Dane Karlson survived a traumatic childhood by joining a boy band and making himself famous. Only the band has fallen apart and he’s taken a real tumble through a glass table, putting himself in the hospital. On the verge of losing a battle with an eating disorder and a body dysmorphic disorder, Dane calls the only person he believes he has left to trust, former bandmate Tommy Foster. Unsure how to help, Tommy enlists the help of his new friend Bas Axelrod.
Bas is eager to escape high school life and the constant cruelty of his classmates for being out and flamboyantly gay. His parents are suing him for the inheritance his dear departed gran left him, his younger brother takes sport in bullying him, and Bas can’t help but remember one horrible night that almost ended his life. But Bas finds strength in supporting his friends, and guiding others toward a more positive path. So when Tommy calls, Bas answers.
Together Bas and Dane build a relationship of understanding, self-acceptance, and hope. Will their new friendship hold up when a girl goes missing and the entire community is looking for someone to blame?
Note: Previously released under the title Unicorns and Rainbow Poop by Sam Kadence.
- 4 To Be Read lists
- 2 Read lists
Publisher: Independently Published
Heat Level: 3
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Ace, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 18-25
Tropes: Coming Out / Closeted, Friends to Lovers, Hurt / Comfort
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Same Universe / Various Characters
Dane stared at the blank walls of his cell. He’d had weeks to memorize the lines, count the ceiling tiles, and listen to footsteps in the hallway. It wasn’t a prison, they reminded him daily. He had checked himself in—he could check himself out, but they all knew he wasn’t ready for that.
This world was so different than anything he’d known. Peaceful. No phones, no Internet, no connection to the rest of the world. No fans screaming at him, and no paparazzi lurking around the corner to photograph his fall.
He glared at his bandaged lower arms. They were a mass of scars now, but he couldn’t bear to look at them. His tiny bathroom had no mirror, just a sink, a toilet, and a shower stall. He’d been in thousands of hotels much more luxurious. This was not the Hilton.READ MORE
Someone tapped on his door, and a moment later it opened. A nurse walked in, older, white hair, gentle smile. But Nurse Hansen had a grip of steel and nerves to match.
“Lunch time. You have to eat in the cafeteria with everyone else.” She stood beside the bed. “Do you need help up?”
Did he? He was still tired. Weak. Had been that way for months. No one but his therapist knew he hadn’t cut himself on purpose but had fallen through a glass table after working out for several hours.
And then there was the food thing.
“I’m not hungry.”
Her smile was tight. “Up you go.” She gripped his hand and pulled him to the edge of the bed. Reluctantly he got up and followed her from the room. The halls were long and brightly lit, decorated with canvased art and paintings on the wall. All positive images, but nothing tangible.
Dane entered the cafeteria and couldn’t help but recall his younger days in school. Back then it had been all about the noise, the groups of friends, and the who’s who of teen life. Of course he’d never been the popular kid, since he came from a poor family. All his clothes had been castoffs donated to whatever church his mother could mooch off.
Rehab was different. No one wanted you to look at them. No one cared who wore what, as they all had the same shapeless scrubs. The cafeteria was a silent place that felt more like a funeral parlor than a lunchroom. No one talked. They ate slowly, glaring at their food or into the distance with disgust. He knew the feeling.
The nurse grabbed him a tray, filled it with fresh fruits and vegetables, and handed it to him. Nothing processed. He wouldn’t touch anything not in its natural form. Apples, oranges, and bananas. Carrots, broccoli, cauliflower. No meat. He couldn’t stomach the stuff. Couldn’t even pretend to gag it down. He took the tray, grabbed a bottle of water, and sat down beside Sandy. She’d become his lunch buddy the second day after he’d arrived. They would sit together and push their food around. Sometimes talk. She never bothered him. And since there were no other males, she’d sort of become his friend.
Dane’s therapist told him that guys had a harder time admitting they needed help, though the problem was growing in their population. Dane wouldn’t have acknowledged the problem himself if his manager hadn’t convinced him he needed more help than a medical doctor could provide. Healing from the fall was only the first step. He hoped to never feel that dizzying sense of disconnection to life again.
He picked up a carrot and pushed it aside. No one but his manager knew he was there. She’d promised to tell no one. He was ashamed, but he’d admitted himself to try to fix the problem. Food, however, was a tougher enemy than he wanted to admit. And he, famous pop star—well, formerly famous, since Vocal Growth had ended almost two months ago—had an eating disorder.
“Nibble a little of a few of them and they won’t force you to eat the rest,” Sandy told him as she shoveled the food into her mouth. She was a pretty blonde and overly thin, as a large percentage of the girls there were. It was her fourth time at the center.
“I get out this afternoon. Just for a few hours to spend with my folks, but it will be so nice to not have them pushing food at me all the time. And not have to talk to some Poindexter about my feelings.”
Dane closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He thought about the things his therapist had said. Food was not the enemy. Food was fuel. It was necessary to survive. He needed to eat to get better, to not feel so tired. Everyone ate food. Some too little, some too much. The control lay in a balance between the two. He couldn’t get better if he couldn’t eat.
He opened his eyes and picked up the apple and bit into it. Concentrate on the taste, count the chews, then bite again. The fruit was sweet and tart on his tongue. There was nothing hot about it, nor unappealing. His mouth didn’t burn, and he didn’t gag. He slowly made his way through the apple.
Maybe he should tell Tommy or Ru where he was. God knew AJ wouldn’t care. Five years traveling the world together should have made them inseparable, but they all had different lives now. AJ and Ru were flying solo. Tommy was touring with Ru until the fall, when he’d start college classes majoring in theater. Ru had been the first to leave, pushed out by a record company who didn’t want an openly gay teen on their roster. But Ru had found not only fame, but love. Some boy-next-door type from Minnesota had stolen the pop star’s heart, forever changing the course of Vocal Growth. Then Tommy had left to support Ru’s new solo career. They had goals and lives outside of the music. Dane only had this. How could he think about the future when he didn’t have the energy to look beyond today?
The nurse was back with two orderlies and pills. Most of the patients hated the pills. Dane wanted them. Anything to dull his brain from the constant cycle of thinking. He peeled the banana and nibbled on it. So far his stomach wasn’t protesting, though he knew he’d eaten too much and he’d be hurting later. He hated the gurgling and shifting of food through his system. They even monitored his workouts. The gym was supervised, and he was allowed to walk on the treadmill every other day for thirty minutes. Walk, not run, and no unsupervised weight lifting. He got a half an hour of specific weight training once every two days. And only if he ate the calories they allotted him. He’d promised he’d eat more if they’d let him lift more often, but the therapists and nutritionists said he wasn’t ready for that.
He took his little paper cup of pills and swallowed them down with a few gulps of water. Showed the nurse he hadn’t hidden them. No napkins were allowed, and they’d have to sit in the cafeteria for another half an hour to ensure no one threw up their pills. Dane hated throwing up, couldn’t do it like Sandy could. The girl could spew on command. Sometimes he wondered if that would have been easier than his issues. Exercising ’til he passed out and avoiding food like it was a demon was not normal. And he only exercised when he felt out of control about something, like the way someone made him feel or when his head swam with memories.
He’d finished most of the fruit on his plate and a few bites of vegetables when the nurse came to take him back to his room. Sandy waved to him as her nurse led her toward the lower floors where she was going to meet up with her parents. What would he do with a few hours free of the watchful eyes? Probably work out until his body gave out again. Yeah, he wasn’t ready to leave.
“Ms. Cates is here,” the nurse told him. “Are you up to seeing her? You have an appointment with your therapist in two hours, but I can bring her by to visit until then.”
Dane nodded and stretched his six-foot frame. He was tired of feeling so lonely. Everyone else had family visit. Seeing his birth family would likely send him into convulsions. Seven years without hearing from them wasn’t long enough. He’d changed his last name and buried the records deep to keep them from finding him. Still, the nightmares of his life in that hole plagued his sleep. And he felt like if Ru and Tommy knew they’d be disappointed in him, see him for the failure he was. He blinked back tears. God, how the mighty had fallen. No more parties, fast cars, and endless parades of faces begging for a piece of him. The media would have a field day if they knew. Another sad pop star ruined by fame and fortune.
He sat on his bed and scratched at the neck of his itchy scrubs. The fabric was heavyweight and hard to tear. The sheets were the same. Not to be uncomfortable, but because he was still on suicide watch. No one seemed to believe he hadn’t cut himself on purpose.
A knock on the door announced his manager, Joely Cates. He smiled at her. He’d always thought of her as sort of a big sister. She had taken good care of him, hadn’t hesitated when he told her he needed help and wanted to get it discreetly.
“Hey, sunshine,” she said. “How you feeling?”
“Tired, but okay. How are things?”
She sat on the bed beside him and brushed a long strand of blond hair out of his eyes. “Your nurse says you’re eating better.”
“I’m trying. Have to think about it a lot.” More than anything else he ever had to do in his life. “But it’s not as hard as it was outside...”
“I think that means you’re getting better. So keep working at it, okay?”
He nodded. He knew he couldn’t stay there forever. But at least there he didn’t feel like he always had to measure up to someone. No one was looking at him and judging him.
“We’ve changed up your stock portfolio quite a bit. Should be plenty of income coming in from that end of things. Still have royalties from the music, of course. But you have time. So don’t push yourself too hard. Listen to the doctors and just do what’s right for you.” She reached out and gripped his hand. “It makes me happy to know you’re working so hard on getting better.”
“How are Ru and Tommy? Is Ru still dating that boy from Minnesota?” The article with the picture of the two of them together looking so perfect and happy had been what sent him into that last workout frenzy. How could he be friends with Ru if he was less than perfect? And Ru’s new boyfriend was beyond perfect. Dane had never felt the world crashing so soundly around him than when reading that article and receiving news that Vocal Growth was over all in the same week.
“Yep. Ru and Adam are America’s new sweethearts. They are an amazing couple. They’ve done a handful of interviews, but the press has been warned to otherwise stay away from Adam. Which is working so far. Ru being quick with offering lawsuits has kept the paparazzi at bay. Tommy has been lying low, spending a lot of time in Minnesota with the boys. Ru’s tour was unconventional. He’d tour for a week straight, then be home a week, then tour another week. I heard by the end of the week touring he’d be a bear and need to get back with Adam. Then he’d be back to happy Ru again.”
“It’s good to hear they’re doing so well.” His friends. At least he hoped they were still friends. He hadn’t treated Ru that well, mostly because Ru’s issues had revived a lot of Dane’s own. He closed his eyes and sucked in a calming breath. Breathe through it, he told himself, concentrate on the now, not the past. He could mend bridges. Ru never needed to know how Dane had felt. It was unfair for both of them. Dane knew he had no right to those feelings. They were wrong, would have been even if Ru hadn’t found Adam.
Joely rubbed the back of his hand with her thumbs. “They ask about you. Any time I see or hear from them. They want to know how you are. They worry. They care.”
“I’m okay.” He paused, thinking about it. “I’m going to be okay.”
She nodded and gave him an encouraging smile.
Someone knocked on the door. This time it was his therapist, Dr. Zander. Had it been two hours already? The man’s face was grim. He nodded to Joely but focused on Dane.
“Dane, it’s a little early, but I think you and I should start our session now.”
“Has something happened?” Dane asked. The man had always been good at maintaining a positive face through even some of Dane’s most horrible moments, but his expression was grave.
He nodded. “There’s no easy way to tell you this. I have been told you and Sandy have become friends in the past few weeks. At first I thought it was a good thing because you were stepping outside your shell to reach out to others. It’s a sign of trust and healing. But...”
“What happened?” Joely asked. Her grip on Dane’s hand tightened.
“Sandy left with her parents. She apparently snuck off to the bathroom to throw up the lunch she’d eaten. Her purging set off a cardiac event, which is not uncommon in cases like hers.”
A cardiac event? Something with her heart?
“Is she okay?”
“She’s passed, Dane. I’m sorry. The paramedics tried to revive her, but she was unresponsive.”
Dane shut his eyes and tried to breathe. Oh God, he couldn’t breathe. He’d just had lunch with her. She’d just been there smiling at him. Telling him to eat. No, telling him to pretend to eat. His heart hammered in his chest. Dead? Dead from throwing up? Was that possible? Dane felt himself shaking. Isn’t that why he’d admitted himself? He feared the worst? Oh God, he didn’t want to be alone anymore.
Joely held him, and the doctor spoke comforting words, instructing him how to breathe again. When Dane could finally speak, he said to Joely, “Can you call Tommy for me? Tell him I’m here? I need someone. Not Ru. Ru’s got a good life, he’s in love. Just Tommy.” Tommy still had room for Dane in his life, right? Dane had never felt inappropriately about Tommy. The older singer was like a big brother to him. Ru—Ru had been an unattainable dream that Dane couldn’t get past his fear of perversion to reach for. His manager nodded like it all made as much sense to her as it did to him.COLLAPSE