Seth & Embry were childhood friends, but lost touch. They meet again years later. Will things be the same? Or perhaps not as they thought they once were?
The bell tinkles as I open the door to one of my favorite spots on the island – Call’s.
The familiar smells of books, tea, and dust bring back memories of adventures I had here when I was a child.
“I’ll be right with you,” a woman calls from the back.
I smile, trailing my fingers along the spines of Huckleberry Finn, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and other old friends.
It’s been too long since I’ve set foot here. Not since I was thirteen.
Before I let myself sink into the past, though, I force myself to the task I’ve been set.
His eyes roamed over her round curves, his mind instantly imagining all the ways he could-
“I wouldn’t have pegged you for the Harlequin type.”
Heat flames my cheeks. I snap the book shut and turn around, stammering, “I… it’s… I wasn’t…”
Brown eyes watch with quiet amusement.
I take a deep breath. “My sister asked me to pick up a couple of books for her. I was just… making sure they’d be something she’d enjoy.”
Lips twitch, fighting a smile. I’m momentarily distracted.
He clears his throat, quirking a brow. “Maybe I can help you find something for her?”
“Umm, thanks, that’d be great.”
I watch him as he moves easily through the aisles, answering his questions on my sister’s tastes.
Something about the way he talks is familiar.
And his eyes…
I try to remember, but it’s been so many years. There were so many kids my age here back then. He could be anyone.
He stops, picks up a book, and hands it to me. His eyes hold mischief and some secret knowledge.
He grins. “I think Leah’ll like it. Only came out last week.”
I look at him, confused. “How did you know..?”
He blushes, tucking his hands in his back pockets. “I figured it had to be you, Seth. Though I don’t suppose you remember me?”
Tilting my head, I look at him – really look at him. Before I can come to any conclusions, he adds, “Word travels fast on a small island. When I heard the Clearwaters were back, I knew you’d come here sooner or later.”
He smiles. “This was where we had some of our best adventures, after all.”
I blink. “Embry?”
I don’t even think. He laughs as I hug him tightly.
“I can’t believe it…”
I pull back reluctantly, only somewhat surprised at how good it feels to hold Embry, even after all these years. After all, he had starred in some of my first fantasies about boys when I’d begun to figure out who I was.
His smile is radiant. He puts his hand on my arm and says, “It’s good to see you again, Seth. Been too long, man.”
“It’s good to see you, too. What are you still doing here? I always thought you’d escape first chance you got – go to college or something.”
He shrugs. “I did. I came back, though.”
“Say…” He glances briefly at the books in my hands. “Did you need to get more, or can I ring you up? Was thinking maybe we could catch up over lunch?”
Embry bites his lip.
I don’t need to be asked twice. “Sounds great. Leah can just make do… or get her own ass out here.”
He chuckles, placing his hand on my shoulder as he guides me to the register. I try not to notice the thrill his touch sends through me.
Just an old crush, Seth. Forget it.
Before long, the books are scanned, paid for, and bagged.
We walk side by side, arms occasionally brushing.
The door to the best burger joint on the island is open, as always. Embry steps aside to let me through first.
I roll my eyes; he grins.
As soon as the smells hit me, I realize just how hungry I am. When my stomach rumbles loudly to attest to that fact, I blush.
Embry laughs, shaking his head as he bumps my shoulder, muttering, “Some things never change.”
We sit down at an empty booth. A waitress promptly comes to take our order, and then it’s my turn to laugh.
We talk about the easy stuff as we wait for our food – latest news, weather, vacation plans.
The waitress places our orders in front of us and leaves, distracted by a crash three tables down. Embry wrinkles his nose in disgust, grumbling under his breath.
I chuckle and spear the slice of tomato on my fork, placing it on my burger as if it’s the most normal thing in the world.
Embry looks at me with mild amusement.
“What?” I ask, taking a bite.
He shakes his head, smiling shyly. “Nothing… you just used to do that all the time.”
Conversation flows easily between us – in some ways, it feels as if we’ve never been apart. He had always been so easy to talk to about everything.
Well, almost everything. There is one thing I never had the guts to tell him. Even now I’m not sure I can do it, despite the fact I’ve been out for years now.
Embry is different. He always has been.
And then he asks the one question I wish he wouldn’t.
“Why’d you stop coming here?”
In a quieter voice, he adds, “Why’d you stop writing?”
I pop fries in my mouth, stalling.
“Just to do something different, I guess. There’s not a lot to do around here for kids, as you know. And Dad had that heart attack… we wanted to make some memories, do things we hadn’t done before.”
There is some truth in that; we did do all of that. What I don’t say is that it had been me begging my parents to go somewhere – anywhere – else, because I couldn’t face Embry, though I never explained my reasons. I simply claimed I was bored.
It doesn’t feel right, not telling him, but how am I supposed to?
He frowns. “Okay…but why-?”
I feign nonchalance, even as the words I speak cut into me again. “One of those things, ya know? We were kids, Embry…life got…busy, and when Dad died, I just…”
He leans forward, covering my hand with his and whispering, “I’m so sorry, Seth. If I’d known…”
I shake my head, swallowing hard. Dad’s death is only part of the reason.
Embry’s letters, talking about this girlfriend, or that one…
Again, I feel the guilt for cutting him off – for even having been jealous of those girls, when I should’ve thought about Dad…
Slowly, I pull my hand from under his on the pretense of needing a drink. I try to steer the conversation back to safer waters, asking him how he ended up living here.
A gentle smile spreads across his lips as he tells of his time in college.
“Life was good, you know? Classes were great, and I had a lot of friends. Even had a steady girl… things got pretty serious with her for a while.”
He glances at his plate as he says, “I proposed to her on graduation day.”
I swallow thickly, my voice hoarse. “What happened?”
Embry’s brow furrows, eyes focused on the basket the fries came in as he toys with it.
For the first time, I look at his hands, noticing a lack of a ring on his finger. My frown matches his as he speaks.
“She said yes. We had everything going for us. Jobs set up on the mainland, wedding plans were coming along…”
He takes a sip of water before continuing.
“She ran off on the morning of our wedding, leaving a note saying she was sorry.”
“Jesus, Embry…” I mutter, my gut twisting with guilt and sympathy all at once.
We sit in silence for a while.
Embry stares out the window in such a way that it makes me wonder what ghosts he’s seeing. After a few minutes, he says, “I decided to come home, get my life back in order again. Mom’s the only family I have left, so it seemed the logical thing to do.”
I nod, unable to think of a single thing to say.
He looks at me and smiles softly. “It took a while, but in the end, I think she actually did me a favor.”
“Why’s that?” I frown, wondering what he means.
“Because if she hadn’t left, neither of us would be happy. She knew something I didn’t. Or at least, I wasn’t ready to admit to myself.”
His eyes are on mine, his voice steady – the picture of perfect calm.
In contrast, my heart starts beating faster, my palms are starting to sweat, and my mind is racing.
He can’t possibly be saying what I think he’s saying.
Even if he is, it can’t have any bearing on you, Seth. Calm the fuck down.
“She told me to be true to myself. To act on the crush I’d had on Quil.”
I blink, trying to make sense of what I’m hearing – and failing.
Embry keeps toying with the empty basket, spinning it around his finger just for something to do. It takes me a moment to recognize it as a nervous gesture – the only outward sign I see.
He clears his throat lightly, explaining that Quil had been his roommate in college, and openly gay. His voice becomes softer as he continues. “I never let myself go there, you know? But I was definitely interested – and Quil was more than happy to… accommodate.”
He blushes, finally having to look away.
My fingers tighten around my glass as I try to keep myself in check. I’m hurt, hopeful, excited, and scared to death all at once.
It feels as if everything I’ve ever known or felt is spiraling out of my control, taunting me with what if’s, and if only‘s.
I barely recognize my voice when I speak, my eyes fixed on him. “Embry, what are you trying to tell me?”
He ducks his head, muttering almost too low for me to hear, “Fuck, this is harder than it should be…”
He takes a deep breath, looking up. “I’m bi, Seth.”
Rallying my ever increasingly scattering thoughts, I manage to breathe out, “Okay…”
His eyes flicker to mine with too many emotions to pin down, save two: hope and relief.
I give a small smile that quickly fades as I ask why he’s telling me this, now of all times. I’m still reluctant to bare myself in the same way he just did, though I know I shouldn’t be.
But rationality seems a concept out of my reach right now.
He shrugs and says, “You were one of my best friends once, Seth. I felt you had a right to know…”
I can’t look at him – my own face burning with guilt as I stare at the small particles of dust that swirl in the sunlight as it streams into the diner.
Neither of us says anything for a while, until finally I just can’t take it anymore.
Closing my eyes, I take a deep breath to steel myself, clasping my hands tightly together.
My voice is barely a whisper.
“We stopped coming here because of me… I couldn’t… face you… I was scared you’d hate me, Em.”
I feel his stare.
“It hurt to read about all those girls, because…”
“…I had the biggest crush on you back then.”
Fingers curl around my clenched hands.
I open my eyes in surprise even as I say, “I’m gay, Embry. I’m so sorry for letting my fear come between the friendship we had. I just… I-”
He squeezes my hands lightly, shaking his head. His voice and eyes hold nothing but tenderness. “You were just a kid, Seth. It’s scary to figure all that out. Trust me, I get it.”
My gaze falls on our hands. My heart aches at the sight.
Slowly, I release my hold.
Embry’s fingers twine with mine.
Something deep inside slides into place for the first time in my life.
My eyes meet his, and his smile reflects my own.
I feel as if I can breathe properly again after too many years of trying to take in second-hand air. I never realized how much all of this had weighed on me until after he’s lifted my burden.
The corner of his lips turns up, his eyes twinkling mischievously – stealing my new-found breath again.
“It’s probably a good thing I never knew – gave us both a chance to sow our wild oats. I’m glad you’re back, Seth.”
Whether he meant for it to, or not, his words send shivers down my spine.
I’m beginning to realize that the “back then” part of my crush is still very much alive and kicking in the here and now.
I squirm, my fingers automatically tightening their hold.
Embry’s grin widens briefly. He leans over the table, his eyes intent on mine as his thumb caresses the inside of my wrist.
Another shiver betrays the effect he’s having on me.
“Seth… as appealing as the thought is to take you… I want to get to know you again, first.”
My eyes widen at his words, my heart hammering in my chest as I struggle to form a response.
Embry’s watching me closely, his thumb continuing to brush against my skin.
His voice lowers. “You were my friend, Seth. We’ve always been close. Much more so than the other kids we hung out with. I think there was a reason for that. Perhaps we can be again?”
He smiles softly, his eyes dancing as he speaks words that hold so many promises, hopes, and desires.
I find myself drowning and flying all at once, teetering on the edge of something.
He pays the bill before I’m aware of it, still a little dazed to this turn of events. He gets up, holding his hand out to me in invitation.
I stare at him briefly, then accept it and follow him – I don’t even care where to.
We walk until we get to the small lake we used to swim in. He pulls me to the large tree that shades the area.
Gently, he pushes me up against it, staring into my eyes.
His lips meet mine in a tender kiss, crossing a line I never dreamed and always wanted to.