Heidi Cullinan is opening up her goodie bag for the release of her newest! We reviewed the title here!
Hi guys! Thanks for having me here today at Boy Meets Boy. I thought I’d give you a taste of something my Patrons get regularly, a letter from one of my characters. Last month their letters were from characters from Enjoy the Dance, and today I’m sharing one of them with you. Hope you enjoy it!
Hey, man. It’s Duon. How’s it going?
So, first things first. Wanted to thank you all for nagging Heidi enough about “what ever happened to Duon” enough that she felt she had to tell my story. Thanks for having my back there. Just don’t go getting ideas about me walking down an aisle or anything. Not yet. If Spense heard you he’d say, “Let’s focus on graduating first.”
But that’s getting ahead of stuff.
I can’t tell you much about me without giving away my story. So I’ll give away another story. The thing is, there are kids all around you right now who have my story who aren’t fictional at all. They as real as a heart attack, and they need you. So the next time your wallet is feeling a little thick, or the next time you have a really great family meal and you look around at your full table and all that family, take a minute and get on your computer and look up your local LGBT youth homeless shelter. Because there’s kids who need help, and even a little help means a lot. If you don’t know where to look up those places, go here, because Heidi’s got a list. It’ll get longer too, because people will keep giving her more names.
Okay, I’ll give you a little hint about my story, and it’s a little more about the next book too, which really will be my story, but you gotta be all kinds of patient for that, no lie, because Heidi is up to her head in things she gonna write and way out of time to write it in. Here’s a video hint of something that comes up about me in Enjoy the Dance.
You wanna figure out the rest, you gotta go read the story.
Catch you next novel, guys. And I’m serious about those donation sites. Five bucks, man. Like, skip Starbucks one time and some kid gets to sleep in a bed. How’s that for real talk.
October 11, 2012
One cool October day, after a dispiriting seven hours of teaching privileged kindergarten children, Spenser Harris returned to his apartment to discover a teenage boy—battered, bruised, and coiled into a ball—in front of his door.
Spenser had learned to expect any number of unexpected happenings in his neighborhood, but nothing like this. His apartment building was old, but not run-down. It wasn’t quaint enough to attract hipsters but not so low-rent it drew a bad element. People of all cultures lived there, and in the evenings a walk to the laundry room was a world tour of food smells. The family across from Spenser was Mexican by heritage, and the older couple who lived at the end of the hall was Ukrainian. A large percentage of the second and third floors were occupied by Somali immigrants, some who had been in Minnesota for a decade or longer, some who had arrived recently. The family who lived above him was in the latter category, and they argued loudly in a language Spenser didn’t understand. The neighborhood had its off-color aspects, yes, but nothing to worry about. A drunk had taken up the habit of sleeping in the vestibule last winter when he couldn’t make it all the way home, but he’d simply snored and sometimes vomited. Loud music from cars on the street was a common complaint. But it had never been unsafe, not for the residents or the people living around it.
It hadn’t brought him a young man clutching a half-full black garbage bag, bleeding and trembling in the dim, flickering light of the hall.
A boy. He’s only a boy.
He was Black, and so at first Spenser assumed he was from a family upstairs, but a closer inspection revealed Spenser hadn’t seen anyone like him in the building before. He was dressed like a thrift-store music video, whereas Spenser’s new-to-Minnesota Somali neighbors and their friends favored conservative clothes. Spenser couldn’t begin to guess who the boy was or why he was here. But when his eyes accustomed to the dim light and saw the extent of the bruises on the young man’s face and hands, the blood from his cuts dripping onto the floor, all thoughts of where he’d come from ceased.
Crouching, Spenser stayed several feet away, not wanting to frighten him. “Hey there. Can I help you?”
The boy startled despite Spenser’s gentle approach, and when he lifted his head, Spenser’s gut twisted as he got a full view of the damage to his face. One eye was completely swollen shut, and the other was a slit. His upper lip was split, rendering the boy’s words barely legible as he spoke. “Waiting for Tomás.”
Spenser was fairly sure Tomás was the younger man in the Jimenez family across the hall, the one Spenser’s age, not the older man with streaks of silver in his hair who always smiled and wished Spenser good morning with a heavy Spanish accent. “He usually doesn’t get home until after eight. Are his parents not in?”
The boy’s gaze flickered warily in the direction of the apartment. “Parents? He don’t live alone?”
Speaking the p made the boy’s lip bleed, and Spenser put down his satchel, fishing for a package of tissues. He pulled one out and passed it and the packet to the young man. “Yes. Tomás lives with his parents. I think his sister and her children live there too, at least some of the time.” He frowned as the boy bled faster than the tissues could sop it up. “I think you need to be seen by a doctor.”
The young man shrank into the door. “No hospital.”
Spenser didn’t push the issue. Yet. “Will you wait for Tomás inside my apartment with me, at least?”
The boy still seemed unsure, but he also looked exhausted. He surveyed Spenser critically with his good eye, clearly trying to get a read.
Still crouched, Spenser moved a step closer and held out his hand. “Spenser Harris. Pleased to meet you.”
“Duon Graves.” He accepted Spenser’s handshake with a weak, battered grip. “You let me in, I’ll bleed on your floor.”
“I don’t care about that.” Spenser rose, tugging gently on Duon. “Come on. Up you go.”
“Why you so chill about somebody bleeding out, blocking your door? Might be a gangbanger. Might steal all your stuff.”
Spenser’s lock was a bitch to open on a good day, and it was significantly more of a struggle with an armful of bleeding teen. “Honey, I’m a teacher. I don’t have any stuff to steal.”
Duon tried to laugh, but the effort made him cough and wince in pain.
The lock cried uncle, and Spenser pushed open the door, leaving the keys in place as he ushered Duon inside and settled him at a chair at the table. His injuries were more alarming in the light, and Spenser debated calling 911 then and there. Instead, he rolled up his sleeves and washed his hands briskly at the sink. “Can I get you something to drink?”
“I’m good.” Duon coughed again, glancing around the apartment. “You keep a nice place. Neat and tidy. Homey.”
The homey comment stroked something inside Spenser. He smiled as he pulled the first-aid kit from the top of the freezer, setting it aside as he filled a bowl with warm water and removed the paper towels from their holder beneath the cabinet, then carried the whole business to the table. “I do what I can.”
“You live by yourself? No roommate, no live-in girlfriend?” Duon narrowed his good eye at Spenser, then ventured, “Boyfriend?”
Spenser faltered as he removed a pair of gloves from the small box inside the kit. “I live alone. Do you have a latex allergy?”
Duon’s mouth thinned as he watched Spenser struggle with the gloves. “No. I don’t have AIDS either.”
“Gloves are standard first-aid universal precautions, and you have open wounds.” Spenser surveyed the battle-ridden landscape of the boy before him. He decided to begin with his hands, though they were less injured. He wanted to let Duon warm up to the idea of being touched by a stranger, in case it made him nervous.
Spenser kept up get-to-know-you chatter as he coached Duon patiently through cleaning up first one arm, then the other. “I teach at St. Anthony’s Catholic School. Kindergarten. My third year teaching full-time.”
“You just out of college? Look older.”
Spenser snorted as he dabbed antiseptic over a particularly ugly bruise Duon couldn’t reach, gently holding his patient’s arm in place as he winced. “I’m twenty-eight.” He eyed Duon’s left cheek as he dipped a towel into the water. “I’m going to clean your face. Is that all right?”
Duon nodded, a tight jerk of his head. He winced and focused on a point across the room as Spenser carefully cleaned his face. “You gay, right?”
Spenser paused. His gut instinct was to refuse to answer, but something about the dogged way Duon went after it made his panic falter. “Would it be a problem if I were?”
Duon stared back, unflinching. “Would it be if I were?”
Ah. Spenser resumed his ministrations. “Of course it wouldn’t matter.”
“Well, I am.”
Spenser only hesitated long enough to draw a steadying breath. “Me too.”
Duon flinched as Spenser began to clean his more swollen eye. “You should date Tomás. He’s gay too. Never has a boyfriend, but I know he wants one.”
Spenser fought a blush. He had noticed Tomás was handsome, and yes, he’d entertained fantasies about asking him out. But that was all the further he’d allowed himself to consider the matter. “He works a lot. I don’t think he has time to date.”
“Some good man should force him to make time.”
Spenser opened his mouth to answer, then bit his lip as his gentle pats inspired a cut below Duon’s eye to begin bleeding again. “You need stitches, Duon.”
“I’ll get those butterfly things the boxers wear. I’ll be fine.”
Spenser decided it was time he pressed for some real answers. He wanted to ask about how Duon got his injuries, but on instinct he adopted a more casual approach. “So. You know Tomás well?”
“Yeah. He teaches dance at the studio where I go.”
“Tomás teaches dance?”
Duon smiled enough to nearly reopen his lip. “Thinking about him in tights? A dance belt?”
Spenser was now. He made a production of peeling off a new towel, dampening it, and wringing it out. “I don’t know him well. I’ve only met him in the hall a few times.”
“He teaches modern dance. He’s pretty good, but everyone who works there is. The guy who owns the studio used to be a big-time dancer. Laurence Parker.”
Spenser had heard of him, which was saying something. “Sounds like a great place to take dance.”
“Laurie gave me a scholarship. If I help around the studio, I get lessons. I can’t go all the time, though. Grandma says it’s too girly, and if I go too much, she gets mad.”
The mention of his grandmother made Duon’s face cloud. Spenser pressed on carefully. “Do you live with your grandparents?”
“Just my grandma. Grandpa died a few years ago. Mom’s in prison until I’m thirty.” He smiled, a thin, grim gesture made more menacing by his bleeding lip. “Mandatory minimums.”
Spenser dropped his paper towel in the water, hiding the shaking of his hands in a production of wringing it out as he schooled his reaction. He cleared his throat. “Is your grandmother good to you?”
He shrugged, looked away. “She tries, but she busy. She don’t like that I’m gay. Says it’s gonna get me beat up. And that it’s against God.”
Duon stopped talking, shuttering as if he realized he’d said too much. It told Spenser everything he needed to know, and it broke his heart, even as it stirred old ghosts. Leave it to Spenser to have a younger version of himself stop by unannounced.
Of course, Spenser had never shown up on anyone’s doorstep bloody. “Who beat you up, Duon? Did they follow you here?”
Duon’s laugh was short and sad, full of heaviness. “No. Nobody following me anywhere.”
“So it was someone at home who did this.”
Duon stiffened, his less-swollen eye welling with tears.
Spenser gentled him with a touch on his biceps. “It’s all right. They can’t hurt you now.”
It wasn’t his words, Spenser knew, but his tone that broke through. It wasn’t simply six-year-olds who responded to it. Spenser’s adoptive mother had said he could lure the devil himself to confession by asking him if he wanted to sit and talk. Everyone wanted to tell Spenser their stories.
“My cousins. Caught me with a guy. Beat on us both. They done it before, but never this bad. I think they would have killed Bobby, except he’s older and big. He whaled on them as good as he got, then ran as soon as he could. Took me a little longer to get away.”
So nice of Bobby to leave you with the people beating you down. Spenser didn’t respond, though, only waited patiently as Duon gathered himself enough to continue.
“I tried to clean up, but nobody would let me into a store all beat up. Wanted to sneak into the bathroom at home, change clothes, and make it not look so bad. But Gran caught me. Asked what happened. She was all upset, and I thought maybe she was on my side, so I told her the truth.” He huffed, a defeated, flat sound. “Big mistake. She called my cousins out, and they told her a bunch of lies. Made it all my fault somehow, like I was some big whore. Said I did this all the time, that I was having sex with older men for drugs. She didn’t listen when I told her they was lying. Didn’t matter to her.”
He pointed to the cut on his cheek. “She knocked me into the coffee table, she slapped me so hard. Told me to get my ass out if I was gonna do drugs and be a disgusting pervert.” His countenance hardened, though Spenser could still see the wounded boy beneath. “I ain’t doing none of that, but I ain’t gonna sit there and let them say shit about me, either. I’m done. I grabbed my social security card and the stuff I needed and got out. Gonna get a job and forget them, forever.”
Spenser glanced at the garbage bag Duon had brought in and placed beside him on the chair. “Are you sure your grandmother isn’t searching for you? Maybe she was upset in the moment, but she’d calm if someone helped explain?”
“Not if some white dude like you was doing the talking.” Duon rubbed his leg self-consciously, staring off into space. “She tired. She got all of us dumped on her. There’s nobody else around to take care of us, with my aunt working and everybody else a hot mess or gone. I’m better on my own. Was hoping I could crash with Tomás for the night, until I could figure something out. Didn’t know about his parents. Thought he lived alone or something. Wasn’t thinking.” He coughed and winced, the glaze of tears thickening. “Almost went to Ed and Laurie’s, but it’s their anniversary. They don’t need this shit. But it’s no big deal. I’ll find something.”
Tucking his fury into the corner where he would deal with it later, Spenser focused his mental energy on the boy before him. “Did you get anything to eat today, Duon?”
Duon nodded gingerly. He’d begun to appear dull, the fight leaching out of him. “Lunch at school.”
“I haven’t eaten dinner yet. I’ll make extra for you, and we can eat while we wait for Tomás. Why don’t you lie down on the couch and rest until it’s ready? But maybe you’d like a shower first. Do you have clean clothes in your bag? Or do you need to borrow some?”
Duon tucked his garbage bag self-consciously under his chair and made no further comment.
Spenser pressed the issue gently. “I can lend you a T-shirt and some sweatpants and a pair of thick, warm socks.”
Duon’s gaze cut to Spenser, the swollen eye cracking open, weighing the man before him as fully as possible.
Spenser held still under the assessment. “We can call someone else, if you want, or wait for Tomás. I can set us up some chairs in the hallway.”
Duon smiled around his split lip. “Dude, I know you ain’t gonna hurt me.” Duon touched his wounded cheek with his fingers. “I can hold it shut with clear tape, if you got some. Done it before.”
“Sure. I’ll put it on the table so you can use it after your shower.”
Spenser helped Duon to his feet and led him to the small bath off the living room. Laid out a towel, a washcloth, a change of clothes. Noted how Duon’s gaze lingered on the socks, which were indeed thick and cozy-looking. Spenser put a large glass of water on the tank of the toilet too, after he showed Duon how to work the old-fashioned taps.
“Take your time, okay?” He gestured to the old-fashioned lock. “The door locks. Just turn this knob here.”
Duon kept his gaze on Spenser as he clutched the towel. “Thanks.”
“No trouble at all.” Spenser waved goodbye, shut the door, and went to the kitchen.
He stood at the sink, rigid, barely breathing until he heard the shower running. Then he let out a breath and went to the table, crouching beside Duon’s garbage bag.
It was the smell that got him. Not a stench, not an odor, only a smell. The kind Spenser had caught on a few of the children when he was a student teacher in a public school in Minneapolis. The smell and the memories it brought had made him take a lower-paying job at a private school in hopes it meant he wouldn’t encounter the scent again. Now here it was, blooming out of a plastic bag, taking Spenser to places he’d never wanted to return. The smell of unwashed things marinating on a dirty floor. Of a body sweating a little more than it should, of nervousness and fear. Of clothes aired in the out-of-doors on the body of a boy who didn’t want to go home.
Or maybe his discomfort had nothing to do with any of those things. Maybe it came from something else, and Spenser’s murky memories filled in the rest. Memories involving hastily packing a black garbage bag of his own.
Holding the edges of Duon’s garbage bag tight in his fists, Spenser wept quietly for about three minutes. He made silent vows, hatched plans, and outlined stratagems for what he would do if, in fact, Duon was right and his grandmother didn’t want him, if there was nowhere else for him to go. If Tomás didn’t turn out to be the savior Duon was hoping he would be.
If Duon turned out to be exactly like Spenser after all.
After shutting the bag and tucking it under the chair where Duon had left it, Spenser blew his nose, dried his eyes, and busied himself with making dinner. But the smell of the bag lingered, as did the memory of Duon’s too-sharp, weary gaze as the bathroom door closed between them.
* * *
While his boss got ready to go on his first-anniversary dinner date with his husband, Tomás Jimenez argued with his mother on the phone as he dry-mopped the dance floor, sprayed down the mirrored walls, and disinfected the barre of the Dayton’s Bluff Parker Dance Studio. “No, I don’t need a new sweater, Mama.”
“But they’re on sale. Only two dollars. In a nice blue. It would bring out your eyes.”
“I don’t need a sweater. Save the money, okay?”
“You would look handsome in this, and I want you to have it.” She sighed. “I’m going to buy it. You’ll wear it to church. If you ever go again, God save your soul.”
Tomás rolled his eyes but scuttled his frustration, because he knew from experience it wouldn’t do him any good. “Mama, I need to go. I’m still at work. I need to finish up.”
“I left your plate in the oven. When will you be home?”
“As soon as I finish up here, which will happen a lot faster if I get off the phone.”
“Don’t be rude.” He heard a rustle of hangers in the background as she sifted through racks of clothing. “We’ll still be out when you get home. When we finish here, we’re going to the other thrift store on the east side of St. Paul. The baby needs new clothes. Oh, I meant to tell you this morning, but you left so early. We have the kids tonight.”
Wonderful. This meant his sister was still on her fun bender, out partying while he worked himself to death. Not the time or the right person for that fight. “Okay. Tell Dad to be careful driving.”
“Of course. He’s always careful.”
“I’ll see you at home. And don’t buy the sweater.”
“I’m buying the sweater. I love you, mijo.”
“I love you too.”
When Tomás hung up and tucked the phone in his pocket, he saw his employer had come out of the dressing room. Laurie Parker smiled wryly at Tomás. “Your mother, I assume?”
The entire conversation had taken place in Spanish, and his parents were the only people Tomás spoke to in that language, so it was an easy guess. Though the loving exasperation in his voice while addressing his mother probably gave him away more. “Yes. She’s buying me a sweater. And making sure I know I have dinner in the oven.” He waggled his eyebrows as he gave Laurie a proper once-over. “Looking good, boss. Ed won’t know what hit him.”
Laurie waved the compliment away, but Tomás knew the flattery was appreciated. “He should be by any minute. He’s running late, he said. Has a surprise.”
The trepidation in Laurie’s voice was endearing. He and his husband kept each other on their toes, and Tomás wasn’t ashamed to admit he was jealous. “One year already. Seems like yesterday I met you and you were getting ready to go to Iowa to get married.”
Laurie stopped fussing with his tie and leaned on one of the support pillars at the edge of the floor. “I didn’t expect everyone to remember, but they had a big banner at Halcyon Center this morning. My mother sent flowers, and Ed’s parents gave us a lovely card. Duon left a gift for me too. A ream of paper, with a note explaining that’s what we get for a first-year anniversary. I won’t tell him I can see the hole exactly where he took it from in the supply cabinet.”
Tomás leaned on his mop handle. “When did he stop by? I didn’t see him in class tonight, which surprised me.”
“I assume it was earlier today, when I was still at Halcyon. I’ll have to ask Effie. But you’re right, it’s odd he wasn’t around.”
“I’ll check on him tomorrow. Make sure everything’s okay.” Tomás picked up his cleaning supplies and carted them to the closet. He had his mouth open to ask Laurie about the next day’s classes when something in the trash caught his eye. “What’s this?” He pulled out the flyer, then swore. “Hell, who brought that in here?”
Laurie glared at the paper as well. “Someone had taped it to the door when I arrived.”
Tomás buried the flyer in the trash once again, but the green-and-blue-on-white image was burned in his mind. Vote Yes: Marriage Equals One Man, One Woman. “This is what, the fifth one this week?”
“Yes. I assume someone knows a married gay man owns the studio.” Laurie pressed fingertips to his temple. “I’ll be so glad when the election is over. I can’t run to the store for a gallon of milk without passing a million signs to VOTE YES or VOTE NO on the way. To say nothing of the newspapers, ads, and Facebook posts.”
“What happens to your marriage, if it passes?”
“I don’t know. I would like to think nothing, but I honestly have no idea.” Laurie folded his arms over his abdomen. “I worry about our insurance, if it were to pass. I have Ed on mine, and you know how much health care need he has. If they pass this and for some reason I can’t carry him…”
Holy shit, yeah. That would be bad. Tomás squelched the sick feeling in his gut and did his best to appear breezy. “You’ll find a way to work it out. And thank God for the health-care law. At least you have a backup.”
Laurie didn’t seem reassured, and it was clear this was a heavy concern for him, one that dwelling on it didn’t help. Tomás changed the subject. “Where are you going for dinner?”
“La Belle Vie. And thanks to Ed’s surprise, we’re nearly late for our reservation.” On cue, Ed’s car pulled up out front, and Laurie relaxed, glancing at Tomás. “Would you mind closing up before you go?”
Tomás waved him away. “I’ve got this.”
He locked the door behind Laurie and finished securing the studio for the night. The building had a security system far more sophisticated than Laurie’s other studio because of the neighborhood it was in. While the St. Paul studio was where Laurie’s heart was, the classes in Eden Prairie brought in the money that kept this place going. The instructors over there made more money as well, and Laurie had offered Tomás a job there several times. But Tomás liked the students here. They were, by and large, his kind of people. Far more nonwhite faces. The Dayton’s Bluff studio attracted a wider swath of socioeconomic status too. Some classes were over half students present because of a scholarship. But they all had heart.
No, this was the studio where Tomás wanted to be.
But because he took the pay cut to be here, he had not one job, not two jobs, but three jobs, and only enough time between them to shovel food into his face and get a few hours sleep. His coworkers, the ones who didn’t know his full story, all scolded him for working so much. Ed and Laurie had been at the front of that line, until Tomás’s meltdown last spring when he’d gotten drunk and confessed it all. It was shortly after this discussion when Laurie had expanded Tomás’s hours and increased his salary as much as he could, and Tomás didn’t let himself be proud about it, simply accepted the extra cash.
Once the studio was locked up for the night and the alarm set, Tomás drove home. He lived in East Midway, in an ancient four-story apartment building overlooking University. He’d lived there since he was eight, before the construction had begun on the Metro Green Line, before the sex shop had closed. When he and his sister were young, his mother insisted on walking them to school because the neighborhood was bad. Now it was partially gentrified, to the point that every year they were nervous the landlord would sell and their rents would go up, or they’d be kicked out entirely because their grim three-bedroom spread would become shiny new condo space.
It was still his familiar shithole for now, and as he turned into his parking lot he saw the even lower-rent building across the alley had a huge VOTE YES sign in the front yard. In the streetlight it practically glowed. Tomás curled his lip at it. He was pretty sure the place was owned by the guy who kept getting sued by the ACLU for refusing to rent to refugees.
God, sometimes the world made Tomás so tired.
Thinking of the ACLU dragged up the nagging thought that Tomás did need to call the lawyer tomorrow. And his sister, to have it out with her about chasing potential new boyfriends instead of finding a job. Of course, she wouldn’t answer when she saw his number. He needed to call Duon too and make sure he was all right. But first he was going into the apartment and eating his plate from the oven in blissful silence. For at least a few minutes nobody was going to need him. Maybe he’d crawl into bed before his parents and the kids came home, and he’d get an almost decent night’s worth of sleep for a change.
Except he wasn’t halfway down the dimly lit hallway when the door across from his apartment opened. Tomás stood straighter and smiled at the cute white guy who lived across the hall. He was ninety percent sure the guy was gay, because every time Tomás made eye contact, the man blushed like a wallflower hoping someone would ask him to dance.
But today the white guy didn’t smile back, and his blush was more of a flush from being stressed. In fact, he seemed upset.
“Tomás?” The man held out his hand. “Hi. I’m your neighbor, but I don’t think we’ve ever been properly introduced. I’m…Spenser. Spenser Harris. I live…here.” He gestured awkwardly at his door.
God, but this guy was adorable. Tomás wanted to wrap the guy up in a blanket, soothe him, then climb into bed alongside him. He held out his hand. “Tomás Jimenez. Nice to meet you.” When his flirtatious tone failed to settle Spenser, Tomás became serious too. “Is something wrong?”
Spenser ran a hand through his straight, light-brown hair, which was styled in an artfully messy way Tomás’s dark curly hair would never tolerate. “I…don’t know how to explain, to be honest. I suppose you could say I had something of a surprise when I came home. Someone was here, in front of my door, someone who knows you. Hurt. I’ve done what I can to calm him, but he’s asking for you.”
Tomás held up his hands. “Hold on. Slow down. Who is looking for me? Who’s hurt?”
“Duon. Your friend Duon is in my apartment. Sleeping on the couch, waiting for you. His cousins beat him up, and his grandmother kicked him out.” He frowned. “Or he ran away. I’m not entirely sure.”
Tomás sagged, staring stupidly at Spenser. Worry tangled with weariness and shock, though to his shame, his predominant emotion wasn’t an eagerness to help but rather a sense of exhaustion. I can’t take on anymore.Pushing this thought aside, Tomás drew an unsteady breath and forced himself to stand straight. “It’s okay. Thanks for taking care of him. I’ll move him over to our place and figure out where to go from here.”
Spenser held up a hand. “There’s one other problem. It’s fine for him to go with you, since he clearly knows you, but he’s been badly beaten. And I’m a teacher, which means I’m a mandatory reporter.”
Tomás stilled. “Mandatory reporter of what? To whom?”
“Of child abuse, and possibly neglect. The beating was done by his cousins, and it was his grandmother who kicked him out. I don’t have a choice. I have to call DHS.”
Tomás could only blink at Spenser until disbelief gave way to quiet rage. “Tell me you’re kidding.”
Spenser stood straighter, jutting out his chin. “This is a serious situation. I can’t send Duon home to be hurt again. Maybe it will work out with his grandmother, maybe he’s wrong and she’s worried for him, not glad he’s gone, but if not—”
Goddamned white people. The thought of what this asshole’s searching for a savior cookie would do to Duon and possibly Tomás’s family made him tremble with rage. “Whatever the hell is wrong with Duon and his family, bringing the Department of Human Services into it isn’t going to fix shit. I can take care of this, but you can’t—”
“You don’t get to figure out where to go from here, and neither do I.”
Oh Jesus Christ. The sick feeling in Tomás’s stomach curdled into full-on dread. White boy wasn’t cute at all, not anymore. He was a meddling monster determined to wreck everything. “You have no idea what it means, calling in DHS. You have no idea what you’ll do to Duon.” To me.
“I do, actually.” Spenser looked about as weary as Tomás, but he had steel about him as he gestured to the closed door of his apartment. “Why don’t you come inside, and we can all work together to get him through this situation?”
Tomás thought fleetingly of his promised dinner waiting in the oven. Of the silence in his apartment, the soft solitude of his bed. Of his parents and his nieces and nephew, who were due to come home any moment. Then he thought about Duon huddled in this stranger’s apartment.
Nodding, Tomás gathered his mental forces and followed Spenser inside.
Dance with your heart, and love will follow.
Kindergarten teacher Spenser Harris has carved a quiet, stable future out of his tumultuous past, but his world turns upside down the night a homeless teen appears on his doorstep—a boy whose story mirrors the one Spenser has worked so hard to overcome. The decision to shelter Duon is easy. What’s tricky is juggling the network of caregivers in Duon’s life, especially Tomás Jimenez.
Tomás wouldn’t have hesitated to take Duon in, but his plate is already full working three jobs to support his family. Though Spenser’s carefully constructed walls are clearly designed to keep the world at bay, Tomás pushes past Spenser’s defenses, determined to ensure the man is worthy of his charge. As the two of them grow closer, Tomás dares to dream of a life beyond his responsibilities, and Spenser begins to believe he might finally find a home of his own after all.
But Spenser and Tomás’s world is poised to crash around their ears. Duon’s grandmother isn’t sure she wants him to be raised by a gay man and challenges Spenser’s custody. Tomás’s undocumented parents could be deported at any time, and all the while the state of Minnesota votes on a constitutional amendment against marriage equality and the US Supreme Court debates whether or not Spenser and Tomás get a happily ever after. All they can do is hold tight to their love, hope for a better future…and remind each other to enjoy the dance.
About the author
Heidi Cullinan has always enjoyed a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. Proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality, Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. She writes positive-outcome romances for LGBT characters struggling against insurmountable odds because she believes there’s no such thing as too much happy ever after. When Heidi isn't writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, playing with her cats, and watching television with her family. Find out more about Heidi at heidicullinan.com.