It takes a hell of a long time to get from Texas to California by bus. He knew when they left Dancer how long the trip would take – Keller told them all at least a thousand times exactly what to expect on the way out there, but hearing about it didn't prepare him for how dirty and tired and scared he'd be when he finally stepped off the bus in L.A.
Keller's even more scared than he is, which is pretty funny considering it's all he's been talking about since they were kids. Still, one of them has to be optimistic, so Terrell Lee just slides an arm around Keller's shoulders and tells him they're going to be fine. The grin that earns him makes it worth all the butterflies in his stomach, the shaking in his knees and even the fact that he has no idea what happens next.
"So what's the plan?" he asks when they reach the front of the bus station, stepping out into a landscape that couldn't be more different than Dancer. He's been to Houston a couple times with his dad so he's seen a city before, but the biggest town Keller's ever seen is Alpine, and there are less than six thousand people there. So he's not surprised when Keller's shoulders tense, and he's even less surprised to glance down and find the other boy staring sort of open-mouthed at the street in front of him.
He recovers pretty quickly, but it's obvious that all his reading about L.A. and what it would be like didn't prepare him for the real thing. "I don't know," Keller admits, his voice shaking a little as he watches people walk down the sidewalk past them. "I threw away all my lists."
Terrell Lee laughs and steers Keller down the sidewalk, away from the bus station in search of a cab. "Good thing one of us has a back-up plan, then. I need a shower and food. Come on."
Keller smiles shakily and lets Terrell Lee push him into a cab, digging a piece of paper out of his pocket and reading off the address of the hotel his father wrote down for him before he left Dancer. It feels a little less like they're making it on their own when his dad's already made him a reservation for their first few nights in town, but he's not going to argue when his father already paid the bill. Besides, he's been looking forward to a hot shower since he woke up on a hot bus covered in a layer of sweat and road grit.
The driver drops them off in front of a decent-looking hotel – it's not so expensive that Keller will complain, but it's nice enough that they don't have to worry about getting murdered in their sleep. Terrell Lee's pretty sure there will be plenty of time for that later, when they're looking for an apartment they can actually afford. For now, though, their room is big and there's a TV and a view of the ocean if he squints hard enough out the window.
After they're both showered and changed into clean jeans and t-shirts they head across the street to Denny's, and Terrell Lee orders the biggest breakfast they've got on the menu. When Keller looks at him he just rolls his eyes and tells the waitress to make it two, and when she disappears he leans across the table and drops his voice to a whisper. "Look, it's not going to do us any good to worry about money if we die of starvation. Besides, Dad gave me money for the first few days. He's paying for the hotel, too."
"That's not part of the plan."
"Give me a break, Keller," he says, leaning back against the booth and returning Keller's frown. "The plan changed, remember?"
For a second Keller just stares at him, then he nods and drops his gaze. "Yeah. Sorry. I just…I can't believe we're actually here, you know?"
"I know." Terrell Lee grins at that, because he wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Keller. Maybe he would have left Dancer on his own eventually, but Terrell Lee's glad it happened like this, because he could do this alone but he doesn't really want to. Keller's always been the one with the plan, with the pages and pages of notes and apartment listings he printed off the only computer in town with an internet connection. He can't even count all the hours Keller spent in what passed for the town library, dreaming his dream while John was out riding and Squirrel was delivering papers and Terrell Lee was…well, mostly trying way too hard to convince himself he didn't want to be wherever Keller was.
It's not like he's in love with Keller. At first it was just curiosity, really, just a hunch that maybe Keller was more like him than the others. And it just figured that the two guys who were most likely to like other guys were the ones with girlfriends, but then again, it makes sense in a weird way. Only he's never been able to tell with Keller, and now that they're out here all alone he's scared to ask.
There are reasons he thinks Keller might be interested – he knows for a fact that Keller and Vivian never slept together, that they didn't even kiss during all those walks they took in the middle of the night. Even if Keller had lied and told them he slept with Vivian Terrell Lee would know it wasn't true, because girls talk more than even guys do, and Betty Sue told him pretty much everything Vivian told her about Keller.
It never dawned on the rest of them that maybe he just wasn't into girls – they all just figured he was so caught up in dreaming about getting out of town that he didn't think about anything else. But Terrell Lee knows better, because he's been there, and no matter what show he put on for his mother with his girlfriends he's always known there was something different about him. Something that would make it impossible to stay in Dancer and have any kind of life.
He's not positive Keller's gay, but it makes more sense than any of the other theories going around. He doesn't even think Keller knows, but that's something Terrell Lee could help him with. There's only one person in Dancer who knows the truth about Terrell Lee – it sort of happened by accident, but he's not sorry because it helped him figure out some things about himself, and he thinks maybe he could help Keller the same way.
Having a little experience makes him feel more confident than it should, especially when all he's done so far is go down on one guy who never said a word about it after. Not that Terrell Lee really holds it against him, because he knew even then that John wasn't gay. It was just one of those things, on a rare afternoon when it was just him and John hanging out in his barn. He doesn't really remember what they were talking about or even if they were talking at all, but he thinks the subject must have gotten around to what exactly Terrell Lee did with two girlfriends.
He knows it was selfish of him to lead both those girls on when they could have gone for John or even Squirrel, but he did it anyway because it kept his mother off his back. It was the one thing he did that seemed normal to her, and at the time it didn't really seem like it was hurting anybody. John seemed pretty interested in what they did together, though, so Terrell Lee didn't give him a chance to refuse when he offered to show him.
Before he even thought about it he was on his knees, John's jeans open and his cock hot and hard in Terrell Lee's hand. He's pretty sure he looked a lot more confident than he felt, because the truth was he didn't know what he was doing. Betty Sue jerked him off once, but she'd never gone down on him, so all he had to work with was his fantasies. Nobody had ever touched John besides John, though, so it wasn't like Terrell Lee had a lot to live up to.
He came pretty fast, hot and bitter on Terrell Lee's tongue. John never touched him while Terrell Lee was sucking him off, but his legs were splayed as wide as they would go and his breathing got louder and louder until finally he let out a soft grunt that let Terrell Lee know he enjoyed it. He got off, anyway, and that was the whole point. Just a friend helping out another friend – that was what John probably told himself later, and if Terrell Lee finally figured out once and for all exactly what he wanted, that was just a bonus.
John didn't offer to reciprocate, and Terrell Lee didn't ask. He jerked himself off in quick, sure strokes while John's eyes were still closed, and even though he knew he could come again if John wanted him to he zipped up and got the hell out of there as fast as he could. Because you didn't just blow your best friend and then sit around and talk about it. Maybe if he thought there was any chance it was something other than convenience – but he knew John, knew he wouldn't make a big deal about it and that it might even happen again someday, but it still wouldn't mean they were anything more than friends.
So he's still never kissed a guy, but he knows the feel of another guy's cock in his hand and the weight of it on his tongue. He knows the bitter-salt flavor and how John's tastes a little different than his own, and he can't help wondering if Keller would be different from both of them. He wonders if Keller would let Terrell Lee slowly peel his clothes off, if his stomach would tremble with anticipation when Terrell Lee's mouth brushed across his skin. He wonders how those small hands would feel on him, different from a girl's but still delicate, unsure because he's positive Keller's never done it with anyone, not even Vivian.
He wonders if Keller would let Terrell Lee kiss him, if he'd kiss back or turn his head and pretend they were just friends, just two guys getting off the way John did. That's what stopped him from leaning over and kissing Keller the second they got on the bus, because they're all they've got now and he doesn't want to screw that up. It's not so much that he minds taking the risk, but he doesn't want to leave Keller all alone out here, because he's not sure Keller can make it on his own.
They don't talk much during dinner, and when the food's all gone and the bill's paid they head out of the restaurant and back across the street, up two flights of stairs to their room. Terrell Lee thinks about asking if Keller wants to go out and explore a little, but it's getting late and he's not sure it's such a good idea to wander around at night. There will be plenty of time for that tomorrow, and besides they're both still worn out from the long bus ride.
Instead he throws himself down on one of the beds and reaches for the remote, flipping idly through the channels for awhile before he decides that the cable's just as bad in California as it is in Texas. It's not a very auspicious start to their new life in L.A., and he's about to suggest that they go out after all when Keller sits down on the other bed and lets out a sigh.
"Do you think we did the right thing?"
"Come on," Terrell Lee says, pushing himself up onto his elbows to look at Keller. "We just got here. Don't tell me you're thinking about bailing already."
"No, it's…I'm glad we're here. I guess I just didn't really expect it to happen. I didn't think you were coming."
"Yeah, well, you're an idiot." And he wishes he hadn't turned the TV off, because it's way too quiet in their room.
Keller doesn't say anything else for a few long moments, and Terrell Lee's starting to contemplate another shower just to get away from the heavy silence when Keller starts talking again. "Why did you come, anyway?"
"Are you kidding? We've only been talking about this forever."
"Yeah, but – I mean, you were the first one to change your mind. So why'd you change it back?"
"I didn't change my mind," Terrell Lee answers, sitting up and swinging his legs over the edge of the bed until they're face to face. Just for a second he considers crossing the three feet of space between them and showing Keller exactly why he got on that bus, but he doesn't. Instead he grips the edges of the cheap bedspread and forces a casual grin. "I wanted to get the hell out of Dancer as bad as you did, but my mom was so dead-set on me going into the family business. Then my dad told me that there's not much of a family business left to take over so I might as well go find something else to do."
"They're okay," Terrell Lee says in answer to the question Keller didn't ask. "I mean they're not bankrupt or anything, but by the time my dad's ready to retire there might not be much left to take over. So he figured I should explore other options while I had the chance."
He doesn't tell Keller that he might have gotten on the bus even if Keller hadn't showed. He's not sure why, except that he's not sure he's ready to explain exactly why he was so hell-bent on getting out of Dancer. And it's not that he doesn't love it there just as much as John, but he knows he could never really be happy in a town like that, so he's not sorry he left. "This isn't about Vivian, is it?"
"No," Keller answers automatically, and Terrell Lee lets out a breath he didn't realize he was holding. "I asked her to marry me."
"You what?" he says, shock clear in his voice and maybe Keller's more of the reason he came out here than he wants to admit even to himself, because the thought of Keller getting married makes him want to throw up.
Keller shrugs and glances toward the window as though he thinks he might find her standing there, still smiling and waving. "I figured if I was stuck in Dancer I might as well hurry up and do what everybody expected me to. Settle down, you know."
"And spend the rest of your life dreaming about being someplace else."
Keller laughs weakly at that and turns to look at Terrell Lee again. "That's what she said. Then she said it would be like marrying her brother."
He knows he's supposed to laugh, but he feels like someone just punched him in the stomach. The thought of Keller settling…settling down with Vivian…and they've been engaged in everyone's minds since they were twelve, but the thought still makes Terrell Lee's stomach turn. "So…what, you love her?"
"No. Yeah. I mean, I've always told her everything, you know? She probably knows me better than anybody – better than me, even. But she's right, it would be like marrying my sister. I know everybody thinks we were…you know. I just never really felt like that about her."
Keller's blushing now and it looks good on him, pale cheeks flushed and his mouth turned up in a nervous grin. And maybe it's just because they're all alone in the city and they're both scared about what happens tomorrow, but Terrell Lee's never wanted to kiss Keller more in his life. Not even all those times when they were hanging out back home, Keller hiding from his grandfather and Terrell Lee avoiding his mom – he always wanted to kiss Keller just to see what would happen, but this time it's almost impossible to stop himself.
He's leaning forward before he realizes it, and he catches himself just in time and digs his heels a little more firmly into the carpet. "So you'll find some girl in L.A. Maybe Vivian's just not your type, you know? It's not like there was much to choose from back home."
Keller shrugs and looks away again, eyes clouded suddenly and Terrell Lee thinks maybe he pushed too far. "I don't know. I mean Vivian's great. She's cute and smart and she's easy to talk to – she's pretty much perfect. Sometimes I think maybe there's something wrong with me."
"What are you talking about?" He thinks – hopes – he knows the answer to that question, but he needs to hear Keller say it.
"Forget it," Keller answers, blushing even harder and looking away, down at the bedspread and that's all the answer Terrell Lee's going to get. It's not enough – not even close, because he's still not sure if he's about to throw away the only reason he came all the way out to California, but if this is the only moment he's going to get he has to take it.
"What, you think you like guys or something?"
It's a joke, just a throw-away comment that he can laugh off if he has to, in case Keller's grossed out by the idea of another guy. But he doesn't look grossed out – mostly he just looks scared, like he thinks if he tells Terrell Lee the truth it might get him killed. "I don't know. I mean I've thought about it, but…"
When he trails off he looks more miserable than he did even when Terrell Lee first told him they weren't going to L.A. with him. It makes him feel like a coward, because he's been pushing Keller to admit the truth so that he doesn't have to be the one to say it out loud. Keller's always been the brave one, though – he's always had to be, because he's had to take care of himself and his grandfather practically his whole life.
He doesn't give himself time to think about it before he slides to his knees, and it's just like John all over again, except this time Terrell Lee doesn't go straight for Keller's jeans. He doesn't touch him at all – his hands are braced on the mattress on either side of Keller's thighs, head tilted up to meet Keller's terrified gaze. And even scared out of his mind he looks cute, so Terrell Lee leans up and kisses him.
Right away he knows it's a mistake, because Keller tenses against him and pulls back, eyes wide like he's trying to figure out how to get away from Terrell Lee without actually touching him. "What are you doing?"
"I thought…forget it," he says, not bothering to hide his disappointment. He's not really sorry, though, because he's wondered for a long time what it would be like, and now at least he knows.
"Forget it? You just kissed me. How am I supposed to forget that?"
And okay, maybe he hasn't really thought this through enough, because this isn't the way it's supposed to go. Keller just admitted that he's thought about this before – maybe not with Terrell Lee, but at least he's thought about it. A little shock he expected, but he didn't count on Keller looking like it was taking everything in him not to bolt for the door.
"Look, I'm sorry, okay? I thought you wanted me to."
"God." Keller buries his head in his hands, fingers in his hair and Terrell Lee can see enough skin to tell that he's blushing even harder now. "I can't believe this."
"Jesus, Keller, if I'd known you were going to freak out I wouldn't have done it. I was just trying to tell you I know how it feels."
He's still kneeling on the floor and he's starting to think he should get up, maybe put a little space between them so Keller can freak out in peace. But before he convinces himself to move Keller looks up, eyes still wide but more confused than scared now. He doesn't let himself hope that it means he hasn't fucked up everything, because Keller's always been hard to read and there's no telling what's going on in his head right now.
"What the hell are you talking about? You had two girlfriends all through high school."
"Mostly they just hung out with me so they wouldn't have to keep turning Squirrel down. Believe me, if John had showed an interest in anything besides his horse Betty Sue would have dumped me in a second flat."
"But Vivian told me everything. Betty Sue told her all the stuff you guys did."
That's news to him, but he can't help laughing because he should have expected it. Betty Sue's got a big mouth, and he knows she would have been willing to do a lot more if he'd shown any interest at all. "Yeah, well, you shouldn't believe everything you hear."
"Yeah," he interrupts, sending up a quick prayer that he's not making another huge mistake before he moves a little closer.
"You want…me." Keller's voice is flat, like he's still waiting for the punch line, and Terrell Lee can't help smiling at that.
"Yeah," he says again, taking a chance and resting one hand on Keller's thigh. It's not the first time he's ever touched Keller, but it's the first time Keller knows what it means, and his stomach pitches a little as he waits for a reaction.
Keller's staring at his hand, his fingers gripping the edges of the bed like maybe he's scared to touch. Patience has never really been Terrell Lee's strong point, but he's not about to fuck this up twice in one night, so he waits. It feels like hours before Keller looks up at him again, and Terrell Lee has a second to register the determination in his eyes before Keller's surging forward, practically falling off the bed in his rush to press their mouths together.
Terrell Lee catches him before he slides off the bed, hands on Keller's hips to push him back onto the mattress. He presses up on his knees, lips parted against Keller's mouth and this is how he always imagined it would go. It's clumsy and a little awkward and hotter than anything he's ever done before – hotter even than sucking John's cock, because Keller's kissing him back like he needs Terrell Lee to breathe. Like he can't get enough, like it's just occurred to him how much he needs this and he's trying to make up for lost time.
That's just fine with Terrell Lee, because he's wanted this for way too long to think about trying to slow down. His hands are moving frantically, pushing at warm skin and cotton until Keller's naked from the waist up and flat on his back, staring up at Terrell Lee with a mixture of fear and want that sends a shiver straight to Terrell Lee's groin. He doesn't remember moving, doesn't remember climbing onto the mattress or straddling Keller's jean-clad thighs, but it doesn't matter because Keller's hands are on his legs, flexing hard against him like he wants something, but he doesn't even know what to ask for.
It's hotter than Terrell Lee expected, knowing that Keller hasn't got first fucking clue what he's doing. He likes being the one who knows, being the one in control. And he's not going to tell Keller about blowing John in his dad's barn – he's not going to tell him about all the times he jerked off thinking about this exact moment, because none of that matters now. What matters is that they both want this, and maybe Keller will change his mind tomorrow and start freaking out again, but he's not going to worry about that until it actually happens.
He leans forward, catching Keller's mouth against his own again, breathing in deep through his nose as his tongue fucks Keller's mouth. Keller's arms are around his neck, sliding down his back to pull him close until he's stretched out on top of the other boy, hips rocking together and he knows he's going to come before he even gets the rest of their clothes off. Hands slide under his shirt, pushing the fabric over his back and it takes Terrell Lee's brain a few seconds to catch up enough to realize Keller wants it off.
It's a challenge to pull himself away long enough to tug his shirt off, but it's worth it just to see Keller's expression when he does. He knows he's in good shape – it's not like there was much else to do in Dancer – but he's never really enjoyed the way people look at him until right now. He's seen the looks he gets from the women in town – some of them older than his mother – and even some of the men, and if he didn't think it would get around he might have used that to his advantage.
Still, it felt a little weird to know that people his parents' age were looking at him like he was one of Mr. Hemphill's prize cows. With Keller it feels different – he still feels like he's on display, but when Keller reaches up and runs a hand down the center of his chest he doesn't mind so much. He's never been self-conscious about his body, but suddenly he's worried about measuring up. And he wants to laugh, because this is Keller and they've seen each other naked a million times, but never like this.
He leans in again, mouth pressing against Keller's neck and when Keller arches up into him Terrell Lee moans against his skin. Keller's still rocking against him, hips moving faster now and he can tell how close Keller is, knows he's going to come in his jeans and he doesn't even care. Part of Terrell Lee wants to let it happen, wants to see Keller lose control because of him, but there's another part of him that wants to watch Keller come.
His hands push down on Keller's hips, holding him in place as he slides back down onto the floor, on his knees to tug Keller's jeans open with shaking fingers. He glances up as he pulls Keller free of his jeans, grinning at the wide-eyed, breathless expression before he leans in and presses his tongue to the head of Keller's cock. Two blow jobs in a lifetime don't exactly qualify him as an expert, but he's pretty sure enthusiasm counts for a lot, and when Keller moans and thrusts up into his mouth he knows he's doing something right.
He's harder than he's ever been in his life and it's tempting to reach down and jerk himself off, but he wants Keller to make him come. Even if he loses control the second Keller touches him he doesn't care, because he's been imagining Keller's hands on his dick way too long to pass up the opportunity. And he knows they've got all the time in the world, but he still doesn't trust Keller not to change his mind and he's not willing to risk it. Not this time, because this is different than John. That time he knew exactly what he was getting himself into, but with Keller…with Keller things are always complicated.
Keller's hips push up against his hands, his fists clenched hard around the bedspread and when Terrell Lee swallows around his length he moans low in his throat and comes. He's still shaking when Terrell Lee pulls off, sitting back on his heels to tug his own jeans open. And they're both still wearing most of their clothes, so he pulls Keller's shoes off and then tugs his jeans down over his legs before he crawls back onto the mattress.
He kicks his own shoes off as Keller opens his eyes and rolls onto his side, reaching for Terrell Lee and pulling him close for a long, slow kiss. And he's not as innocent as he looks, because he manages somehow to slide a hand inside Terrell Lee's jeans before he gets them off, fingers closing around Terrell Lee's cock to stroke in time to the thrusting of his tongue. Terrell Lee's panting and flushed when Keller pulls away, glancing down at his own hand on Terrell Lee's cock.
This is exactly what he imagined that time Betty Sue jerked him off – he spent the whole time with his eyes closed, picturing Keller's hand on him instead of the soft hand of his girlfriend. He keeps his eyes open this time, pushing at his jeans until they're down around his thighs before he gives up and lets Keller push him onto his back. Keller's propped on one elbow next to him, watching Terrell Lee as he strokes him, and he can't believe he hasn't come already just from the look on Keller's face.
It's worth it to hold off, though, worth fighting for every ounce of control when Keller leans over and closes his mouth around a nipple. He bites down hard enough to surprise a gasp out of Terrell Lee, then soothes the sting with a kiss before he moves down, pressing kisses down the center of Terrell Lee's chest. And he never would have given Keller credit for being so coordinated, but somehow he manages to work his way all the way down to Terrell Lee's stomach without ever missing a stroke.
He expects the hesitation before Keller's mouth closes around his cock, expects the awkwardness too, but once Keller finds the right angle it doesn't take him long to find a rhythm. It's all Terrell Lee can do to keep himself from coming at the first press of Keller's mouth on him, but when Keller's fingers slide between his legs to press against the spot just behind his balls he can't hold on anymore. He comes with a gasp, white sparks flashing behind his eyes when Keller presses against that spot again, then again before he swallows one last time and pulls back.
He's still trying to catch his breath when Keller's mouth presses against his again, hot and hungry like he's trying to crawl inside Terrell Lee. He wraps his arms around Keller's back, pulling him close and angling their mouths just so until he's in control, slowing down the kiss until it's less like urgency and more like reassurance. And maybe they really do have all the time in the world after all, because he's pretty sure now that Keller's not going to change his mind.
He tells himself not to ask because he's not sure he wants to know the answer, but when Keller pulls back to grin at him the words tumble out of his mouth anyway. "Where'd you learn that?"
"I didn't spend all my time on the internet looking up apartment listings, you know."
"You surfed porn on Mrs. Caldwell's computer?" He laughs at Keller's sheepish expression, swallowing hard against a sudden rush of affection. "I can't believe you surfed porn in the church office."
"It's not my fault they keep the library in the church. Besides, it wasn't porn," Keller answers, sliding off Terrell Lee to stretch out on his side. "It was educational."
"Yeah?" Terrell Lee grins and pushes Keller onto his back, kicking his jeans off the rest of the way before he crawls over Keller again. "You want to show me what else you learned?"
"Depends what you want to know. How about population statistics for L.A. county? Or we could talk about the crime rate…"
That's as far as he gets before Terrell Lee shuts him up with a kiss, Keller's laughter vibrating against his mouth. He's heard Keller talk about all that stuff a million times before, and he knows he could go on forever if Terrell Lee lets him. All of that information will come in handy when they're looking for a place to live, but his dad paid for the hotel room through the end of next week, and there's no reason they have to rush into anything.