Scenes from a Baseball Game (Baseball not Included)

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

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

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

Luke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, it is black magic?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Whatever,” I said, watching the game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ha ha—”

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

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

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

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

His brow furrowed. “I don’t sha—”

“Maybe you’ll learn.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m invincible.

 

Books, yay!

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

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

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

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

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

Books and carnival food, but not at the same time?

Does anything go better with sunny days and carefree summers than a carnival? Probably, but I thought that line sounded good. And because my mind immediately goes to food, my first thought when thinking ‘carnival’ is cotton candy, funnel cake, and cheese fries, so now I’m hungry.

I’m not sure all carnivals serve cheese fries, but I have probably ordered cheese fries at every carnival where it was thing one could order. Salty fries with unnaturally orange cheese is one of the top things I look for, along with Dippin’ Dots. Do you remember Dippin’ Dots? Obviously, I remember them and I love them. Ice cream of the future, you are delicious as you are hard to find.

Hey so, I’m participating in a few book giveaways this month, one of which is called the Carnival Book Fair, which then prompted me to ramble about carnival food. There’s some titles available here, and more here where there’s also a raffle for a $25 dollar Amazon giftcard.

This giveaway offers titles in a variety of genres from contemporary romance to thrillers, fantasy, and paranormal. Most of the titles are gen or straight, but I hear some people like that kind of thing.

Fashionably Late, scene from M/M romance

On every other Monday, I post deleted scenes and outtakes and whatnot from my novels. I’ve been doing this for a while, and I never stopped at all… okay, do you see where I’m going with this? If not, then yes, everything is going according to plan, and I’m awesome.

But it’s possible I stopped posting these for a while. I guess I don’t have to point it out. I could just pick up where I left off and pretend I never got off track… I believe in honesty and transparency or something? Mostly, I’ve already started writing this post, so I’m gonna keep going.

Here is a different version of a scene from One Little Lie. You don’t need any knowledge of this series to read this, but helpful information to know is: Ryan is here, he is queer, and actually, he’s not here. Because he’s late. Ryan is trying to meet his boyfriend before school starts, but he isn’t on time.

~

Ryan

Luke Chambers is the popular golden boy who charms teachers and parents, has an easy smile for everyone, and gets along with people. Basically, he’s completely different from me, but there’s just so much I like about him. You know, in a totally mature and reasonable manner and not like I’m some tween girl with a crush who writes his name in little hearts.

Just… he has a strong throwing arm and sandy blonde hair. And he’s my idiot boyfriend who is so fun to tease. He’s ridiculous, fun, and unexpectedly sweet. Sure, he’s unbearable like 40% of the time, but we can make out now. It’s easier to forgive anything after making out.

Maybe I  have a notebook full of doodles including his name, my name, and various versions of our names smushed together, surrounded by hearts and flowers. It’s kept at home where it’s safe. I’m a scientist. It started as an experiment where I wondered if people actually did stuff like that, and then it was kinda fun to write, “Ryan and Luke 5eva.” Somehow I filled up a bunch of pages or whatever. Shut up.

Let’s talk about something less embarrassing.

My sweet, considerate boyfriend was the reason I arrived at school early. That asshole. Already ten minutes behind schedule, I moved through the halls as quickly as possible without outright running. It would be just my luck to run into a hall monitor for the first time ever while my boyfriend waited for me, tapping his foot and furrowing his brow slightly in a frown that I’d want to kiss away, but he wouldn’t let me because he’d be cranky.

Did we even have hall monitors? Would there be a hall monitor before school started? Probably not. Okay, that was one less thing to worry about.

The plan had been to meet at my locker, but I went to Luke’s anyway, figuring he gave up on me. I could already feel the pissed off vibes emanating from Luke as I turned onto the hallway where his locker was located. He was pretty good at hissy fits for someone who was supposedly macho and straight before me, but I doubted he’d take that as a compliment.

Kissing Complications

Luke’s life quickly gets out of hand when his stupid mouth and dumb ideas lead to strange new places in One Little Word. An excerpt and image quote will follow after my nonsense.

The idea that immediately came to my head for a title was, Luke’s experiences aren’t universal. Maybe that needs more explaining. That’s a quote from Kimmy Schmidt. As I’m really lazy right now, and most of the time, I’m going to roll the dice and hope I spelled Schmidt right even though there’s no way. Oh, I spelled it a different way the second time and the red squiggly appeared, so hooray, I got it right once and still don’t need to open a different window to look it up. Small miracles, y’all. I will take it.

I’m not sure whether Luke’s experience with kissing a boy is universal or not. Maybe not exactly but it’s also not uncommon. Many guys kiss other guys. The part that’s less universal is kissing another boy as part of a fake dating scheme. Well, it is universal in romance novels. Like this one.

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Luke

Lunch went… awkwardly.

Duh. I had just sucked face with a guy in front of everyone in the cafeteria.

And I thought the stares were bad before.

No, everything was perfectly normal…

Yeah right, that wouldn’t work.

This wasn’t a video or a rumor. I had kissed a guy in public. Naturally, the atmosphere at the baseball table felt incredibly tense.

I insisted the earlier kiss wasn’t real. I told the team that Ryan and I weren’t together. Then I kissed him in front of everyone, and now we were having lunch with my shell-shocked team.

There had never been this much quiet at the table before. Without anyone speaking, my thoughts were loud. My mind kept repeating that I had kissed Ryan in front of everyone. It wouldn’t let that go.  I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around it.

I kissed Ryan. Yep, there I went again. I hoped it would stop being true somehow. Wait, oh god. Instead of helping, I made things worse.

Because I couldn’t just say I kissed Ryan. That wasn’t enough. It had happened more than once, so the specific time would need to be specified.

I was a guy who had kissed another guy enough times to need clarification when referencing the touching of our lips.

Screw Ups, a love story

And now a moodboard for One Little Word. In this story, a cocky jock tries to avoid trouble while creating an arguably bigger mess.

Ryan

Luke fidgeted, still avoiding my gaze. “I could have been suspended. I got detention instead. Because, uh.”

The moment felt solemn. I’d never seen the big man on campus act less than totally confident and self-assured. I waited with bated breath, almost afraid I would pass out. That’s how long it took him to speak again.

Finally, the wait ended.

“I told them I’m gay.”

The solemn mood evaporated. I burst out laughing. He looked annoyed at my outburst, but this was the most hilarious thing I’d ever heard. I couldn’t stop giggling.

“I also said we’re dating,” Luke told me next.

That shut me up.

 

Presenting a revolutionary new character, the Moody Teenage Girl

This mood board could speak for itself and I think I’m mostly going to let it. Except to say, hi, this is a mood board for the character Lydia from One Little Word. If you have questions, please refer to the image below. It’s literally all there.

I have nothing in common with Lydia, except that we both happen to be attracted to women, except she’s only attracted to women and I’m not, so maybe that doesn’t count. She’s one of the easiest characters to write even though we aren’t alike at all. Maybe it helps that she hates everything.

Lydia Smith could be a girl on a poster, beautiful and unattainable in a sweater that hugged her cleavage. Her black hair would get caught in the wind for a few seconds and whip around her face, making her look like a model. She smoked on top of the backrest of a bench, her legs hanging down on the seat. She had a free period and never spent it inside in a classroom when she could be a rebel instead.

We get it, you’re cool. That doesn’t mean you need to wreck your health with cigarettes or sit outside even though the weather’s getting cold

Who still drank root beer after age ten?

The only thing I can think of to say doesn’t relate to the image quote I’m going to post from One Little Word. I wanted to put some incredibly charming, witty words here and then connect them to the next part, but I got nothing. So I’ll just say what I thought of anyway because, well, it’s the only thing I can think of to say.

A million years ago, in a post I am too lazy to link, I talked about  how One Day at a Time was a cool, cancelled show about Latnix people and queer characters and representation. Every now and then, I tell myself, hey that got picked up by a different network so I should comment on that and be happy.

odaaat
From IMDB

 

So hey, One Day at a Time got picked up by Pop and I’m happy about it. That sounds sarcastic, but really, I’m thrilled. That still sounds sarcastic, but I have waited a long time for there to be a funny show about Hispanic people and I’m glad it’s not over yet.

Also in case you’re wondering, no I could not resist using the photo I chose. Hi lady from Brooklyn 99!

Scenes from a book

Okay, now for a quote and excerpt from a book. Here’s what you need to know. There are two guys who don’t like each other. They’re at a fall festival and decide to turn everything into a competition. Possibly they fall in love.

Luke

We played the most competitive version of ring toss ever.

A one at a time game, but we stood right next to each other on the taped line in the parking lot, trying to keep the other person from making it as much as we tried to get a bottle ourselves.

Ryan’s brows were scrunched, an intense look of concentration on his face. I had to look away to focus. He was just so intense and weird, which wasn’t exactly a bad thing, except for how he hated me.

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This experience felt nothing like being on the mound at a game, but a surge of triumph still went through me when I got a bottle, smile growing while Ryan tried to elbow me. We kept throwing until there were no more rings left. I felt mildly ridiculous to get so into the game, but I still pumped my fist in the air when I won.

Only to be met with Ryan’s bitchy face. “This wasn’t fair,” he complained, crossing his arms and sulking.

I grinned. “You’re such a sore loser.”

I wasn’t planning on taking any of the bottles I won, we wouldn’t have enough hands to carry them, but I grabbed one. Root beer.

I’d seen Ryan drink it at lunch and pushed the bottle into his chest, making him take it and uncross his arms. That was another reason he was weird. Who still drank root beer after age ten?

Flirting in cars with boys

And now for a scene from a first date. This is from One Little Word.

Helpful information: Our plucky protagonist Ryan is determined to have a good time with cool, cocky Zach despite Ryan being a giant loser who happens to have a black eye. He also has a fake boyfriend, so it’s hard to say which of those things will be a bigger hindrance. (It’s totally the fake boyfriend.)

~

Ryan

owlflatThe vehicle was old but not worn down, more vintage. A red sports car that wasn’t too flashy for a town like this as it was retro but still fit Zach’s personality.

“None of this was what I expected when I tried to imagine dating in this town,” I admitted while buckling my seat belt.

“Having a fake boyfriend and a real date?”

“Yeah, I imagined more sneaking around.” Not that I was complaining. This was preferable, black eye and all.

“Well, Luke helped us.”

I wasn’t sure about that.

“He’s taking a lot of the heat. I figured there wouldn’t be a better time than now to come out,” he explained while driving.

“Letting Luke take the fall? That’s kinda cold,” I joked.

He wasn’t sorry. “I’m kinda a jackass.”

“You get by on your charm.”

Zach grinned. “It does help.”

“Well, I don’t know if it’s working on me,” I said coyly. It totally worked on me.

“Oh really? Guess I’ll have to try harder.”

 

Performance Art or Something

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

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

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

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

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Ryan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You like Romeo and Juliet?” I questioned.

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

“Well, this is the Shakespearean Hangover.”

His eyes narrowed. “No way.”

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

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

“You’re so uncultured,” I teased.

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

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

Luke frowned. “I’m joking.”

“You suck at it.”

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

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

He grinned. “But you love me anyway.”

The words caught in my throat.