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First of all, Nathan King ruined my life. Let’s start with that.

I was in business school, like the good little WASP that I was. I was going to be…I don’t even know. I was going to wear the good suits, though, send my interns out for my coffee and send them scattering with a look if they got my order wrong (venti non-fat iced chai tea latte, they’d murmur to themselves in fear).

I was going to move out of the craptastic apartment I shared with Rachel, the interminable grad student (who was actually pretty nice for, you know, someone trying to get a Ph.D. in—no joke—astrophysics).

Then I met Nathan—well, Nate. Nate was kind of, just a little bit, the best-looking guy I have ever seen in my entire life. I swear my attraction to him is only like 10% jealousy. Then maybe like 10% his smirk, 10% that he’s the best I’ve ever had, maybe a little bit anger, but mostly an indescribable, mathematically invalid need to jump his bones whenever he’s around.

Nate was a writer—one that wasn’t getting paid, at the time. But he left journalism school because that wasn’t the type of writing he wanted, at least that’s what I think he was trying to do. I can’t be sure because Nate lied a lot, or maybe he joked a lot and some of his jokes were pretty shitty. One of the two. He told me he dropped out because it was too hard (bullshit, the man’s a genius, I’m sure) and then he laughed and took another swig of his beer. He told me he left to care for his dying father, but he later told me that his dad had run out when he was just four and a half years old. He seemed genuinely sad both times, like he could mourn his deadbeat dad and his separate, cancer-riddled one at the same time and not even worry about it. And I was sad for him both times, too, kissed his forehead until the wrinkles smoothed out, kissed his almost girlishly long eyelashes so he wouldn’t cry, kissed the corners of his mouth until he smiled. Then he laughed at me and called me a sucker, and I called him a pussy, and he made some crude joke about me being the girl in the relationship, and I shouted and he was still calling me weak and I couldn’t handle that. I never could take anyone calling me weak (side effects of growing up a bit flamboyant in the Midwest), and Nate knew it. He was just pushing my buttons so that I’d try to tackle him and he’d turn it into great sex—the kind of sex that would leave me with just as many bruises as if we had fought, because deep down I am weak. Deep down I want to get used and nobody ever used me better than Nate.

So I dropped out of business school to pursue painting, because Nathan King thought it was a good idea. And, shock of all shocks, it didn’t work out. My gamble left me in the same apartment, with the same grad student (now a post-doc, still paid basically nothing but still looking at the stars every night) and a full-time gig at a local art shop called Callahan’s.

The gamble paid off for Nate, because Nate is Nate and he turns odds upside their heads and he wins against the house in Vegas and the waiter gives him his number too because Nate smirked at him and you know how that works. He has a series of these really funny crime-action-parody novels, like fucking hilarious, and he’s not filthy rich and famous but he’s got a cult following and crazy fans called Kingfishers. The name’s a clever joke with his name and this one character from one of his novels that’s kind of based on Arthurian legend and it’s disgustingly adorable and I know this because sometimes I look at their fan websites because I’m pathetic. I’m pathetic, and I’m twenty-six, just a skinny guy whose metabolism is about to crash, working at an art supply store even though I don’t even paint anymore.

Nate and I dated for two years. He moved in with me briefly, but it was only because he needed a place to crash; we were never living together. I wanted to, but I never brought it up. Of the two of us, I was more the clingy type. Nate went out to clubs, and I pounced on him to dance. Nate went out to dinner, and I tagged along to get a taste. Nate did, I followed; Nate stood, I leaned. To be honest I’m surprised he let it go on as long as it did, what with all I wasn’t offering.

I try (and mostly fail) to avoid thinking about Nate these days. It’s only back because of the shit that went down at work.

There are three kinds of customers I get at work. Number one: aunts. Obscure relatives (almost always aunts, though I’ve seen my fair share of grandparents and second cousins too) don’t know what to get for a little kid’s birthday, but they heard that he or she’s artistic and they’re running with it. They want to spend twenty-five dollars and I know just the sketchbooks to run that balance up. Number two, lonely old people. I try to lead them to the best deals because they smell like death and they’re living on a fixed income. After fighting through hordes of aunts and the lonely, I am also so fucking relieved to see type three: an actual artist. Rare like an honest politician, like a yellow diamond, like a motherfucking unicorn.

Yesterday I found one named Kyle, and he was a painter, like I used to be. He was skinny like in the olden days, when they hadn’t figured out that lead-based colors were dangerous. We were debating paints based on linseed oil versus walnut oil when he cut me off in the middle of my rant about spreadability.

He said, “You know, you sound just like Elias would.”


“A character,” Kyle said. “From Nathan King, you know? Maybe you’ve read Gimmlitz? Or The Headboard Phenomena?”

“I know the books,” I said. I was trying to be careful here. One didn’t just say to a kingfisher that one had casually fucked (really, been fucked by) the king for two years running.

“And the new one? Ask Me No Questions?”

“I haven’t really had a chance to…who the fuck is Elias?”

“Elias Corrin,” Kyle said, and I wanted to slap him. I wanted to slap him, and through that, slap Nate.

For context, I should probably point out that my name is Corey Ellis. That’s not a motherfucking coincidence; it fucking can’t be. What the fucking hell had that bastard done with my name?

I asked Kyle, probably way too loud, “Is that a compliment? Being like Elias?”

Kyle shrugged and smiled up at me through his lashes. He was pretty, I realized. Pretty and probably pretty gay. Pretty and pretty gay and pretty used to getting his way because of it.

Nate had always gotten special treatment when we went out, from waiters and waitresses. Usually he called me his friend to get there, and then I’d pout, and he’d say, “What? Don’t you want the tickets at half-price?” and I’d say, “That’s not the problem; the problem is that you made that guy think—”

“What does it matter what that guy thinks?”

“It just fucking matters!”

“You know what your problem is, Corey? You care too much about the little things.”

I always wanted to say to Nate, you don’t care enough. But I never said a word.

After work I bought Nate’s new book. The cashier at the bookstore, a pretty little girl with too-red hair and bounce in her step, wanted to talk to him about Nate’s other books. She wanted to geek out over how great Nate was, and I wanted to tell her that he fucks like a god and then he fucks you over but that would lead to too many questions. I didn’t like to tell people about my affair with the late (to me) great (to everyone and maybe me too) Nathan King.

I snatched my change back from the casher and took the book home. Rachel, the astrophysicist, was just on her way out, her giant backpack jutting out behind her.

“Gonna figure out the mysteries of the motherfucking cosmos?” I asked her. It was our standard greeting.

“Yep,” Rachel said. “Gonna go to sleep?”

“No,” I said. “First I’m gonna read. Then I’m going to cook, maybe wash some dishes. Then sleep.”


“Fuck off,” I smiled, and Rachel gave me a cheeky little grin and locked the door behind her.

Even before Nate came along, I knew how to appreciate a good book. I knew how to make a picture of someone who loves books. I liked the picture, and I committed to it, like a good model would. One of these days I was going to paint the way that I read—one of these days when I went back to painting.

I started with the cushions, near the window, piled up to my waist. I poured myself some cheap red wine into a coffee mug. I plucked my reading glasses from my bedside table and perched them on the corner of my nose so that I looked like a proper bookworm, and so that I could actually see the words. I stripped off my button-down work shirt, sunk into the cushions, and tucked my knees up close to my chest. I unfolded my book and began at the first page.

It began, Elias Corrin thought that the gunshot was a light bulb popping. He searched the ceilings of his house so thoroughly that he almost forgot to notice the body.

OK, so it was a pretty good book, maybe even Nate’s best. Elias, the reluctant amateur detective-type, gets dragged along on this crazy-ass mystery with gangs and granny bikers and severe German prostitutes and the Florida Keys and dissolved gold and an enterprising IRS agent. It was clever and funny and suspenseful and engaging all at once. And then there’s Elias.

I kept a tally, as I read, of the things about Elias Corrin that were really just things about me. For one, the name was pretty fucking bad. And Elias was an aspiring musician who worked in a piano shop. He had some of my habits and quirks: he owned a teddy bear he had made himself, he had eaten the same thing for breakfast for four years, he couldn’t trust other people to be nice to him, he had an addictive personality whose management he preferred to outsource. It’s the little things, you know?

There were passages between Elias and this girl, Irena, who was kind of a total dominatrix. Irena was kind of like a lady version of Nate. I mean, so much of Nate is just so fucking male, but Irena was hard-edged and no-nonsense and moved quickly and thought quicker, and Elias was always kind of trailing behind her. I could see from the way Nate wrote that that was how Elias wanted it. Elias didn’t want to be in charge; he couldn’t handle it. He needed orders, he needed pain, he needed to be tied down because if he was in charge of himself he’d only bring himself misery.

I found myself sitting with the book resting on my knees staring out the window, thinking about Elias and me and Nate and Irena and pain and sex and loneliness and responsibility and—

Deep breath, babe, I could almost hear Nate whispering in my ear and I shivered at the thought of it, of him again, his arms holding me down when I was panicking and trying to rip my paycheck apart and my paintings down from the walls and the stars down from the sky.

But it didn’t work, because Nate wasn’t here, and I couldn’t be calm when he wasn’t around, even if he always put me on edge. I don’t think I’m destined to be a calm sort of person.

I sprung out of my little reading cocoon and scrambled around to the corner of my room I called my studio. The paints on my last project had long since dried; I haven’t painted half as much since Nate and I split. I tossed it aside and went rummaging through for a new canvas (my employee discount is good for something, I guess). I didn’t really plan much, which basically meant that this piece was going to be utter shit, but I started to paint the outline, the vague block shapes of Nate’s face, looking at me like he owned me.

Which was probably a massive fucking leap backwards in the doomed-to-fail plan known as “getting over Nathan King.”

I had never painted Nate when we were together; that would have just been weird, and it’s not like the man knew how to sit fucking still, he’s like a three-year-old that way. But it’s fucking fair, isn’t it? If he can write me, then I can paint him. But not right now, and I don’t paint from photos, and I’m not Sherlock fucking Holmes enough to paint from memory.

I fell into bed that night at around 3 a.m., with the thought of the paint haunting my dreams and the smell of it seeping in through my open mouth.

The next morning I called Nathan King, because I’m a fucking idiot. Also for the painting, but mostly because of the idiot thing.

I called him before I made it into work, because I knew he wouldn’t be awake yet, and I couldn’t exactly plan for every contingency that would come from talking to Nate. I know if I haven’t prepared Nate’d just railroad me over with that low voice like he’s whispering in my ear and I’d beg to be his again. Or I’d throw a punch. It’s a fine line between the two, with us.

I call him, and I leave this message: “Nate, it’s Corey. I’ve read your new book, and I’m pretty sure you owe me—you owe me a conversation at least, you selfish fuck, a conversation we could’ve had in the years it takes between when you design a character and when he pops up in your most recent book looking just like your ex-boyfriend. Meet me for coffee at The Aldova tonight. I get off work at seven. You’re paying, and I’m getting something fucking expensive. Aldova. Seven fifteen. Don’t be late, asshole.”

After I hung up I stared at my phone and took several deep breaths, several that gradually grew shallower until I realized that I was nearly hyperventilating just from the work of focusing in on my breathing.

I have no fucking idea how I lasted through that Thursday at work without getting fired. I forgot to reorganize the easels because I was sitting in front of the calligraphic inks thinking about the time I met Nate. The occasion might have been Kenneth’s birthday party, but Nate was pretty much the center of attention. Everyone wanted him, and I could see that he’d probably fucked half of them already, and I was so damn jealous and wanted him so damn much that I couldn’t even be in the same room as him. He finally cornered me to talk and he was so fucking arrogant that I threw wine on him—red wine—and he took off his shirt to mop the mess off his face and in the ensuing brain deficiency I somehow ended up agreeing to meet him the next day for coffee at The Aldova. I skipped out, of course, but he tracked me down (because Kenneth’s an insufferable gossip) and took me on our date on the back of his motorcycle. I tried to crash the bike. He kissed me within an inch of my life on the side of the road. Somehow we were dating.

That Thursday there was a customer that wanted to talk about setting up his studio, but he had to ask me three times because I was thinking about when Nate was living with me. He called it “crashing,” as in on my couch, but he never got there because I wanted him in my bed every minute of every day. Waking up next to him was a wet dream, coming home to him was goddamn bliss.

I couldn’t work the cash register for the memory of the day I came home to Nate, grin a mile wide, with my return-of-deposit check from UWhatever in hand. I couldn’t talk to customers over the sound of me shouting at him that I never wanted to fucking see him again, which I said maybe half a dozen times but never really meant. And Nate always seemed to get it, that I really wanted him to stay forever and that’s why I cursed him like my ancestors were witches not Puritans, and he never took me seriously until that last time. Until after he tortured another fucking exquisite orgasm out of me and I rubbed my wrists raw getting loose of the bonds and he was still looking down at me and I was messy and flushed and totally exposed and I loved him so fucking much but I couldn’t believe that he’d love me back.

So I didn’t tell him that I loved him. I told him, wrenching my hands free of his, that I hated who I was around him. And I don’t know if that’s true, but I hate even more who I am without him. Without him now and without him before I met—neither of those versions of me were worth anything.

I got to The Aldova at seven-oh-nine, and of course Nate wasn’t there yet. I ordered hot tea, because the burning bitterness in my mouth would keep me from talking myself into a corner. I paid the man and sat in the corner to watch people pass. Nate and I used to people-watch together, for hours sometimes. He would try to transcribe their conversations, and I’d try to sketch them.

Now Nate’s a published author and I’m just a clerk at Callahan’s Art Supply Store trying to make a bargain for my own life story. It’s pretty obvious here who won the breakup.

I watched Nate enter the store out of the corner of my eye, and immediately tried to look as though I weren’t looking. Nate was six-two, perfectly sculpted, scruffy like an off-set movie star, and he fucking knew it. He looked over the people in the shop like he knew he was better than this, or like he was going to fuck them into some kind of coma later tonight. He found me and he didn’t smile. I told myself that was good, because I’d sell my own kidney for that goddamn smile and I wasn’t selling tonight, I was buying. Nate immediately made his way over to me, winding between tables. Eyes followed him, either because he was handsome, or because he was semi-famous, or probably because he was both at the same time. He sat down in front of me, placing his ubiquitous notebook and pencil to the side. I hated that goddamn thing. Fuck, I didn’t hate it, I was fucking jealous. I was jealous of a goddamn notebook because Nate paid attention to it.

I scowled at the notebook and then transferred the scowl to Nate.

“You forgot to get coffee,” I said. As an afterthought, I added, “Asshole.”

“Nice to see you too, Core,” said Nate. I tried to kick him under the table, but he dodged and laughed and went to the counter. I didn’t hate pet names. I just hated the way he said them. OK, I hated the way that I melted when he said them. Fuck. This wasn’t going how I’d planned at all—what do they say about the best-laid plans of mice and ex-boyfriends?

Nate had bought his coffee—black, it always was—and a pastry on a tiny pink plate that he put in front of me. I stared at it.

“It’s not poison, Corey,” he said. His voice made me want to shiver. “It’s a chocolate croissant.”

Fuck, he’d remembered. I blushed, goddamn it, and promised myself not to touch the croissant.

It was gone in three bites.

“Thank you,” I said. “Now let’s move on to the fact that you stole my fucking life.”

“It was only a book, babe,” said Nate.

“Yeah, it was only a book about a guy named—” even though I knew the name, I pulled out my copy of the book and made a show of checking. “A man named Elias Corrin who looks, and I quote—”

“I know my own book, Corey.”

“Elias Corrin,” I read anyways, “was painfully thin, middle-ages-alchemist-dying-of-lead-poisoning thin, and since he lacked the courage to go to the gym he learned to take pride in his slenderness. He insulted it constantly so that others would have to compliment it. Which isn’t true, you fucker. Low self-esteem isn’t always a ploy.”

“I know, Core,” said Nate. “Why don’t you tell me why you’re really here?”

I thought I could hear the disdain in his voice, the way I could almost see the sneer creeping in from the corner of his mouth. He wanted me to beg him to come back. I wanted to beg him to come back.

“Like I said, you owe me,” I said, leaning back in my chair. I was going to pretend to be in control right now, but that never worked with Nate. Nate was insufferable, like my four-year-old cousin. And he was always in control, totally not like my four-year-old cousin.

But Nate didn’t take the bait. He just leaned forward, clasping both his hands together on the table. He wasn’t even twirling his pencil between his fingers. His coffee was getting cold, and he didn’t seem to care. That’s the beauty of Nate. Well, that’s one facet of the splendid shape that is Nate: when he’s paying attention to you, you feel like the most beautiful, most adored person in the room. Then when he looks away from me it’s like I’m a sunflower and he’s the sun and I’m wilting too fast but he’s ancient and time doesn’t move for him the way it does for me.

“You owe me a life story,” I said. “You’re going to sit for a portrait.”

Nate raised his eyebrows and held my gaze until I looked down.

Right when I was at my most shamed, when I was sure that this would never work and why had I called him, reminding this God-come-to-earth exactly why it was that we had broken up and why he was better off…he spoke.

“All right,” he said. “When are you free?”

I should have taken the time to prepare; I should have told him next Wednesday.

“You can follow me to the apartment,” I said. “I’m collecting the debt now.”

The air in my car was utterly devoid of Nate, and it helped me focus on the short drive back to my apartment. Rachel would have woken up and gone to work by now; it was seven-thirty p.m. There would be no one in the apartment but Nate and me. No one but me, the stupid fuck who’d told him to leave, and him, the dumpee that won the break-up.

We got out of the car and I led him through my apartment to my improvised studio, which had kind of become my dumping ground recently.

“Been painting still-lifes?” Nate asked, nudging aside the piles of crap.

“Not really,” I said. I haven’t been painting at all, but Nate doesn’t need to know that. “I haven’t really been painting at all.”

Wait, the fuck did I just say?

“Oh, Corey,” said Nate, and his eyes were big like a basset hound, all full up of pity. I knew he was just mocking me. “You’ve been suffering without me, haven’t you?”

“Oh, shut up,” I said. “Don’t think everything that happens to me is your doing. Come on, living room.”

“You’re too thin—”

“Alchemist thin?”

Nate continued undaunted. That’s a good word for him: undaunted. Or un-fucking-stoppable. “Everything’s a mess, you haven’t been painting, you’re not feeding yourself…”

“I’m painting now,” I said. I reached out a hand and gave him a nice shove so that he stumbled back onto my couch. I did not at all caress his chest. I just shoved.

Nate laughed a bit and sat down, heavily. Then he sat like he always sits, one foot propped up on his other knee, one arm spread across the back of the couch. He turned away from me, probably wanted to show off his goddamn chiseled profile, and ran his fingers lightly across the couch. The man has great fingers—not as great as his mouth, but, you know, pretty nice.

“We had some good times on this couch, Core.”

I tried to meet his eyes, but I gulped too quickly and looked down. I wanted to have more times with him. I wanted him to claim every hour on the clock.

I spoke quietly. “Don’t move.” I set up my canvas.

Nate looked over at me, probably trying to read me, trying to read why I was speaking softly. Which of my many, many weaknesses was coming out to play this time?

“I said don’t move. For this one I want you looking off to the side.”

“For this one?” Nate asked—no, demanded. Nate always demanded. While he waited for the answer I snapped a quick photo, just in case.

“I’m doing a triptych,” I said. “Don’t worry, it won’t take up too much of your precious time. Not as long as a goddamn novel. Not how long you had to study me for that, not two goddamn years—”

“I wasn’t studying you, babe,” he said, cocky as hell, like always. Not being able to watch me while I missed the base colors for his skin and his clothes and the couch…why the hell would that bother a man like him? “I was dating you.”

“We were dating each other,” I corrected while I tried to capture a basis for his skin tone. How did he manage to look like a Greek statue and a sun-kissed surfer at the same time? And where did I leave the green?

I wanted just a touch, just a hint of light mint-green to add an undertone to the color, when Nate said, “Really? Because I don’t remember you putting much effort into the relationship,” and I spluttered and the green went fucking everywhere and this color wasn’t going to work unless I was painting Martian-Nate.

I looked up from my ruined mixing and Nate was looking at me, again, even though I told him not to. And the bastard had moved, too! He had both his feet on the floor and his elbows on his knees. He was leaning over his clasped hands and looking up at me with those damn eyes of his. They weren’t basset hound eyes anymore; they were motherfucking cliché-ridden stars. I picked up the camera and took another shot of him, just as he was, looking like he was going to get up off that couch and come after me.

“You shouldn’t have moved before,” I said. “Now that you’re here, you shouldn’t move again. And you definitely shouldn’t have said that.”

Nate smiled at me, and I stared, because this wasn’t his same cocky I-own-you smile. This smile was sad. This was the way I smiled at Nate when he complimented me; this was the way that…I’m not the writer here, OK? It was just weird, and he looked sad, and for the first time in basically ever, I wanted to comfort him. I wanted to hold him, instead of him holding me, and to kiss him instead of being kissed. I wanted to curl my body, skinny though it was, around him and shield him from the world.

But I lost that chance eight months ago.

“Don’t worry,” Nate said, and I hated this new sad Nate. No matter how crazy it made me, I loved when Nate looked at me like he wanted to throw my easel aside and have it out, fight or sex or probably that combination of both that the two of us perfected. No one else has ever looked at me like that—like they didn’t care what we did next as long as I was involved.

“I didn’t come here to get you back,” Nate finished.

“Oh,” I said, because I’m clever like that. I moved to the next canvas and started to paint basic outlines of Nate’s shape. I wasn’t capturing him yet; I was only trying to prepare the canvas for him. I was only trying to calm myself before I really had to study him. Maybe I should just ignore everything that was real about painting and work from photographs, so that he wasn’t in my house all the time. Why the hell did I invite him over again?

I was staring at my own hand moving around the canvas when I said, “I’m sorry.”


Nate was probably making a beautiful face, or changing his pose, but unfortunately the texture of the back of my own hand was way too interesting for me to be able to report on it.

“For…whatever it is that…for thinking that I was putting enough effort into us, when I must not have been.”

“Oh, Core—”

“Fucking hang on!” I interrupted him—I. Interrupted him. And I was way too loud, too. And I was supposed to be being nice. “And thank you for putting in the effort. Those two years were…shit, Nate, you sure know how to make a guy feel wanted.”

I looked to see how he was taking it, and he was staring at me again, that rock-hard gaze that I wanted to capture in the painting, if I would pay attention to painting Nate instead of just Nate.

Nate might not be here to get me back, but I was. Here to get him back, I mean. I dragged him here, made him pose. Fuck the painting. Maybe some day, I’ll paint Nate, but today…today I wanted Nate back.

I sat down next to him on the couch. He didn’t put his arm around me, and I didn’t know how to put my arm around him.

I just said, “Why did you write me into your book, Nate?”

“Authors steal all the time from—”

“Nate, please,” I said. Yeah, that was more like our relationship, me begging. “Did you really see us like that? Did I…was I…shit, I just wanted to strangle Elias! And I don’t know how Irene put up with him!”

“That…that was really how you read it?” Nate asked, and his leg was pressed against me and he ran his hands through his hair. God, he had fucking perfect hair. “Core, Irene was desperate and sad. Elias was using her—I mean, he was using her for pain, but it’s still use, and by the end she was left…hell, Corey, only you can make me lose my words like this.”

“Did I use you?” I asked, very quietly. “I didn’t—I really didn’t—”

“That part wasn’t based on us, Core,” said Nate.

Then I did the single stupidest fucking thing that any ex can do after a break-up. I did it because it looked for just one second like Nate might tell me the truth.

I asked him, “Then what was wrong with us?”

Nate flopped his hands onto the bed. “You know me, babe. I’m an asshole, always have been, a genuinely bad—”

“The truth, please,” I said, and my voice was low, and somehow we had shifted on the couch. We weren’t sitting next to each other like he’s my prom date and I’m meeting his parents. He sat, and I hovered next to him. I didn’t know how much of his personal space I could invade. I didn’t know if he was seeing anyone else. I didn’t know if I cared. I had managed to put my arm behind his back, resting on top of the couch.

Nate looked me straight in the eye as he told me, “Core, sometimes things don’t work out. Once the novelty burned off, there was nothing substantial beneath it all. The sex was great, but we were never going to last.”

His eyes were wide, trying to fix my gaze but my eyes kept wondering up the line of his jaw and the bump on his nose and the tiny pale scar across his eyebrow. In my head I was painting him. In my head I was kissing him.

“I said the truth, Nate. You never look at me like that unless you’re lying.”

“Shit. Core, I—”

I inched closer to him. Somehow with my leaning and his reactions he was against the side of the couch and I was on my knees on the cushions, looking at him, every ridiculously handsome inch of him. I reached out a hand as though to brush his stupid fucking gorgeous hair out of his eyes, but I paused with my hand hovering and then yanked it back to my side, to prop up my weight on the couch as I leaned forward.

“Tell me, Nate,” I said.

“We’re bad for each other,” Nate said, looking away, and that’s how I knew it was the truth because of the shame. I had always thought of Nate as shameless.

He was still talking. “I was too controlling, and you said…you said that you hated yourself—”

I started laughing then, half relief, half hilarity, and maybe some hysteria so I should adjust the proportions and calculate some real percentages. I don’t know; I’m rubbish at math. I might have kept going for longer, giggling and bubbling over like New Year’s champagne but Nate looked like he was in intense pain, and I realized that he didn’t understand. He stood up abruptly, almost knocking over the couch, and started to leave. I grabbed his hand.

“Nate, I’ve never stopped hating myself!” I said, grinning like a madman, like my shitty self-esteem was the best news in the world. “Our relationship wasn’t what fucked me up; I’m just fucked up, you see?”

Nate wasn’t coming back, but he wasn’t in the process of leaving anymore. Progress!

Nate said, “No.”

“Our relationship isn’t crazy, I’m just—well, at the risk of making you realize something you should’ve a long time ago and sending you running, I’m crazy. I’m crazy, and I’m sorry for making you think you were responsible. I’m sorry for everything I said and everything I expected of you, and I think I’ve been in love with you for years.”

Nate didn’t say anything. He was just frozen there, looking like he was about to jump out of his skin for all that he wasn’t even moving.

I snatched up the camera and took a picture so that I’d never forget, and maybe so that I’ll have a muse captured in digital to last me years afterwards. Nate would make a good muse, I think.

“So,” I said, placing the camera carefully back down. I had taken the picture just in time; Nate was moving now. To be precise, Nate was advancing on me. “That’s—um, I don’t need to—to paint more. But—”

Nate backed me up against the wall, and my legs were a bit wider than was technically necessary. Nate pushed too far, pushed against me. He was hard. So was I.

“Don’t you dare,” he hissed at me. “Fuck with me for a goddamn picture.”

I thought about telling Nate that I meant every word, and the picture was just because he was gorgeous—these were perhaps related concepts, but I definitely wasn’t manipulating him. But he had me up against the wall and I liked it there.

I asked him “Or what?” and bit my lip. I had sharp canines; the dentist had wanted to file them down when I was younger, but I’d refused. I liked the way I looked when I bit my lip, sometimes. And I liked the sharpness.

Not that my teeth were anything compared to the feeling of Nate’s mouth on mine, taking ownership of my abused lower lip and mouth and my tongue and my cock and really everything, the man’s always had me for his own. We tasted each other thoroughly, remembering each other. I wrapped my arms around his neck and Nate laughed against my lips.

“Clingy,” he said, slapping at my arms. I pouted at him, so he grabbed my wrists and pinned them above my head with one strong arm, so that I was writhing beneath his careful ministrations. He was the musician and I was the instrument, he was the poet and he made me feel like fucking poetry.

He started kissing his way down my neck, and I was moaning for him, and then he was biting and the moans were curses but they still meant the same thing and I was melting into the wall, spreading my legs further. I wanted Nate to have everything he wanted; with every part of my brain that wasn’t occupied with feeling I wanted it.

Nate stopped his downwards progression at the collar of my shirt, with only one button undone and my nipples hard as rocks. His mouth was right next to mine, and I tried to kiss him but he pulled away. I cursed inelegantly. I think the phrase “Jesus fuck” might have been involved.

“You have a filthy mouth,” he said, even as my lips sought his out, almost blindly and desperately. “I missed it.”

“I missed you,” I said, because he was telling me the truth and I was telling him the truth and it was intoxicating though that might have just been the sex. He was all that I could smell, like an old book store and nutmeg mixed together and smeared across my skin.

“Well, you shouldn’t have broken up with me, then,” said Nate, breaking off a kiss to tug my t-shirt over my head. With my newly freed arms I unbuttoned his dark blue shirt, running my fingers across his chest almost wonderingly. God, I had forgotten how gorgeous this man was; clothes didn’t do him justice; he should never wear clothes. He should never leave my apartment either.

Nate kissed his way down my neck, following the source of my unsteady breathing down to my lungs and my chest. He bit my nipple, and I yelped. I yelped, and my already-hard dick jerked, and I could feel Nate smiling against my skin.

“Bastard,” I said, and Nate twisted my other nipple before running his fingernails down my back in one shudderingly long movement.

Then, “I love you,” I said, because I had already said it once and the words felt perfect on my lips.

Nate smiled again, big, and my heart lurched a bit. But I could have been mistaken, because all parts of me were lurching at the moment. My blood kept redistributing itself to rush to wherever Nate’s skin touched mine, and Nate moved his fingers across my skin like he was trying to read me in Braille.

“I love you too,” said Nate, almost gasping as I ripping his pants down so that his thick, dripping cock sprang free and slapped against his abdomen. “I have for quite some time now, I’d say.”

He loved me. He really did, because this was a crazy nonsensical world, and maybe someone like Nathan King really could love me.

I kissed the skin of his hips, dusted with golden hair. I ran my hands up and down his powerful thighs and tried to make Nate feel the way he made me feel. I kissed and licked my way down to his impressive, cut erection, and tasted the salty pre-cum from the tip.

I looked up to see Nate, with his head thrown back and his mouth open. His lips were moving, but he wasn’t making any sound. He was writing poetry for me too fast to speak out loud.

When his hands threaded through my hair, gently urging me forward, I sank down on his cock slowly, opening my throat for him. Then I began moving back up, suckling on Nate’s cock while I stroked his heavy balls. Nate’s energy threw every muscle across his legs and abdomen into sharp relief, but his hands were always soft as they caressed my cheek and hair.

After a few more minutes, I could feel Nate begin to writhe and squirm with his building pleasure. His hips thrust in little jerks, and I would have choked but instead grabbed him roughly, holding him down with my fingers splayed across his ass and my thumbs in that little indention below his hips I had always loved in Greek statues.

I still had art on my mind when Nate choked out a small warning cry and then began to spurt. I pulled off slightly so that his cream filled my mouth and I swallowed it all down, relishing the taste of his pleasure. His face was thrown back, eyes glassy and unfocused, as I licked him clean.

Then Nate’s strong arms surrounded me and he pulled me into his lap, kissing me thoroughly. That horny fucker was always obsessed with the taste of his own spunk, but I was too blissed out on love and the scent of nutmeg to care.

I straddled him, my still-hard cock rubbing against his abs through the thick fabric of my jeans. I kissed him slow and then fast, again and again, from open mouthed kisses to little pecks on the side of his mouth and everything in between. Nate broke away, laughing breathlessly.

“I like putting effort into us,” I said, laughing too. “It’s fun. You make the cutest little noises—”

“Oh, shut up,” said Nate. “Now, why the fuck are you still wearing pants?”

I jumped off him and grabbed his hand, tugging him back to my bed, which was still just a mattress on the floor (bed frames are fucking expensive, OK?). Nate sat down.

“Home sweet home,” he said, tugging my pants off and then pulling me down to him.

“I will have you know,” I said primly, “that this is a perfectly fine bed, and—”

“I meant it,” said Nate quietly, and he kissed my hand. “Jesus, we’re sappy as fuck today, aren’t we?”

“Turn over,” I ordered. I was still smiling; I don’t know how long that smile had been there but it was probably since Nate had told me he loved me. “And I’ll fuck you hard enough to make up for it.”

Nate looked at me for a second, tilting his head. I had never topped him before, and I was worried that I shouldn’t have suggested anything. I worried until Nate got down on his hands and knees and presented his perfect ass to me with a little wiggle.

I draped myself over his back, just taking a minute to feel his skin across mine. My cock was nestled between his ass cheeks and I rocked back and forth softly, letting the head slide across his tender pucker while I fisted his prick. I left him briefly to rummage around for lube in the patch of floor at my bedside that sort of counted as a table. Nate made a delicious sound of protest, but I quickly returned to him, stroking his back comfortingly.

I slipped one slick finger into Nate’s hole, and he inhaled sharply. I waited several seconds before moving.

“Nate,” I said eventually. “Exhaling is an important part of breathing.”

The air shuddered out of him, and I stroked his cock while I buried my finger deeper in his ass.

“You OK?” I asked him.

“Shit, I never asked you that, did I?”

I kissed his left ass cheek. “I always was. Is that a yes?”

“Hell yeah. Give me another.”

I obeyed, scissoring my fingers back and forth, seeking with the pads of my fingers one ball of nerves that I knew would—

When I found his prostate, Nate’s whimpered and his shaking legs almost gave out. I held him up, holding one hand around his waist.

“Gotcha,” I said, grinning.

Nate gave a weak laugh that quickly turned into a pant.

“Corey,” he said. Every time he said my name, it was like a new word.

“Hm?” I teased him, pulling out my fingers to add more lube. His body fought to keep me in.

“For God’s sakes, Core, are you going to fuck me or not?”

“Oh, is that what I should be doing?” I said as I sheathed and lubed my cock. I had to keep one hand on the small of Nate’s back because he kept thrusting back against me, trying to impale himself.

I slid into him slowly, biting my lip to avoid loosing control. I tried to focus on the pain instead of the tight heat of Nate’s channel squeezing my cock. I tried to go slow.

Nate shoved his hips back against mine so that I was fully seated, encased in heaven, Nate’s tight channel stretched around me. Groaning, I began to move, sliding my cock across that sweet spot with every thrust, pulling Nate’s chest up against mine so that we were both kneeling on the bed, rocking back and forward in large oceanic swells. I had been chanting Nate’s name without realizing it, and Nate had been making noises that bore only passing relation to the English language.

When I felt a tight heat spreading from my balls I reached down and began to milk Nate’s cock, gripping him in my fist and twisting my hand at the top.

“Core, I’m gonna—I’m—”

“Do it,” I whispered in his ear. He came, and I followed him, tripping over the brink and free-falling.

Physics’ll tell you differently, but I’m pretty sure that orgasm lasted for-fucking-ever. Nate was still lost in it, I could see, as I regained brain functionality on the other side of infinite time. He lay on the bed, every muscle relaxed, splayed out half on his side and half on his back. I tiptoed away to grab some wipes (the cheap and lazy always have wet wipes) and came back to clean him off.

While I was up I snatched my camera, because Nate looked too good to resist. I took a picture of him—nothing incriminating, I’d already pulled the sheet up, I’m not a fucking muckraker or anything.

The sound started Nate, and he blinked up at me, hazy with post-orgasmic languor.


“More studies,” I said, as I put the camera aside and climbed into bed with him. He wrapped his arms around me and I snuggled into his back. “I am going to paint you one of these days.”

“Well you shouldn’t fuck your models,” said Nate. “‘S unprofessional.”

“You are shit at pillow talk, you know that?”

Nate cleared his throat and then affected the voice of a newscaster. “Young man, that was some excellent cock work right there. Ten out of ten, I say. One hell of a fucking.”

I grabbed the extra pillow and whacked him over the head with it. The move was not super effective, because Nate’s head was right behind mine.

“Go to sleep, asshole,” I said. “We’ll try again next time.”

“Yeah,” Nate murmured into my neck. “Next time.”

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