Rating: 4.25 stars
Luke Corbin is home studying when his lover and owner of the apartment comes home to tell Luke to pack and leave as he’s found someone new. And once more Luke finds himself homeless again, a circumstance that happens often as Luke trades his sexual favors for a place to live and food to eat while he is going to college. His lifestyle was necessitated by his father throwing him out of the house when faced with a gay son, and Luke’s drive to finish college no matter what it takes to accomplish his goal. It’s not like Luke has cared about any of the men who took him in, they were just a means to an end.
Then a former lover introduces Luke to his friend,Russell, a chemical engineer who just might be able to help Luke out. Russell is definitely not the type of man Luke would hook up with. For starters, he has a pudgy round face surrounded by a scraggy beard and too long mousy brown hair. Russell is wearing clothes that would have been castoffs in the 80’s and is about as socially inept as they come. But when Russell offers Luke a place to live, Luke is prepared to handle it in his normal way. But Russell refuses Luke’s seductive attempts. For Russell, sex is about more than casual hookups and all he wants to do is help Luke out.
As Luke slowly adjusts to just being a roommate instead of bed partner, he starts noticing all the things about Russell that make him special and unique in Luke’s experience. Russell is kind, smart, and funny. And all of a sudden Luke is looking at Russell very differently than any else before. What will happen when Luke throws out his pragmatic ways in hopes of catching the one man who doesn’t appear to want him?
I am a fan of JL Merrow’s books and this little story just adds to my admiration. Merrow packs a lot of emotion and plot into 60 pages. In Luke, you have a totally understandable young man. While you may not like his actions, when you learn the foundation for his behavior, his attitude towards his lovers as well as his outlook on the methods he chooses to get by become acceptable as well as understandable. To Luke, he is not whoring himself out but merely exchanging services to get what he wants. Luke is all too human, he has been hurt by his family and by his first lover and it shows.
Russell is a great unexpected character. This is not your typical cute nerd with glasses who becomes a gorgeous god when he takes them off, Clark Kent style. No Russell remains Russell, an out of shape, shy, nice guy who everyone overlooks or thinks of as totally forgettable. I don’t think there is a person out there who can’t come up with someone like a Russell in their own life or memories. Perhaps, like Luke at his first encounter with Russell, we wrote them off or ignored them. But Merrow shows us what happens when circumstances forces both parties to become acquainted with each other to the point of friendship first. Then the exterior qualities can somewhat fade in order for the person’s inner character to shine through.
In 60 pages, Merrow gives us a lovely little journey through low expectations into found friendship and the potential that lies ahead if only it can be seen and acknowledged. It really is a lovely romantic tale full of unexpected realism and some straight truths about people and our perceptions. Great job.
Cover by Angela Waters