EXCERPT – Nowhere to Hide

BLURB: In recovery after a serious car accident, Dan struggles with pain and depression until it becomes an ingrained part of his life. His most important support has come from his best friend and boyfriend Aaron, yet Dan knows he’s not giving as much as taking from the relationship. When he and Aaron are snowed in at a winter sports resort, Dan has to face up to both his physical and emotional restraints. It takes a particularly bitter Christmas — and the weirdest of dreams — to give Dan the courage to grasp what’s important to him, and find the way back to health and love.

“I think…” I turn slowly around in the wooden cabin’s bedroom, my case wide open on the bed and a pile of folded underwear in my hand. “I think this may be a bad idea after all.”

Aaron stands in the doorway, looking at me. He’s been unpacking the supplies in the kitchen, though that’s rather a grand word for the tiny cooker and a wooden counter set up in the far corner of the lounge-come-living area. He’s probably wondering how he’s going to create those great meals of his with just a few pans and the minimum of condiments.

“Do you need more space? I didn’t bring much, so you can have the extra drawers in the dresser.”

“I’m not talking about the damned storage, Aaron. That’s not what I’m worried about.”

I hear him take a long, slow breath. There’s no excuse for my snapping at him, of course. “Dan. I thought we talked this through when Bailey first suggested this trip? You were happy to come up here. Is it because of your leg? Is the pain worse-?”

“It’s fine,” I interrupt.

There’s that slow breath again. “Okay. So is it the socialising? There are no crowds out here by the lake, and there’s no obligation to join in any of the celebrations tonight at the clubhouse. It’s up to us what we do for the holiday -”

“That’s it!” I stare down at the bed as if engrossed in my case’s contents. I don’t want to look at his face because I know only too well how his confusion looks. “It’s the us thing, Aaron. The two of us here. The double room thing.” Now I know the confusion is going to look hurt too, but it’s not like I can help myself. Well, maybe I don’t want to. Now I’m riddled with the confusion thing too.

We’d been invited over this year’s Christmas holiday to ski with Bailey’s family and a small group of friends at a new resort in Scotland. Skiing is something I did once on a school trip and loved, even though I was much younger and fitter then. And now Aaron wanted to try it out too. Everyone was keen to leave the city and the frenetic Christmas celebrations behind us, and come away to somewhere crisp and clean and far more relaxing. A great site up in the hills with all the modern facilities, and because Bailey’s parents were somehow connected with the management we had it all at a special low cost. Couldn’t go wrong, could we?

Well, like they say, it seemed like a great idea at the time.

Aaron walks towards me now but stops a couple of feet away. That’s something he’s learned over the last year – that there’s an exclusion zone around me. Although we’ve been close, I’ve always been very possessive of my own flat, my own space. Aaron understands that, the fact that sometimes I panic when he comes near. But then sometimes I smile and draw him in. And the drawing in has been plentiful and good. So very, very good. He touches me in a way that’s both careful and hungry. Sometimes when he’s nowhere around and I close my eyes, I can still feel the strength of his arms under my fingertips, still taste his smile on my lips. I never thought I’d feel that way about someone, nor that they’d want me as much in return. But I’ve never stayed overnight at his place nor invited him to sleep over at mine. Sometimes the feeling I have for him just doesn’t seem to be enough.

Back in the cabin, he coughs. Makes it sound like he’s just clearing his throat. “We’ve taken it all very slow, Dan, and that’s been fine. Finding out about each other, enjoying each other’s company. And we’ve had good times together, right?” I know he’s frowning. “Tell me if I’m wrong, Dan, because I -”

“Yes.” I speak quickly, still not facing him. His voice is soft but I can hear the edge of tension to it. “It’s very good. Honestly, Aaron, it is. It’s all been good. I just feel… I just can’t… it’s…”

“It’s too much for you,” he says, breaking into my pathetic rambling.

I shrug. That’s even more pathetic, really. After all, I’ve known him long enough to know what a good friend he is, and we’ve been kissing and fooling around since last Christmas. And when I’m honest with myself – truly, heart-wrenchingly honest – I know that I’ve loved him from about forty seconds after I met him. It just took me a hell of a sight longer to realize it for certain. I love to hold him and tease him, and make him shiver with pleasure. And I’ll always go down on him with excited, hungry pleasure.

Just… there’s been nothing more intimate between us yet.

In the cabin, there’s silence for a while. I can’t say it’s awkward because there are often silences like this in our life together, and we’re used to them. Aaron is the perfect man to offer that to me – a time to be quiet, to think, to mourn whatever it is I mourn. He gives me space and enough respect that I don’t beat myself up about it.

It’s just not so good when the silence is of my prompting.

“Shall I get another cabin?” He finally speaks, very gently. “Would that be easier for you? There are some singles still available out by the nursery slopes.”

I turn then to look at him. He makes his offer sound perfectly reasonable but I know it’s not. “No. Please?” I don’t know what I’m asking for. I can’t seem to move from my position, but he makes no move towards me either. “Give me a little time to unpack, okay? I’ll be fine in a while. It’s all fine. Honestly.”

He makes some excuse about going to see how Bailey and Cass are settling in. He’ll check out the timetable for skiing tomorrow. On his way out, he pauses at the doorway and looks up. There are some of those glittery festive chains draped across the ceiling and hanging down from the middle of them is a sprig of something green with white berries. Yeah, I know it’s mistletoe. He does too.

But he doesn’t look back and shuts the door of the cabin behind him very quietly.