If Only in My Dreams Excerpt


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To be home for Christmas, they must bridge the distance between them.

Charlie Yates is desperate. It’s almost Christmas and his flight home from college has been delayed. For days. Charlie promised his little sister Ava he’d be home for her first holiday season since going into remission from leukemia. Now he’s stuck on the opposite coast and someone else grabbed the last rental car. Someone he hasn’t even spoken to in four years. Someone who broke his heart.

Gavin Bloomberg’s childhood friendship with Charlie ended overnight after a day of stolen kisses. With years of resentment between them, they don’t want to be in the same room together, let alone a car. But for Ava’s sake, Gavin agrees to share the rental and drive across the country together.

As they face unexpected bumps along the road, can Charlie and Gavin pave the way to a future together?

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Read an excerpt from If Only in My Dreams

I wasn’t sure if it was the crick in my neck or the drool dripping down my chin that woke me. Inhaling sharply, I jolted up straight. It was dark, and I blinked at the red glow of taillights. Beside me, Gavin turned down the radio, which had been playing a bad cover of “Santa Baby.” I rubbed my eyes. “Where are we?”

“We passed Wells, Nevada, a little while back.”

The green display on the dashboard said it was just after eleven p.m. I pulled out my phone and read a text from Mom.

How’s it going? You and Gavin be careful on those roads. Don’t drive too fast. Christmas will be whenever you get here. Xxxxx

I tamped down the swell of emotion. Most people did “xoxo,” but when I was little my mom always kissed my forehead, chin, both cheeks, and then the tip of my nose before I went to sleep. She did it with Ava too. I guess it’s our family’s thing, although my dad was always big on the bear hugs. He and Mom are kind of perfect that way. Yin and yang, Aunt Wendy says.

“Everything okay?”

I glanced at Gavin, who looked over with a concerned furrow between his brows. “Um, yeah.”

I went back to my phone and opened my map. Why was Gavin being…nice? He hadn’t deigned to pay me the slightest bit of attention in years—aside from that day in the pizza place, the thought of which sent a prickly rush of anger and shame through me. But earlier when he’d asked about Ava, he’d seemed sincere.

I shifted in my seat, uncrossing my legs. When I’d woken up that morning from my uneasy pre-airport sleep, I’d expected to be back home in Norwalk by now. But here I was in a car in Buttfuck, Nevada—with Gavin Bloomberg. It was so goddamned weird.

And as I focused on the map, I realized I was going to be in a car with Gavin for a long-ass time. “We’re, like, six hours behind schedule. At least.”

“Yeah, it sucks. It really took forever getting out of the Bay Area.” He yawned widely.

With a stab of guilt, I realized he’d been driving since that morning. “I can drive now. Sorry, I didn’t mean to pass out for so long.”

“It’s okay. Should probably get more gas too. At the next station we can switch. There’s a town coming up.”

“Cool.” I fiddled with the laces on my sneaker. This part of the interstate had two lanes in each direction, and white headlights passed by on the other side of a grassy median. The land looked flat as a pancake, but it was too dark to see much. “You ever driven across the country before?”

“Nope. You?”


In the ensuing silence, broken only by that incredibly annoying Paul McCartney Christmas song on the radio, I stared out the window, trying to see beyond the flat scrub that disappeared into inky blackness. I racked my brain for something to say. That first summer, Gavin and I would talk for hours and hours about nothing. Comics and movies, and just…stuff. Now we could barely handle the kind of small talk you’d make in a taxi or on a plane.

“How’s Tim?”

Whoa. I swiveled my head to gape at him. “What?”

“That’s his name, isn’t it? That guy you were seeing from Jefferson High?” Gavin adjusted one of the heating vents, casual as anything.

“Yeah. That’s his name. I didn’t…how did you know?”

He laughed uneasily. “What, you thought it was a secret or something? Everyone knew. It wasn’t a big deal. It’s not like you hid it.”

“No one mentioned it to me.” I wrapped one of my laces around my index finger, cutting off the circulation. It wasn’t that I cared about people knowing I was gay—he was right, I hadn’t hidden it. But the idea of Gavin actually talking about me and Tim (probably with Candace) torpedoed bile up my esophagus.

“Seemed like you never really talked to anyone at school the last couple years. You always had your earbuds in, and outside class you didn’t join in anything.”

“I was a little busy with my dying sister.” I tugged the lace harder.

“Oh, I know. I’m not saying…you just seemed…”


“Angry.” He shrugged. “You intimidated people.”

I released the lace and let the blood back into my fingertip. “So? I don’t care what people think.”

“I know. I always admired that about you. Most guys I knew in junior high wouldn’t have spent so much time playing with their little sister. You never worried about being ‘cool’ or whatever.”

The flush of pleasure that warmed me was beyond stupid and annoying. “Well, Tim was a cool guy, but we weren’t serious. He’s been at Penn State since last year. Having a good time from what I see on Facebook. Bagging a lot of hot guys.”

“Oh yeah? Cool.” Gavin cleared his throat. “What about you?”

How was this real life? Sure, just talking about banging guys with Gavin. NBD. “Sure, college has been fun. Plenty of guys to hook up with at USF. For a Jesuit school, the party scene is pretty wild.” I’d fooled around with a few students, but that was it. Sex was fun, but I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend.

“I was wondering about that. Not the party scene, but the religious thing. I didn’t think you were a big believer?”

I laughed. “Oh, I’m not. But they take heathens too. I wrote an essay about how cancer kills faith, and they gave me a full ride. It would have been an in-state school for me if they hadn’t. I guess they figure they can save my soul. But I haven’t actually met any Bible thumpers. It’s been chill.”

“That’s good. What’s your major going to be?”

“No idea. I’m taking a bunch of stuff this year, and we’ll see if anything sticks. What about you?”


“Nice.” I should have known he’d be doing something super smart. His dad was a civil engineer, and I still wasn’t really sure what he actually did, but it was probably hard.

“How are your parents?” he asked.

“Good. Better now. It’s been hard with Ava and everything.”

“Yeah, I bet. Is your dad still at the same firm?”

I smiled briefly. “He just made partner, actually. It was a pretty big deal.”

“Cool!” Gavin’s face lit up, a grin pushing the dimples into his cheeks and making my stomach flip-flop like a fish on the bottom of a boat. Do not go there, Charlie. Get a grip. “Is your mom going back to work now?”

“Not sure. I think she’s gotten her fill of hospitals, you know? But she might do some private nursing or something. We’ll see.” I cleared my throat and stared out the windshield at the red lights. “How are your folks?”

The bright-eyed remnants of his grin vanished, and Gavin sped up to change lanes and pass the car in front of us. “They’re fine. Oh, there’s the exit for that town.” He accelerated more to get back in the right lane.

Huh. As we exited the interstate and pulled into a gas station, I rolled it around in my mind. Gavin and his parents had been tight, but maybe something had changed? Sure, Hanukkah might not be a super important high holy day or whatever, but it was totally weird that they’d spend the holidays without him. But maybe they’d wanted him to come and he’d elected to be with Candace instead.

Ugh. She of the perky tits and golden hair and even, gleaming white teeth. Just thinking about her made me clench my fists.

“Candace is making the new guy feel right at home!” Pete Stiffler crowed with a braying laugh.

I yanked open the car door and stalked into the gas station, shivering in the surprisingly cold night. Bells jingled merrily, and it looked like Santa’s workshop had barfed all over the interior of the convenience store, with garlands and cheap ornaments strung over the shelves and lights along the tops of the fridges. The middle-aged guy behind the counter wore reindeer horns.

I nodded to him as I grabbed a Red Bull and a bunch of snacks, wondering what the Bloombergs thought of Miss Candace Allen. She’d been near the top of our class and was going to Columbia, because of course she had beauty and brains. It was nauseating.

As I surveyed the chip aisle, wondering if Gavin still loved sour cream and onion, I sighed. I knew I wasn’t being fair. How could I blame Candace for seeing him at that stupid party and grabbing him? It wasn’t her fault he wanted her back. Of course he did—she was a straight guy’s perfect cheerleader fantasy.

Wasn’t her fault he didn’t want me.

Through the window, I could see him pumping the gas, watching the numbers climb. He’d been beautiful the first day I saw him, and he’d grown into a gorgeous man. Tall and lean and long legged, and…why the hell was I thinking about this? So what if he was good looking? I’d thought we were friends, but I’d been nothing to him. Some little experiment he’d tossed aside for the hetero delights of Candace Allen. I hadn’t even been worth talking to after school started.

Jerking away from the window, I grabbed a bag of Doritos. After I paid the cashier, I climbed behind the wheel of the Jetta. When Gavin got in the passenger seat, he tucked away the gas receipt in the glove box.

He asked, “I guess we’ll just take turns filling up? And at the end we’ll see if one of us paid more.”

“Sure,” I gritted out as I started the engine. I could see him watching me from the corner of my eye as I peeled out of the station.

“What? Do you not want to do the gas that way?”

“The gas is fine. And obviously I owe you for half the car too. I’ll pay you when we get home.”

“I know you will. I’m not…okay. Fine.” He flipped on the radio and left it on a station playing my mom’s favorite carol.

“They looked up and saw a star.
Shining in the east beyond them far.
And to the earth it gave great light
And so it continued both day and night.”

My breath stuttered as I remembered last Christmas and driving my mom home from the hospital after another of Ava’s endless treatments. I couldn’t sing for shit, but as we’d passed all the twinkling lights and snowmen, I’d warbled the verses I could remember.

It had only made my mom cry harder, but then she’d gripped my hand and said I was right—we couldn’t give up hope. I’d only sung it to make her feel better because she liked it, but I guess it had been the right thing to do.

The star shining in the east now was the town of West Wendover. We drove into Utah over two faded white lines painted on the road, under the watchful eye of a giant neon cowboy and the glittering lure of casinos. A sign informed us we were now in mountain time, which made me feel like we’d just fallen another hour behind schedule.

Past the undaunted dazzle of buffets, country cover bands, slot machines, and Arby’s, rocky hills rose. Soon we were cloaked in darkness again, with only a few fellow travelers on the road as midnight ticked by. As we went, the hills disappeared and the flat ground became strangely bright. “Jesus. Is it snowing?”

Gavin leaned forward in his seat, peering intently. “I don’t think so, but I guess it snowed earlier? It’s all white. Oh, wait—look at the sign.”

Bonneville Salt Flats Recreation Area

I exhaled. Salt I could handle. We’d have enough snow to deal with as we went farther east. “Oh, duh. Wow. That’s a lot of salt.”

We passed the miles and miles of salt flats, the carols playing softly, people singing about joy to the world, decking the halls, and silent nights. After a while, I realized Gavin was asleep. His lips were parted, and his chest rose and fell evenly. He’d taken off his leather jacket and folded it against the window as a pillow.

His thick eyebrows had been pretty messy when we first met, but he’d started plucking in high school. The urge to reach over and run my finger over his left brow was ridiculous, and I ripped my gaze back to the road.

Unfortunately, the highway was a flat line in danger of hypnotizing me, so I let myself look again. Gavin wore a red Henley with three open buttons at the neck. Dark hair poked out from the collar, and I wondered how thick it was over his chest.

Turning my head, I forced in a long, deep breath and held it for a few seconds before exhaling. I wondered if his lips would still feel surprisingly soft, and if—

I took another breath and held it for longer this time as I clutched the wheel. What ifs would only make this trip even more torturous. I needed to concentrate on getting home, and then Gavin and I would go back to being strangers again. All that mattered was seeing Ava and my family.

All that matters is making it home so she won’t get sick again.

I cursed myself for the nagging worry over that fucked-up dream. But no matter how often I reminded myself it wasn’t real, it was like I could feel the hospital tiles under my feet and the helpless grief that had doubled me over as the doctor shook his head.

Shivering, I turned the heat up a notch, glancing at Gavin as he shifted and licked his lips before settling again.

Fuck, I didn’t want to think about him either, but the road was flat and straight, and my traitorous mind wandered back to that Labor Day weekend before the first day of ninth grade…

Copyright © Keira Andrews

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