Distance Between Him by Jack Harper - Chapter 1 special excerpt

As part of Jack Harper's pre-release party in our Facebook Group, he has an amazing treat for us - a sneak peak at the ENTIRE first chapter of Distance Between Him which releases on March 21st and is currently available for pre-order!

From the blurb:

By each other’s side since they were eighteen, Grayson Welles must cope with the sudden loss of his longtime partner, Julian. Raised in the bible belt of Louisiana, Grayson knew he’d be admonished for falling in love with Julian Torres, whose family moved to the rural town of Felton from Puerto Rico. Accustomed to being each other’s companion, the pair made the only decision that seemed right, pursuing their dreams and surrounding themselves with fellow members of the growing gay community after running off to New York City post-graduation.

Thirty-plus years later, Grayson is now tasked with telling Julian’s family about his death and planning a funeral that will force Grayson to confront his own family given they operate the only funeral home in town. While packing to head home, Grayson discovers a suitcase of Julian’s penned journals. Finding comfort in the entries, Grayson is reminded of the birth of his relationship with Julian and many of the moments between then and present day.

Upon facing both of their families, Grayson comes to terms with a new set of realizations which threaten his prior notions of what it means to love and be a family. A lifetime of true love couldn’t be remembered any greater.

**Trigger warning: this book includes themes such as extreme grief, suicide, alcoholism, smoking, excessive language, and abuse. Please use discretion before reading if you feel you may be sensitive to these topics.**



There are too many goddamn people in this grocery store. It’s practically bedtime. Most people would assume a store wouldn’t be as busy this time of night, but I guess I’m wrong. It surely shouldn’t surprise me, provided this is the city that never sleeps. I dart my eyes down to my phone screen so I can see what’s next on my shopping list—not that I need a reminder—the only important thing in my basket is a liter of Glenlivet. But it seems the palm of my hand must have touched enough buttons that the camera has been opened unintentionally. It activated the front-facing lens, leaving me to study the reflection staring back at me. Those puffy red eyes with dark circles hanging below them, as if I’m trying on a raccoon look for Halloween. If only that were the case. If only.

It’s five of ten and it’s been twenty-nine hours since I found him lying face down on the bathroom floor, inches away from the toilet. Not a wind of breath exiting his nostrils. At least he didn’t have to smell the soiled maroon boxers around his waist. His eyes were plastered open as if he’d been spooked just seconds before he left this world. My world. Fuck. I can’t even imagine what it must feel like in our final minutes. But after losing my lover of over thirty years, I wished I’d have gone with him.

Julian Torres was my entire life. We did everything together. If the universe wouldn’t have stolen him from me, he’d be by my side right now. Even though I detest large crowds, having his presence would make this grocery stop one hundred percent more bearable. And now I’m supposed to just keep chugging along like Thomas the fucking tank engine. No thanks, I don’t even like trains—they're too noisy.

I wander up the snack aisle. Surely, I’ll need a bag of Doritos to soak up this hooch. As I approach the chip selection, I pass by a colleague of mine from the office. Ron Winslow, the purely conceited piece of shit he is, keeps walking ahead while looking at his smartwatch as if purposely trying to avoid making eye contact with me. It’s okay, I don’t need his pity. And I don’t prefer to look into people’s eyes. Except for Julian’s. Just the thought of his honey-brown irises locked in one position for the rest of eternity. Fuck me. I best hurry back to my hotel room before I have an absolute meltdown in this fucking market.

Other than a quart of creamer for my coffee in the morning, nothing else in this God forsaken place is of importance right now. As much as I know I need sleep, every time I’ve tried shutting my eyes, I couldn't shake his voice in my head. 

 “Amo te—Saccharo Ferre.”

In Latin, it means ‘I love you—Sugar Bear.’ Though now defunct in modern day society, his mother taught her kids Latin as a special way they could communicate with between each other.

Once I retrieve my creamer, I head up to the front of the store to pay for my few items. As I get closer to the only open checkout aisle, I see Ron standing last in line. He’s typing away on his phone, but he doesn’t see me this time. Begrudgingly, I claim my place in line while fumbling for the wallet in my small messenger bag. I know it must seem silly. A gay man at fifty carrying around everything but the kitchen sink in what is lack for a better word—a man purse. But I’d love it if someone else knew what it felt like to have the need to be prepared for a momentary crisis between a disintegrating brain and the man whom they’ve loved their entire life.

A year and some change ago, Julian was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. ‘Familial Alzheimer’s’ is how Dr. Nash put it, as a result of a rare genetic marker. After the first several months of his diagnosis, we ran the gamut of memory aids. Drugs for this and that, seemingly none of it working all too well. But something was better than nothing.

The dryness in my mouth causes an annoying tickle at the back of my throat, forcing me to let out a cough. Ron’s head twists back to see me standing here beside my items on the belt. I can only imagine what must be running through his mind as he gives me a once-over in an unnerving manner. Much like Mr. Fitzherbert in “Bridget Jones’s Diary”—save for the fact he is definitely not checking me out sexually. And thank fuck for that! I’m quite sure the whole office is abuzz with gossip about why I wasn’t there today. While I adore my assistant and good friend, Phoebe, she can be too much of a yenta.

Ron advances to the next place in line and finishes his transaction. I don’t quite know how to tell him goodbye in this awkward scenario. To be truthful, it’s always awkward around him. Dead husband or not. I muster the courage to form a smile and wave him off to be cordial, but I’m almost certain it looks more like a grimace. Though, it should go without saying, it’s not my responsibility to offer any words in my current version of Hell. He paces away from the checkout lane with his sack of purchases dangling from his fingers, not letting down my assumptions.

“I’m pretty sure half-and-half curdles in alcohol,” the cashier tries joking.

I attempt my best smile one more time, probably failing miserably.

“Meh—it’s for tomorrow’s coffee,” I shrug because I’m in no mood for small talk—if I ever have in the first place.

Melinda finishes scanning my booze, using a tool attached to the shelf under her register to remove the anti-theft device from the bottle. She grits her teeth while getting the tab to budge.

“I don’t know why they have to put these on so gosh darn tight,” she drones.

After I inspect the total displaying inches from Melinda’s head, I insert my credit card into the machine before the signature box pops up. Once I return my wallet to the messenger bag, I scoop the plastic bag with my creamer and Doritos in one hand. The other wields a slender paper bag concealing my liquor in between the fold of my arm and chest.

“Have a good night—Sweetie,” she yells out while I step towards the exit door.

Some great fucking night this will be. At least it might help submerge the world from my consciousness—if for only a few hours.

Once I step out onto the sidewalk, I shuffle down Stanton Street to Chrystie, where I booked a hotel room. Try as I might, I just don’t think I can sleep at home right now. Not with constant reminders of the horror from Tuesday night haunting every corner of my mind. And especially with the empty void on the right side of our bed. Fuck. My bed.

Streetlights shine brightly upon the sidewalks, while the hiss of nighttime traffic and blaring car horns drown out the sound of a brood of young adults—probably on the second stop of their bar crawl. I remember being that young. Mine and Julian’s hand in each other’s after leaving a bar—filled to the brim with mixed alcohols and staggering through the city without a care in the whole goddamn world. Back when life was simpler, at least in a figurative context.

As I approach the entrance to the hotel lobby, my right hand thrashes around inside my bag scavenging for the room key. A fidget spinner falls to the ground while rustling around the sides of my bag before my hand detects the correct shape and size of the proxy card. I hunch forward to pick up the spinner when the plastic bag slips through my fingers, causing the creamer to crush my chips. Oh, come on!

My hotel room is ample sized, perfectly accommodating me for the next couple of nights while I get my shit together. Or while Phoebe helps me rustle up what sanity I have left. Earlier today, I’d assigned her the duty of digging through the deep recesses of the internet. Specifically locating a contact method for someone within Julian’s immediate family.

It’s been over thirty years since either of us have talked with anyone in our families down in Felton. We ran away from home after realizing that the slew of bible toting bigots in small town Louisiana wouldn’t suit either of us. The week following our high school graduation, it was New York or bust—and we haven’t been back since. If I may be completely frank, decades of no contact with any of our relatives is perhaps one of the best things we’d ever done in our lives. Second to the night of our marriage—or rather our civil union ceremony.

But like the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. And fuck me if I don’t fear dredging up the past just to confront his family, informing them that my lover left this world on a cruel summer Tuesday night in June.

Hours after returning to the hotel, I find myself stumbling from the bed to the pisser, kind of like a pregnant woman with a fetus pressing into her bladder. As I saunter to the bathroom sink, I gawk at the pathetic man standing in front of the mirror. The tears parading down my tired visage cause me to lurch forward, pressing the palms of my hands into my forehead. I contemplate about how the last couple of hours have allowed me to feel numb to the world. My head shakes away these feelings of despair, convincing myself that I need to refocus on something positive. Yet there’s a darker presence taking form, ushering my soul to the Earth-shattering ledge of reality.

I splash water into my throbbing eyes before patting my face dry with a towel hanging next to the sink. If I’m starting to feel again, it must be time for a few more swigs of the bottle resting on my hotel nightstand. As I trail back to the bed, the next show on Nick at Night begins playing. The twangy opening bars of the Roseanne theme song flounder within my chest. This is one of many shows which Julian and I’d watched together a thousand times over.

Because I don’t need yet another reminder of what I’ve lost, I quickly switch the channel to a station airing a pre-recorded golf game. In this moment, if it’s a choice between pouring out an extra bayou of sorrow, or a couple hours of monotony, I’ll decide on sports. After a few more ounces of scotch down my gullet, I return the bottle to its throne next to the bed. Followed by a heavy swipe of my palm on the pillow, sending Dorito crumbs to the well vacuumed carpet. Though, as I lay my head down, I doubt I’ll catch even five minutes of sleep.

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