It’s release day! Once in May is now live.
I’ve said it before, but this is one of my favourites of the stories I’ve written. You always have those stories that are extra dear to you, or I do at least.
Once in May is a past abused story, one of those hurt-comfort stories with a traumatised guy finding peace with a gentle giant… or a huge lumberjack, you know the kind LOL.
It was first published back in 2016 – that’s a long time ago. It doesn’t feel that long ago. I wrote it back-to-back to The Egg Hunt. John is the one who finds Jason’s missing dog and shuts the door in Tristan and Tom’s faces when they come to get him. And at the end, we get a glimpse of John speeding away from the Easter celebrations before anyone arrives.
John doesn’t like gatherings, and he doesn’t like people. Zach likes John though, and since he’s set on getting John to talk to him, poor John doesn’t have much of a choice.
John hid in the pasta aisle. The fluorescent lamps above did nothing to make the huge man blocking the path to the checkout appear any smaller.
There was a reason John did his grocery shopping on Friday evenings, and that man was ruining it. The shop was supposed to be empty, and yet, there he was. A mountain of a man—one of the sort who could pin John down with no effort at all.
He hadn’t seen John. He simply stood there, reading on his phone with a bag of potatoes in his hand and a bottle of ketchup under a heavily muscled arm, as if there wasn’t a problem in the world. And John guessed, for him, there wasn’t.
How would he get out? He couldn’t walk past him; it was too risky. And even if he made it past him without trouble, the man would come up behind John by the checkout counter…or outside.
As quietly as he possibly could, he took a few steps away from the giant—
Wrong move. Intense blue eyes shot up from the screen and landed on him.
John swallowed, tried to move, but was frozen to the spot.
“Sorry, am I in your way?” Of course, his voice had to be a deep rumble. A shiver travelled down John’s spine. He didn’t want to think about what it would sound like when he got angry, or how those fists would bruise and shatter his face if they ever tore into him.
The man stepped a little closer to the shelf, gave a nod as if he expected John to walk past him and went back to reading on his phone.
John couldn’t move. It was so easy for a man that size to grab him. Standing where he was wouldn’t keep him safe, but at least he hadn’t walked up to the man voluntarily.
A few seconds ticked by, and the man looked at him again. His gaze swept over him from head to toe. Probably thinking about what he’ll do to him once they were out of there. John’s ribcage tightened; he couldn’t move. He stood there, slowly suffocating while waiting for the man to make his move.
When nothing happened John almost screamed at him to get it over with. The waiting was worse than the pain, worse than the humiliation.
Then the man put away his phone and smiled. “Well, it was interesting meeting you.” He nodded, stroked his full beard, and…left.
John stood, unmoving. His pulse was ringing in his ears, and his knees wanted to buckle.
He would be waiting outside.
Tears wanted to rise in his eyes but he pushed them away. Tears didn’t help; tears had never saved him; tears wouldn’t take away the pain.
Shit, it had been good. He’d been doing…maybe not well, but better. For three years, he’d let himself believe Nortown was a place he could stay, a place where he would be left alone. But it was over now. He’d seen interest in the man’s eyes, had seen that he was about to say something as he’d stroked his beard.
Gregor hadn’t had a beard.
John slammed his eyes shut. He was not going to think about Gregor. Not now, not here. He heard the man talking to Chris by the till, but he couldn’t hear what they said, couldn’t make out the words over the buzz in his ears. He should run, put his shopping basket down and head for the emergency exit.
His feet wouldn’t move.
Time stood still, and yet minutes must have passed, because the voices had gone silent. John glanced at his watch: five to nine. The shop would be closing in five minutes. He forced himself to move to the checkout.
Chris rang his stuff up. His lips were moving, but John couldn’t hear him. He nodded and hoped it fitted whatever he had said. Chris gave him a concerned look, but John ignored it and stuffed his things in a bag.
As he was walking out the door, Jen came bundling through it and almost knocked him to the ground.
“Oh my God, John. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay.” He took a calming breath.
“No, I should’ve been more careful. I just wanted to grab a bag of crisps before Chris closed.”
“It’s okay.” He liked Jen, but right at that moment, he only wanted to get out of there. Or maybe he could cling to her and the giant wouldn’t touch him…for now.
“Hey, Tristan and Luke are up in my flat. We’re about to watch a movie. Do you want to come?”
He didn’t mean to shake his head as frantically as he did, but there was no stopping the terror following the thought of sharing a sofa with Tristan.
“It’s okay, another time. Oh, and Jason will be working in the café. I’ll be there most days, but he’s taking Fridays. I thought you might want to know.” Concern, he hated the concern shining in her eyes, and yet he was grateful she had informed him. “He’s off on Mondays,” she added before she reached for his arm. She stopped herself before she made contact, and John told himself he was grateful. He didn’t do well with touch, but he hated what it did to Jen. He could tell she wanted to reach out, to pat his shoulder, maybe even give him a hug. He took a step away from her.
“Thanks for letting me know.” His mumble was low.
“Anytime, sweetie. See you Monday?” She looked expectantly at him, and he gave her one short nod.
It was dark outside; the evening air was cool against his skin. He gripped his bag tighter, trying not to feel the chill spreading in his gut. He’d almost forgotten about the man while he’d been talking to Jen. Almost. Now, he was waiting for the large, rough hands to grab him. He couldn’t see anyone, his jeep was in sight, but not the man. It didn’t mean he wasn’t hiding somewhere in the shadows.
John crossed the road to the parking and sprinted the last few steps while clutching his bag. One lone street lamp cast its yellow light over the mostly empty asphalt square. John fumbled with his keys. He looked around, strived to see behind him at the same time as pushing the key into the lock.
Any second now, he was sure they would come—the hands. He hoped it would be quick. Sometimes Gregor had been quick; sometimes he had taken his time.
The door opened, and John climbed in. He shut the door and hit the lock button. Hugging the bag to his chest, he checked the rear-view mirror as his heartbeats thumped in his ears.
There was no one around.
In an attempt to run from his past, John Welsh has spent the last few years building walls around himself. He knows the best way to stay safe is to keep people at arm’s length and preferably out of sight. During weak moments, he might wish he had someone, but he’s not ready. After all, it takes seven years for the body to replace all its cells. He has four years to go before he’s new.
Zachary Fane is always on the move, always on his way to somewhere. He’s going from job to job, from country to country. Contrary to what people might think, he wants nothing more than to find a place to call home, and he knows just where. This time, he is ready. This time, he will stay in Nortown. This time, things will be different. But when he arrives to buy the log cabin he believed would be his, he finds it inhabited. When he goes to talk to the new owner, he is met by the most beautiful green eyes followed by a door slammed in his face.
John should’ve known the peace he’s found in Nortown wouldn’t last. One day everything is fine, the next a mountain of a man shows up wherever he goes. All Zachary wants is to be close to the quiet man who has moved into his cabin. If following him around is the only way, then so be it. Sooner or later, John will get used to having him there … at least, if Zachary hangs around long enough.
Includes the short story, “Honey Baked.”
Contemporary gay romance: 47,776 words