"Dear Diary: Relationships 101" ~ Book 3
Released 2013 from Dreamspinner Press
GENRE: M/M, Contemporary
COVER ART: Allison Cassatta & Paul Richmond
Chris Bishop graduated high school with Josh, the love of his life, by his side. Agreeing it's not wise to room together, the boys choose to live in the dorms—separate dorms. But their decision fails to keep them apart, and on day one they’re caught making out by Chris's devilishly handsome new roommate, Patrick—who happens to bat for the same team, athletically and sexually speaking.
As Patrick and Chris vie for the position of track team captain, Patrick unintentionally fills Chris's mind with doubts about Josh's fidelity. Young relationships are rife with painful bumps. Will Chris and Josh see it through?
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“WE’RE so proud of you, honey,” his mom said, cradling Chris’s face between her soft hands. Her eyes glistened with the same pride she professed. She didn’t have to keep telling him, though. The way she treated him and looked at him more than proved the words she kept saying. Either way, it felt pretty damn awesome to know he’d done right by his parents, even with the bit of trouble he’d found himself in during his senior year.
She leaned in, across the giant box marked dorm in Chris’s arms, to kiss his cheek. He caught a glimpse over her shoulder of his dad and boyfriend grinning from ear to ear—almost teasingly smiling because they knew just about everything made Chris turn all red-faced and that so wasn’t a manly thing to do. He silently prayed for his dad to chime in with a “You’re embarrassing the kid, Nan,” but it never came.
When she pulled back, she firmly brushed her thumb over Chris’s cheek, probably wiping away her rust-colored lipstick. Chris couldn’t help but frown. The friction of her thumb against the hollowed part of his cheek hurt. It burned more than a little bit, but he didn’t complain.
His mom needed to take care of him apparently, even though Chris was all grown-up now. He could tell by the way she stared so deeply with her semiwatery eyes at that one spot on his face that she wasn’t exactly ready for Chris to rush off and be a man.
His father and boyfriend were obviously trying not to laugh. Cassie, Chris’s little sister, played by a group of trees in the distance—tossing dried brown leaves in the air and rushing to jump beneath them before they all dropped to the ground. The sunlight raining down around her made her tawny curls look like strings of silky caramel. Her laughter somehow broke through the sounds of cars leaving the parking lot and the myriad voices of fellow students and their parents saying good-bye and promising to see each other again over the holidays.
The oversized box in Chris’s arms grew heavier and heavier as the minutes passed, but he didn’t rush his mother. She seemed to need this moment, and after everything they’d all been through over the last six months, Chris could give her whatever time she needed.
After the beating he’d taken in the bathroom his senior year of high school, his mom had been leery to let go too easily. His parents had sent him off to his first Gay Pride parade, but she’d made sure to let Chris know how much she’d worried about him when he’d returned home.
“Mom,” Chris said in a soft, sympathetic tone. “I’m about to drop this thing.”
“Sorry. Sorry,” she said as she released his head from her unwavering grip.
She took a step back and joined his dad, and Josh stepped forward to take her place. He grabbed the box from Chris’s arms so Chris could give his father one last manly half hug.
“Call us once you get all settled, okay, son?” his dad said as he patted Chris’s back.
“Yes, sir. Hey, Cass,” Chris called out, and his little sister’s head popped up from a pile of leaves. A strong gust of wind blew through and kicked the pile up around her. She giggled again.
“You want to give me a hug before I go?” Chris asked.
Cass darted across the lawn and scampered across the pavement, running into Chris’s long legs with a force strong enough to make him take a step back. Laughing, he knelt down to pick her up and hugged her tight, maybe a lot longer than she would’ve liked.
Out of everyone in his family, Chris knew he would miss her the most. Even though she annoyed the hell out of him half the time, he knew he would miss those unexpected visits when she wanted him to play with her and Slobbers, or when she had one of those goofy, childish jokes she always liked to share, and the way she looked up to him as if he could do no wrong.
She kissed his cheek, then giggled again. “You’re not gonna miss my birfday, are ya?”
“No, I’ll come home for your birthday, I promise.”
“Yay!” she squealed so loudly the ear-piercing sound made Chris flinch. Josh lightly chuckled behind him.
“Good,” she said. “Ya better bring me presents.”
“I will. I will.”
“And Josh too?” Her little arm darted by Chris’s face, tiny finger stabbing in Josh’s direction. Chris followed her pointing and found Josh smiling.
“Of course, Cass,” Josh said. “Birthdays are my favorite.”
“Yay,” she squealed again. They all laughed.
“All right, Cassie,” his dad said. “Kiss your brother good-bye. He has to get ready for school.”
She immediately did as she was told, pressing her lips hard to the raw spot on Chris’s cheek where his mother had tried to rub his skin away. He practically had to pry Cass’s arms off him, and as he handed her over to his dad, Chris could hear her little pretantrum whimpers.
Cassie and Chris kept their eyes glued on each other. As long as he didn’t break his stare, she wouldn’t throw a fit. That was a little trick he’d learned over the last couple of years. And while nobody’s sense of hearing could survive her yelling and crying, it was kinda endearing—totally annoying, but really sweet—the way she never wanted to let Chris out of her sight.
They all waved to each other one last time. Though Chris knew there was nothing permanent about this good-bye, letting his family go, knowing he wouldn’t see them until November, really hurt.
Taking Josh’s side, Chris turned around and started toward the dorms. They crossed the parking lot, Chris looking back only once, long enough to catch his parents standing there watching with Cassie still in his father’s arms. His family wouldn’t leave until Chris was inside the building and well away from their sight, not that he minded. He understood. They’d done the same thing the night of his prom, and when he’d gotten his driver’s license, and when he’d gone into junior high school, and… well, they were proud of Chris. Clearly.
“I wish my family was like that,” Josh quietly admitted.
In the near year Josh and Chris had been together, Josh had never really talked about his family. He’d mentioned his coming out not going so well and how his folks never wanted to talk about his sexuality. Actually, they ignored it like it didn’t exist, according to him. The subject always felt really off-limits, but Chris had never and would never push. He’d never asked Josh anything about them, figuring his boyfriend would talk about his mom and dad when he was good and ready. The fact Josh had chosen to bring them up now came as a little surprise. Maybe he finally wanted to give Chris some insight into his family life. Maybe they’d finally gotten that comfortable with each other.
“Where is your family?” Chris asked as he reached for the door. The question seemed safe enough, not prodding at all.
Josh’s foot hit the bottom step without him answering the question. He started up the stairs with a confusing expression on his face. It looked like he was either remembering his past or thinking of some way to ease Chris into the truth of his relationship with his parents.
“If you don’t want to talk about it…,” Chris said quietly .
“Honestly, I don’t, but you deserve to know. We’ve been together long enough for me to talk about it with you, I think.”
“You don’t have to.”
“No, I will. Just… give me a minute, okay?”
Chris held the door, the one at the landing leading to his second-floor dorm room. He sort of hated not sharing an apartment with Josh this year, but they’d both decided it would be best not to for Chris’s first year away from home. Not only did Chris have the stress of being a freshman in college to deal with, but they hadn’t even been together a full year yet, and moving in together seemed a bit hazardous. Not to mention the fact Josh had never lived outside the dorms before, and neither one of them had jobs.
Watching the numbers as they made their way down the hall, Chris silently counted each door with a subtle nod until they reached room two nineteen—his first address away from home.
“We’re here,” Chris said as he reached in his pocket and fished out the tiny golden key.
When he unlocked the door, it sprang open, and the room was still empty save for the stuff he’d piled onto his bed during his first trip up with his dad. His mysterious roommate still hadn’t made an appearance, and Chris silently hoped he would end up getting to keep the room to himself.
Josh set the box down on one of the desks, then shook out his arms as if he needed to get the blood flowing right again. He gave Chris one of his infamous wicked smiles, then stepped closer. Chris knew the look in his eyes—the way they shimmered and the way he looked straight at Chris’s lips and nothing else.
Trailing the tips of his fingers over Chris’s inner arm, Josh leaned in to give him a quick kiss. “I love you,” he said.
“I love you too,” Chris responded without hesitation as he twined their fingers together.