Roan shared with me where the inspiration for this novel came from.
In the Middle of Somewhere grew out of a wish that my friend A made for a story about someone who found himself dealing with being completely uprooted from everything that makes him comfortable and plunked down in a new place, with a new job, and no clue whether he’s made the right decision about any of it. It’s certainly a feeling I can relate to. I sort of went to graduate school on a whim, finished grad school on a whim, moved to Philadelphia on a whim, left academia on a whim—and they were all whims that took a lot of work. J In In the Middle of Somewhere Daniel also has the sense that he’s put a lot of effort into something he’s not totally sure of, so when he finds himself in Rex’s cabin, having just interviewed for a job in rural Michigan, he kind of freaks out . . .
DANIEL MULLIGAN is tough, snarky, and tattooed, hiding his self-consciousness behind sarcasm. Daniel has never fit in—not at home with his auto mechanic father and brothers, and not at school where his Ivy League classmates look down on him. Now, Daniel’s relieved to have a job at a small college in Northern Michigan, but, a city boy through and through, when Daniel arrives in Holiday, Michigan, it’s clear that this small town is one more place he just won’t fit in.
REX VALE clings to routine to keep loneliness at bay: honing his large, muscular body until it can handle anything, perfecting his recipes, and making custom furniture. Rex has lived in Holiday for years, but his shyness and imposing size have kept him from connecting with people. Though he loves the quiet and solitude of his little cabin in the woods, Rex can’t help but want someone to share it with.
When Daniel arrives in Holiday, they are smitten with each other, but though the sex is intense and explosive, Rex fears that Daniel will be one more in a long line of people to leave him, and Daniel has learned that letting anyone in could be a fatal weakness. Just as they begin to break down the walls that have been keeping them apart, Daniel is called home to Philadelphia where a secret is revealed that changes the way he understands everything.
Can a scrappy professor, an intense carpenter, and a stray dog make a go of it in their cabin in thewoods? Sometimes, you have to go to the middle of nowhere to end up exactly where you want to be.
I must’ve fallen asleep for a minute, because when I wake up, Rex is standing over me holding a sandwich.
I sit up a little and take the plate from him.
“What are you doing here?”
I look around the room, my head still spacey. No, Daniel, he means in town. Get it together.
“I had a job interview. At Sleeping Bear College.” I take a bite of the sandwich and feel a little sick, the way I sometimes do if I wait too long to eat. But the second bite is heaven.
“What kind of jam is this?” I ask.
“What was your interview for?”
“To teach in the English department.” The words make my stomach clench with anxiety. Or maybe that’s just the peanut butter.
“You’re an English professor? You seem so young.”
“Yeah. Well, technically, I’m still a grad student, but if I get the job, it’ll start in the fall, and I’ll defend my dissertation in the summer, so then I’ll be a professor. It’s funny you think I’m younger than usual. Most people, when they hear I’m in grad school, they’re like, ‘Oh, so that’ll take you, what, two or three years?’ And I’ll say, ‘No, more like seven or eight,’ and they think it’s crazy because they’ve seen TV shows where all the characters have three PhDs by the time they’re twenty-three. It’s unrealistic and propagates total misinformation about higher education. Drives me crazy.”
“So, do you think you’ll get the job?” he asks.
“Yeah,” I say, and sigh.
“What, you don’t want it?”
“Well, I need a job,” I tell him. “I need the money, for sure. And, no matter what, I can use this position as a springboard for another job if a better one comes along. And it’s actually a pretty good fit for me, you know. Like, I don’t want to be lecturing to three hundred unfamiliar faces at a huge university. I like how small the school is, how they’re excited about building up the English department. They even want to have a creative writing graduate program eventually. They think the—how did they put it?—‘natural isolation’ will be a draw for writers.”
“But,” Rex prompts, looking at me intently.
“But…. No offense, man, but there’s, like, nothing here. I’ve lived in Philly my whole life. I don’t know shit about trees or animals or nature. I mean, I just never saw myself someplace so… isolated.” My stomach is a knot of fear. Every word I speak hammers home how totally and completely screwed I would be living here.
I spent the last eight years in graduate school, all of it leading up to this moment—a moment, I must add, that most grad students would kill for in this crazy economy and terrible job market. But now… shit. I’m just so unsure.
“And, anyway, I don’t even know if I want to be an English professor. Like, what good would that actually do, you know? Really? It’s not useful. It’s like, what, teaching a bunch of overprivileged, sheltered kids with their parents’ credit cards how to construct a thesis statement or, if I’m lucky, getting to teach one senior seminar a year in the stuff I’m actually interested in, which no one will care about anyway.”
I can hear my voice, but it sounds like it’s coming from a million miles away. I think maybe I did hit my head. My ears are ringing and I feel like someone poured cement into my stomach. God, the idea of sitting at a desk for the rest of my life, teaching kids who don’t care, talking to other professors in their fifties and sixties about the decline of the written word with the advent of texting, totally alone in this godforsaken place. My hands are fists and I shake my head to try and clear it.
“Besides, I’m probably the only gay guy in a hundred mile radius,” I blurt out, forgetting that I’m not talking to Ginger, like I was in the shower. Fuck. I can’t believe I just said that. “And, uh, there’s, like, no music scene here?” I look around the room, everywhere but at Rex. The dog is still snoozing in front of the fire, her front paw twitching as she dreams. I wish I were her. I wish I were asleep, in front of a fire, cozy and warm, and not having to worry about anything except whether I’ll get breakfast soon.
I force myself to meet Rex’s gaze. To look at him calmly and confidently, as if what I just said is no big deal. This is what I’ve learned over the years. You just stare, like everything is normal; make them feel like they’ll be the awkward one if they say anything to you about it. Just stay calm and narrow your eyes a little like you’re not scared of a fight.
But Rex isn’t saying anything; isn’t reacting at all. I get up, clumsily, and bring my plate and glass to the kitchen sink. I pour a quick slug of whiskey in the glass and down it, then start scrubbing the plate. Everything’s fine, I say in my head. Everything’s fine. Everything’s fine.
When Rex comes up behind me, the soapy plate slips out of my hand and shatters in the sink. I jump backward.
“Shit! Shit, I’m sorry.” I look up at him, expecting anger; maybe disgust. When he doesn’t say anything, I start pick up the pieces of broken plate, but they’re slippery and I keep dropping them.
“Stop.” Rex puts his hands over mine in the sink. He dries my hands with the dishtowel, then takes me by the shoulders and turns me around so I’m leaning against the wall.
“You need to calm down,” he says, and his voice is a warm ocean of command. I nod, trying to calm down, but my heart is racing. What is wrong with me? It’s not like people don’t know I’m gay. Hell, I’ve always enjoyed letting idiots bro down with me and then just casually talking about my boyfriend to watch their surprise. It’s obvious that Rex isn’t going to hurt me; if he were, he would’ve done it already. I take a deep breath, his heavy hands weighing my shoulders down, anchoring me.
I look up at him, his eyes the same color as the whiskey I just drank. He steps closer, until I can feel his warmth. I open my mouth to tell him I’m fine, but what comes out is an embarrassingly shaky breath.
“Just calm down,” he says. And then he kisses me.
His hand is so big that when he cups my cheek his fingers trail down my neck, warm and rough. His mouth is soft on mine, but the power of his body behind it makes it clear he’s holding himself back. As one hand strokes my neck, the other cups my head, tangling in my hair. I open my eyes for a moment to make sure this is real, and his are open, too, heavy-lidded and golden.
He pulls back and straightens up. He’s tall enough that he had to bend down to kiss me. I wonder if that’s annoying—to have to bend down all the time. Or, I guess if he were kissing someone his same height, he wouldn’t have to; but that’s probably pretty rare. Also, holy crap; Rex is gay! I wonder--
Then I can’t think of anything else because his mouth is on mine again, and this time it’s a real kiss. His hands are on my hips and my head is tilted back against the wall and he’s kissing me, his tongue filling all the empty spaces. I reach up and put my arms around his neck, trying to pull him closer to me. He slides a hand up my side and around to my back, and he hooks his hand around my shoulder, locking me to him. I gasp into his mouth as he pushes his hips forward, his hardness hot against my stomach even through his jeans.
He pulls back, his mouth leaving mine with a lewd smack.
“Better?” he asks, and when he gives me his first real smile it’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen. His whole face is transformed. He has dimples and his teeth are a little crooked, one incisor slightly twisted.
I huff out a laugh and grin back.
Meet Roan Parrish
When not writing, she can usually be found cutting her friends’ hair, wandering through whatever city she’s in while listening to torch songs and melodic death metal, or cooking overly elaborate meals. One time she may or may not have baked a six-layer chocolate cake and then thrown it out the window in a fit of pique. She loves bonfires, winter beaches, minor chord harmonies, and cheese. But mostly cheese.