Sarah tasted sweet. Her soft lips against Jacob's felt like velvet and her breath smelled like mint. The first time she had kissed him under the bleachers it had been a whirlwind of a kiss, but this was delicate and reserved. He could feel her smile.
Even without sexual attraction, there was something special about a good kiss. This kiss with Sarah was a good kiss. It felt safe and comforting, and like they had been able to create a space for a moment that was just for them, where none of Jacob's other worries could touch them.
Sarah put a hand on Jacob's chest and pulled away, biting her lower lip.
"This is really happening?" Sarah asked, clearly still apprehensive about Jacob's intentions. "I mean, you like me?"
Jacob wasn't sure how to respond. He did like her, but probably not in the way she wanted him to. She was sweet and friendly, and more interesting than half the cheer squad. She was intelligent and kind to those who were less popular than her. Jacob had the realization she may not have been aware of her own popularity. He did like her. He wouldn't be lying if he said so.
"Yes," he said with a smile, reaching out to take her hand.
"But- you're so popular! You could date literally any girl at our school, probably any girl at Middleton too for that matter -"
"Sarah," Jacob cut her off. "I don't want to date any of the other girls." That was true enough. They were fun, and they kept his cover, but he had never been attached to any of them. He could see himself with Sarah. "I want to date you."
A grin spread across Sarah's face. She had a brilliant, contagious smile. "I'm sorry, I just haven't had much luck with guys."
"That's difficult to believe," said Jacob. Jacob knew several of the guys on the basketball team who regularly commented on the desirability of Sarah Williams.
"I'm not exactly what most of the guys want right now," Sarah said, bashfully, looking away. "You might change your mind, too."
"Why would I change my mind?" he asked.
"I'm... saving myself," whispered Sarah.
"See, I knew it would be a problem," Sarah said, stepping away and grimacing.
"No, I didn't quite hear what you said."
"I took the purity pledge at First Baptist." She held up her hand to show him the silver ring on her left ring finger. "I've promised to save myself for marriage, and... well, I don't really feel comfortable with the logical workarounds some of the other girls use."
She was a church girl. He knew she went to his dad's church, but he didn't know just how involved she was. A purity pledge, huh? That would mean she wouldn't be pushing him for anything. There would be no chance for her to discover his lack of interest. He wouldn't have to pretend with her. This couldn't have been more perfect.
"That's okay with me," he said, trying to sound supportive, but also slightly disappointed.
She looked surprised.
"But... it's not like I don't know your reputation. It's really okay?"
He could see the eagerness working its way back into her face. The carrot was being dangled in front of her. "Yeah, it's okay."
She took a step towards him again, still a little apprehensive. "It's just... it's been fine at first before until they can't convince me to make exceptions, and then it isn't fine anymore."
"Sarah, my dad's the minister at First Baptist. It's fine. I know what purity pledges are about. It's okay with me. Really."
Relief seemed to wash over her face. She smiled again and took Jacob's outreached hand. "Okay," she said. "Can I tell people at school we're dating?"
"Of course," he smiled. "Can I kiss you again?"
She walked into his embrace and pressed her lips to his.
The rest of the party faded into a blur. Jacob spent Sunday hiding from his family so they wouldn't notice the terrible hangover he was stuck with. He needed to get better at drinking if he was going to start going to parties. Or maybe he needed to stop drinking and going to parties altogether. Jacob felt pretty confident he may never want to drink again.
Monday morning came around and brought dread with it. Jacob dragged himself from bed hating himself for his Friday meeting with Seth. He would have to face him today. At least he had Sarah now. Who would believe Seth when Jacob had Sarah Williams on his arm? The basketball team would be jealous.
He met Sarah at the school entrance and they walked in holding hands. She had suggested it and he was happy to oblige; anything to derail any possible rumors Seth could have started.
They met up with Bret and Colin outside the gym.
"Doth mine eyes deceive me?" dramatized Colin as they approached. Bret pantomimed shock and awe. "Is our little philanderer growing up and getting hitched?"
"Fucking assholes," said Jacob. He shoved Bret playfully. "This is Sarah Williams," he said.
"We know," chorused the boys.
"My girlfriend," finished Jacob.
"We noticed," said Bret. "Congrats, man."
Jacob cast a glance around the room, but Seth was nowhere to be seen.
School proceeded as normal. The biggest news regarding Jacob was his new relationship with Sarah Williams. It didn't seem like any other bombs had been dropped. The news spread quickly throughout the school, and Jacob noticed an immediate change in the attention he got from the other girls in the school. This was a welcome side effect he hadn't anticipated. Jacob began to relax. No one would ever know about his Friday meeting with Seth. Everything could go back to normal. Jacob was even finding it easier to push the memory of the kiss into the back of his consciousness. It was not the end of the world after all.
By the next day, Jacob and Sarah's new relationship was old news. The team practice the night before had gone off without a hitch, just like normal. Everything was fine.
Jacob went to morning practice, and stayed after to shower once everyone else had gone, as usual. He met his friends outside the gym to hang out before the bell as, usual, but now Sarah and a couple of her friends had joined them. Colin was busy chatting up Sarah's friend Dana. Jacob found himself glancing around the lobby. There was no sign of the golden curls or the obnoxiously positive smile that had annoyed Jacob so much.
Jacob kept a watchful eye out throughout the day. Perhaps the secret hadn't been leaked because Seth was absent? What if Seth came back and started telling everyone about him now? That uneasiness in the pit of Jacob's stomach began to churn.
At lunch, Jacob searched the heads across the cafeteria for that distinct blond halo. There was still no sign of Jacob's potential undoing.
"Are you looking for someone?" Sarah asked from beside him. He had been trying to be inconspicuous.
"No, of course not. Who would I be looking for?" he lied.
"It's just- you've seemed worried about something since this morning. Is everything okay?" Sarah touched his arm sympathetically.
"Yeah, everything's fine." It was fine after all. Seth being absent didn't mean anything. People were absent all the time. Maybe he was sick. Maybe he had to go somewhere. It also didn't mean Seth would start blabbing as soon as he got back. Everything would be just fine.
As school was letting out, Jacob thought he saw Seth in the crowd and the bottom dropped out of his stomach, but it wasn't him. Jacob had to stop in the hall to slow his breath before heading to the locker room to prepare for afternoon practice. A part of him wanted Seth to come back just to end the anticipation. When Seth got back, either the secret would be out or it wouldn't, but as long as Seth was gone, Jacob still had to wait to find out.
Wednesday morning practice was just as uneventful as the previous day. Jacob and his crew, including Sarah and her friends now, gathered outside the gym to wait for the bell, backpacks piled haphazardly against the wall.
"Shit, look who's back," said Colin, who was facing the main doors.
"Man, what happened to him?" asked Bret.
Jacob turned to see Seth walking through the doors. Seth smiled as he jogged over to his group of friends on the other side of the lobby. There was a prominent dark shadow shading one of his eyes that he seemed to be trying to hide with his hair and failing. Jacob watched as Seth's friends gathered around him. One of his friends reached out to gently touch the bruise in concern, and Seth's friend Jessica pulled him into a tight embrace.
Jacob almost got up too but stopped himself before he could make that mistake. He made himself look away. It didn't concern him. As long as Seth kept his mouth shut, they didn't have to have anything to do with each other.
Jacob went through the motions of his classes, but he couldn't get Seth's black eye out of his head. What happened? Jacob could feel the spot on his knuckles that had split Seth's lip. Had Seth approached someone else like that? The guilt of having hit Seth welled up in Jacob's chest. What if, after whatever happened, Seth wanted to take it out on someone and revealed Jacob's secret as some kind of revenge?
Jacob decided he would need to confront Seth before things got out of hand. He needed to get out in front of any problems, and that meant talking to Seth.
Jacob waited near the gym that afternoon. When Seth finally passed by, Jacob grabbed his arm.
"We need to talk," he said as he pulled Seth into an empty room off the hall as discretely as possible.
"What the fuck, Jacob," huffed Seth. "I thought you didn't want to have anything to do with me."
Jacob peered out the door until he was sure no one had seen them enter. "I don't, but I needed to make sure of something." Jacob turned back to look at Seth.
Seth was standing with his arms crossed, his backpack hanging off of one arm, glaring up at Jacob. The blue of his eyes stood out against the dark purple of the bruise. His lips were slightly parted in an accusing frown.
Jacob's breath caught in his throat as memories of those soft lips against his came unbidden to his mind. He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment and forced the butterflies in his stomach back down. That wasn't at all what he needed right now. When he opened his eyes again, Seth was still glaring at him.
"Well?" Seth asked.
Jacob asked the first question that came to mind, "What happened to you?""Like you even care," Seth spat back.Jacob bristled at that. He wanted to not care. He thought he didn't care but for some reason Seth's assertion that he didn't stung."Of course, I care!" he retorted."Right, like you're the only person who's allowed to punch me?" Seth's voice dripped with sarcasm."That's not... ugh!" This was not going how Jacob had planned. "That's not what I needed to talk to you about.""What then? I need to go catch my ride," said Seth."I need to make sure you're not going to say anything," Jacob finally said."About what?""About Friday," said Jacob with exasperation."Ah, right. Don't worry, you're secret's safe with me. I won't say anything." Seth looked away, but he finally seemed serious, and perhaps a little disappointed.Jacob visibly relaxed. "Thank God," he said. "I might actually get things to work
Jacob downed two drinks in the kitchen with Dana before he could get his nerves under control. He didn't plan to get wasted like last weekend, but there was no way he was going to make it through the rest of this party sober."What's got you all frazzled?" asked Dana."It's nothing," said Jacob. "I'm not great with large groups of people.""I know what you mean," said Dana. "Why do you think I'm in the kitchen myself? Don't get me wrong, I love a good party, and I love that people are having fun, but sometimes I just need a break, you know?"Jacob chuckled. "Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.""It's cool. It's nothing to be ashamed about. Everyone's different," she said with a smile. "You can hide out in the kitchen any time. There's also rooms upstairs. You don't have to be fuckin' to hide out in one."Jacob actually blushed. He knew people knew his reputation, but it wasn't something he spent much time talking about. He realized he had pr
"You just started dating, it shouldn't be too hard to break things off, especially if you tell her the truth," Seth suggested."I can't do that!" Jacob lamented. "First, she was so excited. Second, I still don't want anyone else to know. If I break up with her without giving a reason she'll be devastated. I’ll feel like such an asshole.""You are the asshole, remember? You haven't been dating long, how devastated could she be?""How devastated would you be?"They sat in silence."Fuck. If I break up with her, how am I going to keep up the charade with the other girls? The only reason they're leaving me alone now is because I'm dating Sarah."
Jacob sat alone in the darkness. What did he just do? He could hear his heartbeat in his ears as realization began to spread through his brain. He had admitted he liked Seth. He was still dating Sarah. Did that mean he was cheating on Sarah with Seth? Or was he cheating on Seth with Sarah? Seth knew about Sarah, so he supposed it must be Sarah getting the shittiest end of the stick here. They were using her. Guilt ripped through his chest at the thought. He wasn’t lying when he told her he liked her. He did. She was kind. She didn’t deserve this, but what else could they do? He would have to tell her eventually, but he knew he wouldn’t have the guts to do it yet. Seth liked him. As much dread as he felt thinking about what all this meant, he had an eq
Monday morning practice brought relief to Jacob's nerves. He always felt better on the court. This was his place, his purpose. The familiar feel of the bumpy rubber texture in his hands before a free-throw was comforting. He extended his arm and released the ball from his fingertips. It flew through the air and he felt at peace. The ball swished through the net of the basket, not even close to the rim. That was bliss.Practice ended and brought Jacob back to the present. For the first time since he joined, Jacob ended with the rest of the team. He didn't even notice their presence. They were just other guys; it's not like they were Seth. They were different now. The world was segregated into Seth and Not-Seth.Bret noticed Jacob was with them. "Look at you! Not doing overtime today? Finally giving the rest of us a chance to catch up?" It was no secret tha
Jacob followed Seth up the cement walkway to his door. On his last visit to this house, he had been angry, apprehensive, and a bit guilty. He hadn’t been aware of anything but the possibility someone would soon out him if he didn’t get ahead of the situation. How things had changed in just over a week. He was still apprehensive, but this time it was an exciting, arousing apprehension that brought a blush to his face and amplified his senses.He noticed the boxwood bushes that lined the yard between Seth’s townhouse and the next, and the overgrown rose bushes in the small garden along the front of the house. The yard was otherwise completely empty. The house was pale grey with bare windows curtained on the inside with heavy drapes. The houses on either side were freshly painted, with pale yellow on one side and sky blue on the other. Seth’s house looked worn, with knicks and de
The bottom dropped out of Jacob’s stomach. The aroused excitement he had been lost in moments before had been transmuted into terror. He was done. This was it. He had gotten greedy and now his life would be ruined. He struggled back into his shirt. He was ready to bolt out the door and all the way back home. He fumbled with his belt, too stressed to handle the small buckle.Seth reached out and stopped his hands, then guided them out of the way so he could buckle Jacob’s belt for him. “It’s gonna be fine,” he said, more confidently than he looked. “We’ll explain.”“Explain how his son was just about to be screwed by another dude?”“I was about to be screwed, huh?” chuckled Seth. “My dad knows about me. He’s just… h
Tuesday.Jacob changed in his room after school. He was used to his dad hosting dinners and social functions with church people; it had been happening for most of his life. He dressed in his nice clothes, put on his Church Son persona, and prepared for an evening of small talk. He was used to it.These dinners had never been about him before. Sarah would be there. The Williams’ would actually want to know something about this guy who was dating their daughter. What had Sarah told them? Surely she wouldn’t have said anything about his reputation at school. What would they talk about? He still barely knew Sarah. He hadn’t spent much time with her outside of school yet. One dinner with a partner's parents was enough for one week. He didn’t think thi