(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.

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Nicknames are serious business

This is an excerpt from One Little Lie, which will be released on Oct. 20.

It was after lunch and Luke and I were discussing very serious matters.

“I think you’re just going to have to accept the reality of the situation,” Luke told me.

I frowned and leaned against his locker. “That really doesn’t sound like something I would do.”

Luke stood opposite me in a red shirt that hugged his shoulders perfectly. “Aren’t you all science-y?” he asked me. “That’s about facts and…” he trailed off.

“Go on,” I challenged. “Name one other thing.”

“Science,” he said decisively, like he wasn’t a big idiot.

I wasn’t fooled. “Science is about science? I’m dating a genius.”

His face brightened. “Oh, I am alright with that being my new nickname.”

Genius? “Like hell!”

He tutted at me. “You’re not being very accommodating and aren’t relationships about compromise?” Whatever, he wasn’t the relationship expert; I already called it.

“Lemon drop is mine,” I insisted.

He inched just a bit closer and in a low voice said, “Yeah, he is.”

~

Excerpt from One Little Word- YA LGBTQ Fiction

Boyfriends Ryan and Luke prepare for a doubt date at a gay club.

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We decided to dress up for maximum gayness. I had a shirt with a unicorn and Alicia had bought me a feather boa as a gag gift, so I was going to wear that too because why not. I wasn’t dressed yet because I was too busy laughing at Luke.

He faced away from me but glared at me through the mirror in front of him. “Ryan, stop laughing and just tell me which one of these shirts makes my eyes pop!”

I turned my head into the bedspread, giggling helplessly. I had started getting ready, then found that watching Luke worry about what to wear was much more important, so I lay on his bed and enjoyed the show. When I composed myself, I peeked up to see Luke was now glaring at the two shirts in his hands while holding them up to his chest one at a time and trying to decide.

I smiled sweetly. “Baby, I think you look good in anything.” Sure, my tone was still at least 20% sarcastic, but that’s my baseline.

And right now he just scoffed, sounding unimpressed with my answer. “Stop being a weirdo,” he said, eyeing the shirts critically.

We were road tripping to a bigger city called Fairview and heading to a gay club having an all ages night. Luke acted like a contestant in a beauty pageant, putting all of his focus into what to wear.

“I’m a weirdo for you,” I cooed.

Teasing was the only option if I didn’t want to combust into a puddle of hormones and fondness. He seemed like a big jock most of the time, and he could be confident and charming, but he was mostly an earnest goofball. Like now when he acted like the most important decision in the world was finding the right thing to wear.

He turned to look at me and said, “You do realize this might be the only time I ask you for fashion advice?”

Well played. I put him out of his misery. “Wear the red one.”

Luke frowned. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, moron, I’m sure.”

I loved him in that color and who cared about what anyone else thought of him? He was my bf, he should look good for me. I tilted my head and idly wondered how I’d get him to agree to the glitter body paint. We’d said we were having a super gay evening, so how did we achieve that without body glitter? We didn’t. He needed to be a team player. Even if he didn’t officially bat for a particular team. Other than his baseball team of course.

Hey, could moron be Luke’s pet name?

He held the chosen shirt up one more time and nodded decisively. “Thank you.” A serious look crossed his face again and he turned to face me. “Your pet name for me is not going to be moron.” Then he turned around again.

Wow, had we become that in sync? Maybe we developed a psychic connection. Probably the first one but just to be sure I concentrated on thoughts of Luke’s ass. “What am I thinking about?”

“My ass,” he said without hesitation.

“You are psychic,” I marveled.

“I can feel and see you staring at my ass,” he said meeting my eyes in the mirror with a laugh. Then he started messing with his hair.

One Little Lie will be released on Oct. 20 and can be pre-ordered here.

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

Scene from What Love Means

IMG_1107-1371.jpegMy novel What Love Means is about boys and spelling bees. This is a scene from the beginning after Max’s sister April wins a small spelling competition at her school and wants to train for the harder bees.

This excerpt contains a little bit of material from the book but is mostly an extended scene that didn’t make it in the final version.

***

After April won, I walked over to where she stood with a crowd of her friends. She had a gold star sticker on her shoulder for winning. I gave her a high five. Her friends scattered. They had a hard time being in my direct vicinity without blushing to death.

“Will you help me prepare?” she asked.

“The real thing is different. It’s a lot harder,” I warned. These were easy vocabulary words that anyone who studied had a shot at. It was different when there was a whole dictionary to choose from and kids who wanted it just as badly.

“I want to do it,” April said firmly.

“Kids study a lot for it. It’s all they do,” I warned.

“Give me a word,” she ordered.

“What?”

“Give me a challenging word. Come on,” she urged.

We had a mini stare-off before I relented. “Alright… how about ‘sputnik’?”

A boy near us giggled at the word but she didn’t even hesitate. I thought a little harder this time, then tried again. “Salve?” My favorites had been Salvic, German and Old English languages because I thought they were the most fun to say.

April got it again.

“What about shrieval?” Okay, maybe that one was a stumper. It was an old English word used for sheriff.

She nailed it without hesitation and smiled confidently at me.

“How do you know that?”

“I’m smart,” she said like it should be obvious.

“I never doubted it,” I assured.

“Good, then I should have no problem competing.”

It dawned on me. “You stole my old workbooks,” I accused.

“Borrowed.” She waved that off. “I’ve been training.”

“You didn’t tell me.”

“I knew you wouldn’t like it.”

Well, she was right. I stared at her as she tried to stare back seriously without grinning. Crap. I didn’t want to give in. We both knew I would.

“Alright,” I relented. “It looks like you’re going to be a spelling champion.”

Check out the full book here.

Excerpt

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I ran my hands up and down his arms while his biceps flexed under the attention like he couldn’t help it. His skin felt warm and electric. Though the drink I had might have dulled my senses some, any fog in my mind melted away by touching him. My body buzzed and responded to him, senses awakening, all demanding to get as much of him as possible. I wanted to feast on his smell and taste and touch.

My hands moved down his thin but toned body, tightening minutely on his waist, and then he was out of my grasp. My stomach dropped but that’s stupid… there were other guys, gay ones or those who got brave enough to experiment after consuming too much liquor. He probably had a girlfriend and was almost definitely some snobby rich kid. I’d find someone else. I could do better. Except something about him felt magnetic; I’d be drawn in his direction the whole night even if he walked away.

Only he didn’t go far. He turned and looked at me. Maybe I imagined the spark of fire in his eyes or maybe he felt the electricity between us too. His body moved close to mine again as both our hands explored this time. He smelled clean, with a hint of something sharper and appealing. Bright blue eyes peeked at me from beneath his lashes as he sent me a smile that was more shy and uncertain than coy, but his nerves didn’t stop him. He held me tight and rocked his hips into mine in time with the music. God, I wanted to devour him.

Was I in a mood earlier? I didn’t remember. There’s only dancing, drinks, and him. And life was anything but predictable because he made the first move. I couldn’t say whether we spent minutes or hours on the dancefloor when his lips captured mine and a quick tongue slid into my mouth, greedy and demanding, while his hands groped and squeezed at my ass.

I only had one complaint after that: the night passed too quickly.

-Excerpt from What Love Means

Deleted Scene

This a moment between Cal and his brother Brendan that got taken out of What Love Means.

We left the house to get away from worrying about the bee. I’d thought he’d suggest go-karting or mud wrestling or whatever sports people did, but we ended up just walking around the neighborhood. We didn’t talk much at first, but there was fresh air and the sun shining down on us, so I think we both felt better.

We likely meandered for hours, until it got darker. It was still and quiet. All the fancy homes had their lights on, so the neighborhood looked warm and cozy.

Brendan eventually loosened up. I didn’t want to destroy that as we headed back to the house. I cast about for something to talk about. We had nothing in common but the bee. “Wanna help me with my trig homework?” I joked.

He shook his head. “I don’t know anything about your fancy math problems, but I can help you with your Max problems.”

I looked at him in shock. “What? What are you talking about?”

Brendan grinned. “Oh man, you are so guilty.”

“No, no, I just.” I cleared my throat. “What are you referring to?”

“Mostly April,” he admitted. Brendan wasn’t supposed to have social messaging apps on his phone, but I didn’t call him on it, or on finding the time to gossip with April. “She said Max is— am I allowed to say pissed off in front of you?”

“Max is pissed off at me?” he sky was grey and it was a little chilly, but it beat the warmer but somehow more frigid stillness of home.

“I didn’t say that.”

“How do you know it’s my fault?”

He stared at me smugly. “It so is.”

“Maybe,” I admitted. “I don’t know what to do about it though.” He ran somewhat hot and cold with me. No, he generally seemed to want me, it just sometimes annoyed him that he felt that way.

“I could help.”

I smiled at Brendan but said, “No, I don’t think so.”

“I know you like him.”

“What?” Oh god, how the hell did he know that? How obvious were we? Everybody in Max’s life knew, that was pretty clear. I’d been able to handle that perhaps because I didn’t need to say anything and I could kind of ignore it. Actually telling people in my life and having them know. That was a different story. Wasn’t it?

The panic rising swiftly stopped suddenly. “He’s a good friend,” Brendan explained. “He’s a lot better than your other friends. You like him better than them too.”

“I’m not comparing,” I tried.

“They’re boring.” Brendan summed up simply.

“Max is too exciting then.” That was entirely true. It didn’t stop the wanting though, maybe was even part of why I liked him. We had been so similar once. Our friendship was comforting, easy. Now I didn’t know what to expect. It was different, but maybe not bad.

“So what? You should apologize, you need one exciting friend in your life.”

“Words don’t go so well for us.” We certainly knew enough of them, just not the right way to use them.

“Then show him in a different way,” Brendan said like it was easy. Perhaps it was.

“Wait, wait. When did you become smarter than me?” I asked Brendan.

“Always, I just didn’t want you to feel bad.”

“I guess I’ll have to become good at sports then.”

He scoffed. “Yeah right.”

“Race you to the house,” I said and took off.

Deleted scene from What Love Means

This bit comes from the end of the story What Love Means, so it’s got some spoilers.

I ultimately decided to leave Cal’s situation with his parents more open ended, but this is the outline I had of how a conversation between Cal and his father might go.

___

My parents were used to getting their way. The only thing I could think of to get any financial support  would mean I needed to be willing to lose it all. I didn’t like this plan. But it was all I had. It wasn’t about Max. Or Princeton. It was about my family always calling the shots. I could barely picture a life without them or their money, but I needed at least some control in my life.

I had opening notes prepared for this discussion with my father but instead I asked, “Did you say you were proud of me for a moment and ease up because you realized it would be easier to get me to go the Princeton that way?” It could have been he was proud of me for standing up to him. It could have been his way of changing tactics.

Father didn’t do anything so juvenile as roll his eyes, but I had the feeling he wanted to. “I’m not the villain from a bedtime story. There’s no plotting against you. I thought you could use the encouragement. I didn’t know it would inspire…” he trailed off, lips curling down.

“I was seeing him before that.” Very helpful addition to his conversation I scolded internally.

“Is this really what you wanted to talk about?”

“No, I wanted to discuss our impasse.”

“There’s no impasse. If you want to go to school-“

“Mom likes our image a lot. Every Christmas card mentions that I’m at the top of our class and don’t pretend like you haven’t already boasted to your golfing buddies how your son’s going to your alma matter. Me not going to college, how would that look?”

He stared at me for several moments. Instead of trying to school my features, I let my frustration show and fidgeted. He always saw the minute movements anyway, so why pretend I was calm cool and collected? I’d rather show him that I was the opposite of all those things and still pushing forward anyway. Maybe he would slaughter me in the boardroom. No, definitely. But negotiations with family were different.

“It would be worse for you,” he said eventually. “Especially if you didn’t have any money.”

“I don’t care.” I raised my head defiantly.

“You haven’t worked a day in your life.”

I didn’t point out that I’d organized PTA bake sales and fundraising drives for water polo. That might not count in his view.  “I’m not backing down.”

“Your boyfriend is worth that much?”

“No. Having some say over my life is worth that much.”

“Don’t be so dramatic.”

“I’m willing to put Princeton on the table.”

“Oh, you’re willing to spend my money to—”

“Or maybe I won’t go to school. I’ll take a gap year, maybe several.”

“I was going to remind you the time for negotiating is over, but your opening gambit amuses me enough to let you continue.”

“I could manage without school. Maybe I’ll devote myself to my boyfriend and spend the whole time posting pics of me and him online. Maybe I’ll run an ad in the paper.”

“With what money?”

“Then I’ll go door to door.”

“What are you proposing?”

“A negotiation.”

“I have the power position.”

Cal shrugs. “We both have things we want from each other. And I’ve never been in a boardroom. I’m young and dumb enough to stick to my guns even if I shoot myself in the foot.”

“That’s why I’ve never taken you hunting.”

“Are  you ready to hear me out?”

“Let’s hear your opening offer.”