Bloomington High School Lions’ star goalie, Sebastian Hughes, should be excited about his senior year: His teammates are amazing and he’s got a coach who doesn’t ask anyone to hide their sexuality. But when his estranged childhood best friend Emir Shah shows up to summer training camp, Sebastian realizes the team’s success may end up in the hands of the one guy who hates him. Determined to reconnect with Emir for the sake of the Lions, he sets out to regain Emir’s trust. But to Sebastian’s surprise, sweaty days on the pitch, wandering the town’s streets, and bonding on the weekends sparks more than just friendship between them.
And now, the excerpt!
Sebastian is almost ninety-eight percent certain that teenagers should be banned from making decisions during the summer, especially teens bored out of their skulls at night, like him. Summer should be a thought-free zone. No school. No extra brain usage. He should be on house arrest, not climbing through Emir’s window on a Wednesday night.
Of course, most of this is Willie’s fault. They were in their cabin, marathoning Stranger Things on Netflix. Free-for-all pizza was for dinner, so Willie conked out after the second episode. The guy can put away some Hawaiian pizza.
Sebastian can also blame some of his bad decision-making on the fact that summer is ticking down. Camp is almost over; less than two weeks are left.
The vault inside is almost perfect, but Sebastian smacks his shoulder on the floor. It doesn’t hurt, but it’s embarrassing. “So, so,” he stutters. Blood rushes to his head. His view of Emir perched on his bed is upside-down. He rolls over, laughing. “You weren’t sleeping, right?”
The lamp is still on. An open book sits in Emir’s lap. Ink- dark hair falls around his temples instead of standing in its usual sleep-mussed disaster.
“Nope. Just finished my Isha’a.”
Sebastian stands. He dusts off his ripped jeans, fixes his checkered flannel shirt. “Ish- what, now?”
“Isha’a,” Emir repeats. “It’s the last of the salats, daily prayers we do as Muslims.”
These reminders about Emir’s religion and his life at home light memories that flicker through Sebastian’s brain like tiny paper lanterns in the wind. He remembers the adults in Emir’s family fasting during Ramadan and a small backyard gathering to celebrate a feast day Sebastian can’t remember the name of, but he recalls the beautiful clothing, the music, and Emir’s parents passing out gifts to the children. And he remembers the giant, toothy smile Emir wore while pressed to Sebastian’s side on a sticky June evening.
“Is this a bad time? Should I go?”
“No.” Emir closes the book, carefully placing it on the desk by his bed. “It’s okay.”
Sebastian’s snuck in here every evening lately. After dinner, he crawls in to find a space left for him on Emir’s bed. Sebastian talks nonstop with his head on Emir’s chest. His fingers trace the shape of Emir’s mouth. Sometimes, Emir talks, shedding his shyness. Eventually boring conversations turn into making out.
“Hey!” Tonight Sebastian came with a plan. He tosses Mason’s keys in the air, then catches them. He didn’t steal them; Mason always hands them over during the week so he doesn’t lose them. Being the token “good guy” has its advantages. “You wanna get out of here?”
“Are we allowed to leave?” Emir asks. “Didn’t bother checking the rule book.”
Emir runs a hand through his hair; his fingers catch on the tangles. He says, “You wrote the rule book.”
It’s not an attack on Sebastian, but he still flips Emir off. He blames his lack of a solid comeback on the way the bridge of Emir’s nose crinkles when he snorts.
“Nothing,” Sebastian says. His mind has been drifting lately, more than usual, wondering what this thing with Emir is or isn’t. “I dunno, I just want to get out of here. Just me and you.”
“You’re sure?” Sebastian squeaks in an unnaturally high voice.
Emir shrugs and stands. “Yes, Bastian,” he says. He grabs his beanie, pulls on a pair of slightly wrinkled black skinnies, grips a hoodie—
The sight of Sebastian’s last name in blocky gold letters across Emir’s back is mesmerizing.
Julian Winters is a former management trainer who lives in the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia and has been crafting fiction since he was a child, creating communities around his hand-drawn “paper people.” He began writing LGBTQ character-driven stories as a teen and developed a devoted fan fiction following. When he isn’t writing or using his sense of humor to entertain his young nephews, Julian enjoys reading, experimental cooking in the kitchen, and watching the only sports he can keep up with: volleyball and soccer. Running with Lions is his first novel.