Charlie has one passion in life: dancing. It’s his salvation when it feels like the world is swallowing him whole. When his mom secretly secures him a spot in the summer intensive at the Free Rein Dance Company in New York, he is thrilled. He knows that once the summer ends, he'll have to return to Beacon to get a job and help support his family, but for those two months, he can spread his wings.
In New York he meets Max, a junior instructor who is everything Charlie wishes he could be. Bold and self-assured, Max radiates pride in who he is. As they spend time together, Max shows Charlie what life can be like past the walls of his closed-minded home town. But Charlie doesn’t know if he’s ready to show the world who he truly is when standing in the spotlight is the last thing he wants.
“RISE AND shine, baby,” my mom said, pressing a kiss to my temple.
I smiled against my pillow and, for a few seconds longer, delayed opening my eyes to the light spilling in through my window.
“I made you pancakes.”
I reluctantly looked up, squinting against the brightness of my bedroom. Mom rarely made pancakes for breakfast, mostly because she was never home for breakfast. “Thanks, Mom,” I said, stretching my arms up over my head and pointing my toes. My muscles shook with the stretch. I didn’t want to get up, but the smell of bacon from downstairs was enough to get me mobile.
Mornings are the worst. It’s not that I’m not a morning person. I don’t actually mind being up early. It’s that mornings invariably lead to the rest of the day, which for me usually include high school, or at least the last couple of weeks of it. And a couple of weeks were almost more than I could stand to get through.
She brushed back my hair. “I’ll meet you downstairs.”
As I pushed the covers off, the cold air from my room rushed over me. I stumbled to the bathroom, my muscles stiff with that dull ache from overuse the night before. Leaning with one hand against the wall behind the toilet, I quickly emptied my bladder before turning on the shower. I grabbed my toothbrush on the way in, expediting the process. I wasn’t anxious to get to school, but I wanted to be able to spend as much time with my mom as I could before I left.
Most nineteen-year-old boys would rather keep company with pretty much anyone else other than their moms, but my mom was different. It had always been just the two of us since I was a baby—her and me against the world—and I never wanted to lose that.
Steam filled the tiny room down the hall from my bedroom. The tiles were old but spotless, and the pipes made a strange clunking sound as the water heated. I washed quickly, the soap stinging the raw skin over my ribs, then turned off the water and stepped out. Water pooled around my feet, soaking through the sky blue bath mat. I wrapped a towel around my waist, stepped over to the pedestal sink, and wiped the condensation from the mirror in a large enough circle to keep from cutting myself while I shaved.
After rinsing the shaving cream from my jaw, I padded back into my room and pulled on the first clean set of clothes I could find before heading downstairs.
“That smells amazing,” I said, hugging my mom around the waist as she stirred the hash browns in the frying pan. The table was already set. Two matching yellow plates sat atop the good place mats, a glass of orange juice placed to the side of each setting. I sat down at the table and watched her cook. Because she was always working, it had been a long time since we’d had breakfast together.
This week had been the exception. It was the last two weeks of school, and if I hadn’t known better, I would have thought she was trying to cram in as much time together as possible before I left home. Except I wasn’t leaving. There was nowhere to go. I was not college bound, having never been all that great at academics. My only passion was dance. I’d spoken with my instructor, Carol, about a teaching job after graduation, but she had been sufficiently vague about whether or not she needed someone.
I figured if I couldn’t work for Carol, I could always get a job at the sporting goods store. They perpetually had a help wanted sign in their window. It would do until I could figure out what I wanted, and it would help with the bills. Mom had been adamant I not work while I was in school. I think she understood how difficult the schoolwork had been for me and wanted me to be able to concentrate on putting in enough time and effort to keep from flunking out.
I stood and walked over to the fridge, pulled the syrup out, and warmed it under hot water from the tap. My mother carried the pan across the kitchen with one oven-mitted hand and dished out the steaming potatoes. I carried the platter with the stacks of fluffy pancakes and placed it in the middle of the table. She added extra slices of bacon to one of the plates, carried the last pan back, and added it to the pile in the sink.
“Thank you for making me breakfast,” I said, digging in with gusto. “You keep this up, though, and you’re going to make me fat.”
My mom laughed. “Maybe I have an ulterior motive. You’re too skinny.”
“I’m not skinny. I’m fit. I have a dancer’s body. I need it for the jumps.”
She smiled. “No one jumps like you do, baby boy. I’m sorry I won’t be there tonight.”
“It’s just the dress rehearsal,” I assured her. “No one’s parents come to dress rehearsals.”
“I know, but I hate missing any time you’re on stage,” she said, sadness tingeing her voice. “You’re breathtaking up there.”
“Nah, I’m just up there to make the girls look good. I do all the heavy lifting.”
“No one is looking at the girls when you’re on stage.”
“You only think that because you’re my mom. You have to think I’m spectacular. I think it’s a requirement of parenthood.”
“Maybe for most parents, but for me, it’s true. No one can take their eyes off you when you’re performing. You shine.”
I blushed a little, even though it was my mom complimenting me and I knew she was more than a little biased. My mom had always supported me, especially with my dancing. I knew the lessons and the costumes and the fees were not cheap, but she had not once mentioned the cost. I’d carried a lot of guilt about it, but the one time I’d mentioned quitting, she’d looked so devastated that I hadn’t brought it up again. I knew she understood how much it meant to me. What she didn’t know was that it had saved my life more than once. So even though I felt the weight of the financial burden I created for her, I accepted the gift for what it was and never once took it for granted.
We finished up our breakfast, the salty sweetness of the pancakes and bacon settling into a pleasant fullness in my belly. I reluctantly glanced at the clock, knowing I likely only had a few minutes left until it was time to make the trip to school.
I carried my plate to the sink while I drank the last sips of orange juice from my glass. After rinsing the plate under hot water until the syrup had mostly melted away, I put it in the dishwasher and closed the door.
“I guess I should get to school,” I said, turning back from the counter. Mom was still sitting at the table, looking at me with a sad smile on her face. “What?” I asked, suddenly feeling like I was missing something crucial.
“Nothing. I just like having breakfast with you. I’m sorry I haven’t been around more,” she said.
I walked purposefully over to her and pulled her into my arms. She still called me baby boy, but I had almost a foot on her. “No regrets, Mom. I know you’ve done the best you can, and as much as I’d love to see you more, we’ve got nothing but time for that. Once I’ve graduated, I’m going to get a job and take over some of the responsibility around here. Things will be easier for both of us.”
She nodded against my chest before her arms loosened around me. “You should get to school before you’re late.”
I sighed. She was right, but I was reluctant to leave. Not just because I dreaded going to school, and not because I knew as soon as I stepped through the double doors at the front of the building the torture would start, but because my mom seemed sad. The dark circles beneath her eyes were more pronounced than usual. But I didn’t know how to help, and even if I did, I knew she wouldn’t let me. All I could do was suck it up and go to school.
I ran back upstairs, checking myself out in the mirror before I left. I looked okay, nothing too special. And I wanted it that way. The more likely I was to blend in, to be completely unnoticeable, the better it was for me. Not that it mattered much if every hair was in place or I wore the right kind of clothes. I would be made fun of, prodded, and belittled, no matter what, but I didn’t want to give the guys at school any extra ammunition. They already had more than enough material to make the hours between eight in the morning and three in the afternoon a virtual hell.
I tucked my homework into my backpack, slung it over my shoulder, and flicked the lights in my room out. I pasted a smile on my face before bounding down the stairs. I knew my mom would be waiting to kiss me good-bye before I left, and until now I’d managed to hide from her how much I hated going to school. She had enough on her mind without worrying about me.
“I won’t be here when you get home, baby,” she said once I reached the foyer. “But I’ll leave some dinner for you in the fridge. You can heat it up before your rehearsal.”
“Thanks, Mom,” I said, bending down to kiss her cheek.
“You’re going to knock ’em dead tonight, Charlie. I know you will.”
I shrugged. “It’s a rehearsal.”
“As though you wouldn’t still give it your all, even though no one is watching.”
Her voice was knowing. Of course she was right. When it came to dancing, there wasn’t much I wouldn’t do. I never felt so light as when I was moving, surrounded by the music.
“Bye, Mom,” I said, before pressing another kiss to her cheek.
“Bye, Charlie. Have a good day.”
I pulled the front door open and walked down the path to the driveway, where my beat-up Honda Civic sat next to my mom’s equally dilapidated Camry.
I FOUND a parking spot on one of the quiet side streets close to the school. It was the spot I usually parked in, a little farther back than the places most students chose. The houses were close together and the street was narrow, but fewer people made me feel safer. I glanced at my cell phone, clicking the screen on to illuminate the time.
Fifteen minutes before my first class.
I already had my books for first period in my bag. It saved a trip to my locker and lessened the possibility of running into Dylan or any of his friends.
I plugged my headphones into my iPod, cueing up the song I was set to dance my solo to that evening. I let the steps run through my head as my muscles tightened and contracted through muscle memory. Every movement was automatic, every turn memorized as the music dipped and swelled. I was lost in the sound, giving myself over to the freedom that came with it.
When the song ended, I kept my eyes closed, wanting to hold on to that feeling. It was one of the only things that would get me through, the bright spot in my otherwise depressing day.
I tucked my iPod back into my bag and climbed out of the car, locking the door before slamming it behind me. With measured steps, I walked the short distance to the school, tucking myself in behind a group of freshman girls, trying hard not to be seen as I walked through the front door.
“Morning, faggot,” Dylan said as he spotted me from where he stood, the king of his cronies. “Suck any big dicks lately?”
Just another Monday morning in Beacon, South Dakota.
This is one of those reviews where I am gonna have to restrain myself from just typing "YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK" over and over, because yes friends, it is that good! I love Cate Ashwood's writing style, she draws you in at the first line and doesn't let you go until the end. This is the mark of a great writer let me tell you!
Charlie is miserable in his hometown and school is a nightmare, which he has kept from his mother, who has raised him herself. Charlie deals with it the only way he knows how, that and he loves to dance. Dancing is a release of all that is bad in his life, and he is good at it!
When his mom gets him into the summer program at Free Rein Dance Company in New York, Charlie is over the moon, this is his chance to escape the hell of his hometown at least for a little while.
Charlie moves in with Aunt Ginny and gets started at Free Rein, but he doesn't count on Max, the beautiful Jr. Instructor has him falling hard and fast, but Charlie has never said the words "I'm Gay", so can he act on them? What about when the summer is over?
This is the story of a young man who grows up and realizes who he is over the course of a summer, it is a beautiful story and I encourage you to read it, you will fall in love with Max and Charlie just like I did! Thank you Cate, for a book with as beautiful an ending as a beginning!
on the outside, this seems like a sweet, simple book. but it's not quite as simple as it seems. it made me laugh and cry and get angry and smile. there was pretty low angst, although there was some pain. the story was pretty predictable but it didn't really take away from the story.
charlie's situation is extremely complex. he's an only child. he's had to pretty much take care of himself since he was 5 years old, leading to him not really having lived outside of dance and school. he's been harshly bullied for all 4 years of high school and had no one to talk to about it causing him to self soothe. he's in the closet which means he's not had a normal relationship yet. he's a beautiful dancer, which is awesome but different in his small town. he has an unhealthy sense of responsibility for his mom. and now he's going to be basically living on his own in new york. he is sweet and self conscious and wants nothing more than to have someone to love for his very own, to help him live and come out of his shell (and the closet).
max is absolutely the perfect guy for charlie. he's self confident and out and proud and has lived life and wants nothing more to help charlie experience his for the first time. he's beautiful and loving and a great balance for charlie. they are amazing together and their love story is just perfect.
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