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The whole thing started with Sunshine. That's Gerry Bertier's belief and he's sticking to it come hell or high water. After practice one day the boy up and kissed him. On the lips. Like a girl even. And if he hadn't been in such a sorry state of shock he'd have punched him as soon as their mouths met. He wasn't expecting that, you know. To be dipped like a female dance partner and actually kissed. It's just...How does a guy recover his manhood after that? Everyone just laughed and joked and carried on like it was nothing. Nothing to be kissed by another guy. Who just happened to be really, really pretty. In the locker room. After football practice. It was confusing as hell is what it was.

But what happened after Sunshine? Now that's a whole other story.

Gerry looked over at Julius as he waited for his cousin to pick him up that day, feeling embarrassed but needing to know. "Why you think he did it?" he asked quickly before his courage could leave him.

"Huh?" Julius had already forgotten about it. Gerry wasn't sure what that said about him that he couldn't.

"Sunshine?" He didn't elaborate, hoping the other teenager would get what he was saying.

Julius cocked his head, responding with, "You serious?" As if somehow surprised Gerry was still thinking about it.

"Yeah, man. I mean, you know, it just don't make no sense. I look queer to you?"

Julius looked into his eyes, then at his mouth. "Maybe he just thought you had nice lips...," he said curiously.

Gerry didn't get a chance to find out what he meant by that. His ride showed up right at that moment, calling his name. He waved casually and got in the car, smirking at Gerry as they drove off. It took a second for Gerry to realize he was touching his lips, that Julius had seen him do it. He pulled his fingers away but it was too late. And it didn't help the situation in the least. Because now Gerry was wondering why Julius had said it. Wondering if he'd stepped into some other world where it was okay for guys to kiss each other without repercussions.

When he got home he ate dinner with his mama and finished his homework like a good boy, but he couldn't stop himself from checking out his mouth in mirrors every time an opportunity presented itself. Now that his attention had been drawn to them, he stared at the firm, full lips, considering them. Sunshine had kissed them like he'd been wanting to do so since he first stepped foot on the field at camp. And Julius...

He figured no one needed to know that his dreams that night featured a lot of kissing. And not all of it between him and his girl Emma. Sunshine made a brief appearance as well. Interestingly, so did Julius. Only when he turned up Gerry forgot all about the other two. And the dreams took on a deliberate, hazy quality that was so fine Gerry woke up the next morning sticky and grinning.

A month later, when they started winning games and he and Emma were barely seeing each other while he and Julius were seeing each other all the time, it hit him. He liked hanging out with the guy. Julius made him laugh, made him think, made him feel good. He always had to be so careful with Emma. She was pretty and sweet and smelled like lilacs and he was always sure to treat her delicately. Julius was strong, opinionated, giving as much as he got. And he smelled like the earth. Like dirt and sweat, like life. He could be himself around him.

Julius scared the shit out of him.

He invited him to dinner at his mama's knowing it would be hard. But he wanted Julius by his side, wanted to show him he wasn't afraid of becoming friends with him. And if it happened to seem like the kind of dates he and Emma shared that was neither here nor there. Even if he leaned in slightly on the porch as Julius was leaving to kiss him goodbye, forgetting that they weren't actually dating, and got caught straightening up with a deer-in-headlights sheen in his eyes.

Julius smiled softly at him and walked away into the night, once again causing him to question what exactly it was he was doing, what exactly they were doing. He hadn't smiled at him like that before. Hadn't looked at him as if he was better than a perfectly-played football game. As if he couldn't get enough of his face and maybe even found him beautiful. Gerry's solar plexus vibrated with a heat he couldn't explain as he walked back into the house and closed and locked the door. Later that night he wasn't surprised in the least when his dreams only featured Julius. He especially wasn't surprised that the things he did to Julius were things he'd never imagined doing to anyone while he was awake. And he did them willingly. Hell, eagerly.

After that practice and school were the freakiest and most exhilarating time of his life. The team was on fire, and so was he. He knew now what to call his reaction to Julius. He was falling in love with him like he had with Emma. He wanted him like he used to want her.

It went downhill from there. One day after school, an amazingly free day with no practice since Coach Boone had to go to his daughter's school play, Julius came over to study. Of course, they threw the ball around the backyard instead and play-tackled each other so many times that Gerry started sporting a hard-on every time the other teen got within a foot of him. He tried to stop it, tried counting to ten or imagining his mother naked. The problem was Julius was always right there. Always slick and smooth, always glowing.

"Anytime you're ready, Superman..." Gerry could tell Julius wasn't talking about the pass he had yet to throw. Julius was staring at his mouth, wearing a small, secret smile. His eyes shone brightly, full of something he never thought he'd see. Julius’s need was as obvious as the sun over their heads. He recognized the emotion easily.

He blinked, stunned. "...Julius..." Julius took a step forward. "I-." Gerry couldn't think of anything to say. His mind was blank but his heartbeat sped up at the closeness. When he closed his eyes and took a deep breath he smelled that musky scent he only associated with him. "My room." The words stumbled out before he could reel the thought in.

Julius's smile grew bigger instantly. He headed off toward the back door, Gerry following close on his heels. Luckily his mama wasn't in the kitchen. Nor did she call out when they walked up the stairs. He didn't know where she was and he didn't care. At that moment his world consisted of a faint sweat stain at the bottom of Julius's white t-shirt and his aching need to touch it. When his fingers rose to trace the outline he didn't try to fight it. Once he heard a soft gasp he was glad he hadn't. It made things better knowing he wasn't the only one this affected.

Inside, with the door closed to shut out his mama, Gerry stood by his desk, frozen in place. Julius was staring at his chest, then at his lips, then back to his chest. Then below his waist. Then back to his eyes. Gerry felt stripped down from just that alone. Jesus, he hadn't even touched him yet and already Gerry could feel himself starting to shake…

"You can say stop anytime, Bertier."

Somehow the use of his last name helped. It also made him realize something. This was nothing like him and Emma at all. With her it'd been good but it had never been quite like this. Not their first time. Not their last. Not all the dates and kisses and gentleness in between.

"No, I can't." And it was true. With Julius there was no backing down. It wouldn't be easy. He'd have to earn all they could be together. But he was more than willing. "Neither can you, Campbell."

It was Julius's turn to freeze and blink. Gerry exhaled slowly, finding the courage to reach out. He slid a finger down his chest, satisfied when Julius's lips parted. Gerry pulled on the thin material of his t-shirt to bring him near and finally gave into to the urge to kiss him. If anyone asked he would've said that low whimper didn't come from him, but it did. And it woke up Julius, who wound an arm around his waist. His other hand came up to cup his jaw, to angle him in deeper. Julius moaned as Gerry's grip on the shirt tightened.

Downhill, man. As in 'going to hell in a hand basket'. As in his mama was gonna kill him for standing there in his childhood bedroom making out with a Black boy. But he couldn't stop. Not now that he'd started. And he understood without a shadow of doubt that he never would. So then the proper way to start this story, Gerry figured as his trembling fingers finally let go of the shirt to slide down the other teenager’s ribcage, was to say it began with the Earth. Where it would go after that was anyone’s guess.