Nathan has been hiding in the closet from his religious conservative family since he was a teenager. Now that he has enough distance from them, he’s finally ready to step into the gay dating scene, or so he hopes.
Second Circle, a nightclub themed around Dante’s Inferno, is the sort of place his family would avoid, so it’s the perfect spot for a fresh start. His date Shawn is everything he wishes he could be: out and proud, confident in his identity, and forging his own path without worrying what people think of him.
Nathan grows more and more enamored as the date progresses, but then the last people he wants to see show up at the club and threaten to bring his new beginning to an abrupt end.
The more we talked, the more physical we got with each other. First it was just our hands touching. Then we had our arms linked as we leaned into each other. To this day I can’t really remember how we got like that, but eventually I had one leg swung up over his and our heads were together. I caressed his arm as I complimented his tattoo. He smiled and flexed it for me, explaining they were fire salamanders bound together, a nod to his welding hobby and his love of real-life salamanders in general. The feeling of his muscles under my palm sent tingles through my chest. It felt so casual, so natural, as though we had known each other more than a couple hours. The urge to kiss him never really went away, but the habitual shame and anxiousness did, even after my buzz faded. Since I wasn’t driving home I planned to get one of those fruity drinks Shawn had ordered and chug it before I left, so long as it wouldn’t make me forget anything that happened that night.
“Hey, Shawn?” I said during a rare lull in our conversation.
I smiled. “I’m having a really good time.”
Shawn smiled back, and I knew by then I was smitten with him but that smile confirmed it. “I am too. Gonna have to thank Ben for setting us up.”
“Mm-hmm.” I nuzzled even closer to him. “I owe him big for this.”
“Having that good of a time?”
My heart leapt with surprise and delight as I felt his lips on my cheek. It was such a quick kiss but it hit me like a gust of fresh air. “Good,” he said.
I blushed and hid my face in his neck. “That’s the first time a guy has kissed me,” I said.
“Won’t be the last,” he assured me. “Even if it’s not me, you’re really cute and I don’t doubt you’ll find a guy who makes you really happy.”
“I’m really happy right now.” I bit my lip then kissed his shoulder. “But thank you.”
A part of me felt set free. I could openly express my feelings here. I had kept them hidden for so long, I feared I would have to my whole life. But this was a safe place. I’d heard my parents rant about “snowflakes” who needed their “safe spaces” because they couldn’t cope with the real world. The world at large wasn’t a problem. I had a job that could be hard at times but I never complained, had struggled in school but never gave up. The problem was I had grown up with the church as my community, and once I thought I wouldn’t be welcome there anymore because I was gay I felt lost. The world of Second Circle was new to me, and I did feel like I stood out more than I wanted, but no one would cast me out because I looked too plain. And I could always get more colorful clothes that suited me; I couldn’t get rid of my sexuality.