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You. Forever. Always. (The Underdogs #3)
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—Years of loving in secret. Now the secret’s out.—
Mage. Reasonable. Mature. In love with his best friend’s little brother.
Mage has always been Dawn’s hero. He’s been there for him when Dawn was bullied, when Dawn came out, and when he joined The Underdogs. He’s also been Dawn’s first and only love—painfully unrequited, since Mage is straight. But that’s only for the better, because they’re bandmates, and Dawn’s brother is Mage’s best friend.
It would all be too intense, too complicated, too real.
But then one drunken kiss proves Mage might not be as straight as he seemed, and their whole world turns upside down. Even though Dawn craves Mage’s love so much his heart could burst, his shyness stands in the way of any future they could share.
While they have to keep their budding relationship under wraps and they prepare to sign a major record deal, Dawn’s anxiety gets out of control. Mage will have to choose between the success he’s always craved and the love of his life.
Length: ~50,000 words (Can be read as standalone, HEA)
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Dawn hated his parents for putting him through this.
It had started with the idea that being on stage in front of a live audience could help with his shyness, but even performing for his peers during rehearsal had proved too much for Dawn’s anxiety. Eventually, his participation was relegated to helping out backstage. Yet more proof that he didn’t belong with the other kids, and would have been better off staying home. He wasn’t a part of the play, just the quiet boy who moved props or sprinkled fake snow from above during the performance. He could’ve been doing something much better with his time, and all the members of the group knew it.
But no, his brother Dusk was in the theatre group, so Dawn had to be in it too. He was almost ten. Couldn’t he choose his own hobbies? He stood on his tiptoes to reach the high shelf for the bucket of Styrofoam balls, but it was no use. He went over to the ladder but could barely manage its weight and had to drag it, making the kind of noise he hated, the kind of noise that drew attention.
“Aww, Bambi can’t handle the ladder! If only there was a prince to save you.”
‘Bambi’. He hated. Hated that nickname. It had started out with ‘fawn’ to rhyme with ‘Dawn’, but after one of the older girls had compared him to the most famous of deers, the name had stuck. Comments about his ‘delicate limbs’ and big green eyes were never-ending, making him increasingly uncomfortable, but his parents waved them off as Dawn’s friends teasing him.
They were not teasing him. And they were not his friends.
“I’m fine,” he mumbled, already wishing to be back in his treehouse, not stuck with other people he had no connection with. Dusk always had his back, but he was the star of the show, and needed to participate in rehearsals.
“You don’t look fine, Bambi,” laughed Ned in his strange voice that had only recently started alternating between high and low tones.
Ned’s best friend, Jack, rose from the bench they’d been sitting on and stepped closer. “And where’s your mommy when you need help?”
He meant Dusk, of course, but he’d never say it to Dusk’s face, and Dawn wouldn’t tell his brother either, because he didn’t want Dusk to get in trouble over knocking out someone’s tooth. Again.
“Mrs. Teller said you guys should rehearse. I’m okay,” he said, dragging the ladder toward the shelf.
Jack grabbed the ladder to stop him. “Are you telling us what to do, fairy?”
Dawn frowned. Another stupid nickname? “I’m not a fairy. I don’t even have a role in the play.”
Ned snorted, joining Jack with a milkshake in hand. “He doesn’t even know what it means!”
“Maybe you should tell him then.”
Dawn stiffened when Ned poured the remaining drink on him. The cold, milky fluid splashed his cheek, then drizzled down his neck and soaked into his favorite Moomins T-shirt. He froze, his heart beating faster by the second as the two bullies snickered to one another.
“You like that or does it need to come warm?” Jack asked with a vile grin.
Dawn’s eyes prickled with tears. What did he ever do to them to deserve this? He’d never win a fight, so he turned around to run away, but Jack grabbed his shirt.
“Did I tell you, you can go?”
“Yeah,” Ned added. “We’re not done here, Bambi.”
“I’m pretty sure you are done.”
A deep voice. Not Dusk’s.
Dawn looked its way, at a tall boy wearing a large red hoodie. The stranger kept his shoulders steady, and his dark eyes burned behind thick-rimmed glasses, despite the neutral expression on his face. He was at least Dusk’s age and exuded the confidence of someone even older.
Ned hissed, turning to face the stranger. “None of your business. You shouldn’t even be here. This is for the theatre group only!”
The boy approached in slow, relaxed steps. “Good. I’m new. How about you talk to me instead of a boy half your size.”
Dawn wiped the tears out of his eyes. “It’s okay.”
Jack spread his arms, but even he was smaller than the new boy. “Nothing to see here. Move along.”
Ned grinned and waved his hand dismissively, encouraged by Jack, but the new kid didn’t seem to care at all as he approached, proud as the bronze statues Dawn had seen during last week’s family trip to the art museum. There was a fierceness to his glare, as if he believed his skin was impenetrable.
“He’s not old enough to understand what you’re saying. Now back off.”
Jack’s hand tightened on Dawn’s T-shirt. “Or what? You send your gang after u–?”
The boy’s knee went between Jack’s legs, cutting him short. “Let. Him. Be.”
Jack made a high pitched squeal and let go.
Dawn was ashamed just how much satisfaction he felt hearing that sound. He backed off so fast he hit himself on the ladder, but Ned turned all his attention to the new boy.