Friday, May 17, 2013

A tour of Asheville. :)

Heartless & Clueless: the Keeping Secrets Series
For gay teens in the South, Erwin High School is as good as it gets. The prevailing liberalism means being gay doesn’t have to be the focus of your life—which frees up seventeen-year-old Jason Strummer to take on the role of bully. Jason understands his beauty and power and has a reputation to match his attitude. No one but his best friend suspects the cruelty Jason hides behind is a ruse to keep his hellish private life out of the public eye.
Jason has only loved one boy in his life, and that crush on Tommy Johnson ended so badly that they’re no longer on speaking terms. When an ex-lover threatens Jason and Tommy steps in to help, the heartless playboy can’t help but fall a little bit back in love with him—but Jason will have to choose between keeping Tommy or his illusions.

Welcome to Asheville, North Carolina, home of the Erwin Warriors. I thought I’d pop over to give a brief tour of the city where the Keeping Secrets series takes place and to share some of Jason, Tommy, and the rest of the Erwin crew’s haunts. Asheville is located in the western part of North Carolina nestled between the hills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. I grew up within a stone’s throw of the city. Needless to say, it’s near and dear to my heart. So it only made sense that Jason and Tommy would live in and around my old stomping grounds.

“Let me just say this as a disclaimer: We lived in Asheville, North Carolina. For those of you who have never been to Asheville let me explain to you why this is significant. Asheville may be located in the middle of redneck country but they call it the San Francisco of the South. It has an abundance of three things, great food, hippies, and gays. So when I say that going to Erwin High allowed for more liberal minded social norms such as Kevin having a gay best friend and my punk rocker friends to be on the football team I’m not kidding.”- Jason, Heartless

Jason isn’t kidding when he describes Asheville that way. A lot of my characters from Erwin wouldn’t have been able to be so open minded about their sexuality if they hadn’t grown up and been immersed in the accepting nature of the city. The Pride festival that Tommy and Jason attend in Fearless [Keeping Secrets 3] is one of my favorite scenes in the new book. The picture on the right shows the real deal from last year.

“When I said I was a social glutton, I wasn’t kidding and the drum circle that was put on every Friday night by the locals was like my heroine. There were always at least thirty to forty people there. During the summer the park would cram full of people, hundreds of them, and they would all drink and trip and drum the night away.
 The rhythm always got into my blood and it would never take long before my hips were swaying to the beat. I would inevitably find myself grinding and gyrating for the crowd. I loved it. I was an attention whore that way.” –Jason, Heartless

Another fun haunt that Jason is particularly fond of is the drum circle that takes place in the city center. As you can see, it can get quite crowded and Jason affectionately refers to it as his “Club” and it’s easy to understand why. The sounds of a dozen drummers working toward the same rhythm and song can get a lot louder than any sound system in a night club and the atmosphere can get just as rowdy. The mix of people and energy is something Jason uses to let loose and relax after a hard day and I promise that there will be more of the energetic event in future books.

““Take em’ down, baby!” I shouted, raising hell from the brown wooden benches above the chaos going on below. I was wearing Tommy’s letterman jacket and screaming my head off.”- Jason, Fearless

The boys go to Erwin High and the school colors are red and white. The mascot is the Erwin Warrior. Since Tommy is an athlete, school pride is par for the course. Though Jason is too cool to do the sport thing, Tommy is on the swim team and the wrestling team and is hoping for a scholarship in the former. You’ll find a lot of Erwin memorabilia in Tommy’s room including his prized letterman jacket and a few Erwin athletic tees.

“We pulled into his driveway in little under fifteen minutes. Biltmore forest was a section of town similar to how I’d imagined Beverly Hills was to L.A. It was an exclusive zip code which came complete with twenty-four hour security, extremely well maintained sidewalks, and absolutely no loitering whatsoever. Oh, and a friggin private lake.”- Jason, Heartless

And last but not least on our little tour of Asheville, Kevin’s house in Biltmore Forest. This exclusive neighborhood was definitely the inspiration for where my wealthier characters called home. The house on the left is Kevin’s. His wing of the house is upstairs, the left set of rooms. Jason and Tommy are all in a little bit of awe every time they go to hang out at Kevin’s place. It’s easy to understand why. The place is downright stately with its white columns and well-manicured lawn.  Houses like this are in abundance around the area.

And that is my tour of Asheville and the world of Keeping Secrets. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Asheville is a little bit of fantasy, a little bit of reality, and a lot of fun. It’s definitely worth checking out if you ever get the urge to go somewhere off the beaten path.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Such an incredibly busy time!

Hello All!

I'm working on a few things of late and time has once more gotten away from me. :) Working on a few things right now, including a steampunk piece that I hope everyone will get to enjoy reasonably soon. More info to come. Trying to arrange a effective writing schedule is difficult.

Wishing you the best!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Clueless Giveaway!

Hello All!

I'm over on the Boys on the Brink blog doing a giveaway of Clueless [Keeping Secrets 2]. I'm short on the announcements this week. So, good luck on the contest!

You can find a review about it HERE  and to enter to win follow this link: CONTEST.

Wishing you the best,

Monday, April 1, 2013

Contests, Giveaways, & Announcements

Hello All,

My apologies for not updating my blog sooner. I have been extremely busy with other interfering life
events. I wish the world would just leave me alone so I can write more.  :) I promise to leave some snippets from Fearless [Keeping Secrets 3] up this week to make up for it.

Also, I will be participating in several giveaways this month that I hope you will come out to comment for a chance to win.

I'll be a guest blogger on Lexi DeHalo's blog on April 4th and I'll be giving away a $5 giftcard to as well as a copy of A Gentleman's Agreement. The link for her blog can be found Here.

On April 11th I'll be stopping by Gabrielle Evans' birthday bash. Comment for a chance to win Heartless and A Gentleman's Agreement. She's giving away a great list of other prizes from other authors as well. Each comment is a entry to win. For details on the whole birthday bash click the icon. My post will be available to view on this link the day of the contest: Gabrielle Evans' Blog.

Again, a big thank you for everyone who has read my books and good luck on the upcoming contests!

Best wishes,


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hello all,

Here is an interesting review of Clueless [Keeping secrets2]. I apologize about the long absence. Time has rather gotten away from me. 

Wishing you the best!

Keeping Secrets is the perfect title for this series following two very different boys in their discovery

that hiding the things that matter most has the power to harm not only themselves, but the people they care about. Heartless (reviewed here), the first of four parts, saw bully Jason Strummer telling the story as he and Tommy negotiated their stormy history to embark on a tentative romance. In Clueless, Tommy takes over the narrative, where upon it quickly becomes apparent that there exists far more to him than the reliable jock who is Jason’s anchor.

A few weeks have passed since Tommy helped Jason escape the years of sexual abuse he was forced to suffer at the hands of his stepdad. Since then, Jason has been living with him and his adoptive family, and, against the odds, the two have fallen into a comfortable routine. With the boy he loves under his protection, and both of them looking forward to a weekend camping trip to celebrate their one-month anniversary, Tommy has high hopes for the future. But Jason’s troubles won’t release their grip on him so easily. His past is about to catch up with him, bringing his and Tommy’s fragile happiness collapsing around them.

When his stepdad tracks him down in an attempt to lure him back under his destructive influence, Jason’s precarious handle on his life starts to slip. His behavior spirals increasingly out of control, and as the only one Jason has entrusted with the truth about his ordeal, Tommy believes the responsibility for holding him together rests solely on his shoulders. Yet, under the steady exterior, Tommy is fighting his own pain over the loss of his mother, choosing to bottle his feelings rather than let himself grieve. With both boys cracking under the pressure, something has to give, and that something may well be their relationship.

This is a powerful novella exploring the concept that strength doesn’t always mean coping alone. Sometimes, true courage requires admitting a burden is too heavy for one person to carry and accepting help. While the hard-hitting nature of this story often made for difficult reading, Tommy and Jason’s obvious love for each other lends optimism to even the grimmest scenes. Their relationship may never be an easy one, but what they have is an undeniable bond that will surely see them through the dark times.

Since this book is a direct continuation, readers ideally need to be familiar with the prequel to fully appreciate the conflict and emotional complexities. So, if you haven’t picked it up already, this is a series I can highly recommend.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Interesting Ramble about the Keeping Secrets series at Novel Matters...

There’s nothing quite like a book about sexual abuse and its emotional and psychological and physical devastation to hammer home the difference between realistic fiction and the sort of books that portray non-consensual, or dubiously consensual, sex as erotica, is there?

Not long ago, I read a book called Not His Kiss to Take—and let me just say that I am in no way singling this particular book out for any reason other than it’s fresh in my mind—in which the relationship between the protagonist and his person of interest begins in a way that, if one is being generous, could only be described as questionable if looking at it from an entirely ethical standpoint. In spite of some reservations, however, I liked various aspects of the story, if for nothing more than they forced me to examine my own thoughts and feelings about the behavior of the characters and the way in which I found myself making concessions for a relationship that, in real life, I might think was beyond the pale. The single most important mitigating factor in this book, however, is that both characters are adults, which made it one that I could entertain a certain disconnect with because it was purposely written as erotica and nothing more. It wasn’t meant to represent a question of ethics or moral truths. It was meant to entertain, and it did.

Not so, Heartless and Clueless, books one and two in J. Roman’s “Keeping Secrets” series. These books also forced me to examine my thoughts and feelings, but make no mistake, there is nothing, nothing erotic or titillating or at all ambiguous about the horrors of the non-consensual sexual relationship in these books. In fact, if there were a complete book of the worst kind of human monster, a book that exposed men like Jason Strummer’s stepfather, Jonathan, as the face of the most vile being with a place reserved in a special ring of the Seventh Circle of Hell, it would be these books. Jonathan is nothing more than an opportunistic predator, and Jason is his victim by virtue of proximity and circumstance. But Jason is also more than a victim; Jason, the sum-total of his being defined, is the wreckage of his abuse, which has left its mark, like a tarry black residue of shame and detachment and misery and re-victimization all over the boy’s psyche. These books are a purposefully crafted example of a teenager condemned to hiding behind a mask of contempt and affected apathy in order to simply maintain and to secure some semblance of self-preservation to avoid ending up a ward of a system we all know isn’t perfect.

Jason’s story is told in two points of view: book one from Jason’s, book two from his boyfriend Tommy’s, and both are a blow-by-blow deconstruction of Jason and the way in which his caustic behavior and command of his own sexual attitudes delineate the fear and stigma of his abuse, and illustrate the half-truths and lies by omission that are a direct byproduct of that abuse. It realistically portrays the enormity of these secrets, as well as the physical and emotional consequences of the stress placed upon the narrow shoulders of two boys whose relationship was already balancing precariously on a shaky foundation. Trusting an adult to help shoulder his burden was a non-factor for Jason, when taking in the scope of a situation where the best in life he could hope for was merely to survive from one sickening touch to the next, and the one person who should have stood up and fought for him, didn’t. For Jason, trust is nothing more than a series of negative denominators in a fraction of an existence with few positives, and it wasn’t always easy to watch his life play out, one trauma at a time.

If you’re a very emotional reader like I am, I think it’s safe to say it’s impossible to read these books and not feel the story on a visceral level. If you’re a reader who loves to pick apart the motivations and behaviors of characters, these books are more than a feast for that habit. There were times while I was reading that I felt as helpless as both Jason and Tommy, and I think it’s also fairly safe to say it could be tempting to criticize some of Jason’s behaviors, but I also think marginalizing his actions down to right or wrong would be to miss the point that there was no black and white for him, rather just a gaping void of in between where he was trying his best to survive the varying shades of ambiguity. Trust me when I say his slow and resolute self-destruction wasn’t easy to bear witness to, and at the risk of seeming condescending, it made me wonder how much—or how differently—this book would be appreciated by a YA audience. I suppose a lot of it would depend upon how young the adult and how varied the life experiences.

Obviously, these books, short as they are, are not easy or light reads. All the rape scenes do take place off screen, but once you know something has happened, you can’t really un-know it, can you? It’s still there, written all over Jason’s every word and action and reaction, so the impact is every bit as uncompromising in its bite.

As a whole, this is a gripping story of sacrifice and endurance, and while I can say I thought J. Roman did a commendable job delivering a drama worth getting lost in, I can’t say these books are for everyone, regardless of whether you’re a fan of Young Adult fiction or not. I think I’ll just go with the recommended-with-caution disclaimer and leave it at that.

Novel Matters Link

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Lovely Review of Clueless

Pixie from MMgoodbookreviews gives Clueless 4 1/2 hearts :) 

Review: This book is part of a series and must be read in order. Tommy and Jason are coming up to their one-month anniversary and they have plans to celebrate. But, Jason reacts badly when his step-father confronts him. As Jason reacts to his pain, Tommy is left to pick up the pieces and trying to be supportive, but just how much of a burden can a seventeen year old take?
This story continues with Tommy and Jason’s relationship from Heartless. We see how the two boys are handling their relationship and the horrors of Jason’s past. Things are going well between Tommy and Jason and they are planning some alone time for their one-month anniversary, but Jonathan (Jason’s step-father) wants Jason back and it sends Jason on a course of self-destruction that Tommy is desperate to contain and stop. The burden becomes too much when Jason turns to Tommy and Tommy feels used and just when they begin to get back on an even keel Tommy has no choice, but to tell the adults what has been happening.
J. Roman has yet again written a story that tries to rip your heart out. She has written a story that gives us the hardships that these two young adults are facing, the pressure they are under and the heartache that they suffer. This story is all from Tommy’s point of view, so we see the true pressure he is under as he tries desperately to be the rock that his boyfriend needs; to keep a devastating secret that is destroying the one he loves and trying to corral his boyfriend before he self-destructs. Jason acts out, driving the ones who want to help and support him away, refusing the help he needs and he ends up placing himself back in the way of danger.
I have to recommend that everyone reads this book; it is filled with anguish, angst, fear, heartbreak, love, and hope. It has two young adults who are trying to deal with a secret that would bring adults to their knees, but it also shows that it is better to place a secret that devastating into the hands of the ones who can do the most good.

For entire review click Here

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Now Available: Clueless

I'm late as per usual. Clueless [Keeping Secrets ] is now available on all third part sites. I hope you enjoy!

Keeping Secrets: Book Two

Out jock Tommy Johnson and former bully Jason Strummer have settled into a surprisingly comfortable routine. They’re even planning a special camping trip for just the two of them for their one-month anniversary. Tommy doesn’t think things can get any better—until Jason’s past catches up to them.

Jason’s stepdad will stop at nothing to put Jason back in his place. As Jason spins out of control, Tommy tries desperately to hold the edges of their world together. But the pressure of dealing with Jason’s increasingly erratic behavior and keeping a growing number of secrets under wraps may prove too much for Tommy to handle.

Then Jason blows it and their comfy world falls apart. When he finally texts Tommy for help, they both learn some secrets aren’t worth keeping.

Young Adult Age Range: 14 to 18 years old

Third Party Buy Links Click Here

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Excerpt: Clueless [Keeping Secrets 2]

Hello All,

I just wanted to let everyone know that Clueless[Keeping Secrets 2] will be available Feb. 1. Below is an excerpt which is up on ARE currently. Thank you for reading.


Chapter One
I THINK she would’ve liked him. Maybe not at first, but I think my mom would’ve fallen in love with his smile just like I did. It’s kind of more of a smart-ass smirk than a smile, really. Quirked up on one side more than the other, it seems to say you’re the butt of a joke that only he knows. I always liked that smile, even when he wasn’t giving it to me. I must’ve been in love with him forever.

I’m not really a pushy person. She used to say that quiet strength was the best kind, so I sort of patterned myself that way. It’s how I got to be captain of the swim team and cocaptain of the wrestling team. When you’re quiet and steady, centered, people pay attention to you when you speak. She liked that best about me.

However, there was a mutiny brewing in my carefully quiet world, and its main organizer was none other than my friend, Rick Castalla, and his two coconspirators, Devin and JJ Gibson. I expected it out of the Gibson boys. They were trouble from day one, always starting a fight, always picking on the less popular kids who made it onto the team, and generally making my life as cocaptain a living hell. Rick had always had my back, at least until I started dating and living with Jason Strummer, boy of my fantasies. Somehow we’d become enemies over my choice of boyfriend, and I couldn’t figure out why. Well, okay, I could figure out where some of the hostility was coming from, but I hadn’t thought he’d had a grudge that deep against my boyfriend.

“I thought I asked you guys to help clean up tonight, Rick? I can’t do it all by my lonesome,” I said. It was a reasonable request. After two solid hours of grueling drills, sweaty workouts, and exhausting conditioning exercises, my arms were numb, and rolling up the practice mats and cleaning out the coolers seemed an insurmountable task.

As cocaptain, it was my responsibility to get the guys on a rotating system where a few of them and myself would stay after every practice and do what needed to be done so the morning gym classes wouldn’t have to spend time picking up our mess. Unfortunately, there were two nights a month where I was stuck with Rick, Devin, and JJ on cleanup duty. Between Rick and me, we could typically get Devin and JJ in line. Tonight, even Rick was fighting me.

Rick shifted from foot to foot before giving me this “screw you” look. “Man, I’m tired, sweaty, and in need of a shower. Ask some of the other guys to stay.”

“It’s your turn, Rick. Everyone stays after twice a month. You know that. If the four of us get on it, we can be done in forty-five minutes.” I didn’t see what the big deal was. I always stayed after.

“Why don’t you get that faggot boyfriend of yours to help? He’s always hanging around after practice waiting on you anyway,” Rick sneered.

I should’ve expected it. He’d been calling Jason that more and more lately. It was like he was trying to goad me into a fight. My hands balled into fists at my side. As always, her voice came to me. Strength means not having to show it off because someone made you angry, Tommy. Strength means holding back when all you want to do is lose your mind.

“Jason is not on this team. You are. And if you want to stay on it, Rick, I suggest you check your attitude, unless you want to discuss it in detail with Coach. We don’t have to be cool right now, but this isn’t negotiable.” Pulling rank on him was a dirty move, but I didn’t have any other choice. It was either that or brawl with him, and there was no way in hell I was risking getting grounded this weekend.

This was “the” weekend, me and Jason’s one month anniversary. It was Jason’s longest relationship, and he wanted to do something “outrageous.” His words, not mine. So Uncle Mark had agreed to let Jason and me head out to the lake for a weekend of camping. It was only twenty minutes away, but it satisfied Jason’s impulsive nature. How he’d managed to get the weekend off from his sucky job at Kmart, I didn’t know, but Jason was beyond pleased with himself.

Rick’s noise of frustration brought me out of my thoughts of the weekend. “Fuck you, Tommy.” Not in this life or any other.

I WAS sweat-covered and sore as hell when I pulled up in front of Kmart a few hours later. I hadn’t bothered going home because between practice, homework, and Jason’s shift getting over early because of payroll cuts, I wouldn’t have had time. The store was in the ghetto, so the fact that Jason worked there at all wasn’t something that made me happy, but the fact that they continuously kept him there on random, often late-night shifts made me even less happy. I hated when Jason took the bus home.

I glanced at the clock on my dashboard and let out a string of low curses. I was still early. I pulled down a parking lane and went ahead and parked. At 10:00 p.m. the lot was mostly empty except for a beat-up pickup truck, two other cars that looked like they had seen better days, and the employees’ cars toward the periphery of the lot that weren’t much better. After I put my Camaro in park, I climbed out and made my way across the blacktop to the automatic doors. I could at least go wander around until Jason’s shift was over or I found something to buy so I’d have an excuse to go through his line.

The store was mostly empty, aisles of merchandise in neat rows. Corporate America was nothing if not organized. Nothing appealed to me, though. It was all junk—organized junk, but junk nonetheless. Maybe I’d get a new CD. Then I remembered that Uncle Mark had installed a hookup for my iPod. Oh well. Soda and a bag of chips it is. I was starving anyway.

“Fuck you! I’m not leaving!”

Was that Jason?

“You don’t quit me, boy! Not ever! You are a minor, and if I have to drag your ass from this store, you’re going!”

I quickened my footsteps as my heart started to pound. Whatever was happening, it didn’t sound good.

“I’m not even living with you anymore!” It was Jason. I ran toward the sound of his voice, my arms pumping like a marathon runner. I tore around the corner, skidding to a halt in time to see an older guy built like a brick shithouse grab my boyfriend’s arm. He was my height but much thicker through the chest than I was. His dirty wifebeater was stretched over his stomach pouch, and his baggy blue jeans were off-brand.

The older man’s lips stretched out into a nasty grin. “You’ve been gone for longer before, boy. That doesn’t mean you’re not coming home. Your mother wants you home.”

“Get the hell off him!” I snapped. All those patient lectures on keeping my temper went right out the window. I charged toward them and jerked the guy off my boyfriend by his wifebeater. The shirt ripped, and he stumbled against me.

We lost our footing on the linoleum and crashed into one of the stands that was advertising some kind of brightly colored play set. The thing crashed to the floor, sending the boxes on it scattering. He righted himself at the same time I did and turned on me. His muddy brown eyes widened in surprise, and then a cocky look made his face even more frightening than it had been, filling it with rage.

He straightened and crossed his arms over his chest. “So you’re the one that has his dick in a knot. You’re the boy he’s been staying with?”

My hands balled into knots of anger at my sides. “Yeah. I’m his boyfriend. If you touch him again, I’m calling the cops.” I somehow managed to fumble in my pocket to get my cell phone and held it up to demonstrate. The guy actually laughed.

“And tell them what? That his father is demanding he come home? I could have your parents brought up on kidnapping charges.”

A chill went through me. “You’re the one.” I hadn’t meant to say that aloud, but there it was. He had hurt my boyfriend, raped my boyfriend. I lunged at him, completely intent on bashing his damn face in.

Jason moved to intercept me, wrapping his surprisingly strong arms around my middle and hauling me backward. “No! Tommy, let it go, let him go. He’s nothing.” His beautiful green eyes were filled with tears.

“You’re coming home, Jason. One way or another, you’re coming home.” There was a deadly promise in Jason’s stepfather’s voice, and I wanted nothing more than to beat the stupid ass senseless. Jason must’ve heard the threat too, because a stricken look passed over his face before it went completely blank. It was a chilling transformation. He let me go and turned back toward his stepfather.

His gait became slinky, and he took two steps forward. “Jonathan, I’m just having a bit of fun. Please, let me have fun a bit longer?” I nearly threw up. I looked back and forth between them, at a total loss of what to do.

Jonathan’s expression changed, becoming almost playful. “You will come home?”

“Of course, Jonathan. You know I can’t play with boys too long. It’s—” My boyfriend’s voice cracked. “It’s nothing to worry about. I’ve—” He swallowed. “I’ve got to finish up and clock out. I’ll call you and Mom tomorrow, okay?”

His stepdad cupped Jason’s cheek for a second. “All right. Be good.”


Without another word, Jonathan turned and walked back down the way I’d come and disappeared around the corner. I breathed out. I hadn’t even realized I was holding my breath until that moment. Jason just stood there, frozen.

I wrapped my arms around him from behind. “Are you okay, baby?”

He gave a shuddering exhale and pulled away from me. “Fine. I need to clock out. Meet you at the car?”

“Jason, I don’t think—”

“I don’t really give a damn what you think! Just meet me at the fucking car!” he all but screamed in my direction before storming off toward the door by layaway marked Employees Only.

I felt like I’d just been slapped in the face. Taking a deep breath, I reminded myself that comforting Jason had never been an easy task. He took out his shit on me because he trusted me to handle it, like he trusted Kevin, his best friend, to handle it. I was finally in his head and his heart, and that was the only reason he was doing this to me. I gritted my teeth and went to the car.

SITTING in the darkened interior of my ride, I tried to remind myself that I loved Jason dearly and that I shouldn’t scream at him after what had just happened. He didn’t need it. He may have deserved it, but he certainly didn’t need it.

Uncle Mark and Uncle Charlie had told me over and over again that Jason was going to need some time and a whole hell of a lot of love and support if he was going to be able to get through the “adjustment period.” I hadn’t told Uncle Mark and Uncle Charlie exactly what had been going on with Jason and his stepdad, but they’d gleaned enough from Jason’s reactions over the past two weeks to piece together some of it. They thought Jason’s stepdad was a drunk or something, not someone particularly savory, but relatively harmless.

Dean, my cousin, had already said that if I wanted, he would kill Jason’s stepdad. He was a bit more observant than my uncles. I wasn’t entirely sure he wasn’t serious. Something about his tone had said that he’d seen something ugly before, known something like Jason had gone through, and wanted some type of retribution for it.

My passenger door opened, and Jason slid into the seat before putting his backpack in the floorboard.

“Are you okay?” I asked, reaching over to take his hand. He pulled away from me, his face going from blank to brittle in about three seconds.

“Just drive.” He sat back in the seat and started to tremble.

I sighed. “You gotta close the door first, babe.” I was scared to touch him, afraid he was going to break into a million pieces if I tried. He reached out, gripped the handle, and upchucked all over the door.

“Jesus!” I said, unbuckling my seat belt and opening my door at the same time. I rolled myself out of the car and ran around to the other side. “Baby, baby, look at me.” He heaved again as I reached his side of the car. Luckily, most of the vomit hit the blacktop this time.

He let out one shuddering sob. “I’m sorry.” His pretty green eyes were filled to the brim with misery. “I’m so sorry.”

“Shhh, honey, no need to apologize.” I know I was supposed to be his hero or whatever, but the smell of his puke was about to make me hurl. I never dealt well with body fluids. I was barely able to handle Christian’s, my other cousin, and he was still a baby. “Jason, I love you.”

Jason was often a chameleon, changing moods and personas like most people changed clothes. There were very few people who Jason fractured in front of. I wasn’t proud to say that I was one of them, but it was an honor in a lot of ways. He was finally starting to trust me. But God, it killed me to see him so broken.

“You’ve got to protect your family, your friends, and the weak, Tommy.” She used to say that all the time. I felt the weight of my obligation to Jason heavily in that moment. I needed to make him safe, had promised him he would be safe with me. I, of all people, couldn’t be a liar to him.

“I’m goin’ to make it better, J. I promise.” I repeated the words I said to him when he had nightmares sleeping next to me, when I held him all weekend long.

Jason wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “You can’t.”

“I can, baby. I will. Please, let me tell someone.” I just knew Uncle Mark and Uncle Charlie would help if they knew. I knew Jason had forbidden Kevin, his best friend, from telling anyone, but this was a new situation. My uncles didn’t count. They would get him the help he needed. I knew they would.

“No. Please, just take me home, Tommy. Please.” Jason closed his eyes and seemed to shrink into my passenger seat. Fuck. I knew the stony expression that was threatening to come over his face. That was Jason’s I’m-not-dealing-with-reality-and-I-care-but-I-say-I-don’t look. I sighed again in frustration.

The worst part about having a boyfriend like Jason was that he thought he was a freaking island or something. He never let me actually help. I could deal with the aftermath of his emotional wreckage, and I could put a bandage on whatever wound he brought to my attention, but I could never fight the bad guy, never fix the problem. I could just clean up the mess afterward. I should’ve been used to that by now. I should’ve been prepared for my life as the continual observer, but it still sucked. Just like when my mom was dying, I was helpless to do anything but wait and hope we’d make it through another day.

We used napkins from my glove box to wipe off the side of the door, and I tried not to gag too much. Jason apologized over and over again as we cleaned, and I told him continuously that it was okay and I wasn’t mad or anything. I tossed the dirty papers into a nearby trash can before returning to my Camaro. Exhaustion made my shoulders slump and my movements slow as I sat in the driver’s seat for the second time that night.

I cranked the engine and backed out of the space. We had a twenty-minute ride back to my house, and I imagined the smell of puke wasn’t going to dissipate in the time it took to get there. I glanced over at Jason as I pulled out onto the main road and hopped on the highway.

He was beautiful as usual, a little paler, but still just as beautiful despite his sickness. Brown hair that had just a bit of a wave to it was cut long enough to run your hands through, and his eyes, even though I couldn’t see them in the dim light of the interior of my car, were a deep jungle green, mysterious and unpredictable. He had a smaller build than me, thinner, with muscles defined more by natural fitness than any diet regimen or workout. He used to be on the basketball team, but he’d quit some time back. I think he only did it for popularity’s sake anyway, because he was definitely not into most sports.

Most people never saw past his pretty smile. They saw him as they wanted to see him, a beautiful, catty statue of high school perfection. I saw more. I’d always seen more. I just didn’t know what the extra bit was until I’d asked him out and we’d started dating again. Most people who knew about the first time we’d “dated”—“hooked up” would’ve been a more accurate phrase—thought I was crazy for going out with him. It had ended badly. He’d posted a video to my mom’s blog that had included me practicing my oral exam skills with him after a football game. Needless to say, we didn’t speak for a while. But that was behind us.

Jason does “pretty” very well, and he fools everyone into thinking he doesn’t know how to do anything else. What people don’t see is the sharp wit, killer sense of humor, and sweetness that is tinged with just a bit of a bite to give it real flavor. He wasn’t easy to figure out but would tell you exactly what was on his mind whenever he thought you needed to hear it, and I was fascinated with him from the beginning. Those qualities had made me fall head over ass in love with him, and I’ve been in love with him ever since. However, when I’d signed up to be his boyfriend, I hadn’t counted on him coming with more emotional scars than a starving refugee from a war-torn country. I was starting to crack, and I just couldn’t let him realize it.


By: J. Roman