Authors: Mia Downing
Tags: #erotic romance
“Why did you go in? Didn’t you see the red flags?” He hadn’t warned Erik, now that he thought of it. Everyone else at the party knew the water wasn’t safe, but he couldn’t remember telling Erik not to go.
“No.” Erik struggled to sit up, but the EMT shoved him back down. “Jillian’s shovel got swept out.”
Erik would do anything for his niece. “She asked you to get it?”
“Yeah. Didn’t know.”
“Don’t do it again,” he whispered, choked up like a freaking girl. Even Aunt Gertie hadn’t cried when he dragged Erik in. They didn’t usually get rip currents on their little beach, but with the massive storm brewing off shore, it wasn’t surprising.
“Won’t.” Erik sighed and held out his hand. “Hold.”
Gavin hesitated, glanced at the EMT now on the radio. What the hell. He’d almost lost Erik today. He’d be damned if he missed out on anything with him. He slipped his hand into Erik’s and squeezed. Hard.
“Thought I was dead,” Erik whispered.
“You and me both.” He’d never forget the pit in his stomach when Erik’s head had disappeared under the waves that last time, taking so agonizingly long to surface. So close to dying. So close to kissing Erik in a way he never, ever wanted to kiss him. “Don’t do it again.”
“Won’t. Thanks,” he mumbled and drifted off to sleep again, inhaling that Colorado goodness.
Gavin squeezed his hand again, taking in the pale, quiet face he loved so much. Earlier in the day, Erik’s mom had hinted he was going somewhere. Leaving. No way in hell that was happening. Not now, after almost losing for him forever. Gavin closed his eyes, concentrating on the feel of that hand in his, the skin warm and still wrinkled from the water. He loved Erik. Heart, soul, more than anything, yet the negative words in his brain swirled, reminding him he was worthless. Gavin didn’t deserve Erik’s love.
Gavin shook his head. Fuck, it was hard, battling the shit in his head. He felt ripped and torn, his soul battered, yet somehow, Erik always knew how to pull those seams together and make him whole. He’d never be what Erik needed. His friend deserved better.
Yet he couldn’t help think of the end of his fantasy, when Erik lay in his arms. What would he give for that ending?
Gavin swallowed and brushed Erik’s hair from his face again. He’d give…anything.
Two days later, Erik sat on the picnic table under the pavilion, watching Gavin lord over the minions. It was almost the end of the day, still hotter than hell, and Gavin looked mighty fine. He’d worked up a sweat under the beating rays, his chest bare and glistening, his eyes shaded with those aviator glasses Erik liked so much.
He hadn’t seen Gavin since the hospital. Gavin had called the house, left several messages saying he was thinking of Erik but didn’t stop by. He did text a few times, too, but refused to come over. Erik got it, though.
Everyone had touted Gavin as a hero, and it made Gavin uncomfortable. He’d done his job and, though Erik was grateful as hell, he understood where Gavin sat on this issue without even discussing it. Saving Erik fell under the same umbrella as protecting him from jocks or whatever, and Gavin would do that in a heartbeat, no thanks ever needed. But a part of Erik wondered if Gavin punished himself for saving Erik when he should have saved his sister, too.
Gavin was definitely on firm footing now, seated on his throne of white, his sharp gaze searching the relatively calm water. It was the first day Erik had been allowed out of the house, and he felt stupid spending it here, in the pavilion. Why not walk over to him? Why not just say hi, let’s get pizza later?
Because he was scared shitless.
He’d seen the love in Gavin’s eyes, and it terrified him. It had been so much easier when it was one-sided. Erik had assumed the kinky sex between them had been only sex, something Gavin needed as an escape. But now that he knew Gavin felt the same way…
Erik shuddered. After seeing his boring life flash before his eyes, he’d need more than friendship and pizza. He would curl up and die if he couldn’t finally—finally—love Gavin.
After listening to his sad fantasy in the shower, Erik got him. As badly as Gavin craved love, it terrified him, too. In Gavin’s world, loving someone meant he got hurt, physically and mentally. And asking Gavin to give more than what he could manage would be his breaking point.
Gavin would be better off if Erik went on with his plan to move to California at the end of summer. The pain from that would be easier to bear than the pain he’d feel when Erik pushed Gavin too hard, too close. That’s why Gavin had sent him away after their first kiss.
Another lifeguard walked over to Gavin. They started chatting, laughing, and her dark blonde head tossed back in a little too much glee. Gavin smiled in return and went into full-blown jock mode, the lie so easy for him to slide into.
Erik sighed and shifted away, unable to watch when all he wanted was to talk to Gavin. To say thanks again. And goodbye. He slid off the picnic table. He’d try again tomorrow.
Erik turned, his heart in his throat. “Gavin.”
Gavin had just tugged on a white T-shirt, his skin even more bronze against the starkness. He slid his sunglasses to the top of his head. “Why didn’t you come over?”
Gavin nodded, looked a little confused, but not the least bit shell-shocked, thank God. “I’m off now. I wanted to spend the evening with you. I was going to shower quick and stop by.”
The surge of emotion through his body reminded him of the strength of the rip current. Happiness, sadness, desire all swirled like deadly water inside him. “You could have texted me.”
“I wanted it to be a surprise, me springing you for the evening. Get ice cream, maybe. As awesome as your mom is, she must be getting on your nerves by now.”
Gavin frowned. “You want to come to the apartment? We can talk.”
“No.” Erik did have a lot to say and no idea how to say it all, but the apartment had beds. He wanted Gavin in a bed, badly.
“Okay.” Gavin shoved his hands in his pockets and cocked his head. “You want to eat? You look pretty beat still.”
“No, I’m good.” He was beat because he’d done nothing but think for two days. Almost dying meant he felt differently than before. He’d changed and the rules were different. He was living half a life, waiting for something that would never be. Gavin would never believe he was strong enough to love, to deserve love. Demanding that of Gavin would kill Erik, faster than the rip current.
Erik sat back down on the picnic table, scared as hell.
“You okay, man? You’re freaking me out.” Gavin sat next to him on the picnic table, his thigh pressing against Erik’s. An electrical current snapped through his skin, zapping along his leg, connecting with his gut where it all swirled and built into something hotter.
“I can’t do this.” The words sounded foreign to his ears, even though he’d said them a million times to the mirror earlier. Erik yanked his leg from Gavin’s.
“I can’t live half a life. That’s what I’m living. Half a life.”
“You depressed or something? That’s what I feel when I’m depressed.”
“No. Yes.” Erik swallowed. He’d never been depressed before. “Maybe.”
“Jesus,” Gavin muttered. “Why are you living half a life?”
“Because I’m not being honest with myself about what I want.”
“Jesus. What the hell do you want that you can’t just spit it out? You always seemed so simple. I’m the complicated one.” Gavin’s face screwed up in puzzlement. “I’m sorry, but I don’t get this.”
Erik ignored him, gathered his balls, and said, “I’ve thought a lot, and I’m going to move out to my uncle’s in California. I can work from anywhere with my job, and I’d like to see that side of the country. My mom and dad think it’s a great idea.”
That was a lie. A fucking lie on so many fronts. He didn’t want to leave Gavin. He was a dickwad for running three thousand miles away because he was afraid Gavin would never allow himself to fully love him.
His mom was pissed as all hell about the idea. She’d been even more pissed that he hadn’t said anything to Gavin before the picnic. So when she cornered him yesterday, she’d gone up one side of him and down the other, telling him he was a shitty friend. Yeah, his mother said shitty. Worse, he felt shitty.
“What? You’re moving?” Gavin looked even more confused, and then the words must have sunk in because shell-shocked returned full force, along with a flash of deep pain. “Jesus.
“I’m sorry. I know you need me here. But I can’t be here. I need to move on.”
Gavin ran one hand over his face and smacked his other on the surface of the picnic table. “Can we discuss this?”
“Why? There’s no point. I’m leaving, that’s that.” That sounded really firm for a change. He liked that. “I need to start living, and I’m not living.”
“Then what are you doing?”
“For?” Gavin swallowed, and the confused look mingled with the pain. “I know we’re guys, and we don’t do the whole talking thing, but I’m confused. I know you’ve had a shitty week. So have I. I don’t think that’s reason to pack up your wagon and head to L.A. to pan for gold.”
Erik bit the bullet and went for the truth. “I can’t wait for you any longer. Almost dying has shown me that I can’t wait. Life is too short to love you from a distance. I want to be able to love you, all of you. If I can’t do that, at least in private, then I need to move on.”
Erik glanced at Gavin’s shell-shocked face, the tanned skin pale underneath. His heart told him this was so fucking wrong, and he should wait. His head pushed him to keep going. Rip the bandage free. “I love you, Gavin. I have loved you since forever. I’m sorry. I know it hurts, and I’m a shitty friend to leave you. But I think my staying will hurt you more than me leaving you.”
“I know you, and I know me. You’ll go with the flow and I’ll feel guilty because I’ve turned you into something you don’t want, like when I made you go to chess club with me because I thought we could do it together.”
“I liked chess.”
“But you liked me more, and you went because I wanted you to go. It wasn’t what you wanted.” But Gavin had gone and never complained. “All you want is for me not to leave. You love me, but not the way I love you.”
“We made love.”
“We had sex,” Erik corrected softly.
Panic washed over Gavin, pushing him under the surface of faked calm, drowning him. His breath lingered somewhere else, and there was no way in hell he could catch it. “It felt different. With you.”
“Yes. But were you controlling me with cuffs and a blindfold because you loved me and wanted to take me higher, or were you controlling me because you were afraid I’d love you. There’s a big difference. I did make love to you, in the shower. I put every ounce of love I had for you into that blowjob. But you were too far gone to notice that.”
Not true. He’d felt that. God, he’d felt that. But he was drowning, and if he opened his mouth, he’d die. He felt it, ripped at the seams. So unsafe.
Erik cocked his head in that reasoning way of his that meant he was right and that Gavin had to listen and come to the same conclusion. “Would you let me love you if you weren’t practically bleeding from your soul? I know you love me, Gav. I saw it in your eyes when you saved me, and every time you open your mouth to defend me, I hear it. But staying means I’ll want to love you back. Are you going to let me love you?”
“Jesus.” Gavin sat on the picnic table and ran his hands through his hair, his elbows resting on his knees, his feet on the seat. He wanted to believe, but those fucking, poisonous words his parents screamed at him year after year ruled his head. “I’m not worth your love.”
“No, you’re not.”
Gavin’s head shot up. “What?”
Erik looked pissed as hell, like the time Gavin ran over his laptop with his truck by accident. “Grow a set of balls. You need to stand up for yourself for a change. Stop throwing yourself in the dumpster, in the locker. That bully is not worth my love.”