Two men who meet in a psychiatric institution couldn’t possibly find happiness together—could they?
The world seemed to be telling disgraced former child star and singer Cameron Fox that he would never be happy again. A drunken car accident gets him sentenced to a work-release at Riverbend Behavioral Health Facility.
Reclusive, traumatized writer Jonah Radley has an entire graveyard of skeletons in his closet. Jonah regularly hospitalizes himself for psychotic episodes caused by a horrific childhood trauma, his biggest secret—one he refuses to speak about in therapy.
Jonah and Cameron form a bond inside the hospital, forged in mutual pain and hope for a better life. Once they leave the hospital, they must decide if they are brave enough to explore the intricacies of living with mental illness—and find a new normal together.
Molly: What are you guys up to now? What’s a typical day like?
Jonah: We wake up together. That never gets old.
Jonah: I’ve stopped working in the living room, turned the spare room into an office, so I write most of the morning. And I usually drive into town to have lunch with Cam whenever he’s free.
Cam: I’ve been going to school part time at UNC-A, working towards a music therapy degree. I get plenty of royalties from my old music, but I like to keep busy. I work as a nurse’s aide at Riverbend Hospital, and I’ve also been doing guitar and piano lessons in my spare time.
Jonah: Spare time… *rolls eyes*
Cam: Yeah, well…
Jonah: My afternoons are reserved for therapy, keeping it together, trying to stay in the here and now. I do teletherapy with Dr. Drury almost every day—skyping with my shrink, for the uninitiated—although I do have to go in once a week for an in-person session, and my ECT. The rest of my time, I spend with Cam, trying to break out of my cycle of agoraphobia. He knows when to push me and when to leave it alone. Somehow, it just works.
Molly: What’s next for you two?
Cameron: As much as I’ve tried to distance myself, I’m going to have to deal with my family drama. I’ve been trying to mend my relationship with my little brother after he outed me, but things with my dad are still strained. Milo is dealing with a rivalry with the man who replaced me as the lead singer of Foxfire, and all of my siblings are still trying to figure out where things stand with Dad after they fired him as manager. It’s a mess. If I were stronger, I could probably wash my hands of it all but… they’re my family.
Jonah: I have to live one day at a time. I look forward to a time when I don’t have to go to therapy every single day. It would be great if I could downgrade to just PTSD, but that’s still a long time and many hours of therapy from now. At least I know I don’t have to do it alone. *smiles at Cam*
Jonah was feeling particularly lucid that day. He hadn’t seen any dead relatives, nothing had burned, and he actually felt like he was inside his own body, for once. He knew it wouldn’t last. It was a constant feeling of dancing on the edge of the cliff, just waiting for the one misstep that would send him plummeting into the void again.
He sat in the rocking chair, the one that had become known as ‘Jonah’s chair,’ and watched Harry the groundskeeper shovel snow off the patio next to the picture window. The scoliotic old man bent to sprinkle handfuls of rock salt over the pavers before moving on farther into the courtyard.
As usual, Jonah lost himself in the warmth of the blanket of sunlight, so much so that he was startled when he sensed a presence behind him. It was just a change in the air, a shift of the molecules, and then a new scent—sharp and heady, a mixture of cedar smoke and Old Spice. Jonah had smelled it before, yesterday. He didn’t need to see to know that the sparkly new probie was standing behind him.
And just like that, just picturing the man in his mind with his weird, shaggy blond hair, dark blue eyes, and boyish features, Jonah remembered. He’d been much younger then, the boy on the TV that his mother had sat him in front of when she couldn’t deal with his damning silence anymore. That boy, his sweet face, and even sweeter voice, had saved Jonah more times than he could count, just kept him hanging on for one more day.
Staring unblinking out the window, Jonah breathed deep of that fragrance and addressed the spectral memory of Kyle Chase. “I know you,” he whispered.
The air stilled as the movement behind him ceased, as if the other man had turned to stone.
“I loved you once.”
Footsteps. Soft, padding, staccato beats of leather against linoleum, until Jonah was face to face with his boyhood crush. Well, more like face to chest, since Jonah was seated and Kyle was looming over him. He wasn’t Kyle, of course, not really. Though Jonah strained, digging through layers of memory, he couldn’t extract the boy—man’s real name.
“Excuse me?” Not-Kyle asked, bushy eyebrows raised toward his hairline.
Jonah tried for a rueful smile, and he could practically hear his skin cracking with the effort. “Sorry, probie. It’s well known around here that I don’t make any sense. What I meant was ‘I used to watch your show.’”
“Oh. I, uh… really?”
Jonah half coughed, half grunted, because it was as close as he ever got to a laugh. “That surprises you?”
“Yes—No! I just sometimes forget that the people who used to watch my show are all grown-up now. Most of the time, I still feel like a kid, so it kind of catches me off guard.” He ran a hand through that mop of messy hair—bleached blond like he was still playing a Cali surfer boy on TV—then squatted down so that he was on Jonah’s level.
“I think you’d be the first one to call me a grown-up. I’ve been called a lot of things, but never that. Besides, I’m not as old as I look.”
“Yeah? How old?”
“Yeah, I know. That’s what hard living and insanity will do to you,” Jonah explained without a hint of malice.
“Oh, no. I’m sorry, that came out wrong… You don’t look bad. It’s the opposite, really. You look… yeah, anyway, you’re right, you do just look older than twenty-three. Not in a bad way.”
“Easy there. It’s really okay. I’m pretty hard to insult. Most of the things you could think of to say about me would be true anyway.” Jonah wiped his sweaty palms on his sweatpants and reached on out to him. “Jonah Radley.”
“Cameron Fox.” Cameron took his hand, shook it, lingered just a second longer than was proper.
“I have to admit, I was wrangling for an introduction because I couldn’t remember your real name. I figure you probably wouldn’t want me calling you Kyle.”
Cameron’s laugh was soft, cozy, like a splash of honey in some warm Earl Grey. “No, I guess not. It’s nice to meet you, Jonah Radley. Radley, that’s an unusual name.”
“Indeed it is. Not as unusual as you’d think, but yes… I did have to deal with the well-read students in school calling me ‘Boo’ all the time. But this is rural Appalachia, so it wasn’t always a problem if you get my drift.”
Jonah could see it took Cameron a moment to get the reference, but when he did, he chuckled again. “So what made you decide to join the wonderful world of psychiatric care?” Jonah asked.
Something flashed in Cameron’s eyes, a cloud, a moment of indecision, before he answered. “I got arrested.”
“Ah, you’re one of Rohan’s boys.” Jonah kept his voice neutral, careful not to seem like he was judging, because people in glass houses and all that… “A probie in every sense of the word.”
Cameron lowered his head, studied the ugly, weathered linoleum. “Unfortunately.”
“Hey, we all have pasts. At least you have a future.”
That blond head snapped up, and Cameron gaped at him. “So do you, Jonah.”
Jonah shook his head sadly, then caught sight of a pair of dark, yawning eye sockets peering through the window. One of the dead girls, of course, just when he was starting to feel human again.
He didn’t make eye contact when he spoke to Cameron. “You should go now,” he whispered.
“Go!” Jonah shouted it, his voice tinged with desperation. He never cared before, but he didn’t want this man to see him disappear, to see him float. His eyes welled up, something that hadn’t ever happened at Riverbend before, and he felt ashamed. “Please.”
“Probie!” Rohan’s rich tenor rang out across the buzzing air, slicing the tension between them. Cameron tensed, and his feet seemed to obey Rohan before the rest of him caught up. He cast one more sad, sidelong look at Jonah before he was led away.
Once he was alone, Jonah began to shake. Shivering violently though he was burning up inside, Jonah felt tears sear flaming rivulets down his cheeks. He dug the heels of his hands into his eye sockets until they ached, and eventually the tears stopped. Then there was nothing left but smoke.
J.K. Hogan has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, beginning with writing cast lists and storylines for her toys growing up. When she finally decided to put pen to paper, magic happened. She is greatly inspired by all kinds of music and often creates a “soundtrack” for her stories as she writes them. J.K. is hoping to one day have a little something for everyone, so she’s branched out from m/f paranormal romance and added m/m contemporary romance. Who knows what’s next?
J.K. resides in North Carolina, where she was born and raised. A true southern girl at heart, she lives in the country with her husband and two sons, a cat, and two champion agility dogs. If she isn’t on the agility field, J.K. can often be found chasing waterfalls in the mountains with her husband, or down in front at a blues concert. In addition to writing, she enjoys training and competing in dog sports, spending time with her large southern family, camping, boating and, of course, reading! For more information, please visit www.jkhogan.com.
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