The Harder We Fall
For years, I’ve been bound by sleeplessness and sorrow. His voice threatens to set me free.
Insomnia. It’s part of the penance I pay for my greatest mistake. But when an ill-timed doze behind the wheel of my car nearly introduces me to a pole, I know something has to change.
Sleep with Me, a locally-made meditation app, promises a cure. I don’t expect it to work. Nor do I expect to become enthralled by the voice of its creator, Sam Stephenson. His ability to coax forth my nightly surrender is unnerving. I have to meet this man and learn the secret behind his techniques, so I can evict him from my head and get a good night’s sleep.
In person, the quiet and reclusive Sam is his own kind of complicated. He needs my business skills as much as I need his meditation skills and we forge an unlikely partnership. But the attraction between us soon flares into passion and, as we grow closer, I start to long for more than my guilty conscience will allow.
I have no right to love, not after the damage I’ve done. How can I give Sam all he deserves, when our chance at a happy ending was ruined before we even met?
Trigger Warning: This book deals with issues of long-term complicated grief over the death of a loved one.
“You know, openly gay men don’t usually spend so much time in a closet.”
He grins, glancing at the walls surrounding us. “It never occurred to me to spend time in the metaphorical closet. Mum accepted me, I assumed others would, too. Which hasn’t always been the case, but I have no regrets there.” His eyebrows lift in question. “What about you?”
“For a while,” I say with a shrug. “Then I got caught kissing a boy while drunk at a high school party. There wasn’t much point denying it after that.”
“Did the other students give you a hard time?”
A bitter laugh bubbles up through my chest but I tamp it down. “Sometimes. But they had better reasons to hate me. I was used to people talking behind my back, staring when I walked past. Being out didn’t change my life overly much.”
Sam frowns as he puts a hand over mine on my knee. The questions are there in his eyes. Why did people hate you? What happened? What did you do?
His mouth opens, but I beat him to the punch. “You use this place for more than recording now?”
He stops, and then a barely perceptible nod acknowledges my right to keep my past to myself. “I do,” he says, looking around the room. “There’s so much I struggle to do. Talking to new people, going out, doing stuff. It’s tiring, always having to work so hard to do things other people do without thought. When I’m in here, I can just be.” He smiles, and there’s an ease to it I’ve never seen before.
“When you’re leading your class, you make it seem so easy. Sitting there, being you. Like nothing can touch you.”
He watches me for a long moment. “Your thoughts can’t hurt you, Tristan. Not by themselves.” He’s said those words to me before, but apparently I need reminding.
“My thoughts could,” I whisper. “If I let them. I’m not brave like you.”
Both our hands are joined now, our fingers threaded together over my knees. This time, the tremor isn’t coming from his side. Why am I saying these things? He brought me here to show me his sanctuary, and I’m treating it like a confessional.
“You are brave,” he says with quiet insistence. “I know you’re scared. But you’re here, asking for help when you need it. That’s brave.” A new depth has crept into his tone as we’ve talked. A commanding gentleness I recognise.
“Your voice…” I take a shaky breath, my mouth twitching at the corners. “My siren has arrived.”
His expression turns bashful as he ducks his head. “I didn’t mean to.”
“No, don’t stop.” My grip on him tightens. “Please.”
Meeting my gaze, he nods. “It doesn’t usually happen spontaneously. Only when I’m recording or teaching a class. It’s this place, I suppose. I feel safe here.” As he speaks, his thumbs stroke my palms and I shiver.
“Having me here doesn’t spoil the feeling?”
“No.” A touch of awe glints in the blue. “I think, maybe, I feel safe with you, too.”
I don’t move when he lets go of my hands and raises up off the cushion so he can scoot closer. I don’t move when he extends his legs over my still folded ones, so his calves bracket my hips and his feet touch down behind me. He’s not actually in my lap, his arse is still on the floor in front of me, but it’s a close thing.
I don’t move as he reaches out to touch my cheeks, stroking his thumbs over them. My own hands remain on my knees, my fingers digging in there. I don’t move, but my heart is a wild thing in my chest and my breathing is laboured. Shudders rack my body as he brushes his nose against mine. When his breath fans across my lips, I still don’t move. But I close my eyes, and I wait.
His closed lips touch mine. They’re soft and tentative. Barely pressing against me. They’re hopeful lips, in search of a response.
I move to give him one.