Pain Slut (The Subs Club, #2)

Author: 
eBook ISBN: 
978-1-62649-345-2
eBook release: 
Feb 1, 2016
eBook Formats: 
pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 
978-1-62649-346-9
Print release: 
Feb 1, 2016
Word count: 
81,400
Page count: 
320
Type: 
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This title is part of the The Subs Club universe.

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Honestly, I’m ready to take a step back from the Subs Club. Making the kink world a safer place for subs is the sort of bandwagon I’d have boarded as an idealist in my early twenties, but now I’m a pragmatist in my late twenties.  I prefer to focus on adopting and raising a child.

But unexpected factors inevitably derail my plans. Like Drix Seger—attractive and the first genuine sadist I’ve encountered. If I were not in the process of renouncing my masochistic ways and becoming the normal, responsible potential father the adoption agency wants to see, Drix and I might do well together.

But he has a foolish name and belongs to a cult of vampyres, and I am quitting kink. So why does Drix’s infatuation with blood and biting make me so hot I can’t think straight? And why, when he looks at me, does he seem to see something beyond a basket case with a stick up my ass?

Can I start a new phase in my life without leaving part of myself behind? Please send help.

—Miles

Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:

Chapter One

I was lying in dishabille on a steel exam table, my feet in a pair of stirrups, a hypodermic needle on a stand beside me—when my phone buzzed.

And kept buzzing.

My wrists were cuffed to the table, so I called to Bowser, who was sterilizing a scalpel over by the sink. “Can you hand me my phone?”

Bowser turned. Under his white lab coat, he wore a THE DOCTOR IS IN tee I’d given him years ago. “Now?”

“I’m expecting an important call.” Mind fogged. Wrists sore. Rubber tubing tied tight around my balls. How I thought I’d be able to carry on a phone conversation in this state, je ne savais pas.

Bowser crossed the room and retrieved the phone from my messenger bag. Glanced at the screen as he approached me. “Not a call. Texts.”

A moment of prodigious disappointment. Not the Beacon Center, then.

“Could you show me, please?” My voice was brusque, demanding. I felt slightly guilty about it.

He tried to swipe with a gloved finger, but the latex caught on the screen. He peeled off the glove with a snap that made my balls tighten. Then he swiped again and showed me the screen.

The texts were all from Kamen.

Dude were hangin at Dave’s to talk Hal’s b-day.

Hey do u still have my windbreaker?

Also, do you ever think about what if Barack Obama was clones?

I sighed and looked away, focusing on the jacaranda-blue wall of Bowser’s office. The sharps container mounted on it. I stared at the biohazard symbol. “You can put it back.” If my hands had been free, I’d have given a dismissive wave. To the manor born, my mother always said.

And she was one to talk.

Out of the corner of my eye I watched Bowser take my phone back and set it on my bag. He returned to the counter and pulled on a new glove. Placed the scalpel on a plastic tray with other medical tools, then took the tray to a minifridge in the corner and popped it inside. Went back to the counter, where he began warming a bag of saline solution with a hot plate. “Not what you were expecting?” he asked.

I studied the wall again. I’d first set foot in this room seven years ago. I’d been so nervous that I’d focused on figuring out what color the wall was. Not royal blue. Not blue-violet. “Just my friends. Who know I’m busy this afternoon.”

I turned my gaze to the ceiling, trying to revert to the correct headspace. But now my mind was racing. The Beacon Center should have called by now. And Hal’s birthday—really? Why were we celebrating a dead man’s birthday?

“I liked that speech your friend Dave made a while back. At the roundtable.”

“Ah, yes.”

Bowser and I didn’t usually make small talk when we played together. It was still strange to think we’d once been fairly close. Back when I was twenty-one and endlessly enthused about kink. The past seven years had lent no small measure of tedium to deviance.

He brought the clear bag of saline solution over to the exam table and hooked it to an IV stand near my left shoulder. “I actually think it’s cool—the Subs Club. Even the review thing. I don’t know why so many people were upset about it.”

I tensed, trying not to recall that the last top who had brought up the Subs Club while I was tied down had held a knife to my face. And not in a fun way.

The Subs Club was an organization my friends Dave, Kamen, and Gould and I had started a couple of months ago. What had begun as an attempt to give submissives a private place to discuss safety concerns in the kink community had spiraled out of control when subs started posting reviews of individual doms on the Subs Club blog. In theory, this was advantageous—it let members call out “doms” who had abused or raped them in the past, and warn other members to stay away. And it let doms who were truly outstanding have their positive traits held up as paradigms.

We’d actually had a great deal of support. But our detractors had grown vocal, perhaps understandably so. In a way, the review blog had been a gross violation of privacy, despite the care we’d taken to only use doms’ scene names. Eventually we’d reached a compromise with the community leaders—we would remove the review portion of the blog and focus instead on leading community roundtable discussions once a month at Riddle, a local dungeon. So far, it was working out fairly well.

I pulled against the cuffs again, enjoying the feel. “Are you just saying that because you had such good reviews?”

“Did I?” Bowser shook the tubing to unkink it.

I almost rolled my eyes at his attempt to be casual. Despite the Subs Club blog having a log-in system that prevented nonmembers—i.e., doms—from viewing it, plenty of doms had seen or at least heard about their reviews. “You know you did. Everyone loves you.”

He grinned. “Just wanted to hear you say it.”

Ah, but he was a filthy sweetheart. Dave always said he looked like a Viking, with his stout body, ginger beard, and wide nose. And it was Kamen who’d first pointed out that his laugh sounded exactly like Bowser’s in Super Mario 64. Now pretty much everyone in the scene called him Bowser, and he was a good sport about it.

He picked up the prepackaged IV needle from the stand. “You sure you want to go through with this? If you’re expecting an important call?”

“Of course.” I flexed my fingers and pulled against the restraints until the cuffs bit into my wrists. My cock rose at the sight of the needle. My tied-off balls were slightly numb.

He unwrapped the needle. “And you’re sure you’re okay with at least twenty-four hours of this?”

Once the saline was in, it would be a day, maybe two before the swelling went down. “I’ve got nowhere to be.”

“All right. Lookin’ forward to seeing how you do with the infusion as opposed to the injection.”

“Me too.” I settled back against the table.

Last time we’d done a saline infusion, Bowser had injected the solution into me. The results had been a general lumpiness to my scrotum that had faded fast. This time we were going to try an IV drip, which we hoped would create a more symmetrical and sustainable swelling. He’d tied off my balls to prevent the solution from getting absorbed too quickly into the rest of my body.

Bowser attached the needle to the tubing and let the solution flow for a few seconds to get all the air out of the tube. With his other hand, he flipped open a bottle of Betadine and pressed a cotton ball to the opening. Tipped the bottle, dousing the cotton ball, then quickly swabbed the center of my scrotum. He let that dry, then used an alcohol pad to swab the area again. I tried not to flinch. No matter how many times I played with needles, there was always something disconcerting about them.

I was the only pain slut in my group of friends. I’d met a couple of others at Riddle, but I remained the most masochistic person I knew. I wanted it all—burning, cutting, piercing, choking, you name it. I wanted to scream, to bleed, and come out the other side feeling shaken and unsure and powerful all at once. I wanted someone to take me to that place, push me beyond what I thought I could endure.

And yet, perhaps foolishly, I wanted it done with love.

“Hold still.” Bowser lifted my balls and deftly inserted the needle under the skin. I breathed through the sting, which was somehow harder to take than many of the worst whippings I’d ever received.

At first I didn’t feel much of anything. But slowly the warm liquid spread, and my sac tightened. The tip of my cock smeared pre-cum over my belly, and my hands balled into fists.

Suddenly, a wave of guilt washed over me.

I wasn’t supposed to be doing this. I was supposed to have given up kink weeks ago. Months ago. And yet here I was, playing doctor with Bowser.

“How’s that feel?” He stroked my swelling balls with one finger.

I trembled, my jaw clenching. I was so sensitive I could have come just from that gentle touch.

What kind of father are you going to make?

“Miles?” Bowser looked concerned.

I nodded, reminding myself to breathe deeply. I shifted as the weight of my balls increased. My legs weren’t cuffed, and I had to struggle to keep my feet in the stirrups. I wanted to press my legs together, do something to lessen the discomfort of being here, completely exposed, with my balls gradually expanding.

Fifteen minutes went by.

Bowser kept stroking. He slid his finger into my ass crack and circled my hole. The rubber tube around my balls was biting into the flesh now, and the IV bag was about two-thirds empty.

“I’m gonna untie this.” Bowser undid the rubber tubing. I watched my massive balls wobble against my groin. Swallowed at the prickling sensation as blood rushed back into the area. It looked like I had a balloon between my legs—the sac taut, every vein visible beneath the skin. The discomfort turned to something closer to pain as I was stretched further.

I hissed. “It feels so weird.”

What the hell kind of father? Seriously, Miles.

Cheryl Callahan from the Beacon Center was going to call any day now to schedule my first home visit, and here I was definitively proving that I had no business being a parent.

“It looks amazing.” Bowser lifted my balls. “Hurt?”

I shook my head. “Not— Ah!” I closed my eyes briefly as Bowser continued to heft. He flicked lightly, and I dragged air through my teeth.

I looked at the wall again. Bowser had a pleasant, quiet house. It was one of the reasons I continued to play with him. That and his formidable knowledge of erotic medical torture.

He poked my balls again. “Just sensitive, huh?”

“Yes.”

This was always how Bowser and I played—he didn’t do any of the hard-ass–dom posturing, and I didn’t do any of the submissive yes sir, please sir. I was here for pain, and he was here to give it to me.

He moved to his minifridge. Opened it and took out the tray of metal tools. Oh fuck. Yes.

He picked up a scalpel, which gleamed in the dim light. My dick throbbed, and my throat tightened.

“Oh God,” I whispered, as the saline stretched my balls further. The bag was nearly empty now, but my sac was still swelling. I’d worn loose sweatpants, but I was nervous about putting even those on when we were done. And underwear was simply not an option.

Bowser held the scalpel a few inches above my balls. I got a flash of fear that made my lungs seize, my ears ring, the inside of my skull ache. I caught the words between my teeth and crushed them: Don’t, please, please, don’t. God, no . . .

“I know you know this,” he said quietly, “but don’t move.”

“No shit.” I took a deep breath and let it out as he pressed the side of the scalpel flat against my balls. It was cold, but I didn’t let myself jump. I moaned, feeling all of the stress over Beacon Center and my iniquity vanish as I gave myself over to the thrill of this moment. If I moved, even a little bit, he could slit my skin. Blood would pour over my balls, a hot rush over cold metal, and . . . Shit, shit, shit, just the idea made me want to squirm.

I kept my breathing steady and even. Closed my eyes for a second so I could concentrate on the chill of the metal. The way it both numbed my nerves and roused them. I opened my eyes again so I could watch. Bowser dragged the flat of the scalpel lightly over my scrotum. Tilted it just slightly, for a fraction of an instant. Almost immediately, a thin line of blood appeared. I watched in fascination. Bowser put down the scalpel, unwrapped another alcohol pad, and wiped the blood away. The sting of the alcohol made me arch against the table. He held the pad against the wound until the bleeding stopped.

He gave me another small cut with the scalpel, and I closed my eyes, hoping to feel the blood run a little before he wiped it away. I sighed, all at once deeply peaceful.

“There you go,” Bowser whispered, keeping a light pressure on the cut.

I smiled.

“You look really good.”

I opened my eyes. “You don’t have to say things like that.”

He leaned over and sucked my left nipple. It surprised me—he was rarely sexual with me. But it felt so damn good. Warm and wet, his beard scraping my pecs, his teeth catching my nipple for the barest sliver of a moment, making me gasp. He walked around the table and sucked the other one too, until I was almost sore, until my cock was tapping my belly every few seconds, leaving a damp spot on the skin.

He threw the alcohol pad away, wrapped the scalpel for sterilization, and applied a clear dressing on the cuts before bandaging them. He changed his gloves and picked up a genital whip. My stomach constricted. That thing hurt even when my balls weren’t five times their normal size. It looked like a miniature flogger—about the length of my hand. But the falls were strands of plastic beads.

He brushed the plastic falls down my chest, over my stomach. Whacked each nipple, making me jump as the tiny beads stung the swollen peaks. He stopped just under my navel to lightly flog the area above my groin. Since my dick was still pressed against my belly, the falls struck the head a couple of times, and I gulped, tears of sheer pain streaming from my eyes.

He raised the whip and brought it down hard on my balls.

I screamed.

He struck me again, this time on the underside of my taut scrotum.

I clenched and released my hands, pulling against the cuffs. My legs trembled with the effort of keeping them in the stirrups.

He grabbed the alcohol pad and used it to clean off one of the plastic strands. Then he drizzled a bit of lube on that strand. It took me a second to realize what he was up to. Then he began to feed the thin, beaded fall into the slit of my dick.

I choked, beyond screaming. The tears came faster now, and my whole body started to shake. He pushed the fall a little deeper. I bucked, hauling against the wrist cuffs. I had to piss, had to come, had to get enough breath to shout. Deeper. I could feel the tiny beads rub the inside of my dick, and a sort of slippery queasiness formed in my core, followed by a rush of heat and something almost like panic—but wonderful. Bowser slapped my inflated balls with his free hand. I kicked against the stirrups, my back arching. He wiggled the genital whip so the falls whapped against my cock. The one inside me quivered, increasing my agony and ecstasy until I was gritting my teeth to keep from begging for release.

Then Bowser did something surprising. He stroked my shoulder gently with his free hand, then wrapped his arm around me and guided my head against his broad chest. Held me and leaned down to press his lips to my temple. His Viking beard was coarse against my skin. I felt so comforted in that moment, so astonished by a flood of emotion I couldn’t identify, that I barely noticed when he started moving the whip again. Softly at first, then harder and harder until I couldn’t ignore the pain as the strands caught my hypersensitive balls. Until I was curling and uncurling my fingers, my legs shaking so hard they didn’t seem under my control anymore. The gauze over my cuts deflected a couple of the blows, but it didn’t help much.

Two sensations collided—physical agony and a desperate need for him to keep holding me. I nearly pressed my face against his shirt and cried. Instead, I clamped my jaw, took a breath, and held perfectly still.

He released me. Pulled the fall out of my dick and gave me two lashes across my balls. Pressure welled inside me, and I felt a warmth inside my shaft, as though I were coming. But nothing happened. I was still right there on the edge, desperate, and I couldn’t go over.

He gripped my cock and started pumping.

“You wanna come?” he asked.

I didn’t know if I could. Each time he pumped, his fist hit my engorged balls and knocked the air out of me.

“Go on,” he whispered. “I wanna see you come with your balls the size of a fucking melon.”

I panted, groaning softly. He held the whip in his other hand and started striking my balls full force. I inhaled with a choked cry, my face contorting. It was like someone was punching me just below the belly button, but from the inside. My bladder felt like it was going to fucking burst.

He paused, and I struggled for a second against the tension in my throat before my breath rushed out. “Yeah,” I whispered. “Fuck yeah.”

“Spread those legs.”

My feet were still in the stirrups, but my knees were dropping toward each other in an involuntary effort to shield my groin. I spread as wide as I could. He lashed the whip upward, striking my asshole and the skin behind my balls, and I whimpered, my stomach spasming. He kept his hand moving on my cock, and everything was discord and brilliance. Mismatched rhythm and different levels of sickness and pleasure.

“I can’t. I really can’t.” It was too much—sensitized skin, the fear that if this went on any longer, I’d be sick on his table.

He stroked my shoulder. Brushed his lips over the edge of my ear, flicked my balls. His whisper was nearly drowned out by my grunt of determination. “Try.”

He went back to stroking my balls, and I closed my eyes, concentrating on his touch, on the feel of the needle under my skin when I moved a certain way. He placed his thumb on the scar from my PA piercing, and a memory flashed through me of him playing with the ring, back when I still wore it.

I imagined he was my partner. Not just for this afternoon, but forever. And I was so embarrassed by the fantasy that I dashed it out of existence, like swiping at a drawing I’d made in the sand. I didn’t want that illusion to be part of what made me come. I wanted the pain to do it. I wanted to be able to leave Bowser’s with a friendly handshake.

He was staring at my balls, his own breathing harsh, one hand hovering at the front of his pants. I wanted to invite him to touch himself.

When I did come, it was sort of a pathetic drizzle. I lay back against the steel table, relieved.

He drew the needle out of my balls and disposed of it in the sharps container. Removed his gloves, then undid the wrist cuffs. I slid my feet from the stirrups and let them dangle off the sides of the table.

“Do you wanna . . .?” I tipped my head toward his crotch. “Or want me to . . .?”

He shook his head. “It’s okay.”

He tried to help me clean up the needle entry site, but I took the alcohol pad and did it myself. I felt awkward now that we were finished.

He took the pad from me and tossed it in the trash. “So how’d that stack up to the injection?”

“Better.” I glanced down at my balls. “They look a lot more even. I don’t know how I’m supposed to stand up, though.”

“You can hang out here as long as you want.” He paused. “But I know you like to bolt as soon as we’re done.”

“You know me too well.”

“You need anything? Tylenol? Water? A hug?”

Part of me wanted to accept. And part of me shut down the idea immediately. “I’m good. I think I’ll just head home.”

There was something forced about his smile. “Some things don’t change.”

I laughed. “We really have been doing this a long time.”

“Uh-huh.”

I folded my hands over my belly. “Sometimes it just feels so comfortable that I wish I didn’t have to . . .”

“What?”

“Seek out new partners. Explain myself to them.”

He pulled a rolling chair over to the exam table and sat.

I looked at him. “Do you ever feel like that?”

“Commitment’s not really for me. Sorry.”

“Oh no. No, no, I didn’t mean that I want to—” I stopped before I could say something truly insensitive. “Not that you’re not . . . I just wasn’t thinking about that. I prefer that things remain casual.”

But every once in a while I wanted something passionate with someone who was just mine.

Bowser flicked my balls affectionately. “Well, anytime you wanna get off, you know you can come here.”

I snorted. “I appreciate that. And will most likely take you up on that. Many times.”

He opened his mouth, hesitated, and then closed it again.

“What?” I asked.

“We’ve been playin’ for years. I guess I always hoped one of these days, you’d actually submit to me.”

I raised my brows. “I was just tied to a table while you stuck a needle in my balls and cut my scrotum.”

He offered a hint of the Mario laugh. “I know. You do a real good job takin’ what I give you. You’re just a little clinical about it. Even when you’re cryin’ from the pain, you feel kinda removed from me.”

That actually hurt. But I forced a grin. “Yeah, well. You can’t have it both ways. You want to keep it casual, you can’t expect me to cry in your arms and sleep in your bed.”

“I know. I oughta shut up.”

“I’ve never felt like much of a submissive. A bottom and a pain pig, more like.”

“Well, hey. That’s—”

My phone buzzed. I sat up and tried, not quite successfully, to move my lower body. “Could you . . .?”

Bowser walked over to my bag and retrieved the phone. Handed it to me.

Texts from Jason, one of my employees at A2A Wear. Frantic and past the point of coherency.

Problem with the rush order I don’t know what to do please come in shirts are wrong too late to do anything its team funeral they’ll freak out omg omg.

Jason must have been sincerely distressed to forego punctuation. My heart started pounding as I realized there was no way I could go into the shop when my balls were the size of a melon.

“I’m sorry,” I told Bowser. “I have to make a call.”

And so I sat naked on the exam table with my balloon balls resting on my thighs and called Jason. His story was even less coherent over the phone. Apparently a very large and important shipment of T-shirts had a spelling error. I started to ask if he could text me pictures of the disaster, but his voice got half an octave higher, and I said, “Forget it. I’m coming in.”

“Trouble?” Bowser asked when I hung up.

“A work emergency.” I put down the phone. “Fuck. I’m so sorry. I need to be there.” I glanced at my balls again. “But . . .”

“You wanna borrow a T-shirt? XXL?”

The only thing worse than going to work with an inflated scrotum would be going into work in sweatpants and a T-shirt. But I had little choice.

I sighed and struggled to my feet. “All right. Show me what you’ve got.”

 

Chapter Two

I parked in A2A’s side lot, facing away from the street. Slid carefully from behind the wheel, attempting to subtly support my balls with my hand. I’d borrowed XL sweatpants from Bowser because my own had been too tight, as well as his baggiest T-shirt and a hoodie that matched the pants, but there was no way the clothes were going to fully hide my condition. Whatever this T-shirt crisis was, I should have told Jason he had to solve it himself.

Except I was A2A’s owner, and I was a control freak, and I needed to know what was going on. I shuffled toward the door.

As soon as Jason saw me, he started flapping his arms. “Miles—”

“Jason? Take a breath.”

He paused momentarily in his fluttering as I approached. “Why are you wearing a sweat suit?”

“Long story. What’s the problem?”

Jason looked horrified. Jason always looked vaguely horrified.

“Jason, don’t look so horrified.”

“I can’t help it. They’re going to freak.”

“Who?”

“It’s the Team Funeral shirts.”

Oh God.

Team Funeral. The Segers, who had placed a rush order by phone last week for twelve matching T-shirts to be worn at a relative’s funeral. Why a family would wear matching T-shirts to a funeral was beyond me, but they had added a generous tip on top of the rush price, and I’d promised we would have the shirts done in time for the service.

I ignored the discomfort as my swollen, welted balls rubbed against the front of my pants. “What happened to the shirts?”

Jason pulled a seafoam T-shirt out of the box. Shook it out. I read the purple airbrushed letters: UNCLE MATT, REST NOW WITH THE ANGLES.

“Oh dear.”

Jason’s head popped out from behind the shirt. “I looked for the original order to see if it was their mistake or ours. And it was theirs; they definitely spelled it ‘angles’ on their form. But—”

“But we should have caught it,” I finished. We prided ourselves in checking submissions carefully. We’d been able to stop an “Andesron” soccer jersey from happening, as well as a Will Work for Foot hoodie and an order of five hundred My Other Cat Is the Millennium Falcon bumper stickers.

“And their funeral is tomorrow!” Jason sounded dangerously close to hyperventilating. My friends all thought I was wound too tight. I really, really wanted to introduce them to Jason. Except that anytime one of them stopped by the store, Jason was always charming and serene as a Constable painting. “I mean, not their funeral, but . . .”

I nodded. “And perhaps our funeral too. I’ll give them a call.”

I got on the computer and pulled up the Segers’ order. Gave the number a call.

“Hello?” The voice that answered was soft and calm.

“Hi, Mr. Seger? This is Miles Loucks from A2A Wear. Your—”

“Hi, Miles.”

I paused at the interruption. “Yes, hi. Your order’s ready for pickup, but we’ve just noticed a problem.”

“Oh?” He didn’t sound ready to kill, so that was something.

I explained the situation to him. There was silence when I finished.

Then he said, without the slightest change in tone, “I’m in the neighborhood. I’ll stop by and see how bad it is.”

“It’s pretty bad,” I admitted. “I mean, the shirts all say that your uncle is resting with the angles.”

He laughed. “It’s all right, Miles.” The way he said my name was quite beautiful. And God, what was with that voice? It had an otherworldly quality, like he was narrating the prologue to some epic fantasy movie. “I’ll be over in a few minutes.”

No. No. Terrible. I did not want to meet the man whose order I had failed to proofread while I was wearing a sweat suit three sizes too large and my testicles were the size of regulation softballs. “Listen . . .”

But he’d already hung up.

“You’ll have to deal with him,” I told Jason. “I need to get out of sight.”

“What? No! You’re the one who knows how to talk to people.”

“Jason, I’m wearing a sweat suit. I can’t possibly interact with him.”

“What do I say?”

“Apologize. Offer him a refund—fifty percent, since technically it was their mistake. Offer to reprint the shirts, even though the new ones won’t be ready in time for the funeral. I’m going to the back to take inventory.”

I left Jason standing there stammering and took refuge in the back room. There I didn’t have to worry about keeping my crotch sheltered. The air was warm and held the vinegary smell of new shirts. I took out my tablet and pulled up the inventory list.

I’d opened A2A three years ago. My friends had thought a T-shirt design company was a bit of an odd choice for me, since I struck them as neither particularly creative nor fashion-conscious. My cardigan-heavy wardrobe contained, as Dave was fond of saying, Mr. Rogers’s rejects, and I tended to judge harshly anyone over sixteen who wore graphic tees. But the demand was high, and I had a good head for business and a great creative team. Even Jason, who practically burst into tears if the cash register drawer was slow to open, had surprisingly viable ideas.

My friends had all been very supportive. Kamen had been adamant that I name the shop No Shirt, Sherlock, but had eventually come around to the idea of Arm 2 Arm Wear—A2A for short. Dave and Gould had helped me decorate. Our tech-support friend, Ricky, had done the website. A2A currently had a four point six on Yelp, and the store was probably the accomplishment I was most proud of.

Which made “resting with the angles” all the harder to deal with.

After a few minutes, I realized I needed a couple of boxes that were under the register counter. I hobbled cautiously into the front. No sign of Mr. Seger. Jason was out on the floor, organizing the clearance racks.

I went around the counter and soon discovered that crouching was not an option. Keeping my legs stiff, I bent at the waist and lifted one of the boxes out. Set it on the counter. As I lifted the second box, someone slapped a sheet of paper on the counter and left his hand on it. White dude. No wedding ring. Overgrown cuticles. Nice nails. Faint knuckle hair.

I looked up. And up. Until I got to his face, which was closer to the ceiling than I was accustomed to faces being.

La beauté.

I would estimate that eighty percent of the people I encountered were acceptable looking. Twelve percent were captivatingly ugly. Five percent were celebrities and had help. And three percent were outlandishly beautiful.

Mr. Seger was probably close to six foot seven. Lean, and long-limbed. He wore an odd overcoat—knee-length, black, with a belt and a Sherlockian turned-up collar. Long, dark-gold hair gathered into a ponytail, and his eyes—were they purple?

“Miles?” That same low, gentle voice from the phone.

I straightened partway, but kept my knees bent enough that my crotch was hidden behind the counter. “Yes?”

When I met his gaze, he smiled.

“I’m Mr. Seger.”

I caught Jason’s frozen expression from over by the racks. Looked back at Mr. Seger, who appeared too young to be a “mister.” “Hello, Mr. Seger. I’m Miles Loucks. I’m the owner. And I can’t tell you how sorry I am about—”

“May I see the shirts?”

He didn’t sound demanding in the least. Just cheerful and amused.

I had to reach sideways for the box to avoid leaving the shelter of the counter. I removed one shirt and shook it out, as Jason had done. Mr. Seger took it from me, and our fingers brushed. I might as well have been in high school again, jolting when Tyson Ellis handed me his Jell-O at lunch. My face heated, and I waited for the implosion.

But Mr. Seger laughed. And laughed some more.

Rich sound. White teeth. Absurdly sharp canines. My cock, despite being weighed down by a balloon filled with sand, was more than a bit interested in Mr. Seger’s laugh.

He wiped under his eye with one finger. “Oh. Oh, oh. Uncle Matt would have loved this.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said again. I didn’t really feel guilty per se—I have a hard time sympathizing with other people’s grammatical errors, or with the idea of wearing matching shirts to a funeral—but I was sorry about the potential negative Yelp review. “We can offer you a partial refund—”

“No, no. It’s all right.” He folded the shirt and set it back on the box. “I’ve looked at the order form. It was my mistake.”

“We usually proofread carefully, and check with the customer if there’s any confusion about spelling. I can’t believe I didn’t catch this.”

He was looking at me with his head tilted, a half smile still on his face. Those pointed teeth were really throwing me. “Please don’t feel guilty.”

“I understand how much stress you must be dealing with. You didn’t need this on top of it.” I winced as I shifted and my balls rolled along the side of my thigh.

He leaned forward slightly, gazing into my eyes as though—well, as though he were about to kiss me. “I suppose there is one way you could make it up to me.”

I was startled. My apologies were really just a formality, given that I hadn’t been the one to misspell angels. “Yes?”

“Could I take you to dinner?”

What?

I mean truly, what?

At what point had I given him any indication that I . . .

But when I opened my mouth to refuse, politely but with enough of an edge to let him know that his offer was entirely inappropriate, the words “All right” came out.

“Friday night?” Mr. Seger smiled softly at me. The sort of smile you gave someone you’d known far longer than five minutes.

No. No, no. This was not happening. I was not standing here in a sweat suit trying to hide my engorged balls behind a counter while a towering, ponytailed stranger asked me to dinner.

And yet, I said, “Okay.”

He straightened. “I’d like to get my full name out of the way now. Feel free to laugh.”

Who was this joker?

“How bad can it be?”

“Hendrix Seger.”

I hesitated. “Like . . .”

“Like my last name is Seger, as in Bob, and my parents liked Jimi Hendrix.”

A bark of laughter escaped. “I’m so sorry.”

He grinned. “I’m pretty used to it. I go by Drix, which makes me sound like a douche bag action hero. But ‘Hend’ wasn’t really an option.”

I tried a movie preview voice. “Drix Seger stars in . . . Shirtsaster!” What was wrong with me? This was a grieving stranger. And his funeral shirts were ruined. I flushed. “I’m so sorry. Again.”

“I won’t require any more apologies.” He spoke quietly, sounded amused.

I studied him a moment. Decided I liked something about him. His certainty, his oddness, his teeth. His voice.

He took out his phone. “What’s your number?”

I gave it to him.

“I’ll text you closer to Friday.”

And just like that, I had a dinner date.

***

I drove toward Dave and Gould’s, feeling floaty, distant. The pressure of my balls against the steering wheel kept bringing me back to reality every few seconds.

A date. I had a date.

And I hadn’t even had to do anything except fuck up the guy’s order and wear a baggy sweat suit. Which made me suspicious. Why was Hendrix Seger interested in me?

I turned onto Wayne Street. I’d been friends with Dave, Gould, and Kamen for going on seven years now. We’d met when I was twenty-two and they were twenty, and we’d gotten along right away, despite some notable disparities in personality. Kamen was as laid-back as they came. Dave was more volatile, but in such an earnest and cheerful way that most people forgave his overexcited moments. Gould was so quiet that he tended to appear chill—though I suspected he dealt with more anxiety than the rest of us put together.

And then there was me: humorless Miles, with his Fred Rogers cardigans and the stick up his ass. I preferred to see myself as the mature one. The intellectual. The stoic voice of reason. But apparently this was not a universal perception.

We were an odd crew. Dave thought of us as a family; I thought of us as profoundly codependent. I was particularly confounded by how we’d ended up in this exclusive little queer-man cluster, with nary a straight or female friend in sight. I’d tried to have other friends of other genders and orientations over the years, but it seemed like those relationships faded quickly, leaving me once more in the company of my nonheterosexual male brethren.

We’d had a fifth member in our group—Hal. Reckless, fun-loving. An absolute cad, but as charismatic as they came. He’d died nearly two years ago during a bondage scene. It had been, to put it mildly, a blow to our group. Especially when Bill Henson, the dom who’d left Hal tied up alone with a cord around his neck, had been found innocent of second-degree murder.

I parked on the street in between a minivan and a stubby smart car. Headed to the front porch of the duplex, keeping my hand in front of my balls. Before I reached the door, my phone buzzed.

Cheryl Callahan was calling.

“Miles, hi!” Cheryl sounded cheerful, as usual. She’d probably sound exuberant even as she told me my dreams of adopting a child were dead. “I have some good news.”

I gripped the phone tighter. “Oh?”

“Yes. Your interviews and background check all went great. So how would you feel about us beginning your home study?”

Oh God. Oh God oh God oh God. Breathe.

“That’s wonderful,” I managed.

“So what I’d like to do now is set up a time in the next couple of weeks for us to meet at your house. The visit shouldn’t last more than three hours, and it’s just a chance for me to get to know you and your environment better. We’ll talk about your family, your routines, your neighborhood . . .”

My family. Oh God. “No problem.”

“It’s really not that scary, I promise. So if you’ll email me what your schedule looks like, we’ll set up a time and get rolling on this.”

I wanted to ask what I could do to make sure I aced this. Like it was a test—which, in a way, it was. And yet I didn’t want to give away that I was nervous. I wanted her to show up to my house and see that it was naturally a wonderful environment for a child. That everything I did and owned and enjoyed fell right in line with what the Beacon Center wanted to see.

“My schedule is fairly flexible,” I said. “I’m self-employed, so really, I can make almost any time work. The sooner the better.”

“Okay. How do you feel about next Monday, then? Three o’clock?”

“Perfect.” I was still gripping the phone so hard my fingers hurt. “Um, can I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“Did you do interviews with my parents and my sister?”

“I did.”

“And they were . . . They went fine?”

“Absolutely.”

Interesting. Cheryl and I said good-bye and hung up.

I stood staring at the duplex door for a moment.

I’d been putting off telling my friends that I was trying to adopt. I wasn’t sure why exactly, other than the fact that I was afraid of screwing this up. Afraid the Beacon Center wouldn’t approve me, and that I’d then have to explain my failure to the group.

But now . . .

Why not? Why not tell them?

The door was unlocked. It was always unlocked, no matter how often I lectured Dave and Gould about locking it. I was too excited to care. I couldn’t determine how much of my excitement was actually blind terror, but for the first time in weeks, I felt . . .

Really fucking hopeful.

The others were at the kitchen table, as usual. Years ago, Dave’s father had built this giant, lacquered dining table, and Dave and Gould had found a fairly nice set of chairs at a garage sale, and we’d all started hanging out around the table. Dave and Gould’s kitchen was open and roomy, and they kept it well stocked with food and beer. Kamen even had a spare guitar here just so he could entertain us during hang-out sessions and Subs Club meetings.

I had a nice house—bigger but less homey than the duplex. My pantry contained a few sad-looking cans of beans and vegetables, and about twelve boxes of cracked-pepper thin crisps. This was something I intended to work on before my home study. I needed to make my place seem lived-in. Kid-friendly. A place where one could eat things besides thin crisps.

“Miles!” Kamen threw an M&M at me as I entered. “What kind of cake would Hal want?”

“Since we never really celebrated his birthday when he was alive, it’s hard to say.” I pulled out a chair and sat. Very carefully.

Kamen was staring at me. “Dude, do you have to poop or something?”

“What?” I glanced up.

“You’re sitting like you’re trying not to shit your pants.”

Kamen. Doofus extraordinaire. Lovable, clueless, and still experiencing eight-year-old levels of amusement at anything stool-related. “My back just hurts from work.”

Dave and Gould, who had been talking to each other, turned at that. Dave grinned. “Miles probably got laid.”

“Nope.”

Dave scooted his chair in. “We were thinking about vanilla cake. Because, you know, irony. Plus Gould can’t sleep when he has chocolate.”

I shot Gould a questioning look. He shrugged.

I adjusted my shirt over my crotch, but now that I was sitting, it was difficult to cover the situation. “Can someone tell me why we’re throwing Hal a birthday party?”

Dave cleared his throat. “We were talking about it last month, but you were too busy freaking out about a work email to listen. We thought it would be a good way to remember Hal.”

Kamen nodded. “Mostly we just haven’t had cake in a while.”

I tried to grab the M&M bowl without jostling my balls. All I could think about was the home study on Monday.

“Dude,” Kamen said to me. “I don’t wanna be the one who points this out, but are you hard?”

Suddenly Dave was leaning across the table to see me. “Oh my God. Miles. What is going on down there? Is the alien from Alien about to explode from your balls? Are you gonna have a crotchburster?”

Now even Gould leaned over. Quiet, compassionate Gould. Surely I could count on him not to interrogate me. He looked up and met my gaze questioningly. “Saline?”

I nodded.

“Wait, what?” Kamen asked.

Gould turned to him. “You can inject saline solution into parts of the body to make them swell.”

Kamen glanced at my crotch again. Then up at me. Then down. “But . . . but . . .” Up at me. His jaw dropped. “Did you do that to your balls?”

I sighed. “You know, I did actually want to talk to you guys about something serious. But if all you can focus on—”

Dave sat back. “Is that your balls look like they could be manacled to prisoners’ ankles to keep them from escaping? Forgive us.”

“Oh my God,” Kamen said. “That’s why you’re wearing a matching sweat suit instead of your Mr. Rogers sweaters.”

I sighed again and looked up at the ceiling.

Gould shifted. “What’s your serious thing, Miles?”

“No. I’m not telling you now.”

“Come on,” they chorused.

I bestowed a withering glare on each of them. Then I took a deep breath. “I just got some news.”

They were all staring at me. It was now or never.

“So for the past few months, I’ve been in contact with the Beacon Center.”

Dave nodded. “Is that the retirement home you’re moving in to?”

I ignored him. “It’s an adoption agency.”

Dead silence.

“Are you adopted too?” Kamen asked. “Like your sister?”

“No, I’m not adopted.” Did I really have to spell it out for them? “I’m adopting.”

They just stared.

Dave’s brow furrowed. “Adopting what?”

“A child,” I said.

More staring.

“But you put electricity up your ass.” Dave said it calmly, slowly, as though there were some very simple aspect of this situation I’d failed to grasp.

“What does that have to do with—”

“If you have a kid, how are you going to explain your TENS unit? ‘Oh, don’t mind this, kiddo, that’s just for when your old pop needs to electrocute his own rectum . . .’”

I shook my head at him, stunned. “What are you talking about?”

“Are you saying you don’t have any qualms about the fact that you’re a huge masochist and you want to adopt a kid?”

“What, you think I’d be a bad father?”

“No, no. I just . . . wow.”

“You’re, like, not much older than us,” Kamen said. “And you want kids?”

“I’m twenty-eight. Lots of people have kids by my age. By your age too.”

“But don’t you want to wait until you have a partner or something?”

Oh my God. My friends thought I wasn’t ready to be a father. Me. The only one of us who had his own business. Who lived in a house, not an apartment. Who knew how to do taxes without software.

I shook my head again, irritated. “I’m not going to wait around for my dream man to show up.” I looked to see if any of them planned to give me any support.

“We don’t have any money,” Dave said, as though the four of us were collectively adopting my theoretical child.

You don’t have any money,” I pointed out, my anger growing. “I’ve been saving for a long time. You guys act like I haven’t thought this through. I’ve been planning to do this for years.”

“You never told us!”

“How many times have I told you I want children?” I demanded.

Dave stammered. “I just thought you meant when you were, like, thirty-five.”

Kamen gave his guitar string a tentative pluck. “Do they even let single dudes adopt?”

“Of course they do.”

Dave glanced at Kamen. “Yeah, buddy. Think about Annie.”

“But single gay men . . .” Gould spoke for the first time since I’d made the announcement.

“Single gay men are allowed to adopt,” I snapped impatiently. “It’s not an issue.”

Gould flushed slightly. “You just caught us by surprise is all. This is good. Really good news.”

“Yeah, man.” Kamen nodded. “We’re really happy for you.”

I was practically shaking with anger. This was not how I’d expected my announcement to go. I’d thought they’d be surprised, sure, but that they’d all acknowledge that if anyone in our group would make a great father, it’d be me.

“Well, you don’t act like it. This is big news for me. I’ve been working on this for over a year, and we’re just now getting ready—the caseworker and I—to start on my home study.”

“What’s a home study?” Kamen asked.

“They’re gonna look at my house and make sure it’s a good environment for a child.” I shot Dave a deadly look. “I’ll be sure to hide my electric butt plugs.”

“Okay.” Dave nodded, but he looked shell-shocked. “Okay. Cool.”

I stood. Didn’t give a shit if they saw my bulging sweatpants. “I thought you’d all be happy for me. I thought I could count on you.”

“I just don’t understand how you could plan all this without saying anything to us,” Dave said as I headed for the door.

“Jesus Christ, I’m not married to you guys. I have my own life!” I left them all to their birthday planning for a dead man. Who apparently warranted more support than a living friend.

from Chill Reviews

[A] graphic and explicit book. Worth reading? YES!

from Bookaholics Not-So-Anonymous

I found myself turning each page and absorbing it all. 

from MM Good Book Reviews

This book was everything I expected and more. . . . [T]hat ending was just so beautiful.

from LeAnn's Book Reviews

[A]n intense, amazing read.

from QUEERcentric

J.A. handles the subject like an absolute pro.

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