When Nick McQueen was younger, he had a crush on a guy named Josh Pahlke. Josh was gay and Nick was gay and that mattered, but to each for different reasons. Fast forward to Nick’s undergrad years and the beginning of Josh’s fellowship. Nick saw Josh at a party and approached him, Josh had no idea who he was, but that was better for Nick. To Nick, Josh had always been a super jock with brains to rival that status; perfect in everything he did. However, after they left the party together, Nick what learned the one thing Josh wasn’t so skilled at was: sex.
It wasn’t that he was bad at it; he was simply inexperienced. There were already so many things for the masses to consider when it came to sex, but Josh was further encumbered by things like sensitive skin, allergies, and just general thoughts of itchiness and hesitation. Conversely, Nick was kind of a sex machine, self-proclaimed sex god. They tried to hook up on the last day of summer before uni started up again, but Josh and his issues kind of made it a non-event. A blowjob, a handjob, some touching, and lots of kissing, but it pretty much ended with that. Josh bowed out, stating that Nick was actually too much for him, though he meant more than just his impressively-sized cock.
Nick returned to school in Vermont; he was back in his element, no longer needing to play whomever he was posing as when he faced Josh. On his way to his gig at the library, he stopped at a café. While seated with some friends he was caught completely off guard by the guy being served at the counter: Josh. Josh saw him, too, and walked over to greet him. Nick was freaking; he was just not himself or rather, he was very much himself. They formally introduced themselves and chatted for a bit. Nick was running late, so they were set to go on there own way when they realized that they were actually going to the same place. When they got to the library, Josh asked if they could hang out when Nick’s shift ended. Nick agreed, but when it came time, Nick was late and Josh thought he might have been set up. He finally arrived, but tried to get out of it still, but Josh pulled him along.
For so many reasons, getting to know Josh better was a bad idea for Nick, mostly because Josh was a nice guy and Nick wasn’t. Also, Nick wasn’t into relationships, but he was still kind of wonderstruck because it was Josh.
After that, they couldn’t seem to stay away from each other as they cobbled together an interesting friendship. Josh wanted more, but Nick turned him down, but Josh was pleasantly persistent and he was too sweet and Nick couldn’t resist him. Then it turned from Nick giving in to Nick being very willing. Considering all of Josh’s issues with sex, Nick was being rather patient and trying things out with him. It was uncharacteristic of the person Nick tried to be. But they were still hesitant with Nick’s past reminding him not to fall for anyone and just stay with sex because it’s what he’s good at and Josh’s past and present reminding him about his issues with sex, but also about the things he liked about intimacy and how he wanted that. So it turned out that the things that they had the most interest in developing with the other were the things that the other had the least interest in. They were trying to find this middle ground and it was fascinating watching them work out their acquaintance which was becoming an actual friendship. Josh was very gung-ho for that, but Nick was not. They were trying to be very upfront with each other each step of the way, but Nick was definitely hiding his true feelings and things from their shared past.
As the story goes on, you learn how Josh’s existence was integral to Nick becoming the person that he was. It was heartbreaking. And Josh was completely unaware of all of it. I cringed at how much it might break Josh’s heart when he found out. Understandably, he’d feel betrayed, but I think Josh is such a sensitive guy, he’d feel infinitely worse that he was on the periphery of Nick’s horrible time as a teenager. I also thought that when Nick finally revealed his past that it was going to be this whole big situation. Crying and pulling and “talk to me” and yada yada, but it wasn’t. Not really. Unfortunately it didn’t go the way Nick had hoped and that was all thanks to his best friend, Pete.
Pete was toxic. Even in Nick’s childhood memories I didn’t like Pete. He was a gossip hound and, as an adult, I think he lived a very sad life, not because of the all the sex he was having, but because of the role it played in his life.
I cringed again because Nick was really trying to be the boyfriend; he never wanted that before, didn’t think he could do it. He especially didn’t think that he deserved Josh, but he was still trying. And then Pete happened. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen from there. I mean, Josh was a nice and understanding guy, but finding out the truth surrounding the night they met would not be an easy thing to swallow, so I didn’t know how forgiving he was going to be with Nick. It was going to be tough. Nick already thought he didn’t deserve him and Josh was almost sure to distance himself. And I could see Nick going back to being that cocky guy again; he’d just put on his mask and become that guy once more. That would definitely hurt both of them. But I also thought that Nick wasn’t going to be able to go back, he wasn’t going to be able to go back and enjoy the sex and all that crazy stuff he he did. Because he was in love with Josh and it would hurt and he wouldn’t know how to deal with it.
Both Nick and Josh’s studies involved history, so they traveled in the same circles. Josh was back at his alma mater, Nick’s current uni, working through his fellowship doing research and serving as a teaching assistant. Nick was in one of his classes during the first term, but after their split, Nick disappeared. In the second term, Josh was teaching what probably amounted to an elective for Nick, so it wasn’t like he was guaranteed to be there, plus, with their history, it didn’t seem likely. But Nick had a plan to get Josh back and part of that was taking Josh’s class.
Josh was not too keen on having Nick in his class. He’d forgiven him some small amount, but having him in his class for a couple hours a day was not really something he thought he could deal with. I was really feeling for Josh because he was in love with Nick and likely still was, but trust was gone. And Nick really hurt him; Nick hurt himself, too. I kind of felt bad for Nick, actually I did feel bad for Nick. It’s just that he screwed up; he played the game for too long. And–when I first talked-to-text this part, there was so much profanity (a lot of asterisks) because I was so mad thinking about what happened, I surprised myself because it’s extremely rare for me to even use profane language in conversation; I had to clean that up, plus spoilers–I really hoped that Nick was no longer friends with Pete because what he did was outrageous. I couldn’t believe it, I just… That was so beyond messed up. He was upset that Nick didn’t tell him about his relationship with Josh, and okay, best friends, whatever, but why would you…? What he did was not payback, that was not some playful ish that was easy to get over, that was…! He broke both Nick and Josh’s heart with purposefully loose lips.
I knew they were going to get back together. Of course they were, it’s romance, but I don’t know if I had actually settled on what I thought was going to be the path of the story after Pete. The part of Nick’s plan that included being around Josh started off strong, but then his efforts became more conservative because he didn’t want Josh to end up hating him. I thought there was going to be a lot more chasing, but when Nick came to visit Josh during office hours, they talked about Nick’s thesis and when they were wrapping things up, Josh went off topic and started talking about things from his past, unaware of their connection to Nick’s past and then… You have to read it. It was a struggle to get through this scene because you realize that this was not just about Nick getting Josh back, but it was also about Nick not wanting to just go back to what they had before and wanting Josh to be sure that he could still love him knowing what he did. Because the past wasn’t going to change and it wasn’t going to go away. And I just felt everything in that scene.
If I’m honest, things from here get a little cheesy for my taste, but it was still good. So, things happened and it was nice and then I guess they lived happily ever after that. I feel good about that. And the epilogue was good, too, especially all of the story behind the gesture that Josh made in it.
I enjoyed this story quite a lot. I didn’t find out until the end and that it was the third in a series for Ellery College. It seems the previous one is about Zack, who is mentioned in this story as Josh’s ex, and Kirby, who is Zack’s new beau. The first one is about some guy named Ray. I have no idea how he connects to the latter books, though. I’m not in the mood to read either now, but I think I might find my way to them eventually.
So, side note. I read a book recently (one I think I liked) and Edie Danford was mentioned in regards to helping with editing, I believe, and I thought, “Oh…” I think she’s good person for a writer to have on their side. There were a lot of things in this story that upset me, but there was nothing about the story that did. She’s good at what she does.