Love's Return Excerpt

The Texas summer sun beat down on his bare skin, deepening the tan on Dean Whitten's body. It was days like this he was thankful for cool pools, cold lemonade, and best friends to share them with. Beside him, Eric lay in a blue and green striped lounge chair. His golden body was so much bigger and harder than Dean's slight frame. A sheen of sweat highlighted ridges of muscle rippling down Eric's stomach, tempting Dean to touch. What would Eric's skin feel like? Was it soft like his, or did all those glorious muscles make it hard? How would it feel to dig his fingertips into the resilient flesh, or taste the salty damp skin? Eric's nipples were hard, and Dean longed to suck them between his lips. Sometimes he played with his nubs in the darkness of his bedroom. The pinch of his fingers caused flares of heat to shoot straight to his cock.

Speaking of cock, his was waking up, and Dean knew his swim trunks couldn't hide an erection. He jumped off the lounger and into the pool. The cool water soothed his fevered skin and wayward anatomy. As he shook the water from his head, a giant wave covered him, sending Dean tumbling beneath the surface. Two strong hands gripped his arms, hauling him back to the surface. His chest collided with Eric's, and Dean savored the feel of slick skin rubbing against him. God, what he wouldn't give to kiss those lips only inches away. His breath caught as Eric's blue-green eyes darkened, and his pupils dilated. Dean panted in excitement, his lips tingled, and his hands clutched Eric's wide shoulders. Their heads moved a fraction closer, and-

Dean's eyes shot open. Dammit! Why did he always wake up just before the good part of his dreams? He rolled to the side and blinked as the blue numbers on his clock mocked him. He squinted at the rays of early morning sunshine slanting through the bedroom window. His internal alarm clock refused to recognize that it was his day off and a Sunday to boot. After years of early morning rounds and late night on-call duty, it was difficult for him to maintain normal sleep patterns. Normally this didn't bother him that much—after all, it wasn't like he had a regular bed partner to disturb when his phone signaled an emergency at the hosptial-but it would be nice to sleep in when his schedule allowed for it. Dean reluctantly rolled out of bed, knowing he wouldn't get any more sleep. He stumbled down the short hallway leading to kitchen and jumped back when his bare feet touched the cold tile.

Socks. He needed socks. He turned about face and opened the folding door that hid his washer and dryer. When he opened the dryer, he frowned, scratching his head for a second. His sleep-addled brain was confused. He could have sworn he'd done a load of laundry the other day. Lifting the lid of the washing machine, he cursed as he saw the bedraggled remains of his missing clean clothes. Taking a tentative sniff, he determined since the fabric had sat in the machine for a day it smelled a little musty. It was probably best to re-run the load, so he added some soap and reset the cycle. Retreating to his bedroom, he discovered that his dresser drawers were rather bare, since his wardrobe mainly consisted of scrubs, but he managed to find an old Baylor University sweatshirt that had seen better days. He dug around for a pair of socks, smiling when the only ones in the drawer were orange and black striped with white ghosts and googly eyeballs. A patient had given them to him last Halloween. He tugged them on then turned to walk out of his bedroom. Catching sight of himself in the full length mirror attached to his door, Dean laughed. The green and yellow faded sweatshirt, red and black flannel sleep pants, and orange-and-black-striped socks looked ridiculous together, even by his standards. His sister Carol, a buyer for Barney's, would definitely threaten to revoke his gay card if she caught sight of him dressed this way. In her romantic imagination, all men lounged around their luxury apartments dressed in silk pants and Italian leather slippers, waiting for their love slaves to service them. However, in reality, it was a cold February morning, he was alone, and didn't give a rat’s patooty if his ensemble didn't exactly coordinate. Or resemble anything a sane individual would willing wear in public. Although the love slave part didn't sound like a bad idea. The sumptuous scent of coffee emanated from the kitchen, beckoning Dean as he silently sent up a prayer to the gods of automatic timers. Settling down with his mug of caffeinated bliss, he turned on the TV to watch the news. His coffee nearly went flying when the high-pitched voice of a bubbly bottle blonde reverberated from his surround sound speakers at an insane volume.

"Happy Valentine's Day!"

Dean scrambled for the remote, while clutching his precious coffee, and randomly pushed buttons until the volume lowered to a more reasonable level. He'd apparently neglected to reset the sound after the last movie he'd watched. Vibrations were fun to feel when tons of explosions went off during the movie, but not so fun to wake to in the early hours of the morning.

After spending twenty-seven of the last thirty-six hours at the hospital, he'd forgotten about the holiday. Dean had nothing against celebrating love, he just didn't want to be continually reminded of the fact that he hadn't experienced such a tender emotion since that one summer, years ago. The summer when sun, laughter, and innocence had permeated his world. The bright happiness of new discovery filled his soul. And the boy, with laughing multi-colored eyes, had touched his heart. These days, all his friends were either married or in committed relationships. His mom and dad were basking like lizards in the Arizona sunshine for their retirement, and Dean's sister lived in New York City, thriving as a young urban professional.

Dean flipped off the TV, not interested in hearing about couples celebrating fifty years together. He sipped his now-tepid coffee, trying to remember the last time he'd had someone to share Valentine's Day with. With a sad realization about the state of his social life, Dean actually couldn't remember the last time he had had a date, let alone a Valentine. Slouching in the chair at his desk area in the living room, he puttered around on the internet for awhile until he got bored, then opened his email. He saw a message from one of those e-card sites announcing he had a message waiting for him. He eagerly clicked on the link. Did he have a secret admirer? How fun would that be? Assuming it didn’t cross over into creepy stalker territory. He wasn't too worried though. It wasn't as if Dean was the kind of guy who inspired Fatal Attraction behavior. The card opened and began to play.

A cartoon cupid shot an arrow into a man, and the next arrow hit a slobbering mutt of a dog. The man looked up at the fat little cherub with an expression of disgust and disbelief. The cupid shrugged his shoulders, and a little speech balloon appeared: "It wasn't my best shot."

Throwing back his head, Dean laughed. He looked down to see the sender's name and shook his head. It figured. He sent a quick reply to his mom, and as he hit the send button, inspiration struck. Today was his first real day off in over two weeks. He could sit at home and lament about the fact that he didn't have anyone to play footsie with, or he could get off his hiney, get dressed in something that actually coordinated, and go enjoy himself. In fact, he could make a whole day of it, celebrate his very own Un-Valentine's Day. His resolve set, he headed for the shower.

As he stood beneath the spray, his mind wandered back in time to the summer that starred in his dream. He'd been eighteen and full of vigor. He and his best friend Eric Sparks had spent nearly every waking moment together for the previous three years. Eric's dad had been stationed at Fort Hood, and Dean's father was a civilian contractor on base. It was a few weeks after graduation when Eric's family had been given notice that they were being reassigned.

For months prior to the announcement, Dean had been fighting his attraction to Eric. He didn't want the other boy to know that Dean had started to think of him as so much more than a friend. Dean had fallen, and fallen hard-as only teenagers could do. His feelings for Eric consumed him night and day but could never be given a voice. As much as Eric's departure would soon rip out his heart, part of Dean was glad. When Dean left for Baylor University in the fall, Eric would be gone, and he'd no longer have to second-guess every word that came out of his mouth for fear that he would give away his feelings.

He'd known there was no possible way Eric could ever return his love. Eric was strong, confident, and everything traditionally masculine. While Dean didn't think of himself as effeminate in any way, he was smaller, more bookish, and often got told how pretty he was. He'd come to hate it when people said he was pretty, whether it was meant as a compliment, or he was receiving another vicious ribbing from the jocks at school. He wasn't pretty, dammit! Imagine his shock on the day that all his preconceptions were blown out of the water.

After they'd spent the afternoon playing in the pool, Eric suggested a campout on the shore of a nearby lake, away from prying parental eyes. Dean readily agreed, and even stole a six-pack of longnecks from his dad’'s secret stash.

"Have you done it yet?" Dean whispered.

Eric's light blond head shook, the long strands on top falling into his eyes.

"You haven't?" Dean exclaimed.

"No."

The confession was so soft Dean barely heard it. He lifted his eyes from the dirt-packed ground, shocked that Eric would admit to being a virgin. Big guys like Eric were supposed to brag about scoring with chicks and lie when they didn't, weren't they?

"I thought for sure you'd done it with Teresa after prom," Dean said.

"No way! She wanted to, but I told her I wouldn't do it. I didn’t have anything with me, and there was no way I would risk going without. You saw those movies in health class. Forget it! Besides, I don't think I'm gonna like it." Eric looked up at the bright stars filling the Texas sky. "We made out a couple times, but it was always awkward."

Dean nodded his head, understanding what Eric didn't say, watching his friend blush two shades of red.

"But you want to eventually, right?" he persisted.

"Well sure, I guess. We're about to start college, getting out from our parents' eyes. We're supposed to be sowing our wild oats, aren't we?"

"Yeah." Dean looked into the flames of the campfire and sighed.

"What's wrong, Dean?"

Dean looked into the bright blue-green eyes. The ring of grey in the middle always fascinated him for some reason. And tonight the grey looked smokier. Was it possible to confess his deepest, darkest secret to Eric? They were best friends, always had each other's backs, but this was big. Eric looked concerned, waiting for Dean to say something.

"Nothin', I just...," he stalled.

"You scared to?" Eric asked.

"No!" he exclaimed.

"If you are, that's okay. When I was with Teresa... it just didn't feel right, you know? I want to, but only if I'm with someone who...."

Knowing that Eric experienced the same fears made him feel so much better. Eric began to fidget with the label on his beer bottle, a sure sign that he was uncomfortable.

"It's cool, I'm the same way." Dean smiled, watching Eric's eyes widen.

"You mean it? You're not just saying that to make me feel better?"

"You think that's something I would willingly tell someone?" Dean wasn't about to admit that the only time he got aroused was when he thought of the boy beside him. His bright blond hair, weird-colored but friendly eyes, smooth skin all slick after playing in the pool. There was no way he would confess that he was gay, even to Eric. Everyone knew that gay men got their asses beat, and were nothing more than limp-wristed, prancing girly men.

"Can you keep a secret?" Eric asked.

"We always keep each other's secrets."

"I mean you have to totally swear, under oath, upon threat of death, to never tell someone this secret."

Dean nodded his head.

"You have to say it."

He let out an exasperated breath. "Fine. I swear under oath, with the threat of death, to never tell another soul."

"I had a dream the other night, and when I woke up I had spooge all over my stomach."

Eric's gaze was trained on the dancing flames, and despite the low light, Dean saw the blush covering his cheeks.

"Shit, I've done that before, it's no big deal. My mom said that it's normal for guys our age to do that."

"You've talked to your mom about it!"

He rolled his eyes. "She's a doctor. She cornered me awhile ago, and I couldn't avoid 'the talk'."

"The dream was about a bunch of volleyball players. Guy volleyball players. I wanted to touch them. I... I got turned on by... I'm a freak."

Dean saw how distressed Eric was and wanted to comfort him. His friend had made a huge leap of faith by telling him his secret, and maybe it was time for a confession of his own. "Eric, it's okay. If you're a freak, then I'm one too. I picture stuff like that when I... you know. But... I... I picture... you."

Dean closed his eyes, fully prepared to be slugged, convinced that it was the worst possible thing for him to say. He should have just kept his mouth shut. Now he was not only going to have to explain being involved in a smackdown to his mom, but he was going to lose his best friend. But instead of a fist, he felt something soft and warm touch his lips. His eyes flew open and met two colored rings. An eternity of seconds passed, and those eyes closed, his followed, and Dean experienced his first kiss.

The kiss lasted forever and not long enough. Dean's heart nearly beat out of his chest as Eric's lips molded to his over and over. Eric's tongue slid along the seam of Dean's lips. He opened and gasped as Eric took advantage to slide his tongue inside. It was weird. It was awesome. It was terrifying. Dean's hands were clammy, and he thought he was going to hyperventilate. They explored each other's bodies—tentative touches as they learned how to respond and what made their breaths catch. Dean ended up on his back, shirt rucked up beneath his armpits. Small things on the stiff ground dug into his back, but he didn't care. After months of fantasizing, he finally had Eric in his arms. Eagerly kissing him, touching him. They were heading toward new territory when the blast of a horn shattered the night air.

Eric jumped back, they hastily straightened their clothes, and Dean tossed Eric one of the last two beers as a truckload of jocks came skidding up to the lakeside. The jocks hooted and hollered as they jumped into the lake, and he and Eric sat by the fire trying to appear as if they were nothing more than a couple buddies camping out and drinking beer.