In my new novel The Bravest Thing, one of the most enjoyable aspects to write was the blossoming romance between Hiroku and Berlin. The process of discovering these two characters while they were also discovering one another, was a learning experience for me, and while I knew where I wanted them to end up, I didn’t know exactly how I was going to get them there.
The scene I’m sharing below is toward the beginning of the book when they’re still getting to know each other and test the other’s limits. In this scene Hiroku invites Berlin to go with him to the quarry and once there, jump from the cliffs. Throughout the scene we see how cautious Berlin is about riding a motorcycle, climbing a chain-link fence, trespassing, and then, jumping off the cliff. Meanwhile, Hiroku is very laissez-faire about the whole thing, to the point that he teases Berlin about his caution.
But towards the end of the scene, we see their roles shift dramatically. Emotionally, Hiroku is scared and trying to mask the pain that for him is always just beneath the surface, while Berlin is steady, strong, and very open about his feelings. We see that when it comes to forging a new relationship, Berlin is the real risk-taker. This is very much the essence of their relationship, and this dynamic plays out again and again throughout the story.
These reversals were fun to play with throughout the writing of the novel. Using the first-POV dual narration really allowed me to show things from both perspectives. One of the cool aspects of this type of narration, is that I could show each of them misunderstanding the other, but not asking for clarification, even while the reader knows they’re getting it wrong. It’s a little frustrating to witness, but very true to real life.
The Bravest Thing deals with a lot of heavy topics—homophobia, abuse and addiction, but there is also a great deal of hope and courage. I truly fell in love with Hiroku and Berlin in writing them—both as individuals and as a couple. I hope that if you decide to read The Bravest Thing, you will too.
High school junior Berlin Webber is about to reap the fruits of his hard work and land a football scholarship—if he can keep his sexuality a secret from his best friend, Trent, and their homophobic coach. Then Hiroku Hayashi swerves into the high school parking lot on his tricked-out motorcycle like some sexy comic book villain, and Berlin knows he doesn’t stand a chance.
Hiroku is fleeing his sophisticated urban scene to recover from drug addiction and an abusive relationship when he arrives in Berlin’s small Texas ranch town. Initially sarcastic and aloof, Hiroku finds in Berlin a steady, supportive friend who soon becomes more. As Hiroku and Berlin’s romance blossoms, they take greater risks to be together. But when a horrific act of violence tears them apart, they both must look bigotry in the face. While Berlin has always turned to his faith for strength, Hiroku dives into increasingly dangerous ways of coping, pushing them in opposite directions just when they need each other most.
Two very different young men search for the bravery to be true to themselves, the courage to heal, and the strength to go on when things seem darkest. But is it enough to bring them back together?
Amazon buy link: http://amzn.to/2obq7ri
For the first time in three years, someone else is occupying the frequency I once reserved for Seth. I hate ignoring Berlin at school—it feels like lying—but if I can see his desire, then others probably can too. The last thing he needs is for his friends to notice the googly eyes between us. The activist in me wants him to come out loud and proud, but the realist worries about the fallout if he did.
Having my camera at his football game gives me cover. I have a job to do. I’m a professional. I’m not admiring Berlin’s athleticism on the field as much as I’m making sure I have the best angle to capture the run. Those tight pants are just part of the uniform. His ass hardly even crosses my mind. The bulge in his crotch isn’t a consideration. Damn, he’s big, though. Built like an ox. I keep thinking about shooting that gun, the way he held me in his arms and then later, at the creek.
Berlin might not fit in with the football team, but he belongs on the field. His team relies on him. Especially Trent. He and Berlin are in constant communication, to the point that Berlin seems like the shadow quarterback in a way. The coach, too, seems to depend on Berlin’s leadership and his ability to rally the team together. Everyone loves a winner, and Berlin is that.
I get some good footage of the rest of the team, a truly beautiful long pass by Trent, caught in the end zone by one of the receivers. Some rough-and-tumble tackles, and Berlin, weaving in and out of the other team’s defense like a salsa dancer. Graceful, yet still knocking guys down left and right. He has a good center of gravity and he’s tough to bring down, like going up against a mountain.
I’m going to enjoy editing this project.
At halftime I film the cheerleaders and color guard. Tamara blows me a kiss on her way back to the sidelines, strutting so her skirt flaps up and shows off her toned thighs and tight bloomers. “I’m going to change your mind about girls, Hiroku,” she promises and reaches down to touch her toes, tempting me.
I grin at her cheekiness. “Don’t give up on me, Tamara.” I’m confident she’s wasting her time, but I do enjoy flirting—guys, girls, whatever.
By the fourth quarter, it’s pretty obvious the Lowry Lions are going to win it. I start packing up my equipment. Berlin doesn’t need to acknowledge me. He knows I was here and that’s enough.
I leave the stadium and grab dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant in a strip mall halfway between Lowry and Austin that makes pho with vegetable broth. Then I ride around town, waiting for Berlin to text. He finally does around eleven o’clock. He asks me to meet him at the fence.
I pull up to where he sits on the tailgate of his truck, still shining from his recent victory. He’s freshly showered and shaved, some kind of product in his short hair. I wonder if it’s for me.
“Awesome game,” I say, feeling bashful all of a sudden. It takes a lot of effort to keep my distance at school, which makes it hard to switch off now. I keep glancing over my shoulder like the bigot brigade is hiding in the bushes waiting to ambush us, but we’re alone, so I come a little closer. The smell of him tickles my nose, like pine trees and fresh rain.
“You liked it?” he asks with a shy smile.
“I loved it. Got some great footage too. You were….” Hot, sexy, strapping. Strapping? What does that even mean? “You were really good.”
He looks relieved. “I’m glad you came,” he says, and I’m not sure if he means to the game or right now.
“Me too.” I wipe my sweaty hands on my jeans, getting more anxious by the minute. Waiting for the thing, whatever the thing might be, just about kills me. I motion to my bike. “I brought an extra helmet. You want to go for a ride?”
“Is it safe?” He looks nervous, which amuses me. He’s just gone up against several two-hundred-plus-pound defensive linemen. That seems like a much bigger risk to me.
“Okay.” He hops off the tailgate of his truck, and I fit the helmet on his head and adjust the strap for him. I stand with the bike between my legs while he gingerly climbs on. He takes up most of the seat, which means I kind of have to perch on his crotch, but I don’t mind. I tell him to lean into the curves, since he has about fifty pounds on me. A little ways into the ride, I feel his bulge pressing up against me. I hear him mumble an apology, and I smile with satisfaction. The feeling is mutual.
On the ride I go slower than I normally would and take the turns with more care. If this is Berlin’s first time on a motorcycle, I don’t want to freak him out. I take him out to the quarry I discovered when school first started and I was exploring the town. It was daylight when I came before, and I checked the water depth before I jumped. There are other cliffs where jumping would be suicide. I stay away from those.
I park outside the chain-link fence and give him a few minutes to walk it off. I mess with my bike to look busy. I don’t want to embarrass him any more than he already is. Secretly, though, I’m flattered. I like that I turn him on.
“Can you climb it?” I ask, motioning to the fence.
“In there?” he asks like it’s a cardinal sin. “Isn’t that trespassing?”
I shrug. “It’s only trespassing if you get caught. Besides, no one’s here.” He glances around like a cop is going to spring out of the bushes and arrest us. “I came here in the daytime and there wasn’t any equipment. I don’t think they even use it anymore. Come on.”
I scale the fence pretty quickly. It takes Berlin a little longer. For a moment it looks like the fence might win, but he makes it to the other side. I suppose he hasn’t jumped fences much in his life. Country boy. I lead him down the path to where there’s a large pool of water and a rocky ledge that leads to the top of a cliff about three stories tall.
“Want to jump with me?” I ask. A nervous energy buzzes through me at the prospect, and everything around us feels charged with electricity. I feel alive.
His eyes widen. “I don’t think so.” He shakes his head. “Looks dangerous.”
“Not as dangerous as football.”
“Football has rules.”
“Rules don’t make it safe. Wait here for me. I’ll go first.” I jog up the rocks in a few bounds, strip down naked at the top, and stand at the edge, letting the cool night air wash over me.
“Hiro,” he calls. His voice sounds panicked. “Come back.”
“Berlin, it’s fine. I’ve done it before.”
“No,” he shouts in his deep, manly voice. He sounds like my dad. “Come down here right now.”
“Are you serious?” I’m right at the ledge. One more step and I’ll be there.
“Yes, I’m serious. Don’t jump. Come down.”
I groan dramatically, turn and walk back a few steps, and then think fuck it. I sprint toward the edge and take a flying leap, my arms wide. Berlin calls my name, but I’m already in the air. Flying. What a fucking rush. Nothing compares to this feeling of being on top of everything, conquering your fears. My whole body is electrified. I’m powerful—invincible—the way drugs used to make me feel, and Seth too, sometimes. I hit the cold water and drop down so deep my toes scrape the rocky bottom.
When I surface, Berlin is standing at the edge of the pool. He looks pissed. I wade over and climb out. “I told you it was safe.”
“You see that rock over there?” Berlin points to a slab jutting just above the surface, about ten feet from where I hit the water. It must have been submerged the last time I was here. I kind of wish I’d known it was there. More danger means more thrill.
The worry line is back between his eyebrows. I want to smooth it down. “I’m fine.”
“I told you to come down,” he says. “What the hell’s wrong with you?”
I shiver from the cool night air on my wet skin. I don’t know how to answer him; so many things are wrong with me. Where to begin? I climb the rocks again and go over to my pile of clothes. I glance out at the ledge. I must be crazy, because I want to do it again. One more rush. One more hit. One more chance to feel limitless, like a god.
“You take another step toward that ledge….” Berlin’s voice booms in the still night.
I glance down at him. He’s in full-on Hulk mode, massive, heaving shoulders, arms tense. His head looks like it’s about to explode.
“I won’t.” At least not with him here.
I shrug back into my clothes and join him where he’s pacing on a spit of gravel. Even though he’s pissed at me, he’s still pretty hot. I wonder what it might feel like to channel all that energy to one purpose. What would Berlin do with all that anger and aggression?
“You want to hit me?” I ask. Seth would get angry like that, when I did something he didn’t like, especially when he told me not to. Sometimes he’d hit me.
Berlin stops to look at me. “No, I don’t want to hit you.”
“You want to fuck me, then?” It could go either way with Seth too.
The color drains from his face, and he looks at me like I’m totally mental. “Why do you say things like that?”
Jeez, he’s uptight. “Like what?”
“Like you want me to hurt you?”
I turn away, feeling stupid. I have to remind myself that Berlin is a normal, caring person. Maybe I was too once. I don’t know how to be with someone without picking a fight or waiting for the bottom to fall out. With Seth I learned to get my kicks when I could, because there was no telling what five minutes from now would look like.
“Is that how it was with Seth?” Berlin asks.
The anger in his voice is gone, replaced with something like pity. If I was on that ledge right now, I’d take my chances with the rock. He waits for an answer, but I don’t know what to tell him. It was a lot of ways with Seth, and that was one of them. Toward the end it seemed my body was a debt I owed him for simply existing, for having the nerve to attract him to me. It was my fault he couldn’t control himself. Everything I got, I deserved. I know how messed up that kind of thinking is, but I never claimed to be rational.
They say drugs alter your brain chemistry, even after you quit them. Seth did too—he scrambled my emotions.
“It’s late,” I say to Berlin. I want him to stop looking at me like I’m wounded or damaged. I head back toward the fence and scale it.
“Don’t walk away,” he says when he catches up to me. “What’s going on here?”
“Nothing.” My voice catches and my whole body shakes. It’s the cold water, I tell myself. I hate feeling weak. A heightened sensitivity, Dr. Denovo called it. The rush I felt from jumping is gone and my body still wants more, more, more. Whatever it takes to drown out the noise in my head.
I mount the bike, but Berlin refuses to get on. He looks like one of those marble statues of a Greek god. Like he’d stand there, unmoving, for centuries.
“Take off your helmet, Hiro,” he says.
“You don’t even say my name right.” I know it’s mean and childish to pick on him, but he’s backing me into a corner.
“Take off your helmet, Hiroku.”
God, he’s butchering it. My mother would be offended. He’s so goddamned stubborn.
I stand and rest the bike on its kickstand, take off my helmet, and set it on the seat. He opens his arms.
“No,” I say.
He doesn’t move. Just stands there like he can do this all night long. He’ll wait me out. I don’t like seeing his arms open, knowing they’re for me. I hate seeing him vulnerable like that.
He motions again with his hands, gently.
God, can’t he just put his damn arms down already? I step forward and he takes my head in his massive hand and rests it against his shoulder. His other arm wraps around my back, squeezing lightly. He strokes my hair, tucking it behind my ear, then rubs my back up and down. I feel his chest heave with every breath like a metronome. Finally my body relaxes against his. My slack arms take hold around his lower back.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” he says softly. “That’s it. Okay?”
I nod. My eyes burn and a lump rises up in my throat, but I swallow it down. Jesus, if I cry right now, I’ll have to find another cliff to jump off. I take a deep breath and take a step back. I put on my helmet so he won’t see my face. I mount the bike again, and this time he slides in behind me. I’m grateful for the ride. I need a few minutes to get my shit together.
We wind through the outskirts of town until we’re back in front of the gate to his property, where I park to let him off. I take off my helmet but stay on the bike.
He glances down at his shoes shyly, tugs at his collar. “My dad has to go out of town next weekend. I was thinking maybe you could come over.”
I’m silent, already retreating into one of my shadowy corners like a spider. “Maybe,” I say noncommittally.
“Well, just let me know. Good night.” He leans in and kisses my cheek quickly, then backs away like he’s worried he did something wrong. He’s making it impossible for me to stay mad at him.
I stay there for a moment, watching him get into his truck and drive off, thinking about Berlin and his deep well of understanding. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always clung to the shadows. It feels like Berlin is trying to drag me, kicking and screaming, into the light. At any moment he might change his mind and decide I’m not worth the trouble.
But I want to be.
About the Author
Laura Lascarso strives to inspire more questions than answers in her fiction and believes in the power of stories to heal and transform a society. She lives in North Florida with her darling husband, two children, and a menagerie of animals. Her debut novel, Counting Backwards (Simon & Schuster 2012) won the Florida Book Award gold medal for young adult literature.
For social critiques, writer puns, and Parks and Rec gifs, follow her on Twitter @lauralascarso