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Tobias Jackson grew up in Coburn, a town where the gay population equaled exactly one: him. Add that to the fact that his dream guy was his best friend's jerky older brother Levi Baxter, and it made hooking up virtually impossible.
Now home from college for winter break, Toby is a different person. He left Coburn for San Francisco, where he wasn't the lone gay guy and the only black kid in town. And yeah, he took advantage of what the city had to offer.
Apparently Toby isn’t the only one who’s changed. Levi’s not acting like the self-centered guy with all the answers that Toby remembers from growing up. Oh and Levi’s realized he's bisexual, which makes things a lot more interesting…
Heading back to college, Toby doesn’t expect to meet up with Levi again, despite him being in med school not far away. A surprise visit from Levi blows that assumption out of the water. As they spend more time together Toby sees Levi as more than just the fantasy. He’s complicated, unsure…he’s real. But if Toby can’t get out of the past and find the words he keeps locked inside himself, he’ll lose his chance at Levi for good.
“Last night you said something about your life not being what you thought, or you not being who you thought… Is that about being bi? You gotta know your family won’t give a shit, man.”
“No.” Levi shakes his head. “Hell no. And if anyone did have a problem, fuck them. I don’t care about that. I never hid it at school, either. It’s just…it’s hard to explain…” He takes a drink of his coffee. “I think the food’s helping my hangover. I feel a little better.”
“Smooth transition on the subject change.”
He gets this playful, cocky smile that I’m used to seeing from him. “Thanks.” Levi winks, but he can’t sway me from wanting to know what’s going on behind that charming as hell mask of his.
I remember the way his whisper sounded in the dark hotel room last night, the quaver in his voice. The way his arm had felt warm and heavy across my waist. My desire to know more makes me brave, braver than I usually am with Levi. “You said last night you knew I’d understand.”
“I was drunk off my ass last night. Jesus, you should have heard the thoughts in my head when I woke up in bed with you. Scared me shitless. I’m so glad at least one of us was sober last night so we didn’t make a really big mistake.”
The statement’s said offhandedly. I can tell it’s not supposed to mean anything, but it’s still a punch to the gut. The urge to hit him back literally tingles right beneath my skin. “You keep saying shit like that, but I’m telling you, I haven’t had any complaints before.”
Straightening against my chair, I look around to flag our waitress over. There’s no point in keeping this going. There’s no reason I should be here with Levi at all. I’m Chris’s friend, not his. Why should I give a shit if Levi is rejecting me, when I’m not even offering myself to him?
“It trips me out to hear you say shit like that. You’re my little brother’s friend. I used to hide in Chris’s bedroom to scare the shit out of you guys when you’d watch horror movies.” Levi laughs, but I don’t hear anything funny.
“You sound like you think you’re better than I am. As though you have all this life experience that I don’t. You’re only a few years older than me.” The tingle under my skin becomes an annoying burn. I reach into my pocket for my wallet. “Here’s a twenty. My food isn’t more than that.”
Levi pushes the money back toward me when I drop it on the table. “Put your cash away. I asked you to come with me and screwed up your night, at least I can buy you breakfast. And why are you acting all pissy? What did I do?”
“Nothing.” It’s not like he’d understand anyway. I’m fully aware that I’m acting like a child right now. He hasn’t really done anything wrong, but I’m treating him as though he has. “Listen, I should go. This is… I don’t know what this is.” Levi and I aren’t close friends and probably never will be. He needed help last night and I helped him. That’s all there is to it, and there’s no point in me sticking around and maybe getting my hopes up for more than just some weird conversation over breakfast.
As I start to push to my feet, my eyes find his. His expression isn’t the cocky one he wore a few moments ago. It’s more like the expression I caught a glimpse of last night—his eyes narrowing as if he’s thinking hard and his lips turning down like he’s not sure what he wants to say.
I’m standing there next to the table, getting ready to tell him goodbye when he says, “I heard you once, when we were younger. It wasn’t long after you started spending time at our place. Your mom had left not long before. It was late and you were staying with Chris. I got up to take a piss and you were crying in the bathroom.”
What the actual fuck? Telling me he heard me crying in the john when I was a kid isn’t going to make this any less awkward. “Yeah, okay. Thanks for bringing that up.”
When I try to walk away, Levi’s warm hand wraps around my wrist. His skin isn’t as clammy as it was earlier.
“I get it. Your whole life had just fallen apart. You felt alone, lost. I guess I feel the same way sometimes, only I don’t have a real reason for it. Not the way you did.”
His words bounce around in my chest, colliding with my heart. There’s a quiet pain in his voice, something that’s maybe been there for a while, but he’s done a good job at hiding it. Right now he’s not trying, he’s naked and not in the way I’ve fantasized about too many times over the years.
“I don’t know what in the fuck I’m saying.” Levi lets go. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m happy. I’m fucking lucky. I’m getting my dream. I’m going to be a goddamned doctor. I’m just…” He shakes his head. “Fuck, I don’t know what I’m being. You can ignore me. I’ll catcha later.”
There’s no possibility of me ignoring or forgetting what he’s just said, the way he said it or how it feels. I’m standing here looking down at a guy I’ve known forever and feeling like maybe I don’t really know him at all.
“You don’t get off that easy,” I tell him. “You never let me or Chris off easy and I’ll be damned if I do it to you.”