Caleb McDonnell lives his life online. A thirty-year-old fast food worker, he spends his time talking in an Internet world where his job and living conditions can't dictate his friendships. He's found acceptance, friendship, and even romance. But when an online friend is revealed as a fake, Caleb loses all sense of trust. To stave off the emotional collapse of his betrayal, Caleb leaves his online life behind and retreats into the monotony of his job.
Nicodemus Rokos feels like his heart has been torn out. He knew Caleb would be hurt, but he'd hoped not to be shut out of his boyfriend's life. He can only hope Caleb still feels something when he shows up in person to reclaim what he's lost.
CALEB MCDONNELL sat in the dark, looking at the glowing screen of his laptop. His back was pushed against the headboard, his fingers poised over the keys. Caleb was waiting for something, and it didnít take long. The soft tone of an incoming message arriving sounded, and Caleb smiled.
kevin2010: hey! youíre out?
macalebhottie: yeah. done for the day, thankfully.
kevin2010: working late too much.
macalebhottie: need the money. how are u?
There was a long wait, and finally Caleb sent another message.
macalebhottie: sorry. know u hate to talk about it.
kevin2010: just, this is my escape, you know?
macalebhottie: itís fine. I just get concerned.
kevin2010: appreciate it, but donít bother. trust me, enough people worried here already. hey, you ask him out yet?
Caleb closed his eyes for a moment. He should never have told Kevin about that. His little useless crush. Heíd never even met Nic. Of course, heíd never met Kevin either. Hardly mattered. He told Kevin everything.
macalebhottie: thatís not happening.
kevin2010: why not?
macalebhottie: because itís not. just stop it.
kevin2010: like you stop telling me to take care of myself? you should ask him.
Caleb ran a hand through the dark copper-red of his tight curls. He sighed, letting the breath out, slow and long. ďSure, right,Ē he muttered. ďLike I could ever really tell Nic.Ē
He glanced around the room. It was a studio apartment, and even now Caleb could feel the color in his cheeks. Even if he had the confidence to tell Nic, he could never invite him here. A crappy studio apartment? Besides, Nic was happy and far away in one of those Midwestern states. Caleb tried to pretend he didnít know which one. That he didnít know the city and the street. That he hadnít used street view to look at the house. God, he was a stalker!
kevin2010: you mean wonít.
macalebhottie: same difference.
kevin2010: you had confidence once. what happened?
macalebhottie: what do u mean?
kevin2010: macalebHOTTIE. It took confidence. You had it once. what happened?
macalebhottie: weíve been chatting for months. u know what happened.
kevin2010: no. because every time I ask, you do this. before everything started happening, I was a psych major. I might be tempted to call what youíre doing deflection.
Caleb groaned. Why was Kevin always so frustrating?
macalebhottie: so I let myself believe I was hot once. convinced others, even.
kevin2010: seen pictures. werenít imagining.
macalebhottie: those were just beach pics.
kevin2010: you were wearing a speedo. you didnít look embarrassed to me. you looked good. If I didnít have Scottie, I mighta been interested.
Caleb looked away from the screen. His stomach did that thing, the one that made him all uncomfortable. Butterflies, gurgles, who cared what they were called. All Caleb cared about was that it felt crappy. Because he was jealous. Jealous that Kevin had someone. Jealous that a twenty-year-old who was barely even out was engaged to a great guy. Jealous because, at thirty, he was alone and living in a crappy studio, while Kevin wasÖ.
It was unworthy. It was a very human reaction, jealousy, but that didnít help Caleb. He still felt like a miserable shit. Kevin had enough to deal with.
macalebhottie: Scottieís a lucky guy.
kevin2010: Iím the lucky one. heís been home every weekend to spend time with me. he should be at school, but he comes anyway.
macalebhottie: glad heís there for u. Iíd visit u know, if u would let me.
kevin2010: no. you canít afford that, and you know it.
macalebhottie: still would do it.
kevin2010: I know. :)
macalebhottie: so I can?
kevin2010: no. chill, cal. you have enough to deal with there. besides, if youíre here, you wonít be chatting up this guy. I can tell you like him.
kevin2010: you wonít tell me his name, so I canít look him up.
macalebhottie: like u would.
kevin2010: I bet you did. I bet you know everything about him.
macalebhottie: stop it!
kevin2010: gotta go anyway. itís really late here.
Of course it was. Caleb struggled with Nic for the same reason. It was so hard to talk at all. Time zones never worked out quite right. He glanced at the clock. It was really late where Kevin was. Unfortunately, Kevin was right. It would cost a fortune for Caleb to visit, and it was a fortune he didnít have.
macalebhottie: all right. ttyl.
Caleb set his computer aside and stripped the rest of the way down. Heíd dropped the uniform as soon as heíd gotten in, but he still needed to shower; he smelled like grease and fast food. The only good thing about these studios was the hot water, which was plentiful and practically steaming. Well, that and the super cheap price tag. It was the only thing that let him live alone.
Luxuriating in the shower was a familiar thing. He allowed himself that, to feel the hot water massaging his aching muscles. Heíd never thought it before actually doing the job, but it was grueling work, standing hour after hour making sandwiches. The air got thick with grease and his curls got slick and heavy and dark with the grime. There was function in luxuriating in that shower, and it wasnít just the time he took to find his release.
He emerged from the shower clean, and he dropped the dirty clothes and the towel heíd used to cover his bed before he showered into a bag that stank with sweat and grease. He felt clean. He looked at the bag, glad for the extra uniform shirts being full timeóor what passed for full time in fast foodómeant. He wouldnít have to do laundry tonight.
Caleb dressed in a loose set of flannel sleep pants and sat at the table by the window looking out on the city streets. The endless beeping and honking and dull roar of the city came through the half-frosted window. Heíd always been told you learned to tune it out, but Caleb never had. He groaned and looked at the tiny shelves that were all the pantry he had. Ramen noodles and stale bread. The bread at least he could use for French toast in the morning. There was nothing to snack on. Heíd never dreamed his fitness would be determined by the fact that he could barely afford to eat.
It would be another hour before Nic was online. Would he follow Kevinís advice? He needed to think, and that was always easiest for him when writing. Caleb grabbed the laptop and started to type on his blog.
I know I was lucky. I ran to the city as soon as I could. I was sixteen. I managed to make my way out of the hole Iíd dug for myself. I managed to get off the street. In a lot of ways, Iím light years ahead of where I wasóselling myself on the street for a place to sleep and a meal. I could have ended up sick. I could have been beaten more than I was. But I pulled myself out, and Iím proud of that. My best friend KevinÖ heís great. For a long time he was afraid that heíd end up like I did. But he was braver than me. He never ran. And sure it hasnít been easy, but he has someone. Maybe I could have too, if I hadnít been so afraid.
Heís been telling me I need to try more. I donít know if heís right. Thereís a guy I like, I mean, itís not Kevin. Itíd be easy to think that. Heís cute. Too young, but cute.
Thereís another guy. Someone I met online. But just like Kevin, heís so far away. Itís not crazy to be realistic. I know nothing can happen with him. If Iím lucky, Iíll find someone at the store. Or maybe at a club, if I can ever pull together the money to go again. If I ever trust myself to be in that environment, knowing what it used to mean to me. After all these years, I still feel dirty.
But it wonít be him. And I wonít apologize for being sad about that. I should be sad about that.
Caleb set the post to privateóhe didnít need anyone else reading thatóthen pushed the computer away. Nic would be on soon. But right now, after writing that admission, Caleb wasnít at all sure he could even bring himself to talk to Nic.
Caleb stood and looked down through the glass onto the street. He watched the people walking with their hands stuffed tight in their pockets. Not looking at anyone. There was a reason he was spending time online. People in the city didnít even talk to each other. How was he supposed to find someone here? He knew how his friends did it. Anonymous hookups that sometimes led to something. Online dating sites. Meeting a stranger and fucking and hoping something like a relationship might emerge after. It wasnít what he wanted. He wanted more. Maybe he didnít deserve it after giving himself up on the streets for so long. Maybe he really was worthless.
Silently, Caleb shook his head. He wasnít that hopeless. Not yet.
...for anyone whoís been caught by lies online, this story was a good one.†
Read the full review at
The Byte of Betrayal is about the story. It is about the journey.†
†there was a lot going on in this relatively short novella
Review copy posted on Books on Silver Wings blog.
3.5 Stars rounded to 3
Caleb has a crush on Nic but he doesn't have the courage to tell him so he tells his online best friend, Kevin. He also can't afford a trip to visit Nic since he's so poor, he's eating Ramen noodles and stale bread. He's living his life online and having online friends. A thousand miles away, Nic wants to be Caleb's boyfriend and discovers Kevin is a fake. Nic tells Caleb the truth but he can't accept it.
Caleb is getting depressive and reliant on his online relationships to feel a connection. When he discovers his best friend (online) is a fake person, he spirals into depression. He's background is really sad. He used to live on the streets so he's proud to have a home even though its a crappy one. Not many people understand how reliant he is on online relationships/friendships. He thinks real people on the street are impersonal and trusts his online best friend, Kevin. It turns out that Kevin is really Tami, who's a boring and mousy character that wants people to talk to her and gets addicted to using a fake persona. My heart goes out to him and hope he trusts people again with Nic's help.
Nic is the nice guy and the perfect hero for Caleb. However, his home situation is weird. He's financially supporting his friend and her child. His friend becomes reliant on him and tries to break up his relationship so Nic will never leave her. They are not husband and wife but they give off a very domestic feel. It would be difficult to add Caleb into the mix.
The online chat format may take a little to get used to. The ending of Nic coming to rescue Caleb and his recovery is rushed. Overall though, the story ends with a HEA and at a very hopeful note. Fans of the hurt/comfort trope would enjoy this story.
*review copy received in exchange for an honest review*
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