Author: Hayden Winston
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 08/30/2021
Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, bisexual, cisgender, contemporary, family drama, friends-to-lovers, coming of age, coming out, #ownvoices, tearjerker
Once he left for college, nothing could convince Ansel Wallis to return to his sleepy little hometown of Hunter, CA—except the passing of his beloved grandfather that is.
Although Ansel plans to drop by the funeral and head right back to his life on the East Coast, he quickly finds himself forced to contend with past demons, long-brewing family tensions, and unexpected romantic feelings. As secrets unravel around him, Ansel spirals out of control. Just when things begin to settle, he learns just how fragile life can be.
Hayden Winston © 2021
All Rights Reserved
You breathe and the city seems to breathe with you. It feels like the ardent touch of a lover, cool and electric on your skin. Raindrops threaten to fall from dark grey clouds that hover in the sky like peak-less mountains. Sweaters, jackets, umbrellas get pulled out, tucked on—a choreographed dance. You sigh and the city sighs with you. Everyone is moving, flooding the streets like ants at a discarded picnic. It feels like the touch of something cosmic, for this all to come together the way it does. Even if you decided to stop, you could not change it. Someone, somewhere, would stop along with you. It is inescapable. Even when you die—someone, somewhere has died along with you.
As he stood over the open casket containing what was once his very alive grandfather, that concept was all that Ansel Wallis focused on. How many other people in the world are burying their granddads today? Since the casket had not yet been lowered into its freshly dug grave, Ansel took some time to pay his final respects. He had never been one to emote in front of a large crowd (much like his late granddad), so he had spent most of the funeral service thinking quietly to himself and consoling relatives. Now that he and his grandfather were finally alone, Ansel reached out to place a single orchid onto the elder Wallis’s lifeless body.
Peering at said body intently, Ansel noticed how his grandfather’s hands had changed. Whether bringing in a mountain of groceries, carrying one of Ansel’s sisters in each arm, or tossing Ansel up in the air, William Wallis’s hands were always rugged and full of exuberance. Now, they appeared different, alien almost. The skin on them lacked luster; the gold ruby signet ring William had usually worn on his right pinky was gone, as was the wedding band that adorned his left ring finger. Maybe it was the absence of these rings, or the absence of life in him altogether, but in that moment William’s hands were small, naked, feeble even as they lay clasped serenely above his waist. And it wasn’t just his hands: the invisible shadow of death dwarfed William’s entire body.
Mind you, that was no easy feat. At six foot-two and a hundred eighty-two pounds, the man had quite literally been larger than life. Add to his size, a strong jaw, charisma, and a deep, booming voice, and you had the perfect recipe to command anyone’s attention. He kept an entire room in line with a mere look and incited them to dance all the same. Now he lay motionless, all-seeing eyes closed tight, voice forever muted. Ansel also noticed his grandfather’s complexion was different. Though Ansel and his grandfather had shared the same rich dark, brown skin tone in life, the mortician had heavily powdered William’s visage. In death, his face was several shades lighter than the skin on his hands.
The mahogany casket gleamed in the sunlight, reminding Ansel of the way their dining table had gleamed growing up, after his mother had finished applying a vigorous waxing. It was May 25. Ansel only knew the date with certainty, as exactly three days earlier his sister Regina had called to inform him of their grandfather’s fatal stroke. He couldn’t believe the news at first. William was Ansel’s last living grandparent and the closest thing Ansel had known to a father since he was twelve years old. Ansel’s actual father, William’s lone son, had died in a horrific car crash shortly after Ansel completed junior high.
Losing his father had absolutely devastated Ansel, and losing his grandfather hit as hard. Following the death of Ansel’s dad, his grandfather had stepped in to help raise Ansel and his sisters. William had made so much of an impact that his loss compelled Ansel to return home for the first time in nearly two and a half years. He’d taken the redeye from Philadelphia and had barely slept since getting off the plane. He had landed in town in time to change into a black suit and navy tie for the funeral service. He felt trapped in a guilt-laden fog the entire way through.
He’d promised himself that he was going to visit when he first learned his grandfather had fallen ill, but he had never followed through. Ansel would make plans to fly home for the weekend, then reschedule. He told himself he’d go next weekend, or the next time he got a chance. His granddad had moved into the house with his mother, and she’d taken care of him with the help of a part-time nurse. Ansel had made excuse after excuse, putting the visit off the way we all do with daunting tasks, until inevitably time ran out. Ansel turned away from the casket and headed to the other end of the cemetery, where the exit lay. He crossed the street to where an old gothic-style Anglican Church stood.
The air was thick, and the heat devoured Hunter, California, stronger than any other summer prior. Ansel stood at the wrought-iron gate that enclosed the courtyard behind the church. He placed a hand on the smooth metal bars feeling along the decorative inlay. Like all good West Indian families, the Wallises had regularly attended church for most of Ansel’s childhood. And for most of his childhood, Ansel had thought nothing of the ritual, until, of course, his dad died. All he could do after his father’s funeral was lie flat and stare at the ceiling. His body and mind had felt completely shrouded in an unshakeable haze, a deep, dense, darkness.
Meet the Author
Hayden is a Black, bisexual, novelist, poet and activist. His work draws on his experiences as a QPOC and the child of West Indian immigrants. His goal is to expose life’s most jarring elements while promoting self-exploration and self-love. Originally from Los Angeles, he currently resides in Northern California with his husband.