In the wake of the Halloween lock-in, a rift has opened among the friends, brought about by Mark’s inability to be honest with them, as well as himself. Todd reaches out to Blake and Clay, and a stronger friendship is forged. Mark misses his boyfriend, but even more so when a new student named Taylor arrives on the scene, and it appears that Taylor and Todd might be more than just friends.
Clay’s about to turn nineteen and his father is throwing a party—one he fully intends to wriggle out of, until Travis invites all his friends and he’s caught. An uninvited guest brings out a side of Clay nobody knew existed, one that threatens to shake the peace of New Liberty.
The brisk October air slapped Mark Wittington in the face as he rolled down the window in Dylan’s truck. His stomach hurt, his eyes burned, and his heart was once again in turmoil. Why did he keep doing this to himself? He felt a swat on his arm and turned toward the perpetrator. “What?”
“Hey, just makin’ sure you’re awake for work. You feel all right to go in?”
Mark was trying to remove the white pancake makeup he’d applied to his face to make himself into a more authentic vampire for the all-night Halloween lock-in at New Liberty High School. Everything had started out so well the night before. Twelve short hours ago. He had his unacknowledged boyfriend, Todd, at his side, and they’d won prizes from most of the games. They’d been having fun.
Then he just had to have the chat. The one with his ex-boyfriend, Blake Davis, in an attempt to mend broken fences. It was supposed to be a healing talk between himself and Blake, but had been anything but healing. And, as a side effect, the fruitless discussion cost him his relationship with Todd. Now he had neither Blake nor Todd as his man. Even Dylan, his best friend since the sandbox, was acting iffy.
“I’ll make it. I’ll just drink a lot of caffeine.” He continued to let the cool breeze strike him in the face. He really needed to wake up. He hadn’t been to sleep all night, thanks to the lock-in. They were on their way to the Krystal Castle, where he was a shift leader. He actually enjoyed the job and anticipated a future there, perhaps in management. At least he had until he decided to date one of the other employees, Blake Davis. Since then, it seemed as though everything had spiraled down and down, until he had no one left. He’d alienated everyone, even his most loyal friends. Like Todd, who’d been his buddy since childhood, then became his lover, and was now his ex-lover—all in the span of a month. He was having difficulty wrapping his head around it all.
“You’re a real piece of work, Wittington, you know that? Why do you push away everyone who loves you? I thought for sure Todd could tame your stupid ass, but no. You hurt him, too.”
“No. Now, you’re gonna shape up or ship out, buddy! I can’t hang with you and nursemaid you through this. I have a girlfriend who hates your guts to the core now.”
Mark shuddered at the thought of Violet. Though petite, she carried the force of an EF-5 tornado with her words. She was fiercely loyal to her best friend, Blake. Dear Blake.
Mark thought back over their brief, yet wonderful courtship. Well, it had been wonderful, until it wasn’t. Until he’d first refused to wear Blake’s ring, then had walked away from him at the homecoming dance when Blake had wanted to dance with him.
The Castle came into view and, despite having had no sleep and facing a six-hour shift, Mark was happy to see it. His shift didn’t begin until seven and it was only six-thirty. He didn’t mind, though. He could sit outside and smoke until it was time to go in.
”Oh shit. How’m I gonna get home?” Mark turned panic-stricken eyes to Dylan. “Hey, I need my bike. Dyl, could you do me one last favor?”
Dylan did a quick U-turn and changed course abruptly. “Already headed that way. You’re what Vi calls high maintenance, my friend.”
Mark made no reply, his attention focused on the familiar scenery of New Liberty.
They drove to Mark’s house and Dylan pulled into the driveway. Mark jumped out and pulled the garage door up, trying to be as quiet as he could, considering how early it was. He pulled his bike out, closed the door, and quickly loaded the bicycle into the back of the truck. They headed back to the restaurant.
Dylan glanced at him briefly and began his harangue once more. “Real piece of work you are, man. First Blake, now Todd. If you want Todd back—or anyone else, for that matter—you’re really gonna have to work at it. Don’t you know the cardinal rule of dating?”
“That’s more than obvious. Look, I’m your buddy, and I always will be, but you’ve got to grow a pair! Don’t you even like yourself?”
“You heard the question. Do you even like Mark Wittington at all? Do you like what you’ve become?”
Mark shook his head. “I guess it’s pretty bad, huh? I’ve broken two guys’ hearts in less than a month’s time. I don’t like it, Dylan.”
“I wouldn’t either, man. Seriously. So quit doing it.”
“How? It’s not that simple,” Mark protested.
“It is that simple. Just change it.”
Dylan shook his head and handed Mark his uniform. “I’m going home and get dressed, maybe get some coffee so I can wake up. Todd should be on his way in now. We need to help keep each other awake today. See you in a little bit.” He drove off down the street. Mark watched his taillights until he couldn’t see them anymore then turned toward the building.