The summer after high school, Eli Dunn and Jess Early explore an abandoned brothel in the rural Florida Panhandle. They’ve always kept their mutual attraction unspoken, but in an upstairs room at the end of the hall, everything changes. Suddenly, all the longing Eli and Jess have tried so hard to conceal bursts free, and passion like they’ve never experienced comes to light, along with the ghosts of Clay Bailey and Silas Denton, murdered owners of the brothel. And Clay and Silas have no problem possessing Eli and Jess in order to express their love for each other, without thought for the living.
Deeply disturbed by the experience, Eli and Jess part and try to get on with life as best they can. But after several years, Eli returns to Florida, only to find that Jess has made some questionable choices. These eventually lead him back to the abandoned house and a confrontation with Eli. Old scores are settled and Eli and Jess reunite. But Clay and Silas’s ghosts aren’t finished yet, for they’ve always believed in the power of open and honest love.
Eli leaned against a post and crossed his arms. “I don’t know why you’re here,” he said.
Jess stared at him like he was crazy. “You’re leaving. I know you weren’t gonna come and say good-bye, but I really don’t think I could live with that. What if you… if something happened to you and I didn’t at least try to talk to you. I don’t know what I’d do.”
“There’s really nothing to say,” Eli said, his gaze on the floor. “I don’t want to talk about that.”
“You think I do?” Jess shook his head. “What happened back there was insane. I can’t even—it already seems like some kind of nightmare, like it didn’t happen. But I know it did, and I know it was my fault, and I don’t know how to tell you how sorry I am—”
“I said I didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t I?” Eli said, then realized he was raising his voice too much. He glanced back nervously at the house.
Jess stood up but didn’t move toward him. “Will you just take a walk down the street? I do have something to say to you but not about that. And I can’t do it here in front of your parents’ house.”
Eli didn’t think it was a good idea for him to hear whatever it was, even though he was pretty sure he knew what the general idea was going to be anyway. He shifted uncomfortably and started to shake his head.
“Please,” Jess said, very softly. “You’ll be gone tomorrow. You can forget all about this if you want. I just need to say it. Please let me say it.”
Eli doubted very much he’d be able to forget it so easily, but maybe it would be better to hear him out. At least then he’d know for sure. He pushed off of the post and walked down the steps. “Okay. Let’s go,” he said.
They walked down the road, their feet crunching in the gravel of the shoulder. There were no sidewalks on this rural highway, and the streetlights were far apart. It was an overcast night, so there wasn’t much moonlight, and they were mostly in the dark. Eli was grateful for that.
When they’d walked for a few minutes and Jess still hadn’t said anything, Eli said, “Well? Are you really going to do this or not? What did you want to say to me?”
Jess stopped walking suddenly, and Eli had to backtrack a few steps to stand in front of him. His arms were still crossed, but he was looking at Jess now.
“I didn’t know how to tell you,” Jess said, in barely more than a whisper. “For a long time I wasn’t going to. I figured it would be best if I didn’t. But then that night out at the lake, when you… I realized that I had to. Because I was upset about it, I was—I was jealous. And that’s my problem, not yours. I’m not saying you have to do anything different or try to spare my feelings, but it wasn’t fair for me to be mad at you, and you not knowing why.”
Eli frowned at him. He couldn’t believe Jess still hadn’t figured it out. “That’s why you were acting weird?” He gave a short laugh and rubbed his forehead.
“Yeah. What did you think?”
“I thought… because of what she said about me.”
Jess looked confused, and he shook his head. “You thought—what she said about you? I thought she was talking about me. Or both of us, but that she must have made a mistake, and I was afraid you’d be pissed. You don’t….” He stopped talking then, because Eli had finally met his eyes. They stared at each other for what felt like a long time. “You do,” he said in a wondering tone.
“I did,” Eli replied, in a harder voice than he felt. “Maybe. But it’s gone now.”
“It can’t be,” Jess said, “something like that doesn’t just go away. I know what happened was terrible, but—”
“It’s gone,” Eli insisted. “I can’t even think about you anymore. I can hardly stand being around you right now. I’m sorry about that, Jess. I don’t want it to be like that, but it is. And even if it wasn’t, that’s not what I would have wanted. I don’t want that life.”
Jess grabbed his arm and wouldn’t let go when Eli tried to shake him off. Finally, Eli just stood still, hoping it would be over soon. The place where Jess’s hand met his arm almost seemed to be burning. It was all he could feel. “I haven’t even said what I came here to say.”
Find Keelan online: