Part One: Denial
THE first time I let myself hope Matt was interested in me as more than a friend was his eighteenth birthday. We’d been friends for almost a year by that time.
My family moved from Raleigh to Dunford, a little town south of Greensboro, the summer before my senior year of high school. I expected it to be hell since I had no intention of hiding the fact that I was gay.
The town proved as dismal as I’d expected and as bigoted. But I had a lot more power in my lanky frame than anyone anticipated, more than I should have had. When I pushed back at the first asshole who tried to shove my head into a gym locker, I sent him flying across the room. A year before, I’d started a part-time job with a construction crew, but I didn’t do anything else in the way of strenuous physical activity. Despite that, I’d been growing stronger and stronger over the last year. I was almost as strong as a shifter now. My adoptive parents had refused to tell me anything specific about my origins, but surely they would have warned me if I had the potential to turn into an animal. Besides, shifters usually gained their animal form at the onset of puberty. I’d turned eighteen last fall, so I was well past the time the first change should have occurred. There had to be some other explanation for my superior strength.
When Matt Dawson, a farm boy and member of the football team, exactly the type of boy I expected to hate me on sight, walked over to me before school one day, I braced myself for a fight. Instead, he introduced himself and sat down beside me. For some reason I’ve never understood, he wanted to be friends. By the time the year was half over, I wanted more than that.
Several times that spring, I caught him looking at me with more interest than most people have for their friends, but I told myself again and again that he was straight and completely off-limits. He was the one guy who was willing to hang out with the school’s token queer, and I wasn’t going to fuck that up. But sometimes, I thought I might die from wondering what it would feel like to kiss him. By spring, I was more and more restless around Matt. I felt something strange inside, some wildness I couldn’t define, like I might come out of my skin, like wanting him was changing me, like it was going to make me come apart.
At first, I thought it was just the intensity of lust with no outlet. But it went on for months and finally got so bad my hands shook every time I was around Matt. I started to worry that something was wrong with me. I started cutting class, because I truly could not sit still.
My mom knew something was up with me, but she didn’t ask me about it. And when I tried to talk to her about what was going on, she acted like I was exaggerating everything and tried to pass it off as normal teenage restlessness. I was convinced I was either sick with some horrible disease or losing my mind.
A few times I almost told Matt, but I chickened out, because I was afraid if I started talking about whatever was stirring inside me, I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from telling him how I felt about him. I fantasized about him more and more, and the restlessness grew worse, like something inside was trying to claw its way out.
I’d avoided Matt for several weeks before his birthday, because I started to scare myself. I couldn’t hold my temper. I was dreaming about Matt all the time, and the dreams had grown increasingly violent. In those dark fantasies, I ripped his clothes to shreds, bit him, scratched him, and held him down. I would never really hurt him, at least not if I was in my right mind, but still, I was afraid.
He called me the day before his birthday. I let the call go to voice mail and told myself I wouldn’t listen to it, but I couldn’t help myself. I had to hear his voice.
Shane, I miss you, man. My mom’s making a special dinner for me tomorrow, but after that, I was hoping to hang out with you. Maybe we could go down to the river. Call me.
I hit the button to call Matt back without even thinking.
He answered on the first ring. “Shane?”
“Yeah, it’s me. I’m sorry. I’ve been…. Fuck, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’d like to hang with you tomorrow. Just call me when you’re done with your family thing.”
He waited a few seconds to respond. “You could come for dinner if you wanted to.”
“Nah, I… I just can’t.”
“Okay, but after. I want to see you.”
“I want to see you too.” And I did, desperately, no matter what happened. I had to see Matt. We’d be graduating in a few weeks, and I didn’t plan to stay in Dunford. I needed to make these last weeks with Matt count.
Dinner at Matt’s house would’ve been delicious. Matt’s mother was an awesome cook, and so was Matt after all the time he’d spent learning from her. The food she made was hearty and comforting, not like the trendy food my mother prepared, weird stuff that never filled me up. But while Matt’s mom was truly a Christian woman who bubbled over with generous love for everyone, even those whose beliefs didn’t align with hers, Matt’s father had counseled his son against “running around with that damn fag.” I was thankful Matt had ignored him and pleased that ultimately Matt’s father had let him choose his own friends. Still, I didn’t want to sit across the table from the man.
THE next night, Matt and I drove out to a spot by the river where we’d often gone fishing and even more frequently gotten together to drink beer and talk. Or I’d drunk beer, anyway. Matt wasn’t quite a teetotaler, but he rarely had more than one drink. I drank like a fish, because alcohol was the only thing I’d found that calmed the restlessness inside me.
In the months before Matt’s birthday, I’d been drinking more and more. Some of the wilder kids at school didn’t care that I was gay as long as I scored them some beer or liquor. In my house, there was always an ample supply of both, and my parents seemed to have a don’t ask, don’t tell policy about my drinking.
Matt, on the other hand, hated it when I got drunk with those assholes, but he came with me to their parties anyway. He said someone had to look after me, since I wouldn’t look after myself. He’d brought me home more than a few times. Once he’d even stripped me out of my beer-soaked clothes, taken them home himself, washed them, and brought them back so no one would notice. I was disappointed I’d been unconscious when his hands were on my body, but if I’d been awake, I wouldn’t have been able to resist showing him exactly what I wanted from him.
The night of Matt’s birthday, I lay in the bed of his truck with a raging hard-on. I hoped he wouldn’t notice or else he’d think I was fantasizing about someone else, but there wasn’t anyone else for me. Since I’d met Matt, no one else had held my interest. I’d been told there were a few boys at school who weren’t averse to some mutual cocksucking though they’d never identify as gay. And another boy who’d apparently do anything on a dare. I hadn’t gotten that desperate yet. I sneaked up to Greensboro a few times and talked my way into some clubs, but while I was with the boys I hooked up with, I pretended they were Matt.
Matt reclined beside me, his head resting on a stack of blankets, his perfectly sculpted arms folded underneath his head, his legs crossed, thigh muscles stretching his jeans. I tried not to look at the bulge between his legs, but I couldn’t help myself, and I almost choked when I did. He was hard too. Was he thinking about some girl, like that slutty Nina Hayes who was always coming onto him? Had it just been so damn long since he’d been with anyone that he was perpetually horny? As far as I knew, Matt hadn’t so much as made out with anyone in the last year.
I sat up, trying to act casual, and pulled his present out of my backpack. I handed it to him, taking care to keep my gaze on his face. “Happy Birthday.”
He frowned as he took the bag. “You didn’t have to get me anything.”
“I wanted to.”
He opened the simple paper bag and lifted out a small wooden horse I’d carved for him. His eyes widened. “You made this?”
“Shane, it’s amazing. It’s even better than the tree you made a few weeks ago.”
Heat filled my cheeks. “You think?”
“Absolutely. This is what you should be doing, carving. I know you could sell these.”
I shook my head. “It’s just something I play around with.”
“It could be more.”
I shrugged. “Maybe. I guess I could try, but not here.”
Matt looked up. “What do you mean?”
I avoided his question. “Do you really want to stay here, in Dunford, after graduation?”
“I guess so. What else would I do?”
I studied him. His thick black hair had been recently buzzed in an effort to combat the record heat and tame the curls that drove him crazy. They drove me crazy too, but in a very different way. His hazel eyes looked more brown than usual in the waning light. “What would you do if you could go anywhere, do anything?”
Matt started to say something, but he hesitated. “Nah, man. It’s dumb.”
I shook my head. “Tell me.”
“Promise you won’t laugh.”
“Unless you’re about to tell me we should go on tour as drag queens, then I think I can restrain myself.”
Matt grinned. He lifted a leg and kicked it out in a mockery of the Rockettes. “Somehow I don’t think we’d get very far with that plan.”
I laughed, but my chest constricted. How was I going to live without him? Could I stay here, confined, pressed in from all sides? “Tell me.”
“I’d open a restaurant.”
Matt was a great cook and good with people and completely organized and detail-oriented. Owning a restaurant would be perfect for him. “That’s exactly what you should do.”
He shook his head. “My family needs me here.”
“You need to be yourself.”
He frowned. “What more is there to me?”
I hurt for him. Did he really not know? “So very much.”
“I… I can’t.”
Was he saying he couldn’t leave his family, couldn’t open a restaurant, or was he talking about what was happening between us?
I’d pretend it was the easiest of the three to talk about. “You could. You’re an amazing cook, and when you put your mind to something, you do it. No one thought you’d break that wild colt last spring, and now he’s one of the best horses your family’s got. You make things happen, Matt.”
“You think so?”
“If only….” Matt’s shaky voice trailed off.
Matt stared at me, and something in his eyes stopped my breath. He reached out and pushed my bangs off my forehead. The brush of his fingers sent shockwaves straight to my cock. “Why don’t you cut your hair so it doesn’t do that?” he asked, his voice low, nearly a whisper.
I shrugged. Before I’d moved to Dunford, my hair had reached my shoulders. I’d cut it last summer but kept the front longish just to be different from all the country boys with their ruthlessly short hair.
With a lock of my hair still in his hand, Matt smiled. “If you keep working out in the sun, your hair will be white by the end of the summer.”
I nodded, unable to speak with his hand on me. He let go of my hair, but he took my hand in his and squeezed it. He lay back, but he didn’t let go. We stayed like that, holding hands in silence until the sun sank below the horizon and the fireflies danced around us.
My pounding pulse echoed in my ears. My dick strained against my shorts, but I didn’t move. I wasn’t going to mess this up. Matt was telling me something in the only way he knew how. He might not even know what the look in his eyes and his grip on me said, but my heart heard it, and I wasn’t going to let him go.