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Always Forward! Never Straight by Charley Descoteaux (1)

Always Forward! Never Straight

Charley Descoteaux

 

 

Love isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.

 

Baxter Bryan is the nerdy half of BaxCo, a start-up in Portland’s Silicon Forest creating cutting-edge high-tech toys. He’s also a hermit. When BaxCo sponsors recycling bins at the Portland Rock and Roll Half Marathon, Bryan decides to break out of his comfort zone and do more than listen to the music with a beer in hand. The race has barely started when he bumps into a fit, handsome man, causing sparks to fly. But the long hours needed to make BaxCo a success aren’t the only reason Bryan spends most of his time alone in his apartment.

 

Cay Nissen runs every day to stay in shape. He would love to run away from his job in a Silicon Forest cube farm, but keeps returning to support his teenaged daughter. His true love is music. Cay writes songs for the band he helped form in high school but doesn’t see any way to turn music into a career. The half marathon seemed like a decent way to pass a Saturday, make his boss happy, and catch a performance of his old band all at the same time. When he meets a man who sparks his interest, the safety of his cubicle isn’t the only part of his life that’s in jeopardy of changing.

 

 

Always Forward! Never Straight

©2019 Charley Descoteaux

 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or in any means—by electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise—without prior written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Trademark: Roomba is owned by iRobot

Published by CeeTwo Publishing

Printed in the United States of America

 

Cover art by

Licensed material is being used for illustrative purposes only and any person depicted in the licensed material is a model.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

Bryan

 

Shit. I really have to do this.

The day of the half-marathon dawned clear with a promised high of seventy. Not bad for early spring. The race wasn’t officially part of the “Rock & Roll Marathon” schedule, but apparently Portland didn’t need sanctioning from anyone to throw a half marathon based on music and beer.

My car was packed with bottled water and promotional materials and my “running clothes” hung over the desk chair, mocking me from across the bedroom. They seemed to be laughing at me already. I didn’t have to run this damned half marathon—and by the way, adding the “half” didn’t make it any less intimidating, thank you very much. I could go to the race and make sure the recycling containers I’d sponsored were set up and then leave. Or hang out at one of the stages and listen to music all day.

With a beer in hand.

No. You’re going to do this.

I dragged my large (relatively speaking—it was smaller than it had been pre-marathon training) lazy ass from bed and stood, frowning at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. Whoever said forty was the new thirty must have actually been thirty. But I hadn’t seen forty for a few years, so maybe that’s why the gray had started to take over my head as the desk job widened my ass. I stuck my head under the tap to tame bedhead—at least I still had hair to get unruly—and got dressed as quickly as I could before I could talk myself out of it entirely.

Again.

 

Sponsors got to park in a special lot, so once I navigated the traffic—thick even by Portland standards for a Saturday morning—it wasn’t much of a walk to get to the starting line. The usual crowd had gathered: serious runners who looked like a half marathon would be a cakewalk, slightly doughy folks like me who seemed as spooked as I felt, and people wearing regular street clothes, whose plan aligned with what mine would have been a year ago—listening to the music and avoiding the exercise portion of the day.

Children ran around laughing, wearing new and often matching running gear. No teenagers I could see, which was disappointing. Teenagers were an untapped demographic for my—or rather, BaxCo’s—drone butler, Alfred. His main function was to patrol the perimeter of a property, but he could hover over a pot of boiling water or watch a driveway for parents to arrive if that’s what you needed him to do. Alfred could watch just about anything you didn’t have time to watch yourself.

Ugh, I’m playing BaxCo’s YouTube commercials in my head; that’s gotta be a new low.

I walked along the race course to the first stage, where my sponsorship dollars proudly proclaimed that BaxCo cared about the environment.

We didn’t draw the best location, but maybe that wouldn’t matter. Some of the crowd had come for the music and not the exercise—hopefully they would spend enough time at the first stage to recycle something. The green and black logo had been designed for optimal marketing impact—brand recognition—it was boring and generic and, in my opinion, didn’t say anything at all. I caught the negativity of my internal monologue and resolved not to think about BaxCo for the rest of the day. While I stood there, bemoaning the placement of three glorified garbage cans with the company’s logo, the race started.

After the serious runners passed me, I began to run. Okay, jog. I intended to make a real effort to participate in the race. I’d trained and psyched myself up for weeks—promotional opportunity aside. I casually scoped all the runners, not actually looking for anyone, content to do some people-watching. I snickered at myself because secretly I hoped to hook up with one of the men blowing past me, to have their slender, muscled bodies pressed against mine, their lung capacity put to good use—

I almost swallowed my tongue when a tall, striking man pulled up alongside me. His arm brushed against mine, and even though skin didn’t touch skin—he wore a long-sleeved shirt, no doubt a technologically advanced fiber meant to wick the sweat away from his skin, probably as it gave him a massage and helped combat climate change—I felt an electric shock at the contact. It actually crackled.

He turned, one eyebrow raised, and smiled. “Did you feel that?”

“Um, yeah.” I tried to keep up, even though men like him—svelte athletic types who can pull off trendy shaved-on-the-side-and-longer-on-top haircuts—didn’t usually notice plain, out-of-shape nerds like me.

His handsome face creasing in concern. “Sorry. If the spark came from me.”

Fuck, he’s hot.

“N-no problem. No harm done. It was probably me.”

I shocked myself all the time—literally, not figuratively. I led the most boring life imaginable and rarely left my apartment unless forced. Pavement doesn’t exactly possess the same properties that make carpet and wool socks generate static electricity, but it still could have been me. Just looking at this man gave me a charge.

He seemed like he wanted to say something else, but he smiled instead. His blue eyes held as much flash as the actual static that had passed between us.

“Cay.” He held out his hand, and we shook.

“Bryan.” The breathless quality of my voice had little to do with the running. Or at least that’s what it felt like. “Kay, as in Sir Kay, the knight?” I don’t know how I was able to grin at him, but I did.

“No.” He chuckled. The rich sound of his voice set something alight inside me I hadn’t heard from in years. “C-A-Y. As in Cayman. Like the islands.”

He gave me a look, and it took a moment to realize he was serious. Luckily, that happened before I tripped on anything or ran into anyone. “So, is your sister’s name Aruba?”

“No. That’s my brother.” He turned to face forward for a few paces and then shot me a wink.

That wink made me stumble. I’m in trouble.

He—Cay—must have slowed his pace considerably because we pounded along side by side. Before we reached the next stage, or I could think of something else to say, a willowy young girl ran up to him and fell into step on his other side.

“Hi, Dad.”

And my heart dropped to the pavement. We’d never seen each other two minutes before, but I hadn’t met anyone and had sparks fly for a long time. To discover he had a daughter—maybe a wife—was a blow. But I’d maxed out on stride, so even though I wanted to take off into the crowd, it wasn’t going to happen.

“Hi, sweets. How’s things?” They hugged without stopping, a truly impressive maneuver.

“Mom said I could run the rest of the way with you.”

“Okay, Mac. This is my new friend, Bryan. My daughter, Mackenzie.”

I nodded, and she pulled in front of us, easily jogging backward as she blatantly scrutinized me.

“Hi, new friend. Hope you can keep up.” She grinned and then sped off through the crowd.

I stopped at the next bandstand, and so did Cay. He bumped my shoulder with his and wore a strange look.

“The bass player is my daughter’s mother.” He nodded toward the stage, and I had to remind myself to look at the musicians instead of at him.

“They have a…cool sound.”

The band played something like punk—Green Day-punk, not Sex Pistols. All four of them were in better shape than me but with lines on their faces, some with gray in their hair. The logo on the bass drum said Always Forward!, the text slanting skyward over a jagged line that could have been a horizontal lightning bolt. The gal whaling on the bass wore a rainbow-colored faux-hawk that was long in back, and she pinged my radar hard. That bass player was not a straight woman. Maybe she and Cay weren’t married.

Unless she’s bi.

But if they were married wouldn’t he have said “my wife” instead of “my daughter’s mother”?

Maybe it isn’t hopeless.

And maybe two million people will decide overnight to buy Alfred, and I can retire to a tropical island.

I laughed aloud at my thoughts. That was a familiar refrain, about the tropical island. Maybe the fact that this alluring man had been named for one was a sign. I couldn’t help bouncing a little to the music, it was catchy and I wouldn’t have minded standing there for their whole set.

Which was an obvious delay tactic, but I didn’t really care.

“I’m going to see if I can catch up with my daughter.” Cay bent to talk next to my ear and his warm breath against my face made me shiver. “Coming?”

I looked up, and his expression said, “Come with me,” so I nodded. We left the bandstand and jogged side by side. He didn’t seem to be in much hurry to find her, though he kept his eyes forward as far as I could tell.

Cay set a brisk pace but not so fast he was in danger of leaving me behind. The next stage held a country act and neither of us slowed. The recycling bins stationed there belonged to the man who thought I was his nemesis—the owner of Holden The Tech, another startup in the Silicon Forest, like BaxCo. Once we cleared it, I glanced in Cay’s direction, and he was smiling.

We breezed past the next two stages, one featuring an alternative duo and the other a metal band. I wouldn’t have minded stopping at either—and not only for the break—but I was afraid if I stopped I wouldn’t start again, and running alongside this man was making me want to start a whole lot of things I’d quit over the past few years.

Especially hookups with men I’d just met.

The final stage held a jazz combo playing something smooth, but not too smooth, and we veered toward it as though it had been scripted. Or maybe agreed upon, but I wasn’t in any condition to speak. I didn’t want to wheeze when Cay didn’t seem to be having any trouble, so I kept my mouth shut.

In front of the stage, a bunch of tables and chairs had been arranged, along with a booth to buy water and fruit. I frowned at the recycling bins there—adorned with the swish, of course—but before we reached them, I had decided if he made any kind of move, it was on. Without much thought, I realized I didn’t care if he had a kink for bearish men or if he wanted to have revenge sex or even if he’d never been with a man before (all things that had been no-brainers in my youth, automatic no-thank-yous)—I’d do anything he let me.

By the way he’d subtly directed our route, I thought it might turn out to be “anything he told me to do” and was surprisingly okay with that, even though vanilla should be my middle name. We stopped and grabbed water, and I almost sighed aloud when I saw the way his shirt clung to his body. Damn, never had a man with a six-pack before.

I reminded myself I might not get this one—probably wouldn’t—and he invited me to sit on a bench with a gesture. Both sitting—close enough to feel the heat coming off him in waves—I noticed he was breathing heavily, and smelled amazing. His large hands worried at the bottle of water between sips. Maybe he’s a little wound up from more than the race too?

Cay leaned his forearms on his thighs and glanced my way before asking, “You like jazz?”

I tore my gaze away from his hands and didn’t let myself linger on his eyes before checking out the band. Safer. “Yeah. I collect vinyl. Jazz records.” Duh, idiot.

“So, a redhead named Bryan. Are you Irish?”

Damn, he has a sexy voice. Even if I am more gray than red now.

“Sort of. I mean, a little. How’d you get a name like Cayman? I mean, it’s unusual.”

“Mom. Dude. Island.” I glanced over, and he had one eyebrow raised.

I got it. I opened my mouth to apologize for prying but instead out came a smartass comment, “Grand Cayman?”

A grin bloomed on his lips, and he turned away and laughed, as though he’d tried to contain it but failed. He sipped his water and then said, in a low rumbling voice meant only for me, “You’ll have to be the judge of that.”

I sprayed a mouthful of water onto the pavement in front of us. A few people moved away and made comments regarding my rudeness, but when I dared a look, Cay was grinning and shaking his head as he patted my back.

 

The jazz combo finished its set and the lovely singer suggested we head to the end of the race for the medal ceremonies. I wasn’t inclined to obey her and could’ve sat there discussing music all day.

Cay’s daughter found us, still on the bench, deep in a debate about the relevance of various styles of jazz and ignoring the closing ceremonies.

“Hey, Dad? Is it okay if I hang with the band tonight?” She looked a little guilty but also as though she had a list of reasons he should say yes at the ready.

He frowned but didn’t look upset so much as confused. “Huh? Sure, babycakes. Have fun. I’ll see you in the morning. Right?”

“Right.” She frowned for a second—a second in which she looked very much like her father—before sprinting away, still full of energy. She—Mackenzie—seemed to have expected at least a token protest.

“Feel like catching a beer?” Cay’s hopeful smile sent a thrill of excitement through me. “The Deschutes Brewery is releasing a new flavor this weekend.”

“Yes. I’d like that.” We agreed to meet at the brewpub an hour later to continue the conversation. Which suited me fine because it gave me plenty of time to go home, shower, and change. Not that I had a lot of “date” clothes left anymore—if that’s what this was. He’d made a point to suggest a brewpub and not a bar—not a gay bar—so maybe I was wrong about him and he only wanted to be friends.

I didn’t see him when I walked in, but I did turn a head or two in my lavender T-shirt and newest pair of jeans. Maybe the shirt is too much?

I ordered a beer and grabbed the last free table, surrounded on all sides by straight couples and boisterous groups of young men. I’d started to wonder if I should leave, but then he came out of the hallway that obviously led to the bathrooms and maybe a back door. The evening was already warm, and I could have boiled over after one look at Cay in a white tank. His jeans hugged his hips and thighs, showing off his lean torso and muscular legs, and it was all I could do not to stand and greet him in a manner decidedly inappropriate for the venue.

“Wow.” I recovered by the time he got a beer and joined me at the table. Barely. Good thing I hadn’t just taken a drink, or I probably would have drowned. Or done another spit-take. “Nice ink.”

“Oh, thanks.” He looked at his arms but not in a “yeah, aren’t I gorgeous” kind of way. One upper arm was filled with the band’s logo I’d seen on the drum set—Always Forward! over a lightning bolt. His other arm had what appeared to be a slightly faded Japanese-style dragon. “The run was a work function so I had to keep them hidden. It’s still a little surprising to me when anyone notices.”

“I’m sorry?” Great, sparkling conversation. Next you’ll return to monosyllables. That’s always sexy.

“I spent my whole life sitting behind things—keyboards in the band, and then after Val got pregnant, a desk in a cubicle. That’s not the best workout.” He grinned ruefully. “That’s why I started running. Nobody was going to look twice otherwise.”

The last thing I wanted to talk about was exercise. Well, running. I was half-exhausted from the race and obviously didn’t make a habit of working out for fun. Not many topics felt safe at that moment, though. Especially not the ones usually covered on a first date: past relationships, jobs…

“So, you were in the band?”

“Hmm?” Cay had a mouthful of beer but handled it much better than I would have.

Yeah, smooth. He already said that. “Your ‘Always Forward!’ tattoo. What does the lightning bolt mean?”

He glanced at his arm again and frowned at me for a few seconds while he turned his glass between his hands, making circular patterns of condensation on the coaster.

“It’s not a lightning bolt. It’s, ah, the second half of the band’s name. ‘Never Straight.’” He winked and took a swallow of his beer.

“So you and the bass player aren’t…?”

He laughed but not too loudly. “No. Never were. We did that thing bands do—all lived in one big house for a year, hoping to write and record our breakout album.” He shrugged and even that motion flowed like water—the muscles on his shoulder rippled, and for a second, all I could think about was what it would feel like to touch them. “Co-parenting has worked pretty well. Mackenzie is a great kid.”

“How did the album come out?”

“The—oh, it was okay. Obviously it wasn’t a worldwide hit.” He sipped his beer, regarding me over the rim of his glass. “I’m bi.”

I sagged with relief, which made me feel silly. “Me too. I haven’t actually been with a woman, but…”

“There’s just something about them, right?”

“Right.” Not sure how I was able to speak because I couldn’t breathe. His face is so intense, as though he’s trying to tell me something without saying it.

“There’s something about you, too.”

His voice lowered so I wasn’t quite sure I’d heard correctly.

“Me?”

“Why don’t we take this somewhere more…private?”

Cay upended his glass, and as he set it on the table, he licked his lips. Slowly, with the obvious intent to make the point that he wasn’t inviting me to dinner. Maybe to be dinner…

“Oh. Yeah. That would be… Yeah.”

Even though I was behaving like a flustered fool, and pretty much had been all day, a smoldering grin spread across his handsome face. That grin said so much, but I was still surprised when, on the way down the hall to the parking lot, he steered me into the men’s room with a gentle hand on the back of my neck.

We continued through the thankfully empty anteroom and into the last of four stalls. He flipped the latch on the door with one hand while pressing me against the wall with the other. His hand spread across my lavender shirt, palm over my tripping heart, and as soon as he’d secured the door, his mouth met mine. He palmed my head with his large hand, pushing it back with the force of the kiss, his embrace keeping it from grinding into the wall. The commanding gesture stole my breath and ratcheted up my heartbeat. A few moments later, though, he eased off, nibbling my lips and feathering soft kisses in between, sliding the tip of his tongue across my trembling lips—even after I opened my mouth enough to be an obvious invitation.

All in all, a damn fine display of kissing. My legs didn’t have to be sore from the race to wobble.

He came up for air, and I leaned forward to keep my lips on his for another fraction of a second. Cay leaned his chest against mine, and his muscular thigh pressed against my jeans in the perfect spot to drive me crazy as he trailed his lips across my cheek toward my ear.

“Hmmm, I’ve wanted to do that since this morning.”

He rubbed his smooth cheek lightly against my stubble and hummed, and I was glad I hadn’t shaved—two days’ growth for me wasn’t much, but he seemed to like it.

I might never shave again.

“Shall we go?” His voice held a hint of laughter when he spoke again, but not mocking—no, he seemed to be anticipating this hookup as much as I was.

“Yeah.” I could barely groan out my response. I would’ve been happy to continue things right there—although after a moment without those talented lips in contact with mine, I was glad one of us possessed a little more sense than that.

He pulled back enough to look me in the eye—his hips still pinning me to the wall—and gave me a second to focus on his face. “Did you drive?”

I nodded.

“Follow me to my place?”

“Yeah. In a second?”

He didn’t understand immediately, but the authentic confusion made him even more attractive. Maybe he wasn’t all practiced moves, confidence, and charisma—although he had enough charisma to make up for anything he may have lacked in another area.

I did what I had to do and found him in the fading light of near-dusk, leaning against an older, midsized SUV. He straightened when he saw me and watched as I got in my car and started it.

Probably twice as old and a little more timeworn than his vehicle, my Mercedes still had a little charm left. My only extravagance the first time the company made a little money, I’d fallen in love with the silvery-green paintjob and sturdy classic lines of the sedan and wouldn’t be swayed by the fact that convertibles weren’t practical in Portland most of the year. I didn’t drive it much anyway.

I followed him to a quiet neighborhood on the Westside not far from my own apartment and parked beside him. He raked his gaze over the car, but only briefly before turning his attention to me. Slowly, and with clear intent, he looked me over from head to toe and back again. When I thought he would speak, he inclined his head toward the building and walked toward it.

He led me up the stairs and to a corner unit on the second floor of the three-story building. Instead of looking around, my attention focused on his tight butt and the way his shoulders moved when he walked. He seemed larger than life but was just a couple of inches taller than me—probably not more than an inch over six feet, if that.

Cay held his front door open for me and then locked it and pushed me against it like he had at the brewpub. One of his hands spread across my chest, kneading gently as he leaned against me. We kissed again—hard and hot and wet, and as much as I would’ve liked to check out his place, I couldn’t open my eyes to do it. Even when he moved his mouth to my neck.

“Do—Do you have any roommates?”

“No.” His voice rumbled, his breath raising goose bumps on my skin.

He slid down my body, his hands exploring and gripping, caressing, until he reached the floor. He kneeled close, squeezing my hips in his big hands and pressing his face into the front of my jeans.

For a second I tried to find a handhold, something to keep myself upright while he—oh, God, will he?—but my eyes refused to open. All I could do was feel. And he made me feel…

I reached down and slid my fingers through his hair. Silky and long enough to grab a handful on top and nearly shaved on the sides; this man was a feast of sensation and our clothes were still on.

He popped the button and unzipped my fly like he was on a deadline. I was already leaking when he touched me—mouthing the head of my dick through the fabric of underwear that matched my shirt exactly.

Cay groaned softly as he worked on me like a porn fantasy man, his hands circling my waist and easing my pants down over my hips. After a few inches, he moved my shorts out of the way and sucked me into his mouth. I groaned with the effort not to push farther into his warmth.

Finally, I was able to look at what was happening, to open my eyes and watch as the lips Cay had used to grin at me, to seduce me out in full view of everyone at the race—closed around my cock. My poor, long-neglected cock.

Lately, I’d had a few times when I couldn’t even beat off properly—heart willing; flesh weak—so I’d been a little worried. Totally without merit. I could have knocked a CPU tower off a shelf.

Cay slipped his mouth off but kept a firm grip on my dick. He sat back on his heels and grinned at me hungrily. “Wanna see my clean sheets?”

I shivered and tried to say something—anything—but it was too much to manage between breathing and keeping my shaking legs beneath me. His grin turned into a smile, and he rose to his feet. His hands clutched greedily at my body as he stood. Cay took my wrist and led me into his bedroom, and it was so obvious he’d planned this I couldn’t help but feel good, maybe even a little calmer.

His bed took most of the floor space in the small room and it was turned down, crisp lavender sheets inviting me in. I caught a whiff of a light floral fragrance, and then my shirt blocked my view as Cay pulled it off me. There went all the calm I’d had a moment before. Rationally, I knew I looked fine, but I’d never been close to the shape Cay was in. He was a ripped god, where I had the body of a 1960s-era action hero.

Nevertheless, when he gripped both waistbands at once I helped him relieve me of my pants and underwear—going so far as to smile when he sat me on the bed hard enough to bounce to get them all the way off. I’d planned too—flip flops instead of shoes. I sat up and helped him lose his pants—commando, oh my god—and when I looked, he’d tossed his tank behind him. Every inch of Cay—jeez, I don’t know his last name. Why should that bother me?—was lean and muscled, and his tan said he ran shirtless a lot. Wearing skimpy shorts. Oh, man, I’d love to see that.

All that sculpted man stood in front of me, his big hands resting on my shoulders as I shamelessly drank him in. I wanted to dive onto his dick, suck it deep into my throat and trace the veins with my tongue, but I couldn’t seem to move. His grip tightened, only a bit, nothing rough, and it woke me from my stupor with a shiver. I grabbed him behind both knees and pulled him forward.

As my tongue explored the length of his cock my hands snaked up the backs of his thighs to grip his muscular ass. He moaned when I buried my nose in the brown thatch of hair at the base of his dick. Not loud, but enough to let me know this was real for him—there wasn’t a punch line coming. He’d been ardent enough, but it wasn’t until then that my inner self believed it.

I’m not hideous but men who could model fitness equipment don’t usually hit on me.

No. Don’t think about how long it’s been since anyone’s caught one of your passes, let alone hit on you.

My attention returned to where it belonged and I skimmed my hands around from his ass, across his hips and that spot that drives me wild on muscular men—the crease between their abs and legs—and held his cock in my hands. His breath hitched as I squeezed gently and tasted its glistening tip.

When I took him in my mouth, I expected him to set the pace—the whole day he’d basically led and I’d followed—but he didn’t. Cay still rested his hands on my shoulders and his hips rocked as I sucked, but his hands didn’t tighten—in fact, they caressed my shoulders and tangled in my hair as he panted.

I whimpered in protest when he withdrew from my mouth and then smiled as I found myself on my back on those crisp lavender sheets. He moved me farther onto the bed like I weighed nothing and crawled over me, his cock brushing against mine in a way I hoped wasn’t random. He didn’t seem like the random type, but we’d only met a few hours earlier, so I had precious little on which to base that assumption.

The feeling of his heated skin on mine filled my head, and I cried out when he took my dick in his hand. After a few strokes he lined up our dicks together and gently lowered himself onto my body. I gripped his hips, and he held my head between his muscled forearms. His bedroom was warm and we were worked up enough so our bodies had already built a fine sheen of sweat. Cay met my eyes with his gorgeous baby-blues—unfocused and heavily lidded and ungh so handsome—and when he kissed me, he also started a slow rocking with his hips. Our cocks slid together as our tongues explored and caressed, and I didn’t remember sex feeling like that. I couldn’t remember ever being desperate not to come, hoping it would never end, that I could feel that good for hours—for the rest of the night, all the time.

Of course even a middle-aged man will get off if sufficiently stimulated, and I was nothing if not stimulated by Cay—his talented tongue and hard cock, his muscles and his tender touches. When I came, I arched my back, taking my mouth out from under his. He nipped my neck and then followed me into what felt like a thunderous orgasm that left him whimpering and shivering.

As we lay tangled in the sheets and each other, I let my hands wander over his skin and my mind wander wherever it would. It was a bad habit, thinking during and after sex, but apparently one I wasn’t up to breaking. I was feeling happy with myself, so I went with it. It didn’t feel dangerous, which should have told me I’d forgotten more than what it felt like to be swept away by lust.

In my youth, I’d had a lot of sex with a lot of different guys. Men. Guys. None of us had been men yet, not really. By the time I’d reached the age when I felt I should be an adult, I’d had my heart stomped enough times to be cautious. Sex had turned out to be a power struggle, a way to get off while giving the required amount in return but nothing more. At least that’s what it had felt like from my end. I hadn’t expected that then, but now…that’s all I expected.

Sex with Cay wasn’t like that. I didn’t feel pressured while it was happening. It was over and I didn’t feel used. Not even that vague feeling of shame that usually came racing in once all the panting and sweating ended.

Yeah, not the enlightened, freewheeling queer I’d always wanted to be. I really should make peace with that.

Has sex ever felt like this? Honestly? I don’t think so.

Even during past relationships I hadn’t been able to let go and be myself during sex. Probably because every one of them had wanted to top me. First, last, and always. Some hadn’t discussed it with me beforehand, which can be a drag at best and painful and frightening at worst. I’d known men who liked that, being topped, but I didn’t seem to be one of them—and Lord knows I’d tried. I’d also had friends who swore that doing “everything else” was amazing enough and they never missed getting fucked—even if they’d liked it. With the right man.

Another subject I’d rather not discuss.

Cay saved me from traipsing farther down that dangerous path. He slid off me and pulled me into an embrace. The sweaty and sticky parts of me prickled with goose bumps until he flipped a sheet over us both and held me tighter.

“Hmmm, that was nice.” Cay sounded halfway to sleep, happily sated. Before I could think of a response, he continued, “Should do it again sometime.”

“Um, sure. That sounds…good.” How did I get from basking in his glow to my usual awkward self so fast? I sounded more like someone who’d been asked if I wanted to listen to some music or go to dinner than one who’d been given an open invitation for more of the best sex ever. “I mean, I’d like to.”

He wrapped himself around me and sighed, nuzzling my hair in a way nobody had ever done before. For no reason—or at least none I wanted to examine—that made me feel happy and scared and sad, all at the same time. Would he still feel the same once he knew me better? Or would it be the same old story, and once he discovered how boring my life was—how boring I am—he’d move on to more exciting pastures. I had ridiculously high hopes for how long Cay might find me interesting.

“I have to get up early tomorrow, but you’re welcome to stay.”

Did he tighten his grip on me?

“Um, maybe I should let you get some sleep. You have a day with your daughter planned tomorrow?”

“Yeah.”

Was that disappointment I heard? No stranger to overthinking every-damned-little-thing, I vacillated between leaving him wanting more and not wanting the evening to end, not wanting to disappoint him. Or myself.

“Leave me your number before you go?”

There it is, you did it. Talked yourself right out of his bed. Smooth move.

No graceful way to stay now, so I said “sure” and retrieved my clothes, pulling them onto my sore body. I looked for a way to leave my number, and he sat up in bed and held his phone out. He wasn’t quite smiling but was probably tired.

Not too tired to walk me to the front door, or to give me a blistering goodnight kiss that definitely left me wanting more, though. As I quietly descended the stairs, lips tingling, I thought about how to make that happen.