Milo’s life is, as usual, imploding. His latest boyfriend has dumped him, his ex-boyfriend/current best friend is having the time of his life with his new boyfriend, and Milo’s insecurities are creeping up on him again. To symbolize a fresh, new start, Milo — at Matty’s urging — is getting a tattoo. Nothing big or dramatic, just a flower, a simple liastris pycnostachya, or blazing star, on his arm. Fortunately, the artist working on his tattoo, Joey, doesn’t judge Milo for the design. If anything, he seems to be quite interested in it … and, though this might be Milo’s imagination, maybe Joey’s interested in him, too?
Milo has a habit of going for guys that are either straight, uninterested, or who, like Matty, make better friends than lovers. But this one will be different. Instead of going on dates or entering into a relationship, he and Joey decide to be friends with benefits. Very, very nice benefits. All Milo has to do is keep his heart from getting involved.
Joey is used to being alone. He doesn’t go out of his way to make friends or socialize, and he’s most certainly not looking for a boyfriend. But when an overnight blizzard means either kicking Milo out into the snow or tucking him up in his bed, Joey finds himself more than willing to risk getting a little attached. Then, a lover from the past comes knocking and Joey has to quickly make a choice: Let fear and his father drag him back into his old life, or choose the new family he’s making for himself.
This is the second book in the Geek Ink series, but can be read as a standalone. While Matty and Stone make an appearance, none of the previous relationships are even mentioned. (If I hadn’t already read and reviewed the previous book, I wouldn’t have known that Matty and Milo were exes.) Milo is a massive tangle of emotions, insecurity, and self-doubt. From an early age, he had a father who tried to stop Milo from talking “like a girl,” or a gym teacher who bullied him because he wanted to toughen him up. Instead of becoming a tough, rough-talking man like his father wanted, Milo became a botanist who hides from his father’s homophobia by calling himself a “geek.”
It’s geeky to obsess over flowers and plants, it’s geeky to wear vintage clothing or be outside the norm. But Milo also calls it geeky to be scared of spiders, or when he’s being happily flamboyant, or emotional, or vulnerable, or when he’s in the company of someone — like Joey — who will let him talk and talk and talk to his heart’s content. It’s easier and kinder to think of himself as a geek than to be called or call himself stereotypical or effeminate or the slur of choice. So he clings to geeky, as though a less obvious word will leave him feeling a little less shame for simply being himself.
Joey likes Milo. He has no idea of the contortions MIlo goes through to feel good about himself because he’s a bit busy ignoring his own demons. Joey’s father hasn’t spoken to him since he came out to his old man, and Joey’s first and only relationship turned out to be using him. But Milo looks at him like he’s amazing, talks to him, not at him, revels in Joey’s attention and courts him in typical Milo fashion — which is a lot of clinging, a lot of emotions, and a lot of love. For Joey, Milo’s determination to be with him, his open honesty, and his forthrightness is refreshing. There’s no doubting what Milo wants, no lies and deception. Just Milo.
I did not connect to this story as much as I did the first book in the series. The writing is still strong and the pacing is good, but I didn’t care for most of the plot. Some elements are brought up, such as Milo in his class dealing with another student, only to have it be nothing more than a throwaway line at the end that has nothing to do with Milo and makes me wonder why it had to be mentioned at all. Joey’s past and his relationship with his father were promising, but fizzled out with a lackluster confrontation that added nothing to the story and felt out of character for Joey’s slow, thoughtful approach to things. I will say that the epilogue was adorable, but I’m not sure one good scene at the end makes up for the somewhat lackluster story.