By Nyrae Dawn
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Brandon Chase has always defined himself by one thing: football. Tough and athletic, he is a great college player who enjoys the hard hits and the sweaty grind of the gridiron. But when Brandon is injured, only one person can help him get back on track-a forbidden love he's desperately tried to put behind him.
Alec Andrews has never quite forgiven Brandon for walking away when their friendship turned into something more. But he can't deny help to one of his closest friends. As the two spend the long, hot summer working together, their old attraction comes flooding back.
Now as Alec thinks about coming out to his conservative family and Brandon considers revealing he's a gay football player, the two men must be strong to fight for a love that could be the greatest rush of their lives.
Table of Contents
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One and a half years later
My cell rings, jerking me out of sleep. My heart jumps, that little voice in my head saying it's never a good thing to get a call in the middle of the night.
Fumbling, I grab my phone off the small table by my bed and freeze, staring at the name lighting up on the screen. When it goes off again, I almost drop the stupid thing, but then my hand tightens, determined I can handle this. So what if he's calling for the first time in almost two years?
"Yeah." My voice is raspy from sleep, and I fight to make sure I sound like I don't give a shit. At least I shouldn't. Not after all this time.
Silence meets me.
Worry makes my throat tighten. Why he's calling? Did something happen? There's not really another excuse for him to try and get a hold of me anymore.
"Brand—Brandon. What is it? Is it Charlie?" What the hell would I do if something happened to my best friend?
"Shit," Brandon mumbles, the word making me want to break something. It means he didn't plan to talk. He would have hung up, but now he knows I'm worried about Charlie. "Charlotte's fine. Nothing's wrong with her. I needed… Never mind. I'm being fucking stupid. I have to go. She's fine."
And then the line goes dead.
"Shit!" My hand squeezes my cell. I'm doing everything I can not to throw it across the room. Pushing up, I sit with my legs hanging over the bed. I drop my cell so I don't break it.
Or call Brandon back.
I slam the door on the thought of calling Charlie. No matter what, Brandon wouldn't lie to me about her. If he said she's fine, she is. So what would I say? That Brandon called me in the middle of the night, and he's still such a part of me that I needed to talk? That after all this time with nothing from him—after how I won't talk to Charlie about him or how I didn't want to hear about him from her or Nate when they came back from New York last summer—that I'm all on edge after one call?
I'm not doing this anymore. He's been the only person on my mind since the first time he came to Lakeland Village when I was fifteen. Five and a half years is enough.
I lie back down, wishing for sleep that won't come. Trying not to remember the sound of his voice. How it was almost broken, like his voice box hadn't been used in a while. And try to forget how he said nothing was wrong with Charlie but didn't say the same for himself.
What's the point? He's made it clear I'll never be worth the sacrifice. That I'll never be the one he'll let himself really want.
* * *
"Let me come over tonight?" Logan asks, as we stand in the parking lot of where I go to college—a whole half hour from Lakeland Village, where I've lived all my life.
On reflex, my eyes scan the area to make sure no one heard him. When I look at Logan again, he rolls his green eyes. "Even if someone heard me, Alec, they'd just think we're friends. I don't go to school here, so they don't know I'm gay, remember? Chill out."
"Funny, I thought we were only friends." He flinches, making me want the words back. He doesn't deserve me being an asshole.
Logan pushes his black hair out of his face. There's a little scar by his lip, I try not to pay attention to. He has both his ears pierced and a few tattoos. Logan has this skater look I never would have thought I'd be into but it works on him.
Grinning, Logan taps his shoe to mine. "I never said I only wanted to be friends with you. That was your rule. I'm biding my time. Sooner or later you'll come around. You liked what I did to you, Alec. You liked having my hands on you. I know you did."
Damn it. I did. Even hearing him talk about it, my body starts to react. Heat shoots through me, the urge to have him touch me again, hitting me full force.
Logan steps closer, lowering his voice, while I fight the urge to walk away. "You don't have to be ashamed." The sincerity in his words makes my palms itch with the urge to shove him. He's not being a prick, even though he has every right to be. Logan's way more understanding than I deserve. Here I've been pissed at Brandon for walking away when I don't even have the balls for anyone to know who I am either. But for Brandon I would. Even if my own dad hated me, I'd do it for him.
Logan's voice is even lower when he adds, "We'll go as slow as you want. Let me show you how good it can be. Just don't kick me out this time, okay? We could be good together."
For a second, I let myself wonder if we could be. There's a part that knows he's right. He's patient as hell, I'll give him that. Not many guys would stick around after my shit. The first time we kissed, I kicked him out of my apartment afterward. I'd never kissed another guy except Brandon and even though on some levels it felt right, the masculinity of him, it was wrong too. He isn't Brand.
Things went slow after that, a few more kisses, but I always stopped him there. I was a fucking kid when I was with Brandon and we'd never really gone farther than making out. Even though everything inside me knows this is who I am, that doesn't mean it's easy. A little part of my brain still wonders if I can change it, or why I don't want to. Coming out would be like being cut open all the time, everyone seeing what's inside me. It's showing parts of me that people will judge me for and maybe even hate me for.
And yet Logan's still here. He's out but he gets that I'm not. I figured making him leave after the first kiss, and then the handjob would be too much. What kind of guy loses his shit after getting jerked off?
Someone in denial about it and still hung up on someone else.
"I like you, Alec." He almost steps closer, but doesn't. "I also don't know how long I'll stick around."
A fear I don't expect spikes inside me. Logan's the only person in the world who knows I'm gay besides Charlie, Nate, and Brandon. It feels good to be… me, and with someone who likes who that is too.
Do it. Tell him to come home with you. Stop being scared. Stop wanting Brandon.
And that's the biggest part of this, isn't it? Brandon. All day I've thought about his call last night. I've almost called him twenty times, but found a way to stop myself. Why the hell can't I let him go? I need to be who I'm supposed to be. I look at Logan, at the muscles I like and his strong hands. Unlike Brandon, he wants me.
"What time?" My brain turns off, so I can't over think this.
"Yeah?" Logan replies.
My cell phone rings cutting him off.
"Hold up," I tell him, which makes him roll his eyes again. Charlie's name pops up on the screen. I can't get used to calling her Charlotte, which she goes by now. We grew up together, working and spending time at The Village, her family's lake resort here in Virginia. I've called her Charlie since I could talk.
"What's up?" I say into the phone, trying not to stress that it's somehow linked to Brandon's call.
The hairs on the back of my neck rise at the way she drags out my name. Something's definitely wrong and it has to do with Brandon.
"What happened?" Leaning against my truck, I try to ignore my jackhammering heart.
"He's okay. I need to tell you that first. Brandon's okay."
"What happened?" A vice squeezes my chest.
"There was an accident. He was out 4x4-ing with some of his teammates. They hit a tree and Brandon's chest hit the steering wheel."
A sharp pain hits me between the ribs at that.
"I don't really understand all of it, Alec, but the impact tore one of the arteries that goes to his heart. He had to have heart surgery."
My fist tightens, my jaw clenches. "Heart surgery?" Holy shit. The world starts spinning. Logan's hand shoots out and grabs my shoulder. "What?" My voice cracks.
"I didn't know if I should call you or not. I know that's wrong. I didn't want you to hurt anymore, but I don't know what to do. He's having a hard time, Alec. As soon as he left the hospital, they were able to bring him home to New York, but he won't talk to anyone. Nate can hardly get anything out of him. Three of his teammates flew over from Ohio, but he doesn't want to see anyone."
He called me, pops into my head and I feel like a prick for thinking it. That shouldn't matter right now.
"I'm sure he's scared. Worried about losing football…"
And I know what he does when he's scared—he runs. Closes himself off.
Before he used to talk to me.
"He could have died," she whispers.
"I'm coming. Don't tell him, okay? But I'm coming." It doesn't matter that there's still a month left of school or that I don't really have the money. Nothing else matters.
She says something in the background and I hear Nate say "thank you." Without a word, I hang up the phone.
He moves back. "It's him?"
The only reply I can give is a nod.
"I guess you better go then."
"I'm sorry. I'm really sorry." I don't have time for anything more than that. I fly my piece-of-shit truck back to my apartment and throw some of my stuff into a duffel. I check my bank account before I go, and then head to the airport. On the way, I call the moving company where I work, and tell them there's a family emergency and I won't be in for a few days.
Family? Yeah right. They have to know it's a lie, since all I have is Mom and Dad, but they don't call me on it.
Because of a delay, I don't get into New York until early the next morning. If I trusted my truck more, I would have just driven in.
As I'm waiting by the curb, a white BMW pulls up and Charlie steps out of the passenger seat. Her arms wrap around me, and I squeeze her tightly.
"You shouldn't have waited so long to tell me." I get the reasoning, but I'm still pissed.
"I didn't know. We wanted to see what would happen and then when he made it out of surgery… I didn't know the best thing to do. You never wanted to talk about him, and it's only been a little over a week since he got out of the hospital."
I would have hated myself if he'd died and I didn't even know he was hurt. "This is different, Charlie. You know I'd want to know this." Before I pull away, I kiss her forehead so she knows it's okay. Then I toss my duffel bag into the back and climb in.
"What's up?" I say to Nate who's in the driver seat. Things have never been real great between us. From the first time they summered in Lakeland Village I was jealous as hell of him. He was the first guy who Charlie ever paid attention to other than me. Even back then I knew I felt things toward guys, but no one knew. Charlie was my best friend. I loved her. Things would have been okay with her. I thought I could be happy with her one day and more importantly, I could make her happy too.
Nate changed that for her. The way Brandon changed things for me.
Even though Nate and I are technically cool now, I'm not sure we'll ever be close.
Still, he turns around before pulling away and tells me, "Thanks for coming… My parents are worried. I didn't know what else to do."
He's going to be pissed. If he wanted me here, I would have been here for the past year and a half. "No problem."
We're quiet most of the way to their house. A couple hours drive is a long time to be with my thoughts. I can't stop wondering if it was right to come, how it will be to see him and other shit I have no business thinking about. When we're close I need to make conversation so I ask, "How's Joshua?" He's their little brother. He was born premature the last summer we all spent together—the only one we spent here instead of Lakeland Village. I guess their parents had decided with both their kids going to college, they weren't ready to be alone yet. So with two boys in college, they also have a two-year-old running around.
"He's a monster. Healthy and growing like crazy, but a terror," Nate answers, before killing the engine in their driveway.
"What'd you tell your parents?" I ask. They're not even my parents and I know they'd still love Brandon if they knew. They don't talk about "faggots" the same way my own dad does, but I never gave Brandon hell for not being able to tell them. We each deal with being gay in our own way.
"They know you're his friend. They know you're Charlotte's best friend. We said you wanted to come see him."
I nod before getting out of the car. It doesn't seem like their parents are home when we get inside their quiet, oversized house. My stomach hurts like hell. It feels like something's burning its way through. I'm scared to see him. Scared he'll tell me to go. The first time he walked away stung enough. The last thing I want to do is go through it again.
"He looks pretty bad. I mean, he's okay, but he has the scar on his chest. He's already lost some weight because he's not eating the same or doing anything." Charlie's obviously nervous and rambling.
"It'll be okay." Really, I'm not sure it will be. You can do this. Be strong. He's okay…
I know exactly where his room is. I snuck into it a lot, in the middle of the night, that last summer. When we reach it, we all three stop a few feet from his door.
"Mom and Dad shouldn't be home for a while. If they get here, we'll make sure they don't bother you." Nate leans on the wall, looking a little nervous. I'm sure thinking of his brother with another guy weirds him out.
Nodding, I take a deep breath before going to Brandon's door, and knocking.
"Tired. Don't feel like talking," his voice croaks out. It sounds tired. It sounds broken.
Pushing it open, I say, "I don't care."
I actually see him tense but ignore it. Closing the door behind me, I click the lock and walk over to the bed. Brandon.
He does look smaller, but his dark brown hair is the same, kind of longish and messy. He still looks like the jock football player he is. I used to tease him about that. I've always played and loved ball too, but despite his hair color, Brandon always looked like the golden boy, the football player.
The lamp by his bed is on. He's got his dark blue blanket up to his waist and he's wearing a white button-up shirt. I see a bandage or something through it. Because they cut his chest open to fix his heart.
Turning his head to the left he looks at me, his face thinner, but his jaw still tight and strong. "What if I can't do it?" he whispers. "It's who I am."
Football. It always comes back to that. I also can't help but relax. Even after all this time, he talks to me. "No, it's not. It never fucking has been."
I drop my bag on the floor and kick out of my shoes. My whole body craves to touch him so I know he's really here.
It doesn't matter that Charlie and Nate are in the house, that his parents could come home, or that we haven't talked in a year and a half. That he might shove me away or that he cracked open my chest the same way the doctors did to him, only no one put mine back together again.
He's hurt. He could have died. I know him. He needs me.
I sit on the bed, turn, and lie down on my side next to him, my breath making the hairs on his arm move. Don't push me away, don't push me away. When he doesn't everything inside me lets go, all the time between us disappearing and it's that last summer again when we lay in this same bed the same way.
Neither of us talk, but Brandon leans down, rests his cheek on the top of my head… and exhales. "I had surgery on my heart…"
I wince. "I know."
"Eighty percent of the people who have torn artery on their heart die before they make it to the hospital. They bleed so fast…"
I didn't know that. But I don't tell him, knowing he just needs to talk.
"Did they tell you it was an artery that brings blood to the heart? I was bleeding inside. It was close… I could have…"
"You're here." We're here.
"I'm so fucking tired." His voice cracks. I want nothing more than to fix it.
"Go to sleep. I'll be here when you wake up." I can't stop myself from waiting for it—waiting for Brandon to say he can't. Or ask me to get up, or do what they said he did with everyone else and tell me he doesn't want to see me.
But he doesn't.
Brandon's… quiet, and I'm too afraid to even move. Soon, his breathing evens out and I know he did what I asked. A stupid part of me wishes I'm what he was waiting for since the injury happened. It feels good believing I can calm his storm.
And makes it even shittier that despite it all, he still walked away.
"Do you think what we do is wrong? Seriously, I mean. People say so much shit. It has to come from somewhere, right?" I sit next to Alec, in the woods. It's one of the few times we've been able to sneak away this summer. All through the rest of last year I swore I wouldn't do this when I saw him. Last summer, I was with Charlie's sister, Sadie. That made it easier. Hell, we were just friends anyway. Fucking sixteen and fifteen years old.
But I knew he made me feel different. I knew Alec looked at me differently too.
"I don't know," Alec finally answers. We're sitting so close, our legs touch. I want to reach over and grab his hand. If it was Sadie, I'd do it without thinking.
"And we're not really doing anything yet," Alec laughs. He's like that. He's good at being the center of attention and making people forget the bad shit.
"But we want to…" I whisper, surprised I do.
His head snaps toward me. His bright blue eyes, trying to see through me, I think.
"I mean, you said… when we talked. You do want to, right?" I hate that I sound like such a pussy. I'm older than him. I shouldn't sound like I need to hear his answer so much, but then, if he feels the same, it's not just me. If there's something wrong with us, at least we're wrong together.
"You know I do. And I changed my mind about my answer. No, there's nothing wrong with what we're doing."
I exhale a deep breath at his words. It's stupid. I know it's not really wrong. Gay people are getting married and things are changing, but seeing it and having it be me are two different things. Plus—I pick up my football—I can't have both. Things might be changing, but not on that field.
He's so fucking gay.
Stop being such a fag.
I couldn't share a locker room with a queer.
Comments. Words people say without thinking. None of them directed at me, but I still hear the words. Maybe more than anyone else.
"Even if other people don't get it, it's not wrong. Especially since they don't know." Alec pushes to his feet, holding out his hand for the football. "Let's play. One day when you're in the NFL, I'll be able to say I used to play ball with you."
Standing, I smile, somehow feeling lighter. He does that to me.
"You won't have to say it, because everyone will know… even if we don't, you know… we'll still be friends. Maybe you'll be playing with me and it'll be on ESPN—our story. Best friends who spent every summer together and then went to play in the NFL together."
The smile slips off Alec's lips and I wonder if I said something wrong. Without thinking, I reach up, and touch his face, then his hair, and let my hand slide down. Then I step closer, my hand at the nape of his neck. It fits perfectly there and he smiles again.
No matter what anyone thinks, it doesn't feel wrong. It feels better. He makes me better.
* * *
I knew he would come.
When I made the call, that wasn't my plan. Or maybe it had been, but I didn't admit it to myself. All I knew was I had so much shit going on in my head: the accident, the statistics, that I probably should be dead, that I had surgery on my heart… that I'm scared to fucking death I won't play ball again. The doctors say anything is possible. I'm already a miracle for living, but lying here, knowing my chest was open and that I have to heal and my body is weak, it doesn't feel like it.
For someone who only knows myself as a football player, even a 5 percent possibility of not being who I was, feels more like 95 percent. What if my endurance isn't the same? Or my muscles or my breathing? What if I can't take a fucking hit? Who am I if I'm not Brandon Chase, number forty-three?
I'm not like Nate. I didn't do well in school because I liked it. I found a way to do good so I could play ball.
All that stuff is overloading my brain and taking me over. I want a way to let it out, but it's all too raw. There's no one who knows all my insides, except the person I hurt, ran away from, and then called when I felt alone.
"I have to piss," is the first thing that comes out of my mouth when I wake up. It should have been "thank you."
Alec gets up, without making eye contact with me. "Can you… are you able?"
His question hits a nerve, making me feel even more raw. "I can go to the bathroom by myself. Can you… can you help me up though?"
He finally meets my eyes and it feels like I'm under the knife again. Only this time, I'm not unconscious. I feel every cut and stitch. I bleed.
Chill out. You're cracking up.
Alec reaches for me, and I let him. Wraps his arm around me. I let him do that too. He feels harder than he used to and I wonder if he's playing ball or just working out more.
When we get into the bathroom, I wait for him to leave.
I shake my head. We are definitely not going there. "Wait right outside. I'll tell you when I'm done."
My chest aches, this stabbing pain piercing through me. My legs are so weak, I have to sit down to pee. After I wash my hands, I say Alec's name. The door pushes open and he's right there.
"I had to piss like a woman," I say, not sure why I said it.
"So even more has changed than I knew about?" He grins. A small laugh falls out of my lips. Another pain hits me, and I grab on to the counter. Alec is right there, holding me again.
"But you smiled."
Yeah… yeah I did. "I'm tired of lying down. I want to sit." Alec helps until I'm sitting on my bed, before he's down right beside me again. Our legs are touching and I can't help but remember that time, years ago when we sat like this together. One of the many times.
The urge to reach for him hits me again, but I definitely can't now. I don't want to, I don't want to, I don't want to. "You shouldn't have come."
"I know. You had to know I would."
I look down at our legs leaning next to each other. "I also shouldn't have wanted you to. We both know I did though."
You didn't? How can you not know?
That pain in my chest hits me again and I wonder if it's not because of my surgery—if it's not because some stupid fucking night out broke something in my heart. Possibly took away who I am. Maybe the pain will always be there because of losing Alec. My torn artery, or whatever the hell it is, is nothing compared to that.
"Don't. We're not doing this right now. I came here because you were hurt, not so I can try and pull useless words out of you. We both know regardless of what either of us says or how we might or might not feel, it doesn't change anything."
He's right. And I know that's mostly my fault.
"But I'm glad you're here. I just want…"
"When we're alone, it's like nothing else matters, right? Fuck everyone else." I hold the back of Alec's neck, liking the way my hand fits there.
"Fuck 'em," he adds, touching my hair.
It's the only time I really feel like me. Where I'm most comfortable and can do or say whatever I want. I'm just me. No games. No fronts. Only Brandon.
"Do you need to take any of these, or anything?" Alec's words rip me from the memory.
"The pain meds."
"Why didn't you tell me you were hurting?" Alec looks through the bottles and grabs my Vicodin. He opens it and shakes one into my hand. "I'll get you some water."
After grabbing the cup from the table, he heads toward the door, and this stupid ridiculous fear surges through me. "That bathroom's good. You can get it from there." Don't go.
He turns, nods, and then goes to my bathroom, walking out a couple seconds later with the glass full of water. After I take the pill, he puts it back down.
"Thanks for coming, man." It feels like such a nothing, thing to say. It doesn't say the half of what I want it to.
Alec shakes his head like he gets it.
"I need to clean my incision. My parents should be home any time too. They said around seven and they'd bring dinner. If I don't do it now, my mom will try to do it for me. I know she wants to help, but she's driving me crazy. I wish I had my own place out here."
"You still in the dorms back at school?" Alec asks.
"No. I have a little apartment. You?"
"Me too. It's like thirty minutes from Lakeland Village. Want me to help you back to the bathroom?"
"I think I can do it." He flinches as though I hit him.
Slowly, I get to my feet. It's just as slow for me to get to the bathroom, Alec right next to me the whole time. "I have no appetite, so I'm losing weight and getting weak. My wound burns and itches all the time." I don't know why I say those things to him, because I haven't said them to anyone else.
"It won't last forever. You'll be kicking ass in no time."
- "Rush is a must read."—http://www.nawandafiles.com/ on Rush
- "Phen-om-enal! Nyrae Dawn paints with words in a way that made me drink FAÇADE down in one big gulp. This is one of those books you can read again and again."—"Phen-om-enal! Nyrae Dawn paints with words in a way that made me drink FAÇADE down in one big gulp. This is one of those books you can read again and again." --- New York Times bestselling author, Courtney Cole on FAÇADE
- "FACADE is an emotional journey from the very first page until the very last one. Never before have two broken people needed each other more to become whole again."—J. Sterling USA Today bestselling author on FACADE
- "Beautifully executed with gorgeous prose and unforgettable characters, FACADE is a heart-wrenching, emotional journey of redemption coupled with the healing power of love. Be prepared for tissues and a fan to cool off because Adrian and Delaney's story is worthy of both."—New York Times bestselling author Katie Ashley on FAÇADE
- "Charming new adult addition."—RT Book Reviews on FAÇADE
- On Sale
- May 6, 2014
- Page Count
- 272 pages
- Forever Yours