Welcome to our third week of celebrating the amazing
Today we'll talk about The Anatomy Of Perception, with an excerpt, plus a personal story AJ has chosen to share, and of course another chance to win!
In the beginning, there was wreckage. Dane Perry’s mother was dead, and the father who always said he’d amount to nothing blamed him. Dane swore he’d become something. He would be someone.
In the middle, there was escape. Rebuilding his life from the ashes of his mother’s memory, Dane found success as a respected surgeon, and love in the form of Craig Dahl, a talented artist who became his everything. But there was also darkness, lies, and a crumbling foundation just waiting for the ground to shift.
In the end, there was a spectacular fall, illusions shattered, and for Dane, nothing more to lose. He was broken, damaged, and left with fierce demons. But from the bottom, the only way left is up. Dane renewed friendships and salvaged his career. The only thing he cannot replace is Craig. But Dane has a plan. Brick by brick, his foundation is rebuilt, and all he needs is for Craig to listen one last time.
In the beginning again, there’s hope and tatters of love. Can Dane repair the damage with Craig? Can he rescue the only thing he amounted to that ever truly mattered?
This book contains vivid descriptions of symptoms of PTSD and events that can cause anxiety. Reader discretion advised.
The bags under Craig’s eyes as he approached the loft door made me sad. They weren’t there five days ago when I started taping notes to his door. His gait had changed too, becoming less of a liquid roll and more of a trudge designed to scuff a hole in the toes of his shoes. He was shabby, though not so much people would notice unless they knew him. Unshaven, tired, and drained of humor, it seemed.
All because I’d made contact again.
It tugged at my heartstrings. I’d said in the notes I wouldn’t give up, but I knew there would reach a point where, if he kept declining, I’d fade into the shadows and let him be. The tipping point would be when my wanting him to be happy outshined my wanting him to be with me. How much longer would it take? A week? Months? God forbid, a year?
I knew there was hope. All he had to do was tell me to leave him alone. Say it out loud, leave me his own chicken scratch on the door, or text me since he had my number—Stop, Dane. Just leave me alone. But there was nothing. Five days of notes, and he hadn’t responded at all.
So, instead of becoming insecure that he’d ignore me indefinitely, as I might have once upon a time, I was patient. Maybe it wasn’t about me at all. Maybe he needed a moment to think. Maybe he had his own reasons to take his time. If being away for so long had taught me anything, it was that everyone sees the world through their own filters. If my filters required that I surround myself with people sensitive to them, then I needed to be sensitive to their filters, too.
When Craig got close enough to see today’s note, his shoulders slumped. But today, instead of ripping it down and wadding it, he closed his eyes and leaned forward, landing his forehead to the door’s surface like a slow-motion free fall. It killed me how much I seemed to be hurting him. If he would just let me explain some things, I thought I could at least ease his pain. Get us past it.
No. If he needs time, you give him time. This is bigger than just you.
Another hard-learned lesson.
“You may as well come out, Dane,” Craig rasped. He sounded as if he hadn’t used his voice in days. “I know you’re there, same as every other day.”
Huh. I thought I’d been pretty stealthy, if I did say so myself. Like a cat burglar. I stepped out, adopting a sheepish face and approaching him slowly, like one would a cowering animal.
“How are you?” I asked. “You look good.”
He snorted. “Right. You’re so full of shit.” There wasn’t much derision in his tone, but there was a heap of familiarity. My shoulders bled a metric ton of tension. He wasn’t going to yell at me. At least not yet. “C’mon in. Ignore the mess.”
I followed him into what had once been our shared loft and took it in. Two years of memories did no justice to the feeling of coming home. The familiar smells of paint, turpentine, and the plug-in air fresheners he used to disguise the chemicals washed over me like an ocean breeze. The gunmetal gray afternoon muted the light streaming through the wall of windows that was the loft’s biggest asset. Walking past the foyer into that great space, it was very easy to imagine oneself entering a theater, with its soaring twenty-foot ceiling, the step down into the living room, the loft edging into the room reminiscent of a balcony with seats, and those enormous windows like a silver screen, the city beyond them where the magic happened. The kitchen was tucked unobtrusively to the left of the foyer and split from the living room by an island with a couple bar stools. A guest room and bathroom sat in a shallow hallway to the right, beside which began the steps to the loft and master bedroom and bath.
Craig had left the walls white so nothing would dampen the natural light the windows afforded, but they were adorned with enormous paintings to showcase his work. They weren’t the same pieces he’d hung when I lived with him, but they were still uplifting, beautiful, and—as did most of his art—took my breath away.
The furniture was new too, with a long sofa spanning the length of the living room and two chairs at the narrow wall opposite the guest room hallway. A stout, round coffee table squatted in the middle to connect them. There was a large flat-screen TV on the wall, but half of it was hidden behind a canvas the size of a door, only partially completed. I remembered clearly the living room TV only got turned on during Craig’s grumpier moments, when the painting wasn’t working right or when we had guests over to watch a game. Beside the chairs was the inconspicuous glass door in the wall of windows that led to the balcony, which Craig had ringed with plants in my absence. They operated as a buffer to keep the street sounds from permeating the glass. It was a nice touch.
“Have a seat,” Craig invited, gesturing to the living room while kicking off his Vans. I smiled, remembering how he hated foot coverings of any kind and went barefoot at home no matter how cold it was outside. “Would you like a drink?”
“Bottle of water, if you have it?” I asked, choosing the couch. If I was lucky, maybe he’d sit beside me. “If you don’t, then I’m okay.”
He slowed on his way to the kitchen to give me a surprised look but didn’t remark on it. Long time ago, I’d have said a beer, just one, to prove to myself I could drink, and then stop. But these days, alcohol was not wise. Not due to any addictive tendencies.
He returned with two bottles of water, handed me mine, then curled up in one of the chairs more than five feet away. Well, so much for any chance of a casual touch. It was no less than I deserved.
“So, uh,” I started. Now that I was here, all the rehearsals in front of the mirror failed me. All the lines to begin this conversation fled my memory like so many rats in the beam of a spotlight. Instead, I stuttered out the first thing that came through. “How did you know I was there in the hall?”
He glared. Oh, this was going to be tough. “I’d know your cologne anywhere, though believe me, I wish I didn’t. Someone wearing it on the street is enough to yank me back in time. What is it you wanted to talk about? I’m teaching a class in a couple hours and if I’m going to eat, I don’t have much time.”
“You took up teaching? That’s great.” He rolled his eyes and took a big swig of water, irritation rising from him like waves of heat on a desert highway. He was about as hospitable too, so I took a deep breath and dove in. “I’m sorry, Craig. For everything.”
“Is this part of your twelve-step process or something?” he said coldly, his body screaming tense and unsympathetic, his legs splayed with careless bravado, though both feet were pointed toward the front door as if he were ready to bolt any second.
I looked at my worn cuticles, lacing my fingers around the bottle of water so I wouldn’t pick at them. “No, no program. Just an apology and an offer of an explanation.”
“Two years is a long time for me to hold out for an explanation. What makes you think I need one anymore?”
I swallowed the guilt and nerves and looked him in the eyes. What they reflected stole my breath, just like his paintings, but for horrible and stomach-turning reasons: fury, pain, barely concealed contempt. There was no joy in his face, and the room suddenly felt claustrophobic. I resisted the urge to get up and pace just to prove the boundaries of the space.
After a quick gulp of water, I set the bottle aside and rubbed my hands up and down my thighs to dry my palms. I had steady hands, or I wouldn’t have been surgeon material. I had been cool under pressure once upon a time. Growing up beside a grenade made me that way. I could do this much, even if the surgeon dream was now dead.
“Whether or not you need one, I think you deserve one.”
He paused, then said, “I’m listening.”
Get the book:
AJ's proposal to Kate
There’s a little bit of me in every book I write, from the songs a character likes to their quirks with food or how they interact with family. But one of my books that will always hold more meaning is Queers, because that’s the book in which I proposed to Kate.
See, she proofed the book for me, and even helped me pick the song that would set the scene for the couple I had do a public proposal in the bar where the book mostly takes place. I wrote the scene with two male characters, and then wrote the same scene with the names changed and our descriptions, and had Fen, my editor and best friend, edit them both. Kate proofed the book with the m/m proposal in it, and when it was time to publish, I switched the scenes and then converted the files.
The funny thing is, she was sitting right beside me when I did it, and she didn’t notice. I mistakenly titled the file “Queers proposal” for the switch, and when I realized she could see that, I was freaked she’d notice. So I asked her if she’d get me a drink, and while she was in the kitchen, I made the substitution before she noticed anything, and then moved the proposal file somewhere off screen.
It was only after I hit publish that I totally lost my shit. Omg, what have I done!? What if she says NO?! She’d said if I did anything publicly she’d say no. At the time, she’d meant a flash mob in Lowes or something, but hell, this was as public as possible, even if no one would really know it was real (until I spilled the beans last summer). Regardless, I proceeded to freak the fuck out once the book was waiting to go live. There were tears. There were a lot of expletives. There were shaking hands and more than once, I thought I was going to throw up. It was quite the disproportionate reaction to publishing a book. Yeah, there are often nerves, but nowhere near that bad. Kate, she was so sweet, never once questioning why I was so emotional about it. I think I gave her some lame excuse about nerves since it was my first non-Power Exchange book.
It was well into the wee hours of the morning and she talked me down enough so we could sleep, and the next day, when the book was well and truly live everywhere, she and I went out for lunch, and then back home, where I snuck upstairs to grab my Kindle, download the book, and find the appropriate page. Then I went to see if she’d read a scene I made some changes to, and knelt at her feet while she read the passage where, instead of a guy named Brandon asking his boyfriend to marry him, it was her and I.
My hands didn’t shake.
My eyes were dry.
And when I held up a placeholder ring (long story) and said it was real, would she marry me, her response was, “It’s in the book? You put it in the book?!”
I could only laugh. And get nervous, because she hadn’t answered me yet. After a couple more disbelieving, “I can’t believe you put it in the book!” remarks, she said yes.
Honestly, that was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. And now, she understands why I was so messed up after hitting the publish button.
Where to find AJ:
Thanks for celebrating with us. Join us again next week for the Grand Finale, with more about AJ's books, plus our Q&A, and one more chance to win!
Until then, happy reading!