No One Like Us

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Summary

When Zack, a nonbinary model, is blindsided by their long-term partner suddenly walking out, they must find a way to keep their apartment and support a lifestyle they only ever shared with one person. Evan is tired of living on his parents' couch while he gets his game design business off the ground and needs somewhere cheap to stay. A chance meeting at a bar provides him with just the opportunity he's looking for, but he may be getting in deeper than he is ready for.

Genre:
Romance / Drama
Author:
Blair Sterling
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
5
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
18+

Prologue

Jared walked out the door without even looking back. I gave him ten years of my life and he walked out without looking back. I stared at the cheap wood veneer door of our tiny one bedroom. My tiny one bedroom. He didn’t live here anymore.

I sank to the floor in disbelief as the realization sank into me. He wasn’t coming back. This was the last fight. That was the last time he would look at me. I touched my hand to my cheek where his slap still stung. That was the last time he would touch me. Dammit, I should have been the one to walk out. What would I do now? How was I going to pay rent?

Then the sad pit inside began to twist into anger. He was the one who didn’t want me to work full time. He said he would take care of me. He wanted me to be happy and carefree. He promised me.

I spent the next hour thinking through all the ways he had made me dependent on him. I trusted him. That was my mistake. I wanted him to be real. I was afraid I would never meet another man like him, one who could love me.

I met him in high school. I was in high school, not him. He was out of school already. He was out of college. It didn’t occur to me at the time that there may have been anything wrong with that.

I had snuck into the one nightclub in town with a fake ID. My fake name was Stephanie. They don’t check too carefully when you’re dressed up cute, and I was tall for my age. I had gone alone. I didn’t want anyone else to know. I prayed desperately that no one else from school would be there; and if they were that they wouldn’t be able to recognize me.

The place was crowded. The music was so loud that I could feel it in my chest more than I could hear it. I hung near the walls, afraid to actually put myself out there. Several men passed by and asked me to dance. It wasn’t until a little while later that I noticed him staring at me. He was a tall, slim man with dark, close-cropped hair. He was clean-cut but had the shadow of a beard visible even in the low light. His eyes were an intense dark brown that cut into me from across the room. No one had ever looked at me that way. It excited me. I pulled the short skirt I secretly borrowed from my older sister down slightly, self-consciously. I lowered my eyelids so my fake lashes would curtain my eyes in a sultry fashion liked I’d seen girls do on TV. I twirled my blond hair absently around my finger, then looked back up at him. He was still looking at me. My heart beat fast as our eyes met. I was excited, but also scared.

This was the attention I had been looking for, but now I wasn’t certain I wanted it. This was a dangerous game. I was underage and inexperienced.

And I was a boy.

Well, that’s the simple way to put it at least. I never felt like a boy. I never felt like a girl either, but being a girl was more fun, especially since I liked boys. I didn’t yet have words for who I was. I had always been slender, small, for a boy, but I was still awfully tall for a girl. At 15 I was already almost six feet tall, but was slender like a model, much unlike the other boys in my class. Even the skinny ones were putting on muscle by 15. Not me. At school, I was just The Weird Boy. I kept to myself most of the time anyway.

Here I was, the quiet art kid from class, the one who barely talked to anyone, at a nightclub in a mini skirt and a blond wig and fake eyelashes, making eyes at a strange man at the bar. I must have been crazy.

He got up from the bar and began walking towards me. His eyes had a hunger in them that I understood, but I had never seen aimed at me. I stiffened against the wall unsure if I wanted to run away or face this. A part of me tried to melt into the wall behind me, and another part tried to exude a feminine allure I barely understood. What if he tried to do something and discovered I didn’t have what he expected to find under my clothes? National stories of people like me being killed in situations just like that suddenly flashed through my mind. What was I doing here? I was so stupid! I hadn’t come anticipating that anyone would actually approach me, but I had been naive and stupid.

The man walked up and put an arm against the wall, blocking my escape route. He looked me up and down and began to ask me questions. My mind was blank, and it was so loud I could barely hear his voice, let alone make out what he was saying. I looked over his shoulder at the exit. It was right there, but I was afraid of what he would do if I tried to push past him. I was about ready to make a break for it when I heard another voice beside me.

“Hey hun, is this guy making you uncomfortable?” He spoke quietly enough that being that close to my ear didn’t hurt, but loud enough that the guy from the bar could hear him too. He was slightly behind me, leaning over in a protective manner, but not blocking me. He was close enough that I could smell his cologne. It was intoxicating.

“Hey man, I’m just talking to her,” said the guy from the bar. “You’re not uncomfortable are you?” he said, directing his words at me now, with a snide smile that said ‘tell him I’m right so he goes away.’

I started to mumble that I was just getting ready to leave, but my words got lost in the noise.

My protector put a hand on my shoulder. “You’re going to need to leave my friend alone. She’s obviously not interested, so beat it.” There was a slightly menacing tone to his voice that would have sounded dangerous had it not been used to protect me.

“Fine, whatever, I wasn’t really interested anyway.” The guy from the bar put his hands up, shook his head, and disappeared into the crowd.

I turned to thank my new friend, but he spoke first,

“You’re a bit young to be in a place like this aren’t you?”

“I’m twenty-one,” I shouted over the music.

“Sure,” he said, and he took my arm and guided me through the crowd and out the door. Once outside he stopped and turned to me, his hands hooked into his jean’s pockets. “Can I treat you to something to eat?”

Now that we were outside and I was standing in front of him, I finally got a good look at my savior. He was a few inches taller than me with broad shoulders, neatly combed, dark blond hair, and a black turtleneck sweater. He was clean-shaven and had clear blue eyes that observed me suspiciously. I got the feeling his offer to take me somewhere was more to keep me from going back into the club than because he wanted my company.

“Yeah, I guess,” I said, suddenly conscious of my voice, since it was so much quieter outside. Although my voice had already changed, I still had a higher-pitched voice than most of the other boys in my class. Even so, I tried to pitch it higher to be convincingly feminine. I had no idea how successful I was. He didn’t say anything but beckoned me to walk with him.

We went to a diner not far away and sat at an isolated booth in the smoking section.

After we ordered and the waitress left us alone he asked me, “What’s your name kid?”

“Stephanie,” I said, hesitantly.

“Your real name,” he said.

I just looked at him, my pulse pounding in my ears.

“Alright, fine, Stephanie, how old are you really?” He seemed to be genuinely concerned for my wellbeing, so for this question, I caved.

“I’m fifteen,” I mumbled.

“Of course you are,” he sighed and his eyes studied the ceiling for a moment. “What were you doing alone at a place like that at fifteen, Stephanie?”

Hearing him use my fake name felt weird. I didn’t pick it, it was the name that came with the ID.

He began lecturing me about how dangerous places like that were, about what men think when they see a girl like me, about what could have happened if he hadn’t intervened. It felt good to be lectured about my safety like a girl.

He went on for a few minutes and I sat there blushing and trying to look properly admonished, until he said a sequence of words it took my brain several moments to sort out and understand.

“What if he had actually gotten you alone and realized the truth? You have no idea how dangerous that is.”

Our food arrived.

The blood drained from my face and my veins ran cold. My heart was as loud in my ears as the bass had been in the club. I studied the plate in front of me without seeing it. My mind raced a million miles a minute. I tried to collect my thoughts in some kind of coherent logic.

He had protected me. He hadn’t made any mention of it before this. He wasn’t running away. He was telling me it was dangerous, but he didn’t seem to be threatening that danger himself. Was he a person I could trust?

I slowly lifted my eyes to judge his face through my lashes. He was also looking at his food. I wasn’t sure if he had intended to reveal his suspicions. He looked a little sheepish; perhaps he was worried he had assumed wrong.

“I know it’s dangerous,” I said quietly, without adjusting my voice up.

He seemed to let out a sigh of relief. “God, I’m glad I was right... I’m not sure what I would have said if I was wrong. And I don’t suppose most fifteen-year-old girls want to hear that they look like they could be a boy.”

“I don’t exactly want to hear it either,” I mumbled, and then started to eat my pancakes.

He smiled at me, and let out a light laugh. His teeth were a brilliant white, and his smile crinkled the skin at the corners of his eyes, making them seem to sparkle. He was a very attractive man. He wasn’t old, but I knew he was older than me. He was an adult, and I was a kid. But he was beautiful.

We spent the rest of the meal talking about my school and home, and how I couldn’t dress like this most of the time. My mom wouldn’t allow it, and I could only get away with a little at school without either getting beat up or suspended. It was easier just to lay low. It wasn’t even that I wanted to dress like a girl at school, I just didn’t want to have to dress like a boy. I wanted to be able to be pretty.

“You are pretty,” he said when I told him that. He didn’t seem shocked by anything I had to say. He just listened while I spilled worries and confusions that I had never been able to tell anyone.

“Do you want to be a woman?” he asked me finally.

“Well... no, not all the time.” I scratched my head and thought about how best to describe it. “It’s not like that. I like being me, I just want to be able to be all of me.”

He smiled his brilliant smile again, and my heart fluttered.

“What’s your real name,” he asked me again.

“Zack. Zackery,” I said.

“That’s a pretty name,” he said. “Hi, Zackery. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Jared.”

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