An Exclusive Excerpt from Hearts Alight
by Elliot Cooper
“Amit?” Dave called out as he pushed through the door from the back hallway to the break room.
The table and two of the chairs were upended on the floor next to Amit. Napkins and plastic cups littered the tile around him. He tried to push himself up from where he sat, one leg crooked under the other, but didn’t seem to have the strength. Amit’s chest heaved, as if he were struggling for every breath, and sweat plastered his hair across the side of his forehead.
“What happened? Are you okay?” Dave raced to his side and knelt, unsure what to do with his hands. He didn’t want to make things worse, but he didn’t know what to do to help, either. Did Amit have asthma? Maybe he had an inhaler nearby.
Amit reached out and gripped Dave’s arm, his fingers clammy. The scars across his forehead flashed with yellow-orange light. Dave blinked, disbelieving his own eyes, but then Amit gulped in heavy, less-labored breaths mixed with sighs of relief, and tricks of the light didn’t seem important.
“Thank God,” Amit muttered.
“Do you have asthma?” Dave asked, putting his hand on top of Amit’s. He still felt cooler than he should have, but Dave couldn’t be sure his own body temperature hadn’t elevated with his worry. And the three-quarters of a beer he’d drunk.
“No.” Amit shook his head. His voice still sounded rough, but it was clearer than earlier. “I’ll be okay. I think.”
“I wanted to tell you not to listen to that asshole. Taylor. He’s a real… He’s nothing to worry about.”
“That tall guy sitting with Jake.” Dave studied Amit’s confused expression and realized he must not have heard what Taylor had said after all. It had been his breathing problem that sent him rushing to the back. “Never mind. He said something rude about you when you…shouted over the music.”
“Oh.” Amit’s hand trailed down Dave’s arm, as if he wanted to let go but couldn’t, and rested at his wrist instead. The press of his fingers made Dave aware of his own pulse beating away, picking up speed with every moment they stared into one another’s eyes.
There were so many things Dave wanted to say. So many questions that maybe Amit would be willing to answer now that they were alone and he was interested in chatting. Had privacy, or a lack thereof, been the barrier all along? Or did it have something to do with Amit’s not-asthma?
“Are you sure you’re okay? I mean, health-wise.” Dave gestured with his free hand to the obvious mess Amit had made. He’d fallen down, maybe tried to get back up a few times on his own. It wasn’t a good sign. And it was even worse if he was trying to cover up some medical issue. Although Dave knew he wasn’t owed an explanation.
Amit took in a deep breath and followed Dave’s gaze to the scattered furniture and supplies. “Would you help me clean this up? Before Jake―”
The door swung open. “I’m sure he’s fine. He’s―” Jake assessed the situation with frantic eyes. “Shit. Did you break anything?”
“Oh my God!” Shoshana’s hands went to her mouth as she stepped into the break room beside her husband. “Amit!”
“Maybe the squeaky chair.” Amit made a grumbling sound but wouldn’t look up at his nephew.
“I meant you! Did you break any part of you?” Jake flung his hands around in exasperated patterns.
“I’m fine,” Amit said and let go of Dave so he could get to his feet.
Dave stood next to him, watching him carefully. He looked shaken but solid.
“He must be fine, Jake; he’s talkative,” Shoshana said with a soft smile and her hand on Jake’s arm.
Jake eyed Amit, then Dave. “How many times is this now? No, better question. How many times in the last month? Six? Seven?”
“Nine!” Jake repeated, sounding like an angry parrot. “Just…take the rest of the night off, okay? Rest up at home. But don’t drive. I’ll―”
“You will not drive him, you’ve been drinking,” Shoshana interjected, her words drawled but well enunciated. She blinked slowly and pointed at herself. “I can’t drive either. And David’s already had a beer.”
“I was going to say I’ll call―”
“Don’t call Joe,” Amit said in a gruff rush, eyes wide.
“A cab. I’ll call a cab!” Jake pulled his cell phone out of his pocket.
“I’ll walk,” Amit announced. And without another word, he stalked off, out the back door and into the night via the alley behind the bar.
“Amit!” Jake called after him, taking a few awkward steps around the fallen furniture.
“I’ll go after him,” Dave said, and stepped carefully around a fallen chair. It made the most sense. Jake had definitely had more to drink and didn’t need to go off irritated, trying to force Amit to do something he didn’t want to. He tended to get loud when he’d been drinking. The last thing any of them needed was for him to get stuck in a drunk tank for the night. It would only make things worse. “Stay here. Have fun.”
About Hearts Alight
Dave Cunningham hates the rampant consumerism that’s come to dominate his family’s Hanukkah celebrations. But a chance to bring a bit of a holiday happiness to his long-time crush, Amit Cohen, helps put him in a more festive mood.
In the quest to craft the perfect gift, Dave tries to urge a few personal details out of stoic Amit. Unintentionally, he learns the Cohen family’s secret: Amit is a golem. But Amit has a problem that runs deeper than his magical origin, and a Hanukkah miracle might be the only thing that will keep the budding flame between him and Dave from going out.
About Elliot Cooper
Elliot Cooper writes speculative fiction featuring queer characters. His novels and novellas come with hopeful and happy endings, though his short fiction runs the gamut of styles and genres. He strives above all to make his readers feel, while also increasing positive representation of LGBTQ characters and their stories.
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