Know what you want, but can’t seem to get it?
Is every day just the same as the last?
Ready to grab life by the balls?
"Oh god no," I said to my laptop screen. I closed the lid shut—quickly and firmly, as if I were trapping a grotesque insect—just to make sure nobody could see the word balls glowing so golden and bright, the only light in my room right now. The only light in the world, practically, this time of night. I should have been getting ready for bed, not sitting in front of my computer for hours on end. Not Googling "confidence tips" for the hundredth time. And certainly not clicking on a page that would assault me with such uncouthness.
At least Terry wasn't here to see it. I was spared that humiliation. What's that, porn? No, Terry. It's worse than porn. A thousand times worse.
I looked over to the small window in my bedroom. Daylight was long gone, replaced with the wan glow from the streetlight on the corner of my block flashing green, then yellow, then red. It was nearly ten o’clock.
It had all started innocently. I’d found various articles online about improving confidence. None of them were really helpful, and most of them just told me to be myself.
Being myself was the problem, though. When I tried to talk to guys, I clammed up. It would be fair to say that I had roughly the conversational skills of a brick wall. When guys asked me what I’d been up to, all I could do was grow steadily nauseous as I talked about the weather. I was utterly hopeless, and I knew it was the reason none of my dates ever called me back.
I was an extreme case, one that a website full of tips definitely couldn’t fix.
But as I searched and searched, deep on the fourteenth page of Google search results, was a site called Kade Thompson Confidence Coaching. It advertised one-on-one confidence coaching right here in Mistview Heights, with guaranteed results.
Against all my better judgment, I clicked on it.
And now I’d been subjected to looking at a site that told me I had to grab life by the balls.
I turned back to the laptop, slowly prying it open as if it were a biological hazard.
Kade Thompson: Confidence Coach. Contact me today, and in no time, I will help you turn your life from the daily grind to the ride of a lifetime.
I rolled my eyes. “The ride of a lifetime?” I muttered to no one. But my eyes felt glued to the screen in front of me, like watching a ten-car pileup on the side of the road.
I scrolled and scrolled through descriptions and testimonials for this so-called “confidence coaching.” I clicked the little button at the top of the screen that said “About Me,” and almost jumped when a big picture of Kade loaded on the screen.
Who the hell was this guy? There was a full-body photo of him wearing all black. Of course, he was ridiculously muscular, and his hair was dark and shaggy and perfectly messed up. A few tattoos were scattered along his arms. His eyes gazed right out of the screen, like he was taunting me, daring me to do something.
I didn’t want to imagine what that something might be.
It made sense that a guy who looked like this was a confidence coach. He could have been any rock star about to hop on stage, groupies screaming up at him. I was surprised he didn’t have a guitar around his shoulders and a blazing fire in the background of the photo.
I looked down at my clothes, the same ones I wore every day—checkered button-up shirt, khaki slacks—and I pushed up my glasses on the bridge of my nose. I knew guys like Kade never took a second look at me. I blended into the background, and hot guys walked right past me like I was furniture.
As I looked at his picture, I convinced myself that he was probably an asshole, anyway. The idea of a confidence coach was silly enough on its own. Kade’s face was smug, as if he thought he was God’s gift to mankind. His pose—standing like that, with his chin all proud… he looked self-assured and cocky and inscrutable and… hot.
Oh, for Pete’s sake. He was really, really hot.
I wasn’t even in control of myself as I scrolled further and further down on the website. And the more I saw, the more I was certain that Kade was just some self-obsessed guy who wanted a place to put pictures of himself. There were photos of him clinking drink glasses with other people in clubs, flexing at the gym, hiking up mountains; there was even a video of him jumping out of a moving plane.
At the bottom of the page, there was one photo of him that made me stop in my tracks, though. He was lounging at the side of a glimmering, crystal-blue pool, with palm trees in the background. Shirtless, of course. I couldn’t help but look at every dip and curve of his abdominal muscles, the slight flex of his bicep as he raised the glass in his hand….
“Shoot,” I whispered. My cock had begun to betray me, perking up under my pants. Jerking off was not part of my plan for tonight. It was past ten o’clock, for God’s sake. And the last thing I wanted was a physical reaction to Kade Thompson, World’s Biggest Douchebag.
I quickly clicked open a new page and searched Google for “Kade Thompson.” I had to find something bad about him. Instantly, dozens more results came up. Part of me felt wicked for even doing such a thing—Googling some stranger, just out of sheer curiosity—but I also couldn’t help myself anymore.
One icon caught my eye. It was a link to a video titled “The Real Kade Thompson, EXPOSED!!! Vicious bar fight in upper Mistview Heights.”
...Bar fight? This confidence coach was known for his fistfights?
I clicked the video. Soon, dim images from a dive bar flashed up on my screen. There was a verbal argument taking place, but it was hard to make out what was on the screen. But then the person filming it stepped forward, and it became very clear that one of the men—the much bigger man—was indeed Kade Thompson.
“What did you just say?!” Kade shouted, and the other man gave him the middle finger, telling him to fuck off.
And then Kade lurched forward, taking a swing at the other man in the video. The crowd around them erupted into chaos, and at least five other people moved in to pull Kade and the other man apart.
I took a deep breath, closing the window immediately. My heart was racing just from watching it. I’d never been in a fight in my whole life—unless being shoved by a bully once in elementary school counted—and the mere idea of conflict made my palms sweaty.
I could barely confront people about good things, let alone conflict.
But as I caught my breath, looking again at the serene picture of Kade shirtless by the pool, I realized that I was still just as hard under my pants.
Lordy, this was bad.
It was undeniable, though. My cock must have been doing it to spite me. I knew it would be better to get it over with and just make myself come.
I reached over to the drawer of my nightstand, grabbing my bottle of lube from its usual spot. I started to unbutton my shirt slowly, and I closed my eyes and tried to think of anyone other than Kade. But the image of him was seared into my brain now—it was something I couldn’t unsee, and even though I knew it would haunt me later, it felt all sorts of deviously good right now. I started to stroke myself underneath my pants, slow and sure, giving in and letting myself picture Kade. I opened my eyes again, and he was still there, staring out at me from the screen… those deep brown eyes, endless muscles, and the slightest hint of a bulge under his swim shorts… what would Kade Thompson’s cock look like? What might it feel like to have someone so brash and confident inside me?
The front door of my apartment creaked open just as I popped open the lid of my lube bottle. I let out a tiny yelp, like I’d touched a hot stove, and Terry’s voice came from the living room.
“Mason! You still up? I got donuts,” she shouted. I heard the sound of her putting her keys onto the kitchen table, and I practically leaped back over to my drawer, throwing the lube bottle inside. I hastily buttoned up my shirt, and at the last minute, as she popped her head inside my doorframe, I clicked away from the shirtless photo and back to the Kade Thompson homepage.
“Terry! Hi—I mean, hello, how are you doing this—this, uh, fine evening?”
She lifted one eyebrow at me. “Oh I’m doing just splendid,” she said, in a voice that was clearly mocking my own. She came through the doorway and plopped down on my bed, tossing a paper bag onto my desk beside the computer. My cat, Squiggles, scurried in soon after her, and she picked him up and set him on my bed.
“Terry, what in the world—this is all greasy,” I said, inspecting the bag.
“You love these donuts! The correct response would be a nice, big thank you to your beloved roommate.”
I peeked inside the bag. Three glazed donuts, just what I liked. And I thanked God that the commotion had made my erection go away. I may have been a lonely guy, but even I couldn’t stay hard through all this.
“It’s too late for that much sugar,” I said.
She smiled at me, her lips decked out in a bold holiday red. Her long red hair was tied up in two buns on either side of her head, and she had a big rhinestone reindeer pendant necklace around her neck that Squiggles was now idly pawing at.
“You know Christmas is still a month away,” I said. I glanced down, ensuring that my cock had fully gone down before swiveling all the way around in my chair and facing her.
She shook her head. “Nope. As soon as Thanksgiving is over, Christmas begins. That’s just how it works, Mason. I don’t make the rules. I’m getting a Christmas tree for the living room tomorrow, by the way, and you have to help me set it up.”
I narrowed my eyes at her. “We can’t get a tree.”
“We are definitely getting a tree,” she said, her voice raising an entire octave.
“Those things drop little pine needles everywhere.”
“Who cares?” she said with a shrug. “I’ll clean ‘em.”
“You will not,” I said. “Squiggles will end up eating them all, and then we’ll walk out into the living room one day to find a little, unmoving ball of gray fur.”
“Oh, you’re being dramatic,” she said, waving a hand at me. “He won’t eat them; cats hate the sap on those trees.”
“The sap! That’s another thing. It’ll get all over our carpet, and then we’ll never get our security deposit back.” I said, shaking my head firmly.
Terry was laughing softly, covering her mouth so that I wouldn’t see it. I sat there, just waiting for her to stop. “You don’t have to laugh at me, Terry. Can we just get a fake tree or something—”
“No, no,” she said, her giggles erupting a little louder. “Not the tree.”
“Confidence coach?” she said, nodding behind me to my computer. The Kade Thompson website was still up on my screen.
I reached back and shut the laptop. “Anyway, it’s time for me to go to sleep—”
“Wait, Mason!” she said, still holding back laughter as she came to my side, reaching past me to open the computer back up. “I’m not laughing at you. I promise. What is this shit, though?”
I took a deep breath, feeling as my cheeks grew hotter and hotter. “I… came across it, tonight. Apparently confidence coaches are like a specialized version of life coaches. They help you become the best version of yourself. Grab life… by the balls.”
She giggled a little more as she scrolled through the site, her eyes dancing over the page as she leaned over me.
“I knew there was something I forgot to hide,” I mumbled.
“No! No, no,” she said, her laughter fading as she kept clicking through the website. “Mason, this guy actually looks pretty legitimate. Do you see all these testimonials? Look at all these guys he’s coached—these dudes look just like you.”
“They do not,” I said. “You’re encroaching on my space.”
“Hey,” she said, her voice calmer and growing soft. “I really mean it, Mase. This… might be a really good idea for you.”
“No, it is not,” I said. I got up from my desk chair and went to sit on my bed, leaning over to scratch Squiggles on his head.
“You must think it’s kind of a good idea if you were looking at the website,” she said.
“That’s not true,” I said. “I just happened to see the site, and I couldn’t help but look at something so silly. A confidence coach? For me? I don’t even have any goals or needs or any of that stuff he talks about. I just got a promotion at work. I’m doing fine.”
Terry turned to look at me, her gaze now serious. “Weren’t you just telling me the other day that you want a boyfriend by Christmas? Someone to take home to your parents?”
I held out a hand. “Yes, but I’m going on dates—”
Terry shook her head. “And you talked about the weather for thirty minutes with your date last night,” she said. I felt my chest tightening. “Let me guess: he hasn’t called you back?”
I was silent for a moment, looking down at Squiggles. “No, of course he hasn’t called. Or texted.”
“Right,” she said, her voice now gentler. She got up and sat down next to me on the bed, giving me a sheepish smile and rubbing my back. She was handling me like a scared puppy, and I guess I kind of was one. “Just like the last date. And the one before that. And the dozens of dates you’ve gone on this past year, always coming home and telling me that it ‘just didn’t work out.’”
I paused for a while before lying back on my bed, staring up at the ceiling. “I’m thirty years old, and I don’t even know how to talk to cute guys,” I said. “I just… with anyone other than you or my family, I clam up. I stutter. It feels like the room is closing in on me every time I’m expected to talk.”
She nodded, sympathetic. “I know. So… don’t you think this confidence coach could help you with the List of Doom?”
“I don’t want to talk to you about the List of Doom. I never should have told you about it—”
“Mason, it’s just not normal,” she said. “Keeping an annotated Excel spreadsheet of all your failed dates, notes on why they failed, and ‘key takeaways’ from every guy who’s ever rejected you?”
I shook my head, sitting back up. “It’s just my way of keeping track,” I said. “It’s helpful to analyze how things went wrong so that I can try to improve. It’s what you’d do in any good business.”
“Your love life is not a business!” she said, throwing her hands in the air. Squiggles meowed, running off into the kitchen after her outburst.
“Even my cat knows you’re impossible to deal with.”
“How many rejections are on the List of Doom now?” she asked, with trepidation in her voice.
I walked over to my computer, clicked to the Excel document that I had handy on my desktop, and scrolled to the bottom.
“Forty-three,” I said. “Forty-three failed dates in the last two years.”
She raised her eyebrows, nodding at me. In another moment she was at my side, grabbing the mouse from my hand and clicking back over to Kade Thompson’s website.
“So, here,” she said, gesturing emphatically at the screen. “Confidence coach. I know you just got a promotion, and you’re the assistant to one of the richest men in Mistview Heights. You can afford this, and you should do it.”
Terry clicked over to the About Me page of the site, gazing at the photos of Kade.
“Wow,” she said. “He is… really fucking hot.”
“I know,” I said with a groan, immediately going to lie back down on my bed.
“This guy has a nearly one hundred percent success rate with his clients,” Terry said. “Doesn’t that give you some hope, Mase? Doesn’t that make you want to try?”
“I’m not doing it, Terry,” I said, my voice final. “The holiday season is crazy at the hotel, anyway, and I’m going to be swamped with work from Adrian. He said that I’m the best and most organized assistant anyone could ask for, and I’d like to keep it that way.”
She was staring over at me, disappointment in her eyes. “It’s worth a try, Mason.”
“Just let me go to sleep.”
She sighed, finally heading out of my room, waving me off.
I’d been roommates with Terry for only a year, but we’d quickly grown comfortable around each other. She reminded me of my sister, and that was just about the only way I could feel comfortable around anyone. Terry was messier than me, wilder than me, and certainly more outgoing than me, but she was always good to me, and that went a long way.
But she didn’t understand what it was really like to be me. People like Terry couldn’t conceptualize what it really meant to be shy, what it felt like to talk with someone one-on-one and have no idea what you were supposed to say. I’d been dealing with it for my whole life, and though it got better after high school, it never really went away.
I’d have so many beautiful, flowing conversations in my head, but the second I was across the table from an attractive man, it was as if the insides of my brain had been erased. Inevitably, I’d talk about the weather, or even worse, I’d clam up completely.
And as the years passed, I knew my family was taking notice. Every time I came home for Christmas alone yet again, there was that glimmer of disappointment in their eyes.
I knew I’d be seeing that same disappointment at the end of the month when I went home for the holidays.
But there was no point dwelling on it, and definitely no point in hiring a stupid confidence coach. I just had to keep trying, to double down and go on even more dates. This was how I fixed all my problems back in school, and how I still solved them at work: I just worked harder, and longer, and eventually I always found success.
I got up off my bed and made my way to the bathroom to start my nighttime routine. I brushed my teeth with my favorite wintermint toothpaste, flossed, and heated up a chamomile tea. Back in my room I slipped into my pajamas and turned on my soothing forest rain sounds noisemaker on my bedside table. After sipping tea, laying out my clothes for the next morning, and spritzing three sprays of my calming lavender-vanilla mist into the air, it was finally time to get into bed and start my sleep stretches.
As I stretched in bed, making sure to get a deep twist on my spine after so long at the computer, I heard the faint ding of an email coming in on my phone.
I took a deep breath. It was an interruption to my routine, but I always had to keep the phone on—it could have been a message from Adrian, and I never wanted to miss something my boss said.
I picked up the phone and checked the email.
To: Mason Hartley
From: Kade Thompson Confidence Coaching
Dear Mason Hartley,
You have received the gift of four in-person sessions with Kade Thompson, Confidence Coach! A confirmation of the order is below, along with a link to add a calendar reminder for your first appointment on Wednesday, November 27th at 7:00 p.m. Kade meets all first-time clients at the Wicker and Barrel, 416 Mulberry Street in Mistview Heights.
Below is a note from the sender of the gift. Kade is excited to get to know you soon and help you begin your journey from blah to bangin’.
SENDER’S NOTE: Thank me later, Mase. Consider this your Christmas gift. Love, Terry xxoo
I leaped out of bed, ruining the effects of every deep stretch I’d just done. I swung open the door to my room, running out into the living room, squinting in the relatively much brighter light.
Terry was sitting on the couch, beaming up at me, her laptop on the coffee table in front of her.
“You excited?” she asked.
“I hate you,” I said. It was an understatement in the extreme.
“That’s a strange way of saying thank you,” she said.
“I’m going to die,” I said, plopping down on the couch near her and clutching my forehead in my hand. I was already sweating. “I can’t do it. I’m going to cancel. I’m not going to do it—”
“That first session is completely nonrefundable,” she said. “You don’t want to waste my money, do you?”
“Oh, Jesus Christ, Terry,” I said. “Seriously?”
My head was swirling a million miles a minute, and I was so distracted I didn’t even yell at Terry for all the glazed donut crumbs that were littering the coffee table and couch. Squiggles hopped up onto my lap, and I could see in his big, green eyes that even he thought I was crazy.
“Oh my God,” I said, shaking my head and squeezing my eyes shut. I thought about every photo of Kade Thompson on the site, of his cocky attitude and his big, black leather boots. I thought of how close I’d been to jerking off to that man, and my chest kept tightening.
I was completely screwed.
“Mason, talk me through it,” Terry said from beside me. “What are you thinking about?”
I paused, taking a deep breath in. “What in the world am I going to wear?”