Title: Growing Strong
Author Name & Publisher: BL Dayoff (Torquere Press)
Publication Date & Length: May 11, 2016 – 47,000 Words
A chance—and embarrassing—encounter brings Hunter and Chase together, but it’s patience and kindness that keep them there. Through a slow-blossoming friendship and a series of misunderstandings, Hunter finds himself fighting an attraction he thinks isn’t returned. But with the help of his roommate, Tony, he may just be able to make the leap and confess his feelings.
But love isn’t Hunter’s only concern. With his sister’s upcoming nuptials, he also must learn to face a family that hasn’t quite disowned him for his sexuality. With Chase by his side, it’s going to take strength for Hunter to stand up for himself and to hold on to what really matters.
Hunter tripped over Tony’s briefcase in his rush to get to the door, cursed, and somehow remained upright. He stumbled a few more steps, caught himself on the kitchen counter, and stopped. Huffing once, he continued, with slightly more competence, the final few feet to the front door. When he opened it, Chase was there with a stack of DVDs in hand. “Hey.”
“Hey, c’mon in. You find the place okay?”
“Yeah, it was really easy and—oh, hi.”
“Chase this is—Tony! Put some pants on!”
Tony grinned from his boxer-clad position on the couch. “You didn’t tell me you were having a guest.”
He most certainly had. “Well I do, so, pants!”
“Careful, I might take that as an order.” Tony winked, then wagged his butt all the way back to his room.
“Sorry about him. I think his mother dropped him a few times as a child.”
Chase chuckled. “Don’t worry about it. We all have a few in our lives.”
“Tell me about it. So what movies did you bring?” He sat on the couch, tucking himself against one armrest, and was pointedly not disappointed when Chase sat on the opposite side—making himself as far away as possible.
“Um, well, La Belle et la Bête, because it’s so standard, The Bitter Sweet Tears of Petra von Kant, The Four Hundred Blows, Run Lola Run, Rashomon—which is dry but classic—and A Love to Hide.”
“Well,” Hunter chuckled. “I think I’ve heard of one or two of them. How about Lola? Unless there’s one you wanted to watch?”
“No, I just brought a variety so if you get bored, we can switch.” He opened the case, popped the DVD out, and handed it to Hunter, who got up and slid it in the DVD player.
He tracked down the remote, and when he turned around he found Tony sitting in his spot.
Glaring at Tony was equivalent to yelling at the rain, so he dimmed the lights, took the spot between them, and hit play. Lacking an armrest, he folded his arms across his chest and glanced at Tony. What did he think he was doing? Why was he crashing in when Tony had been egging him all week about how Hunter had a second date? Was he trying to make sure nothing happened? Or was he forcing Hunter to sit closer?
He shifted his gaze to Chase, who was watching the previews. With a sigh, Hunter sagged into the couch and skipped the disc ahead so he could stare at the opening credits.
But he couldn’t focus. He wished life was full of do-overs like movies. He had the running down. Or maybe just the running without ever getting anywhere. He woke up in the same bed every morning. Went to the same job. Knew the same people.
Leaning forward, he picked up the remote and paused it.
“Everything okay?” Chase asked.
Tony elbowed him in the side and said, “Dude?”
“I just realized we don’t have popcorn. Do you want popcorn? I want popcorn.” He stood and shuffled into the kitchen.
“Sure, I could eat some popcorn.” Chase followed behind. “Plain?”
“Um.” He pulled the box off the shelf. “Movie theater. So extra buttery, I guess. That good?”
“Yeah.” Chase smiled.
Hunter opened a bag, shoved it in the microwave, entered the time, and started it.
“I was worried that you hated the movie already.”
“No! I mean, it’s fine; it just started. I don’t like to judge things immediately.”
“Good. I know it’s a weird one, but sometimes I swear we only get the weird ones.”
“Ah, well,” Hunter said in his worst European accent, “you crazy Americans love that shit.”
Chase chuckled and leaned back on the counter as the smell of hot butter filled the air, joined by the pop-pop- popping of their snack. “It’s true. America sometimes feels like the redheaded stepchild of the world.”
“Well, least we’re not Canada.”
“Hey, my grandparents were Canadian!”
“Oh, uh… I…”
Chase laughed. “I’m kidding. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.” He tilted his head to the side and flashed a grin. Cute.
Hunter diverted himself by pulling a bowl down and removing the hot popcorn. The comforting aroma rushed out when he opened the bag and poured the popcorn into the bowl.
Chase snuck around him to steal a piece, popping it into his mouth with a satisfied crunch. “First piece is always the best.”
“Right…” He was distracted by the smudge of oil on Chase’s lip and the pink tongue that darted out to clean it up. Averting his eyes to the bowl in his hands, he headed back toward the living room. “So, shall we?”
“Yep!” Chase followed him, plopping down in his previous spot on the now-empty couch.
Hunter hesitated, then sat beside him with just enough room to nestle the bowl between them. He hit play.
Chase glanced down the hall toward the bedrooms. “Should we wait for Tony?”
“No, I don’t think he likes foreign flicks. It’s fine.”
They settled into the movie, taking turns gobbling up popcorn as the scene unfolded again and again. Hunter couldn’t concentrate. Their hands kept bumping, knuckles grazing and skin brushing, each awkwardly pulling away. Was Chase doing it on purpose? Was it subtle flirting?
Hunter couldn’t tell. He knew he wasn’t doing it on purpose—not that he minded—but what if Chase was?
Eventually he just grabbed a large handful and ate from that, leaving Chase what was left. It didn’t matter. Things could just progress naturally. If Chase was interested, he’d say something.
He’d have to have seen how incompetent Hunter was. God, he was incompetent. Not that he necessarily wanted to date Chase. Friends first, that was a good idea. So that way they’d have something to base a relationship on. Not that he thought Chase was interested in a relationship. If he was gay—and Hunter was pretty sure he was—it didn’t mean he’d automatically be interested in Hunter.
Hunter was a dork, socially screwy, and God, they’d met when he’d been fucked in an alley, drugged, and was throwing up. Yeah, there was no way in hell Chase was interested in him. He wiped his hand on the leg of his jeans and stared pointedly at the screen. Friends was good. He needed more friends. Tony would argue he needed friends period, but that wasn’t true.
He winced at a loud noise in the movie and sank down into the couch, shifting away inch by inch until he was leaning against the opposite armrest. To distract himself from the man on the other end of the couch, he tried to focus on the movie. When that didn’t work, he pondered if his character Erik would like this kind of movie. He didn’t seem like the type. Too busy with work and school to waste time watching movies when he could be studying or hanging with friends.
Half closing his eyes, Hunter composed in his head.
Barnes & Noble
BL Dayhoff is working on coming out of her shell. She’s always had an interest in writing, but only recently has done it for more than just her own personal amusement. She loves to fill her time with too many things, and her initials really are "BL" but unfortunately do not stand for Boys Love. Although maybe her parents knew something about the future…