Life can throw a man all sorts of curve balls, as David discovers when a senseless act of violence tries to deprive him of his lover of two decades. They’ve had their good and bad times, but it’s the good ones that David remembers and wants to hold on to. In fact, he wants more of them, wants to experience more than just the memories that fill his mind as he waits to discover Russell’s fate.
Between meeting Russell for the first time and the horrific instant that tries to take Russell away, their lives have been a series of moments, ranging from awkward to amazing. David wants to believe that their love will conquer all, because he can’t let go. But does Russell feel it, too? Can Russell hold on as tightly, through the surgery that will either save his life or end it? Does Russell love David enough to stay?
The One That Stayed by TC Blue is the third book in her One and One series and it features the story of David Sargent and Russell Hartwell first introduced to us as recurring secondary characters in The One That Got Away (Book 1) and who figure even more prominently in The One That Was Lost (Book 2).
David and Russell have been together for twenty-two years. They are married and have built a wonderful life for themselves. Together they have been loving and supportive dads to Jamie, Alicia and Toss (Russell’s biological children) and have also nurtured and grown a mutually loving and supportive extended family that includes Jamie’s partner Elliott, Jamie and Elliott’s best friends Jim and Michael, who are also a couple, and their mutual friends Trish and Chandra also together. But when Russell becomes the victim of an act of gay bashing violence, David and Russell’s world as they know it, and indeed that of their entire family, comes to a standstill as Russell’s life hangs in the balance.
I have followed the One and One series since its inception and with each book TC Blue continues to write quality stories with multi-dimensional characters that resonate with readers. In my review of Book 1, The One That Got Away, I attributed the author’s ability to do this through her well-developed characters that are “written with emotional depth and convincing dialogue that makes their respective reactions to their situation quite believable”. She demonstrates this ability once again in The One That Stayed, a well-written and moving story of love and commitment, for better or worse, in sickness and in health.
Given the over-arching plot, this is the most emotional book in the series to date and the author’s authentic portrayal of David as a man who may be on the verge of losing the love of his life through an unspeakable act of violence makes this story an equally emotional and moving journey for the reader. Through David’s narrative the author deftly captures his sense of shock, confusion and hysteria immediately following the act of violence to which Russell falls victim, as well as the overwhelming fear, pain, anger and sense of helplessness that set in as David and their family wait and hope for Russell’s survival and recovery.
“‘Russell… Russ, don’t leave me,’ he begged, even as he heard sirens in the distance, coming closer. ‘Don’t leave me, honey, don’t die. You have to hold on, Russ. If you don’t, I’ll… fuck, honey, I’ll come after you, you hear me? I’ll come after you, just to kick your ass and show you what an asshole you were for going! Hold on, honey. Just… please! For me, Russell! Stay with me, lover. We promised for better or worse, right? And I never agreed to that ‘until death do we part’ thing! We don’t part, Russ! Not ever! So you can’t die, see? You have to stay, or I have to go with you, and that would just piss off the kids, and… Jesus, Russ! Fucking Christ, don’t do this to me!'”
Through David’s voice the author alternates from present to past taking us back in time some twenty years to the beginnings of David and Russell’s relationship. The writing is quite fluid and the reader gets to know both characters and how they came to be as a couple quite well. It is one of the strengths of this story as a whole. My only misgiving is that more than halfway through the story the author fast forwards to the present and stays there. I was so utterly captivated by, and invested in, David and Russell’s back-story that I felt a much slower approach to the present and by extension the story’s end would have worked much better for me. In this sense I would have had no misgivings whatsoever in reading a much longer book.
Interestingly, the author also gives voice to secondary character Elliott, David and Russell’s son-in-law. Although we first meet Elliott in Book 1 and his and Jamie’s story is told in the second book of the series, the author gives some prominence to Elliott’s point of view in Book 3 along side that of David’s. In my review of The One That Got Away I describe Elliott as a well-developed secondary character that is “so incorrigible you can’t help but want to smack him on the one hand and kiss him hard on the other.” This is by no means a derogatory comment of the character but rather the opposite. Elliott is so inherently honest about who he is and his feelings that he does not filter his words or his actions, traits that have endeared him to this reader.
“He didn’t even notice the way her hand was flapping until he felt a different hand on his shoulder. ‘Oh, fine, you homophobic bitch, have Security throw me out; I don’t care! Fuck, have me arrested if you want. Just tell me what the fuck is happening to Russ. Please! I won’t even resist and you can get me thrown in jail, but tell me something. Anything!’”
While we get to know Elliott and his motivations as a character in Book 2, and the more natural and apparent choice of secondary voice for this book would have been that of Jamie’s (Russell and David’s son) there is a reason for Elliott’s prominence in this book even though it may not be readily apparent at first glance. Without giving anything away, I thought that giving voice to Elliott’s point of view in this particular story demonstrates that not only is the author in tune with her characters and knows when there is unfinished business between them, in this instance she also nuances a sense of symmetry between characters in terms of their growth.
Written prior to the recently announced policy change by the U.S. government, one of the underlying issues in this story that I feel is important to mention is the lack of recognition of rights of same-sex couples and their families to not only access information on their partners in cases of medical emergencies and illness, but also their rights to visitation and decision-making as to the care of their loved ones. TC Blue tackles this issue head on as she shows through David and Russell’s story the heart-wrenching effects on all concerned of not allowing partners and families access to their ill loved ones.
The One That Stayed is a beautifully written, emotionally charged and poignant story that should not be missed. Despite my personal misgivings about it moving a little too fast from past to present, I could not put the book down and read it in one sitting into the wee hours of the morning. It is definitely a shelf-keeper within the m/m romance genre and a book that I will most likely be re-reading, as I have done with the first two books in this series.
Although The One That Stayed can be read as a stand-alone book, I don’t recommend doing so because you will be cheated out of the much richer reading experience of getting to know the ensemble cast of characters and their relationships in this book and the series as a whole. For these reasons I highly recommend that the series be read in sequence of book release. For those that have read the first two books in the One and One series you’ll definitely not want to miss this one.