I got out of my jeans and folded them at the end of the mattress and put my socks beside them, since I'd need them in the morning. I don't like sleeping with a shirt – it sometimes gets tangled around me and I feel restricted so I tossed it on top of my jeans. I turned to ask if he wanted me to hit the light and found him looking away from me quickly, his face very red.
It was gratifying in the extreme to see that. To know he was getting as flustered as I was.
“Should I hit the light?”I asked, my voice squeaking a bit.
“Um.” He cleared his throat. “Yeah. Good.” I think there had been a word between 'yeah' and 'good', but it had been lost. I hit the switch and crouched, feeling my way forward to the air mattress. I heard him shift on his bed and the rustle of his sheets. Crawling onto the mattress I worked my way under the blanket and let out a little sigh of longing.
“Dr- uh, Drew?” His tone was hesitant.
“Yeah?” I asked softly. Whispering seemed to be the right thing in this darkened room, late at night. There was something bordering on the divine about the situation. Alessia was right – there was a clear attraction between us, as yet unspoken.
“Have you ever, um, dated?”
“No,” I said, the answer coming easily. “My mom controlled everything with me. If...things hadn't changed recently, I wouldn't be here tonight. I wouldn't have been able to come over at all.”
“Not to get on your bad side, but I'm glad your mom wasn't there to stop you,” he said quietly.
“Me, too,” I said softly.
“So...you're a virgin?”
Oh, God. Were we going to actually talk sex? “Yeah,” I said. With a flash of brilliance I said, “Teo says it's a societal construct. Like, it just means a lack of experience and that it's about power and girls remembering and the guy. And. Um. Fuck.” Word Salad. Talking sex with Cole was going to make me sound like an idiot.
“Um, I think I got part of that,” he said and started to snicker.
I slapped my forehead, embarrassed. “Yes, I'm a virgin. The societal construct thing was Teo's way of saying the idea of virginity is stupid. Like, for men they are into it because you always remember your first time and this forced the memory onto a woman. But really, though, if you have sex once it's not like you're an expert all of a sudden, right?”
“Um, yeah, I guess I can see what you're saying.” He hesitated and then hurriedly said, “I wasn't trying to imply anything. I mean, not trying to put you down. I'd be glad not to have had Haylee as my first.”
I closed my eyes and quietly said, “I know this is going to sound hypocritical because I brought it up, but I really don't like hearing about you and Haylee having sex.”
He snorted. “Try living with the fact.”
“Ugh. Let's move on to some other awkward personal questions,” I said with a chuckle.
“Um, okay. Have you ever been kissed?”
“Ack. You really do know how to find the most awkward things in my life, don't you?”
“Seriously? Never been kissed?” Cole asked, astonished.
“Worse,” I groaned. “Teo kissed me. Twice. Second time my mother caught us – and we weren't hiding. It was on my front porch, for Christ's sake. But that's when everything came out about us being half-brothers. And, you know, eww.”
I could hear him giggling into his pillow.
“Laugh it up, Cthpoopoo,” I said, starting to giggle from having said the silly name. His laughter redoubled, muffled as it was and I covered my mouth to stifle the sound of my giggles. I needed to get some sleep! I had to stop talking to Cole, even if it was the actual last thing in the world I wanted to do.
I heard him shift on his bed and then I felt pressure on my mattress. I had a wild thought that he was climbing down from his bed to mine, but then I realized it was his hand pressing down on the mattress, searching for me.
“What are you doing?” I asked in amusement.
“I'm-” His hand landed on my shoulder. “Looking for you. Where – give me your hand.”
I worked my hand out from under the blanket, and with a deep breath and a racing heart, put my hand in his. He shifted and just like that our fingers were laced together. I heard him let out a ragged sigh.
“That's good. Better.”
“Cole....” So many things I should say. So many things I wanted to say. Instead, only silence.
“I like you,” he said softly.
I bit my lip for a second. “I like you, too. But...I don't want to be your rebound.”
Pressure on my hand increased and I heard him shift again. His voice was clear and right above me. “What are you talking about? I'm not rebounding from anything.”
“Cole,” I said gently. “You just came out. You just broke up with a long-time girlfriend. I-”
“Drew,” he said with some finality, making me stop talking. He sighed. “This is so ironic.”
“First, in case I hadn't made it clear, Haylee and I have been over for a long time. We just hadn't made it official. I stayed because my mom was pressuring me, and I told you I didn't think I could break up and keep my secret. You've met my mom.”
“Okay,” I said cautiously. “How is that ironic?”
He shook his hand, in turn shaking me. “Because, Drew...I had to break up with her so I could have a chance to go out with you.”
“You – what?”
“It makes sense, doesn't it? I'm not going to hide from people at school if I'm in a relationship. Hopefully I'll move in with my dad soon. I've thought about this a lot. I've talked Brax's ear off – he's ready to ask you out for me if I don't do it soon.”
“I...I don't know what to...I'm worried.”
“About what? I'm not testing the water or experimenting. I'm not looking to keep you on the down low. If you're half as interested in me as I am in you, then tell me. What worries you?”
I licked my lips. “I don't want this to be short. I don't want to be a rebound and fall for you and then have you – ah!”
He rolled off his bed and sent me bouncing up in the air for a moment, causing something somewhere to fall. Then his hand was on my face, similar but so different from Teo. He was on top of the blanket, but already settling in close to me. His thumb pressed lightly to quiet me, then traced my lips. I was hyper aware that my heart was beating too fast, that my breathing was rapid, that everything that was supposed to get hard in this kind of situation was in perfect working order.
His breath crossed over my ear, warm and sweet. “You're not a rebound. You're the goal, Drew. I've been trying to get the courage...trying to see if there was any way you'd be interested in me. I know I'm in an awkward place with my parents. I'm...stupid happy to talk to you. To hang with you. To think about you. Text, email and...I'm not asking you to take a flyer on me. I'm not saying let's keep it secret. I'll move in with my dad, and I want him to meet you. I told him all about you. I want you to show up to the Harvest Ball ready to dance, because I want to dance with you, and I hope like hell you want to dance with me.”
So much of what he said rang true – and for me as well. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with him. I'd been looking forward to this movie all week. Hanging out, texting, doing homework...it was all better with Cole.
I turned my head a little so I could whisper in his ear, a sound hushed with reverence as if we were in our own private cathedral. “Don't hurt me, Cole.”
He shifted and a moment later – fuck. Worlds better than Teo. I didn't even have to tell myself to move my lips, and tasting his tongue didn't leave me feeling awkward as it had with Teo. I was exultant. The kiss lingered, grew soft and then was renewed. He put his hands in my hair and I copied him, keeping him close.
He tilted his face, our foreheads coming together and breaking our kiss. “Hey. I think you like me,” he teased.
“Feels like you like me back,” I told him, aware of his body through the blanket.
“You have no idea, Drew,” he said softly. “No idea. But I'm going to try and show you.”
The room suddenly became much lighter.
“Cole, did you see – Cole! Cole Grant Thomas!”
There was a whirlwind of panic, yelling and worse. She screamed at me to get away from her son, and Cole and I were confused and each trying to shield the other from his mother – it was instinctual. It was terrifying. But I had him; I couldn't let it end. Not now, not like this. Things were flying around the room. Hands were waving. Emily began to scream from her room and Ginger showed up to see what the fuss was.
Then she tried to put her hands on Cole, and I blocked her – so she put her hands on me. Things became even more chaotic and my memory is even less clear. I do know I shoved her out the door, and paid for it with blows to my face and chest. I leaned against the door, bracing my feet on the floor while Cole pushed his shoulder against the door long enough to get it locked. I looked at his face – shock. Humiliation. Fear.
Been there, done that, not letting her do it to him.
“That lock won't keep her out. There's a hole on the other side, she'll have it open in five minutes.” The door shook, its hollow core booming inside the small room. “Maybe less.”
“Let's get dressed. Phones. Let's head for your dad's place,” I said. He paused for only a moment before nodding and we quickly dressed. The door stopped shaking as we finished getting dressed. We grabbed our phones and gave it another ten seconds before we opened the door and ran for the stairs. His mother appeared in the hallway, stepping out of the kitchen. She had something small and narrow in her hand – I was afraid it was a blade.
“Where the fuck-” She got no farther as Cole collided with her, knocking her back into the door frame. He cried out in pain, but pushed by her and we nearly fell down the stairs. We were out the front door and running down the street, cold air filling our lungs. His mother was on the front stoop screaming obscenities to our backs as we pelted down the street sans coat – and in moments we realized, sans shoes.
“Ow, Ow!” Cole hissed and hopped on one foot for a moment. He reached down and pulled away a pebble that was stuck to his sock.
“You okay?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he muttered.
“Call your dad, but let's keep moving.”
We went down the street as quickly as we could, turning onto a side street in case his mother got in her car to bring him back. Cole lifted the phone to his ear and I saw the blood running down his arm.
“Shit! Cole! Your arm!” I grabbed his arm and he moved the phone to his other hand. I pulled his arm out flat so I could get a look at the wound. It seemed shallow, little more than a glorified scratch. Even now it was scabbing over.“Does it hurt?”
“Stings,” he confirmed. “C'mon, Dad! Put Keith's legs down and answer the phone!”
I looked at him, unable to let the comment slide.
“What? I'm nervous,” he said. Headlights splashed the street with brightness and we took off. The car horn blared – his mother. We ran into a front yard and along the side of the house, feet growing colder by the step over the frozen earth. We dashed through the backyard and into the yard behind that home, around the side of the house and through the front yard to the street beyond. We had to jig a little as the house across the street had a fence, but we were soon running alongside it past another house and into their back yard.
We ducked behind a pool house, out of breath and shivering hard. He tried calling his Dad again, but there was no answer.
“Shit! I wonder if his phone is even in his bedroom!” Cole growled. I was about to call Teo, but Cole's phone rang. He looked at the screen and I was afraid it was his mother, but he answered. “Dad! I need help!”
I heard his dad ask what was wrong – cell phone speakers can be kind of loud.
“I kissed my boyfriend and mom caught me. She went crazy. Drew and I had to run from the house – she attacked us. We don't have coats or shoes, and Mom is driving around like a crazy person trying to hunt us down.”
I thought I heard his dad say that his mother had called, ranting like a crazy person. He asked where we were and said that he was getting dressed.
“I'm not sure, anymore. Drew, did you recognize anything?”
“No. We'll have to go find a street corner.”
“Dude. We'll use the GPS in our phones,” Cole said.
My teeth started to chatter and the light wind suddenly became more noticeable. “Fine. I'm freezing my ass off. Let's go.”
We retraced our steps and I turned on the GPS app on my phone while Cole stayed on the line with his dad. He told him where we were, and his dad said he was already in the car and on the way. We shifted under a huge pine tree in the yard, partly to shield ourselves from his mother should she drive down that street and partially as a windbreak. I pulled my arms inside my tee shirt, and then Cole stepped on my feet and wrapped his arms around me.
“Cole. You're going to freeze.”
“I got you into this. I'll take care of you.”
“Idiot, you'll freeze,” I repeated.
He put his cheek next to mine. “I'm okay.”
“How can you say that?” I wiggled my arms back out of the shirt and hugged him tightly. “You didn't get me into anything.”
“I guess it is your fault,” he said speculatively.
“If you weren't so fucking cute, I wouldn't have risked coming down there to kiss you,” he said, his voice low but a weird chuckle bubbling in his chest. He shivered violently and I began to rub his back briskly. He followed suit on me a moment later. It was cold enough that the minutes felt like hours. My feet were blocks of ice. My toes were in better shape than his, since he was covering mine with his own feet. I moved around so we could trade and I could try to warm his toes, even though I was pretty sure there was no heat to be had from my feet.
We spotted headlights moving slowly down the street. Cole started to move and I held him back. “What if it's your mother?”
He bit his lip and called his dad. “Is that you driving slow?”
“Yes. Where are you?”
We stepped out from under the tree and waved our arms. The car sped up and pulled to the curb and we quickly climbed into the back seat.
His dad was slender with thinning hair. He turned to look at us, glasses sliding down his nose. “Are you boys okay?”
“Just freezing,” Cole said and his teeth started to chatter. I pressed up against him and he hugged me to him. We resumed rubbing each other's back to try and get warm. The heat in the car was like heaven.
“I spoke to your mother. She's madder than a wet hen. We're going to drive over there so I can get you boys your coats and shoes.”
“Dad. She's lost it. She was hitting Drew. Fuck her,” Cole said with fire.
“Cole, watch your mouth,” his dad said quietly, firmly. “I will handle your mother. You'll stay in the car.”
We didn't protest any further. His dad navigated the streets easily and soon we were back in front of Cole's mother's home. With one look back at us his dad climbed out and told us to lock the car until he got back. The front door of the house opened and his mother was on the front stoop yelling. I wasn't sure what she was saying over the heater, but it frightened me. I just wanted Cole, and apparently he wanted me. What was so bad about that?
While we were sitting there trying to warm up, a police cruiser pulled up with its lights flashing. An officer glanced at our car, then strode up the walk. He was no doubt attracted by the raised voice of Cole's mom. I saw him raise a hand, making waving motions to calm down. She made a lot of angry motions. The conversation, if you could call it that, dragged on.
“Are you okay?” he whispered.
I turned to look at his worried expression. “It's not my parents fighting. Are you okay?”
He smiled shyly. “I have you. I'm good.”
Okay, the boy is slicker than I thought. I leaned my head against his chest and listened to his steady breathing as I looked out the window at the drama unfolding. Then things escalated as his mom got in the cop's face, wagging a finger, and then – she poked him in the chest. Just like that the cuffs came out and he walked her down the curb while she was screaming and popped her in the back of the cruiser. He turned and walked to our car and tapped on the glass. Hesitantly we lowered the window.
“Boys, I'm officer Howard. I'm going to need you to step out of the vehicle and join us up at the house.”
We glanced at each other then scooted over to the door. He watched us as we climbed out, noting our lack of shoes. We walked up the steps, the officer trailing behind.
“Boys, let's get your shoes and coats on,” Cole's dad said.
“One second,” the cop said. “Shoes are great, but I'm seeing scratches. I'm going to need an explanation from the boys.”
The whole thing was a nightmare. Once inside we described her behavior, and had to tell him what had set her off. We described the fight as best we could, and our desperate flight. The officer wrote it all up and took pictures of our scratches and scrapes. He asked about my parents, and I said I could have my father contact him but he was likely asleep. It wasn't an easy sell, and he probably shouldn't have, but he agreed.
Cole's dad had gotten Emily settled and she'd fallen asleep in his arms. Ginger was glaring at us and muttering crappy sentiments. She didn't stay, however, and headed back to her room and closed the door in what could only be described as a petulant manner.
“Boys, why don't you head to bed. I'll put Emily to bed and sack out on the couch. We'll go for breakfast in the morning.”
“I have to get up at eight, I work at ten,” I said automatically.
He glanced at the clock. “It's three now. I think you should probably call in – in fact I can do it for you.”
I was a little unsure of that until he reminded me I'd need to speak to my father in the morning and he had to go to the police station. Given that, I relented.
“Come on, Drew,” Cole said, taking my hand. “Oh. Um, Dad?”
“Yeah,” he asked tiredly, standing with Emily in his arms.
“This is my boyfriend, Drew.”
I blushed and he gave me a tired smile. “Hi, Drew. I look forward to getting to know you better.”
“Hi, Mr. Thomas,” I said quietly.
“Cole,” his dad said. “No more than a good night snog, okay?”
It was Cole's turn to blush and he bobbed his head in agreement before pulling me down the hall. We dressed down again, but made no attempt to sleep separately. We snuggled under the blanket, warmly pressed to each other. I don't know how he slept with his arms around me, and it was hard to get used to.
“I hope that proves how much I'm in this, Drew,” he said into my ear. I snuggled back into him a bit more in response, but said nothing. Eventually I was able to get over being in bed with Cole Thomas and fall into an exhausted sleep.