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1 Timothy 5:22
That night, I lay in bed unable to sleep. Everything that had happened that day felt… unreal. But I knew it had happened. I could still feel Levi’s hands on my skin, his arms around my body, a phantom sensation… Like when you can still feel the waves hours after leaving the ocean. My mouth felt strangely numb. My mind was swimming.
I’d kissed Levi.
I’d let him kiss me.
I found myself avoiding my parents when I got home, to dodge questions of where I’d been that day. To anyone who wondered, I’d say I was at campus, stayed late working, and then I hurried off to do the work I said I’d already done. Somehow, I didn’t want them to know I’d been with Levi. Maybe they’d only think the innocent – two guys hanging out, playing video games, whatever guys did, whatever I did with Marc. No reason to think I’d been lying in Levi’s bed… in his arms… erection threatening the vanishing space between us…
Why did I do this?
Because I wanted it.
Why did I let him –
I didn’t let him. I kissed him first.
Why did I want… Well, why did it matter? Did I actually regret what had happened, or did I simply believe that I did? That I should. That I wasn’t supposed to feel the way I did… Like I shouldn’t acknowledge what Levi stirred in me… Like I’d been trying to convince myself until the moment our mouths met.
Ignoring it had hurt.
It had hurt so fucking much. It was like I’d been living with the pain until the moment it melted away, and my body was lighter because of it. But now there was something else weighing me down, something else I didn’t want to acknowledge.
I rolled over in bed, bypassing my alarm clock, and checked the time on my phone. One AM. I hardly ever stayed up late. I sighed and pulled the blanket higher around my shoulder, still staring mindlessly at the lock screen.
I hadn’t talked to Levi since I left. Just busy… not sure what to say. But now I suddenly felt like talking, if only to soothe the need aching my chest. With my text messages open, I hesitated over the keys. It was late. Would I bother him?
“Hey. Are you up?”
I felt bad as soon as the message was sent. I was definitely waking him up. Maybe he’d sleep through it. I put my phone down, huffed, and tried to close my eyes.
A few seconds later, it buzzed.
“Still awake for now. What’s up?”
I squeezed the phone in my hands, staring at Levi’s message. He said almost nothing, and yet my heart was already pounding… Well, I’d started it now.
“Nothing. Just not sleeping I guess.”
“Something bothering you?”
“Talk to me.”
The words hung there on his side. Talk to me. Unsaid meaning – I don’t believe you. Don’t lie to me. Said with kindness, comfort.
“I think I’m just kinda shaken up.”
“I’d be surprised if you weren’t. That was a big step.”
“Do you feel like I forced you?”
I typed out “No” right away, then hesitated before I could hit send. Should I think about that harder? Well… even if I really considered it…
“No. I think you made me stop running. I think I needed that.”
“I did want it.”
“I know you did.”
“You totally blueballed me though. You know that right?”
“Hey now, I didn’t make you go home. I would have finished you if you asked.”
“Or begged, rather”
“Shut up omg”
My face was boiling. I didn’t know how Levi was capable of affecting me this much with just… words. Voiceless words on a screen. Voice I could hear, could feel deep inside me without his help. I would have finished you. Images you cling to when you’re fucking your hand. Words that reached to darker, more sensitive places than his hands had dared.
In the silence from my end, Levi typed back. “Awful quiet. Are you taking care of it after all?”
Dammit! Well, I definitely wasn’t going to now. “Nope. Guess I’ll suffer.”
“Poor boy” he said. Then, a minute later – “Come over tomorrow. Do you have time?”
My pulse was making my throat tight. “After class around 2? Idk?”
“Meet you here. Come into the shop.”
“Good boy. Go to sleep.”
Go to sleep, he said. How was I supposed to sleep now? Surprisingly, it didn’t take long once I finally closed my eyes.
I’ll admit to trying to escape from class before Marc could catch me… And I did feel a little bad that I’d been avoiding him so much in general. But I really wanted to get out and get to Levi’s place without too many questions. Unfortunately, Marc intercepted me as I was jamming books back into my bag.
“How the fuck,” he said, planting himself in front of my desk, “did your answers end up that different from mine?”
“The – did we even read the same thing?”
“No – yeah, we did, but it’s just different interpretations, man,” I told him hurriedly. “You heard Hadley, there weren’t any wrong casino şirketleri answers.”
He snorted and shrugged his own bag on. “I know she said that, but she had this look every time I shared one. Did you see?”
“Uh – no, I didn’t…”
“Well, she totally did. Where are you running off to?”
I’d gotten three steps away from my desk when Marc blocked me. “I – c’mon, man, I just made plans.”
He grinned. “What plans? You got a hot date?”
“No. I’m just meeting someone.”
“Sounds like a hot date to me – hey!”
I ducked him and jogged out to the hall, only to find Marc hot on my heels. Of all the times for him to be this persistent… Course, I was only making myself look more guilty by avoiding the question. “Dude – I’m serious, it’s really nothing. I’m just hanging out with someone.”
“I know you way too well for this to be nothing. What’s up with you?”
He caught up and I slowed down, sighing through my nose. “Why do you think I’m seeing a girl?” I asked.
Marc smirked and stuck his hands in his pockets. “Well, I’ve never really known you to be secretive, and I haven’t seen you with a girl since -“
“God, don’t bring that up.”
“But you know I’m right. So if my bro’s getting trim -“
“It’s not a girl,” I snapped. “I’m going to Levi’s place.”
Said casually enough, I hoped this would escape scrutiny. Judging by the look on Marc’s face, it didn’t. “The leather jacket dude?” he said incredulously. “Since when have you guys been hanging out?”
“Probably since I took him to bible study – what do you mean, since when? It’s not a big deal.” I zipped my jacket up as we moved out into the cold.
“You’re kinda acting like it is. I mean, I know you brought him to church that one time… You bailed before I could talk to you then, too. Are you embarrassed or some shit?”
“I’m not embarrassed,” I insisted. “There’s nothing… I don’t know. I said I was gonna go to his place after class today. That’s all.”
Marc sounded surprised, but stopped pressing. Thank God. But he was still following me out to the parking lot.
“So hey,” he went on, “Janina said you guys have practice on Thursday. I asked if she wants to, like… Hit the diner after, and she asked if you were coming. So are you coming?”
“I – yeah, sure.” Now at my car, I popped the door and tossed my bag across the seat. Marc was still hanging back.
“So… What are you doing anyway? Trying to convert him? How’s that going?” he grinned.
I blinked. “What?”
“Levi. Have you been, like… doing private bible study sessions or something?”
I could feel a flush crawling up my neck. “We’re just… hanging out,” I said lamely. “Marc, it’s really nothing. I’m not hiding anything, I just… don’t know what to tell you.”
Marc shrugged. “Just never seen you act like this, man. Don’t get too weird on me, okay?”
I gave him a half-smile. “Probably too late for that.”
“Damn, ain’t that right. See you, Ash.”
I was already shaken by Marc’s inquisition on the drive over to Downing. For some reason, I’d been terrified that he’d figure me out… That he’d pick up on something in my words, in my furtive discretion. If I was in fact – what was I? Gay? Attracted to guys? Attracted to Levi and only Levi? – I wasn’t ready to tell Marc. I wasn’t ready to tell anyone. To be honest, I didn’t think I wanted anyone to know I was going anywhere near the Tannery in the first place. Even if they didn’t suspect my sexuality, whatever it was… That was different from associating with what was inside that building.
But my luck being what it was that day, of course there were people outside of it.
I parked my car across the street and slumped forward on the wheel, staring haplessly at the trio of figures congregating around Levi’s suggestive window display. Boys. Hoodies and backpacks. Stupid high school students having a laugh, probably not going to even try to go in. I sat there silently willing them to leave… But…
Wait a minute. I knew one of those backpacks.
I knew the gray beanie this kid was wearing, too.
No. No fucking way.
I threw my door open and scrambled to my feet, leaning over the roof of the car to yell across the street.
My kid brother jumped a mile at the sound of his name, his buddies jolting and looking back at me. I saw Dan’s mouth move in what had to be a swear.
I slammed the car door shut and stormed to the other side of the street, blood pounding in my ears. “What do you think you’re doing?” I demanded.
To my chagrin, Dan snorted and grinned at me. “Nothing. I’m just walking home, what’s it look like I’m doing?”
“Did you read the sign on the door? You can’t go in there.”
“I ain’t inside the place! I’m outside. I’m just looking. What are you, the cops?”
“You’re done looking now.” I grabbed the sleeve of his jacket and began to steer him down the sidewalk in the direction of our house. casino firmaları “You guys, too. I know for a fact none of you are eighteen.”
“Christ!” Dan whined. “What the fuck is your problem?”
“What are you doing here, then?” he snarked. “Oh man, no way – were you actually gonna go in -“
“My friend lives upstairs,” I told him, face red, voice shaking – nerves or anger, probably both. “Go home, Daniel. If I catch you here again, I’m telling Mom.”
“All right! Christ. C’mon.”
I waited until I saw Dan and company round the corner, catching something that sounded like “My brother’s such a fucking narc” at a distance. Doubly shaken now, I found myself checking both ends of the street before I let myself head back to the Tannery.
The little bell over the door was instantly drowned out by a loud banging coming from somewhere deeper in the shop, which ceased the moment I let the door close. The curtain over the archway in the back was open and the room inside was brightly lit. I didn’t have much time to be curious – I hadn’t taken three steps before Levi suddenly stuck his head out from behind the archway, ducked back, and came around at a trot to join me in the shop.
Levi was very different than I normally saw him. He was wearing ripped jeans and a gray muscle shirt with its bottom covered in black and brown stains, his dark hair pulled back in a loose ponytail so it was out of his face, footsteps heavy in black work boots bearing scuffs and marks that didn’t seem permissible on the tall ones. The headphones I’d just seen him wearing were around his neck, plastic glasses being tucked into his collar as he walked.
“Hey,” he smiled. “I was just working in the back. Glad you -“
“Did a couple kids in hoodies come in here?” I asked him abruptly.
Levi raised a brow. “Not today, no.”
“What do you mean, not today?”
He shrugged and paced over to the counter, leaning against it casually. “Place has been popular with the high schoolers trying to get in – not that they wanna buy anything, they only ever want to look at crap and giggle.”
“Have you let them in here?”
“Eh, they don’t get far,” he said dismissively. “Pretty much as soon as I come out of the back or wherever and ask for their ID, they scram. Mostly I think I scare them off.”
“How do you even hear the door open with those on?” I asked, indicating the over-ear headset around his neck.
Levi frowned. “I’ve got the door hooked up to a light in the workroom… Ash, I’m not stupid, I’m not gonna let kids wander around in my bondage store. Fuck, give me more credit than that.”
The trembling fear in my chest was dissipating at his words. Right… Levi wasn’t irresponsible. He wouldn’t have let my brother roam freely in here. I suddenly felt bad for accusing him. “I… sorry.”
“It’s fine,” he sighed, moving a hand to rub at his shoulder. “What happened? Kids hanging around outside again? They do that.”
“Basically,” I muttered.
Levi smiled and stood up, sauntering my way until he’d closed the distance between us. My stomach wrenched. I was conscious of the difference in our heights in a way I hadn’t been before, never this close to him when we were both standing face to face… But he only had to incline his head slightly for his mouth to be at the right place for mine to meet… And he seemed to be waiting for me to break that last barrier between us, just as before.
We’d been here less than twenty-four hours ago. I’d already kissed him… I’d already taken that leap. No different than before, I told myself. It was easier this time. I put a hand on his shoulder and closed my eyes so my lips could brush his, and he supplied the pressure to seal us, running a hand around the back of my head to guide me… But I pulled back before I could feel the heat of his lips soak into mine, the hand behind me offering no resistance.
“Not – not here,” I mumbled.
Levi’s smile widened. “So be it. Upstairs?”
I felt the bridge of my nose burn with color. Apparently satisfied with this response, Levi moved back and removed the glasses and headphones from his neck.
“Can do,” he said. “Lemme just close up.”
“Can you just… do that? It’s the middle of the day.”
“It’s my store. If people need to come by when I’m closed, they can make appointments or call.”
I followed him to the back room through that open curtain, trying to catch a glimpse around his back. “What were you banging on back there, anyway?” I asked.
“Hammering grommets,” he said simply. “It’s loud, I know. Leather takes some force to work with.” He unplugged the headphones from his pocket and set them and the glasses on a work table just inside the archway, on which I could see what looked like a very odd pair of suspenders with holes along it, some bare and some ringed with metal. He flicked the lights off in the room, stepped around me, and hit the ones behind the counter until the shop darkened, then locked the front door güvenilir casino and flipped the sign around so the “Open” side was facing us. “C’mon up. Let’s talk.”
I’d noticed it the first time we’d gone up from Levi’s place, but the doorway connecting the shop to the stairway to his apartment was pretty genius – he didn’t even have to go outside to go back upstairs. He told me he’d installed that himself; not hard considering the wall between them was thin and there was enough room in front of the stairs to do so, so I was told. I couldn’t help but keep being impressed by how handy Levi was. I was starting to see why he’d decided to turn that talent into something as beautiful as his leather work… And I was truly starting to see it as beautiful.
So once I’d gotten my shoes off and was sitting on his bed again, I asked to see more of it.
He looked surprised by this, pausing by the corner where he’d taken off his boots and socks. Something about seeing him with bare feet in those ripped jeans was disarming… Like I couldn’t have imagined him without leather casing his body somewhere. “You just wanna see more?” he asked.
Put on the spot, my cheeks burned, but I held fast. “Is that… okay?”
Levi seemed to consider this, wandering over and leaning his shoulder against one of the bedposts, arms crossed over his chest. “Well, downstairs might have been better for that,” he said.
“Do you… not have that much up here?”
“Well, I didn’t say that,” he mused. “But my personal equipment is…” Levi’s eyes lingered on my face for a moment before alighting with a smile. “Sure. Lemme just get this off.”
I found myself tipping my face down to allow Levi modesty as he pulled the stained shirt off… Modesty he must not have wanted. His feet came into view beside me, then his hand, lifting my chin so that the sight of his body in just jeans, nothing else, elicited a surge of heat in my stomach.
“Shy?” he said. “This isn’t anything you haven’t seen before, is it?”
I swallowed and shook my head reluctantly. I was coming to the realization that despite all else before this, neither Levi nor I had even been shirtless in front of each other, and I wasn’t fully prepared for what that felt like… How the spasms in my belly kept relighting with every inch that I let my gaze fall down him, following the rise of his collarbones, the hollow below his breast, the faint suggestion of abdominal muscle framed by the shape of his hips, everything tapering to this spot where the slip of hair above his waistband pointed me back to his navel… But Levi only gave me enough time to make the journey once before he grinned and sat down beside me, leaning over and reaching between his ankles under us.
The drawers under his bed were unattached to the frame itself, I realized now. Just sitting on the floor with the bed built over the whole thing… And I wondered, with another twist of my gut, whether that was done so that any movement on the bed wouldn’t make the drawers move, too. Levi pulled just one of these drawers out so that his calves straddled it, and began to trace his fingers over its contents with careful contemplation. Around his shoulder and knee I could see straps of different widths and lengths, glimpses of brown leather, but it was difficult to see what beyond that.
“What did you like?”
Levi lifted himself slightly and shook the loose ponytail over his other shoulder, fixing eyes on mine. “What did you like when I bound you?” he asked.
I felt the heat in my ears again. “I… I don’t know.”
He smiled. “I’m sure you do know,” he told me. “When I tied you up… When I put the restraints on you, which parts did you enjoy?”
I turned away a little, trying to get a hold on myself before I could think. I forced the memory of Levi buckling the cuffs onto me to the front of my mind, sorting carefully through what I’d felt… What did I like?
“All… all of it,” I mumbled slowly. “The cuffs and… the collar… the rope… having my hands behind me and all…”
“All of it?” Levi repeated, sounding impressed. “Eager thing. But if you give me a free pass, I might go overboard. Let’s go with what we know works first…”
I kept my eyes on my hands twisting together in my lap as the jangle of metal and scrape of the drawer sounded beside me. My heart was pounding. We were just going right into this. Well, of course. I was the one who asked. Levi didn’t seem to be able to resist indulging me in anything I wanted to explore. I gave a shaky sigh.
“Give me your hand,” Levi ordered, snapping me from a reverie. I untangled my fingers and gave him my right wrist, which he held and laid something over – a wrist cuff, different by far than the others we’d played with. The color was chocolate and warm amber, lighter at the delicately tooled edges, no ring on the D-shaped metal piece fixed into the belting. The buckle, too, was curious, if only that the little bit sticking out of it was tipped with an open circle, as if something was meant to go through it. There was no fur on this one, though the cold leather interior did feel slightly padded in a way. Apparently happy with how it looked against my skin, Levi got to work buckling me in.
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