Chapter 1

I'm a terrible person.

Not terrible like dictator-committing-genocide kind of terrible, but terrible nonetheless.

On that fateful September afternoon, I went to Brayden's dad's house after school. I had played soccer with Brayden since our sophomore year, and his mom had been to a few of our games, but his dad seemed out of the picture. Turns out the divorce was very messy, so his parents tried to stay as far away from each other as possible. Brayden had been to my house a few times, and I've been to his mom's house, but again, I thought his dad was out of the picture.

So when Brayden invited me over to play the new FIFA game, I was surprised when the bus dropped us off at a different location than normal. Brayden didn't seem fazed. I guess he thought I had met his dad before.

But I know I hadn't. I would have remembered him.

Brayden's dad greeted us by the front door and shook my hand, introducing himself as Mr. Hartman "but please call me Grayson." I don't know why adults do that. Kids in the south are physically incapable of calling adults by anything other than "sir" or "ma'am." He smiled and made small talk, asking about soccer and school, before offering us snacks and drinks. After getting us settled, he disappeared upstairs.

Throughout the introduction, my brain was having trouble keeping everything connected, and I was in danger of short-circuiting altogether. If I could create my ideal man, like those kids in Weird Science, he wouldn't begin to compare to Mr. Hartman. Something about a man with dark hair, a square jaw, and blue eyes left me absolutely weak in the knees. Not only that, but he had the height and muscles to make any Greek statue jealous. And that smile…when he turned it towards me, I nearly melted in its brightness.

Normally, I wouldn't consider myself shallow. I tell myself that when I finally get to date someone, I'll care more about their personality than their looks. But I'm also a sixteen-going-on-seventeen male. So, yeah. The boner wants what the boner wants.

Which brings me back to why I'm a terrible person.

Who else but a terrible person would have an instant, major crush on their friend's dad?

After his dad left us alone, Brayden turned on the video game console in the family room. At his mom's place, he had an entire entertainment center set up in his room. When I asked him why we were playing downstairs in the main area, he just shrugged. It was then that I noticed how compact this house was in comparison to his mom's place, and even my own home. The worn couch and TV nearly filled the entire living area. I wondered at the disparity between his parents' homes, but quickly dismissed it. It was none of my business.

As we played games, my thoughts began to stray towards Mr. Hartman. Why was he upstairs? Why couldn't he be downstairs so I could look at him some more? I thought about his handshake and how firm that grip was, how good his hands would feel on my body, and how good his body would feel under my hands. As I said, I'm a horny teenage male. Usually I'm able to clear my head with a shake and get away from such dangerous territory, but then I heard the shower running.

All I could think about was how Mr. Hartman was completely and totally naked, soap and hot water running down his body, his hands massaging shampoo into his hair—

Brayden hit pause on the game, and I froze in terror. He knew. He knew.

He stood and stretched, then said, "I'm getting a drink. Want anything?"

I can't even recall how I responded, but he left the room, leaving me alone to my terrible thoughts. Funny how imagining someone getting clean can be described as "filthy."

I shut my eyes tight, but that only made the mental images clearer. I felt myself flush with heat and knew an instant of panic. Thank goodness Brayden had left the room. I took the opportunity to reposition myself on the couch. Moms always seem to have these little decorative pillows lying about that I've shamelessly used to hide my junk on more than one occasion, but Mr. Hartman didn't have anything like that.

By the time Brayden returned with two glasses of water, I had what I hoped was a convincing enough expression on his face. It must have worked, because he immediately restarted the game and never said, "That sure is a mighty big erection you have in your pants. Thinking about anyone in particular?"

I had managed to calm myself down enough that I wouldn't embarrass myself Mr. Hartman walked downstairs. I tried my best to keep my eyes on the TV screen, knowing I'd betray myself, but I've never had the best self-control. Mr. Hartman was standing at the bottom of the stairs, his hand resting on the railing, wearing a pair of faded blue jeans and a green shirt slung over his shoulder. My heart started pounding in my chest. He ran his fingers through his wet hair causing rivulets of water to run from his hair down his neck and chest. I watched them closely, my breath catching in my throat.

Mr. Hartman was tugging the shirt over his head as he asked us, "Hot dogs for dinner sound okay?"

"Sure, Dad," Brayden mumbled, his character onscreen scoring a point during my attention lapse.

Not trusting myself to utter a sound, I nodded, then forced my attention back to the game.

I dreaded the upcoming meal. A knot began to form in the pit of my stomach. There was no way I'd be able to sit at a table, just the three of us, making uncomfortable small talk, all the while trying not to stare and say things like, "Please take your shirt back off so I can imagine myself running my hands down your perfect chest."

The worry wasn't necessary, however. Mr. Hartman came into the living room with a bag of buns, some paper plates, and a handful of ketchup packets. On his second trip back out, he held a small sheet pan with the hot dogs on it. He looked almost embarrassed as he made space on the coffee table for our dinner.

"Sorry about the informality," he muttered. "I haven't had a chance to buy real dishes yet."

I finally found my voice. "It's fine," I said. "I love hot dogs."

I love hot dogs? Smooth, Alex. Smooth.

Mr. Hartman nodded and thankfully didn't comment on my choice of words. In all actuality, I really didn't care one way or the other if we ate from paper plates or from expensive China. In fact, I'd rather eat from something I wasn't worried I was going to break.

Mr. Hartman didn't stay to eat with us. He went back into the kitchen, and I could hear he was on the phone with someone. As I was scarfing down my food (I really do love hot dogs), I noticed Braden wasn't eating. He glanced toward the kitchen, then said quietly, "It's not just the plates. There are a lot of things he hasn't bought since the divorce. There's no kitchen table, the cups don't match, and I have to bring my own sheets from Mom's when I stay over. Mom says he took the divorce too hard, but I don't think he really feels like this place is his new home."

I shrugged. "Or he just doesn't think those kinds of things are important. If I lived on my own, I doubt I would buy matching plates and cups. Paper and plastic are fine."

Brayden shot me a look that clearly said, "Why are you defending my dad?" Neither of us had a chance to finish the conversation because my phone started ringing. My mom was calling to say she was in the driveway and it was time to come home. I gathered my things, thanked Mr. Hartman for having me over, told Brayden I'd text him, and practically ran to my mom's car.

That night, I dreamed about Mr. Hartman. In the dream, he was sitting on the couch completely naked, legs spread open so I could see everything in all its glory. And he was massive.

This may have been caused by the porn I was watching right before bed.

In the dream, I end up on top of Mr. Hartman, and we start kissing. If we're being honest, I've only kissed two people before, and both kisses were pretty tame. My first real kiss was at the end of seventh grade. I had a huge crush on Zachary Richardson, but I don't think he felt anywhere close to the same towards me. However, Zachary was moving to Colorado, so since I knew I'd never see him again, I bribed him into kissing me.

I sold my first kiss for a Mountain Dew and a pack of Starbursts.

My second kiss was about midway through ninth grade. Melissa Lyons begged me to ask her to the Homecoming dance with her, so I did. At that time in my life, I was so worried about people finding out that I was gay that I did everything I could to give them evidence to the contrary, including going to a school dance with a girl. Melissa was a sweet girl, but she just wasn't my type.

At the end of the dance, my dad came to pick us up, and he drove us to her house. Every romance movie I've ever seen has had the boy kiss the girl at the end of the dance, so that's what I did. I leaned across the back seat of my dad's minivan and kissed Melissa Lyons right on the lips. She kissed back, so of course, being in ninth grade, I took that as our vows of marriage.

The next day, I find out that she started dating Roy McKearn, a junior on the football team. I felt used, but also relieved. I didn't know how to tell her that when I kissed her, I felt absolutely nothing.

Later that week, Melissa pulled me aside in the hallway and apologized. I could tell that she had practiced her little speech—"He just walked up to me and asked if I'd go out with him, and what else was I going to say"—and the petty part of me wanted to tell her that I could never forgive what she did to me, but I ended up cutting her off and telling her not to worry, that I didn't blame her.

And I didn't, I really didn't. If Roy McKearn walked up to me right this moment and said, "Alex, will you be my boyfriend?" I wouldn't hesitate. I'd go out that day to the jewelers, buy a ring, and lock that shit down. (I say that because Roy McKearn has cheated on his past four girlfriends. But at that point, I don't think an engagement ring would solve anything.)

Back to my dream. To summarize, I don't know shit about kissing, but Mr. Hartman and I are there on the couch making out. Then I started gently grinding against him. Again, if we're being honest here, if I don't know shit about kissing, I know even less about sex. So whatever is going on in dreamland is probably way off base from the real thing.

Dream me starts touching Mr. Hartman all over. My hand drifts to my dick, and I start jerking off. I go back to kissing him and kiss along his jawline. He kept his beard closely shaven, so I imagine it would be kind of itchy.

When I woke up, I was rock hard. I kept trying to remember everything else that happened in the dream, but it slipped away from me pretty quickly.

So now I'm faced with a dilemma. If Brayden wants to hang out again, and if we go back to his dad's house, I don't trust my dick not to give my crush away. And I don't think it's polite to go over to a friend's house just to stare at their dad. Which is all I would want to do.

Almost two months passed, and I still hadn't been back to Brayden's dad's house. A few weeks after that fateful day, we went to his mom's house. I tried to hide my disappointment, but it must have shown because he asked me if anything was wrong. I told him I was worried about my math grade, and I think he bought it. I was hoping time would fade my crush, but I can't get the image of Mr. Hartman out of my head. It's been like nothing I've ever felt before.

Maybe I just have a thing for older men.

When I was at Brayden's mom's house, I couldn't stop thinking about how much I'd rather be at his dad's place. Brayden and I played a few video games, and then it was late enough that I had to decide if I wanted to stay the night or go home. Normally I'd opt to just stay over and keep playing games until dawn, then crash and sleep in until noon, but I decided to go home.

I had to.

My mind kept drifting to his dad, and it was wreaking havoc on certain parts of my body. I couldn't concentrate, and my dick was pressing painfully against my jeans. When I got home, I locked myself in my room, grabbed my tablet, and went to town. By that point, I didn't even need porn to get me going, but I still liked having it available.

I didn't even last the entire video.

About midway through October, during soccer practice, Graham approached me. Graham's a senior and has already been scouted by Wake Forest and Northwestern for soccer scholarships. He's hands down the best player on our team. He was a little shorter than me and kept his head shaved close. We were well out of earshot of the others, but he beckoned me further away anyway. When we were almost off the field, he asked me, "Do you want to go see a movie with me this weekend?"

"Sure, which one?"

At the time, I didn't realize Graham was implying that the movie would be a date. Between the two of us. I thought he was asking as a friend. I didn't understand why he would have dragged me all the way out here to ask such an innocuous question. Sometimes I can be very dense.

"We'll see whichever movie you want to see."

"Who else is going?"

It was at this point that Graham realized that I didn't understand his intentions. He tried his best to catch me up. "It would be just the two of us. On a date."

I froze. I had never been asked on a date by a guy before. I didn't know how to react. Part of me wondered if he had made a mistake, if he had meant to ask one of the other guys on the team but had accidentally asked me instead. I reevaluated the situation before me. Graham was incredibly attractive and playing soccer had kept him in great shape.

My brain finished catching up with the conversation, and I realized Graham was patiently waiting for a response. My mouth worked faster than my brain, and I stumbled over my words a few times before I could speak coherently. "Yes, I'll—yes. That's—yes. What time?"

Graham smirked, and for a second, I was worried he was about to tell me the whole thing was one sick joke. But then he said lightly, "You're adorable. I'll text you later this week, and we'll figure it out." Then he jogged back to practice.

I stood there for a few minutes, staring off into space. What was I supposed to do now? Were we boyfriends? Would he expect me to hold his hand at school? How soon could we kiss? More importantly, how soon could I suck his dick?

Twice a season, Brayden's mother threw a party for the soccer team. It was a family event, where parents and siblings ate, clowned around, and kicked a ball around the backyard. My dad always grilled the hot dogs and burgers for everyone. Now that I knew he wasn't a deadbeat, I recognized that Brayden's dad was conspicuously absent. Several times that evening I found myself wishing he were there, just so I could look at him or get to know him better. Each time I had that terrible thought, I kicked myself. I had a date with Graham this weekend. I needed to stop living in fantasies and start living in this fantastic reality.

Around nine o'clock, people started trickling out and heading back home. My parents were staying and helping Mrs. Hartman clean up, so I tucked myself out of the way until it was time to go home. I was group texting with my teammates when I felt someone sit down next to me. When I looked up and saw Graham, I smiled and put my phone away.

"That was a pretty fun party," said Graham.

I nodded. Though there was barely any space between us, I scooted closer. "So about our date this weekend—"

Graham's lips covered mine. My eyes slid shut of their own volition, and my body practically melted into the couch. Kiss Number Three was shaping up to be incredible.

Suddenly, I was gripped by paranoia. Could Graham tell how inexperienced I was? I was abruptly hyper-aware of not knowing what to do with my hands or my lips. I tensed up, and Graham pulled back.

Resting his forehead against mine, he whispered, "Just relax," then he started kissing me again.

This was now Kiss Number Four, and I was feeling much more adventurous after Graham's pep talk. Tentatively, I rested my hand on his thigh. God, it was warm.

Slowly I became aware of a phone ringing in the distance. It took even longer for me to realize that it was my phone ringing. Reluctantly, I pulled away from the kiss to check who was calling me. When I saw it was my dad—and that he had already called twice—I groaned in frustration and answered.

Dad was ready to head home and was wondering where I had snuck off to. I said I'd meet him out front in a couple minutes and hung up the phone.

I looked Graham in the eyes and said, very lamely, "I have to go."

Graham smiled. "Then we'll pick this back up this weekend."

Friday, Graham drove us from school to the movie theater. I let my parents know I would be back late, that I was meeting a friend at the movies. I don't know why I didn't tell them I was going on a date; something just held me back.

Graham's hair was starting to get long, as was the stubble along his jawline. He was wearing black jeans, a white shirt, and a gray jacket. Even dressed casually, Graham exuded confidence and maturity. On the other hand, I felt like a blundering dork. I had had no clue what to wear and had changed my mind almost a dozen times before finally settling on my Atlanta United FC jersey and blue jeans. The moment I saw Graham, however, and I saw a smile light up his face, I realized I could have showed up naked, and it wouldn't have mattered.

Damn it, I should have shown up naked.

Graham slipped his hand into mine and gave me a light peck on the cheek. Hundreds of hot butterflies swarmed inside my stomach, and I couldn't keep the dopey grin from my face. I paid for our tickets, and he paid for drinks and popcorn, then we went inside to find a seat.

Because it was opening weekend of a very popular movie, the theater was packed. After we sat down, the seats around us continued to fill up until there were no empty seats left. When I tried to sneak a kiss during the previews, the kid sitting next to me started giggling uncontrollably, which was quite the turn off. Grumbling, I settled back into my seat. I had waited this long for kisses; I could wait a little longer.

After the movie, we headed out into the parking lot. The crowd around us was chatting excitedly about how great the movie was, but for the life of me, I couldn't remember a single thing that happened. My thoughts were taken up by the warm hand in mine. After the lights dimmed, Graham had moved his hand to my upper thigh, and I lost complete track of time.

Next thing I knew, we were sitting in the back seat of his car, and his face was pressed into mine. His lips were soft, and our kiss tasted like popcorn. I realized I probably should have brought mints or gum, but when his hand went back to my upper thigh, my brain wiped itself clean. We continued kissing, and Graham's hand slowly inched its way up my thigh until it reached my hip. By this point, my dick was rubbing uncomfortably against my pants, so I tried to shift my position. I inadvertently bucked my hips towards Graham, and he took this as a "go ahead."

Nimble fingers popped my button, then drew my zipper down with ease. Half of my brain instantly panicked. Here we were in a crowded movie theater parking lot, and my date was quickly rounding the corner to second base.

Or do hand jobs count as third base?

The other half of my brain is controlled by my dick and was cheering in wild ecstasy.

I had to choose in that moment if I wanted to take this relationship slow or if I wanted to gallop ahead. Was this a relationship? Technically we had never said anything. We had known each other for over two years, but he had only asked me on a date less than a week ago. And since then, we had done more making out than discussing our feelings for one another.

Dick Brain won out, and to be perfectly honest, it was no contest.

I shifted my hips again and slid my pants down under my ass. Graham rested his hand on the bulge in my underwear, causing me to twitch. Nothing in life had prepared me for the intense pleasure of someone else's hand on my dick. I bucked into Graham's hand, pushing myself closer to him. His left hand swept behind my neck and pulled my face closer to his, kissing me deeply. My jaw was beginning to get sore, but I didn't dare say anything.

When his hand finally slipped under my underwear and onto my cock, I gasped. If I died at that moment, I would have had no regrets. Graham's hand continued to move up and down, and I involuntarily moaned. He pulled back from the kiss and smiled. "I didn't take you for a moaner, Alex," he chuckled.

"Sorry," I said, not really sure what else to say.

He leaned forward and gently took my earlobe between his teeth before kissing my neck. "Don't be sorry. It's cute."

His hand hadn't stopped stroking, and I was having trouble stringing my thoughts together. "I don't want to be cute," I responded. "Cute is for unicorns and rainbows. I want to be sexy, like a lumberjack or a sailor."

Thankfully, Graham went back to kissing me so neither of us had to hear whatever other nonsense I would spout.

By myself, I can last a pretty long time, especially if I'm trying to pace myself. I can also make myself cum pretty quickly, if I know I'm on a time schedule. I tried to hold out as long as I could, but having never been jerked off before, I surprised even myself by how quickly it was over. Graham grabbed an old T-shirt off the floor and wiped us clean. I zipped up, but when Graham made a move to leave the car, I grabbed his arm. He settled back into the seat.

"Look," he said, "you don't have to—"

I put my hand on is crotch and was quite surprised to find out he was flaccid.


Graham sent me one of his glorious smiles. "Alex, don't worry about it. You don't need to reciprocate. I can tell it's your first time."

What the fuck was that supposed to mean? I mean, yes, it's true, it's my first time, but—what the fuck was that supposed to mean?

Graham let himself out of the car and slid into the front seat. He sat for a moment, then looked back at me. "Are you coming up to the front seat, or are you going to make this awkward?"

I don't know what color red I turned, but I'm pretty sure scientists don't have a name for it yet.

Graham reached back and put his hand on my thigh. "I didn't mean it like that, Alex. I'm sorry. But I can tell you're a novice, and we don't need to rush things, that's all. Now, please, come sit in the front seat so I don't have to turn around to talk to you."

Grumbling, I moved around to the front. I was still mortified and refused to look Graham in the eye. He sighed, gave my thigh a few pats, then started driving.

Once we were on our way, Graham started talking to me, but I couldn't trust myself to say anything back. He kept apologizing, saying he didn't mean to make me so upset, but his words had the opposite effect of their intention. When he pulled up in front of my house, he was visibly flustered. As I got out of the car, he grabbed my wrist. "Alex, please, don't leave things like this. Let me know how I can make things up to you."

Pettily, I shrugged him off. "Sorry, Graham. I just need some time to think."

I checked in with my parents and let them know I had come home safely before closing myself in my room to think the evening over. I took several deep breaths to calm myself down and tried my best to think rationally. Logically I know that dicks have minds of their own, but who could be completely flaccid in a situation like that? If he didn't like me like that, why did he even ask me out? And why did he give me a hand job?

Why did I let him give me a hand job? I'm fucking sixteen years old. I shouldn't be dabbling in car jobs. What was I thinking?

I wasn't thinking, and that was the problem. His hand had felt fucking fantastic. If a complete stranger showed up at my door right then and there and offered to jerk me off, I would hands down say yes. Fuck, I was starting to get hard just thinking about it. So why…?

Was it me? Did I not turn him on? He was the one who asked me on a date, and yet…

I hadn't cried in almost four years, but I felt tears sting the corners of my eyes. This was getting me nowhere. I rubbed at my eyes, picked up my phone, and called Graham. When he answered, I started talking immediately, the words flowing from my mouth.

"Graham, it's Alex, I'm so sorry I freaked. Sometimes when I get upset, I just need some time to process it. I've calmed down, and I need to tell you that I panicked because you weren't hard. Lame, right?" I laughed nervously and was very glad when Graham cut me off.

"Alex, it's alright." I could tell by his tone of voice that he wasn't upset. He may have even been smiling. "I'm not mad. And there's no reason for you to be upset. I wasn't hard, but it has nothing to do with you. I wanted to give you a hand job, but I didn't need for you to return the favor." I heard something in the background, and Graham must have covered the phone to say something because his voice was muffled. I turned beet red once more, thinking how there was someone in the room with him while he was talking about us. "Alex, I'm really glad you called. I still want to see you. What do you say to—"

This time, I definitely heard someone's voice. Graham didn't cover the speaker as well as he thought he did because I clearly heard him say, "Emily, stop, just give me a second," then I heard a girl giggle.

"Listen, why don't we try going out again tomorrow night, and we could—"

The girl must have grabbed the phone from him, because I heard strange noises on the other line before a girl spoke into my ear. "Listen, I don't know who this is, but Graham needs to go. He's got some tits to suck."


There were some more muffled sounds on the other end, and Graham was back on the phone. "Alex, I'm so sorry, that's my friend's idea of a terrible joke. I'll text you later." And with that, he hung up.

What the actual fuck just happened?

He dropped me off barely twenty minutes ago. Where was he? And I really didn't feel comfortable with him discussing the hand job with other people present.

And did that girl say that Graham had some titsto suck? What on Earth did that mean? Like, actual tits? Or metaphorical tits?

It was all too much to take in. I flung myself on my bed and took another series of deep breaths. When it came down to the brass tacks, how much did I really know about Graham? Sure, we played soccer together, but beyond that, I knew nothing about him.

Not knowing what else to do, I called Brayden. Maybe he knew more about our fellow teammate than I did. Hadn't I seen them talk to each other? Or had I?

Breathe in, breathe out…

Brayden answered with his typical, "Yell-Oh!"

I rolled my eyes then got right to it. "Random, out of the blue question… How much do you know about Graham Miller?"

"That is random. I don't know too much, though. I've heard he's a bit of a player. And I did hear that he brought two dates with him to prom last year."

"But those are just rumors, right?"

I heard Brayden move about the room and then the squeak of a chair. "Alex, what is this all about? You sound a little freaked out."

Brayden had moved to our school district about two years ago, so we hadn't been friends for very long. He was about to get to know me a whole lot better when the evening's events poured from my mouth. "Graham asked me on a date earlier this week. We went to the movies, and I thought things were going fine. We fooled around in his back seat"—I bit my tongue and spared him the full details—"but we finished on a bad note. He dropped me off, and when I called to apologize, he sounded like he was with a girl, like with a girl." My voice squeaked on the last few words. I cleared my throat before adding, rambling, "And I'm just freaked out because I'm feeling like he used me for—something, I don't know what. And now he's with this girl and you're saying he's a bit of a player. Was I used? I don't want to be used!"

Brayden cleared his throat when I finally took a breath. "Okay, Alex, wow, what a way to come out to me. First off, I had no idea you were gay."

"Oh." I ran my hand through my hair. "I didn't even think about that. Brayden, I'm gay."

"Okay. Now that that's out of the way, tell me more about what happened."

I replayed the phone conversation in my head, trying to remember as many details as possible. "It was hard to hear everything, but there was a girl in the room when I called him. He called her Emily, and it sounded like…she said something that made me think—"

I heard a chime on my phone. I moved the phone away from my ear to check and saw I had a picture message from Graham. Brayden was saying something on the other line, but I wasn't listening. I opened up the picture and felt my heart freeze in my chest.

The picture, at least, solved the mystery of who the girl was.

Emily Hoover's face hovered in most of the shot; she was the one holding the camera and taking the picture. In the background, completely oblivious, was Graham, stark naked, sleeping on his stomach. As I stared in shock at the picture, a new call came in…from Graham. I felt like I answered the call in slow motion. I couldn't even speak into the phone, which I suppose was fine because Emily did all the talking.

"This is Emily. You seem like a nice kid, so let me break it down for you. Graham likes to do something that he calls 'fishing.' He reels in boys with his charms and good looks, and when he's got them hooked, he fools around with them before tossing them back to sea. His words. I couldn't give two shits about his cheesy fishing metaphor. But Graham and I have been dating for two years. If you're fine with that, then go ahead, I don't mind. We have an open relationship. But he's broken a lot of hearts, and I try to save as many as I can."

I didn't realize she had hung up until I heard Brayden shouting my name over and over. I slowly lifted the phone to my ear. "Emily Hoover just called me. She and Graham are sleeping together."

Brayden let out a sharp exhale. "Alex, that's awful." When I didn't respond, he said, "Look, I'm going to come over to your house if you need someone to talk to." I still didn't say anything, but I could hear Brayden grab a pair of car keys and shout something. "I'm going to stay on the line while I drive over, okay? I'm here if you need me."

True to his word, Brayden stayed on the phone. I climbed into my bed, pulled the sheets over my head, and tucked my phone next to my pillow. It was comforting to know that I had such a great friend, but my head was spinning in too many circles to do much more than lay still and think.

I heard a knock at the front door, but I didn't budge from where I was. I noticed the phone had disconnected, and I could hear voices downstairs. Brayden must have been talking to my parents and filling them in on what happened—

Well, I guess my parents now know I'm gay. I don't think I'm doing a very good job of coming out to people closest to me.

My bedroom door squeaked as it slowly opened. I felt someone sit down on the edge of the mattress, and my mom drew my covers away from my face. My dad stood a little further away with a funny look on his face. Dad's not good at processing new information, and this was quite the doozy. He looked torn between confused and concerned. Brayden lingered in the doorway unsure whether he should be intruding on this family moment.

My mom's hand brushing my hair out of my eyes felt nice. She leaned over and pulled me into a deep hug and kissed me on the cheek. Dad came over and rested his hand on my shoulder.

"First date and first heartbreak all in one night, huh?"

I get my wondrous way with words from my dad.

My mom swatted my dad's hand. "Stop it! He's upset. Don't make things worse."

Despite everything that had happened, despite the roar of emotions coursing through me, I laughed. "First date, first heartache, first cake, first place."

"First take, first shake."

My mom looked at us like we were from a different planet. "What am I going to do with you?"

Brayden approached us, worry lines creasing his forehead. "Are you feeling better, then?"

Shaking my head, I said, "No, I still feel like absolute garbage. Thanks so much for driving out here, though. I couldn't ask for a better friend. Right now, I just want to put the whole thing out of my head. I've learned a terrible lesson tonight. I don't know what lesson that is yet, but I'll pull through."

Mom kissed me on the forehead again and pulled me in for one final death grip hug. "Come downstairs, and I'll make you chocolate chip pancakes. They always make me feel better."

Dad pointed at her accusingly. "You said we were out of chocolate chips."

True to her word, my mom made us pancakes. With full bellies, Brayden and I fell asleep on the couch around two AM watching TV. I didn't talk any more about Graham, and Brayden didn't ask. I was still trying to sort out my feelings and was still torn between heartbreak, embarrassment, and rage.

After a slow start that morning, Brayden invited me over to his place to play video games. Grateful for the offer that would at least minimally keep me distracted, we headed out. Halfway through the trip, I went rigid in my seat. This was not the route to his mom's house.

We were on our way to his dad's place.

If this were a movie, I would have opened up the car door and jumped out. However, I'm pretty sure I have very brittle bones that would shatter into a million tiny pieces if I tried that. Instead, I just had to buck up and mentally prepare myself for not acting like a fool in Mr. Hartman's presence. Speaking of cars…

"You don't have a car. Whose car did you steal, and will I be implemented in the crime?"

Brayden snorted. "Relax. It's my dad's car. He let me borrow it last night when I came to your rescue."

Maybe I was making too big of a deal out of this. Honestly, I had only met Mr. Hartman the one time. We barely spoke, and all I did was masturbate to him a couple of times. No biggie. In the meantime, I did a lot of growing up. I had a very short-term boyfriend who touched my dick, and then I found out I was "the other woman." Crushes on my friend's dad was baby stuff. I was a grown up now.

Oh, who the fuck was I kidding?

Well, I had intentionally set out to keep myself distracted. Not what I had in mind, but it could work.

We pulled into the driveway and saw Mr. Hartman pulling the trashcan from the street up to the house. When we got out of the car, he smiled at me and shook my hand. "Nice to see you again…"

"Alex," Brayden prompted.

"Nice to see you again, Alex."

Great. What a wonderful way to deflate my ego. The man I've been obsessing over doesn't even remember my name.

The three of us entered the house, and Brayden started to get the video game ready. Mr. Hartman grabbed his keys and his wallet off the TV. "Boys, I'm headed to the gym. I'll be back in about an hour."

Well, damn. Here I had finally come to terms with the fact that I would be getting some major eye candy to get me through this hellish time, and now that candy was removing itself from the equation. Worst day ever.

The console finally started up with the most recent Super Smash Brothers game. I thought a fighting game was a perfect choice for how frustrated I was feeling. I let my embarrassment and confusion about how Graham used me bubble up to the surface, and for every punch my character dealt, I felt a moderate release of those emotions. I must have been more aggravated than I originally thought because my characters continued to pound Brayden's into the ground. I could tell that Brayden was starting to get frustrated with his losing streak, so I purposely let him win a few rounds before going back to relentlessly taking out my feelings on these fictional characters.

I knew I pushed Brayden a little too far again when he threw the controller onto the coffee table. "Let's take a break," he suggested. "I'm going to get some sodas from the fridge."

Feeling a little guilty, I suggested, "Maybe we can play a different game for awhile."

But Brayden didn't want my pity. He pointed a finger at me and said, "No way, man. You stay put. I'm giving my hands a little break, and then I'm going to crush you."

I leaned back against the couch and closed my eyes, relaxing. I really did feel a little better. So what if Graham used me? I saw a great movie and had another guy jerk me off. It was definitely the best date I had ever been on. I thought back to the only other date I had ever had, when I took Melissa Lyons to homecoming freshman year. We had a terrible first kiss, and she dumped me the next day. So what if exactly 100% of every date I had ever been on was crappy? I was only sixteen. I had plenty of time to go on much better dates.

Brayden returned to the living room with two sodas. He eyed me with suspicion. "You're smiling. Why are you smiling? You definitely weren't smiling a few minutes ago."

My grin widened even further, and I took one of the sodas from Brayden. "You know what? I'm going to be alright. Everything is okay."

The front door opened, and Mr. Hartman entered. My heart slammed against my ribcage, and it took everything I had to keep my jaw from dropping.

Things were definitely going to be okay.

Mr. Hartman's had his T-shirt slung over his shoulder, and his gym shorts had ridden down past his hips, letting a generous line of his underwear show. Going to the gym today clearly hadn't been a one-time thing because his abdomen and chest muscles had a pleasant definition, and he was beginning to develop V-lines angling towards his crotch. The hair on his torso had been trimmed, and I struggled to keep my thoughts away from whether or not he trimmed his pubes as well.

Mr. Hartman pointed a finger at me. I froze, thinking he was about to call me out on staring at him. Instead, he said, "Alex. I remembered."

My brain went fuzzy, and my tongue forgot how to form words. I pointed back at him and nodded.

I really did try to stop staring, but then I noticed how blue his eyes were and I was done for. Something about a man with dark hair and blue eyes just made me fucking lose my mind.

"I'll be in the shower, and then I'll make you boys some lunch."

Somewhere off in the deep recesses of my brain, a tiny voice was shouting, "You have to move! You can't stand there like a frozen popsicle! And for the love of God, say nothing! If words come out of your stupid mouth, it will be something stupid, and you'll have to live with it for the rest of your stupid life! So move!"

I noticed I was still holding the can of soda. The air felt like jelly as I moved in slow-motion, raising my other hand to the pull tab and opening it. I took several long, slow sips before putting the half-empty can on the coffee table. Sitting down onto the couch seemed like an eternity, but once my ass hit cushion, the world was back to regular speed. Brayden picked up the two controllers and handed me one. I took mine like a normal human being would, and we started to play.

Without feeling the need to take out my anger on red plumbers, Brayden and I were much more evenly matched during the game. Having the game to focus on also helped keep my attention from wandering to the naked man upstairs. This was the second time that Mr. Hartman had showered while I was over, and I whole-heartedly hoped it became a tradition.

Mr. Hartman was upstairs for quite awhile, but when he came downstairs, I could tell why. He had spent some time trimming his facial hair, applying product to his hair, and dressing in gray jeans, a brown Henley, and Chuck Taylors. As he walked by, I caught a whiff of cologne.

Brayden eyed his dad with suspicion. "Dad, are you going back out later?" he asked.

"No, why?" Before Brayden could elaborate, Mr. Hartman pointed at the soda cans. "Are you done with those?"

I drained the last drop, and he held out his hand. "Thank you," I said as I handed it to him. He exited into the kitchen, and I could hear him rinsing out my can before tossing it.

Brayden hit pause on the game and followed his dad to the kitchen. The way the house was set up, the living room shared three-quarters of a wall with the kitchen with an open archway connecting the two rooms. Together, both spaces were probably about the same square footage as my bedroom. From the couch, you cannot see into the kitchen. You'd have to stand up, walk all the way to the right side of the house, and peer around the corner through the archway. I don't know if because Brayden couldn't see me that he forgot that I couldn't hear him loud and clear, or if he didn't care, but the following conversation was not something I thought I should overhear.

"Dad, what on Earth is going on? You haven't dressed nicely since you lived with Mom, and this house was a sty when I left it."

I couldn't catch everything Mr. Hartman said. He clearly recognized that out of eyeshot was not out of earshot.

"It is my business, Dad. I know you took the divorce pretty hard, and I know you don't want to hear this, but Mom and I are worried about you. So for you to live in squalor for six months then completely clean up overnight, that's something I take notice of."

Mr. Hartman spoke a little louder, probably subconsciously matching Brayden's volume. "I realized that I don't want you to feel embarrassed to bring your friends over. I know you and your mom think you're being covert about what you say about me, but I hear it."

There were a few moments of silence before Brayden said, "Thanks, Dad. And I know this is going to suck to hear, but you're right. I've been too embarrassed to bring over friends in the past. When you served fucking hot dogs for dinner for us last time, I was mortified." He laughed, but it was a hollow and nervous laugh.

I heard the fridge open and close. "Then I have some bad news about lunch."

The silence that stretched between them grew uncomfortable. I picked up the controller and selected a character but was not prepared for the unexpectedly loud noise it would make. The sudden sound must have reminded the two Hartmans that they had a guest in their home and should maybe take their squabble down a notch.

A few minutes later, they both returned to the living room. Brayden picked up his dad's keys and wallet. Apologetically, he said, "Alex, I'll just be a minute. I'm going to run out to the grocery store, grab some stuff for lunch, and I'll be right back. Anything in particular you want?"

"Peanut butter and jelly. And Mountain Dew."

Brayden rolled his eyes. "You're a monster, Alex."

With that, he left, and I was left alone with Mr. Hartman.

Let me go back to reminding you, dear reader, that I'm a terrible person. A decent human being may have pulled out his phone and politely surfed the Internet while waiting for his friend to return. Or pretended to call his mother—or even actually call his mother—to get out of a precarious predicament. Being the awful piece of shit that I am, I held out the second controller to Mr. Hartman. Hesitantly, he took it, and we started to play.

When it came to the game, Mr. Hartman wasn't a novice. In fact, he was even better than Brayden and gave me quite the run for my money. For the first few rounds, we sat in manly silence. I (hoped to God that I) inconspicuously breathed in his cologne. It was a really nice fragrance. Not at all like what high school teenagers typically wear, but a real, grown-up scent.

After the third game, Mr. Hartman offered to get me a glass of water, and I accepted. When he returned, I noticed that he sat a little closer on the couch and seemed more relaxed. Partway through the fourth round, he struck up a conversation.

"So, Brayden mentioned that you had a bad break-up last night. Is there anything I can do to help?"

His question took me by complete surprise, and my character fell of the ledge to its death. I found that appropriately fitting. How the fuck was I supposed to respond? By saying, "Fuck me, Daddy?"

Luckily my body was becoming accustomed to functioning normally in his presence, and my mouth moved appropriately to the sounds I was trying to make. "I appreciate your concern, but I think I'll be okay. Graham and I had only been on the one date, so I think I'll be alright."

Wow, I am just the King of Coming Out. Graham's name had slipped from my lips before I even considered the possibility that I was alone in a house with a potentially violent homophobe. I mean, this guy goes to the gym. He could probably snap my neck in half. But, being the superstar soccer player that I am, maybe I could make it halfway across the lawn before he caught me. Brayden would pull up, see my corpse on the lawn, say "not again," and help his dad bury me in the backyard.

Having run through the absolute worst scenario in my head, it was almost a letdown that Mr. Hartman didn't even react. No, "Get out, gay wad!" No, "Oh, you're gay? Cool, cool. I once had a friend whose cousin was gay, so that makes me, like, 1/8th gay." And not even, "Great! Now I have someone to shop with!" Even Brayden had a bigger reaction when I dropped the G-Bomb on him.

"Young love is hard. How old are you? Eighteen?"

"Sixteen," I said, "but I'll be seventeen in April."

"That makes sense. Same age as Brayden."

Almost on cue, Brayden walked into the house with two bags of groceries. Mr. Hartman stood up, took a bag from his son, and went into the kitchen. Not having much else to do, I picked up my water glass and followed them.

I realized this was my first time in the kitchen, and I suddenly understood some of Brayden's concerns. I had always been confused as to why Mrs. Hartman lived in a beautiful suburban mini-mansion, but Mr. Hartman lived in a tiny shack near downtown. It must be really tough on Brayden to go back and forth between the two homes when there was such a large disparity between the two.

Packed in this little kitchen was a washer and dryer, a fridge, a sink, a stove, a dishwasher, and a small dining table. There was barely enough room to move around. The living room and stairs looked like they had new carpeting, and I hadn't seen the upstairs yet, but the kitchen definitely left something to be desired. The flooring was yellowed linoleum that very well could have been white when it was first laid down. The cabinets had water spots and looked outdated, like something my grandparents would have in their house.

The kitchen table looked fairly new, however, maybe gently used, so I slid into a chair and sipped at my water. The two Hartmans worked together to put the food into the refrigerator then got started on lunch. Brayden chopped an onion and minced garlic while Mr. Hartman set a pot of water onto the stove to boil. While they cooked, the three of us conversed with ease. Mr. Hartman asked us questions about school and soccer and tactfully avoided any mention of love or relationships.

Once lunch was over, I once again realized I was feeling much better. Life would continue to move on around me, so why would I sit back and mope when I could fully immerse myself in this moment and enjoy it to its fullest?

Several notes chimed through the air before Brayden answered his phone. "It's Mom," he said before answering her with his usual, "Yell-Oh!" I could hear her voice on the other end but couldn't make out what she was saying. After a few moments, Brayden rolled his eyes. "Mom, I really don't want to. Now's not a good—no, I didn't roll my eyes! What do you mean you can tell? Look, it's just—fine, fine. I'll be right there."

He hung up the phone and looked first at his dad, then at me. "Mom wants me to help her put up Halloween decorations." He hung his head in defeat.

Mr. Hartman patted his son on the shoulder apologetically. "Good luck, son. Godspeed."

Brayden looked at me. "I'll probably be gone only about an hour"—"Ha!" snorted Mr. Hartman—"so you can stay here if you'd like. I'll be right back, I promise."

Again, I was faced with two options. The calm, rational, not insane person would volunteer to go with Brayden so as not to be left alone in the house of a man who, if he asked if I wanted to fuck on a stage in front of a crowd of a million people, I would say yes. A thousand times yes. But, no, I'm a terrible excuse for a human being, and if Mr. Hartman turned to me right that second and told me to get on my knees and suck his dick, I absolutely would, no doubt about it.

I tried to shrug as nonchalantly as I could. "Sure, I'll wait for you."

Mr. Hartman and I walked Brayden to the front door. "Tell your mom she owes me for gas," Mr. Hartman grumbled. I knew Brayden heard him, but he tactfully ignored the jab. He grabbed the keys to the car and left the house.

I could tell Mr. Hartman was a little unsure of what to do with his son's friend, so when I handed him the controller again, he took it. Just like before, we played a few rounds before Mr. Hartman struck up the conversation again. Surprisingly, he picked up right where we had left off, before lunch.

"So, what triggered the break up?" I could tell he meant to have casually asked this question, but it was not camouflaged as well has he had intended.

I didn't know how to respond at first. He didn't seem like he was prying, nor did he carry that look my mom had, looking at me with pity in their eyes, something to mend and fix. Debating for a moment how to answer, I adopted his neutral tone and said, "We only went on one date, so I don't even know if you could call it 'breaking up.' After he dropped me off, his girlfriend called me to fill me in on the situation."

"Oh, that's rough." Mr. Hartman still spoke casually and nodded his head. "I've been cheated on on three separate occasions. It's rough."

Who the fuck could cheat on this handsome bastard? I wondered if Mrs. Hartman was one of the ones who cheated on him. But then, why did she get the big house and he got stuck with the shitty place?

Mr. Hartman scratched at his chin. "Tell me if it's not any of my business, but when Brayden was on the phone with you last night, he said you sounded distraught. He was genuinely worried about you, said you'd never behaved this way before. Now you say it was just 'one date,' but I think there's something more. And if you need someone to talk to about it, I'm here."

I was torn. On the one hand, I wasn't able to bring up the topic of the hand job with Brayden, and I don't think I could ever talk to my mom and dad about something so personal, so here I was presented with an opportunity to address the one thing that had bothered me the most. His calm, neutral tone had put me at ease, and I decided to see if he'd live up to his word. If I crossed the line, I could always walk out and have my mom pick me up somewhere. My stomach was crawling as I thought back to last night, and I recognized that even though I'd mostly accepted certain aspects of what happened, it would make me feel a whole lot better to have someone to talk to.

I let out a deep breath. "Let me know if I cross the line at any point."

Mr. Hartman paused the game and gave me his full attention. Before I could start talking, however, he deadpanned, "You're part of a biker gang that meets on Friday nights at the local pool hall. You wear masks and rubber gloves and nothing else and take turns fisting the female groupies. You've been fine with this aspect of your life, but you realize you've fallen in love with Stacia and feel uncomfortable watching her get fisted by a dozen men each week. You invite her out, lay out your feelings for her, but she laughs in your face, saying that this is the life she chose, and she could never see herself getting tied down to one man. Mortified, you pack up your life and move to Arkansas where you start over as an assistant banker."

I realized my jaw had dropped, and I struggled to regain my composure. "No, that's…"

Mr. Hartman smiled. "Kid, you're sixteen. Nothing you say will shock me. That story actually happened to a buddy of mine when we were in college. He still calls me once in a while. He's married now, with four kids."

The ice was broken, and I smiled back. "My story seems G-rated now," I quipped. I took a deep breath and plunged in headfirst. "Graham asked me out on a date, so we went to the movies. I've only been on one other date, so I was really nervous. After the movie, Graham took me out to his car where we started making out. Then he"—I glanced apprehensively at Mr. Hartman, then realized I couldn't meet his eyes and instead stared at the carpet—"he gave me a hand job. It was the first time anyone's ever touched me like that." My entire body was hot and flushed with embarrassment, but it felt good to talk to someone about what had happened. "When I finished, I was going to return the favor. He said 'no,' and I noticed he wasn't even hard. He said it was no big deal but also said stuff like how he could tell it was my first time. After I got home, I called him to apologize, and I could hear a girl in the background. Later, she sent me a picture of Graham naked on a bed, then called me to tell me they have an open relationship. She said they've been together for a while, and I'm not the first person he's fooled around with while they've been together."

I ran out of steam and didn't know what else to say. When Mr. Hartman didn't respond, I tried to play it off. "I don't know. I'm clearly making a bigger deal out of this than it really is."

Mr. Hartman held up his hand. "Stop. Let me organize my thoughts first." About two minutes passed before he started speaking again. "First, it's not about whether or not you're 'making a big deal' out of the situation. It's about how he made you feel with his actions and words. We already know that going into this situation—Graham, was it?" I nodded, and he continued. "Graham entered your life already having a girlfriend. What he was interested in getting from you was very different from what you expected out of the situation. He should have been straight-forward and honest about the girlfriend from the get-go.

"Second, I have been in a situation where the erection wasn't doing what it was supposed to. All guys know that boners have minds of their own: they're hard when they should be soft, and they're soft when they should be hard. It happens to everyone. However, it is very easy to think, 'He doesn't have an erection, he must not like me.' My first girlfriend, I could not get hard the first time we had sex. We spent an unusual amount of time talking about the situation, and it turns out that frequently, anxiety about your first sexual encounter can get in the way of what the rest of your body wants to do."

You know those TV shows in the 1990s where the main character froze time and talked to the audience? I wish I had that power. What in the fucking Twilight Zone was going on here? My friend's dad was speaking very frankly to me about his sex life. When my dad sat me down for "the talk," there were absolutely zero personal anecdotes about past experiences. I didn't know if I should shout, "Stop talking!" and run away, or if I should pull off my clothes and say, "Why don't you just show me?"

"You're sixteen… God, you're so young, but I guess that's about the age that I became sexually active. It's just different when you get older and have kids, I guess. How old is Graham?"

"He's a senior, so seventeen or eighteen. I don't know when his birthday is."

"That's…very young to be so promiscuous. Not excusing his behavior, but he probably hasn't considered how his actions have affected those around him. For him to say he could tell it's your first time shows that he only thought about the impact his words may have had on you after he already said them."

I nodded, introspective. After a few moments, I said, "Thank you…for talking to me. It's really awkward to talk about…personal stuff, especially since it was me and another guy. It was nice to…get out in the open what was really bothering me."

Mr. Hartman clapped a hand on my shoulder. "I used to keep things bottled up, too, but ever since the divorce, I've found how helpful it is to open up to someone and to be heard. It's very challenging, too, since my ex-wife and I shared the same circle of friends. It felt like we were pitting everyone against each other. Anyway, when I found someone on neutral ground I could talk to, things became much easier to cope with."

I didn't know what to say. "Did you…want to talk about it?"

A pained expression crossed over his face before he purposefully replaced it with a smile. "That's very sweet of you, but I couldn't unload myself onto you. You're friends with my son. I can't have you thinking about my baggage any time you go see his mother."

"I suppose that's true."

After that, the conversation stalled, and we resumed playing our game until Brayden returned. He started grumbling about all the work he had to do, putting up his mother's decorations. I barely noticed Mr. Hartman head upstairs. Brayden threw himself down on the couch, picked up his dad's controller, and we started to play. Very little conversation passed between the two of us, and I lost complete track of time. Eventually, my mom called my phone and came to pick me up.

At the very least, my emotions felt much more settled than they had, and I had two people to thank for that.