Mom’s voice interrupted Jed’s perusal of himself in his tuxedo. He looked like a dorky penguin. Oh well. Senior proms were tradition. Besides, Myesha had talked him into it. She’d broken up with her no-good boyfriend and begged Jed to be her date.
“What?” he called back.
“Come on down. Your friends are here and we have pictures to take.”
“Okay, coming.” Jed grabbed the corsage box from his dresser and gave his dog, Earnest, a parting rub between the ears. “Be good, boy.”
Earnest wagged his tail good-bye, his small body quivering with love. They’d rescued him from the pound when Jed was twelve, and his exact breed was listed as “unknown,” but Mom insisted it had to be “cutest little dog known to humankind.”
Jed booked it down the stairs and into the living room, where Myesha, Mike—his friend and fellow mathlete—and Mike’s girlfriend, Rose, waited in their prom finery. The girls, scarily glammed up in strapless gowns and fancy hairdos, smiled at him brightly, as did Mom from her post on the piano bench, camera in hand. Mike, on the other hand…. Jed snorted. Mike looked as dorky as Jed did in a tux, and about as enthusiastic.
“Hi,” Jed said, trying to ignore his mother’s exclamations about him in a tuxedo. “Here.” He handed the corsage box to Myesha. “Hope it’s the right thing.”
To her credit, Myesha didn’t squeal as she peered in the box. She wasn’t that kind of girl. “Cool. I like these wrist ones better.” She pulled out the corsage and started to slide it over her hand.
“Jed, help her with it, and I’ll get a picture,” Mom trilled, lifting her camera.
Jed was about to protest, but Myesha beat him to it. “That’s okay, Mrs. Carter. I’m cool.”
After attaching the corsage herself, the spray of red sweetheart roses matching her dress and contrasting nicely with her brown skin, Myesha said, “You can take a picture now, though.” She struck a pose, holding out her wrist, and Jed suppressed a laugh. Myesha loved the spotlight as much as Jed hated it.
“Beautiful!” Mom took a few pictures. “Come on, everyone, line up. You all look great.”
Mom arranged them in various poses while the girls chattered and Mike and Jed fidgeted.
“What’s this? Aw, my baby bro’s going to the prom!” Kent stood in the archway to the living room, beer bottle in hand and a grin on his face.
Jed tried to act cool when Tucker appeared behind Kent, all tan skin and rumpled golden hair. Not to mention the tattoos on his buff biceps. It was unfair how hot he was. In the year and a half since Jed had first seen him, his crush had only worsened.
“Hey, Kent,” Mike said. “You guys outta U.Va. for the year already?”
“Hiya, Mikey. Yep, got out a couple days ago. I hear you’re gonna be down there next year along with my baby bro.”
Jed winced. “Can you stop it with the ‘baby bro’? Yeah, Mike and I are rooming together.”
“Awesome! There’s a lot to be said for the right roommate.” Kent nudged Tucker, who grinned. “So introduce us to these fine ladies. Where’ve you been hiding them?” Kent directed a charming smile at Myesha and Rose, swaying slightly, suggesting he was already a few sheets to the wind.
Jed noticed Myesha giving Kent the side-eye, although she did cast an appreciative glance in Tucker’s direction. “Um, this is Myesha and Rose.”
“Hey there. I’m Kent, the big bro, and this is Tucker. We’ll be around, in case you girls get tired of these two.”
Mom intervened before Kent could get too smarmy. “Stop it, Kent.” She frowned at the bottle he held. “Go easy on the alcohol, please.”
“Yeah, yeah. No problemo, Ma.”
“You’re not driving anywhere tonight, are you?”
Kent and Tucker exchanged glances. “Um, I guess not. Tuck-man and I’ll hang out here.”
“Okay. Now, out of the way, guys.” She made a shooing motion at Kent and Tucker. “I need to get some pictures of them outside by the hydrangeas.”
After enduring another session of posing and picture-taking, Jed ran in to retrieve the car keys. He was in the kitchen when Kent hailed him from the screen porch.
“Hey, Jedders, get your ass out here for a minute.”
“Okay, but we’re already running late.” Jed hurried out to the porch where Kent and Tucker lounged, beers and cigarettes in their hands. While Jed was glad Tucker was going to be around for part of the summer, it was also tortuous having to hide his lust. Like right now with Tucker sitting in his cut-offs… the hair on his legs was frigging golden.
“Who’s the babe?” Kent leered.
Jed rolled his eyes. “I told you. Myesha. We work together.”
Jed had been happy to get a job at the mall in a Verizon kiosk, and Myesha had trained him in her bossy-yet-friendly way. They’d discovered they attended the same high school. Jed wasn’t surprised he hadn’t met her before, as Centreville High was huge, like most of the high schools in Northern Virginia, and they weren’t in any of the same classes. They’d had lots of time to chat as they hung around waiting for customers; Jed had heard all about Marcus, the no-good boyfriend, and he’d confessed to Myesha that he was gay, swearing her to secrecy.
“Awww, love blooms amid the cell phones.” Kent burped, then took another swig of his beer.
Jed could see Tucker chuckling in his peripheral vision. “Shut up. Listen, I gotta go.”
“Hey, I wanted to be sure you had supplies,” Kent said.
Kent held out a handful of condoms, and Jed felt himself blush. He didn’t dare glance at Tucker. “You’re getting laid tonight, and that’s an order. That Myesha is a babe.”
“So you said. I….” Crap-a-doodle.
Kent jiggled his hand. “Come on, take ’em. It’s about time you got some.”
“Jeez, give the kid a break. Not everyone’s a sex maniac like you.” Those words in Tucker’s sexy southwest Virginia twang did nothing to lessen Jed’s embarrassment.
Jed took the condoms, mumbled a halfhearted thanks, and fled. Damn Kent.
Kent was your typical macho guy, aggressive and competitive, but also outgoing, charismatic, and a natural leader. He’d been a good older brother to Jed, teaching him everything he knew, from throwing a ball to riding a bike to smoking a joint, and was ready to punch out anyone who tried to mess with Jed over the years. It was nice but stifling to be under his wing. Teachers who’d had Kent in school would look at Jed like “Well? Why aren’t you like him?”, making Jed feel like a tongue-tied loser in comparison.
To add to their differences, Kent was also quite the ladies’ man. He was short—around five foot eight inches—but muscular, and his height had never held him back, judging from the number of girls who had flocked to him over the years. Kent expected Jed to imitate him in all things, and for the most part, Jed had followed willingly. But when it came to being a ladies’ man, there was one humongous problem with the “be like Kent” plan: Jed was gay, a fact Kent knew nothing about.
What was Jed supposed to do with a bunch of rubbers tonight? His tux didn’t even have pockets. He ran upstairs to his room and stashed them in a drawer.
THE MUSIC reverberated off the walls, the DJ—half-decent for once—maintaining a driving beat. And Jed, wonder of wonders, was dancing. Dancing! And enjoying the hell out of it.
He hadn’t set foot on a dance floor since the seventh grade and hadn’t planned to do so tonight either. He’d warned Myesha as much when he’d let her talk him into this prom thing. But once they got there, Myesha had played the “I’m so sad from the break up” card with puppy-dog eyes, and Jed had allowed himself to be dragged out under the disco ball.
The first song had been a slow one, thank God. Jed could put his arms around someone and shuffle with the best of them. But then the music had changed, and now here Jed was, moving and grooving, with no idea where his dancing ability had come from.
Myesha, resplendent in her tight red dress, widened her eyes as she shimmied. “Goddamn, you go, boy! Didn’t know you could dance like that!”
“Neither did I,” Jed huffed out, then spun around and started gyrating.
“That’s it, baby, shake it!”
Jed laughed and moved his hips even more. Myesha’s exuberance inspired him, and it felt awesome to cut loose. He caught a glimpse of Mike staring at him, shocked, from the sidelines and waved him over. Mike shook his head, but Rose, who’d been dancing with them, ran to get him.
Once on the floor with them, Mike barely moved and scowled at Jed. “Mathletes can’t dance. Didn’t you get the memo?”
“This one can,” Myesha said, jerking her chin at Jed. “Probly ’cause he’s an athlete, not just a mathlete, nerd.”
Jed twirled and bopped, the smile never leaving his face. Why had no one told him? Dancing was great. It felt like freedom and fantasy and… sex, even though he’d never had any and he was dancing with Myesha and not some guy. But, God, to dance like this with a guy—now that would be amazing.
They danced all night, stopping only to drink water and punch to revive themselves, then celebrated the end of prom at an all-night diner. After stuffing their faces with pancakes, Jed dropped Mike and Rose off at Mike’s house and drove Myesha to the apartment complex where she lived with her mom.
Once he parked the car, Myesha put her shawl around her shoulders. “Thanks, babe. This was so much fun. We gotta go dancing again soon.” She opened her door, and Jed did likewise. “Oh, you gonna walk me to the door? What a gentleman. Your mama raised you right.”
They approached the front of the building and paused. “Too bad I can’t expect a good-night kiss from you,” Myesha said with a pretend pout.
Jed tilted his head, considering. “Hmm… no. Sorry. Not that you aren’t hot, ’cause you are.”
Myesha laughed and threw her arms around him, giving him a loud smack on the cheek. “There’s your kiss. Thanks again for coming with me.”
“Sure. Um, listen.”
Myesha turned back from the door. “What?”
“You know you’re the only one who knows?”
“About you being gay?”
“Wow. So your family thinks this is real or something?”
“Well, Mom was pretty manic with the picture stuff. And Kent gave me a bunch of condoms.”
“What?” Myesha hooted, then sobered. “Hey, I’m not gonna have to be your beard, am I?”
“No, no. Although Kent’s sure this is my lucky night and I’m going to lose my virginity. Which now you also know about me.”
Myesha smiled. “I know all your secrets. But that brother of yours has some nerve, thinking I’ma put out on our first date.”
“No, you’re fine. It’s Kent I can do without. His roommate, though… mmm.” Myesha licked her lips.
“Tucker. He’s hot.”
“Oh yeah.” Myesha clapped her hands. “Hey, this is great! Now that I’m over that loser Marcus, we can lust after guys together!”
JED GOT home around 2:00 a.m. His attempt to sneak into the house and avoid any awkward questions was foiled by Tucker coming out of the front hall bathroom right as Jed walked in the door.
“Hey, how was the prom?” Tucker asked in a soft voice. “C’mon out to the kitchen. We’re havin’ a snack.”
Cursing inwardly, Jed went into the kitchen, where Kent sat at the table eating cold pizza, his ever-present beer in front of him. Jed wondered when Kent had started drinking so much. He’d never noticed it until the past year or two. It must be college—U.Va. was a party school, and Tucker and Kent were in SAE, a fraternity known for carousing and causing a ruckus.
“Jedwick! C’mon, spill. Didja make her cry out for baby Jesus?” Kent gave him a lazy smile, and while he looked bleary, his speech wasn’t even slurred.
“Keep your voice down,” Jed hissed. “Mom and Dad are right over our heads.”
“Want some pizza?” Tucker asked in a much quieter tone. “Beer?”
“No, thanks. And I’m not telling you anything, Kent.”
“Come on, this is epic—my little bro becoming a man.”
“Leave me alone.” Jed went to the sink and got a glass of water before he did something rash—like choke Kent to death.
“So was the prom any good? Never went to one.”
Kent made a horrified face at Tucker. “You never went to prom? That’s… sacrilegious, man.”
“Sacri… what?” Tucker laughed.
“You’re drunk,” Jed informed Kent, who shrugged. He turned to Tucker. “It was way better than I thought it’d be. We danced a bunch.”
“You? Danced? That’s a first.” Kent lifted his beer to Jed, then slumped in his chair, yawning. “So tell me you used one a’ those rubbers, so’s I can check you getting laid off my list.”
“You have a list?” Tucker asked with amusement.
“Yeah, he has a list,” Jed said, a trace of bitterness in his voice. “I’ve gotta follow in his footsteps, and he checks off the boxes.”
“Yep.” Kent burped. “’Scuse me. I got his life planned out. So, did you—”
“Yeah. Check it off. I’m going to bed.”
Ignoring Kent’s whoop, Jed escaped upstairs, berating himself for lying. But how was he going to break the news to Kent “Ladies’ Man” Carter that his baby brother was gay? Kent, who was so invested in Jed emulating him, he still mourned the fact that Jed hadn’t gone all the way to Eagle Scout like he had. Kent had Jed’s life planned out—U.Va., like him; business track, like him; soccer, like him; SAE fraternity, like him.
After struggling out of his tux, Jed threw himself onto the bed. Maybe he should get it over with and tell Kent the truth. He tried to imagine that conversation and came up blank. With a sigh he turned off the light, buried his face in the pillow, and fell into a fitful sleep.