Snapping

He’s snapping. He’s snapping at Jordan, and he knows he’s snapping at Jordan, and worst of all, he knows exactly why he’s doing it. He knows what’s set him off doing it, like he’s known every other time it’s happened in the past.

But nothing. Not one part of it. None of this is in any way Jordan’s fault.

Joe’s internal, repetitive monologue lurches between you’re so obvious any idiot can see, and it’s all your fault anyway, and worst of all, what if this is it this time, at breakneck speed. He’s barely able to function for the continuous stream of words running through his head, and his lack of concentration has reared its ugly head in an unprecedented number of near misses on the drive to take Jordan back to school today.

Jordan isn’t oblivious either. Perhaps he’s not completely clued into why Joe’s shouting him down at every opportunity, or why when Joe’s not shouting there’s a deathly silence in the car that is so different to how they normally spend this ride back to college. But he keeps glancing over at him worriedly like he knows something is up.

Joe’s internal arguments continue spiraling round in his head, enough to make him dizzy.

If he can just acknowledge. If he can just admit—

But of course, he can’t get the words out, not even within the safe, private confines of his own head.

Does this ever get any easier?

Doug has left without a word before, made his own way back after their annual trip home for Thanksgiving, the three of them normally wedged in the car reminiscing about growing up. He’s disappeared into himself more times than Joe wants to remember, yet every single time he does remember, with absolute, total clarity. He can recall, down to the very last detail, the circumstances leading up to Doug needing a break from him. Every word they spoke to one another leading up to him needing to be gone

Joe remembers how he fought against it, and how he also tried not to fight it sometimes too; it’s a hell of a thing to have followed your best friend from high school across the country because you couldn’t bear the thought of him being gone. The implication of what that might mean. The terror that it might not be what Doug wants.

Joe remembers it all. He should do; he’s been torturing himself over Doug for what must be years now. Because the thing with Doug is. The thing about Doug. See, Doug—

Joe growls at himself, digging his fingernails hard into his palms and biting down on his cheek until he can taste blood.

What if his constant inability to speak to Doug means he’s given up for good this time? That he’ll get back to their shared apartment to find a note announcing enough is enough; that two men nearing thirty with stable jobs that mean they’ve more than enough money to be living on their own is stupid, and it’s time to do that? That Joe’s friendship isn’t worth all the hassle it brings, because he just can’t be honest with him? Joe’s heart pounds at the very thought, and he curses himself for it.

What if he never again gets to feel the heat of Doug near him, that he strains hard against leaning in to, like Doug is his own personal sun?

What if Doug never comes back, never gives Joe the chance to say the things he’s been meaning to say, rehearsing and not rehearsing over and over and over until they threaten to spill out of him anyway? Repeating them silently to himself as he is now, without acknowledging the reasons why he’s having to have these one-sided conversations in the first place. Because he’s too much of a coward to say them out loud.

What if gone really means gone this time? And there is no chance to be brave?

Joe’s slammed enough doors and kicked enough curbs today to try even Jordan’s patience. It’s Jordan grabbing his arm to shake him out of it—which Joe viciously wrenches away from—that opens up the vault. He should be spending time with his brother, enjoying the rare time alone with him and asking him questions about his final year, what he plans to do when he’s finished, if he’s happy in his life.

Instead he’s slamming the car door, stamping away from him, and taking far too long in the service station restroom to pretend to compose himself. And when he returns to the car, he can’t face Jordan, he can’t face climbing in, he just can’t face the memory and guilt avalanche that is slamming down on him from all sides.

He’s suffocating. And it’s all at his own doing.

Joe perches on the hood of the car, his back rigid and turned away from Jordan, unable to face him for fear of just how close he is to breaking down.

Because of course it’s Joe’s fault any of this is happening. If he’d just been honest for once. If he’d just told Doug. If he’d just… done something. Maybe he could have stopped him leaving like he did. Maybe he could have changed things, ended their Thanksgiving on a high note of possibility. Maybe Doug would have stayed, with him.

Jordan gives it all of a minute before Joe hears him swinging the door open and his boots hitting the gravel. The three paces it takes Jordan to come up beside him sound loud enough for each step to be another approaching avalanche that assaults Joe to trap him with his own worst enemy; himself.

Jordan stands, body right-angled to Joe’s shoulder as he continues to stare off into the distance. He’s perfectly still, and waiting, in that ever patient way only Jordan seems to have for the entire world. It’s annoying, frustrating, and right now it is in danger of breaking down Joe’s carefully and not so carefully constructed walls.

Maybe he’s finally going to have to stop running from this thing. Maybe he’s finally going to have to acknowledge the thing that’s been both inner glow and consuming flame in him for as long as he dares to remember.

“He’s gone,”

Joe’s whisper is tortured enough to bring fresh waves of tears running down his cheeks, with Joe resolutely not looking at Jordan at all, even though out of the corner of his eye he sees Jordan square his shoulders, and Joe knows he’ll expect him to speak.

It’s too late for Joe. Those words have opened that dam he’s been fighting to keep in place for so long.

“He’s gone, Jordan. He’s gone. Again. And I don’t know if… I don’t know if…”

“Hey. It’s Doug, okay? He’s used to your arguments. You’ve been arguing like this for years.”

“But what if this is the time he doesn’t?” Joe’s whisper drops lower, so low Jordan has to lean forward a little to hear it. And what he hears to accompany the whisper is a rasp in his throat, a soft choking as Joe fights back things he never wanted to let slip out.

“Joe,” Jordan tries, gently.

“He’s gone, Jordan,” and finally, he does break, in the only way Joe allows himself. Tears leaking down his stoic face that absolutely is not turned to seek comfort. Fists clenching and unclenching at his thigh, occasionally tight enough to bounce off there and leave bruises.

Jordan shuffles a little but holds his position. “He’ll have calmed down by the time he gets home.”

“But what if-”

“He’ll be there, Joe. You know he will.” Jordan’s voice grows worried, even though he tries to sound confident. He’s clearly confused by Joe’s reaction, and that just sets Joe off even more.

“You know what the worst part is?” Joe bites out bitterly, wiping an angry, rough hand over his face to snag away tears that just refuse to stop appearing. “What I said to him. Right before he went. I said… I said I didn’t even need him around, Jordan. I said that we didn’t… that I didn’t…”

Joe’s words are overtaken by a rapid gunfire of choked sobs, and now Jordan really is startled, hesitating as he reaches out a hand to rest on Joe’s shoulder in an attempt to comfort him. It doesn’t work.

“What if… what if he hitchhikes? Or has an accident? Or just doesn’t show up? What if the last thing he ever thinks is that…is that I… that he’s not…” Joe is broken. his eyes wide in horror as he clutches and unclutches at thin air.

“Hey,” Jordan tries, punctuating it with a reassuring pat. “We all say things we don’t mean. He’ll know you didn’t mean—”

“But what if he doesn’t? What if he doesn’t, Jordan? What if this time’s the time I—” And Joe is lost.

Jordan will probably be able to count the number of times Joe has fully broken down in front of him on one hand, and none of them will have been as messy as this. Not once has Joe ever literally turned into his arms, fingers digging tight into his sides, face soaking the shoulder of his shirt as Joe mumbles over and over about missing his chance, about this being the last time, about… so many incoherent things Jordan can probably barely make out.

All Jordan can do is try to hold on to Joe whilst he works through whatever it is he’s going through. And when the sobs die down, and all that’s left is a hacking, wrecked gasp, Jordan takes a tiny step back to give them both a little room to breathe.

“Joe. I’m missing something, aren’t I?”

“He’s gone, Jordan.”

The agony in Joe’s voice is too much for Jordan. It’s like being shredded, inside out. He winces, unsure of what the right thing is to say, or do. “Yeah, I know that Joe. And…not to sound cruel? This isn’t exactly the first time you guys have had an all-out fight like this. It’s… practically a Thanksgiving tradition for you guys.”

Jordan stops, swallowing roughly, the contemplating look he’s giving Joe morphing into one of understanding.

He keeps looking at Joe, hard. “You’ve never reacted like this before.”

And no, perhaps Joe hasn’t. Doug comes home with them for Thanksgiving because he’s an only child, his parents dead, and he’s been part of the furniture in their family home since they were about fifteen. Joe and Doug have always been the best of friends, but it’s always been a fiery relationship, ready to yell at each other at a moment’s notice one moment, then sit in the most comfortable silence it’s possible for two people who know each other that well to have with one another the next.

Joe’s been in love with Doug for almost half his life, always hiding it because he’s terrified of other people’s reactions, yet never able to tear himself away. Joking out of comments by mutual friends about how they already live together and finish each other’s sentences, leading to meaningless sex with strangers and not coming home until morning, with guilt surging in Joe’s gut so hard he can’t even meet Doug’s eyes.

The way Doug looks at him sometimes is part of the problem, because on those occasions it’s so easy for Joe to believe he wants him back. In fact, everyone comments about the way they sometimes lose themselves to staring at one another—even over that Thanksgiving dinner.

There’s a light of understanding flickering for Jordan, but he’s not quite there yet to connect the dots. Of course, Joe has nothing to say to help him with that either.

“Joe, what aren’t you telling me?”

To say Joe is not one for words would be an understatement. But for Joe, words aren’t even needed for him to be able to bare his soul. All he has to do is raise his eyes to Jordan’s, and open them. And it’s written as plain as anything there for Jordan to see. This isn’t just the fear of losing a lifelong friend. This is the fear of someone who is terrified they have lost their entire world.

Jigsaw pieces must slot into place in a puzzle Jordan didn’t even know he’s been seeing all this time. The looks, which he’s teased Joe about himself. The stares. The touching, the lingering, the way they move around each other with an air of inevitability. It’s all there, bright as the sun.

Joe’s eyes register Jordan’s understanding, and added to the nakedness of his admission there is now a pleading request to understand, to not judge. Which of course, in a million lifetimes, Jordan would not. Love finds its way in the most unexpected of ways, Joe knows that, and that after long, long years trying to hide it, love is never something to be controlled.

And that’s what this pain is. That’s the thing that’s driving Joe in circles all this time. Love, that he’s so afraid of having, yet terrified of being without. Fearful of what it means about him, yet too scared to try.

“I’ve never told him,” Joe mumbles, broken, defeated, shoulders slumping so far forward that by rights he should roll to the floor.

But Jordan holds him up. He seems to need a pause to school his thoughts and come up with a response that might do something to help Joe through this. He clears his throat. “He knows, Joe. Of course he knows.” But Joe’s stance doesn’t change at all.

Jordan tries again, softer. “It’s not like it’s something he doesn’t need to say to you either.”

Joe’s continuing his staring, this time laced with are you sure and don’t mess with me and please don’t just say things to make me feel better. Too much weight to put on his kid brother’s shoulders, but then Joe’s only selfish about this one, hidden thing. He thinks—he hopes.

Jordan squeezes Joe’s shoulder, ducks a little so they are at eye level. “He knows, Joe. And you’re gonna go home, and then you’ll tell him anyway, okay?”

Jordan holds his breath, and waits, never altering his gaze, never removing his hand from Joe’s shoulder.

Joe gives the smallest, tiniest of nods.

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Tainted By Our Choices

 

Tainted By Our Choices Edit 2

Tainted by our choices is a contemporary romance that has flashbacks, sex, environmental awareness, and a slight fixation on dessert. Potentially all at the same time.

Meet Jack. A successful environmental officer working within an industry that is so very far from his childhood dream of saving the planet, that he no longer recognizes himself. How he’s found himself in Houston, Texas, where he has no one, and nothing but his work for company, he tells himself repeatedly he doesn’t know. But when the place that became home had the heart sucked right out of it, and all around him were the remnants of a life he wouldn’t get to have, Jack ran, at the first opportunity given to him.

On a bright, sunny morning, Jack sees a face so familiar to him that he knows it better than his own, one that takes him back first to a beach in his childhood home of Tampa Bay, and second to a college in Boston where Jack learned – and lost – his heart.

Tainted by our choices is the story of first crushes, loves, and heartbreaks, and the fallout that left Jack clinging to his past. Join him on his rediscovery of himself, as a chance meeting reminds him of the life he always wanted to lead. Is he brave enough to live it?

A Childish Sulk

“Greg.”

No response.

Eric humphed under his breath; he hated it when Greg was sulking with him, whether he had provoked him or not.

Okay, so perhaps this time the sulking was well and truly earned. But that didn’t mean that Eric wouldn’t try and wheedle his way back into Greg’s good books. He didn’t enjoy being out of them even for a minute.

“Please, Greg?”

Greg’s posture remained stiff even as he hunched over the laptop at the table looking engrossed in whatever it was he was doing.

Eric stood behind him, hands half-reaching out to squeeze his shoulders then falling to his side a dozen times.

***

They’d been late leaving the motel they’d been staying in that morning, and that had entirely been Eric’s fault. Eric had made clear his disdain for mornings, and no amount of cajoling, prodding, or eventual shoving could force him to get moving to the timescale that Greg had in mind for their drive back home after a wedding of an old school friend that neither one of them had wanted to attend.

Eric had grumbled through a shower, deliberately taken his time getting dressed, which meant by the time they stopped at a diner to eat the parking lot was full, and when they finally got inside they had to wait for a table. Which led them to missing the breakfast special, and having to wait for a new pot of coffee, and deal with their waitress who was new, nervous, and spectacularly mixed up their order.

Technically not all of that had been Eric’s fault, but Eric was in a difficult mood. Which meant spending far too long deciding on the fridge magnet he wanted to take back home as a souvenir. Which also meant taking an even longer time choosing snacks for the long, long drive home.

Which resulted in them hitting the road a good three hours later than Greg had wanted to.

They’d hit traffic, construction work sprung up out of nowhere, and the usual peace Greg found in driving just seemed bleak and endless.

Eric insisted on several bathroom breaks, each one increasing the tension across Greg’s shoulders. For the last break Eric had taken so long, that Greg had stamped back into the service station in search of him, only to find Eric stood at the checkout with the clerk discussing the different scents of air freshener on display. Greg hadn’t said a word, just stood, watching until he had Eric’s attention. Greg turned abruptly on his heel the second he did.

Eric had trailed him back to the car the very picture of the reprimanded child.

The last straw for Greg had been in the grocery store he’d intended to be their last stop before home, so they could get home, and stay home, spend the rest of their few days off work doing more pleasant things than attending weddings. Every suggestion he’d made for dinner was met with a shrug or non-committal hum. Every ‘what do you think’ answered with ‘whatever you think, Greg’. Greg had glared, grabbed frozen pizza instead of the ingredients for Eric’s favorite meal that he’d been considering making, and bought twice as much beer as he’d been planning on.

The silence on the final leg of the journey was deafening. And when they’d pulled into their parking bay, Greg had leaped out the car not wanting to start an argument, leaving Eric to sit alone in the car for a few minutes before stumbling his way inside.

The silent treatment carried on for several hours, including through dinner, and every time Eric glanced in his direction, Greg’s eyes were firmly elsewhere. Which is why Eric was stood behind Greg now, looking for a way back into his affections.

He stepped closer to the back of Greg’s chair, placed a hand on Greg’s shoulder. Greg could have jerked his shoulder away in anger, but instead he just didn’t react at all to his touch. Comforted by that fact as much as he could be, Eric reached for Greg’s other shoulder. He began a slow massage, feeling Greg begin to unstiffen beneath his palms. Eric stepped so that he was flush with the chair back and without breaking contact, leaned down to place a kiss on the top of Greg’s head.

He trailed kisses all the way down his hairline and bare neck, into his collarbone. He stooped awkwardly, a gentle bite to Greg’s earlobe and a slightly firmer one to the gap behind Greg’s ear. He watched Greg’s Adam’s Apple bob at that and smiled; he knew Greg well enough to know just exactly where to touch him and what sort of response he could expect.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, breathing heavily against Greg’s ear. Greg swallowed once more, thickly, but then huffed, and pushed the chair back gently so that Eric had to move to the side.

Greg walked to the kitchen, bending to open the fridge door and inspecting its contents. Eric was there before he could though, slamming the door shut, straightening up his newly-purchased fridge magnet, and leaning into Greg’s back, sneaking his hands around his front and up underneath his shirt.

With slow fingers wandered upwards and circling Greg’s nipples, and moving with that same soothing circling he’d used on Greg’s shoulders moments before, he pressed a kiss between Greg’s shoulder blades, murmuring another, I’m sorry.

In a flash, Eric pushed Greg’s shirt up and over his head, smiling to himself at Greg’s intake of breath in surprise. His hands continued their work on Greg’s chest as he trailed kisses across Greg’s shoulder blades and down his back. Soft bites were followed by more kisses, until Greg let out a lengthy sigh and leaned his head back, hands coming up to ghost over Eric’s against his skin.

“You,” he said reproachfully.

Eric continued his kisses, asking, “Me what, Greg?”

“Are trouble,” Greg replied with a kind of resigned affection.

Eric smiled against his skin, sensing he was winning.

“Perhaps. I’m your trouble though,” he pointed out, and there was pride there in his voice as he softly bit down on Greg’s shoulder.

Greg laughed in response. “Yeah. My trouble, Eric.” and with that he spun Eric round so that he was facing him, arms looped low around his back to pull him close. “Gonna tell me what your deal was today?”

Eric ducked his head, bumping it against Greg’s chest. “I was pissy.”

“I know, Eric. I was there, remember?” Greg smiled, then pressed a kiss on the top of Eric’s head, clearly having forgiven him.

“I didn’t sleep well.”

“Makes two of us.”

“I know,” Eric nodded with a grumble. “But I did not want to get out of bed.”

“Even with that lumpy motel mattress, when our own bed back here was waiting and welcoming us home?”

Eric sighed, sweeping his hands over Greg’s back. “Maybe I wasn’t ready to come home yet.”

Greg straightened at that, cupping a hand to Eric’ jaw and pulling his face up to look at him.

“You didn’t want to come here?”

Eric felt Greg’s heart beating hard through his chest, and in that moment felt guilt. He quickly nuzzled into him to reassure Greg he was going nowhere.

“I didn’t say that. I said, I didn’t want to come home yet,” and Eric made sure to emphasize the ‘home’ part of his sentence.

Greg swallowed thickly. “So what did you want?”

Eric sighed, slumping a little in Greg’s arms. “The rollercoaster we drove past looked fun. You said. You said we should do more with our days off once in a while. It’s been a while,” he added petulantly.

“Wait a second,” Greg said, moving his hands to grip onto Eric’ waist, and dipping his head to make sure Eric would have to look at him. “You were pissy all day, because you wanted to go to an amusement park?”

Eric glanced up to catch Greg trying really, really hard to keep the smile from his face; probably because he knew it would only make Eric more sullen.

Eric ducked his head again, mumbling into Greg’s chest and holding on to him tightly.

The last residual tension in Greg’s body evaporated, and he rained smile-tinted kisses over Eric’s face and hair, laughing into it. Eric curled into himself more with Greg’s laughter, with continued muttering which just made Greg laugh all the more.

“Eric. You absolute child. Why didn’t you just say?”

Greg kissed him then, happy, and tender, and with difficulty because of the mile wide smile on his face.

A Wednesday Evening

Simon sinks down beside Cameron on the sofa as he’s done so many other Wednesday evenings, snatching up a handful of the immediately-offered crisps the moment he’s seated, and like Cameron doesn’t move his eyes from the TV. This is their favourite show; in fact, it’s what got them talking in the first place back when he’d first started working at the car services two years ago. Him in his pristine suit for his role as administrator sticking out like a sore thumb amongst all the casual jeans and t-shirts all around him, as Cameron welcomed him with an extended, grease-smeared hand to shake.

“Can you believe she did that?” Cameron says in exasperation, bending to grab the bottle of beer he’s got down on the floor by his feet, and giving Simon a quick flash of his back as his t-shirt rides up. He shouldn’t even notice, Simon tells himself, forcing his eyes elsewhere; Cameron’s couch is a wide two-seater but they’re wedged in close enough that for him to even see that glimpse of skin he’s had to turn his head for it, and Simon lies to himself that he’s even made that effort.

Instead he nods in agreement, forces his eyes on the screen and not to the way Cameron’s wriggling beside him. “Yeah. She never learns.”

“This is like the fifth season; I don’t know why I ever think she will,” Cameron groans, sinking a little further into the sofa, then nudges the bowl of crisps wedged between them against Simon’s thigh. “Take. I’ll eat them all if you don’t.”

“You said you didn’t get time for lunch today,” Simon points out.

“I hate MOT days,” Cameron says, grabbing another handful of crisps and shoving them in his mouth. “Especially when they try and argue about what’s wrong with their cars.”

“What about that guy demanding a service?”

“Jake dealt with him,” Cameron laughs, and Simon laughs with him, thinking of how any customer becomes tongue-tied and weak-kneed in Jake’s presence. He might be one of the best, most giving people Simon’s ever met in his life, but he certainly doesn’t look like it; a little under six feet but heavily built, solid muscle, with full sleeve tattoos on both arms and another up the side of his neck, and a scowl that morphs into a warm smile for anyone that knows him, but a glower for those that even think of pissing him off.

“I’d feel sorry for them, but—”

“Guy was a dick,” Cameron says with a dismissive wave, giving Simon the view of his own tattoos that once again he struggles to snatch his eyes away from. But then both their attentions become fixed on an unexpected reappearance of a character, and their conversation turns to improbable plotlines, rumours about the actors, and speculation about how the series finale might turn out.

“We’ve got what, three more episodes to go?” Cameron asks, and Simon nods in answer, his words too caught on the thought of the long stretches of Wednesday evenings of the hiatus that he won’t be spending with Cameron to say anything out loud.

He wants to suggest a rewatch, to have a reason to not interrupt their routine. Simon’s been sinking further into this crush he’s got on Cameron for months, and the thought of not having him to himself for a few hours each week makes his stomach drop. Then curse that he’s even entertaining the word crush.

It had crept up on him slowly, though, with Simon not even realising that his eyes lingered on Cameron in his overalls as he worked as often as they did, until one day Cameron had turned suddenly and caught him doing it, and he’d had to make up a poor excuse for why he was looking at him so hard. And then it was difficult not to notice: dirty-blond hair kept short at the back and a little longer on top, that he is forever making messy for tugging on when working on a difficult car; constant stubble that Simon can’t snatch his eyes from on the days when he’s left it to grow in a little more; mischievous eyes that are forever crinkled with how much he is always smiling; and the few hugs they’ve shared giving Simon the opportunity to feel the solid muscle of Cameron pressed up against his own.

“You okay there?” Cameron asks with a gentle nudge against his arm, calling Simon’s attention back from where his mind’s been wandering and leaving him begging his cheeks not to be raging with blush.

“Yeah,” he says awkwardly, once again attempting to focus on the screen, thankful when the ad break finishes and he has to pay attention. But then his mind is wandering again, this time to an even worse reality than their show’s hiatus, that he’s been excessively trying not to think about. Cameron’s talking of leaving, going to work with a garage nearer to his childhood home as his parents are getting older, and since he’s an only child feels the need to be closer to them, instead of the five hours away he currently lives.

Nothing is set in stone yet, of course, and Simon is talking about it in terms of a year or so from now, so he has time to prepare. Or get over this crush at least, Simon thinks, adamant that he’s not concentrating on the heat of Cameron’s shoulder pressed up against his own now they’ve finished that bowl of crisps and there’s nothing between them but a thin strip of cushion.

“You sure?” Cameron asks, and when Simon allows himself to look, it’s to see an expression full of concern. “You’ve been out of it since you got here.”

Simon is riddled with guilt, and furious with himself for being so transparent. He can’t tell Cameron that he’s been retreating into himself since mid-morning, since Becca, their post-woman, arrived and spent several minutes by Cameron’s side, laughing and joking, and quite possibly flirting. His stomach’s been off all day just thinking about it, and Simon is furious with himself for being jealous, and possessive—and now obvious—on top of that. So he pastes on what feels like a sickly smile, and nods back.

“Yeah, sorry. I had a few difficult conversations with a couple of suppliers today, and then the spreadsheet I was updating crashed and lost me an hour of work, and—”

“So your day’s been as shitty as mine then,” Cameron finishes for him with an affectionate smile. “You know what this means?”

“What?”

“More beer,” Cameron declares, leaping up and leaving Simon smiling after the thud of his footfall, running back to the sofa and throwing himself on to it just a few seconds later. “Did I miss anything?”

“Nothing,” Simon assures him, draining the bottle he was almost finished with to accept the freshly uncapped one and clinking it against Cameron’s own.

“How would you feel about maybe a marathon session when this is done?” Cameron asks then, nodding towards the screen. “If your theory about how they’re going to leave us hanging really happens, I’m gonna need to rewatch from the beginning. Thought maybe, if you want to, we could make a weekend of it or something.”

Simon’s heart is not hammering in excitement at the thought, nor is his stomach knotting with the idea that perhaps he’ll get to stay over for this marathon, stay wedged up next to Cameron on this very sofa for an extended period, and maybe—

“Hey,” Cameron says, and Simon jolts at the gentle bump of his fist against his knee. “What’s going on with you?”

“Nothing,” Simon denies, smiling harder in panic.

“Simon, c’mon—”

“It’s nothing,” he insists, nodding towards the TV. “We’re gonna miss it.”

Cameron stares at the side of his face for another moment and Simon pleads with himself not to look back at him, but then Cameron is relenting with a soft huff and turning to look as well. They sit in companionable silence until the next ad break, and then Simon doesn’t trust himself to be in the same room with no distraction, so makes excuses to use the bathroom. When he returns, Cameron has shrugged into a sweater, and as he sits back down Simon pleads with his body not to react to the way Cameron all but snuggles up beside him.

“Too cold for the heating, but I’m still cold,” Cameron tells him, and Simon nods, thinks of the other friends he sprawls out next to and up against and how those incidents don’t mean anything more than friendship and trust, fights not to read more into Cameron’s warmth against him than there is.

“Maybe it’s the workshop,” Simon suggests, “if you were out doing MOTs all morning with the wind blasting through—”

“Maybe,” Cameron agrees, but then the episode starts up again, and they both become thoroughly engrossed, yelling at the screen when a plot twist blows out any of the theories they’ve been discussing, and leaving them sank back in the sofa half in a daze.

It takes them a minute, but then they’re turning into one another a little as they always do when the episodes have finished, and they’re predicting what to expect next week, already looking on Cameron’s tablet at the fan theories posted. And by the time they’ve finished discussing the show, they’re so comfortably leaned together, that Simon doesn’t want to move. Not that he generally does anyway when he’s like this with Cameron.

“Didn’t you say you’ve got an early start tomorrow?” Cameron asks then, and Simon’s pulling back a little, stomach dropping for it already being time for him to go home.

“Only by a few minutes,” he says, but daren’t let himself stay. “A courier’s delivering some paperwork we needed signing.”

“That’s not so bad.”

“And you?”

“Well, I know I’ve got an engine tune up at nine. A panel to get sprayed and back into shape at eleven for an insurance claim. Two services that I know about, probably more—and whatever else we get in.”

“You day sounds a lot busier than mine already,” Simon smiles, turning a little more away.

“Just different busy to yours,” Cameron shrugs. “You don’t have to rush off.”

“You’ll want to get ready for tomorrow though,” Simon says before he can talk himself into staying longer and risk convincing himself into doing things he knows will be unwelcome. “Shower, and stuff.”

“And you saying I smell?”

“What? No,” Simon denies, turning back at the disgruntled tone of Cameron’s smile only to find him smiling at him.

“Simon,” Cameron says, reaching out to gently shove against his arm, “what’s with you tonight, huh? You’re… it’s like you’re only here in body.”

Simon is riddled with guilt, wishing away his feelings for Cameron so they can go back to being friends. Or that he can go back to only thinking of Cameron as a friend, he amends, yet again turning to Cameron with a false smile.

“I’m sorry—”

“You don’t need to be sorry,” Cameron says, smiling so gently at him, that Simon has to back away to stop himself leaning in to finally discover how that smile tastes. “I just… you’d tell me if anything was wrong, wouldn’t you?”

“I would.”

“I’d hate to think you didn’t trust me, or something. Or that you’d… I don’t know, have something on your mind and not feel like you can share it with me.”

“It’s not that,” Simon denies, “it’s not that at all.” Though it is, Simon knows it is, and he’s turning himself in circles trying to be something to Cameron without being what he wants to be to him.

“Then what is it?” Cameron asks softly, following Simon as he backs away, and squeezes his shoulder, his thumb swirling out in a gentle circle. Simon’s eyes dart to it automatically, then up at Cameron’s face, alarmed when he’s shifted a little closer and is staring back at him in expectation.

“Nothing.”

“Please, Simon,” he says. “What kind of a friend would I be, if I didn’t ask when I can see something’s up with you?”

Simon’s stomach drops at the word friend, his eyes falling to Cameron’s chest, because he can’t bring himself to look him in the eye.

“Hey—”

“I need to go,” Simon says, making to stand, but Cameron lightly drips on to his wrist asking him to keep where he is.

“I did something to upset you today, didn’t I?”

“What? No—”

“When I came to see you this afternoon you looked so pissed off with me, I thought I’d messed up on an order or something,” Cameron continues, and Simon is captivated by the feel of his fingers still gripping around his wrist.

“No—”

“And then I thought, I couldn’t have done. Because if I had, you’re never quiet about it when you tell me,” Camerons says, ducking until Simon can’t avoid looking back at him.

“You didn’t—”

“So what did I do?” Cameron asks, and he looks so contrite even though he’s done nothing wrong that Simon only just about stops himself from surging forward and pulling him into a hug.

“Nothing,” he says, shaking his head and determined that he’s going to go home and get rid of this crush on Cameron once and for all—if only he can work out how.

“Simon,” Cameron sighs, but he’s still smiling at him, and Simon feels lost as he teeters on the edge of the sofa, knowing he has to leave for both their sakes, but not quite able to. Cameron is so easy to be with, so undemanding, and such a good friend; Simon would hate to lose him over this.

“I should go,” Simon says, but his eyes are drawn to Cameron licking his lips, and though it’s an innocent gesture probably to chase away the saltiness of all the crisps they’ve eaten, Simon can’t help staring. Which is ridiculous, he tells himself in the next breath, alarmed for the way Cameron’s eyes grow wider as though he’s caught him doing it.

“Please tell me.”

“It’s nothing—”

“Please,” Cameron whispers, and Simon’s heart starts racing frantically as Cameron’s own eyes dart down to his mouth. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”

“You won’t want to hear it.”

“Try me.”

“You won’t,” Simon insists, but it doesn’t stop him from leaning a little closer to Cameron. And Cameron doesn’t make any move to pull back.

“Try me,” Cameron says again, and there’s challenge in his voice as well as nervousness, excitement, maybe even a little expectation. Simon’s eyes fall again to Cameron’s lips, and this time when he watches his tongue dart out to flick over them Simon convinces himself it’s deliberate.

He holds his breath, tells himself it’s worth it even if it does make things awkward between them; at least Cameron will then know why he has to stay away from him, and why they’ll have to start avoiding each other at work. He leans in, presses their lips together and demands to himself that he pulls back. But his fingers clearly don’t get the message for the way they automatically curl around the nape of Cameron’s neck, fingertips digging into the hair there as he ducks and angles in.

It’s only a few seconds, but then common sense decides to come calling, and Simon pulls back in alarm, horrified at what he’s done. This friendship has come to mean so much to him over the two years he’s known Cameron, and now he’s thrown it all away because he couldn’t keep his thoughts straight in his head.

Simon braces to be yelled at, shoved to the floor, even to receive a fist to his face, despite Cameron never having shown even an ounce of violence towards anyone in all the time he’s known him. He sucks in another breath, and tells himself he has to look him in the eye.

If there’s a way to describe the look on Cameron’s face that Simon can simplify, it’s startled. His mouth is gaping open a little, and his eyes wide and round, his fingers twitching as though to reach out to him, though Simon doesn’t know to do what. But then Simon watches as that gaped open mouth begins to turn up into a smile, and his eyes crinkle up in that way Simon’s never been able to look away from.

“Cameron, I—”

But Cameron’s not interested in what he has to say. He’s reaching out and grabbing Simon’s face, pulling him closer, and initiating a kiss that’s far more enthusiastic than the one he’s just given him. Cameron leans back against the sofa pulling him with him so they’re pressed together, and Simon’s just noticing the pleased little hums falling from his lips, and the way his thumb continually sweeps over his cheek, when he realises what’s happening. He pulls back with soft gasp and stares, watching Cameron’s brow furrow a little in protest, and his hands already reaching for him to come closer again.

“I—”

“Simon,” Cameron says, reaching out and taking his hand, which Simon offers up in a daze and watches mesmerised as his thumb continues to swirl over the back of it. “Simon, I—”

But Simon’s lost any sense of reason now, and he’s toppling forward, cupping Cameron’s jaw, and kissing him harder, his other hand down and wrapping around his waist, eyes closing as Cameron’s hands loop around his back to pull him closer still. It’s a sweet kiss, unloaded, though full of promise, and as they tentatively explore each other’s mouths Simon allows himself to sink further into it, all thought of the consequences of what’s happening disappearing with every hum falling from Cameron’s lips.

When he pulls back a little later, Cameron’s smile for him is that crinkly-eyed mischievous one that Simon thinks is probably the very reason for the beginning of this crush. Cameron reaches out to hold his hand again, either needing the anchor, or trying to anchor him; either way Simon stares at it, considers that he’s already home and sleeping, and this is one of those infuriating dreams he has to wake disappointed from.

“So,” Cameron begins to say, then doesn’t appear to want to add anything. Simon fears confessions about it being a mistake, a thanks but no thanks, and a hundred other things. But then Cameron is sitting back from where he’s been slumped against the sofa and is withdrawing his hand from Simon’s only to wrap him up in a hug. “Well, this is a little overdue.”

Simon goes to pull back to look at him with all the surprise he’s feeling, but Cameron just pulls him right back in, pressing a kiss to the side of his head. “Cameron, I—”

“I guess you’re the last one to realise I’ve been crushing on you for months,” Cameron laughs, pulling back, and to Simons astonishment, blushing. “Ever since we went to that barbecue at Jake’s.”

Simon thinks back, remembers the brown shorts and black t-shirt Cameron had been wearing vividly, as much as the open smiles, the easy conversation, and the beginnings of feelings that he’d denied having for a while. “I didn’t—”

“I don’t exactly broadcast my, uh, personal life at work,” Cameron continues. “But I’d have thought by now with all the time we’ve spent together, that you’d have noticed that I… well, if you didn’t notice how hard it is for me to keep my eyes off you, then at least you’d realise I was—that at least you’d realise I was into guys.”

“Becca,” Simon blurts out stupidly, though his mind is already going over moments in so many of their conversations, and a lot of things slot into place beginning to make sense.

“Becca,” Cameron repeats with a small shake of his head in confusion before his eyes widen again. “Becca. Our post lady?”

“Yes.”

“She’s… well, she’s beautiful. And married. And I can’t say I don’t find women attractive too sometimes, but she’s… she’s not who I’m interested in. Never have been.”

Simon replays seeing Cameron and Becca together earlier in the morning and views it from an entirely different perspective, feeling silly. “And you—”

“I’ve been thinking of only you for a solid six months now,” Cameron smiles, “probably longer if I think about it. I was kind of working up to you having a reason to being here longer, so I could maybe work up the courage to ask you out.”

“Marathon,” Simon blurts out with a brief glance towards the TV.

“Yeah,” Cameron says, ducking his head, and blushing. “I mean, I want that too. And I’m not gonna pretend I didn’t plan and replan how I’d ask you, or let myself get carried away with the idea of having an excuse for you to sleep over—”

“Cam—”

“But I’d really, really like it, if you’d let me take you out. Get drinks, dinner—anything you want.”

“I’d love that,” Simon tells him immediately for the hesitant look he’s giving him that’s saying he’s worried he might turn him down.

“You would?” Cameron asks, his smile growing even wider. Simon huffs under his breath then surges forward to kiss him again. Cameron sighs into it, thumbs sweeping in circles over his waist as he tugs him in. And this time when they pull apart they stay closer together, leaning in for repeated quick kisses and losing themselves to them until Simon’s phone beeps, and he’s groaning, pulling back, though still holding on to Cameron.

“My sister. Tara,” he says, quickly reading her message then shoving the phone back behind him in the cushions.

“Is she okay?”

“Wants me to babysit tomorrow so she can go to book club.”

“Sounds fun—”

“Cameron—”

“We’ve got some stuff to work out,” Cameron says with a soft smile, leaning in to kiss him then shaking his head in disbelief as though he doesn’t believe he’s doing it. “Like work, and… stuff.”

“Eloquent,” Simon teases, laughing even as Cameron leans in to kiss him again. Cameron wraps his arms around him and draws him closer, not pulling back until they’re both breathless.

“Like I was saying; I know we’ve got a lot to talk about,” Cameron says, reaching out to swirl his thumb over Simon’s bottom lip that feels as kiss-bruised as Cameron’s looks.

“We do,” Simon agrees, smiling back at him. “But?”

“But nothing,” Cameron says, lacing their fingers together and studying their hands for a second before looking back up at him with an even wider smile. “Friday. You free?”

“I am now,” Simon tells him. Cameron sighs, and looks back at him in triumph.

“Gonna let me take you on a date?”

This is not how Simon thought his evening would be ending. Not even close to anything he’d let his mind wander to. But Cameron’s staring back at him in nervous expectation, and Simon’s heart starts skipping at the sweetness of it. There’s only one way he intends on answering, and as he leans in to kiss him, Cameron hums in approval. Pulling him closer until they’re sinking deeper into the sofa cushions, and telling Simon he’s going home no time soon.

Tainted By Our Choices

 

Tainted by our choices is a contemporary romance that has flashbacks, sex, environmental awareness, and a slight fixation on dessert. Potentially all at the same time.

Meet Jack. A successful environmental officer working within an industry that is so very far from his childhood dream of saving the planet, that he no longer recognizes himself. How he’s found himself in Houston, Texas, where he has no one, and nothing but his work for company, he tells himself repeatedly he doesn’t know. But when the place that became home had the heart sucked right out of it, and all around him were the remnants of a life he wouldn’t get to have, Jack ran, at the first opportunity given to him.

On a bright, sunny morning, Jack sees a face so familiar to him that he knows it better than his own, one that takes him back first to a beach in his childhood home of Tampa Bay, and second to a college in Boston where Jack learned – and lost – his heart.

Tainted by our choices is the story of first crushes, loves, and heartbreaks, and the fallout that left Jack clinging to his past. Join him on his rediscovery of himself, as a chance meeting reminds him of the life he always wanted to lead. Is he brave enough to live it?

At The Bus Station

It’s been exactly eight days, seven hours, and thirteen minutes since Damien saw Elias last, and as he cranes his neck to look for his bus pulling in to the station, Damien is convinced he can feel the seconds ticking by adding extra tension to his stomach.

Not that he’s been counting all that time passing, of course, nor spent hours mournfully staring up at the ceiling of his room unable to concentrate on anything but the fact that Elias isn’t with him. And it’s not even that long really since Damien’s been able to call Elias his boyfriend; only nine months and seventeen days. But with Elias being away for the past eight days, seven hours, and fourteen minutes, does that somehow wipe hours off that total? Since time has stolen Elias from him for all those days, does he have to reduce the time he can proudly boast of being his?

Of course not, Damien grumbles under his breath, apologising to the woman stood beside him also waiting as he jostles her, who scowls at him briefly from behind wide-rimmed glasses, then softens her expression into a kinder smile.

“I hate bus stations,” she sighs, turning her gaze back to the gap between two buildings that everyone around them is focussing on, where in a few short minutes, traffic being willing, Elias’ bus is going to come screeching around the corner and change Damien’s own grimace into a smile. “It’s the anticipation. Every bus that comes in, you think is going to be the one you’re looking for. And then you’re disappointed when it isn’t.”

It’s a little too profound for this cold, Monday morning, though Damien thinks he’s not being too melodramatic when he declares to himself that all Mondays are cold. All mornings, every moment when he’s not got Elias with him; which makes him sound like a possessive bastard, he then chides himself, and nods in answer to the woman waiting with him.

“Yeah,” he says, because he doesn’t know what else to, and shuffles in discomfort on the spot. He knows he set off far earlier than was necessary to meet Elias at the station, but the waiting there in his bedroom with nothing providing adequate distraction had him curling his fists into tight balls in the duvet one moment, then pacing the few metres of floor space there the next.

A bus appears then, the protest of its engine echoing around the bus station, making Damien’s blood surge until he sees it’s a local bus instead of a national one, and he’s sinking into disappointment all over again. That’s the seventh bus that’s taunted him with not being the one to deliver Elias to him, and though he knows it’s no one’s fault he’s cursing traffic jams, rude drivers that haven’t given way, and lane hoggers for delaying Elias getting back.

The bus isn’t even late yet, Damien sighs with a quick glance at the large clock suspended overhead to their side, glaring at the ticking of the seconds and not sure if he’s willing them to speed up to get Elias back to him, or pleading with them to stop, so this awful stretch of time without him doesn’t ache so much. Eight days, seven hours, and fifteen minutes might not sound all that much to anyone else, but to Damien, it’s like he’s been aware of every passing second.

The collective group anticipation of all those waiting for arrivals doesn’t help, Damien thinks, nudging a little closer to the woman stood beside him who he’s decided to name Chloe instead of profound woman, because she looks just like the librarian in his university library, even favours the same autumnal colours, apparently, in everything she wears. No; the air is thick with the tension of everybody waiting. He’s convinced he could bottle it, preserve it, then sell it to cinemas for films that are lacklustre, perk them up a little to get better reviews.

Damien’s housemate, Joanna, says he’s been like a tightly coiled spring all the time Elias has been gone, though she did admit she appreciated that his constant need to keep busy meant the bathroom’s never been so clean, and the kitchen cupboards never so meticulously organised. And it hasn’t helped at all seeing Joanna loved up in their lounge with her boyfriend; it’s been exactly like a serrated knife plunging into his gut every time the oaf has leaned in for a kiss.

Kevin’s not an oaf, Damien corrects himself, thinking of the smile he’s put on Joanna’s face ever since they’d stopped making eyes at each other from neighbouring tables in the local cafe half the university seems to go to. It’s just that he’s missing Elias so badly, that any unnecessary reminder that he’s gone is adding further greyness to his perpetual gloom without him.

Elias walked into his life around a year ago now, charging through the stiff door of the print shop where he works three days a week declaring it an outrage that his lecturer demanded a paper copy of his assignment when the entire world was now digital. He’d knocked into a stand of leaflets advertising their various services, nudged into a customer already waiting and sent the business cards they’d been inspecting at the counter scattering far and wide. Damian had looked up at the commotion and got stuck on the view of a cute, flustered student who he’d noticed around the campus a few times, and earned himself an embarrassed smile.

Damien swipes a thumb across his phone to see the same warm brown eyes smiling up at him from a face framed with thick curly hair, and unconsciously lets out a deep, longing sigh. Elias is cute, there’s no other way to put it, and he’s kind, gentle, clumsy as though everything in his path is either a target or an obstacle to get snagged to. He’s also a really good friend, as well as boyfriend; Damien’s excited to spend his time with Elias whatever they’re doing, even if it’s something as mundane as studying together on his couch.

What he’s going to do if Elias decides to change his mind about doing his masters at the same university next year, Damien doesn’t know, but he pushes the cruel concern about it to one side for another day, determined to enjoy every second of Elias’ company when he’s got him back with him and leave that conversation for another time. It’s now eight days, seven hours, and eighteen minutes since he saw Elias last, and he’s not going to ruin things by imagining all sorts of future possibilities, when the only future he’s currently interested in is the one that involves Elias stepping off that bus.

Another bus arrives, and then another, and a third in quick succession, and Damien’s mind decides to whisper things to him about potholes, careless drivers, buses veering off and down verges in the middle of nowhere, or crashing into the barrier of a motorway in a mangled heap. Should he call? Would Elias have kept his phone charged enough to let him know which hospital he’s been taken to? Would he even think to call him before anyone else; is Damien in his thoughts even half as much as Elias is in his?

Enough,” Damien announces in answer to his overactive imagination, then realises belatedly that he’s said it out loud. Chloe looks up at him in sympathy, and probably even amusement, and Damien has a new distraction; the creep of blush up his neck and cheeks that is bright enough to match Chloe’s coat. Damien stamps to get some feeling back into his legs for how long he’s been standing there in the cold, fantasises about walking hand in hand with Elias back to his house, tiptoeing around Elias’ housemates who are the reason they spend so much more time in Damien’s place than his.

What if he’s tired? What if the week-long field study he’s been on has exhausted him so much that all Elias wants to do is crawl into bed alone? What if he doesn’t want to see him at all? What if he’s got the location wrong, and the bus returning the group is dropping them off at the university instead of the bus station and Elias is waiting for him on this cold Monday morning growing increasingly annoyed with his absent-minded boyfriend for misreading his messages?

Messages, Damien thinks in a panic, frantically searching through their messages and slumping in relief that he’s got the place right. Then scrolls through to their latest messages, with Elias announcing they were setting off and what time they were due to arrive, and Damien’s heart gives a little pleased thud at the softness of his words. Can’t wait to see you either, he thinks, remembering not to say it out loud this time.

And then the private hire bus is pulling in around the corner, and Damien’s heart is thudding, sending blood rushing to his ears. He barrels forward with the rest of the crowd, each of them telling themselves they have the right to be first to welcome their passengers since they’ve been there the longest, then smiling at each other falsely as though they’re not thinking such things at all.

Chloe’s obviously not waiting for anyone on Elias’ bus, because as Damien’s stepped forward she has stayed in place, frowning down at her phone and probably wondering when her own person is going to arrive. But for Damien his eight days, seven hours, and twenty-one minutes is drawing to a close, as he searches through the passengers stood in the aisle on the bus pulling bags down from overhead storage, and tries to work out which one of them is Elias.

The doors open and passengers begin to step off, and Damien’s heart protests even louder for every stooped head he doesn’t recognise, every pair of legs not adorned with Elias’ favourite jeans. And then he’s there; slowly lifting his head to search the crowd for Damien, his face splitting into a smile, and he’s waving, gesturing with this thumbs towards the underside of the bus to say he’s got to pick up a bag.

Okay, Damien thinks, his heart beginning to settle, and warmth swirling its way through his gut, he’s fine now, he can see him. And in literal seconds he’ll be right there with him, and he can get him home, tuck him up, spend the day he’s taken off from everything else in only Elias’ company. Honestly, he can’t wait.

Damien watches Elias bend down to pull a bag out and loop it over the girl stood next to him, then retrieves another for a guy in front. And then he’s grabbing his own, hoisting it up and swinging it across his chest, adjusting it with a wriggle to get it comfortable, then turning and beaming at Damien.

Damien’s got about four hundred things he’s planning on telling him, several thousand clever sentences he’s rehearsed in clever greeting. But as Elias begins to pace towards him, Damien loses the ability to speak at all. The relief for seeing him has stolen the words from his tongue, and apparently, all he’s capable of doing is continuing to smile.

Elias comes to a stop in front of him, eyes flitting over his face as though to drink him in, relearn every one of his features as Damien knows he’s doing with him. And then he’s smiling even wider, closing the gap between them, pressing bodily against his chest and claiming a kiss that’s all relief, warmth, comfort, and want. Damien wraps his hands around his waist pulling Elias in tighter, splaying his fingers as wide as his gloves will allow, and for the first time in eight days, seven hours, and twenty-four minutes, feels that he can breathe deeply. He slots his fingers through Elias’ and squeezes, tugs until they’ve found a path through the still-gathered crowd, and proudly listens to all the details of Elias’ week away as he leads him home.

In The Car

They have Josh’s younger brother staying with them for a long weekend, and in a surprising display of modesty, Grant had arrived home Friday night to a murmur from Josh about adjoining bedroom walls, barely able to contain a burst of laughter for Josh acting so out of character demure and only greeting him with a brief kiss on the cheek. But Josh’s comments about needing to keep their hands to themselves in Toby’s company, is apparently easier said than done for Josh. Because every spare second Toby’s been out of their sight, Josh is on him like a man starved. Grant’s not complaining, obviously, but he is thoroughly amused.

Toby hasn’t been out the car more than a second to pick up a book he’s ordered when Josh’s hand is in Grant’s jeans. Grant gulps in surprise, but he can’t help respond to Josh as he does, every single time. Besides, it’s technically been a few days.

Josh smirks knowingly over at him, pauses for a moment to lick his hand, then starts again, squeezing and pulling and stroking Grant in all the ways he’s learned will make him whimper the most. Grant’s head thumps back against the seat, his half-hearted protest long dead in his throat. His eyes drift down to watch Josh’s hand on him, and he moans, spreading his legs as far as the denim and confined space will allow.

Josh smears precum down his length, and Grant lets out a mumbled curse. He has a single thought of what a mess he’s about to make, but it seems Josh is a mind reader, because his mouth is then down and on him in less than a second.

Grant clenches and unclenches his hands, letting out a single grunt as he tries to writhe in his seat. He can’t move far; he’s being kept firmly in place by Josh’s forearm pressing hard into his thighs to keep him in place. Josh’s tongue swirls over his head, and he takes a moment to grin up at Grant, before sucking him down again. Grant lets out a grunt in response not having any words left in him.

He watches Josh bob his head up and down, feels himself building, wonders at his luck, and then comes with a soft huff of a groan, closing his eyes to the parking lot they’re idling the engine in since Toby had insisted he wouldn’t be long enough for them to have to pay to park.

Josh sucks him dry, roughly wiping his mouth with the back of his hand as he sits back up, and then reaches over to re-button Grant, who feels like he might not even be able to drive.

When Toby returns to the car, he has to search for it, surprised that they’ve pulled into a space instead of idling by the side. He ducks to peer inside and finds Grant snoring softly in the front seat, and Josh curled against the window with his eyes closed and a smile on his face.

Josh cracks one eye open as though he feels Toby watching, and his face morphs into a smug smile, seconds before he realizes he’s doing it. When his cheeks light up with blush, Toby snorts, thinking his brother still see him as a kid, and doesn’t know exactly what him and Grant would usually be doing if he wasn’t staying with them. He yanks the car door open hard enough to startle Grant awake, grins at him when he looks around, and stretches out on the back seat with a long suffering sigh.

Tainted By Our Choices – Extract

Jack stretched up just enough to peek down through the tinted glass of his office window at the protesters gathered outside holding hand painted placards and could only bring himself to sigh. They had moved in that morning, encroaching on all the best parking spaces in the parking lot and chanting angry slogans that Jack thought perhaps were kind of funny but would do nothing to stop what was going to happen.

The fracking would be going ahead, whether anyone objected to it or not. Works had all been approved, reams upon reams of paperwork signed and countersigned, and if some bureaucracy involving clandestine deals and exchanges of money between those further up the chain and the local authorities had happened, well. It was absolutely nothing to do with him. Jack had done his job. He had produced the environmental report that had helped win them the contract, carefully detailing all of the possible risks and hazards involved, right down to potentially affected species in the local vicinity, and models indicating the likelihood of contaminated water coming into contact with nearby residential supplies.

With another sigh, Jack looked over his mostly-completed work for the morning and pushed himself back from his desk, spinning one full circuit on his chair before coming to a stop, then doing the same the other way. He stood with an exaggerated stretch, wandering over to rattle the cafetiere and frowning at its betrayal when he found it to be empty.

With every intention of topping up from the coffee machine in the break room, Jack made his way there, the voices drifting out to him immediately changing his mind. He took a brief stop in the restroom and gave himself a quick glance over in the mirror as he washed his hands, tugging at his hair and telling himself that lighter color was definitely blond, not gray, in his usual brown.

Biting down on his lip as he debated with himself with himself, Jack decided on a local bakery with excellent coffee and even better cakes, then shrugged into his suit jacket and headed out. If he was staying late as usual to go over those complex habitat surveys for their most recent site acquisition, and had to survive the dreaded afternoon meeting, caffeine and sugar would be essentials to get him through his day.

With a carefree jog, he took the stairs down, noting with no real surprise that the chants outside grew louder and even angrier the closer he got to the exit. Giving a brief nod to the receptionist Jack stepped out into the bright, sunny morning, shielding his squinting eyes behind sunglasses from both the sun itself and the attention of those protesting. His face became a neutral mask as he passed the group buzzing like irate bees over to his right, hoping they wouldn’t pay him any attention. This wasn’t his first experience with opposition against what the company did and he’d learned early on to feign indifference, despite what he might really think.

A mop of messy black hair caught his attention, though, as it always did, whispering to him to take a look just in case. Jack’s gaze turned casually in the group’s direction as he continued walking, coming to a complete, shuddering stop and ripping his glasses off in disbelief as he watched pale blue eyes look him up and down in contempt, then spark with recognition before narrowing in quiet fury. His stomach sank and his mouth grew dry, and the only sound Jack could hear in that moment was the misplaced shriek of the crashing of waves.

1993

On a clear day, when the sky was the brightest blue and the reflection the sea gave back just as vivid, it made Jack feel like he could stare out at the horizon forever and never know where one started and the other began. The waves roared away any sense of unrest he might be feeling, waxing and waning with soothing sounds that never ceased to keep him calm.

Jack had been visiting this beach since before he could even walk, crawling along the sand and fisting it up into his chubby palms, squealing at the crunch and squeak of it between his fingers. He remembered helping his little brother build his first sand castle and watching the water lick it away one misshapen turret at a time. He remembered a red checkered picnic blanket pinned down beneath a cooler box to stop it blowing away, and laughter as he chased a corner of it that got repeatedly caught up in the breeze. Happy memories were what Jack had when he thought of this place. Happiness and home.

Today was not a clear day. The normally creamy colored sand was painted with jet black slickness, foam churning up gray against the shoreline. As if in sympathy the sky was dull and flat, clouds outlined with dirty smudges that bled into one another. It seemed to Jack in that moment as though all the color had been drained from the world. The waves rolled in as they always did, as they always had, but on that day, could do nothing to bring stillness to Jack, as each crest spewed out further victims of the oil slick everywhere he looked.

Though surrounding him was a flurry of activity, with rescue workers rushing about clad from head to foot in once white hazmat-like suits and carrying bird after bird away to cleaning stations further up the shore, the only noise that got through to him, that broke Jack’s continual horror at what he was seeing all around him was one of heartbroken, hiccupping sobbing.

A boy knelt off to his right, gently stroking his fingers over a bird whose head, he had rested across his lap at an unnatural angle. The oil from the bird’s feathers left glossy rivulets of black running down the sides of his thighs, and he continued his gentle path along its back as though touch alone could bring it back to life. A trembling hand ran over the flat of the bill, tracing against the curved tip that suggested a hint of its natural red color beneath the poisonous black that every other inch of the bird was coated in like a terrible second skin.

Jack looked at the boy’s mass of messy hair and decided it was the exact same shade as the oil staining his fingers. He stepped closer to him, his own heart heavy despite what he’d been witnessing all morning. His footfall caught the boy’s attention, and when he looked up at Jack with a quivering lip and piercing blue eyes rimmed red with tears, Jack felt an inexplicable need to bring him comfort.

Now

“Dylan,” Jack choked out, utter disbelief rippling through his voice as he continued to stare at him open-mouthed. Dylan glowered back at him, dropping the oversized placard he was holding down to waist height and resting his hands along the top of it in a fierce grip. He glanced up behind Jack at the office complex snorting in derision before dropping his eyes back down to Jack’s face in blatant scorn.

“You work here?” he asked, incredulous, a furious glare pinning Jack in place.

“Yeah,” Jack mumbled, and for a second he felt determined not to show any of the shame that surged through him just from being in Dylan’s presence. He managed a full three seconds of maintaining eye contact then found his gaze dropped to the tarmac beneath their feet.

“How the hell did you end up in Houston? Working here of all places?” Dylan demanded, so full of anger Jack struggled not to take a step back from it.

“I-”

“So, this is what you’ve become, huh?”

“Dyl…” Jack pleaded, lost for any other words to say. What was he supposed to say? What could he, after all this time, without it sounding like a string of poor excuses?

As though reading his mind Dylan rolled his eyes, glaring back at him with ice lighting those eyes that Jack had first stared back at so long ago. “Thought you wanted to change the world, Jack? Not rip it apart from the inside out,”

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A Pit Stop

“Are you embarrassed by me, Grant?”

Josh’s voice is quiet; that low, growling pitch that, depending on the circumstance, either has Grant pleased he’s rarely on Josh’s bad side, or falling to his knees in reverent worship the way only he gets to worship Josh.

“What? ‘Course not,” Grant replies quickly, wondering where Josh is going with this, and also what he’s done wrong. He’s been so tense about taking Josh home to meet his family, that he’s spent the week leading up to it overthinking every step, and overplanning every word.

“Then why,” Josh continues, slowly, making Grant’s heart thud loud, “do you repeatedly keep stepping away from me, as though I am not to be seen with you?”

Grant darts his eyes down the aisle of the supermarket they’re in and steps away from the cart he’s pushing, hands dropping to his sides. “Josh,” he begins, guiltily, trying to work out what to say, and coming up with nothing.

He feels tight, on edge being in his hometown, that’s full of narrow-minded people he’d avoided as much contact with as possible when growing up. And though his parents and sisters have welcomed Josh with open arms, there’s been several sets of other disapproving eyes on them wherever they’ve been. So perhaps he is holding back; not reaching for Josh in the usual affection he does when they’re back in their own home. He’s not meaning to do it, but if he’s hurting Josh by doing it—which Grant knows he must be doing from the look on his face—then he’s got to snap out of it, meant or not.

“Shit. Sorry, Josh. It’s not intentional at all,” and to prove his point, Grant leans over to Josh and gives him a sweet, apologetic kiss. Josh remains as still as stone.

“I’m sorry,” Grant whispers against Josh’s lips, then kissing along his cheek, and the edge of his jaw where he feels it clench beneath him. He has no problem with being seen with Josh in public, not one.

Josh nudges him until his back is against the shelves behind him, and Grant is convinced the entire thing rocks from the force of it. But he’s not caring at all; he’s too busy trying to keep up with Josh’s tongue as it fights its way around his mouth, and Josh’s hips as they grind up against him in claim.

Here? Do you have to, Grant?”

Grant feels Josh’s mouth pause, feels the indignance of being interrupted churning through his entire body, before he steps away from Grant and straightens his shirt for him from where he’s rucked it up. Josh turns away, indifferent, walking down the aisle behind Deacon, the owner of the store, who stands, glaring at Grant.

“Grant,” Deacon hisses, reaching up and covering his eyes in a sure sign of trying to keep his tongue in check. “I’ve got no problem with you or your boyfriend. But that shelving’s on its last legs; getting the whole place refurbed next month. And if that thing collapses on someone the other side with you two doing… whatever you were about to do, it’s on your head.”

Grant’s face burns with how much he’s blushing. Deacon’s been serving him since he’s been old enough to go to the store by himself. He mumbles an apology, bows his head to avoid eye contact, and pushes the cart to the checkout, where Tina, the store assistant helping Deacon, beams at him in mirth as she rings up his purchases.

Josh is folded armed and flush-cheeked against the side of the car when Grant gets outside, glancing at him guiltily as he begins to fill the trunk.

“I didn’t mean to embarrass you in front of—”

Grant presses Josh up against the car and kisses him hard, humming softly as Josh’s arms loop around him.

“I know you didn’t,” Grant agrees when they pull back, nuzzling against him.

“I know I shouldn’t let myself get insecure about this kind of stuff, and—”

“Don’t worry about it,” Grant smiles, kissing him again. “I’m sorry I did anything to make you feel insecure.”

Josh sighs, nodding, fingers toying with Grant’s shirt as they always do when he’s feeling a little out of his depth. But then he’s kissing him again, and this time it’s gentle, taking what they need from each other and forgetting everything else. And when they pull back again, there are easier smiles for them both.

“I still want you,” Josh tells him with a squeeze around his waist, and intent in his eye that leaves Grant swallowing awkwardly.

“And you can still have me,” Grant promises with a wink. “Just… maybe not right here.”

“It’s not like we can go back to your parents and disappear upstairs with some lame excuse,” Josh sighs, his thumb sneaking in between them, discreetly brushing along his length.

“No, it’s not,” Grant agrees, wide-eyed that Josh would even do that in the middle of this parking lot when he doesn’t ever do stuff like that back home. But then he gets an idea that’s likely to get them both into trouble, and he can’t think of anything else. “C’mon.”

Grant drives them to the edge of town where there’s a mid-sized restaurant sharing a parking lot with a new supermarket he’s adamant wasn’t here the last time he visited. Grant grabs Josh’s hand the moment they’re out of the car and tugs him forward, keeping his head down, determined not to see anyone he knows. He drags him inside, then once more into a restroom, and firmly bolts the door behind them.

Josh’s eyes are wide in surprise for all of a second, but then there’s a triumphant smile on his face. And as he saunters towards Grant he’s already unbuttoning himself, never taking his eyes off Grant’s, pressing on his shoulders wordlessly asking him to kneel, then utters a single instruction. “Suck.”

Which of course, Grant does, more than willingly. He pushes down Josh’s jeans and boxers further, gripping his fingers into his cheeks and kneading one minute, then cupping his balls gently the next. He licks, sucks, and teases in all the ways he knows Josh likes, then pulls off him to suck his own fingers into his mouth, and slowly presses one into Josh’s hole as he takes him back in his mouth.

Josh grunts, rocking forward a little as Grant strokes his finger slowly in and out whilst lapping his tongue over his head. But Josh wants more, apparently, because he pulls Grant up abruptly, backing him against the door and kissing him hungrily, as he unbuttons Grant’s jeans and shoves them down, boxers and all, as far as they will go.

He strokes him a little, grinning at the groan Grant gives in response, and then turns to look around the room in a sort of panic. Relief is instant; his eyes fall upon a vending machine, and he hits it in a way that makes a packet of lube and three strawberry flavored condoms fall out into the sink below. Grant’s cock twitches at the sight.

Josh tosses the condoms away—one of the many perks of being in a committed relationship for coming up to three years now—and turns back to Grant with a look of pure intent. Grant gulps at the sound of the packet being ripped open, and Josh does this magic thing that Grant loves; at least, he thinks it’s magic, it feels magic even though it’s probably not. But Grant is babbling to himself either way as Josh systematically slips his fingers slowly inside him one at a time, in time with his tongue thrusting into Grant’s mouth. Grant rocks down on Josh’s fingers, giving a little whine when the angle strikes just right against his prostate.

“I need to see you,” Josh says hastily, before somehow pulling one of Grant’s legs free so he’s standing with his clothes flapping around the other leg only. And then Grant’s holding on to whatever he can, as Josh lifts and spreads him wide open, slowly pressing into him with a long, appreciative groan.

Josh pauses for just enough time for Grant to adjust then is staking his claim, as fast and hard as he can without breaking either Grant or the sink he’s somehow gripping on to and fucking Grant up against. It’s not the most comfortable of positions, but it works. It’s efficient, hitting all the right angles in all the good spots, with them both muffling their groans in each other’s necks, just about conscious of the noise traveling beyond the door of the restaurant bathroom.

After, when Josh wipes Grant down, swiping away his come from between their chests with the bathroom tissue that’s sticking to him in chunks, the look in Josh’s eye is smug and thankful. They straighten each other up both grimacing at the mess they’ve made of each other, mumbling about how good a shower would be right now if they could only find an excuse for it when they get back to the house.

When they’re outside, Josh presses Grant gently against the wall outside the bathroom with one last long kiss, humming against his lips before pulling back with a smile.

Stay

The dent of the mattress, the rustling of sheets. These aren’t the things that wake him, nor the cool air blasting in from the window creaked open in the middle of the night. It’s the wrapping of arms around his waist from behind, the sigh of home that’s breathed into his neck, and the soft kiss to the back of his ear, with the mumble of, I didn’t mean to wake you.

“Ross,” Adam says as he stretches against him, curling into his heat.

A hand squeezes firmer around his waist, then presses flat against his stomach, and Adam smiles as Ross nuzzles into his neck.

“I needed to see you.” Adam hears, and there’s heartbreak betraying the normal strength of Ross’ voice.

It’s hell. It’s been hell keeping away from him like he’s being forced into doing since they were caught together, and his family aren’t anywhere near as strict as Ross’. Adam can’t imagine what it must be like in Ross’ home at the moment, half-wants to turn over and check for bruises for the fury he saw in Ross’ dad’s eyes the last time they spoke.

“Wanna talk it out?” Adam asks, turning his head enough for Ross to kiss him at an awkward angle, sees him shake his head in silhouette against the outside light then lays back down, playing with Ross’ fingers already fighting falling back to sleep; that’s how comfortable Ross makes him.

“I just wanted this. I needed this. Just for a few hours. Can I stay?”

“Never need to ask me that. Never.”

He hears another sigh, but this one’s tinged with relief, and also longing, for a thing that’s currently an impossibility. Just a few more months has become their mantra, until when they’ll be away from here, and can be together out in the open.

“When this… hell, is over, Adam,” Ross says, referring to the separation they’re supposed to be enduring because of people who refuse to understand. There’s uncertainty there this time in his voice, a question he doesn’t finish, as though he fears he won’t like the answer to.

Adam raises up just enough to turn his head, finds Ross’ eyes in the poor light of the room, holds his gaze there for a moment, then nods. Leans in for another kiss before laying back down.

“Stay,” He whispers into the dark as he squeezes Ross’ hand. “When we’re gone from here, we’re gonna fall asleep like this every night, and wake up like it every morning. But until that happens, stay. Stay, with me.”

Ross nods against the back of his head for a moment, then lets out a yawn in reply.

Adam shuffles back further into the warmth of Ross’ arms, and they fall asleep in their temporary bubble away from prying eyes.