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The struggle is real.
Nick Stahlnecker is eighteen and not ready to grow up yet. He has a summer job, a case of existential panic, and a hopeless crush on the unattainable Jai Hazenbrook. Except how do you know that your coworker’s unattainable unless you ask to blow him in the porta-potty?
That’s probably not what Dad meant when he said Nick should act more like an adult.
Twenty-five-year-old Jai is back in his hometown of Franklin, Ohio, just long enough to earn the money to get the hell out again. His long-term goal of seeing more of the world is worth the short-term pain of living in his mother’s basement, but only barely.
Meeting Nick doesn’t fit in with Jai’s plans at all, but, as Jai soon learns, you don’t have to travel halfway around the world to have the adventure of a lifetime.
This is not a summer romance. This is a summer friendship-with-benefits. It’s got pizza with disgusting toppings, Netflix and chill, and accidental exhibitionism. That’s all. There are no feelings here. None. Shut up.
This title comes with no special warnings.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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Nick: Holy shit dude, u have to help me!
Devon: What u do?
Nick: Remember how my dad got me this job so I’d “straighten up & fly right” before college?
Devon: Yeah . . .
Nick: There’s a guy at work I want to do things to. With my tongue & my dick.
Devon: Dude. TMI.
Nick: If I suck his dick on the site I’ll probably get fired right?
* * *
Jai Hazenbrook is ridiculous. Firstly, there’s his name. If Nick were on a quest to return the One Ring to the fiery pits of Mount Doom, Jai Hazenbrook would totally be the hot-as-fuck elf in tight leather pants who could shoot the left testicle off an orc at a thousand paces. Whereas Nick, of course, would be the short hairy-footed guy who liked beer and fireworks and second breakfasts. Even in his fantasy worlds, Nick is a realist.
What? He’s been waiting for another growth spurt, okay? He doesn’t want to be a giant or anything. He just wants to crack five foot ten, really. Five foot ten feels a lot more respectable than five foot seven.
Nick’s been waiting on his growth spurt since he was fifteen. He’s eighteen now and starting to think it’s never coming. Not that he obsesses about it or anything. He’s got much more interesting things to obsess about.
Jai Hazenbrook, for example.
Jai Hazenbrook is tall, fuck him.
He’s tall and has features that can really only be described as chiseled, if Nick’s late-night research into romance novels can be believed. Which they probably can’t. Otherwise surely Jai would also wear kilts and be a millionaire, but whatever. He’s tall, and he’s chiseled, and he has incredible eyes that sometimes can’t decide if they’re blue or if they’re gray, but are usually narrowed in Nick’s direction in a glare. A why-the-fuck-is-this-kid-always-staring-at-me glare.
Nick is not always subtle.
Okay, Nick is never subtle.
Which is why he’s pretty sure he’s going to be fired by the end of the week.
Nick’s dad got him the job at Grover Construction. Disappointingly, it has nothing to do with the Sesame Street puppet, because Nick totally would have been down with that. Harvey Grover is one of his dad’s clients. His dad is an accountant. A certified public accountant. It’s his life’s deepest regret that he’s dedicated himself to pecuniary responsibility, and has somehow managed to raise a son who “doesn’t understand the value of a dollar.” Hence this experimentation with a “job.”
Look, Nick likes having a job. It’s just Mr. Grover very sensibly doesn’t trust him much around the actual construction parts of the construction job. Because power saws and nail guns. So it kind of means Nick answers the phone, and runs errands to the sites and back, and spends as much time as he can staring at Jai Hazenbrook’s fucking perfect ass.
It is seriously fucking perfect. It’s the sort of ass that should inspire goddamn poetry. Nick’s not the kind of guy who can write sonnets or anything, mostly because he can’t remember how to, but if he happens to have a page in his notebook dedicated entirely to ass-related haikus, that’s his business, right?
That ass is so hot.
I would totally hit it.
Yes yes yes yes yes.
Nick’s haiku skills are maybe a little rusty too, but at least the sentiment is heartfelt.
When Nick’s dad arranged this job, well, of course Nick drifted off to sleep with visions of hot construction guys dancing in his head. The visions, not the guys. The fantasy guys did not dance. They just kind of stood around and struck poses, making their unnecessary abs tighten right up, like they were in a Diet Coke commercial or something. Even then, Nick knew the reality wouldn’t be so sweet. There would be no come-hither looks from hot-as-the-sun shirtless construction guys. No. There would be hairy backs and beer bellies and lots of ball scratching but not in a fun way. Nick knows the difference between fantasy and reality.
Which is why Jai Hazenbrook has no fucking place in reality.
Which is why whenever Nick is sent out to the site Jai works on, or Jai comes into the office for something, Nick’s brain kind of goes offline. It shuts itself down into a protective coma in case Nick starts believing in unicorns or something. Jai Hazenbrook simply does not compute.
And Nick is totally, absolutely going to suck Jai’s mythical elf unicorn dick if it’s the last thing he does.
Which, at least as far as his job at Grover Construction goes, it probably will be.
* * *
Nick: Which is hotter? My red shirt or my blue shirt?
Devon: Nothing makes u look hot. U have a face like an ass.
Nick: Fuck you. This is an emergency!
* * *
Devon Staples has been Nick’s best friend since third grade, when their teacher, Mr. Packer, was such an asshole he seated the class according to alphabetical order instead of letting them sit next to their friends. Well, his whole evil plan backfired, because Devon Staples and Nick Stahlnecker are now, and forever will be, best bros. Their bromance is epic. Devon even took Nick to prom, which was beyond incredible because he’s not even a little bit bi—except for the thing that happened at baseball camp when they were fourteen that they don’t talk about. He’s just super cool, and gets a kick out of pissing off his stepdad, who is an evangelical Christian and can be kind of a dick. So prom was pretty funny.
Devon is also oddly protective of Nick sometimes. He claims it’s because he’s three months older than Nick, and therefore the big brother in this bromance. Nick claims it’s because he’s secretly jealous of any guy who tries to get with Nick, because of complex abandonment issues and uncertainty about his own sexuality. It’s probably some weird mix of both, but they’ve never bothered to analyze it except in a teasing way. Whatever it is, it works for them and it’s cool.
Devon, naturally, thinks making “blow Jai Hazenbrook” a life goal is a dumb idea.
“Bro, this is a dumb idea.”
Nick holds his phone awkwardly between his ear and his shoulder as he buttons up his red shirt. It’s his lucky red shirt. If everything goes well, Nick hopes to upgrade it to his lucky red cocksucking shirt. And it does make him look hotter than the blue. It’s a little tighter maybe. It makes his shoulders and his biceps look good, and kind of pulls across his chest when he moves. He can make this work.
“Is it?” he asks idly, turning this way and that in front of his mirror to try to judge how hot his reflection is. Either he’s really hot, or he’s some kid wearing the wrong-size shirt. It’s kind of hard to tell objectively which look he’s rocking. “Or is it the greatest idea ever?”
“No. No, Nick, it’s not.” Devon sighs into the phone. “Your dad is going to be pissed if you lose your job. And also if you get caught blowing some guy—”
“Jai Hazenbrook is not just some guy, Dev,” Nick tells him haughtily. “Jai Hazenbrook is a glorious, beautiful, dangerous creature who makes Legolas look kind of plain.”
“Dude, you need to stop jerking off to the Fellowship of the Ring.”
“They could be the fellowship of my—”
Nick gets the feeling he’s just scarred Devon for life. Which is only fair, really, because last year Devon got really drunk and confessed he’d had a wet dream about Nick’s mom. Seriously? And Devon thinks Nick overshares. Nick still gets creeped out whenever his mom offers Devon cookies. He’s always half-afraid the bow-chicka-bow-wow music will start up somewhere in the background and things will get crazy gross.
“It would be cool if he had long hair,” Nick says. “And leather pants. Maybe he’s got leather pants. Do you think I should ask him?”
“You want to blow some guy you don’t even know and ask if he has leather pants? You know you’re more likely to end up in a weird sex dungeon than Middle Earth cosplay, right?”
Nick considers the possibility for a moment. “I could totally be into that.”
Yeah, Nick could totally be into that. He’s looked online. He’s seen videos. But he also isn’t sure. It’s like the time he tried blue cheese. It looked pretty good, and heaps of other people like it, and right up until the moment he put it in his mouth, he was totally keeping an open mind. And then it turned out it tasted like ass. Like Satan’s ass. But he hadn’t known until he tried it for himself. And how else is he supposed to learn things except by trying them? Kinky shit may be awesome and hot and incredible. It may also be blue cheese. Nick kind of wants to know which one it is.
But that’s a life goal for another day.
Today’s life goal: blow Jai Hazenbrook.
“You’ve got this,” he tells his reflection, determined to give it some confidence. “You’re wearing your lucky red shirt, you look hot, and you’re totally going to suck some dick today.”
A little voice in his head reminds him this is the worst idea ever.
The little voice is Devon. He’s still there. Nick tries to explain how this isn’t just some random dick, this could be a life-changing dick, but apparently it sounds better in his head than in actual words, because Devon starts making strange high-pitched sounds like he does when they’re watching slasher movies and blood and body parts are flying everywhere.
“Fine,” Devon says at last. “But when you get busted, then fired, don’t come crying to me about it.”
“I won’t,” Nick promises.
He will. They both know it.
“Good luck, I guess.”
“I don’t need it, bro,” Nick says with way more confidence than he feels. “I’m superhot today. Not even Jai Hazenbrook will be able to resist me.”
He manages to believe it almost all the way out the door.
* * *
By the time Nick arrives at the offices of Grover Construction, his lucky red cocksucking shirt has a coffee stain on it because the damn barista at the place down the street overfilled his cup. What with that and with Devon’s prophecies of doom, Nick almost feels like the universe is trying to tell him that hey, maybe this isn’t such a great idea. Nick ignores the universe. Fuck it, right? What did the universe ever do for him anyway?
Grover Construction is on Second Street. It shares the parking lot with a dentist’s office. From his desk, Nick has a good view of crying children being dragged toward the dentist by their parents. It’s sometimes nice, when he’s really bored and has already counted the staples in his stapler a dozen times, to know that other people are having a worse day than he is. Nick’s job is super dull. He mostly takes care of answering the phone and doing filing, and stapling things. Sometimes the things don’t even need stapling, but Nick does it anyway. He makes shiny little railroad tracks along the tops of documents. His record is thirty-eight staples on one thing. Then he picked thirty-seven of them out again because he remembered he was supposed to be professional.
Adulting is hard.
The struggle is real.
Patricia is the office manager at Grover Construction. She’s Harvey Grover’s cousin. She’s forty-six and is lactose intolerant. Nick’s not sure why she chose to share either of those things with him. It wasn’t like he lay awake at night wondering her age. And it’s definitely not like he was going to hold her down and force her to drink milk. Patricia is also a Scrabble champion, at the state level. Apparently there are competitions and everything. She keeps a bunch of second-hand dictionaries on her desk, and brushes up on tricky Q-words during her lunch break.
Nick doesn’t have a lot in common with Patricia, but they have totally bonded over their all-consuming lust for Jai Hazenbrook.
“Mm-hmm,” Patricia said one day after Jai had left the office, his ass looking extra spectacular that morning. “I would do terrible things to that boy.”
Nick gasped. “Do you also want to climb him like a tree?”
“I would make him cry for his mommy.”
Which, wow, okay, was maybe a little more intense than anything Nick was thinking of, but more power to her. Nick’s not scared of the competition, because firstly Patricia is already married to a firefighter, and hello, you don’t get to be greedy like that. Once you bag a firefighter, you’ve already hit the jackpot and thanks for playing. Also, Jai Hazenbrook is gay. Probably. Possibly. Nick is almost sure he’s not just projecting when he gets that vibe. So if anyone in the office gets to jump Jai’s bones, it’s going to be Nick.
It is absolutely going to be Nick.
Nick sits down at his desk and fiddles with his collection of paper clips. Then he checks his email, checks BuzzFeed, and it’s still only 9:08? What the hell is that about?
Patricia is down the hall in the little break room, making a cup of tea. Nick can hear her humming to herself. She drinks weird-smelling tea that has bits of things floating in it. Nick is not a fan. Not of the tea, or the humming either. Both are not very office-neighborly. Nick feels his two and a half weeks of employment have taught him everything he needs to know about office etiquette, and he’s definitely a better coworker than Patricia. Although she has developed a twitch in her right eye whenever he goes on a stapling rampage.
Ker-thunk. Ker-thunk. Ker-thunk.
Stapling things is fun though, right?
Gross tea is gross.
Gross tea also saves the day, because Patricia isn’t back at her desk yet when Harvey Grover turns up, wiping a hand over his comb-over to keep it from flapping up in the blast of the air conditioner. He blinks through his glasses at Patricia’s empty desk, the corners of his mouth turning down, and then turns his head slowly. His gaze lands on Nick.
“Ah!” he says, like this is an unexpected delight. Which of course it is, because Nick is awesome, but usually people don’t notice. Mr. Grover waves a big yellow envelope in Nick’s direction. “Nick, I need someone to take this to the site manager on Jacobsen Street.”
Nick leaps up from his chair. “No problem, Mr. Grover! I’ll do it straight away!”
The Jacobsen Street site.
Nick’s lucky red cocksucking shirt.
Really, there’s only one way this can end.
But also bow-chicka-bow-wow.
Nick races out of the office.
Jai is loading bricks into a wheelbarrow when he gets the feeling he’s being watched. He claps two bricks together, dust flying, and turns around, even though he knows exactly who it’s going to be. Jai’s not paranoid, but this happens at least once a day, and whenever else the kid from the office can find an excuse to visit the site.
And there he is now, ducking unconvincingly behind a porta-potty, his face as red as his shirt.
Just as Jai is turning away, willing to pretend he never saw the kid if the kid pretends never to have seen him, the kid reappears and waves awkwardly. “Hey.”
Jai slams a brick into the barrow. “Hey.”
The kid seems to take his answer as some sort of invitation, and comes closer. His red shirt pulls tight across his chest as he moves. He’s not as skinny as Jai first thought. He chews his bottom lip for a second before he speaks. “So, um, Jai, right?”
Jai brushes dust off his gloves. “Hard hat.”
The kid blinks at him. “What?”
“You need a hard hat if you’re coming on site,” Jai tells him.
“Oh!” The kid snorts. “For a second I thought you were, like, correcting me on your name or something, and I was going to say that Hardhat’s a pretty weird name. Kind of dumb, even for a nickname, right?”
Jai raises his eyebrows at the kid. “No, I was saying that you need a hard hat.”
“I’m not actually coming on site though,” the kid says. “I’m just standing here right at the edge of the site.”
Jai glances at the steel beams above them. “This is the site.”
“Is it?” the kid asks. “It feels more site adjacent.”
Jai rolls his eyes. “Get killed. See if I care.”
“Okay.” The kid tilts his head slightly and shrugs. “So, my name’s Nick.”
Jai knows. He’s never asked, but he knows because every other guy on the site makes fun of him because Nick has such an obvious crush on him. The guys are pretty good. They’re not total homophobes or anything, but if Nick were Nicole, they’d all be encouraging Jai to hit that, instead of snickering at the idea. They’re small-town guys with small-town attitudes, mostly. It is what it is.
“I’m eighteen,” Nick says. “And it’s Nick.”
“Okay,” Jai tells Nick. “And I’ve got work to do.”
Nick flushes. “Oh, yeah, sure.”
And yet he’s somehow managed to insinuate himself between Jai and the wheelbarrow.
Jai hooks his thumbs through his belt loops. “And I’d really like to get back to it?”
Which isn’t exactly the truth, but Jai wants out of the weird kid’s space. He’s here to work, not . . . whatever Nick is doing. Is it flirting? It’s hard to tell. The kid’s so awkward that a part of Jai wants to cringe in sympathy. The other part of him would really, really like to escape.
There’s always a part of Jai looking to escape. Escape this conversation, escape the grind, escape this small town. He spends his days lugging bricks and dreaming of the world outside Franklin, Ohio.
He’s got three months of summer to earn some money, and some blisters, and then he can spend the next nine months traveling. Argentina, this time. Living out of a backpack and seeing the world. Jai’s been doing it for years. It’s a hell of a lot better than staying in Franklin and working construction all year round. Or worse, becoming a corporate stooge. His mom says he’s afraid to settle down. Jai keeps telling her he’s just afraid to settle.
“Do you own leather pants?” Nick blurts.
Nick freezes like a startled possum. Then his jaw starts working, but no words come out. His face is scarlet and his eyes are owlishly wide.
“Okay, I’m gonna get back to work now.” And pretend this never fucking happened. Leather pants? What the hell?
He moves to step around Nick, and is surprised when Nick reaches out and grabs him. Long, thin fingers curl around his forearm.
“Wait! That was weird. Sorry, that was weird. I’m weird. So, um, if you can forget that thing I said about leather pants, that would be awesome.” Nick’s face is scrunched up, like a toddler refusing vegetables. “But, okay, I’m seriously wearing my favorite red shirt and I would really, really like to suck your dick.”
For a moment Jai only hears a strange buzzing in his head. It takes a little while for him to actually parse the words. Because on what otherwise ordinary Monday morning does anyone hear words like that? On what otherwise ordinary Monday morning does anyone say words like that?
Nick uncurls his fingers from Jai’s arm. He looks at Jai hopefully, and shrugs and flashes him a quick grin. “If, um, if that’s something you’d be into?”
For three months a year Jai works hard and saves his money. Goes to bed early and gets up before dawn.
For nine months a year he escapes. He goes bungee jumping and cliff diving and a hundred other crazy things his mother doesn’t want to hear about.
These two worlds do not collide.
Until right now.
“Yeah,” he hears himself saying, his gaze fixed on Nick’s mouth. “I’d be into that.”
* * *
The porta-potty smells of chemicals and urine. It’s hot, and there’s not much room. Jai finds himself wedged into the tiny space beside the toilet, while Nick pulls the door shut behind them. Then Nick gets down on his knees.
“What?” Jai asks. He can’t see the floor.
“I think I’m kneeling in pee.”
Still, that doesn’t seem to dampen Nick’s enthusiasm at all, because a second later he’s tugging at the fly of Jai’s jeans, wrenching at the zipper. Jai’s tool belt, slung low around his hips, gets in the way. Jai tries to unfasten it, and only succeeds in smacking Nick in the head.
Nick rubs his head and grins up at him. “It’s all good.”
Jai hitches his tool belt up, and Nick attacks his fly again. This time he gets the zipper down and shoves his hand straight into Jai’s open jeans. Jai’s hard already—not fully—but he’s getting there fast, and the gasp that Nick gives sounds a lot like one of appreciation. Then Nick’s peeling Jai’s underwear down, licking his lips, and diving right on in.
“Shit.” Jai’s head falls back and knocks against the wall with a hollow thunk. It doesn’t hurt. Jai thinks he probably wouldn’t feel it even if it did. He looks down at Nick, at the dark head shoved into his groin, at the red shirt pulled tight across angular shoulders. He keeps one hand on his tool belt so he doesn’t brain Nick again, and rests the other one against Nick’s head. Nick’s hair is long enough for him to curl his fingers through, and a little crisp with gel.
Nick sucks and licks his way up the length of Jai’s dick.
It’s wet, and messy, and Jai doesn’t know whether to just go with it or push Nick away because he feels like an overenthusiastic Labrador. He tugs Nick’s head back gently.
“Have you done this before?”
“Yes!” Nick says, breathing heavily. “Kind of? I’ve watched a lot of porn. Like a lot.”
So that’s actually a no.
Jai is going to hell, for real.
“Also,” Nick says, “I’ve practiced on stuff. Last week I almost choked on a cucumber.”
How is this kid even real? Real people have filters.
Nick’s eyes widen. “Have you seen those clips on YouTube where people try and make their cats scared of cucumbers?” He screws up his face again. “Sorry. Not relevant. I’ll just, um . . .” He leans forward and closes his mouth around the head of Jai’s dick.
A part of Jai would really like to ask Nick exactly what planet he’s from, but it’s hard to concentrate while getting his dick sucked. He moans and drops his head back against the wall again.
Nick runs his tongue under the head of Jai’s cock, and Jai goes weak at the knees. “Yeah,” he says, tightening his grip in Nick’s hair. “Yeah, right there.”
Nick gives a pleased little hum and does it again.
Jai closes his eyes. It’s hot inside the porta-potty. A bead of sweat trickles down his spine. Jai shudders and forces himself not to try to thrust farther into the kid’s mouth. Nick wraps his warm fingers around the shaft of Jai’s dick and mouths eagerly at the rest of it. He swirls his tongue around the head, then leans forward to take more in and sucks.
“Shit.” Jai gasps and twists his fingers in Nick’s hair.
He’s close. It’s been a while since he’s done this. Last time . . . When was the last time? Yeah, that’s right. It was with Gemma. Cute girl from Scotland. A shared dorm room in a hostel in Hanoi, and a shared bottle of Sơn Tinh. She’d blown him, and he’d gone down on her until his mouth and tongue were numb. But a lot of that had been the Sơn Tinh. It’d taken ages for her to come. The next day they’d shared a shower and gone their separate ways. Ships passing in the night and all that.
Nick pulls off him with a pop to suck in a lungful of air. His face is red. “’S’okay?”
“Yeah.” Jai resists the urge to shove his face straight back down. “I’m getting close.”
Nick grins. “Cool.”
He dives in again.
This time Nick’s more confident. He digs his tongue into the slit, almost driving Jai up onto his toes. Nick makes a small, happy sound and sucks again, which is all it really takes for Jai to start coming.
That’s when things happen fast.
Jai’s still coming when he hears the sudden bang of a fist on the door.
Nick pulls back with a surprised noise, and gets a face full of cum.
“Shit. Shit. I’m sorry!” Jai hisses, and in the same moment realizes that the crack of light around the edge of the porta-potty door is suddenly getting bigger. A lot bigger. “Fuck. Did you lock the—”
The look on his foreman’s face as he wrenches open the door and catches them is one that will probably haunt Jai forever.
* * *
It takes thirty seconds for Jai to lose the job he really needs.
He’s so eager to get the hell off the site that he leaves his lunch pail there. He’s halfway home before he remembers it, but fuck it. He’s not going back.
He didn’t even bother to try to argue with the foreman. Just walked off the site, leaving Nick sitting on the sidewalk while the foreman called Mr. Grover. Nick looked pale and sick, like a kid sitting outside the principal's office. Jai was worried enough to stop for a moment, and Nick looked up and shot him a wry grin, and shrugged in the universal gesture for what-can-you-do. Well, you could not offer to blow random guys on your boss’s dime. Not that Jai isn’t shouldering his share of the blame. He didn’t have to say yes.
So he left.
Walked down the street to where he’d left his bike, started it up, and ignored the rattling sound that he thinks is the cam chain. He doesn’t have the money to get it fixed at the moment, and, oh yeah, now he’s also unemployed.
Jai rides out of town, taking the back roads, because the idea of heading home to an empty house is not one that appeals. Nothing in Franklin appeals. It’s why he was so eager to get the hell out straight after high school, and why he only comes back for three months a year. It’s home, but it’s too small-town. Whenever he’s back, he’s itching to be gone again. A part of him wants to get on the interstate and just keep riding until he hits somewhere new.
Instead, he turns around and heads back into town. He goes to the river and parks up by the entrance to the trail. It’s not quite 10 a.m., too late for most morning walkers or cyclists, so there aren’t too many people about. He watches the river for a moment and almost wishes he had his lunch pail with him. He’s unemployed. May as well enjoy a fucking picnic.
He walks down to the riverbank and thinks about all the time he spent here when he was a kid. His dad loved the river. He used to come here every morning and cycle miles along the trail. A man as fit as that shouldn’t have died of a heart attack at forty-one.
Life is short, right?
Why would anyone settle for anything less than living life to the fullest, when tomorrow they may be dead? Yet, wherever he goes in the world, he sees people stuck in the daily grind.
He sits down under a tree.
He feels out of place here, and more so than usual. He’s still wearing his damned tool belt. He leans back and unfastens it and lays it on the ground beside him. Wipes his hands on his jeans and thinks of Nick going down on him. His enthusiasm, and his grin, and the way he sucked harder when Jai started to come.
His dick twitches, like it hasn’t already seen enough action today.
Farther down the riverbank, a man’s throwing a stick into the water for his dog. The dog leaps from the bank and lands in the river with a splash, already paddling.
Jai starts to laugh, and he’s not even sure why.
Crazy fucking world.
Mostly, he thinks, he’s laughing because he’s going to have to explain to his mom why he just got sacked.
Chris Stahlnecker is not a bad guy. As far as dads go, he’s pretty good. He’s not an asshole or anything, he’s just a little bit distant. And not distant in the way that leaves Nick with complex abandonment issues and a pathological fear of rejection, like Shinji in Neon Genesis Evangelion, just that Chris and Nick don’t really have much in common. Sometimes Nick thinks his dad isn’t a dad so much as he’s an acquaintance Nick’s been rooming with for the past eighteen years. Apart from the occasional “straighten up and fly right” lecture—lectures that Nick politely listens to and then completely disregards—his dad may as well be a stranger.
Right now, Nick is betting he wishes he were.
If it was about anyone else, Nick would have loved to hear Harvey Grover explain over the phone to his dad why Nick was no longer employed at Grover Construction. Because how hilarious would that be? Except it turns out it isn’t funny as much as excruciatingly embarrassing. Because there is a huge, huge gap between Chris Stahlnecker being okay about the fact that Nick is gay, and having Harvey Grover hit him with a visual he doesn’t need. There is no way Chris wants his face rubbed in it.
Rubbing his face in things is Nick’s specialty.
“He . . . he what? Oh my God. Oh. Oh my God.” With every passing second, Chris’s face grows whiter. And he was already pretty white to start with. “Thank you, Harvey. Of course I understand. Good-bye.”
“What?” Nick’s mom asks. “What’s going on?”
Nick’s parents have him trapped in the kitchen, and Nick is a little bit worried that if he attempts to leave, one of them will rip his face off.
Nick sits slumped at the kitchen table while his dad leans on the counter and stares at him. Chris looks a little manic. One eye bulges more than is probably medically advisable. One hand claws at the knot of his tie like he’s afraid it’s trying to strangle him. His other hand still clutches his phone.
“What?” his mom asks again.
“Nick got sacked,” his dad says.
Right in the eye, Nick wants to tell him, but no. No, Nick.
“Do you want to tell your mother what happened, or shall I?”
“Um,” Nick says, and wonders if neither is an option. It’s probably not. And he really, really doesn’t want to say this, but he really, really doesn’t want to make his dad do it either. “I kind of got caught doing stuff with a guy? In a porta-potty?”
“Stuff?” his mom asks.
Chris flinches. So does Nick.
“Um, giving a BJ?” Nick says, and, speaking of BJs, he prays to Baby Jesus that his mom knows what it stands for and he doesn’t have to explain. Knows only because she’s read it in a book, not because she’s ever . . . Oh God. What is wrong with his brain today?
“Oh,” his mom says and blinks slowly. “Oh!”
And then nobody says anything at all.
Nick wrinkles his nose and stares at a speck of congealed ketchup on the table.
The clock on the wall ticks.
The dog waddles into the kitchen, takes one look at the humans, and skedaddles again.
The clock on the wall continues to tick.
“Um,” Nick says at last.
His dad’s eye spasms.
“No,” his mother says brightly, crossing to the refrigerator and rattling around in it, as in No, I will not let these clouds spoil my picnic. No, I will not admit the glass is half-empty. And no, my precious little angel was not just caught performing fellatio in a porta-potty. “No, nobody is going to turn this into a thing. This is not a thing.”
Nick’s eyes widen as she reappears from behind the cover of the refrigerator door, clutching a wine cooler. She twists the cap off the bottle aggressively and takes a swig. His mom is day drinking. He’s broken her.
“It was an accident?” Nick attempts.
“An accident?” Chris huffs out. “An accident? You accidentally gave someone a blowjob?”
If Nick never hears the word “blowjob” come out of his dad’s mouth again, he’ll die a happy man.
“Um,” he says, because, really, what else can he possibly say? “Sorry?”
His dad’s face turns a startling shade of red. “Go to your room, Nick.”
* * *
Nick: I got sacked.
Devon: SERIOUSLY?!?!?!?! :-o
Nick: I feel bad.
Nick: He got sacked too.
* * *
Nick will probably be grounded until he’s dead of old age. His dad hasn’t calmed down enough yet to say it, but Nick won’t be surprised. He lies on his bed and works on his web comic. He’s been drawing it since he was fifteen. He has three hundred and twelve subscribers. He would probably have more if he could, like, actually draw. Even after three years his characters look a little lopsided.
It’s dark when Devon climbs in his bedroom window, bearing a pizza.
“I love you,” Nick tells him fervently, and attacks the pizza.
“I know,” Devon says smugly, and Nick doesn’t know if he’s quoting The Empire Strikes Back or just being a dick. “So, tell me everything.” Then he shudders. “Well, not everything.”
“I blew Jai Hazenbrook in a porta-potty and we got busted,” Nick says around his mouthful of pizza. “Then we both got sacked.”
Devon winces and flops down on Nick’s bed beside him. “Sucks, dude.”
Nick rolls his eyes.
Devon winces again when he realizes what he said. “You know what I mean.”
“Do I?” Nick asks. “Or are you secretly an asshole who got me a meatlovers with extra sausage just for a cheap laugh?”
“I got you a meatlovers with extra sausage because it’s your favorite,” Devon tells him, and reaches over to steal a piece of pepperoni. “Is your dad pissed?”
“Totally. Also, he can’t look me in the eye, which is weird.”
Devon sighs. “Sorry, bro.”
Nick knows there will be plenty of time later for Devon to remind him that he told him so, but the cool thing about Devon is that he knows now is not the right time for that. Devon always has Nick’s back when he needs it. Devon is the first person Nick came out to. Nick was sixteen. And Devon was totally not surprised. Which, after that thing at baseball camp, okay. Yeah, maybe Nick had totally initiated things and Devon had just gone along with it when Nick promised that straight bros jerked off together all the time. Really, Nick isn’t sure why it took him another two years to come out to Devon. And then, when he did, Devon had only nodded, hugged him, and asked him if he wanted backup when he told his parents. Devon is fucking incredible, and, if he weren’t straight, Nick would be planning their wedding already.
“I feel really bad for Jai,” Nick admits as he chews his pizza crust. “I mean, what if he really needed that job, you know?”
“Um,” Devon says. “He’s an adult, right? So, like, rent? And insurance and stuff?”
Devon is as vague on the details of adulting as Nick is.
Nick groans. “I’m a horrible person.”
“Nick,” Devon says, his voice low and serious. “Hey, you didn’t force him to do anything, right?”
“Right,” Nick agrees, even though it doesn’t make him feel any better.
“Remember that time in tenth grade when you asked me if I wanted to pull the fire alarm with you? I didn’t have to.”
Three weeks of detention for disrupting exams. Still totally worth it.
“You’re not a bad person,” Devon says. “You just have terrible impulse control.”
It’s true. Nick’s not even hungry anymore, but he’s still shoving the pizza in his face. And he’s going to keep doing it until there’s none left or his stomach explodes, whichever happens first.
“I do,” Nick agrees sadly, then decides it’s time for a change of conversation. “How’s it going with Ebony?”
Ebony is the girl Devon’s been crushing on for almost a year now. They work together at the pizza parlor. Nick’s rooting for them, because Ebony seems really cool, but mostly because if they get together, he’s going to call them Debony. Or Devony. He hasn’t decided yet.
He attacks the rest of the pizza while he listens to Devon wax lyrical about how incredible Ebony is, and how she’s funny and smart and also really pretty, except what if she still thinks he helped her make signs to protest the protesters at Planned Parenthood that time just because he was trying to get into her pants? Devon’s a nice guy, but he’s worried that she thinks he’s one of those “nice” guys who’s only interested in being friends with her if it goes somewhere. And Devon wants it to go somewhere, even though of course Ebony doesn’t owe him anything. It’s complicated. Devon’s too scared to make a move because he’s been crippled by the weight of his male privilege. He only discovered it a few months ago, and it’s shaken him up pretty badly.
“Look,” Nick tells him. “It’s really simple. You ask her if she wants to go out with you, and if she says no, then you still stay her friend.”
“But what if she thinks I’m only staying her friend to hide the fact that I want to be her boyfriend?” Devon asks. His eyes go big. “I don’t want to turn into one of those assholes who gets all angry on Reddit about being friend-zoned and hates on every girl for being too good for him.”
“I hate those guys,” Nick says. “Girls are too good for them. So are boys. And also every sentient creature that ever existed. You are not one of those guys, Dev.”
“What if I am and I just don’t know it? What if living with Lewis has screwed me up? In ten years, I could be married to a Duggar sister, Nick!”
“Oh, please. Lewis isn’t that bad.” Nick punches him in the arm. “But if you want to make certain, lean over and give your gay BFF a big kiss.”
“No,” Devon says firmly. “Not because I’m being homophobic, but because I know where your mouth has been today, and you probably haven’t even brushed your teeth.”
“That’s true,” Nick admits. He rubs his aching stomach.
Devon stays with him until there’s nothing but grease stains left on the bottom of the pizza box, then gives him another hug and climbs out the window. The tree rustles as he makes his escape.
Nick sends him a few encouraging texts about how incredible he is and how he should absolutely ask Ebony on a date, then crawls under his covers and tries not to worry about Jai Hazenbrook, and whether or not Nick ruined his life today.
[A] funny, blurty, feel-good, NA story.
I can’t recommend this book enough. Adulting 101 is a perfect realistic feel-good romance that will make you laugh hysterically and smile uncontrollably.
Henry . . . brings pure fun and a feel for pop culture–fueled young adult insecurities to a coming-of-age comedy of errors full of Netflix, pizza, family warmth, and awkward sex.
[I]f you’re looking for a funny, romantic, and very hot read that will have you laughing more than once, then you will probably like this novel as much as I do.