DiscoverLGBTQ (Fiction)

Damaged Hearts


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So much more than "just" a romance... it will wrap itself around you like a blanket on a cold night!


When 19-year-old military veteran Brandon Hawkins is attacked on VeniceBeach by a gang of frat boys, he is saved by MichaelAngelo Curtis, a passerby.MichelAngelo was roaming the boardwalk grieving the death of his twin brother six months earlier. The two men’s unexpected encounter forges a strong bond between the damaged and lonely men.

Inviting the homeless Bran to his place for some food and a shower, 25-year-old MichelAngelo finds himself drawn to the younger man. Neither of the men is gay. But before long, their friendship morphs into something like love and takes them both by surprise.

And they have something else in common: The frat boys are out for revenge.

Damaged Hearts is the first book in the Boys of Venice Beach series, and we start off with a slow-burner of a book. Bran had a rough childhood and joined the military early. After going through something horrendous, he left with an honourable discharge without any fanfare. Ending up on the streets, he made his way through life in a way more mature than his nineteen years. All that changes on the night he meets Michaelangelo. After Michaelangelo stands up for him against a couple of frat boys, Bran is blown away by his kindness, although he wonders what the catch is. It turns out there is no catch.

I loved this story. It is so much more than "just" a romance. There is suspense too, and basically a wholesome, feel-good vibe to the book. There is sexual tension between our two MC's, but as neither of them considers themselves gay, this leads to some confusion. Once they speak though, the gentle acceptance and understanding are wonderful.

Now, as I've said, this is a slow-burner and although there are some steamy scenes, there is nothing too graphic. So if you are after a hard and hot story, you won't find it here. What you will find is a group of characters that leap off the page. That you can relate to, or would like to know, or even like to dislike/hate. Trust me, there is something for everyone.

A long read that will wrap itself around you like a blanket on a cold night, this was a wonderful start to the series. It is the first book by this author I have read, and I can't wait to continue with this series. Absolutely recommended by me.

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Reviewed by

I am a mum of three transplant from England, currently living in Germany. I started Archaeolibrarian in October 2013.

My three go-to genres are Fantasy, Paranormal, and Romance, but I will happily read anything if the description intrigues me 😊

I also write under the pen name of Morgan Sheppard.


When 19-year-old military veteran Brandon Hawkins is attacked on VeniceBeach by a gang of frat boys, he is saved by MichaelAngelo Curtis, a passerby.MichelAngelo was roaming the boardwalk grieving the death of his twin brother six months earlier. The two men’s unexpected encounter forges a strong bond between the damaged and lonely men.

Inviting the homeless Bran to his place for some food and a shower, 25-year-old MichelAngelo finds himself drawn to the younger man. Neither of the men is gay. But before long, their friendship morphs into something like love and takes them both by surprise.

And they have something else in common: The frat boys are out for revenge.


Fuck my life. Fuck. My. Life. Fuck, my life. I guess it doesn’t matter how I say it, or how many times I say it. It still adds up to the same thing: Fuck my life. It’s become sort of my motto. Or is it more like a mantra? Mantra? Where does that word even come from? “Man-tra”? Why not “Wo-man-tra?” Womantra. Why does it have to be man-tra? Huh? What? What was I talking about? Oh yeah. My motto. I don’t think I’ll ever say “mantra” again. It’s a stupid fucking word. Fuck my life. All eighteen years have sucked. Has it really been that long? It seems like forever. Eighteen years. It doesn’t even have a nice ring to it. Fuck. Here’s an example of how fucked my life is: Today is my birthday and I just turned nineteen. Wait. Maybe not. Let me think about this. They wait until you’ve actually “turned” one to start counting years, right? So after you’ve lived for a whole year, they say you’re a one-year-old. So if today is my nineteenth birthday, they call me nineteen years old and that means I’ve already lived for nineteen fucking years! Oh, my fucking God! My life has sucked ass for nineteen whole, fucking years! Fuck. My. Life.

All of a sudden, I feel really tired, so I stop walking and sit down on a damp bench near the boardwalk. It’s raining, I am tired, and my life sucks, so I sit here in the rain. Yay! Happy Birthday to me. My name’s Brandon in case anyone cares. Brandon Hawkins to be exact. And if you’ve been paying attention so far, I just turned nineteen, and I’m walking around the boardwalk in Venice Beach, California, on the night of my birthday. I have no idea what time it is because time isn’t a concept I’m very interested in right now. Or pretty much ever. I suppose if I had a home to go back to, or a job I had to show up for, or friends to meet and hang out with, maybe then I’d give a flying fuck about the time, but that’s not my situation. Not my life. I used to have that stuff . . . but wait . . . yeah, my life sucked back then, too. But that was almost a year ago. It’s not like I was living in a place I could call my own. I lived wherever they told me to live. Ate whenever they told me to eat. Sort of slept whenever they told me I could sleep. Oh yeah, and I killed people whenever they told me to kill people.

I mean seriously? You take a stupid seventeen-year-old kid who was living in the streets of Memphis fucking Tennessee and you actually give him an M4 rifle and tell him to go to some God-forsaken desert and kill people? Yeah, that seems like a really good idea, right? Not so much. On the plus side, I got this really dorky Mickey Mouse watch. Yeah. Seriously. Sergeant Kilroy gave me this stupid kid’s watch because I was always late for everything. I couldn’t even read the damned thing. Mickey’s stupid white-gloved hands covered the numbers and I couldn’t tell which hand was actually longer than the other, so when Sergeant Kilroy was screaming at me to tell him where the long hand was, I had to guess. Hey, I had a fifty-fifty chance of getting it right, right? I always had trouble telling my right from my left, too. Made it hard to march. “Left-right-left-right-left” kind of gets screwed up when you don’t know which leg to start with. Sergeant Kilroy once wrote RIGHT on my hand with a big sharpie so I would know. I start laughing remembering how mad he got when I asked him to write LEFT on my other hand so I could tell them apart. I thought his head was going to explode. It actually did explode one day, but not because I asked him to write something on my hand. It was a sniper’s bullet. Shit.

I rub the spot near my left eye where a piece of his skull flew back and almost took my eye out. I know now that it was my left eye. One of the guys in my unit said that I walked around with Sergeant Kilroy’s brains on my face for about three hours before it finally fell off. Remembering that day makes today suck a little bit less. Not a whole lot less, but a little bit less. Looking on the bright side, though, because of Sergeant Kilroy’s efforts, I can now pretty much tell my right from my left. Pretty much. And I wore that stupid fucking Mickey Mouse watch until they discharged me early because of my injuries. The guys used to give me a hard time about it because it wasn’t a gift, like he woke up one day and said, “Hey, I like Brandon. I think I’ll give him a cool present.” It wasn’t like that at all. It was more like, “Let me give all these other teenaged fucking losers another reason to dump on the stupid kid.” Sorry. I forgot what I was talking about. I’m hungry. Damn. I don’t think I’ve eaten anything all day.

I drag my tired ass off the bench and for some reason I can’t even begin to explain, I wipe at the seat of my pants. As if wiping them would remove the thick coating of sweat, dirt, sand, and grime that has been steadily thickening for the past three weeks. This realization makes me smile. I start walking towards the pizza and hot dog stands down by the main part of the boardwalk. There are usually some half-eaten hot dogs or pizzas in the trash bins. It’s only been raining for about an hour, and it’s not hard rain or anything. Just that annoying misty sort of rain, so whatever I dig up won’t be too soggy. It’s late enough that the shop owners won’t have a shit-fit with the homeless kid rummaging through their trash. I tried doing it during the day one time, and I thought the guy was going to have a coronary he was yelling so loud. I don’t need that kind of shit today. Or ever. So I’m okay waiting until it’s pretty empty to do my rummaging.

I look at rummaging for food more like shopping in a really cheap, really rundown store. The difference is there are no cash registers, and you don’t have to pay for the shit you find. You just stand there over the trashcan and browse around until you find something. Like maybe half a hot dog. As long as it isn’t too far down, chances are it hasn’t been underneath a bag of dog shit or a dirty diaper or something totally gross. Maybe a drink has spilled on it. Other than the soggy bun, the actual hot dog would be fine. Of course, if a drink had spilled on it, there wouldn’t be any ketchup or mustard, so it would be kind of bland. But that’s okay. Wait. I said “ketchup.” I’ve been in California too long. Down south, we call it “catsup.” Mustard is the same pronunciation I think. But the difference between “ketchup” and “catsup” can be a thing for some people. I feel my mouth getting a little wet on the inside thinking about hot dogs. I head for the hot dog stand first. Closed. That means they have probably already changed the trash bags. I won’t even bother going over there.

But a little ways down, the pizza joint is just closing down. They have those ridiculously big slices of pizza and most people who don’t weigh at least three hundred pounds can’t finish their slices. Fuck the hot dogs. Half of a giant slice of pizza will do me just fine. Besides, trying to remember to say “catsup” instead of “ketchup” would make my brain hurt. And if I’m being honest, I do see the frat boy douchebags laughing and being all loud and douchey, but I really want to see if they’ll leave some of their slices uneaten. So I hang back a little and pretend to be looking for something on the ground. After about a minute or so, they drop their slices on the counter and start walking away. Score! I walk towards where they left their pizzas with my head down, like I haven’t noticed what they left for me. They’re about twenty feet away when one of them turns back and clocks me checking out their pizza. The fat one grabs the other one’s arm and points to me. I look up and see them seeing me seeing their pizza. Did that make sense? Fuck it. So anyway, as soon as they notice me, I kind of figure that they are going to be douchebags about their pizza, but I hold out hope. The fat one doesn’t need any more pizza, that’s for sure, but my stomach is getting the better of me, so I speed up a little bit. They’re closer and they return to the counter, beating me there by three steps.

Then the fat one, who seems to be the leader of this fucked-up pack of douchebags, picks up what’s left of his slice and lifts it up in my direction, like he’s offering it to me. Really? Maybe they aren’t such douchebags after all. I lift my eyes and start to smile. I’m going to thank him. I’m actually going to say “Thank you.” I do manage to smile as I approach because I realize that I haven’t said two words to anyone all day. He looks me in the eye and when I start to reach out my hand, he hocks a big ol’ lugey and splats it right on the pizza. Then he holds it out like I still want it. Okay, I know it’s probably gross, but I do still want it. His aim was pretty good and the glob of spit and snot has landed pretty much in the middle of the slice. But I could tear the pizza around the gross part and still have a pretty good amount of food. So I reach for it and he must have seen my eyes studying the pizza because he hocks another one and it lands on one of the good sides. He starts laughing and then his friends start laughing and they’re staring at me and laughing like it’s the funniest thing in the world. Assholes.

I turn around, about to say, “Fuck my life” again when one of the other guys apologizes and offers me his piece. It’s not as big as the fat guy’s, but it still looks good to my hungry young ass. And I can’t believe I am so hungry that I start to walk back over and take it, but I do. You can probably guess that he does the same thing his leader does and hocks a lugey and spits on his piece, too. My stomach growls with as much anger as I am feeling and I turn around and start walking back towards the boardwalk. It’s going to be a long night.

Their laughing stops and I hear a deep voice talking to them. “Why would you do something like that? What kind of asshole do you have to be to fuck with someone who is obviously hungry?”

As I turn around, I see the fat guy step in front of the other guy, who is six inches taller, and the frat-boy leader guy speaks in this bullshit little sing-song voice: “What business is it of yours, asshole?”

The guy just stands there, hands by his sides, not seeming to be bothered by the fact that there are three of them. Then he laughs. He looks right at the fat-assed guy and laughs.

“Asshole? You spit on a piece of discarded food so a hungry guy can’t eat it and you are calling me an asshole?” He laughs again. I smile as I listen to him because here is this stranger sticking up for me, and he is so calm.

The leader’s friends start talking to him—I guess trying to get him to walk away—but he stands right there, getting angrier and angrier, and the stranger guy just stands there like he’s discussing the weather. “Right now, you’re probably wondering if your friends are going to step in to help you if you take a swing at me, right?”

Both of the douchebaggy friends look at each other and then they look at the stranger and they actually take a step towards the stranger guy and the fat-assed guy smiles. “What if they were?”

The stranger guy laughs again. “They won’t. They think they will, but when you swing at me, I’m going to break your fucking arm so quickly they won’t realize what happened until they hear you scream like a stuck pig. Then they’ll run.”

Okay. This is pretty fucking cool. The guy’s voice is still calm as fuck. I mean, he could have been an Algebra teacher talking about the Pythagorean Theorem or something, but he’s talking about breaking the guy’s arm. Ha ha! What a fucking badass. The leader frat-boy is sweating now, and he and his friends are looking at each other like they didn’t hear what the stranger guy said.

“They’ll come back and get you eventually. But their first instinct will be to run and save their own asses. They may like you, but there’s no way they’re going to get their asses kicked because of your fat, dumb ass.”

I am enjoying the hell out of it as the leader’s friends try to get him to leave and they’re looking at each other and then at the stranger guy and I can tell that the fat-assed guy is going to do something stupid and then just as I am thinking it, he pushes one of his friends away and I see his hand pull back like he’s going to punch the stranger guy and then I see this blur and I hear a loud crack and the guy falls to the ground holding his arm and screaming like I haven’t heard anyone scream since I was in the Marines and then the two other guys are running like hell. Holy Shit! That just happened.

So the stranger guy pulls his phone from his shirt pocket and dials three numbers and as he’s talking, he’s looking around, sees a street sign and tells the person on the other end of the phone where he is. And now the stranger guy is walking towards me. Oh shit! Why is he walking towards me? What the fuck does he want from me? Is he crazy? I mean, what the fuck! I know I am looking around like a crazy person, but who the fuck is this, and why is he walking towards me? I’m not panicking or anything. I used to be a Marine. But what the fuck? Okay. Maybe I am panicking a little bit because . . . well . . . because what the hell just happened? Now he’s right in front of me.

“Are you okay?” he asks me.

“What?” was all I could manage. I don’t think I heard or understood what he said because his eyes are this bright gray color and they sparkle. I mean, they are bright gray but they have little darker spots in them, so it looks like they’re glowing. I think I might be hypnotized or something. I’ve never seen eyes like that. And I think he is Black or Latino or mixed or something. And I’m still trying to figure it out when he asks me again:

“Are you okay?”

“I heard you. But why are you asking me if I’m all right? I’m not the guy whose arm you just broke. I mean, seriously? Am I all right? Are you all right?”

He smiles and looks me right in the eyes. “I’m fine. Sorry you had to see that.”

“He deserved it,” I say. “He so deserved it.”

“No. I don’t think so,” he says softly. The stranger guy looks genuinely sad. Is he sad? What does he have to be sad about? The guy totally deserved it. If there was a dictionary definition of a guy who deserved to get his fucking arm broken, that fat-assed, douchebag, frat boy’s picture would be right there.

“Yeah? Well maybe we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that, okay?” I tell him. The stranger guy looks me in the eyes again and smiles a little bit.

“Can I ask you a favor?”

“I guess.”

“Can you stick around and talk to the cops? Tell them what happened?”

“Yeah. Of course. You were kind of sticking up for me, right? It’s the least I can do.”

“Thanks.” And then he walks back towards the fat-assed guy who is still rolling around on the ground. Now his screams are mixed with these disgusting sobbing and sniveling sounds. His friends stopped running at the end of the block. I see them standing there arguing. Probably arguing about whether or not to help their friend. The stranger guy was right. He takes a few steps towards them and then waves at them.

“Come on back here and be with your friend. He needs you.”

Wait! What? This is some seriously surreal shit. He breaks the guy’s arm, asks for my help, and then tells them to come back and help their friend. I mean, what? I’m thinking about it all again as the sirens get louder. He’s walking back towards me, and I just stand there, not knowing what to think or say or do. He must see my state of confusion or whatever, and he smiles a little bit again. “I’ll get you something to eat when we’re done here.”

“Okay,” I say, and I stand there waiting for whatever else is going to happen tonight.


When the cops arrive, the stranger guy shows them something on his phone. I wasn’t close enough to see it, but I could tell it was a video. I guess the stranger guy recorded the whole thing on his phone. He’s still speaking in that soft, calm voice. And when the cop reaches for his phone, he’s very polite when he tells the officer “no.” The cop acts like he can’t believe the guy is refusing his request.

“I’m happy to email you the video, but you’d never get a warrant to take my phone. So let’s skip the unnecessary drama—give me your email and I’ll send it to you.”

The cop talks to his partner, and then he gives the guy his email address. Then they talk to the fat-assed guy’s friends, and they basically back up the stranger guy’s story. Then it’s my turn and, of course, I tell them the same thing. It takes about a half an hour for the cops to finish up their reports and for the paramedics to load the fat-assed guy into the back of the ambulance, and that was it. The stranger guy walks over and waves for me to follow him. He pulls up his hoodie because it’s still raining a little bit, and we walk down the boardwalk. He puts his hands into his pockets and lowers his head.

“I’m Michelangelo, by the way.”

“So is it Mr. Angelo or Mr. By The Way?” I crack. Did I mention I’m a bit of a smartass?

“It’s Michelangelo.”

“I’m Bran.”

“Bran? Like Raisin Bran, or like from ‘Game of Thrones’?”

“More like Bran, as in short for Brandon, ’cause I know a lot of people too lazy to say a two-syllable word all the time.”

He chuckles a little. “Nice to meet you, Bran as in short for Brandon.”

“Nice to meet you, too. I guess.” We are now past the end of the boardwalk, and I have no idea where he’s taking me. “Where are we going?”

“My place is right here. Nothing’s open so I thought I’d cook you up some eggs or something.”

“The eggs sound good,” I say. “I’ve never had ‘or somethings’ before, but I’ll eat almost anything.” Then under my breath, I mutter, “You probably guessed that.”

“Eggs it is, then,” he says, smiling. He gestures to his left and points, “This is us.” After opening the gate to a small, modern beach-house, he walks up the two steps to the front door, waves his keys in front of the lock, and the door clicks open. Pretty cool high-tech lock thing, I guess. “Wait here a sec,” he says.

I hear the pattering and clicking of feet running towards us, and I take a step back. As he enters the house, he kind of blocks the door with his leg as a big, rambunctious golden retriever clatters and licks his greeting. “Sit!” Michelangelo says, and the clattering stops. He looks out at me. “Come on in. He’s friendly.” He catches the dog’s eyes and says, “Greet.” Then something amazing happens—the dog gets up, walks a few steps towards me, and then sits down again. I put the back of my hand out a little bit, and the dog stands, walks another step closer, and sits down again, his eyes never leaving me.

“What’s his name?” I ask Michelangelo.

“Sparky.” The dog switches his gaze from me to Michelangelo and back to me.

“Hi, Sparky. I’m Bran,” I say to the dog. Sparky reaches my hand and sniffs all around it and looks back at me as he slips closer. He’s kind of scooting his rear end, sliding on the floor until he is next to my legs. And then, on cue, as soon as I lift my hand to pet him, he stands up and rubs his body against my legs, like he’s petting me as I’m petting him. His tail’s wagging and he’s panting like he can’t get enough of touching me. Like this dog genuinely likes me and wants to be around me. It’s a sensation that I don’t remember ever having before. Has anyone else in my life ever felt that way about me? I am completely taken in by this stupid dog, and I kneel down to pet him some more. I drop my bag on the floor, and I don’t even notice that Michelangelo has walked into the kitchen. Sparky reaches up with his snout and begins licking my face. Okay, that’s definitely not happened to me before. Nobody has ever licked my face before. I laugh.

“He likes you,” comes the voice from the kitchen. “He doesn’t do that to everybody.”

“Yeah, sure. I bet you’re just saying that to make me feel good.”

“Am I?”

“Aren’t you?” I look towards the kitchen, and Michelangelo is smiling at me. I stand and walk towards the kitchen. Under the lights, his face is illuminated by these really cool spotlights and I realize that this is the first time I am really seeing him. I mean, except for noticing his eyes. Those magical, hypnotizing gray eyes. I mean, I saw him, but I never really saw him, you know? I am now painfully aware that I’m staring at him. He’s gorgeous. Well, maybe that’s an overstatement. He’s definitely handsome though. He’s kind of Black, but not really. His skin is the color of a Caramel Macchiato, like the kind you get at Starbucks. Light brown or dark tan and smooth as silk. His teeth are bright white and perfect. His lips are full, and his cheekbones high and well-defined. He has taken off his hoodie, and I can see his muscles rippling beneath his Gold’s Gym T-shirt. His biceps flex just beneath the sleeves, and his powerful forearms are flexing and shimmering in the lights.

“Wanna take a picture?” he asks.

“Huh? What?” I stammer.

“You’re staring. A picture would last longer.” He turns back to the counter and reaches up to a cabinet.

“Sorry.” I plop down on a barstool by the counter. Damn! It is so soft and so comfy. Must be made of some sort of memory foam or something like that. I think I sighed out loud ’cause he turns around like something is wrong.

“You okay?” he asks.

“Yeah. Sorry. I like this chair.”

He turns back around and scans my face. “Let’s get you cleaned up.” He leaves the kitchen and pauses, waiting for me. “Come on. Grab your bag.”

I walk back to the front door, grab my bag, and follow him down a short hall. He opens a door. I follow him into a small bedroom that has a huge window overlooking the small yard, and just on the other side is the wide beach that stretches about a hundred yards to the ocean. As I continue to follow him, he enters the attached bathroom and flips the light on. It is the biggest bathroom I have ever seen. I mean, it doesn’t have dual sinks and a built-in kitchen or anything, but the shower is huge and there is enough room to dance, if dancing in the bathroom is a thing. He opens a closet door and pulls out a huge, fluffy towel and puts it into a trashcan that’s on one of the counters. He touches a button on the trashcan and a dim red light starts glowing. He looks at me and notices my puzzled expression. Yes, I am wondering why he is throwing away a perfectly good towel. Shit, I’d use that thing as a blanket.

“It’s a towel warmer,” he explains.

“A what?”

“A towel warmer.” He must see that I’m still not getting it. “You’ll see when you get out of the shower.” He opens the glass door to the shower and turns on the water. There is like this huge showerhead built into the ceiling and the water comes down in this huge, wide wall of water. It looks like a waterfall. My mouth feels really dry. Maybe watching that water twinkle in the little overhead lights is making me thirsty. Oh wait, I’m not thirsty—my mouth is hanging open. As I stand there, mesmerized by the shower, he walks behind me, pulls a few things out of cabinets, and puts them up on the counter.

“I’m going to make us some food.” And now he’s gone, leaving me alone in this gigantic bathroom watching the water rain down in this enormous shower. As steam starts slowly filling the room, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I am thin. And dirty. Disgusting, actually. I kick off my Chucks and pull off my sweatshirt and T-shirt as I unbutton my second-hand Levi’s. I hear them crinkling even over the roar of the water. They are as disgusting as the rest of me. I run my fingers over my ribs that are clearly outlined beneath the skin of my chest and abdomen. I look like a skeleton. I guess that’s appropriate, since I feel like a skeleton. I disappeared a long time ago and all that’s left is this skin-and-bone version of me. This makes me realize how hungry I am, and I turn, strip off my boxers and socks, and step into the most magnificent shower of my life. Oh my God this feels good!

I lean my head back and let the water droplets drench my face and my hair, and I arch my back so it hits my chest and stomach. I want to lie down on my back and just let the water wash away all my pain, but that would be weird, right? But holy shit, this feels amazing. I’m not sure how long I stand there just letting the water wash over me, but eventually, I reach for this bottle of soap and I rub it in my hands and it’s so silky and smooth. I sniff at it and it smells like coconuts and something else sweet and I inhale deeply before slathering it around in my hair. And now I have a dilemma—I want to lather up my hair and my body, but I don’t want to leave the water—what to do? What to do? I decide to step aside and run my hands through my hair, working the gel into my hair, which hasn’t seen shampoo in . . . I don’t remember how long. And there’s a washcloth hanging from a little hook and I take it, pour more gel into it, and begin washing my body. My skin is actually tingling, like it is so fucking happy to be getting clean that it’s celebrating the fresh air and clean water. Yay! My body is having a party! I step back under the ecstasy of the shower/waterfall and keep rubbing the washcloth over my skin and through my hair, and I actually start to get a woody. I smile as I think about how good it would feel to rub one out right here, under this amazing shower and with this amazing coconut gel stuff in this amazing bathroom in this amazing house and then my stomach growls. Shit. Now what? Rub one out or eat? Fate is a cruel bitch and sometimes it has a fun time fucking with me. A little while ago, I was trying to decide how to eat around a big ol’ piece of snot-covered pizza, and now I have to decide whether to jackoff in this amazing shower or go eat a real meal. Slightly disappointed, I choose eggs. Call me a pragmatist.

So I turn off the shower, feeling cleaner than I have ever felt in my life and look around for a fucking towel. Then I remember that Michelangelo had put it in that trashcan thing on the counter. I reach in and my hand is swallowed by this fluffy, soft, warm mass of material. I pull it out and start to towel off my hair and, oh shit . . . I can feel my erection rising as this warmth envelops my head and shoulders. It’s this warmth that’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before. I can feel the warmth across my scalp as my fingers press the warm towel through my hair and against my fingers and the warmth drags across my shoulders as the rest of the towel drags from side to side. I wipe down across my face and rub first one shoulder and then the other and then I’m rubbing it down my chest and down my abdomen and the ends are dragging against my penis and I rub it dry and get that space under my balls and oh shit! I can barely keep the stupid grin from my face as I rub my legs dry and then flip the towel over my head and start whisking it across my back. I know how ridiculous this all sounds to you, but you can’t possibly understand what it feels like after a year living on the streets. It’s just a fucking shower, I know. And a fucking towel—big whoop, right? But to me, right now, I’m not thinking about all the discarded pizzas and hot dogs and half-eaten candy bars and fights and sleeping in alleys and benches and getting cursed at and chased and ridiculed and looked down upon and . . . fuck you if you think I’m being ridiculous. I enjoyed the shit out of my shower, and I’m enjoying the shit out of this huge, warm towel and . . . shit. I’m dry.

I look down on the floor at my disgusting clothes and my disgusting bag, and I don’t want to put that disgusting shit back on right now. I’m clean for the first time in whenever, and that shit will make me smelly and disgusting again. And, yeah, in case you’re wondering, when I’m walking around the beach or the streets I can smell myself—I know how bad I stink—but it’s something you get used to because there’s nothing you can do about it, so you learn to just kind of ignore it. Whatever. For the first time, I notice the stuff Michelangelo put out on the counter: A toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, and a hairbrush. I’ll get to that stuff in a bit. Right now, I want another one of those towels. I’ll be damned if I’m going to ruin my shower by putting on those stinking clothes. I’ll just wrap the towel around my waist and wear that. I open the closet door and pull down another towel, wrapping that around my waist. It’s not warm like the other one, but it’s soft as fuck and I brush my teeth, wipe on some deodorant, and run my fingers through my hair. I see my reflection in the mirror, and I almost don’t recognize myself. I haven’t seen myself clean in over a year. My stomach growls again, and I know it’s time to go eat.

As soon as I leave the bathroom, I see a pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt lying neatly on the bed. Truth be told, they both look kind of big for me, but who would seriously give two shits about that? I drop the towel and slip on the sweats and the T-shirt, feeling the softness of clean material against my skin for the first time in a long time. And now I’m starting to get a little creeped out. Okay. Let’s review. This total stranger stands up for me by breaking some guy’s arm, then he offers to feed me, and he brings me to his house, sets me up with this fucking amazing shower and warm towel, and now clean clothes. Nobody does that. So what the hell does he want from me? My heart sinks. I get it now. How stupid do I have to be to have not seen it earlier? I stop walking and shake my head. I’ve sold my body before and it is not a big deal. I get it. Some guys are just hard up, or in the closet, or they like young guys. Fine. But even if he did stick up for me, if he thinks I’m going to give it up to him for a shower and some fucking eggs, he’s delusional. I’ll ask him for a hundred bucks. No, two hundred. Fuck that, if I play hard to get and act like a virgin, I could probably get five hundred. I’ll eat his fucking eggs and play the virgin and walk out with five bills. Then tomorrow, I’ll go to the laundromat and wash my shitty clothes and maybe get a room in the Youth Hostel for a week or so and find another shitty job and start maybe turning my shitty fucking life around a little bit. My stomach growls again, and I walk with new purpose back towards the kitchen. I just hope his dick isn’t too big. For five hundred bucks, I know he’s going to want to fuck me. I just don’t want to be sore for three days. But then again, sore and well-fed is better than being hungry.

And just as I start to get comfortable with my decision to let the stranger guy, Michelangelo, fuck me for five hundred bucks, the amazing smell of bacon, eggs, and biscuits hits me square in the face. And is that . . . is that actually coffee? I get a little light-headed and feel like I’m stumbling.

“Hey! Hey? You all right?”

I catch my balance as the feast comes into full view. “I’m fine. Just a bit light-headed. I haven’t eaten all day, I think.” I don’t want to run, but could I? Could I run and sit down and start digging in? Wait. That would be rude, right? Should I care? Do I care? Oh my God! “I’m so fucking hungry.” What? Why is he looking at me like that? Did I say that last part out loud? Oh shit! What an asshole I am. Shit.

“Yeah. I figured,” he laughs. “Come on, sit down.”

“You don’t have to ask me twice,” I say, probably a little too eagerly. Something’s missing. This isn’t right. What’s missing?

“Go on. Dig in. There’s more eggs on the stove if you need more.”

“Wait. What about you? Aren’t you going to eat?”

He looks at me and laughs. “Dude, you were in the shower for like thirty minutes. I already ate.”

“You ate?” Then it hits me. What’s wrong is that there was only one place setting on the counter.

“Yeah. Sorry. I had a long day. But a deal’s a deal, right?”

“What deal?”

He smiles at me. “I told you I’d feed you if you helped me out with the cops.”

“Oh yeah. I didn’t expect this, though. Thanks.” I didn’t know what else to say.

“Go on. Eat before it gets cold.”

“Is that really a thing?”


“Eating hot food?”

He laughs and picks up his phone, punches a couple of buttons and this really mellow jazz surrounds me like it’s coming from everywhere. “Yeah. It’s a thing,” he says as he walks out of the kitchen and gives me another smile. “I’m going to hop in the shower. Bon appétit!”

And now I’m alone with all this food and jazz and Sparky sitting anxiously by my chair. It’s an absolutely ridiculous, surreal, out-of-body experience, but after a few bites of egg, I don’t care. Happy Birthday to me!

About the author

I am a professional photographer and debut novelist. DAMAGED HEARTS is my first novel and is the first ina series that is based loosely on some of the characters I met while living on the Venice Beach Boardwalk several years ago. view profile

Published on October 11, 2019

Published by SBPRA Publishing

130000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Genre: LGBTQ (Fiction)

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