Copyright © 2016 by Cara Dee
All rights reserved
Edited by Silently Correcting Your Grammar, LLC.
This is the prologue of Noah that didn’t make the cut in the book.
Maybe it was a phase.
I shut down my laptop and placed it next to me on the bed. From downstairs, I could hear Uncle Noah had arrived, judging by the sheer volume of his booming voice and everyone in the family greeting him—always so loudly. It bugged me, though I tried not to let it show.
In the meantime, I was in his old room, surrounded by glimpses of his childhood. Football trophies from high school, more hockey memorabilia than I could count, and photos of him and his friends. He was ridiculously photogenic. Not afraid to take off his shirt and show his abs. He’d obviously been to many pool parties.
He lit up every picture, and I did not care for how I viewed him. Not unlike the guys I’d just watched on my laptop.
It was my ongoing trial…? I supposed. I couldn’t be blind anymore to the fact that I was attracted to guys, but now fingers were crossed it was just a phase and nothing permanent. I was only sixteen; my hormones were raging. It was a plausible explanation, and Uncle Noah was simply a handsome man. He had that kind of personality; everyone was drawn to him. But I had to wonder, was he really always that cheerful? There was something strange about people who were always in a good mood.
Having only known him for a few years, I couldn’t be certain, but the photos always showed him grinning, smiling, laughing—preeetty sure he looked giggly in one. Maybe he was intoxicated.
“Julian, honey!” Nana called from down the stairs. “Everyone’s here now!”
I’d kiss the ground my family walked on, but sometimes I felt so out of place. I let out a breath and stood up, catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror on Uncle Noah’s door.
I made a face. My hair was a mess, I was all scrawny, and I looked as jet-lagged as I felt. Hopefully, I’d get some sleep tomorrow when we drove to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.
This year, we were going camping for our reunion, and I was clueless. I’d spent last week walking in my new hiking boots Dad helped me pick out because, apparently, sneakers were no good.
I left the room I’d share with my little brother JJ and headed downstairs. Dinner smelled so good it made my mouth water. Nana was making her pulled pork casserole, and I couldn’t wait.
As I was about to round the corner to get to the kitchen, I slammed into something solid. For a second, I was wrapped up in warmth that smelled better than dinner. Whatever aftershave or cologne it was, it belonged to Uncle Noah, and he laughed as he steadied me. Two firm hands on my arms, and I looked up dazedly to see his grinning face.
“Oh, hey there, Julian.” His smile widened. “I was just about to get’cha. You excited to go camping tomorrow?”
I stared like a moron. Something had changed. I should speak, but I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t looking forward to camping at all. Could he do or say something loud and cheerful so it could bug me? I could talk easier when I was annoyed and…unmoved.
His expression changed into one of concern, and he slid one hand up to my shoulder, almost touching my neck. “You all right, kid?”
Good God, he was handsome. I hated him. He made life look wonderful. Or, scratch that, I hated myself. I wanted life to be wonderful, too. I’d heard great things about it.
I nodded dumbly and managed to look away from his eyes. “Yup, yes—er, sorry. I’m tired. Camping should be…fun?”
Uncle Noah laughed and ruffled my hair like I was a little child. Like I was JJ. “Lucky for you, you get my old bed all to yourself. I’m staying at a hotel.” He winked.
My face grew hot, and maybe I did hate him a little bit. What the hell was wrong with me? Now I was picturing things. Yes, much, much better he was staying at a hotel. The Hollywood golden boy. Boy, as in…big, tall, muscular, good-smelling man. And I was a freak. Someone should have me institutionalized.
“I, uh—well, I’m, um, I’m sharing with JJ,” I said, completely flustered. I needed to get away. “I’ll go, uh, help Nana with dinner.”
I made a hasty escape to the kitchen where Nana and Mom were chatting away while cooking and preparing snacks for the camping trip.
“There’s my favorite.” Mom smiled. “Come here, you can help me cut these sandwiches in half. They’ll be lunch tomorrow.”
I relaxed instantly and got to work. It wasn’t being called favorite that had made me comfortable around Mia Collins; it wasn’t what she said that had made her Mom. It was how she genuinely wanted me around and included me, which my biological mother had failed at over and over. Last time I’d called her, over a year ago, she’d answered with, “What do you want?” Whereas, Mom…sometimes still got teary-eyed just because I called her that. No one had made me feel as included in this family as her and Nana.
It was no wonder I preferred the kitchen over the living room where all the men gathered.
“You know, dear,” Nana said, checking the casserole, “Julian’s old enough to fly on his own now. He should come visit more often.”
“I don’t know, Ma…” Mom grimaced and handed me some plastic bags to put the sandwiches in. “Maybe next year. I already know I won’t be able to sleep when he goes off to Paris with his class this fall.”
I chuckled. “That’s not because I’ll be gone.”
“Oh, shut your pie hole,” she laughed.
“Am I missing something?” Nana turned to us. “I’m missing something.”
I couldn’t help but smirk. “Linda’s the fussiest baby ever, and I’m the only one who can lull her to sleep at night if she’s having a fit.” Which was a lot. She probably learned new ways to scream more often than she learned new words.
“He plays for her,” Mom gushed. “It’s the sweetest thing.”
I smiled and focused on the sandwiches as my damn cheeks burned.
During dinner, we talked mostly about the camping trip, and I did my best to not stare at Uncle Noah too much. Already it felt weird calling him uncle. He wasn’t even very unclelike. Maybe with JJ. Right before dinner, I caught Noah teaching JJ how to Saran-Wrap the toilet. The man was a kid like that. He also had a contest with my baby sister where they made funny faces at each other, and it was all fun and games until Linda began screaming and wanted to get away from Noah’s lap fast.
Dad and I cleared the dining room table while Nana and Uncle Noah prepared coffee and dessert in the living room. For the fucking life of me, I couldn’t stop observing him. Or maybe gawking? I wasn’t sure I knew where the line went.
“Did you hear what I said, son?” Dad chuckled.
I turned to him quickly, eyes wide, and nearly dropped a dish as I was putting it in the dishwasher. “What?”
He smirked and shook his head. “You’ve been distracted all evening. I asked if you wanted to come out in the yard and play football with us.”
Since when do I play football?
“Uh…no, thanks. I can watch, though…?”
Poor Dad. I bet he wished I was more like him, into football and soccer, guy stuff and whatnot. Luckily for him, JJ was already sold on all that.
“Fair enough.” He started to leave the kitchen, but he came back to give the top of my head a quick kiss. Then he left, and it was awkward. I was dumb, wasn’t I? Maybe I should fake it. Pretend I was into that stuff. Dad would certainly like it.
“Hey, Dad?” I called, and he popped his head in the door opening. “One game.”
He smiled widely.
If only dessert lasted forever, but it didn’t. Dad and Uncle Noah were itching to go outside, as was JJ, so I was doomed. I sat on the old porch swing in the backyard and tied my sneakers as Noah and Mom decided the teams. I ended up with Mom and Dad, and we were playing against Uncle Noah, JJ, and Pops.
“We’re gonna win, Uncle Noah!” JJ shouted.
“Of course we are.” Noah had just taught him how to fist-bump, so they did that every other minute when JJ ran toward him with his fist up high. Uncle Noah grinned and turned to Mom. “The fuck they changing their accents for?”
“What?” Mom frowned.
“JJ sounds more British than American, and Julian over there—” Noah jerked his chin at me “—ain’t far off.”
“I don’t sound British,” I said. That was crazy.
“They’re attending an international school until they’re fluent in German,” Dad said. “Most teachers are from the UK, so it wouldn’t be implausible for their accents to change a bit.”
“I don’t sound British!” I repeated.
Pops hemmed and hawed. “You all sound like Americans who’ve lived in England too long. You clearly need more teachers from Pittsburgh in Berlin. I can volunteer, you know. Teach them Europeans a thing or two about ‘merica.”
I sighed, and Mom said it was enough chitchat because she wanted to destroy her brother in football. That made Noah guffaw.
I was the weak link in our team, something Noah took advantage of way too often. JJ was focused on Mom and Dad, and Pops merely played for fun, but Noah played to win.
I had no idea what the score was. Maybe we were in the lead? Either way, it made Noah more competitive, and he kind of forgot to include JJ. Instead, he tackled Dad, ran past Mom, whom Pops was blocking, and then all I heard was incoherent yelling. Oh my God. Between Noah and the goal was just me.
“You can take him, honey!” Nana hollered.
I really, truly can’t!
I glanced over quickly at Dad, who had this hopeful look on his face. I hated the game he loved, but I guessed in some way I wanted to give him at least this. Holy hell, I was going to go down fast, but I found some inner courage and braced myself for impact.
Noah wore a dark smirk as he ran closer. I was toast. I was really toast. But if I got lucky, maybe I could stall him enough for Mom and Dad to catch up. And a second later, all thoughts flew out of my head. I intercepted Noah’s path, and he crashed into me. The ball bounced and rolled out of his reach, and I grunted as my back hit the grass.
The pain shot through me, causing me to groan, and I couldn’t breathe very well with Noah right on top of me. I didn’t know my eyes had closed, but the thought of him lying on me made them flash open.
I wasn’t the only one in pain, thank goodness. He was groaning too, and I became painfully aware of everything that wasn’t painful. His body was solid, larger than mine, and it felt…good. Oh God, it felt extremely good, and he smelled amazing.
I vaguely registered Mom grabbing the ball with a “Ha-ha!” that made Noah curse and slam his fist down on the grass. After that, he looked down at me and chuckled, half irritated, half amused.
“You okay?” he asked.
I shook my head because I was about to panic. I couldn’t fucking stop my body from reacting. “My spine,” I lied.
“Oh shit, I’m sorry, kid.” He rushed off me and grabbed my hand to help me up. It was dizzying, and I was mortified.
Putting some distance between us, I hoped no one could see how flustered I was, or how utterly embarrassed. Or that I was kind of hard. I hated myself.
I made my way over to the porch swing again and sat down, relieved it masked my arousal. When Mom and Dad hurried over to make sure I was okay, it was easier to lie.
Five minutes of fussing later, I was left alone while they finished the game without me. I blew out a breath and leaned forward. My erection had thankfully gone down, but the mortification hadn’t.
The man who was supposed to be my uncle had made me hard, for God’s sake. I needed to dig a hole in the ground and lie down. Hell, the more I thought about it, the more awful it got. What if he’d felt it? Had he? No, that was unlikely. But what if he had? I’d kill myself. I was only starting this hell ride of being controlled by hormones. It was bound to get worse.
I groaned quietly into my hands and berated myself for coming to the reunion. And we had a whole week to go before I could return home and suppress this memory.
You want to run into him again, idiot.
This wasn’t a damn phase. I was fucking gay. Just another thing to add to the list of crap that made me different from all others.
I wished I could be normal for once.