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The Curiosity of High School

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The enormous yellow school bus wheezed to a halt in front of Oakdale High School and Luke gathered his brand-new black backpack and matching black duffel bag, filled to the brim with basketball gear. The fall air was crisp, like the first bite of a fresh apple, and the Illinois breeze sent shivers up Luke’s spine, despite the new, forest green jacket that sat snugly around his skinny torso. 

Groaning at the sight of the familiar and unfortunately dilapidated grey lockers, he approached number 1546 and twisted the dial. As Luke lazily lugged heavy textbooks onto his sagging locker shelf, the school quickly filled with students, many still relishing the first day of school excitement that had yet to wear off. Luke settled into meaningless chatter and gossip with various friends that encircled his locker.

“Can you believe about Liv?...No way man, Ashley?...I’m not joking, he seriously tweeted that…I wish summer wasn’t over…Did you hear about that guy Noah?”

Luke perked his ears up at the last sentence, shook his head, and forced himself to strike up a conversation with Casey, his locker partner and closest friend. His mind went completely blank whenever he heard that four-letter name and Casey was a welcome distraction to fill his disoriented head.

“You hear about Kevin’s back to school party?” He winked one of his blue eyeballs.

Luke nodded slowly, savoring the promise of a wild weekend with his friends after what was surely going to be a long first week of school. They continued the conversation, but Luke’s head was elsewhere. He wasn’t ready to start high school again and junior year was an unwelcome concept. His grades were average and would have been a lot worse if the basketball team GPA requirement did not exist. 

Luke’s brain was usually occupied by a few things at once, namely sports and partying, but sometimes unwelcome, piercing blue eyes bore a hole in there. The eyes were usually accompanied by tousled dark hair that was so shiny it practically shimmered. Dark lashes and eyebrows filled a tan face that broke into the best smile Luke had ever seen.

Once again, he shook he head, dispelling the face that had flashed into Luke’s brain against his will. The eyes didn't disappear though, and Casey caught him grinning sheepishly. 

“You’re thinking about someone special! Spit it out. Who is she?” He pointed his finger at Luke, who returned Casey’s words with a shy and painful smile. 

“You’ll see soon enough,” was Luke’s careful reply, knowing full well that Casey would never see. He wasn’t going to act on his emotions, but instead, Luke was inclined to stuff them away into a small corner of his brain that he hoped would disappear forever. 

*


The cafeteria was its usual ear-splitting noise level and Noah needed to get out of there, away from the blandly white circular tables filled with chattering students. Grabbing his lunchbox, he waved goodbye to Julie and Austin and hightailed it up to the library. Fumbling with his backpack, Noah hurriedly organized his notes and began studying for the history quiz next period. 

It was only the third day of junior year and he already had a chance to test his knowledge on 20th century history. He loved studying this time period because it was so easy to couple facts with his beloved classic movies. 

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca came out in 1940, the same year Italy declared war on France and Great Britain. 

Victor Fleming released his Treasure Island in 1934 while the Soviet Union joined the League of Nations. 


Noah was glad Austin and Julie didn’t offer to accompany him, they were always distracting and loud in the library, a fact he found highly embarrassing. The uptight librarian was always shushing them and giving off dirty looks when he brought them in here, especially since Austin was constantly eating even though food was off-limits in the library. 

Noah shook his head and grinned at this memory. No matter how many times his friends got on his nerves, he still loved them to death. Julie was always quoting her favorite one-liners from the heap of comedy TV shows she watched every week, the crown of favorite currently belonging to The Big Bang Theory. She had small green eyes, framed by elegant dark features that matched her glossy brown hair. Noah was fairly certain her wardrobe consisted entirely of chic sweaters and various shiny boots. Julie had a warm smile and Noah had never seen her be rude to anyone, yet she didn’t exude the aura of false sweetness that surrounded many other girls at Oakdale High School.

Austin adored the same sitcoms as her, which usually resulted in infinite eye-rolling from Noah’s end of the lunch table. However, they displayed the same teasing and exasperated behavior whenever Noah quoted his dear friends from old movies. Austin also possessed short orange hair and a cheerful face that was dotted with seemingly more freckles every day, although Austin denied this claim and frequently attempted to count them in order to prove his insistent friends wrong. He was a fantastic cross country runner and clocked in consistent 16-minute 5Ks. 

Noah had known both of them since middle school, when he moved to Oakdale from Missouri. They had met in English class when all three were assigned to be partners for a project on The Outsiders

In class that day, all anyone could talk about was Ben’s party. High school parties were silly and it annoyed Noah that most of his grade was shallow enough to enjoy them. Sure, he’d had a beer once in a while if his boredom fueled a desire to observe one such tragically humdrum high school gathering, but Noah hated not having complete control and getting drunk was a surefire way to undermine that control he valued. 

He was in a weird spot in the high school hierarchy, always making incessant small talk with almost everyone in his grade, but Noah only truly enjoyed hanging out with Julie and Austin. Yet, for some reason, he had a strong urge to attend Kevin’s party. Noah knew his weekend would be filled with homework and overanalyzing his favorite films, so the boredom curse struck again. Stupid teenage impulses.

*

The first week of school was over and Luke was already bored with the monotonous schedule. He hurried home Friday night and noticed that his parents were absent from the sprawling house. That made going to Kevin’s party a whole lot easier. 

Luke pulled on a dark green sweater, jeans, and tan-colored boat shoes. He grabbed his stash of hair gel and swiped a glob through his blonde hair, his hands expertly creating a look of casual messiness. Casey made fun of him for looking too “preppy”, but he honestly didn’t care. As Luke grabbed an apple from the fridge, Casey pulled into the driveway and the shriek of his Honda’s horn made Luke jump.

The party was in full swing when they arrived and Luke and Casey dashed into Kevin’s kitchen to grab a beer from the cooler. Luke skillfully moved from conversation to conversation, saying the right things, nodding in agreement, honing the social skills he had worked for three years to perfect. 

Two beers later, he still hadn’t seen the owner of the striking blue eyes make an appearance. It was to be expected though; Luke had only seen them once or twice around this scene. Of course, the couple of times they did show up, Luke barely had enough courage to sit in the same room as those beautiful eyes, let alone strike up a conversation with their owner. Deflated, he drank another beer, puzzled by his absolute lack of his flawless social skills brought on by the electric baby blues. 

The house was getting really warm and stuffy and Luke positively needed fresh air, his thoughts a tangled web that was now doused in a layer of alcohol. The wind was cool on his skin and Luke sat on a green iron bench, patterns carefully intertwined all over. He could hear the party dying down inside and people cheerfully shouted goodbye to Luke as they streamed out of Kevin’s. Luke placed his head in his delicate hands to quell the headache he could feel coming on. The autumn leaves rustled in the wind and the gentle purr of a hybrid car filled the almost silence. 

“Luke, you okay?” He lifted his head and gasped as those stupid blue eyes came into focus. 

*

“I’m fine,” came as the slurred reply to Noah’s question. Luke Snyder stared upwards, his golden hair was obviously styled earlier but in the meantime had become ruffled and sat in a mess atop his pale face. Luke’s huge chocolate eyes were wide and Noah could detect a small ring of bright green encircling the dark orbs. 

“You’re a wreck. Let’s get you out of here.” Noah did his best to ignore the mischievous glinting eyes, pulling Luke to his feet and led him to the waiting dark blue sedan. Noah was surprised to find strong basketball muscles ripple under his touch. 

Luke is in no shape to drive home, let alone find a suitable ride.

Noah had finally dragged himself away from wasting the night away in the confines of his room, but the party could wait. He couldn’t live with himself if this boy hurt someone on an intoxicated drive home because Noah ignored his obviously inebriated condition. 

He’d never really talked to Luke Snyder before and the kid generally stayed off the high school gossip mill. However, from what he had heard, Noah surmised that he was extremely wealthy, partied a great deal, and ran with the “popular” wolf pack. He also knew that Luke was a terror on the basketball court, a practically flawless three-point shooter, despite his small stature. 

Noah opened the sedan’s door and Luke stumbled into the passenger seat, grinned lazily up at the taller boy, showing his immaculate white teeth. Noah had him input his address into the glowing GPS and started off. 

Noah noticed his passenger staring at his profile and caught Luke mumble “It’s not fair. Why do you have to be a freaking god all the time?” 

Noah grimaced in an attempt to ignore Luke’s strange comment and shifted his focus to driving. When they finally pulled into Luke’s driveway, the boy gazed up at Noah once again. 

“Thanks for the ride. I really appreciate it.” Luke whispered as he placed his hand on Noah’s strong thigh. 

“No problem” he whispered back, slowly patting Luke’s peculiarly placed hand. 

Luke grabbed hold of Noah’s index finger and one hand came to rest on top of another. Noah tried his best to disregard the warmth and electricity circulating throughout his body at Luke’s touch. Noah turned to face him and saw Luke’s pale cheeks blush red in the streetlight. He flashed Noah a dazzling smile, turned, and made his way into the dark house. 

 *

Noah figured that there was no use in returning to Kevin’s party now, it was too late and almost surely would only be filled with stragglers. Plus, he couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that rose in his chest every time Noah pictured Luke’s smooth hand nestled under his own. 

“My god, what was that?” he murmured, slowly shaking his head as if the answer would magically appear if his brain was jostled up just the right amount. 

Noah had never felt that sensational electricity before, not even when he won the Freshman spelling bee or scored the expensive scholarship last summer when his history essay received top honors. It had made all of his senses tingle and his pulse speed up, like being struck by a sudden burst of lightning. 

He pulled into his pitch black driveway and parked the car with perfect precision. Noah was able to distract himself from the sweet smelling boy who had sat in his passenger seat just ten minutes earlier as he lumbered into the silent house. Instantly, the familiar scent of oranges filled his nostrils, his dad’s favorite fruit that was constantly in abundance in the Mayer household and seemed to permeate every room. 

Noah tossed the Honda keys onto the shiny grey marble kitchen counter and tiptoed upstairs as quietly as his large but skinny, 6 foot 1 frame could manage. His father was certainly asleep but Noah still took extra caution when passing his room. He knew his father wouldn’t be angry about his late-night antics, but he wanted to avoid any prying questions or conversation when all Noah wanted to do was crash into his pillow. 

The dark blue jeans and tight red sweater were replaced with yellow plaid boxers and a thin white t-shirt that hugged his tan chest. He lazily brushed his teeth, ran his hand through his jet-black hair in an attempt to comb the curly mess, and slipped under his warm covers. He squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed his forehead, his reflective thoughts overtaken by sleepy blackness.

The last thing Noah saw before falling into the soft cushion of slumber was a pair of chestnut brown eyes peering out from under luminous yellow bangs that pleasantly lulled him to sleep.

 

*

Luke carefully lifted his slight torso off the comforting mattress of his four poster bed and tried his very best not to focus on the pounding headache that bounced around his skull. 

Jesus. Why did he always have to drink so much?

Trying to remember how many beers he’d have, another memory sneaked its way into the front of his brain. 

Noah Mayer drove me home. Noah freaking Mayer! That 6’1’’, turquoise-eyed, charcoal haired, bronze Greek god gave me a ride. 

Luke remembered the first day he’d realized his all-consuming crush on the marvelous Noah Mayer. It was the summer before sophomore year, and Luke and his little sister Natalie had made an ice cream run in Olde Town, but Luke had gotten caught up in a conversation with his dear friend Maddie who worked in the shop. 

He had suddenly noticed the absence of his sister and hurriedly waved goodbye to Maddie, scampering out of the shop into the fresh summer air. His breath caught as he observed Natalie giving an enthusiastic high-five to a grinning, dark-haired boy who sat close to his sister on a grey park bench. 

Luke approached them with a friendly smile, addressing the tall boy. “Noah, right?”

Noah had nodded back with his winning smile. “And you’re Luke Snyder. I was just chatting with your sister here about making ice cream. It’s not as complicated as you think!” He punctuated his statement with an amiable wink that made Luke’s heart stop. 

“Hey Natalie! Where would you learn to make ice cream?” inquired Noah. 

She giggled and answered with a sly shrug of her shoulders. 

“At sundae school silly!” Noah’s answer caused a fit of laughter within in the young girl and Luke watched in awe.

He knew the kid was smart, one of the smartest in the whole class, but funny too? And he obviously was great with kids. Luke imagined the two of them becoming friends and talking about everything like shoes and sports and their favorite kind of candy and they would they would ride off into the sunset in Noah’s earth-friendly sedan and then his magnetic blue eyes would catch Luke’s chocolate ones and he would shoot Luke of his trademark pearly white smiles that could stay with Luke forever and…

Oh no. This wasn’t happening. Please make it stop. 

And then those magnetic blue eyes actually caught Luke’s and it felt like time stood still. 

Zap! went his heart. Damnit. 

Luke had felt his palms go sweaty and figured that had very little to do with the temperature outside. He knew he was screwed. He’d always suspected that he liked boys more than girls, but he never anticipated the feeling when one finally stole his heart. 

After that little episode outside the ice cream shop, Luke was determined to stay as far away from Noah as he could. This did very little to stop the crystal clear eyes and silky black hair from constantly invading his thoughts for the entirety of the following year. 

But now, that had all changed. Mr. Crystal Eyes had given Luke a ride home. A highly intoxicated Luke. One who had gently grabbed Noah’s strong hand in the pitch black confines of his dark blue car. 

Luke may have been drunk, but he definitely remembered that fantastic warm feeling that had spread throughout his body while Noah’s hand rested above his. And he most definitely wanted to feel that again. 

 *

Luke badly needed a plan. Any ideas he’d thought up were useless. Noah made him too nervous and shy, but there had to be an innocent reason to talk to him. Naturally, Luke turned to the best person for the job – his scheming and devious younger sister Faith. 

After managing to tear her away from the latest Harry Potter installment, Luke cornered Faith in her room. 

“Hey Faithy! Can I ask you a favor?” Faith nodded and raised her eyebrows. She never missed an opportunity to help out her favorite (only) big brother. 

“Okay,” started Luke, breathing deeply and choosing his words with utmost caution. “Say there is…somebody…that I kinda like?”

“Mhmm,” murmured Faith, a small smile playing on her lips and a giggle threatening to escape over her brother’s obvious nervousness that accompanied thoughts of this somebody

“How can I…get to know them better? I don’t want to flat-out ask them out. Just…be friends with them, ya know?”

Faith nodded understandingly, her clever brain already circulating through several answers to Luke’s question. Luke stared at her intently with those huge, inquiring brown eyes, ready to hold on to her every word as if his life depended on it. 

“Is this hypothetical person in any of your classes?” 

“Yep! We might have History together.”

“Hmm…I have an idea! You aren’t the brightest student out there, right?”

“Hey!” cried Luke, playfully smacking his sisters arm. She giggled knowingly in response. 

“Don’t worry. That actually works in your favor mister. Just ask them to help you out with your studies. Like, tutor you. And then, when you are getting cosy in the library, make conversation with them. Find common interests. Trust me Luke, you’re so magnetic, I bet they couldn’t help wanting to be friends with you.” She winked and Luke felt himself blush. 

“Aw shucks Faith. Thanks for helping me out! And boosting my ego.”

“Not like you needed an ego boost, Mr. Basketball Star.”

Luke rolled his eyes. “But seriously Faithy. Thanks a ton.”

Faith grinned as Luke turned to leave her room. “No problem Luke.”

Luke’s successful grin mirrored Faith’s. His genius sister had come to his rescue like she had so many times before. And now Luke had a plan. A foolproof plan. 

*


Nervous energy coursed throughout Noah’s body. It was 6th period and time for his favorite class of the day – History. However, it was his favorite today for a very different reason. History class contained that blonde head that refused to erase its imprints on his brain. Noah didn’t know why those soulful brown eyes had such an effect on him, but they did. And he couldn’t wait to see them again. 

Noah strolled into the bright classroom, early as usual, and plunked his large frame into a desk in the front row and carefully placed his heavy brown backpack onto the sea-foam tiled floor. Noah carefully rummaged through his bag and had just grabbed a pencil when shiny new grey converse appeared next to his backpack. 

Startled, Noah’s eyes traveled up the well-worn jeans, short-sleeve teal t-shirt (could it be any tighter?), and up to those coffee-brown eyes that caused his breath to catch in his throat. When Luke beamed at him, Noah felt an exhilarating warmth in his stomach that seemed to connect to the corners of his mouth and automatically pushed his lips into an effortless smile. 

“Hey N-Noah. T-thanks for driving me home this weekend. I owe you.” Luke’s nervous stuttering widened Noah’s smile further, although Noah wasn’t quite sure why. Even Luke’s occasional voice squeaks made Noah’s stomach flip.

“Of course! Anytime man,” replied Noah, fighting the urge to conspicuously tremble like Luke was. He was playing calm and collected surprisingly well, much better than usual. Something about Luke made him feel alive and his usual shy inhibitions disappeared.

Luke bit his lip and turned to go, but suddenly whirled around to face Noah once again. 

“Wait. I was wondering if I could ask you something?” Luke didn’t stop to let Noah answer, knowing he would lose his courage for real this time if he didn’t just spit it out.

“Well, you probably know I’m not the smartest crayon in the box when it comes to history. I can never remember how much Germany had to pay after World War I. I don’t know Woodrow Wilson from James Wilson. But I need a good grade in this class so my parents don’t kill me. And you’re really smart and you know everything, like court cases and and flag colors and what the F. in J.F.K. stands for. So I was wondering if you could, ya know, help tutor me? If you have time that is! It would mean so much, but I understand if you don’t have time, you are probably working on something like the cure for cancer right now, or if you don’t want to because it might be kind of hard to teach me things and…” Luke blushed when he realized he had launched into one of his trademark embarrassing rambles and he peered hopefully up at the other boy. 

“It’s Fitzgerald.” Noah answered seriously. 

“Huh?” Luke felt his head pound and his throat tighten, unsure what Noah’s strange response meant. 

“J.F.K’s middle name. And yes, I’ll help you Luke.”

“Oh!” Luke giggled charmingly. “Thank you Noah. Seriously! This means a lot.”

“Meet me in the library at 3:30 today, if that works?”

“That sounds perfect! See you then.” Luke grinned, resisting the urge to throw his arms around Noah and be even closer to those majestic navy orbs that sparkled in the bright glow that emitted from the lights overhead.

*

Butterflies lazily floated throughout Luke’s stomach as he rushed to grab his orange history textbook from his locker. He was late, as usual. Practically sprinting to the library, Luke entered the dusty room out of breath. His hazel eyes frantically searched the square tables, covered in books and computers, before locking onto sparking dark blue ones. Luke forced all nervous thoughts out of his brain and approached Noah with utmost composure. 

“Noah! I’m so sorry for being late. I should have paid more attention to the clock.” Luke nervously stuffed his hands into the pockets of his dark grey pants and avoided eye contact with the other boy. 

“Hey, it’s okay man! Don’t worry about it. I’m not busy tonight anyway.” Noah’s electric smile caught Luke off guard like it did anytime he flashed those pearly whites.

“Are you sure?” Luke gathered enough courage to make eye contact with the boy and instantly regretted it. It was that same explosion of colors in his belly that made Luke want to stand there goofily forever, just losing himself in Noah’s hypnotic orbs. 

“Of course. I’m all yours.” Noah’s response did very little to quell the stomach gymnastics raging inside the blonde. 

Oh Noah, if you knew. 

Luke gracefully maneuvered himself and his textbooks into an uncomfortable chair next to Noah, causing yet another sense to betray him. Noah’s aroma filled his nostrils, a calming orange smell mixed with something else that was so indescribably Noah-like. 

Damnit Luke, focus on the books.

Heeding his own advice, Luke immersed himself in the inner-workings 20th Century British Parliament with Noah’s constant encouragement and warming presence working as a perfect study motivator. 

After an hour of hard-work, Luke was absolutely convinced that Noah did, in fact, know everything. It wasn’t just history – it was pop culture and movies and politics and cooking and sports. Luke had never been more interested in studying in his life, but he still found it difficult to focus on the monotonous facts that filled the old textbook. 

“So you wanna be a director, huh?”

“Yeah I do Luke, but do you know how Great Britain responded to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria?” Luke giggled at another of Noah’s attempts to steer the conversation back on track. He wasn’t having any of it.

“What do you want to direct? Like comedies?”

“I’m not funny enough for comedies. I want to make documentaries. What’s the capital of Poland?”

“No-ahhh,” Luke groaned, and playfully punched the other boy’s shoulder. He felt him tense at the touch and quickly removed his fist. “You’re too serious. Lighten up dude!”

Noah grunted in response and turned back to the textbook. Luke decided not to push the issue further. 

 

*

"Hey Noah, wait up!” Noah turned around to see Luke rushing to catch up after History class. The blonde flashed him a high-watt smile, complete with two symmetrical dimples that never failed to appear when Luke grinned. 

Noah had been noticing those dimples more and more these days, and he wasn’t quite sure why. He also paid close attention to the endearing nervous squeaks in Luke’s voice that made Noah feel gooey inside whenever they reached his ears. 

After their successful first study session, the two boys had become inseparable, only parting to eat lunch with their respective friends. Luke had given him a tour around his farm, which prompted adventures around the pond and within the horse stables. Luke had even come back to Noah’s house when the cranky librarian kicked them out for laughing too loudly and left them without a place to study. Luke was a huge talker, and Noah found it relaxing to sit back and let his new friend chatter away. Luke was an expert at making him laugh and open up and caused a strange smile in Noah’s stomach that never went away while the other boy’s presence was around. 

“Anyone home?” Luke’s silky voice brought Noah back to the present and made him surprisingly jittery. 

“Sorry. I spaced.”

“You’re always spaced Noah.” Luke giggled, proud of his clever, but accurate description of his friend. “Except when you’re watching a movie. And speaking of which, the new James Bond just hit theaters last week. You wanna go see it tonight?”

“I’m there.” Noah’s response was rewarded with those charming dimples. 

Five hours later, both boys shifted anxiously on their feet as they waited in line to buy tickets. They had decided on James Bond like Luke originally suggested because it was the perfect mix for them – Noah liked drama and Luke adored romance. 

Luke insisted on paying for both of the tickets, citing the fact that it was his invitation. As they continued on to the food line, Noah noticed that Luke was strangely reserved. Usually quite the chatterbox, he seemed keen on keeping to himself and getting away with as little small talk as possible. His eyes lit up, however, when they reached the long glass case filled with various packages of candy. Luke returned to his normal self, chattering on earnestly about his favorite types of candy and the hilarious memories involved with each one. 

Noah couldn’t help but smile as he watched his friend’s transformation. He was especially amused by Luke’s obsession with picking the perfect seat in the theater. When they were finally seated in the “prime viewing establishment”, Luke couldn’t help but notice Noah’s shy laughter. 

“What are you giggling about mister?”

“You, silly.” Noah winked and Luke’s wide grin send shivers down his spine, ones that were most certainly not caused by the air-conditioned theater. 

Halfway into the movie, Noah could sense Luke’s struggle to keep his eyes open. The movie was interesting, but the length took its toll on a teenager who had received a small amount of sleep during the school week. 

Noah became engrossed in James Bond’s adventure once again when he felt the gentle weight of Luke’s head fall against him. The boy had finally fallen asleep and his smooth blonde locks now lightly dusted Noah’s shoulder. Luke’s hair was extremely distracting and it seemed to glint in the light emitted by the gigantic movie screen. 

Noah allowed Luke’s head to stay, consciously convincing himself that it would be disrespectful to wake the boy when he was obviously exhausted and ignoring the other feelings that erupted within him whenever Luke touched him. It was easy to forget about his flip-flopping stomach and weak knees when Noah was sitting down and the movie was a helpful distraction. 

 *

“Watch where you’re going!” An angry voice tore Noah out of his thoughts and he realized he had run into one of the immensely celebrated Oakdale football players in the middle of the cafeteria. 

“My bad,” mumbled Noah, turning away from the raucous horde of football players that he had unintentionally stumbled directly into. He could make out Julie and Austin snickering from across the room and felt red creep into his cheeks from the ordeal. 

Noah’s death glare did very little to silence their laughing and he ate slowly while staring off into space. He would do anything to catch a glimpse of those hazelnut eyes that were etched into the front of his brain. 

However much he tried to ignore, twist, validate, or deny the feelings that coursed through his body and the incredibly annoying heart stoppage that crept up on him, his brain disobeyed and decided to come to a grand conclusion on its own.

He had a crush on Luke Snyder. Big-time. 

Just as this earth-shattering realization floated through Noah’s head, Julie brought him back to earth with a question that practically had him spitting out the milk he’d just swallowed. 

“So, who is he?”

Noah choked and sputtered on his milk, utterly surprised by Julie’s question and not quite sure what to make of it. 

“Umm, what?” he replied nervously, biting his lower lip. 

“Oh please. Don’t tell me that you haven’t been acting strange all week. You, Mr. Smarty-Pants Noah Mayer, aren’t talking about school. In fact, you aren’t even talking about anything. I know you aren’t a big talker hun, but the only words I’ve heard come out of those lips are obligatory “hellos” and “goodbyes”. Your head is in the clouds, you can’t even look where you’re going, and I don’t think I’ve heard aCasablanca reference all week. Who’s the guy that’s got you all distracted?”

“G-g-uy?” Noah stuttered back, but was painfully aware that all her accusations were spot-on. He hadn’t been himself all week.

“Noah.” Julie stared at him straight in the eyes with her flashing green ones. Noah squirmed in his seat, not quite sure if he was ready to hear what Julie had to say. 

“Remember that poster of Zac Efron I have in my room? You drooled all over his abs. And there are other things.” She waved them off with her hand. “They aren’t really important. Point is, you aren’t fooling me mister.”

Noah gaped at her, still in shock. Austin hid his head behind his lunchbox, biting his tongue to hold back the waves of laughter that threatened to come out. 

“Julie!” Noah wailed, finally regaining his ability to speak. “Why do you always figure me out before I can figure myself out? Man, I was counting on at least two more years of denial.”

At this revelation, Austin absolutely failed in his quest to hold in his laughter and his outburst enlightened Noah to the hilarity of the situation. Suddenly, all three friends were struggling to contain tears of laughter that streamed down their faces. 

“Thanks a lot Jules,” wheezed Noah, with a slight twinkle in his eye. “You realize I just figured this out, like today?”

This sent the three of them into another fit of giggles.

“Noah, my man,” Austin recovered and gave him a friendly pat on the back. “You gonna tell us who the boy is now?

Noah became serious and covered his face with his hands, only allowing his bright blue eyes and blush-covered cheeks to peek through his fingers. 

“You really want to know?” he mumbled at them.

“YES!” shouted Julie and Austin.

“Alright.” Noah continued cautiously, “But, you have to promise not to tell anyone! Okay?”

“Got it,” nodded his friends, two sets of questioning green eyes wide in anticipation. 

“It’s um, Luke Snyder.” Noah removed his fingers from his face and stared at his best friends in an attempt to gauge their reactions to his news.

“You mean Mr. Captain-of-the-Basketball-Team Luke Snyder?” inquired Austin, disbelief written all over his face.

“The one and only,” affirmed Noah. “You know how I’ve been tutoring him in history? Well, we talk about all sorts of stuff and he’s soeasy to talk to and he really listens. I always thought he was just one of those popular kids that only care about parties and sports, but he’s actually really nice. And he’s so goddamn sure of himself and he isn’t afraid to challenge you or speak his mind.” Noah’s face lit up immensely as he ticked off Luke’s endearing qualities and his two best friends were powerless to respond with nothing less than huge smiles for this boy’s major crush. “Plus, I don’t know, he’s just so calming and comforting to be around. And I guess today I realized that Ilike like him. Like that. It just hit me and now I can’t stop thinking about him. God! I sound like such a middle schooler.”

“He sounds great Noah!” exclaimed Austin. “You’ve got it baaaaaad.”

Julie giggled. 

“What now Jules?”

“Oh nothing. It’s just that Luke Snyder is really really really cute.”

“I know,” whispered Noah dreamily, staring off into space once again. 

“Also, he has the most adorable little habits! Like at the movie theater, he had to choose his seat really carefully to ensure that he got the best one in the house. And he has these funny ways of remembering countries and their capitals.”

“Hold up!” cried Julie. “You guys went to the movies?”

“Yeah, once,” replied Noah, his eyebrows knitting together in confusion. 

“Like on a date?” asked Austin, covertly throwing a wink Julie's way 

“No! It was NOT a date.” 

“Oh yeah?” smirked Julie. 

“It was only a movie!” Noah threw up his hands in exasperation.

“Whose idea was it?” (Austin)

“Luke’s.”

“Who paid for the tickets?” (Julie)

“Um..Luke.”

“Who paid for food?” (Julie)

“Luke.”

“Did you hold hands or anything?” (Austin)

“Err..he fell asleep on my shoulder?”

“Aha!” cried Julie. “It was a date. Trust me Mister Oblivious.”

“Hmph,” was all Noah could muster as the end-of-lunch bell rang.

*


The smooth orange basketball rhythmically pounded the shiny tan floor of the gymnasium. The gym was completely empty except for a focused blonde-haired boy on one side of the court. Without the usual yells of teammates and coaches, each bounce was amplified in his ears and soothed the nerves that crept up on him whenever he practiced shooting. 

Luke carefully held the ball at the free throw line and launched it into the air towards the orange rim high above him. 

Swoosh.

It soared neatly into the basket and Luke gave a small smile at his success. He then returned back to the free throw line and started over. 

The pattern continued for half an hour before Luke sensed a watchful presence behind his back. He whipped around and caught a shock of jet-black hair in the gym’s doorway. The midnight blue eyes triggered the same beaming smile like they usually did and Luke could hardly contain his excitement. 

“Noah!” He waved the other boy over to the hoop.

“Hey Luke,” replied Noah, breaking out into a smile that made Luke stop breathing. 

How is my heart beating so fast but my mouth breathing so slow?

“What’s up?” squeaked out Luke, averting his eyes from the gorgeous specimen standing right in front of him, all 6-foot-2 of him marvelously lit up by the bright lights of the gymnasium.

“Oh, I just wanted to catch you before you left. Do you want to study tomorrow after school? We have a big test on World War II on Friday and I was wondering if you needed any help with it.”

“Sure,” breathed out Luke, giving Noah a small smile. 

How does he stand there so cool and collected and handsome? God I need to get out of here. Any longer and I won’t be responsible for my actions.

Luke grabbed the basketball and pointed his thumb towards the exit. 

“Sorry Noah, I promised my sister I’d take her to the mall later and I’ve really got to go before she gets too mad and decides to get revenge. Little sisters!” Luke shook his head and rolled his eyes, giving Noah one last smile before heading out the door. 

“Wait, Luke! Are you going to the Homecoming dance on Friday?”

Unable to form words, Luke settled on a shaky nod, a thousand thoughts racing through his head. 

“Cool,” replied Noah. “See you there!”

See you there. See you there. See you there.

*

Clothes were strewn all over the bedroom, covering the bed, the floor, and the unorganized desk in the corner. Even Luke’s monstrosity of a bookcase hadn’t escaped. 

A blonde-haired whirlwind of a tornado had torn through the closet in a desperate search for his favorite suit. The theme for Oakdale High School’s Homecoming Dance this year was Red Carpet and Luke had the perfect ensemble – if he could find it. 

“Mo-o-om? Have you seen my suit?” 

His voice echoed down the stairway into the living room where his mother sat, playing Candyland with her son Ethan. Ethan was Luke’s youngest and only brother and was constantly in motion and talked nonstop. 

“Lukie, dance?” Ethan looked up at his mother with huge questioning eyes that were so identical to Luke’s that Lily was almost startled. They both possessed the same capability to produce puppy-dog eyes that practically forced you to do their bidding without question.

“Yes Ethan, Luke’s going to a dance tonight. And I need to go help him find something to wear. I’ll be right back sweetie!”

Lily climbed the stairs and burst into laughter when she observed the disastrous remnants of Luke’s search. 

“Honey, the suit isn’t in your room. I grabbed it the other day to iron it and it’s hanging up downstairs.”

Luke surveyed the room and threw up his hands in irritation.

“You couldn’t have told me this before I let a full-blown hurricane loose in here?”

“Oops.” Lily chuckled and led her son downstairs. 

An hour later, Luke traipsed into the living room, dressed and ready to head to the dance. He had showered and blow-dried his hair into perfection. His dirty-blonde locks were slightly parted on one side and were arranged messily and sat somewhat curly atop his head. 

The long black suit pants made him look taller than usual and he shifted nervously on impeccably shiny black dress shoes. Luke had opted out of a tie and instead donned just a light green collared shirt with forest green vertical stripes running down the soft material. The last piece of the outfit was a black suit jacket that hugged his small frame. 

“Wow,” breathed Faith, obviously surprised by her brother’s magical transformation. 

“Does it look okay?” Luke spun on his heels, causing a giggle to erupt from his other sister Natalie, who had entered the room right behind Faith. 

“It looks great Luke!” crowed Faith sincerely. “If that doesn’t get your special someone to fall for you, I don’t know what will.”

“Oh you’re just biased Faithy. But I hope so!” 

Luke’s face lit up at the thought of those baby blues and the slight crinkle that always surrounded them when Noah broke into his breathtaking grin. Faith detected this change in Luke’s demeanor and mentally crossed her fingers for her big brother. 

Lily entered the room and handed over the truck’s keys to Luke. “Have fun sweetie! But please, be safe, okay? No alcohol, got it?”

“Loud and clear Mom.” Luke leaned over to give his mother a peck on the cheek and turned towards the door. 

Drinking hadn’t even crossed his mind until his mother mentioned it and Luke realized it hadn’t crossed his mind for a few weeks. He’d only attended a few parties lately and only for a short amount of time - not nearly long enough to give into the temptation of drinking. 

It was as if Noah’s company had shifted the urge inside of him to drink and he no longer felt that he needed alcohol to enjoy himself. Being near Noah was the best feeling in the world and no amount of beer could trump that. When he was with Noah it was like the opposite of being drunk. Instead of the world being hazy and unfamiliar, everything was crystal clear. 

 

*

“Those two are so oblivious.” A deep voice jolted Julie back to reality and the large ballroom she was currently standing in.

Jeez, I totally just pulled a Noah. 

The grand ballroom was bathed in a subdued light that created a sort of mysterious darkness that was perfect for dancing fast or slow in. In accordance with the Red Carpet theme of the dance, elegant decorations had been strewn throughout the room. The entrance contained a dark red carpet, complete with velvet ropes strewn between golden poles. Old movie posters were hung along the walls and other movie-like paraphernalia was strung haphazardly around the dance floor and the surrounding tables. 

Startled by the sudden dialogue, Julie turned to stare at the fair-haired, blue-eyed interruption. 

“Who?” she replied and deliberately looked the boy straight in the eyes with her expressive emerald orbs. 

“Luke and Noah, of course!” cried Casey over the loud music blasting through the nearby speakers. “When are they going to stop being idiots and realize that they’re terribly in love with each other?”

Casey’s proclamation caused Julie to stammer out a surprised “w-wh-what?”

“Oh please,” drawled Casey in a loud rumble. “Don’t tell me you haven’t seen the way they look at each other. I swear to God, I totally caught Luke staring at Noah for five minutes straight during lunch one day. Five whole freaking minutes!”

Julie giggled at this. “Well actually, Austin and I had to torture it out of him. I suspected there was a guy, but I had no clue that it would end up being Luke Snyder! I’m just surprised you picked up on it.”

“What, you didn’t think a jock like me was capable of being perceptive? Surprised?” Casey winked at her. 

“No it’s just that…okay maybe a little surprised.” Julie grinned sheepishly up at him. “But in my defense, Luke’s a jock and he’s totally oblivious – like you pointed out just a few minutes ago.”

Casey shook his head and returned the grin. “Those dumb boys. Absolutely crazy about each other. Don’t they understand that it doesn’t matter whether you like girls or boys? The formulas are still the same - whatever the variables are.”

 *

Luke surveyed the ballroom, trying to pick out that tall frame and handsome face that seemed to infiltrate every single thought. 

Scanning the crowd was no use; Noah was nowhere to be found. 

For the first time that night, Luke took in his surroundings. He admired the authentic decorations and scoffed at the cheesy Taylor Swift song playing from the speakers. The old movie posters surrounding the ballroom caught his eye, especially a colorful Mr. Smith Goes to Washington one that jolted him back to a weekend not too long ago. 

They were sitting cross-legged in Noah’s dark basement, shifting through his impressive collection of movies. It was alphabetically organized by title, and despite having explained this to Luke numerous times, he still managed to be an expert in putting the vetoed movies in exactly the wrong places. 

“Are you ever, you know, not organized?” teased Luke, playfully flicking Noah’s shoulder. 

“Hey! I take organization very seriously. How do you ever find anything in that disaster site room of yours?”

“Memory,” replied Luke, mysteriously wiggling his dark-blonde eyebrows and tapping his head with his index finger. “I memorize where all the clutter is. If it was clean and organized, I would have no idea where to find anything!”

“Oh yeah? If you have such a great memory, why can’t you remember when the London Naval Conference was?”

“Shut up Noah!” cried Luke, flicking his shoulder again. 

“What? I’m just saying!” 

His blue eyes glinted mischievously and Luke suddenly realized how close their faces had gotten. Noah’s piercing navy eyes bore into his and Luke could feel his own hazel orbs widening. Neither boy was moving an inch and Luke could feel his palms getting sweaty as he breathed in the other boy’s distinctly sweet orange smell. Noah’s warm breath tickled his cheek and consequently sent his heart into overdrive. Hoping to stop the inevitable heart attack threatening to overcome him, Luke quickly jumped to his feet.

“So-oo,” he began nervously, unable to look the boy who remained cross-legged on the floor in the eyes. “W-what should we um, watch tonight?”

If Noah was freaked, he didn’t show it one bit. Luke was amazed at his ability to remain calm and unfazed by the awkward tension flooding the room. 

“How about 
Mr Smith Goes to Washington?” 
“Sure,” nodded Luke vigorously, still avoiding eye contact with the other boy. 

“I know you’ll like it Luke. It’s all about this guy who becomes a Senator and goes to Congress. I can totally see you doing that one day!”

“Y-you do?” Luke was taken aback by Noah’s statement, but also a bit flattered. 

“Yeah, I do. You’d make a great Congressman.”

Still unable to get out more than a couple words, Luke replied with an unsteady, “Really?”

“For real Luke! You’re smart, nice, caring, good at public speaking, charismatic, honest, passionate, and confident. Plus, you’re really really really hard to say no to. All the qualities of a great leader!” Noah smiled shyly up at Luke, blushing slightly after his enthusiastic outburst.

“Thanks Noah,” said Luke, his voice barely above a whisper. 

He didn’t know if it was possible for anyone to be more adorable than Noah, with his flushed cheeks, earnest expression, and sincere sapphire eyes. 

He knew, in that moment, that if Noah was beside him, he could do anything. 


Smiling at the memory, Luke closed his eyes softly, trying his best to conjure up that comforting smell of Florida oranges that constantly accompanied his friend. He slowly opened his eyes and warmth instantly spread from the tips of his toes all the way up his body as his favorite pair of midnight-blue orbs locked with his own. 

His breath caught in his throat as he admired Noah’s dazzling get-up. His black dress pants, suit jacket, and shoes were practically identical to Luke’s own. However, his jacket sat atop a glowing white collared shirt and he had opted for a silky and shimmering silver tie that was impeccably knotted at his throat. Noah’s dramatically dark facial features stood out among his neutrally colored ensemble and Luke didn’t think he could break his gaze if his life depended on it. 

Or, if he was suddenly spun around by a girl with an annoyingly high-pitched voice, which was exactly what happened in the next moment. Still trying to break free of his Noah-induced stupor, Luke glared at the tall girl who stood in front of him. 

“Heyyy Luke!” she exclaimed loudly, her voice filled with fake sugary-sweetness. 

Gabi was Oakdale’s head cheerleader and absolutely obsessed with Luke. She was convinced that because he was the captain of the basketball team and she was the head cheerleader they were absolutely destined to be together.

Gabi was tall with long flowing blonde hair that was currently curled into perfect ringlets. Her short dress was baby pink and extremely low cut. Luke wasn’t even sure how she got past the teachers checking dress code and wondered if she was cold in her flimsy gown. Luke chuckled inwardly at himself. 

That is totally not what you’re supposed to think when you see a pretty girl in a short dress. 

“Hi Gabi.” He sighed quietly, bracing himself for the question that was surely on the tip of her tongue. 

“Wanna dance?” And yes, there it was.

Knowing it would be far more difficult to make an excuse to escape than to actually dance with her, Luke gave in to her request. 

Unfortunately for Luke, a long stretch of slow songs was starting. He delicately grabbed Gabi’s hand and led her to the dance floor. They settled into the middle as the other students made way for them to claim their place near the center and ignored the questioning eyes of their peers. 
Luke gently placed his hands on her small hips and she clasped hers around the boy’s pale neck and they began to sway to the music. 

*


One more button. One more button and everything would be okay. One more button and he wouldn’t be having a major panic attack in the middle of his high school dance. One more button and Noah wouldn’t be able to stare at the top of that perfect porcelain chest that sat enticingly flat under an apple-green striped dress shirt. There was even a sprinkling of dark-blonde chest hair slightly visible under the shirt and Noah ached to feel it’s ostensible softness.

It was as if Luke was sent here just to drive him crazy. Luke was going to be his undoing. 

I never should have come to this dance. I need to be very very far away in some sort of restraining harness. This isn’t fair Luke!

And the universe had decided to cosmically multiply the unfairness when that tall, beautiful girl had led Luke away onto the dance floor. If it wasn’t for her, Luke would probably still be staring at him in that unique, intense way that made Noah shiver and seemed to root his shoes to the ground. Noah shook his head. Luke was dancing with a girl. He wasn’t quite sure how to interpret his emotions regarding this fact. 

Luke can dance with a girl if he wants. I don’t care. That’s how it’s supposed to be. Speaking of which, I should find a nice girl to dance with instead of standing here alone, like a total dork.

He surveyed the area, looking for any of the sweet girls he was proud to call his friends. His eyes locked on Maddie, a small girl with glossy light-brown hair, a small nose, and light cinnamon eyes. Maddie was in a couple of classes and was incredibly nice. She would make the perfect dance partner. 

But Noah couldn’t do it. If he was going to dance tonight, it was going to be with Luke. 

A surge of adrenaline overtook Noah’s whole body. He stopped thinking altogether and made his way to the dance floor. He nervously adjusted his silver tie with his right hand and it was as if a piece of string had been looped tightly around his Windsor knot and viciously pulled forward. 

In the dim lighting, Noah was pretty sure that Luke’s eyes were brighter than the lights themselves as they splendidly twinkled in the middle of the dance floor. Luke was still dancing with that girl, completely oblivious to the powerful magic spell he held over Noah. 

Heart thumping loudly in his chest, Noah moved wordlessly through the tightly-packed crowd of dancers, eyes still tightly fastened on his target. The last lines of Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ faded as many of the couples separated including Luke and his partner. 

Luke thanked the girl for the dance and spun around slowly when Noah lightly tapped his shoulder. Noah felt his voice abandon him when he noticed extraordinary green flecks in Luke’s chocolate eyes, no doubt drawn out by his radiant shirt. 

Miraculously, Noah’s voice returned just in time to croak out the question he had been dying to ask Luke all night.

“Can I have this dance?”

Noah’s scared electric eyes searched Luke’s face, trying to both gauge his reaction and ask a million questions all at once. 

Noah practically shouted with joy when Luke’s perfectly curved lips broke into a spine-tingling smile and uttered, “Yes Noah. Yes you can.”

Both boys grinned nervously at each other, communicating noiselessly with their eyes. Noah grabbed Luke’s hand, his nerves working overdrive when he realized how soft it was. He tentatively wrapped his other hand around the smaller boy’s back, bringing him in closer to Noah’s erratically beating heart. Noah could feel Luke’s hand gently cup his back and was amazed by how right this felt. Luke fit into him perfectly, like the puzzle piece Noah had been missing his whole life. 

They were dancing to the powerful voice of Beyonce’s Halo and Noah leaned his mouth in close to Luke’s ear in order to be heard above the music. Noah was intent on staying like this forever, their bodies pressed close together in a smooth swaying motion. 

“I’ve wanted to do this for a long time,” confided Noah in a whisper, Luke’s silky blonde hair tickling the side of his face. 

Luke giggled quietly and responded with a “Me too Noah. Me too.”

They continued to delicately sashay around the dance floor and Noah was indescribably happy to have the most beautiful boy in the world against his chest. Luke smelled amazing - a mix between exotic spices and familiar coffee. But above all, the incredible boy dancing with him smelled wonderfully manly yet breathtakingly clean. 

A thought popped into Noah’s head as he listened to Beyonce’s lyrics and couldn’t stop himself from voicing it aloud, despite its corny nature. 

“I know this sounds kind of cheesy, but you look just like an angel Luke.”

As soon as the words passed his lips, Noah could feel his gorgeous dance partner melt in his hands and there was no denying their matching blushes.

“Have you been watching too many old movies mister? You’ve let them get to your head!” exclaimed Luke softly, but Noah could tell that he appreciated the compliment.

“Not possible,” grinned Noah cheekily. 

“Speaking of which, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think you decorated this ballroom all by yourself. If I’m not mistaken, this looks exactly like a shrine to all things Noah.”

“It’s nice, isn’t it?” Noah let his eyes wander once again to take in the unbelievable decorations. “But unfortunately, it’s not as nice as dancing here with you,” he flirted. 

Luke could not contain the grin that held his entire face captive. Neither could Julie or Casey, who were staring at their best friends dance in each other’s arms. 

“Not so dumb,” remarked Casey, his face lit up with pure happiness for the two boys. "Not so dumb after all."

*

Luke was absolutely positive that he was dreaming. There was no possible way he was standing here, in the arms of the boy of his dreams, dancing at Homecoming. It had to be real though, because Noah was so close to him he could practically taste oranges, and there was no denying the warm hand that engulfed his own and held on for dear life.

Plus, never in his wildest dreams could Luke imagine the extent of Noah’s sweetness. He was so gentle and adorable and real. Noah was even flirting with him. Flirting with him!

Luke only had eyes for Noah as they semi-gracefully whirled around the dance floor. He didn’t think he’d ever get used to that fierce glare that erupted from his smoldering ocean eyes. Noah’s lean body was gripping him so protectively and Luke just wanted to melt in his strong arms.

His brain was still trying to comprehend the fact that he was dancing in the middle of the ballroom with a boy. The boy he’d wanted ever since that fateful trip to the ice cream shop. And the best part was, no one even cared. 

Luke’s biggest surprise, however, was when he locked eyes with his best friend Casey and received an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Casey doesn’t even look surprised. Am I really that transparent?

Luke couldn’t resist grinning at Casey, trying to communicate his relief and gratitude across the room with his brilliant smile. 

The song ended and both boys were reluctant to pull away. They were silent, broadcasting their words with their faces instead. Noah stared at him beneath those shadowy lashes, shyly tilting his head towards Luke with a bashful smile playing on his lips. Luke returned his grin with a confidently flirtatious one and followed Noah towards the refreshment table. Even though the boys were no longer touching, their bodies magnetically stayed contiguous to each other. 

“Thanks for the dance,” murmured Noah and Luke could sense the apparent nervousness in his voice. 

“My pleasure!” exclaimed Luke and almost imperceptibly touched Noah’s suit-clad arm.

“Homecoming is almost over, right?” Noah articulated this observation in his soft voice, still dazed from the events of the last few minutes.

Luke was amazed by this transformation. Gone was the confident, chance-taking boy that had demanded a dance and in his place was the familiar Noah he experienced every day. He didn’t dwell on this fact, however, because any kind of Noah was just perfect. 

He nodded in response and gears in his head turning, asked “Do you need a ride home? I drove here, but I wouldn’t mind giving you a ride home. I mean, if you didn’t drive of course. God I’m so stupid, you probably drove---”

“Luke,” laughed Noah, interrupting the blonde’s ramblings. “I’d love a ride home.” 

Fifteen minutes later, Luke and his dark-haired companion stood on Noah’s front porch. They had said their goodbyes, trying not to blush too hard in front of their smirking friends. The ride in Luke’s car had been peaceful, a delicious silence filled only by the loud thumps of their hearts beating in unison. 

Noah’s presence had always been this way and seemed to silence Luke in a way no one ever had before. He no longer felt the need to chatter away meaninglessly because with Noah, long silences weren’t awkward. 

“Thanks for the ride home,” smiled Noah.

“Just returning the favor! A man never relinquishes his chance to re-pay his hero. Especially since you saved me from my own dumb self.”

“You were pretty stupid,” chuckled Noah lightheartedly, swatting Luke’s forearm. “Hero, huh?” 

But Noah’s words died on his lips as the electric touch jolted them back to the reality of their situation and another long silence ensued, neither boy able to tear their expressive eyes away. 

Noah broke the silence in a gravelly voice thick with emotion. “Thank you for um, dancing with me tonight. I was really nervous – well obviously- that you would say no and then I would be standing there like a dork. But I’m so glad you said yes because asking you to dance was one of the best decisions of my life and I usually don’t take any chances. And I don’t even know if you like me like that and it’s okay if you don’t because I’ll still be your friend no matter what. I just wanted to let you know that I do like you like that---”

Luke was amused with Noah’s blathering and wondered if he sounded that silly whenever he rambled. 

“Noah?”

Noah’s blue eyes were wide with fright but he kept going. “I’m really sorry if that totally weirded you out. But I just wanted to say that it wasn’t a joke to me and I wanted to dance with you. I totally understand if you don’t want to be friends anymore---”

“Noah!” The taller boy ceased his babbling and his eyes widened further as Luke leaned in closer.

“Shut up,” commanded Luke.

And he kissed Noah. It was soft and quick, over much too quickly for either boy’s liking. Luke needed more and he heard Noah’s breath hitch as he pulled away. Brown eyes searched blue and begged for a sign. 

Luke could barely analyze Noah’s bright orbs before he felt the other boy’s lips suddenly crash into his own. They were soft and warm and exactly like Luke imagined them countless times before.

Noah gently placed his thumb on Luke’s cheek, stroking the silky skin that hummed underneath his touch. Luke tangled the fingers on his right hand in the jet-black curly hair, and grasped Noah’s silver tie with his left hand. In one motion, he slightly pulled Noah’s head in closer – one hand gripping the tie and the other dragging the back of Noah’s head - to deepen the kiss. The silky curls slid around his fingers and were so soft it was if Luke had plunged his hand into the inside of a feather pillow. 

Luke had never kissed anyone before, but he was absolutely certain that this was exactly how it was supposed to feel. He could not imagine anyone else’s lips feeling more right pressed against his own. He didn’t believe anyone but Noah could make his knees feel so weak. Luke was a total spaz, all over the place, but Noah kept the kiss focused and intense. 

Still caught up in the moment, Noah used his other arm to grasp Luke’s back, causing his spine to bend slightly underneath Noah’s body and sent shivers through his body. This movement emitted a sharp gasp from Luke, which quickly turned into a satisfied sigh that drove Noah absolutely crazy. Both boys were too scared to initiate any tongue, but were fully content with the marvelous kiss. 

Realizing their need for oxygen, the boys slowly drew away from each other, breathing heavily and never breaking their intense gaze. Luke was pretty sure his heart would explode it was beating so fast and it felt like a tsunami wave was constantly crashing against his chest. 

Regaining a normal breathing rate first, Noah whispered an uneven “Wow.”

“Yes. Wow,” gulped Luke, his lungs still screaming for air. When he finally gained enough oxygen, he couldn’t help but breaking out into a stunning smile that radiated across his pale features. 

Uncertain what else to say, he waved a simple goodbye to Noah and left the other boy stunned on his front porch. 
The last thing Noah saw was Luke’s gorgeous smile, one that ignited his dark brown eyes and deepened those adorable dimples, and infiltrated Noah’s brain without even asking for permission. 

However, he failed to see the large shadow of a grey-eyed man peering out the living room window at the unfolding scene on his front porch. 

*

The front door’s lock clicked noisily into place and Noah cringed, hoping his father was asleep by now. He realized this wasn’t the case though, when he entered the dim living room and encountered Winston Mayer sitting on their well-worn couch. His eyes were closed, but snapped open when Noah shuffled towards him. 

Noah’s father was strict, a retired military colonel, but raising his son had softened out his hard lined ways. He wanted only the best for his wonderful son. Winston had always dreamed of Noah following in his footsteps and enlisting, but now knew that it would stay a fantasy. Noah had his heart set on filmmaking and Winston wanted him to be great, no matter what he was pursuing in life. He sometimes worried that he put too much pressure on Noah, especially at school, but it was clear that his son enjoyed working hard and reaping the rewards. 

“Hey Dad,” whispered Noah.

“Hello Noah. Did you have fun at the dance?”

Noah grinned and could still feel Luke’s warm touch on his skin as memories of the night flooded his mind. “Yes sir. It was very enjoyable.”

Winston could detect the slight hint of a blush on his son’s cheeks and was pretty sure Luke Snyder had something to do with that. He didn’t have a problem with the kiss he witnessed; in fact it only confirmed his previous suspicions. Noah talked about that boy non-stop and Winston was pretty sure that if he removed “Luke” from his son’s vocabulary, the only word left would be “Casablanca”. 

Winston was worried that Noah would be too afraid to tell him the truth. He desperately wanted to assure his son that he loved him no matter what. 

“I’m glad,” smiled Winston and Noah turned to head upstairs to his bedroom. Almost as an afterthought, Noah’s father added in a soft voice “Oh and Noah? I expect you to treat that boy right.”

Noah froze and turned back to his father, his eyes bulging like a deer caught in the headlights. It was Julie’s confrontation all over again.

“W-what?”

Winston gestured towards the front porch and smiled slyly.

“You saw that?” gasped Noah, his hands racing up to his mouth in shock. 

“Oops,” he shrugged, the smile still playing on Winston’s wrinkled face. 

Noah’s heart was racing and he buried his head in his hands. 

“Oh my gosh Dad I’m so sorry. I didn’t want you to find out that way. I’m so so sor—”

“Noah.” Winston stated firmly. “There is absolutely nothing to be sorry about. I don’t want to ever hear you apologizing for who you are again. And it doesn’t matter anyways, I had my suspicions.” 

He winked and was amused when Noah threw up his hands in despair.

“For crying out loud, did everyone in the entire world know?”

Winston laughed at this but he could still sense the anxiety behind Noah’s eyes. 

“Noah. Listen to me. You are the best son a man could hope for and I’m so proud of you. I am still old-fashioned in some regards though, and you better respect Luke. You know, chivalry and all that.”

“I will Dad, I will.” Noah could feel his heart rate slowing and breathed out a gigantic sigh of relief. “I really like him.”

“I can see that son,” said Winston truthfully. “Remember, you can talk to me about anything, okay?”

“Thanks Dad,” breathed Noah and he began to climb the wooden stairs. “Goodnight.”

When Noah reached his room, he couldn’t help but quickly pump his fist in the air in triumph. The taste of the most wonderful boy in the world was still on his lips and his father’s acceptance was still ringing in his ears.

*

The french toast sitting in front of Luke smelled delicious. It even looked delicious, like something out of his Grandma Emma’s cookbooks, all perfect brown squares and just the right amount of sweet maple syrup drizzled over the golden bread. He wasn’t hungry though, and couldn’t bring himself to take a single bite. 

Luke wasn’t sure if he’d ever be hungry again because his stomach was still doing endless flip-flops as pools of dark blue continuously flashed into his mind. Luke felt like he was walking on sunshine, which was strange because he considered that to be one of the cheesiest songs ever.

What in the world have those lips done to me?

He was in such a daze that Luke was certain he was developing bruises from tripping over Ethan’s toys and bumping into two doors on his way downstairs. Luke’s eyes were unfocused, his brain stuck on a constant loop of last night’s festivities. 

But those eyes also reminded him that he really really needed to tell his parents. He knew they wouldn’t care, but it was still a nerve-wracking concept. Luke had run through a million creative ways to tell them in his head but decided to opt for just straight out telling them. Ha.

Although, if his parents were like everyone else in his life, they would have used some sort of super secret special powers to figure him out already. 

I mean, c’mon! How the heck did Casey figure it out? 

Lily and Holden Snyder were kind, loving parents. They adored all four of their children, especially their oldest son. Luke could be a handful most of the time, but he was extremely hard to say no to. They marveled at his fantastic relationship with both younger sisters and were delighted to have a great role model for Ethan. Luke was wild and rambunctious, but miraculously seemed to slow down and gain immense patience when interacting with his two-year old brother. 

The couple sat squeezed together on the leather couch in the bright living room, pouring over old photo albums of the Snyder clan and whispering quietly about the wonderful memories invoked by the old pictures. 

Luke stepped into the comforting room and coughed gently to get his parents attention. They both glanced up at him with soft smiles, but quickly turned to simultaneous frowns when the read the panic-stricken look on their son’s face. Luke was curling and uncurling his fists into tight balls and nervously flicked a strand of hair off his forehead. 

“Luke sweetie, what’s wrong?” frowned Lily, her voice laced with worry. 

He sighed, brown eyes darting frantically back and forth.

“There’s um, something important I need to tell you.” The words came out fast, like Usain Bolt fast. 

“Luke, you can tell us anything. We can handle it.” The trademark Holden creases formed around his loving eyes. 

Luke’s parents flashed each other a look, transmitting their feelings without words. They could both tell that something was eating their son up and desperately wanted to make him feel better so that brilliant smile would return to his handsome face. The look was a mixture of “Poor kid” and “How bad can this be?” and “I love you”. 

A slight cough emitted from Luke’s pale lips and he cleared his throat shakily. 

“Mom, Dad. I’m gay.”

The tension instantly disintegrated from the room as Luke’s parents burst into hysterical laughter. 

Noticing the bewildered look in her son’s eyes, Lily explained their peculiar reaction. 

“Honey, that’s it? For crying out loud! We thought you had gotten a girl pregnant or been arrested or something like that!”

Lily gathered her son up into her arms and whispered an almost inaudible “Duh!” into her son’s ear.

“Y-y-you don’t care?” whispered Luke unevenly, his words somewhat muffled by his mom’s red sweater currently engulfing him. 

“Of course we don’t care!” rumbled Holden, tears still streaming from his twinkling eyes. “We love you no matter what. And we won’t ever stop loving you, especially over something you can’t control. Luke, that would be like disowning you for having brown hair.”

Lily nodded furiously in agreement with Holden, looking down at her blond-haired pride and joy. 

“I love you Lukie. Don’t you ever forget that.”

Luke was laughing by now too, every last ounce of anxiety had left his body. Then, he stared at an eerily familiar ocean blue vase on the coffee table and suddenly stopped, remembering the other half of his big announcement.

“There’s something else though,” stated Luke clearly, all traces of nervousness removed from his voice. 

“You did get arrested?” laughed Holden, a mock-groan escaping his lips.

Luke swatted his dad’s arm and groaned along with him in exaggerated exasperation. Ignoring Holden’s comment, he plowed on.

“You know, um Noah? He and I…I mean we are kinda…I don’t know…he’s my…”

“Boyfriend?” finished Lily, her face lit up with a dazzling smile identical to her son’s.

“Err, I wouldn’t say that yet. But he’s definitely my…something,” grinned Luke back, instantly cheering up at the thought of the dark-haired boy. 

“Noah’s your boyfriend?” gasped Natalie, gliding into the room with a mischievous smile on her face.

“I knew it!” Faith followed closely behind and squinted accusingly at her older brother. “Thanks for telling me first Luke.” She crossed her arms and glared at him.

“Augh guys, I don’t know! Please please please don’t mention it. I guess we’ll find out on Monday at school.” 

This made Luke grimace a bit, but all doubts were momentarily forgotten as four Snyders attacked him with a gigantic group hug. Even Ethan came running from the kitchen to grab his older brother’s leg and held on tight.

Luke had never felt more loved and was ecstatic to be surrounded by his amazing family with the prospect of a potential boyfriend in the near future. Junior year was really looking up.

When the hug finally broke apart, Luke addressed his mother and with a giggle, asked the one question that had been bothering him the entire time.

“You thought I got a girl pregnant?” 

*

Noah had always liked assigned seats. They were neat and orderly and perfect for classes devoid of good friends. History class was making him rethink this alliance. 

Luke sat on the other side of the room – too far to talk to but perfectly aligned in Noah’s field of vision – and his presence taunted Noah the entire class period. Noah literally could not tear his eyes away from Luke’s glowing blonde head and his unfairly beautiful profile.

As if he could sense Noah’s blue eyes laser-beaming a hole through the side of his face, Luke turned towards the now-blushing teenager and shot him a blinding smile that tugged directly on his rapidly beating heart. In that moment, Noah decided he was breaking up with assigned seats.

Noah was too rattled from Luke’s extraordinary grin that he completely forgot to return it with one of his own. He hurriedly corrected his mistake though, when he noticed the subtle hurt flash across Luke’s chestnut eyes. Noah decided to throw a wink Luke’s way for good measure and was absolutely certain he saw a slight shiver ripple through the blonde’s shoulders.

Twentieth Century World History easily became Geography of Luke. He wanted to memorize the splendid curve of his pale lips and the places in his hair where golden blonde shifted to dark honeyed streaks. Noah dared those cinnamon-colored pools of light to catch his eyes once again and simultaneous unsettle and calm his nerves. 

Jesus Christ Luke, if you need chapstick, just ask. All I’m asking is for you to please please please stop licking your lips like that. 

Just when Noah figured he was going to spontaneously combust, the startling bell interrupted his one-man television show. 

Noah frantically backed up his backpack, abandoning all of his usual careful organization of the folders and notebooks and pencils. He even stuffed one of the textbooks in upside down. 

As the chattering class filed out of the classroom, Noah scanned the slightly shorter heads before acquiring his blonde-haired target. He sidled up next to Luke, pushed an “Is this okay?” look his way, stared at his puppy dog eyes yelling “Please, please, please!” and grabbed his hand. Luke’s soft fingers intertwined and danced between his own and sent a pulsing sensation up his arm. 

Completely silent, Noah dragged Luke towards his locker by his fingers and only let go to place both hands atop Luke’s muscled shoulders.

“Can I kiss you?” croaked out Noah, blue eyes searching brown for confirmation.

Luke could barely nod before Noah closed the gap. It was soft and quick, because they were at school, but Noah didn’t care because Luke was grinning at him with that radiant white smile and brushing a stray black curl out of his own equally elated face. 

Noah was definitely floating and he grabbed Luke’s hand once again to pull him back down to earth and the ugly tiled floor. He walked Luke to his next class, exchanging pleasant words about the rest of their weekend and their day so far, both boys shyly omitting the feeling of massive thumping that emitted from their hearts in a synchronized fashion. 

As they reached Luke’s English class, his eyes turned from dreamy to determined, a look Luke wore very well. However, Noah was pretty sure it was impossible to say no to Luke anyways, endearing look or not. 

“Noah?” Luke’s long fingers twirled his golden locks nervously. “Would you like to go out with me on Friday night? Like a date?”

“Hmmm…” Noah pretended to think about it, playfully stroking his chin. “Let me think…Yes!”

Luke scowled at him with indignation, but couldn’t help beaming at Noah’s answer. 

“Great! I’ll pick you up at seven.”

“I’ll be waiting,” grinned Noah and threw his long arms around the other boy. When they pulled away, Noah realized how foolish he had been. Hugging Luke made his pulse race and wreaked havoc on his hormones. 

Oops.

*

The curse of the clothing tornado had struck again. For the second time in a week, Luke had torn the entire contents of his closet apart, desperately searching for the right outfit. He wanted their first official date to be perfect, and that meant carefully deliberating everything – from the clothes on his back to the music played in the car. 

Luke was trying on the same tight long-sleeved red cotton shirt for the third time when Faith stormed into his room with a look of fiery persistence ablaze in her deep brown eyes. 

“There is NO way you are wearing that. You’re going on a date, not getting on a school bus,” she barked, already sorting her brother’s chaos into organized piles. 

“Sorr-ry.” Luke rolled his eyes, but was secretly thrilled that Faith was going to help him. He had already wasted too much time fussing over his outfit. 

“Aha!” cried Faith when she discovered the clothes she was looking for. She pushed them towards Luke hands. “Trust me.”

Luke emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later, looking absolutely dashing in his favorite pair of dark blue jeans and a charcoal grey sweater pulled over a light blue collared shirt. He admired Faith’s handiwork in the full-length mirror and turned to grin at her. She observed him with a knowing look, the faint traces of a smirk playing at the corners of her mouth. 

“Thanks Faithy! It’s perfect. I don’t know what I would do without you!”

He grabbed her into a bone-crushing hug, causing a rosy blush to appear on her cheeks. 

“It’s nothing Luke. Just wanted to make sure you look hot for your boyfriend.” She winked at him and giggled at her brother when his mouth fell slightly open in surprise. 

Regaining his ability to speak, Luke gently pushed his sister. “What did I say Faith? No using that word!”

She giggled again. “Oops sorry. For your boy who’s a frienddddd,” Faith teased, making exaggerated kissing noises with her lips. 

Luke couldn’t help but laugh along with her, but his eyes caught sight of the watch on his wrist and gasped. 

“I’m going to be late if I don’t hurry. Now shoo!”

Faith bounded out the door, but not before shouting a few more suggestions at her frantic brother. “Not too much hair gel! Wear nice shoes! Don’t forget your gum!”

He shook his head and an amused grin slid onto his lips. 
Twenty minutes later, Luke bounced downstairs and grabbed the truck’s keys from where they hung on a silver hook.

“Bye Mom! Bye Dad!” he called towards the kitchen, his hand already grasping the doorknob in an attempt to make quick escape.

His plan was foiled, however, when his parents suddenly emerged and smothered him with love. Lily pecked his cheek and Holden hugged him tightly.

“Be careful Luke.”

“I know, I know. Don’t worry!” 

Lily and Holden beamed at their son, eyes twinkling with pride. 

“Go have fun on your date! Just remember, Noah needs to come over for dinner soon so we can properly meet him,” bellowed Holden, still a bit nervous about sending his son off with a boy he’d barely met.

“And approve him!” laughed Lily, a statement that was returned with an icy glare from her son. 

“Fine,” groaned Luke. “Just please don’t torture him! Please.”

“Oh, we would do nothing of the sort,” said Lily sweetly, her eyes laced with mirth. 

“Lukie! Lukie! Wait!” Natalie sauntered into the room and stopped in front of Luke. Faith followed closely behind with a huge smile plastered on her face.

“Hey Nat!” Luke ruffled his little sister’s hair. 

“We got these for you! To give to your boy---”

“Boy who’s a friend!” finished Faith hurriedly, cutting Natalie off before she could let the forbidden word slip. 
Natalie turned to scowl at Faith, before removing a messy bouquet of flowers from behind her back. Luke lit up when he saw the flowers, gushing over his sisters’ thoughtful deed. 

“Aww, thanks guys! Noah’s going to love these.”

“Yay!” Natalie clapped her hands in delight. “He can even keep them!”

This sent the whole family into giggles, although Natalie wasn’t quite sure what was so funny. 

*

Noah was tired of constantly wringing his hands nervously. It was 6:45. Luke would be here in fifteen minutes and Noah could feel a giant butterfly farm fluttering around inside his stomach. 

To keep his hands occupied, Noah rushed into the kitchen and began to hectically wash dirty dishes that were strewn about the small sink. He was so lost in his own world – a mix of worry and anticipation – that he didn’t register the strong hand on his trembling back. 

“Noah,” said Winston softly, rubbing his son’s shoulder. “Jesus Noah, slow down. You’re going to break a dish, or even worse, get soap all over your nice clothes. I don’t think Luke will appreciate that too much.” He chuckled good-naturedly. 

At the mention of the one person driving his wild anxiety, Noah froze and turned to the unusually gentle grey pupils of his father’s eyes. He grasped his son’s arm and led him to the brown couch in the small living room. 

Noah sat on the couch, blue eyes wide with fright. Winston slid in next to him, still calmly smoothing out the tense muscles of the boy’s back. 

“Dad, I really really really don’t want to mess this up,” confessed Noah in a voice that was barely above a whisper.

“I really like Luke and he’s super important to me and I don’t know what I would do if I lost his friendship.”

Winston nodded knowingly and stared his son directly in the eyes. “Son. I know this can be scary. Especially when you are taking the next step with someone who’s a dear friend. But if Luke’s anything like the wonderful boy you described to me, he doesn’t want to mess this up either. Just take it slow and I promise it will get a lot easier.”

Noah swallowed hard, his father’s surprising words of wisdom sinking in. “Thanks Dad,” he squawked, smiling up at the loving face. “I needed to hear that.”

“You feel any calmer Noah?”

“Yes. Much better.”

“Good,” uttered Winston in his deep voice. “Because I think I hear Luke’s car.”

Noah gulped and consciously steadied his racing heart. The doorbell cut through his efforts like a sharp knife and he placed his palms on the nearby wall to prevent himself from becoming dizzy. 

Come on Noah. Snap out of it!

Winston answered the door and made small talk with the visitor before calling into the living room. 

“Noah! Your date’s here!”

He approached the doorway and caught a glimpse of the other boy. He held his hands behind his back and was shifting nervously from foot to foot. All of Noah’s anxiety evaporated as he swept his eyes over the breathtaking golden tresses and the impeccable grey sweater. Luke caught him staring, causing an overwhelmingly red blush to envelope Noah’s dark features.

The two boys stared at each other, their shared gaze so intense that Winston felt like an intruder interrupting a private moment. He made himself scarce and crossed his fingers for the both of them. Noah had always been a quiet kid and tended to keep to himself. When he cared for someone, he did it will every fiber of his being. Winston prayed for a happy ending because he wasn’t quite sure if his son would be able to handle the heartbreak. 

Luke cleared his throat and broke the heavy silence. “I um, have something for you.” 

He averted his eyes from Noah’s shyly and noticeably held his breath as he nudged a wonderful bouquet of flowers into Noah’s trembling hands. “My sisters made it for you.”

Noah felt his insides liquefy and his legs turn to jelly. He had never understood the expression “weak in the knees” before, but in this moment, it was the only words that existed to describe his feelings. 

Noah buried his face in the slightly crushed hydrangeas. They hardly smelled, but he could detect the faintest amount of sweetness emanating from the delicate blue petals. 

“Your sisters, huh? How come you get to give them to me then?” teased Noah and his breath hitched as Luke leaned in closer.

“Because my sisters don’t get to do this.” He pecked Noah on the cheek, his soft lips burning a fiery hole in Noah’s skin. He inwardly cursed his own heart as it tripped over itself inside his quivering chest. 

Noah placed his hand in the small of the other boy’s back and murmured, “Lead the way.” 

When they reached the car, Noah removed his hand, but not before he let his fingers trail down another inch or two, relishing the heart-stopping tremor it sent through Luke.

Ten minutes later, they sat across from each other in brown buttery leather booths, menus raised in unison that hid their matching smiles. Both boys spoke in careful, hushed tones, as if gliding over a sparkling pond of thin ice. 

Actually, Luke was doing most of the talking, as usual, and Noah appreciated his chatterbox nature. 
It was times like these that Luke scared Noah because the brown-eyed boy made Noah want to say more than he ever had in the past combined. He felt safe when he was quiet and his thoughts were carefully filtered. Noah was afraid that one day, Luke would shoot him one of those jaw-dropping smiles and he wouldn’t be able to stop telling Luke everything that had popped into his brain.

But for now, Noah was content with Luke’s jabbering. His voice was soothing and sweet, like warm maple syrup poured over delicious pancakes. 

They ordered their food from a smiling waitress who furiously scribbled down their requests. Noah couldn’t help but notice her extremely flirtatious manner. She was pretty and had graduated was Oakdale High School last spring. Noah recognized her as a former member of the Oakdale softball team. He played along with her coquetry, earning a swift kick from Luke under the table.

“You never look at me like that,” muttered Luke when she left, his chocolate eyes slightly downcast. 

Noah sighed and some unknown force inside him propelled him across the small table to grab both sides of Luke’s suddenly flushed face with his hands. He willed Luke to meet his eyes and broke into the huge face-hurting smile that was reserved solely for the other boy. He quickly nuzzled Luke’s nose with his own and pulled back, settling into the hard leather once again. 

“Oh yeah?” questioned Noah, eyebrows raised.

“I withdraw my statement,” grinned Luke, raising his arms in defeat. 

They ate in comfortable silence, Luke slurping at his tomato-sauced splashed spaghetti and Noah inhaling his raspberry-dressing covered salad. He drove himself crazy watching Luke eat, not so-sneakily looking at the other boy’s struggle with the slippery strands.

Oh my god, did he have to order pasta?

When they finished their respective meals, Luke purred contentedly and stretched out his legs under the table, gently tangling them together with Noah’s long ones. Luke’s touch shattered Noah’s pulse and caused his face to light up immensely, much to Luke’s delight.

“Let’s get out of here,” growled Noah, grabbing Luke’s arm and sliding his own through at the elbow. They had to disconnect for the drive back to Noah’s house, but he made sure to keep a less than steady hand on Luke’s knee the entire way home, thoroughly distracting the blonde at the wheel of the car. 

The boys found themselves in a similar situation, beaming at each other in the pale lighting of Noah’s front porch. The same place where, just days ago, they had shared their first kiss. Noah couldn’t handle Luke just standing there, especially when he licked those luscious pink lips that Noah ached to touch.

He pulled the boy flush against his body, kissing him forcefully, trying to communicate all the passion that ran through is veins at the mere thought of Luke. The blonde’s lips were salty and buttery and he tasted so good. Their hearts danced together, beating against each other in their contiguous chests. 

Noah felt the rest of the world slide into a state of dull grey, the only real color was Luke, especially his golden strands. Noah ran his hands through them, delighted to find that his hair felt as silky as it looked. 

Luke’s tongue slipped into his mouth and dueled with Noah’s, sending shudders of ohmygoddon’tstop throughout his spine. Their mouths fit together, graceful yet needy. The boys finally had to pull apart, gasping for breath like Olympic swimmers. They rested their foreheads together, pools of ocean meeting melting chocolate. 

“Thanks for tonight,” whispered Noah, his voice deep and gravelly. 

“My pleasure,” panted Luke, stealing a quick kiss in response. 

And Noah could feel himself falling, falling, falling. 

Or have I already fallen?

*

Luke straightened the silverware on the tablecloth-covered dining room table for the seventh time.

“Cut it out Luke!” scolded Lily, shaking her head at her son’s obsession with perfection regarding anything Noah.

The boys had been dating for over a month now, but their families had finally scheduled a dinner at Snyder Farm so Winston and the Snyders could be properly introduced. 

Luke was a tiny bit terrified (okay a lot) of Winston Mayer’s commanding demeanor, even though he knew the man was friendly under the stern surface. 

Winston and his son couldn’t be more opposite in personality – Noah was sweet and caring and gentle while his father was gruff and strict – but Luke admired their relationship. He was fascinated by Noah’s ability to bring out the hidden cordiality of his father. 

These glimpses of the pleasant part of Winston Mayer’s personality gave Luke hope for tonight’s dinner amongst the smattering of anxiety. Luke wondered if that nervous fluttering that engulfed his stomach whenever he thought of Noah would ever disappear, but quickly decided that he rather liked it. His constant butterflies made everything seem more exciting and new, even if they did occasionally cause him to stumble over his usually eloquent words.

Luke wandered into the kitchen, inhaling the delicious aroma of Grandma Emma’s lovingly prepared feast. She had insisted on holding the dinner at the farm, claiming that she knew better than anyone how to cook for large dinner party. Luke knew her real motivations though – she wanted to meet the boy he couldn’t stop gushing about and to quote her words, “put stars in his eyes.”

However, Luke barely had time to savor the smell of Emma’s apple pie before he caught sight of a dark-haired beauty and his father through the small kitchen window. He rushed to the door and flung it open, fighting the urge to jump into his smiling boyfriend’s arms. 

Boyfriend.

Luke still felt that special tingle when he referred to Noah like that in his head, even though they had decided it was the appropriate term over a week ago. 

Instead, he shook Colonel Mayer’s hand firmly and looked him square in the eye before he allowed himself to inspect Noah from head to toe. His boyfriend was dressed impeccably, as usual, and Luke could not take his eyes off Noah’s glittering jet-black hair, specifically the one stray piece that curled across his tan forehead.

He looks like freaking Superman!

He ached to run his hands through Noah’s silky hair, but figured his parents wouldn’t be too pleased if he attacked his boyfriend in the middle of the kitchen. 

“Hi,” squeaked Luke, inwardly cursing himself when his voice broke yet again. Noah had confessed that he found it absolutely adorable, but Luke was certain that it was the most annoying thing in the world. He envied Noah’s deep baritone, a voice he could listen to all day and never get tired of it. It was so soothing, and even though he didn’t talk much, Noah always knew the right thing to say. 

“Hello Luke,” rumbled Winston, as he moved inside towards the awaiting Snyders. 

Faith and Natalie were practically buzzing with excitement, and even little Ethan clapped his hands charmingly at the sight of his brother’s tall boyfriend. 

Noah didn’t greet him, but instead pulled Luke into a tight hug, squeezing his eyes shut and beaming over the blonde’s shoulder. The rest of the family got the hint and when the boys pulled apart, they found that the others had disappeared into the dining room, their loud chatter bouncing off the house’s walls. 

“Hi,” Noah whispered finally, holding Luke by his shoulders at arm’s length so he could gaze at the shorter boy. 

It was clear that both boys suffered from small traces of nervousness, but it had slowly depreciated as their relationship progressed. Luke boldly reached for Noah’s hand, tangling their fingers and giving it a small squeeze. 

“You ready for a Snyder family dinner?” asked Luke, tightening his hold on Noah’s soft hand.

“Is it even possible to be prepared?” teased Noah back.

Luke rolled his eyes and shut up his mocking boyfriend with a quick kiss that shot sparks through both of their bodies.

“Mmm, do that again,” whined the brunette, grasping at Luke’s shirt in an attempt to pull him closer. Luke was sneaky, however, and slipped out of Noah’s grasp. 

“I don’t think so! I hear my mom calling for us. Its dinnertime Mayer!”

Noah groaned and rolled his eyes. “Lead the way, Snyder,” lightly brushing his fingertips over Luke’s spine as the boy headed towards the doorway. 

They trekked into the dining room and took the adjacent seats on the far end of the table. Luke was ecstatic when he observed Winston’s rapid assimilation into the Snyder family dynamic. He was laughing and joking along with everyone and all traces of the hardened army Colonel dissipated. 

He smiled up at his boyfriend and noticed that Noah was just as thrilled about his father’s transformation. It was a very very good sign. 

Emma disappeared and re-entered with an armful of scrumptious food, which she distributed around the noisy table. The Snyders and Mayers dug in, profusely thanking the cook for her delicious meal. 

The boys were mostly silent throughout the meal, occasionally answering probing questions by their parents about school, and basketball, and their plans for the future. Noah was grilled by a majority of the questions, but Winston snuck in some directed towards Luke as well.

Luke was glad that Noah did most of the talking because it gave him an excuse to stare. And stare he did, despite the rather embarrassing blush that encompassed his pale cheeks whenever Noah caught him. 

In one particular moment, Noah caught Luke’s eye and smiled. The rest of the family temporarily disappeared as Luke grinned back. The loud chatter washed over the silent boys and Luke felt as if an invisible string was pulling his body closer to Noah’s. He reached over and took Noah’s warm hand in his own, oblivious to the stifled giggles erupting from his watchful sisters. 

Noticing that the boys were still lost to the world, Colonel Mayer grinned at Holden and pointed towards the two lovebirds, smiling at each other with concentrated adoration.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen my son happier,” murmured Winston.

“Me too,” replied Holden under his breath. “Luke worships the ground Noah walks on.”

“I think the feeling’s mutual. Those boys are going to be very very good for each other.”

“I hope so.” Holden coughed loudly and broke the teenagers out of their spell, the blush on their cheeks mirroring each other. 

“Luke, Noah. Lily, Emma, and I are going to meet some friends later tonight, and we were wondering if you would like to babysit the kids?” Holden glanced at Winston. “If that’s all right with you Mr. Mayer?”

Colonel Mayer nodded and turned his gaze towards his son.

“We’d love to!” replied Noah softly, looking towards Luke for approval. Luke grinned at his boyfriend, feeling that nervous energy course through his body once again.

Me. Noah. Alone. Babysitting. Is that even a question? 

 

*

After his father and the Snyders had said their goodbyes and Noah promised his father he would be back later that night, he was drafted into a game of Life by Faith and Natalie. Emma, Holden, and Lily left for their party soon after and Luke was busy putting Ethan to bed. 

Noah loved the way Luke was around his siblings, so caring and honest. He and Faith had a fantastic dynamic too, and he enjoyed listening to their cheeky banter. Faith obviously adored her older brother, making it one more thing they had in common. Noah thought Luke was the sweetest person he’d ever known, especially when it came to his family. 

Natalie was picking out a house in the game when Luke sidled downstairs, his midnight black corduroys riding down slightly and showing off his muscled stomach and sharp hipbones.

Jesus.

Completely oblivious of the effect he was having on Noah, Luke squeezed in next to him, practically sending his boyfriend into electric shock with all the white hot energy he transmitted into Noah just by their close proximity. Noah bit his lip hard and tried his best to focus on the game in front of him.

“Look Luke!” Natalie waved Noah’s plastic car excitedly in front of her brother. “Noah got-ted two blue guys in his car! He said it was you and him.” She grinned up at the two of them.

Luke chuckled loudly, sending that familiar warmth throughout Noah’s body whenever he heard that wonderful sound. Luke was so beautiful, but Noah was pretty sure the most beautiful sight of all was when his boyfriend threw back his blonde head and laughed.

The game finished quickly with Faith crowned the winner, retiring first and with the most money. Luke sent the girls to bed, leaving Noah to explore the Snyders’ DVD collection. 

When Luke returned downstairs, he found his boyfriend pouring over a mountain of classic films on the carpeted floor. Noah felt the blonde slide onto the floor next to him, his body temperature automatically increasing and his heart slipping into overdrive. 

“Hi,” whispered Luke. 

“Hey,” murmured Noah back, still engrossed in the black and white movie covers. “Your sisters asleep?”

“Uh-huh. I think you tired them out!” Luke’s voice instantly turned serious. “But really, thanks a lot for helping me out. Babysitting by myself can get pretty tedious.”

“Do you honestly think I would turn down a quiet evening with you? For your information, I kinda have a crush on you and think you’re majorly cute.” Noah grinned at his boyfriend and stared into the green-flecked hazel eyes that seemed to hold Noah’s own soul captive. 

Luke playfully swiped at him. “So, are we going to watch one of your precious pieces of artwork tonight? Or just sit here drooling over them?”

“Don’t mock me, Mr. Great Gatsby,” winked Noah.

“But it’s so easy, old sport!” cried Luke, quoting Gatsby himself. 

“Dork.”

Noah grabbed a movie and stood up, stretching his long limbs and purposely letting his red plaid shirt ride up his stomach a bit. 

Two can play at this game Luke.

Luke visibly gulped. “S-so what are we watching?”

“One of my all-time favorites. The Best Years of our Lives.

Luke groaned. “Black and white?”

“They make movies in color?” Noah widened his mouth in fake-shock.

“Shut up Noah. Come here!” whined Luke, patting a place on the couch where he had plopped down lazily. 

Noah hurriedly shoved the movie into the DVD player, all of his brain cells dedicated to getting on that couch next to Luke as soon as possible. 

He lowered himself down in the middle of the brown leather, wanting to be closer to Luke, but unsure what the proper protocol was in this situation. Noah was relieved when he was met with small whimpers from his right and felt his veins run ice-cold at the “come hither” look enveloping his boyfriend’s soft cinnamon eyes. He scooted closer, cautiously tangling his tan arms around Luke’s strong torso. 

Luke leaned into his embrace and they sat entwined as Noah immersed himself for the hundredth time in the antics of the characters. 

Noah was not surprised when he heard soft snoring coming from the blonde head nestled up against his chest. Luke’s warmth flowed through his entire body, all the way down to his toes. He ran his fingers through his boyfriend’s satiny golden locks and pressed soft kisses into the top of Luke’s head. His shampoo smelled delicious, a mix of grapefruit, vanilla, and amber that permeated Noah’s nostrils and drove his hormones crazy. 

Just as the closing credits rolled onto the screen, Luke woke up, sleepily tilting his head up towards Noah and gazing at the dark-haired boy through heavy lids. His hair was slightly ruffled and Noah could not resist the sleepy cuteness that was pressed against him. 

Noah leaned in close, nuzzling Luke’s charming nose and breathing in Luke’s heavenly masculine scent. 

“You’re so cute when you’re sleepy,” confessed Noah, cherishing the humongous smile that spread across Luke’s pale features. “Especially those adorable dimples of yours.”

“Shut up and kiss me,” rumbled Luke.

Noah didn’t need to be told twice. He dived into Luke’s mouth, pressing gently before gaining entry with his tongue. Luke sighed into the kiss and Noah decided that was pretty much the hottest thing he’d ever heard. Luke pushed Noah down onto the couch, spreading himself out full length above Noah’s trembling body. They were touching everywhere from head to toe, still connected at the mouth. 

Luke pulled back slightly, not taking his eyes off Noah’s sapphire orbs. “Did I ever tell you how gorgeous you are?” moaned the blonde, peppering Noah’s inevitable blush with soft kisses and grasping Noah's stray curl on his forehead and twirling it around his finger. 

“Less talking, more kissing Snyder,” was all Noah had to say to that, and he pulled Luke’s head back to his lips, their mouths connecting with much more force. His other hand strayed to Luke’s back, running up and down the prominent spine. He slowly slipped his fingers under Luke’s indigo shirt, and repeated the same motion, but this time directly in contact with smooth skin. 

“Noah, wait!” Luke sat up suddenly with a panicked look on his face. 

“What’s wrong?” Noah searched Luke’s face for a sign and worried that he had hurt the other boy. 

“It’s just…well we are both kind of new to this. And we’re young. And don’t get me wrong, I really really like you Noah. But I just think we should take this slow. If that’s okay with you?”

Noah nodded, smiling shyly up at Luke. “That sounds good to me. I want to spend time with you, lots of time, and I want to get to know you and your family.”

“Thanks for understanding Noah,” Luke smiled at him and Noah knew they had made the right decision. Just being with Luke made him tingly all over and made his heart crack wide open.

"I still get to kiss you, right?" inquired Noah, winking one bright blue eye. 

"Duh-hh."

So Noah did. 

When they pulled away, Luke yawned and Noah chuckled at him before gathering his boyfriend into his arms and holding him close. Touching Luke made Noah feel like the luckiest guy in the world.

When the Snyders arrived home later that night, they found the two boys curled into each other on the couch, hands linked and blonde hair spread out across the crimson shirt of the charcoal-haired boy.

 *

His chest tightened, as usual, when Noah recognized Luke’s voice behind him, a strong and confident voice in the sea of lunchtime conversation that filled the cafeteria. Noah could listen to that voice all day, and sometimes he did, if Luke was in one of his especially talkative moods. Just last Monday he had gone on about the advantages and disadvantages of movie subtitles for a whole hour (and ultimately concluded that they were more of a help than a hindrance). 

Luke sidled in next to him on the wooden bench, his brown paper bag making a surprising thunk on the cold plastic table. He was dressed head to toe in bright blue, complete with chalky blue war paint on his rosy cheeks and a paisley bandanna tied in his ruffled blonde hair. 

The Oakdale High School basketball team had a traditional of wearing all blue on their inaugural game of the season in support of their rather out of place mascot, the Blue Wolves. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, wolves were extremely rare in Illinois. 

“Looking good…Smurf.”

“Shut up Noah!” grumbled Luke, glaring at him in that innocently captivating way that made Noah’s heart thump. 

How can he possibly that adorable when he’s trying to be angry?

Noah stifled his grin with a bite from his turkey and mustard sandwich. Lunch had gotten infinity times better when Luke and Casey started eating with him and his friends. Casey was absolutely hilarious and got along marvelously with Austin and Julie. He was also a bit of a partier, but didn’t seem to mind that Luke spent less time with him at parties. Casey always knew it wasn’t truly Luke’s scene anyways. 

The conversation flowed easily through the five of them – Luke and Julie passionately leading the chatting, Casey inserting his hilarious jokes at random intervals, Austin including his genuinely insightful thoughts, and Noah staying more or less quiet as he listened intently to friends, but mostly just staring at pretty brown eyes next to him. 

However, Noah was completely spaced when he felt light fingers ruffle his curls. 

“Hey.” Luke had ditched the conversation and turned his full attention to the tall boy on his right. “You doing okay?”

Noah focused on his boyfriend’s concerned features and nodded. “Sorry. Didn’t get much sleep last night. I’m a bit out of it.”

Luke scowled at his apology. “Noah. Everyone gets tired and overwhelmed. Don’t beat yourself up over it, silly.”

Noah smiled at Luke’s caring words, so happy that he had this wonderful guy sitting so close to him, so thankful for his soothing words of wisdom. 

“I know. I know. Thanks for letting me be a space case today.”

Luke ruffled the dark hair again. “Noah. You’re always a space case. Plus, I don’t care! As long as you are still coming to my game tonight?”

“Of course!” grinned Noah. “But only if your uniform is one of those cut-off tank top jersey things. It is, right?”

Luke blushed. “No-ahh,” cried the scandalized blonde. “You’re supposed to watch it for my skills, not my arms.”

“But I really really like your arms.” 

To prove his point, Noah ran the tips of his fingers down Luke’s blue-clad arm, savoring the small tremors that he was responsible for.

“Not here!” half hissed-half whined Luke, glancing up to make sure his friends hadn’t noticed their flirtatious exchange. Teasing would surely ensue if they had, but luckily they didn’t acknowledge it. 

Noah restrained himself, content with slipping Luke’s velvety hand into his own. “But seriously Luke, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Luke’s reply was drowned out by the lunch bell. Noah swooped down and planted a sweet kiss on his boyfriend’s soft cheek. He whispered “Good luck tonight” into Luke’s ear and the resulting sigh sent sparks through his body.

“Thanks,” murmured Luke back, giving Noah one last lingering smile before rushing off to class. 

That night, Noah’s nerves were on high-alert. He could only imagine how Luke was feeling, his nervousness probably multiplied since he was the one actually playing the game. 

Noah paid for his ticket and entered the noisy gymnasium. Neither team was out of the locker rooms yet, but the crowds had already filled up the bleachers. He scanned the sea of chattering faces for Julie’s light brown hair and glowing green eyes. Noah finally found her, nose buried deep in The Catcher in the Rye

She was startled when he slid in quietly next to her, but quickly overcame her surprise with an onslaught of giggles. 

“Um, hi?”

“Oh.” Giggle. “Hey.” Giggle. “Noah.” Giggle.

“What’s so funny?” asked Noah impatiently, confusion overtaking his dark features. 

“Have fun making out with your boyfriend?” she shot back, still giggling.

“W-w-what?” stammered Noah, red blush tingeing his cheeks. “What are you talking about?”

“Oh please. You have blue face paint smeared all over. And you are definitely not the school spirit type.”

Noah’s hands went up to his face in embarrassment. 

“Great.” 

Julie patted her friend’s arm. “Hey! It’s not that bad. Plus, major bonus! It goes nicely with your eyes.”

Noah groaned. Julie just grinned at him mischievously.
“Sooo…speaking of Luke. How are things going between you guys?” 

Noah’s face light up immensely and he broke into a huge grin. “Really, really great. He just gets me, ya know? And he isn’t afraid to tease me or just be my friend. I can spend hours just listening to him talk and I want to know everything about him. Plus, he knows how to get me to talk, which is a pretty stupendous feat if I do say so myself.”

Julie coughed in agreement.

“Well he’s also pretty adorable. And sometimes he can be pretty sexy.” Noah’s tone went up suggestively at the end of his sentence, causing Julie to nearly choke on her soda. 

“Luke? Mr. Innocent Puppy Dog Eyes is sexy?”

“Mmmm,” grinned Noah. “He does this thing with his li---”

Noah stopped short and narrowed his eyes at his best friend.

“I am so not telling you this.”

Julie giggled. They both turned their attention to the basketball court as the gym’s lights dimmed and the Oakdale High basketball team took the floor. Noah squinted, trying to find Luke’s blonde hair in the mass of players on the court. 

His eyes locked on the chocolate one’s of his boyfriend and Noah smiled, trying to secretly communicate with the boy who nervously ran his hands through his dark blonde locks. Noah mouthed “Good luck” and for a few seconds, it felt like they were the only two people in the entire gym. The lighting was still dim, but Luke seemed to glow, his honey hair lit up like a halo. 

Suddenly, Luke was pulled away by one of his teammates, but not before he waved apologetically at Noah and broke into a blinding smile. When the lights finally returned to full force, Noah admired his boyfriend’s muscled arms, sprinkled with light blonde hairs. As the warm-up continued, Luke shot three-pointer after three-pointer, most of them sinking through the basket with a satisfying swoosh

Noah’s heart swelled with pride. Luke was so talented and he didn’t even realize it. Not just at basketball, but at life in general. He cared so much about his family and his friends and he was beyond generous without even trying. Noah was pretty damn sure it was impossible not to like Luke Snyder. Noah was also pretty sure that he didn’t just like Luke Snyder – he loved him.

Oh god, I did not just think that.


But it was true. Noah had fallen hard and fast, thanks to Luke Snyder’s immeasurable charm. 

*


After the game, the locker room was raucous, filled with cheers and loud whoops and other sounds of joy. Oakdale had escaped with a win over the Coulterville Cats. Luke had scored twenty points, not bad for the season opener.

He quickly changed out of his sweaty uniform, showered, and put on a light blue Oakdale High School t-shirt. As much as he would have liked to stick around and celebrate the victory, there was a certain blue-eyed boy he would much rather celebrate with. 

This particular boy was sitting outside the now-empty gym, back against the closest row of lockers and completely engrossed in his phone. 

Luke sauntered up next to him, bent down, and whispered in his ear. 

“Hey handsome.”

Noah jumped with a loud gasp. “Jesus Luke, you scared me.”

“Oops,” grinned Luke mischievously, tilting his head like a troublesome puppy.

Noah pulled the blonde head into his chest, wrapping Luke into a tight hug. 

“You were great tonight,” Luke heard Noah whisper, his words muffled by Luke’s shoulder. 

“Thanks,” croaked Luke back and smiled into Noah’s strong chest. 

The boys decided to walk back to Noah’s since neither of them wanted to call their parents and Noah’s house wasn’t too far away. Luke grabbed his duffle bag, but it was quickly snatched away from him. 

“Hey!” protested Luke, trying to swipe the bag back.

“No way,” replied Noah firmly. “Let me carry it. You just played a game of basketball for crying out loud! It’s the least I can do for the star player.”

Luke grumbled, but let it slide because he was somewhat flattered by Noah’s stubborn resolve to carry his bag. 

“Such a gentleman,” teased Luke, relishing the deep blush that appeared high on Noah’s cheeks. 

“Shut up,” whined Noah.

It was pitch-black outside and the only lights were the flickering streetlamps that dotted the sidewalk. Luke grabbed Noah’s warm hand and he felt Noah’s grip tighten protectively around his fingers. They swung their hands lazily between them as they strolled quietly towards home.

Luke loved these silences, they were so peaceful and he never felt the need to fill the silence with incessant chatter. 

But even in the silence, Luke couldn’t hear the erratically swerving car approach them from behind. 

Suddenly, he was blinded by bright headlights and he lost the comforting warmth of Noah’s hand in his. 
He turned, confused, to a pair of brilliant blue eyes, wide with fear. 

“Luuuuuuuuuuuuke!” screamed Noah, and Luke felt himself being pushed, practically thrown, across the sidewalk by a pair of strong hands. His vision turned dark for a couple of seconds, and then was filled with red splotches of anger and fear as Luke heard a sickening thud.

The car screeched away and Luke gasped. 

“Noah!” cried Luke, his eyes focusing on the tall, motionless body that lay on the sidewalk. “Oh my god. Noah!”

He ran towards his boyfriend and his heart stopped as he took in the closed eyes, pale face, and dark red blood oozing down his arm. 

“No. No. No. No.” wailed Luke, simultaneously placing one hand on Noah’s chest while the other hand frantically dug through his jeans in a desperate search for his cell phone. 

Luke was relieved to feel Noah’s chest rising and falling, although its uneven movements sent more panic shooting through his brain. He extracted his cell phone and with trembling fingers, dialed 911. 

“911, what’s your emergency?”

Luke’s voice was shaky, but he willed himself to get the words out. “There’s been an accident. A pedestrian hit and run.” A choked sob escaped from his lips.

“Where are you?”

“By Oakdale High School. Corner of….Lincoln and 49th.”

“Hang tight. We will be there as soon as possible.”

Luke hung up and threw the phone angrily on the ground. He was crying at full-force now, the glistening tears streaming down his face into Noah’s dark hair. 

“Noah. Noah,” Luke sobbed, afraid to touch him and hurt him further. “It’ll be alright,” he whispered, more to himself than stationary body on the ground. “It’ll be alright.”

*

The hospital was cold. Luke shivered in his thin cotton shirt, trying not to acknowledge the blood stains spattered across his chest. He was pacing the dull grey floor, arms pulled close to his trembling chest. The tears had stopped for now and he had tried to stop thinking altogether. Luke had a wild imagination, and it was definitely not helping at this moment. 

When he let his imagination go, he couldn’t stop thinking about Noah, his Noah, lying in that uncomfortable hospital bed, surrounded by doctors and nurses. He imagined all that blood and oh god, he imagined the inevitable look on Winston’s face when he heard about his son.

No. No. No. Goddamnit Luke. He’s going to fine. Just fine. The car wasn’t going that fast and he was still breathing.

Luke had ridden in the back of the ambulance, with Noah’s body strapped to a horizontal stretcher, and did not take his eyes off the chest that slowly moved up and down. He couldn’t have endured looking anywhere else than the one place that sent ribbons of hope cascading through his shell-shocked mind. 

He tried to capture that hope again and telepathically tried to transmit it to Noah in the other room. Noah was strong. Noah was a fighter. He’d be okay. 

“Luke!” His optimistic thoughts were disrupted by an onslaught of family, all rushing into the hallway and gathering him up in a giant hug. Luke melted into their embraces and against his will, the tears started flowing again.

“Luke honey, are you okay?” Lily stared worriedly at her son.

“Physically, yes,” he wailed into her shoulder. “But Noah Mom! Noah! He’s..he’s…he was just…he pushed me…it was so dark…and now he’s in there…Mom!” Luke sobbed uncontrollably, his speech coming out as incoherent babbles. 

“Shhh baby, shhhh.” Lily smoothed Luke’s hair and frowned at her husband. She mouthed the word “Winston?” and Holden replied in a whisper.

“He’s on his way.”

Lily felt tears come to her eyes as well, for her devastated son, for Noah, for Winston. She pushed them away though, knowing that Luke needed her to be strong and comforting rather than fall apart. She slowly moved him towards a hard plastic chair and sat next to him, placing an arm over his shoulder and pulling him in close. 

The other Snyders stood huddled, farther away from Lily and her son. The three kids were crying softly, hiding their eyes from their miserable brother. 

Everyone froze when the heavy footsteps of Colonel Winston Mayer filled the hospital corridor. 

“Where the heck is my son?” he demanded loudly, nearly making the younger children jump. 

He was instantly flocked by Holden and Lily, who spoke to him quietly and soothingly to get him to calm down. 

“He’s in that room right there. The doctors said no one could go in yet until they got him stabilized.”

Winston’s tough demeanor visibly disintegrated as he realized the gravity of the situation. It was replaced with shock and anger and fear, and made Luke’s heart physically hurt. He let Lily lead him into one of the cold chairs like she had just done for Luke. Winston and Luke sat side by side, staring straight ahead at nothing in particular. 

Suddenly, the door to Noah’s room swung open, and a young nurse emerged, clipboard in hand. She addressed the grim bunch of visitors crowded throughout the hallway. 

“I’m just here to let you know that the patient has been stabilized. The doctors are still working on him so we still cannot permit any visitors in his room, but you will be able to visit once his condition has improved.”

The entire group let out a huge sigh of relief and thanked the nurse, who then scurried back into the hospital room. 

Luke and Winston continued to sit motionless on the smooth plastic while the rest of the family bustled around them, whispering in hushed but excited tones. 

“He saved my life, you know,” croaked Luke, his voice coated in emotion and his throat scratchy from the endless crying. 

A small smile played on Winston’s lips, an abundance of pride rushing into him for his only son. 

“I’m pretty sure he’d do anything for you, Luke. I’ve never seen him look at anything the way he looks at you. Like you’re the most important thing in the entire world.”

Luke blushed at Winston’s words, but his heart swelled tremendously. 

“He’s the most important thing in my world.” 

Luke’s tone was uneven, his eyes on the verge of shedding more tears for the selfless boy in the hospital bed. 
Winston placed a strong and comforting arm over Luke’s shoulder. 

“I’m so glad my son found you. You two are—”

He was abruptly interrupted by a flurry of activity leaving Noah’s hospital room. The head doctor approached the Snyders and Colonel Mayer, his face blank. 

“Mr. Mayer should be fine, you guys can relax. He’s still unconscious but he should wake up soon. His head was hit pretty hard by the car, but nothing indicates any brain damage. Luckily for him, his fall was cushioned by something and decreased the effects of the hit.”

Luke gasped and almost laughed out loud, despite the circumstances. 

“What is it Luke?” asked a confused Holden. 

“Nothing. It’s just, he was so damn stubborn about carrying my duffel bag for me and it practically saved his life.” Luke let a soft giggle erupt from his lips. “I guess chivalry really does have its benefits.”

“Amen,” smiled Winston while Lily and Holden shook their heads and giggled along with their son. 

“You definitely raised that boy well!” exclaimed Holden, causing Winston to fill with even more pride for Noah; something he didn’t think was possible. 

Ever-impatient Luke began badgering the doctor about visiting Noah. 

“Can I go see him? Please?”

“Fine,” replied the doctor. “I don’t think it could hurt.”
“Thank you!! Are you sure he’s going to be okay though? Like absolutely sure? Even if he isn’t awake yet?”

“Luke!” scolded Lily. “Leave the poor doctor alone and go see your boyfriend.”

Luke rolled his eyes. 

 

*


Noah wasn’t quite sure where he was. His mouth and eyes felt like they were glued shut and his whole world was completely dark. He had been somewhere else and now he was here. Something had jolted him into this place. 

He realized what that something was when a tingling warmth spread up from his right hand straight to his heart. Someone was holding his hand gently, someone who smelled like coffee and spices and something else that was completely indescribable but entirely soothing.

Luke.
Noah wanted to open his eyes and stare into those pools of melted copper and tell Luke that he was alright, he was alive, and he wasn’t going anywhere. Especially when soft sobs reached his ears and Noah realized that his Luke was crying. 

Don’t cry Luke. Please. I’m right here.

Then Luke’s beautiful honey-coated voice hit his ears and reverberated, crystal-clear, throughout his head. 

“Noah. Please wake up. The doctor said you were supposed to wake up hours ago and I still don’t see those stupid blue eyes of yours. C’mon Noah!”

Noah’s heart ached as he heard the desperate tone of Luke’s voice, the usually resilient speech dragged down by sorrow. He squeezed Noah’s hand hard, turning their joined fingers over and delicately rubbing Noah’s knuckles in a circular pattern. 

“You can’t just save my freaking life and then not let me thank you. This probably sounds really dumb, but when I saw you just lying there on the ground and I was so so so afraid, it all came crashing down. I realized how much I need you and how much you mean to me and how I couldn’t bare it if I lost you. And I don’t know if you feel remotely close to how I do, but Noah? I really hope you wake up soon. Because I need to tell you that I love you. I love you so so much and I’m so in love with you. So wake up goddamnit!”

Noah’s head hurt.

I saved his life.

He loves me. 

He’s in love with me. 

Noah fell back into the darkness, the darkness where he couldn’t feel Luke or see him or smell him. But he was abruptly shoved back into the light, a white so blinding that he had to squint his eyes. The white came into focus and he realized it was a pattern of squares, each square dotted with hundreds of tiny black dots. 

The hospital ceiling!

He was still highly disorientated, but he could hear his name being shouted excitedly and he felt warm fingers caress his face and smooth through his hair. 

Noah sat up, white patches still sliding in and out of various portions of his vision, but he was finally able to make contact with those breathtaking green-speckled brown eyes. He smiled weakly and Luke returned it with a huge, tear-stained grin that borrowed his whole entire face. Noah cleared his throat and his voice was practically a whisper, deep and hoarse like his father’s. 

“I love you too Luke.”

“What? Y-y-you heard that?” stammered the blonde boy, his voice coated with emotion. 

“I heard everything.”

“Oh Noah!” Luke carefully swept him up in his powerful arms and planted loving kisses all over Noah’s pale face. “I’m”. Kiss. “So.” Kiss. “Glad.” Kiss. “You’re.” Kiss. “Okay.” Kiss.

Noah just smiled as hard as he could and let Luke slobber all over him. 

“Me too Luke, me too. Because everything you said? Same here.”

 *

The rest of Luke’s family proceeded to shower Noah with hugs and Luke couldn’t stop staring at the huge grin that had occupied the entirety of his boyfriend’s face. Faith and Natalie couldn’t stop chattering on and Noah was all smiles at their enthusiasm. 

“Lukie, up!” Ethan tugged at his older brother’s shirt and pointed at Noah’s hospital bed.

“Okay buddy. But be gentle, okay?”

Ethan nodded vigorously and Luke lifted him up onto Noah’s sheet-covered lap. 

“Hey Ethan,” murmured Noah, his blue eyes twinkling at the little ball of energy in front of him. Ethan gazed up with wide brown eyes that were so similar to Luke’s that Noah was slightly startled. 

“Noah!” Ethan brought his hands out in front of them, a crumpled speck of white clutched tightly in his tiny fingers. “Mommy say you got boo-boo, so I made dis for you to be better.” He offered Noah the wrinkled piece of paper and smiled shyly. 

Noah unfurled the paper and smoothed it down flat with his long fingers. On his lap lay a drawing of two boys that encompassed almost the entire paper. One had huge brown eyes underneath a shock of yellow locks and a red striped shirt was scribbled across his torso. The other boy had a small crop of chaotic black hair and bright blue eyes that outshone everything else on the page. The blonde boy held a basketball with one hand and the dark-haired boy’s hand in the other. Scrawled across the top of the drawing in huge green letters were the words “LUKE + NOA” followed by a messy red heart. 

Noah’s hands clutched tightly at the drawing and looked up at Ethan with tears in his brilliant sapphire eyes.

“Thanks Ethan,” he choked out, bring a hand up to wipe his lashes free of moisture. “I love it buddy.” 

Noah shifted his eyes to Luke and Luke felt himself choke up at the look of complete adoration in his boyfriend’s face. Noah nervously smoothed out the picture once again and fiddled with the edge and Luke sent his mother a look that screamed “Get out!” 

Lily took the hint and gathered Ethan and the rest of the family. The two boys were left staring at each other with Ethan’s drawing in the middle of them. Luke stepped closer to Noah and covered the hand still clutching the drawing with his own soft palm. 

“Your family – they’re amazing.”

Luke just smiled and nodded his head. He knew his boyfriend admired his family greatly and Noah was always up for a long night of board games with his siblings. He knew Noah loved his dad, but being an only child could get rather boring after a while. Luke cherished the fact that he could give his boyfriend the family he always wanted.

“Well, you’re pretty amazing yourself, Noah. Hello? You saved my life! Again!”

Noah smiled sheepishly and ducked his head. Then his brow furrowed and his dark head snapped back up to Luke. 

“What do you mean, again?”

“Remember when you drove me home from that party? You basically saved my life. I was pretty wasted, huh? Who knows if I would’ve tried to drive home.”

Noah scoffed. 

Luke ignored him and continued. “Seriously! God, and I was such a dork. I totally grabbed your hand, didn’t I?”

“Maybe. A little bit. But hey, I wasn’t complaining!” giggled Noah, and Luke felt a soft squeeze from Noah’s strong hand that was still laced with his own. 

“Yeah and thank God for that. Jeez Noah, I had the biggest crush on you for like forever.”

“Forever?”

“Well, ever since that time sophomore year that you played with Natalie at the ice cream shop in Olde Town and you gave me this smile that practically gave me a heart attack,” admitted Luke, his eyes shyly averted from Noah’s intense blue ones. 

“Me? Really?”

“No, the other 6 foot tall gorgeous guy with amazing eyes and a killer smile.” Luke rolled his eyes. “Yes, you!” A slight blush crept onto Luke's pale features. 

Now Noah was blushing too, not one to take compliments very well. 

“Well, it took me a bit longer to um…figure it out. But now that I have, I don’t think I could bear to lose you Luke.”

“Me too,” murmured Luke. His face quickly lit up at a thought and he playfully batted his long eyelashes at Noah. “Can I kiss you?”

Noah’s “Mmm-hmm” was cut off by Luke’s lips. Luke framed Noah’s face with his hands and smoothed down the soft black hair behind Noah’s ears. The kiss was short, but put giant smiles on both boys’ faces. Luke felt his heart speed up and he pulled Noah into a tight hug. He drew his lips close to Noah’s ear and whispered. 

“You’re my hero.”

Luke felt Noah’s smile against his cheek. 

“Well then it’s a good thing the hero always gets the girl.”

“Hey!” cried Luke playfully into Noah's ear. “I’m not a girl!”

“Lucky for me,” laughed Noah and he brought his hand up behind Luke’s back to stroke the silky golden hair. Luke pulled back from the hug and planted another soft kiss on Noah’s perfect lips. 

“C’mere,” sighed Noah as he patted the drab bedding to his right. Luke smiled mischievously and hopped onto the hospital bed. He lay down close to Noah, burying his head into his boyfriend’s sheet-covered chest. Noah lifted his arm and draped it around the blonde boy, pulling him closer. 

Luke positively tingled at Noah’s gentle touch. Their matching sighs washed over them as they both quickly escaped into sleep. 

 

*

Winston Mayer stared through the shiny glass window of his son’s hospital room with a smile on his face that was solely reserved for Noah. The sight before him was heartwarming and helped ease away the tension stemming from the past 24 hours of stress. He didn’t ever want to feel so scared or so worried again.

His son was asleep, stretched out on the small hospital bed with a smaller blonde boy curled tightly into Noah. Noah’s face was peaceful, which helped to calm Winston’s nerves further. 

Inside the room, Noah’s azure eyes opened sleepily and he slowly rubbed his thick dark eyelashes to wake himself up. He looked down at the mess of blonde hair splayed out across his chest and smiled, pressing a soft kiss into the sleek strands. 

Noah withdrew his hands gingerly from around Luke, still in a tremendous amount of pain from the accident. The doctor had promised it would decrease in time and he was lucky to not have broken any bones. Noah was pretty sure lucky didn’t even begin to cover it. However, he wouldn’t have wanted anything other than Luke snuggled next to him, despite the tenderness of Noah’s injuries. Luke seemed to magically make all the pain disappear and he was a very welcome distraction. Just by lying there next to him, Luke filled Noah with so much relief and love and washed away all the anxiety that had built up ever since he saw those headlights light up his boyfriend. 

He moved one hand to the top of Luke’s warm head and carded his fingers through the golden locks that twisted through his hands like a waterfall. Noah softly brushed stray hairs from Luke’s forehead with his other hand and admired the landscape of Luke’s face. He smiled at the tiny hint of dimples that appeared on his boyfriend’s face, even in sleep. Leave it to Luke to drive him absolutely crazy without even doing anything. 

One of Luke’s hands lay still on his chest and Noah laced his other hand through Luke’s fingers. He soaked up the steady rhythm of Luke’s heart that sat under their entwined hands.

As Luke sighed angelically and buried in closer to Noah’s trembling chest, Noah noticed the steely grey eyes of his father peering down at him. His father quickly averted his eyes, but Noah caught his gaze again and beckoned him to enter the room. 

Earlier, Winston had visited, but had disappeared quickly to get to work. Noah understood though, it was typical of his father. Whenever problems arose, it was easiest for Winston to bury himself in his job until the storm calmed down. And Noah knew his father would always be there for him, in his own special way. 

Winston stealthily eased open the door and tiptoed into the room, trying his best not to wake the sleeping boy that hung onto his son’s frame for dear life. 

“Hey Dad,” croaked Noah sleepily.

Winston silently dragged the padded black chair out of the corner of the hospital room and placed it next to Noah’s bed. 

“Hello Noah. How are you feeling?”

Noah managed a feeble smile and Winston caught the almost imperceptible glance down at Luke that seemed to strengthen Noah’s smile. 

“Much better. I’ve got a bit of a headache and I’m still a little sore though.”

“Probably doesn’t help matters that the bed doesn’t exactly fit two teenage boys.” Winston laughed quietly, his grey eyes sparkling with humor. 

Noah shrugged and unconsciously tightened his grip on Luke. “He’s not going anywhere.”

“I know that son. And I’m so damn proud of you for that. You saved his life and were so brave. Not many people would sacrifice themselves like that.” Winston gently patted Noah’s shoulder.

“Dad?” Noah glanced down to confirm that Luke was still sleeping soundly before continuing. “It’s really scary, but I think I’d do anything for him.” Noah’s throat tightened at the words and he felt waves of fear crash over him. 

Winston nodded, remembering those same feelings knock him over the first time he held Noah in his arms all those years ago. He remembered how angry he was at the doctors that couldn’t save his beloved Charlene’s life and how he vowed to give that newborn the best life possible in honor of his late wife. 

“It’s okay to be scared Noah. When we lov– care about someone very much, it hurts to think about losing them. So don’t think about it. Think about all the wonderful things you have in the present, starting with that boy who can’t take his eyes off you.”

Noah smiled weakly and casually ruffled Luke’s blonde waves. 

“God Noah, have I told you how proud I am of you?” 

Noah felt his heart swell at his father’s words. Winston was never one for compliments or feelings, but he had come in here and told Noah he was proud of him – twice. 

“Yeah Dad,” whispered Noah, tears beginning to form in the corners of his eyes. 

“You’re becoming such a fine young man Noah. You’re in a healthy, stable relationship, and I couldn’t have picked anyone better myself. You work so hard at school, you’re so dedicated, and your way more mature than I was at your age. You’re growing up right before my eyes.”

“Thanks Dad,” choked out Noah, the tears officially welled in his eyes and threatening to spill out. “I love you.”

“I love you too Noah. Now, when did they say you could get out of here?”

 

*

 

Noah was thoroughly convinced that every part of Illinois besides Oakdale looked exactly the same. He came to this conclusion on another long car ride with Holden on the way to one of Luke’s basketball games. 

As the season progressed, Luke seemed to have more and more basketball games in far away Illinois towns. Noah had promised Luke his attendance at as many games as possible and Holden was more than willing to drive them both to watch Luke play. 

Luke was spread out on a patch of bright green grass in Noah’s small backyard. It was a strangely warm day for winter in Oakdale and the boys had decided to take full advantage of it.

Noah loved how the blinding sun illuminated Luke’s golden hair and he tried his best not to stare at it. He approached his relaxing boyfriend with a bag of potato chips and carefully sidled up next to Luke. Noah was still sore from the accident and Luke glared at him when Noah tried to hide a small cry of pain. 

“Do you need any ice?”

“No.” Noah glared right back at him. “Chips?” He rustled the brown bag in front of Luke’s nose and caused a few pieces to tumble out. 

“Slob,” teased Luke, grabbing the chips from Noah. He snatched a handful and tossed the bag back towards Noah. 

They sat in comfortable silence, munching on the salty chips and soaking in the radiant sunlight. 

Luke broke the silence in an uncharacteristically timid voice. His hands ran through the soft grass nervously.

“Hey Noah? Are you um, coming to my basketball game on Tuesday?”

The tentativeness in Luke’s voice suddenly made sense. Noah knew Luke was afraid he would say no because of the rather unfortunate events that had followed the last game. Noah immediately wanted to push away all of Luke’s fears. He never wanted Luke’s usually confident voice to sound like that. 

Doesn’t he know I’d do anything for him?

Noah responded with a huge smile. “Of course Luke! I’ll be there. Rain or shine.”

“It’s inside, dork.”

Noah rolled his eyes and Luke continued talking.

“But seriously Noah, thanks. It means a lot to have you there. It’s so nice to know that someone is watching and hoping I do well.”

“Like I could actually not watch you,” muttered Noah. “Especially in that goddamn uniform.”

Luke blushed and his cheeks got even redder as he continued. 

“I think you’re my lucky charm.”

“Are you sure? Because last time, I’m pretty sure you almost got run over.”

“But we won the game!” shouted Luke triumphantly, grinning at his boyfriend. 

Noah grumbled softly and accepted defeat. He looked over at Luke, who was finishing the last of the chips. When he had consumed all of them, Luke began to lick the salty remains off his fingers. 

A groan escaped Noah’s mouth at the sight. Luke stared at him with wide, innocent eyes that made Noah weak in the knees. 

“Luuke, stop,” whined Noah. He inched closer on the grass and gazed at the mischievous grin plastered on Luke’s face. 

“Make me,” was the reply, accompanied with glinting chocolate eyes. 

Noah practically growled and pushed Luke over, capturing his lips in a searing kiss. Luke’s perfectly shaped lips tasted like salt, but Noah decided they were much more enjoyable than the chips themselves. He maneuvered himself above Luke’s body, trying his best not to jolt any sensitive muscles. 

Both boys gasped desperately for air when they drew away. Noah gingerly touched his forehead to Luke’s and moved it side to side, keeping eye contact with those big brown eyes the whole time. He knew it drove Luke crazy when he did that. 

Luke sighed contentedly, but Noah was far from over. He moved his lips to Luke’s neck and pressed kisses all around it. Luke squirmed underneath him, but Noah had both hands pinned on either side of his body. 

The most amazing sounds left Luke’s throat and Noah kissed his way slowly from Luke’s neck, across his jaw line, and towards his right ear. He licked behind Luke’s ear and relished the soft sigh it created. 

Noah paused next to his ear and whispered breathlessly. 

“Do you even know what you do to me?”

Luke had a pretty good idea. 

Holden’s deep voice shook Noah out of the enjoyable memory and back into the steady rhythm of the Snyder family sedan.

“We should be there in about 15 minutes.”

“Great,” murmured Noah, his eyes fixated on the endless cycle of wide open fields and lazy black and white cows. 
Noah secretly loved these car rides with Holden. 

Like Noah, Luke’s father was quiet and reserved, but not in an uncomfortable way. Holden gave off this warm air of love that Noah wanted to be close to. They had pleasant discussions about Luke’s team or movies or the upcoming midterm elections. Holden also talked about running the farm and the horses, a novelty Noah loved hearing about. He had grown up in numerous urban neighborhoods until moving to Oakdale and the farm was a fascinating concept.

As the car steadily rumbled closer and closer to their destination, Noah couldn’t help but picture Luke in his head, nervously warming up for the upcoming game. 

Who am I kidding? It’s not like Luke ever leaves my head. 

Noah chuckled quietly to himself. 

 

*

“Wonderful job out there son.” Holden clapped Luke on the back and shot him a classic Holden Snyder smile. 

“Thanks Dad!” chirped Luke. He received an even more dazzling smile from his boyfriend, who had Luke’s gym bag slung over one shoulder after once again insisting on carrying it. Noah slipped his hand into Luke’s as they left the gymnasium. 

They passed the home team’s locker room on their way towards the exit. A majority of the other team had gathered outside the entrance in a large group. 

They all stopped talking to glare at Oakdale’s star player, but a few snickered when they noticed Luke and Noah’s joined hands. Luke caught them staring and his chest tightened. The content of their hushed whispers was obvious, and for a few seconds, Luke no longer felt like the accomplished basketball player that had outplayed every single boy in that huddle. All his instincts were screaming at him to drop Noah’s hand, but his boyfriend caught him completely by surprise. 

Noah was glaring right back at the boys, his blue eyes filled with a fire that Luke had never seen reflected in his usually gentle boyfriend’s face. Noah pressed a soft kiss into Luke’s cheek and rumbled in a deliberately loud voice. 

“Congrats on your win tonight, baby.” 

Luke lit up from his head to his toes and subtly glanced at the other boys’ reactions. They had gone deadly silent, glancing worriedly up at the tall and muscular frame that was Noah Mayer. Luke was pretty sure Noah’s ice cold stare could kill and he shot a smug look in the direction of the other team. 

He called me baby. 

The thought alone made Luke melt all over again. As they stumbled out into the cool night air, Luke and Noah dissolved into giggles. Even Holden couldn’t contain his smile. 

He called me baby.

When they reached Holden’s car, Noah slid into the backseat and Luke climbed into the passenger seat. Luke wasn’t sure how Holden would feel about chauffeuring them around, so he opted for shotgun. 

“Luuuuuke,” whined Noah from the backseat. 

Holden turned towards his son and raised his eyebrows, pointing his thumb towards the backseat.

“I guess you’re riding back there buddy.”

Luke grinned and scrambled into the backseat. He buckled himself into the middle, sliding close to Noah’s body without actually touching it. Noah quickly fixed that, however, by sliding an arm behind Luke’s back and pulling him tight to Noah’s chest. 

“Hey!” protested Luke, but Noah was too strong for him.

“Hey yourself,” Noah whispered back, pressing a kiss onto Luke’s head. “Thought you were going to get away with not snuggling?” 

Luke shook his head and tucked himself as far into Noah’s body as his seatbelt would allow. 

“No. I just wanted to make you work for it.”

“You drive me crazy.”

“Same here,” muttered Luke. He felt Noah grasp the bottom of his t-shirt and he leaned into the touch. Noah must have been exhausted, because he fell asleep within minutes. Luke untangled himself from Noah so he could lean on his boyfriend’s warm shoulder. He tentatively placed one hand over Noah’s steady heart and felt himself breath in time with the constant rhythm. It took a while longer, but Luke too fell into the abyss of sleep. 

He called me baby.

 

*

 

“You new here or something?” 

A high-pitched bossy voice broke Jason’s concentration as he surveyed Oakdale High School’s surprisingly large campus. It was nothing compared to his old school, but certainly not what he had expected from a small mid-west town that barely even had a pizza place. 

Jason was not happy with his parent’s decision to pack up everything to entertain some small town U.S.A. fantasy they had sprung on him right during Winter break. He didn’t understand why is parents thought a change of scenery would be healthy. 

Had they ever been to high school?

“Yeah, just moved here from Chicago,” he replied, turning to face a pair of questioning green eyes. 

The girl’s dark eyebrows were raised and she had one slender arm planted on her denim-clad hip. She had serious features, but a welcoming face. 

She stuck out a delicate hand, proceeding to rattle a mass of sparkling blue bangles that clacked together. Jason grasped it firmly and shook. 

“Julie.”

“I’m Jason.”

“Nice to meet you,” she chirped. “If you need any help finding classes or whatever, I’d be happy to lend hand.”

“Thanks,” replied Jason curtly. “But I think I can figure it out. My last school was in the city and it was much larger than this small town hell-hole.”

Julie nodded slowly and Jason missed her rolled eyes as she turned away from him. He continued to survey the long hallway. Morning classes had yet to commence and the halls were filled with loud teenagers, complaining about whatever trivial thing happened to be bothering them that morning. 

His eyes locked on two boys, chatting in front of an English classroom and laughing hysterically. The taller, gangly one was covered in light brown freckles and sported a mess of curly red hair that dusted his dark blue hoodie. Jason was much more focused on the boy next to him. He had a perfect set of gleaming white teeth that appeared when red-haired boy said something funny. His hair was practically golden and a tight teal t-shirt revealed a muscled upper body. 

Must be a swimmer or basketball player or something.

Jason licked his lips and continued staring. 

That guy is seriously hot. Maybe Oakdale isn’t that bad after all. 

He turned back towards the girl and tapped on her shoulder, interrupting her conversation with another brown-haired female. 

“Hey Judy. Who’s that?” Jason pointed in the direction of the gorgeous blonde and his friend. 

“It’s Julie.” She glared at him, her voice sharp. “And those two boys are my best friends. The red-haired one is Austin and the blonde is Luke. Why?”

“No reason.” Jason smirked. He sauntered down the noisy hallway and found his locker, number 1522, and yanked it open. He periodically snuck glances and the mouth-watering blonde and was overjoyed that his closer position allowed him to notice the lovely brown color of Luke’s eyes.

Suddenly, Jason’s world was flipped completely upside down. He watched as an attractive, blue-eyed giant grabbed Luke by his waist and pulled him into a long hug. He grimaced as the boy placed a quick kiss on the blonde’s temple and ran a tan hand through the golden locks. 

Damnit. This is going to be a lot harder than I thought.

Jason slammed his locker shut and rushed into the nearby bathroom. He approached the mirror and ran a hand through his light brown tresses. He turned on the faded white sink and let the cold water cascade over his fingers. Jason smoothed down any unruly hairs with his wet hands and straightened out his black sweater. He smiled at his reflection and popped a piece of mint gum into his mouth. Satisfied with his appearance, Jason left the dingy bathroom on a mission. 

 

*

Noah was not amused by that new kid, Jason. He hated how he stared at Luke like he was a piece of chocolate cake and he resented the fact that Mr. Mills had assigned Jason to the empty seat next to Luke during history. 

He cringed at Luke’s laughter, something he wouldn’t normally do, but seemed necessary considering the circumstances. They were supposed to be quietly discussing the causes of the Chinese Civil War. Noah was pretty sure Jason and Luke were not talking about 20th Century China.

Julie had already warned him that Jason was no good. She filled him in on his rather rude interaction earlier that morning and his obvious fascination with Luke. According to her, that kid couldn’t take his eyes off Noah’s boyfriend. He knew, somewhere in his mind, that Luke wasn’t going to just replace him like that. But on the surface, the fears were very much at the forefront of his thoughts. Especially when he watched Luke shoot Jason one of those heart-numbing smiles. 

He’s just being friendly!

Noah had never cared about anyone outside his family this much, but he’d also never experienced such an onslaught of jealousy. He wanted to be the one making Luke crack up like that. He wanted to cause that adorable twinkle in Luke’s eyes.

It’s not like he didn’t want Luke to have other friends. That was fine. Luke loved making new friends and Noah was pretty sure Luke didn’t have an unfriendly bone in his body. It was just the fact that this new kid was practically drooling over his boyfriend. 

Noah boiled with anger as Jason said something hilarious and placed a paw on Luke’s shoulder. He watched them with blue flames in his eyes.

Oh, hell no. 

Abruptly, Luke turned in his plastic brown chair and caught Noah’s gaze. Noah could feel the fiery look in his eyes quickly soften into complete adoration. Luke sent him a quick smile and revealed his irresistible dimples. Noah couldn’t think, let alone breathe, when Luke looked at him like that. Luke’s smiles were the best present in the world, all wrapped up with cheek dimples and crinkled eyes and a whole face of happiness. 

He grinned back at the blonde, purposely widening his smile to reveal his bright white canines that he knew drove Luke crazy. 

Take that, Jason. 

He hoped Luke wouldn’t look beyond the superficial smile and detect his true emotions. Unfortunately, Luke was getting rather good at that, something that half-delighted and half-scared Noah. 

Noah was relieved when the bell rang and he meticulously packed his backpack, watching Luke and Jason in the corner of his eye. When he finished shoving his folder in the folder compartment and his pencils in his pencil pouch, Noah bounded out the door after them. He perked up his ears at the sound of Luke's voice.

“So what was Chicago like?”

“Oh, you know. Typical big city. Got pretty boring after a while. Though, I’m already bored with this stupid little town. It’s just a bunch of good-for-nothing farmers. I don’t know how you guys stand it.”

Ha. Wrong thing to say buddy. 

Noah watched something – anger maybe? – flash behind Luke’s hazel eyes. Luke adored Oakdale with all his heart and Noah was pretty sure he wouldn’t take kindly to Jason dissing his father’s profession.

Noah approached them from behind and surprised Luke by wrapping his long arm around his teal-covered shoulders and pulling him close. He leaned his lips towards Luke’s ear, tickling it with his warm breath.

“Hey babe.”

Luke shivered and turned upwards towards Noah’s lips. 

“Hi,” he murmured, before quickly remembering the third presence. 

“Oh, sorry Jason! This is my boyfriend Noah. Noah, this is Jason. He just moved here from Chicago.”

Noah drew away from Luke to address the other boy. 

“Welcome to Oakdale.” Noah smiled at him, but only with his mouth. His eyes shone with an icy blue stare.

“Thanks!” replied Jason with a fake sweetness. However, his eyes didn’t quite meet Noah’s since they were heavily fixated on a completely oblivious Luke. 

Anger shot through Noah once again and he very obviously slipped a hand into Luke’s back pocket. He relished the way Jason’s eyes narrowed at the gesture. 

The warning bell interrupted their exchange and Noah breathed his second bell-elicited sigh of relief that afternoon. 

“Oh, there’s the bell! I better get going. Don’t want to be late for a class on my first day.”

Luke waved goodbye sweetly and Noah proceeded to pull his body closer as they strolled off in the direction of the science hallway. 

Mine.

 

*

The neat stacks of precisely placed books surrounded Noah. He ran his fingers through the shelves, perfecting any haphazard placements or inaccurate shelving. The small bookstore smelled like new pages, that rich smell of a fresh book, pages still pressed tightly together. 

Noah took the job at the Oakdale Book Corner shortly before he started dating Luke. He meant to tell him, he really did. It just never came up and Luke had never asked why Noah could never hang out on Thursday nights. It was just simpler this way. 

The mattress bounced comically as Luke plopped onto his light blue sheets. He sprawled out parallel on the bed, his head on the wrong side and his feet barely touching the mess of pillows. Luke kicked off his brown Converse with two swift movements and nervously smoothed out the wrinkled fabric in front of his face.

Noah followed him into the bedroom, making sure the door was left wide open, lest Lily or Holden walk by. Noah always followed the rules. 

He watched as Luke tucked his hands underneath that porcelain chin and slanted his hazel orbs down towards the floor, his mouth pulled tight in a miserable downwards arch. Noah felt his heart crack wide open at Luke’s forlorn features and vowed to make him smile. 

Long legs folded into a crisscross on the carpet as Noah sat on the floor closest to Luke’s head, forcing those expressive brown eyes to connect with his. His long, slender fingers encircled Luke’s chin and Noah nudged closer so he could gently nuzzle Luke’s nose with his own. 
Disheartened by Luke’s lack of reaction, Noah drew back, settling back down onto the soft floor. 

“Luke?”

“Mmm?” was the quiet response from the bed above.
“What’s wrong?”

A sharp intake of breath, followed by a dull, “Nothing.”

“Luke.” Noah gazed up intently, capturing Luke’s chin once again. “You can tell me anything.”

“Not important.” The pretty brown eyes darted in another direction, avoiding the caring blue ones. 

“Seems pretty important. I don’t know where my bubbly Luke is.”

“M’not bubbly.”

Noah laughed quietly and brought his hand up to ruffle Luke’s hair. “Yeah right. Says the boy who got excited about getting Oreos for dessert at lunch today.”
Luke’s mouth almost quirked up into a smile.

So close.

His face turned serious again and Luke finally looked down at Noah with the full intensity of a Luke Snyder stare.

“I got into a fight with Faith.”

“Oh.” Noah felt himself blinking rapidly, surprised by Luke’s answer. Luke and Faith never fought. They were best friends, a sister-brother team of mischief, always laughing and giggling in a way that permanently warmed Noah’s heart. 

Luke’s voice was practically a whisper.

“It was stupid. I can’t even remember what it was about. But suddenly we were both yelling so loud, and she was being so stubborn–”

Noah coughed abruptly. 

“Okay, maybe I was being stubborn too. But she told me she hated me and I don’t know how to fix it.”

Luke sounded so lost and heartbroken that Noah couldn’t help but spring off the floor, pull Luke off his perch on the bed, and gather the blonde in his arms. 

“Hey,” said Noah softly, caressing Luke’s cheek slowly. “She doesn’t really hate you. You and Faith are so similar. You guys are stubborn and loud and emotional and you care so damn much. Trust me, she wants to patch things up as much as you do, Luke.”

Still tangled in Noah’s arms, Luke nodded against his chest. 

“How do you say these things with such exceptional certainty?”

Noah just laughed and held Luke closer. He ran his fingers through the silky blonde strands that tickled his chin. Noah could feel Luke’s smile.

Success.

“No more secrets?” he whispered into Luke’s ear.

“No more secrets,” replied Luke as he found Noah’s hand and locked their fingers together. 

But now Noah felt like a lying hypocrite. It was really lying exactly. But it was keeping something important about his life away from Luke. Just as Noah promised to tell his boyfriend tonight, the cheerful bell above the door came to life. 

“Well. Well. Well. What do we have here?” 

Noah’s fists clenched automatically at the voice that had been tormenting him for weeks. 

“What do you want Jason?”

“Jeez Mayer, I thought you were friendlier than this.”

Noah crossed his long arms and stared menacingly at the other boy. Jason grinned back like a cat, flashing his white, normal-sized teeth wickedly. His light brown hair was impeccable, his clothing perfect, and his nose was definitely not too large for his face.

Stop it Noah.

Noah couldn’t help it. He hated his own vampire teeth, his unruly dark hair, his too-big nose, and his awkward and gangly limbs. Jason made him feel self-conscious and unworthy of Luke’s affection. And also unreasonably jealous. 

Stop. Luke is yours! And he told you he loves you no matter what. He doesn’t care about any of that stuff. 

For someone who was awfully talented at following directions, Noah had a surprisingly hard time listening to himself. 

“I am. To most people. Some don’t deserve it.”

Jason chuckled severely. “Does your boyfriend know you have a job?” he sneered, sending lightning bolts of anger through Noah’s head. 

“He will tonight.”

“I wouldn’t tell him if I were you. How do you think the Prince of Oakdale is going to react when he finds out his boyfriend slaves over books every week?”

“Luke won’t care.” Noah’s words dripped with contempt. 

“Oh yeah? I doubt Mr. Moneybags will have to work a day in his life. His parents own half of this stupid town. If he knew the truth, I don’t think he’d even want to associate with anyone as poor as you. You might take advantage.”

“I. Am. Not. Taking. Advantage.” Jason’s words sliced at Noah’s heart.

“Face it Noah. He doesn’t want some poor nobody that’s just going to break his fragile heart. You’re not wealthy enough for him. You’re not handsome enough for him. You’re not good enough for him.”

And with that, Jason turned and stalked out of the bookstore, the invisible bruises of his harsh words still reflected in Noah’s wide eyes. 

Noah couldn’t breathe. All of his worst fears had just been articulated into words and now his world was collapsing. 

You’re not good enough for him.

No more secrets.

You’re not good enough for him. 

 

*


Luke really wanted to know where Noah went on Thursday nights. It was driving him insane. He’d never though much of it until Jason brought it up randomly the other day. And Luke’s curiosity was known to get the best of him.

He grabbed his cell phone and punched in the familiar number, already buzzing with excitement to hear his boyfriend’s voice. It never ceased to amaze him how happy Noah made him in the smallest possible ways. 

“Luke?” the voice rang out in his ear. Luke was startled. Noah sounded wrong. 

“Noah? Is everything okay?”

“Yeah-h-h, of course! It’s just late, ya know?”

“Sorry,” breathed Luke, deciding not to mention that it really wasn’t that late at all. 

“Don’t apologize, pleas–” Luke cut him off, unable to hold his question in any longer. 

“Where do you go on Thursday nights?”

Noah inhaled sharply and Luke could picture his gulp and his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down frantically. 

“W-what?”

“Please just tell me Noah,” replied Luke firmly.

Noah paused for an eternity before answering. 

“It’s nothing. My dad and I, um, just always have dinner on Thursdays.”

Luke breathed out a sigh of relief. “See? That wasn’t so bad! Thanks for telling me. No secrets, remember?”

“Yeah,” said Noah shakily. “No secrets.”

Luke smiled into the phone at the deep and soothing voice.

“Luuuuuuuuuuuke!” came a screeching voice from downstairs, and Luke winced. 

“Sorry Noah. Nat’s forcing me to do her bidding. Like usual.”

This elicited a small laugh from Noah and Luke glowed from head to toe at the sound. 

“See you tomorrow Luke. I love you.”

“Love you too.”

Luke hung up the phone and sighed. That was the strangest conversation he’d ever had with Noah. Trying to figure out that boy was going to drive him absolutely crazy, if it hadn’t already. 

After Luke successfully assisted Natalie with her math homework, he raced upstairs to answer his insistently ringing phone. 

“Hello?”

“It’s me, Jason.”

“Oh! Hey Jason. What’s up?”

“Not much. Just finishing up some history homework. You do that yet?”

“Yeah, I did. Noah helped me the other day.” 

Luke giggled at the memory. They had spent a bit more time studying each other than the actual material in the quiet corner of the school library. 

“Speaking of Noah, did you end up asking him what he does on Thursdays?”

“Oh, yeah!” Luke brightened. “He and the Colonel have special dinners those nights. Typical Noah. I think it’s great how much he admires his father,” he babbled. 

“That’s funny,” replied Jason slowly. “Because that’s definitely not what he does on Thursday.”

Luke’s heart stopped.

“Excuse me?”

“It’s just, tonight, I went to buy one of those books you recommended at the Oakdale Book Corner, right? And guess who I found working there?”

“Noah?” breathed Luke, trying to stop the trembling in his fingers. 

“Yup. It looks like your boyfriend has a secret job. I just wanted to let you know because friends don’t really lie to each other. But maybe boyfriends are allowed to?”

Luke clenched his fists, not quite trusting his voice at the moment.

“Anyways, I’ll see you tomorrow. Bye Luke!” chirped Jason and he hung up the phone.

Luke stared down at the cell phone in his shaking hands, knitting his light eyebrows together. A thousand emotions battled in his head as Luke sunk into his soft comforter and closed his eyes. 

 

*

A horrible headache plagued Noah when his alarm broke through his restless sleep. It was still dark outside and Noah dragged himself out of his soft and comfortable bed. For about two seconds, he was excited that it was Friday, before he realized that Luke was supposed to leave for an all-day basketball tournament this morning. 

Luke.

And everything came flooding back to him in an instant. He had lied to Luke. Luke, the boy he wanted to tell everything. The boy who made him never want to stop talking, even if it completely went against his own nature. The boy he had promised to never hold anything from. Noah’s head pounded even harder as he realized the magnitude of his actions. 

Noah’s stomach flipped uneasily as he recounted that strange encounter in the bookstore last night. Jason had discovered Noah’s secret. And he voiced doubts that frequently surfaced in Noah’s head every time he looked at Luke’s beautiful face. 

He dressed quickly, not really caring about his clothes. Noah was out of it the whole way to school, glad his father had left early for work, ensuring that Noah avoided his inevitable prying questions. 
Luke was absent throughout the day, much to Noah’s relief. He couldn’t handle facing his boyfriend right now. He breezed through his classes, half paying attention and half focusing on the blonde face in his mind that filled him with guilt. 

Back at home, Noah leaped face-first into his mattress, covering his pounding head with a pillow. He tried to focus on anything but the immense pain in his skull, but thinking about Luke wasn’t much help either. Usually, thoughts of his boyfriend calmed him down, but not today. 

His cell phone buzzed on the night stand above his burrowed head and Noah groaned loudly. He withdrew one long arm from underneath the pillow to grab the phone and sat up to read the new message. 

Luke: Can you come over?

Noah groaned again and turned around in his bed. He slipped a finger through the window blinds. His sedan was alone in the driveway, bathed in the slowly disappearing evening light. 

Noah: Be right there.

Slipping on his warm green jacket, Noah booked it out of the house and into his car. During the whole drive to Luke’s house, Noah’s heart thumped loudly. He wasn’t quite sure why he decided to make the journey over. It felt like he was marching towards his execution.

Does Luke know? How can I lie to him again? Should I just tell the truth? What if he hates me?

The last question made Noah’s throat tight and his stomach queasy. He couldn’t imagine losing Luke. 
Noah moved with deliberation, carefully pulling the key out of the ignition after parking in the Snyder’s driveway. The chilly air wafted into the car as he pushed the door open and Noah hugged his arms close to his broad chest, trapping the quickly fading warmth from his car inside his jacket. 

The front porch was flooded with light from the overhead lamps and Noah blinked rapidly to adjust to the fierce brightness. He knocked on the familiar door and waited, fear pushing his unsteady heart towards his feet. 

Holden answered the door with a furrowed brow. He pointed his thumb backwards towards the stairs behind him.

“He’s upstairs. Hasn’t come down since we got home after the tournament. Not quite sure why. Maybe you can help?”

Damn it. 

“Hopefully, sir. Thank you.”

Noah stepped nervously into the threshold and climbed the stairs cautiously. He gripped the banister tightly as he went. He approached Luke’s room, his door adorned with a large, wooden L in the center. Noah took a deep breath, his heart pounding in his ears, and pushed the door open gently.

He stuck his head inside the room. 

“Luke?”

He heard a sigh from the messy blonde form, sitting facedown at the desk. Noah’s heart broke when Luke lifted his head from the desk and turned towards him. His usually warm eyes were severe and empty, the green completely gone from the pupils. 

Noah almost stopped breathing when Luke responded in a completely shattered voice. 

“You lied to me.”

“Luke. Omigod, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Noah moved farther into the room, cowering under the gaze of Luke’s frozen brown eyes. 

“I asked you what you did, and you lied to me.”

“I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have lied. I regretted it the second I said it.”

Luke breathed out loudly. 

“Why?”

Noah choked, not quite sure how to answer Luke. 

“I was, um, scared, I guess.”

“Scared?” Luke looked incredulous and his eyes widened.

“I was afraid of what you would think. You don’t need a job, with your family. Which is fine! But my father doesn’t make that much and we were falling behind on mortgage payments. So, I got a job at the bookstore. And I was going to tell you, I really was. But I was so scared that you wouldn’t want me if you knew how poor my dad and I really were. I shouldn’t have lied though, and there’s no excuse for what I did. God, I’m so sorry Luke.”

Luke looked up at him with an expression of surprise, laced with immense hurt that shook. Noah could feel his heart actually hurt. 

“What made you think I wouldn’t love you no matter what? Am I really that much of a spoiled brat? Did I do something?”

“Oh Luke, no! You didn’t do anything. It’s not your fault.”

I can’t let him blame himself. 

“Why would you think that then?”

“It’s nothing. It was just something Jaso– nevermind.” Noah cut himself off, quickly averting his eyes from Luke’s questioning glare. 

However, in typical Luke fashion, he wasn’t going to just ignore that. 

“Noah. What did Jason say?”

“Nothing,” mumbled Noah, turning to the open door. “I should go.”

Luke jumped up from the desk in one movement and elicited a small gasp from Noah when he grabbed his shoulder. Luke turned him around and molded his fingers around Noah’s chin, pulling his face in closer to Luke’s.

“What did he say?”

Noah felt his chin tingle at Luke’s touch and breathed in his boyfriend’s powerful scent. 

“He said I was taking advantage of you and your money. He said I wasn’t good enough for you.” 

“Why did you listen to him Noah?” Luke’s words stung, filling him with even more guilt. 

“I don’t know, okay! Because I’m insecure. Because maybe I don’t think I’m good enough for you. Because I don’t know how I got so lucky.” 

The last part was practically a whisper and Noah could feel the beginning of tears forming in the corners of his eyes. 

Luke pulled his hand away from Noah’s chin and wrapped both arms around him. Noah squeezed his eyes shut and leaned into Luke’s warm body. 

Noah’s ear was tickled by a combination of Luke’s soft hair and his breath.

“You are good enough Noah. You are worth it. And I love you no matter what, okay? Just please, please don’t lie to me again.”

“I promise Luke. I’m sorry.”

“Shh, baby, shh. We’ll figure this out.”

 

*

Faith clenched her small fists and turned away from the slightly open doorway of Luke’s bedroom. She smiled slightly at the sight of her brother and his tall boyfriend locked in a tight embrace. However, this did little to quell the storm of rage inside her brain at Luke’s new “friend.”

She breathed out a sigh of relief that had been trapped inside since she peeked into her brother’s room an hour ago. Luke had seemed so small, like a little boy, crumpled up against his desk. Faith hated seeing her brother as anything less than the enthusiastic and cheerful boy that he usually was. Noah had chased this part of Luke away, but something had initiated its comeback. 

So naturally, Faith was going to find out what. Especially when she had caught of glimpse of Noah’s equally downtrodden expression as he nudged open Luke’s door.

Faith knew she really shouldn’t eavesdrop on her brother and Noah. Nevertheless, her curiosity got the best of her and she crept outside Luke’s room. 

She had never liked that Jason kid. He was always laughing way too loudly and trying to touch Luke as much as possible. Faith hated the way he looked at Luke like dessert, and nothing at all like the complete look of adoration that always adorned Noah’s face when he was staring at her brother. 

And now her suspicious had been confirmed. Jason was a devious, scheming, good-for-nothing guy. She was appalled at the awful things he had said to Noah. No one deserved to hear those things, especially one of the sweetest boy’s she had ever met. 

Faith stormed downstairs, skipping every other step as usual. She smiled when she heard her two favorite teenage boys making their way downstairs as well. Faith bounded into the kitchen and slyly turned to watch Luke and Noah settle down onto the living room couch in front of the television. 
As she was preparing a slice of Grandma Emma’s famous homemade apple pie for dessert, the doorbell rang for the second time that night. Her mom and dad were nowhere to be seen and the two boys on the couch were too engrossed in each other to be bothered. 

The boy standing outside the door made her blood boil and she clenched her fists once again. 

“What are you doing here?” snapped Faith, her dark brown eyes narrowed. 

“Don’t talk to me like that, you little brat,” shoot back Jason. “Is your brother here?”

Faith brushed off his insult, intent on focusing on the larger issue. 

“Yes. He’s back there. With his boyfriend.” She emphasized the last word as she hooked her thumb behind her to direct Jason’s eyes at the couch in the living room.

Jason’s eyes widened as he took in the scene before him. Noah was curled up on the cough, his long legs tucked underneath him. He was tucked in against Luke’s chest, practically on his lap. Luke was stretched out, his feet resting on the coffee table in front of him and sat wedged between Noah and the arm of the couch. His fingers were tangled in Noah’s unruly dark curls, twisting and untwisting one specific piece of hair. 

Both boys were trained on the television screen in front of them, their intense expressions signifying their engagement in whatever was playing. Faith sighed at the picture and for a moment, she wished she had a camera to capture the moment. 

Jason’s hmph brought her back down to earth and she resumed her glare at the cinnamon-haired visitor. 

“And even if Noah wasn’t here, I still wouldn’t let you in.”

Jason raised an eyebrow and glared right back at her. 

“Because I know what you said to Noah. And I know that you told Luke about the job. So you can cut the innocent act.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” purred Jason. “I wouldn’t do anything to hurt Luke.”

“Yeah freaking right. You already did! You told Noah a bunch of vicious lies. You told Noah he wasn’t worth it, wasn’t worth Luke! You used both Noah and Luke’s families against him. I don’t know what your problem is, but you need to stay out of my brother’s relationship.”

Faith’s anger was reflected back at her in Jason’s eyes.

“Don’t tell me what to do, little girl.”

She moved closer to Jason, accentuating her words with slight jabs at his chest. 

“Oh, but I think I will. I don’t care what happens at school, but don’t you dare come back here. You don’t deserve Luke’s friendship. He doesn’t need to be jerked around by some manipulative villain that doesn’t care about the one person Luke loves more than anyone else.”

Faith’s hands were shaking by now, but they were steadied by a pair of strong arms that wrapped around her from behind. She tilted her head up to take in the steely-eyes of her older brother that were pointed towards the boy in the doorway. 

Luke and Noah had heard Faith’s shouting over the din of the television and jumped up to find the source of the commotion. Luke pulled his sister closer and kept his voice steady.

“Jason. I think you should go.”

Noah positioned himself behind Luke, placing one hand on his boyfriend’s shoulder, reminding him that he was there, grounding him. 

“Whatever man. You aren’t worth all this trouble, Snyder.” 

Jason turned and stormed out of the doorway, slamming the screen behind him. 

Noah drew closer to Luke and bent down to latch his chin over the blonde’s shoulder to talk softly in his ear.

“Just for the record, you’re worth all the trouble to me.”

Luke smiled up at him and untangled himself from Faith, spinning her around and held her at arm’s length.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you that fired up about something,” he smirked. 

“No one messes with my brother and his boyfriend and gets away with it.”

 *

Lines of sunlight covered Luke’s room as they flooded through his shades and reflected on the opposing wall. He sat up slightly and grabbed the phone sitting next to him on the bedside table and groaned when the time flashed on the screen. 

It was only 7 o’clock in the morning, but Luke knew he wouldn’t get anymore sleep. He always had a difficult time sleeping, but it was magnified on this particular morning as birthday excitement pumped through his veins.

Birthdays always got Luke jazzed up, but especially when it was his own. He loved the endless phone calls from faraway relatives, the closeness of his nearby family, the food, the presents, and more recently, Ethan’s unbridled excitement whenever a birthday rolled around. 

Luke sat up straighter and stretched, still feeling the soreness from a particularly rough basketball practice. He hopped out of bed and slowly completed is normal morning routine. He changed into his favorite blue and grey striped shirt and a pair of black jeans that sat low on his hips. 

He barely made it down the stairs before his leg was attacked by a blur of brown hair and tiny fingers and trouble. 

“Good morning Ethan!” chuckled Luke, as he pried his little brother off his leg. 

“Happy birfda Lukie!” cried Ethan, clapping his hands together gleefully. He stopped to tug on Luke’s pant leg and ushered him into the kitchen. 

“Thanks buddy!”

Luke joined the rest of his early-rising family at the dining room table and smiled warmly at their wishes of “Happy Birthday”. 

He devoured the homemade French toast and helped Natalie wipe the sticky syrup off her chin. 

“Have you ever eaten an entire meal without getting food on your face, Nat?”

Natalie pouted at Luke, and playfully swatted his fingers.

“You’re hilarious.”

“I know, I know.” Luke stood up from his chair and took a deep bow, which earned giggles from all three of his younger siblings. Another round of giggles commenced when Luke was startled by his buzzing phone and nearly jumped two feet in the air. 

“Shut up,” he grumbled, and fished the phone out of his pocket.

Noah: Come outside.

Faith leaned in close to Natalie and lowered her voice.

“I’ll bet that text is from Noah.”

Natalie’s eyes widened and she turned towards her sister, eyebrows raised.

“How do you know?” she asked in wonderment.

Faith laughed and pointed up at Luke.

“He gets this completely gooey expression every time. Like a chocolate chip cookie!”

Luke whirled around and glared at his little sisters.

“I heard that Faith! You aren’t supposed to make fun of the birthday boy!” 

He fake-pouted and turned around once again to stalk out of the room towards the front door. Luke’s heart beat loudly in his chest at the anticipation of seeing Noah. After sorting through their temporary misunderstanding on Friday night, they had only texted on Saturday instead of hanging out.

Luke bounded out the front door and nearly tripped on his face when he caught a glimpse of his gorgeous boyfriend leaning against the blue sedan. Noah’s bright eyes twinkled in the early morning sun and his grey shirt was unfairly tight. 

“Happy Birthday Luke,” rumbled Noah, pulling him into a hug and pressing a light kiss on Luke’s temple. 

“Thanks Noah.” Luke squeezed his boyfriend tightly.

Noah pulled away slowly and spun around to face his car door. He grasped the handle and opened the door. 
For the second time that morning, Luke was attacked by a blur of energy. He practically melted as he picked up the bundle of pitch black fur. Luke squealed as a rough pink tongue licked his face.

A black lab puppy sat in Luke’s arms, staring up at him with dark eyes and triangle-shaped floppy ears. Its thin tail was wagging maniacally and Luke let out an embarrassing giggle when the puppy gently pawed his shoulder. 

Luke’s gaze snapped up to Noah’s laughing face and felt his heart burst.

“For me?” he managed to breathe out incredulously. 

“He’s all yours.” Noah’s dazzling smile inhibited Luke’s breathing even more and he had to look away before his oxygen ran out. “I talked to your parents before I got him, and they were totally cool with it.”

Luke grinned and the puppy commenced its exploration of Luke’s face. 

“Thank you so much Noah! I’d absolutely kiss you right now if I wasn’t being slobbered on.”

Noah kissed Luke’s hair anyways. 

*

“Bye Mom! Bye Dad!” 

“Behave yourselves boys,” said Lily, staring her oldest son in the eyes. 

“Yes Mom. Of course Mom,” sighed Luke and turned to roll his eyes at Noah when his family finally exited the house.

Noah shrugged and laced his hand through Luke’s. He was pretty sure it was impossible not to touch Luke and it seemed like a second nature by now. Noah tugged Luke towards the kitchen.

“C’mon. Let’s go make a cake.”

“I have to make my own birthday cake?” whined Luke, his face shifting into his trademark puppy dog face. 

“Fine. I’ll make it. You have to get the ingredients out though.”

“Deal.” Luke’s face brightened and the signature pout was replaced with an adorable smile.

“Just because it’s your birthday, doesn’t mean you are automatically the king,” grumbled Noah under his breath, glaring at Luke’s back as he washed his hands in the sink.

“No, I’m the king because you are powerless to resist my charmingly good looks.”

“Something like that,” murmured Noah.

Luke chuckled and began to sort through various cupboards in search of the chocolate cake ingredients. Noah just watched him bustle around as he leaned against the sink, transfixed by his boyfriend’s swiveling hips and golden hair.

Then, Luke reached up into a cabinet in above the island in the center of the kitchen and Noah was pretty sure he let out a surprised squeak. Luke stood on his tiptoes, extending his fingers as far as they could go. His striped shirt rode up his stomach, revealing an expanse of flat stomach and enticing hipbones. 

Noah thought he would combust on the spot. He tightened his grip on the edge of the counter and bit down on his bottom lip, while Luke remained seemingly oblivious to the chaos he was causing a few feet away.

He settled back down on his heels and started to hum, his shirt returning to its usual place. Luke grabbed a can of baking powder and tossed it in next to the rest of the ingredients.

“All done. You wanna stop ogling me and start making my cake?”

Noah sputtered and flushed bright red. Luke grinned his full-dimpled smile and sauntered over to Noah with a large silver mixing bowl. 

Luke took his turn to watch his boyfriend in action, as Noah mixed and scooped and poured, following the cookbook with scary precision. 

Noah also thought Luke deserved some payback for his earlier shenanigans, so he might have purposely brushed a little too close when he needed to pass by Luke and might have purposely dropped various utensils on the floor in front of Luke’s line of vision. 

He knew he’d accomplished his goal when he looked up at Luke and found him practically trembling, eyes wide and dark, lips parted ever so slightly. Noah dipped a finger into the finished bowl of batter and drew closer to Luke, swiping the concoction across the tip of Luke’s nose. 

Luke drew in a sharp breath as Noah leaned down to kiss the end of his nose, effectively inhaling the chocolate. Noah kept his eyes trained on Luke’s, taking in the intoxicating smell of chocolate and Luke. 

Grinning devilishly, Luke fumbled around with his arm on the counter until he came across the batter bowl. Mimicking Noah’s earlier moves, Luke scooped up some chocolate and smeared it across his lips. Noah almost laughed, but figured there was something better he could be doing with his mouth, namely eating that chocolate. 

Noah pressed against Luke’s body and met his lips in a sweet kiss. He maneuvered both hands behind Luke onto the kitchen counter, pushing Luke’s body against the cold marble. 

Certain that he had devoured all the chocolate off Luke’s lips, Noah drew away breathlessly, still savoring the kiss and the sugar. Annoyed by Noah’s backwards movement, Luke released a low, dissatisfied growl that practically killed Noah on the spot. 

Noah scrambled forwards, desperately seeking Luke’s lips as he encircled Luke’s waist with his arms. Luke tilted his head upwards, deepening the kiss, and he wrapped one arm around the back of Noah’s head, pulling him closer. 

They both drew away, gasping for air. Noah found it especially hard to breathe when Luke was looking at him like that with heavy lids and slick lips. The heat rising up Noah’s body was difficult to ignore and he leaned in to capture Luke’s lips once again. His path forward was interrupted, however, by an onslaught of sticky chocolate tossed directly into his face. 

Noah gasped in surprise and flicked his eyes up from Luke’s lips to his mirth-filled hazel eyes. 

“Very funny Snyder. You’re asking for it.”

He whirled out of Luke’s grip and lobbed a handful of batter at his blonde hair. Luke cackled and dodged it, reaching for the bowl again. 

“Oh it’s so on mister.”

They scampered around the kitchen, both boys laughing maniacally and covering each other with chocolate. The kitchen was soon covered in the batter, as if the pin from a chocolate grenade had been pulled. 

When they ran out of batter, Luke groaned as he tried to scrape up one last handful to pelt Noah with. Luke spun around quickly with his final sprinkling of ammo at the ready, but slipped on a particularly chocolaty section of the floor. He fell forward into Noah, pushing them both to the ground until they were chest to chest and breathing heavily. 

Noah was pleasantly surprised to find his arms suddenly full of warm Luke, even if his back did hurt a bit from the fall backwards. He stared upwards into those glinting hazel eyes, taking in the flushed face that was dotted with specks of batter. 

“N-Noah.” Luke’s voice is lower than usual, sending shivers down Noah’s body and strengthening the heat coursing through his veins. “You okay?”

Noah’s voice is steady and just as deep, a smile spreading across his face.

“More than okay.”

Luke blushed deep red and readjusted himself, pressing in closer to Noah’s trembling body. Noah regained usage of his frozen limbs and grasped his boyfriend’s sharp hipbones, holding him in a position that Noah liked very much. 

Their lips met and Noah emitted a groan that surprised both of them. Luke hummed in response and pulled back slightly from the kiss to nibble on Noah’s lower lip. Noah felt fingers in his curls and loose strands being pushed off his face. Luke trailed his fingers down Noah’s face, neck, and onto his chest with a tickling sensation that sent flashes of heat down his spine. 

Luke’s magic fingers tugged at the hem of Noah’s shirt, his dark eyes flickering up from Noah’s lips to the blue eyes, waiting for approval. He nodded slightly and impatiently, reflecting the needwantplease of Luke’s brown eyes. 

He skimmed off the grey fabric covering Noah’s torso and moved his head upwards to press kisses on Noah’s neck and shoulder, and eventually down his chest. 

“Yours. Off.” Noah whimpered up at Luke, tugging at the striped shirt. 

Just as Noah accomplished his goal, the front door swung open. Luke and Noah sprung apart like magnets, both reaching for their respective shirts as Lily and Holden strolled through the door into the messy kitchen.

Noah hoped Lily had a lenient definition of behaving themselves.

*

The auditorium became deathly silent as Luke slowly strolled onto the dim stage. He gulped, running through the speech in his head. Approaching the microphone, he quietly cleared his throat. Every single eyeball was trained on him. 

Luke was campaigning for senior class president and elections were held in the spring of junior year for the position. Noah had helped him practice for hours the night before, but his boyfriend had also proved to be a serious distraction. 

He smiled, which seemed to calm his nerves. Luke launched into the speech he had spent days obsessing over and perfecting. The speech was the most important of the campaign, because it was the only time the whole student body actually payed any attention to the election

Claps shattered the silence when Luke finished and he could hear guys from the basketball team chanting his name. 

Luke shook with nervousness and cleared his throat into the microphone once again. His strong voice wavered with emotion as he took the plunge. 

“I have one more thing to add. Noah Mayer?”

At the mention of his name, Noah started, but did not take his eyes off the boy on the stage. Their eyes met and Noah beamed at him. This seemed to give Luke the courage to continue. 

“Will you go to prom with me?”

The audience released a chorus of “awws” as Noah pushed his way through the crowd, ran onto the stage, and gathered Luke into a breathless hug. Julie snapped their picture and smiled up at her best friends as the audience erupted into applause. 

“Duh,” Noah whispered into Luke’s ear, and Luke laughed, grinning ear to ear. 

Noah led Luke off the stage by his hand. He pushed him up against a wall in the wings, hidden from view. Noah kissed him fiercely, hands pressed up against the wall on either side of Luke’s beautiful face. When they broke apart, Luke was grinning up at Noah his whole body finally relaxed and released the earlier tensions. 

“Your speech was great!” exclaimed Noah, hugging Luke once again. 

“Thanks.” Luke’s voice was muffled by Noah’s shoulder where it pressed into his mouth.

They said goodbye and moved towards their respective classrooms when the bell rang to end the assembly. After class, Luke bound up to Noah’s locker and nudged his shoulder. Noah turned and greeted him with a smile.

“Can I have your school ID? I need it to buy the tickets.” Luke moved his palm towards Noah, but stopped when his boyfriend’s smile faded.

“Nuh uh. I’m buying the tickets,” said Noah, firmly.

“No-ah,” Luke huffed. “I asked you. Therefore, I’m buying.”

Noah frowned. “No way. I’m the one with the actual job, remember?”

Luke sighed. “I have an idea!”

Noah raised his eyebrows at Luke’s exclamation. “Oh yeah? What’s that?”

“How about you buy my ticket and I’ll buy your ticket?”

Noah rolled his eyes and laughed softly at his boyfriend’s solution.

“Fine.”

Luke smiled and pressed a quick kiss to Noah’s cheek. 

*

“Smile!” cried Lily, her face smooshed up against the back of her camera. 

Luke sighed and Noah turned just in time to catch him roll his eyes as the flash went off. Casey, Austin, and Julie had all caught the expression as well and giggled along with Noah. 

“Mom, isn’t that enough pictures?” sighed Luke, his arm wrapped around Noah’s waist on their perch outside of the Snyder’s front door. 

Lily matched her son’s sigh and waved her arms towards the other teenagers. “A couple more group pictures, okay?”

Julie and Casey stepped back in front of the door, followed by Austin and his date, Maddie. 

Holden stepped outside and swung his arm around Lily’s shoulders. 

“You guys better hurry up,” he boomed. “I think your ride is almost here!”

Luke made a confused face at his parents, one that Noah thought was absolutely adorable, but his features shifted to realization when a small black limo pulled up into the driveway. He grinned at his parents and ran over to hug them.

“Thank you!”

The Snyder parents hugged their son tightly. “Have fun tonight guys!”

The kids shouted a variety of thanks and rushed towards the limo, their fancy clothes rustling in the slight breeze. All six of them slid into the limo with Austin, Julie, and Casey on one side and Noah, Luke, and Maddie across from them. 

Noah groaned as he got stuck in the middle, his long legs spread uncomfortably over the large bump that ran through the center of the limo.

Luke giggled and Noah mock-glared at him, mouthing a sarcastic “thanks” to his boyfriend. Luke responded by pulling Noah closer and pressing his mouth against Noah’s ear. He shivered as Luke’s breath ghosted against the side of his face.

“Did I tell you how fantastic you look tonight?”

Noah blushed and everything else in the limo disappeared. He could hardly focus on anything else when Luke was pressed so close, smelling so sweet and feeling so warm.

“N-no,” stammered Noah, his brain struggling to form thoughts. Luke ran a hand down Noah’s front.

“This was definitely the right choice in tux.”

Noah did the only thing he could think of. He turned his head and kissed Luke sweetly on the lips. Casey’s cough jolted them out of their little bubble and both boys turned towards the rest of the group with matching blushes high on their cheeks.

The girls giggled and returned to their conversation. Luke and Noah finally joined in, but Noah stayed pressed up against Luke’s side. 

Dinner was uneventful, unless you counted the sheer number of times Noah caught himself spacing off and staring at Luke. 

“Man, Noah’s got it bad,” he had heard Maddie whisper to Julie, after Austin had failed to get his attention for the third time. Naturally, a bright blush had followed this statement.

They finally arrived at the ballroom where Prom was held. Noah grimaced as he unfolded himself from the car. Half out of necessity, half out of want, he reached for Luke to steady himself. Luke grinned at him and grabbed his hand, tugging him towards the entrance of the building. 

Noah handed Luke his ticket and Luke handed Noah his ticket. They laughed softly at each other and followed their friends into the ballroom. Luke immediately pulled Noah onto the dance floor, and he was flooded with nostalgia. As Luke linked his hands around Noah’s shoulders, he encircled Luke’s hips. They swayed to the music, their smiles never faltering.

If I hadn’t taken that chance all those many months ago, who knows where we’d be?

*