The New Normal
by L.J. Hayward
A Gold Coast Collage Novel, Book 1
Brian Stagliano’s life should be pretty sweet right now. Two of his closest friends are getting married, and he’s taking a new, exciting step in his career as a doctor. Most amazing though, his best mate has been given the all-clear from cancer. But Brian’s normal has just been tipped A over T and the friendship he’s relied on for years is in danger. All because of five little words.
Andrew Fitzroy should be on top of the world. The cancer that’s haunted him is gone. He can finally get on with his life—except he doesn’t know what that life is anymore. Is he brave enough to come out as bisexual? Should he pursue architecture or stay in construction? Either way, Andrew knows happiness won’t be his until he has what his engaged friends have—love, joy, passion. So, he says those five little words to Brian—I’m in love with you.
Friends since childhood, Brian and Andrew have always been closer than brothers. Best mates. Nothing could ever tear them apart. Except for those five little words. Now, Brian’s not sure about so many things—their friendship, his own desires—and the foundation Andrew’s built his world on feels like its crumbling. But if they manage not to destroy everything they have together, Andrew and Brian might just find a new normal with each other.
Hello! I’m L.J. Hayward and you may know me from the Death and the Devil series, MM romantic suspense about a spy and an assassin. Now I have a new story for you all, the first book in a series of MM contemporary romances set in my home city of the Gold Coast, Australia. The series is called Gold Coast Collage and book one is “The New Normal”, about Brian Stagliano and Andrew Fitzroy, best friends since they were kids. They’ve shared a lot of ups and downs, including the Big C, and now they’ll have to fight to survive the next one as well—the one where Andrew tells Brian that he’s in love with him.Please enjoy this exclusive excerpt from the first chapter of “The New Normal.”Cheers, L.J.~~~
Brian Stagliano leaned on the bar in Tots—Top of Tedder Bar and Grill, to the uninitiated—and watched the bartender pull the last of his beers. The guy tilted the frosted glass just right, forming a perfect foam head, then set it down on the tray holding the rest of Brian’s order.“That’ll be forty-two dollars.”Wincing, Brian tapped his card on the wireless EFTPOS machine. Carly and her expensive cocktails. He might be a doctor now but interns didn’t get paid a whole heap.However, tonight was all about celebration and that wouldn’t happen until everyone had their drinks. Tray in hand, Brian wove his way through the crowded tables to where his friends had set up for the evening. Tots, a rooftop bar on the north end of Tedder Ave, looked out over the trendy street of boutiques and restaurants, with its paved road, twinkling lights and footpath greenery. Tall apartment buildings blocked the view of the ocean, but Brian could smell it when the breeze came in from the east or north.“What is taking so long?” a loud voice called, catching his attention. “Dying of dehydration here.”Smirking at James, Brian set the tray down on the table with his friends around it. “Blame Carly. She’s the one who made the bartender google the recipe for her cocktail.”
Carly took her tall glass of cloudy apple juice doctored with spirits Brian had never heard of before and stuck her pierced tongue out at him.“Cosmo for Elle.” Brian handed out the rest of the drinks. “Cider for Troy, beers for me and James. And finally, a tall glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, no added sugar, for Mr. My Body is a Temple.”Across the table, Andrew took the glass in one hand, flipping him the finger with the other.“Love you, too, mate,” Brian said sweetly as he sat.“Sneer all you want, Bri Bri.” Carly winked as she used the pet name Brian hated. “You just wish you looked as good as Andrew.” She squeezed the firm biceps prominently displayed beside her as Andrew rested his elbow on the table. “I think this is the best arm here.”James and Troy scoffed at her claim, getting into a bulging biceps battle, and Andrew, blushing to the roots of his dark-blond hair, put his arm down. Brian couldn’t help but smile at his best friend as he dodged out of the way of the other guys thrusting flexed muscles at each other. Troy and James worked as stunt jet-skiers at the H2GO water park so they were incredibly fit—and competitive.Carly had a point though. Andrew did look good, from the fresh crop of blond curls on his head, to the new bulk of muscles on his arms and chest. The smile that had disappeared for so long was starting to make semi-regular appearances. One flashed over his mate’s mouth now as he caught Brian’s gaze, brown eyes sparkling in the lights of the bar. Yeah, he looked worlds better than he had six months ago, when chemo and depression had waged joint wars on his body. Brian had seriously worried at times that he was going to lose him. But he hadn’t and here they were, with everything in the world to celebrate.On that thought, Brian raised his glass. “Okay, let’s toast.”His friends all groaned but hoisted their drinks. James slopped some of his beer over the side of the glass and Elle shoved a couple of napkins at him to clean up the mess.
“Can’t take you anywhere,” she muttered.
James leered comically at her. “Any excuse to keep me at home and all to yourself.”
Elle snorted, but her lips turned up in a little smile.Troy pretended to throw up in his mouth. “It’s disgusting to watch. Who invited them?”“As current favourite for Best Man, my presence is mandatory.”As the twins bickered, Brian shook his head and checked on Andrew. The smile was gone and his glass had lowered nearly back to the table. Time to do this thing.“Everyone, shut up!” When the twins had closed their mouths, he continued. “Tonight’s toast is a very important one. One I’ve been waiting to make for a long, looooong time.”“You lost your virginity?” Troy had clearly just shaved his undercut and then spiked up the longer strands of hair on top of his head for the evening. With his exaggeratedly wide eyes and gaping mouth he looked more like a cartoon character who’d had the fright of their life than a twenty-six-year-old responsible for his own life. “Our little boy, finally a man.”James and Carly snickered. Brian threw a withering glare at Troy, who grinned back, then yelped and jerked back in his chair.“Who kicked me?” Troy automatically turned to James, who protested his innocence.
Andrew’s wink was swift but Brian caught it. He grinned his thanks, then resumed his toast.“Okay, kids, it’s adulting time.” When everyone had settled again and raised their glasses, Brian got serious. “We’ve all known each other for a long time now, with the exception of our problem child here.” He patted Troy on the head.Troy shrugged off his hand and gave an overly indignant, “Hey!”“Well you are the problem child,” Brian said sweetly. “You only agreed to meet us, your twin’s bestest ever friends, after you got kicked out of that ski show in Sydney. For reasons you’ve never revealed, I might add.”Troy scowled at Brian. “For your information, Mr. Doctor Sir, I was protesting the touching of the ’do.” He made sure his hair still had some height while the others, including his sister, laughed.“Anyway,” Brian said firmly to draw back everyone’s attention. “We’ve all been through the big moments together, but none of them get bigger than the Big C.”All laughter faded away and there were solemn nods and deep breaths around the table. Carly slid her arm through Andrew’s and leaned against him lightly, which didn’t alter the sudden look of oh-shit-exit-time that had appeared on Andrew’s face.Brian grinned unmercifully at him. “Andrew Fitzroy. My mate since the day he knocked over Zack Green on the sports field for calling me a sissy for missing the ball in T-Ball. Andrew, the bravest seven year old ever. Dude, you’ve been the bro of my heart for nearly twenty years.”A chorus of “awws” and a wave of battering eyelashes went around the table. Andrew’s ears were bright pink but his gaze bored into Brian with equal parts “right back atcha” and “I’m begging you don’t.” But this was Brian’s role in their friendship, to make sure Andrew got the recognition he deserved, because he would never go looking for it himself.“Andrew, you scared the ever-living shit out of me,” Brian said, no longer talking to them all, but to the man directly across from him. “I seriously thought I’d lost you a couple of times there and, mate, I do not want to ever experience that again, okay?”
Their circle of friends had gone quiet and it felt like a cone of silence had descended over their table. The noise of the bar around them faded away and it was just Brian and Andrew and the people who’d stuck by them through shit times.“Okay?” Brian repeated firmly, wanting his best friend to acknowledge the seriousness of his words.Andrew nodded, never looking away. “Okay.”“Good.” Taking a deep breath, Brian conjured up the smile he’d put aside so everyone knew how serious he was. As he spoke, though, the smile became natural again. “I know you didn’t want me to make a fuss about this, but these are our friends, you big dork. They’ve been with you through this, just as much as I have and tonight, they have every right to celebrate this with you, too.”Carly gasped and tears brimmed in her eyes, though her smile grew into a wide grin. Elle was trembling as she looked from Andrew to Brian and back again, as if the urge to jump on Andrew was barely contained. James was nodding, his shoulders relaxing from the tension that had been building in them since Brian started his toast. Troy was staring at the tabletop intently, rolling his glass through the gathered condensation, but his lower lip was pulled tightly between his teeth, a sure sign he was holding something momentous back.This was what Andrew needed to see, his friends showing just how much they loved him.“This morning,” Brian said quietly, “Andrew got the official all clear. No more cancer.”
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L.J. Hayward has been telling stories for most of her life, a good deal of them of the tall variety. She loves reading but doesn’t seem to have enough time between wanting to be a more disciplined writer, being the actual erratic writer she is, and working for dollars in a dungeon laboratory. She also lives on the Gold Coast in Queensland, but rarely sees a beach and can’t surf, though she thinks living on a houseboat might be fun. At least then she’d have an excuse to get a cat.
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