When Daniel has his heart set on a goal, he will move heaven and earth to achieve it. That determination saw him graduate high school two years early and win emancipation to free his financially strapped parents from the burden of supporting a college-bound son. In the end, all his hard work paid off when Daniel became a mental health technician specializing in PTSD. Now, he spends his days helping people diagnosed with the disorder learn coping techniques and he couldn’t be happier…that is, until he meets Austin and realizes his life is missing something: romance.
Growing up, Austin and his family rarely caught any breaks. When a neighbor’s daughter offered to watch young Austin and his sister while their mother built a relationship with a potential father figure, it was supposed to be for the best. Except the girl took advantage of Austin’s shame to get sexual gratification for herself. Austin bore the unwanted physical attention for fear of upsetting the delicate balance his family had…but he paid the price by being unable to form romantic connections with women later on. A tour of duty as a Marine in Afghanistan only compounds the problem. The one sliver of hope Austin has is that the VA will provide counseling and, despite the stigma, Austin realizes having a mental health technician just might help him find equilibrium between his tumultuous past and his future.
The only caveat is that Austin craves human touch, something his former neighbor ruined for him. and while Daniel knows methods of teaching PTSD survivors how to handle physical contact, Daniel also knows his little attraction to Austin could spell big ethical problems. As Daniel mulls over the ramifications of crossing the patient/therapist line, Austin must reconcile his newly discovered ability to feel romantic and even sexual attraction for a man.
From a technical standpoint, I enjoyed Landon’s approach to the narration in this story. Daniel’s experiences are all told in third person, whereas Austin’s are all told in first person. The first several chapters for each character give a nuts-and-bolts account of their early childhoods. As noted above, Daniel’s focuses on how hard he worked to become independent, where Austin’s focused on how poverty affected his family, including his sexual abuse by the neighbor girl and how he grew up with something of a bad rap. Both characters’ histories are rich in detail without including too much minutiae. That said, both Austin’s and Daniel’s narrations felt a bit clinical. This was especially noticeable in Daniel’s chapters because they’re told in third person. So the reader gets a wealth of information that helps form a positive (if somewhat goody-goody) mental image of Daniel, but it can sound like an info-dump at times.
The bulk of this novella focuses on Daniel’s interactions with Austin as the former works with the latter in a professional capacity. Landon devotes much on-page time describing how PTSD affects Austin. From my uneducated point of view, I appreciated the consistency with which Austin’s disorder is presented. From a story point of view, I liked that we see Austin constantly evaluating the situations he is in and how he may react. It lent the story a sense of immediacy and reinforced the fact that PTSD is not something that just crops up when it’s convenient to the plot (rather, it sort of IS the plot). Landon also addresses on page, however briefly, that Austin’s particular case is compounded by his childhood experience and his combat experience. This same attention to detail is not as strong in Daniel’s chapters, owning perhaps to the third-person narration. This was one source of disappointment for me as I read because Daniel lands himself in an ethical dilemma—if he gets romantically involved with a client (even if the technician/client relationship ends before a romance beings), he’s being unethical and it’s a slippery slope from there. While Landon does attempt to address this, I thought the third-person narration limited the depth of this thread.
On the whole, I enjoyed reading this book. It’s a get-together type story, but given Austin’s history as a sexual assault survivor and uncertainty about his own sexual orientation, the romance element between him and Daniel is very slow and very PG. Personally, I enjoyed the painstakingly slow process the two MCs follow as they learn to love one another. While I am no judge as to whether the story exemplifies enthusiastic, informed consent on how Daniel and Austin approach sexual intimacy, I definitely appreciated how both lovers constantly verbally check with each other about different levels of physical activity. Such a slow burn did not just build anticipation, but helped cement the idea that Austin really has PTSD, and that all that comes with the disorder doesn’t just vanish because hot boyfriend is hot and naked. The slow burn helped reinforce Daniel is a natural caregiver, actively seeking ways to help his partner achieve his goals—not just in terms of physical intimacy, but in life.
If you are interested in a shorter story that has laser focus on two well-developed characters and are curious about representation of PTSD in fiction or the out-for-you trope, you’ll probably enjoy this story.