A Harmony Ink Press Title
Vocal Growth: Book One
Ryunoski “Ru” Nakimura knows all about the trappings of fame. Expelled from a boy band for coming out as gay, he still wants to continue his career in music. Too bad his ex finds nothing better to do than exploit their relationship in the press, so Ru leaves California behind to lie low in Minnesota for a while.
Adam Corbin attends a Minnesota high school and wants to coast through as a typical student. He’s friends with an openly gay student, Bas Axelrod, but while Adam plays football, he also stays away from much socializing. Blending in and not outing himself has been easy because he’s never really been seriously interested in any of the guys he’s encountered.
When Adam meets Ru in a library, Adam begins to think he’s found that special young man who might make it worthwhile to just be himself. And for Ru, Adam looks like someone he might trade his fame for, if they could be together. Ru and Adam will both come to realize that courage and love must go hand in hand if they are to have a future.
RU’S phone pinged with a new message from Tommy.
Looks like another one, sorry.
The text was attached to a photo of the cover of a magazine featuring Ru kissing his ex-boyfriend Kris and then a smaller picture of Kris kissing another guy. Headline for that one was Vocal Growth Star Jilted! Six months and still front page news.
He sighed. Even leaving California hadn’t helped. Here he was in the cold autumn of Minnesota, alone, but still stalked by the conservative media who thought anyone under eighteen didn’t deserve to recognize their sexuality. Sure he was gay. He’d known for years. Had even made the mistake of telling his father when he was eleven. Why did that make him a bad guy?
As part of a boy band that had traveled the world a few times and won a hefty number of awards, he was required to maintain a wholesome image. At least that’s what his former recording studio had told him. And wholesome didn’t mean kissing another guy, even when he and Kris had been exclusive for almost two years. So, while it was okay for other celebrities to come out and show pride, anyone under the magical age of eighteen was ridiculed, cast out, and treated as a pariah of the community.
Do you need me to come stay with you? Tommy texted again. He was a former bandmate but still a good friend. Tommy hadn’t cared when Ru told him he was gay. He did offer to kick the crap out of Kris after the guy had set them up to be photographed together, outing Ru to the whole world, only to then cheat on him. Would Ru’s heart ever stop breaking at the memory?
Ru texted back He never really loved me, did he?
A second later the phone rang. Ru answered it, knowing who the voice on the other line would be. “I’m on my way to the airport,” Tommy said.
“You don’t have to come all the way out here for me. I’m fine. Virtually unrecognized here.” Though Ru hadn’t done much other than venture to his Uncle Dimitri’s restaurant. He was sure he would put on ten pounds before the week was over. “I’m just laying low. Trying to work on some music.”
“And still not over that bastard Kris.”
Maybe. But that part of his life had ended. In fact, so much had changed that Ru found himself more lost and depressed than he had most of his life. He’d always known exactly who he was and what he wanted. He’d never been more alive than when he was on stage, surrounded by cheering fans and bright lights. His very Asian father had pushed him to become the musician he was with years of piano and guitar lessons, high-end tutors, and business sense. Ru found passion in the music and had made himself famous, trusting his dad to always be there. Only that hadn’t happened. And Ru had been on his own a while now. Still loving the music and building his life around the fame he’d crafted. But now he wasn’t so sure about it all. The constant flash of the camera, the endless judgment of strangers, and the never-ending loneliness, was that all that was left for him? Was that what he’d worked so hard and given up his childhood for? “I don’t want to talk about that.”
“Okay, so tell me how your meeting with the big M went.”
Ru smiled. “She was amazing. Probably had no clue who I was, but it was good.” His publicist, Katie, had arranged the meeting to try to bolster Ru’s spirit. The woman was a miracle worker, but even meeting his idol could only lift him for a little while.
“You been working on any new songs? I don’t know what we’re going to do without you writing them all for us in the group.” What Tommy didn’t say was that AJ, another bandmate, was already on the search for a new guy to add to the ranks of Vocal Growth, as Ru had been released from the group when he’d been outed. “Released” was a nice term used in the media to make it sound like he’d had a choice.
“Haven’t really been inspired.”
“I’ll be there in a few hours. Maybe we can hit the clubs or something.”
“It’s really cold here. You know that, right?” Ru couldn’t imagine wearing most of his club clothes out in this weather. He’d have to find some fancy coat that would cover it all just to keep from freezing his nuts off. “How do you go clubbing in Eskimo gear?”
“It’s what, fifty degrees? You big baby. Just wait until January. See you in a few hours. Maybe go to Dimitri’s or something. I don’t want you home alone.”
They hung up, and Ru glared at the picture of the magazine cover. He dialed the driver he’d hired, left the borrowed apartment—Tommy’s, actually—and headed out, unsure of where he would go. Anywhere had to be better than alone. Binks opened the car door for him, though Ru had told him a hundred times it wasn’t necessary. God, it was so cold here.
“Where would you like to go, sir?” Binks asked.
“I want to go somewhere there are people, but where no one will recognize me. Not shopping or whatever. I don’t know.” He needed to get to a bookstore and find something to read. He’d forgotten his book reader in San Diego. But a bookstore meant people who would want photos and autographs or even point and stare. Libraries had books, but he didn’t think he’d ever been in one. His homeschool instructor had issued him a MNSCU—Minnesota State Colleges and Universities—pass, which allowed access to almost any library in the state. “Is there a good library around here? Not a public one—too many people—maybe a college one?”
“Would you like to stay in the city or head to the suburbs? The suburbs will likely be less crowded.”
True enough. “Anything near Dimitri’s?” Tommy had been right. He didn’t want to be by himself. Maybe he’d stop in to see his uncle for dinner. God knew the man treated him more like a son than Ru’s own father ever had. Though Ru still hadn’t seen his uncle since his outing had happened.
“Yes, I know of the perfect place,” Binks said, and off they went.
Ru paid very little attention to the scenery they passed. The trees were pretty, all colors, and skies mostly clear. He should have felt inspired, but he hadn’t written a note since arriving almost two weeks ago, and it worried him. Usually the music came easily; he’d just sit down and there it was. But ever since Kris—well, their breakup, if a public outcry could be called a breakup—he hadn’t written a damn thing. How many times had Kris called, asking to talk to him, begging for forgiveness? Ru just felt numb. The months ignoring him made it hurt less, but the media never seemed to let it die. So he’d fled. Run from his warm and usually welcoming home in San Diego, where all his friends were, to Minnesota, and the quiet downtown apartment Tommy owned.
To be honest, Ru had lost a lot of friends. Not because they hadn’t known he was gay. Everyone in his circle had been well aware of the fact. No, people stopped calling him because he was in disgrace. The record label threw him out; his bandmates pretended he didn’t exist, except Tommy; and his former friends had moved on to whoever could get them into the parties with the brightest and most popular celebrities.
The more he thought about it, the more heartbreaking it became. Not just losing Kris, but realizing that all the people Ru had considered his makeshift family had really just been playing him. How was anyone supposed to get past that?
Staying downtown put him near all the clubs, live music, and a handful of private production studios he could rent. Tommy’s apartment had a small studio built in just for late-night jam sessions. Ru had already signed contracts to record a solo album, his true lifelong dream, with another record label. His new producer didn’t care he was gay and was unwilling to go back into the closet. Ru’s voice spoke for itself, and his songwriting was legendary. Yet, since that day almost six months ago, he felt so empty.
Tommy suggested Ru spend time away from the spotlight. Ru remembered the conversation pretty well.
“You’re so young, Ru. Maybe just get away for a while. Find yourself.”
“Who even says that?” Ru groused, irritated by his best friend treating him with kid gloves. At least Tommy had remained his friend.
“The guy who’s watched you grow up a music machine. Don’t forget I saw how your dad pushed you, and then, when he left, it was like you were hell-bent on making yourself a brighter star than he’d ever imagined, just to show him up.” Tommy took out a suitcase and began packing Ru’s stuff. “I think you need some time to figure out who Ryunoski Nakimura really is. Not the guy on the cover of magazines, but the guy with the wide smile and shy heart.”
Ru sighed. “You sound like a Hallmark card. Where am I supposed to go? In case you haven’t noticed, the whole world knows who I am.”
“They know who you show them you are. I’m not even sure I know who you are.” Tommy waved away Ru’s protest. “Don’t get pissy with me. You can go to my flat in Minnesota. The town is pretty quiet but big. Sort of like a mini-New York without all the paps. We’ll just make sure no one knows you’ve gone there. Even if people recognize you, they’d be really nice about it. It’s what they call ‘Minnesota Nice.’”
“Isn’t it snowy there?”
“In late September? No. Sometimes you’ll see a bit of snow in October, but nothing really sticks till December. And if you’re still there, you can go skiing. You like skiing.”
“I liked sitting by the fire with Kris when we went to Denver. I hate the cold.”
Tommy reached over and pulled Ru into a hug. “I don’t think you realize the tone in your voice when you say his name. It’s like your heart breaks each time. You can’t keep living like this, seeing him at promo stuff or parties….”
“No one invites me to parties anymore.” Ru had gone from being on the top of everyone’s list to not even existing. The depression was really starting to eat at him.
“That’s why it’s a good time to go. Find some new scenery, maybe even some new friends. People who won’t judge you by how many magazines you’re in or how many awards you’ve won.” Tommy sighed. “Do you have any idea how much it hurts me to see you so lost? You’re like my kid brother, and the world just took a dump on your head. So now I want to beat up the whole fucking world.”
“Not good for your image.”
Tommy squeezed tighter for a moment before letting go and returning to packing. “I don’t care about that. Life isn’t all about the image you project to the world. I just want you to heal a little. So pack, please, and forget about Kris. He didn’t deserve you.”
And so Ru had made his way to the Twin Cities, Minnesota, hoping, just a little, for a chance to restart. When he really thought about it, he realized he’d never really loved Kris. Sure, he’d liked the man well enough. Kris had been kind and good-looking. He knew lip service like few others, but that’s all it had really been. He knew exactly what to say to get Ru to agree to just about anything. Only now did Ru look back and realize it was because he’d been affection-starved after his father left. He’d thrown himself at Kris to fill the gap in his soul that Tommy couldn’t seal alone. Ru had tried to use Kris. And so, in kind, Kris had used Ru.
Kris wanted Ru’s fame, and without any talent of his own, figured using Ru to get it was what he needed; thus the career-ending picture. Well, maybe not career-ending, but it sure felt that way at the time. The phone calls never stopped, flashes of thousands of cameras, people screaming things about him being damned. Even fans abandoning him because he was obviously “perverted” and “evil.” Ru had never imagined that by seventeen he’d be the world’s biggest scandal. What would they all think if they knew AJ lip-synced at almost every concert because the guy couldn’t dance and sing at the same time? Or that Dane was about as sharp as a box of river rocks? How had him being born gay made him such a bad guy?
The car pulled up to a small community college, ripping Ru out of his brooding. Next door to it was an even smaller high school. Ru recognized them only because Binks described it to him. In his part of California, the schools were all a mass of tiny buildings, each classroom its own little freestanding structure. Here they were like massive apartments attached by tunnels above and below ground. Sort of like the way schools looked like on TV, only with fewer windows. Cooled for the warm summer months and heated for the wicked cold Ru already felt coming. Several floors and long hallways of classrooms lined with lockers—it just all seemed so odd to him.
Binks opened the door and waved his hand to a building on the right. “That’s the library. Three floors, great selection of music titles as well as current fiction, and only about ten minutes from Dimitri’s. Do you want me to tell your uncle you’ll be coming by for dinner?”
Ru shook his head. “Nah. I’ll tell him when I get there. Stay close, please.” He headed into the library, marveling at the walls of windows and towering stacks of books. Everything was numbered, so Ru had to stop at the information desk to ask for directions to the music section. Once the librarian had pointed him in the right direction, he wove his way through the stacks, reading through titles until he found a few books to browse. For a community college, they had a really large section on music.
There were people everywhere, many sitting at tables or on computers. A handful of students had even gathered around a large fireplace in the center of the library, acoustic guitars in hand, playing and singing softly. No one rushed to shush them, and everyone really just seemed intent on minding their own business. Ru made his way to a table near the back, next to one of the giant windows, and set down his stack of books.
The view was nice. There was some sort of courtyard area outside with benches, trees, and even a few pergola-looking things. Rainbows of leaves lay scattered about, and he wondered how peaceful it would look when it was all blanketed in the white of winter. He’d done the ski-trip thing a few times with Tommy, but had a feeling that actually living here during the winter months would be a world of differences.
Finally he just sighed and opened a book. The noise of the people around him was comforting and eased him out of his depression, though he couldn’t really interact with them. He hoped just keeping his head down would be enough to prevent anyone from recognizing him.
He was halfway through a biography about Madonna when he heard someone sit down at a desk nearby. Somewhat afraid he’d been discovered, Ru looked up. The young man had the blondest hair he’d ever seen on a guy, which was saying a lot since Ru was born and raised in San Diego. But it was a fine, white shag that fell around his face. The guy’s profile was lovely, all angles until the softness of his lips broke it up. Ru must have been staring too long because the blond glanced his way.
Ru buried his face back in his book, trying to slow his excited breathing. The kid was beautiful. Giant brown eyes, soft and sweet, lips thick and expressive, skin so oddly pale and light brown all at once. He looked so innocent, not that Ru could think of why that was. It was just that he didn’t appear to be the kind of guy he’d been used to, the hangers-on in designer clothes and makeup. Wholesome, the boy-next-door type of guy Ru had been hearing about his entire life. They were probably pretty close in age. For the first time in ages, Ru actually felt something more than sadness, depression, and rage.
Their eyes met briefly, and the blond smiled shyly at him. Ru ran his hands through his brown hair a few times. It felt coarse and unappealing, just like he did at that moment. What sort of other life would he have to live to end up with a boy like this? Did this pretty boy struggle every day to put forth such a perfect image? Or could he just be who he was?
They played the game a while, glancing up or looking away when the other looked up. Ru licked his lips more times than usual trying to find the voice to speak up and actually introduce himself to the young man. The guy’s clothes were normal, just T-shirt and jeans, with a light coat, nothing that said he was a pap or anything other than the student he appeared to be. But Ru found himself locked in his seat, not sure what to say or how to react each time the kid looked up.
The blond got up after a few minutes, leaving his books and everything to head to the counter. Ru watched him talk to the librarian for a minute before rushing to find a piece of paper to leave the young man a note. What if the guy had heard of him? What if he was disgusted and turned around and called the papers or something? What if Ru spent the rest of his life wondering what if?
He jotted down just his nickname and his phone number. Maybe the guy would call; maybe he wouldn’t. At least Ru had made his move. He headed into the stacks, hoping the guy didn’t come barreling after him shouting hateful things when he found the note, but he stayed close enough to watch.
The young man returned with a handful of papers. He frowned, glanced at where Ru had sat a minute ago, and opened his folder. Ru knew he’d found the note by the alarmed expression on the blond’s face. He even looked up and glanced around as if afraid someone would see him. He seemed to be confused by the note. Ru felt his heart break a little and turned to leave, texting Binks as he went. So much for hope.
4.5 Stars ~ Sam Kadence is the alter-ego, and dear friend of mine, Lissa Kasey. Sam writes young adult, a genre I’ve told her I’m not particularly fond of, although, somehow, I keep getting them, and I’ve read some real great ones this past year. However, in order to read book two in this series, which has such a wonderful title, I needed to read ‘On The Right Track’. So, here I am, jumping into Ru and Adam’s world.
Ru was a member of a pop, boy band, until his then-boyfriend, outed him publicly. The ex needed a little fame for himself, not giving a crap what that meant to Ru. Between the jealous lead singer, and the record company, Ru was “released” from his contract with Vocal Growth.
After months of being stalked by the media, Ru moves to the Twin Cities in Minnesota, where his best friend, and former band mate, Tommy, has a condo. Personally, I would’ve chosen Fiji, but, hey, to each his own. *grins* As luck, and fate, would have it, Ru meets Adam, who doesn’t seem to recognize him, in the library, and, maybe, just maybe, there’s more life for Ru to live at seventeen.
Adam is sixteen, and a junior. He’s not out. In fact, he has definitely fallen into the trap of hiding who you are. For starters, he’s on the football team, even though he hates it. He doesn’t date, and sometimes he wonders if there’s something wrong with him, since he doesn’t ever think about sex. I mean, he’s sixteen, shouldn’t he be obsessed with it? Adam’s closest friend is Bas, a very out and proud young man, but Adam backed away from Bas, a little, when he came out, for fear of being lumped in with him. Bas was, actually, severely beaten right after coming out, and Adam’s had a hard time forgetting that. Although, the more he gets to know Ru, and start to accept what’s inside him, the closer he gets to Bas, and the more confident he becomes in himself.
I adored getting to know Ru and Adam. They may be young, chronologically, but, in many ways, they are both far too mature, and grown up, than they should be. The author has written a heartwarming story about acceptance, in all of its many forms, and I truly enjoyed it. Why, then, didn’t I give it the full five stars? Well, mostly because, at their young ages, there were times when they really did behave much older, and, for me, it came across as slightly unrealistic. The secondary characters of Tommy, Bas, and, even, Adam’s parents, were wonderful, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of them.
Thank you, Sam, a worthy story that I highly recommend!
NOTE: This book was provided by the author for the purpose of a review on Christy Loves 2 Read.
Undercover Boyfriend by Jacob Z. Flores eBook
Finding Family by Connie Bailey eBook
Fire and Snow by Andrew Grey eBook
Bombs and Guacamole by BA Tortuga eBook
Five Times My Best Friend Kissed Me by Anna Martin eBook
The Cattle Baron's Bogus Boyfriend by Nicki Bennett eBook
Power Play by Avon Gale eBook
Dreamers' Destiny by Tempeste O'Riley eBook
Sometimes Love Lasts by Jake Wells eBook
Debt by K.C. Wells eBook
Requires site membership
Losing Faith by Scotty Cade eBook