How I Got Carter

Chapter 20

By Roe St. Alee

email

[ Yeah, they have somebody's ID. ]

I send the text and immediately see the three dots on my phone, indicating that a response is coming. I lean out over the railing of the porch and look into the trees behind Lucas's house, but it's tough with my night vision being ruined from my phone. Just like the rest of his yard, the grove of trees behind his house seems bigger than it actually is. We can't be more than a few hundred feet from his neighbors back there, but I feel like you could get lost in the trees.

My phone vibrates and I look back down.

[ Gotta keep all you boys rowdy :) ]

Katy happened to text me about something a few minutes ago and her timing was perfect. Carter and Gray had just left to do a beer run, and Lucas's parents called to check in. Before he went up to his room to answer, he shushed us – we need to be quiet while he's on his phone. Ricky and Matt turned down the volume on the game and started playing, so it was a good chance for me to slip out to the back porch and lay low for a couple of minutes.

It wasn't that I needed to leave the party or anything, but I thought it would be nice to have a little alone time. I was able to put the beat down on these jocks in Mario Kart, but even winning, and thus solidifying my place in the group, wasn't enough to keep me focused. I kept thinking about Ricky.

Why did he have to say all that stuff? Even if he didn't mean it, something like that doesn't just go away. It eats away at you. Even if I can convince myself he didn't mean any of it, I start wondering why he had to say it at all.

I've heard a lot worse from a lot of people, and even then they're usually just messing around. But I can never be a hundred percent sure. If you call someone a 'fag,' I can't help but be uncomfortable with that. Even if the point was just to razz one of your friends, you chose that word for a reason.

But there's something else too. It wasn't just Ricky running his mouth. It was Carter having to jump in and defend me. I know I'm the new guy here, and I'm only hanging out with all these dudes because Carter wanted to get me ingratiated into the group. But are they only cool with me because I'm under his protection? What would they be like if he wasn't around?

And then there was the whole 'side action' comment. Am I side action? I had never thought of it like that, but it's true in a way. Or is Beth the side action?

It's hard to know for sure. Obviously Carter spends more time with me, and obviously he's enjoying it – at least the important parts. And why should I care if he isn't shouting his love for me from the mountain tops? When we're alone together it's exactly how it should be, and I'm the only person who ever needs to know how Carter feels about me.

But what good is love if it has to be a secret?

...

So yeah, I needed a little time to decompress and think about all this stuff.

[ What else are you kids up to? ]

Katy's text manages to distract me from my thoughts. Ever since I responded she's been blowing up my phone. It's no surprise she was curious as to what a bunch of high school jock boys did when they were hanging out together. Katy is cool with a lot of the guys at school, but she isn’t tomboyish enough to ever get an invite to something like this. When she realized I was right in the thick of it, she immediately had a million questions for me.

I get it. Up until tonight, I had sort of wondered about it myself. Ko and I hang out a lot, and even though we both play a few sports I wouldn't consider either of us to be ‘jocks,’ at least not like Gray and Ricky, or even Carter. Tonight would be educational, even if adding me to the crew was a total bust. Even if it hits the fan, I'm coming home with some stories.

At least, that was Katy's idea.

Neither of us were surprised that the conversation had turned immediately to blow jobs. Katy had plenty of questions about that, and I tried to fill her in as best I could. I wouldn't share all the secrets that the guys had divulged over the course of the night, but it wouldn't hurt to tease her with a few tidbits, right?

“Yo, Jackson.”

I turn around and see Ricky silhouetted in the doorway. I immediately bristle when I see him, and I tuck my phone back into my pocket. I'll catch up with Katy later.

“I need to talk to you.”

Carter isn't here to get my back, and the other guys are inside playing a game. It's just me and Ricky on the porch, and he looks like he's ready to pick up exactly where he left off after dinner.

Ricky moves in closer and stands alongside me against the railing, but he doesn't turn out to face the backyard. He keeps looking at me.

“You know all that stuff I said before?”

I swallow hard and nod my head ever so slightly.

“I didn't mean any of it.”

I drop my guard a bit and let him continue.

“I want to make sure there isn't any beef because of it,” he says.

I study his face in the small amount of light that's leaking out from the sliding glass door. Even in the darkness it's hard to focus on anything but how attractive he is. That being said, it's tough to get a read on him, and even if I could I'm not sure what to say. Why is he doing this?

Then it dawns on me. Carter.

Carter must have talked to him before he left with Gray. I could tell he was still mad, but I figured he was just stewing for a while. Instead, it's Carter to the rescue, saving his dorky little friend – or whatever we are – from his crew.

As much as I appreciate him trying to get my back, what I feel is anger. If he doesn’t mean it, Ricky saying he’s sorry only makes it worse. Carter brought me out to meet his buds, and now they have to pretend to like me because he said so. I'd rather not have any of it. I don’t need their pity.

“Whatever, man,” I mumble, hoping he'll take the hint and go back inside. I resume my gaze into the darkness and wait for him to leave me alone.

“Seriously, Jackson,” he says, “I'm sorry. I was just messing with you and it got out of hand. I never would have said any of that stuff if I thought that you...”

I flinch as soon as I hear it, but he corrects himself.

“If I thought that it would bug you.”

Freudian slip or not? I'd rather not know. I'd rather just not be here right now.

I turn to him, and I'm immediately struck by the expression on his face. With both of us turned sideways, there's a lot more light hitting him, and I can see him a lot better. And his face is talking loud and clear. He's earnest.

“Look, I don't know you very well, but I could tell you took it personally when I said that stuff,” he says, “and I shouldn't have said it anyway, ‘cause I don't have any beef with people, even if they are gay or whatever. I don't have any problem with you, or Sam, or anybody.”

He waits for me to respond, but I don’t.

He goes on. “You don't have to talk to me about it or anything, but I want you to know that I'm sorry.”

I finally find my words. “It's cool. Um, apology accepted.”

He relaxes as soon as I say it. I can't believe he was so bothered by it. I never think of these jocks as being so sensitive, and even Carter has alluded to it before – they're not so into their feelings. But the change in Ricky is obvious as soon as he sees that I'm ready to clear the air.

“Good,” he says, “that's a relief.” He nudges me in the arm as he leans back against the railing and I follow suit. “I was messing with you cause you're the new guy, and Carter's been talking about you all the time, so we had to like, give you the business, ya know?”

I can't help but smile at that. Partly because I know where he's coming from, and partly because Carter's been talking about me. Either way I relax a little more, and I decide I’m willing to hear Ricky out.

“It was the first thing you reacted to, so I jumped on it.”

It makes sense. I could tell Gray was trying to get under my skin with his soccer comments, and I've heard the guys bust each others' chops about everything else under the sun. Maybe he didn’t mean anything by it.

“We give each other a lot of shit,” he says, then laughs. “I think you'll be good though, you totally shut down Gray. He probably spent all week trying to figure out how to trip you up.”

I laugh, thinking how he just read my mind. Gray wasn't dumb or anything, but he definitely wasn't quick on his feet during a conversation.

Knowing that we're good, he reaches over and pushes something cold against my hand. I look down to see him offering up a can of beer.

“I thought we were out,” I say, surprised.

“Shh,” he says, holding his finger up to his lips. “I stashed a few for myself when I saw we were low.”

I smile and grab the beer from him. It's the ultimate gesture from these guys. We each crack ours open and hit the cans together.

“Cheers.”

“Cheers.”

They're ice cold and refreshing. He must have had them hidden in the freezer. I'm not a beer aficionado or anything like that, but I'm at least starting to get comfortable with the taste.

We stand in silence for a few minutes and gaze out into the evening. I'm glad I put a jacket on before I stepped out. It's a cold, clear night. We can hear the last handful of insects out in the dark. Another few days of this weather, and there won't be much of anything left before the winter.

“Can I ask you something?”

Ricky pauses for a second and sips his beer. “Sure.”

“Did Carter ask you to say something?”

“Huh?” I can't tell if he's just processing the question or weighing his options as he pauses and takes another sip. “No.”

“Ok.”

It doesn't sound very convincing. We lapse back into silence, but this one is less comfortable than the last. I feel like he's not telling me something. It drags on for a minute before Ricky speaks again.

“Do you remember my brother?”

I rack my brain and try to think. He was older than Ricky, wound up going to college in New England, out of state.

“Yeah,” I say, “but I didn't know him at all.”

He waves me off. “After he left for college, he broke up with his girlfriend. She was still here, so I got to hear all about it from her.”

“Yeah, wasn't that like, Tina?” I remembered her a bit better. She was only two years older than me.

“Right,” he says. “She was really confused about it, but it was pretty obvious to me. He went off to college and didn't want to wait on some girlfriend back home.”

I nod in understanding. Makes sense.

“But I went to visit him a few months after that, right after the holidays. When I got there I met his roommate. But it like, wasn't his roommate.”

He stops to let that sink in, but it doesn't register with me. What does he mean, 'wasn't his roommate?' If you live with somebody then they're your...

“Oh, shit,” I say out loud as I make the connection.

“Yeah, it was a total shock. He never said anything to me about it, and we were pretty close. He just like, let me see what was going on. And I was the first person from home he ever let it on it.”

He sighs and shakes his head.

“I was really freaked out by it at first. I wasn't mad or anything, but I was surprised. I've known my brother longer than I've known anybody, and I always looked up to him, wanted to be just like him. And now he was... gay.

“But I got over that part of it. He was still my brother, and he was still the same guy I grew up with, he was just dating a guy now. And at the end of the day, that’s cool with me.”

He looks at me and puts his hand on my shoulder.

“So anyway, sorry I was an asshole before. I guess I'm not like, super sensitive all the time, but uh...”

“I am.”

My heart skips about ten beats as I feel the words slip past my lips. There's no going back from this one, but I'm getting the feeling that Ricky told me his story for a reason.

“Huh?”

I take a deep breath and steel myself for what's about to come.

“I'm gay.” The words ring in my ears as I say them. “So you were right before. It was a guy.”

“Ok, cool.”

It takes me a bit to process it. Did he really just say that was cool?

He senses my disbelief and laughs. “Yeah, it's cool.”

Was that it? Is it really that easy to come out to people? They'll just hand you a beer and smile?

“Jackson,” he says, “don't tell anybody about the stuff I just told you, ok?”

“Yeah, of course.”

“I don't think anybody else knows about Jake, and they all know him,” he says, jerking his thumb back towards the house.

We both smile, now co-conspirators.

“I guess we both have a secret.”

Ricky chuckles and holds his beer out to me for another toast. “We sure do.”

As we make contact and take a gulp of beer, Ricky shakes his head at me and smiles.

“You're so easy to talk to, man,” he says. “Like, I never felt like you were going to be weird about what I told you.”

“Uh, thanks,” I reply. It's the same thing Carter told me a few weeks ago.

I hear rustling from the front of the house. The sound of a car pulling up the gravel driveway. The boys are back from their beer run.

“Sounds like a delivery,” Ricky says, “and just in time.” He shakes his beer can indicating that it's empty. “You coming in?”

I hold my own can up. “I've got a little left. I'll finish up and head inside in a few.”

Ricky goes back into the house and I try to take a minute and decompress from what happened.

I came out to someone. Not anyone I'm close to, either. But at the same time not a stranger. Someone I know, and someone who knows all the people I know. It's probably the most dangerous kind of person to share a secret with.

I can't deny that it felt good though. It felt really good. It's one less person I need to be careful around, and one more person I know I've got on my side if it's ever an issue. Even though I don't know Ricky well, I feel like I can trust him. Part of it is knowing that he's Carter's friend, and part is because he was so open with me about his brother.

But there's another part that's gut instinct, plain and simple. Ricky has my back.

Just like Carter, there's more to these jock boys than meets the eye sometimes. Below the machismo and the playboy he pretends to be, there's a sensitive, empathetic, and accepting person down there.

With that I finish the last sip of my beer and head inside, wondering what else I might find out about Carter and his friends before the night is through.

******* ******* ******* *******

“Hottest blow job you've ever gotten, huh?”

I can smell the alcohol on Carter's breath as he places his fingertips against my chest, pushing me back slightly. It doesn't move me, but it makes me lean in toward him while he's talking.

He shrugs and smiles. It's that damn smile of his. So coy. So sexy.

“It's hard to pick favorites,” he says, “but I'd definitely put it in the top five.”

I raise my eyebrows and slap his hand away gently, letting me lean in closer to him. “Top five?”

With my face now only inches away from his, he leans down to complete the circuit and kisses me lightly. I push back into him and steal another kiss, and then another. His mouth tastes sweet.

“Ok, top three,” he admits.

I look into his eyes and think about how much I love when he's like this. When he's a little bit drunk or just feeling loose. His eyes get shiny and sparkly, and they crinkle up more when he smiles, making him look extra mischievous.

I let my mouth get within a half an inch of his before I respond.

“Top three?” I ask, this time barely in a whisper. I try to get as close as I can without touching him. He likes to be teased like that.

He opens his mouth to answer me but our lips are touching and I give this kiss everything I've got. He responds in kind, and when I feel his tongue slip into my mouth I slide my hand over the crotch of his jeans. I don't have to guess whether he's interested – I can already feel the swelling outline of his manhood.

Instead of an answer he pushes me back onto his bed. My legs hit the edge and I fall onto my back. Looking up at him I can see that his cheeks are flushed. He's breathing a little harder than normal. He's biting his bottom lip. It's all of his tells, and it takes all my willpower not to get back up and throw myself at him. As much as I want to give it to him, it'll be that much better if I make him come and take it.

We're finally back at Carter's house. I was ready to leave ages ago, but none of the other guys were showing any signs of slowing down. Matt and Ricky were both crashing at Lucas's house, and we needed Gray to give us a ride home. In the end, a lot of puzzle pieces needed to come together before we could possibly get back to Carter's.

Even though I was tired, I couldn't let it get to me. Partly because I didn't want to seem like a lightweight in front of Carter's crew, and partly because I knew what might be waiting for me once we got here.

And I don't have to wait long.

Now that he has me where he wants me, Carter shucks off his shirt and stands triumphantly at the end of the bed. My cock twitches as I sense what's about to happen an instant before it does. He jumps onto me and starts making out again, just as hot and heavy as before. He gyrates his hips as he does it, and I can feel the jolts of pleasure between us as our crotches grind against each other, even through a few layers of fabric.

His hands slide under my shirt and feel around my stomach and chest for a few seconds before pulling it over my head. As our mouths reconnect, our tongues twist and spar, our bare chests slide across each other, letting me feel the muscles rippling underneath the skin of his upper body. I feel myself getting lightheaded, more from the sexual anticipation than any of the residual alcohol in my system.

It's like the first time we ever made out. When he drunkenly fell onto me the in the woods at Matt's party. That night, that moment – it blew my mind. I made out with Carter Mulkins. We're here again, and this time he's not black out drunk. This time he knows exactly what he's doing, and there's no question that he'll be here with me in the morning.

Most importantly, he probably won't pass out and fall asleep in the next thirty seconds.

Just to be on the safe side, I start snaking my hands across the ridges of his shoulders, down his back, and then to the waistband of his jeans. I need to enjoy every inch of Carter while I have the chance, right?

I slide around to the front of his pants and pull down the buttons on his jeans. I made the mental note that he was wearing a button fly earlier in the night, and it pays off as one fluid hand motion manages to pull the whole fly apart. Thus exposed, I let my fingers enter the newly-found opening. I can't help but smile as my fingertips make contact with the mound of flesh underneath the fabric of his underwear.

“Uhhhh...”

I moan out loud. I can't take it anymore. One of God's greatest, most perfect creations is in my hand, slowly being revealed in all its glory. I grab the innermost waistband I can find and start pushing it down, hoping Carter will get the idea. I want him, all of him, and I want it now.

Carter catches on in a second, and with an impressively deft maneuver, he strips off his pants and underwear, all without breaking our kiss. He responds affirmatively as I pull his hips forward, guiding his now exposed member toward my head. He sits up fully before settling down on my chest, bringing all seven inches of him right in front of me, the tip bobbing with each beat of his heart, and just an inch away from my mouth.

We make eye contact.

It's one of those moments. It's like the first time we kissed, or the first time we fell asleep with each other. It's a moment that supersedes things like doubt, fear, and complications. It is a moment that is real. No matter what worries might plague my mind later, or what my friends might warn me about, or what might cause an all too familiar tightness in my chest as I lay awake thinking about it tomorrow, I can always know that this is real. At least right now it is – tomorrow and yesterday can be something different, but the look in Carter's eyes right now is one of love.

In unison, I close my eyes and open my mouth, and Carter pushes forward until the perfect, swollen helmet of his cockhead is resting on my tongue. I swirl around it, feeling and savoring the ridges of it. He's so hard right now, so turned on by what's about to happen. I hate to correlate his inhibition with drinking, but it seems like when he can finally relax with a couple of beers he reaches a new level of arousal.

I let Carter push forward and fill my mouth. It makes me feel complete to have him inside of me like this. He pivots in and out, and I bob my head accordingly, taking more and more of him in with each stroke. I reach around behind him and put one hand on each of his smooth, hard ass cheeks and help push him forward with each one of his thrusts.

“Oh, god...” he moans in appreciation.

I open my eyes and feel my own cock twitch at the sight before me. Carter's sculpted stomach and hips, rocking back and forth just inches in front of me. The pressure of his legs against the sides of my chest add to the thrill of looking straight down his shaft as I watch it slide in and out of my mouth. Like everything with Carter, it just makes me want more.

When Carter reaches the bottom of one of his thrusts, I let him slip out of my mouth, then pull him back towards me, running my tongue from the tip of his shaft all the way to the base. I go back and forth a few more times, garnering another thankful sigh from Carter. As I move back to the base, I pull him in harder, letting my tongue wrap around one of his lovely, smooth balls.

He doesn't make a move to pivot away from me this time, and I move my tongue over to the other, alternating back and forth between the two. I gently pull one into my mouth and suck on it, loving how big and full it feels.

Carter slides even farther forward, granting me easier access to his goods. I greedily let him grind his nuts into my mouth, alternating between licking and sucking, popping one into my mouth and then the other. I'm in heaven.

I move one of my hands forward and jerk him off while I bathe his sack with my tongue, and I feel Carter start to buck his hips again, ever so slightly in rhythm with my stroking. As he does it, I get new access to the back half of his nutsack and eventually can even feel my tongue going past that. He seems to enjoy it, so I let my tongue snake back with each gyration of his hips, reaching farther and farther along his taint.

Suddenly, I feel the tip of my tongue hit something new. The texture of his skin changes, and Carter gasps. We both pause mid-stroke as we realize what's just happened. I'm licking his asshole.

Carter slides forward ever so slightly, both giving me better access and wordlessly granting me approval to keep going. I take a few tentative licks and he shudders as my tongue slides across the surface of his rosebud. It tastes similar to the rest of Carter – a little salty, a little funky, and very, very manly.

It's one thing to jerk someone off, and definitely something to put someone's dick in your mouth. But this is a whole new level. We've crossed another line, and I have no intention of going back.

Nor it seems does Carter. His breathing gets heavier and heavier as I orally work my way around his back door, and half of his breaths seem to be coming out as whimpers and moans. He gyrates his hips into my face, grinding his dangling nutsack into my nose while letting me get even farther into his ass crack. He's loving it.

Without warning, he pulls off and I start to wonder if it was too much for him. He unstraddles my face and swings a leg over me.

“Do you want...”

“No!” Carter says. He swings the other leg around me so he's facing the other direction. “I'm just turning around. Don't stop.”

Now in a 69 position, Carter sets himself back down on top of me, putting his beautiful boy cherry right back in range of my mouth. From this position I have even better access, and definitely a better view.

Carter's ass is just gorgeous. He has the perfect amount of definition but still with the right amount of cushion to it. It's soft when you touch it, but hard when it flexes. I hate to try and narrow it down, but it might be his best feature.

And here it is, mere inches away from my face with an open invitation to dive right in. I reach up and grab his cheeks, one in each hand. I can't help but give a quick squeeze before I pull them apart, revealing the glory in between.

Carter takes hold of my dick just as I start to lean forward in the space between those two flawless mounds of flesh in my hands. As I stick out my tongue I feel him start to stroke me. He makes contact at the same time I do, and his warm mouth on my aching cock is the perfect complement to the juicy, delicious ass that I get to eat.

Honestly, I can't tell you if I eat Carter's ass for a minute or an hour. I lose myself, and let my lust consume every inch of my being, my world reduced to the warm, wet sensations of a blow job and the taste of Carter's cherry.

When I feel myself getting close, I decide to change my tack. As much as I'm loving this – not to mention how much Carter seems to be loving it too – I want to make Carter cum, and I need it to be in my mouth.

I reach up and grab his shaft, pushing it down towards my mouth. He's hard as a rock. He must be close to cumming.

I put the head in my mouth and immediately have to swallow. He’s practically dripping precum, which leaves no question as to whether or not he was enjoying that rim job. I make a mental note to do it more often before turning my focus back to the task at hand. I bob up and down on his cock, loving how familiar it tastes and feels in my mouth.

“Oh god, Jackson, I'm so close!”

It turns me on so much when he calls my name.

I slow down a little and try to savor the last few moments of the blow job. I'm getting pretty close myself, and it would be awesome to cum at the...

Oh god! My cock feels like it's on fire as I feel it slip all the way into Carter's throat. He's getting so good at that, it's just ridiculous. I feel the burning spread down my cock and into my balls. I'm going to cum in about five seconds if he keeps this up.

Without thinking, I slide a hand back to Carter's ass and brush a finger up against his hole. Already so wet from the lengthy tongue bath I gave him, the tip of my finger slides right in. It isn't much, but I immediately feel everything tense up, from the dick in my mouth to the tight squeeze his hole suddenly puts on my finger.

Both of us fly over the edge at the exact same instant, and what has to be the biggest load of my life surges out from my balls and through my cock. I feel like I'm literally exploding.

Carter, for his part, launches blast after blast of hot, sticky boy juice into my mouth. I swallow load after load, but both of us are still pumping away. I can't believe how much he's putting out, and I haven't stopped cumming either.

Finally, after what has to be ten spurts apiece, I feel my whole body shudder and I know that I'm done. I clean Carter's cock off the best I can before leaning my head back in a post-coital stupor.

Carter rolls off of me and flips around. Before I can react, he puts his mouth on mine and starts kissing me. I kiss him back, and before too long we're making again out, rubbing our still-tingling naked bodies against each other.

As our kiss deepens, I can taste my own cum in Carter's mouth, and I'm sure he can taste his in mine. It's not really different, but I can tell that it isn't his. The different flavor and sexual energy of it kind of turns me on, and we both slide our tongues in and out of each others' mouths a few more times.

Finally we break the kiss and Carter lets his head flop down on the bed next to mine. I push my back into him and make myself a little spoon. I fit perfectly into the space, and that's where we stay, too exhausted to do much of anything else.

We stay in this position for minutes that thankfully feel like an eternity. It's one of those things. I need to get up and put on my PJs and brush my teeth and all that, but I'd rather just stay here forever, feeling Carter's chest expanding and contracting against my back with every breath. I almost hate to let myself think it, but it really feels like he's my boyfriend.

...

He's not.

He's fucking not.

No matter how amazing it felt doing what we just did, and no matter how long I keep lying here with Carter nestled against my back, he's not my boyfriend.

“Is that some pretty good side action?”

The words come out before I can stop them, almost before I even have time to think about them. It was what I wanted to ask more than anything, and at the same time the last thing I ever wanted to let escape my lips. I close my eyes and brace myself for what's about to come.

Carter stirs behind me, and I imagine he's lifted his head up off the pillow. I can't feel his breath on my neck anymore.

“You know we can't...”

“Yeah, I know.”

I know we can't tell all his friends that we're dating, and that I'm blowing him, or that I just gave him a rim job. I get that. Even if we were out, those probably aren't the people I would choose to talk to about our love life. But that's not the point!

“What's the deal with Beth?”

Carter sighs. I'm sure he doesn't want to talk about it, especially not now, but I can't shake the idea of being “side action.” And unless I push the issue, I’m sure I’ll never get the closure I need to relax. Never go to sleep angry, right?

“I'm sorry, Jackson,” he says. “I'm still working on that.”

This again. I get it. It takes a while to figure out. I didn't wake up one morning and realize that I was gay, and even I wasn't ok with it at first when I thought I might be leaning in that direction. It takes time. But how long am I going to have to wait?

“So what are we doing?” I ask.

Carter tightens his grip on me. “Jackson, I'm still figuring this out. We're obviously more than friends at this point, but...”

I cut him off. “Yeah, I know that we're friends, and we're something more.” I try to make words out of the thoughts that are going through my mind. “But I don't know if I can be both of those at the same time. Like, I don't know if I can be the person who's testing all this out for you... and then... and then there's still fucking Beth!”

“Beth isn't important.”

“She's your girlfriend.”

“She doesn't matter,” he repeats.

“So why are you dating her?” I ask.

It's just like he told me when he was trying to push me away. “I have a girlfriend” is what he said. Back then it was kind of an excuse, but now it feels different. It's almost the opposite. It's like the last thing he's hanging on to, just in case he decides that's what he wants. That last little safety net if he wants to go back to how it was before. But how much is he banking on that? Why can't he just let go?

It takes him a while to come up with an answer. I know this is hard for him, but I have to know how far he's willing to go. I can't just guess anymore. An answer from him directly is what I need right now, and I owe it to myself to get what I need.

“Jackson,” he finally says, “if I go through all this and I lose her, I'm ok with that. Or if things go the other way and I still have her, that would probably work too, but...”

He pauses to compose himself, and it’s a rare flash of vulnerability.

“If it's you that I lose?”

He doesn't finish the thought, and it almost makes me angry. He shows these moments of transparency, but can't finish his sentence when it's the most important one. I turn over to face him.

“What?” I ask. “What do you lose?”

“You're the one that gets it,” he says.

“Yeah,” I say, “I know.”

I'm not able to keep the venom out of my voice. It's exactly what I thought. “I know I'm the only person who gets it, Carter. And I get that you don't know what you want right now. But that's not fair.”

He raises his eyebrows at me, not quite following me. He's so thick sometimes.

“You get all the time in the world to figure this out, and I have to hang around and wait to see if you'll be here in the morning.”

Carter smiles. “Don't worry, dude,” he says, “I'll be here in the morning.”

“I'm not worried about the morning,” I say. Is he not understanding, or is he trying to avoid what I'm driving at?

Carter thinks for a second.

“You're right,” he sighs. “It's not fair.”

I look at him expectantly, and he looks conflicted.

“You don't have to wait,” he says.

“What does that mean?” I ask.

“You don't have to wait for me to figure it out. If you wanted, you could try-”

“That's not what I want!”

For some reason, that seems like the worst thing he's said to me. As though I want to be with someone else. Carter is who I want. Ever since the last few weeks when it's looked like it might actually be a real possibility, I can't pretend to myself that I'm not hopelessly, head over heels in love with him.

I wish I was brave enough to say that to him, but I'm not. Even admitting it to myself is a tough pill to swallow. Luckily Carter jumps back in before I have a chance to betray my feelings.

“It's not like that,” he says. He smiles at me. The real, genuine smile. “I need you to wait if you can while I figure this out. But I understand if you can't, that's all I'm saying. This is so new to me. And I'm really trying, because I know that I need to do it. For you.”

I'm amazed as always at his vulnerability. He's so coy all the time with his friends, and he's so good at controlling situations and the people around him. But there are chinks in the armor sometimes. And when he lets you in, it's so endearing.

I feel my anger being replaced with the need to care for him, understand him, and help him. Because at the end of the day, I really do get it. This isn't what I’d want to hear from him in a perfect world, but I have to respect that he's being honest. I can live with where he's at, at least for now.

I turn around and nestle myself back into Carter, and he tightens his grip around me. It makes me feel better. More than I like to admit, I feel the tension and worry leave my body and mind. This is exactly where I want to be.

Carter Mulkins. My pain and my pleasure. The wellspring of joy but the source of my sorrow. How can the person who tears you apart be the same person that holds you together?

Carter gives me a quick squeeze and kisses the back of my neck.

Fuck brushing my teeth. I'm not going anywhere.

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