I Dare You

Copyright September 3-4, 2005
by Matthew Haldeman-Time

I am writing about men having sex with other men.  You must be eighteen or older to read my fiction.  This site is for consenting, responsible adults only.

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            When the doorbell rang, Sam was sprawled on the sofa, digesting supper and engrossed in a jellyfish documentary, but his mother said, “See who that is.”

            Irritated by the interruption, Sam rose from the couch.  They didn’t exactly live in the middle of nowhere, but they weren’t far from it, and no one ever stopped by unannounced.  Maybe once a year a kid selling something for school came around, but school was out for summer vacation, which was why Sam was home from Stonehaven U.

            Maybe one of the Ingram’s cows had escaped again.  Sam opened the door, pushing aside the screen door, too.

            In the fading sunset, Riley Jackson gave Sam a smile, uncertain of his welcome.  “Hi.”

            “Hi,” Sam said, not sure how to feel.  He hadn’t seen or spoken to Riley in years.  God, he’d know that cute little nose and that soft mouth and that white-blond hair anywhere.  And those mean blue eyes.

            “I have to get to work, and my car won’t start,” Riley said.  “Could you give me a ride?  Just there, I can get a ride home.”

            Sam couldn’t believe that this was happening to him.  Riley couldn’t be serious.  Why had he answered the door?  They had other neighbors.  Why had Riley come to his house?  The fucker had balls.

            “I called my boyfriend, but he’s busy,” Riley said.

            Of course Riley had a boyfriend.  Of course Sam didn’t.

            And what was Sam supposed to do now?  Say no?  He couldn’t close a door in Riley’s face, he was too much of a pushover, always had been.  Riley knew that.  He couldn’t lie and say that he was busy…could he?

            He’d always had trouble denying people who needed help.

            Then again, Riley’s problems weren’t his problems.

            “Hold on for a second,” Sam said, and closed the door.  For a moment, it occurred to him that he could just lock the door and forget all about it, but Riley would ring the doorbell again, and his mother would ask what was going on.  Damn it.

            He found his mother in the kitchen, writing out a grocery list.  “That was Riley.”

            “Riley Jackson?” she asked, looking surprised.  “What did he want?”

            “He needs a ride to work.”

            She looked at him.

            He wasn’t sure which expression should be on his face.

            “If you’re taking him, you can use my car,” she said.

            If.  She’d said, “if.”  As in, he had a choice.

            He wanted to ask her if she’d drive Riley, but it didn’t seem like a good son would do that.

            He sighed.  “Okay.  I’ll be back.”  He got his wallet and her keys, then went to the car.  He had to drive his mother’s station wagon.  He wondered what kind of car Riley had.  Raising the garage door, he stepped outside.  Riley had turned in his direction on the front porch, probably at the sound of the garage door, and walked over.  “Where am I taking you?” Sam asked.

            “I work at the Falls, in Tanover.”

            Tanover was an hour away.  Shit.  Shit.  Damn it, damn it, damn it.  He’d be trapped in a car with Riley for a fucking hour.  Followed by a long drive home, during which he could agonize over the pain of his choice.

            Feeling even more screwed over than ever, Sam got into the driver’s seat, starting the car as Riley got in beside him.  He adjusted the seat for his legs, glanced at the gas gauge, and reversed down the driveway.  Pushing the button to close the garage door, he pulled onto their street.  Out of habit, he checked for traffic first, but of course there wasn’t any.

            He had a vague idea of where Tanover was, so he started in that direction.

            “You’re home for the summer?” Riley asked.

            “Yeah.”  Silence was unbearable, but conversation was much worse.

            “Where do you go to school?” Riley asked.

            Of course Riley wouldn’t know.  “Stonehaven.  It’s in Vermont.”

            “Vermont,” Riley repeated, surprised.  Impressed?

            “I’m majoring in graphic design.”  That was enough about himself.  “Are you in school?”  Duh, damn it, idiot, Riley wouldn’t be in school at the moment, unless he was in summer school.  He should have asked, “Do you go to school?”

            “I had a couple of semesters at Tack.”

            The local community technical college.  And, from the sound of it, he wasn’t going back.  If Sam was twenty-one, Riley was nineteen.  He’d quit community college after one year?  “What’s,” what had he called it, “the Falls?”  Riley was dressed informally for work, in jeans, sneakers, and a T-shirt.  His slender body was more mature, tighter and harder with muscle than Sam remembered.

            “An all-night diner,” Riley said.  “I clear tables and wash dishes.”

            Sam tried to find something positive to say.  He hadn’t expected Riley to take over the world, but he wanted better circumstances for him than this.  Of course, he was only nineteen; he wouldn’t necessarily be a busboy forever.  “Good food?”

            “It’s okay.”

            Sam braked for a stoplight.


            Traffic moved around them.

            “You can get on up here and then get off at the Gold Bridge exit,” Riley said, like Sam wouldn’t know, like he was more aware and knowledgeable and savvy than Sam was.  Because obviously Sam was out of his league driving more than a mile away from home, like Sam didn’t - -Sam realized that his entire body was tense and he had a death grip on the wheel.

            Maybe he was overreacting.

            He was way too sensitive, way too touchy, when it came to Riley.

            The light changed.  Sam drove on, spotting the entrance ramp up ahead.  He took it, merging onto the highway.  He was tempted to drive too fast, just to get there sooner and get rid of Riley earlier, but with his luck, he’d get pulled over for speeding.  Not only was he a law-abiding citizen, but he wouldn’t be able to bear facing a cop in front of Riley.

            Sam and Riley had grown up together.  In the scattering of houses that passed for their neighborhood, they’d been the only two boys of a similar age.  There had been a few older boys, and a bunch of girls, including Sam and Riley’s sisters, but for lack of anyone else to play with, Sam and Riley had been friends.

            Best friends, really.

            They’d biked around together, skateboarded together.  Sam’s mother had taken them to the local pool in the summer.  Sam’s backyard had a clubhouse and a swing set; Riley’s backyard had a wading pool and a dog.  They’d formed clubs and caught fireflies and harassed their sisters together.

            Riley’s parents had smoked and drank and cursed.  They had less money than Sam’s parents, and their house had always felt smaller, darker, inside.  They weren’t as educated or as cultured as Sam’s parents, either.  Riley had always seemed worldly to Sam.  He’d always seemed to know more about everything.  Sam had been book smart; Riley had been street smart.

            Now, looking back, Sam couldn’t imagine why he’d thought that Riley was street smart, because they lived on the same damned street, which at the time hadn’t even been paved.

            Really, Riley had just been pushy and aggressive, and Sam had let Riley intimidate him.  They always did what Riley wanted to do and played where Riley wanted to play.  Riley had exerted an odd, powerful influence over him.  He’d done things that went against his nature for Riley.  He’d stolen things from his sisters for Riley, stolen money from his parents for Riley, and lied for Riley.  He’d lied for Riley a lot.

            When he hadn’t wanted to do something, when he’d resisted, when he’d hesitated, on those rare occasions, all it had taken was Riley’s soft, taunting, “I dare you, Sammy.”  He’d never said no to that.

            Since he’d been two years older, he’d been two years ahead of Riley in school.  They’d never interacted in school.  They hadn’t even sat together on the school bus, because the bus route circled around to pick up other friends of theirs that they’d sat with instead.

            After eighth grade, Sam’s parents took him and his sisters on a cross-country trip for the end of June and most of July.  When they got back, his grandfather died, and he spent the bulk of August in Georgia with the rest of the family.  Then he came back and moved on to high school, while Riley went to middle school.

            They really didn’t spend time together after that.  They didn’t even see each other at the bus stop, not really.  They’d used to play games while they waited for the bus, like Red Light, Green Light, or Simon Says, or Mother, May I.  On rainy days they’d messed around with worms.  When Sam began high school, Riley stayed inside until the bus showed up, and then ran out.  Sam saw him watching by the window, sometimes, but he didn’t come out until the bus was in view.  They didn’t spend evenings or weekends together, either, or any summer after that.

            Sam graduated high school without having spoken to Riley in years.

            He turned on the radio.  It only got two contemporary stations, from larger cities on either side.

            They’d been on the road for twenty minutes.  Forty to go.  “You drive to Tanover every night?” Sam asked.  He didn’t want to converse with Riley, but it was bizarre to sit in total silence with someone he’d once created a secret language with.

            “Yeah.  Usually I stay with my boyfriend, Adrian.  He lives in Ennisburg.”

            Adrian.  Riley and Adrian.  Sam glanced to the side, catching Riley’s profile, then away again.  Riley always had been incredibly cute, as a kid.  Now he was hot, too.  Sexy.  No doubt a lot more sexually experienced.  Looking at him made sharp things twist through Sam’s stomach.  “You met him at Tack?”

            “Yeah.  We had freshman comp together.”

             Sam wanted Riley.  He had for a long time.

            He wondered if Riley knew.

            He wondered if that was part of why Riley had dropped him.

            Maybe Riley had no idea that Sam wanted him.

            Maybe Riley knew, but that had nothing to do with why they’d stopped being friends.  Maybe they’d simply grown apart.  Maybe they’d never been that compatible to begin with, and as they’d aged and made more solid friendships at school, they hadn’t needed each other anymore.

            Sam had always needed Riley.  Some small part of him always would.

            Riley was everything he wasn’t.  Tough, defiant, manipulative.  Cynical and self-centered and bitter.  Sam’s home life had protected him, shielded him from the world.  Riley’s hadn’t.

            Riley had been fascinating and influential, aggressive and charismatic enough to get Sam to follow him into anything.  Riley had been a bad kid.  Had gotten into a lot of trouble in school.  Had a mean, hard little smile that made his eyes glint with “you can’t hurt me.”

            Riley also had a beautiful, open smile and a beautiful, happy laugh.  Sam remembered trying to make Riley happy, trying to make Riley smile at him and laugh for him.  Sam had sneaked money to please Riley, had scoured magazine after magazine to find pictures to rip out to decorate the clubhouse with for Riley, had broken into the old run-down shack by the river to keep Riley happy.  He’d given countless toys to Riley, even ones he’d really, really wanted to keep.  Now, he couldn’t explain it.  Why had he cared so much what Riley thought?  Why hadn’t he stood up for himself?

            It couldn’t have been about sex, not initially, not at that young of an age.

            Could it have been about love?  Could he possibly have been in love all the way back then?  He hadn’t known what love was, then.  He hadn’t understood what being in love really meant.

            Not intellectually.

            But in his heart…  In an innocent, primal way that was all about instinct and emotion…

            Sam really didn’t want to be in love with Riley.  If Riley hadn’t come to his door, he could have enjoyed his summer and gone back to school and forgotten all about how thoroughly Riley could get under his skin.

            Riley always had been under his skin.  He’d never rid himself of Riley, he’d just made himself stop thinking about emotions he couldn’t help but feel.

            “How’s Kim?” Riley asked.

            “She’s in Kentucky, working on her doctorate,” Sam said.  “She’s doing research on something about soy beans and soil content.”  Since Riley had asked about his sister, he could return the favor.  “How are Laura and Lacey?”

            “They’re okay,” Riley said.  “Laura just had another girl and Lacey’s getting married in September.”

            “That’s great,” Sam said, taking the Gold Bridge exit as it began to rain.  He flicked on the windshield wipers.

            He and Riley had used to sneak into Kim’s room, into Laura and Lacey’s room, to read diaries, to steal, to generally poke around.  Kim’d had mushy love notes under her mattress.  Laura’d had scandalous sex notes and cigarettes; Lacey’d had alcohol and pot.  He and Riley had snuck cigarettes from Riley’s parents, and they’d tried the pot, and they’d sampled the alcohol sometimes.  Sam hadn’t wanted to; it had seemed wrong, even dangerous.  Drinking?  Doing drugs?  His own mother never drank and his father only drank a few times a year.  The only people he knew who had alcohol around consistently were Riley’s parents.  Drugs had been so foreign to his existence that they hadn’t even seemed real until he’d seen them there under Lacey’s mattress, there in Riley’s hand.  The marijuana had made him fuzzy and giggly and stupid.  The beer had made him sick, the whiskey had burned and choked him, and the wine had made him dizzy.  He’d been grateful when Riley’s interest in those substances had waned.

            He wondered how much Riley drank now, how often.  He wondered if Riley was into drugs.  He wondered if Riley smoked.  He didn’t smell cigarette smoke rising from Riley’s clothes in the confines of the car.  He wondered what Riley smelled like.

            He wanted to smell Riley.

            He wanted to touch Riley.

            He’d always been older, bigger, taller.  Stronger.  But Riley had seemed so much tougher.  So much stronger in the ways that mattered.

            He remembered sneaking into Laura and Lacey’s room, lifting the mattress and finding notes, memorizing the exact placement of each scrap of paper, unfolding it with careful attention to how it should be refolded.  Reading all of that sexual innuendo and puzzling over the secret meanings.  Kneeling there beside her bed, whispering, the paper in his hands, Riley kneeling behind him and reading over his shoulder, pressed to his back, pointing out new and shocking and mysterious phrases.

            Riley had always known more about sex than he had.  Riley’s sisters were a lot more aware and outspoken than Kim, and Riley was allowed to watch channels that Sam couldn’t.  Riley had explained to him what a blowjob was, although they hadn’t been able to figure out why it was called a blowjob if it was really sucking.  Riley had explained to him the importance of the magical number sixty-nine, too, and that sometimes people fucked each other up the ass.

            Sam had gone home and touched himself there, wondering.

            He didn’t know when he’d realized that Riley was gay.  He wasn’t sure that he’d known until after they hadn’t been friends anymore.  He remembered hearing on the bus one day that Riley’d gotten in trouble for cutting class to make out with a guy in the bathroom.  He hadn’t been surprised.  He’d been bitter.  He’d been jealous.  Jealous of Riley’s ability to break rules and live for himself.  Jealous of what had looked like Riley’s freedom.  Jealous of the guy for getting what he’d never had.  And of course, at fifteen, Riley was more sexually experienced than Sam would be until college.

            There was a sudden flapping noise, and dread filled Sam’s heart.

            “Is that the tire?” Riley asked, sitting up straighter and looking over one shoulder.

            “Shit,” Sam whispered to himself, tightening his hands on the wheel.  He pulled off to the side of the road.

            “You curse?” Riley asked, sounding amused.

            “Shut up,” Sam muttered, turning red.  Turning off the car, he checked for traffic and then got out into the rain, closing the door and walking around to the back.  The right rear tire was flat.  Shit.

            The slam of a door, and Riley walked over to him, glancing at the tire.  “You got a spare?”

            “Yeah, in the trunk.”

            Riley ran his fingers through increasingly wet hair.  “You want me to do it?”

            Sam met Riley’s eyes.  It seemed like an honest question, without judgment.  Sam knew how to change a tire in theory, but he’d never actually done it.  It was dark, it was raining, and Riley had always been more physically competent than he had.  “You mind?”

            “You wouldn’t be out here if it wasn’t for me,” Riley said.

            Fair enough.  Sam opened the trunk, moving his mother’s first aid kit and the bag of clothes she still hadn’t managed to haul over to Goodwill, and reached down for the tire.

            It wasn’t there.

            He peered through the darkness, patting around.

            “What?” Riley asked.

            “Hold on.”  Sam walked around to the passenger side, taking a flashlight from the glove box, flicking it on and going back.

            He aimed the beam into the trunk.

            “Sam,” Riley said.


            “Where’s the spare tire?” Riley asked.

            Turning off the flashlight, Sam reached to his pocket for-

            -the cell phone he’d left at home.


            “Do you have a cell?” he asked Riley.

            “No,” Riley said.  Riley always had looked just as good soaking wet as completely dry.

            Sam looked around.  They’d just gotten off at the exit, and there was a motel across the street.  “We can call from there.”  He couldn’t believe that this was happening to him.  Not only had he been trapped in a car with Riley after all of this time, but now they were stranded by the side of the road.  In the dark.  In the rain.  Now all he needed was for the motel to be run by a psychotic murderer.

            When he moved to lock the car, Riley asked, “You want to leave the blinkers on?”  Naturally, Sam hadn’t thought of that; he went ahead and did it without replying.  They jogged across the street and over to the motel.  The lobby was bright and deserted; Riley shook his head, splattering water from his hair.  Sam wiped water from his face and located the pay phone.  He called the insurance company for roadside service.

            Riley called the Falls to say he’d be late.

            Sam stood by the front windows to watch the road.  He heard Riley behind him getting something from the vending machines.  Riley had always loved junk food.  Sam had, too, only Sam’s house never had any and Riley’s always did.  Sam liked salty food, but Riley had a real sweet tooth and always went for chocolate, so they’d used to raid Riley’s kitchen, Sam taking the chips, Riley hunting for candy bars.  At Halloween, Sam had always given most of his loot to Riley.  In those days, he would have done anything to make Riley happy.

            He knew, now, that his sister and parents had never liked Riley.  They’d never approved of the way Riley led him around.  It had looked to them like Riley was using him.

            Riley probably had been.  The selfish, egocentric, controlling son-of-a-bitch.

            Sam wondered why he’d fallen in love with someone bad for him.  Not that it mattered anymore.  After tonight, they’d never see each other again.

            Riley stepped up beside him.  Sam glanced over.  Riley was eating a chocolate bar.  Sam looked out at the car again, smiling to himself.

            “You want some?” Riley asked.

            Surprised, Sam looked over again.  Riley offered him a snack bag of chips.  Barbecue, his favorite flavor.  Riley had never liked barbecue.  Sam gazed into Riley’s eyes, felt himself turn red, and said, “Yeah, thanks.”  He took the bag and looked outside again.

            He opened the bag, wondering what it represented.  A carelessly thoughtful gesture?  Thanks for the ride?  An apology for running his childhood and adolescence and then abandoning him and acting like he’d never existed?

            He ate the chips.  They tasted great.  He’d been chip-deprived ever since he’d come home for the summer.  Riley had always introduced new elements into his life.  Some of them had been fun or enriching.  Some of them had been threatening to his peaceful little bubble of existence.

            Riley hadn’t been the only person in his life.  He’d had other friends.  School friends.  Kids he hung out with.  Some of them had been good friends, close friends.  But no one had ever ensnared him as completely as Riley had.  Even now, when he thought of friends, of boyfriends, even, no one evoked the complex tangle of emotions that Riley did.  No one awakened his soul like Riley did.

            He should have closed the door in Riley’s face and let Riley miss a day of work.

            He crumpled the bag and threw it away.

            “It’s a bad day for me and cars,” Riley said.  “Sorry about this.  You probably didn’t want to drive around all night anyway, and now you’re stuck out here.”

            Sam wasn’t used to Riley apologizing.  Not apologizing and meaning it, anyway.  Although, to be honest, Riley’s apologies to him had been sincere.  With other people, they’d been faked.  Riley had lied a hell of a lot to everyone else, but not as much to him.

            “It’s okay,” he said.  “I just hope you aren’t too late for work.”

            “It’s okay,” Riley said.  “I just got fired.”

            Sam stared at him.  “What?”

            Riley shrugged, looking away from the window and meeting his eyes.  Riley was a few inches shorter than he was, maybe two inches.  Maybe three.  “When I called in.  I’ve been late too many times.  He fired me.  He told me not to bother coming in.”

            “Are you sure?” Sam asked, shocked.  He couldn’t imagine being fired.  “We could explain.  It’s not your fault.”

            “I hated it there anyway,” Riley said.

            “How many times have you been late?” Sam asked.  “This might not take long, if they’re quick with the tire then we can-”

            “Sam, I’ve been late at least twice a week since I started there,” Riley said.  “He fired me three weeks ago but I talked my way back in.  It’s okay, though, I’ll get another job.”

            Sam was amazed.  He didn’t understand Riley’s lifestyle, Riley’s attitude.  “You talked your way back in?”  Of course he had; he was Riley.  He could talk his way into anything.

            “He wanted a blowjob, but I gave him some pot instead.”

            Sam felt his eyes widen.

            Riley shrugged, looking outside again.

            Sam didn’t know what to ask first.  Now that they were really talking, with more information than just small talk, he felt the way he’d always felt before, like he could ask Riley anything.  Like he was getting information on another way of life from another plane of existence.  Riley had been an exotic new world right across the street.  “Do you smoke pot?”

            “No,” Riley said.  “I don’t use anymore.  Adrian sells, so I got it from him.”

            Conversations with Riley tended to be more shocking, somehow, than anything else in Sam’s life.  “Your boyfriend is a drug dealer?”

            “He’s not really my boyfriend anymore,” Riley said.  “We broke up last week.”  He looked down, hands in his pockets, scuffing the toe of his sneaker against the carpet.  His wet shirt clung to his slender, defined upper body.  “He’s been fucking around on me and I was never really into dating a guy who carries a gun.”

            Sam tried to imagine undressing someone to make love, and setting aside the guy’s gun.  He’d never touched a gun in his life.  His uncle had hunting rifles locked away in a cabinet.

            “That’s why I don’t have a cell phone,” Riley said, pushing back his damp hair with one hand.  He had black leather bracelets and silver rings.  His ears were pierced, too, two little silver hoops in each earlobe.  “One of his friends stole it from me and ran up the bill, and they closed my account.”

            Damn.  “I’m sorry,” Sam said.

            “I had an apartment, but after he and I broke up some of his friends came around harassing me, so I moved back home over the weekend.”

            “Are you safe there?” Sam asked, stunned at each new admission, pained that this was Riley’s life.  Riley was too unique to be dragged under like this.

            “They’re not going to do anything to me,” Riley said.  “I just didn’t trust the situation.  They’re not going to drive the whole way out of the city to come and fuck with me.”

            How could Riley be this casual about it?  Then again, that had always been their dynamic.  Riley was the worldly one, jaded and knowing; Sam was the sheltered one, easily scandalized.  If they’d been that way at five and seven, why would anything be different now?

            “I told you that Lacey’s getting married?” Riley asked.

            “Yeah,” Sam said, wondering what Riley was going to tell him about that.

            “The wedding’s only going to be in September if he gets paroled,” Riley said.  “If he isn’t, they’ll push it back.”

            Shit.  “I thought you were going to tell me that she was pregnant,” Sam said.  “He’s in jail?”

            “He stole some cars,” Riley said to the window.  “She already had the kid.”

            Shit.  “Riley, what happened?”

            “Nothing happened,” Riley said.  “Life happened.”

            Sam didn’t know what to say.

            “I know you have questions,” Riley said, sitting on the sofa.  “You always have questions.”

            “Why is a drug dealer going to community college?” Sam asked, sitting on the sofa, able to see the window past Riley.

            Riley laughed.  He was still fascinating, and sexier than any childhood friend had the right to be.  Sam was drawn to him, drawn beyond all reason.  It was about sex, it was all about sex, but there was much, much more to it than that.  “To keep his mother happy.  She doesn’t know where his money really comes from.”

            “You really don’t do drugs anymore?”  The “anymore,” that bothered Sam.  He didn’t want to think of Riley strung out or coked up or, hell, he was too old to be this innocent but he couldn’t help it.

            “No, I don’t,” Riley said.  His expression shifted; something quiet, muted, yet haunted flickered through his eyes.  “I don’t like how out of control it makes me.”

            Riley had never liked letting anyone else be in control.  Had never liked being susceptible or vulnerable.  Riley ran Riley’s life; Riley decided what happened, when it happened, and how it happened.  “Do you drink?”

            “Not as much as I want to,” Riley said.  “I don’t want to be an alcoholic before I’m twenty.”

            Oh, god.  All of Sam’s protective instincts were telling him to step in, to help, to rescue.  He’d always wanted to protect Riley, to save Riley.  But there had been too much to save Riley from, including Riley himself.

            “Come on,” Riley said.  “Ask me whatever you want to ask.”

            Sam glanced outside, checking on the car, and then looked at Riley.  “Do you smoke?”

            “No.  You know I hate that shit.  I can’t stand living at home, that smell’s all over the house, it gets all over me.”

            “How are your parents?” Sam asked.

            “They’re okay,” Riley said.  He feigned disinterest, but underneath it was that hard Riley defensiveness that tore at Sam’s heart.  “They still haven’t gotten divorced.”

            Riley was the only person Sam knew who honestly wanted his parents to divorce.

            “Your parents are okay?” Riley asked.

            “They’re fine,” Sam said.

            “I like their new car.”

            There was no reason for Sam to feel guilty.  “Thanks.  It’s nice.”  He glanced outside.  No one was out there.  He looked at Riley.  Previously spiked, now damp white-blond hair.  Perfect little features.  Slim, firm body in a casual, sexy sprawl.  One foot up on the sofa.  Sam would never dare to plant his sneaker on a public couch like that.  “You have a tattoo, don’t you?”

            Riley laughed again.  He looked pleased.  “Yeah, I do.  You want to see it?”

            Intrigued, Sam asked, “Where is it?”

            “Here.”  Without shame or hesitation, Riley unbuttoned his jeans.  Shocked, scandalized, immediately hot with shame and desire, Sam stared.  Tugging his damp T-shirt up a few inches, baring a tantalizingly ridged six-pack, Riley opened his fly, peeling his underwear down enough to bare the top of his thigh.

            His pubic hair was a soft white-blond, too.  Sam had never seen Riley’s pubic hair before.  The last time he’d seen Riley’s body, it hadn’t looked anything like this.

            He swallowed.

            Riley’s tattoo was a simple kanji.  “What does it mean?” Sam asked.

            “The guy told me that it represents love,” Riley said.  “For all I know, it represents bread.”

            Riley was casually splayed in front of him, stomach exposed, hip exposed, one hand resting loosely on his thigh, one hand holding his black boxer-briefs out of the way and matter-of-factly keeping his genitals covered.  So much naked flesh, so tempting, so…

            “You can touch it,” Riley said.

            Sam jerked his gaze up to Riley’s eyes.

            Riley met Sam’s gaze and calmly pushed his underwear down another inch, baring more flesh, more taut thigh.

            Sam broke out into a sweat.  If Riley was offering…  If he could…  He…

            Riley’s voice was a sinful whisper.  “I dare you, Sammy.”

            Oh, god.  Lips parting, need and breath crowding in his chest, Sam put one hand out.  His fingers trembled, hovering just above Riley’s thigh.

            If he touched, he’d do more than just touch.  He wouldn’t be able to do a simple, brief pass of fingers to flesh.  He’d do more.  Take more.

            Was Riley playing with him?  Taking pity on him?  Seeing how far he could be manipulated?

            Maybe he’d misread everything.  Maybe Riley simply was inviting him to touch the tattoo and only the tattoo, because he’d seemed interested in it.  Maybe Riley had no intention of letting him do more, had no idea that he’d want more.  After all, Riley still had one polite hand keeping his dick and balls discreetly tucked.  Riley had never been dick shy; that was probably a concession to the fact that anyone could walk in at any moment.

            And anyone could walk in, at any moment.  The desk clerk could arrive.  Someone from outside could enter.

            Sam should go back to the car.  He could sit inside and wait for roadside assistance there.

            But Riley had said, “I dare you, Sammy.”  That was how Riley’d gotten him to pilfer dollar bills from his mother’s purse.  That was how Riley’d gotten him to take his first swig of whiskey.  That was how Riley’d gotten him to say that he’d been the one who’d ripped the sofa cushion.

            And each time he’d given in, each time he’d done what Riley had wanted, Riley had smiled at him.  With pride.

            Slowly, Sam’s fingertips descended and slowly, worshipfully, stroked over Riley’s tattoo.  His heart pounded as his stomach clenched and his dick hardened rapidly.  Riley’s skin had to have been just regular skin like anyone else’s, but it felt exotically silkier to Sam’s touch, and as his fingers explored down Riley’s thigh, he realized that he was already rock-hard, already panting with lust.  As he flattened his hand, his palm sliding back up Riley’s thigh to hip, Riley shifted slightly, a sinuous motion that was half response, half invitation.

            Encouraged, emboldened by need, Sam moved in, his hand sliding up over Riley’s bared stomach, his head in Riley’s lap.  Fastening his mouth over the elegant strokes of ink, he sucked there, licking Riley’s skin, testing its resilience with his tongue.  He kissed down Riley’s thigh, kissed up to Riley’s abs as Riley undulated beneath him, hips rolling.  Riley’s hand was on the back of his head, fingers running through his hair, and he moaned, kissing Riley’s navel, one hand braced on the cushion, one hand squeezing Riley’s naked thigh.

            He ached with the realization that he was exploring Riley, and wanted to explore further.  He was hot with the knowledge that he was turning Riley on, and wanted to arouse Riley even more.  He’d always burned with the desire to please Riley, and wouldn’t orgasm be the ultimate pleasure that he could deliver?

            Sam wanted to look at Riley, wanted to watch each reaction, wanted to know the expression on Riley’s face.  Riley’s body told him what Riley wanted, but what would Riley’s expression say?  Sam didn’t dare look; he’d lose his confidence.  His own needs and desires made him bold, made him aggressive, but eye contact was dangerous, might make him self-conscious, might make this magical moment too real.

            He wanted Riley, he couldn’t get enough of the taste and feel of Riley’s skin, and Riley was touching him, fingers still stroking through his hair as Riley’s body went through a series of slow, continuous undulations.  Riley was starting to breathe harder, panting softly, moaning just slightly but enough for Sam to hear it, and Sam wanted to get Riley so turned on, so hard, so aroused that for once Riley would give in and let Sam be in control.

            Kissing down, Sam licked right alongside Riley’s fingers, hooking his own fingertips in the waistband of Riley’s underwear and tugging down.  Riley’s hand fell aside, and Riley’s dick popped free, half-hard and eager for Sam’s mouth.  Moaning at the sight of it, Sam sucked it down, hearing Riley’s suffering groan as Riley’s hips rose.  Riley hardened further in his mouth, stiffening and swelling between his lips, making his own erection throb in empathy and need.

            Bringing his hand into play, pumping the long rigid shaft, Sam licked around the head, making Riley moan.  Each moan was louder than the next, indicative of more tortured arousal, and Riley was starting to pull at Sam’s hair, hips bucking.  Smearing his own saliva and Riley’s dribbling pre-cum down the thick shaft, Sam sucked harder, fist and mouth moving together, determined to pull orgasm and ecstasy right out of Riley, committed to proving that he could make Riley happy.  Maybe that would finally ease the Riley ache Sam had been carrying around inside for all of these years.

            Even when he did make Riley come, it wouldn’t be enough.  He’d still want more.  He’d always need more of Riley.

            “Oh, god, Sam, I-”  Riley cut himself off with an agonized groan.  “God, yes, you’re so, oh, ah, ah, oh!”  Riley’s entire body jerked, hips slamming up and dick thrusting down Sam’s throat, fingers digging into Sam’s scalp as Riley wailed with ecstasy and spurt after spurt of salty cum splashed forth.

            Something bright flashed in the corner of Sam’s vision, but he was too caught up in Riley’s pleasure and his own need to care.  He nursed the final drops from Riley’s dick, until Riley twitched and pushed at him.  Releasing Riley’s dick with a kiss, he kissed Riley’s stomach, closing his eyes and treasuring the silk of Riley’s skin and the heat of Riley’s body.

            Should he try to kiss Riley?  Should he try to fuck Riley?  Should he stop while he was ahead?

            “Sam,” Riley said, twisting under him.  “Sam, I think they’re here.”

            They?  What?

            Oh, fuck!

            Sam sat back hurriedly, staring around the lobby.  Thank god no one was there, thank god no one had shown up at the front desk, but there were lights outside.  Roadside assistance.

            He looked at beautiful, sex-mussed Riley on the cheap motel couch.

            Riley’d been chewing on his lips; they were red and used-looking.  His cheeks were red.  He was still breathing a little too hard, and when he met Sam’s eyes he looked young and confused.  “Sammy-”

            “If I don’t go out there, they’ll leave,” Sam said, and bolted.  He was outside and in the rain and halfway across the street before he remembered to breathe.

            He introduced himself to the roadside assistance guys, Jim and John, and refused their invitation to sit in the dry cab of their truck, and stood there in the dark and the rain by the side of the road, hugging himself, watching them change the tire and wanting to get the taste of Riley’s skin and dick and cum out of his mouth.

            Had Riley enjoyed the sight of his dick disappearing into Sam’s hungry, sucking mouth?

            Had Riley even looked?  Or had Riley’s eyes been closed, thoughts on someone else?

            He’d been Riley’s champion and Riley’s defender and Riley’s dupe and Riley’s friend and Riley’s co-conspirator and Riley’s second and Riley’s minion, and now he was Riley’s whore, too.  And he could only blame himself.

            Riley came across the street.  Sam ached with love and need and desire.  He wanted to turn those feelings off, but most of all, he wanted to stop the happy, joyful hum that electrified his veins with the knowledge, the memory, of Riley’s body, Riley’s arousal, Riley in ecstasy.

            Riley stood beside him, the two of them huddled side-by-side in the rain, watching the tire-changing process.  “Graphic art?”

            They were going to talk about his major now?  “Yeah.”

            “I used to love everything you drew,” Riley said.

            He knew.  He remembered that.  Everyone else had tolerated his incessant sketching, and his mother had been proud of his skill like any mother should be, but Riley had been enthusiastic.  For years, Riley had been full of, “Draw me this, draw me that, can I have that, can I see that?”  Riley had never even asked, “Can you draw...,” because Riley had assumed that Sam could sketch anything in the world or outside of it.  Riley, more than any class or teacher, had pushed Sam and stretched his limits as an artist.  He’d wanted to be able to satisfy Riley’s demands, had wanted to fulfill Riley’s expectations, had wanted to be able to hand Riley a perfect product every time.  And everything he’d shown Riley had been met with happiness and smiles and requests for more, more, more.

            He wondered if he’d even have pursued art to this extent, if it weren’t for Riley’s unending enthusiasm.

            “You must be incredible now,” Riley said.  “You were amazing then.”

            “Graphic art is different,” Sam said.  “It’s all computers now.”  He couldn’t believe that they were holding a normal conversation after what they’d just done.  His lips burned with the memory of Riley’s flesh, and Riley had walked over to make small talk.  Only Riley would do this to him.  Only Riley could do this to him.

            “So why aren’t you drawing by hand?” Riley asked.

            “Graphic art is where more jobs are,” Sam said.  “Everyone wants to be an artist, but how many people actually make it?”

            “You could,” Riley said without hesitation, not as flattery but as fact.  “You’re the best artist I’ve ever seen.  You could have your work in any gallery you wanted.  Sketches, but paintings, too.  I always wanted you to be a painter.”

            “You what?” Sam asked, surprised.  He’d always wanted to be a painter, but Riley had never said a word about it.

            “I thought you’d make a great painter,” Riley said.  “But I thought that if you wanted to paint, you would.”

            What Sam wanted or didn’t want had always been a secondary consideration to what Riley had wanted.  He’d wanted to paint; he hadn’t explored that artistic urge.  If he’d known that Riley had wanted him to paint, he would have talked his parents into buying him a paint set that very day.

            “I still have some of your drawings,” Riley said.  “I found them the other day, when I moved back home.”

            “Really?” Sam asked.  Riley had kept them, all of this time?

            “Your house, my house, the river.  The clubhouse.  Everything.”

            “They must be terrible,” Sam said.

            “They’re great,” Riley said, and he meant it.

            Finished with the tire, Jim and John said good-bye, eager to get out of the rain.  Sam thanked them, and they drove away.

            Sam looked at the car.

            His gaze drifted past the car, across the street, to the motel.

            “You drew me a lot,” Riley said.

            Riley had been a terrible model.  He’d always been more interested in watching Sam sketch than in sitting still.  Sam had drawn him most often when Riley wasn’t actually around, which had ended up being a great exercise and had taught him a lot about picking up and remembering details.  “You were my favorite subject,” he said, still looking straight ahead.

            “I never liked who I saw in the mirror,” Riley said.  His voice was too calm for such a painful statement, but Riley had always insisted on being matter-of-fact about unpleasant realities of life.  “But I always liked who I saw in those drawings.”

            “I loved who I was drawing,” Sam said.

            He’d never mentioned loving Riley before.  Not to Riley, not to anyone.  Nowhere but inside his own head.

            “No one’s ever treated me the way you did,” Riley said.  “No one’s ever cared about me as much as you did.”

            “I still do,” Sam said.  If he was going to be the only one, then Riley shouldn’t think that those days were over and that feeling was gone.  It scared him to make that confession, but Riley’s need to hear his love overrode his need to salvage his pride.

            Riley was silent.

            Rain fell.

            The tire was fixed.  They should go.  He’d drive home, and say good-bye to Riley, and go back to his life, and never see Riley again.

            They never should have been friends in the first place.  They’d been too different.  They’d been thrown together by circumstance, but now their lives were pulling them in separate, nearly opposite directions.

            Sam took the few steps to the car, taking the keys from his pocket.  He-

            A hand on his back, one light touch, and he immediately fell still.  A tug at his shirt, and he turned, turned into Riley’s kiss, Riley’s mouth on his, Riley’s skin wet, Riley’s lips soft and demanding.  When Riley pushed him back against the passenger side door, he went easily, moaning at the sensation of Riley’s kiss, at the fact of Riley’s aggression.  If he could have this, if Riley would give him this, then he wouldn’t question it, he’d take it, and cherish it, and keep it.

            Kissing him fast and complicated, Riley pushed and pulled at his clothes, lean fingers working open his rain-soaked jeans and pulling out his arousal.  Riley was going fast, but Riley had never been patient, and Sam had always rushed to keep up.  His dick leapt in Riley’s hand, his own hands clutching at Riley’s firm body as he groaned, hard and helpless.  His heart was hammering, his toes curling, and he couldn’t stop moaning, couldn’t stop kissing Riley’s sweet, wonderful, aggressive mouth.  Riley was jacking him too fast, fist too tight, and Riley was too far away, not pressed against him, space between their bodies.

            Sam tried to pull him closer, but he resisted, instead dropping down, going onto his knees right there by the side of the road, taking Sam’s erection into his mouth.  Shocked, groaning, hips rocking forward to drive his dick further into that perfect suction, Sam gripped the door handle, his other hand unable to resist sliding forward through soaked blond hair, twisting in the tousled strands.  “Riley,” he moaned, love and need and joy and disbelief pounding in his heart.  The urgency of impending orgasm made his dick throb, but even more powerful was the ache of pained, confused adoration in his blood, coursing through his body.

            Backing up, Riley jacked Sam’s dick with one hand, bracing his other hand behind himself, leaning back into it.  Sam groaned at the sight of him, at the inexorable pull of cresting ecstasy.  Riley’s gaze was on Sam’s erection, and his mouth was open, and just as Sam realized what was about to happen, orgasm hit.

            Shuddering and crying out as pleasure-filled tremors wracked his body, Sam watched with incredulous fascination as white spurts arced through the night and splattered on Riley’s beautiful face.  One on a smooth pale cheek, one on the curve of Riley’s jaw, one on soft pouting lips, and the last one, Riley licked right out of the air, eyes closing.

            Moaning, shivering, Sam stared, hot, weak.  After flicking a lazy pink tongue over his own lips, Riley leaned in without even bothering to open his eyes and licked at the head of Sam’s dick.

            “Riley,” Sam whispered, knees giving out on him.  Moving as if in a dream, he found himself on his knees, drifting forward as Riley melted back, his fingers rising to wipe rain and cum from Riley’s cheek, Riley drawing him in for a slow, slow, deep, tender kiss.

            Sam didn’t know how long they were there, kissing, Riley’s body warm and aroused under his, Riley’s hands gentle on his back, Riley’s soft sounds of desire impossibly erotic to his ears.  He only knew that when he raised his head and looked down and saw that Riley needed him, he whispered, “I love you.”

            Riley’s fingers dipped down below Sam’s waist, inside his opened jeans.  “I’ll pay for the room.”

            Whether that had been a direct response to what Sam had said or not was unclear.  “I’ll pay,” Sam said, getting to his feet and pulling Riley up, too.

            “I can afford it,” Riley said.

            “So can I,” Sam said, tucking away his dick and zipping up.  They started across the street together.

            This time when they entered the lobby, they walked right up to the front desk.  Riley rang the bell, and a woman came out from a back room.  She gave no indication that she’d seen them earlier, and she didn’t react to the fact that they were soaking wet and now fairly muddy, either.  Riley gave her money, she gave them a room key, and they went back into the rain to find their room.

            That room was, when they stepped inside, nothing special.  But to Sam, it glowed with a unique warmth just for them.  He locked the door, and Riley went into the bathroom.  Riley didn’t close that door, and Sam watched him strip, watched him get into the shower.

            Riley’s naked body was beautiful.  Slim and defined and perfect.  Sam had known that it would be.

            Less muddy than Riley, Sam undressed and washed at the sink, drying off and going to the bed, turning down the sheets.

            The shower stopped.

            Sam sat on the bed.  He was sick with desire and worry.  He wanted to make it right for Riley.  He wanted to be good, and special.  He wanted Riley to feel loved.  He wanted to make Riley happy.

            He wanted to learn Riley’s body, learn Riley’s sexuality, learn what Riley liked.  He wanted to have that knowledge in his head, to examine later when he was alone.  He wanted Riley.

            Lube.  He didn’t have lube.  Shit!  He didn’t have lube, and he didn’t know where to get any, it wasn’t like the front desk had some.  Shit, shit.  Riley needed him, Riley was counting on him, and-

            “What’s wrong?” Riley asked, exiting the bathroom, casually naked.  Riley always had been able to read him at a glance.

            “I don’t have lube,” Sam confessed, regretting the fact more with every second that his eyes traveled Riley’s perfect body.

            “Oh, I do,” Riley said.  “Hold on.”

            “You keep lube with you?” Sam asked, as Riley went back to the bathroom and returned with a small tube in one hand.

            “It comes in handy,” Riley said, setting it on the nightstand and familiarly climbing onto Sam, easily pushing him down and kissing his mouth.  Moaning, immediately submitting, Sam kissed back, cherishing each wet kiss, each casual touch.  Riley smelled like fresh soap, silky skin still damp in places.  As their hands traveled, their bodies responded to each other quickly, Riley rocking subtly against Sam, Riley’s fingers tracing the cleft of Sam’s ass and rubbing against the tight pucker there.

            “I love you,” Sam whispered, stroking his clean, wet hair and kissing him and gazing into his eyes.  Kissing his neck, licking up his neck, nuzzling behind his ears, sucking, needing, aching, wanting.  “Tell me that you know that I love you.”

            “I know that you love me,” Riley said, spreading Sam’s thighs with his knee so confidently and so naturally that it had to have been a practiced move.  Sam wondered how many men he’d fucked.

            However many men there had been before Sam, Riley definitely knew what he was doing.  He worked the lube one-handed, out of Sam’s sight, so the first discreet nudge of a slippery finger came as a surprise.  He kissed Sam’s mouth, sucked on Sam’s neck, kept his other hand moving on Sam’s body as a distraction as he worked in first one finger, then two.  He found Sam’s prostate without hesitation, stroking it constantly, creating repeated bursts of pleasure.  He was quick, too, and before Sam knew it, Riley was pushing in, burying himself inside, making Sam arch and moan and ache.

            “Riley,” Sam groaned, hands sliding over Riley’s ass and encouraging Riley deeper as his body adjusted to penetration.  God, Riley was inside him, filling him up, and it made Sam happier than anything else ever had, made him want to keep Riley there forever.

            “God, Sammy,” Riley moaned, shifting, finding a new angle, easing even deeper.  “You’re so tight, your ass is so…”  Riley’s words trailed off into an intense groan.  “This is going to be over fast.”

            No, no, Sam wanted it to last forever.  But Riley was already moving, thrusting, in and out.  Sam moaned at the pop and the burn of it, groaned as Riley’s rocking shook his body, panted as he watched Riley’s face.  Riley’s head was down, eyes squeezed shut, teeth catching one soft lower lip.  Sam stroked his neck, and his lashes fluttered; Sam caressed his cheek, ran loving fingers across his eyebrows and through his hair.  Riley shuddered, breathing Sam’s name, wrapping a gentle hand around Sam’s dick.

            Digging his fingers into Riley’s upper arm, Sam groaned at the steady friction and pulses of pleasure from each thrust, moaned and suffered at the intense passion building between them as his erection swelled and strained in Riley’s hand.  “Open your eyes,” he said, his voice coming out dark and needy.  “Look at me.”

            Whispering Sam’s name again, Riley opened his eyes, hips faltering, rhythm stuttering.

            Those blue eyes, how could he ever have considered them mean?  They weren’t cruel, they were scared.  They were scared and confused and begging him for help, pleading with him.  “God, Ri, I love you so much,” Sam said, cupping his face in one hand.  He loved Riley, he’d always loved Riley, he’d always done everything he could to make Riley happy.  But he couldn’t make Riley happy, and he couldn’t make Riley feel loved.  Not all by himself, not single-handedly.  Riley had to cooperate and participate.  “Let me love you, Riley, let me in,” he whispered, caressing Riley’s face and rubbing his thumb across Riley’s soft lips.

            “Oh, Sammy,” Riley moaned, hips in motion, fucking him deeply, steadily, jacking him in perfect rhythm.  “I knew that you would do this to me.”

            “Riley…”  Sam wanted to say more, there was so much in his heart, but his words filtered off into overwhelmed groans as the pleasure Riley pushed on him took over.  “You, oh, god, oh, oh, yes, ah, ah, ah, Riley, oh, god, Riley, Riley-”

            “God, Sammy,” Riley moaned, caught up in their passion, sharing this with him the way they’d always shared everything else.

            Sam called out Riley’s name, moaning and gasping, hips bucking and twisting as Riley pumped him through orgasm.  “Riley, Riley, oh, yes, Riley…”

            “Sammy, god, Sammy,” Riley groaned, coming with him, tense and then shuddering and then still, panting.

            Sam urged Riley to relax against him, coaxed Riley down, skin to skin.  While Riley shivered and breathed against his neck, he stroked the overheated flesh of Riley’s back and kissed Riley’s hair.

            They’d always shared experiences.  Shared knowledge.  Involved each other in whatever they did.  When Riley learned something new from TV, he told Sam about it.  When Sam learned something interesting in school, he came home and told Riley.  When Riley found out where his dad hid porn magazines, he invited Sam over to see them, too.  When Sam’s mother made cookies, he invited Riley over to have some, too.

            It only made sense for them to share this together.  It was right.

            “I have to call my mom,” Sam said quietly, petting Riley.  He remembered calling his mom to ask if he could spend the night with Riley.  Riley had stayed over at his house more often, had eaten dinner at his house, and had stopped calling home first around age seven.  “To tell her I won’t be home until tomorrow.”

            “Okay.”  After a moment, Sam heard a subtle sniff and then Riley rolled away, leaving the bed and going to the sink.  Sam crawled closer to the phone.  He dialed, watching Riley.

            Riley washed up a little.

            “Hello?” his mother asked.

            “Mom, it’s Sam.  We got a flat tire.  We’re spending the night in a motel but we’ll be home in the morning.”  He loved the gentle arch of Riley’s back, the sexy curve of Riley’s ass.  The taut muscle in Riley’s legs.

            “Is everything okay?” she asked.  She was unhappy, but she wouldn’t say that.

            “Everything’s fine,” he said.  “It’s so late, with the rain, it’s just easier to stay here.”

            Riley had turned, and was watching him.

            “Okay,” she said.  “Be careful.”

            She wasn’t talking about road conditions.  “I will,” he said, but that wasn’t true.  “Bye, Mom.  I love you.”

            “I love you, too,” she said.  “Bye, Sam.”

            He hung up, setting the phone aside.

            “She doesn’t like me,” Riley said, coming back to him, sitting beside him.

            “She doesn’t know you like I do,” Sam said, stroking Riley’s cheek, needing to touch him and keep him close.  At least for tonight.  “Riley, what happened to us?”  He could ask Riley anything.  It had taken him too long to ask that question.

            “A lot of things,” Riley said, pulling away and sliding beneath the sheets.

            Sam pulled the covers over himself too, waiting for the rest of the answer.

            “We’re too different,” Riley said.  “We had other friends we had more in common with.  We were headed in different directions.  You were going to high school.  You spent the whole summer out of state.”

            “There’s more to it than that,” Sam said.  “We were always in different grades.  We were in different schools before that and it didn’t change everything.  We always had other friends.  I went on vacation before.”

            “That was the summer that Lacey graduated and moved out,” Riley said.  He shrugged, rolling onto his side, facing Sam but not looking at him.  “A lot of things changed at home.  A lot of things changed inside me.”

            “Like what?” Sam asked softly, wondering, careful to keep his voice loving and supportive and respectful.  He smoothed Riley’s hair.  He’d always known that there were a lot of things that Riley’d kept hidden from him about the Jackson household.  Riley had always told him everything about everything, except what happened behind closed doors at home when Sam wasn’t there as a witness.

            “It doesn’t matter now,” Riley said.  “It was time, anyway.  It was time for us to let go of the past and grow up.”

            “I missed you,” Sam said quietly, trailing his fingertips down Riley’s cheek.

            “I missed you, too,” Riley admitted, and met his eyes.

            Sam kissed him gently.

            “Do you remember how I used to throw my alarm across the room and sleep too late?” Riley asked.

            “I had to come over every morning to make sure you were awake so you wouldn’t miss the bus,” Sam said.  “Mrs. Jackson, has Riley gotten up yet?”  He’d usually tried to sneak food out of the house, too.  A balanced breakfast was part of every morning for his family, but Riley’s parents had never made that a regular practice.  Sam hadn’t understood how anyone could get up and go to school and not have breakfast, so he’d brought Riley an apple or bagel or banana every morning.  Now, he wondered if he’d really been so naïve as to think that his mother hadn’t known.

            “I started to love the morning,” Riley said.  “I got up early, every day, for years.”

            “You hated school,” Sam said.

            “I loved you,” Riley said.  “Those ten minutes of seeing you at the bus stop every morning was all I had of you anymore.  When we were actually on the bus, all of those assholes were around.  But seeing you out there, standing there, all by yourself and all mine…  I’d get up early, just so I’d be ready when you showed up.  I’d watch you walk down the street.”

            Sam was awed and hurt and fascinated.  Surprised, and horrified that such a gulf had separated them unnecessarily.  Riley had cared.  Riley had wanted him.  Riley had loved him.  So much distance between them, unrequited love on both sides.  “I saw you there at the window sometimes,” Sam said.

            “Did you see me masturbating?” Riley asked.

            Sam’s eyes widened.

            Riley blushed, and grinned.  “Every morning.  For years.  Over the summer, when you were out there mowing the lawn, you have no idea how hot you looked.  When you went away on vacation…”  Dismal unhappiness flickered across his face.

            “Riley,” Sam whispered, kissing him, loving him, aching for him, caressing his chest.  “Why didn’t you tell me?  Why didn’t you talk to me?  Why did you act like we didn’t even know each other?”

            “My life was falling apart more every year, and your future was only getting better and better,” Riley said.  Riley’s fingers stroked his neck, and he shifted closer, their legs sliding together under the sheets.  “You were going to be taken away from me anyway.  I wanted to get rid of you on my terms.”

            “You loved me?” Sam asked, needing to hear it again.

            “I was so in love with you,” Riley said, the truth of it on his face.  “You were the best thing in my life.  When you went away…  Things got hard.”  He looked over Sam’s shoulder for a moment, avoiding Sam’s eyes.  “I got in a lot of trouble, and I did a lot of things I shouldn’t have done.  I don’t know how I managed to do anything right.  I barely made it out of high school, but I didn’t let myself quit, because I knew how much school mattered to you.  That’s why I went to college, for you, but…”  Riley shrugged unhappily, bitterly, meeting his eyes again.  “It just didn’t seem to matter, anymore.  Why was I doing anything for you, you were a million miles away from me, you didn’t care.”

            “Don’t do things for me,” Sam said earnestly, rubbing his thumb over Riley’s collarbone.  “Do them for yourself.”

            “Tell me what your life is like, now,” Riley said, fingers wandering over Sam’s ribcage.  “Tell me what you’re studying and who your friends are and how things are in Vermont.”

            Sam told him about classes.  Stroked his hair and told him about friends.  Turned off the lights and rubbed his stomach and told him about Vermont.

            Riley fell asleep.

            Sam curled up with him, against his warmth, holding onto him.  Kissed him good night and whispered “I love you” and slept.

            Night passed.

            The sun rose.

            Sam wakened alone in the bed.  Riley was up and dressed in clean clothes, standing at the sink, glaring into the mirror and trying to fix his hair without styling products.  Sitting up, Sam offered a tentative, “Good morning.”  His own clothes, freshly laundered, were at the foot of the bed.  “You did laundry?”

            “There’s a washer and dryer in a room by the front desk,” Riley said, walking right over to him and kissing him, crawling over him and making sweet love to his mouth.  “Take me to Vermont.”

            Sam stared at Riley, not sure why Riley had said that, not sure how he’d ended up on his back again.  What?  “What?”  He couldn’t say no to Riley, but, “I can’t.”

            “Don’t leave me here,” Riley said, as impossibly sexy in clothes as he was out of them.

            He wanted to take Riley with him, he wanted to take Riley away from drugs and guns and bad influences, he wanted to be with Riley and help Riley and have Riley back in his life.  But all of the practical voices in his head warned him away.  “I can’t be responsible for you,” Sam said, his voice insistent, his insides weak.

            “I’m not ten, I can be responsible for myself,” Riley said.

            “I can’t fix your life for you,” Sam said.

            “I can fix my own life,” Riley said.  “I want to.  I’ll get a job, I can pay my own way.  I’ll even go back to school.  Just let me go with you.  We can get a place together.  I don’t need a lot of room, I don’t need a lot of anything, I never have.  Just a lot of you.”

            “God, Riley,” Sam said, hugging him close, not knowing what the hell to do now.  Riley needed him.  “You know that I love you.”

            “I love you,” Riley said, holding on too tightly.  “I can start over in a new place.  You can give me the right influences.  We can be together.  I always wanted to live in your world.  I can’t make it in your world, but I don’t want to be trapped here in mine, either.  Make a new world with me, Sammy, our new world together.”

            Riley always had been able to talk Sam into anything.  “What if it doesn’t work out?”

            “Then it won’t work out,” Riley said.  “Except it will.  We can do anything if we’re together.  We’re unstoppable.  Remember?”

            “You want to come to Vermont and live with me?” Sam asked.  This couldn’t be happening.  “We haven’t spoken to each other in years.”  Riley’s slender body was warm in his arms; Riley’s skin was silk under his hands when he caressed under Riley’s T-shirt.

            “We’re a powerful team,” Riley said.

            “We’re wrong for each other,” Sam said.

            “Don’t be scared,” Riley said.

            “I’m not scared,” Sam muttered, but he was.

            Riley lifted his head, looking into Sam’s eyes.  “Come on, you know you want to,” he teased.  “No one’s as fun as I am.  No one makes your life as interesting as I do.  I’ll let you eat chips with every meal, and we can fuck whenever you want.”

            That argument shouldn’t have worked, but it did.  “I’m not going back until late in August.”

            “We can fuck at my house if you’re afraid to do it at your house,” Riley said.  “I’ll get a job to make some money before we go.  You could get a job, too, you lazy intellectual.”

            “I don’t want to get a job,” Sam said.

            “It’s okay, you can work wherever I work,” Riley said.  “Did you tell me last night that you fly there and back?”

            “Yeah,” Sam said.  “All of my stuff’s in storage over the break.”

            “We’ll drive,” Riley said.  “I’ll make sure my car’s in good condition.”

            Sam was so happy he felt it burning like sunlight from the inside out.  “I’ve missed you so much.”  Having Riley make decisions for him would get old, fast, but at the moment, he loved it.  This was the Riley he knew, the smart, decisive Riley he remembered.

            “And you’re buying an easel,” Riley said.

            “An easel?” Sam repeated.

            “So you can paint,” Riley said.  “So you can put your work in galleries, so everyone will know that you’re the greatest artist alive.  Do you want me to buy everything for you?  You’d have to tell me what to get, I don’t know what’s good.”

            “You’re really in love with me,” Sam said, brushing Riley’s hair back.

            “I always have been,” Riley said, and kissed him.  Riley’s fingers trailed down Sam’s nose, drifting across his jaw, down his neck.  “I parked the car outside.  If you think your mom’s worried, we can go.”

            “Not yet,” Sam said, kissing him, kissing him, loving him.  Riley was beautiful and exotic and his again, back in his life and taking over like a whirlwind.

            “Not yet?” Riley murmured, kissing him and nuzzling against him, hands wandering his body, arousing him.  “Why not, you want to stop and have breakfast first?”

            “You can’t start your day without breakfast,” Sam said breathlessly, capturing Riley’s mouth in a deep, clinging kiss.

            “I can’t start my day without you,” Riley whispered, moaning softly as Sam opened his jeans.

Short Stories