This week’s Sunday Snippet novel, Come Whatever Storms, which is out in e-book and paperback.
In the near future, a deadly flu-like virus decimates the Earth’s population. The few who remain struggle to survive without electricity, fresh food, or any other amenities they once took for granted.
John “Court” Courtland and his best friend Ronnie Densch are two such survivors. Court has never known a time when Ronnie wasn’t in his life. They grew up together. But it’s only as they begin to move forward in the post-apocalyptic chaos of Virginia that Court realizes he’s in love with Ronnie. Always has been, and always will be, even if he never lets himself admit it out loud.
Ronnie is a private, inscrutable man who lets no one close to him except Court. With winter coming on, Ronnie wants to move farther south to warmer weather, and Court follows without question. Along the way, they’re joined by other survivors, a ragtag bunch all looking for guidance. As they travel, they hear faint radio signals from Fort Sumter, South Carolina, where a rebuild effort is underway.
The world Court once knew has changed, leaving behind a dangerous and lawless landscape. But come whatever storms, he knows he can weather them with Ronnie by his side. Will Sumter turn out to be everything Court hopes for and more? And will he find the courage to tell Ronnie how he really feels before it’s too late?
Ronnie was the first person Court kissed. The first real person — his parents didn’t count. It was the summer before sixth grade, and most of their days were spent down by the small creek that ran under the interstate overpass behind their apartment building. Technically the creek was off-limits, but what no one else knew couldn’t possibly get the boys into trouble, could it?
Court’s mother worked part-time as a cashier at a local grocery store, so Ronnie’s mother kept the boys during the day. But once her stories came on, anything that wasn’t on TV disappeared. The day of the kiss, Ronnie wanted to go swimming, and for Court, that was all he needed to hear. They pulled on swim trunks and T-shirts, grabbed a pair of towels off the rack in the bathroom, and snuck out during a commercial break, when Mrs. Densch went into the kitchen to refill her glass of iced tea.
“Going out, Mom!” Ronnie called behind them.
Court let the door slam shut on Ronnie’s mother’s reply.
They chased each other into the tall grass behind the apartments, then down the steep embankment to where the creek trickled by. Just outside their building, the creek wasn’t much to look at, but farther down, where the overpass arched above it, the water ran deep and cool. The boys’ sneakers slid and skidded on the damp rocks as the two jumped over the water, crisscrossing in front of each other. Their leaps grew longer, and more often than not, their feet landed in the water, splashing up spray, rather than on the dry banks. When they could no longer quite manage to jump the creek, they walked single-file, Ronnie leading the way with his arms out to keep Court from passing. Court tugged on Ronnie’s left arm under the pretext of attempting to throw him off-balance and into the creek. But even at that young age, he enjoyed the feel of his friend’s flesh against his own.
When they reached the overpass, Ronnie ducked into the shadowy recesses beneath the interstate and Court followed without hesitation. Halfway under the overpass, Ronnie stripped off his T-shirt and tossed it onto the ledge-shaped base of a concrete piling. He kicked off his shoes, tied the laces together, and tossed them after the shirt. As Court hurried to imitate him, Ronnie cannon-balled into the creek.
Shirt and shoes stashed where they wouldn’t get wet, Court dived into the creek after his friend. He knew from experience the water ran deep and fast here, so he wasn’t surprised to find it pulling him farther downstream. What did catch him off-guard was the hand that slipped into the waistband of his swimming trunks and pulled at them as he passed.
The trunks slipped down over his butt and started to slide off his thighs. Still underwater, he twisted away from Ronnie’s grasping hands, legs kicking and arms thrashing as he fought for the surface. They broke through together, gasping for breath, Ronnie still tugging at Court’s trunks. Ronnie grinned mischievously. “If I threw them into the woods, everyone on 95 would see your junk.”
“I think you want to see my junk,” Court said, placing a foot against Ronnie’s stomach and kicking his friend away. “Let go.”
Ronnie’s grin widened, showing the chipped eyetooth on the right side of his mouth where Court had hit him with a rattle when they were babies. “Make me.”
With a twist of his body, Court dived underwater, trying to put some distance between them, but he felt the swimming trunks pull down a little further so he twisted the other way. Ronnie held on tight. As Court tried to kick out of reach, Ronnie dogged his tail, hands clenched tight in fabric now down below Court’s buttocks. For some reason, his whole body felt flushed, impossibly hot despite the cold water, as if he had a sunburn all over. Worse, he had to pee — no, not really, but he felt like he might have to pee. At least, he felt something in the front of his shorts, something that made him shiver to think about, something he didn’t want Ronnie to find out about, so he kicked harder and tried desperately to ignore the pounding of blood in his ears, his chest, his groin.
Then Ronnie pinched his ass, hard.
Court broke the surface and, when Ronnie appeared, spurted a mouthful of water into his friend’s face. When Ronnie advanced, Court ducked down a little as if to rearm himself, but he didn’t rise up again. No. He waited until Ronnie was right above him, hands now clasped tight in the damp material around Court’s crotch, so close, so painfully close …
Pushing himself off the bottom of the creek, Court shot up out of the water and pressed his mouth to Ronnie’s in a sudden, surprise kiss.
Ronnie’s eyes widened — Court stared his friend down. Go on, he thought, hoping his friend could read the dare shining in his face. Pull them down. See what you find. Maybe you’ll like it. Maybe you’re just as hard as me.
But Ronnie released Court’s swimming trunks and backpedaled in the water, pulling away. For one, shocked moment, the emotion in his eyes mirrored Court’s own. I knew it! Court thought in triumph. I knew —
Then Ronnie jumped up, bringing both hands out of the water, and clasped them over the top of Court’s head. With all his might, he pushed Court into the creek, out of sight. Ronnie held him underwater until Court thought his lungs would burst. He struck Ronnie’s chest, tried to tug down Ronnie’s shorts in retaliation, kicked and struggled and probably would’ve drowned if Ronnie didn’t finally let go. By the time Court sputtered to the surface, Ronnie was on the bank, drying himself off with one of his mother’s bath towels.
Without looking at Court, he said, “We should get back. My mom might notice we’re gone.”
We told her we were going, Court thought, but he didn’t argue. He didn’t mention the kiss, either. As in everything else, he followed Ronnie’s lead. Climbing out of the creek, he reached for his own towel and began to dry off.