Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Luke Schumaker designs computer games, working from his home. Every day he walks his dog in the woods nearby, never suspecting that someone who is completely smitten is watching.
The watcher is Alex Shaw, and he too works from home, designing logic and crossword puzzles. Alex’s options are limited: he’s too shy to approach Luke and his wheelchair won’t let him follow into the woods. His solution? Secret messages for Luke in the crosswords he writes for the local paper.
When Luke decodes them, romance begins, but then they face greater puzzles, like Alex’s interfering sister and what commitment to a man in a wheelchair really takes. And, most puzzling of all, how do you know if love is real?
First off, you have to suspend belief just a little with this in that Luke gets the first coded message straightaway and so is then tracking down how he got the paper and looking for new messages in the crosswords. You also have to believe that Alex is allowed to turn in Monday’s crossword puzzle on Saturday or Sunday and it still gets published on Monday. In a national newspaper. As a former newspaper nerd, the deadlines happen way before a day or two for stuff like that.
Alex really wants to meet Luke, who he sees through his window as Luke is taking his dog for a walk every morning. He makes the crossword messages but really has no idea if they are working until he received a letter from Luke, asking for a meet up, through the editor of the paper. Commence anxiety. “Now it was real. A real chance for joy. And a real chance for heartache.” Sometimes you have to take a chance.
When they first meet, Luke thinks, “With his thick dark hair and hunky physique he was, in completely objective terms, hot. Or adorable. Maybe h’orable. He was worthy of coining a new word.” Except when you say that, it is horrible. So Luke better stick with video games and not word smithing. But I loved that after they meet and Luke feels the connection between them, he takes some time to really think about what it would be like to have a relationship with someone in a wheelchair. Someone who is a little unsure of his own attractiveness. “Did Alex think his company was so forgettable that it wasn’t worth accommodating something as simple as a wheelchair? Well, he’d soon learn what it meant to hang out with a game designer. When it came to logistics? Luke was a fucking god.”
And I loved this description of Alex’s reaction: “Alex was so happy he couldn’t sit still. He put on some music and danced his chair in the open spot in his living room, jerking the wheels back and forth like a DJ scrubbing a record, doing tight spins, and banging his head to the music. He was so freaking happy he felt ready to burst out of his skin.” Right there, you really start pulling for things to be easy and smooth for these guys. “It had been too long since he’d pushed his chair so far and at such a clip, but he’d wanted to impress Luke. It was foolish, but he wanted to show Luke he was fit and strong.” And he is fit and strong.
Things are really going well, they become friends. Luke hears the story of Alex’s scumbag former boyfriend and I was a little sad that Alex would have had an affair with a married man with kids. He seems better than that. “I promised myself that I will never again be anyone’s pathetic little secret. The thing is, I knew better, even then. I knew it was wrong and bad and stupid. But at the time, I….”
Oh and let’s mention, the way Alex gets good at blowjobs? Epic!
Of course, things just can’t continue on a perfect path. In this case the obstacle comes in the form of a party with Alex’s Wheels and Meals friends, where, “It made Luke feel more conscious of the whole handicapped thing than he’d ever felt with Alex before. Everyone else seemed to think it was a big deal that he and Alex were together. Maybe he was the clueless one; maybe it was.” The final push was Alex’s sister, Amy, who puts doubts in Luke’s head that start to eat away at his confidence in the relationship. She does it with her brother’s heart in mind, but the result is the same. Luke questions it all now. When Alex says, I love you, Luke doesn’t say it back. “He loved Alex too. He did. But he thought about Amy’s warning and was afraid to say it, because she was right.” And so the downward shift begins. This, combined with a push at work, really puts a knife into the relationship. My heart was breaking for Alex. And Luke At one point I wanted to smack him, or maybe run him over with Alex’s chair. Oblivious to the point of nearly losing everything. Alex is something definitely worth keeping. How much courage did it take to do the puzzles in the first place? That man doesn’t give himself enough credit.
This is a lovely story that made me sorry when it was over. I admit to being VERY angry at Luke for his selfishness. Yes, I will call it selfishness because he acts as he does not out of concern for Alex or Alex’s feelings but because of how things affect him. But he does pull his head out of his butt with a little help, so he was forgiven. Overall, sweet and hopeful.
The cover art by Reese Dante is a little misleading – it shows two men and another in a wheelchair following someone. This is not a foursome, it is just showing them twice, which didn’t work for me.
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Kindle Edition, 2nd edition, 120 pages
Published September 6th 2019 (first published October 1st 2013)
Edition Language English
CharactersAlex Shaw, Luke Schumaker
settingState College, Pennsylvania (United States)
Pennsylvania (United States)