Nick Bell stared at his phone as he shifted on his bed in his room. “Not gay,” he muttered to himself. “He has sequins on his costume.” He thought about deleting the comment, but others were already responding to it, coming after FireStoned with a vengeance, so he decided to leave it up. Whoever FireStoned was, they’d learn fast that one absolutely did not comment on a ShadowStar744 fic like that. After all, Nick was one of the most popular writers in the Extraordinaries fandom (even if he’d had to use the screen name of ShadowStar744 since Shadowstar1–743 were already taken, those bastards), and slash would always be more popular than the hetero nonsense FireStoned seemed to want. Straight people, Nick thought as he shook his head. He’d never understand them.
The other forty-two comments, though. They weren’t too shabby. Especially for a shorter chapter that ended on the thirty-second cliffhanger in a row. Thank god his fans understood. They were the only reason he’d continued writing what could be considered a quarter-of-a-million-word masturbatory ode to Shadow Star. Without them, the fic probably would have ended a long time ago, or worse, been one of those unfinished works that turned into a cautionary tale for new people in the fandom. He could deal with the occasional idiot like FireStoned.
He switched over to Tumblr and reblogged a few things, thumb twitching over a rather risqué drawing of Shadow Star in an evocative pose that was both physically impossible and erotic, but decided against it. Ever since his dad had discovered what Tumblr was and that his son had accidentally posted a drawing that apparently no one under the age of eighteen should be looking at, he’d kept things clean. It was the only way that Dad had let him keep his Tumblr page at all, even after the powers that be decided showing something as inconsequential as nipples could be considered pornography. That, and his dad had demanded the password. Nick had nightmares of his father logging on himself and posting to all of Nick’s followers that he’d be grounded if anything remotely explicit showed up on his page again, just like he’d threatened to do.
Nick had been mortified.
Which, of course, was made worse when Dad frowned, and as if it were an afterthought, said, “Also, I feel like we need to discuss how it’s a naked man on your page, Nicky. Unless it’s just supposed to be artistic. I don’t get art.”
What Nick said next weren’t words, not really. They were a combination of sounds better suited to a nature documentary on the mating habits of elks in the Pacific Northwest. His brain had shorted out as he’d tried to come up with a logical explanation as to why he’d decided to reblog a picture of Shadow Star with a comically large bulge that made him look like he needed to seek medical attention immediately.
His father waited.
Finally, Nick said, “Yeah. So. Um.”
And Dad said, “Right. Have you had sex?”
“No, Dad, oh my god, why would you even—”
“Do you know what condoms are?”
“Yes, Dad, oh my god, I know what condoms are—”
“Good. That means you’ll use them if, and when, you decide to have sex. Which won’t be for a very long time.”
“Yes, Dad, oh my— I mean no, I’m not having sex, why would you even say that?”
“If it were with a girl, I’d be telling you the same thing. Wrap it, Nicky. Always wrap it before you stick it anywhere.” He tilted his head and squinted at his only son. “Or if it’s stuck in you. It don’t matter to me one way or another. What’s that called? Bottoming? I don’t care if you’re a bottom or the other one. Use protection.”
Nick had gone into a full-blown meltdown: synapses firing, eyes bulging, breath caught in his chest as he started to hyperventilate. His father had been there, of course, as he always was when Nick lost his mind a little bit. He sat next to Nick, wrapping an arm around his shoulders and waiting until his son’s head started to clear.
They didn’t say much after that. Bell men weren’t the greatest when it came to feelings, but Aaron Bell had made it clear, perverts were everywhere, and that while some of the people Nick interacted with online might be nice, they might also be men in their late forties still living in their mothers’ basements, waiting to lure in an unsuspecting sixteen-year-old for nefarious deeds like making their victims into hand puppets or wearing their skin.
And while Nick didn’t think that would happen to him, he wasn’t sure. He was a cop’s kid. He knew the statistics, had grown up hearing stories of some of the terrible things Dad had seen on patrol. He didn’t want to end up as someone’s hand puppet, so he didn’t reblog porn anymore, no matter how tasteful it was.
(Which meant he’d also had to scrub his other Tumblr page which was considerably more adult, but the less said about that one, the better.)
And that was how he’d come out to his father at the age of fifteen.
Because of Extraordinary porn.
He’d been so young, then, so naïve. He was sixteen now. A man. Perhaps he was a man who once bought a pillow off Etsy with Shadow Star’s face on it. He had tracked the delivery at the top of every hour, making sure that the moment it was on their doorstep, he was the one who got to the door first. It wasn’t that he was embarrassed by it (even if it was now hidden under his bed), it was just … there’d be a lot of questions, and Nick hadn’t been in the mood to answer said questions.
(It does need to be said that three days after receiving the pillow, he kissed it—even though he knew it wasn’t exactly normal.)
But Nick was still a man. He’d promised to make good decisions this new school year, a clean slate for both of them. New day, new dawn, blah, blah, blah.
He was shoving his feet into his beat-up Chucks when there was a knock at the door. That too had been part of their agreement. Nick would be trusted to have his door closed if he was responsible enough to do his own laundry so his father wouldn’t see any evidence that Nick had been … exploring himself. Nick loved his dad, but his singular talent for making Nick’s life excruciating was something that needed to be addressed.
“Breakfast,” Dad called through the door. “You better be getting ready, Nicky.”
Nick rolled his eyes. “I am.”
“Uh-huh. Stop your Tumblring and get your butt downstairs. French toast waits for no man.”
“Be right there. And it’s not Tumblring, you philistine. God, it’s like you don’t know anything at all.”
He heard his dad’s footsteps retreat down the hall toward the stairs. The floorboards squeaked, something they’d talked about fixing for years. But that was … well. That was Before. When things had been right as rain and everything had made sense. Sure, his dad had worked too much back then too, but she’d always been there to rein him in, telling him in no uncertain terms that he would be home for dinner at least three times a week, and they would eat as a family. She didn’t ask for much, she pointed out. But it was understood by all that she wasn’t asking.
Dad still worked too much.
Nick pushed himself off the bed. He turned his phone to vibrate (muttering about Tumblring under his breath) and crossed the room to his desk to slip it into his backpack.
She was there on his desk, as she always was, trapped in a photograph. She smiled at him, and it hurt, even now. Nick suspected it always would, at least a little bit. But it wasn’t the ragged, gaping hole it’d been two years ago, or even the constant ache of last year. Seth, Jazz, and Gibby didn’t walk on eggshells around him anymore like they thought he’d burst out crying at the slightest mention of moms.
Dad had taken the photo. It’d been on one of their summer trips out of the city. They’d gone to the coast of Maine to this little cottage by the sea. It’d been weirdly cold, and the beach had been rocks instead of sand, but it’d been … nice. Nick had moaned about being away from his friends, that there wasn’t even any Wi-Fi, and could his parents possibly be any more barbaric? His father laughed, and his mother patted his hand, telling him he’d survive.
He hadn’t been too sure about that.
But then, he’d been thirteen, and so of course he’d been overly dramatic. Puberty was a bitch, causing his voice to break along with a group of zits that had decided to nest against the side of his nose. He was gawky and awkward and had hair sprouting everywhere, so it was in his very nature to be overly dramatic.
Only later did Nick find out his father had taken the photo.
Copyright © 2020 by Travis Klune