Soldier Down by KeepThisSecret
Chapter 1: Online Erotica by KeepThisSecret
** NICK **

“What are you doing?”

I literally jumped at the sound of Howie’s voice, my fingers slipping as I struggled to maintain my grip on the smooth surface of the tablet. “You scared the shit outta me! Why are you creeping up on me like that?”

Howie raised one eyebrow in suspicion. “I’ve been standing over there for more than ten minutes.” He waved his hand in the direction of the nearby magazine kiosk and dropped down next to me into one of the hard, plastic chairs. “You were clearly too involved in whatever it was that you were doing to notice me.”

“I was just looking at some sports stuff.” The lie slipped easily off of my tongue as I quickly closed the open Internet tab and erased my browsing history. I casually slid my finger across the top of the iPad and turned it off, setting the device on the small table in front of us. “How are you feeling?”

Howie continued to stare at me; ignoring my question. “What were you really looking at?”

I made a massive show of rolling my eyes and leaned back in my chair. “I told you. I was just checking the scores.”

“I bet he was looking at porn.”

I flinched again at AJ’s raspy intrusion. Why did everyone keep sneaking up on me?

“It looked like he was reading.” Howie shook his head. “Or else I would have already called him out for being a pig.”

“Maybe he was reading an erotic novel.” Brian strolled over and planted himself in one of the grey chairs across from the ones on which Howie and I were sitting. He took a massive bite out of the Granny Smith apple that he was holding in his hand and chewed noisily. “There are a ton of those online.”

The heat was starting to creep up my neck. “I wasn’t reading an erotic novel! I was looking at baseball stats.”

“Why would you want to read porn when you can watch it?” AJ took a seat in the available chair next to Brian and gave me a strange look. “It’s not like reading about people doing it is going to improve your vocabulary.”

Brian snorted, banging on his chest as he almost choked. “We are talking about Nick’s vocabulary. Any additional words would be an improvement.”

I narrowed my eyes at Brian, willing desperately for him to drop the subject. I shouldn’t have fooled myself into thinking that it would be okay to access the website in a public place. I should have known that the chances of getting caught were too high. Thank God that Howie hadn’t actually seen the website. The reality of what I had been doing was a lot worse than the guys thinking that I was watching porn in the middle of LAX.

“You seem to know an awful lot about online erotica.” I took a jab at Brian. “Is there something that you would like to share?”

Brian shrugged and flashed me a sideways grin, bits of apple stuck between his teeth. “Sometimes reading it is better than watching it.”

It was my turn to choke. “What the fuck are you …”

“Did you guys not hear our boarding call?” Kevin interrupted. He had materialized next to AJ; carry-on in hand and a look of annoyance on his face. “They’ve announced it twice already.”

AJ shook his head. “We were too busy discussing Brian’s and Nick’s porn habits.”

“You – you were doing what?” Kevin flipped his eyes back and forth between me and his cousin. His massive eyebrows were practically overtaking his entire forehead. “Why were you having that kind of a discussion in a public place?”

“Relax, Kev.” I stood up and hastily stuffed the iPad and my phone into my carry-on bag. “AJ’s just messing with you.”

“After hearing the results of the conversation, I really wish that I was.” AJ screwed his face up into a disheartened look and laid his hand gently on Brian’s shoulder. “If you’re looking for some new material, all you need to do is ask. You don’t have to resort to reading.”

Brian swallowed the last bite of his apple and tossed the core towards the nearby garbage can. He watched in satisfaction as the core sailed directly into the middle of the bin before turning to AJ. “Some of it is surprisingly well-written. I can recommend one or two titles for you if you like.”

AJ stared hard into Brian’s face. “I seriously don’t know if you’re joking right now.”

The corners of Brian’s mouth twitched as he struggled to maintain a serious expression. “I know. I bet it’s killing you.”

“Why?” Kevin ran a hand down his face and rolled his eyes towards the ceiling.

“‘Why’ what?” I asked; falling into step next to the oldest member of our group as the five of us began to make our way towards the gate.

“Just ‘why’.” Kevin sighed. “Just ‘why’.”

I resisted the urge to issue a snide response as I pulled my boarding pass out of my pocket. We were less than halfway through the tour, and there was no point in rattling Kevin’s cage this early. I had learned the hard way that giving Kevin a rough time was best done during the final few dates of a long tour; just before we all went our separate ways.

“How are you feeling?” Kevin turned his attention to Howie, asking him the same question that I had earlier.

“Better.” Howie shrugged. He coughed loudly into his arm and offered Kevin a sheepish looking smile. “Okay, so I’m not really feeling that much better.”

Kevin pursed his lips. He handed his boarding pass to the woman behind the counter, but he kept his eyes locked on Howie. “I really think that you should sit the next show out. You don’t look so hot.”

“You don’t look so fabulous yourself, at the moment.” Howie quipped, eliciting a laugh from both AJ and Brian and a snort of approval from me.

Once again, Kevin rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. “Why, God? Why do you do this to me?”

“Because you make it so easy!” I pressed myself in-between Brian and AJ as the words left my mouth, shooting Kevin a massive gin over my shoulder. He glared back at me, but his barely cinched eyebrows betrayed the fact that he was only pretending to be upset.

The five of us shuffled on to the plane and AJ and Brian immediately sat down next to each other. Howie and I positioned ourselves in the seats directly behind them, and Kevin chose a window seat two rows back and to the right of the rest of us. Five minutes after takeoff, Howie was dead to the world beside me; his mouth slightly open as he snored softly through his congestion. A quick look around confirmed that AJ and Brian were hunched over a series of papers, and that Kevin was deeply involved in the latest Dan Brown novel.

I stole another glance at Howie before pulling my iPad out of my backpack. I knew that I had no reason to be worried; Howie could sleep through anything, including a fire alarm, a herd of bleating goats, and a mild hurricane. Nevertheless, I was feeling more than a little paranoid as a result of almost being caught in the airport. Satisfied that Howie was sufficiently passed out, I called up the pages that I had saved to the tablet’s offline browser. There was no Wi-Fi available on the flight, but I had more than enough material to keep me entertained until the snack cart appeared. Settling back in my seat, I dropped my eyes to the screen and allowed my mind to wander back into the alternate reality of the text.

I knew that what I was doing was more than a little strange, but I just couldn’t bring myself to stop. I had stumbled across the website by accident a little over a year ago and ever since then I had been hooked. It was an escape, a way for me to put my real-life problems aside and to engage in a bit of harmless fun. The only thing that I had to worry about was the risk of someone finding out. If anyone were to figure out my secret, I would never be able to live it down. That’s why I was always so careful; nobody could ever know the source of my biggest guilty pleasure.

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