The Seattle Chronicles
When recent college graduate Nathan Harris makes a life-changing move out from under his mother's thumb and into his own place, he is determined to take some risks. He is tired of not being good enough, tired of allowing his fears to control him.
What he thought would be an exciting adventure ends up being one jaw-dropping mishap of embarrassment after another, leaving him with a life he doesn't even recognize anymore.
His once boring, lonely existence has been replaced by a brownstone filled with colorful friends, a rough around the edges, tattooed bad boy best friend, and a stripper for a boyfriend who's not even sure he’s gay.
Chapter 1 Starting fresh (Nathan)
NATHAN FELT the phone vibrate in his pocket and debated not answering. His mother had called three times in the past hour. Just the thought of trying to have a conversation with her while the cab driver judged him intently through the rearview mirror, gave him anxiety, but Nathan knew she wouldn’t stop until he answered. He hunkered down into his coat, hoping the driver wouldn’t hear his conversation.
“Hello, Aurora,” he said. Nathan stopped calling her “Mom” when he was seven because she said it made her feel old. Talking with her was always challenging for Nathan and usually ended badly.
“Why in the world are you whispering, Nathaniel?” she asked in her extremely proper no-nonsense tone.
“I’m on my way to look at an apartment. I mentioned it to you last time we talked.” Nathan fidgeted with a tear in the seat upholstery, feeling more like a child than a twenty-three-year-old.
“Well, I didn’t think you were serious. There is no reason for you to move across the city. Why would you want to stay in some cheap apartment when we practically live in a mansion? Now stop being ridiculous. The Jamesons are coming for dinner tonight, and I expect you to be at the table.”
“Yes, Aurora. I will be there.” Nathan heard the phone click as she disconnected.
Aurora was what Nathan referred to as “maternally challenged.” He wasn’t very good at interacting with people, but he was really good at watching them. Not in a creepy way—well, he hoped he wasn’t creepy, anyway—but he would study other families when he was younger, how they interacted with each other, and even at a young age, he was positive Aurora was doing it wrong, but no one dared tell Aurora that. She was a perfectionist, had always been more concerned with public appearance than anything else. She strived to have the best reputation, the perfect husband, and live in the best communities. If anything didn’t fit into that perfectly created existence, she found a way to change it.
Nathan was the poster child for things that didn’t fit into Aurora’s ideal world. A gay son with anxiety issues, a higher-than-average IQ, and no social skills, he was pretty sure she would have hidden him away if people didn’t already know he existed. He wished she would let him bury his head in a book somewhere and leave him be, but she wouldn’t quit until everything was perfect, and if it wasn’t, she pretended it wasn’t happening.
Nathan had come out of the closet to his mother three times since he was fourteen, like getting up the courage to do that once wasn’t hard enough; each time she responded with some mundane response like “Did you get the mail on your way in?” Or his favorite: “Can’t talk now, I have an appointment at the salon,” she would say frantically, rushing out of the room like a queen who’d lost her servants.
Nathan grabbed the headphones out of his jacket pocket, turned on some relaxing music, and laid his head on the back of the seat, zoning out on the changing landscape through the window of the cab, trying to calm his nerves. His anxiety always tried to stay ever present and was always worse after talking to Aurora. The collar of his shirt started to feel tighter and the back of the cab suddenly seemed smaller. He felt an urge to make sure the back doors weren’t locked. He’d seen a movie once where the driver was actually a serial killer who locked people in the back of the cab and drove them to an undisclosed location where he eventually disposed of the bodies.
Nathan rolled down the window and focused on breathing deep, picturing himself on a beach, watching the waves hit the shore, in order to shake off the unwanted thoughts. As his heart rate calmed, he watched the roads get narrower, the hills get higher, and the shops and people get more colorful as the tempo of his music increased like his life had a soundtrack. This was his chance for a fresh start. He looked at the meter on the dashboard as the numbers changed, bringing him closer and closer to a world without the everyday judgment of his mother. A place where maybe, just maybe, there was a chance he would be comfortable enough to make real friends, go out and have fun, maybe even meet someone and have a relationship someday. Even in college, the time in Nathan’s life when he should have been getting out there and experiencing the world, he had been too engrossed in his studies, too controlled by his fears, and too accustomed to hiding who he was to meet anyone.
Nathan’s palms moistened as he got closer to the Capitol Hill neighborhood where the brownstone apartment was for rent. He had heard about Capitol Hill’s gay-friendly neighborhood growing up and had been there once by accident in college, when he was reading a medical digest on the CT bus and missed his stop. He’d seen two guys walking down the street holding hands, seemingly without a care in the world, and he decided right then he was moving there someday.
Someday came six months later, when Nathan graduated from the University of Washington with honors. His professor had showcased his thesis on plant regeneration and its effectiveness in modern medicine at a medical conference. The next day he had three job offers, two from cosmetics companies looking for the fountain of youth, and one from the University of Washington Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. Nathan still could not believe how fast his life changed. He wanted to move out of state originally, the farther he could get from his mother the better, but he wanted to do something to make a real difference in this world, so he took the job at UW and started saving up money to move out.
It had been a few months now, and Nathan was really enjoying the work. He was in his comfort zone inside the lab. He spent his days analyzing facts and data. There was no human variable of interpretation to deal with. Whenever Nathan made an assumption when dealing with another person, it was without a doubt wrong. His mother was always asking how someone who was supposed to be so smart could be so socially retarded. Nathan hated that word. Sometimes she would mumble under her breath about him being switched at birth. If he didn’t look so much like her, he would wonder the same thing. Nathan was slender, average height, and had his mother’s dark-chestnut hair and petite face. He also had her striking green eyes, but no one ever saw them behind his thick dark-rimmed glasses.
Nathan was pulled out of his mental rambling when he noticed the scenery was no longer moving, and hadn’t been for quite a while because the cab driver was reading a magazine while the meter kept spinning. He looked up and met Nathan’s eyes in the mirror, daring him to question the miles, but of course he wouldn’t. Nathan reached into his bag to grab money out of his wallet, stuck the money in the tray, and got out of the cab.
He stood on the sidewalk looking up at the brick two-story brownstone in front of him as the cab drove away. It was exactly like he had pictured in his head after reading the ad on craigslist, the red brick on one side covered in climbing ivy. The apartment on the right had a window planter filled with white petunias. The front door had the old-style mail slot in it. He was supposed to meet Josh, the guy renting the place, at two o’clock. He glanced at his phone, which read 1:58, and was thankful he’d taken a cab instead of the bus.
He took a deep breath for courage and walked up the front steps leading to black double doors. Someone was just opening them as he got to the top step.
“Oh hey, buddy. You Nathan?” a strikingly handsome tattooed man asked.
“Uh, yeah. Josh?” Nathan tried to act nonchalant, sticking his hand in his pocket and adjusting the strap of his bag across his chest even though he was freaking out inside. He couldn’t even hold conversations with average-looking people, so he was pretty sure this was going to be a disaster.
“In the flesh. Come on in. I came out to see if you were here. Sometimes the buzzer doesn’t work.” Josh held the door open for Nathan.
Stepping into the entryway of the brownstone felt like going back in time. The older building still had all its ornate molding and oak wood floors, past their prime but obviously well taken care of. Nathan took in his surroundings as they walked down the hall. There were two apartment doors on opposite sides of the hallway. At the end of the hallway was a staircase along the left side, and to the right of that, a small elevator. Nathan couldn’t help but observe Josh as well, as he led him down the hallway. He had on a pair of worn low-rise jeans with a studded belt and a T-shirt of some band Nathan had never heard of. His arms were covered in tattoos. Nathan’s palms were instantly sweating again; he was invigorated and nauseous at the same time. This is what it was all about, a chance to meet someone like this. Not that he would ever have the courage to hit on someone, especially not on someone this hot. He didn’t even know if the guy was gay or not, but it was exciting to know he could make a move if he wanted; sadly he had no moves. It was like standing at the fair in front of a Ferris wheel, looking at the enthusiastic faces of the people waiting in line, and for half a second contemplating actually getting on before admitting to himself he couldn’t do it.
“So you from around here?” Josh asked, grinning as he turned around and caught Nathan checking out his ass.
“Um, yeah. Madrona.” Nathan’s voice cracked.
“Ritzy. What are you moving here for?”
“Work, and I thought this would be a good fit.”
Josh considered Nathan for a minute before responding. “Understandable,” he finally said, nodding as if acknowledging all the things Nathan wasn’t saying.
Nathan started to get nervous again. As the moment passed between them, he wondered if Josh was gay. His inability to read social cues made it just about impossible for him to pick up on these things. He had heard you could tell if a guy was interested by how long they looked at you, but people stared at Nathan all the time, mostly because he was usually doing something unintentionally awkward. Nathan adjusted his glasses and tried to focus on what Josh was saying.
“You would really like it here. The community is great. Pretty much everything is within walking distance. And everyone in the building is cool. The building is kind of old, and the one person elevator is only used as a dumbwaiter at this point, so you have to take the stairs if you want to hang out on the roof. It’s amazing up there so it’s totally worth it. You have to check it out.”
Nathan wasn’t put off by the stairs since he hadn’t been able to get in an elevator in years without having a panic attack.
“There are only four units,” Josh continued. “Sharon—she’s an older gal, has her book club over a lot. She’s in the upper-right unit, and the gamers are on the left. They moved in a few months ago.”
“Oh yeah, you know, video games. The couple upstairs is heavy into the online role-playing scene. Dress up for Comic-Con and PAX, the local gamer conventions. They’re pretty laid-back. You don’t see them much, though. They’re like mythical creatures around here. You hear about them but no one ever actually sees them. They don’t stray too far away from their game consoles. I live across the hall here.” He gestured to the door on the right. “And this—” He paused, slapping his hand on the door marked B2. “—is the one for rent.”
He unlocked the door but paused looking alarmed at the sound of someone coming in the main entrance. Nathan was about to turn around and see what was so distracting when Josh threw the apartment door open, grabbed Nathan by the arm, and propelled him forward into the apartment, then quickly closed the door behind them.
Nathan found himself inside, his back pressed up against the wall and Josh’s body almost pressed against his.
“Shhh.” Josh held his finger up to his lips.
Nathan felt the room start to close in on him. He took a deep breath to stop the panic attack from overtaking him, and his senses were filled with Josh’s scent—Holy shit he smells good—the pheromone overload making him a little dizzy, but this time it wasn’t the bad type of dizzy he felt right before the blackness started overtaking his vision. This guy was the ultimate distraction, so much better than picturing himself on a beach listening to the calming waves.
His panic started to turn into something different entirely. Nathan was no longer focused on his anxiety. All his attention was directed to the man standing so close in front of him. He realized this was what he had been waiting for. Okay, maybe not exactly this, but here he was alone with an amazing looking guy, being pressed up against a wall. This was the intro to at least half the B-rated dirty movies he’d ever gotten the nerve up to watch. This was his chance. He was done being too afraid to live his life. He was going to ride this Ferris wheel.
Nathan leaned forward, his mouth almost touching Josh’s neck.
He heard Josh whisper something that sounded like “Keep going. Don’t stop.”
Oh my God, Nathan thought. This is happening.
His heart was pounding, his breathing was heavy. He closed his eyes and licked his lips, building his courage, mentally pushing himself forward past his fears. Nathan closed the gap between his lips and Josh’s neck and started kissing it shyly. At first Josh didn’t react. Nathan timidly moved his hand up Josh’s chest and brushed his lips against his neck again, and felt Josh freeze.
Josh gently grabbed Nathan’s shoulder and pushed himself backward while removing Nathan’s hand from his chest. “Whoa, there, tiger,” Josh said, touching his neck where Nathan had kissed him.
Nathan was confused for a second, and then it dawned on him that the look on Josh’s face was not Ferris-wheel enthusiasm. It was awkward disappointment, a look Nathan was very familiar with. Josh hadn’t wanted Nathan to kiss him. Nathan wanted to crawl into the back of a cab and die of embarrassment. Maybe he could pay the driver extra to come back and hide his body in an undisclosed location.
“Sorry, I thought you wanted me to…,” Nathan murmured, turning red. “You were asking me to keep going,” he finished, unable to look at Josh.
“Shit, sorry. I was talking about Brandon.” The look on Nathan’s face must have told Josh he was confused because he continued, “Brandon is my boyfriend. I’m renting out my place, but I haven’t told him yet. I basically live at his place across the hall now, so I don’t see any point having two apartments. He left a while ago, but must have forgot something because he came back in when we were standing in the hall. I freaked and dragged you in here so he wouldn’t see you. I was listening to him walk down the hall.”
“Uh, okay. Well, thanks, I think I’m going to pass on the apartment, but thank you. Um, I’m going to go.” His voice fading off under his breath as he turned to open the door, Nathan knew if he didn’t get out of this apartment soon, he was going to puke. Part of him hoped there was a gigantic black hole on the other side of the door that would swallow him up.
“Ah, come on. It was just a misunderstanding. No harm, no foul.” Josh turned Nathan around and directed him over to the couch. “I swear this place is perfect for you. There are some great little bars within walking distance. You will be christening this place with some lucky guy before you know it.”
Nathan half-snorted his doubt, embarrassing himself further. He was already horrified over what happened. Now he just wanted to get out of there without having to make eye contact with Josh again.
“Hey, seriously, I mean it.” Josh said, placing his hand on Nathan’s shoulder. “There is nothing for you to be embarrassed about. If I wasn’t completely in love, I would still have you up against that wall.”
Nathan immediately forgot his embarrassment at Josh’s admission. He peeked at Josh from under the rim of his glasses. “Really?”
“Yeah, really. You’re pretty cute,” he added with a cheeky grin. “Now will you please let me show you the apartment?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Nathan said, adjusting his glasses again.
“Cool. I know the ad said half-furnished. My boyfriend has way too much furniture over there.” Josh motioned toward their apartment. “And it’s way nicer than anything I own, so I’m leaving everything but my clothes and personal stuff,” he said, walking Nathan through the small one-bedroom apartment. “If you don’t want any of this and just want to bring your own, I’ll take it to the dump. The couch isn’t too bad, but the mattress should probably be burned.”
Nathan was going to ask why until he saw the slight blush on Josh’s face. “I got a bed, but the rest of it is fine.”
“Awesome, so when can you move in?”
“Is two weeks too soon?” Nathan felt excited and overwhelmed all at the same time as they made their way to the door.
“Two weeks sounds good.” Josh paused and checked the peephole before opening the door and walking him out.
“Now all I have to do is tell Brandon we live together.”
“I’m not judging, but have you ever been in a relationship before? You don’t seem very good at it.” Nathan’s comment made Josh chuckle.
“Ha. I’ve had more than my share of short, sweaty relationships, and I’m very good at it.” Josh winked. “But yeah, this is the first one that actually means something to me.” He laughed again, walking Nathan out to the street. “You got a car? The parking around here kind of sucks,” Josh said, standing on the last step next to the sidewalk.
“No, I took a cab here. I’ll stick with public transportation for a while. My work is really close to here.”
“All right, man. Well, it’s a year lease, and I’ll need first and last, if that works for you. We’ll see you in two weeks.” Josh stuck his hand out toward Nathan.
It took Nathan a second to realize Josh was waiting for him to shake his hand. “Yeah, two weeks. Thanks, and sorry about what happened in there.” Nathan flushed again.
“Seriously don’t worry about it. We’re good. Did you need me to call you a cab?”
“I think I’m going to walk around the neighborhood a bit, but thanks,” Nathan said as he headed down the sidewalk, thinking that hadn’t gone as well as he hoped but still feeling good about moving here.
This book is a real little gem.
"Imposter in Zebra Striped Briefs" may be short but it's a great read, it grabs you right from the start.
Poor Nathan is socially awkward and tends to misread social situations, this leads to some very funny moments for you the reader but not so much for Nathan.
David is struggling to comes to terms with that fact he is having feelings for Nathan.
This books has some loveable characters that help Nathan adjust to living a crazy full life away from his domineering mother.
This book was awesome. Once I started I couldn't put it down until I had finished it.
If you are after a great book that is a fun, light, feel good story this one is for you.
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