Monday, December 8, 2008

A Walk in the Woods by Jessica Freely

In the Shades of Autumn Taste Test anthology.

Blurb:Heartbroken over a cruel prank played on him by his crush, George isn’t watching where he’s going. The next thing he knows, he’s fallen headlong into love.

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George wasn’t sure if the offered part was for real or just a ploy to get him to Nate’s room, but he didn’t care. A great shot at a good part or an afternoon of wild sex with the hottest guy on campus: it was all good.

He arrived at Nate’s to find him alluringly clad in hip-hugging sweat pants and a thin tank top. Nate was just putting the finishing touches on the dragon costume, and his arms and face sported a few, adorable smears of green paint. But he wasn’t alone. Rebecca Haines and Victor Chessel were there as well, lounging on the bunk beds.

Nate handed George the script, and asked him to read a few pages. But after only a few lines, he stopped him.

“Do you like me?” Nate asked.

George stared at him. His heart pounded. “Yeah, you’re nice.”

Nate shook his head, his smile crooked. “No. You know what I mean. Do you like me like me.” He pulled his shirt off, revealing a sculpted chest and honey-gold skin. His rose-brown nipples peeked out from a light dusting of curly blond hair. George swallowed. His mouth was dry, all of a sudden.

Nate stood close to George. George could feel the man’s body heat. It made him sweat. He tried to get his breath under control. “I… uh…”

“You’re gay, right?”

George nodded. He shot a glance over to the bed, to Rebecca and Victor. They were a couple, he knew that. They looked on with grave eyes and reassuring smiles. What was this, some kind of group sex thing? Or were they just trying to be welcoming?

Nate draped one arm over George’s shoulder and cocked his hips. “Well?”

George glanced over to Rebecca again, and she gave him a little nod. He wasn’t really sure if this was his scene, but… this was Nate Hollingswood, after all. How could he turn him down? With a sigh, George put his hands on Nate’s hips, closed his eyes, and leaned in for a kiss.

The next thing he knew, something rough and papery bumped him in the mouth. He opened his eyes.

“Psych!” said Nate, grinning, holding the papier-mâché dragon mask in one hand and pointing at George with the other. “Like I’d do a skinny freshman like you!”

George reddened. On the bed, Rebecca and Victor were laughing their asses off. “And in front of us, too. How desperate are you?”

George looked between the three of them, searching for something to say. He felt like he was going to throw up. He fled the room, their laughter and taunting voices dogging his heels as he ran.

Even now, it echoed in his ears, drowning out the sounds of birdsong and the rustle of the wind through dry leaves. Though his eyes told him that the park was beautiful, all his mind could focus on were the scornful faces of Nate, Rebecca, and Victor.

Which was undoubtedly how he tripped. One moment, he was trudging along, his hands in his pockets, his head down, cursing his fate and wondering if he should change schools, and the next he was sprawled on the ground beside a large pile of dead leaves, the wind knocked out of him.

Great. He couldn’t even walk straight. Looking down, he noticed he’d torn the knee of his jeans. Could this day get any worse? He flopped back onto the leaves, no longer caring if anyone saw him. So what? To hell with all of them, he decided. Nate Hollingswood was an asshole. Why should he care what Nate and his fawning acolytes thought?

He took a deep breath, staring up at the trees overhead, noticing as if for the first time the splendor of their fall display. Myriad shades of red, orange, yellow, brown, and purple lit the woods with their glory. He sighed. Somehow, just lying here, cushioned by a pile of dead leaves and taking in the blue sky and the brilliant colors, he felt better.

That was when he noticed movement in the leaf pile. He sat up again. This pile of leaves was large, rising as high as five feet or more in the middle before tapering off again at the other end.

Anything could be hiding in here.

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