Next Time I Fall
Author: Jeff Erno
Genre: M/M Romance; Gay Romance
Price: 3.99 USD
Cover art: Louca Matheo
Eric Daniels has a habit of falling for unattainable men. For the past two years he’s pined for a man younger than him who has no interest in a relationship and just wants to use him. When Eric suddenly finds himself alone and again jilted, he swears it will never happen again. Then he meets Steve. Steve Warren has recently started his job as associate pastor of the local Baptist church. While canvassing the neighborhood to promote the church’s vacation Bible school program, he encounters a man who sticks in his memory. Though he doesn’t catch his name, he recalls the man’s black Labrador retriever, Drake.
Steve has a dog of his own, a boxer named Felix. And when they bump into each other again, not only do the dogs hit it off, but so do the humans. A friendship begins. Steve suddenly finds himself facing the harshest reality he’s ever endured. He’s been aware of his attraction to men for a long time, but his religion teaches homosexuality is an abomination. How can he reconcile his feelings for Eric with his faith? If he comes out as gay, what will it do to his career, his family, and his church? But he can’t go on forever using his religion as a shield to hide behind. Living a lie is bearing false witness, so he must find a way to be true to his faith while following his heart. Is there any way to move forward without hurting a lot of people he loves?
Eric heard the rapid tapping of Drake’s nails on the tile before he’d even managed to push the door all the way open. Happy-faced panting and a lightning-fast tail wag confirmed that Drake was thrilled to see his master had returned.
“Did you miss me, Drake?” Eric’s tone, slightly lilted, betrayed the heaviness in his chest. He took a couple steps and placed the grocery bag he was carrying on the counter, then reached down to pet his four-legged friend. “Well, he’s gone,” Eric whispered as he lowered himself to a squatting position, all the while stroking Drake’s forehead right between his ears. He reached up with his other hand and cupped the Labrador’s face. One thing about Drake that Eric loved was that he always, even when sad, seemed to be smiling. Eric sighed then kissed his pooch on the head and rose to his feet.
He snatched the grocery bag from the counter and walked to the kitchen, Drake shadowing him.
“Yes, I got you a treat…and yes, I know you want to go outside.”
Drake’s tail wagged even more furiously as he began his prance of anticipation. Certain words, like “treat” and “outside” triggered this response, and seeing the dog’s glee somewhat assuaged the dull ache Eric felt inside him. Did Drake even realize that Max was gone for good, that he wouldn’t be coming back? To Drake, every time he was left alone, he probably feared he’d never see his owner again. At least, that’s how he acted whenever Eric returned. The dog got so excited, you’d have thought Eric had been gone a couple of months rather than just a few minutes or hours.
Eric now understood how Drake felt. He had no idea if Max would be gone a few days, a few years, or forever. Eric might never see the younger man again for all he knew. Then again, what right did Eric have to hold him back? It wasn’t like they were a couple or anything, not officially. Max had been his roommate of sorts for the past two and a half years. Eric took the kid in when he was more-or-less homeless, rented him a room. Well, that’s what they told people, but Eric never made an issue of the money. Max had seemed to always forget to pay. He’d certainly forgotten more often than he’d remembered, and it didn’t really matter to Eric. He never really needed the money. To be honest, he needed Max more than he needed the cash.
But that’s just how Max was. He wasn’t like Eric who’d been at the same job for the past nine years. Max worked here and there, never at one place for very long. He was an artist, and very gifted, but he hadn’t quite figured out how to apply himself in a way that would net him a reliable source of income. He did some projects on commission. He sold a piece every now and then, or he got hired to paint a mural or the side of a building for a business. For a while he’d worked painting logos on company trucks and vans, but he was just too much of a free spirit to answer to a boss. He liked to work when he wanted to work.
The couple of times Max got “real” jobs were worst of all. He took an hourly wage job at a convenience store and was fired after his first two weeks. He didn’t seem too concerned about reporting to work at his scheduled time, and the manager seemed even less concerned about letting him go. Pretty much the same thing happened when he tried fast food. That didn’t last even as long as the gas station job.
When Max announced he’d met someone online and was leaving for California in a month, Eric wasn’t at first sure he was serious. Ever the dreamer, Max talked about a lot of things he wanted to do. He changed his mind constantly, never focused on one thing for too long, so probably his big plans to start a new life would fizzle in a few days. Eric decided not to bring it up, pretend Max had never mentioned it, and a week before his planned departure, it seemed as if he had. But when Eric stepped into the basement to do a load of laundry that Friday morning, he noticed Max’s easel was gone. All the art supplies that he usually left strewn across the rec room had been gathered and packed in Max’s satchel.
Eric hightailed up the stairs to the main floor then continued on to the second floor where the bedrooms were located. He stopped in front of Max’s door to catch his breath before knocking.
“Hey man, what’s up?” Max lay stretched out on full-sized bed, legs crossed at the ankles. He removed a set of headphones as Eric pushed the door open.
“Hey.” Eric smiled. He glanced around the room, and his eyes fell on two suitcases in the corner. “Uh…so I guess you’re still planning to, um…to head out to Cali?”
Max returned his smile, his own broader, conveying his genuine enthusiasm. “Yeah. Monday’s the big day.”
“I didn’t really think you’d go through with it. I mean, Well…I was…uh…”
“Thought I’d flake out again, huh?” Max laughed as he shook his head to flick hair off his face. He reached up and raked his fingers through the straight, blond strands in a gesture that had always gotten to Eric. His mannerisms, masculine in a surfer-dude sort of way, were also slightly effeminate, just soft enough to be sexy. Everything about the way he carried himself affected Eric, and he couldn’t exactly explain why.
“No. Of course I didn’t think you’d flake out. I just…well, I was hoping you might change your mind. I’m gonna miss you.”
Max’s broad smile faded to a sincere, pleasant expression where the corners of his mouth just slightly curled. He patted the mattress with his palm. “If you want, I’ll let you give me head one last time…for old time’s sake.”
The rapid tapping of Drake’s nails on the kitchen tile pulled Eric from his reverie. He shook his head and reached into the box of dog biscuits for a treat. “Alright, alright. Here you go.” He held out a dog biscuit to his Lab who quickly devoured it. Eric stepped into the utility room and removed Drake’s leash from the hook where it was hanging. Drake rushed to the front door, his rear end jiggling back and forth as his tail whipped about lickety split.