“I can’t believe you put a GPS tracker on my phone!” Jackson snapped. Despite being the middle of the work day and not telling her where he was, his sister had insisted on coming to pick him up from Harold’s and spending the afternoon together. They were sitting across from each other at a restaurant Jackson had been dying to try for months, a little Tunisian place hidden away not far from Lee Circle.
Lyn sighed but didn’t apologize. “I always worry about you, Jacky. And with the break-in, and what happened at the ball. . . . I want to be able to find you if anything happens.”
Jackson snorted, furious, folding his arms on his chest. He didn’t want to get into a shouting match with his sister in the middle of the bustling restaurant. “When did you even have a chance to put that on my—” Jackson’s voice faded away as everything clicked into place. The morning after the krewe party, when Jackson had woken with his hangover to find that crude Braille note from Dan. “Dan.” Jackson grit his teeth, his hand grasping the edge of the paper menu, crumpling it in his fist. “You had Dan download a GPS tracking app onto my phone while I was passed out drunk,” Jackson said coolly. “Do you have any idea how much of an invasion of my privacy that is?”
“Jacky . . .” Lyn’s voice was chastened, quiet, barely audible among the chatter and bustle of the busy lunch rush that surrounded them. “Technically, I just had him activate the built-in feature in your settings. Honestly, you should have already had that set up so you can find your phone if you ever lose it.”
He shook his head, tempted to leave. But he took a deep breath and focused. Lyn loved him. She’d practically raised him. It had to be difficult for her—especially after the break-in—not being around him all the time. Jackson released his death grip on the menu and stretched his hand cautiously across the table, searching for her, relieved when she linked her fingers in his with a gentle squeeze. In a level voice, Jackson said, “I love you, and I love that you worry about me. But I’m an adult. I know how to take care of myself. And I have Molly. And modern technology,” Jackson said, waving his phone with his free hand.
“And you have Dan?” Lyn asked uncertainly. They hadn’t spoken about him since Jackson revealed the other man was engaged to a woman.
Jackson sighed. He didn’t want to say “it’s complicated,” because that’s exactly what Dan had initially told him, and that had hurt more than any lie. “I slept with him, even though I know he’s engaged,” Jackson admitted. “I’m such an idiot.”
Lyn squeezed Jackson’s hand tightly. “You’re not, Jacky.”
“I am. I am when it comes to guys.” How else do you explain Benji? Jackson wanted to add, but he bit his lip and kept it in.
Lyn shifted her grip on Jackson’s hand so she could rub her thumb over his skin in a soothing gesture. “Dan’s very attractive, and you’re lonely.”
“And pathetic?” Jackson added with a weak laugh.
“Dan lied about his fiancee, so I have no idea what else he could be hiding.”
“The human lie detector can’t be sure if someone’s telling the truth?” Lyn teased, perhaps hoping to brighten Jackson’s mood a bit.
Jackson managed a faint smile, but that was all. Growing up, it had infuriated Lyn how her brother always knew when she was fibbing, just by the way her breathing changed. “I’ve suspected all along there was more to him than that laid back persona, but other than lying about his engagement, Dan has been nothing but nice to me.” Jackson wanted to admit to how sweet and protective his roommate could be, but he felt embarrassed. The last thing he needed was to support his sister’s fears that he couldn’t safely live independently.
“You like him, though. Really like him.”
Jackson felt his cheeks heat and dropped his head, nodding. “I want to be with him like I haven’t wanted anyone since Benji,” Jackson admitted. “But—”
“Thank you,” Lyn said, her voice directed away from him, and that’s when Jackson realized their waiter had approached, the blur of movement to his side and then in front of him, followed by a clink of a bowl as it was set on the table between them.
“Enjoy,” the man said.
The smell of garlic and butter wafted up, and Jackson’s mouth watered. “The mussels?”
“Yep. I’ll serve you some.” Jackson listened to the subtle click clack of shells as his sister placed the blur of dark gray on what had to be small plates. “Put out your hand. Here.”
Jackson accepted the plate when she pushed it into his grip, setting it in front of him. He’d been dreaming about these ever since reading the reviews raving how delicious they were.
“There’s bread, too,” Lyn explained. “The mussels are sitting in this bowl with that broth at the bottom. I want to just pick it up and drink the whole thing down.”
Jackson laughed, relaxing a bit as he imagined coming here with Dan. The thought made him smile, but also sigh. “I like Dan, but even if he broke off his engagement, it would never work between us. I can never understand his passion. You can’t feel a photograph. Touch means nothing in a 2D medium like that.” Jackson looked down at his food, and while the smell was heavenly, his appetite had fled. “It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like I’m . . .” Jackson shook his head and slid his hand along the table to find his shellfish fork so he could finally try his food.
“Felt like you’re what, Jacky?” Lyn asked, though her tone suggested she knew exactly what he was going to say.
Jackson tried to let it go, holding a mussel with one hand while he felt around with the fork in the other to work it into the shell. Once he could tell he’d found the meat, he sunk the fork into it and pulled, promptly popping it into his mouth. It was a delectable mix of wine, butter, garlic, and the innate flavor of the sea from the mussel, all blended together into one of the best things Jackson had ever tasted. And yet it might as well have been bland, his heart heavy.
“Like what,” Lyn insisted. “Jacky,” she added, pleading.
Jackson sighed heavily. “Like I’m less.” His voice was clipped, and his chest ached. He remembered why he had no friends, why his only real relationship was Benji, and he wasn’t so blind as to realize how unhealthy and one-sided it had been. Jackson said he wanted a relationship, and yet he kept fucking men who weren’t at all interested in more than getting off. Jackson was naturally introverted, but lately he was realizing he used his lack of sight as an excuse to pull away from everyone except Lyn.
“Jacky,” Lyn said sympathetically, and he heard the screech of her chair being pushed out, then a moment later the soft thump as she fell into the one beside him and wrapped her arms around him. She held him tight even though he resisted her at first, not giving up, and eventually he melted into her touch and hugged her back, resting his head against hers and inhaling her comforting, familiar scent. “Does this have anything to do with what you said on the phone?” Lyn asked as she leaned back, although she kept her arms on his. “About how Dad . . . died because of you?”
Jackson pulled away. “We should eat. The food will get cold.”
Lyn guided his face back to her, cradling it. “Then we’ll order another bowl.” She brushed her hand over his hair down to the back of his neck, then up until she was cradling his cheek, her thumb smoothing across his skin in a supportive caress. “Jacky.” His name was said as if it were an entire paragraph, holding so much in just that one nickname. When she realized he wasn’t going to say anything, she spoke again. “Each of us is only responsible for our own actions. No one else’s. What Dad did had nothing to do with you, OK? He loved you. He may not have been good at showing it openly, but he wanted you to be able to do whatever you wanted to. And you have. Despite all the people who said you couldn’t do it, you have a PhD and a teaching position. That’s something you should be proud of. You’re not ‘less.’ Different, maybe, but different can be beautiful. If you like Dan so much, then make him see that. Talk to him.” Lyn kissed his forehead and then leaned her head against it for a moment before pulling back again. “And if he hurts you, if he makes you doubt yourself, then I don’t care if he’s three times my size. He’ll regret it.”
Jackson smiled. Lyn never failed to make him feel better. He decided then and there that he wouldn’t use his blindness as an excuse to give into his introverted nature. He wouldn’t retreat from the world. And he wouldn’t give up on Dan.
The house was quiet when Lyn and Jackson arrived. Initially, she was just going to drop him off, but perhaps she sensed that even a few weeks post break-in, Jackson still felt uneasy being home alone, so she followed him inside, saying, “I’ll make some coffee.”
Jackson wrinkled his nose. “I thought you weren’t going to risk it.”
Lyn sighed. “Yeah, my OB-GYN said with my age and history, I would be better off avoiding it, at least until I’m into my second trimester. I miss it sooo much, though,” she said melodramatically as they entered the kitchen. “Do you know how hard it is being a lawyer who can’t have caffeine?”
Jackson chuckled, and beckoned his sister with his head tilted and lips pursed, asking for her to approach him so he could give her a hug and a peck without having to find her. “Thank you for lunch,” Jackson said truthfully as he squeezed her and rubbed his nose against her cheek, making her giggle from the tickle. He felt reassured that no matter what the outcome of his conversation with Dan, he could at least get answers from the man.
“I’ll make some anyway. You can drink it and I can smell it and live vicariously.”
Jackson shook his head, smiling. “Fine. I’ll go let Molly out. Be right back.” Jackson unhooked Molly’s harness and had her follow him through the living room, walking his usual path until he reached the door that slid open to the back yard. Molly barked in joyous anticipation, and as soon as she could, she rushed outside. Jackson laughed as he could hear her running around, barking and playing and just being a dog. The weather was pleasant, the humidity lower than normal, but it was still relatively warm for late winter. Jackson closed his eyes and inhaled the familiar scents of grass, chlorine from the neighbor’s pool, and the aroma of someone barbecuing not too far away. The blend of smells combined with the weather brought a sudden seemingly forgotten memory to his mind.
Jackson lay stretched out on a cushioned chaise lounge, a warm breeze brushing over the exposed skin on his arms and face. It brought with it the scent of chlorine from a neighboring pool, grass and new leaves struggling in the midst of a particularly warm winter afternoon, fooled into believing spring had come at last. Above those familiar aromas was that of meat grilling nearby, the sizzle faint but audible to Jackson’s attuned ears. But above that was the low murmur of conversation several feet away. Jackson tried to focus on what the men were saying, but his brain felt foggy and his body heavy, and it took him awhile to push through the murk to even identify the speakers.
The first, in a deep, grating voice that never seemed to shed its condescension was Harold, an up-and-coming krewe member Jackson despised but whom his father seemed to tolerate for reasons unknown. Typical to the man, he was complaining about being excluded from the court again this season and was irritated that he’d come all this way for nothing.
The second man was more patient, his voice a warm baritone that somehow managed to be both placating and filled with a barely masked derision Harold seemed to miss. Unmistakably Jackson’s father. “Harry, relax. You’ve already risen faster through the hierarchy than any other non-legacy I’ve ever seen. I’m sure we can work something out so everyone is happy. For now, let’s just enjoy a pleasant afternoon as friends. I was hoping to talk business unrelated to the krewe. The food will be ready soon.”
Harold’s frown dripped from every word. “Are you sure it’s wise to have a discussion like that with him here?”
Even with the drugs dampening his brain, Jackson knew Harold was referring to him.
“He’s asleep. And pretty heavily medicated.” His father didn’t mention it, but Jackson was taking a higher dose of muscle relaxants and even narcotics to manage his increasing pain levels. He loathed how they made him feel, but eventually he had to concede defeat, willing to accept almost any side effect for a few hours’ relief. “He needs that surgery, but . . .” Jackson wasn’t used to his father speaking with any hesitancy. Or emotion that wasn’t feigned. It was possible he was manipulating Harold, and Jackson was fighting the pull of the drugs, so he couldn’t be certain.
“Even if I can convince him, I’m embarrassed to admit I can’t afford it. The surgery cost is one thing; it’s the hospital stay and rehab, plus orthotics, most of which my insurance won’t cover.”
Harold seemed amused when he spoke, “Wouldn’t a wheelchair be cheaper?”
The bite in the response surprised Jackson. “Navigating a wheelchair as a blind person is extremely difficult.”
Harold’s reply was casual and flippant. “Then just have someone push him. You can’t honestly expect anything of him.”
“He’s my only son. Regardless of his condition,” Jackson’s father said, his words barbed as if they could physically wound Harold.
“I apologize,” Harold said as if he were simply appeasing and not at all sorry. “If money is the issue, I have the perfect investment opportunity. Have you heard of Labranche?”
The memory sat like a hollow pit in Jackson’s stomach. He did not like to recall high school, especially the couple years before his surgery, during his rehab, and surrounding his father’s sudden death. The fact that Harold had popped up only soured his mood further.
He left Molly outside and made his way back to the kitchen, the scent of freshly brewed coffee wafting toward him. The memory and his earlier visit to Harold’s plagued his thoughts. “Hey, Lyn?”
“I’m here. At the coffee maker. I’ll pour you a cup.”
Jackson sank into a seat at the table, happily accepting the mug when she placed it in his hands. “Does the name . . .” Jackson’s voice trailed off as he struggled to remember.
The door opened, startling Jackson so much he jumped. He felt his sister reach over and squeeze his forearm, and he knew she was worried from the way her breathing had shifted.
“Oh. Hey. Lyn. Jackson.” Dan’s voice had that usual carefree lilt to it, although it halted a bit on the blind man’s name.
Jackson decided to ignore him. “Anyway, Lyn, I was wondering—”
“Uh, I’ll be in my room, I guess.”
Jackson waited for the thunder that was Dan’s footsteps to fade before he continued. “Labranche. That’s the name. Do you know it?”
Lyn stopped breathing for a moment, though her voice belied that anything was wrong. Clearly, she was hiding something. “Why are you asking about that now?”
“Harold mentioned it and I know I’ve heard it before. I thought you might recognize it.”
“I do,” Lyn said cautiously. “Before he died, Dad invested in an oil well with that name.” Jackson hung on his sister’s words, expecting more, but instead he heard her rise from her chair. “I need to get back to the office. Take care of yourself. Remember, I’m only a phone call away if you need me. Don’t forget what we talked about,” she added pointedly.
“Yes, mother,” Jackson whined, though he smiled when she embraced him from behind and planted a kiss on his head.
“I’ll lock the door.”
Jackson waved in that direction, grateful for his sister’s reassurance on that front, even if her answer to his question still left him unsettled. Maybe she wasn’t being cagey, and she really did have to get back to work. Perhaps it wasn’t a quick explanation.
“Labranche. That’s a play in the bayou down by the German Coast,” Dan said.
Jackson had been so caught up in his thoughts he hadn’t heard the large man re-enter the kitchen, and it made him tense all over again.
Perhaps Dan could see the irritation radiating off Jackson, because he lightened his steps—possibly walking on tiptoe—and said apologetically, “Sorry. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. Thought I could nab a cup of coffee. I recognized the name ‘cause growing up, I stayed over by there and all the men in my family work the rigs.” The clatter of cabinets, the clink-clunk of a mug being set on the counter, pouring of liquid, followed by the shake of sugar and tinkle of a spoon as Dan prepared his coffee. Jackson was still hurt, but he found the larger man’s presence soothing. “I’ll get out of your hair.”
“No. Stay.” Jackson sighed. He was tempted to pull his fingers through his hair but stopped himself at the last minute. “We should talk.” Jackson didn’t wait for Dan to sit before he said, “Why did you sleep with me if you’re engaged to a woman? I won’t be your dick on the side while you live the easy, het life.”
Dan sunk into his chair heavily, his coffee sloshing in the mug but not enough to spill, since Jackson didn’t hear it splash or drip, or a hiss of pain as hot liquid landed on skin. “It’s a long story.”
“I have time,” Jackson said tightly
A pause, and then Dan let out a puff of air. “I nodded. I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever stop doing that.”
That made Jackson smile. It was so very “Dan,” and despite the weight of their upcoming conversation and all the uncertainty in his life right now, it comforted him. “Go ahead. I’m listening.”
“As I said before, I’m from a little speck on the map on the German Coast southwest of here.”
“Explains the last name and the accent.”
Dan let out a surprised noise.
Jackson smiled, tracing around his mug, liking the way the heat felt in his fingertips. “You hide it well most of the time, but it’s there, in the background. I knew as soon as you opened your mouth you weren’t from New Orleans proper.”
“Can’t get anything past you,” Dan said with fondness, his Acadian accent slipping through more noticeably, and Jackson wasn’t sure if it was intentional or not. “Anyway, heavy stuff happened when I was in high school and I realized I had to break free from my hometown, so I did the unheard of for a Cajun and hitchhiked to New Orleans. Made my own life here.” Although Jackson heard a hint of a smile when he joked about leaving, his words fell like stones. It could have been Jackson projecting his own troubled high school years, but he suspected the “stuff” that had caused Dan to leave was really bad. Jackson decided he would press Dan on it later, if there was a later and this conversation didn’t destroy any chance of a relationship between them—platonic or otherwise.
“That must have been hard,” Jackson realized. He’d been fortunate to have Lyn to support him throughout his darkest times, and he knew even if they no longer lived under the same roof he would never be alone so long as he had her.
Dan blew air from his nose as his assent. “I was twelve when I first realized I liked men,” Dan said in a voice so quiet Jackson might have suspected it was someone else speaking if he didn’t know for sure they were alone. “My family is very Catholic and very blue collar. And very traditional.”
“That’s why you left.”
Dan’s fingers scratched at the surface of the table, restless. He didn’t answer.
Jackson was tempted to make a snide comment about Dan using Wendy as his beard—a ploy to appear straight—but then he remembered the pained longing in the other man’s voice when he’d admitted Jackson was lucky never to have lived in the closet. So instead, he let out a long breath and slid his fingertips along the table edge. When he finally found Dan’s arm, he laid his hand on top.
“I slept with plenty of guys once I was here, on my own, but the truth is, that was just me, still running away.” Dan laughed, but there was no mirth in it. “But then I met Wendy, and we became friends, and one night we were watching movies and eating Chinese and she kissed me. It was the first time I’d kissed a woman since I was in middle school, and it wasn’t as terrible as I remembered. I thought, ‘Maybe I can do this.’” Dan attempted to scratch again, and Jackson pressed down harder, finally encouraging the other man to accept his comfort. They linked fingers, and Dan sighed, his breath sounding like he was exhaling some of his tension.
Dan sipped some of his coffee before continuing, “We ended up engaged. It felt like a way for me to rewrite the past. To escape this chain that had been weighing me down half my life.” Dan was quiet for a moment, but his breathing pattern changed, sounding almost like how Lyn’s did right before she started crying. Jackson doubted the larger man was near tears, but he was upset. It almost made Jackson feel guilty for forcing him to divulge the truth. Dan inhaled sharply and continued speaking, anguish leaking into his voice, though it was subtle, and someone with less attuned hearing might have missed it. “Wendy and I get along. And she agreed to wait until we got married. It felt like things were perfect.”
Jackson felt his own sadness grow. He could never have a relationship with a woman, not like that, and from the sound of things, Dan wasn’t bisexual. It made Jackson’s own feelings swirl in a distracting torrent: if his father had lived, would he have forced Jackson to marry a woman so that the Santoro name would continue? The idea made Jackson shiver and sympathize with Dan despite his lies. “But you weren’t happy.”
Dan huffed, almost like he was trying and failing to laugh. “I told myself I was. That I didn’t miss the feel of a cock in my hand or in my mouth, and I tried to convince myself that anal with Wendy couldn’t be too different from some of the twinks I’d fucked.”
Jackson laughed, unable to control himself despite the seriousness of the conversation. “Women feel totally different than men. Even a waxed guy doesn’t feel the same. Our bodies are different. Our skin is different. Our hair grows in different and lays different. Women smell nothing like we do, even without cologne or shampoo in the way. The deepest woman’s voice can’t compare to the highest man’s purr, and—”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it,” Dan said, though his voice betrayed that he was in a slightly lighter mood. “Even blind you couldn’t fuck a chick. Yeah, well, I was blinding myself by hoping. Then Wendy took me to this early New Year’s holiday party some artist she knew was having. We both drank too much, got frisky, and by the time we got home, Wendy decided she didn’t want to wait anymore. I hadn’t had sex in months and thought this was my chance to prove to myself that I could do this. Since I left home, I was able to achieve everything I wanted, and I decided sex with Wendy would be no different.”
Jackson hummed, flipping Dan’s hand over and drawing circles on the large palm with his thumb. “But you couldn’t.”
“No,” Dan said, his voice hoarse. “Her body is beautiful, and I would love to photograph it, but I didn’t want her.” Dan’s words struck Jackson, reminding him of how the larger man had insisted it wasn’t Wendy he wanted, but Jackson. Dan sighed heavily. “I tried, though. She tried. But I couldn’t get it up without touch—stimulation is stimulation, right? I never got fully hard, and I couldn’t stay that way long. I tried to tell her I had drunk too much, or I was a virgin and nervous and we could try again another day, but she must have seen the way I looked at her. Like I wished desperately she were someone else. She decided it was because she wasn’t attractive enough. She was hurt, and she kicked me out. Very dramatically.”
Jackson pulled to draw Dan closer, arm out, hunting for the man’s face. Draped his hand so it lay on Dan’s cheek, his thumb searching for lips. Jackson brushed the pad over them, and with that to orient himself, he kissed Dan, light, chaste. Jackson dipped his head until their foreheads met, leaning against each other. “Being who you are isn’t a sin.”
Jackson heard the smile in Dan’s voice as he spoke. “Being with you made me realize that. It’s been a really long time since someone made me so comfortable that I didn’t care about whether or not what I was doing was right or wrong. I just wanted to be with you. So of course I fucked that up.”
Jackson shook his head without breaking their touch. “You need to come clean with Wendy. If she really cares about you, she’ll forgive you.”
Dan sighed heavily. “You make me reckless,” he admitted. “If the school found out I was gay, they’d fire me. Morality clause. I already had to be careful living with Wendy without being married. I know it’s not a glamorous position, but I really like teaching. And not many high schools around here have photography. I don’t have an MFA so no college will have me.”
Jackson smoothed his fingers through Dan’s short hair, tracing the shell of his ear so lightly he felt the other man shiver and sigh in contentment. “I want to be with you, Dan. But I’ve never been in the closet and I don’t—I have to be myself. Being gay, disabled and blind isn’t easy, but life’s hard enough without fighting myself in addition to the world around me.”
Dan sighed softly again. This time he cupped Jackson’s face, brushing his thumb under the smaller man’s eye, being gentle in case the area was still sore. “That’s why I lo—like you so much. You’re totally unapologetic. It’s admirable and freeing.”
Jackson shifted his glasses so they rested on the top of his head, staring at where he guessed the other man’s eyes must be. And he kissed Dan, soft at first, then with more heat, and the larger man opened his mouth, accepting Jackson’s lead. Jackson’s hands cradled Dan’s jaw, feeling it move as their tongues battled each other. Jackson couldn’t get enough of Dan, the tickle of stubble against fingertips; his smell, heady and masculine; his taste, coffee with just a hint of sweetness. Jackson moaned, leaning in with such force he felt the hum of Dan’s chuckle just before large arms wrapped around the smaller man to secure him.
Jackson barely paused to breathe, his heart thrumming as warmth blossomed in his chest. He could feel Dan’s sadness now, that which had been hiding behind his roommate’s normally laid-back joviality. And Jackson was even more determined to meet it, to share his own aching loneliness, the isolation he’d felt from years as an outsider.
Dan moaned, a low keening sound that sent a spark to the base of Jackson’s spine, electrifying his entire body. They each took a breath, barely pausing the kiss, and Dan nipped at Jackson’s tongue before sucking on it softly, occasionally running the tip of his along the bottom, distracting Jackson so much he gave up, finally submitting. He felt as if he were floating, as if Dan were sucking away all of the chaos that Jackson had been wading through lately, the reminder of the pain caused by his father, the worry over losing more of his sight, and the betrayal of Dan’s lies.
Finally, dizzy, Jackson pulled away, heaving and gasping and trying to reconnect himself with the world. But he didn’t let go, and neither did Dan, the two of them touching foreheads and noses, panting from the euphoria of the kiss. Jackson’s cock pressed painfully against the fabric of his jeans, begging for more.
“Wow,” Dan said, voice low and breathy and so sexy it should be illegal in several states, “If I had known you could kiss like that I would have let you lead a long time ago.”
Jackson chuckled, still breathing heavily. He opened his eyes slowly, the blur of Dan’s face in front of him, and he gave into his urge to explore it with both hands, the ridge of his eyebrows, the slope of his nose, the arch of his cheek bones, all of it as if trying to commit it to memory. “How can I trust you?” Jackson said, his voice a whisper, his pain leaking into it.
Dan made a sound, almost like he’d been struck, and then he took a deep breath. He started to pull away but resisted, letting Jackson’s sensitive fingers roam over his face as if he could feel if what Dan said next was honest. “Date me.”
Jackson paused. “What?”
“I don’t just want to fuck you,” Dan explained. “I want to be with you.”
Jackson finally dropped his hands. He slid his fingers along the table until he found his mug and lifted it to his lips to take a few cautious sips. It was cold. “What about Wendy? And your job?”
Jackson heard Dan move, and soon he was gently stroking the side of the smaller man’s face from temple to jaw, his touch so light it made Jackson shiver. “I’m beginning to realize you’re worth the risk.”
Jackson frowned and turned his head to break the touch. He desperately wanted to be with Dan too, but the hurt lingered in his chest, that Dan would choose that woman over him, that he might only want Jackson for what his name could buy. That his motives weren’t pure. Perhaps his sob story was nothing more than that. Perhaps Dan was a good actor. “You’re sure it’s not my name, my krewe that you want?”
Dan let out a long sigh. “I suppose I deserve that. Date me. Get to know me. We can take a few steps back. Hold off on sex. Whatever you want. You can take the reins until I can prove myself to you.”
Part of Jackson still warned against falling into a honey trap, but the rest of him heard nothing but sincerity in Dan’s words. “Pulling a Wendy on me?”
Dan laughed, low and luscious. “I’m obviously not against sex with you, but I want more than that. I want all of you.”
“Even if I can’t see? Even if my eyesight gets worse? Even if I can never appreciate your art?”
Dan’s hands cradled Jackson’s face again, thumbs rubbing gently against the skin of his cheeks. “I can’t force you to ‘appreciate’ it, but I will do everything I can to help you see things the way I do, as long as you promise to do the same for me. I don’t want to change you, Jackson. I want you to change me. You already have.”
Jackson scoffed, although he remembered their day in the Quarter, how hard Dan had tried to understand Jackson and to help him experience things he had always assumed were out of his reach. How Dan’s description of his photo still echoed in Jackson’s mind and heart as powerfully as if he had been able to experience it directly through his own senses.
Jackson closed his eyes. Took a breath. As if he were about to fall into deep, dark water. “Promise you won’t hurt me.” It was silly and school-girl-esque, and Dan could easily lie, but Jackson needed to hear it.
Dan kissed Jackson, keeping it chaste and yet it was as if he were trying to meld them into one. A soft sigh. “Promise.”