Size: 6.00 x 9.00 in
Survival requires sacrifice.
In climate-ravaged Texas Territory, kids don’t live long enough to become adults. Joe has beaten the odds — at the price of his body and soul. For years, the smart, resourceful nineteen-year-old has been the star runner at sex tourism hotspot Flights of Fantasy. But he dreams of leaving Texas — and everyone in it — far behind.
Then a blue-eyed, blond-haired teenager wanders into Joe’s world and challenges him at every turn.
Sheltered, lonely Devin didn’t know his whiteness made him rare. He ventured into the city to escape starvation, but he never imagined he’d have to depend on a guy like Joe.
As Joe trains and protects Devin, their tentative steps toward friendship leave Joe questioning his priorities. Hounded by a cruel employer and vengeful co-workers, concerned for Devin’s innocence, Joe struggles to maintain the carefully crafted illusion he’s built for himself.
When tragedy strikes and a young life hangs in the balance, Joe and Devin are forced to decide once and for all the kind of men they want to be.
- 1 To Be Read list
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 18-25
Word Count: 82000
Setting: Austin, TX
Languages Available: English
Joe hadn’t returned to the school in at least two years, and he hadn’t attended classes since he was eleven, eight years ago. He hadn’t planned to go by there today. He normally avoided any reminders of the life that had left him. But Devin’s admission that he’d never been to school and the two of them talking about reading had made Joe want to visit the place.
The main hallway was smaller than he remembered. Faded construction paper hung from the walls, though Joe couldn’t tell what had been drawn on it. Here and there, the false ceiling had fallen, and vandals had written crude slurs and descriptions of sexual acts. Joe had trouble imagining a bigger waste of time than defacing a school. Other people hadn’t found school the escape he had, though.READ MORE
Devin was quiet beside him. Joe knew his partner was spooked, worried that someone would attack them, but a school wouldn’t attract people. There was no food here, no guns, no tech that could be stolen and sold to the scavengers that came down from the north. The few valuables that had existed here had been taken long ago.
Midway down the hall, they came upon a tiny water fountain that had been installed when Joe was in fifth grade. “State of the art,” the principal said at an assembly. “Recycles water, uses no electricity. We’ll never run out of water.” She winked and smiled at the fifty or sixty little kids sitting on the cafeteria floor. “Tell no one.”
Joe told his father that night.
His father had shaken his head. “Mrs. Mendez is lying, mijo. The water fountain uses a superharvester solar cell. It’s tiny, so it’s hard for vandals to see and break or steal. The water may be recyclable, but that doesn’t mean it won’t run out. Still, she’s right to tell you not to tell anyone. Guard your resources.”
Joe put the memory away. He’d take it out some other time, imagine his father’s smile, his eyes.
Devin ran curious fingertips over the gray metal and jumped when he hit the button and water spurted from the spout.
Joe hid his grin behind his hand. “It’s a water fountain. The water should be okay to drink, if you’re thirsty.”
Devin pressed the button again but let go and tried to cup his hands to catch the water. When the water turned off and Devin came away empty-handed, Joe laughed a little.
“Hold the button in, then bend your head down and get a drink.”
Grumbling something under his breath, Devin held in the button and dropped his head. He took a few tentative sips, then gulped water in huge swallows until Joe batted his head away from the fountain.
“Remember what I’ve told you. If you drink too much, you’ll get sick.”
“Yes, bossy ass.”
“Complain all you want, but do what I say.” Joe kept talking, mainly to spare himself whatever annoying retort Devin would come up with. “We’re going to the library. You’ll like it.”
“I know what a library is,” Devin said. “My mom had one.”
That news piqued Joe’s curiosity. Devin might get defensive if Joe acted too interested, though. He tried to act casual. “She did?”
“Yeah. Well, I guess it belonged to my mom. I don’t remember her. Shelves of books lined an entire wall. Tanner said they were for girls.” Devin ran his fingers through his sweaty hair, ruffing it up into long blond spikes.
“Who’s Tanner?” They’d come to the library door, but Joe wanted to wait to go in until Devin answered him. He wanted to hear Devin’s story, to learn how he’d ended up white and alone in Austin.
Devin’s eyes flicked from Joe’s face to the door and back again. Joe had decided to back off, had opened his mouth to say Devin didn’t need to tell him, when Devin spoke.
“He was my brother.”
The soft admission hung between them, and Devin shrunk in on himself.
“He died a few weeks before I left the hills. I don’t want to talk about it.”
Words intended for comfort didn’t mean much, so instead Joe opened the door to the library and ushered Devin inside.
“Holy shit,” Devin said.
The smell of mildew permeated the air. Dust covered the books, but their colorful spines were visible underneath. Despite the decay, Joe knew he was giving Devin a treat.
The shelves, like the rest of the school, were small. They barely came to Joe’s chest. He’d broken in to the old University of Texas library once, before he came to Flights of Fantasy, so he knew how tall the shelves could be, how immense a real library’s holdings were. His little grade school library had been his favorite place in the world, though, and seeing it now filled him with as much excitement as it had when he was a child.
“Nice, isn’t it? Did your mom have this many books?”
Devin shook his head. His eyes darted everywhere, but he stayed rooted a foot inside the door. He was waiting, Joe realized, for permission to explore.
He brushed his hand down Devin’s back. “Go on. Look around. There are little kids’ books to the left, but there are chapter books and nonfiction books on the right. That’s probably where you want to go. We can take one or two home with us, if you see something you’d like to read.”
“Really?” Devin asked, but he was already stepping forward, his eyes roving the shelves.
Allowing himself a small smile, Joe followed, at least until he got to the nonfiction section. He stopped in front of the science books and scanned the shelves, searching for the book he knew he wanted. The warmth in his heart that had bloomed over Devin’s wonder at the library grew into a wild, galloping heat when he found the green and yellow book he’d read over and over as a child. He sat down on the floor and opened the book. The cover creaked, and some of the pages were stuck together, but Joe reveled in the words, in the promise they offered.
He lost track of how long he read, but he’d made it halfway through the book when Devin loomed over him, a book in each hand. Joe patted the floor next to him, and Devin sat, his legs crossed like a little boy.
“Found something?” Joe asked.
“Little House on the Prairie and On the Banks of Plum Creek. I read Little House in the Big Woods at home. Have you read them?” Devin’s eyes sparkled, and his knees bounced up and down.
“Laura Ingalls? Mrs. Garcia, my second-grade teacher, read one of them to us. I liked it. A lot different than the times we live in now.” Joe smiled and patted Devin’s knee, hoping to slow the bouncing.
“Will you tell me about school?” Devin leaned forward, and Joe got the impression he’d be tackled if he didn’t answer quickly.
“How about I tell you all about it tonight after lights out? We need to leave now, and I want more time to tell it to you right.”
“That’d be great,” Devin said. “What’d you find?”
“Biodomes.” Joe shook the book and stood. He held out his hand and helped Devin to his feet.
Devin’s nose scrunched. “What’s that?”
They left the library, walked down the hall, and exited the school before Joe answered.
“It’s a place where the world is the way it should be. It’s where I’ll find my father.”COLLAPSE