Sunday, August 31, 2014

Snippet: Stand By You


Since this book that I love so much is coming out in less than two months, I wanted to share a bit with you guys. This scene is the start of chapter five. Brendan has offered to help Romy get into better physical shape, and they're going to Brendan's place for their first workout session.

#*#

Brendan didn’t even have to ring the door buzzer Friday morning. Romy was sitting on the stoop outside waiting for him when he pulled up by the curb, left leg bouncing up and down. He practically leapt off the step, dressed in a too-big wife-beater and baggy gym shorts cinched up as tight as he could get them.
Borrowed clothes. Brendan hadn’t even thought about that when he asked Romy to work out with him—that Romy had nothing except what Ezra and Donner bought for him. Romy’d probably had to ask for another favor.
Crap on a cracker, Brendan had already messed up.
“Hey, Roe,” Brendan said when the passenger door opened up.
“Hey.” Romy slid into the passenger seat. His leg started bouncing again once he buckled his seatbelt. He didn’t look nervous. Kind of curious, maybe. “So where do you live, anyway? I never did ask.”
No reason he should have asked. Brendan pulled back onto the street. “East of 95, near Brandywine.”
“Okay.”
The even response told him nothing. Maybe Romy wasn’t as familiar with Wilmington’s neighborhoods as he should be, or he’d know they weren’t heading to the best area. Affordable, yeah, but every night somebody was out on the streets selling crack, H, meth, and/or sex. No one pestered Brendan. He was sure to make nice with his neighbors, and the one time a dealer didn’t take no for an answer, Brendan broke his nose.
Message received.
“Is it far?” Romy asked.
“Ten minutes, I guess. Depends on traffic.”
“Oh.”
“You don’t know the city good, do you?”
Romy shrugged, attention going everywhere as he took in their route. “I mostly take the bus when I have to go someplace. I’ve never owned a car. Hell, I don’t even have a driver’s license.”
“You don’t? At twenty-two?”
“So?”
“Just askin’. Lotta city folks don’t get a driver’s license, not if you can walk all places or use public trans.”
“Yeah, well, not everyone would call Wilmington a city. Not compared to Philly or New York. Trust me, I’ve lived there.”
The personal information—tidbits he hadn’t previously known—tweaked Brendan’s curiosity. “How’d you get from there to here?”
“Bus tickets.”
Sounded like code for I don’t want to talk about it.
He searched for a less invasive conversation topic. “You done any weight training before?”
Romy snickered. “Hell, no.” He flashed wide black eyes at Brendan. “We’re lifting weights?”
“Sure. Why not?”
“No, I guess I thought working out meant, like, jumping jacks and stuff.”
“Nah, that’s crap exercise. Weights are good for you. You run?”
“Only if I’m being chased.”
The flirty way Romy said that made him chuckle. “Running is good cardio. Good for everything.”
Romy hunched down in his seat. “Are we running today?”
“Nah, not today. Some day when we got more time.”
“Oh joy.” He rolled his eyes.
Brendan smiled. “It’s hard at first. Once your legs get used to it and your lungs are trained, it feels great.”
“Ezra runs. He says it’s one of his favorite things.”
They’d made it five whole minutes without a mention of the bottle-blond object of Romy’s crush. “He ever take you running?”
“No. There’s no time. Since he fell head-first into the cafĂ©, I don’t think he’s managed more than once a week. He likes running out by the Brandywine River.”
“I usually go to the indoor track at my gym. Better in summer. Not so sweaty. Even ground is better on my knee.”
“Right.”
The closer they got to Brendan’s neighborhood, the more jumpy Romy got. His left leg was thumping on the floorboard like crazy, and both hands were twisting around each other in his lap. He was way out of his comfort zone. Maybe this was a bad idea.
Usually a funny text would distract Romy, calm him down. He couldn’t text and drive—even if it wasn’t against the law, he wasn’t good at it, and the last thing he wanted was to crash them both into the guardrail. New plan. Brendan reached out. Squeezed Romy’s left knee with his hand. The movement stopped instantly. Even his hands stilled. He glanced at Romy, who was looking at Brendan’s hand. All dark chocolate on Romy’s pale skin.
How about that? It worked.
“Nothing’s gonna happen out here,” Brendan said. “People know me. They won’t mess with us, okay?”
Romy’s left hand snaked out and landed on top of Brendan’s, a warm weight he really liked. “Thanks, Bren. I’m kind of a basket case most days.”
“Nah. You’re feelin’ your way through, is all. It’ll get better.”
“What will?” Something in Romy’s expression went dark, stormy. “My anxiety? The nightmares? The fact that I’m a big fucking failure in life?”
Those words punched Brendan in the chest. Romy thought he was a failure? No way. Not a chance. And nightmares? Anyone who’d been through what Romy survived would have nightmares, but this long after? Hell. The anger swirling in his gut made him want to beat the shit out of Carlos.
Again.
He pulled his hand off Romy’s knee, because his fingers were itching to make a fist and the last thing he wanted to do was hurt Romy. Not even by accident. He clutched the wheel with both hands and glared at the taillights of the car ahead of him on the road.
Twenty-two. Romy was too damned young to feel so old. To think he’d already failed. Brendan had blown out his knee at twenty, wallowed in misery at twenty-one, and by twenty-two he’d met Jake Street and gotten his first post-injury job as a restaurant dishwasher. Maybe he’d never moved in with a sadistic asshole who beat him every night for fun and sexual thrills, but Brendan could sympathize with hitting bottom and clawing his way back out.
Romy had a lot of life left to live.
“You aren’t a failure.” He turned onto his street. “No way.”
“I’m not?” Romy made a distressed noise. “I can’t even be driven across town without freaking out. I’ve never had a job before that didn’t involve hand or blow, and I have zero idea what I want other than to never, ever fall for a guy who will hurt other people. Not again.”
Brendan’s hands went tight around the wheel, and the leather creaked. Hell. Brendan had been in more fights than he could count. He’d loved tackling another guy to the ground during football, whether game or practice. He had gloried in beating the shit out of Carlos for what he’d done to Romy—a fact he’d never told Romy. Sure, everyone knew that somebody handed the bastard his ass not long after Romy’s rescue, but Carlos had never reported him.
He’d wanted to tell Romy so many times, but he never wanted Romy afraid of him, not for any reason. He would never look at Brendan the same again if he found out.
His mind raced for something else to say. Something positive. “You made the phone call, Roe. You had enough and you called for help. That’s brave.”
“That was desperate. I was scared he—” Romy’s mouth snapped shut. His hands started twisting around each other.
Brendan parked in an empty space near his building, then let the engine idle so they’d have air. Romy hadn’t finished the thought, and Brendan really wanted to know what Carlos had done to push him over the edge. When he, Donner and Ezra had found Romy, he had been dehydrated, underfed, bruised, naked and bleeding from his rectum. Romy had refused to be taken to the hospital, and it had taken every ounce of Brendan’s self-control to not storm back to Carlos’s place and kill him where he stood.
Romy had been so fragile, so desperate for safety and love, that Brendan had stayed until it was necessary to leave. He hadn’t understood what compelled him to want to protect a boy he’d just met—only that Romy needed strength and that he had plenty to spare.
Two days later he’d gone and handed Carlos his ass.
Seemed like a good idea at the time. Now he wasn’t so sure.
“Don’t matter why you did it,” Brendan said. “Only that you did. And now you’re safe, ̓kay?”

Romy swallowed hard, his black eyes a little too shiny. “Okay.”