Volume 2 of the Something in the Water series arrives Tuesday, January 30!

Devil on My Shoulder [Going Under Excerpt]

Devil on My Shoulder [Going Under Excerpt]

[The following is an excerpt from Going Under, available on Amazon.]

Gabriel ends up in the most generic devil costume ever. This is fine, he thinks, because he doesn’t really care, and it’s easy enough to ditch the horns and the pitchfork, and just walk about the party in a badass cape. He debated just going as himself, but Mel and Kat insisted that doesn’t count as a costume, not even if he wore his cap and goggles and brought a medal. Reese pointed out it was pretty cold for a Speedo, and Brody helpfully suggested that this costume would mean he’d get “all the bitches,” which was effectively the nail in the coffin.

Reese debated being an angel—”We can be someone’s conscience!” he laughed at Gabriel—but Gabriel just lifted an eyebrow, because Reese is definitely no angel. Half-lidded looks, winks at inopportune moments, flirty borderline crass comments about people’s prowess in bed …

Reese is not pure or innocent, and Gabriel wonders if the other swimmer is actually flirting with him or being an asshole, or if he’s just willfully imagining things.

He can’t get the kiss out of his head, but they’re still not talking about that, so he can’t quite fathom why Reese would flirt with him. After all, he’d said quite clearly “we can’t.” He was the brakes on the situation, as strange as that is; he was the voice of reason.

After all, they can’t. It’s a sort of … unspoken rule that you don’t bang people on your own swim team. It happens, but the fall out is almost always nasty, which is why it’s discouraged. Banging people on other swim teams is fine, because you don’t have to depend on those people in relays or jump in a pool with them day in, day out, train for hours on end with them.

Gabriel has seen it before: two people on the swim team get together, and then one of them’s a bad lay and it’s super awkward, or it’s a drunken one-night stand and both of them are ashamed. Or worse, they actually get into a relationship, and then it implodes, which creates so much tension on the team, not just between exes, but between the rest of the team as they divide into two factions. He’s seen entire teams rally behind one party, which ends in the other leaving the team.

So you just don’t do it.

It’s also verboten, particularly between himself and any other guy on the team, because he’s an Olympian. He’s part of the national team, expected to represent America on the national stage. And he’ll likely be going back; he’s only nineteen, after all. He’ll likely be around for the next Olympic cycle, barring anything too unfortunate. So he’d be an idiot to sabotage his own career like that, to start something with Reese that will harm both of them. He knows Reese is angling for the Olympics too.

And it’s not that swimming is homophobic or anything; far from it. There are plenty of gay and out swimmers in the community. It’s just that they tend not to be considered for the national team. The community is supportive only so far.

And given that he’s currently a Big Deal, he’s not sure what the fallout would be like. He knows what would happen to Reese. He’ll have to show the best possible results, work twice or even three times as hard to be considered. Any slip, any single mistake could be the end.

And since Gabriel’s already in the public eye, it would direct unfair attention to Reese. He’s not in the public eye, so he’d be dragged into Gabriel’s orbit. Even if he did make it, it’s unlikely he’d be given fair dues. People would suggest he made it just because of who he was banging, that Gabriel pulled strings for him behind the scenes, or that people were afraid of Gabriel. And that would mean Reese would be ostracized; opinion would turn against him.

Gabriel doesn’t know if he’d see as much ill effect. There would be certain places he’d be unwelcome, for sure. Perhaps he’d still have a spot on the national team, but people might not be happy about it. There would be rumblings from more conservative quarters that he’s setting a bad example, that he’s a bad role model. That he shouldn’t participate, that he shouldn’t represent his country because America doesn’t believe this is okay.

So it’s a sort of dangerous thing for both of them, for either of them, and Reese particularly doesn’t want the risk and that’s fine. Gabriel understands.

But fuck if he can get Reese out of his head.

So he should know that things are going to go sour the night of the party. He should know that twisting feeling in his gut means things are most definitely going to turn out for the worse. If Reese is going, he should opt to stay home. He’ll probably be happier anyway. He hates parties. He’s not social. He’s the stick-in-the-mud, the anti-social lone wolf. He likes to be alone.

Reese should go to the party, certainly. And Gabriel should stay home. It only makes sense.

But something compels him, the same driving force, the thrumming in his veins that sings through him when he stands on the blocks, waiting for the starter’s signal, his heart pounding away with a steady thump-thump-thump between his ears, and it’s a race, it’s a competition.

It’s the opportunity, the possibility laid out before him. He could seize it, just as he could seize victory every time he dives into the water on that mark, every time he breaks the surface and plunges deep.

So he goes. And he hates every second of it. He glares at Brody when he brings his friends by, all of them fist-bumping and congratulating Gabriel on the Olympics—the Olympics, the fucking Olympics, four medals—and when Connor drags some of his friends by. And he hates Mel for every drink she puts in his hand, every wink and nudge toward one of her friends, and he hates Kat for stuttering as she drags him around to her sisters, and Amanda seems ready to reconcile with him, and he hates that.

He hates the drinks burning at his throat. He hates the music, the girl trying to lead him onto the floor. He hates the noise, the insipid conversation. He hates the costumes, the guys cheering each other on as they drink themselves to stupor, the girls falling out of their tops as they get increasingly plastered. He hates the scent of vomit that soon mingles with the scent of booze and candy.

Most of all, he hates that Reese completely ignores him, instead hanging off of Tiffany all night. He moves around the room with her, his grin all the creepier for the layers of make-up he’s wearing to make himself look like a skull. People keep asking if he’s supposed to be a Day of the Dead sugar skull, and he says no, that’s insulting. He’s a skeleton, like that’s the scariest thing he could come up with, but at least the make-up keeps him from making out with Tiffany. The black makes his eyes pop, their blue even more startling in the center of that darkness.

Tiffany is a sugar skull, and Reese doesn’t seem too happy about that, mutters something about it being a religious observance that has nothing to do with Halloween, but Tiffany laughs and does another shot and he’s still hanging off her anyway and Gabriel hates her laughter with every fiber of his being.

He downs another drink, wonders if there’s somewhere he can just go hide away, maybe play video games. He could slip on a headset, get lost in the world of senseless violence and fantasy murder, listening to people scream obscenities at him and each other.

It seems preferable to the party right then and there.

Mel sidles up beside him, slides another beer across the way to him. “Flossy,” she says, and he snaps to attention, glares at her.

His teammates really need to stop giving him stupid nicknames. “What?”

She frowns, and there’s concern in her eyes. “What’s up?” she asks. “You’ve been over here stewing for hours. You had any fun at all?”

He cracks open the bottle and takes a swig. “It’s fine,” he says, “I’m having fun.”

“You don’t look like you’re having fun,” she presses. She’s dressed as Elena from Street Fighter. Apparently, her original costume idea didn’t pan out, so here she is. Gabriel isn’t sure how she isn’t freezing.

“This is my having fun face,” he says, and she rolls her eyes.

“Gabriel …”

“What?” he huffs.

She sighs heavily. “Go have fun,” she says, giving him a shove. “Socialize.”

“Ugh,” he says to her as he stumbles away from the table he’s been lurking by for most of the evening.

Reese is on him in a second. “Hey!” he cries, wraps an arm around Gabriel’s shoulders. “You made it!”

Gabriel stares at him, mesmerized by the motion of his mouth beneath layers of make-up. It’s trippy. And an excellent excuse to stare at Reese’s lips.

“I’ve been here all night,” he murmurs.

“Lurker,” Reese says, claps him on the back. “C’mon, Kit-Kat wants to play some games, I need your help. Her and Tiff are gonna kick my ass at foosball or something. You any good at pool?”

“I thought you said foosball—”

“There’s a difference?”

Gabriel blanks at him. “Yes,” he says, “a large one. A very large one.”

Reese sobers, then shrugs. “Whatever!” he cries. “Let’s go see. You any good at either of those, maybe we can convince ‘em …”

Turns out the girls wanted to play beer pong (which is not pool or snooker or foosball or table tennis or ping-pong), and Reese is shit at it, somehow, which means he and Gabriel end up drinking most of the table while the girls cheer and high-five and hug each other, delighting as they win.

Gabriel wobbles on his feet. He’s not sure he’s ever been this drunk in his life. Which, granted, he doesn’t get drunk very often, so it wouldn’t be too difficult. He seems to be racking up “the drunkest I’ve ever been” stories, however, the more time he spends with Reese.

Reese is possibly even more drunk, mostly because he has to finish more of the drinks than Gabriel, and then finishes some of Gabriel’s when Gabriel turns a bit green. By the end of the match, Reese is leaning heavily on the table, almost swaying side to side. He can’t even swat at the ball when it comes their way. Gabriel’s not much better, but he can at least make a concerted effort.

The girls high-five some more, clap hands. Reese turns about, rests on his elbows, slowly, slowly sinking down toward the floor as he does so. “Man,” he slurs, “I didn’t think they could beat us. Where were your skills at, Gabby?”

“Where were yours?” Gabriel returns. Reese’s knees buckle, and he practically flops onto the floor. He smacks into the stone tiles and laughs.

Gabriel sinks down to sit on the floor beside him. He would try to help him up, but he’s not sure how to contend with drunk Reese—Reese isn’t a small guy, and he’s rolling around laughing. Gabriel knows he feels weak and uncoordinated; he’s pretty sure they’d both just topple over if he tried to pick Reese up off the floor.

Reese hauls himself up after about a minute, using the table for leverage, even as it wobbles. “Oh my God,” he wheezes, “’m so fucking drunk.”

“Me too,” Gabriel agrees.

Reese slides back to the floor. “We should go home,” he says, “we’re too drunk for life.”

“Uh-huh.”

They sit there for a moment more. Gabriel stares at the wall, uncomprehending. The world seems to simply spin on by.

A hand on his shoulder, and he looks up into Mel’s warm, brown eyes. “We called you a cab,” she says, and he glances back at Connor, who helps him up to his feet, steadies him. Kat and JT and Brody are busy cleaning Reese up off the floor.

“You two are way too drunk,” Mel explains, and Gabriel tries to listen to her voice as it swims through his ears, murky and muddled. “You’re both underage, the RA asked us to get you out of here before someone calls the cops.”

“Okay,” Gabriel breathes, “sure. Yeah.” He ducks his head in a nod, regrets it as the world spins ’round.

They help them outside. They all stand there in the freezing cold. The wind has taken a bitter turn. Reese shudders, and Kat gives Mel her cape as they wait for the cab.

It takes fifteen minutes for the cab to show up; it might be eternity, but then Connor and Brody are helping them crawl into the back of the car. Mel’s giving the driver instructions.

Reese has his head between his knees the entire time, dry heaving. He’s so drunk. Gabriel rubs his back, right between his shoulder blades. He tries to look out the window, but the world is spinning and moving very quickly, so he closes his eyes.

That’s worse, so he stares at a spot on the dash and tries not to look at anything else, lest he throw up in the back of the cab.

They arrive at Reese’s, and Gabriel tumbles out of the car, helps Reese clamber out. Reese collapses on his lawn, and Gabriel’s thinking about leaving him there, getting back into the cab and going home, when he realizes the cabby has shut the doors and locked them.

He holds up his hands, but the driver rolls down the window and says, “Sorry, your friend paid fare but only this far—and I ain’t risking ya throwing up in the back of my car. Call someone else if you need.”

Then he winds the window up and speeds off, and Gabriel’s left on Reese’s lawn with Reese gasping like a dying fish, before he finally rolls over and pukes.

Gabriel sighs. It’s probably for the best, he thinks. They’re both drunk off their faces, but Reese probably shouldn’t be left alone.

How he gets the other swimmer to his feet, he doesn’t know, but they stagger up the walk, and Gabriel fishes out the key, unlocks the door. Reese pukes in the bushes near the front door.

They get inside. Gabriel ditches his cape—it’s itchy—and his shoes. He peels Reese’s sneakers off for him, turns him upstairs. They go into the washroom, and Gabriel forces Reese to sit on the toilet, scrubs at his face until the make-up is coming off at least a little, and Reese closes his eyes, breathes through his nose, then holds up a finger, and Gabriel backs off. Reese slides off his seat, to his knees, lifts the lid, and pukes again.

Gabriel tosses the cloth in the sink. He heads downstairs to get water and bread.

When he gets back, Reese is leaned over the counter, half-heartedly scrubbing at his face, or at least trying to. Gabriel takes the cloth from him, grinds it into his skin, rinsing away thick layers of grease paint as Reese heaves. The older swimmer leans into him, and he tightens his grip on him, trying to hold him steady.

He probably shouldn’t kiss Reese, he thinks, not before the older man has properly rinsed his mouth, managed to scrub the last traces of paint from his lips, but they’re drunk and making terrible decisions is kind of a given when they’re drunk.

So Reese is in his arms, his tongue in his mouth, and Gabriel doesn’t mind too much, lets Reese kiss him sloppy and uncoordinated, and Reese ends up licking his chin, then dropping his head against Gabriel’s shoulder, groaning, “I’m so fucking drunk.”

“Okay,” Gabriel says, tries to hold him steady. The room is still swimming. He’s so drunk too.

Reese lifts his head again, peels away from him. He stumbles against the bathtub, nearly topples backwards into it as his calves smack into the edge. He clutches at the wall. “’m … gonna go to bed,” he slurs.

“Good idea,” Gabriel says, picks up the glass of water, and follows the other swimmer across the hall.

Reese’s bedroom is a fucking mess, but the thought is disembodied, distant. He knows that, in a sober state, he would be disgusted by the clothes littered across the floor, the stacks of books that look ready to topple over, the empty water bottles, the dirty dishes stacked on the nightstand. But he’s decidedly not sober right then or there, so he pushes aside dirty dishes and odds and ends—Reese’s watch, a couple of pill bottles that spill across the carpet—and sets the glass of water down on the nightstand. He grabs the wastepaper basket, which is surprisingly devoid of anything except clothing packages and crumpled pieces of paper, maybe a tissue or two (Reese is a guy, Gabriel thinks vaguely, just like him; it makes perfect sense), and sets it near the bed, because Reese is groaning, even as he sinks down into the mattress, one arm over his eyes, his other hand splayed across his stomach. “Oh my God, everything is spinning.”

“No,” Gabriel says, “you’re drunk.”

“I know,” Reese drawls, “but it needs to stop spinning.”

Gabriel sighs. Reese shivers violently, so Gabriel grabs the blankets and draws them up over the other swimmer, tucks them loosely around his shoulders. Reese shivers again, then slurs, “Gabby, sleep with me.”

Gabriel freezes. Drunk as he is, he’s pretty sure he heard what Reese said—and he’s pretty sure he knows what he means. But Reese also said they can’t. But he wants to. But he can’t get the kiss out of his head. But Reese is too drunk.

“’m cold,” Reese says, then rolls over and tugs at his sleeves, “get in bed with me, ‘m freezing.”

Gabriel moves, but only to pull away. He eyes Reese critically—or at least as critically as he can when his vision is double and the room is spinning. “Uh,” he says.

“’m cold,” Reese reiterates.

Gabriel wishes he had a better idea of what to do in this situation. Reese tugs at him again though, so he nudges the other swimmer, encourages him to shuffle over to accommodate him as he crawls onto the bed. He slides between the covers, and Reese curls right up against him, eyes closed, shivering. “It’s so cold here,” he says, teeth chattering, “it doesn’t get like this in Florida, it’s always warm—”

Florida, ah-ha, Gabriel thinks. Reese’s accent isn’t strictly Florida—there’s a heavy dose of Spanish in there too, probably his mother’s influence—but Reese is from Florida. Okay. That also makes sense with the Hispanic background.

“Where in Florida?” he asks, raking a hand through Reese’s hair, because that seems like a nice thing to do. Reese still has his eyes closed; he’s certainly not complaining.

“Miami, bitch,” Reese mumbles, the syllables clumsy, his lips barely moving over them. Gabriel wonders how much he can take advantage of the situation. How much he should take advantage of the situation. It’s tempting to bow his head, to taste Reese’s lips again.

But they can’t. Reese’s words echo in his skull like a gunshot going off, so he refrains. Instead, he lets Reese cuddle a little closer; he can feel how cold the other man’s skin is, the prickle of gooseflesh, even under the blankets. He cards his hands through rough hair that could likely use a good conditioning. (Gabriel only uses conditioner because his sisters insisted girls would like him more if his hair was soft. It was dry and brittle, like straw, thanks to the daily stew of chlorine he submerges himself in. It hasn’t worked at all; his hair is soft, but girls still don’t like him much.)

Reese exhales through his nose, maybe contented.

Gabriel wakes to the sensation of being poked in the eye. It’s not a very insistent poke, but it’s a poke nonetheless. The rest of his body is heavy, numb, almost as though he’s pinned down. If he tries to wiggle his fingers, pins and needles scream up and down his arm.

Someone snores in his ear, and the weak morning light so characteristic of November pours in through the window, streaming across the bed. His own bedroom window faces west. At home, in his mother’s house, his room faced the south. So he’s not in either of those places, and he squints, then looks down at a head full of short, red hair.

Reese is practically sleeping on top of him, one arm thrown wide (the poking-him-in-the-eye appendage is the first knuckle of Reese’s right index finger, curled slightly toward his palm—and it jars a little when Gabriel breathes). The other swimmer is pinning him down to the bed; he’s cutting off circulation to Gabriel’s arm.

And he’s snoring, and Gabriel wishes he’d made him brush his teeth before they passed out, because he’s nauseous to start, but Reese breathing in his face is going to make him puke for sure.

He tries to push him off, but Reese clings, buries his head against Gabriel’s chest, groaning in protest.

“Okay but,” Gabriel says, putting his free hand to Reese’s forehead and pushing him back, “I’m gonna puke, and I don’t think you’ll appreciate me puking all over you.”

Reese’s face crunches up, and then he relaxes, slowly letting his eyes drift open again. “Gabby?” he asks. He blinks a few times, and his voice is thick with sleep.

“Yeah, can you get off me now? I can’t feel my arm and—”

Reese’s eyes are wide open, his irises little dots of blue in the middle of a sea of bloodshot white, and he rolls off Gabriel, rears back, scuttles to the other side of the bed with all of the blankets and nearly topples over the edge of the mattress.

Gabriel blinks. “Uh?”

“Oh my God,” Reese says from half-way over the edge of the bed; Gabriel can only see his legs, his hipbones jutting up. “What did we do?”

“Challenged Kat and Tiffany to a game of beer pong,” Gabriel replies, swallowing down his sickness. His stomach roils.

Reese hauls himself up, clutches at his forehead. “Really?”

“We lost.”

The other swimmer peers between his fingers. “I hadn’t guessed,” he snarls.

Gabriel nods. “So—uh. We were both … pretty trashed. So Mel called us a cab, the sorority head wanted us out before the cops got called since we’re both underage …”

“Nnn,” Reese says, flipping onto his stomach, pushing his face into a couple of pillows. “Okay, but—how? Did …”

“You puked a bit,” Gabriel says, “then said you were going to bed. So I followed you in here, and you said you were cold.”

Reese doesn’t reply, so Gabriel waits a beat, then says, “So, uh, I didn’t think you should sleep alone, ‘cause you’re … you were pretty bad. Puking and stuff. So, like. I didn’t want you to … choke or anything.”

Reese sighs heavily; Gabriel watches the rise and fall of his back. He lifts his head. “Thanks,” he says slowly.

There’s a moment of silence between them, Reese’s eyes bouncing back and forth, as though he’s attempting to read Gabriel. “Um. So. We didn’t, uhhhh … do … anything, did we?”

Gabriel shakes his head. “No,” he replies. He doesn’t add that’s despite how much he wants to.

Reese sighs in relief. “That’s good,” he murmurs, and Gabriel wants to ask him why that’s a good thing.

“We were alone,” he says softly. “Like. Mel and Connor and them—they knew we went home together, got in the cab together. But, like. They don’t know. They don’t need to know. For all they know, I went home, to my own place. Maybe I stayed ‘cause I was concerned.”

He glances across at Reese. “So. Like. If we did do anything. It’s not like anyone would know.”
And he wants to. So badly. Despite his pounding head, despite his swirling stomach, he wants Reese. They’re both in bed, they’re both right there, and nobody else needs to know a damn thing …

They could do it. They could keep it secret. It’s not like they need to be out, not like he needs to parade Reese around, put a ring or a collar on him, tattoo his name across Reese’s forehead or something.

They could keep it quiet, so quiet. They could do it on study session nights when no one else is there, when no one else asks. They could do it at swim meets, just room together, and nobody would ask questions, so long as they’re quiet, furtive, careful …

“I have a boyfriend,” Reese snaps, and Gabriel’s reverie of secret blowjobs in the locker room at Worlds shatters before his eyes.

“You … what?” he says, blinking slowly. He must still be drunk. He must have misheard Reese, misunderstood him.

Reese nods. “Yeah,” he says.

Gabriel’s stomach gnaws on his heart; there’s so much acid and bile in his throat, rising up and choking him. His chest burns. “What? When did that happen, where is he, how come you’ve never mentioned him before, how come I’ve never met him, he’s never here—”

Reese leans over, claps a hand over his mouth. “One question at a time,” he huffs. “My head hurts, and I can barely see straight, okay?”

“You have a boyfriend,” Gabriel says, and he hates how much it sounds like a whimper of defeat.

“Yeah,” Reese says with a nod. “His name’s Eric. He’s like—he does technology stuff. I dunno. Social media? He doesn’t really tell me that stuff, I don’t understand it very much, so I don’t really need to know.”

He lunges across the bed, across Gabriel’s lap, and Gabriel digs his hands into the mattress, grits his teeth.

Reese scrolls through his phone, then offers it to Gabriel. “He’s like—he does a lot of travel, like he’s in China and Europe and sometimes Africa or Australia. So that’s why he’s not usually here. He’s a busy kind of guy.”

Gabriel stares at the picture. The guy smiling back at him is enormous, built, rippling. He could take Gabriel in a fight, sure. He’s got a pleasant, plastered-on kind of smile, perfect neat rows of bleached white teeth. His hair is dark, with wisps of gray through it. He’s wearing a checkered blue shirt, with a navy blue blazer of top of it.

Vanderkamp. Eric Vanderkamp. That’s familiar. He scrolls down a bit, lets his eyes widen. He glances up at Reese. “You’re dating the fucking CEO of Black Book?”

“Hm?” Reese’s eyebrows lift. “Oh, no. He sold BB like … six months ago.”

Gabriel gapes at him. Reese is oblivious. “He’s working on something new now—Galaxia or something. I dunno what it’s about.”

Gabriel swallows tightly. “Reese …”

“Hm?” Reese looks up at him with those bright eyes. He’s taken back his phone.

Gabriel doesn’t know what to think. Eric Vanderkamp has been responsible for at least two popular social networking sites and one popular app—Black Book, which is a hookup app that everyone and their mother used. Brody downloaded it for Gabriel before he went to London.

Not that Gabriel looked at it. He deleted it pretty much as soon as he realized it was sitting on his phone.

But Vanderkamp had also been involved in iTalk, an instant messaging program that had been popular before texting and smartphones really became a thing. And he was the initial force behind Chatter, a microblogging site that even Gabriel has been forced to use.

And Reese is dating the guy.

Gabriel’s not sure what to be most shocked about—that Eric Vanderkamp is into guys, that Eric Vanderkamp is dating a guy half his age, or that Reese has a boyfriend.

“But ..,” Gabriel says, “he’s like … forty-five.”

“Thirty-eight,” Reese corrects, and Gabriel wants to yell at him, wants to scream that Eric was eighteen before Reese was even born; he’s ancient compared to either of them, but Reese shrugs, and says, “I mean, he pays for everything. How do you think I have this house, my car? How did you think I was paying for my tuition? Like, fuck, I’m in the middle of six kids, and my parents are divorced, Gabby. Tegan and Megan aren’t done school yet, sending them both at the same time really put a strain on things …”

He looks a little distraught. “Like, I wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for Eric.”

This is the most open Reese has been with him, so Gabriel wants to keep pushing. “What were you doing before?” he asks, and Reese flushes.

“Not swimming,” he mutters, looks down at the bedspread. He chews at his lip a minute. “I, uh, I knew I … didn’t really have the grades, so I wouldn’t get in anywhere, definitely not getting any scholarships, and like, Owen—my younger brother—he’s way smarter than me, he wants to be a marine biologist, so I was like, fuck it, what’s the point?”

Gabriel doesn’t know what to say. Reese’s brows tent. “So, uh, I was like—I was a good swimmer, like, I was at Worlds two years ago—”

Things click into place. He’s right; that was two years ago, which was why Gabriel was having a hard time remembering him, even remembering the guy with the Spanish name who finished fourth ahead of him.

“And, uh. I didn’t get concussed. I just … like funds were really tight, and Mama wanted me to go, but I wasn’t … getting in, I knew it, so I graduated high school and just kinda … I worked as a lifeguard.”

He pauses again, sighs. “I couldn’t even really afford coaching, was saving up to get my first and last, get out on my own. That was about where I was heading.”

“How the fuck did you meet Eric Vanderkamp?” Gabriel spits.

Reese startles, then flushes, says, “Uh. Him and some buddies showed up at the resort I was working at. And, uh, well, I guess his buddies know he’s into dudes? Or maybe like they … I don’t even know, they had bets on who could get me into bed.”

“Fuck,” Gabriel says.

Reese is bright pink. “I didn’t sleep with anyone,” he mumbles. “I, um. I don’t …”

Gabriel waits. He can be patient.

Reese glances up at him. “Uh. Anyway. Eric kinda won their wager, he bought me dinner for putting up with his asshole friends. I’d only had wine at communion, so y’know, I had like a glass or two, I was pretty tipsy. I was eighteen, so. Uh. Anyway, we got back up to his room and—”

“Stop,” Gabriel grinds out, because he doesn’t want to hear this. At all.

Reese huffs. “I just said—I didn’t sleep with anyone. We didn’t do anything. Just … kind of hung out, and that was nice, and Eric said he wanted to see me again, and that was …”

Another long pause. “And. Well. Here I am.”

Gabriel frowns at him for a long time. Finally, Reese falters, his face falling. “What?”

“I don’t know, you managed to start dating Eric Vanderkamp based on a stupid bet?”

“Uh. Yeah. I guess?”

Gabriel sighs heavily. Reese’s life seems too serendipitous to be true. “All right,” he grumbles, “so. Uh.”

“We couldn’t do anything anyway,” Reese blurts, “’m waiting till I get married.”

And then Gabriel watches as the older man turns bright red, so much so that he looks like his face is glowing after a sunburn.

“So, uh.”

“Why didn’t you say something sooner?” Gabriel asks. He’s drained, as though all of the energy has been sucked out him. He tells himself it’s just the hangover, but he knows, he knows …

He’s really broken up over the fact Reese is taken.

Reese looks a little guilty. “I, um. Well. I … I shouldn’t have. I should have told you. The first time.”

Gabriel nods. Reese sighs. “So, uh. Sorry?”

Gabriel’s phone starts ringing, obnoxiously filling the space with sound. He fumbles for it, then comes up with it.

Mel. Shit.

He hits answer. “Hey,” he says.

“Flossy!” she cries. She sounds surprised. “You’re awake.”

“Barely,” he replies, managing his usual candor. “What do you want?”

“You missed practice,” she informs him. “Gord is livid. And Pieces too.”

“Fuck,” Gabriel spits.

“Uh, yeah. But are we going for brunch?”

“Sure,” he says easily, glancing at Reese.

“Great. See you in fifteen.”


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