Leaning Into a Wish Final Blog Tour Stops!

LeaningIntoAWish-magic-teasers900x675It’s funny that Leaning Into a Wish has been out for almost three weeks already. You’d think I’d be ahead of the game with holiday preparations but I literally just put up my Christmas tree yesterday and I’ve only purchased a couple of gifts. Holiday procrastination at its finest. I’ll do my best not to be at the mall on Christmas Eve but no promises! LOL

Thank you all for embracing Ryan and Danny’s story and for making my first jump into writing a holiday novella a great experience. Here are the final stops today for the Leaning Into a Wish blog tour. Remember there’s a $25 Amazon rafflecopter giveaway! Also, I’ll be doing a giveaway today at the MM Daily Grind, be sure to pop in!

Ta da!…this my tree. I’m not sure I’m finished decorating but it’s pretty, isn’t it?

Happy Reading and Happy Holidays!  Lane xo

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Dog-Eared Daydreams Dec 10 *interview!
Love Unchained Book Reviews Dec 10
Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Dec 10
SJ’s Book Blog Dec 10
Tangents and Tissues Dec 10

Rainbow Award Winner 2017! Woohoo! & the Leaning Into a Wish Blog Tour Continues…

12313757_1174925622541518_4486381292446131299_nLeaning Into the Fall won 1st place and A Kind of Honesty won 2nd place in the Bisexual Erotic Contemporary Romance category in the 2017 Rainbow Awards! I’m so proud and honored. A Way with Words, my Kindle Worlds short story, was also a Finalist in two categories,  Gay Contemporary Romance and Best Gay book.  So thrilling!

The Rainbow Awards are very special to me for a couple of reasons. Before I started writing MM romance, I would look on Elisa Rolle’s blog for recommendations. There weren’t as many MM books available 7 or so years ago and I appreciated her insight. When I discovered that she also ran the Rainbow Awards, I was thrilled to find a slew of new-to-me authors who put out quality work in various sub-genres. It opened up a whole new world to me as a reader. To win awards in a category I love two years in a row is a dream come true. Literally.  I encourage you to check out the list of winners, runners-up and finalist and maybe discover a new author. *Rainbow Awards 2017

Also, the entry fees for consideration are donated to various LGBTQ charities. This year over $13K was raised. Amazing! Thank you, Elisa for your tireless work and effort in the community. And congrats to all!Unknown-7Here are the stops for today and tomorrow for the Leaning Into a Wish blog tour. I’ll be back Sunday with the links for the final 5 stops that day! Thank you all for the love you’ve given Danny and Ryan. Holiday stories are one of my favorite things. Thanks for making my first ever foray into holiday books an enjoyable experience! Be sure to check out the rest of the stops and register for a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card.

**Fun fact (in case you’re curious)… Leaning Into the Fall is closely related to Leaning Into a Wish though both are standalones.

Happy Reading and Happy Holidays!  Lane xo

Bookaliciousbabes blog Dec 8
Shey’s Book Cave Dec 8
Diverse Reader Dec 9
Padme’s Library Dec 9
The Novel Approach Dec 9

A Kind of Home is On Audio Now! And the Leaning Into a Wish Blog Tour Continues…

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Attention audiobook fans! A Kind of Home is finally here! I’ve had quite a few people ask about Isaac and Adam’s story coming to audio so I wanted to be sure to spread the word! Seth Clayton is back to narrate AKH and I, personally, can’t wait to hear it. He’s so talented. Take a listen to the sample here.KindofHome[A]_FBprofile_smallThe Leaning Into a Wish blog tour continues with stops through the 10th. Here’s the schedule through Thursday.  I’ll post the rest by Friday and add links as they come live. Don’t forget, there’s a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card.

Back to my WIP! Hope you’re enjoying the holiday season so far!

Happy Reading! Lane xo
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6 Feet Under Books Dec 5
Love Bytes Dec 5
Sanaa Reads Romance Dec 5
Bayou Book Junkie Dec 6
Gay Fiction Addiction Dec 6
Hopelessly Addicted to Romance Book Blog Dec 6
Southern Babes Book Dec 6
MM Good Book Reviews Dec 7

Leaning Into a Wish Blog Tour Is On Now!

Screen Shot 2017-12-02 at 1.30.01 PMThe Leaning Into a Wish blog tour has begun just in time for holiday madness! What could be better after a day braving the mall (or carpal tunnel for online shopping) than cuddling up with a holiday novella! Danny and Ryan’s story is a low-angst, sweet and fun romance set in wine country. Hope you enjoy! *Btw, this guy reminds me of Ryan. So handsome.Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 7.09.20 AMThere’s a stop every day between now and the 10th and a $25 Amazon gift card opportunity. Here are the stops for today, Sunday and Monday. Be sure to come by and say hello! I’ll post the remaining links and blog stops on Tuesday.

Happy Reading and Happy Holidays! Lane xo

MJ’s Book Blog and Reviews Dec 2
Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews Dec 2
Gay Book Reviews Dec 3
My Fiction Nook Dec 3
BFD Book Blog Dec 4

$1, $2, $3 Sale for A Kind Of Stories Series Today Only!

randomallyYep! It’s true! The first three books in my A Kind of Stories series are on sale for $1, $2, $3  respectively. That’s A Kind of Truth, A Kind of Romance and A Kind of Honesty. I was hoping the sale would coincide with the audiobook release of A Kind of Home (book 4), but it hasn’t gone live yet. The audio should be out any day now though! This sale is a one day deal at Dreamspinner Press only so take advantage while you can!Screen Shot 2017-11-29 at 9.10.08 AMIn Leaning Into news, there is an opportunity to win a $10 Amazon Gift card at Love Bytes for Leaning Into a Wish and an excerpt! I’ll choose a winner tomorrow so stop by today for a chance to win! Also… the Leaning Into a Wish blog tour will begin next week. Later than usual, but since it’s the holidays, the timing may be perfect. I’ll keep you updated with stops and links as soon as I know them.

I want to say a huge thank you to those of you who’ve read and enjoyed Danny and Ryan’s story. I appreciate your kind words. It’s always a little nerve wracking to try something new. Holiday novellas are a special breed. I’m happy to know you get these guys! LOL.

Back to my WIP!

Happy Reading! Happy Holidays!  Lane xo

 

Leaning Into a Wish Available on Amazon Now!!

LeaningIntoAWish-1400x2100My first ever holiday novella came a little earlier than scheduled! Woohoo! Leaning Into a Wish is available on Amazon now. Ryan and Danny’s story is part of my SF Leaning Into Series, however, as with the other books in the series, it can be read as a standalone. Those who’ve read Leaning Into the Fall may remember Ryan as a bit of a troublemaker. He needs someone with a disarming sense of humor to lighten things up and set him straight. Danny is the perfect man for the job!images-2Personally, I adore a good holiday story. I like ’em cheerful and light to set the mood for a festive, upbeat month or so spent enjoying my favorite traditions with family and friends. Holiday movies, music, parties, cookie decorating… you get the idea. Hopefully, Leaning Into a Wish hits all those points for you and more.

Happy Reading! Happy almost Thanksgiving!

Lane xo

Leaning Into a Wish Cover Reveal Day!

LeaningIntoAWish-1400x2100Isn’t it gorgeous? There’s something about that wreath with a big red bow hanging on the vine that I just love. A subtle hint that yes, this is in fact a holiday novella. Leaning Into a Wish, is my first published holiday story. I figured it was only appropriate to write one in the Leaning Into series since I’m currently immersed in my San Francisco boys’ world. This one takes readers a little north of the city, however, to Conrad Winery in Napa Valley. If you’ve read Leaning Into the Fall, you may remember Wes, Nick and Geordie and perhaps, Ryan. *If you didn’t read it, don’t worry, as with all of my books, Leaning Into a Wish is a standalone.IMG_2447This story belongs to Ryan and Danny. Ryan is a longtime employee at Conrad Winery who loves his job and considers the people he works with family. Everyone except the handsome former jock with the winning personality. Ryan can’t deny Danny is a nice guy, but he’s not permanent. He’s the intern. And Ryan knows too well there’s danger in getting attached to someone who’s bound to leave sooner or later. However, neither man counted on falling in love. Forever seems like a long shot… unless they lean into a holiday wish.Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 7.09.20 AMLeaning Into a Wish will be released next week on November 22 in time for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. There’s a rafflecopter giveaway at Love Bytes Review today for a $10 Amazon gift card and another giveaway at my FB readers group, Lane’s Lovers. Stop by for a chance to win! In the meantime I’ll leave you with my inspiration pics for Ryan (above) and Danny (below) and the blurb for Leaning Into a Wish!Screen Shot 2017-11-06 at 7.14.37 PM

Blurb from Leaning Into a Wish:

Ryan Haskell loves everything about the wine business. He’s fortunate to work at one of the most prestigious wineries in Napa Valley doing something he enjoys with the people who are like family to him. But he could do without the good-natured intern slash former jock with the wicked grin who always seems to be in the way. Ryan isn’t sure why the new guy is under his skin when everyone else loves him. Thankfully he’ll be gone after the holidays. 

Danny Meyers can’t believe his luck when he lands an internship at Conrad Winery. It’s the perfect temporary gig to wrap up his graduate studies. He’s left his dreams of tennis stardom on the court to focus on a new career and a new life. However, he didn’t count on the spark of attraction he feels for his prickly co-worker. When their tentative friendship blossoms into something more than either man counted on, they may have to change direction and lean into a holiday wish.

6 Days and counting!! Woohoo!

Happy Holidays and Happy Reading! Lane xo

Leaning Into a New Start- Part 4 (NSFW!) & Leaning Into Always Out on Audio Now!

First of all, I want to thank everyone who insisted Jeff’s story deserved to be told. My tiny short story has grown to almost 12K words. Much longer than intended. LOL And yet, I’m fairly certain it’s not enough. I may come back to give Jeff the layers and nuances his journey requires. But for now, these four chapters provide a decent background into Josh’s dad’s revelation in Leaning Into Touch.LeaningIntoAlways-AUDIOBOOK-PromoAd-1200x628Before I leave you with the final chapter, I wanted to let you all know that Leaning Into Always is now available on audio!! Seth Clayton is back narrating Eric and Zane’s story. Take a listen to the sample here. He’s done it again! I’m so thrilled!

Also… my first ever holiday novella, Leaning Into a Wish, will be released November 22! Stay tuned for the cover reveal on Wednesday, November 15!! It’s so pretty! I can’t wait to share more about Ryan and Danny!

In the meantime, enjoy Part 4 of Jeff and Lars’ story. *AND yes, this chapter is NSFW!! Here are links to Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Enjoy!

Happy Reading and Listening! Lane xo

IMG_6004Leaning Into a New Start- Part 4 (NSFW)

We let the conversation drift to neutral topics during dinner. We discussed music, movies and television shows we loved. I laughed when he admitted he’d watched every Diehard movie because he harbored a secret crush on Bruce Willis. However, when he claimed to be a serious Trekkie, I knew I might be in big trouble. I loved the way his eyes lit up as he launched into a story about how he and his neighbors reenacted scenes from Star Trek when they were kids.

“I always insisted on being Captain Kirk. At first, my friends argued with me and said it was only fair to take turns but I held my ground. I couldn’t tell them I had the hots for the captain so I found myself giving oddball compliments like “You’re very perceptive, like Spock” or “You’re good at knowing what’s wrong with someone when they’re sick. You should be McCoy.” My mother overheard me one day and told me I was a natural leader. A perfect captain.” Lars’ smile dimmed slightly. “She never knew the truth either.”

“She didn’t know you’re gay?”

He shook his head solemnly then took a sip of water. “No. She may have suspected but I never told her. She died in a car accident when I was twenty-four. I was devastated. She was a joyful, magnetic woman with a big laugh and an even bigger personality. I went through a dark phase marked by a string of bad choices…drugs, alcohol, loose women and—”

“Women?”

Lars nodded slowly. “Yeah. I was in the closet too. I had a cathartic awakening of sorts when I had my own near death experience.”

My heart hammered in my chest. I pushed my plate aside and leaned across the table. “What happened?”

“Honestly, I don’t know. I woke up naked and alone in a seedy motel room with a dozen empty bottles of booze, a bunch of used condoms and zero memory. It was my rock bottom. I realized the source of my problems wasn’t just a deep depression over my loss. Sure, that was part of it. But the other part was fear. When you’re staring at your naked ugly self in the mirror and you’ve got nowhere to go and no one who gives a shit if you live or die, it gives you perspective. All I could think was “Mom would be pissed as hell if I died like this”. I had to turn my life around. Step number one… it was time to tell the truth.

“I came out to my brother who hasn’t spoken to me since and my sister who I see once a month for dinner. I lost friends and family but I gained so much more by living my truth. I started thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up and my mother’s words about me always wanting to be in charge popped in my head and I knew I had to be my own boss. GDC wasn’t built overnight by any means. But you’ve seen our books and—”

“They’re impressive,” I admitted, sounding like the geeky accountant I was. “Your firm is doing very well.”

“I’ve worked my ass off to make my dream a reality. But it never would have happened if I hadn’t gone through a hell and back. In fact, I might not be sitting here with you now.”
“That would be terrible.”

“Well, I’m here. I survived and so did you,” he said in a deep timbre that reverberated through my chest.

I squeezed his hand, hoping to convey my distress at the idea. Perhaps my reaction was over-the-top, but the thought of not knowing Lars crushed me. We’d already lived decades never knowing the other existed. So many years just… gone. I didn’t regret my years with Kate and I was immeasurably grateful for my children. But no one lived forever and I had a niggling feeling it was very important that I know this man. Every part of him.

“We can do better than that.”

Lars cocked his head. “What do you suggest?”

I licked my dry lips and shot a cursory glance at the table closest to ours to be sure my clumsy speech wasn’t overheard. “This is extremely unusual of me. I’m an accountant for a reason. I’m a slow moving, methodical planner. I look before I leap and I weigh every possible outcome before I proceed. But I’ve never felt this way about anyone before and I can’t let this moment pass without telling you how I feel.”

“How do you feel?”

“Horny,” I blurted. I waited for his laughter to subside before I continued. “But I feel a lot of other things too. Butterflies, nausea and a little indigestion.”

“So I make you sick?” His eyes sparked with humor.

“No.” I chuckled. “You make me feel alive. Scared and unsure, yes… but hopeful too. I’ve lost so much time and I’m leery of letting any more slip away without taking a chance or two. We haven’t even kissed and for all I know, we might be terrible at it but, Jesus Lars, I really want to try.”

He held my gaze then stood and moved to my side of the table with his hand outstretched. “Stand up.”

I hesitated for a second before obeying. We were in a crowded restaurant on a Saturday night. Our table was tucked against a wall on one side but we were in close proximity to our neighbors. So close I could see the lipstick stain on the rim of a wineglass and smell the seafood they’d ordered. I cleared my throat and tried to think of a joke to relieve the growing tension. But I couldn’t think of anything to rhyme with shrimp besides pimp and somehow that didn’t work. I focused on Lars instead.

“What are we doing?” I whispered nervously.

He didn’t answer. He just smiled then stroked my cheek sweetly, cupped the back of my neck and sealed his mouth over mine.

If I lived to be a hundred, I’d never forget that moment. Frank Sinatra singing “The Way You Look Tonight”, the sigh of approval from the women seated next to us, and the hum of conversation intermixed with the clatter of silverware nearby. But more importantly, I knew I’d always remember that kiss. His soft lips, the scratch of his beard and the way he cradled my head as he deepened the kiss in a gentle but insistent connection that hinted at a promise of so much more.

I swayed drunkenly when he pulled back to gage my reaction. Maybe I was drunk. Intoxicated with lust, need and the notion I was free to act on my desire. To be my true self with someone who wanted me as much as I wanted him.

“Come home with me, Jeff.”

I nodded profusely then leaned in to press another kiss on his lips. “Yes.”

Twenty minutes later, our driver pulled up in front of a well-kept home on a quiet street in the Castro. I noted the wide bay window above the single car garage and the spherical topiaries flanking the front door. The exterior was charming but unassuming. In other words, the opposite of the cutting-edge modern homes and businesses his company constructed. The interior was the same. Lovely albeit very traditional. There were high ceilings, sleek hardwood flooring and the walls were predominately white or in subtle jewel tones. Striped pillows were strewn across the light colored sofa and the chairs in front of the fireplace in the living area. It was a homey, inviting space, but definitely not what I expected.

I gave him a wobbly smile as I held my arms open. “Your home is nice but I pictured you living in a space ship for some reason. Like Captain Kirk.”

Lars chuckled at my lame attempt at humor. “I love creating contemporary homes for other people but I never really wanted to live in the Starship Enterprise. That was just pretend. The truth is, I’m a bit of a traditionalist in my private life. Don’t tell on me.”

“Your secret is safe with me.” My voice had a raspy quality I didn’t recognize. I cleared my throat to add something light but the words wouldn’t come. I was overwhelmed again.

“Would you care for something to drink?” he asked politely.

“No, thanks,” I replied as I reached for his hand.

Lars stared at our joined hands then at me with a heated look that went straight to my dick. “What do you want, Jeff?”

“You. Does that sound bad? Am I going too fast? This isn’t like me but—”

“Shh. Come this way.”

He led the way down a narrow hallway to a staircase. Moonlight flooded the space from the skylights above, casting a romantic glow over the space. I followed him wordlessly through the first doorway off the landing into the master suite. He let go of my hand then flipped a switch, illuminating the room in a soft light. I gave the room a cursory once-over.

His bedroom had the same traditional feel as the rest of the house. The dark wood headboard and side tables offset the white wainscoting and the pale blue linen duvet neatly folded at the end of the bed. Two comfy looking chairs faced a built-in bookshelf with a flat screen television above the fireplace. And another bay window covered with striped roman blinds anchored the far wall. Photographs of the city hung on either side. I crossed the room to examine the one of the Golden Gate Bridge before turning to Lars with a smile.

“This is nice. If I lived here, I’d put a coffee maker on the bookshelf and pop a mini fridge in one of the cabinets so I’d never have to leave.”

“Until it was time to get more coffee,” he said.

“Nah. That’s what delivery service is for.”

“True.” Lars snickered, moving to my side. “Do you like photography?”

“Yes. I hope you don’t mind but… I imagined you living in a steel and glass monstrosity with museum quality art in the living room and nasty photography in your private suite.”

“Nasty, eh?”

“Well. Not the Golden Gate Bridge anyway. I thought you might have something a little less…tame.”

“Mmm. Like what?” he asked, setting his hand on my hip.

I shrugged with faux nonchalance, aware that every nerve in my body buzzing like mad. My mouth was dry but my palms felt clammy. I was unraveling at a rapid clip. I had to get myself under control quickly or risk coming in my khakis like a teenager. Unfortunately, I was a live wire, liable to say something stupid at any given moment. Like…

“I don’t know. Bare-chested leather daddies carrying whips and smoking cigars. Something like that.”

This time, Lars threw his head back and guffawed. It was such a joyful sound, I couldn’t help joining in, even if the laugh was on me.

“I can’t decide if you have an active imagination or a dirty mind,” he said, raising his brow.

“Both.”

“So you’re into leather, eh?” The look in his eye turned somewhat lecherous when he hooked his fingers in my belt loop and tugged me closer.

“No. Not really. The idea of it is sexy. But honestly, I like this better. I’ve never been more turned on in my life than I am right this second. If you put on those chaps you were telling me about, I think I’d pass out for sure.”

“Then we’ll try that another time,” Lars said in a husky tone as he ran his fingers through my hair.

I snaked my arms around his thick waist and molded myself against him, grinding my pelvis against his suggestively. He growled then covered my mouth in a fierce kiss as he pushed my sport coat off my shoulders. Then he licked the seam of my lips and slid his tongue inside.

He tasted like wine. Decadent and intoxicating. And fuck, he knew how to kiss. He glided his tongue alongside mine, twisting, and then sucking with a fervor that had me gasping for air. The feel of his beard against my smooth-shaven face drove me wild. I made quick work of the first few buttons of his oxford shirt, desperate for skin. He did the same for me, yanking the fabric from my pants then pausing with his fingers resting on my belt buckle.

“What are you waiting for?” I asked breathlessly.

“You. Are you sure you want this?”

“Hell yes.” I rubbed my palm over his hard-on then reached for his hand and brought it to my crotch. “I want everything.”

“Whips and boots and—”

“No. Just you. I want you to fuck me.”

His nostrils flared in appreciation. He kissed me once more then smacked my ass and stepped toward the bed. “Take your clothes off and lie down. I want to look at you.”

“What about you?”

“I’ll be right here. Go on.”

I kept my eyes locked on his as I hurried to obey. I should have felt a smidge awkward considering I’d been his accountant until yesterday. The second that thought materialized my brain conjured an office sex scene with me bent over the conference table while Lars drove into me from behind. I kicked off my shoes then shed my shirt, khakis and then finally slipped my thumbs under the elastic of my briefs and freed my rigid cock. I grabbed myself at the base and gave him a searching look.

“I need to see you too. Please.”

“You will. Lie down.”

I pulled back the sheets and laid flat on my back, propping my arms under my head. Lars crooked his lips in a devilish grin as he threaded his belt from the buckle and slowly unzipped his trousers. I wasn’t sure if he was purposely staging a striptease but every bit of skin he revealed made me tremble with need. I loved his body. I loved the thatch of gray hair covering his barrel chest, the curve of his belly and his muscular thighs. And my God, that cock was a thing of beauty. He was thick and long and very fucking sexy.

“You’re so beautiful,” I whispered reverently.

Lars widened his eyes comically. “Me? I don’t think so. You’re the pretty one.”

I huffed at the idea. “I’m old and I’m too skinny and you’re—”

“You’re perfect. Now hush and let me look at you.”

He crawled over me, smoothing his palms over my stomach before tweaking my tits. I writhed under his touch and lifted my hips, hoping he’d get the hint without making me beg. He pushed my knees to my chest and caressed the sensitive skin of my upper thigh. Then he finally reached for my cock and gripped me in a tight fist.

“Oh fuck. That feels good,” I said in a strangled-sounding voice.

“I can do better than that.”

He stroked me from base to tip a couple of times then bent to lick my balls. He sucked one into his mouth then the other. I arched my back and swayed my hips, wordlessly requesting more. His beard brushed against the sensitive area under my balls in the best possible way. And when he flattened his tongue and flicked it over my hole, I went a little crazy. I tugged his hair and rolled my hips to give him better access, chanting a litany of “don’t stop” until the pleasure threatened to push me over the edge too soon.

“No. No more. I don’t want to come yet,” I gasped, pushing at his forehead.

Lars licked a path along my dick, stopping to suck the head for a moment. He released me with a pop then bent over my torso to retrieve a bottle of lube and a condom from the nightstand drawer. I hooked my legs around his waist and sucked his left nipple, loving his low groan of approval. I did the same to the other then pushed at his chest until he got the hint and rolled onto his back.

I didn’t waste any time. I crouched between his thighs, gripped his thick cock and swallowed him whole. Lars roared somewhere above me. The raw carnal noise did something to me. I was so fucking needy. I bobbed my head wantonly, sucking and licking my lover in a frenzy. I wanted everything at once. I reached for my throbbing member and jacked myself as I worked him over. I backed off when I felt a telltale tingle trip along my spine.

“You have to fuck me now. I’m not gonna last and I just—I need you.”

Lars nodded then captured my face between his hands and kissed me hard. I shifted off of him and stared at the ceiling while he rolled a condom on and lubed up. He massaged my entrance gently before slipping a single digit inside. I squeezed my eyes close, willing myself to relax as he slowly slid it in and out. He added a second finger then the tip of a third. And then he pulled away and replaced his fingers with his sheathed cock. I bit my lip and inclined my head.

“I’m ready. Please,” I said.

Lars lowered his forehead to mine and pushed. Inch by inch, he made his way inside me until he was balls deep. He stopped to kiss me or brush the hair from my eyes. The sweetness of the tender touches juxtaposed with the steady rocking of hips was sublime. The momentum built slowly in a subtle give and take. I’d never felt quite so in synch with a lover. We moved as one until he rose above me, gripping the edge of the headboard for purchase then upped the tempo, thrusting into me over and over until I had no choice but to fall apart. I clutched his ass and held him against me. “I’m gonna—”

“That’s it. Come for me, baby,” he commanded.

I did. And he was right there with me.

The silence in the aftermath intimidated me. I never knew the right things to say or who was supposed to be the one holding whom. Even thought the sex wasn’t great, it had been easy with Kate. With men, I was lost. But not tonight. Lars gathered me to his side and held me against his chest. It felt perfectly natural. Like coming home. I shifted my weight to look at him, mortified when tears welled in my eyes.

“Are you all right?” he asked, brushing his thumb over my cheek.

“Yes, I’m—I know this is going to sound crazy but… I think this is a good place to start again. Here. With you.”

Lars laced his fingers through mine and kissed our joined hands. “Yes. It’s never too late, Jeff. Never.”

I closed my eyes as he lifted the duvet to cover us and let myself drift in a funny state of mind where pieces of my past collided with my present. So many years of pent up desires, wants and needs. So much time spent denying who I was and what I needed. I’d had my share of feeling hollow and separate from the people I loved the most. I’d felt shame, sorrow and helplessness. I’d put on a brave face for years. Acted in a play of my own making, powerless to change and unwilling to take the risk either way. But now, I was free. And I was more than ready to lean into a new start with this man by my side.

Leaning Into a New Start- Part 3 *Spoiler Alert

images-6My second son is 21 today. There will be cake (of course), breakfast for dinner (per his request) and another dinner at a Brazilian restaurant he wants to try tomorrow night. Birthdays are a big deal in my family and as my kids get older, I trip down memory lane at an alarming rate. You know the drill… “this time 21 years ago, blah, blah, blah…”. I can’t help it. I’ve become that mom. LOL. I want to commemorate every bit of their lives in snapshot moments to pull out at will and remember who they are and where they’ve been. I’m not sure how to do it properly so I’ll try to do through my writing instead. Which brings me to Jeff and Josh.

This chapter of Jeff’s story is a bit emotional for me because there is a part that reminds me of my oldest son coming out just five years ago. I’m not sure I’ve managed to successfully voice my side of his journey yet but this is yet another attempt. And as I write from Jeff’s POV, I’m reminded of the duality of parenthood. The person we are versus the parent we need to be. This story is more complex than a short allows. My three parts have extended to four and suffice to say, this could very easily become a full-length novel. And yes, I may eventually write it. In the meantime… enjoy.

*Part 4 (the final chapter) will be posted by Friday at the latest. And for those who are coming to this later, here are Part 1 and Part 2. If you haven’t read Leaning Into Touch, you may want to do so first to avoid any spoilers!

Oh… and Happy Birthday to my beautiful, amazing, and wonderful son. I love you to the moon and back a million times over. Love, Mom xoIMG_6004Leaning Into a New Start- Part 3

Lars offered to pick me up Saturday night and take me to a steak house he’d heard great things about in Oakland. But it seemed silly for him to make the trek when I could easily take BART into the city. No doubt he read between the lines and caught on that I needed a little distance between home and my first real date with a man. To his credit, he didn’t hesitate to suggest another venue at his favorite Italian restaurant in North Beach.

I avoided checking out my reflection in the grimy train window as it barreled toward San Francisco. I did the best I could with what I had to work with. Khaki pants, a light blue oxford shirt and a navy sport coat. I looked like I was going on a job interview. I should have asked Kate for a wardrobe suggestion, but I hadn’t wanted to push my luck. It was enough that I had her support. Besides, I knew she’d just tell me to wear blue to match my eyes.

I had to laugh at the sentiment. Did guys even notice that kind of thing about other men? Well… I supposed I did. Lars had beautiful eyes. I couldn’t remember if they matched his clothing but I loved the way they twinkled. He had the most expressive face. So full of humor, intellect and kindness. I’d learned a lot by observing him in his work environment and noting how he interacted with his employees.

He was patient but firm. Understanding but determined. He wasn’t quick to anger or frustration but when something rubbed him the wrong way, he didn’t hesitate to voice his opinion. Vehemently. My cock twitched at the memory of the one-sided conversation I’d overheard yesterday. He’d paced his office with his phone glued to his ear as he gave one of his suppliers a strongly worded message about the unacceptable crap they’d delivered to his jobsite. He ended the call demanding they get their shit together in a stern tone that made me dizzy with desire. How sick was that? I was a mess. A horny one too. I had no idea how I’d make it through an entire dinner without numbers to keep me focused.

It started out pretty well. I knocked over my water and sent my silverware clattering onto the tile floor within five minutes of sitting across from my debonair date. Since the water miraculously didn’t splash either of us and the glass didn’t shatter, I called it a win. And when Lars set his hand over mine after the waiter left us with a promise to return with a refill and the dinner menus, I thought my clumsiness might have been an accidental stroke of genius. I glanced down at our joined hands and cast a clandestine look from side to side before looking into his eyes.

“Relax, Jeff. No one here knows you’re gay.”

“You’re holding my hand. That’s kinda gay,” I deadpanned. When he tried to pull away, I squeezed his fingers. “Don’t. I like it. I’ve never held a man’s hand before.”

Oh fuck. Why did I admit that? He probably guessed it, but still… I sounded like such a dork. I wracked my brain for a sophisticated conversation starter to counteract my lame admission but I came up blank.

He raised his brow then released my hand when the waiter returned with another water and the menus.

Lars ordered a bottle of Cabernet and an appetizer without opening the leather bound then requested some time for us to look over the dinner selections. I admired the way he seamlessly adjusted his tone with the waiter when he spoke. He was respectful and confident. There was no part of him that apologized for being caught with his paws on another man. I wondered how long it would take until I felt as self-assured.

I opened the menu and perused the impressive array of pasta dishes distractedly, knowing I’d stick with spaghetti. It was safe and best of all, I could pronounce it without making a fool of myself. I snapped the leather-bound book shut and pushed it aside.

“What are you going to order?” I asked politely.

“I haven’t decided. Have you?”

“Spaghetti.”

Lars raised his brow. “A Bolognese or the seafood special with mussels and scallops?”

I made a “yuck” face and grinned when Lars chuckled at my childish response. “Do you think they have plain meatballs?”

“It never hurts to ask, but if they aren’t on the menu, I highly recommend the Bolognese. You won’t be disappointed. If you like meat, that is.”

“I love meat.” My voice sounded breathy. Like I was attempting seduction via an ode to beef.

“Do you now?” Lars’ eyes twinkled mischievously.

“I didn’t mean—actually, I do but I—” I almost wept with relief when the waiter returned with a bottle of wine. I counted on the uncorking and pouring ritual to bide me some time to get my game face back and my mind out of the gutter.

Lars waited for the server to leave us then lifted his glass in a toast. “To new beginnings.”

“I’ll drink to that.” I smiled then tapped my glass against his and took a sip. Then I waited a beat and blurted. “I told my ex-wife I was meeting you tonight.”

“Oh?”

I winced. “That sounded weird, didn’t it? I’m on a roll though. So far I’ve knocked over water, told you I’ve never held hands with a man, and that my ex knows my whereabouts. You’ve probably already guessed that I can’t translate half of this menu so if they don’t actually have spaghetti, just order me something like it but no shellfish. It’s not my thing. And if my candor makes you question my sanity, I won’t be offended if you’d rather cut this short. Because yes, I’m nervous as hell and I don’t know why. I like you. Okay. I’ll shut up now.”

I sat back in my chair, pursed my lips and willed myself to stop talking. It would be nice if Lars said something though. I cocked my head and motioned for him to fill the silence before I did.

“You’re the craziest accountant I’ve ever met,” he said in a serious tone he ruined a moment later with a wink. “And for the record, I like you too. A lot.”

I smiled, loving his breezy tone and friendly nature. “Thanks. I’m just terribly out of practice.”

“In a way, I am too. I don’t go out much. Work is busy and it’s hard to find time to connect with people you actually want to be with. You’re a breath of fresh air and I can assure you I’ve never said that to anyone who’s audited my books before.” He snickered merrily then reached for his wineglass.

“Hmm. Well, you have the advantage of at least being out. I’m an old guy learning new tricks,” I huffed.

“There’s no advantage here. It’s just about accepting yourself so others can learn to do the same.”

“Oh that sounds real easy,” I snarked. “I just told you I’ve never held hands with a man. How do I get to home plate when I’m too afraid to hit the damn ball?”

Lars’ forehead creased in obvious confusion. “So you’ve never been with a man at all?”

“Huh? Oh no. I’ve done it all. Hand jobs, blowjobs—”

“You may want to lower your voice, Cassanova,” he admonished with a smirk.

“Sorry.” I took a big gulp of wine to fortify a renewed bout of butterflies.

Lars reached for my free hand and linked our fingers again. “I don’t mind. In fact, I’m extraordinarily curious about you. But let’s keep it between us. The women at the table to our left look mighty nosy. Don’t look. Just talk.”

“About what? Blow jobs?” I whispered.

He barked a quick laugh and nodded. “Sure but start at the beginning. Why did you come out to your wife?”

“Because our son did.”

“Excuse me?”

“Josh came out to us when he was twenty. I’ll never forget it. He’s our youngest. I think I’ve mentioned that. Jen, Janie then Josh. They’re all amazing people. My daughters are beautiful and brilliant and Josh… He’s the coolest damn guy you’ll ever meet. And the brightest, best man I know. He’s funny but kind and he just lights up a room the moment he walks in.”

“He sounds like his dad,” Lars said gently.

“Thank you. That’s a nicer compliment than you realize. Josh is a happy person. Nothing riles him or gets him down for long. But coming out… that was hard. He showed up at the house looking like a frightened rabbit and scared the hell out of us. He literally stood in the living room shaking. He wouldn’t look at his mom or me. I can’t tell you how many times I said, “Joshy, it’s me. Dad. Buddy, you can tell me anything.” He wouldn’t speak. So I started guessing. I threw out wild things to make him crack a smile. “You joined the circus and they signed you up for the high trapeze.” That kind of thing. He started to laugh and then…”

I looked away when the memory overwhelmed me. Tears blurred my vision and my head ached with the effort to keep my emotions under control. Lars squeezed my hand, pulling me back to the surface before I lost myself in a wave of regret.

“It’s okay. Go slow. I’m not going anywhere,” he assured me.

I took a deep breath then continued. “He broke down. I hadn’t heard him cry like that since he was a kid and it was… devastating. He’s my boy. My son. To think he was in that kind of pain rattled me to the core. I held him tight and said… what you just said to me. “It’s okay. I’m not going anywhere.” And after a few minutes, he said, “I’m bi.” Can you believe that two tiny words consisting of four measly letters can cause so much pain?”

“Yes. I can.”

“Me too. But at the time, my reaction was just… relief. Holy shit, I thought he was going to tell me he was sick or someone he knew was injured or going through something catastrophic! I never dreamed it was him.” I paused to take a sip of water and pull myself together. “I wished I could tell him then that I knew how he felt but… I’m a coward.”

“You’re not a coward, Jeff,” Lars said kindly.

I scoffed. “You’re right. There are nicer terms for guys like me. I’m a product of my time and my Catholic upbringing. The truth is my parents would have disowned me and I couldn’t bear the thought of losing everything. I take a measure of pride knowing that my son had no such worries. Kate and I love our children unconditionally. Josh’s revelation surprised us but as we both assured him we loved him and supported him, I realized we’d turned a corner. My child would never live in fear. He would never doubt us or question his place in our family or his worth in this world. He would marry the person he loves and he would live an authentic life. That alone felt like a victorious coming out moment.”

“The first of many.”

“Yes. He came out and something inside me shifted. I couldn’t pretend to be the same. But shedding this weight isn’t easy. I’ve known I was gay since I was a teenager. Over forty years. That’s a long time to keep a secret. But no one could know. Ever.”

“So you got yourself a girlfriend and lived the straight life.”

“Yes. I know that sounds bad but… I love Kate and marrying her wasn’t a punishment. She’s a beautiful person, inside and out. She’s actually the one who suggested we “date” to get my dad off my back. He was a bit of a tyrant and when he started drinking, all bets were off. We were best friends and fake high school sweethearts who upped the ante when things got heated at home. Kate got pregnant, we got married and three kids, numerous pets and a house in the suburb later…I’d become someone my dad could relate to.”

“What changed for you then? Why are you here with me now?” he asked gently.

The waiter returned just then to take our orders. If he was displeased with the interruption, he kept it to himself. Lars slipped on a pair of blue reading glasses and peered at me over the rims.

“Do you mind if I order for us?”

“Please do,” I replied, charmed by his gallantry. When he addressed the waiter in Italian, I nearly fell off my chair. Fuck, that was sexy.

He shot an amused look at me when we were alone again. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Like what?”

“Like you just found out I’m the lead singer of a boy band.”

“Are you?” I asked, widening my eyes comically.

Lars chuckled. “Yes, Lars and the Lumberjacks. Have you heard of us?”

I burst into laughter. “No, but that sounds hot as hell. Do you wear plaid shirts and work boots?”

“And nothing else,” he said with a straight face.

I gulped. “Oh. Wow.”

He snickered at my dreamy expression then grabbed my hand and pressed his lips to my knuckles. The gesture came across as impulsive, charming and impossibly romantic.

“I can’t believe I haven’t kissed you yet. I hope you don’t mind my honesty but… I want you.”

I opened my mouth and closed it then pointed at my chest. “Me?”

Lars grinned. “Yeah you. But I can’t do anything about it here so keep talking. Tell me what happened after Josh came out.”

“Uh…okay. Um…nothing. I mean—isn’t it your turn to do some talking for a while?”

“I’ll tell you anything you want to know but I’m fascinated by you and your ex who’s your best friend and your bi son. And I want to know how you came to be sitting here sharing a bottle of wine with me when your path was so different not so long ago.”

“There isn’t much more to say. When Josh came out, I asked Kate for a divorce. If my twenty-year old son had the balls to be himself, I figured I should do the same. She understood but…not really. It was a painful time. Everyone was hurt. Kate was upset, the kids were devastated and I was a bona fide mess. But I couldn’t keep living a lie. So I began living half a lie. And here I am eleven years later… a masterful liar by omission,” I huffed sarcastically.

“Hmm. So you live a secret gay life and public straight one, is that right? I’m not judging. I’m only curious,” he added, holding a hand up in surrender.

I shrugged. “I suppose. At first, it was all about sex for me. I’d never been with a man at all and I was desperate to know what it was like.”

“Never?” he asked incredulously.

“No. Thank God for online dating. My first gay kiss happened when I was forty-six. Can you believe that? I waited thirty years to kiss a man.”

“What about the rest?”

“Oh yeah. I’ve done it all. I had a lot of years to make up for.”

“So you’ve had sex with a man?” he whispered.

“Yes. Many times.”

“Have you been in a relationship?”

I sighed. “Not really. I came close a couple of times but I wasn’t ready to come out to my kids for someone I wasn’t sure was the real thing. That’s horrible to say aloud but it’s true.”

“Do you think you’ll ever come all the way out? For yourself. Not someone else.”

“Yes. I want to. I do.”

“Hmm. Good,” he replied.

“Good? That’s all you have to say? I—I’ve never told anyone all this before. My family comes first. Always. They’re sacred. I’m not sure why you’re different but you are. I trust you.”

“Thank you. I don’t take that lightly and I feel the same, Jeff.” He considered me thoughtfully before adding, “I’m not sure why or how, but I think I know you. Sure, we have a lot to learn about each other. You may snore, steal the covers and leave the cap off the toothpaste—”

“Guilty.”

Lars grinned. “But at this very moment, I’d give my left nut to be the man who knows those things and accepts you as you are.”

*To be continued…

Leaning Into a New Start- Part 2 *Spoiler Alert

Aloha! I’m enjoying my last full day in Hawaii with my husband before we return to the real world but I wanted to post part 2 of  Jeff’s story before I head home. Just a quick reminder for those who may have missed part 1. This is a backstory to Leaning Into Touch. If you haven’t read Josh and Finn’s story, I would suggest doing so, unless you’re into spoilers! Otherwise, without further adieu, enjoy!

*Btw, I’ll post the final chapter no later than Monday.

Happy Reading! Lane xoIMG_6004

Part 2-

“I’m gay too. But I’m not—” I pursed my lips and furrowed my brow before twisting to face my computer. “We should get going. In my estimation, we have approximately five days worth of work to get through. I unearthed a problem with one of the accounts last night that—”

Lars leaned across the table and grasped my wrist. “Hey. It’s okay. I promise.”

I nodded. “Thanks. I know but…it’s not easy. At least not for me.”

“Hmm.” He moved his hand to cover mine but his gaze didn’t waver. “Does your family know?”

“My ex-wife does but not our children. They’re not exactly kids now but…” I shrugged, unsure how to continue.
“How old are they?”

“My daughters, Jen and Janie are thirty-six and thirty-four and my son, Josh will be thirty-two next month. The girls are married with babies of their own and…I’m old.” That last line sounded painfully pathetic. I grimaced and tried to lighten the awkward mood I’d created with a self-deprecating laugh.

Lars didn’t join in. He squeezed my hand then sat back and folded his arms over his broad chest. “And I was about to say you must have started rather early. You’re not that old, Crypt Keeper.”

“I’m fifty-seven. You?”

“Fifty-two,” he replied quickly before cocking his head thoughtfully. “Now you’re the accountant here, so correct me if my math is off, but were you really a dad at twenty-one?”

“Yep. Kate got pregnant unexpectedly…or maybe not, and Jen was—”

“She tricked you?”

I rolled my eyes. “I had a relatively decent grasp of biology even back then so I wouldn’t say she tricked me. But yes, I was surprised. Or scared shitless. Take your pick, both work.”

“So you married her and played the family man,” he said. “How long did it last?”

“Twenty-five years.”

Lars widened his eyes comically. “Damn boy. That’s a lifetime!”

I snickered at his expression. “A quarter of a century to be exact.”

“You must have loved her,” he stated matter-of-factly.

“I did and I still do, but—” I pursed my lips before I blurted anything too personal. This wasn’t the time or place for heart-to-heart conversations involving a woman I adored or any of the fucked up crap I’d put her through and vice versa. “Let’s just say, things changed when Josh left for school and— we should get to work.”

I glanced at the screen and tried to make sense of the blurry numbers. They taunted me as I tripped over lies of omission, skirting the truth with an alternative version aimed to keep the peace. I wasn’t sure whose peace I was protecting anymore. I only knew it wasn’t mine.

Lars nudged my chair with his foot. It scooted sideways, turning me toward him so his foot brushed the inside of my thigh. My nostrils flared at the contact. He backed off immediately but it was too late. I was already a tightly wound, hyper-aware mess and he was driving me wild. I bet he didn’t even realize it.

“We aren’t done talking though,” he said with a lopsided grin. “You didn’t ask me any questions. We can’t leave this get-to-know-you session one-sided, now can we?”

I barked a quick laugh as I swiveled to face him again, utterly charmed. “That certainly wouldn’t be right. However, we have to discuss—”

“Have dinner with me.” His sudden intensity threw me off stride.

I frowned and hesitated for a moment before replying. “I’m working for you. That would be highly unprofessional. Unless— oh shoot. You weren’t asking me out, were you? So yeah. Of course, we can go over numbers at dinner. Sure. Why not?”

Lars shook his head. “No numbers, Jeff. You had it right the first time. I’m asking you out. On a date.”

“A date,” I repeated carefully. “I can’t. I want to but…we have unfinished business here.” I gestured at my laptop and the files spread out on the glass table.

Lars let out a defeated sigh. “How many more days will this take?”

“Five. Give or take. I think we can wrap it up by Friday.” I bit my lower lip and nodded decisively before adding, “I’m free Saturday night.”

He smiled in response and then angled his head. “Sounds like we have a date.”

I couldn’t keep the goofy grin off my mug if I tried. A date. Me. With Lars. That was… wow. Just wow.

The following few days went by in a blur. I worked long hours to ensure the project would be completed by the end of the week. The bulk of that time was spent with the new CFO Lars hired but we still held a daily briefing. Just the two of us. We’d share a cup of plain ol’ coffee and chat about anything from current events to our favorite bands from the 80s.

“I was a wannabe punk,” Lars told me Friday morning. “Billy Idol was my hero. I loved the bad boy sneer and those leather pants. I owned a couple of pairs myself back in the day. Believe it or not, I was skinny as a rail once upon a time. I couldn’t fit my right calf into those things now.”

I chuckled when he patted his belly and silently commended my restraint because I wanted nothing more than to unbutton his shirt and run my hand over his stomach. I wondered if he was hairy all over. Like a real bear. I shocked myself sometimes. I had no idea I had a type. A robust, muscular daddy type no less.

A vision of a leather man sucking on a fat cigar popped in my head. I remembered walking through the Castro with Josh recently and feeling lightheaded at the sight of two burly men holding hands. My poor son probably thought I was uncomfortable with the public display but that was nowhere close to the truth. I was mesmerized. I wanted to follow them home, hide in the shadows and watch those strangers undress each other and—

“What about chaps?” I asked out of the blue.

Lars raised his thick brow and smirked. “What about ’em?”

“Do you have any?”

“I did. I might still have them somewhere in the back of my closet.”

I gulped. “Oh my—What were you into? You came of age during the AIDS crises in San Francisco, for Christ sake. You must have seen things, done things and—what was it like?”

“That’s a wide variety of topics, Jeff,” he huffed in amusement.

“Yeah, sorry. I just… I missed so much. Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t change where I’ve been. I love my family and I can’t imagine a life without them. In fact, the thought makes me nauseous. But I’m so curious. I’ve always wondered what it was like. I went from feeling jealous as hell of those gorgeous young men having raunchy sex whenever and wherever to feeling scared as hell for them when HIV came into the picture. But I was a sideline observer. A husband and father, living in suburbia. I wished I could help but I didn’t know how to without giving myself away.” I winced as I reached for my coffee cup. “That didn’t sound good. I’m sorry.”

“You apologize for some weird shit, Sheehan,” he chided. “Curiosity is what makes the world go round. Don’t stop asking questions. Ever.”

“True. But I’m not sure if I have a place in your world.”

“My gay world, you mean?”

“Yeah. I’m a fraud. A pretender. I’m not who I claim to be and… I should shut up. I’m sorry.”

“You did it again,” he singsonged. “Listen, the past is by definition over and gone. You said you aren’t sorry about the choices you made. Good. Own that. You’re a gay man who’s dipping his toes into the rainbow pool for the first time. I don’t believe there’s an age limit for that. You’re a good man, Jeff and you’ve lead a good life.”

“But not an honest one.”

Lars considered me for a moment before responding. “It’s never to late for a new start.”

His simple statement might have brought me to my knees if I wasn’t already sitting. Those words spoken in that patient, kind tone brought tears to my eyes. Literally. I grasped his hand without thinking and laced my fingers through his.
“Thank you,” I whispered.

Lars brought our joined hands to his lips and placed a kiss on my knuckles. “You’re welcome.”

I wiped at the corner of my eye with my free hand and chuckled at myself. “You must think I’m a loon. You sure you still want that date tomorrow night.”

Lars leaned in, so close I could smell his cologne and see the golden flecks in his blue eyes.

“Very sure.”

As strange as it seems, I felt his voice. His low tone moved through me, creating a very real connection between us. I hardly knew Lars but I had a feeling he was extraordinary. Maybe even the kind of man who might change my life.

“I’ll have the dinner salad, please. Balsamic vinaigrette on the side. Thank you.” I handed the plastic menu to the waitress with a smile before glancing across the table at my dear friend, who also happened to be my ex-wife.

Kate gave me a funny look before placing her order. She twirled the straw in her iced tea languidly and waited until we were alone in our favorite booth at the local diner we’d frequented since our children were small. This was our spot. A tired greasy spoon with sticky table tops that served the best damned chicken wings in San Leandro. We all thought so. I had fond memories of corralling three active kids covered in sauce as they jumped around like popcorn on a hot skillet.

I looked across the restaurant at the young family sitting in our old booth. A mom, dad, a baby in a high chair and two little ones stuffing their cherubic cheeks with French fries and chicken nuggets. Everything was just beginning for them, I mused. The nostalgic ache wasn’t new to me but I wouldn’t let it pull me under today. No chance.

“That used to be us,” I said with a laugh, hooking my thumb meaningfully toward the family.

Kate shot a cursory glance at them before sipping her tea. She pushed her glass aside then and tapped her nails on the table. “What’s up with you?”

I frowned and shook my head, but I couldn’t keep the shit-eating grin from taking over my face. Unbelievably, I didn’t mega-vomit my news immediately. I pursed my lips and shrugged nonchalantly.

“Nothing. Why?”

“You ordered a salad. You never order a salad.”

“Sure I do,” I insisted.

“Not by itself. You order the Blitz burger with cheddar cheese, hold the pickle, Thousand Island dressing on the side, a basket of fries with extra ketchup. And if you’re feeling a little guilty about the impressive amount of calories you’re about to consume, you order a salad. And you tell the waitress to make sure it’s a very small portion because you don’t want to waste any food.” She narrowed her gaze thoughtfully and gave me her signature quirky smile. The same one I fell in love with fifty years ago.

“You know me well.” I chuckled.

Kate and I had been divorced for eleven years but we were best friends. Or at least… very good friends who still cared about each other. I adored her. She was a devoted mother and grandmother, a fierce advocate for education and the arts and the only woman I’d ever thought I could be happy with. She was tall and lean with long brown hair streaked with gray. She draped her thick mane over her pink cardigan then pushed it over her shoulder in a maneuver that reminded me of the teenager I once knew or one of our daughters.

“I do, so spit it out. Why are you on a hunger strike?”

I squeezed her hand affectionately then took a deep breath. “I’m going on a date tonight.”

Kate smiled. “Good for you. Anyone I know?”

“No.” I let go of her hand and sat back against the faux leather.

I’d weighed the wisdom of telling her everything before asking her out for lunch. Our history was so complex and interwoven as evidenced by the fact she knew my usual burger order to a tee. She knew other things too. Things she didn’t like to talk about. Those lies of omission had been the cornerstone of our marriage. However, they had no place in our friendship. I went over the lines I’d rehearsed earlier one more time, wincing when she kicked me under the table.

“Out with it, Sheehan. Who is it?”

Not she or he… it. Funny pronoun avoidance, I thought as I squirmed on my squeaky seat.

“His name is Lars. I’m going out with a man. On a date,” I blurted.

Blood drained from her face suddenly, leaving her with a ghostly pallor and a sick expression. Okay. Not the reaction I expected. Or maybe it was and I’d willfully hoped she’d respond with a high five and a “that-a-boy”. No such luck.

“Kate?” This time when I reached for her hand, she pulled away and looked out the window.

I followed her lead, fixating on a beat-up minivan with a plush pair of dice hanging from the rearview mirror. My brain was buzzing with a million thoughts at once. The dice are tacky and I sort of like them. The van looks like the one our neighbors used to have. And I wonder what kind of car Lars drives. What I didn’t want to think about was hurting Kate. It was unbearable. The worst part was that I seemed to do it all the fucking time.

I glanced up when she let out a ragged rush of air. “First date?”

I inclined my head, loving her all over again for trying. “Yeah. It’s no big deal but—”

“Bullshit,” she said without heat. “It must be a big deal. You’ve never told me about your previous dates before.”

“I’ve never been on a real date before.”

“Are you telling me you haven’t had sex in the ten years we’ve been divorced?” she huffed humorlessly.

“First of all, we’ve been divorced for almost twelve years and secondly… do you really want to know about my sex life?”

She held eye contact for a moment then shook her head. “Yes and no. I want to know that you haven’t been with another woman. If you have, please lie to me.”

“Katie girl, you’re the only one. You know that.” I waited for her to nod in agreement but when a tear streaked down her cheek, I motioned for her to join me on my side of the table.
She snorted a laugh and shook her head. “No, I’m not doing that, you goofball. I’m fine. I’m—”

“Don’t make me start counting,” I warned in my best “Dad” voice. It was an old joke. I was a softy and everyone in my family knew it. I wasn’t a complete pushover when it came to discipline, however the “counting” trick never worked. But it still made my kids and my best friend laugh so I never missed an opportunity to bring it out.

Kate chuckled in earnest when I raised my forefinger and then my middle finger. I glowered playfully before flashing the third digit and then wordlessly patting the vacant spot beside me. She rolled her eyes but obeyed me with put-upon sigh. She scooted beside me then rested her head on my shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Jeff. I hate myself sometimes. And I wish…”

“What do you wish?” I prodded, pressing a kiss to her brow.

“I wish I had a dick.”

I busted up laughing and pushed her slightly until she sat up and turned to me with a wink.

“What? It’s true. Okay fine. It’s not one hundred percent true. I’d miss my tits and I barely know what to do with a penis as it is. I definitely wouldn’t want one attached to me twenty-four seven.” She nudged my arm when I guffawed and then laid her head against me again. “But I wish I could have given you what you needed.”

“Don’t do that, Kate. It’s been a long time. We tried but—”

“But it was never going to work and that’s a hard pill to swallow. Even after all these years, it still… hurts. I love you, Jeff. Maybe if you were a real asshole this would all be easier but you’re too fucking good. You’re a great man, an amazing dad and the best buddy I ever had. You deserve to be happy.”

“Thank you, but the same goes for you.”

“This Lars fucker better make you happy,” she grumbled.

“Ha! This is our first date. Don’t get excited. He didn’t propose.”

“Mmm. But this is the first time you’ve told me about a date. You’ve mentioned “seeing someone” which I understood as code for “sex hook-up” but you always tend to look jumpy and unhappy. This is different. Why?”

I pondered the question for a moment. “Because he seems like he might get me… just the way I am.”

“Does he make your heart race?” she asked with a smile.

“Like crazy,” I admitted.

“Good. I might like him after all. Are you, um… are you going to say anything to the kids?”

“I wasn’t planning on it. Why?”

“No reason. But if things get serious… I think you should tell Josh first. In fact, let’s make it a code. You don’t have to tell me anything more about Lars unless you want to, but if you think he’s the “one”, don’t tell me. I mean, don’t use those words. Just say… “I have something to tell Josh” and I’ll understand. No discussion necessary. Is that okay?”

I studied the lines at her eyes and the freckle above her lip. No one did passive aggressive quite like Kate. I wasn’t sure it was “okay” but this was how she communicated. Signals and codes. And when the signals went haywire and the codes made no sense, she baked.

“Okay. Only if you promise not to make ten dozen cookies,” I replied.

“What about brownies or lemon bars?”

“Nope. They’re out too. Deal?” I twisted to face her and offered my hand.

“Deal.”

We shook hands like old buddies then hugged. It was a heartfelt sort of connection that acknowledged no matter what happened, we’d always be there for each other. We’d made a series of life-altering decisions many years ago. Some good, some bad. But we’d come out in tact, even though our marriage hadn’t.

I sniffed her hair and held her tightly. Love came in many forms. When I was younger, I didn’t understand how I could love her but not want her. That hadn’t changed but for the first time, I wasn’t confused or confounded, I was just grateful for her friendship and the gift of a second chance with someone new.

*To be continued…