Colin Hartman is headed home, back to North Carolina and the family restaurant after realizing he is not cut out for college. Along the way he spots a hot guy he dubs “Catwalk” in a Nevada store, looking for a bus that no longer runs. Something about the guy just calls out to Colin, so he offers to give him a ride.
Neither Colin nor Riley expect the ride to be more than short term company. But Colin likes Riley and his nurturing instincts have him wanting to help the guy out. Not to mention Colin is totally hot for Riley, who is insanely gorgeous and probably straight. Riley, in turn, is in a rough place mentally and kind of out of sorts. He doesn’t expect Colin to be willing to drive him all over the country, but he is happy for the company and the support.
As the guys spend more time together on the road, they each begin to open up to their attraction and growing feelings for one another. Colin finds himself wanting to take care of Riley, who is clearly so lost and in need of support. And Riley is so happy to have someone to lean on as he attempts to work through his issues. But as time passes, it is becoming increasingly clear that what is plaguing Riley may be too much for Colin to handle alone. Yet he is determined to do whatever it takes to help the man he has grown to love.
Focus on Me is the second book in Megan Erickson’s In Focus series, and another lovely, coming-of-age story. Like the fabulous Trust the Focus, this book has a road trip theme featuring young, college-age men, who are still figuring out themselves and their lives. Colin has basically flunked out of college, something he sees as yet another thing in a long line of failures or things he couldn’t complete. He loves his family and his family restaurant, but he can’t help but see leaving school as a disappointment. Colin is a nurturer and a caretaker, so that kicks in right away when he sees poor lost Riley in the store. Riley, for his part, definitely is lost. He has left the modeling world when mental health issues threatened and he is on kind of a bucket list journey looking for something that will give him meaning and direction.
At first these guys are in the bloom of attraction, then lust, and sex, and things all seem rosy. But over time it becomes increasingly clear that Riley is not as ok as he seems. Ericsson does a nice job showing us the co-dependency here as Riley and Colin each lean on one another. Colin loves to be needed and loves being the one who can take care of Riley, and Riley loves Colin’s nurturing. But slowly that becomes a hindrance instead of a help, as it becomes clear Riley needs more than Colin can provide on his own. And that process where Colin realizes he can’t do it alone and that he needs to look for other ways of being there for Riley is really well done.
For those of you who are fans of Justin and Landry from Trust the Focus, I love how Erickson ties these two books together. In that first book, Landry makes up a boyfriend (since he is secretly in love with Justin and doesn’t want to date anyone else). He shows Justin a picture of a hot model and pretends its his boyfriend. Well, meet Riley. In the prologue of Focus on Me, we learn that Riley is the model whose picture Landry used. Landry writes him to apologize and the two become email buddies. So not only does this bring Landry and Justin into the story, it also gives us an insight into Riley’s POV since we see his emails to Landry. This works quite well because the story is told from Colin’s POV, but when we get that window into Riley’s thoughts it helps us really understand his mental state in a way that can’t be conveyed through Colin’s eyes. So a clever tie in to the first book and a nice way to let us understand Riley better. (That said, you could read this as a standalone, but don’t do that because Trust the Focus is awesome.)
My only real issue here is that I wished we had better insight into the backgrounds for these guys to help understand their characters a little more. In Riley’s case, I wanted to learn more about how he ended in the mental place he is in. Things get really severe, and we learn that modeling made him focus on his weight and his looks too much, but I wished we had a more in depth understanding of what happened to set this all in motion. In Colin’s case, we hear over and over throughout the book how he is always failing and never completing things. This is a big element of his character, something that defines how he sees himself and shapes many of his actions. Yet I didn’t see any other examples of his quitting other than college. Again, this is such a prominent idea in the book (even making it into the first line of the book blurb) but we don’t see any other situations where he has failed or given up. So this seemed like a hole in his character background to me, especially since this is such a big deal to the story.
Other than that, however, I found this one quite enjoyable. I love Erickson’s writing, and I love the way this story develops. We get the love and the lust and attraction (and hot sex), but then we slowly see what is behind that as these guys continue on their journey. They care about each other so much, but the way they need one another ends up not being totally healthy for them. With Riley in a hard place, Colin needs to step up and figure out how he can break that interdependency and be there in a way Riley really needs. It is a really interesting process to watch and a really great book.