If it’s a new Skye Kilaen, you know I’m going to read it! While this is set in Austin (and there’s a brief mention of Knockdown), it’s not part of that series. What it is is lovely and emotional friends-to-lovers romance. Look, it says hurt/comfort on the tin and holy crap that’s exactly what you get!
Simon’s a larger bisexual guy, pleased to finally be working at a place that doesn’t care about his sexuality. He has two work friends: Mina, who sits in the cubicle next to him, and Ziah, the cute geeky IT guy. They’re both so sweet to the other – whether it’s Ziah playing video games (badly) while Simon’s in one of his serious depressive episodes, or Simon knowing Ziah’s exact lunch order for all their favorite spots. When things with Ziah suddenly turn weird, Simon’s initial inclination is to blame himself. After all, that’s what his depression is always telling him. But the real reason is something he never suspected, and it’ll test their friendship, especially when the unthinkable happens.
“All the little shit I’d memorized about him, and it had never occurred to me that I’d possibly started down the road of caring about him differently. Albeit in a very slow, easily spooked car.”
The book is told soley from Simon’s POV, which I was initially cautious about but it works very well. Simon is initially completely clueless about how Ziah feels about him. Ziah has no experience dating and his feelings are all tangled up with religious background so he has no idea how to approach him. He’s got a lot of shame over his sexuality – around sexuality in general – and still struggles with how his warm and loving family completely turned against him once his sexuality came out. Though Simon knows some of the details of Ziah’s background, there’s parts of it he can’t comprehend, and he missteps a lot trying to provide him the support he thinks he needs. There’s a lot of Simon realizing he messed up and not knowing why, and sometimes I as the reader was just as clueless. What Simon does, though, is give Ziah space after every mistake and then asks what he did wrong so he can not make that mistake again.
“What was I supposed to say? Ziah was my friend. If he wanted something different, he would have brought it up by now. Everyone knew I liked guys as much as anyone else. “He’s my best friend,” I finally said. “I simply believe he’d be happier with someone.”
Once he figures out that Ziah’s not just looking for a hookup, that he loves him, Simon has no idea what to do with that. He knows that he feels something other than just friendship for him, but it’s not love. And that’s not terribly surprising as it turns out that Ziah has been keeping a lot of his life from Simon. As they slowly build trust, though, Simon’s feelings grow. It’s not an easy path though. Simon struggles with depression and part of it manifests as feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Part of his initial obliviousness about Ziah’s feelings for him is that he truly doesn’t believe he’s good enough for Ziah! Even with medication, therapy and a very supportive family, Simon still struggles, and I loved that it showed that. Nor did his relationship successfully fix him – he knows he’ll have good times and bad times, and he does his best to prepare his life – personal and professional – for his more severe depressive episodes.
To be honest, Simon and Ziah are terrible at communication and keep inadvertently hitting each other’s boundaries. Simon, from a warm, loving and quite queer Czech/Mexican family (do we get a book about Rigo???), is used to offering his – and their – help whenever a problem comes up. He doesn’t understand how seeing that family can be so traumatic for Ziah, or how smothering the constant offers of help could be. Ziah is jealous that Simon, as a bi man, had a chance at a “normal” life if he dates a woman – not understanding the bierasure. There’s a lot of work that has to be done on both sides (with therapists and without) before they can have a relationship that’s true to both of them. It’s not perfect – it’s messy – but it works for them. It’s about loving people they way they need to be loved, not what you think they need.
Overall, this was a lovely, thoughtful and emotional exploration of friends-to-lovers. While Simon and Ziah’s path to an HEA is rocky, it’s ultimately high satisfying!
I received an advance review copy of this book from Book Sirens. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.