Calling Your Bluff
by Saxon James
Zane Four years ago, I met Liam Holdsworthy. Hot, snarky, and hiding behind a sadness I couldn’t place. I wanted him, even back then. There were only two problems. One, I was deeply closeted. And two, he was dating my best friend. Now I’m retired from the NFL and openly out, there’s nothing to stop me from getting my gay on. When Liam comes back into my life, and I find out he’s single, I’ll find any reason to spend time with him. That’s how I created a list of gay first experiences I coax him into helping me with. But I don’t just want his help. I still want him.
Liam After leaving a long-term relationship with a closeted NFL player, I went through a string of guys trying to find the one. None of them were boyfriend material, let alone the forever type. I’m looking for a guy to come home to. Someone serious and down to earth. I’m definitely not looking for Cooper Zane. Yet, I can’t shake him, and not only because I’m helping him with his big bi bucket list. Every time I see him is like a shot of adrenaline to my system, and I’m always left wanting more. I need Mr. Serious, and Cooper’s the least serious person I’ve met. He’s newly out. He’s never had a relationship. And most importantly, he may be retired, but he’s not done with football. He’ll do anything to get it all back. And I’m not prepared to be relegated to the sidelines ever again.
Seeing the way Liam’s face lights up when we meet has me brimming with unearned confidence. I pull him into a quick, one-armed hug, wishing I could feel him against me a little longer, before we turn to the menu. “I’m starving.”
“You must work up an appetite getting all sweaty with those hot football players.”
“Hey,” I say warningly, pointing at his face. “Enough from you. I’m the only player you’re allowed to think is hot.” He blinks at me innocently.
“I thought you said you weren’t a player anymore?”
“Still stands,” I grumble as he steps forward to order a hamburger. I almost snort. That’s barely an appetizer. After I order a double with everything we stand off to the side and wait. He’s quiet, but there’s a soft smile curling the corners of his lips that I’m sure I can get to follow through. “I wonder what will happen right here, exactly one hundred years from now.”
His eyebrows jump. “Right here?”
“Yeah, in this exact spot. Will people still be waiting on burgers? Will it be a park? An underground sinkhole? Will people be chilling on hover boards, or will they beam the food to wherever they are?” I finally look over at him. And I was right, the a smile has split his face.
“Maybe aliens,” he adds. “Or a meteor.”
“Or nothing.” I really, really shouldn’t smile at the concept of nothing.
“That took a turn. You have a dark mind in that pretty head.”
“We can’t all be perpetual sunshine.”
“Eh.” I run a hand through my hair. “I’ve had my fair share of storms.” Our orders are called which thankfully derails that line of conversation. Last year was the hardest one of my life. First Mom’s cancer, then my ankle. I’m determined never to go through something like that again. “Tell me about your job,” I say. Hanging out with Liam is way more fun and interesting than I would have guessed. And even as I get to know him better, the pedestal I’ve put him on keeps getting higher.
We find a table and chairs outside the burger place and take a seat in the late afternoon sun. “Ah. My job.” His tone gives me pause.
“I thought you liked it?”
“I do, it’s… I thought I’d be getting a promotion to lead teacher last year, and I was passed over.”
“Wow, that sucks. Why did you think you’d get it?”
“I’ve been at the same middle school for a while now and passed all my reviews. My students do really well, and I know I can manage the extra work. But it wasn’t even mentioned.” He takes a bite of his hamburger and pulls a face. “Argh, no cheese.”
“You didn’t ask for cheese.”
“I thought it came with it.” I don’t point out it wasn’t on the menu.
“So. Lead teacher. Did you bring it up at your review?”
“It’s not up to me to bring it up.” His words are clipped, like they usually are when he’s on the defensive. And yes, I find it ridiculously cute—like a Chihuahua trying to take on a Great Dane—but this time I bite my tongue. There’ve been a few times lately when Liam has mentioned something he’s not happy with, and every time I get him to explain, it becomes clear to me that his expectations are what’s letting him down.
Going on a date? He expects to meet the perfect man. Wanting a promotion? He assumes people will know he’s interested. Orders a burger… “Okay then,” I say.
“Anyway, the promotion thing sucks, but I’m excited to meet my classes this year. Seventh grade is such a good age. They’re not quite old enough to be jaded and still young enough to make an impression on. It feels important, you know?”
“Aww, listen to you.” And I make sure it sounds like I’m teasing, but I need to swallow to shift the lump in my throat. He’s adorable when he talks about things he’s passionate about. And it serves to remind me I’m not passionate about anything anymore.
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Saxon James is an author from Australia who’s obsessed with writing queer characters. She has a range of books from YA to adult and they all have one thing in common: swoony, sweet love. When not writing, Saxon exists on a diet of coffee and chocolate while putting her KU subscription to the test.
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