A Harmony Ink Press Title
As a musician at the popular college café Coed Joe’s, high school senior Kai Manter is never lacking for male attention. Out, proud, free-spirited, and sexually aware, Kai sets his sights on his darkly Gothic and undeniably bad-tempered coworker, Jamie Arlotta, a freshman at the local arts university. Sporting long hair and alluring hippie style, Kai expects his interest will be reciprocated, with satisfying sex as the end goal. That’s what usually happens. But Jamie’s lessons in life have been harsher. Having been sexually abused by his older stepbrother for several years, Jamie has grown an impenetrable outer shell meant to keep the world at a safe distance.
Kai is angry at first when he takes the brunt of Jamie’s bad temper, but after Kai accidentally discovers the abuse Jamie has suffered, he wants to fix things. Kai’s plan is based on what he knows best—music—and he stages a “musical intervention” to let Jamie know he’s not alone and things can get better. When Jamie’s perspective changes and he emerges from his shell, Kai changes, too, gaining a whole new understanding of what sex can be when love is there too.
Part I Making It
COULD have been my green eyes he was into… or maybe he had a thing for long hair. Lots of dudes did. But probably it was the song.
The cute blond waiter I’d talked myself out of asking for a date a couple of months ago was staring at me. Or like, studying me, more so. His dark gaze slid from my face, down over my shoulder, then along my arm to my fingertips, and he watched closely as I went to town on the neck of the guitar. His lips slowly curved into this sweet little smile at the sound of my music but not so much at me.
Uh-huh, I was pretty sure it was the tune that’d caught him.
It was always the tune.
AFTER my set, I stuck my Gibson in the stand and jammed it into the corner so nothing got dumped on her. I’d had to scrape dried caramel macchiato off my guitar one time too many. Not my idea of fun. On second thought, I pushed Sheila back a few more inches; you can’t be too careful of the good shit in your life, right? And yeah, so maybe she’s a guitar, not a cat, and therefore didn’t really deserve a name, but somewhere along the line she’d morphed from “my guitar” into “Sheila Gibson,” and, incidentally, the only female lover I’d ever have.
My so-called stage was actually just this low riser in the far corner of Coed Joe’s, a student-run café on the edge of the Dascomb Arts University campus; it was lodged snugly between a bunch of mismatched tables and the wall. Pretty tight quarters—but it was my stage—and I’m not screwing with you when I tell you I loved every second I spent on it. I stood there for a few more minutes, looking out over my coffee-guzzling, study-breaking audience of twentysomethings, who were pretty much all gazing up at me in obvious buzz-kill mode now that the little high school musician had ditched them in order to take his fifteen-minute, anything-but-more-coffee break. And at the same time, as I scanned the put-out expressions on the artsy college students’ faces, I was holding this inner debate as to whether or not I should go find that hottie waiter and see if he was up for grabbing a burger with me at closing time.
Why the debate? That’s a fair question. And I guess the best way to answer it would be to say “once bitten, twice shy.” I’d recently escaped from a rather questionable romantic relationship with a dude who just wouldn’t take no for an answer, and I wasn’t looking forward to a repeat performance of that shit, so to speak. Can you say “stalker”?
I caught a flash of rich auburn out of the corner of my eye the very second my pal, Mandy, came up behind me and grabbed me hard by the belt. Within a second she was boinging my long curls and then rubbing her knuckles on my stubbly beard; that girl never could keep her hands to herself. “Hey, Kai, what’re you up to after work? Get this: my friend Alana stole, say, eight kinds of schnapps from her parents’ liquor cabinet—took a little from each bottle, and she mixed ’em all together in an empty pickle jar—and we thought that we’d have a little ‘Schnapps Shots Shindig.’ I made the name up, sweetie… try saying that one ten times fast. Anyways, it’s on for tonight, in my basement, after work. You in?”
A server at Coed Joe’s, Mandy was, like me, a senior in high school, but she lived in the nearby and much less ritzy (just being honest) town of Barlow. She was also an accomplished classical pianist, having studied it since she was old enough to sit on a piano bench. Both of us were very practically, but more so parent-pleasingly, applying to be music education majors next year at Dascomb Arts University, which was just up the road here in my hometown of Hartwick, Massachusetts. So, yeah, we were both going for the college degree, while in a perfect world all we’d have to do was strut our musical stuff under the bright lights to make a living.
“Hello, Kai… I asked you something. Are you in, or what?”
“Not so much for tonight, and besides, that funky schnapps blend in a pickle jar sounds like hours of barfing waiting to happen.” My parents weren’t the sniff-your-breath-when-you-come-home-late types, but boozing really wasn’t my number one vice, anyway. My favorite little depravity was chasing boys, which had gotten me into more than a little bit of trouble. Like the heavy-drama-dude-stalking-me kind of trouble. “I was thinking of trying to get next to that blond waiter, you know, the little dude with the big brown eyes.” Okay, so maybe I made a hissing sizzle sound because, yeah, the dude was caliente (that’s hot in Spanish). “What’s his name, anyhow?”
When I spun around to look at her face, there was definitely a look of pity mixed in with all Mandy’s freckles. “Good luck with that dude… ’cause you’re gonna need it, honey. His name is Jamie Arlotta. He went to my high school… graduated last year and now he’s a freshman at Dascomb Arts. And get this, back in high school everybody called him ‘Pretty Vacant,’ because, sure he’s got the pretty face of an angel, but there’s nothing else going on inside that boy. His head? Empty. His heart? We were all convinced that his chest cavity was hollow too. As a matter of fact, I think I heard an echoing sound when I bumped into him one time.”
“Are you saying he’s, like, lacking in brainpower or something?” The boy I had my eye on definitely did not send out the “shit for brains” vibe. And “dumb” was definitely a deal-breaker for me. I liked a hot dude as much as the next guy, but he had to have a decent head on his shoulders to flip my switch, got me?
“Who the hell knows? Didn’t you hear me, K? The guy, he’s hollow—vacant, see? You say hello to him, you get nothing in return. You ask him how he’s doing for tips? Nothing. Nobody here at work likes him either. He struts around the place with his nose in the air like he’s all that.”
“Well, he kind of is all that.” I mumbled that part beneath my breath. With a bit more volume, I asked, “You know if he’s one of my kind?”
“Gay? Yeah, I think so. At least he certainly seems to be, but as you can imagine, he’s not discussing his sexual preference with any of his lowly coworkers.” She pulled a red-tinted tube of ChapStick out of her apron pocket and smeared it around her lips in two well-practiced circular movements. “Looks like you got it bad for Pretty Vacant, Kai. But you haven’t met the guy behind the face yet; you’ll get over him after ten seconds in his surly presence.” Mandy spun around and headed for the coffee bar. “Gotta head, my drinks are up!”
As I watched her bounce over to the bar, I decided that I was, in fact, into this. In other words, I was up to the Pretty Vacant Challenge. Chances are, if a guy played that hard to get to begin with, he wouldn’t turn into Mr. Desperate in the near future, and he’d know how to keep his distance after our romp in the sack was done and I told him I felt like going solo, unlike what had gone down last spring in my disastrous hookup with then-college-junior Noah Griffin. I could sum up the soul of that relationship in two words: restraining order. No, my parents hadn’t ended up having to drag my ass downtown to the Hartwick PD to fill out the forms, but we’d had to threaten him with it. More than once. And that had sucked.
Then Jamie Arlotta was right there, super conveniently right in my path, lurking stealthily by the men’s room, wispy blond bangs completely covering up one of his eyes. And somehow, he looked super alluring, and all the while still managed to ward off everybody’s foolish attempts at conversation with an expression that clearly said, “I’m not even slightly interested in anything you could possibly come up with to say to me, so don’t bother.” Nonetheless, it was my break. Time for me to visit the little boy’s room, right?
Now, I wasn’t exactly freaking out over the prospect of approaching Jamie Arlotta, since I’d always had pretty decent luck with dudes in general. Something about dark hair, light eyes, a runner’s bod—and then there was the whole musician thing—well, none of that hurt my chances with dudes at all. And me being a couple of years younger than them hadn’t ever seemed to pose a major problem for any of my dates; I guess most of them had assumed I was legal. (And now that I’d turned eighteen years old, I was.) To go with my decent looks, I had what you might call a relatively positive self-image, so even if I wasn’t radiating confidence out of every pore, I definitely wasn’t one of those guys who was always trying to blend into the background. All in all, the combination of grunge band looks, reasonable ability to carry a tune, and no lack of confidence just worked for most guys.
Okay, so it drew ’em to me like bees to honey.
And ever since I’d turned sixteen and started working at Coed Joe’s, the vast majority of the dudes I’d been out with had been older than me, as in college students from DAU. Dudes who, I’d discovered through plenty of hands-on experience (don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining), were finally having the chance to experience the freedom in life to spread their wings wide in the sexuality department. Much more so, at least, than the one or two gay high school guys I knew who hadn’t dared to stick so much as a baby toe out of the closet. In fact, I’d met nine out of ten of my most recent boyfriends right here at the café, having caught their eyes while singing my ass off and strumming on Sheila.
What was I on the ledge about, then? That one was easy: the prospect of getting involved in something overly heavy again scared the living bejesus out of me. It had just been so frigging hard to get out last time, when all I’d been looking for with Noah, my spring fling from last year, had been to get my rocks off. But no, there had to be drama, and God knows, I suck with that. What could I say, though? I was a young and healthy male; Mother Nature—you know, in terms of the birds and the bees and that sweet honey—was pretty much always calling me, 24/7.
For that matter, she was calling my name right now.
So I made my grand entrance. “Yo, Jamie, right? I noticed you noticing me before, you know, when I was jamming.” I was going for charming, but I suspected I ended up sounding more or less stuck-up as all hell. I shrugged, not too worried about it. Whatever.
The slim blond shook his hair off his face and looked up at me with icy, dark eyes. And before he’d even opened up his pretty lips to speak, those frigid eyes thinned to narrow slits. “Don’t flatter yourself. I liked the song, that’s all.”
Slits wide enough for arrows to shoot through.
So, yeah, once again, it was the song. All the guys liked my music. “What song was it?”
“Ang—shit, I don’t know! It’s not like I wrote it down or anything.”
“It was ‘In the arms of an angel,’ wasn’t it? So, you’re into Sarah McLachlan’s ‘Angel.’ Interesting….”
“I don’t have time for this right now.”
“Do you have time later, for a burger, maybe?” Okay, I was a realist. I could tell things had been heading rather steadily downhill with Jamie and me, starting from, say, word one. In fact, the short trip from bad to worse had taken me approximately four sentences. My bad, huh? And it was also clear as the ice encasing this dude’s heart where our little chat was heading. Because, judging from the way he was glaring at me with his head cocked, his one now visible eye all squinted up, and his jaw set rigidly, I’d say it was dang clear that pretty Jamie Arlotta had just about slammed the door on me.
He shifted his weight onto one hip, and he pointed at me, accusingly, like I’d just mooned his grandma. “One, I’m a vegetarian, so I’m too morally principled to have a ‘burger’ with you. And two, this is the big one, you are clearly a childish idiot, and I’m too uninterested to have a burger with you. So it looks like you’ll be eating alone.” Slam! Now the deed was done.
Don’t know just why, but I felt a flicker of desire as I watched him stride away. And with each step, Jamie’s fingers surged deeper and deeper into his soft-looking, light-blond waves until they finally reached the darker roots, almost like the guy was trying to massage away his own pent-up tension.
Call me wacked, but I liked what I saw. There is absolutely no accounting for taste, is there?
I called after him, “Since you forgot to ask, this so-called childish idiot’s name is Kai Manter. It was mad sweet to meet you, dude.” As I continued to take in the speedily retreating view of his fine form, I muttered under my breath, “And for the record, Mr. Arlotta, I’m a vegetarian too. I was talking about veggie burgers.”
This coming of age story will warm your heart, bring love and music into your life.
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Kai Manter is working at a coffee shop while finishing up high school. When he sees Jamie Arlotta he likes him a lot. Jamie however is not amused by the attention Kai is giving him.
Jamie is bitchy and aloof, except when Kai’s music touches something inside him.
Kai finds out about the abuse Jamie has been suffering through for years by his stepbrother. He starts a musical intervention, trying to let Jamie know he is there for him.
Jamie slowly starts to trust Kai and their relationship starts to bloom. Jamie’s stepbrother doesn’t give up easily, causing trouble for the both of them repeatedly. There is also a stalker that doesn’t want to let go of Kai.
Kai tries to get Jamie to go to therapy but Jamie just wants to forget. Even with all this bad stuff happening, they continue to get closer and closer. Until one day Jamie breaks up with Kai and becomes his bitchy old self again. Kai needs to find out what happened and make it right again.
This book is one of the best I read in a while. The things I described above are just a small part of everything that happens. It’s a heart wrenching story of abuse, fear, friendship and love.
Jamie is a very scared boy, that cares too much about the health of his dad. This is the reason why his stepbrother has so much control over him. After a while the abuse just scrambles your mind and you don’t see any way out anymore. Kai is a wonderful person when is stops being a arrogant snot.
Kai’s brother is the surprise factor in this book for me. It’s a weird but strangely warm person that becomes the rock of both Kai and Jamie.
I can’t even begin to explain all the things that happen and why, you’ll just have to read it. It’s worth the money and all the tissues you’ll need.
GAH!! Where to start? First off, trigger warnings! There is mention of non-consensual sexual violence in this book, though none of it is explicit. Also, please have tissues handy - you will need them.
This was a beautifully written story, pulled me in from the word go, with a voice that sounded authentic and believable.
Kai is a high school senior working as a musical performer at a coffee shop/hang-out and otherwise flirting and shmexing any boy who catches his eye. Not interested in a relationship, he hones in on one of the waiters at the shop, only to be harshly rebuffed by whom his friend Mandy, a waitress at the same shop, calls Pretty Vacant.
Jamie, the waiter, has a reputation of not connecting with anyone. He's nice enough to the customers and good at his job, but doesn't hang out with his co-workers or seeks out any friendships. A loner for quite some time, he's been written off by most of his peers.
Clearly, something is going on.
Kai, intrigued and slightly miffed, decides Jamie is a challenge. A couple of things happen that involve a huge burly guy named Evan (who initially claims Jamie owes him money), and Kai has sufficient intuition to realize that not all is as it seems.
Thus, he begins to pursue Jamie in the best way he knows - staging an intervention with his music, with the songs he sings. He begins to reach out, and as he learns more about what is really going on, the reader sees a huge shift in Kai's personality.
More angst ensues, but the two boys begin a relationship that from the start tugs on your heartstrings. I hurt for Jamie as more of his story comes out, and I was feeling hugely proud of Kai who does a complete 180 and keeps his approach slow and tender, knowing he has to move carefully to gain Jamie's trust.
I thoroughly enjoyed the supporting cast the author created, from Chuck (Charlie), Kai's big brother, Mandy, his friend, even Kai's parents - they all played a specific role without ever becoming cardboardish and flat. Sure, Mandy is queen bitch on occasion, but there's more depth to her than that, once she's aware of what's going on. Little by little, these people show Jamie that there is another way, that he doesn't have to deal with the issues in his life on his own, and that it's okay to let someone in, to let them help you.
Kai's character growth is tremendous, but so is Jamie's. He goes from being a scared rabbit using his "bitchy Jamie" persona to keep people away to standing up for himself and seeking resolution to the situation. He grows day to day, becoming stronger every time, without forgetting that he's standing on someone's shoulder for that boost he needed to take charge of the issue.
Sure, there are setbacks. Evan, Jamie's brother, is a troubled, evil person, and there were plenty of times when I would have liked to get my hands around his neck to choke the crap out of him. And while the issue wasn't resolved to my liking, it was resolved in a way that worked best for Jamie, empowering him because he gets to make the decision on it.
The theme that to understand a man one has to walk in his shoes for a few miles is repeated throughout. It's something that Kai has to learn just as much as Mandy does. Her derision of Jamie (Pretty Vacant) changes over time, and she learns that sometimes someone who keeps away isn't snotty or 'vacant' at all but hurting and dealing as best as he knows. It's a lesson we all need to learn.
I adored Chuck. He was the quintessential big brother, lending a helping hand and kicking Kai's ass when warranted. He listened, he helped, and he guided Kai to where he needed to be, to get a different perspective of things and to support Jamie as best as possible.
Throughout this book, "Wind Beneath My Wings" kept running through my mind. Kai, with help from his family, really becomes that uplifting wind to help Jamie soar, to help him fly.
It was gorgeous. I cried many tears, but they were all worth it. Kai's voice is authentic throughout this book, written entirely in his limited POV, and thus we get treated to his inner monologue and see the growth he experiences, from being confused as to why he's so intrigued by Jamie to starting to get it to really understanding that his job in Jamie's recovery is not to lead the charge, but to be the uplifting wind under Jamie's wings. At its core, this book describes a beautiful first love between the two boys who must overcome difficult obstacles to succeed.
Open your eyes to the world around you. Sometimes, all it takes is a good look at someone with different eyes, and a little intervention to help them along.
No man is an island. We'd do well to remember that.
And you can't really know what anyone is going through until you've walked a mile in their shoes. Remember that too.
Please note: This is a YA title from Harmony Ink Press and was given to me as an ARC free of charge. A positive review was not promised in return.
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