I’m very happy to get the chance to present my upcoming book ‘Symbols’ for the wonderful people at Divine Magazine.
This is an exclusive excerpt of the entire third chapter, and I hope you’ll enjoy it.
The story so far:
Shane, a six-foot-eight bodybuilder with a scar on his face and lots of tattoos, is a new student at Central High. This morning, he saw a small, timid boy who piqued his interest, not only because that guy reminded him of his former best friend Jer. But the boy took to his heels, and Shane muses that maybe this was for the better. After a meeting with the principal, Shane is in the locker room and just crashed into the fearful boy.
You can find the first chapter on the book’s page on Dreamspinner Press:
SHANE HADN’T been mistaken. There was another person in the locker room: the small guy he had noticed this morning, the one with the tropical-lagoon eyes, though now those waters were dark and lifeless. The fear he had seen in them had mutated into something more powerful, and that fright laid its hands around Shane’s neck, pressing it close.
As much as he wanted to keep to himself, people shouldn’t look at him this way. Damn, especially this guy shouldn’t look at him like this. The small one was another Jer, fragile and vulnerable.
What the heck was he doing here?
They hadn’t spoken a word, and he was already assuming things, a habit he thought he’d gotten rid of over the last year. And what kind of jerk knocked down a guy and just stared while thinking selfish thoughts?
“Are you all right?” Shane hadn’t felt much of the impact, but he had to weigh more than twice as much as the small one. It was no surprise that the boy had been swept off his feet. Conservation of momentum was a mean bitch.
The other guy didn’t answer. Still on his back, he tried to scramble away on all fours, but the bag he had landed on held him in place. The boy looked like a turtle that fought frantically to get back on its feet. It was outright tragic to watch this, the curse of his outer appearance striking again.
Shane knelt down. At least sometimes, reducing the height difference defused such situations. “Is everything okay?”
The small guy’s eyes turned into massive shapes of black as his pupils widened even more. The paddling movement of his arms intensified, and somehow he actually managed to get away… until he crashed into the metal of the locker door with his head. Shane hissed out through his teeth in empathy, but the other one didn’t show any signs of pain. The guy just sat there, stared, and breathed in short, shallow gasps. Shane had never instilled that much fear into a person. This was full-fledged panic, with a generous shot of mortal agony.
Shane swallowed to get the lump out of his throat, but it didn’t budge. “I won’t hurt you,” he croaked around the clot.
The other guy didn’t react. With his gaze empty, he kept hyperventilating himself toward a blackout. It was like watching two trains on a collision course, unable to do anything.
“Please listen.” He buried the small one’s shoulder under his hand, which appeared gigantic in comparison. The guy stiffened up and shivered at the same time.
“I won’t hurt you,” Shane repeated as softly as possible.
The boy stopped breathing altogether, and Shane yanked back his hand. Touching him had only worsened the problem. A fucking bad idea to begin with, and it hadn’t originated in his brain for sure. He fought down the urge to slap himself.
Something happened with the boy. Slowly, he turned his head to look at the shoulder where Shane had touched him moments before. The guy’s gaze wandered along his own arm, went on to Shane’s hand, and returned to his shoulder. Muscle fiber by muscle fiber, he raised his head and fixated on Shane. With the same excruciating tardiness, he nodded.
Shane had caught the small guy’s attention. He had to keep a grip on it before the other one drifted off into catatonia again.
“My name’s Shane. What’s yours?” His voice came out high-pitched and mellow, as if he were talking to a toddler. Since the panic obviously hampered the other guy’s higher brain functions, he shouldn’t try anything fancier than small talk.
Had the boy said his name, or had he just exhaled a little too noisily? “Nice to meet you, Matt.” Shane waited some seconds, but the other
guy didn’t object. So Matt was his name—or he was just too frightened to talk back.
Matt’s gaze sank down to Shane’s chest, then a little sideways to his arm. His pupils dilated and widened again while he pressed his lips into a thin line, making the corners of his mouth twitch.
The tattoos. The rumors from that cheerleader. Shane was losing Matt again. What if he just told him the truth? On the other hand, Shane didn’t have a clue what Matt already knew. Maybe he’d plant some new fears into him just by bringing up those stories, and they might grow into a full-blown panic attack.
“Whatever they say about me is wrong.” That was vague and a cliché, something a real thug would say for distraction. Perhaps Shane tackled the problem from the wrong direction. “Tell me what you’ve heard, and gimme a chance to set it right, please.” Letting the other one do the talking was brilliant.
Matt’s breathing accelerated, and he pressed himself against the locker door.
So it wasn’t too brilliant an idea after all, but Shane wouldn’t give up on it yet.
From Matt’s perspective, a criminal had just asked him to list the felonies he knew about. That came close to simply begging to get o ed. Shane had to change the angle of attack just a tad more. “Beware, so long as you live, of judging men by their outward appearance.” Another thing a thug might say, but at least a thug with a minimum of education.
Matt’s head shot up, and he stared at Shane’s mouth. “Jean de La Fontaine,” he said, his voice still a whisper.
It had been a random shot, yet it had worked. Jer wouldn’t have known the person who coined that quote, but Matt just proved he had a nerdy side Shane could build on. The butterflies in his stomach put out their wings again, flapping them a little. “So do you let me plead before you judge?”
Matt eyed him, little wrinkles forming between his eyes. Another nod, which would’ve made any sloth jealous, followed. The seconds stretched out as Matt kept silent. An occasional twitch in his cheek and the unsteady movements of his eyes betrayed that the gears of his mind worked at full power.
“The scar.” Matt’s voice broke, and he cleared his throat. “The scar. You got it in a knife fight.”
Shane had to pay full attention, for even the term whisper greatly exaggerated what came out of Matt’s mouth.
Matt had chosen the most harmless subject, at least from a criminal point of view. He couldn’t know about the grief it caused Shane. Couldn’t know that he was saving money for plastic surgery. Heck, even Shane’s parents didn’t know. They had already done so much for him, he couldn’t bother them with that, emotionally nor financially. Getting rid of the scar was just a small step, and it would take away only a little of the terror he put into people, but he’d pay for it himself.
Nonetheless, Shane smiled just because Matt dared to say something at last. “No, not a knife fight. My parents and I had a car accident when I was six years old. We crashed down a bridge into a small river. Mom and Dad got away with a scare only, but the door pillar smashed and cut into my cheek. You’ll find some articles about it on the web.”
The articles didn’t tell about the year of panic or waking up in the night screaming and sweating. They also omitted Nick, who got him out of that dark place with sports and unlimited patience. Shane shook his head, trying to make the thoughts go away.
At least Matt could look up those articles, proof that he wasn’t lying. For someone who was set on not getting involved, Shane took quite a lot of interest in Matt’s opinion. His old habits were putting up a hell of a fight. Did he even want to win it?
Matt scrutinized his face. His gaze alternated between the scar and Shane’s eyes.
Thoughts raced through Matt’s mind, if the tics and twitches of his face were any indication. “You’re a drug boss. The youngest drug boss ever.”
Shane stifled a grin as Matt ramped up the crime level. “In my whole life, I haven’t smoked a single cigarette, haven’t touched a glass of booze, and definitely haven’t done any harder stuff.” Whey-protein shakes didn’t count, did they? “I’m not any good with money, not a businessman at all. Even if I had ever dealt drugs, I’d have gone under by now.” He couldn’t offer proof for this statement, but he could appeal to Matt’s intelligence. “Do you really think I’d attend a public high school if I were a drug lord? That’d be too easy for the cops to get me, wouldn’t it?”
Matt frowned, and the otherwise smooth skin of his forehead lay in deep wrinkles.
He was cute when he was confused, and Shane had to stifle another grin. The butterflies got more daring and flew some loops in his stomach.
“Makes sense.” The trenches on Matt’s brow disappeared.
Those had been Matt’s first words at a normal volume. Shane’s plan bore fruit.
“More questions?” The hope for more made his stomach tingle even stronger, and the butterflies were in for some overtime. He would have to thank that cheerleader one day for the sheer amount of bullshit she had come up with.
“Your tattoos. You’ve got one for each guy you killed.” The corners of Matt’s mouth rose just a little.
Matt roped in that smile before it could go any further, but it had been there, and it was contagious.
Shane fought to not laugh out loud at the sheer ridiculousness of this story. From assault with a knife over dealing drugs to manslaughter. Quite a career in such a short time. “The tattoos do stand for people, but I swear that all of them are alive and well.”
Small movements of Matt’s eyes gave away that he was taking in all the visible tats.
Shane rolled up the sleeve of his T-shirt, revealing the fishing pole with the trout dangling from it and the quilt made of old pillowcases on his left arm. “I’ve got one for each person who is important in my life.”
“A fishing pole?” Matt’s hand moved the tiniest bit, reaching out for the tattoo, but like the smile, he didn’t let it go the full way.
Shane would’ve indulged that touch and would’ve cherished every single moment, but it hadn’t happened and wouldn’t happen. It was better that way. For both of them.
No need to be sad, though, for seeing Matt respond like this after going through a panic attack was simply awesome.
“It represents my dad. He actually loves fishing, but he’s also one of the most patient men I know. He turned waiting into a form of art.” Shane pointed at the quilt. “This one stands for my mom. Name a thing that can be made using a needle, and she can do it.” He looked at the colorful picture on his arm, followed its outline with his eyes. “Where she is, everything is just warmer and a tad cozier.” And where Shane was, everything was just a little sappier. He couldn’t hold back the grin this time. “There are many more. A dumbbell for my trainer and best friend, Nick. Some ballerinas for an adorable old lady named Estelle, who was once a dancer.”
He better leave out the single angel’s wing for Jer. In hindsight, that tattoo didn’t capture Jer’s essence at all. What symbol would portray Matt best? Shane would never have to answer that question, but he had to allow his mind to wander, just because it made him happy. And yes, he was entitled to be happy. Sometimes he had to remind himself of this basic fact.
“Any more crimes on my slate?” Another one would give Shane’s happiness a boost, if only for the few more moments he could talk with Matt.
Matt’s face was glowing. An aftereffect of the tension, presumably, but there was more to it. Shane couldn’t put his finger on this additional emotion. Curiosity didn’t quite nail it. Elation didn’t fit either. A mix of these feelings? Curilation perhaps?
“At your former school, you broke a jock’s arms.”
The butterflies in Shane’s stomach dropped dead. Matt found the only real rock in a box full of fakes and smacked it right at his head.
Shane closed his eyes. He shivered as if cold water trickled down his body. His skin soaked up the icy liquid and froze him in an instant. “That’s not a rumor.” Now he had to whisper because he lacked the strength for speaking the truth out loud.
Even with his eyes closed, Shane knew that Matt, stiff and breathing fast, pressed himself against the locker again. Panic crippled his small
body, and that was the only reason he wasn’t running away yet. This could only be mended by more truth. To hell with the pact between Hayden, Jer, and him.
Shane opened his eyes. Trembling all over, Matt cowered before him, and his velvety skin glistened with sweat. A sigh crawled up Shane’s throat, and he swallowed it down. This was one of the few times reality hit even harder than imagination. He ignored the urge to wrap his arms around Matt, for any further touch might give him a seizure. Shane only had words to work with.
“Yes, I broke the guy’s arms, but I did it to defend someone. Someone who couldn’t fight for himself.” Shane bit back the “like you.” “This doesn’t make it right, and still, I don’t regret it. I regret not regretting, but it’d be worse if I hadn’t stopped that… assault.” It was tragically funny how the word “assault” could turn into a flowery euphemism. “Abomination” or “atrocity” came closer to the truth, but he shouldn’t burden Matt with too many details. And he shouldn’t burden himself with telling them.
The locker door moaned at the strain of Matt’s body leaning against it. His nostrils flared with every breath, and on his forehead the sweat condensed into small rivulets meandering down his face. Salty drops splashed to the ground, and their noise, how faint it was, rang in Shane’s ears.
Had Matt heard anything he had said? The cruel conclusion dawned on Shane that this whole encounter was nothing but torture for Matt, and nothing he could do would change that. He should just back o , should even refrain from apologizing, because every additional second caused Matt more suffering. Shane’s chin touched his chest as his head sank down.
“Excessive defense of others.”
Shane raised his head so fast that little sparks filled his vision. So Matt had listened, and now he just sat there, his body slack. He had given up on escaping at last.
“Yes.” Shane mimicked Matt’s whisper. “Not many people know that there was an attack at all and what I did was—” He paused and nodded at Matt. “—excessive defense of others. I’m supposed to be the bad guy in this story.” Jer and Hayden saved face because he sacrificed his. All in all, it was an acceptable deal. “There are good reasons to keep it that way, so please don’t tell anyone, okay?”
A sigh escaped from Matt’s mouth. “Or else?” His face, his eyes, his whole body didn’t give away any emotion. The tone of his voice was matter-of-fact and lifeless.
Another cruel insight elbowed its way into Shane’s mind. Matt had lived through situations like this before, but usually they ended with the other guy hurting him. His question wasn’t rhetorical. He was just trying to gauge how much trouble he was in.
Shane may not have felt the impact of their crash, but now Matt delivered a blow to his guts that took his breath away.
“There is no ‘or else.’ I’m asking a favor of you. I’m not ordering you to shut up.” Shane placed his hands on his thighs to keep those sons of bitches from reaching out for Matt all by themselves. “That info is yours. Do with it as you please. Just because three’s a charm, I won’t hurt you for no reason.”
Matt frowned, and a small fold formed between his eyes.
Obviously Shane didn’t follow the usual patterns of such encounters. He created an all-new experience for Matt and overtaxed him with a situation he didn’t know how to deal with.
This scene had to look strange from the outside. A small guy cowered before a huge kneeling guy, both of them silent and waiting. Was he supposed to make the next step or was Matt? And how long did it take for “strange” to become “weird”?
The hooting of some guys ended the silence in the locker room. Matt jerked his head around, and his body went rigid again.
Shane didn’t need a degree in psychology to see that Matt wanted to get out of there. He must have had a lot of bad experiences to react like this. At least Shane could ensure Matt would leave the locker room without adding another of those experiences.
“I still have to make up for running into you and knocking you over. What about a quieter place with a little less stench of sweat and testosterone? There’s a nice café down the street. Maybe a latte and some cake?” Shane had just invented the very opposite of not getting involved. When screwing with his plans, he did it right.
Matt’s head jolted back. He flexed his muscles so hard that he was close to breaking his own bones. The offer of coffee and pastry seemed to stress him out even more.
And if Shane had used his brain for thinking instead of his southern parts, he might have come to this conclusion before.
“Okay,” Matt said.
Neither the southern parts nor the brain had expected this answer, and they yelled at each other for not seeing it come.
“Can we please leave?” Matt turned his head toward where the voices were coming from and back to Shane.
So he was the lesser evil for Matt. The southern parts cheered, while his brain bubbled out hundreds of reasons how this could only end in a catastrophe.
What did a brain know?
Violence is hard to escape because of the scars it leaves—on the body, the mind, and the heart.
Small, skinny, and timid, Matt is the school’s punching bag. He suffers in silence and holds no hope anyone will come to his aid. The last thing on his mind is finding someone special. He’s sure it’s impossible, so why bother trying?
Shane is no stranger to pain. At his old school, he broke a football player’s arms for tormenting his friend, and with his size and multiple tattoos, he looks every bit the thug everyone—Matt included—assumes he is.
Building trust isn’t easy, but a sweet yet passionate romance slowly unfolds. Their road isn’t without bumps, but Matt and Shane navigate them together, finding happiness and security in each other—until another act of violence and its aftermath threatens to tear their lives—and their love—apart once and for all. But like the symbols etched into Shane’s skin, some things are made to last.
Dreamspinner Press https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/books/symbols-by-mario-kai-lipinski-8516-b
Amazon (redirects to the local Amazon site) http://smarturl.it/symbols
About the Author
Mario Kai Lipinski lives in Herne, Germany.
He is a spare-time author, and his evil day job, teaching mathematics at university level, isn’t that evil after all. Granted, on some days he wants to strangle his students, but it only takes a coffee or two and he remembers how much he loves them. He loves nerdy science stuff too. Does it show in his books? Of course it does.
English is not his native language, and he frequently gets asked why he writes in English. The answer has two parts. Firstly, he has slightly masochistic tendencies. Secondly, most books he reads are in English. So it feels only natural to write in this language too. English is beautiful—until it isn’t. Never, absolutely never, get him started on comma rules.
One reader described his books as “sexually explicit Disney movies.” That hits the nail on the head. Mario is into romance with a capital R and loves his cheesy. He is so good at channeling his inner teenager that sometimes he doubts he even has an inner adult.