Hello everyone! It’s been a while!! I’ve been enjoying a good, long rest since the publication of my latest book. As a celebration of the lovely reviews I’ve gotten back, I’m doing a limited time free Kindle giveaway this weekend for The Times We Fell in Love. To kick this off, I’m posting the first chapter here for you to enjoy!
Thank you as always for your support and for taking the chance to read something from a self-published indie author like myself. I appreciate it more than I can express.
Chapter One: Don’t Ask Me Why
It started with a selfie of Jackson Mitchell mooning his friends, of all things. Nathan was sitting in the apartment he shared with his childhood best friend, Maverick, when that strange little event happened. He’d been in his room, innocently strumming fingers over steel guitar strings, generally avoiding all the work and deadlines looming above his head. They were college seniors now, finishing up their time in Boise. How Nathan had gotten this far was completely beyond him, but somehow he did. Things were much simpler for Maverick. He was always smart as a whip, and Jackson…well, Jackson tended to get by with smooth talking and a clever smile. It definitely didn’t hurt that he was tall, athletic, and bulky in just the right ways.
Jackson wasn’t a friend from their youth. This guy, this charismatic guy who looked like he ought to be a football player, actually studied law. He and Maverick met through shared classes, and where Maverick was eagerly, almost rabidly following in the footsteps of his father, Jackson was there more of his own writ. Nathan, from day one, always found the guy to be fairly okay. Kind of annoying and cocky for sure, but he had a good heart, was wickedly hilarious, and pretty sharp, too. In contrast to the historically easygoing nature of things with Nathan, Jackson often seemed to rub Maverick the wrong way. To outsiders it probably felt strange that they kept Jackson around, but Nathan knew Maverick well enough to understand. At some point along the way, Jackson had clearly been identified a rival worth keeping close. It would explain their dynamic, and the motive suited Maverick to a hideous T.
Those two were always bickering and arguing over nothing. In the early days it was all law, then it slowly escalated and flooded into every facet of their lives. They agreed on nothing, they were both right about everything, and it was absolutely imperative that someone admitted fault. Despite Jackson’s size and the fact that often times Nathan quietly agreed with him, it was usually Maverick who came out the victor. Nathan always felt Jackson gave that to Mav, like a little unspoken gift extended day, after day, after day.
In the flurry of constant agitation and conflict, it certainly didn’t help that Jackson was rooming with an apartment full of beautiful women. Mav bitterly told Nathan when he’d heard of the arrangement that Jackson was probably laying them, each and every one. Nathan didn’t doubt it. The vibe was there, and even though Jackson had his shortcomings, he was handsome and smooth enough to exploit it when he wanted. All of this to say, even though Jackson folded into relationships with Nathan and Maverick fast, he was never fully able to penetrate the solid nature of their rooted, childhood bonds.
At least, not at first.
Over their time spent in college, while Nathan and Maverick weathered the tides of growth and change, the things they disagreed on felt a bit larger than before. They remained friends. They often proclaimed one another as best friends even, but it was difficult to deny the fact there were ever increasing places they no longer seemed to click. Perhaps, at this point, it was merely familiarity that held them together. That and Julia, who continued to encourage them whenever things got shaky. She still came by once in a while, not as Nathan’s girlfriend anymore, just as a friend. That, and the occasional romp in his bed.
Things weren’t the way most would imagine after a split between former high school sweethearts. They didn’t make it as a couple in the least dramatic of ways, for example. They grew up together, quite literally, from the days of kinder into something just shy of adults. They changed, and explored, and figured out who and what they were in unison. She was the first to notice the softer things about him, the confusion he carried inside at the time. They were seniors in high school when she’d decided to start pressing him. She was gentle at first. She suggested small things, like putting on lipstick before kissing her, painting his nails, or trying on heels just for kicks when he took her shopping. He indulged her. It opened the door and made him feel more comfortable being honest about who he was. The first time he’d really said it out loud, they’d been laying in bed kissing and getting heated. She asked him, breathless, what he really was. It’d confused him, though not enough to get him to stop touching her body.
She’d had to prod him some more, he played ignorant at first, but he did eventually whisper those words against her damp, impatient skin. He wasn’t necessarily a man, nor did he feel like a woman, either. He just was. They loved one another ardently that night, and when they were through, they got more serious about what it meant for them; for him. She understood him in ways that he’d been terrified she wouldn’t. To assist, she’d confided in him that, sometimes, she wasn’t quite certain where her attractions settled. She accepted him, asked about pronouns and the like. He said it was okay to call him ‘he’ because that was the way he presented himself then.
In the comfort of her presence, he was able to explore parts of himself he’d otherwise pretended weren’t there his entire life. This worked for some time, and it bonded them in ways that still remained intimate and tender. Though they were closely tethered from stark honesty, when they’d gotten to college, it wasn’t enough to hold them together, and that was okay. It ended between them the day Julia realized she was falling in love with a female friend she’d made in her art class. Nathan didn’t mind, he’d fallen out of love by that point, too. Julia was and always would be an incredible friend, and she’d helped him grow into a hint of the person he truly felt like he was. They appreciated one another, and she still came over to sleep with him once in a while. It worked. It was fine. At least, it would be until he met someone who could sweep him off his feet.
He still wanted that.
Which was the thought he was having when that cursed selfie arrived on his phone.
Like a bomb, the notification that rang ‘round the world had gone off. Nathan set his guitar down and lifted the phone, his eyes wide while he took in the surprising image, in all its pale glory. There it was: Jackson’s bare butt for everyone to see. He was in a dressing room somewhere, looking over his shoulder and clearly snapping the picture from the mirror. It was captioned ‘think my ass looks nice in these…woops! Forgot the jeans!’ with an awkward smiley face at the end.
Dude…what are you up to?
Before Nathan could make any sense of it, he heard Maverick shouting from the living room. Nathan rolled his eyes, annoyed because Mav was bothered by Jackson the way he always was, which was obviously why Jackson had done it in the first place. It occurred to Nathan that the primary source of his contempt had less to do with predictability, and more to do with how juvenile it all was. For God’s sake, college graduation was just a few months away. When the hell were they going to grow up?
Nathan rose from the bed and walked into the living room, immediately accosted by Maverick’s high-pitched, indignant voice.
“Did you see it? Disgusting! Why the hell would he do that? He’s such a jerk…why can’t he just mind his own business!?”
Nathan shrugged, lacking the energy to deal with any of it. It was all so stupid and mundane. He trudged into the kitchen and pulled out a bag of chips, carelessly munching while Mav droned on, and on, so full of ire. He was clearly answering the group text, which Nathan figured he’d peek at later. He could hear the pinging and dinging, and it was all so terribly conventional. Maverick would continue to be furious, hurling insults about any flaw he could find. Nathan would zone out and ignore it until later when he had the spoons to deal with it. Jackson would be enormously gratified that he’d set Maverick off.
Boring, boring, so damn boring.
Nathan quietly sighed and went back to his bedroom. He fetched his cell phone, not bothering with the group text, and opened his conversations with Julia. He quickly hammered out a text:
Jules…help! Mav’s having a fit and I’m bored out of my mind. You free?
He waited and stared at his phone, pleased when she responded quickly.
You want an orgasm, love?
He grinned before responding.
Yes please 🙂
Be right there!
He smiled a little wider before tossing the phone back to the bed. He collected his guitar, put it away, then went back to the living room to wait for Julia. Maverick was settled by then, and Nathan couldn’t help but wonder why Jackson’s photograph had triggered him so much. He had a hunch, but he’d never have the nerve to accuse him of it. Still, he was kind of obsessed with all things Jackson. It wasn’t the behavior of a man who didn’t carry some tension about his sexuality, at the very least.
Still, he’d never seen Maverick with anyone outside the usual. He slept with women here and there, but not all that often. Honestly, Mav didn’t seem especially interested in sex. He was preoccupied with school, and his career, and his goals. He wanted to be a lawyer, like his father, but rather than defending any rando with the cash, Maverick had ideals of defending people who actually deserved it. He had higher ethics and aspirations that went beyond financial gain, which Nathan had to admit he did find admirable. There were still little things here and there he liked about his friend.
Nathan sat down on the couch and flicked the television on, mindlessly watching ESPN for a while. He didn’t really care about sports all that much, just enough to keep up with other men in conversation. He still tried his best to pass, to act like he was more of a man’s man than he felt like he was. Maybe someday he’d be ready for honesty, but today wasn’t that day. He was relieved, though, when he heard Julia’s knock at the door.
Nathan hopped up and answered it, then gave her a quick kiss. She and Maverick exchanged hellos before he awkwardly disappeared into his bedroom. Maverick knew whenever Julia came around it was only for a hook-up.
Once they were alone, she didn’t hesitate at all, taking Nathan by the arm and leading him to the privacy of his room. They shut the door, then got down to it, kissing and generously letting their hands roam. She shoved him atop the bed, taking charge as she was prone to do. He loved it. He absolutely loved when they got to be like this. The way she took control of him and had her way was the hottest thing in the world to him, and she always delivered. She never disappointed.
They took their time, and they took their turns, each making sure they got what they came for. When it was through, they collapsed into a salty, satisfied mess. He nuzzled up against her, resting his cheek near the top of her chest. She pulled the blankets over them and smoked her vape, holding it to his lips for a puff here and there.
“So, what’s the deal…what had Mav’s panties in a bunch?” she asked.
Nathan smiled and laughed, “Jackson sent a picture mooning us.”
“Ew…let me see!”
Nathan sat up and looked around, trying to locate his phone. An amused expression rested easily on his face while he dug around the sheets, eventually finding it before settling in close to her again. He opened the text and handed it over. She erupted with laughter.
“Why the hell would Mav be mad about this? Who cares? It’s funny! Everyone’s seen a healthy amount of Jackson’s ass by this point, anyway.”
Nathan took the phone and set it aside, still not ready to really look at it.
“He’s obsessed with Jackson, specifically his ass.”
Julia let out another laugh, “Yeah…he really is. Those two need to get it on and get it over with.”
Nathan rolled his eyes. He thought the same thing, but again, he couldn’t bring himself to say it out loud. He didn’t really like the idea of it, truthfully. Something about the thought of those two in a relationship really got beneath his skin, though he wasn’t exactly sure why. The subject was dropped, thankfully, while Julia casually moved onto other things.
“You seeing anyone yet?”
Nathan shook his head, “No, just you here and there.”
She sighed, “Nathan…you’ve got to at least try and put yourself out there. What about the Internet? Maybe that’d be a little bit easier…?”
He shrugged and trailed kisses along the skin of her collarbone. She let him for a while, then nudged him away, “Nathan…come on, I’m serious. You need someone you can love, not just rendezvous with me.”
He sighed, facing her with his cheek propped in his hand.
“I know. I’m comfortable with you, though. Where am I going to find a woman who gets me like you? And I’m sure as hell not ready to ask out a man.”
“Even if you knew he was gay? Like, seriously, Nathan. You could make an online profile…”
He shook his head, “No. What if someone I know saw? I haven’t come out yet. I’m not ready. I don’t know if I’ll ever be.”
Julia looked at him sympathetically. She ached for him. She wanted him to feel comfortable with who he was.
“Well, you can’t go on like this forever, Nate. At some point, you’re going to need more than just this.”
He lowered his gaze, “I know.”
They didn’t talk much further after that. She pulled him close and kissed him tenderly for a while because she knew it made him feel cared for, and she wanted to give him what little she could. It was lovely until it came time for her to leave. She re-dressed, collected her things, gave him a deep kiss goodbye, and then she was gone. Nathan was left lying atop his bed, regarding the ceiling and pondering the things she’d said. It took him a while to remember the text on his phone, but he eventually lifted it and opened up the group chat.
The photo was there, and so were the comments. They were exactly along the lines he’d expected, which made him want to roll his eyes. He considered tossing the phone aside once more, but instead, he scrolled back up to the photo and let himself look at it for a while. It was understandable, really, why Mav was so obsessed.
Jackson was gorgeous, and the view was nice.
He looked around the room, feeling as though someone might be watching him, that he’d somehow get caught. Once he was convinced there was no one there, he pressed his finger atop the picture, applied some pressure, and brought up a menu. He touched the button, making a folder and saving it. He labeled it: Jackson. He wasn’t sure if another picture would ever come, but just in case it did, he wanted to hang onto them.
He wasn’t sure why. He wasn’t about to question it. Sometimes things were just better like that.
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