Rory was Ben's oldest and best friend until senior year of high school, when they confessed they'd harbored feelings for each other all along. They enjoyed only a few months of happiness until Ben chose closeted popularity over true love… and he's regretted it ever since.
Eight years later, Ben is out and proud and teaching art at the same high school he graduated from. When he learns the chemistry teacher is retiring, he's excited to meet her replacement until he finds out the brand new teacher is none other than Rory Newton—the first love he's never quite gotten over. Despite a painfully awkward start, it doesn't take Ben long to realize he'll do whatever it takes to win Rory back. But it's starting to look like even his best might not be enough.
SOMETIMES BEN wasn’t sure what he really remembered from when he was a kid and what were vague, pleasant images colored rose and gold from days in the sun. A lot of it was a happy blur of campouts and skate parks, soccer camp and trips to the public pool. If there’s one thing, though, that Ben Parsons was sure he remembered, it was the day Rory Newton moved in next door.
They were seven. And for at least a minute, Ben hated him. He also might have made Rory cry.
His mother had dragged him over there to say hello to the new neighbors, even though Ben wanted nothing to do with the new boy when Transformers was on—“c’mon, Mom. Transformers” didn’t seem to do the trick. Ben had to leave his favorite cartoon and meet the new neighbors no matter how much he protested. Mr. Newton was okay, Ben guessed. He was really tall and had a shiny bald head that Ben wanted to rub to see if it was as smooth as it looked. Mrs. Newton was pretty and soft and smiled a lot. She smelled like flowers, which was kind of cool. Ben liked flowers.
But then there was Rory, smaller than him with fluffy hair and big light-brown eyes. His mom kept going on and on about how adorable Rory was with his golden hair and his pretty eyes, and Ben got a little jealous, okay? So maaaybe he kicked Rory in the shins and made the kid cry. It wasn’t one of Ben’s shining moments.
His mom had marched him home, spanked him, and told him to go up to his room and think about how he must’ve made the poor sweet kid next door feel. Ben was sorry. Really, he was. He didn’t like to be in trouble, and he’d missed the second half of Transformers. Plus, he’d never made anyone cry before. Not even the girl who’d tried to kiss him last year at first grade graduation. So a few hours later, Ben told his mom he was sorry, and she took him back over to the Newtons’ house to apologize. Rory smiled and said it was okay, and Ben was so relieved he hugged him.
“Are we friends now?” Ben had asked. Even if he’d had a moment of spite, he couldn’t stand the idea of the only kid on the block hating him.
“Yeah.” Rory smiled shyly. “We’re friends.”
“I have a trampoline. Wanna come over?” he’d asked.
Rory’s mother had shot an alarmed look over their heads, but Ben smiled, already sure of his capacity to charm any woman into doing what he wanted them to do. “It’s okay, Mrs. Newton. I’ll teach him.” He gave her his most practiced smile, sure that his expertise would make her feel better.
Ben’s mother laughed. “Knock it off,” she said fondly and ruffled Ben’s hair. She gave Rory’s mother a rueful grin. “This one’s a charmer. I shudder to think of what will happen when he hits puberty.”
Mrs. Newton laughed. “Better keep the girls locked up.”
Ben wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but he figured his mom would tell him later. She always did.
He held out his hand to Rory. “Let’s go!”
He wanted to show his new neighbor the trampoline and all his video games, impress him any way he could. Ben figured if they had a chance of being real friends, he had to erase the memory of that morning.
BY THE time second grade started in September, Rory was Ben’s best friend. There were other kids, ones he’d played with the year before. They came over sometimes, and he liked them okay and everything, but they weren’t Rory, and Ben was fine with that. They both had outside friends, but really only needed each other. Their teachers wised up pretty quickly and moved Ben and Rory to the opposite sides of the classroom no matter how many big smiles Ben gave them.
They made up for it at recess and lunch, at night, on weekends—every single vacation. Third grade, they were put in different classrooms. Ben hated it, but the second the bell rang, he was back with Rory, arm slung over his shoulders, skipping home.
Ben had blurry happy memories of those years, wild hot summers running around the neighborhood until after dark, collapsing on his trampoline with sleeping bags and flashlights. Winter was rarely cold enough for snow in northern California, but Ben had fond flashes of hot cider, muddy games of soccer (he was way better) and pool and ping-pong in Rory’s basement when it was too wet to go outside (Rory beat him easily at those two, but sometimes he let Ben win). One thing was steady—Rory. Ever since that very first day, it was them. Always them.
NOTHING CHANGED much when they got to middle school. A lot of their friends started getting crushes on girls. Ben didn’t really see what was such a big deal about the girls, but the girls sure did seem to see what the big deal was about Rory’s caramel-colored waves and ridiculous long-lashed eyes that reminded Ben of the color of honey. Ben tried to pretend he didn’t mind it when the girls fawned all over Rory, but he wanted to push them off and say mine. My friend. Luckily, Rory didn’t seem to be as excited about the girls as they were about him. He mostly tried to avoid them. Ben flirted and smiled and did all the things he’d done for years, but he didn’t mean anything by it, and the girls seemed to know it. They flirted back, but nothing much came of it. Ben was Rory’s, and Rory was Ben’s. They did everything together—even the chicken pox in the middle of sixth grade. Sometimes Ben’s mother asked him if he wanted to have some of the other boys over. He’d just roll his eyes and say he saw enough of them at school. He only needed one best friend.
As far as Ben was concerned, they were going to stay exactly the same forever.
BEN FLOPPED down on his bed in the sweltering summer heat with his phone cradled against his head. He’d just gotten back from the soccer field, and he honestly felt like his face was about to melt off. Still, he’d called Rory first thing. He always did.
“Hey, you coming over?” Rory asked casually.
Ben’s pulse sped out of control. He wondered if he’d had too much coffee that morning. It couldn’t be because his best friend was on the other end of the line. His oldest and most platonic best friend. His racing heart couldn’t be from that. Denial game strong, Benjamin. Not strong enough. It was about Rory, and he knew it. Damn it. Rory had been making Ben’s heart pound for months… if not a lot longer than that.
“Course. When do I not come over?” Ben scoffed. He tried to sound casual. “Let me get a quick shower, and I’ll be there. You ordering pizza? I can bring cash this time.”
That sounded perfectly normal, right? Shower and pizza… just like yesterday. Just like every day.
Ben tried to act like things were exactly like they always had been. But they’d changed. Everything always did. For the first time, he and Rory had both gotten jobs for the summer, responsible sixteen-year-olds that they were. Ben was an assistant coach for his stepdad’s soccer day camp; Rory folded khakis and T-shirts at Hollister a few days a week. They still managed to see each other every night, even if it wasn’t every day all day like in summers past. It felt weird when they didn’t at least see each other that much. Ben started to panic when he spent too much time away from Rory. It probably wasn’t a good thing. But he’d been like that for years.
“Yeah, I got pizza. I’ll see you in thirty or so?”
“More like fifteen.” Ben chuckled. “It’s not that kind of shower,” he muttered under his breath.
Rory snorted out a scandalized laugh. “Good to know. Um, yeah, so I’ll be ordering pizza now. See you soon.”
Ben hung up the phone halfway between laughter and wishing he’d drown in the shower. Who says stuff like that? He had no idea what had gotten into him.
After a quick rinse-off that actually was that kind of shower—hey, he couldn’t help it, Rory’s voice kinda did things to him, okay?—he sailed through the front door of Rory’s house without knocking and sprinted up the stairs to the bedroom. He didn’t think of it as Rory’s bedroom, any more than his room was his own. They spent so much time in each other’s spaces that over the years they’d just kind of become one communal room. Pictures of the two of them were plastered over both rooms’ walls, Ben had some of Rory’s science fair ribbons, Rory had a few of Ben’s soccer trophies and the picture he’d drawn of their old backyard fort in art class the year before.
Rory was waiting for him on his bed, nose halfway buried in the pages of a book.
“Whatch’ya reading?” Ben asked.
Rory didn’t respond, just reached out absentmindedly and patted Ben’s knee. Hold on for a second…. Ben didn’t say anything else, just flopped back onto the bed and waited for Rory’s attention. He’d get it soon enough.
“Sorry, that was a cool part. I just wanted to finish,” Rory finally said a few minutes later when he put down the book.
“It’s fine. When’s the pizza getting here?” Ben scooched around until he found Rory’s thigh with his head. He rubbed his face into soft basketball shorts’ fabric and springy thigh muscle and tried not to sigh. So what if lying with his head in his best friend’s lap made his belly flip more often than not? They’d done it for years. Rory didn’t have to know how much it affected Ben.
“Should be here in a second. How was practice today?”
“Really long but not bad. Jamie’s finally getting his corner kicks. I swear that kid’s been missing them on purpose all these weeks.”
Rory snorted. He’d heard more than his fair share of Ben bitching about Jamie the Hopeless. Ben inhaled. He wanted to bury his face in Rory’s stomach, to smell laundry detergent and apples and clean sweat. Rory was Ben’s favorite smell in the world—comforting, but… not at the same time. Mostly Ben wanted to kiss him. And he’d wanted to long enough that there was no point in denying it. He just had to get past it if he wanted their friendship to stay intact.
“What do you want to do after we eat?” Rory played with the bleached-out tips of Ben’s blond hair. Rory always touched him a lot. Ben tried not to purr.
I want to make out with you all night. “I don’t care. I’m wiped out from being in the sun all day. Something chill.” Okay, yeah. So not the truth. He couldn’t exactly admit what he did want to do, after all.
“Bowling’s out, then?” Rory grinned. “Jesse and Lucas are down at the alley.”
Ben frowned. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the other guys; he just didn’t—he didn’t want to examine it really, why he’d rather be alone with Rory most of the time. He felt his belly sink. “You can go. I’ll just….” He tried to sit up, but Rory pushed him down.
“I’m not going, dork. I was kidding. We’ll just chill. Play video games or watch a movie. There’s gotta be something new on that neither of us has seen. I’m tired too.”
Ben wasn’t proud of the possessive thrill that raced through him when Rory picked him over the rest of the guys. Didn’t stop him from feeling it….
“UGH, I don’t feel like walking home,” Ben groaned three hours later. Sure, home was next door, but that meant he’d have to get up and put his shoes on, and it seemed like a hell of a lot of effort when really, he was perfectly content right where he was.
Rory shrugged and flicked off the TV. “So don’t. Stay here.” It wasn’t a big deal. It had never been a big thing for one of them to pass out in the other’s bed. They did it all the time—half the time cuddled against each other like they’d done since they were kids. It wasn’t a big deal. Not really.
“You sure you don’t care?”
Rory gave him a weird look. “Of course, I don’t. I like it when you’re in here, and I sleep better. You know that.”
“’Kay, then I’ll stay.”
Ben watched, dry-mouthed, as Rory stripped his shirt off and collapsed on his bed. “I get the wall side,” he declared. It was hot, had been in the nineties all week, so Rory turned his fan on high and kicked everything but his lightest cover to the foot of the bed. “C’mon. Let’s go to sleep.” He held the blanket up, and Ben crawled under. Rory curled his arm around Ben’s middle and nuzzled him in the back of the neck. “Night,” he muttered.
“Night. See you in the morning.”
“HEY, PEAPODS,” Rory’s mom said when she stuck her face in the door the next morning. “I’m off to work.” Rory’s mom was a florist. She was sweet and pretty and typically some variation of flustered. She’d never been very good with business, but she was great with flowers. Their garden was always beautiful. Ben loved it.
“’Kay, Mom,” Rory grumbled from his place up against the wall. He still had his arm slung over Ben’s waist as usual, knees bumped up against the back of Ben’s legs.
“Don’t you two think you’re getting a little old to sleep in a pile like puppies?” she asked. “Maybe we should get Ben a cot or something?”
Rory opened his eyes just so he could roll them. Ben didn’t even have to turn around to look. He had seen Rory do it a hundred times before. “What are you talking about? Go to work, Ma. I’ll see you later.”
The door closed quietly, and Rory snuffled against the back of Ben’s neck, already starting to fall back to sleep. He didn’t get it; that much was obvious. But Ben did. He knew the other kids at school thought they were a little weird, walking around glued to each other’s sides like conjoined twins, barely noticing anyone else. He didn’t really care. As long as he had Rory, it didn’t matter anyway, but they said things about how he and Rory were a little too close to be normal. Ben wasn’t deaf. Or stupid. The thing was, nobody mattered like Rory did. Still. He had his friends on the JV soccer squad. They were cool, he supposed. Rory had some friends from class too. It just wasn’t the same for either one of them with other people. They needed each other. They always had.
But as much as Ben hated to admit it, it wasn’t the same between him and Rory either. Not just familiar and close and comfortable like it had been for so many years. Sure, it was still just like it had always been on the outside. But, at least for Ben, it was more. Because there was that thing. That… thing. The pulse speeding when Rory called, the warm shivery melting when his hand happened to slip under Ben’s shirt when they were halfway passed out. Yeah. That thing. It was very much there. He’d been trying to ignore it for a long time.
It was getting harder.
Especially when Rory wrapped himself all around Ben in his old twin bed like they had since they were little kids.
So sure, Ben got what Rory’s mother was saying. He got why the kids whispered. He got all of it. But if he could just kiss his best and closest friend, all the weirdness would just melt away, and everything would start to make sense again. Too bad Rory would probably kill him.
BEN TRIED not to act weird around Rory. He’d been doing pretty well for nearly an entire school year, and it had been over a year since that summer night he realized just how much he wanted Rory as more than a friend. Act normal and ignore your feelings. That was his mantra. And it had worked. For the most part. But Ben knew he was acting weird. He knew he was letting the way he felt get to him. He was also scared Rory would notice. Ben desperately hoped he didn’t ask because there wasn’t a believable excuse, and somehow “I’m acting weird because I’m in love with you, and I don’t know how to deal with it” probably wasn’t the best thing to say.
Act normal and ignore your feelings… act normal and ignore your feelings….
He tried. He really, really tried.
“ROOORRYY, I’M hungry,” Ben whined.
Rory laughed and threw a pillow at him. “Hold on. This is my favorite part.”
“Can we pause it?” Ben knew he was being obnoxious, but an hour sitting next to Rory, smelling him, wanting so desperately to reach out and wind his fingers into that shaggy summer hair that still hovered between brown and gold… painful. “You know what? I’ll just go make us some stuff. You stay here.”
Rory paused the movie. “Okay. What’s up? You’ve been acting weird for days.”
“I haven’t.” Ben tried to laugh, but it came out sounding more like a snort. He tried to stand too, but Rory pushed him back onto his bed.
“Bull. Shit.” Rory kept his hand on Ben’s chest. “Now tell me what’s going on. You always tell me when things are bothering you.”
“Can’t we just finish the movie?” Ben would say pretty much anything at that point to keep Rory from prying. “I’m not hungry anymore.”
“Ben. What the hell? We’ve been friends for ten years. I know something’s up; just say it already, and I can help you fix it.”
Not likely. “Nine years and eleven months,” he said instead. “Our anniversary isn’t until August.”
Rory started to get mad. Ben knew because he always did this thing where he clenched his jaw and popped his fingers. “Quit making jokes. If you don’t want to talk about it, just say so. I….” His anger visibly drained away, and he just looked hurt. “I won’t ask again.”
“Ro, don’t be like that….”
“It’s just that you’ve been acting so different. I thought it was something I said or did. Are you mad at me?”
Ben hated himself. “No, not at all. C’mere.” He pulled Rory into a loose hug, something they’d done a million times. Rory wrapped his arms around Ben’s waist and nuzzled his neck. Something he’d done a million times too. Ben’s reaction? That was new. He moaned. He freaking moaned out loud at the touch of Rory’s lips on his neck. He wanted to die.
“Ben?” Rory pulled back. “What…?”
Ben’s cheeks felt so hot he could’ve sworn he erupted into fire. On the spot. “Just please forget you heard that. Jesus God shit. Watch the movie. Okay?”
“Ben?” Rory lifted his hand, slowly, hesitantly, and cupped Ben’s face. “Really?”
“Yes.” He couldn’t lie. It had been too obvious. Ben was humiliated. Officially humiliated. He moved, to start getting his shoes on so he could escape to his house and never ever come out again.
“Me too,” Rory whispered.
“What?” He didn’t know if he’d been hallucinating or if the heavens freaking opened up in that one moment and poured the sound of angels singing right into his bedroom because he could’ve sworn he just heard Rory say…. Wait, what did he say?
“What do you mean by ‘me too’?” Ben had to be sure.
Rory didn’t answer. Instead, he leaned forward, nudged Ben’s nose with his own, and brushed his lips across Ben’s in a short, tender kiss. “That’s what I mean.”
Ben shuddered like his whole body was trying to come apart. He nearly cried with relief, and then the shock hit him. Rory had just kissed him. Rory had just kissed him.
Rory grinned. “I’ve been wanting to do that for years.”
“Years?” Ben asked. Years?
Ben figured maybe if he kept repeating things in his head, they’d start to seem less like a desperation-induced hallucination. Holy hell, Rory just kissed me, and he’s wanted to for freaking years. Years. YEARS. That last part still hadn’t sunk in.
“Yeah.” Rory chuckled at what must’ve been blind shock on Ben’s face. “For sure since that skate party in seventh grade, you know at the Skate King, when you were walking around holding hands with Lauren?” Rory rolled his eyes. “I wanted to rip her stupid pink hair extension clip-ons out by the root.”
Lauren? He had zero memory of that. What he did remember was Rory falling and him rushing out into the middle of the rink to save him. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Rory countered.
Ben shrugged. “I guess I was afraid I’d lose you. Like who wants to hear that their best friend is perving on them?” Rory raised his hand with a small smirk. Ben laughed and reached out to pinch Rory’s stomach like they’d done, again, about a million times. It felt different. Good different. Ben wanted to touch more. “I know that now,” he said, still quite unable to believe it.
“Yeah,” Rory agreed. His teasing smirk softened. “Hey, Ben?”
“Mmm-hmm?” Ben asked, still marveling over what had just happened.
“Can I kiss you again?” he asked.
“Not if I kiss you first.”
“HEY THERE.” Rory woke Ben up a few weeks later with one of his slow, soft kisses. Ben was addicted—can’t get enough of it, fiending all the time like the kisses were crack—kind of addicted.
“Hey,” he mumbled and kissed Rory back. He tried to be casual about it, like his blood wasn’t racing through his body at lightning-bolt speed over one simple kiss, but he must’ve failed.
Rory grinned at him and leaned over. “Do you know how much I think about kissing you?” he whispered into Ben’s ear with a particularly dirty little laugh. “It’s even worse now that I know what it’s like. I swear to God that’s the only thing I thought about the entire day at work yesterday. Getting you here and kissing you all night.”
Ben shivered. That’s what they’d done. Kissed and cuddled and sucked at each other’s necks like ravenous vampires until they passed out somewhere close to dawn. They’d talked in there too, and joked like they always did. They talked about college, planned for the future.
Their plans hadn’t changed much; they’d always figured they would apply to school together, share a room and everything else just like always. Be the same. Ben just figured they’d add kissing to that plan. And touching too when they were both ready to take that step. Ben wanted to touch. He wanted everything.
“I swear I can’t even think of anything but kissing you,” he murmured. Among other things. “I almost got nailed in the head by a ball the other day when some kid missed his goal by about a hundred feet.”
Rory kissed Ben’s perfectly unbruised forehead and then pressed another to his lips. Their kiss deepened, but Rory stopped when they heard his mother’s footsteps in the hall. Ben tried to shift away guiltily, but stubborn arms held him in place. Rory’s mom opened the door.
“You two better get up soon,” she said. Ben swore he felt her gaze on him, like she knew he’d been making out with her son only moments before.
“I don’t have to work today, Mrs. Newton.” Ben tried to sound normal. Normal, normal, normal. Not turned on. Ugh. He hoped he’d succeeded.
“But Rory does, right?”
“Mom, it’s fine. And I’m seventeen, you know. Don’t you think I’m a little old for you to come in and wake me up every morning?”
“You being seventeen is exactly why I should come in here more often. But I suppose it’s fine if it’s just Ben here and not some young lady….”
“Mom—” Rory looked like he was about to say something, something that couldn’t be taken back once it was out in the open.
“I’ll make sure to get Rory to work on time,” Ben assured Mrs. Newton with his big lady-charmer grin. It still worked on her after all these years.
She smiled. “Thank you, dear. Have a good morning, you two.”
Rory made a face at Ben as soon as she left. “What was that? I want my parents to know the truth about us. I want them to know there’s never going to be a girl in here.”
Ben panicked a little at the thought. He did want to tell his parents, wanted to tell pretty much the entire universe to be honest, but he wasn’t sure how his dad would take it. Especially after all the sleepovers and shared sleeping bags.
“I know. Me too. But what if after you tell them the truth about us, they don’t let me spend the night anymore? I mean, best scenario is our parents are cool with us being together and… well….” He didn’t know how to say the word.
“Gay?” Rory prompted. He didn’t look like he’d questioned it too much.
“Yeah. Gay.” Ben sighed. He reached out for Rory’s hand. “Even if they’re cool with the rest of it, that still means we’re teenaged guys sleeping in their boyfriend’s bed. I don’t know about yours, but I don’t think my parents will be okay with that.”
A slow smile spread over Rory’s face. “Boyfriend?”
“Well, yeah. What would you call it?”
“I guess I hadn’t gotten around to naming it. But I like that I can call you that.”
“Ro. You know I love you. I always have, and I always will. It’s just… different now. More. You and I could never just be like casually dating or whatever. We have too much history between us.” And I like how I just announce that like it’s a fact. Ben blushed.
“I know,” Rory said easily. “Boyfriend.” He slid his fingers into Ben’s hair and brought him in for a kiss. “I love you too.” Always have and always will. It was implied. Ben knew that was the way things were meant to be for them.
“BABE! I made the varsity team!” Ben’s whole body thrummed with excitement. He hadn’t thought it would happen. Their school had one of the best soccer programs in the country. His dad had been over the moon when Ben called to give him the good news. Ben flopped onto the bed he’d spent most of the summer in and reached for Rory’s embrace. “I can’t believe I did it.”
His boyfriend grinned. “I can. You’re amazing. Why would you doubt it?” Rory dipped his face down for a long, slow kiss, but when he pulled back, Ben saw the worry in his eyes. Rory couldn’t ever hide what he was feeling from Ben. Neither of them could.
“Hey, it’s gonna be fine, okay?” He knew why Rory was worried. The varsity soccer guys ruled the school, and some of them… weren’t the type Ben would choose as friends. But just because he’d be playing with them, didn’t make them his new best friends. It didn’t mean he had to act like them either.
“I know it’s going to be fine.” Rory smiled his sweet heartbreaker of a smile. Ben didn’t think he’d ever get over how that smile made him feel. “I love you.”
“I love you, too. Always have, always will,” Ben said with a smile. “Nothing’s gonna change. Come kiss me again.”
Newton's Laws of Attraction is one that you don't want to miss.
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I loved this story and can highly recommend it.
The two characters definitely had great chemistry and their passion was scorching.
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So, if you believe in giving love a second chance, get this book and let it warm your heart.
one that I could definitely read again and again.
I want to wrap this book in hearts dammit!!
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