ARI by Cheryl Headford

4.67 out of 5
(3 customer reviews)

US$6.99

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Release Date: 19 June, 2015

After having known each other online for some time, writers, Benji and Ari meet at a convention.

Their attraction is both immediate and mutual.

But all is not straightforward—Ari is intersex and Benji transgender.

Together they embark on a journey.

A journey that unites families, and heals old wounds.

But not everyone is happy with the blossoming love between these two unique and special individuals.

Will an act of aggression crush the flower before it can bloom?

To view Book Trailer, click HERE

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER ONE

“HE’S DEAD, Benji.” Marc’s little face was pinched, his big green eyes brimming with tears. “I put his food in and he didn’t come out, so I took the roof off and he was all curled up, like always. But he didn’t wake up when I tickled his ear, and he’s all stiff and cold.”

On examining the hamster, I quickly established he was, in fact, very dead.

“Hamsters hibernate, don’t they?” Marc’s expression changed to one of hope. “They go all stiff and dead-looking, then wake up ages later and they’re not dead after all.”

“Sometimes, but not in the middle of summer, Beautiful.” He gazed up at me and his lip quivered.

I hugged my little brother close and petted his hair as he wept for his lost friend. I was nearly in tears myself. I had a soft spot for that hamster, especially when he was peeking out from under Marc’s curls.

“Do you have to go away?” Marc begged, eyes filled with tears and sadness.

“I’m only going for four days, Marky. Not even that. You can take Ariel with you to Dad’s and he can do a proper burial. He can play his guitar for him. Maybe you can write a requiem.”

“What’s that?”

“A song for someone who’s dead.”

“Oh. Yes, I’ll ask Daddy to help me with that.”

We found a box that once held my mobile phone and tucked Ariel up with some of his food, bedding, and favourite treats.

“He can spend one last night in his home,” Marc said, and I sniffed.

“Come on, Beautiful.” I turned away so Marc wouldn’t see the moisture in my eyes. The last thing I wanted was to set him off again and have both of us in tears. I didn’t want to start the weekend with puffy eyes.

With one last glance at Ariel, Marc turned away and dragged his feet up the stairs. I followed, thinking longingly of my bed.

I’d barely pulled up the covers when there was a knock on the bedroom door. At least Marc knocked this time. There’d been some very sticky moments before he learned not to just walk in on me.

“Come in.”

The door creaked open and a sad-looking figure in a fluffy onesie padded across the floor, followed by his faithful shadow, Bella the dog.

Marc didn’t need to speak. With a silent groan, I pulled back the covers. Marc took a running jump and landed almost on top of me. Bella followed and immediately burrowed, like a rabbit, under the covers.

“I was sad,” Marc said.

“I know, babe.” I hugged him tight.

The dog licked my foot and I squirmed.

“You will come back, won’t you?” Marc whispered, clinging to me. “Promise?”

“I promise. I won’t leave you. I’ll be back Monday. Look on the bright side. You get the day off school tomorrow, and a whole weekend with Bella and Ben to wind Dad and Hannah up.”

“I don’t do that,” Marc complained. “I’m always good. You know that. Besides, I won’t be around much. Me and Ben are taking our laptops, and we’re going camping on Saturday.”

“Not with your laptops.”

“Don’t be daft.” Marc hit me with a pillow then looked up at me. “I like Dad and Hannah, but I don’t want to live with them. I want to live with you.”

A pang of rage stabbed at me and I almost growled. “Has he been asking again?”

Marc cringed, presumably from my expression which I tried to soften. “No, not since the row, but I worry when I go there he’ll ask me again.”

“He won’t. If you’re worried, I’ll speak to Hannah.”

Marc shook his head. He looked scared. The conflict had been hard on him. As if it wasn’t enough he had to go through the loss of his mother without being faced with the choice of losing either his father or brother. He was my hero for making a stand, and for leaving all his familiar things behind to be with me. “I wouldn’t mind living there if you were there, too.”

I could see exactly where this conversation was going, so I tried to derail it quickly.

“You know I can’t. We live here, and we’re doing okay.”

Marc lay down and yawned, burrowing under the covers like the dog. “We’ll do better when you’re famous.”

“Don’t hold your breath.” I snuggled down next to him.

“You’re a great writer. You’ll be famous soon. I know you will. You’re loads better than the rest.”

“The rest of what?”

“The rest of the writers who write gay porn.”

“First—how the hell do you know how the other writers write? And second, I do not write gay porn. I don’t know how many times I’ve told you that.” I hit him with the pillow. “One of these days you’ll get us both into trouble.” I hit him again and he squealed, burrowing even farther. “If I wrote porn, I wouldn’t let you read it. You’re only a baby.”

“Yeah, right, and you’re a—” He stopped and bit his lip. I knew what he’d been about to say, and hugged him again.

“I thought we were past this.”

“We are. It’s just… I get scared sometimes. I don’t want to lose you, Benji.”

“You won’t. It’s all sorted. Everything’s fine. I’m not going anywhere. Well, I am, but only for four days. I’ll be back.”

“Why won’t Dad—?”

“Ssh. Sleep. It’s okay. Everything’s okay. But if you don’t go to sleep right now, it won’t be. We have to be up early, and I’ll be grouchy.”

“You’re always grouchy.”

“So go to sleep, brat.”

MY EYES slammed open to a world gone mad. Bella barked as an enormous flash of light was followed immediately by a god-awful bang and rumble that shook the house on its foundations. Before I quite got my bearings, another brilliant flash of lightning blinded me and thunder cracked and rolled down the valley. I yelled at Bella for howling, cursed her for waking me—then I checked the clock.

“Jesus. Marc, it’s ten past five. We slept in. We have to get up. Now.”

“Benji?” Marc’s sleepy voice was sharp with alarm. He cried out with terror when another flash of lightning was followed by a deep boom and the lights flickered.

“Benji?”

“It’s okay. I’m here. It’s just a thunderstorm. We need to get going. We slept late.”

Marc jumped up and scampered around the bed to hug me tight. The dog was still whining and yipping, clearly unhappy, and the rain absolutely hammered.

“Typical,” I grumbled as I pried my little brother off me and headed for the bathroom. Marc followed, so close he tripped me.

“Whoa. You can’t go in the bathroom with me.”

“But I’m scared.” He underlined his words with a yelp when another round of thunder and lightning rolled over us.

“You can’t come in the shower, so don’t be silly. I’ll leave the door open, okay? You can sit on the stairs, or in your room.”

Marc was unhappy, but I managed to take a quick shower. As soon as he was able he came in, sat on the closed toilet, and watched me do my hair.

“You have very pretty hair.”

“What’s brought this on? You’re usually criticizing.”

“You shouldn’t complain. You should take compliments where you can get them, at your age.”

“Cheeky bugger. I’m not old.”

“You are, compared to me.”

“Only by seven years. I’m still a teenager.”

“Only for four weeks.”

“Then I’ll have to make the most of it while I can.”

I examined myself in the mirror and I’m not ashamed to admit I was pleased with what I saw. On that day my hair was bubble-gum pink, with turquoise tips that matched the colour of my eyes—once I put the contact lenses in. With a last click of the straighteners, I shook out the glossy sheet and turned off the irons. A quick application of eyeliner and mascara—waterproof of course—and I was ready to go. Thank heavens I’d packed the bags the night before.

One good thing was there was no time for further mourning of our deceased friend, although Marc did shed a few tears when we collected the box from the hamster cage.

We literally threw everything into the back of the car and tumbled in, laughing at the steam that rose as soon as the heater came on.

The rain was hurling itself against the car, half blinding me, and I had to concentrate hard as we headed off to pick up Marc’s friend. I was glad about the rain. It didn’t give me time to think.

My father still lived in the house where I grew up. I was no longer welcome there. As soon as Mum died, I was ejected as quickly as possible and not allowed to see Marc for ages, not until he started running away to be with me. In the end, with Marc putting himself in danger and making himself ill, Dad didn’t have much choice. He finally agreed to Marc moving in with me. He even helped financially, not that I needed it.

I got some money from Mum. It was enough to keep us going, and was another reason Dad hated me. It had never been an issue that she had money of her own; it wasn’t as if he needed it. It became an issue when she left it to me. I think she knew what was going to happen.

Dad tried to challenge the will, but Mum made sure all the bases were covered, and in the end he gave up. I think he would have challenged just for the fight if it hadn’t been for Marc coming to live with me.

Why did my father hate me? That’s a very long story, but it stems from the fact I used to be called Poppy and I was Daddy’s little girl—until I announced, when I was sixteen, that actually, I wasn’t. I was stranded, caught between one gender and another. I tried my best to talk to him, but he never accepted it wasn’t a choice between being a boy or a girl, but a choice between being who I am and pretending to be something I’m not. At the first opportunity, he cut me loose to drift for a long time—neither one thing nor the other—until I finally realized that to be a boy I didn’t have to stop looking like a girl, and I found my place to settle.

Things had been a lot better since Dad got his latest girlfriend, Hannah. She’s so much more open and accepting. She’s working magic on him, although he still won’t look me in the eye.

As usual, Hannah came out to the car. She carried an enormous pink umbrella. She got the boys to take their own things, and gave me a kiss on both cheeks. She slipped me a fifty before wiggling back up the drive. I don’t usually go for older women, but if she ever split with Dad, I’d ask her to dinner for sure.

It was a huge relief to finally drive away from Dad’s house, and an even greater one to ditch the car at the station. That moment when I sat back in my seat, with my luggage stored and a notebook open on the table, was sublime.

To the tuneless strains of Oh, What A Beautiful Morning, the guard danced up the aisle to sell me my ticket—with gusto—and gave me the first real smile of the day.

As I approached my train change in Cardiff, I had to admit to a few nerves. It was the first time “Benji” had taken a trip alone, and I was slightly nervous about my reception by a group of total strangers, most of whom were a lot older than me.

Thankfully, the online community of LGBTQ writers was thriving, close, and supportive, and I’d been able to get to know quite a few other writers online. Some of them would be at the meet. In fact, I would never have found the courage to buy the tickets if it hadn’t been for my friends, who pretty much threatened to kidnap me if I didn’t. However, they were still only a few among well over a hundred.

It didn’t help that I’d recently found out one of my absolute favourite authors would be there. Most of the delegates were women, and older than me. That made me feel a lot more comfortable as I tend to feel threatened by men, particularly those around my age. I was threatened enough that so many hugely-talented writers were attending.

I was doing fairly well with my writing, beginning to get known, and had a steady stream of income. However, I still didn’t feel like a “proper writer”. Back then I hadn’t worked out that the difference between a “proper writer” and a “pretend writer” was nothing more than belief in yourself. When I discovered Ari Fischer was going to the meet, I very nearly cancelled.

Ari was my absolute hero. Not only did he write amazing books, but he was an amazing person. He’d burst onto the scene about six months previously and had already started to appear on bestseller lists and had won awards. All three of his books were raved about, and rightly so.

As for his personality…. He was—I found it hard to define exactly what he was. Friendly? God yes. Funny? Absolutely. Sweet, beautiful, bright, generous, humble, quirky, eccentric, larger than life.

I’d got into the habit of thinking of Ari as a “he”, although I honestly couldn’t say I was sure that was true. He’d kept everyone guessing so far. He referred to himself as “it”, and wanted everyone else to do the same. Needless to say, very few did. Although he was begged regularly, he refused to confirm his gender, and the photographs he posted were irritatingly androgynous.

So the debate raged on, and I was looking forward to finally facing the enigma. Looking forward to… and dreading. Meeting Ari was, to me, like meeting a rock star or film star. I’d have had posters on my wall if there were any. I wasn’t entirely sure I’d have the courage to talk to him at all, or make coherent sense if I did.

The train journey to Bristol was fantastic. I met some young people from Finland and we had an animated conversation all the way. I forgot to be nervous until I got off the train and found myself in the vast expanse of Bristol Temple Meads station. Objectively, it wasn’t that big. But it was to me.

After a moment of panic—and then a few more of utter confusion—I headed for the main concourse and a cup of coffee.

I was wandering aimlessly, in the vague direction of the exit, sipping a reasonably nice coffee from a cardboard cup when I heard someone yelling. It was odd. The voice was quite soft, but very clear, and it seemed to fill the air. I realized, with some shock, it was calling my name. Why the hell was someone calling my name in Bristol train station?

I turned toward the sound and barely had the chance to register a small, running figure before it was on me. The coffee flew out of my hand and hit the floor.

I froze. For a moment my brain ground to a halt in the face of such a surreal situation. I’m not the person who drops coffee on the floor, or gets hugged in stations.

The person—whoever he or she was—threw slender arms around me and held on tight. My face was full of long black hair which smelled of lemon and utterly blinded me. What the hell was going on?

I stiffened for a moment but didn’t have much choice but to return the hug. The person definitely seemed to know me, so I could only go along for the ride. I’d find out who it was soon enough.

After what seemed like an age, the person let go and pulled back a little. Bright emerald-green eyes sparkled in an almost inhumanly beautiful face.

“Benji, you’re so beautiful. I didn’t think you’d be so beautiful. I love your hair so much. Are those your real eyes?”

“Um, well… yeah, they’re my real eyes, just not the real colour.”

Ari laughed. Yeah, it was him. It was really him—maybe. I mean, I still wasn’t sure if Ari was… a him. He was slender and small, at least two inches shorter than my five-feet-seven, and his face was entirely free from hair, in a way that suggested natural absence rather than shaving. He also seemed to have kind of feminine curves, but there was something masculine in his voice and sometimes, when he turned his head—I just don’t know what. He didn’t seem to have breasts, and he’d pressed his chest pretty hard against me, yet a furtive glance didn’t show any kind of package in his jeans. The mystery continued.

I suddenly realized Ari was still talking. I don’t think he even expected me to answer as he chatted with breathless enthusiasm.

“And I nearly didn’t catch the train. You’re taller than I thought you’d be, but did I mention how beautiful you are? We have to take a new photo for your avatar. You’re going to have to be less modest. Come on, let’s go. Do you want to share a taxi? Where are you staying? I’m in the hotel. I keep forgetting what it’s called. Oh, be careful, there’s coffee all over the floor.”

When I looked down, the first thing I noticed was Ari’s boots. They were so pretty, with silver tips on the pointed purple toes. It wasn’t the shape or colour that caught my attention as much as the absolutely killer heels. He was even smaller than I’d thought. My impression as to his gender shifted again.

“It’s mine,” I managed to stammer.

“Did you drop it?”

“Kind of. When you—”

“Oh my goodness. Did I make you drop it? I’m so sorry.”

Before I could say a word, Ari had dragged me to the nearest counter, ordered more coffee, and charmed the barista into cleaning up the spill. Then he linked our arms and guided me away.

Ari’s luggage was one black bag on wheels, with the Playboy symbol in pink in one corner. Not entirely indicative of gender, but many signs seemed to point toward the feminine side. I didn’t know why, but that disappointed me, which was odd because my tastes usually lay with the female form.

Ari talked all the way from the station to the taxi and then all the way to the hotel. He chatted to me, to the ticket checker, to the taxi driver, even to complete strangers, some of whom seemed scared to death. Ari was definitely a colourful, striking, and energetic character. To say he completely blew me away didn’t even begin to express how I felt.

We separated at the hotel where the meet was being held. Ari was staying there, but due to a complete balls-up on my part, my hotel was a five-minute taxi ride away.

“She’s a right little firecracker, your friend, isn’t she?” the driver said as I contemplated how quiet it was without Ari. It’s strange, but even though he talked incessantly, it was never annoying. He always seemed to have something interesting to say, but he also seemed to know when someone else wanted to speak and gave them space.

“Yeah.” I didn’t bother to tell the driver Ari was a boy, because he might easily have been right in his assumption that he wasn’t.

 

To view Book Trailer, click HERE

Additional Information

Available Formats

Epub, mobi, pdf, paperback

Cover Illustrator

Carrie Francis

Cover Graphics

Jay Aheer

3 reviews for ARI by Cheryl Headford

  1. Eyes on Books
    5 out of 5

    :

    “I first read Ari as a short story in the Stranded anthology and soon after found out Cheryl intended to expand it. Ari turned into a beautifully written novel, raising important issues in what gender and acceptance are concerned. Ari and Benji are to me the perfect couple. They make each other better, even if sometimes that means confronting difficult situations and having to revise their own opinions of themselves.
    Despite the age of the characters and the fact Benji takes care of his little brother, this genuinely sounds more like a young adult than a new adult. The characters are discovering who they are, learning to love, taking on the world and the challenges it brings, and they are, for these two individuals, harsher than they are for most people their age. Especially for Ari.
    I believe Cheryl has been very brave to keep writing this intersex-transgender couple. Each of them would have raised enough issues to tackle, more so in this pairing. Yet she took the challenge and wrote an amazing story on how we define gender and love. I have to say I know know a lot more on what intersex and transgender individuals have to deal with.
    As always, a Cheryl Headford story comes at the cost of quite a few tears, but it’s always absolutely worth it!”

    To read the rest of the review, please visit:
    http://eyesonbooks.com/2015/07/08/blog-tour-review-and-giveaway-ari-by-cheryl-headford/

  2. Bayou Book Junkie
    5 out of 5

    :

    4.5* BAYOU BOOK JUNKIE

    “Benji and Ari’s story is like nothing I have ever read before. This can be a confusing subject matter, but I think I came away with a much better understanding and insight of Transgender and Intersex people.

    Benji and Ari are two very insecure people, who have never been comfortable in their bodies. They are very insecure of how others will see them, and both scared of rejection.

    When they come face to face at an authors convention, their relationship takes a different road, and they fall almost instantly for one another. This book was an emotional rollercoaster. It was sweet, happy, funny and also heartbreaking.

    The author seems to have done her homework and I applaud her for taking on, not just one, but two very complex young people. This story was a joy to read. It pulled me in and kept me hanging on to every word until the very last page!”

    To read the rest of the review, please visit:
    http://bayoubookjunkie.blogspot.com.au/2015/07/virtual-tour-lgbt-transgender-intersex.html?zx=3aba4d8e04965d16

  3. Multitasking Mommas
    4 out of 5

    :

    4* Review from MULTITASKING MOMMAS

    “One of the more intriguing stories I have read in a long while, Ari is about an how the love bloomed between intersex author, Ari, and transgender Benji. They had been online mates and friends for quite some time and Benjie had always been curious what Ari looked like. Now that they meet for the first time in an author convention, Benjie realizes that Ari is not really the person he initially thought.

    Because both men are special in their own ways, they are both insecure and thus manage to show the world a different persona. When Benjie sees how other authors rallied around Ari at a time of need, he realizes it does not matter Ari acts or looks the way he does, what matters is his sweetness and loving heart.

    Ari as a read was very curious. This touches on a subject that confuse many. The way the other authors became protective mama bears shows just how tight this little community of LGBT romance writers really is. Benjie is seen as someone new so has to prove to one and all that he is a person to trust around Ari.

    Although this was at times a heartbreaking read, the moments of levity more than made up for it. The antics only seen and heard in authors’ conventions are finally placed on text and it is not hard to imagine just how chaotic those events can be. Chaotic in the best possible ways.”

    To read the rest of the review, please visit:
    http://www.multitaskingmommas.com/2015/07/blog-tour-earc-review-excerpt-trailer.html

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