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The Family We Make

Finding Family book 2

by Kaje Harper

The Family We Make - Kaje Harper
Part of the Finding Family series:

At seventeen, Rick Albright left his home, his parents and even his old name, rather than pretend to be straight. But being on his own was hard. When his big brother Sam found him, and insisted on giving him a place to stay, he didn't resist too long. Living with Sam is better than fighting just to survive, but it's not easy to find his balance in a simple, small-town life, after his time on the streets.

Travis Brinkerhoff finally managed to come out in college, his second year anyway. It was the one bright side to losing his baseball scholarship and jock status. But without money for tuition, second year came to an abrupt end. He's back in his small Minnesota hometown, and back in the closet. Travis feels like he's trying to fit into a life he's outgrown. If he's going to survive, he has to figure out a way to be his own man, maybe even have his own man, without losing the family he loves.

When he left the Marines, Sam Albright wanted nothing more than to find his missing younger brother. Mission accomplished. Now he's got an independent, possibly traumatized, openly gay young man on his hands, a girlfriend in a war zone overseas, and parents he has to lie to in order to keep the peace. Keeping it all together won't be easy, but Sam has never backed away from a challenge.

145,000 words

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Rick stood at the window of the boring little bedroom, looking out at Sam working in the yard below. His brother was splitting wood, his breath coming in frosty puffs in the cold air. Snow was beginning to drift down again, dusting the shoulders of Sam’s shirt and icing the coat he’d tossed over the woodpile, but he seemed not to notice. His sledge hit the wedge on the head every time, with a clear, even, metallic ring audible through the glass.

A voice from the doorway said, “He’s kind of impressive, your brother.”

“I guess.” Rick turned reluctantly.


He’d met Devin, kind of, at the supremely awkward first lunch where he’d mainly been focused on not eating too much or too fast. He’d seen the way Devin and Jesse were together, and it made him jealous, and then ashamed of being jealous. They were older. They’d probably had their share of jerks and losers before hooking up. But there was so much connection just in the fucking way they passed the potatoes, with a private smile, that it kind of sucked to be on the outside of that.

“I’m glad Sam found you. He was really hurting, not knowing where you were or even if you were alive.”

Rick stared silently down at his socks. New, eye-catchingly bright, green and yellow socks. They actually clashed viciously, and he wouldn’t have bought them if he hadn’t seen Sam wince when he reached for them in Target. God, he felt like such a jerk, but he couldn’t help trying to shake Sam out of his Marine Corps cool. At least the socks were soft and warm. It was so long since he’d been really warm.

Devin waited for him to speak, then sighed. “I just wanted to say, these are good people— Jesse and his family. They have their hang-ups and flaws, don’t get me wrong. But when they say you’re welcome to stay, they mean it.”


There was a long enough pause that he wondered if Devin had silently walked away, but when he raised his eyes, he was still leaning in the doorway, a serious expression on his face.

“What?” Rick cleared his throat, but didn’t take back the harsh tone. If Devin had something to say, he should just go ahead and say it.

“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry your folks weren’t as willing to bend. Gayle didn’t like it when Jesse came out, but she didn’t yell at him or disown him or anything. Still, each year, it gets easier. Well, maybe with a little backsliding now and then.” Devin smiled wryly. “But give it time, okay? Things do get better.”

“That’s the official line, right? It gets better?” He’d seen that plastered all over, but you couldn’t prove it by him. As far as he could tell, it just sucked nonstop.

“Yeah. And it happens to be true. Tell me this isn’t better than where you were.”

He glanced away. “I guess. This is temporary, though.”

“And then Sam will help you find something permanently better. I’d think it could never hurt to have a Marine in your corner.”

“Unless they’re overseas kicking ass for Uncle Sam instead.” When you really need them.

“Ah. Yeah, I can see where that wasn’t good, but he’s back now.”

“Hey, it was okay. I did okay on my own.” He stared into Devin’s eyes. Blue eyes like Sam’s, like Jesse’s. Not his own mud-brown. He waited for Devin to laugh, or say something scornful, because it didn’t take a PhD to see what a load of bull that was.

Devin didn’t even crack a smile, though. “You survived it and you’re here now. That’s not a terrible definition of doing okay.”

Rick blinked, startled. It really wasn’t. If you went for setting the bar real low.

Devin said, “I knew a couple of guys who didn’t make it, and a couple who barely did. We hear stories about a lot more. I just wanted to say, you have resources, okay? Not just Sam. You have Jesse and me, and all the family.”

“Why would you care?” He almost said, “about some gay kid?” but with Devin, at least, it was stupid to go there.

“Because we like Sam, and you’re his brother. Because Gayle will do just about anything for Sam right now. And speaking for Jesse and me, well, you’re one of the tribe.”

“Friends of Dorothy?”

Devin snorted a laugh. “Where did you hear that? Or maybe I should ask, just how old you think I am?”

Rick couldn’t help a little snigger, because he’d actually heard it from the ancient guy who ran the corner store. “Oh, maybe fifty? Forty-eight?”

“Smart-ass. You’re family. In more than one way. Even though Jesse’s parents feed us at their table, and my boss is fine with the picture of the two of us on my desk, there’s probably not a gay man out there who hasn’t ever been hit with words, or with fists, for who he is. We’ve all been there, enough to care even if you were no more than some stray kid Sam dragged in off the street.”

Rick blinked, but kept a fake grin in place. They didn’t know, not really. He didn’t fit into their nice, clean, suburban gayness. “Is this where I say thank you and get all teary-eyed?”

Sam said from behind Devin, “Probably. If you’ve got any manners.”

Devin stepped aside to let Sam into the room. “It’s no big deal. I just told him we were around if he wanted to chat with a fellow Friend of Dorothy.”

Sam turned to stare at Devin, who winked at Rick and turned toward the stairs.

Sam shut the door and looked back at Rick. “Friend of who?”

Rick shook his head. “You wouldn’t get it. Are you through with the lumberjack imitation in the middle of a snowstorm?” Sam looked chilled, his shirt wet and clinging to his shoulders and his cheeks flushed while his nose was pale. “You didn’t frostbite yourself, did you?” Rick tossed Sam the sweatshirt that had been draped on a chair.

Sam caught the shirt, and began toweling his hair off with it. “Nah. I kept moving. Although it’s damned fucking cold out there. I’m not sure my heat-adapted carcass can handle it for long.”

Rick couldn’t help asking, “Were you planning on staying here long?" What about me? He wanted to just drift in limbo a while longer, like he’d let himself ever since he’d heard Sam’s voice on the phone, but he couldn’t manage not to care.

Sam gave his hair another rub and then began unbuttoning his shirt. “That’s partly up to you. Like I said, I don’t have a job yet. I have some skills, and some money saved, although not a lot. I’ve sent out a few letters, but I didn’t want to seriously job hunt until…” He stopped and pulled off the shirt, then the T-shirt underneath.

“What the fuck?” Rick touched the big rough scar across Sam’s chest before he even realized he’d reached out. Sam had kept his T-shirt on in the hotel last night, and he’d never imagined… “What happened? When?” It looked like an old wound, well healed, but deep and ugly.

“Piece of shrapnel.” Sam dug into his drawer and pulled out a new shirt. His voice was muffled through the cotton as he pulled it on. “A couple of years ago.”

“Before I left home? I never heard anything.”

Sam looked sheepish. “I didn’t tell the ‘rents. It was nothing, really. I was back on active duty before a letter would have made it home.”

Rick made a buzzer sound. “Wrong answer. Email is pretty much instant.”

Sam shrugged and dug out a heavy sweater. “I didn’t want to worry them. It was pretty minor. A lot of people died over there, you know.” A bleakness flashed through his eyes and was gone. “Anyway, my girlfriend thinks it’s sexy.”

His girlfriend probably had heart palpitations every time she saw it. But Rick played along. “That’s Dora, right. The Drill Sergeant? She probably thinks you look good in baggy camo too.” Although Sam would. He was tall and blond and ripped and would look good in anything, the bastard.

Sam grinned. “She’s a Staff Sergeant, and yeah, she does.”

“When is she coming home again?”

“Six months. God willing.” Sam rapped on the wooden dresser.

“So that’s when I’ll be out on my ear?”

“Are you gonna stick around at least that long?”

They stared at each other. Rick looked down first. “No promises.”

“So we play it one day at a time.”

“I guess.”

Sam sat heavily on the bed, making it squeak. “So. Do you want to tell me your goals?”

Rick didn’t really have any. He went back to the window. “You go first.”

“Okay. I like to split things up into short, medium and long goals.”

“You would.” Sam had always been the organized one, the planner.

“Short term. Make sure you’re somewhere safe. That’s done. Have a nice holiday and get to know Gayle and my half-sibs. That’s ongoing. Get you clean, fed, and checked out by a doctor.” Sam’s tone left that hanging.

“I’m okay.”

“You still should get a check-up.”

“Not now.” He shuddered.

“Okay. We’ll put that on the medium list. It will happen though.”

Rick could imagine Sam’s boss-man stare aimed at his shoulder-blades. But if he didn’t turn around, he didn’t have to meet it. He shrugged instead.

“The rest of the medium list is stuff like finding a job and a place to live and getting you back in school.”

“Don’t wanna.” Okay, that came out more whiny than he’d intended. He added, “I don’t think I’d fit back in high school.”

“Maybe, maybe not. We’ll see. Either way, you’ll get your diploma. And go to college in the long term if there’s a way to make that happen.”

Rick shrugged again. Once he’d been all over the idea of college, planning his escape from Texas to somewhere gay-friendly where he would make amazingly gorgeous movies and have a one-man show of his photos. Daydreams of a dumb kid who didn’t know better. Photography was a dead end, money-wise. Vic said so. Everyone stole pictures and posted them all over and you never got paid. He’d lost his camera the second week, anyway. The only thing he took with him, and that sumbitch had probably pawned it for a couple of bucks. “I don’t need college.”

“Like I said, long term goals. Don’t worry about that now.”

“So what am I doing here?”

“Eating. Sleeping and getting healthy. Buying really ugly clothes.”

“You have no fashion sense.”

“And I thank God daily.”

Rick went for an amused chuckle. “You sure we’re brothers?”

“Better be, boy. I don’t pay good money for green-striped socks for just anyone.”

Since Rick couldn’t defend that particular item with a clear conscience, he went for an end run. “You said this place has a washer? Can we wash my clothes now? I really want to wear something that has more class than Target.” And not talk about how to fit me back into a regular life.

Sam sighed, but said, “Sure. Stick your dirty things in one of the bags, and I’ll show you.”

Rick bent over his pack, pulling out his Cheap Monday jeans, his Diesel T, his Insight shirt— all the good stuff he’d managed to hang onto, through everything. They were crusted and grubby, but the dirt would come out with a bunch of soap and tumbling. Too bad you couldn’t say the same for him


About the Author

I get asked about my name a lot. It's not something exotic, though. “Kaje” is pronounced just like “cage” – it’s an old nickname.

I live in Minnesota, where the two seasons are Snow-removal and Road-repair, where the mosquito is the state bird, and where winter can be breathtakingly beautiful. Minnesota’s a kindly, quiet (if sometimes chilly) place and it’s home now.

I’ve been writing for far longer than I care to admit (*whispers – forty years*), mostly for my own entertainment. I mainly publish M/M romance (with added mystery, fantasy, historical, SciFi…) I also have a few Young Adult stories released under the pen name Kira Harp.

My husband finally convinced me that after all that time writing for fun, I really should submit something, somewhere. My first professionally published book, Life Lessons, came out from MLR Press in May 2011. I have a weakness for closeted cops with honest hearts, and teachers who speak their minds, and I had fun writing the four novels and three freebie short stories in the series. I’ve been delighted by the reception Mac and Tony have received.

I now have a good-sized backlist in ebooks and print, both free and professionally published. A complete list with links can be found on my Books page.
I also have  an author page on Goodreads where I do a lot of book reviews. You can find me to chat there– I hang out on Goodreads a lot because I moderate the  Goodreads YA LGBT Books group there. I also post free short YA stories on that group, more than 50 of them so far. Or find me on Facebook –