Sometimes, death can feel like the only escape.
It's been a year since Alex stopped living. He exists. He breathes. He pretends to be like everyone else. But, he doesn't live. Burdened by memories, he dreams of the day when he can finally be free. Until that time comes, he keeps everybody at bay. It's been easy so far. But he never factored in, meeting a man like Austin.
Hard-working mechanic, Austin, has always gone for men as muscular as himself. So, it's a mystery why he's so bewitched by the slim, quiet man with the soulful brown eyes who works in the library. The magnetic attraction is one thing, but the protective instincts are harder to fathom. Austin's sure though, that if he can only earn Alex's trust then the two of them could be perfect together.
A tentative relationship begins. But Alex's secrets run deep. Far deeper than Austin could ever envisage. Time is ticking. Events are coming to a head, and love is never a magic cure. Oblivious to the extent of Alex's pain, can Austin discover the truth? Or is he destined to be left alone, only able to piece together the fragments of his boyfriend's history, once its already too late?
Trigger warning: Please be aware that this story deals with suicidal ideation. If this is a subject you find uncomfortable, then this book is not recommended.
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Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Love Can Heal / Redemption
Word Count: 82 000
Languages Available: English
I quickened my pace at the distinct sound of footsteps echoing behind me, my heart beginning to pound. It couldn’t be him. I knew it wasn’t possible. But there were other threats out there. Just because it wasn’t him, didn’t mean I was safe. I wanted the oblivion of death, but I wanted it on my own terms at a place and time of my own choosing, not dictated to me by someone else. Sanctuary, in the form of my apartment, lay around the corner, less than two hundred meters away. I just needed to get there.READ MORE
Rounding the corner, I resisted the urge to look back over my shoulder to see who was there. It would just waste time. I half ran down the path toward the door, my trembling fingers making difficult but hasty work of the lock on the communal door. Then it was open and I was inside the building, slamming the heavy door in my wake. I felt better, but I knew I wouldn't feel completely safe until I was locked away in my second-floor apartment. I took the stairs two at a time, desperate to be able to shut the whole world out for a few blessed hours. Inside my apartment, there was no one to judge. I didn't have to put on an act and pretend I was coping when I wasn't. There was just four walls and silence.
When I was halfway up the last flight of stairs with my apartment in sight, the door next to mine swung open; the man who'd appeared spotting me immediately and leaning nonchalantly against the wall as he watched my approach with a smirk on his face. My heart sank. For the first six months, I’d lived next door to a young couple and their baby. While the crying of the baby had driven me slightly crazy at times as well as reminding me of another crying baby that I never wanted to think about, the couple themselves had been nice. They were always friendly enough to say hello and apologize for their son’s noise, but happy to leave me alone the rest of the time which suited me down to the ground. The month the apartment had sat empty after they'd moved out had been even better. Then, Richard Simpkins had moved in. I knew his name because he’d insisted on telling me the first time we’d met, his eyes raking me from head to toe and making his interest very clear.
It had been six weeks since our paths had last crossed. I worked days; his job at a security firm meant he worked evenings. Therefore, he shouldn’t have been home at this time. Yet, there he was. Intending to ignore him, I kept my gaze fixed on the floor, studying the worn, dirty carpet under my feet as I climbed the rest of the stairs. If I was lucky, he wouldn't make any attempt to engage me in conversation. It was the last thing I needed after my scare outside. Just a few steps more and I'd be home free. A pair of shoes appeared in my eyeline as he stepped into my path, blocking my route. I forced myself to lift my head and look him straight in the eye. It wasn't easy to pretend I wasn’t intimidated when I was quaking inside. “Excuse me.”
He didn’t move. His smirk grew wider, morphing into something akin to a leer, matched by the lascivious look in his eye. “Alexander! Why the hurry? We haven't seen each other for ages. Let’s catch up.”
I'd never told him my name. He must have looked at my mail, delivering my name on the second occasion of meeting me like it gave him sort of inside information and made us best buddies.
I made a move to side-step past him, the corridor not wide enough for the move to work unless he cooperated. “I’m busy. So…”
He remained firmly planted in my way. “Surely, you’ve got five minutes? It’s been so long and I’ve got some good news for you.”
Resigning myself to having to play along for a few minutes, I folded my arms and stared resolutely back at him. If it weren’t for the fact that his every move and gesture gave me the creeps, I might have even thought he was good-looking. Maybe that was why he couldn’t get it through his head that I wasn’t remotely interested in him. Plenty of men probably responded enthusiastically to his brand of smarmy charm. I’d known another good-looking man once though; his attractive façade hiding a demon underneath. You couldn’t always trust what was on the surface. I’d discovered that the hard way and I was never going to make the same mistake again, especially not for someone who thought it was funny to constantly try and assert his dominance over me. “What news?”
He smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. “Someone left at my workplace. I’m back to working days so I’ll be around in the evenings again. We can see a lot more of each other.” He tapped on the plaster behind his head. “Just on the other side of the wall from you.” His gaze trailed slowly down my body and it took all the willpower I had not to shiver. “Just knock if you need anything.” He put extra emphasis on the word anything, making the sexual double meaning behind it quite clear.
Bile rose in my throat and I fought down the panic doing its best to bubble up inside. “That’s not going to happen.” I was impressed that my voice came out sounding so calm and controlled when inside I was a mass of churning emotions. He laughed, finally stepping aside to let me pass. “Well, the offer’s there, Alexander. Anytime.”
I hated the way he said my name. He dragged out the middle of it, like he was savoring the taste of it on his tongue. Getting my legs to work, I hurried past him. Knowing that he was still watching and determined to avoid giving him the satisfaction of knowing he’d rattled me, I forced my fingers to remain steady while I unlocked the door. After all, that’s what I was good at: pretending. I’d spent all day doing it. This was just another thing to add to the list. The last thing. Then, I’d be inside my apartment where nothing and no one except memories and nightmares could touch me.
The door opened and I hurried inside, fastening the chain and the two bolts I’d added since moving in before crumpling to the floor against the wall and hugging my knees to my chest. Breathing deeply, I tried to stave off the panic attack threatening to send my body into overdrive. You’re safe now. You’re inside. Nobody can get in. You’re safe. Nobody can get in. I repeated the mantra again and again until my pulse eventually started to slow and I knew that I'd escaped the possibility of a panic attack.
I hadn’t always been like this. There was a time when I would have brushed a man like Richard Simpkins aside like an unwanted fly and probably laughed about him afterward with my friends. But, those times were long gone and I was a mere shadow of the man I'd once been.COLLAPSE