Want to win an On the Ice prize pack? Scroll down and enter the Rafflecopter below the image! Good luck to all of the entrants. Entry deadline: May 22 @ 11:59pm EST. Winner will be announced June 1.
amyaislin Blog, Book Reviews, Books, Excerpts, Giveaway, Release Blitz 5-stars, AM Wade, EL Reedy, Evernight Teen, excerpt, m/m romance, new, Other Worlds Ink, paranormal, recommended reads, release blitz, reviews, YA 0
Title: Upon broken Wings
Author: EL Reedy & AM Wade
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Release date: April 20, 2018
Word count: 69,500
Genre: m/m paranormal YA
Warnings: death, suicide, demons
Cover artist: Jay Aheer
Bound by a dark act of hate and despair, high school freshmen, Andrew and Kiernan, learn that their untimely deaths did not bring an end to their pain, but only began the suffering of those left behind. While his lost memories return, Andrew must master seemingly impossible feats, both spiritual and physical. As a dark spirit stalks Kiernan through the borderlands of life and death, he must also face the pain his actions have caused his loved ones. To save both their souls, Andrew must convince Kiernan to return to life and open his eyes to the love and beauty which had always been there.
Andrew was at the graveyard that same morning, of course—every morning, windy or calm, snow or shine—he hadn’t missed a single day since the previous Halloween, when he said the final goodbye to the last of those dear to him.
Despite the sun’s half-hearted attempt to shine, the chill of autumn easily seeped through his black jacket, which he wore in turn over a black shirt and pants. He had not taken up an interest in the Goth Mythology, in truth, he did not even know the meaning of the word. He simply wore the only color that could accurately reflect the feelings tormenting a fourteen-year-old autistic boy who had found no other way to share with the world he felt no longer cared about him.
Andrew had placed his offering of white roses at four graves that morning, the fourth being that of his father, Matthew, whom he had never met. Michael’s final gift, the gold medallion, hung free from a chain around his neck and glittered in the morning sun.
The mysterious angel statues—there were two of them now—the woman, his mother, and a slightly shorter male, which could have represented a young teen—shone in the sparse daylight. The second statue, which held a book in both hands, had appeared within days of Michael’s funeral, but it never struck Andrew as odd and he never guessed its purpose, despite the resemblance and the timing of its appearance. As you might understand, he was rather wrapped up inside of himself, far more so than usual in those dark days of mourning, numbness, and irreparable regrets.
He glanced one last time at Judith’s grave. “Love you, Mom,” he half mumbled. He then sighed, resigned to a fate he lacked the strength to change and regarded Michael’s headstone. “When you left, you took my heart with you.” He sobbed quietly for the longest moment, before whispering, “and today—tonight—I want it back.”
A sudden gust of wind disrupted his reverie and reminded him that he still had to go to school. And that’s when he saw him—a sad-faced light-haired boy, right around his age, with his head down—who walked through the rows of tombstones. Something slipped free from the boy’s fingers and rode the wind, twirling high at first, then as if driven by destiny, it sailed the distance between them and landed at Andrew’s feet, coming to rest against one of his shoes.
While wringing the fingers of one hand—he had perfected that ability—he retrieved it, a business card with the name and number of a local suicide hotline. The irony of the situation escaped him. As I may have eluded to earlier, that was another part of his autism. Things made sense or they did not, there was no in between, no use of symbolism to make understanding easy.
He only shrugged and crumpled the card, before letting it go. He shot another curious glance back toward the sad boy, and he could swear that he vanished before his eyes. He shook his head and blinked rapidly, disregarding what he had seen, and put one foot in front of the other, and walked aimlessly with only the thought of reaching school on time.
Andrew paused when he came to the old rustic bridge, a decorative path across a small pond at the edge of the graveyard. He had a sudden flash of Michael’s face, and the memory of how he had died. He walked the long way around the pond and he never looked back.
Wow. Can I just say "Wow" and leave it at that?
This was wonderful. Sad, yes. Absolutely. Heartbreaking, even. There's pain and anger, loss and fear, suffering and assault and missed opportunities. Death, both accidental and through suicide. It's not an easy read.
But, God, it was also so beautiful. Full of friendship, love and, above all, hope.
To be honest, the beginning was a bit confusing. I didn't know what was happening and there were a lot of characters introduced, but once the book got going and I got into the swing of things, I couldn't put it down. The characters jump off the page, their pain is so real, and the descriptions are poetically written.
I highly, highly, recommend this book. It's one of the most unique reads I've ever read and will stay with me for a long time.
The authors are giving away a $20 Amazon gift card with this tour via Rafflecopter.
About the authors:
EL Reedy — EL Reedy was born and raised in Iowa, where he devoured tomes of fantasy, sci-fi, and young adult novels as a child. In his free time, he is an avid gamer (D&D and Pathfinder). He has traveled the world as a soldier in the U.S. Army, and now lives in Iowa, where with his writing partner, he continues to pen works in the realms of Fantasy and Horror in the Young Adult Universe.
AM Wade — As the only girl in a family with five boys, she readily escaped into fantasy, sci-fi, and other fiction novels. Having traveled through most of the US, she enjoys using scenery and characteristics of the different states in the story adventures she created for the little ones in her family. Now, she writes sci-fi, fantasy and horror with a lifelong co-conspirator.
Pushing himself off the chair to stretch his legs, and ignoring the phone that had started buzzing in his pocket ten minutes ago, Alex Dean wasn’t surprised to find a tenacious Greyson standing on the other side of the table. What did surprise him was the tangle of nerves that knotted his belly when he got a better look at how attractive the other man was.
Greyson was lean and wiry and several inches shorter than Alex’s own six-feet-four, putting the top of his head level with Alex’s chin. His eyes were the color of chocolate, which matched his evening scruff and his messy, curly hair. Curls fell over his ears and his forehead. Alex wasn’t sure if he wanted to run his fingers through them or pull on a lock to see if it would spring back into its curly place. A backpack slumped off one shoulder, he had a notebook tucked under one arm, a smoothie in his hand, and an impish spark in his eyes.
The man was hot. He knew it too, if the way his smirk widened while Alex took his time checking him out was any indication. Attraction, however, meant nothing to Alex without emotions, so a person’s physical appearance didn’t usually elicit a response reminiscent of a teenage girl with a crush.
Nonetheless, he shook Greyson’s proffered hand. Greyson was twenty years old at most, and his flannel shirt didn’t suit him at all. He looked like a kid playing farmer in his older brother’s clothes.
“Mitch Greyson,” Greyson said, setting his notebook and smoothie on the table. His backpack thunked onto the floor at his feet. “Nice to meet you. Can I ask a follow-up question? Or five?”
Without waiting for Alex to answer, Mitch continued. “Can you elaborate on how the NHL is and isn’t what you expected?” He opened his notebook to a page with a list of questions that was way more than five. “I also had some questions for Chris Blair that you might be able to answer? What kind of hands-on experience do I need for a career in sport rehabilitation? Also, should I be getting involved in any kind of formal or informal research? Are there any courses that you know of that would help me get better prepared for a career in sport rehabilitation? If you were looking for an athletic therapist, what qualifications would you—?”
“Whoa, whoa,” Alex said, chuckling, holding his hands up to ward off more questions. “Hold it, hotshot. You’re asking the wrong person. Isn’t there anyone here you could interview, like Halley?”
“I’ve already talked to them all,” Mitch replied. “But they’re all academics now, or they work in fields I’m not interested in. I wanted to talk to someone specifically about sports science and rehabilitation.”
“You must’ve been disappointed when I showed up instead of Chris.”
“Do you think he’d talk to me?” Mitch asked, eager as a puppy. “We could set up a phone call. Or I could email him my questions. Do you have his card?”
Alex tilted his head sideways and tried to read the questions in Mitch’s notebook. There had to be at least two dozen, and he got the feeling Mitch was the kind of person who would have follow-up questions to his follow-up questions.
“Let me talk to Chris,” Alex offered. “See if I can’t set something up between you.” It wasn’t an offer Alex would usually make, but he felt bad that Mitch hadn’t gotten to hear Chris speak when it was clearly something the kid had prepared for.
Mitch’s whole face—which was expressive to begin with—lit up. “Yeah? Let me give you my info.” He jotted his name, email, and phone number on a blank page of his notebook, ripped the page out, and slid it across the table to Alex.
“And, you know,” Mitch said, tapping the paper right above his phone number. “If you want to use this for something else too, I’d be okay with that.” Then he winked.
Wait. Was Alex being hit on?
He was mentally backtracking through their conversation when something must’ve caught Halley’s attention. He made his way over to them with clipped strides, his mouth in a tight line.
“Mr. Greyson,” he said. “You are not the only one wishing to speak with Mr. Dean.”
Mitch glanced around and his eyes went big at the line of students behind him waiting to talk to Alex. Alex bit back a sigh. His line was longer than the other panelists’. He sent a mental apology to his friends waiting for him at the pizza place in town, even as the phone in his pocket buzzed again.
“Should you wish for an autograph from Mr. Dean,” Halley continued, “the request needs to be made on your own time.”
“Autograph?” Mitch repeated. “Why would I want his autograph?”
Alex choked back a laugh. It was refreshing to talk to someone who didn’t give a shit about his pseudo-celebrity status.
“We were discussing career paths, actually,” Alex said, coming to Mitch’s defense. It was becoming clear that Halley had it in for Mitch for some reason.
“Is that so?”
Mitch stood silently, his arms crossed, an annoyed gaze on Halley.
“Don’t take up too much of Mr. Dean’s time please, Mr. Greyson.” Halley gestured at the cluster of students behind Mitch. “There are others waiting to speak with him.”
As Halley walked away, Mitch eyed the line over his shoulder before turning back to Alex.
“Bet they’re all wanting an autograph,” he muttered.
In line were three women—one of whom was holding a tiny mirror up to her face and applying lip gloss—a man wearing a blue and white Tampa Bay jersey, and another who was unashamedly filming Alex’s conversation with Mitch.
“You never answered my question,” Mitch said to him.
“Why the NHL is and isn’t what you expected.” Mitch tucked his pen into the notebook and slid both into his backpack.
“You follow hockey?” Alex leaned a hip against the table.
Alex tried to think of a response that wouldn’t sound wishy-washy, but also wouldn’t give anything too personal away. He didn’t know this guy from Adam. What if he was with the school newspaper and was angling for a sound-bite?
Except as he was wracking his brain for an appropriate answer, it hit Alex all at once that Mitch Greyson was blatantly checking him out. Okay, not so blatantly that someone not looking directly at his face and body language could tell, but blatantly enough that Alex—who never got hit on by men—finally clued in. He was, in fact, being hit on.
It completely threw him and whatever Mitch’s question had been? Yeah, it was gone. Not that Mitch seemed to care anymore whether or not Alex answered.
Was Alex giving off some kind of gay vibe or something? He’d promised himself a long time ago that if he ever made it to the NHL, he wouldn’t divulge his sexual preferences for anyone. He didn’t want to make a Thing out of it, wasn’t going to give the media something other than his skills to talk about. Not that he was worried—at twenty-four years old, he could count on one finger the number of times he’d been sexually attracted to someone. At this point, he was pretty sure the whole dating-romance-marriage-babies thing wasn’t in the cards for him. Not only did it take him forever to figure out if he was attracted to someone, but the way dating was going nowadays, nobody wanted to be friends first and wait for romantic feelings to develop, if they developed at all. There just wasn’t an app for that. Instead, people were too busy jumping into bed with random strangers and having casual friends-with-benefits hookups.
No, thank you.
Hell, he didn’t even like kissing. He’d kissed all of two people in his life and it hadn’t done anything for him either time. It was wet and gross and unpleasant. The way things were going in his nonexistent love life, he’d be a virgin for the rest of his life. Others might bemoan their virgin status at twenty-four years old, but frankly, Alex didn’t care. What was the big deal about sex anyway?
In today’s sexually-charged culture, Alex often felt like an alien.
That didn’t, however, prevent him from acknowledging the attractiveness of another person. Like Mitch, for example. Alex’s extremely limited sexual experience was the reason the butterflies had come out when faced with such an outwardly beautiful person.
Mitch’s gaze swept him up and down, a half smirk on his face, his thumbs tucked into the waistband of his jeans and drawing attention to his crotch. The man really was attractive in an I-know-I’m-the-shit kind of way. It was the kind of personality type Alex usually avoided. It was disingenuous and he didn’t have time for fake people in his life. Alex’s bullshit meter clanged and any butterflies that’d appeared at Mitch’s good looks disappeared in the face of Mitch’s in-your-face personality.
Mitch’s gaze landed on Alex’s mouth for one, two, three seconds. Then he took his time cataloguing Alex’s face. When Mitch’s eyes met his again, the man’s smile turned lewd.
It was possible Mitch was the type of person who hit on anything that moved.
Eyes hooded, he leaned in across the table and whispered, “Maybe I’ll see you around sometime.”
Well, it was blatantly obvious what that meant.
With one last parting glance at Alex’s mouth, Mitch turned and left.
Something really crappy happened in Toronto yesterday and I wasn't in the mood for promo-ing on this Teaser Tuesday, but I needed something good. And the drawing below, done by the super talented Sarah Jo Chreene, is definitely something good.
Meet Alex and Mitch from On the Ice. And keep reading for a sneak peek at chapter seven below.
On the Ice advanced sneak peek: Chapter 7
The nine-to-five stint on Sundays was Mitch’s only shift at the long-term care facility in Montpelier, and since it was about as interesting as reading the phone book, he inevitably left the place every weekend tired and grumpy. Combined with the head-banging math tutoring session with his freshmen this morning, he was ready for dinner and a nap—not necessarily in that order—before hunkering down with the reading for tomorrow’s biomechanics lecture.
Finding a dejected pro hockey player in the facility’s parking lot wasn’t part of his evening plans, but Mitch didn’t mind, especially when that hockey player was Alex Dean. Mitch’s heart leapt, and then crashed when Alex’s slumped shoulders registered.
Alex sat on the trunk of his car, his feet on the bumper, elbows on his knees, with one hand buried in his hair. He stared at the ground and was so lost in thought, he didn’t react when Mitch stopped in front of him and cleared his throat. Mitch shifted on his feet and cleared his throat again. He wanted to reach out and run his fingers through Alex’s beard, but resisted the urge. Alex would probably slap his hands away.
Bending at the knees, Mitch peered up at Alex’s face until he caught Alex’s eyes.
“Jesus!” Alex jerked up, hand on his chest. “Where the fuck did you come from?”
A witty reply was on the tip of Mitch’s tongue, but he resisted that urge too. He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “I work here.”
“You…” Alex’s brow furrowed. “Doing what?”
“Office stuff. Filing, returning phone calls, inventory, ordering supplies, restocking, that sort of thing.”
“It’s about as much fun as my creative writing class.”
Alex laughed, and Mitch mentally patted himself on the back for putting a little bit of light back into his friend’s dark eyes.
“What are you doing here?” Mitch said.
Alex lost his smile, and his shoulders slumped further, if that was possible. “I was here to visit someone, but the nurses said he’s not having a good day and I should come back tomorrow.”
Questions raced through Mitch’s head. Who are you visiting? How long’ve they been here? What does ‘not a good day’ mean? How long have you been sitting here?
Can I touch your beard?
Mitch shook his head to scatter his wayward thoughts. Dropping his backpack next to the car, he hopped up to sit on the trunk next to Alex. “What are you up to now, then?”
Alex shrugged those massive shoulders and squinted against the setting sun. “Dunno. I was going to go home, but…”
Mitch waited, but Alex never finished his sentence. Instead, he stared off into space, unmoving, looking so hopeless that Mitch had to bank the desire to reach out and put his arm around him.
They sat quietly for a few minutes, breathing in the chilly evening air. Mitch shivered in his long-sleeved T-shirt, but didn’t get up to fish the hoodie out of his backpack, afraid any sudden movements would ruin the comfortable silence they’d settled into.
The facility was built on the outskirts of Montpelier, nestled between a hill with trees that were slowly losing their leaves to winter, and a stretch of flat land that led downtown. Away from the relative hustle and bustle of State and Main Streets, it was peaceful and still, and it smelled like wet grass. Mitch felt the stress that was a constant weight on his shoulders release.
Alex turned to him with narrowed eyes. After a few seconds of yet more silence, Mitch looked down at himself, but didn’t note any stains. Was Alex looking at something behind him? Mitch turned to check, making Alex laugh.
Alex shook his head, lips quirked. “Nothing. I’m hungry. Let’s get dinner in town.” He hopped off the trunk, making Mitch bounce in place as the car adjusted to the sudden loss of over two hundred pounds, and headed for the driver’s side door.
“Actually,” Mitch said. “I have a better idea.”
Two hours later, they hit first a chain grocery store in Guelph—Ty didn’t even have milk to go with his one cereal box—then a small cafe where they had a late brunch.
“Did you know a banana is actually a berry?” Ty asked.
Elias looked at him, wondering what brought on that particular point of conversation.
“Says so right here.” Ty slid his paper placemat—full of random food facts and pictures—closer to Elias. Elias’s placemat had a fill-in-the-dots drawing, a tiny crossword, a word scrambler, a maze, and a spot-the-difference challenge. Clearly the universe was playing a cosmic joke. He’d ended up with the children’s placemat irrespective of the eighteen-year-old lookalike sitting across from him.
“So, it’s really a bananaberry?” Elias asked.
For some reason Ty thought that was hilarious. After dropping the groceries off at Ty’s, they headed to the Starkey Hill Interpretive Trail for some snowshoeing. Of course it took Ty all of five seconds to find his snowshoes and poles, and yet the lube and condoms were still MIA.
But that was fine. They'd stocked up at the store.
Elias brought his camera. It went everywhere with him anyway, but he’d been an idiot yesterday, leaving it in his car all day and then overnight in the cold. He was damn lucky it had turned on this morning.
Landscape and wildlife photography were his passions, but he found himself distracted today by Ty’s perfect face. Even in his ugly, poofy snowman coat he looked good enough to pounce on. He looked like a graceful angel on his snowshoes. By contrast Elias felt like an unbalanced bear. He kept forgetting to widen his stance so that he didn’t step on his snowshoe frame with the other foot.
“What are you doing?”
Elias was on his back in the snow, camera held up to his face as he focused on a blue jay in a leafless tree above him. From below like this, it’d be a really cool shot, the bird’s blue feathers stark against the dull brown tree branches. He could probably submit the photo to CanadaBirds—a sister magazine of CanadaTravels—for consideration. Zooming his lens accordingly and adjusting his manual settings, he tried to keep very still so the bird didn’t get scared and take off. He wanted a bit of a blurry background so he set his f-stop to—
—A nose pinked from the cold appeared in his viewfinder. He was so surprised he hit the shutter-release by accident. And when he saw the image that appeared on his monitor, he couldn’t help but chuckle, sending the blue jay scurrying off.
“What’s so funny?”
Elias turned the camera to show Ty. Ty peered at it, squinted, and said, “I look hot.”
It was a picture of his left nostril and part of his eye. Elias kept laughing.
“Here, take a better one,” Ty said and plopped down in the snow next to Elias.
“Oh, no,” Elias said. “I don’t really get in front of the cam—”
Ty had the picture taken before Elias could finish his sentence. Except none of the settings had been adjusted, so instead of a selfie of the two of them, Elias had a blurry picture of what might have been his own beard or could’ve been the tree trunk behind them.
Ty cracked up.
Elias took a picture of him like that, head thrown back, eyes half-closed, mouth wide, teeth glistening bright as the snow that was also stuck in his hair now. That way he’d have this moment forever and could always look back on it and remember how good it felt to be in that first honeymoon phase of dating someone who felt about Elias the same way Elias felt about him, when everything was wonderful and new and fun.
That carefree laughter was the best kind of kick in the gut. Without thinking twice about it, he moved in on Ty and kissed his still laughing mouth. Ty was still chuckling as he kissed Elias back, mouth cold, tongue warm. It took hardly any prompting from Elias for Ty to roll himself on top of him but Ty’s coat was so slick that he landed on Elias and then slipped off him, landing on Elias’s other side, which only made him laugh harder. His good mood was contagious, and Elias laughed with him until the snow started soaking into his jeans.
“Come on, you goof,” Elias said, getting up with difficulty. Stupid snowshoes. “Let’s head back so we can get out of this cold.”
The wind chill was supposed to drop again overnight, and they could already feel it even though sunset was still three hours away.
“Let’s go winter camping,” Ty said, standing much more nimbly.
“What, now?” Never happen.
“No, not now.” Ty headed back onto the trail, in the direction they’d come from. Elias followed. “Next weekend?”
“You have a birthday party next weekend,” Elias reminded him, eyes on his feet so he didn’t trip himself up again. “Plus,” he continued, so that Ty didn’t think he was angling for an invite, “I hate to break it to you...but I don’t camp in winter.”
“Awww, but I wanna go camping with you.”
“Well, I wanna fuck you silly, so let’s go do that instead.”
For the first time since they started snowshoeing an hour and a half ago, Ty fell flat on his face.
***Copyright held by Amy Aislin
The chicken was in his yard again. Ugly red wattle dangling beneath its beak like loose jowls, brown feathers puffed in an inflated sense of superiority. On any other day Sam normally wouldn’t have cared so much about the mess it was making of his garden, but this was the third time in as many days, the magazine crew would be here within the hour, and he’d told Bo to fix his damn fence.
Sighing, Sam set his mug on the counter. He really hadn’t had enough coffee yet to deal with this.
He walked out of the kitchen and down the hall to the front door, where he put on a pair of flip flops before exiting his house. Down the driveway, a left at the tiny gravel sidewalk, around the hedges in Bo’s yard, up Bo’s driveway. The early June sun pierced his eyes. He knocked on the front door and waited for Bo to answer.
Ever since Bo had taken over running Big Sky—the animal rehabilitation center next door to Sam’s—four weeks ago from his sister, Laura, it had been one disaster after another. Damaged enclosures, a pygmy goat with diarrhea, equipment that didn’t work, flooding in the cows’ pen after a bad rainfall, a yappy pair of not-quite-housebroken puppies. And now? Broken fences and runaway chickens.
The door opened, revealing a rumpled Bo dressed in old jeans, hiking boots, and a T-shirt streaked with dirt. He was out of breath, as if he’d run to the front door. The pair of dirty work gloves in his hand told Sam he’d probably been working out back.
The unsure smile on Bo’s face turned into a scowl when he saw who stood on his doorstep at nine in the morning. Sam ignored how cute Bo’s frowny face was and drew himself up to his full six-foot-three height. Bo was not his type. Too short, too lean, eyes too brown, hair too blond. Too flaky, too temperamental, too feisty, too…too much.
Nope. Not Sam’s type at all.
Bo’s hands went to his hips. He looked like a knight defending his domain. A tiny, skinny one with a bad attitude.
“What now?” he snapped.
“You didn’t fix the fence,” Sam said.
Sam held up a hand, cutting Bo off. “Look. I know you know what day it is. The crew’s going to be here in less than an hour. The last thing I need is your chicken masquerading as a prison escapee messing up my garden.” Bo’s lips twitched at that, but Sam ignored how that made him feel and continued. “Fix your goddamn fence. And get your chicken out of my yard.” Bo opened his mouth to speak but Sam didn’t give him the chance. He turned and descended the porch steps. “Oh.” He turned back to find Bo still frowning at him, lips pressed in a tight line. “And if your chickens keep escaping, maybe there’s something wrong with the chicken coop?”
The slamming door at his back was surprisingly satisfactory.
Today I’m hanging out at fellow author Lily G. Hunter’s blog. You’ll find an interview with me, an excerpt from chapter three and a lovely review on The Play of His Life from Lily. Check it out!
I’m hanging out over at fellow author Lila Leigh Hunter’s blog today. Check it out for a discussion on settings in The Play of His Life, and an excerpt from Chapter Three!
With only one week left until the release of The Play of His Life I thought I'd share an excerpt. So here we go, the entire first chapter for your reading pleasure!
Now serving alcohol!
Now serving alcohol?
Christian Dufresne read the sign again and then a third time. But no. The words didn’t magically reconfigure themselves into something more likely, like Now serving apple turnovers! Or Now serving paninis! Or Now serving the best crepes in town…with REAL maple syrup!
Not that Christian had ever had their crepes — this place hadn’t existed the last time he came to town — but they looked awesome in the picture on the display board he could see through the glass window. He’d reserve judgement on their worthiness after he found out whether or not they offered real maple syrup, or just the gross, generic, gloopy kind found in grocery stores everywhere except Quebec and Vermont.
If it wasn’t real, it wasn’t worth it.
And look at that. He’d just made up a new slogan for real maple syrup! He should be in marketing. Oh wait. He was!
But seriously. What the hell was the point of a small bakery that didn’t even serve dinner — they closed at five, for the love of God — offering alcohol? Did nine-to-fivers working in downtown Oakville order a glass of wine or beer to enjoy with their muffin or mini quiche or cookie or lemon tart? Were they that bored with life in suburbia?
Or maybe just that desperate.
The door handle turned easily in his hand and he stepped inside, out of the blowing snow and into the heated bakery. He took his gloves off and felt his fingers start to thaw. Goddamn the fucking snow. Actually, no. Scratch that. Goddamn the cold. A windchill of minus twenty degrees Celsius just made him want to lie in the street and die. Game over. The only good thing about winter? Hockey. And snowboarding. But mostly hockey.
It was empty inside the bakery, a surprise given the amount of people out on the street. Probably doing some last minute Christmas shopping. Why they didn’t head to an indoor mall — they were heated! — was beyond him. Instead they went in and out of stores on Lakeshore Road like it wasn’t cold enough to freeze your boogers.
Idiots. All of them.
Although he could probably be lumped into that category as well, couldn’t he? He’d been walking outside too as if living in Vancouver hadn’t desensitized him to this kind of bone-deep cold. All because his mother wanted a fresh baguette from the new bakery, Warm Glow, to go with dinner. He’d barely stepped foot in the house before she was already sending him on an errand. Seriously, he hadn’t even brought his duffle bag to his old room yet.
Outside, the wind blew so strong it rattled the door and dislodged a clump of snow from the bakery’s awning. It fell to the sidewalk with a crunchy-sounding splat, narrowly missing a woman laden with shopping bags. This. This was why he lived in Vancouver. Mild winters and little snow.
Goddamn Ontario winters.
All that effort and it looked like his mother wasn’t going to get her bread after all. Inside the bakery a store employee wearing a green apron was upending chairs and setting them on the tables upside down.
Crap. He looked behind him, and sure enough a sign on the front door’s glass window read Open. Which meant the Closed side faced the street he’d just come from. Whoops. Well, the door had been unlocked.
Christian went to inform the employee that he was a careless moron, but something…something in the way the guy moved…how he didn’t favor his right knee so much as paid attention to how and where he stepped. How his spiked dark blond hair reflected the light from the ceiling lamps. How the muscles in those broad shoulders moved under his T-shirt. How tight that butt looked in those dark jeans.
A hot rush of familiarity swept through him and wings grew in his stomach. And then he brilliantly said, “You!”
The employee turned quickly, knocking an elbow into one of the chairs on the table next to him. It crashed into another, and the resulting clatter when they hit the floor acted like a goal horn going off in Christian’s head. Jolting into action, he rushed forward and tried to save a third chair. But the other guy already had it and Christian’s hold on it only served to unbalance them both. They played an accidental tug-of-war as they desperately tried to right themselves, but either one of them slipped, or the floor decided to move, or unseen hands pushed them. Whatever the reason, the two humans in the room joined the chairs on the floor.
Goddamn fucking fresh bread. Goddamn his mother’s innocent, “The new bakery on Lakeshore has the best Italian baguette. Could you go grab one for me? We need it for dinner.” And goddamn the idiot underneath him who was laughing his fool head off.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Christian grumbled, trying to take stock of what, if anything, hurt. It only made the tool on the floor laugh harder.
And goddamn tall, jacked, blue-eyed, blond ex-boyfriends too while he was at it.
But that laugh. It hit him right in the solar plexus, right where he kept their memories tightly buried so they didn’t incapacitate him when he wasn’t looking.
That laugh was instant friendship. It was two new French Canadian seven-year-olds making fast friends in school when they realized they could have a conversation in a language no one else could understand. It was summer days spent riding their bikes to the corner store. It was winters snowboarding and playing hockey. It was Christmases sneaking into each other’s windows. It was starting high school thinking they’d be best friends forever. It was that first kiss in tenth grade, and the second one only seconds after, and the very last one years later, at a time when they had needed each other more than ever.
It was home.
Blinking against the onslaught of never-forgotten memories, Christian groaned and sat up, taking care to touch Riley as little as possible as he did so. Even though what he really wanted was to spread himself out all over him.
Don’t think about the guy underneath you. On his back. Looking hotter than ever. Nope. Don’t go there. No dirty thoughts here.
“Fucking ghosts,” he said instead.
Riley was crying tears of laughter.
“What the fuck is so fucking funny?” Christian asked.
“You,” Riley said when he could breathe again. “You’re still Crotchety Christian.”
“Fuck you,” Christian said, and hauled himself off the floor.
Once upon a time a “Fuck you” from one of them would have resulted in a “Sure. How do you want me?” from the other. Which, more often than not, led to much more pleasurable activities. But it’d been six years since the last…
…Since the last.
“You’re still blaming ghosts for everything.” Riley interrupted his thoughts.
“Fucking Ouija board,” Christian muttered.
“Dude, it was fifteen years ago,” Riley pointed out unhelpfully. He sat up, then used the table to haul himself to standing. Shit. Had their fall fucked up Riley’s knee even more? But no. Once upright, Riley stretched out his knee, tested his weight on it, then bent with ease to pick up the fallen chairs. Christian watched his biceps flex under the short sleeves of his T and didn’t bother fighting the memory of how they’d once felt under his hands, his mouth. He felt the flush overtake his cheeks and reach his ears. Hopefully Riley would think it was a result of their recent…exertions.
“Well, in fifteen years I haven’t figured out how to out-Ouija them and send them back to where they came from,” Christian said. “Have you?”
“Nope.” Riley laughed a little and grinned at Christian like he was having the best day ever. Fuck, but Christian’d missed Riley’s constant optimism and good humor.
“Well, there you go,” Christian said. Like that was that.
Riley snorted. “That makes no sense at all.”
Finished with placing the chairs back on the tables — with no help from Christian. No, he was too busy ogling Riley’s ass as he bent and stood, bent and stood. Jesus, could he be more obvious? — Riley turned those ocean eyes on him and his goofy, happy grin shifted from hi-old-friend-I-haven’t-seen-in-a-while to hi-ex-lover-I-never-got-over.
Or maybe Christian was projecting.
And before Christian could say “Can we go back to the way things were?” or “God, I missed you,” or “Please take me home and never let me go again,” or “RILEY, I STILL LOVE YOU!”, Riley reached out and yanked Christian hard against him. Not to kiss him. Or to throw him down on the nearest available surface and have his glorious way with him. No, clearly it was only Christian who was having an X-rated party in his head.
Those arms he’d been admiring earlier wrapped around him in a hug and Christian reacted on instinct, wrapping his own around Riley and hanging on tight. Riley had always meant home and belonging and safety. That feeling hadn’t changed and it left Christian wondering why the hell they’d ever broken up in the first place.
Ignoring the old hurt Riley’s presence dredged up, Christian buried his nose in Riley’s neck, an easy feat since they were evenly matched in height. He inhaled deeply and smelled pastry and sweat and Riley’s familiar spiciness.
“Hi,” Riley whispered in his ear.
Christian had to swallow past the growing knot in his throat. Stupid emotions. “Hi.”
“Want a drink?”
“Oh, fuck yes.”
They released each other before things got awkward. And avoided eye contact because okay, maybe things were already a little awkward.
Riley headed for the counter with nary a limp to be seen. A hockey injury two years ago had fucked up his knee and ended his pro career. What had been devastating for Christian was probably a hundred times more so for Riley. But looking at Riley now as he moved around behind the counter, a slight smile on his face, knee fully recuperated, he looked as healthy and happy as ever.
For Christian, Riley’s injury had been a huge WTF moment. A nodus tollens, if you will. Which was basically a fancy word for “how the fuck is this my life right now?”
A hockey scholarship had taken Riley to the University of Denver right after high school graduation. Christian headed west to the University of British Columbia — or UBC as the locals called it. They’d gone from seeing each other every day for ten years, to seeing each other once every few weeks. Result? The eventual end of their relationship. And when Riley had been injured it had seemed like all of the loneliness, all of the pain, all of the heartbreak of being apart and then being apart had been for nothing.
Christian stared hard at one of the ceiling lamps, letting the light burn the wetness out of his eyes. Fuck, if he didn’t stop thinking about what could’ve been he was going to curl up in a corner of Warm Glow and sob his sad heart out.
Distracting himself, he studied the bakery. It was rustic, like something found in the middle of Cottage Country. Low-hanging ceiling lamps, distressed wood tables and chairs, wood-panelled floors. A long display case was currently free of food and held only empty baskets. The digital display board above the counter listed menu items presumably not found in the display case, including those mouth-watering crepes. Next to the front door, a long, high table was tucked against the window with tall stools underneath. The place was decked out for Christmas: a wreath on the door, garlands on the walls, lights in the window, festive candles on all the tables.
Christian locked the front door. When he turned back, it was to find Riley standing behind the counter, operating a machine and making…hot chocolate? Well damn. Not that he didn’t love a good hot chocolate but when Riley had suggested a drink he thought he’d be getting something that would dull his senses.
Riley raised an eyebrow and nodded at the front door.
“Your closed sign is up, but your door wasn’t locked,” Christian explained.
Riley grunted and poured the drink into a couple of mugs. “I’m always doing that. Your mother’s constantly on my case about it.”
His mother. Who had sent him on this errand. Did she event want fresh bread? Unlikely. Was she at home making dinner? Definitely not. She was probably at her BFF’s down the street, cackling at how she’d so easily fooled her clueless son. Sending him on this “errand”, knowing exactly who he’d run into at the end. They were going to have words later, that was for damn sure.
“I thought you were giving me booze,” Christian said.
Riley merely turned and grabbed a bottle off a shelf behind him. Tall and thin like an ice wine bottle, the liquid inside was a light pink. Riley yanked out the stopper and poured a generous amount into both mugs.
Christian perked up. Booze and hot chocolate. Was there anything better?
Sex with Riley.
Quit it, brain!
“What is that?” Christian asked in an effort to distract himself from Riley’s closeness. Riley turned the bottle toward him. “Shimmer?” That was all it said on the label. Shimmer. It violated so many labelling requirements, Christian didn’t even know where to start. No brand name or logo, no ingredient list, no nutritional facts, no alcohol content, no sizing indicators.
He grabbed the bottle and gave the liquid a sniff. “Strawberry?” Not surprising given the liquid’s color, but in hot chocolate? He eyed his mug dubiously.
Obviously trying not to laugh, Riley set one of the mugs closer to Christian, picked up his own, clinked it against Christian’s and said, “Cheers.” Then he took a healthy swallow, ocean eyes never leaving Christian’s.
Yeah, Christian knew a dare when he saw one. Determined not be outdone, he raised his mug in a silent toast and took a large gulp.
“So?” Riley said.
“Yeah. Thought you’d like that. Unless you’ve lost the taste for peppermint hot chocolate over the past six years.”
The reminder of how long it’d been since they’d seen each other brought a halt to their conversation. Christian looked away from Riley and fiddled with the label on the bottle. The weird mix of apprehensiveness, hopefulness, and happiness combined with the alcohol in his belly was making him feel…surprisingly mellow.
Wait. He took another sip of his hot chocolate.
“Why does this taste like peppermint, but that —” he waved a hand at the bottle “— smell like strawberry?” he asked Riley, taking another sniff of the bottle just to make sure he wasn’t going crazy. “What did you actually put in here?”
Riley nodded at the bottle. “You saw me pour that in.”
“That’s impossible. Give me a glass, I want to try this on its own.”
Eyes going wide, Riley snatched the bottle away. “You don’t want to do that. Trust me.”
“Sure, I do.”
“No. You don’t.” The bottle went back on the shelf, out of Christian’s reach.
Whatever. He couldn’t bring himself to care anymore. The Mysterious Case of the Magic Booze would have to wait another day. His peppermint hot chocolate was awesome and that was all that mattered.
And Riley. Riley definitely mattered. Christian was feeling so relaxed all he wanted to do was crawl into bed and cuddle with his boyfriend forever.
Ex-boyfriend. Who he smiled at like a dope with his first crush.
Jesus, this was potent liquor. What the fuck was the alcohol content on this Shimmer stuff? Two sips and he was already at that stage of buzzed that made him sleepy. The one that came right before being drunk off his ass and unable to walk.
Although, in his defense, Riley was grinning stupidly at him, too. The wings in his stomach turned dragon-sized. The only times he’d ever felt this strange feeling of anxious excitement also had to do with Riley. Their first kiss. Graduating from hand jobs to blowjobs. The first time they had sex.
The last time. The last time that Christian had thought meant so much. Only to wake up the next morning to find Riley gone.
“How long are you in town for?” Riley asked, and he sounded as drugged as Christian felt.
“Just until…” Boxing Day, he almost said. But that was only five days away. Not enough time to get his Riley-fix. What if they could get the friendship back that they’d once had? The fact that Christian was still in love with Riley after all these years probably meant he was pretty pathetic.
But the truth was that he missed his best friend just as much as he missed his boyfriend.
He cleared his throat. “Until after the new year.”
And now he had to make some phone calls. First to his boss about taking the extra time off. Second to the airline, which would probably charge him as much as his plane ticket to reschedule his flight.
Given the soft smile on Riley’s face, it’d be completely worth it.
“You don’t need your cane anymore?” Christian asked.
The look on Riley’s face could only be described as surprised pleasure. Because Christian couldn’t keep his mouth shut and had given himself away.
He cleared his throat. “I, uh…followed your career. You know? Obviously.” He was sure his shrug made him look like he was having a seizure. Forcing his shaking hands not to betray him, he brought his mug up to his mouth for another sip. “I’m sorry that happened to you, Riley.”
Riley only grunted. “I knew the risks. Besides, I was told I was lucky. The way I fell the injury should’ve been a lot worse. As in a knee brace and a cane for the rest of my life, but…” He held both hands up like, cane-free, bitches!
“I thought you would’ve —” called me. Um, no. No, no. Things not to say to your ex who doesn’t seem to be nearly as affected by your reappearance in his life as you are by his. “Gone into coaching,” Christian finally went with.
“I thought about it,” Riley admitted. “But after I got hurt, I just…needed a bit of distance from hockey.”
“So you decided to work in a bakery?”
“No,” Riley said. “I decided to start my own.” His voice held a tinge of disbelief, like he couldn’t quite believe he’d gone ahead and started a bakery. Who does that anyway?
“You started a bakery,” Christian repeated slowly, trying and failing to keep the incredulousness out of his tone, “in downtown Oakville. Where the rent prices are notoriously insane?” Businesses opened and folded so fast, Christian couldn’t keep up. The only ones that stayed open were the ones that had been established for years.
“Yeah.” Riley looked away as if this was a subject he didn’t want to talk about.
Christian ignored it and ploughed forward anyway. “Are you having trouble?”
Riley waved his hand, physically brushing the topic aside. “I’m fine,” he said with a smile that was so patently forced.
And that hurt, that Riley wouldn’t confide in him. They used to tell each other everything. But what did he expect after six years of radio silence?
Finishing off his hot chocolate, Christian set his mug down and forced a smile of his own. “I should get going. I’m sure you have stuff to do. Thanks for the hot chocolate.” He eyed the Shimmer bottle on the shelf behind the counter. “And the magic booze.”
Riley chuckled. “You’re welcome. Hey, don’t be a stranger, okay? I’m here almost every day. Come by for lunch when you have a free afternoon?”
Christian would be here for lunch every afternoon if that wouldn’t make him look like a psycho stalker on crack.
“I will,” he promised. The questions he wanted to ask burned a hole in his gut, but he left them unasked. Instead he took a good look at Riley. Because though he was almost certain this wasn’t the last time they’d see each other, he’d thought the same six years ago. And look how that had turned out. So he looked his fill, not caring that his feelings were probably on full display. Because who cared about looking like a vulnerable sap when you’d spent the past six years missing your best friend? Some things were more important than pride.
Rapping his knuckles twice on the countertop in a silent goodbye, Christian turned to leave. Wishing he had the guts to tell Riley everything he wanted from him. Wishing —
Breath left him in a whoosh at the nickname. The one only Riley ever called him, starting when they were about fourteen. For some inexplicable reason Riley had never ever divulged. None of Christian’s names started with a T, so where Riley had gotten it from Christian might never know. Its utterance now made him think maybe Riley wasn’t as unaffected by their sudden reunion as he’d thought.
Christian turned to Riley, who had come around the counter and now stood only a couple feet away. Unfamiliar shadows danced in his eyes.
“What are you doing on Sunday?” Riley asked.
“It’s Christmas Eve.”
Riley smiled at his nonanswer. “That doesn’t answer my question.”
Christian shrugged. “Having dinner with my mom.” Same as every Christmas Eve.
“We close at two that day,” Riley said. “Want to hit the ice after?”
Shit yeah, did he ever! He was sure his answering smile held a faint hint of relief as they worked out the details of when and where.
“Bring your gear!” Riley called to him after he’d unlocked the front door to let himself out.
“For a friendly game?”
“Dude, you forget. I’ve seen your slap shot. No way am I getting in net without padding.”
Damn, did he even have any gear at his mom’s anymore? Whatever. He’d find something.
Waving a hand over his shoulder to acknowledge he’d heard, Christian let himself out, said “Don’t forget to lock this before you leave!” waited for the “Yeah, yeah” from inside, and shut the door behind him.
Copyright: Amy Aislin