Hiroku Hayashi is just coming into his own when he meets Seth Barrett on the basketball courts in the suburbs of Austin. With his shredded jeans, tousled hair and risky behavior, Seth more than lives up to his bad boy reputation.
Seth sees in Hiroku something Hiroku doesn’t see in himself—potential. With a hero-like worship, Hiroku embarks on a complicated and intense relationship with the older teen, who not only fascinates Hiroku as a lover but persuades him to take their experimentation to extremes. Hiroku reasons that if it feels good, then it must be okay.
But as Seth’s demands increase, Hiroku must ask himself, at what point is the sacrifice too much?
Told in parallel timelines of then and now, seventeen-year-old Hiroku weaves a story about emotional manipulation, abuse and addiction while struggling to understand the core of their relationship, who is to blame, and his own compulsion to choose Seth over everything else.
When fear is the heart of love, does it make your feelings any less real?
- 1 Read list
- 1 To Be Read list
Heat Level: 3
Romantic Content: 5
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Bisexual, Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: Under 18
Protagonist 2 Age: Under 18
Tropes: Bad Breakup, Cheating, First Time, Mind Games
Word Count: 85,000
Setting: Austin, TX
Languages Available: English
The first time I saw Seth Barrett, he was leaning against a chain-link fence with his fingers hooked on the metal, arms spread wide, and I remember thinking he reminded me of a tiger or some other large predator. Caged, for the time being.
I noticed him almost immediately though I pretended not to. We weren’t an organized team by any means—just a half-dozen rangy teenagers playing a pickup basketball game on the neighborhood courts—but we had our reputations to maintain. We couldn’t invite just anyone to play with us.
That was my main concern back then, making sure I didn’t look uncool.READ MORE
It wasn’t until we took a water break that I was able to see him up close—our stuff was piled up on the bench in front of where he stood. He still clung to the fence with a casual confidence, eyes trained on me. I nodded and he smirked, just a slow tug of his mouth on one side that could almost be qualified as a sneer. He was a couple of years older than me, and I thought perhaps I’d seen him around school, a senior, which was beyond reach for a freshman like myself. He had dark hair and eyes, and his summer tan had not yet faded. His build was slim, but he looked scrappy, like he could hold his own in a fight. His thick, shiny hair swooped over in front of his face like a bird’s folded wing, but it didn’t seem styled that way, more like he’d just gotten out of bed and didn’t bother to comb it.
“You look good out there,” he said to me, gripping the fence tighter so that the muscles in his arms tensed. His triceps were lean and ropy, and I couldn’t help but admire them. His smile widened when he caught me checking him out. I’d exposed myself in the first few seconds of our encounter. I wasn’t out about my sexuality then but still dealing with the urges I was having toward other guys. I’d been hiding it from my parents and hoped it was just a fleeting fascination or the result of an overactive imagination. I even thought it might be the byproduct of masturbating too often, like I’d fallen in love with my own dick and was looking to match my adoration with that of another man.
I was searching, and I suppose that’s what Seth recognized in me before I even understood it myself.
“What’s your name?” he asked me with a cocky tilt to his head.
“Hiroku Hayashi.” I was breathless when I said it. It wasn’t from exertion.
“Hiroku Hayashi.” He sculpted my name with a special attention to every syllable, a loving caress of tongue and lips around its shape. I’d never heard anyone say my name so beautifully before. “What a pretty name.” Seth smiled, showing his slightly crooked front teeth, and I felt it then, that irresistible tug in his direction like the effect of the moon on the tides.
But chasing it was doubt—was this cute senior actually flirting with me, or was I being overeager?
“My name’s Seth Barrett.” He trailed his fingertips along the fence as he strolled over to where the door was propped open. He wore a white T-shirt and ripped-up jeans, and he walked with swagger. The infinity symbol was tattooed on his wrist, and I’d bet money he had more tattoos elsewhere. I got a little lost in my mind imagining where on his body they might be hidden.
Seth stopped when he was just in front of me, closer than was considered socially acceptable for two straight guys. My pickup partners had all wandered back to the courts by now, but they were eyeing our exchange with interest. Surprisingly, I didn’t mind the attention.
“You want to play?” I asked in an uncharacteristic display of inclusion.
Seth glanced across the courts, which gave me the opportunity to admire his profile. His jaw was lean and angular; it connected beautifully with his neck.
“Your teams are already even,” Seth said in a woeful tone.
Gripped by a sudden compulsion, I wanted him to play; I was no longer just being polite. “We can make it work,” I assured him.
“You don’t want me on your team.” Seth sighed the words so softly I had to lean in closer to hear him.
“Why not?” I was dazzled and disoriented by him.
He smiled again. He must be flirting with me. “I’m not very good at basketball.”
I shrugged and said something about how it didn’t matter, another first. He bit into his plump lower lip, considering it.
“Come on. It’ll be fun.” I was practically begging him to join us.
His eyes searched mine, but I don’t think he was looking for reassurance. “Okay, but you’ll have to help me.”
“I will,” I practically sang out.
He followed me out to the courts, and I introduced Seth to the rest of the guys. They all stared at him with a slight bewilderment. A cool senior demeaning himself to associate with us losers? He may as well have been a unicorn.
Seth was right about not knowing how to play basketball. We called him on double dribble almost immediately, and I gently explained to him what it meant. Same with traveling. He laughed at his own ignorance and made self-deprecating jokes about his lack of ball-handling skills, shooting me a leer, which left me speechless. Seth caught on quick though. We’d put him on the other team—the one that was losing at break—and it seemed he far preferred guarding me to taking shots. More than once he brushed up against me in a way that couldn’t have been an accident, always accompanied with that teasing smile of his.
“I should call you on a foul,” I joked after he bumped me with his chest.
“I don’t think that would stop me from doing it again,” he said, which stunned me enough that he was able to take the ball and dribble it back to the line. His next shot was an air ball. He laughed and glanced over at me like we were in on the same joke. He had this ability to make me feel like in any given place, we were the only two people who existed.
When we lost, I attributed it to Seth’s efforts at distracting me. He probably only made two baskets the whole game.
“Beginner’s luck,” he said as we dispersed to gather our water bottles and T-shirts.
“I’d say there was some strategy involved,” I said cheekily. Whether Seth was straight, or hopefully not, he was easy to flirt with.
Seth had nothing with him, so I offered him a swig from my water bottle. He leaned back and squirted some of the water into his mouth, catching the wetness that dribbled out of the corner with his tattooed wrist. His neck was slick and beaded with sweat. I wanted to lick at the droplets with my tongue. I couldn’t tell if Seth was making the simple act of drinking water sexual or if it was my raging hormones leading me there.
“What are you up to now?” Seth asked, handing me back my water bottle.
“I got to get home.” My mom was pretty strict about us all eating dinner together, even with my sister Mai’s busy schedule.
Seth glanced around as though just realizing how late it had gotten. “Streetlights will be coming on soon,” he mused. “Can I walk you home?”
“Yeah, sure,” I said, still in a daze. The way he said it, walk you home. Wouldn’t a straight guy say walk with you? Walking me home sounded almost…courtly.
We said goodbye to the others and headed down the sidewalk. Shady Creek was a tree-lined suburb of Austin, fairly affluent and close enough to my high school that I could ride my bike there instead of taking the bus.
“You go to Hilliard?” Seth asked.
“Every so often. How come I’ve never seen you around?”
Because I’m forgettable, is what I thought, but what I said is, “I just started.”
“You’re a freshman?” His eyebrows lifted with genuine surprise. He looked away then, and I worried he was regretting this…whatever it was. I hoped not.
“And you’re a senior,” I said, deflated.
“Yeah, but…” Seth glanced over and perhaps sensing I needed some reassurance, added, “That doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.”
“Friends,” I echoed, but the way he was looking at me, the way my body was responding, I didn’t think friendship was what he had in mind.
Besides, I had enough friends already.COLLAPSE