouth, whipping him around toward the stairs.


He chuckles, both of us stumbling up the stairs.

“He’s in the shower!” Mr. York growls behind us.

“We’ll wait in his room!” Ten shouts back.

We climb to the top, out of sight, and walk toward J.D.’s room.

“You go too far,” I warn.

“Oh, he deserved it,” Ten snaps back. “And all those jokes went right over his head. Promise.”

We dive into J.D.’s room, and before the door is even closed, Ten barks an order. “Take off that shirt. Now.”

I toss him a look, knowing what he’d say if I tried to dress him every time we were together. I’d put up with it last spring, because I had a whole new world opening up for me and because…well, because I liked getting laid.

Ten liked teaching me things.

And for a while, I liked learning.

He walks over to J.D.’s closet, and opens it up, inspecting the options, and I gaze around, taking in the messy bed and the faint whiff of cigarette smoke that I know straight-laced Mr. York certainly wouldn’t approve of.  

Why is J.D. even back this week? He has to have friends and all sorts of shit keeping him in Texas, and it isn’t like Misha’s going to be here anyway.

The door opens, and I turn my head, seeing J.D. enter with a gray towel wrapped around his waist.

“Hey,” Ten calls out.

J.D. tips his chin at us but turns away quickly. “Hey.”

“How’s it going?” Ten asks.

J.D. closes the door and crosses the room, droplets of water dotting his chest, back, and torso as he rubs the back of his neck, probably still trying to shake one hangover before he dives into another tonight.

“I’m getting there.” He sighs. “Made it past my dad, I see.”

Ten pulls out a white button-down. “Pretty sure he won’t let us through the door again.”

J.D. chuckles, sifting through the pile of wrinkled laundry on his bed.

“Take off your shirt,” Ten says again, approaching me.

I glance at J.D. He’s not looking at me, just still trying to find whatever he’s looking for.   

“We’re going to Thunder Bay,” I point out. “Not dinner.” I look down at the preppy shirt. “And I’m not wearing that.”

Ten turns to J.D. “Tell him he looks like ground meat.”

J.D. continues searching through his clothes, but after a moment, stops and glances up out of the corner of his eye.

His gaze trails down my form, the hardness on his face making me swallow. I remember that look all too well.

“He looks fine,” he mumbles, looking away. “Besides, I’m bigger. He’s going to drown in that shirt.” He tosses down a pair of jeans he’d picked up and walks to his closet, his brow etched with anger. He slides hangers over, one after another, and finally pulls out a black button-down with pockets on the breasts, almost military-looking. “Here.” He hands it to Ten. “From when I was fourteen.”


A smile curls his lips, but I grab the shirt from Ten instead. “I’ll do it.”

It actually wasn’t a bad choice. I liked the shirt. It looked like something a goth who was too old to identify as Emo from a Nu Metal band would wear.

But it probably won’t fit anyway. I may be lankier than J.D. and not as broad, but I wasn’t fourteen, either. We’re damn-near the same height.

“I gotta piss,” Ten says, leaving me to it.

He leaves and closes the door, and I watch as J.D. pulls on jeans and then whips off the towel, zipping up his pants but not buttoning them.

Pulling a pack of cigarettes out of his bedside table, he lights one and walks over to the window, sliding it up.

I bite the bullet and slip my T-shirt over my head, pulling on J.D.’s black one, but I hurry, feeling his eyes on me.

I button it up and tuck it into the kilt, snug but pretty perfect.

“You got a black tie?” I ask him.

If I have to dress up, then let’s go for it.

J.D. opens a drawer and fishes around, finally pulling out a silk black one, creased with wrinkles.

Because of course it was. J.D. didn’t fuss with clothes. Girls just wanted what was underneath.

The perfect, sun-kissed skin and muscles. The chocolate brown hair. The boyish smile and the hands that looked beautiful wrapped around a football.

The puppy they could lead around by the nose who did whatever they wanted and acted like he couldn’t get laid by a dozen better people within shouting distance who would treat him with a lot more respect.

He tosses it to me, and I drape it around my neck, trying to slide it under the collar.

“Here,” J.D. tells me.

Cigarette hanging out of his mouth, he steps up to me and pulls my collar up, situating the tie before he folds the collar back down.

His lids squint against the swirls of smoke drifting into his eyes, and I pluck the cigarette out of his mouth and sit it on the edge of the desk next to us. He can ruin his body. I don’t want that shit in my face.

He ties my tie, and I drop my eyes, the hair on the back of my neck rising.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever be comfortable with him.

I don’t hate him. I just…

I just hadn’t forgiven him.

I feel his eyes on me, his fingers brushing my neck.

“You know, you can tell him no,” he says. “If you’re happy with who you are, and you feel good in your clothes, stand up for yourself. You’re not his pet.”

“And what if I’m not happy?”

His fingers pause a moment, and I lift my eyes, seeing the confusion in his.

“What if I don’t want to miss an opportunity that may open me up to something that will make me happy?” I challenge him.

He continues with my tie, yanking it harder now. “Not all opportunities are good, Manny.”

“But some are.” I lift my chin. “Experience teaches you the difference.”

Okay, yeah. Ten and I have fun.

And I’d learned pretty quickly that I wasn’t the only fun he was having, too.

It doesn’t feel good, but I don’t have anything else, so I let Ten push me and pull me and bend my brain all summer until I finally just realized that I’m learning and to be grateful for that. I learned how to talk to people and embrace myself a little more. I don’t have any secrets now.

Given all Ten’s inconsiderate bullshit, he might’ve just saved my life, too.

And J.D. York is no one to talk.

“Have you seen Lyla since you got back?” I prod. “I saw her working at Dashell’s Boutique this afternoon.”

She’d been arranging the sidewalk displays in front of the store downtown.

J.D. stares hard at my tie.

“Remember when she had Trey hold me down, strip my clothes off, and then she put make-up on me?” I ask him.

End of junior year. I was so high that day, and thank God, because I might not have seen the next morning if I hadn’t been so out of my head.

But I remember it.  

“You always just stood there.” I grind my teeth together, narrowing my eyes at him “And you keep going back to her as if we don’t know what you’re doing and as if she’s the only piece of ass between here and Texas.”

She’s garbage. She treats everyone like trash, including him, and he keeps slipping back into her bed like he’s in love or some shit, but I know he isn’t.

Ten doesn’t look close enough. I see J.D. clearly.  

“Why are you so weak?” I ask him. “You’re so insecure and desperate for a woman’s love in mommy’s absence that you can’t stand for Lyla or any woman to not love you, can you?” I search his face. “Even though she’s a piece of shit.”

J.D. jerks the tie, tightening it until it digs into my throat, and a groan escapes me.  

Then, he meets my eyes. He stops and shoves me in the chest, and I suck in a breath, hitting the wall as a bitter smile plays at the corner of his mouth.

“And coincidentally, here you are,” he says, “still wearing make-up with men stripping you down.”

He moved in, and I glared back through the fucking eyeliner I wore.

No, I don’t hate J.D.

I just don’t trust him. If he got his friends back, would I suddenly be garbage under his shoe again? I really don’t know for sure, and that’s the problem.

He’s a gifted athlete. Smart. Good-looking.

And despite his lack of backbone, he can be really kind.

Not buried so deep in there is a good man.

Why is he so afraid?

“Do you like them to still hold you down, too?” he taunts, his blue eyes suddenly clear.

I grin right back. “Sometimes.”

J.D. holds my gaze, hard and steel, and I try not to falter, but he’s too close. My skin hums, and I almost feel his hands on the wall on both sides of my head, but they aren’t there. They hang at his side.

His eyes fall, and I feel the heat of it on my mouth.

My cock jerks, and I blink.  

What the fuck?

“Alright, you got liquor, right?” Ten barges in, and J.D. falls back a step, away from me again. “Let pre-flight!”

I inhale, only just realizing I’d stopped breathing. I straighten my spine as blood rushes to my groin, but my heart still hammers and heat floods my body like whitewash pouring onto the sand.

I flex my jaw.  

“You guys okay?” Ten asks, glancing between us.

J.D. looks at me, I look at him, and then he picks up his cigarette, the inch of ash burned up on it falling onto his carpet.

“Yeah,” I breathe out, ripping off the tie and taking in a lungful of air. “Let’s party.”




 I glance at Manny in my rearview mirror, his dark brown eyes meeting mine for a moment before he turns and looks out the window.

A little appreciation would be in order, you little shit. I didn’t have to come home this week. Like they’d get into this party without me.

And no, I haven’t seen Lyla. I just flew in this morning. Why does he care who I screw? It’s not like we’re actually friends. Manny and I don’t call each other. We don’t hang out alone.

Ryen is the glue and the only reason we’d been around each other at all last spring and summer.

Ten’s a familiar face, and I’d always gotten along with him. Manuel Cortez is just a reminder of things I want to forget.

Is he holding his breath for an apology? I never did anything to him.

 I rub my eyes, the headlights coming at me making me wince.

Okay, that isn’t true. I’d been an asshole to him on a few occasions over the course of high school. I shouldn’t have done it, but sometimes…

Sometimes I felt like he deserved it. Constantly late for class. Skipping school all the time. Showing up high. Ignoring teachers and classmates.

Staring off into his own personal dreamworld and making no effort to not stand out with every fucking thing he did and wore over the years.

I mean, even the fucking eyeliner all the time. Jesus. Was he capable of doing anything that didn’t draw the wrong kind of attention?

But that’s what he wants, isn’t it? Attention.

We’re all miserable, kid. Not all of us have to fucking cry about it.

Something tugs at me again, and I can’t resist. I check my mirror, seeing his eyes on me again as if he knows I was talking shit in my head.

As if he’s any better. Letting Ten fuck him up against a tree on the Fourth and then stay quiet as his boyfriend flirts with someone else the rest of the night doesn’t make Manny any better than me. He runs back to whatever gets him lost for a few minutes.

We cruise into Thunder Bay, the sidewalks and streets buzzing with activity under the soft glow of the lanterns and the leaves rustling as they blow across the street.

Full moon waxing, I press the button, rolling up my window and still smelling the scent of decay this village always seemed to carry. A mixture of rotting apples, earth, and burnt wood.

I kind of love it. I never really wanted to go to school here. I couldn’t afford the tuition, their football team is shit, and the student body is even more lethal than Falcon’s Well’s, but…I love the town. There are no chain stores or corporate restaurants, no track homes… Everything is original. Personal.


I like old.

Pulling up to the playhouse, I notice the packed lobby through the glass doors and the street lined with cars bumper to bumper. The square, or rather semi-circle that marks the center of town buzzes with pedestrians, red lights flash from lamp posts, and Halloween decorations sway in the wind.

Sticks overflows with kids, and I hear music fill the village. Masks don all the faces as people dance in the streets and live it up.

Yeah, there was no way they were getting into this party without me.

Ten isn’t unpopular, but I’ll know these people. Our basketball teams are rivals, but we play nice in the off-season.

I swing around the cathedral and into its parking lot, taking my chances that I’ll get towed. I probably won’t be driving home anyway.

Ten climbs out of the passenger side, and I step out of the driver’s side, Manny joining us at the rear of the car. Shouts and the low hum of music fill the air as I pull on my hoodie and lock the car.

We trail across the street and onto the sidewalk, and I pull open the theater doors, stepping in first.

People, some in masks and others not, crowd the lobby, high ceilings and gold wall paper making contrasting hilariously with the kegs and slutwear. I look right, noticing the guy at the door collecting the cover.

His eyes light up. “Hey, man.”

Max Mikkelsen shoots out his hand, and I smile, taking it.

“How have you been?” he says as Ten hands him the cover charge for all of us. “That game against Ohio State… Shit, man. I was screaming, ‘I know him!’”

I chuckled. One of my better days at Texas A&M. I’m only still the starting running back by sheer luck and my roommate’s hangover cure. “See, you get great athletes even when they’re not paid for,” I tease.

“Oh, fuck you.” He doles out Ten’s change. “Our basketball team—”

“Is shit without Michael Crist,” I interject.

Thunder Bay grows good basketball players, but they can’t even pay for a decent football team. They’d lost to us the last eight out of nine years.

“Speaking of which…” I ask, looking around at the new venue. “He bought St. Killian’s?”

Isn’t that where everyone usually parties for their Devil’s Night?

“Yeah, the motherfucker,” he grumbles. “The catacombs are private property now. Apparently, he and his fiancée are renovating it as their house.”

They’re living there? How many bodies are buried in the foundations of that place? Jesus. 

Not to mention all the fucking that’s gone on down there the past seventy years.

Sure. Perfect place to raise children.

“But don’t worry,” Max adds. “We got lots of hiding places in Thunder Bay. Have fun.”

I nod and move along, Manny and Ten following as I drift into the space. Lots of hiding places. Everyone had a secret in this town. Maybe Manny would’ve been happier growing up here instead.

Maybe me, too.

“Oh, and when the lights go off,” Max shouts back at us. “It’s like Seven Minutes in Heaven. Find a partner, a secluded nook, and stay there until they’re back on.”

I tip my chin at him, holding in my eye roll.

I did that shit in junior high and spent what felt like forever sitting on the closet floor with Tara Sheehy, mustering the gumption to kiss her, because she wasn’t cute, but I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. It was a mistake. She thought we were in love for like three weeks afterward.

We grab some beers, let the sexy court jesters in clown make-up, pigtails, and short skirts paint Ten’s face, and then we stroll through the playhouse, taking in the activity as Manny moves from one beer to the next, plucking a bottle from one of the beer tubs spread out around the place.

I pull my eyes away from him. He never drinks faster than me. Guess I am driving tonight, after all.

“Shit,” Ten breathes out as we walk into the theater. “Who the fuck owns this place?”

I shake my head, gazing up at the three stories of box seating all around us and the floor area stuffed with people, as well. A band plays on stage, the orchestra section thundering with teenagers jumping up and down, a few crowd-surfing.

I lift my bottle to my lips. “Someone with a teenager they can’t say no to.”

How nice it must be to get everything you want.

Someone in Misha’s family owns the movie theater across the street, but the playhouse is more of an opera house. Gold trim decorates the walls and boxes, red drapes donning both sides of the stage, and only the dying light of the single chandelier overhead glows over everything underneath it.

In addition to plays and operas, they have symphonies and ballets here, too. I’d never felt compelled to step foot in the venue until tonight.

I gulp down the rest of the bottle, throw it into the trash bin, and pick more out of the ice tub, handing one to Manny and one to Ten.

We descend into the pit, the alcohol barely warming my veins yet, because my tolerance was far sturdier than it was last spring. I take a few more swallows.

The music pounds under my boots, the shadows of the band playing their instruments stretching like the twisted limbs of a tree against the backdrop of the stage curtain, and Ten bobs his head, surveying the crowd.     

“Hey,” someone says.

I turn my head, seeing a girl with mouse ears in her light brown hair and black painted on the tip of her nose. Whiskers stretched across her cheeks on both sides.

I know her. She came to Falcon’s Well to watch her team play mine last fall and stayed to party with the winners. Lyla made sure she knew what was off limits that night. And who.  

Apparently, I was the only one in the relationship not allowed to step out.

“Tara,” I broach.

But she corrects me. “Tamsyn.”

“Huh?” I shout over the band. “I can’t hear you!”

I hear her, but irritation is nipping at the corner of my brain for some reason, and I don’t know why. I glance at Manny and Ten, both of them locked in close conversation.

Turning back to Tara, I see her smile and shake her head at me. She can be whoever she wants to be to me tonight, I guess. I let my gaze linger on her face, her taut skin and the blush on her cheeks. The tiny mole under her eye and the wet on her lips.

Anyone here would think she’s hot.

But she looks like she feels cold.  

Shooting my gaze over again, I watch Ten lean closer into Manny’s ear, telling him something. But instead of smiling, Manny flexes his jaw instead, and I narrow my eyes as someone else approaches them. A stranger with spiky blond hair and gold paint covering his bare chest begins decorating Manny’s face.

I narrow my eyes.

Ten watches, smiling as the guy comes in close, his lips moving and saying things to the kid.  

“You heard about the game?” Tara asks.

I blink a few times, turning away from the guys. “Yeah,” I tell her, forcing the bottle to my mouth as I glance again at Cortez.

“When the lights go off, I’ll meet you in this seat,” she tells me. “G-1.”

The guy in body paint whispers in Manny’s ear, the tip of his nose brushing Manny’s lobe before his lips part, grazing a trail over the kid’s jaw. I catch sight of the tip of his tongue dipping out to taste him. Ten looks on, holding his breath as his eyes spark with excitement.

Something bubbles up inside me, and I watch as the prick in gold pulls out a pen and writes something on Manny’s arm.

“You just sit down,” Tara says, “and I’ll find you.”

Manny’s eyes turn to me, the guy and Ten chatting, and I look away.

Huh? I look at the girl.

Oh, the game. Seven Minutes in Heaven.

“And if I find someone else in the meantime?” I taunt.

She grins. “Just save room for me.”

Cute. “And if I want longer than seven minutes?”

She leans into my ear as the song changes, the bass winding through the smoky air above us. “I hope you do.”

I feel Manny’s eyes, but I don’t look, watching her go instead and letting my eyes fall down her body in the perfect black spanks and sheer black tights.

When I turn back to the guys, Ten and the other one are disappearing onto the dance floor, and Manny stands there watching, his back rigid since Ten whispered into his ear a minute ago.

I hesitate a moment, but… I want to see his fucking face.

Heading over his side, I drop my eyes, seeing the ten digits on his forearm, but I don’t even get a chance to peer at the pain on his face before he plucks my beer out of my hand, knowing it was me without even looking.

Tipping the bottle back, he swallows, the lump in his throat moving up and down three times.

“That’s mine,” I mumble.

And that is his third. I knew Manny had done drugs, but I hadn’t seen him use since, and I’d never seen him drink this fast.

Ten pulls his shirt off, tucking it into his back pocket, he and the guy leaning into each other, getting hot.

Manny watches them, and I watch him, seeing him look away and down the rest of the beer.

I shook my head. “You can have the shirt, actually,” I tell him, changing the subject. “I should’ve gotten rid of it a long time ago.”

“Yeah, it looks like it’s never been worn.” He grabbed four tube shots off the girl sliding past with a tray. “Not your style, I’m sure,” he jibes, throwing back one, two, and then three. “A gift from someone?”

I snatch the last t shot from him and throwing it back, tossing it into the nearby bin.

I shoot out my hand. “Give me your wallet.”

He looks at me. “Why?”

“Just fucking give it to me.”

A gift from someone… As if he was so clever he knew everything that was to know about me.

Pulling his small billfold out of the pocket on the shirt, he hands it to me.

I flip it open, spread the pocket for cash, and pluck out the rubber he has tucked inside.

I hand him the wallet back, slipping the condom into my jeans’ pocket as I walk for the beer tub and pull out another bottle.

“I’m gonna need that back,” he bites out.

“Like hell you will.”

I twist off the cap, watching him shoot me a glare as he pulls out one bottle, sliding it into his pocket, and then pulling out another, uncapping it.

“I’m sure she has her own,” he says snidely. “Or whatever chick you sedate yourself with tonight.”

I chuckle. “It’s hard for you to take the moral high ground, knowing what’s in store for you later.”

Like Ten wasn’t working them both, so he could get off watching them get off. I might like Ten, but I know he doesn’t play carefully with peoples’ hearts. And Manny still doesn’t stand up for himself.

He follows my gaze to Ten and the other guy rubbing on each other on the dance floor, the manicured skin of Ten’s golden chest and abs glistening with sweat.

And with some of the guy’s body paint.

“Why do you go along with it?” I bite out.

“Maybe I’m gonna like it.”

So this was the first time Ten had talked him into a threesome?

I clench my jaw, staring down at my bottle. “It’s not happening,” I tell him.

He isn’t getting pulled into that bullshit.

But he just scoffs, drinking some more. “Still the bully…”

Whatever works.

“Hey, come here.” Ten runs over, grabbing Manny as the faggot painted in gold trails behind him. “You’ll like this.”

Looking down at Manny, the gold guy opens his mouth, showing off the tab on his tongue and then crashes his lips down on Manny, thrusting his tongue into his mouth and slipping him the pill.

Manny doesn’t pull away, takes the drug and flips it over on his tongue as he turns to look at me before swallowing.  

“You never gave a shit about what I did before,” he tells me. “Don’t trouble yourself. You’re the reason all this happens.”

All what? The drugs? The sex?

Something explodes inside of me, and I can’t stop it. I grab the gold prick’s head, squeezing his jaw as bystanders turn toward us. I shove the little shit back as hard as I can, and he flies, crashing into the crowd of dancers and landing on his ass. Ten goes wide-eyed, and then I whip Manny around and smack the tab off his tongue, it falling somewhere to the ground.     

“J.D., Jesus!” Ten shouts, rushing over to the guy on the ground. “What the fuck?”

I drop one hand, glaring at the two, but I keep my other fist tightened around Manny’s collar.

And I’m not letting go.  

Ten glances at me as he helps the other guy to his feet, his worried gaze shooting between me and Cortez.

Manny just stands there, the hint of a smile on his lips like he just loves pissing me off.

“Manny, come on,” Ten tells him. “Let him cool off.”

But I don’t release him. Instead, I jerk my chin at Ten. Get lost.

Ten’s blue eyes narrow on me, but then…he turns, shoving the guy away and then follows him. He knows I won’t hurt Manny. He thinks Manny’s not the one I’m pissed at.

“Let me go,” Manny says.

I pull him in, taking hold of my shirt on his body with both hands, because he deserves this. We all got problems. I’m not going to blame my father, because I chose to prey on him in high school, and it’s not my fault he seeks escape into his fucking vices. Don’t give me that much power. 

Ripping my shirt open, I yank it down his arms as he stands frozen, looking away as he always did, trying to leave his head and pretend that it wasn’t happening. I leave him bare chested in a sea of other barely dressed party-goers and shove him away, a few onlookers still casting us glances.

He stumbles, another whisper of a smile lingering on his lips, because it was either that or cry, and he’d learned how to not cry in the last four years.

I won’t hurt Manny.

But Manny was the one I was pissed at.

All his fucking talk, and he was going to get high and let things happen to his body tonight that…

Panic rose in my chest, the wisp of realization teetering on the edge of my brain as I stared at his square jaw and narrow chin, ignoring his lean chest and the muscles starting to form under the skin. He’d been working out.  

I shook my head.

No one is using him tonight. That’s that.

A shot girl passed, and Manny plucked the tray out of her hands, downing one tube and taking two more before handing it back to her and spinning around. He stormed off, toward the exit, his head tipping back as he swallowed the other two drinks and disappeared through the door to the hallway.

The two empty tubes flew to the ground behind him.

Staring down at the shirt in my fist, knowing it didn’t fit me anymore—

knowing it hadn’t fit me in years—but all the memories came back at once, and all of a sudden I was that guy again. The one humiliating him in front of everyone.

Someone should have the shit. Someone should wear the fuck out of it and sweat in it and find it crumpled in the sand and discarded on the floor of a car.

I push off, heading right after Manny, but I can’t contain the urgency and once I’m in the hallway, I break into a run.

Reaching him in the crowded lobby, I grab his arm and pull him around.

But his eyes barely meet mine before he whips himself out of my hold and shoves me away. “Fuck off. Jesus!”

I stumble back, taking in the anger in his eyes, the heat crossing his cheeks, and the sweat on his neck. So slender, yet so strong, the vein bulging under his skin there. He was pissed. Something hums under my fingertips, and I clench my fists to make it stop.

I want to give him back the shirt, even though the buttons are gone. I want to tell I him I’m an asshole, and I know it.

want to apologize.

I don’t want him to leave.

But I shake my head, throwing the shirt at him instead, because he pissed me off tonight, too. “You should’ve gone to Hilton Head,” I say. “You can drink and pop all the pills you want.”

Like I was at all interested in watching him self-destruct and try to blame me for it.

He bares his teeth, whipping the shirt back at me. It slaps me in the face before I catch it.

“I hate you,” he growls low. “I fucking hate you more than Lyla. More than Trey. You are my worst memory in high school.”

I narrow my eyes.

“You’re less than nothing.” He starts to back away. “You don’t matter.”

Hair hanging in his face and pivoting on his heal, he spins around and keeps walking, and I crumple the shirt in my hand, glaring at his naked back. I’ve never put my hands on that little shit, but God, I want to now.

More than Trey? More than Lyla? I wasn’t that bad, you whiny little bitch.  

Digging in my heels, I storm after him, snagging him by the shoulder just as he starts down another hallway. Stopping him, I twist him around and slam him back into the wall.

“Ohhhh,” a couple people nearby say, taking their drinks and moving away.

“What the fuck is your problem?” I bite out. “Why would you say that?”

I’ve been nice to him. He started this shit tonight. He’s been on my case since they picked me up at my house.

But he doesn’t get back in my face. Or walk away.

He smiles. “Because I knew you wouldn’t be able to stand it. You’d come running. You can’t stand for anyone to not like you.”

I grab his neck and pin him to the wall. You little cunt.

Leaning in close, I nearly brush my nose to his, seething as I try to get my anger under control.

He just laughs some more, though. “You hate me,” he tells me. “But I’m all you have tonight, aren’t I? I know you. Fucking me up will make you feel so much better than she will.”

You don’t know me.

I slam him into the wall again, his brown eyes gazing at me from behind the tendrils of his hair hanging down, and I ball my fist, but then…

“Get ‘em, Champ,” someone says. “Damn.”

I pause, the voice sinking into my ears, the presence behind me feeling like it’s crawling my spine.

Turning my head, I see Trey with Raoul Bower and Tony Fallbrook, also in our graduating class.

I’m paralyzed for a moment.

Trey steps closer. “What’s up, man?”

I stand there, trying to get my body to move. After a moment, I release Manny and straighten my spine, unable to keep my face from looking anything other than disgusted.

Last spring, Trey Burrowes was in the shit as half the school came forward, detailing things about him even I didn’t know. Assault that went far beyond your standard bullying.

And the girls… Jesus, the girls he preyed on.

He should’ve been arrested, but here he is, walking around, a little worse for wear albeit, but healthy and free.

He and Misha share a sister, but it’s Trey she knows. Not the brother she should have. How did guys like this always win?

“Come on.” Trey moves in, pushing off the hood of his varsity jacket and casting his eyes between Manny and me. “It’s been months. We all grow up.”

I scoff. “Not all of us. How’s community college?”

After LSU rescinded his invitation, the last resort about ten miles inland took him in instead. I think he still lives at home, though.

Dressed in a maroon T-shirt under an open flannel, he closes the distance between us, partygoers trailing up and down the alley between us and the wall, oblivious.

“I don’t envy you,” he whispers, leaning in. “You were always small. The tag-along. The sidekick. The odd one out.” He shakes his head. “Nobody’s hero.”

I try to inhale, but my lungs have shrunk. I can’t take a deep breath.

“Lyla was so bored with you,” he continued. “She told me you always had to have the lights off to fuck her.”

Raoul and Tony chuckle behind him, and I lifted my chin, steeling myself.

She discussed our sex life. With him.

I ignored it when I caught them together in the locker room. I didn’t care. Sleeping with her was a fucking nightmare, and I was glad she was getting it somewhere else. The only thing I was angry about was that it was Trey she was screwing around with. My friend.

We were all friends, though. What was I going to do? Make new ones?

“Were you shy?” Raoul goads.

I did make new friends, though. That was a good day. The day I walked away and sat down next to Ryen in the lunchroom.

Every day since had been a running tie for worst as I realized I needed to find out who I was without Trey, and every time I got to the edge—to the hint that it might get harder, not easier as I realized who I was—I retreated.

“Didn’t you ever wonder how she was already so wet when you’d started in on her?” Trey taunts. “Wet but not tight after I left.”

I feel Manny inch off the wall, toward me. He doesn’t leave.

Trey’s slimy grin spreads wide as he looks down on me even though I’m an inch taller. “And the best part was you kept running back to her.” He snickers. “People may think I’m made of spit and shit, but at least I’m made of something.”

I lurch, but something presses into my stomach, and I feel the warmth of Manny’s body as he leans into my arm.

“He’s nothing,” Manny tells me. “Just back away.”

I scowl, my blood shaking under my skin as I glare at Trey.

Nothing has changed for him. He’s still the leader of the pack. Still confident and in charge and winning, and I might not have been a hero, but I wasn’t the villain. Why was I alone? Why wasn’t I surrounded by people who loved me?

I’m admired at school, but it’s all a lie. I play the part they want me to play.    

“J.D.” Manny’s low whisper, a quiet urging, courses down my arms, under the skin like warm water. “He’s nothing, J.D. Look at me.”

I drop my chin, exhaling, and then look over at Manny at my side. My eyes tip down to his hand on my sweatshirt, over my abs, not pushing me back but keeping me from going forward, and then I look back up at him. I’m warm everywhere, but I dig in my eyebrows, scowling at him, because my stomach is shaking and my lungs are shrinking even more, and I don’t know why.   

He’s nothing. And I am?

I hold Manny’s gaze, softened and steady, the anger gone from his voice now, and I now know why I let myself treat him so badly for so long.

He endured all the punishment I knew I deserved instead. Hurting him hurt me. It hurt me every time I watched him cry. I hated see him cry.

And still, he takes care of me right now. Jesus.  

“Well, shit.” I hear Trey’s voice and then a laugh. “I think I’m getting it now. Fuck me. You got to be kidding.”

My hands shake and Manny holds my eyes, an invisible thread there trying to pull me in as their snickers knock the air out of me.

I think I’m getting it now.

No. My chest caves, heat blossoming there instead, and I slap Manny’s arm away and turn to Trey, balling my fists.

Launching for Trey, I grabbed his collar, an electric current surging under my skin, and I’m unstoppable. This is where Manny and I are different. I’ll break before I ever bend.

I slam my fist into Trey’s face, wiping off that fucking smile, and I keep hitting until my knuckles are screaming.

“J.D.!” Manny cries.

But I throw the prick down on the ground and straddle him, going harder and harder until I’m gasping for breath and I can feel the blood in my body race, the rage getting hotter and hotter. Something takes over, and I don’t know where it’s coming from, but for the first time in months, I want to spit fire.

I can’t stop.

Until the toe of a boot lands on my temple, the kick coming hard and searing as I jerk to the side and topple over.

My ear rings as Trey struggles to gets his hands and feet under him. Tony sweeps in and grabs me, but I yank him down instead, knowing there’s no way I can win three against one.

But still, I can’t stop. Kill me.

A fist lands across my jaw, the inside of my cheek cutting on my teeth, but I dart my knee into Tony’s stomach, watching him growl and fall onto the ground next to me.

And the next thing I know, we’re a mess. Fists, arms, and legs swinging everywhere, the chatter growing louder around us as people start to crowd in to see the three-against-one, a few screams going off.

They take my arms, holding them wide, and knuckles land in my gut, making the bile rise. I hunch over for a moment, but then grab Trey’s leg, pulling it out from under him. I hover over him, hitting him again and again, pushing through the hands trying to pull me off and the fists coming down hard on my head. Blood spilled down my cheek, the cut on my face stinging, but I’m not thinking about everything that hurts and that’s good.

He’s nothing. He’s nothing.

Manny’s words swim through my head, and I see him there. Alone in the hallways at school. Looking like he was about to die as Trey and I left him there.

My eyes brim.

I hit harder and harder, blows coming in nonstop. I just wished he’d disappear! Everything is his fault!

But I don’t mean Trey.

Just as I look up at Manny, glaring as my fight dies, and I turn my attention, darkness consumes us. All the lights quickly extinguish, and I turn my attention back to Trey, but then…

I hesitate.

Feeling everyone rush around me, laughter and squeals peeling through the darkness as couples disappear into boxes or hide in little nooks for Seven Minutes in Heaven, I drop Trey and rise. The shapes in the black hallway are barely visible.

But I can still feel him behind me.

I turn, facing Manny’s dark form.

“Find a partner!” someone calls out a last warning in the distance.

I inch toward him, his back pressed into the door behind him.  

“Go,” I tell him. “Find Ten.”

He stands there, his nose straight ahead. I can’t see his face, but he doesn’t move.

Everything is his fault. All of this. He needs to disappear.

“I’m gonna go,” I warn him. “I got someone down in the orchestra waiting for me. So go.”

“I don’t want to go.”

His quiet voice makes my stomach drop, and I swallow, clenching my teeth to not feel it. Trey coughs behind me, his breathing ragged, but I’m not worried about him anymore.   

“I’m not weak.” I lower my voice to Manny. “I’m none of your business.”

He shoves the shirt into my chest, but I grab his wrist instead and push open the door behind him, shoving both of us inside.

Clutching his jaw, I swing him around and slam him into the back of the door, pressing my body into his and fucking holding him there.

Enough. Fucking enough already.

His breath warms my lips, and he just stands there, letting me do what I want.  

I dig my thumb into his skin. “Dad gave me money for school clothes before freshmen year started,” I whisper as the commotion and music carries on outside. “My mom had split a few months before, and he didn’t have any idea how to take me shopping. The shirt wasn’t a gift. I bought it myself.”

I reach down with my other hand and take the shirt in my fist, pulling it out of his and remembering the first and last time I ever wore it.  

“He said I looked like a faggot.” I stare at the faint outline of Manny’s eyes. “Like the type of kid who’d shoot up a school. ‘I wasn’t a man.’ He needed to ‘make me a man.’”

Manny remains silent, and I don’t know I’m so close until I feel his chest under my own.

“One morning he woke me up,” I tell him, “told me to dress warmly, and pulled me into the truck. We drove for what seemed like an hour.”

Heat rises to my cheeks, remembering the day. How many times had I thought my life would be so much better if I could take all the humiliating and embarrassing moments and erase them from my life. I’d be happy then.

I continue. “My father had never forced me to go hunting with him before. He didn’t want the trouble of a kid tagging along, scaring off the game.”

Aches hit my stomach, and I see the kill in my head. I jerk. “He said I’d get used to it. He said after a while, you see them as food. ‘They don’t have feelings. They don’t feel pain.’” I tremble. I don’t feel Manny’s chest rise or fall under me. “’Do it’, he said. ‘Stop your crying.’” I release Manny’s jaw and knock him in the head, feeling my father hit my own. “‘Stop your crying, you little fag. Toughen up.’” I hit him again and again and again. “’Come on, be a man. Be a man.’” Tears well, seeing the deer in my head. “Be a man, you fucking girl. What are you, a little girl?” I sneer. “’You crying like a little girl?’” I slap him over the side of the head again. “’You a little girl? Want a dress? Shoot it again. It’s not dead.” I squeeze his neck with both hands. “‘It’s not dead! Shoot it again!’”

I shake, seeing the blood and steamy breaths of the downed animal and knowing it was suffering, but I couldn’t do it again. I didn’t want to kill it.

“But I kept missing,” I say, “and I couldn’t get the killshot, and I just wanted to put the arrow in my father instead.” I close my eyes, leaning my forehead into his face. “I wanted to put the arrow in him.”

I can’t fucking hold myself up. I couldn’t even use a shotgun. He made me use a bow.

“It took eight minutes for the deer to bleed out,” I tell Manny, but I can’t look at him. “And he put the head in the fucking foyer of our house.” Tears prick like needles in my throat. “He put the head in the foyer.”

Because I bought a shirt.

Because I was…

“I never wore the shirt,” I whisper. “I couldn’t let anyone find out.”

Still not moving or pushing me away, he asks, “Find out what?”

I open my mouth, but no words come out. Once I say it, I can’t unsay it, and while I was so tired of teetering on the edge of changing my life forever, the fear cripples me.

I couldn’t let anyone find out that I liked the shirt.

That I’d seen this kid at Freshman Orientation and couldn’t stop looking at him.

That he wore black and had wavy black hair to match that fell to his shoulders, and that he wore piercings and eyeliner, and he was so quiet and pale and I liked the way the hollows of his cheeks brought out the darkness in his eyes. I loved the way his clothes hung on him and how his wallet chains draped down his leg.

That for a little while, I convinced myself I was jealous of his look. I wanted to look like that.

And that over time, I realized I didn’t want to look like him. I just wanted to look at him.

I open my eyes and look up, meeting his as I drop my hands. “I couldn’t let anyone find out that I wasn’t a man.”

I didn’t want Lyla. What I wanted I couldn’t have.  

“You’re a man,” he rasps, taking the shirt out of my hand and slipping it on. “You’re a man, J.D. You stood up for Misha with Trey. You stood up for Ryen. You picked a side. The right side, despite your friends.”

He takes my wrist, holding it tightly. “You’re a man.”

I go rigid instantly, feeling his warmth. It’s almost painful, and I can’t breathe.

But then…I don’t know if it’s him or me or how it happens, but I fall and his arms are around my neck, holding me close. I plant my hand on the wall, closing my eyes, and hugging him back with the other arm, exhaling for what seemed like forever.

 I don’t know if I’m shaking more or less, but it feels so good, I never want to let go. Lyla was probably the last person to hug me, but it wasn’t like this.

The scent of cedar and soap hit my nose and I tuck my face into it, holding him tight.

What if I’d been better?

What if I protected him in high school? Stood up to Trey? And not only stood up to him, but been the one to make the rules? Been the leader?

Manny would never have been touched if I’d stood the fuck up.

And maybe that night after the game where I’d missed the pass and the coach made me run laps until fucking eleven-thirty, long after everyone was gone, I wouldn’t have seen Manny under the bleachers, hiding from home, and just left him there.

If I were a strong man, known what I wanted and apologized to know one, I would’ve talked to him. I would’ve taken his hand and sat with him and let him know that he wasn’t alone.

That he had me.  

The ridges of his body press flush with mine—the poke of his ribs, the flat of his stomach, inhaling and exhaling—and it’s more than I can take.

The weight of my lids grows heavy, I stop breathing, and heat pools in my groin, my body wanting more.


My eyes open, feeling it. The hard ridge brushing against mine, the blood stirring between my legs despite the fact that I wish it wasn’t.

J.D.? Jesus Christ.

He’s hard. I swallow the lump growing in my throat, a light layer of sweat cooling the skin under the shirt.

I close my eyes again, his hot breath brushing my ear and chills spreading down my body, making me want to curl into him more.

What the fuck? I drop my arms, frozen.

I’m attracted to J.D. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t, but I’d been attracted to lots of straight guys. I roll with it, because that’s all I can do.

It’s never occurred to me that J.D. isn’t straight, though.

But even if he isn’t, he’s not ready to be anything else outside this room.

I pull away from him. I’m not going to be his dirty, little secret, whatever the fuck this is.

I start to turn to open the door. “I should find Ten.”

He shoots out his hand, slamming it into the door and making me jump. “No,” he says. “You shouldn’t.”

His nose brushes mine, his heavy breaths warming my skin as his mouth hovers, and I can’t breathe.

I grit my teeth and grab the handle behind me, but he fists my neck in one hand and slams me against the door.

I growl, gasping for air.

“I don’t want him touching you,” he whispers, and I can smell the drink on his breath, like dried orange peels. My mouth waters. “I never did.”

I choke out a bitter laugh. You never did. Great.  

“And you don’t touch him.”

I shake my head, hooding my eyes as I glare at the fucking jock. “What do you want to happen here?” I ask, leaning into him, playing, our lips centimeters apart. “You want to touch me? See me?”

We’ll start off small. Why not?

I drop the shirt down my arms, seeing his blue eyes fall to my chest. His lungs empty, and the heat rolls off him in waves as he toys and teases, about to come in at me but holds back, the torture written in his eyes.

“You wanna watch me?” I taunt.

Am I going to be your toy tonight while you turn around and bash me tomorrow?

Let’s see then. I reach down, palming my dick through my kilt, watching his face as I rub slow and strong.

My dick twitches, stirring more and more, because his eyes don’t leave my hand as I play, and…

I gulp. And I kind of like it. I like that he likes it.

My dick tents my kilt, begging to be free of it, and I know when J.D. sees my hard cock erect and ready, because his eyebrows dig in like he’s in pain.

But I’m not his entertainment anymore. I pull my hand off myself.

“More,” he growls, forcing my hand back on and leaning into my mouth. “Let me watch you do it.”

I resist. “No.”

“Do it,” he grits out.

I yank free of his hand and slam him in the chest with both palms.

He stumbles backward.

“I’m not your fucking toy!” I shout, not caring who hears me. “You think I’m going to jerk off for you tonight? Maybe suck your cock tomorrow and let you fuck me in the backseat when you finally want to go a little further?” I glare at him, his brown hair still in place and styled, always making him look too handsome. “You know why I’d fuck anyone over you? Because you’d hide me. You’d make me feel like I did in high school! Ashamed and disgusting and too worthless to expect anything better! Fuck you, J.D.! You weak-assed, Daddy’s boy motherfucker! I’d let anyone take me to bed over you!”

He growls, anger piercing his stare as he whips out his hands and shoves the vase of fake flowers off the table against the wall. It crashes to the carpet, and then he kicks out his foot, toppling over one of the cushioned arm chairs.

Spoiled brat. As usual—he wants what he wants when he wants it, and maybe last year, I would’ve let him do whatever he wanted with me, because I was desperate for attention, but I’d learned I was worth a lot more since then.

Fuck J.D. York.

Fuck this town.

And fuck ‘em all.

Fuck. Whipping around, I twist the handle and swing open the door, but it’s ripped out of my hand and shoved closed again. I twist around, ready to tear him apart, but when I do, he’s pulling his sweatshirt of his head and standing there, his eyes not meeting mine.

But they shimmer, and I can tell they’re about to spill over.

I still as he approaches, clenching his jaw. “Please wear this,” he murmurs, still not looking at me. “It’s cold.”

I gape at him.

He inches in, threading his hands through the hole for the head. I’m about to shove him away, but then he speaks again.

“I’m sorry,” he barely manages to whisper. “I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not okay.”

Yeah, everyone knows that.

“I haven’t been okay for a long time, but I…” He takes a few breathes. “I didn’t want to be anywhere else than in here with you just now.”

My eyebrows nosedive, trying to keep my emotion in check. This is like him.

“I’ve wanted to be like that with you for a long time.”

My throat stretches, seeing all the years he kept things locked away and how that shit just piles up, because I know what it feels like.

Before I can stop him, he slips the hoodie over my head and pulls it down. I slide my arms in, his smell enveloping me.

“I am sorry,” he tells me, bowing his head. “I’m sorry for all of it.”

A tear spills down his cheek, and he quickly dips down and swipes the black shirt off the floor, so I won’t notice, but as soon as he pops back up, I grab hold of his fist, feeling the shirt.

If he’d pressed a little harder, I might’ve given in. I still crave attention. I’m still weak, and I still have self-esteem issues. He’s hot, and I want it.

But he didn’t push it. He dressed me and couldn’t look at me.  

“I want the shirt,” I tell him.

Instead of taking it, though, I watch his face and trail my fingers up his arm. The soft skin of the underside, some scratches from a football game no doubt, the veins bulging through his golden skin…

Does he really want this?

He’s not ready.

But something comes over me, and I dive in, running my lips up the side of his neck and feeling his chest cave in right before he grabs my head, holding me to him and both of us falling into the door.

I nuzzle my nose into his skin, seizing the invitation for more and trail the tip of my tongue up his neck next, drawing him in and tasting him and eating him—biting, kissing, and sucking.

He groans, and I immediately feel his cock harden again and press into mine.

“This could’ve been us,” I whispered, “years ago.”

I take his ear between my teath, slowly dragging it out.

“I liked to look at you in the shower.” I trailed my hands under his shirt, his fucking amazing body turning me on. “God, you looked good wet.”

He breathes hard, and I watch him bare his teeth.

“I want to be in the shower now,” I tell him. “Touching you.”

“Manny…” he groans.

“Take me home,” I say. “Take me home to your bed. Can you see it? Me naked in your sheets? Me shaving at your sink in just a towel, because why bother getting dressed. I’m just gonna fuck you again in a little while.”

I taunt him, and his body is going wild, because it probably never occurred to him that I’d be rough with him, too, and he just might like that idea.

And then he’s in it.

Gripping the back of my hair, his hard breath falling over my mouth, he covers my lips with his, holding me fast and taking me over hard.

I groan, and I don’t know if it’s because I can’t breathe or because I feel it all through my fucking body, but either way, I don’t pull away.

Fisting the shirt, I kiss him back and tilt my head as he shoves my chin up and presses me into the door, his mouth trailing down my throat. I moan. Fuck, he’s good.

He covers my mouth again, and I can feel the smile on his lips.

And a certain satisfaction that he likes this. That he wants it.

“Take me home tonight,” I demand. “I’ll be yours all night.”

He falters, his shaky breath hitting my neck.

The hesitation, although expected, stings.

He’ll never take me home to Dad.  

But I press him, because I deserve to know. “Don’t bend me over,” I whisper. “Get the fuck on top of me and hold my eyes while you do it.”

He stands there, frozen for a minute, and I can only imagine the cold reality seeping into his body.

He backs away.

I force a smirk, pushing away the hurt in my stomach. “Weak-assed, Daddy’s boy, motherfucker.”

He tips his chin up, defiant.

I won’t be your fuck. I can screw Ten, and it doesn’t matter. If J.D. wants me, then he’ll have to belong to me.

Holding the shirt, I push off the wall. “I’ll call an Uber.”

And I turn, opening the door.

“Go straight home,” I hear him say, his voice a cold bite. “To your own bed. Alone.”

I chuckle, not turning to face him. “This isn’t high school anymore. I’m not afraid of you.”

“You saw my soft side tonight,” he tells me. “Don’t make me remind you that I have another.”

My stomach drops a little, remembering all too well.

“I mean, really Manny.” His voice turns playful but sinister. “Don’t push me like that. It hurts me more than it hurts you.”

I can feel the blood draining my face, but I only pause a moment before I slam the door closed and push through the crowd, toward the lobby and exit.

A whole week at home.

Ten is here.

Trey is here.

J.D is here.