What Can Be [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Mary Calmes
eBook Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
eBook Description: Thirteen years ago, Eli went on a summer trip with his mother and never came back. Now, existing in a new life as Jacob Somerville, he's again running from fear and memories, only to end up where he started. As Jacob struggles to reconnect with his father and brothers, he realizes that his lover, Craig Zhao, was the only thing filling his empty heart and standing between him and ghosts of the past. It will take the power of love--from his family, from Craig, and from himself--for Jacob to see that his life truly is filled with the promise of what can be.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, Published: 2011, 2011
Fictionwise Release Date: January 2012
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29 Reader Ratings:
I was almost back to my truck, having gone into the convenience store attached to the gas station for water and caffeine, when I heard my name. And not Jacob or Jake, not the one I'd been using since I was seventeen, when they changed it, but the real one, the old one. I heard the one she gave me when I was born, the one I left home with when I was fifteen. On instinct, I turned. Had I given it even a second of thought, I might not have stopped. But it was done, the charade over, the second I looked over my shoulder.
Surveying the parking lot, I searched for a sign that would lead me to the voice. It only took a second to see the guy jogging toward me fast, and so I stood there, frozen, unable to move. Even after thirteen years, I would have recognized my brother anywhere. Watching him close in on me was surreal, and even though this had been my plan when I crossed the country, faced with the reality of the moment, I was ill prepared. He stopped five feet from me, his eyes huge, staring.
"Chase," I finally said, and he exhaled sharply, moving until there was less than a foot between us.
He was mute.
"You look good," I said, taking a step back.
My movement, the reflexive retreat, had not registered in his brain at all. He moved forward instantly until he was back in my personal space. "Eli," he breathed, looking me up and down before he exhaled sharply and lunged.
I braced myself and he grabbed me tight, hugging me hard, his arms around my neck, holding me close. After several minutes, I hugged him back, the wave of panic receding, realizing he was not only happy but overwhelmed to see me. I was reeling as well, but for altogether different reasons.
"Jesus." He inhaled my scent before he stepped back, hands rising fast to my face to hold it as he looked at me. "Where the helluva you been?"
I cleared my throat, easing away from his touch. "What're you doing here?"
"I'm... I'm on my way home from dropping off a friend at the airport because he was staying with me for a--God, who the fuck cares? What're you doing here?"
"I came to see you guys," I told him. "I was passing through, so I thought I'd stop."
"You thought you'd stop." He squinted at me. "So were you gonna call?"
"Yeah." I smiled at him. "Once I got here."
"Jesus, Eli." He couldn't stop staring at me. "Where did you--"
"You guys moved," I cut him off. "Or I guess Dad did. You and Lucas probably just moved out, huh?"
He nodded. "A long time ago."
"I went by the old house."
"Well, we're not there anymore, but we're still here in the area. We all live within driving distance of each other."
Of course they did; why wouldn't they? I, too, loved northern California. The Bay Area was one of my favorite places in the world. Why would anyone leave if they didn't have to?
"Sorry," I apologized automatically.
"Eli." He sighed, unable, it seemed, to stop saying my name. "You need to come home with me to--to see Dad. You need to see Dad."
And even though that had been my plan, to finally face down my demons, after thousands of miles to contemplate it, I couldn't. "Actually, it turns out I can't stop, but gimme your number and e-mail, and I'll--"
"No!" he shouted, stepping in close again. He was my older brother, no longer taller than me but still bigger, stronger.
Strange to not be looking up at him anymore, but as we were both hovering around six-two, I was meeting his gaze with my own. But the height was as far as our similarities went, our mother, instead of our father, having stamped all my features. To Chase and my oldest brother, Lucas, Foster Hartline had passed broad shoulders, a wide chest, a chiseled profile, dark chestnut-brown hair, and striking cobalt-blue eyes. I was the youngest and made in the image of my mother, Jamie Hartline, so I was leaner, more swimmer than linebacker, with skin that turned gold in the sun, my hair dark blond and my eyes green.
"I wanna know what you've been doing for thirteen years."
But I didn't mark time like that. I had left home thirteen years ago, but my mother had died eleven years ago. I started thinking about loss from then. "Living, just like you," I said, taking a step back, "but I--"
"No," my brother said, grabbing hold of my elbow. "You need to come home with me to see Dad and Luke and meet Gillian and... I need you to stay where I can see you."
But how could I do that? I couldn't stay; that wasn't me. I didn't stay. "I really--"
"Eli." Chase's voice cracked on my name as his fingers tightened on my arm. "Just come and see everyone and... there's food there, it's Dad and Luke's office party, and it's being catered at the house, but it won't be a late night, and Dad will want to----just come home with me."
I felt the panic start to swell inside of me.
"C'mon, I have my car here. I can--"
"I'll follow you."
"Yeah," I assured him. "I've got the Ford right there."
Several beats of silence passed.
"Her pickup?" my brother finally asked me, startled.
He nodded, leaned in, and hugged me again. I squeezed him back tight, calming, suddenly touched that he wanted to talk to me so badly, spend some time together. This was my brother, after all.
"Please don't disappear again," he pleaded as he pulled back, staring at my face. "Christ, you look just like her."
I nodded because I knew I was the spitting image of my mother.
"Your eyes are lighter and your hair is a little darker, but that's it."
"And her hair was curly, remember? She was forever trying to get it to straighten or do something else."
"It was beautiful, always in her face," he mused.
"Yeah," I agreed, smiling at him.
He took a breath, and I saw his eyes redden, get watery, but he held the tears in check.
"I'll be right behind you."
He leaned in close to me, pulling his phone from the breast pocket of his wool suit jacket. "Gimme your number in case we get separated."
He was taking no chances of losing me.
The drive to Marin was long but one that I remembered, having lived there until I was fifteen years old. As I followed the Audi, my mind drifted to the last time I had been there, but I was brought from my memories by my phone ringing.
"Hey," I said softly, clearing my throat as I answered it.
"Where are you?" He yawned, his voice deep and husky, filled with gravel. He had obviously just woken up after having passed out, exhausted from being on a plane for the long trip over the Atlantic. "You were supposed to be here when I got home. I was looking forward to getting in bed with you."
Craig Zhao had just gotten home from a two-week business trip to Berlin. Between the jet lag and the endless meetings, I was sure he was well beyond weary.
"You don't need to be sorry. I probably gave you the wrong day that I was coming home. The time change really screwed me up, since it's, like, tomorrow in Europe already."
But I had known exactly when he was returning and had planned my exodus accordingly.
"Come home from wherever you are and make me dinner."
"It's too late for dinner," I said softly.
"Dinner--breakfast, whatever." He breathed out. "Just--where are you?"
"How was your trip?"
"Well, you would know if you had bothered to pick up your phone even once while I was gone." He sighed deeply. "You know the point of owning a cell phone is for you to answer it."
"Or return even one e-mail."
"No, you're not," he chuckled softly. "But I'm home now, and I want to see you, and I'm starving, so hurry up."
Even tired and sleepy, Craig could not shed being in charge, and so he demanded instead of asked. Normally, as the owner and CEO of one of the biggest up-and-coming software companies in the country, when he said "jump," people asked "how high?" He had been forced to learn patience, humility, and tact with me.
"How did your meetings--"
"Even more than hungry, I'm horny... I need you."
"Did you get the contracts signed that you--"
"Jacob, seriously." His voice lowered and deepened, sultry with sleep, making my stomach twist into knots. "Forget the trip. I want the biscuits and gravy, and then I want you in bed with me for the rest of the weekend."
I could not think of anything I wanted more.
"I missed you," he sighed, almost whining. "Come home already."
"I can't do that."
"I'm not there," I said quickly, clearing my throat.
"Oh?" The smile filled his voice as he chuckled. "Well, where exactly are--"
"I'm in California," I cut him off.
There was a long silence before he said, "I'm sorry, what?"
"Look," I said quickly, "I'm not coming back, so you should--"
"Wait. I'm not under--"
"Yes, you are."
"Where are you?"
"I moved out of your place, and all my stuff is in the back of my truck, so--"
But it had never been "our" place. Everything was his; nothing was mine. "Your place," I said again. "It was your place, Craig."
"Jake." He was starting to sound worried. "What are you talking about?"
"I left Chicago, I'm gone, I'm already gone, so--"
"Jake," he cut me off sharply, "just slow down and--"
"I don't stick around, I told you that."
"I don't accept that."
"Whether you do or not doesn't change anything."
"What do you want me to say?"
"I want you to tell me when you're coming home."
"I don't--I don't have a home, and I'm done with Chicago."
There was a sharp exhalation from him. "How can you... you and Rick are partners."
"Rick will be better off," I told him, thinking of Richard Brewer, the man who had been my business partner at the salvage yard/demolition company we had started together. He was great with people and secured outside contracts by inspiring trust. I could see a job from the planning stage through execution to completion without losing focus. I blew things up, knocked them down, and handled the destruction end. Rick cleaned it up and took care of disposal and sales of what could be salvaged. We had been doing well, earning respect and a reputation for being honest, when I skipped out of town. I had signed my share of the business over to him when I left. At last count, I had missed eighteen calls from him in the week I had been gone. I had no idea why; I had been very considerate and lined up five guys who could easily take my place. All he had to do was hire one.
"Does he know that?"
"What?" I said, because my mind had been drifting.
"Does Rick know that he's going to be better off without you?"
"Oh, yeah, he knows that."
"Because you told him, or you just think he knows?"
"Let it go."
"Wait... I don't... you love Chicago, you love your partner and your partner's wife and your place and... and you love me." He stuttered out the last, as if he were unsure for the very first time.
"But I can't stay there." I exhaled, ignoring his last comment.
"Jake, how can you leave?"
This, on top of dealing with the tsunami of memories----my mother, my father, my brothers----could not happen. "Just... remember when you said that I was secretive and dis--"
"Jake, that was just... I was frustrated and... I just want to be close to you. I want you to let me in... that's all I was trying to--"
"You deserve some--"
"Oh screw that, Jake! I'm not a saint. Don't you dare try and pin whatever this is on me."
I was stunned at his outburst. Typically the only time he ever lost control was in bed.
He cleared his throat. "Baby, you belong to me, with me. Don't do this."
"Your mother's gonna be so happy. She hates me."
There was a pause. "What are you... Jake, honey, nobody in their right mind could hate you, and my parents are both crazy about you. My father gets you more than me, you guys sit around and talk construction and football and I'm just lost, and my sisters, shit, they all think you're funny and gorgeous, and my grandmother is in love with you."
"And my mother thinks you're the best thing that's ever happened to me. She likes how you keep me in line and make me nice."
"She does. She always says, 'Jake taught you patience.'"
"Just--I gotta go."
"Everybody loves you."
If I argued, I'd sound like I was fishing. Sounding pathetic wasn't on my to-do list.
"Jake, honey, let me talk to--"
"There's nothing to talk about."
"Jake." His voice cracked. "Tell me exactly where you are."
"Your super has your keys."
"He said he'd hold them until you got back."
"I got all my stuff outta your place."
"You did?" There were muffled noises, and I was just going to hang up, but how could I? "Oh"--a sharp intake of breath--"you did. I... your books are... I don't want you to--"
"I gotta go," I said quickly. "Take care." I hung up before he could say another word and put the phone on vibrate so it wouldn't ring if he called back. But why would he? Craig Zhao was a catch; he could do way better than me, and as soon as he started thinking about it, his pride would kick in and he'd want me to go directly to hell. It made sense.
I had stayed way too long in Chicago, getting to where I knew neighborhoods, had restaurants and stores I loved and hole-in-the-wall jazz clubs. There were people who kept tabs on me, worried when I didn't show up regularly, who really liked me. My circle of friends got big, beyond just my business partner, and my personal network was solid. I had been making a life for myself, and before it got permanent, I had to get out of there. I had packed everything into my mother's pickup and driven away in the middle of the night. I hadn't looked back.