The Bravest Thing by Laura Lascarso – Exclusive Excerpt and Giveaway

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Laura Lascarso who is visiting with us to celebrate the release of her newest book The Bravest Thing which will be released on April 17. Enter the Rafflecopter at the end of the post for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card.

High school junior Berlin Webber is about to reap the fruits of his hard work and land a football scholarship—if he can keep his sexuality a secret from his best friend, Trent, and their homophobic coach. Then Hiroku Hayashi swerves into the high school parking lot on his tricked-out motorcycle like some sexy comic book villain, and Berlin knows he doesn’t stand a chance.

Hiroku is fleeing his sophisticated urban scene to recover from drug addiction and an abusive relationship when he arrives in Berlin’s small Texas ranch town. Initially sarcastic and aloof, Hiroku finds in Berlin a steady, supportive friend who soon becomes more. As Hiroku and Berlin’s romance blossoms, they take greater risks to be together. But when a horrific act of violence tears them apart, they both must look bigotry in the face. While Berlin has always turned to his faith for strength, Hiroku dives into increasingly dangerous ways of coping, pushing them in opposite directions just when they need each other most.

Two very different young men search for the bravery to be true to themselves, the courage to heal, and the strength to go on when things seem darkest. But is it enough to bring them back together?

Enjoy an Exclusive Excerpt

For a little background, at this point in the story, Berlin is still struggling with his identity as a gay man, and Hiroku is holding onto some past relationship baggage. Despite their differences, Berlin and Hiro have a very strong connection, and in this sampling you get a sense of their individual needs and wants as they navigate the newness and uncertainty of their budding relationship.

The subject of faith is also raised, which is a theme throughout THE BRAVEST THING. I believe their discussion shows each young man’s desire to reach common ground and focus on the areas where they agree, rather than where they disagree. As a writer, it was a real joy to write, because it allowed me to take somewhat opposing positions and argue their very different worldviews in what I hope was a sensitive manner.

If you like it, I encourage you to check out the opening chapter of THE BRAVEST THING at Dreamspinner Press.

Faith

The next day I pack a lunch and bring the horses out to pasture so they’ll have a chance to get their jitters out before Hiro arrives. I want them on their best behavior for today’s ride. As I think about last night and the prospect of today, the horses aren’t the only ones with nerves.

Near noon I hear the whine of Hiro’s motorcycle coming down my drive. That sound, to me, is like a cheering crowd at a football game. Gets me excited and amped up. The anticipation of seeing him is a rush all its own.

I greet him around the front of the house. He smiles at the sight of my cowboy hat. I tip the brim and bow slightly in true cowboy fashion. Then I present him with one of his own. Naturally, it’s black. “This is for you,” I say and fit it on his head. He looks dead sexy. Might be a present for me too.

His face lights up. “For me? Wow, thank you.” He adjusts the hat, then pulls out his phone and snaps a picture of the two of us. “Hold on, I want to send this to my sister. She’ll be so jealous. She always had a thing for cowboys.”

I’m flattered he wants to share me with her. It’s so easy for him to express this part of himself with his family. They might have their difficulties, but at least Hiro doesn’t have to hide who he really is the way I do.

“Send it to me too,” I say.

I lead him around back to where the horses are tied up to a fence post. “You can brush Sheila and I’ll take Merlin.”

“Do they have to look good to ride?” he asks sincerely.

“No, but it’s a way for you to get to know each other. Builds trust.”

I show him how to brush the horses’ bodies along with the grain of their hair, how to put his hand on Sheila’s coat so she knows where he is. “She likes you to tell her how pretty she is,” I say. “She’s a flirt, like you.”

He takes the brush from me and starts brushing out her coat while speaking softly to her. Some of what he says is in Japanese.
“That’s cool,” I say after listening for a minute. He glances up at me, black lashes framing his big brown eyes. “How you can speak another language. You have this whole other culture. Makes you special.”

“I used to wish I wasn’t Japanese,” he says. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there aren’t a whole lot of Asians in Texas, even fewer Japanese. I wanted to be like all the other kids. Blend in, you know?”

I remember how Mrs. Potts told him to blend in on the first day of school. I said pretty much the same thing. “That was bad advice I gave you.”

He shakes his head. “No, it wasn’t. But people will either accept me or they won’t, and I’m not really interested in wasting time on people who get hung up on appearance or ethnicity or sexuality, you know?”

He’s already figured it out—himself, Lowry, the way people judge you based on stupid shit. “You’re really brave to put yourself out there like that.” Makes me feel kind of gutless, not that he’s trying to make me feel bad. Sheila tosses her mane and snorts. “She wants your full attention,” I say to him. “She’s a jealous girl.” I pat her rump and go back to brushing Merlin, glancing over at Hiro from time to time. He’s a natural with animals. Horses have a sense for people with kind hearts.

When the grooming is finished, I fit Sheila with a bareback saddle, because Hiro is light enough and that’s what she prefers. Merlin gets the full saddle to distribute my weight. I show Hiro how to mount her. Once he’s on top of Sheila, I give him some instructions on the reins, along with the commands. “Whoa is for stop,” I tell him. “If you want her to slow down, pull on the reins a little and say walk. They’re in tune to your body language and tone of voice. Sheila was abused by her past owner, so she’s sensitive to harsh words.”

Hiro frowns.

“What?” I ask.

He shakes his head. “Nothing.”

I mount Merlin, and we lead Sheila and Hiro to the horse trail that follows along the creek. Sheila will follow Merlin with or without Hiro’s instruction, so I don’t worry too much about them. The trail is slow and meandering. Sheila isn’t built for speed, and I’m too heavy a rider for Merlin to do much more than a trot.

We don’t talk much on the ride. I point out stuff about the farm or the name of a tree or a bird, some memories I have, places where the blackberries grow. About an hour into it, I glance back and see that Hiro’s crying, silently.

“Whoa,” I say and Merlin stops. So does Sheila. “You okay?” I ask Hiro.

His head swivels toward mine. His cheeks are wet. He nods, his face still expressionless. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

I want to know what’s going on in that head of his, but I figure he needs his privacy. We continue on and reach the clearing by the creek where I brought him before. I dismount and help Hiro down off Sheila. “We’ll let them get some water and graze while we eat.” I start unpacking the food.

Hiro follows my lead, but he still seems off in his own world. I’ve been noticing he does that sometimes, just disappears. He’s standing two feet from me, but it feels like he’s miles away.

“What are you thinking about?” I ask him.

“It’s so beautiful here.” He glances around. “It’s a little overwhelming.”

“God’s creation,” I agree, though I’m not sure he’s being completely honest.

We sit down on the rocks to eat. A little while into it, Hiro turns to me. “What’s that like for you? Being Christian and gay?”

He called me a contradiction before. Maybe he thinks this is proof of it. I don’t see it that way. It’s not as if I have to choose. I can be both Christian and gay. “My church thinks gays can be turned straight with prayer. I think they’re wrong. But most everything else they preach, treating people kindly, living a righteous life, asking forgiveness for your sins, I agree with all that.”

Hiro chews on his lower lip. His eyebrows draw together, his thinking face. “But isn’t trying to change someone from being gay not treating them kindly? Isn’t being gay, according to your church, not living a righteous life?”

“Maybe to some people, but not to me. Faith isn’t like a rule book. Just because one small piece of it isn’t working doesn’t mean you throw the whole thing out the window.”

“Being gay is a pretty big piece of who you are.”

He’s treating faith and religion like they’re the same thing. I tell him, “Faith, to me, is a deeply personal relationship with God and our savior, Jesus Christ. Religion changes according to what’s acceptable at the time and who’s interpreting the text. I may not agree with what some members of my religion believe, but that doesn’t mean my faith in God is any less.” He rests his chin on his hand and seems to be thinking it over. “Do you believe in God?” I ask. I think I know already, but I don’t want to assume.

He shakes his head slowly. “I think God is a concept humans came up with to deal with the things they don’t understand.”

“Do you understand everything?”

“No, but I’m okay with the not knowing.”

I try to imagine what it must be like to not believe in any higher power. It seems so lonely, like I’d imagine an astronaut must feel floating out in deep space, or calling over a canyon and hearing only your echo in response. One of the things I really love about my church is the community and sense of belonging. “Wouldn’t it be nice to think there’s something out there bigger than us?” I ask.

“Yes, but it seems like people use God as a cop-out too often, or as a way to justify treating other people like shit.”

People treat others badly with or without justification. To me, true followers of Christ live by his example—kindness, compassion, and acceptance. I can’t speak for other Christians, though, only myself.

“I don’t think that’s what God is about,” I tell him. “When I come out here, I feel God’s hand. This land is a gift, and we’ve been entrusted to take care of it. When I score a touchdown, I thank God. Maybe He had nothing to do with it, but it feels good to give thanks. Makes me feel connected, like I’m not all alone in this. And when I get to missing my mom, I think about her in heaven, looking down on me, like my life is a football game and she’s sitting in the bleachers, cheering me on.”

Hiro glances up at me. His eyes still look sad. I remember when I first met him, how I thought he didn’t care about anything. But the closer we become, the more I realize just how much he cares, so much that he hides his feelings, like the weight of the world will crush him if he gives into it.

“That’s a really beautiful way to put it,” he says. “I think putting your faith in God is better than putting it in another person. People will let you down.”

Is he thinking about Seth? “Even the best people are still sinners,” I say. “We’re selfish beings. When you think about it, the things we aim to be—compassionate, kind, selfless—they go against every natural survival instinct.”

I sit back against a rock and listen to the sounds of the creek, the horses nickering, and the wind in the trees. Even more so than in church, this is the place where I feel closest to God, out on our land. I’m not much into evangelizing—I think people have to come to God in their own good time—but I hope that whatever Hiro believes, it offers him a sense of peace and connectedness. The world can be a lonesome place, especially when it feels like you’re only living for yourself.

Hiro picks at the crust of his sandwich but doesn’t eat any more of it. “Why are you friends with Trent?” he asks.

I sit up a little. “Why do you ask?” I say cautiously. I know how Hiro feels about him, rightly so.

“He’s an asshole and he’s mean. I just don’t understand why you’d put up with that.”

I don’t know how to explain it in a way he’ll understand, but I’ve seen the bruises, the way Trent trembles under his father’s hand, his father’s taunts and criticism. There’s goodness in Trent. He’d defend any member of his tribe, even if it meant getting in trouble. He’d give you his lunch if you forgot your own. After a bad storm, he’s the first to come help my dad and me haul trees and fix fences. And we’ve had so many good times together—sleepovers, birthday parties, practices, and games.

“He’s not all bad,” I answer. “Maybe you could let up on him a bit, lay off the mom jokes.”

Hiro’s back stiffens, and I know instantly I’ve said the wrong thing. “Me let up on him?” Anger flashes in his eyes, and I watch his face go cold. “I’ll lay off the mom jokes as soon as he lays off calling me a faggot and trying to beat the shit out of me.”

Yeah, I figure it can’t be that easy. “He’s had a tough row to hoe,” I say gently, digging myself deeper into this hole.

“Well, he’s not the only one.” Hiro kicks at the ground with his heel. “How many more people has he bullied over the years who haven’t stood up to him?”

“A few,” I admit. He usually gets tired of them pretty quickly. Trent is more like a rooster establishing the pecking order. He doesn’t really target one person for very long, except Hiro.

“You think when he finds out you’re gay he’s going to treat you any differently?” Hiro asks with a fire in his eyes.

I remember the look in Trent’s eyes when he talked about gays being put down like lame horses. I hope that if he did find out, he’d realize I’m the same person I’ve always been. It seems kind of foolish to think that now. “I’m hoping to not have to tell him.”

Hiro shakes his head.

“What?” I know he has something to say about that.

“I just hate having to ignore you at school. And seeing you hanging around with the fucking bigot brigade. They think you’re one of them.”

The bigot brigade? That’s pretty harsh. “I am one of them.” Those guys are my team.

“You’re only one of them so long as you keep up the lie.”

He’s so fired up about it. It feels like he’s attacking me. “Why are you mad at me?” I ask.

“Why? I’m sick of the bullshit. Society. Fucking small-mindedness. Homophobia is everywhere, Berlin. It’s not going to go away when you leave high school.”

“Don’t you think I know that?” I yell without meaning to. Sheila lifts her head and glances over. I take off my hat and run my hands through my hair, then stand up to shake out my limbs. My muscles are tight all over, my adrenaline humming through me like a live wire.

Hiro jumps up and follows me to the creek’s edge.

“So, we’re just going to keep meeting like this?” He flings his arms in the air. “At the fence post? Hiding my motorcycle so people won’t see it? Sneaking around when your dad’s out of town? We’ll bare our souls by the creek but act like strangers at school? Is that what you want?”

“I don’t know what I want. I haven’t thought that far ahead.” How long has he been thinking about all this? He’s throwing so much at me. I can’t keep up.

“That’s your problem, Berlin. You don’t think things through. You tried friending me on Facebook, but you didn’t think about your friends seeing it. You look at me at school like you want to fuck me right there in the hallway. If you want to keep this thing a secret, you’re going to have to be a lot smarter and fucking commit. Because this halfway shit is going to get your ass in trouble.”

“Enough,” I say sharply.

He stalks off. My blood’s running hot and my mind is spinning. It’s like Hiro’s sprinting toward the finish line, and I’m still at the starting line with a clueless look on my face. He makes me feel like a total dumbass, which pisses me off because everything he said is true. I’m lying to the people closest to me, like a coward. But I like my life the way it is. I don’t want to be treated like an outsider. I’ve always been on the inside, popular, respected. Coming out to my friends, I might lose everything.

Hiro swings back around. “I’m sorry. This is what I do. I push people to the edge. My dad. Seth. I don’t know when to stop.”

“Whoa,” I say.

“What?”

“Our safeword.”

He glances up at me. “You’re kidding, right?”

I wish I was. I thought he needed a safeword with me, but I need one just as bad. “The word is whoa. It means stop whatever the hell it is that you’re doing.”

He nods. “Okay.”

I pace a while longer until I’ve cooled off some, then stop in front of him. “You’re right. About everything. The first time I saw you tear into that parking lot, with your haircut and your ear piercings and your eyeliner, I was blown away. You’re exactly who you are, even if it means having to take so much shit for it. You’ve got balls, Hiro.”

He grins and grabs his crotch. “Yeah, right here.”

I glance at the sky. My dad won’t be back for another couple of hours. We have some time yet.

I grab his hand and pull him toward me. “I like you a lot. You know that, right?”

He nods, his eyes shifting away. I’m not sure what that’s about.

“You like me too?” I hope I haven’t invented this.

“Yeah,” he says in a throaty voice. I wait for his eyes to come back to me, and when they do, I see his fear. He’s scared of his own feelings.

“That’s what matters, then, isn’t it?” I ask.

He shrugs. “I just worry about you. What they might do to you if they find out.”

If Trent finds out, I’ll deal with it. Having Hiro in my life and being able to be myself around him, those are two things I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world, even if it means giving up my place in the pecking order. “I’ll deal with them. Don’t worry.”

I toss his hat on the ground and tuck his hair behind his ear. I hook my thumbs on his belt loops and bring him in until his hips knock against mine, sending jolts of electricity through me. I kiss his pouty lips and taste his neck. His skin is salty with sweat but still has that sweet, lemony flavor. I feel his erection growing against mine and go for his jeans, pulling them down around his thighs. I kneel down. He’s already hard, and I want him in my mouth. “You want this?” I ask, glancing up at him.

“Fuck yes,” he says, his hands already on my shoulders.

I’ve never given anyone head before, but I’ve seen it done plenty of times on the web. I may be a little sloppy, but judging from all the moaning and pelvic action, Hiro seems to be enjoying it. His fingers curl around my shoulders, digging into my skin. I grip his ass as he rocks his hips forward and arches his back. I stand and finish him off with my hand, holding him to me like a rag doll. When he bites my shoulder, I have the overwhelming urge to turn him around and bend him over. Climb up inside him and let loose. But I don’t have protection, and I don’t know if either of us is ready for that.

Whoa.

While I’m still standing at the starting line, Hiro has already sprinted ahead, dropping down to his knees and taking my cock into his pretty mouth, blowing my mind. My hand gets tangled in his silky hair, my body’s singing like I just scored the winning touchdown, and I never want this feeling to end.

After, we jump in the creek, the horses watching us with interest. And I watch Hiro. He’s the hottest, coolest, most badass kid I’ve ever met.

And he’s mine.

About the Author: Laura Lascarso strives to inspire more questions than answers in her fiction and believes in the power of stories to heal and transform a society. She lives in North Florida with her darling husband, two children, and a menagerie of animals. Her debut novel, Counting Backwards (Simon & Schuster 2012) won the Florida Book Award gold medal for young adult literature.

For social critiques, writer puns, and Parks and Rec gifs, follow her on Twitter.

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Buy the book at Dreamspinner Press.

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