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In Their Prime

Ryan Field

A Ryan Field Press© Original Publication

Published by Ryan Field Press© at Smashwords

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This book is a work of fiction. Names, places, events and characters are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.



All characters depicted in this work of fiction are 18 years of age or older.



ISBN - 9781370020836

Copyright©2017 Ryan Field

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IN THEIR PRIME

By

RYAN FIELD



Table of Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty One

Chapter Twenty Two

Chapter Twenty Three

Chapter Twenty Four

Chapter Twenty Five

Chapter Twenty Six

About The Author

Other Titles By Ryan Field

Chapter One

1990

When former male stripper Ethan Holmes gained admission to the Iowa Writers' Workshop, he had the best of intentions. While he often bragged to people it was one of the oldest and most celebrated workshops in the country, and he never failed to mention how difficult it was to get accepted, he wondered in private how he would suffer through the intense academic residency requirement without losing his mind.

If it hadn't been for his best friend, Travis Lane, he wouldn't have finished the first year.

Ethan met Travis Lane the day he'd started the program. At the time, Ethan hadn't planned ahead for housing and he'd spent his first night in Iowa in a dumpy hotel off campus, not far from the bus stop. He was from a small town on Florida's Gulf Coast and he'd always been able to find affordable housing as an undergrad student there. No one had mentioned affordable on-campus housing at the University of Iowa was so scarce in September. He thought he'd show up the day he arrived, sign a lease, and everything would fall into place for him the way it usually did. He'd always been charmed that way, and he knew it. Evidently, all these other people had planned ahead.

On the first day of class, the other grad students all looked and sounded so aggressive and competitive, Ethan wanted to hide behind a door. It didn't take him long to realize this wasn't small town Florida, where he could get away with anything by flashing a seductive smile, opening his shirt a little, and moving his hips just the right way.

When he overheard the female students discussing feminism and rape culture, he knew casual flirting with them wouldn't get him anywhere. When he overheard the male students talking about gender politics in fiction, he groaned aloud and turned in the other direction.

Then Ethan spotted a young man in the corner leaning against the wall, glancing down at a thick book. He seemed to want to remain separate from the others. There was a green canvas backpack at his feet stuffed with books, and he seemed oblivious to his surroundings in a forced way no one would have noticed if they weren't paying attention to him.

While the young man gazed at the book, his eyes kept darting up at the other students waiting to go into class, which Ethan found interesting. The guy wasn't even reading the book; it could have been upside down. He was only pretending to read the book.

This unusual guy stood about six feet tall, had a slim, lanky body, and his short, straight hair reminded Ethan of the wheat fields he'd seen on the bus driving through Iowa. He wore a crisp white button down shirt, and flat front khaki slacks that bunched up at the hem around brown oxfords. When his gaze lifted and he noticed Ethan staring at him, he looked down at the book so fast Ethan didn't even get a chance to send him a smile.

So Ethan walked over to him with his hands in his pockets and his head high. He'd worn his tightest jeans that day, the ones that made his crotch bulge. He hadn't brought any books or materials to class because he hadn't unpacked any of his things yet. He leaned back against the wall next to the nervous young man, and said, "Hey, man. I'm Ethan." He extended his right hand. "It's nice to meet you."

The young man hesitated for a moment, and then he shook Ethan's hand. "I'm Travis Lane." He spoke with a soft, cautious tone, as if he'd lost his voice.

Travis didn't hesitate to look into Ethan's eyes, which made Ethan feel more at ease. At least there didn't seem to be anything fundamentally wrong with him. "I was wondering if you could loan me a notebook and a pen, buddy," Ethan said. "I just got here last night and I haven't had time to unpack my shit yet. You should see the shithole hotel where I'm staying. I still don't even know where I'm going to live yet." He laughed and scratched the back of his head. "I guess I should have thought about that a while ago."

Travis sent him a look. His head jerked back a little and he asked, "You didn't secure housing beforehand?"

Ethan shrugged and smiled. "You know how it is, man. I figured I'd worry about it when I got here. I'm from a small town in Florida and it's pretty easy to find digs where I come from."

Travis bent down and pulled a notebook and a pen from his overflowing backpack. He handed it to Ethan and said, "I waited a year to get my apartment in Hawkeye Court. Around here you really have to plan ahead for these things. Didn't anyone tell you?"

Ethan laughed. "If they did, I probably didn't pay attention to them. You know how it is, man."

"Well, you're going to have a tough time now," Travis said.

"Clearly," Ethan said, taking the notebook and pen. "Thanks for letting me borrow these, bro. I appreciate it. I probably shouldn't even be here in this program, but I figured I'd give it a shot since they admitted me."

"I don't understand," Travis said. "I worked hard to get accepted. I practically killed myself."

"Where are you from?" Ethan asked. He could see they'd come from two different worlds, but he wanted to make a point.

"Connecticut," Travis said. "I went to Yale and I've been planning to come here for the past four years. It was my only goal all through undergrad school. My mom and dad are both attorneys and they wanted me to be a lawyer but all I ever wanted to do was write. I had to get into this workshop. Otherwise they would have made me go to law school. I wouldn't have had a choice." He shrugged and smiled. "And I'm not mean enough to be an attorney."

Ethan looked at him and smiled. "I'm from a small town on the Gulf Coast. My mom's a waitress and my dad's a trucker and neither one of them graduated from high school. I worked my way through undergrad school as a stripper in both gay and straight strip clubs all over Florida. And I still don't know how I got into this workshop. I heard about it one day last year and I figured I would apply and see what happened. I'm still shocked they let me in."

"Well, you must be good," Travis said. "They don't just let anyone into this program."

"I guess they liked something I did," Ethan said. He'd always been able to write and he'd never had to work hard at it.

Although Travis didn't seem stunned, he did tilt his head sideways and ask, "Do you want to be a writer?"

Ethan shrugged. "I want to make a lot of money."

Travis laughed and said, "Well, you can do that stripping. You don't need the Iowa Writers' Workshop. If I had your looks and your body, I might not be here right now myself. I might be making tons of money stripping."

That was when Ethan knew they were going to be friends. Though Travis looked like a tight-ass at a glance, he was far from it. Ethan looked him up and down and said, "You could strip with that ass. You wouldn't starve to death. They love it when the smart-looking guys pull down their pants. And you're cute." He made that bold remark about Travis being cute to see if he was gay. All of Ethan's instincts told him Travis was gay, but he wanted to be certain.

Travis didn't seem offended about the cute remark. His face turned a pale shade of pink and he said, "Well, thanks for the compliment, I think. But I think I'd better stick to writing. As it is, I still might starve to death doing that. At least that's what my parents think will happen." Then he stopped and hesitated for a second. He rubbed his jaw and thought, as if he was choosing his words with caution. "I'm curious," he said. "Are you gay? I am. Just so you know."

Ethan didn't mind the bluntness of that question at all, and he had come to terms with being gay when he was in high school. He liked to play games, especially with someone who asked such a direct question without knowing anything about him. He shrugged and said, "What if I said I don't like labels?"

Travis lifted his eyebrows and said, "Then I would think you are most likely gay and you're not ready to admit it aloud, or you are still lying to yourself. Your type is always like that."

"My type?" Ethan laughed at his innocence.

"The rough-looking, straight dude who can pass whenever he wants to pass as straight," Travis said. "Your type likes to hold out for a while. You play games."

"Well, you would be wrong," Ethan said. "As it happens, I'm into dudes and I have no problem admitting it aloud to anyone. If anything, my problem is I'm into dudes a little too much. I can't stop thinking about anything but men." He glanced at a young woman in the hall with long flat, dark hair parted in the middle and he frowned. She wore a gray plaid skirt and black ballerina slippers. She didn't have ankles and her legs reminded Ethan of tree trunks. There were so many flawed people in the world he found it exasperating sometimes. "From the way it looks, all I'm going to be doing is thinking about men, because I haven't seen a single man or woman yet who's even halfway hot enough to actually hook up with."

Travis blinked. "Well, thanks."

Ethan patted him on the back. "Present company excluded," he said. "I should have said you're the only cute guy I've seen since I got off the bus in Iowa."

"You're full of shit," Travis said.

"Sometimes," Ethan said. "But you are hot."

"What about beauty from within?" Travis asked. "Doesn't that count for something? I like to think it does."

"That's what your type always says," Ethan said.

"My type?"

"The good-hearted elitist who cares about issues and all of humanity," Ethan said. "You're only fooling yourselves, and you're the first ones to jump into the sack with the first hot piece that comes along."

Before Travis had a chance to reply, the other students began filing into the classroom and Ethan turned to join them. Travis followed him, and Ethan and Travis sat next to each other that first day. After class they went out for coffee, where Ethan made sure he pulled Travis's chair out on purpose. Even though they came from completely different worlds, they balanced each other in a natural way and finding things to talk about never seemed to be an issue. Ethan couldn't believe his luck once again, so on the way out of the coffee shop he asked if he could see where Travis lived and Travis brought him to the small on-campus apartment he'd rented.

It wasn't much of an apartment, but the moment he walked inside Ethan knew it was better than the shabby hotel room where he'd spent the night. There was an open floor plan that had a living, dining, and kitchen area. In the back, there was one medium-sized bedroom with a double bed, a closet large enough for two people, and a basic bathroom with a shower and a tub. Although nothing was elaborate, and the gray carpets and old white bathroom tiles had been around since the disco era, Ethan didn't want to let this opportunity slip away without doing something about it.

So he walked up to Travis in the living room and stood behind him. Travis had been staring out a large window that looked out to a parking lot. He grabbed Travis from behind, put his arms around him, and kissed the back of his neck. "This place isn't bad," he said. "Would you like a roommate?" He kissed his neck again and said, "You smell so good." Then, as an extra bonus, he squeezed Travis's chest muscles and shoved his crotch into Travis's buttocks. "I'll bet you're great in the sack. You quiet types are always like that."

While Ethan did this, he measured each move Travis made. Though Travis didn't lean back and fall into him like some gay men would have done, he didn't jerk and pull away either.

For a moment, Travis remained still, allowing Ethan to grope him and push into him. Then he laughed and said, "You really need a place to live, don't you?"

Ethan inhaled his scent again and said, "I don't understand. What's that supposed to mean?" Each time Travis spoke, Ethan had to analyze what he'd said.

"If you're willing to sleep with me, you must be really desperate."

Of all the things Travis could have said, that one comment left Ethan breathless. He removed his arms from Travis's body and he turned him around so he could see his face. He took both Travis's hands and said, "I really do need a place, man. I'm not fucking around. And to be perfectly honest I would probably sleep with a fat old bald guy to get one. But that's not how it is with you, buddy. You're adorable. I'm not scamming you. I like you."

Travis seemed to have trouble taking compliments about his looks. He had trouble looking Ethan in the eye now. "You're trouble, and you know it, which makes you even more dangerous."

Ethan had a feeling Travis liked trouble and craved danger, which was probably because he'd never been exposed to either in the past. However, Ethan didn't want to push his luck and he decided to keep it honest this time. Travis was too smart to scam, and Ethan needed a place to live. "Look, man, why don't we try it out and see how it works? I know it's crazy and we just met. But what could it hurt? I'll pay half the rent, and we can study together. It's not like I'm offering you a big diamond ring and asking you to marry me. I just want to share an apartment. You go your way and I'll go mine, no strings attached."

Travis stepped back. "So you don't want sex. You just want a roommate."

"Well, I want it all," Ethan said.

"That's not how life works," Travis said.

"Okay," Ethan said. "Let's work out an arrangement. We'll talk about it tonight over dinner. I'll take you out to celebrate our new living arrangement and we'll get all the details in order. My treat. Whatever you want, I'm willing to do. I obviously need you more than you need me. And I actually think we could be good friends if nothing else works out."

Travis took a deep breath and exhaled. He stared at Ethan for a moment, and then he walked over to him and kissed him on the cheek. "You know, I think we could be good friends, too. And don't underestimate yourself. I'm not thrilled about being alone here either. I insist if we do this, we get all the details out in the open so there are no surprises. If this living arrangement is going to work, the one thing I want from you is honesty. You can lie, cheat, and scam everyone else, but don't do that to me."

"I'll do my best," Ethan said. The more Travis talked, the more Ethan imagined sleeping with him.

Travis grabbed Ethan's face with both hands and looked into his eyes. "That's not good enough. I want total honesty, not the best you can do. I know how guys like you can be. I dated one all through undergrad school and I swore I would never do that again. You can screw anyone else over with your charm, but I want complete honesty with me. In return, I won't make any other demands on you. You can come and go as you please, sleep with whomever you want, and do anything you want. But if we're going to be friends, roommates, and possibly lovers, I want to know that you're going to be honest with me about everything."

This time Ethan blinked. He'd never met anyone this straight forward. He usually met guys who either wanted to trick with him and leave, or guys who wanted to marry him and claim him as their own. "Let me get this right," he said. "You're saying we can be roommates, we can be friends, and we can even have sex on occasion. At the same time I can see anyone I want, you can see anyone you want, and all I have to do is be honest about it?"

"There are still a few details we need to discuss," Travis said. "That's the gist of it. And there's only one bed, so we don't have a choice about the sleeping arrangement. We have to sleep together, unless you want to sleep on the sofa. I want to focus on school more than anything, and I'd rather have a good friend at this point in my life. If you're okay with that, you can move in and share half the rent."

"If that's what you want, I'm fine with it," Ethan said. "I will be completely honest with you." He now realized he'd underestimated Travis.

"Good," Travis said. "And don't ever forget that I've already heard it all. So nothing you can do will shock me."

"What if I'm not honest?" Ethan said. He was only joking around.

"I'll cut your penis off," Travis said. "Now take me into the bedroom and make love to me so we can get that out of the way before we go to dinner. If I play games with you and make you wait for sex you'll only want to screw me more, and I'm tired of playing games. Once we do it and you get that out of your system and you think you own me, we can be friends and we can move forward. I know how guys like you think. It's all about the ego."

"I like to think of it as gender politics," Ethan said. He knew nothing about gender politics, but he remembered the conversation he'd heard in the hallway that morning. He wanted to sound smart.

"Well, I like to think of it as survival," Travis said.

"What if you're wrong?" Ethan said. "What if I want to make love to you all the time? What if I can't stop making love you? What if I'm not the way you think I am?"

Travis smiled. "I'm never wrong." Then he pushed Ethan back, turned toward the bedroom, and said, "You go into the bathroom and get a condom and some lube out of the medicine cabinet, and I'll go into bedroom and take off my clothes. As soon as we get this over with, we'll both be more relaxed. And don't hesitate to get a little rough if you want. I'll let you know if you've gone too far."

"I see," Ethan said.

Travis stopped and glanced at Ethan over his shoulder. "No, you don't see, you big adorable idiot. You don't have a clue. But you will eventually."

Travis seemed so intent on shocking him Ethan decided to try to shock him this time. "Okay. I'll go lube up the big guy right now."

"That's another thing," Travis said. "Dirty talk is okay, but nothing ridiculous. If you think you're going to put your big weeping man meat into my tight little rosebud this isn't going to work. Keep it real; keep it honest. And whatever you do never use the term honey-dip in my presence unless you're eating fried chicken. I despise bad sex clichés."

Ethan's eyebrows went up. "Just get in there and pull down your pants and leave the rest to me. In spite of my looks, I'm not a total idiot."

With that remark, Travis smiled and headed to the bedroom. The next sound that came from him an hour later could have been described as a gut-wrenching, painful moan to anyone who didn't know better. Ethan knew that wasn't the case at all, because he had Travis pinned to the bed face down so hard he could almost feel his heartbeat.

Chapter Two

Even though they'd talked about their open relationship in detail, and they swore to nothing more than just being good friends who slept together, Ethan had his doubts about whether or not Travis was the type of guy who could handle something so casual and uncommitted. He soon discovered there were many layers to Travis Lane, and the deeper he went the more he shook his head in wonder.

That first year in Iowa they slipped into a comfortable pattern as roommates without even noticing it. Ethan observed how much Travis liked to keep the apartment clean and organized all the time and in turn Ethan did his best to make sure there was plenty for Travis to clean.

Ethan liked things to be perfect, but didn't like to do the work. He never washed a dish, a glass, or coffee mug. He wouldn't even put them in the sink after he'd used them. An hour or so later, the dirty dish he'd left on the Danish modern coffee table in the living room, or the half-finished mug of black coffee he'd left on a side table would miraculously disappear and Travis never complained once. In order to see how far he could go, Ethan started leaving his dirty clothes, including his socks and underwear, on the bedroom floor. He even left sweaty jock straps hanging on doorknobs and stopped flushing the toilet after he peed. The next morning the dirty clothes would disappear and a day or two later they would wind up in his closet or dresser smelling fresh and clean again. And the toilet in their apartment always sparkled.

They both wore almost the same size and they often shared clothes without even asking each other beforehand. Travis had a soft pair of faded jeans that made Ethan feel relaxed, and Ethan had a few tight shirts that Travis said made him feel sexy and slutty. "I feel like a different person when I wear your clothes," Travis said.

One morning on their way to class Travis did something that made Ethan smile for the rest of the day. They'd just had sex in the shower and they were getting ready for class. Travis picked up a pair of Ethan's boxer briefs from the bathroom floor and Ethan said, "I wore that yesterday, dude." Travis put them on and said, "I know and that's why I want to wear them today. I like the way you feel and smell." Ethan grabbed him and kissed him so hard after that remark he almost chipped a tooth.

For such a conservative, serious guy on the outside, Travis often left Ethan's jaw dropping. Travis appeared to be shy and inhibited on the surface, but he could take anything Ethan had to give him. He was willing to do anything Ethan suggested in bed, which prompted Ethan to test him on more than one occasion. The ultimate test happened one night after they'd taken an important exam. It was a Friday night in the spring of their first year in Iowa. They'd been living together, sleeping with each other, and studying together since September, and Ethan thought it was time to take their unusual relationship one step further. Though he would never admit it aloud to Travis, he did it mainly to see how Travis would react.

They went to a small bar off campus and met an undergrad student who was an English major. He had a slim body, soft pale skin, and the kind of firm round butt that often made Ethan trip on cracks in sidewalks when he was wearing dark glasses and walking through campus. Ethan spotted the guy and he initiated the conversation while Travis sipped his beer. When they started talking, and the guy found out Ethan and Travis were in the Writers' Workshop, he told them that was what he wanted to do when he graduated. He literally gaped at them both as if he were standing before gods. Although Ethan would never remember this guy's name, he would never forget the expression of sheer excitement on Travis's face when he pulled Travis close to him and said, "Let's take this one home and throw him in the middle tonight."

That night they invited the guy back to their apartment for another drink, and they all wound up in bed together just as Ethan had planned. The next morning the guy went back to his dorm and they never did anything with him again. After that, they continued to bring other guys back to their bed whenever the moment allowed, and that was how they wound up meeting Lance Mannington.

In a bar similar to the one where they'd met their first trick, a nice-looking guy in a black sport jacket, a white shirt, and tan slacks walked over to them on a warm night in June. Travis and Ethan were playing pool at the back of the bar. It was a Wednesday night and the bar wasn't crowded. Lance seemed to appear out of nowhere. Ethan spotted him first standing in a dark corner, holding a martini, watching them play pool. Though Lance locked eyes with Ethan first, he started speaking to Travis first.

Travis had just finished a complicated shot, when Lance walked up to him and said, "Are you guys from around here?"

"We're students," Travis said. He never elaborated with strangers. He often had tendency to think for about ten seconds before he replied to anyone, as if choosing his words with caution. And he rarely gave out information unless someone asked him a direct question.

Ethan stepped up and said, "We're in the Writers' Workshop."

It was evident Lance had heard about the prestigious Writers' Workshop from the way his head tilted back and his eyebrows went up. "I've heard how difficult it is to get into that program. You must be very good."

"It's often challenging," Travis said, as he exchanged a quick glance with Ethan.

"I'm Lance Mannington," he said. "I'm an architect in Los Angeles and I'm here in Iowa for the summer working on a new experimental sub-division not far from here. We're not even sure it's going to work. We're doing studies and trying to figure out if there's a market for this kind of thing. To be honest, I think it's a waste of time, but I don't get paid to complain."

Travis seemed genuinely curious now. "I'm Travis and this is Ethan." Ethan had learned to read Travis's face by then. When something interested him, his head would tilt back and he would rub his jaw, just as he was doing now. "What kind of subdivision is this?" Travis asked. "And why is it a waste of time?"

"Without going into the boring details, it's a sub-division that's actually a small community within a small community," Lance said. "It would have its own private shopping centers, schools, and social functions. I'm here to see if it's plausible."

"Sounds like utopia," Ethan said. He'd never been a huge fan of sub-divisions of any kind. He hated to feel boxed in, and cute things made him gag.

Lance smiled. "In a way, it is." Then he put his palm on the small of Travis's back and said, "I don't want to talk about work now. I'd like to have a little fun. Until I spotted you guys, I was starting to think I was the only gay man in town. I'm used to Los Angeles."

Ethan smiled. He couldn't wait to play games. "How do you know we're gay? We never said we were."

Lance flung him a stare and said, "Give me a break, man. All I had to do was watch the expression on your face when Travis bent over to make his shot."

Travis laughed. "There are plenty of gay people here in Iowa, but I can understand how you'd feel that way coming from L.A. I'm from Connecticut, and I used to go out in New York all the time because I didn't think there were enough gay people in Connecticut. It's not easy meeting new people."

"I'm from Florida," Ethan said. "Sometimes I think I might lose my mind here in Iowa." This was the truth. If it hadn't been for Travis's constant encouragement, Ethan would have left Iowa in December. He not only found the slower-paced lifestyle in Iowa stilted and lacking, he found the entire academic atmosphere creatively stifling. He also found the workshop far too pedantic and serious for his personal tastes. His goal was to write commercial mainstream fiction, not literary masterpieces where he felt so restricted by rules set by others. He wanted to make money and entertain millions of people with his sexy stories, not win awards that were only recognized by the most elite in the literary world. And he wanted to sleep with as many men as he could before he died. There were days when Ethan thought if he had to sit through one more group discussion that focused in detail on topics like the literary merits of common usage as opposed to grammatical usage in fiction he would surely lose his mind. On other days he wanted to stand up and shout, "Just fucking write, people. Stop making everything so fucking complicated."

Travis didn't seem to understand Ethan's frustrations. He thrived in this literary environment where everything was always taken so seriously. He couldn't wait to analyze, reevaluate, and discuss until there was nothing left to be said. "It's not that bad," Travis always said.

Lance started to rub Travis's back in a friendly, casual way. "Are you guys together?"

"We're roommates," Travis said.

Ethan put his arm around Travis and said, "Very close roommates."

This made Lance smile. "I see." His hand went down and he patted Travis on the bottom. Men always seemed to know it was safe to do that with Travis, not with Ethan. "I wish I had a very close roommate like this."

From what Ethan could tell at a glance, Lance was about ten years older than they were. He was tall, with dark hair, and he reminded Ethan of a guy he'd once slept with in Florida who'd had a spanking fetish. The only big difference between the two was Ethan could tell Lance wasn't submissive at all. From the way he was looking at Travis, he was just as aggressive as Ethan. They'd never taken anyone like Lance back to their apartment. Up until then, the guys they'd taken home had been submissive and more like Travis. Ethan was curious to see what would happen, so he put his hand on Travis's bottom, looked at Lance, and said, "We could go back to our place and talk more in private if you'd like, man."

Lance smiled and said, "I'd like that, if it's okay with Travis."

Travis shrugged. "It's cool."

Ethan didn't own a car, and Travis had left his car in the parking lot of their apartment building. They'd walked to the bar, so they climbed into Lance's black BMW and directed him back to where they lived. Travis sat in the back seat without even attempting to sit up front, as if he already knew the dynamics of the situation, and how it would turn out in the end.

As they pulled onto the street, Ethan inhaled the rich scent of new black leather and he ran his fingertips across the shiny wood grain trim. He'd always wanted a car just like this, and a life that resembled the kind of life he imagined Lance Mannington was living in Los Angeles. When Lance turned on the soft stereo, Ethan reached over and grabbed his knee in a way that made Lance bite his bottom lip and gasp.

"Nice car, dude," Ethan said. He slid his hand between Lance's legs and grabbed him.

"Thanks," said Lance. "If you need to borrow it any time while I'm here this summer, let me know."

A few minutes later, on the way up to the apartment, Lance asked, "How old are you guys?"

"I'm twenty-two, and Travis is twenty one," Ethan said.

"How old are you?" Travis asked.

Ethan had been dying to ask, but he'd been cautious about it in case Lance felt uncomfortable about revealing his age. Ethan had met more than a few gay men who either refused to talk about age, or lied about their ages.

"I'm thirty-four," Lance said. "I hope that's not too old."

At the time, it was ancient to Ethan, but he smiled and said, "Not at all."

Travis rubbed Lance's stomach in a seductive way and said, "I think you're a very sweet man."

Ethan felt a twinge of jealousy. He knew when Travis was putting on the innocent act to make men think he was this shy, helpless little bird. He always did that with men to get attention, even though he would deny it if Ethan confronted him. Lance seemed to be enjoying it, so he didn't say anything to Travis until they were in the apartment.

They were sitting in the living room and Lance had just gone into the bathroom. Ethan turned to Travis and asked, "Are you sure you want to do this? He's not like the rest. This one is not submissive. From the way he's looking at you, he's going to slam you."

Travis shrugged and said, "He seems like a nice guy. I like him. Besides, it's only going to happen once. I think we should take off our clothes and let him find us naked on the couch when he comes out of the bathroom."

"Aren't you bold?" Ethan said. He felt a twinge of jealousy again. He often had trouble believing this was the same quiet guy he'd met that first day of class. He looked so studious and academic, but there was a more dangerous side to him Ethan found both annoying and exciting.

"We always promised we'd be honest with each other," Travis said. "I want to do this. And I know you want to do this. So what's the point in pretending?"

Ethan reached down and pulled off his shoes and socks. "It's fine with me, dude." He had a feeling Travis wanted Lance more than he did, even though Travis would never admit it aloud. "Let's just be honest, really honest. You want this more than I do."

Travis shrugged. "You're right. I do want it."

"Fine."

By the time Lance returned to the living room, Ethan and Travis were naked on the sofa. Ethan was sitting back with his legs open wide and Travis was stretched out lengthwise face down. He'd put a throw pillow beneath his stomach to elevate his bottom. Lance took one look at them and started removing his clothes.

They all wound up sleeping together that night, and had sex again the next morning. Before Lance left the apartment, he asked if he could stop by again at night.

Travis and Ethan exchanged a glance and Travis said, "I'm not sure. We have this rule. We never do three-ways with the same guy more than once."

"I really like you guys," Lance said. "And I had a good time last night. I don't know anyone else in town."

Ethan and Travis exchanged another glance and Ethan said, "It was intense." He had to admit Lance was the best third they'd ever had. All the others had been hesitant, or too needy. Lance moved with instinct, and he didn't need to be told what to do. He didn't require any thought whatsoever.

Travis shrugged and he looked Ethan in the eye. "If you're cool with it, I am, too."

Ethan shrugged. "It's fine with me, man."

So Lance kissed them both goodbye and said he'd be back later that night.

* * * *

On the way to class that morning, Travis seemed quieter than usual. "What's wrong?" Ethan asked.

"I'm just not sure about Lance coming back," he said.

"Why? It was your idea to encourage him. You even admitted you wanted it more than I did."

"I know that, but it could change things," Travis said. "I'm being honest. I think it's important to state that openly right now."

"It's fine," Ethan said. "He's a great guy and it's all harmless. Besides, he's going back to Los Angeles in August anyway. So it's not like he'll be here forever. Think about how nice it will be to have a guy like Lance drive us around in his BMW all summer. I'm so tired of being poor."

"I don't care about his BMW," Travis said.

Ethan did care, but he didn't want to admit that aloud. He cared about money, and he worried he'd never have any of his own. "Look, let's just see where it goes. You know I love you. We're best friends for life, and nothing can ever change that."

Travis hesitated for a moment, and then said, "I guess it can't hurt. I just have this feeling something's already changed and we don't even know it."

"You worry too much," Ethan said.

"You don't worry enough," Travis said.

"Calm down," Ethan said. He put his arm around him, without caring what passersby thought. He knew Travis would like that. Unlike most gay men on campus at that time, Travis seemed to like it when other people knew he had a man's attention. Everyone on campus already knew they were roommates anyway, and most people suspected they were lovers.

Chapter Three

As if Travis had been prescient, things did change that summer thanks to Lance Mannington. Lance didn't actually move in with Ethan and Travis, but he spent so much time in their apartment he probably should have. Ethan had suggested he move in with them, so they could all share the same bed, but both Travis and Lance seemed apprehensive about taking that next step. Lance thought it would be too crowded with them all using one bathroom and one closet and he made other trumped up excuses that didn't make sense to Ethan. Travis said he didn't want to infringe on Lance's privacy, which also made no sense to Ethan. This sounded especially ridiculous coming from Travis because he seemed to be getting the most attention in this three-way relationship.

In spite of the fact that Travis and Lance were so compatible in bed–or perhaps because of this–they seemed cautious with each other when they weren't having sex. Travis would stand back and keep his thoughts inside instead of talking as openly as he did when Lance wasn't around. He would watch Lance's moves and gestures as if he were studying him for a school project on gay men from Los Angeles. Lance always seemed to choose his words with care whenever Travis was in the room. He never joked around with him the way Ethan did, and when he did speak to him it seemed forced and unnatural.

Ethan found himself in the middle of whatever unspoken issues were going on between Travis and Lance, and he handled it the way he always handled difficult, awkward situations: he pretended everything was fine on the outside, and on the inside, waited for something to happen. He knew the one thing none of them could complain about was the sex. After that first time Travis and Ethan took Lance into their bed, Lance grew less inhibited and he introduced both Ethan and Travis to a few interesting things they'd never tried alone, or with the young guys they hooked up with on campus. He taught them more about gay culture, like how to use poppers and sex toys, and he explained a few of the lighter details of the BDSM lifestyle. Though Lance wasn't into BDSM, he told them he'd once had a lover who was and he'd learned a great deal about the lifestyle and he often compared it to an art form.

As a result, there were nights when Lance and Ethan did things to Travis that made Ethan's eyes bulge in shock. Whenever the sex was finished, Travis and Lance went right back to being uncomfortable with each other.

The exact opposite happened with Ethan and Lance, and they didn't even share the same sexual connection Travis and Lance shared. Sex between Ethan and Lance had a tendency to be as awkward as conversation between Travis and Lance. Both Lance and Ethan were tops and they tended to be dominant, and nothing would ever change that. One night Ethan asked if he could top Lance, and Lance flatly refused. He smiled about it, and made a joke. Ethan understood and he never asked him that question again. However, on the night Lance asked Ethan if he could top him, Ethan hesitated for a moment and then he agreed to do it.

Ethan had his reasons for agreeing. Ethan had learned in his short lifetime there were no rules when it came to what people preferred in bed. Before Lance, he'd tried being a bottom a few times and he'd screamed out in pain. One of the reasons he found Travis so fascinating had a lot to do with the way Travis seemed to crave being a bottom. Travis genuinely enjoyed it and he never seemed to experience a hint of pain or discomfort.

Ethan marveled at the way Travis treated his anus, almost as if it were a vagina. Travis watched what he ate if he knew he was having sex, he made sure he was clean at all times, he used a depilatory cream to make sure it was always smooth, and he even douched before and after sex. The first time Ethan noticed this, he joked around about it. But Travis sent him a serious glance and said, "I'm not a sloppy gay bottom, Ethan. I take care of things like that because it's a cool thing to do."

After Lance topped Ethan that first time, the dynamics in their three-way relationship began to change. Lance started to take more control, and he became the only dominant top in bed. He clearly preferred this role, and Ethan didn't want to let him down. He'd grown very fond of Lance that summer, and he found he could tolerate being a bottom if he concentrated hard enough in the beginning. He didn't actually enjoy it, but he decided to take it because he didn't want to disappoint Lance.

If Travis noticed the change in their relationship, he didn't speak about it much. Ethan did not pursue it with him because he didn't want to hurt him. One night in mid-August they went out to the same bar where they'd met Lance and they played a few games of pool. While they were playing, Lance talked about the future in an off-handed way.

"I'll be leaving Iowa after Labor Day," he said. "I wish I could talk you guys into coming back to L.A. with me for good. You'd like it out there. There are some great schools. It wouldn't be difficult to transfer."

Travis didn't hesitate to speak up. "That would be nice, Lance. And I hope we get together again soon. I would love to visit L.A. But there's nothing in the world that would take me away from the Writers' Workshop. It's my life."

Lance took his shot and smiled. "I figured that, but I wanted to ask anyway."

Ethan didn't say anything that night. He grabbed a pool cue and took his shot. While he leaned over to focus on the pool table, he couldn't help thinking about how nice it would be to get out of Iowa and all those dark, depressing people in the Writers' Workshop. The only friend he'd made there in almost one year was Travis. He couldn't relate to the others, and he'd stopped trying after the first three months.

Whenever Ethan did take the time to sit down and write something, he tended to be the prolific type. He wrote fast and let the words take him on a journey instead of pushing to find the words to create the journey. The rest of the literary types he'd met at the workshop, including Travis, sneered at prolific commercial authors who could "churn out books like cupcakes." The literary types seemed to believe that if it wasn't absolute pure torture to write, writing didn't have any meaning or basis. All Ethan wanted to do was sit at a typewriter and tell stories people would enjoy reading, sexy stories that took them to exotic places. He didn't want to get into all that literary nonsense they focused on in the workshop. In some ways, it was killing him as a writer.

A week later, while Travis was in the shower and Ethan and Lance were in bed waiting for him to return, Ethan threw his leg over Lance's body and put his arms around him. "Were you serious about taking us back with you to L.A.?"

Lance pulled him closer and said, "Of course I was. I would love you guys to move back, and into my home. But you heard what Travis said. In a way, I admire his conviction."

"I know how Travis feels," Ethan said. "I'm talking about me now. I hate it here. I hate everything about the workshop and I would do anything to get out of here. The problem is I'm up to my neck in debt with student loans from undergrad school, and now this grad program. It's killing me."

Lance kissed the top of his head. "I love you both," he said. "You know I'd help you out with your loans if you came back to L.A. with me. But Travis would never go for it."

"I want to go back with you," Ethan said. He'd thought about this for a long time. He knew he might never meet a man like Lance again, or get this kind of an opportunity again.

Lance laughed. "I don't think Travis would be too thrilled about that. He's not going to let go of you that easily."


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