Excerpt for Breaking Free (Freeing Beck Book 1) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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Finding Freedom

(Freeing Beck Book 2)

By L. Loryn

Copyright 2018 L. Loryn

Smashwords Edition

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Part 1

Beck sat on the worn couch in the small room. Across from him, his therapist sat cross legged with a mug of sweet smelling tea warming her fingers. Beck clutched a pillow to his chest, resting his chin on the pillow for support as he studied the abstract pattern of the carpet.

“It’s good to see you, Beck. How have you been?” Debra, the therapist smiled at him. His eyes floated up to her face, focusing on her faded blonde eyebrows behind her cat-eye glasses.

“Fine.” He mumbled, eating up minutes with his delayed response which was better than the responses she received for the first three months of sessions. Beck visited Debra in her modern home twice a week. Sometimes he talked, sometimes he didn’t. Sometimes he picked the threads of her antique couch, begging her to show annoyance but she never did. Five months into the twice-a-week sessions, Beck prompted conversation. He told her it was cold in the room and asked if it were possible to change the setting on the thermostat.

He flinched when she stood to honor his request. After, silence drowned him again. Debra came armed with her own thoughts, watching Beck with an endless supply of patience despite his lack of responses. She studied him and despite his lack of eye contact, he studied her. Convinced she was trustworthy, he relented, answering her introductory question and winding around to real conversation.

“How has your week been?” She ventured further, curling into her seat and bunching silvery hair resting on her shoulders.

“Better. I finished high school this week.”

“Congratulations, Beck. How long did it take you, six months?”

“Eight, actually.”

“We’ve been seeing each other for eight months? It seems so much shorter.” Debra lamented, taking a slow sip of her tea. “Have you thought about the future?”

“Yes. I rushed to finish the course work to gain admittance to the local community college for freshman courses.” Beck hugged the pillow tighter.

“Good idea. Community college is affordable, and you can always transfer to a university later, even in the middle of the semester if you would like.”

“I read it can be a waste to start at a university because the first two years you take introductory classes.”

“Pretty much.” Debra shrugged her agreement. “What’re you going to major in?”

“I am not sure yet. I like art. Toby suggested take a lot of different courses and decide later.”

“Are you going to do that?”

“Probably.” The conversation lapsed into silence. Debra waited until it was clear Beck was done with the conversation before prompting a new one.

“Do you want to talk about Toby?”

“Um. Sure. What about him?”

“Tell me about him.”

“He’s-- nice. I mean. He’s really nice. He never gets mad and we have fun doing things together.” Beck’s stormy expression cleared. “The first night after everything, he bought burgers, so we have burgers every Saturday and whenever I’m upset. And he offered the master bedroom to me, too, even though it’s his room.”

“Did you take it?”

“No, but I take showers and baths in there sometimes. I have my own room across the hall. The second biggest room with a private bathroom. It’s nice. Oh, and I have a new work room. Today he’s with his friends moving in new furniture.”

“To your new work room?”

“Yes. We purchased a desk, easel, art supplies, furniture-- of course.” He waved a hand, leaning back into the couch.

“Ah. How would you describe your relationship with Toby?”

“I’m not sure.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not sure how I would describe our relationship.” Beck paused. “More than a friendship.”

“Is there a romantic aspect to your relationship?”

“We spend time together one-on-one a lot. Eating and movies. We also spend time with his friends a lot. I don’t have friends yet.”

“Well, Toby’s friends count as your friends, don’t they?”

“I suppose, yes. They are nice people, even when you’re alone with them.”

“As they’re supposed to be. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to; however, is there an intimate aspect to your relationship?”

“Yes-- no. Not really?” His easy expression slipped into a frown. “We hold hands sometimes. Sometimes we kiss. Sometimes I sit in his lap and he holds me, like when we’re relaxing. We don’t h-have sex.”

“Oh, okay. Do you like this relationship with Toby?”

“I do, but I’m afraid he may not.”


“Because he never wants to have sex with me.”

“Have you guys ever had sex or talked about having sex?”

“N-no. Not since the first time.”

“The first time?” A flash of polite curiosity sparked Debra’s eyes, the thrill of seeing a client bloom.

“The first time. When we first met. He--” Beck’s words broke off. “I-- We had sex after the fight and the money.”

“Would you like to take us back to when you first met?”

“I’m not ready.” Voice trembling, he turned shining green eyes to Debra. Tears glistened at the corners of his eyes, threatening to slide down his smooth cheeks. Debra offered him tissue.

“Take your time.”

He blotted the corners of his eyes, took in a deep breath, and exhaled. Fingers folded and refolded the damp tissue. “We met at a party. Like a coming out party, I guess. Me and three other girls, it was our turn to-- to be presented to the world. I had on nicer clothing than I’d ever put on in my life. The shirt was soft against my skin and the pants. The shoes pinched my toes, but I couldn’t be barefoot. And this custom corset vest laced up. I can’t imagine how much Daddy spent on the whole thing.”

“Who is Daddy?”

“Daddy is the man who owned us-- me and the other girls. He owned everything and told us what he expected from us.

“What did he expect from you?”

“Obedience, always. He was m-mean. He told each of us if we didn’t make at least a million dollars on our coming out night, we were worthless to him and to the person who bought us.”

“I see. So, you have the shirt and the vest and the pants and then what?”

“I was nervous and scared, but I needed to market myself, to flirt with men so later they will want to bid. I was flirting, actually getting rather inebriated, and a fight broke out over a cheating card game and Toby pulled me away from the fray.”

“The first thing he does when you meet is get you to a safe spot?”

“Yes. Then we talked. We hid in this secret roof spot of mine and talked until it was time for bidding. I thought he knew why he was there, but-- but I don’t think he did.”

“Hmm? Why not?”

“His face. When he saw me up there n-naked. He was so mad.”

“He was mad at you?”

“No, mad at Daddy, I think. He bid. Toby did. Up to the cap.”

“How much was the cap?”

“25 million dollars. This other man and Toby wouldn’t break the tie, so they had to fight and then the winner had to have sex with me in front of everyone. The rules, they were made so men would be encouraged to break the tie before going further, but Toby wasn’t budging. The rules are so primitive. Men fighting and public sex. I-- I was afraid he wouldn’t do it because it’s so weird.”

“But he did it? How did it make you feel?”

“Good. I felt good. Not during because it hurt since it was my first time, but before and after. Once I knew I was his, I felt relieved. And, I don’t know, he’s nice and very cute.” Beck blushed, lifting his shoulders to hide his ears.

“Have you talked to him about the night you met?”

“No. He doesn’t bring it up and neither do I. Like I said, I don’t think-- I mean I’m not sure of what we are.”

“Do you think maybe you should have a relationship discussion with him?”

“I-- I guess I could. It makes me nervous.”

“Discussing your relationship with him makes you nervous?”

“Yes, because what if he doesn’t want the same thing as me? What if I want a full relationship and he likes what we have now. Or what if he thinks I’m disgusting.”

“You never know until you ask.” Debra’s words were soothing though inconclusive.

“True.” Beck sighed, glancing at the clock as the second lapse in conversation began. Debra did the same from the watch on her wrist.

“Is there anything else you would like to discuss? We have a few more minutes.”

“I don’t know. I’m just-- I’m just thinking about everything and I don’t know what would’ve happened if Toby hadn’t been there. Daddy--” Beck’s eyebrows crunched together, “Daddy’s killed someone before for not making enough money. He said it was easier to give a man a million dollars than to give him a worthless whore and he shot her. On the platform. I thought about it, about seeing her fall backwards, when I was on the stage. And he kept trying to show me off. I hate how my body responds independent of my mind. I got excited when Daddy touched me, my body did. But all I wanted was for him to go away.”

“It’s biological. Nerves respond to touch, but just because your body responded doesn’t mean you consented to the touch.”

“He would praise me for it and tell me all the different ways I could please a man. A-and we practiced everything but the sex because he wanted me pure. I don’t know if I want Toby to know these things if he doesn’t. I wish I didn’t know them.”

“Understandable, but you do and it’s okay to know these things.”

“I guess. It’s not useful knowledge. I should have gone to school and learned things and read books. All the stuff I learned over the last eight months, I should’ve learned as a child.”

“You are right.”

“It’s not fair.” Beck scowled, ending the conversation. Debra nodded.

“You are right, again. I think we’ve covered a lot today, a lot of good thinking.”

“Yeah, but no solutions.”

“Oh, we had one solution, I believe? Are you going to talk to Toby about your relationship with him?”

“I-- yes. Yes, I should so I will. Am I supposed to forget my past? Because now I’m angry.”

“What were you before?”

“Repressed. I didn’t want to think about it. Since I have, I’m angry. Kids aren’t supposed to learn the proper way to please a man. They’re supposed to learn math.”

Debra nodded, “Anger is good. It’s the process to healing and acceptance.”

“One day I’ll stop being angry?”

“Possibly. Acceptance doesn’t mean a lack of anger, it only means acceptance. It is a high calling to ask you to not be angry.”

“How long does it take for acceptance?”

Debra shrugged, “There’s no set time frame. Eventually.”

“Eventually. Alright.” One corner of Beck’s lips quirked up and he stood to his feet, resting the pillow back where he found it on the corner of Debra’s couch. He adjusted his jeans, tucking the long hem of his shirt into his front pocket as Debra abandoned her tea and stood with him.

“Remember, next week we have to cancel because I will be out of town for a conference. However, the following week, we’re on for Tuesday and Thursday as always. I can’t wait to hear about your first week of school.” She promised, volunteering the reminder of stability.

“Of course. And I am paid up, right?”

“Indeed. You have two more sessions before you need to pay again.”

“Perfect. Okay.” They worked their way from her office, through her living room and back to the front door where Beck could see Tobias leaning against a dirty silver hatchback, the sun kissing his skin and forming a delicate halo around him. “Oh, one more thing.” Beck snapped his fingers right as his other hand touched the door knob.


“Do you do, like, group sessions? If maybe Toby and I wanted to have a session together? I’m not saying we will, just wondering if that’s something you could do.”

“Of course. It’s a little more expensive for two people per hour, but if he only comes occasionally, then I’ll keep it at your regular rate.”

“Good to know. Okay, thanks. Have fun at your conference.” Beck even waved as he walked backwards down her winding walkway. Beck’s features relaxed into his youth, lines of worry fading as a light smile touched his lips. The cathartic nature of therapy worked its magic, opening an infected wound to start the healing process. He stopped in front of Tobias. “Oh, hi.” He teased, smile growing to touch his eyes.

“Oh, hey.” Tobias flashed his own dazzling smile. “How was therapy?”

“Actually, it was good.” As opposed to ‘fine’ which had been the answer for the first few trying sessions when Debra walked an aimless Beck halfway down the walkway, relinquishing responsibilities to Tobias who led him back to the car.

“Yeah? I’m glad you like it. I figured, you know, you need someone besides me to talk to.” Tobias reminded him, those words ingrained in Beck’s memory from months of hearing it.

“Hmm. I agree.” Beck giggled, standing on his toes to kiss Tobias’ cheek. He brushed past him to open his car door and get inside before the other man could comment on the affection, leaving Tobias blushing and embarrassed outside his car. He shuffled to the driver’s side and climbed in as Beck pulled his phone out of his pocket and surveyed it. He had no friends to message, no family to call, but he enjoyed the mindlessly simple games.

“Hey, listen.” Tobias touched the back of Beck’s seat. “I know we usually get burgers, but the boys are at the house and they were wondering if we could get pizza for them? They’re waiting on the last bit of furniture to be delivered. Charles is supervising. If you want burgers, we can get burgers you and I and bring a pizza--”

“No, no it’s fine.” Beck smiled, “Pizza is fine, really, but can we talk about something first?”

“Awesome. Oh-- yeah, anything. What’s on your mind?” Tobias turned the key in the ignition and the car groaned awake. He merged into the neighborhood road and navigated them back to the main roads, stealing private looks to Beck when he could.

“Well. Debra and I talked about a lot of things. About the night we met and us.” He paused, exhaling slowly, “And I was wondering what kind of relationship we have?”

“Uh, well. Good question.” Tobias turned onto the major highway, taking them from the south part of town back to the east where Tobias lived. “What kind of relationship do you want?”

“I want you to want to have sex with me.”

“W-what? I do want to have sex with you?”

“Then why do we never have sex?”

“Because I figured you should talk about what happened and everything? And because, I don’t know, I’m not ready yet.”

“You’re not ready? What are you waiting for?” Beck glared at Tobias who returned his gaze with a confused expression.

“Me? I mean, I’m just waiting. I don’t know, fuck. I’m waiting on myself to get over what happened between us, okay? I’m waiting to come to terms with having to rape you to get you the hell out of there and into a better life. And seeing your face-- when you were scared I wouldn’t do it. I’m waiting for my mind to stop reliving it.”

“You think about it?”

“All the time, Beck. I’m mad at myself for doing it, but I replay it and I don’t see any other option. I could’ve refused, you know, because it was rape, but then you’d be with the other guy now. You probably wouldn’t be in therapy, you wouldn’t have a GED, you wouldn’t be going to college.”

“It wasn’t rape. I wanted you to, it can’t be rape when I wanted it.”

“It can be rape if you wanted it for the wrong reasons, if you were manipulated into thinking you had no other choice, if you were under emotional distress. It’s something I can’t return to you, whoever you were before I did what I did.”

“Toby, you don’t have to feel guilty about it, okay? I wanted it. I wanted you to do whatever it took to get me out of there and when you were next to me I felt safe. The first time when you grabbed my arm to even the last time when we were in front of the crowd.”

“I can’t not feel guilty. Your first time isn’t supposed to be in front of a bunch of people or sold to any disgusting bidder out there. Fuck.” Tobias cursed again, strong hands squeezing the steering wheel. The old leather creaked under his grip.

“It’s-- it’s not. You’re right.” Beck flinched when Tobias’ hands worked the steering wheel. “But you can’t be upset at yourself forever. I don’t think of it the way you do. To me, sometimes we have to do what’s necessary for survival. Did you know in some bird species the mother has two chicks, but will eventually pick the stronger one and let the other die? Is she a murderer, or is she doing what she must do to keep something she cares about safe?”

Tobias drove in silence, miles passing as he stewed over Beck’s example.

“She has no other choice. She can’t feed two babies; if she tries to feed them both, they will both die. You could have told Daddy no, you won’t do it, but then I would be with the other man and you would be wondering if you should have made a different move.” Beck forged on, determined to support his theory with facts and circumstantial evidence.

“Fine. Then. I still need time to know you’re really okay before we go there again.”

“Go where?”

“Before we think about having sex. I want to do the second time how your first time should have been. Special, with no expectations attached and absolutely no one else watching. I will cancel the cleaning lady for the day and tell the driver to go home. It will be us, just you and I for the entire night, weekend, however long.”

“Oh--” Beck blushed. He blushed deeper, goosebumps puckering his skin. “I-- I approve this idea. S-so you want to be with me?”

“I’ve wanted to be with you since the first time our eyes met, and you knocked over my beer and guessed my replacement.”

“I need a title. For our relationship.”

“Boyfriends, if you want. I am with no one else and I don’t want to be with anyone else, either. But I understand if you want something different.

“Boyfriends? So, when someone asks me who you are to me, I can say you are my boyfriend? Even though we don’t have sex?”

“Yes. Yes. Sure. There are a lot of intimate things besides sex. Sleeping together, holding hands, cuddling.”

“We don’t do a lot of those things.”

“We can, if you want to.” Tobias pulled into Tony’s, the local pizza place, parking his car right out front. The automatic lights from the car shined into the clear display glass. “Do you want to?”

“Yes. Very much.”

“Okay. But remember, I still need more time for the next step. I want to take it slow, no rules or set limits. I think we’ll know when we’re ready, right?”

“Yeah. I think so, too. I’ll wait here while you get the pizza.” Beck waved him on and then sat back. Tobias strolled inside, hips shifting with a natural swagger. He exchanged several crumpled bills and a handful of coins for a stack of four pizza boxes, two smaller boxes, and a bag of soft drinks. Tobias put everything in the backseat on his return. “And beer?”

“Oh shit, yeah. Beer, too. I’ll stop at the corner store by the house for it.” Tobias blushed. The rest of the ride was uneventful besides Beck achieving new levels on his game and Tobias singing and head-bobbing to the majority of the songs on the popular radio station. Beck appreciated the normalcy.

At the corner store, Beck stayed in the car again, but he couldn’t watch Tobias from the inside. The first week of them living together, Beck refused to be out of Tobias’ sight when they weren’t home. This meant even simple stops required a pair of two going inside and coming back out. Tobias never complained. Beck had graduated to staying in the car as Tobias pumped gas, as Tobias ran inside for “just one thing,” and then in general while occupied with something else. Tobias returned with two six packs of beer and two tall cans of iced tea for Beck.

The boys were at the car as they pulled up. Smash grinned and waved, muscles stretching over his broad chest. “Hey guys.” He leaned against Beck’s door, deep voice greeting them with a cheery smile. Primed for hard labor, both Smash and Tiger had their shirts tucked in the belt loop of their jeans, the sun kissing their bare chest. “Beck. Coleman told me you’re starting at the community college Monday?”

Tiger, Tobias, and Charles gathered the food and drinks. Charles grabbed the beers while Tobias and Tiger split collecting the pizzas and soft drinks, carrying it all inside as they talked about the game later, the arrangement of furniture, and cars. Tiger opened the car door for Beck.

“Thank you. Yes. I am.” He slinked past Smash’s big body, patting his shoulder. “You heard correctly.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Smash gathered Beck’s tea before closing the car door and trailing behind him. “Well, I go part time when I’m not training. I’m going for a business associate degree and maybe some other skills later.”

“Ah, I see. I am not sure what I’m going for, yet.”

“Uh, art? Considering all the stuff we moved up a flight of stairs for you today, you better be doing something with art. Canvases and easels and junk are heavy.” A deep chuckle vibrated Smash’s throat. He put Beck’s tea in the refrigerator.


“And you’re pretty good. I like the abstract stuff you do. It’s really, what’s the word, poignant?”

“They’re depressing?”

“Not the right word.” Smash quirked his eyebrows and flashed another bright smile in his nervousness. Beck inherited a family of large, shy men when he came home with Tobias. Smash was his favorite because of his boundless energy, easy nature, and intelligence. They discussed books and classic literature, while Tobias and Tiger didn’t bother reading. Tiger was a food connoisseur and enjoyed badgering Beck to accompany him to every new restaurant opening. Charles and Beck’s relationship was quiet and respectful, which was surprising for Charles’ careless nature. He was the second emergency contact on his phone, and he’d seen Beck through stressful tears and emotional shutdowns.

“Hm. They’re touching?”

“They’re immersive. It hurts to look, but you want to know more.”

“I see. Stick with business school.” Beck’s green eyes glittered at his own tease. “Show me my new studio?”

“Yeah, of course. I think the guys are setting up for the game. You watching with us?”

“Of course. I wouldn’t miss an MMA match even if I had the choice. Who doesn’t want to watch sweaty men tackle each other in tiny shorts? Hmm.” As Beck griped about mixed martial arts, he shuddered.

“Guess you’re in?” Smash laughed.

“Enough. Convince Toby to do a local fight again. He’s so sexy when he fights.”

“Uh. I’ll do what I can, but don’t call my coach sexy. It’s weird.” Smash bounded up the stairs, skipping every other step to get to the top in half the time. Beck took each step.

“But he is sexy.”

“Dude-- he’s my coach. He punches me in the face. There’s nothing sexy about it.”

“His face when he does it?” Beck’s eyelashes fluttered. He flicked on the light to the fifth and previously empty bedroom. His new home studio included grey painted walls with inspirational clippings covering one wall and his own drying paintings on another. The longest wall in the room was a pegboard he spent weeks painting as oversized abstract pixel art. The pegboard had containers to keep his more expensive supplies from getting lost. A tub sink occupied a corner of the room, and various lengths of tables and easels spanned the space. Beck insisted on the purchase of one portable easel and one wooden heavy easel. Likewise, he had a table easel, a wooden chair, a music entertainment system, and a vintage cushioned chair.

“We tried to arrange it how you’d want it or something. Coleman said you drew something out for us.” He pulled his jeans up by one belt loop though they sagged back down to his hips, displaying tight briefs hugging his waist.

“I can have him change a few things around later. Otherwise. It’s perfect! Thanks for helping.” Beck hugged Smash’s neck.

“Hey, it’s no problem. It’s nice having you around. You’re like-- a little sassy brother.”

“Mm.” Beck kissed Smash’s cheek. “Good. I’m going to shower and change. Before you settle in for beer and pizza, can you grab my drinks from downstairs and take them up to the game room?”

“Sure thing, kid.” Smash rustled Beck’s hair. Beck pushed him back with a giggle and moved into Tobias’ bedroom to shower. The men were already gathered in the game room, listening to pregame information, talking about the players. Beck rooted for one of Tobias’ worn shirts, lying it on the bed to wear after his shower.

When he wanted a shower, he used his own bathroom. When he wanted to be enveloped by the steam and take time for himself, he used Tobias’. The rainwater and glass door cloaked him with fog, allowing him the privacy to release the day’s pent up emotions. The shower water on his face was a catalyst and a disguise for his own tears. The therapist told him crying was okay, crying was the building block to healing, so he let himself cry for as long as he needed to. Once his tears stopped flowing, he finished his shower, lathering with organic bath soaps, washing his thick curls with shampoo formulated for his hair. He collapsed into Tobias’ bed after his shower, tuning into the men’s voices again.

The rise and fall of voices lulled him into a short nap, but the announcers booming voice jolted him awake. His brain refused to forget Daddy’s cold voice. He knuckled his eyes, tugging Tobias’ shirt over his wet hair and slight frame. He settled for boxer-briefs on his bottom half and skipped down the hall to the game room.

“Ah, hey. Just in time for the match.” Tobias’ warm voice greeted Beck first. He stood up to approach, kissing Beck’s clean skin with a soft sigh. “We saved pizza and breadsticks for you. Smash put your tea in the mini refrigerator. It’s lightweight championships.”

“Hey, Beck.” Charles wiggled his beer in Beck’s direction, sitting in the lone chair.

“Hey ya, bro.” Tiger mumbled around a big bite of pizza. He occupied the loveseat on his own, making Tobias and Smash share the couch.

“Hey guys.” Beck leaned into Tobias, waving at Charles and chuckling at Tiger. He kissed Tobias’ shoulder, squeezing his hand. “Go sit and watch the match. I’ll join you in a moment.” Beck whispered. Tobias returned to his seat while Beck puttered around, grabbing one iced tea and a paper plate from the unused stack. He put two slices of pizza and one breadstick on his plate and walked around behind the couch to avoid disturbing the beginning of the match. He slipped into Tobias’ lap, curling to rest his plate on his knees and his head on Tobias’ shoulder. Tobias smiled. His arms wrapped around Beck’s torso, petting down his back.

Tobias nibbled Beck’s leftover pizza crusts as he explained move after move to Smash and Tiger. The game was a lesson as much as it was entertainment. The second round, he let Smash call the moves and dictate how the fighter achieved success without leaving it to luck. The third round was Tiger’s turn. Beck called time after the sixth replay of the fight, shooing Smash, Tiger, and drunk Charles to the exit. After a chaste good-night kiss, Beck parted ways with Tobias in the hallway. Tobias disappeared in his room, leaving the door cracked. Beck stepped into his bedroom, doing the same before crawling into bed for sleep.

Part 2

Monday came too soon for Beck, who found himself in a nervous frenzy Sunday night. After spending the entire day purchasing books, clothes, getting a new haircut, and making sure he had more than enough school supplies, he still ran through the house checking and rechecking items. Beck and Tobias printed the class schedule and the campus map and charted the best routes from class to class. They discussed options for between-class downtime and if his class ended up canceled. They discussed contingency plans for those plans. After a run around the block, Beck settled enough to shower and prepare for bed, kissing Tobias good night and retiring to his room.

He woke early on Monday even though his first class wasn’t until eleven o’clock. Tobias grumbled awake when he heard Beck take another shower, stumbling into the bathroom to piss.

“Mornin’.” He rumbled. Beck blinked and looked over, eyes wide. He closed them, scrubbing his face clear of soap and splashing steamy water afterwards.

“Good morning.” Beck turned the water off and wrapped a fluffy towel around his torso, tucking it closed. He stepped out of the shower onto the mat, drying his toes, and slithered past Tobias brushing his teeth. “You’re up early.”

“Yeah. Heard you in the shower. ‘S okay. I can do some work. Go for a run or something. What time is Smash picking you up?”

“My first class is at eleven and his is at eleven thirty, so the plan is for him to be here at ten, leaving plenty of time for traffic and natural disasters and floods.”

“It’s never flooded here.”

“It could still happen.” Beck rubbed the towel over his wet skin, blotting his long curls dry.

“True. Better to be prepared.” Tobias chuckled, watching Beck from the bathroom mirror as he dried off and then moisturized his skin.

“Correct. Then I will wait in front of my class for Smash to be finished and we will have lunch before our next class. Mine is at one-thirty and his is at two. After, we will meet you at the gym for his practice.”

“Sounds exciting. I hope you are assigned lots of homework.”

“For these two classes, the syllabus is available online. I could start the homework early, but it’s mostly reading. Tomorrow I’m worried because I have math and this weird public speaking course. It’s required. But I have art, too.” Beck chattered through his schedule for the tenth time as Tobias finished his bathroom habits and exited the bathroom behind Beck. Beck wiggled into hip-hugging skinny jeans, the smallest of Tobias’ shirts, and a pair of heeled ankle boots the department store worker refused ring Beck up for. The boots rooted his slender frame to the ground. He surveyed himself in Tobias’ full-length mirror, fussing with his wild curls. He lost the battle of order but won the battle of frizz and settled for a fishtail braid resting on his shoulder.

“Yeah.” Tobias mumbled, throwing on a shirt and exchanging boxers for joggers. “You mind if I go for a run? I’ll be back in thirty minutes to make breakfast.”

“Of course not. I’ll read.” Beck collected the necessary school textbooks, two spiral notepads, and his shoulder bag and went downstairs after Tobias. He set his supplies by the door and settled in the downstairs main room, reading while Tobias ran, returned, and even cooked breakfast. The books Beck had access to as a child were fantasies, worn copies of pulp fiction books printed on the cheapest paper available. His textbooks were different. They were anthologies, collections of classic works in an expert order and in original format with footnotes. Deciphering Chaucerian English by side margin notes took longer to comprehend than an updated ghost story, but Beck loved every minute of it. The short works transported him to another time, one that existed in the world and not the fantastical minds of their creators.

“Eggs, bacon, and grits.” Tobias lowered an intricately designed plate to the side table and sat on the couch to eat his breakfast from a bowl. Beck caught a wave of Tobias’ sweaty scent as he leaned forward. It stopped him cold, ice sliding down his spine. Tobias smelled of salt and his own natural spices: pepper and mint. He pressed his lips into Beck’s, teasing Beck with his tongue. Only the tip extended past their lips and then stroked the underside Beck’s tongue before retreating. Shivering, Beck pushed against Tobias.

“T-thank you.” Beck blushed, ducking his head as he reached for his plate.

“Sorry. I need to shower still.”

“N-no. You’re fine. You smell fine.” Beck nibbled his bacon in favor of more justifications. He ate each piece of the meal, the bacon first, then the scrambled eggs, then the buttery grits. Breakfasts were strictly rice and chicken as a child, the same as lunches and dinners. Tobias never made rice.

Beck waited for Smash outside, pacing the driveway until Smash’s old pickup rolled up behind Tobias’ hatchback, and then he jumped in, settling his bag at his feet. They drove in silence, Smash still waking up from a late night and Beck nervous for his first day around hundreds of strangers his own age. They arrived on campus in record time, and Beck was the first one to arrive at his lecture hall. He was so early the class before his was still in session. Smash waited with him until the previous class dismissed, but once Beck found a safe seat in the middle of the room, Smash left for his own class.

Students trickled in, getting more plentiful as it came closer to class time. The professor, flanked by two younger women, stalked in through a hidden doorway on the side of the lecture podium. The classroom was a lecture hall, designed to seat hundreds of students-- and by the time the professor took the podium and tapped the microphone, all but a few seats were occupied.

“Good morning, class. I’m Professor Night. Like the night sky and I will be your professor for English 201. This class is an introduction to classic European literature. We will cover Chaucer, Shakespeare, Hugo, Tolstoy. You will all be divided into smaller private discussion groups which will meet on Fridays to review the information we talk about in this lecture. My two assistants are: Ms. Donna Winters and Ms. Sarah Eglin.”

Beck scribbled notes on top of his printed syllabus while the other students stared at Professor Night with glassy eyes as he continued in a droning voice. The professor reviewed the syllabus in detail, explaining the format of their exams, the format of their three essays, and then the optional final exam. If they found themselves with less than a B average come final exams, they were required to take the test. If their average grade was a B or higher, the exam was optional. Some students cheered. Beck fretted.

The professor opened the floor for questions and after one girl asked if they had assigned seats (no), a boy asked if the exams would be closed or open notes (closed), and another girl asked when they would know their group discussion classes (by Friday), they were dismissed with fifteen minutes left to the forty-five-minute session. Beck sat outside the classroom until Smash loped back down the hallway an hour later.

“How was it?” He dumped his bag next to Beck and sat down, relacing his sneakers as Beck spoke. A blonde girl waved at Smash and blushed when he returned the wave. And then another girl, this one with brown hair. And then another girl with frizzy curls. Beck looked at Smash.

“Are you a local celebrity?”

“Kinda? I win a lot of local fights, so I guess people know my name-- or at least my face.”

“Of course. I forgot. They’re cute. You’re single, you should talk to someone.”

“I been thinking about it, but I don’t have a lot of time for dating between school and practice, you know? If I’m going to date a girl, I want to do it right. Not put her on the back burner until I’ve had my whole life and she’s just been waiting.”

“True, but maybe she’ll be okay with waiting? You should at least give it a chance.”

“Yeah, I guess. You sick of me bothering you, huh?”

“No. I want you to be happy.”

“What if I like being single?”

“You like touching yourself?” Beck rose his eyebrows. Smash grinned, a dimple showing on one cheek.

“Naw. Okay. I see your point. C’mon let’s get lunch.” Smash carried both of their bags to the small student union and ate twice as much food as Beck in half the time. The cafeteria served fried chicken and mashed potatoes, or hamburgers with fries. The salad bar was towards the left side and the drink station towards the right. Smash ordered both the chicken and the hamburger and made a small salad. Beck reluctantly ordered the chicken and mashed potatoes, leaving three of the five chicken strips on his plate. Smash picked at Beck’s leftovers as they discussed their classes and instructors.

Beck stifled giggles as Smash told him how distracting his old professor’s nose hairs were, how they moved with every inhale and vibrated on every exhale. Smash completed the tale with an impression of the man, pushing invisible glasses up his nose and looking down with a long face. Smash pretended to read an opened book, dragging every word in a monotone voice. Full and smiling, Beck walked to his next class with Smash strolling beside him. The second lecture was similar to the first, but for an American history class. There were less papers, only two exams, but the information was all new to Beck.

Most of the students groaned when the professor reviewed the major topics of the class. One girl whispered her tales of woe to the boy next to her. He wore an equally grim expression to American history before the civil war. Beck, however, flipped through the crisp white pages of his textbook, skimming pages with pictures of brown people to pictures of pale people overdressed for their new world.

Unlike the first professor, Professor Westmoreland launched into lecture after he finished with the syllabus, voice rapt with excitement. He flicked through detailed slides as he elaborated on every small bullet point. Beck struggled for ten minutes trying to write every word he said. For the last ten, he copied the slides into his notebook and added small notions around it. The second method appeared less organized, but Beck preferred it over his struggling before.


Tuesday he had three classes: Math, Public Speaking, and Art. The math professor, Jerry, was a young hipster who strode into class with a purpose. He dropped a book and a calculator on the desk and leaned on the side of it, arms folded, as he informed the class of their four exams. He said most of their classes would be short and to the point, because he didn’t want to stay any longer than he had to, and he knew all of them were busy with other professors assigning three years’ worth of work in one semester. All in all, math class lasted five minutes and gave Beck nearly two hours to fret over public speaking.

Those hours passed quicker than average and, with a wrung-out hem, Beck entered the small classroom and sat down. Mrs. Porter, the public speaking professor, bumbled into the classroom with a whirlwind of papers and writing tools somehow attached to her person. Her frizzy hair trapped a pencil and a pen, sticky notes coated her small tablet, and crumpled papers peeked from inside her tote bag.

The opposite of Jerry, Mrs. Porter started her first class right then. She clapped and wiggled her fingers. “Everybody up, up and in a circle.”

Beck fussed with his bag and then his clothes as he moved over to his peers, standing between a short, sporty girl and a tall round boy.

“Now, we’re all going to go around the room and introduce ourselves and say our favorite color. I will go first. I’m Mrs. Porter and my favorite color is neon orange.” She touched the shoulder of the girl beside her. Amy’s favorite color was teal, as was Kimi’s, Cara’s, Penelope’s, and Manda M’s. The sporty girl next to Beck liked the color purple and went by Coco even though her name was Rebecca. She looked at Beck.

“Uh. H-hi. My name is Beck. Beck, um, Coleman.” He blushed, feeling everyone’s eyes heavy on him. “My favorite color is hazel. Um. Light brown.” His heart raced as the tall boy next to him introduced himself. He was Brent and his favorite color was also brown. Mrs. Porter beamed at them all as the last girl stammered through her greeting similar to Beck. The bouncy professor clapped her hands again.

“Awesome! It’s good to meet you all and I know we’ll get to know each other so much better as the semester continues. For now, let’s play some ice breaker games!” She dug in her orange tote bag, pulling out a yarn ball. “For this game, I will toss this ball of yarn to someone and ask them a question about themselves. After they answer, they toss the ball to someone else and ask a new question. Ready?” She tossed the ball to a girl three people from Beck who fumbled the yarn ball. “If you had a time machine, what point in the future or history would you visit?”

“Um. I’d love to live during the Civil War. American history is my favorite time period.”

“Very good!” Mrs. Porter’s head bobbed her approval, eyes wrinkling at the corners. “Now toss the ball of yarn to the next person.”

The girl tossed the ball across the room back towards Mrs. Porter. Cara caught it.

“If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?”

“Australia because the boys have sexy accents.” Cara wrinkled her freckled nose and giggled. The other girls and Brent giggled with her. Beck frowned. Cara tossed the yarn to Brent who would save his computer, his family photos, and his cellphone if he were in a burning building. The game continued, forming a very complicated web of string between all the people. The yarn came sailing Beck’s direction and he panicked, ducking and holding his hands up to catch the ball.

“What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?” Manda M. stared at Beck, challenging him to be honest.

“I--” Beck’s eyelids fluttered, and he picked at the yarn ball. He took in a deep breath and sighed out his nerves. “The hardest thing I’ve ever done was go to therapy.”

Mrs. Porter beamed. “That’s impressive honesty, Beck.”

Trembling, Beck tossed the ball to someone not pinching a corner of string. “D-does your name have a special meaning or were you named after someone special?”

The boy, Buddy, puffed up his chest as he explained his name. All the first boys in his family were named Buddy. It was a family name. Buddy tossed the ball back to Mrs. Porter.

“Very good everyone!” She clapped, “You guys roll the ball of yarn back up for me and I will tell you about the next game.”

Beck dropped his pinched string, letting the extroverted students roll the ball of yarn up. He jammed his hands in his pocket, keeping his elbows at his sides and trying to make himself as small as possible.

Mrs. Porter pulled flashcards from her purse of games. For the second game, they sat down, and she placed the stack of cards in the middle of the circle. They went counter clockwise, pulling a card, reading the question aloud and then answering it as a short answer. Each person answered twice. Cara would spend $10,000 on ending animal cruelty and unethical treatment. Her dream job in ten years is to be the head of an animal rescue organization, rescuing dogs, cats, and all other animals.

Buddy wanted to buy a huge pickup truck if he could buy a car right now. He loved hunting and he needed a good off-road vehicle. He wanted to change the size of his feet because they were too big, and it was difficult to find shoes.

Each answer brought Beck closer to his turn. His nervousness grew; he strummed his fingers on the floor, nails tapping the ground to no rhythm. Manda M answered her two questions. Then Coco, and all eyes were on Beck again. He leaned forward, sweaty fingers grabbing a laminated card.

“If you sat down next to Jesus on a bus, what would you talk about?” He didn’t recognize his voice. “I would talk about the nature of human cruelty. Because. Because people worry about the safety of animals when children starve and sleep outside every night.” Silence enveloped the group of young people. Beck tucked his card under the deck and grabbed another. “If- If you could be someone else, who would you be?” He blinked, staring forward. Seconds passed and then minutes. “I’m sorry, I’m thinking. Ah!” He flailed.

Mrs. Porter’s smile tightened as Beck’s thinking wore on, shifting from natural to forced.

“A movie star. I would be a movie star.” He blew out his breath, “Because I could help others and I could express my point of views in a large platform.” He tucked the second card away. He didn’t hear any answers past his own, just the lull of different voices. Mrs. Porter congratulated them again on a good round and peeked at the clock. Her face fell.

“Aw! We only have five minutes left of class, so I suppose you guys are safe from my last game. Next time, we’ll play it and we will talk about what you will be doing in this course!” She called as the students collected their bags and purses. Beck wandered to his desk, throwing his bag over his shoulder with a frown. Mrs. Porter’s class was group therapy Beck didn’t ask for and didn’t enjoy. The naive worries of his peers frustrated him. He chewed his bottom lip as he pulled his folded schedule from his pocket, mapping his last location. He walked all the way across campus to get to the three-story art building, taking the stairs to the third floor. He studied the art hanging on the walls until he reached an already bustling classroom. Unlike the traditional lecture rooms, the art room’s collection of mismatched chairs littered a concrete floor. Wooden drawing horses leaned against the wall. An older gentleman stood in front of the chairs, and students were already sitting, bags at their feet.

Beck slinked in, sitting in the closet chair and tucking his bag between his feet. He fished his history book from his bag and hunched over it, getting an early start on the history homework to avoid conversation. Fifteen minutes passed before the gentleman spoke.

“Welcome to Art 101 - I’m Martin Jackson. You can call me Marty, Martin, Jackson, whatever. If you came to this class to learn how to draw, then you’re in the wrong place. I can’t teach you how to draw, but I can teach you techniques to improve. We’ll go over some different styles, and you will have one project due per week based on the technique we’re learning. I will give you the option to resubmit projects as long as they were turned in completed on their due date. If you turn it in late, you don’t get a redo.”

Beck exchanged his history book for the three-page art class syllabus.

“As far as supplies. Let’s go over them. For in class practice, newsprint is your best friend. You can get a pad cheap at the art store down the street. All your final projects must be submitted on drawing paper. You need to purchase a pack of soft charcoal sticks, hard charcoal sticks, an eight pack of graphite pencils, one kneaded eraser, one white eraser, and blending stumps. You need a drawing clipboard with extra clamps and a plastic large-size portfolio for transporting your work. Any questions?”

“How much is all this gonna cost?” A boy in a cowboy hat piped up, arms folded across his chest and slouched in his seat.

“If you’re smart, not much more than thirty bucks. Report back to me how much you spend.” Martin grinned, his pool blue eyes glittering against his weather worn skin. Beck giggled, folding his syllabus and looking at the professor.

“Right on.” He tipped his hat down, a grin of his own matching the instructor’s.

“When are we expected to have all of the supplies?” The girl beside Beck rose her hand and spoke at the same time.

“Thursday’s class, but good news! Class today is over so you all can purchase supplies. If you’re tight on money, you won’t need the drawing pad or the graphite pencils right away. On Thursday you must have your newsprint, clipboard, your charcoal drawing tools, and your erasers. Anything else?”

“How many times can we redo a drawing? Asking for a friend.” The boy in the cowboy hat spoke again.

“Your friend will have as many chances as they need. You only get two. If nothing else, then I’ll leave you all to it. If you need me, I will be in my office down the hall.” Martin nodded and strolled to the exit, leaving the students to themselves. Speaking erupted from Beck’s peers, friends twisting in their seats to talk to one another. They discussed Martin’s charming salt and pepper hair, his boyish smile, his easy-going nature. By definition, he was a chill professor.

Beck peeked at his phone, smiling at a message from Tobias, before standing and tucking it away. He threw his bag over his shoulder and walked to the door.

“Oh. Hey. Wait up.” A girl hurried after Beck. Beck kept walking. She touched his shoulder and he spun around.

“W-what?” Beck scowled.

“You forgot this?” She handed his folded syllabus to him.

“Oh-- thanks. I guess it fell out of my bag. Thanks.” He blushed.

“So… I’m Morgan, but my friends call me Moe.” She smiled and quirked her shoulders up. Her pixie haircut bounced with her movements.

“I’m Beck. My friends call me Beck.” He adjusted his bag on his shoulder.

“Hi, Beck. Want to shop for supplies with me?”

“Uh. Yeah, okay. Sure.” A little smile touched his lips. A broader one touched hers; she showed all of her pearly white teeth and linked arms with him. She led him out of the art building and accompanied him down the several blocks to the art store.

“So, Beck. Tell me about yourself?”

“What do you want to know?”

“Well, anything! Are you from around here? What high school did you go to? What’s your favorite food?”

“Um. Yes-- well, no. I’m not from around here. I didn’t go to high school, and burgers.”

“Oh, you were home-schooled? No wonder you’re so quiet. Now it makes sense.” She opened the door for them, keeping one arm linked to Beck’s. The art store overflowed with supplies. Every nook and crevice contained a box or bin or stack of warm-smelling supplies. The smell of paint filtered through Beck’s nose and he sighed. “Smells good, huh? You’re a real artist.”

“Hm? I don’t think so.” Beck blushed.

“You are because you relaxed when we got here. You’ve been tense the whole walk but when we got in here, you completely relaxed. You’re home-- you’re an artist. Don’t disagree with me again.” She scolded him. “What kind of art do you do?”

“Hm? I paint a little. Abstract acrylic on canvas.” Beck shrugged, his nose taking him to the paints. He passed the drawing pads and the charcoal and brushed his thumb over natural hair bristle brushes.

“Oh, good. I was worried you’d be into photorealism or something. Everyone thinks photorealism is so interesting, but if you wanted photorealism, take a picture. It’s cheaper and you can print as many as you want.” Moe rolled her eyes.

“I guess so. What do you?”

“A little of everything. Right now, I’m experimenting with printmaking and photography. I have a love for painting, though, but I wanted to explore other styles of art.”

“What’s printmaking?”

“Hm?” She picked at palette brushes and tubes of paint, opening the to test the vibrancy of various colors. “Printmaking is how it sounds. The process of making prints. Before we had computers to make copies, we had to design block prints and use ink to transfer prints. Oh, look here.” Moe dragged him to a collection of art pieces for sale. “See the numbers here? The first number means the order of the print and the second is the amount made.”

“Oh. It says ten out of fifty. Is ten a good number?”

“Well, usually the first couple prints are really blotchy because too much ink and then the end prints are starting to run out of ink, so it’s best to get the middle prints if it’s traditional printmaking, of course.”

“Hm. Makes sense. What kind of tools do you use for printmaking?”

“You can use almost anything. Right now, I’m experimenting with nontraditional tools such as leaves or sponges or erasers. I did a few prints using the woodblock carving method. I could show you some time?”

“Yeah? I guess I’ve never thought about trying other art stuff.” Beck mused, biting the inside of his cheek. “I want to try printmaking. We could-- we could hang out? Maybe?”

“Hey, sure! I’m a member of this artist group I meet with on Wednesdays, too. This week we’re meeting Wednesday morning at four to set up for golden hour photos.”

“What’s golden hour photos?”

Moe giggled. “It’s not golden hour photos. We’re going to take photos during the golden hour. It’s the hour as the sun rises, and it has the best natural light for photography. You should come! I mean, I know it’s tomorrow, but grab a disposable camera and meet us up there. I can pick you up.”

“I-- I don’t know. I have homework for my classes tomorrow and-- I-- It’s complicated.” Beck frowned. “It sounds fun. Maybe next time you guys do it?”

“Yeah, I get you. You and I can do something fun Wednesday. Sun prints, maybe? They’re real easy.”

“Sure.” Relieved, Beck smiled at Moe. They finally reached the aisles of dry art supplies and Moe picked and poked at everything.

“All you need for sun prints is the specific sun print paper, something to make the prints with, and water. Leaves and branches always make cool prints.”

“Oh, cool. Is the paper here? I guess we can buy it tomorrow.” Beck picked the pencils he remembered from the syllabus, getting the pack of graphite and a large pack of charcoal supplies. The charcoal supplies included one eraser and after he grabbed one more, he continued to the paper pads.

“Yeah, we’ll get it tomorrow. What’s your schedule tomorrow?”

“I have class in the morning and one in the afternoon.”

“Oh, awesome. Me, too. We can meet at the union and then go get the paper and make the prints, yeah?”

Beck smiled, green eyes dancing as he nodded to his friend. They finished purchasing supplies, both having identical totals slightly under thirty dollars. They carted their supplies to the parking lot where Moe deposited hers in her beat up little sedan and then asked Beck if he needed a ride. With his driver on the way, he needed company more than a ride.

Moe’s eyes bulged at Beck’s confession and even more when Tobias’ black limousine peeled into the college parking lot. Embarrassed, Beck shoved his bag and supplies towards the driver and gave Moe a quick goodbye. He pushed Tobias back into the limousine when he opened the door to get in.


Wednesday Beck and Moe made sun prints while Moe teased Beck about his limousine and fancy driver. Beck confessed some truths of his life, about Tobias and their big house. Moe’s questions about his childhood were answered with carefully crafted lies. Beck researched normal childhoods and created one for himself. He was born three cities over to a single mother with three kids. He was the middle child, he told Moe. He met Tobias at a party and moved to the city at Tobias’ suggestion to start a new life. They’ve been dating for over half a year.

Moe swooned, eyelids fluttering. She asked question after question about Tobias and Beck, hinting at naughtier things which made them both blush and Beck to change the subject. After Beck’s confessions, Moe talked about herself, answering the questions she asked Beck without prompting. He laughed and giggled and smiled appropriately, finding the process of printmaking more interesting than Moe’s personal life, but she never knew it.

Thursday, they sat next to each other in art class, working through the first assignment as partners, and soon they were spending most evenings working on one art project or another. Beck kept up with his other classes, completing reading tasks and quizzes before hanging out with Moe and spending late hours in the campus dark room or waking up early to take pictures in the soft daylight hours. By mid-semester, both Beck and Moe had solid As in art class and had made t-shirts, a variety of prints, and were working on making their own stencils. Beck hovered at a B in all his other classes, devoting his brain energy to his developing social life. He was a hit at the art group, having natural talent the other attendees dreamed of. He brought some of his abstract pieces to show and received praises from on high.

Moe spent the night on several occasions, and they spent late nights giggling in his bedroom when Tobias peeked in to make sure they were okay. Beck sent Tobias up and down for drinks, then food, then drinks again, keeping Moe in an incessant giggling fit. The last day of classes before mid-semester break, Beck and Moe relaxed by the campus water fountain, hands behind their head and sun warming bare legs.

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