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there's a first time for everything

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Visiting a theme park is like stepping into an entirely different world. You leave the hustle and bustle of your daily life—the textbook-lugging, clique-avoiding, study-until-you-drop mantra that plays like a skipping CD—and enter a world where screams are a good thing and people are there solely to please you. You see grown men in oversized costumes of animals, or sporting clown shoes, offering snow cones for six times’ their actual worth, but you’ve just got to have one, because it’s hot as hell out here.

Connor hasn’t been to a theme park since he was young. Too young to ride most of the bigger rides, in fact. He was a short, skinny little kid, and despite trying to stand on tiptoe to be tall enough to ride his first rollercoaster, it hadn’t happened.

Which is a part of why, now in their second year of college, Gavin has dragged Connor back out here. He keeps going on about popping Connor’s rollercoaster cherry, and Connor keeps insisting he not say it that way, but he never gives up, and the message is still there: Gavin wants Connor to experience something he hadn’t gotten the chance to the last time he was here.

In a really roundabout way, Gavin Reed is the best kind of friend.

For the first part of their day, Gavin let Connor take it easy. They visited stands and threw darts at balloons and shot water at targets. They rode the big ferris wheel that gave them a view of the rest of the park from above. They toured the spook house and Gavin screamed at everything while Connor awkwardly patted him atop the head every time he clung to him.

But now that they’re having lunch at some stylized cartoon café, Gavin is cutting to the chase. He’s got a churro sticking out of his mouth like a cigar as he speaks. “Okay, so your coaster virginity—let’s talk about that.”

Connor wrinkles his nose, almost as if he’s about to sneeze. “Why do you have to make it sound like some big sexual awakening?” Nevermind the fact that, as a busy college student who runs a YouTube channel in his spare time, Connor is very much a virgin, both physically and metaphorically.

“That, my friend,” Gavin answers as he chomps down on his churro and then dips it in the iced coffee Connor ordered, “is something you will understand completely once you’ve ridden your first rollercoaster. There’s a reason it’s for adrenaline junkies, okay? The high when you’re up there on that first drop is something fucking else.”

Almost as if on cue, a nearby coaster enters its big drop and the screams can be heard from ground level. Gavin closes his eyes and points behind him with his churro, where the coaster awaits in the distance. “That one’s the one you’re gonna ride. It starts with a huge climb, before plummeting down into a two-hundred-foot drop, and then up into the second drop. The weightlessness right before that second drop will legitimately make you cream yourself, Con.”

Connor outright throws a petite scone at his friend, beaning him in the nose with it. “Stop talking about orgasms with a churro in your mouth! Besides, it’s not like you even know what sex feels like.”

Gavin raises both eyebrows. “Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.” Just then, his phone vibrates on the table and he picks it up. Connor watches him place his churro atop a napkin and then he gets to work furiously typing.

“Are you texting Nines right now?” Connor wonders, and Gavin nods quickly, his fingers not pausing even for a second.

“Yeah,” Gavin responds, attention still focused on the task at hand, “we’ve been having one hell of a sexting sesh all morning.”

“You’re disgusting!” Connor snaps, pinching the corner off of another scone and throwing it at him. “We’re eating right now.” And that’s Connor’s brother. His younger brother, Connor might add. Sure, they’re only a couple of minutes apart, but that’s beside the point.

“Hey,” Gavin laughs, before he sets his phone back down, “that kinda shit doesn’t matter when you’ve got a boyfriend so hot you want your hands all over him even when you’re hanging out with your best friend.”

Somehow, Connor doubts Gavin is actually being serious. The part about him and Nines dating is true, and they’re quite frankly adorable together, but whether or not they’ve actually done anything, Gavin would be way more into his phone if he were being some gross perv at the theme park. Despite that, Connor doesn’t care to question it, because Gavin is the type of friend who will come up with all kinds of gruesome details just to see how grossed-out he can make Connor look.

So, Connor glances away. He plops his elbow onto the table and rests his chin in his hand, glancing away from his friend.

And that’s when he sees him. Connor thinks that the guy looks around his age, perhaps a year or so older, but he doesn’t look like anyone he recognizes from his own college. The guy is beautiful, and even though he’s a good few yards away, standing in line to place his order, Connor can see the way his skin accents the freckles dusted across his nose and cheeks perfectly. His eyes are bright, one blue and green, and he has a flawless smile, which he’s got no problem putting on display as he laughs amongst the small group of friends surrounding him.

Connor honestly can’t take his eyes off of the dude.

“That’s the one, right there.”

Gavin’s voice startles Connor, because he doesn’t even realize his friend has rounded the table and moved to crouch next to him. He’s got his camera out and the lens is pointed at the very person Connor had been looking at. Connor immediately moves to direct the viewfinder elsewhere. “Gavin! You can’t just record some stranger!”

“No, no, no,” Gavin points out, before he this time focuses the camera on Connor, “he’s not just some stranger. He’s gonna be the guy who rides your first rollercoaster with you. Judging by the way you were staring, I don’t think you’re gonna have a problem with it.”

Connor snatches the camera and stops the recording, before he shoves it back at his friend. “I thought you were riding with me.”

“I will be,” Gavin replies with a shrug as he stands up and tucks his camera back into its pouch. “I’ll just be in the row behind you, ducking when you hurl everywhere. He’ll be your date, and little does he know, he’ll be giving you your first time.”

“I swear to god, Gavin Reed,” Connor snatches up his friend’s churro and snags a bite, “if you so much as think about turning this ride into one more innuendo, I’m making you go on it upside-down.”

Gavin just laughs, and Connor turns his focus back to the beautiful stranger, who now has a cup of iced coffee and a sandwich in hand and is passing by. They make eye contact, and Connor sees the way the guy’s smile falls right off his lips as they watch each other in passing. Thankfully, the girl in his circle of friends directs his attention elsewhere, and Connor can finally tear his gaze away. He groans and plants his hand over his face.

“We’re not riding that rollercoaster yet. Let’s go check out the bumper cars first.”

It’s not that Connor’s afraid to ride a rollercoaster. Hell, as a kid, he had wanted to ride it more than anything else in the entire theme park. But right now, he’s too nervous. Gavin has him in knots about some stranger he plans on somehow dragging onto the ride with him, and on top of that, coffee was probably not the best idea of a drink to get before embarking on a ride that will probably upend his entire stomach. He just needs some time for the nerves to settle and then he’s good.

And maybe Gavin will forget about dragging some mysterious, ridiculously attractive guy on the ride with him.

The problem is, that guy is everywhere. And now that Connor has seen him, he can’t un-see him. In line for the bumper cars, he’s there. Outside of the drop tower that Connor isn’t a hundred percent sure he wants to try, there he is again. And this time, the dude actually smiles at Connor. Gavin manages to get a solid ten seconds of filming in because Connor’s too shocked by the fact that he’s even being noticed by the guy to stop him. Mind you, Connor bats the camera away the instant he realizes it’s focused on him again.

“Go back to your sexting!” He orders bluntly as he storms into the line for the drop tower, dragging Gavin along.

Hell, they’re technically on the swinging ship together, even if Connor’s at one end and the stranger and his friends are at the other. Connor can almost see the man cheering him on, and he feels strangely relaxed about it. When Gavin films them during the ride, he doesn’t even have the heart to tell him that it’s against the rules to have his camera out right now.

But then, they’re off the ride and things are back to the same odd game of cat-and-mouse. Connor spots the man every so often, Gavin gives him hell for staring and attempts to film him, and they go find their next ride to run into each other at.

“Hey, if I didn’t know any better,” Gavin suggests as they’re getting in line for the river float ride, “I’d almost be willing to suggest that the guy’s following you instead of thinking you’re following him.”

Connor frowns. “I think that’s reaching a little, Gav. Why would some guy our age start trying to happen upon us at all the same rides? It’s probably just coincidence.”

“Okay, first of all,” Gavin clarifies, raising a finger to bullet his words, “he’s trying to happen upon you, not us. I don’t give off the vibe of a single guy even in the slightest. But you, my friend, look as pure and untainted and undated as a porcelain doll still kept in the box. He’d be an idiot to not be attracted to you.”

“Or he’d be straight,” Connor responds with a roll of his eyes. “Listen, we’re not forcing him onto the rollercoaster with me just because you want to make a bet more interesting. I can ride it by myself if it boils down to it.”

“Can you?” Gavin teases as they move forward in the line. “It’s your first rollercoaster, man. Shit’s intense. I’d definitely recommend having a partner to ride with. Someone you can cling to, bury your face in his shoulder…

“I can do all that with you!” Connor shoves him. “Besides, I’m going to have fun. I like thrill rides, okay?”

“The Hurricane doesn’t count,” Gavin retorts smugly. “You’re boxed in and all it does is go in circles like fifty feet in the air.”

“You don’t make the rules,” Connor argues as the ride attendant directs them onto a raft. It’s a circular raft with seven seats all spanning the circumference of it. Gavin and Connor take a seat next to one another on it, and Connor finds himself looking around. Strangely, after having argued with Gavin about how running into this guy had been a fluke, he finds himself almost hoping it’s not.

He almost feels a little disappointed when no one follows him and Gavin onto the ride. Either way, he focuses on buckling himself into his seat.

“Four of you?” A female voice speaks up, and when Connor glances up in response to the voice, he’s almost pleasantly surprised to see that the ride attendant has directed the very mysterious stranger he and Gavin were talking about onto their float. He’s got all his buddies with him, which makes their ride almost entirely full—full enough, apparently, for the attendant to decide the raft can go ahead.

“Hey,” the guy greets, flashing Connor that same flawless smile from earlier. It makes Connor want to recede into his chair. Not because he doesn’t like it, of course. It’s more the contrary than anything. He doesn’t want to creep this stranger out by giving off just how much he does like it.

“Hello,” Connor responds finally, almost shyly. He really hasn’t ventured out too far into the dating pool before. Gavin’s right about that much.

“You two have got to stop meeting up like this,” Gavin jeers, laughing, and the beautiful stranger across from Connor laughs along with him. Connor, on the other hand, turns a frantic glance to Gavin.

Really!?” He whisper-yells, as if the other man can’t hear him.

“I mean, you’re not wrong,” the guy replies easily, and Connor swears his voice cannot possibly sound as good as it does. Either way, said guy gestures to himself. “I’m Markus, and this is Simon, Josh, and North.”

Connor waves to all of them. “My name is Connor, and this is Gavin—whoa, hey!”

Okay, in Gavin’s defense, the two of them had planned to turn this trip into a vlog, so he's not wrong to be filming as much as he is. However, he keeps focusing the camera on Markus and his posse, and said Markus and said posse haven’t exactly agreed to being part of a video post, so…

“No, no, it’s okay!” Markus laughs and raises both hands in the air in surrender. “Why, exactly, are you recording us, though?”

Gavin shrugs. “For a vlog. This little bean here,” he nudges Connor, who shoves him, as the raft finally kicks into motion, “hasn’t ridden his first coaster here yet, so I bet him he wouldn’t do it so he’d be motivated to go against me.”

There’s a lot more to the bet than just whether Connor will ride a rollercoaster or not. His mother knows he’s been focused on school and his video activities with Gavin for most of his teenage life, so she wants him to get out and get his thrills elsewhere as he enters young adulthood. On top of that, Connor just very recently admitted to her that he hasn’t gotten a girlfriend yet because he’s not into girls, and now, she is encouraging him to find a nice, steady boyfriend.

Connor isn’t sure he wants one just yet, but if he has to choose…

He could ask right now. He could ask this guy to ride with him. It could be nice. He looks like the type who has been on it before, right? He would know all the things to warn Connor about. He’s nice, Connor thinks. Would probably be supportive during the whole experience.

But he doesn’t. At the very least, he can make his withholding excusable by saying that the raft found its first drop there, making him yelp in shock and swallow a mouthful of the water that splashes up in the process.

Everyone laughs. Connor and Gavin and Markus and all his friends. The blond guy Markus had introduced as Simon snatches the aforementioned North’s hand there and they both hold onto each other for dear life as the raft turns and puts their backs to the next drop.

They look so happy together. Connor is almost jealous. Almost, in the way that he’s almost jealous of Gavin and Nines, or almost jealous of the way couples at school get all goo-goo-eyed at one another in the halls. Almost, but not quite. That almost is the only reason Connor has even halfway taken his mother’s advice for him to get out into the dating world to heart.

Connor thinks that the water ride is the funnest one he’s been on so far, and it’s not just because the cute guy he keeps seeing around the park has wound up on the ride with him. No, it’s just that everyone is laughing and there’s water everywhere, and it’s so much cooler in the summer heat now.

And, as icing on the cake, when the ride slows to a leisurely float to the finish line, Connor gets a good look at Markus. He silently curses the man for having worn a white tee shirt, because the water has soaked through it and it clings to his skin, and Connor can quite literally see everything underneath it. Of course the guy would be toned underneath. He’s probably football star or in boxing or something. Connor doesn’t stand a chance with him.

This fact is more than just a little disheartening, and when Gavin helps him off the boat, Connor has to physically shake off the disappointment. When had he even started getting his hopes up about spending more time with Markus, anyway?

At the very least, the ride was fun. Connor will hold onto that memory for now.

“Hey,” Gavin throws an arm around Connor’s shoulders, pulling him out of his thoughts, “I’m hungry. Buy me a burger.”

Connor doesn’t feel compelled to argue. Gavin bought his iced coffee and scones earlier, so it evens out. That in mind, they find themselves at a burger stand not far from the river ride, seated at a shaded picnic table. Connor settles on fries, still not particularly hungry, and watches his friend shovel half the burger into his mouth in minutes. He downs his entire soda afterward, and then stands up abruptly.

“I’m gonna get some more filming in,” he informs as he pulls his camera pouch out. “This place is cool as hell, it deserves all kinds of attention.” He snatches one of Connor’s fries and points at him with it. “I won’t go far, so come get me when you’re ready to go to the coaster, yeah?”

Connor shrugs, and then waves at his friend as he strolls away. He turns his focus to his soda.


Well, that silence lasted a long time, didn’t it?

Connor recognizes that velvety smooth voice, and when he looks up to see Markus smiling down at him, he can’t help but smile back. “That’s your name, right?”

Connor nods and gestures with a hand for Markus to sit with him. “I suppose it is. And you’re Markus.”

“Thanks for clearing that up,” Markus responds around an easy laugh as he takes a seat across from Connor. The guy’s shirt seems to be drying up, but it hasn’t quite gotten there. Hell, Connor is still soaked, so he can only imagine. “Anyway, I’m starting to feel like this is less coincidence and more divine intervention, the way we keep running into each other. You believe in that kind of thing?”

Connor scoffs. “Not particularly, but right now, I can’t say I’d mind of that’s what this is.”

He is immediately embarrassed by his words, and it shows in the violent blush that forms on his cheeks as he casts a glance toward Gavin. His friend grins at him and turns away.

“Hey, I’m not mad about it either.” Markus raises both hands in the air, almost as if he’s surrendering something. “Frankly, I’m surprised we haven’t met before, but Detroit is a big place, so…are you from Detroit, even? I forget that theme parks are a popular tourist thing…”

It’s strange, how Markus talks in a way that would normally be considered awkward, but it doesn’t even sound a little awkward coming from him. He’s flawless. Good god, he’s flawless.

“No, I live here in town,” Connor replies around a smile. He likes how easy it is to talk to this guy. “I don’t get out an awful lot, though.”

Just then, his phone buzzes. He glances down at it, and cringes visibly, because Gavin has taken the time to sneak in a text message that reads nothing more and nothing less than the phrase, ‘ask him', and while Connor had at one point been against the idea, he’s definitely not now.

But how to go about it without sounding weird, or flirty, or…god, Connor is bad at this.

“You okay?” Markus questions, and when Connor reorients himself, he sees that the other man has a hand raised between them and it almost looks like he was about to snap his fingers.

“Yeah, yeah, no yeah, I’m okay,” Connor stammers in response, raising both hands into the air dismissively. “It’s just…you remember that bet Gavin told you about when we rode the river ride?”

“About your first rollercoaster ride?” Markus clarifies. “Yeah, I do. You scared to do it or something?”

Connor shakes his head. “Not really, but Gavin thinks I’m gonna get in line and change my mind, so he bet me I wouldn’t do it.”

“And if you lose?” Markus wonders, a curious smile on his face.

“I have to buy him lunch for a week.” Connor shrugs. “Not a big deal really, since I kind of already do that, but he’s having fun with it. And if I win, he gives me his camera for a week, so I’ve got all kinds of incentive.”

“You’re both vloggers?” Markus wonders, and Connor cocks his head and shrugs.

“More or less. He usually ends up doing the recording because he thinks my face looks better on camera, but…he has his moments.”

“I’ll bet,” Markus observes, casting a glance to Gavin, who is slowly panning the view he currently has of the park with his camera. “He seems like quite the character.”

Connor shrugs again. “He’s something. Anyway, I got off track there for a second.” He glances down at the fries in front of him, before he turns something of a shy smile up at Markus. “How would you feel about maybe riding the rollercoaster with me?”

Markus looks genuinely shocked for a moment, blinking comically, before he gestures to Gavin. “You don’t think he’ll mind?”

“Not at all,” Connor responds around a laugh. “Why would he?”

Markus cocks an eyebrow. “Oh, wow. I guess I jumped the gun on that one—I assumed the two of you were…you know…”

Connor barks out a series of embarrassed laughs. “Oh god, no! We’re just best friends. I mean, Gavin isn’t single, but I am very, very single. So single, and…” his cheeks color bright red, before he covers his eyes with his hand. “And now, you see why…”

This time, Markus laughs. “I don’t see anything but a quirky guy who bet himself into a corner and doesn’t want to do it alone.” He reaches out and, to Connor’s surprise, plucks a fry from his plate. “For the price of a single french fry, I’ll join you on your first rollercoaster ride.”

Connor doesn’t know how relationships work outside of friendships and family relationships. He doesn’t know if he’s ever actually been romantically interested in someone, or what a crush is even supposed to feel like it. He also doesn’t get attracted to someone at first sight.

But here he is, thinking that Markus just seems better and better every minute he spends with the guy. Conversation feels so natural with him. It feels like they’ve been friends for a lot longer than today. Like a few run-ins with one another at a theme park isn’t all there is between them.

Not that Connor knows if Markus even swings that way, but if Connor has the slightest clue what a crush is supposed to feel like, this has got to be it. As he stares at the man with a fry hanging out of his mouth, somehow still showing his perfect teeth in a smile, Connor can’t imagine this feeling could be anything else.

In the end, Connor and Gavin and Markus and all his friends head toward the coaster together, but the group separates when they reach the line.

“So, we’re gonna go this way,” Gavin announces, gesturing toward a spot where a few benches are in the distance. There’s a point where the ride enters a drop that passes close by, and Connor immediately gathers that he’s hanging back so he can record his friend as he does so. Which is…starkly different from his earlier announcement that he was going to ride with Connor in the seat behind him, but he doesn’t think too much of it.

“You guys, too?” Markus cocks a brow at his friends. Simon and North and Josh are all standing away from the line with Gavin. North smiles knowingly.

“Not a chance,” she responds. “I’m not stupid enough to get on any rollercoaster right after eating, and neither are these guys.” She nudges both Josh and Simon. “We’re gonna get snow cones and watch you guys from here.”

Markus frowns. “Suit yourself.”

The line moves forward there, so Markus and Connor leave their friends and continue forward.

“I fucking told you,” North can be heard in the distance, “there was no way Scarface and that kid were dating!”

“Scarface?” Gavin cuts in. “Really?”

The line moves quickly now that Connor and Markus are in it. As they draw closer and the screams get louder, Connor realizes that while he isn’t scared to get on the coaster, he’s definitely pretty nervous. He’s never willingly dropped off of two-hundred feet of anything, let alone a screaming metal deathtrap. He doesn’t realize he’s fidgeting with his hands until Markus places one hand on his shoulder.

“Having second thoughts?” he questions, and Connor quickly shakes his head.

“Not at all,” he replies, even though the buzzing in his head tells him he probably should be. “Just…anticipating, you know? I’ve never done this before.”

“You sure you want to?”

Connor nods his head. “Have since I was a kid. I was the brat who held up the line because I didn’t like it when the attendant said I was too small. I’m excited for it…but also nervous.”

“You’ll have a blast,” Markus tells him, and the way he smiles tells Connor he’s certain of his answer. “Not gonna lie, as the coaster starts up toward that first drop, it’s pretty spooky. The ground gets further and further away, and the next thing you know, you’re looking over the edge and you’re waiting with bated breath for the coaster to just drop…but when it does…you’re gonna love it, okay?”

Connor laughs and nudges him a little. “I’m not sure whether describing the exact level of scary I’m about to face is helping or not. But…I believe you.”

Before they know it, they’re climbing into their seats. Markus is bound and determined that they get a front row seat, and he swears it’s better that way. Connor’s budding crush on him tells him to just go with it, and next thing he knows, the train moves forward and locks itself into an incline.

The ride clacks its way mechanically up toward the top of the first drop, and okay yeah, Connor is scared. His hands find the rails in front of him and he gathers his breath, his feet tapping nervously on the coaster train’s floor.

Markus' voice is a welcome distraction as he speaks about halfway up. “You’re gonna want to let go of that rail, I promise.”

Excuse me?” Connor’s grip on said rail tightens, as he gestures with an almost frantic nod toward it. “This thing—the thing that may be the deciding factor between whether I get ejected from the ride mid-drop—you want me to let go of it?” He knows he’s gaping at Markus like the man just sprouted another head.

Markus laughs as the coaster draws ever higher. The top can be seen in the near distance, and the trees and park beneath them grow smaller by the second. The cars in the parking lot look like Hot Wheels at this point.

“That’s a little dramatic. The rail has you, okay? I do it every time and I have yet to meet an untimely end.” And of course, Markus has to be all suave and perfect and stupidly cute in the way that he holds out a hand and offers it to Connor. “Trust me, okay?”

Connor stares at the hand. Markus has big hands with long fingers. They look soft for the most part, and God, what Connor wouldn’t do for an excuse to hold that hand.

You know, like the excuse that Markus has given him in riding the rollercoaster with him.

“You’re running out of time, Connor,” Markus warns him playfully as the coaster climbs its last few yards to the top.

“You know Gavin is probably going to get this on camera when we get closer to him.”

“Don’t care,” Markus replies easily. The coaster stops at the top and creeps over the edge. “Take my hand, Connor. Last chance!”

They say that when you die, your whole life flashes before your eyes. You relive all your happiest and most poignant memories all in a matter of seconds. Every big achievement or shortcoming. Every person you’ve ever met, you remember. All in a few split seconds, years worth of existence plays out in front of you.

Well, Connor doesn’t see his entire life, so he guesses he’s not going to die, but his entire day at this park floods his memory. He and Gavin at all the different stands, Gavin with a churro hanging from his lips, seeing Markus for the first time, riding the river rapids with him and his friends, talking to him, and now, sitting at the very top of a rollercoaster with him, staring down at a hand extended out to him.

The coaster finally starts moving, and Connor snatches Markus' hand and squeezes his eyes shut as he throws both of his own into the air.

Holy crap, they’re moving fast. The drop seems endless, before it hits the bottom and speeds up another hill, flying clear up until it feels like they’re suspended in midair. Connor opens his eyes and gasps. They’re at the top of the second drop, but for the shortest of seconds, it feels like they’re weightless. Like they’re flying. Gavin’s words from earlier make so much more sense now.

Connor whoops with delight as the coaster drops again. It then heads into a curve that sends them down a massive spiral, which ends with another drop that makes Connor scream particularly loudly.

He only realizes at the end of the ride that he’s still been clutching Markus’ hand, and also that he never once put his hands on the rail the entire time.

By the time the coaster train reaches the end of the ride, Connor can see Gavin and the others standing outside of the gate. Gavin is cheering, camera in hand, while North and Josh and Simon applaud knowingly. Connor shuffles out of the ride, still panting from all the excitement.

He doesn’t realize until he hits solid ground again just how unsteady the adrenaline rush has made him. His legs almost buckle, before a hand at the small of his back steadies him. He glances up to see Markus smiling, yet again, with that perfect smile of his. A nervous laugh escapes Connor’s lips.

“…Thanks, Markus.” He can faintly see Gavin recording out of the corner of his eye, but he doesn’t have the heart or the energy to stop him this time. He’s too busy reveling in the fact that Markus has such a reassuring hold on him that he doesn’t really care who sees.

“Well?” Josh asks as Connor and Markus exit and find their way onto the concrete path once more. “What did you think? You an adrenaline junkie now?”

Connor, after finally catching his breath, laughs. “It was fun. Glad I had to wait until I was older to ride it, though.” He turns to face Markus and grins up at him. “Thank you for riding with me. I’d have been useless without you.”

“I’m sure you’d have been fine,” Markus replies easily. “You’d have been the only one in the rollercoaster picture holding onto the rail, though.”

“The rollercoaster picture!” Gavin exclaims, practically bouncing into the air. “I gotta go get one of those!”

“Didn’t you record it, though?” Connor frowns.

“Not the point!” Gavin’s voice is distant, because he’s already running toward the booth where the in-ride photos are sold. Nearby, North scoffs.

“He filmed the entire thing,” she clarifies. “He squealed like a kid in a candy store the whole damned time.”

“Though honestly,” Simon continues after her, flashing her a smile before turning his focus to Connor, “from what we saw as you guys flew by, you looked like you were having a pretty good time. I doubt he’ll have anything to laugh at you for, if that’s what this is about.”

Connor just shakes his head. “No, it’s not like that. He just knew I’d never ridden before and wanted to give me some motivation to. He wanted me to have fun, in his own weird way.” That’s why Connor is so close to Gavin. They understand one another. Even before the bet was made, Connor had known Gavin’s intentions were well-meant.

“Is he really going to post it online?” Josh questions from nearby. “You’re okay with that?”

Connor just shrugs. “Yeah. We’ve been posting videos together for years. I’ve seen him put up way more embarrassing things than me riding a rollercoaster. Plus, we got a cameo this time around.” He gestures to Markus, who scoffs and tucks his hands into his pockets.

“That make me famous?”

“I dunno,” Connor grins almost impishly. “Maybe a little.”

Just then, Gavin returns with a little paper envelope in hand. “Alright, got it. Anyway, I gotta go.”

Connor nods. “Let me just say goodbye, and I’ll be ready.”

“No, I have to go pick up my brother out of town,” Gavin replies quickly—too quickly—and Connor instantly knows he’s full of shit. “His dumb ass can’t afford an Uber back home, so I guess I’m his ride.”

“Gavin—” Before Connor can get out too much of a retort, Gavin faces Markus.

“Don’t suppose I could count on you to give my buddy here a ride home?”

North bursts out laughing, and as Markus tries to silence her, Connor seizes Gavin by the arm and tugs him a few feet away. “Are you serious!? You never listen to your brother! Why would you help him out now?”

“Because if I don’t, I’ll never hear the end of it,” Gavin shrugs, looking far too proud of himself. “Listen—Markus seems like a nice guy, you’ll be fine.”

“Have you ever watched anything on the ID channel?” Connor plants his hands on his hips. “All the serial killers seem nice at first, but they up and kill people!”

“You’re being dramatic,” Gavin replies around a scoff. “You really think I’d set you up with someone who’s gonna hurt you? Besides, you may be smaller than Markus, but you’re a scrapper. The only one I don’t think you could take is the girl. She looks like she could clobber Thor Fucking Odinson…” He shudders a little. “Anyway—”

“—I’ll ride with you to pick up your brother.”

“No,” Gavin disagrees immediately, “you won’t. Go have fun, man. He’s a nice guy.”

Connor rears a fist back and slugs his friend in the shoulder, before he holds out his hand. “Camera. Now.

“I’ll give it to you later,” Gavin tries, rolling his shoulder where Connor had just hit him.

“Nope, you’ll give it to me now. As collateral.”

Gavin raises both eyebrows, but fishes the pouch from his pocket and passes it to his friend. “Fine, whatever. A win is a win. You big damned baby…”

Once Connor has the camera in hand, he returns to Markus’ side. He sighs heavily and shakes his head. “You really don’t have to—”

“No, it’s fine.” Markus shrugs. “You said you live in town, so it’ll be alright. Besides, I have to taxi these guys home, too.” He gestures behind him to his friends. “You guys ready to head out?”

“Yeah, honestly,” Josh cracks his neck. “We’ve been out all morning.”

“I could use a nap before the movies tonight,” Simon agrees. He nods toward North. “We’re going to see that new horror movie later on.”

Markus shrugs. “Alright, cool. Let’s get out of here, guys.”

Despite having put up such a big fight to Gavin about riding with Markus, Connor doesn’t feel all that endangered by the whole thing. Everyone is so friendly, and when they get to the car and North demands that Josh sit in the back seat with her and Simon (much to his chagrin, as he argues that he doesn’t care to third-wheel their relationship), Connor comes to the conclusion that North at least has to be in on this whole setup Gavin created by making Markus give him a ride home.

Crafty little shits…

But Markus is pleasant. He drops Simon and North and Josh off first, before he heads toward Connor’s home. Connor learns on the ride there that while Markus does indeed do a little boxing on the side, he’s actually going to school for architecture. He’s extremely passionate about it, as he tells Connor about his dream to work all over Europe. The guy practically has hearts in his eyes as he talks about it.

Connor himself explains that he hasn’t quite figured out exactly what he wants to major in yet, so he’s getting his general education out of the way first. It’s almost as comforting as when they were on the coaster when Markus tells him he’ll figure it out soon enough—that not everyone has to decide their path right out of high school. Gavin has pounded those very same words into Connor’s head, but somehow, hearing it from Markus makes it feel that much more solid. Not that Gavin’s opinion wasn’t good enough. It’s just nice to hear it from someone else.

They connect so quickly that when they finally do arrive at Connor’s house, he’s almost reluctant to go. He’s just gotten started getting to know this guy, after all.

Maybe they should go see that horror movie tonight, too.

Actually, no. Scratch that. A comedy.

Wait, double scratch. Connor is being way too forward thinking.

Despite all this thinking and second-thinking, Markus walks Connor to his front door, just like Connor has seen in romcom after romcom. He smiles when they reach the door and clears his throat.

“This has been fun, Connor,” he starts, and Connor feels his pulse pick up with a violent flutter in his chest. He swallows down nervousness and smiles shyly up at the other man. “I uh, don’t suppose you’d want to do it again sometime?”

Connor laughs a little. “Ride my first rollercoaster again?” he teases. “Or…hang out again? You know, for real.”

“Yeah, that one,” Markus clarifies. “The second one. With, y’know, a lot less accidentally seeing each other and a lot more intentionally seeing each other. Like…coffee sometime? Do you like coffee? Soda?”

“Coffee sounds great, Markus.” Connor notices in this moment that he’s not the only one nervous about this whole thing. He won’t go so far as to call what they’re discussing doing a ‘date’, but it’s something. It’s a chance to see this guy again. And Connor wants that way more than he’d thought he would when he was dwelling on it earlier.

“Uh, here.” He dips a hand into his pocket and pulls his phone from it, opening up his contacts. As he passes it to Markus, he smiles up at him once more. “Let’s exchange numbers, and we can discuss this whole coffee arrangement later, okay?”

“I’d like that.” Markus takes the phone and types in his number. When he passes it back, Connor sends him a quick text so that he has his number as well. “Alright, well…text me soon, yeah?”

“You got it, Markus.” Connor waves one last goodbye, and as Markus finally descends the concrete porch steps and heads back to his car, he lets out a pleasant sigh. For a second, he leans back against the door.

There’s no way he just got a date out of going to a theme park. Shouldn’t it go the other way around? Shouldn’t the theme park be the date? Either way, he turns and opens the door, stepping inside.

The first thing he notices is that everyone’s eyes are on him. Hank, Connor’s stepfather, is the only one not giving him his attention. But it’s just as well, because the guy never reads the newspaper, and he’s hiding behind one right now. Cole, sat next to Nines on the floor, looks like he’s about to explode with excitement. Nines is grinning over at him, and Connor realizes that the ‘sexting sesh’ they’d apparently been having all day had probably evolved into a discussion about Connor’s potential new boyfriend.

And Connor’s mother? Well, she’s beaming. Or rather, beaming in the Amanda way she does. Her expression is calm enough, but she looks proud. Elated. Comforted, even. Had Connor really needed to meet someone that badly?

He clears his throat. “I’ll…I’ll just, uh…yeah.” He waves to his family and jogs up the stairs to his room. He doesn’t possess a single doubt in his mind that the entire family had been witnessing his talk with Markus at the porch from the window. He only wished he’d seen it sooner so he could have demanded they close the curtains.

Or maybe he doesn’t. This is a good thing, right? And even though Connor and Gavin hadn’t gone to the theme park with the intent to find Connor a boyfriend like his mother thinks they did, he’d wound up with a potential coffee date.

He needs to get on that, actually.

For now, though, he moves to his desk and pulls Gavin’s camera from the pouch. He turns it on and focuses the lens on himself.

“So, uh…” he starts, smiling into the camera. “As you can see, I won the bet. I rode my first rollercoaster today, which is probably not as exciting to you all as it is to me, but hey…I did it. As Gavin would put it, I lost my rollercoaster virginity. And you know what? It was fun.” He laughs a little as he films himself. “And we did more than just that. We rode just about everything in that park today, really. But I personally liked the river rapids the most. It…among other things…was a nice cool-down from the summer heat.”

He clears his throat. “In any case, I’ll be filming the next few vlogs, so you guys that have been rooting for Gavin to show himself more often are getting what you want. I’ll make sure to make it worth your while. For now, though, I’ve got to see a man about some coffee.” He winks into the camera and then stops the recording.

Promptly afterward, he grabs his phone and sends Markus an actual text this time.

How’s tomorrow sound? I have a feeling I’m going to be craving coffee tomorrow, and maybe a churro.

How quickly his phone buzzes with Markus’ response makes Connor’s stomach do backflips.

Tomorrow’s perfect. Pick you up at noon?

An hour later, Connor receives a text message from Gavin with a picture attachment. He scoffs to himself in the silence of his bedroom when he realizes that it’s a snapshot of the in-ride photo Gavin had purchased. But…he likes it. He’s been caught mid-scream, and Markus’ eyes are all squeezed shut as he very clearly laughs out his enjoyment of the ride. It’s their first photo together.

Connor is going to have to get a copy of it.