Just Between Us

Just Between Us

4.8 11
by J.H. Trumble

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Seventeen-year-old Luke Chesser is trying to forget his spectacular failure of a love life. He practices marching band moves for hours in the hot Texas sun, deals with his disapproving father, and slyly checks out the new band field tech, Curtis Cameron. Before long, Luke is falling harder than he knew he could. And this time, he intends to play it right.



Seventeen-year-old Luke Chesser is trying to forget his spectacular failure of a love life. He practices marching band moves for hours in the hot Texas sun, deals with his disapproving father, and slyly checks out the new band field tech, Curtis Cameron. Before long, Luke is falling harder than he knew he could. And this time, he intends to play it right.

Since testing positive for HIV, Curtis has careened between numbness and fear. Too ashamed to tell anyone, Curtis can't possibly act on his feelings. And Luke--impulsive, funny, and more tempting than he realizes--won't take a hint. Even when Curtis distances himself it backfires, leaving him with no idea how to protect Luke from the truth.

Confronting a sensitive topic with candor and aplomb, acclaimed author J. H. Trumble renders a modern love story as sweet, sharp, and messy as the real thing, where easy answers are elusive, and sometimes the only impossible thing is to walk away.

Praise For J. H. Trumble's Don't Let Me Go

"A sexy, vibrant, and heartfelt debut." --Martin Wilson, award-winning author of What They Always Tell Us

"Deeply moving. . .will be appreciated by adults and teens alike." --Publishers Weekly, starred review

"A charming story. Trumble's love for the characters is evident on every page, and it's contagious." --Robin Reardon, author of A Secret Edge

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Trumble explores the bittersweet extremes of young love in this heartwarming, heart-wrenching companion to Don’t Let Me Go and Where You Are. After a wild, unsatisfying first year at the University of Texas exploring his sexuality by sleeping around, Curtis Cameron comes home for a summer as a high school marching camp field tech. Luke Chesser is a clarinet-playing high school junior who’s recovering from the fallout of his first relationship and dealing with the pain of his father’s homophobia. Their burgeoning romance is threatened by a shocking phone call Curtis receives from an old fling—who’s HIV-positive. Terrified to get tested, worried about disappointing his supportive family, and finally finding he has the disease, Curtis hovers on the edge of self-destruction, leaving Luke desperate to salvage their relationship. Trumble has a talent for creating characters who are sympathetic despite their flaws, and fans of the preceding books will devour this one. Agent: Stephen Fraser, Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. (Oct.)

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just between us

By J. H. Trumble


Copyright © 2013 J. H. Trumble
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7582-7718-3



Luke Chesser looks miserable and embarrassed as he grinds the toe of his athletic shoe into the superheated concrete not eight feet from me, his clarinet gripped tightly in his right hand. He slaps the instrument against his calf a few times, then glances my way. With my eyes shielded behind dark sunglasses, I feel no compulsion to look away.

It's been a hard couple of weeks for him, but I don't know if what I feel right now is more sympathy or irritation. He's a mess, distracted, directionally challenged. Some days I think it would be easier for Mr. Gorman to change the band's program than to change Luke. He's been persistently dense since day one of marching camp. In fact, he's the reason all two hundred of us are standing here again under the blazing August sun, waiting. He screwed up, and the domino effect took care of the rest.

I squint up at the viewing stand, where Mr. Gorman is conferring with the assistant band director. One day that will be me up there with a microphone clipped to my ear.

It's been almost a year since I loaded up my truck, said goodbye to Dad and Corrine, and headed west on 290 to Austin. I'd spent the entire summer dreaming about walking down Sixth Street on a Friday or a Saturday night with a beer in my hand, staying out all night if I wanted to, flirting with college guys, maybe taking one back to my dorm room or spending a night in his, having sex for the first time, experiencing the freedom that comes with distance.

As it turned out, that freedom wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

By the end of spring semester, I couldn't wait to get back.

It wasn't Austin; it was me. Too many guys eager to share their bed for a night. Too much alcohol. Too many pieces of me chipped away and left scattered here and there, everyone taking what they wanted until I could feel myself fracturing under the weight of all that freedom.

A clatter catches my attention, and I look over to see Robert Westfall retrieve his flag from the ground. He's a bari sax player, a freshman when I was drum major. Nice guy, but honestly, I never gave him much thought until I saw him rehearsing with the color guard last week. I hadn't seen that coming. Apparently it's no big secret. I have to say, I admire him for that. Maybe if I'd been more open in high school, I wouldn't have been so boys-gone-wild at UT.

Luke Chesser, though ... I had him pegged from day one. I can't say why exactly. Just a feeling.

Over the portable PA system, Mr. Gorman calls the band back to set. I lift my sunglasses and wipe the sweat from my brow, then assume a wide stance and fold my arms. The freshmen squirm a little, but snap to attention when I clear my throat.

"Luke," I say in a voice just loud enough to carry across the clarinets. "It's right, left, right, left." One of the girls giggles as the drum majors count off the beat.

"Toes up, toes up," I bark as I shadow the moving section. Anna Newman misses a turn, then scrambles to catch up. "Laura, watch your carriage. Better." I scramble back a few yards so I can get a better overall view of the ripple, then slip in and out of the lines, counting the beats aloud as I go. I duck under the twirling flags of the guard. The program is still new to them, so I anticipate movements, giving a heads-up when I can. I keep my eye on Luke, but he manages to fumble through without any major mistakes this time.

The opener ends with a one, two, three, drop. The kids stand frozen, faces parallel to the concrete.

"Much better," Mr. Gorman says. "All right. Find some shade, take a five-minute water break, and we'll do it again."

I collect my thermos from the curb behind the viewing stand and take a long drink as Adeeb Rangan makes his way across the parking lot to me. His white teeth flash in his impossibly dark face, and I'm amused to see he's wearing a Texas Aggie T-shirt again today.

"What's this?" I ask when he hands me a folded piece of paper.

"The new section T-shirt design."

"Yeah?" Section T-shirts are an annual tradition. My freshman year it was Reed my lips. Sophomore year: Clarinets kick brass. Junior year: Shhh ... the clarinets are playing. And senior year: Fear the clarinets.

Clarinets just aren't that funny.

Now saxophones, that's a funny instrument.

I unfold the paper. There are two outlines of a T-shirt—a front and a back view. On the front, a formation of graphic faces with hats and plumes, all heads tilted to the right except one, which is tilted to the left. I'm already laughing when I read the caption: Luke Chesser, you are wrong. On the back: Will someone please tell him what to do?

Those were Mr. Gorman's exact words last week. I felt bad for Luke that morning, but damn, he ought to know right from left by now.

"Does he know about this?" I ask Adeeb.

"He agreed to it."

I scan the edges of the parking lot until I spot Luke again.

"He's worse than the freshmen," Adeeb adds. I smile. "He's gonna drive Gorman crazy, you know."

"Where'd he come from anyway?" I refold the paper and hand it back to him.

"Odessa. But he was only there for the spring semester. He marched with the band at Forest last year."

Woodland Forest is the rival high school a few miles away. They have a good program. A damn good program. Can't blame them. They were probably glad to see him go.

"He pees sitting down, you know?"

I look at Adeeb over the top of my sunglasses. "I kind of figured."

He grins at me, juts an elbow in my ribs, and I know what he's thinking. Not gonna happen.

"So when you moving up to Huntsville?" he asks.

"Dorms open a week from tomorrow. You're stuck with me for a few more days."

Across the parking lot, a clarinet girl (Phoebe Verbosky, I think), pours a load of water from her thermos down Luke's back. He whips around and scowls at her. Come on, Luke. Lighten up. But he doesn't retaliate. He leaves that to the clowns Jackson Stewart and Spencer Dunn. They're going to be sorry at the next water break when those thermoses are empty. H2O foreplay will cost you in this Texas heat.

"Those idiots," Adeeb says. "I gotta go break that up before they ruin the pads on those clarinets."

He gives me a light punch on the shoulder. "We're meeting at Cain's after practice. Want to come?"

Adeeb looks up and motions me over to the tables they've claimed near the counter. About eleven of the twenty-seven clarinets are there—Adeeb, Spencer, Jackson, Luke, Phoebe, a few others. "About time," Adeeb calls out as I approach. "I was starting to wonder if maybe you thought you were too good for us now, college boy."

Luke glances over his shoulder. When he sees me, the smile slides right off his face and into his secret sauce.

What did I do?

"Eh, I stayed behind to talk shop with Mr. Gorman." I pull out a chair next to Adeeb and sit, then nod toward Luke. "What's wrong with him?" I mouth.

Adeeb shrugs. "I don't know," he mumbles. "He's got a burr up his ass. He's been in a funk all day."

All day? I think funk is his default.

"He's kind of a drama queen," Adeeb adds and smiles.

Drama queen? I don't think so. Antisocial, morose, depressed. Good thing he's got that all-American boy look about him or he'd be one sad sack. I grab a box of chicken tenders at the counter and settle in to watch the hurricane coverage on the TV affixed to the wall between two banks of windows. Janine is still a ways out in the Gulf, but Galveston is in the cone of probability, so it's news, and you can't turn on the TV this week without getting an update.

"So, who you rooming with this year?" Adeeb asks when the station goes to commercial.

"Don't know."

"That could be bad."

I suppose he's right about that. But I got lucky enough the first time. I roomed with a fellow engineering student. Jared actually wanted to be an engineer. I just wanted to play music and party. But he spent most of his time in the library, so we got along okay until I stumbled into the room early one morning and woke him up. He pushed himself up on one elbow and asked in a disgusted voice, "Aren't you afraid you're going to catch some disease?" God, I was pissed.

Abruptly Luke pushes back his chair and gets up.

"Bedtime for Lukey Duke," Adeeb teases in a voice too low for him to hear.

I grin at him as Luke gathers up his trash then hugs the girls good-bye.

"Call me later," Spencer says.

"Yeah, sure." He glances at our end of the table. "See you Monday, Adeeb." Then he turns his back and walks out.

I'm dumbstruck.



I'm breathing hard as I approach the lake Saturday morning for the last half-mile stretch of my five-mile run.

I intentionally run my circuit so that the lake is on the backstretch. It's my reward for going the distance. The lake is actually more like a pond. The duck pond we call it sometimes because of the gaggle of ducks that rule over the shoreline. It's tucked between two neighborhoods and bordered on one side by the public sidewalk I'm running on.

As the trees recede from the sidewalk, I get my first look at the water, and I'm already thinking about stopping for a bit and enjoying the quiet beauty while I still can. In another week I'll be doing my running in Huntsville, and as far as I know, there are no lakes within running distance of the Sam Houston campus. Suddenly, a duck squawks and takes flight from the western shore, quickly followed by a familiar streak of black and a splash.

I veer off the sidewalk and head down the gentle incline to the shoreline. The Lab, her black nose pointed to the sky, is already in hot pursuit. "Liberty! Come here, girl!" I clap my hands a few times. She ignores me as she gains on the duck and sets off another frantic flight. It's fun to watch, but the dog is too fat for such strenuous exercise, and I damn sure don't want to be playing lifeguard to the beast when her muscles give out. I put my fingers to my lips and whistle, then call again. This time, Libby cranes her neck around, smiles, then switches direction and dog-paddles toward me.

As I wait for her to reach the shore, I'm surprised and amused to see Luke Chesser grab hold of the wrought iron fence that separates the public area from the private backyard where Libby had apparently been nosing around. He grimaces as he wades into the water. If Luke is chasing Libby, then ... huh.

Libby's paws grip solid ground and she bolts from the lake and comes right to me, twisting and dripping water. "Hey, girl, you catching some ducks today?" I squat on my heels and slap her affectionately on her side. "Keep the leash behind your back," I say to Luke as I see him approach in my peripheral vision.

When he gets close enough, I take the leash and snap it onto her wet collar. The big dog shakes and splatters us both. "You're a pill, aren't you, girl?" She nudges her muzzle into my hand.

"You know Libby?" Luke asks.

"Liberty and I go way back, don't we, sweetheart? I was on dog catcher duty for six long years before I went off to school." I use the neck of my T-shirt to wipe the splashes of water from my sunglasses and squint up at him. "Looks like I've been replaced."

He squats down next to me. Libby rolls over and presents her broad, wet belly to him for a scratching. I take the opportunity to study his face close up for the first time. He's all blond hair, blue eyes, and color spots on his cheeks. He's actually pretty cute when he's not so surly or pissy. "So how'd you end up with this job?" I ask him, dropping back on my butt.

"She's our neighbor."

"Yeah?" Surprise, surprise. "Well, I guess that makes us neighbors then too. We're number eleven."

"Twenty-nine," he says.

I mentally try to place his house on our street. "Ah, you're in the cul-de-sac. Two doors down from Miss Shelley, right?"

He acknowledges that with a nod.

"So how many times have you had to chase this beast down?"

He smiles a little. "A few."

I bet. "She's a little opportunist, this one." I run my hand down her heaving wet side. Damn, I hope I don't have to carry her home again. Last time I had to do that it was heatstroke. She ended up in the doggie emergency room, and that little excursion cost Miss Shelley plenty.

I uncap my water bottle and pour a little into my cupped hand and offer it to Libby. She lifts her nose and holds it there until the water dribbles through my fingers. "I guess she had her fill of water in the lake." I expect some kind of response from Luke—a laugh, a smile, something—but I get nothing. Oh, what the hell. I've had enough of this nonsense.

"You want to tell me what's going on?" I ask.

"What do you mean?"

What do I mean? He knows exactly what I mean. "I've obviously done something to offend you. Cain's?" I reenact for him what didn't happen at the restaurant: "Hey, Curtis, catch you later. Great to see you."

"Offend me?" He huffs. "No, I love being made fun of in front of everybody."

Wow. He just laid it out there. I like that. But, damn, he's sensitive. I think back to practice yesterday. I was giving him a prompt—right, left, right, left. If the other kids laughed, well ... Aw, hell. Okay, I was having a little fun with him. But, honestly, he makes it so easy. I fight the urge to smile; that would be the wrong response right now.

"I was just doing my job, Luke. Nothing personal."

"It is not a field tech's job to belittle people. And why me? I don't ever hear you making snide comments to the other kids."

He's got me there. But snide? And now I do feel like a jerk.

"Hey," I say, and dip my head until he looks up at me. "Can we reset? I didn't mean it that way. And I apologize if it felt as if I was picking on you. Okay? We good?"

He glares back at me. "Yeah. Sure."

Nope. Not good. Not good at all. I decide to change the subject. Maybe that will get us back to a better place. "So you live on Split Rock, huh? I'm surprised I haven't run into you before."

"Yeah, well, we only moved here a month ago."

"From Odessa, right? Adeeb told me."

"Adeeb was talking about me?" He huffs again.

Touchy. "He told me where you came from. That's all. So you were at Forest last year, huh? That was a pretty short stay in Odessa." He looks at me hard, and I know there's a story there. Okay, I'll bite. "What happened?"

"You really want to know?"

Probably not. I uncap the water bottle again and take a long drink, then get to my feet. Libby scrambles to her feet too. Luke grabs the leash.

"Come on," I tell him. "I'll walk you and Libby home. You can fill me in on the way." I have a feeling I'm going to regret this.

"Where do you want me to start?" he asks, falling into a lazy stride with me.

Oh boy. We shift to the edge of the sidewalk and wait as a bicycle whizzes past us, then resume walking. I glance over at him and note the deep furrow between his brows. He's hardly said a dozen words to me up to now, and even though he looks like he wants to talk, surely this little trip into his past won't take long. I take a deep breath and suggest he start with why they left Odessa.

"Odessa," he says, then scoffs. "My dad got a transfer and since he gets to be the man of the house—"

"What do you mean, your dad gets to be the man of the house?"

"Mom makes more money than him. A lot more. She's a dermatologist. She has a private practice here, but she had to turn it over to her partners when Dad got the transfer."

"You're losing me here."

"She's always let him make all the decisions—about where we live, when we do our homework, who we hang out with—because he can't deal with the fact that she's the one who really supports us. So when he said we're moving, we moved."

"But you moved back?"

He purses his lips and looks away. "Yeah. We moved back."

"So ..."

He takes up the slack in the leash and wraps it around his hand. "He wanted me back in the closet; I didn't want to go."

Oh. I'm getting the picture now. In fact, that explains a lot more than just his brief residence in West Texas. I wish I'd known. Maybe I could have—

"He hit me," he says suddenly.

Excerpted from just between us by J. H. Trumble. Copyright © 2013 J. H. Trumble. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Just Between Us 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
LorrieThomson More than 1 year ago
This book is important. Most people--myself included--haven't thought deeply about HIV in quite a while. Even though, thankfully, there have been great improvement in its treatment and prognosis, it's still a serious condition. Just Between Us follows two young men, one newly diagnosed, as they navigate a new relationship that included the possibility of passing on a lifelong life-threatening virus. Along the way, they struggle with how they feel about not only each other, but their families, and ultimately, themselves. You'll be rooting for these sweet conflicted guys long after the last page has been turned.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm not going to lie - I put this book off for a LONG time because after Don't Let Me Go and Where You Are, I just wasn't a fan of Luke Chesser. However, the distance and absence definitely worked its magic because when I did finally tackle this book, I LOVED IT. Although Luke was still a bit annoying at times, I appreciated the insight to his life and to see what he was feeling/dealing with at different times. Curtis is absolutely amazing. I know some readers felt his actions were just rude at times, but when you think of what he was living through, I can't imagine anyone being all sunshine about life. Curtis was so genuine in his agony, fears, and pain. This book is a bit heavy, but it's so, so, so beautiful. I cannot recommend this one enough. If you want a realistic take on HIV and two young adults dealing with its effects on their lives, READ THIS. It's literally the most beautiful book you may ever read. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A well written story that talks about a subject not many of us want to think about.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
RandomAsADD More than 1 year ago
This book was really great! I loved it from the beginning to the end. Angst, tough life decisions and turmoil. I loved that it wasn't the classic YA love story but had many elements to it. This is the second book by J.H. Trumble I've read and he's easily becoming one of my favorite M/M authors. If you like books such as the "Seasons Series" by Jay Bell, you'll like this!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kills you. Your not samantha. *leaves*
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yes i am
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BlkosinerBookBlog More than 1 year ago
    Luke and Curtis had my heart from page one. Just Between Us has these beautifully crafted characters that have strengths and flaws making them realistic and making me cheer for them as well as feel right along with them. J.H. has a way of writing relationships that make you fall in love right along with them, and understand their trials, feel their highs, and tingle with anticipation of what will happen next.      This is a timely book on HIV, and Curtis is just like everyone else, he made a few bad decisions, but they caught up to him. And it not only drastically changed his life, but the ones of his family and the boy Luke who fell in love with him, and stuck by his side even when he finds out the risk to him and what changed Curtis's life. The medical facts seem well researched but they don't beat you over the head with them, we learn as Curtis learns about it.       But if you think this is only an issues book you will be missing out, because at the core, it is a love story. Showing that love doesn't matter race, gender, illness, it just happens. There is a spark, and a lot of tension that preceded their relationship, but I loved every part of it. The stolen words and glances made this semi-slow build and finally into a ignition towards the end.      Another aspect about this that I loved was the family involvement. While neither family was perfect or whole, each had one supportive parent, and their relationships with their siblings made the story shine. While Luke deals with his dad who at first is not at all accepting, they later form a tentative relationship, and watching that grow and change as well as Matt's comments to spur their dad on was pretty awesome.      I should note there is an age difference. Its only three years but Luke is in high school and Curtis is in college. It didn't bother me because they had things in common and it's like a freshman with a senior to me. There are also some pretty steamy scenes, nothing too left field for the ya genre, but might make some uncomfortable. I personally loved every second of it, and it made me love the story even more.      Everything isn't all roses and chocolate between Curtis and Luke, they get in some pretty intense disagreements and they both do some pretty hurtful things to the other, but to me, it makes it more realistic. It is gritty, but I think that all that happens can be chalked up to hurting teens and not knowing how to handle such a huge thing in their life.       Bottom Line: Emotional and realistic journey of a young man who discovers he is HIV positive and the one who falls for him regardless. 
TheStephanieLoves More than 1 year ago
[Dad] stares up at the night sky again. "I never get tired of looking at the moon. Gravitational pull is a funny thing, isn't it? You can fight it; you can even escape it for a while. But eventually, you have to give in to it." High school junior Luke Chesser already has a crazy marching band schedule, intense training for drum major tryouts, and a dysfunctional family; the last thing he needs is boy troubles. But Curtis is so cute—and charming to no end—so when he discovers the attraction is mutual, there's no keeping the two apart.  Luke is passionate, determined, and everything Curtis wants, but he's also inexperienced, painfully naïve, and hopelessly romantic, which makes him everything Curtis can't have. When he receives a crippling diagnosis that might as well be his death sentence, he withdraws from the world—in self-pity, self-loathing, and shame—and slowly, painfully cuts himself off from those he loves most—his family and Luke included.  The fact that Trumble chose to write about both HIV and a gay couple in this young adult novel deserves its own category of praise; these are two of the most controversial topics that could appear in children's fiction, and she chose to tackle them simultaneously. Everyone hears about and fears HIV, but it's one of those diseases that "couldn't possibly happen to me," so following Curtis's frightening, completely agonizing journey, was both shocking and completely revealing of how it feels like, on an emotional level, to gradually cease to be a part of this world. The story and characters are well-developed and very easy to keep up with and enjoy, but the style is rather meticulous, a bit too detail-oriented. For instance, there were entire paragraphs describing the process of cutting down lumber or preparing food, which I found exasperating at times; the superfluous attention to detail often made me want to skim. It's not impossible to get through, however; in fact, Trumble's writing will absorb you directly into the story, as though the lives and loves of each of the characters were your own. Just Between Us is a powerful account of young love that, even when faced with life-altering obstacles, endures, and how to deal with the things in life we cannot control. I feel like this is kind of a milder, younger audience's version of RENT; think the emotional seclusion of Roger paired with the honeyed tone of David Levithan in this book. Pros: Established visceral tone // Curtis and Luke are perfect for each other // Moving and affecting // Story is easy to follow // I'm curious about Luke's past now (Nate Schaper appears in J.H. Trumble's previous novels, so maybe I'll give them a try!) Cons: Not that strong of a voice // Some parts highly unrealistic or too simple Verdict: Tender and meltingly romantic, Just Between Us is a coming-of age novel that beautifully illustrates what it means to have the strength to accept yourself the way you are and carry on: to survive. By incorporating both HIV and gay youth—two very important, but very reluctant topics in children's literature—into this rocky, but ultimately triumphant love story, J.H. Trumble proves that she is one of the defining voices in gay YA fiction. Fans of the genre won't want to miss out. Rating: 7 out of 10 hearts (4 stars): Not perfect, but overall enjoyable. Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher, via tour publicist, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Kensington and Lady Reader's Bookstuff!).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a very real look at an issue that's been "swept under the rug". Reading this was hard for me because it feels like my story in a nut shell only I'm not the sweet and caring Luke.My story is Curtis' and I have to say that the author hit the nail on the head with the emotions and feelings that come with being diagnosed as HIV positive as a young adult not even out of your teens.