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 7: Parental Influence
Auden wasn’t sure how much longer he could listen to his dad debate the prices of all the equipment in the gym. It had already been an hour of, “I bet that costs more than my annual salary” and “You know, Auden, it would almost be cheaper to send you to a private university than to train here.”
Swallowing down the annoyance, Auden pushed open the doors of the gym to the courtyard, his parents following. As much as he generally liked his parents, he wasn’t a kid anymore and putting up with them was less a requirement and more a grudging respect. After all, they did pay for his training, but he didn’t feel as though he needed to be reminded of that fact every time he talked to them.
“It’s so much prettier than I remember,” his mother said as they crossed the landscaped desert. The last time they had come had been the end of summer two years ago, when the temperatures had been in the low hundreds and everything had been dried up and dead. Now, remnants of spring still lingered in the flowering cacti, the millions of yellow flowers on the Mesquite trees. There were even hints of green among the sandy brown. The warm breeze fluttered his mother’s stringy brown hair, the same shade as both Auden’s and his dad’s, although his dad’s was streaked with grey. He said it came from the financial stress of paying for the Center.
“Hmph,” his dad muttered, glancing around. “They spend a lot on irrigation, don’t they?” He straightened his suit jacket, the button closed neatly over his wiry frame.
“I have no idea,” Auden replied, trying not to roll his eyes. He should have been happy that they were here to see him, but instead, he just wanted it to be over. He wanted to escape to his dorm and watch a movie he’d seen a thousand times. It would be better than reliving the cost of everything out here.
“I looked into San Diego State, you know,” his dad went on as though Auden hadn’t spoken. “It really would be cheaper to send you there.”
“Are you saying that because you want me to go to college or because you don’t think I’ll make the team?”
It was a loaded question, he knew, but he wanted to know their answer. Maybe if they didn’t think he would make it, he could just quit. For a second, he almost felt hopeful, but his mother shook her head, hair falling out of her bun.
“That’s ridiculous,” she assured him with a hand on his arm. “We’ve known since the very first time you climbed up on that jungle gym and did a backflip off it that you would be a great gymnast. It’s just… the cost can be restrictive.” She shot a look at his dad. “But we know you’re going to make it all worth it. If it makes you happy, it’s worth it. We’ve already started looking up flights to Paris for this summer. Do you know if family get special seats or do we have to buy tickets like everyone else?”
Auden’s heart sank. It could have been much worse, he tried to remind himself. He could want this so badly and they could be unsupportive.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s a little early to be planning, though.”
“Trials are just around the corner!” she said eagerly, linking her arm with his as they watched. “Soon enough the world will know what we have all along—that you are a great athlete.”
His father made another noise, kicking a rock off the pathway in front of him. “Your mother’s right. It’ll be worth it in the end. Although, with all that new equipment in that gym, I hope they’re spending my hard-earned dollars well.”
Auden didn’t mention that his dad wasn’t exactly poor. He had a fairly successful career as a data analyst back in San Diego. He just had a tight hold on the purse strings. There were other people who had it far worse, like Trayce who had to convince his parents to work together to pay for things. It wasn’t as easy for him.
They neared the dorms, the sun beating down on them, hot and dry. Maybe he could leave them and have some time to himself.
“We know you’re going to be great,” his mother said easily. “We have no doubts that you’re going to make the team.”
It didn’t make Auden feel better. If anything, it made him feel worse. He couldn’t explain why, but he hated that they had so much confidence. They were his parents, though; they had to be like that.
“Auden, hey!” someone called from behind them as they approached the dorm overhang. Turning, he found Trayce coming towards him. He wasn’t sure if he was glad for the distraction or nervous of what Trayce might say.
“Trayce,” he said slowly as he reached them. Trayce quirked an eyebrow and smiled at his parents. It was easy and charming, something that came so naturally to him.
“You must be Mr. and Mrs. Lancaster,” Trayce said, grin widening. “I’m Trayce.”
“The Canadian,” his dad said immediately. Auden frowned and looked away from him, meeting Trayce’s curious gaze. “I’m surprised the Center allows foreigners to train here.”
Trayce merely blinked in return. “Apparently my money is as good as yours.”
Auden cursed to himself. This was not how he wanted his parent’s first meeting with Trayce to go. If anything, he might have hoped for a pleasant exchange in which they came off with a favorable opinion of him. That didn’t seem to be the case, though, and he wished his dad could just be quiet.
“And I’ll be competing for a spot on the US team,” Trayce went on.
His dad frowned but Auden’s mother stepped in.
“That’s wonderful,” she said, squeezing his dad’s arm purposefully. “Are you excited about your chances?”
Trayce crossed his arms over his chest, glancing at Auden, who wished he could just melt into the ground right about now. He was so sick of hearing about the Olympics. Every mention of it made his chest ache uncomfortably. Why couldn’t they just stop talking about it?
“I’m not worried,” Trayce said simply. “Besides, I’ve got Auden to keep me on track.”
That made Auden’s mom smile proudly, eyes gleaming with that might have been tears, but Auden was immensely glad when she didn’t cry.
“I’d say of everyone, Auden and I have the best shot of making the team. We’ve put in a lot of time, and Coach keeps our noses to the grindstone.”
Beside Auden, his father shifted. “At least there’s that,” he muttered.
Auden tried to ignore him but it was difficult.
Trayce glanced at his dad. “Yeah, Auden and I have become pretty good friends.” Auden wasn’t sure if his parents caught it, but he certainly heard the slight emphasis on ‘friends.’ Judging from the way his father’s jaw tightened, he had.
“We have to get going,” Auden interrupted sharply, if only to stop his father from punching his teammate. That wouldn’t look too good. Plus, as annoying as Trayce could be, he didn’t deserve a fist in his face.
“It was lovely to meet you,” his mother said as Auden practically dragged them off, away from the dorms. He didn’t know where they were going, but somewhere far away from Trayce and his big mouth.
His father said nothing as they walked down the path, heading for the parking lot instead where the rental car was parked. Auden could feel the tension, the awkwardness lingering from Trayce’s introduction.
“Who’s hungry?” his mom piped in finally as they walked. “I’m ready for dinner, what do you boys say?”
Auden didn’t reply, but his dad drew himself together a second later and nodded.
“Yes, let’s find somewhere to eat.”
Auden didn’t suggest the cafeteria, and led the way to the parking lot instead.
The Rio Grille was about as tropical as north Scottsdale got, with a giant tiki in the front entrance, but the fried calamari was so good that Auden didn’t even grimace at what Dorian might have said if he ever found out he snuck one off the appetizer plate. Little lights hung low over the tables, dim enough to feel like it was constantly nighttime inside the restaurant.
Something felt strange, though Auden couldn’t put his finger on it. His dad had been unusually quiet since they’d left the Center. His mother had filled most of the conversation with comments on the desert plants and how she wanted to plant a Joshua Tree in their backyard at home.
Glancing between them across the table, Auden frowned. His dad poked at the fried squid on his plate with his fork, the edges of his mouth twitching occasionally like they did when he was working on a particularly difficult math problem. Auden’s mother smiled as he looked to her for an answer.
“Clover wanted to come, but she’s staying with your Aunt Rebecca instead,” she said. “We thought it’d be nicer for just the two of us to come visit.”
“Oh, right,” Auden agreed. He barely knew his aunt, considering it had been years since he’d seen her. He didn’t go home much now that he was at the Center except for holidays, and even then, he spent most of his time at the gym or on the beach when he was there.
“You know, we hardly get to see you these days,” she went on. “Maybe you could train closer to home.”
Auden hesitated, glancing at his dad again, but he remained silent, contemplating his plate deeply. “Well, EGC is the best Center on the west coast. Well, sort of west coast.”
“Most expensive too,” his dad muttered under his breath, but Auden tried to ignore him. He couldn’t, though, when his dad sat up straighter and said, “That, uh, friend, of yours, the Canadian, how well do you know him?”
“Trayce, you mean?” Auden asked though he knew perfectly well his dad didn’t care about his name.
His father grunted vaguely. “He didn’t seem like the best influence.”
Auden frowned. “What does that mean?”
“Your father just means that he, he’s different,” his mom piped in unhelpfully. She shot his dad a look that he grimaced at but seemingly ignored its meaning.
“Different,” Auden repeated dimly. “Bad different?” He looked between his mother, who seemed apologetic, and his father, who chewed the inside of his cheek as though debating whether or not to say something. He seemed to decide to say it, though, setting down his fork with a clink.
“Auden, are you involved with that boy?”
“Oh my God,” Auden muttered, covering his face, elbows on the table. This couldn’t be happening. There were certain things he didn’t discuss with his parents, and his love life, or lack thereof, was one of them.
“It’s just a question,” his father said gruffly, ruffling himself and staring imperiously across the table at Auden. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
Auden lowered his hands. “Why? Because he’s a guy or because he’s Canadian?” If there was one part of his life he didn’t need parental advice in, it was about guys.
“Don’t be glib,” his dad replied sharply. “Being involved with anyone isn’t what I pay for you to come here for. You’re here to train and that’s all.”
Auden pinched the bridge of his nose. He couldn’t believe they were having this conversation. His mother was absolutely no help, drowning herself in her water glass instead. “I am training. All I do is train,” he argued. “I don’t have any friends outside the Center, Dad. How could I when this is my whole life?”
His answer didn’t seem to appease his dad, but it was true. He didn’t have time or the ability to make friends outside of the bubble he lived in. Shane was the only person he knew who wasn’t obsessed with gymnastics, the only person who was somewhat normal, who had a life and goals and dreams outside of sports.
His dad frowned at Auden. “You’re not here to make friends.”
“So I can’t be friends with the people on my team?”
“Friends, yes,” he said firmly. “Not more than that. This boy—”
“—he’s not even American. How can he compete on the team? He’ll be your competition.”
“I know, Dad,” Auden replied impatiently. “It doesn’t matter that he’s Canadian. If he’s good, he deserves to be on the team.” He didn’t want to argue about Trayce. Trayce was confusing enough as it was. “Mom?”
She smiled easily. “This is a wonderful restaurant.”
“Mom!” Auden needed more help than that. At least she didn’t freak out at the idea of him being involved with someone.
“Honey, your father’s just saying that you need to focus on yourself right now, not on anyone else.” She straightened her silverware and avoided his frown.
“He just doesn’t like Trayce because he’s a guy.”
“He was rude and disrespectful,” his dad interrupted, but Auden shook his head.
“You were first. Trayce is one of the only people at the Center I actually get along with really well. He’s not just another teammate. He’s a great gymnast and he’s got a really good shot of making the team.” He said it as though Trayce making the team might make himself feel better about not wanting to make it.
“This isn’t about you being gay,” his dad said finally, lowering his voice as though someone might overhear. “It’s just… inappropriate.”
Auden frowned. Of course his dad thought it was inappropriate. His dad thought it was inappropriate to wear anything other than suits. A gay son wasn’t his idea of perfect, especially a gay gymnast son.
His mother said nothing, though she did lay a hand on his dad’s arm as though to calm him. Auden didn’t understand why she didn’t say anything, but her look seemed enough to stop his dad from saying anything else for the moment, though he frowned as though annoyed at her action. Wordless communication. At least they had that going for them. After all, they had been married for almost twenty-five years.
“We should order,” she said, looking around for the server.
Reaching for his glass, Auden downed his water. Arguing about Trayce was not how he wanted to spend the evening, especially when his dad kept chewing on his cheek, as though mulling over all the things he could say.
Luckily for Auden, he stayed silent for the moment as the server came to take their order and refill their drinks.
“Why the hell did you have to do that?” Auden asked, pushing past Trayce into his room without waiting to be invited.
Trayce let him, an eyebrow raised. “Escaped your parents, I see.”
“Trayce,” Auden snapped, turning around. Trayce shut the door behind him and stepped over a pile of clothes on the floor.
“You didn’t have to be rude.”
Trayce laughed sharply. “Because your dad was so polite to me, the foreigner. Are you sure you want to be in here? You might get the sudden urge to sing ‘Oh Canada’ and drink ale.”
Rolling his eyes, Auden sighed. The rest of dinner had been filled with veiled references to why distractions were a bad thing, especially when his dad was paying for the best coaching in the country, not for him to fuck around with a Canadian.
“He’s just concerned with anyone who could be competition.” He didn’t know why he was defending his dad.
“Yeah, right,” Trayce scoffed. “He doesn’t think anyone should be better than you, especially me. Maybe he’d like your boyfriend better.”
That caught Auden off-guard. They still hadn’t discussed the other night, and Trayce bringing it up unexpectedly threw him off. So Trayce had noticed, had remembered. He decided not to comment on it. It would probably just makes things worse.
“He just expects me to be the best.” Auden felt bad enough, with his parents unwavering belief in his abilities. “You know, for a Canadian, you’re not very nice.” He frowned. “The day was going badly enough already and then you showed up and now he thinks you’re a distraction from the competition.”
Trayce almost laughed, kicking aside the pile of clothes and coming closer.
“Sorry to disappoint your stereotypes of how I should be. Am I really that big of a distraction for you, Auden? Can’t keep it in your pants for ten minutes, huh?”
“That’s not what I said.” Auden didn’t back down as Trayce approached, crossing his arms defensively. “It’s bad enough that my dad likes to constantly remind me how much I cost him, but then he thinks I’m not focused and I have to listen to lectures on responsibility and priorities.” Auden didn’t know what his priorities were anymore, and getting lectured on them was not his idea of a good time.
“I’ve got your priorities right here,” Trayce replied, pushing Auden back against the wall and trapping him there with the hard press of his body.
Auden wanted to be annoyed, but after days of awkwardness after that night, he was all too willing to pull Trayce in closer. His mind flitted vaguely to Shane, but they weren’t serious. They hadn’t talked about being serious. It had only been two semi-dates, and Trayce was the one staring at his mouth like he wanted to ravish him. It sent heat straight to his cock, and Auden couldn’t have pushed Trayce away even if he’d wanted to.
“You can tell your dad that the Canadian is the one who gets you on your knees,” Trayce murmured in his ear, a hand sneaking down his torso, fingernails scratching over his tee-shirt until he reached his jeans and cupped Auden’s erection through the material. Auden took a quick breath but he didn’t dare look down, not with Trayce’s mouth hovering closer to his ear, breath feathering over his skin, warm and soft. “You can tell him that it’s so easy, the way you take me. You’re always so eager.”
Auden shut his eyes and groaned as Trayce ground his hand against his cock. Already half-hard, he sighed at the hard friction. His hands on Trayce’s waist tightened.
Leaning in, Trayce’s mouth ghosted over his neck, nose brushing against his jaw, fingers not tight enough on his prick. “How much do you think he’d hate me if he knew I can make you come with only my mouth?”
Auden swallowed hard against the rush of heat spreading over his body. “Probably a lot, but I don’t care what he thinks.” It was so easy to get lost in this, in Trayce’s touch, the brush of lips against his jaw. Before Trayce could say something else, Auden reached up and pulled him into a searing kiss.
It was a mess after that, no more whispers in his ear, no more teasing from Trayce as he pulled open Auden’s jeans and shoved them down. Trayce’s mouth was hot and reckless against Auden’s, hard and wanting. It was everything Auden wanted. His chest tightened and his hands threaded through Trayce’s hair, keeping him there, preventing him from moving until Trayce bit at his mouth.
Trayce’s hand wrapped around his cock, warm and tight, a pressure that made him moan.
“I don’t care what he thinks either,” Trayce murmured, eyes flicking to Auden’s for a second, and Auden felt his heart swell for a second, just for a moment at what Trayce might have meant. Trayce licked his lips a second later, though, and dropped his gaze. “So you want me to prove it?”
“Fuck yes,” Auden breathed when Trayce slid his hand out of his pants and dropped to his knees. There was nothing else to say as Trayce landed on the floor, peeling his jeans all the way off. There weren’t many times Trayce did this, but every time was like a particularly good Christmas present.
Auden’s whole body was flushed, tingling where Trayce’s mouth slid over his hip and down to his thigh, pushing his legs apart. He spent a few minutes leaving a mark against his skin, too close to his cock but not close enough for any kind of release in the tension now curled deep inside his stomach.
“Trayce, come on,” he murmured finally, reaching for Trayce’s head, trying to give him a hint that ended up more like just stroking his hair as Trayce slid his tongue over his skin, tracing the red mark on his inner thigh.
Trayce glanced up, eyes meeting Auden’s, and he smirked, licking his lips. “Look, Ma, no hands,” he promised, holding them up and leaning in to nuzzle Auden’s cock.
Auden felt the spark all through his body at Trayce’s breath against his skin, hot and throbbing. He was about to chastise Trayce for teasing, but then Trayce’s mouth was there, warm and wet, sliding over his cock and sucking in a way that made Auden’s hips buck up. Trayce’s hands shoved them back, pinning him to the wall. Auden wasn’t sure that counted as no hands, but he tried to keep still as Trayce sucked him off, raw and ready.
As he stood there, Auden’s mind went blank. He didn’t think of his parents or Shane. He only thought of Trayce’s mouth, the feeling of bliss that encompassed him as the tension crackled deep inside him, so close to coming already. He barely kept it together when Trayce slid off to suck at his balls, sliding his tongue over the sensitive skin until all Auden wanted to do was whine and come all over his face.
“Almost there,” Trayce murmured as he slid back in, lips stretching over Auden’s cock. Auden could barely look down, knowing the sight of Trayce with his mouth stretched over his hard cock would be too much to handle. Instead, he pushed his hips up gently, and Trayce let him this time, making a noise in the back of his throat that made Auden’s toes curl.
“Trayce, I-I’m gonna,” was all he got out before he came, cock still in Trayce’s mouth.
Trayce let him, let him push in with his hips, the slick slide too much to handle and Auden shuddered as he came. Closing his eyes, he leaned back against the wall to support himself as he heard Trayce spit into the trash can. When he opened his eyes, breathing heavily still, he saw Trayce wipe his mouth and sit back on his heels, looking winded himself.
Climbing to his feet, Trayce cocked his head to the side. “You want to tell your dad about that?”
“I’d rather not.” Auden would rather never tell anyone about the way something stupid fluttered through him at Trayce’s smile.
Trayce ruffled his hair, his smile soft as he gazed at Auden. For a moment, it felt like it was just the two of them, that Trayce might take his hand and they’d lay down and talk about nothing and everything for hours. For a moment, Shane didn’t exist on the outer reaches of Auden’s mind, and he thought, maybe, Trayce felt it too from the way he gazed at him.
But then Trayce stepped away, adjusting his jeans, and Auden didn’t make any offers. Instead, he watched him cross to his bed and flop down. Pulling up his jeans, Auden buttoned them slowly. So much for his fantasies. Even in those moments where Trayce smiled at him like that, Auden knew he was just fooling himself into thinking there was something more.
“Oh,” Trayce said as Auden opened the door. “When we both make the team, I want to be there when you tell your parents.”
Auden shut the door behind him.
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