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Living Out Loud
Author/Writer of Book/Novel:
Ben Emerson has lived by his minister father’s rules most of his life. Born into an ultra-conservative church community, he’s finally brave enough to break free and move to San Francisco. Distancing himself certainly helps create a new mindset, but living as an openly gay man takes some getting used to. When he reaches out to Xavier, a childhood friend who lives in the city, Ben isn’t sure how he’ll respond given their thorny history. Ben hopes the familiar connection will help him right some wrongs as well as provide the solace he’s been craving.
Xavier Ramos is who he is, and he doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks. Whether it’s eyeliner, nail polish, tattoos or his love of hooking up, he uses his body as a form of self-expression but doesn’t let anyone get too close. When Ben reenters his life, Xavier helps him experience the city and feel comfortable in his own skin. Seeing the world through Ben’s eyes, he begins to wonder if he’s also not living as freely as he thought.
When Xavier challenges Ben’s beliefs about sex, it becomes explosive—for both of them. Xavier breaks apart Ben’s sheltered world and shows him what it’s like to live out loud. The more time they spend together, the more Xavier begins to long for Ben in a different way—one that both surprises and scares him. But real life doesn’t fade into the background, so when Ben’s past comes knocking, old habits are hard to break. Testing the foundation of their deepening connection will take a trust that will either bind them…or tear them apart.
**Riley Hart writing as Nyrae Dawn
**Ben is from PAINT THE STARS and Xavier is from A HUNDRED THOUSAND WORDS, but LIVING OUT LOUD can be read as a complete standalone.
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The cursor blinks as I consider whether to leave well enough alone. My palms sweat as I begin typing the message, my fingers fumbling on the keys:
Hey, Xavier! This is Ben Emerson. It’s been a long time.
A long time since we were fourteen and shared a first kiss. A long time since I freaked, pushed you away, and barely spoke to you after that.
Your family moved the following year, and I never saw you again. Surprised I didn’t search for you online sooner. But life’s been rough, to say the least. And I’ve been scared for too damn long. And now I’m finally on my own.…Trying to find my way in this vibrant city. Guess it feels nice to reach out to an old friend. Don’t have too many of those anymore. Someone familiar in an overwhelming situation.
I hit the back button and delete the short message. Exit out of Facebook and walk to the fridge to pull out a cold soda, glad my roommate isn’t around to see me stress out like this over a damn social media message.
But lots of shit is new to me lately. Moving to San Fran, for example, and finally leaving my conservative family behind. I lift my ball cap and push my sweaty hair away from my eyes before readjusting it onto my head.
I have a little collection of hats now that I work outdoors for a landscaping business called Common Grounds. An assortment of thin cotton drawstring shorts and T-shirts too—the kind with the armholes cut out for extra air conditioning. They’re the most comfortable when laying down fertilizer and spreading mulch in front of the quaint Victorian homes on Steiner Street, also known as Postcard Row or the Painted Ladies, depending on who you’re speaking to in this town.
I left my Sunday best—those suffocating dress shirts, slacks, and ties—behind and became someone new. Someone who feels more like me and that’s incredibly freeing. Like I’m finally breaking away from my minister father and his flock of followers. Standing in the front pew of the makeshift tent that eventually became a brick-and-mortar church for an entire childhood while he saved people with little more than bible verses and a fuckton of arrogance…as the congregation fell to their knees in prayer and thanked the almighty stars.
My mother was no different; she’d put the Tammy Faye Bakkers of the world to shame with her floral dresses and strings of pearls as she happily waved to the bible camp bus as it sped away with me and a dozen other kids inside it, only to find out later that she hoped I’d return more devout than ever. As if I ever had a choice back then.
Helping Dad keep the church books after graduation felt just as wrong—like I was only playing a role. Going through the motions, while my feelings were at war inside me. Putting my hands in the dirt felt much better and was familiar to me—God’s green earth and all of that.
I glance at the clock and wonder what’s taking Drew so long with our takeout order from the corner pizza place. Sitting back down on the stool, I reach for my laptop. I reopen Facebook, type in Xavier’s name, and scroll through his photos again like some stalker.
First time I saw him as an adult, I nearly swallowed my tongue. Because hot damn, he’s a sexy man. I’ve never thought that about somebody with a shit-ton of piercings and tattoos, but on him they look cool. His hair is still dark and wavy, though he wears it longer now. A mix of confidence and dreaminess still exudes from his eyes. Except now they’re lined with black kohl, which makes the whiskey-brown color stand out. His skin is still a shade or two darker than mine, which he likely got from his father who is half Mexican.
There’s no status listed beneath his photo, so it’s hard to tell whether he’s taken or single, not that it matters. But he’s definitely openly gay if the rainbow flags and equality memes on his posts are any indication.
I enlarge a recent photo and notice his T-shirt for the first time. It reads, Weed Saves Lives. My heart squeezes uncomfortably tight. Damn, is he into that shit as hard as Ezra, my ex from college? Again, why does it matter? I’m not trying to date him, only reconnect with an old friend. But from the looks of it, we’re different as night and day. I’m still shaking my bible-thumping traditional upbringing, and he’s as free and eclectic as this town.
I hear a key scrape in the door as my roommate walks in, carrying our pizza. “Sorry, there was a line.”
I shut my laptop and twist toward him. “No worries. Is Wendy joining us?”
“She had a work thing,” he replies, placing the large box in the middle of the table as I reach for a couple of plates from the cupboard.