Forced back to his hometown in Florida, John's craving a hit with every memory when he meets Tory's neighbor. Spacey and judgmental, Galen Henderson has been rotting in his crappy apartment since a motorcycle accident robbed him of his mobility, his looks, and his boyfriend all in one mistake. Galen's been hiding at the bottom of an oxy bottle, but when John shows up, he feels obligated to help wade through the wreckage of Tory's life.
The last thing John needs is another relationship with an addict, and the last thing Galen wants is a conscience. Both of them are shocked when they find that their battered souls can learn from and heal one another. It doesn't hurt that they're both getting a crash course on how growing up and getting past your worst mistakes sure beats the alternative—and that true love is something to fight to keep if your lover is fighting to love you back.
Sounds grim, right?
Well, sort of is. There's no escaping the fact that this book was spawned by a side character who screwed our heroes over-- he was going to have a long road to redemption. It's hard to find a redeeming quality in someone who has done something unquestionably douchey--until we remember our own douchey behavior in the past. Because yes-- everybody has felt spiteful, or has lashed out in pain, or has said something or done something out of pettiness. When we're young, the action very rarely has lasting consequences. As we get older… well, the stakes are higher.
When we've built something, and have something to lose--and something for everybody we know to lose, well, that's a huge mistake indeed.
When we last see John Carey in the Johnnies series, he's completely undone. He's a noseful of blow from flushing his company down the toilet, and he's betrayed his best friend and crush pretty badly. Dex (said best friend) is wheeling him into rehab and he pathetically begs for Dex to stay his friend.
When we see him at the beginning of this book, he's done with rehab, obsessed with gum, and he's just gotten some VERY BAD news.
And Dex ponies up with the friendship, and launches John on a rocket fueled trip down memory lane.
This one isn't for the weak, folks. John Carey is one obscenely fucked up guy, and the ex-lover he's cleaning up was even worse than John. And the new lover looming on the horizon is getting there. But that being said, I have to admit…
There were some profoundly funny moments in this book. Some moments that are still catching me by surprise. Galen-- when he's not stoned-- is bright, funny, and just as sarcastic as John himself. John is actually extremely vulnerable, but he's been strong all his life and letting Galen in-- especially when Galen's an addict too-- is one of the scariest things he's ever done in his life. These guys aren't young. There's no adolescent beating-down-the-door pain here. But there's quiet bravery, surprising strength, and two characters who are well aware that you only get so many chances--and they may both be on their last go.
This felt like a slightly more grownup book than the other Johnnies books. But I hope I proved the older 30 set can have their own sort of desperate yearning--it's just squashed down a little more under scar tissue and fear. I like to think that means that the sunshine at the end--and there IS a HEA, even if it doesn't sound like there could possibly be--shines a little brighter.
Bad News Meets Worse News
IF JOHN Carey ever had any doubts that his best friend truly cared for him, they should have been eased by the quality of the rehab center Dex drove him to when Dex had probably been pissed enough to kick his balls up to his throat instead.
It was actually a lovely place, with a large fountain in the center and designated smoking sections. The smell of cigarette smoke from the frantic recovering addicts doing the nicotine junkie shuffle didn’t permeate the clothes of the people who were suddenly obsessed with gum.
John was obsessed with gum. Currently he had sixteen different packs of eight different flavors—kiwi strawberry, mint, strawberry mint, melon, green apple, fruit punch, sour cherry, and bubblegum. Dex had sent him all of it, over the past twenty-six days, by the caseload, along with his mail and the financial and personnel reports of the business John had founded from scratch.
He’d also visited and talked to him like a human being, which was more than John deserved.
John hated himself for how much he really didn’t want Dex to visit anymore.
But John only had one more visit to go, the last visit, and then he had an obligation to work with the man like they’d worked together for the past three years, both of them filming, editing, marketing, and frankly enjoying the porn.
It would have been so much easier if John hadn’t fallen in love with him.
It would have been so much easier if John hadn’t fucked him over in the most heinous of ways.
God—drugs were awful things, they really were, but the human capacity for awfulness should not have been so terribly at their mercy.
But Dex owned part of the company now, and he and his boyfriend weren’t breaking up, and their hard-earned little family wasn’t going away. And Dex seemed willing to forgive and forget, which was damned human of him, so maybe John could take a deep breath and see it through. Maybe he could salvage something of the life he’d built in the unlikely city of Sacramento, and maybe he could keep his company in the black in spite of his best efforts to shove the whole damned thing up his nose.
But first—before he could face all of that, and it was a plateful—he had to face the letter in his hand.
You know how your father and I still feel about your business and your lifestyle. We don’t forgive you, and we don’t think God will forgive you, so don’t get your hopes up. But Vanessa Petrelli asked me to tell you that Vittorio took his own life last week, and that the service will be at the end of March. He left a will that asked for you to release the ashes into the sea, and since he can’t be buried in consecrated ground, his mother said that’s fine. Nobody is going to the funeral, so you don’t need to worry about people you’ll run into. As far as the families are concerned, it’s good riddance to bad rubbish. Should you ever repent, Jesus has a place for you, but we do not.
Well, it was comforting that Jesus, at least, wasn’t a martyring, social-climbing bitch.
But even that couldn’t distract John from the actual meat of the letter.
Tory, man, have you tried to rub one out yet?
Yeah—it feels amazing. Think it would feel as good if we grabbed each other’s?
Yeah, but wouldn’t that be, like, you know—gay?
So the fuck what, John. Seriously. So the fuck what.
John closed his eyes and tried to block out the memory. Tory, brown hair long and hanging in his eyes a little, warm chocolate eyes laughing and hurt at the same time. How old had they been? Twelve? Seventh grade? When boys had started talking about jerking off like it was both horrible and gross and the pinnacle of life as they knew it?
He’d been so beautiful.
And now John was responsible for his ashes. Fucking wonderful. Jesus, weren’t these the times that weremade for substance abuse?
John, hey, you tried weed yet?
John, hey, coke, man, it’s awesome!
John, man, don’t get mad, but we don’t got rent. I know you said we don’t need more heroin, but… man, it just hurt so bad.
John couldn’t… he just…. In his head he saw the two pictures, the laughing boy who’d first grabbed John’s cock—first sucked it, hard, until John had screamed and come—and the junkie, the guy with the sunken eyes and the track marks who blew their rent for the last goddamned time.
The guy John had driven to rehab three times.
The guy John had left Florida to get away from, because to love Tory was to mourn him, because he wasn’t getting any better.
And here John was, about to flee rehab to battle his demons on his own, and Tory apparently had lost the fight and left John to battle Tory’s demons too.
And John couldn’t even be mad. Because before Dex, who hadn’t loved him back, there’d been Tory, who had. Maybe. He’d loved John and John had loved him, John hoped, and they’d made porn together—gorgeous, aching, sexy porn—but it hadn’t been enough. It hadn’t been enough that John had worshipped him, hadn’t been enough that John had placed him in the sun and let the world worship him. No.
In the end, there weren’t enough cocks or enough coke to fill that thing in Tory, the emptiness carved by emotional neglect, by a world that hadn’t been able to laugh with Tory but had certainly made him cry.
Oh God, they had certainly made each other cry.
John didn’t remember when he’d fallen to his knees. He was too busy staring at his fist with the crumpled letter in it, even as he howled until he couldn’t catch his breath.
HE WAS headachy and out of sorts the next day when Dex came to visit, and he shamelessly clung to Dex’s hand from the first sit-down in the visiting room.
Dex stared at their clasped hands, cornflower blue eyes wide and surprised. “Uhm—”
“I’m not hitting on you,” John muttered, helpless and not able to fix it. God, Dex’s blond hair looked perfect, he was dressed in a slick, formfitting leather jacket and high-end jeans. John had barely gotten out of his pajamas. But he needed….
“I’m just….” He closed his eyes and rested his chin on the cheap laminate table. Well, it was a decent place but not the Hilton. “I… my first boyfriend died,” he said baldly. Dex’s jerk was more startled than trying to get away, so he went on. Eight years they’d known each other, three as business partners. John had watched Dex date girl after girl while putting out for guys on camera like a born cocksucker. He’d watched Dex have his first bitter, abusive relationship with a man, and sat there, the good friend, the confidant, full of sympathy and cookies, and the whole time he’d been thinking, I love him. If I’m just here like this, listening and being a good friend, he will look up and see me, and finally I’ll fill that void, that missing place where Tory used to be.
John hadn’t even seen the end of that dream when it had come on camera. A gorilla with a soul patch had moved into Dex’s house right when Dex broke up with his douche bag boyfriend, who happened to be John’s dealer. John didn’t see it coming, even when Dex told him.
Kane’s crashing at my place for a while until he gets his shit together.
Let me know if you need to kick him out.
Kane? He’s good people. He can stay.
Apparently Kane was not just good people, he was as good in bed in real life as he appeared to be on camera, because suddenly they weren’t just roommates, they were a thing. And even worse than them being a thing, they were a good thing—a happy thing.
A thing with rings and home improvement and the entire family Dex had forged out of John’s business riding behind them.
And John was left, once again, yearning for someone he really couldn’t have.
And right now, John was drowning and Dex was John’s only rope.
“I….” John closed his eyes. “I need your help. I need to figure out how to get him cremated and have his ashes dumped out at sea.” John’s lower lip quivered, and he remembered the past nearly four weeks in which he’d been a giant oozy hole, sobbing on groups and shrinks and groups with shrinks. He’d bought the Kool-Aid, he really had. He’d nearly flushed his hard-forged life down the toilet—and very nearly lost his only true friend, losing himself to the thing he hated most. He was getting clean—he’d promised himself he’d do anything it took.
He’d told himself getting clean was a matter of mind over habit, really. The coke habit had started to keep him awake through college. Tory had succumbed because he’d been weak and sad, and the other drugs had given him solace and dreams, but John was smarter than that. He’d been able to just use it, just use it, just use it….
Until suddenly he owed his dealer so much money he’d rather sell out his best friend than go without his next hit.
So he’d been dedicated to getting clean—had, in fact, thought that his twenty-eight days were going to do it—but now… his hand shook in Dex’s.
“David,” he said hoarsely, using Dex’s real name on sufferance. Kane had told him not to, but John needed the real person here, not the glam porn icon, and David seemed to know it too.
“What do you need?” he asked seriously. “I’m sorry about your boyfriend, John. I’ll do what I can, you know that, right?”
Give up the gorilla with the soul patch, leave the business we built from the ground up with your ass and my camera, and come home with me and keep me clean.
“I need to stay here until the day the trip is booked,” John said, knowing it was true. “I need the house in Orlando, with grocery service and maid service, and a car for as long as it takes to get this job done.” John closed his eyes and tried to organize himself. “I need plane tickets, and I need you to keep looking after my house a little longer—is that okay?”
Dex nodded and squeezed his hand. “Yeah. Yeah, John. I got you.”
John nodded and then had a thought. Vittorio took his own life…. “How’s Chase?” he asked, suddenly filled with worry.
Chase had been different—he’d been beautiful and haunted and dynamite on screen, but Chase’s only drug had been the misery eating him alive. The fact that he’d lived through his attempt on his own life was a testament to his own instinct for survival—he’d quit after his first wrist—as much as it was a testament to the friends and the lover who had rallied behind him.
But he’d been John’s employee, and John felt a sort of proprietary worry for the boy, and for his lover, Tommy, as well.
“He’s doing good,” Dex said, smiling sincerely. Oh God—he had dimples. That was the first thought John’d had when Dex showed up at his house to interview. Blond hair, blue eyes, and dimples. John’s stomach clenched at those dimples, even now.
“Good,” John answered absently. “I mean, I worried.”
“Yeah. He worried us all. But Tommy says the medication is worth it, and they’re going to work hard.” Dex looked away, and John remembered that everybody had their demons. John hadn’t told Dex about Tory, and Dex hadn’t told John why he’d picked Dex as his name and why he hadn’t faced up to being gay when he’d spent six years fucking guys for cash.
John tried really hard not to be a self-involved douche bag and squeezed Dex’s hand like he meant it. “You’ll help,” he said sincerely. “You’re good at that.” He sighed and rubbed his face with his free hand. His whiskers rasped at his palm, and given that he had red-blond stubble that didn’t grow in well or quickly, that was saying something.
Dex looked him in the eye then, and John tried his damnedest to look back. At the last minute, he failed miserably.
“I don’t mind helping you out,” he said evenly. “Please don’t feel bad because you had to ask for help.”
“Yeah, I know,” John snapped, out of patience with guilt. “You know when an outstanding time to ask for help would have been?”
“Before you sold me in a porn scene to my ex-boyfriend?” Dex asked flatly.
John grimaced. Apparently Dex was out of patience with guilt too.
“I don’t know how to fix that,” John stated.
Dex jerked on his hand—not to break the touch but to get John’s attention, because he still wasn’t making eye contact, and they both knew that was bullshit. “You can’t,” Dex said honestly, and John thought Tory might have had the right idea. “You can’t fix it. But you might mend it.” There was a pause during which John actually ached. “You were my friend for years, John. Do you really think I can just give that up?”
John groaned and leaned his head on the table. “God, David. I just wish you could have loved me.”
So naked. Maybe the most honest thing John had said in the past year, really, since his cocaine use had gone up and his interest in any other guy had gone down. Sad, so sad, when you were surrounded by porn stars, some of them willing and happy to give a fuck-and-suck on the side, and you spent your time at home getting high and wishing for something you couldn’t have.
“You know what I wish?” Dex asked. For the first time, his voice was as angry as it deserved to be.
“That I wasn’t a douche bag?” John asked, almost hoping for a smile.
“That you had told me,” Dex snapped bitterly. “Oh my God, John. We were friends. Do you know who I just fell in love with? My friend. Do you think maybe it could have happened between us? Hell, I don’t know. For a year I thought I was in love with Scott. And before that—”
“You were straight!” John snarled, feeling like a savage. Davy, so transparent, watching the porn with hunger in his eyes.
“I was lonely!” Dex snarled right back, the wounded expression on his face sharp enough to dig a trench in John’s soul. “Do you think maybe I could have used someone saying they cared like that? Do you think maybe knowing my friend thought I was gay might have helped me figure things out a little? Jesus, John, aren’t you supposed to learn how to be honest in rehab? We could have meant something to each other, and you just sat there and watched me eat my heart out! You’re pissed because Kane came and picked me up from under your nose? I was drowning under your nose, and you couldn’t have told me you loved me to save my life. So I’m not gonna feel sorry I fell in love with someone else. I’m not saying we would have been happy, or even that it would have been forever, but you’re damned right it could have been you.”
“This is a pep talk?” John asked, staggered.
“This is a wake-up call! If you didn’t make a move on me, it’s because something held you back—notbecause you thought I was straight.”
Something held you back. And John wasn’t strong enough to do it. He wasn’t strong enough to apologize and pull back into his shell, which is what he would have done before rehab.
He buried his face in his arm and just stayed there, shoulders shaking, until Dex moved. Good. He’d driven Dex away. Great—way to go, John—
Dex wrapped his arm around John’s shoulders, and John took a deep breath and cried some more. The storm shook him—not as bad as the day before, but pretty bad. When it was over, Dex kissed his temple.
“I’m a friend,” he said, his voice resigned. “I’ll do what I can, but it can’t be about you and me, okay?”
John nodded. “Tory,” he mumbled. “My boyfriend. He’s what was holding me back.”
Dex grunted. “Now see, not being able to let go? That’s something I know about.”
John smiled into his arm, feeling marginally better. “Help me get to Florida and take care of the funeral, and that’ll be my solid,” he said softly. “Thanks, David. It’s more than I deserve.”
Dex’s sigh ruffled his hair. “John, you maybe think this whole problem is because you deserve more, but you’re afraid to ask for it?”
John wiped his face off on his thin white T-shirt so his snort wouldn’t be so full of phlegm. “Not likely.”
Dex shook his head and took his place across the table again. That was it. That was all John got. Now it was business as usual. “I’m saying you’re a good guy,” Dex said patiently, and then grimaced. “Just don’t tell Kane I said that. But you are good. And you’ve been watching guys fuck for years through a camera lens and not reaching for nearly enough of ’em. Maybe it’s time you thought you deserved to get some too, right?”
John shook his head and tried to sit up. “Sure.” He shrugged, but he didn’t believe it.
Apparently Dex thought so too.
“Look,” he sighed, running his hand through his hair. “John, I know what it’s like to lose someone. Whatever it is about this old boyfriend that’s got you tied up in knots, maybe going away is what you need to do to untie those knots, you think?”
John blinked at him, so completely exhausted that he was willing to be led anywhere. “Sure,” he said. But in his head, he’d already lost. He honestly didn’t think he had the strength to go back and confront Tory’s ghost alone.