Three out of Five Stars
Summer Hemlock never meant to come back to Omen, Massachusetts.
But with his mother in need of help, Summer has no choice but to return to his hometown, take up a teaching residency at the Albin Academy boarding school—and work directly under the man who made his teenage years miserable.
Professor Fox Iseya.
Forbidding, aloof, commanding: psychology instructor Iseya is a cipher who’s always fascinated and intimidated shy, anxious Summer. But that fascination turns into something more when the older man challenges Summer to be brave. What starts as a daily game to reward Summer with a kiss for every obstacle overcome turns passionate, and a professional relationship turns quickly personal.
Yet Iseya’s walls of grief may be too high for someone like Summer to climb…until Summer’s infectious warmth shows Fox everything he’s been missing in life.
Now both men must be brave enough to trust each other, to take that leap.
To find the love they’ve always needed…
Just like that.
Just Like That is a story of one man finding himself years after a profound loss and another that is learning who he wants to be.
Summer Hemlock is fresh out of university trying to find his career, he didn’t expect to land back home in Omen, Massachusetts. He secures a position teaching at Albin Academy boarding school, directly under the man who he fosters a crush on while he was a teenager, Professor Fox Iseya.
At their first meeting, Professor Iseya has little faith in Summer’s abilities. I hurt for Summer in these moments, because it felt like Professor Iseya was tearing him to pieces and didn’t even care about the damage he was doing. Summer acted out, in a moment of bravery, and kissed his childhood crush. From that action, the entire course of the school year changes.
A daily act of bravery, Summer gets a kiss from Professor Iseya. The kisses turn into something more and hold a different meaning to them both. Summer whittles away at the walls Fox had put up since the passing of his wife. Fox allows himself to feel something other than nothing and they get lost in each other in the process.
The steam factor on this one I’d give a four out of five. Each scene was intense, full of passion that had been so tightly bound for so long, it was explosive once they were together. A May/December romance, featuring workplace, desk top sex? Woo, I was not expecting that.
Why did this get a three out of five stars? For me, I was expecting so much more. There was so much focus on Fox, with only a brief moment when Summer figured out what he wanted in life. I wish there would have been more to their relationship. I was left wanting, but still satisfied with the resolution of the story.
“Extinguisher first, then sand,” the voice ordered. “Dr. Liu, if you insist on getting in the way, at least make yourself useful and remove anything else flammable from the vicinity of the blaze. Quickly, now. Keep your mouths covered.”
Summer’s entire body tingled, prickled, as if his skin had drawn too tight. That voice—that voice brought back too many memories. Afternoons in his psychology elective class, staring down at his textbook and doodling in his notebook and refusing to look up, to look at anyone, while that voice washed over him for an hour. Summer knew that voice almost better than the face attached to it, every inflection and cadence, the way it could command silence with a quiet word more effectively than any shout.
And how sometimes it seemed more expressive than the cold, withdrawn expression of the man he remembered, standing tall and stern in front of a class of boys who were all just a little bit afraid of him.
Summer had never been afraid, not really.
But he hadn’t had the courage to whisper to himself what he’d really felt, when he’d been a hopeless boy who’d done everything he could to be invisible.
Heart beating harder, he followed the sound of that voice to the open doorway of a smoke-filled room, the entire chemistry lab a haze of gray and black and crackling orange; from what he could tell a table was…on fire? Or at least the substance inside a blackened beaker was on fire, belching out a seemingly never-ending, impossible billow of smoke and flame.
Several smaller fires burned throughout the room; it looked as though sparks had jumped to catch on notebooks, papers, books. Several indistinct shapes alternately sprayed the conflagration with fire extinguishers and doused it with little hand buckets of sand from the emergency kit in the corner of the room, everyone working clumsily one-handed while they held wet paper towels over their noses and mouths with the other.
And standing tall over them all—several teachers and older students, it looked like—was the one man Summer had returned to Omen to see.
He stood head and shoulders above the rest, his broad-shouldered, leanly angular frame as proud as a battle standard, elegant in a trim white button-down tucked into dark gray slacks, suspenders striping in neat black lines down his chest. Behind slim glasses, his pale, sharply angled gray eyes flicked swiftly over the room, set in a narrow, graceful face that had only weathered with age into an ivory mask of quiet, aloof beauty.
The sleek slick of his ink-black hair was pulled back from his face as always—but as always, he could never quite keep the soft strands inside their tie, and several wisped free to frame his face, lay against his long, smooth neck, pour down his shoulders and back. He held a damp paper towel over his mouth, neatly folded into a square, and spoke through it to direct the frazzled-looking group with consummate calm, taking complete control of the situation.
And complete control of Summer, as Iseya’s gaze abruptly snapped to him, locking on him from across the room. “Why have you not evacuated?” Iseya demanded coldly, his words precise, inflected with a softly cultured accent. “Please vacate the premises until we’ve contained the blaze.”
Summer dropped his eyes immediately—habit, staring down at his feet. “Oh, um—I came to help,” he mumbled through the collar of his shirt.
A pause, then, “You’re not a student. Who are you?”
That shouldn’t sting.
But then it had been seven years, he’d only been in two of Iseya’s classes…and he’d changed, since he’d left Omen.
At least, he hoped he had.
That was why he’d run away, after all. To shake off the boy he’d been; to find himself in a big city like Baltimore, and maybe, just maybe…
Learn not to be so afraid.
But he almost couldn’t bring himself to speak, while the silence demanded an answer. “I’m not a student anymore,” he corrected, almost under his breath. “It’s…it’s me. Summer. Summer Hemlock. Your new TA.” He made himself look up, even if he didn’t raise his head, peeking at Iseya through the wreathing of smoke that made the man look like some strange and ghostly figure, this ethereal spirit swirled in mist and darkness. “Hi, Professor Iseya. Hi.”
Copyright © 2020 by Cole McCade