A Serpentine Series Book
Shy guy Jed Carter has always felt invisible next to his charismatic older brother, Kent. Kent’s master plan for Jed is simple: University of Virginia, fraternity, business, sports, and ladies’ man. None of it is Jed, except for playing on the rugby team, which he joins in defiance of soccer-loving Kent. Jed comes out in his sophomore year and starts seeing Pete, an attractive junior, who uses him for sex and videogames. Jed wants more—in life and in love—and starts making his own plans. First on the list: getting to know Charlie, the handsome guy working at the local videogame arcade.
Charlie Ambrose has always felt like an oddball, and not just for his tendency to stutter. Being gay sets him apart from his African-American community, and as a “townie,” he doesn’t fit in with the college crowd. Charlie’s inspiration is his cousin, Morocco, who’s transgender and doesn’t give a fig about fitting in. Art is Charlie’s passion, and when a local videogame designer discovers him, Charlie’s living a dream. The only thing he’s missing is love. But the last person Charlie expects to find it with is a cute, white U.Va. rugby player named Jed.
- 1 To Be Read list
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Heat Level: 3
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 18-25
Tropes: Class Differences, Coming of Age, Coming Out / Closeted, Cultural Differences, Death of Parent, Families/Raising Kids, Find Love and Come Out, First Time, Geek and Jock, Interracial Relationship, Pets Are 'Portant, Slow Burning Love, True Love
Word Count: 81,000
Setting: USA, Virginia, Charlottesville, University of Virginia
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Same Universe / Various Characters
Mom’s voice interrupted Jed’s perusal of himself in his tuxedo. He looked like a dorky penguin. Oh well. Senior proms were tradition. Besides, Myesha had talked him into it. She’d broken up with her no-good boyfriend and begged Jed to be her date.
“What?” he called back.
“Come on down. Your friends are here and we have pictures to take.”
“Okay, coming.” Jed grabbed the corsage box from his dresser and gave his dog, Earnest, a parting rub between the ears. “Be good, boy.”
Earnest wagged his tail good-bye, his small body quivering with love. They’d rescued him from the pound when Jed was twelve, and his exact breed was listed as “unknown,” but Mom insisted it had to be “cutest little dog known to humankind.”READ MORE
Jed booked it down the stairs and into the living room, where Myesha, Mike—his friend and fellow mathlete—and Mike’s girlfriend, Rose, waited in their prom finery. The girls, scarily glammed up in strapless gowns and fancy hairdos, smiled at him brightly, as did Mom from her post on the piano bench, camera in hand. Mike, on the other hand…. Jed snorted. Mike looked as dorky as Jed did in a tux, and about as enthusiastic.
“Hi,” Jed said, trying to ignore his mother’s exclamations about him in a tuxedo. “Here.” He handed the corsage box to Myesha. “Hope it’s the right thing.”
To her credit, Myesha didn’t squeal as she peered in the box. She wasn’t that kind of girl. “Cool. I like these wrist ones better.” She pulled out the corsage and started to slide it over her hand.
“Jed, help her with it, and I’ll get a picture,” Mom trilled, lifting her camera.
Jed was about to protest, but Myesha beat him to it. “That’s okay, Mrs. Carter. I’m cool.”
After attaching the corsage herself, the spray of red sweetheart roses matching her dress and contrasting nicely with her brown skin, Myesha said, “You can take a picture now, though.” She struck a pose, holding out her wrist, and Jed suppressed a laugh. Myesha loved the spotlight as much as Jed hated it.
“Beautiful!” Mom took a few pictures. “Come on, everyone, line up. You all look great.”
Mom arranged them in various poses while the girls chattered and Mike and Jed fidgeted.
“What’s this? Aw, my baby bro’s going to the prom!” Kent stood in the archway to the living room, beer bottle in hand and a grin on his face.
Jed tried to act cool when Tucker appeared behind Kent, all tan skin and rumpled golden hair. Not to mention the tattoos on his buff biceps. It was unfair how hot he was. In the year and a half since Jed had first seen him, his crush had only worsened.
“Hey, Kent,” Mike said. “You guys outta U.Va. for the year already?”
“Hiya, Mikey. Yep, got out a couple days ago. I hear you’re gonna be down there next year along with my baby bro.”
Jed winced. “Can you stop it with the ‘baby bro’? Yeah, Mike and I are rooming together.”
“Awesome! There’s a lot to be said for the right roommate.” Kent nudged Tucker, who grinned. “So introduce us to these fine ladies. Where’ve you been hiding them?” Kent directed a charming smile at Myesha and Rose, swaying slightly, suggesting he was already a few sheets to the wind.
Jed noticed Myesha giving Kent the side-eye, although she did cast an appreciative glance in Tucker’s direction. “Um, this is Myesha and Rose.”
“Hey there. I’m Kent, the big bro, and this is Tucker. We’ll be around, in case you girls get tired of these two.”
Mom intervened before Kent could get too smarmy. “Stop it, Kent.” She frowned at the bottle he held. “Go easy on the alcohol, please.”
“Yeah, yeah. No problemo, Ma.”
“You’re not driving anywhere tonight, are you?”
Kent and Tucker exchanged glances. “Um, I guess not. Tuck-man and I’ll hang out here.”
“Okay. Now, out of the way, guys.” She made a shooing motion at Kent and Tucker. “I need to get some pictures of them outside by the hydrangeas.”
After enduring another session of posing and picture-taking, Jed ran in to retrieve the car keys. He was in the kitchen when Kent hailed him from the screen porch.
“Hey, Jedders, get your ass out here for a minute.”
“Okay, but we’re already running late.” Jed hurried out to the porch where Kent and Tucker lounged, beers and cigarettes in their hands. While Jed was glad Tucker was going to be around for part of the summer, it was also tortuous having to hide his lust. Like right now with Tucker sitting in his cut-offs… the hair on his legs was frigging golden.
“Who’s the babe?” Kent leered.
Jed rolled his eyes. “I told you. Myesha. We work together.”
Jed had been happy to get a job at the mall in a Verizon kiosk, and Myesha had trained him in her bossy-yet-friendly way. They’d discovered they attended the same high school. Jed wasn’t surprised he hadn’t met her before, as Centreville High was huge, like most of the high schools in Northern Virginia, and they weren’t in any of the same classes. They’d had lots of time to chat as they hung around waiting for customers; Jed had heard all about Marcus, the no-good boyfriend, and he’d confessed to Myesha that he was gay, swearing her to secrecy.
“Awww, love blooms amid the cell phones.” Kent burped, then took another swig of his beer.
Jed could see Tucker chuckling in his peripheral vision. “Shut up. Listen, I gotta go.”
“Hey, I wanted to be sure you had supplies,” Kent said.
Kent held out a handful of condoms, and Jed felt himself blush. He didn’t dare glance at Tucker. “You’re getting laid tonight, and that’s an order. That Myesha is a babe.”
“So you said. I….” Crap-a-doodle.
Kent jiggled his hand. “Come on, take ’em. It’s about time you got some.”
“Jeez, give the kid a break. Not everyone’s a sex maniac like you.” Those words in Tucker’s sexy southwest Virginia twang did nothing to lessen Jed’s embarrassment.
Jed took the condoms, mumbled a halfhearted thanks, and fled. Damn Kent.
Kent was your typical macho guy, aggressive and competitive, but also outgoing, charismatic, and a natural leader. He’d been a good older brother to Jed, teaching him everything he knew, from throwing a ball to riding a bike to smoking a joint, and was ready to punch out anyone who tried to mess with Jed over the years. It was nice but stifling to be under his wing. Teachers who’d had Kent in school would look at Jed like “Well? Why aren’t you like him?”, making Jed feel like a tongue-tied loser in comparison.
To add to their differences, Kent was also quite the ladies’ man. He was short—around five foot eight inches—but muscular, and his height had never held him back, judging from the number of girls who had flocked to him over the years. Kent expected Jed to imitate him in all things, and for the most part, Jed had followed willingly. But when it came to being a ladies’ man, there was one humongous problem with the “be like Kent” plan: Jed was gay, a fact Kent knew nothing about.
What was Jed supposed to do with a bunch of rubbers tonight? His tux didn’t even have pockets. He ran upstairs to his room and stashed them in a drawer.
“Mom, come on!” Charlie called from down the hall. “Granny Myrt’ll kill us for being late.”
“I know. Hold on.”
Charlie blew out an impatient breath and paced their living room, then stopped, feeling overheated in the June humidity. He tugged at his tie, muttering, “Stupid having to dress up for every damn thing.”
He heard the click of high heels, and then his mother came into the room, pulling a brush through her blonde hair. A cloud of perfume accompanied her. She set down the brush and looked in the living room mirror, fussing with the collar of her floral-patterned blouse. “I look like crap,” she announced in her flat, upstate New York accent.
“You look good.”
“Is this skirt too short?” She surveyed herself with a critical eye. “Too short for church?”
“Naw. It’s a graduation party, not a church service.”
Charlie still felt a pang that Mom refused to come to regular church with him and the rest of the family. Just because it was a black church and Mom was white. What was the big deal? Why’d she even marry Dad if she was going to be weird about it? And why’d she stay here in Charlottesville after Dad died, and raise Charlie in the boob of the Ambrose family? Charlie suppressed a grin, thinking of his cousin Morocco laughing her head off when they were younger at the phrase in the bosom of, and saying, “Charlie! Did you know we were raised in someone’s boob?”
Mom sighed, then smiled. “I can’t believe it! My baby’s graduating from high school!”
“Yeah, yeah. Come on, we gotta go.”
Mom let him drive their old Toyota, and he made sure to be careful at the intersections. Luckily his mother wasn’t an anxious passenger; Charlie was freaked enough at driving without having Mom’s nerves adding to it. Granny Myrt was a whole other story. Charlie had no plans to try to drive with her in the car. Morocco had already been down that road and nearly didn’t live to tell the tale.
Charlie smiled at the thought of Morocco telling the story of driving with their grandmother.
“Child,” she’d said, bugging out those made-up eyes and fanning one hand over her chest as she affected a deep Southern drawl. “I ain’t never driving a car with that woman again. I’m coming to a corner and she done shrieked—and I mean caterwauled—for me to stop. I thought we was about to hit a puppy.” Morocco had taken an exaggerated breath. “I hit those brakes so fast, we almost went through the windshield. That would’ve been the end of it, me messin’ up her precious windshield.”
As the car neared the church, Charlie could see the billboard that said “Mt. Calvary First African Baptist Church is proud of our graduates. ‘Their children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed’ Psalms 112:2.”
Charlie pulled around to the back lot next to the church hall, where receptions were held. The parking lot was filled with cars belonging to a large percentage of the black population of Charlottesville, their owners heading toward the doors, dressed to the nines for the graduation party. An array of balloons tethered to the railing floated in the slight breeze and a sign said “Congratulations Class of 2009.”
Mom grabbed the bag of Parker House rolls she’d gotten at the Food Lion where she worked as a checker—her contribution to the buffet dinner—and a gift bag for Morocco. “Okay, let’s go.”
Inside the hall, a multigenerational crowd milled around. Some of the kids wore their graduation caps, but Charlie had resisted, saying it was corny. He saw Morocco standing at one end next to a display table. She didn’t have her cap on either. She wore a blue-and-purple print dress and some bad-ass high heels. Her curly black hair was shoulder length.
It was hard at times to remember her as Ronald, the boy she’d been. Or no, not a boy. Morocco had schooled Charlie on thinking that way, like she schooled him on everything. “I was never a boy, Charlie. I was assigned male at birth, but I’ve always been a gal.” Her interim name when she was outwardly transitioning to Morocco was Rocco, and many still called her that.
Each graduating senior from the church congregation had a poster board filled with pictures and memories from their life that their families had made. Dad’s sister, Aunt Tawniece, stood next to Morocco, her arm around her, as they gazed at Morocco’s poster board, and Charlie and Mom joined them. “Hey, Charlie! What’s up, hon?” Aunt Tawniece hauled him in for a hug against her ample bosom. “So proud of both my graduates tonight. Can you believe these babies are graduating from high school, Alicia?”
“I know,” Mom said. “It doesn’t seem possible. Speaking of babies, where are Kiara and Aliyah?”
“Playing in the Sunday School room. Thank the Lord I have a few years yet till they grow up and leave me.”
Charlie nudged her playfully. “Well, yeah, seeing as they’re only four and six.”
“Stop,” Aunt Tawniece moaned. “They’re getting so old!”
Mom smiled at Morocco. “They’re going to miss their cousin Morocco being in the house, huh?”
“They better,” Morocco joked. “And I know you’ll miss your built-in babysitter, Auntie T.”
“Child, that’s the truth. Look at how pretty Ma made your boards, you two.”
Charlie studied Morocco’s board first and could see Granny Myrt’s fingerprints all over it. A picture of Virginia Commonwealth University held pride of place in the middle, even though Granny Myrt and the whole congregation had wanted Morocco to go to Hampton, the historically black university near Newport News. Morocco had taken one look at Hampton’s student clubs, noted no LGBT group, and nixed the idea.
VCU not only had LGBT clubs, they had activities specifically for transgender students. “Girl, you know I need to go to the big city, not the sticks” was how Morocco put it to Charlie. “And Granny and the rest can keep their money if they don’t want me to go.” Her refusal had caused somewhat of a ruckus among the church members, and everyone had wailed and prayed and carried on, but they knew as well as Charlie that Morocco was only ever going to do what Morocco was going to do. In the end, the church gave her the money they’d raised for her college education, and in a few months, Morocco was taking off for the “big city” of Richmond.
“Cool poster,” Charlie commented. “You must be going to college or somethin’.”
“You think?” Morocco laughed. “Yours is cool too.”
Charlie considered it. His display contained no picture of an institution of higher learning. Charlie was dyslexic, had struggled with reading throughout school, and the church community considered it a mercy and a function of many prayer circles that he’d made it through high school at all. He had no desire to continue that torture in college. Charlie’s love was art, and he excelled at it. He guessed Granny Myrt didn’t think art classes merited a place of prominence on his board, although there were pictures of the blue ribbon paintings he’d done for various high school art contests in the corner.
The middle of the poster board was awarded to Charlie’s dad and Granny Myrt’s first son, Sergeant Lamont Ambrose, standing stiff and unsmiling in his Marine cap and uniform. This picture was surrounded by photos of Dad holding a baby Charlie, carrying a toddler Charlie on his shoulders, and standing next to a young boy Charlie. Mom smiled beside them in every one, looking to Charlie like a blonde midget next to Dad. He’d never realized how big Dad was until looking at these old photos. Around age six, the pictures of Dad ended, because that was when he was killed during a military training exercise—“A tragic accident,” as all the papers reported.
Not wanting to think about that, Charlie turned back to Morocco’s display. There were Charlie and Rocco, then called Ronald, flanked by their big dads, brothers Lamont and Chester, Granny Myrt’s second son. Charlie snorted at the one of Ronald in his Little League uniform and a big scowl on his face. Ronald was awful at sports, but athletics was the one thing Chester had excelled in at school, and he was bound and determined his son be a jock too. That was a plan doomed to fail.
Morocco took after her mother, Honey Ambrose, a sexy, brainy gal from New Orleans who’d swept Chester right off his feet and then led him around by the short and curlies (Aunt Tawniece’s words) for a few years. Long enough to get pregnant, have baby Ronald, and then skip town one night with Tully Sherman (a “no-account pool shark with bedroom eyes,” according to Aunt Tawniece), never to be heard from again. Needless to say, there were no pictures of Honey Ambrose on Morocco’s board. Morocco said the one good thing she got from her mother, who was a mix of African-American, Chinese, and Caucasian, was the lustrous hair that Morocco could grow long without the aid of straighteners.
After hugging them again within an inch of their lives, Aunt Tawniece released them, and he and Morocco went over to the buffet table to scope out the goodies. A ham, platters of fried chicken, and big containers of macaroni and cheese sent delicious flavors wafting through the air, mingled with the more pungent smell of collard greens. Charlie and Morocco gravitated to the huge cake with chocolate icing and royal blue letters spelling out Congrats 2009 Grads.
Miss Birdie, an elderly member of the congregation, stood next to the table, wearing her usual fancy hat. She was quick to slap at Charlie’s and Morocco’s reaching hands. “None of that, you two. We’re saving the cake for later.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Charlie said while Morocco huffed.
“You’ll get cake soon enough.” Miss Birdie’s expression changed and she looked sadly at Morocco. “We sure are going to miss you in the choir, Rocco, when you go up to Richmond.”
Morocco had been the star of the church choir ever since she was small. She loved camping it up in the choir robes and idolized Mr. Antoine, the church choir director.
“Mr. Antoine’s sure going to be crying,” Charlie teased, making Morocco roll her eyes.
“You can keep him company for me.” Morocco lifted a suggestive eyebrow and Charlie frowned at her after casting a quick glance at Miss Birdie.
Mr. Antoine had grown up in the neighborhood, and it was widely understood that he was gay, although no one ever said that word out loud. Charlie had overheard people at church saying “You know, Mr. Antoine’s ‘funny,’” and that’s the closest they came to mentioning it. Mr. Antoine had a “friend”—a handsome man named Edward from the DC area—who came to visit him frequently, and that’s how everyone referred to him: “Oh, Mr. Antoine’s coming to Sunday dinner and bringing his friend.” Charlie wondered if that’s how his own future boyfriend would be referred to—“friend.” If he got a boyfriend, that is. It was something he found hard to imagine, given he’d only ever been with Trey.
Charlie also sometimes wondered why folks in the church and the neighborhood, their grandmother Myrtle T. Ambrose in particular, didn’t have a thing to say about Morocco’s transformation from outwardly male to female. It was the Southern way, he supposed. Nobody talked about the elephant in the room, at least not loud enough to overhear. Morocco was family, one of their own, and no one messed with her. Besides, if they did, they’d have Charlie to answer to.
Miss Birdie turned to Charlie. “Are you going to take Rocco’s place? We’re going to need another tenor.”
Morocco and Charlie snorted in unison. Charlie couldn’t carry a tune to save his life. He took after Mom in that regard, because the Ambroses were musical. Uncle Chester sang in the choir, and Aunt Tawniece and Granny Myrt loved to belt out the gospel songs from their seats in the congregation.
“No, ma’am. I’ll keep to ushering.”
As they walked away, Charlie scanned the room, trying to seem casual, but Morocco drove an elbow into his side. “Ouch!”
“Stop looking for your boyfriend,” she hissed, “and come outside with me.” She grabbed his arm and pulled him toward the exit.
“Y-you d-d-didn’t….” When he got upset or nervous, Charlie tended to stutter, which was another reason his peers tagged him as “the dumb kid” in school. He never spoke up in class or Sunday School if he could help it.
“Oh yes, I did,” Morocco retorted, not needing Charlie to finish his sentence to know what he meant.
He glared at her. Morocco made him so mad, saying “boyfriend” out loud. What if someone overheard? Charlie thought the family might have an even bigger problem with his being gay than with Morocco being transgender. Morocco was so blatantly who she was and didn’t get any push-back, maybe because the family and church members had no idea what to say to her. But Pastor Perkins and Granny Myrt had stated their views on homosexuality clearly and frequently—it was a sin and a deviancy—and Charlie didn’t think they’d have any problem saying that to his face.
It didn’t matter; although he suspected Mom knew, Charlie had no plans to come out to the rest of the Ambroses. All he had to do was picture the look on Granny Myrt’s face to know that shit wasn’t happening. Not in a million years.
Trey (or T-Bone, as he wanted to be called now) wasn’t even his boyfriend; he’d made that clear by ignoring Charlie in between the times he came around, flashing his lazy smile. Not that Charlie wanted him to be. They’d grown up together, started fooling around back in middle school, and never fell out of the habit. Charlie didn’t think T-Bone even considered himself gay, but he liked having his cock sucked as much as any guy, and Charlie had always been a willing partner (or easy mark, in Morocco’s opinion).
Ignoring Charlie’s scowl, Morocco said, “Let’s go outside. I have to see Mary.”
“Mary” was Morocco’s word for pot. Charlie glanced around the crowded church. “Now?”
“It won’t take long. Aunt Tawniece was all in my face at home, and I couldn’t do it then.”
Charlie sighed. He didn’t like how much Morocco toked up, but knew better than to argue. “Okay.”
But before they could make it out the door, Granny Myrt appeared and blocked the way, hands on her hips, as if she knew what they were up to. “You boys better not be sneakin’ out.”
“Us?” Morocco widened her eyes.
“Hmph. Don’t be giving me those innocent eyes, Ronald. You may look sweet, but you’d run straight to the devil and take your cousin with you, if you could. You two are staying put, y’hear?”
Granny Myrt was the only one Morocco let call her “Ronald” any more. “Yes, ma’am,” she said, the picture of obedience.
Charlie knew as soon as Granny Myrt walked off, he and Morocco would be out the door like a shot. He wasn’t the adventurous sort, but he didn’t have to be. Morocco generated all the adventure he’d ever need.
Diane on Hearts on Fire Reviews wrote:
This story was really good. The story focused more on Jed and Charlie growing and going through life on their journey to being their true selves. Charlie and Jed had some interactions along the way/ Nut they didn’t get involved until later in the story. Their relationship was beautiful and I loved watching it progress as they both went through some growing and interesting events. However the relationship wasn’t the main point of the story. Their individual growth and decisions, then their joint growing was. I loved getting to meet their friends and family as well since they were as much a part of the story as Jed and Charlie themselves. The line about the hats in the row of matriarch members of the church was so hysterical. The ending is so wonderful with the two of them being able to be out together with all of their family. I hope Morocco gets her own story at some point. Where we hopefully get to see her find love and maybe even the strength she gains from testifying against her attackers.
Jed Carter is the shy younger brother in his family and as such, has been following his charismatic older brothers master plan for him same college, same fraternity, business degree, sports and to make him into a ladies man. Aside from playing rugby, none of it is really Jed, especially since he is gay, he just has not come out to his family yet! Charlie Ambrose has always felt like a bit of an oddball his father was black, his mother is white, hes gay but not out, he stutters, loves art and for the college crowd, hes a townie. The two young men cross paths seemingly by chance, but there is some kind of connection there, but shyness and uncertainty may not be their biggest challenges.
The story is told from the alternating point of view of Jed and Charlie.
This is one book of a series set at the University of Virginia and while I dont believe you have to read them in a specific order, characters do appear in each others stories. Now that Ive read this one, I will definitely be reading the rest! I really enjoyed the characters main characters as well as the supporting characters. The experiences they encountered felt real and with Jed and Charlie, the words that came to mind were delightfully awkward! I mean that as a compliment, since there is so much they are discovering together that no one could show them what to do with their physical relationship and for how young they are, the vulnerability they choose to put out there, despite their fear. I loved that!
The story has a steady pace of setting up the characters and their lives, as well as the primary supporting characters. For Jed, that includes his brother Kent, Kents bestfriend and Jeds first crush, Tucker, his frat brother Bud and his coworker who becomes his bestfriend, Myesha. Characters that have their own stories also show up Aiden, who seems to lead the out and proud gay crowd of U.Va. and Pete, a cousin of his frat brother Bud, who gets set up with Jed, but they want different things. For Charlie, there is his cousin and bestfriend, Morocco, a transgender teen who is true to herself and wants Charlie to be the same. There is also his Mom, his Aunt Tawniece who are his next biggest cheerleaders after Morocco, and his other major influence is Granny Myrt, the matriarch of the Ambrose clan who pretty much decides the direction of behavior and judgement for the family.
If you like stories about first love, coming of age and young people coming into their own, I would highly recommend this story. There are some sex scenes, but as they are young, they are more about discovery and completely fit with the story. As I said, there are two other books, Serpentine Walls and Aidans Journey, that I will be checking out as well since I enjoyed this book so much!
Honorable Mention, 2015 Rainbow Awards
Winner, New Adult category, 2016 Swirl Awards
Winner, Contemporary Fiction, 2017 EPIC Awards