Rating: 4.5 stars
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Paul is a graduate student with a part-time job tutoring. One day he is called to office of the new women’s softball coach to do some tutoring of his athletes. Paul is shocked to find the coach is none other than his high school boyfriend, Trevor Gardiner. After six months of dating nine years before, Trevor hurt Paul deeply by choosing his future baseball career and staying closeted over his relationship with Paul. Now Trevor has come out and retired from baseball and he wants Paul back. Despite Trevor’s sincere apologies and requests for forgiveness, Paul isn’t sure if he is willing to trust his heart again, even to be with his one true love. He must decide if he can give Trevor another chance, or whether the pain of the past is too much to overcome.
I was really excited to once again visit the world of Calapooya College in this second book of Tenino’s Theta Alpha Gamma series. This story follows Frat Boy & Toppy and we first meet Paul as a side character in that book. There he is hostile and rude to Brad, his roommate Sebastian’s new jock boyfriend, damaging his friendship with Sebastian as a result. Although Paul is obviously anti jock and anti frat boy in that story, it is not really clear why he is such a jerk until this book when we learn about his painful past. When it came down to it, Trevor chose sports over Paul all those years ago. And then Trevor’s teammates tormented Paul when they found out he was gay. So Paul has a lot of built up bitterness and resentment left over from his cruel outing as well as the hurt from Trevor’s actions.
Here Tenino does a great job of giving Paul some redemption for his terrible behavior in the first book. We can see so clearly how hurt he was, how much pain he still carries, and how determined he is to protect his heart. It is easy to see why Paul has built up these walls and why he is afraid to trust Trevor again. For his part, Trevor is quite likable and clearly remorseful for his actions many years ago. As terrible as his behavior was, it is not hard to see how a young man would make a bad choice in that situation. At the same time, it is easy to understand why Paul has a hard time accepting his apology and moving past the hurt.
Much of the story is really Paul coming to terms with his own feelings. It is clear that his attraction to Trevor is still incredibly strong. And part of him so clearly wants to accept Trevor back into this life. There is no question that Trevor is sincere in his apology and desire to be with Paul, but Paul just has trouble letting himself even admit his feelings, let alone open himself up to potential heartache once again. He is aided on this emotional journey by several friends, including Brad and Sebastian. Each one helps Paul really look at his feelings and accept what he wants, rather than what he thinks he should do. At one point Brad tells him, “Sounds like you can be right or you can be happy.” And that really is the bottom line. Paul has to decide if it is important enough to stick to the fact that he was wronged all those years ago, or take a chance and get the happiness with Trevor that he really wants. I think this process is really important for Paul and his emotional growth would have been quite unbelievable if it had happened without some guidance from his friends. But at times I did feel like Trevor wasn’t involved enough in the whole thing. He and Paul actually aren’t on page together a whole lot and I would have liked to see more of the resolution to Paul’s issues come from between the two of them rather than between Paul and his friends.
But overall I found this another really enjoyable story from Tenino. I loved revisiting with Sebastian and Brad and seeing them so domestic and in love. And I really enjoyed learning more about Paul and understanding how his past has really shaped his behavior and mental state. Despite being prickly and antisocial, I liked him quite a bit. Deep down he is pretty self aware and quite a romantic. I loved seeing him find his way out of that darkness he has been living with into being a man that is happy and in love once again. The story was very sweet and romantic and I enjoyed it a lot.