The music pounded in Ben's ears, so loud he thought he might be damaging them. The club was dark, hot, and packed. The lights on the dance floor and the beer he'd drunk were giving him a headache. His sweaty shirt clung to his back.
He'd never been so happy in his life.
Strobe lights on the dance floor revealed snapshots of men dancing together. It still felt vaguely forbidden to even be here in a real, live gay bar, much less to have come with a date.
The thought of Grant made Ben grin again, even though he was sure he looked crazy standing by the bar, by himself, smiling at no one.
A new song began, and a cheer went up from the dance floor. To Ben's left, a couple abandoned their drinks and ran out, pulling at each other. Just then, Grant reappeared, already reaching out for Ben. Grant pulled him close to call in his ear, "I love this song! Let's go!"
The bar cleared out as people crowded the dance floor. Everyone seemed to love this song. Only under torture would Ben admit he'd never heard it before. It didn't matter, anyway. He was happy following Grant, dodging through gaps in the crowd as they opened, feeling the pressure of Grant's fingers on his hand.
When they were somewhere in the midst of the dancing, Grant turned back to him and tugged him closer. The crowd pressed them together so that Ben had to tip his head back to look at Grant's face. Grant was six-three if he was an inch, broad shouldered, with thick brown hair bleached paler by the sun, and when he turned on the dimples, it was all over. Ben still couldn't believe his luck.
He let the music and the beer fill him and pick him up. Ben wasn't a good dancer, but he'd stopped caring about that hours ago. The exertion of dancing in this heat had given him a kind of runner's high, pricked only by his arousal every time he set eyes on his date.
He inched a little closer. The way Grant's shirt stuck to him gave Ben a tantalizing idea of the ridges of his abs and hard, flat muscles of his chest. Neither of them could stop touching each other. Ben wasn't brave enough to let those teasing touches, disguised as dancing, venture past Grant's shoulders and arms.
Grant was bolder. He brushed his hands down Ben's shoulders to his waist, caught Ben there, and turned him around. He pressed one palm flat against Ben's belly, agonizingly close to his erection. Grant had enormous hands that seemed to encompass most of Ben's hips, and Ben's thoughts automatically went to what they would feel like everywhere else on his body. Every beat of his pulse pressed his cock against the zipper of his jeans.
As Grant eased him back, their bodies brushed--shoulder blades to chest and, more importantly, Ben's ass to the hard swell of Grant's cock.
Ben sucked in a breath. Grant kept himself positioned against the cleft of Ben's ass, clearly telegraphing his desire. Ben's stomach trembled as Grant stroked the plane of his abs, rucking his shirt.
Then Grant's chin was tucked close to his ear. "I want to take you home," he shouted.
Ben nodded. He didn't think he could make himself heard from this position, and God knew he didn't want to move, so he pressed Grant's hands against his belly, drawing them closer together.
"Great," Grant yelled. "So why are we wasting time?"
The song ended, segueing seamlessly into another. Grant began to pull away. His fingertips brushed the front of Ben's hard-on, taking a little too much time there for it to be purely accidental. A promise, a kind of code for what would happen next. Ben felt dizzy, lightning-struck. He let the pressure of Grant's hand tow him off the dance floor.
Ears ringing, Ben emerged onto the street behind Grant. The San Diego night was humid and overcast, but it felt twenty degrees cooler out here than it had in the club. When the doors swung shut behind them, the bass was muffled. The street seemed impossibly quiet.
Ben and Grant both stopped and stared at each other for a moment. "It's like coming up from diving or something," Grant said.
"Or going underwater." Ben thought he might be talking too loud. He realized his throat was sore.
Grant held out his hand again, and Ben placed his palm in it. "Car's this way."
They'd driven down together. That had been the first item in a growing list of things Ben had never done before and normally wouldn't do--normally he'd drive his own car for safety. Normally he wouldn't agree to go home with a man he'd only met once before.
He didn't want that kind of normal. That Ben was a virgin, still a little bit scared to be out of the closet. That Ben felt astonished at the fact that Grant was holding his hand on a public street. True, it was one in the morning and there weren't a lot of people around to see them. The old Ben would have been scared, though.
New Ben wasn't scared. He wanted Grant to hold his hand, and he wanted to go home with him. It had taken him long enough to be able to admit to himself, much less other people, that these were his desires, and he felt like he'd earned the right to enjoy them.
They walked in silence. Ben glanced up at Grant now and then, still taken aback by his good luck. They'd met at a party two weeks ago--a friend of a friend of Ben's was a good friend of Grant's, and she had introduced them.
The connection had been instant. They had a lot in common despite the fact that Grant was a surfer who more or less arranged his life around wind and tide while Ben was neck-deep in academia as he got his PhD. But they lived within spitting distance of each other, at least in Southern California terms, and they had books and movies in common. Both of them liked to swim, though Ben confined his time in the water to the pool at UCSD's gym. When he'd admitted his fear of the ocean, Grant had immediately said he was taking Ben surfing for their first date.
Fortunately they'd ended up going downtown instead. New Ben was interested in getting laid, not dragged out to sea by a riptide.
It seemed like he was getting what he wanted. As the prospect of the night unfolded before him, giddy excitement rose up in his stomach. "You don't have to get up at four a.m. to get eaten by sharks, do you?" he asked Grant.
He was rewarded with Grant's smile. Was it possible for them to have a running joke after only one date and a party? "Come on, Ben, everybody knows sharks don't get up until six."
Their hands slipped apart as they reached Grant's car. "The riptides are the early risers," Grant said, walking around to the driver's side. As he unlocked the door, he grinned over the roof of his hatchback at Ben. "So you want to get up and surf in the morning, huh?"
The locks popped, and Ben opened his door. "I can stand on the beach and wave to you."
After he'd slammed his door shut, he glanced over at Grant. The smile on his face had faded slightly. The look he wore now was harder to describe--interest? Affection? Lust?
Ben's heart jumped. He had always assumed sex was easily accessible to someone like Grant--someone who looked like him, for one thing, but also someone who seemed at ease with his sexuality, someone who'd done this many times before. He'd assumed that what was a huge fucking deal to Ben would be just another night for Grant. But the look on Grant's face suggested otherwise. He looked every bit as into this as Ben was.
Grant put the car in reverse and flung his arm around the back of Ben's seat to maneuver out of their parking spot.
"If you hang around me long enough, you will go surfing," he said, teasing again.
Ben liked the thought of being around Grant longer, even if it meant bobbing in freezing-cold water full of things that bit.
Grant lived in Leucadia, about thirty minutes from downtown San Diego. They made it in twenty, blazing past the exit to Ben's apartment in Cardiff. Grant's clunker sounded like the engine was about to fall out of it, but he pushed the little machine fearlessly. Ben figured his impatience had something to do with the bulge in Grant's lap. He sneaked covert looks at it, appreciating its size and trying to guess other characteristics of his cock.
About ten minutes out of town, Grant put his hand on Ben's knee and kept it there the rest of the ride. Ben's arousal grew mercilessly at the feel of Grant's fingertips creeping toward his inner thigh. He had never wanted someone so much in his life.
But once they left the 5 behind and began creeping through dark residential neighborhood, Ben's nerves began to compete with his desire. After wasting valuable minutes trying to think of a graceful way to introduce the topic, he gave up and blurted, "You know I'm a virgin, right?"
Grant glanced over at him. His eyes returned to the road, and his hand stayed where it was. "I didn't know that."
Well, why would he? Ben had no idea what he was doing and assumed others recognized that about him, but he was twenty-three, for God's sake. People his age should've had plenty of lovers by now. He turned his face toward the window in case Grant could see him blushing.
"I just wanted to let you know," Ben said.
Grant's fingers squeezed his thigh, sending a pulse of lust to Ben's cock. "I'll take care of you, babe."
The promise filled Ben with both trepidation and need.
With a lurch, Grant hit the brakes and pulled the car in to park. "This is me," he said and practically leaped from the driver's seat.
Leucadia was silent at one thirty in the morning. Ben could smell the beach, but he was too turned around to have said reliably which way it was.
Grant's building was a two-story walk-up, shabby but appealing. Its moss-green paint was blistered by salt and wind. Grant bounded up the stairs, sorting through his keys. Feeling uncoordinated, Ben followed. He stopped beside Grant at the farthest door down the walkway. A wet suit was hanging over the railing outside, limp in the windless night.
The sight of the front door--Grant's front door, entrance to where he would lose his virginity at last--got his heart going again.
The apartment was dark inside. Grant shut the door behind them, and Ben stood still. There was a window somewhere, but he had no concept of how big the place was.
"Let me get the light," Grant said, and Ben felt him move away. The loss of the other man's warmth was disappointing.
As if reading Ben's mind, Grant asked, "Is it cold in here?"
The light came on overhead in an old, unattractive fixture. Grant's apartment was an efficiency--kitchen in an alcove on the right, bedroom on the left. Against the back wall stood a small table and two folding chairs, along with a pair of surfboards--one big, one small. It was a little depressing as apartments went, but Ben's place wasn't any better.
He realized Grant was watching him from the kitchen. As their eyes met, he dropped his hand from the wall and began crossing the apartment toward Ben. He'd taken off his playfulness in the same way he shed his shirt, casting it aside as he walked. His expression was intent now, and serious.
Ben swallowed, feeling his heart accelerating. The body that had been rubbing against him all night was even better than he'd imagined. Grant's undershirt was filmy and half-transparent with sweat, clinging to the ridges of his abs. His chest was a broad plane, strong and sun-darkened. Ben's palms itched to run over the curves of Grant's muscles. He made himself form fists to keep from reaching out. There was less he could do about his cock, which pressed toward Grant through Ben's jeans.
It seemed to take a long time for Grant to get to him. Long enough for Ben to notice every detail. Long enough to wonder what would happen when Grant got close enough to touch or kiss. And meanwhile Ben stood there like an idiot, probably gaping, as Grant came right up to him and stopped. It would be great, he thought frantically, if he could find some reserves of suaveness right about now.
Ben's gaze was level with Grant's chin. He found himself entranced by Grant's pecs, unbelievably firm looking and muscular.
"I'm up here."
Ben snapped his gaze up to find Grant smiling at him.
Ben opened his mouth, reaching for something witty and coming up with, "Hi."
He felt a blush rising, but Grant grabbed the front of Ben's shirt, tugging him forward. Lowering his face, he growled, "Hi, yourself." Then he planted his lips on Ben's.