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.

 

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.

 

Sale! I don’t know what else to say!

My dog is tearing her stuffed elephant to smithereens while I try to write this post. She wants to play, so I get up to throw her toy, and then she promptly loses all interest. Until I sit back down at the computer. She’s such a cute jerk.

The next thing I’m going to say has nothing to do with the first thing, which is usually how it goes with me. One Little Word is on sale for 99 cents this week, so I’m posting about it like a sensible author.

The story is about two guys who must “date” For Reasons. As compelling as that summary is, I’m going to include an excerpt that may or may not actually be in the book. So it could be a sneak peek or it could be a deleted scene. Maybe a little of both? How mysterious and exciting.

Okay, Luke is a dumb jock who gets in trouble and thinks saying he’s gay will solve problems instead of creating new ones. And now he’s talking to the principal and a teacher about all this.

 ~

Luke

“Gay?” Principal Simmons frowned. “But you’re the captain of the baseball team!”

I nearly laughed. “Are you serious?”

The guidance counselor gave us a speech last year about “diverging sexuality,” something she claimed they did every year, but it happened shortly after Ryan Miller came out. There was a whole part about how there was no one way to be gay, just as no two people were exactly the same.

Yet the principal appeared skeptical about my confession. That was totally unfair.

I looked at Mrs. Sharp after the Principal still seemed confused.

She sighed. “What he means,” she tried, “is that this seems a little… convenient.”

“Yes, that’s a good point,” he agreed. “Personally, I had no idea your people could play sports.” He chuckled to himself. “Well, see, I’m already learning.”

“Do I really need any other ‘proof’ of why I’m not out yet?” I gestured to him.

While not exactly conceding the point, Mrs. Sharp also supplied no defense for his remarks. “Mr. Chambers,” she spoke evenly. “Why don’t you explain—”

“You can’t force a student to tell you about his sexuality,” Simmons interrupted. “I know that much.”

“Mr. Chambers,” she repeated, authority clear in her tone, making the principal shut up. “I’m not asking you to reveal anything too personal. Simply help us understand. Let’s see.” She straightened in her seat, a neutral expression on her face.

Trap, this was a trap, but one I couldn’t avoid.

“Perhaps you could share your perceptions of LGBTQIA culture?” she asked. “Or give us a general idea about the challenges a gay teenager may face in a small town?” The corners of her lips twitched, like she was laughing at me internally. “Who are your favorite queer icons?”

“Yes, wonderful!” Simmons sounded delighted. “Another learning experience.” He nodded at me. “Go on, son.”

Shitshitshit.

One Little Word is on sale now for 99 cents!

Boyfriends, bowling, and bloodlust

Having a character like Ryan Miller who doesn’t always play by the rules of the world when he can make stuff up instead is fun because it gives me a chance to take something normal like bowling and then make it much weirder.

In this case, that means Ryan thinks bowling should be like a monarchy with guards and rulers and prizes. Well, the prizes are just cause prizes are awesome. Duh.

Despite having no experience ever bowling and only respecting the sport because it includes outfit changes (the shoes), Ryan is determined to kick ass when on a double date with his boo Luke and his friends Alicia and Lydia.

The following is a scene from the bowling date in One New Start and some art. Ryan and Luke are on one team with the girls on the other, and Ryan and Luke really enjoy winning, each other, winning again, and each other again.

~

bowlingsep

Ryan

Bowling. Was. AWESOME.

Winning helped. Winning was the best. The girls were trailing in our metaphorical dust. Luke and I were totally gracious winners.

Just kidding, we were so stupidly obnoxious, the worst winners ever. Hey, we won at being bad winners too! Alicia and Lydia got more and more annoyed while losing harder and harder.

One magical time, I almost got a strike!

A lot of times, I got less than almost a strike.

“Okay, you’re up,” Luke told me, handing me my ball.

I started with the pink one for little girls because it looked like fun, but I was using a regular black ball now because I was a man, grrr, and I wanted to win dammit.

“Eyes on the prize,” my boyfriend instructed.

“There are prizes?” Bowling just got even better.

“I’ll get you a prize afterward,” Luke promised. Yay! “Focus,” he ordered a moment later, knowing prizes were dancing around behind my eyes. His eyes blazed with fierceness. He was a commander, readying his troops for war.

I raised the fist not holding the ball in the air, looked towards the pins, and gave my best war cry. “Wooo!” I ignored how girly that war cry was.

Luke nodded, smacked me on the ass, and sent me off to war. Bowling.

I marched up, squared my shoulders, let the ball fly and—

I knocked them all down.

I hit all the pins! On the first try! I did the thing! Strike! I punched my fist out in front of me, like I was going to strike. No, that was what it was called. That was the first strike I had ever bowled because this was the first time I had ever bowled.

I stood there looking at the pins, wondering if they were going to pop up and say just kidding.

Luke Chambers screamed in the background. Hollering for me. Excited for me. “YAY, RYAN, YOU DID IT!”

I turned around in a daze and there he was, jumping out of his seat. Face alight with excitement and caught up in the moment. He was beautiful. Always was, but now he was beautiful for me, because I did the thing.

“MY BOYFRIEND GOT A STRIKE!” He hollered and Lydia snickered. “CRAP,” he yelled a moment later. “SHOULD I HAVE YELLED THAT?” Did he know he was still yelling? “OH WELL, WOOHOOO. GO RYAN!”

I went. Flinging myself into Luke and he was there and ready to catch me and we jumped up and down together, celebrating like lunatics, big grins on both our faces.

Bowling date! The rest is available in One New Start.