A Resilient Love Story
Successful lawyer Jeremy Speer has it all—a loving husband, a beautiful home, and a cherished dream that’s about to become reality. He’s learned not to take happiness for granted, meeting the challenges of life and love head-on with unwavering commitment and fierce devotion. A series of tragic events leave Jeremy shattered, adrift on a sea of unimaginable pain. He’s able to piece his life back together, but instead of embracing it, he merely exists, using isolation and punishing physical exertion to keep the world at bay.
High school teacher Kai Daniels has a heart for at-risk kids—he was one himself, and a teenage brush with the law and some troubled years behind bars left him scarred inside and out. With courage, hard work, and the support of friends, he’s built a fulfilling life that leaves no time for a relationship.
An intense encounter with Kai at a gay club ignites a spark in Jeremy that he thought was extinguished forever, but he’s unwilling to destroy the fragile peace he’s managed to create, and he leaves Kai humiliated and disappointed. Things should have ended there, but a bizarre occurrence brings the two together in a way neither of them expected.
THE WORLD wasn’t supposed to end on a day like today, a day when the sky was a brilliant blue and the sun was shining, the temperature so perfect and mild that the air felt… soft, caressing. It wasn’t supposed to end while children were playing in their front yards, free for the day from the confinement of school, laughing with joy, enjoying the innocent pleasures of childhood.
The world wasn’t supposed to end at all, not like this. Not while Jeremy was standing on his own front porch, the smell of the pot roast Brent put in the crockpot that morning wafting from the open doorway Jeremy stood in front of, listening as a grim-faced police officer said words like “accident” and “hospital” and “serious.”
“But he just went to pick up our dry cleaning,” Jeremy said stupidly for the third time, and he wondered at the pity that crossed the officer’s face.
“Sir, you need to get to the hospital right now. Mr. Speer has you listed on his emergency info as next of kin, and the doctors will have some questions.” The officer’s tone was gentle, almost too gentle, like he was trying to keep Jeremy calm.
Jeremy just stood there, not wanting to face it. Brent was finally doing better, so much better, and now this? A painful injury could send him spiraling back down into the black hole he’d just climbed out of, and at the thought of it, Jeremy was suddenly exhausted, so emotionally tired.
“Sir, we need to go. Let me drive you to the hospital.” The officer’s insistent voice snapped him out of those disloyal thoughts, and Jeremy was bitterly ashamed of himself. For better or for worse, he told himself fiercely, remembering whispering those words time and again in Brent’s ear while wiping the tears from his cheeks with his thumbs, doing his best to comfort and soothe.
Jeremy nodded, reaching out to grab his wallet, keys and phone from the little basket just inside the door. The officer waited while he locked up, then led him to his patrol car. As Jeremy started to climb into the front passenger seat, he suddenly remembered something.
“Oh!” he exclaimed. “I should turn off the crockpot. He worked so hard on dinner, I don’t want it to be ruined.”
“Sir, we really need to—” the officer began, but Jeremy turned and started hurrying back toward the house.
“It’ll just take a second,” he called over his shoulder, digging around in his pocket for his keys, dropping them a few times before fumbling the front door open with shaking hands and rushing across the kitchen to flip off the crockpot. What are you doing? Who cares about the fucking food?
On the way to the hospital he wondered how badly Brent was hurt. After all the dry cleaner was only about two miles from home, and most of the journey there was on side streets, neighborhood streets. Whiplash, some cuts and bruises, maybe a broken bone?
Later Jeremy would wonder at his cluelessness, should have known a few bumps and scrapes wouldn’t warrant an officer being sent to his house to get him. It was like his mind and heart were doing their desperate best to protect him, to insulate him, for just a few more precious minutes. Because the world wasn’t supposed to end today, not ever, not like this.
JEREMY SAT in the crowded waiting room, hunched over with his elbows on his knees, his head hanging. No one would tell him anything, and he’d been waiting for what felt like an eternity. When the officer dropped him off at the emergency room entrance, he’d suggested, in that same overly gentle voice, that Jeremy call someone to be with him. He and Brent hadn’t been living here long, but Jeremy did know someone to call. As he sat scrubbing his hands over his face for the millionth time, he felt a touch on his shoulder, looking up with a start into worried green eyes.
“Jase,” Jeremy said gratefully, standing up and embracing one of his oldest friends. They’d known each other since high school, back when they were kids questioning their sexuality, hormones running wild. The passion they’d imagined between them lasted through a few sweaty groping sessions and an awkward, painful fuck before settling into a deep and lasting friendship.
“What happened?” Jase asked as they both sat back down on the hard plastic chairs. Jeremy leaned against Jase’s shoulder, craving the touch, the warmth, his usual stoicism having deserted him.
“Brent was in an accident,” he said hoarsely, his throat tight. “I think they took him for some tests, but no one’s told me anything in a while.” Just then he noticed Jase was wearing his blue Navy fatigues, and he pulled away from him and sat up, putting a careful distance between them, muttering an apology. Jase was active-duty Navy, and DADT, although having been challenged in federal court, was still in full force and effect.
“No worries, Jere,” Jase said gently. “It doesn’t look weird for me to be comforting you in a place like this. Fuck what anyone else thinks.” He put his arm around Jeremy’s shoulders and pulled him firmly against him again, and with a sigh, Jeremy gave in to the comfort he needed right then.
They sat like that in silence, Jeremy’s head on Jase’s shoulder, Jase’s arm wrapped tightly around him, the thin fabric of Jeremy’s wrinkled dress shirt making a raspy sound as Jase stroked his thumb over Jeremy’s upper arm soothingly. Jeremy remembered getting home from work just a few hours ago, yanking his tie off, pulling the tails of the same shirt out of the waistband of his pants, grinning as he’d walked into a bright, clean house, the smell of pot roast making his mouth water.
Even better had been the sight of his husband, Brent, moving around the kitchen busily, dressed in a clean T-shirt and jeans, a far cry from the stained and wrinkled pajamas that had been his standard uniform for months as he battled a crippling bout of depression. A med change, a new combination, had worked wonders, and Jeremy had felt like he had the old Brent back, the man he’d fallen in love with and still loved so deeply.
“Hey, baby,” Jeremy murmured, reaching out and pulling Brent to him, wrapping him up in his arms. He dipped his head for a kiss, enjoying the feeling of Brent’s hot, soft mouth caressing his. Their tongues danced lazily as they swayed in place, bodies pressed tightly together until Brent pulled away, running his hands up and down Jeremy’s arms.
“You hungry?” he asked, his blue eyes shining with a light Jeremy sometimes despaired of ever seeing again. Heat shot through him, and he moved one hand between their bodies to cup Brent through his jeans, exulting in the steel bar pushing insistently through the denim. Jeremy squeezed, Brent’s soft groan going straight to his own cock. It had been so long since Brent wanted any intimacy, not even making love but intimacy of any sort, and Jeremy was more than ready. He didn’t realize how starved he was for Brent’s touch until that very moment. Suddenly he couldn’t wait any longer to touch Brent, smell him, taste him….
“So hungry,” he whispered before dropping to his knees. He held Brent’s hips steady as he mouthed his cock through his jeans until Brent sagged bonelessly back against the kitchen counter.
Jeremy fumbled with belt buckle, snap and zipper, cursing the fine motor skills undressing someone else apparently entailed. Brent’s breathy chuckles were music to his ears. Jeremy finally wrestled the clothing into submission, the reward for his labors a mouthful of hot, silky flesh, liquid salt exploding on his tongue. Brent’s laughter turned into husky groans that filled the room.
Jeremy sucked him, teased him, drove him wild until Brent’s hands were tangled almost painfully in his hair as his hips pumped. Jeremy took all of him easily, one hand rolling and squeezing Brent’s balls as they drew taut. Brent moaned, and suddenly hot, salty come shot against the back of Jeremy’s throat. He swallowed greedily, milking Brent of every drop with his fingers and mouth, making Brent’s knees buckle. Jeremy stood quickly and caught him up in his arms, kissing him, driving his tongue deep into Brent’s mouth, forcing him to taste himself.
Brent eagerly licked Jeremy’s lips clean, then slid his hand suggestively down to the front of Jeremy’s pants, widening his eyes comically as he encountered sticky wetness.
“Aw, honey,” he said sympathetically, squeezing Jeremy’s spent cock gently before releasing him, laughter glinting in his eyes. Jeremy smiled ruefully; he’d exploded like a green boy the minute Brent’s spunk jetted so hotly into his throat.
“I haven’t come in my pants since I was fourteen years old,” Jeremy grumbled good-naturedly. “See what you do to me, baby?”
Brent kissed him again gently, and Jeremy caressed Brent’s cheek with the backs of his fingers. “I love you,” he breathed. Brent hugged him hard before releasing him.
“I meant to pick up your dry cleaning today, and I forgot. I don’t think you have any clean pants for work tomorrow, so let me run out and grab it before dinner,” Brent said briskly, tucking himself away and putting his clothing to rights, the sex flush on his cheeks slowly fading. He looked happy and gorgeous, his blond beauty making Jeremy’s gut clench with renewed desire.
“I can do it,” he said. “I’ll just run, change, and—”
“Nah, I got it, honey,” Brent said, already grabbing his wallet and keys. “By the time you get cleaned up and changed, I could be there and back already. Go take a hot shower and relax. You deserve it. We’ll eat when I get back.” Brent grabbed him around the neck with one hand and gave him a short, hard kiss, then disappeared out the door.
Jeremy went upstairs and stripped out of his soggy pants and underwear. He debated with himself for a minute whether to wait for a shower until Brent got back and he could coax him to join him, but discarded that idea as the stickiness at his groin started to dry into an uncomfortable itchiness. He lingered in the shower, letting the hot water beat down on his shoulders and neck. The phone rang as he was drying off, and by the time the call ended, Jeremy realized with a jolt Brent had been gone far longer than a quick two-mile trip warranted.
Starting to worry, he pulled on clean underwear and jeans, startled by the doorbell. A quick glance out of the bedroom window to the driveway below revealed a police cruiser parked there, and Jeremy mindlessly grabbed his discarded and wrinkled dress shirt, pulling it on as he ran down the stairs and answered the door.
“You okay?” Jase’s voice broke into Jeremy’s thoughts, and he pulled away from him and sat up straight, rubbing his eyes.
“I just want to hear something. What the fuck is taking so long?”
Jase didn’t spout any meaningless words of comfort, just patted Jeremy’s knee. “I don’t know, man. Do you have any idea what happened?”
“Just that he was hit by a pickup that ran a four-way stop sign. It’s a neighborhood street. How fast could the guy have been going?” Jeremy didn’t want to think of Brent in Brent’s beloved old car, a small sedan he’d had for years and predated any kind of side airbags or advanced safety features. Jeremy had offered time and time again to take him to buy a new car, but Brent always declined, saying he was far too attached to the one he had.
Jase squeezed his knee, then asked, in an obvious effort to keep Jeremy distracted, “When’s your baby due again?”
Jeremy couldn’t help but smile at that. “A little over a month. Can you believe it?”
Jase asked a few more questions, and Jeremy was happy for the distraction as he caught Jase up to date on the surrogate pregnancy he and Brent were expecting. That was the main reason they’d moved from their hometown in Florida to San Diego, because California was a gay marriage and surrogacy friendly state. Brent had wanted the piece of paper, the white picket fence, and 2.5 kids, the quintessential American dream, and Jeremy would have moved heaven and earth to get it all for him.
“What about you, Jase? You’re deploying again soon, right?”
“We’re about four months into our workups, gonna mobilize in probably two more months, go back to Afghanistan.”
“You have someone to watch your back over there?”
“I got a great team watching my back, but there’s this guy that I’m pretty good friends with. Carey will watch my six.”
Jeremy lapsed into silence again, scrubbing his hands over his face and clutching his hair as he blew out a huge, frustrated breath.
Just then a nurse walked over to where they sat, saying, “Mr. Speer, you can go back in now.” She led them to the Authorized Personnel Only door, swiped her access card, and pushed the doors open. They followed her to an empty exam room, and she swished away, leaving them alone.
Jeremy and Jase stood awkwardly in the middle of the room, and when a doctor walked in a few minutes later, Jase faded back to lean against the wall, a solid and comforting presence in Jeremy’s peripheral vision.
“Mr. Speer, I’m Dr. Bayless. I’ve been taking care of your husband.” Jeremy nodded, and the doctor indicated a couple of chairs set against the wall. “Let’s sit down.”
When they did the doctor leaned forward, his elbows on his widespread knees, his hands dangling between them. His tired eyes met Jeremy’s.
“Mr. Speer, Brent has suffered a catastrophic brain injury. When the truck hit him broadside, his head hit the side window very hard.”
Jeremy felt like he’d been turned to stone, unable to comprehend what the doctor was saying. “What?” he choked out. “Are you saying he has brain damage? Is he awake?”
The doctor’s eyes held his, full of compassion. “Brent isn’t going to wake up, Mr. Speer. He’s—there’s just no easy way to say this. When his head hit the window, the side of his skull was crushed and pieces of it were driven into his brain. For all intents and purposes, he died just minutes after the accident. They were able to resuscitate him at the scene, and we can keep his body alive indefinitely, but scans show no brain activity, and there will be no meaningful recovery. I’m sorry.”
Jeremy felt a huge band crush his chest, and he started to gasp for air. Suddenly Jase was there, kneeling next to him, as Jeremy leaned down between his own knees and vomited all over the floor. Jase didn’t flinch, didn’t move away, just pulled Jeremy to him and held him.
“Breathe, buddy. Just breathe. I got you.”
Jeremy fought for air, fought with all his strength to keep from fainting, a wounded animal sound filling the room, and he realized it was coming from him. Jase cupped his head and held it to his broad chest as he rocked Jeremy, murmuring, “Shh, Jere. Shh. I’ve got you.”
Jeremy clutched at him until he finally got some control, pulling away from Jase. He was dry-eyed, but his voice shook as he said, “Brent has a living will. He doesn’t want to be kept alive by artificial means.”
“That was going to be my next question,” Dr. Bayless said. “You are his next of kin, so you’ll have some difficult decisions to make in the next twenty-four hours.”
“I want to see him,” Jeremy said hoarsely.
“Of course.” The doctor stood up. “I’ll take you to him.” Jase stood up as well and helped Jeremy to his feet, steadying him when he swayed.
“I’m coming with you, buddy, but I’ll wait outside the room, okay? I’ll be here.” Jeremy could only nod, grateful beyond words for Jase’s support.
Dr. Bayless led them through a maze of corridors. Jase didn’t touch him, but he was close enough Jeremy could feel his body heat. One time Jeremy stumbled and Jase gripped his elbow and steadied him, releasing him immediately but sticking close.
They finally stopped outside a doorway, and Dr. Bayless turned to Jeremy. “I want to prepare you for what you’ll see in there,” he said. “Brent is hooked up to life support. There’s a machine breathing for him and lots of different monitors making lots of noise. His head is heavily bandaged and he was cut from flying glass.”
Jeremy’s eyes filled with tears but he blinked them back determinedly.
“He’s not in any pain,” Dr. Bayless said gently. “Spend as much time as you want, Mr. Speer. We’ll talk soon.” He patted Jeremy’s shoulder and left them. Jeremy stared after him then sank onto a nearby chair, Jase settling next to him.
“I want to go in there, but at the same time, I don’t want to see him like that, Jase,” Jeremy said in a tortured voice. “My last memory of him is a good one. He was happy, and we’d just—” he trailed off, tears clogging his throat. “We have the baby coming; he was feeling better. It was the first time he’d even wanted to leave the house by himself in—oh God.” He buried his face in his hands, feeling Jase’s soothing touch on his back.
“For what it’s worth, Jere, I think you need to see him, to say—to say good-bye.” Jase’s voice was thick with grief too. “You might regret it someday if you don’t.” Jeremy nodded, knowing Jase was right, and he pulled every shred of his composure and strength around him like a cloak before standing and pushing open the door.
The room was brightly lit, harsh, the cacophony from the various machines surrounding the bed assaulting Jeremy’s ears like a jackhammer. A steady whoosh-whoosh sound came from the ventilator that was keeping Brent alive—no, Brent’s body alive. The essence of Brent was gone forever, Jeremy knew, and what remained was only an empty shell.
He stepped closer and put a shaking hand on Brent’s leg, about the only part of him that was free of tubes or wires or tape. Brent’s face was almost totally obscured by both the thick bandage wrapped around his head and the ventilator tubing sticking from his mouth and the tape holding it down. Really all that was visible were Brent’s nose and chin, a chin that was bristling with blond five o’clock shadow. Jeremy reached out and brushed his fingers over the stubble, feeling the rasp.
“Oh, babe,” he choked. “Look at you.” Brent’s bare arms, sticking out of a hospital gown, were covered with deep cuts, and there were more on his half-exposed chest, along with monitor leads and wires everywhere.
There were IVs stuck in the backs of Brent’s hands, but Jeremy was able to thread their fingers together. Brent’s fingers were warm, alive, such a cruel and vicious illusion. Brent wasn’t alive. He would never open those beautiful blue eyes that Jeremy loved to get lost in. He would never smile again, make love, hold their baby… the baby Brent had wanted so much. Jeremy’s knees collapsed and he sank onto the chair next to the bed, pressing Brent’s hand to his lips.
Time passed in a numb haze as Jeremy sat there, clutching Brent’s hand. Nurses came and went silently as they checked monitors, adjusted things, never intruding. Finally Jeremy felt a touch on his shoulder and he turned to see Jase standing there, his eyes rimmed with weariness and pain.
“I gotta go report back in, Jere, but I have time to run by your house and grab you some stuff, a couple of changes of clothes, whatever. Okay? Unless I can convince you to go home and get a little sleep.”
Jeremy shook his head.
“Okay, bud. I’ll be back in an hour.”
Jeremy handed over his keys and slumped down in his chair, holding Brent’s warm hand, rubbing his thumb over the backs of Brent’s fingers. It wasn’t like there was a choice to make. Even if Brent hadn’t made his wishes clear in his living will, Jeremy would never subject the body of the man he loved to a torture sentence like this. It was just taking that final step, saying the words aloud that acknowledged Brent was gone forever.
So he just sat, holding on to Brent as best he could, until Jase came back and set a duffle bag in the corner. He then knelt by Jeremy’s chair.
“I gotta get back to base, but I’ll talk to my chief, take some emergency leave. When you—when it’s gonna happen—” Jase’s voice trailed off, but Jeremy knew what he was trying to say. “I want to be here for you—afterward, okay?”
Jeremy nodded, his emotions locked away so tightly that he didn’t feel anything. “I’m going to spend a little more time with him, but I expect to make the decision by morning. I won’t put him through any more of this. It’s not what he would have wanted.”
Jase’s eyes welled with tears even as Jeremy’s own were dry as a bone.
“Okay, bud,” Jase said thickly. “I’ll be back in the morning, okay?”
He stood, kissing Jeremy on the top of the head quickly before striding out of the room.
More time passed until Jeremy became aware of Dr. Bayless standing silently next to the bed, flipping through a chart. He met Jeremy’s eyes but didn’t say anything, and finally Jeremy cleared his throat, his voice rusty and hoarse as he said, “I’m going to let him go.”
Dr. Bayless didn’t look away, just nodded.
“How long will it—will it take?” Jeremy felt like there was ground glass in his throat, and his whole body hurt with a physical pain that was almost unbearable, his skin feeling too tight and hot, heart racing.
“Minutes” was the doctor’s reply, his eyes compassionate. The ventilator whooshed on, Brent’s chest rising and falling in a hypnotic, terrible rhythm.
Jeremy squeezed his eyes shut, his voice an unrecognizable rasp. “I just—not quite yet. God, I can’t—not yet.”
“Take as much time as you need.” Dr. Bayless slipped silently out of the room.
The night passed slowly as Jeremy sat with Brent, not speaking, not able to, his words held at bay by the incessant beeping and frantic alarms that went off periodically, by the violent motions of Brent’s chest as air was forced into his lungs.
Finally in the darkest hour of the night, right before dawn, Dr. Bayless entered the room again quietly, not speaking, letting Jeremy take the lead.
“It’s time,” he forced out, his whole body starting to shake.
After that the room was a quiet flurry of activity as nurses came in and quickly, efficiently, removed the wires and leads from Brent’s chest, IV needles from his arms, pushing the machines off to the side. The ventilator whooshed on as Jeremy climbed into the narrow hospital bed and pulled his husband into his arms, tucking Brent’s bandaged head under his chin, holding him. A pair of gloved hands reached in and disconnected the ventilator hose from the small tube that led from Brent’s mouth into his lungs, and his heaving chest went still.
Shoes squeaked as people left the room and the lights were shut off, leaving them in blessed quiet and darkness. There was no dramatic beeping that slowed and stopped as the heart stopped beating, just Brent’s warmth in his arms as he slipped quietly away. Jeremy rocked him, the closeness and the quiet finally allowing him to speak.
“I’ll miss you, baby,” he whispered in Brent’s ear. “And I’ll take such good care of our son. He’ll know you; he’ll know how wonderful you were, how happy you made me every day. God, you made me so happy.”
Jeremy kissed the top of Brent’s bandaged head, running his hand up and down Brent’s back, memorizing the feel of the man he loved in his arms. He was so warm, so still, like he was sleeping, a deep, peaceful sleep. Jeremy closed his eyes, imagining they were home safe in their bed, impending fatherhood and their whole lives still stretching before them.
He kissed Brent’s head again, wishing he could bury his face in his thick blond hair, feel Brent’s lips moving sleepily against his neck as he whispered, “Love you, honey,” just one more time.
Jeremy held him close until he felt a presence beside the bed, and Dr. Bayless leaned in and pressed a stethoscope to Brent’s chest, listening for a minute. He rested his hand on Jeremy’s arm briefly in silent acknowledgment.
Jeremy squeezed his eyes shut, wondering why he couldn’t cry.
THE NEXT few days passed in a numb blur of funeral arrangements and phone calls where Jeremy spent most of his time saying comforting things to other people. Per Brent’s wishes he had him cremated, but he deviated from the living will when he had Brent’s ashes interred in a small, private cemetery instead of scattered over the ocean; he wanted a place to take their son to visit his father.
The plaque set into the memorial wall over the sealed compartment was small, so small there was only room for Brent’s name and the dates of his birth and death. After the short service, Jeremy leaned against the wall and traced the etched name over and over with his fingertip: Brent Nicholas Speer. When they’d gotten married, Brent insisted on taking Jeremy’s last name, a symbolic way of leaving a painful past behind. Brent’s relationship with his family had always been rocky, and when he finally came out to them his senior year in high school, they pretty much disowned him.
“You’re my family now,” Brent whispered on their wedding night, and when they returned from their short honeymoon, he set to work legally changing his name to Speer.
Jeremy was tired. He was so tired of the empty platitudes well-meaning people spouted, tired of trying to hold it together for everyone else when all he wanted to do was fall apart. Jase had been rock solid from the morning after Brent’s death until now, never far from his side, running interference when yet another person said, “It’s God’s will” or “He’s in a better place.”
Now Jeremy managed to say good-bye to the last of the small contingent of friends and colleagues who had shown up to pay their respects, and finally it was just him and Jase left alone in the small memorial garden. Jeremy traced Brent’s name one last time, unwilling to leave him, knowing it was time to face the rest of his life without the man he loved and wondering how the fuck he was going to manage that.
“Jesus, this sucks.” Jase’s low mutter was not meant for Jeremy’s ears, he knew, but somehow he heard it, amplified as it was by the echoing stone surrounding them. His eyes snapped to Jase’s, and suddenly Jeremy was laughing, a raw and rusty sound, a tinge of hysteria along the edges.
“It sucks so bad,” he agreed between gasps, “and that’s the most honest, heartfelt thing that anyone has said to me today. Thank you.”
Jase came over to him, concern in his eyes, and he wrapped his arm around Jeremy’s heaving shoulders. “Come on, bud. Let’s get you home.”
Home. His house wasn’t a home without Brent in it. It was just a place where Brent used to be, kind of like Jeremy’s shattered heart. As they drove toward Jeremy’s neighborhood, Jeremy felt the cracks in his composure, opened by his unexpected laughter at the cemetery, start to spread, pain and grief seeping out, demanding to be acknowledged and recognized. Jeremy fought it, a trembling starting deep inside and spreading outward until his whole body was shaking with the force.
Jase unlocked the front door and pushed it open, setting his keys and sunglasses down on the little table inside. It was such a small action, so meaningless, yet Jeremy had seen Brent do that same thing countless times. The knowledge he would never do it again ripped through Jeremy, and anger boiled up and erupted all over the nearest convenient target.
“It’s so fucking unfair,” Jeremy hissed as he turned and gripped the lapels of Jase’s suit jacket. Jase opened his mouth to say something and Jeremy shook him, hard.
“You! You went to a fucking war zone, got shot at, were living in a country full of assholes trying to kill you! You were in the most dangerous place on earth, and yet my husband manages to get his ass killed just two motherfucking miles from home on a goddamn neighborhood street!”
Jeremy’s voice had risen to a hysterical shout, and he was twisting his fists in Jase’s coat.
“It’s so unfair! You’re the one that should be dead! Not him!”
Jase’s face was white, stricken, his eyes full of tears, but his voice was compassionate as he said, “I know, Jere. I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry, man.”
“You should be dead, not him. Not him.” Jeremy’s grip on Jase’s coat was the only thing holding him up, and when he shoved Jase away, his legs buckled. He collapsed onto his knees, his body shaking as the last tenuous hold he had on his composure snapped.
“Go away, Jase. I don’t want you here anymore.” He lashed out, his anger at Brent for dying focusing with vicious intent on the man who had been his rock, his unwavering support during the worst week of Jeremy’s life. Yet he couldn’t stop.
“You don’t get to be here anymore. I wish you had died, not him. Go away!” Jeremy’s voice had risen to almost a scream, and before the hysteria took him over completely, he dimly felt Jase stroke his hair with a trembling hand before the door closed softly behind him.
Jeremy collapsed onto his side and curled into a fetal position as he sobbed, feeling like he’d never be able to stop, crippling pain and grief making him wish for death himself.
When the storm finally passed, Jeremy crawled on hands and knees into the bedroom and pulled himself up on the bed, burying himself in the covers, Brent’s pillow clutched to him as he fell into an exhausted sleep. He woke hours later, his eyes gritty and feeling like sandpaper, his throat shredded from crying. The sight of Brent’s reading glasses on the night table next to a paperback novel he would never get to finish set him off into another bout of weeping.
That happened over and over as Jeremy was assaulted with signs of Brent’s presence: his toothbrush and razor, his dirty clothes in the hamper, his leftovers from their last dinner out together in a box in the fridge. As each storm raged and passed, Jeremy thought he couldn’t possibly have any tears left, but the reality of Brent’s permanent absence always dredged up more until Jeremy was weak with exhaustion and emotional overload.
WITH THE ruthlessness that had always served him well in his law practice, Jeremy boxed up all of Brent’s things one afternoon, took them to a local donation center and left them without a backward glance. What he couldn’t donate he threw away. His next stop was to a realtor’s office, and he listed their house, instructing the realtor to take the first offer.
There was one difficult task that Jeremy couldn’t put off any longer, and he made a phone call.
“Leticia? Can I come over?”
He drove across town and pulled up outside a small neat house in Chula Vista, a blue-collar enclave south of where he and Brent lived in exclusive La Jolla. Jeremy sat in his car for a while, breathing deeply, hoping he could hold it together and not lose it in front of the woman who was carrying his and Brent’s son.
Surrogacy had been a long, exhausting process, extremely stressful. He and Brent had gone through an agency, one that specialized in “matching” prospective surrogate mothers with gay couples. They elected to go with gestational surrogacy, where the woman they chose would “grow” and carry a baby created with their sperm and donor eggs, a baby that would not be hers biologically in any way.
Jeremy remembered the night he and Brent cuddled up together in bed, looking through the profiles and questionnaires of women the agency forwarded to them as potential matches. Brent immediately zeroed in on a young woman with two little boys of her own and a husband who was in the Marines.
“She has kind eyes,” Brent had said, tracing his finger over the face of the smiling dark-haired woman. “And she’s a military wife, so she’s resilient and strong.”
They selected three of the women for a face-to-face meeting, and while all of them were perfectly nice, one of them focused almost solely on the fees she would be receiving while another was so painfully shy it was hard to get two words from her. Leticia was warm and welcoming from the minute they met, asking them questions about themselves, showing genuine interest in their lives. She truly was in it to help them achieve their dream of fatherhood, and in the end it wasn’t a hard decision at all.
Next came psychological evaluations for all of them, several different physical exams for Leticia, sperm count and motility tests for him and Brent. With the all clear given on those, the negotiations started, and finally a contract acceptable to all parties was entered into. After that there was another round of profiles and questionnaires as they looked for an egg donor, finally settling on a young college girl with an impeccable health and family history. She was fresh faced and pretty, and Brent liked her smile.
Everything was finally in place, but first Leticia had to undergo a so-called mock cycle, where she took the IVF fertility drugs to see how she responded to them. She responded beautifully, her uterine lining thick and perfect, ready to accept an embryo.
He and Brent had given their sperm samples and then waited tensely to see if any of the donor eggs fertilized. They wanted embryos created from both of their sperm, and to have several of each transferred into Leticia for the best chance of success. Neither Brent nor Jeremy wanted to know whom the “real” father was. They were both going to be a father to the baby and it didn’t matter whose genetic material it was.
Leticia’s medicated cycle once again resulted in a thick, fluffy uterine lining, so the embryo transfer was scheduled within days. It went smoothly, and finally all that was left to do was wait the required two weeks to see if a pregnancy resulted. That first time there was heartbreak when Leticia’s blood test came back negative. Jeremy and Brent had viable embryos left, so after Leticia’s next natural cycle, they started all over again.
Another round of IVF, another tense two-week wait, and then another tearful phone call from Leticia, but this time they were tears of happiness; she was pregnant. He and Brent went to every doctor’s appointment, every ultrasound, were there every step of the way. Leticia and her husband Keith always made them feel welcome, but they tried not to be intrusive on Leticia’s personal life. Leticia texted them every couple of days with updates on how she was feeling and kept them in the loop. Finally the time came where they felt comfortable enough to shop for nursery items, and they picked out a name: Zachary Evan.
Jeremy leaned his forehead on the steering wheel and took deep breaths as fresh grief ripped through him in powerful waves. Brent would never get to hold this baby he wanted so much, would never get to be the wonderful father Jeremy knew he would have been. No more fucking crying, he told himself firmly. Brent wouldn’t want that, and he needed to be strong for their son.
He climbed slowly out of his sleek and expensive sports car, reflecting that he needed to get a new vehicle soon, something more suitable for driving a baby around. Brent had teased him about getting a minivan, cracking up at Jeremy’s shouted “Never!” and reiterating all the safety features in the newest-model vans. If only Brent’s car had had side airbags—
Jeremy pushed those thoughts away, knowing he could “what-if” for the rest of his life and it wouldn’t change anything. He felt like an old man as he made his way up the well-kept front walkway to Leticia’s door, ringing the doorbell and waiting, wondering how Leticia would react to seeing him. He knew she and Keith were aware of Brent’s death, Jase having called the surrogacy agency with the news at Jeremy’s request.
All of his tenuous control deserted him at the sight of Leticia’s loving and compassionate face, and the swell of her belly that held—oh God. In a few short weeks he could be holding a part of Brent in his arms again. He fell to his knees right there in the doorway and wrapped his arms around her hips, burying his face against her hard protruding belly.
“Oh, sweet man,” she whispered, as she stroked her fingers through his hair. “Oh, mijo.”
The comforting touch and whispered endearment were his undoing, and he lost it right there, great heaving sobs ripping from his chest as he clutched her to him. He couldn’t let go of her, couldn’t stop crying as he pushed her maternity shirt up so that he could lay his cheek directly against her skin, right over where his son rested.
Leticia let him, held him and murmured to him until she could coax him inside and lead him into her homey, welcoming living room. She pulled him down to the couch with her and grabbed his hand, placing it low on the side of her belly where Jeremy could feel a rippling, actually see the skin bulging in and out with the baby’s movements.
“He’s active today,” Leticia whispered. “He knows that his daddy is here.” Those words brought fresh tears, and she cupped his cheek.
“Talk to him, mijo.”
Jeremy did, his cheek resting once again on Leticia’s belly as he talked to his son, feeling the baby move almost as if in response to his words. She had a Doppler listening device she used, pressing it to her abdomen and moving it around so that Jeremy could hear the baby’s strong, fast heartbeat. At that moment it was what he needed the most, and he loved her for it.
She fixed him a cup of tea and let him spend as much time as he wanted, Keith having taken their boys over to their grandparents’ to give Jeremy some privacy. Finally he took his leave, hugging her close, whispering his thanks in her ear.
“You’ve helped me today more than you know, Leticia.”
She stroked her hand over his hair once and kissed his cheek. “I’m glad.”
He drove home, the savage darkness of his grief lightened a little by the promise of new life, of renewed joy. The next couple of weeks passed quickly as Jeremy finalized the sale of his La Jolla house and traded in his sports car for a sleek new SUV with every safety feature imaginable. His realtor forwarded some listings for him to look at, and he settled on a small but elegant house on Coronado Island. He loved the neighborhood, lined with large mature trees, the beach and city parks just a short drive away. Perfect for raising a child, and perfect for a fresh start.
With Zachary’s birth imminent, he had everything but the nursery items put into long-term storage, and he rented a furnished condo not far from his new house. He needed a place to bring the baby home to while he had some light renovations done, and he didn’t want Zachary around the noise and chaos.
Grief was never far from the surface, sometimes roaring up like a tsunami, unexpectedly and at awkward moments, dragging him under, suffocating him under the weight of it. He weathered each storm as it came, missing Brent so much it was a constant ache, the thought of the baby’s arrival the life ring he clung precariously to.
A week before Leticia’s due date, Keith called to say Leticia hadn’t felt the baby move in several hours, and when she realized it during her daily kick count, she immediately called the doctor. They didn’t seem overly concerned at first, advising her to drink a glass of juice and see if the sugar wouldn’t help to “wake him up.” An hour later there still hadn’t been any movement.
“They want her to come in, Jeremy,” Keith said, his voice strained. “We’re leaving as soon as I hang up with you.”
A low-grade dread started burning in Jeremy’s gut. “I’ll meet you there,” he managed. During the half-hour drive from Coronado to East Chula Vista, he gripped the steering wheel and prayed, “No. Please, God, no.”
When he arrived at the doctor’s office, the front desk lady wouldn’t look at him and Jeremy just knew. There wasn’t any need for words like “cord accident” or the doctor’s gentle attempts to explain “sometimes these things just happen.” Leticia was inconsolable, weeping in her husband’s arms, her eyes beseeching as she looked at Jeremy, needing his comfort and assurances he didn’t blame her. He didn’t, but he was beyond comforting anyone, beyond feeling anything, a crushing numbness spreading through his body and pulverizing what was left of his shattered heart.
When the doctor informed them Leticia would be admitted to the hospital for immediate induction, and there would be a private room set aside for as long as needed for everyone to hold the baby and say their good-byes, Jeremy turned on his heel without a word and strode toward the parking lot.
“Jeremy, please!” Keith chased after him, calling his name until Jeremy stopped in his tracks, his fists clenched at his sides.
“I won’t go,” he warned in a low voice. “I can’t.”
“Please think about what you’re doing, man,” Keith pleaded. “Leticia—”
Jeremy whirled on him, his voice savage. “You’ll still get your fucking money, Monahan. It’s in the goddamn contract.”
Keith’s eyes widened and he took a step back. “It’s not about the money,” he whispered. “It never was.” Jeremy turned away and started walking toward his car again, Keith’s voice rising as he called after him. “You and Leticia need to say your good-byes to this baby, Jeremy. You’ll need the closure, and you need each other. Please!”
Jeremy whipped around again and advanced on him, forcing him to retreat. “It’s not her child, Keith,” Jeremy said cruelly, wanting to hurt, to wound, a dying animal turning on the attack. “Her job is almost over. Obviously I have no further need of her services.”
Keith reeled back as if struck. “You don’t mean that, Jeremy. Leticia carried this baby inside her for nine months, nurturing him, loving him, until she could put him in your arms. She needs you to be there while she goes through this, and you need her, man. She’s grieving too. Don’t think for one minute that this isn’t killing her. Please. Don’t do this!”
Jeremy slammed the car door on Keith’s pleas, and he roared away without a backward glance. As he drove toward Coronado, he called the surrogacy agency and informed them the Monahans’ final payment was to be released to them immediately, and that he desired no further contact with the couple.
The rest of the day passed in a blur as he contacted the funeral home that had handled Brent’s services to make arrangements for the baby’s cremation and interment, and then called the general contractor to cancel the renovations that were scheduled to be done on his new house. He loaded the nursery items that were waiting to be set up back into his SUV and dumped them at the nearest donation center, then headed to his bank and withdrew a large sum of cash. His cell phone rang unanswered on the seat next to him, going to voice mail over and over until Jeremy tossed the phone out the car window, watching in his rearview mirror as it shattered on the pavement.
He drove and drove as waves of darkness and grief crashed over his head, pulling him down into the pit, swallowing him up.
Signs of Life is the second book in Melanie Hansen’s Resilient Love Story series. The first book Everything Changes was one of my favorite books of 2014. It featured rockstar/EMT Jase and Marine/lower leg amputee Carey. For fans of that book, I am happy to say that we get to see these boys again and witness their swoon-worthy HEA. *dreamy sigh*
There are two things that absolutely define Signs of Life for me.
1. It is full on angst. Deep sorrow, soul crushing Amy Lane level angst.
2.The sex is mind-blowing and some of the hottest I’ve read since Ella Frank’s Temptations series.
Let’s start with the angst: In the beginning of the book, Jeremy Speer suffers two life altering events. Literally the worst thing that could happen to a human being happens to him. Twice.
I ugly cried right away, feeling Jeremy’s acute loss deep in my heart. I instantly feel in love with him and considered making a voodoo doll of Ms. Hansen unless she gave Jeremy a spectacular HEA worthy of gospel singers. (She does give him that, and more, but more about that later. I didn’t end up making that voodoo doll.)
I had to break for some happiness and went to my go-to happy place by watching a few Corgi videos.
The meat and potatoes of the book happens two years after Jeremy’s loss. After drowning his sorrow in drugs and alcohol, Jeremy is fresh from rehab and living in a secluded cabin in Oregon, working on putting his life back together. He meets Kai Daniels, alternative school teacher and former gang member, in a club in Portland and the two have ridiculously hot anonymous sex in a back ally. They meet again several months later when Kai volunteers to supervise a group on teens (who vandalized Jeremy’s house) in a clean-up community service. They eventually start a friends-with-benefits sexual relationship that quickly becomes more for both men. And the sex? OMG, the sex!
Jeremy’s voice was guttural as he whispered, “I want to strip you naked and spread you out on my bed, hold you down while I lick and suck every inch of your body. I want to taste you, fuck you with my fingers and tongue until you’re crying for my cock.” As he spoke he tugged on the piercing, flicking his thumbnail over the hard tip of Kai’s nipple.
Kai flattened his chest against the granite, stretching his arms over his head to grip the opposite edge of the counter as he gave himself up to Jeremy’s use, and Jeremy pulled up on Kai’s hips, yanking him to his toes as he gave him long, hard strokes, looking down and growling at the sight of his bare cock, slick with Kai’s own come…
Yes, the boys fall in love and, yes, we get a fantastic epilogue with the boys riding off into the sunset, hand in hand.
The angst is great folks, but if you push through the sadness, you will be greatly rewarded with hot monkey-sex and a great romance.
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