K.A. Merikan finishes out their Underdogs series with the release of You. Forever. Always. Picking up with the last two members of the band, Dawn and Mage, the story will no doubt resonate with fans in a positive way. This novel can be read as a standalone for sure, but it does help to have an idea of the relationships within the band, which allows for a lot of what could be misconstrued as enabling or meddling to actually be realized for what it is–love and care for each other.
Mage is the “straight” guy in an otherwise predominantly gay rock band. However, that has never stopped him from watching out for Dawn—the shy and anxiety-ridden keyboardist and songwriter of the group. Dawn has always been naïve and innocent in many ways and has had his fair share of being the victim of bullying despite his brother Dusk always looking out for him. From the time he met Mage, he acquired a second bodyguard, so to speak, and a close friend as well as bandmate. Dawn’s struggle with anxiety and low self-esteem is profound and he often will hide beneath the baseball cap Mage bought him a while back in order to be as invisible as possible. But one night, a few drinks and a near naked romp in a hot tub lead to a crossroads for Mage and Dawn and from it there will be no turning back. Now Dawn must fight his own crushing insecurities to keep the friend he has always secretly been in love with by his side.
Fans of this series are going to eat this story up. For me, unlike others I suspect, this was just so overly sweet and romantic as to make it almost too much to handle. The language was more poetic than realistic with constant declarations of how much Mage and Dawn loved each other. However, this was often derailed with one or the other overthinking their relationship and worrying if they were either pushing too hard (Mage) or not being sexually progressive and aggressive enough (Dawn). What can’t be faulted here is the commitment and love that Mage and Dawn had for each other and their desire to make their new found partnership work. Mage was a caregiver—a mother hen, in some ways, and in others just a really sweet and loving man who was determined to shield Dawn from potential hurt and harm. He knew what it took for Dawn just to move through his day and how he grappled with the emotionally devastating effects of panic attacks that shut him down so completely. He was the quintessential knight in shining armor and no one appreciated that more than Dawn. At times, I felt Dawn too often remarked at how he was a failure—never really aloud but it was a mental chant that fed his already abysmally low self-esteem daily. So Mage was just the right man for Dawn and, in many ways, the reverse was true as well as it gave Mage someone to look out after which made him happy.
Other than the idea that this was a bit over the top with the sweet factor, I really grappled mainly with the idea that Dawn had gotten to the age he was and no one—not his parents, his brother, nor any of the band–had ever confronted him and made him see a doctor. This was not just a guy who had stage fright; this was a man who worked himself up to the point of near catatonia and even passing out while seizing up bodily with panic and anxiety. How was he not on medication? How had he never been referred for therapy? It wasn’t a matter of him not pursuing either—it was the issue of it never coming up and no one ever seeing the extent to which this guy needed both. Instead, they protected him which, don’t get me wrong, was right and lovely, but to the extent where he was unable to be in a crowd for any length of time or ever sit with fellow band members while meeting with a potential record company? Dawn had extreme anxiety issues and I really had a difficult time believing no one saw it or tried to do anything to help him. I just really didn’t understand that aspect of the story, to be honest.
You. Forever. Always. was a very sweet ending to a good series. Although I may have struggled with some plot threads of the story, as romances go, this one will hit all the right chords for fans of this writing team.