Michael has always been the responsible one. The dutiful one. When his father walked out so he could follow his dreams as a musician — leaving Michael’s mother to pay the pills, work like a dog to keep the roof over her head, and raise three kids with no help at all from him — Michael did his best to help. Now he’s the one working like a dog to help support his family, pay his own rent, and pay off the student loans nipping at his heels. It’s not a job he particularly likes, but he’s recently been promoted, and that promotion comes with a nice bump in pay that will go a long way to making everyone’s life easier.
It’s also the sort of promotion that will let Michael bury his head in the sand and try to forget his ex, Benton, who walked out of his life a year ago to go follow his dreams. Benton hated Michael’s job, hated the fact that Michael gave up his passion for a paycheck, but then, Benton never had to live hand to mouth, never had to work multiple, soul-crushing jobs and stretch hamburger helper between four people. Michael still misses Benton desperately.
When his aunt, Penny (who used to be his uncle Paul) asks Michael to help with her holiday cruise by teaching watercolor to some vacationers as they cruise to the Galapagos Islands, Michael reluctantly agrees. He loves his aunt and would do anything for her, but she — like Benton — has her own visions for Michael’s future … and her vision of his happiness seems to include Benton, who has also been brought along on this mad holiday scheme.
Michael isn’t exactly happy in his life, but he’s not unhappy, either. He misses Benton, a lot, and while he wishes he had more time to paint, he’s good at his job. He has medical and dental, and he can afford to splurge on presents for his siblings. He doesn’t have to worry that a sudden accident could lead to homelessness or disaster. But when everyone around him is constantly telling him how unhappy he is, how much better off he’d be with a lesser job, one that gives him time to paint, how can he not wonder about the what ifs?
Benton loves animals, has always loved animals and he delights in sharing that love with other people. He can get so absorbed in watching Darwin’s finches that he doesn’t notice when Michael falls down the small tumble of rocks, and doesn’t notice when he puts himself into a precarious position just so he can get a little closer to nature. He’s also handsome, hung, and still just as head over heels in love with Michael as Michael is with him.
Benton is the dreamer, the visionary, the one who gets lost between the now and the future; Michael is the sensible one, the one making sure that Benton has someone to keep him from flying away with his birds. Benton feels that Michael needs to join him up in the clouds, so much so that it was their one constant fight, as Benton tried to get Michael to paint again and quit his job. When he thinks Michael is no longer working for the company, he’s delighted! When he finds out that Michael instead got a promotion, he’s disgusted.
Benton is also … well, I found him to be an absolute jerk, to be honest. Michael accuses him of pushing him, again and again, because Benton thinks he knows what Michael needs more than Michael does, and Benton doesn’t like it when Michael says no to him. Michael reminds him there are bills to pay, and in order to pay them, he has to have a job. Yes, painting would be nice, but there are other things in life than following your bliss. In response, Benton leaves him, moving away from San Diego and back to London.
In Penny’s attempts (and maybe even Benton’s) to reunite them, Benton gets back up on his high horse, to which Michael says:
“Do. Not. Tell me what to do. You didn’t have the right when you were my boyfriend, and you certainly don’t have the right as my ex, so just shut up,”
And yet Benton keeps telling Michael what he thinks Michael ought to do, and isn’t above using emotional manipulation to hurt Michael, all so his point can be made:
“We both know we’d still be together if you just faced the truth.”
It’s one thing to want the person you love to take a moment for themselves, to see that their worth is more than the hours they can put into a job. It’s another to tell them, again and again, they’re wrong for not living the life you think is best for them. Again and again Michael is told by people who love him that he needs to quit his job and be a painter if he wants to be happy. While it’s a sweet message, that you need to take time for the things that make you happy, the way it’s presented rubbed me the wrong way.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.