Holy afterschool special, Batman

Here is a story about a loner who may want to be less alone. So Lydia takes a break from her busy schedule of hating everything and makes a new friend. This comes from When We Were Strangers, which is the free introduction to the characters in the One More Thing Series. This post is the introduction to the introduction. Or something.

This image perfectly sums up Lydia. And you can read this scene or the whole story at anytime because it is free. In case you missed any of the times I said free, I’m going to say free again. Free!

~

Lydia

What a beautiful summer day. With fresh air, flowers blooming, and sunshine shining down… everything was super annoying. I hated days like today. I hated most things, but I especially hated today.

Despite protests, I somehow ended up at a church picnic with my family on the other end of the park. I could only survive a few minutes of everybody praising the lord for this ‘blessed’ day and being offered potato salad from people way too intense about potato salad. Naturally, I fled.

In the back corner of the park, there lied a neglected area where public space met someone’s private, unkempt property. Sitting on top of the backrest of a hard as hell bench, I smoked a cigarette in solitude.

Hard to say what was more isolating: being alone in a crowd or being free and almost wanting to go back because maybe terrible company would be less lonely than no company. If being alone wasn’t good, and being with people wasn’t good, then how did I win?

Suddenly, I wasn’t alone.

“Does being such a cliché ever bother you?” a voice asked. The speaker stepped into view, a girl with burgundy hair, wearing a light blue shirt.

“Excuse me?” I responded coolly, steadying myself by resting my free hand on the concrete slab doubling as my seat, though I gave no other indication she startled me.

“Bad girl in black smoking by herself,” she elaborated, small smile on her lips. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, 10/10 on the aesthetic. I can feel the angst even from a distance, but it’s a little obvious, isn’t it?”

“Who are you?” I kept asking my own questions instead of acknowledging hers.

“Alicia Phillips, we go to the same school.”

“I believe you.” If I wanted to know my peers better, I… nope, I couldn’t even finish the thought.

She forced a laugh, smile turning tense. “You have no idea who I am, do you? It’s fine.” The confidence she possessed to speak to me so boldly evaporated as if it never existed.

I raised a hand, indicating she should stay while I considered her. I… she… huh.

Studying her, her blue shirt displayed a small white logo near the right sleeve, part of a uniform for a counselor at a summer camp near the outskirts of town. She wore khaki pants with her hair tied back in a ponytail. Her skin had more color than my vampiric whiteness, her figure fuller and curvier. It was hard to place her because she might look different during the school year.

Alicia Phillips. She wasn’t afraid to give me attitude, yet she acted embarrassed when I failed to recognize her. A girl both at home and uncomfortable in her own skin. Capable of brief moments of bravery… like when in front of an audience.

“I recognize you,” I realized. “You’re in plays, right? Plays are… cool.” Plays weren’t cool, but I was trying to be polite. Rudeness was more satisfying when it was earned. 

“Wow, you couldn’t sound even the slightest bit convincing, could you?” she asked in that gently teasing manner she kept addressing me with.

I should put her in her place, eviscerate her. It may make me feel better. Because I was confident, scary Lydia Smith, the badass in black clothes. People wanted to know more about me but weren’t stupid enough to come ask. I was unapproachable. Nobody talked to me like she did. I would be annoyed, but curiosity won out.

“Wanna help me be less of a cliché?” I asked.

“Huh? You’re not suggesting a makeover, are you?” Never. Wordlessly, I held up the pack of cigarettes in an offer. “Oh, smoke with you?” She neither accepted or refused, talking to herself as she continued, “Peer pressure. This is, I’m being pressured by a peer. Holy afterschool special, Batman.”

Hopeless theater weirdos were the last thing I needed, people who didn’t know how to talk without a script, so I wasn’t charmed. I laughed anyway. “You’re strange.”

“Yeah, well.” She met my eyes, held her head higher. Impressive. “I’m a proud drama kid, and my best friend is a bad influence on me.”

~

The rest is available here. For free!

(not) New Cover

When a new cover got made for One Little Word, I showed it off on my mailing list. I did not remember to post it on my blog, which I only discovered when I couldn’t find the cover in my images. Oops. Better late than never?

Quick summary: A jock screws up and must depend on the one guy who hates him while they try to sell the ruse of their secret fake relationship, which is getting less secret and fake with each passing day. This involves lots of hand holding, which brings us to the cover:

This isn’t the first time I’ve had an illustrated cover made, but it’s the first time I knew I was getting an illustrated cover. Technically, their heights should be reversed as the guy in pink is taller, which I keep telling myself doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Also, maybe he’s slouching or they’re standing on uneven ground.

Anyway, I also wanted to share an excerpt from the book. I did not know which part to share, so I decided to use one of my favorite scenes. In it, Ryan and Luke are at a grade school fair, and they are turning every game they play into a competition.

As this bit has two lines I love, that’s probably part of why I enjoy it so much. Especially since these lines, in my opinion, don’t make for great quotes and are hard to appreciate out of context, so I unfortunately haven’t made image quotes with them. If you want to guess the lines I love, go ahead. I’ll tell you after the scene.

~

Ryan

LUKE STARED DOWN MY GRINNING FORM, his arms crossed against his chest, a reverse of our earlier position. Except his arms were more impressive with muscles bulging and straining against the material of his shirt.

I teased him to avoid the distraction. “Now you’re the sore loser.”

He wasn’t impressed with my victory. “Cakewalks are entirely luck based.”

“There was no rule there had to be skill involved.”

The possibility of him winning sweet treats kept him from complaining when I selected the cakewalk. Maybe I had good karma stored up because I always won cakewalks. I held a cake wrapped in plastic in my hands, funfetti with white frosting and sprinkles. Luke wanted me to pick brownies instead; he was so weird. Funfetti was the best.

“You’re at least sharing that cake with me,” he argued.

“Keep dreaming.”

Luke had given me a root beer when he won the ring toss, an unexpectedly sweet gesture. He wanted to bribe me into the dunk tank, so the present wasn’t sweet. The nice part was how he remembered my beverage of choice. I may share my dessert, but he didn’t need to know that yet.

We did basically every event, jostling and trash talking each other at the slightest opportunity. Things that weren’t even really a competition we turned into one, like the duck pond. Except we got into an argument about what constituted winning, getting a duck with a higher number attached or drawing a duck that earned two candies instead of one.

We had time for one more game before heading back to our booth. The objective for our last game was to knock down cans with beanbags. This was another activity where Luke had an advantage, but Alicia was manning the booth for community service credit, so maybe she would help me out.

She stared at us incredulously when we stepped up to her table. “Isn’t this game a little too easy for you?”

Luke nodded. “For me, but I have to give Ryan a fighting chance.”

“Tell that to the duck pond, jackass,” I fired at him hotly.

I won the duck pond,” he argued immediately. “Not you.”

Before we could get into it further, Alicia held up her hand. “Yeah, this and the duck pond are for kindergarteners. You know that, right?”

We looked around. The cans were regular empty pop cans, and the beanbags were at least half their size, so it did seem pretty simple. Unless you were five and could barely aim. And the kids in this line were especially young and all of them had parents holding their hands. The adults behind us watched us with exasperation.

The little competitive bubble Luke and I were in burst. It had been so easy to get absorbed in trying to beat him, everything else faded into the background.

“Oh, I guess we shouldn’t do this one then,” Luke said, sounding as silly as I felt.

“No, don’t let that stop you,” Alicia told us. “By all means, play the angriest game of Can Knock-Down the world has ever seen.” Her sarcasm skills were almost as good as mine.

We retreated from her booth as she laughed at us for being giant children. Damn, I wished I hadn’t drunk the root beer Luke gave me. I could have chucked it at her.

While our competition was intense, it had almost been fun. I hadn’t minded being in Luke’s presence then. I’d stopped keeping score at one point, only wanting to beat him so he wouldn’t be as smug.

Plus, maybe he had this ridiculous pout whenever he lost that I wanted to kiss away. Ugh. Being attracted to someone I hated was difficult. I’d feel the urge to punch him one moment and want to shut him up with my tongue in his mouth the next.

“I’m not getting in the dunk tank again,” Luke declared when we got back to our booth. His artificially orange skin looked like a bad spray tan. Yet even orange, he was still hot.

I couldn’t pull off that look so well. “What if I promise not to accidentally dunk you?” I offered.

“That doesn’t stop everyone else who tries to hit the bullseye.”

I smiled. “I may be able to help with that too.”

“I knew it!” He rounded on me in anger. “You’re such a cheater!”

“Do you want to cry about it, or do you want me to rig the game?”

He stopped and paused. Then he decided, “Definitely, definitely rig it.”

–The rest of the story is available here. My favorite lines are ‘Tell that to the duck pond, jackass,’ and ‘By all means, play the angriest game of Can Knock-Down the world has ever seen.’

Meet cute, scene from gay romance

In romcom terms, this is the meet cute between the main characters. This scene is from Falling in Love and (Other Bad Ideas).

Zach

Joey moved ahead of Luke, walking even with me to better annoy me, unless he just wanted to walk down the stairs with me for some reason, which would be weird, so the first one. Or more like, he attempted to walk with me while still narrating his fever dream and gesturing broadly.

Basically, I was doomed. Joey was a catcher, built to stay where he was planted. Me, being the shortstop, had to be the opposite: quick, flexible, and able to cover more ground. So the math was easy. He made a motion with his arm and pushed me, and I wasn’t prepared. I went flying, sailing over the last few steps instead of stepping down them. Down I went.

…There so many situations where I would happily go down, but this wasn’t one of them.

Except instead of hitting the ground, I instead landed right in the pages of some fucking chick flick novel. I fell right into somebody’s arms. It couldn’t have been choreographed better. I stared up at an unfamiliar face, his light brown eyes looking into my darker ones. The guy who caught me, the whole picture he painted boiled down to this: a standard male protagonist.

Should I ask Luke what romcom this meet cute was stolen from the pages of? He would probably know. Or wait, this could have been a terribly contrived introduction to the handsome stranger who saved me, but him being a stranger meant something. While entirely possible there were closeted guys at school I didn’t know about, it seemed unlikely. Either through firsthand knowledge or rumors from the guys I shared the aforementioned firsthand knowledge with, I had a pretty comprehensive understanding of any dudes at this school with queer leanings.

“Hi there,” the guy said to me with a little smile. He righted me and continued, “This is one hell of a meet cute, huh?”

No, I already decided it wasn’t! I dusted myself off, unnecessarily, but it made me feel more in control. “I don’t do cute. Not meet, or as a button, or otherwise.”

“Uh oh, is it about to get gay?” Joey asked, looking between us. “It’s fine, just give me some warning.”

“No, it’s not,” I said while the almost-protagonist said, “Yes, it is.”

“So, they answered differently, is that another clue?” Joey directed the question to Luke. “It’s about to get gay, right?”

“Well, I am gay,” the stranger answered. “So I’d argue whatever is happening is already gay.”

We all stared at him. Because… huh. Technically, I was right. This wasn’t some closeted guy I didn’t know about. Because he wasn’t closeted. Which threw us off. Until right then, everybody out at our high school was already in our friend group. And since we had never seen him before, he clearly did not meet these standards. His casual words weren’t anything we expected.

“Am I offending your family values?” he asked us, not really surprised. Seemed he’d been doing a lot of that lately.

“Don’t worry, he doesn’t have values,” Luke responded helpfully.

“Family or otherwise,” Joey added.

Luke looked between me and the new guy slowly. Uh-oh. “You did fall right into his arms.” Don’t let the jock thing fool you, he was actually a huge girl because I could see the words ‘fate’ and ‘destiny’ running through his head. “And did you hear what he said?” Luke asked me, nudging my side with an elbow. “About being gay?”

“I’m standing here with you, in front of him, so obviously I—”

“Dude, come on,” interrupted Joey. “He’s queerballs, and so are you.”

“Seriously?” I asked him.

“It’s destiny or some shit,” Joey reasoned. “Even I’m not strong enough to stand in the way.”

“Two queer people crossing paths doesn’t mean we need to kiss,” I argued. My life wasn’t a romcom.

“I agree,” the Standard Male Protagonist said. “But it is cool to meet you. You’re gay too?”

“Bi,” I corrected.

“Oh, you’re bi?” SMP asked.

“Not what I meant.” I tried again. “Bye.” Got it that time.

I walked away.

-Get your copy here!

Friendship

This is a scene where two boyfriends try to support their friend. It’s from Falling in Love and Other Bad Ideas.

Zach

Ryan and Luke watched me eagerly as I grabbed things from my locker. I shared homeroom with the former, and Ryan treated homeroom, punctuality, and other things he didn’t want to do as optional rather than mandatory, one of the few things I respected him for.

Luke always complained about Ryan’s brown hair falling into his eyes and adding additional walking challenges for a guy who never made peace with gravity, but now his own blonde locks were doing the same thing. Ryan had the same shoes as Luke so their feet could be twins or something. They were both wearing flannel shirts, Ryan’s mostly red with blue, Luke’s mostly blue with red. Which… how? Did they call each other up and plan their outfits? Luke never even wore flannel.

Luke said, “I want to talk about Zach’s love interest.”

I scowled at how he phrased it while saying, “And now for the simple, folksy Luke wisdom.”

He frowned. “Don’t think anyone has ever called me folksy before.”

I smirked. “They have called you simple, that’s what I’m hearing.”

“Hey,” Ryan warned, jumping to his boyfriend’s defense. “I will fight you. With my words.”

“Dude, come on.” Luke said to me, giving me his earnest, dumb Luke smile. “You should go for it.” Groundbreaking. He kept going. “Somewhere along the line you went from not dating much to not dating at all. If you like this guy—”

“I don’t even know him.”

“Then get to know him. And if you like him, go for it.”

“God, you’re hot,” Ryan told him.

“Thanks babe.” Luke’s dimples appeared as he smiled at Ryan. “I’m also right.”

“Duh, that’s what makes you even hotter.”

They left, even though we had been right next to homeroom, and Luke needed to go to homeroom because that was how school worked. He let Ryan lead him off anyway because true love meant more than compulsory attendance or some shit like that.

When Luke and Ryan were morons who made their relationship 50 times more difficult than it needed to be, at least they provided some entertainment. However, it was also a hassle for me because they would both expect me to listen to their woes and provide answers. Nobody even paid me for it. Yet this same page, ride-or-die stuff they’d been doing lately was so… insane.

The couple weren’t just crazy kids hopped up on hormones thinking they were destined to be together forever. They had become shockingly stable somehow. As if they truly expected to go the distance when they’d barely even started the race.

10 YA Novels About Being Gay in a Small Town

Some people appreciate the simple things in life, like a rustic locale where everybody knows their neighbors. At least, some people enjoy reading about a quiet country life while still having Chipotle and Target only a short drive away. And while small town life seems peaceful and idyllic, these places aren’t always paradise for those who are different, which leads to the inherent drama of trying to figure out oneself while afraid everyone else won’t understand.

These LGBT books include finding yourself and falling in love in unlikely places. Here’s 10 books about coming of age and gay romance in a small town setting.

About: A crush on his best friend is only the start of his problems when Tretch realizes how much of himself he’s keeping separate from those closest to him.

From the Official Description: When you’re in love with the wrong person for the right reasons, anything could happen.
Tretch lives in a very small town where everybody’s in everybody else’s business. Which makes it hard for him to be in love with his straight best friend.

Featuring: coming of age, friendship, family, self expression, dance, identity issues

About: A typical jock decides to change his life and seeks help from the coolest, most authentic guy he knows, a guy who happens to be an openly gay artist. But it’s not like his sexuality matters… or does it? My review is here.

From the Official Description: In the small town of Spring Valley, molds weren’t made to be broken, and high school senior Jay Hall’s been living comfortably in his popular jock one since adolescence. If it weren’t for the colorful, outspoken artistic anomaly Brighton Bello-Adler, he might have been willing to remain there. Unnaturally drawn to Brighton, Jay knows he needs something from him, but is he ready to find out what that something is?

Featuring: coming of age, transformation, adventure, road trip, loneliness, slow-burn, developing relationship

About: Sky’s plan to be himself and get the guy of his dreams might be derailed by a homophobic hacker.

From the Official Description: Determined not to let anything ruin his senior year, Sky decides to make a splash at his high school’s annual beach bum party… What better way to start living loud and proud than by pulling off the gayest promposal Rock Ledge, Michigan, has ever seen?

Featuring: coming of age, transformation, adventure, road trip, loneliness, slow-burn, developing relationship

About: A proud openly gay guy and a football star have a rocky past but must work together for a common goal. Maybe they fall in love along the way?

From the Official Description: Boys plot to derail the budding romance between their parents at their conservative hometown’s first-ever Rainbow Prom. Hearts will be broken, new romance will bloom, but nothing will go down the way Beck and Jax have planned.

Featuring: humor, unlikely allies, controversial, southern setting, bisexuality, family dynamics

About: Three queer boys growing up in a world where masculinity is everything and homosexuality might as well not exist.

From the Official Description: Charlie is a hardcore rocker, who’s not as tough as he looks. Hammer is a footy jock with big AFL dreams, and an even bigger ego. Zeke is a shy over-achiever, never macho enough for his family. But all three boys hide who they really are. When the truth is revealed, will it set them free or blow them apart?

Featuring: multiple main characters, Australia, serious topics, gender norms, religion, mental health

About: Zeph dreams of openly dating his ultra-closeted boyfriend when a mysterious new guy enters his life fresh from boarding school.

From the Official Description: Is it possible to have it all—even for a boy from a dying town of old cranberry bogs? Even for the son of religious zealots who will never accept his being gay?
Zeph hopes so, because he isn’t giving up on his happily ever after.

Featuring: secrets, hidden relationship, love triangle, relationship drama, HEA

About: The new boy in town falls for the popular jock who, of course, seems as straight as they come.

From the Official Description: Fairmont Boys is a coming-of-age story about friendship and the kind of love that is found in the most unlikely places.

Featuring: Sports, opposites attract, time jumps, YA&NA, series

About: Life keeps getting worse for a teen struggling with troubles no one should have to confront alone, until a new face seems to turn everything around.

From the Official Description: A breath of fresh air has blown through Emmett’s life. Not only does Noah’s mixed-race parentage make him unlike the other rich kids in town, he’s also openly gay and interested in Emmett, despite all the barriers Emmett has erected to keep prying eyes out of his life.

Featuring: coming of age, transformation, adventure, road trip, loneliness, slow-burn, developing relationship

About: A tragedy makes a flawed and complicated individual reevaluate everything.

From the Official Description: Starting with the death of someone he loves, Riley’s world beings to fall apart. As he tries to keep his head above water, he’s faced with a choice… be the Riley everyone believes him to be or he can search within himself and the hearts of those who care about him to find out who he really is and who he will someday become.

Featuring: Bisexuality, closeted, family issues, angst, bullying, growing up

About: A bigoted boy takes rash action when an openly gay couple moves in nearby. But he may have more in common with them than he thinks.

From the Official Description: In the small town of Spring Valley, molds weren’t made to be broken, and high school senior Jay Hall’s been living comfortably in his popular jock one since adolescence. If it weren’t for the colorful, outspoken artistic anomaly Brighton Bello-Adler, he might have been willing to remain there. Unnaturally drawn to Brighton, Jay knows he needs something from him, but is he ready to find out what that something is?

Featuring: friends to lovers, coming of age, coming out, inner demons, bisexuality, religion

Scenes from a Baseball Game (Baseball not Included)

Luke is a high school baseball player. A great high school baseball player. Well, a pretty good one. He’s an excellent pitcher and batting… is also a thing he’s expected to do. He usually isn’t very good at the hitting part, but plot twist, he’s now amazing at batting.

What’s going on? He has no idea, but he’s not about to question it. If he had to speculate, maybe he has magic powers or is a secret superhero? Or maybe he’s feeling more confident after realizing he’s bi and coming out. It’s definitely one of those.

This is a scene from One Little Problem where Luke and some teammates discuss why he’s suddenly better at baseball. Some of this in the novel and some isn’t.

Luke

We had an away game, so there was no big cheering section for our team. Sometimes that made a difference, but not today. We were winning anyway. I’d been hitting and getting on base a lot more these days. I didn’t always hit home runs or anything, but this time I did. I was grinning before it even left the diamond, I just had a feeling it was out of here and then it was and I jogged around the bases, feeling amazing, like I could do anything. I was a baseball god. It felt good to take my victory lap, to have my team hollering in the background. I was done pitching, so I ended the game on a high note.

“Are you using performance enhancing drugs?” Joey Wilson asked as he patted me on the back when I got back to our dugout.

“Seriously?” Yeah, I had done well and he had struck out. Still. If anything, it was the other way around. He was bulkier and dumber and prone to punching walls when someone sniped him in Fortnite. He’d be first in line if somebody was testing for steroid usage.

“I’m not judging.” His face was wide and a tad confused, just like always. “I’m just saying, you have to share.”

I snorted. “Because you can keep a secret.”

“Oh my god,” he marveled. “Did you just admit it? Did you fall into my clever trap?”

“Your clever trap of asking a question?” I didn’t say so no to his question, but it was a dumb question.

Joey raised his chin definitely. “Don’t question the methods if they work.” His batting average was on the average to below average side while mine was definitely below average. Most of the time, we both lamented how much we sucked at batting together.

“No, I am not on steroids,” I told him, making it clear, which caused a few other people to look over at us. Yeah, I got that. Saying you weren’t on steroids was probably not something a lot of people who weren’t on steroids felt the need to say. “Even if I was, why would you need them?”

“My batting average isn’t great either,” Joey said. “If you bring yours up, I’ve gotta keep up.” His wasn’t great but when he did get a hit, it tended to be a big one. That gave him time to at least make it a base or two, if he didn’t outright knock it out of the park.

Wasn’t a bad problem to have from my viewpoint, either striking out or hitting a homer. For me, it typically more like striking out, striking out, striking out, striking out, and every so often getting a little bit lucky and hitting it. And then after that, if I got even more lucky, the hit actually meant I got on base.

This whole thing where I was suddenly good at every part of baseball? It rocked so hard.

I moved on from Joey and sat down next to Zach in the dugout. My grin came back.  Wait till I tell Ryan about this. Probably should tell him in private incase he had the bright idea to do something dumb and embarrassing like start cheering wherever we were or jump into my arms and kiss me on each cheek.

I wasn’t ashamed or anything, only in the way that I was dating a very embarrassing person. One who didn’t even realize he was being embarrassing until he did and then it was like he already started, so he might as well go all the way and really play it up because that way at least I would be more embarrassed than him. That meant he won or got to be less embarrassed because he could say it was all part of a plan to embarrass me or something.

I had finally gotten to the point where being with a guy didn’t embarrass me and now I was just the recommended normal amount of embarrassed around Ryan, the baseline that everyone who comes into contact with him exists at. And god, why was I freaking smiling just from thinking about what an awkward loser my boyfriend was? That’s the kind of thing I should be sad about, having to deal with such an embarrassing, awkward guy all the time. I was sad… My face just didn’t know it yet because I was still grinning.

It took me a moment to notice Zach was staring at me. Zach was more of the striking than striking out type. Both in life and on the field. He had sharp features and an effortless coolness, an Arab-American guy who always took care to look put together and fashionable, never had a hair out of place. Except for on the field but of course he made the dirty, sweaty athlete look work too somehow.

“How are you doing that?” Zach asked, nodding his head to indicate the field in the front of us. I shrugged, so he continued, “There’s got to be some explanation for why you’re suddenly good at hitting. Off the top of my head?” He feigned thinking about it before deciding on, “Black magic comes to mind.” Jerk. “Along with selling your soul or a cursed baseball bat that gives you magic homerun powers but takes away your manhood, poor Ryan—”

I frowned. “Wouldn’t everything you just said fall under the heading of black magic?”

“So, it is black magic?”

“No.” I shrugged. “It’s just not that hard.” For once in his life, maybe he would let something go. Probably not likely, but I could hope. Seemed like I was full of hope these days. Even with my parents and they were being super difficult.

“For you it is.” Nope, he wasn’t letting it go. Good thing I didn’t hope too hard. “You’re not allowed to be good at both pitching and hitting.” Jerk again.

“Why not? Because then I’d do better than you?”

“Obviously,” he replied without remorse. “Did you really think I’d have a different objection?” I was just going to assume Zach would be a jerk for the rest of this conversation, so I didn’t have to think it all the time, that would save me some time.

“I think you could use some competition,” I challenged. Zach snorted like it was outlandish to think we’d even be in the same league, let alone that I would be competition, even though we were literally in the same league and same team and school and town. “Maybe you’re gonna have to step up your game,” I continued. “And actually, oh, I don’t know, try.

Not for a second did I believe that Zach’s life was as effortless as he made it seem because I had been given a few peeks behind the curtain in all our years of friendship, but annoyingly, while not everything just naturally came easy to him, there was a lot that unfortunately did, which might be where he got his incredibly cocky attitude in the first place.

“Excuse me?” Zach scoffed in full on bitch mode. “How dare you imply that I would have to try or make anything remotely resembling an effort to best you, Luke Chambers.”

Man, the inning still wasn’t over yet. This actually was probably one of the better conversations I had with Zach, but I didn’t have anything to say to that and this would normally be the part where I floundered and said something dumb, but I was surprised and then glad to realize that I didn’t really care. If this conversation was about to not go my way, I could just stop having it.

“Whatever,” I said, watching the game.

Zach looked triumphant for a moment before realizing that I didn’t just say whatever because I had nothing else, I mean true, but I also really didn’t care. He waited but I didn’t say anything else. “Is that all?” he asked. He frowned a bit because he was a bastard who loved playing with his food before he went for the kill.

I laughed. “You got me there, man,” I admitted.

There were several things Zach needed me around for because he didn’t have the skill set or patience to do those things himself, but witty conversation wasn’t on that list. Had always been true but sometimes I wanted to get one over on him anyway and only in very rare cases did that work, so it just didn’t seem worth the effort of trying. I got a homerun this game and he didn’t, and I was on fire right now and nothing anyone said could change that.

Zach actually stared at me dumbfounded for a moment and just when I turned to really take that look in because it happened so rarely that he showed shock or confusion, he wiped it off his face. Rude. “Who are you?” he asked. “This might still qualify as black magic, I’m unclear, but we need to rule out possession. Are you possessed?”

I rolled my eyes. I really didn’t know how to put it in words, so I started with the obvious, “I’ve never liked hitting.” Wow, he really wanted to know my secret because he didn’t even make a get on with it gesture or look put out because I said something he already knew. “I pitch, why do I have to hit the ball too? It’s a totally different skillset and it seems like asking a lot from me. Plus, what if I get hurt up at the plate? Ball can come at you fast on the mound, but I don’t have to wear a helmet up there, and mostly, I just don’t like batting. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been very good at it, but there’s times when I just dread it.”

Hitting his limit for stating the obvious, Zach said, “Uh-huh, I’ve heard this from you before. About 900 times.”

I glared because he was the one who wanted a damn answer and after a mini standoff, he let me go on. Cool. Working through that all had actually helped, stating all my old objections and seeing that they were still more or less true. It’s not that I didn’t feel that way anymore but that stuff seemed farther away. Like it wasn’t in my head as much as it usually was.

“I get up there,” I said slowly as I pieced it together. “And I think about all that. How I’m not going to do good, how everyone’s going to see me not do good, to me uselessly wishing I could just pitch and not hit even though it does no good ever, and now I just… I don’t care.”

“You turned off your brain?” He couldn’t resist taking the easy shot. “On the one hand, how can that hurt when you barely use it anyway—”

“Ha ha—”

“—But on the other hand, you were already operating at dangerously low levels of cognitive function. I can’t imagine going any farther down is safe.”

Before this whole thing with me and Ryan? I liked giving the impression I didn’t care what other people thought. I did care though. I just knew how to downplay it. And it was easy to be confident when everything people said about you was good. But now? “What other people are going to think about me is like the furthest thing from my mind. Even farther away than not being a vain dickhead is for you.”

“Wow,” he said mildly. “That’s far.” He shook his head. “Still though, being unconcerned with mere mortals is my superpower, not yours. Get your own.”

I shrugged. “You’re gonna have to share.”

His brow furrowed. “I don’t sha—”

“Maybe you’ll learn.”

I had good looks, popularity, athletic ability. I was the guy everyone wanted to be and then the guy nobody in our town wanted to be, the gay one or whatever. And I had to go from fitting in and being basically worshipped to being gawked at, judged, found wanting. All while not actually being like Zach, who came out and treated every sneer and bad word directed his way like he treated everything else, background noise that could be ignored or paid attention to based on his whims, fodder for occasional amusement. All anyone looking from the outside would see was someone who seemed in complete control, someone who liked bad press about himself as much as good press because, hey, it was all attention.

Being the golden boy, I did have plenty of confidence, but I’d never had to maintain it while being ridiculed and watched by everyone. Never had to be pretend to be unbothered while everything changed. So I hadn’t really known what to do. Hadn’t really known who I was becoming. Seemed like anything could happen, I could turn into a freaking dragon. Instead, I was basically the same guy but with some new additions that had totally blindsided me. And then.

“School? Baseball? Other people? It all just seems,” I paused, watching our second baseman swing at a high curveball, how many times did I have to tell him to avoid those pitches? “I mean, what can any of it really do to me? Not much, not after surviving things with my parents.” I lowered my voice. “Sometimes, I don’t even know if I have a right to complain about that. It’s not as bad as what happened to Lydia. Hell, they took her in, so it kinda seemed like things might start to be okay, but things are still weird between us and the longer it goes on it’s like, maybe not. But still, maybe I should be grateful.”

“It’s okay if you’re not. You used to be really close to your parents. Even not much distance would feel like a lot in your situation.” As usual when he tried to have a serious moment or behaved like a normal human, the words were slightly stilted but sincere.

“Yeah. Well, I survived that or am surviving it. I survived everyone knowing this thing about me basically as soon as I knew, having so little time to process, so I don’t know. These days, everything seems pretty easy. Like at least for a while, I made it through the hard part.” I grinned at him. “I’m invincible now, dude.”

“Nice sentiment.” Then, his face turned serious “However, I feel like I should make this clear, you aren’t really—”

“It’s a metaphor, dude.” I was not literally invincible. I wouldn’t go darting into traffic or standing in front of an oncoming train.

Wow, that was twice in one conversation where Zach looked dumbfounded. “Oh my god,” he said.

“Um, did I use that wrong?” Really didn’t think so, but he kept looking at me funny.

“No, you used it correctly.” He looked at me like I was a pod person again. Asshole.

Yet I only smiled. “See? Everything is going my way.”

Then our turn to bat was over and Zach and some of the other guys made their way onto the field while I leaned back in the dugout and relaxed.

I’m invincible.

 

Books, yay!

Recently, I joined BookFunnel, which is great because it gives me stuff to talk about. So you know, that’s what I’m going to talk about. This may be the most straight forward introduction to a blog post I’ve ever made, go me.

One group I joined is for YA Coming of Age Books.  Most of these are contemporary and straight romances. One book with queer characters and a cover I like is After the Fall by Brad Graber. It’s about a teenager girl on a quest to find out more about her mother.

Rikki, a teenager being raised in New York City, has a secret. She can’t remember her mother. Whenever she asks her grandmother a question, the older woman falls apart and refuses to discuss the matter. Desperate to learn the truth, Rikki finds a hidden album with family photographs. Can the boy in the picture with her mother be a long lost uncle? Determined to unlock the mystery, she embarks on a journey to meet Harry, a writer who is struggling with his own issues of identity.

This group lasts until the 15th, so yes, I am last minute like usual. Pretend this post is happening a week ago when it was supposed to before my computer charger broke and I had to order a new one.

Some of the other promotions I joined for August are these, Summer Laughs and Happy End of Summer. Summer Laughs offers giveaways and all the books in the other one are on KU. I will tell you more about these later because then I can make another post. I mean, because of another sensible reason.

Performance Art or Something

If I haven’t mentioned before that I’m updating One Little Word, then I’ve at least mentioned it now. I’m working on getting a print version done too.Which means that it’s relevant for me to post stuff from that book. I was going to anyway but being relevant is cool.

And when I say I’m working on updating it, I mean it is updated. There’s new cover art, hopefully better editing, and expanded scenes. Hooray!

The book is a gay romance about fake boyfriends, and there’s a scene where they go to a high school play together. I’m not really sure why I decided the play should be A Midsummer Night’s Dream because that might be the only popular Shakespeare play I haven’t read but whatever. On the other hand, “what fools these mortals be” could basically be the summary for the entire series, either that or “boys are dumb.”

Here is some art and an excerpt from the theater date.

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Ryan

LUKE AND I ATTENDED THE DRAMA CLUB’S fall presentation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream together.

He got to pretend he was an out and proud athlete, and I had someone to go to the show with, so I refrained from complaining. However, I couldn’t stop myself from flailing internally at how date-like it seemed, but I covered pretty well, I thought. Good thing my not-date was fun to laugh at.

We were early, so we stood in line and waited to be let in while I watched Luke with a bemused expression.

“The play takes place in the woods, right? You’re sure one of them doesn’t wander off and die?” he asked hopefully. “It’s the perfect horror movie scenario.”

“This isn’t a horror movie, it’s a comedy.”

“They should have done Romeo and Juliet instead,” he muttered.

His acting chops weren’t great, but they were good enough for people to believe our act, so maybe he would make a good Romeo. With passionate green eyes and dimples, I could see how any naïve young Juliet would follow him to certain death.

I felt nervous and excited just from the awkward hand holding we were doing.

“You like Romeo and Juliet?” I questioned.

“I like swordfights and death. It’s the Shakespearean version of an action flick,” he reasoned.

“Well, this is the Shakespearean Hangover.”

His eyes narrowed. “No way.”

I shrugged. “Everyone wakes up confused in a forest and there’s a donkey instead of a tiger.”

While not completely convinced, he decided, “I guess I’ll give it a chance.”

“You’re so uncultured,” I teased.

“Hey, don’t be mean. I’m your boyfriend,” he teased back, but I couldn’t handle hearing him say those words.

“Shut up.” I removed my hand from his suddenly.

Luke frowned. “I’m joking.”

“You suck at it.”

He doubled down, clutching a hand to his heart and imploring, “Oh, I’m so sorry, baby. Can you ever forgive me?”

I did not melt. I fought a smile while saying, “Pretty sure you’re hopeless.”

He grinned. “But you love me anyway.”

The words caught in my throat.

Friendship, cookies, and bi panic. Totally normal bro stuff.

I was gonna do the talky talk talking thing here, but this is a pretty good sized scene, so I’ll just get to it. Porcupines! (Sorry, I couldn’t completely do the whole serious, professional thing. That would be too weird.)

This is from One Little Lie, and it’s a deleted scene.

Relevant information: Luke is dating a boy and wants to figure out his sexuality but most of his feelings about this are “oh god, oh god, oh god.” He goes to his friend Zach, known bisexual and avoider of feelings, for help.

~

Luke

My sister said she thought I was a boring straight guy once. I was certainly interesting now; my dilemma was multifaceted. I had no idea what I was. I didn’t think and maybe didn’t want to be gay, but what if I was? Things had never felt this good, this intense before.

That’s what I thought about after leaving Ryan’s house.

heartThen there was the other part, which was maybe worse. Maybe things didn’t feel so intense and crazy and wonderful because Ryan was a guy. Maybe it felt that way because my feelings for Ryan were more than I’d ever had for anyone else, maybe it was lo-

Nope. No. Too scary.

I’m the good guy, I’d always been the good boyfriend. I held doors open, paid for dinner, tried to listen, bought flowers, all of it. I executed all the right moves on the outside, but it never felt like this on the inside.

I’d said I love you before and I had thought I meant it at the time, but it didn’t feel like this. Real, intense. Consuming. Was I gay? Did it matter that I still liked girls?

I wasn’t the type to do awkward or self-doubting and now there was a lot of that in my life. Ryan and I were each other’s first boyfriends. Though he’d been on a few dates with Zach and had definitely been attracted to other guys. Maybe Ryan was special to me, but I wasn’t special to him.

Huh.

What a not fun thought.

That was only one of the reasons I couldn’t share with Ryan when he offered last night. Mainly, I wanted to go into his house and do anything that involved being undressed and not talking. Also because I didn’t want all of my fond, serious thoughts to spill out. And also because… it just didn’t feel right unloading all this stuff on him.

Lydia had her own soul searching to go through, so I turned to Zach. The easiest way to get Zach to cooperate was to tell him exactly what you wanted and make it clear that you would leave him alone after you got it. This wasn’t baseball. No warm up. No beating around the bush. Direct.

When it was time for our next away game, I clapped him on the shoulder and sat down next to him on the bus. “Prepare yourself for a serious conversation,” I informed him.

“Thanks for the warning.” He moved to get up. “But you didn’t inform me in writing at least three days in advance so—”

“Okay, but I want to talk about BEING GAY AND QUEER SHIT,” I raised my voice. “Whoever sits next to me will have that to look forward to.” Suddenly there were no free seats for Zach. “Come on, we can do this quickly.”

He sat back down but complained, “I don’t want to hold your hand through this. Can’t you talk to your actual boyfriend about this?”

“I’ll tell him once I figure it out.” He did it on his own.

Okay, this was what I was talking about earlier. The big reason I couldn’t let him help me. Not only did he figure it out on his own, my addition only made things more complicated. I opened my stupid big mouth and told people he was gay.

I didn’t really know him at the time. I didn’t know about being in the closet or outing people. It was an accident. I just… After that, I didn’t want to put this on him. I could do this myself.

Mostly. I told Zach, “I’m talking to you whether you like it or not.”

He idly glanced out the window, but I doubted he’d make a break for it. “Fine.”

“Fine.”

guypicsDeep, deep down he was really a good person. You just had to get through all the bullshit first. Zach liked to present himself a certain way and his family weren’t really the type to have serious, intense conversations. My parents freaking loved talking. I just didn’t think they’d want to listen to anything I had to say at the moment.

I didn’t say anything for a few moments. “So,” Zach said after a tense silence, “Are you gonna start talking then, or what?”

“Right, right.” Okay. I wanted this. “I bought some time. With the Lydia thing. But I still don’t know.” There.

He didn’t say anything. I just expressed my doubts in such an eloquent and articulate manner and he had nothing to say?

“Okay, so this is supposed to be a conversation,” I explained.

“I’m aware,” Zach said cooly. That was all he said.

“It’s your turn to talk,” I prompted. Maybe I should jump out the window instead.

He shrugged. “I don’t know what you want me to say to that.”

Oh dear god. “Help me,” I ordered. Or maybe begged. “How do I even decide? It’s like a big decision. Straight or gay.”

“You’re acting like there’s no other options.” He rolled his eyes. “Like being bi, for instance.”

“Yeah, I guess.” I shrugged.

Zach said he liked guys and girls. That was an option, hypothetically. I couldn’t imagine it any more than I could being gay; maybe I liked it even less for some reason.

It wasn’t that simple, was it? To just say, oh, I like both and there, problem solved. That was awfully convenient. How long could that last for? Wasn’t it just putting off the inevitable? I couldn’t decide if that’s what I wanted to do or not.

“Please don’t let this inflate your ego more,” I told Zach, “But you make it look really easy.”

“I’ve known I was gay for a while now,” he said simply. He used gay and bi interchangeably sometimes, but how was I supposed to know if that was what he was doing this time? Then, seeing that I was clearly about to ask if he was gay now, he added, “I’m still bi, but I don’t have a problem with either term.”

Gay had become something of a catch all term, but it didn’t feel like it to me. If I called myself gay out loud, that meant I liked men and men only. Zach didn’t agree. Not that there was anything wrong with being gay, obviously. It just wasn’t me.

Zach sighed and his tone wasn’t exactly gentler, but for him it was almost warm and fuzzy as he continued, “You suddenly found yourself in a… situation.” Instead of boyfriend, I would have to refer to Ryan as my situation later; he’d get a kick out of that. “It might take time to figure everything out.”

I thought about that. How much time did I get? Did I have to become gay after my transitional period was over? When should I expect my membership card in the mail and how did I go about returning it?

heartyStill, it wasn’t bad advice. This was new to me. I got a little time at least. All I could come up with to say in response was, “Wow, you sound so wise and rational.”

“I know,” Zach shuddered. “I don’t like it.”

Well, that didn’t really help. But I guess it was reassuring. I felt really dumb, but I hadn’t been dealing with this for that long, that was true. But Zach had known he was gay for a while now?

“I don’t think I’ve seen you go after a guy besides Ryan,” I noted.

“Oh god, we are not talking about that,” he said firmly.

I sighed. This was probably as good as our conversation would get, so I deemed Zach’s best friend duties over with and reached into my backpack. “Hey, I brought snacks.”

Zach smiled. Now some of the guys looked jealous, which made his smile grow. Zach liked envy even more than dessert. Ryan made cookies for the road. We ate them all ourselves but shared with Joey too. Apparently, I owed him for always telling him things he didn’t want to know.

~

This is part of a continuing thing I do called More on Mondays.  Where I post extra scenes, hence the more, on every other Monday, hence the Mondays.

Life Advice I’ve Never Taken: Don’t be Weird

I occasionally do this thing where I read a book, then write about what I read and post my thoughts on here about said book. Some people call this book reviewing. I call it that too. I don’t do that as often as I’d like because I’m really slow. To solve that, what if I talk about a book I haven’t read?

Yes, that might be difficult considering, you know, I haven’t read it. However, I’m not gonna let that stop me!

Basically, I just wanted to share the tagline or whatever you want to call it from Lock & West by Alexander C. Eberhart.

Note To Self: Just Don’t Be Weird

Lock is awkward. He can’t make eye contact, counts when he’s nervous and has to remind himself several times a day how ‘normal’ teens behave. Homeschooled most of his life, he’s resigned himself to a friendless existence at his new Atlanta high school.

Until he meets West.

 

Just don’t be weird! I love that. In my experience, that’s easier said than done.

For example, I’m bad at knowing how to end things, so I just kind of… stop. Like now. Bye!