Book News, plus dinosaurs! One of these things isn’t true.

Have you ever played the game ‘two truths and a lie?’ Do you want to play now? Whatever you answered, I can’t hear you, so I’m just going to keep going. Okay, the way the game works is I say three things, then you guess which one is the lie. Ready? Again, I can’t hear you. Go!

1. F.N. Manning, me, has a new story available.

2. I actually have four new stories available.

3. The new thing I’m talking about is on sale right now!

Um, maybe I should build the suspense instead of just telling you the answer. I’m going to tell you anyway. Number three is the lie. Because the story is free, so there is no sale, because you never have to pay for it. Free!

When We Were Strangers is a prequel to the first book in the One More Thing Series, One Little Word. No knowledge of the series is required to read this short story. Well, there are actually four stories altogether, which are all included in the prequel.

Here is the beginning of one story. You literally need to know no information to read this, but I’m going to tell you some stuff anyway. Zach (and friends) crash a wedding, where he flirts with an older guy and goes on a quest.

~

Zach

Under no circumstances would I ever base my life choices around Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. Yes, they were rich and famous, but at what cost? They were still Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn. Which meant that my decision to crash a wedding reception occurred for one reason and only one reason: free alcohol.

The party took place in our hotel, and we had a break from our baseball tournament. Me, Luke Chambers, and Joey Wilson made a marginal effort to blend in by splitting the dressier clothing I packed. A formality, as getting caught hadn’t even occurred to me, because who really cared?

Apparently, Samuel cared. The uptight groomsman who seemed unfamiliar with fun and party etiquette, though watching Luke fail to bond with him was amusing.

“We’re no different than everyone else here,” Luke tried with a charming smile. “We just wanna have a good time.”

“Except everyone else was invited,” said the fun police.

Never great at thinking on his feet, Luke smiled harder, counting on his all-American good looks, green eyes earnest and dimples peeking out. “Come on, Sam—”

“It’s Samuel,” he corrected instantly with a glare. “Hardly on nickname basis as we’re strangers.”

“I’m Luke. Nice to meet you, Sam.” Luke held out his hand.

“It’s still Samuel.” Still Samuel stared at the outstretched hand dubiously until it was removed.

Luke sent me a desperate look. I mouthed ‘you got this,’ gave him a thumbs up, and left him to investigate the alcohol situation. Yes, we were best friends, but this way was more fun, and I still wanted to drink.

Sorry not sorry about stealing thunder from the bride I’d never met, but everyone could see Zach Ahmad looked damn fine. With flawless brown skin, expertly styled hair, and a roguish smirk, I… oh wait. There was a reason my amazing good looks were important. I would get to that momentarily.

As Luke took my dinner jacket, I only wore the under layers, a grey vest and a long-sleeved white dress shirt. My impeccably fit body was highlighted in the tailored clothing, and my ass looked incredible in the dark pants. Joey stole my red tie for himself as he was too big for my clothes, and he always wore whatever he wanted regardless of dress code anyway. I half respected that. I would respect it fully if he had better taste.

Anyway, back to Zach.

After discovering only those with wristbands got free, no-questions-asked alcohol, I glanced back towards Luke and caught Samuel’s eyes moving away from me. So… that could work. I interrupted Samuel boring Luke to death and took care of the situation, at least 70% sure Samuel wanted me.

Sometime after being awesome and gaining us admittance and free alcohol, I lost track of my friends. I stood at the edge of the dancefloor with Samuel. A peppy song about everything being great played loudly while people danced and had fun. A good time had by all, except for or including us? Unclear.

“Look Zach,” Samuel began, then faltered. “Do you go by Zach or Zachary? Is Zachariah an option?”

“Never,” I shot down, then sent him a small smile. “It’s Zach. Can I call you Sam?”

“Um, yeah,” he answered, nervous but no hesitation. “Sure, if you want.” He definitely wanted me.

“What’s on your mind, Sam?” I asked.

“Okay, one thing.” He seemed to psych himself up mentally before managing to speak. “Crashing a party for free booze when you’re obviously underage, uh.” Samuel shook his head. “I may not condone this, but I won’t stop you.”

“You did give us the wristbands.” I held up my wrist with the neon green band attached.

“Alright, I condone it a little.” He frowned, thinking. “Enabling, that might be the better term. I wanted to make clear, I’m not judging, but I am, well.” He shrugged helplessly. “I see through what you’re doing.”

“Okay?” I arched one eyebrow, the gesture and single word slightly dismissive out of habit. Some people had ‘resting bitch face.’ ‘Resting bitch everything’ was my default setting.

“Apparently I’m alright with corrupting a minor, but I’m not an idiot,” he explained, potentially flushing. Hard to tell with his beard. “I saw through the plan, that’s all. I want to be clear.” He crossed his arms. No jacket, sleeves rolled up, lots of hair there. “I sound silly, don’t I?”

“A little, yeah.” I smiled. “Though I do understand where you’re coming from. Going along with it is different than being duped. I’d be bothered at the impression of being outsmarted by a bunch of high school jocks too.”

His blue eyes widened with panic. “You’re in high school?”

Shit. “You didn’t know? You said—”

“21 is the legal drinking age! Which by the way, I am also younger than. Not that I’ve imbibed.”

“Gonna start?” Rhetorical, because my invitations weren’t turned down. The only thing I did better than resting bitch everything was becoming inviting.

His head bobbed up and down in a nervous nod. “Lead the way, I guess.”

I led the way.

-Read the rest here.

Dudes Making out in a Car: A Short Story

Man, I’m so great at titles. However, it is accurate and to the point (two things I rarely am).

This is what I’m calling a quick writing exercise because that makes it sound professional and official, but really, I was going to post a song on this blog and then I decided to write a short story with it. Since I’m, you know, a writer.

The song is Little Secrets by the band Passion Pit.

And now, here’s a short story!

Panted breaths after dashing to the car were the only sound in the enclosed spaced for one blissful moment while my hands dug into his styled dark hair, relishing the chance to mess it up while his hands settled on my chest.

Lips brushed against mine, a quick kiss and then, “No, we’re not really doing this,” he whispered in the space between our mouths.

“Making out in your car?” My smirk couldn’t be seen, but he could feel it against his lips. “I hate to tell you, but it kinda seems like we are.”

He put space between us, furrowed brow and annoyed dark eyes watching me from thick framed glasses that were either the style these days or he just didn’t care if they weren’t in fashion.

“In theory, the whole throw caution to the wind thing?” he carried on. “It’s hot, having to get our hands on each other immediately–”

Since he was watching, I didn’t let myself smile, but that was so him, having to say things that didn’t need to be said.

“However, there’s a limit to the thrill,” he continued. “It’s also extremely risky—”

While I could only stand to look away from him and outside of the car for a moment, it was pretty clear what was out there. Bright sky, no raindrops on this dry day, and the car stayed where it was despite the two guys that just rushed to it, so yeah, wasn’t hard to figure out what was going on if someone saw us. However…

“Some risks are worth taking,” I responded before surging up and crashing our lips together, my hands moving to his back and drawing him nearer to me.

He made a little annoyed noise at being interrupted that quickly turned into a groan and then our tongues were dancing together. Really surprising that worked, but I wasn’t gonna say anything because I’d have to remove my mouth from his.

“Risks are best undertaken only after a thorough cost-benefit analysis,” he told me a moment later.

“Sexy—”

“Isn’t the whole point of a secret relationship that it stays secret? Hidden. Everything we’ve been doing, all the caution we expended could be set asunder in this one moment.”

I sighed, giving him an even look. This wasn’t what I wanted at all, but I managed to sound neutral when asking, “Okay, so you wanna go somewhere else?”

Expecting him to get off me and move into the driver’s seat, my hands tightened, as if to confirm he was still there, watching me with a frown.

“Huh,” he said quietly. “I guess we’ll just have to… risk it.” He didn’t want to leave this moment either.

“No cost-benefit analysis?” This time, he could see the smirk, which made it widen as I wryly commented, “I’m honored.”

He shut me up with his lips.

There were many things I thought of for this scenario. One of the guys involved could be the president’s son, one of them could be a vampire and the other a werewolf, maybe they come from rival warring families. An innocent preacher’s son and the bad boy next door. Something like that.

Poetic, coherent thoughts that aren’t at all cheesy

Sometimes, I have a perfect beginning for a story and other times I play around with a million ideas because I can’t quite figure out how to begin. This was one of those million options I considered for the beginning of One New Start.

Ryan, one of the main characters, is pretty random and spastic, so maybe I didn’t even need to provide a reason for the adventures he embarks on, but this Ryan, the guy who is about to embark on adventures. He’s talking about senior year.

Of high school. I write YA. Not geriatric-A.

~

flowers

Ryan

They wrote songs about this, the way I was feeling.

Cheesy, stupid songs that I would never admit to liking out loud but always got stuck in my head anyway. Songs about how nothing could stop you, how the future was ahead. YOLO, carpe diem, the time was now, the feeling was right, I have no idea.

Recently, the musical selection had been a little… why? Whenever I turned on the radio to a pop station or a country station or a rap station, and that was all we had here, the same stupid Lil Naz song was always playing about a horse and roads and whatever. Boring.

But hey, Lil Naz was gay now! No, he always was but now the public knew. That was cool.

Don’t know that I even need to say this, but like that’s ever stopped me before, I would rather talk about me than Lil Naz.

I woke up this way. Fabulous. And also, excited. Like, hard to sit still excited, ready for what’s next, big crazy smile on my face excited for the start of my senior year.

Living in my small town and being the gay kid, it had been a long time since I was excited for the school year. It was always ugh, another year, at least it’s one step closer to freedom, but it’s still not here yet.

Now it’s like, yay, another year!

They wrote songs about this. Cruising down the road with my baby next to me, windows down, wind in my hair. A beautiful guy next to me and nothing can stop me.

Yeah, there was a song about that. I didn’t know the words, but I was singing it anyway. I was living it anyway.

~

This has been More on Mondays, where I post outtakes and deleted scenes. On Mondays. Every other Monday to be exact. I wanted to italicize this, so I did.

Bye bi Zach (lolz)

Once upon a time, Luke Chambers went on a confusing sexuality journey. I can be more specific than that. Once upon One Little Lie, Luke Chambers went on a confusing sexuality journey.

I really enjoyed writing this storyline, so there’s a lot of it, which is why some of it isn’t in the book. There needs to be more about being bi in books, says the bi person, and also, I love Zach, so that’s probably why I liked coming up with this stuff.

Here’s some info about this scene: See Zach. See Zach be bi. Bye Zach bye.

Now here’s some info that includes, um, actual info. Due to shenanigans, Luke told his parents he’s dating a girl while he’s really dating a boy and all he knows is that he likes a boy, he just doesn’t know what means in terms of who and what he is.

His BFF Zach is bi, and Luke often ropes him into his gay freakouts.

As you maybe haven’t read the larger story this is part of, I should probably note that these are a character’s thoughts. This doesn’t make them right. In fact, a lot of them are wrong. That’s the fun thing about first person POV, you get to see the thought process from beginning to end.

~

ball

Luke

It was Friday and we just played and won a game at another school. I cleaned up afterwards and got to my car before realizing I’d left my mitt in the dugout. When I went to grab my glove, I almost ran into Zach, who was there flirting with some girl.

“Seriously?” I questioned when I saw the pair and muttered, “I’m the one who hit a home run.”

Sure, I was taken. But we were at a rival school and she didn’t know that. And I was a pitcher. I didn’t get a huge number of home runs, it was annoying I had to bat at all, so it was doubly impressive.

“I got on base every time I was up,” he told me without looking at me and smiled at the girl with him as he said, “And I look better running.”

That was debatable, but I didn’t get into it as the girl gave Zach her number and left. He looked like he wanted to leave too but was resigned, waiting for me to speak. Good. I just didn’t get this.

I still couldn’t really picture him with a guy, but I guess it would happen eventually. Maybe his pride was wounded because the first guy he went on a date with after he came out chose someone else. But he said he liked guys, so eventually he’d have to get over that and give in to being gay.

“You still want to date girls?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said simply, like that was it.

Zach was the out one who said he was bi, and he even didn’t mind the term gay, but he wasn’t acting very gay at all. He liked one guy, and his shoes and car were always clean. But those last things probably didn’t even count.

I was gayer than him at the moment, which was really unsettling.

“Just thought you’d be over girls by now,” I commented. How long did it take? Did I set him back by stealing Ryan away?

“Bi isn’t gay,” he said, which sounded like a weak argument to me because he was the one who used the terms interchangeably for himself.

“Yeah, but—” I started to argue because it was rare that I got to be right in an argument with Zach. Damn, I rarely got to be right in argument with anyone. There was Alicia, but that was more she just didn’t care and went along with me instead of arguing, which wasn’t the same.

“Look, I still like girls,” Zach interrupted. Yeah, he was making that clear, with his hitting on every girl, and making out with them in front of my locker. It was a little too clear.

“Me too.” I felt the need to say that even though no one had asked. “We don’t need to talk about this anyway—”

“You started it,” he fired back. He would throw that in my face. “And you were asking questions earlier.”

“That was before.” Did I have to know things right away? Couldn’t I just enjoy this for a while?

bball“Before your beard?” he asked with snide amusement.

I played dumb. “No, I think technically that had already started.”

“Oh,” Zach said in mock understanding. “So you’re going to dig in your heels and ignore the problem until it goes away?”

Like he could talk! Zach always made a big show of protesting whenever he got dragged into a serious conversation and generally did everything he could to avoid them.

He was the one who loved avoiding stuff, but the second I tried to do the same, he called me on it. That totally wasn’t fair.

I pointed this out. “Like you’re one to talk. How long are you gonna be bi?” He liked guys and girls right now. Eventually, the girls would fade away. That was how it worked. The longer he tried to stay bi, the longer he was avoiding the truth.

“I like guys and girls and don’t feel the need to choose and I’m not just saying that.” He sounded annoyed.

He was totally just saying that.

“Okay, but it’s a half way point,” I argued.

Zach rolled his eyes. “Not literally.”

He said it wasn’t either/or. I kinda had a hard time remembering that. It had always seemed like either/or to me. Not both. And that wasn’t right, you couldn’t really have both, could you? For a little while when you figured things out, sure. But not forever. That was greedy or something.

“But like—” I tried to say some of my thoughts.

“No, it may be different for you but that’s how it is for me,” Zach talked over me. “I’m bi. I’ve always been bi. I am not interested in switching my cell phone provider. Go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars, totally, completely bi.”

I snorted, but he wasn’t done yet.

“Will that change in the distant future?” he asked and then answered his own question. “Well, keeping in mind that sexuality is fluid and I may learn more about myself as I get older,” he looked at me wryly, “No, probably not.” But he couldn’t really- “I really don’t think so,” he said earnestly. “Maybe sometimes I’ll be more into girls, maybe sometimes I’ll be more into guys, but I like both and will continue to like both. I say that with as much certainty as I can.”

He stared at me. I stared back. He stared back.

I coughed and remarked, “What? Do you want an Oscar for that speech or something?”

He shoved me and left.

Jeez, and I thought I was handling this whole thing bad.

bballll

Maybe all Zach’s flirting with girls made sense. What if he was just getting it out of his system? Or trying really hard to appear straight before he gave up and went gay? He just hadn’t quite got there yet.

Okay, I know that goes against everything Zach just said but he’s confused. I didn’t blame him.

This whole thing was really confusing.

I was confused, Zach was confused, and Cara had seemed really confused about me and Ryan. Maybe some of it was denial or just that rumors abounded surrounding my love life and that made things unclear, but mostly? Mostly it seemed like she didn’t even want to think about the idea of me with another guy.

Cara Lewis shouldn’t be the standard I base anything on. But. It kinda seemed like a lot of people thought like her.

Zach was pretty adamant about being able to like both, but did it really matter? If I was bi, I could date guys and girls. Except, would any of the girls want me? Or would I be able to be bi but I’d have to hide it from girls? Would guys care too? What was so good about having a label if no one wanted you once you had it?

I looked a lot of information up when I found out Ryan was gay and that I’d accidentally outed him. I guess I could go look at that research again. But… just the thought kinda made me sick. Which was weird because it was all really supportive stuff about how figuring out sexual orientation was a process, and it was okay to experiment, and that it took time and whatever.

Reading that once was way different than trying to apply it to yourself. It had all sounded good but now I thought it was wishful thinking. Maybe in some ideal world anyone could be anything they wanted and you could go back and forth and try things out.

Here, though? This was a modest Midwest community. You got a label and it stuck to you. That’s just how it worked.

~

I’m currently playing around with the thing at the end where I say this has been more on Mondays, where I post deleted scenes every other Monday.

(Abridged) 20 Questions

This is an excerpt from my YA M/M romance called Like You a Latte.

Owen sat up straight in his chair and met my gaze with a forceful look. Oh boy, I prepared for a doozy. Something deep and philosophical maybe. Or something incredibly invasive and personal. He took a breath and then asked, “Glass half empty or full?”

At the very least, I was expecting some stoner paradox. I saw a 4/20 pin on his apron one day. If Chuck Norris can beat everyone, could he beat Chuck Norris? I didn’t know whether this was an improvement on that question or not.  “Do you want more time to think of a question?” I asked him.

“I’m the one asking now,” he told me primly. “Kindly answer.”

There was probably a mathematical equation to figure it out. Find the circumference of the glass and then- “I’d have to see the glass,” I told him once I spent a few seconds pondering it.

Owen nodded. “Chicken or egg?” he asked next.

I blinked at him. “Which is my preference?”

“Which came first?” he clarified. There wasn’t a way to win this game the way we were playing it, but he was definitely losing. And it was his choice to go easy on me and not ask anything personal but that didn’t mean I had to do the same.

The chicken or the egg. Just as trivial as glass half empty or half full. Simple at least. “Scientifically—”

“Journey or destination?” He cut me off to ask.

“I didn’t get to answer the second question fully,” I protested.

“Trust me,” his tone sounded drier than the blueberry muffins on sale today, which wasn’t hard because they were very moist, but his tone was still pretty dry. “That one word was enough.”

“And you wasted your questions.” And again, not that this was a competition, but if it were, I would so totally be winning. I was going to kick his ass with my questions.

“No, I’m getting a pretty good idea of how you see the world.” He held up his hands in a frame shape as his eyes skated over me, like he was getting the full Spencer Sharp picture.

“Those questions told you something you didn’t already know?” If so, I might have to question my evaluation of his intellect.

“I’m confirming my hypothesis,” he said with a smirk. “Isn’t that something you smarty pants types care about?”

I suppose. Him saying hypothesis was mildly arousing. I shook it off. My turn to question him. “What’s your least favorite subject in school?” His favorite was English. Was he a thoroughly right brained person and hated math or did he have a proficiency but not interest in the numbers and sciences?

“No, you didn’t answer my last one yet. Journey or destination?” He rested a hand on his chin and looked at me expectantly, like he was dying to know the answer.

Oh, well that was simple. “Destination, obviously.” The journey was the necessary steps you had to take in order to complete your goals. An equation. A formality. The instructions. Or the recipe. But the point wasn’t about how to make a pie, it was about eating the pie.

Owen rolled his eyes but smiled as he said, “Obviously.”

I understood as I wanted to roll my eyes too as I said, “And you disagree obviously.”

While I still maintained his questions were stupid, this was fun and lighthearted, exactly what I needed. Maybe that was why he didn’t ask anything difficult. He was good at reading people. He had that thing I used to think was made up, but I’ve since come to terms with me just not having it, emotional intelligence.

“You never told me your least favorite subject,” I said.

“Spanish,” he answered.

Hmm, that was another right brained discipline. Fascinating. “Interesting,” I mused.

“I don’t like the teacher,” he elaborated.

“Fair enough.” I thought about another question. “Hogwarts house?” I could be whimsical sometimes.

“Okay, I’m happy to answer but maybe not now.” He waved a hand. “That’s a whole thing. A big discussion. We’ll have to devote a different night to it.” He looked excited about it. Him taking the house he’d be sorted into so seriously was a little silly… I should find it a little silly. It was actually kinda hot. And I liked when he made references to seeing me in the future. The small hints that he liked having me around and wanted me to stay in his life.

“I’ll defer that question for a later date,” I concluded formally, feeling a smile form on my face when he snorted at my tone.

“One more.” His eyes danced with something I couldn’t make out in the low lighting. The hazel depths just seemed warm, happy, and I couldn’t tell if there were any flecks of green there, but I liked the hint of something a little mischievous and challenging in his gaze. “Make it good,” he challenged or encouraged.

Whichever it was, it worked. “Last boyfriend?” I asked. I had done a very good job with this friendly/flirty dance we’d been doing, considering I didn’t usually do this. I usually knew what I wanted and what I was getting. And now the perfect opportunity presented itself where I could test the waters. I couldn’t resist.

And the waters were… murky.

Owen blinked and his mouth dropped open like I surprised him. “Oh, uh.” He fidgeted and laughed awkwardly. His fingers twitched on the table and he looked down, not knowing what to say.

Shit. What if he had a bad breakup? I probably would have reacted the same way if put on the spot about Lucas and I didn’t know if I’d share. While it wasn’t a school course, Lucas and my last relationship were definitely my least favorite subject. “Sorry, you don’t have to answer if—”

“No, it’s fine.” It didn’t seem entirely fine. He met my eyes and gave me a weak smile. “I just. I’m not really the boyfriend type,” he said quietly.

“Oh.” I guess that made sense. He didn’t make a lot of plans for the future, he didn’t seem like the type to be tied down. I couldn’t quite process my feelings about his admission. I should have suspected as much. Still. Having it said was something else. I regretted asking this question.

“I mean,” he amended. “I haven’t been, in the past.” He still looked a little nervous, but there was a gentle, hesitant smile on his face. Was he afraid of how I’d react?

I didn’t regret asking this question. “So, you’re saying—” I started to ask and then trailed off. He might be open to it with the right person? I tried to make my posture open, to seem nonjudgmental. I didn’t want to scare him off.

“I’m saying that I don’t know.” He shrugged, looked down at the table. Good because I couldn’t hide a wince. That didn’t sound very optimistic. “It’s not that I’m opposed,” he continued. “I just haven’t been in a serious relationship. I’m usually more casual.”

So, like the opposite of me. I already knew that. I probably needed to say something.

He spoke again before I could formulate a response. “But remember, I’m the one of us who likes trying new things.”  The gentle smile was back on his face, hopeful. Oh. And that, that definitely sounded optimistic to me.

I didn’t know if I should smile back, maybe I should just be neutral and supportive, but that hopeful look made my insides all soft and warm and I had to smile at him. “Yeah,” I said lightly but with a bright smile on my face. “I guess you are.”

The book is available here.

Book Club

This is an excerpt from the novel Like You a Latte, which features a gay young adult romance. This section shows our heroes getting to know each other while discussing literature.

“I have to read The Great Gatsby for a class,” Owen explained while gesturing to the slim paperback currently obscuring my notes. “What are your thoughts?”

Are you actually reading the book or cheating and looking up a summary on the internet? That was my first thought. He was clearly different than me and that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if it was the second one then this budding friendship could end right now with no regret on my part. There were some things that just couldn’t be tolerated.

Yet it felt rude to outright ask. Instead, I questioned, “You want to have an academic discussion with me?”

He shrugged. “I didn’t know if you’d really want to just hang out without being ‘productive’ or whatever.” I fought the urge to look at the notes the book covered again. “So I figured this would be the best of both worlds.” He grinned and leaned towards me. “You surprised me.”

Hmm, had I been too eager by just agreeing to chat with him? It wasn’t like me. I felt defensive and too obvious, like a silly, infatuated boy who fell for the first guy with a nice smile, but then again, he put thought into a conversational topic. He wanted to think of something that would make me keep chatting with him, so maybe we were even.

I couldn’t hold back the moment of truth any longer. “Are you actually completing the readings or are you just finding the relevant information online?”

He scoffed. “Seriously? I’m trying not to be offended here.” That was fair, just because he went to public school and seemed laidback didn’t mean he couldn’t also be serious about his studies. Maybe I judged him too much based on shallow observations.

“I’m sorry,” I started automatically. I would hate someone doubting my intellect.

“Did I look online, really?” He looked smug. “I watched the Leo DiCaprio movie.”

Oh dear. There were no words to adequately convey my horror. I felt frozen for a moment. Whatever expression was on my face made him crack up.

“I couldn’t help myself,” he clapped his hands, still chuckling at me. “That was totally worth it.” People glanced over at our table and he paid them no mind.

I didn’t care if we were causing a commotion either. I had to clarify that, “You’re actually doing the reading?” My relief beat out embarrassment or annoyance. That was the second joke he played at my expense, but it didn’t feel unfriendly. He apparently liked teasing me and I didn’t mind as much as I should.

“Not only am I doing the readings,” he said while leaning back in his chair, “I finished the book early.”

Pretty good, especially for a public-school kid. No that was unfair; not everyone could control where they went to school. Still, I felt giddy with relief. God, imagine trying to be friends or having a crush on someone who used Sparknotes. I couldn’t even picture it; it was too absurd.

I tried not to look too overjoyed, going for a simple, “Good for you.”

His arm nudged into mine good-naturedly. “I may not be the Hermione Granger type, but I’m not a complete slacker. I do my homework.”

Would Hermione Granger have a better GPA than me? No, I couldn’t start down that road, it was madness. “I can’t decide if it’s a compliment or not to be compared to Hermione,” I told him. She was the uptight book nerd stereotype on magical steroids.

“She’s the cleverest witch her age,” he responded immediately. “It’s totally a compliment.”

“Perhaps,” I said with a smile. “But I would look terrible with long, bushy hair.” And no way would I want the job of wrangling Harry and Ron.

He laughed. “You’re more fun than I thought you’d be.”

I wasn’t sure many people would agree with him, but the words ridiculously pleased me. I tried not to show it. “Why did you want to get to know me if you didn’t think I’d be any fun?”

He looked away for a second and coughed awkwardly. Oh, were we getting into dangerous territory? “I just meant,” he started after a moment, not quite meeting my eyes, “That I didn’t think you’d be so willing to talk to me. I thought it’d be a challenge to get you to just chill.”

I’d never been accused of being easy in any capacity. Yet I found myself lacking and I didn’t like it. “Well, I hate to disappoint—”

“No, you aren’t,” he assured me. “I’m glad you can relax and have some fun.”

Well, no one had ever accused of me of being able to relax and have fun either. It just showed my defenses were weakened by a busy schedule and a pretty face. It was my turn to cough awkwardly and try to get us back on track. “Okay, what did you think of the book?”

Just being with him was a distraction I needed to avoid, but I couldn’t bring myself to. Once I started looking at him, I didn’t want to stop. I couldn’t even remember what the book was. I looked down at the table. Right, The Great Gatsby.

He considered the question a moment, then gave me a droll look. “Is it a totally cliché and uninteresting opinion to think the two dudes totally wanted each other?” The part of my brain that couldn’t help itself added that question to the growing list of reasons he batted for my team, next to the rainbow wristband and the way his eyes seemed to lock on mine.

I took a sip of my drink but couldn’t hide an amused look. “Are you pandering to your audience?”

“No, I think, I mean,” he stuttered adorably for a moment. Was there a blush on his face? It was hard to tell with the lighting in here. “I really think Nick wanted Jay Gatsby like Gatsby wanted Daisy, even if his feelings weren’t returned.”

I wasn’t completely sold that anyone from The Great Gatsby got down in the forbidden garden of homosexual delights, though Quinn agreed with him. She called it The Great Gaysby once. I told her to quit joking around. Literature was serious. Everything was serious when it came to me. Owen really thought I was fun? I stopped thinking about this.

“Do you want to tell a class full of students that?” I asked. I was out and from the conversation it sounded like he was too but that didn’t mean I’d want the trouble of trying to defend the inherent gayness of a literary classic to all my skeptical, straight peers.

“Oh,” he said as he considered my words. His face scrunched up adorably and his shoulders sagged. “I might be in trouble then.”

“Stick to the symbolism of the eyes on the billboard and the light at the end of the dock,” I advised. “You’ll be fine,” I advised. “And focus on the main themes of class divides and wealth if you need more to say.”

He nodded seriously. “And when do I talk about the Jay-Z songs they used in the movie?”

I felt my eye twitch. “You’re trying to torture me, aren’t you?”

He grinned unrepentantly. “I couldn’t help it.”

We sat there looking at each other and the moment started to feel intimate. He was cute, funny, clever, and I needed to stop listing his positive attributes. I cleared my throat. “I should get back to studying.”

“Come on” he argued. “We didn’t get to discuss Hogwarts houses.”

“I have work to do and so do you,” I reminded him. I had my fun for the night. Besides, I was clearly a Ravenclaw and he was such a Gryffindor. Back to studying. He eyed me and I met his gaze without flinching. I wasn’t going to budge. “Back to work,” I said firmly.

“So, you are a challenge after all,” he concluded evenly.

That totally wasn’t what I was trying to do. I wasn’t playing coy or hard to get. I’d had my break time and now it was time to get back to work. But instead of calmly explaining all this, I asked, “That a problem?”

His lips quirked up. “Nope.”

We both got back to our respective work. That was all, show’s over, nothing to see here.

Now would be the worst time to start something new. I didn’t have any spare moments. And yet, I wanted to anyway. I didn’t even have the free time required to start obsessing about whether this was the best time to get into a new relationship or not. I would have gladly spent more time worrying about this but.

I wanted to get to know him. Something told me he would be worth it.

You can get the rest now on Amazon or KU.

Excerpt from Pool Boy

plbymerfednewThe beach here could adorn a postcard, it was exactly what one would want a beach to look like with white sandy beaches and lovely blue waters. The good-looking people laying on towels or strolling down the beach didn’t hurt the picture either.

I found a good spot and lounged on a towel for a few minutes, closing my eyes and enjoying the way the sun felt on my body. Then I popped in my earbuds and got ready to watch some episodes I downloaded of my latest favorite guilty pleasure TV show. I had two weaknesses. Gummy bears and trashy TV. Though I was currently on Grey’s Anatomy and it was pretty damn good. Wildly medically inaccurate but quality TV.

I was a 17-year-old guy who was a self-described nerd. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone, but I still didn’t need other people to know my current favorite show was Grey’s Anatomy. Watching this in public, I felt a little thrill. See, this counted as being adventurous, right? Well, it counted for me.

I sat up and watched an episode with the tablet on my lap while occasionally glancing at the waves or stretching out my toes to wiggle them in the sand. This was definitely the perfect way to soak up some vitamin-D. Yeah, maybe this chilling at the beach thing wasn’t so bad.

One minute I was watching tiny Dr. Bailey taking names and giving orders and then there was a shadow over me. I paused then instinctively put a hand over the tablet so that whoever was above me wouldn’t see what I was watching, even though it was probably just some stressed out traveler who had forgotten their sunscreen.

Except when I raised my other arm and squinted upwards to glance at the person without being blinded by the sun, it wasn’t an anxious tourist… it was a really hot guy.

The really hot guy had an easy smile on his face and seemed relaxed, more so when he sat down next to me after a moment so that we were on the same level. He placed his arms over the valley of his knees while he continued to look at me with interest.

“Please don’t tell me you came to the beach to watch TV?” came a friendly if a little incredulous voice. His voice was… inviting, that was the best way to describe it. I resisted the invitation.

“I’m relaxing at the beach,” I said while forcing myself to look away from him. “This is how I want to relax.”

“You could go for a swim.” The voice was definitely amused now.

I looked back at him… and had some trouble looking away.

He was wearing a thin white t-shirt with a V-neck and a hint of dark chest hair poked free of the material. He looked the same age as me and was tall and masculine, the way I expected a guy who was my age and had more chest hair than me to be, but there was also something softer about him.

Maybe it was the deep brown hair that trailed down and stopped just past his chin. Most of it was pulled back in a short pony tail but a few tendrils curled slightly and framed his face. He had a strong jaw but a delicate nose and intelligent green eyes stared back at me. He looked almost familiar but maybe he had one of those faces. It wasn’t like I knew anyone here.

It was only when I began to categorize his lips that I realized how long I’d been staring. He didn’t seem to mind though. Wasn’t this always how it went? I didn’t many suitors before but now that I had a boyfriend, I’d gotten someone else’s attention without even trying.

Um, what had we been talking about? Oh, going for a swim. “I don’t know how to swim,” I offered up before I could think about whether I wanted to say that or not. The attractiveness of the guy I was talking to short circuited my brain.

“I could teach you,” he offered. His long limbs were well-formed, with corded muscle in every inch of them. I definitely believed he knew how to swim, that could be where he got his toned body and thin torso.

Part of me wanted to say yes but that would be foolish without knowing his credentials. “Are you an instructor?” I asked.

“No.” His lips quirked upwards. “But I know how to swim.”

Why was he even talking to me? Most people here took one look and ignored me. I was too nerdy, too poor, or too something else I didn’t want to think about lest I get a complex.

“Have you taught anyone else before?”

“You’d be my first.” His smirk widened as his tongue peeked out quickly to wet his lips. “In that regard.” He had full lips, how did they look like that? Did he use Chapstick with this heat?

Man, it was hot out here. I felt parched all of a sudden. I did my best to carry on the conversation. “Are you CPR certified?”

He started to laugh, then paused when realizing I was serious. “Come on.”

“That’s a valid question.” I forced myself to hold his gaze without backing down in embarrassment.

But really, what was I supposed to do? Take one look at him, imagine his body shirtless and wet, and then happily hop in the water with him? Probably. That didn’t sound like a bad idea actually… but that was how sharks got you.

His eyes narrowed as his lips pursed in thought. “You don’t know how to relax, do you?”

At first glance, he might know a lot about how to relax. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine him spending his days here stretched out on the sand as his skin glistened with sweat and moisture from the nearby ocean.

When I caught myself looking him over again, I forced my gaze to his face and said with as much dignity as possible, “I’m here to lay in the sun and unwind with my favorite guilty pleasure show. That sounds pretty relaxing to me.” Wasn’t that the point? To chill how I wanted to?

On the other hand, he didn’t look overly or artificially bronzed. His lightly tanned skin looked naturally sun kissed. I admired him idly while he thought. The people here were all attractive. It’s like you weren’t allowed to live here if you didn’t meet certain aesthetic standards.

He came to a decision. “Okay, you got me.”

His hand moved toward me, palm up, while he looked at me expectantly. He had a rugged but artistic vibe. Big hands with long, almost delicate fingers: an artist’s fingers.

“What are you doing?” I asked the stranger who kept sitting next to me like we were friends. I didn’t necessarily mind, I’d just never made friends this easily before.

“I’ll watch it with you,” he suggested. “See if you’re onto something with the way you relax.” Before I could do anything, he said “Is that, are you watching Grey’s Anatomy?”

It wasn’t a sunburn but a blush staining my face as I managed to respond with a weak, “I said it was a guilty pleasure.”

“No judgement,” he responded immediately and I peered at him skeptically. “Okay, there is some judgement,” he admitted. “But not much.” He laughed but not at me, like he was sharing a joke with me. “I’m judging both of us because I can apparently recognize it with just a glance. So, ready to watch?”

He made a grabbing motion with his hand as he kept waiting for an earbud while he scooted closer. We’d have to be pressed together along one side to make this work.

“But this isn’t how you relax,” I deflected.

“No,” he agreed. He let his hand down but didn’t move away. He lowered his voice to say, “But there’s too many people here for I how relax.”

My eyebrows rose. I didn’t let myself think about the words too closely, just asked, “You have a dirty mind, don’t you?”

His smile looked genuinely pleased at what I said. “I haven’t gotten any complaints about it so far.”

We sat there, too close and staring at each other while my stomach acted up, feeling all tingly and weird. Maybe I’d had too many gummy bears.

“Are you going to share?” he asked after a moment, gesturing for the earphone again.

“I don’t even know you.”

Like that was what he’d been waiting for, he said, “Reese.”

“Colin,” I replied. I wasn’t sure which one of us put our hand out first but then we were shaking hands, which was kinda weird because I don’t think I’d ever really done that with anyone who was my own age. This was… flirty. An excuse to touch each other. My heart started beating a little faster, and I felt a twinge of guilt, but I forced myself to get it together. Relax. It was just a freaking handshake.

“Great, now we know each other,” he said easily while his hand caressed mine and I almost wanted to chase it when he pulled his away. “You show me your way to relax and then later maybe I’ll show you mine.”

“M-Maybe we better not,” I sputtered out. Flirting. There was so much flirting. Why had I not shut it down immediately? Maybe it was still somewhat surprising to be flirted with. It hadn’t happened much aside from Wyatt.

“Did I say something wrong?” he raised his hands in a placating gesture, showing he meant no offense.

“You’re being very flirty and I have a boyfriend,” I explained, looking away.

He nodded and made a ‘hmm’ considering noise. “Would it be really crass to say that what happens in Sterling, stays in Sterling?”

I smiled despite an effort not to as I told him, “That’s Vegas and he’s here too.”

“You sure about that?” He looked around. “I don’t see anyone who’s mad I’m hitting on their boyfriend.”

The weird, somewhat fun novelty of this exchange wore off at that. Wyatt was here in town, not here at the beach with me. Thanks so much for reminding me.

“You’re right,” I said getting up and dusting sand off my shorts. “This isn’t the right way to relax at all.” I started gathering my stuff.

“Hey, sorry, hold on.” He touched my arm briefly and his face looked sincere. I paused in my hasty retreat and he gestured towards a nearby shop. “Let me get you a lemonade or something.”

“I told you—” I started, ready to repeat I had a boyfriend in case he didn’t believe me the first time.

“No, just to be nice,” he clarified. “Sorry if I came on too strong.”

I studied him for a moment and took his statement to be genuine. “Okay,” I said and we walked side by side to the nearest shop with drinks. To be safe, I had to emphasize, “I wasn’t kidding about the boyfriend.”

“Alright, I get that now.” He held the door open for me as we walked into the little shop. “Do you work here?”

“No, why?” By here, I took that he meant in town and not the store we walked into.

“I do,” he offered. “I thought you did too and figured I’d take a chance.”

He was trying to be nice, so I forced a smile while ordering a small lemonade. Then I asked, “I don’t look good enough for this place?” I already knew it, but it wasn’t great to know how obvious it was.

“It’s not a bad thing,” he insisted immediately. “You’re the only person our age I’ve seen, besides me, who isn’t wearing TOMS.”

He got a small iced water for himself and we took our drinks and went outside. He flustered me a little when we first met, between his looks and blatant interest in me, but the mood felt companionable between us now and I liked him.

Ordering the ice water was what did it. Everyone else here was busy enjoying their lazy day in the sun, but it was clear to me that all this stuff was normally out of my price range. I didn’t really belong. I liked having someone else who felt that way here. Who didn’t or couldn’t splurge on sodas. But he got me a drink anyway.

Eventually, I said, “I feel a little out of place here sometimes too.”

He looked at me with a peculiar expression. “I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t have to.” I gave him a little smile.

“Okay, well, we can be misfits together,” he decided.

“Sounds like a plan. Thanks for the drink.”

He nodded. “Enjoy the rest of your day.”

I was dating, not dead or whatever so that didn’t mean I couldn’t look. I watched him walk away. The shorts he was wearing were a little baggy, but he still had a nice ass.

***

More about Pool Boy by Finn Manning

Real or Fake? M/M romance

The breakup scene from a supposedly fake relationship:

We need to talk,” Luke told me. A classic break up line. He couldn’t even be creative about it?

“I don’t have time,” I said, shutting my locker and walking away. A small, stupid part of me actually wanted him to let me walk away, wanted this charade between us to continue.

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“Yeah, you never seem to have enough time for me,” he told my retreating back.

I spun around dramatically, intending to add flair to this scene. “We’re going to do this here?” I asked skeptically like we shouldn’t do this in public, but I raised my voice to catch more attention.

“We have to do this here because you’ve been avoiding me for days.” He sounded annoyed and I wondered if it was genuine. I had been avoiding him.

“You’re being dramatic,” I scolded.

“I’m the dramatic one?” He scoffed. “You love being the center of attention.” We were definitely the center of attention now: a crowd of eager onlookers had formed around us. Some looked uncomfortable while others were enjoying this, but they all seemed interested. I saw our friends Alicia and Lydia among the rest.

“Says the guy who is literally at the center of every baseball game,” I retorted.

“I’m the pitcher,” he said, exasperated, and a few of the guys on his team nodded at that.

“Don’t bring the bedroom into this!” I couldn’t help it.

Luke’s expression went confused for a second, trying to figure that out while the crowd murmured. I probably lost most of them with that one, but I had to fight a grin as I watched Alicia and Lydia dissolving into laughter and trying to hide it, turning towards each other and giggling helplessly.

Thrown off track, Luke went in a different direction. “I know what’s really going on here. Do you think I’m an idiot?”

I raised one eyebrow. “You want me to answer that?”

“You’re interested in him,” Luke spat out. I regretted not coming up with a plan. I hadn’t known the reason he’d give for our breakup.

“You’re jealous?” I asked, trying not to fidget.

“Hard not to be when my boyfriend is checking out someone else every time I turn around.”

There were a few football players in the crowd who had been watching in horror, unable to look away, but now they nodded after what Luke said. Luke was already more popular than me and better looking, and I was the cheating partner. He’d win our breakup.

It shouldn’t matter. I should just get this over with but I wanted something. I wanted to win. He was going back to being straight and likable, and I’d be the gay cheater whose social status plummeted impossibly lower. And everyone would wonder how I could be dumb enough to cheat on the captain of the baseball team when I was lucky to have him in the first place.

Luke smiled and started to turn away. Nope, he wasn’t going to leave me here humiliated and alone. “I’m sorry,” I started and he paused, looking unsure about whether he should trust the apology.  Good instincts. “But maybe I have a problem being a phase for you.”

There were gasps.

“Dude, what?” he said quietly, just to me.

I kept talking. “You’re more comfortable dating girls and you know it.”

“But—”

“I’m not the only one looking elsewhere.” I pointed to Lydia, feeling a little bad about dragging her into this.

“Hey, that’s not fair,” Luke tried. “She doesn’t mean anything to me.”

Lydia had an untapped talent for dramatics. She jumped in at that. “How can you say that?” she gasped. “You told me you loved me!” She inserted herself between us for a second and slapped Luke across the face. She stared me down fiercely for a few seconds, then grinned saucily and stormed off while the crowd parted to let her through.

“You got so caught up in having a boyfriend, but you spent no time actually being in this relationship. I need more,” I said bravely, pretending that I was fighting back tears.

“Don’t do that. You’re not into me. That’s what this is really about,” Luke said weakly, trying to get the power back. It was the wrong thing to say.

“Shouldn’t I be saying that to you?”

Luke’s face went through a series of emotions too fast for me to interpret. Man, he really was a better actor than I thought, but my heart hammered in my chest too hard to pay attention. Tears welled up in my eyes, no longer fake.

“I think we need to break up,” he said quietly.

“I don’t think so.” His eyes widened. I thought I heard people gasp again. “I know it,” I said, head held high. “We’re over.”

People cleared the way to let me through. I think a couple people even applauded. I just kept my eyes ahead and concentrated on walking down the hall and out of Luke’s life.

Our relationship had been fake, but that breakup seemed real.

This is an excerpt from One Little Word, 

via Daily Prompt: Laughter

No News is Good News

“Oh, it’s my boyfriend,” I announced in a loud, wooden voice. Damn, I guess I didn’t have an acting career in my future. “Hello, boyfriend, I’m going to hold your hand.” My voice was still loud enough for everyone in our school’s courtyard to overhear, but no one even turned and looked our way.

“I’m just a title now, I don’t have a name?” He gave me a quick kiss on the lips in greeting. No one reacted.

I laughed like he said the most hilarious thing. “Oh stop! Let’s just make out right here.”

He held up a hand when I tried to bring my face closer to his. “You’re being ridiculous.” His tone was serious but he had a tiny smile on his face. I recognized it as the look he gave me when I was being amusing but he didn’t want to encourage me.

“No, I’m not. It’s just, WE’RE TWO GUYS, who are about to MAKE OUT in this crowded courtyard. I HOPE NO ONE FEELS UNCOMFORTABLE.”

A guy I’d never seen before walked near us at that moment. I probably didn’t know him because he wore a football jersey and I had filed a restraining order against sports. Sports wasn’t allowed to be within 30 feet of me at all times. Maybe I’d judged sports too harshly, though. because here came this football player who would get all up in our business. Excellent. I mean, terrible.

“Love is love, guys,” he said with a smile and a wave.

I wasn’t pouting. I stood there with crossed arms while my boyfriend grinned at me, definitely not pouting.

“This is a good thing.”

“I know that,” I muttered.

When I came out a month ago, the news was met with overwhelming enthusiasm. There was a slew of supportive Facebook comments, people congratulated in the halls, I was embraced with open arms. There weren’t even well meaning but kinda rude comments of “I know” or “Duh.”

“We’re lucky enough to live in a place where—” my boyfriend started saying.

“Yeah, I really am glad.” It was true. There were people that didn’t have it as easy. I got to kiss my boyfriend in broad daylight and just be treated as normal because I was normal; this was my normal.

Still. “I just thought there might be a little excitement.”

He rolled his eyes fondly. “We’re here, we’re queer, they’re used to it.”

I wasn’t trying to be ungrateful. I guess I just didn’t believe it could be this easy. I’d heard stories, watched movies, and had seen the perils of coming out even if I didn’t experience them. I’d spent a while gaining the courage and strength to be ready to come out. I knew life wouldn’t always be fair. I guess I just wanted to go through the hard part. Get it over with.

“I didn’t want any violence or harassment or anything, but not even one dirty look, really?” It was just another day. Nothing notable happening.

“I could give you a dirty look,” he offered with a suggestive wink.

It was a beautiful day and I was standing in the sunlight with a lovely boy. Maybe there was no point looking for a downside or worrying something might go wrong. Maybe I should just enjoy this.

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Daily Prompt- Notable