Excerpt from Welcome, Brother:
It’s a Friday night and the first Brotherhood private party – no outsiders allowed – will be held on the ground floor. I’m nervous as hell, not knowing what to expect. Will they make us do something?
The house is already pumping with a beat from downstairs and I can hear muffled voices and laughter coming from the hallway. I’m ready to go in tight black jeans and green t-shirt, but I’m still delaying my trip to join the others. Instead, I flip through some random book on my bed. It probably won’t be long before Liu comes knocking on the door.
As if on cue, the door is opened, but instead of Liu, Hunter steps in. He casts me a casual smile and closes the door.
“You’re not going?” he asks as he walks to his side of the room and pulls the white t-shirt over his head. Those lovely muscles I’ve been salivating over for the past week stretch and bunch under the beautifully tanned skin.
“Uh, yeah. I was going in a minute,” I say and avert my eyes when he looks at me.
Hunter crumbles up the t-shirt and tosses it in a basket, eyes on me as he walks to his dresser.
“Were you waiting for me?”
“No,” I say, with a dangerous stirring in my pants. I casually cover it with the book. “Or maybe. I don’t really know anyone except for you and Liu.”
Hunter stops with a black button-up shirt in his hands.
“Yeah, I’m sorry about that. I should’ve introduced you to everyone by now. I’ll fix that tonight.”
Instead of an answer, I just give him a quivering smile.
Five minutes later, we’re being swallowed by the sea of guys at the foot of the stairs. I recognize a couple of the initiates standing huddled by a wall while others are mingling or being introduced by their masters. Some Brothers seem very hands-on, touching while talking, though it doesn’t seem to be sexual. It still looks weird to me, as I’m not used to being a part of a group of guys and would’ve thought touching was a taboo. At least, the guys back in high school didn’t seem okay with too much touching. A punch in the shoulder, a little bit of roughhousing, and those athlete pats on the butt maybe, but I never saw them hugging, resting a hand on each other’s chests or even holding hands. Here, no one seems to care or even notice.
A light touch to the small of my back sends swirling heat to my stomach. Hunter smiles at me and steers me through the crowd, introducing me to so many guys that I forget most of their names. They seem pretty cool. Just regular guys who joke around and laugh. Some of them make me fidget under assessing looks, but others just take one glance, offer me beer and try to involve me in whatever they’re doing. Hunter takes his time, not leaving me alone for a moment, and that’s when I realize that this party is probably some sort of vassal-master thing to make the initiates feel welcome. It’s a tad disappointing as Hunter’s spending time with me because he has to, not because he wants to.
“Kyler, Hunter,” Liu calls from the doorway to the lounge. “We’re playing a game.”
Hunter grabs my hand and pulls me through the throng of boys. His skin is dry and soft and makes me so nervous I can hardly feel the touch. When we’re in the lounge, a bunch of guys sit on the couches, chairs, and some on the floor. A space is cleared for Hunter on a three-seater that’s already seating five guys, and I sit squished in a stuffed chair next to a grinning Liu.
“What are we playing?” asks Hunter from opposite me.
“I Never,” says a round boy I think is named Danny or Dale. “Everybody know it?” he asks, looking at me and the other two vassals in the group. I’m the only one who shakes his head.
“I say something like ‘I never got a speeding ticket’”-a bunch of guys snicker and take a sip of their beers-“and those who have got speeding tickets take a swig of beer while the others don’t. Then the next person comes up with something. It’s a neat game to get to know you newbies.”
“Okay,” I say, nursing my still untouched can of beer between my hands.
“I never went camping,” the guy next to Danny (or Dale) says. I don’t bring the can to my lips, because I’ve never gone camping. Hunter and a whole lot of other guys take a sip. Liu doesn’t.
“I never masturbated,” says the next guy, which causes a round of laughter as everyone takes a swig – me, with a flushed face, included.
“I never kissed a guy,” says the next one.
I freeze up, but glance around when some guys take a drink while some don’t. It surprises the hell out of me that they’d admit it, just like that. Hunter, I notice, doesn’t take a drink and neither do I since I’ve never been kissed. Damn, he’s straight. Well, I didn’t really think he wasn’t. Or maybe he’s never been kissed either.
“I never kissed a girl,” says the next guy, and again there’s a mix of some drinking and some not. Hunter, eyeing me, takes a sip. I look down at my can and trace my finger along the rim. Damn…
“I never saw RoboCop,” says the guy next to Hunter. Most of the guys take a drink while I don’t. I was never into futuristic robot movies.
“I never wore high heels,” says Hunter, earning himself some laughter – mostly from guys who take a drink.
“Does it count when you’re a toddler?” one of the vassals asks. When Hunter nods, I take a drink. Hey, I was two and mom managed to snap a picture as evidence.
We continue and I learn that Hunter played basketball, ate Captain Crunch, and went skinny dipping while he never went to Sunday school, had a pet, or stole money. Liu was guilty of the last offence.
For the past four I Never’s, I’d been dreading my turn. I never wanted a boyfriend, would be a nice way to see if Hunter’s one of those who likes guys but has only kissed girls. Or maybe likes both girls and boys. I seem to be clinging to some fruitless fantasy. Who’s to say he’d even want me if he was gay?
“I never… went… um, fishing,” I sputter lamely. I don’t even know where it came from. Hunter smiles at me as he takes a drink while Liu and I don’t. Looks like Liu’s family is about as big on the outdoors as mom and I are.
“I never played with dolls,” says Liu and takes a sip.
I grudgingly take a drink along with a few others. Like I said, I’ve really only had female friends.
Liu and I are well beyond tipsy when the game is over. Hunter seems to hold alcohol better, because he took more drinks than I did. Liu drags us off to the kitchen to get cold beers.
“You never kissed anyone?” asks Hunter from behind me as we walk.
“Does mom count?” I ask, glad he can’t see the blush on my face.
Hunter chuckles. “Just figured that someone like you would’ve been popular with girls.”
“I was,” I say while we push through the doorway. “As a friend.”
I always got to play the dad, or the baby, or the groom as a kid. Then I got to listen to boyfriend troubles and gush about guys with my friends as a teen. I knew there were girls who had crushes on me, but I made myself unavailable by hanging out with my friends all the time. Friends who knew about me, but never told anyone. By the ninth grade, though, most kids probably suspected.
“Boys, then?” he continues as we stop. Liu opens the fridge to dig out some cold beers while I stand with my back to the counter, facing Hunter but not really looking at him.