Chapter 22

"What are you smiling about," Conner asked with a raised brow. He stood in front of me with his arms flared out at his sides.

I bounced a basketball in my hands, stepping from side to side. I glanced around his flailing arms, looking for an opening. "Thinking about how I'm about to break your ankles." I faked a right turn, creating an opening as Conner lunged to the side. Easily, I skipped around him and threw the basketball into the hoop. Grinning, I watched it swoosh through the net.

Conner caught the ball before it could crash onto the court. "Nah, be honest. You've had that goofy ass smile on your face for weeks now. Tell me what's been going on." A grin appeared on his lips as he tilted his head. "Did you finally kiss the girl you were telling me about?"

Blush spread across my cheeks. I opened my mouth to answer, but Justin's voice interrupted me.

"What girl," he asked as he jogged up to us. "Didn't Mia dump you not too long ago?"

I rolled my eyes. "I'm with someone else now."

"What's her name? Does she go here?"

"No, she goes to one of the public schools. Her name is…Jayla."

Justin smirked. "Jayla, huh? What does she look like?"

I rubbed the back of my neck. "Um, she's Latina, and she's got these beautiful green eyes and curly dark hair and dimples when she smiles."

"A Latina? I bet she's got some nice curves. Good rack, wide waist, and a booty to bounce a dime off?"

My eyebrows threatened to come together. "Yeah," I tried to say confidently. "She's really pretty. I…I really like her."

"You should bring her around to hang with us sometime. I'm sure the rest of the team would love to meet her."

"I don't know. Maybe. She's shy around new people."

Conner threw his arm around my shoulders. "And the two deserve some alone time to enjoy the honeymoon stage. Have you noticed the soppy smile on the dude's face? Let him enjoy the moment."

Justin held up his hands. "Whatever. Let's just see if Daniel can actually hold onto to this one."

I grinded my teeth together as I watched him jog off towards his shooting partner. "Why does he always have to be an ass?"

Conner shrugged. "Because he's jealous of how many girls you pull on the daily." He nudged me. "Don't worry about it." He pushed the ball into my hands. "I know your lady is shy and all, but I'd be down for a double date. I'm sure Bella would be able to open her up; she's a sweet girl."

I smiled. "Thanks, man. I'll talk to her about it."

Basketball practice surprisingly didn't drag on today. Quickly after my conversation with Conner, I was heading out to my car. I took a shortcut down to Donnie's school. With practice, I couldn't pick him up on time. The two of us had talked about his babysitter picking him up after school, but he refused.

"I'll wait for you," he insisted.

Thankfully, his school offered an after-school program where the students could hang out and get some of their homework done. All of them gathered in the school library with board games and crayons spread over the tables. Usually, I'd walk in with sweat dripping down my shirt, earning wrinkled noses from the supervising teachers. Still, Donnie never failed to launch himself into my arms, hugging my legs so tightly at times I thought they might break.

Today, his grip was especially tight. I struggled to bend down and sign him out due to his tight grip. "Hey, bud," I said as I rubbed his head. "How was your day?"

"Great!" He exclaimed. He whirled his backpack around and dug through the contents. He pulled out a colorful certificate. The phrase "Student of the Month" was written in golden bubble letters at the top.

"What? This is awesome! Congratulations!" I hugged him. "You're doing such a good job in school!"

He whipped out more goodies from his bag. "They gave me a free tee-shirt and a gift card too!"

I raised an eyebrow. "A gift card? What are you buying me?"

He chuckled. "It's a Pizza Hut gift card! Can we go there for dinner! I can pay!"

I examined the gift card. Surprisingly, they gave him a good amount that would cover a full meal. "Yeah, we can go there for dinner."

"Can mom and dad come?"

I almost frowned at the hope in his eyes. "Mom and dad are out of town, bud. They're on a business trip in North Carolina, remember?"

His shoulders deflated, and his beaming smile began to fall. "Oh…yeah."

"But, Jayden can come with us if you want. We still have to pick him up from work."

His excitement returned. "Yeah! Okay!"

We drove across town to the auto shop. Jayden was waiting outside, clad in a hoodie and baggy work pants. He quickly jogged over to my car and hopped into the passenger seat. "What's up, Donnie," he greeted my brother. He offered his knuckles as Donnie eagerly stretched out for a fist bump.

"Hi Jayden," Donnie exclaimed.

I leaned over to peck a kiss on his cheek. "Hey," I said.

He wrinkled his nose. "Jesus, how many suicides did they make you do today?" He poked my cheek and grimaced at the remaining sweat. "You look like you were running in the rain."

I chuckled. "No suicides today. Just a lot of defensive plays."

"Mhm." He leaned back against the seats. "So, Donnie, how was your day?"

"Good!" He pushed the certificate between the seats. "Look what I got!"

Jayden smiled at the award. "Nice job, dude! Are you gonna put it somewhere safe when you get home?"

"Yes! I'm gonna put it in the trophy cabinet." He leaned forward in his seat. "Do you wanna go out to dinner with Daniel and I to celebrate? My school gave me a gift card to Pizza Hut!"

"I'd love to." A playful grin appeared on his lips. "But your brother has to take a shower first. We can't have him hanging around us looking, or smelling, like that."

I glared at him. "Shut up."

"Make me."

I rolled my eyes. "You're lucky I'm driving."

"Yeah, alright." He relaxed in his seat and closed his eyes.

We took the short drive back to my house. Donnie raced out of the car to the passenger side. Jayden could barely step out the car before Donnie grabbed his hand. My brother tugged anxiously at my boyfriend's hand. "Let's watch TV, Jay," he exclaimed. "Sonic Boom is going to be on soon!"

Jayden smiled. He allowed Donnie to tug him towards our front door.

The two disappeared into the living room while I dashed upstairs. I took a long shower, knowing Donnie would probably want to watch a whole episode with no interruptions. I washed off my strenuous practice, awakening the soreness of my muscles. My arms and shoulder blades ached from my movements, and the soles of my feet were throbbing. If Donnie wasn't so excited to go out, I'd suggest we order pizza and watch a movie. But he deserved to be taken out – and pizza sounded delicious after my tortuous workout.

When I finally returned downstairs, fresh and clean, I popped my head into the living room.

Jayden was sprawled across the couch, his long legs stretched across the cushions and his head thrown back against the arm rest. His eyes were closed, and his chest slowly moved to the rhythm of his breaths.

Donnie lay beside him, curled in a small ball. His head lay on top of Jayden's arm, and his small hands gently gripped the side of his shirt. Soft snores escaped his lips.

A smile bloomed across my lips at the sight. I didn't want to wake them, but there's no doubt they'd sleep all night if I left them there. I woke Jayden first, lightly pecking a kiss at his lips.

"Mm," he stirred. His eyes slowly blinked open. He stared at me, hovering seemingly upside down over him.

"Wake up, sleepy head," I said.

Groaning, he fidgeted and began to stretch. He stopped mid-movement when he noticed Donnie beside him. Gently, he tapped his shoulder. "Hey, little man, wake up," he murmured.

"But I'm tired," Donnie whined.

"Don't you want to go out for pizza," I asked.

His eyes shot open. He sat up and grinned at me. "Yes!"

I chuckled. "Then, let's go."

Donnie babbled all throughout dinner. He sat next to Jayden in the booth and talked about whatever his little heart desired. Truth be told, I could hardly keep up with his rapid speech and the colorful stories they painted. I nodded along and smiled at the jokes I managed to catch.

Jayden did a better job at actively listening. He seemed to catch every single word, his brows creasing with confusion or shock at the little details I somehow missed. Between the abundance of events, he threw in small jokes about the people Donnie was talking about or the situations they'd gotten themselves in. Somewhere in the midst of those jokes, the two created their own bank of inside phrases and motions.

Watching the two of them bond summoned small flames to my stomach. At times I felt bad I couldn't always give Donnie the attention or the energy he deserved due to my busy schedule. Seeing Jayden supplement some entertainment for my brother eased some of my guilt. Most of my other friends were cool with Donnie, but none of them ever really spent time with the two of us. Not like this. It was a good change of pace.

My little brother fell asleep on the ride home. After his exciting day, I wasn't surprised to look in the rearview mirror and see him passed out in the backseat. In the passenger seat, Jayden seemed to be on his way to sleep as well. His elbow was propped up against the door handle, and his cheek lay on his open palm. Although his eyes were open, a glassy daze was glazed over them.

"Do you want me to take you home," I asked him. "Or would you like to stay over?"

He turned his weary gaze to me. "Would you like me to stay over?"

I smiled. "Of course."

A yawn escaped his lips. "Then I will."

When we finally arrived back to my house, I carried Donnie upstairs to his room. I steered Jayden to my room, assuring him he could borrow whatever he wanted. Carefully, I changed Donnie out of his uniform and into his pajamas. Tucking him into bed, I pecked a kiss on his forehead. I shut the door as quietly as I could.

I padded back to my own room, anxious for snuggles and a good night's rest. A smile rose on my lips at the sight of Jayden fast asleep on my bed. He lay on his back, still fully dressed in his work clothes, with his knees bent and his heels tilted on the floor.

"Jayden," I called as I gently shook him. "Come on. Put some comfortable clothes on."

"Hmm," he mumbled. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes and looked up at him. "Can I just borrow a pair of sweatpants?"

"Sure. Anything you want." I tugged him into a sitting position before stalking towards my dresser. I pulled out a baggy pair of Yale printed sweatpants for him and plaid pajama pants for myself.

From my mirror, I watched him slowly undress. He winced often as he removed his shirt. Rolling his shoulders, he let out a soft groan.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

"Mhm." He rubbed the back of his neck. "I was working under the hood of this Chevy throughout my whole shift. I didn't think my back would hurt so much."

I chuckled. "Have you bended over for longer periods of time than today?" My smirk grew devious. "And if so, for who?"

"Shut the fuck up," he mumbled. He slipped into the sweatpants I'd given him. Carefully, he folded his work uniform.

I retrieved his clothes from his hands and set them down on my dresser. Smiling, I sat down close beside him. "You didn't answer my question."

He rolled his eyes. "I'm not entertaining you right now." He tried to stand, assumingly to move away from me, but I wrapped an arm around his torso.

Playfully, I pushed him down against the mattress and climbed on top of him.

He stared up at me with wearily narrowed eyes. "Get off me."

"Not until you answer my question."

He shook his head. "You're really lucky I'm tired."

I smirked. "Oh yeah? Why's that?"

"Because if I had the energy, I would've pushed your ass on the floor. Now, get off me."

"No." I pushed his bangs off his forehead. "I like it up here."

A tiny smile tugged at his lips. "I bet you do. I'm still not answering your question."

"Why not?"

"Because you already know the answer." He shifted his arms and lifted himself up on his elbows. "I've told you a million times already: I've never been with anyone like that."

"May I ask why? I mean, is it a religious chastity thing or…?"

"It just never got that far. Like I've told you, again for the millionth time, most boys were just stupid kisses. None of them were anything much more than that." He sighed. "Why are you so concerned about this anyway?"

My brows came together. "What do you mean?"

"Ever since our date, you've been prying a lot at my past – like there's more than I've already told you."

I frowned. "I…I'm sorry. I don't mean to bug you about it. I just… I've never done this before…and I…I really care about you. I don't…I don't want to lose you to some ghost from the past."

He raised an eyebrow. "Has that happened to you before?"

"No. Like I said, most of my flings were just physical. I liked them, but I didn't feel the same way about them that I do with you. I don't want anyone to take you away."

"And no one will. I'm not going anywhere. Alright?"

"Yeah. Okay."

"Daniel, I mean it," he said firmly.

I ran another hand through his hair. "I know." I cupped the back of his neck, noting to be gentle. Eager to change the subject, I leaned down and pressed my lips against his. For once, he let me have control over our kisses. Unlike him, I didn't aim for steady, measured movements. Rather, I hungrily lapped at his lips, creating a sequence of sloppy kisses.

Jayden seemed too tired to care. He surrendered to my tongue's wishes and allowed unlimited access inside his mouth. His own tongue wrestled with mine, willingly losing battle after battle.

Cautiously, as not to hurt him, I shoved his shoulders down, pinning him back down to the bed.

A soft grunt escaped his lips from the movement. He placed his hands on my biceps, running his palms down my skin until he reached my fingers.

I grabbed his hands and stretched his arms over his head.

He winced under me; his grimace apparent even beneath our wild kisses.

Reluctantly, I interrupted our lips' dance. "Am I hurting you?" I whispered.

"No. You're fine." He pecked a kiss at my lips. "I'm just sore, that's all."

I kissed his forehead before rolling off him. I briefly left my bed to flick off the lights. As I returned, I watched Jayden climb under the covers.

He held up the blanket as I joined him. Shooting me one last sleepy smile, he turned onto his side – facing away from me.

I scooted close to him and wrapped my arms around his torso. Pressing my face into the nook between his head and shoulder, I began pecking soft kisses at his neck.

"Daniel," he mumbled.

"Hm?"

"Go to sleep."

I chuckled. "Fine." I pecked one last kiss at his shoulder. "Goodnight, Jayden."

He grumbled an incomprehensible response.

In the morning, I was awakened by the absence of warmth in my arms. I cracked my eyes, hoping to see him curled up on the opposite side of the bed. But, to my surprise, I was the only occupant.

Through cracked eyes, and blurred vision, I glanced around my room. Still no sign of my boyfriend.

As I shuffled out of bed, I heard the television playing downstairs and Donnie speaking animatedly. I followed his voice to the living room.

He and Jayden were sitting on the couch with some obscure cartoon playing on the TV. I barely contained my laughter at Jayden's bewildered expression at the nonsense occurring onscreen. The sound broke Donnie's commentary and Jayden's confused stare.

"Danny, you're awake," Donnie exclaimed. He dashed off the couch and wrapped himself around my calf. "Finally!"

"Did you eat?" I asked as I rubbed his head.

He nodded. "Jayden and I ate cereal."

"Where's my cereal?"

"We tried waking you up, but you wouldn't move!"

I smiled. "Sorry. I didn't realize I was so tired."

Donnie shrugged. "It's okay." He smiled. "But now that you're awake, you can watch TV with us!"

"Nah, I'll leave you two be."

"What? But I thought you liked Clarence!"

"I do, but you and Jayden seem to be doing just fine." I chuckled at the middle finger Jayden sent me. "Besides, I need to eat breakfast anyway. I'll be come sit in a little while."

"Okay!" Happily, Donnie rushed back to my boyfriend's side.

I hid in the kitchen with my phone and a bowl of cereal for about a half hour. I listened to Donnie's excited chatter about the TV show shift to conversation with his friends who knocked on the front door. He poked his head in the kitchen to ask permission to go over his friends' house. I nodded, smirking as Jayden ambled in after him.

He watched Donnie race off with a raised brow. "What the hell did that kid have me watching?"

"How many brain cells did you lose?"

"Too many to count."

I chuckled. "So, what do you want to do today?"

"I still have to finish my English essay. Is it okay if we just hang out here?"

"Of course."

We walked back upstairs to my room, bidding Donnie goodbye as he whisked past us.

Jayden set up his materials on my desk, and I settled on my bed. As he worked diligently on typing his paper, I rotated between watching Supernatural reruns and working on my own personal project. I hadn't worked on it in so long that I had to flip through my notebook filled with notes to remind myself what was supposed to be happening.

Drifting back into the fantasy world was easy. For once, it was quiet in my home. I didn't have to worry about Donnie or my parents bursting into my room unannounced and having to hide all my work. Though I worried Jayden might glance over and peruse over the words on my screen, I reminded myself I didn't have to hide from him. If there was anyone I felt comfortable sharing this world with, it was him.

Still, Jayden remained silent through most of the afternoon. He focused all his attention on finishing the essay. Not that I blamed him. It was the last assignment we'd be handing in before Thanksgiving break – and weighed a good amount of our grade.

I'd helped him navigate through the prompt and the outlines during class time, and sometimes when we'd hang out during the week. Unlike some of the other essays we'd worked on together, where I could lead Jayden verbally through his paper, he struggled gathering his ideas. Crime and Punishment was a fascinating read, but it was lengthy and philosophical. Even I had some trouble trying to wrap my head around the prompts our teacher had assigned us.

Eventually, Jayden and I managed to choose a prompt that made some sense to him and drafted an outline. Yet, there was still a lot left unanswered that we knew he'd have to fill in as he typed.

Judging from his concentration and lack of questions, I assumed he was fine. Most times, I'd glance over my own computer screen and see him typing away at his keyboard. There were only a few occurrences when I'd look up and his eyes would be glazed in deep thought. Before I could ask him if he was okay, a flash of enlightenment whirled through his eyes and his fingers continued their tap dance on the keys.

"How's the paper coming," I asked after a few hours of silence.

He glanced at me. "It's gonna be trash, but it's C-worthy trash."

I smiled. "It's probably fine. I can read over it when you're finished if you want."

"Okay." He took a break from his laptop and turned in the chair. "What are you working on?"

"Nothing really," I said. Blushing, I rubbed my hand against the back of my neck. "It's just this story I've been working on."

He raised an eyebrow. "You write stories?"

I nodded. "They're nothing spectacular, but um…they're fun to write."

"What's this one about?"

"You're going to laugh at me."

He moved from his seat and sat beside me on the bed. "I won't." He held his pinky finger out to me. "Promise."

I sealed his commitment with my own pinky, intertwining our fingers afterwards. "This one is about a prince whose kingdom has been conquered by some type of unnatural plague. He investigates into where this disease came from, and he learns that it's not of their natural world. It's a punishment from the ethereal world – Hell, specifically. Apparently, when his ancestors first created this kingdom, they made a deal with Lucifer himself to keep their society affluent and powerful. His father, unknowingly, broke this deal and consequently the plague was put upon their people. So, the prince teams up with a demon who has been acting as one of the knights in their kingdom, namely one of Lucifer's spies, and they have to find a way to reconcile the agreement his father broke."

"And how do they…you know, save the kingdom?"

I smiled. "Maybe I'll let you read it, and you'll find out."

"Send me the file anytime. I'm definitely interested." He tilted his head. "Where'd you come up with the idea anyway?"

I shrugged. "I kind of just made it up. I'd just finished reading some other book about demons and the devil, and I realized I'd never read any medieval takes on the subject. So, I decided to create my own. It's a little cliché, but…I like writing it."

"Well, I'm looking forward to reading it." He pecked a kiss at my cheek. Sighing, he relaxed on my bed and shimmied down onto his back.

I moved my laptop off my lap and shifted his head there. My fingers played in his curls as I spoke. "So, are you excited for Thanksgiving?"

He nodded. "I can't wait to eat some real food. I love my uncle, but he is not a great cook."

I chuckled. "I'm assuming you're going to help her in the kitchen."

"Of course. I can't let Eli or Dom touch anything – their dumb asses will burn it."

"Are both of your brothers going to be over for Thanksgiving this year?"

"Yeah. Eli's still staying with my mom, and Dom's been out for a few months now. He doesn't live too far from my mom. And, of course, my uncle is coming." He looked up at me. "My mom said you can come…if you want. She wants to meet you."

"You told your mom about me?"

His brows came together. "Yeah. Was I not supposed to?"

"What…what did you tell her?"

"That you're my boyfriend…and I really like you. What was I supposed to tell her?"

"I…I don't know. I just…I didn't think you'd tell your family about us yet."

"They won't tell anyone," he assured. "I disclosed we're keeping this private."

I let out the breath I didn't realize I was holding. "Thanks."

"So…are you able to come…to Thanksgiving?"

"I wish I could, but we're traveling to New York to spend the holiday with my mom's family."

"Fun?"

I shrugged. "My cousins are cool." I leaned down to peck a kiss on his lips. "Enough chit-chat. You need to finish your paper."

He groaned. "Do I have to finish it today?"

"Yes. If you do, I'll give you a back massage."

He smirked. "Hm…you just want an excuse to seduce me."

I mimicked his expression. "What's so wrong with that?"

He rolled his eyes. "You're annoying." He reluctantly sat up. "If I finish, I want a legitimate back message. Start kissing on me and I'm punching you in the throat."

I held up my hands. "I'll be good," I promised.

"You better." He pecked one last kiss at my lips before returning to my desk.

I smiled as I watched him shift his attention back to his task. The crease of concentration and determined frown reappeared on his face. I admired his expression for a moment, wishing the next hour or so would pass and I could welcome him back into my arms. But I didn't mind waiting. After all, I had another joy of mine to help pass the time.