Usually, Alex has no problems picking up fellow techs for a night. Most guys know it for the bit of fun it is. But all good things come to an end. Too bad for Alex, this most recent good thing ends with him literally falling off a ladder. Or maybe he was pushed. It’s all a bit muzzled. With a broken wrist, badly bruised hip, and a lump the size of an egg on his head, the finer details of how far scorned lovers will go is lost in the pain. The timing couldn’t be worse, either. The broken wrist will sideline Alex from doing his job with his current theater. It also means he cannot accept the bigger, better position at a different theater because being able to start immediately was one of the requirements of the job. Now, he’s stuck recuperating at home. But not by himself. His boss, the man Alex’s been crushing on for years but who won’t give him the time of day, has volunteered to make sure Alex’s concussion doesn’t worsen.
Luke is Alex’s boss and has rebuffed any and all overtures from Alex, both friendly and intimate. Everyone, including and especially Alex, knows Luke holds Alex at arm’s length. But only Luke knows why: because he fell for Alex the moment he laid eyes on him. Two things have prevented him from taking up any one of Alex’s friendly suggestions of more. First, Luke is a firm believer of not getting intimate with anyone he works with. Second, Luke wants more with Alex than Alex seems willing to give, if history is any indication. As he spends time with Alex, however, some startling facts come to light. With this new information, Luke just might see a way forward for both of them to get what they want.
Out of Focus is a contemporary, get-together short story by A.L Lester. It’s set in a small English town, largely in Theatre Fawr and Alex’s home. The narration is split between Alex and Luke. Lester makes the fun choice of not alternating chapters, but instead having Alex voice the first half of the story and letting Luke handle the second half. Personally, I didn’t pick up on a very distinct shift in voice or tone in the prose to represent the two characters’ speech idiosyncrasies, but the perspective was clearly different. And I think this flip-flop worked well when both parties are secretly pining for one another. Another fun thing was knowing that Luke wasn’t described like an Adonis come to life, but an actual, imperfect human: a bit short and a little stocky.
During the first portion of the story, when Alex is narrating, we quickly learn how much Alex is affected by Luke’s cool and constant disregard. Even when Luke volunteers to watch Alex, it is clear Alex feels like he is imposing on Luke’s time. It seems like Alex is offering Luke every opportunity to back out of being nursemaid. And when Luke discovers the job offer letter at a different theatre, Alex seems sure that will be the end of things. It was so easy for me to read Luke’s reactions from Alex’s perspective. Luke does come across as tight lipped and aloof. Given Alex’s assessment of the situation, it seemed perfectly legitimate that Luke truly only tolerated Alex.
In the second half, we learn about Luke’s own desperately unrequited attraction. Only, Luke wants a commitment from Alex and he sees Alex running away from every fling. Of course, seeing the man he’s wildly attracted to suffer an accident has Luke reassessing his reactions. It was Luke who had to deal with the other stage tech who may have intentionally jostled the ladder Alex was on. Here, Luke practically wears his emotions on his sleeve. Of course, you sack the man who puts the lives of others in danger, but as a reader, I definitely got the impression that Luke’s intensity over the issue was heightened because it wasn’t just someone who was in danger, it was the man Luke secretly loved.
One thing that didn’t work so well with the half-and-half narration was working towards a resolution between Alex and Luke. Even with the epilogue, which really cements the happy ending for Alex and Luke, it felt like the build up to that epilogue was a few steps short in really establishing these two as a couple. There was a kiss, a declaration, and the term “boyfriend” bandied about, but it all felt sort of experimental. Then we zip right into the epilogue, set at some future point.
Overall, I thought this was a delightful story that features a type of enemies-to-lovers theme with heavy themes of unrequited love. I liked how fundamentally different Alex and Luke approach their love lives and enjoyed watching them really get to know each other despite having worked together for a couple years already. I wish there had been more of a transition from “I can spend time with you” to “I think I love you,” but overall, it was clear these two were going to fall for one another no matter what. If you like cozy, slice of life reads then I think you’ll enjoy this book a lot.