Derek O'Reilly was never good at reality. After twenty years of adulthood, he's disenchanted with his life but his husband, Chef Nick Lund, is still chasing success. Then a near-fatal motorcycle accident brings everything to a halt and opens a door to a time Derek thought he'd never experience again.
As Derek sinks into a coma, his mind returns to the winter he first fell for Nick, the bad boy with arctic blue eyes. But in this coma-fantasy, Derek isn't a helpless child anymore. No -- this time, he's older and making Nick Lund stutter and swoon for a change.
While Derek slips away, Nick sits by him in the hospital, devastated. To pull his lover back from the land of dreams, he must say what he's never said before.
Derek has a choice -- remain lost in his imagined world, or return to Nick in the here and now where forever truly exists.
"Don't worry." In the entrance, Nick was half kneeling, slipping his big black boots off and looking up at me through a strand of his hair. "I won't disturb your mom or anything." He stood. He was dressed in a blue T-shirt that hugged his wide chest and made not staring at his muscles difficult. "Look at that," he said, touching my shoulder. "I'm wearing blue and you're wearing red." He winked. "Cool. Purple's my favorite color." He picked up the bag and walked by me. "Nice pajamas, by the way."
Inside the kitchen, I stood by the table, leaning a hand on a chair, while at the counter by the sink, Nick plucked things out of the bag. It was mostly dried fruits of all colors and fresh lemons and some herbs, too. There were others things, which I couldn't identify. A pouch of large rice maybe?
"You know, O'Reilly, people don't know much about Norwegian food." He arranged the supplies on the counter. "There isn't one halfway decent Scandinavian restaurant in the city." He looked at me, his blue eyes giving me a thrill. "I think maybe I could change that one day. Yeah, I think I will."
"So, you -- ou want t -- to be a ch -- chef?" My speech impediment frustrated me so, but the more frustrated I became, the worse off I was.
"An executive chef." Nick came around to where I stood and peeked down at my math book. "Gonna own a restaurant. Fine Norwegian cuisine with my take on it. Maybe I'll call it Split. 'Cause that's how I feel about everything."
Split. That was what he was. I felt it in my bones, right through my marrow. Divided. Always chasing two ideas at once.
Nick was skimming his long index finger along a page of my math book. He frowned. "What's it say there?" he asked softly, staring at the problem I hadn't been able to solve.
I moved a little closer to him, looking over his arm.
Nick tender stare lingered on my face. "You're good at math, huh? And you read a lot. I know you're brilliant ... underneath all that silence. Maybe you could help me. I mean -- with running the restaurant and all. You could do the books. Read all the legal shit I can't. Makes sure no one fucks with us. Right?"
Had he said us? Yes, I'd help him. I'd do anything for him. And I'd never let anyone mess with his dream.
"You read this for me. What does it say?" He pushed the math book my way on the table.
I sighed, my mouth and throat too tense to read or speak. Every time he was near me, I had a setback with my speech. I stared at the book, my cheeks beginning to burn.
Nick touched a strand of my hair, right by my ear. "You're just as stuck as I am, aren't you," he whispered. "Just in a different way."
He knew then. He understood. Yes, I was trapped. Buried under miles and miles of silence. There was no one to talk to in my house. My aunt was gone. My father, too. I didn't have any real friends. I was a prisoner inside my own mind.
"Look at me." Nick took my chin in his hand, raising my face to his. "There's more to you than those beautiful green eyes. I know that. Maybe I'm the only one who knows it. Maybe that's why I'm so obsessed with you. Now read this. Let me hear you."
I let out the breath I'd been withholding and looked down at the text. "An a -- airp -- p -- plane fli -- ies ag -- g -- g --" I stopped. Blinked. Couldn't do it. Couldn't bloody do it. I pushed the book away.
Nick furrowed his brow, staring right at me. "That's all you got? One time and you quit? Hm, okay. Funny, I thought you had a little more gusto."
His challenge made my jaw hard. No one had ever cared enough to defy me. But I couldn't read the thing out loud, challenge or not. "I c -- can't."
Nick eyed me for a moment, his blue eyes scrutinizing my face. "Well, shit. I can't read and you can't speak. Who's gonna help me figure out the recipe I brought? I've never tried this soup before. Thought you were gonna read the instructions out for me. I mean -- I can do it, but my dyslexia, it's gonna take me all damn night."
I rolled my eyes. I knew he was playing me.
"Ah, come on," he said, laughing a little and nudging my shoulder with a knuckle. "Do it for me, O'Reilly." He turned serious, slowly gliding his fingertips along my bottom lip. "Will you do this for me?"