Subject: Miles from Home: Chapter 13 Readers, thank you for your continued interest in this story! If you’d like to be added to the list for email notifications when a new chapter is posted, just drop me a line. And as always, feedback, comments, and questions are much appreciated. You can send them my way at ail ********** Late June, Sophomore Summer ********** “Faster, dude!!” I shouted back over my shoulder. From behind me, Matteo grunted and laughed, picking up his speed as he pushed the wheelbarrow I was crouched inside across the yard. The whole thing wobbled and almost careened off balance underneath me from Matteo’s added momentum, so I had to clutch tightly onto the sides as we closed in on our target. Then, just as the wheelbarrow’s front wheel skidded to an abrupt stop at the edge of the swimming pool, I sprung out from my squatted perch inside its belly. I tumbled into a somersault that propelled me forward through the air before I crashed into the pool’s cool blue water a few feet away from the edge. I hit exactly on our target, plunging into the water right next to where Marissa was swimming in the middle of the pool. Matteo and I were going for something fucking spectacular, and luckily my splash felt like it was just as huge as we’d wanted. By the time I finally got my head back above water, I could hear Marissa screaming “Pendejos!!” at both of us. I had to struggle to catch my breath because I was laughing so hard at her reaction to our plot to ambush her. Then, before I could even wipe enough water from my eyes to see if Marissa looked just as indignant as she sounded, another wall of water slapped me in the face as Matteo cannonballed into the space between the two of us. I choked and sputtered on all the chlorinated water that landed in my open, still laughing mouth. Marissa must’ve seen Matteo coming, though, because she seized on the few moments when he was still submerged to start to swim away towards the safety of the edge of the pool. I saw Matteo’s head pop back up above the surface just in time for him to catch Marissa yelling back at us: “You’re so fucking annoying!” Matteo cackled at Marissa as he shook out the water from his head and shouted back: “I guess some things never change, babe!” “Ughh, I can’t with you,” Marissa groaned in response as she hoisted herself up and out of the pool. That sight of Marissa and her wet bikini clinging to her slender body engrossed me way too much to notice the sneak attack that was now coming up from behind me in the water: Matteo leapt onto my back and dunked me back under the surface before I even had a chance to hold my breath. I probably swallowed about a gallon of pool water because of his successful ambush, but the stinging in my nose and my throat didn’t faze me at all. No, the summer of my fucking life was in full swing, and I was soaking up every second of it. Here in Las Cruces, the new-to-me town where my family was living this summer, I’d somehow pulled off a Tom: I’d let go of my usual hang ups that kept me distant and reserved around new people enough to quickly fold into a tight group of new friends in the span of just a few short weeks. That would’ve been unremarkable for my brother since he’d easily pulled this off in each place we’d ever lived, but this was a stark break from my own precedent of taking a glacial pace to bonding with new people. And in another break with precedent, I didn’t want to fuckin’ spoil everything by overthinking the why or the how behind it all. I was relieved to finally be outgrowing my old bad habits. And it was nice to relax and just enjoy having fun for once- especially since my time to be home for the summer was flying by so fucking fast. Luckily, even the fact that most of my days were spent working wasn’t standing in the way of having an incredible summer. My job teaching rising high school students at an academic summer program on New Mexico State University’s campus had turned out to be pretty great. Not only was it meaningful for me to get to help other kids go down the path to becoming the first in their families to head to college, but the gig had also introduced me to some truly awesome coworkers like Marissa and Matteo. Working with both of them had made my job a blast. And, as people who’d actually grown up here in Las Cruces, they’d connected me to lots of cool things to do in my new surroundings- including this pool party tonight, which was already shaping up to be one of the highlights of the summer. After such a stressful first year away at college, things were finally settling down now that I was back home. I felt like I could finally breathe here and not take everything- or myself- so fucking seriously. As I was coming back up for air after Matteo ambushed me in the water, though, there was just one thing I had to be serious about: confronting Matteo for his betrayal. “Bitch!!” I coughed and snorted the chlorine sting out of my nose. “I thought we were just gonna piss off Marissa, not fuckin’ drown my ass too.” Matteo was laughing too hard at my sputtering to reply, so I swept an arm across the water’s surface to shut him up by sending a spray into his face. But even that didn’t work. Matteo was a far better swimmer than me, so he easily darted backwards before the wall of water I sent flying touched him. From that removed distance across the pool, Matteo kept on laughing and taunted back at me: “It’s not my fault you’re so fuckin’ slow!” “Fuck you!” I shouted as I swam back towards him to close the distance between us. “You beat me in exactly one stupid race across the pool tonight.” “Exactly!” Matteo smirked, an eyebrow cocking higher over his dark brown eyes as he lit up with a smug smile. “I beat your ass.” I shook out my hair and wiped some of the water from my face before I replied. “Yeah, but just in the water though. We both know I’d smoke your ass on dry land.” “… Spoken exactly like a sore loser,” Matteo countered, darting further away again when he noticed I was trying to sweep his legs under the water with one of mine. “Dude, it’s fuckin’ pathetic how proud you are of winning a race against a lousy swimmer.” Matteo didn’t say anything in response to that. Instead, his head disappeared back under the surface, and I realized he was diving towards me too slowly to give myself the jump I’d need to dodge him. Within seconds, I felt Matteo’s thick arms wrapping around my torso under the water and pulling me down with him. Then he bear hugged me, holding my body locked tight against his under the surface as I thrashed around and my lungs burned for air. After a minute of struggling, I had to let my body go limp as I pounded against Matteo’s arms with my hands to telegraph that I couldn’t breathe anymore. At that signal, he finally relented and relaxed his grip so I could resurface. “Truce! Truce!!” I gasped, gulping in oxygen from the balmy night air. “You’re gonna fuckin’ kill me!” “Ugghhh, fine,” Matteo sighed as he dropped back and then pulled himself up into an idle float atop the water’s surface. His face was titled up towards the stars in the night sky rather than looking at me now when he continued. “I’m just tryin’ to teach you important survival skills though. You really oughta be thanking me.” I paddled over to the safety of the side of the pool and leaned against it, huffing for breath for a few seconds before I could reply to him. “You forget that I did thank you- for inviting me here tonight.” “… And finally, some fuckin’ gratitude from you!” “Hey, I do appreciate this. Seriously.” I pulled my eyes away from Matteo and the pool to scan the other people scattered across the rest of the backyard of this brand new house perched in the mountains above Las Cruces. This place was a hell of a lot nicer than any house I’d ever been to in New Mexico before tonight. “And I’ve been thankin’ your cousin for sneaking us in here too. This party is fuckin’ awesome.” “Pfft, then act like it,” Matteo replied, flipping from his float back onto his feet so he could send me a smirk from across the pool again. “Unless this shit isn’t fancy enough for you.” Oh God, not again with that. I flipped off Matteo to deflect another one of his all too frequent digs about how “fancy” I was before I replied. “You sure your primo’s not gonna get in trouble for this?” I asked, nodding my head over in the direction of Matteo’s cousin and hoping to change the subject away from me and my alleged snobbery. Matteo had an older cousin who worked on the construction crew that’d just finished building this new house. He’d been the one who got us into this party that the crew was throwing to celebrate the end of their job before everything was cleaned up and turned over to the house’s owners in a few days. Matteo followed my eyes over to where his cousin was laughing and cracking jokes with some other guys from the construction crew who were huddled together around a cooler of beers on the back patio. “Nah, this is our secret,” Matteo replied back to me. “And you need to chill. It’s always fun to get away with somethin’ you know you’re not supposed to be doing.” “Like when you’re doin’ shit no one knows about?” I nodded. “Yeah, I hear you.” “Exactly,” Matteo grinned. “So relax. It’s good.” Looking back around the party, I noticed the mood had definitely mellowed now as it was getting later into the night. The pool had been packed and raucous before sundown, but after nightfall people had settled into a few distinct groups: Matteo’s cousin and the other guys from the construction crew were drinking and laughing on the patio. Some of Matteo’s teammates from New Mexico State’s baseball team were playing lawn games on the newly-laid grass. And then Marissa and some of our other summer coworkers were perched in the hot tub that sat over at the edge of the yard. It was just me and Matteo left in the pool now after his manic antics had driven everyone else away to the relative calm and safety of dry land. “Yeah, this is great,” I grinned back over at Matteo across the pool. “But you know you’re still a fuckin’ asshole, though, right?” “Takes one to know one,” Matteo smirked, scooping up some water with his hands and then sending it flying into my face. “Maybe,” I sighed, flipping him off again. “And maybe you’re not a complete asshole, so let me be more specific: You’re actually a decent guy when you’re not bein’ a punk … And you’re only a punk when you’ve got an audience watchin’ you.” “I’m just keeping you on your toes,” Matteo laughed. “You underestimate me at your own risk.” “In a pool? For sure. I fuckin’ learned that lesson tonight.” “Well, you’re welcome,” he grinned. “And I’m glad I could teach you somethin’ this summer. You think you’re so smart and shit, but you’ve still got just as much to learn as those punks in our class.” “Hey, speaking of…” I straightened up to stand on my feet instead of leaning back against the edge of the pool as I shifted my tone to something more serious. “Thanks for havin’ my back with Leo this afternoon.” Matteo shrugged. “No big deal.” “Yeah, but I appreciate it,” I insisted. “I think it stuck way more for him to hear that coming from you.” At work earlier today, Matteo had stepped up to reinforce me when I was calling out one of the more popular kids in the class we were teaching together for some of his behavior. In a moment of frustration during a group activity, the kid, Leo, had tried to put down another boy by calling him a “fag.” The sheer casualness of the insult had rattled my cool more than I would’ve liked, so my attempt at correcting Leo hadn’t landed to much effect. Fortunately, Matteo overheard the whole thing and stepped in to help me out by checking Leo in a more level-headed way than I’d been able to muster in the moment. “Meh, I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Matteo replied, dodging the credit once again. Even though he’d turned out to be an awesome teaching partner whenever we got to be paired up together at our job this summer, Matteo was always modest about how great he was with the kids in our class. “No, I’m serious. Leo fuckin’ pissed me off, so I was too up on my high horse to come up with anything to say that could get through to him. I’m pretty sure he was just fuckin’ tuning out everything I said.” “Yeah, because he’s a little shit,” Matteo shrugged again. I’d learned in the weeks we’d known each other now that Matteo was way more comfortable just ripping on each other than he ever was with any kind of serious conversation. That probably explained why he’d now drifted a bit closer to me in the pool. He was cupping his hands together on the water’s surface and trying to squirt some into my face as the powerful muscles in his arms and chest flexed with the motion. “Not all the time,” I countered, putting up an arm to block the sprays of water from hitting me. “And Leo looks up to you, so he actually listens to what you say. You’re, like, the fuckin’ hometown hero after all, and-…” “-… Nah, dude” Matteo shook his head to cut me off. He was close enough now that he was succeeding at spraying me in the chest with the water he was squirting from between his cupped hands. “And you’ve got more cred with these punks than you think. I mean, I’m still stuck here in Las Cruces like always while you’re off rollin’ with the rich and famous at your snooty-ass private school-…” “…- Du-…” I started to interject because I recognized that last point as an allusion to Pete and his family. But some water hit my face and made me close my mouth before I could get very far. “-… And that shit carries a lotta weight too, Fancy.” Much to my annoyance, Matteo had saddled me with the nickname of “Fancy” back in the first week of us working together this summer. The fact that I went to an exclusive private college clear on the other side of the country had probably planted that seed in Matteo’s head early on when we’d met. But then the nickname had really taken root after he found out that my roommate for the coming year was a Senator’s son. The moniker annoyed me because it wasn’t like I was running my mouth around here bragging about my school or about Pete’s family connections. Far from it. Pete just happened to come up one day when Matteo caught me spending our lunch break reading an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal that Pete’s dad had written about his support for the war in Iraq. Matteo asked why I was so interested in the article, and I hadn’t intended it to sound like a humblebrag to say that I knew the Senator. But in spite of that, the whole thing just further confirmed the impression about me being `fancy’ that was already solidifying in Matteo’s head anyway. “Shut the fuck up with that false modesty bullshit,” I retorted, splashing some water back at Matteo to stop him before he could press that train of thought any further right now. “You’re the one who’s gonna be pitchin’ in the big leagues in a coupla years while us mere mortals will still be back here talkin’ about how `I knew him when…'” “Yeah,” Matteo rolled his eyes. “We’ll see about that.” “Whatever,” I shook my head. “Point is, I appreciated the backup today. And I was just tryin’ to tell you that I’m grateful.” “Meh, I’m always happy to put a little shit in his place,” Matteo shrugged before he squatted down to dunk his head back under the surface of the water again. While he was under this time, I took the opportunity to pull myself up and out of the pool. Back up on solid ground, I scanned around looking for the towel I’d brought with me. Matteo’s head resurfaced near where I’d been in the water a few seconds earlier, and he looked around confused until he spotted me where I was now patting myself dry by the edge of the pool. “Hey, Fancy, where you goin’?” he asked. “It’s probably only a matter of time before you turn on me and try to waterboard me again, so I figure I’m safer out here than in there.” “Chickenshit!” Matteo taunted as he splashed some water up on me while I walked along the edge of the pool towards the house. “Fuck off. I need to take a piss and drink some water too.” “Water?? Que fancy!” he taunted. “Orale wey,” I shot back. “Remember I’m your ride home tonight. You should want me to be sober enough to drive.” “Alright, fine,” Matteo relented. “But at least make yourself useful and grab me another beer while you’re out there.” I just nodded in acknowledgement to that request, and Matteo dropped back into a float in the now deserted pool, his lanky and muscled frame splayed out atop the water’s surface as he stared up at the night sky. I padded barefoot across the newly landscaped yard, soaking up the buzz of the party’s noises in the air around me: Matteo’s waves slapping against the walls of the pool, some music loud enough to set the mood but not so loud that it’d tip off our presence to any nosy neighbors, and the laughter and easy chatter of several overlapping conversations. But as I was crossing the patio towards the back of the house, something I overheard in the conversation between gaziantep travesti Matteo’s cousin and his buddies from the construction crew grated against my ears: “Maricon.” As soon as I heard it, that one word struck a jarring note, even though I was sure from all the laughter that followed that Matteo’s cousin wasn’t literally calling anyone here “gay.” But the implication from all the laughter of what it would mean if somebody actually were gay was clear all the same. Maricon. Fag. Cocksucker. It didn’t fucking matter which specific word it was. They’d all been a frequent currency in the exchange of insults I’d heard my entire life from guys jockeying with each other for dominance and status. I tried to brush aside the sound of that laughter, but I could feel my mood sobering as I entered the quiet of the empty house and found my way to the nearest bathroom. Closing the door behind me, I sighed and flipped on the lights, grateful to have a moment of solitude. I pulled my dick out of my trunks, took a piss, and my thoughts quickly wandered over to Pete, just like they always would in any of the rare times I’d found myself alone this summer. “Fuck, Pete…” And as soon as it hit me that I’d actually muttered those words out loud, I shook my head to admonish myself: Keep your shit together, man. Even though I knew there wasn’t anyone around to hear me talking to myself, I still felt fuckin’ silly all the same. I finished peeing, stuffed my dick back into my wet trunks, flushed, and then studied my reflection in the mirror above the sink as I washed my hands. It’s not like I had fuckin’ “MARICON” branded in scarlet letters across my forehead now, I assured myself. And, rationally, I already knew there wasn’t anything that made what I’d done with Pete visible from the outside. No, the face I saw looking back at me in the mirror was just me, same as ever: Messy hair. Brown skin. Square jaw. Eyes that were always too serious… it all looked the same. But after almost a month apart from Pete now, I also knew that what was under the surface didn’t feel the same anymore. Shit, just look at how one stupid comment made me lose my cool this afternoon. I’d blown up in anger, and it was all because hearing a boy call another kid a “fag” hit on a nerve I wouldn’t have even felt a few months ago. Before this summer, bullshit comments like those would’ve faded unnoticed into the background like white noise to my ears. I’d always just tuned out that trash without even registering it, let alone giving it a second thought. But now though? Fuck, it made me wince every single time I heard it… And that was something that happened every fuckin’ day. I shook my head at my own reflection and exhaled slowly, realizing I’d been bottling up my breath as I got worked up about this shit yet again. I closed my eyes to block out my own image, but then the memory of Pete’s face quickly filled up my mind instead. “Fuck, I’m sorry, Pete,” I muttered aloud again. Even after everything Pete and I had done together, the hard truth was that it was thinking about Pete- not myself- that was giving all those words their sting now. I mean, I’d lived my whole fuckin’ life as a straight dude who could just ignore that shit, and those taunts still felt like they landed at a distance from me. Even after crossing that line and going there with Pete, I was sure that no one suspected a thing about me. I wasn’t paranoid that anyone was going to call me out as a fag, nor was I worried about what I’d do if that ever happened. No one except Tom knew about us, and I’d made him promise on our way back from the sand dunes that he wouldn’t say anything to our parents until I did it myself. And then it’s not like anyone would have any way of knowing that I kept jerking off over and over again to that mental image of Pete and his lips wrapped around my hard, wet dick. But beyond that…? Shit, there wasn’t even anything else for anyone to know. I hadn’t been running around this summer checking out other guys and looking at them in that way now. And as much as I still couldn’t explain what’d happened in me to make me click with Pete, I felt like I’d made my own peace with it because of how fuckin’ good everything felt with him. So what if I didn’t know why Pete was apparently the only guy who did it for me? If anything, the fact that it was Pete and only Pete seemed like yet another reason why that sting I registered whenever I heard the word “fag” now still felt like an outrage that I couldn’t claim for myself. Not really, anyway. I popped my eyes back open and studied my own face in the mirror again. It was hitting me, like it had so many times already this summer, how different Pete’s life must’ve been from mine. Now that I wasn’t so preoccupied with figuring out what the hell I should do or say the next time I saw Pete like I’d always been during those last weeks at school, the summer had given me time to catch up to the few crumbs I’d heard from him about what his life had actually been like. And away from each other now, sometimes I’d just get stuck in a fucking loop wondering what Pete had been through growing up knowing that about himself, to have been hiding it from everyone, and then to have heard this kind of bullshit all the fuckin’ time… Shit that I just… I just hadn’t. Not like that, at least. Fuck, as much as my ears were starting to pick up on this now, it was dawning on me that it probably couldn’t even compare to how all the fuckin’ trash had landed on Pete’s. And, really, I didn’t think I could know what it would’ve felt like for him to grow up with that. No, in that. And yeah, I’d freaked out over the last few months as I was figuring shit out about what I was feeling with Pete, but… But that had been months. Not years. Not a fuckin’ lifetime. Not breathing this shit day in and day out, over and over again, carrying it all on his own because no one even knew… I braced myself against the countertop, my hands gripping tightly against the edge as I watched my jaw tighten in the mirror at the thought of it. The truth was, I didn’t have a fuckin’ clue what this was like for Pete. The closest thing I could imagine to what Pete might’ve been through was how it felt to have a rock trapped in your shoe, pressuring the same spot on your foot again and again and again until that part of yourself was so blistered and raw you couldn’t carry weight on it anymore. I pictured what Pete must’ve experienced as something like that- a pain you felt at the slightest nudge, even if no one else could see it or know that you were constantly having to adjust around it. Imagining that, I gripped the countertop even tighter as I thought about how fucking impossible it seemed like it would be to keep shit from still poking and poking at that sore spot for Pete too. Fuck, just look at today. I could stand up to a punkass kid like Leo about this shit because I was older and in a position of authority over him. But I’d be fucking kidding myself if I thought I had the balls to speak up to someone like Matteo’s cousin when I heard the exact same bullshit coming from him at a party I only got to be at in the first place because he’d invited me here. It all made me feel like a fucking coward. And worse, like I was a coward who was letting Pete down. I pressed my eyes shut again, trying to beat back the heat of anger and frustration with myself I could feel building up. But the shame of my own cowardice wasn’t even the worst part as I thought about it. No, the fucking worst part of everything that was dawning on me this summer was that I couldn’t be sure that I’d never poked at that sore spot myself when Pete was around. I mean, I knew at the very least that I probably hadn’t ever called someone a “fag” or laughed when somebody else did because that just wasn’t my kind of humor. But that wasn’t fucking good enough. Even if I’d never said it or amplified it myself, that still seemed like cold fuckin’ comfort because I still had to wonder how many times I’d ignored it or just been silent when some other guy had said that shit around Pete. “Fuck, Pete…” I opened my eyes when I realized my thoughts had just spilled aloud again. But then what if my silence in those moments had been part of the reason why we’d wasted so much fuckin’ time last year? And what if that was part of the reason why Pete had been so scared to say anything to me, why he wondered if he could trust me, why…? I slapped my hands down against the counter. I was spiraling again, and I didn’t want to be. That shit was all in our past now. Pete and I were good. And we had so much time ahead of us next year! And this time, everything would be out in the open between us. No more bullshit. No more hiding things from each other, no more suppressing how we both felt… We were done with all that now. I shook my head again, trying to clear my thoughts. “I miss you, Pete.” I wished, for the millionth time this summer, that I could just fuckin’ talk to Pete. But as he’d warned me, there was no cell service where he was working out in the backcountry of Montana for his summer job with the Forest Service. The closest thing I’d had to a conversation with him since I left school was getting a short voicemail he’d left while Tom and I were out in the wilderness ourselves on our bros’ trip at the beginning of the summer. Ever since I found that message waiting on my phone when we got back to cell service, I’d listened to it over and over again like a fuckin’ creep just to remind myself of the sound of Pete’s voice in my ear. Just to remind myself what-… …- I caught myself and let out a deep breath to disrupt those thoughts. I already knew moping around about missing Pete would get me nowhere. Besides, Pete was having exactly the summer he wanted in Montana. So what if I fucking missed him? We’d see each other soon enough. And I was happy he was getting the chance to recharge and do something fun this summer too- just like what he’d told me to do here at home. I focused on my breathing for a few seconds to get my head straight before going back out to the party. Studying my reflection in the mirror, I reaffirmed that there was no giant `FAG’ branded across my skin. But looking closer, I did notice some other changes from this summer that were starting to become visible. After a few weeks of hitting the gym here with Matteo and his baseball teammates from NMSU, I was definitely adding more muscle mass to my chest and shoulders. Shit, I’d always thought I was no slouch at the gym before now, but these Division-I athletes took it to another level. With their scholarships on the line and a possible shot at a future in the pros, Matteo and his teammates had an intensity and a drive to push themselves physically in ways that weren’t expected even for the athletes at my smaller Division-III school. Where I went, sports were looked at as an extracurricular. They were something you did on the side, not something that anyone thought of as the ticket to their future. But after almost a month of working out with Matteo and his friends here, I was starting to feel like I’d just been splashing around in the kiddie pool rather than the deep end before now. As I looked at the bulk I was gaining on my upper body from all these workouts, I knew it wasn’t really going to be much help with my own sport come cross-country season in the fall. And I also knew that my runner’s build still wasn’t quite as jacked as Matteo’s yet. That dude was impressive for sure, and I had to respect the work and the dedication that got him there. I clenched my fists and did a little flex to check out my progress in the mirror… And then almost immediately I laughed at myself for being so fucking ridiculous. “Whatever, Pete, I hope you like it.” I was still laughing when I heard someone pound on the door behind me. “Yo, someone in there??” a male voice called from the other side. I turned and opened the door and saw one of Matteo’s teammates hovering in the doorway. “Whoa, sorry. Didn’t know anyone was waiting.” “No worries, Max. I just gotta fuckin’ piss,” he said, stepping back to make way for me to exit. “All yours, man,” I replied, hoping he hadn’t heard me talking to myself in there, or at least that he was too drunk to care. Leaving the bathroom, I took time to mop up the drips of water I’d left on the new floors inside the house on my way back outside to the party. I then headed over to the patio to pick up the beer Matteo had requested. As I was cracking open the cooler, I heard Marissa call my name from where she was still perched in the hot tub over at the far end of the yard: “Hey, Max! Could you grab me a beer too?” “No prob,” I called back to her as I fished two cans out from the ice. While I was there, I chatted a bit with the guys from the construction crew who were still hanging around the patio, complimenting them on their work on the house before I headed back over to Matteo and the pool. “Hey, vato!” I shouted as I reached the edge, trying to get Matteo’s attention through the ruckus of him splashing around with some of his teammates who’d joined him in the water while I was inside. Matteo paused and looked up long enough to see me hold up his beer and place it on the ground near the edge of the opposite end of the pool where I was safe from getting splashed. “Thanks!” he grinned. But then his smile dropped into a look of confusion when he noticed I was still hovering on dry ground. “You’re not gonna get back in??” “Nah,” I replied, holding up the other can and then cocking my head over in the direction of Marissa and the hot tub. I turned and headed across the yard to join her before Matteo responded, tuning out whatever digs he hurled at my back as I walked away. The hot tub was situated at the far edge of the yard, and it had a prime view of the lights of Las Cruces stretching out across the valley below as well as the peaks of the Organ Mountains towering above. Our other coworkers had drifted off elsewhere sometime before, so now it was just Marissa relaxing alone in the bubbling jets of warm water when I arrived with the beer she’d asked me to bring her. Marissa had her head leaned back against the edge of the tub, and her eyes were closed with a peaceful expression on her face. And because that meant she wasn’t going to see me looking, I took the chance to appreciate the view without the risk of her catching me checking her out so blatantly. In different circumstances, Marissa was the kind of girl who would’ve intimidated the hell out of me. If I were actually looking for something here this summer, I knew I’d be fixated on Marissa even though she was probably out of my league. She was a year older than me and had just finished her second year of college out in Los Angeles, and she was smart, accomplished, and self-assured in ways that put me in awe of her as soon as we’d met at work. And also, Marissa was fucking hot too. But that was beside the point. It didn’t matter how much I was attracted to her because hooking up with anyone was the last thing on my mind this summer. I had Pete. And even though he’d told me to have my fun at home and not to worry about him while I was here, I didn’t have my eye out for anything like that right now. And as it turned out, that’d actually been a good thing for me with Marissa. The fact that I wasn’t preoccupied with some long-shot attempt at getting into her pants had cleared the way for me to actually get to know her with a relaxed confidence I probably couldn’t have mustered if I were constantly searching for an opening. In the span of the weeks we’d been working together, we’d already established a solid friendship with each other- thanks in part to the fact that Marissa also seemed like she was a lot more relaxed around me than she tended to be with other guys. But based on all the passes I’d already seen her have to deflect from other guys in the few weeks I’d known her, I had a pretty good guess for why it seemed like Marissa always had her guard up a little around guys. Maybe me not being ragingly obvious about my attraction to her had allowed her to think of me differently than all the other cocky dudes I’d seen her put in their place if she wasn’t interested. But however it was that I’d managed to set myself apart with Marissa as someone she could be more real with, I was glad for the chance it was giving me to actually get to know her this summer. She impressed the hell out of me, and it’d been nice to have developed a more mature friendship here than the kind I now had with Matteo and his friends. Hanging out with those guys always made for a lot of fun but not much depth. With them, everything was rooted in light-hearted mutual antagonism in the here and now. But with Marissa? She was a grown up who didn’t take shit from anyone- including from Matteo, who’d been her boyfriend for most of high school and seemed like the golden boy of gaziantep masaj salonları Las Cruces who could get away with anything here with just about everybody else. I was realizing, though, that I’d been creeping on Marissa and her bikini for probably a little too long, even if she didn’t know I was there. So I cleared my throat a little to announce my presence without startling her. “Hey, mind if I join you?” Marissa opened her dark brown eyes and straightened up in her seat while she smiled at me. “Course not.” “Here you go,” I said as I cracked open her beer and handed it to her. Then I climbed down gingerly into the warm water of the tub as she took her first sip. “Thanks,” she said, laughing at me a little as I exhaled a long breath while I acclimated to the temperature and looked for a spot to get comfortable. “Okay if I sit in front of the jet there?” I asked nodding over to one churning the water near her side. “My shoulders are sore as fuck from lifting with Matteo this afternoon.” “No problem,” Marissa smiled, staying put where she was. As I slid over to a seat in front of the jet next to her, I relaxed into the feeling of the jet blasting into the tension between my shoulder blades. Under the water’s surface, I also felt my knee slide against the smooth skin of Marissa’s leg, and a shiver of goosebumps tingled out across my skin even under the warmth of the water. “Feels good in here,” I sighed, leaning my head back to rest it and closing my eyes for a moment. The water jet pounding between my shoulder blades started to dull the tenderness I felt there. “Yeah, the peace and quiet’s nice,” Marissa replied, and I opened my eyes in time to catch her ticking hers over to the pool where Matteo was now loudly splashing around with his teammates who’d joined him. I chuckled and smiled at Marissa. “So you had enough of the Jackass episode over there?” “Oh yeah,” she laughed. “That started getting old years ago.” Even though I’d just met them both this summer, I’d pieced together that Matteo and Marissa shared a long history stretching back well before they’d broken up to go their separate ways for college. Matteo had stayed here in Las Cruces for his baseball scholarship at NMSU while Marissa had earned one to pursue creative writing at her school out in LA. I laughed a little at the eye roll Marissa was now directing towards Matteo and his friends. “Oh come on, you were havin’ fun over there too,” I said, straightening up a little bit in my seat next to her. As I did, my arm brushed lightly against hers under the water. Marissa pulled her long, dark hair over to her shoulder opposite mine, and I watched as a drop of water slid down the nape of her neck that was now exposed to me. I caught myself following the water as it dripped further down towards her breasts, so I ticked my eyes back over to her face before I got distracted like I often did around Marissa if I didn’t force myself to concentrate. “I was,” she laughed. “But a little of these Las Cruces boys goes a long way.” “Maybe,” I smiled. “But, like, would you really be doing anything that’s so much better if you were out in LA this summer?” Hearing Marissa’s stories about the two years she’d now spent in Los Angeles had been giving me glimpses into how different college life might be if I’d gone to somewhere that wasn’t as small and as isolated as my own school. Hearing about Marissa’s experiences at college also held an exotic fascination for me since I’d never been to California and hadn’t ever lived in any big city. It seemed like Marissa had a love/hate relationship with it, and I’d been trying to piece together the reasons for that as I got to know her better. “Hmmmm, maybe not,” she acknowledged, pausing to take another sip of her beer as she considered my question. “I’d probably be hoping to find my way into a party at a place with a nice pool like this- but then if I did, I’m sure it’d be way more pretentious and, like, a scene.” “Well, shit,” I rolled my eyes as my voice dripped with sarcasm. “That sounds way better than this.” She shrugged. “Douchey pool parties? Yeah, not really. But didn’t I tell you not to hate on LA if you’ve never even seen it for yourself?” “Okay, fair point,” I conceded. “It really is an amazing place,” she insisted. “Like how?” “Well, for one thing, it’s not the anti-nature that some people say it is. There’s mountains and the beach and the desert all around the city, so even a Nature Boy like you could find things you’d love out there.” Just like Matteo had saddled me with the nickname of “Fancy” for the summer, Marissa had landed on “Nature Boy” as her name for me that I apparently wasn’t going to be able to live down here. She used it to needle me since I’d spent a lot of my downtime from work out exploring the mountains and the backcountry around Las Cruces this summer rather than always hanging out with my new friends here. “Okay,” I elbowed her in the side a little at her mention of that nickname again. “So I’ll admit those do sound like some good selling points for LA.” “It’s beautiful!” she insisted. “And the city that’s in the middle of all that isn’t like this cultural vacuum of soulless sprawl that people say it is either. There’s so much culture and diversity there… It’s the best of city life and of nature, I think.” “You don’t think it’s, like, too much city though?” I countered. “I mean, I just picture it being so big and crowded with so many fuckin’ people everywhere.” She laughed. “Well, yeah, it is way bigger than Las Cruces. But that’s also one of the really great things about it for me.” “How do you mean?” “Well, I come across people from literally all over the world there. And I get to meet people who have experiences and perspectives that I’d probably never hear if I were still just running around with the same old people back here.” “Okay, so I agree that does sound cool,” I smiled because I could see Marissa getting more animated talking about this. “But that still doesn’t mean you should hate on New Mexico either.” “Trust me, I’m not!” Under the water, Marissa’s thigh pressed up against the length of mine as she turned to face me a little more squarely now. “I know there are great things about New Mexico too, believe me… I just meant that it’s nice to experience being around people who are different from each other- and different from all the ones you grew up around. There’s just something energizing about that.” “Energizing how?” I asked. Marissa was lighting up talking about this, and I was enjoying seeing that excitement in her. “I don’t know, maybe it’s just a me thing and my perspective on it,” she replied, sipping on her beer again before she continued. “But it’s been freeing to be in a place where no one already knows who you are. It’s made me grow up and make my own path and make my own mistakes. And out in LA, I get to do that around all these people who see me for who I am now, not just for who I’ve always been.” “Yeah, I can see that,” I agreed, thinking back to my own friends out at school and how none of them knew anything about me before I was eighteen aside from whatever I’d chosen to tell them. Marissa nodded and continued: “And that’s something I’d never have if I’d just stayed here after high school like Matteo did. Everyone here still thinks of him just as this baseball jock who won the state championships for our school and is going to make it in the big leagues next.” We both glanced over at Matteo now. He was horsing around in the pool still, as carefree as ever while Marissa went on: “He’d probably never say it to you since he’s such a dumbshit about his feelings, but it’s fucking hard for him to break out from that and be anything else here. And it’s not just about that for me, either. You know I’m trying to make it as a writer, so I kinda had to get out of here to have any real shot at making that happen in a way that could actually pay the bills someday.” “Yeah, I get that,” I agreed. “And I think going far away for school has pushed me in some of the same ways too. But even out there where I’m going, I’m still in a small ass town instead of the big city.” “Well maybe that’s something you should try someday then,” Marissa smiled, nudging me with her shoulder from her seat next to me on the bench. “Maybe, someday” I shrugged, pushing my shoulder back against hers when I did. “But are you just telling me that because Las Cruces feels too fuckin’ small for you now? Like, do you wish you’d stayed in LA this summer instead of coming back here?” “I mean, sometimes,” Marissa nodded, casting her eyes down somewhere in my lap as she thought about it. “I really do miss my friends out there. And I feel like I’m falling behind in starting a career by not doing something that would help me get my foot in the door with my writing and make connections with people this summer… But then again I’m also really glad to be here when I remember the actual reality of what it would be like to be in LA this summer.” “Which is what?” She sighed, and lifted her eyes back up to look at me again now. “I’d be broke as fuck and probably couldn’t make rent on a shitty apartment, even with four roommates. So there’d probably be no pool parties, and I’d be lucky if I could even make it to the beach a couple of times, which is like my one escape I can actually afford out there. I’d probably just be going deeper into debt busting my ass doing grunt work at some unpaid internship. And even that would be a waste of time because no one would even give me a second look unless I was walking around in some low cut shirt. And believe me, that kind of attention isn’t much help in the long run either.” “Shit, sign me up,” I rolled my eyes. “Summer in LA sounds fucking amazing.” “Hey, I told you not to hate on it!” She smacked me in the chest a little to shut me up. “I mean, the entertainment industry is gross, but there’s a lot more to life in LA than whatever I’d be doing for work. And there’s a lot more to the city than what you’ll ever see on TV.” “I mean, the beach does sound fucking cool…” I offered. “It really is! And, like I said, even a Nature Boy like you would love it.” “I actually would like to go. No joke!” I smiled and pressed my shoulder against hers again to emphasize that I meant what I said. “I mean, sunshine and an ocean and palm trees? That sounds like a way smarter choice for where to go to school.” I laughed a little now under my breath as I thought about the long winter I’d just experienced at mine this year. “To be honest, I kinda feel like a dumbass for picking gloomy, grey New England for where I went.” “It can’t be that bleak, right?” Marissa asked, probably because she’d never been anywhere near New England. “Meh, let’s just say there’s a reason my brother is going out to California for college in the fall. He got to learn from my mistake and take my advice to go somewhere warm.” Marissa laughed. “Okay, so then let me take a wild guess that you didn’t ever think about staying out at your school and looking for a job there this summer?” “Nah, not even for a second,” I shook my head. “I needed to come back home. I missed it here way too much. And this is, like, definitely the happier side of the country.” “Well, you know technically you’re not from here in Las Cruces…” “No, I guess not,” I answered, and then I smiled a little sheepishly at Marissa as I considered how what I was about to say might sound to her ears. “And please don’t laugh at how much this makes me sound like a fucking bumpkin, but Las Cruces actually feels kinda huge to me after all the tiny ass towns I grew up in.” I paused and looked around us at this nice house with its own pool before I went on: “Fuck, most of the towns I’ve lived in before this didn’t even have a pool anywhere to swim in, and that’s why I only know enough to just barely not drown in a pool now.” “Well good thing Matteo didn’t kill you tonight then,” Marissa laughed. “Yeah, but it’s not like he didn’t try,” I laughed in return before getting back to my point. “But by `coming back home’ I just meant being here with my family again, not necessarily Las Cruces specifically. And, yeah, it is a bonus that I really do love being out west around all the mountains and the open spaces here too.” “Sure you do, Nature Boy,” Marissa laughed, smacking me in my chest again. I grinned at her. “You know, I always thought it was stupid growing up, but there actually is something to all that `Land of Enchantment’ shit they say about New Mexico.” “Yeah, it is true,” Marissa smiled back at me. “I think now that I’ve actually experienced something else to compare it to, I appreciate New Mexico way more than I ever would’ve if I’d never left.” I laughed a bit again as I thought about that. “And I realize how stupid this is now, but before this year I guess I kinda assumed that everywhere else is just like here.” Marissa went quiet for a while after I said that, her dark brown eyes falling down somewhere near my chest as she looked lost in thought. “Yeah, me too, actually,” she replied after a minute and another sip of her beer. “It’s funny. Growing up here, all I could think about was how I wanted to get the fuck out of Las Cruces. Like I always felt that getting away is what `making it’ meant, and that you were a failure somehow if you just stayed here.” I laughed. “Yeah, I had those moments growing up in all those small towns too.” Marissa’s eyes caught mine again, and she nodded with a small half-smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “I always thought of it as being trapped if I ended up here. And Matteo and I would talk about it all the time in high school when we were dating. Like, I’d look around me here and feel embarrassed about how everyone’s fucking poor- unless you own a bank like the assholes who own this house, that is. But after being away from here now, I can see that for all its faults, there really is no place like it.” “Well, there definitely isn’t on the east coast anyway,” I said in agreement. “… Or on the west coast either.” Marissa said before ticking her eyes away from mine to take another drink of her beer as she looked down across the lights of Las Cruces below us. We were quiet for a minute as I thought more about what Marissa had said. “So I guess, how does it feel for you being back here this summer?” I asked, not sure how to square the different pieces that Marissa had already mentioned. “I don’t know. It’s weird,” Marissa replied, shaking her head as she gathered her thoughts and returned her gaze to me. “And it’s different from how it was being back here the summer after my freshman year too.” “What do you mean?” “Last summer, it was like being here at home was me coming back to my `real life’ and school and LA was like this other thing that was completely separate and apart from that. But then this year…,” she sighed, choosing her words for a moment. “It’s like I have an actual life out in LA too. I have friends. I have things I would be doing there. And I have things I do genuinely miss about it. So I feel like I’m in two different worlds, kind of.” Marissa paused for another beat, lost again in her thoughts. “… And I kind of feel like I can’t turn in one direction without turning my back on the other.” That last point hit hard with me. And it made me think about Pete and how being with him felt like it was pulling me down a path that led me further and further away from the one I’d always assumed my life would just cruise down before I met him: Date some girls. Marry one of them someday. Then have some kids together and a family of my own. … It was a familiar and well-traveled path through life that’d always made so much sense to me and seemed so obvious and comfortable that I’d never even thought to question it. Fuck, I never even thought there could be the possibility of anything different for me before this year. So maybe being with Pete really was changing me more than I wanted to admit if everything wasn’t going to be just as straightforward as I’d always assumed it would be. But then again, even with as fucking hot as hooking up with Pete had been, I didn’t know where that would lead me. But I did already know one thing at least: it hadn’t erased my potential to be attracted to a hot girl like Marissa. I mean, I’d stolen enough furtive glances at her tonight and every other day this summer to know it hadn’t just faded away after sucking Pete’s dick. That gravitational pull was still very much there, same as ever. But did hooking up with Pete mean I had to turn my back on it? For now? Forever? Fuck, I didn’t even know what to think about that. I realized I’d fallen quiet for probably too long after Marissa said all that, so I tried to snap my head back to focusing on the conversation we were having rather than just spacing out again. “Huh,” I stammered, pulling my thoughts back to the present. “Yeah, I hear you on that. And even though you’re a year ahead of me and gaziantep escort bayan I don’t have another college summer to compare this one to yet, I gotta say this break does feel different for me too.” “Different from what?” Marissa asked. “Like from how it was being back home over Christmas break even.” “Yeah?” “Yeah, when I was home for that, I didn’t really miss school at all, and I never really thought about it even. But when I was away at school last year, I was always homesick like crazy.” I shook my head a bit as I thought back on it now. “… Like, really fuckin’ crazy how much I missed everything here. So it was a relief to be home for Christmas because I finally felt settled again and, like, I wasn’t nagged all the time by this sense of missing out on where I really wanted to be. But now, this summer, I’m missing…” Pete. I’m missing Pete. But I caught myself before I said it out loud, like I’d trained myself to do over and over again when I was around people here and found myself tempted to talk about Pete when he was looming large in my thoughts. “… People at school. And it’s hitting me that maybe this is how it’s always going to be from now on. Like I’m stretched across two worlds like you said. And no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I’m always gonna be missing someone or missing out on something.” “Yeah, kinda sucks, doesn’t it?” Marissa smiled ruefully. “In a way,” I shrugged, my shoulder brushing against hers again as I did. “But in another way, it’s kinda like a nice problem to have. Like, at least I’m lucky enough to have so many cool people in my life.” Again, my thoughts drifted back to Pete and how his whole summer was engineered around avoiding certain aspects of his life he wanted to keep at a distance. At least I didn’t have anything like that I had to run from. In fact, now that Pete and I were in a good place and I didn’t have to keep worrying about him finding out about how I felt, I was more at ease than I had been in a long time- basically since I’d broken up with Juliana and left for school at the end of last summer. “That’s a good way of thinking about it,” Marissa nodded. “But, to be honest, it all feels kind of exhausting. Like I always feel unsettled or incomplete- both here and there. In LA, I feel like I’m constantly hustling to prove myself, and like I’m letting my family down by not making it faster. And don’t get me wrong, the hustle is exhilarating too. Really. It stretches me, and it makes me grow more than I think I ever would’ve if I’d just stayed here.” Marissa shook her head and looked off in the distance towards the city as she trailed off before completing the thought. “But…” I supplied, sensing that there was more. “… But it’s also stressful and it wears me out. And it is changing me because the entertainment industry is fucked up in so many ways, and I feel like I have to play the same shitty games as everyone else if I’m ever going to have a shot at rising up. My sister says it’s getting to me too, like I’m getting irritable and stuck up and acting like I’m too good for things here, even though that’s not at all how I feel.” “Shit, she should talk to my brother. Tom says college has just made me even grumpier.” “Has it??” Marissa straightened up and looked at me surprised. “You don’t seem grumpy to me.” “Maybe, in some ways,” I laughed. “And you’re meeting a way more relaxed version of me here than the stressed out Max I feel like I am at school all the time where I have to hustle to keep up with people who’ve had all these AP classes and tutors and experiences that I couldn’t have even dreamed about where I grew up. But you’re right though. The last year has… Stretched me. For the better, I think. But that’s not always, like, fucking comfortable, you know?” She nodded, and I felt suddenly conscious of how comfortable it felt to have her leg pressed up against mine under the water as I continued my point: “… And all my cousins keep giving me a mountain of shit about how they think I’m like better than them now too, just like Matteo and all his `que fancy’ shit he’s always throwing at me and-…” “-… Hey, don’t let him get in your head about that,” Marissa interrupted, placing a hand on my forearm and squeezing it lightly. “You know, he’s just projecting his own shit about having to stay here for school because he needed to stay close to his mom and help her out, right? I know that’s not what he was hoping for if he made it into college, so he’s still sensitive about it.” “Yeah, and I think I knew that,” I nodded. “But it still digs at me, ya know? Like `fancy’ isn’t how I think I’m acting, but then it’s not just Matteo. My cousins are always projecting that onto me too, even though I look at them and feel like I’m the one who’s falling behind or just like spinning my wheels.” “Falling behind how?” I let out a long breath, realizing that I hadn’t ever talked about this with anyone before now. “Like all I’m doing is racking up this debt from student loans that who the fuck knows if I’ll ever be able to pay off with some stupid liberal arts degree because, you know, I was the dumbass who thought that would be useful for making money somehow. Meanwhile, they’re out here with jobs and actual paychecks so they can afford to move out into their own places or get a nicer car or just do something fun for themselves while everything I’ve ever earned or saved up goes right into tuition or books or helping my parents out or…-” – Marissa snorted at that and interrupted me: “-… Yeah tell me about it. But it’s all gonna pay off in the long run, right?” “Fuck, I hope so,” I shook my head. “It feels like I’ve been hustling for so long. And I was looking forward to this summer as a chance to recharge. Like I wanted to just slip back into who I always was at home because that’s comfortable. But Tom keeps pointing out all these ways that he says I’m different now too.” I felt a frown tugging at my mouth as I thought about Tom. Maybe he was right that I was different now. But even if he was wrong, I could tell things were changing between the two of us at least. Tom seemed like he was irritated with me this summer. Or worried, maybe? Fuck, I wasn’t sure what it was exactly, but I could sense a distance growing between us. And it troubled me that it didn’t seem like a coincidence that the first real fissures I’d ever felt between Tom and me had started to surface and crack in the weeks since our trip together. Damn it, maybe it was a mistake to have told him about Pete… “Yeah, my sister says, I’m always stressed out and in a bad mood,” Marissa said, pulling me out of my thoughts. “But then I’m like, give me a fucking break, you know? Maybe it’s because being in my house isn’t exactly a picnic this summer with my parents splitting up and fighting all the time.” I noticed that Marissa’s eyes were downcast again as she mentioned that. She’d made a few allusions to her parents’ divorce that was unfolding this summer before tonight, but she’d never opened up much about it to me. “Yeah, I bet that’s rough. Being in the middle of it…” I replied, dropping one of my hands on top of her knee, wanting to let her know I’d be a listening ear if she wanted to take me up on that invitation to really talk about it. “It’s hardly like I’m the only one who’s had to deal with parents splitting up,” Marissa shrugged, looking back up at me. Even though Marissa did seem much more open with me than some other people she’d known much longer, I was reminded that there were still boundaries to that. And whatever she was feeling about her parents breaking up was on the other side of them. Still, she didn’t move my hand from where it was resting on her knee. “So is that why you’re here tonight slumming it with me and the Las Cruces boys?” I asked, taking her cue and trying to steer things to something lighter. Marissa’s mouth twitched up into a half smile. “Well, they are obnoxious enough to take my mind off things.” “You should cut them some slack,” I laughed, squeezing her knee and then moving my hand away. “Matteo really is a smart dude. And he’s great with the kids.” “I know,” Marissa agreed, glancing back over at the pool briefly. “It wasn’t that long ago that we dated in high school, remember? And believe me, he really has grown up since we were four. But it’s hard to see people you’ve known your whole life with fresh eyes.” “Guess I wouldn’t really know since I’ve never been anywhere long enough to have anything but new impressions of people.” “Lucky you,” she laughed. “In some ways, maybe,” I smiled at her getting back to laughing again. “But I think maybe the upside of me having moved around so much is that it’s made me better at picking up and taking notice whenever I do get lucky and meet people who are genuinely cool. And believe me: you, Matteo, the whole crew here… It’s nice,” I felt my smile getting bigger as I said that. “It all may be old news to you, but I wouldn’t sneeze at it. You’re, like, pretty fucking awesome.” “Aww, thanks for the compliment,” Marissa laughed. I felt my face flush with a heat that wasn’t at all related to the temperature of the water as it caught up with me what I’d just said about Marissa to her face. Also, I was suddenly super aware of the fact that my leg was still pressed up against Marissa’s under the water. “I mean…,” I fumbled, tongue tied as I could feel that flush deepen. “… Uhhh. Shit, sorry if that was awkward,” I stammered, trying to backpedal and keep things cool. “Nah, it was sweet,” Marissa smiled even bigger, and that wasn’t helping. At all. “And it’s nice to hear that coming from you so I don’t feel like I’m crazy about still feeling tied to stuff here.” “You really shouldn’t,” I replied, trying to get my head back into the conversation instead of thinking about Marissa’s full lips and what they might feel like if I kissed her. “… Not everyone has that. So you should appreciate the fuck out of it.” “Wise words,” Marissa agreed, still smiling at me. I was quiet for a beat too long, painfully aware of how awkward I suddenly seemed since I couldn’t pull my eyes away from Marissa’s. “Uhh, you only say that I sound smart because I’m a novelty. If I’d grown up with you here like the rest of them, you probably wouldn’t even give me the time of day because I’d be just another annoying Las Cruces boy to you.” Marissa swallowed something down, but she didn’t break the eye contact in what was starting to feel like a staring contact between us. “I doubt that,” she said. I could feel the conversation taking a turn. My pulse quickened, and I shifted in my seat, feeling like I needed an adjustment in my trunks because my dick was getting hard now. “Why’s that?” I asked, instantly regretting how dumb the question sounded to my own ears. “Because you aren’t just like another annoying Las Cruces boy.” I tried to relieve some of the pressure on my dick as it swelled inside my trunks by shifting in my seat again, but it backfired because it just ended up pressing my leg tighter against the smooth skin of Marissa’s. “No?” I asked, my throat suddenly feeling parched. Smooth, dumbass. Real smooth. “I mean, you are annoying…” Marissa said, breaking our eye contact enough to roll hers in exasperation. “But?” “Ugh,” Marissa shook her head. “… But at least you actually listen to what I’m saying while you’re staring at my boobs. And believe me, that puts you way ahead of the curve.” I hadn’t even registered until she said it that I was, in fact, looking at her breasts filling out her bikini top again. And I was starting to realize that maybe I’d been a lot less subtle around Marissa this whole time than I’d thought. “Really now?” I replied, smiling sheepishly at having been caught as I brought my eyes back up to meet Marissa’s again. Damn it, why do I sound like such a fucking idiot right now? “Yeah, and maybe I’m just as gross as the guys here since I let you get away with it because I think you’re hot.” I couldn’t take it anymore. My dick was fully hard now, and I had to do something to break the tension. So, I reached for my go-to move: a joke. I puffed up my chest in what I hoped was a comic exaggeration: “Thanks for noticing.” “Shut up,” Marissa laughed, and she smacked me in the chest with one of her hands. “Conceited doesn’t look good on you.” “Ah, and there it is,” I deflated. “You’ve got no problem knocking me down too.” “Oh my god…” Marissa groaned, shaking her head at me again. “What??!!” I asked, confused now. “You’re so smart but so dense.” And then, Marissa leaned in, closing the tiny bit of distance left between us, and kissed me. Fuck. Marissa’s lips felt so soft on mine. By the time my tongue made contact with hers, my dick was throbbing and doing pushups in the painfully tight confines of my trunks. By the time we broke apart for air, I just wanted to dive right back in. By the time I reopened my eyes and met Marissa’s, I realized I’d slipped my arm around her waist and pulled her in closer to me. But. Oh shit, but… I felt myself tense up as what was happening caught up with me. “I’m not…” I started to say as Marissa started to look concerned. But my words trailed off when I realized I didn’t know how to finish that. … Interested? That’d be a fucking obvious lie. I mean, Marissa had a hand on my lap now. And the hardon she could feel in my trunks certainly begged to differ. … On my own? Fuck, I’d already told Marissa I didn’t have a girlfriend when she’d asked me earlier this summer. Shit. But, then… Didn’t Pete say not to give up anything for him this summer…? “Hey, don’t overthink it…” Marissa said, jumping into the silence created by my spinning thoughts. “This doesn’t have to be a big deal.” She leaned in and kissed me again. My brain took a lazy swirl along with the warm water churning around us. And, fuck, this felt so good. “Want to get out of here?” Marissa asked, her eyes locked onto mine when we came back up for air again. I could feel myself on the verge of stammering out some more nonsense once again, but then I felt Marissa’s hand squeeze my painfully hard dick. And that settled it. “Yeah,” I gulped, and then I felt my mouth stretching into what was probably a stupid grin. “Uhh, I’m good to drive. Just let me make sure Matteo has another way home since I was his DD, okay?” “Okay,” Marissa smiled back at me and pulled her hand away from my dick. Fuck, she was so hot. Maybe I’d been in this hot tub too long, but my head felt soupy and very slow now. “Meet you out front?” I asked, trying to pull myself together. “Yeah,” Marissa agreed, rising up out of the tub. “You coming?” This time, I didn’t bother to conceal how much I was checking out how good she looked, and I realized I missed several beats before I responded to her question. “Yeah, just, uhh, go ahead,” I stammered. “These trunks are wet, and I’m just gonna need a second to…” I gestured down at my dick. Marissa burst out laughing, and fuck if I didn’t love the way that sounded. “Okay,” Marissa said, rolling her eyes playfully at me as she found her towel and started to dry off. “Just hurry up,” she called back over her shoulder as she walked off towards the house. Holy shit! I tried to focus on my breathing. Down, boy, down. But fuck it, that wasn’t going to work. I hauled myself out of the hot tub, glad that no one was nearby to see the obvious tent in the front of my trunks. I found my towel and hastily draped it over my shoulder so it hung too long in the front and covered up my crotch. It looked… I’m sure it looked supremely stupid, but I didn’t give a fuck. I made my way back over to the pool and shouted at Matteo to get his attention since he was still horsing around with his friends. Hearing me, Matteo swam over to where I was hovering on the edge of the pool. “What’s up?” he asked, eyeing the awkward drape of my towel on my shoulder and probably surmising the reason behind it. “Hey, ummm, Marissa and I are gonna take off… Can you find another ride home?” “Seriously?” Matteo’s eyebrows cocked up in surprise. “You and Marissa?” “You mad?” I asked, even though I wasn’t entirely sure what I would do if he did mind that I was about to leave with his ex. “Why would I care if you hook up with her?” Matteo replied, quickly enough for me to wonder if it was true. “We broke up years ago.” “Okay,” I responded, eyeing him warily. He seemed annoyed. But at that moment with my dick still hard and with Marissa waiting on me, I didn’t really care. We could sort this out later if we needed to. “So you’re cool to get home with someone else?” “Yeah, you’re gonna owe me one later though,” Matteo shrugged. “But go ahead.” “Thanks, man,” I smiled and turned away to go meet Marissa. I picked up my dry clothes and said a quick “thank you” to Matteo’s cousin before I left the yard. As I made my way through the house towards where my jeep was parked out front, I felt a nagging in my gut about Pete. But I reassured myself that I was just doing what he’d told me to do this summer. By the time I made it to my car, Marissa was already there waiting for me, and I felt myself breaking into a broad smile when I saw her. Fuck it, Pete was right. I did need this summer, and I was going to enjoy the fuck out of it. Not everything had to be so complicated. **** To be continued.

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