Some days I feel like a normal guy with a normal life. Other days totally smack my ass and all I can think is, what if today’s the day the curtain is pulled back and everyone sees the real me? What if everyone finds out?
I close my eyes against the strobing lights of the gym and let the music take me away. Pulling Meg closer, I bury my face in her hair. She smells amazing tonight—fruity with a hint of coconut. I glance around the gym at all the dancing couples and see an ocean of people who would turn on me in a heartbeat if they knew the truth.
And Meg. Oh my God, Meg.
I would lose her for sure.
It’s easy to blame Dad for my mistakes, but he didn’t force me to be a monster. He may have shown me the way, led me to the edge, but I took the final swan dive into that abyss. I carry that burden. I struggle every day to make up for the things I’ve done: the secrets, the lies, the guilt.
I float my lips across Meg’s bare shoulder. We sway to the music, and I block out everyone else at the dance until it’s only us. My palm slides against the silky fabric of her dress, pausing at the base of her neck.
“I love you,” I say. When you date a girl for a year, she comes to expect certain things. Like being told you love her. I don’t love her. But I don’t not love her either. Hell. Love could sit on me and do a lap dance and I wouldn’t recognize it.
“I love you too.” Meg kisses my cheek. “You ready to go?” She runs her fingers through my hair.
I try to sound relaxed. “We just got here.” My voice shakes.
“Don’t you want your surprise?”
“Of course.” I tilt my head down and kiss her. “But you spent hours picking the right dress. You should get more than fifteen minutes to show it off.”
As the song ends, she smiles, her gaze wandering across my chest. “I could say the same about your suit.”
“It’s just a suit. Nothing special.”
She pats my arm and walks away, heading for our table in the darkest corner of the gym where Jake sits alone, hunched over, playing a game on his phone. He’s already abandoned his jacket and tie to the back of his chair. Another half hour and we’ll be lucky if he’s still wearing shoes. Or a shirt.
“Where’s your date?” I ask, sitting beside him. A new song starts, loud and full of bass.
Jake leans in to yell over the music. “Getting drinks in the hall.”
I nod and turn my attention back to Meg. She likes it when I drape my arm across her shoulders, so I do that and kiss her forehead. Here’s what I’ve learned about girls: you don’t have to be a big talker as long as you let them know you remember they’re there while you’re not talking. So, while I’m hiding a full-on panic attack about what she’s expecting tonight, I gently take her hand, twine our fingers together, and pull her close. She smiles up at me, content, and rests her head on my shoulder. Every few minutes, I “remember” her by gliding my hand up and down her arm.
She squeezes my hand. “This reminds me of our first date.”
“Me too.” I kiss the top of her head and rest my cheek across her forehead. “I was a nervous wreck.”
“The pit stains didn’t give it away. I swear.”
I chuckle. “You weren’t supposed to notice those. To be fair, you did ignore me most of the night. That would worry any guy.”
She shrugs and snuggles closer. She plays with my tie, running the silk through her fingers. “You were such a player. It freaked me out.”
“I know.” Meg was the first girl I ever properly asked out—once I decided it was time to stop making out with random girls at parties. She never cared about Dad’s fame or the attention I got for being his kid. I also knew her reputation for not putting out, and that was what I needed in a girlfriend. Safe. One who wouldn’t carry expectations.
It’s hard work being a good boyfriend. Keeping a balance between sharing pieces of myself and holding back the things she can’t know. It’s exhausting. And tonight…I know what she wants. I don’t know if I can give it to her.
I turn to Jake, hopeful he can talk me out of escaping to join a circus, but his date’s back and they’re making out in the shadows. I swallow hard and turn back to Meg.
“What?” She leans close.
“Nothing. Just…what’s Jake’s date’s name again?”
“Right. Guess they’re doing okay.”
Meg leans forward to see past me. “Awww. That’s awesome.”
“Yeah.” I glance back at Jake and Patrick. They’re getting gropey enough that I don’t want to see more. I jump up. “Let’s dance.”
“Actually….” Meg checks the time on her phone and yells over the music. “We’ve waited long enough. Let’s go.” She glances up at me with a sly grin.
I force a slow breath. “Oh. Okay.” This is the part where Jake reads my mind and saves me. Get me out of this! I tap his shoulder and wait for him to come up for air.
“Hey,” he says with a quick wipe of his bottom lip and a brief scan around the gym for teachers. He slides off his shoes. “Ahhh,” he groans. “So much better.” He grins at Patrick. “The shirt’s coming off next, if you want to jump in and help.”
“Definitely.” Patrick chuckles and plays with Jake’s top button. Patrick winks at me, which I find annoying, but whatever. It doesn’t matter how I feel about Patrick. Jake likes him and that’s what matters.
Patrick kisses Jake’s cheek, then looks back at me. “You know, CJ, you could dump Meg and join us…just saying.”
I smirk. “No thanks. I’ll stick with Meg.”
Jake throws an annoyed side-eye at Patrick then turns back to me. “So? What’s up?”
I shout over the song that’s even louder than the last one. “We’re taking off.” Please stop us!
“It’s about time.” Jake beams. “Hey. Stop looking so freaked out! Get the hell out of here and go enjoy your surprise.”
I send psychic vibes. SAVE ME! His skull is too thick to pick them up. Or, you know, he’s not actually psychic.
Jake squints with a reassuring nod. “You’ll be okay. You love each other. Yeah?”
“Yeah.” I force a smile and turn to Meg. “Ready?”
As we walk through the parking lot, my heart rate quickens. “Meg?” I gently take her elbow. “Meg, stop.” I let go, shove my hands in my pockets.
“What?” She pulls her keys from her bag. Her radiant glow lights the whole parking lot.
Shit. I can’t let her down. “Um.” I smile. “Never mind.” I hop into her car and wait to see where she’ll take me.
It turns out to be a damn hotel. Kill me now.
We walk into our room and my anxiety skyrockets from the aroma of bleached linen and air freshener. How is it that all hotels smell the same? Shuffling across the spacious room, past the king-sized bed and the in-room hot tub, I pull the curtain back and stare out at the city lights. Beautiful LA. “Nice view. That was some trick, getting us this room.”
“I know, right? Thank you, fake ID! I figured we deserve the best for the most important night of our lives. I mean, you only lose your virginity once, right?”
“Right.” I close my eyes and try to slow my racing pulse.
“Yeah.” If Meg knew the real me, she’d know this is the last place I want to be. The opposite of romantic. But I can’t say anything without her asking a million questions, so she’ll never know.
* * *
The girl was shy and blonde. I should have known her name. We’d been introduced earlier, but I couldn’t remember. It didn’t matter. It didn’t change anything. She backed away as I moved towards her. She was as nervous as I was. Of course she was. We were too young to be doing this. No twelve-year-old should be having sex.
I inched towards her through the hotel room. I couldn’t see her face anymore. Only her tears. Those should have been the big clue for me to stop.
But I didn’t.
* * *
“Can you believe we’ve been together for a year?”
Meg’s voice sounds miles away even though she’s right behind me.
I stare out the window. “What?” I swallow hard. “Oh. Yeah. It’s crazy. Who’d have thought I was capable of a real relationship?”
“I knew.” She wraps her arms around my chest. Pulls me close. “Once I got you away from all the other girls.”
“All the girls.” I clasp my hands over hers and hold them tight to my chest. “I wasn’t that bad.”
“You kind of were. Guys were taking bets on whether you’d be a dad before we graduated.”
“Shit.” I hang my head. “I wasn’t that reckless. You know I never actually….”
“I know.” Meg snuggles her face into my back and squeezes me tight. “It’s like you saved yourself for me.”
I stiffen in her arms. “Yeah.”
She kisses my neck. “I don’t want to wait anymore.”
“Okay.” I bring her hands to my lips. The warmth of her body presses against my back, and my dick decides I’m ready. There’s no reason we can’t do this. I’m eighteen now. It’s perfectly normal.
Then why am I so terrified?
“CJ?” Her hands tense at my shoulders. “Is everything okay?”
“Of course.” I take a slow, deep breath through my nose. Mistake. The hotel smell. I breathe through my mouth, but my breathing grows faster, out of control.
“Ceej?” Meg turns me around, placing a hand on my chest. “Your heart’s racing.”
I don’t answer. I can’t. My mind is laser focused on the last time I was in a hotel room. And all the times before that. So many times. They swirl around me, coming at me so fast I can’t breathe.
“CJ!” And like a snapping elastic, I’m back with Meg, her hands bracing me, one on each cheek. “What’s wrong?” She pushes my hair back from my forehead. “Talk to me!”
“Sorry.” I sit numbly on the bed. My arms limp at my sides. “I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine.”
“I am.” My eyes close briefly while I steady my breath. “Come here.” Taking Meg’s hands, I guide her onto my lap and kiss her. It doesn’t take long before we’re both lost in the kiss and I’m insanely hard. I can do this. I’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen. To keep her happy.
Meg gently pulls away, breathless. “Are you sure you’re okay? I don’t want to—”
“Stop.” I kiss her forehead. “I can’t wait to be with you.” I offer a sly grin and lift her chin to kiss her. “You’re so beautiful.” The panic is building again. I need to regroup. “I’ll be right back,” I say, easing her off my lap.
Closing the bathroom door, I grip onto the edge of the counter. She loves me. My past doesn’t matter. I can block it out and focus on us. She deserves that. I deserve that. I’m not twelve anymore.
What’s that thing they say? Fake it ’til you make it—I can do that. I splash water on my face, grab my phone off the counter, and scroll through my playlists to find the perfect song. Up at full volume, I blast “Sassy Sexy Wiggle” and whip open the door.
Meg sits on the edge of the bed, wringing her fingers. When she sees me, she laughs, and leans back onto the bed. “Hey there, sexy.”
I do a few over the top, uncool hip rolls and saunter towards her to the beat of the music. I slowly undo my shirt, careful to remember the cheesy biting of my bottom lip. A few more rolls of my hips, and I slide my belt from its loops and whip it around.
Meg claps, whistles, and adds a few cat calls.
I’m faking it so well, I’m actually having fun. I turn my back, undo my pants, and slowly let them slide off my ass. At the last minute, I whip them back up and toss her an embarrassed grin over my shoulder.
Meg climbs off the bed and runs her hands down my arms and over my chest. “You always know exactly what I need.”
“You needed a strip tease?” I turn in her arms and kiss her. “You’re shaking.”
“I’m nervous.” She gazes into my eyes. “But ready.”
I flick my gaze to the bed, then back to Meg. As scared as I am, I’ve never wanted anything so much. I need to stop thinking with my brain and let my dick take over. I’ve done it before. I can do it again.
I take Meg’s hand and thread my fingers through hers. “You’re the only good thing in my life.”
She slides her hand inside my shirt and up my back. I scoop her into my arms and press my lips to hers. I can do this.
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