Title: For Better or Worse
Author: R. Cooper
Length: 94 Pages
At a Glance: Nothing about For Better or Worse is blatant, gratuitous, or in-your-face. It’s simply a quiet and gentle story about two friends who feed each other, body and soul.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: To the other firefighters in Montgomery, Javier is a quietly heroic figure with a reputation for staying calm and doing what needs to be done. To the small town gossips, he’s some kind of mysterious ladies’ man, despite how he hasn’t dated anyone in years. Truth is, Javier’s demisexual—it takes him a while to feel desire for someone, and most people don’t want to wait for that to happen. Tired of being hurt, he gave up on dating. He gave up with such determination that two years into spending nearly every free evening making dinners with his best friend, Jimmy, he’s only just realized that he’s in love with him.
Jimmy is noise where Javier is silent. He expresses his thoughts and feelings about every subject imaginable—except the reason he moved thousands of miles away from his family to start a new life in Montgomery. He spends his nights with Javier, cooking and jointly taking care of his rescue dog. If he’s noticed that he and Javier have been all but dating each other for the past two years, he hasn’t said, and Javier isn’t going to risk upsetting him by asking.
That is, until the very public romance between their fellow firefighter, Scotty, and school librarian, Cole, leads Jimmy to reveal more about his past. Suddenly, Javier has hope. If he has to change the minds of the entire town in order to woo his best friend, then so be it. He’s not someone to let a little fear get in his way, especially when it means a chance to make their date nights real.
Review: For Better or Worse touched my wee jaded heart, and when a book can do that, well, that’s something special. In its short ninety-four pages, R. Cooper accomplished more than just tugging at my heartstrings, though. I grew to care for these characters, and not only that but she orchestrated a beautiful romance based in friendship and secret longing—a longing that, for Javier, was two years in the making; and a friendship that, for Jimmy, had to be enough because he knew he couldn’t have more.
Both Javier and Jimmy work as firefighters in the small town of Montgomery, California, and I liked the complication of the small-town claustrophobia that was obvious in this story, but not overdone. Family is nosy, folks are gossipy, and the knitting circle is in Javier and Jimmy’s business. Straight is the default here, and the gossiping starts because neither Javier nor Jimmy seem interested in any of the eligible women. But, somehow, Javier still gets a rep as a player who’s got a little somethin’-somethin’ on the side. The guys at the firehouse, thanks to Scott and his partner, Cole, are getting with the inclusivity program, though, and Tiny, de facto boss on their shift, is pleasantly self-aware and into supporting the station’s one queer firefighter. The one he knows of, at least. And I thought the way Javier got the outing himself ball rolling was fun.
I liked the way R. Cooper went with the subtle approach in the telling of this story. Javier and Jimmy did a lot of talking around and at each other while ignoring the subject of their spending almost every free moment together, preparing and eating meals with each other, sending leftovers home, all while bobbing and weaving around the fact that they have feelings for each other, and that those feelings had been evolving into something like love for quite a long time. There was no need to be flagrant in the composing of this novella, no reason to map things out down to the minutia. Not when the reason Jimmy landed alone in Montgomery takes nothing more than a silent clasp of the cross he wears around his neck. That tells us everything we need to know, and I appreciated Cooper’s crediting readers for not needing to have everything spelled out for us.
Javier not coming clean sooner about being demi and bi has everything to do with Jimmy, and with Javier not realizing that he’d fallen in love with his best friend until well after it’d already happened. Jimmy not coming out to Javier is deeply rooted in fear—not only of being rejected by yet another firehouse and the people there who feel like a made family, but of losing Javier—he’d rather pine for the guy forever than live without him for a moment. There are so many passages I highlighted in this book, but this one, in particular, hit me right in the feels:
“There isn’t anybody here for me, even if I was brave. Anybody gay,” he added, with a rush of air for that single word. “And if there were—” he scowled “—being in love with somebody who doesn’t love you back, that’s bad. But that’s life, you know? You can get used to that. But trusting somebody with your whole everything and then getting—” Jimmy jerked his hand away from the cross and stared hard at the exposed truck engine. “All I have now is my little life here.” Jimmy swallowed. “And it’s good, and it’s more than I thought I would get. So, yeah, I won’t be dating either. And I won’t get in your way when you do. All right?”
There are a lot of different definitions of what love truly is, but needing someone and then loving that someone enough to push him away…damn if that didn’t break my heart just a little.
Nothing about For Better or Worse is blatant, gratuitous, or in-your-face. It’s simply a quiet and gentle story about two friends who feed each other, body and soul, two friends who love each other but fear confessing their deepest secrets, two friends who have danced around each other and are trying to learn new steps together. Javier and Jimmy were guilty of saying so much in what remained unspoken. Theirs is a story of building trust by taking one of the greatest risks two people can take with each other—throwing caution to the wind and trusting their hearts will be safe with the other.
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