by E.E. Grey
A chance at the Olympics has been everything Auden has always wanted, but now that it’s within his grasp, he finds himself slipping further away. Does he really want to be an Olympic gymnast when there’s so much more to life? To make things worse, he has both a major crush on his friends-with-benefits teammate, Trayce, and free-spirited musician named Shane. With Olympics trials looming on the horizon, Auden has to decide what he really wants and how much he’s willing to give up to get it. (M/M)
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Chapter 4: Up the Mountain
Somehow, Auden talked Anya into letting him borrow her car and followed his phone’s directions to Camelback Mountain. It had been years since he’d been hiking—he couldn’t even remember the last time—but he made sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen. His body was a jangle of nerves as he navigated the freeways and found his way to the trailhead. If he thought about it, this was his first real date.
He couldn’t count what he did with Trayce as dating. They never went out anywhere; Trayce never kissed him outside the bedroom; they never held hands or did whatever else people did on dates. Auden was embarrassed to say his only dating references came from pop culture and too many chick flicks that Anya made him watch—okay, so he not-so-secretly liked them. Either way, his only references came from movies and TV which couldn’t be good.
Shane was waiting for him when he pulled up, just as good-looking as Auden remembered, although the only time he’d seen him had been in a half-dark bar where anyone was bound to look good. Shane did, though, with a messy curl falling over his forehead. He grinned at Auden as he stepped out of the car into the bright sunlight. Despite being early, it was already warm outside and it would only get hotter as the day went on.
The mountain loomed before them, sandy soil peppered with dull green desert plants. Overhead, the sky shone a clear, bright blue with not a single cloud. A warm breeze picked up as Auden stepped towards Shane.
“I see you escaped the gym,” Shane said, tossing a backpack over his shoulder and grinning at Auden.
“I get days off,” he said, trying not to let the nerves take over as he spoke. He didn’t mention that Saturdays were usually extra practice hours outside normal training. Trayce would be there today along with the others going for the trials. Dorian kept saying they needed all the practice they could get and Auden skipping one was sure to get him in trouble. That was not what he wanted to think about today, not when he was on a date—a real date—with someone who wasn’t Trayce, not that he and Trayce had ever gone on a date. Trayce would probably have laughed if he’d ever suggested it.
Stop thinking about Trayce, he told himself firmly as he followed Shane to the trailhead.
“And you want to spend your time off climbing a mountain?” Shane grinned back at him, and Auden felt an unfamiliar flutter in his stomach.
“It’s either that or watch cartoons all morning. I’m sure the company is infinitely better here.”
Shane laughed, easy and open. “You assume correctly. We should get started before it gets too hot.”
It seemed easy for Shane to make conversation, but Auden cast around for something to say as they started up the mountain, through rocky terrain and spiky bushes. The only things that came to mind, however, were about training and gymnastics, and all the things he didn’t want to think about today, not on a date with a hot musician who looked especially good in his shorts as he climbed over rocks. He couldn’t help admiring the view, but he jumped as Shane glanced back.
“You do this a lot?” Auden asked as they came to a steep portion and Shane went up first. Shane held out a hand to help Auden. As Auden took it, he felt the warmth of Shane’s palm, fingers gripping his hand and pulling him up. It felt so different than anyone else, but maybe it was just the newness of the situation that made him feel jumbled up and nervous at everything that happened.
The sun beat down from above, a blinding light that made everything on the trail look washed out, aloe plants’ spiky leaves drooping towards the ground. Auden gave the disjointed limbs of the jumping cholla cactus a wide berth, avoiding the spiky balls that had fallen on the ground. They had a tendency to lodge in people’s legs no matter how much you avoided them.
“All the time. Don’t tell me you’re one of those people who think Phoenix is just tanning and swimming pools and air conditioned malls?”
“Uh,” Auden hesitated. Phoenix certainly wasn’t like home in San Diego with the beach and nice, temperate weather all the time. “I don’t really have a lot of time to even go to malls.”
Shane smiled. “There’s a lot more to it. You should get out more.”
“And do what?” Auden asked skeptically, scrambling up the loose gravel on the path.
Shane shrugged. “Lots of stuff. There’s hiking, rock climbing, air balloons, tubing down the Salt River. You ever been?”
Auden shook his head. For all the time he’d spent living there, the most he’d ever done was wander down Mill Avenue on a Friday night with the kids from the University.
“You should come some time,” Shane said, releasing Auden’s hand as they got up the slope. Auden’s palm tingled where they’d touched. “I bet you look really good in swim trunks.”
Auden smiled, though he felt his face heating up, and not from the climb. Even if it was his first real date, it wasn’t the first time he’d been around someone he liked. He wasn’t like this with Trayce, but he knew Trayce better. They were friends. He and Shane… well, they definitely weren’t friends yet.
It felt good to be outside, away from the gym, somewhere he could breathe without someone asking about his plans—less asking and more telling him how great the Olympics were going to be. At least Shane didn’t do that. Shane didn’t mention anything about gymnastics as they hiked up, passing a few people going the opposite direction.
It was a strenuous hike, and Shane glanced back a few times to make sure Auden hadn’t fallen behind. Sweat began to soak his clothes, the temperature rising with the sun. What breeze there had been at the foot of the mountain was long gone.
“Doing okay?” Shane asked, a smirk at the corner of his lips.
“Fine,” Auden replied. “No worse than a regular workout except I don’t have to worry about breaking my ankle every time I step down.” He grimaced to himself as he said it—he couldn’t even go one morning without bringing up training.
Luckily, Shane laughed. “Most people I bring up here collapse after the first ten minutes.”
“I’m not most people.” Auden did have to admit that if he hadn’t had so much training, it would have been a painful climb, but as it was, he could enjoy the view in front of him as Shane walked.
“Yeah, you’re not,” Shane said after a second, catching his eye and nodding towards the path. “We’re almost there. One last push.”
Auden smiled to himself and fell into step beside Shane as they pushed up the mountain to the top.
“You seriously do this?” Auden asked as Shane settled on top of the big rock, a thin blanket spread out beneath him.
Shane grinned. “It’s relaxing. Trust me.”
Auden eyed the rock again. It was a large, wide rock with a semi-flattened top, but it wasn’t the rock that made him nervous. It was what could be living underneath it. Just because he didn’t go out didn’t mean he didn’t know what lived amongst the cholla and yucca plants. There were all sorts of things he never wanted to encounter—scorpions, tarantulas, rattlesnakes—and yet Shane looked completely comfortable sitting cross-legged on this rock.
“If I get bit by something…” Auden said, moving carefully over to the rock and sitting down.
“Then I will take you to the hospital,” Shane promised dutifully. “Just sit there and relax. The whole point of meditation is finding peace within yourself.”
Auden wasn’t sure he was really meditating kind of person, but he wanted to try it, if only because Shane asked him to. It couldn’t be that bad.
“So you climb all the way up here to meditate?” he asked, trying to keep the skepticism out of his words, but it leaked through anyway.
Shane shrugged, taking Auden’s hand and holding it between his as he closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. Auden didn’t think he could concentrate that well, not with Shane touching him like that. “Sometimes it helps for writing music. Sometimes I just need to get away from everything.” He cracked his eyes open and met Auden’s unsure gaze. “I think you’d get a lot out of it.”
“Are you saying I’m not relaxed?”
Shane still hadn’t released Auden’s hand, and he stroked his fingers down the back of it. Despite the sun beating down, Auden shivered.
“I know I can be distracting, but you’ve been distracted all morning.”
“I’m just thinking about training,” Auden admitted. “Which I don’t want to think about—”
“So don’t,” Shane interrupted. “You know why I came up to you that night at the bar?”
“Because I have a well-toned physique?” Auden smiled at Shane. It was no secret that was why people noticed him. It was why anyone noticed a gymnast—his body was a mark of pride, something he’d worked for to get what he wanted.
Shane tried not to smile, shaking his head, but Auden could see it tugging the corners of his mouth. “I’ll be honest and say yes, but you looked like you needed some fun. All that training is stressful, and for what?”
“For the Olympics,” Auden replied, confused for a second. It was the only answer he’d had for years. He’d spent the last ten years focused on one goal.
Shane shrugged. “Just doesn’t seem worth it to me.” He released Auden’s hand finally and patted his knee instead. “So how about we get rid of all that stress?”
Auden almost wanted to ask Shane what he’d meant by that, but he didn’t. It was only their first date after all. He didn’t want to ruin it by asking a stupid question. Instead, he glanced around.
They were at the summit of the mountain, and although they were alone, they had passed plenty of people on the way up. “We’re a little out in the open, and if you think I’m iffy about sitting on a rock, I’m definitely not getting on the ground.”
Shane paused for a second and laughed. “Not that kind of stress relief,” he said. “Not yet.”
Ducking his head, Auden felt the flush on his cheeks again. It wasn’t like him to suggest something like that, but it had partially been a joke. It was so much easier with Trayce, he found himself thinking as Shane settled in across from him. He wouldn’t have even had to make an awkward joke, but a part of him was glad Shane hadn’t brought him up here just to fool around. Shane was different, very different from Trayce. He knew he shouldn’t compare them—they were worlds apart—but he wondered if Trayce would ever do something like this. It was stupid. He shook himself. He was here with Shane, not Trayce, and he shouldn’t be thinking about someone else.
“You ready?” Shane asked as Auden pulled himself together. He was on a date with Shane. That was who he should be thinking of.
“Yeah,” he replied finally. He would be.
Heading back from the shower, Auden wasn’t sure how he was supposed to feel. He’d left Shane at the trailhead that afternoon with the promise of a phone call and a short, too brief, kiss. It wasn’t how Auden had imagined a first date ending, but he supposed that was how normal dates went. How would he know? He had nothing to compare it to.
Auden looked up as he passed Trayce. Trayce was wearing a pair of jeans and a tank top from his training, whereas Auden had thrown on a pair of soft fleece pants after his shower. It had been a cool shower after the warmth of the day, though it hadn’t been cold enough to suppress the stirring he felt as he glanced at Trayce.
“You didn’t come to training.”
“It’s optional,” Auden pointed out, but he knew full well that anyone aiming for the Olympics didn’t see it that way. He’d probably get an earful from Dorian on Monday.
Trayce smiled, shaking his head. “Tell Dorian that. Where were you?”
“I just went out.” He wasn’t sure why but it felt weird to tell Trayce that he’d been out on a date. Trayce probably would have laughed at him. He paused, watching the way Trayce cocked a hip to the side, a curious tilt to his head, and Auden knew he was going to ask more questions. Auden nodded at his dorm room. Trayce followed him in without a word. They could at least do it where not everyone could hear.
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