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The Masked Boys

Preorder for March 29

Chapter 1: Brenton

              The Grand Plan of course, belonged at first to Brenton and Reid. That’s what Brenton called it in the beginning, and forever after in his mind: the Grand Plan, as if it were something magnificent and possibly revelatory, something carrying the ring of discovery and the Age of Enlightenment. Brenton liked that. 

The Grand Plan came while they lay curled in a stifling two-man tent at the center of the Nantahala State Forest, both stripped to briefs, lying sweat-stuck to their unzipped mummy bags. Reid quietly and furiously lamented their lack of marijuana, even bad ditch weed, while Brenton stared wordlessly at the flexi-plastic tent poles. He always listened to Reid, and Reid just wanted someone to listen to him now. 

Brenton let Reid’s words rise and fall, rise and fall, like waves crashing on the beach he so desperately wished for. No beach house for them: not the long, long summer this year, the two of them wandering up and down the East Coast with their parents; important of course for the senator to do the round of visits, and important for his chief-of-staff to accompany him: Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, Fripp Island, Tybee, and when all else failed his parents’ own “the word mansion is rude” house on the Outer Banks (he and Reid had learned that lesson very, very early). Reid’s mother came from Boston money, so there was always time in his grandmother’s battered house on the sea in Provincetown while their parents jaunted off without their tagalong sons. Reid’s gran clucked over them and petted them, but absently so, like their parents, and they mostly sailed and swam and fucked around. Boys will be boys. Not this summer. Not next summer.

 “How the fuck did we end up here?” Reid paused in his marijuana tirade. “How the fuck did this happen?”

Brenton didn’t answer. He didn’t have to. 

They had graduated in June, of course: pomp and circumstance, hats tossed, diplomas proffered, congratulations delivered through clenched teeth. A sham, like so much in Brenton’s life, one more show, one more performance, smile, smile, smile for the cameras. The senator’s son graduated high school, golf applause, the news cycled forever onward. It didn’t pause to notice he’d been shipped off. Not to college, but to Highlands Bridge Academy: the end of the road. The last resort. They ditched you at Highlands after Outward Bound failed, when you’d end a Wunderyear dumped in an Amsterdam brothel, when you were too, ahem, risky for charity work abroad and every decent college had laughed in your face. Highlands Bridge Academy was the last chance before they wrote you out of the will, before they removed your bid for the Board of Directors, before they quietly took away your seat on philanthropy committees and canceled your memberships to the exclusive clubs up and down the East Coast. Before, in other words, you were truly and righteously fucked.  

So you made it at Highlands. Otherwise, everything you believed in, expected, accepted as birthright: it vanished. And both Brenton Tucker and Reid Wells had one-way tickets. 

“Don’t worry,” the board had assured both sets of parents, “we’ve hosted the sons of presidents and prime ministers and the rich and famous, princes and people we can’t even name. Your sons will be safe in our hands, and in two years, we have deals to place them wherever they’d like to go.” 

In retrospect, Brenton shouldn’t have borrowed-not-stolen all that film equipment. In retrospect, Brenton shouldn’t have gotten caught with the coke in his pocket. In retrospect, he really shouldn’t have fucked the vice-president’s daughter. 

In retrospect, Reid shouldn’t have helped him borrow-not-steal the film equipment, shouldn’t have had the ecstasy in his jacket, and really shouldn’t have fucked the vice-president’s son — at the same time, in the adjacent room. 

Apparently the Secret Service will rat you out. 

It was a party. 

The things that go on. 

Their parents had hemmed and hawed, he’d learned. What to do with their wayward sons: the partiers, the underage drinkers, the walking, talking risks to a senatorial reputation on any given Friday night, and probably a Thursday too — they needed somewhere discreet, somewhere quiet, somewhere that promised total reformation. In the end, Brenton’s father had offered to pay for them both: the least he could do for his best friend, the man who’d served as his chief-of-staff for decades. And so the path had ended with Brenton and his best friend since birth, through elementary school at Sidwell Friends, junior boarding at Eaglebrook School, then Phillips Exeter: Highlands Bridge Academy. 

They told them together. Brenton had sat shell-shocked and wished he could touch Reid, one small, gentle touch, wished for a way guys could comfort each other without it being weird or awkward. The reality of the whole thing slammed down on him when Reid’s eyes had widened, bigger and bigger, when his posture sagged into defeat. For once, Brenton wanted to be the one to hold him up. At least they’d be together. 

He desperately wanted the same assurance from Reid. 

All boys. All bumfuck nowhere Blue Ridge Mountains. All academics, all athletics, all the goddamn time. All hale-and-hearty, beat-the-man-into-you, keep you out of trouble, keep you out of the real world. Two years: you didn’t go home. You didn’t see your friends. You didn’t see anyone or do anything and you came out a little fucked in the head. 

“We have to — I don’t know.” Brenton spoke suddenly. “We’re going to go nuts in this place.” 

They talked in whispers. Someone would overhear them. The whole group, thirty this time, had pitched their tents not far from each other, and the forest kept its night time silence. 

“At least you have the film department.” Reid snorted. “State of the art fucking film department for you, and I get the most bullshit theater in the world. Costumes like a goddamn Broadway closet, and nothing else. You win awards for film. I win awards for acting. You get one of the best school film departments in the nation, and I get the shittiest theater.” 

“I just wish I had something to film. God.” Brenton considered moving, but the mummy bag would only unstick from him, then restick in new and presumably uncomfortable ways. “And porn. I sort of miss porn.” 

Reid put his head down. He began to laugh silently. He laughed and laughed, a laugh that echoed across lacrosse matches and soccer pitches, in long drunk nights at parties, on days spent lazing on the beach. “I know what you can film.” 

It struck Brenton then, hit him in the silence of the forest spreading around them, the other guys sleeping in two-man tents, the tents in which they lay nearly atop one another, closed-in, quiet, unknowable. Brenton rolled his eyes. “So, like cam boys? Totally beneath you, Reid, not to mention beneath my camera skills, to film you jerking it in a fluorescent-lit dorm room.” 

“Brenton.” Reid spoke so low Brenton hardly heard him. “Look at me lying here. Look at me like a director. Think of how you’d film me. What light you’d use, the camera angles, the film. Look for a minute and think.” 

Brenton almost reflexively punched Reid on the shoulder, or kicked him with his toe, or at the very least rolled his eyes. Instead, he stopped. He looked: the very thing he tried not to do with Reid. Reid lay on his stomach, propped on an elbow, cheek in his hand, his floppy brown hair bled black in the dark. The moon’s wan light shone through the top of the tent — they had the skylight open — and it spilled over him, over the long curve of his neck, his arched back, the pale shoulders that narrowed to slim, slim hips, his briefs strangely, oddly boyish, wrinkling and rucking up over his ass — Reid had never had much of an ass. Thighs spread slightly, his long, nearly hairless legs bent up and crossed at the ankles to avoid touching the mummy bag. Even his feet were slim, curved, long and perfect, silver in the moonlight. 

A smile began spreading over Reid’s lips. 

“You see?” He hardly whispered. “You see, Brenton?” 

“I see.” Oh god, did he see. Brenton closed his eyes.  

Reid huffed. “Tucker, if you were gonna go gay for me, you’d’ve done it already.” 

Brenton ignored that. “So I film you.”

“Who said anything about me? And for that matter, who said anything about filming in dorm rooms?”

And oh god, Brenton saw it all at once. It fell into place, as if he’d dumped a bucket of blocks and they’d formed a perfect castle. “We recruit them. We pick them out. I don’t film in dorm rooms. We can leave the grounds in our cadet uniforms. I film —” 

“Highlands may be bumfuck Egypt, but you can’t fault it for gorgeous. And you know my uncle Clarkson?” 

“The one no one admits exists?” 

“You know why he doesn’t exist, right? Porn industry. He’s our hookup. You direct.” 

Brenton blinked. “I don’t direct guys fucking.” But he let himself look at Reid again: his long curves and sharp lines: the angles he’d use, the lighting, the particular type of film. It started to become clear, to take shape and form. He’d film it from above, through the tent canopy to soften and blur, to capture the slight bow to Reid’s head, his pale exposed neck. His elbows would jut out to the sides, and oh, the curved back, the slightly spread legs that offered promises, promises, and if not promises then possibilities of deeds perhaps not yet done to this boy in the slightly askew, pale underwear that nearly glowed in the moonlight, its wrinkles suggesting how easy, how simple to remove it, to slide it down over those narrow hips — yes.    

Brenton took a deep breath and flipped on his stomach. It would go away if he flipped on his stomach and why did this happen around Reid? But he hadn’t gotten laid in months; he’d probably bang a tree stump at this point. “Okay okay. This is gonna sound insane. You remember that episode of Arrested Development where they reenacted the tableaus of classical paintings?”

“Yeah. And they made Buster be —” 

“We do tableaus. Moving ones. We create these lush, gorgeous scenes, this art, this beauty —” 

“Of two guys fucking.” 

Brenton contemplated angles, distances. “We gotta stop at two?” 

“I like the way you think, Tucker. Oh, I like the way you think. You inglorious bastard.” 

“Here’s what we need. Oh god. I want one of those kids, like in Rushmore, that you can look at and be like, ‘Dirk, take dictation.’” 

They cracked up silently. They laughed and laughed, rolling on those sweat-slicked, parachute-fabric mummy bags in the hot breath of the late August night. Oh, they could make a glory of their prison. “Do you know how much money we’d make?” Reid’s breath hitched. “Do you have any fucking idea?! We route it into accounts —” 

“And when we leave —” 

“When we leave we’re even more set than we were when we got here.” 

Brenton closed his eyes. He saw the first scene in his mind: the light, the angles, the film and the setting and he’d light it with actual fire, oh yes he would, in the dark and the outdoors, the flickering danger and play of shadow. Yes. Yes. 

He pulled up short. “Would they do it?” 

“Do what?”

“Gay for pay. Would they do it?” 

“I’m thinking. I’m thinking Shannon, Scott, Thatcher, Cash, Hudson … Oh. They’ll do it, all right.” 

“How do you know they’ll do it?”

 Reid smirked. 

Oh shit. 

Reid kept his sexcapades to himself. Reid always kept his sexcapades to himself, unless they involved the vice president’s son. 

“You fucked them.” Brenton’s eyes widened. 

“I fucked one or two of them.” Reid grinned into the dark. “All that time in all-boys boarding schools, then straight here, no girls for months? Nothing but your right hand? I start looking real good, Tucker. Real, real good. But little birdies like to talk.” He sighed. “The things that go on.”  

He did look good too, big brown eyes and longish brown hair. Reid always looked good: here in the moonlight or on the beach, tanned and laughing, chest bare, trying again to surf. God, he could never get the hang of surfing no matter how many times they tried, on how many beaches. Brenton had always wanted to hold one of those moments, right around sunset, on a beach at Provincetown: the cold water drawing Reid’s brown nipples up, the sun striking his skin into gold while Reid laughed and laughed, brown hair dreaded black with saltwater, slipping backwards yet again, another ass-over-tits tumble into the sparkling sea; Brenton would cut it down to half-speed and barely have to filter it. He’d always hoarded it, this film never made; called it Summer Teenage Dream. Stupid. Brenton pushed it back and swallowed. 

“So how do we get it out to the public?” 

“Instagram teasers. My uncle distributes. We have a website. He dumps the money in accounts for us. Then when we leave in two years …” 

“When we finish in two years we have enough cash to do whatever we want.” Brenton leaned back. “How do we keep from getting caught?” 

Reid smiled, those perfect teeth that had cost years of orthodontics. “We don’t get caught.” 

“We don’t get caught.” Real camera work, real camera work, not bullshit films, made Brenton rather dreamy. “Masks. Beautiful, beautiful masks. Ornate and gorgeous.” He gazed up at the branches. 

“That they could still use their mouths under.” 

“Yeah, that, Wells. Oh, that theater department. Do you remember the angel wings?” 

“Oh god, those angel wings.” 

“Do you know what I could do with those angel wings, Reid? Do you have any fucking idea?” He pulled up short again. “But I’m limited to the masks and props in the department.” 

“No you’re not. Who adopted you?” 

“No one who would help.” Highlands had a student adoption program: local, discreet, rich community members — of which the Highlands resort area had many — “adopted” students, bringing them into their homes for half a day once a week. It was kind of nice, though everyone was supposed to treat it like a giant pain in the ass. Brenton’s people asked him about books and fed him real food and took him on hikes to secret waterfalls. The man had been an architect and showed him pictures of the buildings he’d designed. Nothing like the hustling politics Brenton and Reid had grown up with, and the slow pace of their home seemed … something. Something Brenton had never missed until he held it in his hands. Brenton secretly wished he could stay. 

“Shannon was adopted by an old queen. He’s a rich-ass dude in real estate who’d give us anything as long as we let him watch.” 

“How do you know?” 

“I fucked Shannon.” Reid stretched out on the mummy bag and winced as it restuck. 

“You fucked Shannon Percy?!” Shannon beat the shit out of everyone during rugby, always finished hikes first, and made the best soccer goalie in the school. 

“Well, he fucked me, yeah.”

“Christ on a tricycle. The things that go on.” 

“The things that go on,” Reid echoed.

“So, Shannon’ll do it?” 

“Sure as hell Shannon’ll do it.” He stretched out. “Go to sleep, Tucker. We’ll figure out the Plan in the morning.” 

Brenton was quiet for a long, long time. “I wanna film something good again, Reid.” 

Reid laughed quietly in the dark. “We’ll get you something good to film.”

“Can I say something really dumb?” 

“You’ve been saying dumb shit to me since we could talk. I don’t know why you’d stop now.”

“I want to make something beautiful again. It’s been so long.” 

Reid touched his shoulder. It wasn’t a far reach, the tents so goddamn small they almost touched knees, Reid so close Brenton could smell his Old Spice, his touch gentle enough to break a heart. “You can make this beautiful, Brenton. We can make it hot and sexy and everything people want to see, and we can make it better than that. You can make it beautiful for us.” 

Brenton listened to the night sounds. He listened as Reid’s breathing drifted into his familiar deep sleep-breaths, as owls called in the forest, as leaves rustled, as twigs cracked and the business of night-living went on and on. Reid would take care of the details. Reid always did. He would tell Reid what he needed, and Reid would get it for him, and he would create something beautiful again, something to give this existence of miserable classroom walls texture, meaning, color and light, play and shadow.

Something to make the prison sentence bearable, something to weave dreams around. Brenton hadn’t dreamt of much since he’d learned they were throwing him in Highlands.

At least he had Reid. Reid took care of him, for reasons Brenton never understood: why him? Brenton lay in the dark, listened to him breathe, and tried, again, to understand. 

There was the easy answer. Brenton’s father was the senator. Reid’s father was his chief-of-staff. Brenton was the senator’s son, and therefore, the chief-of-staff’s son had to smooth his way, to ease his path, to make life simpler for him. 

No. That wasn’t enough. That would be the business of finding Brenton the answers to test questions, or getting him laid, or keeping bullies at bay — none of which Brenton ever needed, really. 

No: Reid wasn’t there for the easy parts. Reid tagged along when his father dragged him on yet another campaign photo-op, just outside the camera frame with his own father, his eyes saying: I know, Brenton. I know. Reid came along when Brenton did interviews as the famous senator’s son, sometimes did the interviews with him: the BFF interviews, the senator’s son and his chief-of-staff’s son, born within a week of each other, always together, how sweet can you get? Reid watched when Brenton’s parents screamed and threatened because the senator’s son could not fail algebra, or geometry, or the other math that he always had to chase down. He stayed when they said no, they’d have to do this or that, no real Christmas again this year, Brenton would of course come along but don’t expect a tree or dinner or anything, really, they’d do it later. Reid would be there with his father, a presence, a witness, enough to understand and whisper: I’m sorry, Brenton. He would miss the same Christmas, and in the morning, there would be one present to open before they rushed off to this or that, one present wrapped badly, in newspaper: a present from Reid. In the midst of the storm, always Reid, always the life-raft keeping his head above water — no, that wasn’t right. Reid held onto him. Reid never let him go. 

Why so much kindness? Brenton could sleep, mostly, knowing Reid slept near him. 

He had Reid.  

Lord, usually called Lordy in jeers everyone recognized as jeers but him, woke them with fucking Reveille on a trumpet at dawn. That was Highlands: military when it suited, civilian when it didn’t. Brenton pulled on his hiking pants and a quick-dry tee, plus his Tevas; thank god they kept to normal clothes, except on leave. Reid did the same; he’d been out of hiking underwear and tees so he’d borrowed some of Brenton’s, and they both put bandanas on their heads: some dumbass Highlands thing. You never know when you’ll need one. As stupid as it sounded, Brenton admitted the truth it in: you could use it to carry interesting rocks, or tie something up, or wet your head when your brain boiled in your skull. 

As they hiked back the five miles to the vans, mostly silent as the morning heat rose around them, Reid didn’t hike with him. Reid, instead, wandered up and down the line. He hiked with several guys: with Shannon, up at the head, his dark spiked hair mostly covered by his trademark red bandana; with Cash Montgomery, the son of the South Carolina Speaker of the House who, despite his slight build, had spent years in military academy; with Thatcher Carson, whose brown ponytail swung behind him; with Hudson Richards, nicknamed Disney Prince, all perfect blond hair and white teeth, whose dad owned half of Fayetteville. They’d known Hudson for years. His father gave Brenton’s father plenty of money. 

He hiked with Richmonder Easton Gabriel, who spoke with a British accent after years in UK prep schools and whose only crime they could discern was some light drug use combined with homosexuality; Reid hiked with with Lee Addams, who’d graduated Phillips Exeter with them. Scott Kirkman — Reid walked with him for a long time. He’d done something involving the actual Coast Guard. Christ, the things that go on; there were rumors of attempted piracy of the Fort Sumter ferry. Finally, just before they reached the vans, Reid meandered along in the back with big, bulky Johnny West. All rich brats, all monied families, all connected to everyone, to everything, to the warm center of American politics and wealth. They’d had saltwater pools and au pairs and fast cars; they grew up trilingual and vacationed in places so exclusive most people couldn’t name them.

Most people would hate them for it. Brenton trudged, one foot in front of the other, and as he did the truth of it hung around him like the smell of gasoline, something volatile you couldn’t get rid of. They’d never asked for it. They’d never signed some exclusive contract for ridiculous wealth, never sold their souls to the devil at the crossroads. They were accidents of birth, of stock markets, of the vagaries of American elections. Most of them tried to hide it. Brenton certainly did. So did Reid. It only came out amongst one another, or in slips of the tongue that left them trying not to blush. They mostly spent their lives on a tightrope: fitting in while maintaining the standards expected of them. Fitzgerald said that the very rich are different from you and me. But other than having more shit, at times like this, looking up and down the line, Brenton wanted to understand how.   

Regardless, back at the vans, they were all the same sweaty, all the same tired, all the same thirsty, all chugging from Nalgene bottles and all bitching about the heat choking into a sticky, suffocating blanket. Silent helpers drove them to Highlands. On the way back, Brenton amused himself by deciding how he’d film them, him and the rest of them in the van. He’d make them yellowish, wash them out with a sunlit glare as they slumped against the windows, the two in the middle (him in the middle front, Cash Montgomery in the middle back) with their heads lolled against the seats, staring at the ceiling. No one spoke. Occasionally a metal bottle creaked as someone unscrewed it; their swallowing sounded through the van; the bottle creaked again as they closed it and slumped back. Most had removed their bandanas. The van’s tires crackled on the gravel roads. 

He’d call it Torpor. 

Saturday: free day, supposedly for study. 

In his room, Brenton face-planted on his bed. At least the sheets were top-notch in this place. He needed to shower. Where was Reid? He wanted Reid, to help Reid get his backpack off, the wordless thank-you they both understood after a lifetime together, to talk to him while Reid changed, Brenton swinging his legs on the edge of his bed. They’d share a protein bar from Brenton’s secret stash. He wanted to go to sleep, and he’d only sleep if he could synch his own sleep-breathing to Reid’s.  

The knocks on his door began. 

First Cash, slight, messy blondish hair, big blue eyes. “Hey, Brenton. Reid told us to meet here.” He perched politely on Reid’s bed. Then Shannon, gruff, big: “Reid wanted me here.” He sat backwards in Reid’s desk chair. All of them, all the ones Reid had talked to crowded in: all eight. Brenton had to sit up to make room for Scott and Easton. Reid entered last of all. 

Reid led off with no preamble. “You know why you’re here. You know what we wanna do. I’m here to explain the how.” 

 Everyone shut up from the small conversations they’d been having: what a bitch of a hike, Lordy’s a jackass, my pack was heavier than everyone else’s, I forgot fucking mosquito spray. 

“Gay for pay. Insta teasers I send from the cafe downtown, with a link to our site. My uncle distributes in exchange for a small cut. Brenton films. You all know he’s won awards for it. Shannon’s got us a location fixer who can get us the props we need. Because this isn’t porn, boys.” His eyes shone. “This is Skull and Bones meets fucking Eyes Wide Shut.” 

Silence. 

“No identities. We use the names of Greek and Roman gods. We’re always masked. We don’t shoot fucking. Brenton shoots tableaus and scenes, gorgeous ones — that happen to involve fucking, choreographed fucking. Art-House. The type that people want to watch. This isn’t cam boys jerking it. We’re making something beautiful. 

“Profits per film: Brenton gets 20% as director; I get 10% as fixer; my uncle takes 10%. That leaves another 60% for splits. We charge more for scenes with more guys, so the pay goes up. The location fixer’s free as long as he gets to watch. And you’re in or out now. If you’re out, you never heard about this or we make your life a living hell for the next year and nine months.” 

“What if we get caught?” Easton ruffled his short brown hair. “What if someone tells?”

Reid began pacing. “Number one. No matter what they told our parents, this place is a fucking warehouse. They’re strict on some things: be there at room check and show your face for dinner, and do the school and athletics — and real we-don’t-give-a-fuck on others. Like where you might happen to be during free time, or how you happened to hack your phone, as long as you’re not obvious about it, and that you have all these people in your room at once when you’re never supposed to shut your goddamn door. The residence hall monitors are a joke, you can talk your way out of any absence, don’t pretend you can’t, and as long as we’re not waving it in their faces, no one will fucking notice. Law of averages. Just keep your mouths shut. No one else knows. But if they do find out?”  

Reid gestured. “Johnny? Tell them what happens.” 

A grin split Johnny’s face. “We blackmail the school. You think they want our parents to find out we’re running a gay porn ring out of here? No. No they do not. They have too much to lose. So if they punish us, we tell. And they’re fucked. We’re holding all the cards.” 

It flashed at Brenton: Johnny was here in part for blackmailing his teachers into better grades. 

“And at the end of two years, if we play it right and we will play it right, because my uncle knows how to market, and Brenton knows how to direct, and I assume you all know how to fuck, we walk off with a big-ass chunk of change. So. There’s the door. In or out. Right now.” 

No one moved. 

“All in, then?” 

Nods all around and holy fuck, sweet baby Jesus in the manger, this was happening, this was real, The Plan was in motion. The cogs had begun a slow, creaking movement; the wheels started to turn, slowly, slowly, the parts assembling. My god. Brenton hadn’t believed in it, not really, until that moment. 

Reid looked at Brenton and nodded. Oh fuck. This was his now.

“Okay.” Brenton stepped forward. He had to make it up on the fly, and first he had to make sure they could do it. “Cash. Shannon. Strip. In fact, all of you strip.” 

He saw it on their faces: the what the fuck, the glances back and forth, the unwillingness to be the first one.  

“I’m not messing around. Strip. I need to see you’re not going to pussy out on me.” 

And holy god above, everyone — including Reid, what the fuck — took their goddamn clothes off. Brenton found himself clothed, hidden, in a roomful of naked men — naked men he had to look at, to see, to examine. This wasn’t the locker room, and its unwritten rules had vanished: don’t look below the waist, not even a glance. Talk but don’t talk too much. No real eye contact. Don’t act too shy but don’t act too brazen. Brenton had to walk the double line of them standing silent; he had to look and goddamn if Shannon and Cash weren’t stiff. Thatcher was fucking enormous. 

That feeling rose up, the one he generally ignored because it didn’t make much noise or any kind of sense. It flitted across his awareness at odd moments, never staying, never taking root: all ifs, maybes, possibles, coulds. He’d have paid attention if it happened more often, or its wings beat more urgently when it did. He pushed it aside again when he looked at Shannon and Cash, when he eyed Thatcher. 

Brenton paused. “Goddamn, son. You’re Priapus.” 

Some spell broke, some frozen, frightened moment, and everyone cracked up. 

“Fuck no. I’m not being Priapus.” 

“You’re Priapus.” Cash laughed and laughed. “All I know is you’re not fucking me, man.” 

Cash: god the things he could do with Cash on camera, with the sharp planes of his face, almost Bowie-like, with his messy, medium length blond hair and big blue eyes, so slender and pale despite the punishing athletics. He was a diver, with a cut chest, flexible, coiled strength in that slim frame. Brenton stared at him. He cocked his head and saw him: bent, beautiful, eyes half-shut with pleasure, legs slightly spread. “Eros.” 

“What?” 

“Eros. You’re Eros.” 

“Okay.” Cash lowered his eyes. Brenton turned away. “All right. Next step. Pair up. Make out and jerk each other off. Or whatever. I’m not particular here.”

Excuse me?!” Lee stared. 

“If you can’t do it here, how the hell are you supposed to do it in front of the camera? Don’t make me partner you up like it’s third grade. I need to see that you can do it. Or you’re out. And don’t think I’m getting off on this. Ask Reid.” 

Reid rolled his eyes. “He’s not getting off on this. Trust me.” 

Shannon side-eyed him. “How do we know this isn’t some massive joke? How do we know you’re not fucking with us?” 

Brenton shrugged. “How many of you are there? How many of me? What the hell would you do to me if it was? I’m pretty sure I’d end up dead.” 

Scott, the biggest guy in the room except for maybe Shannon, nodded. “Fair.” 

They looked awkwardly at each other. Brenton tapped his foot. “C’mon. Hurry the fuck up.” 

“What the hell.” Scott turned to Shannon, grabbed him by the back of the neck, and kissed him hard. Everyone watched for about fifteen seconds as they pressed against each other, as Shannon’s arms went around Scott’s neck, as Scott grabbed his ass and pulled him closer. 

“Not a free show. C’mon.” Brenton folded his arms. “Get to it.” 

They paired off, usually a smaller guy with a larger one: Johnny and Cash, Thatcher and Easton, for example. Reid did it. What the hell? Reid wasn’t supposed to do it. Reid wasn’t supposed to be naked, that wasn’t part of the Plan. Reid did it with Lee. Brenton had to watch. He’d never seen Reid kiss someone, never seen his mouth open, his lips slip on another person’s. Strange, the things you notice, the flutter of eyelashes against a cheek, the tilt of a chin, the sudden press of one stomach against the other. Let lips do what hands do — some Shakespeare, maybe Romeo and Juliet? Brenton’s stomach flipped when his cock began to rise as Reid’s knees hit the ground, when his mouth opened on Lee’s big head and sucked, holding his shaft in his hand to keep it steady. His eyes flicked across the room: Cash used both hands to jack Johnny’s cock, one after another, clearly practiced at it. Brenton’s curiosity turned into an I want, I want, and he wanted something he couldn’t quite name, couldn’t articulate or explain. 

Easton broke off. “Have we made our goddamn point? Because I hate getting jacked without lube, Tucker.” 

“No, I think we need to keep going.” Lee’s eyes had half-glazed as, from the look of things, he hit the back of Reid’s throat. Brenton’s stomach jumped. But Reid slid back off him and stood. Brenton had seen Reid naked so many times: medium build, medium height, all long lines of muscle that curved and recurved. After lacrosse practices, after hockey practices, after a hundred thousand showers and gym classes since sixth grade, and before that, taking baths together as small children: Reid’s body was almost as familiar as Brenton’s own. Brenton kept his eyes on Reid’s face. His lips had swollen slightly. That feeling again. It came mostly around Reid but it would ruin everything, so why bother? 

“God fucking dammit.” 

“Jack it.”  

“You want me to —” 

“I said jack it if you want. Can you all come in front of everyone else? You able to get off with everyone watching? Because this isn’t a closed set, people. You’re not some precious starlet who gets special treatment when she takes her top off.”  

Scott laughed. “I’m a goddamn exhibitionist. Y’all wanna watch? I’m happy for y’all to watch.” 

Hudson roared. “Guilty.” 

“Prince Charming likes us all to see his dick?” Shannon gave him a look. 

“Fuck yeah. I love people looking at my dick. You would too, if your dick looked like this.” 

So they all had to glance down at Hudson. And yeah, Hudson had a just about perfect dick. Perfect length, big but not scarily so, a clearly defined head with a good bell-shape to it, a long, smooth shaft. Hudson smirked. 

“Am I the only uncut guy here?” Scott held up a hand. “Anyone else?” 

Reid grinned and pointed at his foreskin, which had drawn back somewhat. Fuck everything. Brenton didn’t need to see that. But he flicked his hand in the air. “Nope, but you’re not seeing it. My dick stays in my pants, boys. The D.P. doesn’t get naked.” 

“D.P.?” Cash furrowed his brow. 

“He means director of photography.” Reid rolled his eyes. “Brenton’s going to go all filmic on us now. Just roll with it.” 

“One thing you never covered.” Shannon looked around. “How the fuck do we get out?” 

Reid smiled. “Night hikes, bitches. They’re always after us to hike. Hike, hike, hike. So we fucking hike. Or we go out on leave with Shannon’s very kind mentor. We only take who we need. And we won’t need everyone every time.” 

 Brenton could almost hold it then, the power and beauty of it, something solid, a glittering silver sphere in his hands. “I can check out all the film equipment I want whenever I want. I’ve been a good boy. I’m such a good boy. They love me.” 

“As long as we get paid, I don’t give a fuck.” Lee laughed. “Or rather, I do give a fuck. But I’ll come and kill you if this goes to hell, Reid.”

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