contemporary

For Nicole.



Quinn Reed had been in love with Cooper Bradshaw for 2 years, 4 months, 19 days, 3 hours, and 42 minutes. He knew the exact time, down to the very minute, because he’d thought about it constantly pretty much every day since. In his head he referred to it as The Moment of Realization. They were sitting in their Digital Visual Effects class a couple months into their sophomore year at the University of Utah when suddenly Professor Yamura told an off-color joke that made the entire class burst into laughter. Quinn looked over at Coop, who was straddling his computer chair and leaning on the seatback. His dark hair was covered by his signature black New York Yankees hat (backward like always), and he was grinning that broad, gorgeous grin that had never failed to make Quinn feel a bit light in the chest. Then, completely at random, Coop glanced sideways at Quinn and gave him a little suggestive flick of his tongue, and—bam!—that was it. That was the very second Quinn realized that all of the weird little things he’d been feeling for Cooper since the previous semester—the stomach flips, the tingles whenever Coop touched him, the breathless, pulse-pounding anticipation whenever Coop stood too close—had somehow, unbeknownst to him, coalesced into one fierce, burning, searing, gut-deep emotion: love.



The problem with being in love with someone like Cooper Bradshaw was that he seemed to be incapable of being single for very long. He’d had a girlfriend most of sophomore year, followed by a brief but volatile affair with a hot but slightly crazy TA from the math department. (Quinn still hated that guy.) Junior year had been a parade of boyfriends of all shapes and sizes, from a tiny, super flamboyant, cross-dressing twink to one of the tall, thickly muscled African American players on the basketball team, followed by a short stint with a bubbly blond cheerleader named Chloe who’d set Quinn’s teeth on edge.



Unfortunately that was also the year they’d moved into a four-bedroom apartment in Benchmark Plaza with Patrick and Lonnie. Quinn got the room between Coop and Lonnie and suffered through dozens of nearly unbearable nights trying to ignore the sex-a-thons happening on both sides. He didn’t give two craps what—or who—Lonnie did. It was listening to Cooper that killed.



It wasn’t as if Quinn spent all his time pining for Coop. He’d dated on and off. He’d even had a casual boyfriend for most of sophomore year and a more serious one the next. But his luck seemed to be that whenever Cooper happened to be single, Quinn was otherwise involved, and no matter how in love he might have been with Cooper, the idea of ditching his boyfriend for the mere possibility of starting something with Coop had struck him as selfish and wrong. Of course it was only afterward that it occurred to him it might have been even more unfair to stay with those guys when he was admittedly in love with someone else. Luck, she sure was one flighty bitch. And hindsight liked to regularly slap him in the face.



Given their history of bad timing, Quinn thought it was something of a miracle they were both currently single and about to spend spring break together road tripping through California with their roommates. Cooper had returned to school the previous semester with a long distance boyfriend back home—Simon, a former high school flame he’d reconnected with over the summer. Quinn had been broken up with his own boyfriend, Gabe, since the middle of July, but a handful of visits from Simon had convinced Quinn that him being single or not, any chance he might have had with Cooper was gone. Simon was beautiful, funny, smart, modest…and sadly impossible to hate. Quinn had liked him despite himself, and though he’d done his best to hide his rather inconvenient crush on Cooper (to put it mildly), he suspected Simon had known—and been kind anyway. That had only earned the guy another million and a half cool points in Quinn’s book, no matter how much he’d wished he could be the one in Cooper’s arms instead.



Simon and Cooper’s relationship had ended suddenly over winter break, which came as a surprise to everyone, most of all Quinn. They’d seemed so perfect for one another, but when Quinn had asked Cooper about what’d happened, Coop had simply shaken his head and said that Simon deserved better. Curiosity almost compelled Quinn into asking Cooper what he meant, but he’d managed to keep that—and his excitement—at bay. It seemed wrong to be excited about the demise of what appeared to be an ideal relationship. If he loved Cooper, Quinn’s first wish for him should have been happiness, right? Even if that happiness didn’t include Quinn. But naturally, that feeling only lasted so long. It was hard not to be thrilled that Cooper was single again when Quinn was unattached himself. He’d been praying for that very thing for years, after all, and as much as a part of Quinn really did miss Simon, he couldn’t actually say he was sad Cooper and Simon were over. He thought maybe his time had finally come. Except, well, Coop had been so subdued since the breakup, so sad and quiet and strangely un-Cooper-like. He hadn’t even gone on any dates or had a single hookup as far as Quinn knew. That, out of everything else, was the weirdest part.



As much as Quinn wanted him, he couldn’t bring himself to make a move in the face of all that melancholy. It was only as their road trip approached and winter melted into a brisk and sunny spring that some of the gloom lifted. Cooper slowly came out of his funk and returned to his normal, playful, flirtatious self. And still he hadn’t started dating anyone. Quinn thought it was a sign. Had to be. This really was his time. Right now. Spring break. There was only one thing left to do: convince Cooper to take a chance and see if they could make even better lovers than friends.



****



“Daddy, are we there yet?” Lonnie’s voice was whiny enough to make a ten-year-old proud.



From his position behind the wheel of the old Ford Escape they’d used to make the drive from Utah to California, Cooper grinned and cast a quick glance at him over his shoulder. “Don’t make me pull this car over and come back there, young man.”



Quinn chuckled and looked sideways at Lonnie, who appeared to be contemplating Cooper’s words.



“The good kind of coming or the bad?” Lonnie asked.



In the passenger seat, Patrick snorted. “There’s a bad kind?”



“Well, if he came in my eye, I’d call that the bad kind.”



Quinn choked on the sip he’d just taken from his water bottle. He coughed and cleared his throat. “How would you know what it feels like to get cum in your eye, Lon? Something you’re not telling us?”



Lonnie cast him a demure smile. “A gentleman never tells.”



Patrick snorted again, but this time he followed it up with a dry laugh. “What gentleman are you talking about? I don’t see one in this car.”



“Speak for yourself,” Cooper said. “I’m so gentlemanly it hurts.”



Quinn practically heard Patrick’s eye roll from his spot behind Cooper. “If you call fucking anything that moves being a gentleman.”



Quinn’s stomach clenched. Oh, no, not again. Why was it that Patrick and Cooper were always at each other’s throats? This was supposed to be fun. He didn’t want to deal with them sniping at each other the entire time, even if their mutual dislike was working to his benefit this trip. It hadn’t taken them very long to decide that the four of them sharing one room would be a guaranteed recipe for disaster. So, for the duration of their break, Quinn was Cooper’s roommate, and Patrick was Lonnie’s. Quinn probably couldn’t have planned it better if he’d tried, but truthfully, he would have rather had all his friends actually get along for once. In a couple of months, they’d be graduating and going their separate ways, save for him and Cooper, who would be moving into a two-bedroom apartment outside of Austin. (They’d both been offered entry level software engineering positions with an up and coming game developer in Texas.) He hated the thought of the last of their time together being tainted by anger and bad feelings.



“That’s exactly what I’d call it,” Cooper answered. “I’m equal opportunity, baby. There’s beauty in everyone if you pull your head out of your ass long enough to look.”



Patrick huffed. “Says the guy who’s never dated a troll in his life.”



“I’m hungry,” Quinn jumped in before Cooper could respond. Even less than the fighting, he didn’t want to listen to Patrick making jibes at Cooper. Yeah, he was protective. It came with the territory of being in love. He’d had to listen to Patrick’s griping about Cooper’s manwhore ways since they’d all moved in together the year before. Patrick had a boyfriend—a long distance one who rarely came to visit, but a boyfriend all the same—so why it mattered to him what Cooper did, Quinn couldn’t hazard a guess. Of course, there was the slightest, tiniest, no-way-in-hell chance that Patrick was also nursing a secret crush on Cooper. It seemed unlikely with all the animosity that flew around between them, but as much as the idea made him feel vaguely nauseated, Quinn supposed it wasn’t entirely outside of the realm of possibility. Patrick barely got to see his boyfriend during the school year, after all. He had to get lonely.



Quinn shifted uncomfortably in his seat and pushed that thought away. “Anyone up for a burger?”



Lonnie gave him an incredulous look. “Dude, we just ate lunch like an hour ago. How can you be hungry?”



“Hell, I’m always hungry myself,” Cooper said, and Quinn nearly sighed in relief. Argument averted. For now. “I could go for a burger, actually.”



Lonnie chuckled. “You guys are a couple of fat asses. I can drink a protein shake in the morning and be good ’til dinner.”



“Some of us happen to think protein shakes are nasty,” Patrick said disdainfully. He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose with one long finger. “You want to be healthy? You need to focus on lean meats and vegetables, and you shouldn’t be skipping meals either.”



“I doubt we’re going to find any vegetables at Santa Monica Pier.” Cooper sounded amused. “Or lean meat. They’re going to have carnival stuff: ice cream, hot dogs, pizza, cotton candy. In other words, my kind of food.”



Quinn grinned. “And mine.”



“Don’t even get me started on hot dogs.” Patrick made a disgusted sound. “If you only knew what was in those things…”



“Whatever it is,” Cooper said, and from his tone, Quinn could tell he was smiling, “it’s delicious.”



****



When they finally got to the pier, Quinn had to fight hard to hold in his excitement. Inwardly, he was bouncy as a little kid. He hadn’t been there in years—not since a family trip when he was seven—and it had been his idea to come. He knew the guys were indulging him by agreeing to spend a few hours of their afternoon there, but he was hoping they’d have fun anyway. The day was bright and gorgeous, the temperature warm enough to justify breaking out the shorts and tank tops, despite the cool, salty breeze coming in off the water. Being March and a weekday, the pier wasn’t overly crowded. They could walk around, eat some food, maybe get on a ride or two, and then it was back to their hotel in Los Angeles and some club Lonnie had been talking about non-stop since they’d left Utah. After a couple of days in LA, their plan was to drive up to San Francisco to check out The Castro; then it was back to Salt Lake. Not the wild and crazy spring break many of their peers were experiencing down in Mexico, but good enough for a group of video game and engineering nerds. “So where to first?” Cooper asked, tossing an arm around Quinn’s shoulders. Quinn tried to hide his shiver. He knew Coop was naturally demonstrative. A hug, a brush of fingers, a pat on the back—Cooper did those things without a second thought and probably not even the slightest suspicion of just how much they affected his friend. But Quinn felt heat spread over his entire body from the contact. It was hard to resist snuggling into Cooper’s embrace like he wanted to.



“Well, they do have an arcade,” Quinn said. It was one of the things he’d wanted to check out. Video game design was his and Cooper’s major, and he was hoping they might have some of the cool, older games, like the original Pac-Man or Galaga or maybe even Joust. He’d love to battle it out with Cooper as an ostrich-riding knight. Unfortunately, he hadn’t seen one of the original Joust machines since he was a teenager, and that one had been a cocktail cabinet. Playing on an upright would be fun. He preferred the higher controls, and the fact that he’d have to stand close to Cooper to play didn’t hurt.



Cooper grinned at him. “Let’s go then.”



They headed to the arcade with a grudging Patrick and smiling Lonnie trailing after them. Both of them were majoring in computer engineering, and neither one of them cared about video game design, but at least Lonnie was always up for playing. There had been some serious Call of Duty showdowns at their apartment. Patrick wasn’t a fan, though. He usually rolled his eyes and disappeared into his bedroom to work on whatever computer system he was building. Quinn didn’t think the arcade would hold his attention for long.



Turned out he was right. Patrick was very obviously bored after a few minutes. Behind his glasses, pale blue eyes appraised the admittedly shabby-looking arcade with obvious scorn. He crossed his arms over his chest and glared at Quinn. “Seriously? This place hasn’t been updated since 1985.”



“No one’s forcing you to stay,” Cooper said mildly. “Go walk the pier if you’re not interested.”



Patrick sighed and turned on his heel. Lonnie looked torn for a moment—stay with Cooper and Quinn or let his best friend wander off alone. After a second, he made his decision and gave them a rueful smile. “We’ll come back in an hour, okay?”



Quinn nodded. He could respect Lonnie’s loyalty to Patrick, even if he’d never much understood their friendship. Lonnie was way worse than Cooper in the promiscuity department, and yet Patrick never ribbed him for it. His disapproval seemed to be reserved solely for Cooper. Not that Cooper was really that bad—the people he brought back to the apartment were usually his boyfriends (or girlfriends), and Quinn had never known him to cheat—but saving this last time, it typically didn’t take him long to move from one relationship to the next. Lonnie’s partners were strictly female, as far as Quinn knew, and normally of the one-night-stand variety. He guessed it was just Cooper that Patrick had an issue with, not the sex itself.



Quinn honestly didn’t get all of the animosity. Cooper was just…well, he was awesome. Quinn wasn’t exactly unbiased, true, but for him Cooper’s attributes were blindingly obvious. He too was loyal and smart and funny. Genuine. And Patrick aside, he seemed to get along well with everyone. People naturally gravitated toward Cooper. He had this aura about him, this warm, positive energy that drew people in. Those who knew him loved him; those who didn’t know him wanted to. There was just something about Cooper Bradshaw. He made friends easily, and everywhere. Perhaps that was what Patrick disliked. He’d always been the shyest of their group, the most reserved. Maybe it was really that simple—Patrick envied whatever it was that made things so easy for Cooper and resented the fact that he didn’t have it himself. Quinn would probably never know, but it was the only answer that made sense.



Cooper’s shoulder bumped against his. “I see Street Fighter, and I think that might be an original Ms. Pac-Man over there. Come on.”



****



Forty minutes, two Ms. Pac-Man games, three rounds of Street Fighter,, and two pinball machine battles later, Quinn was standing in a crowd watching Cooper get his ass handed to him by a kid who couldn’t have been more than twelve. They were several songs into Dance Dance Revolution, and the kid was cool as a cucumber. Cooper, on the other hand, was pink-faced and drenched in sweat. At some point during a tricky foot combination, his hat had flown off, revealing thick black curls sadly flattened by the cap he was rarely without. Quinn wanted to touch them. He always wanted to touch them. He’d been wondering if they would be coarse like curly hair often was, or soft, the way he imagined in his fantasies. Maybe tonight he’d finally get to find out.



A few seconds more and Cooper missed a step, and then couldn’t seem to regain his rhythm. The round ended and Cooper leaned against the balance bar, his smile showing signs of obvious relief. “Good job, kid,” he panted, holding his hand out to the boy who’d effectively trounced him. The kid shook his hand and smiled back. Quinn almost laughed. Cooper was almost doubled over, and the kid didn’t even look winded.



Cooper gingerly stepped off the machine, wincing slightly. Quinn grinned and handed him his hat. “Sore?”



“Yeah.” Cooper ran a hand along the outside of his right thigh. “Man, I’m getting too old for this.”



“You’re twenty-one,” Quinn said with a laugh.



Cooper gave him a crooked smile as he settled the baseball cap on his head, bill backward. “Then I guess I need to start working out more often.”



Quinn wanted to say something to the contrary. Man, did he want to. Cooper might not have had some ripped, bodybuilder physique with massive biceps and a washboard stomach, but he was long and he was lean, and in Quinn’s opinion, pretty much perfect. But in an arcade, surrounded by kids and couples and other guys their age? Not exactly the best setting for a love confession.



“Want to head out and find Lonnie and Patrick?” Cooper asked. “They’re probably headed back this way.”



“Mind if we check those out first?” Quinn nodded toward the line of photo booths across the arcade. There were a bunch of the newer ones that offered the option of adding effects and choosing from different frames and backgrounds, but there were a couple of the old-fashioned booths too. Those were the ones he was interested in.



“Sure.”



Quinn glanced sideways at Cooper. “You can wait outside if you want. My mom and I used to go into these booths all the time when I was a kid. We have a collection of photo strips on our fridge back home. I think she’d like it if I sent her some.”



“Aww, what a good boy you are.” Cooper laughed and reached out to pat his head. “I can’t just let you take those pictures alone, though. A few maybe, but then we’ll do some together. Your mom will just have to put up with my ugly mug too.”



“She thinks you’re adorable,” Quinn said. He’d never mentioned it to Cooper before, but it was true. He’d sent her a picture of the two of them from a camping trip they’d taken with Lonnie and Patrick the previous fall, and she’d commented on how cute Cooper was. Then she’d promptly asked if they were dating. Quinn was sad to have to say no.



Cooper grinned. “Really? Well, then I guess she won’t mind at all.”



They made their way over to one of the older booths and shoved themselves inside. Quinn adjusted the stool to his height while Cooper yanked the curtain closed behind them. Luckily, Cooper was only an inch or two taller, so the setting would work for them both, although it wasn’t like there was very much room for the two of them to sit down anyway…unless Cooper sat on his lap. Quinn felt his cock stiffen at the thought and groaned inwardly. He couldn’t help it, though. Cooper was pressed right up against him as he fed quarters into the machine. Quinn was literally surrounded by Cooper’s smell—clean sweat, the soap he used to wash his clothes, the citrusy scent of his shampoo. All Quinn wanted to do was close his eyes and inhale.



“Okay, let’s do this,” Cooper said, seemingly oblivious to how utterly turned on Quinn was. “We can do some serious ones first, and then we’ll just get stupid.”

And so it started. With some creative leg positioning, Cooper managed to squeeze onto the stool next to him. The serious poses didn’t last very long. Soon Cooper was making the most ridiculous faces ever, and Quinn, who could see Cooper’s expressions in the mirrored lens, was laughing so hard he could hardly catch his breath.



“I think we only have two left,” Cooper murmured after they’d finished a few sessions. Quinn felt the scratch of stubble and the brush of lips across his cheek. “Mind if I taste you?”



Quinn jerked, but he barely had time to process the words before the scrape of Cooper’s stubble was replaced by the slick glide of his tongue. Quinn couldn’t help but laugh—it was unexpected, and it tickled a bit—but the laughter was breathless, and the slow stroke of that warm tongue sent a pulse of heat right to his dick. He shifted on the stool when Cooper did it again, this time lower, along the length of his jawbone.



“You taste good,” Cooper whispered near his ear. Quinn shivered. He was dreaming. He had to be dreaming. Any second he was going to wake up and discover he’d fallen asleep in the car and they hadn’t even gotten to the pier yet.



Didn’t happen. The camera flashed one more time, quick and startling, and seemed to take the noise of the arcade away with it. The games, the voices, the laughter—all of it disappeared. Quinn could hear nothing but the sound of his heartbeat pound, pound, pounding in his chest. Cooper shifted beside him, and Quinn swallowed thickly, turning his head so their eyes could meet. The moment stretched forever, tense and hot and trembling between them. Then Cooper gave him a small smile, oddly tender, and those smiling lips were pressed to his. It was just a brush, the lightest, lightest touch, but it set Quinn’s body on fire. He moaned softly and parted his lips, inviting Cooper’s tongue inside, but before it could happen, there was a bang on the outside of the booth.



“Sorry,” a giggling voice said, and whoever it was that had interrupted them moved away. But by then the moment was gone.



Cooper gave Quinn a regretful look and pulled back. “We’d better go find Lonnie and Pat.”



“Y-yeah,” Quinn said hoarsely. His voice sounded like he hadn’t spoken in years. He paused and cleared his throat. “Yeah, you go ahead. I’ll be out as soon as the pictures are done.”



Cooper nodded and ducked under the curtain. Quinn stayed there on that stool, for the moment too shocked to move, his mind replaying that tiny kiss over and over and over, until he heard the click of his pictures falling into the tray outside the booth.



What the hell just happened? He went to collect the pictures and stared dazedly at the very last one, which showed him laughing, eyes closed, as Cooper licked his cheek. And what does it even mean?



****



The rest of their time at the pier passed with surreal, excruciating slowness. Surreal because Quinn couldn’t quite believe it was happening, and excruciating because, well, goddamn, it was torture. He’d never thought torture could actually be sweet, but Cooper was driving him crazy in all the best of ways.



It started with the ice cream. They stopped to buy a couple of cones while searching for Lonnie and Patrick—chocolate for Quinn; vanilla for Cooper. Then they settled on a bench overlooking the water to wait. And sitting there, his thigh touching Cooper’s, their shoulders brushing, Quinn watched in absolute fascination as Cooper ate that vanilla cone in the lewdest, dirtiest, most scandalous manner possible. For Quinn, he might as well have been watching porn because he was about three seconds from coming by the time it was over. He was so distracted by watching Cooper tongue and suck at the top of his cone, he didn’t even notice that his own ice cream had started to melt and drip down his fist and onto his (thankfully dark-colored) cargo shorts. That is, not until Cooper himself pointed it out and proceeded to laugh his ass off while Quinn scrambled for napkins. He tossed the soggy remains of his cone into the garbage can next to the bench and scrubbed at the chocolaty mess on his shorts, cursing all the while.



Cooper eyed him in amusement the entire time, crunching idly on the last bit of his waffle cone, as if he hadn’t the vaguest idea why Quinn was so flustered. But just when Quinn thought he was finished cleaning up—well, as much as he could without a sink, anyway—Cooper gave him a sudden, serious look. “You missed a spot,” he said.



Quinn glanced down at his shorts. There was still a damp patch on the left leg, and little bits of napkin lint clung to the black material, but he didn’t see any obvious signs of ice cream.



“Not there.” Cooper’s fingers brushed a sticky spot on Quinn’s thumb. “Here.”



“Oh,” Quinn said dumbly. He couldn’t focus on anything but the feel of Cooper’s fingertips as they moved over his skin. He watched, completely entranced, as Cooper’s long fingers curled around his wrist, stared in breathless wonder as Cooper slowly brought his hand up to his lips, and choked out a moan when those lips parted and his thumb was engulfed by slick, wet heat. He drew in a sharp breath as Cooper started to suck, imagining that hot, greedy mouth around the head of his cock instead of the tip of his thumb. The thought dragged another moan from his gut. “Oh, God…”



“Hey, Coop! Quinn!”



Quinn flinched in surprise at the sound of Lonnie’s voice, instinctively trying to yank his hand away from Cooper, but Cooper held him fast. He took his time pulling back and finally released Quinn’s thumb with a final, teasing lick. Then he glanced over his shoulder, casual as could be, and waved at Lonnie and Patrick, who were approaching from the opposite end of the pier.



“Hey,” Cooper called. “Where have you guys been? We’ve been looking all over!”



He stood and walked over to meet their roommates while Quinn sat there in stunned silence, trying desperately to think of something he could use to cover his raging hard-on without making it too obvious. In his loose shorts and boxer-briefs, there was nothing he could do to disguise it. The moment he got up, everyone would see: the families and couples, the groups of gangly teenagers, the joggers and solitary dog-walkers. Guaranteed, by the power of Murphy’s Law, they were going to turn toward him simultaneously and zero in on the bulge behind his fly. Or at least that’s what his paranoid, overactive brain told him.



In the end, that was what helped him get it under control. Quinn didn’t exactly relish the thought of being known as the pervy guy with the boner for the rest of his time on the pier, not to mention the absolute shit both Lonnie and Patrick would give him if they noticed it themselves. Quinn would never live it down.



****



If Quinn thought the ice cream thing was bad, well, slap a sticker on his forehead and label him a fool. It wasn’t until later, on the Ferris wheel, when the situation really got out of hand. By then the sun was setting and the sky reminded Quinn of a color gradient he’d seen once—violet at the top, transitioning slowly into a fiery shade of red, then orange, and just above the horizon, a pale pinkish-gold.



Cooper suggested the Pacific Wheel as their last activity before heading back to Los Angeles for the night. After much eye-rolling and muttering, Patrick had finally agreed to go on, if for nothing but the novelty of riding the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel. That late in the day, with the temperature dipping below fifty, the line for the Ferris wheel was nearly deserted. When the operator stopped it to let them on, Quinn automatically went to follow Lonnie and Patrick into the gondola—it looked plenty big enough to accommodate them all—but Cooper shook his head and held him back.



“We’ll get the next one,” he said.



Nerves fluttered in Quinn’s stomach, tickling like butterfly wings against his skin. He knew right then he was in trouble. Cooper had been upping the ante ever since those licks in the photo booth, and Quinn could only imagine what else he might have coming. But beneath his anxiety, one other emotion stood out, burning bright, incandescent, and stronger than all the rest. Anticipation. The pure, breathless, undiluted air of expectancy. The knowledge that something was going to happen, and even if he didn’t know what, even if it confused the hell out of him, odds were he was going to love it anyway. Because it was Cooper, and at least for now the whys didn’t matter. They were inconsequential compared to the what-comes-next?.



They boarded the Ferris wheel a few gondolas after Patrick and Lonnie. The interior was spacious enough that they didn’t have to sit anywhere near each other if they hadn’t wanted, but Cooper slid onto the seat right beside him, and crowded Quinn against the opposite side. The wheel had no sooner started moving again than Cooper’s mouth was on his neck, open and hot.



“Coop,” Quinn started in half-hearted protest, “people will see.”



“They won’t.” Cooper’s lips brushed Quinn’s throat as he spoke. “And who cares if they do?”



Quinn couldn’t think of a response to that. Who did care? The sky had grown dark; the lights on the Ferris wheel were flashing, swirling, distracting; putting on a show for the spectators below. Unless someone was really, actively watching them, they’d probably go unnoticed, and even if they were noticed, with the way the gondola was made, it wasn’t as if anyone could actually see all that much anyway. They definitely wouldn’t be able to see anything that might be happening below Quinn and Cooper’s necks either—not that there was anything going on yet, but the idea alone made Quinn’s entire body flush.



“Don’t worry about it,” Cooper whispered. Then he pushed the strap of Quinn’s tank top aside and latched on to the skin he’d revealed, sucking and nibbling and scraping his teeth.



Quinn groaned softly and tilted his head to give Cooper more room. Oh, God. Feels so good. He hadn’t been touched in months, and the fact that it was Cooper doing the touching now made everything that much better, that much more thrilling and intense.



Quinn wasn’t sure how long the ride went on. Probably only a few minutes, when everything was said and done. But the whole situation had taken on a slow, dreamlike quality, as if it were happening in another place and time, and Cooper used every last second to his advantage. He licked and bit and teased, snuck a hand under Quinn’s shirt and tweaked his nipples, dragged long fingers down Quinn’s abdomen and brushed them over the length of his erection. Quinn shivered, imagining he could feel the heat of those fingers on his cock, despite the layers of clothing between them. He flexed his hips and pushed up into Cooper’s touch, seeking more contact. Cooper gave him a squeeze, and then started moving his hand. He rubbed and rubbed with the flat of his palm, applying warmth, pressure, sweet, delicious friction.



It didn’t take very long before Quinn started shaking, his breath hitching. He was going to come, right there on that Ferris wheel, with who knew how many other people around, but there was nothing he could do to stop it. Not that he wanted to—especially when Cooper buried his free hand in Quinn’s hair and tugged him close for a kiss. Their lips were parted when their mouths met, and Quinn couldn’t quite contain his small shudder of pleasure as Cooper’s tongue finally slid inside, stroking slick and hot against his. That was the moment he completely lost control, and the last of his restraint was carried away by the lights and that touch and the cold ocean breeze. He came in a rush, arching his back, moaning into that lush kiss, clutching at Cooper’s T-shirt with one desperate fist.



It took a few seconds for his vision to clear, for time to return to its normal pace. He realized then that the ride had gotten jerky from the frequent stops to let people off. They were only a few gondolas away from reaching the platform themselves, and he could see Patrick’s blond head and Lonnie’s mass of gingery waves as his friends made their way down the exit ramp. Quinn’s eyes met Cooper’s, which were heavy-lidded and dark with unfulfilled need. Cooper smiled at him, and that smile was so at odds with everything that had come before it, like a wish newly formed, vulnerable and hopeful and trembling.



“Why?” Quinn asked. He couldn’t help it. At the start of the ride, he’d told himself it didn’t matter. But it did, and he had to know.



“I’ve wanted you forever,” Cooper said. He reached up and ran his thumb across Quinn’s lower lip. “Longer than forever.”



Goose bumps erupted on Quinn’s flesh at those words. He shook a little, quivering from the tiny spark of joy that threatened to expand and send him up in flames. But if Cooper had wanted him for so long, why hadn’t he ever made a move before? “Why now?”



Cooper opened his mouth to answer, but they’d arrived at the platform already and the door was yanked open to let them step out.



Quinn stamped down his disappointment and chanced a quick glance down at his crotch while Cooper exited the gondola. There wasn’t much he could do if a wet spot was showing, but it was a relief to find the material dry and stained only with the remains of the ice cream incident from earlier. That didn’t mean he couldn’t feel it, though, the proof of his orgasm at Cooper’s hand, cold and sticky in his boxer-briefs. He felt everything as they met up with Lonnie and Patrick and made their way back to the car—the sore, tender place where Cooper had sucked and bitten his shoulder, the burn around his mouth from Cooper’s stubble, the memory of Cooper’s touch, his kiss, his taste, his breath on Quinn’s throat. Quinn felt it all…and still didn’t know quite what to make of it.



****



The club they wound up at a couple of hours later was in West Hollywood, and a lot more like a dive bar than an actual night club. The place was small and dark, but packed full, and it seemed like everyone was hot, from the shirtless bartenders to the go-go boys to the men and women in the crowd. Quinn was surprised by how friendly it seemed. He’d expected arrogance or pretension, given what he’d heard about the area they were visiting, but so far everyone he’d met had been nice and down to earth. He’d been asked to dance a few times, and there were plenty of guys he would have normally been attracted to, but none of that made any difference. Despite the atmosphere, the drinks, the roomful of eye candy, the old school video games Lonnie had thought would keep Quinn entertained, he just didn’t want to be there. Quinn had to give Lonnie points—he’d tried to find a place they would all enjoy, and he was confident enough not to care that he might be the only straight guy there—but Quinn just wasn’t in the mood to party. He was too busy wishing he and Cooper could be back at their hotel, alone. They needed to talk, and it was killing him that they couldn’t.



Between showering and dressing and Lonnie coming in and out of their room, there hadn’t been time to say much when they’d gotten back to the hotel from the pier. Then, the next thing Quinn knew, they were packed into the car with Lonnie and Patrick again, and, well, it wasn’t as if he wanted an audience for their conversation. But, God, he felt so antsy now, impatient to have everything out in the open, worried that all Cooper wanted from him was something physical. It was a valid concern, considering how Cooper had been acting throughout the day. If he wanted more, why wouldn’t he have just said? Why tease and make it a game?



Quinn glanced over to where Cooper was playing pool with a couple of guys he’d met shortly after getting to the bar. He was in his element—laughing and joking, being his usual, goofball self and easily holding the attention of the people around him—and, man, did he look gorgeous. Quinn literally itched to touch him. He wanted to bury his fingers in Cooper’s short, dark curls, slip his hands under Coop’s teal-colored V-neck and feel the texture of his skin, cup Cooper’s ass and drag him close for a kiss. Quinn wanted it all, wished he had six hands so he could do everything at once. He shook his head and almost laughed at that mental image. Fuck, I’m losing it. He’s making me insane.



As if sensing his thoughts, Cooper looked his way, his dark eyes meeting Quinn’s for a long, intense moment. Then he turned back to the guys he was playing pool with, and Quinn dropped his own gaze to his untouched beer glass.



“You guys just need to fuck and get it over with already,” Patrick’s voice said from beside him.



Quinn’s hand jerked, nearly sending his glass flying over the edge of their table. His eyes shot to Patrick’s.



Patrick heaved a sigh of the much-maligned. “Yes, you’re that obvious,” he said before Quinn could say anything. “Both of you. It’s ridiculous. Lonnie and I have been tip-toeing around, waiting for you two to get a fucking clue for months now. I can’t say I understand why you want him, but if you do, stop being pathetic and go get him.”



“You know?” Quinn asked, stunned. “Lonnie knows?”



Patrick glanced heavenward, as if asking for patience. “Everyone knows.”



Quinn sputtered. “But—b-but—”



“Sorry to tell you, but you haven’t been hiding anything, honey. You only think you have. There are just two people unaware of the way you guys feel about each other: you and Cooper.” Patrick shook his head and knocked back the rest of his rum and Coke. “Christ, it’s like the blind leading the blind. Why do you think he hasn’t dated anyone since Simon?”



Quinn blinked. “Well, I thought…I thought he was just sad about everything, you know?”



Patrick shrugged and signaled a passing waiter for another drink. “Maybe he was. But the reason for him breaking up with Simon in the first place?” Patrick looked at Quinn, pale blue eyes serious. “That was you.”



Quinn didn’t know what to say. It was a relief that Lonnie showed up right then, begging Patrick to join him on the dance floor and saving Quinn from having to reply. He’d never even considered what Patrick had just suggested, but now that he replayed Cooper’s answer from the time Quinn had asked him about the breakup, he had to wonder—had Cooper meant that Simon deserved better because he was in love with Quinn instead? Or in the very least, wanted Quinn instead?



He was so caught up in his thoughts Quinn didn’t notice someone was standing beside him until a hand touched his arm. He knew it was Cooper before he even looked, recognized that familiar, citrusy scent, the way those long fingers felt on his skin. He could’ve been blindfolded with his ears plugged, didn’t matter; he’d know Cooper by those two things alone.



“Come on,” Cooper said next to his ear. He grabbed Quinn’s hand, and Quinn let himself be tugged off his stool, dragged past the dance floor, the crowd of people waiting for drinks at the bar, the bathrooms, the couples that lined the hallway, until he was backed up against a wall in the darkest, farthest corner with Cooper’s body pressed tightly to his.



“What are you doing to me?” Quinn asked as Cooper started to touch him, lick his neck, drop kisses along the length of his jaw. “Do you just wanna fuck me? Is that what you want?”



Cooper shook his head. “I don’t want to fuck you.”



Quinn’s stomach dropped, and his heart stuttered. He forced himself to stay cool, pulling back a bit so he could see Cooper’s face. “If you don’t want me, why are you so hard?” Quinn reached between their bodies and rubbed his palm over Cooper’s fly and the erection he could feel straining underneath, watching as Cooper’s expression changed, and his eyes went hazy with lust. “Give me something, Cooper. You’ve been messing with my head all day.”

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