Title: Depending on You
Author: J.E. Birk
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release: 4th February 2015
Genre: M/M (contemporary)
A prequel to The Twinkie Ignition
It all started with a diabetic kid who wouldn’t stop eating cookies. And a best friend who’d just announced his bisexuality and hit on everything that moved. And a kind pediatric nurse with an amazing rack, a lying ex-boyfriend, and a nasty case of the chicken pox.
But mostly, it started at table 42.
When Benjy Moreland almost collapses during his restaurant shift, Dr. Kyle Penners wants nothing more than to take care of him... but if there’s one thing former foster kid Benjy values, it’s his independence. A dying man and a sick little boy force Kyle and Benjy to work together, and both of them have to make some important choices about what it means to depend on someone.
As you probably know, the Oscars were on earlier this week. I only tuned in briefly to enjoy some Neil Patrick Harris time before I fell asleep, so I didn’t actually see when this brilliant acceptance speech moment happened:
Until I saw this scroll across my newsfeed, I had no idea who Graham Moore was. And right now, he is basically my personal hero. And likely a personal hero for many others.
This acceptance speech got me thinking about how about almost all of the characters I write are characters who feel different and weird. In Depending on You, Benjy feels like his lack of a family makes him somehow strange and unworthy of love. He feels like no one else could possibly understand what he’s gone through. When he encounters a young boy, Brandon, who’s also losing his family, Benjy’s convinced no one else can understand what life is like for Brandon. In this scene, he tries to explain how different Brandon must feel to his boss, Alex.
Benjy squirmed, uncomfortable with how much sense Alex was making. “It’s just… Kyle doesn’t really get it, you know? Doesn’t get what this is going to be like for that kid. Not really.”
Now Alex put down the paper again and focused all of his attention on Benjy. “Of course he doesn’t. How could he? But that’s why you’re here.” Then he went back to his paperwork, and Benjy stared at the horrible flowered wallpaper, thinking for a long time about what it meant to get something.
I write about characters who feel different because I think feeling different is such a key part of the human experience. After all, in a world of so many individuals and individual experiences, does anyone ever fully “fit in” all the time? That doesn’t seem possible. And yet we’re all convinced that we’re the ones who don’t have a place somewhere—that everyone else is normal except for us.
Depending on You is very much about finding the people who appreciate and get your differences. Because, as Alex reminds Benjy in that scene, we won’t ever understand everyone else’s experiences or thoughts. But if we can find people who do understand us, or want to understand us, they’ll make a space where we can be ourselves. Where we can stay weird.
IT WAS the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and Benjy Moreland knew he was getting sick the moment he opened his eyes. He had that taste in his mouth. That weird, off-putting, slightly-metallic-but-not-really-maybe-more-like-old-milk taste that made him groan and bury his head back under the covers.
He couldn’t be getting sick. He just couldn’t. Thanksgiving break had started, and he finally had a chance to put in some serious double-shifts at the restaurant. And he needed those shifts—paying off next semester’s tuition was already putting holes in his food budget, and he had to make big tips over this coming week.
Nope. Getting sick was definitely not an option.
He washed his mouth out with Scope, telling himself he must not have brushed his teeth very well the night before. No big deal. The taste would go away.
He showered and made coffee, only to discover that swallowing it hurt his throat. So he abandoned the coffee in favor of orange juice, telling himself that if he was getting sick, surely the Vitamin C would take care of things. Then he pounded more orange juice and headed out the door for the early shift at Morissey’s.
Morissey’s was a higher-end restaurant in one of the ritzier parts of Denver. It was a bit of a hike from Benjy’s apartment near campus, but the extra commuting time was worth it for the extra tips working there brought. Even a lunch shift could be lucrative.
Benjy got through the lunch shift without too much trouble—his throat still hurt, and his head was beginning to throb a bit, but not so much that he couldn’t concentrate on taking orders and carrying plates. The shift did confirm for Benjy that it was a stroke of good luck that this thing, whatever it was, had held off attacking him until vacation. There was no way he could have put up with this headache during one of Dr. Habanstaff’s lectures.
“You doin’ okay, kid?” Lewis, the manager on lunch duty, was a nice guy, and Benjy generally really liked him. He’d been the one who’d hired Benjy three years ago, when Benjy had just been a college freshman who was hoping for some work bussing tables. Even so, Benjy wasn’t in the mood for Lew’s question.
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?” he snapped.
Lewis threw his hands into the air. “Whoa. No reason. You just look a little tired, that’s all.”
Benjy shrugged and went back to dropping off food.
By the time the lunch shift had ended, four more people had asked Benjy if he was feeling okay; he’d nearly lost an entire tray of food—but saved it at the last minute, thank you very much—and he’d horribly screwed up one of his regular’s orders. She’d been fine about it, patting his hand and telling him he should really go home and get some rest.
Which didn’t make Benjy feel any better.
He wasn’t exactly hungry, so instead of eating on his break between shifts, he used the time to walk to the pharmacy down the road from Morissey’s and buy some non-drowsy flu medicine. He wasn’t totally sure this—if it was even anything at all—was the flu, but he figured the orange syrup couldn’t hurt.
By the time he’d chugged down some of the disgusting stuff and headed back to the restaurant, the dinner crowd was already piling in.
Saturday night shifts at Morissey’s were no joke. Benjy had worked at the place for over a year before he’d been granted the privilege/curse of working a Saturday night. Sure, you could bank hundreds working that shift, but you were usually run off your feet doing it. The first Saturday night Benjy had worked, he’d required a nearly twenty-four hour recovery period afterward.
Benjy shook the cobwebs out of his head, told himself the taste in his mouth was all his imagination, and that actually, his throat didn’t hurt at all. Then he started taking orders.
He made it through the first hour or so pretty successfully. Everyone was getting too busy to ask him how he was, and he didn’t mess up any orders or drop anything. But then the headache started getting slightly more drastic, and swallowing (as little of it as he was doing) started to hurt a little more, and Benjy began to wonder if that flu medicine he’d chugged was actually just a placebo of some kind.
The second hour got progressively worse. Benjy botched an order from a woman who called him an idiot and demanded to see Lew. Lew ended up comping part of their bill and giving Benjy a weird look. Then Benjy lost a whole tray of drinks when his legs got a little shaky on him. It was in the kitchen, so it wasn’tthat big of a deal, but it wasn’t exactly a shining moment. Benjy was sure Lew would have sent him home at that point if they hadn’t been totally and completely slammed.
The third hour began with Benjy swallowing as much Sprite as he possibly could, hoping the sugar would help, and the hostess Leslie yelling that she’d just sat 42. His table. Wonderful. Benjy took a deep breath and hoped he’d make it through this order without spilling something all over his new customers.
“IT WAS okay, I guess. I mean, we had a decent time and all. But she wouldn’t stop talking about her alternator.” Kyle tapped his hands impatiently on the side of the bar. Even though he expected to wait for a table at Morissey’s on a Saturday night, he’d still been disappointed when the hostess had told them it would be around thirty minutes before she could seat them. He’d only had a sandwich from the vending machine for lunch, and he was starving.
“Her alternator?” Daniel stared at Kyle blankly.
“Yeah, I guess her car had just broken down the day before. She kept telling me all about this new mechanic she just found who was looking at it for her, and how he was worried it might be the water pump.” Kyle shook his head. “It was pretty much all she talked about. I kept trying to ask her about what books and movies she liked, stuff like that, but it always somehow ended up going back to the water pump. Not the most interesting first date conversation ever.”
Daniel laughed. “Was she at least hot?”
Kyle shrugged. She’d been okay. Short, fit, but not anorexic-skinny. Dirty blonde long hair that had fallen out of its ponytail and into her face all night. That had been kind of cute. And she’d spent a lot of time jutting her not-insignificant chest out at Kyle.
“Great! You did her, right?”
Kyle slugged him in the arm. “Perv. Nah. She gave me some line about how she had to work early this morning, so I dropped her off at her place after dinner.” He shrugged again. “Don’t think she was much more into me than I was into her.”
Daniel shook his head. “I don’t get you, man. You’re thirty-two and a doctor, for crying out loud. You have a nice pad, a solid bank account, and you can drop words like fait accompli into conversations. Correctly. Well, at least I think you use them correctly. You’re the most charismatic dude on our floor at the hospital. And whenever the two of us go out to eat, you take me to fancy-ass places like this, so I can’t imagine where you take people who might actually give you some action. Why aren’t you getting laid at least five nights a week?”
Kyle chugged the rest of the beer in his hand. “This place has great steak. And yes, I do take them to decent places. I dunno. I have a busy schedule. And I guess I’m just not dating the right people.” He narrowed his eyes and smirked. “Why, you want in?” Daniel was the person Kyle was closest to at the hospital, one of the only nurses Kyle trusted implicitly, (which was probably because Daniel knew more than most of the doctors they worked with), and he’d accepted Kyle’s bisexuality exactly the way Kyle had thought he would when Kyle had come out to him a few years ago: he’d shrugged, suggested Kyle not hit on the eighty-year-old doctor they were working under at the time, and immediately began making fun of Kyle’s love life every chance he got.
“Yeah, like I need you to get off,” Daniel said. “I just meant that it’s been awhile since Luis, you know?”
Yeah, Kyle knew. Luis, with his perfect skin, runner’s body, and soft laugh, had been Kyle’s first realattempt at a relationship with a guy. And it had been a good one. Luis was a friend of Daniel’s, and they’d met at one of Daniel’s parties a year ago. And the relationship had been great. Amazing, even. Until about five months ago, when Luis’s mother, back in Guatemala, had gotten very sick and Luis had gone home to take care of her. And when Kyle wanted to fight for Luis, to bring his mother to America, to help pay for a caregiver, to help pay to send Luis back and forth, to do anything but let Luis leave, Luis had left anyway.
“I’ve seen people spend years of their lives trying to make a relationship in two countries work, or destroying their own lives trying to find a home in a place that doesn’t want them or where they don’t want to be,” Luis had told Kyle. “I don’t want us to be like that. I don’t want that for you, and I don’t want that for me.” And then he was gone, just like that. Disappeared off Kyle’s Facebook, and out of his e-mail contacts, and his phone number had stopped working. Just like that.
It was as if he’d been a ghost. And Daniel was right. Ever since then, Kyle hadn’t had a date go beyond a kiss goodnight.
“I mean,” Daniel went on, patting Kyle on the shoulder patronizingly, “you got the entire population to work with, right? Someone somewhere’s gotta take.”
“Fuck you,” Kyle ribbed. “I told you, I’m busy. It’s not like I have a lot of time to date, Daniel. You of all people know how much I work.”
“Oh, I know, Doc,” Daniel replied, nodding. “I’m saying that might be part of the problem. You’re not getting out enough.”
“Penners?” A hostess poked her head into the bar and called Kyle’s name, and Kyle almost swooned with relief. Not only was he finally going to get food, but maybe a venue change would make Daniel forget they’d been talking about Kyle’s failed dating attempts.
“That’s us,” he said, waving.
“Finally, food,” Daniel said, picking up his beer and following Kyle. “But don’t think I’m going to forget what we were talking about.”
Meet the Author
J.E. Birk has been telling stories since she could talk and writing them since she was introduced to the alphabet. She hails from Colorado, where you can usually find her skiing, training for a 5K she won’t end up running, or trying to figure out why a good strong housecleaning never lasts longer than two days. Occasionally @jebirkwrites will say something on Twitter.
Connect with the Author
J.E. will be giving away one ebook of Depending on You to one lucky winner! Just enter the Rafflecopter draw below.
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