.: 1 :.
"I want you to take my virginity."
Laurie paused with the cheeseburger halfway to his mouth. When he realized that Jonah wasn't going to say anything else, he set the burger on his plate with as much careful precision as he would've used when handling a bomb. Assuming he'd ever touched a bomb...which, of course, he hadn't.
He grabbed a napkin from the table and wiped his hands clean with equal care. Only after that did he lean back in his seat and meet Jonah's eyes, which were regarding him with a hesitant, earnest expression. There was no levity in them, no glint of their normal humor. Jonah appeared to be one hundred percent serious. And that fact made Laurie one hundred percent terrified. He had a feeling he was going to be taking that cheeseburger to go.
"Come again?" he finally said, for lack of anything better. Because he must have misheard. There was no way in hell his best friend's eighteen-year-old brother had just said those words. Over lunch. In the middle of a diner. With an old, white-haired couple sitting right behind them.
When Jonah had approached him and said he needed some advice, Laurie had been perfectly willing to lend an ear. He figured as a gay teenager, the kid probably didn't have very many people to talk to about safe sex or boyfriends or relationships in general. And since he and Jonah's older brother, Marcus, had been friends practically since birth, it made sense that Jonah would come to him. Jonah had been trailing after them since he was old enough to walk, always underfoot and wanting to be involved in whatever he and Marc were doing. Over the years Laurie had started to think of him as just another pesky little brother to add to the brood that constantly annoyed him when he was at home.
Until Jonah's seventeenth birthday party when Laurie had caught Jonah making out with one his classmates in the basement. One of his male classmates.
That day, Laurie had learned he and Jonah had one very big thing in common. And he would've been lying if he said his perception of Jonah hadn't changed after that. He started to notice things, like how Jonah's skin was the perfect shade of pale gold, and his smile sort of took Laurie's breath away, and how his tight little body was the type wet dreams were made of. But the more he'd noticed the harder Laurie had fought to keep Jonah locked away in the platonic, no-sexual-feelings-allowed section of his mind. If sometimes he failed and his thoughts wandered into fantasy territory at the sight of Jonah without a shirt, well, that was between him and his traitorous brain. No one else would ever have to know.
So, Laurie had listened to Jonah's story about the guy he'd been dating toward the end of his senior year. The guy who had cheated on Jonah and then broken up with him because he wasn't willing to waste his time on a "frigid little shit who wouldn't put out." Jonah's eyes were shining with tears as he told that part and Laurie's stomach had clenched with anger and sympathy. But Jonah didn't need a guy like that and Laurie had told him so. There would be other guys. Better guys. Someone like that wasn't worth tears. Might as well save the waterworks for when it really counted, and being dumped by some high school douchebag with an overinflated sense of self-importance so didn't make that cut.
Jonah had nodded and agreed. Then, not five minutes later, those words had come out of his mouth. Words that Laurie still wasn't sure he'd heard right. People didn't just burst out with things like that over French fries and milkshakes in crowded, greasy spoon diners. Not when the bubblegum-chomping waitress could swing by at any second to ask if they wanted some apple pie for dessert. Talk about awkward.
"I want you to take my virginity," Jonah repeated.
Laurie blinked at him. Okay. So those words hadn't actually been some sort of warped, sugar-induced auditory hallucination. "I thought that's what you said."
"Just...just hear me out before you answer, okay, Laurie?"
"Look, I don't think this is the best place for this conversation." Laurie inclined his head toward the family of five seated at a round table a few feet away from them. One of the three towheaded boys was staring their way, his eyes magnified to double their size by thick-lensed glasses.
Jonah glanced over at the table and nodded. "Yeah, I guess you're right. But can we talk about it on the ride back?"
Laurie sighed and raked his fingers through his hair. Jonah's virginity was not a topic he wanted to discuss, especially when it pertained to him being the one to divest Jonah of said virginity. But he and Jonah had a twenty minute drive back to Beckett's Adventure Company and it wasn't like he could gag Jonah to keep him from talking on the way there. "Fine. We'll talk about it in the car."
"Great," Jonah said with a grin. And then he calmly went back to his food as if he hadn't dropped a bombshell on Laurie's head a few minutes before.
Laurie, however, found that his appetite was gone. Looked like he would be taking that burger home after all.
Once they were in the car—and his takeout container had been dumped unceremoniously onto the backseat—Laurie started up the engine and sent up a quick prayer that Jonah had forgotten about the conversation they were supposed to be having in the time it had taken him to finish his meal and pay the bill.
No such luck. Laurie no sooner turned out of the parking lot than Jonah was shifting nervously in his seat and clearing his throat. "So..."
Laurie wasn't about to make it easy for him. "So?" he said idly as he pulled to a stop at a red light. He could feel Jonah's gaze on the side of his face, but he kept his eyes straight ahead.
Jonah sighed. "You're going to make me say it again?"
"No. But I am going to make you explain why you said it in the first place."
"Well, ever since Dirk broke up with me, I've been—"
"Dirk?" Laurie gave him a skeptical look. "Seriously?"
"Yes, Laurie. Seriously."
Laurie rolled his eyes and turned back to the steering wheel. The kid had a point there, but who could blame him for using a nickname when his parents had saddled him with a name like George Laurence? No one born after 1950 should be stuck with such a stodgy old name.
"So, anyway, ever since he broke up with me, I've been thinking, and...well, I don't want to go to college a virgin. The guys there, they're going to be experienced and I'm not going to know what I'm doing, and I'm probably going to make a fool of myself or something. I don't want to be embarrassed. I—"
"That's part of the whole process," Laurie interrupted, keeping his eyes on the road as he merged onto the highway that would take them back to Jonah's grandfather's shop. "Sometimes sex is awkward. You find the right person, and there won't be any need to be embarrassed."
"Yeah, and I want you to be that person. I want to learn about it from someone I trust. Someone I know won't laugh at me, or dump me if there are certain things I'm not comfortable doing."
Laurie's eyes narrowed and he risked a quick glance at Jonah. "Is that what happened? Did he try to force you into something?"
Jonah shook his head. "No."
"Don't lie to me."
"I said no. He didn't try to force me. He just wasn't happy about it."
Laurie sighed. "Jonah, look, there's no need to be impatient about these things. There is no shame, absolutely no shame, in waiting until you find the right person. I know that sounds trite, but eventually someone worthy will come along. Trust me."
"You're the right person, Laurie. You."
"No." Laurie shook his head, his fingers tightening on the wheel. "I can't agree to this. You're asking for all the wrong reasons, and, besides, what do you think Marc would have to say about this? You think he'd be cool with us having sex?"
"Why does it matter what he thinks?"
"It matters because he's been my best friend for almost twenty years. And you are his baby brother. It's like a rule in the best friend handbook or something."
"Are you not attracted to me?" Jonah asked, his voice edged with hurt. "Is that why you won't do it?"
Laurie bit back another sigh. "Did you really miss the point of everything I just said, or are you deliberately being obtuse?"
"So that's it? That's your answer?"
"That's my answer."
Jonah huffed. Out of the corner of his eye, Laurie saw him cross his arms over his chest. "Fine. I'll ask someone else then."
That time Laurie couldn't hold back the sigh, but he gritted his teeth to stop himself from saying anything more. Unless it was "yes, I'll pop your cherry" (and, God, there was a big part of him that would love to say just that), he knew Jonah probably wouldn't want to hear it. Did that make him feel a little bitter? Yes, sir. But he couldn't do what Jonah had asked. He just couldn't. So he held his tongue.
By the time they arrived at Beckett's Adventure Company, his jaw ached.
Jonah sighed, flipped his book closed, and glanced around the shop. Two more hours before his shift ended, and he'd already swept, mopped, and straightened everything he could. The aisles of fishing poles, reels, and other related outdoor gear were in pristine order. There was nothing for him to do but be bored out of his skull, when all he really wanted was to go back to the lake house and curl up in bed so he could lick his wounds and try to stop feeling so pathetic and miserable.
He'd thought it would be easy. He'd never even contemplated the idea that Laurie might say no to his request. But Laurie was, well, Laurie. Always considerate. Always calm and rational and kind. Everything Laurie said made sense. Perfect sense. He'd said and done what any respectable guy would. And that was exactly the reason why Jonah wanted him so badly. Laurie wasn't the type of guy who would take advantage. But Jonah had thought his sob story about Dirk would have been enough to sway Laurie over into his way of thinking.
Dirk. Snort. Why couldn't I come up with something more believable? He'd reached for a name and the first to come to mind was Dirk Nowitzki, player for the Dallas Mavericks. Why, he couldn't even say since basketball season was still months away. He was surprised Laurie hadn't called bullshit on him right then and there. Well, Laurie might have, if he'd been the type to assume the worst about people. He wasn't, though, and he had no reason to suspect Jonah was lying. The thought that Jonah made the entire story up from start to finish would never even cross Laurie's mind. But there was no ex-boyfriend named Dirk. There were no exes at all. Jonah had saved himself all throughout high school...for Laurie. He just didn't know how to get Laurie to stop looking at him like some irritating little tagalong and start seeing him as a man instead.
Jonah glanced up when the chime above the door went off. It swung open, letting in a gust of muggy air and Travis, the dark-haired hottie who worked at the mechanic shop next door. He was wearing dirty coveralls and there was grease smudged on one of his high cheekbones, but somehow it worked for him. And he knew it, too. He gave Jonah a cocky grin as he crossed the linoleum to the counter and leaned into Jonah's personal space.
"Hey, gorgeous. Your grandpa in?"
Jonah shook his head. "Nope. He and MawMaw took a ride into the city. What did you need, Trav?"
Travis's smile widened. "Nothing at all. I just wanted to know if we were alone."
"And why would you want to be alone with me?" Jonah asked with a soft laugh. Travis always laid it on extra thick, but he was fun to flirt with and he stopped in periodically to help Jonah pass the time while everyone else was out of the shop. Without Travis's occasional visits, Jonah was sure he would've gone stir-crazy already. He'd decided that when he came down to work for his grandpa next summer, he was going to insist on being allowed to lead some of the kayak tours or at least act as a fly-fishing guide. He was tired of being stuck behind the counter ringing up people's bait and tackle and answering phone calls all day.
Travis reached out to trail one long finger along the back of Jonah's hand. "Oh, I could think of a few reasons..."
Jonah smirked. "Could you now? Care to share some of those with me?"
Travis licked his lips and crooked a finger to gesture Jonah closer. "C'mere."
Jonah played along, leaning forward until he could feel the rasp of Travis's stubble on his cheek and the wash of warm breath over his ear. He expected Travis to whisper something suggestive, but instead Travis nipped at the lobe, just hard enough to sting. Jonah shuddered slightly and started to pull away, but Travis's hand came up to grip the back of his head and hold him in place.
"I could suck you off," Travis murmured, his fingertips toying with the short hair at Jonah's nape. "We could go into the backroom. I'd get down on my knees, take you in my mouth..."
Jonah trembled. He'd never even gone as far as a handjob with anyone. The idea of Travis kneeling in front of him with that arrogant mouth wrapped around his dick was sexy as hell, especially when he envisioned it happening in the back of the shop as the threat of discovery loomed near. Still, it was nothing when compared to all of the extravagant fantasies he'd dreamed up about Laurie over the years. He had enough of those to fill a book the size of War and Peace. And if he took that mental picture of Travis and replaced it with Laurie—holy shit. Now that was so beyond hot he wasn't even sure there was a word for it.
"I'd suck you so hard," Travis went on, nuzzling the tender skin just behind Jonah's ear. "Blow your fucking mind."
"As good as that sounds," Jonah said as he started to draw back, his voice a little rougher than usual, "I—"
He broke off when the door chime rang again. The door flew open with enough force to send it slamming back against the wall. Laurie stood on the threshold, and the expression on his face was one Jonah had never seen before—angry but with something darker underneath, something Jonah didn't recognize, though the sight of it sent his stomach careening down toward his toes.
"Sorry to interrupt," Laurie said frostily. "But your grandfather just pulled into the parking lot. Wouldn't want him to walk in on...whatever you two were doing."
"Oh, we weren't—" Jonah started, but Laurie apparently didn't want to hear, or didn't care about, what he had to say. He turned and stalked away, fury radiating from the rigid set of his shoulders to the ramrod stiffness of his spine.
Jonah swallowed thickly, torn between going after Laurie and saying something to ease the sudden tension he'd left behind. He opened his mouth and glanced at Travis, but the smile on the other man's face made his breath catch in surprise. It was twisted and cold and detracted from his looks in a way that a little grease and dirt never could. The shock of seeing it made Jonah take an involuntary step back.
In the next second, it was gone, replaced by Travis's familiar, cocky smirk. But Jonah knew he hadn't imagined it. He also knew that he didn't want anything to do with someone who could go from looking so malicious one second to happy and teasing the next. Especially since, judging by Laurie's reaction to Travis, there was some bad blood there. Given how laidback Laurie normally was, something had to have gone down between the two of them. Laurie didn't dislike people without a good reason.
As the sound of voices approached the entrance of the shop, Travis's smile turned regretful. "Maybe next time, huh?"
Before Jonah could answer, Travis winked and faced the doorway, greeting Jonah's grandparents as they entered. A few minutes later he said his good-byes and left.
Jonah moved to the glass windows that lined the front of the shop and watched Travis cross the gravel parking lot, only halfway listening to the conversation his grandparents were having behind him. He wondered what had happened between Travis and Laurie. Jonah's brother was the one with the temper. Laurie was much more even-keeled. Jonah had only seen him angry a handful of times, but never as furious as he'd just been. And it couldn't be anything like jealousy, not after how thoroughly he'd shot Jonah down that afternoon. No, something major had happened with those two, and Jonah was willing to bet that Marc knew what it was. One way or another, he was going to find out.
.: 2 :.
Laurie was gritting his teeth again. It'd become a habit over the last few days, starting with the moment he'd approached the door to Beckett's and seen Travis—Travis, of all goddamn people—with his mouth on Jonah's throat. In that instant, his vision had gone red. He didn't want Travis in the same state as Jonah, let alone in the same shop. Kissing him. Touching him. Christ. The very idea was enough to give Laurie an ulcer. Was Travis who Jonah had meant when he said he'd ask someone else?
Over my dead body. Travis was the biggest sleazeball Laurie had ever met. He didn't deserve someone like Jonah. And Jonah certainly didn't deserve the treatment he'd get once Travis had gotten what he wanted. Laurie had learned that painful lesson during his last summer in Kentucky two years before. There was no way he'd let that happen to Jonah, especially not when Jonah was still raw and vulnerable from his recent breakup. Absolutely no way.
Of course, he didn't really have any right to say who Jonah could or couldn't sleep with. He couldn't even pull the big brother card since they weren't actually related by blood, and thank God for that. He'd been having some very unbrotherly-like thoughts ever since Jonah had asked him to take his virginity. And, if he was being honest, a long time before then, too.
Though, technically, there was one option that would allow him to have a say in who Jonah was having sex with, and that was if he himself fulfilled that role. Laurie would make it good for Jonah. He would make sure it was slow and gentle and pain-free, or at least as close to it as possible, since a bit of discomfort was part of it all. But Laurie had promised himself. He'd sworn that he wouldn't.
"Okay, Laurie. Out with it."
"Huh?" Laurie glanced sideways at Marcus. They'd brought the last kayak tour in about fifteen minutes prior and were stacking the kayaks back onto the racks before they locked up the boathouse for the night. They'd been working in companionable silence, which unfortunately allowed Laurie's mind to wander to the very last place he'd wanted it to go.
"You're acting all skittish," Marc said as they hefted the last kayak and shoved it into place on the highest rack. "The way you did when we were fifteen and you were scared to tell me you were gay." Marc crossed his arms over his chest and gave Laurie an appraising look. "Not that I didn't already know."
Laurie sighed. "I wish you didn't know me so well," he muttered, wiping the sweat off his brow with the back of his sleeve.
Marc smirked. "But I do. And you should be thankful. If I didn't know you so well, you'd probably still be trying to break the news."
"Ha. Not likely."
"Keep telling yourself that." Marc snickered. "So, come on. Out with it so we can get back to the house and I can whip you at Madden."
"Says the guy who lost the last two games."
"Third time's the charm." Marc grinned.
Laurie shook his head, helpless to prevent himself from returning the smile. "We'll see."
"What is it?" Marc asked, suddenly serious. "You haven't been yourself the last few days."
"You know, I really don't want to talk about it."
"Don't want to talk about it?" Marc looked surprised, then a little hurt. "But it's me, man. We talk about everything."