Unexpected

 

Chapter 1

Holden

 

“Who wants spinach and whole-wheat baby biscuits? The fruit-flavored or even vanilla ones are so much better.” The male voice was familiar, maybe that’s what drew my attention, but as the speaker continued, something had me stopping in the middle of the grocery aisle. “It’s getting harder and harder to find the good ones. Organic green tea baby biscuits are not fun.”

“Dude, you know that sounds so weird when you say shit like that.” The new voice didn’t seem surprised at the direction the conversation had taken, but I could almost hear the second young man shaking his head.

I could understand where he was coming from. Most people didn’t go around talking about eating baby cookies—at least not in the grocery store.

The first voice didn’t seem upset; in fact, the conversation had a familiar feel to it, like they’d had it before. “What? They’re good, and I enjoy doing stuff that makes me feel like a kid again. It’s like all those people who color and buy those fifty-dollar books and expensive crayons to help them relax. Same thing.”

“Um, I think there’s a bit of a difference between my mother coloring intricate designs in one of those stupid books and you eating baby cookies and watching cartoons.” There was a pause, and I heard the cart moving around. “What brand of diapers did my mother send us here for?”

I should’ve kept going. That would’ve been the mature thing to do, the right thing. But no, I stood in the middle of the grocery store, trying to look like I was debating which paper towel roll to grab, while really listening to the most curious conversation I’d ever heard in public.

One voice was just so accepting and the other was so honest, I couldn’t walk away.

“Those, no, not that one.” The boy who liked the baby biscuits was clearly growing frustrated. “No, your sister is like the size of a bag of flour. Those diapers are way too big. No, not that brand, she’s going to want the other.”

“God, just grab what we were sent here for.” It was clear that the second young man didn’t find the baby aisle as interesting as the first.

“Okay, these.” There was a short pause. “But wait, oh, they might have the good ones.”

The good baby cookies or diapers?

Cookies.

“They put organic weird crap up at the top, but all the good ones down low. What are they trying to do, sell the junk food kind to babies in the carts?” There was quiet for a moment before he spoke again, and I could hear the excitement and almost triumph in his voice. “Yes, they’ve got the vanilla ones. Do you think my mother would notice if I came home with two bags?” There was a hopefulness in his voice that made me want to promise him all the cookies he could eat.

But the second voice was quick to burst his bubble. “Yes. Your mother’s nosy as hell. She’d end up thinking that you had a girl knocked up somewhere.”

“Okay, I’ll just grab one. But while we’re here, I want to get some of those fruit squishy packs. She didn’t think those were weird.”

“Fruit squishy packs?” He reminded me of a frustrated parent who was trying to figure out what snack their toddler wanted.

It was interesting.

“You know…the applesauce in the pouches. I just told her it was to keep them from spilling in my backpack and that it was better for recycling. She said something about me doing a good job and thinking things through and just ignored it after that.” He’d clearly gone to a lot of trouble just for applesauce.

“And we’re just going to ignore the fact that it’s weird you’re picking out food designed for infants and toddlers, right?” I could hear the smile in the second boy’s voice.

“Yup.” The cheerful one didn’t seem offended. “My parents are so excited for me to be an adult; I need every bit of fun I can get.”

“Your parents have been this way for years.” The second boy snorted, and I heard some movement from the cart. “You were the only kid in kindergarten in a suit.”

The comment should have been teasing, but I had a feeling he was serious. The young man who was fond of cartoons and kids’ snacks made an agreeing noise. “Yeah, but that little briefcase was awesome. They have no idea why I wanted to take a break this summer. They’ve had my future planned out since I could walk, and I think this is the last chance for me to forget about it all.”

“You should just tell them you don’t want to be an engineer.” The second boy was clearly the more assertive up of the two.

The first young man snorted, clearly not fond of that idea. “And tell them I have no idea what I want to do, but being a kid again sounds like a good idea? No thanks.”

I could understand exactly why he thought it sounded perfect, but I wasn’t sure if he realized what he was saying or not. The second boy laughed. “They’d keel over from the shock.”

The dry response made me fight back a laugh. “And I’d end up in prison for inducing a heart attack or something. I’m a hot bottom, but I don’t have any desire to be some guy’s bitch boy.”

The second boy barked out a laugh. “Way to overshare in the grocery store, moron.”

“There’s no one here. Everyone in town is over at the fairgrounds or watching the game.”

He was almost right.

The more confrontational of the two made a noise of agreement. “All you need is something crazy to get back to your parents right before they leave. Do you really think they’ll cruise around Asia if they think you’re having some kind of existential crisis?”

“Do you even know what that word means?” The interesting young man laughed.

And suddenly I knew exactly who he was…Ryland Owens.

The second voice had to belong to the young man I’d seen leaving the Owens’ household several times. Ryland’s friend was over there so often, I’d originally thought the family had two sons, not one.

Once I knew who was speaking, everything else clicked into place. Ryland was right. His parents treated him like an adult, but a coddled one who wasn’t allowed too much freedom. I’d had dinner with them several times when he’d been in the dorms. I’d enjoyed it, but they were old enough that I didn’t have much in common with them.

From what they’d said, Ryland was a surprise late-in-life baby that they hadn’t planned on. Ryland’s father was a doctor and his mother a high-powered lawyer, so I could only imagine what Ryland’s childhood had been like.

“Come on, if we don’t get back with the diapers my mother is going to kill me.” Ryland’s friend sighed dramatically.

“Your little sister’s cute.”

“You don’t have to live with her or my mother going through her oh shit I’ve got another baby crisis.”

“I still don’t see how she can panic when it’s what she wanted.” Ryland honestly seemed confused, and it made me smile.

“Who knows—women are nuts.” I couldn’t decide if the friend’s comment meant he liked women but didn’t understand them or that he was gay too and had no interest in figuring them out.

“Amen.”

Smiling wider, I heard their cart start to move. I should have walked in the other direction and pretended I hadn’t heard them, but my feet started moving before my brain could make a more reasonable decision. Whispering to myself, I couldn’t help but question what I was about to do. “A hyped-up sub on too much caffeine and sugar would have more sense. You’re too old to do stupid things.”

Evidently not.

I rounded the corner just in time to hear Ryland start speaking again. “Hey, do you remember those articles online where adults were using binkies to stop smoking and replace the sensation of having something in their mouths?” Without waiting for his companion to respond, he kept going. “These are not big enough for adults. Where do you think they found them?”

“Ry, dude, you—” Before he could finish what I was sure was going to be a severe scolding for saying something like that in the grocery store, he ran his cart into mine.

Perfect.

Looking back at me, the young man I’d seen with Ryland blinked at me. “Oh, sorry, man.”

Giving him an understanding smile, I shrugged. “It’s alright.”

Then, before my brain could tell my mouth not to be stupid, I spoke again. “There are specialty websites for things like adult-sized binkies. They cater to a wide variety of lifestyles.”

Yup, moron.

Ryland looked sweetly confused, like he’d been entirely too sheltered, but his friend’s eyes widened until most of his face seemed to be big brown eyes and an open mouth. He knew exactly what I was talking about.

“Um, thanks.” Ryland probably wouldn’t have been so polite if he’d noticed the look on his friend’s face, but his focus was entirely on me.

No impulse control. “You’re welcome, boy.”

Giving him a wink and a nod to his friend, I shifted my cart and kept going. Ryland said something low that sounded like a comment about their grocery list, but his friend couldn’t seem to hold back his surprise.

“Dude, your neighbor is freaky.” He said it fairly low, but in the almost silent store, it echoed down the aisle.

“What?” Without looking back, I wasn’t sure what Ryland’s expression was, but I had a feeling the confused, innocent look was back in full force.

“Ry, we really need to work on branching out your porn habits.” His friend sounded like a parent who had just about had enough. “Come on, we need to have a talk.”

“About what?” That sweet, lost voice had my cock jerking.

“Ry…” Ryland’s friend paused. “It’s…fuck. You make me explain the weirdest shit. Come on.”

“Weird?” I could feel Ryland’s eyes on me as I reached the end of the aisle.

As I turned, I looked back, too curious to miss seeing him one last time. Ryland was watching me as his friend just stood there shaking his head. Curiosity seemed to be the only thing on his face. The guileless expression made me want to pull him into my arms and do wicked things to him.

Forcing myself to walk away and toward the other end of the store to give them some space, I heard Ryland’s voice one last time. “What do you mean ‘weird shit’?”

How was I supposed to stay away from perfection like that?

****

Unloading the groceries, I glanced over at Ryland’s house as I carried in another bag. Outside was quiet, but I knew that inside it had to be a flurry of last-minute preparations. Ryland’s parents had been planning the trip for months and now that they were on the countdown to leave, the final plans had to be stressful.

Neither were ready to retire completely, but the vacation was their way of taking things a little bit easier and rewarding themselves for strong careers. And to a degree, I thought it was a celebration of their parenting duties ending.

Not that they’d said anything specific, but their excitement had been almost palpable.

Two more trips to my car had everything in the house, and within minutes, it was put away. Not planning any big vacation before the summer session started had seemed like a good idea when I was up to my elbows in grading and planning, but now that the quiet had descended, I was starting to rethink that decision.

There were countless projects that needed to be addressed around the house, but my mind was still back in the grocery store. There’d been a short period when I’d questioned what I’d heard, but there was no doubting what Ryland had said. The innocent excitement, the sound in his voice when he’d talked about the baby cookies, the little things his friend had said…they all added up to someone who was perfect for the lifestyle.

But it was clear he had no idea.

Walking over to the window that looked out over the back yard, I had to smile. I had a feeling his friend would be explaining some things to him very shortly, though. I found that sweet confusion enticing, but his friend clearly didn’t.

How would Ryland react?

If he knew he was a bottom, then it was clear he’d had a little bit of experience, but it was also clear that his porn was fairly vanilla if he had no idea how his little comments came across. With most guys, I wouldn’t have been able to understand how they were that lost by the time they’d reached college, but after meeting his parents, it was easy to see.

The Type-A planners he’d grown up with would never have let him wander off the path they had laid out for him. His time from dawn to dusk had probably been scheduled out in excruciating detail and every little thing carefully monitored. His mother might not have been planning on having children, but she wasn’t the type of person who would drop the ball on an important project.

Yes…the more I thought about it, the easier it was to see why Ryland would be drawn to the carefree part of being little. I just wasn’t sure if he would see it that way. It would really come down to how his friend presented it.

From the surprised look on his face, Ryland’s friend knew what I’d been hinting at, but it hadn’t given me enough of a clue about how he felt…or more especially how he thought the lifestyle would fit Ryland.

I’d met the young man once in the grocery store and heard him in their yard several times. There was no reason I should have been so enamored of the boy—but I’d been single too long to want to fight it. Boys who were perfect for the lifestyle didn’t just show up every day, and sweet, sexy boys who made me want to pull them close were even harder to find.

As ridiculous as it would sound, I knew I wanted a chance to get to know Ryland better. But my chances of that could be rapidly dwindling, depending on how a conversation somewhere across town was going.