Jay Ruttman, striker for the West Ham United Football Team, has come out of the closet. He may be out — and it isn’t that he’s ashamed — but he just wants all the fuss, all the noise, and all the notoriety to go away. Sebastian Saunders, Jay’s boyfriend, is a rock star on the rise who doesn’t want to keep his mouth shut. If it were up to Seb, the whole world would get to drool with envy as Seb walked the red carpet with Jay at his side, but, trying to be a good boyfriend, Seb has agreed to keep things quiet.
Even if Seb is willing to behave (a miracle on its own), Jay is still facing the public and professional backlash from coming out. Not everyone on his team is thrilled with him and a rival player seems to have it out for Jay. Just when Seb’s band starts hitting it big, with concerts and interviews and a chance at an award, Jay’s life comes undone when a brutal kick to the knee leaves him hospitalized.
Already their different schedules have them spending less and less time with one another. With Jay falling deeper and deeper into depression just as Seb is being courted by Sony Music — with an offer to go overseas to America for a two-year tour — their relationship reaches the tipping point. With Jay pulling farther and farther away from him, Seb is left with a choice. Do what he’s always done and walk away from the drama and the hurt, or fight for the man he’s fallen in love with.
Come Back is a lovely coda to one of my favorite series, the District Line series. While this book could be read as a standalone, you’d only be reading a cute little book about a rockstar and a footballer. You’d be missing the growth from both of the characters and their relationships. In the first two books, we saw Sebastian as a troubled, bitter young man, taken advantage of by his father’s personal assistant, angry at the world, drowning in one-night stands and drinking, aware that he was at least half to blame for all his troubles. We saw their first meeting, Jay having to overcome what he thought he ought to be and his own struggle to be the person he wanted to be. We saw them fight for each other and for their own dreams, working through heartache and anger and betrayal until Jay was able to proudly state that he was gay and in love with Seb, and to see Seb finally able to accept that he was worthy of that love.
Jay is still dealing with the aftermath of his coming out. He’s aware in a way Seb isn’t — Seb was out as soon as he knew there was an ‘in’ — of how the fans deal with their football heroes. Everything he does reflects on his team, and the insults, the jeers, the jokes,, and the hatred for his being gay are thrown at West Ham as well as at Jay. Jay also wants to keep his privacy, to not have to justify himself or Seb. He wants to be able to just put his head down and play, without having to deal with the head games both Seb and the fans throw at him.
After the injury to his knee, Jay has plenty of time to get lost in his own head. He faces the thought that he might never walk again, or play again, the thought that he’ll be dropped from the team. Also, worming its way in is the thought that Seb might leave him. Seb who always loved his body, who used to call him “Champ,” a name he hasn’t used since the accident. Jay isn’t even able to get it up long enough for them to have sex, which is, he knows, very much a part of Sebastian. Seb was used to going from bed to bed, and now the bed he’s chosen to sleep in is as cold as an icebox. This hits even harder as Sebastian’s career is taking off while Jay’s is rotting away under his depression.
Sebastian doesn’t know how to care for other people. Raised in a wealthy house, he was always taken care of, always looked after. And now Jay needs him, but keeps pushing him away. Jay tells him to go to his shows, his gigs, his studio sessions, and Seb … goes. For the band, he has to. He writes the lyrics, sings the songs, deals with the webpage, deals with the agents, acts as manager and front man and accountant … it’s hard work. It’s exhausting, but in a good way. He knows what to do for the band. He has no idea how to help Jay.
The two of them stand at opposite sides, both wanting to help — or be helped — and neither of them knowing the right words to say. It doesn’t help when Seb’s past comes back as Stephen (his father’s assistant and Seb’s ex-lover, as well as the man who once beat him, and later tried to rape him) wants a lunch and Riley (another player Jay beat up in school who now wants to be his agent) won’t leave Jay alone. It’s always one thing or the other, and both of them just want some sign from the other person that they’re wanted, that they’re needed.
Through the swearing and the posturing there are heart-breaking passages:
“The past couple of months, he’d sympathised, offered support, and had steered clear of complaining at the lack of intimacy that Jay had put down to the pills he’d been taking, yet Jay had never turned to him. Seb had a shoulder for him to cry on, but it was still bone dry. He was losing hope that this was all about the injury and Jay not being able to play football. It was about him. And that hurt beyond belief. He didn’t know how to counter that.”
So much of this book is a payoff for earlier moments in the other books, but, again, you could easily read this book without them and still follow the story. One scene in particular, when Seb and his father finally settled down for an actual talk rather than just sniping back and forth showed that it’s not just Jay and Seb who’ve grown through these years. While their relationship will never be as strong as Jay and Jay’s own father, it’s still there. Battered, bruised, but stronger than you’d think.
I hate letting this series go, and I hate saying goodbye to these two characters. However, this book is a perfect ending. There is closure, there is redemption, there is — as there has ever been at the heart of these books — love. Jay and Seb may be young and they may be foolish, but there’s no denying they belong together.