Cody Whitley teaches creative writing at Brockton State College in upstate New York. As he struggles to keep a few unruly students from failing, a larger dilemma hits close to home.
His father Henry is in the last stages of his life, dying of liver cancer. Cody visits him everyday in the hospital, bringing him tea from the cafeteria and sitting by his hospital bed, sketching him in his notebook and watching the man he admired as a child slowly deteriorating. Having watched his mother die a few years ago, Cody is in a state of worry and flux, wondering how he will go on after he loses his father.
When he receives a text message from a handsome man named Liam he met on a dating app, Cody realizes there is still hope for happiness and a promising future. Amidst the turmoil, Cody accepts Liam's offer to meet him for lunch the next day. Not everything goes as planned, but Cody learns that he is not the only one going through hard times.
Will Cody allow the death of his father to alter his chances of finding lasting friendship with a complete stranger? Or will both men find comfort and romance in each other's painful pasts?
Outside the hospital, sitting on a bench next to the entrance doors, I called Liam back. He answered on the second ring. "Hey you. This is a surprise. How was your visit with your dad?"
I was shaking, clenching the phone to my ear. "I, uh, don't know what's going to happen. I don't want to see my father struggle anymore."
"I know this is difficult for you, but if there is anything I can do will you let me know?"
I stared out at the hospital grounds, to the sun shimmering off the surface of the duck pond a mile from the main building. Children were standing on the mossy embankment, tossing handfuls of seed into the water, and gathering a crowd of quacking mallards and their tiny offspring.
Engrossed in my quiet musings, I forget Liam was on the other end of the line. "Thanks," I said, clearing my throat. "I appreciate it."
"I know it's hard for you to be talking on the phone," he said, yanking me out of my reverie and reminding me how much I loathed communicating over cell phones.
"I'm fine. Really. It's just a strange time for me right now."
There was another brief pause, and then Liam said, "I don't want to pressure you into anything you're now ready for, Cody. But --"
I waited for him to continue. When he didn't finished talking, I asked him, "What were you going to say?"
"I want to be there for you because I know what you're going through."
An Uber pulled up to the curb to drop off a woman in a nurse's uniform. I turned back to Liam. "I appreciate the sentiment, and I want to see you too."
"I want to see you, Liam." I sounded desperate, urgent.
"Okay. When would be a good time?"
I looked down at my watch. "How about now? I've got an hour left before I have to head back to the college for my office hours."
"I'm out walking as we speak. How about I meet you at the hospital in, say, ten minutes?"
It was twenty minutes later when Liam strolled through the windy stone path leading around the duck pond and llama petting zoo to the customer parking lot. I was waiting for him next to my car, wiping sweat from my face with the back of my hand.
He was still dressed in his athletic attire and running shoes from earlier when I saw him at the college. "Have you been running all this time?" I asked.
He leaned his head back and laughed. He was boyish and handsome and I looked away, bashful, feeling guilty for staring at him. "I walk more than run," he said, leaning up beside me. He smelled sweaty, musky. He was breathing hard.
"Thanks for coming," I said, falling into a difficult silence and glancing at the white and brown-haired llamas to my left. I felt horrible that they had to carry those layers of fur in this scorching heat.
Liam reached out and touched my arm. I flinched, but didn't pull away.
"You can call me whenever you need to, and we can talk," he said. "I know how lonely you feel right now."
I turned to him and nodded, my eyes stinging with sadness, blurry with tears. I looked away so Liam wouldn't see me crying. But before I knew it, he was hugging me, and we hunched close together next to my car, our bodies pressing into a familiar feeling I thought I had lost forever.