Sunshine and Happiness: Book Three
It’s hard to recover from a first love. Some people never do.
How hard would you fight to keep your best friend? Marc Lucas and Tomas Santos have been best friends forever, but now their friendship is in a crisis. When they were boys, betrayals ripped their world apart. They thought it was fixed, but some parts remained broken. Ever since he saved him from a humiliation at school, Marc has loved Tomas. The last thing he expects is for Tomas to love him back. To keep his best friend, Marc revisits an abusive past he’s tried to forget.
For Tomas, loving Marc has been anything but easy. His upbringing told him it was wrong, so why did it feel so right? Accepting who he is as an adult, Tomas decides he needs a committed relationship. To his deep sorrow, he can’t seem to find it with Marc.
When the two find themselves alone and in the grip of a hurricane, long-buried feelings emerge. Being “just friends” is no longer an option. They must risk it all on love.
ALL HE wants is sleep.
Marc Lucas is sick and tired of being tired. He isn’t getting his ass out of bed until sunrise. No fucking way.
If he’s not working extra shifts in the Florida heat, trimming trees to earn money, he’s in his night classes. He’s physically and mentally spent. He tosses and turns for about an hour, but eventually sleep grants him mercy.
When his phone rings in a series of loud, insistent sounds, Marc attempts to ignore it. Why hasn’t he set it to silent mode? He smacks the cell with his palm to shut it the hell up and tries to doze off again, disregarding his scratchy throat and need to pee, hoping to return to his much-desired rest. He’s nearly there, on the edge of dreaming, when a second later it starts to ring again.
Fuck. This can’t be good. Marc peers bleary-eyed at the screen. Three thirty in the goddamn morning.
“’Lo?” Marc answers. Uneasiness shoots down his spine; his instincts go on alert.
“It’s me,” Tomas says. “I’m in trouble.”
Marc’s heart gives a strange jerk as his brain takes time to process Tomas’s actual words. Simply hearing his voice causes a hollow pit inside.
“Are you there?”
“Yeah.” Marc noisily clears his throat. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s my grandfather. Fernando’s gone missing. It’s only been a few hours, and maybe it’s nothing, but—”
“I’ll be there, just lemme get dressed.”
“Ah—no. I’m sorry I called. It’s stupid for you to rush here in the middle of the night. I can handle it. Forget I called and go back to sleep. I’ll take care of it.”
“Because you can handle everything yourself?” Marc sighs. “Tomas, stop. You called me already, right? So enough with the independent, macho act. I’m coming.” He climbs out of bed and hurries to dress.
Although Marc usually finds Tomas’s strong, masculine code attractive, he also knows Tomas is vulnerable as hell when it comes to his family. So no, he’s not going to hang up and go back to sleep like some jackass, not when Tomas needs him. “I can be near your place in under forty-five minutes.”
“Don’t speed, okay? I want you here, but drive normally.”
Tomas’s familiar sweetness makes Marc swallow hard. He doesn’t want to end the call, but he needs to finish changing, drink a Red Bull, and gas up his car. A fist-sized ache pounds in his chest. God, he misses Tomas, misses talking to him, misses everything.
“Just text me when you’re here. I’m combing the neighborhood, and Avó Izzy called the police, though they said it’s too soon for their help.”
“Did your grandmother tell them Fernando has early-stage Alzheimer’s?”
“Yes, but they didn’t budge.”
“Figures.” Marc snorts. He has little use for the police.
“Maybe he’s only confused and got it in his head to go somewhere, even though it’s nighttime. Right?” Tomas draws in a breath.
Cradling the phone to his ear, Marc hears the worry in Tomas’s voice, the need for reassurance. For a moment he pictures Fernando the way he used to look—big, fierce, and disapproving. How did Fernando get old or frail? It seems impossible. Tomas resembles his grandfather, only Tomas just looks hard and tough. Fernando is a true ballbuster.
“He’ll be okay, Tomas. I know it.”
“I’m sorry to bother you….”
“No worries.” Marc stumbles to his dresser and he tugs on his jeans, not bothering to turn on the light or look for clean underwear.
The past hovers like a ghost between them. Over the static of his cell phone, Marc waits for Tomas to speak. Even when he and Tomas grow old and thin like Fernando—when their minds get pasty like oatmeal and their bodies begin to fail them—even then Marc will forever see Tomas as that boy he first met in middle school. The boy he fell desperately in love with, silently and forever.
“Thanks for doing this,” Tomas says.
“What are you talking about? It’s me. Of course I’m gonna come over.”
“You’re a good friend.”
Marc studies the darkness of his bedroom. Tomas’s compliment makes him uncomfortable.
“I mean it.”
Tomas pauses for a long time. Marc wonders whether he is thinking about the definition of their supposed friendship. He and Tomas are experts at pretending nothing else is between them. And that’s okay, Marc tells himself. He’s not right for Tomas. He can be happy as only friends.
Liar. He’s the king of fucking liars. It’s gotten to the point where he’s allergic to the truth.
No matter how much he messes up or how much he runs, Tomas is all he ever wants. “See ya soon.”
MARC IS careful not to make noise as he passes Andrew and Owen’s bedroom. They work early hours, Andrew at the café and Owen as a teacher, so he doesn’t want to disturb them. He glances at River’s room, where he hears River’s loud, bulldozer-like snores through the door, and grins. Everybody thought River would be the one to abandon their house first, with his habit of disappearing for weeks. Marc figured River would jump on his motorcycle one day and leave for good, but no. River’s still here.
Marc has lived in Ocean Vista for some years. The house is old. Ancient as fuck, really. Every time they fix one thing, another breaks. The temperature is either too hot or too cold. But the guys he lives with are solid. They used to be, at any rate. This past year has brought a lot of changes.
Hurrying to the bathroom, Marc plans to toss some cold water on his face, brush away his sleep-sour breath, and get moving. Since it is the middle of the night, he doesn’t knock.
“Oh, hey now!”
“Hold on,” Sandy says into his cell phone, “it’s my roommate. No, don’t hang up, Babycakes.”
“Why don’t you call Babycakes back?” Marc demands, his mouth twisting with distaste. Why does Sandy have to do his sweet-talking on the can? And at all hours of the night? Jesus. Can’t people do their business and then talk?
“Do you mind giving me a minute?” Sandy says.
“Sure, sure. By all means, wipe your ass and finish your booty call.”
Sandy only grins at Marc’s needling.
That’s the trouble with Sandy, Marc thinks as he closes the door. He’s like that relative who irritates everybody in the family and doesn’t seem to know it.
All of which makes Marc long for the old days, before all the changes in the household. Before Cole left, with Sandy taking his place. Cole never once baby-talked somebody while sitting on the toilet. Part of Marc is surprised Tomas didn’t reach out to Cole instead of him. Maybe it’s because Cole’s with Ian now? Marc hates that he can’t read Tomas’s mind in a split second anymore. Sandy brushes past him, so he’s free to use the bathroom. Marc tries to be fast.
Outside the house, Marc heads to his car, half wishing he had a cigarette, but he quit again.
Tomas is disappointed in him these days. Weeks before he moved, Tomas would stalk around the house, look at Marc, and simply sigh. Tomas could communicate a hell of a lot in that sigh.
Tomas rarely yells. At six three and 220 pounds, give or take, he doesn’t have to. Marc can count on one hand the times he’s heard him raise his voice. Not that shit hasn’t come at Tomas like it comes at everybody, but he doesn’t let it get under his skin. Tomas gives off the easy, comfortable vibe of a guy who likes the world around him.
The exception is with Marc, because nothing about them is ever easy.
Knowing how badly he screwed up between them, Marc wants to hit something. His anger, though, is a part of the problem. He’s sick of being angry all the time, even if most of the anger is directed at himself. It’s a shitty way to go through life.
He barely tolerates most people, but Tomas is different. He’s always been different. Always. Fear sharpens inside Marc’s chest. He has kept Tomas at arm’s length for too long, but he’s trying to change. He’s even started therapy, for Christ’s sake.
As he drives, Marc notices a frayed Band-Aid hangs from his elbow. He cut himself last week at his tree-trimming job. Marc rubs at it, picking at the itchy scab, dotting the edges with blood. The pinch of pain he feels has little to do with the cut.
Marc thinks of how he loved going over to Tomas’s house. Loved the way Tomas’s kitchen always smelled good, like coffee and cinnamon. That house was Marc’s oasis for a little while, before he fucked up. Memories of Tomas’s everyday kindnesses fill Marc’s mind—Tomas feeding him meals, lending him clothes that were several sizes too big… Tomas with his warm brown eyes. Racial injustice and poverty are everywhere in their neighborhood, crime rampant, yet Tomas’s eyes shine with hope. He actually believes people are good.
Marc’s eyes are as dry as rocks. Not like the other day, when Tomas left for good and moved back to Miami. On that day Marc cried. Okay, he fucking sobbed. He never does that—crying is nothing but weakness. He hasn’t cried a lot since he was a kid, but it hurt so damn much.
Tomas might be moving forward in his life, but once, they loved each other. Loved in the way only best friends can—fully and completely, without borders.
“WHERE YOU going? Huh? Answer me.”
Marc forced his tone to stay neutral, his face blank. He eyed his dad’s gun and wallet near the couch. His badge.
Careful, a voice in his head warned.
Marc moved silently around his dad. Any further reply could set him off. Anything could make his old man spew ugliness. His dad was not a big man, but he had the hard-lined face of a drinker and the quick fist to back it up. Some days he’d rant until he passed out. Other days he’d overturn furniture, fling chairs, smash dishes. Often Marc would come home to find piss all over the bed or the bathroom floor, and he would have to clean that up, the pungent smell making him gag as it filled his nostrils, but he knew the signs of a particularly bad drinking bout.
Those were the halfway-decent days. Then there were the unspeakable days. Days when Marc would crouch in the corner, mindless with fear, listening for any sound. He would pant like a dog, trying not to sob, but small hiccups would rack his frame. He’d bite down on his fist and curl into a ball, waiting it out.
Hate and helplessness and fury all whirled inside Marc. The neighbors knew, of course. Some teachers, maybe. But nobody cared enough to intervene.
“School? You’re too dumb to learn shit.” His dad gave him a hard slap to the back of his head. “If you helped me around here more, or weren’t such a dumb, pussy-ass kid, it wouldn’t be like this.” He gestured to the messy apartment. His breath reeked of whiskey, and he slapped Marc again, harder, making Marc’s ears ring.
Marc tried to get away, but his dad gripped his shoulder and dug his nails in. “Lemme go!” Marc’s chest heaved. He tried to stand up for himself as he met his dad’s drunk, unfocused gaze.
“Lemme go,” his dad mimicked, his smile full of cruelty. “Like I said, dumb as shit.” He released Marc with a shove.
Stumbling forward, Marc steadied himself on the peeling wall. He grabbed his backpack and hurried away from his dad’s typical asshole stuff.
His dad would feel sorry; his good moments usually followed on the heels of his bad ones. There might be dinner and some genuine regret later, but it didn’t fool Marc that those times would last. Sunny days never did. Before long, Marc would do something else his father didn’t like. No matter how small and unnoticeable Marc tried to make himself, he would do something to cause his dad to switch moods with an abruptness that made Marc break into a cold sweat, a knuckle-gripping terror.
Marc scurried out the door, focusing on escape and not wanting to take any chances. He dug through the trash can by his apartment building but found nothing to eat. Then he remembered a stale Twinkie in his backpack. He gulped it down, licking cream off his fingers. He would have to do a mini-mart swipe today. The Twinkie hadn’t satisfied the gnawing in his gut.
In the past few months, Marc had been hungrier. But he didn’t like to think about that, or about why his father drank or yelled or hurt him. It made his breath catch, made his stomach go all queasy, and acid would rise to the back of his mouth.
The Miami sun was hot and sweat trickled under his pits as he walked the three blocks to Roosevelt Middle School. Nobody wanted to live in their neighborhood, and especially nobody wanted to go to the prison that was their middle school. Packs of kids hung out nearby but didn’t go in. They shouted at their friends or playfully shoved them. The girls brushed and braided one another’s hair. The younger boys joked about farts and burps. As an eighth grader, Marc was tired of the entire thing and ready to move on to high school—only one more year to go.
A few kids in the school were coupled off. They were the popular crowd. The boyfriends kept their hands in their girlfriends’ back pockets as they paraded them into school. There were kids like that everywhere—the golden ones, untouched by darkness, believing the world was ripe for them to take from. Those kids knew to stay away from Marc, that he was ugly and broken, unlike them.
The normal divisions occurred: jocks, geeks, druggies, preps. If some of the others had tough shit at home like Marc did, they hid it better. Or they had already dropped out. Last year some girl had gotten pregnant at thirteen, for instance, and when she left, all the kids’ tongues had wagged as they panted over the gossip like mangy dogs. Then another girl got pregnant and the school went fucking ballistic. The kids all said it was some copycat bullshit going on with the girls and the same boy was the baby daddy. The guy in question strutted around school that year like some damn rooster. So maybe it was true.
Then there was this kid, Oscar, who’d gotten busted for assaulting a teacher last year, although he claimed the teacher fucked with him first. Nobody ever believed some punk-ass kid like Oscar over a teacher. Marc thought Oscar might be telling the truth, though. He’d seen that same teacher toss a desk against the wall in a temper tantrum. But whatever… Marc didn’t want to drop out, because every hour at school was an hour’s escape from his fucked-up home situation. So he carefully toed the line.
Marc watched but never joined any group. To make a real friend, to trust somebody like that, was too fucking risky. The other kids thought of Marc as a loner and a troublemaker. He told himself he didn’t give a fuck. He was fine alone. He had too much poison inside him to be anyone’s friend.
Marc got to his first-period class late, struggling to ignore his gurgling stomach as he shucked his backpack off and let it drop by his feet. He realized the teacher, Mrs. Lynn, had a stranger near her big wooden desk and was handing him a stack of papers. What Marc noticed first was how strong-looking the new kid was. For an eighth grader, he had muscles. And he looked Latino, maybe?
Marc’s old man hated the Latinos. And the blacks. And the Jews. He was an equal-opportunity hater. He fed Marc a steady diet of prejudice, but since there was nobody Marc hated as much as his prick of a father, he let the words bounce off him.
The teacher introduced the new kid as Tomas Santos, from Brazil. Tomas softly corrected her that his grandparents had grown up in Brazil, but he had lived in Coral Springs before moving to Miami. The class tittered because he’d corrected the teacher in front of them. Tomas stood ramrod straight as if he were as much an adult as the teacher was. There was something so fucking serious about him.
The jocks leaned forward eagerly. Tomas would be one of them, surely, with that huge frame, those football-capable hands. The girls leaned forward too, licking their cherry-flavored lips. Fresh meat. The druggies took one look at Tomas’s clear and sparkling eyes and stared out the window. The geeks assumed they had no chance.
Marc thought all of them were a bunch of assholes. School was hell—he’d heard some famous dude say that on TV once, as if it were something profound. Marc had felt like saying “Yeah, no fucking kidding.” School was hell. Any time you were forced together with a bunch of morons and douchebags, it was hell. But it was useless to worry about it.
As Mrs. Lynn droned on about welcoming him, Marc examined Tomas’s broad smile. He looked at ease. Tomas’s expression was curious and open, as if the world were safe to investigate. Also, Marc noted sourly, he looked clean, dressed in fresh khaki shorts and a new-looking polo shirt.
Marc poked his pencil at the frayed hole in his jeans. He wasn’t clean; he downright smelled on the days he needed to escape his dad and couldn’t get into the bathroom before fleeing. He glanced up, met Tomas’s dark brown eyes and saw his sweet expression, and something flickered deep inside him. He couldn’t identify it.
Heat surged through him: something he had to conceal, stomp out, expel forever. There was no room in his life for whatever caused his skin to prickle, his body to heat, and this strange wistfulness to pulse urgently at his heart.
Marc slumped in his seat and scowled. He wanted to punch Tomas Santos right in his annoying kisser.
Tomas and Marc have been best friends since they were kids and went through a lot of emotions together while trying to know each other and maintain their friendship.
Tomas comes from a traditional family … he knows how to be loved and regardless he sometimes feels out of place, he has that security of a home.
Marc comes from a difficult house situation, one parent; his dad, and really doesn’t feel loved or secure under the conditions he lives.
When a school project pairs them together, the friendship develops and time becomes their alley, refuge but then became their enemy.
Tomas and Marc needed to become whole separately to then be able to talk, listen and be there for each other as adults.
The time in the past became a memory and the time in the present became a catalyst for their future as more than friends. Love then became their all.
I like the way the story was done, because author Skylar Cates (one of my favorite authors, by the way) took me on a journey of really understanding their past and the way the future shaped for Tomas and Marc.
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