Hi, I’m S.C. Wynne and I write M/M romance with a little humor and generally a healthy serving of angst. Welcome to my blog tour for Starting New!
For the next week I’ll share some posts about writing and my story Starting New. Join in the fun by leaving comments and enter to win a $30 Riptide gift card!
About Starting New:
Life hasn’t been good to Francis Murphy. He’s survived twenty-one years of homelessness by hooking and taking handouts where he can find them. When the local shelter is vandalized, he’s forced to seek food at the Grace and Light Church, where he runs into the pastor’s son, Randy.
Randy Wright believes the best in others. He's immediately drawn to Francis, even though Francis is hardened and wary. When Francis is attacked by one of his johns, Randy and his family take him in and offer him temporary work. Randy always thought he was straight, but something about Francis has him yearning for more than just friendship, and realizing he might be bisexual.
Francis is attracted to Randy too, and Randy and his parents say they’ve always believed in gay rights. But talk is cheap. What are the odds that these Christian parents will remain open-minded when it's their own son in a relationship with another man?
“Oh, I remember you, young man.” The blue-haired lady paused to wipe muffin crumbs from the front of her lacy floral shirt. “I saw you here the other day. I have a good eye for faces.” She seemed quite pleased with herself. Damn. She recognized me?
I swallowed the spit gathering in my mouth as I eyeballed the muffin she held. “‘With a keen eye for details, one truth prevails.’” I guess not eating brought out the poet in me.
“Oh, did you make that up?” she asked right before she bit into her second fluffy pastry. Was her goal to single-handedly eat all the treats?
“No, that’s from Gosho Aoyama,” I said.
God. I’m starving. Just my luck I’d been hijacked by Mary Poppins before I could grab a chocolate muffin and leave. My stomach growled loudly enough to be heard across the room. This was what I got for visiting the same damn church twice. I’d hoped nobody had noticed me last time I was here, and it would be safe. If I wasn’t desperate, I wouldn’t have come back. But the shelter I usually frequented had been vandalized and was closed, so here I was visiting with Chatty Cathy.
I eyed the group clutching their Bibles and interacting with each other as if they actually enjoyed being here. What would motivate these people to give away their entire Saturday afternoon to reread the same lame verses they’d probably read a million times over?
“I’m Polly.” She held out her hand. “And you are?”
About to eat the tablecloth if you don’t stop talking and go away.
Her face brightened. “Oh, like Saint Francis of Assisi?”
If he was homeless and a hooker, then sure.
“Not exactly.” I attempted a smile, but my face felt tight as I eyed the silver coffee urn. Maybe if I inched over slowly, I could snag a cup.
She put a hand to her lips as if telling me a secret. “These meetings are a lot more crowded now that the pastor has decided we need to be inclusive of the LMNOP community.”
“That’s LGBT, Polly.” The husky voice came from behind me.
I turned and met the curious, blue eyes of a redheaded guy about my height and age. He had pretty, full lips, which momentarily distracted me from my empty gut. A little buzz of attraction stirred in me, but I stamped it down. Last thing in the world I needed was to get involved with a Holy Roller. I had enough problems.
“Thanks, Randy.” Polly tossed her coffee cup in the trash nearby. “I can never keep it straight.”
“No pun intended?” It slipped out before I could stop myself.
Randy’s laugh sounded heartfelt, and the corners of his eyes crinkled with amusement. “You’re funny.”
I was beginning to feel light-headed, I was so hungry. I cleared my throat and pointed to the pile of amazing-smelling pastries. “Mind if I grab a snack?”
Randy nodded and moved so I could get to the muffins. “Of course.” He grabbed a Styrofoam cup and filled it with piping-hot coffee. “Do you drink coffee?”
It took everything I had not to grab the cup from his hand and guzzle it down. “Yes. Thank you.” With slow, deliberate movements, I peeled the paper off the baked good, and waited what I hoped was the appropriate amount of time before biting into it. Oh Jesus. The first bite was sugary and warm, and I had to work really hard not to moan. How could a muffin taste this good?
I don’t know if Randy suspected how much I liked my snack or not, but a smile hovered on his lips as he watch me consume the treat. “My mom makes those. She also makes a killer blueberry scone.”
I nodded as if I cared, but I really didn’t. All I wanted was to be left alone with my beloved muffin and coffee. I sipped the strong, dark brew and sighed as it warmed my gut. About that time I noticed people starting to take seats near the podium. The long, dingy room was separated into two areas. There was the recreational space near the entrance, where the food was on display, and then the lectern and folding chairs toward the other end of the building, where all the religious nonsense happened.
Since the prayer meeting was about to begin, I inched toward the exit, hoping I didn’t appear too obvious. I was here to get something in my stomach, not have my soul saved.
“Are you leaving?” Randy had fastened himself to my elbow without me noticing. He seemed disappointed at the idea of me going, and I had no idea why.
I didn’t want to look like I’d only come in for the free food. I knew from experience church people might pretend they wanted you to partake of the food they’d set out, but the truth was there were always strings attached. Usually a long, boring lecture was hooked to baked goods of this excellent quality.
“I’m gonna go grab my wallet. I left it in the car, and I want to make a contribution to the basket.” Pulpit people loved donations.
“Oh, well, stay and study the word with us. You can always go out and get your wallet later.” Randy put his hand on my arm, and an electrical pulse ping-ponged through me. I decided it had to be static from the vinyl flooring. After all, I’d kind of been dragging my feet since I was weak with hunger.
“Um . . . I . . .” Son of a bitch. This do-gooder just had to latch on, didn’t he?
“I’d love to get to know you.” Randy’s gaze was warm and inquisitive. He had to be one of those social individuals who actually liked people. Me on the other hand? Not so much.
I looked around the room trying to think of how to escape gracefully. Polly had wandered away long ago, in search of a chair near the front. She was probably a bumper sticker for Christians who thought kissing the pastor’s ass was the way to earn points in heaven.
“There’s not much to know,” I mumbled, shifting nervously.
Randy smiled, showing perfect white teeth. “I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable. What brought you here to Grace and Light Church?”
Was that the name of this place? Grace and Light? It was kind of nice sounding, but I still didn’t want to hang around and share my story with Randy. It was Saturday, and Baxter would expect to meet this evening for our biweekly rendezvous. I needed the money, and it would be wonderful to sleep in a hotel tonight.
“There was a flyer at the coffeehouse I go to every morning.” He didn’t need to know that I visited the alley behind the coffee place mostly. You’d be amazed how much virtually untouched food people throw away. Some mornings I was able to find enough to last me two days.
The man at the podium told everyone to open their Bibles, and the turning pages sounded like the fluttering of doves’ wings.
“Is your family from this area?” he asked quietly so as not to disturb the speaker at the front of the room.
“This general vicinity.”
I occasionally ran into my mom at the soup kitchen. She liked soup because she’d lost a lot of teeth from using meth so much. I never knew my dad, aka sperm donor. From what I gathered, he was a musician, but since they hadn’t exactly exchanged numbers, I’d never met him. It used to bother me a lot that I didn’t have a father around. But I’d been young then, and under the impression you needed family to get by in life. I’d since learned sometimes they were more of a hindrance than a help.
“How old are you?” he asked. His gaze was oddly intense, and my stomach fluttered nervously.
“Twenty-one.” I realized I was sucking the crumbs from the paper muffin cup as if I’d never eat again, and I stopped abruptly.
Regular people don’t eat the wrapper, dummy.
“Same age as me.” He gave that perfect smile of his.
I knew our similarities stopped at our shared age. It was obvious from his good-natured ways and confident smile that he believed in possibilities. I didn’t. Not anymore. Maybe I never really had. I could freely admit I didn’t have a lot of faith in the human race. One of my earliest memories was of my mom taking my winter coat and trading it for a fix. The good thing about my mother being such a horrible wreck was it had served as an excellent deterrent to me ever trying hard drugs. The most I’d ever done was smoke weed.
Not like I could afford pot. I didn’t really have any useful job skills—well, not the kind you learn at junior college. The one commodity I could trade was my body. I was also competent at conning people if the opportunity presented itself. I think I preferred selling myself for sex rather than the con, because both parties knew the score. No one was getting ripped off. It was merely a trade. You use my body and I get some cash. There was a clear simplicity to it that sat better with my conscience.
“Maybe you could tell some of your friends about our church.” Randy watched me expectantly. Naturally he assumed I had friends. He probably had loads of them. They most likely sat around studying the Bible, sipping hot chocolate, and showing off who knew more quotes from Scripture.
“Sure.” I had a hard time picturing some of the guys I knew hanging out here. They weren’t going to leave their corners for the promise of a muffin and a pep talk.
He laughed sheepishly. “Wow. I’m sorry.” He brushed my arm again, and his clean, masculine scent filled my nostrils. “I don’t mean to be so pushy. But you’re one of the few people my age to wander in lately. It gives me hope that the congregation has a future.”
I wasn’t used to people being so touchy-feely with me for no reason. It was confusing that a stranger, who wasn’t trying to have sex with me, would put his hands on my body. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the feelings of arousal the contact drummed up. This clean-cut kid probably had no idea what he was making me feel.
“It’s okay,” I said.
“My dad’s trying to bring this crowd into the twenty-first century.” He eyed the group listening to the sermon. “A lot of the older people in the congregation are upset with him because he’s trying to be inclusive. Every segment of society is welcome here.” He looked around and whispered near my ear, his warm breath wafting against my skin. “Much of the flock is rigid. They want to be the only ones allowed in ‘The Club.’” He made air quotes with his fingers.
It suddenly occurred to me what he must be saying. I turned to him, surprised. “Your dad’s the pastor here?”
He nodded. “I thought you knew.”
I shook my head. “Nope.” I felt doubly bad for having lewd thoughts about him. He was the chaste and pure son of the preacher, and I was definitely going to Hell now.
He squinted at me. “Does it freak you out that he’s my dad?”
“Someone has to be the head honcho, I guess.”
“Yeah. But it makes people act strange around me sometimes when they find out.” He studied me quietly. “I’m not a judgmental person.”
I shrugged. “A lot of churchy people are.”
“I know.” He sighed. “My family is far from perfect.” He wrinkled his brow and continued sincerely. “But I believe in God. And I strive to be my very best.”
I envied him. It must be wonderful to have faith in something other than your own ability to survive. I couldn’t imagine what it must feel like to think some Supreme Being had your back.
“I would expect no less from the son of a preacher.”
“Do you believe in God?” he asked quietly.
His question caught me off guard. I’d known that it would come eventually if I hung around long enough. I hadn’t expected it so soon. My stomach was pleasantly full from the muffin I’d liberated, and I hated cutting off my pastry supply by being truthful. I sucked in a big breath and I spun a yarn.
“I’ve been struggling with my faith lately.”
Lately. Like since the day I was born.
His expression softened immediately. There was nothing like when a do-gooder smelled fresh meat. Seeing the euphoria that came over them as they contemplated rescuing you was almost comical. Saving souls was like a drug to them, and they were desperate for their fix of sainthood.
“We all struggle. That’s normal.” His tone was gentle and comforting.
I shrugged, trying to appear agreeable, even as his sincerity irked me a bit. How dare he be so certain about things when he was the same age as me? Odds were he still believed in the tooth fairy. “I look around at the bad things in the world, and I wonder how there can be a God.”
“Man has free will. God wants us to make choices, or otherwise we’re just his puppets.”
I grimaced. “Yeah, not sure how a baby drowning qualifies as free will.”
He nodded, his expression pained. “I get what you’re saying.” He stared at his shoes. “Stuff with kids rattles my faith too.”
I was amazed at his honesty, and he went up a notch in my book. I studied his striking, angular features, his thick lashes resting on his cheeks. He hadn’t tried to pretend he had all the answers, and I liked that. If we’d met at a bar or something, would we have hit it off? I snickered mentally at that idea. Randy at a bar. It was like me standing here in this church rec room. Neither of us belonged in the other one’s world.
Randy’s voice was gentle and contemplative. “I like to think that maybe what happens here on Earth won’t matter to us when we get to Heaven. Perhaps it’s like when you burn your finger. It hurts like hell at the time, but then a month later you don’t remember it happening.”
Yeah, but when your whole life sucks, Randy, it’s harder to ignore.
About S.C. Wynne:
S.C. Wynne started writing m/m in 2013 and did look back once. She wanted to say that because it seems everyone's bio says they never looked back and, well, S.C. Wynne is all about the joke. She loves writing m/m, and her characters are usually a little jaded, funny, and ultimately redeemed through love.
S.C loves red wine, margaritas, and Seven and Sevens. Yes, apparently she is incredibly thirsty. She loves the rain and should really live in Seattle, but instead has landed in sunny, sunny, unbelievably sunny California. Writing is the best profession she could have chosen because she's a little bit of a control freak. To sit in her pajamas all day and pound the keys of her laptop, controlling the every thought and emotion of the characters she invents, is a dream come true.
If you'd like to contact S.C. Wynne, she can be found amusing herself on Facebook at all hours of the day, or you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To celebrate the release of Starting New, S.C. is giving away $30 in Riptide credit. Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on August 13, 2016. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!