The Start of Us
Franklin’s driver dropped my mom and me off at the front of the house, then drove around the side where he said the garages were. He’d promised to bring our things inside to us, and Mom had thanked him. I’d refused his offer. I can take care of my own stuff.
My suitcase weighed a ton, and I took two steps before having to tug the hand that held my mother’s so I could rest it down and shake out my arm. “I got it,” I said, frowning when she attempted to take it off my hands again.
She sighed. “How long do you plan on being upset with me, sweetie?”
I didn’t have an answer, so I stared straight ahead at the rose bushes circling the house. Mom gave me all the time I needed to get my thoughts figured out.
I peered over my shoulder at the tall iron gates we’d just driven through. They were so far away now. Then I looked at the big stone house in front of us. It looked like a castle. “Can’t we just go home?” I asked. “You didn’t even ask me if you could get married.” Mom always asked me stuff.
“This is our home now,” she said softly, getting to one knee in front of me. “I’m sorry, sweetie. I did something impulsive. I did something for me without thinking. It was wrong, but I promise you’ll understand once you get to know Franklin.”
“I don’t even know what impulsive means,” I muttered, “but if it means wrong, then yeah, you did something wrong.”
Her lips twitched, and my frown deepened. “How about I make you a promise? You give Franklin and Cole a chance—a real chance, and if you’re still not happy, we’ll leave.”
I knew she didn’t want to leave, but she would’ve for me. “But what if he makes you happy?” I asked, staring at my beat-up shoes.
“If you’re not happy, then neither am I, Jasper. That won’t ever change.”
The heavy feeling in my chest made my eyes sting, and my cheeks warmed from embarrassment. I hated crying, but I loved how much she loved me.
“Aren’t you excited to meet Cole? You always said you wanted a brother,” she said too chirpy, trying to win my agreement to her deal.
“He might not even like me. And he’s older.”
“Who wouldn’t like you?” she asked.
“Fine,” I said with a long sigh. “But don’t call me sweetie once we get inside.”
She ruffled my messy curls and tapped her cheek. I leaned in and kissed her quickly. “Now can I help you?” she asked gently.
“Sure, but only because you really want to.” I handed her my suitcase, then we continued to the front door.
The housekeeper let us in, and I tugged my mother’s hand again when we stepped inside. She brought her ear to my mouth. “They have a maid?” I asked. Before she could answer, a tall man in a dark suit appeared in the entryway.
“Selene,” he said like he was sorry. “I wanted to be the one to greet you both first, but I was stuck tracking down Cole.”
I peeked around him while he gave my mother heart-eyes, but I didn’t see anyone with him.
“And you must be Jasper,” he said, snagging my attention. He didn’t make me feel like a baby by kneeling in front of me like my mother did. He held out his hand instead. “I’m Franklin, and I’ve been dying to meet you.”
I shook his hand half-heartedly, remembering my manners and saying hello.
“And this is…” His words faded away as he gestured to the empty space behind him. “Cole?” he said gently. “Can you come say hello to Selene and Jasper?” I’d expected him to shout, to be upset, because even I knew Cole was being rude by hiding. But Franklin patiently waited as the sound of dragging feet drew closer.
My mother squeezed my shoulders, and I moved out from under her babying touch just as Cole walked through the wide archway Franklin had come from.
He was tall for a ten-year-old. Or maybe I was little for an eight-year-old. And he looked exactly like his dad, except he had blue eyes not black. Big, sad, blue eyes. He unfolded his arms and said hi, so low I could hardly hear it, his lips barely moving.
My mother spoke first, saying something similar to what Franklin had said to me. Everyone seemed nervous. Everyone except Cole. He just seemed mad. “Hi,” I said, after my mother nudged me. Cole glowered at me.
“Can I go now?” he asked his father.
“We’re all having lunch on the veranda,” Franklin said.
“It’s okay,” my mother said, resting a hand on his arm. “We have plenty of time to get to know each other.”
Cole rolled his eyes and stormed away, taking the stairs straight ahead instead of vanishing in the direction he’d come.
Mom and Franklin began talking, but my eyes were glued to Cole’s back as he climbed the double staircase. Why was he sad? I was upset, but I wasn’t sad. Maybe because I knew my mom would take me away from there if I wasn’t happy. But Cole didn’t have a mom to save him.
He stopped with his hand on the banister, and my heart began beating so fast I could hear myself breathe. Had he read my mind? Mom said not to talk about his mother unless he brought it up.
Cole glanced at me over his shoulder. He looked so mean. Sad and mean. I took a chance and smiled at him. His squinty stare widened, and then he turned away and raced up the remaining steps.
Three Months Later
Cole’s bedroom door slamming could be heard and felt from the dining room table. Franklin exhaled, and my mother squeezed his hand, whispering for him to be patient.
“He’ll come around,” she said. Franklin smiled tiredly at her but squeezed her hand in return.
We’d been living there for three months by then, and Cole seemed to be getting worse. Sometimes, at night, when the house and everyone else was asleep, I’d hear him crying through the wall we shared.
I remembered thinking the reason I was doing so well was because he wasn’t. I didn’t want both of us hurting my mom and Franklin. One of us had to try.
I scarfed down a few bites of food, then wrapped my uneaten drumstick and broccoli in my napkin, because he’d been sent to bed without dinner, then hid it in my lap. “May I be excused?” I asked.
“Sure, sweetie,” Mom said.
Upstairs, I looked both ways down the hall before leaving the food near his door, knocking, and then running into my room. I held my breath and listened with an ear to my door, and just when I became dizzy from lack of oxygen, I heard Cole’s door open and then shut. I quietly stuck my head into the hall, and the food was gone.
I closed my door quietly and jumped onto my bed feeling victorious. Usually, I’d end up having to throw away the food because he’d refuse to take it, and I didn’t want to get caught sneaking him meals.
Slipping a hand under my pillow, I pulled out the photo I’d kept hidden there for a few days. It was a picture of Cole’s mother, smiling near a park fountain, her hands on her pregnant belly.
I’d snuck into his room while he took a piano lesson downstairs, and found a shoe box under his bed with tons of photos like it. In every picture her stomach grew bigger and bigger, but they were all taken in front of the same fountain. There were other pictures of her in there, too.
I hadn’t been sad when my dad died. He had never been good to me or my mom, and I hadn’t known him all that well, anyway. Cole wasn’t nice to me or my mother, but I couldn’t help but be curious about him. His grief for a woman he never knew made him redeemable to me, even at an age when I wasn’t quite sure what that meant. I wanted to know all his thoughts, everything about him.
The next day I convinced my mother to drive us to all the nearby parks in search of the fountain. I’d told her about the photos, and that I thought it meant a lot to Cole. We finally found it, but water no longer shot into the air from the winged angel’s mouth, and the bowl of the fountain was chipped and molded over.
“What can we do to fix it?” I asked my mother.
“I don’t know, sweetie.”
“There has to be something. It might make him better.” I looked up at her, the cool spring breeze whipping her blonde, curly hair around her head.
“Well, maybe we could call the Parks Department, or write to the town mayor. Maybe he can do something.”
“We’ll need to send in a petition. If everyone in the town wants the fountain fixed, he has to listen.” I’d learned about petitions and their importance at school.
Two months later I was practically bouncing in my seat as Franklin and my mother drove me and a clueless Cole to the park. Not only had we gotten the fountain revitalized, but we’d gotten his mother’s name placed on a plaque at the base of it.
When we got there, Cole didn’t react like I’d thought he would. Franklin explained the hard work I had put in to make it happen, but Cole simply stared at his mother’s name, his expression unreadable, then he marched back to the car, shutting himself in while we stared after him. I didn’t even get a thank you.
The next day at school, while reading a book for history class as I ate lunch alone, a tray dropped onto the table in front of me. I jerked my head up to see Cole taking a seat across from me. He’d never acknowledged me at school before. He slid his green apple to me, and without saying a word he dug into his food. I loved green apples, and if he knew that, it meant he’d been paying attention, even when I thought he wasn’t.
You’re welcome, I thought, before taking a bite around a smile and getting back to my book.
Two Years Later
“What’s the matter with you?” Jasper asked as he passed the bowl of popcorn across the bed to me. We’d just finished our homework and were about to watch Lord of the Rings for the third time that week.
“Nothing,” I muttered.
“Then quit being quiet and weirder than usual.”
“We can't talk while watching the movie,” I said. He gave me a look, and I gave in. “Who was that girl at school?”
“What girl?” he asked, confused, reaching for a handful of popcorn.
“The one who touched your hair.”
“Blake? She’s my friend.”
He shrugged. “She’s the new girl. Mrs. Higgins assigned me to be her buddy today.”
Jasper and I didn’t have friends. We were all we needed. “You can't be friends with someone you’ve only known for one day.” I focused on watching the coming attractions. “And why was she touching your hair?” As a middle-schooler, I got out earlier than him, and I’d been sitting on one of the benches in the carpool area waiting for his class to let out. I’d expected to see the smile he wore whenever he spotted me waiting there. I liked that smile. It was mine.
Instead, he’d been laughing with some stupid girl as she tugged on one of his curls to watch it snap back like a spring. Jasper’s curls were big and loose, and sometimes they waved more than they curled. I shouldn’t have blamed her for being curious about them, but her touching him made my stomach feel tight.
“I don’t know,” he said around a stuffed mouth. “You pull on my hair all the time. What’s the big deal?”
“The big deal is I don’t like it when someone else does it.” I stared at a spot on the blanket when he laughed.
“Okay, Coley-bear,” he said playfully. “I’ll add it to the list of things you don’t like. Ooooh, I’ve got an even better idea. Maybe I’ll have Mom cut them off.”
I scowled at him, ready to give him a noogie for making fun of me—and for threatening me with his own haircut, but the smile I loved so much waited there for me. “And stop calling me Coley-bear,” I said, but he shook his head like he knew I didn’t mean it, then pointed to the screen.
“Quiet. Movie’s starting.”
A couple hours later, we were called down for dinner. We sat in our usual spots across from Mom and Dad and held pinkies under the table.
Afterward, we snuck back into my room to watch another movie after having been ordered to bed. Jasper fell asleep before the opening credits had started, and instead of waking him up and sending him to his room, I let him roll into my side, and then I drifted to sleep, too.
My freshman year of high school was an adjustment for Jasper. He was two years younger, but only one grade behind because he was insanely smart and motivated to move up so we wouldn’t have to spend too much time apart attending different schools.
For me, leaving him behind was a relief, because I’d begun to see our relationship differently. Suddenly, only having each other as friends didn’t seem normal, and sleeping in the same room when we both had our own didn’t feel so innocent, especially when subconsciously we didn’t want our parents knowing. If it wasn’t wrong, then why did he listen for movement in the hallway before slipping through my door? If what we were doing was normal for two brothers, then why did my morning erections suddenly make him blush? And why did it take him so long to look away from it? And why didn’t it bother me that he did?
I’d begun sleeping in more than boxer briefs, too, adding a weak layer of protection.
I found myself cranky with him for no reason, at least not a reason I had the ability to explain. Something was changing, though. The way I thought about him was changing, and it wasn’t right. So I welcomed the space put between us, the opportunity to make new friends.
Jasper didn’t understand my sudden weirdness toward him. Didn’t get why we couldn’t be as glued at the hip as we once were. Didn’t understand why I needed anyone but him.
“Dude, if your brother comes in here one more time—” Dylan’s words were cut off by the sound of my bedroom window cracking as Jasper banged on it from a tree branch outside. We both leaped to our feet startled.
Dylan had come over to study, and I’d locked my door after Jasper insisted on barging in to remind us how much time we had left until dinner. Until Dylan would need to go home.
“What the fuck? Your brother’s psycho, Cole.”
I grabbed my fallen textbook off the floor and slowly lowered back onto the edge of my bed, my gaze fixed on Jasper’s reddened face through the webbed glass. Dylan droned on about how abnormal it was for Jasper to basically stalk my study session with him. He was an only child. He wouldn’t get how close Jasper and I were, or how much my pushing him away lately had been affecting him.
“Get out,” I said, watching as Jasper scaled down the tree. I could still taste the minty flavor of Dylan’s gum from our sloppy kiss moments ago, and I wondered how long Jasper had been in that tree.
“What?” he asked.
I rounded on him. “No one talks about my brother like that. Now get out.” Dylan was completing ninth grade for the second time, so he was older; he also happened to be bigger, but something in my expression sent him grabbing for his things and backing toward my door.
“What’s your problem?” he asked nervously. I flexed my fists, and he got the message.
Left alone, I fell back on my bed, dragging a hand down my face. I turned my head to the open door to find Jasper waiting there, arms folded.
“Do you like him?” he asked.
“No,” I said immediately.
“What did I do wrong?”
“God, Jasper, nothing,” I said, sitting up abruptly. “It’s perfectly normal for me to have other friends.”
“Okay. Well, maybe I’ll get some other friends, too.” He stormed off, and I flinched when his bedroom door slammed. I didn’t want him to have other friends. I wanted him to only have me.
My Shot at Freshman Year
My bedroom door flew open, rebounding off the wall behind it, and I scrambled to close my laptop and cover my lap with a pillow. Cole stood fuming in the doorway, jaw set, eyes hard and burrowing into mine. “Ever heard of knocking?” I asked, breathing swiftly.
“Mom said you cut your hair,” he said, coming in and swinging the door shut behind him. He inspected my buzz cut from where he stood, shoulders tensing. “Was that an act of rebellion against me or something? I don’t give you enough attention, so you chop your fucking hair off?”
“How is my haircut about you?” I asked, preparing to stand from the bed in my anger before remembering I was naked from the waist down. I squeezed the pillow to me tighter, fighting not to blush and give away my embarrassment as it seemed Cole was too pissed to notice what he’d walked in on.
“You know how,” he growled.
“No, tell me. Because I don’t know anything about you anymore.” Most days Cole and I were close, thick as thieves. Then there were days he acted like the sight of me ruined his day. Those days were usually followed by him hanging out with someone new. Someone I knew he couldn’t care less about. It was my fault, and I knew that, too. I was terrible at hiding my crush on him, and it killed me to know I was messing up everything between us. It killed me more to know that he didn’t share the same feelings about me.
“Are you going to let it grow back?” he asked.
“You don’t like it?” I couldn’t hide the hurt in my voice. I dragged a hand over the shorn strands. I’d had to cut it low to the scalp to get rid of the curls.
“It makes you look older,” he said, tone softening.
“Less like…” He trailed off as he searched for the right words. “Less like an angel.”
“I don’t want to be an angel.”
“I don’t want to be good,” I stressed. Dylan had a tongue ring, and a few of the juniors smoked cigarettes behind the bleachers. And I’d seen at least one senior sporting a tattoo. Maybe that was what Cole wanted, someone more mature.
“What if you being good makes me want to do bad things?” he whispered, then averted his gaze to my discarded jeans and boxer briefs on the floor. He snapped his head to me quickly, and I pressed myself into the headboard, wishing I could melt into it. My neck warmed.
“What were you doing?” He squinted, taking me in. “Before I came in here.”
“Nothing.” My fingers curled into the pillow, and Cole tracked the movement. He then looked to the door, then back to me, his face twisted as if either option—going or staying—would hurt. Leave, I silently pleaded, because the shame was eating at my stomach. But Cole merely stood there uncomfortably, clearing his throat.
Why isn’t he leaving? I thought anxiously. Did he really need me to spell out what I’d been doing? Then I remembered what he’d said seconds ago.
“What if you being good makes me want to do bad things?” he’d asked.
Did he mean bad things to me? Did he want to stay? Did he want to see? My breaths turned choppy. I decided to take a shot at being bold, even as my heart hammered away and every part of me scorched from shyness and the fear of rejection. I lifted my laptop screen, which hadn’t closed all the way, and turned it toward him. The porn was still running but on mute. Cole’s wide stare bounced between me and the two guys going at it hard on a balcony. “Wanna watch me?” I asked unsteadily.
Cole swallowed hard, then subtly nodded.
I removed the pillow, added more saliva to my palm and closed my eyes before continuing, taking the noisiness of his breathing and the sound of him shuffling closer as a good sign.
After that day, jerking off in front of him became a ritual, and then jerking off together became a daily habit. We’d lie side by side and pretend we were watching the men on screen when we were really watching each other. That graduated to us jerking each other off, and then one day Cole took me in his mouth. We never spoke about it ever; each time after we were done, it was as if it had never happened. And then one day it was no longer enough for me. Eventually I wanted more.
I unfolded from the sofa, removed the boxers I’d recently put back on, and then strolled over to the piano where Cole played broodingly with his head lowered. Closing the lid, I climbed on top, sprawling out horizontally on my back. He continued to drift his fingers over the keys softly, ignoring me.
“So you’re just going to fuck me, then pretend I don’t exist?” I asked. It was Friday afternoon, and we’d be alone for the entire weekend. Cole didn’t waste time tearing my clothes off and taking me how and where he wanted me the moment we got home from school. Sex in the living room was a change; Cole fucking me in a jealous haze wasn’t. “I told you I don’t like him. I can’t control that he likes me.”
“Yeah, well, you don’t have to encourage him either.” He still wouldn’t look up at me.
“We’re in the same class. He asked for help on an assignment. Was I supposed to say no?”
“Yes,” he snapped, his gaze finally rising to mine. The song he’d been playing morphed into a cacophony of sound as his fingers stumbled and smashed onto the keys at the sight of me naked atop his Baby Grand. His stare instantly turned greedy, and even after all these years Cole still had the ability to make me blush. “Did it ever occur to you that he’d made that up just to be alone with you?”
No, it hadn’t, because Matthew was terrible at precalculus, but if I told Cole that, he’d call me naïve. He licked his lips hungrily, his eyes still hard with anger, though. “I don’t want anyone but you, Cole.”
“And I don’t want anyone else wanting you,” he said seriously, making me chuckle.
“So what? You’re gonna go around knocking out anyone who looks at me?”
“Maybe,” he said. Cole played piano and rode horses. He wasn’t a bad boy, regardless of what his disposition may have projected. He was brooding, standoffish, and territorial when it came to me. He didn’t like anyone near me. To be fair, it went both ways, except he wasn’t afraid to become violent on my behalf if need be. I’d just bitch through my jealousy until he fucked me quiet, putting a temporary end to my insecurities.
“Would you be happy if I told him to get a tutor next time?”
“Very,” he said without hesitation. I’d stayed behind after last period to help Matthew with a problem. It was only supposed to take a few minutes, but one equation turned into two, then three, and then we’d lost track of time. Cole had come looking for me when I didn’t meet him in the parking lot per usual.
“Can’t you take a hint?” he’d spat out, drilling a hole into Matthew with his stare. Cole was a master at knowing who wanted me—which was easy because in his mind everyone wanted me. In Matthew’s case, though, he’d made the mistake of once asking me out in front of Cole. Why wouldn’t he? Cole was my stepbrother after all. Matthew had no reason to believe he couldn’t ask me to the movies in front of him. Cole had not so politely informed Matthew that I wouldn’t be going anywhere with him.
“I love you,” I said, coming back to the moment, scooting closer and dragging the pad of my thumb across his pouty bottom lip. Cole grabbed my hand and squeezed when I went to pull away, his breaths quickening. I couldn’t see into his lap from where he sat on the bench, and the way I lay reclining back, but the hold he had on me, and the tension in his whole body, said enough. Cole was hard, and he wanted me again.
A shyness I couldn’t explain came over me, and my body vibrated with the need to roll away from him, to hide how turned on I was.
“Don’t,” he said, feeling me sway to the other side. It didn’t matter how many times we fucked, or how many dirty things his mind thought up to do to me, each time was like the first. He made me feel new with every encounter.
His fingers brushed over the veins at my wrist. “Your skin is soft and milky. Smooth,” he said, driving his gaze up and down my body.
“Do you wish it were tougher?” I asked. “Tanned and hairy like yours?”
“No. I just…” He snapped his mouth shut. I knew his thoughts like they were my own, though. I’d grown taller and broader over the last couple years. My dick had thickened and lengthened, too. And my voice had deepened. But I was lean, and virtually blemish free. Statuesque. And the crimson buried beneath my skin rose to the surface so easily. I was still his angel. And angels still made him want to do naughty things.
“What do you want to do to me, Cole?” I whispered.
“Bad things, angel,” he whispered back.
“So do them.”
Cole stood, the bench legs scraping against the hardwood floor. I could see his cock now, and fuck was it big. My chest heaved as my breaths raced in and out of me. I followed his loose gait to the couch where he scooped his pants off the floor and withdrew the thick leather belt. He wrapped the buckled end around his fist twice as I sat up slowly, mouth parting as my gaze flickered from the belt to his face.
“Turn around,” he said, and I got to my hands and knees, trembling so badly I could barely hold myself up. Cole had taken me over his knee before, bringing his palms down on my flesh as I rutted against him with my cock trapped between his thighs, but never this. “You know what to say, right?”
I nodded wildly. Our safeword was yes. Strange, as safewords went, but boys learning the ropes from bad porn tended to come up with strange shit. Especially when we realized early on that saying no got us off even more.
The first strike landed and I cried out, back bowing as I dug my blunt nails into the piano hood. I was sweat-slicked and slipping along the polished surface by the time he’d finished and went for the lube, my body hot and shaking, precum staining the shiny lid beneath me.
Cole praised me and my wounds. “Look how red you are,” he said, sliding a couple slicked fingers inside me. I moaned, my forehead tapping the piano as I fucked back onto his digits like a dog in heat.
“Please, Cole,” I begged deliriously. And then he was behind me, inside me, making me come instantly as I hollered his name.
“Do you want me to stop?” he asked, moving slowly in and out of me.
“No,” I keened.
“Do you want me to keep going?” he asked. I gave him what he wanted. The answer that would send him over the edge.
“No,” I said breathlessly. Cole bucked into me, quivering as he came, careful not to hurt my bruised ass cheeks.
Next stop was the kitchen island, where Cole fucked me with my hands tied behind my back. Then the backyard during a rainstorm, where I yelled and begged and cursed the day he was born. Where I’d gotten off so hard I cried.
We fucked hard all weekend. We fucked long all weekend. We did things we’d never done before that weekend. We were in heaven, and I was his angel.
Jasper and I stood in Franklin’s study with arms crossed, refusing to speak. Matthew had just left with his parents, his top lip so swollen it nearly touched his nose.
“Are either one of you going to tell me what happened?” My father glared between the two of us from behind his desk. He’d assured Mr. and Mrs. Duncan that he’d deal with us when I’d refused to apologize, and when all Jasper had offered was an apology instead of the explanation my father had demanded of him. “You,” my father barked at me, utterly upset. “Talk. Now. What possessed you to lay a hand on that boy?”
I wanted to say it was all Jasper’s fault. Had he not insisted on buying that lemon he called a car, he wouldn’t have broken down in the school parking lot after his lacrosse meet, therefore needing a ride home, and accepting one from Matthew—who miraculously happened to appear in Jasper’s time of need.
Jasper could’ve pulled out of the dealership with any car he wanted, but he’d stubbornly chosen the one car he could afford with the money he’d earned himself from working summers at Nexcom. I wanted to say all he had to do was call me to pick him up and I would’ve dropped everything to get to him.
“He had it coming,” was all I said. I couldn’t tell my father the truth. I couldn’t admit that I’d blindly charged through the front door and hauled Matthew out of the car before landing a fist to his smug face and leaving him in a heap on the front lawn. What would he think had I admitted to then dragging Jasper to my bedroom before making him pay for it?
“I’m not even close to done with you yet,” I’d snarled into Jasper’s ear after fucking him on the floor, and then lifting him against the wall before unloading inside him. I’d been reckless. Hadn’t even cared that my father had chosen that day to work from home. I’d torn Jasper’s clothes off and done what I pleased with him. I had been so mad. I was still so fucking mad.
“It’s my fault,” Jasper said, lips tight, cheeks ruddy. “I mentioned something to Matthew that Cole told me in confidence. Something about his mother. Matthew used the information to goad Cole into hitting him. I’m not sure why.”
As lies went, it was a dumb one. One that could easily be ripped to shreds with even an ounce of investigative work. Lucky for us, Matthew hadn’t given up any details either, other than who had dished out the blow—which his parents probably pressured him into doing.
“Is that true?” my father asked me.
“Yes,” I said.
Skepticism filled his expression. We’d done a shitty job at convincing him. But he sighed, flicking a hand in a gesture meant to dismiss us.
Jasper and I walked to the other end of the house in silence, and when he deviated to enter his room, I followed, grabbing the door before he could close it in my face. He rolled his eyes and moved toward his desk in the corner, withdrawing his textbooks from his backpack and ignoring me.
“Are you okay? Are we okay?” I asked quietly.
“Nothing is fucking okay, Cole,” he said without much restraint. “You hit him for no good reason, and then you fucked me while Franklin was home! Have you lost your mind?”
“He wanted me to be jealous.”
“He thinks we’re stepbrothers, Cole. Maybe he thinks you’re a bit overprotective, but he doesn’t think we’re fucking. Why would he want you to be jealous?”
“It doesn’t fucking matter why, Jas. And you could’ve stopped me,” I said, knowing he’d understand I wasn’t talking about Matthew anymore.
“But I can’t, Cole. I can’t stop anything when you put your hands on me.”
He was pissed, and I could either fight back and risk him completely blowing a gasket or give him what I refused to give Matthew. “I’m sorry,” I said. I repeated it several times until he exhaled and forgave me. He left his textbooks alone and fell onto his bed, and I moved from my spot near the door and lay down next to him.
“I know why you did what you did, Cole.”
“You mean aside from being a jealous and possessive asshole?” I stared at the ceiling but reached out to hold on to his hand. “The door’s locked,” I said when he hesitated to grasp back.
“This is our last year together,” he said solemnly.
“Yeah, I know.” I’d be graduating and heading to Massachusetts while Jasper completed his senior year at Purgaton Prep. And there would probably be more idiots like Matthew making their play in my absence. And even if there wasn’t, one idiot who thought he had a shot with Jasper was bad enough. “I’m going to take a gap year,” I said hurriedly, making the decision that instant. We rolled to our sides facing each other. Jasper didn’t argue or question me. He looked blissfully happy about the idea.
“Franklin and Mom might have a fit,” he said.
“So let them.” I shrugged. “I’ll spend the year working at Nexcom. It’ll give me an edge when I start at Harvard.”
“That reasoning might actually work on him,” Jasper said, and we both chuckled. My father wanted nothing more than for me to take over the company one day. Jasper and I spent our off time working there, but I couldn’t say I’d ever taken the idea of running the place seriously.
“I love you so much my fucking heart hurts with it,” I whispered, playing with the gold cross at his neck. “I don’t want to be without you. I need you like I need air, Jasper.”
“I don’t think the stars aligned for Mom and Franklin to find each other,” he said. “I think they aligned for us, through them, if that makes sense. We were always meant to be, Cole. And I love you so much my heart hurts with it.” That was our mantra. Chances of being overheard from the hall were slim, but we spoke like we were voiceless anyway, reading each other's lips when certain words lacked sound.
“And you’re going to let my father buy you a functioning car, because if I see you in Matthew’s passenger seat again—”
Jasper cut me off with a hard kiss. “Fine, you fucking caveman. I’ll let him buy me a Maserati if it’ll help you keep your hands to yourself.”
“An armored truck,” I joked. “With a sign that says hot gay boys keep out.”
“Oh, so you find Matthew hot?” he asked, his laughter coming to a halt.
“So hot,” I said, giving the added push the table needed to turn. He rose onto his elbows, eyeing me with murder in his gaze.
“Are you jealous because Matthew wants me and not you? Is that what’s really going on?” Jasper was so damn easy to prod.
“That’s bullshit and you know it,” I said, rolling and crushing him with my large body. “I only want you.”
“I’m still going to have to suck you off now,” he said, cheeks rosy.
“So you can show me no one can satisfy me like you do?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Look who’s being the reckless one now,” I said breathlessly. “Mom will be home soon.”
“Later then,” he promised. “When they’re asleep.”
“Mom’s going with Dad on his business trip next week,” I said, voice low. “Will you let me hurt you, then?” I started up a dry hump, horny from the thought of my teeth breaking his skin. My gums itched from the phantom taste of copper coating them.
“Yes,” he said, more like begging, holding on to my shoulders as we moved. We couldn’t get enough of each other. I couldn’t get enough of loving him.
2nd Year at Harvard
I was surprised to come home and find Jasper lying on the couch. He typically spent Tuesday evenings at the campus library tutoring freshman. “Hey, you,” I said, dropping my satchel near the door and rounding the sofa to lean over and kiss his forehead. “Jesus, Jasper. You’re hot.”
“Thank you,” he said sluggishly, trying and failing to sound perky.
“I mean you have a fever.” I chuckled while stacking the mess of papers scattered over his lap and resting them on the coffee table. “What’s wrong? Are you in pain? You were fine this morning.”
“I think it’s burnout.”
“Well, yeah,” I said. “Your course load is insane, on top of all the tutoring you’ve been doing. You know you don’t have to work, right?”
“Working keeps me humble,” he said with a yawn. I shook my head. We lived close to campus in a cramped one-bedroom walkup. We could’ve gotten something more luxurious, but Jasper had fought against it.
“I wanna live like regular people,” he’d said. “Regular people don’t have maids and doormen.”
I’d given in because as long as I had him I didn’t care, but on this I’d put my foot down. “That’s it. No more tutoring. At least not until after finals and summer break. Spend the money in your account that you insist on ignoring. Or spend my money. I don’t care. But you’re not running yourself into the ground any longer, Jas.”
“Okay,” he said easily. He must have been sicker than I thought to give in so quickly.
“Did you take anything for it?” I asked, resting the back of my palm across his forehead.
“Haven’t been able to move from this spot.”
I grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge, and some ibuprofen from the medicine cabinet, and then helped him sit up to take them. I stripped down to my boxer briefs before sliding in behind him and scanning the mess he’d made of our tiny space since I’d cleaned it last night. Smiling to myself, I buried my nose in his hair. Some strands curled, some waved, a few did a combination of the two. I wiped the light sheen of sweat from his neck, then we relaxed there in silence, my heart beating against his back, until the medication kicked in.
“Your fever broke,” I said, and he twisted around, forcing my head upward with a hand to my chin so he could snuggle into my neck.
“Hold me by my hair,” he said, and I did so, pressing him into me.
“What if you end up with a job that requires you to cut all this?” I asked, pulsing my fist at the back of his skull. Jasper wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, which was why he’d enrolled as a liberal arts major. He just knew he wanted to help people. “You could always be a model,” I said facetiously. “Then you could let it grow to that sexy ass of yours.” It didn’t quite touch his shoulders now.
“Ew,” he murmured into my skin, body shaking with laughter.
“What’s wrong with it growing to your ass?” I asked.
“You mean aside from the fact that it would add at least two hours onto my morning routine? But I was talking about modeling.”
“Oh,” I said.
“I don’t know what I want to do. Some days it’s social work, other days it’s being a campaign manager.” We both laughed, adjusting our bodies so we were on our sides on the ginormous couch.
“You’d definitely need to cut it then. Can’t have the world thinking the future president is in cahoots with hippies.”
“Let them underestimate me,” he challenged.
“That they would be,” I said affectionately, trailing my fingers down his cheeks. “How are you feeling?”
“Much better,” he said absently, kissing my thumb now tracing the seam of his lush lips.
“What are you thinking about?” I asked, urging him to sit up so I could pull his damp t-shirt off, then I covered us with the blanket strung over the sofa back. We were so close the tips of our noses touched.
“Just how normal this is. We don’t have to sneak around, pretending to be brothers. We can love each other however we want. Sleep in the same bed without triple-checking that the door is locked, and without shoving a chair up against it for good measure. And even though the neighbors complain, I can scream your name as I come all over myself.”
My eyes were closed, but I massaged his nape, and I knew the warmth spreading over it wasn’t a sign the fever had returned. “Say that last part again,” I teased, drawing my head back to witness his embarrassed smile.
“I’m serious,” he said.
“I know.” I kissed him then, long and slow, until we were fighting for the air between us.
“We have to tell them,” he whispered. “I don’t want to go back to how we were. We’ll end up pushing them away so that we can remain close. I don’t want that to happen, Cole.”
He was right. We’d already skipped out on going home for winter and spring break. What would we do after returning to Seattle for good? “After graduation?” I asked.
“Okay. I can hold out that long.”
I wasn’t sure if it was my heart causing all the noise in the silence or his, but I was suddenly terrified for us. For our future together.
“We’ll tell Mom first,” Jasper said, slinging a leg over my hip and scooting in impossibly closer. “She’ll help with Franklin.”
“Are you sure?”
Jasper chewed on his lip in thought before answering confidently. “Yeah. I’m positive.”
I exhaled heavily, trusting him on this.
“I miss her,” he said drowsily.
“You’re such a momma’s boy.”
“Yeah, I am.” Jasper wore that badge with honor. We were the only secret he’d ever kept from her, and it weighed heavily on him.
“Can I feed you and then take you to bed?” I asked dotingly. Jasper hinged his hips forward until his hardness kissed mine. “Not tonight.” I rubbed my solid cock against his, so he understood this wasn’t a rejection. There would never be a time I didn't want him in that way.
“No?” he questioned.
“No. Tonight I just want to hold you.”
I heated up some soup from the can and toasted a few slices of bread. We called it an early night, and as usual, Jasper fell asleep with his nose tucked under my chin, and my hand swallowed up by his hair. “I love you so much my heart hurts with it,” I whispered into the dark bedroom before drifting off too.
3rd Year at Harvard
I’d worked my magic and connections to get Jasper and I on the guest list for Halloween masquerade night at Club Fetish.
All around us half-naked goblins, comic book villains, and such were enjoying each other in the two-level, leather-lined venue in the middle of nowhere.
Jasper and I weren’t into the hardcore stuff, but it was fascinating to watch, and it served as inspiration for our creativity in the bedroom.
The ecstasy pill we’d split in the parking lot had kicked in, causing my oversensitive skin to tingle warmly from innocent touches as partygoers passed by. And my cock had been hard for the last half hour.
At some point I’d lost Jasper to the fray, real panic setting in after doing a full loop around the club and still not spotting him. But then, through a break in the crowd, my horrified gaze landed on pale skin and a wild mane of hair with a halo hovering atop it.
In a dim corner, Jasper rocked his hips to the pulsing, erotic beat, eyes closed, head thrown back in sensual pleasure as another man ran his hands over his ass and around to the front of the white lace shorts doing a poor job at securing Jasper’s erection.
“Motherfucker.” I ditched the plastic pitchfork I carried, and shoved my way over to where they were lewdly dancing, grabbing Jasper by the throat and leading him down a corridor.
“Hey, what the fuck?!” the guy shouted angrily, grabbing my arm. I twisted around and decked him, not waiting to see him hit the floor before proceeding to shove a now semi-alert and confused Jasper through the first door we came to at the end of the hall.
We were in a room stocked with lube and shelves lined with every sex toy one could need. Flogs, chains, and whips hung from metal eye hooks drilled into the walls, and a large bed dominated the center of it all.
“I–I thought he was you,” he stammered, blinking up at me, pupils blown.
“Did you?” I hissed, pursuing his retreat, feeling every bit the devil my horned costume made me out to be. “Is my cock not bigger than his?” I unlaced the strings of my leather pants, unashamedly whipping my dick out. Jasper stopped, growing distracted by the rise of it.
I snagged him by the waist and spun him, his back now pressed to my chest. My cock pushed at the thin fabric of his tiny shorts to nestle between his tight ass, threatening to rip through the lace to get to his hot hole. “Don’t tell me you don’t know the difference between that and a dick so big it steals your breath every time it fucks into you, Jasper.”
I slid my hands into the back of his shorts, splaying my wide palms across his ass cheeks like that meathead had done moments ago. “Did his hands take you in so completely like mine do? Did they squeeze you like they wanted to soak through your skin? Or like they wanted to spread you apart to the point of delicious pain while feeding you every inch of his cock?” I spread him apart right then.
“No,” he whispered.
“I didn’t think so. Did you know it wasn’t me? The truth, angel.”
Jasper hesitated, and I ripped the shorts away from his body, the sound of his hardness rebounding against his abdomen made my own stomach dip and heat. I searched for the thin line of scar tissue at his groin. I wanted to see him bleed again. I wanted to taste him. “Yes. I knew,” he said shakily.
“You wanted to make me jealous,” I growled.
“Yes,” he breathed.
“And how would you feel if I did that to you, angel?”
“I’d hate it,” he confessed, grinding back on me, reaching both hands over his head to grab onto my hair.
“Maybe I should do it, anyway. Maybe I should find someone who can take my cock without flinching.”
“You’ve got that already,” he gritted out, still backing onto me, hands tugging tighter at my hair.
“Yes, I do,” I said, cock nudging half-heartedly at his dry hole as the music tore past the walls and into the lamp-lit room with us. “Why do we do this to ourselves?”
“Because I love it when you punish me. And because you love having reasons to hurt me.”
“I call it love,” I said, feeling every pore on my body expand, feeling the sweat bubble and seep through them. Even my fingertips had a heartbeat.
“I love it when you love me,” Jasper said, pivoting to face me, my hand falling from the wound I’d open and lap from soon. His halo had tilted. A fallen angel. And the feathered mask covering half his face did nothing to hide the debauched sheen in his dark eyes.
“Get on the bed,” I demanded, and he didn’t even kick off his shoes in his rush to obey. He wanted his pain and my cock that badly.
I removed my boots and pants, needing the room and flexibility to fuck him into the mattress when the time came, but I kept my horned mask on.
Choosing a paddle off the wall, I drew up behind him, flexing my wrist as I twirled the leather paddle in my hand.
I massaged his soft flesh, getting off on his whimper, before landing my first blow.
I stopped once my arm was tired, and once Jasper’s tears choked off his shouts.
Fingering him open, and then slicking up my cock and entering him, I fucked him as I promised I would. “I love you, angel,” I swore. “I love you so much my heart hurts with it.”
The End of Us
Cole and I rode from the airport careful to not betray our stepbrother routine in front of Franklin’s driver. We sat on opposite ends of the spacious back seat, choosing to stare out our windows instead of at each other.
The first thing I noticed when we rode through the estate gates was that Franklin waited outside for us alone. He and my mother always stood holding hands near the rose bushes to welcome us home. Today, Franklin waited outside the front door, almost as if he were guarding it. I leaned forward in my seat, my hand already on the door handle before the car stopped.
“Where’s Mom?” Cole whispered, equally confused. It didn’t need to mean anything. Maybe she was on a call or had to rush to the bathroom. Except we were already on edge since our visit during spring break, which she’d slept for most of.
“She’s tired from all the charity work. She needs some rest,” Franklin had said.
My mother never needed additional rest. She thrived on having a lot to do; she thrived even more when Cole and I were around.
“The horses are being readied for you,” Franklin said as soon as we hopped out of the car. “Figured you want to ride before the sun set.” His smile didn’t reach his dark eyes.
“Where is she?” I asked, bypassing his offer for a distraction.
“She’s resting,” he said gravely, allowing his fear to show.
I shoved past him and flew into the house, Cole close behind. “Mom?” I called out, dashing for the stairs.
“I’m in here,” she called weakly from the living room. Cole and I looked at each other with matching expressions of horror before doubling back and entering the room.
“Mom?” Cole said brokenly at the sight of her pale and thin upper body on the sofa.
A heavy quilt covered her from the waist down, and I fell to my knees in front of her before skimming it down her legs. They’d been slightly swollen a couple months ago. Water retention, she’d said. They were now twice their normal size.
“What the fuck is going on?” I demanded, blasting to my feet and glaring at Franklin accusingly. He leaned against the room’s arched entrance like he needed the support to hold himself up.
“Please,” my mother whispered, hands trembling as she raised them to take mine. “It’s not his fault.” Her hands were so cold. She tried to smile up at me, but she was too weak. Too weak to maintain her grip on my hand, so I caught hers before they fell. Too weak to blink so that her tears could fall.
“Dad, start talking. Now,” Cole said, voice vibrating with rage.
“It looks worse than it is,” he said. “We have time, and there’s hope.”
I cried as he explained her diagnosis to us. As he explained their fucked-up reasoning for keeping us in the dark all this time. I cried harder as she fought to be present, to be there for us, but ultimately fell asleep in the middle of our anguish because she had no control over her exhaustion.
Franklin explained everything in grave detail, not leaving anything out. I wanted to break everything I could get my hands on. I wanted to turn back time and visit more often, push harder for answers when in my gut I knew something was off. She was my compass, and I hadn’t followed the signs back to her. I’d gone in the opposite direction.
“Wha–what are you doing?” I asked Franklin breathlessly as he bent to scoop her into his arms.
“She’ll be more comfortable in bed,” he said.
“She can walk. Let–let her walk,” I stammered. Cole’s hand squeezed my shoulder from behind.
“She’s asleep. I don’t want to wake her,” he said, instead of crushing me with what I already knew. She couldn’t walk. Not with her legs in the condition they were in. “It’s the new medication. Her body just needs to adjust.”
Cole situated the blanket over her, and then Franklin strode from the room.
“Not again,” Cole said once we were alone, the blue of his eyes drowning behind tears. “I can’t lose her.”
I couldn’t scream. I had no one to fight, and no time for either of it, anyway. We were left with no choice but to get with the program as quickly as possible because every minute mattered, and so we wouldn’t get to spend many of them upset out in the open. I hated Franklin. I hated them both right then, and the thought sent me running through the front door for the stables.
Cole shouted my name desperately from behind me as I ran the great distance until my legs burned. Up ahead, I could see the stablehands securing Warrior’s and Lightning’s saddles.
“Jasper! Hold up.”
But I kept going, kept choking on my emotions, even forgetting my manners and mounting Warrior without so much as a hug for her or a thank you for the stablehand. I had Warrior turned and trotting off before Cole’s curse traveled to me on the wind.
“Jasper, wait,” Cole said, catching up. I rode harder, determined to escape Seattle, reality, and him.
“Jasper, please,” he said out of breath. “I need you.”
An agonized, helpless sound rumbled up my throat at those words. I wasn’t the only one hurting. I needed to run to him, with him, not away from him. I slowed Warrior to a stop, dismounted and slammed into Cole as he swung down from Lightning.
We held each other tight under the fading sun in the clearing where we’d made love under the stars on countless summer nights. “They–they’ve been lying to us, Cole.” We ended up sinking to the grass, too weak and too broken to hold each other up, and cried not-so-silent tears. I scrambled onto his lap, and we rocked from side to side.
“We can’t lose her. What are we gonna do, Cole? What are we gonna do?” My voice cracked, and Cole screamed his pain into the meat of my shoulder.
“I can’t lose another mother,” he wept. “I–I can’t.”
“I’ve got you,” I choked out, squeezing him to me. “I’ve got you.”
The following days were filled with doctor’s appointments and the dishing out of blame. I was so angry we hadn’t been told about my mother’s heart condition sooner. So angry they’d decided to put our education ahead of telling us the truth sooner.
She was put on a new medication regimen, and by the end of the summer she looked better. Cole and I ended up returning to school at our parents' insistence and persistent guilt trip. I didn’t know how I would make it through that final year. I doubled up on classes wherever I could, added online courses to my schedule, which allowed me to fly home on the weekends. Cole did what he could, and went home nearly as often as I did, but his degree program wasn’t as flexible as mine, so while I ended up finishing a semester early, he’d had one more to go.
I left him behind and went home to care for my mother full time. Determined to make her better with my love alone since modern medicine had so far failed us by only offering temporary fixes.
And then I decided I wanted nothing but the truth between us, but it ended up being a truth her weakened heart couldn’t take.
My honesty, and then my subsequent lie in the form of a broken promise, ended up costing me her, myself, and then finally us. And I vowed to spend the rest of my life never forgetting what my selfishness was capable of. I vowed to never let her go.