As a freshman both in love and in college, sometimes there are painful lessons to be learned.
Excited to begin his first year of college, Brett Bridgeworth has just one problem: he sucks at math. Luckily there’s the sensual and mysterious math tutor, Jeremy Price, to help him out. It isn't long before Jeremy is tutoring Brett in more than just pie charts, but it isn’t until they split up that Brett discovers Jeremy’s twisted, obsessive side.
Sam Hawthorne is two years ahead of Brett, and they share a strong mutual attraction. When Brett breaks it off with Jeremy and gets involved with Sam, disturbing things start happening. It soon becomes obvious that Jeremy isn't willing to let Brett go without a fight.
I DEFINITELY don’t want what I’m about to share to look like I’m bragging. But I think it’s important to give a glimpse into my first sexual experiences because it has a lot to do with who I am, or at least who I was when I went through all of that shit with Jeremy. Looking back, now I can see so clearly that I was like a sail with the line sliced, flapping uselessly in the cool sea breeze. Well, maybe I’m getting ahead of the story a little bit. I tend to do that sometimes.
I’ve always been bad at math. I mean, like, really awful. But I’d managed to get through high school because my teachers liked me. Mr. Winter, my algebra teacher, liked me a whole lot. So much so that, senior year, he made a deal with me; he’d give me an A if I let him suck me off.
Mr. Winter wasn’t one of those hot teachers we students fantasized about. He wore a lot of loud polyester shirts, and he had a potbelly. I went back and forth about his offer, and I did a bit of research on the Internet so I’d know what I was getting into. But ultimately I agreed, because if I failed algebra, I’d be held back, and that would be way too embarrassing to me and, more importantly, my dad.
My dad owns Bridgeworth Electronics, and if his kid failed high school he’d probably have a heart attack. So I let Mr. Winter pull the blinds, unzip my jeans, and do his thing. The sight of him on his knees and the glare off his shiny bald head was all very surreal. I remember being super nervous because, while I was eighteen and I knew I liked guys, I’d never been touched by one yet. It was just me and my faithful hand, up until Mr. Winter introduced me to fellatio.
At his first touch I was numb inside and grappling with insecurities. Would I come too soon? Would he be too rough? Or worst of all, was he going to make me suck him off? But the initial warm slide of his mouth chased those fears away. Old dude or not, my eyes rolled back in my head, and I’d thrust into his mouth, oblivious to the world around me. Afterward he’d grinned up at me with a crooked, lecherous smile, as if we were somehow coconspirators.
For my first time, it was a little seedy and humiliating. I’d certainly never pictured my initiation to a BJ happening quite like that. But I had to admit his lips on me still felt great, so I shoved down the feelings of shame and took my A. I never saw Mr. Winter again, and I went on toward college still horrible in math but no longer pure as the driven snow.
I spent my summer waiting for responses from the colleges I’d applied to, and worried someone would find out about me and Mr. Winter’s arrangement. Would they be able to retract my grade if they knew what I’d done to get it? I’ll admit to feeling guilty about the whole arrangement with Mr. Winter, but the thought of failing had been too terrifying. When my acceptance letter arrived from UCLA, I put thoughts of my old math teacher behind me and spent the rest of the break celebrating with my friends.
I will say, after my sexual encounter with Mr. Winter, it was as if my hormones woke up for real. I became a horndog of epic proportions. My dad hired a new pool guy for the summer, and he was the opposite of Mr. Winter. This guy was probably in his thirties and hot. I mean smoking, Zac Efron hot. We exchanged lusty looks for a few weeks before anything actually happened. One day after swimming, I was showering in the small side building near the garden, and Lex walked in on me.
He set his pool skimmer against the wall and pulled his shirt off with one yank. I swallowed the lump forming in my throat and waited for him to make the first move. Soundlessly he dropped his shorts and underwear and walked up to me. I couldn’t believe what was happening, but I was excited to think this gorgeous guy wanted to do things to and with me. I believe I said a breathy, “Hi.”
“How old are you, Brett?” he’d asked, almost as if it was an afterthought.
“Eighteen,” I responded right before he pushed me against the slick white tiles and took my mouth roughly.
He tasted like tobacco and cinnamon, and his hands were rough on my hips. His cock wasn’t as wide as mine, but it was longer and it fit next to mine nicely. When the kiss ended, he began grinding his cock against mine, and the heat that flared in my groin was like an inferno. I grasped his shoulders and held on as lust rumbled through me like a steam engine. It wasn’t romantic by any stretch of the imagination. The ceramic tiles were freezing against my back, and they hurt my shoulder blades, but I didn’t care. I was young and ready to explore what I needed sexually.
I’d had a growth spurt toward the end of high school, and I was slightly taller than Lex. I clutched his damp chestnut curls and panted against the orgasm gathering at the base of my cock. He was louder than me. He groaned a lot and cussed as he threw his head back and flexed his hips like a jackhammer. I liked his noises. They were guttural and dirty, and they made me excited as my need ramped even higher. When we came the warm water washed the evidence down the drain as if it never happened.
I remember he stroked my cheek afterward, as I stared into his golden-flecked brown eyes. “That was nice,” he panted, and then he washed under the water with me, dried off with my towel, and got dressed. Right before he left, he turned and asked me, “Are you a virgin?”
I’m sure my cheeks turned red. They were warm now, thinking about how embarrassed I’d been to answer yes. Not to mention I wasn’t even sure if I was answering correctly. Was I a virgin? Did blow jobs count, or did not having had anal make me a virgin? But Lex had just smiled and quietly closed the door. I wasn’t a “virgin” much longer because a week later, Lex took me in that little shower area. I still remember the smell of the coconut-scented lube and the first burning glide of his cock into my untouched ass.
I learned a lot from Lex. The guy had zero inhibitions. We fucked our way through that hot summer, and when it came time to leave for college, I was thankful I didn’t have to go there not knowing anything about sex. I’d assumed I’d show up at UCLA horrible in math and a virgin, but thanks to Lex, only the “bad at math” part was still true.
My dad didn’t have time to drive with me to my new school. He said something about a crisis in the capacitor industry. I didn’t know what he was talking about, and it didn’t really matter because it wasn’t like it was negotiable or anything. Hey, how about you come to my college, see my room, and pretend you give a shit about me for a day? I’ll bake brownies for you?
Yeah, not gonna happen.
I guess at this point, I should mention the reason it was only me and him was because my mom died when I was ten. She went in for a routine hysterectomy and never came home. I remember coming back from school and finding my aunt Rose sobbing in the kitchen. She’d hugged me and my dad, and stayed for weeks to cook casseroles and keep the house clean. But after that she’d had to go back to her family in New York. Aunt Rose called me and my dad “her boys,” and she phoned to check on us often. But my dad’s never home, and I didn’t want to talk about my mom dying, so the time between calls had become longer and longer.
So back to my college experience. My roommate, Ted, was nothing like me. He was boisterous and loud and straight as a ruler. He was hugely into sports and talked about football nonstop. I, on the other hand, knew little about that subject, preferring reading and sketching to getting dirty and running around a field with a pigskin.
We still found some common ground since we both enjoyed eating. We always went to the cafeteria together for all our meals. Generally his jock friends would descend, and I’d sit mostly in silence, shoveling my cheese macaroni in like a machine. I think having Ted as my roommate protected me from being picked on by his homophobic buddies. They gave me hard looks and didn’t sit too close to me, but nobody ever said a disrespectful word to me.
One of the guys I didn’t mind so much. He had auburn hair and light green eyes, and he always smelled like vanilla. His name was Sam Hawthorne, and he was the only one who would speak to me without looking like he was afraid my gayness would get on him. I didn’t hide that I was gay, but I also didn’t flaunt it. The “gayest” thing I did was wear a small diamond stud in my ear that was one half of a pair of earrings my mom had owned. I didn’t wear the earring to make a statement as much as it made me feel connected to my mom.
I soon learned I liked being away from home. When nobody knew me, I could be different and didn’t have to play the role I’d always felt had been thrust on me: good son. Grieving son. It had been eight years since my mom died, and while I missed her and her quirky sense of humor, I wanted to live a little. These were my college years, and I was expecting to have new and exciting experiences. I wasn’t supposed to sit around trying to remember what my mom looked like, although sometimes the fact that I had trouble recalling her features bugged me a lot and made me feel like a horrible person. So I’d pull out the crinkled picture I kept in my wallet. The photo was of a family vacation at the beach a year before she died. She looked happy, and we were both smiling like idiots. My dad wasn’t in the picture, and I guess I mean that both literally and figuratively.
My class load was heavy. My dad wanted me to get a degree in business so I could step in as CEO when the time came for him to retire. We both knew that was never going to happen. Odds were he would take his last breath in his nineties, sitting in his black leather executive chair, staring out the high-rise windows at the smoggy LA skyline. But I pretended I was cool with his plan because when I didn’t, he got even more withdrawn, and I worried he might disappear altogether.
I decided to join the Ocean Club, because it seemed like when you’re in college you should belong to some sort of social club. That and I loved the ocean. The first meeting I went to was run by a tall guy with bright red glasses who informed us the point of the club was to do beach cleanups and also cool things like oceanside hikes. It sounded like a bunch of fun, and the group of kids who came to the meeting seemed chill. I was surprised and happy when I spotted Sam sitting in the front row, eating a bag of cheese curls.
After the meeting he came up to me, and I attempted not to act like a socially awkward idiot. Trust me; it wasn’t easy.
“Hey, BB, what’s shakin’?” he asked, a wide grin splitting his face.
He called me BB because my name was Brett Bridgeworth. I know, it was a stretch, and I’ve never been a big fan of acronyms. But because I liked him, I put up with it.
“I’m doing great.”
“Settling in okay? No homesickness?”
Little did he know “home” was just a big empty house. We had a cat named Pearl, but she rarely came out from under the couch. Not exactly anything to miss really, and if anything, I was happy to be away from home. I hoped that didn’t make me cold or heartless. I worried about that a lot. That having an emotionally distant father and losing my mom at an early age might make me one of those odd people who could never really connect well with others.
“I’m not homesick.” Up close like this, his eyes seemed neon green, and his lashes were crazy long. I appreciated that he wasn’t nervous around me like some of Ted’s other friends, and I didn’t want to stare at him too long in case I gave him the creeps.
He put his arm around my shoulders and my stomach skipped like a lawn mower.
“You let me know if you get lonely. We can hang out.”
I had no idea if he meant it or not, but the feel of his hard arm and his clean scent had my knees threatening to buckle. “Sure. That would be cool.”
“I’m surprised you have time to join a club. Aren’t you already taking sixteen units?”
I nodded and hoped that didn’t make me seem like an even bigger nerd. “My dad wants me to finish up with college as quick as possible.”
“Because he misses you?” he asked sincerely, and it occurred to me that might be how most parents would feel when their kids were away at school.
“Oh, well, he works a lot.” I stumbled into one of the metal folding chairs, and Sam dropped his arm.
“Steady there, BB.”
I was afraid for a second he was going to pat my head like you might a little kid. I didn’t want him to think of me that way, and it inspired me to try and continue the conversation like a regular person might.
“Did you belong to this group last year?” I asked, hurrying through the door when he held it for me.
“No. I was on the swim team last year, and I didn’t have time for anything else but that and studying.”
He sounded guarded when he mentioned the swim team, and I wondered why.
“Oh, you’re not on the team anymore?”
He shook his head, and his mouth was a hard line. I’d never seen Sam looking anything other than cheerful and pleasant.
I nodded as if I understood why and headed for the narrow walkway that led to my dorm. Sam fell into step with me, and I was glad of his company. This area behind the buildings was dark, and there were tons of bushes and trees, which seemed like it would be a great hiding place for a crook. It would be the first place I’d come to mug people if I ever turned to a life of crime. But I didn’t feel nervous at all with Sam beside me. He was strong and tall, with an air of confidence I hoped to have one day.
“What’s the hardest part so far about being here at school?” Sam asked, slapping at a long fern branch that hung across the path.
I thought about what he was asking. I was certain I shouldn’t tell him how much more I enjoyed being here than home. That would make me seem like a heartless weirdo. Instead I tried as hard as I could to come up with an answer that would make me more likable. I was drawing a blank, so I went with the most obvious thing.
“The amount of homework.” God, it sounded lame and boring to my ears too.
He grinned. “Well, that goes without saying.”
And yet I’d said it.
“I know. Nothing is really that bad here, so I don’t know what to say.” I frowned, worried I’d blown it, and Sam laughed and squeezed my arm.
“Relax. This isn’t a test.”
A large-chested brunette approached from the other direction, and when she saw Sam she stopped. “Hey, Sam. Some of us are heading over to the Slinky Sloths later if you want to join us.”
She did everything but bat her eyelashes at him, and it was super annoying to me. My irritation sizzled, and I glanced at Sam to see if he seemed interested in her.
He was smiling at her, and he looked relaxed, but it suddenly struck me he had no interest in her at all. It was like an epiphany as I stood there watching the girl flirt with him and watching him pretend to be interested back. She touched him over and over again, and while you had to be really watching for it, I noticed he moved away imperceptibly every time she stroked his arm.
Was Sam batting for my team?
“I’ll text you the directions.” She giggled and moved past us.
I had a smirk on my face from my suspected discovery, and when Sam noticed, he asked me about it. “Oh, she’s just a type,” I offered, wishing he’d give me some more info so I could fine-tune my theory.
“You got that right. She’s kind of a slut.” He looked around like he was embarrassed he’d let that slip out.
I chuckled and Sam studied me for a moment.
“What?” I asked, feeling shy under his intense stare.
“Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you really smile before.” He whacked my arm. “You should do it more often.”
It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him there had to be something worth smiling about, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to be depressing or he might never want to hang out with me. “I got my teeth whitened over the summer, so maybe I will.”
Sam laughed and stuck a piece of gum in his mouth, seeming content to walk in silence with me.
I was more relaxed. Maybe because I felt a strange camaraderie with Sam now that I suspected he was gay. While I’d been enjoying my time here at college, the one thing that had been missing was having anyone gay to befriend. Sometimes it was hard to hang out with young straight males because, like me, all they ever do is think about sex. But with girls. Needless to say, I don’t share that in common with them, and it can get awkward. It’s not like I’m going to pretend I like girls, but I can’t talk about how hot I think a guy I see is either. Perhaps it’s weird to say, but I missed my pool guy, Lex, and our mindless sexual encounters. Lex had never said much about himself, but he’d never minded if I blabbed about my problems to him.
I’d considered checking out the LGBT club on campus so I’d have like-minded people to hang around. But it felt sometimes like the members were trying too hard to be gay. I didn’t want to be under a microscope or have to set a good example. I wasn’t at that stage yet, I guess, because I was only eighteen years old. I just wanted to find some guys my age who were attractive and willing to have meaningless, dirty college sex. Nobody needed me as a poster child for gayness.
I thought my odds of getting laid were fairly decent if I could find some suitable dudes. I’d been getting a lot more attention from women lately, and that led me to believe maybe I’d outgrown that awkward stage where nobody wants to get with you. The older women types in the supermarket had definitely been eyeballing me when I went to pick up some eggplant for dinner one night. It made me stand a little taller and feel more like an attractive man rather than a geeky child.
When we reached my dorm, Sam slapped my palm and we bumped fists.
“I guess I’ll see you when I see you,” Sam said cheerfully.
And I watched him saunter away, my gaze pinned on his perfect ass.
That was the night I met Jeremy. He was barely visible in the dark, leaning against a birch to the side of the path.
“Don’t look so sad, pretty boy. There are plenty of other fish in the sea.”
His voice was sultry, deep, and it startled the hell out of me because I had no idea anyone was there.
I pretended I hadn’t almost peed myself and started to walk away without answering, but his voice stopped me.
“Wait up. Are you Brett?”
He approached now, and I was surprised he knew my name. In the dingy yellow light of the streetlamp, I could see he was slender, with wide shoulders and black hair that brushed his collarbone. He had a sexy, dangerous vibe about him, and I took a step back as he reached me.
“Let me guess. Ted didn’t mention I was coming?”
I squinted at him, mystified by why this beautiful vision thought I should know him. “Ted?” Yeah, remember your roommate, dummy?
He smiled and flashed perfect white teeth. “I’m Jeremy,” he said confidently. “You look exactly how Ted described you.”
I put a hand to my blond hair, wondering what Ted had said about me.
“Ted said you’re looking for a math tutor.” He didn’t seem to mind at all that I was tongue-tied.
I think I’d mentioned once to Ted that I should get a tutor, but I’d never really pursued it. And yet here before me was the most delicious tutor anyone could ask for. My pulse sped up as I took his smooth hand in mine and something came alive inside of me.
“Oh, yeah. I do need help. I’m horrible at math.” He still held my hand, and I had the sensation of energy passing between us. I remember being hugely relieved I didn’t gasp like a little girl at the electric shock.
“But I needed to meet you first.”
Jeremy pulled me closer, and his gaze never left my mouth. I should have known then that he was acting odd for a math tutor, but hindsight is twenty-twenty, and I was blinded by a cloud of youthful lust.
“I don’t take on just anybody. I want you to know that.”
I remember I instantly felt special and impressed he was even considering me. I look back on it now, and it immediately strikes me that most math tutors weren’t in such high demand that they would pick and choose their tutees so stringently. But for whatever reason, I didn’t think twice about how strange he was. I was simply flattered I had been deemed worthy.
Later I was able to see I’d been chosen for reasons that had nothing to do with my being valuable. No, no. Far more attractive to Jeremy was that I reeked of need and a desire to matter to someone. I’m sure that’s why he wanted to meet me first before he agreed to help me. His type can smell self-doubt a mile away. My palpable insecurities were like blood in the water to a great white.
Painful Lessons is told in Brett’s POV. Brett is a Freshman at UCLA, an only child, some daddy issues, and quite insecure. He might as well wear a sign that says, “Please take advantage of me, I like it.” Brett gets a math tutor, Jeremy. Jeremy gives you that totally uncomfortable vibe. You know this guy is up to no good. But Brett also befriends Sam… We love Sam. Problem is, Sam and Brett are not getting to the “Let’s be more” part and of course Jeremy swoops in to give Brett everything he thinks he’s missing.
Now, we all know relationships don’t always work out. MOST of the time it ends and that’s it. But in some cases one party doesn’t like that and goes off the rails… This is that story.
I thought SC did a great job showing Brett’s inability to believe anyone really likes him as much as Jeremy claimed to. Or how much Sam does. The vulnerable insecurity was very clear. She covered many bases: paranoia, second guessing, fear, stupidity (yeah that happens). She showed the escalation in stalking cases well also. As I read it I too could FEEL it getting worse even before something actually happened.
There were only two loose ends in this book that aren’t vital but I would have loved to see resolved or at least addressed. But, it wasn’t a huge deal just something I wanted lol. Greedy reader.
Stories like this are important. Stalking is a real thing. It happens to more people than we know and with this book I think SC spreads that awareness.
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