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The Picture of Damien Gray

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We are each our own devil, and we make our world this hell.
I write the quote on the board and the chalk screeches as I draw the lines for the two L’s. The symphony of my soul.

In the next few minutes, you will decide whether or not to hate me.

I say, “God, you’re so beautiful,” because for the next few minutes I can. Because for the next few minutes hell is a young, beautiful boy sitting on my lap looking down at me with the most gorgeous brown eyes I’ve ever seen and velvety pink lips that draw all the blood from my veins.

Lolita, the tips of my fingers taking three steps down. Lolita, when I feel you inside of me, I want to die.

Humbert Humbert had less fucking guilt than I do.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. You don’t even know what I’m talking about, do you? I am only telling you these things because I feel like I need to explain myself, to God maybe, or perhaps it’s the Devil. I can’t tell which one is which these days.

He came on to me, ladies and gentleman of the jury. It’s legal, I say, but my words drip with guilt. I know that doesn’t make it right. He’s just a kid. He doesn’t know any better.

My best friend Jamie used to say that it’s an artist's job is to make order out of chaos. You collect details, look for a pattern, and organize. You make sense out of senseless facts. Draw the line from point a to b. Make sense out of senseless things. Shuffle. Reorganize. Collage. Montage. An artist’s job is to interpret, regurgitate, intimate.

All my life I had made sense out of senseless things. Notes, lyrics, repeating patterns of ivory keys beneath my fingers, melodies in minor B. The white picket fence, the bright white tablecloth, the paint peeling on the walls of the empty nursery, two people smiling in a picture, tea for two. All my life I thought I could make sense of everything, until now.

But I’m getting ahead of myself again. Where was I? I need to start at the beginning, but then the beginning was also the end—you know what I mean?

Before you judge me—and I know that you will—let me just tell you the truth now, straight out, so that you needn't read any further. I am the Devil, and my particular brand of hell is talented, beautiful, and neurotic. He is dark, bitter and sweet like the taste of my morning coffee. My hell has eyelashes for days and a pattern of constellations on his back that I have memorized. My hell is a boy sitting on my lap who loves me, adores me.

And if I’m going to hell, I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.

 

**

 

The first time I take account of him, consciously at least, I’ve already finished two of the white paper cups on my desk—one in the morning, one after lunch. Stoli on the rocks followed by a breath mint just to be safe. I enjoy life’s simple pleasures. The air around the university campus is thick and humid; everything feels sticky. It’s Monday afternoon which means today is Class A, which means I’m teaching music theory for the next two days to non-major students who couldn’t give a fuck about the subject. That is except one pain-in-the-arse, an absolute fucking thorn in my side, skater boy-cum-art-student whose name I can’t remember until he walks right up to my desk, tosses his graded paper marked in angry red onto my desk, looks down the bridge of his nose at me and scoffs.

“I’m not wrong,” he asserts, and pointing to the large, red C on his paper adds, “You are.”

I take a deep breath and exhale. I fixate my eyes, purposeful and determined, on the boy. He’s slightly taller than I am, broad shouldered, small waist, typical introvert artist type—demure, coy, thinks that he’s smarter than everyone else. His hair has seen better days, and it’s clear that he’s never owned a comb. He’s wearing a black t-shirt with the word Slint in big white letters stretched across his chest.

He usually wears thick black frames, a style choice that only serves to reinforce his know-it-all aesthetic, but today I notice that he’s not wearing them. He has large, round eyes—given scant justice by the frames he usually hides them with—and suddenly I’m wondering why I’ve never noticed that his eyes are brown.

He is at all at once obnoxiously arrogant, yet painfully shy, the dichotomy of which he's not lost in his appearance. Without glasses, he looks approachable, handsome even. Or maybe that’s just the two cups of vodka talking.

“I disagree,” I say, and smile with what most likely looks like effort.

“Yeah, well that’s bullshit,” the boy huffs. He appears subdued, cocky even, but underneath his thin facade, I can sense that he’s refraining himself. “I’ve written songs, and I know how music theory works.”

I raise both eyebrows and feign surprise. “Oh really, do you?”

“Yeah I do, you old twat. You’re wrong. And you better give me an A.”

Old twat. I’m not that fucking old. I frown, pick up the piece of paper and read the scribbled name at the top. “Right—Graham, is it?”

“Yeah,” he says and looks at me with childlike disdain. I force back a smile.

“Look Graham, I know that you’re smart. You’ve aced every quiz in this class except for this one.” I pause, lick my thumb and shuffle through the rest of my papers. “How about this? Prove me wrong, and I’ll give you an A.”

The boy looks at me quizzically, but I can see the gears turning in his head. “If you know that I’m smart, then why don’t you just give me an A?”

“Because I’m not wrong,” I say, and flicking my eyes upward give him a careful once-over. “I’m assuming that if you write songs that you must own an instrument?”

“Yeah.”

“What sort of instrument? A guitar I assume?” I test, and the contempt on Graham's face is palpable.

“I play the guitar and saxophone,” he snaps, and it’s clear that I’ve gotten underneath his skin.

“Alright, then.” I glance down at my wristwatch, then begin inserting ungraded papers into my bag. “Tomorrow, after class. Bring your instrument, and we’ll see if your theory holds up.”

Graham scowls. “Fine,” he concedes. “It’s a date.”

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

The thing about relationships, or so I've learned, is it’s never all that cut and dry. Televisions and films make you believe that divorces happen theatrically, with lots of fervor and drama. The reality is, it’s never that way. It’s a slow process, a gradual removal of oxygen until the fire can no longer burn, and both parties no longer have the fight left in them to breathe.

She left me slowly, in increments, the same way one tricks a frog into being boiled, one degree at a time. Every day the distance becomes larger, and I see her less and less. When I wake up, there is an absence of her. When I eat breakfast, there is an absence of her. When I sit down at my piano and think, all I can imagine is her sitting in the space next to me with her hands on mine. But now the melody is gone, and I can’t remember what it sounded like anymore.

I still love her. That’s never been the problem. It’s complicated, I guess.

In my defense, I wish I could tell you that I was a great husband and that I would have been a loving father. But I’m not that great of a liar. I wanted a family, but it wasn’t in the cards. I wanted more, but she wouldn’t give it to me, so I started looking elsewhere. I told you I was a good guy.

This morning when I see her, she looks more tired than normal. She’s picking up more of her personal belongings, our furniture having already been divvied, and putting them into tiny boxes. Little details of our life packed into compartments. That’s what it feels like when I talk to her now as if I’m just a compartment to her. A closed door. And no matter how much I stand outside waiting in the cold, she won’t let me in.

I’ve apologized countless times.

Today she’s wearing my favorite tank top, the one that stretches in all the right areas and makes her tits look great. God, I miss her. I wonder if she misses me.

“Hey,” I say as I step into the living room with my coffee cup pressed to my lips.

Justine doesn’t even look at me when she answers. “I’ll be picking up a few more things tomorrow around two. Will you be here?”

Two. Two is my unlucky number. Two is the number of women she caught me cheating on her with after we finished painting the nursery we couldn’t ever manage to fill. I didn’t have the heart to tell her about the other three. See? I warned you; I am the Devil.

Good morning. I love you too.

“Sure,” I mumble and look toward the front window to appear disinterested. A couple passes on the sidewalk, walking hand in hand. Life would be so much easier if people just said how they felt the first time, don’t you think?

“Great,” she says, giving a tight smile. I watch as she gathers the rest of her boxes into her arms makes a beeline for the front door.

“Wait, I can help you—”

“It’s alright,” she interrupts. “I can handle it myself.”

Of course, she can. I frown as I hear the door shutting behind me, and I become aware that my coffee is now lukewarm. I walk to the sink and pour it down the drain.

Today is Tuesday, which means I’m teaching music theory again and English, which means Graham will be meeting me after class, which means I spend five more minutes than usual looking at myself in the mirror for reasons for I’d rather not analyze or pick apart. I’m not sure why the boy makes me so nervous, but he does. It must be something about the way he looks at me at the back of the classroom like he’s trying to figure me out.

I have a brief break at the end of the day, about an hour before my open office hours, and I decide to sneak into the empty auditorium and play the piano for a while. It’s the sort of place I usually go to be undisturbed, to escape, and to postpone the drive home to an empty house. I set my hands alight on the ivory keys and press down. My fingers move with physical memory. A minor to E minor over G, then down to F.

Summer don’t know me no more

E minor, A minor, then repeat.

I saw that day
Lost my mind


The auditorium fills with the sound of music, and suddenly I feel entirely alone, completely in my element. Lower the key from F to E minor. My voice is heavy, tired. I can’t sing as high as I used to.


Lord, I'll find
Maybe in time
You'll want to be mine

The residual sound of E minor echoes against the auditorium walls as I finish, and smoothing my hands over the keys I try to push my thoughts of Justine away. Rising from my seat, I smooth a hand over my forehead and feel dizzy. The vodka’s wearing off at this point, and I’ve worked up a real migraine. I hear someone clearing their voice behind me, and I nearly jump out of my skin. I turn my head over my shoulder to see Graham peering back at me coyly from the last row in the aisle.

“That was lovely,” he says in a voice so quiet I can barely hear him, and I wonder for a moment if he's flippant.

“I didn’t know I had an audience,” I return coldly, trying my best to save face. “If I had known I would have stopped playing.”

“You shouldn’t have stopped,” Graham counters, then adds, “You have a beautiful voice.”

“Thanks,” I say, doing my best to feign indifference, but a small bass note thrums in my stomach at the compliment. “How did you find me? We weren’t supposed to meet for another hour.”

He shrugs. “I heard someone playing, so I walked in.”

“Right. I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard of personal privacy.”

Graham gives me a blank, adolescent look that suggests he’s indifferent to anyone’s feelings but his own, then shrugs again. “I brought my guitar. And my amp.”

I motion toward the stage. “Be my guest,” I say, and walking off the stage sit myself down in the first row. He’s wearing another band t-shirt. Today it’s a nineties Pavement tee, new and hardly worn from the looks of it, and most likely picked up off the internet by a company selling nostalgia to teens who romanticize eras they never existed in. Not my thing really, I think as I cross my legs and survey his set up from the seats. He has a bright yellow Telecaster, American-made by the looks of it, and I’m impressed that the kid has enough money to afford one.

“Where are you from, Graham?” I prod.

“Colchester,” he replies, strapping his guitar over his shoulder. A proud and arrogant Southerner. Of course, makes sense.

“Where did you go to school?”

“Stanway Comprehensive.”

I lift an eyebrow and shift uncomfortably in my seat. “Interesting.”

He glowers back at me. He must think that I’m taking the piss out of him. “What?”

“I went to Stanway,” I smile. “Shit school.”

Graham frowns, then softening his body language, nods in agreement. “Yeah. It is.”

“Do they still have that music portacabin in the back?”

“Yeah,” Graham laughs. “That thing is bloody ancient. That was there when you were there?”

I purse my lips together and look down at my wristwatch. “So are you going to play something, or what? I’d rather not waste any more time.”

Graham nods, touches his nose, sticks his pick in his mouth and begins tuning. Within minutes he’s playing a loud and fuzzy lo-fi version of ‘The Beat’ by Elvis Costello, pumped out of his tiny Vox amp on the stage. His song choice amuses me; I wonder if he thought it would impress me.

When he finishes, I muster a refrained smile and clap my hands together. “Not bad,” I lie. The boy is surprisingly talented for his age. Almost too talented, I muse. “Have you had any formal training?”

“Nah,” Graham shakes his head. “I've been playing since I was eleven.” He brings his hand up to his mouth and begins chewing on his thumb. His specs subsequently fall down the bridge his nose, and he pushes them back up immediately and straightens his back, looking nervy. I find it endearing, in a ridiculous way. “I’ll play you my song now if you want.”

I hold my hand up. “No need,” I smile. “You’ve earned your A.”

“But I haven’t even shown you—”

“I trust that you’re capable based on your playing skills.”

I rise from my seat to leave, and Graham frowns. “You just don’t want me to prove you wrong. That’s all it is,” he accuses. “You don’t want your ego hurt.”

“Oh, I’ve got no ego left to bruise, trust me,” I say as I turn my back to him.

“You’re an outstanding musician,” Graham blurts out, and the volume of his voice catches me off guard. “You know they always say those who can’t do teach...but, I think...I think maybe you’re an exception.”

“Ha, thanks for the compliment,” I say, and turning around again head for the exit.

Despite my efforts, Graham shouts at me from the stage again. “You know, I’ve always wanted to learn to play the piano, but I’m no good at it.” He pauses. “I want you to teach me how to play,” Graham replies, seemingly unaffected by my sarcastic tone. He may be a pain in the arse, I think to myself, but he does put up a fight.

I cross my arms and turn to face him.

“I have money,” he adds. “I can pay you.”

“I don’t need your money,” I lie again, to save face. But if I'm honest, the royalty checks were shit this month, and between that and the potential alimony, I know that could use the extra cash.

“Yeah, but you need someone to record your music, don’t you?” Graham blurts out, and I feel my cheeks immediately get red. I’m still not entirely comfortable with the fact that he was spying on me.

“I have—I have keys to a recording studio,” he stutters. “Well I mean, I just intern there. But I have access to the recording equipment, you know. I could help you record some of your songs…” He trails off, but his eyes are still pleading with me. I can’t turn down the poor boy.

"Where at?"

"The Beat Factory. Do you know it?"

"Yeah, I know it." My face softens, and I look down at my hands. “Alright.”

“You’ll teach me then?”

“I’ll tutor you,” I concede, then quickly add, “After class. And only on Mondays. I’m busy the rest of the week.”

When I look up again, Graham’s beaming back and his eyes have completely lit up. He sounds like a child who’s finally given his favorite toy, but it’s just a momentary crack in his veneer. He wipes the grin off of his face and rolls his shoulders back. “Right. It’s a deal then,” he agrees, and as I turn around to leave and hear the boy unplugging himself from his amp, I do everything I can to hold back a smile.

 

**

I'd be lying if I didn't say that I had begun to look forward to Monday afternoons. Knowing that each week that I had something to look forward to besides Justine coming over and picking up more of her things was a welcome distraction. Truth be told, I'd also developed a kind of admiration for the kid after seeing him play. Maybe it was some fatherly instinct I'd never fulfilled that drove me to want to mentor him; I don't know. He took playing music seriously, and he had the talent for it. I could count on one hand how many kids like that had passed through my classroom in the last five years. There were also other things—feelings that I'd been having these last few weeks, uncomfortable ones that made my skin crawl. I tried to tell myself that I was just lonely or it was the vodka talking.

Today, Graham is wearing a black Huggy Bear shirt with the words "our troubled youth" spelled out in scribbled letters at the bottom. It's a flattering piece on him; the fabric holds tight to his chest, accentuating his broad shoulders and long arms. He's all lean muscle—thin but healthy. And when he reaches over to grab his sheet music out of his backpack, his pants are so loose that I can see the tag of his underwear and just above that more than I'm willing to let myself see. I force myself to look away.

"What's wrong?" He asks, sitting down on the bench with me. He fusses with the hair in his face, scrunches up his nose and moves close enough to me so that he can reach the right keys. I shouldn't be so surprised that he's so observant, but I am. I'm beginning to feel more and more anxious when I'm around him.

I shake my head and smile. "Nothing."

"You look miserable," he says bluntly. "I mean you are a miserable bastard most days, but today more so." He pauses, then his gaze lowers to my left hand.

"Are you married?" Graham asks, pointing to the silver band on my ring finger.

"In a way," I frown, then catching myself, give a reassuring smile. "I was, or still am, I guess. Sort of."

"Sounds complicated."

"It is." I grab the sheet paper from his hands, attempting to change the subject. "Do you remember how far did we get last week?"

"What's her name?" Graham probes and I feel a fresh ball of anxiety well up in my throat.

"That's not any of your business, is it?" I snap, and immediately I regret it. Graham recoils, looking more like a kicked puppy than the arrogant but talented student I've gotten to know the past few weeks.

"Sorry," he says, and stares down at his shoes.

"Don't be. I shouldn't have snapped at you. I'm sorry." I run a hand through my scalp and smile to appease him. It works because he relaxes a bit. "It's just been an exhausting day."

"It's okay," Graham mutters, and I feel even more guilty.

"Alright, well let's start then."

"Um, I was wondering if..."

"What?"

"I was wondering if maybe you would teach me the song I heard you play a few weeks ago." He bites down on his lower lip. "I liked it a lot."

I study him for a moment, trying to figure out if he's joking again, or being flippant, but for what I can tell he looks genuinely interested. I clear my throat. "Sure," I say, and my shoulders relax. "I can teach you it." I motion toward his hands. "Do you remember the A minor chord?"

He nods and presses his fingers down.

"Right, now how about E minor over G?" He frowns, staring down at the piano. I place my hands on top of his, guiding him to the right keys. I feel his fingers tense underneath my mine at first, then relax. "Now, the next chord is F. That's easy."

He moves his hands underneath mine, lifting, guessing, and then waiting for my response. An F note reverberates around the room. "Now over to E minor," I encourage him. "And back to A minor." He presses his fingers down, drawing the last note out and smiles.

"See? Easy enough," I say.

"Is that all of it?"

"That's just the verse. But here, you play the verse, and I'll play the chorus, and you can watch me."

Graham nods, and his cheeks are red. He appears nervous but also enthusiastic. I remember feeling the same way once.

"Alright, now you start."

Graham presses down on A minor, then moves to E minor over G—still a little shaky but not bad for his second time. I place my hands on top of his again and guiding him begin to sing to keep him at the right pace.

Summer don't know me no more 
Eager man, that's all

We move back to the beginning, and I can feel him starting to recognize it now as we move through the second verse. As we leave the verse, I remove my hands from his and begin playing the chorus on my own.

I saw that day
Lost my mind
Lord, I'm fine
Maybe in time, you'll want to be mine

Moving back to the verse I motion for him to start without my help this time, and he plays it perfectly the third time. I smile. I finish out the rest of the song, lowering the volume of my voice as I reach the end. I lift my hands off the keys and pat him on the back.

"You played it perfectly," I say, and the glow in his demeanor increases. "I'll teach you the chorus next week."

"That's an incredibly sad song," he says quietly.

I half-smile. "I suppose."

"She must have been pretty amazing," Graham mumbles, then looking extra nervy adds, "Or he. If they're not a she, I mean. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I mean, I shouldn't assume," he stutters, then realizing how badly of a hole he's dug himself into, stares down at his feet.

I blush, somewhat taken aback by his forwardness, but still finding his awkwardness endearing.

"I'm sorry."

"It's alright. I'm not offended. Why would I be?"

"I dunno," Graham mumbles, scratching the back of his head. "Um, I should go, probably." He glances at the clock. "It's a lot later than I thought. I need to get back to my mum's."

His mum's. My stomach turns over, and I feel nauseous thinking about the fact that I've been having feelings about a child who still lives with his mother.

"Sure," I smile and close the piano lid. "I'll see you next week."

Graham grins, and I feel that familiar bass note thrum in my stomach again. Pleasant nausea. Is that a feeling? He pulls his backpack over his shoulders, and turning toward me one last time says, "I'm looking forward to it, Mr. Albarn."

"Oh, Graham. Before you go, one last thing."

"Yeah?"

"Mr. Albarn is my father. Call me Damon." I pause, debating whether or not to reveal more than I'd like to. "And her name is Justine."

"Right," Graham says, biting his upper lip and looking more coy than usual. "I'll see you later then, Damon."

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next time I see Graham he’s running into the auditorium with the sort of grin on his face that suggests he knows something I do not. I’ve barely opened my mouth to greet him before he’s sitting down on the bench and shoving his phone into my hands without a single word or explanation.

I ask, “What is this?”

He stares back at me with wide eyes. “Unlock it, look.”

I look down at his phone and frown. “How?”

He laughs at me. “What, are you serious? Do you have an Android or something?”

“What’s an Android?”

“Jesus, how old are you?”

“I don’t know anything about these smart...things.”

“You mean you don’t know anything about phones.”

“I have a phone,” I assert, pulling my flip phone out of my pocket.

“Jesus, that’s ancient. That should be in a museum or something.”

I frown.

“Look,” he says, unlocking his phone and shoving it back underneath my nose. He presses play and I immediately I see a reflection of myself twenty years younger staring back at me. In the background is the Top of the Pops stage. I look like a right twat with a microphone in my hand and a floppy haircut. I’m introducing Celine Dion before the clip cuts out and Graham grabs the phone back out of my hands.

“That’s you,” He exclaims, as though it weren’t obvious that I could recognize myself. He points to his phone again, as if to drive the point home. “That’s fucking you! You never told me that you were famous.”

“I wasn’t,” I say. “Not really.”

“Bollocks,” Graham retorts. He’s leaning in close enough to my face that I’m beginning to feel uncomfortable. “That was you, on Top of the fucking Pops—what do you mean you weren’t famous?” Graham draws back to catch his breath, apparently upset that I’m not sharing his enthusiasm.

“I was in a band once, a long time ago. That’s it.”

“Not just a band—you were in Seymour! You never told me that. I mean, shit, you wrote Parklife,” Graham continued. His face had become red from shouting. “I’ve even got your fucking CD.” He says excitedly, pulling out a jewel case from his bag and pointing.

“Okay, okay.”

“That’s you,” he says, ignoring me, and points to my picture on the back of the album as though my face isn't evident to me. “Damon Albarn. I knew your name sounded familiar. You look a lot different now. No offense, I mean, it’s just, you were like hot back then, you know? I mean, you’re still okay now, but like—my mum said she had a poster of you in her bedroom when she was my age. Can you believe that?”

Oh. Here comes nausea again.

I hold my hand up to silence him. Graham’s going a hundred miles an hour with no end in sight. “I get it,” I say.

“But then I found this too,” Graham continues, oblivious to my discomfort level. He holds up his phone screen again, and I see a paparazzi photo of Justine and I walking together on the beach. My heart thrums uncomfortably.

“Is that your wife? The one you wrote that song about, yeah? She’s hot.”

I inhale and exhale slowly. I tell myself, he’s just a kid. He doesn’t know any better.

“Jesus, you were like, famous and attractive... How are you my teacher?”

“I wasn’t that famous,” I reassert and placing my hand on top of his wrist, push his phone away.

“What’s wrong? I didn’t offend you, did I?”

“No,” I say, but it’s not a great lie.

Graham’s shoulders visibly sink. “Shit, you are mad at me,” He mumbles.

“No, I’m not.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

The sparks in Graham’s eyes light up again, and it’s like one big warning sign: not stopping anytime soon.

“Oh wow, I bet you had sex with loads of beautiful girls, didn’t you?” He moves in even closer, close enough that I can smell the scent of detergent on his t-shirt and now I’m panicking. Now there’s sweat collecting on my forehead.

“And you probably traveled all over the world and played lots of gigs.”

He pauses, chews on his lower lip, and then gives me a curious look. “I mean, no offense but like, why are you a teacher? Shouldn’t you be rich and stuff?”

I open the lid on the piano and smile. “It’s a long, sordid story. Maybe I’ll tell you it some day.”

“Yeah, you definitely should,” Graham replies, and his eyes are practically giant discs now. “I can’t believe that my teacher was a pop star. That’s-that’s insane.”

“I was hardly a pop star. I promise you,” I smile, but the look of adoration in Graham’s eyes gives me that sort of ten-foot high feeling. If he knew the truth, he would think differently, I muse. But it’s a sweet sentiment for now.

“Trust me. It looked a lot more glorious than it was.”

“Maybe,” Graham doubts. “You're pretty cool, though. Yeah. I’ve decided that you're kind of cool for an old bastard,” He says, and then nods as if he’s giving me his blessing.

I feel the warmth of Graham’s eyes on me, admiring me, and all it’s too much. I wish I could pinpoint for my sanity what my attraction to him is. Perhaps it’s jealousy of his talent or his potential, I think. Maybe I’m just confused. Maybe this whole Justine thing has gotten to my head too much. I suspect that I’m just having another midlife crisis. Or maybe it's just God playing another cruel joke on me.

Graham’s leg slides forward against mine when he adjusts his seat, and to the dismay of my willpower, he does not move it. It’s an accidental movement to be certain, but it devastates me nonetheless. I close my eyes, and all I can think about is how close my right hand is in proximity to his left thigh. I imagine how I’d like to lean over and kiss him, not with passion but with the sweetness his naivete deserves. Maybe then it would fill whatever void that’s been keeping me from sleeping at night. Jesus. What's wrong with me? I don’t know who I am anymore.

I’m a teacher, I remind myself, and I clear my throat.

 

**

The next time Graham and I are supposed to have his lesson, he’s fifteen minutes late. Tardiness isn’t unusual for him, but for whatever reason I’m feeling particularly irritated today, and so I lean back and peer out the auditorium doorway, hoping I’ll see his figure somewhere in the distance. Disappointingly, the hallway is empty. I rise from my chair and decide to wander outside for a cigarette. I warrant I’ll see him if he comes in. Either that, or he’ll just have to wait.

I look up just as I reach the double-doors, and that’s when I spot him. He’s standing on the pathway just below the building. Accompanying him is a tall, lanky, dark-haired student with a floppy, androgynous haircut and cheekbones so sharp you could cut paper with them. My attention to my cigarette fades while I watch him stand a little too close to Graham, smile a little too broad. His hand draws an intimate path down Graham’s shoulder, rests at his wrist, then after a beat retracts.

I look away, conscious of the jealous knot inside my stomach, the one that I know shouldn’t be there. Feeling anxious, I flick my half-used cigarette away and watch as the orange ash kicks across the pavement.

When I look up again, Graham's friend is gone, and he is making his way toward me. He looks nervy today, though that tends to be his natural disposition, so I don’t put much stock into it.

He shoots me a weak smile. “Hi Mr. Albarn—I mean, Damon. Um, sorry I’m late.”

“S’alright,” I say, pushing myself off the wall. I cup my hands together and light another cigarette to replace the last one. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“It’s not nothing,” I counter. “Something’s bothering you. What is it?”

Graham sighs. “Nothing. It’s stupid. You don’t want to hear about it.”

“You’re right,” I agree. “But go ahead.” I take a long look at the bright cherry on my cigarette, telling myself that my concern for the kid is natural.

“I just like someone and they don’t like me back.”

I nod.

“It really… I mean I knew they weren’t….” I arch an eyebrow.

“He’s not gay?” I finish, and Graham turns sheet white. It’s obvious from the look on his face that he’s worried about what I’m thinking.

“Don’t worry, I’m a twenty-first-century man,” I assure him, and his whole posture relaxes instantly.

“How did you—”

“Lucky guess,” I smirk, and Graham’s cheeks immediately turn red.

“I mean…I don’t know what he is.”

“Hmm.”

“One minute I think he’s flirting,” Graham shakes his head, looking lost. “And then the next minute he acts as though he hates me.”

I reach up to cup the back of my head, rubbing the back of my neck as I think about what to say. “Sounds complex.”

“It is. It drives me crazy.” Graham lowers his chin, staring down at his shoes. As he leans forward, I notice two faded, purplish bruises peek out from underneath the collar of his t-shirt. And here I was getting my hopes up.

“So why don’t you just ask him?”

“It’s not that simple.”

“Why not?” I argue, lifting an eyebrow.

“Because if he knows that I like him, he’ll never want to talk to me again.”

“And how do you know that?” I probe, giving him a sideways look.

“I just do.”

“Well, that’s not fair to him, is it?” I say.

Graham frowns and readjusts the bag on his shoulder. “Yeah, I guess not.” He bites his lower lip. "I 'm just not sure what to do about it, you know?"

“How about this—give him a gift. That way he has to talk to you, and it’s safe because it's sort of…” I trail off, motioning abstractly with my hands. “Platonic. You know.”

Graham lifts his gaze halfway, then bites down hard on his upper lip. The kid might as well be trying to murder me. He takes a deep breath. “I don’t want to talk to about it anymore,” he says, and his eyes immediately fall to my hands. “Can I have a fag?”

I consider him for a moment, debating whether or not to probe further. My eyes travel to the marks on his neck again, and a fresh wave of jealousy hits me. I push it back down again.

“Depends,” I say, giving him a dubious look. “How old are you?”

“Old enough,” Graham answers, and his tone is indignant. Alright.

Keeping my eyes locked on him, I take a long drag, then reach into my pocket and pull out a fresh cigarette. “This’ll fucking kill you, you know,” I say as I hand it to him.

Graham responds with an offended but appeased glance. “Yeah? Then why are you still doing it?”

“Have you ever heard the expression, how does one eat an elephant?”

Graham coughs as he lights up. “No.”

“Nevermind, then.”

Both of us fall silent, and for the first time, it feels like the conversational tension between us has started to wane. Graham clears his throat, and I see it as an opportunity.

“Look, you’ll be alright. Don’t worry too much about this guy, alright? You’re just a kid,” I say. “You’ve got your whole life in front of you.”

“I’m not a kid,” Graham counters.

“You are a kid,” I correct him. “I was a kid once, I should know.”

Graham frowns, then pinching the fingers holding his cigarette into a V-shape, props his right elbow on top of his left hand. I suddenly realize he’s imitating me.

“Will you show me how to play Parklife if I teach you how to use a cell phone?”

“Ha, very funny,” I smirk, and unconsciously my hand moves to ruffle his hair. He wrinkles up his nose.

“Parhhhk-life,” he enunciates loudly, then turning toward me begins hopping back and forth and playing air guitar.

“Oh you are lovely, aren’t you?”

Graham puffs his chest up mockingly and looks down at me with faux superiority. “Confidence is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as—”

I smirk and pull Graham's hood up over his head and all the way forward so that it completely covers his eyes. “Alright. Come on, you twat. Let’s begin already.”

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

When Jamie sees me for the first time in weeks, the first thing he says to me is that I look like I jumped in front of a train and missed.

It goes without saying that Jamie’s not the sort of person who minces words.

He’s sitting across from me in a booth at his favorite café, fag in hand and coffee comfortably in the other, chemically sedated and satiated. In front of him is a pen and pad full of sketches. One of them is me, drawn with cartoonish resemblance, hair a mess and tired eyes standing at the edge of a tube track. He thinks it’s funny. I do not.

“What’s wrong, mate?” He finally asks, nearly half an hour into our conversation.

I glance up as the waitress passes our table and I order a tomato juice, which warrants a strange look from Jamie.

“Hung over?” He probes, just as the waitress is out of earshot.

“Aren’t we all?” I say and smile at the waitress as she delivers my glass. Reaching into my book bag, I pull out a small flask of vodka and pour a sizable amount into my cup.

Jamie looks back at me, aghast. “Jesus, are you serious?”

“What?” I say, giving him a complacent stare. I screw the lid closed on my flask and nod. “Hair of the dog.”

Jamie grabs my juice and pulls it toward him.

“Hey,” I protest, but Jamie looks back at me unfettered and still in shock. I narrow my eyes. "Come on."

“No, you come on, mate. What’s going on with this sad bastard shit, huh?” He points toward my bag. “You look terrible. You’re drinking like a fish. You’re acting like the whole world’s come down on top of you.”

“Hasn’t it?” I say, and Jamie scoffs.

“Really. What has gotten into you?” Jamie asks me, and when he doesn’t receive an answer, his body language shifts. “Is it Justine again?”

Sighing, I lean back into my seat, stretch my right arm over the top of the booth.

“So that’s a yes,” Jamie confirms, and I purse my lips and give him a fixed stare. “It’s Justine. Of course,” he sighs. “You’ve got to get over her, mate. Really.”

“It’s sort of difficult to get over someone when they keep popping back into your life, Jamie.”

“Well change your fucking locks then,” Jamie says sarcastically, and I roll my eyes.

“It’s not that easy.”

“Then get a new girlfriend. That shouldn’t be hard for you,” Jamie says. “So long as you pretend not to be an arsehole.”

“I don’t want a new girlfriend. I want her,” I deflect.

“She’s not coming back, Dames,” Jamie says and shakes his head. “I don’t know how many times I have to tell you that before you move on.”

“You don’t know that.”

Jamie tilts his head to the side, lips pursed and eyes wandering as though he’s trying to figure out what to say next. “That very well may be true, but I do know logic and logic suggests that if she just moved in with someone else, then she’s not interested in you anymore, mate.” He looks me straight in the eye. “You gotta get over it. Move on with your life.”

“Well, that’s easy for you to say,” I mutter, my eyes turning toward the window again. “You’re still married.”

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that.” Jamie leans back, crosses his right leg over his left and takes a sip of his coffee. He looks out the window, and for a brief time we’re both silent, the conversation having fallen into awkward, but amicable territory.

“Have you got anything else going on?” He finally says, turning his attention from the window back to me again.

I arch an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, have you got anything to distract yourself? Anything good in your life, something that makes you happy, you know.”

“Yeah. Vodka.”

“Christ. Besides vodka.” He glares at me. “And I hope you’re fucking joking about that.”

I frown, trying to think of an answer. I chew on the inside of my mouth, and then finally an answer hits me.

“There is one thing, I guess, sort of. It’s nothing though.”

Jamie lifts his chin. “Tell me.”

“It’s stupid,” I frown. “There’s just this kid I’m mentoring, he’s....” I pause, trying to think of the appropriate words to use. “He’s got some potential. He’s sort of," I stall, considering my next few words. "I see a little bit of myself in him I suppose. I don’t know.”

“How old is he?”

I shrug. “I dunno, eighteen, nineteen? I haven’t asked.”

“Hmm.” Jamie nods to himself, taking another sip of his coffee and glancing out the window again. “Well, does he make you happy?”

I shrug. “Yeah, I guess?”

“Well, then keep mentoring him. Focus on that.” He leans forward. “Don’t focus on Justine.”

I try to smile, but I'm sure it's not working.

“Focus on the positive shit in your life,” he says, patting the top of my hand, and my eyes are drawn to his sketchbook again. My cartoonish face stares back at me. Tired. Exhausted. Visiting the tube sounds like an excellent idea right now, I muse.

"Yeah, maybe."

**

Graham’s not in class today. He never misses my class; this shouldn't bother me, but it does. As soon as my lecture starts, his empty seat in the back row stares back at me, mocking me. I move to the opposite side of the room, avoiding his side, but the lack of his presence is throwing me off. It takes me fifteen minutes before I realize I'm teaching last week's curriculum instead of this one.

After my last session finishes, I remain optimistic. I make my way to the auditorium and prep the various materials we’ll need for Graham's lesson. I wait, and the clock passes five, then five fifteen. I look down at my wristwatch and frown. Part of me is irritated that my time is put to waste, but the other part is anxious that something might have happened. At thirty after, I make an executive decision, pack my things and leave the campus. I stop off at the pub on my way home and, emotionally satiated after a few drinks, crawl my way back toward the tube.

It’s late, and the tube station is vacant and eerie. I hold my bag tight to myself even though I know it makes me look ridiculous. When I step into the train it’s also empty, save for the one lone passenger in the end row who looks up at me briefly, then hides his head as if to signal that he’d rather not be bothered. Sighing, I sit down and place my bag between my legs. I feel good, I’ve got a slight buzz going but not too much, just enough to help me slide into bed and sleep without my mind racing. I lean forward, pressing my middle fingers to both temples.

When I look up, the single passenger at the end of the row has moved again. Now his back is facing me, and the behavior strikes me as odd. He looks familiar, although I can’t place him. The back of his head only reveals so much, and so curiosity getting the better of me, I rise from my seat and make my way to the back of the train.

He jolts when I get closer, and I immediately recognize it as Graham’s signature body language—nervy.

“Graham?” I try, and he turns to look at me. His eyes are bloodshot and red. His hoodie is pulled completely over his head, casting a shadow over his face. It’s difficult to see his expression in this light, but I can make out that he is crying. He looks up, aware that I've noticed this vulnerability, and wipes his face in one long stride with the sleeve of his hoodie. The sound it makes is less than pleasant to the ear.

“What are you doing on the tube so late?”

Graham gives me a brief acknowledgment before staring down at his shoes, despondent. “I’m sorry that I missed your class.”

I slide into the seat next to him, lobbing him a concerned look. “You still didn’t answer my first question.”

“I know,” Graham says, and swallows. I study him for a brief moment, content to be able to in a context that seems appropriate. He is pale usually, but pallid under the fluorescent light. Sticky trails of half-dried saline shine on his cheeks. I have the unhealthy urge to kiss his forehead and pull him into my arms. I have a lot of urges these days.

“It’s a long story,” he says, and I look down at my wristwatch.

“Well, I’ve got time for one.”

Graham opens his mouth, hesitates, then kicks his right leg up against the seat and stares at it. “My mum—my mum and dad kicked me out.”

I rub the bridge of my nose with my thumb and index finger, not confident that I've heard him correctly. “They kicked you out?”

“They caught me hanging around with boys,” Graham wavers, and my heart drops like a stone.

“Hanging around with boys?”

"Messing around with boys," Graham corrects me, holding my gaze for a solid second before breaking away again.

My eyes light up. I nod. “I see. So that’s why you’re here, on the train.”

"I was going to ride it until they kicked me off," he says, lowering his voice. "I’ve got nowhere else to go.”

“What about your friends?”

Graham kicks his other leg up onto the seat, and his fringe falls forward over his eyes. “I don’t have any friends,” he says.

“Well, what about your mate at school? You know, the tall, dark one—”

“He’s not that kind of friend,” Graham interrupts, and his tone of voice is markedly defensive. I decide not to press it. Graham lifts his gaze to the window. Even now with his back turned to me, the glass mirrors his fractured expression against the darkness outside, and I can tell that he is trying to hide the fact that he is crying.

“His parents don’t know either. He doesn’t want me coming around letting them know he’s got a problem too.”

I lean back into my seat and frown.

“You have nowhere else to go?”

Graham shakes his head, and for a brief moment, he's so distant that I can't help but think that he looks like a subject in a photograph or a character in a movie I'd like to touch and hold and comfort but I can't.

“What about your aunt, uncle...cousin?” I try. “Second cousin?”

Graham shakes his head again, and I can see the tears in his eyes beginning to well up once more.

“Right,” I say, and bite my tongue. Graham looks helpless. His eyelashes are wet, nose red, and arms and legs all twisted up inside himself. Large headphones hang around his neck, and the soles of his sneakers are worn down to holes. He looks small, like a lost animal that's run away with its leash. I can't help but feel pity for him. Even the cruel, selfish bastard inside of me that wants to tell him, ‘well good luck, kid’ can’t win this one.

“You can come and stay with me,” I concede, then quickly add, “but only for tonight. That’s all I can offer. You’ll have to call your parents tomorrow and get this all sorted. Alright?”

He nods, and I see his eyes light up for the first time tonight.

"Thank you, Mr.—"

"Damon," I correct him and smile.

He gives me a weak, but hopeful grin. It crushes me. "Thanks, Damon."

"You're welcome," I sigh, staring out the window of the tube. I'm trying not to think about how Graham staying over makes me feel. Lately, my thoughts about him have felt like a quiet infestation. I know they exist, I know I need to do something about them, but I refuse to acknowledge them. I refuse to accept how Graham's shoulder pressed against my arm right now makes me feel. I refuse to accept how intuitive our conversations are, or the way we play music together as if we've done it for years.

I refuse to accept how he can sometimes read me so accurately that it's almost like we knew each other in another life. To agree to that dark and shadowy and morally ambiguous part of my mind would mean I am guilty of feelings and desires from which I can not run away. I've already ruined my life once. I can't afford to do it again, so I make a note to force those thoughts down with more liquor when I get home.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

When Graham enters my apartment building, the first thing he says is, “I thought it’d be nicer,” and now I’m regretting being a good samaritan. The mouth on this kid would test the patience of saints.

I look over my shoulder at him and scowl. "It is nice," I say. "For a flat in London at this price, it’s very nice.”

“But for a pop star?” Graham tilts his head and grimaces. “Nah.”

“I told you, I’m not a pop star. And I certainly don’t live like one.”

“Well that last part is right,” Graham quips, and I take a long, deep breath.

Graham’s eyes widen to large white discs as he enters my flat. The first thing he sees is the shelf holding my record collection, and chucking his bag to the floor, makes a beeline for that side of the apartment.

“Holy shit,” he exclaims, and I can’t help but smile at how excited he looks. His fingers hover over the various old and new record spines, eyes darting back and forth before he asks, “can I look at them?”

“Sure,” I nod and pick his backpack up off the ground, placing it in the guest room.

“Ooooh,” Graham awes, pulling out a few records. “You’ve got Specials 45s, and The Jam, The Undertones, and shit...Wire too? That's amazing. Where’d you get all these?”

“How young do you think I am?” I joke, but Graham doesn’t seem to get it. “I bought those when I was a kid. In the eighties.”

“Woah,” Graham says, his eyes enthusiastically pursuing various vinyl covers. He holds up one of the Buzzcocks 45s. “I’ve never even seen this single in real life. Can we listen to it?”

“Sure,” I say and smile, taking the record from him loading it onto the player. I drop the needle down, and the fuzzy sound of Steve Diggle's guitar and Pete Shelley’s voice fills the room.

You spurn my natural emotions
You make me feel I'm dirt and I'm hurt…

Graham sits with his legs splayed out on the floor, lip syncing to the lyrics and imitating the bar chords. His messy fringe falls forward in front of his eyes, and he shakes it out of the way and beams at me. God, I do need a drink.

I pull open the cupboard, procure a bottle of spirits, and place it on the kitchen bar. My hand reaches for two glasses. I hesitate. He’s old enough, right?

“Would you like a drink?”

And we won't be together much longer
Unless we realize that we are the same

Graham has his head buried inside the inner sleeve of a record. He peers up at me from the couch. “Sure.”

“What do you, uh—”

“I’ll have whatever you’re having,” he answers, and my shoulders relax.

I place ice into both glasses and pour each of us a serving of scotch. I saunter back to the living room and plant a drink in his potted palm, offering a half-hearted toast. “Cheers.”

Ever fallen in love, in love with someone

Graham sniffs the glass and looks up at me. “What's this, whiskey?”

“Scotch,” I correct him. “Not my thing really, but it's appropriate for guests.”

Graham presses his drink to his lips and downs all of it before I can say another word. He grimaces at the taste, then sets the glass down on the coffee table with a loud clunk.

I arch an eyebrow. “You’re supposed to sip on it, you know.”

Graham looks back at me with his cheeks red, embarrassed. “Oh, that’s how my friends drink, so I thought—”

I wave a dismissive hand. “It’s alright,” I smirk. “You didn’t know.”

Ever fallen in love, in love with someone
You shouldn't have fallen in love with

The song ends, and the sound of the needle being lifted off the 45 and pushed back into place sounds all the more jarring in the midst of our silence. Graham breaks eye contact again, bites at his fingernails then surveys the room as if he’s trying to figure out something to say.

“Thanks,” he mumbles, wringing his hands. “For letting me stay here tonight.”

“You’re welcome,” I smile. “There’s a guest room down the hallway. Last door to the right. It’s in the middle of being painted…” I pause, feeling a slight stab of pain in my gut. “Well, we were painting it, so it’s a bit of mess. There’s a bed there you can sleep on.”

Graham gives me a long stare. His eyes are somber but curious. “Can I ask you something personal?”

“Sure.”

“Are you an alcoholic?”

I shift uncomfortably in my seat. “What?” I ask, thinking that I haven’t heard him correctly.

Graham opens his mouth again. “Are you an—”

“I’m not—I am not an alcoholic,” I stammer, and I can feel my face getting red.

“Then why do you drink so much?”

“Jesus, you’re a forward kid, aren’t you?” I grimace, taking the last sip of my drink and setting it down on the table.

I lean back into the couch, simmering, but as soon as Graham lowers his chin and peers up at me with his large round eyes, my defenses are down again. “I mean, you just seem…” He hesitates. “You just seem sad, you know?” His eyes draw a circle around the room. “You’ve had all these amazing things happen to you, but you’re still sad. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

“Amazing?" I laugh. "More like painful,” I counter, but Graham still looks at me as though he doesn’t understand.

“Can I have another drink?”

“Asks the boy who calls me an alcoholic. Where are my manners? Of course,” I say, before picking up his glass and throwing him a sardonic look.

Graham's gaze follows me like a hawk as I move behind the kitchen bar. “Is that a no?”

Pursing my lips, I pour more scotch into both of our glasses and gripping both by the rim walk across the living room and place one in his hand.

“Thanks.”

“Courtesy of your friend, the alcoholic,” I say, giving a mocking bow. I collapse onto the couch. “Cheers.”

“Cheers.”

I watch as Graham raises the glass to his lips again, but purposefully this time, making sure to take small sips. After a beat, he clears his throat, then asks, “how old are you?”

“Old enough,” I joke, and Graham rolls his eyes.

“Stop playing. I want to know.”

“Seventy-five.”

“Come on,” he says, poking me in the ribs.

“Sixty,” I say, and Graham frowns. I turn to face him. “Why don’t you guess then? Hurt my feelings some more. Yeah, that sounds like an excellent idea.”

Graham studies me, then narrows his eyes. “Thirty-five,” he says. I turn my head and look at him with narrowed eyes.

“Really?”

“Am I hot or cold?”

God, don’t ask me that.

“I don’t know,” I reply, shaking my head. “Warm-ish, I guess.”

“Forty, then.”

“Forty-two.”

“Wow,” Graham awes, scanning my face with enough scrutiny that it's starting to make me uncomfortable. “You don’t look that old.”

I lob an indignant look. “That’s cause I’m not that fucking old.”

Graham continues to study me, ignoring my sarcasm. “You have lovely eyes,” he says quietly. Suddenly I’m beginning to feel even more self-conscious. I lean back further into the couch, creating some distance between us.

“I’d love to paint you...if you would let me.”

I tilt my head to the side, surveying him. “You paint?”

“Yeah,” Graham replies, looking defensive. “I’m a painting major.”

“You never told me that.”

“Well, I am.”

“Well," I say, raising both eyebrows.

“What?”

“Sounds like a waste of talent to me.”

Graham's expression shifts from defensive to mildly offended. “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” I say, setting my emptied scotch glass down on the table. “You are one in a million, Graham. Do you know how many students pass through my class that have the sort of musical talent that you do? Just guess.”

“I don’t know…”

“Just you. You’re the only one,” I say. “And believe me, plenty of those kids want to be rock stars or famous or whatever—and some of them have the drive. But they don’t have what you have.”

“And what’s that?”

“Talent.”

Graham falls silent, and his eyes linger on me for longer than normal. I press my glass to my lips to hide my expression.

“Do you mean that? Do you honestly think that I have that much talent?”

“Of course I do,” I reply. “Do I come off as the type of person who blows smoke up people’s arses?”

“No. Not really.” Graham mumbles, and there's a sort of drunken glow about him now. He leans back, lifts his chin, and grins. “I’m a bit tipsy.”

“Already?”

“Aren’t you too?”

I laugh. “No.”

"We should fix that," Graham says, giggling, and I'm starting to realize he's a cheaper date than I thought he was.

I look down at my wrist watch. “On that note, I think I should head to bed.” I rise from the couch and smooth a hand through my scalp.

Graham grabs me by the wrist, and I feel my stomach roll over. "Noooo," he drawls. "Sit down. You need to drink more."

I raise my eyebrows. "Obviously I don't if you're calling me an alcoholic."

"No." Graham shakes his head and frowns. "Look, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you, I just..." He tugs on my wrist again, urging me to sit down. "You're just so mysterious sometimes."

"Mysterious?"

Graham smiles, lifting himself up off the couch and walking backward toward the kitchen. "Yeah, you're so defensive, like you have all these secrets."

"Secrets?"

"Yeah, secrets," Graham smirks as he reaches for the liquor cabinet. He pours both of us another serving.

"That's a waste of good scotch because I'm not drinking anymore."

"Yes, you are." Graham grins at me from the kitchen with that big toothy grin he only does when he's not self-conscious and Christ, I need to stop.

"Do you realize how expensive that bottle was?" I say, eyeing him with contempt, but Graham has a mischievous look on his face. Screwing the lid back onto the bottle, he bites down on his lower lip and looks up at me. Fuck.

I rub both of my eyes and run my fingers through my scalp. Graham gives me a fresh glass of scotch and toasts me. I look down, considering it, then set it down on the coffee table.

"Aren't you going to drink it?"

I shoot him a sideways glance. "Are you trying to get me drunk or something?"

Graham presses his glass to lips, hiding his expression.

"So that's a yes," I jeer. "It's a school night you know."

Graham looks at me, then at my glass, then back at me again. He picks it up, turns my arm over, and places it in my hand. I'm continually amazed at the forwardness of this kid.

"Alright, one more," I concede, and sink back into the couch. "Will that make you happy?"

Graham nods.

I take a long sip, and my mind wanders to our earlier conversation. My eyes flick upward, surveying Graham's neck, looking for the bruises I saw there previously. They are faded now, and hardly noticeable.

Graham's eyes travel to my book shelf again. "What's that?" He asks, pointing to a framed piece of artwork.

"Oh, that's..." I sigh. "That's a long story."

Graham gets up from the couch grabs the frame, and brings it back to look at it more closely. "Are these...cartoon characters?"

"Ehh, sort of. Yeah, I suppose."

"Did you draw these?"

"No, my friend Jamie did."

"Jamie...?"

"Jamie Hewlett. He's a comic book artist. He did uhh..." I look up, trying to remember the name.

"Tank Girl?"

I give Graham a strange look. "How did you know?"

"I love Tank Girl," he says, incredulous. "He's amazing. Holy shit, you're friends with him?"

"Yeah."

"Wow, you are so cool." Graham beams at me. "How are you so cool?"

"I am not cool."

"So what are these for?" He says, pointing to the four sketched out characters in the frame.

I grimace. "It was, I dunno...it was a sort of a collaborative project. It never really worked out."

"Like how?"

I shake my head. "It's dumb. I don't particularly want to talk about it."

"No, I want to know."

I take a deep breath, then another long sip of my drink. "We were playing around with the idea of an animated band."

"What do you mean?"

"The idea was that Jamie would create the drawings and I would make the music." I wave a dismissive hand. "It was a stupid idea."

Graham looks at me indignantly. "Why is that stupid?"

"Because no one wanted to fund it," I smile tightly.

"Why?"

I smile tightly and begin chewing on my bottom lip. "I don't want to talk about it really."

"Oh," Graham says, holding the frame in both hands. "Sorry."

"No need to be sorry."

"Is that why you're so sad, then? Because your project didn't work out?"

I rub my eyes again, covering my face with my hands. "Graham."

"What?"

"You ask a lot of questions."

"Oh. Sorry."

"It's alright," I say, and without thinking pat him on the knee. My drunken brain takes a minute to realize what I'm doing. I pull my hand away and shake my head. "Sorry," I mumble. "I should probably head to bed—"

"Wait," Graham says, touching my wrist again, and I almost hate him for it. "I've got something for you."

"You've got something for me?" I laugh and pull my hand away.

"Yeah, um. Wait here. It's in my backpack." Graham leaves the room, and I fall back on the couch with a sigh. I'm feeling slightly more than buzzed now, the previous drinks from the pub having compounded on top of the other ones. I can tell that the alcohol's lowered my inhibitions to a dangerous level because now when Graham touches my wrist, I don't feel dread.

When Graham walks back into the room, he has both hands hidden behind his back and a sly grin on his face.

I smile."What?"

"I hope you like it," he says and pulls out what appears to be an autographed Specials vinyl. "I was going to give it to you earlier today, but you know," he mumbles and looks down at his hands. "Anyway."

My eyes widen with curiosity as I scan the cover. Terry Hall's name is indeed there, autographed in black marker underneath the plastic protective sleeve. "Graham, where did you—"

"I found it on the internet," Graham says, rolling back and forth on the balls of his feet. He shoves his hands into his pockets, and then adds, "I uh, I read that you like Terry Hall a lot. You do, right?"

I feel the blood rush to my face, and there's a little thrum in my stomach again.

"If you don't want it, I'll take it back. It's alright," Graham stammers, biting his nails. I shake my head, still somewhat in shock at the thoughtfulness of Graham's gift, and stare down at the cover for a long time.

"Graham, you didn't have to do this. You couldn't afford this, I'm sure. I can't accept—"

Graham's face falls immediately. "Are you saying that you don't want it?"

"No, that's not it. Thank you, this is wonderful. It's incredibly thoughtful." I beam at him. "But Graham, this is way too expensive—"

"It doesn't matter how much it was. It's a gift," Graham says, and swallows. I notice his shoulders tense as he waits for me to respond. After a few seconds, he finally breaks eye contact with me and begins to pick at his fingernails.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing," he mumbles, and his body language has changed completely.

"It's isn't nothing," I counter, carefully placing the record on the table. "Did I offend you?"

"No..." Graham shakes his head. "I think, I think I ought to go to bed now. It's late, you know."

"Wait, hold on," I say, and reach out to grab him lightly by the wrist. He's stiff, apparently surprised by the sudden body contact. "I must have said something wrong, what was it?"

Graham opens his mouth to speak, then stops. He looks past me, behind my head and out the window as if he's afraid to speak directly to my face. "Nothing. You didn't say anything wrong. I just," he hesitates. "I just did what you told me to do."

I frown, not understanding his meaning, and then finally, it hits me. My eyes widen.

Graham looks up at me briefly, then away. His face is bright red. "I'm sorry, I wasn't sure if you were, so..." he says, pulling his hand his hand away. "I'm going to go."

"Wait," I say, grabbing him again. "Just hold on."

Graham gives me a pleading look, and now I'm starting to feel even more guilty. He's already embarrassed, and now I'm just making it worse.

"It's alright, I'm just an idiot that's all," he says, and laughs, using his hand to cover his face.

"Graham."

"What?"

"You are not an idiot. Look at me."

Graham lifts his head, and he looks as though he's on the verge of tears again. "Hey," I say, lifting his chin with my hand. "Don't cry."

"I know, I shouldn't—"

"No." I shake my head and lightly brush my thumb across his left cheek. His eyes meet mine with caution; his defense walls are back up again, and I can't blame him for feeling self-conscious. "This isn't me telling you to man up or any of that bullshit."

A few tears roll off Graham's cheeks onto his legs, and so he crosses them, along with his arms. It's an attempt to maintain composure, undoubtedly, but he's failing at it miserably.

"It's just that seeing you cry makes me feel bad," I say, and as soon as the words are out of my mouth, I regret them. "What I'm trying to tell you is that I'm already too much of a miserable bastard, so don't make it worse, alright?" I laugh, wiping a tear from the corner of his eye.

Graham laughs again and wraps his arms around his sides. He turns to me and smiles. “Damon,” Graham asks quietly. He looks as though he's weighing something.

"What?"

"You're sweet," he says and leans forward to kiss me square on the cheek. He pulls back, looking scared, but proud of himself. "Sorry," he says, and the feeling of scotch and Graham's lips on my cheek makes it feel like the whole world's spinning. "You can slap me now if you want to." He looks down, picking at his fingernails.

"I'm not going to slap you," I lean in and place my hand on his shoulder, hugging him with my left arm. He yelps when my fingers tickle his side, and it's the sort of lightheartedness we need to break the moment. He soon returns the favor, grinning and poking at my sides until I turn bright red and climb off the couch to get away from him.

I collapse halfway onto the floor, my legs still propped up on the couch and my head on the ground, peering up at him and laughing. "Stop," I beg, holding my arms over my sides. "That's way worse than what I gave you."

Graham beams back at me, and rolling off the couch joins me on the ground. He turns over onto his side, head propped up on his left elbow, and looks at me as though he's weighing something. Without a word, he leans forward and kisses me on the cheek. I feel my heart stop.

I don't say anything at all because I'm not sure what to say, and before I can think to, Graham's lips are on my cheek again. He's testing me, this much I can tell. No doubt the liquid courage of the alcohol is a factor, well, that and the fact that I'm not stopping him. I tear my eyes away from the ceiling and force myself to meet his gaze. He is pallid, short of breath, and from the looks of it, terrified.

My breath becomes shallow as he places his right hand on top of my stomach, and pressing himself forward kisses me directly on the lips. He pulls back immediately, as though having touched a hot stove with his bare fingers, scanning for an adverse reaction, and when he finds none, leans in again.

This time he stays longer, and my lips begin to move instinctively, pushing back with force. He's surprised by my reaction because I can see goosebumps rise on his neck as I lean more aggressively into the kiss. Graham has me pinned in such a way that I can't move, but I don't mind. I cup my hands against the small of his back and pull him against me. He is all lean muscle, taut and firm against me. Shifting, I slide my right arm under his elbow and circle it around his waist. I run my tongue over his bottom lip, and I can feel his pulse begin to race.

The kiss itself isn't very long, but it seems like slow motion. I hold it long enough for Graham to start kissing me back, and as soon as his tongue starts to explore the space between my lips, I pull myself away from him.

I sit up, creating some distance between us. "We can't do this."

Graham looks wounded, heartbroken. "Why?"

"I'm old enough to be your father," I say, and as soon as the words leave my mouth, the remaining hope in Graham's eyes fizzles out.

"I don't care if you're older—"

"That doesn't make it alright," I interrupt. "It's wrong. And incredibly dangerous. I shouldn't have even let you stay here," I shake my head. "I could lose my job."

"But I'm not going to tell anyone, I swear—"

"Graham, stop. Stop." I say, holding my hand up. "This whole thing was a big mistake. I'm going to take you back to your parent's tomorrow. End of conversation."

Graham looks sore or wounded. I'm not sure which. The look on his face tears at my heart. I want to be candid with him. I want to tell him everything.

"I'm sorry," he says, without looking at me, and for the second time that night I feel like the worst person in the world.

"Don't be," I say, and I feel the guilt weighing heavy on my shoulders. "It's not your fault. You're just a kid."

Graham looks up at me with contempt as I say the last word, and I realize how demeaning it must sound. I'm calling him a child. Me, the tall child holding a glass of scotch, having a conversation I don't understand with another child.

Yeah, Justine was right. I am an asshole.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

Regret would not be the right word to describe how I feel when I wake up the next day. Remorse, maybe? No. Guilt at the brief lapse in my judgment and morality while intoxicated? You could say we're good bedfellows. To be honest—none of those particular sentiments would justify the myriad of emotions racing through my brain right now.

My head refuses to move past the thought of Graham kissing me last night, knowing that he wanted me just as much as I wanted him. Wanting sex isn't the issue, not for me anyway. I've slept with my fair share of men and women. I could even say I fell in love with some of them, for a time. Some for just a drunken night, some longer. But I've only ever missed two of them like this.

And therein lies the rub, I guess.

Graham's already gone by the time I wake up, which leaves a pit in my stomach as I step in the shower and get ready for the day. I don't expect to see him again, perhaps even for lessons after what happened last night. I wouldn't blame him either. By all rights, he should hate me for allowing him to get that far without telling him to stop.

Justine's left a message on my machine. She'll be over tomorrow, she says, to pick up more things. There's also a text from Jamie that reads, "pub tonight? Meet at your flat?"

Unfortunately, my assumptions about Graham turn out to be correct—he's not in class today, and even though I've prepared myself for the disappointment, it still stings. After my classes are over, I file my things neatly into my book bag and grab my bike to head home to meet Jamie. Part of me wonders if I make a point to get laid tonight, maybe I'll feel better. Maybe that's all I need, I muse—just a long wank or a good lay.

I'm in the middle of unlocking my bike from its chain when a familiar kid with dark hair and sharp cheekbones stops me. I recognize him as Graham's friend, the one I'd seen talking to him a while ago. He's not much taller than me, but just enough that it feels intimidating.

"Hey, are you Damon?"

"Depends," I say, giving the kid a once-over. What was his name again? Alex? At first glance, he reads particularly androgynous, mostly because of the long black fringe that frames his face. It's easy to see why Graham likes him. He's classically handsome—thin, tall and long; a fashion designer's wet dream. A fag hangs loosely from his lips, effortlessly cool. He looks the type I would have unquestionably invited back to my hotel room years ago, in another life, just so that I could knock him down a few notches.

"Why?"

"I'm just curious if you've seen Graham around lately. He usually hangs out with you after school, doesn't he?"

I frown, then quickly glancing around my surroundings say, "Yeah. I saw Graham yesterday. Why?"

"I haven't been able to find him," Alex says, and it's evident from his expression that he's anxious to get an answer from me. "He's not answering his phone or texts. I haven't seen him since before yesterday. I'm that surprised you did." Alex's tone of voice is more accusing than I'd like it to be. I wonder how much Graham has told him.

"Did Graham say anything to you yesterday? Was he upset at all?"

"No," I lie. "Graham didn't tell me anything."

"Hmm." Alex taps his foot, then removes his fag from his lips and gives me a fixed stare as though he doesn't quite believe me.

"I'm sure he's alright," I reassure him, and I hope to God that I'm right.

"Yeah. It's just. Sometimes Graham gets a bit..." Alex waves his hand around as though he's trying to find the appropriate words. The smell of smoke coming from his cigarette throws me, and I grimace. "Mental, you know?"

"No, I don't know."

Alex tilts his head, narrowing one eye at me as if he's trying to figure me out. "Like, he loses the plot a bit? I mean, more than most people." He places his fag between his lips again and sighs. "I just worry about him."

"Right. Well," I say, and give Alex a tight smile.

"Thanks anyway," Alex says, flipping his fringe back and combing his fingers through his hair in the sort of way that makes me hate him. He sticks out his hand. "I'm Alex, by the way."

An androgynous name as well. Of course.

I smile. "Pleasure."

"Hey, will you just do one thing for me?"

I nod, irritated for reasons I know are beyond just being inconvenienced. I have a clear visual of Alex's mouth on Graham's neck that I can't seem to shake.

"Will you let me know if you see Gra?"

"Gra?"

"Graham. Gra. That's just what call him, you know. It's a nickname."

"Right," I say, shooting him another plastic smile. "Well, I've got to be somewhere, but good luck with that, uh..."

"Alex," he finishes, smirking at me.

Yeah, fuck off.

"I'll see you around then, Damon," he says, shifting on his heel. He spins around. "Hold on," he adds, narrowing his eyes at me. "Gra told me you used to be a pop star or something? Is that right?"

I frown. "Sort of."

"Anything I'd recognize?" Alex says, strumming an invisible guitar.

"I doubt it."

"Right," he says, winking at me. "You're just like he told me you were."

"And what's that?"

"A miserable bastard," Alex says, grinning from ear to ear, and I take a long, deep breath as he walks away.

**

It's raining by the time I bike all the way home, and while my clothes aren't completely soaked, I'm still wet enough to feel uncomfortable. Jamie's supposed to be arriving in a few minutes, and I'm already behind schedule so, carrying my bike over my shoulder, I run up the stairs as quickly as possible.

Balancing my bike, I look down, fishing blindly for my keys in my bag. Upon reaching my door, I look up and freeze. Graham is sitting on my doorstep, with both arms wrapped around his legs. He stares back at me, wide-eyed and wordless, and for about five seconds I can't decide whether or not to be livid or to pull him into my arms out of relief.

"What are you doing here?"

Graham lifts himself up off the ground. "Sorry to bother you," he mumbles and brushes past my shoulder to get to the stairs.

As Graham descends the stairway, I set my bike down. "Hey, hold on a minute," I yell, peering down at the top of his head.

I barely catch him as he reaches the exit of the building, my hand reaching out to grab him by the collar of his jacket just in time. "Hey."

He scowls at me. "What?"

"Where are you going?

"Why do you care?" Graham mutters, pushing my hand off his back.

"Hey, look at me," I say, placing my hand on his shoulder again. "Yeah actually, it does matter. What's going on? I didn't see you in class today, and now, out of the blue, I come home to find you sitting on my doorstep. Not to mention, your friend was looking for you."

"My friend?"

"Yeah, the tall one."

"Alex?"

"Yeah. He's your friend, isn't he?"

Graham breaks eye contact and kicks at the wall with his shoe.

"Look, are you going to tell me what's going on or what?"

"Why do you even care? You don't give a shit," Graham spits, and for the first time since the train, I feel even more distant from him.

I turn my head away. Taking a deep breath, I grab his hand and begin pulling him back up the stairs. "Come on."

Lagging behind a few feet, Graham follows me up the stairs to the second floor. He pulls his hoodie over his head as he enters my flat and makes a direct line toward the couch. I trail behind him, and as soon as he collapses onto the cushions, I hold my hand out.

"Phone," I say.

He looks at me indignantly. "What?"

"Hand me your phone."

"Why?"

"Give it to me," I repeat, and scowling, Graham reaches into his back pocket to hand it over. "And unlock it." He rolls his eyes.

"I'm calling your parents."

"Why?"

"Because you can't stay here and I'm not letting you leave without somewhere to go."

"They're not going to answer, I'm telling you."

I look down at Graham's phone, scrolling through his contacts until I find the name "Mum" and press on it. I hold the phone to my ear and wait patiently as the phone rings. After a few rings, the phone goes to voicemail.

"I told you. They aren't going to answer," Graham says, looking indignant. His boots are still on, and he has his legs crossed on my couch. I could kill him.

"Take your shoes off," I chide, and frowning he reaches down to untie his laces.

I redial Graham's mother's number, hoping the second time will be the charm, but I'm met with the sound of voicemail again.

There's a loud knock on the door, and Graham nearly jumps off the sofa. Jamie has always had impeccably bad timing. I frown and hand Graham's phone back to him.

I open the entryway to see Jamie balancing an umbrella in one hand and his soaked jacket in the other. Sparing himself any niceties, he lets himself in, huffing as he throws his coat to the floor.

"Good hell, it's bloody awful out there, isn't it?" He comments, handing me the umbrella. He gives me a quick once-over. "You look like shit too."

"Thanks," I say, looking from Jamie to Graham, then back to Jamie. It takes Jamie a few more seconds of swearing and huffing around my apartment before he becomes aware of Graham's huddled presence on the couch.

"Oh." Jamie arches an eyebrow. "You didn't tell me that you were having guests," he says, nodding toward Graham.

"I wasn't," I hint, and Jamie gives me the sort of look that suggests he doesn't believe me.

"Jamie, this is Graham," I say, nodding toward the couch. "Graham, Jamie."

"Pleasure," Jamie says and smiling, holds his hand out. Graham looks at me before responding.

"Wait, are you Jamie Hewlett?"

Jamie laughs, a bit uncomfortably. "How'd you know?" He asks, before turning around and giving me an accusatory stare.

Behind Jamie's back, Graham's eyes are getting wider and wider. Before anything else gets out of hand, I hold my hand up to interject.

"Graham's a big fan," I explain.

"Oh, is he?"

"Huge actually," I clarify, amused by the fact that tell Jamie can't discern whether or not I'm flippant.

"I have every Tank Girl comic you've ever done," Graham blurts out, with stars in his eyes. "I've even got your 2000 AD issues. You and Alan Martin are geniuses. Well, except for the movie. That was awful, no offense," Graham adds, and Jamie looks back at me as though he's not sure what I've unleashed on him.

Oblivious to Jamie's discomfort, Graham continues, "And you know the 1991 annual Judge Dredd cover you did, I've got that one too," He boasts, and finally I see Jamie grin.

I'm a passive observer for the next hour and a half. I find the dialogue between Graham and Jamie too amusing to interrupt for the sake of the pub, so I begin to make dinner instead. Both of them are a good match; it seems Graham's happy to fawn over one of his idols, and Jamie seems content to get the celebrity attention he's not typically used to receiving.

At half past seven, I walk into the living room and place my hands on Jamie's shoulders. Jamie looks down at his watch, and then up at me, and frowns.

"Shit. I lost track of time. We're a bit late for the late for the pub now, aren't we?"

"I made dinner," I say and Graham perks up.

"What is it?"

"Pasta with vegetables."

I look down at Jamie, squeezing his shoulders. "Jamie?"

Jamie places his hand over mine and turns around to look at me. Over his shoulder, I see Graham fidgeting on the couch.

"Oh, you know what, I don't want to impose on your plans with him," Jamie says, nodding toward Graham.

"You're not imposing at all," Graham interrupts before I can say anything.

"Graham's right. You're not imposing. If anything it's you and I that was imposed upon," I say, and Graham gives me a sour look.

"Hmm," Jamie hums, sliding his hand up my arm. "Well, if you're going to pull my leg, then I guess I'll take your offer." He stands, giving me a faux look of flirtation before turning to Graham.

"Damon's a brilliant cook, believe it or not," Jamie teases. "Giant pain in the arse the rest of the time, but the man can cook a fucking egg."

"Oh, fuck off."

"Gladly," Jamie returns, then leans in and kisses me directly on the lips. Somehow, I'm not surprised to see the look of contempt on Graham's face when he does it.

Dinner rolls on uneventfully for the most part, with Jamie and Graham continuing the same conversation they were having before about comic books and me staying the silent observer. I stare down my plate the majority of the time, divvying my food into little piles, and thinking about the inevitable conversation that Graham and I will have to have after Jamie leaves. There's a sudden drop in the conversation, and when I glance up again, Graham is looking right at me.

Jamie pushes at his food, oblivious to the non-verbal communication Graham and I are currently sharing from across the table.

"So Graham, what are you doing?"

"What do you mean?"

"What's your major?" Jamie asks, peering up from his plate. "Music?"

"Uhh, no. Fine Art." Graham bites his lower lip. "Painting."

Jamie arches an eyebrow. "Oh, that's interesting."

"Why?"

"Well, Damon told me you were a talented musician, so I just assumed."

Jamie's attention returns to his food again, and Graham's eyes connect with mine, briefly, before looking away. There's a slight glow to his expression. "He did?"

"Yeah, well I mean," Jamie says, nodding toward me. "That's why Damon's mentoring you, isn't it?"

"I just figured that he did that with a lot of students," Graham says, and Jamie nearly spits out his food laughing.

"Damon?" Jamie says, pointing his fork at me with his mouth half-full. "I'm lucky if Damon spares a precious hour to go to the pub with me. If he's taking the time to mentor you, then it must mean that you're reasonably talented."

I see Graham blush from the other end of the table, his eyes flicking upward briefly to meet mine, then down again before pushing his food around his plate.

I clear my throat, set my napkin on the table, and rise from my seat. "Seconds?"

"No, but thanks." Jamie shakes his head, and Graham's hands automatically collapse into his lap, no longer content to fake eating.

"Here, let me help you clean up."

"No, no, it's alright," I insist and push Jamie back when he tries to turn on the sink.

Jamie glances at me, then Graham, then back at me again. "Well, I hate to dine and dash, but..."

The air is tense in the room, and I'm sure from his expression that Jamie is conscious of it. "I think I should let you two have your time. Thanks for dinner," he says, wrapping me in a tight hug.

I give Jamie a "sorry we can't talk" look while Graham isn't paying attention, and Jamie nods his head in understanding.

"It was nice meeting you, Graham," Jamie adds, shooting him a big grin. "Hopefully I'll see you again, and we can talk some more about comics."

Graham lifts his head from his lap, beaming. "Yeah, I'd like that."

I place a hand on the small of Jamie's back as we walk to the door, waiting until I know that we're far enough away that Graham is out of earshot.

"Graham's a nice kid," Jamie comments, and for once I can tell he's not flippant.

"Yeah. He is."

"He's a perfect match for you," Jamie adds, and I almost choke.

"What?" I say, hoping he will clarify.

"I'm teasing. I mean that you look happier around him. I can see it in your expression," Jamie smirks, poking at the corner of my mouth. "Not to concern you or anything, but if I squint, I can almost see the hint of a smile on your sad bastard mess of a face."

"Haha," I reply, unamused. "Very funny."

"Really. You do look a lot happier. Honestly," he says, poking my chest with his index finger. "I don't know what this kid's doing to you, but tell him to keep it up."

I cringe. "Right."

"And stop beating yourself up about things."

"Alright."

"I mean it," Jamie says, poking me in the shoulder.

"Yeah, yeah," I say, edging Jamie closer to the door.

"Has he got a girlfriend?" Jamie probes and my blood immediately turns cold.

"I'm not sure," I say, trying to look nonchalant. "I don't believe so."

"That's good. Cause I'm telling you, Graham will want nothing to do with you once he gets one, so enjoy it now," Jamie warns, and I bite down hard on my tongue.

"Good night, Jamie," I hint, and finally getting the cue, Jamie grins at me and shuts the door behind him.

Graham is back on the couch by the time I turn around, and as I head back into the living room, I pause in the entryway, leaning up against the doorframe and observing him from afar. He's hunched over something in his lap, lost in concentration. It takes me a minute to realize what he's doing, and it's not until he shifts his arm out of the way that I can tell that he's drawing in a sketchbook.

He lifts his head as I enter, briefly acknowledging my presence. His hair falls forward over his eyes, and he reaches a hand up to sweep it out of his face before looking down again.

"He's nice," Graham mumbles, with his head still buried in his sketchbook. "I like him."

"I'm glad that you approve," I say, folding my arms.

"Are you going to kick me out now?" Graham asks, without looking at me.

"No."

"Why not?"

"Because it's still pouring outside and I'm not a monster," I answer, unfolding my arms and walking toward him. I sit down on the opposite end of the couch. "At least not all of the time."

"You're not a monster," Graham says, his eyes still glued to the paper.

"How do you know that?"

I hear the grinding sound of him digging graphite into the paper. Graham sighs, lifting his arm up and rotating his sketchbook sideways. "Because I've read all about you."

"And what did you read about me?"

"I dunno. Lots of things."

"Like what?"

Graham stops scratching with his pencil, letting it fall against the paper with a soft thwack.

"Is Jamie your boyfriend?"

I laugh, covering my face with both hands, and Graham gives me a dirty look.

"Why on earth would you think that?"

"He kissed you," Graham says very matter-of-factly. "On the lips. And the way you were touching each other...a friend doesn't do that." Graham picks up his pencil again, burying his head in his sketchbook, and for the next few minutes, all I can hear is the sound of graphite scratching against the paper.

I force back a smile. "Jamie..." I start, then shake my head. "Jamie is not my boyfriend, no."

"Did he used to be?" Graham asks, and I can't help but be impressed by his thoroughness.

I laugh, rubbing my eyes. "No."

"Have you done it with him?"

I lob Graham an incredulous look, but he's still not looking at me. "What is this, twenty questions?" I joke, but Graham just shrugs his shoulders.

I sigh, running my hand over the stubble on my chin. "We tried. Once. We were both incredibly drunk. Too drunk."

"Tried?"

"He threw me off," I explain, and Graham finally looks up at me with a smirk on his face.

"Jamie's not that way."

"Clearly."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because no one in their right mind would throw you off," Graham says, staring down at his sketchbook and smirking. I feel my cheeks get red.

"I warn you, flattery will get you nowhere," I tease, and arching my neck back, look up at the ceiling, then at Graham.

Graham lets out a loud sigh. "Well, I might as well try."

"What are you drawing?"

"None of your business," Graham says very matter-of factly, before shooting me a sour look.

"Alright." I lean forward, lifting myself off the couch but Graham stops me. He leans back staring down at his lap as though he's debating with himself.

"Here," he finally says, handing me his sketchbook. "Just don't say anything shitty about it."

On the paper is a rough sketch of what appears to be me sitting at my desk in my classroom, deep in thought. Graham must have drawn this during class, I muse. My stomach twists looking at the way he's rendered me; caught amidst my books, imprisoned inside frenetic pencil lines. He's captured me with my mask off, unaware, absent and vulnerable.

"Is this me?" I say, looking up.

"If you can't tell, then no," Graham replies, looking offended. He moves to snatch the sketchbook back from me.

I hold it above my head so he can't reach it. "No," I grin. "I like it."

"Don't be a twat."

"No, I mean it. I do." I lower my gaze to his sketch again, holding the sides of it with both hands. "Could I have this?"

Graham purses his lips, glancing down at the sketchbook, then at me again. "Sure," he mumbles.

"Thanks, Gra."

Graham's head perks up. "What did you just call me?"

"Gra," I repeat. "That's your nickname, isn't it?"

Graham looks at me cautiously. "Yeah. Who told you that?"

I tilt my head to the side. "Alex."

Graham's eyes light up. "Oh. Right." He pauses. "Only he calls me that."

"Because he's your boyfriend?" I probe, and Graham immediately tenses up.

"He's not my boyfriend," Graham blurts out, then adds, "well, not really."

"I take it he's the person who got you in trouble though?" I tease, and Graham blushes.

"Yeah," Graham admits, lowering his chin. "All we did was mess around a little; it's not like it was..."

"Not like what?"

"You know."

"No, I don't."

"It's not like we had sex," Graham mumbles, wringing both of his hands, and suddenly I'm reminded of how young he is. He narrows his eyes at me. "That stuff's scary, you know?"

I study him for a quiet moment, unsure of what to say. "I suppose when I was your age it was scary. Yeah."

"What's it like?" He asks, and I force back a smile.

"What? Gay sex?"

Graham fidgets uncomfortably, and I realize I may have overestimated exactly how experienced he is. "Any sex."

I cover my face with my hands and smirk. "Isn't this something your parents should've—"

"My parents kicked me out for just kissing a boy."

"Fair point," I concede. "So is this going to be the talk with a capital T?” I joke, but Graham appears unamused. “I'm not trying to take the piss. I’m just surprised, is all.”

Graham looks at me, offended.

“About your inexperience, I mean. You’re a…handsome person, that’s all I’m trying to say. I just figured that it would have happened already for you.” I smile, feeling torn between responsibility and what I want to say. Graham's shoulders visibly relax, and a wave of relief washes over me.

“I mean, what do you want to know about it?” I ask, knowing already that I'm going to regret answering.

“Does it hurt?”

I look up at the ceiling, considering my next words carefully. “The first time?”

“Yeah.”

“Not always. It doesn’t have to.” I tilt my head back, putting my hand behind my head and looking at him sideways. “It depends on your partner. How careful they are, if they go slow, things like that.”

Graham wraps his finger around his hair, fidgeting. “Have you had lots of sex with...?”

“Men? A few,” I reply, and Graham gives me a puzzled look, so I decide to clarify. “I mean it would happen from time to time, but it wasn’t a regular thing for me, no. If that’s what you’re asking.”

"Oh."

"Look, with this Alex kid, if you're worried—"

"I don't want to talk about Alex anymore," Graham says solidly, and both of us fall into a tense silence.

"Ok," I nod. "What do you want to talk about then?"

"I want to talk about why you let me kiss you last night."

I bite down on the inside of my mouth, hard enough to draw blood. "I don't think that's an appropriate conversation for us to be having."

"Why not?"

"Because I'm an adult, and you're a—"

"I'm not a child," Graham retorts, looking wounded. I frown. "Stop calling me that. I'm eighteen, I'm an adult, and you kissed me—"

"I wasn't in my right mind. I was drunk," I interrupt. "End of story."

Graham leans back into the couch, studying me, and the way his eyes move over me is starting to make me feel anxious. "I felt you last night," he says, and I knit my brows together.

"What?"

"I felt you. You were hard. And you were drunk, which meant it must have been difficult for you to get there but you were."

"Graham, stop—"

"You want me."

I stare forward, straight in front of me. I'm afraid that if I move, I won't be able to keep face, so I decide that it's best not to look at Graham while I say the next few words.

"That's not what I said."

"But I love you."

I close my eyes and bit down on my tongue even harder, and my entire mouth tastes like iron. I'm still terrified of him. Even now.

"You're not old enough to know what that—" I begin, and choke, swallowing the rest of my words. I sense Graham shifting on the couch, but I'm too afraid to open my eyes. I can't cry in front of him.

Graham's lips are on mine, dry and warm and I don't want to open my eyes. I don't want to acknowledge what's happening. My first impulse is to push him off, but selfishly, I do not. His hand brushes my cheek, and then he cups my head with both hands. He pulls me in again, too hard this time, trying to figure out what's right. But soon the kiss melts into something softer, and slower that draws me in. Graham flattens himself against me, and I feel the groan that goes through him as he notices what I've been trying to hide.

"I want you too," he whispers into my ear, almost whimpering, and it's enough to kill me.

I open my eyes to see reality staring back at me, full of want and beautiful. His lips are full and pink and soft to the touch and do not ask but rather demand, in naivete, to be kissed.

My fingers trail up the back of his neck, threading themselves into his hair as I press my other arm into the small of his back, pulling him closer. I make a sound I barely recognize as he pushes into me and I feel him for the first time. I kiss the contour of his neck, mouth closing over his Adam's apple, feeling his pulse race before drawing a line back to his lips, running my tongue across the channel in between them and biting down. My eyes flick upward. A brief stop in paradise, that's it. That's all I wanted. Selfishly.

I pull back, and with gentle care, push him off me. He stares back at me, sorer than ever, confused, and frustrated. I know I've left him in a vulnerable place, just on the inside edge of a boundary where I've danced upon the line and left. And I'm not even drunk this time.

I'm unclear and confusing; I can tell from just the look in Graham's eyes that he thinks just as much. The hurt, the pain. The situation solicits that I say something to justify my actions; I know this. And the words are on the tip of my tongue, but I just don't know how to say them.

How do I explain to him that people can't always get what they want, but sometimes they like to pretend that they do?

How do I explain to him that his childishness isn't folly; it's the inability to understand what to be afraid of and what to dread? That is what childhood is, isn't it? The expansion of what is great and good and innocent stymied by the weight of adulthood. What I would do to breathe that rarefied air again. To love without having been hurt, as he does.

Can you blame me for wanting to know what that felt like again? I'm sure you can. In fact, I know you will. But trust me when I tell you this—even the worst of us, even the Devil himself dreams of heaven, at times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

**

To be continued.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don't sleep the rest of that evening. I suppose that goes with saying. Not that I sleep well at all these days—but sober, even less so. The entire night I lay in my bed with my ear turned toward the door, waiting to hear the sound of the front door unlock and the knob turn, but it never comes.

As soon as my alarm clock reads four thirty a.m., I concede, peel out of bed and step into the shower. I'm ready by six, and to my relief, Graham's still asleep; there's nothing but darkness and silence behind his door. I leave a spare key in the bowl on the counter and a note for him to lock up after he leaves.

I stop off at the cafe on my way to the campus, and order a red-eye, not my thing usually but today the lack of sleep necessitates it. If I could inject the caffeine into my veins to feel it faster, I would.

During my lunch period, I force half a sandwich down, feeling nauseous, then go outside for a smoke break. I lean against the outside of the building, fag in hand, and before I've even wrapped my lips around it someone says, "Hey," behind me, and I nearly jump out of my skin.

Graham is standing behind me, looking small underneath the weight of his backpack, hands gripping both straps on either shoulder as though he's holding on for dear life.

"You left early this morning," he remarks, and the way he says it makes me feel like shit. I stand up from the wall, take a long drag from my cigarette, and muster a tired smile. I'm not feeling up for exchanging words today, though I'm certain Graham doesn't share the same sentiment.

"I missed you," Graham adds as if thinks his first statement wasn't obvious enough to invoke a response from me. I lift my gaze from the ground, fixating my eyes on him and letting my cigarette hand fall to my side. I've half a mind to press the lit end into my skin right now.

"Are you giving me the silent treatment?"

I laugh, looking down at my feet. I shake my head, running my tongue across my lower lip and when I look up again, Graham is markedly pinker. "No."

"Then why aren't you talking to me?"

"I just did," I return coolly, and Graham stares at me like I've just said the worst thing in the world.

"Alex and I are going to the club tonight," he says, reaching up a hand to mess with his hair. "You should come with us."

"Not my thing, but thanks," I reply, dropping my cigarette to the ground and snuffing it out with my shoe. When I glance up again, Graham has turned from pink to bright red.

"You know, I don't understand what your problem is," Graham spits. "One minute you're all over me like you want to be with me, and the next minute you're just a miserable arsehole—"

My eyes widen. "Jesus Christ," I hiss, looking over my shoulder. "Keep your voice down. Are you trying to get me fired?

"Maybe," he says, and I can’t tell if he's joking.

"That isn’t funny."

"Wasn't meant to be," he mumbles. "We'll be at the Strobelite," he says. "If you change your mind."

"Noted." My gaze lowers, settling on his chest. "Are those my clothes that you're wearing?"

Graham flushes an even deeper shade of pink. "Yeah. All my clothes are dirty. I had nothing left to wear, ok?"

"It's alright. The clothes suit you." I smile, and given the strained and confused look on Graham's face I know I must only contributing to his frustrations.

"Thanks," he says, swallowing. "Anyway, let me know if you change your mind," he says. “Even if it’s not your thing.”

“No promises,” I reply, but then pausing add, “we’ll see” and Graham smiles back at me.

**

As soon as I get home, the first thing I do is ring Jamie. He's going out with some mates tonight for drinks and tells me that I'm welcome to come along. Reluctantly, I take him up on his offer and head into the shower for a quick second wash and a shave. I stand in front of the mirror, buttoning up my favorite pressed dress shirt, the blue one that's tailored and fits me well.

My thoughts drift, and once again Graham is weighing in the back of my mind. Graham and Alex. Graham and the club. I imagine him getting plastered with his mates, and then going home with strangers. It's not a pleasant thought; not one I want to think about anyway.

I push the thought away, choosing to think instead about bar tonight and the possibility of meeting someone. Yeah, that would be good. Someone of appropriate age, my age. Nothing serious, of course. Just a distraction to get my mind off the alternative.

The pub is already overcrowded when I arrive, and as soon as I cross the threshold, I realize I'm overdressed. In here, my blazer and dress shirt read halfway between the club and a speed date, and it's not a flattering look at all. The place isn't a dive bar, on the contrary, it's hip and trendy, but even still, I feel like an arsehole wearing a starched shirt. The look on Jamie's face when he sees me walk in confirms just about as much.

"Going on a date tonight?" He jeers, and I scowl at him. He pats me on the shoulder. "It's alright. You clean up well. You've got that whole hip dad thing going on."

"Oh right, that's what I was going for."

"Oh, you know what?" Jamie arches an eyebrow and circles his arm around my back. "I've got a special lady friend here who I'm sure would be keen on your dad ensemble."

I groan. "Yeah, I seem to recall how well your match-making went last time."

Jamie looks at me, visibly offended. "How was I supposed to know she was only into women?"

"Yeah, nothing like a spot of rejection to mend the broken heart."

"Well, beautiful boy—you can't have them all, now can you?"

"I don't think I'll need any of your help tonight, but thanks," I say.

"Right. Because we both know you could wear a bucket hat and a paper bag and you'd still look stunning," Jamie jokes, holding a hand to his head and swooning.

"Oh, fuck off."

Jamie rolls his eyes. "Alright, go get yourself a drink then One Direction," he says, slapping me on the back. He shoves a wad of bills into my hand. "And order me a lager. I'll meet you back at the table."

I make my way toward the front of the pub, squeezing myself into the only open space in front of the bar. I lean forward, lifting my hand to flag the bartender, and as I do, I recognize a familiar face just a few seats down from where I am. Justine is sitting just shy of twenty feet away, lost in passionate conversation with one of her girlfriends. Her friend's eyes flick upward, catching mine. I sink backward, trying to obscure myself from view. Fuck.

"Oy, I recognize you,” the older man sitting next to me announces, and now I’m convinced that I’ve just walked into the middle of a nightmare.

"You're Damon Albarn," he bellows, and my anxiety kicks into overdrive. I lower my chin, trying to hide my face.

"I think you've mistaken me for someone else," I reply, tapping my fingers on top of the bar. My fight-or-flight instinct is telling me to abandon ship and why I do not—like an idiot—is beyond me.

"No, I'd know that rich prick when I saw him with my own eyes. You're Damon Albarn alright."

I give him a weary look. "Hey listen, mate, I'm just trying to get a drink."

The man raises his glass above everyone's heads and drunkenly shouts, "Take a look everyone! It's that gob-shite cunt from Seymour."

In unison, every patron within a thirty-foot radius cranes their neck to stare at me. I wish more than anything that I could disappear right now. Justine gives me a double-take, and though her expression isn't malicious, her embarrassment is evident. Just as quickly as she spots me, she turns away again, hiding behind her glass while her friend gives me the evil eye. Yeah. This is a nightmare.

Without a word, I abandon my drink order and make a beeline for the exit. The weight of several pairs of eyes are on me as I squeeze my way through the dense sea of people to get to the exit. I hear another stranger call me a cunt from behind my back just as soon as my back has turned. I clench and unclench my jaw. This isn't the first time something like this has happened. By all rights, I should be used to it by now, the lack of privacy and the low-hanging insults that come with fame—even faded fame now as it is—but I’m not.

My entire body feels like an exposed nerve as I exit onto the sidewalk and almost knock into two passerbys. My cell phone vibrates, and it’s Jamie messaging me. Take all the time you need, his text reads, which tells me that he must have caught wind of what had happened back at the bar.

I snap my phone shut, then shove both hands into my pockets as I walk down the sidewalk with my head low. I consider hailing a cab, but decide against it. I know that giving into my social neuroses will only start another row with Jamie if I'm not careful.

My thoughts drift to Justine, and the look on her face when she saw me—the second-hand embarrassment, the shame. I stop myself. I'm too sober to go down that rabbit hole tonight.

A cab drives past with a lit-up advert for some club, and my thoughts turn to the one thing I don't want to think about, even more than Justine. No. I shake my head. If I meet up with Graham now, I'm just admitting to my weakness.

Besides, he’s out with Alex, and Alex… my stomach turns, and I forcibly push the nauseous visual of Alex necking Graham out of my mind. Another cab pulls over to the side of the road, allowing its patrons out onto the sidewalk and the driver eyes me. This is going to cause a row with Jamie, and I know it, but I need something to distract me from the thought of Justine right now. Frowning, I swing my blazer over my shoulder and run to catch the taxi.


**

By the time the cab arrives at the club, I'm already having second and third thoughts about the whole thing, beyond the obvious ones. Firstly, because I'm painfully sober; secondly because I can’t see anyone who looks over the age of thirty standing in front of the club.

I step out of the cab and onto the curb with sunglasses securely in place. I'm conscious of the fact I look like a twat wearing them, but after tonight’s events, I'd rather be safe than sorry.

The club is packed, uncomfortably so, and it takes me a good minute to find my bearings. I focus on the staircase to the second level, hoping that the elevated view will give me a better chance of finding Graham and Alex. Squeezing my way through the mass, I catch my reflection in one of the mirrors and give myself pause to realize how ridiculous I’m being. Here I am, a middle-aged man in a club coming to spy on an 18-year-old and his friend; if that’s not the definition of a budding sexual predator than I don’t know what is.

As I reach the second floor, I make a beeline for the bathroom to spot check my appearance. My outfit is more in place here than it was back at the bar, but even so, I’d rather not look like shit if I happen to run into Graham.

My hand reaches up to fuss with my hair in the mirror. I tuck my shirt in, stand tall and turn my head from side to side. Without scruff, I read five years younger. Usually, I hate how I look clean-shaven, but I’m grateful for it tonight.

There I go again, I muse. Another rabbit hole I needn't go down. He’s a kid. Half your age. Remember that.

The door to the bathroom kicks open, and I see Alex stumble his way in, grinning like a madman. His voice is an entire decibel higher than it needs to be. Graham is in tow, clinging to Alex's shoulders, smiling wide, and visibly drunk and happy in his own little world.

Graham leans in far too close, just a hair inch away from Alex's mouth. "Don't be a wanker and leave without me," he threatens, before sauntering off to the very last stall at the end of the row. Neither of them has spotted me yet, and selfishly, I'd like to keep it that way for a little while longer. There's no harm in observing how Alex acts around him, I justify. Especially since Graham wouldn’t give me a clear answer.

I step off to the side, hiding behind the metal wall of one of the stalls next to the sinks and tilting my head to overhear their conversation. Graham is griping about something I can't make out, and then a few seconds later I hear Alex shouting over the stalls.

"Oy, Graham? You're not throwing those up are you?" He raps his knuckles against the door, but there's no answer. "Those pills were expensive, mate." There's the sound of Alex jumping, and then I see him with both of hands hooked over the top of the stall door and pulling himself up to look over. "Hey!"

"What the fuck, Alex?" Graham shouts, sounding both taken off guard and irritated.

"Jesus. Are you looking at your phone again?"

"I just wanted to see if he texted me."

"Christ," Alex swears, and I imagine him rolling his eyes. "You need to get over that arsehole. What did I tell you earlier? He's not coming tonight."

"He likes me," Graham says. "He's going to come."

"Gra, you need to stop getting your hopes up about people. That's why you're so bloody miserable all the time.” Alex says, clicking his tongue. “You're like a walking, talking Morrissey song. Now come on," Alex says, letting go of the stall door. "Let's go have some fun, already."

I slip my way out of the restroom before either Alex or Graham see me, and find a spot near the back wall where I can observe from afar. Self-consciousness hits me like a wave. I've reached true creep status now.

Alex exits the bathroom, with Graham soon behind him. Graham jumps up on Alex’s shoulders, one of his hands missing the mark and consequently almost falls on his ass. Alex grins, gives him a big kiss and ruffles his hair. "You're drunk," he mouths, and Graham bowls over in laughter. I bite down on my tongue. I need a drink.

I turn to head toward the bar, and a short, blonde kid of about my same stature and build knocks into me. He gives me a mumbled apology before turning around and giving me a double-take.

“Nice arse, daddy,” he says, grinning and giving me a sultry once-over. I knit my brows together and glare back at him.

"What'd you call me?" I say.

He turns away, whispering something into his friend's ear, and giggling. Right. Make that two drinks.

Halfway to the bar, I spot Graham and Alex again, dancing with two other blokes, one with blonde hair and the other red. Alex has his hands full by the looks of it, but Graham is looking a bit woozy. He keeps falling over onto his dance partner, laughing, and it’s not long before the lad slides his arm around Graham’s back and pulls his hips forward. Meanwhile, his other hand snakes down to touch Graham's arse, squeezing tightly, and my stomach turns over for the third or fourth time tonight.

Graham doesn’t seem care though because he keeps dancing. In fact, it’s not until the blonde bloke kisses him and pins him back against the railing that Graham finally becomes aware that his boundaries are being crossed. The look on Graham's face is confused at best. He looks uncomfortable, on top of being irritated, and when the boy makes a move to kiss him again, he scrunches up his nose and tries to push him off. But the twat won’t budge. Despite Graham’s evident discomfort, the lad's grinning, and as soon as the last song transitions into a new one, he rolls his hips forward, and I see all the color drain from Graham’s face.

I can’t hear Graham from here, but I can read his lips. He’s calling for Alex, but Alex has disappeared.

Graham pushes the blonde kid off again, struggling, and it's Graham's second attempt at rejecting him that finally pushes the lad off the edge. He’s visibly wounded now, red-faced and calling Graham a fucking twat, and when he leans forward to shove Graham back against the railing, that's when I finally snap.

I set my drink down, and push my way past the crowd to get over to them. Graham turns, looking surprised to see me—no doubt—but even more surprised to see me livid.

I place my hand on the back of the blonde bloke’s shoulder, and he turns to scowl at me.

“What the fuck do you want?”

Up close, the lad's an even skinnier twat than I thought he was. I'm a few inches taller than him, and broader too.

“I want you to get your hands off him,” I say, offering him a tight smile.

The kid gives me a scathing once over. “What are you then, his fucking dad?”

I bunch the collar of the boy’s shirt into my fist, tugging him forward with just enough roughness for him to know that I'm serious. His eyes widen, and I can see a glimpse of fear in his eyes. I'm stronger than him, and he knows it.

“Yeah, as a matter of fact,” I jeer, and the boy looks at me, then Graham, back to me again. His face screws up into disgust.

“You’ve got some fucked up issues, mate,” he says, looking at Graham. "Really."

I release my hold on him, and muttering underneath his breath; he calls me a cunt and gives me the universal sign to fuck off before walking away.

“I didn’t think you were coming,” Graham says in a tiny voice behind me, and as I turn around to face him. He smiles at me, and all at once my anger dissipates.

“Yeah well,” I say, wiping the grin off my face. “Plans changed.”

Graham bites down on his lower lip and grins even wider. He leans forward and kisses me on the cheek. My face turns hot.

“People are staring,” I say, but the glow in Graham’s eyes tells me that doesn’t matter to him.

“You didn’t have to do that,” he says, puffing his chest forward. “I had it under control.”

“That's not what it looked like to me,” I counter.

“What, were you jealous?” Graham accuses, looking coy.

I shake my head. “I didn’t say that,” I deny, gluing my hands to my sides. Even sober, I don’t trust myself right now.

Graham leans in close enough so that his lips are almost touching my ear. “You didn’t have to,” he says, then smirks.

I wrap my hand around the back of his neck and lean into his ear. “Don’t flatter yourself,” I whisper, but I'm smiling. I push him away from me, creating some distance, and three seconds later I feel his hand close around my wrist. True Faith begins playing over the speakers, and I see Graham’s eyes light up.

Alex appears out of nowhere, yelling, and almost jumps on top of Graham. He squeezes his shoulders. “New Order,” he shouts, grinning madly. “Come on Gra. We gotta dance!”

Alex gives me a cursory look, the kind that's both acknowledging but cautious at the same time. “Nice of you to join us, Dad,” he quips, winking. “I’ll bring him home safe and sound, I promise.”

My face flushes even redder. Graham looks back at me, on the verge of laughing, and takes Alex’s hand. “I’ll be back,” he says and squeezes my hand.

As they turn their backs to me, I notice that Graham is all smiles and whispering into Alex’s ear something I can’t hear. Alex gives a quick glance back at me, then looks at Graham and nods. It’s safe to say I’m feeling enough out of place to justify at least two vodka sodas, and so five minutes later I find myself at the bar, finally placated, and stirring my drink with a plastic stick.

“Oy Damon,” someone says from behind me, and Alex taps me on the shoulder. He smoothes his fringe back out of his face like some bird and leans back against the bar. Alex is like a walking magazine ad—all limbs and angles with a beautiful face attached; I resent the hell out of him, and I’m confident he knows it. I spare him the smallest smile of acknowledgment I can muster before turning my attention back to my drink.

“I’m surprised that you made it tonight,” Alex remarks, and strangely, his tone sounds more friendly than antagonistic.

“Me too,” I agree, pressing my drink to my lips and staring forward into space.

“Graham likes you quite a lot,” Alex continues, and now I wish that we’d just stuck to awkward small talk.

I set my drink down, then pause, giving him my full attention. “Does he?” I say, and Alex appears unsatisfied by my reaction.

“No, I just came over to blow smoke up your arse," he says, before grabbing my drink out of my hand. "Graham won't shut up about you. It's rather annoying, actually," Alex adds, taking a sip of my drink. Now I really do hate him.

I press my fingers to both temples.

"He looks up to you."

I tilt my head, wetting my dry lips, and give Alex a long stare. “I’m not sure where you’re going with this.”

“It’s just an observation.”

I arch an eyebrow. I'm anxious to change the topic of conversation. “Right, well. Thanks for the consideration.” I grab my glass back out of Alex’s hand and take a sip.

As soon as my hand lowers, Alex places his hand over my wrist. I’ve half a mind to slap him for that.

He narrows his eyes. “Look,” he says, and I'm finding the amount of strength he’s holding my hand down with unsettling. “Graham’s my best friend in the whole wide world. Now, I know you're his teacher, and you seem like you’re harmless bloke but—”

“Let me guess,” I interrupt, arching an eyebrow. “Keep my hands off because he’s your boyfriend?”

“No.”

“What then?”

“Don’t hurt him,” Alex threatens, and I can tell he's serious. “Otherwise I’ll knock your bloody teeth out.”

“Duly noted,” I reply, finishing the rest of my drink. I lift myself up off the bar. “Is that all?”

“That’s all,” Alex says, looking just as cheerful as when he first walked over. His face lights up. “Oh, and before I forget,” he says, reaching into his pocket. “Here. This is for you and Gra. For the road.” He grabs my wrist, turns my hand over, and three small colored tablets in my palm.

I furrow my brow. “What’s this?”

“Molly.”

“What?”

Alex stares at me, and I stare back at him, expressionless. I shake my head.

“E’s, you know?”

“Oh,” I say, my eyes lighting up. “Right.”

Alex shakes his head, jeering. “Jesus, how old are you?”

I look down at the pills in my hand. “Thanks, but I don’t do this stuff anymore—”

“Trust me,” Alex interrupts, leaning into my ear. He takes my hand into his and closes it, patting the top of my fist. “You’ll thank me later.”


**

As soon as Alex disappears again, my phone vibrates. There's a text from Jamie asking where I am, and then a second, sent thirty minutes later, that's much more passive-aggressive: not traveling down memory lane I hope? I frown.

No, not Justine. I type. But I’m incapacitated. I hit send.

My phone vibrates again with a reply from Jamie and an upside down smiley face: Congrats. Don’t forget to use a rubber, sweetie

I smirk. Thanks, mum. I type back.

I stare down at the bright screen, my fingers hesitating over the keys. I have a burning question that I want to ask, but I’m not sure if I should. I bite down on my tongue. Did you see Justine? I type, then changing my mind at the last minute, hit backspace.

My phone vibrates again, and it’s Graham this time. I'm by the bar on the first floor

I snap my phone shut and make my way down the stairs through a mass of sweaty bodies and unpleasant smells. I already feel disgusting; I’d like nothing more than to take a shower right now. I brush my hand over my jeans pocket, thinking about the pills Alex gave me.

Graham’s glowing by the time I get to him. He’s leaning up against the bar, barely able to stand, and for half a second I almost want to scold him, but I catch myself. As soon as he makes eye contact, he beams at me, and it gives me that same ten-foot-tall feeling from a few weeks ago.

He jumps up, gripping me by both shoulders. Graham's markedly more ambitious this time, almost manic. He kisses me on the lips, drunkenly, but I find it sweet. He tastes like cranberry vodka, and I wonder how anyone can stomach that. He grabs me by the wrist, giving me a mischievous grin.

“Let’s go home,” he announces, as if I can’t hear, and grins into my ear.


**

We hail a cab, and no more than two seconds after the door’s been shut, Graham’s inching his right hand toward mine on the back seat, trying to look nonchalant and failing. I look at him out of the corner of my eye and almost laugh. He’s drunk enough to be forward, but still shy enough to draw the whole thing out, which I find endearing. By the time our fingertips are about an inch away, I close the rest of the distance to him, slipping my hand into his and squeezing it tightly. Neither of us looks at each other, both of us pretending to stare out the window to save face, but Graham's hand is warm and inviting, and two seconds later I feel him squeeze back.

Besides the first kiss, it's our first mutual moment of flirtation, holding hands in silence. It's the sort of physical connection held long enough to hold emotional weight. And while part of me interprets Graham's gesture of holding hands with me incredibly childish, I also find it adorable. There's innocence to it; a naïveté that is markedly absent in the adult world of one night stands, where now a first kiss is usually nothing more than a means to an end. I’d be lying if I said that it didn't make me smile to hold Graham's hand, as juvenile as that sounds. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that he makes me feel better, in a disgustingly happy, intoxicating sort of way. The type of feeling I’ve not had in a long time. Yeah, you read that right. Me, the sad bastard, happy.

I know, I make myself nauseous too.

 

 

 

 

 

**

To be continued.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the time I’ve put my key in the lock and opened the door to my apartment Graham’s tongue is down my throat and saying that this whole situation has gotten out of hand rather quickly would be an understatement at best.

He’s drunk and beautiful, and I’m allowing my mostly sober self to be indulgent for a fleeting moment, despite knowing that we’re breaking cardinal rules. I know this, he knows this, my brain knows this, but my mouth can’t be bothered. The door has barely shut before he pushes me up against the wall, sloppy, but passionate, and he’s looking at me through his lashes in that hormonally needy teenager way and—fuck.

Graham’s mouth moves from my lips to my neck, and I’m finding out that he’s a much better kisser than I gave him credit for initially. As soon as he sinks his teeth into the side of my neck, I feel an electric jolt all the way down from my head to my groin. And if I was modestly half-hard a minute ago, it’s safe to say that’s no longer the case. I’m confident he knows this too, because he reaches his hand down to press between my legs, and an unfamiliar and animalistic sound escapes my throat.

Directing Graham by his hips, I move us toward the bedroom. He still has his hands between my legs like his life depends on it, and halfway there I hear him gasp into my ear and giggle, “Jesus, how big are you?”

By now, I am lost to sober account-keeping, and I’m asking myself what if, what if, what if. What if for a second I closed my eyes and forgot the age difference, turned my head away from the moral platitudes. He said that he loves me, remember? A kid who doesn’t know what love is, whose frontal lobe hasn’t even finished developing, who looks at me like I’m some idol, has willingly placed his heart in the Devil’s hands. I could have him right now if I wanted to. I could pull him into bed and let him do everything to me, show him the best fucking night of his life, the sort of experience that will haunt him in adulthood because I will be the first wolf in sheep’s clothing to have used him and left him.

Graham grins into my ear, hiccupy and drunk. “I like you a lot,” he says.

“Really? I couldn’t tell,” I smile and tuck a piece of hair behind his ear. His lips are beautiful—full, pink and bowing underneath sleepy eyes. Innocent. I kiss him again, then move swiftly down to his neck, and a small moan escapes his throat.

“I want my first time to be with you,” he mumbles, and it’s the verbal equivalent of splashing cold water on my face. My logic, previously on vacation, kicks back into gear.

I pull back, studying him with suspicious eyes. “Right. How drunk are you?”

He hiccups. “I’ve only had one drink. I’m not even drunk,” he answers, and then taking one step forward stumbles into me.

“Uh-huh.”

"It's alright, I trust you,” Graham says, pressing his hips into my thigh. I'm not even drunk and my head's spinning. He's coy, cheeks flushed and lips bright red now. My thumb brushes against his cheekbone. He’s beautiful, and I want him. All the worst parts of me do.

I lean forward and kiss him, drawing it out enough that my tongue slips between his lips and I feel somewhat satiated. He shivers underneath my hands. I pull back. “You need to sleep,” I say.

“No,” he says, rejection evident on his face. He circles his arms around me. “I want to—”

I press a finger to his lips. “I know what you want to do. But you need to sleep.”

He furrows his brow and gives me a look of frustration. “Why? Do you not like me?”

“No, that’s not it.”

“Then why won’t you sleep with me?”

“Because you’re intoxicated.”

“I am not intoxicated,” Graham pouts, slurring his syllables.

“You need to rest,” I say, kissing his forehead. He looks back at me dejected. I leave the room, then return a couple of minutes later with two aspirin and a large glass of water.

“Here,” I hand the glass to him, and he throws his head back, and downs both pills. “Drink all of it,” I add, and looking annoyed, he obliges.

“You’re acting like my dad or something,” Graham says.

“Well I am your dad right now, sort of,” I reply, and as soon as the words leave my mouth, I regret them. There’s an expression of nausea on Graham’s face that mirrors my own. “Sorry,” I say. “That came out wrong.”

“Yeah, it did.”

I pause, hesitating in the doorway. I break eye contact, feeling too awkward to stare at anything but the ground. “Well, then. Get some rest.”

“Wait, hold on,” Graham says, and I’m feeling nauseous again. “Would you—”

“What?” I interrupt. I'm so anxious that every single muscle in my body feels tense.

“Will you sleep with me?” Graham says, and I take a deep breath.

“Graham—”

“What I mean is, will you stay with me in the same bed? So I’m not alone.” He chews on his upper lip. “I don’t want sleep alone. It’s eerie and quiet in this room.”

My shoulders relax an inch. “Gra, I don’t know if that’s—”

“Don’t say it’s not appropriate,” Graham interrupts, and his face is paler than it was a minute ago. “You just spent the last five minutes snogging me so don’t talk to be about being appropriate after all that.”

“—A good idea, was what I was about to say.” I finish, and he looks surprised by my change of wording. I rub my chin, then sigh. “Alright. That’s fair.”

Graham’s face lights up like the sun.

“But that’s all it’ll be,” I reiterate, before walking back to my bedroom. Graham quickly follows behind me, looking star struck.

“I know.”

With my back to him, I unbuckle my trousers and pull them down. I can feel his eyes on me. I move to take off my shirt but stop, hesitating. I’ll play it safe tonight, I think, and leave my shirt on. I turn and see Graham lifting his shirt in the same motion but pausing as he reads my face. He purses his lips together, nervy, and drops his hands to his sides. Leaving his shirt on, he drops his trousers, and it takes every bit of willpower left in me not to look.

I slip underneath the covers and turning onto my back admire Graham as he walks toward the bed. He’s all at once delicate and intimidating. When he stands up straight, the broadness of his shoulders is emphasized above his small waist, and it reminds me again of how tall he is. He slips underneath the sheets, mattress sinking as he does, and I’m immediately conscious of the warmth of his body next to mine. It’s painful. I want nothing more than to reach out and pull him into my arms, but I stop myself. I turn off the bedside lamp, lay back on the pillow, and stare up at the dark ceiling.

A few quiet minutes pass and the only sound I hear is his breathing, in unison with mine. This was a bad idea, I think, but I suppose that goes without saying. Feeling uncomfortable, I turn over to lay on my side so that I’m facing away from him, staring at the wall. About thirty seconds later I hear Graham shift in the bed, and a warm hand touches my back. I stop breathing. His arm snakes its way over my side, circling to my stomach. I’m tense at first, but after a few seconds I relax, shifting again to lay on my back. My hand slips underneath Graham’s side, pulling him in so that his head rests just underneath my chin. His breath is soft and warm against my skin. He moves his right hand to rest atop my chest, and in the darkness, I observe it raising and lowering with each breath I take. Letting out a deep sigh, he nuzzles himself even more into my shoulder, and almost instinctively I turn my neck to kiss the top of his head.

He’s sweet, I muse. That’s the problem. Looks are one thing. Emotional attraction, another. But sweet, sweet is devastating. Sweet is what gets underneath my skin; sweet is what gives me pause. The fact that upon rejection Graham still just wants to sleep next to me, to be held, not to be alone, to be looked after. He regards me with such adoration, and it kills me because I’m aware of the truth and he is not. I know of the ugliness inside me, that’s hidden from him, that he can not see. I don't deserve this. I don't deserve him.

I try to tell myself that this is different, that I’m not the same person, and that sentiment is the only thing that holds me through the rest of the night so I can sleep.

**

The blinds have been marking time all morning, rotating, tracking the sun’s curves over the white bed sheets, neon white, and black stripes drawn over the sleeping body of the young boy. London’s sky is wholly blue and still, suspicious. His arms are empty, and he’s restless, at intervals shifting slightly to move onto his back or stomach.

He’s warm, loose and soft, skin glistening under the heat of the sun. His eyes when he wakes are two delicate, sleepy arches over deep pools of black, the sort that gives you calm.

As I slip out from underneath him, the phrases come back to my memory, and I repeat them over and over to myself. The world is changed because you are made of ivory and gold. The curves of your lips rewrite history.

The warm and savory smell of eggs fills the entire apartment. The electric kettle makes a pleasant bubbling sound from the other side of the kitchen. There's coffee brewing as well as tea. By the time the eggs have finished, Graham is still asleep, so I divvy out the portions with a side of buttered toast, wipe the pan clean, and wander back into the bedroom.

Graham stirs at the sound of me entering, blinking open his eyes, and squinting up at me. He grimaces at the bright light filtering in through the window and groans.

“Hungover, are we?” I say, sitting down on the edge of the bed. Graham’s eyes rest on the plate of eggs and toast.

“Did you—”

“A wise old man once told me that eggs are good for hangovers,” I interrupt.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“And what old man was that?”

“Me,” I reply, smirking, and Graham cracks a big smile.

Feeling self-conscious, I wipe the grin off my face. “There’s tea as well,” I add, lifting myself up off the bed and placing the dish and cup on the bedside table.

Graham grabs me by the wrist. “Wait.”

“What?”

“Come here,” he says, pulling me forward enough that I have to lean down. He kisses me on the lips, sweetly, and my cheeks sting.

“Are you blushing?” He accuses, laughing.

“M’not.”

“Yeah, you are.” Graham counters and I smile slightly. His eyes study me for a long moment. “What happened last night?”

I frown. “You don’t remember?”

“I remember leaving the club, and I sort of remember getting back here…” He frowns. “Did we do—”

“No,” I reply abruptly.

Graham gives me a disappointed look. “Oh.”

“You fell asleep,” I clarify, and his face lightens up a bit. He lifts his hand up, chewing on his nails.

“Can I ask you a favor?” He says.

“Shoot.”

“Would you—” he starts, then blushes. “Would you get back in bed for just a minute?”

“Only one minute?”

“Yeah.”

I smile and ruffle his hair. I hop over him, climbing underneath the sheets. I lift my arm up, looking at my wristwatch. “Alright, you’ve got fifty-five seconds. I’m keeping track.”

Graham smirks, punching me in the side. “Hey, come on.”

“Fifty seconds now.”

“Stop,” Graham says. He cuddles up next to me, and I wrap my arm around him. He kisses me on the cheek.

“You gotta stop doing that,” I say.

“What?”

“Kissing me.”

Graham falls silent, and his eyes shift to my abdomen. He slides his arm over the top of my chest, testing the water. His hand drifts down, settling on my stomach.

I furrow my brow. “What are you doing?”

Giving me a devilish but coy look, he slips his hand down, even more, reaching between my legs and his fingers brush the front of my boxers, feeling me through the fabric. My morning state has passed by now, but there’s still enough there to make him blush bright red. “Just seeing if it was a dream or if it was real,” Graham mumbles.

I bite down on my tongue. I desperately want to push my hips forward up into his palm, but I force myself not to. Instead, I reach down, hold him by the wrist, and bring his hand up to kiss it. “You should eat your breakfast before it gets cold.”

“I’ve never been with anyone before,” he says, and I feel all the blood drain from my face. “I don’t know if I’m ready for that...yet.”

Both of us fall silent, and Graham takes my wordlessness as a cue to clarify.

“But when I am ready, I want it to be with you.”

“I know.”

“How do you know?”

“Because you said that to me last night.”

“And?”

I say nothing, keeping a slight smile on my lips to hide the guilt I’m feeling internally. I kiss Graham on the forehead. “You should eat your breakfast.”

He looks at me as though he’s about to cry. “You don’t want me.”

My jaw hangs halfway open. “Graham—”

“It’s true. That’s why you don’t want to do anything. You don’t like me like how I like you. I’m just some little kid bothering you.”

“Gra—”

“It’s okay, you don’t have to say it,” he rattles on, his eyes downcast.

“You’re not attracted to me, I understand. I’m not handsome like you.”

“Graham,” I say, louder this time, and finally I get his attention. “I’m attracted to you.”

He looks at me, then after a beat continues babbling on, casting his eyes away and down. “You’re just saying that to make me feel better. It’s alright —”

I frown. Circling my fingers around Graham's wrist, I pull his hand down between my legs. I’m all the way hard now, and the difference from a few minutes before is enough to make his eyes grow wide. I wrap my other hand around the back of his neck, pulling him into a kiss and after a few seconds, pull back for air. Graham has stopped breathing.

“I'm not saying it to make you feel better,” I state. And when I remove my hand from Graham's wrist he starts breathing again. He looks pale.

I roll myself out of bed. “Your minute is up.” I smile, taking up his plate and cup. “I’ll meet you in the kitchen.”

Graham looks utterly betrayed, and I feel a tinge of guilt as I leave the bedroom. My judgment has been more wobbly than usual the past twenty-four hours, no doubt about that. I make a mental note to call his parents again today; I’ve already gone far enough with him to risk losing my job.

Graham appears in the kitchen a few minutes later, still looking pallid, but more resolved. Feet bare, he hurries across the cold floor and sits down at the kitchen table. I pour him a large glass of water and push it toward him.

“Drink,” I instruct, before stabbing my fork into my food. Graham looks up at me, timid. “You’re going to want to drink about four of those. Trust me," I say, then add, "Especially if Alex gave you e’s last night.”

I lift my coffee cup to my lips, take a sip, and when I set my cup back down again, Graham’s eyes are still on me.

He clears his throat, and grabbing the glass of water, slides it toward him. He picks up his fork and pretends to look interested in his food. “Thanks for breakfast,” he mumbles.

“You’re welcome.”

“I’ve got work I’ve got to do today, so,” I say, looking up from my plate.

“You’ve still got the spare key, right?”

Graham nods, and I return my attention to my food.

“You should call your parents today.”

Graham drops his fork, and it lands with a loud clatter on his plate.
I flick my eyes upward. “What’s wrong?”

“You are driving me mad,” he says, and I avert my gaze again. Spooning the last bit of egg into my mouth, I lift myself up off my chair and move to place my dish in the sink.

When I turn around again, Graham is still staring down at his food. Pivoting on my heel, I move to leave the kitchen. Halfway down the hallway, I hear the loud screech of a kitchen chair dragging across the linoleum and the sound of Graham’s bare feet crossing the kitchen. I don’t lift my head, assuming that he’s decided to run off in spite of my comment, which is why I’m surprised when I feel heavy and insistent hands on my waist, strong-arming me back into the bedroom.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

Let me explain. I’m aware of how this may look, believe me. I can explain. An eighteen-year old is pushing me into my bedroom against my will. No. That’s not it. Let me start over. An eighteen-year-old who is much, much stronger than he looks is shoving me into my bedroom door—roughly at that—and he’s made it very clear in the last ten seconds that I have no choice in the matter.

And yes don’t worry I’m aware of how all this sounds and can well imagine the judgments you’re forming from the way I’m characterizing sexual exploits with an almost-minor but if I’m to actually explain this to you in a factual and objective way then I have no choice but to reiterate what I said earlier, with emphasis, which is: he came onto me first, ladies and gentleman of the jury.

But at this point, I'm didactic for the sake of being didactic because really in the last few minutes that’s the only anchor I can tie my monkey brain to keep from drowning in the morality of the situation. Yes, honesty, responsibility, being an adult. Yes, that’s right. I am an adult. An adult with a monkey brain that’s drawing all the blood from my head to between my legs.

Right. And that’s where Graham's hand is, between my legs, and some mysterious but overwhelmingly sensual energy is seeming to emanate from his very being, and I’m being helplessly drawn to it and now I’m leaning down and he’s whimpering into my ear, hot breath on my neck and it’s then that my human brain decides to step in and be an arsehole and remind me that he is a noun spelled as a six-letter-word that’s not been a part of my conversational vocabulary for over twenty years.

Virgin.

“Hold on,” I say, pushing him back by the shoulders. “Hold on for one fucking minute now.”

Graham looks irritated, but lovely as hell and he has a desperate look in his eyes that I’m having a hard time processing. He jumps into my arms again, one hundred percent hormonal. “I know you want this,” he says. “We both want this—”

“For God's sake,” I say, and he finally steps back, visibly wounded. “Let’s talk about this before you go all Lolita on me, Gra. Jesus.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright,” I shake my head. “Let’s just—let's sit down and talk for a minute.”

Graham nods, cheeks blotched pink and eyes only slightly less interested in me than they were a few moments before. He sits down on the edge of the bed. I take a deep breath and readjust myself underneath my trousers.

Graham opens his mouth before I can get a word out. “If this is about you saying that this isn’t appropriate again, I swear—”

“That’s not what I was going to say,” I interrupt, and Graham’s face turns an even brighter shade of red. “I think that part’s obvious to both of us.”

“Okay..."

“Okay. So, this is a delicate situation, and…”

“Jesus, I don’t care that you’re a lot older. It doesn't matter to me. I’ve been telling you that again and again, and you don’t believe—”

“I know that it doesn't matter to you,” I say abruptly, and Graham falls silent. "But—"

Graham cuts me off with an indignant look. “But what? Do you think I’m too young to understand what's going on?”

“Graham.”

“What?”

"Look at me."

Graham turns to me, scowling.

“Let me talk for a second.”

Graham mutters something I can not hear and then crosses his arms.

“I don’t understand why you’re so angry,” I say, frowning.

Graham takes a deep breath. “Because you have no idea what this feels like, what it feels like to be me. You just—you tease me all the time, and it’s completely unfair.”

I arch an eyebrow. “Is that what you think?”

Graham glares at me. “Fuck off, yeah it’s what I think.”

I laugh, and Graham gives me an even saltier look.

“Why are you laughing?”

I sigh, running my fingers through my hair. “Gra, do you think that I’m that naive?"

Graham furrows his brow. "Naive about what?"

"That I didn't have sex with older men when I was your age?”

Graham frowns, but he looks at me as though his entire perspective has changed.

“Yeah. You act surprised.” I lift both eyebrows and add, “and I was younger than you too.”

Graham lifts his hand up to chew on his thumb. “How young?”

“Sixteen,” I reply, and Graham falls quiet again, so I take his silence as my cue to continue. “My friends and I snuck into a club with fake IDs. That’s where I met him.”

“Was he your…?”

“First time? Yeah. My first time.”

Graham purses his lips, looking a bit more purple. “Was he good-looking?”

“Oh, very.”

“Oh.”

“And he had no idea how old I was, at least I didn’t think he did. He said I was an obnoxious twat with a stick up my arse and I told him just as much.”

Graham forces back a smile. “You?” He mutters. “I can’t imagine that.”

“Oh thanks,” I say, pushing Graham sideways.

“He had to have been in his late thirties, maybe forty. But he was beautiful as hell, had a head bigger than mine even, and he knew it. He must have seen me as some prize. Maybe he wanted to shake my ego, take me down a few notches, I don’t know.” I shake my head. “I was drunk beyond belief, believe me, absolutely trashed, and the second he pulled me into the men’s room, I couldn’t be bothered to have any moral reservations about age gaps or whatever.”

“So what happened?” Graham mumbles. “I mean, aside from having sex with someone beautiful.”

“Is that jealousy I’m hearing?” I jeer, softly jabbing Graham in his side.

“Ewww, no.”

“Anyway.” I take a deep breath, shifting on the bed. “He took me home the next day. Sweet of him, I thought at the time. As I said, it was my first experience. My mum had no idea. I had big purplish bruises all down my neck,” I say, pointing. I grin. “She thought I was out with girls.”

“And what happened?”

“I went back to the club the next weekend, and the weekend after that. Each time he acted as if he adored me, couldn’t wait to see me, couldn’t keep his hands off me. I was mad in love with him too. Every weekend that I could manage, I’d stay over at his house and lie to my mum, telling her I was sleeping over with a school mate. He was good too--taught me a few things.” I smirk.

“And then what?” Graham asks me with wide eyes.

“And then one weekend I went back to the club to meet him, and when I walked into the loo, I saw him fucking someone else.”

“Someone else?”

“Someone younger.”

“Jesus,” Graham breathes. “What an arsehole.”

“Yeah, exactly. What an arsehole.” I say and nod, and Graham looks at me as though he doesn’t understand so I clarify, “I don’t want to be that arsehole.”

Graham opens his mouth to speak, then stops.

“So now you understand,” I say. “That I get it.”

“Get it?”

“Where you’re coming from.”

Graham nods, then frowns. "Right."

“And why I want to treat this situation...delicately.”

Graham falls silent again, staring down at his shoes for a few seconds before responding. “Right. But you’re not an arsehole, and I love y—”

I place a finger to his lips. “Do me a favor.”

“What?”

“Before you say that word to me again, think about this. Think about it for a while. Sleep on it. Then come back to me and tell me how you feel.”

“But I don’t need to sleep on it. I know what I want right now—”

“Graham, you’ve never been with anyone—”

“This isn’t just a sex thing,” Graham interrupts. “You’re not listening to me. You’re just trying to get rid of me. You don’t trust that I know what I want. You're acting like this because I said that I love you isn’t it? I just scared you off. I’m such an idiot. I should never have said that—you probably don’t even love me back—”

“Graham.”

“What?”

“Stop over-thinking.”

“But—”

“I slept with you last night.”

“But still—”

“In the same bed.”

Graham falls silent, and he looks back at me like a sore puppy.

“Why do you think we’re even having this conversation?”

Graham stares down at his toes. He sighs. “How long do you want me to think about it?”

“A week.”

“A whole week?”

“Three days then.”

“And then what?”

I chew on my lower lip. “Then maybe I’ll change my mind about this situation. Maybe.” I frown.

Graham swallows, then reaches out to touch the top of my hand. “Maybe?”

I frown, squeezing his hand. I lean forward and kiss him on the cheek.

“Wait, so what does that mean…?” Graham swallows, then reaches out to touch the top of my hand. “Are you saying that you want to be with me?”

I bite down on my tongue hard enough that I taste iron.

My chest feels heavy and tight. I can’t breathe. What I'm proposing here is impossible. It’ll never work, and I know it and yet here I am leading Graham on. The second anyone sees us together it's over. What’s wrong with me? I’ve completely lost it. I’ve lost the fucking plot.

"I'm not the sort of person you want to be with," I say. "Trust me."

Graham squeezes my hand tightly. He loves me, and I'm a fool to think otherwise. I can see it. It's written in permanent ink on his face at all times. I don't even need to wait three days to know.

“I can't promise you that I won’t have changed my mind about all of this by tomorrow,” I say, squeezing back, and as I leave the room, my eyes begin to burn.

 

**

 

I become a living ghost for the next three days, filtering in and out of the flat at odd times, finding places outside of it to loiter for long periods to avoid Graham. Coffee shops, parks. Out of sight, out of mind. On the occasions Graham does see me, he regards me with quiet caution, tiptoeing in and out of the apartment as though it’s a sort of holy place-eyes downcast and nervous.

It’s during these brief stretches of solace that I begin to dive head deep back into my work, not school work, but you know, real work. Pleasurable work. The kind I don’t often get to do these days.

It’s during one of these creative sprints that Graham wanders in to find me tied to my desk, headphones glued to my ears and head bobbing to a rhythm.

Graham is in my peripheral, edging toward me, eyes stolid and focused on my equipment. I remove my headphones and turn around.

“Hey.”

Graham shoots me an apprehensive glance. “Oh. Hey. Sorry. I didn’t mean to bother you.”

“You’re not bothering at all,” I say.

Graham brings his hand up to chew on his nails. He looks nice today; his clothes are a little more adult than normal—brogues and one of my striped tees.

“What are you working on?” He asks.

I sigh. “Oh, just an old project.”

“The animated one?”

I give him a funny look. “How’d you know?”

He forces back a smile. “I mean how many projects have you told me about?”

I roll my eyes and smile. “Right.”

“Can I have a listen?”

“Sure,” I say, picking up the headphones and handing them to him. I add, “It’s not done yet though.”

Graham puts them on, and after a nod, I rewind the track completely and press the play button.

A few seconds in, Graham furrows his brow. “Is this hip hop?” He yells, unable to hear himself.

I nod.

He scrunches up his nose. “You listen to hip hop?” He says, apparently surprised. I pretend to look offended.

I can hear the small sound of the bass line as Graham begins bobbing his head to the beat. “This is good.” He yells.

He begins to mouth the words.

“But not for long, the future is coming on….”

He takes the headphones off and beams at me. “Wow, that’s great.”

“I know,” I say, and it’s Graham’s turn to roll his eyes at me.

“I didn’t know you listened to hip hop.”

“I listen to, and write hip hop,” I correct him, and he rolls his eyes again. “Why, does that surprise you?”

“Well, I mean...yeah.”

“Why’s that?” I ask, looking mock offended.

“Cause you’re old.”

“Wow,” I say, and mock stab myself in the chest. “You got me that time, Coxon.”

He smiles. “Oh yeah?”

I muster a wounded look. “Yeah. Right in the soft stuff,” I reply, pounding a fist against my chest.

Graham smirks, and the way his eyes light up makes me want to kiss him right then and there.

“Did I hurt your feelings?” He says.

“Yeah, you did. I’ll have to walk to the cemetery and dig my own grave now. I’m so old that I’m embarrassed to show my face.”

Graham’s eyes are aglow now.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“Why are you staring at me?”

“Because you’re cute.”

“Cute?” I scrunch my nose up in disgust. "What am I, a girl?"

“Handsome, then.”

My cheeks sting, and I cough, bringing my hand up to hide my face. “So you like the song?” I say, desperate to change the subject.

Graham’s eyes light up. “Yeah, it’s catchy. I like it a lot.”

I reach into one of my drawers and pull out a jewel case. “This was the design Jamie made for the record, with the final characters and all that.”

Graham’s eyes widen. “Woah,” he says, holding the CD in his hands. “Gorillaz? That’s what you called it?”

“Yeah.”

“Wow, this is so cool,” he beams. “Which one is supposed to be you?”

“What?”

Graham’s eyes flick upward. “Didn’t Jamie have to draw you? Which one is the singer?”

I laugh. “Uhhh, lemme see,” I say, grabbing the CD from him and studying the cover. “I think I was supposed to be the one with...yeah, that one,” I say, pointing at one of the characters. “Stuart Pot. 2-D.”

“2-D?”

I hand the CD back to him. “Jamie made him an idiot. I suppose that was his way of taking the piss out of me,” I say, smirking.

“Is this your only copy?”

“Yeah, for now,” I say, then Graham gives me a funny look, so I clarify, “After we paid all the collaborators, we ran out of money. I got most of the record done, but when the label pulled the budget I didn’t see much of a point in finishing it...”

Graham frowns at me. “Well, that’s stupid.” He says.

“Yeah.” I half-smile. “Wasn’t meant to be I suppose.”

“Want to know something funny?” I say, reaching over and unplugging my headphones from the computer. “That record single you got me—it inspired a lot of this back when I was working on it,” I say, tapping on the Gorillaz cd.

I press play on my computer, and after a few seconds Graham’s eyes light up.

This town is coming like a ghost town...

“Ohhh I love this song,” Graham announces, jumping up.

I laugh. “Oh yeah? I would never have guessed,” I say, and Graham’s face lights up even more. He starts singing loudly and reaching down pulls my hands up into his.

Do you remember the good old days before the ghost town?

I laugh. “What are you doing?”

We danced and sang, and the music played in a de boomtown

“Come on and dance with me!”

I shake my head no, but he pleads with me even more.

“Come on!”

I shake my head, laughing. “I don’t know how to dance.”

“Yes you do,” Graham insists, pulling me up by the arms, and finally I cave, standing to my feet.

“Don’t you remember how to skank?” Graham says, showing me and now I'm laughing so much that there are tears in my eyes.

“Now shut up and dance with me, so I don’t feel silly.”

“You mean skank with you.”

“Yes,” he says and grins. He places a quick kiss on my lips, and it catches me off guard.

“Have you been drinking?”

“No,” he laughs, but I’m not sure I believe him. I pull him closer, hoping to be able to catch the scent of alcohol on his breath, but instead, our heads bump together, and both of us simultaneously yelp in pain.

This place, is coming like a ghost town

“Ah, what the hell—” Graham yells, then holding a hand to his forehead. Blindly, he falls to the floor, landing on his tailbone, then begins to have a giggle fit.

I’m laughing so hard that my face is red. I double over, falling onto the ground next to Graham. “Sorry,” I say, between gasps of air.

“Bastard,” Graham breathes and pushes me back. He laughs again. “I’m not lying. I’m sober.”

This town, is coming like a ghost town

As both of continue to catch our breath, the song begins to die down. Graham scoots closer to me, face still red from laughing or blushing, I can’t tell. He leans forward and kisses me right on the lips. Nothing. He’s telling the truth. Completely dry.

He pulls back, barely an inch away and says, “It’s been three days.”

“Yeah,” I nod, and my chest feels tight. “I know.”

“I thought about it.”

I break eye contact, looking down at the floor. “And?”

He pushes closer to me, eliminating the space between us. “I made my decision,” he says.

“That was quick,” I joke, and Graham looks back unamused.

I close my eyes, and with my index finger and thumb pinch the side of my thigh where Graham can’t see. I’m still awake. Alright.

In the end, it’s Graham who closes the remaining distance. His hand finds mine, cold and nervous and small. Sober. Innocence looks back at me, waiting for an answer.

A wan smile tugs at his lips.

This kid will be the end of me.

 

 

**

 


I used to think that love was the only thing that mattered.

Write an epitaph on my grave: here lies a man who once fell in love with love and then love betrayed him.

It’s that same old story, time and time again.

Boy meets boy. Boy meets girl. They fall in love.

That girl, she doesn’t love you. Oh.

Now's the part when you skip ahead to the very end and read the last page. Is it the fairy tale ending or the straight-to-DVD disappointment? No one wants to know about the complicated, real-life stuff.

Don’t make me think too hard about this. Don’t try and make me reflect on the logistics. I'm happy. I'm skipping to the end of my book. Fleeting completeness.

A lonely heart commits more crimes than you'd think.

Jamie used to say, if you’re unable to get someone out of your head, then they’re probably supposed to be there.

By the time we reach the bedroom, Graham's tongue and teeth are in my ear, and he’s asking me everything, everything.

“What do you like more, being on top or being on the bottom?” Graham whispers into my ear, and my cheeks sting. He’s so innocent sometimes; it kills me.

I kiss his neck, making a trail of kisses up to his ear. “Both,” I answer, and I feel him shiver.

“Equally?” he mumbles, and I feel the heat emanating from his face.

“...if I had to pick?” I think about it for a moment or two. “Bottom.”

“Really?” Graham leans in, seeming fascinated.

I laugh. “What, you think that because I’m older I like to top? I mean I do, but like I said if I had to pick…”

“Why?”

“Do you know what the prostate is?”

“Christ. How dumb do you think I am?”

“Just making sure,” I grin, before kissing him on the cheek.

"Does it feel...weird?"

I smile, running my hands through his hair. “When it’s done right, it can be...mind-blowing.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

Graham swallows, looking nervy. “Well, I think I feel more comfortable starting on top, so it’s kind of good that you like the other one better,” he says, and I shiver because now all I’m thinking is about being on my back with Graham inside me. He squeezes my shoulder. "But I want to learn both. When I'm ready."

“I’m not sure we’re ready to go that far yet,” I breathe, but only half of the words make it out.

As soon as I set Graham down on the bed, he pulls me down underneath him so that he’s laying on top of me. We kiss until we’re both hard and breathless.

Graham slips his leg between my thigh, and after finding my bearings, my hands move to his hips to help him start a rhythm.

The bed rocks and creaks and my head is spinning. Graham lets out a soft moan as his lips rest against my collarbone. I hold him the entire time, kissing him, stroking my fingers through his hair and just appreciating the beautiful boy above me. This lovely thing.

"I want to be inside of you," he whispers into my ear, and it almost pushes me over the edge.

I spread my legs a little bit wider, arching my neck back and Graham's lips close around my Adam's apple. I groan as rolls his hips forward, barely sliding against me. I'm so hard that it hurts.

He reaches with his hand to slide the zipper down on my trousers, but I stop him. He looks down at me, defeated.

"Not yet," I say, kissing his jaw. "Not until I get tested."

My hand wraps around the small of his back, pulling him in closer, then slips down, down, down to squeeze his arse. My middle finger finds its way between the back of his legs, over the fabric of his jeans and presses in, teasing him. He squirms, moaning my name into my ear.

“I’m close,” Graham groans just before he comes, moaning my name again as his hips jerk forward and he collapses, ragged and breathless against my chest. After catching his breath, he shifts, hand brushing between my thighs. Feeling that I’m still hard, he swears, muffled, into my chest.

“I need to finish you,” he says, cupping me through my jeans. The move causes me to bite back a moan.

“No,” I reply, pulling his hand up. “This isn't about me. This is about you.” I kiss his hand, then press my forehead to his. I can feel his pulse against his wrist.

“Just kiss me. Please. That’s all I want.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love you. I love you. I love you.

The words drip like honey off my lips, taste like a chardonnay dry and wet against my tongue: I love you, I love you, I love you.

The truth comes out a little at a time. And it spreads just like a fire. Slips off of my tongue like turpentine.

He is beautiful, and I do not deserve him. Underneath my arms, he feels just as vast as the sky, as blue and brainless as God’s love. The sight of him cut through my heart and down the knuckles of my spine, and only one person had done that before, only one. I don’t dare say their name because I have too many ghosts now.

I wake him up with my tongue, because I want to because I need to. He is beautiful. Like snow on a clear day. In the same way some things can only be explained away by sad songs, I needed him. I just follow my sense of things through this winter until I reach a grove of white trees. And he takes me in.

I kiss the crease between his thighs. He is hard, lovely, his mouth parts and wonderful sounds emit from his throat. I kiss him there, then my lips wrap around the curve of his Adam’s apple. When he comes, salty and sweet I swallow, then move to his lips. He smiles against my face, happy, content, innocence incarnate. I want to show him everything. I want to be his teacher. His embrace is like the green silence after a hailstorm. Warm. Lovely. Tongue against my ear. Soft breath.

A clattering sound was tearing up my head as I staggered forward and opened my eyes to a vision I will never see again: childlike naivete, myself at a younger age reflected back at me.

“I love you,” he says, and I don’t know what to say, so I just kiss him back. Loving someone is different than being with them. You can fall in love with someone the same way you do a sunset, transient beauty.

What I want to say is, “I fall in love with you every time I see you,” but I can’t.

“I love you,” he says again, and I falter, lips sticky and stagnant against his collarbone. “I love you.” Again.

“I want to be with you.”

He is beautiful. He is everything. I kiss the soft white flesh of his collarbone. Sleepy eyes greet me from above. I felt a feeling I thought I could never feel again: our naked bodies started glowing, and the air turned such a strange color I thought my life must be leaving me, and with every young fiber and cell inside me I wanted to hold onto it for another breath.

When he comes in my mouth for the first time, I feel palpable guilt. I finally say, “I love you too,” and his face lights up in such a way that can not be understood by anyone except for those naive and in love.

“I will keep you safe,” I say, with my tongue against his throat.  First I put my lips to his upper lip, then to the bottom of his pout, and then I kiss him fully, my mouth on his open mouth, and we meet inside.

 

I love you.

 

He doesn’t know the monster yet. He is the child who does not know yet how to fear. He is the burn victim who has not yet learned to fear fire. He will know soon enough. But for now, I will enjoy the sunset. I close my eyes and sleep, my hands wrapped around his stomach.

When I wake up again, he is still snoring softly, and after a few minutes of admiring him, I slip out from underneath the sheets and tip-toe out of the room. As I enter the living room I notice his book bag on the ground, and so I move to pick it up and place it back in his bedroom. But as I do so, a couple of books slip out of the bag and onto the floor. Moving to retrieve them, one of the titles catches my attention and my stomach turns over. My eyes scan over the title. Britpop! Cool Britannia. Wedged between the pages is a bookmark wedged in between the pages, about halfway through.

I take a deep breath, then leaf through the book, eyes scanning for any reference of myself. I frown, opening the front of the book cover to see the publication date, and finally, my shoulders relax. Okay. Good. It was published long enough ago not to have the information that I’m worried about. Placing the book back I deliver his backpack to his room and head into the kitchen to make breakfast.

Graham is still fast asleep by the time I return. Today’s buttered toast and eggs again, but this time scrambled instead of over-easy, and I’ve included creme fraiche—admittedly to impress I suppose—not that I think Graham will notice.

Graham’s eyes flutter as soon as I enter the room, and I smile to myself, wondering for a moment if maybe he was just pretending to sleep.

“Morning sunshine,” I say, placing his plate and tea on the bedside table.

Graham rubs at his eyes with both hands and blinks a few times. “Breakfast in bed again?”

“Yep.”

Graham grins, then leans forward to kiss me. Cupping my hand behind his head, he lingers for a few more seconds than normal, then pulling back, starts laughing.

“Are you laughing at me?” I ask, mock-offended. Graham’s cheeks are red, and tired eyes smile back at me.

“Yeah,” he says, forcing back a wide grin.

“Why’s that?”

“Because you’re such an adult,” he says. “You bring me breakfast in bed.”

“Adult?” I repeat, imitating him. “Is this your way of calling me old again?”

“Nooo,” Graham drawls. “That’s not at all what I meant. I meant that you’re nice,” he says, then pausing adds, “Thoughtful.”

“Nice?” I laugh. “Oh well, that’s worse.”

“How is nice worse?”

“Because no boyfriend ever wants to hear that they’re nice,” I say, and it’s not until I see Graham’s face turn pale that I realize that I’ve accidentally slipped. Shit.

“Did you say—” Graham squeaks, his eyes lighting up.

I place a finger to his lips and force back a grin. “No.”

“But you just said—” Graham stutters.

“I didn’t say anything,” I lie, but I can feel my face is turning pink.

“Yes you did,” Graham retorts, punching me in the shoulder. I wince.  “You said, boyfriend. I heard you.”

I shake my head, but it’s getting harder and harder for me to save face. “I said nothing of the sort.”

A wide grin stretches across Graham’s face. “You’re a shit liar, you know that?” He pauses, then studies my face. “Am I really your boyfriend?”

There’s a vulnerable but excited look on his face, brows pressed together and his teeth biting down on his lip. God. What have I gotten myself into?

“Gra—”

“No, you need to say it.”

I close my eyes and take a deep breath.

“Don’t close your eyes.”

“Why not?”

“Because I like them,” Graham says, in what sounds like an unironic tone. “They’re...nice.”

“Ouch.” I smile, opening my eyes.

“Actually, no.”

“No, they’re not nice?”

“No, I meant that you need to close your eyes again.”

I laugh. “Why?”

“Just close them!”

“Alright.” I grin. “What are you going to do to me? Tell me I’m nice again?”

“Yeah. I’m going to point out everything.”

“Everything?”

“Yeah. All the nice bits,” Graham says, then gets strangely quiet. After a beat, he says, “Your face is nice.”

“Well my eyes are a part of my face, you know.”

“Shut up,” Graham says, knocking me in the shoulder. “Don’t be a smartarse.”

Graham falls quiet again, and I can hear the faint sound of raindrops against the window.

“What?” I ask.

Graham’s body weight moves forward on the bed. “This is nice,” he adds, prodding my chest.

“Oh.”

“Do you want me to keep going?”

“Sure.”

Graham’s voice gets smaller. “You’ll have to get closer.”

I edge forward a few inches.

“Nope. More.”

I sigh, then move even closer. “Alright.”

Graham squeaks. “Never mind.”

“No, you have to say it now,” I laugh. “What is it?”

“Alright, but you still have to keep your eyes closed.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Really.”

I let out a sigh. “Alright.” The bedsprings creak underneath me as Graham climbs off the bed. “Where you are going—” I ask, but I’m interrupted when I feel Graham’s weight on my knees. Before I know it, he’s climbed into my lap.

“Ohh.”

“Keep your eyes closed.”

A few seconds later I feel Graham’s hands on my skin, moving downward. Faster than I can protest one of his hands slips between my legs. I make a muffled sound of surprise and in turn, Graham laughs.

“Is this what I get for making breakfast?” I moan with my eyes still shut. I can’t see him but I know he must be grinning. He readjusts his sitting position so his hand can have more leverage. I place my hand on the small of his back.

“No, this is what you get for just being you,” he says quietly and kisses me.

“Can I open my eyes now?”

“Why?”

“Because I want to look at you,” I say, pushing him up higher onto my thighs.

“I don’t know…”

“Please?”

Graham is quiet for a few seconds, his hand softly stroking me all the while.

“Please,” I beg, leaning forward into his ear. I’m getting harder now and his grip tightens. I moan into his neck.

“Alright.”

Pulling back, I blink open my eyes. My breath catches in my throat. I’ve not seen him in this way before, so close, from this perspective. He’s looking down at me with doleful eyes and flushed cheeks—clearly embarrassed but his desire is pushing him past that. The sun from the window behind him casts a halo of light around his face. On his lips hangs an anxious smile. He’s nervous, terrified even, and soon as he notices that I’m aware of this he pulls his hand away.

“God, you’re so beautiful,” I say, and he turns a deep shade of red.

“M’not,” he mumbles, and using my hand on his back I push him closer to kiss him. He takes a deep breath. “When are you…” He trails off momentarily, eyes flitting to various corners of the room.

“When are you going to get tested?”

“Today,” I say, but my words are heavy with anticipation. I can still taste him, salty and sweet on my lips. He deserves someone better.

“I’ve never felt anything that felt that good,” he says in a quiet voice, and I feel the hairs stand up on the back of his neck. I turn my head so that I can face him. My thumb reaches up to brush against his lips before I lean forward and kiss him.

“Mm, this morning?” I say, and Graham nods.

“That was nothing,” I hum into his mouth, and he shivers.

His breath catches in his throat. “I c-changed my mind if you want to, you know, I mean…”

I furrow my brow. “What?”

“If you want to be on top I mean, it’s okay, I was just scared but I’m sure—”

I place a finger to his lips to silence him, then smile. “Don’t worry about what I want. I want whatever you want.”

Graham swallows. “Really?”

“Really.”

Graham gives me a meek look, then re-adjusting himself, slips his hands down, down between my thighs. He brushes his hand between my legs and in response, I moan into his ear.

“Does it hurt?” He says, so quietly it’s almost a whisper.

“I wouldn’t let it,” I say, and my lips brush against his ear. “But I think you’re getting ahead of yourself, Gra.” I smile, then lean back, pushing myself up and off the bed.

“Wait,” Graham protests. “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to take a shower,” I say, then add, “And then I’m going to go get this sorted...” I say, pointing abstractly between my legs.

“I’m sure you’re alright though,” Graham pouts, giving me a needy look.

“I’m sure that you are sure, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to happen.” I smile. “I’m too much of a risk.”

“You talk about yourself like you’re some sort of Casanova,” Graham teases, and I smirk.

“When I’m drunk, I am. And I’ve been drunk a lot lately.” I purse my lips. “Better safe than sorry,” I say, then kiss him on the forehead.

His hands reach up toward my arm, then pull me down. “I love you,” he says, looking up at me with doleful eyes.

I shake my head, then pulling him closer whisper, “you’re lovely.” That’s all I can say. I want to tell him to save those words for someone better. I can still taste him on my lips, all the way to the clinic, innocent and sweet.

 

**

 

Whoever said patience is a virtue did not account for horny young boys sending you text messages for five hours straight. In class. After class. In the waiting room of the clinic.

Have you gone yet? Are you done? When will be you home?

Almost. I type. Be patient. I’m sitting in a chair in the clinic, in the queue, waiting for my test results, but Graham just can’t be bothered.

My phone buzzes again. This time it’s a picture message. I inhale. I flip open my phone to see a photo, but before I can process what it is, the doctor comes in and gives me my results.

I’ve got a clean bill of health, he says. Not that I’m that surprised, but after a few months of drunken benders, one can’t be too careful.

I open my phone to see the picture Graham’s sent me and it’s...

Oh, Jesus.

As soon as I walk into the door of my flat I’m greeted with an overly excited Graham jumping into my arms and kissing me in a million different places like some sort of school girl.

“What did they say? Is everything ok?”

“All healthy,” I say, smiling and Graham looks like he’s about to explode. He tugs on my sleeve, dragging me toward the bedroom. I wipe the grin from my face.

“Hold on, Casanova.”

My phone buzzes with a text message. It’s Justine. “Hold on,” I say, and Graham’s face falls.

Justine’s message is simple, direct. I need to come over.

I begin typing a message back: not the best time

A few seconds pass, then Justine responds. It’s important.

Graham tugs at my collar. “Come on,” he says, hot breath at my ear. I suppose that sparing a few minutes won’t hurt. I drop my phone onto the couch and Graham leads me back toward the bedroom.

"Come on Casanova," he says, and I swear to God he tastes sweeter than anything I've ever tasted.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The day after the day that it all happened, the day that drew the thin line between the pre-guilt and the post-guilt version of me, Jamie and I drank. We drank because we believed we were tragic, and we had that floating desire for melancholia; we were convinced that our lives had suddenly become purposeless, for universally unfair reasons, or at least that’s what we needed to tell ourselves.

Jamie’s was the aftermath of a messy divorce and mine, well…you’ll find out eventually, won’t you? Sometimes I think about what I would give to have us sitting in a bar again at 9:00 a.m., far from God, absolving each other of our sins, the way that only close mates can.

“Why didn’t you tell me,” was the first thing that came out of Jamie’s mouth when he rang me up after it all had happened. The last time I’d seen him, he’d had a look of disgust and contempt on his face. He said he’d thought about it. And then he said a few more things I don’t recall. The hot ash fell from my cigarette onto my arm, and I didn’t feel it. I don’t remember much after that.

When I opened my eyes again, leaning against the wall was Jamie, smoking a cigarette and scratching his chin thoughtfully. I rolled over onto my back and stared up at the ceiling and had the feeling of a television left on late at night, all my racing thoughts, my entire life in a small space with nowhere to go and no one to watch, or care.

“I care,” Jamie had said as if he’d been answering something I’d spoken, but I didn’t remember my lips moving. He moved to sit down on the bed next to me and switching his cigarette to the other hand placed his palm over the top of mine. “Trust me, I care,” he repeated, and then he poured me a long drink.

By the end of the night, we were both sad men who’d sussed out the world, and Jamie hung over me; young and hurt and bleeding, waxing poetic, like Hemingway. All at once a man and a mess, devouring life and love and drugs all too fast to claim a certain tangibility to his grief. I couldn’t blame him, but I felt sorry for him, I did. I felt sorry for myself too.

And it was around then, with his nicotine-stained fingertips holding my hand and a sad smile on his face; during the few fleeting seconds of him leaning up against the wall and the smoke drifting up and over his face in a way that made him mysterious to me that I think I fell in love with him, for a moment.

Just like I’m falling in love right now, with this boy, this beautiful, neurotic boy kissing my lips and pulling me into the bedroom and taking off my pants and my shirt and oh—

I give a sharp intake of breath as Graham pushes me down onto my back and he hovers above me, grinning, looking mad. He has me now, and he knows it. Graham cups his palm around me, then leaning down kisses me over the top of my briefs. He’s sweet.

My eyes scan his face. “You alright?”

He swallows, then gives me a nervous look. “Yeah.”

“It’s a lot at once, isn’t it?”

Graham nods. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” I say, before sitting up and pulling him closer. I kiss him on the cheek and smile. He looks down at my chest, then up again, and after a pause one of his hands reaches up to squeeze a nipple.

I squirm. “Hey.”

He bites down on his lip. “You should—you should stand up.”

I give him a puzzled look. “Why?”

“Just do it.”

Giving Graham a quick kiss on his forehead, I move to stand up next to the bed. He follows but then lowers to his knees.

I shiver. “Oh.”

Using both hands, he pulls down the waistband of my briefs and his eyes widen as he takes all of me in for the first time.

“Gra, you don’t have to—” I say, but then warm wetness of his tongue circles around the tip of me and I bite down on my tongue. He’s doing what I taught him this morning, move by move, and it’s endearingly sweet, I think, how much he wants to impress me.

A few seconds later he wraps his lips around me for the first time, and I shiver. His hand slides up and over my belly, then down again. His other hand travels to the base of me. Opening his mouth wider, Graham takes a little more of me in, looking up at me all the while with round eyes the shapes of black moons and it takes every ounce of willpower I have not to come right there and then. He lifts his tongue while I’m inside him, going forward and back, circling, later forward, then back again as though everything’s moving in slow motion. I thread one of my hands into his hair and tug softly. He moans, deep in his throat, which causes his whole mouth to vibrate and after that, I realize that I’m starting to lose my sense of control. He pulls back, teeth barely scraping against the top of me and I wince loudly.

He looks up at me, guilty and with a face of unease. “What did I do?”

“No, it’s alright,” I say, trying to hide the pain on my face.

“No, tell me. Please. I saw that look on your face...what did I do wrong?” Graham frowns.

“It’s just a little sensitive with teeth is all…”

“Oh…” He looks down at the ground. “I thought—”

“Hey, hey, it’s alright,” I smile, pulling him forward again. “I did it my first time too.”

“Did you?”

I nod.

“What that one guy?” Graham asks, and already I can sense a pang of jealousy in his voice.

I smile. “We all start somewhere.” I pause, then lift him up by his chin. “Here, I’ll show you. Stand up.”

Graham trembles as he rises to his feet, and I admire how his stomach rises and falls in shallow waves, brown eyes gazing down at me from above.

“Just wrap your lips around your teeth. Like this,” I say, before taking Graham into my mouth. A soft moan emits from his throat. I slide forward, then back, and press my tongue up into the underside so he can feel the sensation. He has a lovely cock, I think to myself, long and lean like him. Just like the broadness of his shoulders, his strength and stature are continually surprising to me in light of his shy nature. I continue to teach by example, then pull back, and circle the tip, admiring how soon the pre-cum there reappears after I do so. Oh, to be young. I could stay here all day, easily.

“Day,” he says, and his hands slip over my shoulders, up my neck, and thread themselves into my hair. He shakes a bit. “Wait.”

I stop, then look up at him with curious eyes. He pulls me up with both hands, then draws his thumb between my lips. I gently bite down, and his gaze glazes over a bit.

I pull back and look him straight in the eyes. “What’s wrong, Gra?”

“Sorry, it’s just I’m going to...if you don’t stop…” He breathes. “And I want us to do...the other thing too.”

I smile. It’s cute, I think, how Graham’s too embarrassed even to say the word sex out loud. “I understand,” I say, rising to my feet. I lean forward and kiss him with salt and the taste of him on my lips. “But...if you’re worried now, trust me, you’re going to want me to take the edge off before we…” I press my head to his and smirk. “Because that will be much more intense.”

Graham’s breath has become shallow at this point, and I feel him squeeze my hand as I lower to my knees again. I’m not one to worship usually, but with him, it’s different. He’s beautiful, untouched, and all I want to do is make him feel everything he can for as long as possible. I make my way up the inside of his thighs, fingertips tracing along the blue veins between his legs. I pause, reaching the intersection, and I stick my tongue out, look up at him and grin.

His face flushes bright red, and he laughs, clearly nervous in his anticipation, and it’s then that a thought hits me. I rise to my feet and a look of disappointment flashes across Graham’s face.

“Why are you—” he begins, but I interrupt him.

“I think we should take a shower first,” I say, and Graham turns an even brighter shade of red.

“But I already—”

“I know you already did,” I say, tucking a piece of hair behind his ear. “But I want to show you something.”

He looks back at me, pale white.

“Trust me. You’ll like it.” I smile to his ear and grabbing him by one arm pull him toward the shower. I turn the faucet, and while I’m waiting for the water to get warm, I turn to Graham, and he smiles at me in that sweet way, biting his upper lip and looking embarrassed but happy. God, he’s beautiful, I think, and giving a devilish smirk I press him up against the wall. He moans quietly, pressing his hips forward and reaching one hand around to grab my arse and push me into him. A bolt of electricity runs down my spine at the sensation of him grinding against me, and I remind myself once again to move slow, to make this last. After all, it’s his first time.

Pulling the curtain back, I hold Graham’s hand as we both step into the steam. He grins into my ear, still blushing, and I reach for the soap and shampoo.

“What are you doing?”

“Shhh,” I say as I’m applying soap to both of us. Graham shakes his head, and taking the bottle of shampoo from me, tells me to turn around to face away from him.

“What are you do—?” I ask, but before I finish my sentence, Graham presses himself up against the back of me. He’s hard, I can tell painfully so, and all I want to do right now is bend forward and place both of my hands on the tile so that he can take control.

To my surprise, instead I feel his hands travel up, massaging shampoo into my hair, and I start laughing.

“What?” He says, sounding mock-offended.

“Nothing,” I say. Graham can’t see my expression, but I’m smiling. “You’re just...sweet.”

“What does that mean?”
I turn around to face him, and he looks at me with a huge grin. I lean forward, kiss him on the lips, and squeeze a dollop of shampoo into my hand to do the same to him. Then, taking soap into my hand, I begin to wash him.

“This isn’t weird at all,” Graham says, with evident sarcasm in his voice, and I playfully bite the lobe of his ear. My hand circles his back and I squeeze his arse tightly. He mewls into my neck. My hand travels between his cheeks, and he jumps, surprised at the sudden intrusion.

I lean back. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” he says, leaning into my shoulder. “Just wasn’t expecting that.”

“Do you want me to stop?”

Graham shakes his head. My hand moves down again, and as I kiss him, I drag a soapy hand between his legs, making sure to linger on all the sensitive erogenous zones. He shivers as I press my middle finger against the tight pink ring between his legs. Moving my hand, I apply more soap to myself, then return to where I was, fingers pressing against his pink underside.

He leans into me. “Do you like that?” I ask, and he nuzzles his head against my shoulder. He nods enthusiastically, but he’s too embarrassed to look at me. My free hand reaches up to massage the back of his neck. “Just take a deep breath. Relax. Okay?” I laugh, and he looks up at me, bright red. He nods, and I feel his muscles soften.

“Here, put your leg up, like this,” I say, and lift his left leg up onto the side edge of the shower to spread his thighs wider. I then place one of his hands on the shower wall.

"You're going to want to hold onto something," I say, and smirk when Graham gives me a confused look.

In one swift movement, I move underneath and between his legs so that I’m kneeling on the shower floor with his backside and legs spread out in front of me.

“Oh God, what are you—” Graham begins, but stops as he feels my tongue where my finger used to be. He leans forward, pressing his hand against the shower wall to gain some leverage. I pull back to admire him for a moment, then move forward again and drag my tongue long and slow over him, and he whimpers. I repeat the movement, long and slow, and with my hands on either side of his hips, pulling him apart and the tip of my tongue presses against the tight, pink, beautiful ring. He moans loudly.

After a few more seconds of ruminating there with my lips and tongue, I bring my finger back up to where my mouth was and tell him to relax his legs. My fingers are prepped enough from the soap that it only takes a few more seconds of massaging before he opens up to me, and as soon as the tip of my finger disappears inside him, he moans loudly. Fuck, he’s tight.

My mouth moves between his legs again and using both my tongue and finger I open him up slowly, the tight pink ring giving me more and more leeway. He’s nowhere near where he needs to be ready. Obviously, that will take time. Time and perhaps some toys.

My tongue slips inside him for the first time, and he whimpers, tiny gasps of air emitting from his throat. I’m worshipping him. Everything to him is new, and I want him to feel amazing. Rising to my feet, I replace my mouth with my finger, but this time push all of myself in, to the knuckle. He cries out, in pain or pleasure I’m not sure, and so I lean into his shoulder, whispering into his ear.

“Are you alright?”

He gives a slow nod, face redder than ever, and I feel his anal muscles tighten around me. I pull my finger back, moving in and out slowly, and each time he feels less and less tense. I slip a second finger in, but he tenses up again, so I pull back. I smile to his ear.

“Don’t fret,” I say, kissing the back of his neck.”It’s going to take some time before you’re ready. It’s alright.”

“H-how many—”

“One.”

“No, I know, I mean how fingers would you, uh, be—”

“Three.”

Graham’s voice cracks. “Three?”

I pause. “Three and some change maybe.”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Graham gulps, and I laugh.

“That’s why I said we should take our time. Enjoy it.” I kiss the side of his neck, pulling him in close to me so he can feel me between his legs. He moans softly into my ear.

Suddenly the doorbell rings, and both of us jump.

“Who the fuck is that?” Graham says, exasperated, and I can’t blame him. I’ve been winding him up so much for the past few minutes that both of us had forgotten about time passing.

“I don’t know,” I say, kissing him on the forehead and trying to hide my annoyance. I step out of the shower and wrap a towel around my waist. “Probably no one. Don’t worry,” I smile, but secretly I’m worries. “I’ll be right back.”

Fussing with my wet hair, I make a beeline for the front door and open it.

“Oh,” Justine exclaims, giving my half-naked body a quick once-over. “I didn’t know. Sorry.”

“Um, well I said that wasn't a good time...”

“Why, is your mother here?” Justine jokes before giving me a dubious look.

I pause, realizing then that Justine’s resolve is stronger than I thought it would be, which is causing for an uncomfortable and awkward silence as we stare at each other in the doorway. Finally, I cave. “Come on in then,” I say.

“This won’t take very long, I promise. It’s important.” She says, making a line toward the living room. She lays her jacket down, and it’s then I notice she has a packet in her hands. She opens her mouth to speak, and then stops. Her ear turns toward the direction of the shower.

“Is someone here with you?”

I bit down on my upper lip. “Well…”

“Oh shit.”

“Well, I mean, I did say it was a bad time,” I joke, but underneath the surface I’m quaking at the thought of Graham opening the door any second now and striding down the hall half-naked, looking for where I’ve gone.

“Fuck,” she says, and her shoulders sink. Her features soften, and for a split second, I almost think she’s going to laugh. But instead, I notice what appears to be mild jealousy mixed with grinning embarrassment flash across her face. It’s the sort of expression I’ve not seen from her in a long time. A low bass note thrums in my stomach, and it becomes achingly apparent to me right then how much I’ve missed seeing her smile.

“Sorry,” She laughs and shakes her head. “I just assumed you’d said that it was a bad time because you are a difficult bastard.”

I laugh. “That’s a fair assumption to make,” I say, and Justine relaxes a little bit more.

“To be honest though, it's not all that surprising. I thought you looked a bit...different,” Justine says, and I arch an eyebrow.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean you just look...happier.”

“Do I?”

“Yeah.” Justine swallows and looks away, then after chewing on her words looks back at me. “You’ve got that look on your face, the look you get when…”

“When I what?”

“That stupid look you get when you’re head over heels for someone. Like a grinning idiot,” she taunts, but her tone is more playful than accusing.

“Oh,” I say, and look down at my feet.

“You don't deny it then?”

“You seem mighty curious,” I tease, and Justine rolls her eyes.

“Don’t be a wanker.” She pauses, as though chewing over her next few words carefully. “No. It makes me happy. I mean that. Honestly.”

“What does?”

“To see you finally be happy again.”

I take a long breath. I’m at a loss for words. I shoot Justine a weak smile. She smiles back, and there’s that warm, bubbly feeling again. I’m not convinced you ever fall out of love with someone completely.

She looks down at the packet in her hands, then after some hesitancy reaches for her jacket again. “You know what, I’ll come back another time. I don’t want to interrupt whatever—” She motions abstractly toward the bathroom.

“It’s alright,” I say, and I resist the urge to touch her shoulder. I motion to the packet in her hands. “What did you want to talk about?”

Justine stares at me for a moment, then clears her throat. She gives an awkward laugh, then reaches forward and places her hand on my cheek. “I mean it,” she says.

“Mean what?”

“That I’m happy for you.” She pauses, holding eye contact with me. “I know you don’t believe it, but I am.”

I blink, lick my lips, then stare down at the ground. “Hah,” I start, but then Justine interrupts me.

“It’s serious, I hope?”

I look away, then back again. I nod, and my eyes burn a bit.

“Is she someone I know, or...?”

"Her?" I shift uncomfortably on my feet. “It’s—”

“Damon, where’d you go?” I hear Graham yell from the bathroom, and my blood turns to ice.

“Oh god,” Justine says much too loudly, and now I’m terrified that Graham is going to come out at any moment and my life is going to flash by before me.

Justine laughs, and to my surprise, lunges forward and hugs me tightly with both arms. It was not the reaction I was expecting. She’s warm and beautiful against my chest, and I realize now that I’d almost forgotten her smell.

“You deserve this,” she smiles, and I tell from the look on her face that she means it genuinely. “And I hope whoever he is, that he makes you happy, I do. I know you needed that for so long, but you felt like...” She trails off, and both of seem aware of the palpable discomfort the conversation has turned to awkward territory again. “I know it’s complicated.”

“Yeah, I uh—”

“Anyway.” She smiles. “I’ll leave you be.” She squeezes my shoulder. “I can’t tell you how it is nice to see you happy again… especially after the other night.”

A flicker of pain crosses my face, and to my dismay, Justine notices.

“I’m sorry,” she apologizes. “I should have found you after all that happened to make sure you were okay, and I didn’t.”

“It’s alright.”

“No, it was awful of me, you probably needed a friend, and I wasn't—”

“It’s alright. Really,” I say, and I hold myself back from touching Justine again. I want to so badly. “It’s not your responsibility to be my friend anymore, remember?”

It’s then that I realize I must have said the worst possible thing because a conflicted and melancholic look passes over Justine’s face. She clears her throat. “Well, I should probably go.”

“Right.”

“I’ll come back...tomorrow?”

“Sure.” I shoot her a smile, but I know she can see right through me.

“Right. I’ll see you tomorrow then,” Justine says, before hugging me. It’s the most physical contact we’ve had in a year, and where her hands touch me, I feel fire on my skin. She squeezes my shoulder, and for a second I think she’s going to say something else, but she doesn’t. The door shuts behind her, and I feel my heart drop to my knees. Melancholia would be the right word for it, I suppose.

There’s something there, still. Something that always hurts, but I don’t want to think about it. Don’t want to touch it. Graham shouts at me again from the other side of the apartment, and I hear the shower being turned off. A few seconds later he walks out of the bathroom, towel tied around his waist and a big grin on his face. Now I know the look that Justine was seeing on me.

“What’s wrong?” Graham says, before circling his arms around my waist. “You look sad.”

“Nothing,” I say, wrapping my arms around the small of his back and pulling him closer.

“Who was that?”

“Nobody,” I say, and nuzzling into his shoulder, I tickle his ear. “Come on. Let's get back to where we were.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

**
To be continued.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jamie tastes like cherries and whiskey. All of him does, actually, and that's the funny thing because I never expected that. Then again I didn't expect him to kiss me either, but sometimes these things happen.

In the men's loo. After a few drinks. My memory of it is fuzzy, at best. But I remember thinking that, distinctly, how lovely he tasted, even when he came because I wasn't expecting any of that to happen either. Neither of us was.

Jamie doesn't remember the actual events, or if he does, he denies it to this day. Our memories of it were tenuous, at best. The impetus for us to kiss one another happened after the seventh or eighth drink, well into the boozy camaraderie of a drunken night. It could have been anyone, I guess. At least that's what I tell myself.

Mm. Whiskey and cherries. I remember the way Jamie's hands tugged at my hair. My lips, he'd said. It was my fucking lips.

I ran my tongue over the front of my teeth and grinned. Jamie pulled my head forward so that he was at the back of my throat and pulsing, came into my mouth hard and sweet and shaking and I'll never forget that sound he made.

Back then, I convinced myself that he loved me as much as I loved him. Funny how much difference a little alcohol can make.

Forty-two years of life on this planet and you think I would have it down now. I don’t. The older I get, the more confusing it is. The older I get, the more my dreams and reality part ways and leave long and lonely valleys in between them.

Maybe I’m doomed to keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

“I’m sorry,” I had said the next morning, for what had to have been the fifth or sixth time. But Jamie, I remember he just looked at me. He just looked at me and stared.

In my peripheral, I watched Jamie reach into his back pocket and pull out a cigarette with a long sigh.

“S’alright,” he replied.

No, it wasn’t alright. It wasn’t okay at all.

“I was drunk,” I said, as though it’ll make a difference.

“Yes, you were,” Jamie replied before he turned to face me. “As was I.”

“I’m an awful person—”

“Des—”

“—and you should just leave now because I’ve fucked this up too.”

“No, you haven’t.”

“Yes, I have.” I shook my head. “I was doing so well, and everything was fine, and then I had to go and…” I paused. “I had to go and fuck it up all over again.”

“Damon, listen—”

“You should just leave. Or I should leave. Yeah, I’ll just leave,” I rambled, pushing myself up to stand, but not before Jamie pulled me back down by the ankle.

“Shut up,” Jamie said, with a cigarette sticking out of the corner of his mouth. “And sit down. Jesus. You’re such a drama queen sometimes.”

I pressed my back up against the wall. “This is why I shouldn’t drink. Because I do things like this.”

“Yeah, you’re right, mate. There are lots of reasons you shouldn’t drink,” Jamie says very matter-of-factly, and my heart sinks to the bottom of my stomach. “But this fucking isn’t one of them.”

I straightened my shoulders. “What does that mean?”

Jamie looked away, taking a long drag off his cigarette. He laughed underneath his breath. “All I’m saying is—getting drunk and fooling around with me should be the least of your worries right now.” He turns to look at me. “At least it should be.”

“Well, that makes me feel loads better.”

“It should,” Jamie said pointedly, before shaking his head and staring off into the distance. The orange street lamp outside my bedroom window cast long shadows across his face.

After a long pause, Jamie cleared his throat. “By the way, I believe you," he says, and then clarifying, adds, "I believe you that you didn’t know.”

My mouth forms a thin line, and I say nothing.

“Not that I…” Jamie stopped, as though trying to think of the right words to say. “I mean, I’m not saying that I approve of what you did, but, you know.”

“Yeah, I get it.”

“I know you’re not the type of person to—at least you don’t seem like the type of person who would…”

Even Jamie was struggling with saying the word now.

“What I’m trying to say is that obviously, it meant more to you than just a—”

“Jamie—”

“What?”

“I get it. You’re making this more uncomfortable than it already is, alright?” I paused, then cleared my throat. “Look, I realize that I fucked up.”

Jamie licked his lips and took a deep breath. “What did Justine say about it?”

“Nothing.” I shook my head. “She won’t talk to me. She won’t see me. The press is outside her door every bloody second of the day. I don’t think she’d contact me even if she wanted to.”

“And what about…?” Jamie trailed off again. The hesitance in his voice, the whole walking-on-eggshells around the subject thing, it still stings.

“My lawyer’s taking care of it. Trying to come up with a solution.”

“A solution?”

“A money thing.”

“You mean a bribe.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Jamie, what am I supposed to do?”

“Nothing,” Jamie replied. “I guess I just thought that maybe you’d use this as an opportunity to, you know, publically announce...”

“Publicly announce what?”

“Never mind.”

I furrow my brow. “No, Jamie, look at me. What exactly are you getting at?”

“Don’t worry about it.”

I pinch the bridge of my nose between my thumb and forefinger.

“It’s not alright, what you did,” Jamie says quietly.

“Jesus Christ, Jamie. I’m aware of that—”

“Hang on, lemme finish—” Jamie said, raising his voice. “But you’ve got to stop leading this double life, mate. It’s mental.” He chewed on his bottom lip.

I narrowed my eyes at him.

Jamie sighed. “I mean, maybe you should consider that...I dunno, maybe you should just be honest with yourself.”

“Be honest with myself?” I repeated, and Jamie nodded his head slowly.

“I'm a monster, Jamie,” I said, and Jamie, shoulders sagging, just gave me the same conflicted look he had a few minutes before. "How's that for honesty?"

“Well,” Jamie said, extinguishing his cigarette into the ashtray next to him. “I suppose the jury’s still out on that one.”

My stomach turned at Jamie’s words. But he must have noticed the despair on my face because a few seconds later he patted my thigh.

“I think you’re alright though,” he assured, then turning to take one last drag on his cigarette, grinned. “And you’re not a terrible snog either I suppose.”

 

 

**

 

 

I love to see him happy. I love to see that passing grin, the one he tries to cover. That’s all I want.

Fuck. I’m not sober.

I’ve lost it, I’ve lost it. Admittedly I’ve missed the plot. Maybe I’m cursed to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over and over. Maybe that’s the meaning in this. Maybe there’s no meaning.

But hey, I’m not dead. I’m not a shade passing. I’m flesh and blood here. My nerve-endings on fire. My chapped lips press against Graham's, capturing murmurs, words linger then fade away. I contemplate that small space between our mouths, the O that I draw my finger around. I rise, stagger into the bathroom and splash cold water on my face in one swift motion.

And losing it, losing it is wonderful. Losing it is great.

“I started a band,” is what Graham says to me in the doorway of my bedroom, and his face looks like VHS tape on fast forward. I’m watching his lips move, but not hearing him speak. There’s a ringing in my ears. What Graham doesn’t know is that I’ve swallowed two mouthfuls of mouthwash to hide the smell of alcohol on my breath.

“I started a band, and Alex wants to have practice tonight,” is what Graham says, and grins, with the same tender pink lips I’ve been worshipping and his hand squeezing mine. I told you, I just want to make him happy. That’s all I want.

“Is that alright?”

My words stick to my tongue, and only air comes out. Sometimes I forget to breathe.

Why wouldn’t it be okay? I think to myself. Graham’s already acting as though I’m some parent figure. Some adult. Another reason to feel awful, admittedly, because I don’t want to accept how problematic all of this is. He’s a child. I am an adult. Or maybe I am a child hiding in the body of an adult. I’m not sure anymore.

“Alex doesn’t understand why I like you so much,” Graham says, and it’s the exact thing I don’t want to hear. “He doesn’t understand why you’re so amazing.”

“I’m not amazing,” I say, splashing more cold water over my face. “Far from it.”

Love is love is love. The phrase repeats in my head. Love is love is love except for old men dating young children. That is not apart of the deal. My conscious is a fucking asshole.

“I gave someone your CD,” Graham says, and the inelegant way the words slip out of his mouth gives me the reason to believe that he didn’t mean to tell me.

“Excuse me...what exactly did you do?”

“Your project...with Jamie,” Graham stutters, then pausing, recomposes himself. “I had some people at The Beat Factory listen to it. And you know what? They liked it! They liked it a lot.”

“Gra that was private—”

“They want to try and get you on a label again,” Graham says, and his voice is going a million miles an hour now.

I press my fingers to both of my temples. “I don’t want to be on a—”

“Yes you do,” Graham interrupts. He grabs me by the arm. “You deserve it. You are so talented.”

“Graham.”

“It’s true. You’re so much better than just being a teacher—”

“Graham.”

Graham swallows, then stares at me. “I’m going to go.” He pauses, then licking his lips says, “I love you.”

I purse my lips, look down at the ground, then up again. The alcohol’s wearing off. I need another drink. Liquid stamina.

“I know,” I say, and it’s not the right answer. Of course, it isn’t. Graham gives me a pained look. We haven’t gone all the way yet. There’s still time to turn back before the point of no return. There’s still time to repent for my sins.

“Alex says that I should stay away from you,” Graham mumbles. “He says that you’re not good for me. But I keep telling him I see how loving you are,” Graham says quietly. “I just tell him that you’re a sad person and that’s why you act the way you do.”

“Graham—”

“I read about you,” Graham deflects, looking me straight in the eye. “I read everything about you and Justine.”

I swallow, and my tongue tastes bitter. “What did you read—”

“I know you’re a good person, Dames,” Graham says, with a big grin on his face. “I know that you’re capable of it. You’re just scared. You’re just scared to say it.”

There’s a long pause, and then I feel Graham’s eyes on my forehead. “Was that Justine at the door yesterday?” He cracks a small smile.

Graham places his hand on my forearm. “It’s alright. You can tell me. I won’t get mad,” he says, and I feel my spirit leaving my body.

“Are you still in love with her? Is that why you won’t say it back to me?”

Yes.

“No,” I say. “Gra, listen…” I take a deep breath and lift my hand up to touch his cheek. I smile. His eyes are full of hope, and it breaks me, it does.

I lean forward, kiss him on the lips and lean back to admire the colors of amber dancing in his eyes. I squeeze both of his wrists. “I love you,” I finally say, and he grins.

It’s not a lie.

It’s just...complicated.
All of this is complicated.

An hour passes by after Graham leaves for practice and I feel like I’m crawling out of my skin. Selfishly, I wish he were here, but I push the thought from my mind.

My hands fumble over papers on my desk, and I press my index finger to one temple. I haven’t been able to focus on anything lately. Not a damn thing.

My phone vibrates, jerking me back to reality. It’s Jamie.

How are things?

Good, I reply.

How’s Graham?

I freeze, wondering if he knows. If maybe Jamie’s caught onto all of this and I’m just terrible at hiding it.

He’s at practice. I type back.

Practice with you?

No, band practice.

Oh. Jealous? Jamie texts and I can see the smirk on his face.

What are you playing at?

Why so defensive? :)

Sorry.

Drinks later?

I frown down at my phone screen. Maybe, I type.

Alright, humbug. Let me know. :)

My phone vibrates again. This time it’s Justine. Now a good time?

I sigh. My fingers hover over the keyboard. Sure.

Justine arrives within the hour, and as I open the door, the same packet that was in her arms yesterday is still there, and a sudden chill runs down my spine.

“Hey,” she says, as I open the door.

“Hey.”

Her eyes flick upward to meet mine, glassy. “How are you?”

My arm slides up against the door. “I’m alright,” I say.

“Can I come in?”

I nod, stepping aside to allow her entry. Justine walks four or five paces into the room before stopping with her back turned toward me.

“Um, I don’t really know how to do this in any way that…” Justine trails off.

“What way?” Damon asked, furrowing his brow.

“Look, there isn’t any...easy way for me to go about this,” Justine says, swallowing slowly. She nods toward the kitchen bar. “Um, can we sit down?”

I nod, and both of us take a chair. I lower my chin and attempt to make eye contact with her, but she won’t let me. Justine slides the packet across the table and takes a slow, deep breath. My stomach twists into an anxious knot.

“I need you to sign these papers,” she says, in a voice so small I can barely hear her.

I shake my head. My ears are really ringing now. White noise. “I’m sorry, what?”

Justine clears her throat and straightens her shoulders. She looks at me with glassy eyes. “...Divorce papers.”

My stomach twists and I feel nauseous. Every muscle in my body tightens up. I knew it had to happen eventually, but I still wasn’t ready for it.

“Justine—”

“I’m sorry, Damon,” she says in a low voice. “This isn’t easy for me either—”

“No,” I say, shaking my head.

“Please don’t be difficult,” she says, breaking eye contact again. “You knew this was going to happen, Damon. Don’t make me be the arsehole here, alright?”

“You’re not,” I stammer. “But Justine, look at me,” Damon said, bowing his head to meet her gaze.

“I still love you.”

“Damon—”

“Don’t you understand that?”

“Des, please,” Justine says. Tears are running run down her face in streaks.

“Please, what?”

“Please don’t make this more difficult than it has to be.”

I frown. “Are you marrying him? Is that why you want me to sign these?”

“Damon—”

“Tell me the truth, is that why?” I repeat, and my voice cracks.

Justine’s face flattens into a straight line. She can’t even look at me.

It feels as though all of my inside parts have come unglued. I open my mouth to speak, but my voice comes out as barely more than a whisper. “I would give you more than him, and you know that.”

“Damon—” Justine starts, pressing a finger to one temple. “Would you just sign the papers? Please,” she begs, with her eyes welling over, and now I feel like an arsehole because I am. I am a complete arsehole.

Air passes between my lips, but again, nothing comes out. “I can’t.”

“Alright,” Justine says, lifting herself up off the chair. She wipes her face with one hand, eyes rimmed red, and pushes the packet of papers toward me. “I’ll let you sleep on it then, how’s that?” She looks at me; finally, tears welling over, trying to hold back. I’ve not made this easy for her. If anything, now I’ve just made things worse.

“Justine,” I say, reaching out to grab ahold of her hand. She immediately tenses up.

“Justine, this isn’t over. I know it isn’t. Please,” I beg. My own eyes are burning now. I don’t care about my dignity. I’ll bleed on the floor if I have to, to make her understand. “I’m different now. Things are different. I’m better than I was. Please.”

Tears well up and fall down my cheeks in hot streaks. “Please. Take me back.”

“And what about him?” Justine says, with pain in her voice.

“Him?”

“Have you already forgotten about him?”

“Who?”

“Jesus. Just listen to yourself, Damon. If you’re not doing it to me, you’re doing it to someone else.”

“Doing what?”

Justine lets go of my hand, allowing her arm drop limply to her side. “You really don’t see all the pain you cause other people, do you?” She smoothes a hand over her forehead, picks up her purse takes a deep breath. “Look, I have to go. I’m sorry.”

My shoulders hang limp as I watch her exit. The word “please” lingers on my tongue well after she’s left, and after a while, I lay down and say it to no one.

 

 

 

 

**

 

 

 

When I wake up again, I wake up to the feeling of someone shaking me and shouting my name. My eyes split open and along with them a pounding headache.

“Damon!”

I groan.

“Damon!”

“What?” I reply, grimacing, and finally, my eyes match the face to the voice.

“Are you alright?” Graham asks me with his eyes wide. “I thought you were dead!”

I groan again, louder this time. “Why on Earth would you think that I was dead?”

Graham picks up a vodka bottle from the bedside table and holds it in front of my face. It’s half-empty. He turns it over to illustrate this and I groan again.

Graham's eyebrows knit together in concern. He seems more scared than angry if anything. “What happened?” He grills me, placing a hand on my shoulder.

I press my thumb and forefinger to both temples and squeeze my eyes shut. Oh, right. Justine. Here comes the pain again.

“Nothing,” I lie.

Graham’s mouth twists into a scowl. “This isn’t nothing,” he says, holding up the bottle. “For fuck’s sake.”

“Graham, just leave it, please—”

“Is it the papers on the table?”

“Graham.”

“Did Justine come over again?”

“GRAHAM.”

“What?”

“Why are you going through my things?”

Graham frowns, indignant. “Because I’m worried about you. I came home from practice, all excited to see you finally. I couldn’t wait, in fact, and then I find you here in the bed and—”

I put up a stop-hand. “I get it,” I say, sighing. “I’m sorry.”

My head’s pounding now. It’s the only thing keeping me from processing reality.

Graham fists a bunch of my t-shirt and lowers his voice an octave. “Hey.”

“What?”

“I don’t want you to be sad like this.”

“Don’t worry about me, Gra.”

Graham shakes his head. “No,” he says, pulling me into a hug. “Let’s go somewhere. Let’s get dinner. Let’s do something fun. It’ll be like a date. I’ll pay.”

“A date?” I laugh, admittedly, unintentionally. “Graham, you don’t have any money. It’s alright.”

“Yeah, I do,” Graham counters, puffing up his chest. “I have money.”

I take a deep breath and turning give him a slight smile. “Alright.”


**

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

My ears were ringing again. White noise. Graham was just a shape in front of me, frowning, picking me up with both arms and dragging me toward the bed.

“Hey,” he said, slapping his hand against my cheek. “Come on. Get your clothes on.”

I blinked a few times. My eyes were throbbing; my head was pounding. “Where are we going?”

“It’s a secret,” Graham said, with a sly smile on his face. He threw a shirt at my chest, and it landed in my lap. “Now come on already.”

“I don’t want to go out, Gra.”

“Yes, you do.”

“No,” I laughed underneath my breath. My face fell into my hands. “I’m hungover.”

Graham disappeared then reappeared a few moments later, holding a hot mug with both hands. “Yeah, I know. That’s why I made you coffee. Now come on.”

My heart dropped into the pit of my stomach. Graham was so lovely to me. I didn’t deserve it. Justine was right. All I do is hurt everyone I love.

“Graham, I...” Words stuck to my tongue. I couldn’t say it.

“What’s wrong?”

I swallow thickly. “Nevermind,” I say, shaking my head.

Graham paused. He ran his hand over the back of mine, squeezing it and then lacing our fingers together. Electricity shot down my spine, and I shivered. I stared at Graham’s hand for a long moment before bringing his knuckles up to my lips. Graham leaned forward, wrapped his long fingers around the back of my neck and gave me a sweet kiss. He smiled, and my stomach turned over again. I felt like puking.

“Graham, there’s something I need to tell you—”

“You can tell me later,” Graham interrupted, covering my mouth with his hand. “After dinner.” Graham’s face lit up. “Ohh, what if we did dinner and a movie? That would be fun.” He reached down to grab me by the hand again and squeezed tightly.

“Now that we’re official, I want everyone to see you.” Graham grinned, looking more innocent than ever, and my stomach turned over again.

I bite my tongue to keep from laughing. “Official?”

“I can’t believe I’m dating a pop star.”

I laugh. “A pop star? Gra—” I stop, seeing the look on Graham’s face. I know I should let the poor boy be happy. “Alright,” I concede, pressing his hand to my cheek. “Let’s go out.”

 

 

**

 

 

I can tell by the flustered look on Graham’s face that the restaurant we end up going to is fancier than he expected.

“I feel underdressed,” he hisses into my ear, and I smirk.

“Don’t worry, you look beautiful,” I say, squeezing his hand in mine as we make our way to the table.

I order a bottle of wine, and Graham’s eyes widen as the waiter sets it on the table. It’s just occurred to me that all of this must be new to him.

“Isn’t this place expensive?” He whispers across the table, and I laugh.

“It’s alright. Get whatever you want,” I say. “It’s on me.”

“But I was supposed to take you out,” Graham replies, sounding guilty.

“You are.” I smile as I pour both of us a glass of red wine.

Graham takes one sip and wrinkles up his nose. “This tastes funny.”

“Haven’t you had wine before?”

“No, I guess not.” Graham lowers his gaze and begins gnawing on his nails. “Is that bad?”

I can’t help but notice that I’m unconsciously grinning now. “No. It’s not bad.”

Graham brings his hand up to chew at his nails nervously, but as soon as he sees me staring him drops it to his lap.

“So, those papers on the kitchen counter…”

I let out a long sigh and force a weak smile.

“What were they?”

“Graham,” I say, hoping my intonation will get the point across. “I don’t think this is the time or place—”

“Justine wants a divorce,” Graham answers bluntly, and all the blood drains from my face.

I break eye contact and stare down at my fork. My hands busy themselves with the napkin, folding and unfolding, then folding again.

“Right,” I say, without looking at him.

Graham looks back at me with wide-open eyes. “And?”

“And that’s it.” I take a long sip of wine and place the glass on the table with a firm grip. I smile with thin lips. “That’s all she wrote.”

“Well, I mean, isn’t that a good thing, sort of…I mean…” Graham stumbles, muttering half of his words and staring down at the table. His voice becomes even tinier. “For us, you know…”

“Graham,” I say, giving him yet another please-let’s-not-talk-about-this smile, but my voice cracks.

Graham frowns. There’s a wounded look on his face. “You still love her, don’t you?”

“I love lots of people, Gra,” I reply, and lifting my glass up, take another drink to hide my expression. “That doesn’t mean I need to be with all of them.”

“But you were married for a long time, weren’t you?”

“Eighteen years.”

“Wow. Eighteen years. That’s as old as me.”

Jesus fucking Christ.

“Look, I don’t want to talk about it, Gra,” I say softly, and Graham seems to take the cue. I clear my throat. “She’s getting married.”

“Oh,” Graham replies, picking at his fingers.

“Graham?”

“What?”

“There's something I need to tell you,” I say, and Graham turns the color of the white wall behind him. I furrow my brow. “What’s wrong? You look sick?”

“Are you breaking up with me?” Graham asks in a tiny voice, and my heart breaks a little just to hear the words come out of his mouth.

“What? No.” I laugh and shake my head. I reach out and place my hand on top of his. “No, no, not at all. I’m not breaking up with you.”

“So what is it then?”

I lean my head to one side and sigh. “Well, it’s...complicated.”

I look up, and Graham is staring back at me blankly. "I don't understand," he says.

“It's something bad that I did a long time ago.” I pause, running my hand over the top of his. “And I’m worried that you’ll look at me differently once I tell you.”

Graham looks at me quizzically. “I don’t think there’s anything you could do that would make me hate you.” He leans forward, squeezing my hand tightly.

I close my eyes and take a deep breath. When I open them again, Graham has leveled his chin with mine and is looking me straight in the eye. “Alright,” he says timidly. “Tell me then.”

“Alright. A long time ago, I—”

“Oy, I didn’t expect to see you two here,” a familiar voice says from behind me, and I nearly jump out of my chair. I look up to see Jamie looking smugly back at me. Usually, he grins with all his teeth when he sees me, but not now. Every muscle in my body tightens up.

“Hi, Jamie!” Graham says, nearly leaping from his chair—the sight of which would make me laugh if I wasn’t busy being terrified.

“Hi Graham,” Jamie replies, ruffling the hair on Graham’s head. He gives me a penetrating look. “I didn’t expect to see the both of you here.”

“Oh yeah, we just decided to get some dinner, you know.” I try to shrug, but my body doesn’t seem to want to move anymore.

Jamie lifts an eyebrow. “Special occasion?”

I smile at Jamie with tight lips. “Yeah. Sort of. You could say that.”

“Damon’s getting a divorce,” Graham blurts out, and I immediately feel the heat in my cheeks. My mouth flattens into a straight line.

Graham, seeing my response, folds into his chair, shoulders sinking. “Shit. I probably shouldn’t have said that.” He gives me an apologetic look. “Sorry...”

“It’s alright,” I say, biting down on my tongue and when I look back at Jamie he looks horrified.

“Jesus,” Jamie says, before placing a hand on my shoulder. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because it just happened.” I bit down hard on my tongue. “Look, Jamie, I appreciate it, but this isn’t the time—”

“Hey, I understand,” Jamie says, before giving me a hearty pat on the back. He lifts his chin, glances at Graham, then back at me. “So I take it Graham’s keeping you company then?”

I run a hand over my scalp, immediately relieved to have an alibi. Jamie’s going to find out sooner than later, I know that, but I’d rather prolong it for as long as possible. “Right.” I force a plastic smile.

“Don’t worry, I’m taking care of him,” Graham says, then reaches out to grab me by the hand and laces our fingers together. All the blood drains from my face. No. Don’t. Please. Not now. I wrench my head back, but it’s not quick enough, and when I glance back at Graham to gauge his reaction there’s an apparent woundedness on his face as if I’ve just run over his puppy.

I squeeze my eyes shut, hoping Jamie didn’t notice the gesture, but when I open them again, I know he must have because the look on his face is less than friendly.

“Looks like you both have gotten quite close in the last month, haven’t you?” Jamie says, and his lips have formed a flat line. “How your practice going, Graham?”

“Uh,” Graham blushes, then laughs. “Well, we haven’t practiced in a couple of weeks.”

“Is that so?” Jamie says, turning to me, and it feels as though his eyes are burning holes in my skin. “What have you two been doing the last two weeks then?”

Graham opens his mouth to speak, but I interrupt him. “Graham’s been practicing with his band,” I say firmly, locking eyes with Jamie. He knows. I can’t even pretend in front of him anymore. Jamie can see right through me. “That’s all.”

“That’s all?” Jamie lifts an eyebrow.

“That’s all,” I repeat, firmly enough so that Jamie will know the conversation is over.

“Good,” Jamie replies, giving both of us a tight smile. “Well, I'm glad you've got Graham to watch over you. You shouldn't be alone. Give me a call when you're home, yeah?” He nods his head at me. “We’ll talk.”

I take a long sip of wine. “Cheers, Jamie.”

“Cheers,” Jamie returns, then turns to look at Graham. “Be careful around this old bugger. He’s got some bad habits you shouldn’t pick up from him.”

Graham laughs nervously. “Alright.”

“No. I mean it,” Jamie smirks, but his tone is more serious than funny. “Have a good night you two.”

I lift my glass to Jamie, lips tight, every muscle and bone in my body frigid from both fear and anger. Right now, at this very moment, I want nothing more than to run away; run as far and fast as my legs will take me.

 

 


**

 

 

The rest of the dinner goes as expected, and after Jamie leaves, it takes little time for my anxiety to melt away in Graham’s presence. In fact, it’s not until we’re halfway through the movie in the dark theatre—thankfully absent of people—that Graham’s hand clamps onto my wrist, and he hisses into my ear that I remember his age.

“You didn’t tell me this was a scary movie.”

“Graham, the movie is called Evil Dead, what were you expecting?” I press my lips to his ear, tickling him with my lips.

“Yeah, but this is scary.”

“Haven’t you seen the original?”

“No. What’s the original?”

I roll my eyes and lean back into my chair. I laugh underneath my breath. “Graham…”

He stares back at me innocently, clearly annoyed. “What?”

Suddenly the screen flashes and the previous silence is replaced by screams as the monster enters the scene. Graham jumps up from his chair and squeezes my wrist so tightly I’m afraid he’ll break it.

“Jesus!”

I laugh as quietly as I can, tears in my eyes, and put my arm around Graham's shoulders. I pull his head toward my chest, and he clings to me tightly in response. “Don’t worry. I’ll protect you from the scary monsters.”

Graham immediately pushes himself off, mock contempt on his face, and punches me hard in the chest. “Shut up. Don’t be an arse,” he hisses, and I'm grinning from ear to ear.

Minutes later he’s clinging to me again, warm head pressed into my shoulder, messy brown hair tickling soft against my cheek, and I couldn’t be any happier if I tried.

 

 

 

 

 

**

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Graham holds my hand in the back of the taxi again. He’s quiet, and there’s bemusement on his lips as though he’s aware of something I am not. He leans against the window and the street lights pass over his face in orange waves. On reflection, this has been one of my better nights. And no, this time I’m not drunk with my usual cocktail of chemical happiness. No, this time I have him, and there’s little left in life that makes me as happy as he does. I fall sideways into Graham’s shoulder, and he turns to me, concerned.

“You alright?”

I stare at him a long moment, a sad smile hanging from the corners of my lips. Graham’s eyes are dark, infinite. I can see my ghosts in them. I cup his head with both hands, and kiss him deeply— a substantial passionate kiss that draws a small mewl from him—and then I lay my head in his lap.

“Dames!” He hisses. “The driver’s going to see.”

“I don’t care.”

“Are you drunk?”

“No.” I shake my head. Graham’s lap is warm, comforting, and he’s brushing his fingers through my hair carefully, lovingly. I’m sober as a stone.

“Come ‘ere,” I say, and pulling his head down to meet mine, we kiss the rest of the way home.


**

Tonight is not how I imagined it would be. I suppose I believed it would be different; perhaps chaotic, hurried due to the impatience that had come from waiting for so long—but no. It was sweet. Just like Graham. And I wasn’t prepared for that.

He does love me, I can see it in his eyes. At least in the sense of the word that he understands. And it’s that sort of untainted, naive desire—the best kind of love, you know? I’d forgotten that existed. And it looks beautiful on him, that sort of love.

As soon as the door clicks behind us, my arms wrap around his waist.

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For getting me out of here. And my head.” My hand brushes the side of his cheek, and Graham looks at me squarely in the eyes.

“You alright?”

I force a smile. I didn’t think I was that obvious. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Don’t lie. You’ve looked sad ever since we left the theater.” Graham grabs me by the chin. “Hey. Look at me.”

“I’m looking.”

Graham’s face falls immediately, and now I know that I’ve done something wrong. “I know I can’t replace her—”

“Graham—”

“No, just listen for one second.” Graham points his chin at the ground and sighs. “I know I’m never going to be enough for you, but I want to be.”

“Hold on—”

“I know you think I’m too young and immature, but I’m not—”

I place my hand over his mouth. “Graham. Stop. Please.”

“Stop putting yourself down, alright?”

I remove my hand and Graham looks back at me with glassy eyes.

“You are enough.”

A tear runs down Graham’s cheek, and now I feel bad. Now I feel like an arsehole. “Hey,” I whisper, pulling him into my arms. He feels small underneath my hands, distant. My ghosts are in his eyes. I can see them there now, more than ever, staring back at me. And that scares me more than anything else.

I press my lips to his neck, tasting salt, and try to collect my thoughts.

A familiar voice echoes in my mind. You’re here, but you’re a million miles away.

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry about what?”

Shit. I’m saying my thoughts out loud again.

“It’s nothing.”

I feel Graham’s eyes on the back of my head. “What are you thinking about right now?”

“Right now? At this very moment?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m thinking about how glad I am that I gave you a C.”

Graham’s face breaks into a huge grin, and he punches me in the arm.

“What?”

“Wanker,” Graham taunts, but he’s smiling still. His long fingers move to the buttons of my shirt. He peels both sleeves off my arms and tosses my shirt to the floor. I prop myself up on both elbows and tilt my head to the side, admiring my higher vantage point. Graham’s jeans are clinging to his hips, and his t-shirt has risen just enough to reveal a patch of his pale stomach. There follows a prolonged spell of Graham’s eyes trailing up and down my body, pink lips slightly parted, pupils dilated. He’s nervous—that much is obvious—but nervous like a cat set in a strange and unfamiliar room. His hands automatically fall to his trousers, and the sound of buttons unclasping and fabric being pulled down around ankles fills the quiet room.

I run my finger down the side of his cheek. “Hold on,” I say, getting up from the bed, and Graham looks disappointed until I return with two glasses and a bottle in hand. I place all three on the table and pouring wine into each, hand a glass to him.

“To calm the nerves,” I explain.

“My nerves,” Graham says.

“Our nerves,” I correct, and Graham smirks behind his glass.

Graham gives me a soft look and sets his glass down on the table. “Hey, I need to ask you about something,” he says quietly. “It’s something I read about you. A rumor.” Graham’s eyes flick upward. He takes another sip of his wine.

My stomach twists into a knot. Talking about this is the last thing I want right now. Maybe tomorrow, the next day. However long I can stave the feelings of guilt off my conscious. Just not now, please. Let me just have tonight with him.

“Shoot.”

“Did you date Melanie Chisholm?”

A wave of relief washes over me, and I start laughing. “Oh God, that's what you wanted to ask me about?”

“Did you or didn’t you?” Graham asks again, completely stone-faced.

“For like...two weeks, yeah.”

“You’re telling me you dated a Spice Girl.”

“Yeah, I did. What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing, except that you dated a Spice Girl and wow, you are old.”

“She’s a lovely woman! For fuck’s sake,” I retort, and down the remainder of my drink. “And I’m not that fucking old, you know.”

“Yeah, you are. You dated a Spice Girl.”

“You’re too young to know who the Spice Girls are.”

“Shut up. I knew who you were.”

“Touché,” I smirk and twist the stem of the glass between my fingers. After a pause, I say, “Why do you ask?”

“I dunno, cause maybe I’m jealous.”

“What, that you didn’t have a Spice Girl for a girlfriend?”

Graham shrugs, but there's a sly smile hanging at the corner of his lips. “It’s alright. I don’t need a Spice Girl girlfriend. I have you.”

“I think that’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever said to me, Coxon.”

“Is it?”

“It is.” I pause, admiring him for a long moment.

“Hey.”

“What?”

“Take off your pants, old man.”

I stretch my arms up and yawn. My hands move to loosen my belt, and Graham helps the rest of the way. “Happy now?”

Graham gives me a slow and smug once-over. “Yeah.”

“That reminds me, I have a present for you.”

“You do?”

“I do,” I say, reaching into one of the bedside drawers and pulling out a long box. Graham’s eyes widen.

“What is that?”

“Open it.”

“Oh, God. Is this—?” Graham’s fingers brush along the edges of the tall but narrow box. 

“For you? Yes,” I finish, and Graham’s eyes are like large discs.

“Wait, is this for me to… or for you to…?” Graham gulps.

“That’s up to you,” I sigh, collapsing next to him. “I just figured a toy might be an easier...transition for you,” I say, then quickly add, “Either way.”

Graham’s face is pallid, and now I’m worried that I've made a mistake, so I put the lid on the box again. “You don’t even have to accept it if you don’t want to.”

Graham shakes his head. “No, no, I love it. Thank you.” He grins wide, then kisses me on the cheek. “I was just thinking…”

“Thinking what?”

“That I...want you to use it,” he says meekly, hiding behind his hair. “That way I can see how you...feel, I guess.”

I nuzzle myself into his neck and grin against his cheek. "I think that's a lovely idea."

I pull out the bedside drawer and pick out a couple of packets and lube. By the time my eyes return to Graham, he looks as though he's on the verge of fainting.

“You alright?”

“Yeah,” Graham nods.

I kiss him on the forehead. “It's normal for you to feel nervous. Sex is scary."

Graham swallows thickly. "Is it?"

"Yeah. And messy. But that’s what makes it beautiful, you know?”

Graham arches an eyebrow, so I add, “It gets easier, less scary. I felt the same way you did my first time. Trust me.”

“You did?”

“I did.”

“I can’t imagine you ever being scared.”

“Well, I was.” I rip one of the packets open with my teeth and roll the condom down and over the toy.

Graham looks at me, then down at the toy and laughs nervously. “Jesus. You’re serious.”

“If you laugh at me, I’m not going to do it.”

“I’m not going to laugh.”

“Uh-huh.”

Graham puts on a serious face. “I promise.”

“Alright, move over then,” I say, motioning at him, and Graham rolls over onto the other side of the bed.

“One thing though.”

“What?”

“You have to kiss me first.”

Graham rolls back toward me and props himself up on his elbows. “I can do that.”

Graham’s hand wraps around the back of my neck. He smiles, and corners of his eyes crinkle up in that half-embarrassed way, and all I want to do is hold him.

His lips are dry and soft, and he kisses me with real feeling; I love that. I shut my eyes and rest my left-hand between my legs. I want to take my time. I want to enjoy this. Graham’s grip on my neck tightens; his tongue slips between my lips. He rolls his hips forward, and I feel him against my thigh. He bites down—hard—nearly drawing blood.
I visualize my skin purpled with his love bites from head to toe, and an electric shock runs down my spine and all the way to my groin. God, I love him.

Graham continues to leave marks down my neck, each pinch of pain followed by a sweet and tender kiss before his mouth pauses in a full O over my Adam's apple, sucking gently. My cock twitches, distracted by the thought of his lips wrapped around me, that warm wetness, while his other hand trails down to stroke the crease between my thighs.

“Mmm,” I hum, as his mouth moves over my stomach. His body worship goes on for a minute or so before he stops, climbs on top of me, and covers his face with one hand.

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing,” he replies, sliding his hips against me. I moan, grinding back against him.

He reaches behind his back and a second later pulls out the toy and begins to rub himself against it. He closes his eyes, arches his neck back, and as soon as his lips part my cock twitches again, and my hand immediately reaches down to touch myself as I watch him grind against the toy. My erection is trapped between my underwear and my stomach in a bowing arch—painfully hard. The vision of him pleasuring himself alone with the toy is enough to trigger my worst inclinations. And if I were less of a gentleman, I'd grab him by both sides, push his head down and take him right here and then.

But I can’t. Not yet. I need to be slow with him, and sweet. Remember? After all, he's new to this, and I don't want to hurt him even though he's begging for it with that look on his face. I squeeze his arse with both hands until he cries out and his face flushes bright red.

I roll my hips forward, so I’m sandwiching him on one side, toy on the other, and a glorious, throaty, velvety moan escapes those parted pink lips like slow honey and all my resolve with it.

I reach down to touch myself, aching, but Graham slaps my hand away. He hands me the toy and grabbing him by the hips I flip him over so that he's underneath me. He may be taller, but I'm stronger than I look. Then again, so is he. Graham has the hardest thighs of any lover I've ever taken to bed, and I'd be lying if said I hadn't thought about that once or twice every hour for the last week.

Slipping my hands between his thighs, I spread his legs wider and position the toy between them. He nods, blushing profusely, and leans forward to kiss me. I suck gently on his bottom lip, savoring the bittersweet taste of cabernet still lingering there, and press my cock between his legs so roughly that he cries out and his hands fist the sheets beside him. I remove his briefs and sampling the droplets of pre-cum that have surfaced, run my tongue along the length of him.

I'm usually not one for cock worship, but Graham is honest-to-God lovely. He's beautifully endowed, long and lean just like the rest of him. Pink, his cock arches against his stomach and navel, the velvety tip peeking out just above the foreskin, begging to be taken in between lips that would warrant worship of it. He's hairless, save for a sex trail leading from his navel down. His frame is small at the waist, almost feminine. Smooth, flat skin pervades his bottom half, save for sharp hip bones which jut out beautifully on either side of him, begging for attention from tongue and teeth before I return to where I started.

My eyes flick upward, connecting with his, and his hands are heavy on my head as I take him into my mouth. His hips jerk forward, hands pressing down, and I relax the muscles in the back of my throat to allow him in the rest of the way.

I can tell he's surprised by this new party trick because he moans loudly, hands fisting my hair as I keep him at the back of my throat and hum until he begs me to stop. My left-hand bears down at his base, and hooking my right arm underneath his right leg, in one quick movement I pull up for air and pin him against the back of the bed frame.

He's begging me, repeating my name like a mantra into my ear and I'm dizzy, absolutely dizzy with the taste of him on my lips and cabernet and my cock trapped between his legs.

Steady, I remind myself. Slow and steady.

My index finger circles his pink exterior, pushing gently, massaging until he relaxes and I open him up one finger at a time. He barely gives at my touch, and for a second I'm worried it will be too much for him, but as soon as I find his prostate his back arches up and he cries out. Bingo.

I remove my hand and reaching behind me pull the toy out and place it between my legs. Graham's body language has become desperate now. Touch me, touch me, touch me are the words halted at his lips. He doesn't want me to see him beg.

“Des,” Graham pleads, raising his hips off the bed.

“What?”

“Please…”

I motion for him to move forward. “Lift your hips,” I say, and Graham obliges. I place a pillow underneath his lower half. I lay on top of him, our stomachs pressed together. He can feel me against him now, and so he moans—loud enough that I’m worried the neighbors will hear—and rolls his hips forward.

I press myself, hard and wanting, against his entrance and bite down on my lip so hard I taste blood. I can’t do this. I can’t control myself. My hand reaches for the toy beside me, and holding it with my left hand I guide it underneath the blanket between his legs where he can’t see it.

“Open your legs wider,” I whisper, and Graham adjusts himself. Squeezing a small amount of lube into my hand, I massage between his thighs, preparing him, and picking up where I left off.

Graham is a ball of tension; I can feel every single muscle in his body.

I kiss him on the forehead. "If it hurts, I'll stop. Alright?”

Graham nods and turns his face away. I push the tip of the toy inside of him.

One inch in, he stops breathing, and a sort of strangled noise emits from his throat. “Relax,” I whisper, and his body softens. I push in a few more inches, and Graham squeezes his eyes shut.

“Am I hurting you?”

“No.” Graham frowns. “It’s just an…”

“Odd feeling?”

Graham nods.

I push the toy in more. I've almost the base but not quite yet, and Graham grips my shoulder, nails digging into my skin.

"Damon?"

"What?"

“Is that...all of it?”

“Almost.”

“Christ.”

I smirk and push forward again until only the base is sticking out, and the toy is entirely inside him.

"That's it."

Graham immediately deflates underneath me, as though he had been holding his breath the entire time.

“How does it feel?”

“I don't know," he winces. "Odd.”

“Hmm.” I wrap my hand around the toy, pull it back about a few inches, and readjust the angle.

I know I’ve found what I'm looking for when Graham’s mouth drops open. “Ohhh,” he purrs, and I grin.

My erection happens to be sandwiched between the sheets and Graham’s thigh, something I’d be remiss about were it not for the fact that I care about the quality of Graham's pleasure more than my own right now.

Lifting both of his legs up to rest on my shoulders, I put the toy in position as though it were myself, tucking my aching cock between my legs. I thrust forward with the toy, filling him to the hilt.

His mouth drops open, and a long, languid moan escapes his throat. His arms circle my neck for leverage, and as I move my hips move forward again he cries into my ear, “is that you?”

A devilish smirk plays across my lips. I don't want to tell him. Watching his reaction is a more than sufficient surrogate for my pleasure right now.

I pull the toy back, so only the tip is inside him. I thrust forward again, right hand brushing over my erection—painfully hard at this point and dragging across the sheets—and Graham cries out my name, nails scratching down my sides.

I pick up the pace, sliding in and out, using the friction of my erection trapped between my stomach and the bedsheets as a way to gauge the correct speed. Graham opens like a flower underneath me, hips lifting, neck arched, crying out as I make love to him with my hand, hard and deep. It's almost like the real thing.

Graham's hand wraps his cock, stroking himself as I stick my tongue down his throat. He moans into my mouth.

"Fuck, you feel amazing."

I smirk against his cheek to hide my expression and drawing out one long stroke, enter him roughly, hitting his prostate and causing his whole body to tremble.

I come, stifled, with my cock pressed unbearably hard against the sheets. Graham's muscles clench around the toy and seconds later he follows, coming in long, lovely streams across his stomach.

I keep the toy inside him for a little while longer, pressing my lips to his neck and hugging him tightly. My afterglow washes over me in waves, and after a minute or so I remove the toy and collapse on top of him.

He strokes my cheek as I lay my head against his chest, listening to the sound of his heartbeat.

"Jesus, I know I don't have anything to compare it to, but...you're ridiculous," Graham says finally. I grin against his stomach.

"What?" Graham says, looking miffed. "What are you grinning about?"

"Nothing," I reply, kissing him on the lips. "I wish I could take the credit."

"What are you talking about?"

Grabbing him by the wrist, I pull Graham's hand down and place it on the toy.

Graham's eyes widen. "Oh, you bloody lying bastard!" he swears, threatening to thump me with the toy, but he misses.

"You can thank China for that one," I laugh, pinning him down by both wrists. I kiss him on the forehead. "But the next one's on me."

 

 

 

 

**

To be continued. 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

I convinced myself it was all right to be who I was, but others would probably think it was terrible. A couple of times in the past I’d hit bottom, but not with this sort of quiet where the pulse was nearly gone.

I was placed in a facility for alcoholics and depressives, with a large room for twelve-step meetings. The medical staff interviewed me there and told me that I was a hard-core alcohol and drug abuser and if I didn’t stop I’d be dead by thirty. The program was supposed to shake me up. It did.

I hadn’t played music for almost a year; my hands would shake whenever I tried. I couldn’t sleep. My only hope was that the sober version of me could relight the part of me that had gone dark. I saw a therapist and went to meetings. I detoxed from alcohol and heroin. My mum came to see me, she said I looked better.

Me and most of the other patients, we placated ourselves with black coffee and cigarettes. I got used to the routines and the meals and meetings and became one and one with structure and just rested there—in that small anxious space, tired of being human. Sixty days in I was marked in good health and as a well-behaved boy and sent to a halfway house and that’s where I met him.

The news had died down by then. Scandalous headlines had become tepid and disinterested in my stint in rehab, and so I was finally afforded some luxury of peace in that place.

“It was a long time ago.”

That was what Justine used to say on our phone calls toward the end of our relationship. Funny, isn’t it, how we all play the pronoun game when something hurts?

My memory forms notes in the key of B minor. This smart soft caustic kid. Foggy mornings with hot coffee and tea because we were too lazy to make it out of the bedroom.

It was a long time ago.

A long time ago, he was that little warm center of my life that my heart crowded around.

He had a chair in the hallway where he’d sit and paint into the short hours of the morning. He would join me in bed as the sun rose up over the horizon, with ashen colored hands and smelling faintly of turpentine.

But that was a long time ago.

Jude—”and don’t say anything about the fucking song,” was what he’d said the first time he introduced himself to the group. Jude looked lost without a lit cigarette between two fingers. He was a dirty kid from London whose fall from grace had landed him in the chair next to me where he rightly called me a cunt for staring a bit too long.

The aphorisms of the program did nothing for me. It was all Jude. Us addicts, you know, we just trade one thing for another.

Jude stayed in the room next to mine, and he’d play music until 3 am on his little portable radio that he carried with him like it was his wallet. Sometimes I’d hear him cry and a sort of raw human feeling from myself would reach out anonymously to him between our walls.

In therapy, we sat in a circle describing our bottom. One said it was his wife’s voice when she told him she didn’t love him anymore and wanted a divorce. Another recounted time in the hospital and the pounding of his heart upon awakening. Jude reversed the direction by saying nothing at all. This gave him considerable power over us, then, and he knew it. After a long session he stood up and wiped his eyes and smoothed his shirt down and we all knew that was that. His silence said more than words could.

Me? I keep to myself. I tell lies in therapy. The truth comes out in fractions. There was a boy, I remember him well, who was miserable at home, although they did not beat him. He did not fit well, not in his school, his town, nor even his life. He had one older sister, who was kind to him. He was skinny and small and nervous. They called him Damien for several years; Damien, like the anti-Christ from The Omen. Damien was a thin ten-year-old, small, with a head of too-blonde hair and skinny legs. If you tried to pick him out of a group of boys, you’d mistake him for a girl. He’d be the strange one, filed into the cabinet of odd ones, off to the side of the others.

“Who is Jude?” Graham says one morning over coffee.

“Who?”

Oh, we all have our secrets. Now I’m questioning everything. The train, Graham's history, his motives. This morning I saw a call from his mother; he does not know that I know this. I sip my tea slowly.

“I hear you say his name at night when you are sleeping,” Graham says, but I shake my head.

A bad morning. My dreams have me so upset that I find it hard to function. As it were. Phantom pain scraps at the lining of my soul. Graham stares at me over the lid of his coffee cup like a jury waiting for an answer.

“I don’t know.”

“Hmm,” Graham mumbles into his coffee.

That little voice in my head is always there. The alcoholic’s voice, telling me to do the wrong thing, the simple thing. It’s easy to listen to.

Some things cannot be learned quickly. I take Graham into my bed and heart like a bottle of whiskey. I can not say that I do not love it as such. But I love it fiercely, and that is all that I know.

I stay awake at night wondering what I’m getting myself into, wondering if Graham’s wondering. Everything seems to be smoldering around the edges, closing in on top of me. It’s only a matter of time now. I could lose everything again, I tell myself, and my worry plummets me down into a deep and nightmarish sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

**

 

 

To be continued.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

Upon arriving home the first thing I say to Graham is that we need to talk. I can tell by the frown on his face it’s the last thing he wants to hear.

“Have you—” I stop, weighing my next few words. “Have you talked to your parents?”

Graham stares back, eyes bright and sweet and like an animal’s. His hair is brushed over his fine forehead and cut thick below his ears at the line of the collar of the brown fuzzy sweater he is wearing—one he borrowed from me.

He shakes his head.

“No,” he says, then after a long beat clears his throat.

“Why?”

What am I supposed to say? I think. Should I say I caught him red-handed, that I looked at his private phone messages when I shouldn’t have? He’d never trust me again.

“No reason.”

“… Yeah, you do. You know that I hate when you ask me that.”

“I know. But… you stayed with me under a certain pretense and I have to do my due diligence—”

“Do you think I’m lying?”

Graham’s giving me that face again, the one that tells me I’m being a real arsehole. “Never mind,” I say, waving my hand. “Just forget that I said anything.”

The last two days my nightmares have been worse and Graham knows that I’m hiding something from him because I keep waking up in the middle of the night and refusing to tell him why. He says I don’t trust him.

Graham slides off of the couch all limp and shlomps down on the floor next to a pretend-Persian ruglet my mum gave me. He shakes his head and looks over at me and frowns. “You’re acting like I’m a little kid again. I hate that.”

“I know,” I say, kissing him. “Sorry.”

“I thought you wanted me here.”

“I do. I want you to be here.”

“But?” Graham adds, emphasizing the end sound the same way a teenage girl would.

“But nothing.”

Graham scans my face and for a fleeting moment I’m nervous that he can see through my lie.

“And what if they had called me? Would you throw to the curb?”

“Yes,” I joke. “Right out onto the street and with a train ticket to east London.”

“That’s not funny Day,” Graham pouts, prodding me in the side with his foot.

“It’s not?”

“No, fuck you,” Graham says, but he says it all relaxed, almost asleep. “You’re mean.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I feel you’re trying to get rid of me or something. Like you’re tired of me.”

“I am. There’s another one of my students who I’ve got my eyes on.”

“Well, now I do hate you. Are you going to take me out? My birthday’s soon. There’s a club night. Alex invited me and I want you to go with me.”

“Alex invited you and not me?” I tease, but Graham doesn’t pick up the cue so I add, “I don’t think I fit into that crowd, Gra. I don’t enjoy being made fun of.”

“No one will make fun of you. Trust me. They’d all be green.”

“Yeah?” I arch an eyebrow. “Including Alex?”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

“I just don’t think it’s a good idea, Gra.”

“Why? Are you embarrassed about people seeing us together? I know you are.” Graham frowns. “You never want to go out.”

“I’m not embarrassed, no.”

“Then why not?”

“Because I already have plans this weekend.”

Graham’s face changes from disappointed to wounded. “What plans?”

“I have a very important, exclusive engagement. Can’t cancel it.”

“With who?… Jamie?”

"Whom," I correct, wrapping my arm around his shoulders and kissing him on the top of his head. “Is that jealousy I sense in your voice?”

Graham screws his face up. “No.”

“No, not Jamie. It’s exclusive, I told you.”

“Then who? Stop teasing me and just say it.”

I reach into my pocket and hand him two tickets. He studies them, then looks up at me again and gives me a long, incredulous face.

“Are you serious?”

“Yes.”

“No way.”

“Oh my God.”

“Paris?”

“Yes.”

“A ticket to Paris?”

“Two tickets to Paris.”

“You are such an arsehole,” Graham says, punching me in the arm. But he’s grinning.

“Happy Birthday. Want to go to the club now?”

“I hate you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Alex will be very mad. And jealous.”

“Good,” I say, kissing him on the cheek. “I’m glad.”

We wake up on the train together at Paris at Gare du Nord, curled into each other on the warm seats, with Graham’s head on my shoulder and my arm around his.

Graham’s still snoring and I hate to wake him but I do. Bleary-eyed we stumble through the station and onto the Metro alongside the bustle of regular commuters with Graham’s arms encircled around my waist the entire time. On the underground we lean into one another, his head nuzzled underneath mine and I smile and kiss his shaggy bed head. Were we still in London I’d be worried, but here I know we’re more invisible alongside the rest of the doting couples on the streets.

It’s early and we walk past the rain-soaked bookstalls along the quais on the south bank of the Seine, across from Notre Dame, on the way to our hotel. Graham’s in a pleasant mood, both of us are, now we’re outside my flat and acting in the way normal couples do. We stop at a cafe across from the pointed end of Pont Neuf and with my clumsy French seat ourselves at an outside table with a view of the quai and the sun coming up just over the point of the bridge.

“You seem relieved,” Graham says, cupping his espresso with both hands.

“I am. Sort of.”

He takes a sip, looking at me over the rim. “People know who you are in France though. Right?”

I shrug.

“And you’re not worried?”

“Are you enjoying Paris so far?” I smile.

“Yeah. It’s nice,” Graham says, and for a long silence we gaze across the street at the vendors opening their bookstalls along the quais.

“Have you been here a lot before?”

“Where? This cafe?”

“No. Paris, dummy.”

I cup my hand over my lighter, light a cigarette and lean back to level my gaze with the horizon. Graham steals one off me. “I used to come here often. Yeah.”

“With Justine?”

“No.”

“With who?”

“Whom,“ I correct and smile. “Want to go to the museum today?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Maybe you can bring your sketchbook and draw there?” I prod, but Graham gives me a confused face. “The sculptures?”

“Oh. Why, when I could just draw you?” It’s Graham’s turn to smile now, so I boot him from underneath the table.

Later on in the afternoon, we make our way through the city to the Louvre, walking from the far end of the Tuileries and through The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel where Graham tells me to sit in front of one of the public sculptures on the perimeter of the walkway. He pulls out his pencil and sketchbook and without delay puts graphite down in quick little strokes. After a few minutes of watching the birds pass through the gardens, I note what he’s drawing.

“You’re not supposed to see it yet,” Graham chides, pulling the sketchbook to his chest.

“Let me have a peek,” I tease. I flutter my eyelashes at him and he obliges. On the page is a rough sketch of the male sculpture in front of us, but only half part since he’s drawn the business ends, front and back.

Graham covers his mouth with his hand. His cheeks are red. “Are you going to make fun?”

“No,” I smile. “It’s correct anatomy. It’s great.”

“No, it’s not. It doesn’t look right.”

“No, it does. It looks fine. But here, this may help,” I say, taking the pencil from his hand and drawing a more emphasized line on top of his rendering.

“But I am going to help you to draw a man’s arse properly,” I say, dusting off the eraser residue from the paper. Graham still has his hand over his mouth, but his eyes are laughing at me. “It’s more...robust than how you had it.”

“I take it you’ve spent a long time looking at other men’s arses,” Graham teases.

“Yes. I have spent a considerate time staring at men’s arses. You might say I have a Ph.D. in it,” I say, and Graham laughs.

“Well. You’re never humble, are you?” Graham says, clearing his throat. He’s still hiding behind his sketchbook. “It looks better now.”

“See? Told you.”

“So how many arses?”

“You want an exact number?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Men’s or women’s?”

“Men’s, I guess.”

“To be honest, few. One in particular,” I say, and Graham turns a deeper hue of red and punches me hard in the shoulder. “But, that one’s been very inspiring if you get what I mean.”

“Pervert…” Graham whispers, squeezing my hand.

“That’s not true.”

Graham tilts his head to the side. “Well, these statues are…you know…”

“… Homoerotic?”

“Yeah, I mean perhaps it’s just me but…”

“A huge part of art history involves homosexuality. You’re aware of that, right?”

Graham shakes his head.

I sigh and roll my eyes. “College has failed your generation, hasn’t it? I’ve failed you as your teacher.”

“Well, like how do you mean? Greek statues or whatever?”

“Yes, but also how the Mona Lisa is not a woman but Leonardo DaVinci’s boyfriend.”

“Don’t you mean Leonardo DaVinci in drag? Yeah, I know that. Everyone’s knows that.”

“No. It wasn’t. It was Salai—“

“Who?”

“Salai. DaVinci’s lifelong student and young gay lover.”

“Yeah, I’ve never heard that.” Graham shakes his head. “I think you’re making that up.”

“No, I’m not. DaVinci called him Salai because it was short for little devil. He was DaVinci’s muse. Or one.”

“You’re just bullshitting me now,” Graham dismisses, but there’s a hint of a smile on his lips.

“Google it then if you don’t believe me!”

“Well, it’s like a theory you mean.”

“No. I don’t think so. A teacher falling in love with his student doesn’t sound all that farfetched.”

“Oh God, you are a corny bastard. Did you rehearse this? Before we came here?” Graham smirks.

“Hey, it’s my job to teach you, remember? I’m just saying.”

“Right, so Leonardo DaVinci spent sixteen years painting his boyfriend… in drag?”

“Do you find it weird?”

“No,” Graham mutters. “Just thinking I should be so lucky.”

“Excuse me,” I say, stealing his pencil and sketchbook.

“Hey! Give that back! What are you doing?”

“I’m drawing you.”

“No, no. No, you’re not,” Graham says, ripping the sketchbook out of my hands.

“Why not? You draw me. Why can’t I draw you?”

“Because.”

“Because?”

“Because I don’t like my face. I’m not pretty, unlike you, that’s why. Also because you’re rubbish.”

“Excuse me, what?”

Graham blushes and fixes his eyes on his sketchbook.

“Don’t say that ever again.”

“What? That you’re rubbish?”

“No! All the other bits,” I say, but Graham snaps his sketch book shut.

“Graham, listen.”

“No.”

“I am—”

“Shh—”

“Madly—”

“Stop.”

“Attracted—”

“Will you stop, please.”

“And turned on—”

“God please stop.”

“—by you.”

Graham allows the sketchbook to slip from his hands and he looks up at me. The way the sunlight hits his eyes makes them hazel right now. He’s wearing dark blue jeans and a Teenage Fanclub t-shirt and his fresh haircut is keeping his hair from flooding all over his head like usual.

“You are so embarrassing,” he whispers. “I can’t stand to be around you. You’re a public embarrassment.”

“I understand.”

Graham smirks, raises those deep brown long-lashed eyes up, and says, “But I still love you.” And there’s a secret yet noticeable dirty grin on his lips.

Fuck me.

I reach up to cup his face with both hands and we kiss for more than a few seconds, with tongue, and I feel the heat from Graham’s cheeks before we pull away.

Graham pulls back nervous, wipes his mouth, and speaks in a tiny voice. “We can’t do this in public.”

“Oh, we can’t?” I tease.

“Someone might see us,” Graham hisses.

“Yeah, so? Does it make you uncomfortable?”

“A little.”

“Okay, we won’t do it.”

“No, no, I mean… I want to, I’m just…”

“What?”

“What if someone recognizes you? Aren’t you worried that people will see us together? And that person behind you…”

“What?”

“She’s staring.”

Someone taps me on the shoulder and for a moment I’ve forgotten where I am and the world’s rushed back in again.

“Excusez moi, monsieur?” The voice behind me says. It’s the voice of a young lady holding her phone in her hands.

“She wants you to take a picture,” Graham says, and I freeze up.

“Oh, yeah. Sure.” I get up and dust myself off. “Um. Where do you want to take it? Here? Or in front of the Arc?” I say, pointing to the landmark behind us. She hands me the camera in response, and I’m not sure what to say aside from the few words in French I understand. My French isn’t great these days.

“Gra.” I motion for him to stand near us. “Would you mind holding the camera for us?”

“Um, I believe she wants a picture of her and her friend together,” Graham laughs, pointing behind me. “She doesn’t want a picture of you.”

“Ooh,” I say, relief washing over me. And now I feel like a real idiot. “Right. How stupid of me.” I throw Graham an annoyed-but-I’m-smiling face. To be honest, I’m relieved.

I take the photo and hand back her phone but not before asking her to return the favor with mine. Graham looks at me as though I’m joking, but I’m not.

I motion to him to come over. “Come on,” I say, throwing my arm around his shoulder. Graham’s as stiff as a post. “And get closer. We should appear like we’re friends.”

I lean in and put my arms around his waist. Graham squirms then sits still. I’m thinking he’s worried that we’re displaying too much, being too forthright in public.

The lady takes our photo and hands me back my phone. “Such a cute Paris couple,” her friend says.

“Merci beaucoup.”

As soon as the two ladies are out of earshot, Graham says, “You are so embarrassing, I can’t even.”

“See? We’re cute,” I say, squeezing his hand and Graham buries his face against my chest.

“So does that answer your question?”

Graham grins against my shirt.

 

 

 

**

To be continued

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the Louvre we finish a bottle of champagne and stroll along the quais from the museum into Le Marais. Graham — day drunk — squeezes my hand as he acknowledges the other gay couples strolling on the street.

They claim you learn the most about someone when you travel with them and I was learning much from Graham. He had his moods. Sometimes he’d cross his arms and drop his head and keep a distance. Then other occasions, when I broke eye contact and my eyes drifted to the road he’d sneak his arms around my waistline, lean forward, and with parted lips and steadfast eye contact tell me I was his and no one else’s. And sometimes in-between he’d taunt me with his sharp tongue and a tight-lipped smile while sweeping his hand over mine.

“I will not go in there,” Graham says, matter-of-factly, and folds his arms in front of him.

“I thought you wanted to go here?”

“Yeah.” Graham lowers his chin and breaks eye contact. He’s perched on the corner of the sidewalk, arms crossed in front of his chest, undulating back and forth on the soles of his shoes. “You go. I’ll hang out here.”

“What’s the matter?”

“Nothing.”

“There’s something wrong. Wait, is this your first time in a sex shop?”

“No,” Graham stammers. “Would you keep your voice down? For fuck’s sake.”

“I’m right, aren’t I?”

“Jesus. Shut up, what’s it to you, anyhow?”

“You’re telling me you and Alex never…?”

“No. Did you go to sex shops with your mates in college to get sex toys?”

“Well,” I start, but Graham holds up his palm.

“I don’t want to know. Just saying, don’t make fun of me.”

“Not making fun.”

“Regardless, I can’t speak French. How do we buy something? With sign language? That’s embarrassing.”

“Well, half the sign’s in English. So I mean, someone must speak English. And it’s self-explanatory isn’t it?”

“Oh my God.”

“Passage du Désir ,” Graham states, slaughtering the pronunciation.

“Passage of Desire,” I transcribe, and Graham crinkles up his nose.

“It looks so pink and… girly.”

“We don’t have to go. It was you who proposed that we go here, remember? You needed that thing—”

“Stop talking.” Graham pinches his nose. “I remember.”

“Do you want me to buy it for you?”

“No… Yes.”

“Yes, you want me to buy it?”

“Can please we not discuss this in the middle of the—”

“I will go. You can hang out here, okay?”

“Okay,” Graham mumbles.

The door jingles as I walk in and the shopkeeper greets me from behind another pink counter. It’s a bright, wide open and very stylish looking space, much like the front of the shop. There’s a quiet shuffle behind me and I turn to see Graham wide-eyed and staring, as though he were a cat someone set in a new room. He surveys one side of the room to the other, taking in the sexual paraphernalia.

Pardon, parlez-vous Anglais?

Graham tugs my arm. “No, don’t ask!”

I motion abstractly with my hands. “Toys?”

“No!” Graham hisses.

“It’s okay.”

“I hate you.”

“You’ve said that, one or two times.”

To Graham’s relief, the shopkeeper lets us be alone after showing us where the toy section is.

“Is that the thing?”

“Yes.”

“That looks terrifying.”

“Why?”

Graham eyes it. “I mean, it’s big.”

“This is one way of doing it,” I say. “There are lots of other ways too.”

“You mean the other toy?”

“Yeah, like a vibrator.”

Graham punches me in the arm. “Shh, don’t say that word out loud!”  

“This is humiliating.” He shakes his head. “There’s a reason people order this stuff on the internet.”

“Your prudishness is adorable, you know that?”

“Don’t make fun.”

“It embarrasses you, but trust me, what you’re asking for is tame in the grand scheme of things.”

Graham points against the glass. “What do you think of that one? That one’s… bigger.”

I hesitate. “Is that the one you want?”

“Well I mean, isn’t that the… point?” Graham couldn’t be any redder.

“No, it only matters is that you enjoy it. It’s not for me.”

Graham covers his face with his hands. “Well, yeah. But it’s also to help us so we can, you know…?”

“Have sex,” I finish, and Graham blushes again. “Again, we’re only doing what you want to do. It’s not a rush.”

Graham leans into my shoulder. “But that’s not fair to you.”

I arch an eyebrow. “Is that the one you want then?”

“Um yeah — will that one, you know…”

“Fit? I think so.”

He blushes. “So it’s the same…?”

Graham’s been beating around the sexual embarrassment bush for two hours now. Pronouns it and that have been the closest he’s gotten to saying what he’s referring to out loud.

“It’s close,” I say, but add, “In girth.”

Graham presses his face into my chest. “Stop. Talking.”

“So you want the furry tail then?”

“No. No. I don’t want—”

“The Hello Kitty one?”

Graham squints his eyes and turns a deeper shade of red. “I just want a normal looking one.”

“Just making sure. You want to get a plain old—”

“I will leave this store if you say the name out loud.”

“Okay, okay. I won’t say it,” I laugh, throwing my arm around his shoulder.

“But hold, give me your phone.”

“Why?”

“I need to figure out how to translate butt plug into French,” I say, and Graham punches me in the arm again so hard I get tears in my eyes.

**

We stop in a wine cafe in Le Marais to stretch our legs, and Graham buys a Paul Auster novel from the bookstore around the corner. After a glass of strong wine, we take Rue du Temple on our way back to our hotel when Graham notices a gay club on the corner and his eyes light up.

“Hey! Can we—?”

I shake my head, and his whole body droops.

“I’m sorry that you hate it so much.”

“I don’t hate it. I used to go to clubs. It’s just—”

“You’re old?”

I purse my lips. “Yeah, I’m old, thanks.”

“You’re not that old.”

“Too old to go clubbing.”

“That’s not true,” he says, touching my shoulder. “We should go. Tonight. Besides, we’re in Paris so it’ll be amazing.”

“I doubt it.”

Graham crosses his arms and his expression makes me hate myself.

After dinner,” I say, and Graham’s eyes light up so I add, “Maybe.”

“So, that’s a yes?”

“You love to torture an old man, don’t you?”

He kisses me on the cheek. “Thank you.”

**

As soon as we get back to the hotel Graham collapses onto the bed, sprawling out his belly and looking like a starfish. I tell him I will take a shower and he can join me if he wants.

He responds with a pout, so I reassure him. “We have plenty of time. Don’t rush it.”

I tear off my clothes and shoes, grab a towel and step into the shower. Graham joins me a few minutes later.

“Hi.” He gives me a long once over, then passes his hand over my chest.

I laugh. “You’re impatient, aren’t you?”

Graham leans in closer and lays his hand on top of my shoulder. “You seem happy today.”

“I do?”

“More than usual.”

“Do I not look happy?”

“Not since you saw Justine.”

I frown and say nothing. Graham clears his throat. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have brought that up again.”

“It’s okay,” I say.

“No, really, I’m sorry,” Graham lowers his head. “I know she means a lot to you.”

“You mean more.”

“Bah, don’t be cheesy,” Graham says. He purses his lips then looks up at me through his lashes. “Seriously?”

I lean back against the shower wall, letting my gaze wander. I touch my hand to his hair and smooth it back behind his ear. The humor has left my voice. I lower my hand and brush my palm against myself.

“Very serious.”

Graham crinkles his nose, then deflects with humor. “Are you touching yourself right now?”

As a joke I wrap my hand around myself and pretend to give a few quick strokes but Graham plays into even more. “Who’s impatient now?”

“Can you blame me?”

He circles his arms around my waist and pulls us together.

“Cruel and unusual punishment,” I groan. I rub my thumb over the head of my cock.

I run my hands over his sides, his waist, and then finally his arse, squeezing. We kiss — sweetly — which is how Graham always makes me want to kiss him. I can’t tell if hours or months or days pass between that and when he pulls back, looks me dead in the eye and without humor says, “Um, are you going to help me get ready for the you-know-what?”

“Now that’s sexy talk,” I smirk. “Just say the word.”

“Toy?” Graham huffs. “Sex?”

I bite my tongue to keep from laughing. “I don’t know why you’re so ashamed.”

“Shut up,” Graham says, covering his face. “Because it’s embarrassing. Are you going to help or not?”

While using the detachable shower-head I draw the bar of soap across his back, then part his legs. He yelps as soon the water touches his undercarriage and, deliberate or not, he leans back into me.

He must be cognizant that he’s driving me mad me right now; I’m between his legs and hiding nothing of my inclination. Meanwhile, he’s batting his eyelashes at me innocently while I hold myself back from doing what I really, really want to do to him.

Graham tilts his head back and I sink my teeth in, leaving a trail of pink half-circles along the length of his neck. He presses his arse back into me again and my cock twitches. In response, I bite him — hard — leaving a mark I know will be there in the morning.

He moans. I’m between his legs, cock throbbing. The blood’s run from my head and I’m not thinking properly. My mind divided’s into two right now: rational and irrational. And the rational part is telling the other part to pump the brakes.  We’re so close, we’re so close and he wants it, but I shouldn‘t. I can’t.

I drop to my knees and urge him to turn around to face me. He mewls, bunching my hair into his fists. Water cascades over my head as I take him into my mouth. He’s still soft, and the taste of him mixes with soap and water. I lick clockwise around the tip of him then dive back. His cock pulses underneath my tongue, and I take care not to be rough. Pre-cum mixes with soap and water as he becomes stiff between my lips. I moan and the vibrations cause his hips to buck forward so I pin him against the wall with both hands and hold him there.

He lets his breath out in little gasps, digging his fingernails into the back of my head as I create a rhythm. After a few seconds, he tells me we need to move to the bedroom because he will not last long enough if I keep doing that thing I’m doing with my tongue.

I stand up, kissing him with the taste of him still on my mouth and grab a towel to dry us off. I brush my hand between his legs, teasing him before we move to the bed. Stretching for the bag of things we bought at the shop, I touch him lightly, and his posture’s as stiff as a board.

“It’s just the lube,” I say, and his body language changes. He lets out a deep breath.

“Don’t worry,” I say.

“I’m not,” he says.

“You’re a nervous wreck,” I say, and Graham gives me a hurt look. “It’s okay. You can be nervous.”

“I don’t understand. It was fine last time. I don’t know why I’m freaking out now.”

“Nerves,” I say, touching him on the shoulder. “Do you want to forget about it?”

Graham says nothing, instead he lowers his gaze and picks at the edge of the blanket.

“Hey, look at me.”

He lifts his eyes and grins. “You’re so hairy.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“No, I wasn’t being mean. I’m saying I like your chest hair. It’s different… I guess cause you are all grown up and stuff.”

“Well, I am grown up and stuff.”

“I meant that Alex isn’t like that,” Graham says, but he must be able to see my expression because he adds, “You’re jealous of him, aren’t you?”

“No, I’m not jealous. There’s a difference between jealousy and being protective of you.”

“Funny,” Graham says, picking at the threads of the blanket again. “He says the same thing about you.”

I feign a smile. “Let’s not talk about Alex.”

Graham smirks, shifting his awareness away from the blanket. “See? You are jealous.”

In a lightning-fast movement, I smash my lips against his and push him onto his back so he’s laying flat on the bed beneath me. I pin his wrists above his head on either side of him and shift my weight so he can’t move.

“I like it when you’re jealous,” he adds between gasps, smirking. In one swift move, I prop his legs up and drive them against his rib cage so he’s sprawled out underneath me. I slip my tongue between his teeth and kiss him more aggressively than he’s used to, with tongue and teeth and he sighs and raises his hips up and my brain spins again.

“You’ve been picking on me too much today, you know that?”

With both hands, I grip his arse and squeeze hard enough it causes tears in his eyes. He spreads his legs even farther apart, stretching his whole body out. Applying the lube, I massage between his legs. He blushes, holding onto me with both hands, grazing my back and spine. He stops squirming and instead arches his neck backward and stares up at me, fixated, watching for me to make a move.

I lower my head, prop his arse up, take him into my mouth while my middle finger presses into him. Thank God for the lube because it makes it easy and Graham reacts to it but bucking his hips up and into my mouth. I use my free hand to press him back down into the bed, and after he feels loose enough, stick another finger in and make a Y shape. He blushes again, but he’s used to it now so he keeps his hips down as I prepare him. He flinches, likely from the overstimulation and so I take my lips off his cock and instead kiss the inside of his thigh, pinching him with my teeth. I add a third finger and Graham moans, pressing his arse back into the bed and readjusting himself to have a better angle.

I remove my fingers and reaching down touch my cock and press the tip of it against him. Graham squirms, knowing well it’s not the toy and his eyes glaze over. I press against him, rubbing up and down. My pre-cum mixes with the lube and Graham moans, lips parted, breathless and I tease him, pressing in and then back. He reaches down with one hand and strokes my cock, cheeks red. We both want this so bad, I know it and he knows it, but I don’t want to hurt him. I don’t want him to have a bad first experience. The sensation of me being so close to him but not doing anything is too much temptation for me so I pull back. A look of disappointment crosses his face until I reach for the toy.

I press a little of the toy inside him and he holds his breath.

“Breathe,” I say, and Graham blows out his breath and laughs.

I try again and he squeezes his eyes shut and grimaces.

I stop. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s just bigger than the last one,” he winces.

“Slower?”

“Yeah.”

I pull the toy out, then slowly press in again, stretching him. He whole body stiffens and I whisper again to him to breathe.

“Relax,” I say, combing his hair behind his ear. “Keep breathing.”

Finally, I get the toy about halfway in and he moans, rolling his eyes back as the rest of it slips into place.

“How are you? Okay?” I ask, leaning forward to better see his reaction.

“Yeah,” he exhales. “It kinda hurts.”

“How much? A lot?”

“A little.”

I furrow my brow and squeeze his hand. “We don’t have to do this.”

“No, leave it,” Graham says. “I’ll get used to it. Maybe… move it.”

I kiss him on the forehead, then the lips, and press the toy into him even more. His reaction is immediate. He moans, digging his fingernails into my back.

“Better?”

“Yeah,” he says, fixing his eyes on me. “I wish it were you though. I liked it better when I thought it was you.”

“We’ll get there,” I reassure him, drawing my hand over his arm. “Hey, I have an idea. Turn around.”

I climb off him and lay on my back and direct Graham to sit on top of me, straddling me with his legs spread. He lowers his gaze and says, “Well that’s a nice view.”

“Is it?” I smirk.

His erection is pressing against mine and every time he moves it causes me to want to moan. I readjust his hips, as though he were on top of me and tell him to lean forward. Graham obliges, and I press the plug in more, testing the waters. He moans as it moves, touching himself in quick little strokes and I bite down hard on his neck just to keep myself from wanting to come at the sight of him on top of me doing that.

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” he says, lowering his eyes at me. He places his hands around my neck and rocks his hips forward just enough that the toy will press into him again without my help and moans. I grab him by the hips and encourage a rocking motion between us. Every time the plug moves his eyes glaze over and he grabs me by the neck, fingernails digging in. I touch my cock, painfully hard and I know that with the anticipation and what he’s doing neither of us will last long. Just watching him get off on the idea makes me want to come.

Which is why when he says my name in higher and higher octaves I lose all control. I grab his arse with both hands, spreading him. I imagine he’s on top of me, as he is now, but really on top of me and my cock twitches, pulses, and seconds later I come in long, warm streaks over my chest. Graham follows shortly after, mixing with my own and collapses on top of me. He whispers, breath tickling my ear as he catches his breath.

“You came first.”

 

 

 

**

To be continued.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sundown, we take the Metro south to have dinner in Montparnasse. Streets are empty, and red, blue and green scooters line the edges of the sidewalk. The bistro is quiet, as we are ahead of the evening rush. We treat ourselves with sweet red wine and fruit crepes and as soon as Graham’s fork hits his plate he’s halfway out of his chair and sliding on his jacket. It’s another of mine, a blue and red Kappa jacket from the nineties that Graham described as “fugly vintage chic” which I mentioned might have been a compliment to anyone but me since it wasn’t vintage when I bought it. I finish early and sit observing him as he squirms in his seat.

“We have all night,” I remind him, though I’m grinning. He sighs and slumps back into his seat.

“You want to go now, don‘t you?” I say.

He lowers his chin and looks up at me through those long, brown lashes. Unbuttoning my jacket, I reach into the interior pocket and reveal to him two little blue pills in the center of my palm.

He arches an eyebrow. “What’s that?”

“A gift,” I explain, and Graham beams. “From Alex. I’ve been saving them.”

Eyes wide, he stretches his hand out. I snap my hand shut. “Tsk, tsk. One for me, one for you.”

“That’s all of it?”

“I told you it was Alex who gave these to me, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, so?”

“Do you believe Alex would give us just two e’s for a whole night?” I say, and Graham smirks.

“Good old Alex.”

“Be responsible, now,” I say, uncurling my fingers and Graham swells, leaps forward, and kisses me on the lips.

As soon as we arrive at the club that familiar dread of being out-of-place raises its ugly head again and I force my discomfort back down, telling myself to remain steadfast, for him. Graham, in contrast, seems to be fine. He’s glowing as we squeeze our way, hand in hand, through the throngs of people queued outside the club.

Aware of the eyes glued to us from every direction, we step through the threshold into the club. It’s tight, almost shoulder to shoulder. There’s no personal space at all. My chest tightens and for a split second I contemplate leaving, but to my dismay Graham tugs on my arm and hauls me up to a bar seat. He orders two drinks for us.

“You all right?” He asks, sliding his hand over mine. There’s a whole new radiance to his face, as though the new scenery has transformed him.

I feign a smile. “Yeah.”

“You look handsome.”

“I know,” I say, and Graham laughs. He moves closer, leaning in as though to confide something, but stops a few inches short. He scans the room, cracks a smile—cheeks burning red—then retreats, refashioning himself to appear aloof again.

Suddenly, it hits me why he wanted to go to the club; why he’s been so keen to drag me here.

“I understand,” I announce, and his neck jerks around.

“You what?”

“I get why you dragged me here.”

“What do you mean?” Graham looks over the edge of his glass. He mutters against the rim, “I didn’t drag you.”

I tilt my head and smile. “You’re showboating.”

“Excuse me?” He coughs, spewing out his drink.

“Showboating, you know,” I tease, prodding him in the ribs. “Showing me off.”

“No,” Graham says, blossoming red. “No, I’m not.”

“That’s why you wanted to come here.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

I place my hand on his back. “You need to get better at lying.”

“Shut up,” He hisses, but there’s a hint of a smile on his lips.

“Aha, I am right! I see the truth on your face.”

“So?” Graham says, stirring his drink. “What’s wrong with that?”

“Showboating?”

“Yeah. Jeez.”

“Nothing,” I say, leaning closer. “There’s nothing wrong. In fact. I’m honored.”

“Honored?”

“I’m charmed to be your trophy boyfriend — ”

“Trophy?” Graham spits out his drink. “You are cheesy as fuck.”

Smiling disappearing, he lowers his eyes to my lips.

“You want to know something stupid?” He says.

“Shoot.”

“I used to stare at you in class and fantasize dirty things about you.”

I arch an eyebrow. “How dirty we talking?”

“Dirty,” Graham replies, biting back a grin. “Sometimes I’d zone out for a whole lecture. Then I wouldn’t remember anything you’d taught and then I’d do absolute shit on the test.”

“Well, that explains a lot,” I tease, and Graham rolls his eyes.

“But, you’ve piqued my curiosity,” I say leaning in. “What sort of dirty things?”

“It’s not very ladylike to discuss that.”

“Well. Neither is what we did before dinner.”

Graham gives a nervous laugh. “That’s fair.”

“Go on then, tell me.”

He raises both eyebrows and purses his lips. “I’d imagine you… wanking. A lot.”

“That’s not bad.”

“Yeah it is.”

“No. You made it sound like it was much worse.”

“Well, it was also… more than just that,” Graham says, fidgeting with his straw again. “I uh, suspected that you were straight—“

“Now why would you ever guess that?”

“Lemme finish,” Graham pouts, knocking me in the shoulder. “I assumed that you had a wife or something. But I liked to imagine that you were, you know—”

“That I was what?”

“—in denial.”

“Well,” I say, holding the rim of my glass against my lips. “What made you think I’m in denial?”

“Seriously?” Graham dips his head. “You don‘t know?”

“Hang on, are you telling me I project—”

“You wear an earring,” Graham says, nodding to my left ear.

I open my mouth to protest. “You realize that doesn’t mean— “

“Shush.”

“You know it’s the right ear, not the left. Elton John—”

Graham holds up his hand, looking as though he’s about to burst out laughing. “Stop talking.”

“It’s fine, I’m just pointing out that having an earring on the left side doesn’t mean—”

“Anyway,” Graham says, raising his voice. “I didn’t assume you were into men. But I figured that you could be with some uh… some persuasion.”

I clear my throat. “Persuasion?” I repeat, lowering my voice to a pseudo-sexy level and Graham bursts out laughing.

“Stop it, or I won‘t tell you anymore.”

“No, you must elaborate,” I interject. “What kind of persuasion?”

“I don’t want to tell you.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’ll make fun.”

“I’m already making fun.”

“See, that’s why you‘re the worst.” Graham sighs.

 “I’m not trying to be mean,” Shooting him a grin, I brush my thumb across his cheek. “I want to know.”

“Okay. Well, I thought if I could get you alone after class…” Graham stops and chews on his lower lip. He pinches his eyes shut.

“What?”

“… That if I kissed you, then maybe you’d like me back.” He shakes his head. “God, that sounds daft. I sound so stupid.”

“No, you don’t. You don‘t sound stupid. It’s cute.”

Graham scrunches up his nose. “Cute wasn’t the word I was looking for.”

“No, cute is the wrong word,” I correct, but Graham’s frowning.

“Cute doesn’t scream seductive college student, now does it?”

Brushing my hand over his, I level my gaze with him. “You realize the entire reason we’re here right now is that you kissed me in my flat though, yeah?”

“Oh shit.” Graham falls forward, face in his hands. “Yeah.”

“So, it worked,” I say, leaning in. He gives me a sideways glance, blossoming red. I reach forward and kiss him for more than a few seconds, his face hot against my skin then pull back.  

“I wonder, did anyone see that?” I grin. “Maybe we should do it again.”

Graham stares down at the bar in front of him and mutters something I can’t hear.

“What did you just say?”

Graham purses his lips and looks up at me. “I said, I love you.”

“Oh, here I assumed you were going to say you hated me again,” I tease, and Graham launches forward and starts kissing me again, this time with tongue. We’re like that for a while, knowing full well we’re likely being watched and enjoying it before I pause to catch my breath.

Inches away from his face, I say, “So to be clear, you got B’s and not A’s in my class because you were fantasizing about—”

“Kissing you—”

“Well, I was going to say wanking. But yes.”

“Shut up— “

“I’m dying to know what that looked like in your head,” I say, moving closer. “Me wanking in front of you, I mean. Not kissing.”

“Don’t take the piss,” Graham sulks.

“No, I’m serious. You thinking about me thinking about getting off because I’m thinking about you is very—”

“Embarrassing.”

“No, hot,” I counter, and Graham blossoms even redder. “Besides, I’ve had very dirty thoughts about you.”

“Obviously,” Graham huffs, perching his head on his hand. He steals a look at me out of the corner of his eye.

“No, much, much dirtier thoughts.”

Smirking, Graham stares at me for a while then finally says, “Are you calling me innocent?”

“Compared to what I’ve thought about you? Yeah,” I say, pecking him on the cheek. “I’ve had much dirtier fantasies about you.”

“You‘re just saying that to save face.” Graham’s cheeks flush pink. “I’m calling bullshit.”

“All right,” I say. Reaching over him, I press my lips to the collar of his neck and whisper a dirty fantasy I’ve had pictured in my head for a while about him that is unintelligible to everyone else around us.

Graham straightens his spine; his face gets hotter. Masking his mouth with his hand, his embarrassed grin overflows between his fingers. I grin.

“Wow.”

“Told you.”

“When did you think of that?”

“The day you sauntered up to my desk and told me I was full of shit.”

Hiding behind his drink, he says, grinning, “You’re a dirty old man.” 

“Dirty, yes,” I say, taking a sip of my drink. “Old, no. Who were you expecting, a saint?”

“Just like the song…the mind gets dirty, as you get closer to…” Graham mimes and I grin.

“Fifty.”

“Fuck,” Graham swears and crosses his legs. “Fuck, I hate you. I can’t even get out of my seat now.”

“Why?”

“Because thanks to you I’ve pitched a tent now, haven’t I?”

“Why don’t you sit on my lap, then?” I tease.

“Now who’s showing who off?” Graham taunts, sliding his hand down and between my thighs. He orders us other drink. The warm fuzziness of alcohol mushrooms in the center of my chest and expands out to my limbs. He’s got me sauced up now. I can’t help but think that must have been part of his plan all along.

“Well, you’re in good company,” I say, scanning the swarm of bodies around us. “You’ve got some secret admirers.”

“What?”

“Behind you,” I say, nodding to two gentlemen behind us. “One o’clock.”

Lurching his head around, Graham stares then snaps back. “Oh my God,” he hisses. “How long have they been watching us?”

“A while.”

“A while? Like what, five minutes? Ten?”

“Since we got here.”

“Well, why the fuck are they staring?” Graham groans.

“That’s a good question,” I say. My eyes meet with one of them and he turns away.

“Oh, the shower show is starting.”

“The shower show? What?” 

“The shower show. You know.”

Graham shakes his head. “Never mind that. Please go over there and tell them to fuck off?”

“I thought you wanted people to look.“ I say, twisting my straw around. “There’s uh well-endowed men taking showers… do you not see that on the sign?” I tease. “I thought that’s why we came.”

“Why are they staring?” Graham mumbles, paying no attention to me. He hides his head in his hands. “Are they staring at me, or you?”

“I don’t know. It’s all right.” I laugh. “Let them stare. Let’s just move.” Grabbing Graham’s hand, we both bolt for the dance floor. We scan the surrounding room, Graham clutching my hand as we rush to find a corner to blend into. We slide into a booth near the right of the stage and Graham—to my surprise—sits on my lap.

“Oh, so you’re taking me up on my offer,” I joke, and he leans back into me so I can kiss the nape of his neck.

“You got me all hot and bothered. This is your fault,” Graham mumbles. I circle my arm around his stomach and he rolls his hips back so his arse is on top of me and closes his eyes and makes the tiniest of mewls.

I’m confused, at first, until he repeats the action and I discover why he’s doing that beyond just being affectionate in public. Electricity bolts down my spine and all the way to my cock between both of our legs now. Of course, I think, feeling like an idiot. He’s still wearing the toy. I clutch his belly and he rolls back again and this time I’m the one who makes a sound.

He peers down at me, smile dripping with deviousness and my breath catches in my throat.

“Is this—”

“Revenge? Yes,” Graham says, dragging out the last syllable.

He leans down and kisses me, then surveys my face for some reaction.

“Well, it’s working,” I swoon, before slipping my tongue between his lips. He clutches me on both sides, fingers intertwined and groans as I lift my hips in response to his rolling movement. I grip his hips, squeeze, and advise that we move somewhere more discreet.

Groping me between my legs, he nods, then slides off of me. I’m beaming and he’s shimmering. We make a beeline out of the crowd,  hobbling, and Graham instructs me to follow him into the loo.

He leans into my ear, pressing his lips against the nape of my neck as he steers me where he wants me and soon as I lock the door behind us he throws me against the stall door.

Sparing any hesitation, his hands fumble with the buttons on my trousers. I’m already hard, and bowing up against both of our bellies  Graham, like the saint he is, attends to it at once. In less than a minute my underwear is gone and his mouth is planted on my cock.

 He gazes up at me, revealing those round brown eyes and in the interest of not losing myself, I plead for him to stop. He withdraws, somewhat disappointed, and lifts himself up off his knees and kisses me with the taste of myself on his lips. It’s then I realize he’s still dressed and I’m the almost naked one. Stretching his t-shirt up and over his head I kiss him halfway, grinning as he laughs at me with my pants down around my ankles.

His eyes are dripping with the desire at this point and with the e’s in our system sneaking up on us it’s only magnified the natural surge of horniness we have to an unbearable level. I smash my lips against his, seizing his arse with both hands and he moans and presses his arse into my hips again.

The outside door to the bathroom swings open with a rusty squeak and both of us freeze. There’s the wet sound of lips smacking together and rustle of clothes being torn off and a heavy crash against our shared stall door we share. Peering under the door, I notice two sets of feet. 

Graham cover his mouth with both of my hands to keep himself from laughing.

I grin. “Shh,” I whisper. “Be quiet.”

There’s a moan from behind the wall and the sound of a belt buckle crashing on the floor and Graham lets out a high pitched giggle that thankfully gets drowned out.

“Shouldn’t we tell them we got here first?” Graham jokes.

“Shh,” I say, pressing a finger to his lips and biting back my laugh. “It’s not like we’re in a hotel.”

He scrunches up his face. “But they’re so loud,” he hisses.

“Maybe if we‘re louder, they’ll feel weird and… they’ll go away?” I joke, but there’s a twinkle in Graham‘s eye that tells me we’re both up for the same challenge.

Without hesitation, he drops to his knees again. I groan as he starts where he left off. I clutch his head, gently, directing him. He‘s better than last time, even. It amazes me how quickly he learns.

Graham adds his hand to the mix, creating a lovely rhythm as he flicks his tongue up and around. My knees begin to buckle.

It’s still not enough though since the couple next to us don’t seem bothered. They continue to do their own thing as Graham blesses me with his gifts, tonguing and licking and sucking to get the maximum amount of noise out of me. I brush my hand against his cheek and urge him to get up again. I command him to turn around and stripping him of his belt and pants I instruct him to stand with his back to me and his arse sticking up.

I lean in and whisper in his ear. “Just say something weird that will scare them off.”

“Like what?” Graham hisses.

“I don’t know, think of something.”

“I don‘t know what to say.”

Graham turns around to face me. 

“Say something that turns you on.”

“But what if it turns you off?”

“It’s fine, just say it.”

“Oh Mr. Albarn,” he says, biting on his lip to keep from laughing. My face gets hot.

“I’ve been thinking about you all semester.”

 “Come on, that’s not fair,” I say, but Graham hisses at me keep quiet.

“Stay in character!”

I bite down on my tongue. “Oh, you have?”

“Yes. You‘re all I think about when I’m in class.”

I wipe the grin from my face and adjust my demeanor, trying hard to play along. “You‘re a good student, aren’t you? You listen to me when I tell you to do things?”

Graham nods.

“Get down on your knees.”

At once, Graham obeys, sinking to his knees. I close my eyes as wet heat engulfs my cock and a deep moan unearths itself from somewhere deep inside me. He explores me slowly, flicking his tongue around my head and then allowing me into the back of his throat. He stops and my eyes snap open again.

 “But Mr. Albarn,” he says. 

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m so worried.”

“Why are you worried?”

“What if someone sees us?”

“No one has to know.”

Graham gazes up at me, cheeks flushed and lips parted and it’s then that I decide to throw caution to the wind. 

“You just started sucking cock and look at you. You love it, don’t you? That‘s all you think about.”

Graham nods, and brushes his hands down my thighs. He peers up at me innocently. “Is that bad?”

“No,” I say, drawing my thumb around his lips and pressing it into his mouth. “You like getting fucked in your mouth, don‘t you? That‘s why you‘re such a good student.”

Graham closes his eyes and sucks on my thumb. He stops and rests his teeth on my knuckle. “But I want more, Mr. Albarn. Please.” 

He rises from his knees and pushes me back against the wall. “I’m begging you.”

 I lift him so that he’s straddling me. I prop him up against the stall door and he squirms as he notices my cock riding up against his bottom.

 “Please fuck me.”  Graham presses his bottom against me and moans. “Please.”

Graham’s cheeks are flushed red and I run my hand up and down my cock. The plug is still there, wide and beautiful inside him and when he lifts his arse up, I slide myself between his cheeks. I’m warm and his skin goosebumps in response to the temperature change. My cock swells, dripping with pre-cum and I glide myself between his arse. He engages me, transforming as he body stretches back into me. I remove the plug and his entire body shudders. He’s beautiful, wider and open and red and my cock twitches just from seeing him positioned like that.

I close my eyes and press up into him, skimming myself up and down between his cheeks. He mewls, restless, and attempts to reach around and direct me, but I stop him. I spit into my fist and between that and the pre-cum I pick up a nice driving motion. With the toy absent he’s even more beautiful than before and let him down, turn him around and drop to my knees.

“You are here to do what I tell you to do. Do you understand?”

Graham peers up at me, head lowered and nods. “Yes, Mr. Albarn.”

“Spread your legs,” I instruct, and Graham obeys.

I slide my tongue inside him. His hips jerk forward and he moans, fingers grasping my scalp.

I spread his cheeks wide and admire him, flitting my tongue in and around. I maintain this for a while, relishing the short cries coming out of him.

“Mr. Albarn,” Graham begs, breathless. “Please.”

I lift my palm and in one quick gesture slap him so rough it leaves an angry red splotch on the back of his arse in the pattern of my hand. He howls, with tears in his eyes and clutches my open hand while his other free hand attends to his own cock.

I rise to my feet again and run my thick cock between his legs again. He shudders.

“Please, I want it.”

I grasp his arse and instruct him to continue touching himself but instead, he pushes his arse back into me.

“What did I tell you?”

“I don‘t know,” he cries.

“I told you, only do what I tell you to do.”

Graham squeezes his eyes shut and his hand gravitates to his cock again.

“I will fuck you when I please,” I say. “And as I please.” 

I watch quietly as he strokes himself, and wetting it with my mouth, I slide my middle finger inside him.

He comes, warm white streams jetting forward onto my hand and his.

“Fuck!” He breathes. “Fuck! I didn’t mean to—“

“It’s okay,” I laugh, but I can see he’s bothered and embarrassed by his expression. The bathroom is quiet now, save for us.

“I guess we won.”

“I thought you were going to do it. So when I felt that—“

“It’s okay,” I reassure him, kissing him on the neck. “Really.”

Graham wraps his arms around me. “Fuck.”

“It was really — ”

Graham squeezes his eyes and threatens me. “Don’t say it. Don’t you dare say it.”

A grin spreads across my cheeks. “It was cute.”

 

 

 

 

 

**

Chapter Text


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“You promised me,” Graham presses, looking at me through his eyelashes.

 

“I know,” I say, tracing my finger down his cheek. And God help me when I tell you we both want the same thing. It took all of my willpower to keep myself from ravishing him any more than I already had in that stall. Like his little moans he made in my ear, and the little whimper when I pressed my cock between his legs.

 

“We will.”

 

“When?”

 

“Just let it happen when it happens.” 

 

“You’ve made me wait way too long,” he whines, then slides his hand between my legs and squeezes. “I’m ready. Stop teasing me with it.”

 

“Tonight, then. If you are feeling ready to do all of it.” I confirm. 

 

“Oh, I will definitely be ready for all of it .”

 

I smirk. “Are we talking about the same thing?” I joke. 

 

“I hope so,” Graham says, reeling around. “Meet me outside when you’re done, okay?”

 

After he exits and I glance up in the mirror. I wonder what possessed me these last few days. The face staring back at me is one I don’t recognize. What once was dry and jaded has transformed into something else. The grin on my face looks foreign to me. 

 

My phone vibrates. It’s Jamie.

 

Where are you? I haven’t heard from you since I saw you at the restaurant.

 

I debate lying.

 

  I went out of town. For a few days.

 

You doing all right? J?

 

J being short for Justine. Right.

I’m fine . Just needed some breathing room.

I get it. When you get back, we should talk. There’s something I wanted to ask you about.

 

My throat tightens. I’m fairly certain Jamie wants to ask me about what he saw at the restaurant but I’m not ready to broach that topic with him, let alone in a way he’d understand.  

 

Sure

I’ll let you know

 

It doesn’t take long to locate Graham. He’s conversing with one of the two men who had been gawking at us earlier. He lifts his arm up to touch the other bloke’s elbow and grins too generously. He’s taller than me, modestly handsome, and much younger than me which just adds to my annoyance. Graham shakes his fringe out of his face, touches his hand to his chin, and laughs. 

 

Graham greets me and I throw my arm over him and plant a kiss on his temple. I want to make certain they know my intentions. Graham leans back to look up at me and grins. 

 

“Who’s your friend?” I dig, and the stranger’s spine snaps up straight.

 

Graham’s eyes dart to me then back to the other man. “This is David. He’s from London too.”

 

“Oh.” 

 

“We were getting to know each other.”

 

“I could see that. You were following us around tonight,” I point out, and David fidgets.

 

“David’s a big fan of Seymour,” Graham explains. “We were talking about you.”

 

“Oh?”

 

Graham grins at me with stars in his eyes. “About how amazing you are. I was just telling him how you and Jamie had that side project, the one with the cartoon characters?”

 

“That must have been a short discussion,” I quip.

 

“Shut up,” Graham says. “You’re amazing.”

 

I clear my throat. “Well, nice to meet you… David, was it?” 

 

“Call me Dave,” he titters. “I was telling Graham here that it’s sort of funny to run into you here, of all places.”

 

My eyes dart to Graham. “Right.”

 

“He wanted a photo with you. Is that ok?” Graham asks, squeezing my hand.

 

“No problem.”

 

Dave holds his phone out in selfie mode. I smile, but not too much, reassuring myself it’s nothing against Dave as much it was the way Graham’s hand glided up his arm.

 

“Thank you so much.” 

 

“You’re welcome.”

 

Dave shoots me a half-grin. “You’re so nice. It’s weird. I didn’t expect you to be so friendly.”

 

Graham arches an eyebrow. “Why’s that?” 

 

“Well after what happened, you know,” Dave stutters. “What they said in the news about you and the whole scandal.” 

 

There’s an awkward pause and then Dave adds, “That must have been awful for you, I’m sorry.”

 

I give him a tight-lipped smile. “Not the best memory I guess.” 

 

“All the Seymour fans were heartbroken when that happened, you know. But I figured that you were innocent. We were all on your side.”

 

Conscious that Graham’s hanging onto every word, I suck in air and try to change the subject. “You seem a little young to be a Seymour fan.” 

 

“Oh, yeah, I guess. But I love Seymour. That last record, 13? Amazing. So heartbreaking. I always thought it had to be about your relationship with—”

 

“Right,” I interject, but both Dave and Graham ignore me.

 

“I said to myself, he must be in the closet,” Dave rambles with the same stars in his eyes that Graham had earlier. That familiar ball of dread from earlier wells up inside my chest again. It wasn’t entirely Dave’s fault. For a brief, blissful minute I’d forgotten how I’d be remembered this way for the rest of my life. 

 

Graham broadens his shoulders and puffs his chest out. “I don’t think that’s anyone’s business,” he snaps. For a second I want to kiss him for saying it, but I then I remember that he doesn’t know the entire story like the rest of the world does.

 

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend,” Dave backtracks. “I thought everyone kind of knew? I mean, I can’t blame you for disavowing what the media said about you. I’d deny it too.” 

 

I see Graham out of the corner of my eye. His eyes are boring holes into Dave’s forehead. 

 

“Look, it’s been wonderful chatting with you Dave but we really need to get back. Come on, Gra,” I say, snatching his hand.

 

“No—”

 

“Let it be,” I mutter.

 

“No,” Graham fumes. “He doesn’t understand that he’s being very rude. Just because someone’s a celebrity doesn’t mean you can say those sorts of things about them. You deserve your privacy like anyone else.”

 

“Graham, it’s all right,” I diffuse, planting my hand on his shoulder. “Really—”

 

Just as the last word comes out of my mouth, the other man we caught staring in the bar strides up. He’s nearly mirror version of his friend, except for having brown hair instead of blonde. There’s also a scowl on his face. He doesn’t look happy to see me.

 

He waggles his index finger at me. “Is this that pervert pop star you like so much? Damon Allbran or whatever?” 

 

I feel like I’m in primary school again.

 

“Shut up Andy,” Dave chides, punching his friend in the arm. “You’re making look like an arsehole. I told you not to say anything.”

 

“Just telling it like I see it,” Andy spits, jeering at me. “He should be in prison. But because he’s a pop star, he gets special treatment. Am I right?” 

 

Before I can register, Graham’s taken two steps forward so I hold my arm out in front of his chest.

 

“Don’t,” I warn, but it’s too late. 

 

Graham balls his hands into fists. “What the fuck did you just say to him?” 

 

I should be used to this. All the hate. The disgust. But I’m not. It still stings. Every time. I’d been living in ignorant bliss for the last few weeks.

 

Andy squints at me, then Graham. “I saw both of you in there,” he accuses. “Disgusting, you know that? Can’t you find someone your own age to fuck?”

 

I think about running away and hiding underneath a rock. I think about disappearing. I think about snatching Graham’s hand and covering his ears and praying to God that tonight won’t be the way he finds out about everything.

 

“Shut up. You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about,” Graham seethes, and the next thing I know, he’s charging toward Andy with white knuckles and both fists raised. In a knee-jerk reaction I grab him by his collar and yank him back. 

 

“Let go of me!” Graham snarls, before wrenching himself out of my grip and hitting me in the chest—hard. I wince. 

 

He jabs his finger in Andy’s face. “You’re wrong,” 

 

Andy locks eyes with me. “How young is this one, then? Is he even legal?”

 

“Shut up, you cunt,” Graham spits.

 

“Where d'you pick him up? Are you setting up shop at the primary schools now?” 

 

 “How dare you, you piece of shit—”  Graham lunges forward again and this time I use all of my strength to hold him back. 

 

There’s a crowd gathering around us now and I’m panicking. 

 

“Graham. We’re leaving.” 

 

“No! For fuck’s sake, don’t you hear what he’s saying about you? Aren’t you going to defend yourself?” 

 

Andy shakes his head while Dave stands beside him mortified. “Look at this poor kid trying to defend him. How sad.”

 

I snatch Graham’s hand and wrench him out of the crowd with me. His eyes burn straight through me. I’ve never seen him so angry. As soon as we reach a clearing without people, he wrestles out of my grip and falls behind. 

 

I let him be; I’m at a loss for words. Out of my depth. I don’t even know if I can damage control and explain everything to him without him hating my guts just like everyone else. After about a block and a half Graham’s footsteps come to a stop behind me.

 

“Why didn’t you let me fight him?” 

 

“Because he was a bully.”

 

“I don’t care.”

 

I pinch the bridge of my nose and sigh. “Punching him in the face wouldn’t have done anything to help either of us.”

 

“Bollocks,” Graham spits.

 

“Fighting someone over my honor will do nothing, Graham.”

 

“Don’t turn your back to me, look at me.” Graham demands. “It’s fucking better than doing nothing. It’s better than letting him tear you down in public, isn’t it?”

 

“No, it’s not. All it would have done is land you in jail.” I frown. “In a foreign country, no less.”

 

“You know, sometimes I really can’t stand you,” he says through gritted teeth. 

 

“I just wanted you to think before you made a big mistake.”

“There you go again, sounding like my old man again.” 

Here comes the nausea again. “Please stop saying that.”

 

“Didn’t you hear what he said about you?”

 

“Yes,” I reply, swallowing hard at the bile rising in my throat. “I heard every word.”

 

“Then why didn’t you defend yourself?”  

I wring my hands and fidget with the ring on my left hand that’s no longer there. I’m sweating, and my skin’s on fire. I wish I could shuck my jacket off and throw it into the street.

“I don’t know,” I say, breaking eye contact.

 

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

 

“It doesn’t matter to me I guess,” I say, and I swear I see something inside Graham splinter and break when I do. He glares back at me with glassy eyes. 

 

“Do you understand how that makes me feel?” He asks, and the desperate, broken sound of him sniffling tugs at something inside me. 

 

“It makes me feel small,” he explains. “It makes me feel like shit.”

 

“Graham, this isn’t about you. Trust me.”

 

“I’m not talking about you, ” Graham argues. “It makes me feel like shit that people think about us.” 

 

“Gra—”

 

“Like how you and everyone else think us being together is wrong, or disgusting, ” Graham says. “Just because of a stupid age difference.”

 

“I’m sorry, Gra, This is my fault. I shouldn’t have pulled you into this.”

 

“And you, you didn’t defend us at all!” Graham shouts. “You acted like we should be ashamed for being together.”

 

“Graham—”

 

“I mean, is that how you really feel about us?” He asks, and his voice cracks. He drags his face across the sleeve of my jacket he’s wearing and sniffles loudly. “Is that how you feel about me?”

 

“No. Graham I’m telling you, this isn’t about us. It’s about me—”

 

“Stop saying that,” Graham snaps. “It has everything to do with us. It’s about how people perceive us, and how people judge you like  you’re some kind of… pervert.” 

 

“I know—”

 

“And then they look at me like I’m… I’m a…” 

 

“Victim?” I finish. My eyes are stinging now. “I know. But you’re not a victim. At least, I don’t think you are. I hope to God you aren’t. Do you feel like that?”

 

Graham’s shoulders sink. He squeezes his eyes shut.

 

“You can leave. I’m not holding you hostage. And if you wanted to go home, I’d buy you the next train ticket to London. Believe me,” I say, and Graham says nothing. I can’t see much of his face from here except for the wet marks on his cheeks glimmering in the orange glow from the streetlights.

 

“And who do you think is judging you, those arseholes?” I point a finger behind us. “Big deal. Two people at a club you won’t see again. Who gives a toss what they think?” 

 

Graham turns his back to me and wraps his arms around his elbows.

 

“So, you can leave anytime you want. And you’re never see those two people ever again. It doesn’t matter. Okay? You’re overthinking this. We both are.” I suck in a deep breath. “Fuck this, I need a fag.” 

Graham wipes his face with the back of my sleeve again. I’ll have to get it dry cleaned.

Like a religious ritual I slip a fag between my lips, light it, and am hyponotized by the glowing orange cherry between my fingers. I relish the relief of smoke entering my lungs. I meditate as the ash falls from my cigarette onto the ground and skips across the asphalt in fiery sparks.  I go to hook my arm around Graham’s shoulder, but he angles himself away.

“Gra, I’m sorry. This has nothing to do with you. It never has.”

 

I glance over at him. The kid fixes his gaze on the ground. I don’t dare touch him; I can sense the cocktail of emotions swirling around inside him from here. Anger, foremost. Pain, at not feeling accepted. Perhaps some self-loathing too.

 

I draw in a shaky breath.  “How I fucked up my life… that has nothing to do with you. You look at me like I’m this amazing person, and I’m not. I’m—”

 

“Stop saying that,” Graham blurts out. “You’re an amazing person. You’re super talented and you’re beautiful and perfect and every day you act like you’ve given up on yourself. I hate it. I fucking hate it.”

 

“Gra. Please don’t.”

 

“No.”

 

“I haven’t been forthright with you.”

 

“I can’t play this game anymore. You keep pushing me away. Just tell me what’s going on,” he bursts out. “Is it Justine? Are you leaving me for her?”

 

“What are you talking about?”

 

“I’m not Justine, I know. I wish I was. I wish I could replace her but I can’t —”

 

“Hold on—”

 

“I see how much you love her,” Graham says. “I see the look in your eyes when she’s around you. I see how you look at her in photos. I know how she affects you and how you talk about her in interviews. And I’ve heard all the songs you’ve written about her.”

 

“Graham let me speak, would you—”

 

“I can’t ever live up to that. I’m not a woman, and I know that means you won’t ever be happy because I can’t give you that. I know you want a family, and—”

 

“Graham, stop, ” I say, holding his head in my hands. “I would never, ever compare you to Justine. That’s not even a discussion, do you understand?”

He swallows hard then looks back at me with tears in his eyes. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“Gra, stop. You’re misunderstanding me. I love you, that’s what that means.”

 

“I need to ask you a question,” Graham says in a low voice..  “And I need you to be honest with me.” 

 

“What?”

 

“If she came back, would you leave her for me?” 

 

“Graham, for God’s sake, stop comparing yourself.”

 

“Answer the question.” 

 

“That’s not a fair question and you know that.”

 

“But you acted like you loved Jude and you didn’t leave Justine for him, now did you?” Graham bursts out. 

 

I blink and time seems to stop. For a moment I’m not sure what I heard, so I ask again. “Who?”

 

Graham covers his mouth. “Fuck. I wasn’t supposed to say that.”

 

So he knows. 

 

He’s known. 

 

I’m such a fucking idiot. Of course Graham knew. Everyone knows. Why would I think he would be any different? Because he looked at me like I was normal? 

 

“Fuck. I wasn’t supposed to say that, I’m sorry,” Graham says, pacing back and forth. “Fuck.”

 

I can’t feel my fingers anymore. I don’t want to process this with him; I don’t —

“When…?” Only half of the words I want to say leave my mouth.

 

“When I googled you and Justine,” Graham confesses, looking down at the ground.

 

My heart’s hammering inside my chest as though I’ve just run a mile. I don’t want to be here.  I feel myself slipping into disassociation again.

 “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” he blurts out. “It scared me to talk about with you. And I felt weird about it and I didn’t know… how to react.” 

“…”

“At first I was just talking to you to see if it was true. But then the more I got to know you I realized you weren’t the horrible person everyone made you out to be. You really are a good person, and I see that now.”

 

“…”

 

“Des, please look at me. Talk to me. You’re killing me right now by not saying anything,” Graham begs, but I don’t respond.  “This is why I didn’t want to say anything. I saw how you beat yourself up every day. How you would drink because you couldn’t forgive yourself. I didn’t want to make you feel worse. Don’t you understand?” 

 

"…”

 

“I know you didn’t mean to do what you did. Please, would you look at me?” Graham begs, tugging at my jacket. I still can’t bear to look at him.

 

My ears are deaf, my hands are numb. My heart is empty. I’m hearing all of Graham’s words but it’s like I’m outside of my body, lost. I dig my fingernails into my scalp hard enough to draw blood, just so I can feel something. 

 

“Did you know before?” I ask, my voice flat and cold.

 

“Did I know what before?”

 

 “Before you kissed me?”

 

Graham’s face blossoms red. Then he turns away from me and mumbles something I can’t hear. 

 

“I want an answer, Graham.” Now the feeling is coming back into my body. I feel hot and nauseous. I feel disgusted.

 

Graham covers his face with his hands. “It’s not what you think. I would have—I would have done everything the same. Trust me. I wasn’t trying to trick you.”

 

“Is it yes or no, Graham?”

 

“Yes. But I’m just a stupid kid with a teacher’s crush, okay? I was doing whatever I could to get you to like me. Please don’t hate me.” 

 

“...”

 

“I just wanted you to like me back,” Graham explains, his bottom lip quivering. “You were all I could think about. And I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you sooner. I know that’s fucked up. I fucked up by not telling you. Please don’t be mad at me.”

 

Graham hooks his fingers around my arm. Tears are streaming down his cheeks. I want to say “it’s okay” or “it’s fine” but I can’t. All of the anger and guilt inside me is choking down every word.

 

Graham shifts closer to me and wraps his arms around my body. His cheeks are wet and his face hot. He’s kissing me now, begging me to look at him but I just can’t.

 

“I know it was an accident,” he says, his voice almost a whisper. “I know you didn’t mean to kill him.”




 

 

 

 

**

To be continued.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

Never say love is “like” something because it isn’t. There’s no description for the amalgamation of the memories of someone—their touch, the smell of their skin, their warm bellied laugh as it carries through walls. Every person is their own unique universe and when they’re gone language can only crudely describe what it was like to experience them.

Jude’s room was smaller than mine. He had a small postcard of Blake’s Ancient of Days tacked onto the inner wall of his bed and mounted above that a canvas of a blue landscape oil painting. He was an inch, perhaps two, under me, leanly built, with precise features; soft black hair, pink bowed lips and thoughtful dark brown eyes. He had a quietness that had arrived in him a long time ago and stayed and spread and enfolded him in its arms. But he also had a dry wit and when he smiled it aroused feelings of warmth, and something more, in many people. He had that negligent charisma of being the most talented person in the room and the most complicated—I floundered in a graceless mess around him.

One day I fell asleep and didn’t show up for our regular sitting and he found that so unconscionable that he knocked on my door at 2 am, pale with the irritation as though he’d been stewing for hours. He called me an inconsiderate cunt.

The first time I kissed him, for a whole five seconds he remained unresponsive, eyes as wide as saucers, just staring back at me in the doorway of my room. My hand snaked down his right side and slipped itself around his waist. Still, he didn’t respond. Taking that as a cue to continue, I kissed him again, laying my hands over his, and pushed them to my hips. His spine straightened, and he made a small animal noise as I pressed myself into him.

The pent up sexual frustration of having nothing but your hand for a month—sober, even—was enough to drive anyone insane. Not to mention that feeling of holding someone, another heartbeat hammering against your ribcage, hands squeezing and sculpting a warm body. Fingertips pinching white flesh, transforming colors when a rush of pink blood surfaces to the skin. That level of human contact is exhilarating when you have it and maddening when you haven’t.

That’s how it started anyway, as a dumb, animal need. A desire that I’d fulfilled with many other men and women before, on tours, in clubs, in various countries. The interaction was always the same, nothing very meaningful, and the thought of that person after that drunken night rarely crossed my mind ever again. But with Jude, that image stayed, glued to my brain. I couldn’t shake him. Hazel eyes, black hair, sweet, round and swollen lips—they parted softly underneath my calloused thumb and the pull of my teeth. But after a while it developed into more than just the sex, it became complicated. I looked forward to waking up with him in the morning next to me and devastated when he left my bed before I’d risen. He was a vision—a burning bright warm light of a beautiful boy amid a dark, cold bed that I could wrap my arms around for the night.

 

**

 

By the time Graham and I reach our hotel room, it’s close to midnight. I slip my clothes off, place my shoes on the floor, and without a word, collapse on the mattress. Graham, meanwhile, lags like a puppy dog, reluctant to say anything more but still clinging to me in sad desperation.

“I’m sorry,” he says, for what had to be the twentieth time that night. “I know you’re furious. You have every right.”

I make a slight clicking sound with my tongue, sigh, and roll over onto my side so my back is facing him.

“Please,” he pleads. “Talk to me. I feel awful, and when you don’t say anything just makes it worse.” Weight shifting on the bed, and he curls up behind me and slips his arms around my waist. More silence. It stretches past the five-minute mark and settles on top of us like a blanket. I’m half asleep by the time he speaks again.

“I want to hear your side of the story.”

Again, I don’t respond, so Graham continues to probe. “What was he like?”

Another silence. My chest lifts and falls. I draw a sharp breath and reach down to remove his hand from my belly. This causes an even more negative reaction and the next thing I realize I look over and his eyes are glassy.

“Des, I’m sorry,” he mumbles. My heart anchors to the pit of my gut and stays there until I feel sick. “I am, I mean it.” 

“I know you are.”

“Thank God. You’re talking. Please don’t go silent again.”

“Okay.”

“I just want you to forgive me.”

I clench and unclench my jaw. Graham passes his hand over mine, but I don’t register it. “Have you told your mother?” I ask, but the words come out dry and hollow. I am greeted by silence again, a taste of my medicine.

“Graham,” I repeat, dropping my voice.

“No,” he answers, casting his eyes down. “She thinks I moved in with a roommate.”

“A roommate?”

“She doesn’t know who you are.”

“Obviously. If she did, you wouldn’t be here.”

“Please stop acting like you’re the worst man in the universe,” Graham huffs. “You’re not that bad.”

“I’m just making sure you’re not a missing person,” I say, and Graham screws his face up.

“Fuck’s sake I’m not,” he mutters.

“Were you going to tell her?”

He picks at the bed of his thumbnail, not looking at me. “I mean, eventually, yeah.”

“Why did you do it, Gra?”

“What do you mean, why?”

“Why did you do all of this? Why did you lie to me when you already know everything?”

Graham studies the hangnail on his left index finger and says, “I never lied to you, I just didn’t bring it up.”

Sitting quietly, I’m conscious of minutiae in the room; the subtle change in his breathing pattern, the way his eyes focus behind me and not on me.

“I told you the truth. I had a crush on you. And I read about you and I just thought…”

“Thought what?”

“I don’t know, that it could happen again... with me?” He trails off, but his eyes flick upwards to meet mine. “That sounds terrible when I say it out loud.”

I frown. “You thought I was into young boys and so you assumed I’d be into you.”

“No, no, no. That’s not it at all.” Graham went quiet. “Well, sort of.”

My expression cracks and Graham reaches out to touch my arm. “I mean, it’s not like that. I don’t think you’re like that now, you know, You love me and respect me and you’re taking everything slowly with me, so I get it... you know?”

“But the fact remains that you thought I was a pedophile.”

“I don’t know if a pedophile’s the right word, you know, that’s super harsh and you’re not…” Graham chewed on his upper lip. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to say other than what I did was wrong… and I fucked up, and I’m sorry,” he mumbles, tenderly touching his hand to my arm.

“When we get back to London, you need to explain everything to them.”

“Who?”

“Your parents.”

“Why?”

“Eventually, you will have to,” I add, frowning. “Either way, we can’t be together.”

“Why not?”

“Because when they find out who I am, they won’t want you to be around me.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I don’t?”

“No. You don’t know them,” Graham huffs. “For Chrissakes, you’ve never even met them! But you’re acting like you know how they will react.”

“I thought I did, but since that was a lie, I don’t know anymore,” I say and Graham’s shoulders slump. “Look, I’m just trying to be realistic.”

“No, you’re not,” he counters. “You’ve been grinning ever since we got here. I can see the happiness on your face, so don’t lie to me.”

“Listen—”

“You always do this, you don’t allow yourself happiness. You just keep punishing yourself over and over.”

“Gra—”

“I’m not leaving,” he declares, leveling his gaze with mine. “I don’t care what you say. I’d rather be dead than not be with you, that’s how much I love you.”

Those last few words hit me like a train; my facade cracks. Before I know it, Graham is wiping away the warm tears are streaming down my cheeks. “Shit,” he swears, his eyes widening. “I said something wrong.”

I shake my head. “It’s fine.”

“No, it’s not.”

“You weren’t thinking.”

There’s a silence that stretches on for a minute or more, and so when Graham speaks again his voice is soft. “Can we be just okay now, please? You and me?”

“...Yeah.”

“Can I be completely honest?” He whispers, and I notice the jealousy in his voice as plain as day.

“You may.”

“I’m jealous of Jude. I know nothing about him, but I am. Do you think that’s silly? Does that make you upset?”

I shake my head.

“Sometimes I wonder if when you look at me, you just see him instead.” He frowns. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that either. I keep saying stupid shit.”

“It’s okay. You’re very different people,” I say, but Graham tilts his head to the side, and I can sense that he’s still feeling insecure about my response. 

“To answer your question, no. I only ever see you. No one else,” I reassure him, brushing a part of his fringe behind his ear. “I just can’t change my past. And I can’t change how it affects us. It just is.”

“People don’t hate you as much as you think, you know. I know a lot of fans supported you.”

“I thought I was doing the right thing back then, but it wasn’t. I’ve accepted my mistakes.”

“I don’t think you have,” Graham says, scanning my face. He draws his hand down my arm, hooks his fingers underneath my shirt and pulls it up over my head. He smiles. “Maybe that’s why I’m here.”

Graham chucks my shirt to the side of the bed and grins. He smooths his hands over my chest then drags his thumb over an old white scar in the shape of an S on my collarbone.

“That’s not the only one.”

“I know, I saw all of them,” he says, brushing his fingers through my hair. “Don’t worry, you still look beautiful.”

“Hah. Thanks.”

“What did you love the most about him?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Stop lying.” Graham frowned, his nails picking at the loose threads of the duvet. “Do you miss him?”

“It’s not good to talk about the past, Gra.” 

“Why not?”

“I know what you’re asking,” I say, closing my hand around his. “Don’t compare yourself.”

“I’m not.”

“I can tell when you’re lying, you know.” I brush a piece of hair out of his face and he gives me a sheepish smile.

 

**

 

The day before they released us from rehabilitation, I remember lying on his bed, between his legs, and admiring that perspective of him. His lips were the color of a freshly cut fig—the same shade as the smattering of lovebites on his neck I’d left there the night before. I smiled, but it felt as though the air in the room was gradually thinning out, and when I looked at him, his eyes were empty.

“What are you thinking about, Jay?”

“I’m worried.”

“What are you worried about?”

Jude didn’t reply, instead, he just kept staring out the window.

“What if Justine doesn’t like me?”

“She will.”

“What if she hates me?”

“She won’t.”

“I’m worried.”

“There’s no reason to be.”

“What if I don’t like her?” He frowned. “I don’t know if I can be with two people.”

“You don’t have to. Just like she doesn’t have to like you. You’re different, that’s what I love about you.”

“I’m not sure if it’s possible to be in love with multiple people.”

“I’m confused. Do you not want to do this?”

“No, I do. It’s just—”

I pulled back onto my knees and leveled my gaze with him. “What?”

“It’s just… why do I have to be a secret?”

“You don’t need the attention we get. Trust me.”

“What if I did?”

“There’s nothing worse than paparazzi following you everywhere every second of the day. I couldn’t put you through that.”

“But shouldn’t that be my choice?”

Locking eyes with him, I realized what was bothering him.  “I’m not trying to hide you.”

You just don’t want to come out, is what I know he wanted to say.

“I’m afraid that when you leave tomorrow, you’ll go back to your real life and her and it’ll feel as if you’re a million miles away.”

“It won’t.”

“Promise?”

“I promise.”

Jude got up with his back facing me and stood in front of the window, staring down into the street. Sometimes I still see him there, like a ghost. Standing next to the bed, stirring his coffee, gazing down at the street. His lips set in a straight line, worry deep in his eyes.

“Did you know he was seventeen?” Graham asks, and there’s a shade of judgment in his tone that’s not lost on me. Some days I think I did, other times I’m not sure.

The thread of truth had always been there, unraveling, it was just a matter of time before I recognized it. Weeks later, it had been another brisk morning. The sun had shifted and washed all the shadows away in a cool, gray light. We’d made love on a new, clean bed in the flat I’d gotten him in Kensington and I reassured him, again, that I needed him, even if right then it could only be in the margins of my life—with the band, with Justine—until he could take center stage. I was more selfish back then; I realize that now.

The day before my birthday we talked about getting his passport again and after I smoothed the sheets down and made the bed and he looked at me forcefully, with his voice not shaking told me how old he was.

For weeks I kept reliving the same moment before he informed me. His body below me, tall lean arms and legs, mouth parted, arcing his long neck back. Sinking teeth into taut skin just to hear that sound I coveted escape his lips. After that period, everything was different, cast in a sickening light. My stomach turned over, bile rose in my throat.

“This is a bad joke,” I think I said. I don’t remember. I began to question my memory. I’d assumed too much and thought too little. He’d told me plain as day that he’d been in council housing, a ward in the system.

A walnut of fear settled in my esophagus and closed around it. Scenarios rushed through my brain of all the various ways it would rip apart my life. Prison. Being labeled as a sex offender. I pictured Justine finding out, then Jamie, disgust on their faces matching my own.

“I won’t tell anyone,” he promised, floating in the doorway and staring down at my crumpled body on the dirty linoleum. I felt like a madman. I questioned every thought. Then he touched his hand to my shoulder, and I jerked away.

“Don’t.”

Cutting Jude out of my life was like carving my heart out of my chest, and there were phantom pains. My ribs felt hollow, my lungs deflated. My spirit broke and drugs became a well of comfort, again. Justine left, again. Masturbation and sex were alien to me. I mistrusted myself and my urges. The overwhelming knowledge of my sexual deviance marred any positive memory of Jude I’d had so I tried to destroy every brain cell that contained him.

I cut off all contact from Jude, save for the money I sent to keep him afloat. I didn’t want him in council housing and it was the least I could do. I couldn’t show him affection any other way and even then that was risky. I got so used to the phone ringing that I didn’t hear it anymore. There wasn’t a question in my mind: the decision I made was the right one, but it was not what I wanted and it was not what he wanted either.

Months later I came home to find Jude sitting on my doorstep. He was donning my huge green army jacket, and it was so large that the fabric pooled around him like a puddle. He looked worse for wear, gaunt, cheekbones jutting out and wide dark circles saddled underneath empty pools of brown. For a seventeen-year-old, he had the posture of melancholy; shoulders slumped, with his arms hanging at his sides. This was his body; his expression of despair. I felt the pull downward, my eyes sinking deeper into the veins of my feet.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his lips dry and cracked to the point of bleeding. His voice was hoarse, his eyes half-lidded. “I know I’m not supposed to be here… I don’t have anyone else.”

I let him into my flat anyway, against my better judgment. I was worried about him, his mental state, his sobriety. The love I had for him still clung to my bones, like muscle tissue. I couldn’t rid myself of him now, he was a part of me. This kid was in my life, whether or not I wanted it, and I had to take care of him.

“You don’t look well,” I said. He folded his skinny arms and his elbows poked out on either side of his ribs. I wanted to hold him. Judging from his shrunken shoulders and diminished stature he was using again.

“You’re not sober anymore.”

“I’m very sick.”

“You need to go to the hospital, Jay.”

He kept quiet.

“I thought about jumping in front of a train instead,” he said, lowering his gaze. “This was easier.”

My eyes burned.  “I don’t enjoy seeing you like this.”

“Des,” he mumbled, and I realized then how much I had missed the sound of his voice in contrast with mine. “You can’t just stop loving someone.”

I opened my mouth to speak but stopped. A surging cocktail of conflicting emotions welled up inside me I felt forced to reconcile. I didn’t want to encourage anything further. I knew I’d done this to him as much as he’d done it to himself. I was culpable. I’d cut him off, cold turkey, cast him out of my heart to right my wrongs. Love is not all that different from drugs when it comes down to it.

He stared straight through me and his eyes became black and cold. “Can’t you just pretend? Like you did before?”

A pain thrummed in my core. Had I pretended before? Or did I not know? I wasn’t sure anymore.

“You should get some sleep.”

“Des, you can’t do that to someone….just drop out of another person’s life forever and never talk to them again,” Jude said, and his eyes cut through me like a knife. “Christ, I still love you. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”

Jude stood up, saline streaks running down his cheeks. He kissed me with dry lips and I tasted salt. My body froze, not wishing to participate but also not preferring it to end.

“Please, let me stay with you,” he begged, running his hand down my chest. “I’ll get better again, I promise. Please don’t kick me out. You know I don’t have anyone but you.”

He pressed into me again, parted his lips fraction and allowed his tongue slip between my teeth. Maybe for a few more seconds, we could remain here like this.

I had missed him so much.

For a brief time, I let myself fantasize. Unbarring my disgust, I acquiesced in the indulgence. The warmth of his mouth on mine, the scratch of his scruff against exposed skin — he parted his lips just a fraction and let my tongue slip into his mouth. I missed his taste, I missed his skin, I missed his hands on my neck—almost feminine—and how they slipped underneath my shirt and around my waist. His long fingers unbuttoned my jeans and how he pressed himself to me, breath hot and heavy against my neck.

I moved to lift him and he reached out and caught my collar before his knees gave out. One of his hands curled around the back of my neck for support. He beamed up at me, exhaling hard, still gripping onto my shirt. One hand threaded through my hair, tugging at the roots and causing my skin and nerves to turn electric. My right hand sat heavy at his neck, my thumb brushing his cheek as the other slipped down his side, and over the back of his thigh to hoist him onto the table and spread his legs apart. I placated my mouth around his jugular and Jude leaned his head backward and peered up at the smooth white ceiling, breathless, rib cage rising and falling. There was a jolt between my legs and all I could think about was being inside him.

Then suddenly I remembered. Sobering reality sunk in and I withdrew, feeling wrong, disgusted. I stood frozen still, but the fantasy of throwing caution to the wind was coursing through my veins. I’d had the same dream many times and woken up in a cold bed. This moment was nothing different. It hurt all the same.

“Please, Des. I love you. I’m begging you.”

 

 

 

 

 

**

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I love you.”

The words fell off Graham’s lips so innocently that I couldn’t help but not be mad at him. I questioned again if this was all a trick, if I was being manipulated. Who was taking advantage of who now? Then again, I’m not sure I cared. To have this beautiful boy in front of me, sitting in my lap, practically glowing. I don’t know how else to explain it but even though we hadn’t been together yet in totality, our bodies fit together so perfectly.  It was almost peculiar how so. 

My broadness makes me an easy top for him. But where I’m soft and wide, he’s taut and muscular. When he stands, the few inches he gains on me make him the perfect height for biting the nape of his neck. On all fours, he drives me mad. How he tilts his arse up, teasing me, cock dangling between his legs. Pulling forward on the dark foreskin, how he moans as he rubs himself against the mattress, pining for me before becoming self conscious and flushing bright red from his face to his chest. 

Now it was Graham’s turn to hesitate. “I’m nervous.”

“Yeah, I can tell.”

I allow myself to enjoy all of him: running my hands over his thighs, up his flanks, over the taut muscles in his stomach. I hover above him, pressing my lips to his while my hips graze his torso.

“You’re already hard,” he says very matter-of-factly, grinning against my mouth. “How do you do that?”

I smirk and wrap my hand around his ass and squeeze. “Are you kidding me? How could I not be, with you teasing me?”

His fingers graze the space between his thighs and I wrap my hand around him. He’s beneath me, drowning in one of my oversized t-shirts and nothing else, his cock peeking out from underneath and looking thrilled to see me. He touches himself with that starry-eyed gaze in his eyes and that familiar surge of electricity runs straight from my brain down into my cock.

“I think you look better in that shirt than I do.” 

“Yeah?”

I crawl off of him and he sits up, tucking his legs behind him so he’s perched on his knees, giving me a wonderful view as he spreads his legs open and his cock bobs between his legs. My brain freezes for a moment, admiring the beautiful boy in front of me who’s looking at me as though I’m some fantastical creature. He peers up at me with those doleful brown eyes, pouting. He’s waiting for me to make the first move.

“Roleplay again?” I tease, brushing my thumb against his bottom lip. He nods, smiling, then pulls me into his mouth and all the tension leaves my body. Lips wrapped around my knuckle he sucks me with chocolate eyes steadfast the entire time and it’s too much for me. He slides my index and middle fingers in and out, pressing them against his velvet tongue before his teeth gently scrape the top of my nail bed. 

Weary of being teased, I push him off me and place my hand on the back of his neck, pressing him backward until he’s laying on the bed. I’m impatient, but I figure there’s no need to rush the foreplay if he’s enjoying it. Graham spreads his thighs, cock arcing up from underneath the white t-shirt, pressing up against his belly button and leaving a wet spot of pre-cum. He squirms underneath me as I mark him with little love bites. When I bite down hard he mewls, in pain or pleasure I’m not sure. From here on out, I want to mark him, to make him my own, to show everyone else that he’s mine and no one else’s.

I brush my hand over his flat belly and pinch his nipple. He grins and  brushes my hand away.

“Stop being a tease,” he says, then lifts his hips up to show me what he wants. 

“You sure you’re ready? Once I start, I don’t know that I can stop.” 

Ears warm, cheeks flushed, Graham nods. He still looks nervous, understandably, but not uncertain. I reach for the bottle of lube and Graham helps me pull off my underwear. He kisses the soft space between my belly button and the base of my cock. Even though we’ve done this before, there’s a newness to it. This time it feels more real. More intimate.

I lift his chin up to me and Graham opens his mouth a fraction and I slip my tongue inside. A soft moan reverberates all the from his throat to his stomach. He presses against me and I feel him under my fingertips, hot blood rushing up to meet the skin, hearts beating against each other’s chest.

If I’m honest, I always imagined our first time like this. I dreamt of laying him down, tying him up and then fucking him hard and slow until he cried out my name and we both came. I rarely let myself think about it, but it was always there, hiding in the shadows the first time he arrogantly stepped up my desk. Not even when he was piss-drunk in my flat and he was begging me to take his virginity did I allow myself that fantasy. 

It seemed as if Graham could read my thoughts. “I’ve been dreaming about our first time a lot,” he said.

I smile against his lips. “Me too.”  

“I keep thinking about what you said to me, in the bar. The fantasy you had.”

“Oh?”

“About being submissive...and being controlled by you. I like that.”

“Really?” An arch an eyebrow. 

“I enjoy thinking of you as my teacher,” Graham admits. “I like you telling me what to do.”

“A lot, or a little?”

“A lot,” he says, blushing. “I like how you were… aggressive.”

“Was that aggressive, back at the club?” I tease, wetting my lips. “That was only a two or a three. I can be an eleven.”

Graham’s eyes widen. “I don’t know if I’m ready for eleven. But maybe we can, you know, do that thing in your fantasy?”

“What do you mean, like tie you up?”

“No… sort of…” Graham reaches for his bag. He pulls out something pink and gaudy and heavy and places it in front of me. “I wasn’t sure how you felt about it.” 

I smirk. “Gra, you’ve been holding out on me.”

“I wasn’t sure if you wanted it, but I saw you staring at it. I figured that was what you were talking about. I figured you’d like it more than fuzzy handcuffs.”

I smirk.

“Do you like it?”

I reach my his fingers out, touching the cold metal chain. I unfurl the light pink leather clasp on the collar. “It’s beautiful,” I laugh, holding it out on my hands. It had a soft leather strap, measuring about 3/4 of an inch in height, adorned with faux jewels and a tiny pink bow in the middle. Feminine, but perfect for him. I loved it.

“You can take the chain off, you know, so I can wear it without,” Graham mumbles, blushing. “I hate the color pink. It’s all they had.”

“I love it.”

Staring down at the leather collar, Graham touches his fingers to it. “You should put it on me.”

I circle the band around his neck, overcome by the sharp smell of new leather. Graham inhales sharply, craning his neck as I place the collar around his neck. Finally, with it secure I wrap the metal chain, around my wrist a few times. All the color has drained from his face. Lifting his fingers, he touches the collar on his neck. 

“Is it too tight?”

“No.”

“You don’t like it,” I say, grimacing.

“No, I like it.”

“Do you know how being a sub works?” Graham hesitates a fraction of a second and then shakes his head.

“Kind of.”

“It means as long as we’re playing I control you, I dominate you. It’s a power play. Your body, your well-being is in my hands. And I correct you, when you break the rules.”

“Correct?”

“I punish you.”

“Do you mean like, bondage then? S&M?” Graham giggles.  “Fifty shades of gray?”

“Yes and no.” I smirk. “It can involve those aspects but it doesn’t have to. It’s the relationship between partners. A sub’s responsibility is to please the dominant person, no matter what. Unquestionably.” Graham looks apprehensive so I continue. “I’ve been both a sub and a dom before. And I can switch... so if you don’t like it, it’s okay.”

To my surprise, his answer is immediate. “I want to try it. Is it for forever?”

“No, just when we’re playing. There’ll be a safe word you can say if you want to stop. Nothing should make you uncomfortable, that’s not the point of it. The purpose is to enjoy it.” Graham touches his fingers to the collar again and flushes. 

“What’s our safe word?” 

“Let’s make it, let’s see… ‘mercy’. Say that word any time you want me to stop, do you understand? If you’re in pain, if I hurt you too much, if you don’t feel safe… just say it. Okay? Don’t hesitate,“ I explain, and Graham nods.

“Ready? I want you to lie on your side and face me.” I instruct. I kept my voice soft and steady and sit on my knees with my swollen cock in hand. I run my hands through his scalp, then tug just to let him know who’s in control.

“These are the rules: you will call me sir, teacher, or Mr. Albarn and nothing else. Never my first name. You will do everything I tell you and if you disobey me, I will punish you. If you obey me, I will reward you. Punishment will vary and it will hurt. Do you understand?”

Graham nods, blushing a hot red. “Yes, Mr. Albarn.”

“The first thing you will do is open that pretty mouth and suck my cock,” I say, letting go of my hold on him. Graham parts his lips and looks up at me with apprehension, as though it’s all a bit too much for him. He presses the tip of my prick to his lips and hesitates. My fingers tighten around his scalp and I pull as a soft warning.

“I didn’t say kiss, I said suck. Worship it,” I clarify, letting go of him. His eyes glimmer and he opens his lips once again, stretching his pink mouth in a beautiful O shape around my prick and then pressing it into the side of his cheek. He looks up at me for approval. 

I drag my thumb down at the corner of his lips stretching him out where my cock meets his tongue. “Good, you’re making your teacher proud.” 

Instinctively, my hips buck forward and I almost forget that we’re roleplaying when Graham chokes and coughs. Thankfully, I bite my tongue to keep myself from apologizing. Underneath his tongue, my cock pulses wet and warm and I close my eyes, running my hands through his hair and enjoying the slow pace. His tongue dances around my head while the other hand reaches around to encircle the base and pull. I tug on the chain, pulling him and the collar closer to me. The leather band stretches around his neck, leaving a beautiful, red mark of skin underneath. Graham takes me all the way into his mouth again, this time with unnerving methodicalness—no teeth at all this time and just the right amount of pressure. 

“Good boy,” I purr, stroking his hair. “Look at how much your teacher’s given you.”

I lean into his mouth again and Graham, to my surprise, maintains this time. He doesn’t hold it for very long though and chokes as I go too far in again, coughing. He wipes the tears from his eyes and I slap him with the back of my hand—gently this time—as a first warning. His skin prickles with goosebumps. 

“I didn’t tell you to stop.” 

“I’m sorry, sir,” he says, drawing his eyes down. 

“Have I not taught you how to worship a cock?” 

“Yes, sir,” Graham says, casting his eyes down. “I’m sorry, sir. I’m sorry I’m not good at it like you. Please, will you teach me?”

“Stand up,” I command, switching positions with him so I am on my knees instead. Wetting my lips, I take him into my mouth. I close my eyes, appreciating the little sounds he’s making as I go down on him. Swallowing him completely, I let him hit the back of my throat and hold him there. He fists my hair, tugging hard on my scalp and for a moment I remain there just to hear his desperate ah-ah-ah’s as I allow him the pleasure of throat fucking me. His cock is gorgeous, long and lean, a perfect cock for anal and all I want is to bow down to it. I relax my throat muscles, and Graham lets out a high-pitched moan as I swirl my tongue around him. Kissing and sucking and licking, cradling his balls with my other hand. He makes a sound in his throat, lower than usual and hungrier than expected, eyes closed and head thrown back. 

I pull up for air and Graham looks like he’s in seventh heaven, eyes glazed over, still catching up with his breath, but taken aback—I’ve been nothing but tender with him until this point, saving my more niche talents for this moment. He runs his hands through my hair, and stares at my lips with religious intensity.

“Jesus, where did you learn—”

“I didn’t tell you to talk, Coxon. Lay down in front of me,” I command, my voice stern. He obeys, still looking at me with stars in his eyes. 

“Now do you understand how to worship a cock?” I ask, and Graham nods. His fingers float to his neck again, touching the collar. 

“Mr. Albarn, will you make it tighter? Please?”

I readjust the collar on his neck, making certain it’s tug—only a two fingers' width of space between his throat and the collar—tight for me, even. Lying down, Graham’s gaze meets mine, soft and dazed, my pink cock lying heavy just in front of his red, swollen lips and I realize how much of that is an immediate turn on to me. I reduce the slack on the chain a bit and tell him to suck me again. He obliges, keeping eye contact with me the entire time.

He’s a fast learner; I have to give him that because already he’s picked up some things I’ve taught him and good God, does he have a natural talent for it. I push most of my cock to the back of his throat. He groans, humming around me and I close my eyes. We stay like that for a while; me fucking him slow and steady in his mouth, fingers digging into his scalp. He turns his gaze to me again, tears threatening to spill over, cheeks red, lips full, drunk on my cock and I can tell it’s too much for him. Then I tell him to stop. 

He appears hurt at first, likely thinking he’s disappointed me again and—breaking character—I kiss the nape of his neck to assure him he hasn’t and loosen the collar on him a bit.

I wrap my hand around my cock, and stroke myself to get myself the rest of the way as Graham studies me in silence, in the dim light. His cheeks flush and pupils dilate as he watches me get off myself off just by staring at him. He lifts his arms above his head, arching his back against the bed in a beautiful bow, skinny ribs jutting out underneath porcelain skin. My eye draws a line down his chest and between his legs. Orange light illuminates his profile as his chest rises and falls, shining eyes staring back at me.

“Mr. Albarn, please,” he begs, parting his lips underneath my cock. “You promised that you would fuck me.”

“Did I give you I permission to talk? No, I told you to sit there and be quiet and close that cock sucking mouth of yours,” I chide, pulling the chain tight. The skin on his neck turns an angrier red as more blood rushes to the surface of the skin. Graham grimaces; his response is a mixture of pain and pleasure. He’s not used to me talking to him like this, and I’m worried I’m going too far too fast with him. 

“Please sir, may I talk?” Graham asks, and I smile internally. He’s getting better at this.

“You may.”

“Thank you, Mr. Albarn.” Graham’s touching himself now, admiring his pink cock between his legs as he strokes himself.

“Did I tell you to touch yourself?”

“No, sir.” 

I strike my hand against his backside once again that’s now become the same shade of pink as his collar.

“From now on, you do not touch yourself unless I tell you to. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

Instructing him to turn over onto his stomach, I then climb on top of him I straddle him with both legs. I run my free hand over the curve of his arse and he spreads his legs farther apart. Pressing my finger against his entrance, he lets out a little yelp and I slap his ass—hard—it leaves a beautiful red mark in the shape of my hand. God, I want to drive into him so much right now it hurts. But, I remind myself; I need to pace myself. Both of us.

“Get on your back,” I say, and climb on top of him, using my body weight to pin both his chest and arms down. I move myself closer to his head, admiring him as he waits, lips parted, pink tongue darting out. I reach my right hand out to cradle his head and stroke myself with the other. 

“Do you know what that collar represents?”

“No, sir. I don’t.”

“That collar shows that I am your teacher. And you will or will not wear it when I tell you to without questioning me.”

“Yes, sir.”

“When you wear that collar, you belong to me. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Now, who do you belong to?”

“My teacher.”

“Who is your teacher?”

“You, Mr. Albarn.”

His eyes are glimmering, cheeks hollow as he positions himself underneath me with his mouth open and wanting. 

“I am doing this to you, to show you I am claiming you and no one else may touch you. Am I being clear?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You may touch yourself now.”

“Thank you, Mr. Albarn.”

When I finally orgasm, I come on his face, landing in heavy, warm white streaks across his chin and tongue and below his eyes. He moans, swallowing every drop gratefully, and licking his lips like a well-fed cat. I collapse. Feeling guilty, and to show that our roleplay is over, I kiss his face and clean him with my tongue, tasting myself and him mixed. He comes soon after, and I watch all the muscles in his body contract and then a wave of pleasure melt over him that’s beautiful to witness. 

“Des,” he says, and the way it rolls off his tongue soft and sweet which tells me it’s not the role-play Graham saying it, it’s him.  He closes his eyes. With my free hand, I push his hair back and kiss his forehead. 

“Hey. You okay?”

His body is exhausted, but his eyes are lucid, almost glimmering. “Yeah. That was different.”

“Did you like it?”

“Yes.”

“Even the last bit?”

“Especially the last bit.” He scrunches up his nose and laughs. “You definitely got some of it in my eye though.” 

“Oh fuck, I’m sorry,” I coo, pulling him into my arms. I inspect the rest of his face, licking my thumb and trying to clean him more before he bats my hand away. “I’ll be more careful next time.” 

“I didn’t know you if liked that kind of thing. I rarely do that, but…”

Graham reaches a few fingers up and feels the collar around his neck. “I enjoy wearing it.”

“You do?”

He grins against my cheek. “Are you serious about me belonging to you?”

Keeping quiet, I lean my head on my hand and stare back at him. There’s a slight smile on my face, though I’m trying my best to hide it. 

“So that’s a yes,” Graham teases, before changing the subject.

“I want to know how you’re so good at blowjobs. You’ve been holding out on me.”

“I know this might be hard to believe because of my age but I did spend a lot of my life as… what do you call it…?”

“Twink,” Graham muses, his eyes dancing all over me. 

“I would say sub, but sure,” I joke. 

“You still are. Kind of.”

“Kind of?” I repeat, sounding mock-hurt. 

“No, I mean you’re more of a… dad, now?”

“Ouch.”

“No, that’s like... a good thing.”

I arch an eyebrow. “Is it? Someone called me daddy when I met you at the club..”

Graham blushes. “Oh, they did?”

“Yeah. I thought it was rude.”

“It’s not rude.”

“Then what is it?”

Graham presses his lips together. “No, it’s a… good thing.”

“It doesn’t sound good to me. I don‘t understand the slang these days.” I lift both eyebrows. “What do you prefer calling me?” 

“Des,” he says, kissing my nose. His hair falls forward, tickling my face.  “Damon.”

“Hmm, okay.”

“Mr. Albarn,” he continues on, pushing his hips forward. “Sir.”

I grin.  

“Okay, so now what?”

“Oh, we’re not done,” I explain, and Graham’s face perks up. “Get on the bed.”

He narrows his eyes at me. “Make me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

**

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

They say pain is the best teacher. This must be true because when I wrestle Graham to the bed and pin his hands above his head it becomes extremely clear that I’m stronger than I look.

“What did I say about disobeying me?”

“I’m sorry, sir.”

“Don’t disobey me again, unless you want to find out the hard way what happens to my students when they upset me. Understood?”

Squeezing his wrists even tighter, he whimpers beneath me. “Yes, sir.”

“Good boy, good boy,” I purr, freeing him and drawing my thumb across his lips. “You’ve been so obedient up until now. I’d hate to have to discipline that gorgeous mouth of yours.” He closes his eyes and placates his mouth with my finger. 

“Get on your knees. Face the wall. Spread yourself out for your teacher.”

“Yes, Mr. Albarn.”

Without question, he follows my order, crawling onto all fours with his arse facing me. There’s a loud click as I pop open the cap and apply more lube, slipping my hands between his legs and feeling around by touch alone.  Circling his rim prompts a quiet whine and when I slip a wet finger inside him he lets out a high-pitched cry.

“You’re too eager,” I chastise, musing at his impatience as he presses back into my hand. “Be patient.” 

Graham squirms again, pleading in little gasps this time as I insert a second digit inside of him. Courtesy of the plug I’d bought him, he’s much more ready than he had been days ago. I’m delighted to see him opening up to me like a flower.

“You miss sucking my cock already, don’t you? I can tell,” I observe, and Graham nods. 

“Please, sir,” he confesses, arching his back. “I think about it all the time. It’s all I think about.”

I shift myself to his side, so he has better access to me but I’m still able to prep him. I pull the chain closer, and like the perfect pet he laps at my cock with his tongue as I continue to slide my fingers in and out of him. 

“Are you sure you can take such a big cock?”

“Yes, sir. It’s all I’ve ever needed, please,” he says, between sighs, his tongue drawing semi-circles around the head. I’m still a little sensitive, but it’s worth the visual alone. Using my free hand, I grab his scalp and pull. His anal muscles are still rigid and unrelenting, even under the kneading of my fingers.

“Well, that’s too bad because you are way too tight for your teacher’s cock,” I say, spreading my digits inside of him.

“No. Please, sir,” he says, looking up at me with pleading eyes as he lets go of my cock and it bounces red and angry underneath his chin. "I want it. I don’t care if it hurts.”

“My sweet pet, look at how desperate you are,” I muse, smirking as I stretch my two fingers out into a Y shape inside him. “You don’t even know what it feels like yet and you’re begging for it.” Threading my fingers through his scalp, I smooth his hair back from his forehead. His eyes are two shining black diamonds underneath me, lips parted, wet, hungry. He's beautiful.

Sensing some dryness, I ease out my fingers to apply a second layer of lube and Graham whines at their absence.

I growl as a soft warning. “Patience.”

“Sorry, sir,” he mumbles, collapsing into my lap but keeping his ass in the air. “It’s just I’ve been waiting such a long time.”

“I know. I saw you how you looked at me.”

“What do you mean, sir?”

“The way you stared at me in class, like you wanted to be your teacher’s little slut. It was obvious, written all over your face. Am I wrong?” I insert my fingers again, this time all the way to the knuckle, which prompts an involuntary cry from him. 

“No!”

“Did you touch yourself?”

“No,” he moans.

“Don’t bullshit me, Coxon.”

“I’m not…”

“I can tell when you’re lying to me,” I warn, grabbing his hair and pulling it tight. He winces, letting out another ah of pain, and his eyes water. “When you lie to your teacher, you get punished, remember?”  I remind him, removing my fingers. He lets out a high-pitched whimper.

“No. Please, don’t stop,” he begs. “I’m sorry.”

“Did you or did you not touch yourself while you were staring at me?”

Graham squeezes his eyes shut. “Yes,” he confesses, then adds, “Yes, sir. I did.”

My grip on him tightens and a small tear escapes down his cheek. “Say it.”

“Yes, I masturbated when I was looking at you.”

“Where?”

“In class.”

“Over or under your underwear?”

“Under,” he whines, stretching for my hand. 

“Did anyone see you?”

“No. I put my jacket on my lap and I–”

“Show me how you touched yourself,” I command, and face red, he stretches his hand down to stroke himself playing with his foreskin as little beads on pre-cum drip onto the sheets. 

“Good boy. Keep your hands on your cock like that until I tell you to stop,” I purr, and to show him I appreciate his obedience, I hold him by his chin and sink my teeth into his neck. He whimpers.

“Please, sir. I need you. I can’t wait any longer.” He lifts his ass up, pleading with me again, and I backhand him hard enough to cause tears in his eyes. 

“Stop whinging. I will fuck you when I decide that you are ready, do you understand?”

He nods, and I continue. “What was in your mind when you were thinking about me and touching yourself?” 

“I imagined sucking you off… sir.”

“Where?”

“Under your desk…”

“And was it during class or after?”

“During class—”

I smooth his hair back again, admiring his rosy lips, the same color of his cock. I slip two of my fingers inside him again and he howls. “What else were you thinking about when you were touching your prick?”

“How I wanted you to fuck me—”

“How?”

“Bent over your desk,” he whimpers. “I wanted you to spread my legs and—”

“—fuck you within an inch of your life?”

“Yes—” 

I bite down hard on my tongue and taste iron. My free hand slips between my own legs and I press myself against my palm. “How did you want me to penetrate you?”

“Hard,” he answers, biting down on his lip.

“Without preparation?”

“Yes.”

“Did you want it to hurt?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And were you begging for it? Did you beg me to fuck you in front of the entire class?”

“Please!”

I squeeze, then slap his arse. I smile as it leaves a beautiful hand-shaped silhouette of rosy skin underneath my hand. “Yes or no?”

“Yes. I wanted all the students to see you fuck me. I wanted it so bad—”

“Did you want me to fuck that virgin arse of yours so hard that you couldn’t walk for days after?”

“Yes,” Graham cries, pressing his face into the pillow. “Please. That’s all I want.”

I slide a third finger in, and Graham cries out again. “Please, sir. I’ve been a good boy. Will you fuck me, please?”

“Patience.”

With three fingers still inside him I reposition myself so I’m sitting on my knees. My erection brushes up against his thigh and he moans in response, pressing his round ass back into me. I curve my middle finger up, looking for the little ridge. Moving a little to the left, I know I’ve hit my target when Graham’s body jolts forward.

Reaching between his legs, I circle my free hand around his cock and suck him, pulling back the dark foreskin and admiring the duel view from behind. I drag my finger up his taint, between his cheeks and circle it around the tight pink ring. Switching out my hand for the plug, he lets out a succession of moans as the toy enters him and the blood rushes south to his cock and hardens underneath my tongue. Groaning, he pushes his hips forward into my mouth and I relax my throat muscles and hold him there. 

“Please—” I let go of his cock, running my tongue up the length of it and lapping at the sweet droplets of pre-cum at the head. Face flushed, and I can tell he’s already at his emotional edge. I’ve been mechanical with him up to this point, not kissing or showing affection the usual way, and so with my free hand, I brush his hair back from his forehead and purr into his ear. 

“Sweet boy, you’ve been so obedient, that’s why you’re your teacher’s favorite. Now you may touch your cock but you’re not allowed to touch yourself anywhere else or come unless I tell you. Understand? Now, did you come while you were thinking about your teacher in class?”

“Yes, Mr. Albarn.”

“When you came, did you do it in your underwear?”

“Yes,” Graham whimpers. “It was embarrassing. I went to the bathroom to clean myself, but—I was afraid you could tell.” 

Without warning, I strike him with the back of my hand again Graham yelps. “What did I do wrong?”

“You sat in my class with a hard-on, and you touched yourself inappropriately like a little brat without your teacher’s permission or knowing. You will no longer come unless I explicitly allow it to happen, even when you’re alone. Do you understand?”

“I understand, Mr. Albarn. I won’t come again without your permission.”

“I want you to repeat these words out loud, ‘I must never touch my cock unless my teacher allows it.’”

Graham peers up, his face red, but his eyes full of fire. “I must never touch my cock unless my teacher allows it.” 

“Now stand in the corner. Stare at the wall.”

Graham looks me at those I’m crazy. “W-what?”

“Do not question me,” I say, slapping his ass so hard he winces.

“Yes, sir.” With a sideways glance, he crawls off the bed and heads for the corner with his back facing me. 

I leave him there for a few minutes before returning dressed myself, in my slacks and the collared shirt that I usually wear to class. I’m also holding something in his hand that he’s unable to see.

“Did you think I would not punish you for wanking in my class?”

“No, sir.” He shakes his head, still blind to me behind him. “Does this mean—”

“Quiet,” I command, striking him on the back with the long, wooden switch. It flexes over his backside beautifully, leaving a lean angry mark in its absence. “I put you in there for a reason. You need to learn what is and isn’t inappropriate in my classroom.”

Graham looks back at me, wide-eyed and in shock, now cognizant of how I’m dressed and what I’m holding in my hand. 

“Now bend over for your teacher.” He obliges, bending over while steadying himself with both hands on the dresser. I slip my hand under the waistband of his pants and press my finger against his opening. He mewls and squeezes his eyes shut. 

“You may only come in my classroom if I am the one allowing you to, do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.” I push myself inside, finger-fucking him as he moans into his hand.

“Good,” I say, stroking his cock a few times. “Spread your legs wider,” I direct, and Graham reaches back to display his ass to me. He’s red and beautiful and open and my red cock twitches just looking at him. I smooth my hands over the angry hand marks on his arse and note with a smirk that a faint, purplish bruise is forming.

With all three fingers inside him, lube trickles down the inside of my wrist. I kiss the small of his back, find the knot within him again and with a little mewl and a flex of his hips he tells me he’s ready. I ease my fingers out and unzip my trousers to allow myself to breathe. Grabbing his hips on either side, I release myself from my slacks and slide my warm cock up and down between his cheeks. 

“Please, Mr. Albarn,” he pleads, lifting his ass up, and my cock twitches a second time. Having held back for so long, I hadn’t realized how intensely my body had been craving it until now. Just being dressed while he’s bent over me, naked and wanting is too much for my mind to handle.

I frown, lining myself up and pressing the tip of my cock against him but prospect still feels dubious to me. 

He whines again. “What’s wrong?”

“You’re not ready.” 

“I don’t care,” he cries.

“It will stretch you.”

“Please... I will do anything. I don’t care if it hurts.”

I wet my lips and spread both of his cheeks apart. He shudders again as my tongue touches his skin, goosebumps rising on his thighs. I circle my tongue around him, and Graham makes a high-pitched noise as my tongue slips inside. He calls out my surname again, music to my ears as he lifts his arse up in little fits of pleasure. To my relief, this relaxes his body enough to where he’s malleable at the very least. I feel like we’re lacking in a connection so I instruct him to flip over and he lies on his back with one leg hooked over my shoulder and the other wrapped around my waist, digging his heel into my back. His hands fumble at the buttons on my shirt, pulling it off me and smoothing his calloused hands up and down my chest. 

Pressing the tip of my cock against his opening again I push myself against the tight ring, then pause. I squeeze my eyes shut, telling myself to wait, to be gentle, even though all I want to do is push inside him regardless, to hear his strangled moans as he tries to take all of me at once. I imagine his fantasy, halving him over my desk and taking him dry and tight and whimpering. I imagine all my students watching us, everyone seeing how our bodies fit together, hear him cry my name, hear him beg for it. I want them to see as how he arches his neck when I groan and come deep inside him for the first time, blissfully aware that I’m the only one who’s done that to him. I touch myself with one hand and caress his hips with the other and get lost in that state of mind, lost in myself for a minute before I hear his tiny voice beneath me, whimpering. 

“Des.”

When I open my eyes he’s looking up at me breathless, face awash with a myriad of conflicting emotions: lust foremost, but fear and apprehension a close second. I hesitate, then make an executive decision and release the collar from his neck. There’s huge relief on his face, as though removing it has abated a modicum of fear for the time being. His throat glares up at me, angry red, with deep indents where the collar had been. Feeling guilty, I kiss his neck, pressing my lips against the most tender spots as an apology. My cock brushes between his thighs again, and I lift his legs up and press them to his chest. 

No more stalling. I kiss the shell of his ear. “I’m sorry,” he whispers, but it softens into more of a sigh as I slip my tongue between his teeth.

“Don’t be,” I hum, cradling his head with both hands. I move to take my trousers off as well but he grabs me by the wrist and shakes his head. 

“No, keep them on,” he says, touching himself with his free hand. “I still like to… imagine it.”

I take my time, easing him into it, making sure his relaxation is paramount above all else, and from there it melts into a natural progression. He lifts his hips to a comfortable angle where I’m pressing up against him and I place my hands on either side of his hips. His nervous laugh as he peers between our legs betrays his true feelings. 

“Hey, look at me,” I say, lifting his chin from staring between my legs. “Don’t worry about down there. Okay?” He nods, nervous as hell.

“And breathe,” I instruct, massaging his hips and reminding myself of the first time we kissed in my flat on the floor. How adorable he’d been, kissing me nervous little pecks like he’d only learned to kiss from the movies. It reminded me of his sweetness, his innocence, and for a fleeting moment my stomach clenched at the thought of being the person to take that from him.

“Are you laughing?” Graham says, insecure about the smile on my face.

“No. Just remembering our first kiss.”

His face softens. “Oh. Yeah. That was nice.”

I lift his chin up, leveling his gaze with mine and it’s the same boy from my living room floor again, starry-eyed, a little terrified, but looking back at me with utmost adoration and naïveté. Fuck, I think. I’m so in love with him it’s stupid.

“I want to do that again.”

“Our first kiss?”

“Yeah. Don’t focus on anything else. Just the kiss.”

He nods, eyes darting between my legs again. Turning his chin toward me, I press our lips together, hoping to emulate that same sweetness. Tasting salt, I make my way to his chin, tongue scraping against the stubble there, before transitioning back to his lips, teeth tugging and insistent as I cup his face in my right hand. We kiss like that for a few more seconds, and I wait for his breath to become shallow and steady. He gasps as my head enters him, and all the muscles in his body tense. 

“Is that you?” He breathes. His entire face is red. “For real?”

I smile against his lips. “Yeah.” 

My cock twitches again, and it’s clear to both of us that controlling myself at this point has become a considerable endeavor.

“Breathe,” I purr, pressing into him about an inch more. He makes a small, squeaking noise and digs his fingernails into my shoulders. 

Ah - ah - ah…

I press my lips to his collarbone, and there’s a solid knot in my stomach as I repeat the same mantra to myself over and over. Slow and steady. Slow and steady.

He’s still tight, so much so it’s almost hurting me, and it’s difficult for me to tell if the little sounds he’s making are from enjoyment or discomfort. We both hold on to to our kiss, a small gap forming between our mouths. After a while our breathing becomes the same rhythm.

I pull out a bit, then push in again, a little deeper this time, and Graham digs his nails into my back hard enough to draw blood. 

Ah—

“You okay?”

“Yeah.”

“You sure?”

He hesitates. “It just feels weird. I’m sorry.” There’s a terrible pause, then the sound of his squeaking voice again. “Is that…?”

“No.” I answer, burying my head in his shoulder to keep from laughing. Another silence.

“We’re halfway, Gra. Halfway.”

“Jesus Christ,” he laughs, his whole body shaking underneath me, and I’m grateful for it because it loosens him up a bit.

Grinning, I nuzzle my face against his neck. I pull out, then push in another inch, paying close attention to the pattern of his moans. Shifting my hips, I find a good angle, spread his legs wider, and push in toward the left.

His reaction is electric—nails scraping down my back and a loud yowl escaping his throat. I close my eyes, appreciating the little ah, ah, ah’s he’s making with every thrust. With his muscles relaxed, I push myself the rest of the way in, admiring the way my cock completely disappears inside him. I am rewarded by a strangled cry from his lips and a lift from his hips. I stay there for a moment, relishing being inside him, how warm and tight he is, and the glow coming from his body. I press my lips against his collarbone, and when he nuzzles his head against my cheek, I feel something wet.

Worried, I snap back to look at him. Fresh tears are streaming down his face.

“Fuck,” I swear, looking down at him with wide eyes. “Am I hurting you?” 

“No,” he says, shaking his head and giving me that familiar starry-eyed gaze. 

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” he says, pulling me back down by my neck and kissing me. “It’s just… you feel so good.”

Relieved, I press my lips to his cheek, tasting salt again before burying my head in the space between his neck and his shoulder. My cock throbs and I know he must feel it too, because his anal muscles tense and digs his heels into my back and letting out a low-bellied moan as he pushes me into him even deeper. I squeeze his hips hard—too hard—knowing well I’m leaving a bruise there tomorrow but his high-pitched cry makes it well worth it. He’s so tight and warm around me that my head is spinning, and it takes all of my remaining willpower to just to find a rhythm again.

If he had been stiff before, he might as well as be jelly now. Spreading his thighs wider, I drive into him, hard and slow. He falls apart with each subsequent thrust. My cock feels like it’s on fire, but I’m taking it slow for him, enjoying his expression and little ah’s as I make love to him. I direct to the left, sliding into that little spot again and again until his eyes glaze over. 

“Yes — please —  there yes — oh — fuck.” His stream of little moans become a comfort to me as I get lost in him. I observe myself disappearing inside him again and again, every so often pushing myself in all the way just to hear that squeak of surprise followed by the choked moan falling off his lips as he begs me to do it again. Little does he know how much I want to grant his wish, to drive all the way inside him, to relieve the tension in my cock and to fuck him within an inch of his life.

“Des,” he groans, squeezing my hips. “I want — ”

“What?”

“— Harder —”

I squeeze my eyes shut, and when I open them again, he’s looking up at me with large, pleading eyes. God.

“Harder, please,” he moans, grabbing my arse again pulling me deeper inside him. His eyes are burning embers.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” I breathe, but Graham shakes his head.  

“I can take it. Fuck me. Like on the desk. Please. Please, Mr. Albarn,” he begs, digging his heels into my back again, and with just those three words I lose any control I have left. I become deaf to the sounds Graham’s making, hearing only a few babbled words here and there. Nonsense. Lovers’ speak. Craning his neck, he peers down between his legs admiring in quiet awe as I slide in and out of him. Grabbing a pillow, I place it underneath him. This way, I figure, he’s propped up at a better angle and I can go deeper. 

I drive between his legs, adjusting myself to hit that little ridge inside him, my cock burning and my head feeling like it’s about to explode. The change in sensation for him must be immediate because as soon as I slide in he lets out the lowest moan I’ve heard from him. 

The bed squeaks beneath us, and Graham pushes his finger inside me so suddenly and unexpectedly that I moan loud to enough to have everyone on the same floor hear me.

“Ah — yes — fuck — harder — Des,” he babbles, gripping me by the shoulders. “Wait, I’m going to—”

“Me too,” I say, but as soon as the words leave my mouth Graham comes over his stomach, letting out little gasps as he clenches around me. I’m not far behind, and after a few more thrusts my vision spins and I release hot and deep inside him with his heels digging into my back. I collapse, exhausted, on top of him. Graham circles his arms around my waist. Both of us are cold with sweat. I move to pull myself out but he begs me to stay inside him for a little longer as the afterglow washes over us. I listen to the sound of him breathing, watch as his stomach rises and falls in rhythm with mine. Laying there, the nightmare of losing him too becomes real to me, much too real all at once, and the next second I find myself blinking back tears. 

Graham lays his head on my shoulder, breath tickling my ear. He reads me with those beautiful brown eyes, and when turns over onto his back I study the way the light outside our window catches the edge of his cheek. Just a few feet away, the clock’s burning digits read two a.m. Paris is quiet and serene outside out window, as if sharing in benediction with us. The language of my heart speaks to me again, but this time in a voice I can understand.

“I love you.”

Graham’s head perks up, eyes wide and shining like quiet moons. As he leans in closer, I notice a couple of tears fall down his cheeks. He says nothing in response and doesn’t have to. Those words were enough.

 

 

 

**

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m addicted to the sound he makes when I’m inside him. I read somewhere once that true love is fleeting, never expressed in words, but more accurately expressed with the body. There’s a cadence to us, a music. When I wake up and that beautiful boy sinks down on me and that beautiful, gorgeous moan emits from his throat, I’m in heaven. His body plays perfectly straddled between my legs—this small thing—throat reacting to my hands and hips and mouth. The way my hand curves around his perfect, round arse; the high-pitched moan he makes as he rolls his hips forward and I hit the very back of him. 

Ever since this morning we haven’t been able to stop, like two horny hormonal teenagers, not once but twice—three times including the shower. Stamina I’ve not had in decades is gifted to me in the form of an eighteen-year-old who can go for hours on end and stay hard the whole way through. The little gasps he makes when I enter him, that burn in his eyes when he wakes up in the morning. Depending on his mood, sometimes I’m his teacher, other times just his lover. So much for us seeing Paris.

In the morning, we shower and dress ourselves before heading for the Metro. The Louvre, we decide, is the most important task of the day aside from fucking each other’s brains out. It’s not until we’re on the train I spot the collar on him, a tinge of soft pink accenting his neckline underneath his jacket. He gives me a look—a very specific stare as he sits down on the train, wincing a little—and I’ve suddenly forgotten what our stop is.

He leans into me, breath hot against my ear. “I feel like I can barely walk,” he whispers, grinning.

I press my palm down between my legs. I’ve been horny all morning, which is unusual for me. 

I smirk. “Tell me more.”

 “It was perfect.”  He slips his hand down between my knees. “It felt like I could barely fit you.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Like I could feel it in my internal organs,” he says, with a click of his teeth, and presses his tongue into the side of his cheek. The lady across from us is staring. I try to think of unsexy things: dead kittens, garbage, death... none of it helps. Then Graham grins and drags his tongue across the front of his teeth and I am lost to all sober account-keeping.

Fuck.

I consider our options. It’s the off-hours for the train, so logic argues that we might get some privacy, if only for a stop. I wrap my fingers around the collar and tug. “Ten seconds,” I hiss. 

“Twenty,” Graham counters, pupils dilated, and a devilish grin stretched across his lips. “Twenty and I’ll make you come.”

I’m reminded once again that the innocent boy I’m perceiving has perverted depths well beyond my own. When the last person in our car exits, I squeeze his wrist tight enough to bruise. I pull my zipper down and direct his head down between my legs. He spares no time, swirling his tongue around the head of my cock like a lollipop before taking a deep nosedive. Greeted by warmth and wet, I bite down on my fist just as his lips touch the hilt. I can’t help but admire the reflection in the window across from us. Graham’s head bobs under dirty, yellow fluorescent lighting and the tunnel past us. I lift my heels as he gags and my soles stick to the floor. 

“Good boy,” I purr, brushing his hair back off his forehead. “Keeping sucking your teacher’s cock, just like that. One. Two… three.”

He gags again and pulling back his teeth scrape against the head of my cock. I wince and ball my hand into a fist. He whimpers. “No teeth,” I hiss.

“Six… seven… hold it… eight ... that’s a good boy … nine...” I clamp down on my tongue and taste iron. The longest twenty seconds of my life. 

“Ten… eleven… ah ... twelve… that’s it, baby, just like that.” I throw my head back, squeezing my eyes shut. All the blood in my head has rushed to my cock and I feel faint. “Thirteen...fourteen… ah… fifteen.

Graham pulls back and cold air hits my cock. I’m in shock, and angry, but he grabs me by my hand begs me to pull at scalp harder, but it’s how he says it that throws me. 

“Pull my hair. Please, Daddy,” he pleads, and something deep and unknown inside me switches on. A second later, his warm mouth is on my cock again, and then… then, I’m coming. 

Fuck, ” I swear, coming hard into his mouth as my cock twitches. He takes all of it like a trooper, tongue lapping and swallows it in one gulp. The bell rings, announcing the next stop and Graham snaps back up, sucking in oxygen as though he’s been underwater and wipes his dirty mouth the back of his arm. The train screeches to a halt, and as soon as the doors open I pull up my fly. 

Sixteen seconds,” he says, proud and grinning, then licks the perimeter of his mouth one more time. He nuzzles his head into the crook of my shoulder and smiles, looking perfectly satiated. 

 

**

 

Those wonderful days in Paris rushed by us, faster than we wanted to, and we were reluctant to resume our normal lives. Graham disappeared into his studies, and I returned to teaching music theory on Tuesday and Thursdays, which for the first time wasn’t complete drudgery.  Graham attended one of my afternoon classes, twice a week, and the highlight of my day involved using my power to make him so uncomfortable and red-faced that he’d lag after class just to beg me to fuck him between bells in my office closet. 

Today’s lesson topic was Heroes by David Bowie. The same song that’d been playing in the shower this morning when I’d made him come twice—once right before the bridge, and then again just after the five-minute mark when Bowie’s voice gets so haggard that he’s barely hitting key. Anytime between office hours we agreed was hands off, and it drove both of us mad for most of the day—like when Graham would drape his jacket over his lap and then bite down on his lower lip like I shouldn’t notice.

Part of today’s lesson was to analyze the creative prompts from Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies card deck, which I’d explained had been integral to the restricted chord structure of the song. For the first thirty minutes I assigned each student to draw a card from the deck, then explain how they interpreted the prompt. I picked Graham first.

“Graham, do you want to start us off?”

He blanches white, then the corners of his lips upturn. He presses his hand to his jacket that’s in his lap. “Yeah, um—can I go second?”

“Sure. Abigail?"

As soon as Abigail finishes answering, Graham lifts himself up out of his seat, having wrapped his jacket around his waist and the front of his pants. I almost snicker. 

“Graham, which card did you pull?”

“I picked one that says, ‘ask your body.’”

I hold back a smirk. “How did you interpret asking your body in the creative process Eno and Schmidt talked about?”

“Well, um, it’s like when you have a strong feeling... in your body... and you just sort of listen to it,” Graham stumbles, and I realize that he’s not prepared to answer the question at all. 

Some kids in the back giggle. Graham gawks down at me, red-faced, and wrings his hands together.

“Okay. But what do you think ‘asking your body’ means when creating music?” I probe, and I see the wheels in his head turning, praying for an answer. 

“When you get excited or scared or anxious, your heart beats fast. So...”

“Like a tempo?”

“Er, yeah a tempo. That’s what I meant.”

“Sure. You liken a tempo to a physical sensation. For instance, a heartbeat, or anxiety. Do you think it could also be a validation of sorts, a gut feeling, maybe?”

Graham's eyes dart from side to side then he nods. “Yeah. Exactly.”

“How can other emotions that you feel translate to music?”

He takes a deep breath, then peers down at me through his lashes, teeth tugging on his bottom lip. It’s the same little number he’d given me this morning when he was on top of me, rocking back and forth and pleading in that tiny, soft voice of his. Please, please, please. 

“Love, I suppose.” He smirks.

“And what does love sound like to you?” I ask, and Graham lifts his chin and does that pursing-his-lips nervous tick that he does when he’s thinking, the one drives me insane. 

“Well, your heart beats fast, and it feels like there're butterflies in your stomach. You feel warm and happy. Maybe you’re supposed to write a pop song. Or a sad song, if you’re sad.”

“Yes, good. Being in love can feel very melancholic or it can feel very thrilling, depending on what you’re experiencing. Love is a very strong emotion.”

“So is sex!” Abigail blurts out, and a bunch of her girlfriends giggle.

“That’s true. What about sex?” I tease, and the rest of the students laugh. “I mean, sex is a huge component of love. Not all the time, but sometimes. Can anyone think of a song that encapsulates both love and sex?”

I wait a beat, and then when no one answers, I continue. “We’re all adults. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about.” There’s another second or so of silence, then Graham’s hand wavers and inches its way into the air.

“Yes, Graham?”

“Marvin Gaye,” he says, and a goofy grin stretches across my face that causes him to blush. 

“Ah, yes. Marvin Gaye. Sexual healing. A classic. How does it go?… and when I get that feeling, I want sexual healing,” I sing, doing a tongue-in-cheek falsetto. The students laugh and whistle cat-calls. Graham, meanwhile looks like I’m his dad who just dropped him off at school and shouted, “I love you” out the window in front of all of his friends.

“Thank you, Graham.”

Another hand in the front row shoots up. Abigail again. Oh, Abigail. The girl whose had obvious eyes for me since the start of the school year. The girl who stops by during my office hours just to ask me questions she already knows the answer to. 

“Mr. Albarn,” she says, blushing. “You have a beautiful voice.”

“Thank you, Abigail.”

“When did you learn to sing?”

Graham’s glaring at her in my peripheral. I open my mouth to answer, but he bursts out shouting.

“—He’s a pop star, you dumbarse. Don’t you know anything?” The entire class whip their heads around to gawk at him. His lips mouth the word ‘shit.’ 

“Is that true?” Someone else asks, and all the students look to me instead. Suddenly, the bell for the next period rings and the ball of anxiety I’d been choking on dissipates. Students shuffle out of their seats, and I wave for his attention. 

“Graham, I need to talk to you for a moment,” I say, leveling my gaze. 

“Ooh, someone’s in trouble,” a kid behind him snickers. Graham heaves his heavy backpack over his shoulder and trudges to my desk, eyes glued to the ground. I wait for my last student to leave, then close the classroom door and lock it behind me. Walking back to my desk, Graham’s eyes weigh on me.

“Don’t you have another class?”

“Your class was my last class for the day.” I take a deep breath, and our eyes meet. 

“I suppose you’re aware that what you said today was wildly inappropriate.”

“Which thing?”

“Both things. But particularly, Abigail.”

“I don’t like her,” Graham huffs, then clicks his tongue. “She’s been flirting with you since the beginning of the school year. She’s a stupid cunt.”

“First— language , Coxon,” I say, but Graham just folds his arms and glares at me. “Second, is that jealousy I’m hearing? You can’t call another student a dumbarse.”

“Yeah, I know that.”

“So then you also know that I should send you to the dean’s office.”

Graham gapes at me. “What? Come on...you have to be kidding me.”

“I’m also not thrilled that you told the entire class that they should Google me.”

He frowns. “So what? It’s not like it’s a secret.”

“Well, news flash, parents rarely like me teaching their kids. So yes, it is a problem. And now the dean will fence a bunch of angry phone calls next week that I will have to damage control on.”

Graham stares down at his shoelaces.

“I have to take these kinds of things seriously, Graham. It’s my job.”

“That’s bullshit,” he says, meeting my gaze. “You know that. If you were taking your job seriously, you wouldn’t be fucking my brains out every night.”

I uncross my arms, push my glasses up the bridge of my nose and turn my back to him to erase the whiteboard. There’s a long, tense silence and then he kicks the corner of my desk with his shoe. 

“I’m sorry. Okay?” He pouts, frowning. “Are you mad at me?”

“I’m irritated.” 

“I don’t know what that means.”

The eraser makes a squeaking noise as I move back and forth over the whiteboard. Graham stands quiet behind me, swaying back and forth on his feet.

“I don’t like silent treatment, so are you going to send me to the dean’s office now or what?”

“No.”

“Then why the hell are you not talking to me?”

I frown. “Why don’t you go home? I have to work late, but we can order in tonight.”

“I don’t want to go home. I want you to talk to me.”

“I am talking to you.”

“No, you know what I mean,” Graham growls, and before I can respond he knocks me backward into the whiteboard and smashes his lips against mine. The eraser slips from my hand and his hands drop to my hips, left squeezing my arse cheek he leverages himself to rub against my thigh. I smell the body wash on him from this morning. He urges my mouth open, forcing his tongue inside and mewls as he grinds himself against me. 

“I need you,” he murmurs, letting out a tiny gasp of air when he feels the hardness between my legs. “Please. I just want to do it. Let’s do it here, on your desk. I still hurt from yesterday but it’s okay, I can take you…”

It’s then that I look down and notice bright pink winking back at me from just underneath the collar of his t-shirt. He continues to grind on me, making little whimpers and begging. 

“Kneel,” I instruct. At first he hesitates, not quite understanding, then drops to his knees in front of me. Wide-eyed, hungry, he parts his lips. His eyes are deep and round. Willing. My cock strains, trapped between my belly button and the waistband of my trousers.

“Yes, sir.”

“Open that pretty mouth,” I say, before sliding my thumb between his pink lips. He lets it glide across his velvet tongue, then closes his eyes, fixated. With my other hand, I cup his chin, and when he refuses to comply, I force him to look straight at me. 

“Who owns this mouth?”

“You do, sir.”

“Have you sucked other men off with this mouth?”

“No, sir,” he says, and I squeeze his jaw again. His eyes tear up.

“Don’t lie to me.”

“Yes, I have,” he corrects.

“Who?”

“Alex.”

“And did you make him come? In your mouth?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And did he fuck you?”

“No. No one’s fucked me. Only you, sir.”

“Stand up,” I say, drawing my finger across his cheek. “You’re only a slut for your teacher, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Good boy. Now touch yourself,” I command, and Graham palms himself over the front of his trousers. 

“Does that feel good?”

He closes his eyes. “Mm, yes sir...”

“Who owns that hand?”

His eyes flick upward, connecting with mine. “You do, sir.”

“Good boy. That’s the right answer. I own your mouth and I own your hand. Now, I want you to go home, and I want you to do something for me.” Graham’s teeth dig into his lower lip; a bead of sweat drips down his neck. 

“Yes, sir.”

“I want you to lie on your back and touch yourself and fuck that tight little hole of yours with a vibrator until you come. And when you do, I want you to say my name so you remember who owns that too.”

His cheeks are red now. “Yes, Mr. Albarn.”

I smile. “Good boy.”


**

 

“You’ve been avoiding me,” Jamie says over his cup of coffee and I can’t help but concede that he’s right. 

“What’s been going on? You haven’t been texting. You haven’t been going on long, drunken tangents feeling sorry for yourself... You haven’t been having sex with random strangers.”

“How do you know?”

Jamie arches an eyebrow. “I just know.”

“Why, are you jealous?” I tease, and Jamie rolls his eyes. 

“Joking aside,” Jamie sighs, setting his cup down with a certain firmness. “What’s going on with you? Really?”

“Really?”

“No, I’m just asking you to watch you stare at me like a dumb cow with your mouth hanging open all the time.”

“Nothing. I’m fine. Everything’s normal.”

“So the stick that someone shoved up your arse for the last ten years just fell out?”

“I mean, yeah,” setting my cup down with a firm clunk. “Fuck, I don’t know, Jamie. Maybe I started exercising again?”

“I mean miracles have happened, but I call bullshit on that one.” 

He leans in closer, close enough I can smell the mint on his breath. “Cut the shit, Albarn. What’s going on?”

“Really, it’s nothing.”

“Are you still seeing Graham?”

“Yeah,” I say, gnawing on my lower lip. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“Nothing, except that I saw you getting dinner with him and you both looked like you were playing hide the banana.”

“Jesus, are you serious? I had dinner with one of my students.” I raise the finger of my left hand. “One time. And besides, I’ve had dinner with my students before.”

Jamie arches an eyebrow. “Have you really?”

“No.”

“He was trying to cheer me up. That’s barely a friendship, let alone what you’re insinuating.”

“Damon, I’m giving you ten seconds to tell me the truth about what’s going on,” he threatens, and I fidget with my cup, as he glares at me from across the table.

“You’re in love with him.” 

“What?”

“Or you’re having sex with him. Which one is it?”

“Who?”

“Graham.”

“I will point out that those are two very different things and I find your assumption of the latter pretty offensive.” My face twists up in mock-disgust, but Jamie isn’t having it. “Jesus, Jamie. He’s a kid. Why the fuck would you even think…?” 

I’d like to thank the academy…

“Des,” Jamie says, lowering his voice. “I have an elephant’s memory and I’m not an idiot so don’t think for a second that I’m taking the moral high ground as a valid excuse from you.”

“That was a long time ago—” My eyes dart around the cafe, then I lower my voice to a hushed whisper. “And we’ve talked about this.”

“You have tendencies.”

“Tendencies?” I spit. “So one time means I must be doing something with Graham?”

“Yes.”

“Would you shut up—everyone will hear us,” I hiss, shoving my cup across the table.

“Ever since I saw him at your apartment, you’ve been acting differently. You’re non-responsive, you’re dodgy—especially around anything to do with Graham. You’ve no interest in the women I’ve been trying to set you up with, and you’ve got an idiot’s grin on your face constantly.

“What’s wrong with being happy?”

“I don’t know, maybe because you just got handed divorce papers?” Jamie says, glaring at me over the rim of his cup. “I’m just saying, it’s weird that you’re thrilled.”

“I think that’s grasping at straws.”

Jamie leans into the booth and frowns. His hand slips into his jacket pocket and fishes out a packet. He offers me one. I shake my head. “It’s not that hard to believe,” he mumbles, balancing a fag between his lips. 

“Where did all of this come from?” I prod, narrowing my eyes. “Do you hate me? Are you on Justine’s side now?”

“Hey, I stuck by your side when all that shit went down,” Jamie says, waggling a heavy finger at my chest. He takes a draw and exhales. The smoke casts a haze over his face and I’m thinking I may not trust him with the truth. 

“I stuck by you. Remember? It was a very difficult time for me to be your friend.”

“You know, frankly,” I say, licking my dry lips. “You have no proof that any of that is true, and I’m appalled that you would even suggest such a thing considering he’s my student.”

“Drop the act, Des. My evidence is that I’ve been your mate for twenty years and I know the look on your face when you’re stupid in love and acting like a bloody idiot.”

“Yeah?” I scowl. “So how’s Emma doing?”

“Don’t change the fucking subject,” he warns. “Look, you need to understand that I’m not bringing this up to make you feel like shit. I’m doing it for a reason.”

“Fuck’s sake,” I mumble.

“I’m asking because I am your friend and I care about your well-being.” He arches an eyebrow. “Your mental health.”

“I’m perfectly fine.”

“I am deeply worried that you’re trying to relive the past.”

“Don’t,” I growl. “You know that’s a sensitive subject.”

“He’s a child.”

I clench my jaw. “Who? Jude? Jude was a child, yes.”

“So is Graham.”

“It’s different.”

“No, it’s not. How old is he? Eighteen? His frontal lobe hasn’t even finished developing. That poor kid. And you’re his teacher. He idolizes you. You probably mean the world to him. You could do anything to him and he would worship you.”

A ball of anxiety lodges itself in my throat. “He doesn’t idolize me. You don’t even know him. He’s a smart kid. He’s mature, and incredibly talented, he’s—”

Jamie clears his throat. “Great in bed?”

“That’s not what I said. You’re putting words in your mouth.”

Jamie narrows his eyes and jabs his finger in my direction. “You want to know how I know you’re lying?” He says, pursing his lips. “Because the not-guilty Damon would have called me a cunt and told me to fuck off immediately.”

I stare down at the yellow linoleum tabletop. He’s right. He’s absolutely right.

“Jesus Christ, Des.”

I close my eyes and sink back into my seat. Underneath my eyelids I feel his eyes on me. My whole body pulses with anxiety. There’s a long, drawn out silence and the clinking sound of a spoon as Jamie swirls cream into his coffee cup. Finally, he speaks again.

 “You know when all that happened, I felt for you. I believed you. I know you don’t think so, but—”

“—I know you did, Jamie,” I interrupt, smoothing a hand through my scalp. “I’ve never questioned that.”  

“But this time, I don’t know.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“It means,” Jamie says, taking a deep breath. “That I think you have a real problem, Des.” 

The smoke from his cigarette curls around his fingers and dissipates into thin air, and suddenly I wish I could do the same. I swallow, trying not to choke on the acorn of panic lodged in the back of my throat. 

“You don’t understand. It’s not like that.” When I lift my gaze, Jamie’s eyes are on me again, soft but sad. “It’s different.”

“You know that I love you, right? You’re my best mate. I know how difficult it’s been for you to get over him. And you need someone, I know you do.”

“But this is—” Jamie cuts himself short, and I wonder for the next few seconds what word would have been next. He stares out the window with a thousand mile stare. 

“It’s what?”

“I..I don't know if I can support you in this one." He frowns. "I don't know if you're trying to redeem yourself or what, but—"

My eyes burn. “I’m not trying to redeem myself. This has nothing to do with that.”

“What about him? Does he have parents? Do they know?”

“Parents, yes,” I mumble, drawing circles with my finger on top of the linoleum table. “And no. They will. Just… trying to sort out that part.”

“I hate to ask this,” Jamie says, and the somber look on his face makes the ball in my throat even tighter. “For my conscious I need you to be level with me. Please.”

I nod.

“Is it like a... thing, for you?” 

“Is what a thing?”

Jamie frowns. “A kink. The underage part of it? Kids?”

As soon as he says the last word, my stomach turns. “No. God no. It’s not like that.”

“Fuck,” Jamie exhales, like he’s been holding his breath the entire time. “That’s a relief.”

“Fuck’s sake, Jamie,” I say, blinking back tears. “I’m not a monster.”

“I didn’t say you were. But you realize, other people will not be as understanding.”

“I’m aware of that.”

“If anyone at the school finds out about this, it's over for you.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Be honest, is he worth that much to you?”

“What do you mean?”

“You already lost everything once. Can you really afford to do it again, for this kid? This kid?” Jamie asks, sliding his hand over mine. Hot tears stream down my cheeks and I wipe them away.

“He’s more than just a kid. He’s—” I pause, a pang of guilt stabbing me in the heart. “I love him, Jamie.”

“I know.”

“More than anything.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s your problem,” he says, patting my hand. “You don’t love people lightly.”

 

 

 

**

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

At some point I had to sign some kind of official certificate. They had all of Jude’s personal articles lined up on a glass-topped desk, waiting for me to identify them: my stained green army jacket, a pocket notebook, a threadbare wallet, and a set of keys. They showed me a Xeroxed medical statement from the hospital in London listing his level of intoxication upon death. There were other lists, detailing the various fractures, lesions, and traumas to the body. There were columns of numbers accounting for the loss of blood and transfusions to replace it. Oxygen. Bandages. Injections. Everything detailing the nightmare of one lonely emergency. No friends, no family. Since I was the closest known person they could find, they gave me the onerous responsibility of confirming both his death and identification of his personal items.

The next year was a series of painful, onerous trials and a PR nightmare from hell. There was conjecture on both sides, arguing my sexual involvement with Jude. The prosecution had little to go on. My crime was the death of a seventeen-year-old unrelated to me save for our shared rehabilitation time. Those who hated me assumed the worst, and my fans the best. People became divided on either end of the spectrum, and depending on who you spoke to they’d either call me a child predator who’d used my celebrity status to manipulate an underage kid into doing what I wanted him to, or I was a victim of circumstance. Neither situation was ideal, because Jude was dead and nothing would ever change that. The only certainty I had was that his blood would be on my hands for the rest of my life.

On the day of my trial, I remember my hands shaking so bad I had to keep them between my knees underneath the table. Both Justine and Jamie served as witnesses and defended my honor despite knowing the truth that I’d told them. Justine got the brunt of it, punting rumors about my sexual misconduct in the press and, as the media called it, being the victim of a high-profile, unfaithful relationship.

Justine and I were like two strangers at that point; we’d become so distant the few weeks leading up to Jude’s death that it felt like the accident was the deathblow to whatever we had left. Still, she vouched for me. Maybe because she believed that I couldn’t commit such a terrible act, or because she didn’t want to the accept that I could. I became indebted to her, and during the trial it brought us closer for a while before it drove us apart again.

The prosecution fought for a DNA test, but because I had good, expensive lawyers who knew how to manipulate in my favor, they overturned the request. Had the test happened, I would still be in jail now. Because of the lack of substantial evidence, and Jamie and Justine’s testimonies, the final verdict was not-guilty on sexual charges. My “friendship” with Jude was platonic, and my final sentence was involuntary manslaughter while under the influence, six months in prison, and my driver’s license revoked.

The results of the trial didn’t change the public’s mind about me. It didn’t help that I had that invisible privilege that’s given to those who are famous. Like clockwork, it shortened my six months of jail to two, followed by a lengthy probation.

However, my music career was in shambles. Even if the rest of the band had wanted me back, a good percentage of our audience would have boycotted us. The tabloid press still had a heyday smearing my name alongside child predator, pedophile, and killer, saying that I’d gotten off scot-free because of my celebrity status and hinting that my immoral behavior was a response to my substance abuse and being bullied as a child which couldn’t have been farther from the truth. The irony was that even though I’d been under the influence that night, I’d spent more time with Jude sober than not.

To the great behest of my PR manager, I chose not to make a public statement against these accusations, even though the jury had found me innocent. I didn’t want to defend my name because I knew I was guilty. I didn’t believe in myself, and I didn’t want anyone else to either.

During the trial, a few of Seymour fan sites gave wind to a rumor that later caught on like wildfire. Dedicated fans had convinced themselves that everything had been a conspiracy against me, that Jude had told me he was of age and then blackmailed me to get money. The fans painted Jude—not me—as the true villain. They assumed that because he had no family that he’d been looking for any opportunity to take advantage of my goodwill and pull the wool over my eyes. 

This mistruth only added another difficult blow to an already painful one. As if adding salt to a wound, the news caught wind of the rumor and kept the story alive for a few more months until the public became disinterested and Jude became another line item in a news feed. That Jude’s lasting memory was not an innocent victim, but a gold-digger and a con artist, killed what little spirit I had left in me.

Despite this, I emerged unscathed. There were unseen forces of privilege at play helping me. I’d never have my old life back or make music, but I could keep my head down. They gave me permission to live my life in hiding, not making music, never going outside for fear of backlash, which was its own form of punishment. I kept my head down and stayed under the radar for long enough that the presses ran cold on me and people had forgotten or stopped talking about it. All of which was bearable until my savings ran out.

I stored Jude’s green army jacket in the back of my closet where I couldn’t see it. When the hospital handed it over to me, it still smelled like him. I hung it in the back of my wardrobe where I couldn’t see it and sometimes late at night I would lie in bed staring in its direction. One summer Justine found it there, collecting dust amidst the mothballs, and not understanding what it was, threw it in the rubbish bin. I was so devastated by its loss that I didn’t say a word to anyone for three days. I had nothing left of Jude save for that jacket. Nothing. At my lawyer’s suggestion, I’d deleted or burned all the photos I had of him, letters, gifts, etc. in order to not implicate myself. That jacket—the one he died in—was the only thing left of him, as though his memory only lived on because of it. And then like him, it was gone.

 

**

I told Graham I didn’t want to celebrate my birthday, but he didn’t listen. He kept bugging me, texting me questions about what food I liked, what kind of cake I wanted. Since the cat was out of the bag, I gave him my blessing to reach out to Jamie for information, but was still apprehensive about Jamie’s take on us. It surprised me at how Jamie opened up to Graham being in our inner circle, even if he got uneasy every time Graham talked about his affection for me. I could tell Jamie was trying to understand, even if he struggled to swallow it.

“Don’t worry your head about it,” he assured me, scrambling around my flat. “It will be amazing. Trust me. I will get you the best cake. Jamie will help.”

At one point, he stopped, leaning forward on the kitchen island and stared at me with his mouth open. “How old are you again?” He asked, and when I answered he groaned, “Shit, I don’t think I can fit that many candles on the cake.” 

I allowed him to have his fun, not wanting to put a damper on everything. I didn’t want to celebrate my birthday this year, or any of the years before, because it was the anniversary of Jude’s death. But I didn’t want to tell Graham that, because it would only ruin the occasion and feed into his insecurities even more.

Tonight, Graham's invited Jamie over to watch a movie, and my heart’s pounding, knowing full well that Graham won't turn down the volume on his PDA no matter how much I beg him to. The first hour passes without note, Graham settling into our rapport as if he and Jamie had known each other for years. The first time Graham kisses me, on the lips, it doesn’t even phase Jamie. He acts as though everything’s normal. The second or third, he makes a tongue-in-cheek comment—on brand for him—but that’s it. To be honest, I’m surprised that he’s that okay with it. 

“Want another drink, Jamie?” Graham asks.

“God, yes. Please.”

“Beer?”

“Tonic.”

“Do you want anything, sir—” Graham slips, then stops, blushing bright red. He corrects himself. “Des?”

I smile at him with thin lips, pretending like neither of us heard anything. Graham’s eyes widen, they dart to Jamie then me again. 

“No. Thank you, Gra,” I reply, and Graham dashes out of the room in semi-panic. He smirks, looks away, then back again.

“You okay?” I ask, looking in Jamie’s direction.

“Yeah.”

“You heard that, didn’t you?”

“Heard what?” Jamie stares back at me as though he doesn’t have a clue. 

“Never mind.”

“Would you mind if I called you ‘sir’ too?”

“Fuck.” I frown, but Jamie’s smirk takes some edge off my embarrassment.

“So you heard that.”

“Yep, a couple times.” 

“Shit.”

“Maybe three..”

“Jesus.” I wish I could disappear into the wall right now.

“Everybody has weird shit they’re into,” Jamie says, choking back a laugh. “I’m not surprised I guess.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means I never took you for the kinky sex type.”

“Why the hell not?”

Jamie guffaws, throwing his hands in my direction. “Look at you. That’s why.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’re too handsome. You don’t need dirty sex. You could pick up a new bird every night this week—in fact, I know you do because I’ve seen it.”

“Don’t,” I hiss. “Don’t bring that kind of shit up in front of Gra.”

“Why?”

“Because he gets jealous and insecure over anything. And the last thing I want to deal with is him having a meltdown about the breadth of my sex life, please.”

Jamie snorts. “Breadth.”

“Shut up.” I roll my eyes. Graham’s been absent for a while, and I’m getting worried. As if summoned by thought, Graham reappears juggling three different full glasses against his chest. He almost spills one of them before I reach out to help him.

“Sorry,” he says, and both Jamie and I chuckle. 

My eyes connect with Graham’s. He looks tired but still nervous about making a good impression with Jamie.

“I have to use the loo. I’ll be right back,” he says,  darting up from the couch again, and I squeeze Graham’s wrist to reassure him he’s doing fine. As soon as he’s out of earshot, Jamie clears his throat.

“Graham and I, we spoke on the phone a last week.”

“Yeah, he told me. What did you talk about?” 

“Comics...” He says, then arches an eyebrow. “You. And how wonderful you are.” Jamie taunts, before giving his signature shit-eating grin. 

“Oh great.”

“You’re right about one thing.”

“Hmm?”

“Graham’s a smart kid, but...”

“But what?”

He shakes his head. “Nah. Never mind.”

I squeeze my glass almost hard enough to break it. “What were you going to say?”

“I don’t want to say it. You will take it the wrong way.”

“Say it,” I prod, then Jamie stares at me for a while before shaking his head. 

“You know, first time I saw Graham I thought, wow he’s a smart kid, you know? Doesn’t seem like a dumbarse like a lot of kids nowadays, but..”

I arch an eyebrow.

“He’s smart, but he talks like a kid... He thinks like a kid. He looks like a kid. Know what I mean?” Jamie says, and I can’t tell if he’s razzing me, or being serious. Either way, I’m not liking the direction he’s heading. I’m wondering if trusting him with all of this was a mistake.

“No, I don’t know what you mean.”

“Look, when you were with Jude you were in your thirties...”

“Yeah, so?”

“So you’re not thirty anymore.”

“I’m not following.”

“A teenager and a thirty-year-old are one thing, but a teenager and a forty-two-year-old...”

I press my lips together and scowl. “What?”

“You literally could be his dad,” he says, and I bite down hard enough on my tongue to taste blood. I shouldn’t have told him the truth. This was all a mistake. One big mistake. And now I’m having to backtrack through all of it.

“I don’t understand where this is coming from,” I say, clenching my jaw. "A week ago, I thought we were on the same page, and now you’re raking me over the coals again.”

“I’m not trying to make you feel bad.”

“Well, you’re doing a pretty shit job then.”

Jamie pauses, then casts his eyes down at his drink. “Look, I’m not trying to make you feel like shit.. When I came here tonight, I came here with an open mind. You’re my best mate, and I know you’re not malicious. You don’t have bad intent. I’m saying that you should know that on the outside it looks... bad.” 

“Jamie, I’m not an idiot.”

“You’re not, but—”

“I don’t give a shit what it looks like,” I snap, and Jamie’s face goes white. I’m filled with guilt. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to snap at you.”

“It’s fine,” Jamie says, waving his hand.

“It’s just... I’m tired of having to explain—justify us.”

“Where do you see this relationship going?”

“What do you mean?”

“Long-term?”

“I haven’t thought that far ahead. We’re just doing this one day at a time, Jamie.”

“Well, maybe you should think ahead.“

“Like what?” I say, giving him a confused look. “I’m not that kind of relationship person, you know that.”

“I know that. What I’m saying is that maybe you need to consider whether it’s fair to him.”

I narrow my eyes at him. “Fair?”

Jamie holds his hands up as if in surrender. “I’m not trying to antagonize you. I’m just trying to understand your logic. How old’s Graham again?”

“Eighteen.”

“Right. So he’s eighteen years old, just started college, and he’s supposed to settle down with you? For what, the rest of his life?”

“I didn’t ask him to settle down with me. I told you, we haven’t thought far ahead.”

“But that’s what you both want, right?”

“He’s always had a choice to do whatever he wants to do. If he wants to stay, he can. If he wants to leave, I’d respect that too. I’m open-minded about these things, you know that.”

“I’m not referring to the whole open relationship thing,” Jamie says, setting his glass back down on the table. "I know you don’t want a traditional relationship...but does he?”

I glance down at my lap and realize I’ve been clenching my fists for the last few minutes. “I don’t know, he hasn’t told me.”

“Let me put it this way, does he want to waste his best years on you? The years he should make mistakes and date lots of the wrong people and be young?”

“Jesus, Jamie that’s harsh.”

“Well, that’s the reality of it… isn’t it?”

“I’m not asking him to commit. I’ve been very transparent with him,” I counter, but Jamie’s eyes are full of judgement. “He’s made an informed decision. He knows about everything.”

Jamie raises an eyebrow. “Everything?”

My mouth twitches."There’s a lot you don’t know about, Jamie. It’s not like we just jumped into this. I didn’t ask him to do anything, he had all the information and he decided. He could leave tomorrow if he wanted to."

“But that’s what you’re not seeing, mate. You are asking him.”

“No, I’m not—”

“Graham’s not old enough to make that decision. He’s like an eighteen-year-old girl who gets pregnant and marries her high school sweetheart. That decision feels right to her then, because she’s eighteen. But she will hate her life in ten years because she never got to make mistakes, never had time to just be a fuckin’ kid. Graham needs to be a kid.”

“I’m allowing him to be a kid,” I say, but as soon as the words cross my lips I know Jamie has a point. I think about the club, and Alex, how protective I am of him. How scared I am to let him get hurt. Playing the part of the parent. Jamie’s right. Yes, I gave him a decision, but did he understand what he was getting himself into?

I open my mouth to respond, but Graham bursts back into the room again, and both Jamie and I straighten up in our seats.

“Thanks for waiting for me,” he says, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. He kisses me on the cheek, and Jamie turns his head away. My heart sinks to the pit of my stomach and stays there the rest of the night, thanking about Jamie’s words in my head. Thinking about how maybe he was right. 

 

**

 

By the time the movie ends, Graham’s fast asleep, snoring on my shoulder and Jamie’s watching television with me in a drunken haze. Graham stayed up late the night before, catching up on missed homework—which I scolded him for—so I didn’t want to wake him. I brush my fingers through his long hair, focusing on the sound of him breathing against my neck. I frown, knowing that he hasn’t had a haircut since he’s started living with me.

Jamie was on what had to be his fourth or fifth tonic. I couldn’t help but hope that maybe he felt guilty about what he’d said about me and Graham earlier. Then again, it wasn’t like Jamie to get pensive and drunk unless there was something significant bothering him. 

Halfway through the second movie, Graham stirs, mumbling something incoherent into my ear. I smooth his fringe back from his forehead, admiring his sleepy eyes as he blinks them open and smirks. He smiles and presses his lips to my chest.

“Do you need me to put you to bed?” I whisper.

“Yes, daddy,” he answers, much louder than a whisper, and I could strangle him with my bare hands. Graham only says that pet name when he’s randy because he knows how conflicted it makes me feel. I’m terrified to look in Jamie’s direction, but when I do he’s making a thousand-yard stare into the tv screen. Maybe he had been too drunk to hear it.

“Jamie’s here,” I hiss.

“Sorry.” Graham’s eyes glow in the dark, two hopeful pools of luminescence floating above sweet, red lips. 

“Why don’t you come to bed with me?” He whispers, and I know what he’s asking for. I shake my head and mouth the word “no” and like the sun dipping under the horizon the light in his eyes vanishes. Kissing his forehead, I carry him to the bedroom in my arms. When I lay him down, he rolls over onto his back and gives me a sleepy, drunk grin. 

“I love you,” he mutters, hiccuping, then wraps his arms around my neck. 

“I love you too.”

“Aren’t you coming to bed?”

“Maybe. Jamie’s still here.”

“Is he going to sleep here?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is he going to sleep here on or the couch?”

“Here?”

“Our bed.”

“Hah, hilarious,” I say, kissing him on the forehead. 

“No, I’m serious,” Graham says, appearing lucid. “He likes you.”

“No, he doesn’t.”

“Yes he does. I can see it. You haven’t noticed?”

“I think you’re very drunk.”

Graham shakes his head. “M’not.”

“Or jealous,” I correct, tucking a piece of hair behind his year. “But you’re always jealous.”

“Only when you’re around him.”

“It’s not like that. Stop worrying.”

“He’s bad at hiding it,” he says, then stares off into the distance, as though he’s processing something. “When we talked on the phone, you know what he said?”

“No, what did he say?”

“He said, exactly like this, he said,” Graham starts, drawing out each word. “Damon’s the most talented...beautiful...lovely person. He just doesn’t realize it.”

“He said it just like that, huh?”

“Yep.”

“Okay, now you’re just blowing smoke up my arse.”

“No. Who says that about their friend? Platonically, I mean.”

I sigh and roll my eyes. “Time for you to sleep.”

“I don’t want to,” Graham pouts, clawing at my chest. One of his hands slips underneath my shirt to squeeze a nipple and I bat his hand away.

“You have to.”

“Is that an order?” He asks, and the corners of his lips upturn. “Sir?”

“Please do not make me horny when my best friend is in the other room.”

“Why not?” He whines. “We could be quick.”

“I wish I had your hormonal super powers.” 

Graham tugs at his bottom lip and tortures me with an adorable pout. “Please, Mr. Albarn.”

“Don’t—” It takes every ounce of willpower I have to pry myself away from the boy when he’s like this. I kiss his forehead. “Not when Jamie’s here. Now, good night. Go to sleep.”

“He could join us.”

“I will pretend I didn’t hear that.” I shut the door behind me with a soft click and swear underneath my breath. If it weren’t for Jamie being here, trust me, I would have no problem taking Graham up on his offer. “But fucking hell...”

Jamie’s head perks up when I re-enter the living room. His eyes are half-lidded, but he’s still lucid. “Everything okay?” 

“Yeah, sorry—”

“I can leave if you want me to,” Jamie says, motioning to the bedroom. “If I’m, you know, imposing on something.”

“No, God no, you’re fine,” I dismiss, collapsing on the couch beside him. “I was hoping we’d get some alone time. I feel bad, I feel like—”

“Like you disappeared off the face of the earth?” Jamie finishes, then bows his head and laughs. 

I frown, not finding Jamie’s sarcasm as charming after our last discussion. “Yeah, you’re right. I guess I did.”

“I’m joking,” he assures me, but I’m not convinced. “About what I said earlier—”

“You were right.”

“Right about what?”

“Everything you said,” I say, but my tongue sticks to the top of my mouth, as dry as cotton. “I’m not saying I agree with it, but you’re not wrong.”

“Yeah, but I mean, I think I was being a little harsh on you.”

“You’re my friend. That’s what you’re supposed to do.”

Jamie tilts his head, half of his face disappearing into shadow. Only the blue light of the television reflecting in his eyes distinguishes his face to me. There’s a pause, then his voice becomes gruff and stiff. 

“Still, I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right,” I offer, standing up from the couch. “Do you need another drink?”

“I don’t know if I need another drink, but I want one,” Jamie chuckles. “But don’t worry, I’ll get it.” 

I follow Jamie into the kitchen, still feeling raw from his comments earlier. I need closure, my brain screams at me. I don’t know why I care so much what he thinks but I do. Maybe I don’t need my best mate’s blessing. Maybe...I don’t know.

“How’s Emma?” I probe, hoping to find a pulse in our conversation again, but Jamie’s gone quiet. He pours himself a glass of gin over ice.

“She’s... fine I think,” he says.

“You think?”

“I should know,” he says, forcing a smile. “But I don’t. I haven’t seen her in a while.” 

I stare at Jamie, waiting for some kind of explanation, but it doesn’t follow.

“Why haven’t you seen her?”

“We’ve been having issues.”

“Issues?”

“You know, typical marital bullshit.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah.”

“Fuck. I’m sorry. Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” He shakes his head. “You know, we always bounce back.... Not sure about this time though.” 

“What happened?”

“She’s...” Jamie drifts off, almost catatonic. “She’s seeing someone.”

“Shit. No.”

“Yeah.”

“Did you know?”

Jamie nods, setting his glass down with a dull thud on the countertop. “We were having issues, and she met someone. So… it’s not like, I didn’t know. She told me.”

“Fuck, Jamie,” I say, reaching out to touch his wrist. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You had your own shit going on. And you seemed happy. I didn’t want to ruin it with my bullshit.”

“No, never keep that kind of stuff from me, do you understand?” I squeeze his shoulder, and Jamie shifts back and forth on his feet, head down, then leans into me close enough that I can smell the gin on his breath. 

“So, who is this bastard?”

“An actor. They met on the set of the movie she was shooting.” He shakes his head. “I should have seen it coming. Things haven’t been good for a while. So it’s not like it came out of nowhere.” He takes a deep breath, then turns away, and when he looks back at me again, there are tears in his eyes and I realize that I haven’t seen Jamie look this devastated since his last divorce.

“Is it serious?”

“Frankly,” Jamie stalls, staring down at his drink. “I don’t know. I don’t know how serious she is about him. But, it’s my fault, anyway. I became complacent, and we just... drifted apart.”

“Fucking hell.” I wrap my arms around him and squeeze him in a tight bear hug. “Jamie, I’m so sorry. You don’t deserve this.” Jamie wipes his face with the back of his hand. His eyes are red, and there’s a heavy weight on my shoulders for not being there for him. 

“I’m sorry, I know it’s your birthday. I shouldn’t have mentioned anything.”

“No, don’t apologize. I could tell something was bothering you. I just didn’t know, I thought it was about Graham and I. Shit. I’ve been an awful friend, I haven’t been there for you.”

“It’s all right, you’re happy,” Jamie says, forcing a smile. “One of us has to be happy, right? I guess it’s my turn to be the miserable bastard.”

“Don’t say that, mate, come on,” I say, hugging him tighter.

“It’s beautiful though, you know,” he says, pulling away and trying to wipe his tears before I see them.

“What do you mean?”

“You. Being happy. I’ve never seen you just...glow like this. Not even with Justine. You’re so happy around him,” he says, and then the light in his eyes dims. “Emma and I, we lost that.”

“Fuck, here, let me pour you another drink.”

“No, it’s okay.”

“I insist.” I reach up, extracting the bottle of gin from the cupboard. Standing on my tiptoes, I lose my balance and stumble two steps backward into Jamie. He grunts, catching me with both hands by my waist. 

“Sorry,” I apologize. “I’m pissed.”

Jamie says nothing. Instead, his hands stay wrapped around my waist where I fell into him. He’s warm and, despite the gin, smells lovely. I don’t know his cologne but it’s some musky, very masculine scent that suits him. Nothing I would wear, but I love it on him. He moves his head forward and two-day-old scruff rubs against the back of my neck, signaling an electrical jolt to my cock. A tiny alarm goes off in my head, struggling through the drunken stupor, and it’s telling me I shouldn’t be having these kinds of thoughts anymore. I stumble a few steps forward to correct, but both of his hands fist my t-shirt and pull me back into his chest.

“I’m all right,” I say, trying to laugh the whole thing off, but he ignores it. We’re so close, I can smell the gin on his breath. “Jamie, let go—”

He pushes me forward and pins me against the kitchen island. He pins my hips between the counter and his warm body and as he presses into me I’m still thinking this is some kind of drunken miscommunication until his lips are my ear, and seconds later he’s leaving little wet kisses down my neck that stink of sweet gin. His other hand slips around to the front of me, grabbing the front of my trousers, and an involuntary gasp escapes my mouth as he presses his palm against my cock. Meanwhile, my brain is screaming. I don’t know how to react. Ancient feelings awaken between my legs where he’s touching me, dredged up by our sordid history that I’ve tried to forget. But that’s overridden by panic, sheer panic of the possibility of Graham walking in on us any moment now and seeing us like this.

“You’re so fucking gorgeous—” Jamie whispers, between kisses, and stretches my t-shirt up to expose my belly. He draws his hand up my bare chest to squeeze a nipple, then slides it back down to slip underneath my trousers. 

“H-hey—” I stutter, but he muffles me with his mouth, smashing his lips against mine. A strangled moan escapes my lips as he squeezes my ass with his left hand and my cock with the other. Blood rushes between my legs and I imagine him bending me over and taking me right there on the kitchen island. He squeezes my cock and I moan, thinking about him taking control of me. Pulling my underwear down to my ankles and fucking me so hard that I have no choice but to come all over the countertop. 

“Yes, sir,” I’d say, as he pounded me, and I’d beg like I used to. Beg for him to fuck me within an inch of my life. I freeze, horrified by my own thoughts. Disgusted that I’m okay with this, that I’m not repulsed but that I want it just as much as he does. Coming back to my senses, I shove him off of me.

 “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” I hiss, pulling my shirt back down. When I turn around, all the color has drained from Jamie’s face.

“Shit,” he says, staring down at the ground. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to...”

“You didn’t mean what?” I yell at him in hushed tones, prayed to God Graham doesn’t wake up and hear us. “What the fuck, Jamie.”

“I’m sorry,” Jamie repeats, with his eyes glued to the ground. “I’m drunk.”

“No shit.”

Jamie’s eyes are hollow and his gaze drifts from his hands to his drink to the floor and back again. “I don’t know why I did that.”

I open my mouth to speak but stop, realizing that I’m now treading on sacred ground and a lot of history, most of which I’m not proud of.  

“Look, let’s just forget this happened,” I say, wanting to just put all of it behind us as a drunken misstep. 

“No.” Jamie’s looking out the kitchen window with a thousand-yard stare. He pulls down on his baseball cap, presses his drink to his lips and becomes mysterious again. Illegible. I’m used to it. It’s his defensive mechanism.

“We talked about this. You told me a year ago you weren’t interested—”

“I know I did.”

“Then were you lying to me, or are you just drunk?”

“I don’t know,” Jamie says, pulling his hat over his eyes and folding his elbows in. He takes another sip. “If I knew the answer myself I’d tell you.”

“Graham’s in the other room.”

“I know.”

“I can’t fuck this up. Not this time.”

“I know.”

I broaden my shoulders and give him a death glare. “Then why now? Of all the times in the past two years, why when I’m with someone?” 

He stares into the bottom of his cup. “I should go.”

“No,” I say, grabbing him by his jacket, and he tenses up, I’m half afraid he’s about to punch me. 

“Last year you told me none of this meant anything to you and now you’re coming onto me while Graham’s in the other room.”

“I don’t think I’m—I mean, I’m not—”

“If you say you’re not gay again, I swear to God I will knock your fucking teeth out.“ Jamie turns away, then when turns back he looks as though he’s about to cry, and there’s a heavy pang of guilt in my chest. 

“What do you want me to say?”

“I just want you to be honest with me.” I say, then when Jamie says nothing, my eyes burn. “I told you how I felt a year ago and you said—”

“—I know.”

“Then why the fuck now?”

“I wasn’t ready for it.”

“Now that I’m in a relationship you’re ready?” I shake my head. “I’m not your gay fuck toy, Jamie. I’m not here for when you feel like getting laid.”

“I know.”

“Do you know how fucked up that is, after what I admitted to you?”

“Des—”

“I asked you, a year ago, I fucking bled my heart out for you, and you just—”

“Des—”

“And all that stuff from earlier tonight? Did you even mean what you said, or were you just trying to sabotage—”

“I’m not trying to sabotage you.”

My blood’s boiling, and I know I won’t be able to temper myself for much longer. “Look, both of us are drunk. Whatever just happened... it didn’t happen. Understand?”

Jamie nods. 

“If Graham found out about this, it would destroy him.”

Jamie casts his eyes down. He takes a deep breath. “I know.” 

I pull my pants up again and readjust myself, swearing underneath my breath.

“I don’t see you as just a… fuck toy, for God’s sake, Des.”

I clench then unclench my jaw. “This conversation’s over. I’m going to bed. You can sleep on the couch or go home, I don’t care.”

Jamie just stares down at his feet, and my eyes burn, half from rage and half from the old feelings he’s dredged up inside me. I make my way to the bedroom, and changing into my pajamas, slip into the bed and listen to the sound of Jamie watching late night television in the other room while I stare up at the ceiling and pray for sleep.

**

When I wake up again in the middle of the night, the dip in the bed next to me is cold and empty. I sit up, stretch my arms, and climb out of bed. The wood floor is cold against the bottoms of my feet. I can still make out the noise of the television coming from the other room, and the alarm clock reads 4:45 am in red. I wonder if Graham woke up early because of nightmares and couldn’t fall back asleep again. The hallway floorboards squeak underneath my weight as I walk past the kitchen and the living room. It’s dead quiet. There’s no sight of anyone, so I turn around to make a beeline for the bathroom. When I reach the door, it’s cracked open an inch, orange light pouring out into the hallway. I squint. Both Jamie and Graham are standing very close next to each other, but Graham has his back to me and I can’t see his face. From what I can make out, Jamie is in front of him, his eyes focused on Graham’s chest. Neither of them have noticed my presence yet.  

Graham makes a small noise as Jamie helps him pull his t-shirt up and over his head and throws it into the corner. Jamie says something I can’t hear, and grins. Graham giggles. He crosses his arms over his chest like he does in front of me when he takes his shirt off, self-conscious of his pale skin. Then he squats, sitting in front of Jamie’s knees, and I notice a large wet patch on the front of Jamie’s unzipped trousers. Graham tells him he’s going to fetch a towel. The hair on the back of my neck stands up. Graham lifts himself up off the ground and turns toward the door and opens it. He freezes, face white as a sheet, and stares at me with his jaw dropped. My lips form a thin line. My face is hot, and every cell in my body feels like it’s on fire. 

“Hey Des,” he squeaks. “I didn’t know you were awake.”

The next few words barely escape my choked throat. “Forget to lock the door?”

**

“Des, I’m telling you,” Graham pleads, standing in the middle of the kitchen with his shirt still missing. He’s keeping his voice low and hushed so Jamie can’t hear. “I tripped and spilt tea all over him and myself, that was it.”

“And that’s why he took your shirt off?”

“Yes! It had scalding water spilled on it. I had to take my shirt off.”

“You mean Jamie had to take your shirt off.”

“Jesus Christ. He was helping me.”

I frown.

“You’re so jealous that you’re not listening to a single thing I’m telling you. I spilled some tea on us, that’s it. There’s a water stain on the couch. Go look at it if you don’t believe me.”

“On his crotch?”

“Yes, the tea just spilled on his crotch when I tripped.”

“Right.”

“You—” Graham starts, but stops, frustrated. “Why the hell would I cheat on you with him? Why the hell would you assume that, even for a second?”

“I’m not saying that, I’m just telling you what it looked like.”

Graham straightens his shoulders and levels his gaze with me. “I thought you trusted me.”

“I trust you. I’m just not sure I trust him.”

“He’s your best mate, and you don’t trust him?”

I shake my head. My entire body’s wound up and trust is the last thing I’m feeling right now toward anyone. 

“Never mind,” I dismiss, and Graham eyeballs me. 

“You’re being crazy you know that? I wish you could hear yourself. You said yourself that Jamie doesn’t like blokes and yet you’re acting like he is and that’s he’s into me.”

The memory of last night with Jamie in the kitchen digs deep underneath my skin. I try to push it from my mind. 

“It’s fine. Graham, I’m not accusing you of anything. Go take a shower.”

“Why, so you can interrogate him too?”

“Is there a reason you don’t want me to?” I say, throwing the ball back to him and he gives me a dirty look.

“Please don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t make this weird.”

“Go take a shower,” I order, using my dominant voice, and Graham’s stature diminishes. He mumbles something angry and incoherent then brushes past me for the bathroom.

When I re-enter the living room, Jamie’s slouched into the couch with the remote dangling from his hand. His face reads half-asleep, as if he hadn’t slept at all since our incident last night. 

“Cor,” he says, stirring in his seat the couch. “Morning.”

“Morning.” I sink down onto the couch next to him, and my eyes make a beeline to the front of his pants. “So, Graham spilled tea on you this morning?”

“Yeah, he did. But it’s okay, I love steeping my cock in hot water every morning,” he jokes, but I don’t laugh. He rolls his head back and his smile fades. “Des, I can tell when you’re reading too much into something.”

“And?”

“And it’s not that. Not in a million years would that ever happen, nor would it ever cross my mind.”

“That’s not what it looked like.”

“Yeah, well, jealous eyes deceive don’t they?” Jamie jokes again, but I’m not having it.

“What, you think that when I came onto you and you rejected me I went straight for Graham like sloppy seconds?” 

I clench my jaw. “I didn’t say that.”

“I’m not sure if you remember how concerned I was when you said you were dating an eighteen-year-old. But just so you know, I apply the same standards to myself, all right?”

“Noted.”

“And look, I’m know you’re feeling extra tense and sensitive about all of this because of last night, so I’m sorry.”

“Nothing happened last night,” I counter, narrowing my eyes at him.

Jamie nods. “Oh, right. Nothing happened,” he says, but his voice is terse and sarcastic. It’s clear that I’ve hurt his feelings. “Then I’m sorry about nothing.”

Another pang of guilt. I’m not sure whether I should be angry at him or say that I’m sorry. Everything’s confusing now. Jamie’s intent. Graham’s motive. And now, whether Jamie’s been lying to me the last two years.

“I’m... sorry,” I say, but dragging the words out is like pulling teeth. “I know you’re going through a hard time.”

“I’m sorry too,” Jamie says, staring straight ahead at the television. “I’m sorry I fucked things up.” 

“What things? Emma?”

“Emma and you.”

There’s a thrum in my chest as Jamie mentions me. Ancient feelings. I think back to last year, our drunken conversation. Jamie holding my head in his hands and I sucked him off. Him moaning, calling me many pet names. I love you, I love you, I love you. Words on deaf ears. I love you, baby. Coming hot and sweet into my mouth, swallowing, his hands pulling my head in the entire time. Choking me. Words, lots of words meaning everything then, and yet nothing the next morning. If Jamie only knew how much that hurt me. 

“Graham and I talked about you again, this morning.”

“Oh, great.”

“He’s still head over heels for you, in case you’re worried,” Jamie teases.

“He told me about your time in Paris,” Jamie says, and there’s a stab of jealousy in my heart knowing that Graham told him something so personal to us. “I’m only mentioning it, because you love and care for him a lot more than I thought initially.”

“So what, does that mean you approve of it?”

“No.” Jamie pauses, then slips a fag out of a carton of cigarettes, dancing on the tension of the last answer. Like how I dominate Graham, Jamie knows how small it makes me feel when he denies me his approval. “It just means I’m more embarrassed about how I acted last night... like I was the only person left who still wasn’t over us.”

Us, I think to myself. A year ago, two years ago, ever since Jude there was us. It was my fault. A night of misplaced feelings and collateral damage and two lonely people trying to fill the gap of their significant other with... something. Jamie telling me he was straight, so many times, but then dragging me into my bed and pinning me down and contradicting himself for that something. So many times, started by that something. His cock pulsing in my mouth as he came, his hands pulling at my scalp, moaning my name, for something. That something prompted old feelings to spill out of my heart and onto my tongue. I held them back with my teeth. 

“Jamie—”

Jamie holds up his hand to silence me. “It’s fine.” 

“Jamie—”

“Just... tread lightly.”

 

**

 

“Damon, thank you for meeting me on such short notice,” The dean said with thin lips. His desk was suspiciously clean. He leaned back in his big leather chair and tapped his heavy fingers on the armrest. “I’m sure you’ve guessed why I called you in today.”

“I’ve a clue,” I say, trying not to stare at his fingers going tap, tap, tap on the wooden finish.

“I had more… complaints this week. Lots of mothers calling up the school and asking me hard questions. Threatening to go to the press. Asking me why I’m letting someone like you teach their kids.” I open my mouth to speak but he lifts his hand to quiet me. 

“Look, when I hired you I knew about the implications. Your father Keith has given this school a lot, so much that we’re indebted to him. So frankly, hiring you was the least we could do to help him out,” he says, and I nod my head. Anxious, I keep my mouth shut, worried about saying the wrong thing.

“You aren’t in trouble, if that’s what you’re worried about,” he says, and my whole body exhales in relief. “All I want to know is, is there a reason this is coming out of the woodworks? As I recall, things have been good the last few years.” 

“Yes, actually.” I take a deep breath. “One of my students, he sort of… announced it to the class?”

He lifts an eyebrow. “Announced it?”

“He made a comment.”

“And was this comment malicious, or…?” He gives me a steady look. “What I’m trying to say is, we can bring this student in if you want me to explain the situation to him.”

I shake my head. “No, that’s unnecessary. I don’t think he meant anything by it. He wasn’t thinking.”

“And are you close to this student? Does he know you?”

My heart pounds hard against my ribcage. I sense my lip quivering and I bite down on it to save face. “No. He doesn’t know me.”

“So this student doesn’t have any ill-will towards you? No vendetta or something like that?”

“No, not at all.”

“Well, that’s good.” The dean says, tapping the bottom of his pen against the table. With how empty and quiet the room is, the sound is jarring. “I worried that we had a worse situation in our hands. How did he find out about it?”

It. Even my boss can’t say it out loud. Everyone’s afraid to say the truth. 

 “I don’t know. I think his mom was a fan or something. Not sure.”

“Mm-hmm,” the dean says, scribbling something I can’t read onto a notepad. I can feel my pulse in my wrist. “And how are things for you at home?”

I straighten my spine. “I’m fine.”

“I’m asking because some other staff members have expressed concern that you look like you’re under a lot of stress, so I’m wondering if this student outing you to the class is what’s causing it.”

Outing. God. If only he knew, I thought. I can picture the disgust on his face.

“No. I’m trying to catch up on things after the break,” I lie. “Running to stand still.”

“Well, if you ever need a teacher’s assistant, let me know. I’m sure there are plenty of students who would love to be your T.A. And...” He pauses. “I think you could use a break. Maybe lie low for a bit, you know what I mean?”

A break. Yes, lie low so that when this hits the news cycle the school can say they suspended me. I know exactly where this is going.

“Sure, thanks. I’ll let you know,” I say, rising from my seat, but he stops me. 

“Just one more thing. Between us, some things these parents are saying is pretty awful,” he says, and my heart feels like it’s in my throat. 

“I’m not saying I’m on their side, but... I think you need to be extra careful about who you let know about your history. For safety reasons. For the school.”

I nod. “Right, that makes sense.”

“But also, for your own security. Because the last thing I want to come out of this is one of our teachers receiving death threats.”

I shake my head, not sure I’ve heard the last bit. “Sorry, did you say people are sending death threats?”

“Look, I shouldn’t tell you this because I didn’t want to add more stress onto you than there already is...but we’ve received one very serious threat toward you, and we’re investigating it.” 

“A death threat?”

“Nine times out of ten it’s just a stupid kid trying to get attention,” he assures me, but I don’t feel reassured at all. “But we’re doing a formal investigation into it. So, like I said, if you need to take some personal time off, don’t feel guilty about it. I understand.” 

I wring my hands together and my palms are sweaty. “What did the threat say?”

“I can’t disclose that while we’re investigating it. But look, parents can be a little...nuts sometimes. It’s nothing to worry about. Just be careful, all right? Maybe take a few days off.”

I nod, but I’m not paying attention anymore. Different scenarios are running through my head, about Graham, about his safety. All I want to do is go home and make sure Graham’s safe right now.

“And Damon?” he says, shaking my hand and rousing me back to reality.

“Yeah?”

“I know you’ve got a lot stacked against you these past few years, but look, but you’re a talented musician,” he says, patting me on the back of my shoulder. “We’re very lucky to have Keith Albarn’s son with us.”

“Thanks,” I say, smiling through gritted teeth as my heart pounds against my chest going a hundred miles an hour.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes I try to remember his name and how it fits in my mouth.

“Jude.”

“Yes?”

God, if only you understood how badly I wanted to touch him then.

I love you, the words sat on the tip of my tongue, waiting to be expelled. I wanted to say it back, I knew it would hurt him if I didn’t. But it didn’t matter what I wanted. I wasn’t a monster, I wanted to tell him. I was just a realist.

“I can’t give you what you want,” I said, lying next to him that morning after we’d slept in separate beds.

He stared up at me from underneath the sheets. “Then I’m not going.”

“You have to.”

“I won’t get clean unless we get back together.”

“Jay, don’t hold that over my head, come on.”

“I don’t care. I’d rather die than not be with you.”

“You’re acting like a child.”

Jude glared at me, his bottom lip quivering. “Fuck you.”

There was a tense silence then he spoke again. “I’m not going.”

“I’m not giving you skag.”

“I don’t care. I’ll stay here and be sick. I’m not leaving.”

Fast forward a few hours and I’m sitting next to his hospital bed, listening to the beep of  machines keeping him alive.

Be prepared for the worst, they said.

He may not make it, they said.

Okay.

We’re keeping him alive on life support. Do you know where his family is?

No.

Are you responsible for him?

Sort of.

I think you should contact your lawyer, Mr. Albarn.

I understand.

This is the thing I hate most about myself.

Ten hours ago, I thought I didn’t have a choice.

 

 

**

 

 

I don’t sleep well the rest of the week. I suppose that goes without saying. Receiving news that someone wants me dead—or just has a sick sense of humor—doesn’t sit well on my mind. Not the first time, or the third, or the fourth. I received a healthy share of death threats years ago when the media smeared my name over every headline—but it was different back then. Back then, I didn’t have an eighteen-year-old boy living with me, and I was avoiding the company of anyone who looked under the age of thirty. It wasn’t like now. Now I have another person to consider and knowing that his safety’s compromised because of me makes me ill.

I decide not to tell Graham about the threat because I know he won’t react well. He would become overly concerned and protective of me to a fault. Even if I told him this wasn’t my first rodeo, and that it was likely nothing, he would still fret. And he wouldn’t understand why I’m more worried about his safety than my own.

The death threat, along with the “incident” on my birthday was chewing away at me from the inside. Nightmares kept me awake at night, and for the next few days I barely slept. I’d jerk awake at two a.m. in the morning, my heart racing and my sheets soaked in sweat. Graham would stare back at me in the darkness, eyes full of concern.

Also, Graham’s texting more. Every time I’d glance up from my work, his head is buried in his phone and he has a giant grin on his face. Whenever I ask him who he’s texting, he tells me it's Jamie. Jamie, really? I think, with a bitter taste in my mouth. What on earth would Jamie text Graham about?

Earlier in the week, Graham had met up with Jamie for a couple nights of art mentoring. Graham was nervous about his final project and said he needed feedback. He’d asked for my blessing beforehand but I hadn’t felt great about it. When I closed my eyes, the scene in the bathroom would replay in my head. I obsessed over what they might be doing. I pictured Jamie staring at Graham’s pink, pouted lips. Or Graham catching Jamie’s little glances at him out of the corner of his eye. Flirting. Kissing. Then Jamie’s hands traveling all over his body. I think I’ve lost the plot at this point.

On the rare occasion Graham leaves his phone unattended, I peek at his screen to see if Jamie was texting him. I recognized I was crossing a line, but my jealousy was stronger than any moral compass I had. What in the hell were they discussing that was making Graham laugh and smile so much?

Tonight, everything’s coming to a head;, the perfect storm of my jealousy and suspicion bubbling up and over the edge. Every time Graham unlocks his phone, my eye twitches. Every time I look over, he’s leaning against the countertop and tapping his screen with a giant grin on his face. I’ve lost it.

I have ugly thoughts. Sometimes I wonder if I’m more jealous of Graham seducing Jamie than I am of him cheating on me. I try to wrest myself away from those unsettling thoughts. Perhaps I’m going mad. Maybe I already am. Either way, there was something wrong about the death threat being the least of my worries.

“Gra?”

“Yeah?”

“Would you mind putting your phone away until after dinner?” I suggest, knowing that I sound like an overbearing parent. Graham scowls, which tells me my tone wasn’t lost on him.

“Sure,” he says, leaning back on the counter and then staring down at his phone again. “When it’s dinner.”

I bite my tongue. “Please put your phone away now.”

He scrunches his nose up, then sighs and slides his phone into his back pocket. He glares at me as I stir the pot of soup in front of me with a flat wooden spoon. An uncomfortable silence settles in the kitchen as I peer down at the whirling liquid.

“You know how much you being on your phone all the bothers me.” I pause. “Who are you talking to?”

“You always ask me that. Why does it matter?” He snaps.

“I’d like to know who’s more important than you being present with me.”

“Jesus, you’re being crazy—”

“—And you’re being rude,” I spit, and Graham crosses his arms and glares at me again.

“No one,” he finally answers. “I wasn’t texting anyone.”

“Let me guess,” I probe. “Is ‘no one’ Jamie?”

Graham screws his nose up again. “Would you quit? You’ve been acting weird about Jamie ever since your birthday.”

“Yeah, because since my birthday all you’ve been doing is texting him.” I arch an eyebrow. “All the time.”

Graham glares at me with his arms crossed. “What bothers you more? That I’m texting all the time, or that I’m talking to Jamie?”

My mouth flattens into a straight line.

“You know, it hurts my feelings you don’t trust me.”

“It hurts my feelings you come home and ignore me to talk to Jamie.”

“Christ. He’s your best friend,” Graham bursts out.

“Yeah, he is.”

“So why are you so worried about me talking to him?”

“I told you, it’s nothing to do with Jamie.”

“You just admitted it was a second ago. So, you clearly don’t trust me.”

“I trust you,” I say, lying through my teeth. “I just don’t like it when you’re on your phone all the time.”

“Des. That’s what people do nowadays. People are on their phones.”

“It didn’t use to be like that. It used to be that people would enjoy each other’s company.”

“Jesus, just because you’re old that doesn’t mean that I have to be,” Graham snaps, then his face turns pale.

“Wow,” I say, nodding my head.

“I-I didn’t mean to say it like that—” Graham stutters. He reaches out to touch my wrist, but I let it hang limp in his hand.

I turn my back to him to put the milk back in the fridge.

“Fuck, Des. I’m sorry.”

“Dinner will be ready in ten minutes,” I say, and neither of us speak much for the rest of the night.

Graham crawls into bed a few hours after I go to sleep. He plants little kisses up and down my chest in apology and asks me to forgive him. He tells me he didn’t mean it. I close my eyes and say that it’s all right but in my heart I’m still bothered by the entire situation.

I think again about what Jamie said the night of my birthday. And when I roll over onto my side and close my eyes, I tell myself again that I’m not doing the wrong thing. But it doesn’t work. My mind spins like that for the rest of the night. Part of me wants to call up Jamie tomorrow and confront him, tell him what a hypocrite he is. But I know full well that if my suspicions were true, neither of them would tell me. But at least it would allow me to sleep a little better.

The next morning I wake up groggy from a restless sleep and bike to school. The first thing I notice is a flat cardboard envelope on top of my desk. The school address and my name is scribbled on the front in black sharpie. No return address. Not thinking much of it, I bundle it with my other pieces of mail. I’ve fallen behind on my lesson plans for tomorrow, so I make a note to open the package tomorrow morning.

By the time I get home, the sun’s sunk well below the houses, leaving nothing but an orange slit across the horizon. I haul up the stairs with my bike on my shoulder and the stack of mail in my other hand. As soon as I put the key into the door, I notice a wonderful smell emanating from the kitchen. Graham’s making a late dinner, I assume, since I texted him that I was coming home about twenty minutes ago. I let myself in, chuck my bag onto the floor, and a wave of exhaustion washes over me. Eyelids heavy, I collapse onto the couch and fall asleep.

When I wake up, I half-expect to see Graham staring back at me, asking me why I’m on the couch, but the flat’s empty. The smell of soup is still wafting in from the kitchen, and I crank my neck to peek over the top of the couch. Orange light spills out from the kitchen into the living room; it’s deathly quiet. I expect to hear the clanking of cookware as I walk toward the kitchen, but I’m greeted by silence instead.

“Graham?”

When I step into the kitchen, it’s empty. There’s a lonely pot on the stove, abandoned by its chef and simmering with the heat turned all the way down. No Graham. All the lights are off, which strikes me as unusual as I wander to the end of the corridor. The bedroom door is open a crack, and a tiny sliver of orange light is spilling out into the hallway. I pat my pockets, thinking only now to check my phone for a text message from Graham, and notice I have two unread messages.

The first one’s from Graham, at 6:05 pm:

Hey I went to Jamie’s after school because you said you were coming home late. Are u coming home soon?  I miss u >:-)

Followed by a second message from Jamie, at 7:45 pm:

Dropping Graham off at your flat. He told you he was coming over, right? Are you home?

Weird, I thought. Before I’d fallen asleep I could have sworn he was home. My watch reads 10 pm. I must have slept in much later than I thought. When I peek through the cracked door I spot both Jamie and Graham. Graham’s standing with his back to me and Jamie behind him, lying on the bed. Jamie’s mouth stretches into a wide grin. He lowers his chin, staring up at Graham through his eyelashes, scratches his jaw and nods. The way he’s looking at Graham makes me feel ill.

“I should go,” Jamie says, squeezing Graham’s arm.

“Don’t go yet. He’s not awake.”

“Yeah, I know, but—”

“Just one more,” Graham begs, and I notice Jamie glance at the door. He leans in, and whispers something in Graham’s ear and Graham nods and smiles.

The next thing I know, Jamie’s hands are cradling Graham’s jaw and pulling him in for a kiss. I pinch myself, unsure if what I’m seeing in front of me is real or not. Graham leans into the kiss, grinning against Jamie’s mouth and making a tiny mmm sound as Jamie parts his lips with his tongue. Graham plants a brief kiss on the scruff of his chin before sinking down and grazing his teeth against Jamie’s neck. Jamie’s hand slides down to close around Graham’s neck, groaning as Graham’s teeth tug on his earlobe.

My brain’s screaming at me. Shouting at me to bust open the door, but my legs won’t budge. Am I crazy, or am I seeing what I think I’m seeing?

“Des, is that you?” Graham says, looking right at me. “Come in.”

Both men turn around to stare at me, seemingly unfazed by my intrusion. Jamie’s the first to speak.

“Damon—”

“What the fuck?” I choke. Tears are streaming down my face. I don’t want to believe it.

“How could you?” I look directly at Graham and his face is devoid of any emotion for me.

“Des, listen—”

“And you…” I turn to Jamie. “I thought you were my fucking friend.”

Neither of them say anything. Graham climbs off the bed and reaches for my arm, but I rip my hand away and scowl.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“I thought this is what you wanted,” Graham says, and my entire body’s shaking.

“I don’t want this,” I spit, but my throat catches halfway through so all that comes out is, “I don’t—”

“Yes you do,” Graham says, gripping my hand and tugging me toward the bed. “Jamie told me everything.”

Suddenly, there’s a heavy hand on my neck. When I look over my shoulder it’s Jamie, pushing me down onto the bed and pinning me down by my wrists. His teeth scrape the back of my neck. Graham, meanwhile, is putting his hands all over my body and tearing my shirt off of me as I plead with both of them to stop.

“I don’t want this,” I repeat, blinking back more tears, but it’s too late. Both Jamie and Graham are running their hands all over me and grabbing my shoulders and forcing me onto my knees. Jamie’s hands grip my jaw, and the next thing I realize he’s sliding himself into my mouth and I’m choking, gasping for air.

“I don’t—” I beg between breaths, clawing at his thighs. “I don’t want this.”

After a while, I stop struggling, not willing or able to push the both of them off of me, and I surrender underneath the strength of Jamie’s hands. Graham’s not far behind, fingers sliding themselves up and down my calves, creating little teeth marks on the inside of my thighs. I’m all horrified and horny at the same time. I’m enveloped by something warm and wet and wonderful that I recognize as Graham’s mouth, and my fingers automatically thread themselves in his hair.

Again, I try to speak, but no words come out. My dick’s hard but I’m in pain. I’m simultaneously turned on and disturbed. Jamie’s breath is hot on my ear, and he’s telling me I like this, that this is what I’ve been wanting all along. Don’t resist it, accept it. It’s all for the better. I shake my head, trying to drive the thoughts out of my brain. I don’t want this. I don’t want this.

“Des,” Graham says, before smashing his lips against mine. “It’s okay, don’t worry. I wanted Jamie, and he wanted me too.”

My stomach makes a somersault. I pinch my eyes shut, and all I can see is Jamie fucking him in the same position, on all fours. Graham moaning, crying Jamie’s name and fisting the sheets.

“He felt so good,” Graham whispers again, and I’m battling to inhale air. “I don’t blame you for wanting him.”

“No, no, no…”

“Shhhh….”

Jamie pushes inside me without warning, and I scream out in pain. It’s like I’m being ripped in half. But I’m wanting it, needing to be in Graham’s mouth as Jamie as he drives into me. Graham also, gazing up at me between my legs, worshipping me with those beautiful dark eyes of his. I almost come at the sight of him.

“It’s okay, Des,” Graham says, dragging his hand down my cheek. I look down into his eyes, but they’ve changed now. Now they’re black and distant, and it makes my skin crawl.

“Don’t feel guilty. It’s okay. I know you want it,” he tells me, and I pinch my eyes shut, wanting to make all of it go away.

“I’ll even let Jamie fuck me in front of you if that’s what you want.”

Suddenly Graham’s black eyes vanish, and the same round face is staring back at me, full of tears.

He’s shaking me as my heart knocks against my ribcage. My throat is as dry as cotton, a ghost memory of Jamie in my mouth. I realize I’m on the couch, and not the bed. The Graham in front of me is different than the one a minute ago.

“You had another nightmare.”

“Shit.”

“You were yelling. It scared me,” Graham says, wide-eyed. “What happened?”

I shake my head. I’m more exhausted than before I slept. My skin feels dirty, and I’m covered in cold sweat. I avoid his gaze. When I look at him, it conjures scenes from my dream that I can’t bear to think about. My cock, overly sensitive, pushes up between my legs and there’s a sticky residue between my underwear and my belly button. I’m disgusted and appalled by myself.

“Nothing… it’s nothing.”

“Tell me.”

“I’d rather not.”

“Des, tell me—”

“Drop it,” I snap, and Graham visibly flinches. A wave of guilt hits me as I realize it’s the first time I’ve ever spoken to him like that.

“O-okay, I’m sorry,” he stutters, removing his hands. He lifts himself up from the couch, and averting his eyes, makes a beeline for the kitchen.

“Graham, wait,” I say, reaching out to grab him but missing. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to yell—”

Graham keeps his eyes glued to the ground as he trudges to the kitchen. I wrap my arms around him from behind.

“Hey. Listen to me. I’m sorry,” I apologize again, kissing the back of his neck. “I—I didn’t mean to snap at you. You did nothing wrong.”

“It’s fine,” he says, shrugging me off.

“Really, Gra.”

“I get it.”

Graham stares down at the pot on the stove and sighs. “Dinner’s ready.”

“Hey,” I say, hugging him again, but he’s stiff as a board under my arms. “I am sorry, Gra. I never meant to talk to you like that. It was a mistake.”

He shrugs and frowns.

“It was… a terrible dream.”

“Yeah, I know. Are you going to tell me? Or are you going to keep it a secret like always?”

I frown. “It’s difficult to explain.”

“Try me.”

“I’m not comfortable…”

“Fine,” he says, brushing my arms away and moving across the kitchen to grab a ladle.

I take a deep breath. “Okay, fine. You were in it.”

“I was in your nightmare?”

“You were. And Jamie.”

Graham frowns. “Is this about your birthday? I told you, nothing happened. But you don’t believe me—”

“I believe you,” I say, and Graham‘s eyes dart across my face like I’m being cross-examined.

“What happened?”

“What do you mean?”

“In your dream.”

I open my mouth to speak but stop, unsure how to word it in a way that won’t upset him.

“Why was Jamie in it?” He probes, and I’m certain he knows why. He wants me to say it out loud. “What was he doing?”

“You both were…”

“Hanging out?”

“… Yeah.”

“Des,” Graham says, squeezing my hand. “You’re not telling me something.”

The images from my dream keep replaying in my head. Jamie’s mouth on his neck, his hands exploring his body. The way Graham gazed at him in adoration and worship.

“Tell me.”

I say nothing, averting my gaze, and after a pause his eyes light up.

“Oh my God,” he says. “That’s what you were having a nightmare about? That we were...”

I turn away, too ashamed to face him, and blink back tears. Graham leaps forward with his arms open and hugs me as tightly as possible.  I press my face into his shoulder, and his shirt is warm and wet from my tears.

“I would never do that, Des. I wouldn’t. Never. I would never cheat on you. Do you understand?”

He squeezes me against his chest and I close my eyes and release all the tension and emotion from the past week. The psychological barricade holding back everything—the death threat, Jude’s death anniversary, my birthday, and the bathroom—all of it rushes out of me at once. My body shakes as I dig my head into Graham’s shoulder. I withdraw, leaving a giant wet spot on the front of his jumper that we both laugh at.

Graham’s fingers thread in my hair, brushing my hair back, kissing the top of my head. He has tears in his eyes too. He keeps kissing me, telling me over and over that he never wants to hurt me and that he would never do such a thing. I stare at him and am haunted by the dream version of him, staring back at me with those cold, black eyes. All of my own desires and thoughts reflected at me as plain as day.

“Hey, come here,” Graham says, pulling on my arm.

“What about dinner?”

“Don’t worry about it,” he murmurs, grabbing me by the collar and leading me to the bedroom. He attends to me, kissing my face and my neck, tongue darting out from time to time to lick the dried saline at the corner of my eyes. Fingers fumbling, he unbuttons my shirt and presses his hands against my chest, pushing me back so that the backs of my knees are grazing the edge of the bed. He guides me down, pressing his palms against my heaving chest. My breath is still erratic, but a sense of calm sinks into me as his hands slip underneath my shirt and down my back and cup around my arse. Graham’s all too familiar with my panic attacks, and he knows me well, and wise to how one well planted kiss can sooth the charging elephant in my brain.

“Lie down for me,” he instructs, kissing the shell of my ear. His hands gravitate to my trousers, fingers fumbling with my belt before letting it drop to the ground. Hands squeezing my love handles, he grabs me by the waist and wrestles me onto the bed.

I land with a soft squeak. “What are you doing?”

“I’m showing you how much I love you,” he explains, running his hands up and down my chest. I’m not sure what he means. His eyes are wide and curious, and I sense a bit of apprehension in his hands. He speaks to me in a shaky voice.

“Turn over.”

My heart skips a beat. I roll over onto my stomach and he slides my trousers off and runs his callused fingers down my thighs and calves. He kisses the small of my back and pulls my underwear down to my ankles. I shudder as his cold fingers touch my bare skin. I moan when he takes a fistful of me into his palm and squeezes my arse. It’s the same thing he does when I’m inside him and he’s coming, but different. My cock strains, hard and trapped between my belly and the bed, and I’m relieved when he guides me onto my hands and knees and strokes me from behind. He leans down, pulling back my foreskin and running his velvet tongue down the length of me, and I shiver from the change in temperature. 

He stops, pulling back for air and licks his lips. “I love your cock so fucking much, you know that?”

I close my eyes and bite down hard on my tongue. He’s gotten too good at this, I muse. He knows how to push my buttons, play me like an instrument.

“No, I don’t, tell me.”

“You have the most beautiful… lovely… giant cock,” he says, drawing his index finger down my shaft. He wraps his lips around the tip of the red, swollen head and I shudder. I’m still sensitive, but it’s worth everything for the visual.

“It was difficult for me to take all of you. The first time. But it was worth it.”

I groan. “Tell me more.”

“It didn’t hurt, but it was like…”

“Like what? Tell me.”

“It was as if my body could barely fit you.”

I swear underneath my breath and my hand reaches for my cock.

“I almost cried because you were stretching me but it felt so good.”

Touching me again with his cold hands, he presses his finger against my entrance and my knees threaten to buckle. It’s been so long since someone’s touched me there that even a little sensation is too much for me. He must be conscious of this oversensitivity, because his fingers leave me and he reaches for the bottle of lube in the side drawer. I suck in my breath, waiting for him to touch me again, but this time his hands are warm, and I moan as he slips his middle finger inside me.

I close my eyes, enjoying Graham’s touch and stroking myself with my left hand. There’s a pause as he pulls off his trousers and underwear. There’s the sound of the cap of lube popping open and shallow breathing behind me. He’s hesitating.

“Gra. You don’t have to.”

He smooths his hands over my arse and squeezes. “I want to.”

“Really—”

I lift my arse up, waiting for his fingers again, but he gets off the bed and walks to the dresser. He smiles and slides open the drawer to retrieve the pink collar from its resting place. I crane my neck to look at him, and suck in a deep breath

“Gra, I don’t think that’s right for this—”

“Wait,” he says, staring down at the leather collar. He turns it over in his hands, thumb brushing against the pink leather, and grins.

“What are you—”

He circles the collar around my neck and it all clicks. This is what he needs. I understand now. He threads the band of the collar through its loop, he pulls and tightens the strap so it’s tug around my neck. He slips two fingers between the leather band and my skin.

He smirks. “It looks nicer on you than I imagined.”

“Good.”

“Turn over,” he commands, and without question, I roll over onto my back. We start in one of his favorite positions, him sitting down on top of me as he directs me inside. I grip the base of my cock as he sinks down on me, and a quiet moan escapes his lips when his ass becomes flush with my knuckles.

“Fuck.”

Then he starts roll his hips, and after a few uncertain movements we find our cadence, Graham moaning as he rides me, hard and slow. I close my eyes and arch my neck as his anal muscles contract around me. He barely touches me, focusing only on our eye contact and shared rhythm. It’s a bit out of character for him, because I’m used to him needing attention, affection—little kisses, bites and squeezes. Little affirmations as I’m fucking him, but not this time.

I reach out to touch his chest, missing the physical touch and affection, but he bats my hand away. I lift my hips up and he makes a strangled, squeaking sound as I go too deep and begs for it again a second later.

“Fuck me harder,” he begs, the words dripping off his lips, and I obey, grabbing him on either side of his hips and driving into him. He yelps and wraps his hands around my throat. I arch my neck back, cock twitching from the lack of oxygen, and he pleads with me to fuck him harder, please.

My hands squeeze his love handles. I can’t breathe.

“Fuck me like you mean it, you arsehole,” he breathes, as he continues to roll his hips. “Harder—”

“Ah—”

“Fuck—” I swear, but the word barely comes because Graham’s hands squeeze my throat and I cough, gasping in air. There’s the smacking sound of me driving into him as hard as I can, and I glimpse at both of us in the mirror. My face is cherry red as he chokes me. I cough again and he lets go. I suck in a gasp of air, and the veins in my neck are pounding.

“What do you want?”

“I want you to fuck me,” I breathe.

“I am fucking you.” His usual defiance replaced by something different, something I’m not used to.

“Not like that.”

“You want me to fuck you like a girl?”

“Yes.” I squeeze my eyes shut, doing everything I can not to come at that very moment.

“Say it again.”

“I want you to fuck me.” He wraps his hands around my throat again.

“Beg for it.”

“No.”

The next thing I know, Graham’s climbing off me and cool air is touching my cock. He stands in front of the bed as I plead with him to continue. He yanks on the chain and jerks my body forward. There’s a pinching white pain in my neck as he grabs a fistful of my hair and guides my mouth to his cock. He shoves himself inside my mouth and there‘re tears in my eyes as he glides down my throat. I relax, allowing him to throat fuck me as he tugs at my scalp. Then I gag and choke.

“Sorry,” I sputter, a spittle of saliva trailing from his cock to my mouth, but Graham slaps me anyway. I wince and the next thing I know he’s digging his nails into my sides and flipping me over onto my stomach. I twist my neck to glance in the mirror next to us and admire our reflection. Graham standing tall over me, his beautiful cock between my legs as I sit on all fours, face, and chest red with all the blood flowing to the surface of my skin. I draw a deep breath, and before I’ve braced myself at all, Graham pushes himself into me without warning or preparation and I cry out in pain.

“Fuck!”

Graham ignores my shouts of pain as he drives further into me and it’s as though I’m being split in half again, like in my dream. The tissues inside my arse tearing, and for the first half minute I’m in excruciating pain, pleading with him to stop but also not wanting him to. He shifts a little to the left and reaches my prostate, which causes me to moan so loud that it reverberates against the walls. It’s been so long since Jamie’s been inside me I’d almost forgotten how incredible it felt to have it touched.

He quits and pulls out of me, and I cry out again, not out of suffering this time, but in annoyance. I’m begging him, pleading for him to remain inside me.

“Say it,” Graham repeats, and I hang my head between my arms.

“Please don’t stop.”

“You love taking it up the arse, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Do you love when other men come inside you?”

“Yes.”

“That’s all you are isn’t it? A little cum slut. You’re a little whore.  You’d spread your legs for anyone, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, sir,” he corrects, slapping my arse with his palm.

“Yes, sir. I am a whore.” I ball my hands into fists.

Graham seizes me by the waist, and sparing no time at all, forces into me again hard and deep. He moans, but it’s a deep guttural moan that reminds me of Jamie, and that turns me on even more. His fingernails sink into my back as he thrusts, splitting my limbs apart, and I swear to God he’s screwing me harder than I’ve fucked him. He’s much more anarchic and heavy-handed, and I’m not prepared for it at all.

“Gra, fuck—please—I’m going to…”

“Is this how he fucks you?” Graham growls, and I’m very confused. His eyes are on fire. He pulls at my scalp and I wince.

“Is this how he screws you? Like you’re his little whore? Answer me.”

“Make me.”

My arse stings as he backhands me. Blood rushes to the surface of the skin and my eyes water, but my cock is still painfully hard despite. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy every ounce of pain he was giving me.

“No,” I answer, rubbing the tender spot on my face and staring up at him in defiance. The sweet Graham I know has disappeared, replaced instead by someone else who reminds me of a certain someone.

“What do you mean, no?”

“He fucks me much harder, sir.”

Something inside Graham snaps when I say that, because he pushes my head into the pillow and tightens the collar around my neck another notch. I can hardly breathe at this point. He drives into me again while I struggle for air and he hits the tiny spot inside of me again and again. I’m the first to come, my entire body shaking as my orgasm washes over me. I’m reminded again what a wonderful sensation it is to have both parts of my body stimulated. Graham follows soon after, twitching as he comes deep and warm inside me. Catching his breath, he stares down at the cum underneath my belly, then smiling wipes it up with his fingers and sticks them into my mouth. Then he smashes his lips against mine, and I taste myself mixed with the sweet and salty part of him.

Graham collapses to the side, still inside me, and I’m so raw that even him touching my skin right now is making me flinch.

“Fuck.”

He kisses me on the shoulder, removes the collar, and I close my eyes. His cock twitches inside me, still hard, and I beg for him to hold me.

“Yes, fuck,” I swear underneath my breath.

“I’ve never seen you come that hard.”

“Well, I’ve never had you fuck me, have I?”

“Touché.” Graham smirks, pressing his belly into my back. He slips out of me and sighs.

“Ah, ah, careful...” I wince.

“You okay?”

I grimace, noticing the pain in my arse.

“Well you didn’t hold back much, did you?” Graham laughs.

“I thought you’d done this before.”

“Yeah, but not for a while. Jesus Christ.”

He covers his mouth with his hand and giggles. “Oh, sorry.”

“Don’t be.” I roll over onto my back and wince. “Cause I’m not.”

“Mmm. It was nice.”

I arch an eyebrow. “Is this how he fucks you?”

Graham bites his lip.

“Who did you mean by ‘he’?”

“I dunno.” Graham shrugs, then turns my own question back on me. “Who did you mean by ‘he’?”

I hesitate, then smile. “I don’t know.”

“So…?”

Graham stares back at me and blushes. ”What?”

“Just wondering why you switched on me suddenly.”

“No reason,” he says, forcing back a smile.

“Right.” I stare back at him, still waiting for an answer, but he gives me none.

“I will say, after this, I’ve realized that I’ve been holding back on you too much.”

He grins and slips underneath my arm and nuzzles his head against my chest. There’s the Graham I’m used to.

“Was I okay?”

“You were more than okay.”

“I worry because you’ve been with so many…”

“So many what?”

“Men. I was scared that I wouldn’t know how to make you feel good.”

I stare at him. “Gra—”

“No,” he says, lowering his eyes. “I want to make sure I can be everything for you so you don’t…”

“So I don’t what?” I ask, but Graham doesn’t answer.

“You know, so don’t have to find someone else.”

I laugh. “You think I’d leave you because I want to be a bottom sometimes?”

“Yeah…”

I kiss the top of his head and laugh. “You’re so sweet Gra, you know that?”

He grimaces. “No, I’m not.”

“You’re the only person I need,” I reassure him, kissing him on the lips. “Top or bottom.”

Graham smiles, then goes silent. “I’m sorry I made you jealous.”

“You did nothing wrong.”

“In your nightmare, what happened with Jamie?”

I sigh. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Were you having sex with him or was he having sex with me?”

“Gra, it doesn’t matter. It was a stupid dream.”

“Tell me,” he says, and I pause and level my gaze at him.

“Both,” I say.

Graham’s eyes fill with tears and my heart sinks to the pit of my stomach.

“It means nothing, Gra. It doesn’t.”

“Yes it does.”

“No, it doesn’t.”

“Jamie told me,” he blurts out, and my body freezes.

“What?”

“He told me about you guys. He told me everything. Why did you lie to me the first time I asked?”

“Everything?” I choke. Fucking Jamie.

“Why did you lie?”

I cover my face with my hands. “Fuck.”

“So it is true.”

“Gra…”

“Why didn’t you just tell me?”

“Gra, fuck, it means nothing.”

“You lied.”

Now it all clicks why Graham’s been acting so offish.

“I didn’t lie…I abbreviated the truth.”

“Same thing.”

Fucking hell, Jamie.” I shake my head. “Why would he tell you something like that when I told him not to…”

“You were trying to hide it from me?” Graham asks, staring at me. “I asked him.”

I hold my head in my hands. “I’m sorry, Graham. I am. But you know, that was a while ago and—”

“A year ago.”

“I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to react like this,” I snap, and Graham flinches.

“Jamie…Jamie isn’t a threat to you, okay?” I shake my head. “What did he tell you?”

“He told me you both used to mess around. He said, he wanted to be transparent.”

“Did he also tell you he didn’t want me?”

Graham nods.

Fuck, Jamie…what the fuck. At least he didn’t tell him about the night of my birthday. Then again, maybe this is his way of trying to break us up. Brilliant.

“Do you still have feelings for him?” Graham asks, tears threatening to spill over.

I clench and unclench my jaw. “Why were you hanging out with him so much?”

“Don’t change the question, Des.”

I shake my head. “No.”

“No…?”

“No, I don’t have feelings for him, Gra,” I say, but there’s a heavy weight on my shoulders as I say it. “I love you.”

Graham stares at me, his eyes glassy.

“I’m telling you the truth.” I take a deep breath. “Why were you texting him so much?”

“I was asking him about you,” Graham says, wiping his tears with the back of his arm. “I was asking him what you liked in bed because I felt insecure and jealous and I wanted to make sure I was everything for you and that you wouldn’t leave me for him.”

“Gra,” I start, pulling him close to my chest. “Listen to me.”

He peers up at me with his eyes wet and red and I press my lips against his temple.

“You are everything I will ever need.”

Graham blinks and hot tears stream down his cheeks. “I don’t feel like I am.”

“You are.”

Graham sucks in a short breath and starts hyperventilating like he’s having a panic attack.

“No, no, no, Gra…” I say, squeezing him close to my chest. His wet tears are hot against my skin as he presses his face into my chest. “Shhh.”

I brush my hand through his hair, trying to calm him down. He’s shaking and crying and just seeing him miserable like this hurts me to my core.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I didn’t want to hurt you. I didn’t want you to feel insecure, but not telling you just made things worse. I’m sorry.”

Lowering my chin, I look at him straight in the eyes and he peers back at me with the saddest face I’ve ever seen on him. His breath catches in his throat.

“I don’t…want you…to leave me,” he gasps between breathes.

“That will not happen.”

“Please don’t leave me,” he says, pressing his face to my chest again.

“I won’t.”

“Promise me.”

“I promise.”

“Promise me you won’t lie to me again.”

I hang my head. “I promise. Please don’t cry.”

“Tell me you love me.”

“Gra, I love you. More than anything.”

“I love you too.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

I’m smiling the next morning as I brush my teeth and Graham hugs me from behind, pinching my arse. Last night when he broke down in my arms, it changed everything. It rejuvenated us. He has a glow to his face I haven’t seen in a few days, and it makes me relieved to see him happy.

“I like this look on us,” I say, motioning to our reflection in the mirror.

He giggles, then kisses me on the cheek. “Would you be my sugar daddy?”

“What’s a sugar daddy?”

Graham’s jaw drops, and he gapes back at me. “You don’t know what a sugar daddy is?”

I shake my head and smirk. “No. What does that mean?”

“It means… an older man who takes care of someone younger called a sugar baby.”

“Sugar baby?” I shake my head, amused but still not understanding.

“Yeah, so I’m your sugar baby. And you as my sugar daddy take care of me and shower me with gifts, and money and nice things. It’s like an exchange.”

I arch an eyebrow. “An exchange for what?”

“Mmm… stuff.”

“Sex?”

Graham blushes. “Sort of… sex… but also… companionship?”

“Are you saying I’m not showering you with enough as it is?” I joke, with the toothbrush still in my mouth.

“No,” Graham laughs. “You do, I just… most times sugar daddies will give their sugar baby an allowance, or nice dinners, etc.”

“I see,” I say, nodding and washing off my toothbrush. “So you want me to spoil you more than I do now, like letting you live in my flat rent free and feeding you and taking you to Paris and—”

“Shh, stop. I know you take care of me…” Graham nuzzles his head into the crook of my neck and kisses my shoulder. His face is bright red. “But… you know what I mean.”

“I know, I’m just giving you a hard time.” I wink, and Graham squeezes my shoulders.

“I can do that,” I say, smiling, and poke him in the ribs. He darts away, laughing, and as he exits the bathroom I slap his arse.

I stop by after work and buy a couple thoughtful things for him. Things that I know he’ll enjoy. A gay erotica art book, a sketchbook with nice paper, and some long, thigh-high light pink socks with tie up lace on the back that I know will match well with his collar. When I get home, Graham greets me at the door and jumps into my arms.

I laugh, heaving him into my arms and kissing him on the lips. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah. I’m just excited.”

“Why?”

Graham bites down on his lip and gives me a mischievous grin. “Your gift arrived.”

“Gift?”

“Your late birthday gift. Just wait. You will love it,” he says, kissing me on the nose. He runs into the bedroom and locks the door behind him.

“You okay?”

“Yeah! Just a sec.”

I put my bag of gifts for him on the side table and notice the envelope from yesterday that I still have yet to open. I pick it up and am about to open it before Graham emerges again from the bedroom and I suck in a deep breath.

He’s wearing an English schoolboy outfit, tiny shorts and all. He reaches up to touch his mouth, his hair, and gives me a sheepish grin.

“Do you like your gift?”

“Oh, I love it,” I purr, closing the distance between us. I lay my hands on his waist and press my lips to his. “Just like I imagined.”

“How did you put on a tie that fast?”

“I cheated.” Graham blushes. “It’s a clip on.”

“Mmm,” I say, pressing my lips to the nape of his flushed neck. “Are you going to keep this on the entire time?”

“Whatever you want, Mr. Albarn,” he says, and my heart does a somersault.

“Let me look at you first,” I say, taking a few steps back and giving him a once-over. He does a silly twirl for me, then bends over. The shorts are in fact, too short, and when he bends the bottom of his are cheeks peek out from underneath. My cock twitches.

After he’s done modeling his new outfit, he lays his hands on my chest, and his fingers fumble with my shirt buttons.

“No, I want to keep things on,” I growl, fisting his collar. “Just stand here and look pretty until I tell you what to do.”

I collapse onto the couch with a sigh, letting my eyes drink him in.

“Are you wearing your collar?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good boy.”

“What do you want me to do, sir?”

“I want you to stand there and let your teacher have a look at you,” I say pressing my palm between my legs. “Have you been a naughty boy today? Did you do your homework?”

Graham shakes his head. “No, sir.”

“No you haven’t been a naughty boy, or no you didn’t do your homework?”

He flutters his long lashes at me. “I haven’t done my homework, sir.”

“That’s not what good boys do, you know that? Only naughty boys don’t do their homework.”

“Then I must be a naughty boy, sir,” he teases, and I tug my zipper down.

“You know how angry it makes me when do you don’t do your schoolwork.”

“I know,” he says, looking at me through his eyelashes. “Maybe you should punish me again so I remember.”

“Did I not punish you well enough last time?”

“I guess not, sir.”

“Well we need to fix that then. Come here,” I say, wagging my finger for him to come closer. I grab him by his wrist and yank him down. He yelps, surprised by the sudden force, then I brush a few strands of hair out of his face. He looks back at me with large eyes and gulps. I press down on the back of his neck until he’s bent over my knee with his arse is sticking up in the air.

He pinches his eyes shut as I smooth my hand over the back of his thighs and the bottom of his schoolboy shorts. I curl my fingers around the hem and pull up them up enough to see his round white bottom peeking out.

“Please, sir.”

“Please, what?”

“Please, go easy on me.”

I wrap my finger around a lock of his hair and tug, admiring the curve of his arse through his shorts. He fidgets underneath my grip and I respond by slapping his ass hard. He cries out in surprise and pain and I smile. After last night, I’ve decided not to ease him into the pain play like usual.

“I’ve been going too easy on you,” I say, pulling at his scalp and he winces. I roll him over onto to his back so he’s facing me but still splayed over my knees. I smooth my hand over his chest and he gazes up at me with adoration.

“Are you hiding anything from your teacher?”

“No, sir.”

I draw my hand down his chest and pause at his belly button.

“You know you could get in a lot of trouble for sneaking things into my classroom,” I say, untucking his button-up shirt.

“I promise, I’m not hiding anything, sir.”

I slip my hand underneath his shirt and he shivers as my cold hand touches his skin.

“You know as your teacher I have certain rules I have to follow.”

“Like what, sir?”

“I’m not supposed to touch you. But I have to make sure you’re not breaking campus policy by bringing weed into my classroom.” I pause, pinching one of his nipples and Graham lets out a little gasp and arches his back up. His skin goosebumps underneath my hand. “I need you to be honest and not lie to me.”

“I’m not hiding anything, sir. I promise,” he says, as I slip my hand between his legs.

“Ah—” He lifts his hips and mewls as I stroke him over his trousers. “Please, sir.”

“Please sir, what?”

“It feels good when you touch me there.”

“You like it when I touch you like this?” I increase the speed of my strokes and he pinches his eyes shut.

“Yes.”

I pull his zipper down and slip my hand inside his trousers. His cock bounces up into my palm, hardening underneath my hand.

“Are you saying that you enjoy it when your teacher touches you in inappropriate places?”

“Yes, sir. I do.”

I continue to pleasure him, the little mewls coming out of his mouth are music to my ears. He rolls his head back, lips parted and gazes up at me.

“Has anyone touched you there?” He shakes his head.

“Have you touched yourself there before?”

“No sir,” he says, before sinking his teeth into my wrist. He’s hard now, pressing up into my hand and I want nothing more than to put him between my lips and down my throat but I hold myself back.

“Do you want your teacher to show you what happens when you keep touching that?”

He nods. I remove my hand, then standing, lift him up and carry him in my arms to the bedroom. I lay him down on the bed and fish for something in my closet. When I return, I’m holding a long rope in my hands and Graham stares at me wide-eyed.

“Take off your shorts.”

“What are you—”

“Don’t talk,” I interrupt, wrapping the rope around his wrists and his ankles. I tie him to the headboard and the foot of the bed so he can’t move or touch himself. His chest rises and falls as his eyes follow me around the room. I grab a dvd from the closet and put it into the player.

Graham stays quiet, watching me the entire time. He pulls on his restraints to test how much he can move.

“You will not get out of it without my help. Trust me.”

The image of two naked men having sex plays on the television screen. Graham stares at me, breathless, with his cock red and hard and whimpers. I shoot him a bemused smile before leaving the room to make a cup of tea.

He cries my name, and I heard the thud, thud, thud of him pulling on the headboard as I start the electric kettle in the kitchen. I return about ten minutes later, leaning against the doorframe and sipping my tea as I watch him lying on the bed, flushed from his chest up and horny, unable to touch himself. He throws me a dirty look.

“You’re a monster. Untie me. Or touch me at the very least, for God’s sake,” he pleads. I sip my tea, staring over the edge of my cup at him.

“I think I should start making dinner.” He gazes at me with desperate eyes, and I set down my teacup on the bedside table.

“I hate you. Please untie me.” 

“Are you enjoying the movie?” I ask, motioning to the porn of the screen.

“You fucker.”

“I suppose you wish you could touch yourself.”

“Stop.”

He glares at me as I sit down on the edge of the bed. I smile, then brush my hand against his twitching cock. He rolls his head back, sighing in relief.

“Christ. Thank you.”

I keep touching him like that, telling him what I want to do to him at length, and listening to his little gasps. At one point, I lean over, lick my lips and take him into my mouth. He moans my name as I lollipop lick around the red head of his cock. He’s dripping in pre-cum. His moans become more frequent and less far apart, and knowing he’s about to climax, I pull away and leave him cold.

He cries out, almost in tears, not understanding why I’m torturing him. I glance down at my watch, counting down the seconds down as he begs me to suck him again.

“Please, sir,” he pleads, tugging on his restraints again. The headboard makes a loud thud against the wall. “I was so close.”

“Exactly,” I muse, with my eyes down and still marking the time.

After the fifteenth second, I smooth my hands down his chest. There’s the sound of men moaning coming from the telly. They’re having front-facing sex, the Dom’s giant cock buried in the sub who’s letting out little high-pitched moans.

“Do you like that? Does that turn you on?” I ask, motioning to the screen.

“Yes.”

“Do you like thick cocks?”

“Yes, sir.”

Unzipping my trousers, I pull my cock out and give myself a few healthy strokes. I go down on him again, Graham’s eyes glued to both me and the television screen as I swallow him all the way into the back of my throat. His cock pulses against my tongue and sensing his imminent orgasm, I pull back again. He whines, cold and tortured.

Please,” he pleads. “Why do you keep stopping?”

Saying nothing, I go into my closet and grab one of the newest toys I bought for him, for this special occasion. It’s a black, bulbous shaped vibrator that’s curved at the tip. When Graham sees it, his eyes get wide.

“W-what is that?”

I smile. “What does it look like?”

“I don’t know. But I’m a little scared of it.”

“Spread your legs.”

Graham gulps.

“Is that going to hurt me?”

“No. Quite the opposite.”

He takes a deep breath. “Okay.”

Graham lifts his arse up and I slip a pillow underneath him to prop him up. I can tell he’s nervous because he keeps his eyes glued to the television as I crack open the bottle of lube and prepare him and the toy. He sucks in a breath as I maneuver the tip of the toy inside him, a big one at that, and bites down hard on his lip. Then he moans as the rest of it slides all the way in. I take my place at his feet, kneeling, my left hand holding the base of the toy as I search for his prostate with the hooked end. I turn on vibrate, which starts the come hither motion of the head inside him. I know I’ve hit the jackpot when he cries out, pinching his eyes shut and lifting his hips into the air.

“Ah, fuck—”

“Tell me when you’re about to come,” I instruct.


“Okay.”


“Really,” I reiterate, with a growl.


Graham nods, breathless. “Fuck, why does that feel so good?”

I maneuver the toy with my left hand, pushing it up into his prostate and smirking as his hips lift and more and more pre-cum collects at the tip of his cock. This time, it doesn’t take long at all for him to near climax, and when he gets close, I pull the toy out of him. He cries, begging me to not stop.

“Why are you torturing me?”

“You’ll see,” I say, smirking as his muscles contract and he tugs on his restraints.


“I want you to fuck me so bad right now. Please.”


“Not yet.”


“Please.”


“No,” I say, before slapping his thigh with the back of my hand. He winces, but there’s a fire in his eyes as he stares at me.

“Hurt me.”

“What?”

“Hurt me, please. I want it to hurt.”

“How much do you want it to hurt?”


“As much as possible.” The words roll off his tongue like honey and sweet cream. It’s the first time he’s asked me it out loud.

“Spread your legs,” I instruct, and he obliges, knees shaking from anticipation.

“Good boy,” I purr, dragging my palm down the inside of his pale thighs. He hesitates, knees drawing in a bit, and I force them back open, digging my fingernails into his thighs until it leaves little red half moons.

“Don’t hide your cock from me. I want to see how desperate you are. Looking at that aching cock. Pathetic.” My hands slide up to his neck, before slipping two fingers underneath the pink collar.

“Who do you belong to, boy?”

“You, sir.” 

“Show me. What do I own?” I reach down, dragging my lubed middle finger between his arse cheeks. Graham reaches down to grab my wrist, guiding my finger into his taut bottom. He squirms as it slips inside, then moans.

“Ah, ah..”

“Say it.”

“This, sir,” Graham says, writhing underneath my hand.  

“What else is mine?”

Graham squeezes his eyes shut, licks his lips, then directs my hand between his legs. His erection strains against his briefs, pink cock bowing beautifully into my left hand, pre-cum seeping through the red fabric and leaving a dark, wet stain in its wake. I press my lips and tongue to it, tasting him, then pull down the waistband to kiss naked skin. The tip of my tongue draws a trail down the dark blue veins, then laps at the rounded head before I wrap my cold fingers around the base of him. His cock is as hard as a rock inside my hand, eyes half-lidded, breath short and panting. He pushes himself against my palm and moans.

“Mm, good boy… look at how turned on you are. Is your cock so hard because of your teacher? Do you want him to fuck you?”

Graham nods and his stomach drops, sucking in air as I massage the inside of his thighs. His cock is wet and peeking over the top of his underwear. He lifts his hips and I free him from his briefs, allowing his cock to slap against his stomach.

I remain dressed, gracing my palm over myself as I imagine him pinned underneath me, completely subservient. Allowing me to bend him to every whim. I grab both his arse cheek and his cock and squeeze until tears collect at the corner of his eyes.


“I own both these things, do you understand? I can suck them, fuck them, or eat them out whenever I want to. I can take them from you any time I please. And you will only come when I tell you to. Do you understand?”
 

He nods, then he says it again.

“Hurt me.”

Again. Those two words hit me like a shot of adrenaline. I squeeze his thighs and pull him closer. He winces as the restraints cut into his wrists. I untie the rope wrapped around his feet and press his knees against his chest.  

"Look at how wet you are for your teacher. You’re sopping,” I say, motioning to the briefs in my hand. Graham looks down at his own cock, dripping pre-cum.

“I want you, please.” I stroke my cock and his eyes stay glued between my legs.

“Is your prick dripping because all you’ve been thinking about since I put this porn is being stretched out by your teacher’s big cock?”

He pinches his eyes shut. “Yes.”

“Good.” I rest my thumb on his chin. “Open your pretty little mouth like a good pet.”

Balling his wet underwear into a fist, I shove it into his mouth like a gag. I slip the toy back inside him, massaging his prostate and watching with bemusement as his cock milks out more clear pre-cum onto his stomach.

“Look at how pathetic you are,” I say, cleaning him up with my tongue. He shivers, sensitive from the toy, so I pull it out of him. “You’re such a slut for your teacher that you can’t even watch porn without thinking about him fucking you.”

He lets out surprised mewl as I squeeze his thighs apart.

“You’ve proven to me that normal punishment doesn’t work for you. So we must do something different this time. It will have to hurt this time for you to remember.”

I spit into my hand, then onto his arse, and Graham’s eyes go wide. I know it hurts like hell when I enter him because his reaction is immediate—tears in his eyes, and cries of pain muffled by the underwear in his mouth.

I pause, waiting for him to say our safe word, or shake his head, anything—but he doesn’t. He continues to whimper as I drive into him, dry and painful, teeth sinking into his underwear as tears stream down his cheeks.

I’m worried it’s too much for him, so I mouth the word “mercy” but Graham shakes his head. I take that as a sign to turn up the dial, so I close my hands around his neck, taking care not to crush his throat but just cut off the oxygen enough.

This makes him moan even louder, underwear still shoved in his mouth, crying and coughing as I drive deeper into him. He says something I can’t understand with the gag in his mouth. I thrust into him again and he repeats it again, even louder. I take his underwear out of his mouth and he repeats it again for me, loud and clear.

“Harder, daddy.”

I slip two fingers down this throat, which he welcomes with a warm tongue and bellied moan. Graham’s body trembles underneath me. A whimper escapes his lips as I climb my climax. He holds onto me with both hands, squeezing, crying, whimpering, moaning. Head spinning, I lose all control and start fucking him into the mattress, his pink cock bobbing between his legs as his high-pitched moans drown the sub getting fucked on the screen.

He comes, rolling his head back into a beautiful arc, cum landing warm and wet on his belly. His muscles clench around me, riding the wave of his orgasm as he keeps whimpering, daddy, daddy, into my ear. Finally I come, voice dropping an entire pitch as I bury myself inside him. His hands curve around my arse, pressing me into him even deeper. He arcs his neck back, exposing the vulnerable skin of his throat and I kiss it, breathless, before slipping out of him with an exhausted groan. I collapse on the bed beside him, a beautiful afterglow washing over me. Graham swears, then pulls his knees to his chest and moans. Fuck. Even my cock is sore.

“What’s wrong?” I ask, anxious. “Did you I hurt you?”

He nods.

“Oh god, I’m sorry—”

He stares at me with a sheepish smile stretched across his lips.  He’s even redder than he was a moment ago. “Don’t be.”

“Don’t be what?”

“Don’t be sorry. You made me come twice.”

Twice?

“You didn’t notice?”

I stare back at him wide-eyed. “No.”

He nods, then laughs. “I’ve never done that before.” 

I bury my face into his neck and laugh.

“You like the daddy stuff, don’t you?” I tease.

Graham grins. “No, not at all.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 


Sometimes I wonder if I need ten thousand people screaming my name to feel valid. Every time I go on stage I get nauseous. Sometimes I throw up from the nervousness. Other times I’ll down a couple shots of whiskey before I go out. Liquid confidence, you know. The rest of the band looks to me to guide them. I’m the leader, the singer, the ringmaster, whatever. It’s nerve-racking. There’s something surreal about ten thousand people watching you and singing your lyrics back at you. 

I remember our last gig, before everything turned to shit. He was in the front row, grinning, cheering me on. It was raining, and the mud was thick and the audience miserable except for him. I can’t believe I’m dating a pop star—that’s what he’d say to me and I could see the stars in his eyes when I walked out. When I dropped into the audience, he reached out and touched my hand. I held it, singing the lyrics I wrote for him directly to him. No one else was the wiser. We had those few intimate seconds before I pulled away again and he became everyone else.

I’d been having little sips of whiskey between songs, and by the time we finished the gig I was in a fuzzy little headspace. Not drunk, but warm and smiley. I waved goodbye to the audience and left the stage drunk on the high I get whenever we put on a good performance.

Jude waited for me at the side of the stage. As soon as he saw me, his eyes got wide, and he jumped into my arms and kissed me. He was wearing my cut-off jeans and a tight t-shirt that revealed his skinny midriff in a way that drove me crazy.  His dark fringe fell in front of his face and he brushed it back with his hand and smiled. I knew that my band mates were staring. I’d warned Jude that we needed to keep a low profile, but he was so eager I couldn’t help but lean into it. The band knew who he was. I had given him VIP access, and we considered him an acquaintance of the band. I’m certain my bandmates understood what was going on from the very beginning.

We headed back to my dressing room, either us barely able to keep our hands off each other the entire way. I pried myself away from him to wash myself off and he followed me into the shower. I threaded my fingers through his hair as he got down on his knees. I adored him when kissed me with the same lips. I love him, I love him, I love him. That mantra repeated in my head as I wrapped my arms around his waist and kissed his neck.  And then I slipped inside him and made love to him until he came on my hand. Everything was good that night.

“Do you love me?”

Jude laid on his side, peering at me from the other end of the hotel bed as he traced circles on my chest. He’d asked me the same question, many times before.

“Yes, I love you. Why wouldn’t I?”

“Because so many people love you.” He paused. “It makes me a little jealous to see the way they look at you.”

“They’re in love with a persona. They don’t know me.”

Jude went silent. Then he spoke. His words were low but deliberate and distinct.

“When did you know you were bisexual?”

“The first time I had a cock in my mouth.”

Jude held back a laugh. “No, I’m being serious.”

“I mean… that was a big part of it.”

“Yeah, but honestly.”

I took a deep breath. “I don’t know… I always remember being attracted to both girls and boys. Maybe when I discovered Bowie?”

“That doesn’t count. Everyone’s gay for Bowie.”

“True.” I smirked. “But not everybody dreams about sucking his cock.”

“Touché.” Jude smirked, then continued tracing circles on my chest. “But really. Honestly.”

“When I was fourteen. A classmate of mine came over with a dirty mag. We were in my bedroom, wanking, and he kept making eye contact with me.”

“And?”

“He gave me head.”

“And?”

“And I liked it. I don’t know. It was the first time someone gave me head.”

“From a man?”

“From anyone.”

“And then what?”

“Nothing. He swallowed and went on his merry way. The next time I saw him he called me a fairy poof and a fag when I passed him in the hallway.”

Jude frowned. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine. How about you?”

“I… don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” I grinned. “You’ve been asking me for all of my sordid details tonight, but you won’t share yours?”

Jude’s mouth formed a straight line. “Because you’ll judge me.”

“No, I won’t.”

“It’s bad.”

“I’m not here to judge.”

“Well.” Jude chewed on his bottom lip. “One time my foster brother came onto me.”

I must have given him an odd look because he adds, “He was the one who came onto me, all right?”

I nod. “What happened?”

“He climbed into my bed late at night and got behind me. And then I felt his… you know. He said I reminded me of a girl, and he told me to act like one. I didn’t understand why.”

I frown, closing my fingers over his wrist and squeezing.

“And then he started to kiss the back of my neck and then he pulled my underwear down…”

“Hang on, did he force you to?”

“No… Well, sort of… I mean… I didn’t stop him. I felt guilty because I liked it, you know. I was hard. He’d been very touchy with me and I didn’t understand why until that night. He was a couple years older than me. But it felt... good even though I knew it was wrong because he was my foster brother.”

I frowned. “I’m sorry. What else happened?”

“He told my foster parents I came onto him, and that I was trying to turn him gay. So they got rid of me.”

“Jesus.” I placed my hand against his cheek. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s fine.”

“What happened after that?”

“Everyone told me I had a problem.”

“A problem?”

“Yeah, you know. It didn’t matter that I told them he came onto me, that it was my stepbrother. They still had me go to therapy.”

“Therapy?”

“Yeah, yeah you know. Sitting in a room with a bunch of bible-thumpers talking about urges and sin.”

“Christ.”

“They’d set you up with a girl and make you hold hands and pretend like if you prayed hard enough you’d be normal again.”

“But you are normal.” I paused. “You know that, right?”

“I’ve never felt normal. I feel anxious all the time. I feel like I’m going crazy. I’ve got all these thoughts running in circles in my head, every second…” I inched closer and brushed his hair back from his forehead.

“If I had a normal family—" He paused. “If I had a good upbringing, maybe I would be a well-adjusted person.”

“What do you define as normal?”

Jude lowered his eyes and shrugged. “The opposite of what I went through.”

“Jay,” I stared into his eyes. “You are normal.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Do you ever want to find them?”

“Who?”

“Your parents.” Jude chewed on his bottom lip. Something florid bristled in his eyes. He shook his head.

“No.”

I slid my arm around his back. He pressed his head into my shoulder and his hair tickled my nose as I kissed the top of his head. I worried about him. Some nights more than others. There seemed to be a dark shroud that encompassed him occasionally that I couldn’t penetrate no matter how hard I tried.

“I love you.”

“I love you too.” I pulled him into my arms, but his body was limp. But when I withdrew, a hint of a smile played on his lips.

“Did you know that sometimes you whistle when you talk?”

 

 

**

 

 

That damn piece of mail on the table is staring at me again. Except now there’s two of them, one with the school address and a second with my home address scribbled in marker on the front.

“Gra, did you check the mail today already?”

“Yeah, you got something,” he yells from the other room. “Why?”

“Just wondering," I mumble, picking up the first piece of mail. I rip open the seal and a piece of paper slips out onto the table. The letter is addressed to no one in particular; just a short paragraph that sends chills down my spine.

I will find you.

My throat tightens.

I will hurt you in ways you never thought of. Then I will bury you where no one will find you, you fucking pedophile. Sleep well, arsehole.

I pinch the sides of the note in my hands. My home address is handwritten in the same black sharpie.

“Everything okay?"

“Yeah. Everything’s fine,” I lie, and my voice cracks. I tear open the second package with trembling hands. It contains an 8x10 photo and note with three words that read:

I found you.

My blood turns cold. It’s a picture of my bedroom with Graham and I on my bed. I’m sitting between his legs. Both of our faces are distinguishable and it’s clear as day what we’re doing. Given the proximity, whoever took it must have taken it through the bedroom window and been watching us have sex for god knows how long. My stomach somersaults.

Someone touches a hand to my shoulder and I jump.

“What’s wrong?"

“Nothing," I lie, shoving the packages underneath the stack of other mail. 

He frowns. “You look like you’re trying to hide something."

“No, I’m not... I’m just tired and thinking about work.”   

“Okay..." He says, eyeing me with suspicion. I kiss the top of his head, but he’s not buying it.

“Why don’t you go get dinner started?”

He nods, eyes glued to the stack of mail in my hands, before disappearing into the kitchen. I hide both packages in the back of my closet, knowing if Graham saw them he would freak out and overreact. I go to bed that night with a million thoughts racing through my head. Who sent the package? How did they know where I lived? Was I being targeted by some lunatic parent or student sending me death threats?

All night I try to push the fear out of my mind, but it’s useless. Instead of sleeping I get up and pace around my flat, closing every door and window and nook where someone could look inside. I consider going to the police. But then again they might get suspicious and start asking me questions I don’t want to answer and I’d just be incriminating myself. The worst-case scenario—aside from being dead—would be the photographs being submitted and the school finding out I was a dating one of my students. I’d lose my job, and I’d never see Graham again. Either that, or they put a bullet in my head. I’m fucked either way.

Graham keeps giving me worrying looks the next morning. Are you okay? Is everything fine? You look tired. Did you sleep?

Yes, everything’s fine.

He kisses me on the cheek and wishes me a good day at work.

As soon as he’s gone, I pull out the packages out. There’s no return address given, only my school and home address written in black sharpie. I wonder if I could have the handwriting analysed, but then I’d have to explain what the package was. And the photo. God, the photo.

I press my fingers to my temples. There’s no way out of this. It’s a ticking time bomb, because at some point this lunatic will send this photo to the papers and there’s nothing I can do about it, save from implicate myself even further. And what about Graham? He’s not safe, and every second he’s around me puts him in more danger. I should convince him to stay with his parents or Alex for a few days. Hell, even Jamie. Just as long as he’s far away from me.

I’m mad at myself. This can’t be happening. The same bullshit all over again? This is my fault for getting into a relationship with someone I shouldn’t have. I’m a fucking idiot. I collapse onto the couch, exhale, and reach for my phone. I need to message Graham carefully so he doesn’t get more suspicious than he already is.

Hey, maybe you should stay at Alex’s for a couple nights? I type.

No, no. That sounds weird. I hit the backspace button.

Have you hung out with Alex lately? Maybe you should stay with him for a couple days?

Ugh. That’s not great either. But it sounds less desperate. I hit the send button. Graham’s response is near-instant.

Why do you want me to stay with Alex?

I swear under my breath.

I think it would be good for you to spend some time with friends your age.
You haven’t for a while.

I want to stay with you.
Is everything okay?
You were acting weird this morning.
Are you jealous again?

No, I’m not jealous. I hesitate, thumbs hovering over the keyboard.
Everything’s fine.

… okay. :(

Please think about it.

Are you tired of me?

No. I just think you need to see your friends.

Ok. I’ll ask Alex if he wants to hang out on Friday.

Thank you.

I spend the rest of the week plagued by the death threat. Thursday comes and goes and there’s a sinking feeling in my gut as I go to bed, conscious that tomorrow or the next day could be my last depending on what happens. I fall into a restless sleep.

 

*

 


Sometimes I hear Jude’s voice. It haunts me. In grocery stores, at school, in malls and theaters. I’ll hear his voice as clear as day as though he’s speaking to me from the other side.

At first it bothered me, but after a while it became a comfort. It was like him letting me know he still existed through the voices of strangers. Sometimes his voice was angry, other times sad. On occasions other’s whispers reminded me of us, in bed, limbs tangled together and listening to the sounds of rain falling outside my window.

A person’s first impression of Jude might have been that he looked like a junkie, a runaway extra from the set of My Private Idaho. He loved to ask me questions and listening to me talk about Justine, my life, my childhood. He said he enjoyed asking people about their childhood because his own felt empty, like a blank canvas. Whenever I asked him about his past he went quiet, or he would smile and change the subject.

His biggest enemy was himself. It came out in his art, the pain and the anger. When we fought, he painted me different from when we were getting along. Or when we were making love. He had an entire series of portraits of me that reflected our short time together, like a visual journal. Sometimes I thought I looked hideous, and others too beautiful. Rarely in-between. I used to wonder if his self-perception was the same.

Jude had a tattoo on his ribcage just underneath his left arm. It was a line from Blake’s Songs of Experience:

Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.

Our mental health questionnaires asked us the same insensitive questions every day: how are you feeling today? Have you hurt yourself recently? Have you been having dark thoughts? Our rehab counselor would always posit the same question: if you wake up in the middle of the lake, do you think about how you got there? Or do you swim?

If Jude were alive, I know he’d tell me I was drowning until the day I took Graham home from the train. For ten years, I got used to my head being underwater, content with not breathing. I felt like an alka-seltzer tablet, slowly dissipating into water, and I understood what Jude meant when he said he felt empty. He would have turned twenty-seven this month.

I remember his last night alive as if it were yesterday.

His smile—caught in that hazy, drunken love at 3 am. A full moon. Orange streetlights illuminating a dark and empty London. Sticking his head out the passenger window of my car, announcing his love for me to the sidewalks and buildings and empty car lots. That love was stronger than drugs. I know, because I felt it too. It was magnetic. It tore bits of my soul out and gave it to him in spades; ribbons of myself that he held in his hands and died with him.

“I love you.”

Blissful tears rushed from his eyes. He didn’t know where I was actually taking him because I had lied to him back at my flat. I’d told him we should get back together and get on the first plane out of London. It was all a part of the plan to get him to the rehab center. I forced myself to smile, and it felt like tearing muscle.

“I love you too.”

“You missed the exit for the airport.”

“Yeah. I wasn’t thinking,” I lied, keeping my eyes fastened to the road. “I’ll take the next one.”

Jude slumped back into his seat with a smile spread across his face. He was drowning in my oversized green army jacket. He placed his hand on my knee.

“Where do you want to go first?”

“Paris?”

“That would be nice.”

“Or New York?”

“Sure.” Jude stared at me, then frowned. I gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles and stared straight forward at the road.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“You don’t look happy.”

“I am,” I said, reaching over to squeeze his thigh.

“Can we stop for a second?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“I'm hungry and I want a snack.”

I took the next exit off the motorway and pulled into the nearest petrol station. Jude pecked me on the cheek, then disappeared into the bodega. I cut the engine and rolled my head back and exhaled as if I’d been holding my breath the entire time. A terrible noise began to fill my head, tumbling and turning like a drum full of metal. You’re doing the right thing, I kept telling myself. It’s okay that you lied to him because it’s the right thing to do. I knew he was smart enough to realize where we were actually going before we got there. But I couldn’t think about that. Instead my thoughts turned to earlier that night at my flat.

“Please,” Jude begged. The desperation in his voice was soul-crushing.

“Please.”

“… we can’t.”

“I need you.”

“You don’t need me.”

“Yes, I do. I need you.”

“This was a mistake.”

Jude stared back at me with glassy eyes. He looked the worst I’d ever seen him.  Pale, gaunt, dispirited. He held my head in his hands and kissed me; the corner of my mouth, my chin, my neck. Sweet and thoughtful kisses.

“You love me.” Jude’s eyes searched my face as if he was looking for a sign, anything.

“I never said that I didn’t.” His hands tugged at my collar and I noticed the purple veins jutting out of his skinny arms and the angry red marks. My heart sunk. It was my fault. All of this. I said I would not give him skag but as soon as he started to withdraw I did because I couldn’t bear to see him suffer like that.

“Please kiss me.”

“We’ve talked about this,” I said, pushing him away. He looked at me as though I’d betrayed him.

“I should never have touched you. Every time I laid a hand on you, according to the law, that was assault—”

“That’s not what it was. That’s not how I felt—”

“Every time we fucked, that was… rape,” I said, my voice unsteady. “Do you understand?”

“No, it wasn’t.” Jude’s eyes filled with tears, and my own burned. “That’s not how I felt.”

“It doesn’t matter how you felt. What matters is—”

“It wasn’t rape,” Jude interrupted, his voice and body shaking. “What you did to me—what we did together—was not rape. Okay?”

“Jay, you don’t understand—”

“Yeah, I do,” he snapped, and I held my tongue. “I understand.” Jude’s body trembled as he spoke. I’d never seen him so upset before.

“I understand the difference.”

“Jude—”

“Let me finish,” he snapped, and his voice sounded different. “I know what it’s like when someone touches me—”

“Jay—”

“Stop talking.” He pinched his lips shut. “Just listen.”

“I know what it’s like when someone touches me and I feel sick.”

“Jay, what happened with your foster brother was wrong—”

“I’m not talking about that,” Jude interrupted, his eyes filled with tears. “You asked me once what my definition of a normal family was once, so here it is. A normal family doesn’t make you feel sick when they touch you. A normal family doesn’t share you around and then make you feel like it’s your fault you’re such a freak.”

Jude’s words hit me like a truck. Suddenly it was as if someone was sitting on my chest and I couldn’t breathe. All the things I didn’t understand before started to make sense.

Don’t call me that.

I recalled the night I’d touched him and called him the wrong thing. He’d fell apart into whimpering mess on my bed. He never explained what I’d said that upset him. I panicked. I kept asking him what did I say that was wrong? I felt lower than dirt and I apologized again and again, not understanding and kissing the tears from his cheeks. After that night I understood how a single word can have the power to break someone.

“Jay,” I said, at a loss for words. “What happened to you?”

Just hold me, he said, and it tore me up. I held him in my arms like he was a fragile object, worried that I’d say or do the wrong thing and break him all over again. He told me everything; it came rushing out of him like water from a broken dam. All the years of pain, the trafficking, his abusive father and enabling mother. Years of being a prisoner in his own home. I felt a huge sense of responsibility after he told me. I wanted to keep him safe. My heart was bursting with emotions. Guilt, because I knew I was culpable. Rage, because I couldn’t change the past and I deeply wished that I could.

Everything made sense now. All the nuances I’d never been able to figure out, like why he never talked about his family, why he’d always needed that extra affection and physical touch. It also explained why he’d always want to make love face-to-face. The truth painted everything in a different light. An uglier one. If he’d been a victim from the start, God, it was all so different now…

I pictured our first time, how it had been all about lust and nothing else. I thought about how confused he must have been, and why he’d clamped on so tightly after, why he was so scared to tell me his real age. I felt disgusted and angry with myself. And I was livid with his parents, to the point of murderous rage. It made me sick to hold him in my arms like that, knowing that I was part of the problem. He kept asking me the same thing like he did before but in more anxious waves. Do you love me? Yes. Are you sure? Yes. He pressed his face into my neck and I felt warm tears on my shoulder.

“Why didn’t you tell me this sooner?”

“I was afraid that you’d see me differently. That you’d think I was disgusting.”

“No, never. Not at all.“ I lifted his chin with my hand. “Why would you disgust me?“

“Because you’ve been with me and I didn’t tell you…”

“Jay, no, look at me,” I say, and he finally lifts his eyes to meet mine. “Nothing you said makes me feel different about you. Do you understand? You didn’t have to tell me anything. You didn’t owe me an explanation. Okay? I only asked why you didn’t tell me sooner because I am worried about you. I always have been. Even…after I stopped seeing you.”

Jude nodded, wiping his face with the sleeve of my green jacket and leaving a long wet patch. He peered up at me with desperate eyes filled with longing and a deep sadness hiding behind them.

“I wish I could kiss you—”

Sometimes I had to remind myself that he was seventeen. Sometimes it didn’t click that he was young for someone who had been through so much. It didn’t click that this complex lover who I shared a bed and a heartbeat with, was in fact, still a child. I worried, when all else fell away, what did he have left in those empty moments besides drugs? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve closed my eyes and asked myself what would have happened if I had just forgotten about his age for a minute? Would he still be alive?


“That’s all I want, is to kiss you,” he said, placing his hand over mine. I lifted his wrist and pressed my lips to it.

“I know. But we can’t.” He shook his head, and grabbing my wrist, guided it to his chest. His shirt was warm and soaked in tears. He pressed his lips to mine and I let him stay there for a moment until he parted his lips and then I pushed him back gently.


“I don’t want to hurt you.”

“I’m already hurt. I just want to feel good again. Please.”


He smashed his mouth against mine again, hands on either side of my chest as he pushed me back onto my bed. I wet my lips, drawing my hand down his neck and chest and resting both hands on his hips. He climbed into my lap, pulling his shirt up and over his head and then helped me with mine. I let him lead, not helping but not hindering either, guilt weighing heavily on me as pulled my trousers down.

I couldn’t help but appreciate how beautiful he was, even while he was in tears. I loved his eyes, the color of dark espresso, and the way his fringe obscured them. I loved the way his pale skin stretched taut over ribcage when he rolled his hips. I loved the pink color of his lips once bitten, blood rushing to the skin as he bent down to kiss me with a swollen tongue. And that night I loved the way his breath caught in his throat every time I lifted my hips.

We made love for the last time like that. Jude opening up to me in increments. Finding his body again with mine, both of us tasting the salt of his tears on our tongues. My heart was heavy with guilt with the love I had for him. For what I was doing to him, both before and now. I kept apologizing the entire way through. And I remember feeling used, in a way, the way he climbed into my lap and took what he needed from me. I remember the sound he made when he finally came because it sounded almost exactly like the first time—light and lovely and followed by a soft laugh when he collapsed on top of me and I wrapped my arms around him.

Looking back, everything else about that night is like white noise in my head except for that moment. That part, on the bed, with him in my arms was crystal clear. I just wanted to see him happy. But I realize now that was selfish. Making love again wasn’t about him, it was about me. That spark of true feeling wrapped inside an ocean of lies just made things worse.

Jude hopped back in the car and stayed quiet for the rest of the trip. When I got off the exit to the hospital, things started to click. Jude’s hand, once squeezing mine, became cold and loose the closer we got to our destination.

“Where are we going?”

“The airport.”

“Heathrow isn’t this way.”

“I’m taking a different route.”

“It was two exits ago.”

“I’m taking the scenic path.”

“Damon,” Jude said, and the tone of his voice had changed. “Where are we going?”

I gripped the steering wheel. The light turned red, and we stopped at an intersection. I could feel the sweat dripping down my temples.

“I told you, we’re going to the airport.”

“No, we’re not.” 

“No—”

“Are you taking me to the fucking rehab center?”

“I didn’t say that—”

“No,” Jude snapped, and when I looked over at him his eyes were glassy and dark. He pressed himself into the corner of the car furthest away from me.

“You’ve been lying to me this whole time. About the trip, about getting back together. Everything you said was a lie. You lied to me,” he said, and I took a deep breath.

“Listen to me, Jay. Please. You need to check yourself in. You need to get clean—”

“Bullshit. Who the hell are you to say I need to get clean? You were shooting up two hours ago, you hypocrite.”

“That’s different.”

“No, it’s not,” Jude said, shaking his head.

“I was sober until you came over begging me for it.”

“Oh, fuck you. Begging? I was on your doorstep, begging for you to talk to me, not for your fucking skag. Are you mad? And then, you fuck me? You lie to me then you fuck me and you tell me I’m the one with the problem when you were the one with the skag in the first place. Unbelievable.”

“Jude,” I said through gritted teeth. “I’m sorry, but you never would have gone if I’d told you the truth.”

“You’re bloody right I wouldn’t have. I would have left a long time ago.” I heard him unbuckling his seatbelt, and the next thing I knew he was reaching into the back seat to grab his duffel bag.

“What are you doing?”

“Leaving. What does it look like?”

“We’re in a fucking car.”

“So?”

“What the fuck are you doing?”

“I’m getting out. I’m not going back to rehab. I’m not. It did shit for me before, and clearly it didn’t do shit for you, so I’m not going. I trusted you, and you lied to me. You told me you wanted us to be together again just so I would get in the car. You’re such an arsehole. I can’t believe I was stupid enough to think you had a heart.”

“Jude, stop, you’re overreacting. You will kill yourself.”

“Good,” Jude spat, moving to unlock the door. “I don’t care. I’d rather die this way than keep getting lied to by someone who thinks my heart is a plaything.”

“Hey,” I said, holding him back with my arm. “Don’t. It’s not like that. I’m doing this because I care about you.”

“Having sex with someone and then lying to them is a fucked up way to care don’t you think?”

“That’s not what I meant and you know that. I don’t want to see you lying somewhere on the street dead because you refuse to take care of yourself and take responsibility.”

“You know, you sound just like my dad.”

My blood froze. I felt nauseous again. “That’s a real fucked up thing to say to me, Jude and you know that…”

“Well, what’s the difference? You fuck me and then lie to me and leave me alone.”

“… Wow. That really hurts, Jay.”

“Good. I hope it stings and feels just as shitty as you made me feel tonight,” Jude snapped. Tears ran down his cheeks, but his face was ugly to me. He looked like a stranger.

“I’m getting out of this car.”

“Hang on, what are you doing? For god’s sake, let me pull over would you?”

Before I could react, he pushed the door open and my adrenaline kicked in. I grabbed him by his jacket, my right hand slipping on the steering wheel. My overcorrection vaulted the car into a near tailspin. The open passenger door slammed shut and Jude screamed as if his hand or leg had gotten caught. The light in the upcoming intersection was red, and I slammed my foot down, intending to brake but hitting the gas pedal by accident. The car jerked forward full speed into the middle of the intersection. The last thing I remembered after that was the other car colliding into the passenger side door and the sound my skull made when it hit the driver’s window.

 

**

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

It’s not long before Graham finds the notes. And the photo. When I come home that night he confronts me, eyes red, tearful and face twisted up into a knot of betrayal and fear. He screams at me. Why did you hide this from me? I have nothing to say. Then he collapses into my arms and asks me if I’m going to be okay.

No one’s going to hurt me, I tell him. I practice a stoic face. I convince myself that if I repeat it enough times I’ll believe it too. I’m fine. It’s just a crazy person. Things like this have happened before—not like this—but I’ll be absolutely fine.

I don’t know what to do, so I invite Jamie over for advice. Half of me wonders if this might just be a distasteful attempt from him at getting me to listen to him. Then again, I don’t think Jamie wouldn’t be that insidious.

“Honestly, it’s probably just some stupid little shit trying to play a prank on you," Jamie says as he looks down at the photograph in his hands. He frowns, then passes a hand over the stubble on his chin.

“I don’t know Jamie. I kind of draw the line at taking a photo of me through my bedroom window.”

“Have you contacted the police?”

“No.”

“Why not?” Jamie asks, and I give him a silent look.

“Graham, Jamie,” I answer, and a look of realization washes over his face.

“Right. It would be difficult to explain why and eighteen-year-old lives with you.” He frowns, then hands me back the picture.

“Well, that puts you between a rock and a hard place I suppose.” He pauses. “Who else have you told?”

“Just you. Only you and Graham know. Well, aside from the dean, but he hasn’t seen these notes or the photo.”

“Have you considered getting out of London for a few days?”

“Damon wanted me to stay with Alex for a few days,” Graham pipes up, then adds with a guilty look, “or you.”

Jamie’s eyes dart between Graham and me as though he’s trying to read between the lines.

“Well, I mean, Graham’s more than welcome to stay with me if he wants to. My concern is that doesn’t keep you any safer, Dames.”

I frown. “No. But I’m not worried about myself, I’m worried about him.”

“Well that’s admirable of you and all, but I also don’t want to see my best friend hurt. What if both of you stay with me for a few days?”

“No, whoever’s sending me these threats is keeping a close eye on me. They know where I am now. And wherever I go, they are going to follow. Graham needs to be somewhere separate.”

“What if I go to Alex’s and Jamie stays with you?” Graham suggests, and the way Jamie stares tells me we’re both remembering what happened the last time we were left alone together.

“No, I think I should be alone. Graham, you stay with Jamie tonight. I’ll get rid of the photo then I’ll call the police tomorrow and get everything sussed out. It’ll look less suspicious if Graham’s not here.”

“I…I don’t want you to be alone,” Graham interjects. His face has become a ghostly pale. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“I agree with Graham. I don’t think that’s a brilliant idea either.”

“Okay,” I say, lips forming a straight line. “Then Graham and I will stay here tonight and we’ll sort things out for both of us in the morning. How does that sound?”

Graham looks from Jamie to me then nods slowly. “Yeah.”

“Do you want me to stay here tonight? I can,” Jamie offers, and both Graham and I answer at the same time.

“Yes!”

“No—”

My eyes settle on Graham as he picks at bites at his fingernails. His neurosis is in full effect.

“Thanks Jamie, but we’ll be fine.”

 


**

 

Graham joins me in bed later that night, slipping under the sheets and hugging me from behind. As he presses into me, there’s something’s warm and wet on my back. When I turn to face him, Graham’s trying his best to hide his tears by burying his face in the crook of my shoulder. Another pang of guilt stabs me in the heart, and I frown and pull him close to my chest.

“Hey. Why are you crying?”

Graham says nothing for a while, instead burying his head further into my shoulder. His tears leave wet streaks on my skin.

“I wish you’d let Jamie stay. I’m worried that something bad will happen.”

“Nothing bad is going to happen.”

“You don’t know that,” Graham sniffles, and in my heart I know he’s right. I don’t. “Why didn’t you let him stay?”

“Because…” I claw at my brain to find a decent excuse, but I don’t have one. “We will be fine. We’re safe. I’m not going to allow you to get hurt.”

“I’m not concerned about me, I’m worried about you. I don’t want to leave you alone tomorrow.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Gra, look at me.”

I lift his chin and tepid brown eyes flick upward. His face tells me that there’s not a damn thing I can say to him to convince him otherwise.

“I used to get death threats all the time. Nothing bad happened back then, and nothing’s going to happen this time either.”

“Yeah, but those threats weren’t like this one. You said so yourself.”

“I’m not going to let anyone hurt you.”

“I told you, I’m not concerned about me, I’m worried about you,” he murmurs, laying his head on my chest.

We both fall silent and lay still for a while, listening to the sound of each other breathing. Truth told, I don’t believe everything I’m saying. But someone—me—has to be strong right now. Graham moves his head, long lashes fluttering as his tears run down his cheeks. He inhales with a sticky breath and looks up at me again. For a split second he looks so much like Jude that I want to pinch myself just to make sure I’m not dreaming. 

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I say, but the next thing I know my tears are blurring my vision and Graham’s gaping at me with sheer panic on his face.
“Des. Are you all right? It’s okay if you’re scared.”

“It’s not that.”

I shake my head and wipe the tears away from my eyes. I don’t know what’s come over me. It feels like someone’s sitting on top my chest and I can’t breathe.

“What was it something I said?”

“No.”

“You’re worrying me right now.”

“I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not.” 

Graham’s eyes scan my face as if he’s trying to decipher a puzzle. There’s no way he would understand. It even sounds crazy to me when I think that for a split second he reminded me so much of Jude that I couldn’t bare to look at him without feeling like my heart was being ripped out of my chest all over again.

“Des. Hey. Why aren’t you looking at me?” Graham nuzzles his head into my neck, then runs his hands up and down my sides. His lips kiss the hollow between my collarbones, staring at the scar as he traces his fingertips over it.

“Do you still miss him?” He asks, and then immediately backtracks. “Sorry, I don’t mean to—”

“All the time,” I answer, and his shoulders sink an inch. A silence falls between us again.

“You never told me what happened,” he finally says.

“Everyone knows.”

“I don’t.”

“What could I possibly tell you that would make things any different?” I say, and as soon as the bitter words escape my mouth I regret them. After all, it’s not Graham’s fault. It’s me.

“I don’t think you’re a bad person.”

“Good.”

“Hey,” Graham says, tilting my head to meet his gaze. His voice is slow and deep. “I mean it.”

“I know.” I shake my head. “I don’t know why it matters.”


“Because sometimes you look at me like I’m someone else.” There’s a stabbing pain in my heart that won’t go away.

“I notice, Des.” Justine’s words echo in my head. It was a long time ago.

“It happened a long time ago.”

“Yeah, but you’re still hurting.”

“Doesn’t matter. I should have gotten over it a long time ago.”

“That’s not what I’m saying.”

I sigh and roll over onto my side, facing away from him.

“Would you look to me, please? I’m trying to talk to you. I know that you miss him.”

“Graham,” I mumble with a sigh of irritation.

“What?”

“I don’t want to talk about this.”

“Yeah, but I want to talk about it.”

“Stop being jealous, would you? It’s driving me mad. You don’t have to be jealous of every single person who’s been in my life, Graham. He’s dead.”

“What are you talking about? That’s not… that has nothing to do with why I was asking,” Graham mumbles and though I can’t see his face I know he must be crying again. I’m an arsehole.

A thousand dismissive sentences balance on the tip of my tongue but I say nothing, keeping my lips pressed together as silence settles between us. I squeeze my eyes shut, and hot tears run down my cheeks.

“I’m sorry.” Graham lets go of my shoulders and a moment later his weight shifts and the bed frame squeaks as he gets out of the bed. I stare into the darkness, wishing I could just fall asleep right now. Wishing that when I closed my eyes I didn’t see Graham lying in my arms half-dead while I lie to him and tell him everything will be okay when it isn’t.

 

**

 

After two hours, I give up on trying to sleep. I sit up and stumble with bleary eyes down the cold hallway to the kitchen to fetch myself a glass of water. My flat is unsettlingly quiet. Both cats are curled up on the couch next to each other, fast asleep. My black and white tabby, Philbert, raises his head an inch to greet me with half-lidded eyes and a huge yawn before rolling over onto his back and begging me to rub his belly.

I pad over to the sofa, sinking into the cushions with a heavy sigh and pet Philbert until he’s warm and purring against my hand and fast asleep again. My body’s spent but my mind is running marathons, so I reach for the television remote. At this point I figure I might as well stay up until the sun rises. Then I could fall asleep with the comfort of knowing that there’s nothing hiding in the dark recesses of my flat.

My eyes drift to the stack of dvds underneath the tv stand—a leaning tower that’s threatening to topple over by way of an absentminded cat paw. I’m not familiar with what it is. Squinting my eyes, I stumble over to it. All I can fathom is that Justine must have pulled them out of storage when she was packing her things months ago. I shuffle through the stack, reading each dvd-r title scribbled in black marker, some in Justine’s handwriting and others mine, before stopping at one buried near the very bottom of the stack. It simple reads, “J.”

I rack my memory, trying to remember what it could possibly be. Then it hits me. It’s the one thing I hadn’t destroyed years ago. The one tiny piece I had left of him, something I had stupidly kept in my selfishness. It single-handedly contradicted my innocence, and it was a very dangerous thing to keep in existence, yet I’d left it at he bottom of a pile of dvds as if it were nothing.

My fingers tremble as I open the jewel case and pop the disc out. I bite my tongue. It had to have been, what, at least nine years since I’d last seen it? I didn’t even remember what was on it. All I knew is that it was something important enough to keep.

Taking a deep breath, I push the disc into the player. An excitement accompanies my immediate fear of it and I hold my breath as the disc spins and loads. The first bit of video sputters onto the televison, illuminating the room in blue light. It looks dated, a low-res cell phone video that I must have transferred to a disc before deleting it. Jude’s face appears first on the screen, fringe swept forward and obscuring his dark eyes. He’s half-smirking, as if he’s just been told a joke, and voice I recognize as my own is laughing from behind the camera. The smirk lasts only a few seconds before the video cuts to another scene.

This time the camera is focused on someone else. A young man with straw blonde hair sitting on the edge of the bed. He’s skinny and bright-eyed. He flashes a quick grin at the camera before pushing it away. The sun is drawing highlights on his eyelashes, and as the camera zooms in closer to his face he grimaces. The person holding the camera laughs.

I barely recognize myself. The person on the tv screen is a like a familiar stranger. There’s a liveliness to his face, an optimism that’s alien to me now. The dark furrowed brow of distrust saddled above his eyes is missing, as are the topographical lines of age and stress. When this version of myself smiles, he smiles freely. The proud smirk on his face says that he thinks his life has taught him all about suffering but it hasn’t. Not yet.

The camera switches hands and the picture turns upside down before righting itself again. Jude stares into the camera, leaning back on his arms, elbows digging into the mattress. His chest is bare and pale and glistening in morning light flooding through the bay window behind him. The bedroom looks much like it does now; nothing changed save for the man inside it.

“You’re filming me now?” Jude smirks, before covering the lens of the camera with his hand.

“Yep.”

“Why? Do you want me to put on a show for you?” Jude jokes, wiggling around as if trying to do some kind of striptease.

“You’re already naked,” I laugh, and he giggles with rosy cheeks. I understand now why I saved this. He looks beautiful, and happy. The camera changes perspective again and a few seconds later I’m straddling him, lens pointed down at him from above. He covers his skinny torso with his arms and blushes. Then he smooths his fringe back and smiles.

“Why are you filming this?”

“Why?”

“Because you’re cute, and I want to remember this.” Jude’s scrunches his nose up into a knot. 

“Is this your revenge for me making you model for me all the time?”

“Yep.”

“Okay, but you better not show this to anyone. I’ll kill you,” he jokes, poking me in the stomach and then lowering his gaze. He walks his fingers up my sex trail, the hint of a smile playing on his lips.

“You look so good.”

“I do?”

“Yes.”

“How many days sober has it been?” I ask, and Jude counts silently on his fingers.

“A hundred and twenty…three.” He smiles.

“You look stunning. I’m so proud of you.”

“I’m proud of you too. We both did it. It wasn’t just me.”

“How do you feel?”

“Happy,” Jude says, drawing a circle on my chest. “Maybe the happiest I’ve ever been.”

“Me too.” I grin. “And you have your art show coming up.”

Jude nods nervously. “Yep.”

“Well-deserved and belated art show,” I correct, and he scoffs, then laughs.

“I mean, it’s mostly paintings of you, so of course you’re going to say it’s amazing, you doofus. And I wouldn’t have one were it not for you.” He casts his eyes down.

“Well, I only helped a little bit.”

“No, it was all you.”

“I just wanted everyone to see how talented you are,” I say, and Jude screws his nose up in disgust.

“You mean you wanted Justine to be jealous.”

“Mmm…maybe that factored a little bit into it. You’re a much better painter than her. Don’t tell her I said that though.”

“I think she hates me enough already.”

“Yeah, well it doesn’t matter because I love you.”

“Come here,” he says, and camera perspective changes again. There’s the sound of smacking lips and giggling off camera for a few seconds before I see either of our faces again.

“Hey.”

“What?”

“Do you love me?”

“Of course I do.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I’m sure. Why wouldn’t I be sure?” There’s a quiet laugh behind the camera. “Why do you keep asking me that?”

“I don’t know. It makes me feel safe when you say it to me cause no one’s ever said it to me before.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“You’ve never had someone say ‘I love you’ to you, ever?”

“Well, I’ve never fallen in love with anyone before.” He flashes the camera a sheepish grin, then shakes his head.

“Is that sad? Christ…now you’ve got that on camera. My embarrassing confession.” He purses his lips together, then half-smiles.

“Are you saying that I’m the first person you’ve fallen in love with?” I ask, and Jude breaks eye contact. There’s a hint of a smile on his face as his finger continues drawing a line down my stomach. Then the sound of my voice, a bit choked, from behind the camera.

“Hey. Come ‘ere.”

My eyes burn as the video continues on. The camera is placed face down on the sheets but the sound is still audible. There are more murmurs, humming and whispering. Then kissing, and the soft sound of him gasping before I moan.

“I love you.”

I squeeze my eyes shut, tears streaming down my face as I convince myself to stop the video before it wanders any further into painful territory. I still hear Jude’s soft whimpers with the tv volume turned all the way down, and each one tears at my heart. The specifics of that day hardly exist in my memory anymore, better preserved here than in my own brain where I can only taste traces of it. I’d lost it with the other memories of him that I’d purposely drowned in drink. I’d wanted to.

I hit pause on the DVD player and wipe my eyes, smearing tears down the back of my arm. I can’t keep doing this. Just like had Justine said, it was a long time ago, a life ago now, and I need to get over it.

Tearing myself away from my self-pity, I stumble back to the bedroom. Graham is sound asleep, hugging a pillow tucked between his legs where I once was. The light from the full moon glows in patterns like small galaxies on his back, punctuated only by the dark freckles scattered across his shoulders. He’s beautiful.The burning digits of my alarm clock read 3:05 a.m.

I kneel next to the bed, feeling a bit mad, like my brain’s finally come unhinged. Every nerve ending is raw, and I’m unsure of what I’m doing. All I know is that I want to touch him; to remember that his body is flesh and blood and warm underneath my hands.

“What happened?” Graham mumbles, half-asleep, and turns to gaze up at me with bleary eyes.

I press my fingertips into his shoulder, squeezing his arms, kissing his face and his neck. I taste my own tears mixing with the salt of his skin and we meet in the middle at his mouth. The image of him lying half-dead in my arms still pervades my vision and I will it away with the warmth of him. His realness. His bones and muscles and eyes and hair. I grab handfuls of him as if I’m clinging on for life, trying to drink in as much of him as I can to push the nightmare of losing him away. It won’t happen again, I keep telling myself. It can’t. I won’t let it.

“Why are you crying?” Graham whispers, blinking his eyes open. He reaches out to cradle my head with both hands. I see myself reflected in his expression, a tearful mess, eyes red-rimmed and sore with fear of loss. I say nothing, choosing just to kiss him instead, squeezing him and holding him tight. His cock presses against my belly and I want nothing more than to be inside him, holding his body and his bones, keeping him safe in my arms so he can’t leave me.

I press my lips to his forehead and run my hands down his stomach and between his thighs. His belly recedes in one big breath and he wraps his legs over mine as if we’re in unison. I curl my arm underneath, parting his thighs before my hand slips up to his cradle his neck. His reaction is immediate; his cock presses into me, semi-hard and wet against my belly and I push his legs farther apart before grinding myself against him. Pre-cum drips from the head of his cock and down the sides of his shaft as I circle my hand around him. He moans, eyes soft and confused and wanting. I spit into my hand.

“What are you doing—”

“I love you,” I breath into the shell of his ear, and he lets out a strangled moan of surprise and pain as I push inside him. He wraps warm and tight around my cock as I penetrate him completely. Tears form at the corners of his eyes and I kiss them away. A pang of guilt hits me as I realize I’ve hurt him in my selfishness, but I need this. I need him.

He buries his fingernails into my back as I thrust into him deep and low, our chests and mouths touching the entire time. I want to be as close to him as possible. I feel him stretching around my cock, taking it with tears in his eyes, fully vulnerable as I make selfish love to him. He presses his hands into my back, drawing me as close as possible.

“I’m sorry, baby,” I groan, burying my head into his shoulder.

“I love you too,” he whimpers, but at first I don’t hear him. His voice is like a soft exhale as his cock rubs between our bellies.

I don’t last long at this kind of intensity, and my cock twitches as I come, my entire body shuddering in waves. I watch him rise to his own climax after, observing him and listening to him beg me to keep thrusting in and out of him. He’s so warm and wet for me that as he begs for me to come inside him again I can’t help but continue to push my cum deeper inside him, wanting nothing more than to stay there in that warm place. As if I could just stay inside him or leave a part of myself there he wouldn’t ever leave me.

Graham finally comes with a soft and quiet climax, muscles clenching around me and what I’ve left in him. He rolls his head back as warm strings of cum land on his stomach. I clean him up with my tongue, kissing him, squeezing him so tight that there’s not an inch of space between us.

“I love you,” I whisper, blinking back tears.

“I’m sorry I hurt you.”

“It’s okay.” Graham sighs, nuzzling his head into the crook of my shoulder. I kiss the top of his head, and then he says the thing I’m thinking, as if he lifted it straight from the tip of my tongue.


“I had a nightmare that I lost you.”

 

**

 

I wake up for the second time that night, every muscle in my body clenched as something in my flat crashes to the floor. I lift myself up, shaken to the point of sharp alertness and rub my face with my hands. My first thought is that the cats have knocked something down, as usual, and nothing more suspect than that. Brain still fuzzy from the dull of sleep, I pad barefoot down the hallway from the bedroom to the kitchen squinting for whatever loose object may have been pulled out of its resting place.

I blink, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. Moonlight filters through the swaying trees outside my window and dances patterns on the wooden floor. The boards creak underneath my feet as I stumble down the hallway, steadying myself with one hand on the wall. It doesn’t even occur to me until I’m almost halfway to that the kitchen that the noise could’ve been made by someone other than the cats.

My body’s tense as I inch closer to the kitchen, eyes straining to make out any tabletop objects that may have fallen to the floor, but I see nothing. Just the streetlights filtering through the windows and dust floating in an otherwise empty kitchen. Philbert scurries past, tail bristled. His eyes lock in my direction for a half second before he scatters and disappears. Fear drives down my spine as I try to think of what possibly could have scared him enough to make him act like that. I sit completely still, too mortified to turn around. Then suddenly, there’s a yawning creak from the floorboards somewhere behind me.

I yelp when someone grabs me by the shoulder and second hand clamps over my mouth with vicelike grip. I jab my elbows back, hoping to knock whoever’s behind me in the stomach but miss.  I try to jerk around, but all I can see is the person’s reflection in the mirror in front of me—two terrifying eyes glaring at me from behind a black mask. Using all of my weight I knock them back into the bookcase behind us. A flurry of books crash to the floor in a cacophony.

My assailant grunts, circling their bicep around my neck to put me in a headlock. My brain screams at me as my throat tightens my oxygen is cut off. The worst fear possible pops in my head. I am going to die. Graham is going to die. My hands claw at my neck, but to no avail. Eventually my vision blurs and the whole world goes black.

 

**

 

I don’t want to die. Not like this.

I’m thrown against the back of the seat so hard it breaks. There’s a snap which I register coming from own bones. And when it’s over, I’m back in my seat again, just as I had been. Blood rushes to my head and exits my nose and down my forehead. The headlights have gone out, and the radiator is hissing steadily. As my eyes adjust, I swallow with a sickly gurgle and my stomach turns over. There’s a white throbbing pain inside my skull and in my chest.

My hands claw at my seatbelt. After a while, all the blood rushes to my head and I can’t feel my legs anymore. They’re stuck, wedged underneath the collapsed steering mount and the floor of the car. I struggle to wrench myself free, but when nothing gives, I panic. I try to suck in air, but all I hear is a dry heaving sound coming from my own lungs. I wonder if someone will find us. I pull my foot a third time, claustrophobia feeding into my adrenaline rush. Finally, it wrenches free and I collapse onto the ground relieved. A liquid I recognize as my blood runs sticky down my chest and onto my belly, as when I touch my fingers to my collarbone, it explodes it white hot pain.

The driver’s window’s gone, obliterated. Using what strength I have left, I pull myself out of the car. Safety glass burrows into my already bloody palms. I catch my reflection in the side-view mirror; my face smashed and dark with blood. Light rain rolls off my head and pools around the bottom of my chin as a pink concoction. The traffic light changes, and the intersection becomes bathed in red. I wipe my face with my sleeve and a warm black trail smears itself on the back of my arm. I squeeze my eyes shut as my head erupts again in blinding pain.

The sound of silence is deafening. The only sound is the other car’s wheels still spinning, upside down, on their axels. Whoever is in the driver’s seat isn’t moving.

I stagger, limping with my crushed foot, to the passenger side door and reach to unlock his seatbelt. He collapses to the ground, and I wrench him out through the window. Blood runs down his forehead in strings. I’m not sure how much time had passed except that the sirens are coming from far off. I feel as if I’m someplace else, floating high above my body. It’s like watching a movie of myself but inside my head. I shut my eyes and pray to a God I’m not sure even exists.

You’re going to be okay, everything will be okay.

Jude hangs limp in my arms. I hold him to my chest; he’s still breathing. When I touch his head, it leaves a bright red mark on my hand. Blood bubbles out of his mouth with every breath. He won’t be taking many more. It’s dark and I can scarcely see his face but his eyes flash in the darkness.

“Des.”

I can barely breathe. I don’t know what to say, so I say his name too.

“Help is coming. Right now,” I say, but my voice is shaking.

“I don’t want to die.”

“You’re not. Just stay with me. Please.”

Before long there are cars backed up for a way at all ends of the intersection, and headlights. Ambulances and cop cars nudge through so the air is pulsing with color. Then someone yells, like an echo of me but further away. Doctors huddled in a circle of white lab coats whispering. If they’d just gotten here ten minutes sooner, they said. This boy might still have his life.

 

 

**

 



When I wake up, my head is pounding. My environment has transformed. I’m now in the bathroom instead of the kitchen and I can’t move. They’ve tied my arms around my standing bathroom sink and I’m on the cold, dirty tile floor with only the moonlight to illuminate my surroundings. As soon as the rest of my dulled senses kick in, a deep anxious fear wells up in my throat at when I realize that Graham is nowhere to be found.

It’s difficult to perceive anything through the thick throbbing pain in my skull. I can see through the small crack in the door a little of the hallway, but that’s it. My flat is a mess, books askew and half-open on their spines on the floor. My lips are numb, and there’s duct tape covering my mouth to keep me from speaking.

My heart races as details come back to me one by one. Fear sinks in and makes shelter in my aching chest. This person is going to kill me and there’s not a damn thing that I can do about it.

I panic, tugging on the plastic zip ties restraining me like a tied up animal,  straining myself to the point of exhaustion and the plastic cutting into my wrists. It’s no good. Claustrophobia settles in. I scream, but barely any sound comes out—just a pitiful, muffled moan.

There’re footsteps coming toward me, someone with heavy feet thudding down the corridor. The creaking stops just in front of the bathroom door and peering through the slit underneath the door are the bottoms of two black boots accompanied with the sound of heavy breathing. I hold my breath, trying to swallow the acorn of fear lodged in my throat as the door swings open and I face my future murderer.

I’m scared piss-less, too scared to look, squeezing my eyes shut and waiting for the cold barrel of a gun to press against my forehead. But a few seconds pass and when nothing comes, I force open my eyes. A man dressed all in black and a ski mask towers over me. A strand of brunette hair peeks out from underneath his mask. His eyes look familiar but I don’t know why. I shudder, remembering the vice grip he’d had on my neck, crushing my voice box as I tried to scream Graham’s name.

I don’t want to die.

At this point all I’m aware of is the sound of my own frightened breathing in juxtaposition with the intruder’s heavy presence. The light switches on and I’m momentarily blinded by yellow light. By the time my eyes finally adjust, the intruder’s lowered to his knees and his heavy breath is hot against my forehead. Two cold eyes like black holes stare back at me from behind the ski mask, and a deep, masculine voice addresses me that sounds very familiar.