Chapter 1


"I predict that tonight is the night Micah Springfield finally falls in love. And the magic eight ball says…" Sloane shook the black paperweight with vigor and held it up. "The spirits agree! Ca-ching!"

I was squeezing my long dreads with a towel to dry them. I made a pfft sound. "Oh yeah? Well, my magic eight balls say: 'Odds are against it.'"

Sloane waggled his finger at me. "See! That just proves it. Because you always have to say something like that hours before you fall into the abyss. It's the Rule of Famous Last Words."

"You're goin' out with that theater chick, right?" Hank asked. My baby brother was slouched all over my bed, as usual, paying half-assed attention to the conversation as he read on the tablet Mom and Dad had gotten him for his birthday. It was probably some book on Eastern Philosophy. My butch-looking, muscle-bound baby bro was a regular Joseph Campbell.

"Yeah. Her name is Yasmine."

"Like I said, the theater chick. She's hot."

The lack of any real enthusiasm in his voice saved him from having the magic eight ball lobbed at his head. Still, Sloane made a face. "Excuse me? Beloved?"

Hank glanced up at his boyfriend and looked sheepish. "I mean… for a girl. If you're into that sort of thing. Which I'm not."

"No fighting or making out in my room. House rules," I reminded them with my I-mean-it voice. Because spontaneous eruptions of either, or both, were always a risk when Sloane and Hank were in the same room in the Delta Sigma Phi house. "And yes, Yasmine is hot. She's also very nice."

It was only a little bit strategic when I started up my blow dryer, cutting off further conversation.

Honestly, I was over how much time the dreads took to maintain. They'd gotten so long, they were almost down to my waist. They looked totally rad. And at this point, I'd had them so long, they were part of who I was—Micah, the guy with the dreads. I resisted cutting them off because, fuck it, I didn't want to look like everybody else. And people more or less knew where I was coming from before I ever opened my mouth. That liberal, hippy guy. And it was true, so it saved a lot of energy on my part. But the dreads were a pain in the ass to dry.

I was only wearing a towel, and my gaze roamed over my pale chest in the mirror while my hands were on autopilot doing the hair. Yasmine Armand. She was biracial and had beautiful carmel-colored skin, green eyes, and a light brown fro with braids. She was tall and slender, graceful-looking. She liked to wear African influenced clothes and jewelry, especially long tie-dyed skirts. And she was artsy. She was a junior majoring in Theater Arts.

She was, in other words, exactly my type.

This was our first actual date, but she'd been interested in me for months. She'd finally gotten tired of waiting for me to ask her out and invited me to a party tonight. I let girls chase me. I didn't get worked up about much of anything, except, maybe, stuff that related to my frat. I was president of the Delts, and the house was important to me. But otherwise, life is too short, you know? I like a girl in my bed as much as the next guy, but drama of any size, shape, or form—that I can do without. Besides, why expel effort when you don't have to? Women's lib, man. Let ’em fly the flag, pay their own way, show their nipples, have boy toys, and do the heavy lifting when it comes to relationships. I was 100 percent down with all that.

Behind me in the mirror, I saw Sloane wander over to my bed and flop down beside Hank. Hank looked up from his tablet, and they stared into each other's eyes. I could feel the sexual tension charge the air, so thick it nearly short-circuited my hair dryer. Oh for fuck's sake.

I shut off the dryer long enough to say, "Hey! No making out in my room."

Without a word, Sloane and Hank got up, their eyes already glazed over with lust. I laughed as the door slammed behind them.

"Don't do anything I wouldn't do." I chuckled to my reflection.

My humor faded as a familiar pain burned inside my body. It was below my heart and above my gut, in the Solar Plexus Chakra. I didn't have a name for that pain. I wasn't jealous of Sloane and Hank. They were so perfect together they were like the world balanced on the head of a pin. And yes, there'd been a time when I'd sort of dug Sloane myself, thought about maybe experimenting a little on the gay side with him. But I was way over that. Maybe that ache was regret. I was never gonna have a union like Sloane and Hank's.

Yeah, yeah. I know all about the power of positive thinking. But there's also accepting yourself, you feel me? Knowing your path. I'm a child of the air, a dandelion puff destined to be spread far and wide, a rolling stone. There's power in union, but there's power in freedom too, getting to know lots of people, spreading the love around. Just because you occasionally feel a longing for something, or envy it, doesn't mean it would be right for you.

I finished my hair and turned to get a shirt. That's when I noticed the magic eight ball sitting in the middle of my bed, all ominous like. Sloane's voice echoed in my head: Famous last words.

I chuckled at the whisper of magic in the room. Imagination, man. Imagination kicked ass.


*                               *                                    *


"We need two more people. Come on Yasmine, Micah! No guts, no glory!"

I looked at Yasmine and shrugged. Sure. Why not?

I had a pleasant buzz from my second hard cider, and the music was indie, throbbing, and slow. I felt way chill and was game for anything. The people at Tyrell's party weren't my usual crowd, but they seemed cool. There were theater geeks, some guys from Lambda, the gay fraternity on campus, goths and emos, and other random artsy types. We'd just gotten back from Thanksgiving break, but Tyrell's small house near the Pennsylvania State University campus was already decked out with Christmas lights. Or maybe he kept the white twinkle lights up year.

I strolled over to the group circle, leading Yasmine by the hand. She looked beautiful tonight in a yellow caftan shirt and jeans, and several of the guys in the circle watched her as we approached. There were eight people already seated on the floor, four guys and four girls. There was a brunette theater chick I'd seen in a few productions—Melissa something. She looked drop-dead gorgeous on stage, but was stuck up in person. I hate that vibe, man. So not my thing. She gave me a flirtatious look, which I pretended I didn't see. People scooted to make room for me and Yas, and we sat down cross-legged in the circle.

"S'up," I said to no one in particular. I pushed my long dreads behind my shoulders.

"Cool. We're full up. The app has a max of ten players." Tyrell, a very large, very dark-skinned theater guy, was typing on his phone, probably entering my name and Yas's. "So here're the rules." Tyrell held up a phone, which had a 'spin the bottle' app. There was a bottle on screen as well as a ‘pie’ that had slices with everyone’s name. "JoJo, to my left, will start. She spins the phone on the floor and that spins the bottle on screen. Whichever little pie slice the app points to, JoJo has to kiss—doesn't matter who is it, male, female, whatever. The kiss has to last for sixty seconds on the clock. Then the turn passes to JoJo's left. If you're in, you're in for one full pass around the circle. So if you're not up for this shit, leave now, yo."

I smirked as we all looked at each other. There were certainly people in the circle I wouldn't go out of my way to kiss. But there were a few, too, that would be no hardship for sure. And guys? My only kiss that had involved a male had been a mistletoe kiss with Sloane last Christmas, and he hadn't even responded. But whatever, I was down with it. Some of the combinations would be hilarious.

"You cool with this, Micah?" Yas whispered in my ear, sounding worried.

"Yeah, it's all good." I wasn't the jealous type. Besides, Yas and I hadn't even kissed yet ourselves.

It was about then that my gaze caught on a frowning brow and worried blue eyes on the other side of Tyrell. My body went cold.

The guy's name was Leo. I'd seen him before in a few of the campus productions and here and there around school. In fact, he'd been the lead in A Streetcar Named Desire last spring. He was fucking amazing. When he was on stage, you didn't notice anyone else. I remember thinking the guy had major mojo, a killer aura, you know? I'd even looked up his name in the program. Leo… Datson, Daitson, Dayson, something like that.

He was even better looking in person. He had that thing Sloane had, that intelligent, sophisticated, slightly uptight thing, wafts of librarian erectus. And like Sloane, Leo was out and proud on campus. Only Leo was more intense than Sloane. He looked Serious with a capital S. He was lean, but he looked fit. He wore his dirty blond hair all one length to his chin and tucked behind his ears. He had a little stubble and his dark blue eyes… there was depth in those eyes, like an old soul, like a window into someplace awesome that you can only dream of but never go.

I don't even know what the hell that means, but that's what came to me as I looked at Leo across the circle. And I trust the vibes I pick up from people.

Maybe he felt me staring at him, because his gaze shifted to me for a moment, then he looked away again, cold, like I wasn't there. Interesting. I was generally popular on campus. I wasn't used to people throwing me shade for no good reason.

But why should I care? I didn't even know Leo. Maybe he was just shy, or he’d had a shitty day. I shook it off.

"I should probably bail," Leo said to Tyrell, just as Tyrell set the phone down in the middle of the circle.

"Aw, come on, man! We've got five guys and five girls. We're all set," Tyrell whined.

Leo did a 'crack your neck' sort of head tilt. Man he was uptight. Why?

"Fine. Go ahead," he conceded, looking at the floor.

JoJo, a cute strawberry blonde, put two fingers on the phone and spun it hard.

As I watched the phone spin, I felt strange. My heart was pounding hard, pulsing in my throat, and I got lightheaded and sick to my stomach. Maybe there'd been something in the cider. Or the chip dip. Hash. Amphetamines. Maybe somebody spiked something.

Then I looked up at Leo, saw his gaze skitter away from mine, like he'd been caught staring, and I realized my body was reacting to him—to the fact that the game was on: I was playing Spin the Bottle in a circle with Leo.

Two in ten, I told myself. No. I remembered my stats class. There was only one chance in nine—I wasn't included—that I'd end up kissing Leo. There was one chance in nine when I spun, and one in nine again when he spun. Chill. But my mouth was dry and my skin prickled on the back of my neck.

Why was my body freaking out? Even if it happened, it wouldn't be a big deal. Right?

JoJo got Melissa and they laughed and camped it up, moaning and making smacking noises. Theater majors! Then Yasmine spun and got Tyrell, which made everyone laugh and claim the game was rigged. Tyrell obviously enjoyed the hell out of the kiss, which involved tongue. I laughed with everyone else. Why should it chaff my hide to know I was with a desirable girl? It didn't. After Yas, it was my turn to spin.

Fuck, I was not nearly drunk enough for this. I took several slogs off my cider before wiping my hands on my jeans and leaning forward to the phone.

"Micah!", "Whoo!", "Pick me!"

People chanted my name and teased, but I kept my mind blank as I gave the phone a quick twist. It swirled around on its back.

When it stopped, the app pointed to a girl who did costumes for the theater, Kristen. I felt both relieved and disappointed, but I stood up, shaky on my feet, and gave her a smile.

Kristen was on the chunky-and-nerdy-side, and she turned bright red and giggled when she realized the app's bottle was pointing at her. I reached out for her hand, pulled her up into the circle with me, and kissed her. I could hear the phone's timer counting it down in the background, the beeps getting faster and faster. It was fine. Kristen was a nice girl and she tasted like beer. She also obviously hadn't kissed many boys before. Her energy was all nervous and giddy.

The timer went off, and I broke away. I received the cat calls with a calm smile and winked at Yas. Then I couldn't help glancing at Leo as I sat back down. He was watching me with another worried frown, chewing on his bottom lip. My stomach plunged again.

Play continued around the circle. Nobody else got me on a spin, but Yas had to kiss Melissa, which was pretty sweet. I could have watched a lot more of that, you feel me?

The funniest was when Adam, a straight goth guy, got Tyrell. They made a big show of hating it, laughing and backing off each other repeatedly. But with urging from the circle, they finally pressed lips and made 'this is gross' hand gestures the sixty seconds. I laughed with everyone else until I glanced at Leo and saw him picking at his shoelace, wearing his deepest frown yet. I guess it wasn't cool that Tyrell and Adam made such a huge deal out of kissing another guy. They weren't really homophobic. But still.

Finally, it was Leo's turn.

He was apparently a popular guy and, like I said, good-looking. People started hooting for him. Go Leo! Do it! There were whoos and whistles.

A girl with neon red hair and forties style makeup who was watching from the sidelines shouted, "Leo! Show these straight people how it's done!", which made everyone laugh.

I felt a wave of dread-tinged excitement as he leaned forward into the center of the circle on his hands and spun the phone. It whipped around, wobbling a little. It slowed down on the third rotation and then….

It stopped. I had to double-check the screen a few times, blinking my eyes hard. But the bottle on the screen was definitely pointing at the little pie slice that said "Micah."

Through the roaring in my ears, I heard people in the room going nuts, cheering like it was a fucking Steelers game. I stood up slowly. My throat was tight and everything felt surreal, like I was watching myself move. I looked over at Leo.

He stood too, his face showing nothing. He glanced at me from under his brows, looked away again. "Nah, it's cool. I'll let you off the hook." His shoulders were up, and he had this whole uncomfortable, stick-up-his-ass vibe going on.

Everyone around the circle booed and hissed.

"No, dude, it's the game," I said. "Let's just do it." I took a step into the center of the circle.

He didn't move, didn't look at me.

Fuck. He was going to leave me hanging like I had cooties or something. What was his fucking problem? Then it struck me—maybe he thought I was going to embarrass him, do the whole 'ooh this is gross' thing like Adam and Tyrell had done. I would never do that.

Tyrell was having none of it. "Leo, dude! You knew the rules at the start of the game! Don't be a jerk."

"I'll kiss Micah!" some skinny guy with purple bangs said. "Tag me in." He held up his hand toward Leo.

"You can't 'tag somebody in'!" Tyrell bitched. "Jesus Christ! The rules are not that complicated."

By now I felt like a total idiot, but I tried to look like I didn’t care. "It's fine, man," I told Leo with a smile. I wanted to say if I'm willing to do it, you should be. Because he was the gay one, right?

He visibly swallowed and a resigned huff escaped his nose. He shook his head once, arrogantly, like a fucking thoroughbred horse or something. Then he stepped into the circle and right up to me. He met my gaze challengingly. His eyes were bottomless. I was pretty good at reading people, but I had no clue what he was thinking.

"Say when," he told Tyrell, not breaking my gaze.

"Now," Tyrell said, finger over the timer button.

Before I could move, Leo put both palms on my jaw and kissed me hard.


*                               *                                    *

The sound of the beeping timer faded away, along with the room and everything in it.

Except Leo. His hands gripped firm on my jaw. They felt weighted, like they were pinning me down in space and time. He moved closer until I felt the whisper of his thighs through denim, and the rise and fall of his chest. And his mouth… Christ, his mouth.

He’d been trying to get out of it a moment ago. Now he was all demand and hunger.

My first time really kissing a guy. Wow. This is good. It was the last rational thought I had.

Leo was so… present, hyper-real. The stubble around his mouth prickled sharply against my chin. His lips were firm and warm, his tongue wet and earthy and blatantly bold. His raw energy overwhelmed me. It was all: I'm in control and I want you and I'm taking this. The floor tilted beneath my feet, and my kneecaps dissolved. I grabbed his biceps to keep standing. They felt like iron, and he took my weight without flinching. Oh, wow. Wow.

His opened his mouth more and he licked against my tongue with the flat of his, heavy and so fucking good. Holy shit, that was hot. My body wanted to slide and surrender just to get that tongue other places—on my neck, my chest, between my legs. His hands slipped down to my neck. His grip was just on the good side of tight, his palms hot on my skin. His thumbs rubbed my collarbones, rough and firm, like it was my—

"Yo, guys!" Tyrell shouted.

Leo abruptly pulled away. Everyone was staring at us. Melissa fanned herself with her mouth hanging open. Some of the guys looked uncomfortable. Yasmine had a sweet little frown of confusion between her eyes.

"Maybe ya'll better get a room, 'cause that timer went off, like, two minutes ago," Tyrell pointed out dryly.

I managed a cocky smirk, like it had all been for show. I stumbled back to my spot, unable to look at Leo. I managed to give Yas a half-assed shrug: No biggie.

"That was fucking hot!" said some girl outside the circle.

"Well, that was an interesting end to round one." Tyrell cleared his throat. "Who's in for round two? Do we want to do this again? I have a 'Truth or Dare' app too."

A bunch of people outside the circle clamored to get in. I was just freaked the fuck out, like the world had shifted on its axis, and I wasn't sure which way was up. Yas and I bailed on the next round.

By the time I worked up my nerve to look around for Leo, he was gone.


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