Category Linkin Park

Loverman by starscream

L is for love, baby

written for the lpfic_exchange on livejournal, prompted by Barush, and beta’d by Elisa =]


Mike Shinoda is beautiful. You want to just reach out and touch him. Nearly, you do. He sees your hand falter and looks at you for a moment before a smile forms on his lips. Your heart starts to race, thudding away against your rib cage; it’s so loud, surely he must hear it. His smile, the one that puffs up his cheeks and crinkles the corners of his eyes prematurely, is so wide and bright that you don’t see his hand reaching boldly for yours; you just feel it.

You met Mike Shinoda because your dad is rich. Contrary to popular belief that did not make you rich. No, you just went without a lot of excess. Your dad loved you even though he cursed your vulnerability. You were emotionally wounded from your mother’s death. You never even got a chance to love her or be loved by her; she died giving birth to you. So, yeah, you carried that guilt around with you no matter how many times your psychiatrists told you it was irrational.

You hated that – being someone who had to see a psychiatrist. So you quit going, quit taking the pills, quit trying to look into why everything hurt so much. Soon it wasn’t just that your mother died. That bred fragility and you withdrew from society into yourself. Every day was based around fear and worry. The tiniest, most irrational things terrified you; where you would sit before class without people looking at you and pitying you for being alone, what you would do if the teacher told you to pick groups in class and you were left alone, where you would sit at lunch without people looking at you and pitying you for being alone.

Always alone. Maybe it was your own fault for being afraid and not making yourself part of a group. But you couldn’t make yourself outgoing or interesting. You couldn’t keep up that lie. Eventually you sought out friendships online to fill the void. You were afraid to look at yourself in the mirror, to be alone in bed, to hear the quiet of the house while your dad was at work. Your anxiety prevented you from ever getting a job so you sat for hours on end with few options. The internet was forever changing, and there were people to talk to! You wanted to communicate with someone, anyone, so badly that you immersed yourself deep in it.

People were nice to you. Maybe they were similar to you. Maybe they wanted a friend but couldn’t find the courage to make one. Rejection, to your face, was somehow much more difficult to swallow than rejection in cyberspace. Rejection, in a place where you couldn’t hide, where everyone knew your face, knew what a loser you were, was too much to bear. On the internet, you didn’t have to be the ‘you’ that served no valuable purpose. You could be the ‘you’ that hadn’t already been deemed pathetic, helpless.

All of this is merely the basis for why you can’t believe you’re in your bedroom with Mike Shinoda. How he could be sitting on the floor with his thigh pressed to yours, his hand holding yours, his thumb brushing back and forth over the back of your palm while a cartoon plays quietly on the TV screen, is next to impossible. But he’s real. He’s beautiful. He’s giggling at the cartoon as you remember how you met him.

By the time you were twenty you had applied for perhaps ten different jobs. You’d filled out the application, heard back from them all regardless of the fact that you had no prior work experience, and gone in for interviews. Even as a late teenager your father had to help you dress for those meetings. You would tell him where you applied and he would pick an appropriate outfit for you. It was always after you met with someone that you were turned down. It was always after they saw how pitiful you were that they said no, that your lack of work experience became an issue. It was always a deafening blow when you got the call; you were always hopeful despite the fact that on some level you saw it coming. The disappointment on your father’s face when you told him over dinner time after time that you’d not gotten the job was almost as bad as the humiliation alone.

He took pity on you and it was a good thing because there was only so much more rejection you could take. He found you a part time position at one of his galleries. You still had to interview but the way the woman spoke to you – so clearly, so softly, so… motherly – made you painfully aware that your father had told her everything. You almost didn’t want the job after that. But it was a relatively simple position. You sat behind the information desk in the mornings, directing patron flow, ensuring everyone with appointments knew where to go; soon you could move up to greeting potential exhibitors, walking the layout of the gallery with a senior supervisor, showing them where their work might be displayed. There was potential to work exhibits there and at sister galleries, too.

Mike Shinoda was a big deal. He was going to be the youngest artist to ever exhibit at not only that gallery, but every gallery within hundreds of county lines. They were already talking about him when you got the job. He didn’t show up until seven months later. You had seen the slides of his traveling portfolio and had only really been able to admire the fact that they were amazing for his age. Most of the included works had been done from when he was sixteen to eighteen. He just turned nineteen earlier that year. The show was going to feature ink sketches and watercolor paintings. You hadn’t seen any of that, however. It wasn’t until a Friday afternoon that he came by with his parents. You’d been fidgeting all morning, eager to finally see this guy’s face. It unnerved you how obviously talented he was, how he had a presence at the gallery, yet you had never seen him, never heard his voice.

When he did finally walk through the glass doors, when you did finally see his face, you were shocked at your own body’s response. Your stomach fluttered awkwardly however pleasantly. It had never done that before. And as Mike and his parents approached the desk where you, your father, and two other supervisors were waiting, each step he took was a fierce beat of your heart.

This was the boy you’d been watching through the glass façade of the gallery. He and his family parked out front in a modest SUV and when they climbed out his mother had fussed over him. She’d wet her fingertips and tried to flatten his soft, dark hair, tried to button up the top collar of his black, long sleeved shirt; he’d batted her hands away. It looked like he was whining at her. It had caused a pang in your heart; you didn’t have a mother to fuss over you like that. Your dad had never even remarried, just thrown himself completely into his work.

Now that they were standing before you, your father introducing himself and the two supervisors, you swallowed thickly as Mike’s eyes met yours. They were bright and wide, the darkest brown you knew; they almost seemed too large for his face, they were so expressive. You felt strange under his gaze. Usually when people looked at you, you felt small and insignificant. That was if you were even noticed at all; most days you were never even acknowledged.

Mike was the first person who didn’t make you feel useless. He looked at you with a purpose. You wondered if this was how he looked at everyone, if he merely saw you as an employee and someone he needed to impress. But he looked at you first. Before anyone else.

And then he smiled. His pink, supple lips parted to reveal gleaming white teeth and you thought you were going to throw up on yourself.

“Son?” Your dad questioned and placed a concerned hand on your shoulder.

“Huh?” You asked, blinking rapidly before looking up at him.

You realized then that everyone in the group was staring at you expectantly and Mike’s hand was outstretched toward you.

“Oh,” you murmured, staring from Mike’s hand to his face, back and forth; the confused reaction made him tilt his head slightly although he still regarded you with a friendly smile. With more grace than you’d ever managed in your life, you extended your own hand and nearly buckled to the floor in a heap when you felt his warm skin on yours.

“Nice to meet you, Chester,” he said kindly, his eyes crinkling at the corners as he looked upon you.

You blushed. You blushed so suddenly and so intensely that his smile broadened and you knew he knew. He could read you like a book. There was probably nothing you could hide from him. As the adults began talking again, now that everyone was introduced, Mike squeezed your hand before letting go.

Now, he smiled shyly. He blushed.

And the two of you were distracted by each other as your father led the group on an extensive tour of the gallery.

With your blushing faces you obediently followed, you behind your father and Mike behind his parents. You spent most of your time clutching your hands, wringing them together, while Mike’s were stuffed deeply in his pockets. Whenever you chanced a look at him, he chanced one at you, and the both of you would blush again, your faces red.

At the end of the meeting you both looked absolutely ridiculous, flushing and avoiding each other’s eyes, looking anywhere but at one another. You watched in agony as Mike left with his parents; you knew it wasn’t fair, really. In that short meeting you’d built him up to be the epitome of your feelings and desires when he was merely skin and bone. But you wanted to be swallowed whole by it. You longed so desperately to shake his hand just once more, to feel that smooth, tanned flesh, to grip greedily and not let go.

But he was gone. Him and his family were piling into their SUV and leaving.

It hurt. Your father was asking you if you were alright, if you were ill, and you just swayed about and wandered up to the glass doors. You pressed your hands to the window, your breath fogging the impeccably clean surface as your nose bumped against it. Mike was watching you, too. One of his long-fingered hands was curled over the window of the back seat as he was gazing at you just as openly as you were gazing at him.

“Chester,” your father stated wearily; the tone of his voice suggested that he was obviously confused, obviously uncomfortable by your strange behavior.

You waved at Mike and when he broke out into that fabulous smile of his and waved back you flushed once more, smiling shyly in return as him and his family took off down the road.

Lying in bed that night you squirmed and fidgeted, tossed and turned, wondering what Mike was doing at that very moment. Was he like you? Was he thinking of you? Was he wondering what you were doing, too? You were hot and kicked your covers off; you stared up at the ceiling fan spinning on high, over to the open window where you could hear the crickets of late summer chirping. You wished he was there. That thought alone startled you. You hardly knew him and yet you wanted him to be sticky and damp against your sheets, wanted to rest your face against his warm chest, wanted to listen to his heart beating steadily beneath the skin and bone.

You’d never thought of anyone like you thought of Mike. You’d hardly exchanged words with him and yet you wanted him more than you’d wanted anything in your entire life.

Work was terribly dull after you met Mike Shinoda. Shuffling papers and passing out pamphlets, greeting elderly couples and haggard mothers with groups of children at the information desk, wandering the gallery in a daze with supervisors as they lectured small tours on the current exhibits – it was all awfully boring. You found yourself peering over your shoulder every few minutes imagining Mike would round the corner like any other patron. He would be studious and quizzical, fascinated by and contemplating every piece of immaculate work. He would scratch his chin and tilt his head, regarding the pieces with great interest, surely understanding the message behind each and every one.

He would turn and see you then; you’d be standing there helpless, hopeless, your eyes bright and wide with excitement as he approached you with that big, friendly smile of his. And then he’d say “hey, Chester,” and you’d-


You tried to snap out of our day dream but Mike wasn’t going away. He was still standing before you with that smile on his face although now it seemed slightly amused, a tad concerned, and you furrowed your brow.

“Huh?” You asked aloud, rubbing at your eyes with your fists to rid yourself of the image and to hopefully come back to reality.

“Are you alright?”

Mike still wasn’t going away. He was tilting his head and biting his lip as you blinked wearily at him again and again.

“What are you doing here?” You asked dumbly and turned around to see that your group had moved on down a few paintings and were studying the current piece with interest.

“My family and I were having lunch a few places over,” Mike explained as you turned back to regard him. He seemed closer now, somehow; his eyes were big and shiny, his smile still intact, and you found yourself grinning back goofily. “They wanted me to come tell your father we’ve accepted his dinner invitation,” he said almost proudly.

“Huh?” You questioned; boy, you were making quite the impression on him. It wasn’t really your fault though, or so you argued with yourself. Your knees kept doing this funny thing where they tried to buckle and send you to the hard floor.

Mike giggled, then. He giggled and it made your heart skip a beat. He stuffed his hands in his front pockets and bowed his head bashfully for a moment before peering back up at you through a few loose strands of his dark hair.

Oh God, was he flirting with you?

“Your father asked us yesterday if we’d like to come over for dinner tomorrow night,” he explained and shifted his weight to his left foot. “Since we were nearby my mom suggested I just come by and tell him in person, but… I saw you first,” he shrugged, his cheeks flushing pink as he glanced around the open gallery.

Your lower lip quivered. You didn’t remember your dad asking them over but maybe that was because all you’d heard was the heavy rushing of blood in your ears as you and Mike had walked around the gallery yesterday.

“Oh,” you murmured as you gazed openly at the rosy color of his cheeks. He watched you watching him and the blush intensified, prompting you to blush embarrassedly as well. The two of you were quite a pair.

“So yeah,” Mike muttered and scratched the back of his neck as he flashed his eyes at you again.

“Okay,” you said softly and smiled at the extremely attractive motion of his hand reaching to his neck. The fluidity of the movement was graceful and had your heart hammering in your chest. “Well I’ll tell him then,” you promised eagerly.

At this point you realized the conversation was basically over and you’d done nothing to prolong it. You didn’t know how to converse properly with people and thus all of your responses tended to be dead ends with nowhere to go. You felt terribly stupid but Mike’s smile just widened before he bit his lower lip coyly, wetting the pink skin, and then let it slip from his strong white teeth.

“Alright,” he murmured softly and you almost missed it for a new group of young children piling into the gallery. Your heart rate picked up again and you saw Mike reach his hand out to shake yours. Instinctively, your left went forward, and you had to correct yourself with a heavily blushing face. But Mike just giggled again and stuck his left out, too, prompting an awkward but warm hand shake. You giggled again. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Chester.”

“Bye,” you called, bringing your hand up in a motionless wave as he did the same and turned to leave.

You watched him until he disappeared from your sight.

You had another night of uncomfortable tossing and turning in bed. Your stomach burned awkwardly in a way it never had before and you found it terribly difficult to stifle the way your body was responding to this new person in your life. The one minute conversation you’d shared with Mike had prompted you to say more than you ever had to anyone else, save for your dad. Even if you hadn’t said anything remotely intelligent Mike still had the ability to force your mouth open against your better judgment and prompt you to reply. His voice was too sweet to leave hanging.

That night you twisted about in your sheets and eventually peeled your t-shirt and pajama pants off. Again you imagined Mike beside you and pulled your second pillow into your arms, squeezing it tight. You were sure Mike would be this soft and eager to be hugged by you. He had to be.

The next morning, Friday, you worked your shift at the gallery before heading home after lunch. When you were in your room again you blushed at the sight of your messy sheets and stripped them off to wash. It wasn’t unusual for you to clean when you were nervous but you felt like the tangled bed sheets were evidence to the fact that Mike Shinoda left you totally and completely unhinged. As if your father were to see them he would know and accuse you of being infatuated. It was stupid really but you washed them nonetheless.

Your computer went unattended to. The notice that claimed you had seventeen new e-mails was neglected and you didn’t even realize you hadn’t been online in the past few days. It was uncommon for you to not check your e-mail first thing after your morning shower but you just hadn’t done so. You didn’t even think of it as you descended the large stair case into the main hall and padded to the kitchen.

It seemed your father had promised quite a meal and was home early, too, helping your aunt begin preparations in the kitchen.

They both seemed surprised to see you as you plopped down at the kitchen counter and rested your chin in your hands.

The three of you chatted away the afternoon and you even got up to help cook. You all laughed and smiled and it felt normal for some reason. Your aunt, who was your mother’s sister, would glance at you wistfully now and again. You knew she could see part of her sister in you. You’d been told you had her eyes, her ears; there was even a joke that you had her figure. Most days that didn’t bother you. In pictures you could see the resemblance and only wished you had the real thing to compare yourself to. A real mother. Not just any mother, though. Your mother.

Your aunt knew you suffered terribly from the loss, that you and your father needed someone around now and again, and it was normal for her to come by once or twice a week to cook you a good meal.

The way she looked at you now though made you feel somewhat accomplished. She may not have understood why you were partaking in the cooking and conversation today of all days when you never really had before but it was happening and you knew it meant the world to her that you were having a good day.

About an hour before the Shinodas were meant to arrive your aunt sent you and your dad off to change for the meal. You sat on your bed for half an hour wondering what to wear, wondering what Mike would wear, wondering what the night would be like.

Thirty-five minutes later your aunt was wetting her finger tips and trying to push your hair down flat against your scalp in the back but it wouldn’t stay. You whined and batted her hands away as your father hushed the both of you and opened the door to greet your guests for the evening.

Your face flushed; Mike’s eyes sought you out immediately and when he realized you noticed he flushed too as your father invited him and his parents inside. You shook all their hands again, Mike’s last, and the both of you held on unnecessarily long while your father introduced your aunt. You all stood around the kitchen counter chatting, the adults sipping wine. You and Mike both opted for water as you greatly needed to cool off.

Once around the table with your aunt serving the dinner, repeatedly hushing Mrs. Shinoda, telling her she was the guest and needn’t help, you gulped as you felt Mike’s eyes on you. He was sat across the table from you and seemed to be having just as difficult a time of keeping his eyes to himself as you were. The two other times you’d been in each other’s presence you were wary of your own interest and tried to not give yourself away by staring too openly. But Mike watched you as you sipped your water and you watched him as he unfolded his napkin and placed it on his lap.

Soon conversation turned from the economy to Mike’s art and you watched him respond to each and every one of your father’s questions with grace and intelligence. His words however were countered by how he struggled to twirl his pasta onto his fork and keep it there. He’d be talking about a novel that inspired one of his pieces while using both hands to spin the fork around gingerly and raise it up out of the serving when it would all slide back onto the plate.

You giggled and snorted at his repeated failed attempts and blushed as all eyes turned on you. Mike’s playful glare challenged you to do better so you tried while he went on about his work. He watched you, though, and you saw the smug smile on his face when you couldn’t manage your pasta any better. After forty-five minutes of both of you giggling and splattering pasta sauce on your napkins your father excused you.

“This isn’t all about business Michael,” he said kindly and inclined his head. “Chester, why don’t you go on and show him the house?”

Your ears burned red but both you and Mike immediately pushed your chairs back with hurried “thank you”s and left the room.

You glanced over your shoulder as Mike followed you down the hall to the stairs and felt a shiver run down your spine as you led him up to your room. You were suddenly nervous but you’d already chosen to take him there. You didn’t expect anything to happen. A few coy looks and how obviously embarrassed the both of you were meant you weren’t going to just throw yourself into anything. And despite you desperately wanting to touch him again you would never be sure that his nervousness meant he liked you.

“Wow,” he murmured under his breath as you opened your bedroom door and allowed him inside.

Your walls were white but you could hardly see it for all the posters. They were arranged neatly, systematically placed with near-perfection side-by-side. They were predominantly movie and music posters but here and there were magazine cut outs of interesting picture editorials. You didn’t know much about art except what looked good. You rarely even thought of your room. It was where you lived and thus you grew used to what you saw every day and didn’t consider what was actually there. You looked without seeing.

But now you blushed because there were a lot of things perhaps you shouldn’t allow people to see. It looked like you lived in a thirteen-year-olds room. There were a number of Star Wars posters featuring heroes from the films and comics in stately poses. In fact, when you lay down on your bed, instead of looking up at a busty blonde in a bathing suit, you looked up at Han Solo, Yoda, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca. Mike stepped further into the room and tilted his head back to look up at the ceiling covered in posters, too. He giggled while leaning over your bed on his hands and peering up at the Star Wars poster you would see while going to sleep.

He teased you by looking over his shoulder with a giggle and you blushed furiously, trying to discretely nudge an array of plushie action figure toys under your bed but Mike caught the movement with piercing brown eyes and immediately went to see what you were doing.

“What?” You asked defensively, backing away as he stalked you down. He dropped to his knees before you and your breath hitched, your heart beating rapidly as you looked down upon him bowed before you. He bit his lip before breaking out into a devious grin and reached quickly under your bed. He started in surprise and pulled out an armful of stuffed toys while you whined and dropped down to the floor too, trying to grab them from him in an unsuccessful attempt to hide what was painfully obvious; you were a loser.

“Shut up,” you huffed and grabbed a particularly furry Chewbacca from his grasp, cradling it defensively in your arms. “I collect them, so what?”

“Nothing,” Mike finally managed between giggles as he sat properly and leaned against the foot of your bed. You did the same but still blushed and regarded him nervously.

“You’re making fun of me,” you accused but he didn’t look vindictive at all. His smile was sweet as he brushed the hair of an Ewok out of its eyes.

“I am not,” he returned softly as he looked up at you from the doll.

You both were staring openly again. You, nibbling at your lower lip. Mike, blinking innocently at you.

It was not awkward like you thought it would be. Sitting with someone this close by, in your bedroom of all places. The several-minute-long comfortable silence ended when you asked if he wanted to watch cartoons and his eyes sparkled eagerly as he nodded. It seemed that he was still boyish like you. Admittedly he had his shit together; he was going to be exhibiting work at an art gallery while nineteen and you at twenty hadn’t done anything note-worthy with your life.

Still, sitting at the foot of your bed with Mike beside you, surrounded by stuffed toys, this all felt pretty amazing.

And so here you are.

Mike Shinoda looking so beautiful, you going to hold his hand, his coming for yours instead.

You must have fallen asleep because the next thing you know your aunt is crouched beside you and shaking your shoulder gently. Your eyes flutter heavily and you yawn, snuggling deeper against the soft warmth you’re resting on, before opening them completely to see your aunt. You smile at her before noting the strange look on her face.

It’s only strange because she has never looked at you quite like that before. She looks knowing and you furrow your brow before realizing why.

You and Mike are propped up against each other, your face against his neck, his resting on top of your head. Your fingers are still linked together and you’re surrounded by plushie toys. You blush furiously and try to turn away but you only manage to nuzzle your face further into Mike’s neck and brush your lips against his skin. You whimper softly and Mike stirs with a groan as you pull your head off his shoulder. Your neck aches and Mike whines as he arches his back and stretches.

“C’mon boys,” your aunt says with shining eyes and you meet Mike’s eyes apprehensively. He seems confused too, just like you were when you woke up, and turns his eyes down to your hands joined together. He smiles at the sight before really registering that your aunt has seen everything and blushes. “Your parents are ready to head home, Michael.”

“Okay,” he whispers throatily and smiles bashfully at her.

Your aunt leaves the room and you and Mike are left alone again.

The pair of you remain sitting for some time. You’ve tilted your face back against the edge of your bed and he’s blinking sleepily at the now dark television screen. Soon he turns to look at you and you both smile lazily at each other. He squeezes your hand and pushes himself up with one hand before pulling you up to follow. You sway tiredly and walk hand in hand to your door. You open it but he quickly shuts it again and looks at you with suddenly wide eyes.

“Wait,” he says hoarsely in a rush, looking frantic. You blink and step back a bit in surprise but he follows the movement forward and you’re no further away. You can feel his body heat as he backs you against the wall by your door. Your heart races and you’re sure he sees your heaving chest; how could he not?

“Do you want to go to the beach tomorrow?” He asks quietly. His fingers remain threaded with yours and he squeezes them as a hopeful glimmer fills his eyes.

“Uh huh,” you murmur as you watch him lick his lips.

He notices you’re not looking at his eyes but rather his mouth. He squeezes your hand again, demanding your attention. You give it to him willingly and he catches you off guard by leaning forward quickly to press those wetted lips against your own.

Your eyebrows jump up in surprise and the pair of you are looking wide-eyed at each other as you kiss.

Well, you would call it a kiss. That’s what it means when someone presses their lips to yours, right?

Your mouths part from each other just enough so you can feel the heavy breaths he’s taking puffing against your lips. Your head is spinning and you’re sure that if the possibility of another kiss wasn’t present you would crumple to a heap on the floor.

“Was that okay?” He whispers quietly. His cheeks are flushed red, his eyes shining. You’re sure you must look quite similar.

“Uh huh,” you repeat with a brief nod, and his lips immediately descend upon your own again. Your mouths stay closed but the saliva that remains from him licking his lips provides just enough moisture to make it more than merely lips touching innocently. You stand there for several minutes after the kiss has ended again with your foreheads pressed together lightly, not saying a word. He keeps you against the wall with one hand placed tentatively on your hip while the other is still clasped with yours. You smile stupidly and he does the same, briefly touching his lips to yours now and again before your father calls up the stairs for you both to come on down.

You feel like he’s left a part of himself with you as you watch him leave with his parents.

You brush your tongue over your lips and taste him there.

While you and your aunt wash the dishes that night she gives you a number of long side-ways looks before you finally roll your eyes and splash her with the soapy water in the sink.

You sleep like a baby that night. When you look at yourself in the mirror the next morning before your shower you can’t help but smile. You look well rested and, for lack of better word, healthy. Your cheeks are flushed lightly and your eyes are bright.

You spend forty-five minutes in the shower. If you’re going to be at the beach, half-naked in Mike’s presence, you want to ensure that you look and smell your best. You eat a late breakfast with your father and listen to him rumble about the upcoming election before you excuse yourself for the rest of the day. He looks at you in confusion and asks where you’re going.

“To the beach,” you confess as you grab the keys to your rarely used car from the hook by the garage door.

“With who?” He asks curiously; you know what that really means. ‘Since when do you have friends?’

“Mike,” you admit with a smile and leave the house before he can ask any more questions.

Your heart races the whole way to the beach. Your fingers itch and you have to keep reminding yourself “break left, gas right.” You don’t drive often enough to be able to handle the simple task when all you’re thinking about is Mike. Last night when he’d murmured which beach and what time he’d like to meet at you’d felt much the same as you do now. Anxious, excited, eager. Fearful, but only slightly.

He’s already there when you arrive. He’s sitting on a small, wood-log fence at the edge of the sandy parking lot. You gulp as you pull into the spot right in front of him.

He’s wearing swim shorts and a backpack on his shoulders, and nothing else. Not even any shoes. The most noticeable lack of clothing however is his missing shirt. You swallow thickly again.

He smiles broadly and unfolds himself from his sitting position and stands up to his full height. Your fingers tremble as you kill the engine and pull the key from the ignition.

Mike Shinoda is beautiful.

He stretches, arching his back, pushing his chest forward while gripping his back pack straps and calling out a “hey!” to you as you pull your own bag from the back seat.

“Hi,” you murmur bashfully as you finally make your way to him.

Mike bites his lip as you step up to him and grip the straps of your own back pack.

“Why are you wearing a shirt?” He asks suddenly. You raise a brow in return although your cheeks flush.

“Why aren’t you?” You retort playfully and a somewhat smug grin slips across his lips. It’s not vain, though. You don’t think Mike could ever look full of himself.

“Are you complaining?” He asks coyly and you huff, punching him softly on his chest. Your hand falters though as you feel the soft, warm flesh. Mike’s dark nipples harden right before your eyes and you swallow thickly and shake your head as your hand regretfully falls away.

“Of course not,” you weakly flirt back when he takes your hand.

Together you walk hand in hand down the boardwalk to the beach. It isn’t very crowded, you note, however you rarely spend time at the beach. You imagine there are typically a lot of people. People to judge you. But with Mike by your side, holding your hand proudly, you don’t feel so threatened. Rather, you feel safe, and you find yourself blushing and biting your lip whenever girls flash their eyes at you both.

You imagine they are jealous of you. Who wouldn’t be?

You walk barefoot through the sand behind the majority of the people spread out on towels and under umbrellas. The sun is beating down heavily and you sneak glances out the corner of your eye as a fine sheen of sweat begins to build on the soft, exposed muscles of Mike’s figure. He catches you looking and squeezes your hand, tugging you closer so you’re walking with your hips brushing.

“I’m glad you came,” he says and finally stops after a while. There are only a few people nearby, most of them walking and passing, off in their own little worlds. You smile as he drops his bag to the sand and pulls out a blanket.

“Me too,” you say softly and allow him to pull your backpack off your shoulders. You follow him down to your knees on the blanket before curling them under yourself Indian-style.

“You don’t look like you get a lot of sun,” he comments innocently and you giggle, pushing his shoulder, your hand lingering once more.

“You look like you get enough for the both of us,” you retort and lean back on your palms.

“I’ll have you know that this is not a tan,” he defends as he fishes two Ramune sodas from his backpack and passes one to you. You regard it curiously for a moment before he sighs quietly and takes it back from you. “I’m half-Japanese,” he explains as he pulls the top off, turns the small plunger around, and forces it against the ball in the cap. He tosses aside the plunger and passes you the now fizzing drink.

“I knew that,” you reply lamely and take a swig of the soda. It’s strawberry-flavored and you swipe your tongue across your now reddened lips as he repeats the process to his own soda and takes a drink.

“You did not,” he teases, “but it’s cute that you pretended you did,” he says with a blush and your cheeks flood with color, too.

You spend two good hours merely giggling and teasing each other over sodas before the sun is so high and so hot that Mike finally scoots forward on his knees and whines so quietly under his breath that you nearly miss it.

“Can I take your shirt off?” He asks quietly as a dog sprints by, kicking sand up behind its powerful legs, chasing a Frisbee. You swallow thickly and set your third, now-warm soda down on the blanket against your bag.

“Are we going swimming now?” You ask, confused. Mike shrugs and reaches out tentatively. You notice his hand is shaking slightly as he places it on your hip and thumbs the hem of your t-shirt with his finger tips.

“I dunno,” he finally responds with a shrug. You giggle.

“Can’t I do it myself?” You question with a playfully curious brow.

“No!” He suddenly says, his eyes wide as if he was afraid of that. “I can do it,” he says in a rush and grabs the hem with both hands and quickly pulls it up over your head. Your arms flop like a lifeless doll as they’re brought up and your t-shirt is removed. You shiver despite the intense heat and curl your legs up against your pale chest to hide what you can of your body.

Mike’s eyes convey hurt at your reaction.

“I’m sorry,” he says quietly as he places your t-shirt down on the blanket. “I didn’t-… I just,” he stutters, placing his hands on top of your knees nervously.

You meet his eyes for a moment and feel an internal heat rushing up your spine, making you sweat so much more than the sun.

“Are you okay?” He asks and you note that it might be with a bit of shame. You feel miserable that your body issues have made him uncomfortable, have potentially fucked this up.

“Yes,” you reply quietly. Your position suggests anything but that and the look on Mike’s face is one of pain.

“I didn’t mean to upset you,” he whispers and goes back to sitting Indian-style. He’s closer now, though, and you can feel his warm breath puffing across your face.

“You didn’t,” you insist.

“Do you want me to move my hands?” He asks softly and you immediately shake your head no, your eyes wide and frantic, fearful that he’ll pull away.

“Do you want to show me what you’re hiding?” He questions after a few minutes of relative silence.

Your eyes turn down again and you can tell that an awful can of worms is about to be opened. It should have been common sense not to come to the beach today. You should have politely declined. But Mike is so beautiful; Mike is so talented; Mike really seems to like you.

Mike kissed you.

You don’t want to scare him away with this. There is plenty more in your life that is pathetic and sour, ready and willing to frighten him off, but you want his hands on you, want him touching you, want to swim with him in the ocean. You nod miserably and he runs his hands down from your knee to your exposed shins, smoothing the slick skin before falling away completely. You internally whimper at the loss and let your own arms fall away from holding your legs and allow your thighs to part, falling open to expose your stomach.

There, where a scar from an appendix removal might be, is a very faint pink line.

“You had your-” Mike starts, but you cut him off, expecting the question.

“No,” you tell him quietly and inhale suddenly, your stomach sucking in as he reaches forward to trail one of his long, tanned fingers along the ribbony mark.

“Then what is it?” He asks softly and rubs his thumb along the length, back and forth, back and forth. It makes you shiver; even in the blazing heat goose bumps flood your skin and you hear him murmur audibly as he takes notice to the affect his touch has on you.

“It’s from something ugly,” you say emotionlessly. It’s not something you’ve ever had to say before but it’s what you always practiced in case the day came when someone would see it and ask.

Mike looks up at you in confusion, pressing his palm over the scar to cover it and leave you unmarred.

“What do you mean?” He whispers as if he knows it’s a secret and isn’t sure if he’s allowed to hear.

“Think of something ugly,” you suggest and cover his hand with your own. He shivers and you bite your lip as your foreheads touch lightly, slick with perspiration, hot from the sun. “That might be it,” you confess and his eyes are wide as you meet his gaze with your own sad, brown eyes.

He inhales a sharp breath and grips your side before straining his neck the slightest bit to reach his lips to yours.

You swim together for about an hour before you get stitches in your sides from laughing and playing so much. Mike exclaims that he’s going to carry you out regardless of how dizzy he is and you both flail around in the water, Mike trying to scoop you up in his arms, you trying to escape. He finally catches you just out of the water and lifts you clean off the sand. He huffs and puffs as you squirm and squeal, laughing wildly as people pass by. He drops heavily to his knees on the blanket but lays you gently down before collapsing on his stomach beside you.

Immediately you roll over on your side and huddle up against him as a rare breeze flitters over your soaked forms, cooling the beads of water, sending a chill down your spine.

“Please,” you hush in his ear as he pants heavily. His arm reaches out for you and pulls you close; he struggles onto his side and you curl up to his chest as he blocks the sun from your eyes.

You feel his lips touch your brow and smile against the warm, wet skin of his chest.

You lie there for hours and when the sun begins to sink Mike pulls a towel from his back pack and drapes it over your joined bodies. You rest your head on his bicep, his arm curling around your shoulder, the other over you hip. After staying with your arms clutched to your own chest for so long you finally allow them to stretch out, wrapping up around his shoulders.

It’s strange how easily you’ve gotten entangled with Mike, physically and emotionally. You’ve touched him and let him touch you like nobody else. You’ve admitted more about that scar to him than anyone else; your father is the only other person in the whole world who knows it’s there, knows how it came to be. You don’t want Mike to have to know about it to be able to understand you. He knows that was your aunt last night, not your mother. He knows you’re privileged. He knows something unspeakable happened to you.

“I like you,” he whispers against your ear and your breath hitches. He giggles because he can hear that, he can feel that. He runs his hand up your bare back beneath the towel and you whine softly and bury your face beneath his arm.

“You can’t,” you tell him almost silently and he clucks his tongue. He’s smarter than you think, apparently.

“Of course I can,” he says softly and presses his lips to your naked shoulder. Your body betrays you again and you shudder, another quiet whine rising in your throat in response to the intimate touch. “Want to see something pretty?” He asks and after a few moments of reluctance you peer out from his arm pit to meet his eye. Shyly, you nod. A grin breaks out across his face and he pulls you up from the blanket to sit next to him.

“Look at that,” he exclaims and stretches an arm out toward the ocean. The sun is almost gone; the sky is purple and red with the last speck of burning light and you gasp in awe of how beautiful it is. You’ve never come to the beach to watch the sun set before.

“Have you ever spent a day like this?” Mike questions as he wraps his arm around your waist and pulls you close.

You shake your head in response and rest it gently against his shoulder. It’s easy to fall so helplessly victim to him and his sunset. Maybe it won’t seem so perfect forever, maybe you’ll feel ugly again tomorrow, but not now.

Over the next couple of months you and Mike spent nearly every day together. He started at Art Center shortly before you met him and the course work was quite rigorous but he always found time to spend with you. Most days he asked you to come by after your shift at the gallery and you’d lie on his bed and watch him work while half-heartedly pretending to flip through a magazine.

It fascinated you to see the muscles of his arms flex and ripple as he splashed his brush or orchestrated his pencil across the picture plane. He was magnificent when he was focused and studious. His brow would furrow and his tongue would repeatedly poke out of his mouth and swipe at his lips. You found yourself biting your tongue frequently to keep from giggling and disrupting him.

Mike’s parents grew quite fond of you. His mother would give you a plate of sushi and two Ramune sodas to carry up whenever you came over. When you first entered his room you’d typically pass his opened soda and push food between his lips as he talked distractedly about the piece he was working on. Some days he was more frustrated than others but you noted that his frustration never escalated into violence. Rather, he would become somewhat subdued and defeated. It hurt to see but you decided it was better than everyone else you knew who turned raging when they didn’t get something right.

Mike’s ink sketches were immaculate and crisp. Whenever he made what he called a “mistake” you’d shriek and prevent him from scrapping the work altogether. It boggled your mind how he could spend hours on a piece and then decide he’d done something wrong and it was useless. You’d sweet talk him as best you knew how, rubbing your hands over his shoulders and down his chest, nuzzling the back of his neck while telling him there was nothing wrong with what he’d done and that maybe if he looked at it again later he wouldn’t even be able to tell there was an “error.”

His watercolors were flawless to your eye and some evenings you’d start from your sleep to see him painting you, or what you thought was you, in various different settings and surroundings. You only ever saw them then; you pretended to still be asleep and merely peeked from lowered lids to watch your body animate and come to life on the canvas. After those nights, you never saw them again. You wondered where they went but never let on that you had seen him painting you nude – on the beach, in a meadow, on a Ferris wheel.

The pieces where he combined both mediums made your stomach flutter. Mike was so talented; you weren’t even jealous, just proud. Only now and again did you wonder how all of this had come to be. You should have been at home on your computer talking to someone who wasn’t tangible but here you were, snuggled deeply in his black duvet, watching him work diligently up to the last minute on a small piece that was faint and minimal. He was meant to have everything turned in a week ago but your father had come to like him like his parents liked you and all it took was his embarrassed smile at taking so long for your dad to say “that’s alright, you’ll have it done.”

You didn’t know what to expect the night of his art show. He had a few interviews for local art publications, newspapers, and websites to conduct before the opening so you had opted for driving yourself. You were pleased to see a line of patrons outside the gallery and excused yourself as you slipped into the building. Mike had begged you not to look at anything without him there but you expected him to be rather busy that night. Still, you wandered away from the exhibit toward the staff lounge. Mike was there, though, and you halted abruptly outside the open door. Your sneakers squeaked on the linoleum and he looked up from the person he was speaking with to catch sight of your dirty red chucks.

You scarcely heard him excusing himself from the conversation. You didn’t want to interrupt him as you knew this was his big night so you turned to leave and find somewhere else to wait but he was there in a heart beat. He slipped his arms around your waist and pressed you against the wall before taking your lips in a devastating, breathless kiss.

You stayed there for minutes, hours, you don’t know. It seemed to last forever but was not enough. When his slicked lips parted from yours he puffed his heavy breath on your face and rested his forehead against yours. Still pressed to the wall, your chest heaving, you exhaled shakily and threaded your fingers through his thick, soft hair.

“I’ve missed you,” he whispered in a rush and you giggled lowly.

“You saw me last night,” you informed him and flashed a playful smile at him. His eyes were dark, though, and he looked so hungry, so youthful with his sparkling gaze and his reddened lips that you gulped noticeably and your fingers faltered at his nape.

“It’s been like, seventeen hours,” he whined and pressed his hips more firmly to yours.

Your eyes fluttered shut and you allowed him to bow his lips to your neck as you tilted your head back, letting his mouth ravish and dominate all of your pale flesh while you clutched the back of his head in a submissive manner.

There in the staff hallway of your father’s gallery, with someone important enough to have been speaking with Mike almost immediately before his opening just around the corner, he marked and bruised you. His long, trembling fingers tugged the collar of your crisp, button up shirt aside and his lips bit and licked every bare bit of flesh.

You were both panting so heavily that you nearly missed the vibrating of Mike’s phone in his jean pocket. You felt it instead, right against your hip, and whined as you thrust your hips forward. The eager, intensely desperate contact was not unfamiliar to either of you. It seemed that you had done everything but actually have sex. It didn’t bother you, though. You weren’t trying to rush anything. But you could not deny that his phone elicited a heightened response from your body.

“Sorry,” he giggled in a rushed breath and licked his red lips while digging his phone out. You immediately slung your arms around his shoulders and leaned heavily on him as he checked his phone over your shoulder. You were breathing so hard, your body quivering from his fierce touch in such a violent way that he had to all but carry you to another room to calm down.

You sat with him while he spoke to his parents who were, as you gathered from overhearing the conversation, bringing his grandparents and some cousins along as well. You figured perhaps you should be nervous to meet them but in that moment, huddled up against Mike on a couch with his arm around your waist, you felt nothing but confident and secure.

Mike held your hand for most of the evening and if his fingers weren’t linked with yours then they were resting on the small of your back as he led you around. He introduced you to professors and commissioners, writers and editors, family and friends. You were well received. Nobody batted an eye or questioned the way you moved as a couple. If Mike went one way, you went the same. You thought if you had excused yourself to use the restroom Mike would have done that as well.

When he brought you into the second, more intimately sized room of his exhibit, your eyes fluttered in shock. Here were the paintings of you, and they were indeed of you. There was no denying it. If the images themselves were not specific enough then the way in which Mike brought you up to the first painting and slid his arms around your waist from behind would do the trick. You leaned back against his chest as people milled about and bit your lip.

“Loverman?” You asked in a curious tone.

“My mom wouldn’t let me keep it as Manlover,” he said with a smile in his voice.

Your heart fluttered as you looked at yourself. It was a watercolor of you on the beach, presumably nude. It was from behind; your spine curled and your shoulders hunched over your knees drawn up as you faced the ocean, sitting there in the sand. The colors were muted in blues and grays but the intensity was very much alive. The attention to detail was immaculate; you could see the individual disks of your spine and almost reached out to touch the rippled canvas paper.

“Mike,” you breathed in awe, and your eyes fell shut for a moment as his lips grazed the outer shell of your ear. In this moment you were unaware of anything or anyone else. Mike, his hands on you, this painting – they were all that mattered.

“Everyone knows,” he whispered warmly in your ear and you shuddered, your body trembling at the effect he had on you.

“Knows what?” You murmured in return, your eyes still trained on the image. It was simplistic but intricate. It seemed that no matter how long you looked upon it there was still more to be seen.

“That I’m in love with you,” he confessed quietly and you felt your knees buckling.

You didn’t hit the ground, though. Not with Mike keeping you steady, keeping you safe. Not with Mike chuckling deeply in your ear and scooping you back against his chest.

And the following morning when you woke up you knew exactly where you were. This was Mike’s bedroom and he was everywhere to be found. His scent permeated the sheets you were tangled in. His body heat and feather-soft skin was spooning against your back. His flavor soaked on your tongue had made you drunk. The dull, pleasant, throbbing ache you felt at the base of your spine was because of him.

“I’m in love with you too,” you murmured absently as the sun spilled through his blinds and flooded your cheeks.

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