Don’t Plan to Stay
At eighteen, Donnie Kagan's plans for graduation, and maybe even college, were derailed by a beer, a stoplight, and a fatal crash. Now he's twenty-four, out of prison, and bitterly determined to start over. But with the holidays approaching, he can't resist a quick trip home to Tallbridge, North Dakota, and the man he left behind. Just a fast look, to make sure Adam's doing all right, before Donnie starts his new life. He doesn't plan to stay.
Adam Lindberg's been waiting six years to get closure with Donnie. He missed that chance after the accident, fighting for his life in a hospital bed as Donnie pled guilty and disappeared into the justice system. Without so much as a letter back from Donnie in all this time, Adam's tried to move on. And yet, he never found another guy he cared about the same way. So when Donnie shows up in Tallbridge, Adam's ready to fight for more than three words of goodbye. Of course, Adam's brother and dad don't want Donnie to stick around, but it's the busy Christmas season at the family store. If Adam asks for Donnie's help, maybe he'll stay long enough to finally talk about the future, and the past.
I let myself in down the hall to the john. Once the bathroom door was locked behind me, I sat on the lid of the toilet and put my head in my hands.
Beyond the hallway, the muted sound of voices and Christmas carols mingled in a garbled hum, distant enough to ignore. It was just me and silence in this cold little room, with the damaged tiles and rust-stained sink, behind a door that locked from the inside. For the last six months, this had been my idea of heaven. I let the quiet seep into me as the knots in my shoulders unkinked.
Down at my feet, I saw a web of cracks in the tile sealed with white caulk. It was a crap job, sloppy. I’d done that, eight years ago. Me and Adam, made to work off some prank I no longer remembered by fixing up the bathroom. Him and me and soap, paint, and caulk through five long days.
I traced the uneven lines of caulk with the duct-taped toe of my sneaker. I remembered Adam bending over to scrub gunk off the baseboards, and how the sight of him, the line of his back and ass, made it so hard to breathe. How I’d known, in that moment, what I wanted. And how sick I’d felt, not knowing if he might possibly want me too.
God, we were babies then. Him with his sunny view of the whole world. Me thinking I could be smart enough and tough enough to bend it to my will.
I kissed him that last day we worked in here.
I didn’t raise my head to look at the spot on the wall where he’d been leaning and laughing. Where I finally snapped and put a hand on his chest, stepped in close, and smooshed his lips with mine. I’d have freaked and run away but he shoved his hand into my hair and held me. Gentled the kiss. Said, “I was beginning to think you’d never do that.”
I was sixteen, he was fourteen and a half. We were so damned young, even with all I’d already been through. In the same grade, thanks to Mom’s screw-ups, and inseparable, with a future in front of us.
Now I was twenty-four, and this was a place to hide. Those memories needed to be locked away. Hidden, suppressed, until I could think straight again. I was so tired.
I imagined taking those summer days and stuffing them into a big box. I had a lot of boxes in my head. This one could stay closed with just a ribbon around it, something silk and soft. Some boxes in there were nailed shut, strapped with barbed wire and padlocks. This one I might get to open again someday.
4 out of 5 stars
Don’t Plan to Stay by Kaje Harper portrays the homecoming of a man who has served his time for an injudicious decision but needs to figure out whether the ties he attempted to cut with those he left behind are really severed. The young love he left behind has matured into a man, who knows his mind and his heart…and is prepared to fight for what he wants, no matter what his family thinks.
This m/m contemporary romance is a lovely character study that explores the idea of redemption and dealing with the past, set during the Christmas season, making it perfect for reading at this time of the year. I am always fascinated by this author’s ability to portray men who have dealt with a crucible that has honed their character and distilled them to their indelible core, and this is yet another example of such. The gradual unfolding of the background that has shaped Donatello (Donnie) Kagan and altered the lives of the Lindberg family plays out against the events that accompany their moving forward, six years later. I’m a little puzzled by the antipathy displayed by one particular character…and dismayed that his inaction and/or actions resulted in such a harsh punishment, which is never quite resolved sufficiently for my tastes.
Nonetheless, I loved the different characters who are rebuilding and finding a new lease on life, including the four-legged addition to the family. The faith and persistence and tentative hope that unfurls provide such a wonderful warm feeling, and that final tattoo was just so perfect that reading the story was like a warm hug and a wonderful reminder that all of us need to let the painful past go and not allow it to define our tomorrows.
A copy of this title was provided to me for review