Title: How We Began
Authors: Alexis Hall, Amy Jo Cousins, Annabeth Albert, Delphine Dryden,
Edie Danford, Geonn Cannon, Vanessa North
Genres: LGBTQ+, New Adult, Romance, Young Adult
Publication date: November 9th 2015
BLURB supplied by Xpresso Book Tours
How does love begin? A glance, a gesture, an unexpected offer of help from a stranger…or from a good friend. A smile across a counter at a coffee shop or video store. A secret revealed in a song from another place and time. Or in a love ballad crooned at a high school dance.
In this anthology of never-before-published sweet LGBTQ+ stories, seven authors explore the beginnings of love between young and new adult couples. All proceeds will support The Trevor Project’s work with crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ+ youth.
TruNorth by Alexis Hall
We play the O3 in London.
The crowd is amazing, filling up this vast dome. When there’s that many people, they look like coloured beads, shaken back and forth by these huge ripples of motion.
They’re here for us. To see us.
There’s something almost physical about so much excitement and anticipation and all this… I don’t know what else to call it except love. Surging towards the stage, beating against my body, as if it’s trying to push right inside me. I never know if I’m flying or drowning or dying.
But when I’m here, when I’m on stage and my face is on the screens and my voice is everywhere, I don’t care.
It’s weird because it’s not the sort of thing you can really seriously want or imagine wanting. It’s too big. Too impossible.
But now I know what it’s like, I do want it. I want it so badly it tastes like blood in my mouth.
We close with Something About You—our first number one.
I wish you could see what I see when I see you
Cos then you’d believe there’s no reason to doubt you
You’d know how your smile lights up my world
Because to me, oh to me
There’s something about you.
It’d been waiting for us after The Next Big Thing. All we had to do was record it. The video’s a bit rough around the edges. Not the video itself—it’s Glyde’s handiwork, so slick as slick as can be—but us.
Still learning our parts.
It’s effortless now, though. We know how to move and how to stand together. Whose arm should be flung across whose shoulder. Who keeps his hands in his pockets. Who tucks his thumbs in his belt.
Max, Me, Oli, Rayan, Callum.
All choreography, but it’s meant to look natural.
Glyde calls it “coordinated anarchy”. Vigorous young animals having the time of our lives.
He really does call us that. With this awful fondness.
We’re doing it now. Running to the edge of the stage, waving, blowing kisses, swapping places, jumping past each other, coming together at last. I rest an elbow on Max’s shoulder, put my left arm round Oli. Rayan leans against him on the other side. Callum, on the far end, folds his arms. Close but not touching.
We’re publicity-still perfect.
We did good tonight. I know we did.
Adrenaline sparks beneath my skin even as my breath slows and my heart calms. It’s a hectic, electric feeling, not quite like happiness. This moment when I blur so absolutely into who I’m supposed to be and everything else falls away.
Unexpected Dragons by Delphine Dryden
Ellet. Where was his trainer?
His senses were astounding, everything so vivid around him he almost couldn’t sort it all out. How could he do that, identify all his family, the whole village, just by smell? It seemed impossible. But…there, just by the door to the hall, was a wad of fear and disgust he identified as Ellet. Peering under the remaining thatch he spotted the angry face, nearly as red as his own new skin. Best to withdraw, probably. But…how?
Tap tap tap.
Not Rook this time, and not Ellet either. Elder Ansel was the one jostling his foot this time, with his heavy ceremonial staff. Gesturing with one crooked hand, asking Zev to lean down. He obliged, though the shift of his weight threatened to bring half the remaining roof down around with him.
“Son of Zella, we need you to shift back now, please.”
Yes, sir, he tried to answer. When he opened his jaws, a burp of flame popped out, re-lighting the nearest piece of ridgepole.
No no no.
“And try not to open your mouth, lad. A good habit for many occasions, but never so important as now.”
Embarrassment rushed through him. Could dragon forms cry? He glanced across the wall and saw the villagers gathered in the street, pointing and talking about him. Imagined the picture he must make to them, his big squat body trapped inside the hall, his head and neck sticking out of the ruined roof.
I…will never live this down.
“Remember your training,” Elder Ansel called up to him. “The return is easier than the first change, but most fledglings are able to fly about and learn their new forms for a time. We would rather you refrain from that. So you must focus. Feel your human form. Top to bottom. You are always both, but you can become either.”
Was there an option to sink into the stone beneath the village and never be seen again? Or maybe it would be easier to ignore what Rook had said, to stretch his new-found wings and start flying and just never stop.
The elder was still encouraging him. “Top to bottom, Zev.”
He tried. His mind was a blank. Or rather, it was full of flying and the urge to swoop down, grab his talons around an unsuspecting gazelle from the plains below the crag, and dig his teeth into raw meat for the first time. He flexed his shoulders, just the smallest amount. The crowd murmured uneasily, and he crouched down into himself again.
Ellet wasn’t in that crowd. He was walking away from the meeting hall at speed, heading up the hill toward the cliff. Walking fast, then running as he pulled his tunic off…then changing and flying. A few mighty beats of his emerald wings were all he needed to arrow through the sky, up and over the crag. Out of sight. Taking his disapproval with him.
Zev knew he deserved it, but it still stung.
A Song for Sweater-boy by Vanessa North
After class, I’m digging in my locker for a new pen when a body slams into the door next to mine, and the face sucking starts. Ash is pressed up against the orange lockers by a girl with blue pigtails and hairy legs, and she seems to be trying to find his tonsils with her tongue. I avert my eyes, but not before noticing she’s definitely the same girl who was cooing over him last week.
“Love you,” she murmurs, her hands slapping the lockers next to his head. “Text me after you get out of that thing today, okay?”
“Yeah.” His voice is all breathless. I pinch my eyes shut. That’s like a sex voice. Like he’s thinking about having sex with that girl.
My gut churns over a sharp stab of jealousy as I finally, finally find the pen. I shove it into my backpack and resolve to clean my locker so I can find what I need easier. I slam it shut and rush down the hall, face flaming.
Why do I care if Ash Cooper wants to have sex with girls? Every boy I ever crush on wants to be with girls. Maybe I’m just irritated by how easy it seems to be for straight people to find someone to date. Or neurotypical people. I’m pretty sure Ryder from the GSA has a boyfriend, and he’s not even cute like Ash Cooper.
I turn around. The blue-haired girl is gone, and Ash’s hand is on my open locker door. I brace myself for the teasing but he just smirks at me and slams my locker shut.
“You were in such a hurry to get away, it bounced.”
“Sorry.” Why am I apologizing to him?
“Why are you apologizing to me?” His smirk widens to a smile; I turn and start walking again.
“Sorry!” I call back over my shoulder, walking faster. I hoped this year would be different, but that smile reminds me of the way the bullies always act like they’re your friend before they stick your head in the toilet.
“Hey, wait!” He calls after me, but my calculus classroom is right there, and I step inside just as the bell rings.
A Taste of Coffee and Cream by Amy Jo Cousins
The third time she changes clothes in the coffee shop bathroom by the bus station, the boy behind the counter busts her.
“Wait,” he says when she picks up her coffee from the scratched glass case that holds purple-stained blueberry muffins and sticky Rice Krispies treats.
Her heart seizes, then pounds like a rabbit’s. She’s been so careful, never changing in the same bathroom twice in a row before today. But there are two one-person bathrooms here and the tiny blue tiles on the floor are clean, so she doesn’t worry about putting her backpack down.
The boy is holding one hand in the air. His nails are bitten down and his first two fingers and the outside edge of his hand are stained blue with ink.
“Do you even like coffee?” he asks her. She looks at him, confused. “You always scrunch up your nose and make a face when you drink it. Like you hate it.”
“I don’t really like it black.”
He holds out his hand, asking for her cup. “I can fix it. Tell me how you take it.”
She hesitates. Once, at the diner on the next block, she ordered it the way she actually likes it, and the guy there repeated her words with a leer, his lip curled like a dead leaf.
“Extra cream. Three sugars.” She stares past the boy’s shoulder while he pours out some of the black coffee. Adds cream, sugar. He hands her the cup and watches expectantly.
She sips it and smiles without thinking when the rich, sweet taste explodes in her mouth. The boy smiles back, which makes her stop. Smiles are dangerous from boys.
“Jude, right?” She orders a cup of coffee every time, and once the shop had been busy enough that he’d asked her name, writing it on the cup with a blue Sharpie. He touches two fingers to the side of his forehead. She is watching him so hard, while trying not to look like she is paying attention at all, needing to figure out if he’s about to make fun of her. Or worse.
“I’m Owen. I’ll get it right from now on. Don’t worry.”
She almost laughs but the sound gets stuck in her throat. Worry is all she knows.
Despite that, she comes back to the coffee shop every time she takes the bus to this town an hour from her own. The boy never once says extra cream like it’s dirty.
He always smiles at her.
First in Line by Annabeth Albert
I blame my mom’s suitcase. I knew it was a terrible idea to use luggage older than I was, but the dingy navy case with a weird mauve stripe and ominously bulging zipper was the biggest we had in the house, and my folks sure as heck weren’t springing for something new for me to take to Cathia University. It teetered precariously on three good wheels as I dragged it behind me, the cracked handle cutting into my palm as I navigated the steps to Grubbs Hall.
I’d picked up my keycard moments earlier in front of the dorm. The wait at the “R-Z” portion of the keycard line was nothing compared to what I was likely in for in the dorm’s lobby. The crowd around the elevators was big and loud—couldn’t squeeze a strand of hay between all the freshmen, their parents, grandparents, and assorted siblings. The Cathia admissions folks had sent out a letter three weeks earlier with a schedule of staggered move-in times, but judging by the overflowing lobby, nobody had read the letter.
Everyone else was in groups—dads lugging huge footlockers and mini-fridges, moms carrying armfuls of bedding, younger siblings wheeling sleek black suitcases that made me want to shove mine behind me. On the lone bench in the lobby, two men sat with a blond girl who looked like she was around my age. Her sweatshirt said “Dance Team” under a large logo for a Massachusetts high school. What intrigued me more were the men she was with. Both were a parental sort of age. The taller one had a cane leaning against one leg, military-short black hair, and a stiff way of sitting that reminded me of my dad’s ex-army buddies. The other guy was way shorter, with a beer gut and a full head of graying curly hair. He talked animatedly as he motioned for the other two to lean in for a selfie. Neither man looked a thing like the girl. Were they related to her? The way they put their arms around her—beefy hands gripping her thin shoulders—made it seem that way. One of them must be her dad. Or maybe both of them? The military guy laughed and the other one touched his arm. They sat a bit closer than I’d ever risk, even with a good friend.
“Excuse us.” A family with twin redheaded jocks in Cathia football T-shirts cut in front of me, interrupting my little stare fest. When the jocks passed, though, my gaze went straight back to the bench. The two men and the girl were getting up, the shorter guy helping the taller one to his feet and handing him the cane. The way he hovered confirmed my guess—definitely a couple.
Warmth spread from my chest to my neck and all the way up to the tips of my ears. This. This was what I had left Ashwood behind to see. Two men, normal as a pot of rice, depositing their kid at college. Just another day in America, and yet it was so far outside my reality I had to take a minute and breathe.
Extinction Level Events by Geonn Cannon
Cassandra loved the town; it seemed as if everywhere else on the North American continent humans set up camp and reformed the land to make it “better.” Then settlers reached the Pacific Northwest and decided to leave everything alone as much as possible. She turned right so she could drive past the waterfront. The landmass visible across the water was Canada, meaning she was feet away from where America ended. She was moving to Savannah to attend the College of Art and Design. Savannah was another coastal city, and when she arrived she planned to stand on one of the most eastern extremes of town. That way she could say she had bookended the American continent.
Natalie thought it was crazy she had chosen a school on the other coast, but it was a calculated decision. SCAD was her dream school, yes, but she also felt she needed the distance. She needed to find out who she was beyond the confines of her life so far. Everyone in town knew her, had a picture in their head of who she was, and she knew shedding their preconceived notions would make it harder to explore any new avenues. She needed a fresh start, and leaving everything behind was the best way to do that.
She knew she shouldn’t be scared. Yes, this was a big change, but change was second nature to her. Throughout high school she had changed her name so many times that, on the first day of senior year, one of her friends jokingly gave her a blank name tag and told her to “fill it out at the beginning of the day, just to make things easier on us.” She’d been Cass, Cassie, Sandy, Sandra, and C.K. In some places online she was CassFromCascara, just because she liked the way it sounded. Her naturally blonde hair had turned red, black, maroon, back to red, back to blonde, then cut so short her mother scolded that she might as well have shaved it. She hadn’t gone to that extreme, but she did seriously consider it for a few weeks.
Her mother was supportive of every experiment Cassandra tried. “High school is your fitting-room stage. Try on everything and see what fits. Otherwise how will you know who you really are?”
Of course, her mother didn’t know the major conclusion she’d reached at the end of all her experimentation. Cassandra had ended up with shoulder-length hair in her natural blonde, and she’d decided her birth name was just fine for her. Friends could call her Cass or Cassie, but for all intents and purposes she was Cassandra. She was blonde. She was a high school graduate. She was gay. She liked soccer. Only one of those facts wasn’t common knowledge.
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