“When are you going to tell your Daddy you want to move in together?” Some days, getting Ryland going was entirely too easy.
“What?” He popped up in his bed, wide-eyed and mouth hanging open.
Sharing a room had worked out better than I’d expected, but that might have had something to do with the fact that Ryland just about lived at Holden’s place. Before we ever got frustrated with each other, he would be gone for a day or even the whole weekend. It was perfect.
I’d be sad when he actually moved out for good to go live with Holden, but they’d been perfect together from the start, so I knew it would happen sooner or later.
“Don’t give me that look. We both know it’s what you want.” He was shaking his head, but it was more like denial was his pre-programmed response rather than what he actually wanted.
“But…he…” Ryland blinked and reached over to tap his phone, looking at the time. “Um…I have class soon.”
Trying to use that as a good excuse to get out of the conversation was cute. Of course, getting him functioning had been the only reason I’d brought it up originally, but I wasn’t planning on admitting that.
“I’m sure you have a few minutes to talk.” I gave him a grin. “I never see you anymore. You’re always off staying over with your Daddy.”
Ryland blushed faintly, but it wasn’t as bad as it had been when he’d first started exploring age play with Holden. “Bull. We hung out last night.”
“So tonight it’s Daddy’s turn?”
Ryland flopped back on the bed and groaned. “You’re just trying to make me crazy this morning.”
“I was promised a wild year of debauchery, and you ditch me for another guy.” I sighed but laughed when he snorted.
“Liar.” He rolled over and propped his head up with one arm. “I never promised that. I think I said I’d go to a club with you once as long as you didn’t make me dance or talk to anyone…and he’s not ‘another guy;’ that just sounds wrong.”
“I’m still going to hold you to that club promise. Don’t think you’ve gotten out of it by falling in love.” Holden wouldn’t mind. Especially since I had no intention of using my “club” night at a regular bar with strangers looking for one-night stands. In fact, he’d want to come with us.
Ryland looked skeptical. “I don’t know…Holden…”
“—wouldn’t mind and you know it. He wants you to have fun at college.” I had a feeling that was one of the reasons Holden hadn’t pushed Ryland more about moving in. He’d made it clear he didn’t feel crowded and that he liked taking care of Ryland. But he also worked really hard to make sure Ryland got to choose how much control he turned over to Holden.
Ryland got a faint smile on his face and a faraway look in his eyes. “He does. He always puts me first.” Then he frowned. “I just wish other people in my life would think about what I wanted too.”
He sighed and rolled over to stare up at the ceiling. “That sounds selfish, doesn’t it? I mean, I’ve got you and Daddy who want me to be happy and stuff…Is it terrible that I’m getting frustrated with my parents?”
No, I thought it was about time, but saying that might not be helpful to Ryland. “I can understand that. Your mom is very set in her ways and how she sees you.”
And she was a crazy old bat who was pissed that Holden was more important to Ryland than her.
I had to give her some credit. Once she’d realized no amount of questions or cold shoulders would chase Holden away or get Ryland to leave him, she’d backed off. I thought that was more about a strategic retreat to regroup than anything nice on her part, though.
“So I’m not…greedy?”
That he was worried about being greedy when he just wanted his mom to be happy for him was sad. “No. Absolutely not. She’s wrong. You’re not.”
“Your mom is always so supportive.” He rolled over again to look at me. “How’s your little brother doing?”
Between classes and Holden and his own parents, Ryland hadn’t been over to the house lately. “Good, sitting up and looking more like a real person every day. Every time I see Mom, she starts complaining about how soon he’s going to be walking.”
Ryland chuckled. “She’s so funny.”
Especially when she wasn’t his mother. “You try dealing with the insanity. I’m so glad I’m not living at home.”
I loved my family, but having time to myself and privacy was a godsend. Not that I was living it up and making the most of it. No, dating had slowly ground to a halt as I’d gotten more curious about someone new.
Well, not exactly new.
“Absolutely.” Ryland might have traded in the unlimited freedom of being away from his parents to just about live with Holden, but it was clear he didn’t regret that decision.
“But then you’d be living right next to Holden and would only have to walk across the yard to see him.”
Ryland barked out a laugh. “Do you honestly think my mother would make it that easy?”
For a while, he’d taken to parking in Holden’s garage with the hope that they wouldn’t know he was over at his Daddy’s house, so we both knew the answer to that question. Smiling, I climbed out of bed and headed over to the small coffeemaker that was perched on top of my dresser crammed next to a small TV. “No, you’d have turned into Rapunzel or something and we’d have had to break you out.”
Snickering, he nodded. He gave my now brewing coffee a long look. “You love me, don’t you?”
“Make your own coffee, mooch. I’m not your Daddy or your boyfriend.”
Blushing, Ryland groaned. “He won’t make me coffee. He says it’s bad for me, and I need to get more sleep instead.”
They were so funny together.
Taking my mug over to the bed, I sat down. “Get up, lazy. You’re going to be late for class and might have to skip the caffeine if you don’t function faster.”
Forcing himself up, Ryland groaned. “I can’t wait for fall break.”
Laughing, I took another sip and then set it down on the shelf by the bed. The room was small, with two twin beds pushed up against one wall separated by a low shelf, but we’d done our best to make it work. “You just want a week with your Daddy.”
Ryland grinned and his blush flared back to life. “I…we…” He turned away quickly and walked over to the dresser. The handful of steps to get there wasn’t enough time for him to figure out what he wanted to say, though.
Knowing it was easier for him to tell me things when he wasn’t looking at me, I waited patiently. I’d gotten good at it over the years. Finally, he started again as he dug through drawers, taking a lot longer than it should have to grab a T-shirt.
I heard him take a deep breath, and I tried not to smile. “We’re going to see what it’s like for me to be little for a couple of days instead of just for a few hours.”
It was about time.
“I think you’ll like that. What does Holden think about it?” Holden was probably in heaven with the idea.
As much as Ryland worried about taking over Holden’s life, his Daddy loved taking care of him. Ryland finally moved away from the dresser and went over to the coffeemaker, tossing his shirt on the bed. “He thinks it’s going to be fun.”
“What kind of rules are you guys going to have? If I call you, are you going to be able to answer, or are you going to be out of touch completely for those days?” Ryland hadn’t let me see him little yet.
He was always a bit panicked about the idea and, I assumed, a bit afraid of what I’d think. I knew it wouldn’t make any difference to our friendship at all. I just wanted him happy and comfortable enough that I wouldn’t have to hide it from whoever I got serious with someday.
There was a long pause that just kept getting longer. I wasn’t going to push him, but I had a feeling I knew what Holden would think. Eventually, as Ryland’s coffee was filling, he shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Well, it wasn’t no, so I was impressed. Walking over, I slung an arm over his shoulders and gave him a side hug. “Thank you, Ry.”
He blushed again but leaned into my hug.
I knew there were crazy things going through his head about what would happen if I saw him little. It was something he needed to work out alone or with his Daddy, though. Me pushing my way into that part of his life would just make it harder for him to figure out what he wanted.
Pulling away so he could grab his coffee, I started wandering around the room getting my stuff together. My day wasn’t as rushed as his, but I had a few things that needed to be done before my afternoon classes. When Ryland had grabbed his coffee and was feeling steadier after thinking about me seeing him little, I grabbed my clothes and started getting ready.
Ryland started laughing as I stripped down. “Now I have to tell Daddy I was bad because I saw someone else naked. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” I wiggled my naked ass at him. “If you’re lucky, maybe he’ll spank you for being naughty.”
Groaning, Ryland started muttering about me driving him crazy as I hurriedly got dressed. We’d slept over at each other’s houses since we were kids and he’d seen me naked countless times. It was one of the things that made living together easy. He was shy around almost everyone but me, and now Holden, so I’d never had to worry about making him uneasy over something as simple as changing clothes.
I knew a guy freshman year who had a roommate who’d been so shy he’d changed in the closet if there wasn’t time to go down to the showers. The guy I knew wasn’t even gay, but he’d felt so weird about it all that they’d hardly spoken.
Ryland ignored my teasing and started getting dressed too. As he pulled his shirt over his head, he seemed to remember something. “Oh, Daddy wanted to know if you wanted to come over for dinner this weekend.”
“Is he actually cooking?” I was fine even if it was takeout, but I wouldn’t turn down a home-cooked meal that didn’t come with a crying baby and nosy parents.
Ryland grinned. “Yep, he’s making lasagna.”
“Just tell me when to show up, then.” There was always endless studying to do, but taking the night off to hang out with them would be fun. It would also give me a chance to test the waters and see what Holden thought of me seeing Ryland when he was little.
Ryland gave me a shy look before glancing away. “I wasn’t sure if you’d be busy.”
I grinned. “If you must know, I am very free. For now.”
Rylan shrugged like it had just been a casual question, but I knew better, so I continued, “I saw this guy a few times, but it wasn’t going to work.”
He was still deep in the closet, and I was entirely too curious about someone else.
If he’d been “the one,” I would have waited. I didn’t need to flaunt a relationship, but the stress of keeping it quiet combined with him being a lot more vanilla than he’d originally hinted at was a deal breaker. I knew myself better than to get serious with someone who would never understand a big part of me.
Rylan frowned. “I’m sorry.”
He walked over and gave me a hug. “You’ll find someone perfect.”
“Thanks.” Squeezing him tight, I let him go so he could finish getting ready. “He ended up being way too vanilla. I met him online in this group and he hinted that he was curious about—”
Ryland stuck his fingers in his ears. “La la la la.”
Laughing, I stopped teasing him. “Head out of the sand, ostrich.”
“No, thank you. I like the sand.” But he glanced over and gave me a questioning look.
He might not be ready to admit it, but he was starting to get curious. I loved that finding security with Holden had gotten him out of his shell. I’d pushed him as much as I could, but I’d always wanted to protect him too much.
Now, he was doing it on his own.
I felt like a parent whose kid had finally started to grow up. Well, grow up and figure out that they wanted to stay little.
“If you stay in the sand, you miss out on all the good details, though.” Not that there was much to share.
I’d never been as clueless as Ryland had been about what I’d wanted, but that didn’t mean figuring it out had been easy. Information did not magically make opportunities or Mr. Right appear…and sometimes Mr. Right Now was even scarce.
“No details.” Ryland shook his head.
He was so funny. He had this weird combination of innocence and sex appeal that he’d never understood what to do with. Not that he’d wanted to.
I laughed, wiggling my eyebrows. “One of these days, I’m going to tell you all the details.”
“That’s just mean. No threats.”
Still laughing, I shook my head. When I finally caught my breath, I stepped closer and ran my hand over his head like he was a puppy. “One of these days, you’ll be curious enough to want to hear all of the details.”
But hopefully not give himself a heart attack in the process.
“Daddy said I don’t have to know anything I don’t want to.” Then he stuck his tongue out at me.
“You’re so spoiled.”
He smiled and nodded, but before he could respond, I pointed at his phone. “Check the time. You’re going to be late.”
He sighed, frowning. “Where does the morning go?”
“It disappears when you hit the snooze button a dozen times.” Well, at least four. I’d already been up, so it hadn’t bothered me. I’d just ignored it until he’d run out of time.
He kept grumbling about schedules and stupid early morning classes while he threw on clothes and tried to gulp his coffee. I prodded, “Hurry or I’ll tell your Daddy you didn’t get up in time to have breakfast again.”
Ryland shot me a dirty look. “Meanie.”
“I’m not the one who slept in.”
“But you’re the one who kept me up too late with that stupid movie. So it’s not my fault.” Satisfied that he couldn’t get in trouble, Ryland took another long sip before he started hunting for his shoes.
Since he could hurry when he actually needed to, Ryland was out the door before the rest of his coffee had cooled any more.
I went slow enough that I got to drink my coffee, but I was out the door not long behind him. I had a few hours before my first class, but I had an errand to run and it needed to be timed perfectly.
Cut class short or let them out right on time?
It was a conversation I’d had with myself every Tuesday and Thursday since the semester had started. So far, I’d chickened out and had watched the clock like a sleep-deprived freshman who just needed to survive until the end of class.
Every Tuesday morning, I’d tell myself I’d let my last class go five minutes early, but at the last minute, I always changed my mind. Then I’d go through the whole charade on Thursday. My students were starting to whisper. There was nothing they could say or accuse me of, but they’d started to watch the clock too, knowing that when the minute hand reached the hour, I’d release them no matter what.
Last week, I’d stopped mid-sentence.
It’d gotten to the point of ridiculousness, but I wasn’t sure what to do.
There’s nothing wrong with you. I repeated the words again in my head as I watched my students debate the current subject in small groups. It was good for them and easier for me to watch the clock when they weren’t staring at me and smiling.
I’d never been uncomfortable in front of my students before.
I wasn’t the loudest professor or the brashest, but I held their attention. Even the topics that some English majors found dry were well attended. If there was the faintest giggle occasionally about how I was the cute professor in the English department, I ignored it.
I was becoming a bit infamous for not bringing up my personal life in any situation.
My summer sessions had been filled with mostly English majors who’d had me before, so they’d made a game of slipping in questions whenever they could. I was never so glad to see the summer end. It wasn’t that I was ashamed of my private life. They just didn’t need to know anything about it.
However, in a school that was known for its liberal dating policy between the faculty and students, amongst other things, it made me stand out.
Forcing myself to function, I walked through the room, listening to their discussions and picking pieces I wanted to remember for the next class. As I headed back to the front of the room, I knew without looking what time it was.
I’d picked up a superpower in the recent weeks.
My special ability? Being able to know exactly when the clock hand silently moved and finished out the hour.
Making a few notes, I took a careful breath and looked up. Every eye in the room was on me and several of them were flicking back and forth between me and the clock.
“Next time we’re going to work on refining some of the topics from your discussions. You’ve got a good grasp on it, but you’re missing a few things that I think will help you see what the author is trying to get across. Don’t forget your papers, and you’re dismissed.”
A giggle broke out from the back row, but most students were smart enough to cough and try not to stand out.
As they filed out of the room, I ignored the few long looks and wink from a tall cutie on the football team. Our guys never won anything, but they had fun playing—and were doing surprisingly well in my classes.
The room was empty seconds after I’d let them go, thankfully.
Forcing myself not to rush in case any of my students happened to walk past the door, I gathered my things and headed for my office. If I was there only two minutes after class ended, that was my choice and not because I was racing toward the door.
It was there.
He’d been there.
I kept referring to my mystery…guest as a man, but I wasn’t sure. The strong handwriting and overall boldness felt like something a man would do, as well. The previous female students who’d had the confidence to approach me had given offers of dinner and conversation.
Not bottles of water and snacks.
The little plastic bag hanging from the doorknob of my office always contained a bottle of water, a small snack, and a note.
One time, he’d included a party hat because he’d written that it was his birthday.
Taking the bag off the door, I fisted the plastic tightly and refused to look inside. Once the door was safely shut and locked, I sighed and felt the heat slip up my face. Why I blushed when there was no one around to see me, I wasn’t sure. It was just…confusing.
Setting the bag and my notebooks down, I took a deep breath and sat at my desk.
Some days, I would force myself to do a few minutes of work just to keep the anticipation building. I’d long since stopped being worried about what would be in the bag. Maybe that was stupid, but nothing he’d ever done had made me feel unsafe.
The first surprise had been a little red plastic apple. It’d said Best Professor Ever, but Best had been crossed out with a permanent marker and over it, he’d written cutest.
Grown men in positions of authority didn’t get called cute, especially not when they were over thirty. I’d been called all kinds of things from stuffy to sexy, but never cute. Not by someone vanilla, at least.
Opening the bag, I smiled when I pulled out the bottle of water. Setting it to the side, I looked at the snack. A brownie.
How had he—?
I opened the note and could almost hear a deep chuckle as I read it.
No, cutie, I’m not psychic, I was standing behind you in line at the coffee shop yesterday afternoon. You looked at the brownies for a long time, but talked yourself out of it, so I had to get it for you. Spoiling you should be my job. I’m not going to nag about you getting caffeine that late in the day because that would be just a bit hypocritical since I was there as well. But I am going to remind you to make sure they don’t schedule you like this again. It was bad last semester, but you don’t even have any time at all for lunch this year. Okay, no more nagging. Have fun with your snack.
Your not-remotely-stalkerish and not-so-secret admirer
He was feeling cheerful today. Some days he was quieter, but others were like this one, funny and teasing. I couldn’t help but pull up the coffee shop in my mind. I’d been running late for a faculty meeting, and I knew it would just drone on and on, so I’d stopped to grab some quick caffeine.
There had been a line of people, mostly students, and Alice, one of my current students, had been at the front of the line. She’d let me cut, and I remembered glancing behind her to make sure no one else had an issue with it. There had been a few history professors at the back of the line. They’d been in no hurry because they hadn’t been required to be at the meeting. In my head, I could see a handful of familiar students, but no one who’d stood out.
I scoffed as I opened the brownie.
He wouldn’t have been wearing a flashing sign that said stalker. Well, not exactly stalker. His second note had been sweet…hesitant. He’d said that he’d been fussed at, his words, for possibly worrying me, so he’d let me know that if I wanted him to stop and disappear, then all I had to do was leave a note on my door for him.
A more street-smart man would have at least tried to make him stop.
I’d never claimed to be street smart, though. I knew I wasn’t a moron. I had strengths in many areas and was familiar with a lot of situations, but just not this.
Relationships that had rules and contracts, yes.
Having a secret admirer…never.
I felt a little bit like a teenager who’d just found a note in their locker every time I saw the bag hanging there. The fact that he’d given me enough details over time that I should have been able to figure out who he was let me know that he wasn’t trying to be sneaky or actually hide from me.
No, my admirer seemed to be waiting for me to decide what I wanted.
Last week he’d asked me if I liked chocolate chip cookies.
Questions meant answers.
I wasn’t sure if I was ready to answer him…and that was causing me endless amounts of grief. It wouldn’t have been hard if it were anything else. Work…bills…hell, what movie to see…I could have decided all that. I wasn’t flakey or even the stereotypical absentminded professor, but in my personal life…it was harder.
Did he know?
I wanted to be able to say yes, that I liked chocolate chip cookies, and yes, I wanted to meet him.
There was just so much I wasn’t sure about yet.
The vibration of my phone made me jump. Pulling my cell out of my pocket, I answered it, smiling. “No, I am not volunteering for another fundraiser.”
Laughter came through the phone. “Sure, that’s the reason I’m calling on a Thursday afternoon just minutes after your last class.”
I’d made the mistake of telling a coworker, who was also a close friend, about the notes. “Miller, if you keep giving me shit, I’m not going to tell you what he brought me.”
“Me? I don’t know what you’re talking about. This is just your regular Thursday phone call to make sure your stalker didn’t abduct you.” He was such a bad liar.
“Thanks.” I didn’t bother to hide the dry tone in my response.
“So what’d he leave this time? And I’m not even going to ask if you got out early enough to catch him.”
I gave him a deadpan response. “Class was busy today.”
Miller coughed, a rough sound that came out more like “bullshit” than any real medical issue.
I couldn’t play the we don’t know when he leaves things game with Miller anymore. After the first couple of weeks, the ass had taken it upon himself to walk by my office between classes. He’d obsessively narrowed down the time to my last class of the day.
Thankfully, he had a class at the same time I did, so I didn’t have to worry about him cheerfully greeting my visitor.
“What did he leave?” The excitement in his voice was ridiculous.
“You need a life.”
“True, but I’m enjoying living vicariously right now, so spill it.”
I sighed. Where had my backbone gone? “A brownie.”
“Water. You know he always brings that.”
“No. There was something in your voice.”
Psych professors were such assholes sometimes. “He said in his note that he saw me looking at it in the coffee shop yesterday. He said he was in line behind me.”
“You saw him?” Miller sounded like we were in the middle of a daytime soap opera and the director had just told him to give his best shocked voice.
“Maybe?” I thought back to the people. “He’s not lying. I was in there yesterday and was drooling over the stupid thing. I just didn’t have time to eat, and if I would’ve brought food in there, the wolves would have descended on me.”
He chuckled. “Very true.”
He was quiet for a moment, then started speaking to me like I was an idiot for not guessing his question already. “Well, what does he look like?”
“I don’t know. There were at least ten people in line, and they let me jump to the front. I was only in there for a minute or two.” Alice had seen me start to walk out the door once I’d realized I’d never make it on time, and she’d called out to me. I’d quickly said I was on my way to a meeting and she’d let me get in front of her.
“This is just…”
“No psycho-babble.” Not letting him get caught up in randomly trying to profile me or some other such nonsense, I cut him off. “There was a mix of professors and students that I recognized. No one stands out.”
Miller scoffed. “You have no self-preservation instincts.”
“He’s not a serial killer.”
“Couldn’t you at least tell that someone was staring at you? The way he’s been hinting at who he is in the letters, it was probably obvious.”
Miller really needed a social life of his own.
I wondered for a moment if the new guy in the registrar’s office was single and at least curious. I made a mental note to figure out a reason to send Miller over there in the next couple of days. “I wasn’t even thinking about him. It’s not like I go around paranoid that every person I meet might be him.”
Why would I do that when I hadn’t decided what I was going to do?
“You should be more curious about this!”
“And you need a hobby besides my…very elusive new friend.”
Miller started laughing so hard I worried for a moment he might give himself a stroke. I sighed, refusing to react. “You’re insane.”
It took him a minute to catch his breath. “Elusive…new…friend.”
Then he set himself off again on another hysterical laughing fit.
“Are you done? I have work to do.” And a brownie to finish.
Even when he finally stopped laughing, Miller kept chuckling to himself. “Elusive…You’re fabulous, Beck.”
“No, I am an English professor with more papers to grade than time. Goodbye, Miller.” He started speaking as I moved to disconnect the call.
I wasn’t in the mood to hear him laugh at me again. “What?”
“You can’t let it go on like this.” Miller’s intense words weren’t what I wanted to hear. “You have to figure out who he is.”
“Why?” I was perfectly…well, not content, but—
“Because what if he’s perfect, and he gets tired of playing these games with you? What if he’s insane and you disappear off the street one day? What if he’s—”
I jumped in. “What if he’s completely horrified by what his crush is into?”
Miller snorted. “Those notes of his keep talking about taking care of you and he brings you snacks. He’s not going to be shocked. Hell, I’ve been trying to figure out how he guessed.”
“He couldn’t have…” Maybe not…but… “You think?”
He mumbled something under his breath about artsy professors. “Hey!”
Miller laughed. “Yeah, he knows. Have fun eating the dessert your elusive new Dom friend gave you.”
He hung up before I could decide if I wanted to hang up on him or scream at him.
Glancing down at the brownie, I reached out and picked up the water bottle. Miller was right. There was only so much self-deception even I could justify. Somehow, one of my students had guessed. I wasn’t ashamed of my submission. It was just like being gay. It wasn’t anyone’s business unless I chose to share it.
How had he figured it out?
What did he think about it?
Then there was a better question—was I willing to do anything about it?