Consent, dubious or otherwise

In Changeling, my main character has just met the man of his dreams. He’s rich, handsome, generous and respects Matt’s limits instead of using them as a to-do list. Only three days into the relationship, however, Matt’s offered the chance to be a private school administrative headmaster’s sex-toy for an agreed-upon amount. 

Clearly, those of us with a sound mind would be screaming at the character for even thinking about the deal, but Matt knows that what he is doing on the streets for money is non-sustainable. Eventually he’ll proposition the wrong guy, and even though they’ll probably give him a fine and probation rather than sending him off to jail, the next time he gets caught they’ll have him for breech of probation.

He can’t just get a job. He doesn’t have a high school diploma, and every job that is willing to hire him needs their newbies to work evenings and weekends. Matt has a twelve-year old brother who is as smart as he is a pain-in-the-ass. His deal with the headmaster puts them both on the same level. Matt needs his brother to go to a good school to get the education he needs to succeed and the headmaster has far more to lose than Matt has. Matt’s non-disclosure agreement is air-tight. Even though the contract itself isn’t legally valid as it pertains to prostitution, if the press gets wind of a headmaster hiring sex-workers, his career is over. He’s completely on the up-and-up, there’s no abuse of children under the age of 18 and he’s removed himself from the day-to-day running of the school, but it’s a precarious situation.

Matt’s new lover seems to be filthy rich. He easily has the funds to put Sam through school to the post doctorate level, but the relationship is 72 hours old. Sam is the most important part of Matt’s life and keeping Sam safe gives Matt the motivation to go out and sell himself. His deal with the headmaster is a considerable improvement to the dangers of working on the street. Protection is written into the contract, there’s a safe word Matt could use at any point and while there are consequences for using it, it’s written down as to what they are. 

Consent and abuse are two very important strands running through Changeling. I’ve been very careful not to sexually charge the abuse Matt had suffered in the past. I remember reading Firefly by Piers Anthony way back when it first came out, while I was recovering from trying to twist my ankle off in a skiing accident, and as high as I was on T-3’s, the way he described the abuse the little girl suffered was horrible. To date when I read it, I think Xanth was on book eight? or nine? I was in grade eight at the time and didn’t have the ability to explain why I hated it. I loved the Fae bit around the sexual abuse, but looking back years later I realized that I’d read a book where a child seduces the adult main character. I went back and deleted “practically” as an adverb, because it was horrible and graphic. I stopped reading Anthony from that point onward. I went back, years later, thinking it must have been the pills, I couldn’t actually have read what I thought I’d read, but sure enough, there it was. 

I started writing Changeling as a camp nano book. By the time I got halfway through the opening scene, what had started out as a palate cleaning id book between projects had become *the* book I wanted to write. It’s a little bit ironic that it’s the last book I’ve published when I actually wrote it first. The first draft of Coral that I didn’t use was next and The Care and Feeding of Sex Demons was the last book I wrote in 2013. 

Consent in erotica has taken a bit of a knocking. There was a brilliant article from Cracked the other day that talked about what are hottest fantasies are on paper are pretty closely linked to our deepest shame. A woman’s desire to be dominated was first out of five kinks, but when the same people were asked to list their most shameful memory, it was times when their partner failed to respect their limits. 

When That Book came out, everyone rushed out to write the book that got BDSM right. As much as my books are often BDSM-lite, it’s not really a thing with Matt and Kevin at this point in their relationship. It will, most definitely be an aspect of their relationship, but before you can allow yourself to be dominated, you have to first trust your partner. And Changeling, if it’s about anything, it’s about learning how to trust when you have no basis in your life to know where you begin. 

I don’t want my stories to be polemics. I think it’s possible to take consent and condom usage and bring them to the forefront of the story without standing on a soapbox. I don’t care if people sensualize what scares them the most when it comes to losing control and there’s obviously a market for I’m not responsible; I was “forced” smut. I just don’t want to write it or read it. I want to do the opposite of that. I want to make consent important and sexy if it wants to be. 

I want to show two scenes. The first time Kevin and Matt discuss how they’re going to have sex because Matt wants to and then in the second, have Matt discuss it as a business relationship. 

As an active participant: It’s eight o’clock in the morning after Matt has spent the whole night in the police station due to being the last person who saw a murder victim alive. Matt isn’t a suspect, but despite one cop being nice to him, they know what he does for a living. Kevin has pulled up in front of the police station and offered Matt a thousand dollars for the day, even though Matt has to be at the school at three to pick up his little brother from school. It’s more than twice he charges for penetrative sex and Kevin promises him breakfast and a nap, first. There’s no actual sex, but frank discussion of intimate partner violence and sex. 

“May I come in?” Kevin called.

“Yes.” When Matt raised his voice, his throat didn’t hurt. He should have stood up and gone to the door, but his head felt foggy with too much sleep. The day was so late, Matt was afraid he’d missed picking up Sam. He’d stopped wearing a watch years ago. His only timekeeper was in his bag on the bathroom floor.

Kevin let himself in, carrying a tray.

“What time is it?” Matt asked. He realized he’d just given Kevin the benefit of the doubt before he ran out of the room to go meet his brother at the school. He’d been arrested once, and the school had kept Sam after class for three hours. Matt didn’t want to have to see the teachers’ judgmental looks one more time.

“It’s just after one. I let you sleep a little bit longer than we discussed.”

The panic Matt had building up vanished as though he’d never had it. Kevin had brought him coffee as promised. A carafe, mug, cream, and sugar sat on the tray Kevin carried along with a long thick envelope with Matt’s name on it. “Is that for me?” Matt asked, not talking about the coffee.

Kevin put the tray down on the desk and moved to open the blinds. “I believe payment before the act is customary.”

Right. The act. Kevin was here to fuck him, because they had already negotiated Matt’s price. For the first time, Matt felt like a whore.

“How do you take it?” Kevin asked, coming back to the desk.

Matt’s cheeks pinked before he realized Kevin was only talking about the coffee. He didn’t want to have sex with Kevin like this, like a bought-and-paid-for commodity. He pushed the blankets off his legs and hugged them to his body. “Five sugars, please.”

Kevin’s smooth, elegant face looked even better with the bemused smile. He counted out the five teaspoons and had to stir it extra long for it all to dissolve. Matt hoped it didn’t. That last mouthful of pure sugar at the end was the best part.

He had an hour before he had to be on the bus. He alternated between wanting Kevin to get in the bed so he could feel Kevin’s skin on him, and skittish. The condoms were in the bathroom. Getting separated from his pack was a rookie mistake. His palms itched.

At least Kevin hadn’t lied to him. The sun was still high in the sky, and the blueness behind it hadn’t darkened to the late afternoon blue it was going to. Even the cloud formations remained mostly the same.

“Do you trust me?” Kevin asked.

“To do what?” Matt asked.

“Anything.” Kevin looked him in the eye.

Matt was falling again, even when he was tense. “My brother and I do a time-out when we have to talk about things outside of our brother relationship,” Matt said, looking away. “Can we have a time-out from this amazing date so I can understand the rules?”

“I don’t believe I set any rules,” Kevin said, handing over Matt’s coffee.

“There are always rules,” Matt said. “You didn’t pay for anything rough. I want you to…” Matt knew he was being presumptuous, but he continued on. “I want you to check in on me. Green, yellow, red. Yellow means slow down; red means stop what you’re doing. Immediately. Not after you get off, not switch to a different position. Stop.”

“And green means go ahead,” Kevin said, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “That makes perfect sense.”

“I’m not trying to be ungrateful,” Matt said miserably, his head bowed. “I don’t… I can’t… I’m not worth a thousand dollars. If you hurt me, I’m going to yell and scream and cry.”

“Let’s not let that happen,” Kevin said easily, like sex was still something fun he hadn’t purchased as easily as he had the pineapple. “Anything else?”

If Matt screwed up the sex, he got that there wasn’t going to be a second time. But what he had to say still had to be said. “Please don’t hit me without telling me why,” Matt said. But that was only half of it. “And whatever you do, please don’t ever hit me in front of my brother.” He still hadn’t said Sam’s name.

“Do you think I could meet him?” Kevin asked.

Matt took a sip from the mug. It was perfectly sweet. “I think you’re hoping you will.”

“I am,” Kevin said.

“If you touch him in the wrong way, I’ll kill you. If he acts up, you take it out on me, not him. You do not touch him.”

“Is he going to act up?” Kevin asked.

Matt shrugged. He looked back to the money in the envelope. “Can we not talk about him?”

“You brought him up,” Kevin said. “Do you want to finish your coffee?”

Matt knew he could sip it until it was the time Kevin promised he could go. He handed the cup back. Kevin took it and put it down on the tray, over the money. It looked accidental, but what did Matt know?

“I am never going to hit you in anger or without your explicit consent,” Kevin said. “I’m not going to deny you if you’re asking for it.”

“Okay,” Matt said sadly, understanding the rules. “Just not in front of Sam. Please. He won’t understand.”

“That’s not the kind of ‘asking for it’ I meant. I meant begging for it, literally, with your ass in the air and your dick hard, not being able to get off without impact play.”

“Impact play,” Matt repeated, putting the pieces together with an audible click. Kinky shit. Ass in the air, actually asking for it. Asking for it. “I’m really going to like fucking you.”

“I promise you, though, that will not happen without clear and explicit negotiation and consent ahead of time, and only if it’s something you genuinely want.” Kevin sounded as if he’d had this conversation before, and it was just a thing that sex partners did. Talking about it first, and both agreeing.

“Well, okay, then,” Matt said, with a clear sense of relief and a shadow of anticipation he didn’t want to look too closely at right now. “Can I get that in writing?”

“Do you need it in writing?” Kevin said, sounding as if it were a perfectly reasonable request.

“Not right now.”

Kevin put his hand on Matt’s leg. Matt was naked under the sheet, but the heat took a moment to spread from Kevin’s palm into Matt’s calf. As soon as he did, all Matt’s fear felt without merit.

“What are you doing?” Matt asked. “How do you make me feel so…” He wasn’t going to ask Kevin how he made Matt feel so happy. “I was so worried the cops would figure out who you were through the videotape. I didn’t give you up.”

“I knew you wouldn’t.”

“You can mess with electronics too?” Matt asked. He pulled on the blankets so that he could bring Kevin’s hand up his thigh, but kept the sheet in place. He would have kept going, but Kevin took his hand away.

“No. I slipped a maintenance worker fifty bucks to turn the camera off before we left Vancouver. Why don’t you lie back?”

Matt obeyed, his stomach muscles clenching on their own. They were as excited and scared as the rest of him. “Your bed made me feel like I’ve slept for hours.”

“It’s a comfortable bed.”

The sheets were supersoft on the skin Matt had just shaved, which made him hyperaware of the cotton. He could have gotten off on the touch if he didn’t know Kevin was right there.

Kevin was still wearing a suit. The sheets were between them. Matt’s thoughts were a wildfire of fragments. Fear and excitement warred for control. Despite his obvious want tenting the blankets, Matt had a death grip on the sheets protecting his modesty. His mouth was so dry that licking his dry lips with his dry tongue accomplished absolutely nothing. If Kevin kissed him like this, Matt’s skin would scratch him.

“Matt, why don’t you try to relax? Nothing is going to happen if you can’t enjoy yourself.”

“No! I want, I want…” Matt couldn’t say what he wanted. He didn’t know. He was supposed to be the hardened pro. He let go of the sheet, kicking it off him so Kevin could look at the naked body he’d purchased. He wasn’t hard anymore.

Kevin pulled the sheet back up to Matt’s chest. “You don’t have to display yourself for me.”

Matt grabbed at it, flushed to the bone. “I sorry. I thought you wanted—”

“I don’t want you to do anything you don’t want to.”

“But you’re paying me.” It had been the first time in Matt’s life he’d wanted someone in particular to look at him with obvious hunger. He’d just eaten a couple of hours ago, but it was a different kind of hunger.

Kevin backpedaled. “I don’t want you to feel like you have to perform for me.”

“What do you want me to do?” Matt asked.

“What do you like?” Kevin asked.

Matt froze. He tried to read what Kevin would want him to like, but Kevin was thinking in a language Matt couldn’t read. Matt lowered his eyes. “I promise you, I like whatever you like.”

“I don’t want to force you.”

Kevin’s body suddenly tightened more than Matt’s did. As obviously as five sugars amused him to have to count out and stir into the tiny cup of coffee, Kevin didn’t want to have sex with Matt anymore. Kevin’s thoughts weren’t in English, but they were perfectly clear.

Matt flinched, bringing his knees up to protect his stomach, and his forearms up to protect his face. He would have to let Kevin hit him somewhere. He lowered his knees but kept his face covered. Experience wanted to make Matt ask Kevin not to hit his face, but Kevin had only lifted his hand to reach for the envelope.

“Please just take it,” Kevin said.

Matt put his hands down but refused to touch it. He was shaved and all cleaned inside. He wanted to have sex. He didn’t understand why his body had gone through its version of lockdown. “I don’t want your money,” Matt said. They still had about thirty minutes before Matt had to go pick up Sam.

Kevin put the envelope down. “Fine. You said you take Visa?”

Matt had said that, but he’d said it to Thom. He felt like Kevin had got a kick to the stomach in despite how Matt had curled up.

Kevin had slipped someone else some money to know what Matt had said under the strictest of confidences to Thom. Matt had said that being a prostitute was no big deal. For the first time in his life, Matt felt like a whore. He hugged his stomach protectively. “I told the cop that. Did you pay him to tell you everything I said?”

“I did,” Kevin said. “I read his notes while you were sleeping.”

Matt stared at him. Kevin made him feel so good. He didn’t understand how it had all gone so wrong, but the terror gripping him wasn’t to be trifled with.

Kevin lifted his hand again, but Matt flinched out from under it.

“What’s wrong with you?” Kevin demanded.

“Please don’t kill me.”

“What?” Kevin sounded disgusted at the thought. “Why would I hurt you?”

“Who else but the killer would care what I had to say to the cops? You wouldn’t have invited me here if you thought I killed the guy, so if you knew I didn’t do it, you must have known who did. Please, you could do whatever you want to me, but you can’t kill me. Please, Sam’s only eleven.”

He gave Sam’s name over just trying to get Sam to be a real person to Kevin. Matt started to shiver.

Kevin got off the bed. “No one is going to hurt you here,” he said. “This isn’t how it was supposed to go down at all.”

Matt sat up. The blankets were down to his waist again, but he no longer cared where the sheets ended. He bowed his head, trying to look as harmless as possible. “Could I get up, please?”

“I’m not stopping you,” Kevin said.

“I’m naked,” Matt said, not sure where his modesty had come from, but suddenly he had it in heaps. “Do I have to get dressed in front of you? I ate your breakfast. I know I owe you a show.”

“You don’t owe me anything,” Kevin said. He sounded annoyed, if not fully angry. Matt was shivering. Kevin walked out the door and closed it behind him.

Matt stayed in the bed to the count of ten and then got moving. The door didn’t have a lock. He couldn’t keep Kevin out of the room if he wanted to, and he didn’t want any of this lifestyle if Kevin was willing to kill for it.

As a pro. The nice cop who treated him with respect had done an about-face and was quite rude to him, making it obvious that Cornelius had influences in the police station. Matt has gone straight from the date he had at Kevin’s house with the wonderful strawberries, and even though the date itself ended prematurely in all senses of the word, he’s falling deeper in love with Kevin. 

“Could I come with you?” Matt asked but stayed in his seat.

“I’d listen to what he has to say,” Thom said with a dark scowl on his face. “For your brother’s sake alone.”

Matt flinched. Each one of Thom’s footfalls out of the room felt louder, despite his growing distance. Matt was just listening harder.

Cornelius remained quiet until the door closed. When he cleared his throat, the sound roared in Matt’s ear. “Even you must understand that this school cannot possibly meet your brother’s needs. St. Christopher’s Academy is right in your neighborhood. What it will do for your brother’s future is incalculable.”

Matt wondered what Cornelius had done to get Thom to ask what he did. Matt knew what it felt like to be punched in the head, and while it physically felt nothing like this, the fuzzy thoughts that followed were the same. “Sam could be taught by flying monkeys and be just fine,” Matt said.

“That is a very astute observation,” Willie said. “Your brother could be taught by flying monkeys. For all intents and purposes, he currently is. His postsecondary would look at where his grades came from before they looked at what his grades were.”

Sam’s teachers loved him. They were overworked and underpaid, but they loved their kids. “This is bullshit.” The words would have sounded stronger if Matt had been able to look up, but he couldn’t. Willie’s judgment weighed too heavily.

“If you can’t keep a civil tongue in your mouth, this conversation is over,” Willie said, his voice dangerous.

“Fuck this shit, you asshole,” Matt said, each word deliberate. “Can I go now?”

“May,” Willie corrected.

Matt put his head down on the table. It wobbled under his forehead. “I know the difference. Can I go, or am I being detained? I can get Sam into a better public school. There’s no way I can afford your Hogwarts.”

“You have legal guardianship, do you not?” Willie asked. His glasses had slipped down his hawk nose, and his blue eyes were scalpel sharp.

“Yes,” Matt said.

“And you’re half brothers.”

Matt nodded.

“But Sam has an aunt that you don’t have, correct? His…” Willie checked his folder, but it was obvious to Matt that it was just for show. “His mother’s sister.”

“She didn’t even show up to the hearing.”

“Did you visit her when you were in Vancouver?”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Matt asked.

“Your brother only has one other living relative, and you were within twenty city blocks of her address. It didn’t occur to you to give her a call?”

“They hadn’t spoken since Sam’s mother’s funeral. I don’t even remember what she looks like,” Matt said. That was a lie. They’d only met once, when Matt saw Sam for the first time at his mother’s funeral. Sam’s aunt had been birdlike in the way she moved in sudden bursts of energy, and she never blinked. The only thing she had said to him during the entire funeral was whether Sam considered himself a tidy little boy. Matt remembered how Sam had looked in his black suit and deep scowl. Matt had dropped down to his knees to hug Sam the first time he saw him. Matt hated being touched more than anything else in the world, but he’d wanted to snatch Sam up and carry him away.

Sam’s entire body had stiffened like Matt’s touch had been electrified. Sam pushed himself away. Matt was stronger, but he let Sam go.

During the funeral, Matt had another raging infection inside him. The antibiotics were big enough to stick in his throat no matter how much water he drank, and they made his stomach upset. He had taken his full day’s dose of morphine, and it was already wearing off, but all that discomfort didn’t matter the moment he saw Sam.

Matt shook his head, pushing through the memory.

The headmaster was smiling at Matt, though the smile didn’t reach the man’s eyes or the top part of his cheeks. “May I be frank?” Willie asked, leaning back to cross his leg over his knee.

His new position revealed six inches of argyle sock on his leg. The imperfection on an otherwise perfect movement made Matt feel like laughing. He had just come back from accusing the man he might possibly love of being a killer, and he wasn’t feeling too intimidated.

Willie stood and came around behind Matt. Matt tried to turn, but Willie grabbed the back of Matt’s chair and pushed Matt up against the edge of the table. Matt put his hands up; he should have let Willie have his way. He’d asked for the stress and trouble. “Do you really want me to walk out that door?” Willie—Von Willebrand asked.

If Willie really could help Sam, and Matt knew he could have, then Matt needed the man more than Von Willebrand needed him. “No, sir.”

“Your brother is very smart, but you are quite pretty.”

Matt had known that this was the direction the conversation was going to take. It always did. “Why would I let my brother go to a school run by a man who is willing to trade sex for a scholarship?” Matt asked.

“Because it is in your best interests to do so. Do you think I’d let a gutter rat like you endanger my precious school? Since I’ve decided to indulge my tastes, I understand that the general public cannot separate male homosexuals and pedophiles. I’m sure you have felt that particular pain, given your circumstances.”

Matt nodded.

Cornelius continued. “But since that connection has been made, I have removed myself from the day-to-day running of the classes. I do not have any involvement with the students, as much as it pains me to do so. Our little agreement will only involve consenting adults. You are above the age of consent. No one is forcing you to do anything, and you could leave any time you want. I will need a nondisclosure agreement from you. It is true I have particular tastes, but I am not, nor have I ever been, attracted to children.”

Matt believed him. It was still scummy, though. “You are still trading sex for money,” he said, not looking up.

“Have you forgotten you do too?”

Matt shrugged. Maybe he had. A little. “I don’t run a school.”

“You are trying to take the best care you can of your little brother. Come on, Matthew. You have a brilliant young man who is being wasted in this dump. I have the best school in the entire city. We could come to some sort of agreement that gets us both what we want, and gives your brother the best possible outcome. You might even enjoy some of it.”

Matt would have pressed his head against the desk again if it didn’t expose him from his neck to the small of his back. Cornelius wasn’t wrong about anything. “Would the scholarship be for full room and board?”

It could work, Matt saw, but Sam couldn’t go to the best school in town and still be a part of Matt’s crazy life. Matt needed to get arrested just once. If he got arrested a second time while under probation for the first, he would go to jail. It wasn’t a question of if; it was only a question of when. And once Matt was in jail, Sam would have to go into foster care. This was a giant way out with a neon sign pointing at Cornelius, and Matt had almost fucked it up, he was so lost in Kevin.

“Board would be a necessity. I cannot expect a child’s brain to work in an orderly way when exposed to nothing but chaos.”

So they already agreed on something. Cornelius fussed with Matt’s hair. Matt wanted to smack the man’s hand away, but he didn’t. He thought of the band program at St. Christopher’s, and leaned back into the man.

“There you go. You’ve made the right decision,” Cornelius whispered, smoothing his hands over Matt’s shoulders. The headrest of the fancy chairs kept Matt’s head from Cornelius’s groin, but Matt wasn’t going to be sitting in this chair forever. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

The way he stressed the word made Matt sick to his stomach. Matt didn’t know what time it was, but within the past couple of hours he had been planning his life alongside Kevin. He would have felt blindsided, except this was exactly the best-case scenario he should have been hoping for. Sam was going to have a safe, stable place to live and go to school. Matt should be on his knees right now, thanking the man by taking his dick in Matt’s mouth.

But Matt couldn’t move from the safety of his chair.

Cornelius kept stroking Matt’s neck. “There’s a cottage on the property meant for the groundskeeper. You can live right next to your brother’s dorm room. A team of professionals will meet your brother’s every need.”

“As long as I meet all of yours,” Matt said.

“Fair is fair,” Cornelius said. The smell of the man’s arousal was old money. “I’m not asking you to change your circumstances. You’re clearly a lost cause. I might be taking advantage of circumstances, but they are your circumstances. You’ll be taking cock up your ass one way or the other.”

“But I don’t,” Matt protested. “I almost never, really. It’s been a couple months since the last time…” He trailed off. He should have said a couple of. Cornelius was going to think he was stupid. He was stupid. How else could he think he had been saving his ass for someone special? It just wasn’t Kevin. It was for Cornelius. Matt cleared his throat. “You said no change in my circumstance. I only go out three times a week.”

“I’ll accept that, but you take more than one gentleman caller during each day. I would expect at least one visit into your rectum a week.”

Matt flushed. He couldn’t believe he was sitting in a badly swept storage room with an uneven row of tables, discussing his rectum. It would have been cleaner if Cornelius had just said anal sex. “I don’t want to have sex in your office.”

“That’s too bad. You will be spending a lot of time in my office,” Willie said. “That’s nonnegotiable.”

Matt’s flush deepened. “Anyone could walk in.”

“My office is in the administration building. Students are not allowed past the front desk. I have a lot more to lose than you do, my dear. Your ass will be the butt of a joke for the first couple of days, but my name will be the punch line if anyone finds out. But don’t worry. You will not be my first whore under the desk.”

“Sam has six more years of schooling left,” Matt said, closing his eyes. “Is that what I’m signing up for?”

“I’ll be bored with you before then. Give me four years of service, and the scholarship will cover the rest.”

“And I want an income,” Matt said.

Cornelius laughed. “You won’t get one. Your ass will barely cover your brother’s expenses.”

Matt wished the floor would open so he could fall into it. “Sam’s going to need extra money for things the scholarship doesn’t pay for. If I get arrested working on the side, both of us have a lot to lose.” Matt hesitated, but just for a second. “Have you ever fucked someone who was just letting you use their body? Unless you’re a sociopath, it gets boring really fast. There’s a reason everyone doesn’t own a sex doll. I only want to have sex…anal sex with you twice a month, but you’ll actually enjoy it. I promise.” Matt pushed the chair back. Cornelius took a step so Matt could swing the chair around. Everything felt choreographed, like they both knew what had to happen.

“I can put you on the books as an assistant groundskeeper. You’ll start at five hundred dollars a month.”

Matt tried to break down what that that would be per session. It was a hundred and twenty five dollars a week. Less than forty-two dollars a date. “I’m worth more than that,” he said, his voice low.

Cornelius’s suit was cut well enough that his erection was barely noticeable, or it was a very small erection. “Not to me you aren’t. If you consistently give me your best, in six months we will negotiate a raise in your salary. But ask yourself how many weeks you’ve finished out with a hundred and twenty five dollars you got to keep to yourself.”

It had never happened. Never, not once. No matter how many extra dates Matt went on or how hard he worked, there was always something he was late on. He thought getting rid of the shitty car he bought to get out to the crappy job he had would help, but the other expenses just soaked up anything extra, and he lost even more time on the bus.

“I can’t fuck you for nothing,” Matt said.

If Cornelius had tried to touch him now, Matt would have hurt him. He tsked through his teeth sympathetically. “Dear boy, I don’t need you that much.”

Matt shook his head. “I’d rather keep risking the tightrope we’re on. It’s not enough money to want to do that to myself.”

“Think about your brother’s future!”

Matt should have been red-hot with rage, but he had never had so much clarity of thought in his life. “I am thinking of my brother’s future. I’m thinking of the future when I look down at him and hate him for what he’s making me do. I’m going to need a thousand dollars a week either under the table or after taxes, to agree to three dates a week.” His voice shook. “And an extra two hundred dollars each time you fuck me. That’s any kind of penetration. It doesn’t just have to be with your penis. If you don’t penetrate me, you don’t need to pay me the bonus.”

“You’re the one on the tightrope. Not me,” Cornelius snapped.

Matt motioned to his body. “If I wanted to give up control and come in off the street, I could find a sucker who would pay me all that and more. You and I both know it.”

If Cornelius hadn’t considered it, he did now. “I would need to sample the wares,” he said eventually.

“Not for free.” Matt meant to put more force into the words. It seemed impossible that it was this morning Kevin had told him he was worth more than a thousand dollars a day. If Matt hadn’t accused Kevin of being a murderer, he might have even been willing to pay for Sam to attend the fancy school, but Matt didn’t want to be Kevin’s whore. He wanted to be Kevin’s lover. And Sam wasn’t Kevin’s problem.

That wouldn’t be a bad thing, the part of him that had delighted in Kevin’s touch informed him.

But he convinced himself he was doing it for Sam. Matt didn’t get to delight in anyone’s touch. He didn’t deserve it. Cornelius had pawed his neck and shoulders, and Matt had felt nothing at all. The smell of Kevin’s hand cream had made Matt orgasm. He wondered if he used Kevin’s card to call him right now if Kevin would even answer.

Cornelius was staring at Matt’s face. “My house is lot seven on the campus. Could you get onto the campus without going through the front gate?”

Matt nodded.

Cornelius moved to put his groin within inches of Matt’s face. Matt didn’t turn away. “How much would tying you to the bed and paddling your ass cost?”

If Matt told Cornelius he didn’t like getting tied up on the first date, he’d insist on it. If he smiled and nodded now, Matt might get away with getting his ass fucked instead of getting tied up.

“That was a question, Matthew,” Cornelius repeated.

“Five hundred,” Matt said. He would have asked for the full thousand dollars that Kevin would have given him, but that number still sounded ridiculous.

Even half of it was pretty stupid. “Are you joking?” Cornelius asked.

Matt realized he wasn’t. Not in the least. Precedent, what he did or didn’t allow in the start of the relationship, was going to guide the next four years of his life. “No. You’re not going to treat me like shit without paying for the privilege of me allowing you to treat me that way.”

Cornelius raised his hand as though to strike Matt. Matt looked at the hand, at Cornelius, and then studied his hangnail. The thought of Kevin hitting him had left him curled up and shivering. If Cornelius hit him, it would give Matt a reason to walk out the door.

“You’re nothing but a whore!” Cornelius snapped.

He really wasn’t helping his case. Matt shrugged. “When you’re really rough with me, I want the next date off as time to recover.”

“That’s absurd.”

Matt had nothing to lose. Kevin was already gone. “Take it or leave it.”

“You are the ‘it’ within that statement, so I’ll take it,” he said. He paused. “Are you clean?”

“I’m tidy. It’s a tiny apartment, though, so I have to be.”

Cornelius reached behind Matt and grabbed a fistful of Matt’s hair. It was an unfortunate, conditioned response in Matt to get hard every time johns yanked on his hair, but he’d just gotten himself off, and he intensely disliked Cornelius. Matt’s heartbeat raced, but he didn’t get hard. “Do you want to try that again?” Cornelius demanded.

Matt winced. “I get tested every couple months, for Sam. I’m clean.”

Using Sam’s name was like a get-out-of-jail-free card. Cornelius removed his hand. “When was the last time?”

“Two months ago.” It might have been longer. It was longer since the last time he was fucked, though. Even after the big fight he had with Sam. Matt had said he’d try harder to get them away from living day-to-day. It was an easy thing for Sam to figure out if Matt fucked just one guy a week and put that money aside, and Matt actually finding a guy and letting him…

Matt cleared his throat again. He was a whore. Everyone in his life knew that. He just really didn’t like getting fucked.

And then Kevin came along.

And then Matt accused him of killing people.

Matt knew his people skills literally sucked, but it was the first time they had fucked him over.

Cornelius reached into the file with Sam’s name on it and pulled out a blood-workup sheet, a release form, and a prepaid credit card attached to a white piece of paper. He couldn’t see Cornelius gluing it on. He probably had an assistant. “There is a nominal amount on this card. It is how you will be paid. The amount on it right now will be deducted from your first week’s salary. Do you have any questions?”

Matt shook his head. For how shocked Cornelius seemed that Matt even expected a salary, he already had the method of transferring the money set up. Cornelius’s surprise hadn’t come at the request; it had been at settling for ten times as much as he’d wanted to pay.

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