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Our Gentle Sin


Lyra Evans


Copyright © 2017 Lyra Evans


All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.



Twitter: @WriterLyraEvans



Cover design by magicdesignx



Our Gentle Sin is an m/m romance of a taboo nature that some readers might find objectionable. It contains explicit sexual content between two consenting adults, violence, coarse language, and the use of sexual slurs. It is not appropriate for readers under 18 years of age.


Table of Contents

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Acknowledgements


Prologue


I should never have gone to that Halloween party. That’s the only thought that resonated in my throbbing head as I woke. I cracked my eyes open only to shut them immediately. The searing pain caused by light from the window made me wince, and I groaned softly, bringing my forearm up to shield my eyes. My limbs felt weighed down by lead. My mouth was full of cotton, and when I did manage to open my eyes again, I didn’t know exactly where I was.

A quick look around the room only caused more confusion. The books on the shelf, the lack of wall posters, and the desk in disarray all looked strangely familiar. But the memories from last night—

Hot, wet kisses against my neck, lips that tasted of chocolate and beer, hands down my back, grabbing my ass, and a hard cock sliding against mine. Then the sweet, satisfying feeling of sliding inside, of the warm tightness of his ass, pulling me closer as I pumped into him. The moaning cries that followed…knuckles going white at his waist and tightening in my balls as I drove forward into him until it all came crashing down around us.

Those memories rushed back into my frazzled mind, and the items in the room made less and less sense. I’d gone back to his room, hadn’t I? I didn’t remember leaving when we’d finished fucking. I didn’t remember getting up, or getting dressed. A quick glance down at myself confirmed that—nope. Definitely not dressed. But the confusion deepened, spiraling in the fog in my mind and causing the hangover to intensify.

I blinked around the room some more, but with every glance the headache worsened and a sinking in my stomach made me worry I was about to vomit. I swallowed hard against the feeling and shut my eyes to breathe through it.

Something rubber and stifling made it difficult to cool myself, to calm myself, and when I reached up to touch my head, I realized I was still wearing my mask from the previous night. Tugging at it with increasing desperation, I pulled it over my head. My chest heaved shallow breaths. I needed to calm down. It was easy to remedy everything. All I had to do was look down at the sleeping body next to me. That would explain everything.

Eyebrows knitted together, I took a deep breath and let my gaze wander slowly over the tanned, naked legs sprawled and entwined in the dark blue and grey comforter. His ass was covered by the blanket, but my mind supplied the memory of its tight suppleness, the smooth curve of it, and the exquisite sensation of being buried deep in it. I felt myself vaguely stirring at the thought, but the panic in my chest at recognizing the comforter, and the massive headache helped keep me down.

His back was exposed in a gorgeous expanse of toned muscle and clear skin, his arms raised and folded under the pillow that propped up his head. The kerchief and mask he wore had been knocked askew sometime during the night, letting his dark brown hair peek out in tufts and revealing his face. And as I let my eyes meet the planes of his face, the angles of his cheekbones and the slope of his nose, I saw the better version of the face I see in the mirror. My stomach dropped; all the air vanished from my lungs.

Oh God. Levi.

My twin brother.


Chapter 1


Six Months Earlier


It rained that day. Like you might expect it would. The black umbrellas, like a canopy of darkness, a pebbled shroud over the proceedings, moved in unison toward the twin holes in the ground. I tried not to think of all the black clothes that people pulled out of their closets, the clothes they never wore except for these occasions. I tried not to think of the black umbrellas at all, of how so many people had them, black ones, as though they went with the black clothes. But maybe everyone buys a black umbrella at some point. Because showing up to a funeral with a purple umbrella dotted with pink stars would be inappropriate.

I lifted the camera’s viewfinder to my eye, taking photos the old fashioned way beneath my own black umbrella. It was Dad’s umbrella. The one he took to work with him. Or used to. The shaft of the umbrella dug into my arm as I propped it up without using my hands. Rain pattered down in heavier drops, falling like tar instead of water. Black marks on black vinyl. The flash went off, lighting the falling rain and the mourners in a breath before vanishing and leaving the world awash in faded monochrome.

“Do you have to do that right now?” A voice came, so similar to mine. Normally his voice was lighter, full of air, and melody. But today, it was brewing with clouds, just like the sky. I turned to Levi, his hazel eyes dry but shaded with emotion. The camera felt heavy in my hands, and my fingers itched to press the shutter button, to take a photo of him, like I so often did, but I stopped myself.

He searched my eyes, my face, as I was searching his. I lowered the camera an inch. I knew he wanted me to put it away, but the look in his eyes told me not to lie to him.

“Yeah, I really do,” I breathed. My chest ached. The air tasted of held breath, wet wood, and tears. Levi held my gaze a moment, then looked away to the left, away from the gravesites we were supposed to be standing by. I followed his gaze. Tulips began to blossom and bloom through the wet ground, dotting color against the grey day.

When Levi turned back to me, he nodded once. His mouth was a tight line, as though he couldn’t bring himself to open it, couldn’t trust what would come out. I wanted to reach for him, but he stepped by me toward the group gathered at the edge of the graves. I watched him go, feeling as though he was going to fall head first into the grave himself.

I hesitated before following him. Then I switched the flash off on my camera, and turned to capture him from the side. I clicked the shutter on Levi, his head bowed, staring almost angrily beyond the two shiny coffins held aloft on a rig over the graves. The coffins matched. They were both made of the same polished wood, with brass fittings and a sculpture of Michelangelo’s Pieta at the corners. Mom would have loved that. She loved art. And Dad, well, he loved to make Mom happy.

It felt wrong, now that I stood next to Levi, staring directly at the agonized face of the Virgin holding her Son’s body, for us to have chosen that image, of all the images. A mother holding her son. While two sons buried their parents.

The tightness in my chest rose to my throat, closing out all other thought and feeling. Rain wet my face beyond the umbrella. I snapped a picture of the priest as he stood over the feet of the coffins, his hands raised beneath a golf umbrella to bid goodbye and bless the journey of my parents’ souls. But it all seemed so wrong to me. So off. So—

Levi gripped my hand suddenly, his fingers twining with mine, and he squeezed as tightly as I think he could. So tight it hurt, turning both our knuckles white in an instant. I glanced over at his face, but he only looked straight ahead, tears streaming down his usually bright face. He was shaking.

I gripped his hand in return, trying to be a proper older brother for once, trying to be the rock he needed. I tried to hold fast, rooting myself to the ground to support him while all the world inside of me began to crumble to dust. I didn’t take any photos. Couldn’t. Not with Levi holding me like a lifeline. And maybe I was. Maybe he was for me too. No—not maybe.

“Kane, Levi, we’re so, so sorry for your loss,” a woman told us. She seemed familiar, but I couldn’t put any names to faces. Not standing there in the rain. Not standing at the foot of my parents’ graves. “If there’s anything at all you need, you let us know, all right?”

I nodded vaguely, letting the camera hang by the neck strap as I gave her my other hand to shake. Levi wouldn’t release my hand, and I was glad of it. I didn’t think I could keep standing if he let go.

A procession of people followed, all with the same words of condolences, of support in this difficult time. Not one of them made a mark on my memory. I can’t even say who was actually at the funeral. Not my mother’s sister, nor either of my father’s siblings. I don’t remember cousins or friends. I don’t remember my dad’s coworkers or my mother’s employees. They should all have been there, but in my mind, the faces of the people are a blur of blue and grey, like rain-washed ink, bleeding through the paper. All I knew then was Levi’s hand in mine, and the way he stroked the back of my hand when he couldn’t squeeze any tighter.

I don’t remember going back to the house. I don’t remember people coming or going, or the flood of flowers that rode in from the funeral home. I don’t remember where all the food came from, but suddenly our fridge was full of cooked lasagnas and platters of meat and cheese and bread. The smell of cold cuts and tiny sandwiches was overpowered by the smell of roses and carnations and the spray of flowers with messages all over them. Rest in peace. With our eternal love. From your beloved sons.

Levi wasn’t holding my hand now, and as I looked around the house—our massive, empty house no longer really our home—I realized he wasn’t there. Heart hammering in my chest, I made my way through the rooms on the first floor, glancing through each of them quickly. My suit jacket was neatly folded over the back of the winged-back chair Dad used to sit in to do the morning crossword. My dress shoes were soiled with mud on the bottoms, sitting in disarray by the front door where Mom would, no doubt, have urged me to clean them and put them away. I could almost hear her voice in my head, telling me to do it now because I wouldn’t want to later. Almost.

But Levi was nowhere. Racing up the stairs, I pushed open doors to each of our rooms, to the study, the guest room, and finally, Mom and Dad’s room. He was standing there, his dress shirt un-tucked, Dad’s favorite scotch in one hand, a tumbler in the other. He was staring down the bed the same way he’d stared down the coffins. As though angry. But he wasn’t angry. I knew Levi better than I knew myself.

His shoulders shook. “The bed’s still made,” Levi said. I stepped into the room, approaching him slowly from behind. The bedroom felt cold. The air-conditioning always hit this room the hardest. Mom always kept an extra throw at the foot of the bed in case they got cold in the middle of the night. It was still neatly folded there, waiting for her to come in and spread it across the pale blue comforter.

“Yeah,” I said. They’d gone out that night, for a date night. Almost thirty years of marriage and they still had date nights. Mom was going to cancel it because we’d just gotten back from college for the summer. She thought we should have a family night first. But we told them to go. They had plenty of time to do family nights. But date night was special for them. They never made it home to sleep.

“I made them go,” Levi said. He swayed, and the scotch in the tumbler sloshed side to side.

“Levi,” I said, reaching for him. He shook his head, and I hesitated.

“I was the one who said they should go because I wanted to spend the night unboxing shit from the mail, and Mom always gives us those looks when we open the boxer briefs and I just—”

“Levi,” I said again, taking the tumbler from his hand. He barely noticed. I reached around him and freed the scotch bottle from his other hand. Turning to place them on the dresser, I took a swig of the scotch before setting the tumbler down. The burn on my tongue and down my throat helped me stave off the tears. “We both sent them out that door,” I said. “We didn’t send the car off the road, though.”

“Why?” Levi asked, rounding on me. I stared, open-mouthed, at him a moment. But he continued on without my answering. “Why did Dad swerve like he did? Why would he do that in the rain? It doesn’t make sense! Why didn’t he just keep going straight?”

His face was a mask of tears, shining in the low light from the hall. The tightness in my chest and throat threatened to engulf me. My eyes stung.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“He wasn’t drunk!” he snapped, as if I had argued he was. I shook my head.

“He wasn’t,” I agreed, but Levi thrashed.

“He wasn’t a drunk driver,” he snapped again. “Dad would never do that, and Mom would never have let him, even if he tried!”

“I know,” I told him, my face wet.

“I just don’t understand,” Levi said, his face draining of the anger that wasn’t anger. Now there was only the bald grief in its place. Now there was the ruins of my twin brother. The one who always knew everything, who was always on top of things, who was always in control. And he was asking something of me.

“I know,” I said, and I did the only thing I could think of. Wrapping my arms around him, I pulled him close and clutched him to me, the way he clutched my hand before.

And Levi broke down. And for the rest of the night, we held each other and cried.





Chapter 2


The months following the funeral passed in much the same blur as the funeral itself. It was at once as though nothing had changed and everything had. We spent almost all of our time together, deciding our futures and planning for what to do a couple years before we thought we really had to. We talked about everything and nothing. Because we never talked about that night or anything that happened then. I figured he wanted to pretend he’d never lost control like that. Maybe it was part of his grieving process, to push it in the past. I did want to talk about it…but that didn’t matter. Not if Levi couldn’t bear it.

We decided to go back to school in the fall, like we would have had the accident never happened. But rather than try to commute and get an apartment somewhere, we’d apply to stay on campus again. It just made more sense for us. We couldn’t deal with the extra concern of having to find an apartment somewhere, checking it out, making sure it had parking so we could take one of the cars, and then figuring out schedules to ensure we could both always get to school when we needed to. And given our situation, we worked it out with the school easily enough. They assigned us a room in one of the newer co-ed dorms, and put us on one of the floors with older students so we wouldn’t be lumped in with a bunch of freshmen.

As for the house…we didn’t quite know what to do. Levi wanted to sell it as soon as possible. He didn’t say, but I could tell every time he passed the doorway to our parents’ room that he couldn’t bear the memories. He hadn’t been back in there since the night of the funeral. He’d woken that morning and immediately seemed out of sorts. As though he didn’t know where he was, as though it was all foreign to him. He left me there as quickly as he could, making excuses about needing the bathroom.

I’d woken that morning to him curled in my arms, head on my chest, holding me as though I was his only anchor in the world. I’d never felt more at home.

I told Levi we should wait to sell the house. Wait a year. Go to school, see how we feel after that. Our parents had left us enough that we didn’t have to worry about tuition, and selling the house now wasn’t going to change that. I didn’t want us doing anything we might regret later. And it was still our house. Where we’d grown up. Where we were happy with our parents…

He agreed, reluctantly. So we asked Zia Stella—Mom’s sister—to look in on it from time to time, to make sure it was in good repair for insurance’s sake. She was more than happy to do it. She’d clearly been waiting for us to ask her for help, and I think she was even a little surprised it was something so small. She’d come over to drop off some more food for us—baked penne like Mom used to make—and she seemed so moved by the request, she even invited us over for thanksgiving. So we’d have somewhere to go.

Levi had blanched. I saw the color drain from his face in an instant, but I’m not sure Zia Stella saw it. It wasn’t her fault; she didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just—Levi hadn’t even gotten as far as thinking about thanksgiving yet. Zia Stella usually hosted it, so it wasn’t a change from the usual except that she hosted thanksgiving because our parents usually hosted Christmas. And from the look of dwindling light in Levi’s hazel eyes, I could tell he was picturing the Christmas tree by the fireplace, all decked out with stockings and lights because Dad went overboard every year, and he was realizing what that meant. No Christmas tree. No lights. No stockings. No Mom and Dad.

He left my aunt standing there, confused, making some excuse again. I watched him go, while my aunt apologized again and again. It really wasn’t her fault. It was mine, for not thinking of that, for not being prepared for it. If our places were switched, Levi would have known what to say immediately. But I was never as organized as Levi, never as together.

That was the last time he showed his grief at all. The last time he seemed to be floored by the power of it, to the point where he had to walk away. I tried to talk to him about that too, but he brushed it off. He’d been caught off-guard. That was all. And there was so much of his breezy confidence back in his voice when he said it I almost believed him.

Now, as I drove us both back to school with the SUV packed with our suitcases and school things, a part of me wanted to broach the subject with him. But Levi smiled easily out the window, the September sun washing his skin in yellow and gold, and I couldn’t take that from him.

“I can’t be more interesting than oncoming traffic,” Levi said without looking at me. There was a playfulness in his voice that hadn’t been there in a while, but it was undercut by something else far more somber.

“Interesting isn’t really the word,” I said, turning back to watch the road again after a moment. The road was long and wound through blown rock and forest. The odd car we saw was rarely there for long; either we’d overtake or they would. But every time, Levi tensed slightly, almost imperceptibly. I tried to keep the mood light. “It’s like staring at a Jackson Pollock painting—a tragic mess but you can’t look away.”

Levi’s arm swung round and punched me hard in the bicep, but he laughed all the same. “Look in a mirror sometime, will you? What I am, you are too, smartass. Focus on the road.”

“Hey, you wanna drive?” I asked pointedly, but almost immediately regretted it. Levi wouldn’t say it, but he was always a little worried in the car now. It wasn’t because I love the road that I offered to drive us back to campus, brushing off his offers to switch at the last rest stop. He didn’t feel comfortable behind the wheel, and I wasn’t going to make him face that just yet. It had only been four months.

I kept my eyes on the road. We were finally coming back to the edge of a city, with houses and buildings slowly populating the edges of the road, taking the places of the pines and maple trees. More and more cars filled the street in front of us, behind us, appearing as though they’d been there all along, and we slowed to a city pace, halted by stoplights and speed limits. Levi cracked open the window and soaked in the final wafts of summer air, breathing in the wind that filtered in and whipped up his hair. I wished I had my camera, to capture the bliss on his face. I could never understand how his face was so expressive, but mine so awkward in photos. He disagreed though. Said we were meant to share the frame.

We eventually pulled in to the parking lot on campus closest to the residence building that would be our home for the next eight months. 88 Residence Way, the building was affectionately known as Crazy Eights. It was the only co-ed dorm on campus with apartment style rooms. You could be paired with anyone in Crazy Eights, being that it was also the only gender-neutral ‘positive space’ dorm. Not that that mattered for us, given we would be rooming together. We’d worked it out with the administration ahead of time.

The relief that settled in me as I watched the other students pile into the parking lot, carrying boxes and garbage bags of clothes and laptops, venturing in to meet their new roommates for the year with apprehension and anxiety, was more than I could express. All I wanted was to get in to our room, set each other up and kick back and relax. We needed that. No wondering if we’d get along with the stranger living on the other side of the paper-thin walls. Worrying about how selfish they’d be with the bathroom in the morning, or whether or not they’d clean up their dirty dishes in the kitchenette after using them. I was already prepared for all of Levi’s quirks, and he for mine. We’d lived with each other for twenty years. More, even. We were part of each other, and that closeness wasn’t going to change any time soon.

“We should go in and get the keys, then come back and get the boxes and shit to take up to the room,” Levi said. I nodded, pulling only my camera bag from the backseat and slinging it over my shoulder. No way I’d let that sit in the car unsupervised. Levi rolled his eyes at me, and I answered him with a pulled face before pressing the button to lock the car. The SUV beeped at us as we walked away toward Crazy Eights.

The building was one of the newer residences, but the concrete and glass tower that rose up before us was hardly cutting-edge architecture. It inspired only a sense of ‘blah’ with its grey and beige colour scheme. The front doors were heavy glass with polished steel handles, but the foyer inside was washed in the same greys as the exterior, leaving me with the sense of a coming storm. The light that filtered in through the glass did little to brighten up the place, and the counter that housed the administration and security peoples, as well as blocked off access to the elevators for non-residents with turnstiles, only made the whole thing seem more like a subway station than a structure of higher education.

We lined up with the other new students to receive our room assignments and keys. Levi leaned idly against me in line, people watching as I watched him. His thick eyelashes fanned low over his cheekbones as he tried not to pay too much mind to the parents fussing over their grown children as they got the keys to their independence. I could see in his face the memories of Mom, arms crossed and waiting, eyes roving over the line and wondering how long it would take. Or of Dad, checking and rechecking the lock on the car, to make sure no one could steal our stuff while we waited. University campuses were rife with petty crime, didn’t you know?

The grief hit again, and we both grew more silent still, the eye of a storm where the other students were the chaos. Levi pressed hard into me for the barest moment before straightening and stepping forward. Someone called us up to the counter, a middle-aged woman named Jan, by her nametag.

“Good afternoon, names please?”

“Kane and Levi De Luca,” Levi said, then, without being prompted, we both produced our IDs from our pockets. Drivers licenses and student cards presented, Jan took a quick look at both of them, then looked back at her screen, paused, and picked up the IDs again. She squinted, glancing between the two of us as she did.

“You are…Kane?” she asked Levi. He shook his head.

“Levi,” he answered. “He’s Kane.”

“Of course, I see it now,” she said, though she clearly didn’t. This wasn’t the first time we’d been mistaken for one another, and it would hardly be the last. It didn’t help, I suppose, that we had the same haircut as well as face. If I’d have shaved my head, or let my hair grow long, maybe it wouldn’t happen as much. But I liked Levi’s style. So same haircut. “All right, Levi, you’ll be in room 703b,” she said, pulling out the key and student guidelines that accompanied the room assignation. She handed these over to him, once he stepped forward to accept them, and said, “This key is to the main door, this one is for your personal room, and this one gives you access to the building and to the laundry room and any shared spaces.” Pointing out each key and fob accordingly, she turned her attention back to the computer, and I waited for her to assign me 703a. “And you, Kane, are going to be in room 706a,” she said.

I stared blankly at her. The number made no sense. She handed me a set of keys and went through the same spiel she had for Levi, showing me which keys did what, but I could only manage to stare dumbly at her until it finally clicked in. We weren’t in the same room.

“Excuse me,” I said suddenly, my heart racing. “But there must be some mistake. We were supposed to be sharing a room.” My face flamed, my whole body shaking. I hoped she couldn’t tell, hoped she couldn’t hear the shuddering panic in my voice. I never complained, never spoke up about these things.

Jan raised a manicured eyebrow and clacked away on her keyboard a moment. “I’m sorry, it doesn’t say anything about that here,” she said. She looked back at me and must have spotted the alarm on my face. “All I’ve got is that you’re in room 706a and your brother is in 703b.”

“But, there must be something,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm while I felt the world slip out from under my feet. “I called and arranged it all with the administration months ago. We need to be in the same room.”

She looked almost pityingly at me. “I’m sorry, Mr. De Luca. Lots of students make requests for their roommates but the residence cannot accommodate every request.”

“It wasn’t a request,” I said, my voice breaking slightly. I could feel my face radiating heat. “Our parents died a few months ago, and I made that clear to the—”

“Kane,” Levi said, his voice cutting through the flaring panic. He put his hand on my forearm and anchored me to the ground, quelling the growing storm.

Jan’s eyes travelled between the two of us, her expression going from pitying to real concern. “I’m so sorry, Mr. De Luca. There’s no mark of that anywhere here,” she said, checking again and again. “There’s nothing I can do; I don’t have the authority to change room assignations. You can call the administration’s main line on Monday—”

“It’s all right,” Levi told her, offering her a reconciling smile. “Not your fault.” He took my key from her and handed it to me. “Thank you for your help.” He led me away from the counter, my tongue still frozen as I tried to rein in my heartbeat and relax. Levi’s hand on my wrist settled me faster.

“Monday? That’s two nights in these rooms before we can even hope to get this fixed,” I said, disbelieving.

Levi looked at me, his face uncharacteristically unreadable. He sighed once and shrugged his shoulders before walking toward the door.

“It’s not worth it, Kay,” he said, as though nothing mattered anyway. “Besides—we’ve got to grow up sometime.”

He walked out the door toward the car, leaving me standing there. He let the door close behind him, but he might as well have slammed it in my face.


Chapter 3


We set up Levi’s room first. 703b was just down the hall, only two doors away from 706a, but the distance felt like miles to me. I schooled my face to a mask of indifference as we put the sheets on his bed and unfolded the dark blue and grey striped comforter. I tried not to watch him, the confusion and hurt written all over the lines of my face, as he stored away the case of makeup and hair styling tools we used for our photo shoots. The camera in my hands, I pretended to be cleaning the lens, but I clicked the shutter a few times, capturing him from low angles I knew he hated. He thought they made him look terrible, but they made him look powerful, larger than life. Maybe that’s what he took issue with. I didn’t know. It felt like I didn’t know anything anymore.

He finished with the supplies for our shoots, the finishing touch on the room. It was organized and clean, his clothes neatly arranged in the designated closet space, his pre-law books sitting handsomely on the shelf and on the desk around his laptop. There was empty area for the books he would still have to buy come the first week of classes, and in front of that space stood the only decorative detail of the room—a family photograph.

It was from Christmas only a year ago. Not even. This was barely five months before the accident. Mom was smiling, bright and cheery as she always was around the holidays, and Dad was making his usual half-smile, half-grimace. I remembered how Mom had swatted at him when she saw the photo afterward. Said he could never smile normally. It wasn’t his fault; some people just didn’t do well in front of the camera. I felt as though I’d gotten my dad’s curse, always looking awkward and uncomfortable when I wasn’t the one taking the photo. Levi got Mom’s grace in front of the camera. He looked like a model in every picture, no matter who was taking it.

I actually looked okay in this photo. Levi had said something just before the shutter closed. I don’t remember what, but it made me laugh and the camera caught the genuine smile. As I studied the photo, I realized the reason I thought I looked good—I looked more like Levi than usual.

“Ready to do your room?” Levi asked, walking out of his room and into the shared kitchenette area of the suite. His roommate hadn’t made an appearance yet, but his door was open and inside the room we could see all sorts of lacrosse paraphernalia, including a poster for the school team, a jersey, cleats, and a case of lacrosse balls. I didn’t know shit about lacrosse, quite frankly, but Levi recognized some of the gear. Said he’d been chatted up by a guy at a club in freshman year. He didn’t say how long he’d spent learning about the sport before he’d decided to try his hand at one-on-one practice with the guy.

“Sure,” I said, nodding and following him out into the kitchenette. I picked up the box of dishes on the counter to take to my room. We’d had to split them up between us, having only planned to furnish one kitchen and not two. Levi gave me the one hotplate we’d bought. He didn’t cook anyway. Not unless we wanted to burn down the building. I guess that’s what I got from Mom. She was always the better cook between her and Dad. But then my Nonna wouldn’t have stood for her daughter not to be a good cook.

As I knocked the cord of the hotplate back into the box of dishes, the door to the suite opened. A guy with dirty blond hair and slightly rough, tanned skin walked in. He had the broad shoulders and narrow waist of an athlete, and he smiled crookedly at Levi who was standing in front of me. After a second, his attention turned to me, and he did the usual double-take.

“Whoa! Twins!” he said, as though there was someone else in the room to alert. If I were more of a shit, I would have given Levi a long once-over and cried out ‘oh my God! You’re right!’ But I’m not great at in-the-moment sarcasm. Plus, the goal was to play nice with the roommates, wasn’t it? “I’m Josh,” the roommate said. “Which one of you is rooming with me?”

Levi had already given Josh a long look, and the quirk at the edge of his mouth told me he was prepared to deal with more lacrosse talk if it meant another one-on-one training session. I rolled my eyes inwardly.

“That’d be me,” he said. “Levi. This is my brother, Kane.”

I nodded, not offering my hand as Levi had, given the box of dishes in my arms.

“Awesome,” Josh said, and I’m not sure what about that was awesome. “You guys look pretty ripped.” I blinked blankly a moment. Not the usual first comment a straight dude makes. Maybe Levi would get what he was after.

Levi smiled and adjusted his shoulder, slinking them back, one lower than the other. It added a sway to the line of his body that was alluring to pretty much everyone who looked at him.

“Thanks,” he said. “You’re pretty fit yourself.”

Josh grinned. “You guys train for anything? I’m on the school’s lacrosse team,” he said, and I had to bite back the comment on my tongue.

“Yeah, I noticed your gear,” Levi said, nodding toward his room. He said it without implying Josh was an idiot like I would have done. “We don’t train for anything special. Just the usual gym routines, you know. Weights, cardio, that kind of thing.”

“You should come and check out our practices sometime,” Josh said, his eyes bright. He wore a sleeveless athletic shirt and a pair of low-slung sweatpants. “I know the team’s looking to fill a few spots still. You could always try out.”

Levi looked at me a moment, then made a somewhat bashful expression and shrugged. “I just don’t really know much about lacrosse, to tell you the truth. I’ve never played before.”

Josh walked right into it. “Ah, no big. I can teach you everything you need to know,” he said, and I couldn’t quite decide if he was straight and oblivious or gay and very interested. He glanced back at me and added, “Both of you.”

My eyebrows shot up. If he was gay, then he was asking for something I wasn’t prepared to give. I’d met not a few guys who were into the idea of fucking twins, and it was never a good scene. And I’d had enough of watching Levi flirt, so I cleared my throat loudly. “That sounds great and all, but I’ll have to take a rain check,” I said, trying to sound genuinely disappointed. The look Levi shot me told me I hadn’t quite managed. “Right now I’ve still got to set up my room. Catch you later?”

I gestured to the box that was slowly causing my arm muscles to burn, and Josh made a face to show his understanding.

“Right, right,” he said. “For sure, man. See you later, then.”

I nodded and walked by him, stopping in the doorway when I realized Levi wasn’t following me. I turned to look at him. “Coming?” I asked.

Levi paused a moment. “Sure, yeah,” he said. “Just go on ahead; I’ll catch up.”

Stomach dropping, I turned down the hall, my jaw tight. I guess Levi had specific ideas of how it was he was going to start “growing up.”

I found 706, and as I pushed open the door, someone opened it from the inside. The girl on the other side of the threshold who nearly bowled me over was Black, with skin the color of ebony and hair in thick, black curls that fell to her mid-back. Her eyes were a deep brown, round and wide and shining. Though the wideness of them might have been because she was surprised to find me on the other side of the door.

“Uh, hi?” she asked. There was a friendly smile on her lips only somewhat undercut by the arched eyebrow.

I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Glancing behind her, there was no one else in the suite and the door to room b was open behind her. It revealed a fully set up bedroom decorated with artwork on the walls and blank canvasses stacked next to the desk. There were flecks of paint on her hands, standing out in stark contrast to her skin. But she was a girl. Did they pair men and women in rooms? Even in the co-ed dorm?

“Hi,” I said, my brain slowly catching up to the moment. “I—uh—I’m supposed to be in 706a.”

The surprise in her eyes was as genuine as mine, and she immediately stepped back from the door to let me in.

“Oh! Hi!” she said again, this time with more enthusiasm. “Sorry about that. I—well—I wasn’t expecting… well, you.” She shrugged sheepishly as I set the box in my arms down on the small kitchen table. “So, I guess they really mean co-ed, then.”

I turned, feeling just as awkward about the whole thing as she seemed to be. “Is that—I mean, if you think it’ll be a problem—”

“Oh, no, no, I’m sure it’ll be fine,” she said, though she didn’t sound entirely convinced of it.

“I’m gay,” I blurted, my face suddenly hot. It seemed like the right thing to say. But I wasn’t sure why I was trying to convince her this was all right, considering I wanted Levi to be my roommate. The image of him flirting with lacrosse-boy popped into my head again, and I sighed to myself. He seemed committed to his “growing up” plan, anyway.

“Oh,” she said, a wave of relief passing over her face. I guess it was the right thing to say after all. “Me too.”

I blinked at her, running my hand through my hair. “Oh,” I said and gave a half-laugh. “Well that works out nicely.”

She laughed briefly too, then realized what I realized, which was that we hadn’t actually introduced ourselves. “I’m Sharon, by the way.” She offered her hand.

“Kane,” I said, taking it. She smiled more naturally at me, and after a moment, she glanced down at the camera around my neck.

“You into photography?” she asked. The camera I wore was a Nikon D500 with WiFi. Not necessarily the best on the market, but I loved it. It worked for me. I glanced down at the Nikon.

“Yeah, I’m a Photography major,” I said with a shrug. Truth was photography was the only thing I was really good at. At least, it was the only thing anyone seemed to notice about me. Levi always said I should be a photographer. It seemed the natural choice to study at school. “You an artist?”

I nodded toward the open door to her room and the canvasses piled to one side. From inside the kitchenette I could see a shelf stacked with jars of paintbrushes and a box of paints. Sharon followed my gaze and nodded.

“Yeah, I’m majoring in Fine Arts,” she said. “Mostly focused on painting, but I do some digital work too. Trying to get into more of it, since it’s pretty much the way of the future, right?” I nodded along, only vaguely aware of the realities of a fine artist trying to exist in the modern world. Sharon shifted from foot to foot a moment, then glanced behind me at the one box I’d brought in. “You travel pretty light.”

I instinctively looked back at the box, then gestured no and laughed awkwardly. “No, no, this is just the kitchen stuff I brought. I split it with my brother down the hall. Still have to go down to the car and get the rest of my stuff.”

She made a face as if to say she understood now, it made a lot more sense, but before she could say anything or asked about my brother, Levi knocked at the door and stepped in as though it was as much his suite as mine. Which wasn’t far from the truth really.

“Well, that was a bust,” Levi said with a sigh. He glanced for a moment at Sharon and smiled. Offering his hand, he said, “Hi. I’m Levi. Kane’s brother. Obviously.”

She laughed and took his hand. “Obviously. I’m Sharon. Kane’s suitemate, I guess. You majoring in the arts too?”

Levi made a face and shook his head. “God, no. I’m useless at that stuff. Kane’s got the eye for it. I just got the brains,” he said, shooting me a smirk. “I’m pre-law.”

“Oh, wow,” Sharon said, studying us both. “So you guys are really pretty different, then.”

Levi and I shared a look, conspiratorial and feeling like the days before he cried in my arms. “In some ways,” he said. “In others, we’re perfectly identical.” There was a tone in his voice that stirred something in me; I wasn’t sure what. But a shiver ran down my spine. Sharon looked somewhat dazed by the comment, then laughed nervously.

“Oh, hah,” she said. “I’m gay, by the way.”

Levi shrugged and waggled his eyebrows. “So are we,” he said, and again, something flickered in my belly, close to my spine. Unsure what was happening, I pushed away the feeling and decided to rescue Sharon from Levi’s weirdness.

“So things didn’t go anywhere with your new roommate?” I asked, trying to remind myself not to call him lacrosse-boy.

Levi turned back to me and sighed with a roll of his eyes. “Straight as a lacrosse stick, or whatever they’re called.” He shook his head. “So much wasted brain-space learning about lacrosse only to find out he’s just seriously oblivious. Also, dull as a board. He talks about nothing but lacrosse.” He shrugged and stepped in close to me. I felt my heartbeat skip a moment, unclear on what he was doing, but he reached one hand into my pants pocket, sliding it deep against my thigh. I froze, everything hot, but he only crooked a finger into the key ring in my pocket and pulled out the keys to the SUV. Jingling them at me, he cocked an eyebrow.

“Ready to go get your stuff?” he asked, then he walked out the door. “Nice to meet you, Sharon!”

I was momentarily motionless, completely frozen in place though all of me was aflame. More confused than ever about what Levi was up to, I only watched him go, taking a good few moments to collect myself and rush after him. In the doorway, I glanced back at Sharon to find her staring at me with as much curiosity as confusion.

She smiled, a lopsided grin, and said, “Your brother is really…” She trailed off, probably unsure of how to finish the sentence. I nodded once.

“Oh yeah,” I said. “He’s something.”


Chapter 4


The next morning I woke to a hollowness in my stomach and a coolness on my skin that had nothing to do with the air in the room. I opened my eyes slowly, as though I knew what I’d see and didn’t care for it. The ceiling of my room was a speckled pattern of popcorn treatment. I stared at it as though there was something hidden in the uneven bumps, but I found nothing. My throat dry, mouth tacky from sleep, I forced myself up to a seated position at the edge of the twin bed. I was half-hard with morning wood, but I ignored it. I wasn’t in the mood for anything, really. Something felt off.

I know it’s stupid. We’re twenty years old; we should be able to sleep separated without trouble, right? Or maybe I should’ve said I should. Hell, at home we had separate rooms. Have had since we were about eight or so. But there was something about waking up without knowing who was on the other side of my wall, without knowing exactly where Levi was, that unsettled me. I felt adrift, like I’d lost my anchor. Maybe Levi felt the same way.

Maybe I’m just a fucking baby, I don’t know.

I got up, adjusting my boxers as I opened the door to go for a piss. I wasn’t wearing anything else, which is maybe why Sharon jumped back in alarm when I caught her leaving the bathroom. She glanced down at my waist and then immediately back up, blinking quickly, one hand rising up to cover her eyes.

“Shit, ah,” I said, eloquently, and rushed back to my room, the morning wood thoroughly strangled. I pulled out one of the robes we’d gotten in a package over the summer and tossed it on to cover myself. The furry, black fabric felt stifling over my burning skin. I shut my eyes in humiliation. I’d forgotten I was sharing the room, and with a girl no less. “Sorry!”

“No, no!” Sharon said. “It’s all good. Just wasn’t prepared for that.”

“No, of course not,” I said, poking my head back out into the shared area. I could feel the heat of my cheeks radiating. “I should’ve put something on, I just—”

Sharon smiled and shook her head. “I get it. It’ll take some getting used to for both of us,” she said. “Good thing neither of us are into that, right?”

I laughed, the embarrassment slowly draining. She was much more accommodating than I deserved. “I’ll do better,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

She walked by me with a laugh, patting me on the shoulder. “Nah, don’t worry. You do you,” she said. “At least we got that out of the way. Something like that was bound to happen eventually. I’m just glad it was you instead of me.”

I shut my eyes. “Thanks,” I said, shaking my head. Levi was going to have a field day with this.

I went into the bathroom to take care of business, brush my teeth, and get ready. I’d set up the skincare routine Levi insisted we use. It was a complicated set of cleansers, toners, moisturizers and skin treatments, but it fucking worked. I never broke out when using this stuff, and neither did Levi, so I kept it up. Besides, he hated having to conceal pimples for shoots.

As I applied the moisturizers all over my face and neck, I glanced around the small room and in the shared medicine cabinet. Sharon, it seemed had fewer lotions and potions than I did, which made me feel slightly alarmed. Her skin seemed clear and soft from the few times I’d seen her already. All I saw in the cabinet was a standard cleanser and light moisturizer. I’d have to ask her about that sorcery sometime.

Running a brush through my hair, I let it fall where it did, even though Levi would probably complain later. But I wasn’t the stylist between us. All I knew my way around was a camera. Well—I mean I knew my way around other things too, but not related to our modeling. And Levi wouldn’t know anything about that.

I cleared my throat, shaking my head as though to dislodge the strange direction of my thoughts. As I went back out to my room to change clothes, I heard noises in the hall beyond the suite. Checking the clock, I groaned to myself. It was already past ten. I really needed to set an alarm for myself.

Changing quickly, I made for the door to go find Levi for breakfast. We hadn’t had time to pick up groceries or anything the previous day, so we were left with getting food at the student center food court until we did. I turned back to Sharon, whose door was open, and considered her.

“Hey, you have breakfast yet?” I asked.

She looked up from a sketchpad. “No, actually. You heading out?”

I nodded. “Going to get Levi and pick something up. Want to join?”

She smiled and set the sketchbook aside. “Sure.”

We walked out of the suite, Sharon locking the door behind her as I went to find Levi. I didn’t have to go far, locating him standing in the hall outside his room, his shoulders against the wall behind him, his hips jutting out as he talked to a tall Asian guy with an undercut. The Asian guy had one arm propped against the wall to Levi’s right and leaned in, licking his lips. I found myself suddenly next to them, interrupting the moment.

“Hey, Lee,” I said, and Levi looked up at me. His expression shifted smoothly from flirty to open and relaxed. “You up for breakfast? We’ll go pick up groceries after?”

Levi cocked an eyebrow at me. “You finally awake, Sleeping Beauty?” he asked. “I already ate. Got up at like six thanks to my superstar athlete roommate. He has training, apparently, and hasn’t figured out how to carry all his gear without banging it against every vertical surface on the way out the door.”

Something fell out beneath me. “Oh,” I said, words vanishing from my brain. “Well, I don’t need to eat. We can just—”

“I thought you were going to help us with the supplies for the party later?” Asian dude interrupted. I glared at the side of his face, but only long enough for Levi to notice and introduce us.

“Jon, this is my brother, Kane,” Levi said nodding at me. “Kay, go eat. I told Jon and some of the others I’d help them. We can pick up groceries tomorrow, yeah?”

I opened my mouth to answer, when Sharon appeared next to me. “We going?” she asked. Caught between them, I sighed to myself.

“Sorry, love,” Levi said. “Just you two today. But do you want to come help us set up for the party after? The whole floor’s invited. Possibly two other floors too. Not clear on the guest list.”

I squirmed internally, considering Jon and the others milling around the hallway. Some people gestured to Levi as they passed. How had he already met so many people? I felt myself shrinking. I wasn’t really in the mood for that kind of social interaction. Not yet. I needed time to get myself grounded before I could venture out and socialize.

“I was actually going to go pick up some groceries to stock our pitiful kitchen,” Sharon said.

“Perfect, you and Kane can go together then,” Levi said. He nodded at me, and I yielded in the face of his hazel eyes. Like always.

“You going too?” she asked me. I nodded.

“We can take the SUV. It’ll be easier to bring stuff back,” I told her.

“Score,” she said. “I was going to walk and take the bus back.”

“But we’ll see you later, right?” Levi asked. “At the party?”

I held his gaze a moment, losing myself in the golden brown of his irises.

“Sure,” I said, before really considering it. “Yeah, I mean, it’s a little out of my way, but I think I can make it.”

Levi laughed, though Jon looked confusedly at me. “Dude, it’s on this floor.”

I stared at him. Levi shook his head, stifling a laugh, and shoved me off. “Go eat. See you later! And don’t forget my cereal!”

I walked off with Sharon, a knot forming in my stomach. I wasn’t sure I was really hungry anymore.

“That guy’s a bit of a douche, isn’t he?” Sharon asked in an undertone. I nodded.

“Perfectly Levi’s type, then,” I muttered.

Sharon snorted, and I shot a look back at her, surprised.

“That’s the kind of brotherly affection I expect,” she said, and I didn’t quite know what she meant. It also struck me that I was perhaps being too harsh on Levi. Maybe Jon wasn’t that bad. If he was into Levi and treated him well, who was I to get in between them? I mean, all I can reasonably want is for my brother to be happy…right?

I wasn’t even sure why I said that. Levi’s tastes in men were diverse, really, and though some of his previous flings and boyfriends had been assholes, not all of them had been. Plus, it wasn’t as though he’d had a multitude of former lovers to list off. I mean, more than I did, but still not an unreasonable number. I thought about it some, trying to list them off in my head and then quickly stopped myself. There was no point in this argument I was having with myself. I was just tetchy from waking up late and in a new place. That was all.

“Come on,” I said to Sharon, speeding up to get out of the Crazy Eights and toward the student center. “Let’s get some food and go. I’m starving.”

We ate quickly, opting for the one student center offering that didn’t have a massive crowd of people gathered out front, which meant that we ate burritos for breakfast, but whatever. After fighting down some scalding, burnt coffee from the communal carafe at checkout, and hoping against hope that the strange mix of bad coffee plus subpar Mexican food would not end in massive indigestion, we made our way out to the parking lot to the SUV. It was silver in color and blended in perfectly with the mass of other silver cars in the student parking lot, so it took me a moment to locate it again. Emergency alarm button in hand, I stopped and scanned the cars around me, trying to remember the license plate. Sharon stopped behind me, carefully quiet while I searched. I did not want to press the emergency button. The last thing I needed was the Goddamn alarm blaring out for everyone around to hear so people would look this way and know I couldn’t find my own damn car. I wasn’t seventy; this shouldn’t have been that difficult.

“New car?” Sharon asked, her features carefully schooled to innocent curiosity. I made a face.

“No, I’m just not used to driving this one,” I said, my eyes finally falling on the right bumper. “There,” I said, leading her over to it. I unlocked the doors remotely and got into the driver’s seat, feeling infinitely better now I was behind the wheel and not out in the open looking like a moron. Sharon got into the passenger seat, right next to me. I had a jarring moment, seeing another woman there, not her, but it was just my mind playing tricks.

“This Levi’s usual ride?” she asked, closing the door and buckling her seatbelt. There was a beaded rosary hanging from the rearview mirror in blue and purple. She glanced at it only after asking the question.

“No,” I said quietly. “It was my mom’s.”

Sharon didn’t catch on right away. Why would she? She didn’t know the flowered umbrella sitting in the backseat belonged to my mother, or that this was the car they should have taken that night because it handled better than our Mustang convertible. But we’d come back with the Mustang and it had been date night and they’d wanted to play at their youth. Plus it had been blocking in the SUV. It was just easier, right?

So we were left with Dad’s sedan and Mom’s SUV, and the car that Levi and I had been so proud of took our parents’ lives. Insurance would have replaced it. But I took the payout instead. Levi didn’t even have to say he didn’t want any kind of Mustang back. Not after what happened.

“She gave you her car for the year? Pretty sweet,” Sharon said, because that was the logical thought line. “What’s she gonna drive in the meantime?”

It was maybe a more personal question than she meant it to be, but I was wrapped up in the umbrella in the back and rosary around the rearview mirror and the little angel charm attached to the keychain in my hand.

“Nothing,” I said, without thinking of how blunt I was being. “She’s dead.”


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