Letting Go

Carina Press | Share

by Rebecca Baker

[candidate-vote-button button_text=”Vote for ‘Letting Go’!”]

Pitch

Two years ago Jace lost the love of his life in a car accident.

With his best friend Ben’s help, Jace is ready to start dating. Only, how do you find genuine dates when you’re in a famous rock band? Enter the internet.

Jace joins a dating site and meets Jericho, a SNAG who seems to like the same things as Jace.

Scared of moving on, Jace shares a secret with Ben and asks something of him that changes their friendship forever.

Jace is left confused about what he really wants… will he make his decision too late?

Chapter One – Jace

I’m nineteen.

Some say that’s the age of your life beginning, High school is over and it’s time to move on and start the journey to become the person you’re going to be for the rest of your life.

Go to college, or don’t. Get a Job, or don’t. Get a significant other, or don’t. The options are endless.

Except what if they’re not?

I’m nineteen and a year and a half ago I thought I was the luckiest kid alive. I had a family who supported me after I came out, a boyfriend who rocked my world and I was a drummer in a kick ass rock band.

Everything was perfect.

And then it wasn’t.

I’m nineteen and my life isn’t beginning, at least not for the first time.

**

“Come on, it’s been almost two years.” Ben said. “You haven’t dated anyone.”

He stood in the kitchen browsing the web on his laptop as he spoke. He glanced up at me for a moment, his blue eyes bored holes through mine as he spoke; and then he looked back down.

“I’ve been busy with the band.” I protested with a frown I couldn’t help but feel acute annoyance at the fact that Ben had noticed my lack of dating. Being as busy as I was, I was sure it was understandable and it wasn’t as though I was unhappy. It had been a tough two years since my first love Cris had died, but I’d come out the other side of it eventually. Dating just wasn’t important right now.

“I didn’t know Cris apart from the short time I saw you two together.” Ben noted. “But I know he’d want you to move on. There is a new dating site. It’s specifically for the LGBQT community. Maybe you could sign up?”

I shrugged, the idea of looking for a date on a computer weirded me out. Besides it wasn’t like there was a shortage of guys slipping me their numbers, especially after concerts. I just hadn’t found anyone I wanted to spend my time with. I had never liked the idea of meaningless sex either.

As a closet hopeless romantic, I wanted timeless storybook love, like the love my parents had. My two sisters had both found that sweet storybook kind of love too. Scarlett had fallen in love with my bandmate Xavier, even though once upon a time, they’d been almost enemies and Toni had met Ben’s older brother Ethan a while ago and it had been instant love. I wanted that too. I wanted the love I’d had with Cris, but even I knew I couldn’t be that lucky. Like lightning, true love wasn’t likely to strike twice.

“I’m on there.” Ben exclaimed. “Granted I haven’t found a date yet, but it’s mostly because I compare everyone to this one guy, and well… none of them measure up.”

I watched Ben critically, he didn’t look up this time. He closed the lid on his apple computer and drummed his fingers against the marble benchtop.

“Your ex, Mike?” I scoffed. “The one who ran off with Scarlett’s pool boy? Consider yourself lucky. The guy was a douche.” Douche with a capital D. He’d never been faithful to Ben. I could still remember the day I’d caught him and the pool boy together. My nostrils filled with the smell of chlorine at the memory. They had been mucking around in the chemical shed behind the house and I happened to be the lucky one who heard the banging. I had opened the door to see the pool boy and Ben’s boyfriend together and at the time had been tempted to grab a bottle of bleach from the shed to rinse out my eyes, but the bleach had been by Mike’s bare ass. I shuddered and brought myself back to reality, that day was in the past and as long as I was around, it and Mike would stay there.

I looked up at Ben again, he swallowed hard and ran his hands through his dark brown hair. “Yeah, Mike.” He replied with a cautious nod.

I shook my head and took a few steps until I stood beside him. Ben was attractive, more than, in fact and his ex, Mike was a tool. Ben could do so much better and it pissed me off, that he was comparing potential future guys against him, of all people. I chucked my arm over his shoulder and grinned.

“You can do better. Let’s have a look at this site. Then at least one of us can have a date yeah.”

Ben pulled his laptop off the bench and walked over to the couch, shrugging my arm off his shoulder as he moved. “Fine.”

Ben and I had been roommates for a while and it worked. I had needed to get out of mom and Dads, and he needed to rent a room out. He usually went on tour with Scarlett as her manager so I was here when he wasn’t, and he was here when I wasn’t. Despite our conflicting schedules, we had formed a strong friendship.

He sat down and opened the lid of his laptop again. I sat down beside him and looked at the screen. His profile was bland and the only picture was of Ben’s face from the year beforehand at our annual Christmas party. He looked just fine, but Ben was fine, not just fine.

“Dude. No wonder you haven’t been swept off your feet yet.” I remarked.

“I wasn’t showing you this for me.” Ben grumbled shutting the laptop. I rolled my eyes before looking up at his frowning face. I caught him in my gaze as I placed my hand over his and flicked the screen back up. “I’ll make you a deal.” I smiled.

Ben’s blue eyes hadn’t left mine, they flickered with interest and he smirked at me. “I’m listening.”

“I’ll make a profile, if you let me update yours.” I grinned. “Because bro, this is just sad.” I pointed at the year old photo and bare profile. We could and would do better. It wasn’t going to be too difficult when the one thing listed beside likes on Ben’s profile was wine, and only wine.

Ben’s gaze fell to the computer and he shrugged. “Sure.”

Granted, usually my hair brain schemes failed to work out, however this time I was filled with a good feeling. I stood up and pulled my phone from my pocket. Jay’s wife Isla had been a professional photographer for a few years now and I’d babysat their daughter Amber a few times on the promise of a favor should I need it. Judging by the year old drunken photo Ben currently had as his profile picture, I needed that favor now.

I felt a grin etch across my face while Ben watched me with caution. His lips were slightly apart, and I could see his tongue touching the backs of his bottom teeth. His eyes were wide and I could almost see the fear radiating from him. He tried to hide it by swallowing and shifting his body to the right, but I saw through it. He couldn’t hide his emotions from me. He had always been such an open book.

The phone rung twice before Isla answered. “Hey Jace. You okay?”

“You know that favor?” I asked, I kept my eyes on Ben’s. His widened eyes narrowed and he began to shake his head.

“Yeah?”

“You free for an hour?”

“Actually I am. Jay and Amber are at Gymboree. What’s up?” She exclaimed.

“Ben’s on a dating site and his profile is like a stale wine.” Ben he rolled his eyes at me and pursed his lips. “Can you come take some photos?”

Isla didn’t answer for quite a while, in fact at one point I pulled my phone back to check the call was still connected before she finally answered. “Yeah sure. Um, I’ll be over soon.” She sounded slightly confused, and while I wasn’t sure why, I needed the pictures so didn’t question it.

“Great. I’ll have coffee and cookies waiting.”

“Alright, alright Jace, you don’t need to bribe me, But if you’re making them… I want those white chocolate macadamia nut ones please!” Isla said, her tone was jovial again now. I smiled and walked across the floor into the kitchen.

“Done.” I laughed, the one thing I’d learned to cook while living at home was cookies.

I hung up and placed my phone down on the benchtop. I grinned as I looked back over at Ben who was staring at me now with more than a mere tinge of worry. “Photos?” He questioned as he stood up, now sounding as mortified as he looked.

“This picture is great. But you’re better than a drunken old head shot.” From an objective point of view Ben was gorgeous, and he didn’t even know it. It was one of the things I liked most about him, but it was also one of the things that annoyed me most.

“I am?” He replied as he bit his lip, his demeanor took a sudden turn and he looked uncertain and shy. It wasn’t like Ben to get like this. He’d always been so straight up and forthright. He had doubled as my sister’s protector on more than one occasion. So I really didn’t like it when he couldn’t see just how special he was.

I walked back across the room and placed my hands on Ben’s shoulders. He was slightly taller than me, and taller than Cris had been. I had meant to start talking, but as soon as I touched him the random thought of Cris had caught me off guard.

Ben was hot, and he was an amazing guy, if things were different, if I hadn’t been grieving in the first days of our friendship; then maybe he could have been the guy who ended up catching my interest, but that hadn’t happened. We were friends and I was comfortable with that, because at the end of the day Ben’s looks had never really mattered to me. He had always been this amazing guy as well, genuine and so comfortable in who he is. A complete catch for sure, but for some reason after Mike, he hadn’t dated. Now Ben was behaving insecure on a level that was so out of character for him, and I wasn’t sure why.

“You’re a catch man.” I said after moments of silence, my hands still sat flush on his shoulders.

Ben scoffed and walked away from me. My arms fell to my sides and I frowned. “I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be intimate.” He whispered. “Being a catch means nothing if the one person I want to be a catch for doesn’t feel the same way.”

“Mike is a knob head.” I groaned.

“It’s not Mike.” Ben stopped. His voice was tight, but loud and he sounded exasperated. He had never yelled at me before, and I instantly felt guilty for pushing him to that point. He began to move again, this time stopping at his bedroom door. “I’m sorry. This was a bad Idea, forget I mentioned it.”

He walked into the room and closed the door behind him. I tried to ignore the miffed feeling that washed over me. Ben and I weren’t just quite good friends, we were best friends. Best friends who told one another everything. Except he hadn’t told me about this new guy; and now he was yelling at me too? Something weird was going on.

I slumped on to the couch in front of Ben’s computer. My eyes stared at the screen and before a minute had even passed my curiosity had overwhelmed me. I clicked around the site, looking around the message boards and through profiles. It was obvious that some of the guys were just looking for sex, but that wasn’t the end of it. Some were definitely looking for more than that and one thing was for certain; the site had a bit of everything.

Time was getting away on me, I closed the laptop screen and looked around the apartment. The white walls were filled with pictures of our patchwork family. Pictures of Ben laughing and happy. This was the Ben people needed to see. The Ben I saw every day.

I stood up and walked across the plush grey carpet. I needed to make the promised cookies before Isla arrived. 1, to bribe her and 2, to bribe Ben.

I was going to have to ask him about the other guy later, while I tried not to get annoyed about him keeping it from me.

Lucky for me the smell of the cookies in the oven ended up being enough to tempt Ben from his room. He emerged far from happy however, slovenly sitting down at the breakfast bar without murmuring a single word. Although he wasn’t looking directly at me I could see that his bright blue eyes weren’t sparkling like usual, in fact they were dark and sunken.

“I shouldn’t have yelled at you. I’m sorry Jace.” He whispered after a minute. His voice was a polar opposite to when he’d stormed off. He almost sounded weak.

“Why didn’t you tell me there was someone else?”

“I just… I didn’t know how to.” He shrugged, his face lifted and his eyes met mine. All the frustration was gone now, all I could see was an aching defeat. Whoever this guy was had Ben tied up in knots.

“So who is he?” The words came out sounding jealous, which surprised me. I wasn’t jealous, just far too overprotective for my own good.

Ben dipped his head and looked away again. “It doesn’t matter because it’s completely one-sided.”

I frowned and pulled him into a hug. “I’m sorry man, he doesn’t know what he is missing then.” He pulled back from my arms the instant I placed them around him. I frowned, I’d overstepped the mark. He didn’t want to go to deep in to it, and here I was pressuring him.

He walked over to the couch while I walked back into the kitchen to clean up the remnants of cookie dough off the flour covered counter top.

“You looked around I see.” He noted as he clicked around on his computer.

“It’s an interesting site.” I admitted, I looked up to gauge Ben’s reaction. With widened eyes, he smiled.

“So you’re going to do it… Take the plunge and date again?” He question, his pain had all but disappeared. In that instant, he was himself again.

“We’ll see. Let’s update your profile first, and then work on mine. Okay?”

Ben nodded and pulled the laptop up on to his jean covered legs. “Sounds like a plan.”

Isla arrived just as the cookies were being taken from the oven. She walked in, stopping to whisper something to Ben. Ben shushed her before he got up and walked into the kitchen. “Coffee?”

“Yes please.” She murmured. I looked up at her and smiled, but she frowned and narrowed her eyes. It confused me, but I chose to ignore it. “Okay, so I was thinking for Ben’s profile pictures you should at least get some full body ones. I mean, dudes got a killer bod, and a great personality. He should be a hot commodity right.”

Isla nodded slowly, her jaw tensed and her mouth set in a hard line, she looked over at Ben. “Are you sure about this Ben. Wouldn’t it just be easier if you…”

“Isla, its fine.” He warned, I noticed his eyes were darker than before. He placed a cup of coffee on the bench in front of Isla and shrugged. “Please.”

She let out a dismissive sigh before she picked up a still warm cookie from the tray. “Let’s get started then.”

Isla was a professional, she knew how to make someone look like they were born to model. It didn’t matter what they looked like, or who they were. The light in the apartment bounced around, and even I could see that the ambience was perfect. I watched as Ben’s insecurities slowly faded to nothing and before long, like all of Isla’s subjects before he looked like a male model. Isla stopped after a few minutes, she turned to look at me with a glint in her green eyes.

“I’ve got an idea.” She murmured as she placed the camera down on the glass top coffee table. She didn’t explain any further, instead she walked across the floor to where Ben stood. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, their voices were too low, but I could see the sudden look of anguish on Ben’s face. His eyes flitted over to me for a moment and then all color faded from his face until he was so pale, he could almost pass for a ghost. He looked away and removed his shirt. I was confused, but drawn in to him until I was so caught up in the moment I couldn’t look away. He was surprisingly muscular, the light that had bounced through the window only minutes ago now surrounded him like an angelic glow. He tensed his biceps, and I had to force myself I looked away. Something washed over me, a surge of something… primal. I turned around and picked a clean glass up off the bench. I filled it to the brim with cold tap water, my throat burned with thirst, although I wasn’t all that sure why. The temperature in the apartment felt like it had risen a few degrees, it had to be the reason I was feeling so flustered. I gulped the water back, and although it cooled the back of my burning throat it didn’t do anything to cure the thirst.

“Happy?” Ben spoke to Isla in the same tone he’d used toward me earlier, he was losing his patience. I turned back and looked at Isla, who seemed to be ignoring his mood. She nodded before walking back to her camera. My eyes drifted across the room and stopped once more on Ben. His sculpted chest was like a forbidden fruit. I found myself wanting to touch his skin just because he looked so good. As superficial as it was I had to admit my best friend was sending my lust meter in to overdrive. I looked down at the bench again and lifted my hands to my head, I tried to steady my breathing as I pulled my hands down my face in frustration. Ben was right, I needed to get out more. Staring at my friend like he was a piece of meat wasn’t healthy.

“Jace…” Isla called. She was staring at me, and I wondered as I looked back at her, how long she had been waiting for my attention. I gave her my best happy, non pervy smile.

“Yeah?” My voice was a little prepubescent teenage boy, but I hoped they hadn’t noticed. Isla smiled back at me while pointing back and forth between Ben and I.

“I said I want to do a couple of you too.” She murmured. She picked up her camera and fiddled with the lens.

“Huh? I don’t need photo’s I already have a heap.” I complained. Being the drummer of a world famous rock band had taken care of that. I had enough photos of myself to cover the walls of my bedroom… twice if I wanted to.

“No, for my portfolio. You know I focus on the human body and love. I need a shot of boys.”

Boys. Plural. Me and Ben. Why did I suddenly feel nauseated and frozen with fear?

Boys?” I croaked. “As in?”

“You and Ben together.” She shrugged. Her eyes tracked to Ben, but I didn’t stop looking at her. What was her deal? Ben and I weren’t like that and she wasn’t likely to get the chemistry she needed for her shots. I’d seen her portfolio, it was all about love and sex. Something I had limited experience with. Besides our apartment was hardly the place to stage a professional shoot.

“You’re kidding right?” I grumbled. She had to be.

“No.” She said evenly, she looked back at me and smiled. “You’re both gorgeous boys. Please. You’d be doing me a favor, so technically I’d still owe you and today was just an extra freebie.”

“Don’t force him Isla. He clearly doesn’t want to.” Ben exclaimed. He still stood there topless in the lounge and now had his arms wrapped around himself, causing his biceps to bulge even more. I swallowed back the ball of something that was still in the back of my throat.

“It’s just we’re best friends. The photos will only be good enough for an awkward family photo website.” I complained, although, with these crazy, inappropriate feelings I was having, maybe it would be hot. Too hot.

“I’m a pretty good Photographer Jace. I think you can trust me.” She replied.

I sighed and looked back at Ben. “And you’re okay with this?”

I was beginning to regret this idea. All I had wanted was some nice photos of Ben for his profile, not photos of us together. It just seemed weird.

“Yeah, I guess.” He shrugged.

My lips twitched. If he was okay with this, then why wasn’t I? Why couldn’t I pose with my best friend? I forced the thoughts of Ben’s beautiful biceps from my mind and called it momentary insanity.

“Fine. Where do you want me?” I said looking around the room. Ben stood by the wall closest to the bathroom. It was bare of picture frames and solid white, just clean cut enough to pass for professional I guess.

Isla grinned and pointed at Ben. I walked across the room, stopping beside my half naked best friend. “Alright. Take your shirt off.” She ordered.

“How the fuck did me calling to get Ben some shots turn into this?” I asked Isla.

She smiled and took a bite of a cookie before twisting something on her oversized camera. “Truth is, I’ve been wanting to ask you both for a while. I wanted to add lovers of all kinds to my portfolio.”

Lovers?

“We’re not lovers.” I mumbled taking my shirt off, I ignored the immediate self-consciousness that dawned on me as I stood next to Ben, The quicker this was done, the better. “And finding gay talent isn’t that hard, especially in LA.”

“I didn’t want just anyone Jace.” She replied.

“Huh?”

“She wanted you. She wanted Jace from Going Nowhere.” Ben said sounding miffed. “Didn’t you.”

I tilted my head, was that true? Did she just want me because of my celebrity status, because it was unlike Isla to use anyone like that. Isla shook her head emphatically and looked at Ben with narrowed eyes.

“I wanted both of you, I thought you were comfortable with each other, clearly I was mistaken. Put your shirts back on. I’ll find someone else to fulfil that part of my portfolio.”

I frowned, guilt pinched my gut and I felt bad. I’d seen Isla’s work. She was amazing. She had an eye for detail. She knew how to make things work and for some reason she thought this would. I forced a deep breath through my restricted chest and turned to face Ben. He looked down at me, His blue eyes hooked into mine.

“We’re comfortable with each other right?” I asked, although I wasn’t sure who the question was directed at. Him, or me.

“Yes.” Ben replied, his eyes didn’t move from mine and I felt safe.

“Then we’re in.” The words left my lips, and I was surprised to find that instant regret hadn’t followed.

“Yay!” Isla jumped up and down on the spot like we were kids who had just agreed to play her favorite game. Like the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland, she grinned and stepped forward her hand grabbed mine. She placed it on Ben’s shoulder, the place where I had put my hands before of my own accord. Except this time there was less clothing, I could feel his hot smooth skin underneath the palm of my hand. I had to focus on my breathing, because for some reason being this close to a half-naked Ben was having an effect on my body that I couldn’t control. Isla lifted Ben’s arms and placed them around my back. Then, with little eloquence, she pushed us in to one another until my head rest against his chest. It was nice and he felt warm. It was a strange reaction, but for the first time in two years I felt like I could move on, I felt safe with him. Only this wasn’t real. It was pretend. I had not been this close to another man like this since Cris. That had to explain my reaction and it had to explain the raging hard on I was currently sporting…. Right?

Because this was Ben. My friend. My Best friend.

“Stay just like that.” She murmured as she walked back to her camera. She took a few pictures, then stopped and tilted her head. “You guys look amazing together, and after the first couple of shots you looked less like deer in headlights too. Just relax. This is all in the name of art.”

I nodded. Art, right.

Isla looked between Ben and I and smiled. It felt like she could see something I couldn’t, her eyes danced like she knew something, and had I been capable of speech I’d have asked her what.

She placed her camera down and walked back to us. Without a word she had Ben kneel on the ground in front of me. I couldn’t look down at him, afraid that seeing Ben at that angle might send a barrage of images through my head that I might never be able to recover from. Except looking at Ben was exactly what Isla wanted me to do. She placed one of my hands on his head and let the other hang at my side. Ben’s right arm stretched up, resting against my chest, while the fingers on his other hand hooked through the loops of my jeans. She guided his lips to my hip bone and I gulped as they grazed against my skin.

Isla walked back to her spot, and for a second I couldn’t compose myself. I let my head hang back. This was just too much. I heard the click of the camera before I looked down at Ben. His eyes connected with mine. They were heavy lidded and dark, I took solace in the fact he seemed to be affected by this too.

We stood there for a minute, just staring at one another, caught up in a weird, yet erotic pose.

“Guys, I think I’ve got enough.” Isla said after what seemed like forever. “You two have great chemistry. The pictures look hot.”

I could hear Isla talking, but my body wasn’t reacting as fast as I wanted it too. Ben pulled away quicker, grabbing his shirt before he stood up. “Uh, well. That was fun.” He mumbled.

“Yeah. I guess so.” I replied.

“I’ll email those profile shots to you once I get home okay Jace.” Isla smiled as she packed her stuff up. “I had better get home.”

“Mmmhmm.” I murmured as I found my own shirt and pulled it on.

“See you later.”

“Uh. Bye.” I called out.

Ben walked Isla out the front door. I stood on the spot mulling over what the fuck had just happened. My body wasn’t in the habit of going against my mind, but for some reason seeing Ben like that had sparked my libido. Before Ben could return I grabbed a towel and slipped into the bathroom.

I turned the stainless steel nozzle in the shower only enough to heat the water slightly. The unfamiliar temperature caused me to gasp as I stepped inside. I let my head hang as the water rushed over my shoulders. I refused to acknowledge the fact I was hard as a rock, or the reason why. I wasn’t a stranger to boners, I had them frequently. But Ben and I were friends, it was how I had always seen him and how I wanted it to stay. Accepting my current state meant accepting it was him who had caused it. I wasn’t going to throw a friendship away on the basis of momentary lust. It took too long for the hardness to dissipate, but eventually it did. I dried myself off and walked out of the bathroom with a towel around my waist. Ben started talking the minute the door opened.

“Isla sent me the pics well, they’re through already. They turned out alright, want to…” His voice trailed off once he looked up at me. I stood there for a minute and shrugged. “Uh sure, I’ll just go chuck some clothes on.” I replied answering his unfinished question.

Ben nodded and looked back down. “I’ll get back to this then.”

I walked into my room and sat down on my bed. The bed I hadn’t shared with anyone. Clearly this sudden reaction to Ben was due to my lack of a love life. I still loved Cris, I always would. But it was time to move on. The only problem was, being in the public eye had always made things harder. Even before I was the famous one. Being a recognizable face made finding love near impossible.

And those notes I received after concerts were mostly slipped to me on the sly by ‘straight’ guys who were standing right in front of me hand in hand with their girlfriends. They were hardly in it for commitment. Suddenly Ben’s idea of a profile on the dating site seemed like an unlikely perfect solution.

Operation Jace’s Life 2.0


Chapter Two – Jace

I discarded the towel as I pulled on a pair of old track pants and a t-shirt. Inside the apartment I wasn’t Jace, the drummer for going nowhere. I was just Jace. Comfort was key, here I didn’t need to impress anyone.

When I walked back into the now dimly lit living room Ben was still looking at his computer, although he looked a little conflicted. I sat down beside him, and focused on what had his attention. He looked amazing. Isla really knew her shit.

“I look like a try hard.” He mumbled scrolling through the photos one by one. I ignored the annoyance I felt at his continued self-doubt and smiled. There was no way he looked like a try hard, in fact as I had guessed he looked like a goddamn model. They were all amazing shots, but there was one that really stood out to me, more than the others and I found myself saying “stop” in a desperate voice.

Ben stopped. I leaned across him, for a moment my hand rest against his leg as I took control of the mouse and scrolled back two photos. I held back an audible gasp, the picture was pure perfection. He had been leaning against the wall with one leg up, his jeans were low slung and his dark blue shirt was pulled up slightly by his hand, showing just a smidgen of his hipbone. The pose was amazing, but it was his face that had really caught my attention. His blue eyes jumped out of the screen and sunk right down deep in to the cavities of my soul. He had the hint of a smile on his face, he looked playful and cheeky and it was nice to see. They were after all things Ben usually was, but hadn’t been for some time.

“That one.” I murmured leaning back. I didn’t look away from it, I couldn’t.

“That one what?”

“That’s your new profile picture.”

“You sure. I mean, maybe I could just go with the status quo…” He sounded unsure and self-conscious, as self-conscious as I had been when I’d been standing next to him without a shirt on. Except he was unfounded in his worry, his current photo was nothing compared to this. I turned to look at Ben, my eyes narrowed. “Ben. Isla took photos, 100% better than that old thing. Bite the bullet. Live a little.” He looked back at me. His face softened a little, but I could see the insecurity still present.

“You promise you will too?” He whispered after a quick pause “You’ll make a profile.”

“Yes. I promise Ben.” And I meant it, I had to take my own advice, or I was just being a hypocrite.

He let out an over dramatic sigh and clicked on the photo. Once it was uploaded to the profile he removed his old photo. “There.” He huffed. “Done.”

“Hardly.” I laughed as I pulled the laptop from him. He didn’t stop me, but I could feel his eyes stab at me like daggers. I turned to look at him, his entire face was dark. “Bro, I’m insulted. You’re my best friend. I’m not going to be a jerk okay. Truth is I know you better than most people, probably better than you know yourself.”

“Fine. Whatever. I’m going to have a shower. Go for your life Jace.” He huffed as he pushed himself up off the couch and walked across the apartment to the bathroom. I sighed, he’d obviously climbed out of the wrong side of bed this morning, because it almost seemed like he’d been angry with me all day.

Once he was gone and I could hear the shower water running I started giving his profile a much needed makeover.

Job: Tour Manager for major record label

Age: 24

Likes: Singing, Having junk food laced movie marathons, hanging out with my friends, Traveling and Wine.

Dislikes: Cheaters, Arrogance, people with no sense of humor, and stale cake.

Blurb: I’m a great guy with a great sense of humor. If you don’t like to laugh then click away right now. Life is too short to stuff it with seriousness 24/7. Hit me up if you want to meet for coffee or a movie and we can talk.

I smiled and pressed save edit before placing the laptop down. I was in the kitchen grabbing a bottle of juice when Ben returned. He sat down and I heard him chuckle. “Okay Jace… Not bad. I’ve even received a message already.”

I smiled as I sipped on the sweet mango flavored beverage. I knew once Ben actually advertised the real him, guys would come running. “What does it say?”

Ben grinned back at me and his face reddened. He shook his head and shrugged. “Oh never mind, It’s kind of dirty actually.”

I laughed and walked back over to the couch because I could tell there was no way Ben was going to read it out loud. I looked down at the screen and there, in big bold underlined letters Ben’s message jumped right out of the screen at me.

Hey hot stuff. You look like a hot piece of ass. Want to meet up and fuck? No strings attached.

“Oh my god.” I choked out, I had expected dirty, but the straight out booty call had caught this rather naïve boy off guard. “Well… do you?” My mouth was inexplicably dry, and I was even a little afraid of Ben’s answer. I just wasn’t 100% sure why.

Ben shrugged. “Maybe. It’s been a long time you know. A boy can only please himself for so long.”

I frowned. I didn’t see Ben as the casual sex kind of guy, in fact the only guy I’d seen him with since we’d moved in together was Mike and that moron was long gone. I shook my head and pointed to the picture-less sender. “Dude, he could be a serial killer.”

“Yeah, maybe.” He laughed and clicked the delete message button. “Just for the record Jace, I’m not in to that. I like to at least like and know the people I sleep with.”

“Hey nothing to do with me.” I replied. I had tried to sound nonchalant, but it came out dismissive, like I really didn’t care at all, which wasn’t the case. I took another swig from my juice and sunk further into the couch.

“I guess I have to hold up my end of the deal huh.” I said after a minute.

“Well you did promise” He grinned, our eyes locked. “Only morons and jerks back out of promises.”

The laptop sat on Ben’s thighs like a loaded gun. I wasn’t sure I ready to take this step, even with the weird lusty afternoon; but I had to try.

“Alright. But no face pics. I don’t need anyone knowing who I am. Not yet.” I also didn’t need countless media outlets covering stories on how ‘Jace Jackson is finally moving on.’ I just wanted to test the water and if it didn’t work, I wanted to be able to back away quietly and pretend it never happened.

“What kind of picture then?” Ben mused. I looked back at him and his gaze had fallen far south. With mock shock I playfully shoulder barged him, he let out a laugh so natural that it filled the room with light.

“Relax I was kidding. Um actually I think I have the perfect shot.” Ben exclaimed scrolling through his pictures. He stopped at a set from the beach trip we’d done a couple of months before hand. I was topless, standing out on a sand dune as the sun was hitting the horizon, the sky was lined with pink, orange and then a vivid shade of lilac, it had been a picturesque sunset, like the entire sky was made of rainbows. His photo had been taken at the point where my entire body was a silhouette, I was surrounded by the beautiful light, but I was just a shadow. It was amazing, and I hadn’t even known it existed. I leaned forward again and ran my fingers over the screen.

“I didn’t know you took this.” I mumbled, shocked at the perfection of everything he had captured.

“Yeah. Isla’s been giving me lessons. I didn’t want to say anything, that’s probably why she was weird today actually.” He said softly.

“Dude, that’s really good. Is there anything you can’t do?” I asked honestly. In the two years we had known each other Ben had proven himself to be a Jack of all trades, but this really took the cake.

“Oh, believe me. There is plenty I can’t do.” He replied, his voice suddenly became tight and constricted.

“Well that is definitely the one. You’re right.” I agreed, confused by his 180 degree turn.

We spent the next 25 minutes setting up a profile. By the time we were finished the sun had set and the living room was thrust into darkness. Ben stood up and turned on the light.

“You hungry? I was thinking about calling in for Thai food.” Ben mumbled as he walked over to the bench. He left his laptop on the coffee table.

The mere mention of food set off the grumbling in my stomach. “Yes. Starved.”

He picked up a Thai takeaway pamphlet and walked into his room. A few minutes later, while he was on the phone his laptop beeped. My profile had a new message. I picked the computer up and clicked on the little red envelope.

Hey!

I saw your profile in the new members list, Welcome to the site. To be honest your profile has been the most interesting I’ve seen in a while. Also listing Drummer as your occupation is hardcore.

Anyway, I just wanted to reach out and say hey.

–                      Jericho

I smiled, grateful my first message was a little more intelligible than the one Ben had received. I clicked on Jericho’s name and his profile opened up. I opened his photos and clicked through. He was so gorgeous that his face alone almost corroded my insides to the point of sludge. His lips were curved into a smile that touched his intense blue eyes, making them pop beyond belief. But not only was his face perfect, so was everything else, his hair was short and dirty blonde, He was muscular and tall… 6″2, taller than me. I shivered and licked my lips. Sure, he was attractive, but the meant nothing if his personality was subpar. I looked away from his picture, even though the superficial side of me could have probably stared at him all night.

I clicked back into his profile and read through it. Surprisingly, we had familiar tastes and by the look of his occupation, the same sense of humor. I took a deep breath, I could do this, I could take a leap of faith.

I hit reply and typed a message back.

Hey Jericho.

Thanks for the welcome! My friend introduced me to the site because I’ve kind of been a hermit crab the last couple of years.

I am a drummer, that’s not a lie, although when I said I sky dive on a weekly basis for shits and giggles I was lying. I’m deathly afraid of heights.

I checked your profile out. I gather Ape whispering isn’t your actual job?

–                      J

Before ben returned another message popped into my inbox. I was shocked by my heart thumping and the anticipation I had felt while waiting for his reply.

J,

I work in a call center. Therefore I am an actual ape whisperer. Sometimes I wonder if I should call animal planet to offer my services.

So… a musician huh? A drummer too. Well I do like a boy with rhythm. 😉

Do you want to chat on IM? I’ve added you as a friend, friend me then we can chat.

–                      Jericho… The Ape Whisperer.

I let out an audible laugh just as Ben walked back into the living room. “Everything all good man?” He murmured. For some reason I felt like I’d be caught out, so I quickly hit sign out and put Ben’s laptop down on the coffee table.

“Yeah man, I’m good. Uh… I’m going to go lie down for a bit. Call me when food is here okay?” I stood up and looked over at my bedroom door I’d barely put Ben’s computer down, but I was already eager to log back in on my own computer. Eager to talk to Jericho.

Ben sighed loud enough to capture my attention, I looked back over at him but before I could ask what was wrong, he nodded. His lips were pursed, “Figures.” He whispered under his breath.

“What does?” I replied, confused.

“Nothing. Yeah I’ll call you.” He replied.

I was tempted to press the issue, but after the day we’d already had; I didn’t want to make him angry at me again. Instead I smiled and walked into my room. I bee lined for my desk, by the time I had woken my laptop, found the website and signed in to accept his friend request; five minutes had passed. Jericho was probably gone, along with my chance to chat with him tonight. Except the moment I signed in a chat screen popped up.

Jericho82 – Your picture is…. Artsy.

J-Drum – Thanks, my friend took it.

Jericho82 – Friend or friend.

J-Drum – Friend. We’re not like that… He’s the one that told me to join this site actually.

Jericho82 – Good… So what are you looking for…?

J-Drum – Don’t laugh okay…

Jericho82 – Never.

J-Drum – I’m a one guy type of guy. My first relationship started a couple of years ago and we were together for a while…. I’m not looking for um… casual sex.

Jericho82 – *grins* Well… Seems we’ve stumbled upon each other out of fate then, I’m a relationship kind of guy too.

J-Drum – Oh. Great 😀

Jericho82 – So, what do you do for fun?

J-Drum – Music is my job and my source of fun, it sounds lame, but I promise it’s not. What about you.

Jericho82 – I play soccer, or any other kind of sport. Something where most of the communication is with my body rather than my mouth….. Although I communicate pretty well with my mouth… both verbally and non-verbally.

J-Drum – I see what you did there 😉

Jericho82 – I hoped you would.

A knock at the door interrupted the chat with Jericho just as it was taking an interesting turn. My face was warm with lust. I pulled the laptop screen down as the door opened, and it was like I’d just been caught with my hand in the cookie jar again. Ben poked his head inside my room, he was holding a smoothie. “I made too much. You want?”

I nodded and stood up, walking toward him. He looked over at the laptop and dipped his head as he held the drink out to me. “There.” I took the glass and he turned around quickly. “Sorry I’ll let you get back to whatever.”

I frowned at the door after he shut it, he was still acting weird and I needed to figure out why. I sat back down at my desk and told Jericho I’d chat later, Ben was more important right now. I walked out of the room holding the smoothie and sat down at the breakfast bar. Ben was cleaning up the bench. He looked up and smiled. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, I uh, was just chatting to some guy.” I murmured. “Are you okay dude?”

“A dude huh? You work fast.”

“Me?” I said defensively. “He messaged me!”

“Relax Jace. Of course he messaged you.” Ben picked his glass up off the bench and took a long sip. He looked down at his fingers for a while after then took a long breath. “You know how you say I’m a good catch? You’re like the premium version of me Jace. You’re the catch.” Ben walked out of the kitchen, back over to his laptop and sat down.

The catch?” I repeated, enunciating my words the way he had.

“You have guys literally falling at your feet. You’ve never really taken any notice of it before, but I have. You’re the cake everyone wants to eat and have too.” Ben mumbled. He pulled his laptop on to his knees. “Guys like me, we’re the crumbs.”

I frowned, a surge of anger pulsated through me. Ben somehow believe he was the equivalent of crumbs, how? He was gorgeous, amazing, and one of the greatest guys I’d ever known. If anything, next to him I looked like a teenager still going through his last spat of puberty, not to mention that I still acted like a kid sometimes. I put my glass down and pointed at him. He tilted his head, he seemed confused by my expression.

“I’m not better than you Ben, and if you ever insinuate that again, I’ll be forced to prove it.” I replied.

“Oh yeah, How?” he laughed “by pointing at me?”

“I’ll think of something.”

And then I stood there, staring at him, unable to move or speak. There was something unspoken between us and I couldn’t figure it out. He was holding something back, and before I could ask him what it was an ill-timed knock at the door broke the moment. Ben leapt to his feet and walked over to the door, leaving me standing there, still dumbfounded by my reaction. It wasn’t like me to be like that, I was usually so quick to make jokes to lighten a situation, but this time I couldn’t. Ben returned and placed the take out on the bench in the kitchen.

“You alright man?” He asked, breaking me from my frozen silence.

“Yeah.” I managed to croak before I turned to face him. “Kind of hungry though.”

“You’re always hungry Jace.”

“I’m still growing.” I protested as I picked up a container of Thai food. “Besides, Thai is my favorite.”

I was thankful that the presence of food seemed to make the tension in the room disintegrate. Today had been strange, and I still wasn’t any closer to figuring what was messing Ben up; but a least things had hit an equilibrium.

“So Scarlett mentioned that Going Nowhere might be doing a charity concert soon.” Ben exclaimed.

I swallowed my mouthful of food and nodded. DJ was in the middle of organizing it. The location hadn’t been decided yet, but ever since the success of the one off concert we’d done in the park for Scarlett and Xavier’s wedding it had been on the cards. “Still in the planning stages, but you know DJ he can organize something in a split second. Scarlett was planning on joining, I know that much, will you come too?” I smiled, hopeful that he would.

Ben nodded. “Yeah, but it’s not like I’m really needed.”

“Nonsense, you make the road so much easier for Scarlett and we can hang out. Go shoot some pool or something.” I suggested with a smile. We hadn’t been on the road at the same time before, so it would be a novelty experience.

“Shoot pool?” Ben questioned putting his fork down. He stared at me with an amused smile. “Really? Fly all the way to some random city to play a game of pool together”

“Or something else.” I resisted the urge to stick my tongue out in jest. “We should hang out more you know.”

“Yeah. We should” He agreed, his voice was quiet and for a moment the inexplicable weirdness returned.

After dinner Ben disappeared into his room, and I disappeared into mine. Jericho was back online when I logged in and before I could do anything else a chat box popped up.

Jericho82 – You’re back, I was afraid I scared you off.

J-Drum – Why would you think that?

Jericho82 – Mentioning my mouth skills. A little too soon?

J-Drum – Nah, my roomie just happened to walk in. I liked what you said…

Jericho82 – is that so? So where are you exactly?

J-Drum – LA

Jericho82 – Ha, I’m not sure you could get further away if you tried. I’m in Chicago.

J-Drum – That is a fair distance. I’ve been to Chicago a few times though for work.

Jericho82 – Any plans to visit the city any time soon?

J-Drum – I’m not sure. I’ll be sure to let you know.

Jericho82 – Good, cos I’d like to get to know you better, and show you what I can do.

I let out a breath that I hadn’t been aware I was holding. I licked my lips and ran my hand over my crotch. This hadn’t been about sex, but that didn’t matter. It seemed some kind of sexual awakening was being forced upon me by my hormones whether I wanted it or not. It had been hard enough to stop myself when Cris had been alive. The pent up sexual frustration had led to many cold showers back then, but now it was different. I was older, wiser and most importantly I was beginning to feel ready. Fear still ran through my veins. Here was a guy, who had experience, something I had so little of. I looked at my bedroom door, and thought about Ben. I’d seen him with his ex. Even if the Mike was a douche and treated Ben like shit, they’d had a sexual relationship. Maybe Ben could help, maybe he had advice for me.

It didn’t matter right now, I had time to figure it out. Who knew when I’d see the guy? For now I could enjoy the getting to know him part and while I got to know him, I could ask Ben what I needed to know.

J-Drum – I’d like that too.


Chapter Three – Jace

Sex wasn’t something Ben and I talked about, so it was no surprise that I couldn’t gather up the courage to speak to him about it for just over a week. In that time, Jericho and I had spoken a lot but I hadn’t been able to express my inexperience with him either, or the insecurity that followed it.

It was now or never, because I couldn’t live my life in fear of the unknown anymore.

“Ben, I need your help.” I exclaimed, as I walked out of my room. I looked over at him, just as he raised his head to glance up at me. I held the eye contact, if I looked away I would wuss out. I walked all the in to the living room and sat on the couch across from him.

“Sure, what’s up?” He smiled at me, and it sent a rush of nerves through me from head to toe. I shrugged the feeling off. It wasn’t like me to feel nervous around Ben, but this time was different.

“I need to ask about… uh sex.” My voice was quiet, so quiet I wasn’t sure he had heard me, but I continued anyway, I had to get it all out in one go. “I haven’t kissed anyone in almost 2 years Ben. Last week, with you and the photoshoot… that was the closest to another guy I’ve been since then too.” I didn’t drop the eye contact as difficult as it was because I wanted to catch his reaction. His eyes narrowed slightly, but the smile stayed. He shrugged and looked back down at his laptop. “It’s like riding a bicycle Jace, you don’t forget how to kiss or have sex.”

If only it were that easy.

“Cris and I, we never… I’m still a…” I frowned and looked down, the words I needed to say weren’t forming like I needed them too, and I was too busy trying to hide the redness in my face to think about anything else. I took a deep breath and spoke slowly “I was still a minor and we decided to wait to do everything.” I couldn’t believe I was saying what I was. Ben and I had never talked about our past boyfriends, at least not like this.

“Oh, sorry. I just thought…. Wait, what have you done exactly?” Ben sounded surprised, and the heat in my face intensified. My eyes flicked up and caught Ben’s once more, they were wide and I could see he was more than a little confused. I shifted uncomfortably on the couch, talking about this was doing strange things to my head. I clenched my jaw and shrugged.

“Kissed and stuff.” We had kissed all the time, and the stuff was irregular a grope now and then, but Cris had always stopped before things went too far. At the time it had filled me with frustration, but I understood his reasons. Reasons that back then had made sense.

“Stuff being?” he whispered, his face softened and he pushed the laptop to the side of the couch.

“Touching. I wanted to do more, but Cris wanted me to wait.” I admitted, I had agreed to it because we were meant to have forever. Only it hadn’t worked out like that and when he had died I wasn’t sure I would ever want to go there with anyone else. Enough time had passed to help me to see that Cris wasn’t coming back, and sooner or later I’d have to move on.

Ben frowned and then pointed at his computer.

“This guy online… Jericho, that’s his name right? Does he know how inexperienced you are?” Ben said after a long pause. “Did you tell him?”

“No, why would I? It’s hardly a freaking turn on.” I mumbled. ‘Hi, I’m Jace and I have no idea how to have sex.’ Sounded like some kind of anti-pick up line. Who would want someone who was terrible in bed? No one.

Ben’s eyebrows lifted once more and a smirk crossed his face. It was like he was in on a joke I’d missed. He stood up, then walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge, standing in front of it for a few moments before he pulled out an orange juice and turned to face me again, the same amused look was ever present on his face. “Why would you think it’s not a turn on Jace?”

How was he so calm? How was talking about this not flushing his cheeks red like it was mine? I swallowed back a ball of nerves and looked down at the ground. I couldn’t say this while I looked at Ben, even if I had been the one to go to him.

“Because I’ll fumble, I’ll be too rough, or too soft.” I ran a palm over my face and mumbled beneath my breath. “Or I’ll come too fast.”

I looked back up. Ben wasn’t smirking anymore. His face seemed to be almost apologetic. His eyes were soft but still wide and while he wasn’t smiling, he wasn’t frowning either. He looked away from me and opened the lid of his drink and chugged half of it down in one go.

“Jace, you’ll be fine.” He said. “But don’t give it up for just anyone okay? This Jericho guy better be worth it.”

He had a point, Jericho and I had only been talking since last week. It was hardly the love affair of the century. So far our chats had been laced with innuendos and sexual flirtation, but that didn’t mean it was love. Far from it. I looked at Ben, really looked at him and tilted my head. He made me feel safe, and cared for me. He always had. I guess I even loved him, in an ‘I trust you with my life’ kind of way. Maybe that was what I needed.

“What about you?” I questioned barely giving myself the time to think about the situation or the possible consequences.

“Huh?” He almost dropped the bottle in the sink, all color drained from his face and he looked more than a little shocked. Finally during this sex chat I’d caught him on the back foot. I held back a grin and shrugged.

“Teach me.” I replied, surprised by how much I actually wanted him to say yes.

His flickering blue eyes burned through mine, and it was then that I realized how ridiculous it must have sounded. But Ben had experience and I needed experience. I couldn’t go into a new relationship with someone else knowing nothing. Not after everything I’d been through. It was scary enough even considering opening myself up to someone new in the first place.

“Jace, no. I can’t.” He finally replied after he sculled the rest of the juice back like it was vodka.

“Why?” I asked, even though I knew why, but my curiosity and fear of failing powered me to investigate further.

“Because we’re friends Jace and what you’re proposing would seriously mess with that.” He said without skipping a beat. I frowned because I knew he was right, even though I wouldn’t admit it.

“How?” I found myself saying anyway, as I stood up to walk over to the breakfast bar.

“Because it would change everything.” He replied, his voice was becoming less jovial now. I could tell I was pissing him off, but still I couldn’t let it go. I didn’t want to let it go.

“It doesn’t have to change anything. Not if we both know what we’re doing it for. Please, I’m scared of falling in love again as it is, I don’t want to overthink the physical stuff, and I trust you with my life” I laid it all out on the line. It was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

He dropped his free hand down on to the bench top, loud enough to cause me to jump from the thud that followed.

“The right guy won’t have you overthinking the physical stuff Jace.” He murmured, he sounded frustrated, but his voice was still laced with softness. I knew he still wanted to help me, just not like this. This was the help I needed though, the confidence booster, the buffer to the start of a new life.

“That’s not true… After what happened with Cris, I’m always going to overthink everything to do with love and sex. Don’t you get that?” I frowned.

Ben’s posture changed. He turned and chucked the plastic bottle into the recycling bin, then ran his hand through the soft dark brown curls. He looked down for a moment and then back up at me. He bit his lip and walked out of the kitchen until he stood right in front of me at the breakfast bar. His hand fell from behind his neck until it grazed my jawline and settled on my chin, he lifted my head slightly. “Even a touch as small as this one could mess up our friendship Jace. Don’t you understand?” his voice was low, so low I could barely hear it over the sound of my thudding heart.

“But it’s not.” I murmured, I took a shallow breath, his touch was affecting me more than I was willing to let on, or willing to understand.

“Not yet.” He replied, as his hand moved, his fingers trailed up over my cheek, stretching up through my hair. His touch was a welcome distraction, something I hadn’t felt in forever. My stomach knotted and then, without any notice, his hand fell away from my face. “But eventually someone always gets hurt.”

“We don’t need to be like that Ben. We can have an agreement.” I wanted him to touch me again, I wasn’t even sure it was about learning anymore.

“An agreement?” He said pursing his lips. I could tell by his reaction that he thought the idea of an agreement was ludicrous. “So we can have sex but a piece of paper will stop us from fucking our friendship up?”

I nodded. I knew he was being sardonic, but I knew we were strong enough to come through anything, I had faith in us as friends. I wanted to learn and I wanted to know what to do. But more than anything else, I wanted him to touch me again, and if writing down rules was what needed to be done; then I’d sign the hell out of it. I wanted Ben to be my teacher.

“You’re serious.” He said stepping back, screwing his face up like I’d just sprayed vomit scented air freshener.

“Yes.” I murmured, I hadn’t started this conversation with the intention of steering it in this direction. But now the idea had fallen in to my lap, it seemed like a perfect solution to a difficult situation.

“Jace. You’re insane! This is bat shit crazy. No, I can’t.” He walked away from the breakfast bar and into the living room. “I won’t teach you how to fuck. Because that’s all I’ll be doing right.” He started to walk to his bedroom, and I knew I’d pushed him too far.

I shrugged. Maybe he had a point, expecting him to be okay with this was a pretty big ask. He had more idea how these things worked anyway. Maybe it would fuck up our friendship. I just had to trust him. Life without him as a friend wasn’t something I wanted to consider.

“It’s okay. I understand. I’ll find someone else.” I said feeling embarrassed and slightly disappointed. I didn’t want to pay for sex, but I didn’t want to fail at this either. This was my life we were talking about and I had been through too much to go into anything blind.

Ben stopped, turned and then looked at me. His face was contorted, showing equal parts anger, amusement and sadness. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out.

“Jace, don’t.” He said in a soft whisper, after what seemed like forever. “You’ll regret it.”

“Maybe, but maybe I won’t.” I whispered. Maybe it being someone I didn’t know would be better.

He shook his head again, and shoved his hands in his pockets then shrugged. “You’re not going to give this up are you? You’re going to find someone to teach you with or without me.”

I nodded. Jericho had experience. He was 25, he’d had many boyfriends as opposed to my one. I didn’t want to meet with him one day and bring nothing to the table… or bed. The thought was terrifying.

Ben’s jaw clenched and he wrapped his arms around himself. “Fine.” He sounded anything but fine and he looked incredibly pissed off. I ignored the simmering guilt in my gut and let my eyes catch his.

“What?” I replied, confused.

I’ll do it. I don’t want some fucking loser teaching my best friend how to please and be pleased.” He croaked. “Congratulations Jace. You’ve successfully backed me into a corner.”

He turned on his heel and walked into his room, slamming the door behind himself for good measure. Guilt boiled to the surface and surged through me, I had backed him into a corner. What the fuck was I doing? I walked to my own room and lay down on my bed. I opened up my laptop and scrolled through my emails when an IM popped up.

Jericho82 – Hey Jace. Was up late last night thinking about you.

J-drum – Really… what were you thinking about?

Jericho82 – You know how you mentioned that you’re a musician. I dreamt that you invited me to a gig.

For a moment I was distracted from the mess I had caused in the apartment. A small laugh exited my mouth, our gigs were concerts with thousands of screaming girls, but he wasn’t to know that. I hadn’t explained who I was yet.

J-drum – You’re welcome to any of my gigs.

Jericho82 – can we do what we did in my dream?

J-drum – 😉 sounds interesting, what did we do?

Before Jericho could answer there was a knock at my door. “It’s me.” Ben’s voice spoke softly from the other side of the door.

“Come in”

I closed the laptop lid and looked up at the door. He wasn’t angry anymore, I could tell by the way he looked at me, the hardness had vanished from his eyes. He sat down on my bed and placed a piece of paper down on top of my computer.

“An agreement.” He said with an apologetic smile. I frowned and shook my head I picked the paper up without reading and held it out to him. “You were right. I backed you into a corner. I should just go with the flow.” I whispered, even if going with the flow scared the shit out of me.

“You don’t want to be taught anymore?” He questioned.

“That’s not what I said. I just won’t go find a random.” I smiled and shrugged. “And I won’t push my best friend in to doing something he doesn’t want to do.”

Ben pointed to the paper. “Well, I’m sorry I reacted like I did. I get that after Cris you’re a little screwed up when it comes to this stuff. Read that and let me know if you still require my, erm… services.” His jaw clenched, but he was still smiling. I tilted my head and studied him, unable to look away. Neither one of us spoke before he stood up and left the room. I looked down at the piece of paper once he was gone, and filled with a hybrid of nervousness and anticipation I picked it up.

Agreement between Jace Jackson and Ben Waldon

The following agreement is between the two named above for the purpose of teaching Jace Jackson how to be intimate.

The agreement has an expiry of 1 month, however either party can use the escape clause to back out of the agreement at any time.

This agreement will not cause the dissolution of Ben and Jace’s friendship and if at any time that becomes a worry the escape clause automatically comes in to effect.

All acts will be decided upon before commencement and will be added to the agreement before signing.

My heart was thudding again, He was serious. He was willing to teach me. I wasn’t sure why but the thought alone sent a shiver of lust through my nervous system. I gulped and closed my eyes. I tossed up whether or not to put the paper aside and open the laptop, or go and see Ben. Eventually my curiosity won out, I opened my eyes and walked from my room to his. His door was open, so I looked in at him as He sat on the bed, and his eyes widened with shock as he looked up at me.

“What acts do I need to learn?” I asked with a curious smile.

Ben half smiled and stood up. “Let’s start with the basics. Kissing.” He shrugged, and in that moment of sexual curiosity he may as well have done a fan dance because everything he did was sparking something in my gut. He stood up and walked over to me, stopping mere inches from my face. My already wayward heart began to race. I hadn’t kissed anyone for a long time, yet here I was about to kiss my best friend.

“I’m going to kiss you now. Okay?” Ben whispered, his minty breath hit my face and it too everything I had within me to stay standing on the spot.

“Okay.” I managed to breathe out. My nerves were alive with fear, but the moment Ben placed his hands around the base of my neck, everything just faded away. I closed my eyes as he drew closer, then when his lips finally grazed mine, it felt good, almost too good. Our tongues danced together, in perfect tempo and I could have kept going for ever, but he stopped and pulled back “You’re sure you can handle this.” He murmured. I didn’t reply, instead I caressed the base of his neck, and brought his lips back to mine. It might seem strange, but for a moment I couldn’t help but think about Cris, and how different this felt to all those times with him. Different wasn’t bad though and right now I didn’t feel like I had to hold anything back.

“Lesson one; kissing. Is over.” Ben said as he pulled himself back from me for good. He took a step away to put some distance between us. “You get a gold star by the way.”

His vibrant blue eyes were glazed over he lifted his fingertips and brushed them over his lips. Just watching him made me want to through caution to the wind and just make out with him on the bed. I forced that feeling away and told myself it was just because it had been so long since I’d kissed anyone.

“Gold star huh?” I replied laughing. My lips still tingled from his kiss and I wondered how long I would feel him there.

“Yeah top of the class.” He grinned. “We’ll begin lesson two tomorrow night.”

“We will?” I tried to downplay my excitement at the thought. I didn’t need Ben thinking I was reading more in to this than I was. Because I wasn’t, this was all for experience.

“Yes.” He walked back to his bed and sat down.

“What is lesson two?” I asked softly.

“Touching…. And stuff.” He shrugged, he spoke without looking up and I wondered if he had felt the intensity in our kiss too or had it just been me?

I forced out a nervous chuckle and walked over to the door. “Thanks.”

“It’s okay.” He replied.

Once I was out of Ben’s room I let out an uneven breath. It was more than okay, the kiss had been downright amazing. I had felt things churning in my body that had lain dormant for almost two years. It was like parts of me were coming back to life. Certain parts with more vengeance than others. I walked over to the bathroom, I needed to cool down and fast. I stripped myself of the jeans and t-shirt I had been wearing and turned the nozzle on the shower, but before I could jump into the lukewarm water, there was a knock at the bathroom door.

“Your sister is here.” He murmured. His voice was thick and knowing. The hairs on my arms prickled as the new memory of his lips on mine resurfaced. I closed my eyes and cleared my throat.

“I’ll be out in a minute.” I replied. God, it was probably obvious I was taking a cold shower. Now I was almost certain my best friend now knew that I needed to cool off after his kiss.

“You want a coffee?” He asked, I could hear the hint of a smile in his voice. I hung my head, he knew alright.

“Yes, please.” I replied.

I stood under the water for five minutes. It was just cool enough to wash away the lust but I wasn’t completely sure how long it was going to last. Once I was finished I dried and dressed myself. I turned to give myself a once over in the mirror before leaving the bathroom. I opened the bathroom door and glanced over at Scarlett who was sitting with my nephew Jackson on the couch. “Where’s Xav?” I asked as down on the couch. My bandmate and my sister’s husband were usually inseparable to the point of being sickly cute.

“He’s at home packing.” She smiled.

“You guys going on a last minute trip or something?” I said frowning. We didn’t have any band commitments, and after the last few years they deserved a break, but this was the first time I was hearing anything about it.

Scarlett shook her head and ruffled the hair on Jacksons head. “DJ was going to call you guys, but I decided that I’d just come around. That charity concert has been planned for this weekend.” She smiled and pulled a piece of paper from her bag. It was a set list.

Crap. That was going to fuck everything up. I snuck a look at Ben who was in the kitchen still making coffee. He didn’t look up at me so I figured he wasn’t as bothered as I was. I bit back another frown and looked at my sister.

“Where?”

“Chicago.”

Of all the states and cities, we were going to the one Jericho lived in. I shook my head in amusement. “Oh, cool. I’ve got a friend there that I’d like to meet.” I gulped and looked back over at Ben. He still showed no emotion, although I was surprised to find that I was hoping he would.

“Uh… cool. Anyway we’re all flying out tomorrow night. Mom’s looking after Jackson.” She leaned in and pointed between Ben and I. “You guys alright?”

Ben walked over with two coffees and a juice box for Jackson. He placed the mugs down first then handed the cold drink to Jackson. He looked across the table at Scarlett and said. “Yup, fantastic in fact.” Scarlett’s eyes narrowed and she looked at my nephew and shook her head. “Uncle Jace and Uncle Ben are being weird.”

“Unkie being weeeeird” Jackson repeated, as he slurped on his juice.

“We are not.” I replied as nonchalant as I could. “So this weekend? Awesome. Has DJ booked flights?”

“Yes. We leave at 11:30pm. I know it’s a pissy time but he wanted the least congested time to send a bunch of rock stars on a plane.”

“Mommy.” Jackson whispered as he placed his finger on his chin. “What pissy mean?”

Ben and I started to laugh, as Scarlett went a deep shade of her namesake color. “Nothing hon, mommy just used a bad word.”

“Mommy go timeout?” He smiled pointing to the door. Scarlett shook her head and looked up at us.

“You two aren’t helping. Lord help us when you’re a parent Jace Jackson.” She said feigning anger.

“Hey!” I laughed as I high fived Jackson. “I’m going to be an awesome dad one day. Besides, the kid will have Uncle Ben to keep him level headed.”

I looked over at Ben as he sat on the couch sipping on his coffee, his eyes traced the room until they fell upon me and he smiled, but it was an empty smile, one I couldn’t figure it out. I glanced over at Scarlett who was watching him as well. She was giving him the look she gave me when she was concerned. I was about to ask her what was wrong when Ben stood up and walked over to his bedroom door.

“Excuse me, I forgot I was meant to be chatting with someone. Come say bye before you leave.” He directed his words to Scarlett then left the room.

Once his door was close Scarlett’s attention was back to me. She leaned across the table and shook her head. “What the heck is going on Jace? Ben really is acting weird.”

“No he isn’t.” I lied, even I could sense the vibe he was giving off.

“Ben is literally the happiest guy I know Jace, and from the moment I walked in I haven’t seen the guy give a genuine smile once. Is his ex Mike bothering him again?” She mumbled. “I know he was calling a bunch of times the other week but he said he ignored it.”

My hands balled in to fists. Mike that fucking jerk. “No, Mike isn’t bothering him.” I replied, although I felt a tinge of jealousy and sadness that my so called best friend hadn’t told me that Mike had been harassing him again.

“Then what?”

“Nothing, Ben’s fine.” I insisted.

She let out an exasperated groan and looked down at Jackson. “Please, please don’t be like your Uncle when you’re older. So evasive.”

“Hey, if there is something wrong with Ben I don’t know what it is okay. He doesn’t tell me everything… clearly.” I replied, I sounded as miffed as I felt.

“What do you mean?”

“He didn’t tell me about Mike harassing him for one. Man if I ever see that jerk again…”

“Well clearly he didn’t tell you because you act like a thug the minute his name is mentioned.” She replied.

“He’s not good enough for Ben okay.” He never had been. Ben deserved someone who could see just how great a guy he was and Mike was not that guy.

Scarlett raised an eyebrow and smiled. “Who is good enough for him Jace?”

I felt the heavy frown weigh down my face, I knew what she was trying to do. I knew she was trying to make me admit to having some kind of secret feelings for Ben, feelings stronger than friendship. It wasn’t the first time she had suggested it without actually saying the words. I shook my head and looked up at his door. She was right about one thing though. He wasn’t really being himself and he hadn’t been since I had propositioned him. He was down because of me and our stupid agreement.

“I don’t know, Scar. But I know for a fact that Mike is a scoundrel and I’d rather eat razorblades than watch my best friend be hassled in anyway by that moron.”

Scarlett eyeballed me and gestured to Jackson who was watching me intently. He opened his mouth. “Unkie Jace, what moron?”

“People who are bad.” I replied with a terse smile. People like Mike.

“Otay.” He picked his juice box and sipped on the straw while looking off in the distance. After a long pause he put it down and then looked at Scarlett. “Mommy, monsters is moron too?”

She sighed and shook her head in my direction then looked down at Jackson. “Yes, but we don’t say that word, it’s a bad word.”

“Oh. Sowwi Mommy.” He smiled sweetly at her, but she was too busy giving me the stink eye to notice.

I bit back an amused grin and shrugged. “Don’t look at me like that… It’s not my fault you’ve got a child who’s a bloody genius at picking up the English vocabulary and comprehension.”

Scarlett giggled then ruffled Jackson’s hair. “I’m not looking forward to the teenage years. He’s going to be like Xavier, but with more sass.”

“Nah, I think he’ll be like you Scarlett. Just not as scared of being himself.” I smiled. Jackson was already a perfect amalgamation of them both and he was still in diapers.

“Maybe.” She replied, somewhat distracted. She looked over at Ben’s door. “Can I leave Jax here while I go say bye to Ben?”

I nodded and watched her as she stood up and walked in to Ben’s room. I slid down on to the floor, poking my tongue out at my nephew. He walked around the coffee table and sat on my knee. We were reading the newspaper a few minutes later when Scarlett and Ben walked out of his room. She looked over at Jackson and smiled. “Come on bud, we’d better get home for dinner. See you guy’s tomorrow night okay.”

Jackson jumped to his feet and ran over to Scarlett. “Bye bye unkies.”

Once they had gone I pulled myself back up on to the couch, gritting my teeth with fear I turned to Ben. I really didn’t want our kiss to have messed things up. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, like I told your sister I’m great. I’m just a little tired.” Ben replied.

“So this has nothing to do with before?” I whispered.

Ben smiled, shaking his head. He walked over and sat down next to me. “No. I told you I’d teach you, and I meant it. Except…”

“Except what.”

“We’re going to be in Chicago tomorrow night. Are you going to let Jericho know?” He questioned. Truth was I wasn’t sure. Meeting him face to face meant I really was letting go of Cris, not to mention everything else.

“I don’t know. I still don’t know anything.” I mumbled frowning. “I’m a sex noob.”

“So how about we bring forward lesson two and three.” He said. His words were soft like a summery breeze, although I shivered as his hand slid over my thigh. In an instant I tensed up. His touch felt good, really good. I sucked in a long uneven breath and tried to compose myself, but it was impossible.

“Lesson three?” I managed to squeak.

Ben nodded as his fingertips trailed up further. “You’ll enjoy it. I’m sure.” He chuckled, clearly enjoying my reaction a little too much.

Unable to say or do anything else but anticipate Ben’s next move I waited.


Chapter Four – Jace

Before I could move, Ben kissed me again, without a thought my eyes fluttered shut. This felt good, right… Carnal. His hand ran across my chest, stopping to rest on my shoulder. I sat frozen in place as his hand moved downward grazing over the zipper of my jeans. I let out a muffled moan, suddenly my lukewarm shower had been for nothing, and I was straining against my jeans once more. Then as if by natural instinct my hands began to explore Ben. His skin was warm against my touch as I grazed the waistline of his jeans. He lifted my shirt up and leaned down enough to press his lips on my stomach. Reacting to his kiss I pulled my shirt off and dropped it down on the ground beside my legs. His lips continued to graze my skin as he moved upwards, stopping to flick against my left nipple and then my right. Wound up and lost in my own sexual want, I moaned and let my eyes trail down to Ben, who was looking up at me. I had never seen him like this before, so beautifully vulnerable. Just one look from him was sending red hot spears through my heart. Combined it was enough to set off a massive surge of lust. I pushed Ben back against the couch reciprocating his the touches and kisses, taking control for myself. I need this, I needed him. He groaned as I pressed my lips against the curve of his neck. He leaned in, his heavy breathing hit my ear which only furthered my own needs. “You’re a good student, but I think it’s time for lesson three. Get on the couch.”

I listened, returning control to him I lifted myself back on to the plush black leather sofa. He smiled and slid off the couch landing on to the floor in front of me. He moved until he was positioned between my legs. I couldn’t wash away the nerves racing through me as he placed his hands down on my thighs. If building anticipation was an art form, then he was an artist, I was on the brink of losing my mind and he was only teasing me. His fingers traced up my legs slow, but steady until his hand sat on either hip at the waist of my jeans. He looked up at me as he hooked his fingers underneath and pulled gently. I could barely breathe, He knew what he was doing, and he knew he had me. Like an expert he flicked the button of my jeans, causing it to pop open and at the same time he yanked the zip down. I watched him as he slid his hand inside my cotton boxers, over the fully erect cock his ‘touching and stuff.’ lesson had given me. My eyes closed involuntarily as I let my body catch up to the touch. I let out an uncontrollable stilted groan. His hand on me, there felt good, so goddamned good. “Still growing huh.” He murmured, he sounded hungry. “This part of you seems plenty big.”

I moaned again, unable to make intelligible conversation. Clear thoughts were becoming a struggle when Ben had me so vulnerable in his hands. I let my head fall back against the couch and focused on the intense feeling. I didn’t expect that anything else would happen, Ben’s crafted touch was more than good enough. But Ben had always been a guy who held many surprises up his sleeves, and before I could fully align my senses with my reactions, the warmth of Ben’s mouth covered my erection. I let out another uncontrolled moan, it felt so unbelievably good that my earlier fear of coming too soon was a real possibility. Ben knew what he was doing, he knew how to make it feel good, starting slow and soft, building the intensity as he moved. His tongue flicked around the tip like it was a lollipop. Again I lost control and my entire body shook under his touch. I had barely regained composure when he placed his hands at the base, and took it all. Lost in the moment I opened my eyes and I lifted my head, I found his gaze. Our eyes locked, his burned with a blue fire as he moved rhythmically. I groaned, unsure that I could handle this lesson any longer. When he was throat deep on me, looking in to my eyes like he needed it too, sent me to a place where I was beyond control. I was putty in his hands and he could have molded me in any which way and I would let him. I tensed, desperate to hold on, but he moved back, removing his lips from me for a moment. I frowned, I needed him back. He tilted his head smiled. “Let go, you don’t need to worry Jace.” I nodded and placed my palm on side of his face. He curved into the touch for a moment then moved back toward my throbbing manhood. The minute his mouth was on me again I arched. I was so close to the edge and he knew it. He moved all the way to the base once more, twirling his tongue around until he reached the tip, his hands touched me in ways my body couldn’t compute, until suddenly it was all too much. I came hard, harder than I ever had on my own. I couldn’t look away from Ben, he pulled back and smiled at me as I tried to compose my breathing. He pulled my boxers briefs up and then got up and sat on the couch. “How was that?” He murmured.

“Good.” I managed to mumble through a shaky breath.

“Just good?” He feigned hurt, I shook my head and dropped off the couch on to my knees, it was all I could do, my words were broken and there was no way I could speak. The only thing I wanted to do was make him feel the way he had made me feel.

“Jace, you don’t have too.” Ben whispered, his hand encased mine.

“I want to.” I forced my words out, as difficult as speaking was, I needed him to know I wanted this.

Ben nodded, he smiled, but it was clouded by something else. I ignored it and placed my hands on his jeans. “Just relax Jace.” I looked up at Ben, who was clearly still adamant on calling the shots. Just because he was the one with all the knowledge didn’t mean I was about to let him be in control, not this time, not when his release was at my fingertips. I leaned up and kissed him on the lips.

“How about you be quiet.” I said with a cheeky grin, regaining my composure I made sure my words were strong. Ben grinned back and nodded, sending a shiver down my spine. It had been so long since I had wanted something so much and I wondered where it had come from. I didn’t have the time to wonder why was I feeling it about Ben, I had never looked at Ben like this before. I licked my lips and ignored the emotional threads that bound our physical connection. I needed this, Ben needed this. I took a deep breath and pulled on Ben’s pants until they came down, I managed a shallow breath as his erection sprang out at me. The fact he was as turned on as I was powered me into overdrive, there was no turning back. I took him in my fingers his warm hardness felt like solid velvet inside of my hand. Pumping slowly I heard him moan, I couldn’t hold back the smile painting its way on to my face. I was doing that to him… Me. I leaned forward and after a deep breath I let my tongue flick around the tip, his skin was salty and smooth, the ultimate mix of a heady male and it set my senses alight. Like it came naturally, I sheathed my teeth with my lips and moved down as far as I could go, down to the base like he had. “Fuck Jace.” He muttered beneath his breath, I moved my hands until they cradled his balls, he stiffened and his breathing became strained. “Are you trying to make me explode?”

I looked up at him, letting our eyes connect. He licked his lips and closed his eyes. I could see his head shaking with a shiver of anticipation.

“Jace.” He groaned, hearing him say my name like it was the most important word he had ever said sent something through me. A feeling, although I wasn’t quite sure what feeling. I took his shaft inside my mouth one last time, until I felt his body shuddered and a release of warm salty liquid shot in to my mouth. I smiled and I swallowed as I sat back admiring my work, he looked exhausted, spent, but above all else, satisfied. I grinned, like a playful pup I was ready to do it again already.

“Gold Star.” Ben managed to say, although his voice was no more than a whisper. He pulled his pants up and looked down at me still kneeling on the ground. “You really have nothing to worry about Jace.”

“I don’t?” I smiled, a brief thought that I’d only been okay because it was Ben I was with flittered through my head. Maybe I wouldn’t be like this with someone else. I forced the thought from my mind and focused on what Ben was saying.

“You’re good. Trust me. Any guy who ends up dating you won’t be left unsatisfied.” Ben’s smiled faded and he stood up. “I’m going to go have a shower then pack.”

He walked from the room, leaving me still kneeling on the floor. Ben had said I was good, he said that I had nothing to worry about, yet I couldn’t shake the fear of being with anyone else. It was stuck with me like super glue. Only, that same fear hadn’t been there in the moment with Ben. I only had feelings of anticipation, and hope, and lust. Not once had I been afraid I would do something wrong, and even if I had Ben was the kind of guy who wouldn’t have made me feel like crap about it.

I pushed myself up, as I stood I noticed my legs felt like jelly. I ran my hand through my hair and let out a deep breath. So many lines had been crossed, but even then, I had no regrets. I walked into my room and looked at my laptop like it was the key to another dimension. Jericho was in Chicago. We were going to Chicago. I liked him, and he liked me and all of our talks had been leading to a face to face, in real life meeting. So why did I feel guilty? Why did I wonder what Ben thought of Jericho? Why did I want to know if he cared?

I sat down at my desk slowly lifted the screen. I sent Jericho an email, the idea of instant chat after what had just happened unsettled me for some reason. Not to mention, the moment I explained that I had a gig in Chicago this weekend he’d know who I was, and the band I’m I was in. My cover would be blown. I opened a new message anyway and held my hands above the keys.

Hey Jericho,

I’m in town as of tomorrow for a few days. The band I’m in is doing a charity concert and I was wondering if you’d like to meet for a drink?

From Jace.

I wrote the last letter of my name and hit send before I could think better of it. My stomach dropped leaving me feeling really nervous. Meeting someone new scared the crap out of me. After Cris had died I had pushed away new people to a certain extent. I guess it had been a defense mechanism to stop myself from getting hurt, but I wasn’t letting myself live. I had been so desperate to stay with the status quo that life was beginning to pass me by.

Somewhat distracted I stood up and pulled my suitcase out of the closet. It was empty so I lifted it with one hand and chucked it on to my bed. My focus hadn’t returned as I started packing. I opened my drawers and pulled enough jeans and t-shirts to last me a few days out and threw them into the case, my email alert blurted out like an air horn as I zipped the suitcase shut. This next message meant moving on if he wanted to meet me. This message could mean dating and everything that went with that. I looked at the screen and moved the cursor until it hovered over Jericho’s message. After a deep breath I clicked it and let my eyes absorb the words.

Dear Jace.

Not going to lie, I had an inkling you were you… Also not going to lie, I’m really glad you’re you. I’m free the day after tomorrow. I mean, my sister has me on call for babysitting duties… but she’s not due for three weeks. So we should be fine. Give me a call on the number at the bottom and we can chat.

From Jericho.

I wrote the number at the bottom of the email out and stuffed it in to my suitcase. I’d call him later, right now I needed to check and see if Ben was still alright after what had happened. The water in the bathroom had stopped so I knew he was finished showering. Ben was dragging his case out into the lounge as I walked out. He glanced up at me and smiled. I felt a flutter in my gut, thankful that we were still okay.

“I told Jericho who I was.” I said softly. “You know, because if I’m going to meet the guy it’s probably preferable he doesn’t freak out.”

“Oh, cool.” Ben said, his smile tightened as he walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge. I followed behind him and sat down on a breakfast bar stool. “I’m going to have beer. You want one?”

“No, I’m okay.”

Ben popped the lid on his beer and took a swig. He caught my eyes with his like a baited hook and reeled me in. He sighed deeply before placing the beer bottle down on the marble bench.

“Can I just ask how sure you are that this guy isn’t a psycho, one that wants to rape you, then chop you up in to little pieces for a stew like Hannibal Lector?” Ben exclaimed, his voice was harsh and fast, he sounded completely unlike himself.

“Whoa, morbid man.” I frowned.

“You mentioned it first about that guy who wanted casual sex from me and We live in a day and age where people trick people all the time Jace, and with the attention your family has received from psychos over the years, are you sure you can trust that this guy is genuine.”

I sighed, he had a point. My family had dealt with its fair share of psychotic people. Threatened lives and almost deaths had been a focal point. I had been lucky, yeah I lost someone, but it had nothing to do with any of that. It was freak accident. One that didn’t have a reason.

“I’d like to believe that we’re past all of that.” I murmured.

“You would. You like to see the best in everyone. Let me come.” He smiled.

“Huh?” I mumbled, confused.

He continued to smile and pointed at me as he picked his beer back up and drained it in one go. “When you meet this guy. Let me chaperone, hide in the background be a wingman.”

“A chaperone. Do you think I’m five?” I mused.

Ben screwed his face up and his eyes darkened. “No, I don’t think you’re five. I think you’re my best friend and want to make sure that this guy isn’t going to hurt you. Okay?”

I softened, it was just like him to be so protective, to worry too much. After all he was doing for me, I couldn’t deny him the chance to look out for me. “Okay. Deal.”

“Good. Maybe if he’s a weirdo we can have that game of pool you promised me.”

“Dude, we can have that game anyway.”

“Good. Well uh, I might go have a rest, I’m kind of exhausted for some reason.” He smiled, it was cheeky and light and one hundred percent playful Ben. I couldn’t help but smile back and shrug.

“I feel like I could run a marathon.”

“Of course you do.” Ben winked and walked over to his bedroom. He looked back at me and laughed. “Now you know why being inexperienced isn’t a turn off, it’s kind of the opposite.”

Once ben was in his room I grabbed a juice from the fridge and walked back into my room to call Jericho. It was now or never. I had to take the plunge, test my limits, stop living in the past and make a change. Above all else it was what Cris would have wanted for me.

I dialed the number from my cellphone and pressed the call button. Each ring sent a rush of nerves through my gut. Finally when the call picked up I almost fainted on the spot.

“Jerry speaking.”

“Hey, it’s Jace.”

“I was hoping it was you.” He said, his voice was like molten lava, thick, silky and hot. I held back a sigh, I wasn’t going to act like this was some big romantic novel where the hero falls for the hero off the back of one sentence. I had to keep a level head. Ben was right, I couldn’t afford to be stupid.

“The one and only.” I laughed. “So I was hoping we could catch up over a drink. I like to lay low, so somewhere quiet would be good.”

“Sure, there is a place around the corner from mine, it has booths and is generally pretty chill.”

“Cool IM me the address and we can meet there the night after tomorrow say 7pm?”

“Sounds great. I can’t wait.”

“Me either.” I replied.

I hung up and chucked my phone on the sofa. Then when I looked up at Ben’s door I almost reeled back in shock. He was standing there smiling at me. How long had he been there? Had he listened to my entire conversation? Why did the thought of him hearing it make me feel sick? He walked across the room and entered the kitchen.

“So it’s all on then?” He asked.

“Yeah, you’re still all good to be my wingman right?” I whispered.

“You want me to be?” He looked at me, tilting his head for a moment before turning away.

“Yeah. I do.” I replied honestly. Just talking to Jericho had kind of rattled me. This was all a little overwhelming, having Ben there meant I could relax, if only little.

Ben opened the fridge and sighed. “Fine. Anyway, I’m kind of hungry. You want to come to Madison’s with me?”

We’d been to Madison’s tons of times. They had the best burgers I’d ever tasted, and the owners would usually sneak us out to a back booth so no one would bother us. After everything that had happened in the last hour going out to dinner seemed to cross into the territory of dating. I swallowed hard and tried to ignore the feelings in the pit of my gut. Ben had been right, this had changed us just like he said it would, even if I didn’t want to admit it. I nodded and stood up.

“Yeah sure, Um. I’ll just go grab my jacket okay.”

I walked into my bedroom and closed the door. Leaning against it I let out a sigh, I closed my eyes and all I could see was Ben looking up at me. My body tensed and I found myself yearning for something I couldn’t have, at least not in the way I wanted it. I guess I’d always found Ben attractive, inside and out, but it had never consumed me like it was now. It was just sex, it had to be. I opened my eyes and walked over to the wardrobe. I had to take it for what it was, just sex. He was teaching me what I needed to know. Faltering now, before I’d even left the starting gate would be detrimental in the long run, I’d lose my best friend and all confidence that I could ever move on from Cris.

I took my leather jacket out of the wardrobe and pulled it on over my shoulders. The coolness of the fabric did nothing to deafen the heat radiating through my veins. This wasn’t a date, it was just two friends grabbing a burger at a place we’d visited plenty of times, together and alone. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that this time was different. Before I left the room I grabbed my wallet from the nightstand. I opened the door and walked straight into Ben’s chest. We both leapt back and straightened ourselves out. Ben smiled apologetically and bit his lip.

“Shit sorry, I was just about to come tell you that I need to change plans. This guy I’ve been talking to online. Well he’s asked me out for a drink.”

I clenched my jaw and nodded. “Oh cool.” Cool? For one reason or another, Ben ditching me for someone else felt anything but cool. Even if I was kind of doing the same thing with Jericho. I forced on a smile and walked out of my room.

“You sure?” Ben asked, he still stood by my bedroom door.

“Do I need to be wingman?” I asked as jovially as I could.

He shook his head and smiled. “I know the guy. We went to school together. He’s just moved to LA from Chicago.”

I nodded and shrugged my jacket off. I tossed it over the arm of the couch as I turned around. The sting of rejection circulated my body, I did my best to hide it, but I wasn’t sure I concealed it all that well. Ben smiled and pat me on the shoulder. “I can bring a burger back for you?”

“Nah, its okay man. Who knows…? Maybe you’ll get lucky.” I replied, feigning a smile.

Ben’s eyes glistened and he shrugged. “I already did today. I’d better not push my luck.”

I bit back a genuine smile and looked down. I needed him to leave now to save myself from doing something stupid. He wasn’t mine, at least not in the way my wayward libido wanted him to be. I had no hold over him. I watched as Ben walked over to the door and opened it. “See you later.” He said, looking back at me as he stood in the doorway. I nodded and lifted my hand awkwardly to wave goodbye.

Once he was gone I looked down on the couch where I’d sat only an hour beforehand, writhing under his touch. I bit the inside of my lip and ran my hand through my hair. It’s in the damn contract Jace. I tried to push Ben from my mind, and forced myself to focus on the reason I was doing this. Jericho.

I made a chicken sandwich for dinner, which in no way measured up to the beauty that was Madison’s burgers, but I’d been replaced. Ben was on a date and I was alone at home. This was what I had wanted for him, so why the fuck wasn’t I happy about it?


Chapter Five – Ben

I left the apartment feeling like my body was about to explode. I wanted to stay in with Jace more than anything, but it was stupid because the agreement was the only reason any of this was happening. He didn’t want me, he wanted the internet kid and that was my fault too dammit.

Why had I said yes to meeting Elton? I sighed, I knew why, I couldn’t let down a friend in need after all. I hadn’t been able to let Jace down either, of course that had been different. I wanted Jace. My reasons for saying yes to his proposition had been as much about my own need for him as it was for him to learn, maybe more so. Want was an understatement, I was in love with him and I had been for some time.

I knew he didn’t feel the same way, even though sexually it seemed we were on fire; romantically we weren’t on the same page. He was out of my league, a rock star who could have anyone. Besides I’d met Cris before he died, I had seen firsthand the true love they shared and I’d only known them both less than 24 hours at the time. I’d never met those expectations. To him we were just friends, and that was how it would stay. Even if for now we had ‘with benefits’ attached. I knew the moment he met someone else it would all end and I would be nowhere with nothing once more.

Because now things were worse than ever, I’d touched and tasted him in ways that until now, I had only dreamed of. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to walk away when he fell in love with someone else without falling apart myself.

I drove to Madison’s to meet Elton. I walked through the door and welcomed the wave of nostalgia. The place was amazing, it had this old school Irish bar feel to it, with a giant round open fireplace in the middle. I glanced at it and reminisced about the first time I’d brought Jace here. We’d sat by that fireplace with beer and Maddy burgers. We had talked for hours, until very recently it had been my favorite memory. Now his kiss was my favorite. I smiled and shook him from my mind. This was about Elton. I looked around the room, and found him sitting in a booth by the back door.

Elton smiled at me and waved me over. “Ben!” he grinned. “You do NOT look like the boy I remember in high school.”

“It’s been a few years, so I hope so.” I mumbled. “Hey Elton.”

Elton, however, did look like the same boy from high school either. He clearly hadn’t outgrown his geek chic almost hipster guise. I’d liked it back then, he was one of the first openly gay guys I’d met when I started high school and because of that I’d formed a crush. That was all it had ever been though, and not once had he ever noticed me. Once again, I had just been the friend.

“Thanks for meeting me. Between the break up and my horny roommates I needed a friendly face.”

“No problem Elton. I was surprised when you said you wanted to meet though.” I replied honestly. Aside from the odd email, or status update on Facebook, we barely communicated. I’d overstated my communication with Elton to Jace, partly to gauge his reaction. Except he seemed unaffected, smiling and waving as I left.

“If I’m being honest. You’re the only person I knew would come.” He replied. “Back in school you were always there for me. Loyal to the very end.”

I smiled and looked over at the fireplace again. If I was loyal, then why did being here with another man, no matter how platonic it was seem disloyal? I looked back at Elton and shrugged. “You sounded pretty upset on the phone. I couldn’t say no.”

“Well you know what they say.” Elton’s tone dropped and he leaned across the table, his fingers stopped short of mine. “The best way to get over someone is to get under someone else.”

I kept his gaze, his green eyes shone with hope, and it slowly dawned on me that he was propositioning me. I leaned back into the cushioned booth and mulled over the thought. A few years ago I would have jumped at the chance. Elton was still attractive, even if my crush on him was in the past. Things were different now, after this afternoon the only person I wanted to think about being with was Jace.

“Oh, Elton, sorry man I’m just not… I don’t… I’m kind of off the market.” I managed to reply.

“Oh.” He said frowning. “Didn’t you have a crush on me in high school?”

He knew? My face flushed, much like it would have back then, except this time the feelings were past tense. “I did.” I admitted. “But were not in high school anymore.”

Elton shrugged, brushing aside my rejection like it was nothing. He picked up the menu and gazed over its offerings. “Well then, the second best way to heal a broken heart is food.”

We ordered, and after the awkwardness of the proposition had faded we actually had a good time. He told me how his ex had cheated on him with his personal trainer. He had come home from work one night to find them getting personal, but there was no training involved. He had decided to move to LA when his friend had suggested it, the same friend who had all but kicked him out to get laid by his girlfriend.

“So you see, in a first world problem kind of way, I’m a hot mess.” Elton exclaimed sipping on his lime and vodka. “How about you?”

I shrugged and sipped on my own drink. “I’ve been working.”

“Just working.” He replied. “Doing what exactly. On Facebook your job is listed as coordinator. Like how much co-ordination do you do?”

I let out a chuckle, because the moment Elton stopped talking, one of Scarlett’s songs began to play in the background.

“You hear this song?” I murmured.

“Yeah, it’s by that musician Scarlett isn’t it?”

“Well she’s my job.” I replied. “I’m kind of her tour manager.”

Elton’s mouth fell open, he looked genuinely stunned. It amused me that I’d caught him off guard, I had spent my entire high school career attempting to garner his attention and had failed, now I was like a bloody neon light beaming at him.

“No way.” He replied. “I don’t believe you.”

“Well it’s true.” I said.

Our food came out and for a few minutes Elton was completely silent. Finally, as he stabbed his fork through his medium rare steak he looked up and then bit his lip.

“What?” I asked picking a curly fry up, bringing it to my mouth.

“You’re for real?”

“Yes. I’ve worked with her since she started, we’re really good friends.”

Although after today I wasn’t sure I could ever look her in the eye again. When she’d come into the room and begged me to tell her what was wrong, I hadn’t been able to lie about the agreement. She had been shocked, and had demanded we talk about it in Chicago before she had left the apartment. She knew how I felt, she’d always known, I had never been able to keep my feelings from her. She’d admonish me after she knew how far things had gone, I was sure of it.

“You surprise me Ben.”

“Thanks… I think.”

Once we’d finished eating we settled the bill. I ordered another burger to go for Jace before we left though, which confused Elton. “You’re not full? We could have stayed longer, truth be told I don’t really have anywhere to go, and the company has been nice.”

“It’s for my roommate.” I offered. “He loves this place.”

He?” Elton mused. “Friend with benefits?”

“No!” I replied aghast, although his assumption wasn’t too far from the actual truth. Right now I was Jace’s friend with benefits. The lines were blurred and I couldn’t tell who was benefiting anymore, maybe we both were. I looked at Elton and shrugged. “I’ve got a fold out bed, you can crash at mine if you want.” I offered attempting to diffuse the direction the conversation was headed.

“For real?” he asked.

“I wouldn’t offer if I wasn’t serious.” I replied, wondering if it was even a good idea. After everything Jace and I had done today, bringing home a guy seemed wrong. Even if there was nothing in it. “You have to promise not to freak out though.”

The waiter walked over with a brown paper bag and handed it to me. “It’s for Jace right?”

“Yeah man.”

“I added extra cheese, his usual.” He smiled and then turned and walked away.

I smiled, impressed the waiter remember Jace and I, it had been forever since we’d been back here. Our schedules just never seemed to line up. Elton and I stood up and walked over to the door.

“Freak out?” Elton asked. “About what, do you collect the heads of the people you kill or something?”

I stared at him and pushed the door open. “That’s illegal.” I croaked. “And weird, what the hell made you think of that.”

Elton laughed. “Free late night horror movies. Ignore me. So what can’t a freak out about.”

“This burger is for Jace.” I said as we walked across the carpark. “My roommate.”

“Yeah I gathered. The waiter said.” Elton replied.

“Jace. Being Jace from the band Going Nowhere.”

Elton stopped in his tracks, I heard his sharp intake of breath and I knew suddenly I’d stop being the golden boy to Elton. Not that I minded, I wasn’t in to him anyway. Besides I completely got the fascination with the way Jace appears visually. He wasn’t just cake. He was the whole dessert buffet. I was just lucky enough to know that the stuff on the inside was good too.

The Jace.”

“Yes.” I hissed. “The Jace. Don’t get any ideas. Yes he’s single, but he’s not ready to date.” I lied. So he was going on a date with that guy in Chicago, and what we were doing together indicated he was at least on the way there. I just wasn’t ready to see the guy I’d crushed on all through high school hit on the guy I was in love with. It was a layer of complex drama I just didn’t need.

“Relax, I’ll be on my best behavior. I’m far too bloated now from amazing food to allow anyone to see my body.”

I eyed Elton and shook my head. He was one of those naturally thin guys, the ones that could eat and eat but never put on a pound. I shook my head and pointed to my car.

“We’ll take my car, you’ve had a few drinks anyway. I’ll bring you back to get yours tomorrow.”

“Thanks Ben. You know. You’re a really top notch friend.”

I frowned as I unlocked my car. Loyal and top notch weren’t things I was feeling right now. All I wanted to do was go home and climb in to bed, preferably with Jace. My feelings were so far from platonic that I had figuratively shit all over the rules I had written in our agreement.

Suddenly, whatever Elton did was irrelevant, He was a buffer. My full stop, a way to stand behind the line while I needed to stand behind it. This agreement wasn’t just going to be the end of me, it was also going to be the end of mine and Jace’s friendship. I was just too far invested now to turn back. I needed him like I was addicted to a drug.


Chapter Six – Jace

I settled on the couch to watch a movie, but I couldn’t concentrate on what was happening. Thoughts of Ben on his date filtered through my head drowning out everything else. What if he didn’t come home? Or worse, what if he brought the guy back here. I wasn’t sure I could hold my composure long enough to get through such an awkward encounter.

I stood up and walked into my room. The piece of paper with our agreement typed on it sat on my nightstand. I thumbed over the words. “This agreement will not cause the dissolution of Ben and Jace’s friendship and if at any time that becomes a worry the escape clause automatically comes in to effect.”

I shook my head. This was all because of a lesson, it wasn’t real. These feelings were residual emotions after my first real sexual experience. It would go away. I stood up and walked back out of my bedroom. I could do this. I would do this, because I had promised it wouldn’t change things.

I sat back down on the couch and flicked the channel to some music show. It grabbed my attention long enough to distract me from everything that had been plaguing me. Around half an hour later the door unlocked. Going by the chatter as the door opened, I knew instantly that Ben wasn’t alone. The noise was enough to drag my attention away from the TV and sink my heart through to the floor. I wasn’t sure I could watch this, even though I knew my reactions were just because of the experience we’d shared earlier. Ben walked in smiling, he held a bag in his hand from Madison’s. “I got you the prime beef deluxe. I know you said not to… but I still feel bad for bailing on you.” Ben’s friend walked in behind him and smiled. He was tall, taller than Ben which was saying something. He had black hair and wore black thick rimmed glasses. Ben walked over and handed me the bag. “Uh, thanks man.” I smiled briefly as I took it. My stomach rumbled in response. I hadn’t eaten dinner and I was hungry, although that was quickly dissipating.

“This is Elton. He’s my friend from school.” Ben smiled. “He just broke up with his boyfriend and needed a shoulder. El, this is Jace.”

“I know who he is.” Elton grinned he stepped forward and held his hand out. “I’ve got all the Going Nowhere records. You’re a killer drummer.”

“Thanks.” I replied shaking his hand

“I was real sad to hear about your boyfriend. Cris.” He added, his smile dropped and I could tell he was being genuine. So I nodded. “It’s okay.”

“We should leave Jace be. Um. My room is through there.” Ben pointed over to his room. He looked down at me as he spoke, I returned my focus to the TV and hoped like hell I was doing a good job of hiding my true thoughts. Just like that my hunger had turned to nausea, because Ben’s friend was sleeping in his room. “Elton is crashing here, his roommates effectively kicked him out for the night.”

“So they could fuck.” Elton added with a colorful grin. “I’d like to say it’s the first time it’s happened. Especially since I’ve only been here a week, but last night I slept at a bar.”

“Hey, it’s none of my business.” I replied coolly.

Elton walked over to the bedroom and opened the door. My stomach rolled, and for a moment I was worried I would actually be sick. “I’ll be in soon.” Ben said to Elton.

Ben sat down on the couch beside me and pointed at the TV. “Good show?”

“Yeah. Enthralling.” I lied. The music show had finished and now something about frogs was on. I just wanted this awkward encounter to be over. I wanted Ben to walk into his room and do whatever he was planning to do with Elton. Maybe then these irrational feelings would evaporate.

“You okay?”

“Never better.” I replied, lying through my teeth.

“Then why are you doing that thing.”

“What thing?” I replied turning to face Ben, He looked concerned.

“Your arms are folded tight across your chest, your eyes are dark and you’re biting the inside of your mouth.”

I sucked in a breath and relaxed. I hadn’t been aware I was doing any of that, yet it seemed that perhaps it was something I did a lot. Ben had noticed it, I wasn’t as closed off as I had hoped. Ben could see right through me.

“I’m just stressed, you know about meeting Jericho.” It was a bare faced lie. I knew it, and he probably knew it too. But in the moment I could have been honest, I wasn’t. He looked down and nodded. “Fair enough.”

He stood up and walked across the floor. The moment I heard his bedroom door click shut I let out a slow unstable breath and prayed for the ground to open up and steal me away. This wasn’t rational, any of it. I kept looking at my best friend with lust filled eyes, and one look alone from him had me rigid. I had been stupid to assume this would ever work, Ben had told me as much and I hadn’t listened, I’d strong armed him in to agreeing and now I was paying for it.

With Cris it had been easy. I’d fallen for him the minute I had laid eyes on him. I’d known by the way he looked at me that he had felt it too. Sex had never been an issue, although my very real sexual frustration had been, I’d worked around it because I respected what Cris had wanted for me.

I knew now why he had wanted it for me. Why he had wanted me to wait, because sex changes everything.

I put the burger in the fridge, my appetite was gone. I turned the TV off and disappeared into my bedroom. I lay in bed awake for too long and I didn’t sleep as much as I wanted to. Every time I managed to fall asleep I’d toss and turn until I woke up.

I had to call off the agreement. It was never going to work.

The next morning I walked out of my room to find Elton on the couch drinking one of Ben’s famous banana berry smoothies. He looked up at me, bright eyed and smiling. “Morning Jace.”

“Morning Elton.” I replied with a courteous smile.

“Oh hey, you’re up. There’s enough for a glass if you’re thirsty?” Ben said poking his head out of the kitchen.

“No, I’m good. I’m going to go shower.”

I escaped the two sets of eyes studying me, by walking into the bathroom. I stripped off and threw my clothes in the hamper. I was too exhausted to think of anything which was preferable at this point in time. The last thing I needed was to be distracted by whatever Ben and his ‘friend’ had gotten up to. I’d tell Ben tomorrow, once we were safely landed in Chicago that the agreement was over. Once I’d actually slept.

The room misted over and my fingers had pruned before I turned the water off and hopped out of the shower. I pulled a towel off the towel shelf and wrapped it around my waist. I opened the door and walked out with the steam, the cool air surrounded me like burst of cool water. Sucking in a breath, I walked through the living room and into the kitchen. Ben and Elton were sitting at the breakfast bar eating bacon and eggs.

“Thought I might go and pick up some new drum sticks. Mine have almost had it and the stage manager insists on buying ones I don’t like.” I murmured

“Oh.” Ben replied, he sounded husky.

I opened the fridge and pulled out a bottled water. I opened the lid and sculled back the drink. The heat of the bathroom had me a little faint. Some of the water escaped my mouth and ran down my chin and on to my chest. “Fuck, that’s cold.” I grimaced.

“It came from the fridge” Ben laughed. “That tends make things cold.”

I turned around and frowned at my suddenly ‘oh so funny’ best friend and shook my head. “You’re hilarious.”

“I know I am. Now you’d better go get dressed before Elton here has a meltdown.”

I turned my focus to Ben’s friend. He was watching me with widened eyes. His mouth was slightly open. He was staring at me, shamelessly. I looked at Ben and shrugged, they’d slept together and he was okay with his date looking at me like I was dessert.


“Hey!” Elton said finally, bringing himself back to reality. “I told you… don’t embarrass me.”

Ben clicked his tongue and looked at me. “I’m the crumbs. I told you.”

I frowned and walked out of the kitchen. So they hadn’t done anything? Elton, the guy who knew nothing about me aside from the fact I was in a band he liked and just so happened to be gay. Liked me… Over Ben, someone he had known since school. It made no sense. Ben was hot, and funny and intelligent, he has so much going for him and he’s more together than me, that’s for sure.

I got dressed and left the house without saying another word. By the time I returned with my drum sticks Elton was gone. Ben sat on the couch with his laptop.

“Hey sorry I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable before.” He said looking up. “I should have known El would go gaga for you. You’re a megastar.”

“Not sure I like the idea of you hooking up with someone so shallow. He doesn’t even know me.” I scoffed sitting down on the couch opposite Ben.

“Hooking up?” He laughed. “With Elton?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s funny. In high school I had the biggest crush on the guy, he never looked twice at me. I expected some of those feelings to resurface, but they didn’t. He made a pass at dinner and I entertained the idea for a split second, but I told you, casual sex isn’t my thing. I offered him a place to crash regardless. Once we got back here and he met my roommate, well his intention and attention changed.”

I didn’t know what to be angrier about, the fact that Ben had entertained sex with someone who had ignored him for years, or the fact his so called friend had hit on him then met me and forgot all about Ben again.

“You’re the cake.” He whispered. “I’m the crumbs.”

I looked up and let my eyes connect with his. I’d planned to call the agreement off, it was the most reasonable thing to do, and I needed to protect our friendship, but I hated that he thought he was crumbs. “You’re not crumbs Ben.”

“I’m the guy people go to when they can’t have the person they really want Jace. It’s a fact of life for me.” He shrugged then chuckled. “Actually it’s the story of my life.”

I frowned. There was nothing I could say to make him feel differently. After all he was teaching me how to be intimate for other people. I was case in point for him. I stood up and walked over to my bedroom door. “I didn’t sleep well last night. I’m going to have a nap. Wake me in time for the flight okay?”

“Yeah man.”

This time I fell asleep the minute my head hit the pillow. The lack of sleep from the night before had really hammered me. It felt like it had only been minutes when I woke to Ben shaking my shoulders softly. He smelt good. Like his aftershave, I sighed and inhaled before opening my eyes. He looked down at me and smiled. “It’s around 8pm. Your sister just called to say the shuttle is on its way to pick us up.”

“Ugh. Really. Can’t I just stay here?”

“I think your fans and Jericho might have something to say about that.”

Jericho. That’s right. I hadn’t thought about him much since we’d spoken on the phone. Ben had been plaguing my mind. I was still dealing with the mental mind fuck that had been the sexual experience we’d shared. I was still snipping through the emotional connection it had bound me in.

“Yeah, I guess.” I sat up and looked at Ben. Our faces were inches apart. “Ben, about the agreement…” I gulped. Ready to end it, to save our friendship.

“Let’s talk about that later yeah?” He smiled and stood up. “We’ve got a plane to catch.”

“Yeah sure.” I whispered, wussing out.

Ben and I took our suitcases down to the pavement. We weren’t waiting long before a long dark blue shuttle pulled up beside us. Jay, the rhythm guitarist and Isla’s husband hung his head out. “We are the people of the night!” he laughed as he grabbed my case and hauled it inside. Once we were inside the overwhelming noise of five rock stars, a photographer, and a tour manager filled the air. My thoughts of sex and love whittled away to nothing.

The flight was more of the same. Except I was uncharacteristically quiet. Isla and Scarlett sat beside me and looped their arms through mine. “Penny for your thoughts.” Isla murmured.

“I’m just tired.” I mumbled, it was half true. I watched Ben and Xavier entertain some of the other first class passengers with a stupid sleight of hand card trick. A smile crossed my face.

“Mmmhmm.” Isla noted. “So Ben mentioned that you have a date in Chicago?”

“He did. Fuck that was fast.” I mused.

“Well we asked him to come to our dinner tomorrow night and he said he was going to be wingman for you. He didn’t gossip.” Scarlett replied.

“Why wasn’t I invited?”

“Well after Ben said you had a date there wasn’t much point asking you.” Scarlett said, sounding exasperated.

“Sorry. Yeah, okay I have a date.” I sighed.

“You sound so enthused.” Isla noted.

“I’m scared. It’s been a while.” I replied and if I was being honest, after everything Ben and I had been doing, it felt almost wrong.

“You’ll be okay. You’re a good guy Jace, and with Ben looking out for you, well I’m sure you’ll be okay.”

“I don’t need someone to look out for me.” I huffed. “I only agreed to him coming because it’s Ben.”

“Huh?” They both questioned at the exact same time.

“He’s my best friend. He wants to be there to check the guy out and make sure he isn’t a weirdo. After everything Ben has done for me, I owe it to him to give him that opportunity.” I replied. Isla looked at Scarlett and raised her eyebrows.

“What? Am I missing something?” I whispered. Could they see straight through my façade? I wasn’t sure how I felt about Ben anymore, the last thing I needed was them to pick up on it.

“No, not at all.” Scarlett replied. “It’s just we thought maybe you like him?”

I gulped and shrugged. “Like him? He’s my best friend, I kind of have to like him it goes with the territory.”

“You know what we mean” Isla chimed in.

“You’re dreaming. Stop trying to play cupid.” I laughed, but it wasn’t genuine. I’d been too hung up on sex to think straight and now I was paying for it with a barrage of confused feelings.

I pretended to sleep so that they girls would leave me alone. The rest of the trip was uneventful. We landed in Chicago and went straight to our hotel rooms. I was thankful for the singular room, the chance to get away from everyone and just think. The next morning I stayed in my room and hid away, ignoring the fact that I was meant to be heading out on my first date in a long time. It wasn’t until 6:30pm that Ben called.

“Heya, you want to meet in the hotel foyer in ten?”

“Yeah sure.” I replied, feeling under prepared and nervous beyond expectation. Realistically I wanted to hide in the hotel room and eat popcorn… with Ben.

“Sweet. See you soon.”

After changing into a pair of dress pants and a navy blue buttoned down top I walked down to the foyer. Ben stood there waiting. I couldn’t help but appreciate how hot he looked. I was confused about my feelings and everything that had happened, but I wasn’t confused about the way he made me feel physically. The guy was a fox. Ben’s glance trailed over to me as I walked over to him. He smiled in my direction. “You clean up well Jace.”

“Ditto.” I grinned.

We caught a cab to the bar where I’d arranged to meet Jericho. Ben ordered a Beer and I stuck with a cola. 7pm drew near and my heart rate sped up a few notches. It was quarter past when Ben leaned over. “Has he called or anything?”

“Maybe he’s just running late. I might go wait in a booth.”

Ben smiled and nodded as I got up and walked away. I was sitting in the booth for less than five minutes before my phone buzzed. I picked it up and opened the message.

Jace, I’m so sorry. My sister has just gone in to labor and I’m looking after her two kids. – Jericho.

I smiled and shook my head, surprised to find myself almost relieved that he couldn’t make it. It was almost like fate was intervening.

It’s cool. Congratulations. I travel a bit, so we’ll work it out okay? – Jace.

I locked my phone and shoved it in my pocket before walking back over to Ben.

“So, I just saw you across the bar and wanted to tell you that you look fine.” I smiled, with little shame I threw a pick up line at my best friend. He turned and raised an eyebrow.

“You feeling okay Jace?”

“Jericho isn’t coming. His sister is in labor and he’s babysitting.”

“Oh, I’m sorry man.” Ben replied, he frowned and pat me on the shoulder. “Hey if we leave now we could get to the dinner the others are having.”

I shook my head. “We could just hang out here, have something to eat. We could even go for a walk.”

Ben smiled. “You’d be interested in doing that?”

I frowned for a minute, why wouldn’t I be interested? We were best friends and our hang out time was usually constricted to the apartment.

“Of course.” I replied. “Rock on up to my booth.”

Ben chuckled and stood up. “Sometimes you amuse me Jace Jackson.”

Once dinner had been served we sat there in silence. It was awkward for a moment, until I remembered something Scarlett had mentioned before Ben and I had crossed the line, something I still wanted to ask about.

“Why didn’t you tell me about Mike bothering you again?” I said softly.

“Scarlett told you.” He breathed out.

“She probably assumed that being my best friend you’d tell me yourself.” I murmured.

“It was nothing. A few texts and a couple of calls. It was nothing I couldn’t handle myself.”

I’d seen the fallout from Mike’s infidelity and Ben’s subsequent heartbreak. I didn’t want to see him in that place again. Ever.

I scoffed and moved my fork through the fettucine. “You should have said something. We’re friends.” I whispered.

“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry man.” Ben shifted in his seat and looked around the bar. “They have a pool table. You still keen for that game?”

I nodded and ate a mouthful of food. His explanation in no way made up for not telling me, but I had to accept it. There was little else I could do. Something between the two of us was off kilter, it had been since we’d moved from platonic friends to whatever it was we’d become. Deep down I knew that it was a bad idea to keep the contract, commonsense told me we were teetering on the edge of losing everything. I couldn’t lose Ben, he’d been my rock for almost two years. I’d practically friend poached him from Scarlett. Given that the guy was so goddamned attractive, maybe my libido was always drawn to him on a subconscious level, but we had really only gotten to know each other just after I’d lost Cris. I hadn’t been in a position to be emotionally available to anyone. I guess though, what really drew me to Ben was the fact that in so many ways he was just like Cris. His presence had softened the blow of losing the love of my life. Now we had crossed that line in the sand, the one Ben had warned me against and I was thinking things I’d never let myself think before.

Like how much I loved the way Ben’s lips curved when he smiled. The way one side would curl more than the other. He looked cheeky and mischievous, which was amusing considering he was almost the most straight laced person I knew.

Ben looked up at me and flashed me that perfect smile, I held back a shiver and smiled back. “Deep in thought Jace?” He questioned sculling back his drink.

“Just thinking about Cris.” I whispered. Ben’s smile faded a bit he placed his glass down and rest his hand over mine. The touch sent a wave of goosebumps through my body I tried hard to restrain how much he was affecting me but I was failing.

“He’d be proud of you, you know.” Ben smiled. “You’re a really awesome guy.”

“I wish he could have gotten to know you better.” I whispered. “You remind me of him.”

Ben’s eyes widened and he raised an eyebrow. “I do?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll take that as a highly regarded compliment Jace. You were in love with the guy after all. He’s special to you. I’m glad that you think I’m anywhere as awesome as him.”

In love. I’d forgotten what it felt like to truly be in love. It was more than a little sad that I was only 19 and already so cynical about love. I just couldn’t handle losing someone else, not again.

“I’m glad Jericho couldn’t make it.” I whispered looking down as I placed my fork on the hardwood table. My appetite had left me. “I’m not ready to date.” I wasn’t sure it was the truth as I said it, but I send it regardless.

“You’re not?” I could feel Ben’s intense stare on me as he spoke, but I was unable to meet it.

“No. I’m not as open to the idea of love as I thought I was. The thought of losing another love terrifies me.” The thought of losing Ben terrified me.

“I bet it does. But that fear will always be there Jace. You just have to learn to live with it. Make your peace with it.”

“Have you ever been in love?” I asked.

“A couple of times.” He murmured. “My boyfriend, the one who dumped me because of my job.”

“Yeah.”

“I loved him, and I think he loved me. With us it was timing. He was ready to settle down and I wasn’t. I wanted to see the world and the opportunity at the record label presented itself.”

“You should call him.” I offered.

“He’s married now.” Ben smiled and despite once loving the guy, I could tell he had no regrets. “Good on him you know.”

I frowned and looked up. “Who else then?”

Ben met my gaze and shrugged. “It doesn’t matter, it was unrequited.”

“Someone we both know?”

Ben nodded and placed his fork down. “It doesn’t matter. The guy, like you, is cake.”

I frowned and clenched my teeth. “I really wish you’d stop using that analogy. I’m no more cake than you are. You’re hot Ben, and you have a killer personality to boot.”

“Fine.” He replied tightly. “But either way, he’s not interested in me like that. The only thing I could ever hope for with him is casual sex and we both know that isn’t me.”

“Isn’t that what we’re doing?” I whispered. “Our agreement is casual.”

Ben scoffed quietly and called the waiter over. He ordered another drink then pushed his plate to the side. “Our agreement is casual, but I won’t be sleeping with anyone else as long as I’m with you Jace. I don’t work that way.”

“I won’t be either. But I mean now I’m not sure I’m ready to date, I’m not sure the agreement is even needed.”

I swallowed hard and looked down at my plate. I wasn’t sure what I wanted him to say. I didn’t want us to stop whatever it was that we were doing, as much as I told myself it needed to, but I needed him to want it to. I needed to hear him say the words.

“If you want.” He said looking at me square on, showing very little emotion. “We can tear it up and forget it happened.”

I held back a sigh, forgetting it happened was the last thing I wanted, but probably the most sensible option.

“But eventually you will fall in love, and you will have sex, and maybe all these fears will constrict your heart once more.” He continued. “I’m still all in if you want me.”

I felt the smile start in my heart, it radiated out until I was grinning like a giddy school kid. I wasn’t in control of my emotions like Ben was. I wanted Ben bad, I guess I had from the moment Isla had used us as models. I had never seen Ben like that until then, but now it was all I could see. Learning from him and getting this insane sexual attraction under control would be good surely. We would come through this, we had too.

“I’m still in.” I whispered meekly.


Chapter Seven – Jace

“Good. How about that game of pool, and then instead of showing you where I used to hang out, I take you back to the hotel and we can refresh on the lesson from the other night.” Ben replied sipping on his drink.

My crotch twitched to life and I couldn’t hold back the chuckle. “Finally a type of lesson revision I’ll enjoy.”

Ben smiled and called the waiter over a short time later. We paid the check then walked over to the pool tables. We were halfway through a game when some guys walked over. At first ignored them. I was here with Ben, and they could wait their turn. Except as I went to take my shot the tallest one laughed and placed his hands over the holes at the end of the table.

“You’re that fag drummer from that band aren’t you?” He jeered, his dark brown eyes were focused on me. He was drunk and clearly looking for a fight. I frowned and shook my head, in this day and age I had come across less and less homophobia, but it still existed.

“Can you please let us finish our game?” I replied ignoring his insult.

“Can you please leave our bar with your fag boyfriend before you spread the gay?” He taunted, looking to his friends for support.

I could feel the blood rising in my veins. Ben grabbed me by the hand and yanked me back but it wasn’t enough to stop me from running for the drunken bigot. I grabbed him by the throat and pushed him away from the table. His drunk mates stepped back, unwilling to step in for their disgusting excuse of a friend. He fell on to the ground and looked up.

“You fight like a girl gay boy.” He laughed standing up.

“You’re a disgusting bigot with no sense of human decency. You’re living so far in the past that I’m not sure even a thorough re-education with bring you up to date. How does a girl fight huh? You’re a worthless piece of shit who knows nothing and only wants to bring someone he doesn’t know down because of who he is attracted too. Seems pretty stupid if you ask me.”

I heard Ben snicker behind me, his friends laughed as well, which the asshole didn’t take kindly too. Before I could do anything he ran for me pushing me against the wall. He lifted his fist back and then slammed it full force into my nose. I heard a crack and blood gushed almost instantly down on to my clothes. The man’s friends pulled him away from me and dragged him from the bar. A waiter brought me a cloth with ice and once the bleeding stopped Ben called a cab.

“That guy was a jerk.” Ben said angrily as we got out of the cab at the hotel. “If you hadn’t been sitting on the floor bleeding everywhere I’d have laid him out.”

“I’m glad you didn’t. He wasn’t worth it. I’ve never let anyone get to me before, I’m not sure why it bothered me tonight.”

“We all have our off days.” Ben replied as we walked across the foyer. We returned at the exact same time as my sister, Isla and my band mates. Scarlett rushed across the foyer and pointed to the pieces of tissue paper poking out of my nostrils. “What the fuck happened. Did your date punch you?”

“No, my date couldn’t make it. Ben and I stuck around and some drunk moron decided to call me out on my sexuality and I bit back.”

“What a dick. Are you okay? Have you been to the hospital?”

“It’s a broken nose Scar, and Ben said it’s still straight. I’ll be fine.”

She frowned and shook her head, she looked at Ben and clicked her tongue. “What were you doing when this went down?”

“I should have interjected I know.” Ben said, I could hear the guilt in his voice and it irked me. Ben had tried to stop me from reacting, and he had hung around to make sure I was alright. The accusing tone behind Scarlett’s words irked me almost as much as Bens misappropriated guilt.

“Ben tried to stop me, and he helped me when blood was pissing out of my nose.” I retorted with a frown. Scarlett raised her eyebrows at me and placed her hands on her hips.

“Okay, I wasn’t accusing him of anything Jace. Gees.”

“Whatever. I’m tired and sore. I want to go to bed and forget tonight ever happened.” I replied walking away from my sister and Ben. As much as I hoped Ben would catch up with me he didn’t. I walked into the elevator alone and watched them talk as the doors closed. By the time I made it back to my room I had a dull pounding headache.

Why had I reacted like that in the bar? Why had I cared? It wasn’t like it was the first time someone had called me out on being gay. Unfortunately there was still people out there that just couldn’t accept that love and attraction came in many different forms. I knew the way I had reacted was some kind of emotional overflow caused by my confused feelings for Ben. I was playing with fire by agreeing to still be in with these lessons, because for me they were more than that now.

I pulled the pieces of tissue from my nose and tossed them into the small metal waste bin in the kitchenette. My nose was pretty tender, in fact it almost felt like I had a blocked nose. I walked into the bathroom to observe the damage. My nose looked unharmed, it was slightly red tinged where small smears of blood had dried, but other than that it looked fine. Underneath my eyes had begun to darken. Tomorrow I’d probably have a nice healthy pair of black eyes, but it was nothing a healthy dose of cover up wouldn’t fix. I unbuttoned my now blood stained white shirt and placed it on the vanity. Tonight hadn’t gone to plan, and some of that had been preferable. I wasn’t sure how I would have handled a date, although Ben and I had pretty much just been on one.

I frowned and turned the nozzle on the shower. The water streamed out, its heat causing steam to fill the small room in an instant. I shrugged my jeans off and stepped inside. The water ran over my head, stinging the tender skin of my nose for a moment before it began to feel good. I closed my eyes and tried to replay every moment until I’d acted like a thug in my head. It had been kind of perfect. I’d felt comfortable, we’d eaten and talked, we had even flirted; or at least I had.

I sighed and stepped out of the shower, none of that mattered now. I had ended the night by making myself look like a jackass. I gingerly dried my hair and face before finishing off the rest of my body. I wrapped the towel around my waist and walked out of the bathroom. Sleep couldn’t come soon enough.

Before I could grab anything to wear from my suitcase there was a knock at the door. I treaded across the floor quietly.

“Who is it?”

“Who do you think it is?” Ben’s voice murmured on the other side of the door. I smiled and opened it. “I didn’t want your sister asking questions so I waited a while before knocking on your door.”

“I’m a booty call.” I smiled, but it was hollow.

Ben looked at my face, he frowned, obviously he could see the bruising that was beginning to surface. He stepped inside the room and closed the door behind himself. His fingers trailed underneath my eyes and he shook his head. “I still wish I’d gone after him.” Ben murmured. “He was such a jerk.”

“So was I. I ruined our night.” I huffed turning away from Ben and walking over to the kitchenette. The steamy bathroom had made me parched. “Thirsty?”

“Very.” Ben said, his voice was low and I knew then that he wasn’t thirsty for a drink. “You’re in a towel. You know, anyone would think you enjoy torturing me.”

“Huh?” I replied, confused. How was I torturing Ben?

“Yesterday, in the morning, parading around the house in a towel, and now…” Ben looked down at piece of white toweling that covered very little. “I know that under there you’re naked and now I’ve seen and touched you, I know what’s under there.” He sighed.

“Oh.” I smiled. “Well, I guess that would be torture.”

“Oh yes.” He unbuttoned his shirt and chucked it to the side. “But two can play at that game.”

I watched, unable to look away as he stripped right down to his black cotton boxers. They covered less than my towel, and left nothing to the imagination. I could see his arousal bulging against the briefs. He smiled for a second then edged the elastic down, I could feeling him watching me as my breathing became unsteady and just as the tip of his erection poked out the top of his boxers he lifted them back over, sheathing it from view again.

“I think you’re the one who enjoys the torture.” I moaned, running my hand along the front of my towel. I was hard, yes, but this was different. Everything was electric with want, watching him while we were both aroused tortured the hell out of me. I wanted to touch him, taste him, and feel him in every which way I could.

“You have no idea.” Ben whispered, he stepped forward and laced his fingers through mine. It felt natural being here with him like this, and that fact alone scared me so much that I wanted to run, I probably should have but I didn’t because it felt too good.

When his lips settled against mine I remembered what it had felt like with Cris. Our kisses had always made me feel warm, the kind of warm that you feel inside of your heart. Once he was gone that feeling left me, and for a long time I had been a cold desperate shell of a man pretending to be happy until I didn’t have to fake it anymore. Now, in this moment, with Ben’s lips on mine that long gone, but familiar feeling washed over me. He pulled back.

“Everything okay?”

I didn’t reply with words, I just nodded and placed my free hand against the curve of Ben’s neck. With a needy fervor I crashed my lips against his once more. Like a mind reader he wrapped his arms around me, clutching at my back pulling me closer. I ignored the dull ache of my broken nose and focused on the feelings of innate pleasure beginning to overtake my mind. I moaned and pulled my lips back from Bens. “I need this.” I managed to whisper.

“I know.” Ben replied. “So do I.” He dropped to his knees. Releasing the towel from my waist as he fell. His lips kissed my hip bone and I shivered. I wasn’t sure why the spot was sensitive, but it was. Ben’s hands grasped my erection his eyes were wide with wonder as he let his tongue flick over the impossibly tight end. He had me so wound up, more than I ever had been. I moved my hips forward a little so that more of me slipped inside of his warm mouth. It felt so fucking good that if I didn’t restrain myself I could have come hard and fast in his mouth after a few strokes. But this wasn’t just about release, this was something more, so I held back.

“How far do you want us to go?” Ben whispered, kissing down the length of my shaft as he spoke. “Do you want me to fuck you? Do you want to fuck me?”

I grinned and felt my skin blush, hearing Ben talk like this was new. I nodded, aware it didn’t answer the question. Ben grinned and sucked the entire length once more before removing himself completely. I missed the feeling as soon as it was gone, I would say whatever I had to, to get him back.

“You can’t be vague Jace, not about Sex. Be as up front as you can okay?” he frowned for a moment then licked his lips. “Especially with me. I need to know what you’re thinking. I can’t show you what to do if I don’t know what you want to do”

“Both.” I managed to mumble. “I want both.”

Ben grinned and replaced his lips back over my tip of my cock. He moved fast at first then slow until a knock at the door interrupted us. Growling I ducked down and picked up my towel while Ben flew around the room gathering his clothes. “Uh, hello.” I called out.

“It’s just Scarlett. I wanted to apologize.”

My sister’s voice was an instant mood killer. I looked at Ben as he stood there with a guilty grin on his beautiful face. He pointed at the bathroom and tiptoed over. I walked to the door tucking my towel back around my waist. Opening the door, I leaned against the frame to stop Scarlett from coming inside.

“Oh shit, sorry. I thought the whole ‘going to bed’ thing was a ruse to get away from me.” She exclaimed softly.

“It was, but I’m also tired.” I shrugged.

Scarlett looked down and bit her lip.

“I shouldn’t have spoken to Ben like I did. I know what he’s like. He does the right thing no matter what.” She frowned. “I went to apologize to him, but he didn’t answer.”

“Oh, maybe he had a booty call or something.” I bit back a laugh, amused by my quip.

“Maybe.” She sighed. “I just thought that maybe he was with you?”

My heart thudded against the wall of my chest, was she on to us? “Why would you think that?”

“Because. You guys are perfect for each other. I’ve told you this so much Jace. I haven’t for a while because well, you bit my head off last time I mentioned it. But maybe, just maybe you have some kind of feelings for the guy. I mean how does the thought of him off with another guy sit with you Jace?”

I swallowed hard and shrugged. “It doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I’d be happy for him. The guy deserves someone who’s going to treat him well, and if that isn’t going to happen just yet then at the very least he deserves some great sex.” I smiled, impressed I had managed to half lie so smoothly.

“You didn’t answer the question about feelings.”

“It wasn’t a question.”

“Fine, do you have feelings for Ben.”

If Ben hadn’t been in my bathroom, probably still naked, I would have admitted how confused I was. I needed to talk to someone else, to work out what was going on. But he was and I couldn’t risk him knowing.

“No.” I hurt to lie about this, which confused me more. “We’re friends, I love him as my friend.”

Scarlett frowned and looked down the corridor. “Okay Jace. Night.”

Guilt filtered through my bloodstream, but I wasn’t sure why. Scarlett looked so let down, like my lack of feelings for Ben hurt her in some way. I stepped out of the room and closed the door almost fully. “Talk to me back in LA okay.” I whispered with a half-smile.

Scarlett’s brows furrowed and she nodded. “Okay.”

I stepped back inside the hotel room and closed the door until it clicked. Ben opened the bathroom door and poked his head out. “Is it safe?”

I nodded and walked over to my bed. Frustrated I sat down on the edge of the bed. “I’m sorry about her.” I whispered. “She’s had this fascination with us being a thing for a while.” Ben walked out wearing only his boxers.

“It’s okay. She’s just trying to have us both happy like her and Xavier are.”

“I’d kill to feel that kind of happy again.”

“Kill?” Ben laughed.

“Well… figuratively.”

“I want to kiss you again Jace.” Ben whispered, he sat down beside me on the bed and let his hand run over my thigh through the spilt where the ends of the towel met. I nodded and turned to face him. The movement caused his hand to settle on something that was quickly becoming aroused again. I smiled and leaned forward toward him. When our lips touched I felt warm again, I felt like I was home and I didn’t want it to stop, ever.

We moved until we lay on the bed, making out like teenagers. Cris and I had done plenty of this, but it had always stopped before anything major could happen. Now, with Ben I felt free to explore, there were no boundaries, even though just being with him was crossing a boundary I ignored it. I moaned softly as Ben pulled the towel out from underneath me. He threw it at the end of the bed and moved down until his mouth was once again over me. I let out a long groan as Ben’s hands grabbed at my hips and pulled me forward. He sucked until I thought I might explode then replaced his mouth with his hands. “When we get back to LA we’ll begin lesson four, if you still want.”

“Lesson four?” I whispered.

With a mischievous grin he let one of his hands fall back to my ass, he pressed against the tight restricted opening and I let out a groan. I looked down at him and smiled. When his mouth returned to my cock, he let his finger gather some of the slickness from his mouth. My head and body were left fuzzy by his touch, so I was caught off guard when he placed his finger back against the opening, pushing further in. It felt foreign at first, but that feeling melted away and as his tongue flicked around the head of my hardness he probed deeper with his finger. It amplified everything else sending me through a rollercoaster of pleasure. The way his lips felt against the base of my shaft, his other hand cupped my tightened almost ready to explode balls as I thrust gently into his mouth was all too much.

Nothing had ever felt this good, ever and for some reason I knew I was only scratching the surface. With Ben there was no telling the amount of ecstasy I could experience. “Let go.” He murmured, his lips hummed against me and it set off a chain reaction. I came loud and hard, the minute his mouth was tight around me, even harder than I had the first time he had me this way.

“I… I… That was amazing.” I groaned, relaxing into the bed, unaware that everything had been taut and cramped.

You’re amazing.” Ben whispered.

I tried to move, I wanted to show Ben how amazing he had been, how amazing he was. He shook his head and moved up the bed, kissing me on the mouth. I could taste the bitter salty taste of my release. I smiled and ran my fingers through Ben’s soft brown hair.

“Relax. As much as I want to feel your mouth around me, I promised myself I’d make this about you.”

“You’re not wound up right now?” I whispered. Was it only me that felt that way?

“Jace, I’m very very wound up.” He grinned, he took my hand and placed it over his groin. He was hard, and throbbing. “I just want to savor this for when I can have all of you.” He licked his lips and lay beside me on the bed.

I frowned, did he need to build up some sexual frustration in order to have me like that? Was that it? I sat up and looked for my towel. My chest was suddenly constricted and I wanted to escape from my own hotel room. Ben was up, dressing as I wrapped the towel around my waist. I turned and looked over at him, unsure whether I should smile or frown.

“Jace, I want you.” He whispered, relieving my unspoken fears. “I just want to make sure we have everything we need, and sometimes the thinking about the unknown, relishing for the future… it makes it all so much more… intense.”

I smiled and ran my hands over my chest. “Maybe I should have waited too?”

Ben grinned and walked over, he placed a kiss on my cheek and shook his head. “You’re going to be plenty excited by the time we get to that part Jace. Don’t worry.”

I nodded and together we walked over to the door. I almost asked him to stay. I wanted him to, I wanted to fold myself around him and breathe in his heady scent all night, but I knew how ridiculous it was, after all he was teaching me how to have sex, he wasn’t my boyfriend. I opened the door and watched him as he stepped out in to the corridor.

After he left I closed the door and fell against it like I was in some kind of modern day romantic comedy. I let out a slow uneven breath and tried to imagine how I was going to get back to normality after this was all over. With a stab of cold realization I knew it wouldn’t. Normality was something we would never have again.

And it killed me.


Chapter Eight – Ben

His eyes, his beautiful icy blue eyes had haunted my every waking moment for a while now. It had been bad enough that I every time I closed my eyes I thought about him, but now when I thought about him, I couldn’t get past the look he gave when he was at his most vulnerable.

For that short moment he had been completely mine, no one else mattered for once and then it was over. He wanted to get me off too, which I respected. I won’t lie, it was difficult to turn him down and everything I had said was true, but I had been so caught up in the moment I’d almost burst out with a I love you. I needed to end things now, at least for tonight.

My stomach was still churning from his admission, he didn’t have feelings for me and as I had suspected it was all about the sex for him. It had been wrong of me to ask Scarlett to drop by and ask. I was toeing a dangerous line, involving her in my ploy. Interfering in a pretty perfect sibling relationship because I was too afraid to tell him how I felt.

The fact he didn’t have feelings for me didn’t surprise me. We had been friends, and this ludicrous idea of sex lessons was the closest we’d ever been to any kind of non-platonic relationship. Except none of this meant anything more to him than notching up a little experience. I understood of course, after all it was what I had signed up for, but it still hurt. Right down to my core.

I walked back to my room. I’d given Scarlett the key, I knew she was going to want to debrief like she had after I’d told her about the agreement. We’d already talked this morning about it, and I knew there was no point avoiding her.

I knocked on the door, she spoke as she opened it, not giving me the chance to speak first. “I told you he wouldn’t admit to shit when you mentioned this idea Ben.”

“I heard it in his voice.” I replied. “He was being honest.”

She frowned and folded her arms. “I’ve known my brother a heck of a lot longer than you Benjamin. He can be a very good liar. He mutilated my birthday cake when I turned thirteen and no one found out it was him for three years. THREE years Ben. We thought it was the cat.” She picked up her phone and walked back over to the door. “Maybe he’s protecting his heart.”

“He must know he’s safe with me. If he felt any a smidgen of what I feel for him, then he’d tell me.” I replied.

“Like how you’re so open to telling him yourself?”

I walked over to my bed and sat down. She was right, as usual. “Point taken.” I murmured.

“So you’ll tell him?”

I shook my head and kicked my shoes off. “No. not yet.” Maybe not ever. Whether it was lies or not, hearing him say point blank that he didn’t have feelings for me broke my confidence.

I couldn’t tell him I was in love with him and be rejected. The mere idea of him turning me away broke me up so badly that if it was to actually happen, I’d probably lose myself completely. I didn’t care if were never anything more than what we were now, or even what we had been before any of this. As long as he was there I was happy.

Scarlett sighed and placed her hand on the door. “I’d better get back to Xavier. Please don’t let it eat you up.”

I shrugged and lay down. “Hey, I’ve come this far haven’t I.”

She frowned and looked down at the ground. I knew she hated that I kept this in. She wanted us to be together and she trusted me with her brother’s once broken heart. On one level I understood that, but I didn’t want to be the crumbs. I didn’t want to be the guy someone was with because they couldn’t have the one they wanted. I knew Jace was ready to move on even if he wasn’t so sure himself, but not with me. She shot me a halfhearted smile before she turned the door knob and left the room.

For the longest time I just stared up at the hotel room ceiling. So much had happened in the last few hours and I was having trouble processing it all. It had all started with the bar. I’d wanted to kick that asshole two ways of Sunday, but my need for revenge faded away when I saw that Jace had been bleeding. At that point I just wanted the asshole gone so I could make sure he was okay. Seeing him hurt had flicked some kind of protective switch inside of me. While I had wanted him to get checked over at the hospital he asked me if his nose was straight, and when I confirmed it was I had to settle for stemming the bleeding with a few napkins from a nearby table. He didn’t want to make a fuss and the problem was that I did.

Damn it. All I wanted was to go back to his room and climb into his bed. We didn’t even have to do anything sexual. I missed his warmth and his musky scent… I missed him and I’d only just left his room.

I sat up, then pushed myself off the bed and walked into the pristine hotel bathroom. I was still incredibly wound up and I was beginning to regret my decision to leave with the pent up sexual frustration still coursing through me. I was no stranger to a cold shower though. Living with Jace and feeling the way I felt meant dousing my want for him with copious amounts of cold water wasn’t exactly a new thing.

I reached across and turned the nozzle until water streamed out of the shower head and I waited until it was a lukewarm temperature. Once I was undressed I stepped in to the shower and as the slightly cool water hit my skin I fought the urge to turn the water up in heat. Goose bumps washed over me while the hairs on my arms began to stand up. My plan worked however and the cool water slowly lulled my libido to sleep. I rest my head against the wall and stood there for a few minutes while the water ran methodically through my hair and over my shoulders, massaging the tension out.

Before I turned the shower off I turned the heat up for a few seconds to warm myself up. Exhaustion was washing over me so I turned the shower off and stepped out on to the bathmat. I grabbed a towel from the rail. Once I was dry I wrapped the towel I had used around my waist and walked back into the main room. I dressed into a pair of cotton boxers and fell on to the bed.

I was desperate for sleep, it had been a long day. Although I had hated the standoff at the bar, I was still glad Jericho couldn’t make it. I hated to admit it, but I was scared they would meet and Jace would fall for him, causing my splintered heart to shatter. I didn’t have to worry about it for now. Jace was mine, in a weird twisted contractual sort of way.

Jace was the last thing I thought about before my eyes closed for the last time. My body began to react to the thoughts of him, but I fell fast asleep before my libido woke enough to be distracting. Instead my dreams were filled with him and the memories of our encounters over the past few days.

I’d been having sex dreams since puberty, but none had ever felt as real. Every touch and taste felt like it was happening. I never wanted to wake up. But like all good things my dream ended and it ended with me saying the words I’d been afraid to admit. As I imagine it would in reality, in my dream, my admission broke everything. Before I’d even finished saying I love you, the dream’s soft scenery smashed around Jace and I, leaving us standing in the dark abyss of my mind. His face contorted and he was angry. He turned and ran from me, into the abyss until I couldn’t see him anymore.

I woke with a shock, my body sat upright and I gasped audibly. The dream had left a horrid taste in my mouth and mind. Life without Jace there in at least some capacity scared the living shit out of me. It didn’t bear thinking about. He didn’t know, and he wouldn’t. I couldn’t lose him.

I turned and looked at the alarm clock. It was the morning before a gig, and that meant only one thing in the Going Nowhere world. A group breakfast in the hotel restaurant. I wasn’t hungry, in fact I almost felt a little nauseas, but it was a tradition so I forced myself up and dressed anyway.

Only Scarlett was waiting in the lobby when I arrived. She smiled at me and pulled me in for a hug. “You looked like you needed that.” She exclaimed as she let me go. “Did you sleep alright?”

“Yeah.” I murmured. “Thanks for the hug.”

She smiled. Her eyes drifted for a moment, she was looking behind me at something. Her arm rest on my shoulder. Once again she was looking at me.

“Jace is walking over.” She murmured as she smiled softly. “So cheer up.”

I plastered a smile on, even though it felt fake. Xavier walked back across the foyer and pulled Scarlett in to his arms like they’d been apart a lifetime, not mere minutes. I yearned for what they had, but while I was caught up on the one boy that would never see me that way, it wasn’t going to happen.

I looked up at him, and his eyes traced across from his sister to me. All my worry and turmoil suddenly depleted. I smiled at him, my heart pounded and I was lost in him once more.


Chapter Nine – Jace

The next morning I woke feeling more refreshed than I had expected I would. The first thing I did was check my nose. The bruising was barely visible which was good. I dressed in black jeans and a black t-shirt and left the hotel room by 9am. It had become a concert tradition of ours to meet in the restaurant of whatever hotel we were in and have a full breakfast. It usually caused quite a stir, but it was just something we’d all become accustomed too.

I noticed Ben standing in the foyer with Scarlett talking. I tried to hold back the anxious feeling in my gut but it was futile. “Where are the others?” I managed to say without sounding too conflicted in his presence.

“Xavier is in the bathroom and the others I assume are on the way. You didn’t get black eyes after all.” Scarlett murmured.

“Yeah. Won’t have to cover myself in stage make up.” I smiled touching the tender part of my face lightly. “It doesn’t really hurt either.”

“Good.” Scarlett smiled. She looked around and then smiled widely as Xavier walked toward her and engulfed her in his arms. Just being around them made me want what they have. I looked at Ben, who was looking at me. He flashed me his grin and I had to look away fast to stop the butterflies beginning to flutter around my gut. I’m a grown up dammit, and I had to nip this all in the bud.

“Shall we head in?” I mumbled. “I’m starving, I’m sure Doc, Jay and Isla will know where to find us.”

Xavier broke away from Scarlett’s kiss and looked at me with a confused smiled. “Yeah man, sure.”

We walked through to the restaurant and the maître de found us a table. There were a few ooh’s and ahh’s like usual, but today I kept my head down and ignored them. Once we were seated the waiter brought us menus and while we looked the others arrived. Before long the table was aflame with happy jovial talk. Everyone was smiling and laughing, everyone but me. I could feel Ben’s eyes on me, I was too afraid to look up and return the gaze, too afraid to let myself fall into his hypnotic blue stare in case I made my conflicted emotions too obvious.

“Jace?” Xavier exclaimed, shaking me from my trance. “You okay?”

“Huh?”

“We were just talking about heading down to the stadium early. That new song needs a little work, especially with Scarlett joining tonight. We need all the practice we can get.”

I nodded and placed the menu down. “Oh yeah sure man.” Practice sounded like a perfect distraction.

The waiter returned and took our orders. After breakfast was done I hightailed it out of the restaurant and back to my room. My phone buzzed almost the second I walked through the door.

Hey, sorry about standing you up. I’m coming to the concert tonight. You want to meet up after? – Jericho

I read the text message over and over. Each time I came up with a different answer. Meeting Jericho might stop this burgeoning fascination I was beginning to have for my best friend, but the fact remained that I just wasn’t ready.

I’ve been thinking and I’m not as ready as I thought I was to date. I’d like to be your friend and if anything changes, then maybe we can try this again. – Jace

It’s okay Jace. I understand. I’ll still be there tonight, so just know I’m somewhere in the crowd cheering solely for you. – Jericho.

I smiled and chucked my phone on the bed. I looked at my suitcase. I didn’t really have much in the way of concert attire, but wardrobe would have a bunch of clothes they’d make me try on once it was time to get ready anyway. Usually I ended up in Jeans and a t-shirt anyway. Comfort was more important than style as a drummer. After a three hour set, I was usually pretty sweaty.

We left for the stadium around 10am. I guess my unusually quiet behavior was becoming a concern because Xavier split from Scarlett and walked with me from the car toward the stadium doors.

“Dude. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, I promise.”

“I know it’s coming up to that time man.” He whispered. I closed my eyes and shrugged. I’d tried not to think about the anniversary, I’d purposely left details of dates out of my head, just saying “about two years” or “almost two years” had been enough. In reality it was 5 days away. 5 days and Cris had been gone two years.

“I know. I guess yeah, I’m a bit down about the anniversary.” I felt guilty lying about the real reason for my strange behavior. Sure, Cris had been gone for two years in five days, but his death killed me as much as it always had. It was a pain I had taught myself to live with. The real reason was tall, dark haired and had the bluest eyes I’d ever seen.

“Well we’re all here for you man.”

“Thanks.” I forced a smile, although even I was aware it was more like a grimace.

Once we were inside we walked on to the stage. Our roadies had already set everything up so I sat down at my drums and while we practiced I forgot about everything else that was going on in my head. Xavier walked over after we’d finished the first song and gave me a concerned look. “You missed the beat in that last chorus Jace. You’ve never done that before. Take a walk and get some air, come back when you’re feeling a little better okay?”

“Sorry. I’m fine.” I frowned I hadn’t been aware I’d been off beat. I looked over at Ben who was standing at the side of the stage. He smiled at me and I let it go. I let go of the tension and the confusion. I looked back at Xavier and shrugged. “I don’t need a break. I’m okay.”

He smiled and turned around. “Count us in then.”

We rehearsed the whole set, plus the new song four times. By 3pm we had it down.

I got up from my drums and walked over to Ben who’d been watching us pretty much the whole time. He handed me a cold bottle of water and then smiled. “I don’t usually get to watch you in action.” He murmured. “You have so much energy.”

He was being cheeky, and I knew it. I held back a chuckle and nodded. “Drummers need a lot of energy.”

I walked off the stage and around the back of the stadium where the crew had set up lunch. Ben grabbed a plate and held it out for me. I took it and gave him a soft shoulder barge. “Thanks”

“You’re welcome.”

I looked up and over at Scarlett and Isla. I could feel their eyes on me watching me and Ben from the other end of the table. They were trying to conceal the fact that they were whispering, but they were failing. I could tell they were talking about me and probably Ben, if last night’s conversation at the door was anything to go by.

“Hey, how are you feeling now man.” Xavier said, flinging his arm over my shoulder.

“Good.”

“I spoke with the guys. We’re going to go out to that beach that Cris liked and let off some helium balloons with garish messages. You in?”

“Yeah.” I replied, the idea was nice, but I would have preferred to treat it like any other day. Focusing on Ben’s death never left me feeling particularly good. I’d do it for the guys though.

“Cool.”

Xavier walked away and I grabbed a bread roll from the table. I looked up at Ben whose eyes were dark with realization. “Shit, man what a rotten friend I am.” He croaked. He grabbed a can of coke and started to walk over to one of the picnic tables. “It’s the anniversary of Cris’ death soon isn’t it?” I followed behind him and sat down.

“I’ve been trying not to think about the date.” I whispered. “I miss Cris every day. The milestones don’t make it any easier to deal with the loss.”

“Of course.” Ben said.

“I’ll go to the memorial that they’re having because it’s a band thing. They need to grief him the way they need to. I just, I have to let go or I’m never going to be able to move on.” I stabbed at a piece of food, but my appetite was gone. Thinking about Cris had begun to send me down the dark spiral I had worked almost two years to work myself out of. He was always going to be my first love, losing him had been the hardest thing I’d ever done, learning to live again had been the second hardest. Remnants of him were threaded through my heart, and the scars on my legs reminded me of the day I’d lost him in that horrific car accident. I didn’t need to say goodbye over and over again.

“Cris would want you to move on.”

I nodded and looked at Ben with a smile. “He would. It’s just I don’t know if my heart can handle it. I don’t know if I’m willing to try. I’m not lucky to find another true love, another soulmate without getting hurt. I can’t get hurt anymore. I just can’t.”

“Maybe love will find you?”

“Maybe.” I whispered, although, I couldn’t be that lucky twice could I?

After lunch we went back and went through the new song a few times. By 7pm, we were all in wardrobe and make up getting made to look like the rock stars we were supposed to be. The stylist handed me a singlet that was so ripped that I may as well have been wearing nothing. I held it up and shrugged.

“Usually you shove me on stage wearing a slightly edgier t-shirt than the one I have on. What’s with the rags?” I laughed.

“It’s designer clothing Jace!” Doc laughed. “And it was free.”

“Yeah Jace, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” Jay laughed flipping the collar on his stylish leather jacket.

“You’re wearing a leather jacket. This, fuck it, I may as well be topless.” I grumbled as I pulled my shirt off. I threw the singlet on and straightened it out. The armholes went halfway down my stomach, and there were three tears on the left side of the chest exposing my nipple.

“It actually looks pretty cool.” Scarlett smiled.

I rolled my eyes and walked over to the mirror. I didn’t want to admit she was right, I mean who could look good in material this maimed. It wasn’t really even fit for wearable use anymore, except the moment I stood in front of the mirror in the ripped singlet and the black skinny jeans I had no choice but to concede. It worked, I shrugged and walked over to the hair and make-up chair. “It’s passable.” I replied after what seemed like an age, my somewhat nonchalant reply was met with laughter from everyone in the room.

By the time the doors to the stadium opened, my normal nerves had begun to kick in. There hadn’t been a show yet where I didn’t feel like I was going to throw up just before we took the stage. I wasn’t sure how Scarlett and Xavier did it. Singing was like pulling all of your clothes off and shimmying around the stage for all to see. I could sing, I just didn’t want to be that naked. It was scary.

“You alright bro.” Scarlett said resting her arm on my shoulder.

“Oh you know, normal pre-show jitters. How about you?”

“Same.”

I bit my lip and looked down at the ground. It was now or never, I needed to speak to someone about what was going on in my head… or my heart and I needed to set the plan in motion now or I was going to lose myself. “Scarlett.”

“Yeah?”

“When we’re back home, can we like, talk about something?”

“Yeah?” She sounded confused and I didn’t blame her. ‘Something’ was kind of evasive, but with Ben standing only a few feet away I couldn’t explain the real reason.

“Okay, well thanks.”

“You know, you’re my brother. You can talk to me about anything, it kind of comes along with the whole big sister role.”

She hugged me, which apparently also came with the big sister role then ran over to Xavier to kiss him.

“Looks like that’s our cue.” Jay said pointing to the red light that flickered by the stage door. Sure enough a minute later a stage director opened the door and called us on. We walked across the stage, bright lights shining on us like blinding shocks of lightning. I looked out to the audience, but all I could see was blackness. The crowd sounded insane however and I knew that tonight was going to be just as crazy.

The first few songs went off without a hitch, but the thing about performing live is you can never plan for the unexpected. Without warning the stage was plunged in to darkness. I heard Jay and Xavier run off stage first, closely followed by Doc and Scarlett. I rolled my eyes, we had stage crew who would be sorting it. I picked up Xavier’s guitar and tapped the mic. The music equipment was still on anyway.

“Sorry guys, looks like we’ve had a lighting failure.” I strummed my fingers across the guitar it had been awhile since I’d played guitar, most of my music time when on perfecting the drums for the studio. “Are you all having fun?”

A unison power thump of “yeah’s” barreled towards me.

I placed my fingers on the frets and began to play a song I’d written not long after Cris had died. No one knew about it. I’d written it as a healing tool. A failed experiment, one of many things I’d tried to force myself to move on.

The song had words, and in the darkness of the stage I almost felt game enough to strip myself back and bare the part of my soul I very rarely did.

I closed my eyes and let the music travel through my fingers and eventually I couldn’t help it. I needed to sing it, it hadn’t been that therapeutic back then, but right now, in this moment it was just what I needed.

“I can’t breathe through the pain this time

I don’t believe it’ll all be just fine

You think I’ll get better, I won’t

He’s gone and I’m alone

My heart’s been turned to stone

 

As long as I hurt, he’s here

And I have nothing to fear

I won’t have to pretend to live

When I have nothing left to give.

 

I can’t love like I did the last time

Laying all of my heart across the line

You think I’ll get better, I won’t

He’s gone and I’m alone

My hearts been turned to stone.

 

And you can smash me to pieces, cos I won’t care.

You can call me a sinner when you point and stare.

I don’t want to love again when it hurts so much to heal

Letting go, is something I can’t do, because then I’ll have to feel.

 

As long as I hurt, he’s here

And I have nothing to fear

I won’t have to pretend to live

When I have nothing left to give.”

I stopped singing and opened my eyes. The lights were back on, the boys were on the instruments and I hadn’t even noticed. They’d managed to guess the right rhythms because the crowd was going insane. My heart thudded against my chest and I felt light headed. I’d never done anything like that before and it surprised me just how freeing it was. I looked over at Scarlett who seemed surprised, but not quite as surprised as everyone else. As Xavier walked across to me and grabbed his guitar. “In the DNA I tell you.” He murmured as he pat me on the back.

The rest of the concert continued without any further hesitation. Once it was all over, we headed backstage to wait for various contest winners to come meet us. The boys barreled towards me, almost winding me in the process. Ben was nowhere to be seen.

“Dude, we didn’t know you were armed with that voice. You could have been backup, you sound better than me, that’s for sure.” Jay laughed.

“I’m not much a singer. It was a thing I did back when… well you know.”

“You’ll do back up now right?” Xavier grinned.

“Sure, if you think I should.”

Scarlett jumped on my back and gave me a noogy. “You little rat. All that time trying to get me to sing and you had a voice as well. Wait till Mom and Dad find out.”

“It’s really not that major Scar.” I laughed. “I didn’t pretend to be tone deaf after all.”

“Whatever.” She mused jumping down, wrapping her arms around me. “That was a beautiful song by the way. I just hope it’s not how you feel now.”

I shrugged. “Parts of it are still as true as the day I wrote it.”

Scarlett frowned. “Oh shit, the backstage winners are here. You’re going to be popular tonight brother dearest. I hope you’re ready for the onslaught.”

I nodded and stepped back. The next half hour consisted of shaking hands, posing for photos and avoiding the almost inevitable phone number dropping. By the time were leaving my body was craving bed more than it ever had. I fell in to bed and drifted off to sleep before I’d even had a chance to change out of the ripped, not really there singlet.


Chapter Ten – Ben

When the stage plunged into darkness Jace was the last one to stop playing music. The others raced off the stage to find the stage manager, and probably berate him. This was a charity concert, and a power outage was not really acceptable. Usually I’d have been the one to chase it up, but through the darkness my eyes were focused only on the shadow of my best friend. I watched as he stood up and walked out from behind his drum set, he picked up Xavier’s guitar and tapped it. A soft sound echoed through the arena and then he spoke.

When he started singing everything crumbled inside of my chest. Jace’s words burned me like a hot knife and it was that moment I realized that Jericho had never been my biggest worry. Cris was. Jace had lost the love of his life, and no matter what, even if he ever knew the truth the very most I could be was a poor second best.

I guessed I was probably the only one who wasn’t surprised by Jace’s vocal talents. I could hear the others as they walked passed me and back on to the stage discussing it. We had lived together for a while, and he sung all the time in the shower. I was surprised however, by his words and the depth of emotion within them.

As the song drew to a close I remembered how I’d felt after the end of my first serious relationship ended. For the longest time I’d told myself I would stay single forever. Love wouldn’t find me again. But it had, even if it wasn’t reciprocated. I had loved my ex Jeremy, but not the way I had fallen for Jace. I finally understood what he had meant when he had said. “I love you enough to let you go. If we were meant to be, you’ll return to me. If you don’t then one day we’ll both move on and find the ones that were truly meant for us.”

He had known back then, he had the maturity I lacked. I had resented him for effectively dumping me for the longest time. Now I knew he had been right, and now I needed to let him go once and for all.

I disappeared before the concert ended. I needed to see Jeremy and it was already late. I caught a cab and called him on the way. He was waiting outside his apartment when I arrived. It had only been a couple of years, but somehow he looked completely different. He wore a pair of dark jeans and a long sleeved shirt. He smiled as I got out of the taxi, and it wasn’t a polite smile, it was one that pushed his cheeks up and indented the dimples he had either side. His brown eyes shone under the streetlight.

“Ben.” He said smoothly holding out an olive skinned hand. I slid mine in his and nodded.

“Jeremy.”

“You’re looking great.” He mused. “LA must be treating you well.”

“It is.” I smiled. “You look good too. How is uh, Brock?”

“He’s good. He’s upstairs. I said I’d meet you down here first. I wasn’t sure how happy you’d be. Last time we saw each other you were pretty volatile about the fact I’d moved on.”

I sighed and shrugged. “That was a few years ago. I was angry back then, not anymore.”

Even if he had moved on quickly after me, even if it had seemed like I had never meant that much to him, now I knew the truth. It just hadn’t been right.

“Come up. We’ll have coffee.”

I nodded. “I’d like that.”

I followed Jeremy inside the apartment building, the ride up the elevator was silent, but the air was friendly. We walked inside and Brock, looked up. He was sitting on the red couch Jeremy and I had bought together three months before we broke up. I smiled at the memories long past and let my eyes travel to the husband of the man I had once loved. When he stood I noticed he was shorter than me, but not shorter than Jeremy. He had that whole school teacher look to him, which was humorous considering he actually was a teacher. He held his hand out and smiled. “I’m Brock.” He murmured. “You must be the Ben.”

The Ben?” I replied.

“Jeremy has always talked very highly of you. He mentioned you work with Scarlett the musician?”

I nodded. “That’s why I’m in town actually.”

“Lucky guy, so you probably rub shoulders with all the rich and famous.” Jeremy replied. “Ah the life.”

I shook my head. I suppose the guys were all rich and famous, but I had never seen any of them like that. We were our own little family unit. Material things were of little importance.

“Outside of Scarlett, the boys and their family, not really.” I replied. “Won’t lie though, I’ve been around some interesting happenings.”

“I bet.” Jeremy replied. “You thirsty?”

“Yeah, I am a little.”

“So you seeing anyone?” Brock asked as Jeremy walked into the kitchen. I felt his eyes fall upon me and I looked up at an unaffected Jeremy before I turned to face his husband.

“No.” I replied. “Not really. You guys are probably wondering why I called?” I murmured, suddenly feeling weird for contacting Jeremy. This was about closure for me, and I hadn’t stopped to consider how it would feel for them. I frowned and bit my lip as I planned a hasty exit.

Neither said anything for a moment, then in unison, they looked sideways at one another and grinned. “We did wonder, but it really is nice to see you ben.” Jeremy admitted.

I sighed and shoved my hands inside my pockets. Honesty was going to be the best thing here so I laid it all out.

“I was at the charity concert Going Nowhere and Scarlett are putting on.” I explained. “There was a lighting failure and my roommate, Jace, sung a song about moving on and letting shit go.”

I shifted on my feet. “I was an ass when I saw you last and I was an even bigger ass when I spoke to you last.” I remembered the conversation like it was yesterday. I’d called because we had promised to stay in touch, but he’d told me about Brock and it had sent me down a weird self-involved spiral of despair. “Anyway his song reminded me of how I’d felt, and the last thing you said to me and how much I’d grown. I wanted to apologize for being an ass, and I guess to get the closure I didn’t really know I needed. So sorry, you know, for being an ass.”

“Apology accepted, even if it isn’t needed” Jeremy replied as he walked back into the lounge with two glasses of coke. He handed one to Brock and one to me. “So, you live with Jace. From the band?”

“Yeah.” I smiled. Thinking about Jace made me feel lightheaded these days, which wasn’t ideal considering I had to see the guy every day. “We’ve been roommates for over a year now.”

Roommates.” Brock air quoted after he had put his drink down. “It’s okay, we get it. Media is a fickle thing and being upfront about being in a relationship with a rock star is hard.”

I shook my head and sat on the couch. “Trust me, if we were in a relationship I wouldn’t hide it.” I sighed let my head fall forward on to my propped up hands. I’d lied to myself and pretended this whole charade was going to work, just like he said it could. I had pretended it was enough, but it wasn’t.

“Oh… like that is it?” Jeremy replied sitting down beside me. “You like him?”

I cleared my throat and turned my head to face the two inquisitive faces that were staring back at me. My head still rest in the palms of my hands. I half smiled before turned my head back to face the floor.

“You love him.” Brock whispered.

“Just a little.” I croaked. Or a lot.

“Tell him.”

“I can’t. We’ve been… we’ve been fooling around because he’s inexperienced and he asked for my help. I helped him knowing it meant more to me than it does to him. I took advantage of him and the situation. He’ll hate me.”

I sat back up and looked at the guys. Jeremy was smiling at Brock who sipped his coke. “Brock and I were friends for about 3 months before anything happened between us. I was still heartbroken and one night he offered to help get me out of my funk. He liked me and he always had. So the next day when he went to leave I thought it was a one-time thing. Except he told me he liked me and we’ve been inseparable since. If you’re meant to be, he’ll come back to you.”

He echoed the words he’d told me when we broke up.

“But we’re best friends. If he doesn’t forgive me… I’ll be lost.”

“And if you never say anything, you’ll still be lost Ben.”

He was right. I’d been holding it for so long I hadn’t realized the effect it was having on me. I was already lost.

I left Jeremy and Brock’s apartment shortly before midnight. By the time I returned to the hotel it was the early hours of the morning. Walking back had cleared my head, and by the time I made it to my room I was exhausted. Sleep came easy, but the moment I woke everything came rushing back. I needed to tell Jace the truth, and risk losing him forever.


Chapter Eleven – Jace

When I woke the next morning I regretted my decision not to change. One thing about being on a stage under hot stage lights, and drumming furiously is the dangerous amount you sweat. I took a deep breath as I stretched only to be welcomed by the stale stench of BO.

I rolled out of bed and showered. And changed in to clean clothes before I packed my case up. When I walked down to the foyer an hour later everyone else was already there. “The driver is going to pack the car up, but we’ve got time for breakfast before our flight back home.” Xavier exclaimed.

“Food” Jay groaned, sounding as zombified as I felt.

“What did you guys get up to once we got back?” I mused. I had gone straight to be, the exhaustion had caught up with me, but everyone else had stayed together.

“Well Xavier, Jay, Isla and I decided to play drinking poker, except they seem to have forgotten Dad played poker with the guys every weekend our entire lives. I outplayed all three of them, and now they’re nursing hangovers the size of Texas.” She shrugged.

I laughed. “Rookie mistake!” I looked over at Ben who was smiling as well, but he looked somewhat distant. “What about you?”

“Oh I just went to my room and watched T.V.” He replied.

“You weren’t there when I called by to see if you wanted to play.” Scarlett said with a frown. “And I came by your room too Jace. But I figured you were asleep.”

I tried to hide my confusion, where had Ben been? I nodded. “I fell asleep the minute I got to my room. I was so tired I didn’t even bother to change first.” I groaned.

Scarlett turned her nose up and shook her head. “Ew Jace, that’s gross. And so adolescent of you.”

“I’m an adolescent for a few more months, so I can get away with it.” I retorted.

Scarlett rolled her eyes and walked back to Xavier, then we all headed into the restaurant, leaving our bags in the lobby. I hung back with Ben and dug my hands into my pocket. Where had Ben gone last night? And why did I care?

“I went to see my ex.” He murmured answering my unasked question.

“The married one?”

“Yeah.”

I felt my fists ball up as nausea rose in my throat. I had no right to be jealous, we were temporarily friends with benefits, but it seemed that was where it ended. I nodded and looked away from him and tried to focus on the something else, anything else in front of me. It was useless. I was sinking faster than ever into my quicksand of confusion. I needed to talk to Scarlett and work this all out before I went bat shit crazy.

“Your song actually made me want to talk to him.” He whispered, being careful not to let anyone other than me hear him.

“It did?” I replied, now somewhat confused but for a different reason.

“I didn’t lose him in the sense that he died, but we broke up and it was one of the hardest things I have ever faced. Up until now anyway. I never dealt with it. I fed off the pain. I had to see him and lay it all to rest.”

“And now?”

“I feel good.”

I smiled and chucked my arm over Ben’s shoulder, being careful to not let it seem anything other than friendly. “Then I’m happy for you.”

We reach our table and sat down, my jealousy had faded, but it had paved the way for something entirely more confusing… Hope.

I forced myself to eat a proper breakfast, the past couple of days had been exhausting for a multitude of reasons. Not to mention the stress had put me off my food. I knew that I needed to eat if I was to have any hope of not falling apart when I tried to talk to Scarlett back in LA.

When we left the hotel and made our way to the airport my phone buzzed. I pulled it out and unlocked the screen.

You were awesome last night Jace! Wow, who knew you could sing – Jericho

Thanks. I had fun doing it. – Jace

I guess you’re back off to Hollywood today? – Jericho.

Yeah. We’ll have to catch up next time. – Jace.

Agreed. – Jericho.

“Your friend?” Scarlett noted as I slipped the phone back into my jeans pocket.

I nodded and looked around the shuttle. Ben hadn’t heard, or if he had he didn’t care. I understood why Scarlett cared about who I ended up with, but right now I just wanted her to mind her own business, at least until we got home and I talked to her.

I slept on the flight home and woke to Ben softly shaking me. “We’ve landed sleepy head.” He laughed.

“Ugh.”

“For a guy with so much energy you sure sleep like a log.” He mused.

“How do you think I get all my energy?” I grinned sitting up straight.

The seatbelt lights flicked off. DJ had gone to so much effort to ensure we’d caught late flights to Chicago, but not so much to ensure we had the same back. Luckily though no one had harassed us and we had all been too tired to cause any mayhem.

Unluckily there was paparazzi waiting in LAX. They were usually there in the hopes of catching someone famous, so we walked past them as quickly as possible ignoring the flashes that came our way, we hadn’t been embroiled in drama for some time now, and the most they could hope for from us, was the back page gossip section. Once we had retrieved our luggage, the seven of us made our way out of the airport and straight into our waiting shuttle.

“Mom mentioned something about dinner tonight when I called. Are you free? Maybe we could have that talk you wanted to have?” She murmured as the shuttle drove left the parking bay.

I looked at Ben who once again hadn’t paid any attention to our conversation. I bit my lip, logic told me I should talk to Scarlett first, lay it all out and work out exactly what I was feeling before I went any further with Ben. But the irrational lust driven part of me knew that the minute I spoke out loud about my feelings this would all end.

“I’m busy tonight. Pre-arranged plans.” I mumbled. “I’ll call mom later to apologize.”

“Oh okay… Another date?”

“Kind of.” I replied, if by date she meant having sex with my best friend, then sure. It was a date.

The shuttle stopped outside our apartment first. We grabbed our cases from the back and waved the others off. It wasn’t until we stood there alone together that something in my stomach pulled. It wasn’t until we were actually along that I realized what it meant. I looked at him, and I must have looked like a deer in headlights because he broke into a smile and leaned in. “I’m not going to screw you on the sidewalk Jace.”

I let out a labored breath and turned to walk into our building. Ben new exactly what to say to catch me off guard. Once we were had walked inside and up the stairs in silence we opened the apartment door. I walked into the kitchen out of reflex. This entire situation felt strange, kind of like I had back in high school before Cris, when I first knew I was gay. I had a crush on a boy and being in his presence made me giddy. Only this was different, more intense and I couldn’t escape him like I had the boy in high school. Not when the furthest he could get from me at any one time was only a matter of a few feet.

“Thirsty?” I muttered opening the fridge. Must not think about sex, must not think about Ben…. Must not think.

I was still standing in the open fridge when I felt Ben pressed himself against my back. I held back a shiver and tried to keep my cool. “I’m always thirsty.” He breathed into my ear, as a gentle arm snaked around my waist and pulled me back, he shut the fridge door with the other.

“I should stop asking you that question. You always take it so sexually.” I grinned placing my hand over his.

“You didn’t mean it that way.” He whispered, feigning hurt. I turned around, our eyes aligned with one another and for a split second I wanted to tell him I had feelings for him. I quickly quashed the feeling and just smiled.

Ben shook his head then took a slow steady breath, his fingers traced up my arm, over my shoulder settling around my neck. I felt my body twitch to life. Every nerve ending was suddenly on edge and Ben’s touch was like a blissful kind of kryptonite, weakening me with pleasure. When his lips met mine I forgot everything, all the confusion I had about him and me and this entire situation melted away to nothing. It didn’t matter.

At least it didn’t until my subconscious broke through and I began to wonder if it was just like this for me, or was it different for Ben. I tried my best to brush away the ill-timed thoughts, but they stayed steadfast. Ben pulled back.

“Are you okay?” He murmured, pulling back.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” I croaked. “With me?”

Ben grinned and grabbed my hand, he pressed it against the front of his jeans, I could feel his excitement through the thin denim, and it was like it hadn’t gone away since the other night. I smiled and let out a sigh. So part of him wanted me in some way, and I could deal with that. I wanted him too. Our lips connected again but this time I didn’t let niggling thoughts enter my head.

We undressed each other as we kissed our way through the apartment and in to Ben’s room. Once we were in there, we were both stripped down to boxers. “I’ve been wanting this since the other night.” Ben whispered “I’ve barely been able to think about anything else.” His hand slipped from my shoulder, down my chest and over the thin fabric of my cotton boxers. My cock twitched underneath his hand and as he rubbed, I let out a groan, confused how his hand had the ability to incite such pleasure from me. It was nothing more than a simple touch.

“Me too.” I whispered. He pulled back and tilted his head. I couldn’t miss the sudden confusion on his face. I wasn’t sure why he was confused though, he had his hand on me and I was clearly exhibiting the signs of sexual attraction.

“Really?” He questioned sounding uncharacteristically unsure. He pulled his hand back and bit his lip.

Instead of answering I trumped him and let my hands fall down to my boxers. With a quick pull they fell to the ground and pooled at my feet. I grasped myself, hot and hard for him and smiled. “Really Ben.”

He looked down and smiled, and before I could kiss him he dropped to his knees and replaced my hands with his, while his warm mouth slipped over the end. I pushed myself against the bed and grasped the blankets. It would have been easy to let him continue, it felt so good that getting lost in the moment would have been bliss, but today wasn’t about that. I placed one of my hands underneath his chin and the other around his hand on my dick. Slowly I brought him back up to his feet. I kissed him, hard tasting the remnants of my salty skin on his tongue.

We moved back so that I was on the bed, and he was above me, like lovesick teenagers we made out with reckless abandon, our arms and hands wandered until no part was left untouched. Our moans rose from our throats like the steam let off from boiling water.

“Ben…” I whispered, my body was on the brink of falling apart and all we were doing was making out. I needed him with every part of my being. I was beginning to physically ache for him, and only him. He nodded and stood up for a second. I almost cried out in anger at the loss of his touch but he returned a moment later after he chucked something down on the bed. “Just relax Jace.” He murmured leaning down to kiss me once more. “I’ll be gentle.”

I wasn’t sure I needed gentle, I was so wound up that I felt like at any moment I could explode into a million pieces. Gentle wasn’t going to help that, gentle was going to aid it. Ben got up on his knees, but this time he held my legs apart. My heart was thudding hard against my chest, this was it.

He picked up a small bottle and poured some of the clear liquid on to his hand and over his index finger. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, I attempted to relax but I failed miserably, I was about to have sex with my best friend. It didn’t get more real than that.

“You’re not having second thoughts are you?” He said softly.

I shook my head and opened my eyes, letting them lock with his. He smiled back at me, a sweet soft smile, one that gave me reassurance, finally allowing me to relax. His finger probed, gently at first allowing me to get used to the foreign feeling, while his other hand held my hardness, he moved them in unison, I lost control, not of my body just my mind. I moved with his touch moaning as he reached a peak of passion I didn’t know I had. In a lucid moment I lifted myself up high enough to kiss him, yearning to feel his lips on mine.

When we pulled apart and I lay back on his bed, it was my turn to nod, I wanted him, all of him. He smiled down at me, and I was lost in him. I didn’t notice as shrugged his cotton boxers off. I didn’t notice as he reached to the side of me. But I noticed and watched with fervor as he tore open a condom and placed it over himself. I clenched my jaw, unsure why I found the sight of him sheathing himself so erotic, but I did. He grabbed the small bottle again, and lubed himself and then my passage before lining himself up. He lifted my legs up over his shoulders, giving him the right angle. He grinned and leaned down to kiss me on the lips before breathlessly saying. “Full of energy and flexible. I’m not sure why you were ever worried.”

I smiled and lifted my hands to his face, he was beautiful. Overcome with lust his cheeks were flushed pink, his blue eyes glistened and I felt so lucky that I got to be witness to it, even if I wasn’t so lucky in the future.

Slowly with care he pressed his cock against me, guiding it inch by inch, it was different to his finger, more to stretch for and at first the pain had me ready to scream at him to stop, but it quickly gave way to a kind of pleasure I’d never experienced. I looked up at Ben whose glistening eyes had become glazed, His mouth was slightly open. “Jace” He whispered through his teeth as he began to move, slowly at first, building his pace as he knew I could handle it. I grabbed my cock in my hands and gripped it tightly, matching his thrusts with my hands. I let him see the sides of me I hide from everyone else, I let go and gave myself to him.

When our eyes locked again, there was no delay as he leaned down and kissed me once more, and it left me breathless. I knew I was close and I knew I was about as capable of stopping it as I was of stopping a train by standing on the tracks. Ben’s breathing had sped up, his eyes were closed and his hands had a vice grip on my hips. He was close and so was I. His eyes opened and gazed at mine as he lost it with me. My entire body shuddered as the warmth of my seed splayed over my stomach, He tensed for a moment before resting his head against mine and relaxing, his body was like dead weight, but I liked it.

After a minute Ben moved and cleaned himself up. He handed me a towel so I could clean my chest, but I couldn’t move much more than that just yet. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. The bed sagged a little when Ben sat back down, His hand sat on my hip and he beside me. I opened my eyes to find us face to face. “Are you okay?” He questioned, his blue eyes were filled with worry.

“Better than.” I replied with a sleepy smile.

Ben smiled and lifted his hand from my hip to my face. He leaned forward and kissed me one last time. My heart felt warm and full, something it hadn’t in a long time, something that continued to confuse me. I felt the frown cross my face, and watched as Ben’s smile fell.

“What?” He whispered.

“I… I…” I stopped. What the fuck was I about to do? Was I really about to tell my best friend who was just teaching me how to have sex that I loved him? Was losing him worth it, worth that release of feelings I wasn’t even sure I had. No. “I liked that.” I said instead, forcing my smile to return. “A lot.”

Ben grinned and nodded. “So did I.”

The more I lay there looking at Ben, the more I wanted to stay looking at Ben. We were screwed, and not in the way that felt amazing. Our friendship was fucked. I hadn’t looked at Ben like just a friend since he’d kissed me, maybe we could have come back from a kiss, maybe we could have even come back from the blow jobs on the couch, but we couldn’t come back from what had happened at the hotel, or what had just happened. We had crossed the line and I felt something. I knew I did, something close to what I felt for Cris. I sat up and grabbed my boxers.

“Um, I’m going to have a shower.” I mumbled standing up.

“Oh okay, cool.” Ben replied.

“Then I’m going to go out, I’ve got errands to do, and Mom’s having that dinner tonight.” I said walking towards the door.

“I thought you said you weren’t going.”

I bit the inside of my cheek and smiled. So he had been listening. “I wasn’t going to go.”

I ran my hands through my hair and shrugged. “But I shouldn’t really not go. You should come too.”

Ben chuckled and raised an eyebrow. “I just did.” He shook his head and then pointed at his desk. “I’ve got some work I should finish. But thanks.”

“I’ll bring some of Andrea’s pastries back for you then?”

Ben grinned. “You’re the best friend ever Jace Jackson, anyone ever tell you that?”

I forced a smiled and walked out the door, feeling guilty that he could think that even if it was a jovial remark in regards to food. I wasn’t the best friend, I was quite possibly the worst friend.


Chapter Twelve – Jace

I showered quickly and dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. Ben was in the kitchen making a smoothie when I walked out of my room. I didn’t have any errands to run, but I needed to escape now before I said something stupid. I managed to say a short and sweet bye to Ben, and then left the apartment, breathing like I had been suffocating under the weight of my feelings from the minute we’d walked inside. I went down to the garage and jumped inside my Pontiac. Without much thought I drove towards my parents place, the whole time mentally preparing myself for what I was going to say to Scarlett. How was I supposed to explain what we Ben and I had been doing, and how I felt when I wasn’t even sure how I felt?

When I pulled into my parents place I saw Scarlett’s car in the drive way. I walked into the kitchen mom was making drinks, she turned to look at me and broke into a big smile. She placed the cocktail shaker down and engulfed me. “Scarlett said you weren’t coming.”

“I wasn’t going to, but I changed my plans.” I smiled wrapping my arms around her.

“We saw your song, you know made your father and I cry.” Mom said softly, she loosened her arms, but didn’t let go.

“Dad cried?” I almost laughed, he’d become so soft in his old age.

“Of course he did Jace. Losing Cris was a big thing for you, and it was obvious that song was about him.”

I nodded, it was about Cris… and my inability of letting go. Until now, for the first time I was starting to feel like I could. I stepped back and stole a piece of cheese from the platter Mom was preparing.

“Where’s Scarlett?”

“She’s upstairs putting Jackson to sleep. She won’t be too long. Jackson loves the sounds of Scarlett’s voice.” She smiled as she finally let go of me. “I’ll tell her you’re looking for her when she comes down.”

I nodded and walked through the house. There were too many people inside and my already overwhelmed mind was full of questions I needed answers to. Right now being around everyone talking was enough to send me round the bend.

While I was waiting my phone buzzed, and hoping it was Ben I pulled it from my pocket. Except it wasn’t him. My heart sunk as I read the message.

Hope you got home safely. – Jericho.

Yes, sure did. Sorry this weekend didn’t pan out. – Jace.

We’ve always got next time J. 😉 – Jericho.

I smiled and placed the phone down on the glass top table just as Isla and Scarlett walked outside. They sat down and handed me a drink.

“What’s this?”

“Tequila sunrise.”

“I’m underage.” I replied with a smile. It was like I had never had alcohol before, I just wasn’t a big drinker.

“Call it a sweetener. We need to talk and we need you to be kind of open to discussion.” Scarlett said.

“Actually I…” I shifted in the seat, which she seemed to take as an attempt to leave.

“Jace Jackson, don’t you dare try walk away from this.” She warned, holding her hand up.

I sighed. “Well actually I was…” I needed to talk about Ben now, but she wouldn’t give me a chance to talk. She shook her head and cut me off again.

“Just listen okay.”

I rolled my eyes and looked up at my sister. Clearly she had something to talk to me about and she was being stubborn as usual so I let her go first. “Fine.”

“This boy… the one you’re chatting to.”

“Yeah?” What the heck did she want to talk to me about Jericho for?

“Are you sure you know everything you need too? Are you sure he’s not a murderer.” She pronounced murderer as if it was a given conclusion. Granted after the stuff she had been through I didn’t blame her for jumping to that conclusion, but now was neither the time nor place to discuss it.

“Scarlett.” I warned, this conversation needed to end, I needed to talk about Ben, and talking about Jericho and the fact I’d met him online was riling me up.

“After everything we’ve been through you can never be too careful.” She said, throwing down her experience card like she knew what she was talking about. Usually I’d have given her the benefit of the doubt, but this time whether Jericho was a bad guy or not didn’t actually matter.

“You sound like Ben. Look he’s fine, I’ve talked and chatted to him for a little while.” I replied. “I don’t actually want to talk about this with you guys okay.”

Scarlett looked at Isla who gave me a critical look. “I came to take the pictures for Ben a little over a week ago Jace.”

“And?” I replied, annoyed that they were ignoring my desire to end the conversation.

“You made your account the same day. Which means even if you met that day it’s only been a little over a week. That’s not enough time to know anything and about anyone.” Isla replied.

I huffed, I hated what they were angling at, especially given I came to talk to Scarlett about something completely different. I shrugged and leaned back into my chair. They wanted to talk about this, then fine. I was going to let them do all the talking. Scarlett picked up my phone and I shrugged. I didn’t have anything to hide. I had a few texts from Jericho, but all the hotter stuff had been on the computer, and earlier on in the week. Ever since Ben and I had started doing stuff I hadn’t been able to send Jericho anything more than G rated messages.

“Is this him?” She mumbled, holding my phone out to me, I sighed, I’d forgotten that I had downloaded his picture so I would be able to find him on our ‘date’ in Chicago. I nodded and looked down at the drink they’d brought me, suddenly it looked appetizing. “He’s a stunner.” She added, but her voice sounded as critical as Isla’s look at been only a minute before.

She gave the phone to Isla who clicked her tongue. “Certifiable huh.” She mused placing it down on the table.

“What the fuck are you two on about?” I grumbled, I was teetering on the edge of losing my patience.

“You’re being cat-fished. He’s baiting you, luring you to meet him so he can probably go all psycho on your ass.”

“Really?” I sighed. “You’re going down that path. Fuck. Maybe I want him to psycho on my ass.” I retorted. Both girls blushed as what I had said registered. I stood up and walked over to the door. “Thanks for the worry, really. But I actually told him I wasn’t ready to see anyone. He was good about it… which is more than what I can say for you guys.”

Scarlett suddenly looked full of regret, she stood up, but I held my hand out. “Forget it. I came here to talk to you about someone else, but fuck it.”

The anger simmered as I walked inside. I needed to get out of here before I exploded. I walked down to the kitchen and kissed my Mom on the cheek. “Sorry Mom, I can’t stay.”

“Oh… why not honey?” She sounded sad, and for a moment I felt guilty, but this wasn’t my fault. This was Scarlett’s fault and her inability to see me as an adult.

“Ask Scarlett. She decided I needed the Spanish inquisition in order to start dating again.”

Mom sighed and pat me on the back. “I’ll talk to her… You know she just wants the best for you don’t you?”

“Then maybe she should have let me speak.” I dug my hand into my pocket. “I’ll call you later. Love you.”

“Love you too son.”

I walked out the front door and down to my car. How dare they? I mean I knew they were trying to look out for me, and that was cool. But I wasn’t a kid anymore. I hadn’t been one for a long time and I was more than capable of making my own decisions. At least until it came to Ben. Frustrated I let out a growl before I started the ignition. Scarlett was running down the steps as I backed down the driveway, but I wasn’t sticking around to find out what she wanted to say. She had said enough. I was going home and going to bed. Alone.

I burst through the apartment door once I arrived home and walked into the kitchen. Ben was nowhere to be seen so I figured he was probably in his room. It was probably a good thing to steer clear of me right now anyway, considering not only had Scarlett and Isla successfully made me feel stupid, but I still didn’t know what my feelings for Ben meant.

I opened the fridge and grabbed out a juice, I drained the bottle and threw it angrily at the recycling bin, causing it to bounce out and on to the floor.

“Whoa, dude, what’s up?” Ben’s voice rang in my ears and I felt simultaneously happy and frustrated. I picked the bottle up and placed it in the green bin. “Nothing.” Was the only word I could muster before walking from the kitchen to my bedroom.

Of course, Ben couldn’t leave it alone, not that I blamed him. He followed me and stood in the doorway of my room. I never really got angry, but here I stood, ready to explode and not in a good way. “Jace, I can see it’s not nothing.”

“Scarlett and Isla had a go at me about Jericho. They treated me like freakin kid.” I almost shouted.

“Dude. I’m sorry.”

My eyes narrowed, of course they only knew about Jericho because of Ben. I clenched my jaw and tried to ignore the rush of anger than pulsated through me. I wouldn’t take this out on Ben.

“It doesn’t matter. Fuck them, I’ll talk to him and arrange to see him just to spite them.” I laughed, but it was an empty laugh, and unlike myself. I didn’t do things for revenge.

“Really?” He said, he sounded hurt. I couldn’t take the time to figure out what that meant, not right now. I was too angry.

“No not really. But it’s none of their business who I date, sidelining me like that, telling me I’m being cat-fished. Judging me! They had no right. What if I fell in love with Jericho one day huh! What if…”

Ben stepped forward and pressed his lips against mine. We kissed, but it was unlike anything else we had shared, it was angry, coarse and it felt final. He pulled back and walked backwards to the door. His face twisted, his jaw clenched. He held his hand up and shook his head.

“Don’t speak, don’t say another word. Please.” He whispered, and although his voice was quiet, he could have been shouting and I would have been winded all the same. He turned and walked out of my room. It was my turn to be confused and worried so I followed him out. “What? What’s going on?”

“Do you have any idea how hard it’s been for me to hide my feelings for you Jace?” He exclaimed, his blue eyes danced, making my stomach flip flop. It took a second to register what he’d said.

What the fuck.

“I can’t do this anymore. I was stupid. So stupid, I thought that maybe one day you’d feel the same, if I just waited long enough.” He ran his fingers through his hair and it was almost like he couldn’t decide whether he wanted to laugh or cry.

“Ben…” I began, unsure of what I was planning to say.

“No, let me finish or I’ll never say it.”

I swallowed hard. This wasn’t happening. He wasn’t turning the tables on me. He couldn’t be. Even still, I stayed quiet, I stood on the spot, and I waited for him to finish.

“We did that stupid dating website and you asked me to teach you how to… I knew I should have stuck to my original answer. This wouldn’t be killing me right now. I wouldn’t feel like my heart’s being ripped out of my chest.” Ben stopped and looked up at me, his eyes were fresh with tears and I wanted to take him in my arms and hold him, but I didn’t. I just stood there like an idiot.

“But the thought of finally being with you overtook my logic and I wanted you, so bad, and it was so good, but the whole time I was sick with the thought that you were learning all of this so you could please someone else.” He stopped, his shoulders sagged, like the weight of a big secret had been lifted.

“Ben…” he had feelings for me too, this was news… News I didn’t know how to process. Had we been falling for each other at the same time? I stepped forward and went to reach for his hand but he jumped back.

“I know you want Jericho, Jace. He’s cake.” He frowned. “I’m good for a lay, but… Not for…” he stopped and shrugged.

That damn cake analogy was so overdone. I felt anger rise in my veins again. I slammed my fist against the wall behind me and shook my head. “What exactly are you saying Ben?”

Please don’t say it. I can’t say it back. I’m so confused.

“I’m in love with you Jace.” He said like he had no energy left. “I have been for a while.”

A while? What? My head suddenly felt fuzzy and my legs weak. My lungs burned from the oxygen I couldn’t filter. He was in love with me and he had been for a while. I was still confused, my feelings were still confused, but he wasn’t I swallowed hard.

“How long.” I managed to mumble.

“A year.” He choked out.

His confession hit me like a sledgehammer. A year? How had he been my friend if he was in love with me? Had our entire friendship been fake, had he been hanging out with me since Cris had died in the hopes that one day I’d just throw our friendship aside and fuck him? Had this been his plan all along?

“A year Ben?” I yelled. “We only started hanging out just over a year ago!”

“I know.” He said, he dipped his head and looked down at the floor. Part of me wanted to comfort him, but in that moment an even bigger part couldn’t see through the anger I felt in my gut.

“Have you ever just wanted my friendship, has it ever just been platonic for you?” I felt sick, everything I thought I knew was wrong. I had expected things to change, but I hadn’t expected this.

He shook his head and it killed me. “On some level I’ve always liked you Jace.”

I felt like passing out, he’d pulled the rug from beneath my feet then set fire to it while poking my heart with hot metal rod.

“Our friendship was a farce, a fucking farce! You’re the catfish.” I shouted. Fuck! I’d lost my virginity to him, I had trusted him. Sure I’d been questioning my feelings, but for me, it had only been a few days, not our entire friendship.

He nodded. “I guess I am.”

My brain was thinking at a million miles per hour, Scarlett knew about Jericho, and she had known about the date. Then that night, when Ben was in my room she dropped by and she had asked me all of that stuff. It was for a reason. She knew about Ben’s feelings for me. All of the air left my lungs and I fell against the wall.

“Scarlett knows. Doesn’t she?”

His eyes told me all I needed to know. My damn sister had betrayed me as well. I wanted scream, but I had no energy left. I was depleted.

“How much?”

“Jace….”

“How much does she know Ben?” I warned.

“Everything and I know you don’t feel the same, I get that now. I heard you say it too her.”

I closed my eyes and shook my head. This wasn’t happening. I had to get out, I needed space to think, to work out my still very confused feelings, and dissect the very real betrayal I was feeling. I looked back up, and for a split second I found myself wanting to kiss Ben, to feel his lips against mine, to forget this pain, this gnawing pain, but I didn’t, instead I walked back in to my room and grabbed my still packed case and pulled it to the door “I can’t do this Ben.”

“Where are you going?” he questioned, he looked worried, but I couldn’t make him feel better, not this time.

“I don’t know.” I replied. “Maybe Chicago.”

It was a low blow, and the look on his face said it all. His eyes were misty, and there was no trace of his trademark smile. I brushed off the guilt and placed my hand on the door handle.

“Our friendship is over isn’t it?” he murmured, tearing his eyes away from mine.

“I can’t even think right now Ben.” I whispered, everything hurt, but my heart hurt most and I wasn’t sure why. I walked out the door and each step I took was one more I wanted to take back until I was in front of him again. But I kept walking.

Talking through it might have been the ideal way to deal with this, but right now, the only thing I was capable of, was running. I stood outside on the footpath for a few minutes, unsure of where to go. Moms would still be overrun by people, some of whom I wanted to avoid just as much as Ben. So I called a cab, and went to the airport.

Once I was there I stared at the flight screen and closed my eyes. I pulled my phone from my pocket and looked at my inbox. I needed to get Ben out of my head.

About what I said, I changed my mind. Want to meet sooner? – Jace


Chapter Thirteen – Ben

I guess I always knew Jace would leave me one day. I just expected that it wouldn’t be like this. I didn’t think he’d ever know how I felt and I figured that when he left he’d be happy, with someone else, but none the less happy and I would be happy because he was. I didn’t expect that on the same day we made love, on the same day I actually contemplated telling him that I was in love with him as we lay beside one another on my bed, he would leave possibly hating me.

He was right. I had cat-fished him. I had lied our entire friendship about my feelings, and what made it worse was that I wasn’t sorry about being his friend. I had learned so much from having him in my life that even if we’d never been together, just being his friend had always been enough for me.

None of that mattered now. I’d monumentally fucked up.

The moment Jace walked out the door was the moment a part of me died inside. I sat down on the sofa and struggled to breathe. This was it, he was gone and it was then that I knew I’d never truly been in love before, because I’d never felt this pain before, not with any of my exes. I’d never felt like I was being crushed from the inside out. I was a typically optimistic guy, who tried to see the best in every situation, but right now my entire world was various shades of black and grey and I just wanted to sink into a corner and cry.

Realistically I knew what I had to do. Jace deserved better than what I had given him, I needed to leave. He was hurting, probably more than I was. I’d lied to him. I needed to walk away.

I walked into my room and opened the closet. My box of mementos sat on the shelf and inside it lay my own personal Jace shrine. I pulled it out and placed it down on the bed. It held everything that reminded me of him. His old drum sticks, worn and dirty sat in there, the photos I had taken of him by the beach, the photos of us that Isla had taken of us, Going Nowhere albums, Movie stubs, lots of little things that reminded me of how much I loved him. But it was clear now, I didn’t deserve the right to love him. So I closed the box, lifted it up and walked out of my room.

I was running on autopilot as I made my way down to the apartment carpark. I took the lift down and unlocked my car. It wasn’t until I opened the driver’s door that I caught Jace’s black Pontiac still parked up out the corner of my eye. Wherever he had gone, he hadn’t taken his car. I frowned and hopped in the driver’s seat. Maybe he would be back tonight. Part of me hoped he would, not that I expected him to forgive me.

I called Scarlett before I left, I needed to see her, to let her know at the very least that Jace knew everything. I felt guilty for throwing her under the bus with me, but I’d lied to Jace enough. After the run in at dinner Scarlett had gone home. Isla and jay were also there when I arrived, and the four were drinking. I walked in and took a shot glass from Scarlett’s hands. I gulped it back in one go, but I barely felt the burn.

“You look like shit. What’s happened?” Scarlett murmured.

“Jace.” I mumbled, placing the box on to the bench. I looked up at Scarlett and held back the emotion the best I could. “He came home talking about Jericho and I guess I just lost it.”

“Oh Ben, that’s our fault.” Scarlett exclaimed, her eyes softened, she looked concerned as she wrapped her arm around me and pulled me in for a hug. “I told him everything.” I muttered.

“Everything?”

“How I feel, how long I’ve felt it. He figured out you knew.” I pulled back from her arms. Caught up in emotion I stuttered my words. “I think he hates me now. He’s gone and I don’t know where and I just feel so broken.”

“He’s gone?” She replied, her voice matched mine. She slumped against the bench and ran her fingers through her mahogany hair.

“He took his case and left, I don’t know where he went.” I mumbled, although somewhere deep inside of my stomach I knew exactly where he had gone, and who he was with.

Scarlett’s eyes widened, she looked sideways at Xavier who handed me a beer. I took it, but placed in on the bench next to the box. How the hell was I meant to fix this? Scarlett pulled her phone from her pocket she dialed a number and waited after about ten seconds she frowned and left a message. “Call me when you get this Jace. Please.”

She placed her phone down, then let her hand rest over mine. “This is all my fault. When I get hold of him I’ll tell him that.” She was trying to assure me, but I wouldn’t let her. This was all on me.

“It’s not your fault Scarlett. As per usual I fell for the guy I couldn’t have.” I looked at Xavier who smiled sympathetically and shrugged. “Except this time I really fell, hard and for my best friend.” I looked away, down at the hard wood floor wishing I could sink in to it. After a few seconds I tapped the top of the box. “This is everything that I kept to remind me of stuff, I can’t keep it, and I can’t take it.”

Scarlett’s grip on my hand tightened I looked up and she frowned. “Take it where Ben? Where are you going?”

“He won’t talk to me again after this Scarlett. I lied to him for a year. I moved into an apartment with him knowing I had feelings for him, I went along with that stupid agreement knowing I had feelings for him. You think that guy he was chatting to was the catfish.” I picked the beer up and took a long swig. “But it was really me.”

“No! You’re Ben, his best friend. Surely with time he’ll realize you were just protecting him, waiting for him to be ready. I swear he has feelings for you too Ben.”

“You asked him if he did Scarlett, he said he didn’t.” I remembered the moment vividly. It had taken every ounce of my strength not to fall apart in the hotel bathroom as I listened to them talk. I looked up at Scarlett who smiled softly.

“I knew he wouldn’t Ben, I told you if you were there he wouldn’t admit to anything. I didn’t tell you that he asked me if he could talk to me when we got home just before we went on stage though.”

“Huh?”

“Except when he came over Isla and I ambushed him about that Jericho guy because I noticed him texting him and I didn’t want him to do something stupid. But I pushed him too far, I didn’t let him speak. This really is all my fault.” Scarlett was frowning again, almost on the verge of tears. “Maybe if I’d just let him speak this would have all turned out different.”

I shook my head, No matter how it came out, Jace was always going to be hurt that I had lied to him for a year. I had done things with him under the proviso of an agreement between friends full well knowing I was in love with him, I had taken advantage of him and the situation. Besides, Scarlett was only guessing and she hadn’t seen his reaction back at the apartment, whatever he had wanted to talk about, even if it had involved me, it was long gone.

“You never answered me Ben.” She whispered finally. “Where are you going?”

“I’m taking absent leave.” I said with a smile, it was fake and she knew it as well as I did.

“Ben….”

“I’m going to New York for a while.” I continued.

“No, please, don’t go.” She pleaded, and I hated that not only had I let Jace down, but now I was letting Scarlett down too.

“When Jace gets back tell him I’m sorry I lied.” I whispered.

Scarlett refused to let go of my hand, and her eyes were full of tears. She looked at Xavier as if to say ‘help me’ but Xavier just placed his arm around her shoulder. “You need to let him do what he needs to Scar.” Scarlett looked at Xavier like he had betrayed her, she was about to speak, but I pulled my hand from hers and shook my head.

“Don’t fight over me Scarlett. Please. Xavier’s right. I need to do this. I love you guys. I’ll call okay.”

I pulled Scarlett into a hug, then Isla, Xavier and Jay. I left the house before I could change my mind about leaving and drove back to the apartment. Jace hadn’t returned, but I hadn’t really expected him too. I spent the rest of the night packing suitcases to take to New York. The moment morning arrived I called a furniture removal company and arranged for them to take my stuff into storage.

The last thing I did before I left for the airport was leave Jace a note and two month’s rent.

Dear Jace.

I’m sorry I lied. For what it is worth, while I always had feelings for you, just being your friend was always enough for me. I’m not sorry for that.

I hope one day you can forgive me.

X Ben.

After the movers had been I headed to the airport and took the first flight I could get to New York. I called DJ from the NY airport. I knew he wouldn’t be impressed with my lack of professionalism, but I hoped he’d understand once I explained the situation.

“Ben. I see you’ve jetted to New York.” He answered the phone saying, his voice crisp and confused sounding.

“Huh?” I replied. Had Scarlett called him first?

“You used your work credit card to foot the bill. Anything over a certain amount and I get an alert. What’s happened?” he sounded concerned, worried.

“Shit, sorry. I thought I used my personal one. I’ll transfer the money back.” My mouth run dry and I pulled my wallet from my pocket. Surely I could find a bank to transfer some money over.

“No, it’s fine Ben. You barely use the thing as it is, it’s a job perk. Just tell me why you’re in NY.”

“I need to take some leave. As much as possible, maybe permanent.” I replied.

“Why?”

I walked over to a bench seat and sat down, this wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have standing up, not when talking about Jace made me weak at the knees right now.

“I’m in love with Jace.” I tried to say simply, although the admission hung around my neck like a noose.

“And? I thought everyone knew that already.” He replied. My mouth hung open in shock, DJ had known?

“Well he didn’t and he’s hurt and I need to get out. If I come back I need to represent someone else, someone not related to Jace.” I whispered. I hated the idea of losing Scarlett as my client. She was a friend more than anything, but I needed to distance myself.

“Scarlett would hate that.” DJ warned.

“I know. I would too. She’s my anti-diva.”

“Just take some time Ben. Think about things, and come home when you’re ready. Scarlett doesn’t have any commitments away from home for a while anyway.”

“Alright, Thanks DJ.” I conceded, although I knew that I was only allowing him to stall the inevitable.

“And for what it is worth, I’ve seen the way the kid looks at you Ben. It’s not completely one sided.”

My heart thumped, I closed my eyes and let the memory of Jace’s lips on mine wash over me. The way his kiss had blinded me from everything else. I’d wanted to ask him more than once how it had felt for him, but had stopped myself in case I didn’t like the answer.

“I wish I could believe that.” I whispered. My emotions were exhausted and I needed to stop thinking about Jace. After I hung up from DJ I walked outside with my suitcases and hollered for a cab. I hoped my Mom would be alright with my unannounced arrival, I hadn’t called because like everyone else I knew she’d ask why and I didn’t want to tell her, she didn’t need to be burdened with my mistakes. As the taxi pulled up outside her house I paid the cabbie and grabbed my things.

The front door, with its red peeling paint opened before I could even knock.

“Benny!” Mom cried, tears in her eyes. She enveloped me in her arms, and I bent down to accommodate her short stature. Feeling warm and safe I fell apart, I couldn’t help it. I cried into her shoulders and it finally hit me, I’d managed to lose my best friend and the love of my life in one foul swoop.

“Benny?” mom whispered, her voice was like her hug, warm and inviting. She pulled back and I stood up straight. “Benny, what’s happened?”

“I made a mistake.” I whispered, although mistake didn’t really cover it. “Can I stay for a while?”

“Of course, as long as you, need. Come in and we’ll have a chat.” I followed Mom inside the house, the sweet smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven wafted through my nose. I looked around the living room and smiled, the same dated carpet ran throughout the house, it was worn, almost to the bare threads, but this was home.

“Do you ever stop baking ma?” I smiled leaving my suitcases by the door.

“The kids in the neighbor love my baking, after Jimmy left, well I just kept baking and the kids keep coming.” She chuckled and walked through the lounge.

“How is James? I haven’t called him in a while. Is he coming back for college yet?” I smiled, my little brother had taken a gap year to travel, although it had been 18 months and he hadn’t been back once. Mom walked into the kitchen and I followed. “No honey, he’s thinking of going to japan for a while. He’s having too much fun to come home.”

“What about Dad?”

“He’s at work.” She replied.

“I know Mom. How is he?” I questioned, referring to his alcoholism. He’d been through rehab more times than I could count but each time the sweet seduction of drink lulled him back. I hoped the fact I hadn’t heard anything meant good things.

“He hasn’t touched a drop since you were here last Benny, almost two years. That’s a record for him.” She sounded proud, and I let my sadness wash away for a moment to feel proud.

I smiled and sat down at the wooden table that was older than I was. I ran my fingers over the scratches James, Ethan and I had made when we were kids. Mom had yelled at us and sent us to bed without dinner after the day we had done that, she had been so angry that we had ruined her one nice piece of furniture that she couldn’t look at us without crying. Of course she moved on, and once I left home she even mentioned the scratches in the table providing her with memories of us as children. Even though the situations were completely different, I had to hope that maybe, although Jace was angry now, eventually he wouldn’t be.

“Would you like a coffee Benny?”

“Please Mom.” Mom made the coffees and I forced myself to think of anything but Jace, because it hurt too much to keep thinking of him, of how much I hurt him, and of how much I still loved him.

When Dad arrived home he was genuinely happy to see me. We hadn’t had the best relationship, especially after I had come out. He’d come from a strict Christian household, and while he’d never taken us to church, he held many of the old school values close to his heart. My sexuality had been hard for him accept, and it came to a point where we just didn’t talk about it.

“So son, what brings you home?” He murmured picking his fork up, Mom had made a pork roast and it smelt delicious. For the first time since Jace had walked out of the apartment I had an appetite.

“If I said I missed you guys would you believe me?” I murmured.

Mom looked up and smiled, and Dad just let out a little chuckle.

“We know you miss us, but you live for your work honey. We know you, and we both know that your being here is a little more than homesickness.” Mom said while she poured gravy over dad’s plate.

I swallowed hard, desperate not to think about Jace right now. I lifted the water to my lips and took a long drink. I didn’t want to talk about this, not now. “Is it a boyfriend?” Dad questioned. “We can talk about it if you like.”

My eyes widened and I almost choked on the water. My straight as an arrow father wanted to talk about my love life? “Huh?”

“My AA meetings are run in the same place one of the LGBTQ meetings are. I stumbled in to one. It was hard at first I’ll admit. But I understand better now.” He explained.

I looked at mom, she just smiled at me and nodded before proudly looking at my suddenly open minded father. I could feel the emotion start to gather in the back of my throat. For years I’d felt disconnected with my dad over my sexuality, since I was 15 we had lived almost separate lives in the same house. He hadn’t disowned me, but at the time it felt like I’d lost a part of him anyway.

“Dad…” I said trying not to cry, I was failing, with everything else that was going on in my head, Dads acceptance was the cherry on top. “Thank you.”

“There is nothing to thank me for son. I’m just being the Dad I should have been back then.”

He placed a hand on my shoulder and I smiled.

“So, is it a boyfriend?” he repeated.

I shook my head and my smiled faded. I could never be so lucky. Jace was the kind of guy who could pick literally anyone to be his boyfriend. Why the hell would he pick me? He hadn’t. We’d been friends for over a year and it had taken him that time to ask me to teach him how to have sex, in preparation for someone else. He wasn’t in to me, at least not like I was in to him.

“Not a boyfriend.” I whispered pushing my plate away. Thinking about Jace had me feeling nauseous. “Sorry, I’ll heat this up later Mom. I’m going to go to bed.”

“Are you alright son?” Dad said, his voice concerned.

“No, but I will be.” I replied, unsure if it was the truth, if I really ever could be okay again. Letting go of this pain seemed impossible.

I walked up to my old bedroom, it still had my bed all of my posters were still plastered on the walls, but mom had made it double as an exercise room. I pushed passed the treadmill and flopped on to my bed. I was exhausted, but even my exhaustion wasn’t enough to override everything I was feeling. I lay on the bed, staring at the white ceiling until night fell and the entire room was pitch black.

Around midnight I went downstairs. I hadn’t stopped thinking about Jace since dinner time, and I was beginning to lose my mind. I grabbed a glass of water and sat down at the table. Tears began to flow before I could stop them.

“Benny?” Mom’s voice called through the darkness. I wiped my eyes furiously and swallowed back the ball of emotion in my throat.

“Go back to sleep mom. I’m just having a drink” I replied, my voice was thick with emotion, I couldn’t hide behind it.

“What’s wrong, Benny, please tell me.” She murmured flicking the kitchen light on, she sat down and placed her hand over mine.

“I made a mistake.”

“So you said honey, but what kind of mistake.” Mom wasn’t going to let me get away with my vague answer this time. I frowned and looked at her.

“I fell in love with someone I shouldn’t have.”

“Who?”

“My best friend, my roommate. Jace.” Saying his name was a cruel kind of torture. It forced me to confront everything, and I couldn’t stand it.

“I fell in love with my best friend and married him, maybe he feels the same?” Mom was attempting to make me feel better, trying to give me hope, but it was hopeless.

“But I lied to him, I wanted to be with him, I always wanted more than friendship with him, even before we roomed together.” I choked on my words. “I told myself being his friend was enough and I believed it.”

“Oh Benny.”

“It gets worse Ma.” I sighed.

“I’m listening.”

“He hadn’t had much experience… um… so he wanted me too…” I blushed and stopped talking. “I should have said no Mom. For the sake of our friendship, I should have said no, but I got greedy.”

Mom’s hand squeezed mine and she let out a sigh. “So you were friends with benefits?”

“Uh… Mom?!” I said, laughing away the shock.

“Honey, I’m your Mom, but that doesn’t mean I am clueless about sex.” She shrugged, smiling softly.

“Look either way, it doesn’t matter. He hates me now, because it all came out. He knows everything. Every last detail. He ran away and I don’t know where he went.” I croaked. Usually I’d have done the obligatory ‘Ew Mom…’ in jest, but today was different, my humor was still MIA.

“Well,” She replied tapping my hand. “You need to go back and wait. If you love him like you say you do, you need to give him time to process everything and wait until he forgives you. Even if all you ever are is his friend, won’t the waiting be worth it?”

“Yes.” I nodded, just hearing his voice again would be worth it.

“You might have to wait a month, or five, or more, but the wait would still be worth it wouldn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Then you know what you need to do Ben. Your father and I love having you here, and I don’t want you to go back to LA. Gosh if I could wrap you, Jimmy and Ethan up for the rest of your lives to protect you from harm I would, but you’re big boys now.” Mom pat my hand again. “And you’re in love, you need to chase that, don’t let it go so easily Benny. True love is a rare achievement.”

“He’s loved and lost his soulmate in a car accident Mom, I’ll only ever be crumbs.”

“Honey, sometimes terrible horrible things happen, and we lose people. Important people, people we love. But just because he was in love with someone else, just because he had a one true love and lost it through tragedy doesn’t mean he won’t find true love again and if he loves you too, he’ll never let you feel like you’re crumbs.”

Mom’s words rocked me. Jace had never let me feel like I was crumbs, in fact he had adamantly told me I wasn’t and would insist I stopped saying it. I smiled and let the idea that maybe, somewhere in his heart, he loved me back.

“I guess I need to go home then.” I whispered.

“I guess you do honey.” She smiled and stood up, leaning forward she kissed me on the head and walked over to the kitchen door.

“Can I stay another night though? I really do miss you and Dad”

“Of course honey.” She murmured. “Turn the light off before you go back to bed.”

The next morning I booked a hotel back in LA online, I couldn’t go back to the apartment, not yet, maybe not ever, I had to give Jace the time and space to figure this whole mess out. Being there, in his face wasn’t fair on him.

Then, for the day I tried my best to forget everything and enjoyed my time with my parents. After dinner I cleared up while my parents went to watch the news. I was only half way through the dishes when they both called out at me loudly, like the house had caught fire or something. I put the scrubbing brush and plate down and walked into the lounge. Mom pointed at the television, while dad grabbed the remote and turned up the volume. My eyes gravitated to the TV… Holy Fuck.

Chapter Fourteen – Jace

Are you kidding? I’d love that. – Jericho.

I stared at the text message for what seemed like hours, in reality it was only a matter of minutes. Was this really the right way to go about this? Did I need to forget Ben and get all this mess out of my head by doing what I had planned to do from the very start and date someone I barely knew?

Probably not.

But I couldn’t figure any of it out. I knew what love felt like, I’d felt it for Cris, I felt different around Ben, I couldn’t explain it… I didn’t want to explain it, not anymore. I needed to forget it.

I walked up to the booking office and bought a ticket to Chicago. I didn’t tell anyone I was leaving town, Mom would have tried to talk me out of it, Dad would have told me to move home, Toni was on a cruise with Ben’s brother Ethan, and Scarlett… well Scarlett had known all along. Thinking about the whole situation made me angry again so I stopped thinking and waited for my plane to board.

Once I’d touched down in Chicago I booked myself a hotel. Jericho and I arranged to meet in the bar that we were originally going to meet in once I had a chance to have a shower.

My phone rung a few times, First it had been Scarlett, then mom, then Dad, In fact over the course of a few hours almost everyone in our patchwork family had tried to contact me except Ben. I tried to ignore the nagging feeling in my gut, but it was there, part of me.

It was late when I caught a cab to the bar that night, I was half expecting Jericho to cancel, but when I arrived I recognized him instantly sitting at the bar. He was every bit as gorgeous as his photos, maybe even more so. He was tall, taller than me, and his clothes clung to his muscles like they’d been custom made for him. I gulped back a ball of nerves just as he turned around. He smiled at me and the butterflies took me by surprise, he was almost unbelievably attractive. The confusion I had been feeling dulled a little as he stood up and held his hand out. “I’m Jericho.” He grinned. “Nice to meet you Jace.”

I placed my hand in his and shook it. “Nice to meet you too.”

He sat back down and pat the bar stool next to him. “Can I get you a drink?”

“Rum and coke without the rum.” I laughed.

“Hey can I get a coke and a beer please.” He called out to the bartender. He turned his attention back to me and smiled again. “So what made you change your mind?”

“About?” I whispered, still caught off guard by his face. I was being terribly superficial, but the guy was a fox. I’d have to be an actual gnome not to notice it.

“Us… this, uh meeting me.” He sounded flustered, and for a minute I think I could even see a pink blush crossing his cheeks. I grinned, so I wasn’t the only one caught off guard after all. I looked down.

“Things back home just changed.” I replied honestly, lying had caused me all of this pain, I wasn’t about to start lying and cause more.

“A guy?” He questioned, he wasn’t smiling or frowning, he just had a knowing look, like he could tell I was feeling somewhat odd.

“Something like that.” I whispered, I flicked my eyes away from his and stared down at the floor. I couldn’t think about Ben, I was here to forget him, to get myself out of this funk and move on.

“So Jericho, What should we do tonight?” I whispered with a smile, turning my head back to face his, catching his blue eyes with my own. The bartender placed out drinks down and I picked up the coke.

“We could play some pool?” He pointed over at the tables, and instantly memories of Ben and I came flooding back. I watched the table like a movie was playing in my head, I could see us together. I blinked the vision away, and the sadness that went with it.

“Uh, yeah sure.” I mumbled. Jericho frowned and then sipped on his beer.

“Or we could go to my place.” He replied, if I could have died on the spot I would have, I could feel my eyes widen and I went to speak, when suddenly his face dropped, then he grinned and shook his head. “Shit, I didn’t mean it like that, it’s just have an Xbox one we could play video games.”

I looked at the pool table once more, then back at Jericho and nodded, anything to make me forget. “Xbox it is.”

Once we got back to Jericho’s and he plugged in his Xbox I couldn’t help but let out a chuckle.

“What’s up?” He smiled.

“My sister, she said you’d be a certifiable catfish.” I laughed and slid down on to the floor.

“She did, did she?”

“Yeah, reckoned there was no way you’d look that hot, and said you probably wanted to go psycho on my ass.”

Jericho blushed and flicked the TV on. He walked into the kitchen and returned with a couple of beers. “Well I’m pleased to report, I’m not a catfish…. But you do have a nice ass Jace Jackson.” He handed one of the drinks to me and sat down beside me.

The nagging feeling in my stomach hadn’t gone away, but sitting here talking to Jericho was smothering it slightly. He flicked on a mindless shoot-em-up game and for an hour or so we played. But after I died one too many times the conversation took over and we stopped.

“I’m glad you came back Jace.” He murmured resting his head against the couch.

“I am too.” I whispered, he was making me forget about Ben, but know I wasn’t exactly all that sure I liked it.

I knew he was going to kiss me before he did it, he leaned across, cupping my cheek with his hand, our eyes connected for a moment and then he did it, he kissed me. It felt good, he knew what he was doing and it made all the right things happen to my body so I kissed him back at first, but then I saw Ben. I saw the way he had looked at me before I had left, how hurt he had been. I thought about how he had said he was in love with me, and how when he’d said it I had still felt confused, but hearing it had also made me feel warm. I thought about how his kisses made time stand still, I thought about the way I felt when he touched me, and I thought about the way just being his friend had always made me feel.

My eyes flickered open and I gently pushed Jericho back. “I can’t do this.” I whispered. “I mean I probably could, but I just…” I frowned and stared at the palms of my hands. I looked back up and tried to smile, but I failed. I felt like shit, this wasn’t going like I planned

Jericho tilted his head and smiled. “A guy?” he repeated his earlier statement, but rather than sounding annoyed he sounded empathetic.

I nodded, being less vague this time. “My best friend.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” He smiled, moving back slightly.

“Really? Dude… we just… we made out, and you want to talk with me about my guy problems?” I was confused. Why wasn’t he even a little bit angry that I’d messed him around? He just shrugged and turned to face me.

“Jace I really like you, I can see you’re distracted, I’ve noticed it all night. I want to help.”

“My best friend told me he’s in love with me.” I whispered, saying it out loud for the first time since it had happened.

“Whoa… and I take it this was a surprise?” he replied.

“A little bit, He’s been in love with me for a while he said and I kind of got angry.”

“Angry?” He frowned. “Why?”

“He lied, he was supposed to be my friend and he had ulterior motives.” Saying it now I felt kind of stupid. Yes Ben had lied, but he hadn’t set out to hurt me, in fact it was kind of the opposite.

“How?”

“He’s wanted me for a whole year, and I just thought we were buddies.”

“That must have been pretty hard for him to deal with. He obviously clearly treasures your friendship if he was willing to ignore his own feelings to just be your friend.”

Jericho’s words winded me. Ben had lied, and he’d kept stuff from me, but he hadn’t done it out of malice, he wanted to be my friend, he had just wanted more too. It would have been hard, and it would have hurt. I remembered how I’d felt before Cris and I had gone public, how much I ached for him, and that had only been a matter of weeks. Ben had felt like that for months.

“How do you feel about him?” Jericho asked, puncturing my thoughts.

I closed my eyes and pictured Ben in front of me, the way his eyes glistened as he spoke, the small dimples under the corners of his lips. His heart stopping smile. My heart thudded against my chest and I tried to speak but I couldn’t. Then Ben was gone, my eyes flickered open. Thinking about Ben made me feel happy, and that nagging feeling hadn’t been a bad one, it had been the truth struggling to rise to the surface. I felt different about Ben than I did about Cris, because Ben was different. I had always loved Ben, he was my best friend and now he was my first… it hadn’t occurred to me that I wanted him to be my last. His confession had rocked me because it meant I could let go of the past once and for all. I could have true love again, and it had been sitting right in front of me all along.

Ben had waited until I was ready to love him, the way he loved me.

“I’m in love with him too.” I whispered, the words filled the room until they suffocated me. I’m in love with him, and he probably thinks I hate him. I grabbed at my shirt and pulled it out, I needed air, I needed to breathe, what the fuck had I done, why the fuck was I here.

I pulled myself up on to the couch and rest my head in my hands.

“Jace.” Jericho said, his voice shattered my glass box of despair. His hand rest on my shoulder. “It’s okay. You’re allowed to be in love.”

I nodded and tried to focus. Cris would want me to be in love, and I had to believe he’d be glad it was Ben. But I’d acted like a fool. I’d let anger reign and I had walked out on Ben.

“I was so angry Jericho, and I flew here.” I looked at him. “I’m an asshole, I used you so I could hurt him.”

“You don’t really believe that’s why you came here is it?” Jericho pulled himself up until he was sitting beside me. He picked his beer up off the ground and took a long sip.

“Then why did I?”

“Two minutes ago you realized you were in love with the guy Jace. You needed to make sure.”

I knew he was right. All I had wanted was to work out my feelings and now I knew. Except I’d been an A grade idiot and everything was all messed up.

“And while I’m sad we won’t go anywhere, I’m happy for a friendship.” He grinned and pat me on the shoulder. “We’ll just stay away from the video games next time.”

I laughed and nodded,

“Deal… and I’m sorry.” I shrugged and stood up. “About everything.”

“Don’t be, I feel kind of like I’m watching a real life romance movie, don’t judge me, but I’m partial to the odd romance.” Jericho stood up and walked me over to the door.

“Let me know how it all goes okay?”

“Of course.” I wrapped my arms around him and smiled. “Thank you for the talk, I needed it.”

“It’s no problem Jace, He’s a lucky guy.”

“I think I’m the lucky one.” I whispered back, a small grin moved across my face before I walked out the door and caught a cab back to the hotel.

Once I was in my room I tried to call ben’s phone, but it was turned off. It was unlike him, but after everything I had put him through, I hardly blamed him for switching off. I called Scarlett who answered, but was incredibly quiet.

“I’ll be back in LA tomorrow. Can you pick me up?” I asked flopping down on the bed. I began to scroll though flight times, trying to find something early. The sooner I could get home the better, I hated thinking about the paid I’d caused Ben. I wanted to fix it.

“You’re talking to me?” She replied, her voice was no quieter than a whisper.

“Can you pick me up?” I repeated.

“Of course Jace.” Her voice wavered. “I’m so sorry.”

“We’ll talk tomorrow. I’ll text flight details. I love you sis. Don’t forget it okay.” I replied. I wanted to talk about this with her, but not over the phone.

She sniffled down the phone line. “I love you too. See you tomorrow.”

Once I hung up I booked a ticket and sent Scarlett the details. Tomorrow I was going to go home, and tell Ben I loved him back. Tomorrow my life was going to begin again. I’d been lucky enough to fall in love twice and I wasn’t going to let it slip through my fingers.

The flight home was early. I only managed to get a couple of hours sleep before I had to get up. The entire time, the only thing I could think about was Ben, and seeing his face again. I needed to erase the hurt I kept seeing every time I closed my eyes.

Once the plane landed I walked out of the gate into the main lounge and Scarlett came running at me. Her arms engulfed me like I’d been gone for years, not a singular day. “I’m sorry. Jace I was the worst sister ever, I shouldn’t have done that. Can you forgive me please?”

“Calm down. I forgive you. I get it Scar, I do. Can you take me home?” I smiled, home, where Ben was.

“To the apartment?” she frowned.

“Yeah?” I replied confused and worried.

“Ben’s not there.”

Cold fear ran through my veins. What did she mean? Where was he? Scarlett must have felt the tension rise in my shoulders and she jumped back. “What’s going on Jace?”

“Take me home. Please.” I mumbled.

We drove, in one sided silence, as Scarlett attempted to talk to me the entire way, to try and get what was floating around in my head and heart out, but I couldn’t speak.

Once we were back at the apartment I ran up the stairs and unlocked the door. I noticed instantly that some of Ben’s things were gone, my stomach rolled as I ran to his bedroom and opened the door. His room was empty.

“No…” I breathed out, banging the door frame with my balled fist. I forgot for a minute that Scarlett had followed me up and sunk down on to the floor. Emotion shook me and tears streamed down my face. “Fuck.”

“Jace?” She murmured running over, she looked inside the empty room and gasped. “He’s gone, gone.” She said, confused. She hadn’t known he was leaving for good which meant she probably didn’t know where he was.

She knelt beside me and pulled me into her arms. “Are you okay?”

“I’m… I…” I couldn’t speak through the sobs and she held me tighter.

“It’s okay Jace, I know.”

I stayed there, unable to process the fact Ben was gone, I’d successfully managed to push him away, when deep down all I had really wanted was to keep him close. But he was gone and now I had no way of contacting him.


Chapter Fifteen – Jace

“Jace, there’s a note.” Scarlett whispered. I looked over at the bench where Scarlett stood holding a folded piece of paper. “He left rent money too.”

I frowned and nodded, that was just the kind of person Ben was, and always had been. He would never leave anyone stranded. Scarlett walked over to the couch, and handed me the note. With hesitance I flicked it open. I already knew what it was going to say, but that didn’t stop my heart from sinking to the floor.

Dear Jace.

I’m sorry I lied. For what it is worth, while I always had feelings for you, just being your friend was always enough for me. I’m not sorry for that.

I hope one day you can forgive me.

X Ben.

Only once before in my life had I wished I could rewind time. Now it was twice, I wished I could go back and react different to his admission, tell him I had feelings for him too. I could have worked them out with him rather than run from him. I folded the note over and chucked it at the coffee table.

In desperation I pulled my phone from my pocket and called dialed his number, just on the off chance he had turned his phone on, but it went straight to voicemail. My anger radiated out and without thinking I threw my phone at the wall. It was hard enough that it left a dent before bouncing off and shattering in to pieces on the floor.

“Piece of shit.” I muttered moving my eyes away from the mess on the ground.

“Jace…” Scarlett whispered, as she moved around the black suede couch. She bent down and picked up the broken pieces of phone. “You’re coming to stay with me for a while.”

“I’m fine.” I lied, it came out smooth and natural, and for a minute I almost believed it until the dull ache of realization washed over me once more. I ran my fingers through my hair and shook my head.

“You’re barely speaking, you just broke your phone. You’re not my cheerful little brother.” She was worried, and I didn’t blame her, everything she was saying was true.

I looked up at her and tried to smile, attempting to fool her in to thinking I was fine, but my smile ended up looking like a grimace. I conceded quickly, being inside the apartment, knowing that Ben wasn’t going to walk out of his room any time soon depressed me more every second I was in here. I grabbed my suitcase and walked over to the apartment door.

“Come on then.” I said walking out into the corridor. Scarlett followed behind me and I locked the door.

We drove to Scarlett’s in silence, only this time she didn’t attempt to make any kind of conversation. Ben’s complete disappearance had her in shock too. I was thankful for the quiet, but not thankful for the reason.

When we pulled into Scarlett’s driveway I noticed that Jay’s car was there as was Doc’s, which meant I was probably going to be read the riot act about ditching the band with no notice. We hadn’t had any gigs or studio time planned, but disappearing without a trace probably wasn’t going to go over all that smoothly with everyone.

Scarlett and I walked up the footpath towards the house. I kicked a loose piece of cobblestone beneath my feet as I dawdled up the path “Are they pissed off?”

“About?” She mumbled, stopping and turning for a second. “They know what happened Jace. Ben came here after you left.”

“He did?” I whispered. Fuck, it was a goodbye. He really wasn’t coming home. I tried to swallow the ball of fear, but I couldn’t keep my emotions in check anymore, not now I knew how I felt.

“Yeah, he said he was going to take leave… I never imagined that meant….” She stopped and cleared her throat. “They’re not angry Jace. They’re worried. Come on, let’s go inside.”

I nodded and walked up the steps, and I followed Scarlett inside the house. The walls were adorned with photos of our patchwork family, and of Scarlett, Xavier and Jackson, their little family unit. They’d hit the jackpot finding one another, even if they’d known each other all their lives. They had almost been sworn enemies once upon a time, and they had managed to work it out. If anyone was testament to working through hurt it was them.

“Jace.” Xavier’s voice interrupted my introspection. “Dude, we were all really worried.” I looked over at him, his hazel eyes were dark and I knew my disappearance had caused a little more worry than I had anticipated. He pulled me into a hug, and numbly I returned it. “I’m sorry.” I managed to whisper.

“We need to all talk.” Scarlett whispered. “About Ben.”

“What’s happened?” Xavier replied.

I pulled back from Xavier’s hug and looked at Scarlett. I could see the fear in her eyes although she was trying to downplay it. Even she thought he’d done a runner with no plans of returning.

We walked into the living room. Jay Isla and Doc who were sitting on the couches, Stood one by one to give me a hug like Scarlett had at the airport. It was almost like they had all known all along how Ben felt, and somehow maybe how had I felt too, even though I hadn’t known it myself.

Jackson and Amber were playing with blocks on the floor and for the first time since I’d walked inside my apartment I smiled. Their innocence was infectious, I wanted to soak it in and forget that with every passing moment I was growing up.

“Ben’s gone.” Scarlett said finally, snapping me back to reality like a cold wind. I sat down next to Isla on the couch.

“Gone where?” Xavier said sounding concerned.

“I don’t know, probably his parents but we don’t have their number. His phone is off and all of his stuff is gone.” He voice wavered, and the thought she might cry caused my own emotions to begin to fracture.

Xavier shifted uncomfortably. “What do you mean? I thought he was just taking a break….”

“Yeah well his stuff is gone, he’s gone. I’m going to give Ethan a call and see if he’s heard from him.”

Scarlett stood up and walked out of the room to call Ben’s older brother Ethan. She returned less than a minute later. “Ethan and Toni are on a cruise with Daniel… I completely forgot. He’s unreachable.” She sat down on the edge of the couch next to me and placed her arm over my shoulder. “He’ll come back eventually. He’s my tour manager, he would never abandon me.”

I shrugged and looked down at my knuckles.

“I don’t know. A broken heart might change that.” I whispered.

“Then we need to tell him his broken heart is for nothing!” she exclaimed, her voice was exasperated, she sounded how I felt.

“How? Short of telling the media and going on television I don’t know how to contact him.” I exclaimed, less than a second passed before Scarlett was on her feet, a look of excitement crossed her face as she was hopped from one foot to the other, she was trying to talk but her grin was preventing her from doing anything. Xavier let out a chuckle, I turned to face him. “You think?” he grinned answering Scarlett’s unasked question.

“What the heck am I missing?” I mumbled Looking between them like they were crazy.

“I don’t know Jace, but it’s not just you.” Jay exclaimed with a frown. He sat forward and tapped Xavier on the shoulder. “Bro…”

Xavier broke his gaze with Scarlett and sat back into the couch. “You tell them babe.”

“A grand gesture! Sing the guy a song. We’ll get media attention. Oh my god, do it on the top of your apartment complex. We can set speakers up on the ground and a stage on the roof. Helicopters, news crews…. He’d see it then, for sure it would go national, viral even!” She exclaimed, still hopping from one foot to the other.

I swallowed hard and looked at the others. They were all grinning, and it wasn’t long before I realized I was too. I nodded, unsure what I was really agreeing too, but if it meant Ben coming home it was worth it. Scarlett ran at me, engulfing me in her arms, Isla followed and then so did everyone else.

“No one does a romantic gesture, quite like our patchwork family and this is going to be the most epic one ever.” Xavier laughed as he pulled back from the group hug and walked over to the hallway. “I’m going to call DJ and see if we can get the equipment set up by tonight. He’s wanted you two to admit this shit as long as the rest of us, so if anyone will make it happen he will”

I frowned and shifted in my seat and looked at Scarlett. “Am I really the only one that didn’t know?”

The room fell silent and Doc let out a small “yep.” I nodded and looked at my hands. “Why didn’t anyone just tell me?”

“It wasn’t our place.” Isla replied. “We all tried to get Ben to admit it, but he was scared.”

And I’d just made it worse…

“The roadies are on their way to your apartment now. I’ve got to meet them there to let them up. Can I have your key?” Xavier exclaimed when he returned. I frowned, but grabbed the keys from my pocket and chucked them at Xavier.

“Wait, what… we’re doing this. For real… tonight as in a few hours from now?” I said, my heart suddenly began to pound hard against the wall of my chest. If Ben saw this, if this worked I could get him back. It was worth it for that fact alone.

“Try today as in two hours from now.” Xavier said looking at his watch.

“Two hours?” I croaked.

“I’ll call mom to come grab the kids.” Scarlett said standing up. Everyone else was suddenly up on their feet except for me. I watched everyone move around me, dumbfounded by the speed at which everything was moving. Jay walked over and handed me a notepad and pen. “Write.”

“Huh?” I replied confused.

“This is your romantic gesture Jace. You need a song.” He smiled and tapped the paper. “So write.”

“I don’t write songs.” I whispered. I’d only ever written one other song before, and it was only because of a power cut that anyone had heard it.

“You wrote a pretty kick ass one actually.” Jay replied.

“That was a fluke.”

Jay laughed and tapped the paper once more. “Then repeat it…. It seems you’ve got the Midas touch after all.”

I gulped and picked up the pen, I sat there just staring at the paper, before long I had wasted 15 minutes. Scarlett sat down beside me. “How’s the song writing going?”

“It’s not.” I mumbled.

“Why?” Scarlett looked down at the empty paper and frowned.

“Well when I wrote that song about Cris I was looking at stuff that reminded me of him. Photo’s… you know.” I closed my eyes and tried to picture Ben, but all I was getting was static. My mind was too clouded to think straight.

Scarlett grinned and stood up. “Wait right there!”

She disappeared from the room and returned holding a box. She placed it down on the coffee table in front of me and opened it.

“What’s that?” I asked

“Ben’s memories.” She whispered, pausing. “Of you.”

He’d kept things, he’d amassed memories while I’d just carried on as normal all this time. It must have killed him to keep it from me for so long. As much as it was killing me now. I leaned forward and opened the box. At the top was the pictures he’d taken of me at the beach, and the photos Isla had taken of us. Looking back at the picture now, even though it had only been a week and a half I could see the very evident connection that we shared. I closed my eyes and placed them down on the table. An old set of my drumsticks were in there, movie stubs lots of little things that filled me with an incredible amount of love and sadness, It simultaneously made me feel closer to him, while widening the gap between us.

I picked up the pen and looked down at the photos. As soon as my pen hit the paper, the words flowed like silk.

In the shadow of the light, I hid the truth

Struggled to accept the way need you

Pushed you out and run away

All because I was afraid to say

 

I’m letting go, and letting you in

Because I can’t keep suffocating

I didn’t know

I couldn’t feel

I couldn’t see what was right in front of me

But now I know that I need you, come back to me.

 

In the darkness of my mind, I see you there

Can’t believe I couldn’t see how you cared

Broke your heart and made you leave

Just because I was blind to see

 

I’m letting go, and letting you in

Because I can’t keep suffocating

I didn’t know

I couldn’t feel

I couldn’t see what was right in front of me

But now I know that I need you, come back to me.

 

Cos I can’t be me without you

I don’t even want to try,

I need you

I want you

My heart is open, and I feel just like you do.

 

I’m letting go, and letting you in

Because I can’t keep suffocating

I didn’t know

I couldn’t feel

I couldn’t see what was right in front of me

But now I know that I need you, come back to me.

 

I put the pen down and closed my eyes. “It’s probably no good.” I muttered. Scarlett stopped racing around the house like a headless chicken for a minute. I’d put the music above the words, so like the singer she was, Scarlett sang it. It sounded better than it had in my head. By the time she finished everyone had stopped preparing themselves. Mom had even shown up to collect the kids, but because Scarlett was singing she just stood there.

“It’s perfect.” Scarlett said handing the paper back. “You finished just in time, we’d better get on it if we want to get a practice in before the media show up.”

“I can’t believe this is actually happening.” I whispered, it all felt so surreal, which was saying something considering everything my family had been through over the years. Scarlett and mom both gave me looks of disbelief, after all they had both felt the brunt of most of the drama our family had faced. Still it felt surreal and I couldn’t explain why.

“Jace, you’re a Jackson. This is actually happening, it’s kind of our thing.” Scarlett laughed. “You know we don’t do things by halves.”

“She’s right honey… and for what it is worth I think this whole thing is very very sweet.” Mom exclaimed. Sweet. After the way I’d treated Ben, I needed more than sweet. I needed amazing.

After mom left with the kids, the four of us left to meet back up with Xavier at my apartment. When we got there it was already over run by roadies setting up equipment. The other residents had come out of their rooms to see what the commotion was, and luckily they were all really interested. Most of them hadn’t even realized I lived there.

Once we were up on the roof I filled with nerves. Scarlett shoved a guitar in my hands. “Practice. Jay will take drums today. You need to feel confident and ready”

I nodded and began to strum the chords of my freshly written song. What if he didn’t see it? I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I couldn’t think like that, not when so much was on the line. Before I could even begin the song the guys were on the instruments behind me. I sang the song, like I’d written it years ago not an hour.

Once I sang the last line I turned and faced the others. “How does it sound?” I sound weak and unsure, completely unlike my usual optimistic happy self.

“Can we put it on the new album?” jay grinned as he stood up and stretched.

“Really?” I replied, confused if he was being serious or just joking for the sake of making me feel a little better.

“Uh, yeah… dude, now that Xavier isn’t the only song writing genius all of our songs don’t need to be about Scarlett.” He laughed loudly causing Doc and Xavier to join in.

“Hey!” Scarlett feigned hurt, but she smiled after a couple of seconds and wrapped her arms around me. “It’s a good song Jace. Stellar, I promise. Ben will love it.”

I was too nervous to laugh, this was an insane idea, and I wasn’t sure if it was even going to work. Would he even know it was about him? I pushed the thoughts from my mind once more and turned back to face my microphone. We ran through the song twice more before the helicopters began to circle overhead. DJ had arranged for a giant screen to be set up down at the bottom and by 3pm the street was packed with people who had just come to watch for the music. Suddenly my grand gesture had become an impromptu concert of epic proportions, but out of thousands of potential viewers, only one mattered to me.

This had to go national, if I had any hope of getting through to Ben.

“We’re ready when you are.” DJ called out as I checked my leads. I turned and looked at the guys feeling like I was about ready to faint. There was no turning back now, no running away, only letting go. They nodded so I looked at Jay and let him lead the drum beat. As soon as I began to sing everything faded. The sound of the helicopters became little more than white noise, and the sound of the people on the streets down below all but disappeared. I gave the song my all and hoped that it was enough.

Once we finished we played a couple of songs for the crowd down below and then mine again one last time. As everyone began to pack up I sat down and stared at the ground. This wasn’t an instant fix, I had no idea what he thought, or if he would be back. Not knowing was what had been killing me since I had stepped off the plane, and I wasn’t sure how long I could do it.

I left everyone to it and went down to my apartment, the mood I was in meant I wasn’t really very good company anyway.

Even though Ben’s things were gone I could still feel him there, and for a moment a sense of happiness washed over me. We’d shared some special moments here, even before this last week. I smiled and walked over to my bedroom. Slowly I opened the door, the agreement sat on my bedside table and all of those good feelings fell through me like sieve. In anger I picked up the piece of paper and tore it to shreds, I wanted to feel like I had moments before, but when I walked out in to the living room it was just a half empty apartment. I walked over to the door and shook my head. There was no way I’d be able to come back here without Ben, It was like torture to remember him, only for those memories to smother me.

I walked out of the door and ran directly in to Scarlett she frowned and placed her hand on my arm. “Are you okay?”

“Has he called?” I whispered. My phone was still in pieces and as it was even with the grand gesture, I didn’t expect him to call me. Not after how I treated him. Scarlett shook her head and looped her arm through mine. I tried not to show my disappointment, but it was obvious.

“So what do we do now?” I whispered.

“We wait. He’ll come back Jace. He’s in love with you.”

We walked away from my apartment, Away from my giant memory box of Ben. Each minute that passed without Ben calling broke me, and after 4320 minutes and no call, I gave up hope.

Ben wasn’t coming back.


Chapter Sixteen – Ben

Jace was on TV. Not only was he one TV, but he was on the roof of our apartment, with the band, singing. I tried to leave the room but mom grabbed my hand and squeezed. “Listen to the song Benny…”

It was hard to look at him, almost every cell in my body wanted me to run, because it was just too painful. I nodded and forced myself to sit down beside my mom. My heart was already obliterated, nothing could damage it more than it already was. I focused on him, he was on guitar and singing again, so at first I just assumed he was singing the song that he’d sung when the power cut off at the concert in Chicago. But after I listened for a few seconds I noticed the lyrics were different.

I’m letting go, and letting you in

Because I can’t keep suffocating

I didn’t know

I couldn’t feel

I couldn’t see what was right in front of me

But now I know that I need you, come back to me.”

I sat back and tried to think straight, there was no way this was for me, he’d left, he didn’t feel the same. He couldn’t. My shattered heart couldn’t take the hope that this song was giving me.

“Honey… Is this…” She whispered. I shook my head, stopping her sentence in its tracks.

“No, it can’t be mom.” I croaked, but even I couldn’t stop hoping that it was.

The devil on my shoulder was cackling heartily, people just don’t go from being friendship breaking angry to being in love. Not like this. I kept my eyes glued to the TV, watching Jace was a drug and the past couple of days had been my withdrawal, here I was dosing myself up again. I closed my eyes and stood up. I refused to do this to myself anymore.

I walked back into the kitchen and pulled my switched off phone from my pocket. I turned it on and stared down at it, originally I had turned it off to stop Scarlett trying to change my mind and I had missed calls, a lot of them from her. Then I saw his name among them and my heart sank. He’d tried to call me.

I sat down at the table and stared at the missed call for at least 15 minutes. Eventually I dialed his number and held the phone to my ear. It went straight to voicemail. I frowned and put my phone down. Mom walked into the kitchen and sat down beside me.

“Are you alright?” She whispered softly, sensing I was anything but alright.

“He tried to call.” I mumbled.

“So maybe that was for you?”

I nodded, but I was still afraid to let myself believe it. For what seemed like the longest time I had hoped he would return my feelings, and now it seemed like a possibility I wanted to hide because I feared being rejected twice.

Before mom could say anything else my phone rang. Scarlett’s face flashed up on my screen, with shaking hands I swiped answer.

“You answered!” She yelled, causing me to flinch slightly. “Does this mean you saw it?”

“Yeah.” I managed to whisper, my voice was more jaded than I had expected it to be, but the past couple of days had taken it out of me. The last thing I needed was more possible heartache.

“Why aren’t you happy? Isn’t this what you’ve wanted?” She replied, she sound incredulous and a little miffed. All the air in my lungs disappeared and my mouth became so dry I let out a small cough.

“It was for me?” I managed to squeak, sounding more like a mouse than a man. Suddenly I felt faint, and it was lucky I was sitting down because all of the energy in my body evaporated to nothing, my bones jellified. 24 hours ago I had thought I had not only ruined any chance of me and Jace, but ruined our friendship as well. Now it seemed that wasn’t the case at all.

“Who else would it be for Ben?” She exclaimed. “Seriously you two are the most frustrating boys ever!”

“Jericho.” I whispered. It had been possible. They’d made a connection, and even though I knew at the time Jace had said he was going to Chicago to make me feel like shit, I knew he had also meant it.

“He went to Chicago Ben.” She whispered, mirroring my thoughts. “But he came back, and he wrote that song for you.”

“Wrote it?” I whispered, it had only been a matter of hours since I’d seen him. I’d given up so easily, and there he had been, standing on the rooftop singing, for me, a song he had written, for me.

“Yes.”


I began to hyperventilate, and breathing became a real problem, for a minute or so I became the diva I’d always hated taking care of, I fanned my face with my free hand while Mom placed her hand on my shoulder.

“This is happening?” I asked, seeking reassurance once more.

“Are you coming back?” Scarlett asked sounding as hopeful as I felt.

“Who’s to say that he’s just realizing he lost a friendship. What if I come back and nothing’s changed? I can’t do it anymore.” I couldn’t face losing him again, it was selfish of me, but we had done too much to get our friendship back. I really had messed that up well and truly.

“Benjamin Grant Waldon, Really? You know who you’re talking about right. Jace doesn’t do anything lightly.” She laughed.

She was right, except he’d made one light decision recently. I blushed remembering the past week and everything Jace and I had been up too. Jace hadn’t thought through the repercussions of the agreement we’d shared, but in the time I had known him, it was the only thing he hadn’t really thought through. He was the level headed member of his band, and also the youngest by 5 years.

“Where is he now?”

“He disappeared after the show I’m about to go looking for him. I think he realized that he might have lost you, regardless of this. Has he lost you?”

“No.” I replied without hesitating.

“Really?” She sounded happy again, and for the first time since I’d seen him singing on the roof, I smiled. This was happening.

“I was coming back anyway. I was going wait it out. Wait till he forgave me. I’m in love with the guy Scar, I can’t just turn that off.” The words left my mouth before I could filter them, it didn’t matter though, I wanted the world to know, I didn’t have to hide it anymore, and he didn’t hate me.

“I’ll go find him, you can talk to him.” She murmured walking away from the background sounds behind her.

“Not over the phone.” I whispered. We had both run away from one another, and he’d done possibly the most far out thing anyone could do for another person. I couldn’t end this with a simple phone call. I had to even things up somehow.

“He’s miserable.” She pleaded, and I almost caved, but this wasn’t something we could do over the phone.

“Just keep reassuring him. I’ll call you when I know more. Don’t tell him we spoke.”

“Ben… I don’t know about this.”

“Trust me, the last thing I want to do is hurt Jace. He means everything to me, and he just sang on a roof top in front of the whole world for me. I need to show I can measure up in my own way.”

Scarlett let out an understanding sigh. “I get it. I’ll take care of him until you’re back okay?”

“Thanks.”

I hung up and struggled with my emotions. I wanted to yahoo at the top of my lungs, while crying and running some kind of victory lap through the house like I had as a kid. Mom and Dad we’re both sitting at the table now, watching me like I was maybe on the brink of a mental episode.

“It was all for you, but you’re not going to talk to the guy?!” Mom exclaimed. “Benny?”

“I’m as unromantic as they come son, but even I know what that was” Dad added.

“I just want to surprise him, in a good way. I’ll go home tomorrow as planned and take a couple of days to move everything back into the apartment and surprise him.” I just had to come up with some grand gesture like Jace had.

Mom smiled and grabbed my hand. “Two of my boys are going to be settled, I only have to worry about Jimmy now.”

“Mom…”

“We’ll want to meet this Jace fellow.” Dad exclaimed. “I’m sure he seems nice and all, but I want to be sure.”

“Is that your way of ensuring I come back more often?” I whispered, hiding the emotion sneaking to the surface. Dad nodded and stood up. He walked passed me and placed his hand on my shoulder. “I avoided you most of your teenage life for a reason that makes no sense to me now Ben. I know I can never get those years back, but I want to make an effort now, if you’ll let me.”

I nodded, and looked up at my dad. He had tears lining his eyes, which I knew was difficult for him. When mom had been sick he had been so hard headed that he hadn’t cried once. I stood up and wrapped my arms around him. He sighed and relaxed in to me, returning the hug with full force.

That night I could hardly sleep and I knew it was going to be like that until I had everything with Jace sorted. I knew once I could kiss him, as his boyfriend, everything else would slip back in to place. Things between us had been different from the moment Isla had us pose for photos. At the time I had thought it was just that being so close to him had shocked my own feelings in to over drive, but now maybe it had sparked Jace’s feelings for me? It didn’t matter, he felt the same way.

The next morning after a tearful goodbye my parents waved me off at the airport. Once I was seated I overheard a conversation, but it wasn’t just any conversation, the girls behind me were discussing the rooftop concert. They were lamenting missing the whole thing by a day, an emotion I guess I could identify with.

“Ugh I know, like don’t record companies usually promote these sort of things.” Girl one said sighing.

“Well, I guess. But you know this was about someone right?” Girl two explained. I smiled knowingly, me.

“Huh?”

“Jace, the one who normally drums was singing to someone.” Girl two explained.

Someone… as in?

“A boy doofus.”

I grinned and ran my fingers through my hair. ‘A boy’ was me, and even I found it hard to believe. I let out a chuckle, aware the girls had no idea they were talking about the person directly in front of them. I opened my phone and scanned through the photos. I’d left everything that reminded me of Jace back in LA, apart from the photos on my phone. I ran my finger over his face.

“Oh, right, so it was like a spur of the moment thing?” Girl one exclaimed. “How sweet!”

“Yes. Rumor has it that the guy is Scarlett’s tour manager.”

Okay. This was getting weird. How the hell did anyone know I was a thing? Aside from the occasion crowd push and shove I was somewhat invisible. I closed my phone and shoved it back in my pocket.

“The cute one with the blue eyes. Quite tall?”

Was I in some kind of alternate reality where I was someone?

“Dresses kind of like a hipster?”

“Yeah!”

I looked down at my jeans and hoody. Hipster? Gees today I was lucky if I even looked passable. I sunk down in my chair and tried to ignore their conversation. All was going well until the airhostess started walking through the aisles with the trolley handing out drinks. I’ve always been the kind of guy where if something is going to go wrong, it’s going to go wrong for me and usually at the worst time. The airhostess gave the person next to me an OJ, but they fumbled and after a magnificent flip the OJ bottle and its contents covered me head to toe in orange juice and pulp.

“Oh my god… Um I’m so sorry sir, come with me and I’ll get you cleaned up, we’ll have a spare pair of pants somewhere.” The air hostess said softly tugging on my arm.

I shook my head and took a few napkins. “I’ll just clean my face and wait for LA.”

“Sir, we’re still a ways from landing.”

I closed my eyes and let out a small laugh. She was right, and I was soaked. I stood up and shrugged. “Okay, thanks.”

Before I walked after her I looked down at the girls, one of them was watching me and I smiled awkwardly as realization dawned on her face. She elbowed her friend who swore and then put her hand over her mouth. The hostess gave me a pair of what I can only describe as hospital scrubs and a plain white shirt to put on. Somehow, I was even less hipster than the girls in the row behind me had described. I walked back over to my seat, but before I sat down I looked down at the girls and shook my head. “Hardly hipster huh.”

“It is you!” the blonde one with bright green eyes exclaimed. Her friend, who was tiny, with bright pink hair and a pierced nose just shook her head in shock.

“Is it true?” Pinky said leaning forward, speaking in to the back of my seat.

“Was it for me?” I replied.

“Yeah.” They both said in unison.

“Yes.” I smiled.

They both let out excited giggles, which quickly died out and made way for sighs of confusion. I turned to look through the gap in the seats. “Got a question girls?”

They shuffled in their seats and then the blonde whispered. “Why are you not with him?”

I smiled and bit my lip. “I will be. But shhh, don’t tell anyone. Okay?”

“Okay.” They laughed. “Will we know?”

And then it hit me, suddenly I knew what I needed to do.

“After what I have planned? Everyone will know.”

They let out high pitched squeals that caught the attention of the rest of the passengers, but I just smiled and turned back around. I had planning to get on with. When the plane landed a couple of hours later, Just knowing I was back in the same town as Jace made me feel so much lighter. The only dampener was knowing he had no idea what I was planning.

I just had to hope that he understood why I waited.


Chapter Seventeen – Jace

“We’re going to let the balloons off soon, you still coming?” Xavier exclaimed opening the door to the spare room.

“Yeah, just give me a second.”

I rolled off the bed and shoved my feet into my shoes. I tried to push all my thoughts of Ben from my head, today was supposed to be about Cris, remembering him. I had to make an effort for the guys.

I walked down stairs and left the house with Scarlett and Xavier, I had tried not to mope around since the rooftop concert, but Ben hadn’t called and with each day that passed I grew increasingly depressed. The drive to the beach was uneventful, but that didn’t stop the memories of both Cris and Ben filtering through. I knew what Cris would say if he could.

One of us is gone. One of us is still here. Keep fighting for him.

I just wasn’t sure I had any fight left in me.

When we arrived at the beach Jay, Doc and Isla were already there. Between them they had around 20 balloons with rude messages that would have made Cris laugh. I read them one by one, soaking up the memorial, slowly gaining warmth to the idea. The last balloon was different though. It just said ‘You don’t need to let go to move on from loss, missing him reminds you that you love him and loving someone is never something to be afraid of.”

I pulled it from the rest and looked up at the others. “Where did this come from?” I croaked.

Everyone shrugged. “It was actually kind of here when we got here.” Isla smiled. “Tied to a stick that was shoved in the ground. I figured a friend heard about the memorial?”

My mouth dried out and I looked around. Ben He had written this, he had been here, maybe he was still here. Back in Chicago I had said I needed to let go, that I missed Cris regardless of milestones and I thought I had to let go in order to love again, but he was right, I still missed Cris, I still loved him and I always would, but now I was in love with Ben too. I couldn’t really pinpoint when my feelings had changed because it had been such a gradual process knocked in to hyper drive by a photoshoot. But it didn’t matter, it wasn’t wrong to be in love again.

“Ben was here.” I whispered, grasping the string of the balloon tightly.

Scarlett walked over and read the message. “That’s so sweet. Maybe we should keep this one?” she whispered placing her arm around me. I shook my head and released my watertight grip on the string letting it sit loosely between my thumb and my fingers.

“I’m letting go of the balloon, but never of Cris.” I smiled.

Scarlett let out a giggle. “You’re a funny guy Jace, I’ve missed this side of you the last week.”

“I’ve missed me too.” And I had, ever since I’d last spoken to Ben I’d been living in a world where everything just seemed dull and dark. My optimism had faded and I hadn’t truly smiled, I had been scared that my jaded heart had taken too much of a beating, maybe I was just meant to be an angry person from now on, but just holding the balloon with Ben’s words scrawled on it filled me with hope.

The six of us walked down to edge of the shoreline, the cool water lapped over my feet and I closed my eyes. Cris had first kissed me when we had visited this beach, before anyone even knew we were dating, It was why he liked it. I hadn’t been back here since his death, not because I was avoiding it, but because I had told myself not to dwell on the hurt. Now I was here it only filled me with good memories.

The guys began to share their own memories and thoughts about Cris one by one until finally it was my turn.

“Two years, I never thought I’d get to a place where living without you was possible. I’ve told myself every day that it’ll get better, just waiting for it to happen and it did, I just didn’t quite realize it was happening. Two years and I miss you just as much as I always have, but I’m in love…. Again. It might go somewhere, it might not, but I know now I can love you, and still live.”

I closed my eyes and took a long slow breath. Smiling, I let go of the balloon, I opened my eyes just as the guys let go of theirs and we watched as they floated away into the distance, until we could no longer see them, but still knew they were there.

It had been a long few days, but I was finally ready to go home. A huge part of me hoped Ben would still come home, but I was ready to stop avoiding my life.

“Hey Xav, Could you drop me back at the apartment? I think I’m ready to be a big boy again.” I let out a soft laugh and looked at my brother in law. His head glanced over at Scarlett who let out a stilted cough.

“Oh really? How about tomorrow? I mean we’re going to have lasagna tonight and you don’t want to miss out.” She turned until she was looking at me.

I needed to stop hiding from the truth. Ben had left, that part I could handle, but he wasn’t gone forever and missing him, just meant I loved him. I wasn’t scared of the feelings anymore.

“I really should go home.” I replied. “I’ve been avoiding the place because it kills me my best friend, and the guy I’m in love with isn’t there.”

“Just one more night Jacey, pleasssssse.” She whined, which was weird, Scarlett never whined, at least not when she was sober. I nodded and looked out the window. Tomorrow I’d face the truth, and move on if I had too. “Fine.”

The truth was though, once we were home Scarlett spent the day acting strangely and by the time she began to cook dinner I had just about had enough.

“Shit, Jace I need more pasta sauce, can you head out and get some.” She said with a hopeful grin.

“Sure.” I said, thankful for the distraction, weird Scarlett was freaking me out.

“Go to the organic place around the corner. They have the best stuff… oh and get a bottle of milk too?”

“Sure.”

Scarlett chucked her keys at me and I walked outside. I drove her car to the organic supermarket and hopped out of the car. The aisles were surprisingly empty for a grocery store, but I didn’t pay much attention, I grabbed the pasta sauce and then made my way over to the milk.

It wasn’t until I walked up to the counter that I almost dropped everything. Ben was here, in front of me, at the checkout. I went to turn around, suddenly scared, what was I meant to say to him, would he even talk to me? It was a strange reaction, but he was holding flowers and chocolates, and I automatically assumed that meant he was going on a date. My stomach churned and I finally turned around, but before I could walk away He said my name, so soft that I almost didn’t hear it. I stopped and turned back to face him. He placed the flowers and chocolates down, along with a box of condoms. I shot my eyes away and looked at the ground. Fuck.

“Hey Ben.” I mumbled, sounding like a kid with a high school crush.

“Hey, Um, how are you?” he replied, sounding only slightly more composed than me. He rearranged his items to cover the condoms and I swallowed hard. Ever the protective Ben, trying not to hurt my heart by hiding the evidence. He’d done it with his feelings for long enough though and the fact he thought he had to hide anything from me hurt.

“I’m okay I guess.” I lied, because it was easier than admitting my stomach was a mess of knots and I was deathly afraid that I was about to cry.

The clerk scanned Ben’s items. “That’ll be twenty two dollars sir.”

Ben didn’t look away from me, he smiled and then looked at me. “You want to catch up and talk?” He whispered handing his credit card over. I shook my head and pointed to his shopping, “Looks like you’ve got a night planned, besides I was just getting this stuff for Scarlett.”

Ben frowned and nodded, he picked up his paper bag and the flowers then left the store. I felt faint and light headed as I placed my items down. My mouth was dry and it was almost like someone had punched me in the gut, winding me. I looked at the clerk who smiled and picked up the pasta sauce.

“I love your music.” The clerk said excitedly.

Composing myself, I managed to mutter a quiet, “Thanks.”

“No charge.” She replied placing the milk into the bag.

I frowned and shook my head. “I don’t need freebies.” I held out the 20 dollar note and waited, but the lady refused to take it. “Sir, we’re under strict instructions not to charge you tonight.” She smiled and shrugged and then I knew nothing was as it seemed. Scarlett being weird, the organic grocery store, Ben…

“What is going on?” I murmured, not fully allowing myself to have hope just yet.

“We’re also under strict instructions not to tell you.” She replied.

I let a smile cross my face as I pulled out another five twenties from my wallet and left them on the counter. “Fine, I’ll pay for the rest of the lines groceries.”

She nodded then handed me the bag of milk and pasta sauce. “They said you might do that. Thank you, and have a good night sir.”

I walked from the grocery store half expecting something to jump out at me, but what actually happened next can only be described as déjà vu with a twist. Ben and my band were on the back of a truck. Jay was on drums, Doc was on bass and Xavier was on guitar. The music that began playing wasn’t really our usual style, but it didn’t matter, not when Ben was smiling down at me like he was, melting me into a metaphorical puddle.

“I’m not as clever as you, I can’t write music, but this song is how I’ve felt for a while.” He whispered.

He began to sing “I think I love you.” The song was originally from the 70’s it was old, but I knew it. They were covering the punk version and surprisingly his voice was great, but he could have sounded like complete shit and I never would have noticed. He’d come back, and he still loved me.

After the song finished he jumped off the truck and walked over. “You didn’t think I was going to let you out stage me did you?”

I looked down and smiled, my skin was on fire, camera flashes were firing from every direction and I was struggling to digest everything. Ben’s hand grabbed mine and like a light to a fuse the connection filled me with nothing but love. I looked up at him and smiled. “You’ve never been competitive before.” I smiled.

“I’m not. But you let the world know you love me, so I thought I should let them know I love you back.”

I grinned and place my free hand around his neck. I took a deep breath and let my eyes sink in to his. This was happening, he wasn’t going to someone else, and he was here. This was for me. Only me.

I stepped forward, his hand slipped out of mine and around my waist. Our lips met and I forgot that we were standing in a parking lot surrounded by our friends and various media. Kissing him knowing how I felt was freeing, none of the confused worries were there anymore, and I didn’t have to fear anything. He seemed more relaxed too.

We pulled back from the kiss, the noise of our surroundings slowly filtered back through my ears, but still all of my attention was on him. I rest my forehead against his and gripped his neck.

“I’m in love with you Ben.” I said allowed, for the first time to his face. I couldn’t fight the smile begging to cross my face. Ben grinned back at me, pulling his forehead off mine just enough so that our eyes could lock. “I’m in love with you too.”


Chapter Eighteen – Jace

“I’m sorry I ran.” I whispered, I could feel his warmth against my face and I felt happy, complete. The noise and lights surrounding us should have broken the moment, but it didn’t matter we were in our own little world. “And I’m sorry I hurt you.”

“Jace, I dropped an anvil on your head, you reacted exactly how I would have, had the roles been reversed.” Ben replied.

“I still hurt you.”

“I hurt you too.” He murmured, his hand ran over my cheek, his fingers traced my cheek. “And for that I’m sorry, but I don’t regret loving you. I can’t”

“Good.” I smiled. “Never regret loving me.”

Finally we pulled apart, returning to reality. Reporters came in for the kill, but before they reached us, the boys, plus Scarlett and Isla jumped down off the truck and surrounded us, effectively doing one of the things Ben was so good at. His job. Scarlett looked back at me and gave me a wink, “You guys should get out while you can, we’ll take care of the mob. We will talk tomorrow when you bring back my car.”

“Thank you.” I mouthed yanking Ben’s arm and running. We ran across the parking complex until we got to Scarlett’s Car.

“I feel like a teenager.” Ben laughed as I pushed him playfully against the car.

“I am a teenager.” I grinned, I placed a hand on his hip, and the other on the roof of the car. “But don’t hold that against me.”

Ben smiled and pushed himself against me, just enough to increase the friction between us to an almost unbearable point, it sent chills down my spine, but for once I managed to compose myself. “I’ve got a fairly good idea of what I can hold against you Jace Jackson, but we should probably head home first.”

I swallowed hard. “You moved out.” I whispered, my heart was pumping hard, was home still with me? God, I hoped it was.

“It was a spur of the moment mistake.” He replied, his blue eyes glinted under the carpark lights. “I moved everything back in.”

Relief washed over me, if this moment hadn’t solidified our union enough to reassure me that we wouldn’t part again once the light of day revealed the cracks, knowing his stuff was back in our apartment did. “Home.” I whispered, moving my head until it sat in the crook of his neck. I let my lips brush against the softness of his neck where I could feel his pulse and kissed just once before pulling back. “Is wherever you are.”

Ben nodded, his hand pressed against my chest, and he squeezed the material of my shirt. “I’m glad we’re on the same page.”

“I’m glad you waited until I was ready to catch up.” I whispered.

The media seemingly cottoned on to the fact that Ben and I had not left yet, they were moving their cloud of flashes toward us at an alarming rate. Before they could reach us Ben and I hopped into Scarlett’s car and started it up.

“I tried to move on once.” He said softly as I drove down the long road. “With Mike. For a short while I even convinced myself that it was the real thing.”

I shook my head. “I never liked that slime ball.” I croaked. Slime ball was still being too kind.

“I know, and you were really good to me after the break up Jace.” He murmured. “But I wasn’t the friend I should have been. All I thought about was kissing you all the time.”

I smiled and took one hand off the steering wheel, letting it interlock with his. “You didn’t though, you waited for me to come up with some strange hair brained scheme. Ben you’ve been an amazing friend. I want you to keep being my amazing friend, but I want so much more.”

“I’ve wanted to hear that for a while.” Ben whispered squeezing my hand.

“I know.”

We made it back to the apartment, and for a moment things became kind of awkward, like we were a couple on our first date. We rode up the up the elevator from the car lot in silence. I stepped out first on our floor and walked across to the door. I slipped my key in the lock and walked inside. Ben’s stuff was back. He hadn’t been lying, it looked like he had never left. I let out a relaxed sigh and turned around.

“Home.”

“Yup.” He replied, closing the door behind him. I reached out for his hand and he slipped his in mine.

“Ben…” I whispered, a small trickle of guilt still sat in my gut. I had run to Chicago that much he knew. He didn’t know if I’d met Jericho, he didn’t know what had happened. He hadn’t asked, and I knew he wouldn’t, but I also knew he’d be thinking about it. “About me running to Chicago.”

“Jace…” Ben shook his head. “I don’t need to know.” He looked hurt, and I hated that I’d brought it up and tainted our reunion with it already. But I needed him to know.

“We only kissed.” I whispered. “Once. I couldn’t do anything else. I kept seeing you, remembering you, wanting you.” I looked up, hoping I hadn’t ruined our chances. Hoping my honesty had helped us rather than hindered us. Ben’s frown fell away and his lips curled into a grin.

“You love me.” He said softly.

“Yes.” I pulled on his hand until our bodies touched. “A lot.”

Ben didn’t wait for me to kiss him, he pressed his lips against mine first. He seemed unafraid of my reactions, like something between us was relaxed, like all our emotions were finally laid out, like this was about love and not about whatever we had fooled ourselves in to believing our agreement was about. My body reacted almost instantly to his touch, and it was like he had set a firecracker underneath my libido rocketing it in to action, not that I need any help with it. Kissing him like this, without the worry of what he was thinking, of what I was thinking made everything so intense, but in a way I liked, a way I craved. We moved across the floor like we were one towards my bedroom. I opened the door and with a soft but swift movement I pushed Ben down on to my bed. The pieces of paper from ripping up my copy of the agreement were all over the place, including the bed. I stood there for a moment embarrassed that Ben could see how angry I had been. Ben laughed and picked up scraps of paper. “It’s confetti.” Said throwing the stray pieces of paper into the air.

I laughed as I straddled Ben, his hands gravitated to my hips. In a haze of happiness I leaned forward to kiss him, while his hands moved higher and higher until he was unbuttoning my shirt. I sat up enough to shrug it off, and he let his fingers and mouth explore my chest, flicking over the spots he had worked out affected me most. I let out a soft moan, unable withhold anything anymore, he had me body and soul. I was alight with lust and love and everything that came with it.

Ben began lifting his hips slightly, meeting my downward grind it built until it seemed like for Ben it wasn’t enough anymore. He flipped me off him and once I was on my back he began to kiss my chest again, only this time he moved down until his lips were at the waist of my jeans. He used his fingers to flick the button open, pulling gently he removed my jeans. My excitement was on clear display hard against the tight grey cotton boxer briefs I was wearing. Ben looked up and smiled at me before grabbing it through the material. His almost touch was nearly too much to handle, and when he combined it with his intense and cheeky gaze I barely held it together.

Just when I was starting to regain composure he pulled my briefs down, letting his hands wrap around my throbbing cock and for a minute he held it in his hands tight, but still, as if he knew that any movement would have me at risk of ending this all too quickly.

“Relax baby,” he murmured, releasing me. He moved up my body and kissed me once more. His eyes searched mine, waiting for a cue to continue his oral assault. I wasn’t sure I could handle his touch, but I needed it regardless, I nodded and closed my eyes and waited as he moved back down, laying kisses against my skin along the way. He took me in his mouth, the instant warmth was everything and more than I remembered it to be, maybe because it was him, maybe because there was no pressure this time, maybe because I was so turned on at this point a kiss on the cheek would send me insane with lust. I didn’t care, not about reasons, just about him.

I sat up slightly and watched as his tongue flicked around the tip. The nerve endings all over my body flickered with want, I was pulsating and I knew that I would be unable to handle this for too long, relaxing or not.

I sat up and pulled Ben back up to me, kissing him hard as I undressed him.

“Do you have condoms in here Jace?” He whispered through his teeth. Even though I had barely touched him, even though he had taken the lead he was as close as I was.

I pointed to my bedside table. I’d bought them before Chicago, and it almost pained me to think that I had ever planned to use them for anyone but Ben. Before I could over think it he smiled and reached back and opened the draw. It wasn’t until he slid the condom down over my cock, when I realized I was going to be inside of him, Nerves set in, and I wondered if I would do this right.

Ben hovered above me, guiding me until I was inside, for a moment, I felt like I was doing nothing, just laying beneath him, but then it hit me, Ben was still teaching me, only this time it was just for ourselves.

I let out a rough groan, nothing had ever felt like this. He was tight, but not unbearably so. I let out a deep breath, unaware I had even been holding it in. Ben began to move above me, Up and down, slow then fast, then slow again. My hands gravitated around his body. Over his ass and up his back until I could pull him closer to me, until his lips met mine again. I met his motion with my hips, thrusting inside of him, so close to letting go, so close to losing myself in him. I sat up so that we were closer together, wanting to erase any and all distance between us. I wrapped my hand around his length and pumped in time with my thrusts. His breathing quickly became erratic, and when his hands grabbed at my back, I knew he didn’t need to teach me anymore, I had taken control and I could see him letting go.

“I’m going to come.” He whispered in my ear, so soft it was almost innocent, the words filtered through me, causing an unstoppable reaction and before I could stop myself I shook with insane pleasure, falling apart with Ben, in Ben.

I lay back, suddenly exhausted, but no regret followed no worry of saying the wrong thing. I just looked up at him and said “I love you.”

“I love you too.” He smiled and as he moved he looked down. “But I think we might need a shower.”

“Right. Any excuse to get me naked huh.” I laughed forcing my exhausted body to stand. I pulled the condom off and tied a knot in it, chucking it in the waste bin beside my bed.

“Baby, I don’t need to get you naked. You already are.” Ben walked over to the door, and with a wicked grin he looked back and said. “I’ll get the shower warmed up for you.”

I smiled as I picked up my boxers, I pulled them on and used my shirt to momentarily clean myself up. I walked over to my desk and turned my computer on. With a satisfied smile pressed upon my face, I opened up the dating website and deleted my account.

“You coming??” I heard Ben call from the bathroom, the water was running.

“I just did, give me a minute would you.” I laughed as I stood up and left my bedroom. I walked into the bathroom and pulled my boxers off.

“That’s my joke Jace.” He replied with mock annoyance.

“I stole it.” I shrugged.

“Just like you stole my heart.” He laughed opening the shower door.

“You’re a cheeseball Ben Waldon, anyone ever tell you that?” I laughed walking toward my boyfriend. Boyfriend. Best friend. What was the difference anyway?

“You did, just now.” He smiled, flashing me the smile I had seen a thousand times before, the one I had always known was completely breathtaking but had chosen to ignore because it hadn’t occurred to me that Ben could be my second chance at true love. But as I stood here now, seeing it for the thousandth time, it seemed like it was the first time and I hoped that it would always feel that way.

“You just going to stand there staring at all of this, or are you planning to jump in with me anytime soon Jackson?”

“I plan on jumping in with you… for as long as you’ll have me.” I smiled and climbed into the shower, the warm water hit me, waking me up from my post coital daze.

“So forever then.” Ben replied without a hint of hesitation.

“Forever sounds like a good place to start.”


Epilogue – Jace

Four years later.

“Keep your eyes closed.” I said softly, leading Ben down the grassy path in our backyard. After 3 years of living together in the apartment, we had moved in to our own place a few houses down from Scarlett and Xavier. Ben had proposed by surprise the night we had moved in as we unpacked all the little things that made our house home. I vaguely remembered acting a little over the top, and there may have been tears, but for once, something about our supposed “whirlwind romance” had played out behind closed doors. We’d both been just so busy with work that organizing a wedding had gone on the backburner.

“What’s going on Jace?” He said, his voice was semi-frustrated, semi-intrigued. I just laughed and continued to lead him along the track. My heart was thumping, and nerves rattled me. I looked up my surroundings. I had only invited a few people. Our close friends and family. Ben’s Mom and Dad had been staying with my parents for the last two nights, and it had been a mission keeping it all a big secret from Ben, who seemed to be able to sniff out surprises like a tracker dog.

I looked down at Scarlett who was heavily pregnant with twins, and then up at Xavier who was watching her with the eternal love in his eyes. I knew the feeling again now, it was how I found myself feeling whenever I looked at Ben. What surprised me was that it was a feeling I’d always felt when looking at Ben, it had just grown.

Finally we reached the end of the aisle, standing in front of the celebrant I had handpicked solely because of stance on love in all forms. She smiled at me and nodded.

“Open your eyes.” I whispered, brushing my fingers over Ben’s hand. He opened his eyes, and at first he looked confused, but I watched as it dawned on him what was happening. He looked behind him, his parents and brothers beamed up at him, he turned back to me with tears lining his eyes.

“Are you trying to marry me Jace Jackson?” He grinned, squeezing my hand for dear life.

“Yes.” I replied. “Are you in?”

“You organized this all on your own?” he replied.

“Apparently this family is big on surprise weddings. So I had generations of help.” I grinned looking at my sister, and my parents. “I had to carry on the tradition.”

Ben nodded. “I’m in.”

“I’m glad you said that.” I smiled. “Could have been awkward if you said no.”

Ben shook his head, as his breath taking smile crossed his face and knocked the wind from me, he took my other hand in his. “I can never say no to you Baby. You know that.”

I smiled and looked over at the celebrant. “We’re ready.”

The ceremony was amazing, and for someone who had no vows prepared, after Ben spoke there wasn’t a dry eye left.

After the proclamations of never ending love, the ‘I do’s’ and the kisses, we signed the document connecting us in marriage. It was done. We were forever.

“We’ve booked a few tables in the private room at the grand.” Mom said standing up. “There is a shuttle out the front waiting to take us all there.”

I grinned and nodded wrapping my arms around Ben. “Thanks Mom.”

She walked over and kissed me on the head, and then Ben. “Grandchildren.” She murmured pointing at us knowingly. We grinned at each other and nodded. “Of course Mom!” I laughed. Dad hugged us both before walking across the grass.

Ben’s Mom and Dad walked over, His Mom embraced us one at a time. She began to walk across the yard as Ben’s dad pulled us both in to a hug, tears streaming down his face.

“I am so proud of you both.” He choked out. “So proud.”

Once he walked across the yard, Ben and I alone for a moment.

“So Husband, Where to from here.” He grinned, playing with the ring on his finger.

“You wanted forever, I guess we just take the rest of our lives one day at time from here on in.” I kissed Ben on the lips. “But tomorrow we fly out to Bali for our honeymoon.”

“Sounds great.”

“I wish we could go right now.” I murmured. Relaxing on a beach in the sun sounded like bliss after months of working.

“Sounds intriguing, but we’ve got a shuttle to catch and free food to eat.”

“Point made.” I laughed.

We ran out to the shuttle and jumped on board.

By the time we were all seated in the restaurant it seemed it was time for speeches. Of course our patchwork family, which now included Ben’s family all managed to make us cry, and it seemed they all had a direct line to our tear ducts, but nothing prepared us for Scarlett.

She was already crying before she stood up, Xavier held her hand and she took a deep breath.

“When I met Ben 6 years ago I knew I had met someone who would be in my life forever. He’s become one of my very best friends, and I am so thankful that DJ hired him as my Tour manager.” Scarlett stopped and looked over at DJ who smiled widely. “He’s the sweetest person I’ve ever met, and his heart is beautiful and pure. You all know that me, Toni and Jace are close, we would give anything to avoid seeing one another in pain. Jace knows pain, and I hate that he knows it…” She stopped and looked at me, her bottom lip wavered. “I couldn’t have asked for a better friend for Jace than Ben was. He cared for him like no one else could, and waited for Jace to be ready to love again. You two are the definition of love.” She squeezed Xavier’s hand, while her free hand ran over her stomach. “I bought you guys a blender by the way, Ben was eyeing mine up the other day, but I kind of have something else I want to offer. As you can all see I’m pregnant with twins. Thanks Xav.” Everyone laughed while Xavier stood up and took a bow. “Anyway, after they are born, whenever you two are ready, however you want to do it. I want to be your surrogate.”

Whoa. My heart jolted and I looked at Ben, his eyes were wide. He took my hands and squeezed harder than a vice grip, but it didn’t matter, I was in legitimate shock, pain was nothing. I could hear gasping around me, but I didn’t contribute, my throat was too dry.

I stared at my sister, my jaw clenched and tears in my eyes, My sister, who had once almost died giving birth to my nephew was willing to give us the ultimate gift when we were ready. I stood up and walked over to her, capturing her in my arms.

“Thank you.” I whispered.

She kissed me on the head and sat down.

I walked back over to Ben, who was still in a state of shock.

“Today has been the best day ever.” He murmured. “Thank you.”

“No, thank you for existing, for being you, for helping me to see that moving on didn’t mean forgetting what once was. Thank you for loving me.”

“Shut up or I’m going to cry again.” Ben whispered, his forehead rest against mine, his fingers ran over my ear. “I love you.”

“I love you too Ben.”

Our lips met, and everything faded away, the room filled with white noise and it was just me and him. Our friendship had bloomed, and deep love had grown from it at a time when I had all but given up. My heart was warm knowing that I would never have to let go the love that had once been, while embracing the love that still was, the love that continued to deepen and grow with every passing moment. Forever.

[candidate-vote-button button_text=”Vote for ‘Letting Go’!”]

Share This Manuscript!

Share

Leave a Comment

Comments

  1. Tirza van der Linden

    I’m very happy to see that there is a boyXboy story in the list of finalists. It was a nice story with some decent character developments. A few small typo’s here and there but nothing that discouraged me from reading on. I specifically liked the side characters that contributed to a well rounded romance story.
    Sincerely,
    Ms. Tirza van der Linden