Generalized Update and Last Call for the Special Delivery Whatever-It-Is
Catch-all blog post here. Largely I admit this is because I haven’t blogged much lately, partly because there is legitimate business, but MOSTLY because I just finished the big-ass edit of Fever Pitch and want to crow a bit. It’s between truck draft (I could get hit by a truck and you could still have a book, but it would be full of roadkill in the grill) and ready-to-send-to-editor draft. If I keeled over today, so long as someone explained to Dan how to export from Scrivener, somebody could clear up the last bits of snot and you could have a book. I need to read through one more time, scan for my Words To Edit, export and it’s off to my editor, my husband, and my lighthouse beta. (I told her she’d been my lighthouse while I read, when I got in the weeds I’d say, “what would she like?” and kept on.) Probably will send a version to the person it’s dedicated to–and then it’s done until Sasha sends it back and says, “Well, now.” Of course I am now required to fill out the blurb form, cover art sheet, and tip form. A book’s work is never done.
Speaking of book work. I have very bumblingly started arranging promo for the Special Delivery series releases. If you’re a blogger who wants in on it and I haven’t emailed, this would be a fantastic time. (Link on my website.) If I haven’t emailed you it’s nothing personal, it’s because way too much is going on.
(Obligatory promo spam: Preorder Special Delivery, Double Blind, and Tough Love from your favorite retailer now.
Links available in the drop down menu for each book here.)
A reminder: if you’re NOT a blogger but want to play, you want to sign up to this newsletter, stat. Later today (or maybe tomorrow, depends on how organized I get and how fast) I will send out a newsletter to what I’m currently calling the “Special Delivery E-Street Team” but that is very much a placeholder. That will be task one, coming up with a better name. I have a private forum on my website, and we’re all going to hang out and chat over coffee/tea/Dirty Whiskey. The general premise is this:
- I have three books out and I need to promote them, and yet
- Two of these books are practically cult classics, because you all tweet/email me when you see blue semis/play poker, etc
- I have heard the moaning and gnashing of teeth for the third one
- I would rather have a party than write a thousand blog posts
- It’s fun to play with Randy
I already have a decent pile of you, more than I really need, but I don’t want to leave anybody out who wants to play. What will happen is if you sign up for that newsletter I’ll have your email, and I can add you to the forum, where you can tell me how you want to play. You’ll help me with posts and games and contests, both the thinking of and managing depending on your skill level/time/interest. You don’t have to have read the first two books to do this. All you have to be is someone who reads the above and says, “Hell, yes!” and you’re in. It’s that easy. Come with a buddy. Stay home and get popcorn to watch–your call. This is so low pressure I can’t be bothered to detail how casual it is. Though once we get going it will be rare I add anyone, so it’s now or next time. I promise that it will be fun and you will be cared for, but if you don’t play you will survive comfortably to live another day.
I have this nagging feeling I’m forgetting something, but I can’t remember so I guess that’ll just be another blog post if it ever drifts back out of the slog. To close, though, if you’d like I’ll give you a sneak peek of Fever Pitch. And the collage because it’s pretty.
Also when we get to the promo for this book (September it’s out) somebody remind me to give you the soundtrack. Because it’s pretty awesome.
STOP READING NOW if you don’t want a teaser. I’m serious, shut your eyes…or scroll on.
OKAY! It’s just us spoiler-whores now. Get on your comfy jams and get a blanky.
First you have to endure the collage because I love it to pieces.
Hottie upper left is Aaron. The handsome gentleman with FABULOUS EARS is Giles.
This is chapter two. It’s two scenes, but I warn you. I’m gonna cock-block you at the end of the second one. And yes. You have to wait until September to read the rest. Nope, you can’t preorder yet but trust me I’ll let you know as soon as you can.
Fever Pitch, by Heidi Cullinan
At the door Giles remained frozen in terror and indecision, but Aaron didn’t so much as look up. Hunched, dark hair over his eyes and arms crossed on his knees, Aaron stared at the floor and spoke in a tight, tired voice. “Go away.”
Giles wasn’t sure how to play this. While Aaron had never engaged in gay-baiting, Giles wasn’t sure he was ready to bet his front teeth Aaron wouldn’t turn him over to the wolves first chance he had.
The secondary complication was Giles had seriously crushed on Aaron from the second he showed up at A-H. Aaron was hot as fuck, all dark hair, blue eyes and fuzzy scruff on his jaw—and his quiet reserve left way too much space for Giles’s imagination. His infatuation combined with Aaron’s popularity meant Giles hadn’t ever figured how to be around him. Which right now was a real problem.
He decided to hedge. “If you can wait five minutes to kick me out, I’d appreciate it.”
Aaron’s head snapped up, and in the lowlights of the room his bright blue eyes shone like soft diamonds. “Oh. Sorry. I thought you were Colton.”
“God no. He’s dancing on a table in the living room.” Giles let himself relax somewhat. “Why would you tell Colton off? I thought you two were tight.”
To this Aaron’s response was a snort as he lifted a beer bottle to his lips. “Whatever.”
Giles was more confused by the second. “Why are you in here, anyway?”
Aaron toasted the air with his bottle and a black smile. “Because it’s my birthday.”
“Oh—happy birthday.” Giles frowned. “Okay, sorry, I don’t get it.”
“Me either.” Aaron tipped his head against the wall and shut his eyes a moment, allowing Giles an ogle of that gorgeous throat, the tiny tuft of hair at the nape of his T-shirt, the line of beard shadow and the beautiful bulge of an Adam’s apple. Those blue eyes opened, fixing in soft squints at Giles. “I know you. You were in my…calculus class?”
“And physics.” Giles waved. “Giles Mulder.”
Aaron gestured drunkenly back. “Aaron Seavers.”
“I know.” Jesus fuck, but Aaron was hot. So fucking quiet, hovering between aloof and shy. Giles wanted to put the guy on his knees and make him moan. Stop. Get out of this will all your teeth and bones in place. “So…you spend all your birthdays in the laundry room, or is this one extra special?”
“I’m having a better time in here than I am out there. Or anywhere. I’m having a particularly miserable life at the moment.” Wincing, Aaron took another drink. “Shit, that’s pathetic. You should probably go.”
“I think if I leave right now, I’ll go home in a body bag, or at least on a stretcher.”
Now it was Aaron’s face screwed up in confusion. “Why?”
“Eric Campf and his buddies are playing hunt the fag. Plenty of other people would be happy to join in if they heard about the party game.” Please don’t say you want to join them.
Aaron shut his eyes. “I hate this town. I should be glad I’m leaving it tomorrow.”
Aaron was leaving? Giles snuffed out the waft of disappointment. Like it matters, we’re all leaving in another month and a half. Also, just because hottie is talking to you instead of hitting you doesn’t mean you have a new bestie. “Where are you going tomorrow?”
“To hell.” Aaron drained the last of his beer. “Eden Prairie, with my dad. He’ll nag at me all summer, plus I have to avoid—” His whole face shuttered, and he didn’t say anything more.
Okay, touchy subject. New topic. “Where are you going to school in the fall?”
Swearing under his breath, Aaron tossed the beer bottle across the room. “I need another drink.”
“Unless you want fabric softener, I think you’re out of luck in here. Seriously, where are you going in the fall?”
“I don’t know.”
Giles stared at him a moment, not quite sure what to do with this. “Dude, it’s June. June twenty-first.”
“Yes, I know. Birthday, remember?” Aaron covered his face with his hands. “I don’t know where I’m going. I can’t decide. My dad’s going to rag my ass about whatever I choose, and they all look the same—I don’t know. It’s my goddamned eighteenth birthday, I never got dinner, and I don’t know where I’m going to college. I’m drinking in a laundry room at the most boring party in the world, my ride home is smashed and dancing on tables—and I’m out of alcohol.”
“Well, I can’t help you with the alcohol or college, but I could give you a ride to a drive-through on the way to your house.”
Giles expected to be laughed at, but Aaron took him seriously. “For real?” He seemed hopeful for a moment, then shuttered. “I don’t want you to bug out of the party because I’m being a loser.”
“Did you forget the part where I’m hiding out because beating me up is about to be the evening’s entertainment?”
“Oh. Right. Um…yeah, if you’re offering and don’t mind—a ride would be great, thanks. I don’t live too far, so it shouldn’t put you out.”
“But I’m taking you to dinner first, right?” Giles stepped closer and held out a hand. “Need help?”
“You don’t have to take me out.” Aaron sounded like he wished someone would.
“Hey, it’s your birthday. The least I can do is buy you a Frosty.”
Aaron frowned as he accepted Giles’s hand and rose gracelessly to his feet. “Wendy’s is in Anoka.”
“Whatever, it’s only fifteen minutes. Besides, I could use an order of fries.” When Aaron only grinned at him stupidly, as if Giles had offered to scale a mountain for him, Giles added, “I think you could use a more water and less beer.”
“Yeah.” Aaron listed on his feet. “No dinner, four beers in three hours. Dumb.”
“It’s your birthday. You’re allowed.”
Aaron laughed, leaning into Giles. “What, do I get a free pass on everything because it’s my birthday?”
Giles took a moment to soak the comment in, trying to decide if Aaron Seavers was hitting on him or not.
Aaron nodded to a shadow in the corner of the room. “Hey, is that a door?”
By God, it was. A side door with a clear, straight view of the street and if he squinted, Giles could see his car. “Aaron Seavers, I fucking love you.”
Giggling, Aaron nudged him. “Come on, we haven’t even had a first date yet.”
Giles’s jaw dropped, but before he could wrap his head around Aaron Seavers—Colton’s best friend—hitting on him, Aaron grabbed his hand and tugged him toward the exit.
“Let’s go. If you love me, you can buy me a Frosty and fries.”
What the hell was he supposed to say to that? In the end Giles said nothing, only let Aaron lead him out of the party into the night.
Aaron liked this Giles guy.
He was lanky and goofy-looking, with ears that stuck out and a faux-hawk he should give up on, and he had this sharp way of regarding everything as if he wasn’t sure if he should run from it or attack it. Giles’s voice was a little sharp, a little nasal, and a lot of lispy. But he was funny, and he had this way of taking charge Aaron enjoyed. Also, he was the only person tonight interested in doing something Aaron wanted to do.
Most importantly, when Giles looked at Aaron, he smiled. It was a nice smile.
Except he wasn’t smiling right now. Once they shut the door behind them, Giles dropped Aaron’s hand and used a subtle touch at his elbow to herd Aaron out of the party. “Come on.” Giles glanced both ways on the street, grabbed Aaron’s hand and pulled him along. “Coast is clear. My car is the red Honda.”
“Who are we running from?” Aaron glanced around, not seeing anyone.
“We’re running preemptively.” At the car, Giles nudged Aaron toward the passenger side. “Are you sober enough to open the door and get in?”
Aaron tried to flip him off, but the quick gesture made him stumble sideways, and he stopped. Grumbling, Giles helped Aaron into the car. Now Aaron felt like shit. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay.” Giles spoke tightly, still glancing around the street as if he expected an axe murderer. Once he came around and got in the car himself, immediately locking the doors, he relaxed somewhat. “Okay. Frosty time.”
Food. Aaron’s belly, full of alcohol, gurgled unhappily. “Thanks again. This is nice of you.”
“Not a problem.” Giles focused on navigating his way through the clutch of parked cars and onto Viking Boulevard. “You said you’re leaving tomorrow for your dad’s place. I take it your parents are divorced?”
“Yeah. Five years.”
Giles glanced at him with a frown. “But you’ve only been here since last fall. I mean—I guess I figured it had to be some kind of epic event to get you to move out of your high school during senior year.”
Aaron’s face clouded. “We lived in Eden Prairie at first after they split up, but then Mom realized he wouldn’t…” He pursed his lips, unwilling to admit out loud his mother had divorced his father only to immediately wish for him back. He drew a breath and redirected. “She wanted to move closer to her sister.”
“Couldn’t you have stayed with your dad?”
“He’s gone a lot, sometimes for months at a time. So, no.”
Aaron thought he could hear the judgment in Giles’s tone—why didn’t your mom stay nine more months until you graduated?—but he said nothing more. It was a kindness Aaron appreciated, because usually people wanted to know why, leaving Aaron to sputter helplessly.
Funny how Giles’s silence made Aaron want to talk.
“I go to Dad for the summer once I clear my birthday. Unless he’s out of town. That’s the custody arrangement.”
“How does it work when you’re eighteen? Can you tell him to fuck off and do what you want?” When Aaron shivered, Giles laughed. “Okay, clearly not. Sorry.” He shifted his hands on the wheel. “I still can’t get over the fact that you haven’t picked a college. Can you still get in anywhere this late?”
“I don’t know.” His head swam a little, panic breaking through the alcoholic haze. “Where are you going?”
Aaron frowned, mentally indexing his pile of brochures. “The name rings a slight bell.”
“Small liberal arts college east of St. Paul, by Battle Creek Lake. Lutheran background, which of course half of them are in Minnesota.” He smiled as he turned onto the highway. “I’m excited to go. We’ve visited twice, and it feels right, you know?”
No, Aaron didn’t. “How does it feel right?”
Giles considered a moment. “It just does. I’d already fallen in love with it on paper. It has a great orchestra program—whole music department is top notch.”
Aaron missed music. “Is that what you’re going to major in? What do you play?”
“I play violin, but no, I’m not majoring in music. Are you kidding? I want a job, thanks.” Giles settled into his seat. “I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. I’d always told myself I was going to be an LGBT activist for marriage equality, but the state came to its senses before I could get out of A-Hell, and now with DOMA staked too, I’m kind of over it. So I’m still thinking.”
“A-Hell?” LGBT activist. Aaron’s belly stopped gurgling and started…something.
Giles was gay. He kept mentioning it too, no big deal.
Giles glanced at Aaron with an arched eyebrow. “You’re going to tell me you loved Alvis-Henning now, right?”
“What? No.” Aaron pulled a face. “God no.”
Giles’s laugh tickled Aaron inside. “Good.”
A lull descended. Aaron thought Giles might be trying to say something but couldn’t quite find the words. Aaron tried not to stare at him, because this was reminding him a lot of the night with Tanner, when everything was so amazing…then so terrible.
Aaron sat up straighter. “Tell me more about this college. Saint Somebody.”
“Saint Timothy. I don’t know, it’s a college. Two thousand people, lots of trees and buildings, big lawn.”
“Tell me more about why it feels right. You like the music program, but you’re not going to major in it?”
“Well—” Giles frowned. “I guess I think they’re mostly interchangeable, these colleges, so I might as well pick the one that makes me feel comfortable and happy. I checked out the LGBT rating at Timothy right away, but unless you somewhere freakishly evangelical, having an LGBT support group is almost standard now. So I walked around campus a lot, trying to decide if I could imagine it was home. I could. They have a wide variety of majors, their sports teams are kind of whatever, not the main focus, and their dorms are decent. I can still play orchestra and maybe take a trip or two with them, and the school is an hour’s drive from my parents, less with good traffic. Decision made.”
Aaron’s mind boggled. “You make it sound so easy.”
“It’s not rocket science. It’s just college.” He nudged Aaron with his elbow. “So what are you looking for in a school?”
“Something my dad won’t call stupid.”
“Ah.” Giles’s tone was full of understanding. “Well, what’s he think is important?”
“I have to go somewhere with a strong reputation, where I can get a good job after. Except I don’t know what job I want.”
“Have you gone down the US News & World Report lists? Do you want to stay in the Midwest or get the hell out?”
“I want everything to stop. The pressure. All the stupid—” He thought of Colton and yet another disastrous evening. “I don’t want to join a frat and start high school part two. I want real friends. I want…”
Tanner flashed in his mind, and he put his hands on his stomach.
“You okay?” Giles slowed the car. “Do you need me to pull over?”
“I just need to eat,” Aaron lied.
“Food coming right up. I see the sign up ahead. What would you rather, a burger or chicken?”
“Burger. Big one. With bacon and cheese.” Aaron tried to fumble for his wallet, but Giles waved him away.
“I got this, birthday boy. Stand down.”
Warmth flooded the hollow place inside Aaron. “Thanks. You’re…really nice.”
Giles flashed him a smile that made everything inside Aaron hum, but when Aaron smiled back, Giles looked away.
He ordered Aaron a full meal: burger, fries, and Frosty and bottle of water for Aaron, getting himself a pop. “I got a Biggie fry, figuring we could split it. Sound okay?”
“Yeah.” Aaron took a bite of his burger and felt his soul realign. “Oh my God, thank you so much. You’re saving my life.”
“Pretty easy save, and at value meal prices.” Giles took a sip from his drink and grabbed a fry as he navigated onto the road. “Where to now? You want to head home or cruise around?”
“I don’t want to go home.” Aaron scowled at the streets of Anoka. “Not like there’s anywhere else to go, though.”
“Sure there is. I’d say we could get pizza, but we bought all this food. You’re a bit drunk to bowl, and there’s no way either of us can get in a bar, but a few of the parks are still open. Plus there’s always the lakes. We could midnight picnic.”
A midnight picnic sounded fun, especially with Giles. “Are you sure you don’t care? I don’t want to keep you.”
“What is it, exactly, you think you’re keeping me from?”
Aaron shrugged. “I don’t know. Stuff?”
“In Oak Grove?” Giles sighed as he headed north. “Honest to God, college has got to improve things. My friend Mina is going to Saint Timothy too. She says it’s going to be the same, and oh my fucking God, no.”
“I hadn’t thought that far ahead. College seems so scary.”
“Why? What’s to be scared of?”
“Everything.” Aaron felt the burger leak around his lips and fumbled for a napkin. “Tomorrow my dad’s coming, and I have to have a college and a reason for picking it. A reason he’ll accept. Otherwise he’ll choose, and I’m sure to hate it.”
“So pick one first. Grab one at random, see what they’re known for, find the thing that will make your dad happy and tell him that’s the reason you chose it. Rush out your app, and boom, you’re done.”
Could it actually be so simple? “Is this friend of yours from A-H, the one who’s going with you?”
“Yeah, we’re being lame and using the buddy system. So I guess I am scared enough to take my BFF security blanket with me. But mostly it worked out. She’s going to be pre-med, and they have a great program. Pre-med, pre-law, and music. That’s Timothy.”
“Has to be nice, though, having her along.”
Giles waggled his eyebrow. “You could go to Mankato with Colton.” He laughed when Aaron groaned. “Still blows my mind that you don’t like him. Why do you hang out so much if you can’t stand him?”
Aaron tried to swallow the truth with his fries, but he and alcohol didn’t make much for censorship. “He was the only one who showed interest in being my friend when I moved here. So I went with it.”
Giles looked at him as if he’d grown an extra head. “Shut up. No way.”
“No way what?”
“No way everyone else at A-H snubbed you.”
Was this a trick question? Aaron eyed Giles carefully. “Um, yeah. Nobody talked to me.”
“You hang out with the pack of popular kids. You’ve dated half the girls from their herd. Pull the other one, buddy.”
“What?” Aaron put down his Frosty, Giles’s angry tone making him uneasy. He wanted to argue he’d gone out with two girls, and both instances were such disasters he’d stopped dating full stop. This confession invited a question as to why they’d been so awful, so he only shook his head. “Whatever. It’s over. You’re right, college has to be better.”
Giles was pissed now for some reason. “What do you mean, whatever? You telling me you didn’t hang out with those guys or date those hookers, it was an optical illusion?”
Aaron’s stomach hollowed out. “Why are you so mad at me?”
Giles deflated. “I don’t know.” He let his hands slide to the sides of the wheel. “Let’s say in my experience guys who hang out with your people then seek out me are a particular class. I wouldn’t have pegged you for that.”
“They’re not my people. I hung out with them because I was lonely. I went out with the girls because they asked me.” The last comment made Giles glance sideways at him, and Aaron had about had it with these weird looks. “What?”
Giles said nothing for several minutes. Aaron ate, but the food which had tasted so good was now ash in his mouth. He had the vague sense he’d fucked things up, but he couldn’t figure out how.
Well, at least everything was normal.
Eventually Giles spoke. “Mina says I’m too harsh and judgmental. I decide who people are before I get the truth.”
That statement felt important, but Aaron couldn’t figure it out. He ate his Frosty in silence.
Giles continued. “In my defense, every time I don’t do that, if I let my guard down, I get burned.”
Aaron still had no idea how this had anything to do with who he’d hung out with in high school. “Okay.”
Giles’s gaze was heavy with meaning, but Aaron still didn’t have a single clue about what was going on here.
Averting his gaze, Aaron stared at the road as he groped for a reply. “I try not to be in a situation where I have to guard at all. I hunker down.”
Giles’s expression was softer now. “So you’re a full-on shy boy. Huh. Would never have figured. You always seem like you’re bored with everything, or pissed at it.”
He did? Aaron frowned at his food. “I don’t mean to be that way.”
“I’m starting to figure this out.”
The Honda slowed, and Giles turned onto an access road. Aaron held onto the door with one hand and tried to stabilize his food with the other as the car took on some serious ruts. “Where are we going?”
“Side way into Hickey Lake.”
Aaron grinned. “Seriously? I always wanted to check it place out.”
“Well now you can. This isn’t the main recreation area, but it’s got a nice view. Also no one will come down this road.”
Aaron braced himself against another rut. “I’m not entirely convinced this is a road.”
Giles shot him a quick glance and a grin. “You seem to be doing better. Food helping?”
“Company more than anything.” He hadn’t meant to say that out loud. “Sorry. Drunk with me means I talk too much.”
“Alcoholic truth serum? Yeah. Probably why I don’t drink often. That and nowhere to drink. And no way to get it.”
“I think I drink for the wrong reasons. Usually it’s like tonight, when I want to shut the world off.”
“I can’t think of a time I didn’t want to shut the world off.” Except for right now. He shoved his mouth full of fries, really stuffed it so he couldn’t speak. When he’d swallowed and assured he had his sappy self muzzled, he let himself speak. “Colton tries to get me out every weekend, but I can only take so much of him.”
Giles laughed, a tinkling nasal cascade. Aaron loved the sound. He finished off his burger and digested Giles’s observation along with it. “So you must have thought I was a jerk like Colton.”
Giles hesitated before confessing, “Pretty much.”
A lake appeared before them, framed by trees and moonlight. Giles pulled over into a dirt patch that would have been muddy had it rained more. Killing the engine, Giles gestured at the water. “Behold. Hickey Lake.”
Aaron grinned, the tension which had sprouted between them falling away. “How the hell did it get named, anyway? Too many teenagers in the ’50s?”
“Would have been named in the 1850s. Probably somebody’s last name, but I suspect plenty of hickeys are given here. Who could resist?”
And the tension returned.
Giles cleared his throat. “So. You want to sit in here in the car, park our butts on a blanket, or keep driving?”
Oh, a hell of an invitation lurked inside Giles’s list of choices. This was the drunken dance with Tanner all over again. Without the alcohol Aaron probably would have gone into cardiac arrest trying to work out what to do. But he had alcohol—lots of nice, swimmy beer. The pretty, blue-black lake painted so invitingly before him.
The soft, spicy scent of Giles, his smile, his laugh which somehow aligned Aaron’s spiritual spine, allowed him to breathe easier, to calm down. In so many ways it was a choice more nightmarish than which college to go to—and yet at the same time it was the easiest decision of all.
“Blanket sounds good,” Aaron replied, voice breaking. Taking a deep breath, he told himself everything would be okay, then waited to see if he was right.