Previously published with Torquere Press, this short story is now available as a free read. Enjoy!
Just a Summer Fling
Ryan was miserable. He wiggled his toes in the sand and stared out over the ocean wondering how exactly he had gotten here. Not here, physically. Though he desperately wished he was back in Manhattan. Somehow it was so much easier to be miserable in New York. What he wasn't sure of was how he had gotten to this place in his life. How, a month after graduating high school, he found himself completely depressed and brooding.
Even the thought of starting at NYU in the fall in the creative writing program couldn't lift his spirits. Most eighteen-year-olds were out partying, spending time with friends, and having the time of their lives before the next chapter started. Ryan, on the other hand, had been guilt-tripped into going to San Diego for two weeks with his parents. His father had needed to be there for business and suggested that he rent a house so Ryan and his mother could come along and turn it into a family vacation of sorts. His mother had been all for it, thrilled at the idea of getting out of the city for a while during the sticky summer heat. Ryan had wanted to stay behind and continue to cultivate his misery in peace and quiet. His mother had put on her sad face and had gone on and on about how it might be the last time they would all be able to go on vacation together since he'd be starting college and going off in the world. Mother's guilt always worked and he'd caved. So, here he was, sitting on a stretch of private beach reserved for the homes along it in La Jolla, currently the saddest person he knew.
Ryan's life had been seemingly great up until about a week after graduation. That's when he learned what it felt like to have one's heart ripped out, stomped on, and then subsequently put through a blender. Tony was the reason he wasn't able to enjoy his summer. Tony was the reason he was sitting on a beautiful beach glowering into the sand. Tony was the reason his self-esteem was at an all-time low and he was pretty sure he would never trust anyone ever again.
He closed the notebook he'd been scribbling in and stared at the water. There were some children building a sand castle near the water's edge. Some teenage girls in bikinis were splashing each other in shallow water. He supposed if he were straight he would have been quite happy watching them frolic about wearing next to nothing. A little farther out he saw several guys with surfboards paddling toward the shore. They were definitely more his type. One reached shallow water before the others and hopped off his board, tucked it under his arm, and waded out of the water.
Ryan's jaw dropped. He was an Adonis. Ryan licked his lips as the Greek god tossed his head from side to side, shaking drops of water from his blond hair. Water ran in rivulets down his broad shoulders, smooth, tan chest, and toned abs. The surfer was gorgeous.
Ryan continued to stare and brushed a few unruly strands of his mop of brown hair out of his eyes. He supposed even a broken-hearted, skinny, artsy-type like himself could at least look upon a god. Maybe it would make him feel better.
He continued to track the surfer with his eyes as the Adonis walked closer and dropped his board onto the sand and picked up a towel. Riveted, Ryan watched as the blond swiped the towel over his arms and chest. Then the surfer looked up.
Ryan's notebook fell from his lap as their eyes met. He'd been caught in the act. He quickly looked away and fumbled in the sand for his book. He could feel his cheeks burning. The god was most likely straight anyway and there was a good possibility he wouldn't take too kindly to being ogled by a depressed, gay boy desperate for some eye candy. Maybe he hadn't even noticed Ryan had been staring. Ryan looked up just to make sure.
Oh, god. The Adonis was still looking at him, grinning, as he toweled off his hair.
Ryan whipped his head around to look behind him in reflex, then felt his cheeks burn yet again. There wasn't anyone there, of course. The god was speaking to him. He bit his lip and slowly turned around.
"I meant you." The surfer was still grinning from ear to ear.
He'd been caught red-handed. Why the beautiful surfer god was speaking to him was beyond him. His breath stuck in his throat as the blond moved closer until he was looming over Ryan.
"Hi. I'm Chris." A hand was extended.
Ryan had to squint as he looked up into the sun. Chris' face was shadowed, but the sun caught the tips of his damp hair and made it sparkle like gold. God indeed.
"Ryan," He breathed out and managed to take the hand that had been offered.
Ryan was still in a state of shock as Chris plopped down next to him.
"Nice to meet you, Ryan. I take it you're not from here." Chris' smile was mesmerizing.
"Why do you say that?" He looked down at himself wondering what had given him away.
Chris chuckled and glanced at him sideways. "Because no self-respecting Californian would come to the beach dressed in jeans and sneakers on a ninety-degree, sunny day."
"I... well, I mean..." He blushed again. Since he didn't exactly have six-pack abs going for him, he wasn't one to walk around in nothing but board shorts, but perhaps jeans and sneakers had been a little excessive.
"Hey, no worries. I was just teasing." Chris smirked and nudged him with his shoulder. "So, you here on vacation, then?"
"Yeah." Why are you talking to me?
Ryan couldn't get his brain working. He had yet to offer anything but mumbles and monosyllabic answers to questions, yet the Adonis was still sitting here next to him. Perhaps Hell had frozen over.
"So, who are you here with? Your parents?"
"Yeah." Wonderful. You are a scintillating conversationalist.
"First time in San Diego? What do you think of it so far?"
"It's nice. I mean, I'm not really that into beaches..." He trailed off. And he's a surfer who probably grew up at the beach. This should give you loads to talk about. Well done.
Ryan looked down at the sand and gnawed on his lip, wishing his inner monologue had an off button.
"Beaches aren't your thing, huh?" Chris tilted his head and instead of scoffing at him, actually looked interested. "So, where're you from?"
"New York. Manhattan actually. I'm starting at NYU in the fall." Good. We've mastered full sentences and even offered up non-requested information. Progress.
"Wow. NYU?" Chris' eyebrows arched in what looked like surprise.
"Yeah. I want to major in creative writing." Ryan found himself smiling. Writing was what he was passionate about. People could call him bookish if they wanted, but one day he was determined to write the next great American novel.
"That's awesome. NYU definitely has an amazing creative writing program. Actually--"
Someone called Chris' name and cut him off. Both Ryan and Chris turned. One of the other surfers Chris had been with earlier stood a few paces away.
"Jeremy and I are heading off. You coming?"
Ryan held his breath and waited for Chris to get up and leave with his friend.
"Nah. I'm good. I'll catch you guys later."
"All right, man." Chris' friend gave a shrug before turning and heading up the beach.
They were both silent for a moment until Ryan couldn't stand it anymore. It would be too good to be true that Chris was gay and completely unfathomable that he would be interested in Ryan.
"You sure you don't want to go with your friends?" Perfect. Now he'll think you want him to leave.
Chris gave him a curious look and then stared at the sand, for the first time since he'd sat down looking less than sure of himself. "You want me to go?"
"No!" Ryan began to back-pedal. "I mean, you could, though... if you wanted to. I mean, stay... if you want." He finished lamely. Jeez, he needed to stop blushing.
"Okay." Chris' thousand-watt smile was back.
"Um, so, are you usually this friendly to strangers?"
"Not usually." Chris looked almost shy for a second before flashing another smile.
Ryan wasn't at all sure what to make of that.
"So..." He forced himself to think of something to say. "How long have you been surfing?"
Chris' face lit up and Ryan found his shoulders relaxing. This was obviously a good topic.
"Almost since I was old enough to walk, actually." Chris laughed. "I was born and raised here. My house is just a little ways up the beach. So, I guess it's only natural." He shrugged his shoulders.
"It looks like it would be tough. Is it?" Ryan racked his brain for anything he might have heard about surfing in an effort to keep the conversation going. "I heard some beaches are better for it than others. Is that true?"
Ryan took at deep sigh of relief as Chris leaned back on his arms and began to talk about the ins and outs of surfing. As he watched Chris' face light up like a child, he was pretty sure he would be quite content just to sit here a stare at Chris as he talked. Ryan still didn't have a clue why Chris was paying any attention to him, but he was going to try his damnedest to be worthy of Chris' attentions.
Ryan didn't have a clue what he was talking about most of the time, but as Chris flashed another one of his thousand watt smiles Ryan was pretty sure he would be just fine with Chris going on and on about surfing all day if he wanted to.
"So, what do ya say?" Chris pinned Ryan with his baby blues. "You want a surfing lesson, city boy?"
Ryan swallowed hard. Holy shit. The surfer god actually wanted to continue hanging out with him. With that smile and those eyes, not to mention the most perfect chest he had ever seen, there was no way Ryan could say 'no.' Even if the thought of trying to stand up on a board as a wave tried to pummel him into the sand terrified him, he found himself nodding his head.
Ryan walked back to the rented beach house in a daze. He'd agreed to meet Chris back at the beach in an hour. What had he gotten himself into? He walked through the front door and made a beeline for his bedroom, thrilled his parents weren't home. They would be at the country club all day golfing.
His parents had known he was gay since his sophomore year in high school. Most of the time, he thanked his lucky stars that he was born to open-minded parents. He knew he could have had things so much worse. They had always been supportive and very accepting of him. Sometimes his mom was a bit too accepting, bordering on nosy. He just couldn't deal with his mother's prying questions right now.
He did, however, need reinforcements. He threw himself on his bed and reached for his phone. He prayed Shelly would be home, needing some sound advice from his best friend.
Ryan breathed a sigh of relief. Just hearing her voice was calming. Unafraid to speak her mind, Shelly was direct, blunt, and would tell you the truth even if it hurt. He loved that about her. She had been there for him after Tony'd dumped him and was the only person who knew the whole story. She would be able to help him with this.
"Hey, Shell. I'm so glad I caught you."
"Ry! How's San Diego? What's up?"
"Um, well, I need your help." He hoped, rather than believed, that he sounded calm.
"Okay. Is everything alright? You sound a little freaked." Nothing got by her.
"I'm fine. I sort of met someone--" He wasn't allowed to finish before Shelly's squeals pierced his eardrum.
"It's a guy isn't it? You met a guy! Tell me everything this instant!"
Sometimes Ryan swore she could read his mind. He smiled to himself, took a breath, and relayed the morning's events.
"Yay! Ry, I'm so happy for you! This is exactly what you need to get over that asshole, Tony."
"Whoa! Back up, Shell! We haven't even established whether he's gay or not! I mean, he didn't say he was, and I don't want to assume."
"Jeez, Ry!" He could almost feel her rolling her eyes as she huffed into the phone. "For a gay guy, you have, without a doubt, the worst gaydar ever. You think a straight guy would randomly introduce himself to another guy, ditch his friends, and then offer to teach you how to surf?"
"Well--" He wasn't given time to finish.
"It's obvious he was totally hitting on you."
"How can you be so sure?" Ryan wanted to believe her, but past experience had taught him otherwise.
"Okay." He heard Shelly take a deep breath. "Let's think about this logically if you don't want to believe me. What exactly do you have to lose? You're only there for two weeks. If he turns out to be straight, which I highly doubt, who cares? If he's gay and things go badly, who cares? This is the perfect opportunity to just take a chance and see what happens. Just have fun. Have a fling for fuck's sake! Seriously, what's the worst that could happen? It's not like you'd ever see him again."
She had a point. If he was ever just going to throw caution to the wind and go with the flow, this was the perfect opportunity.
"I suppose you're right..."
"Of course I am." Shelly sounded far too triumphant.
"I guess I just don't understand how someone like him could potentially be interested in me."
There was a pause. When Shelly spoke again her voice was softer.
"You know I want to rip Tony's balls off for what he did to you, right?"
"I know." Ryan found there was a lump forming in his throat.
"Ry, I know it's hard for you to believe me, but you are an absolutely amazing guy. You are so smart and good-looking, even if you don't believe it yourself. But, most of all, you are so passionate. Tony was such a dick he couldn't realize what he had. He used you. None of it was your fault. You just gave your heart to the wrong guy. I don't care how hot this surfer guy is. He's the lucky one. Just try to remember that."
Ryan felt his eyes smart. "Thanks, Shell."
"Anytime, babe. Anytime."
Ryan exhaled. "I better go. I'm meeting Chris soon and I need to change."
"Okay. Good luck and call me later!"
"I will. Love ya, Shell."
"Love you, too. Now, go get him, tiger."
Ryan chuckled as he hung up the phone. He'd known calling Shelly would be the right thing to do. This would be the perfect opportunity to just have some fun and maybe regain some of the self-confidence he'd lost. There wasn't any risk with Chris. He could just have fun without any chance of getting hurt. Maybe a summer fling was just what he needed.
An hour later, Ryan found himself back on the beach in swim-trunks and a T-shirt. As he stared out at the waves cresting toward the shore, Ryan wondered if staring at a beautiful, blond surfer who had for some reason taken an interest in him was worth the risk of drowning.
As Chris stood his board up in the sand, his back muscles rippled. His chest gleamed in the sunlight and small pieces of sand stuck to his abdomen glinted and sparkled when the sun hit them just so.
Oh, yes. It was so worth drowning for this. This was perhaps the best break-up therapy in the history of the universe.
"Okay. I think we're ready." Chris flashed him an excited smile.
Ryan panicked for a moment as a particularly huge wave crashed against the shore. "We aren't just going to go out there, are we? I mean, you're going to give me some pointers first, right?"
Chris laughed and grasped his shoulder. "Hey, don't worry! I'm not planning on just tossing you out there. We're going to learn the basics on dry land first. C'mon."
Ryan shuddered at the warm, firm hand on his shoulder. Starting on land was good. As he followed Chris down the shore, he couldn't help wondering if his lesson would involve more touching.
Chris found an empty area of the beach, and they laid their boards out on the sand.
Ryan eyed the two boards lying side by side. "Why is my board so much bigger?"
"Mine's a short board. It's more maneuverable -- easier to make turns. But a long board is much better for beginners 'cause it's easier to balance on. Think of it as a bike with training wheels."
"Great." Ryan rolled his eyes but couldn't help smiling.
"Everyone learns on a long board first. Some people even stick with long boards. No worries." Chris winked and Ryan felt a thrill go through him. "Now, we're going to learn how to stand up on the board..."
A few minutes later, Ryan found himself lying on his board with his feet touching the end and his hands gripping the side of the board, also, he was told, known as the rails.
"Good. Now, make sure your hands are parallel with your shoulders and pretend you're about to do a push-up."
"Like this?" Ryan looked up and wobbled a bit when he found Chris squatting in front of him.
"Just make sure your elbows are cocked back." Chris reached for his upper arms and angled them back. "There. Perfect." Their eyes locked and Ryan's heart sped up. Their faces were so close.
"Okay, now..." Chris cleared his throat and Ryan thought he detected a hint of blush. "From there, you need to stand up. Why don't you watch me a few times?"
Chris moved over to his own board. "A stand-up is easier than a pop-up, so that's what we'll learn first. Get in your push-up position like we just practiced..."
Ryan forced himself to concentrate on Chris' words instead of how great his arms looked when he pushed up from the board.
"When you've pushed up from the board, pull one leg forward until it's about at hip level. Then pull the other leg all the way through to stand up."
Chris pushed up, pulled his legs under him, swiveled his hips, and stood up in one fluid motion. He made it look so easy.
The first time Ryan tried, he ended up toppling over and landing in the sand. Very smooth.
Chris laughed good-naturedly. "Don't worry about it. It takes practice. Try again."
After twenty minutes of pointers, encouragement, and Chris touching him every so often to spread his legs out or angle his hips, Ryan was able to comfortably stand up on his board all by himself.
"That's great, Ryan!" Chris clapped his hands as Ryan once again successfully made it to an upright position on his board. "I think you're about ready to try it out on the water."
Ryan almost wished he hadn't mastered it yet so Chris would have to keep arranging his body into the correct position. He knew the contact was innocent and necessary for learning, but he relished it and didn't want it to end.
They spent a few more minutes going over paddling and then Chris deemed him ready for the water.
"You'll probably want to take your T-shirt off." Chris' mouth quirked.
Ryan looked down at himself. Right. Time to take off my shirt. Lovely. He took a breath to steel himself and then quickly pulled it over his head and tossed it next to his towel. He looked everywhere but at Chris.
He knew how ridiculous he was being. Sure, he was skinny and pale with zero muscle definition, but things could be a lot worse. He knew it was because of Tony that he was so self-conscious. Ryan would never forget what Tony had said when the jerk broke-up with him. "It's not like I thought you were hot or anything. I just liked the idea of breaking you in." Ryan shivered despite the heat.
"You'll probably want to put on some sunscreen." Chris' voice brought him back and a bottle of SPF 30 was held out.
"Oh, yeah, good idea." Ryan focused all his energies slathering on sun block. He was so white, he would've been a lobster by the end of the day if Chris hadn't reminded him to put it on.
"Lemme get your back." Ryan froze and was only vaguely aware of Chris taking the bottle from his hands.
As Chris moved behind him Ryan forced himself to take even breaths. His eyes closed as Chris' hands methodically rubbed the lotion into his back. It felt more like a massage and his shoulders relaxed under the ministrations. It felt really good. Too good. When Chris' hands moved to his lower back and sides Ryan could feel his arousal begin to grow. No, no, no. Do not get hard.
Ryan was both sad and relieved when Chris had finished, but too much more and it would have been horribly obvious how Chris affected him.
Ryan swallowed. "Thanks."
They stared at each other for a heated moment before Chris cleared his throat and reached for his board. "You ready?"
"Ready as I'll ever be."
Chris chuckled. "Just remember, make sure you're balanced on your board and paddle straight out through the surf. I'll be right there with ya. You're gonna do great." He gave Ryan a sincere smile.
They both paused to attach their leashes around their ankles before wading out into the water. When the water was waist high, Chris effortlessly hopped onto his board, and began to paddle out. Ryan scrambled up onto his in a far less graceful fashion and began to awkwardly paddle after Chris. He smiled to himself when he noticed Chris turning his head ever few strokes to make sure Ryan wasn't far behind.
The two of them sat straddling their boards, waiting for the next wave to roll in. On the first wave, Ryan had barely begun to get his legs pulled under him before he toppled off beneath the water. On his second try, he made it to a half-standing position before he fell off. It was a little scary at first to be pulled under the water, but each time, Chris immediately cut his own ride short and turned around to make sure he was okay. It made Ryan feel a little gooey inside.
"You're really doing great. You made it halfway up last time and it was only your second try! We might make a surfer out of you yet." Chris grinned.
"Thanks." Ryan's face heated at the praise.
"Y'know, as much as I love the actual surfing part of it, I have to admit one of my favorite parts is just sitting out here waiting for the waves. It's really nice to just be out here on the water. It's peaceful."
Ryan watched as Chris tilted his face up toward the sky and closed his eyes, his fingers trailing through the water. He looked so content. Ryan wished he could achieve that sort of inner calm.
"Can I ask you something?" Chris lowered his head and turned to look at him.
"This morning when I came over to talk to you. You looked so sad. Why?"
Ryan opened his mouth and shut it again. He ducked his head and suddenly became fascinated by the sunburst pattern painted on his board. He hadn't expected Chris to ask him that. He thought briefly about pretending he had no idea what Chris was talking about. He felt the soothing rock of the waves and stole a glance at the open, seemingly honest person, sitting next to him, asking for information. Maybe he could just tell the truth.
"My... my boyfriend dumped me a few weeks ago." Well, there we go. Now he knows you're gay.
"Wow, I'm sorry. That sucks." Chris looked genuinely concerned. "I kind of know what you're going through, though. My boyfriend and I broke up a few months back."
Shelly was right after all. Ryan tried not to look stunned. "I'm sorry."
"No worries." Chris' smile was back. "I figured I'm actually better off without him. It always hurts, though."
"Yeah." Ryan had to agree. "I'm definitely better off without Tony, but at the time it wasn't easy. In some ways, it still isn't." Something about the roll of the waves and Chris' calming demeanor caused him to relax and his jaw to become unhinged. He found himself chuckling softly. "My best friend, Shelly, told me I should just have a summer fling to get over him." Ryan regretted it as soon as the words were out of his mouth.
"A fling, huh?"
"I--I mean... shit." Ryan grappled for words. They had barely established that they were both gay and he had gone and practically insinuated that he and Chris should hook-up. Ryan felt like toppling off his board and drowning. "It's just what she said." He continued his verbal vomit. "Y'know, no pressure, never have to see him again. But..." He laughed nervously, blushing profusely. "It's probably a stupid idea."
He swallowed hard and dared to glance in Chris' direction. Chris wore an odd expression and ducked his head.
"I suppose I can see where she's coming from. You're on vacation. It would maybe be a chance to put your ex behind you?" His smile didn't quite reach his eyes.
"Yeah, I guess... something like that."
Ryan prayed for a large wave to roll in to wash away the awkwardness he now felt. If he was too busy trying to surf, his big mouth couldn't cause any more problems. Just because Chris is gay doesn't mean he would have any interest in you. Idiot.
"So." Chris broke the silence. "Why writing? How did you get into it?"
Ryan took a deep breath and relaxed, thrilled about the change in topic. Writing was definitely something he could talk about.
"It wasn't like there was one exact moment when it just hit me that I wanted to be a writer. I mean, I always did well in English classes at school, and I love to read. Even when I was little I preferred to pick up a book rather than watch TV." He chuckled at his own nerdiness. "I always admired the people who wrote the books that I read. I guess I just decided I wanted to be able to do that, too, create characters and stories that people could just lose themselves in."
When Ryan glanced up, Chris was just staring at him.
"You're really passionate, aren't you?"
"I..." Ryan blushed at the compliment and at the way Chris continued to hold his gaze. "Yeah, I guess I am."
"I like that."
Chris' smile was slow to bloom this time, but caused Ryan's insides to flutter in a way he wasn't used to.
"Well, what about you?" Always uncomfortable when too much attention or praise was placed on him, Ryan diverted the conversation back to Chris. He was also just intensely curious about the gorgeous surfer and had a hunch there might be more to him than just a great tan and excellent balance. "There have to be things you're passionate about, too."
"Yeah. I suppose there are. Surfing is a given, but I suppose you figured out that one on your own."
Ryan had to laugh. "My excellent powers of deduction did pick up on that one."
Chris' laugh had a wonderful warm, rich quality to it. Ryan wanted to hear it again and again.
"And, besides surfing, I'm a history buff."
Well, that was unexpected. He had been right. Chris was just full of surprises.
"Yeah, I declared history as my major at the end the school year. I dunno..." Chris kicked his legs in the water. "I guess I just always thought to really understand what we're doing and where we're going we have to understand where we've been." Chris gave a shrug.
"Wow." Chris' Zen-like intelligence and understanding threw Ryan for a loop.
"I know. Dorky, right? Most people think history is boring, but I love it."
"No!" Ryan was quick to dispel the notion. "Not at all! It was just unexpected. Actually, historical fiction is one of my favorite genres."
"Yeah?" Chris perked up.
"Definitely! Tell you what, for my first novel I'll write a historical one, and you can help me with my research."
Ryan's grin was in full swing. It wasn't often he found someone with the same level of passion as himself. Shelly told him he was borderline obsessed. Chris seemed to get it, though, and on top of that, their passions seemed to fit together quite nicely.
"Got yourself a deal."
Chris' gaze was so happy and honest looking that for one brief, crazy second Ryan imagined that one day their passions could collide in some way. He had to look away. Staring at Chris was making his stomach feel funny and his heart was beating at an alarming rate. He took a deep breath and got himself under control.
"Wait a minute. I can't believe I never asked before..." He couldn't imagine how it had never come up and was embarrassed he had yet to ask. "Where do you go to school? You never said."
Ryan's forehead creased as he tried to make out the almost guilty look on Chris' face.
"Look! Another great wave is rolling in! C'mon!"
Ryan didn't have time to ruminate on the expression that had bordered on relief as Chris pointed over his shoulder at the wave. He got himself arranged on his board just in time to start paddling forward after Chris.
Ryan was exhausted, a good exhausted, when they finally paddled to shore. He flopped down onto the sand and reached for his towel.
"Wow. This was so much fun. Thanks so much for taking me out this afternoon."
"You're more than welcome. And you did great out there." Chris sat beside him and handed Ryan a water bottle from the cooler he had brought along.
Ryan accepted the water and the compliment gratefully and took several large swallows. He had to admit, he was pretty pleased with himself as well. He wasn't exactly known for his athletic abilities, and usually shied away from activities that required large amounts of exertion or physical skill. But he had actually managed to stand up several times and on the last ride he'd been able to make it almost all the way back into shore before falling off. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had so much fun. Their conversation between waves hadn't ever steered back to school, but it had been light and easy banter. Ryan had enjoyed that. He wasn't used to feeling so at ease around someone so quickly.
"So, do you have any plans for tonight?"
Chris' voice called him back to the present and made him almost choke on his water.
"Um, no. Not really." He coughed.
"Would you like to come over tonight?"
Ryan hoped his voice didn't sound as shrill and desperate as he thought it did. It was clear that Chris liked him and had enjoyed the afternoon, but wanting to continue to spend time with him, in the evening, at Chris' house, spoke of other things entirely. Ryan hoped he wasn't completely misreading the situation.
"Of course I'm serious." Chris grinned. "I had a really good time today."
That smile was going to cause Ryan to go blind.
"Yeah. I'd love to come over."
After getting Chris' address and agreeing to meet at seven P.M., Ryan floated back to the rented beach house like a love-struck, thirteen-year-old girl.
Ryan's palms were sweating as he approached the white-shingled house with blue shutters. He paused to take a deep breath and smoothed down the black V-neck T-shirt he wore over khaki shorts. The front porch lights were on giving the house a warm, cozy glow. Chris was out on the porch bending over the grill, his ass in perfect view. Ryan's flip-flop caught in the sand and he almost tripped. He managed to steady himself and made it several steps closer to the house before Chris turned and noticed him.
"Hey! You made it!"
Ryan couldn't help but return the exuberant look on Chris' face. "Yup. Here I am." He made his way up the front steps and onto the spacious porch. "Nice house. And something smells really good."
"Thanks, and that would be the burgers grilling." Chris narrowed his eyes. "You aren't a vegetarian are you? I'm pretty sure we have some veggie burgers if you are," he quickly added.
Ryan laughed. "No. Definitely a carnivore."
"Excellent." They shared a grin.
"Thanks so much for having me over and grilling." Ryan tried to sound casual but his hands fidgeting in his pockets probably gave him away. It was still rather surreal to him that this was happening.
"Don't mention it. I'm really glad you could come."
The sincerity of Chris' look made Ryan's heart speed up.
"You want a beer?" Chris had a mischievous glint in his eye. "I realize we're both underage by a few years but my parents always have quite a good supply of booze, they're currently out of town, and since neither of us will be operating any heavy machinery later, I figure it couldn't hurt."
Ryan smirked back. "Well, I was planning on driving a large tractor-trailer later on tonight, but, yeah, a beer would be great."
"You're funny." Chris nodded toward the porch swing. "Have a seat. I'll be right back."
Ryan plopped down with a contented sigh. He hadn't drunk a lot in high school, but he wasn't a stranger to alcohol. A beer might be just the thing he needed to loosen up a bit.
The burgers had been delicious, the evening ocean breeze perfect, and beer number three was going down very easily. Ryan felt better than he had in a long time.
"Wait a minute. You mean to tell me that the royal Habsburg family of Austria was so inbred that they were actually all disfigured?!" Ryan almost choked on his beer.
"I'm serious!" Chris was laughing, too. "It's completely true. It's actually a genetic disorder called mandibular prognathism. The Habsburgs were so incestuous that most of the family had it."
"Wow. That's just crazy. You're just a fount of historical information aren't you?" He grinned at Chris.
"A fount, huh? You must be a writer." Chris' grin was cheeky and playful. "No one uses words like that." His smile softened. "I like it."
Ryan swallowed and blushed. He and Chris had started off the evening on opposite ends of the porch swing. Over the course of the last few hours, the distance between them seemed to have all but disappeared. Chris' right leg almost brushed his and his arm was thrown over the back of the swing, mere inches from wrapping around Ryan's shoulders.
Ryan took a deep breath. He wasn't used to the butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling that seemed permanent whenever he was around Chris. He took another swig of beer and steeled his courage of ask the question he had wondered about all day.
"So, why did you come over and talk to me this morning?" He picked at the label on his beer bottle before looking up at Chris.
Chris ducked his head for a few seconds before looking back up. "I guess when I see what I want I just have a tendency to go after it."
Ryan just stared at Chris with his mouth agape.
"Why do you seem so surprised? I like you... a lot."
Ryan sat in stunned silence. All evidence had pointed toward it, but hearing it out loud was something he was unprepared for.
"Yeah, right." Ryan looked away. The only other person that had shown interest had lied to him about everything. It was so hard to believe what Chris was telling him.
There were a few minutes of excruciating silence. Ryan's eyes bored holes into the deck. Chris' voice was soft when it reached his ears.
"God, what did your ex do to you?"
Embarrassed beyond reason when he actually felt his eyes tearing up, Ryan struggled to find something to say.
"W...what do you mean? He broke up with me." He shrugged his shoulders. "No big deal."
Ryan felt Chris' hand tentatively find his shoulder and squeeze gently.
"No, it's more than that. It's like you can't figure out why anyone would like you."
Ryan ground his jaw, preparing a refute.
"He just... I... it was... he used me, okay! He was the first, he was my first. I thought he liked me. I thought I loved him, but he just wanted to... go where no guy had gone before."
Ryan sat in shock, completely stunned that the ugly truth had poured from his mouth.
He gnawed on his lip, refusing to meet Chris' eyes. "We worked in the same bookstore. Tony was a few years older. I thought I was so cool for dating an older guy." He gave off a snort. "It turned out he was dating about three of us at once and apparently had a thing for barely-legal virgins." Ryan's eyes were smarting and his cheeks burned, but he couldn't get himself to shut-up. "So, a week after graduation, I not only discovered he had been cheating on me the entire time we had been together, but I found out that the guy I thought I was in love with had just wanted me as some sort of play thing until he got tired of me."
Ryan wanted to run and hide. Shelly had been right, it did provide some relief knowing he would never have to see Chris again. He didn't know how he would live down the shame otherwise.
"I better go." He couldn't bring himself to see what expression Chris' face held. He set his beer down and stood up quickly, preparing to bolt from the porch.
"Wait a minute!"
Chris' hand closed over his and pulled him back down onto the swing.
"I'm so sorry, Ryan. Fuck. I've never met him, but I pretty much want to kill this guy." Chris squeezed Ryan's hand. "No one deserves to be treated that way, especially someone who is as wonderful, and smart, and gorgeous as you."
That made Ryan's head whip around. He scanned Chris' face for any sign of mocking, but all he found was earnest honesty. Chris' hand came up to gently cup the side of his face.
"I wanted you from the first moment I saw you sitting on the beach this morning and after spending the day getting to know you, I only want you more."
Ryan's eyes went wide, and he instinctively licked his lips, trying to think of what to say. Chris' thumb brushed across his cheek and his blue eyes pierced right through him.
"C...can I kiss you?" Chris' voice was barely above a whisper.
Words had completely left Ryan. With his pulse racing and mind still reeling, he nodded his head.
Chris' face moved closer and Ryan's eyes fluttered shut. In the distance, a wave crashed upon the shore. Then Ryan felt soft, smooth lips press against his own. It was tentative, and a little bit shy, but it created a blooming warmth in Ryan's middle he was completely unprepared for.
Their faces parted and their breath mingled. Ryan could smell salt and sunshine radiating off Chris' skin. Ryan leaned forward and their lips connected again. He didn't want to think or analyze. He needed to be wanted and desired, even if it was only for the rest of the evening.
Chris' tongue carefully traced his bottom lip, and Ryan opened up to what Chris was offering. Everything became far more consuming and desperate at the first caress of tongues. Ryan moaned and leaned back, pulling Chris with him. He relished Chris' weight against his chest. He grasped harder at Chris' shoulders and finally ran his hands through soft, golden strands of hair. Chris' hands stroked his face and neck and ran down over his chest and sides. Their tongues tangled and massaged and teeth nipped at swollen lips. The arm of the swing dug into Ryan's back, but he didn't care. The wood against his back just reminded him that he was pinned under Chris' weight.
Ryan hadn't realized how wonderful just kissing could be. Tony hadn't been much of a kisser and when they had, it had been hard and rough and just a prelude to sex. It had never caused the heated sensation he felt now coursing through his entire body. Kissing Tony had never felt so good that he never wanted to come up for air.
Chris' mouth suddenly parted from his and the weight lifted from Ryan's chest. Ryan opened his eyes and blinked rapidly.
"Is... is everything okay?" He was short on breath and the sudden loss of Chris' lips was jarring.
"No. I mean yeah, everything's fine. Um," Chris licked his lips.
Still gripping Chris' shoulders, Ryan scanned his face. The expression he found made something it his gut tighten.
"What is it? Is it me? Did I do something wrong?"
"No! No, you didn't do anything wrong. I just. I don't know if I can do this..." Chris trailed off and lowered his head.
"Oh." Ryan swallowed down the humiliation and began to fold in on himself. Of course Chris didn't want him. How could he have been so stupid?
He struggled to sit upright, pushing Chris away in the process. He had to get away. He stood quickly, blood rushing to his head, making him dizzy, and stumbled towards the porch stairs.
It was the second time that night Chris grabbed his hand and asked him not to go. He sidestepped and found himself trapped between one of the beams supporting the porch and Chris.
"I get it, okay. It was a mistake. It's fine." Ryan looked anywhere but at Chris' face.
"That's not it at all! But I don't think I can do this if all you want is a fling."
Ryan's head jerked up, his eyes wide, as he stared at Chris' almost pained expression.
"You said earlier that all you were looking for was a summer fling. But I'm not sure I can do that."
Chris ran his hands through his hair looking completely disconcerted. Chris had seemed so Zen all day long, it threw Ryan for a loop.
"I haven't been completely honest with you."
Ryan's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"
"I meant to tell you earlier, but somehow I never got around to it and then all that talk about how you only wanted a fling sort of threw me off, and then I was too scared to tell you."
"What are you talking about?"
"At first, I was willing to go along with it because I liked you so much. I thought, hey, a fling would be better than nothing. But when we started kissing, I knew that it wasn't going to work, that I couldn't go through with it if I was just going to be some one-night-stand to get over your ex."
"Still not following you."
"Ryan..." The pause seemed endless. "This fall I'm going to be a sophomore at NYU."
The air whooshed out of Ryan's lungs. As the words sunk in, a wave of emotions crashed over him.
"What? You lied to me!" He was yelling. Of all the emotions Ryan was feeling, anger won out. "Why didn't you say something earlier?"
Ryan shoved Chris out of his way, bolted from the porch, and ran down onto the beach. He knew he was being irrational, but nothing had prepared him for that. He had been prepared for a casual encounter. He had been prepared for spending the day with someone he would never see again. What he hadn't been prepared for was for how kissing Chris had made him feel. Knowing Chris could potentially cross his path for the next few years was just too scary. He wasn't ready. His heart and his self-confidence weren't healed enough to be put on the line once again. Suddenly, San Diego and Chris just wouldn't fit inside the summer fling box he had drawn for himself. Everything was spilling over and he couldn't handle it.
"Ryan! Wait! Please!"
Ryan sped up. He willed his feet to move through the sand faster. The toe of his flip-flop caught on a rock and he tumbled forward, falling to his knees.
"Hey, you okay?" Chris' hand caught his arm and helped to haul him up. Ryan's eyes had filled with tears, and he looked up with blurred vision. The sight of Chris' face, concerned and caring, did him in. His knees buckled once again and this time he remained sitting in the sand, knees drawn up to his chest and arms wrapped around them.
"I don't get it." Ryan didn't turn his head, but he saw the shadow of Chris' body sit down beside him. "Why didn't you tell me? I feel like such an idiot." Suddenly feeling exhausted and completely defeated, he lowered his head to rest on his arms. He didn't have the energy to try to run away from Chris a second time.
"I wish I had good answer. But if you'll give me a minute, I'll try to explain."
Chris paused, seeming to need an answer before continuing. Ryan didn't lift his head, but gave a brief nod against his arms, acquiescing to the request.
"I almost told you this morning as soon as you told me you were going to be starting there. It was literally on the tip of my tongue. But then Brad came over asking if I wanted to leave with him and Jeremy, and I got thrown off track. We started talking about surfing and, well, I guess you know by now how I get when I start talking about surfing... I can't really shut up." There was a soft chuckle from Chris' direction. "After you agreed to go surfing with me, I was so excited at the thought of being able to teach you about something I love and to spend time with you, it was literally all I could think about. School was the last thing on my mind."
Ryan slowly raised his head. "Go on."
"Then... well, then you told me about your ex and how your friend had told you to have a fling."
Ryan swallowed and cringed.
"So, by the time we got around to talking about school again, and you asked me directly where I went, I kind of lost my nerve."
Chris turned his head and purposefully made eye contact. "I guess all that talk about a fling kind of made me scared to tell you that I might be someone who you would see in the future. I thought that if you knew I went to NYU you might not want to hang out with me. It kinda seemed like you were looking for something with no strings attached."
Ryan dropped his gaze and stared at the sand, suddenly feeling terrible, but he still wasn't sure about Chris' intentions. After Tony, he hated being lied to.
"I get that after what Tony did to you, dishonesty probably ranks pretty high on your 'what-not-to-do-list.' God, I'm such an idiot!" Chris ran his hands through his hair. "But I only did it because I liked you so much. It was completely selfish. I just wanted to spend as much time with you as possible. That's it. I truly am sorry. I should have told you from the beginning."
Ryan's shoulders sagged as he tried to process what Chris was telling him. "I don't get it. Why me?"
"You have no idea, do you?" Chris' voice was wistful and gentle. Ryan wished he could see his face more clearly, but the darkness prevented it.
"How amazing you are."
"I think I have at least some sense of how badly you were hurt by your ex, and I get that maybe you're a little scared. But, Ryan..." Chris blew out a gust of air. "I've only spent a day with you and I already know you're one of the most intelligent and passionate people I've ever come across, not to mention absolutely beautiful."
"A...are you serious?"
"Yeah. I am. You're funny. And fun to be with. I feel like I can be the surfer and the history geek with you and it's okay. I like who I am with you."
"I." Ryan didn't even know where to begin. To say he was stunned would be putting it mildly. He was having such a hard time trying to rationalize the person Tony had seen in him and the person Chris had described. "Why did you stop kissing me, then?" Ryan forced himself to turn so he could be face to face with Chris.
"I kind of tried to fool myself into thinking that I was okay with just a hook-up, but I knew the second I kissed you that I wasn't, that I wanted more. I knew I had to be honest with you."
"What do you want, then?" Ryan forced the words out.
Chris took a deep breath and tentatively reached for Ryan's hand. Ryan didn't protest.
"I want to know that when we both show up on campus in about seven weeks that there will still be something between us."
Even through the dusk, Ryan could make out the anxious yet utterly hopeful look on Chris' face. He couldn't believe it. He'd been dragged to San Diego against his will, completely disheartened at the prospect of love and dating, and now the Adonis he had seen on the beach that very morning was asking him for what sounded like a relationship. He wasn't sure he was ready. What he did know was that, in one day, Chris had made him feel so much better about himself than Tony ever had.
"You're serious, aren't you?" He searched Chris' face.
"Yeah. I am."
Ryan took a long, thoughtful breath. "Y'know, with Tony, I thought I loved him, but, really, it was more that I loved the idea of having a first boyfriend. I don't want him back."
Ryan needed Chris to know that. He liked Chris -- a lot. It was undeniable. Maybe he owed it to himself to give this a chance.
Ryan's fingers gripped Chris' hand more tightly. "If I say yes, will you do something for me?"
Ryan couldn't believe his boldness. "Will you kiss me again?"
Chris' smile lit up the night. He leaned forward and tucked a lock of Ryan's waywardly wavy hair behind his ear. Ryan's breath caught in his throat as warm hands closed around his face and lips that formed the most beautiful smiles pressed against his own. This kiss didn't have the desperate feeling their first encounter had. This was so much better because this time tongues caressed in a silent promise of more yet to come.
Chris sucked gently on his bottom lip and then pulled away after one more touch of lips. "Stay a little while longer? Watch the stars with me?"
Ryan smiled and nodded. Their fingers laced together as they lay back onto the warm sand, shoulder to shoulder. Stars twinkled in the midnight blue of the sky as waves rhythmically crashed against the beach. It truly was a beautiful night.
"So, I'm here for about another week and a half, but what happens after that?" Ryan found he asked not out of dubious disbelief but from a distinct, eager desire to plan ahead. The future no longer seemed so depressing.
Chris squeezed his fingers. "Well, as you said, we still have a bit more time together, and then after that, I'm pretty sure email and phones go both ways from here to New York until classes start up again."
Ryan laughed. "Sounds like a plan."
"Yeah?" He turned his head.
"Will you go surfing with me again tomorrow?"
A huge grin erupted on Ryan's face to match Chris'. "Definitely."
© 2010 Lily Grace