OS Welcome to Laura Larasco who dropped by to talk about her new cover!
I’m so excited today to reveal the cover of my new novel, The Bravest Thing, about the tumultuous first love affair between a city boy and a country boy in rural Texas. The artist, AngstyG, did a wonderful job of capturing the spirits of both lead characters along with the beauty and majesty of cattle country.
This cover also reminds me of one of my all-time favorite romances, Brokeback Mountain. Like Brokeback Mountain, the characters in The Bravest Thing are dealing with a community that doesn’t support their relationship and in fact, goes out of their way to destroy it. Though the story is a bit bittersweet at times, the message, ultimately, is one of hope and acceptance. I hope that my story does AngstyG’s cover justice, and that you will be intrigued to peel back the cover and discover the story of two sweet young men from very different backgrounds trying to find the courage, each in his own way, to be brave.
High school junior Berlin Webber is about to reap the fruits of his hard work and land a football scholarship—if he can keep his sexuality a secret from his best friend, Trent, and their homophobic coach. Then Hiroku Hayashi swerves into the high school parking lot on his tricked-out motorcycle like some sexy comic book villain, and Berlin knows he doesn’t stand a chance.
Hiroku is fleeing his sophisticated urban scene to recover from drug addiction and an abusive relationship when he arrives in Berlin’s small Texas ranch town. Initially sarcastic and aloof, Hiroku finds in Berlin a steady, supportive friend who soon becomes more. As Hiroku and Berlin’s romance blossoms, they take greater risks to be together. But when a horrific act of violence tears them apart, they both must look bigotry in the face. While Berlin has always turned to his faith for strength, Hiroku dives into increasingly dangerous ways of coping, pushing them in opposite directions just when they need each other most.
Two very different young men search for the bravery to be true to themselves, the courage to heal, and the strength to go on when things seem darkest. But is it enough to bring them back together?
Cover art designer:
Laura Lascarso strives to inspire more questions than answers in her fiction and believes in the power of stories to heal and transform a society. She lives in North Florida with her darling husband, two children, and a menagerie of animals. Her debut novel, Counting Backwards (Simon & Schuster 2012) won the Florida Book Award gold medal for young adult literature.
For social critiques, writer puns, and Parks and Rec gifs, follow her on Twitter @lauralascarso or like her on Facebook at /lascarso
Andre in Flight (Dreamspinner Press 2016)
Racing Hearts (Leap Books 2015)
Counting Backwards (Atheneum 2012)
Follow me @lauralascarso
Buy Links (DSP)
“What are you doing here?” Hiro asks as I step in front of him. He looks past me, his eyes still on the stage.
“I like their music,” I say, which is part of the reason. I was also hoping he’d be here, but I keep that to myself.
Hiro doesn’t answer. It’s like he’s off in another world, stoned or something. I wonder if he came here alone. He shouldn’t be driving if he’s high.
“You okay? You want a ride home after?” I put my hand on his shoulder.
Hiro glances down at my hand. “I have my bike.”
“I can put it in the back of my truck.”
“It’s pretty heavy.”
“I keep a two-by-four in the back in case I get stuck in the mud.”
He looks confused and glances again toward the stage, where the band is winding down. Then he leans in close and says into my ear, “If you want me to go with you, we have to leave now.”
I follow his gaze to where the lead singer of Petty Crime is staring at the two of us. “I think they’re going to play another set.” Hiro licks his lips, which distracts me from the band. Something about his eyes reminds me of an animal on the run. Maybe he’s on something more than just weed. “Fine, yeah. Let’s go now,” I say.
He grabs my arm and leads me out a side door that empties right into the parking lot. He’s obviously been here before. “Where’d you park?” he asks, glancing behind him like we’re being chased. I point at my truck. “Can you bring it over to my bike? I don’t want to start it up.”
He’s definitely trying to dodge someone, but who? And why? I don’t ask, though. I drive over to his bike. Hiro bounces on his toes while I load it up into the back of my truck and strap it in. In the cab his jitters get worse, and he rubs at his knees over and over. Across the parking lot, the lead singer of Petty Crime is jogging toward us, waving his arms kind of crazy-like.
I point toward him. “I think he wants to talk to you.”
Hiro grabs my arm. He has my full attention now.
“Just go, Berlin.”
The singer must be who he’s running from. He isn’t very big. I could take him if it came to that, but there must be a reason Hiro’s acting so frightened, especially after I saw him stand up to a guy like Trent. Instead of asking questions, I hit the gas, and we haul ass out of the parking lot.
Hiro sticks his face out the open window like he needs one last look. The wind catches his hair. I need to pay attention to the road.
In my rearview I see the singer break into a run. He shouts something, but I can’t hear it over the growl of my engine.
“You owe that guy money or something?” I ask once we’re a few blocks away and it seems safer to talk.
Hiro collapses into the seat like a punched paper bag. “Something like that.”
Maybe that guy’s his dealer, or Hiro’s selling drugs for him. That would explain some things.
“Is that why you didn’t want to come to the show?”
He sticks out his lower lip and chews on it. I wonder what it tastes like. “Yes.”
I go over it in my mind. The dedication that singer made, it was for the same song as that video I’d seen. I glance over at Hiro, kind of check out his physique. I’ve seen him in the locker room without his shirt on. A lightning bolt strikes me.
“You’re the guy in the video,” I say. I’ve watched it more times than I care to admit. I practically have his body memorized, which is weird and something I’d never say out loud.
He sighs but says nothing. I’ve been fantasizing about that guy right alongside Hiro, not realizing they were the same person.
“You guys were together?” They had to be. That video was way too real, more like a documentary than a music video.
The singer said he’d been bad to someone. Hiro’s parents had moved to Lowry to give him a fresh start. “He’s the reason you left Austin?”
Hiro fidgets in his seat. “My parents thought I needed a change of scenery.”
“Do they know you’re here?”
“According to the GPS on my phone, I’m at Lowry High School, working late on a video for school.”
This is serious if his parents are tracking him and Hiro’s lying to them about it. That guy has to be bad news. I remember the stoned look in Hiro’s eyes earlier.
“You came back to see him.”
He claps his hands once, hard. “Enough about me, Berlin. Let’s talk about you. What position do you play?”
It takes me a second to realize he’s changed the subject to football. I guess he doesn’t want to answer my questions. “Running back.”
“Your team any good?”
He sounds like he’s interested. Football is an easy subject, one I can talk about all day long. “We went to the play-offs last year. Almost made it to state. You follow football?”
He shakes his head. “Not in the least.”
He’s too cool for school, apparently. I imagine him in the stands, wearing our team colors, cheering for me, of course. But then, I can’t really see Hiro jumping around and shouting for any sports team. More like slouched back and scowling with his perfect, pouty mouth.
“You should come to a game sometime,” I tell him. “Might improve your school spirit.”
He snorts at that. “School spirit is not my top priority right now.”
I figured that was the case. “So what is?”
He tucks the long side of his hair behind his ear. I wonder how many piercings he has and if he has any in places I can’t see. The singer had them too. Maybe they did that for fun, pierced each other.
“Staying off drugs,” he says, then leans forward and scratches at his arms. He looks like he wants to crawl right out of his skin.
Drugs too? He grew up fast in Austin. When I think about that video, the way the singer touched Hiro seemed like he was handling his property more than a person. I wonder if drugs were involved.
“Are you on something now?” I ask him.
“No, unfortunately. Just high on life.”
We drive another few miles in silence while I turn it over in my mind. Hiro doesn’t offer any more explanation, and I don’t know what to say without sounding judgmental. As we approach the outskirts of Lowry, I realize I don’t want to take him home just yet, but there’s nowhere in town we can go without being seen.
I pull off a side road and then onto a dirt road. Hiro doesn’t ask where I’m taking him. He still seems pretty checked out. When we come to the edge of my property, I get out and open the gate, drive through, then close it on the other side. I pull into a grove of trees, park the truck, and shut off the engine.
He turns toward me. “Is this the part where I suck you off in exchange for protection?”
It takes me a second to realize what he’s suggesting. “What? No.” My neck gets hot and my junk starts throbbing at the mere mention of it. “Is that how it was at your old school?”
Hiro chews on his lower lip and stares down at his hands. “No. I was actually pretty popular at my old school. I didn’t need protection.”
I believe him. He has that cool air about him, like he doesn’t give a shit what other people think. I thought it was confidence, but maybe it’s only a cover.
“I just wanted to talk to you since I can’t at school.”
“Yeah, about that.” He drapes one toned arm across the back of the seat and rests his knee on the bench. His shirt is black and tight, with slash marks across the front, like some wild animal swiped at it. I can’t stop staring at the skin showing through. My hands get itchy, like when I’m about to get the ball in a game. I kind of want to rip the rest of his shirt away.
“Are you a homo or what, Berlin?” he asks.
My face feels like it’s on fire as I run my fingers through my hair, then remember my hair is short. “I don’t know.” Why do people have to put a label on everything? Why can’t I just be?
“You want to find out?” He lifts one eyebrow suggestively, a smirk on his face. Is that an invitation? We hardly even know each other, but still….
“No,” I stammer while images from that video flood me. All his body parts swim in my head, so much smooth skin and hard muscle, the smell of him in the cab of my truck. Of course I want to… do stuff… but this seems way too soon. “I mean, maybe, but that’s not what this is about. I didn’t come here to mess around. I just want to talk to you.”
He shrugs and glances out the window. He looks bored. I’m boring him. He’s been with a rock star. He probably sees me as just some dumb hick. I don’t have any experience with guys. I barely have any experience with girls. I can’t even say for sure if I’m gay or not.
I take a deep breath and try to muster up my courage. He came with me over his ex. That has to count for something. “Why’d you guys break up?” It’s none of my business, but I’m curious. In the video they looked very… close.
“I liked your hair long,” he says, changing the subject yet again. “Why’d you cut it?”
I’m surprised he noticed. I rub my palm across the top of my buzz cut. “Coach told me I looked like a faggot.” I clipped it the same day.
Hiro shakes his head slowly. His mouth turns down to a frown. I want to kiss him pretty bad. He turns away from me and gets a faraway look in his eyes.
“Must be hard for you living in a place like this,” he says softly.
I follow his gaze to where he looks out at the land, my birthright. Even if I get through high school, I’ll still have to hide my sexuality in college if I want to play football. And then eventually I’ll come back here to Lowry to manage the farm, and what? Come out then? I don’t see any solution in sight, which means I can’t think too far ahead.
“I take it one day at a time,” I say.
He nods and leans the back of his head against the seat, exposing his neck. Even his throat is sexy. “Yeah, me too,” he says.
We’re quiet after that. He knows things without me having to tell him. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.
“How’d you know?” I ask him. “About me?”
He tilts his head to look at me sideways. “About you?”
He’s playing dumb. He wants me to say it. “About me maybe, possibly, being gay.”
He snickers. “You asked me out. Don’t you remember?”
He purses his lips and squints like he’s trying to remember. “I don’t know. I guess I just… felt you. You seemed interested. Was I wrong?”
I swallow, afraid to admit it to him. He’s the only one who knows this about me. It feels dangerous but also like a huge relief. I’m so tired of hiding it from everyone, always glancing over my shoulder or covering something up. Feels like I’m bound up in chains.
“You weren’t wrong,” I tell him. Not in the least. I’m very interested, and it’s making me kind of crazy. “Do you think other people can tell?”
“I don’t know. Do you check out a lot of other dudes?”
“No,” I practically shout.
I grip the steering wheel because I need something to hold on to. I feel like I’m on a tilt-a-whirl with him. “What’s so funny?”
“I don’t know.” He waves one hand. “You’re such a contradiction.”
I’m not sure what he means by that. Maybe because I try to fit in. Hiro clearly isn’t interested in hiding anything, even when that means getting bullied. His parents could have sent him to another school in Austin. It seems extreme to bring him all the way out to the country, like putting a wild bird in a cage. Like a punishment.
“Are your parents mad at you?” I ask. “Is that why they brought you here?”
Hiro sighs and clasps his hands in front of him like a well-behaved child. “My dad is, but that’s nothing new. I’m not exactly what he bargained for. Luckily, my older sister makes up for it. I don’t really blame him for giving up on me, though. I’ve made some bad choices.”
“What about your mom?”
His eyes soften. “My mom’s more hopeful.”
“That’s good. Are you?”
He tucks in his chin so half his face is hidden behind his hair. “Some days more so than others.” He says it so quietly, like he’s in pain. I want to hug him or rub his shoulders, do something to make him feel better like I would with Kayla, but I don’t want to weird him out.
“You’re probably, like, my mom’s favorite person right now,” he says with a sad smile.
He glances up at me with eyes that look empty. “Because you’re not Seth.”
That doesn’t seem like a compliment to me, more like a default. Seth must have really done a number on Hiro for his parents to move out here. And for Hiro to sneak back to see him. Some kind of mind control.
Their relationship interests me. I don’t know any gay couples in Lowry. And the people who might be gay are only rumors, usually meant to shame them. I guess things are a lot different in Austin. “How long were you guys together?” I ask.
“Too long.” He shakes his head like he’s ridding himself of some bad memory. His eyes focus on mine. “How about you? Your parents are ranchers?”
“My dad. My mom died when I was ten. Breast cancer.”
His lips pucker. “That really sucks. I’m sorry, Berlin.”
He has no idea. My mom was the lighthearted one in the family, the fun one. My dad only smiled for her. And she could get me to crack up laughing with her ribbing, which was always good-natured.
“She had a great sense of humor,” I tell Hiro.
“You have any brothers or sisters?”
“No, just my dad and me.” But we have our land and our animals. I have my football team and Trent, even if he is an asshole sometimes. I’m not alone, except for in this one thing.
“Does your dad know about you maybe, possibly, being gay?”
Hiro’s teasing me again, but I don’t think he’s trying to hurt my feelings.
“Would he be mad?”
My dad isn’t a hateful person, but he is a man’s man, a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy, a God-fearing Christian. If he suspects anything, he keeps it to himself, maybe hoping it’s something I’ll grow out of. “I don’t know,” I say at last. “I’m afraid to find out.”
“What about your friend Trent?”
I don’t have to think twice about that. “He’d flip. So would Coach Cross. I’d get kicked off the team, lose my chance at a scholarship.” Lose my friends, become the butt of their every joke, maybe get jumped, be treated just like….
“I won’t tell anyone,” Hiro says quietly, like he knows how important this secret is to me. I believe him when he says it. He could have told someone before now and he didn’t.
“Thank you.” The words aren’t enough to show how grateful I am.
“I should get going, though.” His gaze veers back out the window. “My parents are going to put out a missing persons any minute.”
With some reluctance I start up the truck and go back out the way we came. I don’t want him to go, but I can’t say it without it sounding weird. On the other side of the fence, I unload his bike, then stand there next to it, not sure how to tell him I want to see him again.
“You want to go shooting with me tomorrow?” I ask. The fence shouldn’t take too long to finish fixing, and then I’ll have the afternoon to do what I want.
He runs his hand along his bike seat. His fingers are long and nicely shaped, with trim, unbitten nails. My own hands are full of scars and calluses from working on the farm.
“I’m not really into hunting,” he says. “I’m actually a vegetarian.”
I smack my forehead. It would figure. “You’re killing me, Smalls. This is cattle country. Beef is what’s for dinner.” Hiro smiles at that, and it’s such a pretty sight that I’d do just about anything to see it again. I wave him away. “It’s fine. We don’t have to hunt or anything. We can just shoot bottles or whatever.” Shit, we don’t even have to bring guns. I just want an excuse to be with him.
“Okay. Let me text myself from your phone.” I hand him my phone, and he sends himself a text. “We can talk this way,” he says, looking at me with purpose. “You really don’t want to friend me on Facebook. Besides, I’m never on it.”
He hands me my phone, and I shove it in my pocket. I don’t know what to do with my hands, which is strange. On the farm and in football, I’m good with my hands.
“Well.” He grabs his helmet. “See you tomorrow, then.”
As he mounts his bike, the back of his shirt lifts up over his waistband, exposing the small of his back and the triangle of muscles that point downward like an arrow. My throat goes dry as I imagine my hand there, steering him underneath me. My stomach flip-flops. Not butterflies, more like anxiety. My maybe, possibly, being gay is seeming more and more likely.
One day at a time.