We are thrilled to welcome Laura Lascarso to Sinfully today as she celebrates the release of The Bravest Thing. Go check it out and don’t forget to enter the giveaway.
A Word from Laura Lascarso
In Berlin’s small ranching community and in his church, gays are not welcome with open arms. Berlin’s football coach is outwardly homophobic, and there is no anonymity in their town as there would be in a bigger city.
For Berlin’s ranching family, their fate and survival is tied intrinsically to the community, so for Berlin the stakes in coming out are very high. For Berlin to ask out another boy, he’s risking a lot—rejection from his peers and family, ejection from the football team, loss of a scholarship, and of course, the possibility that Hiroku will say, no.
Yet, despite these obstacles, Berlin takes a bold move in expressing his feelings toward Hiroku. This type of courage is what I wanted to exemplify in THE BRAVEST THING.
My goal in writing this story was to get at the roots of homophobia in a specific community with a specific set of characters. I wanted to show the escalation and the fallout of homophobic acts to individuals, families and the larger community from multiple perspectives, while also creating space for a really sweet and tender romance to blossom.
I also wanted to explore the various “firsts” that two teens experience with one another and how those experiences shape them into the adults they will one day become.
Not all the characters I’ve written have been likable, but while writing THE BRAVEST THING, I found myself falling in love with Hiroku and Berlin, and despite putting them through many trials—and ones they certainly didn’t ask for or deserve—I was definitely rooting for them by the end.
The excerpt I included below is the scene where Berlin works up the nerve to ask Hiroku out on their first date. I’m not going to spoil it for you and reveal how Hiroku responds—you’ll have to read to the end for that!
I hope that I was able to capture the nausea-inducing, nerve-wracking experience of asking a person out of the first time. If you like it, I encourage you to check out the full novel, launching April 17 with Dreamspinner Press. And if you have any “first-time” experiences you’d like to share, post them in the comments below.
Where did that kung fu trick even come from? When Hiroku passes by me in the locker room, I’m so stunned I forget I’m staring, openmouthed and catching flies. Makes me wonder if he only did it to keep me from getting involved, like he knew I have something to hide. But if he’s got some kind of martial arts training, why is he letting Trent smack him around at all?
Meanwhile, Trent’s flopping on the ground, gripping his arm like it’s broken, and the guys are all looking to me for a sign.
“I wouldn’t mess with that kid if I were you,” I tell them, then offer my hand to Trent. He climbs up and skulks off to his locker, grumbling under his breath. Serves him right. After I dress, I see Hiroku breeze out of the locker room without looking back. He might be my new personal hero.
I’ve got to talk to Hiroku, but how? School’s out of the question—that’s a death wish for both of us. I tried friending him on Facebook but got no response. I want to meet up with him somewhere outside of school. Then it occurs to me—maybe I should just grow a pair and ask him out.
It doesn’t have to be a date or anything, just two guys hanging out. That’s normal enough, right?
Later that night, I ask my best friend Google for advice. How do you ask a guy out? How people got by before the Internet, I have no idea. My dad hardly talks about anything other than the farm or football. Sex, even the straight kind, never comes up. My youth group preaches abstinence, and my mother… she passed on too early for all of this. I like to think she might have been able to help.
I’ve never asked out a total stranger. Kayla and I were friends already. It was easy because I knew there was a pretty good chance she’d say yes. I’m not so sure about Hiroku.
Luckily, wikiHow has some pretty good advice, even if it does assume I’m a girl. Pick a place that’s private at a time when he’s not stressed. Don’t make a big deal about it or give off creepy vibes. Okay. Have a date in mind. That might be a little harder. I review what I know about Hiroku so far.
He likes music and wears band shirts nearly every day to school. (I haven’t heard of any of them.)
He rides a motorcycle.
He’s good at basketball.
He’s had some kind of martial arts training.
He may or may not have been expelled from his last school.
He’s pretty decent at applying eyeliner.
He turns me on without even trying.
I’ve already figured out his schedule. He has Digital Arts during first period, which is in B-wing. The kids in that class are always going out on assignment around campus. I pass through B-wing while I’m delivering hall passes during first period. Maybe I can hang around there and intercept him.
I also look up the bands on his T-shirts. One of them, Petty Crime, is coming to Austin this weekend. It’s last-minute, but maybe Hiroku would go with me. The music on their website is decent. The lead singer, Seth Barrett, is openly gay and posts a lot of pictures of himself with guys on Instagram. I check out one of their music videos, shot in black and white, set in some kind of opium den or something. Lots of flimsy curtains and smoke curling around Seth and another shirtless guy. The other guy’s face is turned away from the camera, but his body is on full display as Seth kisses and touches him everywhere—shoulders, bare back, chest. His fingers scale down his abs to the waistband of his jeans, undo the button, reach inside his pants….
I slam my laptop shut, but I don’t turn around since I probably look guilty as sin. I hope my dad’s far enough away that he can’t see what I’m watching. He probably knows I’ve been looking at porn pretty regularly, but I don’t think he knows it’s gay porn. Not that the video is porn or anything.
“Be right there,” I say. It takes me a few minutes to cool down. Images from the video are burned in my head. I rub my hands against the outside of my jeans, then go into the bathroom, wash them, and splash some cold water on my face. I meet my dad out back on the deck. We usually eat outside, whatever my dad grills that night. He’s a boss at grilling—vegetables and potatoes along with every kind of meat. He even uses the grill to heat up things like beans still in the can. It makes for fewer dishes, and the food’s always good.
Dad says a prayer, then catches me up on what’s been going on around the farm. With school and football practice every afternoon, we haven’t seen much of each other lately.
“We need to fix the fence in the back quarter so we can put the bulls on the cows before too long,” he says.
“You got practice Saturday?”
“Yeah, but I’ll get home early enough to put in a few hours. We can pick it back up Sunday morning.”
“After church,” he reminds me. I wouldn’t mind missing church, but my dad’s devout.
He glances up at me, wrinkles lining his tanned forehead. “Saw Mrs. Carmichael at the Pac N Sac. She told me you and Kayla broke up.”
“Yes, sir. Last weekend.” I was hoping he wouldn’t ask me about it.
“Everything all right there?”
I sit back and try to appear casual. “We had a good run. It was time.”
He nods, and I sense that’s the end of it. I lean in to take another bite of my steak.
“How’s your steak?” he asks.
“Perfect. As always.”
Later that night I shut my door, turn the TV up loud, and watch the music video again with my headphones on. Petty Crime is coming to Austin. I’ll ask Hiroku to go with me to their show. It doesn’t have to be a date, just two guys who appreciate the same music.
What if he says no?
What if he says yes?
I don’t have to wait too long. At school the next day, I see Hiroku leave the multimedia room during first period while I’m out on one of my errands. My eyes center on his back like a target, and my heart speeds up so fast I feel it pounding in my throat. I take a deep breath and give myself a pep talk like I’m amping up for a football game. I jog a little to catch up with him.
“Hey,” I say. “Hiroku, right?”
He glances over and scowls at me. Still hot.
“Just Hiro,” he says, like it would kill him to say anything more.
Maybe I’m wrong about him, or about trying to talk to him.
“I’m Berlin,” I say, which is stupid because we already know each other’s names, even if we’ve never talked to each other before.
“Yeah, I know. I’ve been playing basketball with you for the last two weeks.”
I glance around to make sure the hallway’s still empty. I don’t know what I’ll do if someone sees us. Maybe run like hell in the other direction. For now we’re alone and he’s talking to me. We’re having a conversation, even if it’s a lame one.
I try again. “So, where you headed?”
“Why do you care?”
Damn, wikiHow didn’t prepare me for this. What if he thinks I was in on that stunt Trent pulled? “Just making conversation, I guess.”
“When your bros aren’t around.”
I don’t have an answer to that. He’s right. I’ve never talked to him before now. I know when I’m losing. I’m about to bail when he lifts the camera in his hand.
“I’m going to the football field to film the cheerleaders’ practice. I’ve never heard of cheerleading being an actual class. That’s crazy.”
“That’s Lowry,” I say. He snorts in agreement. It isn’t much, but I’ll take it. “I guess your old school was pretty different.”
He nods. “Yeah. Just a little.”
We’re nearing the football field, which means I’m running out of time. I wish he was wearing his Petty Crime shirt. Then I could bring it up without it being weird and creepy.
“Where are you going?” he asks, glancing over at me. He looks a little uncomfortable.
I point ahead of us. “Oh, um, this way.” I run my hand through my hair. I’m sweating all over and I feel like I just sprinted the length of the football field. This must be what it feels like to have a heart attack. “So, you like that band Petty Crime?”
His eyes go wide, and he looks at me like I’m from outer space. “How do you know about them?” He looks pissed.
“You wear that shirt a lot. I looked them up online. They seem… interesting.”
He stops in the hallway and sizes me up. The intensity of his gaze makes me tongue-tied. I wipe my sweaty hands on my jeans.
“Well, what about them?” He sounds so hostile. I’m pretty sure he hates me. I should give up, but I’ve come too far to back out now, so I barrel through it.
“They’re playing a show in Austin this weekend. I was thinking about going. Maybe you want to, uh, go… with me?”
His eyebrows draw together in confusion, his face softens, and he starts walking again, slower this time. I match his pace as his frown deepens.
“I’m not that into them anymore,” he says at last. “I just wear the shirt because I like it. I’m not going to their show.”
“Oh, okay.” I lag behind a little. I guess that’s a no. Is it because he doesn’t want to go with me? He probably has a boyfriend already. Or he’s just not interested.
We reach the end of the hallway and the glass door that opens up onto the football field. If I go through that door, the entire cheerleading squad will see us together. I stop as he’s reaching for the door handle. He turns around.
“Maybe some other time,” he says.
I stare after him in a stupor as he crosses the track with his camera slung across his back, butt twitching, black T-shirt hugging his shoulder blades. Maybe I read him wrong. Maybe he’s not even gay and I just ruined my life by asking him out. But he did say some other time, and that must mean something.
The Bravest Thing
Publisher ~ Dreamspinner Press
Published ~ 17th April 2017
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance, New Adult
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?
::: JANE’S REVIEW :::
Connect with Laura Lascarso
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.