Word Count 63K *This is what the word count is for the book so far. This will be close to a 90K word story.
I have given a partial draft to a long-time CP (crit-partner) that is reading and giving me notes on how to improve the story.
This is always an exciting time for me. To have readers help me improve the story, share ideas, show me possibilities I never thought off. This is when the story actually becomes real for me.
When a character is illustrated it gives me that extra push on breathing life inside them. But getting feedback is the exciting time. I think of my stories alone, outline alone, and write alone.
A critical eye on these stages helps form the story after these things are done. But I get excited with the story is done and I have editing to do. Editing is where the story is truly made. I like collaboration after I've baked the ideas.
This story probably has another 27K more to go. Well see how fast I get those words out! As my CP says... I'm in the home stretch.
Below is an excerpt of (working title) HANDLE WITH CARE Happy reading!
I parked in front of The Muffin Cap, spotting Liam in one of the outside tables of the shop. He was sipping on a porcelain café cup and I got out to join him.
“Oh, good, you’re here.” Liam jumped up. “Here sit.” His hand swept over to the opposite chair. Strange how I bent to Liam’s whims. I was used to taking orders but from superiors with more experience, not teenagers not out of high school. Liam was the exception.
Soon as I sat he went back inside. The place was a hole in the wall, but clean. Black and white vinyl floors made the shop look larger than it was. Five round tables surrounded by wrought iron heart-shaped backed chairs gave a Paris feel to the place. People enjoying their baked goods occupied all the tables inside. A glass baker’s display case sat in the back. Liam’s work was a quaint neighborhood bakery and it was busy. Customers stood in line and walked out with to-go cups and brown paper bags. For a small coffee shop it was popular.
Liam returned with a porcelain café cup and a plate. He set both in front of me and smiled with proud confidence that reminded me of a child serving their first Mother’s Day breakfast. The coffee was welcome but the perfect powdered dollop gave me pause.
He sat and pushed a set of cutlery next to the plate as I tried to determine what type of pastry stared back at me.
Liam’s knee jittered. He was wired for sound. “It’s mochi,” he said.
“Ah.” Unusual. A house special perhaps?
Mochi was ice cream covered in sweet rice. This one was of the chocolate variety. Time consuming to make. Seconds to enjoy. Much like Thanksgiving dinner.
I took the knife and cut the ball into fours. The ice cream inside was frozen solid and the knife split the delicacy in clean quarters. A toothpick within the napkin rolled out and I used it to spear a piece of mochi. Liam seemed to be holding his breath. Even his fiddling ceased. The moment the cool chocolate treat touched my tongue the ice cream started melting. The sweet rice wrapping dissolved and the only thing left was the taste of chocolate.
Not one to jump to profanity but… holy heaven. This was a fucking orgasm in my mouth. My eyelashes might have fluttered. Might have. After spending hours being overheated this was a welcome delight.
“You like it?” Liam sat with the tension of a cornered cat.
“Mmmmm…” Speaking with my mouth full was rude. I gave one sharp nod. It was the best I could do. But I was not sure how to convey the gratitude for this refreshment.
“I made it.” Liam’s eyes searched mine. “I’ve tried several recipes. The rice cake was always so thick, I like it but I wanted a wrap to hold the ice cream and not get in the way of the taste.”
Our eyes locked in that special connection we shared. The heat between us melted the ice cream in my mouth to a sugar puddle. When I swallowed, I allowed my defenses to drop so Liam could witness my true reaction. Closing my eyes, I lifted my chin and let the last rays of sun warm my face. The warmth outside tempered the frozen inside. A sip of coffee washed the aftertaste, letting me relish in the last of the dessert.
“If you can make such a thing, why have you not been the one to cook?” I gave him what I hoped was a joking smile.
His blush was precious. Liam was every bit as desirable as a shy, naïve virgin. Irresistible. He lifted my mood. The last of this morning’s fury burned off like fog in sunlight. Liam was safe, wonderful company and sexy. Memories of the twelve-year-old boy were being overwritten by the man Liam became. But every so often, his boyish charm appeared. Like now, as he peeked over his lashes, preening at my praise.
“I can bake,” he said. “But cooking is something entirely different. Besides…” his eyes danced around to everything but me. “I like your cooking.”
“My cooking is average. You like me serving you.”
That got him to gape at me. “That’s—”
“It pleases me to serve you.”
He snapped to attention. Other people would have looked away from my gaze. Not Liam. He pinned me with his intense green eyes. His body froze as if the air would explode if he moved. His Adam’s apple bobbed. A question written on his face.
My gaze dropped to his lips, then lower. I snapped my eyes back up, but the damage had been done. He had the answer to his silent query. But I would not act on my attraction. Not for another five months.
Both the mochi and the coffee went down easy, it was time to go. “Ready?”
“Let me drop off the dishes.” He stood, took the cups and plate with the ingrained training of a Maitre d’ and scurried in the shop. My eyes roamed over his pert ass as he walked away. Mentally slapping myself, I looked away.
The first order of business was not what Liam expected. As we pulled into the Home Depot he glanced at me with curiosity.
I parked, got out and lead Liam straight to the locksmith area. I handed the guy behind the counter a set of keys while Liam looked around. Five minutes later he was back by my side.
“Pick out a key ring.” I pointed to the carousel of choices.
His eyes widened as he realized what I was doing. Soon as the copies and his choice of keyring was paid for, I handed Liam the set. His hand shook as he took the keys from me and twirled them on the metal holder. This meant a lot to him, or represented something significant.
“We will work on your own form of transportation.” Later. Taking him to school was my privilege. One I wasn’t eager to hand off. “For now, we should get you clothes.”
“I have clothes.” He clutched the keys and held them to his chest.
“You have rags.”
He snorted. “Sorry I don’t go around in Armani suits.”
“Azabu Tailor is not quite Armani.”
“Now you’re just throwing names around. I wouldn’t know a Azabu Tailor from the next guy.”
“It is the name of a shop. Not a person.”
“How about we settle for something more than three pairs of worn-out jeans, t-shirts with faded logos and shoes that actually fit your feet.”
“I can’t spend like crazy. I still owe you rent.”
I did not want his money. “No.”
“You do not owe me rent. I told you, stay as long as you like.”
He stopped in his tracks. “No. If I’m staying with you I have to pay rent.”
I stopped and turned. We were out of the way of cars, but still meandering in the parking lot. “It is not a requirement of your emancipation.”
“No, but I want to pay. I need to pay.”
“Then buy food.” I shrugged.
“Not good enough. I hate bartering.”
So difficult. But understandable. Kids like Liam who never had it easy, felt they were taking advantage of people’s good will and did not want charity. I would have to appease his sense of pride. “Ten dollars a week.”
He shook his head. “That’s too little. You think I don’t know what rent costs?”
I shrugged. “Twenty a week.”
“Oh come-on, at least three-hundred a month.”
“What do you make? Minimum wage? That will take a third of your paycheck.”
“A third I’d be proud to contribute.”
Liam would choke if he knew how much my flat cost. “One hundred a month, and food.”
He went to argue again. I held up my hand. “Take it. I will not accept more.”
“Fine.” He sulked, shoving his hands in his jeans pockets.
We started walking towards the car once more. “And I will be purchasing your clothes we get tonight.” He opened his mouth, but I waved a finger and said, “Ah, do not argue.”
“You don’t owe me.”
“No, I do not, but allow me this one concession.”
“You’re lucky I feel generous.”
“Oh thank you so much, Adonis, for allowing me to buy you gifts.” My lips may have curled into a sibilance of a smile. May have. “Are you hungry?”
He wanted fast and cheap but I was not tempted to rush my time with Liam. After a Mexican versus Japanese cuisine debate, we settled for a mid-grade Italian restaurant with good food for the price.
Candles lit a dark interior. Plush booth seating and white table cloths set the perfect intimate setting. Fresh bread promised quality ingredients. The tall seating muffled the conversations around us. The ambiance was right for a heart-to-heart talk. I hoped he would confide in me. If he did in fact blame me for his predicament, I would find out and compensate him. Though malice was absent from his banter and teasing, I wanted to be sure he did not harbor ill feelings. Any resentment on his part would wound me, but I had to know.
Ice tinkled in glasses as the waiter set down his soda and my iced tea. We ordered and I set my gaze on him. Liam matched my stare but sat back as if trying to make space between us.
“I want to know the truth.” I entwined my fingers together and leaned forward. “Why did you seek me out?”
His eyes widened, and he let out a small gasp. “I told you, to thank you. That was it.”
“You seemed adamant to stay at my place. Why?”
He looked away. “I’m not ready.”
“Ready for what?”
Liam turned back. “To tell you why.”
On one hand he was a predictable teenager. On the other, Liam was a mystery. “I will accept any revenge you dish out.”
“That’s not why.” He reached out for my hands but stopped himself and laid his palms on the table. “I swear, I only want to be with you. That’s all.”
“It is all right.” I pushed my hands forward so our fingers touched. “You will tell me in time.”
His hands warmed my cool digits. “It’s just… I don’t want to burden you.”
Please burden me. “You are not a burden, Liam.” I sighed, trying to think of what to say. He would not confess until he was comfortable. “I know at the time it would seem I abandoned you. But you have been in my thoughts since that night.” That night didn’t have to be explained. It was the night I’d failed him.
“You were brave,” he blurted.
“It is what anyone would do.”
“Even someone who has hemophobia?”
I pulled back. No one knew that. It was a weakness and father never allowed me to be afraid. “How did you find this out?”
Liam sat back in his seat and crossed his arms. There was a long silence. I was not sure I would get an answer. “I take shop at school. My class partner is Aubrey Cooper. She introduced me today to her patron. Moriel Reis.”
My stomach dropped.
Overwhelming sadness crushed any hope of having a relationship with Liam.
“He told you,” my voice a growl. What were the odds of him meeting Mori? “Liam, I am right here. Ask me. Ask me. Do not ever go behind my back. If I want you to know something, I will tell you. If you ask, I will tell you.”
He looked like he would piss his pants. But his fear turned into anger. “Oh, that’s rich. Ask you? I would have, if you’d been there.”
“I was not in the right frame of mind. I could not take you in.” How could my world come crashing down because a kid knew my shame? Not just a kid. Liam.
“You didn’t have to adopt me or anything. I just wanted—” He covered his face with his hands. “I needed you. There was no one. I had no one. I fought and lived… for you.”
“I am not worth—”
“Shut up!” His fists pounded the table. Silverware clicked together. “You don’t get to say what you’re worth to me.”
I leaned back into the plush booth. “Even now that you know what I did? I still have value?”
“I may have saved you, but it does not excuse what I did to Mori.”
“No. It doesn’t. But I think he sees it a different way than you.”
I huffed. “No matter. You would not have wanted me with you knowing what I did.”
“What’s your version of the story?”
“What does it matter?” I washed a hand over my face.
Plates settled on the table. Our waiter asked if we needed anything else and retreated once he was given a negative. I couldn’t eat anymore. Liam dug in like no tomorrow.
He eyed me as he slurped down his spaghetti. “Eat.”
“I have no appetite.”
Liam gulped his food down. “You’re thinner than I am. Eat.”
“I am thinner because of genetics.”
He pushed his plate away and folded his arms.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I don’t like eating alone.”
He wanted answers. If it would make him understand why I did not visit him in the hospital, why I was a poor substitute for a father figure, why he was better off without me, then I would give him the gory details.
“How much did Mori tell you?”
“That you hurt each other. That you can’t be friends. That he still cares for you but it’s too painful for him. He didn’t give me details, but he said enough for even a moron like me to figure it out.”
“Do not degrade yourself.”
He waited me out.
Best to get this over with. “I was not interested in a relationship. Mori was different. He taught me English, I taught him Math. He was talented. I was disciplined. He thought to test my control. I do not blame him, but we tested each other’s will. An endurance game. It was stupid.”
“Meaning he teased you, stopping before you got off. How long did you have to wait?”
Thankfully Liam was a smart kid. A little too smart. “For release?”
He rolled his eyes. “Yeah. How long did you play your endurance game?”
Liam blinked. “Holy… over a year?”
“I was young. My parents did not know. I was unsure how they would react. I am not exclusively attracted to one sex or the other and did now want to cause them undue concern.” Or receive the beating from my father for not being discriminate of liking women only. I liked both guys and girls. It was a stigma even in the homosexual community to be a swinger. “He relented, giving me the chance to relieve myself. It did not go well.”
“You didn’t have any relief during that time?”
“Masturbation was a source of shame when I was young.” Then I let slip something I would never have admitted. “My father wanted all of my energy towards the ring. I was often too exhausted or too… worried to be caught off-guard.” Liam leaned in. His eyes ablaze with intelligence. He was listening—to everything I said and did not say. The urge for him to understand made me continue.
“I hurt Mori, badly. There was so much blood.” I shuddered.
“But when it came to me, you won over your hemophia.”
“If you hadn’t gotten over it I’d be dead.”
“If I had not been there, you would have not been subjected to that.”
Liam threw up his hands. “Would you blame yourself for me being beat and diddled with too?”
“Diddled with?” I narrowed my eyes.
He back-peddled. “It’s just an expression.”
“Liam…” Anger welled in my gut. Had he been touched?
He winced. “You know my dad died in prison, right.”
“Yes.” So he did know.
“You also know child molesters don’t last in general population.”
“He was not charged for it.” My voice a growl, I leaned forward.
“Didn’t need to be. People can sniff them out.”
“Convicts knew, but none of us at the agency knew?” This new aspect of my failings made my despair plummet to absolute hopelessness. I was drowning in my incompetence.
“Stop blaming yourself.” Liam sat up. “It’s done. I’m over it. That was one good thing the system did for me. I saw a shrink. She helped. A lot. Now eat.” He started in again on his meatballs.
“I hold on to memories to not forget.”
“Oh, I haven’t forgotten.” He smiled and sucked noodles through his very delectable mouth. “Can’t say I’ve forgiven either.” He paused. “That doesn’t mean you. I’m not one to blame the gun… or the knife in this case. You saved me.”
“Still feels like a failure,” I murmured.
“Eat.” He pushed my plate of chicken alfreado towards me.
I picked up my knife and fork and forced down what I could. For Liam. It seemed best to forget about any romantic relationship for when he turned eighteen. How could he want me after the disaster with Mori?