After his parents kicked him out for being gay, and having survived a horrific attack after a frat party, Alex promised he would never be a victim again. To do that, he’s covered himself in symbolic tattoos and keeps everyone who shows the slightest interest in him at arm’s length. Alex has put the bad behind him and manages to make ends meet working two jobs. One is innocuous enough; he’s a barista for a popular coffee chain. The other is more…salacious; he is the sole sex worker who’s in demand enough to be employed at a sex club called Kink World, even though the only person he has sex with is himself. That doesn’t keep everyone as far away as Alex would like, but he can still shelter his psyche with a take-no-shit attitude. After a long shift and an unpleasant run-in with a regular at Kink World, Alex just wants to go home. But outside the club, he happens upon an extremely attractive, older man having one hell of a conversation. But then, hearing someone talk about “Daddies” outside a club called “Kink World” probably isn’t all that unusual. Besides, there’s something about this stranger that appeals to Alex. For the first time in years, Alex’s first instinct isn’t to run in the opposite direction.
Sigh had loved his girlfriend, the mother of his child. He just knew he had to explore his attraction to men, too. It all blew up in his face when she found out he was a constant cheater and left him and their life together for good. Ever since then, Sigh’s been focusing on being a father to their amazing daughter, Emma. Sigh had thought he was content with his situation until he encounters the most tantalizingly good looking bad-boy outside Kink World. Just one meeting and thoughts of Alex with his young, lithe body, major tats, and serious trust issues simply will not leave Sigh’s mind. Before he can think twice, Sigh offers to help the young man out using all the resources he has available to him as the founder of an LGBTQ non-profit. When his search ends with no affordable options, Sigh offers Alex his guest room and a full-time job at the charity. At first, things are going swimmingly. But just because these two share a hot spark of attraction, elements from their past refuse to stay at bay. Alex has to come to terms with what happened to him and what that means for his and Sigh’s possibilities for intimacy. At the same time, when someone from Sigh’s past comes back out of the blue, Alex feel even more insecure about whether he can really make Sigh happy.
To Trust and to Touch is a contemporary, get-together novel from Vivi Anne Hunt. At first blush, the title feels like it reflects two things Alex is trying to re-learn, but I think the “trust” part arguably applies pretty equally to Sigh as well. As far as Alex is concerned, the source and degree of Alex’s trust issues are no real mystery. His trust was broken in the aftermath of a frat party and he has been keeping the whole world almost literally at arm’s length ever since. Clearly, Sigh needs to earn Alex’s trust. Sigh himself doesn’t have trust issues, rather others may rightly have issues trusting him. That said, I felt like there was little to no on-page discussion of how Sigh can earn Alex’s trust when it comes to being exclusive. It seemed a very glaring omission to never really have Alex or Sign reckon with Sigh’s past cheating as they venture into something like a relationship. I never got the impression Sigh ever really addressed why he was unfaithful or how (if) he’s changed. It seemed like I was supposed to just accept that Sigh is older and wiser, which was not a great look for the character in my estimation.
Alex and Sigh’s relationship is sort of defined by how often they fail to communicate, which leads to misunderstandings and hurt feelings. To be honest, it sort of blunted the impact of what the characters were feeling for me. For example, very early in their acquaintance (well before they made any romantic overtures), Sigh promises to leverage his charity’s resources to find a new apartment for Alex after a handsy client from Kink World attacked Alex at his home. But after a cursory search turned up nothing in Alex’s price range, Sigh just invites Alex to move into his guest room. They start to cohabit, and soon, Alex, Sigh, and Sigh’s kid all start falling into comfortable patterns of living…like a family. When Alex finds out Sigh didn’t really look for apartments after that first cursory search, Alex takes off to stay with a friend. This goes a step further when Sigh calls Alex to make sure he’s not sleeping in the streets or anything and the friend picks up—which sends Sigh into a spiral of doubt, assuming only a boyfriend would be answering Alex’s phone. After a period of walking on eggshells as they try to work together at the charity, the eventually work out the misunderstanding.
I liked how Alex’s being touch-repulsed was so clearly demonstrated through his interactions. There are apparently some exceptions—for example, Alex has no issues touching or being touched by Sigh’s kid for cuddles on the couch. Alex can and does use his hands and body for self defense. He clearly tells people when they’re too close. He also marvels how Sigh specifically does not make him feel skeevy, which is absolutely not the norm for Alex. Sigh’s response to Alex’s aversion to touch is mostly okay. I had some mixed feelings about Sigh encouraging Alex to go to therapy for his aversion to touch. To me, it felt like Sigh was kind of giving himself a gift, literally telling Alex, “[If therapy] makes me happy, too, that’s a bonus, right?”. I did like that Alex explicitly points this out and throws it in Sigh’s face as evidence that Sigh isn’t so okay with no-touch. At the same time, Alex knows he wasn’t always repulsed by touch, so he gives therapy a whirl.
My biggest complaint is probably Sigh and how he comes off as cringe in a few scenes. Sigh is in his early 40s and the story suggests he wouldn’t mind being a “Daddy” type for a younger partner. One super cringe scene for me happened after Alex has moved into Sigh’s guest room and he, Sigh, and Sigh’s daughter are all cohabiting. Sigh’s inner dialogue clearly compares Alex and his mannerisms to those of a child. That scene includes the thirsty line “…he’s basically a big child in an adult’s body. And his body…well.” That just does not sit well with me. A page or so later, Sigh is talking about how he’s showing extreme restraint by not pouncing on Alex even when Alex walks around in his boxer shorts. At this point, I think it’s pretty clear Alex’s repulsion to touch stems from sexual abuse (though it’s not explicitly stated on page until later), but the quote below shows where Sigh’s head is at. It brushes far too closely to victim blaming for my liking:
I had to force myself to look away as heat rose to my face, hoping it was too dark to tell. Not to mention a certain someone in my pants tried to salute him.
I’ve been trying to be good, but how can one even resist with that boy walking around the house? I can’t be blamed, surely.
Overall, I thought this was a pretty okay, melodramatic look at a relationship between a gay man who reacted to past trauma in an extreme matter and a bisexual older man. These two have to come to terms with Alex’s past (funnily enough, Sigh’s past as a cheater is simply absorbed by him admitting it was wrong, apparently). If you’re a fan of angst caused by misunderstandings, I think you’ll get into Alex and Sigh’s story. For readers who are looking for a thoughtful exploration of how two dissimilar partners can learn to trust one another with their insecurities…well, you’ll probably want to keep looking.