All their lives, Finn and Nate have been inseparable, sharing everything, and when a childhood accident left Finn broken, Nate stood by his side as all his other friends left. After all their years together, there’s one secret Finn still hasn’t revealed: he has been in love with Nate since they were eight years old. Hiding his feelings for twenty-one years—terrified of what might happen if Nate ever found out—has been difficult, but losing his best friend would be worse than living with a bad case of unrequited love. Unfortunately for Finn, Nate doesn't make it easy.
Nate believes there are some things that just have to be done before your thirtieth birthday. As a gift to Finn, he plans an adventure to check off a list of thirty things to experience before hitting that milestone. Starting in Crawfordsville, Indiana, they tour the country, trying new things and meeting interesting new people. Nate’s having the time of his life, but he can tell Finn is holding something back. As the days count down, navigating the back roads suddenly seems easier than figuring out where their relationship is heading.
One thing’s for certain. There will be no turning back.
I WAS eight years old the first time I fell in love. Like most eight-year-olds, it was a love that was impossible. Most little boys, at one time or another, have said they want to marry their moms. For me, it wasn’t my mom, but rather, my best friend. Even then I was old enough to realize my feelings weren’t “normal.” I never told anyone how I felt. If I had, they likely would have patted me on the head and told me to go outside and play. Most parents would have dismissed it as “just a phase,” or assumed I was confused. But it definitely wasn’t a phase, and I certainly wasn’t confused. It wasn’t until years later that I put a label on my feelings, but by that time, I was so far gone, there was no turning back.
A month and a half before my thirtieth birthday, my whole life changed. I should probably mention I don’t take life changes too lightly. I’ve had more than my fair share of experiences with them, the first one happening when I was a little kid; just seven years old.
My best friend Nate and I were tossing this plastic goo ball back and forth. I may have been a little overzealous and pitched it into the tree at the edge of his property. Of course we were both devastated. That goo ball was almost brand-new and only had a thin coating of dirt and grime crusted to its sticky surface.
Being the ever-daring seven-year-old kid, I volunteered to climb the tree to fetch our treasure. In hindsight, another twenty-five cents and a quick trip to the store would have solved the problem as effectively, but I said I was daring, not smart. Anyway, overconfident little me hoisted himself into the tree as quick as he could and shimmied his way along the branch to where the toy had caught on one of the twigs near the edge.
I reached out and grabbed the edge of it, and I still remember the satisfying squish between my fingers as I raised my hand high in the air in victory, mere milliseconds before that branch gave way and I went tumbling to the ground.
I don’t remember much after that. People tell me I hit my head and blacked out, and if I had just fallen from the tree, I would have been fine. But I didn’t just fall from the tree. The branch I had been perched on so precariously, extended across Nate’s back fence and into the alley behind his house. When the branch snapped, I fell into the path of a car that was driving a bit too fast to stop in time.
It wasn’t the driver’s fault. Who expects a seven-year-old to fall from the sky in front of their car? But I did just that, and it was too late for her to stop. Both my legs and part of my pelvis were crushed beneath her front tire, and my life was never the same.
A handful of surgeries and a shitload of rehab later, I still have never fully recovered. Now, before your heart fills with pity and sympathy for me, know it’s not that bad. I can walk. Mostly. Short distances. Occasionally, I look like a drunk baby giraffe, but I am able to manage. At first, they wanted to put me in a wheelchair to make things easier, but a wheelchair never seemed much easier to me. I’d rather tough it out. If it meant I couldn’t keep up with guys my own age, that I’d never participate in games of touch football in the park, or be a star on the track team, that was just my lot in life. The lingering pain never fully dissipated, but it is what it is. It’s almost all I’ve ever known.
You see, I know about life changes. And that was only the first one for me.
When you live in a place like Crawfordsville, Indiana, you don’t expect to have many life-altering experiences, so in a way, I am grateful for all of mine. They led me to where I am today, and that is more than I could have hoped for.
So like I said, a month and a half before my thirtieth birthday, something extraordinary happened, although I hadn’t known it at the time.
IT HAD been a day like any other. Nate, who is still my best friend, and I live together in a small house a few blocks from downtown. Generally, we spend our days in our respective offices, as we both work from home—me as an editor and Nate as a writer—but that day, Nate had been conspicuously absent. When I thought about it, he hadn’t been home much all week. It wasn’t like him to be out so much, but sometimes when he was working on a new book, he would take his laptop to the coffee place down the street and write. He said it got him out of his head and into a place where the words flowed onto the page. It doesn’t make much sense to me, but what do I know?
To be honest, the absence was, in a sense, a bit of a relief. I had been carrying a torch for him for twenty-one years, and by all accounts, I should have given up by then. The man was straight. I was, unquestionably, not. As the days wore on, living with him became more and more difficult. You’d think after pining for a guy for more than two decades, I’d have gotten used to the idea that I would never, ever, have him, but alas, I am a sucker for punishment.
Lately, though, I had been pulling away. Not enough for him to notice, but enough to give me a little space to breathe. The feelings I had for Nate were beginning to suffocate me, and in the beginning, his being away gave me the room I needed.
After nearly two weeks of having an absentee roommate, he arrived home a little after dark, bade me a quick hello as he crossed the living room, and then disappeared into his room. I couldn’t help it. I was glad to see him. And that’s why I would never move out by choice. As much as it hurt to be in love with a man who would never love me back, Nate was, first and foremost, my very best friend in the whole world.
The space I had been so grateful for two weeks ago was now making me start to feel a bit like a leper. Despite never having to leave the house, I did take it upon myself to observe at least basic levels of hygiene on a daily basis. I had showered that morning. I sniffed my armpit to be sure.
Yep, fresh as a daisy.
I walked myself over to his room and knocked lightly on the door.
“Just a minute,” he called from inside.
A moment later, he opened the door and stepped out, closing it behind him.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“I was going to ask you the same thing.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “You’ve been MIA for almost two weeks, and now you’re being all secretive about what you’re doing in there. You didn’t sneak a girl in through your window, did you?”
Nate laughed. “No, I would have brought her in through the front door, like I usually do.”
He had a point. He’d never been all that subtle when it came to his sexual prowess with women. It wasn’t as though he flaunted it, but he wasn’t exactly discreet either.
“Then what gives?”
“You’re so impatient,” he said with fake exasperation in his voice.
“How can I be impatient if I don’t know what I’m waiting for?” I retorted, matching his tone.
Nate chuckled. “You’re a brat. Go wait in the living room. I’ll be there in a sec.”
Reluctantly, I did as I was told. I was more curious than ever now. Nate had never hidden anything from me. We’d known one another since the first day of kindergarten when he insisted on adding his own artistic flair to my drawing of a dog in the form of a very large penis that for some reason protruded from the dog’s ass. Mrs. Lindsky hadn’t been impressed, but I had been. Maybe that was what drew me to him in the first place—like a moth to a flame, Finn is indisputably drawn to large cocks? Maybe not, but in any case, she scolded us, told us that kind of drawing was inappropriate for the classroom, and we were best friends from that moment on.
A few minutes later, Nate strode into the room, a goofy smile glued to his face. I was practically dancing in my seat. I knew that look. That was his scheming look. I’d seen that look a hundred times before, and no matter that ninety-five of those times ended in trouble, that look never failed to get me excited for what he had in mind.
“Well, what is it?” I asked, now feeling the impatience Nate had accused me of earlier.
He sat down next to me on the sofa, propping his feet up on the worn wooden coffee table. His posture read relaxed, but I’d known him long enough to know he was as excited as I was. “I know it’s a bit early, but it’s your birthday present.”
I lifted one eyebrow. “My birthday is still more than a month away.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s going to take that long for us to finish it.”
Now I was oozing curiosity. “Finish it?”
“Yeah, just… here,” he said, thrusting a box into my hands that looked like he had wrapped it blindfolded while wearing oven mitts.
I tore off the paper with fervor, not wanting to wait to see what was inside. If I knew Nate, it was going to be something amazing.
I opened the box, and inside I found one of those road maps you can buy for ninety-nine cents at a gas station and a pile of envelopes tied together with butcher’s twine.
Nate reached across the arm of the couch and lifted the map, unfolding it so I could see. He had marked out a handful of destinations on the map that amounted to what was a grand circle tour of about half the states.
“We leave in three days,” he proclaimed, obviously proud of himself.
“We’re going on a road trip?”
“You bet. You’re always talking about how there are things you want to see and do, and we’ve never done any of them. So now we have a list of thirty things to do before you turn thirty. Each one of those envelopes has a different task inside. It’ll be fun. Besides, we haven’t gotten to hang out much lately, and I thought this would be good… just you and me road tripping across America.”
“So what you’re saying is you miss me.”
“What I’m saying is, you’re going to be thirty, so I figured we should have one last grand adventure before you’re too old and decrepit to actually enjoy the trip.”
“You’re an asshole,” I said, although by asshole I meant the best friend in the world a guy could have.
He got my meaning.
“Love you too, Finn.” My heart jumped at those words, though I knew he didn’t mean them the way I wished he would. Still, I would take what I could get.
“I know how much you love surprises, so I figured you could open each one right before we check it off the list,” Nate said.
I hate surprises and he knew it, but the idea that he had put this all together for me was touching. I tried not to show it. Wasn’t exactly manly to get all weepy over a birthday present, now was it? Still, I was more grateful than I could have expressed, and even the surprise element didn’t bother me as much as it normally would have.
Images of what the envelopes might contain flooded my brain. There were so many possibilities. I couldn’t begin to guess at them. It must have taken him forever to put it all together, and he’d done it without me knowing about it, which was a feat unto itself.
My throat felt suddenly thick as I realized how much thought and effort he had put into this project for me. The list alone would have been enough, but the fact that he wanted to go to those places, to do all those things with me, a guy could get a little choked up thinking about things like that. I swallowed against the lump in my throat and did my best to steady my voice before I spoke.
“How are we going to afford this?” I suddenly realized taking off on a month-and-a-half-long adventure wasn’t something that would be financially easy. Neither of us was exactly rolling in cash. If we were, we probably would be neighbors instead of roommates.
“I didn’t say we’d be staying at the Ritz. It’ll be a budget trip, but I think it’ll be worth it. You and I can both work from the road. This is America. Pretty sure there’s Wi-Fi everywhere. And besides,” he said with a sly grin, “I sold my manuscript, and my publisher gave me a pretty nice advance.”
“Seriously? Congratulations, Nate! That’s awesome.”
“I was pretty happy about it, yeah,” he said. “So we’ll have a bit of extra spending money along the way.”
“So three days, huh?” I asked, standing up from the sofa. There wasn’t a lot of time. I needed to start packing.
This book and the two men in it are, in a word, special! The connection between Nate and Finn is strong and the bond of friendship unbreakable! You will be captivated from the first word to the last for sure!
I love me some Finn, this man has been through so much, yet he keeps a positive outlook on life! He is dealing with the lasting effects of a childhood injury, and on top of that he has been in love with his best friend Nate since they were kids, so yeah Finn has a lot to deal with!
I love how the author shows how strong this friendship is, it is really important to see that, and she does it beautifully! Finn's 30th Birthday is coming up and Nate plans a special trip with 30 stops, and 30 envelopes to open along the way! Finn is excited, but wondering how in the world he will maintain his distance in close quarters with Nate for a month!
I love the stops these two take, and the things they try (not always to their liking, but always an experience with something new), this book is about a journey, and not just the journey these two friends take on the road, but also the one they take in their heart!
Grab this one, you will fall in love with the book and the boys in it! Thanks Cate, for giving us two men that will crawl into our hearts and stay there!
Beautiful story of friendship and love. Excellent writing.
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