Chapter One - Jace
Some say that’s the age of your life beginning, High school is over and it’s time to move on and start the journey to become the person you’re going to be for the rest of your life.
Go to college, or don’t. Get a job, or don’t. Get a significant other, or don’t. The options are endless.
Except what if they’re not?
I’m nineteen and a year and a half ago I thought I was the luckiest kid alive. I had a family who supported me after I came out, a boyfriend who rocked my world and I was a drummer in a kick ass rock band.
Everything was perfect.
And then it wasn’t.
I’m nineteen and my life isn’t beginning, at least not for the first time.
“Come on, it’s been almost two years.” Ben said. “You haven’t dated anyone.”
He stood in the kitchen browsing the web on his laptop as he spoke. He glanced up at me for a moment, his blue eyes bored holes through mine as he spoke; and then he looked back down.
“I’ve been busy with the band.” I protested with a frown I couldn’t help but feel acute annoyance at the fact that Ben had noticed my lack of dating. Being as busy as I was, I was sure it was understandable and it wasn’t as though I was unhappy. It had been a tough two years since my first love Cris had died, but I’d come out the other side of it eventually. Dating just wasn’t important right now.
“I didn’t know Cris apart from the short time I saw you two together.” Ben noted. “But I know he’d want you to move on. There is a new dating site. It’s specifically for the LGBQT community. Maybe you could sign up?”
I shrugged, the idea of looking for a date on a computer weirded me out. Besides it wasn’t like there was a shortage of guys slipping me their numbers, especially after concerts. I just hadn’t found anyone I wanted to spend my time with. I had never liked the idea of meaningless sex either.
As a closet hopeless romantic, I wanted timeless storybook love, like the love my parents had. My two sisters had both found that sweet storybook kind of love too. Scarlett had fallen in love with my bandmate Xavier, even though once upon a time, they’d been almost enemies and Toni had met Ben’s older brother Ethan a while ago and it had been instant love. I wanted that too. I wanted the love I’d had with Cris, but even I knew I couldn’t be that lucky. Like lightning, true love wasn’t likely to strike twice.
“I’m on there.” Ben exclaimed. “Granted I haven’t found a date yet, but it’s mostly because I compare everyone to this one guy, and well… none of them measure up.”
I watched Ben critically, he didn’t look up this time. He closed the lid on his apple computer and drummed his fingers against the marble benchtop.
“Your ex, Mike?” I scoffed. “The one who ran off with Scarlett’s pool boy? Consider yourself lucky. The guy was a douche.” Douche with a capital D. He’d never been faithful to Ben. I could still remember the day I’d caught him and the pool boy together. My nostrils filled with the smell of chlorine at the memory. They had been mucking around in the chemical shed behind the house and I happened to be the lucky one who heard the banging. I had opened the door to see the pool boy and Ben’s boyfriend together and at the time had been tempted to grab a bottle of bleach from the shed to rinse out my eyes, but the bleach had been by Mike’s bare ass. I shuddered and brought myself back to reality, that day was in the past and as long as I was around, it and Mike would stay there.
I looked up at Ben again, he swallowed hard and ran his hands through his dark brown hair. “Yeah, Mike.” He replied with a cautious nod.
I shook my head and took a few steps until I stood beside him. Ben was attractive, more than, in fact and his ex, Mike was a tool. Ben could do so much better and it pissed me off, that he was comparing potential future guys against him, of all people. I chucked my arm over his shoulder and grinned.
“You can do better. Let’s have a look at this site. Then at least one of us can have a date yeah.”
Ben pulled his laptop off the bench and walked over to the couch, shrugging my arm off his shoulder as he moved. “Fine.”
Ben and I had been roommates for a while and it worked. I had needed to get out of mom and Dads, and he needed to rent a room out. He usually went on tour with Scarlett as her manager so I was here when he wasn’t, and he was here when I wasn’t. Despite our conflicting schedules, we had formed a strong friendship.
He sat down and opened the lid of his laptop again. I sat down beside him and looked at the screen. His profile was bland and the only picture was of Ben’s face from the year beforehand at our annual Christmas party. He looked just fine, but Ben was fine, not just fine.
“Dude. No wonder you haven’t been swept off your feet yet.” I remarked.
“I wasn’t showing you this for me.” Ben grumbled shutting the laptop. I rolled my eyes before looking up at his frowning face. I caught him in my gaze as I placed my hand over his and flicked the screen back up. “I’ll make you a deal.” I smiled.
Ben’s blue eyes hadn’t left mine, they flickered with interest and he smirked at me. “I’m listening.”
“I’ll make a profile, if you let me update yours.” I grinned. “Because bro, this is just sad.” I pointed at the year old photo and bare profile. We could and would do better. It wasn’t going to be too difficult when the one thing listed beside likes on Ben’s profile was wine, and only wine.
Ben’s gaze fell to the computer and he shrugged. “Sure.”
Granted, usually my hair brain schemes failed to work out, however this time I was filled with a good feeling. I stood up and pulled my phone from my pocket. Jay’s wife Isla had been a professional photographer for a few years now and I’d babysat their daughter Amber a few times on the promise of a favor should I need it. Judging by the year old drunken photo Ben currently had as his profile picture, I needed that favor now.
I felt a grin etch across my face while Ben watched me with caution. His lips were slightly apart, and I could see his tongue touching the backs of his bottom teeth. His eyes were wide and I could almost see the fear radiating from him. He tried to hide it by swallowing and shifting his body to the right, but I saw through it. He couldn’t hide his emotions from me. He had always been such an open book.
The phone rung twice before Isla answered. “Hey Jace. You okay?”
“You know that favor?” I asked, I kept my eyes on Ben’s. His widened eyes narrowed and he began to shake his head.
“You free for an hour?”
“Actually I am. Jay and Amber are at Gymboree. What’s up?” She exclaimed.
“Ben’s on a dating site and his profile is like a stale wine that’s been sitting in the sun.” Ben he rolled his eyes at me and pursed his lips. “Can you come take some photos?”
Isla didn’t answer for quite a while, in fact at one point I pulled my phone back to check the call was still connected before she finally answered. “Yeah sure. Um, I’ll be over soon.” She sounded slightly confused, and while I wasn’t sure why, I needed the pictures so didn’t question it.
“Great. I’ll have coffee and cookies waiting.”
“Alright, alright Jace, you don’t need to bribe me, But if you’re making them… I want those white chocolate macadamia nut ones please!” Isla said, her tone was jovial again now. I smiled and walked across the floor into the kitchen.
“Done.” I laughed, the one thing I’d learned to cook while living at home was cookies.
I hung up and placed my phone down on the benchtop. I grinned as I looked back over at Ben who was staring at me now with more than a mere tinge of worry. “Photos?” He questioned as he stood up, now sounding as mortified as he looked.
“This picture is great. But you’re better than some drunken old head shot.” From an objective point of view Ben was gorgeous, and he didn’t even know it. It was one of the things I liked most about him, but it was also one of the things that annoyed me most. Because he never understood just what he was worth.
“I am?” He replied as he bit his lip, his demeanor took a sudden turn and he looked uncertain and shy. Ben wasn’t usually so shy, in fact he had doubled as my rock star sister’s protector on more than one occasion. Ben was characteristically strong, both emotionally and physically, but for some reason I couldn’t see that right now.
I walked back across the living room and placed my hands on Ben’s broad shoulders. He was slightly taller than me, and taller than Cris had been. I had meant to start talking, but as soon as I touched him the random thought of Cris had caught me off guard. I struggled to focus on anything for a moment.
Ben was hot, not only was he attractive, but he was also an amazing guy, if things were different, and if I hadn’t been grieving in the first days of our friendship; then maybe he could have been the guy who ended up catching my interest, but it hadn’t happened like that. We were friends and I was comfortable with that.
Don’t get me wrong he’s a complete catch for sure, but for some reason after Mike, he hadn’t dated. Now Ben was behaving insecure on a level that was so out of character, even for him, and I wasn’t sure why.
“You’re a catch man.” I said after moments of silence, my hands still sat flush on his shoulders.
Ben scoffed and walked away from me. My arms fell to my sides and I frowned. “I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be intimate.” He whispered. “Being a catch means nothing if the one person I want to be a catch for doesn’t feel the same way.”
“Mike is a knob head.” I groaned. Knob head was being kind, he was a walking talking plank of wood and he had been splintering Ben’s life for way too long.
“It’s not Mike.” Ben stopped walking. His voice was tight, but loud and he sounded exasperated. He had never yelled at me before, and I instantly felt guilty for pushing him to that point. He began to move again, this time stopping at his bedroom door. “I’m sorry. This was a bad idea, forget I mentioned it.”
He walked into his room and closed the door behind him with a thud. I tried to ignore the miffed feeling that washed over me. Ben and I weren’t just quite good friends, we were best friends. Best friends who told one another everything. Except he hadn’t told me about this new guy; and now he was yelling at me too? Something weird was going on.
I slumped on to the couch in front of Ben’s computer. My eyes stared at the screen and before a minute had even passed my curiosity had overwhelmed me. I clicked around the site, looking around the message boards and through profiles. It was obvious that some of the guys were just looking for sex, but that wasn’t the end of it. Some were definitely looking for more than that and one thing was for certain; the site had a bit of everything.
Time was getting away on me, I closed the laptop screen and looked around the apartment. The white walls were filled with pictures of our patchwork family. Pictures of Ben laughing and happy. This was the Ben people needed to see. The Ben I saw every day.
I stood up and walked across the plush grey carpet. I needed to make the promised cookies before Isla arrived. 1, to bribe her and 2, to bribe Ben.
I was going to have to ask him about the other guy later, while I tried not to get annoyed about him keeping it from me.
Lucky for me the smell of the cookies in the oven ended up being enough to tempt Ben from his room. He emerged far from happy however, slovenly sitting down at the breakfast bar without murmuring a single word. Although he wasn’t looking directly at me I could see that his bright blue eyes weren’t sparkling like usual, in fact they were dark and sunken.
“I shouldn’t have yelled at you. I’m sorry Jace.” He whispered after a minute. His voice was a polar opposite to when he’d stormed off. He almost sounded weak.
“Why didn’t you tell me there was someone else?”
“I just… I didn’t know how to.” He shrugged, his face lifted and his eyes met mine. All the frustration was gone now, all I could see was an aching defeat. Whoever this guy was had Ben tied up in knots.
“So who is he?” The words came out sounding jealous, which surprised me. I wasn’t jealous, just far too overprotective for my own good. I walked around the breakfast bar until I stood in front of him.
Ben dipped his head and looked away again. “It doesn’t matter because it’s completely one-sided.”
I frowned and pulled him into a hug. “I’m sorry man, he doesn’t know what he is missing then.” He pulled back from my arms the instant I placed them around him. I frowned, I’d overstepped the mark. He didn’t want to go too deep in to it, and here I was pressuring him.
He walked over to the couch while I walked back into the kitchen to clean up the remnants of cookie dough off the flour covered marble counter top.
“You looked around I see.” He noted as he clicked around on his computer.
“It’s an interesting site.” I admitted, I looked up to gauge Ben’s reaction. With widened eyes, he smiled.
“So you’re going to do it… Take the plunge and date again?” He question, his pain had all but disappeared. In that instant, he was himself again.
“We’ll see. Let’s update your profile first, and then work on mine. Okay?”
Ben nodded and pulled the laptop up on to his jean covered legs. “Sounds like a plan.”
Isla arrived just as the cookies were being taken from the oven. She walked in, stopping to whisper something to Ben. Ben shushed her before he got up and walked into the kitchen. “Coffee?”
“Yes please.” She murmured. I looked up at her and smiled, but she frowned and narrowed her eyes. It confused me, but I chose to ignore it. “Okay, so I was thinking for Ben’s profile pictures you should at least get some full body ones. I mean, dudes got a killer bod, and a great personality. He should be a hot commodity right.”
Isla nodded slowly, her jaw tensed and her mouth set in a hard line, she looked over at Ben. “Are you sure about this Ben. Wouldn’t it just be easier if you…”
“Isla, its fine.” He warned, I noticed his eyes were darker than before. He placed a cup of coffee on the bench in front of Isla and shrugged. “Please.”
She let out a dismissive sigh before she picked up a still warm cookie from the tray. “Let’s get started then.”
Isla was a professional, she knew how to make someone look like they were born to model. It didn’t matter what they looked like, or who they were and as the light in the apartment bounced from one wall to the other, even I could see that the ambience was perfect. I watched as Ben’s insecurities slowly faded to nothing and before long, like all of Isla’s subjects before he looked like a male model. Isla stopped after a few minutes, she turned to look at me with a glint in her green eyes.
“I’ve got an idea.” She murmured as she placed the camera down on the glass top coffee table. She didn’t explain any further, instead she walked across the floor to where Ben stood. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, their voices were too low, but I could see the sudden look of anguish on Ben’s face. His eyes flitted over to me for a moment and then all color faded from his face until he was so pale, he could almost pass for a ghost. He looked away and removed his shirt. I was confused, but drawn in to him until I was so caught up in the moment I couldn’t look away. He was surprisingly muscular, the light that had bounced through the window only minutes ago now surrounded him like an angelic glow. He tensed his biceps, and I had to force myself I looked away. Something washed over me, a surge of something… primal. I turned around and picked a clean glass up off the bench. I filled it to the brim with cold tap water, my throat burned with thirst, although I wasn’t all that sure why. The temperature in the apartment felt like it had risen a few degrees, it had to be the reason I was feeling so flustered. I gulped the water back, and although it cooled the back of my burning throat it didn’t do anything to cure the thirst I was feeling.
“Happy?” Ben spoke to Isla in the same tone he’d used toward me earlier, he was losing his patience. I turned back and looked at Isla, who seemed to be ignoring his mood. She nodded before walking back to her camera. My eyes drifted across the room and stopped once more on Ben. His sculpted chest was like a forbidden fruit. I found myself wanting to touch his skin just because he looked so good. As superficial as it was I had to admit my best friend was sending my lust meter in to overdrive. I looked down at the bench again and lifted my hands to my head, I tried to steady my breathing as I pulled my hands down my face in frustration. Ben was right, I needed to get out more. Staring at my friend like he was a piece of meat really wasn’t healthy.
“Jace…” Isla called. She was staring at me, and I wondered as I looked back at her, how long she had been waiting for my attention. I gave her my best happy, non pervy smile.
“Yeah?” My voice was a little squeaky prepubescent teenage boy, but I hoped they hadn’t noticed. Isla smiled back at me while pointing back and forth between Ben and I.
“I said I want to do a couple of you too.” She murmured. She picked up her camera and fiddled with the lens.
“Huh? I don’t need photo’s I already have a heap.” I complained. Being the drummer of a world famous rock band had taken care of that. I had enough photos of myself to cover the walls of my bedroom… twice if I wanted to.
“No, for my portfolio. You know I focus on the human body and love. I need a shot of boys.”
Boys. Plural. Me and Ben. Why did I suddenly feel nauseated and frozen with fear?
“Boys?” I croaked. “As in?”
“You and Ben together.” She shrugged. Her eyes tracked to Ben, but I didn’t stop looking at her. What was her deal? Ben and I weren’t like that and she wasn’t likely to get the chemistry she needed for her shots from us. I’d seen her portfolio, it was all about love and sex. Something I had limited experience with. Besides our apartment was hardly the place to stage a professional shoot.
“You’re kidding right?” I grumbled. She had to be.
“No.” She said evenly, she looked back at me and smiled. “You’re both gorgeous boys. Please. You’d be doing me a favor, so technically I’d still owe you and today was just an extra freebie.”
“Don’t force him Isla. He clearly doesn’t want to.” Ben exclaimed. He still stood there topless in the lounge and now had his arms wrapped around himself, causing his biceps to bulge even more. I swallowed back the ball of something that was still in the back of my throat.
“It’s just we’re best friends. The photos will only be good enough for an awkward family photo website.” I complained, although, with these crazy, inappropriate feelings I was having, maybe it would be hot. Too hot.
“I’m a pretty good Photographer Jace. I think you can trust me.” She replied.
I sighed and looked back at Ben. “And you’re okay with this?”
I was beginning to regret this idea. All I had wanted was some nice photos of Ben for his profile, not photos of us together. It just seemed weird.
“Yeah, I guess.” He shrugged.
My lips twitched. If he was okay with this, then why wasn’t I? Why couldn’t I pose with my best friend? I forced the thoughts of Ben’s beautiful biceps from my mind and called it momentary insanity.
“Fine. Where do you want me?” I said looking around the room. Ben stood by the wall closest to the bathroom. It was bare of picture frames and solid white, just clean cut enough to pass for professional I guess.
Isla grinned and pointed at Ben. I walked across the room, stopping beside my half naked best friend. “Alright. Take your shirt off.” She ordered.
“How the fuck did me calling to get Ben some shots turn into this?” I asked Isla.
She smiled and took a bite of a cookie before twisting something on her oversized camera. “Truth is, I’ve been wanting to ask you both for a while. I wanted to add lovers of all kinds to my portfolio.”
“We’re not lovers.” I mumbled taking my shirt off, I ignored the immediate self-consciousness that dawned on me as I stood next to Ben, The quicker this was done, the better. “And finding gay talent isn’t that hard, especially in LA.”
“I didn’t want just anyone Jace.” She replied.
“She wanted you. She wanted Jace from Going Nowhere.” Ben said sounding miffed. “Didn’t you?”
I tilted my head, was that true? Did she just want me because of my celebrity status, because it was unlike Isla to use anyone like that. Isla shook her head emphatically and looked at Ben with narrowed eyes.
“I wanted both of you, I thought you were comfortable with each other, clearly I was mistaken. Put your shirts back on. I’ll find someone else to fulfil that part of my portfolio.”
I frowned, guilt pinched my gut and I felt bad. I’d seen Isla’s work. She was amazing. She had an eye for detail. She knew how to make things work and for some reason she thought this would. I forced a deep breath through my restricted chest and turned to face Ben. He looked down at me, His blue eyes hooked into mine.
“We’re comfortable with each other right?” I asked, although I wasn’t sure who the question was directed at. Him, or me.
“Yes.” Ben replied, his eyes didn’t move from mine and I felt safe.
“Then we’re in.” The words left my lips, and I was surprised to find that instant regret hadn’t followed.
“Yay!” Isla jumped up and down on the spot like we were kids who had just agreed to play her favorite game. Like the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland, she grinned and stepped forward her hand grabbed mine. She placed it on Ben’s shoulder, the place where I had put my hands before of my own accord. Except this time there was less clothing, I could feel his hot smooth skin underneath the palm of my hand. I had to focus on my breathing, because for some reason being this close to a half-naked Ben was having an effect on my body that I couldn’t control. Isla lifted Ben’s arms and placed them around my back. Then, with little eloquence, she pushed us in to one another until my head rest against his chest. It was nice and he felt warm. It was a strange reaction, but for the first time in two years I felt like I could move on, I felt safe with him. Only this wasn’t real. It was pretend. I had not been this close to another man like this since Cris. That had to explain my reaction and it had to explain the raging hard on I was currently sporting…. Right?
Because this was Ben. My friend. My Best friend.
“Stay just like that.” She murmured as she walked back to her camera. She took a few pictures, then stopped and tilted her head. “You guys look amazing together, and after the first couple of shots you looked less like deer in headlights too. Just relax. This is all in the name of art.”
I nodded. Art, right.
Isla looked between Ben and I and smiled. It felt like she could see something I couldn’t, her eyes danced like she knew something, and had I been capable of speech I’d have asked her what.
She placed her camera down and walked back to us. Without a word she had Ben kneel on the ground in front of me. I couldn’t look down at him, afraid that seeing Ben at that angle might send a barrage of images through my head that I might never be able to recover from. Except looking at Ben was exactly what Isla wanted me to do. She placed one of my hands on his head and let the other hang at my side. Ben’s right arm stretched up, resting against my chest, while the fingers on his other hand hooked through the loops of my jeans. She guided his lips to my hip bone and I gulped as they grazed against my skin.
Isla walked back to her spot, and for a second I couldn’t compose myself. I let my head hang back. This was just too much. I heard the click of the camera before I looked down at Ben. His eyes connected with mine. They were heavy lidded and dark, I took solace in the fact he seemed to be affected by this too.
We stood there for a minute, just staring at one another, caught up in a weird, yet erotic pose.
“Guys, I think I’ve got enough.” Isla said after what seemed like forever. “You two have great chemistry. The pictures look hot.”
I could hear Isla talking, but my body wasn’t reacting as fast as I wanted it too. Ben pulled away quicker, grabbing his shirt before he stood up. “Uh, well. That was fun.” He mumbled.
“Yeah. I guess so.” I replied.
“I’ll email those profile shots to you once I get home okay Jace.” Isla smiled as she packed her stuff up. “I had better get home.”
“Mmmhmm.” I murmured as I found my own shirt and pulled it on.
“See you later.”
“Uh. Bye.” I called out.
Ben walked Isla out the front door. I stood on the spot mulling over what the fuck had just happened. My body wasn’t in the habit of going against my mind, but for some reason seeing Ben like that had sparked my libido. Before Ben could return I grabbed a towel and slipped into the bathroom.
I turned the stainless steel nozzle in the shower only enough to heat the water slightly. The unfamiliar temperature caused me to gasp as I stepped inside. I let my head hang as the water rushed over my shoulders. I refused to acknowledge the fact I was hard as a rock, or the reason why. I wasn’t a stranger to boners, being a young male I had them frequently. But Ben and I were friends, it was how I had always seen him and how I wanted it to stay. Accepting my current state meant accepting it was him who had caused it. I wasn’t going to throw a friendship away on the basis of momentary lust. It took too long for said hardness to dissipate, but eventually it did. I dried myself off and walked out of the bathroom with a towel around my waist. Ben started talking the minute the door opened.
“Isla sent me the pics well, they’re through already. They turned out alright, want to…“ His voice trailed off once he looked up at me. I stood there for a minute and shrugged. “Uh sure, I’ll just go chuck some clothes on.” I replied answering his unfinished question.
Ben nodded and quickly looked back down. “I’ll get back to this then.”
I walked into my room and sat down on my bed. The bed I hadn’t shared with anyone. Clearly this sudden reaction to Ben was due to my lack of a love life. I still loved Cris, I always would. But it was time to move on. The only problem was, being in the public eye had always made things harder. Even before I was the famous one. Being a recognizable face made finding love near impossible.
And those notes I received after concerts were mostly slipped to me on the sly by ‘straight’ guys who were standing right in front of me hand in hand with their girlfriends. They were hardly in it for commitment. Suddenly Ben’s idea of a profile on the dating site seemed like an unlikely perfect solution.
Operation Jace’s Life 2.0