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Watching Him

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Shaun watches his sleeping lover. Too many words to describe the beautiful boy in his bed . . . artist, uncle, surfer, brother, friend . . . a rock that they all have built their lives on, not caring what their construction has done to the rock. Shaun would take some of those burdens from him if he could. He doesn’t know exactly when it happened, when his distant admiration for his little brother’s best friend turned from lust into this other thing. Shaun has spent so many years watching him that it crept up on him.

He’d been amused when his brother was eight and brought home this skinny, scruffy little boy from the wrong side of the bay. Gabe had wanted Shaun to teach them both to surf. Gabe never shut up during their lessons, not even when the waves poured salt water down his throat. But Zach had been quiet, serious, listening to everything Shaun said. It had stroked his 14-year-old ego to have found a disciple.

Surfing with Gabe and Zach had been Shaun’s retreat from the world in the years that followed, a respite from the confusion that nagged at him. They made him laugh, the two of them, Gabe’s silliness breaking through Zach’s reserve; Zach’s common sense tempering Gabe’s recklessness. Shaun had watched over them, proud as their skills grew, feeling responsible for them. He’d never said anything about it to either of them, knowing they would think he was babying them. It wasn’t that, not really. They were his creations, something that belonged to him, that he had nurtured.

He left home when Gabe and Zach were twelve, both getting gangly but still as graceful as the wind when they were on their boards.

College resolved his confusion and it felt like he was shedding a suit that had never fitted him properly. He embraced his self-knowledge and the sensual dance of his body when he found the right sort of partner.

That first summer back, Zach was already sniffing around Tori, but it was Shaun who held her hair while she puked on his parents’ deck, a thirteen-year-old girl, drunk out of her mind. He watched Zach play Frisbee with Gabe, oblivious to what was happening on the deck, while the waves coiled around his ankles. She made him swear never to tell Zach. Shaun couldn’t care less about their teenaged drama, because that was the summer he was busily exploring his new lifestyle.

Zach had been sixteen when it had hit Shaun in the chest. He’d stopped coming home mostly, because there was so much more action to be had in LA. He’d come out to his family two Christmases before, and while they hadn’t kicked him out, it had made his mother and step-father uncomfortable.

Gabe had just shrugged and said, “Whatever dude.” And kept treating him the same as he ever had. Shaun still wonders if anything could penetrate Gabe’s laid back self-assurance. He thinks that finding out that his brother is fucking his best friend might possibly do it.

Shaun’s parents had gotten used to it, but by then Shaun hated Laguna.

So it had been a few years. Shaun had just graduated and had come home to get the rest of his things before he moved permanently to LA. Gabe had insisted on a party and Zach had showed up early to help out.

Shaun thought that he might be having a heart attack because he thought a whale was sitting on his chest. Except that he was only twenty-two, and as far as he knew, heart attacks weren’t accompanied by boners hard enough to rip his shorts.

Zach had been wearing board shorts slung low on his hips, low enough to reveal the sprinkling of dark hair making the prettiest arrow down that Shaun had ever seen. He had tattoos on his golden skin, an elaborate ‘T’ on his upper arm and ‘kahuna’ in Old English lettering across his lower back. Shaun remembers wanting to hold him down while he licked every letter.

He had filled out, no longer skinny, but muscular. His face was losing its baby fat, becoming angular, hinting at the man waiting inside the boy’s body. And he was still a boy, only sixteen, and Shaun cursed himself every time he put a hand to his dick and jacked off thinking about his little brother’s best friend.

Shaun had been surprised midway through the party when Gabe had hollered that Zach needed to memorialize it. Zach had been half-way bashful, but Shaun’s eyes had followed him as he got up and dug through his pack for a can of spray paint.

”What’s he doing?”

“My boy there is the best fucking artist ever. Watch him.”

Not that Shaun needed much encouragement for that, although he’d adjusted to Zach’s new maturity and had managed to avoid staring. But when Zach outlined the whole party in few easy swipes of paint on the palm tree, Shaun felt like something was stealing his breath all over again.

Shaun had come back for their graduation when Gabe insisted. Zach had a few more tattoos and looked even better now that he was no longer jailbait. But Zach and Tori were firmly an item and Shaun’s practiced eye told him that they’d had sex. They spent the whole party wrapped in each other’s arms. Shaun had ignored the inexplicable pain that the sight caused him and played the cordial older brother.

Putting all of that behind him hadn’t been easy, but Shaun had his own life and a novel that was burning inside his brain as though it was determined to eat its way out and into existence. He restricted himself to phone conversations with Gabe and questions that were meant to seem casual, but once when Gabe was visiting, his brother had called Shaun on it.

”Why don’t I just tell you everything that happens in his life and save you the trouble?”

“No clue what you mean.”

“Dude, you may be kidding yourself, but don’t try it with me.”

Shaun hadn’t argued, and so he’d heard when Zach’s mother had died, when Zach’s application to Cal Arts was rejected, when Jeanne got knocked up by some loser who’d first abandoned her and then OD’d. He hadn’t been as surprised as Gabe was when it turned out that Zach was good with the baby. He was satisfied that he knew everything about Zach that there was to know. But Gabe was pulling away from his old life too and Zach was one of the things that he picked up again only rarely.

When he had retreated to Laguna to put the pieces of his life back together and wrap his head around his latest breakup, the last thing Shaun had been expecting was Zach.

In more ways than one. The boy had become a man, but the boy was still in there, a scruffy ghetto rat who would rather skateboard than walk, who thumbed his nose at authority by tagging the town with the most gorgeous graffiti Shaun had ever seen. A sensitive man who had read Shaun’s novel and could discuss it intelligently, but didn’t hold its revelations against the author. A surfer who surpassed Shaun’s skills, although Shaun would never admit it. A man with the weight of the world, his world, on his shoulders.

Now Shaun rests while the morning sun paints Zach in gold, as though returning the favor of Zach’s efforts to beautify the town. Shaun thinks that lust turned to love, and it’s love, he admits it now, the night that Shaun first watched Zach sleep. The night he crossed all his self-imposed boundaries and kissed his little brother’s best friend. The night that Zach didn’t push him away in anger. Also the night that Zach fell asleep wasted on the chaise on the deck, but Shaun knows now that Zach’s lack of disgust at the kiss was not a drunken loss of inhibitions.

He’d looked through Zach’s sketch book that night, stunned at the beauty and the pain within its pages, while stealing glances at the boy sleeping next to him. That night he’d compared this Zach with the kid he remembered, the overly-serious child he’d first met, and found that the man utterly held his heart.

Zach turns over, dragging his pillow under him, muttering something. The sheet slips down revealing the tattoo far down on Zach’s back, and Shaun thinks that maybe now is the time to indulge himself in his long ago fantasy.

His lips settle on the first letter, licking and tasting. Zach tastes faintly of salt, no matter how much he showers, a legacy of a life lived half in the ocean. Shaun presses down, feeling sturdy bone under sleek skin. His hands grip Zach’s hips, holding him down, as he feels the moment when Zach wakes up.

“Uhm, what’r’ya doin’?” Zach slurs, his voice still on the edge of sleep.

“Savoring,” Shaun grins into Zach’s skin. “Hold still.”

Zach tries, and Shaun can feel his effort, but Shaun’s tongue is relentless, wanting to drive Zach over the edge, to make him surrender that watchful control.

Soon Zach is begging, “More! Anything! Oh fuck, please Shaun.”

Shaun laces their fingers together as he slides inside Zach. He murmurs, “You’re so beautiful,” knowing that Zach isn’t hearing him, knows he is lost in the feeling of Shaun breaking him open. Knows that Zach would argue with him if he said it when Zach was paying attention.

But Shaun has been watching Zach for years now, and he knows true beauty when he sees it. And sometime when he was watching, lust turned to love, and Shaun is fine with that.