Painful

You are too painful to keep around.
Don’t roll your eyes. I know that’s what you’re doing.
Your silence is the loudest of all sounds,
Next to the here we go again sighing
That you’re doing right now.

Just go ahead and fuck off, walk away.
There is no joy in feeling myself burden
One moment, and worth killing time with the next day.
You’re not the first to cause my heart to harden
So there’s no obligation to stay.

When did I give you permission
To use me as verbal punching bag?
I think I’d remember that discussion.
And if my voice is such a grating drag,
You’ll benefit from its omission.

© M K Lee

From Coffee Shop Corners – Quote

People watching might be George’s favourite way to spend his time. Why wouldn’t he lose himself in dreaming up the loves and lives of other people to escape the mess that is his own? From this new favourite cafe corner, in the new town he’s made his home, George makes up backstories for each of the baristas. And as they serve coffee, George imagines happily ever afters for their waiting customers. But when a surprise email forces him to relive the heartache he’s running from, George can think of little else. How can he move forward with his life if he keeps looking back?

Penalties For Late Returns

For the crashing sound coming from somewhere in the house, Warwick winces, wondering how he will ever get used to there not being noise. He pauses from packing up what seems to be a never-ending stack of books, still trying to separate Jack’s from his own.

The comic books and graphic novels are a sure thing, as is the stack of poetry anthologies that he bought in a garage sale three years ago and won’t let anybody else touch. But the healthy eating, the fitness books, and the ones on astrology are most definitely Jack’s. They have so much in common as father and son, but taste in books is one thing for which they are worlds apart.

Warwick tells himself he won’t miss the books, won’t miss the strange green mulch in the fridge every time Jack is on a health kick, which is always. He won’t miss the hair in the shower that clogs the drain if Jack gets in the shower before him in the morning. He definitely won’t miss the smell that lingers and follows Jack around every time he makes them chili, and nor will he miss the pointed looks he receives for everything he eats that isn’t healthy.

Jack, though, Warwick thinks, sitting back on his haunches and staring up at the rapidly emptying shelves, he doesn’t know how he’s going to do without. He’s raised him alone since Jack was barely two, and as proud as Warwick is that Jack is now going off to college, it is hard to picture this house feeling like a home without his son.

Jack curses out loud bringing Warwick back from musings that are anything less than amusing, leaving him snorting in laughter at what is probably a stubbed toe.

“It’s what you get for leaving packing to the last minute and going round in those ridiculous flip-flops,” Warwick says as Jack stumbles into their living room sideways with an oblong box.

Jack answers only with a scowl, and Warwick thinks he will even miss that. Even if Jack has promised to come back as often as he can. Even if Warwick knows he’ll show up with laundry and the house will feel like he hasn’t been away.

It’s taking them hours to cram all of Jack’s things in the old truck that Warwick is gifting to him so he has at least some kind of transport. Warwick is almost, almost, looking forward to the train journey home alone with nothing to carry. The poor truck is already piled high with clothes, more books, and Jack’s overwhelming collection of toiletries that will no longer spill over every surface of their bathroom. They had a falling out over it just before Jack stomped off to his soon-to-be old bedroom, actually, for Warwick insisting on wrapping everything that could spill liquid in food wrap or something, and Jack… not.

“I think this is the last box,” Jack says as he drops the box he’s carrying to the floor and collapses into the nearest armchair. For the way it creaks, Warwick thinks he might treat himself to a new furniture suite, as well as a new car.

“You wanna take anything from the kitchen?”

“No,” Jack says, smiling, “that’s all yours.”

The kitchen is Warwick’s favorite room in the house, the one he’s always put the most effort into doing anything with. With gleaming surfaces and sparkling pans, Warwick is half-relieved everything is staying exactly where it is. Though he does worry how the hell Jack is going to fend for himself when he can barely boil an egg without some level of international disaster occurring.

“You, uh… you want me to fix you something before we leave?”

“Dad,” Jack says, bordering on exasperated even though he’s smiling, “I’m good.”

Warwick nods, tells himself he isn’t bothered at all by how eager Jack is to be leaving. He doesn’t think on it too much as Jack rambles on about the unpacking he has to do, the Freshers events he’s already signed up for online, and all the other things Jack has already got decided in this new life of his.

With a little more force than is necessary, Warwick yanks at the bookshelf he’s just emptied, trying to get it more flush with the wall. Something is blocking the side of it; Warwick drops down to press his face into the carpet so he can see better, scrabbling around at the back of the shelf until his fingers close around yet another book.

“This yours, Jack?” Warwick asks though he knows he isn’t as soon as he looks at the cover.

It’s a book on runes that he remembers taking out from the library months ago. Years, Warwick amends as he cracks back the cover and looks at the date stamped inside. Two of them; he’s not even sure they still stamp books in libraries these days.

“You want one more coffee before we set off?” Warwick hears Jack say as he reads the blurb on the back of the book and tries to come up with a list of excuses for why he’s so late returning it.

When Warwick looks up Jack’s look is guarded, hopeful, and even, he thinks, a little bit lost. For all Jack’s bravado and excitement, Warwick thinks there is a little hesitance about this move he just hasn’t got around to saying out loud.

Warwick tosses the book on the couch and groans as he pushes himself to his feet, already heading into the kitchen to put on the machine. He puts out two cups; how many times will he forget and make two when it’s just him living here now? Swallowing back the strange reluctant though excited sadness threatening to choke him up, Warwick pulls out a chair at the table for Jack to sit while they wait for their coffee, listening as he continues to talk.


The library looks no different to what Warwick remembers, down to the book carts with the creaking wheels leaving tracks in the faded red carpet, and the wallpaper peeling behind the small reception desk from where there was once a leak upstairs. It even smells the same, that cloying, musty book smell that is half-comforting and half-stomach churning.

Warwick doesn’t even remember exactly why he stopped coming here, or when. Perhaps it was a change of job, or maybe during one of Jack’s school projects when Warwick had focused all his energy on little else. Whatever the reason, two years is a pretty long time to be holding on to a library book.

He can already picture the librarian berating him, has looked up online what kind of charges he might be in for so he knows what to expect. Not that the library website told him anything. Warwick has cash to hand but also his card if it gets too steep, though also checks he has a clear run to the exit in case some late returns librarian police come marching out to drag him away somewhere.

Warwick wonders if Mrs. Sue still works here, the sweet-looking lady who always used to serve him, terrifying Jack when he was little with her deathly stare whenever he made too much noise. It makes him think of her son Simon. Warwick glances over towards the tables he used to sit at wondering if he is still lurking around.

The table is full, half of the seats taken up by students bent over books and laptops, with the other side a swarm of rustling newspapers and furiously scribbled notes. Warwick wonders then if on that last corner, right in the center of the divider, Jack’s initials are still etched. He even makes a point of trying to walk past to see it, rolling his eyes when his view is blocked by the turning of a newspaper page.

Warwick debates taking out another book while he is here, ponders slotting the well-overdue library book into one of the passing carts and making a run for it, then scolds himself for having come all the way here just to be looking to walk away again. The worst that can happen, he reminds himself as he squeezes the book to his chest beneath his jacket, is a thorough telling off. He is a little too old at this point to be so concerned about that.

Still, Warwick takes several more laps of the library, casting a fond smile over some of the titles and even skimming his fingers along one of the shelves. This is a mistake; he grimaces at his fingertips that are now covered in thick dust, looks around for somewhere to wipe them, then sighs as he skims them over the side of his jeans.

Turning on his heel, Warwick heads for the main desk hoping to find at least an almost-friendly face, giving the tall man currently serving a wide berth for the heavy furrow of his brow. He lingers by the end of an aisle waiting to see if there is anyone else that might be serving, still trying to perfect his excuses and coming up with nothing that sounds even remotely good.

Warwick is still standing there several minutes later debating with himself, when the tall man straightens up to his full height, and even seems to have a few inches on Jack. He has his back to Warwick, though Warwick can just about make another person that the man talking to, who he has to assume is taking over or starting his shift.

Warwick thinks he can make out a mumbled conversation even if he isn’t picking up any individual words. There is a snort of laughter that has to come from the tall guy for the way it echoes, followed by a clasped shoulder, and a bending down to retrieve a bag. Warwick watches the man leave, disappearing into the depths of the library where who knows what happens, leaving Warwick trying to work out just how much taller this guy is compared with Jack.

“Can I help you?”

Warwick jolts for the voice that calls out, turning to look over his shoulder before realizing the words are aimed at him. His eyes finally land on the man who has replaced the giant, and Warwick feels his throat dry out.

He’s beautiful. There is no other way to describe the man. Well, there is, Warwick thinks, taking in the shirt fitting just so over muscle, the thick, dark hair standing up in all directions, and the beautiful dark brown eyes piercing into him even from here. But those words are a little too lustful for a miserable gray afternoon. Which doesn’t stop Warwick from allowing his eyes to linger over the man’s lips instead.

And that stubble, Warwick adds, letting his mind wander to feeling it against his throat before he snaps out of it and tells himself to behave.

“Puis-je vous aider? Kann ich dir helfen? я могу вам помочь perhaps?” Warwick hears next, which is just unfair. How can this hot librarian who he’s been staring at for less than a minute already know about his secret language kink?

“Uh—”

“I presumed that the reason you were looking so completely out of your depth was because you didn’t understand the language,” the man says, leaving Warwick arguing with his jeans that they aren’t tightening.

His voice, Warwick thinks as he stumbles forward, trying to force his own to form words.

“I need to return a book.”

“Then it is good that you have found yourself in a library.”

“I got it from here.”

“That is most fortunate.”

“It’s… overdue,” Warwick adds, fumbling for the book inside his jacket and staring at the man from a little closer, arguing with his stomach that it isn’t turning in excited knots.

“I am sure there is a good reason,” the man says, his tone suggesting that there is no good reason. That there will never be a good enough excuse for why Warwick has an overdue book.

“Uh…”

“Unless of course, there is no good reason,” the man says with an arched eyebrow for him. “That you have held on to that book for far longer than the three weeks you are allocated to borrow it, meaning other library patrons have had to wait.”

Speak, Warwick commands himself, unconsciously leaning against the counter, wondering about the scratch of his stubble against his neck. Then he pictures him in bright orange swim shorts sprawled out on a sun-kissed beach and almost swallows his tongue for it, giving himself a coughing fit and feeling his cheeks heat in the process.

“Would you like a cup of water?”

“S—sure,” Warwick croaks out, his eyes now sweeping down over the man’s back as he turns from him, falling to his ass as he bends to slot a plastic cup beneath the water cooler. Warwick does his best to avoid the man’s fingers when he hands the cup over, stuttering out his thanks and feeling like a total moron.

“Now. If you will give me the book.”

Warwick slides the book across the counter and sucks in a breath, braced for an unsavory reaction. He watches nimble fingers fly over a keyboard and watches his eyes narrow into a scowl, then stumbles back when that scowl is turned on him.

“Mr. Hodge,” the man says, and oh help, Warwick thinks, for the way he says his name. “This book is 26 months and five days overdue.”

“Yeah, that’s… a while.”

“That is an understatement,” the man retorts, scowling even harder at him.

Warwick is a helpless mess because he likes being on the receiving end of it. “Uh, listen—”

Warwick’s eyes dart to the name badge pinned perfectly to the man’s shirt, learning his name is Marwan.

“—listen, Marwan—”

“Oh, believe me. I am listening.”

For the tone of Marwan’s voice, Warwick is temporarily dumbstruck. First, he shakes his head to clear it, and then he berates himself for acting like a fool.

“I’ll pay, whatever it is.”

“Mr. Hodge—”

“Warwick. Mr. Hodge kind of… it’s my dad—”

“Warwick,” Marwan amends; Warwick is helpless for how good his name sounds on his voice. In. From his mouth. “What reason would a person have for keeping a book for so long?”

“I—”

“Have you read it?”

“I’m pretty sure I read it at the time.”

“Do you remember anything from it?” Marwan demands, thoroughly unimpressed with him.

“Uh—”

“What interest would you have in Celtic runes?” Marwan adds, with a heat to his glare that Warwick is having trouble snatching his eyes from.

“I was drawing.”

“Drawing?”

“Yeah,” Warwick blurts out, “drawing. I needed some… I wanted some symbols for this thing I was putting together for a friend. Alicia—”

“Does Alicia know the contents of this book?”

“I don’t—”

“Is she the one who is responsible for this inexcusable tardiness?” Marwan adds, his eyes narrowing a touch more, leaving Warwick not sure whether to take a step back or lean in a little closer for it.

“Uh, no. No, she isn’t, she—I mean. No. No, she’s not.”

“I see.”

Warwick half-wishes Alicia was here with him now so he would have something else to focus on besides getting so flustered. Then he thinks about how hard she would tease him for his reaction to Marwan here, and decides it is a horrible idea.

“Does this Alicia live with you?” Marwan asks. There is a tone in his voice that Warwick doesn’t know what to make of at all.

“Well. Practically. I’m the same at hers. Perks of having a best friend who thinks she owns the place.”

“I see,” Marwan replies, narrowing his eyes a touch more.

“Look. I’ll, uh… I’m really sorry—”

“Why are you returning the book now?”

“I was helping my son.”

“Your son kept hold of this book?”

“Uh, no,” Warwick stutters, “no. Jack would never—”

“Then the tardiness is all yours,” Marwan concludes, glowering a little more.

Warwick swallows hard, wishes there was still at least a sip more water in the cup he is currently crushing in his hand. “Uh, yeah. Yeah, it is.”

“Warwick. What do you propose to do about that tardiness?”

“H—how much?”

“How much what?”

“How much for the book?” Warwick asks, watching long fingers begin to tap impatiently against the cover, and having to force his eyes elsewhere.

“Warwick. This is a library. Not a bookstore. And there is no current event for selling old books.”

“I meant how much for you—for the—”

“Neither am I for sale. Nor can be bought,” Marwan retorts, the glint in his eyes doing interesting things to Warwick’s stomach.

“I meant, uh, the fine. For the books. Book. How much—”

“This library ceased fining for late book returns almost a year ago,” Marwan replies. “Your timing is… convenient.”

“That’s, uh… that’s great—”

“Though there are still penalties for overdue items,” Marwan adds, staring back at Warwick so hard that Warwick is sure he hasn’t blinked in the entire time they have been talking.

“Like what?”

“That depends on the library. Some request canned goods that are collected and passed to the nearest food bank. Others ask for volunteers to read to some of our younger patrons. A colleague of mine in a library in Indiana has an arrangement whereby overdue fees have been wiped in exchange for maintenance around the library itself.”

“What kind of maintenance?” Warwick asks, sure he can hear the paper peeling from the wall behind them.

“Painting. Decorating. Labeling the shelves, oiling the book cart wheels. Many things.”

“Okay,” Warwick says, imagining that he wouldn’t have a problem doing any of those things, aside from the fact that he probably wouldn’t be able to get a single thing done for being unable to stop looking at this guy.

“Are you offering your services, Mr. Hodge? Warwick?”

“I—”

“Or do you have an alternative suggestion?”

“What do you need?” Warwick stutters out, again in danger of getting fixated on those long fingers now drumming against the counter.

“I require nothing.”

“Then—”

“Though I am sure we can come to some arrangement,” Marwan adds, once again making Warwick’s throat dry out. Even if Warwick is sure the intent he’s seeing on Marwan’s face is nothing but his wild imagination and wishful thinking.

Marwan sighs then as though Warwick has either gravely offended him or inconvenienced him beyond any sense of recovery. He drops down on to his forearms, leaving Warwick to stare helplessly between tautly pulled shirt sleeves and that stubble up close, before once again being stuck on the depth of Marwan’s eyes.

“…what kind of arrangement?”

“Given that this book is very old. And very overdue. It is difficult to know what the penalty should be.”

“I’ll do anything,” Warwick finds himself saying and internally whines at his choice of words.

“Anything?”

“Yeah. I mean… yeah. I think so.”

“You either know. Or you do not know.”

“I know,” Warwick blurts back at him, fingers wrapped around the edge of the counter and finding himself leaning in even more.

“Do you know the burger place two blocks from here next to the comic book store?”

“I do,” Warwick agrees, nodding, “I go there all the time. Got cheeseburgers to die for.”

“I agree,” Marwan says, with a hint of a smile. “Do you know what you are doing this evening around seven?”

“I, uh… well, I didn’t make any plans—”

“Dinner. Seven. At the burger place,” Marwan tells him in no uncertain terms, stamping something on the inside cover of the book before typing at the keyboard, and putting the book down on a nearby pile. “Are we agreed?”

“Uh. I—”

“Your payment, for the heinously late return of this book,” Marwan says, nodding towards the book pile as he types at the keyboard again.

“My—you want me to have dinner with you?”

“Is your cell number still the same as it was when you checked out this book two years ago?”

“S—sure. I mean, it is.”

Marwan hums, still staring at the screen as he slides a phone from his back pocket, rapidly thumbing at it before putting it back. Warwick’s pocket vibrates, Marwan’s eyes on him the entire time he pulls his phone out.

“I dislike tardiness,” Marwan says when Warwick manages to snatch his eyes away.

“I—okay.”

“Seven o’clock,” Marwan repeats, all but glaring at him. “I will be in the booth nearest to the serving counter.”

“I—well, okay Marwan,” Warwick replies, feeling so out of his depth that he wouldn’t be surprised if he was about to wake up from having a really bizarre dream.

“I look forward to it,” Marwan adds, with a warmer smile that makes the corners of his eyes crinkle, which leaves Warwick barely holding in a wistful sigh.It isn’t fair, Warwick thinks, that he’s both hot, and cute. But he is. And somehow, he’s managed to score himself a date with the guy. Warwick is convinced Marwan’s eyes are on him as he walks from the library, putting a little extra sway into his stride just in case. Adding Marwan to his contacts as he walks down the steps, Warwick messages back to say that he looking forward to it as he slides into his brand new truck. There is a smile on his face as he fires up the engine and heads for home. He has a date to get ready for.

From Coffee Shop Corners – Sneak Peek!

People watching might be George’s favourite way to spend his time. Why wouldn’t he lose himself in dreaming up the loves and lives of other people to escape the mess that is his own? From this new favourite cafe corner, in the new town he’s made his home, George makes up backstories for each of the baristas. And as they serve coffee, George imagines happily ever afters for their waiting customers. But when a surprise email forces him to relive the heartache he’s running from, George can think of little else. How can he move forward with his life if he keeps looking back?


“You’re not eating?”

Miranda is speaking, though her words don’t register for George. He only looks up when a light grip around his arm gets his attention.

“You’re not sick again, are you?” she asks, frowning at him in concern.

“No. No, I’m fine.”

“Because you look a little like you’re going to be sick on me. And I really don’t think I can handle seeing that just now.”

“I’m fine,” George says, knowing his smile is sickly, and that his efforts to appear calm are weak. Miranda narrows her eyes as he sips at the cup of tea she pressed on him on arriving home, but says nothing else. Not about George, at least.

George listens as Miranda talks about a busybody at her knitting club who is causing problems for being such a grump. He hears the latest news from her children and a vague insinuation there might be grandchildren coming to visit in about a week. Though nothing sticks in his thoughts. All George can picture is that name glowering back at him from his laptop screen, taunting him with something George tells himself he has no expectations for. Every irrational daydream, every second of wishful thinking ever since he left now vies for attention. George closes his eyes and an unconscious groan blasts from his lips.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Miranda asks, pivoting on her heel from where she was refilling the kettle and coming to stand by the edge of the table again. George is half-expecting her to press her hand against his forehead to check his temperature.

“I am. Sorry, Miranda; it’s been a long day.”

“Are you translating something dull again?”

George’s work fascinates Miranda, though more typically when it involves something involving literature, fashion, or entertainment. Anything relating to politics or economics goes straight over her head and turns her face up in a grimace that George understands only too well. Sometimes it’s him that’s doing the grimacing and only himself he can turn to when complaining about it.

“Fiscal policies in Seville,” George replies. It isn’t a lie, not really. Even though it was the piece of work he was working on yesterday alongside his longer project.

“I should have given you something stronger than tea…”

George laughs at that, glad for the burst of calmness it sends through him, grasping on to it for the few seconds it lasts. Then he’s draining his cup and making his excuses for going to his room. George takes a shower, then makes a half-arsed attempt at tidying his few possessions. Only when he has done every single thing he can to keep himself busy does George allow himself to sink down on the bed.

George drags his laptop from his bag and settles back against his headboard with his legs stretched out, fingers stroking over its lid before catching his thumb around the side to crack it open. His fingers tremble enough to make him miss the keys for his password twice, and even when he’s in it takes George a moment to lift his eyes to the screen.

The email icon flashes to taunt George. He hopes there will be more than only one for him to look through. George tries to look elsewhere, scrolling through social media, news, and anything else he can use to distract himself. He both needs the delay and loathes he’s doing it, and after a good ten minutes of avoidance finally trails the cursor across the screen.

There are three emails waiting for him. One is a thank you for a piece of work from last week that George takes his time with a reply to, just to stall for more time. The second is only marketing from his gym, which he toys with the idea of visiting right now to delay looking at this email even longer.

He can’t. He won’t settle if he doesn’t, the moment he steps foot out of this room George knows he will be racing back. He gulps the water sat in a glass by his bed since morning, popping a piece of gum in his mouth to chew. He studies the name that still leaves him aching, then forces himself to press open.

“Hi. I know this is long, long overdue. And I wouldn’t be surprised if I get a message back saying this hasn’t even been read. I deserve it, I know I do.

It’s been far too long since you left here, far too long without me getting in contact. I should have called, or written, or messaged, or something. I haven’t been fair to you about anything. Truly, I’m sorry, for everything.

I don’t even know when to start. Would it make you laugh that this email has been in draft for about a week now, that I think I’ve spent about ten hours trying to word things right? Probably not, you always hated how much time I took to answer anyway. But I needed to try, even if you decide never to speak to me again, I just need to get this out, just once, and see where things are after that.

So if you’ll hear me, if you’re willing to listen, I’d really like to say all the things I have to in person. But that’s too much too soon, so let me just say a few things now, and then you can tell me if that’s something that’s possible or not. I will understand either way after everything I’ve put you through, and how long it’s taken me to try to do anything about it.

So, where do I start?

Well, for starters, I miss you. I really, really miss you, George. Not a day has gone by since you left when I haven’t been thinking about you, going over and over so many things. I know, I could have stopped that by messaging you, or coming after you, or even answering you when you were sat there at the other end of my couch waiting for me to. You’re still there, really, staring back at me waiting for me to do the right thing, when I haven’t known what to do about any of this for a while.

I don’t want to act like I’m some kind of victim here, because I’m not. I know you did everything you could, you gave me all the chances you could, and I ignored every one. Yeah, I was ignoring them, I knew what you were saying. I was so frightened, but that’s something for another conversation; perhaps if you’ll meet me, I’ll get the words out right.

Secondly, I hope you’re doing okay. I hope you’re getting all the best things to translate and that everything is great with work. I hope wherever you ended up is good for you, that you’re living somewhere you like. I hope you’ve started making a life for yourself there, even if I wish I could ask you to come home.

I can’t do that, and I won’t do that. It isn’t fair to you, and I don’t even know what right I’d have to ask you. At the very least, I’ve been a really terrible friend to you, and at worst, well. The very worst version of myself for hurting you if I did. I know I did, I just don’t know how to get that right in my head. I’ve never in my life intentionally hurt anyone, and yet I know I did you. You, of all people. How do we ever come back from that, whatever the outcome?

Everything is mostly the same here, in a lot of ways, even if things are so different. Even if nothing feels the same without you here to share it with me. I’m still doing the same stuff, I’ve updated the blog quite a lot, maybe you saw? I don’t know if you did, I don’t know if you’d want to. I don’t know if you expected to see me write something about you, even if this is nothing to do with us. The blog isn’t, I mean.

I saw Beth in town last week. She was out with some friends, but when she saw me she stopped right in the street to glare at me so hard I could feel it across the road. One of them actually dragged her away because she was so livid; I mean, she has every right to be. I’m lucky, really, that she hasn’t come and pounded my door down to yell at me in person, or messaged me with insults I know I deserve.

I’m not saying people haven’t yelled at me, obviously. There are so many people who have asked where you are, asked what happened, blamed me for you being gone. And it’s true; we both know I’m the reason you aren’t here. I’m so sorry I couldn’t say or do the right thing to make you stay, or help you want to, or something.

Anyway. These are all pretty empty words right now. I’d really, really like to see you so we can talk in person. I don’t care where or when, I’ll travel wherever I need to, so we can talk. But only if you want to; I promise I won’t make demands for you to see me if you don’t want to, not now. Not after everything I’ve put you through.

I really do miss you, however this works out. I’m sorry. I’m sorry that saying sorry is nowhere near enough to make things better. But if you could give me a little time to explain myself, then I’ll do my best to start putting things right—but only if you want.”

George’s chest hurts by the time he reaches the end of the email, his heart racing as he scrolls back up to read it again. He reads it over, and over, taking individual lines and trying to interpret them. George gets stuck on several words agonising over what they might mean.

He aches to see Stefan, even as he’s composing an answer firmly telling him to stay away. How dare he reach out to him like this, dangle fresh hope in front of him just to snatch it away again? Can they walk away from this awful situation by retaining a friendship if nothing else? George doesn’t see how; too much time has passed and too much hurt built up to even contemplate the idea of them meeting.

Greetings From Mallowham!

Hello! Here is a little update from the lovelier-than-life village of Mallowham where Raife and Dexter Live. They are now married and as ridiculously in love as ever. Life is pretty good! Raife and Dexter Are Getting Married and Merry Christmas, Mr Boone both were told from Raife’s point of view. Now, it’s time for Dexter to take a turn.

Hi, Dexter!

Dexter maybe came across as the quieter of the two of them in the first book, though to be fair to them both, they aren’t particularly lively characters. I am enjoying telling tales of ordinary people at the moment, is all. For the most part. Looks suspiciously at other book in progress and sees far less ordinary people. Oops.

Anyway. Back to Dexter. Dexter is still a workaholic juggling insane hours, still smitten with his now-husband, and, not to spoil things that aren’t fully written yet, is also now the proud owner of a dog. Since I started writing this, the dog has changed names twice, but I’m back with my original; you’ll have to see later what it’s called.

So, what’s happening?

In the next book, you’ll see a little more of all the people in Raife and Dexter’s life; after all, this is just a regular story of time passing, rather than the rush of two weeks before a wedding. Dramas are going on around them, and there will be personal difficulties to deal with too; without any real fighting between them. Any problems they have they’ll deal with together.

I still think you can make any event in the world interesting if you tell a story right; you really don’t need to have breakups and arguments purely for the sake of drama because if you get it right, literally everything we do is an adventure. It’s probably a whimsical way of thinking, but hey, that’s just how it is.

A little salt…

With TV shows and films insisting on breaking up couples for the fun of it, giving token representation that they then take away while congratulating themselves for their lame efforts, and constantly dancing across the line that is are they or are they not queerbaiting; that is not what I want to see. It’s not what I want to read. And for that reason, it is the last thing I want to write. So if I have romance in my stories (yes, probably always but also… not necessarily), then when those couples get together, they will get their happy. They might have to work for it, but they aren’t losing it to make a page-turner, of that I am sure.

So! Expect some work drama, and some family drama, and maybe some friend drama along the way. Nothing too terrible, though! I happen to love the characters I create, which I get the impression some showrunners and filmmakers really don’t (yes, I really am hung up on this thing, no, I won’t be finished any time soon!)

Come join our Mallowham Adventures!

If you want a free peek into Raife and Dexter’s world, you can read the short story At Three In The Morning, or the free book Merry Christmas, Mr Boone. Or buy Raife and Dexter Are Getting Married. Come visit Mallowham!

Raife and Dexter Are Getting Married

Raife and Dexter are one of those couples who make lonely people reach for a bucket of ice cream and watch Bridget Jones for the hundredth time. They also just happen to be getting married, in the most perfect of venues, surrounded by their closest family and friends. Life couldn’t be better for them. They have good careers, a beautiful house, and still make heart eyes at each other because they are so ridiculously, sappily in love. Doesn’t it make you sick?

They really do have it all. Except for when they don’t. Because even the most perfect of couples feel the pressure before getting married. And even Raife and Dexter have problems that are beyond their control. Join them as they face disaster upon disaster in the lead up to their wedding. Will you be rooting for Raife and Dexter to make it up the aisle?

Matching Set

We’re a matching set, you and I.
Built to mould into one another, from the same malleable yet dependable material,
Formed by society into what’s assumed a natural state.
Built on a foundation of other people’s stories,
Their fears of things done too soon, too much, or too late.

Sometimes, when we’re alone, I will myself into existence,
Strain against normality, long to become animated, with your strength beside me.
You don’t move move, though. Not one minute stirring. You remain rigid,
Poised, silent, precise, with a quiet sense of dignity.

Other times, when people come, you are diverted,
And it feels like there’s just one last final breath that can’t seem to escape my lungs.
The air’s too thick, because you don’t need me, can’t see me, and then, suddenly, you’re free;
The moment passes, but too late; already I am unravelled, come undone.

It’s easiest when we’re both taken.
Because then, momentarily, I can forget.
Forget that we’re a pair and belong together, side by side, close but not close, always compatible.
Telling myself that you know, but just haven’t realised it yet.

So I sit. I watch. I wait.
What else is there for me to do?
I can only wonder at your stately sense of duty,
Masquerading in daydreams where I mean more to you than in reality I do.

© M K Lee

From Coffee Shop Corners – Pinterest

People watching might be George’s favourite way to spend his time. Why wouldn’t he lose himself in dreaming up the loves and lives of other people to escape the mess that is his own? From this new favourite cafe corner, in the new town he’s made his home, George makes up backstories for each of the baristas. And as they serve coffee, George imagines happily ever afters for their waiting customers. But when a surprise email forces him to relive the heartache he’s running from, George can think of little else. How can he move forward with his life if he keeps looking back?

Instructions For Operating

When doomsurfing
Be sure to wear the appropriate attire.
Never keep your fingers more than
Three inches
From a bowl of chips.
Have alcohol
For anesthetic purposes
At regular intermissions
Which could be every other Tweet,
The hell that is known as Tuesday,
Or for making your very own
Bullshit bingo game with.
Personally,
I like to have a bottle of bourbon to hand.
The good kind.
Don’t we all deserve a little treat
In these troublesome times?
Take breaks
Remember even the most accomplished swimmers
Need to hold on to the side once in a while.
And while you’re deep diving
Make sure your partner of choice
Is there to give you oxygen
Instead of just waiting to cut your air line.
Scrolling may be infinite
But this mess?
It can’t be.
Others are in these murky waters with you
Fearing the monsters lurking below.
So it’s okay to feel alone.
You aren’t.
The key for now is to learn the difference
Between a pool noodle
And a missile,
To recognize the weight of an anchor
Keeping you tethered
Over that of the tangled plastic
Around your ankle
Attempting to drag you down.

© M K Lee

Finding The Words

“You don’t get it, James,” Darren’s voice is low, and tired, and he stands as though he has never lived without permanent ache.

James watches him wordlessly, arms folded roughly across his chest, letting Darren speak.

“You just don’t. You don’t understand that I don’t get good things. I don’t get the happy ending, I can’t just have what I want. I just can’t,” Darren sighs then, looking over at James with pleading in his eyes. James can’t tell if he’s pleading for understanding or to be proved wrong.

“It isn’t because I don’t want this,” Darren adds, and he doesn’t need to say the words. This is them. It’s that thing that has brewed and bubbled between them for what is possibly forever. Or feels like forever. Ever since that first – and last time Darren had lapsed, and reached for a bottle instead of help on a bad day, when he’d been doing so well, not drank a single drop in god knows how long; that’s how long Darren’s felt like this about him.

Even then, in that darkest of moments, especially then; James had looked at him as though he believed in him, and that what had happened was nothing but a temporary blip. Darren has never had anyone show that much faith in him, and seeing it open and honest and there on James’ face had solidified for Darren what he’d been kidding himself for the longest time was just fleeting attraction for him.

“It isn’t because I have a problem with this,” he adds, and now he’s being as clear as he can be, when clear feels impossible, “it’s because I want this. You. More than I’ve wanted anything my whole life. And I can’t have it, I just can’t; you’ve got to hear what I’m trying to tell you.”

Silence fills the space between them for an age, and then James quietly replies with, “May I ask why?”

Darren’s resolve is slipping. The tone of James’ voice that is hurt and looking for understanding crumbles it, because that’s what James does to Darren. He makes him weak. “Because I just can’t, okay? I’ll ruin it. I’ll mess things up, and I’ll hurt you, and I’ll lose the best friend I’ve ever had.”

Which, in a nutshell, is the full truth of it. James has been one of Darren’s closest friends since college, with Darren remembering as though it were yesterday looking up across a lecture hall at the sound of a well-spoken English man, articulately arguing for his right for admittance. Or whatever the words he’d used at the time were. The point was, Darren had smiled at him in welcome when he’d come to sit a few feet from him, and James had returned it, and they had been friends ever since.

But it wasn’t yesterday, it was more than ten years ago, and James has been by Darren’s side ever since. His friend, his confidante, his rock. There through his many failures, there for his few successes, there for everything. How can he risk losing all of that by giving into all these feelings, when he knows without doubt that James could do so very much better than himself?

“And you could get hurt.” James adds, noting the omission.

Darren huffs as though that’s not a distinct possibility. That the thought of losing James, especially if he allows them to just… be… doesn’t kill him already.

“You could get hurt.” James repeats firmly, holding Darren’s gaze, in the way only James ever does.

“Yeah, well.” Darren shrugs, breaking the eye contact, “happens…”

James turns slightly, still keeping his distance from Darren. “I would never make promises not to hurt you, Darren. That would be unfair and a lie. I could only promise to never intend to hurt you.” James’ words are gentle, and Darren can’t help but let the tenderness of them seep through him for a moment.

“Don’t know why you’d be interested anyway,” is Darren’s response, scuffing the toe of his boot along the floor with his usual kneejerk change-the-subject reaction.

“I could list all of the things I love about you, Darren. Yes, love,” James repeats the end of his statement when Darren snorts in dismissal, “because I do love you. I have loved you. For a very long time now. But I doubt very much that you’d like to hear what I have to say about that.”

“How could you?” Darren mumbles, eyes still on the floor, and it’s a fair question. How could anyone as incredible as James; intelligent, attractive, kind beyond anything – how could anyone that amazing love him of all people? It wasn’t possible, not now, not ever.

James takes comfort from the fact that Darren hasn’t run from his words. There was a time when he feared complete rejection purely because they were both men, and throughout college and beyond, Darren had only ever shown interest in women. He feared that Darren’s outlook on life was already carved in stone by the views of his father, and although it was unfair, James felt nothing but dislike for the man, and the way he had shaped his son to hate himself as much as he knew Darren did. In situations such as now, with the full embodiment of Darren’s self-loathing making him truly believe he wasn’t worthy of him, that dislike flared ugly.

“I already said,” James continues, “I could list all the things I love about you. The reasons why. But you wouldn’t want to hear them. It would be pointless to force you to hear things that you are adamant you don’t want to hear. And will reject,” he adds, unable to keep a tinge of sadness and bitterness from his tone. He really has loved Darren for an age; in silence, in secret, at a safe distance. Never pushing, never taking more than Darren was willing to offer because until recently, until an evening where they’d fallen asleep together on his couch and James had woken to Darren staring at him with nothing but want on his face, James had never dared think Darren might care about him, want him back.

Darren’s eyes fly up, pain reflected there because of the pain he knows he’s causing James now. “I’m no good, James,” he protests, “no good at all. I’ve got… nothing to offer you. You could be with anyone, anyone you wanted… anyone at all-”

“You are who I want,” James interrupts, trying to keep his voice gentle when he wants to yell in frustration to make him see sense.

“How?” there’s bewilderment there in Darren’s voice, and he’s tightly gripping on to the edge of the counter where he’s leaning like his life depends on it. “What could I possibly give you? You could have… anything. Everything. But I can’t give you anything, James. I’m nothing,” he finishes with, his voice trailing away as he lets his head hang with a single shake.

“You could give me you,” James counters, “that is all I want.”

“You don’t mean that,” Darren shakes his head again, refusing to hear the words.

“Darren. I never knew want like this before I knew you. I never knew longing, or friendship, or what it is to be cared about. You are going to have to trust me when I say it is you that I want, because you were the first person that I ever wanted this much in my entire life. The only thing I’ve ever wanted in life that I still want.”

“Aside from brownies and pizza and cof-”

“Darren,” James cuts him off, frustration creeping in at Darren’s constant need to make a joke. He knows it’s a diversionary tactic and exactly why he does it, but now is not the time.

“I can’t, James,” Darren pleads, his words quiet, and full of emotion.

“What you mean is, you won’t try.”

“Not if it means losing you altogether. No,” Darren tries for firmness in his voice but it’s marred by the way he just wants to give in, to have James and to let James have him. Because as much as he fights it, it is the only thing that makes sense to him. It – James, is the only thing that has made sense to Darren in a long, long time.

“But if you keep pushing me away. If you continue this… charade, with me, Darren. Do you

honestly believe I can stand it? Do you honestly think I can stay?”

Darren’s eyes widen, and there’s real fear there making his heart thrum away in his chest in panic. “Are you saying… that if I don’t… if we don’t… you won’t stick around?”

James pinches the bridge of his nose, cursing his choice of words. “I am not trying to force you into anything you don’t want. I’m not trying to give you an ultimatum, Darren. I’m just saying, I can’t keep-”

“I didn’t say I don’t want-”

“I’m saying, it will hurt too much to be near you and watch you. With others. With another…”

James’ words dwindle away and he drops his hand heavily to his side. “When I want you to be with me. It will be too painful to pretend that all I feel for you is friendship, and to have to keep wondering if I’m too close, or if I should comfort you, or reach out to you. I am not so strong as to continue to act as though we are nothing but friends, Darren. We are that, we have always been that, and I cherish your friendship beyond… anything. But we are also more. So much more.”

Darren chews on his lip for a moment and then, says quiet enough for James to have to lean forward to hear it, “You do know that I love you back, right?”

For a second, James’ heart soars at the words he never thought he’d hear out loud. Sure, he’s thought he’s seen them in all of Darren’s gestures, the way he cares about him like no one else does. The way he remembers all the smallest details about him, and goes out of his way to make him happy, looking so proud and rewarded every time he makes him smile. That is how he knows Darren loves him, but to actually hear the words spoken is better than any sound he could ever imagine. All he can do is nod his response.

“So, you do know that me saying this can’t happen is because I love you. Right?”

Darren’s logic is annoying, because James can completely understand where he’s coming from. He knows how broken Darren’s opinion of himself is, of how he fears he’ll turn everything good to dust. He knows how frightened he is of that. And he also knows that Darren is rejecting him from a place of love. It doesn’t mean it isn’t rejection though. James can’t see past that, not when he sees, he knows, how good things could be between them. It would just be like coming home, to a home he’s never had, really, but now doesn’t want to be without.

Darren is watching this internal debate play across his face, and James swears he can feel Darren’s heart pounding from across the room. He knows how torn Darren is, knows all the reasons for it. He knows Darren. He just needs to find the right words.

“You say that,” James says, full of caution, “but you are still sending me away.”

“I’m not, James. God, I’m not. I’m trying to explain… I need you. You don’t know how I need you.”

“If you need me-”

“But I can’t need you. Don’t you get it? I can’t rely on anyone. I can’t have anyone rely on me. I’ll just… I’ll fail you, James.”

“You are a most confusing man.” James sighs, rocking on his heels. “What you’re saying is that these… intimacies… that we both want, we cannot have, and that you need me, but can’t have me, so I’m supposed to just be here but not be here with you?”

Darren rubs a hand over his face and a dry laugh escapes his lips. “When you say it like that…”

“It sounds as stupid as it is,” James finishes for him, knowing his tone is curt. He doesn’t mean it to be, but he’s hurting here too.

“I’m sorry,” Darren says, and his voice breaks, his body arches towards James even from this distance, confused by the pull to comfort him and the idea that he must, for James’ sake, stay clear.

James knows that Darren rates his own intelligence very low, and he hates that Darren does that. But right now, James can’t help think how ridiculous Darren is being. How can Darren be saying all these empty words, the things he feels he must say, when James can see written all over his face what he is truly saying? He can practically hear the longing, the wanting, the love that’s there. It just doesn’t mean as much, or anything at all, if Darren can’t manage to say these things out loud. It would be like using his not-so-secret thoughts against him, and there is no way James would ever want to violate him like that.

James decides to take matters into his own hands, or at least, to give them a nudge.

He stretches back languidly, knowing full well the way Darren’s eyes are on him as he arches his neck. He’s not blind; he’s seen the way Darren’s gaze lingers over him, knows when he’s wearing a favourite shirt, or a pair of jeans Darren really likes on him. He knows lust when he sees it in someone’s eyes. Knows ache, and god, does he know want. And he’s seen each of these things in Darren’s eyes, so many times when he’s looked at him.

James lowers his head, eyes pinning Darren’s in place, sure he’s hearing a solitary loud thud of his heart. He stands to full height, and very slowly walks across the room, never breaking eye contact.

“Tell me you don’t want me, Darren. Tell me. And I’ll go,” His pace is deliberate, giving Darren time to consider his words.

“I don’t want you to go, James, I never said I wanted you to go.”

“No,” James agrees, “you want me to stay, but not stay with you. You push me so far and then just… pull back. You keep… toying with me, Darren. I do not enjoy that feeling.”

Darren’s hands fall, crushed by the truth of James’ words, curling defensively into his sides. “I don’t want to hurt you, James. I never mean to do that.”

“So, tell me you don’t want me,” James prompts again, sterner this time.

Darren’s voice is barely audible when he says, “But you know I want you. You know.”

“I do,” James agrees, a slight nod as he stops directly in front of Darren, eyes flicking down to his chest where now he really can hear Darren’s heart pounding out a staccato, “but you can’t keep doing this to me.”

James tries to keep the hurt from his voice, because he knows that it just makes things painful for Darren, but he can’t help that. He can’t help it if Darren has made him so aware of everything about him.

“So. Here is what I am going to do, Darren. I am going to kiss you. I am going to lean in and kiss you, any moment now, and if you honestly don’t want me to. If you honestly, truly believe that this,” and he waves a finger between them, “is a bad idea, well, then. I guess you’re just going to have to stop me.”

Darren’s eyes widen and his tongue dips out to wet his lips; the action is involuntary, as is the tightening of his jeans in response to James’ words.

Again, James knows exactly what he is doing. He leans a little closer, and closer, practically hearing Darren’s internal monologue that goes something like please, kiss me now, no stop, stop, I can’t stop you if you do.

James pauses, inches from Darren’s face, watching Darren’s eyes fall to his lips, his own slightly parted. And then, he does it. Presses his soft, dry lips against Darren’s in one slow, chaste kiss.

He may as well have lit a stick dynamite, because that one touch is not enough.

James’ hands cradle Darren’s face as he reaches in to kiss him again, never for more than a few seconds, always giving Darren the chance to pull away. James can feel Darren’s hands twitching uncontrollably at his sides, until suddenly they’re not. They’re finger deep in James’ hair, holding him exactly where he wants him as Darren kisses back, hot and hard. James’ own hands wind around Darren’s neck and he presses himself flush against Darren, earning him a low growl and Darren rolling his hips back against him.

Darren’s kisses are not gentle; they are ferocious, exactly the kind James expected of him after holding back for so long. He’s been so sure that Darren wanted to kiss him, to claim him for his, to never let him out of his grip again. Now he’s getting confirmation of that, and James is overwhelmed by it, realising that all his fantasies about Darren like this have always been barely adequate. This Darren, the real one, is a furnace, ready to consume him.

James doesn’t mind that imagery one bit.

He kisses back with as much of his own force as he can, his tongue darting fiercely into Darren’s mouth forcing a moan out that flares fire through James’ core. Darren sucks on his tongue, chases it, moves his hands shakily down James’ back to press into James’ ass so that he can grind against him.

Gradually, the kisses lose their intensity, and they lean into each other more in comfort than

anything else. Their breathing is heavy, and lips find skin along jaws and necks before James’ head finally falls onto Darren’s shoulder, and Darren’s arms circle him protectively. Darren kisses him once, long and hard on the side of his head then sighs into his ear, sounding defeated. Finally, he whispers, “I could never have said no to you, James. I don’t have the willpower.”

James nods against him but says nothing, because he doesn’t want to break the spell that is them.

Darren’s hand strokes gently down James’ back, feeling his face flush as he buries it further into his neck. He’s been kidding himself for all this time that James had no idea, when obviously, how could he not? “Then why now?”

“Because, Darren,” James noses against him, “I wanted you to be the one initiating things. I never wanted you to feel I had forced you. That I was using your own thoughts and feelings against you, when you… when you have never acknowledged them.”

“Hey,” Darren raises his head to look James in the eye, “I’ve never felt forced, okay? This isn’t about being forced. It’s about me being terrified of screwing things up. It’s about me still thinking you’re making a mistake wanting me like- like I think… I’m fairly sure you do.”

James narrows his eyes. “Do I have to kiss you again to prove to you how wrong I think you are about that? About me making a mistake in loving you? Wanting you, Darren?”

“Well,” Darren replied, eyes again falling to James’ lips like he’s found a new addiction, “I’d kind of prefer it if you just kissed me for the sake of it.”

And James does just that, slow and leisurely, melting into him.

They break away, a long time later, looking at each other with a mix of awe and uncertainty.

“I’m still not sure about this, James. I mean,” he grips James a little tighter in case there’s any misunderstanding, “I want this. I never didn’t want this. I just… I don’t know how any of this is going to work.”

James shrugs then, leaning in to kiss him once more, wrapping his arms around his shoulders and leaning hard. “We will work that out together, Darren. We will… we will take things as they come.”

“Don’t leave me,” Darren pleads then, squeezing him a little tighter and gathering to him.

James sighs, slotting his fingers through Darren’s hair to cradle him, one warm hand splayed wide around his back. “I never could.”


As Nature Intended

When you first learn that you are an Omega, you learn all sorts of things you never imagined you would need to know when you were growing up. The essentials: Heat suppressants, scent masking, how to handle an Alpha that is scenting you, and of course, the laws that are in place to protect you, in a society that is accepting and progressive, yet still has elements of its attitudes stuck firmly in the past. You also learn that through no fault of your own, or conscious effort, it is possible for an Omega to adjust their body chemistry, to make themselves ready to do what some feel is their sole purpose in life: to breed.

Presenting as an Omega at the age of fourteen, Elliot has grown up cautious, distrustful of the world around him, yet determined to live a fulfilling life in spite of that. He is successful at work, has recently moved into a new apartment, and everything in his world appears to be falling into place. Which is, of course, exactly when his body decides to rebel, forcing ideas and urges into Elliot that he has spent his life trying to deny.

Enter reluctant Alpha, Oskar; as adamant as Elliot that he will not have his life disrupted by what he is, and just as horrified by his instincts as Elliot is finding himself about his own. Should they fight the inevitability that is their bond, that need they have for one another that will not get them a moment’s respite, or give in to just how easy, and effortless it feels between them?

From Coffee Shop Corners – Email from Stefan

People watching might be George’s favourite way to spend his time. Why wouldn’t he lose himself in dreaming up the loves and lives of other people to escape the mess that is his own? From this new favourite cafe corner, in the new town he’s made his home, George makes up backstories for each of the baristas. And as they serve coffee, George imagines happily ever afters for their waiting customers. But when a surprise email forces him to relive the heartache he’s running from, George can think of little else. How can he move forward with his life if he keeps looking back?