A heartbreaking awakening to love unexpected
Joel Carrigan and his girlfriend, Erica, are excited about starting their graduating year at Tekla Senior High. The long hot summer is drawing to a close, and their plans for a promising future together are on track, but their carefully laid plans are about to be disrupted by a dark and seductive force neither one of them anticipated.
That force is named Ethan Cooke. His gothic persona, covered in tattoos, piercings, and reckless abandon set Joel's heart racing—but not out of fear.
Publisher: Steambath Press
Heat Level: 5
Romantic Content: 5
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Age Difference, Alpha Character, Coming Out / Closeted, Find Love and Come Out, First Time, Forbidden Love, Friends to Lovers, Opposites Attract, Passing as Straight, Slow Burning Love, True Love
Word Count: 93100
Languages Available: English
The beach was clearing out after what had been another typically hot summer day in the waterfront community. The smell of sun tan lotion and fries was still heavy in the air, and the flock of gulls that had been circling overhead since late afternoon had finally decided to make a landing, and see what scraps of food were left behind.
Joel Carrigan and his girlfriend, Erica, had spent the entire day soaking up the sun, and were starting to pack up their things when a car full of Joel's friends showed up to take an evening swim in an attempt to cool off. This summer had been one of the hottest on record, and even though it was the last week of summer holidays before school started again, the stifling hot days were unrelenting, and close proximity to the water was one of the benefits Joel and his friends enjoyed.READ MORE
Joel had lived in a few different houses throughout his life, but they had always been in the same neighborhood by the beach. His current house had a swimming pool, but access to the sandy beaches was only a few doors away from his house, so he tended to spend his time there instead. His best friend, Ryan, lived right on the beach, but spent most of his time indoors playing video games, and tended to only venture out at night when things cooled off.
Joel watched as his friends piled out of Ryan's convertible with their towels and the inevitable cooler.
"I guess we won't be going back to your place for a while," said Erica as she stuffed their towels into her beach bag. She handed the bag to Joel before pulling her shorts on and digging around in the sand to retrieve her flip-flops. She finally found them, dusted them off, and slipped them on her feet.
"We'll just hang out with them for a few minutes and then head out." Joel ran his hand up Erica's arm and kissed her softly on the lips. "I promise we won't stay long."
"It's not often your whole family is out of town," Erica added, and then pulled him back close to her lips. "They'll have left by now."
"Mm …this is true." Joel looked over his shoulder at his friends frantically digging a hole to put the cooler in before the next police patrol passed through. Most of the time it was a pointless exercise; the police knew to check the drink containers of every teenager on the beach at this time of day. After even one was found to contain alcohol, they would be asked to get up and move their towels.
Ryan stopped digging and motioned for Joel to join them. "Hey, Joel," he shouted. "Do you want a beer before we sink this thing?"
"Sure thing, Ryan," answered Joel, and then laced his fingers with Erica's and led her reluctantly over to sit with his friends. Ryan handed him a pop bottle full of beer, and then went back to smoothing out the sand around the cooler before throwing a towel over the entire buried affair.
"Hey," Ryan said to Joel. "We went by your house to see if you and Erica were there, and there's someone moving into that gigantic freakin' mansion next door."
"Finally," replied Joel. "It sold like …the beginning of summer. My mom was getting all freaked out, thinking the house was going to be used for a marijuana grow op."
"It wouldn't be the first one on your street." Erica pulled one of the towels back out of her beach bag. She stretched out on the sand and put her sunglasses on; the sun was setting, and it was absolutely brutal on the eyes. She settled in and listened to the boys talking about their usual stuff. Sports, girls, any upcoming parties, and then sports again.
Closing her eyes, Erica thought about her and Joel's plans for the final few days of their summer holidays. His family was going to be away the entire time, so they would have the house to themselves. They were entering their final year at Tekla Senior High, and had been together since the middle of grade ten, and they'd spent much of the summer discussing their university applications so they wouldn't be separated after high school graduation.
Erica opened her eyes when she felt Joel sit down beside her, and smiled as he began running his fingers through her hair.
"That feels nice," she said as she gazed up at him. Joel was an attentive and extremely attractive boyfriend; with his sun bleached blond hair, tanned skin, and soft brown eyes that made her heart melt each time she saw him. He was quite a bit taller than she was, standing at least five foot eleven, and he kept fit by working out regularly in Ryan's home gym. It still gave her shivers when he wrapped her up in his strong arms. Joel's personality had always been a bit unusual in comparison to his friends and the other guys at school. He was what her mom referred to as an old soul, as he was always trying to impart pieces of his own spiritual understanding to others. It had been one of the things that had initially intrigued her about him.
Joel licked his lips. "I'm going to finish this beer, and then I think we should take off back to my house, and find some other things to do that feel nice." He threw back the remainder of the beer and then leaned over and kissed her. He shivered and laughed as Erica made soft purring noises in response.
Erica packed up her towel again and waited while Joel told his friends they were leaving, and then headed out through the parking lot with him toward his house. The cool evening breezes coming off the water were being funneled straight down his street and they felt wonderful against her sun-warmed skin.
"It's getting dark earlier," she said. "What time is it anyway?"
"It's only eight thirty."
They slowed at the end of Joel's driveway, curious to see who was moving in next door. A large moving truck was parked outside the house and a group of men were bringing in pieces of furniture and cartloads of boxes. All the furniture they saw going in was large and ornate with elaborate wooden carvings, and had either red, purple or black upholstery. A massive black headboard with posts stylized to look like crazed, leering gargoyles caught Erica's eye.
"Someone has interesting stuff," Erica commented and then turned to Joel. "Maybe after they get settled, I can introduce myself and get a tour around the place."
"Yeah, like that wouldn't be too weird."
"People like to show off their homes, Joel."
"I'll have to take your word for that." Joel typed in the code on the garage door and waited for it to open, and as the interior was revealed, he was relieved to see his parents' car was gone. He pulled his keys out of his pocket and unlocked the interior door before closing the garage door back down behind them.
"So, what's first on our agenda?" Erica threw the beach bag down on the bench in the laundry room as they passed through it, and smiled, ripe with excitement, as Joel doubled back and caught her up in his arms, spinning her to him.
"I'm afraid I only have one thing planned for the entire agenda," Joel answered. "And it could become tiresome."
Erica giggled in anticipation.
Joel took her mouth, caressing her lips with his own, and deftly worked the knots of her bikini top loose. He let it fall to the floor before lifting his own shirt off over his head.
"I think we should go for a swim." Erica grabbed both of Joel's hands and led him through to the family room. She let his hands drop as they reached the sliding glass door that led out to the back yard, and removed her shorts and the bottom half of her bikini.
Catching the glint in Joel's eyes, Erica took off squealing through the patio door, and out across the pool deck, and into the pool, as he chased her. Joel struggled with the knot of his bathing suit, but finally managed to pull the unwanted clothing off. He threw it onto one of the lounges, and dove into the pool after her.
"You're so bad …," Joel said as he swam up to her. But Erica kept swimming away, just out of his reach, so he dove under the water and came up behind her, and wrapped his arms around her waist. The scent of her tanning lotion filled his senses as he kissed the back of her neck and ran his lips along the back of her shoulders.
Erica sighed from deep within, as Joel moved his body closer to hers, and reached back for him as he brought them together and pushed into her gently. She tipped her head back and their mouths met, while rocking her hips and clinging to the edge of pool.
She shivered as she felt Joel crest deep within her much sooner than what she had been anticipating.
She turned and wrapped her arms around his neck "You've been holding that in," she said, and then kissed him.
"Sorry, I've been thinking about it all day," Joel replied. "Apparently, I have no control whatsoever."
Erica looked at Joel and rolled her eyes.
"After dinner everything will work nice and slow," Joel said as he winked at her. "I promise."
"Mm …I should make dinner then." Erica ruffled his hair and carefully pulled herself out of the pool, using one of the ladders, and headed back toward the house.
Joel decided to stay in the pool and enjoy the cooling effect of the water on his bare skin, and the relaxing euphoria he always felt after having sex. He counted himself lucky to have found someone like Erica so early on in his life. She was a beautiful girl with dark brown hair and intense green eyes. Her figure was petite and toned, and she had a sexuality about her that had attracted him to her from the first day he'd set eyes on her. He drifted contentedly around in the water, thinking about Erica and their future together.
A male voice, with a distinct British accent, spoke from the other side of the short fence that ran the perimeter of his back yard.
"Nice night," the voice commented.
It was dark at that side of the yard because of the dense trees, and all Joel could see was the lit end of a cigarette. He swam to the edge of the pool and tried to adjust his eyes to see the figure standing there. But he couldn't see anyone.
"It was a bit hot today," Joel answered, "but it's cooled down nicely now." He kicked off from the edge and drifted to the middle of the pool. He still couldn't see whom he was talking to, but the figure in the darkness sounded like he might be about the same age.
He peered into the darkness. "Where are you from?"
"London mostly …but we move around a bit."
"Are you in high school or …"
"Yeah. Your equivalent of grade eleven. You?"
"Grade twelve. Finally."
Joel jumped when he heard the fence rattle and saw his new neighbor land in his yard.
"Name's Ethan." Ethan walked over to the edge of the pool and stared down at Joel as he continued to smoke his cigarette.
The first thing Joel noticed about Ethan was his ominous stature. He wasn't particularly broad, but he was very tall, and would easily dwarf him and any of his friends. The second thing he noticed about Ethan was his clothes; he was dressed entirely in black. Black jeans supported by a silver studded black belt, a loosely tucked black t-shirt, and heavy black combat boots.
"Hey, I'm Joel." Joel swam over to the far edge of the pool, not sure how much of his nudity could be seen below the surface of the water because of the in-pool lighting. He wanted to gain some distance, just in case.
"So, what is there to do around here?" Ethan asked as he tossed his cigarette down on the pool deck and crushed it out.
"We tend to go to the beach every day."
"Beaches aren't my thing." Ethan walked across the pool deck and sat down on one of the lounges. He picked up Joel's bathing suit and tossed it onto the next one over. "What else is there to do?"
"There will probably be a few parties happening before school goes back next week. I could let you know if I hear anything."
Joel continued looking Ethan over nervously while clinging to the edge of the pool, not sure what to make of him. Ethan's hair was straight and black, hanging down past his shoulders, and he had black smudged liner circling his eyes, making him look like a few musicians Joel had seen in older music videos. As Ethan tucked a strand of hair behind his ear the setting sun lit up Ethan's profile, and Joel could see a plethora of tattoos literally covering Ethan's arms and hands …and a staggering amount of facial piercings. The overall visual effect was quite disturbing.
Joel's gut twisted a little, and his breath caught short in his chest.
"I saw your parents pack up and leave a few hours ago," Ethan said as he untied his boots. He pulled them off, threw them on the pool deck, and stuffed his removed socks into them. "Are you going to have a party while they're gone?" He walked over to Joel's side of the pool and rolled up his pant legs, and then sat down at the edge of the pool next to Joel, and dropped his feet into the water.
"No, I'm not having a party," Joel answered as he moved further away from Ethan as he lit up another cigarette, not wanting to breathe in any of the smoke.
"I don't need the hassle from my parents if they find out."
"Plus you'll have your hands full shaggin' that girlfriend."
"How do you know about her?" Joel swam over to the side of the pool closest to the house, and looked anxiously back at Ethan. "How long have you been standing out here?"
"Long enough." Ethan pulled his feet out of the water and walked over to where Joel was gripping the pool edge. "Maybe I should go introduce myself." He started toward the house and smiled when he heard Joel lift himself out of the water.
"I think you should leave now," Joel demanded.
Ethan slowed his pace and turned to face him. "Yeah …I don't think so, sunshine." He approached Joel and circled around him, staring at him. "You're looking frightfully cold, beach boy. Do you want a towel or something?"
The patio door opened behind Ethan and he turned slowly to face it, and upon seeing Erica, made a theatrical bow. "My lady—"
Erica eyed Ethan nervously. "Is everything alright out here?"
"Everything is ship shape on the pool deck, captain," Ethan said and began circling Joel again. "I was just asking Joel here if he needed a towel to cover himself …the cold seems to be affecting him adversely." He took a final draw off his cigarette and then threw it down on the ground, crushing it out with his bare foot.
"And what is your name, my dear?" he asked.
"Um …Joel. Could I get you to help me in the kitchen?" Erica asked with obvious fear in her eyes.
Joel, fearing what his new neighbor might do next, skirted around Ethan, and ran into the house, whereupon Erica slammed the sliding glass door behind him, and locked it.
"What the hell?" Erica cried. "Is that your new neighbor?"
"Yeah. Lucky me. I think it would've been better to have a grow op next door. That guy is seriously scary."
Joel closed the curtains over the window of the patio door and grabbed a towel to dry off. After he'd thrown it in the laundry, he went to his room to grab some clothes, and then returned to the family room, where he found Erica standing by the window.
"Should we be calling the police?" Erica asked as she peered out through the curtains into the darkness. She couldn't see Ethan anywhere.
"No, he's probably gone home." Joel touched Erica's arm and led her away from the window. "What are we having for dinner?"
"Your mom left some spaghetti sauce defrosting in the fridge for us. I'll heat that up if you can get some water boiling." Erica turned back to the kitchen and shrieked with joy as Joel wrapped her up in his arms and kissed the back of her neck.
"I love it when my family goes away," Joel said, "and we can pretend this is our house, and do all the everyday stuff together."
"Like laundry, washing dishes …taking out the garbage—" Erica laughed when Joel turned her to face him, but then she screamed; Ethan was peering in through a kitchen window.
"What the fuck?" Joel said when he turned and saw Ethan.
"That's it, I'm calling the police," Erica said.
Joel finished pulling his shirt on over his head as Erica headed to his bedroom to get her cell phone. He walked over to the kitchen window and pushed it open. "My girlfriend is calling the police."
"I'll be gone by the time they get here." Ethan lit up a cigarette and took a long draw as he looked past Joel into the house. "How long have you been shaggin' that?"
"That is none of your fucking business."
"Fine, be like that." Ethan blew smoke in through the window into Joel's face. "I'll see you around, neighbor."
Then he winked and took off at a jog, headed for the fence. He pulled himself over and walked sedately back into his house.
The moving men were bringing in the last of the boxes and Ethan directed them to leave everything in the living room and go. The day had been too long already and he just wanted it to be over; he followed the men to the door and pressed it closed behind them.
Ethan wandered into the kitchen and pulled open the fridge to peruse through the paltry selection of things he'd picked up from the shops near the airport that afternoon. He would need to head out as soon as his car arrived to buy more food. His cook wasn't scheduled to arrive until sometime next week, so he would have to fend for himself until she got there. He lifted a beer from the door and pulled out his cell phone, found the nearest pizza place, and placed an order.
He didn't feel like cooking.
The breakfast dishes had been cleared away and the floor swept, but Joel had put off taking the garbage out the night before, and it had spilled out into the cupboard under the sink, prompting an emergency evacuation and clean up.
"Are you sure you still like this domestic stuff?" Erica asked.
Joel sighed and rolled his eyes at her. "It has to be done, but it's a royal pain," he said, and then swore as he fumbled with the tie on the bag.
"You're so cute when you're flustered." Erica collected her purse and keys off the kitchen counter and turned back to Joel. "I have to leave for work. Are you going to be alright by yourself for the entire day?"
"I'll probably head over to Ryan's for a few hours …and then a nap is next on the list," Joel said as he washed his hands. He dried them off and gathered Erica up in his arms, and gave her a long kiss before saying good-bye to her at the door.
Joel watched Erica pull out of the driveway and then wandered into his bathroom to start up the water for a shower, and after grabbing a towel and throwing it onto the counter, he stepped in with the intention of enjoying the refreshing feel of it on his skin.
With his eyes closed, Joel let the water rush over his face, and thought about the night he'd spent with Erica. They'd made love a few times before falling asleep in each other's arms. The scent and feel of her was so familiar and comforting that he'd had one of the best night's sleeps in a long time.
He'd only just finished up, stepped out of the shower, and wrapped the towel around his waist when he heard the doorbell ring. Thinking it was probably someone trying to sell something, he reluctantly went to answer it, and was surprised to see it was Ethan.
"Hiya," Ethan said casually. He looked Joel up and down, smirked, then cocked an eyebrow in amusement. "Boy, you really don't like wearing clothes much do you?"
"I just got out of the shower. What the fuck do you want?"
"I saw your slapper leave a few minutes ago."
"My what?" Joel shook his head, not actually wanting to know. "Never mind. Why are you here?"
"I was hoping you could help me out. I've run clean out of fags and beer, and I don't know where the nearest shops are at."
Joel kicked roughly at the doorframe, trying to decide whether he should just slam the door in Ethan's face.
"There are some stores not far from here," he said finally. "But you have to be nineteen to buy that stuff."
"Bollocks." Ethan pulled his wallet out of his pocket and flipped through some of the cards in it. "Will this get me through?"
"Crazy looking driver's license, but probably." Joel looked it over then handed it back. "It says you're twenty one. How old are you really?"
"Eighteen." Ethan grinned at Joel and put his wallet back. "There must've been some weird time shift when I jumped the pond."
"How on earth did you get a fake driver's license?"
"My dad got it for me." Ethan winked at Joel. "Now, these shops I'm looking for. How do I get to them? Keeping in mind, I'll be leggin' it. My car hasn't arrived yet."
"Wait …your dad got it for you?" Joel said then exhaled in exasperation. Some people had all the luck when it came to parents.
"If you follow the path at the end of the street there," he said. "It'll take you through a field and out onto the main road, and then you'll be able to see them off to the left."
"Did you want to be coming with me, Joel?" Ethan shifted his weight and chewed anxiously on his thumbnail. "Hurry up and decide though," he said, releasing his thumb. "Because if I don't get some fags soon, I'm going to have no fuckin' nails left."
Joel studied Ethan, trying to judge what his motivation was for inviting him along. He didn't look nearly as intimidating as what he had the night before. He was still wearing the black jeans, but he hadn't smudged the black eyeliner, and he'd had enough sense to put on a sleeveless shirt and a pair of flip-flops …even though it was obvious his feet hadn't seen sunlight in years.
His attention wandered. The extent of Ethan's piercings was actually quite fascinating. Both of Ethan's eyebrows had mini curved barbells capped with silver pointed spikes, and he had a series of six balls running along the sides of his nose directly between his eyes.
Joel blinked, not able to tear his attention away. Ethan's nose had a circular barbell through his septum that hung down almost as far as his top lip, and he had a ring through each nostril. There were three rings through his lower lip, the center one having a small ball attached to it, and then there were two small silver balls running down the center of his chin.
He let his gaze wander away from Ethan's face to the massive holes he'd stretched in his ears and adorned with black gauged earrings with silver rims, and the assortment of spikes, balls and other holes around them. His attention drifted to the series of black crescent moons tattooed all along Ethan's collarbone, then downwards. The tightness of Ethan's shirt made it obvious that his nipples were pierced, and decorated with some fairly significant rings.
Joel tipped his head sideways and tried to make out the images depicted in the tattoos on both of Ethan's arms and hands, but without looking at them straight on, he couldn't get the full effect of them.
Ethan continued to chew on his thumbnail as he waited for Joel to finish looking him over. He was used to people staring at him. It was one of the reasons he loved body modification; he liked the reaction he got from people. But more importantly, he liked the way it looked. He viewed his body as a canvas he could alter to express his personality. The overall effect made some people uncomfortable and even frightened, and some just curious.
Joel seemed to be falling squarely in the curious camp.
He watched as Joel made eye contact with him again.
"Didn't some of those hurt?" asked Joel.
"The worst ones were these ones here." Ethan flicked at his nipples. "Surprisingly, the least painful ones were down here." He patted the front of his pants. "And this one just about made me throw up." He lifted his shirt to show the surface piercing that sat just below his belly button. "The rest made me tear up a bit, but they weren't too bad. Except for my tongue." He stuck it out, and Joel cringed as he saw the size of the black ball on it. "It didn't hurt too much, but it totally swelled up. I could barely talk for days."
He dropped his hands to his hips and stared at Joel. "So, are you coming with me or what?"
"Only if you buy me some beer." Joel motioned for Ethan to come into the house, and closed the door. "Just let me get dressed."
Ethan sat down on the bench in the front hall and looked around. It was a nice enough house; nothing like his though. It was a strange neighborhood, the way the different classes of people were so mixed together. It was completely different back home where everyone was boxed away nicely in their appointed neighborhoods.
He turned when he heard Joel coming down the hall.
"Finally," he said. "I get to see you with some clothes on." Ethan patted Joel's arm lightly and opened the front door. "I'm not too sure about your style though, preppy pastel boy."
"At least I won't boil to death, like you." Joel led Ethan down the road sticking to the shady side of the street. "Don't you own a pair of shorts or anything?"
"I thought I did pretty good digging these flippy floppy things out of a box," Ethan replied. "And I destroyed one of my shirts." He pulled disgustedly at the edge of his cut-off sleeve.
They reached the end of the road and squeezed through an opening in the fence. The field on the other side was thick with tall grass and full of crickets that, much to his embarrassment, made Ethan jump every time one of them leapt across his path. They emerged at the edge of a busy road and turned to walk a couple of blocks to a small strip mall. Ethan immediately headed for the cold beer and wine store and was about to go in when Joel stopped him.
"Hey, you promised to get me some beer," Joel said.
"I will. Come in and tell me what you want."
"I can't go in there. I have to be nineteen."
"Are you fuckin' with me?" Ethan looked around behind him and saw the woman working the till inside. "She's not going to bust my balls about buying for you, is she?"
"I think she's probably going to be too preoccupied with your overall look and the age on your driver's license to be worrying about me standing out here, waiting for you."
"Good. So, what do you want?"
"Just grab me a case of that Canadian stuff there in the blue box at the bottom of the cooler."
Joel sat down on the curb and pretended to be texting someone on his cell phone, making it look like he had a reason for sitting there. It wasn't long before Ethan came back out with four cases of beer, two bottles of rum, and a carton of cigarettes.
Ethan handed Joel two of the cases and the bag with the bottles in it and started walking back down the street. "That should hold me until I have a chance to get to the shops," he said, and laughed shortly. "My staff won't be showing up until next week, so I'm kind of winging it over at my place."
"You have staff? What does your dad do for work?"
"Funny thing that. I don't actually know." Ethan sat down at the edge of the field, ripped open the carton of cigarettes, and passed the remnants to Joel to put in the bag with the rum. He pulled open a package and quickly had a cigarette lit. "Sit. I want to have at least two of these before we go any further."
Ethan leaned toward Joel and took one of the rum bottles out of the bag and opened it. He took a long swig and passed it to Joel, motioning for him to have some.
"It's a bit early for that, isn't it?" Joel said.
"Time is relative," Ethan said, and then smiled as Joel took a long draw off the bottle. "See. You didn't burst into flames or anything."
"Amazing!" Joel grinned and shoved Ethan lightly.
Ethan studied Joel for a second then crushed out his first cigarette to start on his second.
"So, you have no idea what your dad does?" Joel asked, curious as to how Ethan could be oblivious to something like that.
"Not a clue."
"Whatever he does, he must make a lot of money doing it to be able to afford that house of yours. Is he at work now?"
"I don't know. I rarely see him. I tend to live pretty much on my own." Ethan stood and tossed his cigarette off to one side, whereby Joel leapt up, scrambling past him to stomp it out.
"Ethan, man, you can't do that," Joel said. "This place is like a fucking tinder box at this time of year."
"Sorry. I'm not used to this kind of heat." Ethan picked up his stuff, headed out across the field, and tried not to jump every time a cricket crossed his path. "It rains a lot back home."
"We don't get much of that around here." Joel held back and studied Ethan, taking in some of the finer details of his overall demeanor. It was possible he wasn't a psychopath after all.
"Hey, did you want to hang out at my place?" Ethan slowed to let Joel catch up with him. "The decorators and organizers are all over the place inside, but we could sit out in the back garden. It's pretty cool and shady out there."
Joel stopped and leaned the cases of beer against the fence. He took another mouthful of rum and passed the bottle to Ethan. "Sure, why not?" he replied. "My eyeballs are already floating. I might as well make a day of it."
Ethan grinned, pleased with Joel's response. He needed to start making friends. "Sounds like a plan, preppy boy."
They took their time making their way back down the street, talking and stopping every so often to cool off. The trees were providing plenty of shade, but even this early in the day, the air moving across them was like opening an oven.
"Hey, do you have a pool in your yard?" Joel asked as they approached Ethan's front door.
Ethan pushed the unlatched door open with his foot, and strode inside. The decorators had been ferrying things in and out through the door and weren't bothering to close it. Fortunately, the air conditioning was cranked up full, compensating for their negligence.
"Yeah, it's all set up and ready to go," Ethan answered as he led the way into an expansive foyer with black marble floors that felt wonderful and cool on Joel's bare feet.
Joel followed Ethan through to the back of the house and into the kitchen, where he set everything down on the counter, looking on with concern as Ethan lit up yet another cigarette while putting the beer into the fridge.
"How many of those do you smoke a day?" Joel ripped open his case of beer, took two cans out, and poured them into the massive chilled beer glass Ethan handed to him.
"Too many. I've tried to quit, but it's a bit of a comfort thing for me …being alone so much and all."
"Where's your mom?"
"She died when I was five. My dad has remarried a few times, but it never lasts long."
Joel grabbed his glass and followed Ethan through a few more rooms until they ended up on a large patio off a casual family type room. The patio was in full shade and there were a series of large bamboo fans moving the air around over their heads. He could see the pool stretching out at the bottom of the steps, but it was currently in full sunlight, meaning they would have to wait for a while before venturing into the water for a swim.
He stretched out on a lounge chair and shivered as the ice-cold beer made its way down his throat.
"This is the life, isn't it?" Ethan flicked his shoes to one side of the patio, pulled his shirt off over his head, and dropped down on the lounge next to Joel's. "I could stretch out here all day."
"Enjoy it while it's like this. The winters can be brutal here sometimes." Joel turned and looked at Ethan, and couldn't help perusing the artwork tattooed across Ethan's chest and down his arms. The images, patterns, and colors gracing Ethan's smooth skin were beyond fascinating.
Joel swallowed heavy into his chest as his gaze landed on the nipple rings. They were heavy and …incredible.
"Do you ski or snowboard?" he asked when he finally managed to peel his eyes away from the rings of cool metal.
"No, not much snow where I come from. My dad was never around long enough to take a trip to the Alps."
"That's too bad," Joel replied. "My friends and I do a lot of snowboarding. Maybe we can get you up to the local mountain during winter break. You could get your dad to rent a place, and then we wouldn't have to take the bus up every day."
"Yeah, we'll see. Do you have a lot of friends around here?"
"I've lived here my whole life, so I pretty much know everybody. But I have two close friends, Ryan and Max, and my girlfriend, Erica …who you've met."
Ethan sat up and caught Joel's eye. "Yeah, about last night. I have a really bad habit of trying to fuck with people for my own amusement. I'm sorry."
"It's not a big deal …but how long were you standing there? Did you see us in the pool?"
"No, I just heard you talking. I didn't see anything."
"Alright …good. Because that would be really creepy."
Joel closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind of that incident, and the other bizarre thoughts he was having. By late afternoon, they'd finished one of the bottles of rum and half a case of beer. After talking with Ethan for a few hours, Joel was feeling extremely comfortable in Ethan's company—maybe more than he should.
The sun finally moved toward the horizon, prompting Ethan to pull himself off the lounge, and take the steps down to the pool to test the water with his foot.
Joel sat straight up.
Two angel's wings, intricate and delicate with subtle shading of white and gray, fanned up from Ethan's slim waist and extending, outstretched—in sharp contrast to Ethan's overall appearance.
Joel threw back the last of his beer, and headed for the pool, which was now partially shaded by the massive trees that blanketed the back of the property. He pulled off and tossed his shirt onto the grass, and dove into the deep end of the pool.
The cool water felt glorious.
When he resurfaced, Ethan was sitting at the edge of the pool with his feet dangling in the water.
"Aren't you coming in?" Joel made for the edge of pool after realizing he'd had far too much to drink to be swimming around.
"Yeah, but I want to take these jeans off," Ethan replied. "So, you have to promise not to laugh."
"Laugh at what?" Joel pushed off from the edge, drifted into the center of the pool, then headed back again.
Ethan undid the buttons of his jeans, hauled them off, and stood at the edge of the pool. Just above the band of his underwear, a little to left of his right hip, the top portion of a tattoo in the shape of a big, pink heart was visible.
"I got it for an ex. It's kind of pathetic." Ethan stepped cautiously into the water and let himself sink until the water had only just cleared his shoulders. "I keep meaning to incorporate it into something else …or fill it in with a different color. I just haven't got round to it."
"There's no way I would let my girlfriend talk me into something like that." Joel laughed and dove beneath the water, then resurfaced and made his way down toward the shallow end. "What's your excuse for the wings?"
"No excuse. Those were my idea." Ethan drifted back over to the steps and pulled himself out of the water. "They're sentimental."
Joel gazed up at Ethan's body, taking in the overall effect of what he was seeing. Most of the tattooed images were intricately detailed and dark in nature, but some of them were surprisingly colorful and somewhat artsy. "You're like a walking piece of art."
"That's the general idea behind it." Ethan wrung his hair out and pulled his jeans back on loosely, not bothering with the buttons.
"What does cupido mean?" Joel asked.
"It's Latin—" Ethan answered then turned around, laughing, to face Joel, who was pulling himself out of the water using one of the ladders. "Were you checking out my ass?"
"Fuck off! You walked up out of the water right in front of me. It would've been difficult to miss a word tattooed across your lower back …not your ass."
"Yeah, well, there's a long story behind that one." Ethan crossed his arms and smirked at Joel.
"Nothing. Did you want to grab another beer?"
"No. I think I'm going to snag a nap before Erica comes home from work." Joel retrieved his shirt off the grass and pulled it back on before making his way over to the fence. "I'll grab the rest of my beer off you later. Thanks for that by the way."
"Sure thing, but before you go …where's the best place to pick up a few party favors? Do you have a number for someone?"
"No," Joel replied, shaking his head. "I'm not really into that shit. There's a guy that deals in the beach parking lot down the street. He's there around two in the morning or so. Nasty guy though. You'd be safer to head downtown and ask around."
"There's no one from school?"
"There are a few guys, but they're all on holidays right now …as far as I know. I'm afraid you're stuck with the downtown crowd until school starts." Joel pulled himself up on the fence and jumped over. "I'll give you a shout later tonight and get that beer off you."
"I'll be here." Ethan watched Joel until he was out of sight, then turned back toward his house to get out of the heat. He headed straight for the kitchen to get a glass of water and a couple of aspirin. He hadn't drunk that much in a long time, and it was making him feel nauseous.
After knocking them back, he lay down on the sofa in the small den attached to the kitchen, and closed his eyes.
Ethan groaned, rolling, and tucked further in to the sofa, shielding his eyes from the setting sun. He was getting tired of moving around so much. It was extremely stressful setting himself up in a completely new area, trying to meet up with the local kids and figure out who was who, and how they fit in with the social structure of the school. His patience for the entire thing was starting to wear thin and he wasn't sure how much longer he'd be able to keep it up.COLLAPSE