A Heated Beat Story
Will Barter’s been in love with his best mate Jack for as long as he can remember. They’ve shared everything: love, life, laughs, even Will’s first kiss. But Jack’s straight, and Will’s long-buried infatuation means nothing until their last summer together draws to a close.
Then one night, everything changes, but with Will bound for university in Leeds, and Jack for his dream DJ job in Ibiza, there’s no time to explore their blurred lines. Before long all that’s left are secrets, lies, and misunderstandings.
In the months that follow, anger and hurt overshadow fifteen years of friendship, and Will must dig deep to remember Jack is his mate… his best mate, and nothing matters more than that, right?
MY MATE Jack was the first bloke I ever fancied. Not that I knew what it meant back then. At twelve years old, who did? Not me. All I knew was the brush of Jack’s leg against mine was the catalyst for my first boner, and it was three long fucking years before it happened again….
WILL WATCHED the empty Hooch bottle spin in the center of the circle. To his right sat Ginny, the fittest girl in year ten. All the boys in the circle had their eye on her, praying the spinning bottle would make their wet dreams a reality. They all wanted to snog Ginny. Every one of them except Will.
The bottle stopped. There was a collective whoop.
“Jackie-boy,” Woody crowed. “’Bout bloody time.”
Will’s heart skipped a beat. If Ginny was supposed to be the fittest bird at school, Jack Lawson was definitely the fittest bloke. Tall, with floppy sandy-brown hair and dark eyes. Striker on the football team. Banging DJ. He even played the drums in a local band—sweating, biceps popping. Did it get any hotter than that?
Not if Will’s dirty dreams were anything to go by.
Jack sat up and crawled to the center of the circle. He took the bottle and spun it again, chucking a wink Ginny’s way before he sat back. Everyone knew she had the hots for him. It was the talk of the school. Not that Jack seemed to care. He didn’t give a toss what anyone said about him. Never had.
The bottle slowed. It stuttered past a few faces. Nearly stopped. Kept going. Then it landed on….
Shit. It’s pointing at me.
Will gulped and felt heat flood his cheeks. Jack was his next-door neighbor and best friend and the only soul in the world who knew his secret. One of them, at least.
He doesn’t know how much I want to kiss him.
Jack crawled forward on his hands and knees, his grin evil. He stopped a foot away from Will, oblivious to the leering catcalls of their friends around them. “Pucker up, blondie.”
Is he serious?
Will knew he wasn’t. He couldn’t be, but that didn’t stop the thunder of his heart as Jack leaned ever closer.
Jack stopped with his face an inch from Will’s. Licked his lips. Winked. Will felt like he might faint. The split-second pause felt like an hour. Then he lunged at Jack, shoved him across the grassy circle, found a grin from the pit of his stomach and plastered it on his face. “Piss off, you knobber.”
There were loud boos around them. More catcalls and whoops. Woody jumped on Jack and pretended to hump him. Everyone laughed. Someone passed Will a spliff and he forced himself to join in.
He took a deep drag. Summer nights at the park were always like this: some bootlegged booze, a bit of weed, and always, always, spin the bottle, a game Will would lose whoever the bottle pointed at. The night wore on. He watched Jack kiss Ginny, Paige, and Meg and tried not to cringe. He wasn’t jealous. Didn’t have any right to be. But that didn’t make it any easier. They’d been hanging around the cricket pavilion in the park their whole bloody lives and nothing ever changed.
Will loaded up on sugary alcopops and blazed a few more joints. Watching Jack snog birds didn’t seem so bad through the haze of being stoned. Around eleven, the Friday night gathering began to break up. It wasn’t a school night, but most kids had curfews. Will watched them go and tried not to scowl as Ginny smothered herself all over Jack, trying to needle him into walking her home.
“Aw, babe, you live miles away,” Jack countered. “Rob’s going your way. Walk with him.”
Rob looked like the cat who’d got the cream. Ginny, not so much, but Jack got his way, as usual.
Jack always got his way.
Ginny left and before long Will and Jack were alone in the dark park, just the two of them, like it would be for the rest of the night. Jack always slept at Will’s on Friday nights. Will’s dad worked graveyard shifts as a warehouse manager, so Jack kept Will company all night long, from a distance, at least, curled up on the beat-up sofa bed in Will’s bedroom.
Jack thumped Will’s shoulder. “Come on, mate. Let’s go back to yours and get some more beer.”
They walked home, bypassing the boisterous high street and slinking down the alleys they knew so well, hands in pockets, hoods up. Jack was quiet for most of the way. Will glanced at him a few times, curious. Jack usually talked his ear off. Maybe he was drunk. Will was having trouble putting one foot in front of the other himself.
Didn’t stop him helping himself to his dad’s stash of Stella when they got home.
He cracked open the bottles and led the way upstairs to his room. Jack opened the window and pulled out his cigarettes. He could’ve smoked the whole way home, but it was part of their routine to crawl out onto the porch ledge and smoke a couple of fags before they both passed out.
Jack hoisted himself up on the windowsill and clambered out. Will joined him at the open window and accepted the proffered smoke. They lit up in silence and blew smoke to the stars. It was a while before Will felt Jack’s gaze on him.
Will tapped ash into the plastic guttering. “What are you staring at?”
Jack shrugged. “I want to ask you something.”
“So?” Will considered Jack. It wasn’t like him to be shy. “Ask me, then.”
“You’ve never snogged a bloke, have you?”
Will choked on his beer. Of all the things he’d expected Jack to say, that wasn’t one of them. Will had told him he liked boys a few years ago, by accident more than anything else, his tongue loosened by the bottle of Bailey’s they’d pinched from Jack’s nan, but they hardly ever talked about it. It wasn’t even an elephant in the room. It just… was.
Will gathered himself. “Why do you want to talk about me snogging?”
“Why not?” Jack lit another cigarette. “I saw the way you looked at me tonight.”
Will felt suddenly sober as a bloody judge. Despite the cool night air, sweat trickled down his back. “You did?”
“Yeah.” Jack blew a set of perfect smoke rings. “You were fucking petrified. How’s that going to look when you finally meet the bloke of your dreams, eh? You need to get out there, mate.”
Oh. Will’s heart felt strange. Not good or bad… just strange.
“Maybe you should go out with a few girls.” Jack made his suggestion like it was the most logical thing in the world.
Will felt sick. “What the hell for?”
“Practice,” Jack said. “It’s all the same, innit? Upstairs, at least.”
Will laughed, though he died a little inside. He’d kissed his fair share of girls in the park after school. He’d had to… to save face. After the first time, he’d gone home and cried himself to sleep, but he’d got over that and built up a healthy collection of gay porn on his computer to ease the pain. “I’m not going to ask out any birds, Jack. Rather shoot meself.”
“No need to get dramatic.” Jack finished his smoke and scrambled inside. He sat on the edge of Will’s bed and kicked off his shoes. “You can practice on me if you want.”
Jack shrugged like it was no big thing. “I’m not gay or anything, but I messed about with a dude in Majorca last year. Tossed him off, too. It was fun.”
Will sat his beer bottle down. Scrutinized the label to check he hadn’t picked up a bottle of paint thinner. He had to be dreaming, right? “You never told me that.”
“Forgot about it. You were down the coast in Skeggy with your nan when I got back.”
So? Will didn’t voice his question. He picked the label off his beer bottle instead and tried to calm his racing heart. Jack with a bloke? What the actual fuck? “Weren’t you going out with Clare last summer?”
Jack pulled a face. “She was shagging Craig Poulter the whole time I was away, remember?”
That rang a bell. Will had never liked Clare. She was pretty enough, if you like that kind of thing, but she had a name for being a bit of a slag. Jack deserved better than that. “Can’t believe you got off with a guy. Was it weird?”
“Not really. Kissing him was cool, and the hand job was like having a wank, you know? Only we did it to each other.”
“He tossed you off too?” Will didn’t know what to say. How was Jack getting to do all this shit first? Will was supposed to be the gay one, dammit. And his mind was reeling. He wanted to know every little thing about Jack’s holiday dalliance, and more than that, he wanted to get back to the bit about practicing snogging on each other, but he couldn’t find the words. Perhaps he had misheard Jack after all.
“So, are you game, or what?”
Will blinked. “Eh?”
Jack laughed. He lay back on Will’s bed and folded his arms behind his head, all dark eyes and shaggy hair. “You’re such a dreamer. No wonder you don’t notice any blokes. I was saying we could practice kissing if you want. You know, so you’re not nervous next time the bottle lands on you.”
This time Will couldn’t stop the beer going down the wrong way. He coughed. “Next time? What are you going to do? Out me to the whole school by snogging my face off? I’d rather smooch the girls.”
“Liar.” But Jack looked sheepish all the same. “Okay, maybe we shouldn’t mess around in front of other people, but I still reckon you should try your techniques out on me. Ginny says I’m the best kisser in the whole school, and she should know.” Jack swooned and pitched into a fit of weed-fueled giggles.
Will dove at him and pushed him off the other side of the bed. “It’s not funny, arsehole. I’m the only gay in the whole bloody town. I’m going to die a virgin at this rate.”
Jack hit the floor with a thump. He lay there a moment, still laughing, then hauled himself back onto the bed. “Chill out, mate. No one said anything about bonking.”
Will tried to grin. Chill out. Yeah, right. Jack had been taking the piss since that stupid bloody bottle had put the idea of them kissing in his daft head. “You’re not funny.”
Jack sobered and stared with an expression Will couldn’t decipher. “I wasn’t joking, at least not about the kissing part. We’re friends, right? Ginny and Meg snog all the time.”
He had a point. The girls were always messing around with each other, and Will had often watched them and maligned the fact that girls had it easy… from his point of view, at least. They could do whatever they wanted and no one cared. It would be a different story if Will jumped on Jack in the middle of the park. Snogged his face off and squeezed his arse.
So why not do it here? No one will ever know.
Will stared at Jack as his mind shouted, What if? What if? What if? He wanted to kiss Jack—fuck, yeah, he wanted to kiss Jack—but Jack had kissed loads of girls. What if Will was crap? Fuck. What if Jack laughed at him… or hated him after? Will fancied the arse off Jack, but beyond all that shit, Jack was his best friend. He couldn’t—
“Fuck’s sake,” Jack growled, exasperated, and lunged across the bed. The shove came as little surprise—they’d spent their whole lives horsing around—but when Will found himself on his back, still on the bed instead of arse over tit on his bedroom floor, he knew something had changed.
Jack restrained Will, panting. “Stop freaking out,” he said. “You’re right about this closeted bloody town, so let me help you.”
“Help me?” Will tried to sound indignant, but with Jack’s body pressing into him in all the best—worst—no, best, definitely best, ways, it was… uh, hard.
Jack grinned and rolled off Will, granting him a much needed reprieve, but he didn’t go far. He stretched out beside Will and propped his head on his hand. “Look, I know I’m pretty useless when it comes to all this gay stuff you’re probably dealing with, but I can do this for you. I want to.”
He wants to kiss me. Will knew the interpretation was dubious… generous and flawed, but the offer was tempting. Too tempting. Will shifted over, faced Jack, and looked him in the eye for the first time since the bizarre conversation had begun. “What… I mean, how….”
Jack tapped his finger to Will’s lips. “Just relax. I know what I’m doing.”
Will didn’t doubt that, but as Jack leaned forward he found himself anything but relaxed. Jack touched his shoulder. Will jumped a bloody mile.
“Relax,” Jack said again. “You know, all the girls fancy you. They reckon you’ve got a girlfriend at your nan’s place or something, and that’s why you won’t go out with any of them.”
“Why would they think that?” Will tried not to notice Jack had edged closer… close enough that Will could feel his warm, smoke-laced breath on his face.
Jack shrugged. “I might’ve dropped a few hints. I know you don’t want to tell anyone yet.”
How do you know that? You’ve never asked me. But Will’s questions went unsaid, cut off by the brush of Jack’s lips on his. Will froze, and the world as he knew it ceased to exist. Jack kissed him over and over until Will finally let out the breath he’d sucked in the moment he’d felt Jack’s soft lips on his.
Jack smiled, still half kissing Will. “That’s it. Not so bad, eh?”
Bad? Fuck, no. Will took another breath and went looking for another go. Jack chuckled and parted his lips. Will deepened the kiss, almost by accident, and sucked Jack’s bottom lip into his mouth. Tasted it. Ran his tongue all over it. Jack made a sound—a moan, a grunt—Will wasn’t quite sure, but, God, he felt it. Felt it all over him, from his tingling scalp to his curling toes. Will’s heart beat like a train. He pulled Jack closer, thrust his hands into his soft hair, and then they were kissing again… really kissing, like they’d never, ever stop. Will held Jack’s chin in his hand and explored his mouth with his tongue, every bump and ridge. He kissed Jack with all he had until he realized they’d both forgotten to breathe.
Will pulled away, slowly, his eyes squeezed shut, like if he opened them Jack would evaporate and his first ever kiss would be another figment of his overactive imagination.
Jack laughed, breathless. “Wow. Don’t think you’ve got much to worry about.”
“Really?” Will cracked open an eye. “Was I okay?”
“Okay? You might be a bloke, but that’s the best snog I’ve ever had.”
Will blushed; he couldn’t help it. He pressed his face into the pillow, glad they hadn’t bothered to turn on the lights. “I haven’t got much to compare it to, but it was pretty good for me too.”
Jack snorted. “It was better than good, mate. Like it should be.”
“Yeah.” Will didn’t know what else to say. His pulse had slowed to a steady gallop, but inside he still burned… his lips, his tongue. And he didn’t dare look down. Couldn’t face the swollen heat in his jeans.
Jack rolled onto his back. Will didn’t have to look to know he was staring at the ceiling. “Are you ever going to tell your dad?”
Will closed his eyes. It was a question he’d asked himself every day since the first time Jack’s mere presence had set his world on fire, and he was still no closer to an answer. Will’s dad was nothing like Jack’s, who spent much of his time away on dubious business trips, chasing any skirt who wasn’t his wife. Instead, widower Ned Barter was honest, hard faced and hard working. Loved Will and provided for him. Let him live his own life. Didn’t care if Will and Jack smoked fags on the porch roof or pinched his beer. But telling him his only child… his only son was gay?
Will wasn’t sure he’d ever be ready for that. “Maybe I’ll tell him before we go to uni. Drop it on him, then fuck off somewhere really far, like Scotland or something.”
Jack sniggered. “Sounds like a plan, for you at least, but I’ve told you a hundred times. I’m not going to uni.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Will had heard it all before. If Jack had his way, he’d be out of school… and Towcester… before the ink had dried on his last exam paper, but his parents, particularly his twat of a father, had other ideas. “You might change your mind if you get good A-levels.”
“Nope. No chance.” Jack sat up, though he didn’t move away from Will. Didn’t move the leg pressed against Will, warming him from the inside out. “Fuck that uni shit. I’m gonna get a residency in Ibiza. Spend the rest of my days in the sun.”
Will rolled his eyes. “You and your bloody DJ crap. What are you going to do when you’re old? Be Terry feckin’ Wogan?”
Jack sighed, like he so often did when Will didn’t understand him. “Drum-and-bass, Will. Not fucking radio.”
Will knew that, really, but winding Jack up was too much fun, and it helped him pretend Jack wasn’t so cool. That Will wasn’t his geeky companion, the trusty sidekick no one ever noticed hanging around the hot guy mixing it up on the decks at local underground raves. The raves not even Will’s dad knew they went to.
Will refocused on Jack. He hadn’t noticed him rolling over again. “Yeah?”
“How was it for you? The kissing, I mean? I know you hated kissing all those girls. I wanted this… I didn’t want it to be shit when you kissed a bloke too.”
Jack chewed on his lip, and Will stared. They’d been friends for more than a decade, and he’d never seen Jack do that. The gesture was uncertain… nervous, and not the Jack Will knew at all.
Will touched Jack before he knew what he was doing. He gripped his shoulder, then slid his hand down his arm, found Jack’s fingers, and twined them with his own. “Jack, it was amazing, but—”
“Yeah?” Jack’s voice was barely a whisper, his lips just a hairbreadth away even as Will closed the distance between them.
“You said it was practice, right? So I could get better?” Jack nodded. Will smiled. “Then I think I need to do it again… and again, just to make sure.”
Will and Jack’s journey is sweet, bumpy and solely theirs.
Read the full review at
In some ways this could have been a simple friends to lovers story, but what Leigh does with her words elevates it to a different level indeed.
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