An English Teen,
Circumcised in the USA

by Riley Jericho


Simon stirred, not knowing whether he'd been out for a few minutes or a few hours. Precariously balanced right the edge of the mattress, he opened his eyes, and the warm comfort of the body pressed close in behind brought everything back. In the soft gloom, his face was close to the screwed-up pair of soft green boxers. Smeared with the remains of their exertion, the slightly pungent odor touched his nostrils.

Behind him, the warm body moved. From the change in his breathing, he knew that Toby was awake, but he wasn’t quite ready to face him yet.

 And who was he, anyhow?

The touch of flesh against his skin reminded him that he was naked, lying next to another naked boy. His eyes studied the boxer briefs that held their jizz, and the memories of how it got there replayed in acute detail. It had all happened so quickly, too fast to make sense of how or why. One minute they were going to sleep, the next minute...bang—they were unloading all over each other!

He didn't even know whether he was going to regret it yet.

 “Are you okay?” Close by, the familiar, soft voice came with a touch on his shoulder encouraging him to turn.

Was he okay?

With difficulty, Simon wriggled around in the cramped space to lie inches from a face that waited. The burning fire that had erupted from those toffee-brown eyes and consumed them both had passed, though the memory of it still lingered. Under the surface, something still simmered in Toby, though it had been joined by a careful watchfulness.

Was he okay?

For now, Simon nodded, though a flood of mostly irrelevant questions pushed into his head. What time was it? Where were his pyjamas? What were they going to say to Grace, and how were they going to get the sweaty, jizz-stained sheets washed; or dried?

Toby cut through it all with a question.

“Why the hell didn't you think to tell me that you were gay?" The cussing sounded light-hearted, but Toby still looked cautious.

Inside, Simon flinched. “Sorry.”

In the circumstances, he knew it was silly. After what had happened—what they’d done—there was nothing to deny, but he couldn’t help the feeling that he’d been shamed with a terrible truth.

Toby looked surprised and watchful caution seemed to resolve into bemusement. “You’re sorry?”  He pulled a face, and the bemusement became a cheeky grin and he reached up and touched Simon’s nose, as if checking he was still there.

“Which bit are you sorry for?" Toby sniggered. "That you made a mess of the sheets, or that you forgot to tell me that you were into guys?”

Into guys? It sounded alien, but Simon guessed it was true.

"Both?" he said. It was hard to separate the exchange from their regular banter. “Are you?” He knew how stupid that sounded, even as the words came out. He just couldn't get his brain working.

"Gay?" Again, Toby’s face creased and he laughed softly. ‘What do you think?”

Seeing the funny side of it too, Simon finally twitched into a lopsided grin. Everything took on a new perspective. Their usual humor and the gentle touch—neither came from a place or a person who was about to chuck him out as a freak.

Maybe it would be alright?

Toby continued to study him in the gloom before shifting in the tight space. “Can we get into my bed?” he pleaded. “You’re too fat and it’s cramped here; I’m falling off the edge.”

Simon pulled a face, becoming playful. “But I’m warm—and anyway, it was YOU who came down here in the first place!”

"I think you'll find we both came!" Toby's eyes glinted with confidant amusement and Simon's face scrunched up at the risqué humor. Unexpectedly, Toby planted to quick kiss on his forehead, then, sniggering, he clambered back up onto his own, rather wider, bed, leaving Simon staring into an empty space wondering yet again what had just happened. Toby seemed to be flying along as if nothing had happened, yet he was still stumbling over every memory that had led them into bed together.

Despite that, the bed felt suddenly empty without Toby. Simon didn’t stay there long and hurried up after him. There was nothing in the least coy or bashful about what stood tall in Toby’s groin as he pulled back the sheets to make room.

Simon tried to pretend he hadn't noticed.

They lay close again under the cooler sheets, studying each other like familiar strangers. After years of knowing Toby in another way, this all took some getting used to—probably for both of them. To Simon, it felt as if they had only just met.

"Hey," Toby finally murmured.

"Hey," Simon replied. Simple words that tried to make sense of the years of friendship and experiences together that was turning into something different; maybe something much, much better.

The sheets were warming up and he snuggled closer. Without overthinking it, he found himself entwining into an embrace that created the maximum amount of skin contact between them.

“Did you…?”. “Was it…? Two questions collided.

“You first,” said Toby.

“No, you…”

Toby remained impassive. Simon recognized that familiar, heartless demeanor when his friend was determined to get his own way. Resigned, he chewed his lip. “Was it okay…you know…I mean, did you enjoy it?”

“By ‘it’, you mean did I enjoy squirting all over you?”

Simon pulled a face. “Do you mind!” he muttered, swiping at Toby, still a little uncomfortable with it all, and still trying to get used to the idea that he had a stiff wanger pressed into Toby's thigh.

 Toby was unrepentant and seemed to revel in trying to shock him. “Mind what?" he returned with a cheeky smirk. "That’s what we did wasn't it! Was it good? Fuck, yeah it was!” His tone turned sexy. “What about you?”

Simon didn’t usually cuss that much, especially at Toby's place, but he decided now was as good a time as any to make an exception. He lay back on the pillow, put his hands behind his head, and grinned happily. "Fuck, yeah!" After a few moments, he turned to study Toby. “So what were you going to ask?”

“Actually, I just wanted to know if you’d stolen my cologne—and don’t lie, I can smell it on you!”

"You freaking fibber!"

"Okay—actually I was wondering if you've had a boyfriend before or anything." Toby seemed uncertain. "Like anyone I might know?"


The idea felt alien to Simon, especially as it was Toby he was curled into! Boyfriend. He rolled the word over in his head trying to fathom it. If this was a first date, they seem to have bypassed a lot of the stuff traditionally associated with dating; long walks, holding hands, going to the movies, a bit of smooching!

"I'd given up on you ages ago," said Toby. The sly twinkle returned as Simon felt a hand brush against his pole. "And this!"

There was certainly no masking his arousal or pretending it wasn't there. "I get those around you!" he admitted. Growing confidence allowed him to be candid. “A lot!”

Toby burst into a fit of giggles. "You should have said! I could have helped!"

“In French?”

It set them off again.

"Anyway..." He made himself more comfortable, stealing one of Toby’s extra pillows to push behind his head. "What do you mean, given up on me?"

Toby sniggered. "You won't believe how freaking long I've had a crush on you!'

The words didn't sound so silly as they came with a soft caress in the small of his back. To Simon it felt like an invitation to the intimacy he'd been searching for. He sighed. "I always thought that...well, that it was just me." He studied Toby's face. "How long have you...."

It seemed Toby knew what he meant. "Known that I liked guys? A long time...years."

A long time? Years?  Simon’s eyes bugged. It was surprising—almost shocking—to conceive. Which brought another question.

"Is there anyone else that you know of?" Any other kid that was gay.

Toby was thoughtful. "You've not been with anyone else then? I mean at school?"

"For God's sake, of course I haven't!" Simon’s eyes widened. "Are there others like us, then? In our year I mean?"

Toby shrugged. "I don't think so...Jacko maybe..."

"Jacko?" His eyes widened further. "You're kidding. How do you know anyway?"

Toby pulled a face. "I don't—and of course he probably isn't." He shook his head and looked sly. "I've got him coming round tomorrow night. I was going to try him next!” He couldn't hold it and started sniggering.

Simon pushed him away, though it remained playful. "You're such an asshole!"

He tried to think about how it could be that Toby seemed so sure of himself in it all, and came to a conclusion. "Joking apart, have you ever done anything before...with anyone else...?"

A shadow passed across Toby's face. "Does it matter?" He seemed uncertain as his eyes flicked away. A moment later, he shrugged. "There was someone, though it was a long time ago. Before we lived here."

Did it matter? Simon frowned. Somehow, yes, it did. From what he’d just seen, he sensed there was more, and he wanted to know, but Toby changed the subject.

"What about you?" Toby asked. "How long have you known?"

"About being gay?" He shrugged, but he knew exactly when. "It was when you got contacts."

“What?" Toby was taken aback. "When I got contacts? You’re kidding—that was just last year!”

Simon nodded. “You remember the Harry Potter glasses you first had?” They were what Toby used to wear when he’d first started at the Academy.

“The wire framed ones?”

Simon grinned. That was them; the round, gold frames that had given Toby the appearance of cute, defenceless and dorky when they had first met. Then Toby had switched from those to get contacts and…everything changed….

It had been a friendship that had surprised Simon from the start. Toby was nothing like the friends he'd had in London. Instead, he was quiet and withdrawn; even slightly geeky with those glasses. They were both new in the class, and with adjacent names in the alphabet, sat next to each other in almost every lesson. However, behind those glasses, Simon soon discovered a wicked humor similar to his own—one that had got them into trouble on numerous occasions! It wasn't long before they'd begun to hang out a lot!

It had been at the start of the fall semester that Toby had exchanged his glasses for contacts. He'd turned up wearing them instead of the usual geeky frames. Everyone said it was a general improvement, but for Simon it felt like a total transformation! Toby became more confidant in himself, too, and it showed—as did his eyes, no longer hidden behind frames; deep and full of life. And as his friend had begun to fill out physically in other ways, too, Simon had begun to struggle with feelings he’d never experienced before.

It had scared the shit out of him.

"Yep - then," he admitted. "You kind of got my attention back then!"

A head loomed over him in the semi-darkness. Lips brushed his. He gasped. A little more firmly Toby kissed him again. In his whole life, he’d never been kissed on the lips before—and never that sensually on any part of his anatomy!

"Did that get your attention?"

No reply seemed necessary. Simon slid back into close contact and started kissing. After some time of discovering how much he liked it—REALLY liked it—Toby disengaged and twisted away from him. He wondered if it was because Toby needed a pee, but rather than head for the door, Toby turned on the bedside light.

 Simon scrunched up his eyes and blinked, dazzled by the sudden brightness. "What's that for?"

Quickly the room took on a more subtle glow as Toby lowered his lamp onto the floor, and slid it under his bed. There was just enough light to recognize the messy hair and cheeky smirk.

“I want to see what you look like…” Crouching on his knees, Toby pulled back the sheets.

"Hey!" Simon couldn't help himself and his hands shot to his groin to cover his boner. Maybe Toby had seen it before, but hardly like this!

"You have to be kidding!" Toby was puzzled, and then amused. "It's a bit late for that, isn't it?"

"You could have warned me!" Simon muttered, still loath to remove his hands. Toby, on the other hand, was set like a beast and apparently didn't mind showing his off! Reluctantly, Simon let his hands drop away and tried not to think about it.

"Fucking hell!" Toby leaned closer for a better look. "That's awesome! How do you get it so straight?" He studied his own, that rested tight against his belly. It had a bend over to the left. It was also thick and meaty, Simon could see. Bigger than his? Maybe…just a bit.

"I love the way it sticks out!" Toby pulled at Simon’s dick and it flicked back to its jaunty angle.

Simon grinned, pleased. He guessed Toby was right—at some point everyone had to look. Whether it was the ‘just marrieds’ first time in the bedroom together, or the date suddenly getting serious, every guy had to pass through the gauntlet of showing his arousal to his partner. Feeling self-conscious about it had nothing to do with age. Girls had it easy, he mused; aroused or not, nothing changed. For a guy, fourteen or forty, it was the elephant in the room. In their case, pink ones; one with skin over the end, and one without!

Unexpectedly, Toby mounted him again, sliding over the top once more. Simon wondered if was going to be like the first time as the two erections pressed together between them again.

“Don’t move!” The fire in Toby’s eyes appeared to reignite. Something vibrant and commanding returned and took control. Ever so slowly Toby began to move and Simon shuddered, knowing they were about to do it again.

Then Toby slipped down his torso and Simon felt a light tongue brush up the length of his dick.

“Shit—what are you doing?!" Simon giggled and made a grab for the tousled hair.

Toby lifted up his head, grinned and then deliberately took Simon’s wrists in a firm grip and held them down by his sides on the bed. "You have to promise to be quiet!" he warned and unexpectedly, he went down on Simon’s shaft.

Simon squeaked! At the sound Toby raised himself off his dick again. "I've been wanting to suck you off for years!" he murmured, and his compelling eyes glinted. "I wanna see what you taste like!"

"Toby!!" Ineffectually, Simon struggled to release his hands to do something about the sensations that assaulted him. "Oh God...!"

But, though he squirmed, Toby was determined and refused to release him, gripping his wrists and lying across his legs, fully immobilizing him. All he could do in the soft light was watch as a head bobbed up and down on him. In contrast to earlier, when they had moved hard and fast against each other, this was completely different. If anything, being unable to move heightened the exquisite sensations.

After about half a minute, Simon hissed. "You're gonna have to stop…." It made no difference. He tried to move his hands, but Toby wasn't having it.

"I mean it," Simon gasped urgently. "You need to stop...I can't...I'm gonna..."

Something detonated and his vision exploded with stars.

After it was over, it took a few moments to even start breathing again. Nothing he’d ever imagined had prepared him for what he'd experienced that night. Both times had left him shaking! In his dreams he had hoped for closeness. Cuddles. Maybe even a bit of rubbing together! But it had been explosive sex like he’d never known before!

Toby crawled back up alongside him again, eyes bright and alive. "Quite tasty!" he announced. "You taste quite nutty!"

"Oh God...I think you just killed me..." Simon groaned, spent in the half light. "Fuck—don't tell me you actually swallowed it?" The thought was an unbelievable turn on.

"I might have." Toby smirked and reached down to rub Simon’s extremely sensitive dick.

"Stop...stop!" Simon screeched as quietly as he could, pushing the hand away "That's too much!"

"Hey—you seem to be living again. Thank God for that!"

Slapping his hands away, Simon finally pushed Toby on his back and leaned over him. Audaciously for him, inserted his tongue back into his mouth. There was an unfamiliar tanginess as they tasted each other again, and he knew it was his own jizz.

"Now, what was it that you were doing...?" Slyly, he began to drop down to Toby's groin. It took a little time to get the hang of it, though, and unlike Toby, he wasn't quite ready to risk tasting the stuff!

Afterwards, they talked more, and then slept. Waking again just before dawn, they did it again and before he knew it he was yet again giving up what Toby was waiting for. Then, not wanting to be caught sleeping in the same bed, he returned to his own mattress at last.

* * *

Across the dark miles, past late traffic that still crisscrossed the night roads around Atlanta, Luke slept; his dreams were confused and troubled, taunted by the memory of a boy being pleasured to a secret climax behind a bathroom door. It tormented Luke—the more so because of the SmartKlamp he was burdened with. It had already been a week since he’d last been able to jerk off.

After getting back from the party, he'd gone straight to bed, but had tossed and turned, unable to drop off at first. When sleep finally came, he was plunged into a vivid nightmare.

In it, he found himself trapped in a bathroom that, unexpectedly, seemed to have a window installed in the door. Trapped in the unknown room, he seemed somehow immobilized in front of a girl who could have been Stacey. When her mouth opened, she showed a full mouth of orthodontic wire that marred her smile. She was dressed only in a simple bathrobe.

He was naked.

In his dream she approached him, coming close to reach down to lift the SmartKlamp device from his body. She seemed intent on playing with it and he twisted and turned to try to get away, struck dumb yet desperate to warn her that the doctor had told him it was dangerous to touch it

But what was in the room paled alongside what was just outside.

Beyond the door was something sinister. Something, or someone, that was malignant; angry. It was something unreal, yet it carried a hidden power, and was waiting for him. Waiting to maim and destroy. The door to the room had the round porthole window and, in his nightmare, he screamed when the dark face twisted against it.

Inside, the girl seemed unaware of the terrible danger they were in. Still playing with the SmartKlamp, she found the lever that would unlock it, though he’d never noticed it before. She toyed with it, teasing him as she began to pull at it.

'No don’t…please…not now…I can’t. Not yet!' He cried and stirred in his dream. 'Not until Tuesday!'

Suddenly the SmartKlamp snapped open and fell away. Mercilessly she reached over to caress his newly circumcised penis and he came alive in her hand.

She spoke at last, convincing and soothing. “We could always date, you know, if you wanted to…”  The bathrobe parted to reveal a lithe, sensual body. Provocatively, she seemed insistent on pressing herself against him. He tried screaming, but nothing came out as he fought to escape.

Outside, through the glass, the face continued to glare, becoming vicious and darkly foreboding. Mouthing words at him that made no sense, the black presence terrified him.

Inside, where he remained trapped, she moved gently against him, teasing him again and again, urging him until his member would no longer obey, and the hardness rose up to meet her. Despite his anxiety, the agony and ecstasy multiplied.

She reached behind him and massaged his back pulling his waiting arousal closer. “You’re circumcised, Luke,” she goaded, gently caressing the slick head. “Why didn’t you tell me about it? You should have said.”

He shook his head, refusing to say. He wanted to scream. For help, or maybe it was for release—of any kind! She held his body firmly against her to still his struggling, pulling him closer as she continued to rock against him.

“NO!” He stared in horror at the joining as his head slipped in.

“Oops!” she giggled. Then she shifted her balance and weight over him, plunging him deeply inside until his designer stubble met her own smoothly shaved skin. There was no beauty in it. No satisfaction. No joy. He shook his head from side to side as though trying to dislodge something,

“There,” she purred, “That wasn’t so bad was it? Now tell me you don‘t want this?”

He cried in revulsion as she moved against him repeatedly with a thrusting rhythm, lowering his will to resist the onrush of seed she was coaxing out of him.

“I can’t!” he cried, desperate now, “I’m not old enough yet!”

At the window, the face grew black and deadly. The bulging eyes judged and condemned him. The hand contained a hidden weapon. The handle moved and he knew, without doubt, that the door wasn’t locked. He wanted to scream, to beg, to plead that it wasn’t his fault; that he wasn’t a homosexual. The door began to open, and in that final moment, in shooting pain and sexual torment, he succumbed.

He awoke and found himself thrusting through his PJs and into the sheets. Groaning like the guy in the bathroom earlier that night, he emptied himself.

He awoke fully, dripping with sweat, shaking, and terrified. In distress, he stared at his door, fully expecting the dark presence to enter the room, coming for him. Even after he’d turned on his bedside light, he watched the door fearfully.

Finally his heartbeat slowed and he got hold of himself. He knew he'd had a wet dream, but awake now, he felt no pleasure. He sat up carefully, aware that he'd been humping with the circumcision device.

He winced. It was impossible that he hadn't broken it.

Peeling back his PJ's, the mess was considerable and the end of his penis was a livid red. It throbbed from where he’d somehow caught it in the sheets. The bedding was stained, and jizz still dripped from the end of the tube as he softened.

Thankfully there seemed to be no damage to the mechanism, so he stripped off his PJ's, used them to wipe the rest of the mess and crawled naked back under the sheets.

Not daring to turn off his light again, he fell back to sleep, exhausted.

* * *

With Simon on a sleepover at the Skerrits, Lucy surveyed the remainder of her brood at the breakfast table.

“What about that one?” Luke asked, though it wasn’t directed at her. Across the breakfast table from her, Luke had pulled up a chair alongside Geoff. The pair were peering into his computer screen.

Getting to bed as late as he had, she was surprised that Luke was up, and earlier than his normal time for a weekend. He’d even put the washtub on!

At least he seemed in a better mood this morning, she mused. Unlike the previous evening when she’d picked up him and Owen. He’d been moody then, whereas Owen couldn’t have been more different from the boy she’d dropped off several hours previously.

Teenagers! Who could understand them?

She flipped the pancake in the pan. It seemed that Ryan was coming round shortly—supposedly for the pair of them to do some revision—but she also knew Luke didn't expect him until after ten, as no doubt her son's friend would be sleeping in like any normal teen except her own!

She shook her head and sighed.

Teenagers—her parents had warned her!

"Another pancake, sweetheart?"

At the offer, Luke lifted his head and shook it. Geoff on the other hand, lifted his plate soundlessly as he tapped on his laptop. She resisted the temptation to tell him where to stick it.


"Hon, you are going to do the lawn today, aren't you?" She took the proffered plate.

“What do you mean?” Geoff’s face was a picture of consternation. "I just did it!"

"It was two weeks ago, Hon!"

"Was it?" He tried to look surprised, but she studied him through narrowed eyes until he flinched.

"You know it was, so try to tear yourself from your spreadsheets or whatever it is you two are engrossed in. It really needs doing!"

"I don’t mind doing it," Luke said.

"There you are, Luce!” Geoff gave his son a grateful smile. “Luke'll do it."

"If you pay me," Luke added.

Lucy smirked as the smile diminished. Got ya, Geoff, baby—caught between a rock and a hard place now, aren’t you!

She applied a little oil. “There you go Hon—that’s a great idea. At least it’ll get done!”

Geoff wavered. “Just give me a few minutes. I can do it. Anyway, Ryan’s coming round, isn’t he, Luke?”

“Not 'til later Dad. And anyway, I could do the lawn this afternoon, too.” He seemed keen. “Come on—I’m trying to save for a new dongle; one of the Apple USB sticks.”

It was so unfair, Lucy mused. Sadly, it just wasn’t quite right in the current climate for any proper parent to question their son as to why he felt he was in need of a new dongle—especially when the poor lad had just been circumcised!

On that front, she was pleasantly surprised. There hadn't been a peep out of Luke on that front all week. Not a whinge or a whine—he'd just taken the whole thing in his stride. He sure had grown up from the little boy she used to watch as he played on the swings at the park near their home!

Probably because it had a scent of computers, Geoff seemed to be more amenable to coughing up to get the grass done. He reached for his wallet. “Okay—I’m happy to give you a few bucks.”

“A few bucks?” Luke looked scandalized. “It costs twelve just to get my hair cut, and that only takes ten minutes!”

“Five then.”

Lucy almost rubbed her hands with glee as Luke crossed his arms inflexibly. Gosh, he was SO like her!

This was going to be good!

Geoff shook his head, knowing when he was outgunned. “Okay—ten bucks then. Final offer!”

She just couldn’t resist. Geoff might be a hotshot in the bank, but he was such a complete twit when it came to negotiating with his kids! She gave him her sweetest smile. “That’s great, Hon. That’ll really help us to get the grass done! Now what about the flower beds and the edges?”

Geoff glared at her, but Luke jumped on it enthusiastically. “Okay, I’m happy to do the beds for another ten!”

After that, she added the bushes, and the negotiation got fierce.

She hated to point it out, but for the time Geoff spent on trying to keep the price down, he could have jumped on the mower and done most of the lawn anyway! In the end, they agreed on twenty-five bucks for a full makeover. For that, she hoped the dongle her eldest would be able to get himself would be gold-plated!

With a big task to get on with, Luke left them to go and get on some work clothes. After he’d left, she glided up behind Geoff and wrapped her arms around him, letting her hands drift teasingly to his belt. He appeared to be studying some computer peripherals website. “I’m thinking about getting you a new dongle too, Hon."

“Behave!” He smacked her hand, though not hard. She could hear the grin in his voice and he tilted his head back and added, “And anyway, if I remember correctly, that’s not what you said last night!”

She giggled and their lips brushed together.

“Eeeewww—can’t you guys get a room or something?”

She decided just then that if your teenage son hadn’t quite gone upstairs and managed to catch you snogging, the best thing to do would be to ignore him. So she did.

Luke had only been out in the garden for a few minutes, when Ryan arrived.

Had sleeping in on a Saturday gone out of fashion?

It wasn't long before the pair joined her and Geoff in the kitchen and she welcomed him warmly. “Hello, Ryan!”

Geoff looked up from his screen, too. “Hey there, Ryan!"

“Morning, Lucy,” Ryan replied. “Hi, Geoff.” He seemed to notice what Geoff was perusing. “Found anything good?”

“Not yet,” Geoff replied, flicking the mouse to scroll down the page again.

She smiled as the three of them scanned the site. Boys and their toys!

There were just so many reasons why she liked Ryan Alexis—not the least of which was that he confidant and outgoing enough to be able to call her by her given name without it sounding inappropriate!

Frankly, the boy had the potential to be any parent’s worst nightmare. He was the type of kid who was good at everything. The kid who everyone wanted as a friend, yet was impossible to keep up with. The kid who made your own children feel inadequate; the type of kid who could easily become a bully.

Ryan was none of those things, yet he really could be any of them if that had been in his nature.

She watched him fondly as she lifted the pancake skillet again. It was still warm. "Breakfast, Ryan? There's plenty of batter left."

He looked up from the screen. "No thanks, Lucy. I already ate."

"You ate?" Luke sounded incredulous. "It's only just gone nine! What time did you get up?"

Ryan shrugged. "I dunno. Around seven, I guess."

Luke's eyes bulged and he shook his head. "You’re raving mad! It's a Saturday!

"I was bored," Ryan returned evenly. "I assumed you'd be awake by now—and anyway, if your folks have you working on the garden, you probably need help."

"Paying him to work on the garden, you mean!" A still indignant Geoff surfaced again. "And if you're getting Ryan involved, you should give him some of the cash!"

Luke grinned. "I'm always willing to take on someone looking for work experience."

Lucy watched the exchange in amusement. They all knew quite well that the last thing Ryan Alexis needed was money. Ryan just rolled his eyes patiently.

Despite coming from an 'old money', privileged background, Ryan had never been the type of kid who threw his money around, or expected others to do things for him—rather, he'd often go out of his way to help others.

He was a complicated kid, she mused. She might have asked how his parents were doing, but she knew home was not the easiest of places for him. By unspoken agreement, they never referred to it. Once, several years earlier, they'd invited Ryan and his parents to dinner.

She remembered it vividly. It had been a disaster.

The woman, Helena Alexis, was drunk before she even arrived, and Ryan's father, Ethan, was some army guy, and a type she recognized—authoritarian and abusive, but still clever and controlling. He put down his wife constantly, and you got the idea that however well his son did in life, it was never going to be enough.

Yet, despite the crap parenting, Ryan had still turned out okay. The unpleasant scene around the dinner table had been tough on him, though, and it had been weeks before he could be coaxed around to their house again.

That was the question she often considered these days. Was it nurture, or nature? Did children only become what their circumstances made them, or would bright, well-behaved kids (like Ryan) tend to be exactly that way whatever life threw at them?

Was it learned or was it instinctive? Did genetics deal each one with their own special, unchangeable and individual hand, or could you play the pack with skill, to end up with the final straight flush?

Either way, this particular young man had managed to blossom and had always been a good friend to Luke. Fondly, she watched the two of them as they went back outside to work on the backyard.