1 Chapter 1

A breeze picks up as I climb into the back of

Riley’s pickup truck and for a moment I think I’m underdressed—a

T-shirt and cut-offs seemed sensible when I left the house earlier,

but the wind has a bite to it that feels like rain’s on the way.

But the hot bedliner feels nice under my bare feet, and the heat

seeps through the denim seat of my shorts when I sit down, already

reaching for the cooler that holds a six-pack of beer Riley’s dad

bought for us. This evening’s a celebration, of sorts—tomorrow my

best friend leaves for basic training, but I won’t let myself dwell

on that

Raising my voice over the rustle of tall

grass, I call out to Riley, “Charlene’s gonna be pissed you’re

spending your last night with me.” I pop open one can, take a quick

swig, and feel the cold alcohol swirl down my throat to my groin,

where it curls into a warm ball of bliss.

From the cab of the truck where he’s taking

off his sneakers, Riley answers, “Let her bitch.”

“You only say that because you won’t have to

listen to her anymore,” I reply, setting the beer aside. I pull out

another, open it, and take a sip of that one, as well. “After

tomorrow—”

I take another gulp of beer. That was the

closest I’ve come to admitting that he’s as good as gone.

Riley slams the truck’s door and vaults into

the back with me, his bare feet almost knocking over the first

beer. “What,” he asks, “you don’t think she’ll call me at the

barracks just to chew me out?” Then he sees the two cans. “Save

some for me, dude. Mydad’s the one that hooked us up.” He

picks up the can in front of him and frowns at it, studying the

dampness condensed around the top. “Did you drink out of this?”

“Did you see me?” I ask, my eyes studiously

avoiding Riley’s.

He glares at me for a moment, then shrugs and

downs half the can in one gulp. The beer relaxes him—I can see the

tension in his arms disappear, and his face clears as his throat

works with the drink. From the corner of my eye, I watch his Adam’s

apple bob up and down, his taut cheeks, the bristled skin that

rolls at the base of his neck when he leans back to savor the beer.

I’m staring, I know it, but I’m not used to the buzz cut yet—for as

long as I’ve known him, Riley’s always had long dark hair that

curled into unruly waves he constantly had to shake out of his

face. This shorn look, tight and trim, is new to me. I want to run

my hand over the top of his head, feel what’s left like the hard

nubs of a brush against my palm. My fingers clench around the

thought, and the beer can I’m holding begins to crumple in protest.

“Watch it,” Riley warns with a nod at the can.

I down the rest of the beer. It’s settled

into my crotch now, heating my blood and thickening my cock half

erect. For the first time in years, I can’t think of anything to

say to Riley, and the silence is uncomfortable between us. “So,” I

try, searching, “you excited?”

Another shrug. “You know,” he tells me, but

no, I don’t. I’ve lived in this dead-end town for more than half my

life and I’ve forgotten that anything exists beyond it. I don’t

remember what it feels like to move on. I can’t imagine leaving it

all—leaving him—behind.

* * * *

My family moved to Carson when I was in the

sixth grade, and the first kid my own age I met wasn’t Riley but

the girl he’s dating now, Charlene. At twelve, she was a terror,

which means she hasn’t changed all that much. I stood at the corner

of my new street, waiting for the school bus, apparently in her

spot—when she saw me, she marched right over and kicked me hard in

the shin. She pulled her leg back, lining up for another kick, when

someone behind me barreled into her. Riley, coming to my defense.

With a shriek, Charlene fell off the curb and skinned both knees

when she landed in the street, but it was me Riley asked, “You

okay, man?” We’ve been best friends ever since

It’s no surprise that Riley hooked up with

Charlene last March, a few months before our senior prom. She’s

head cheerleader, real pretty, the most popular girl in school.

Always gets what she wants, and that includes the school jock. But

it infuriates her that Riley’s not more attentive—he’s out with me

most nights, turns off his cell so she doesn’t bother us, even when

we’re just hanging out. The two of us share lockers in school,

sleep over each other’s houses every weekend, talk on the phone

until my mom hollers at me to hang up. We’re inseparable, Riley and

me, and Charlene hates that she hasn’t managed to come between us

yet. She hates me, period.

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