“HEY.” A snap of fingers startled Merry out of his reverie. “Still with me?” The cadence of Boone’s amused voice smoothed Merry’s ruffled feathers like silk. But he didn’t want to be placated so easily.

Merry growled angrily and fussed, waving his arms about in front of him to dissuade his best friend from taunting him. “Yeah, I’m fine. Fuck off.”

With renewed focus, Merry gripped his game controller tighter and set his sights on the TV screen—only to see that the drag race in the speed game was over, with Boone’s car over the finish line while Merry’s trailed behind. Boone had won, as usual. It never seemed to matter whether Merry paid attention or not.

“Shit.” Merry sighed, not really knowing the reason why. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay.” Boone was always kind, always understanding, always forgiving. The best of men—although technically at seventeen they had not quite reached manhood yet. Boone would be eighteen nine days ahead of Merry, and he never forgot to rub that in with his typical “I’m older and therefore wiser” routine.

“You’ve been in a weird mood for weeks,” Boone added. “Wanna talk about it?”

“No.” Merry scowled and pouted, staring at the unmoving screen, willing the game to continue on pure brainpower alone. Naturally it didn’t. “You cheated. You must’ve used a secret shortcut or something. Let’s play again.”

“No.”

That was an unusual word for Boone, who typically accepted every proposal, suggestion, or dare in the book with a grin. Merry stared at his best friend in bewilderment. “What?”

“Look. I’m tired of this funk of yours. Either you tell me what’s bothering you or I fetch a few ice cubes from the freezer and ask again, less nicely.”

Merry swallowed. He knew full well Boone would carry out his threat. He wasn’t violent or vindictive. But he hated being in the dark about anything, especially stuff involving his best friend. Plus Boone was rarely, if ever, in a bad mood, so naturally everyone noticed if Merry was. Next to Boone’s serenity, anyone else’s moods, including Merry’s, resembled a maelstrom.

“I… I don’t wanna talk about it.”

“Tough. Now spill.”

Merry really didn’t want to have this discussion. “It’s nothing, I swear.”

Boone snorted. “Whatever it is, it’s clearly gotten under your skin. C’mon, Merry. Talk to me.” He slung his arm over Merry’s shoulders and squeezed gently, shaking him a bit. “You can tell me anything.”

Merry hesitated, worrying his lower lip, practically chewing it raw. For over a month, he’d dreaded having this conversation. No amount of preparation or rehearsal in front of a mirror had helped. He didn’t want to lose his best friend, the only guy in the world who didn’t laugh at his name, which was a perfectly valid Welsh name. But he’d gotten it thanks to his schoolteacher mom who loved The Lord of the Rings. No one would believe how many “randy buck” jokes he’d been subjected to over the years whenever he’d shown the slightest bit of interest in anyone.

Naturally, the ridicule had kept him alone and inexperienced. Which brought him to the problem at hand.

“Merry, buddy, c’mon…,” Boone cajoled.

“Iwantyoutoteachmehowtokiss.”

A deafening silence fell in the room. They’d been playing car-racing games on Xbox in Boone’s bedroom. Boone’s parents weren’t home much and didn’t care about the racket of a video game when they were, but Merry’s dad was a night nurse and couldn’t handle much noise during the day when he slept, even on the weekend. “I-I’m sorry, but I… I didn’t quite catch that. Come again?” Boone’s stunned tone was to be expected.

Merry swallowed, hoping to get saliva into his dry throat. “I said”—he enunciated slowly and steadily—“I want you to teach me how to kiss.”

Boone stared at him, blinking fast with his mouth hanging open. “Yeah, that’s what I thought I heard.”

Merry gulped, sensing he’d stepped over an invisible friendship line, and he rushed to say, “Never mind. Forget it. Forget I said anything.” He gripped the game controller again and steadfastly stared at the TV screen. “Let’s play another round.”

“No. I want to know what brought all this on.”

Merry grimaced at Boone’s calm tone. He took a deep breath and collected his wits. “Senior prom is in three weeks. I’m supposed to take Sara, but… I’ve never kissed a girl. How am I supposed to kiss her at the end of the night? Like I’m not already a laughing stock with everybody at school.” He shook his head fiercely. “No. I’ve decided. I’m not going.”

“Whoa. Back up.” Boone removed his arm from around Merry’s shoulders, and Merry shuddered at an icy sense of rejection in the withdrawal. “Okay, yeah. That’s a, uh… a legitimate concern. No guy wants to look like an inexperienced, slobbering moron on a date.”

Merry winced. “It’s not a date. Exactly. It’s just a… a dance. But I wanna end the night properly, with her having a good memory instead of me acting like an idiot.”

“Yeah, I get that.” Now that Boone had had a moment to assimilate the news, he sounded more like his old self. “But… why me? Look, I’ve got like a gazillion girls’ numbers, and I can call any of them, and I’m sure they’d be more than happy to be your kissing guinea pig.”

“No.” Merry frowned and bristled at the mere idea. “I don’t trust anyone else not to blab my embarrassing secrets to the whole school. Heck, the whole town. It has to be you.” He chanced a glance at Boone to gauge his mood. “You’ve kissed tons of girls, so you know how.”

Boone licked his lips, and his gaze wandered around the room. “Yeah, but… c’mon, it’s you.”

“So?” Merry got more and more anxious. “I’m, what, totally unkissable?”

“Don’t be stupid, Mer.” Boone shoved him on the arm, frowning in irritation. “You’re my best friend. And we’re both….” His voice faded, but Merry heard what was left unsaid. We’re both guys. “I mean, don’t you wanna… kiss a girl instead? Sara’s a girl.”

Merry got the gist of Boone’s excuses. “Forget it. Just forget it.” He pushed the button on the controller to start up the game again. Maybe with the roar of revving engines, neither of them would hear the growing awkwardness in the room.

But Boone paused the game again with his controller. “Mer, don’t be like that.”

“Like what?” Merry shot back with an angry hiss.

Boone sighed in defeat, slumping a little next to Merry. “Fine. Whatever. Let’s just get it over with.”

Merry bristled. “Don’t bother. I’m clearly not kissing material.” He hated he’d let Boone get under his skin. But this whole idea had been messing with his head for months. Boone’s reluctance clinched the deal. “I’m not going to the prom. And that’s that.”

“You’re going, even if I have to tie you up, throw you in the trunk of my car, and drag you there myself.” Boone’s determined growl was kind of sexy. He had a hoarse tone of voice that could thrill anyone who heard it. “You missed junior prom ’cause of that super-freaky cold of yours. You’re not missing senior prom too. No fucking way will I be forced to endure that hellhole on my own.”

At least Merry had the comfort of knowing he and Boone were on the same page in that respect. Neither of them had ever had much good to say about high school or their fellow students. In truth, the only constant in their lives was each other. Everything else was temporary. They planned to go to college together, be roommates during and maybe even after, and be best friends for the rest of their lives.

“You’re acting childish,” Boone said in his most irritating tone, the one that said he was older and knew better. “I’m offering to help here. You gonna turn me down after the noise you raised over this?”

Merry no longer knew if he wanted to say “fuck you” or “fine, let’s do this.” Finally he caved—he had to do this—and said, “Okay.”

“Cool.” But Boone’s tone suggested the situation was anything but cool.

“But I want you to do this right,” Merry insisted as Boone shifted on the floor to face him. Confusion twisted Boone’s features. “I mean,” Merry explained. “I don’t want a rushed little smooch. I know what kissing’s supposed to be. Lips, perhaps some tongue. So if you’re thinking of showing me nothing more than how to press two mouths together….”

“Man, you’re a demanding little prick, aren’t you?” But Boone sounded amused, so Merry let it slide. “Fine. I’ll be sure to give you only my A game.”

“You’d better,” Merry murmured under his breath.

Now that they were facing each other, still sitting on the floor, leaning against Boone’s queen-size bed, Merry had doubts. But he’d be damned if he was going to let his fears ruin his life.

Boone was a sexy guy. There was no denying that fact. Like that actor who played Thor, Boone rocked the gorgeous, easygoing blond god thing, complete with twinkling green eyes, full lips with a wicked self-confident smile, and the tall, fit, muscular body of an athlete without being beefy or stocky. Merry had noticed his best friend’s good looks on a neutral level, of course, the same way one observed beauty in nature.

Merry didn’t think he was too far behind, not that he would ever admit it out loud. He was a swimmer, so he had muscles of his own, along with a lean, lithe physique that showed not an ounce of fat. Unlike Boone, though, Merry had dark hair, blue eyes, and virtually no stubble. Boone sometimes grew a tiny beard just to rub it in that he could, but he usually shaved it off quickly, claiming he didn’t really like scruff on his face.

Without warning, Merry moved to sit in Boone’s lap, straddling him—and bumped his chin on Boone’s nose.

Son of a bitch!” Boone exclaimed, holding on to his face.

“Oh my God, I’m so sorry.” Merry repeated his apology over and over, trying to peek through his best friend’s fingers to see if there was blood.

“Shit, I’m seeing stars, and my face fucking stings,” Boone muttered, rubbing his poor nose. Merry tried to move off, but Boone stopped him, blinking owlishly at him with watery eyes. “No you don’t. After that, we’re fucking doing this.”

“I’m sorry, B,” Merry whispered with utter remorse. This wasn’t at all how he’d hoped this would go.

Boone chuckled. “Well, things can only get better from here on in, right?”

Merry smiled in relief. Boone always knew what to say at the exact right time. That was a big reason why Merry admired and adored Boone, his best friend in the whole wide world.