The heat between them is scorching, but secrets from Jared's past and his need to take care of everyone around him, jeopardizes their fledgling relationship. How will they build a future if Jared can't to face the past?
A Private Place
Alex found Jared in their bedroom, sitting in the window seat with his knees drawn up to his chest, arms clasped around them. The sun streamed in through the panes, setting aflame the autumn highlights in his dark hair. Clad casually in a pair of cut-off jeans and a tank top, his feet bare, Alex thought Jared looked good enough to eat. He crossed the room and brushed his fingers through Jared's sun-warmed hair before he spoke. Jared looked up with a smile at Alex's touch.
“What are you doing?” Alex settled down on the edge of the window seat and peered out the window.
Looking slightly embarrassed, Jared shrugged. “Wishing it would rain.”
“Oh.” Alex laughed and glanced up at the cloudless blue sky. “It can't rain every Fourth of July.” He rubbed his cheek against Jared's shoulder.
Jared chuckled. “I know that. Actually, it hardly ever rains on the Fourth.”
“Ah yeah, that wicked summer thing,” Alex teased. “Clark called. Did you want to do something? They're suggesting a cookout and fireworks.” Jared turned and stretched out his legs, tugging Alex to sit next to him. They sat hip-to-hip, leaning against the warm glass.
“You want to?” Jared took Alex's hand in his, playing with his fingers, sliding his own between them and out again. Alex watched Jared's hand-play, felt the familiar curl of heat in his spine in reaction to his lover's touch. He sighed and shook his head, leaned against Jared's shoulder.
“Our friends think how we want to be alone on the Fourth is weird.” Eyes sliding closed, Alex squeezed his hand.
“So, you don't want to either,” Jared said.
“Then we won't.”
“There won't be any rain.” Alex's head lifted momentarily with the motion of Jared's shrug.
“The rain doesn't really matter.”
Which was true, but they both liked rain that day. “They aren't expecting us. Even when we say we will, we don't show up. I don't know why they always call.”
“So we don't feel left out. So, if we're staying home, what are we having?” Jared wrapped an arm around him, hugging him close.
“I bought a couple porterhouses for you to grill. I'll throw together a salad. Your mom sent over that cake she makes us every year. The one she frosts with Cool Whip.”
“Is there any left?” Jared laughed and Alex elbowed him.
“You love that cake.”
“Yeah, love it more when we eat it together.”
“Good thing Mom doesn't know that,” Jared teased. “So we've got food, the best company, and we can see the fireworks from the backyard. Why go anywhere?” He leaned and pressed a kiss to Alex's mouth. When he pulled back, Alex met his gaze, eyes laughing.
“You want to stay home because we always do.”
Jared grinned at the accusation. “I hope you don't think that's a revelation.”
Alex stretched and climbed to his feet. “I don't know why you sit there.”
Jared crossed his ankles, grasping the edge of the seat on either side of his thighs. The sun made a halo of his uncombed hair. “You don't?” he grinned, leaning back against the glass.
“I don't, it's uncomfortable as hell, even alone.” Alex stuck his hands in the back pockets of his shorts but couldn't take his eyes off Jared. Wide shoulders bared by the tank top, narrow hips, long legs, and that damned hair. Alex wanted to climb into his lap and stay there.
“I sit here for you.”
“That is not why!”
Jared got to his feet, moving with lazy slowness, a natural result of sun basking, and came to a stop in front of Alex. He cupped his face with a gentle hand and traced his thumb over Alex's cheek. “Oh, it's why.” His voice, low and gravelly, went straight to Alex's groin. “You should see your face when the sun's in my hair.”
Alex took the step forward that put him in Jared's arms. “The first time I jerked off thinking about you, was after I saw the sun in your hair.”
Instead of being turned on, Jared looked horrified. “Dude, you were like twelve!”
Laughing at the exaggeration, Alex shoved at his shoulder. “Fifteen, jerk.” He stepped away and surveyed the bed Jared had been not so subtly guiding him toward. “Where are you going to lay me down in that mess?” he asked, hands on hips. Jared wrapped his arms around Alex's waist.
“Always room for my baby.”
Alex grunted in disbelief. “What is all that?” He reached down to pick up a picture that caught his attention, but his gaze fell on the wooden chest sitting open on the foot of the bed and he jerked his hand back. “Oh. I'll go make the salad while you clean up.”
Jared's arms tightened around Alex's waist. “You can stay.” Alex turned to face him.
“Are you sure?”
Some people kept scrapbooks or journals. Jared's way of preserving memories tended to be more hands-on, and at first Alex had a hard time understanding his need for privacy. He thought being together meant they shared everything, including the contents of Jared's memory box. It caused a couple bumps for them, but once Alex started keeping a journal, his thoughts captured in his messy script meant for no one else to see, he understood what the contents of the box meant to Jared.
“Yeah. Sit down.”
Tentatively, Alex sat on the edge of the bed near his pillow. Jared sat near the foot, and resumed sorting through the pictures, trinkets and scraps of scribbling scattered over the bed. Alex picked up some pictures and thumbed through them, young Jared and his dad working in his dad's woodshop. Jared glanced up from the papers in his hands.
“I wish you could have met Dad.” He reached for the pictures. Alex handed them over.
“So do I, you look just like him. More now than when you were small.”
Jared nodded. “That's what Mom says. You'd have liked him.” Jared waggled his brows wickedly. “We have the same hair.”
Alex blushed bright red. “Jared, that was just wrong.”
Chuckling, Jared tucked the pictures back into his box. “I guess it was, sorry. Mom says I think just like him too. Well, obviously there are some differences.” He grinned and winked at Alex. There were several packets of letters rubber-banded together. Alex picked them up but Jared took them out of his hands.
“Sorry, those are mine.” Jared fingered the worn envelopes.
Alex was bemused. “I wrote those and I can't look at them? Did you save them all?”
“They're mine. It's illegal to mess with a guy's mail. And no, it's not all of them. I don't have a box that big.”
Alex's eyes were on the tender way Jared's callused hands held the letters. “How'd you decide which to keep?”
“I don't know.” Jared pulled an especially worn one out of the stack and handed it to Alex. He felt strangely as if he were holding something sacred. Alex opened it and unfolded the single sheet within. Inane chatter about school life, written in his messy left-handed scrawl, filled the page. Alex didn't see anything special about it.
“Just a letter.” Alex turned it over and looked at the empty back. Jared smiled.
“That was the first letter you signed ‘love, Alex'.”
Alex looked at it again, Jared's words reminding him of his indecision about whether to include the ‘L' word in the letter. The page was almost worn through where he'd erased it so many times before committing.
“You changed how you signed your letters to me after that.” Alex remembered his nerves on opening Jared's reply. He thought he wanted to see ‘love' in front of Jared's name in response to his own limited confession of affection. “Do you remember?”
Jared retrieved the letter from Alex and tucked it back into the envelope before returning it to the correct stack. He set them in the box. “The same way I still sign whatever I write to you.”
“‘Yours, Jared.' I wanted more than anything for you to say ‘love' back to me. You have a hell of a way of teaching me you always know what I need. Loving me has never been about words for you. It's just the truth.”
Jared reached out, his thumb brushed Alex's cheekbone. Alex closed his eyes, leaning into the caress, enjoying the familiar slide of heat down his spine that accompanied Jared's touch. “The truth is simple, Alex. It doesn't need a lot of words. Besides, people love chocolate, their shoes, last week's big hit. I'm yours, I always will be.”
Alex captured Jared's hand in his own, pressed it against his cheek. When the letter had arrived, he remembered rushing straight to his room and closing the world out. His hands had been shaking when he opened it. He'd looked first for the signature and there, where he'd thought he wanted to see the word love, instead found a promise beyond his wildest dreams. “Mine.” His whisper brushed Jared's palm. “I carried that letter with me for months.”
“Those weren't easy times for us.” Jared stroked his fingers back through Alex's hair, tucking curls behind his ear.
Alex smiled. “We did alright.” He glanced back down at the paraphernalia still scattered over the bed. “Well, after you stopped trying to chase me off we did okay. What's this?” Alex grabbed a stack of printer paper tied together with a black silk ribbon. Looking bemused, Jared didn't protest when Alex pushed the ribbon aside to read the top page.
“You saved these?” Alex's face turned bright red and his voice squeaked. Jared rescued his papers, putting them into his box with the letters.
“All of them. I used to make fun of dudes that jerked off in front of their computers until you went to college and started emailing me. Jerking off reading it became a common practice. I started printing them so I could take them to bed. Kept them in a drawer with my lube.”
Alex looked like he might melt from the heat of his embarrassment. He rallied bravely. “Dude, you were really bad at email sex.”
Jared shrugged. “Don't have the words for it. I sent pictures.”
“Oh, I found one of those while cleaning up some old files on my computer the other day.” Alex reached under the edge of the bed and retrieved his laptop. “I had a bunch of crap I've been transferring between computers forever. I forgot all about these.” Alex turned the computer to face Jared. “This was my wallpaper through most of my junior year. I thought it deserved a revisit.” The picture was of Jared and Clark unloading a truck. Jared had on his jeans, work boots, and a pair of heavy leather gloves. Sweat gleamed on his bare back and muscles bunched as he lifted the heavy boards out of the truck, the sun in his hair.
“Stevie. She was supposed to be taking publicity pictures for the company. She took an amazing number of Clark beefcake pictures.” Clark's white blond hair shone in the sun in the picture, his sweaty back and shoulders bulkier with muscle than Jared's, though his shoulders weren't as wide or his hips as narrow. “God, we were young.”
“Clark? Jared, when that was my background almost no one asked me about Clark.” Alex turned the computer back around in his lap.
“I'm not the looks in this relationship, or when I'm standing next to Clark. It's okay, all that matters is what you see.” Jared smiled fondly at Alex and put away a few more things into the box. Alex frowned and closed his laptop, stuck it back under the edge of the bed. Jared still thought he lacked something in the looks department, and that Alex saw him through rose-colored glasses. One reminder course coming up.
“Jared can we go out after the fireworks?” He busied himself helping Jared stack stuff back into the box. Jared stopped to look at him.
Alex shrugged. “It's not going to rain and we haven't gone dancing in a while.” Years really, but Alex hoped Jared would just go along with it.
Thoughtfully, Jared picked up the last few things off the quilt. “I guess you want to see that new dance club over on Fifth?”
Alex hid his surprise. He had no idea there was a new dance club. “Um, it'll be fun.”
Jared looked like he thought Alex might have lost his mind, but he shrugged as he fit the final things into place, and closed the chest. “I’m sure it will.” He didn't sound sure but Alex was determined.
“Wait, you missed something.” Alex picked up the thick square envelope that had somehow gotten under the box. Sliding the card out, he grinned. “The invitation to my high school prom.” Alex's grin broadened and his dimple flashed. “You really surprised me that time.”
Jared set the chest on the floor, his eyes fixed on Alex. Reaching out, he took the invitation and laid it on the lid of the box. “You remember that, do you?” He pushed Alex back onto the pillows, moving over him, his eyes fixed on Alex's face.
“I remember a lot of things.” Alex smirked suggestively.
“Is that right? Like what?” Jared challenged him.
Eyes narrowed, Alex wrapped a leg around Jared's waist and with a hard push on his shoulder flipped them over so he straddled Jared's hips, staring down at him. He fisted handfuls of Jared's tank top and leaned forward until their lips brushed.
“I love you,” he breathed into their kiss.
One Day In The Dorm
“Why did I let you convince me to buy a ticket?” Alex groaned as he flopped back onto his bed and flung his arm over his eyes. His best friend at school, Lisa, sat on the edge of the bed laughing at him.
“Because it's your senior prom and you know you want to go. So stop whining.”
Alex peered out at her from under his arm when she shoved his shoulder.
“Yep, because going to my senior prom as the third wheel has always been a secret dream of mine.” He hid behind his arm again. It seemed like Jared could relent just this once. Being forced to go without him sucked. Staying alone at the dorm sounded much better now that going stag was actually upon him.
“We don't think of you as a third wheel!” Lisa sounded indignant.
Sighing, Alex sat up. “I know. I just wish…” His voice trailed off—no need to repeat something he voiced so often. He stood and went to where his tux hung from a hook on the closet door. Alex brushed his hand across the shoulder of the black jacket. “It seems like a waste of time to get so dressed up with no one to impress.”
“You could still ask someone. I doubt your man will hold it against you.” Alex shook his head. The idea of impressing someone else seemed worse than going alone. Lisa sighed. “This is crazy, Alex, it's not like you'd have to do him, or her.”
Alex shrugged, running his fingers down the inside the lapel, eighteen and still a virgin. Rome had been amazing, but a second Christmas trip to Europe meant there had been an ocean between Jared and him when Alex turned eighteen. Maybe Jared would be more willing to visit if they'd already had sex. Alex losing his virginity at the prom sounded like the sort of stereotype Jared would avoid like the plague. “I'm glad Seth is okay with me sharing the limo and going to dinner with you guys.”
Lisa gave an unladylike snort. “Are you kidding? Seth would be okay with you sharing the hotel room with us.”
Alex's mind went blank and felt as useless as a hamster on an exercise wheel as he turned to face her. “He said that?” He winced when his voice squeaked, and Lisa laughed.
“Oh, yeah, he said it, and told me to ask you. Thankfully one of us knows how bad that Jareditis stuff you have is.” Lisa waved him off as if the idea of her date extending a bi-curious invitation to her best friend didn't bother her in the least.
“Is that the only reason you didn't ask?” Alex flinched at the slide show of visuals his brain insisted on showing him. Jareditis or not, boobs had never been in his future.
“Chill out.” Lisa stopped laughing. “The reason I didn't ask was I knew it'd freak you out, but seriously a little sex for fun never hurt anyone. Personally, I think the idea is hot as hell.”
Staring at her in disbelief, Alex felt for an unsettling moment as if he didn't know her at all. He struggled to find something to say as he ran his hand through his curls, his face aflame. Finally, he gave up and turned back to his tux. Sex for fun, a threesome, Alex's brain stalled on the idea. Maybe Jared and all his morals had warped him more than he realized, considering how the idea shocked him. Busy trying to filter out the images conjured up by Lisa's invitation, Alex remained oblivious to the room behind him, thankful she'd quit talking.
“Holy crap.” Lisa fumbled at his sleeve, but still annoyed with her crass invitation, Alex ignored her. “Alex, would you turn the fuck around?”
Brushing off her hand, Alex turned. “Lisa, would you quit…” His voice failed as he stared at the apparition leaning on the jamb of the open door. He shook his head and blinked, trying to clear his head. He refused to believe he missed Jared enough to start seeing things, seeing him. Then the apparition laughed and Alex flung himself across the bed and into its arms.
“Jared,” he breathed as Jared's mouth captured his. The fingers of one hand tangled in Alex's curls and the other settled at the small of his back, pulling him close. Alex melted into the embrace, his disbelief suspended at the solid feel of Jared's body against his.
Jared growled, widened his stance and pulled him closer. Mewling into their kiss, Alex clutched Jared's T-shirt. When they finally came up for air, Jared nuzzled Alex's neck, breathing him.
“Missed you.” Jared buried his face in his hair. “Missed you so much.”
Alex murmured agreement, nosed Jared's cheek searching for another kiss. He moaned approval when Jared complied, pressing their mouths together, licking and nibbling Alex's lips. Desperation gave way to tenderness, and at last Alex stepped back, breathing hard. But he didn't let go.
“I can't believe you're here.”
Before Jared could answer, the sound of Lisa clearing her throat captured their attention. Alex flushed. He turned to face her, tucking himself under Jared's arm. “I'm sorry, we just…” He shrugged.
Jared pressed a kiss to the top of his head. “Better introduce us before I manage to scare her away completely.”
He wrapped his arm around Jared's waist. “Lisa, this is Jared.” He pressed his face against Jared's shoulder, breathed his scent in an effort to convince himself he wasn't dreaming.
Lisa burst out laughing. “No, really?” Alex made a face at the sound of her false astonishment.
“It's nice to meet you, Lisa.” Jared smiled. “I've heard quite a lot about you.”
“Same here, although I'm in shock. Odds are ten to one he made you up.” Alex wanted to smack her and she giggled. “Not telling which side I bet on, so don't even ask. Are you here for prom?”
Alex looked up at Jared. “Why are you here?” Knowing Jared, Alex's brain refused to entertain the idea he'd come for a glorified high school dance, but the idea of missing prom to hang with Jared didn't bother him in the least. He couldn't seem to think about anything except the fact he'd turned eighteen months before, finally legal even by Jared standards.
Jared reached in his back pocket and pulled out a rather rumpled square envelope. “I guess that depends on if this invitation is still good.”
Alex stared at the cream-colored paper. “I never thought you'd come.”
“I wasn't sure either for a while, and yet here I am. Good thing?” Jared's blue eyes danced with his teasing.
“The best thing ever.” Alex beamed at him.
“So room for me in the limo, or whatever?”
“Of course!” Lisa chirped, jumping to her feet and recapturing their attention. “Now if you get out of my way, I'll leave you guys alone.”
Alex realized she would have already slipped out but they blocked the door completely. “Uh, sorry.” He started to edge out of the way but Jared stopped him.
“Since you have room for me, I have to pick up my tux.”
“You can't leave, you just got here.” Alex frowned.
Lisa tugged Alex's shirt. “He's coming back. Let him go get ready,” she urged. Jared flashed her a look of thanks.
“I haven't registered at the hotel yet.”
“Hotel?” Alex's breath caught as he met Jared's gaze.
Jared's eyes were hot, and he ran his thumb along Alex's jaw. “Yes. What time should I be back?”
Alex swallowed, staring distractedly into Jared's eyes. A hotel. His palms began to sweat. “Five, the limo is picking us up to go to dinner. Um, I can't stay off campus without parental permission.”
Jared kissed Alex, hard. “Then it's a good thing I have a note from your dad, don't you think? See you at five.” Laughing, Jared left Alex sputtering.
Staring at the open doorway in disbelief, Alex sank onto the edge of his bed. “Did that just happen?”
Lisa giggled. “Oh, yeah.”
Alex took a deep breath in an effort to steady himself, but before he could breathe out Jared popped his head back in the door.
“What color is your cummerbund?”
Alex stared at him blankly.
“The same color as your eyes.” Lisa grinned. “Why?” But she was talking to the air. Jared already gone.
“Corsage.” The word drifted back to them from somewhere down the hall.
“He's going to totally embarrass me.” Alex tried to sound worried, but he looked forward to Jared's brand of spoiling him more than he wanted to admit.
“So that's Jared.” Lisa dropped down onto the bed beside him.
“Yeah. Oh, yeah.” Seeing Jared had soothed a perpetual ache in his heart, but Alex had the struggle with his dick to occupy him instead.
“I get it now.” Lisa shook her head. “I didn't before, not really.”
Alex shrugged. “Jared's kind of impossible to explain. Just wait.”
“Hot too.” Lisa hugged Alex's arm. “He growled at you.”
Chuckling, Alex grinned. “He does that all the time. I think it means he's happy to see me.”
Lisa snorted. “If by that you mean all of him is happy to see you, then yeah, I'd say you're right.”
Alex flopped back on the bed in a daze and stared at the ceiling. “I can't believe he's here.”
“I can't believe you're finally gonna have sex!” Lisa squealed, and Alex blushed.
“I wouldn't take bets on that if I was you.”
“What are you talking about? It's a sure thing. It's prom, you're legal, and there's a hotel room.”
Alex sighed. “Yeah, but you left something out. He's still Jared.”