Can two broken men build one life?
That’s what Makai lost for a crime he didn’t commit. He’s been exonerated, but the abuse he suffered in prison isn’t so easy to leave behind. He heads to the one place he remembers being happy: Acker, Wisconsin, where he spent summers with his grandpa. Unfortunately, not everyone wants Makai there.
That’s how long Emil, now twenty-one, was held prisoner as a teenager. The mental and physical injuries he suffered at the hands of a drug trafficking ring still haunt him.
Nightmares, anxiety, and PTSD challenge the connection forming between Makai and Emil, though together, they might find a way to move beyond their pain and into a future -- and a relationship -- that both had thought impossible.
Now they just have to convince Emil’s father, the town sheriff. It won’t be easy with danger closer than they know ...
“Sometimes you gotta make your own family. Choose people you want to call that. Make something out of worthy folks, not the ones who share your blood.”
Makai nodded, feeling a bit choked up. He knew this, knew about chosen families, but he hadn’t had people to choose to bring into his. Not really. The closest had been a cellmate he’d had for two years, who had then been released after his time was served a few years back. Kaos had been a good kid, not innocent, but the crimes that had put him in prison had been committed out of desperation.
Kaos had written to Makai a few times, but Makai had told him to live his life. If his friend was still out there, he’d be twenty-six now. Makai hoped he was alive and on the straight and narrow like he’d promised in his last letter.
“Well, I know Benny was as good of a grandpa as he knew how to be. His family ... they weren’t very demonstrative. I don’t think your mother ever heard she was loved or anything. But if you need an ear, I’ll be here, at least until my ticker signs out for good.” Mr. Miller tapped his chest and smiled wryly.
Makai nodded again, feeling like he should say something but couldn’t.
“Though, if you come across that Frankie Matthews again, be a bit cautious. He’s got a temper and a racist streak a mile wide. Most people probably see you as whatchamacallit these days, white-passing? Or maybe Hispanic or something. To folks like him, you’re black as Obama.” The twinkle in Mr. Miller’s eyes told Makai that he knew Obama was biracial, much like Makai, and that he also knew racists didn’t care either way.
He chuckled and downed the rest of his latte. “Thanks for the coffee,” he said finally.
“Your grandpa liked the old bar we had across the road. It burned down and now the Fieldses have it above the diner. I’m not sure if you remember the last time you were here?”
Makai shook his head. “All I remember is missing the old house and the lake.”
“You and your brother spent one afternoon in the shop when Benny went to the bar for a drink and forgot he had you. I called your mother after a few hours. Thought you were safer at home than with Benny when he was drinking.” The old man got up and scratched the back of his neck. “I guess things went different than I thought. She didn’t let you come by after that.”
“Likely my dad didn’t. He had some family issues. I’ve never met any of his family. They’re mostly back in Hawai’i, or so I think. All I know for a fact is that he had a big family and was all about leaving them behind and starting his own.”
Mr. Miller tsked. “Your mom still alive?”
“Yeah. She lives in a different neighborhood but the same town. Is a grandma to Nakoa’s kids when they come by. I gave her a bit of money and left town as soon as I could after getting out and going back there to see her.”
“Might be the best thing you could’ve done, kid. And don’t worry. I’ll try to keep the locals in check a bit.” They shuffled Mr. Miller’s speed back to the shop. “If you need anything, just holler.”
“Oh, one thing,” Makai remembered. “A cat came by the house. Seems to think she lives there now. Very pregnant gray thing. If anyone’s missing one, can you let them know I have her?”
“Sure, sure. Could be a stray, though. Some campers at the campsite ‘lose’ their pets when they leave.” The expression on Mr. Miller’s face told Makai all he needed to know what the old man thought of such practices. “You could go to the clinic. Doc Donovan is a good man. Might want to check her out anyway, and he’d know if she’s local.”
“Good thinking, thanks,” Makai said, and then a middle-aged man came in and seemed to want Mr. Miller’s attention, so Makai bowed out and went to get a basket for his groceries.
He ended up needing a cart because he found the pet section in the back of the store and realized all the things he needed to get for the cat. Food that cost a lot to buy but would probably last her for a while -- he also got some extra meat, trying to tell himself her babies needed the extra nutrition right then -- along with a litterbox, kitty litter, a bunch of toys, and yes, a cat carrier.
When he got to the front of the shop, Mr. Miller was manning the cash register and his eyes twinkled at Makai.
“You ain’t gonna give her back, are you?”
Makai grinned sheepishly. “Depends on whose she is. I mean, she could just be lost. She’ll still need this stuff, so ...” He ducked his head and packed his groceries and all the cat things while Mr. Miller chuckled at him.
A former convict, biracial, bisexual, and now the fucking resident cat guy.