Hi guys! We have Laura Lascarso stopping by for a visit with the blog tour for her upcoming release The Bravest Thing, we have a short intro from Laura, a great excerpt and a brilliant giveaway, so check out the post and click that giveaway link! <3 ~Pixie~
The Bravest Thing
High school junior Berlin Webber is about to reap the fruits of his hard work and land a football scholarship—if he can keep his sexuality a secret from his best friend, Trent, and their homophobic coach. Then Hiroku Hayashi swerves into the high school parking lot on his tricked-out motorcycle like some sexy comic book villain, and Berlin knows he doesn’t stand a chance.
Hiroku is fleeing his sophisticated urban scene to recover from drug addiction and an abusive relationship when he arrives in Berlin’s small Texas ranch town. Initially sarcastic and aloof, Hiroku finds in Berlin a steady, supportive friend who soon becomes more. As Hiroku and Berlin’s romance blossoms, they take greater risks to be together. But when a horrific act of violence tears them apart, they both must look bigotry in the face. While Berlin has always turned to his faith for strength, Hiroku dives into increasingly dangerous ways of coping, pushing them in opposite directions just when they need each other most.
Two very different young men search for the bravery to be true to themselves, the courage to heal, and the strength to go on when things seem darkest. But is it enough to bring them back together?
I was working on THE BRAVEST THING right around the time of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. When Dreamspinner put out the word that they were making an anthology (ONE PULSE) to benefit the victims of the shooting and their families, I submitted a chapter from TBT that I thought showed the tender process of getting to know someone, both emotionally and physically. The chapter became a short story, entitled PULL, and it is the excerpt I’ve included here.
For a little background, Berlin, from small town rural Texas, is still struggling with his identity as a gay man, and Hiroku, a streetwise city boy, is recovering from his addiction to drugs and an abusive lover, when the two men meet. Despite their differences, the Berlin and Hiro have a very strong connection, and in this excerpt you get a sense of their individual needs and wants as they navigate the newness and uncertainty of their budding relationship.
If you like it, I encourage you to check out the opening chapter of THE BRAVEST THING at Dreamspinner Press.
I park my bike on the side of the road and pull out my phone to text Berlin that I’m here at his property’s fence line. Before I can hit Send, his truck rumbles up to the gate from the inside. Berlin hops out, opens the gate wide, and I roll my bike through. Right away he takes the handlebars from me and guides my bike to a cluster of trees.
It strikes me that Berlin is a true gentleman. My standards aren’t that high—I mean, I don’t expect a guy to hold the door open for me, but it would be nice if he made sure it didn’t close on my face. Seth always said he didn’t hold doors because we were equals, but I suspect it didn’t occur to him to be a gentleman unless there was something in it for him.
“Come on,” Berlin says with an easy smile and motions to his truck. His biceps are impressive. Shoulders and chest too; really his musculature in general. He’s wearing a T-shirt and blue jeans, work boots, and a ball cap. Muscles, golden hair, and sun-kissed skin. Raised on beef and farm work. Da-yum. If we as a species chose one man to preserve as an example of masculine beauty, Berlin would be a top contender.
I climb into his truck, feeling kind of nervous. I assumed, when he asked me to go shooting, we would go somewhere on his land. There really isn’t any other place in this town where we can be seen together without dire consequences for him. I have no idea, though, where he’s taking me. I’m at his mercy.
The weather is nice, not oppressively hot like it had been this summer. The breeze tickles my arms and the back of my neck. I glance over at Berlin, and he smiles shyly. I miss his long hair, though. The stupid football coach who told him he looked like a faggot is the same one who gave me a referral the first day of school and still eyeballs me whenever he sees me in the hallway. Trent’s dad. The homophobia doesn’t fall far from the tree.
We ride for a while on dirt roads and through fields. Their property stretches out as far as I can see. As we pass by some cows grazing next to a pond, Berlin tells me about their ranch, how many head of cattle they have. Theirs is a cow-calf operation, not a dairy, Berlin explains. They keep a standing herd and raise them for meat. Not veal, though, which is good. That shit is straight-up animal cruelty.
He rambles on—I think he’s nervous too—and I listen, forming a picture of his quiet country life in my mind.
“You have horses?” I ask when he mentions them. I’ve never ridden before, but I’ve always wanted to.
“Yeah. You ride?”
“It’s not hard,” he says. He looks embarrassed. “I could take you sometime.”
The way he says it makes it seem like this is going to be a long-term thing between us. That isn’t taking it one day at a time. “Yeah, sure. Whatever.”
He’s quiet after that. I don’t know if it’s him or me, but there’s a tension in the air. It was never this way with Seth, the getting-to-know you weirdness. If anything, I had to peel Seth off me like a leech.
“You have any alcohol on you, Berlin?” Maybe that would help this along.
“No.” He looks insulted. “It’s Sunday.”
“Right. I forgot.” He must go to church too. How does that work? Is it a progressive church where gays are welcomed with open arms, or one of those “all gays go to hell” type places? My parents call themselves Christians, but I suspect it’s more a way to fit in with the locals than a source of true belief. I can count on one hand how many times we’ve been to church in the past few years.
Berlin parks the truck, and we get out at a clearing in the woods. There are about a dozen lawn chairs in a circle around what looks like the ashes of a fire. There are also a few two-by-fours nailed together to form a shooting range, with bottles and cans balanced on the ledge. The grass is tall, and the seed stalks beckon in the light breeze like jilted lovers.
I turn around to see Berlin toting a shotgun. Wow. I thought shooting was an excuse to get me alone, but we’re really going to do this.
“You ever used one of these?” he asks.
“I’ve never shot any kind of gun before.”
“Not even a BB gun?” His face screws up like he feels sorry for me.
I shake my head, amused by his reaction. “We’re a live-and-let-live type of family.”
He leans to one side and eyes me from under the brim of his ball cap, blue eyes twinkling. “Let me guess. You’re one of those people who doesn’t believe in war either?”
There’s a flirtatiousness to his teasing, like he doesn’t really mind that we’re so different. “The word you’re searching for is pacifist, and while I’ve never taken the blood oath, I’d guess that yeah, I probably am.”
Berlin adjusts his hat as if to see me better. “Didn’t seem like a pacifist when Trent came at you in the locker room.” I detect a note of admiration.
“That was self-defense.”
“Why’d you let him hit you, then?”
I glance away, avoiding his eyes. I don’t think he’d understand. I’m not even sure I could explain it. “I didn’t see it coming,” I lie.
He raises his eyebrows but doesn’t comment, which makes me think maybe he understands a lot more than he lets on.
“So are you a black belt in karate, then?” Berlin asks.
“No. It’s jiu-jitsu, and I’m not a black belt. My dad wanted me to take a martial arts class after I told him I was gay. To be able to defend myself. I chose my school because they teach Brazilian jiu-jitsu instead of the traditional Japanese form, and I knew that would piss him off.”
“You do things just to piss him off?” Berlin asks with sincerity and I realize our relationships with our fathers must be very different.
“Sometimes. He’s kind of controlling, so….” I think about how I basically do the opposite of everything my dad tells me as a way to exert my own will, how rebellious I was in Austin. Seth offered me a way to really stick it to him with all the sneaking around and staying out late, partying and drugs. How shitty that must have been for my dad. I’ve thought about it before, but never quite like that. No wonder my dad is still so angry with me.
“I hate it when my dad’s mad at me,” Berlin says. “It’s, like, the worst feeling in the world.”
“It kind of is, isn’t it?” Makes me feel like a piece of shit, all in all.
Berlin lifts the gun and spends a few minutes giving me the basics. How to load it, how to hold it, where to position it against my body. For the last one he comes up behind me and circles his arms around my back like a winter coat, overlapping his arms with mine. I feel the heat of his body, and the muscles in his chest tighten against my shoulders. His arms are twice the thickness of mine. His hands are huge. I don’t know if this is standard protocol for gun range safety, but I’m definitely digging it.
He positions the butt of the gun against the fleshy part between my shoulder and chest. “Rest the back of it here,” he says as his breath tickles my neck. “I’ll hold it with you the first time, so you can get a feel for the kickback.”
I swallow as he shows me how to put my finger on the trigger and lean my cheek against the stock. This seems an intimate relationship to have with an inanimate object.
“Keep your eyes open,” he says. His breath is hot on my ear, his mouth just inches away. “And exhale before you pull the trigger.”
I stare down the sight and aim for a green soda can about ten yards away. I take a deep breath, still cocooned in Berlin’s arm.
“Ready?” he whispers.
“Yeah.” I’m a little breathless.
I squeeze the trigger and the gun kicks back into me, forcing me into Berlin’s chest. He doesn’t budge. It’s like his feet are rooted in the ground. A thrill races through me, and I’m not sure if it’s the gun or being so close to Berlin. I miss the mark completely, but I don’t really care.
“Well?” he asks when I finally step away from him.
I rub my shoulder and squint at him. “I think I’m going to need you to show me again.”
His face turns bright red all the way to the tips of his ears. It’s kind of adorable.
“Hiro,” he says like some old schoolmarm.
“What? Haven’t you ever flirted with a guy before?”
He shakes his head, smiling in spite of himself. “Actually, no.”
His innocence is endearing. “It gets easier.”
I take a few more shots on my own, no thanks to him. Berlin seems afraid to come near me, like I might use my wiles to try to seduce him. He’s so different from Seth, who I always had to push off me, carve out my own territory in order to have any existence of my own. With Seth I always knew what he wanted—everything, immediately. I can’t say for sure with Berlin. Is he looking for a friend, one who happens to be gay, like a queer Yoda? Or is he looking for a hookup? His words say one thing, but his eyes say another.
And me, what do I want?
After I finally hit a couple of cans, Berlin takes a few shots. His aim is deadly. I imagine him with a dead buck draped across his shoulders. In my vision he’s shirtless, of course. Blue jeans, boots, longish hair, broad chest, and ripped abs. The picture is both grotesque and arousing at once.
“Your turn.” He offers me the gun, startling me from my daydream. I take a few more shots. The sun shifts in the sky and it gets hotter. I’m wearing black, as usual, and jeans. Shorts aren’t my thing. I consider taking off my shirt, but I don’t want to make him uncomfortable.
“You want to go swimming?” he asks, perhaps noticing my discomfort. His arms are shiny with sweat too. “There’s a creek about a half-mile from here.” He jerks his thumb in that direction.
“Yeah.” I rest the gun so the barrel points to the ground as he instructed. “I don’t have a suit, though.”
“I don’t either.” Berlin gets real quiet then, like a scared rabbit, and looks kind of terrified as he takes the gun from me while keeping his distance. We walk back to his truck in silence. Is he worried I’m going to try something? Does he want me to? I have no clue. Talk about mixed messages.
We drive for a little ways, and then he turns down a narrow dirt path framed on either side with wispy trees swaying in the breeze like hula dancers. The creek is wide and meandering. Berlin checks the current with a stick. “It’s deep enough to swim.”
There are smooth, flat rocks on the banks for sunbathing. I squat at the edge a few yards away from him and test the temperature with my hand, using some of the water to wet my hair and the back of my neck. Berlin watches my every move like he’s afraid I might turn rabid and bite him.
It seems obvious I’m going to take off my clothes, but I’m not trying to make a production out of it.
“I’m going in,” I say. “Do you want to watch me or turn around?”
“Uh.” His face darkens and he starts waving his hands like he’s swimming. He turns abruptly like he’s been sent to the corner. I don’t think I’d do the same if our roles were reversed.
I take off my shoes and clothes and toss them in a pile, along with my wallet, keys, and phone. I wade into the creek and dive under. The water makes me shiver, but it’s cool and refreshing. Cleansing. Everything about this day has a bright, shiny newness to it. I’ve hardly even thought about getting high, or Seth. A bubble of hope rises in me. Maybe I can beat this whole addiction thing.
I glance over to where Berlin sits on a rock ledge, dangling his feet in the water, still wearing his boxers and ball cap. Maybe the water’s too cold for him. “Berlin?” I call. “You coming in?”
“Yeah, in a minute.”
I dive down to the bottom and surface again, let the current carry me for a while, then wade over to where he still sits. He hasn’t moved in ten minutes, and he looks like he’s all twisted up inside, gripping his belly like he has a stomachache.
“What’s up with you?” I ask.
He swallows, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat. “I don’t know. I just feel frozen.”
He looks like he’s in pain. I suspect his body and mind are sending him conflicting messages. It probably doesn’t help having a friend like Trent calling people faggots and pussies all the time. I want to make him feel better, but I don’t want to scare him.
“Is it okay if I come closer?”
He nods, tracking me with his eyes. His attention is focused and deliberate, a hunter. I stop when I’m an arm’s length away.
“Have you ever kissed a guy before?” I ask, trying to sound casual.
His face gets red again. I don’t want to embarrass him, but I think it’s too late. His hands are shaking as his eyes dart around, looking everywhere but at me.
“No.” He says it so quietly, like he’s ashamed. I rest one hand on his knee, and he stares at it.
“Do you want to kiss me?” I ask gently.
He scratches the back of his neck, and I admire the weight of his arms, remembering how they felt wrapped around me. His chest heaves and he nods, still avoiding me.
“You can look at me.”
His eyes lift slowly, taking me in, hungrily. The water’s about waist-high, and I wait patiently until he’s had his fill. I understand desire. I know what it looks, smells, and tastes like. I want to make it easier for him, so I reach for his hands and place them on my hips. His skin is warm. His hands are surprisingly gentle. I take off his ball cap and toss it on one of the rocks, rough up what little hair is left on his head. The water from my arms drips down his shoulders and traces small rivulets on his bronzed skin. A wrinkle appears in the middle of his forehead, and I smooth it down with my thumb.
His shoulders heave and his hands shift on my waist, gripping me tighter. My cock bobs up in the water, never one to be left out of fun times. I drape my arms around his neck and tilt my head a little. I’ve never been the initiator before, and I worry I’m doing it wrong. He looks at me as if to make sure this is okay, and I lean into him, going up on my toes.
His lips press against mine timidly, a question. I answer by gripping the back of his trembling neck. He comes in again, fiercer this time and with more confidence. His tongue slides along my lower lip, tasting me. My mouth opens wider and his tongue curls, twining with mine. We take turns taking the lead, exploring with our tongues and lips. The kiss blooms with fervor and Berlin groans from somewhere deep down. I feel it in my balls, a twitchy ache, as he draws me in closer so I’m straddled between his thick thighs.
His knees lock around my hips. Chest to chest. Skin on skin. His one hand grips the base of my back and the other tugs at my hair, drawing my mouth open so he can kiss me deeper. He smells like soil and cut grass, and his body feels solid as a boulder. My nerves are raw where our skin makes contact. A surge of desire rolls through me, blood rushes to my cock, and I’m painfully hard.
I lean back to check in on him. I’ve never been with anyone but Seth before, so in a way this is like my first kiss all over again, exciting and nerve-racking at the same time, not knowing what the other person is thinking or what they want. “How was that?” I ask him.
“It was nice.” Berlin’s smile is slow to form, like he’s waking from a pleasant dream. This gives me confidence. We kiss again, and it’s no less thrilling than before. He draws one hand down the center of my back, coming to rest gently on my tailbone. With the other hand he tugs my hair so my head falls at an angle. Berlin’s lips drift away from mine, and he kisses my neck and then my shoulder, making my toes curl in the sandy creek bottom and my fingers cinch into the meat of his back. I love how strong and muscular he is—powerful, yet gentle at the same time.
My cock slaps against his thigh, and I tug at it a few times to relieve some of the pressure. Berlin draws back and watches me, pupils dilated, mouth hanging open, a greedy look in his eyes. He wants me to do that for him, I think, so I let go of my own cock and reach inside his boxers. Rock solid. He flinches a little, maybe because my hand is still cold from the water, but he doesn’t pull away. I stroke him a few times, massaging the ridge of his head with my thumb. A shudder rolls through him and he straightens his back, letting out a low growl. The muscles in his chest tighten and the rusty hairs catch the sunlight. He’s magnificent. I kneel down in the water and mold my lips around his smooth cock, running my tongue along the underside of it and sweeping around his head.
“Hiro.” Berlin moans and grabs my hair again, tugging at it like a rein, urging me to take in more of him. I swallow him up until the tip of his cock touches the back of my throat. I want his first time with a guy to be memorable. I grip the base with my hand and slide my mouth up and down, applying just the right amount of pressure. He moans and squirms on the rocks as I work him over. His cock throbs in my mouth, approaching climax, as he fists my hair, squeezing tighter, turning me on. I take him in deep one last time and slide him out, using my hand to take him to the final throes. He comes like a garden hose. I catch some of it as it dribbles down my fist and mixes with the water on the rocks. His cock, like the rest of him, is a marvel, and the thought of him inside me makes me shudder all the way to my toes.
He drapes his arms over my shoulders and pants on my neck. I let go of him and start to back away, but he grabs my shoulders and pulls me into a bear hug, not like he’s trying to dominate me, just showing his affection. He reaches for my still-throbbing cock. Something inside me switches, and my body goes rigid. I pull away.
“That one was for you,” I tell him, dipping down into the water. I dive under before he can protest, swim a few yards away, and with my back turned, get myself off. Seth was the only one who’d done that for me. I don’t know if it’s some kind of twisted loyalty or if my subconscious is trying to protect me, but I can’t have Berlin go there just yet.
“Did I do something wrong?” Berlin asks when I return.
I make my face blank. I like him even more after what we just shared, but I don’t want to spoil his moment with my own drama. This is about him. I meant it when I said it. “You were perfect.” I lay my hand on the center of his chest as if staking my claim.
Berlin’s face breaks into a wide grin. He’s positively glowing.
“I have some news for you, Berlin.” I give him a long face.
“What is it?” He looks worried.
I deliver it like I’m a doctor giving him his prognosis. “I think you might be gay.”
He chuckles, then grabs my shoulder. “Come here.” He pulls me into another hug, kisses my neck and whispers, “Thank you.”
I sigh, melting into him. Something in my chest breaks open just a little bit, letting light into the darkened corners where I like to hide. I draw my hand down the center of his smooth, strong back. “Anytime.”
Laura Lascarso lives in North Florida with her darling husband, two children, and a menagerie of animals. Her debut novel, Counting Backwards (Simon & Schuster 2012) won the Florida Book Award gold medal for young adult literature. She aims to inspire more questions than answers in her fiction and believes in the power of stories to heal and transform a society.
For social critiques, writer puns, and Parks and Rec gifs, follow her on Twitter @lauralascarso
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