By: Taylor V. Donovan
*Standalone Gay Romance Saga
His toughest opponent is himself.
World Boxing Champion Santino Malavé González has been fighting since he was a kid. Poverty, domestic violence, and emotional abuse were early contenders. Guilt and self-loathing were beaten into him at an impressionable age, and now machismo, an integral part of the Latino culture, rules his life. In the ring he’s undefeated. Outside the ropes life constantly hits him below the belt. It takes a sucker punch from his best friend to finally knock the denial out of him and force him to face his true nature like a real man.
A natural born entertainer, Luca Jenaro Betancur Ferrer has grown up serving God, performing, pursuing a career in music, and celebrating life among his tight-knit Catholic family under the scorching Puerto Rican sun. Singing the wrong note on stage is not a mistake the multi-platinum award-winning singer would ever allow. Falling in love with a man is not a transgression his devout family may ever accept. The ties that bind him are strong, but the pull toward his childhood best friend may just be enough to tear it all to shreds.
Anger, mistakes, bigotry, and the need to conform put up a good fight throughout their life journeys. Their religious and chauvinistic society constantly challenges their pursuit of happiness, and only time will tell if their relationship will survive the battles, or if they’ll lose each other by technical knockout.
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“Déjalo tranquilo, canto ’e borrachón!” Santi couldn’t see him, but he knew Julito had jumped their dad from behind. Julito had done the same thing many times to protect him and Mami. This wasn’t the first night Papi showed up drunk and completely out of control. “Leave him alone!”
“You want a taste of my belt too, you fucking freeloader?” Papi reached behind him and yanked Julito’s hair. “I don’t give a shit that you’re twenty years old. You should be married and out of my house already.”
Santi got up from the floor and walked toward the bed on trembling legs. He positioned himself between his mom and his dad. He couldn’t let Papi hit her again. His fist was too big. It hurt too much.
“I’ve stayed here to protect Mami and my brother and sister from you.” Julito bit Papi’s forearm and punched him in his side. “And don’t call me a freeloader. I happen to have a job. Do you remember what that is?”
Santi blinked rapidly and took a peek at his mom. She was still crying and holding her nose.
“Who the fuck do you think you are?” Papi grunted, trying to free himself from Julito’s hold but failing miserably, thank God. He was running out of steam. The alcohol was getting the best of him.
“I’m the one who took a shit job as a bellhop at a local parador so I could watch over my family and bring some money to the house,” Julito said, his arm firmly wrapped around Papi’s neck.
“You can’t talk to me that way.”
“I’m the one who’s had enough of watching you beat my mother and little brother to a pulp,” Julito kept going. “I’m the one who’s tired of seeing you sabotage Santi’s boxing career.”
“He can’t have a boxing career,” Papi snarled, and Santi took a step back. “He’s a fucking pato. He has no place in the ring, and that’s your mother’s fault. The only reason I hit her is because she gave me a maricón for a son.”
“I’ll have a boxing career. I’m gonna get married and have kids, and they’re gonna have all the things you didn’t give me,” Santi yelled. “I’ll have the best boxing career ever. I’m not a maricón. I’m gonna prove you wrong!”
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” he literally spat out. “Tell you what. If that ever happens, I’ll kiss your goddamn feet and beg you for forgiveness.”
“Then get ready for it,” Santi growled, “because I swear on Ma’s life I’ll never be gay, and you’ll be groveling in no time.”
There. That should convince his equally superstitious dad of how serious Santi really was. If he were lying, he’d never tempt fate like that. Not when there were so many bad spirits out there trying to get theirs.
“Santi has the potential to reach the top,” Julito stated. “He’s won the Silver Gloves three times, and he’ll win the National Golden Gloves if he gets a chance to compete. He’s motivated. Unlike me, he can be a champion, and you haven’t done a damn thing to help him achieve his dream.”
“He needs to learn to behave like a man before he can—”
“I am a man.” Heat flushing through his body, Santi swatted his dad’s arm when he threw a punch. “I make money and buy my own things. I’m more man than you’ve ever been,” he blurted, sick of hearing the same thing over and over.
Julito tightened his choke hold and pulled Papi away from Santi. “What he needs is a good trainer that will help him be mentally and physically stronger,” he carried on in a firm tone. “We all know a few trainers who’d love to work with Santi, so finding one shouldn’t be hard. Hell, Tío Miguel is willing and ready to take him, even though you’ve been a total shit to your own brother and mom.”
“He won’t get any of that,” Papi yelled, thumping his chest. “I’m the only one who was willing to work with him.”
Santi fisted his hands by his side. “I can get anything I want.” He fought the urge to introduce his right jab to his dad’s face. His jaw looked very tempting right about now.
“You know that’s not true, Pa.” Julito said as he gave him a look, warning him to stay put. “But even if it were, you’re not good for Santi.”
Papi thumped his chest repeatedly. “I’m the best trainer he could ever have.”
Julito laughed humorlessly. “Promoters don’t want to deal with you.” He made a sweeping gesture with his arm. “You’re toxic. Everything around you is toxic and the environment you provide isn’t good for Santi. We don’t have money to pay for memberships and gyms and no one will touch him as long as you’re around. We’ve got to find sponsors willing to pick up the tab, and you’ve alienated everyone. Santi needs a good team in his corner, and he’ll get it in a heartbeat if you’d just step aside. He has a chance, Pa. Stop messing with his head and let him go.”
Santi gulped and looked at his older brother. Julito’s support and confidence in his ability meant the world to him. He was so touched he could’ve hugged Julito—if only men were allowed to express themselves that way.
“He doesn’t deserve a boxing career. None of you do! I dedicated years of my life to train all of you, and for what?” Papi yelled, throwing his arms in the air and glaring at Santi. “Héctor decided he wanted money more than he wanted to go pro, you were a disgrace in the boxing ring, always complaining about the pain, and this little pussy turned out to be a maricón.” He spat on the floor and tried to kick Santi. “You’re a bunch of good for nothings… Buenos para nada… You’ve wasted my time.”
“I’m not a maricón,” Santi said, swiftly moving to the side. “I’m not.” Breaths bursting in and out, he gripped the mattress and swallowed hard.
Mami was right. He hadn’t touched a boy. He certainly wasn’t in love with one. He could fix himself. It wasn’t too late to make things right.
He didn’t want people laughing at him.
He didn’t want to get sick.
He didn’t want to die.
“Héctor didn’t decide he wanted money more than he wanted to go pro. He decided he needed to eat better and buy clothes for us and himself more than he wanted to fight,” Omayra said from the door. “He had to make money fast. You weren’t providing for us, and Mami was working herself to death trying to make ends meet. She’s still doing the same. You’ve destroyed this family. Vanessa got pregnant as soon as she could because she was desperate to get away from you, and now you won’t even let her come visit us!” Breathing noisily, she pointed a trembling finger at him and screamed, “You’ve done nothing for any of us other than criticize, put Mami down, and beat on her and the boys.”
“Should’ve beaten the shit out of you, too,” Papi spat. “I should’ve shown you your damn place. You’re sixteen years old. It’s time you learned.”
“Stay out of this, Omayra,” Mami said softly, wiping blood from her nose. “Please.”
“My place will never be under the fist of a man,” Omayra rolled her shoulders and lifted her chin. “Not even my dad’s. Things have changed. Women work, run countries, lead in lots of fields, and we have a say in a relationship!”
Santi looked at his sister with bulging eyes. “Don’t talk,” he mouthed at her, even though he’d been doing the same seconds earlier. “He’ll go after you.”
And if he does, I’ll punch the shit out of him. I’ll punch him until he’s swallowing blood and begging me to let him go.
A sudden coldness hit his core. He barely recognized himself. He didn’t know what was going on in his head.
Talking back to one’s parents wasn’t acceptable, not even when one was a grown-up. They all knew that, and, usually everyone stayed out of Papi’s way when he was drunk, but tonight they all seemed bent on egging him on. Santi knew he couldn’t take on any more abuse, and Omayra had always been outspoken about her opinions on machismo and domestic violence. But Julito kept quiet more often than not. He made sure things didn’t get more violent than usual without saying a word. So what the hell was he doing tonight?
**To Be Confirmed***
Taylor V. Donovan is a compulsive reader and author of gay romance and suspense. She is optimistically cynical about humanity and a lover of history, museums, and all things 80s. She shamelessly indulges in mind-numbing reality television, is crazy about fashion, and passionate about civil rights and equality for all.
When she’s not writing or making a living in the busiest city in the world, Taylor can be found raising her two daughters and their terribly misbehaved furry baby in their home.
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