For the love of a good man

Ryan is a brainy overachiever. He imagines becoming a brilliant scientist who makes grand discoveries and is only a little mad. Being a mad scientist isn’t required for some chemists, doctors, and whatnot, but a little insanity is non-negotiable for Ryan. Here’s an excerpt where he talks about his plans and what he wants for his relationship with Luke. This possibly relates to how love, and a little insanity, can turn anyone into a fool.

The post is to celebrate the release of a new contemporary gay romance from me. One Big Decision is the hilarious and heartwarming final novel in the One More Thing series which follows a small-town couple as they navigate high school.

Ryan

I wanna do great things. I wanna discover answers to nature’s mysteries. Help people, save lives, be great. And I wanna be happy too. In the grand scheme? One man’s happiness is the least important concern. When you’re living it, it matters so much. The impossible dream is to have everything and love too, especially love.

So if you tell a few lies, burn a few bridges to get everything, you can still probably sleep at night. Even if it’s not right, you behaved poorly for the same reason geniuses turn into fools, kings lose their kingdoms, people with everything gratefully give it all away and accept nothing. For the love of a good man.

God, if I can just have this, if I can have him, I’ll never want anything else again. Yeah, it’s a lie. One more potent than a trick of the light because the kicker is, it’s real in the moment. It’s the only truth you know. For a little while.

What else could I do? I followed my heart.

Hindsight

So I’m sort of patting myself on the back here, but one thing has become clear when sharing this deleted scene from Black Cats and Bad Luck: I made the right call. When I decided not to use this scene and write another instead, I felt bummed out about it and tried to convince myself to use it anyway. Looking back, I can tell it was the better decision. All the main characters hiding in a bed together is adorable, but it really didn’t fit with the rest of the novel.

I took out some of the more spoiler-y elements, so all you need to know is that after an attack all the main characters are huddled together and trying to figure out what to do next. And the ‘wendigo incident’ is an event from the past that the Ward cousins swore a blood oath not to mention and I had a lot of fun with it.

~

Avery

Could only girls have slumber parties? Maybe. I mean, I had spent the night at friend’s houses before. I typically never invited people over. I worried they’d get the wrong idea, see the magic my family could do and start to expect those things from me.

There wasn’t a ton of experience for me to draw from, but I hadn’t attended a slumber party ever. Even though I’d spent the night at friend’s houses, even a group of us. Some component had been lacking to call it a true slumber party. Not pillow fights or something cheesy and stereotypical like that. S’mores? Sleeping bags? No, camping came to mind for those items. Prank calls? Huh. Maybe.

Actually, good thing I never attended a slumber party before. If fond memories of them existed, they would pale in comparison now. Not that this was exactly fun, but it was certainly an experience, one that would have blown any others out of the water.

Why did this qualify as a slumber party? Maybe because we were all on one bed. It was actually sort of weird. We probably wouldn’t all sleep here. We ended up here, Mason freaked out in a nightmare, and Horatio freaked out in turn, not sure if Mason was hurt because ‘nightmare’ definitely applied but that didn’t mean it wasn’t real. Mason was certainly the go to guy for reality-bending dreams.

He was okay, but we were all spooked, so instead of meeting anywhere else, we went to Horatio and Mason’s room. Mason and Horatio’s room? Probably Mason’s room, where Horatio stayed. Horatio only moved away from him to open the door when letting us in. Mason hadn’t gotten out of bed, so… we were all on the bed.

Mason at the head, leaned on the pillows propping him up and Horatio. Miranda on the other side. The rest of us inserted somewhat awkwardly near the foot wherever we could find space. Weird though also comfortable, only the bedside lights on, a little island of light in the dark. Perfect for huddling together and talking in quiet voices.

“Are we sure about this?” Miranda asked after we formulated a plan. “Between Horatio and his shape shifting to the mystical bond you two share, there’s too much that could go wrong.”

“We don’t want a wendigo,” Horatio said.

Stella made an urgent noise, shaking her head and indicating Miranda should stop talking. Miranda put a hand over her mouth. I made an important gesture, then asked Jonah if I did it right.

“What were you going for?” he asked.

“Sign of the cross.”

“Then no,” he answered. Damn.

~

BTW, the who paranormal romance novel is here and free.

Black Cats and Bad Mood Boards

Hello, is this Moodboards Anonymous? My name is F.N. Manning, and I’m addicted to moodboards. Oh, this isn’t Moodboards Anonymous? And that support group doesn’t exist? That’s fair.

As you might have guessed, I enjoy making mood boards, which I put as one word in every instance before this one, but I get the red squigglies so now I’m changing my mind. This is for my new adult fantasy novel, that is also naturally a gay romance, Black Cats and Bad Luck. Here’s a board for the main characters, Mason and Horatio.

After years of waiting for a mysterious man from his dreams who might not exist, Mason is ready to move on with his life. Until Horatio finally appears, and his whereabouts were stranger than anyone imagined. With the help of the smartest paranormal experts, or at least the only ones available, the guys must battle the forces of evil, keep everyone safe, and see if their relationship can become more than a good dream and survive in the real world.

When I spent too much time on the computer, whether searching for Horatio or playing games online, Dad would bring me back to real life. Life’s not happening there in between the ones and zeros, he’d say. It’s happening out here. I’d hate for you to miss it.

After what felt like a lifetime of the alleged perfect man for me being so close yet never close enough to touch, I drew my own conclusions. My only defense, I suppose, was that I lived with the idea of him for so long, I began to think that’s all he was. An idea, a hope, a dream who lived within a dream.

Black Cats and Bad Luck

Meet Jonah

Magic exists in the world of Black Cats and Bad Luck, but not everyone comes into contact with witches and extraordinary powers. Though Witches have come out of the broom closet and are part of mainstream society, most people are aware of magic but don’t witness it themselves unless they are connected to Pagans and the magical community in some way.

Jonah Harris is a human teenager who’s curious about the supernatural world and excited to experience magic first hand. He figures his in is his best friend Avery Ward, who comes from a powerful magical family. But after years of friendship, Avery keeps that side of his life almost entirely hidden. So being invited on a Ward family trip the summer after their sophomore year is finally his chance to see how the magical folk live.

Until Jonah learns everybody is abstaining from using powers for the majority of the trip. While the amount of magic they’re expecting, next to none, might not be the actual amount that occurs in this fantasy novel (it’s not) Jonah seems to have the worst luck when it comes to seeing magic. So much so that he begins suspecting supernatural interference.

P.S. Very Serious Author Note? I adore Jonah. He’s kind of like Ryan from my One More Thing Series in that they’re both tall, skinny tornadoes of excitement and enthusiasm. But he’s also the lone character in this novel with virtually no supernatural contact beforehand, so it’s fun as he explores this new world with fresh eyes.

In this scene, Horatio makes the case for why qualifies as astounding magic. He’s a mystical being and magical miracle who transformed from animal to human form, but Jonah isn’t exactly impressed.

~

Mason

Jonah was still dying to see magic.

“What about me, cat given human flesh?” Horatio offered as he and Jonah began chatting.

“I guess…”

 “You aren’t impressed?”

 “This doesn’t happen often, or so I hear. That’s…” He tried and failed to summon enthusiasm. “Neat.”

“Yes, it’s extremely rare.” Horatio stood taller, proud of his exceptional nature. “If this isn’t wowing you, then I’m afraid nothing will.”

 “No, hold on. It’s not like I watched you transform into a man. I only know you as a man. Yeah, I knew distantly Avery had a pet cat.” Jonah raised his hands before the protests could begin. “Before this trip, I didn’t know about familiars or anything, so I thought the cat was a pet. And I don’t really connect you to a cat whose name I might have guessed started with an ‘H,’ but I would have said Harry or Hornbat.”

Avery asked, “Where did you come up with Hornba—”

“Or Jiggles,” Jonah interrupted, looking to Horatio. “Your name was never Jiggles?”

~

Grab your copy of this 99 cent queer paranormal romance here.

Stuff that totally won’t go wrong

Do fake relationships ever happen in real life? Maybe! I mean… probably not, right? My guess would be no, but I’m the one who asked you the question, so I don’t have to have the answers.

And I’m talking, like, romcom pretend boyfriends scenarios only, where a successful professional has to go to their exes wedding but can’t get a date for zany reasons and must pretend to be in love with their sworn enemy. Less bearding because the world is terrible and more Hallmark movie plot stuff where everybody falls in love at the end.

The fake boyfriends trope is used in One Little Word. Then there’s a fake girlfriend and a real boyfriend in One Little Lie. So naturally for One Little Problem, it was time to switch it up. Fake break ups! Is that a thing? In real life or in fiction? Whatever.

Okay, so Ryan wants to pretend to break up because the natural answer when your parents don’t approve of your significant other is ‘lie about it.’ I think I started that sentence with sarcastic intent, but actually, that is so the logical answer. Especially if you’re a teenager and in a romcom, which is a yes to both for Ryan.

Ryan’s boyfriend Luke isn’t as sure about this plan. So this is him debating.

~

Luke

On the way home from the game, the last light from the day disappeared while the bus carrying the team headed back to school. Zach and I had a spot in the back while Joey sat across from us, asleep and stretched over his whole seat.

I thought about sleeping too until Zach spoke. “Maybe Ryan isn’t as bulletproof as you are these days.”

Huh, where had that come from? “He’s been handling haters way more than I have.”

“And maybe that’s taken a toll,” he suggested.

“But—”

“Doesn’t have to seem like it has.” He gave me an important look, like he would know. Guess he would, him and Ryan were the same way. Pretending like nothing bothered them, both much better at it than me. I was only good at it when untested. But it didn’t seem like that with Ryan as much because he let his guard down around me a lot more than Zach did.

“Maybe he just wants to enjoy being with you or something lame like that,” Zach said with a frown like just the thought of it was too sappy for him. “This could be a way to do that.”

“You think pretending to break up is a good idea?”

Zach shrugged. “No opinion, really. Might be entertaining.” I rolled my eyes. He continued. “But you might be focusing on the wrong thing. The method is breaking up, but the point is being together with less hassle.”

“So then why didn’t we do that before?”

“Might not have been able to handle it.” He sneered a little like he couldn’t help it as he said, “You guys seem totally disgusting now.”

“Thanks.” I grinned, totally unashamed.

“And pretty stable. Just, I think he means well with this suggestion? Maybe consider it? Yeah, you don’t care what anyone else thinks. Your parents will come around or they won’t. Nothing can hurt you. Maybe because you’re on the baseball team and you have a bunch of friends or you have both your parents alive but just because Ryan talks a good game, maybe it’s not as easy for him.”

Guess that was possible. Maybe I felt confident and like nothing could stop me because this whole coming out thing had sucked so much and I still survived it, but Ryan had come out a while ago. No been outed. By me. He hadn’t been ready for it either. Super annoying that Zach might have a point but just because Ryan had been dealing with haters for a while that didn’t mean it was the same when the haters in question were our parents.

I might understand that pretty well. I’d never not had my parents in my corner. Until now. Maybe it was worse for Ryan, because it was only him and his dad. This could be a really stupid idea, no it probably was, but I guess I didn’t blame him. Not getting along with your parent or parents on something so big was rough and if a little lying could change that…

I sat in my room by myself after I got home, staring at my phone. Here I was, sitting here considering it. Hadn’t done anything else once since I got home. Wasn’t really a breakup, but the idea still made me nervous. We’d talked about this once before and Ryan was so against it then. But that was back when I didn’t know I was bi and we wanted my parents off my back because they didn’t know I was bi either and now we all knew. Knowledge was power. I’d heard that before, so it must be true.

There was a knock on the door. “Do I need to come in there?” Lydia asked.

Zach told her? “You don’t think it’s a terrible idea?”

“I think I’m not having this conversation with a closed door… even though its probably about as smart as you.” Lydia never missed a chance to take a shot at me, which meant that she didn’t think this was the most terrible idea in the world or she wouldn’t have hesitated to tell me so.

“Go away, Lydia.”

I took a long, deep breath and leaned back in my chair. Idly glancing around my room, I realized my mom had been in here. She did that sometimes to get my laundry, but no, it was still there in the corner. She had definitely been in here though or my dad had. Some of the posters I had on my wall were gone. The ones that were just a baseball player like Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. Come on, Manny Machado wasn’t even attractive! He had a certain charm, I guess, but he was no Bryce Harper.

…I didn’t even realize Harper was hot until right now, but yeah, I wanted that posted back. And also the one I had of Chris Evans as Captain America, which, huh. Maybe I always found him hot and just didn’t know it.

Alright, I had to do my own laundry now and maybe get a lock so my parents couldn’t come in and try to de-gay everything. Maybe getting my parents off my back would make things easier not just for me but Ryan too and he was the one who wanted to do it.

Ryan had, like, 90 million thoughts bouncing around his head at any given time, so while he’s super smart, sometimes he doesn’t verbalize everything into words I understand, but it’s okay, because I’m learning how to read him. I didn’t like thinking about Ryan leaving for the summer. He probably didn’t either. And we couldn’t do anything about that, but there was this other problem and he wanted to fix it. So then, the him leaving thing would still suck but maybe suck less because we would get to spend more time together before the sucking part happened.

…I should not have thought of it like that. I wanted the sucking part to happen but the good sucking part, not the bad sucking part—you know what? I’m just going to call Ryan.

 

Books!

Sometimes authors get together to promote their books. Authors like me. The trick for me is finding other LGBT authors. I generally search for other gay romances and I’m not sure if I should be more specific, but even being vague doesn’t always work. I recently joined one group specifically designed for YA LGBT stories and I thought ‘perfect, this is exactly right for my books’ and then mine was the only queer story.

The moral of the story, I guess, is that life is hard and I try my best. I succeeded with this promotion for books available in Kindle Unlimited. Actually, I double succeeded because I totally thought this would be ending today but I figured better extremely late than never, but this promotion lasts until Sept. 18.

Most of these novels seem to be contemporary romance or supernatural and M/M or M/F. However, Nicole Higginbotham-Hogue does have some lesbian romances.  Here are a few of the gay romances available.

The Bastille Sphere: a penal colony being developed by Harmony Inc. Entry is one way only, with no way out. It’s supposed to be for habitual reoffenders and the worst violent offenders.

The prize: A fight to the death with the winner gaining his parole. He couldn’t leave Bastille, but would gain a modicum of freedom, including his own home behind the walls of the Compound outside of the prison grounds, and be gifted with a mate. It was a win/win as far he was concerned. Leyland would either be freed by death at last, or he’d win and gain as normal a life as Bastille offered.

If only it was that easy.

Sol’s Solstice

Can Seth help Sol find his way back from the darkness?

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.

 

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.

Life advice I’ve never taken: be slightly less unhinged

For some reason, I uploaded a bunch of image quotes I made for One Little Word all at the same time. I guess I was trying to be helpful and have them all in one place, which mostly means I have no idea which ones I’ve used already. This might not be a problem for those with better memories, but I’m only slightly exaggerating when I say I don’t even remember how I started this sentence.

Every time I post a quote, I resist the overwhelming urge to add that I’m pretty sure I haven’t posted this one yet. But maybe I have, so let’s just gloss over it if I posted this last week too. I figure putting it out there once is enough. In summation, if I post quotes more than once, please be cool about it. Thanks!

Also, yes, I did only say be cool because it’s in the quote below.

This excerpt involves a boy flipping out because he’s about to have lunch with another boy. This second boy is open to the possibility of being attracted to the first boy, which is where the insanity comes from. I could have just used their names instead of calling them boys, but I’m telling myself it’s too late to change that now.

Being attracted to someone is a totally understandable reason to be a lunatic. No, that’s not true at all. It’s not okay to be a lunatic in a dangerous way when you like someone. But it is okay to be a gigantic nervous weirdo in the romance department, lots of people aren’t smooth operators.

By reading this, you might think Ryan is a gigantic nervous weirdo when he has a crush. I want you to know that’s not true at all. Ryan is a gigantic nervous weirdo always, but in this case, he happens to be a weirdo and have a crush at the same time. This is an important distinction (no, it’s not.)

 

wordswag_1583107963978

Ryan

I had butterflies. Stupid, gigantic butterflies, furiously beating their wings inside my stomach. Was I going to burst into song? Was I going to throw up? Maybe!

Hopefully, I wouldn’t do either of those things. I just couldn’t say for sure.

I willed myself to still from where I was vibrating out of my skin. Be cool. No, that was impossible… be slightly less unhinged. I could try that.

Okay, I would walk into the cafeteria and sit down with the baseball guys, something I’d done multiple times before. No big deal.

Only…

There was a particular guy at the table. One who was interested. In me! He may not be Luke, but the problem was that Luke wasn’t interested.

Surely I’d gotten the neuroticism out last night. I went through every piece of clothing I owned trying to find the right thing to wear. I eventually picked out my best fitting pair of jeans, a black t-shirt, and a green plaid shirt to layer with. No need to dress up too much. Or drive myself crazy.

Or drive myself crazier? Because I was jumping up and down, just a little, where I stood. I tried to stop… nope, still rocking on my heels. I felt extremely excited.

 

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.