By the River

Page Contents

About By the River

After a bad breakup, Adam Kavanaugh returns to his sleepy old river town to find himself. His family hasn't changed, but he has some work to do readjusting to small town life, so much that he wonders if he's made a mistake by coming home.

But from the moment Leith Marshall pops out of the Ohio River and smiles at him, there's no turning back. Between Leith's swimmer body, sweet laugh, and gentle soul, Adam is head over heels. Leith lets Adam into his little world bit by bit, from his mother's abandoned aquarium shop to his elderly father's fairy tale delusions.

Which might not be so delusional after all. Leith does have a certain affinity for water. It seems almost to listen to him. The current never pulls him downriver, the tub doesn't splash, and the pool hardly moves around him even at an all out sprint. He can't spend a night away from his river, and then there's the way he sings. Adam has to admit, he'd steer his ship straight into the rocks for that.

So maybe Leith inherited a few things from his mysterious mother. It doesn't mean he'll disappear like she did. That's absurd.


By the River is the "water" in the Elementals project.

By the River was first published by Loose Id in 2012. This second edition (2018) has a different cover and a few minor edits, but is otherwise the same.

Now available from Amazon and Kindle Unlimited!

Leith Marshall by Astro

Leith stopped flipping through his hardback and gave a satisfied hum.

It gave Adam goose bumps again. He leaned over, face heating. “What is it?”

“Some new age stuff about fish symbolism. I’ve read it a few times, but I don’t get it. Drawings are nice, though.” Leith pointed at a full-page illustration.

A rainbow fish. A leaping salmon, but Roy G. Biv’d out in stripes.

“Like that,” Leith said. “But, I don’t know. Different. Less tacky.”

Adam sat back with his ass on the pallet and accepted the book, tracing the lines with his forefinger, rearranging them into something more fluid, maybe a little nouveau, but working in the knotty Celtic angle too. That seemed right for Leith.

Weird, though. Hardly knew the guy.

Just wanted to.

He looked up from the book to find Leith watching him intently. “What do you think? Good tattoo?”

Adam said, “Yeah. Be brilliant, actually. Anywhere.”

Leith laid one hand on his own chest, just over his heart. “It goes here.”

Adam nodded. “That’s how I felt about mine.”

Leith nodded. “You do a lot of things just because you feel like it? Not really sure why?”

“I think so, yeah. Never really examined it before.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m fucking boring.”

Leith laughed and leaned closer to flip the page in the book. “I don’t buy it.”

Adam took a deep breath, surprised to find that Leith didn’t smell like chlorine. He smelled like fresh rainwater should. Nice shampoo, whatever it was. Made Adam’s head feel a little floaty.

“What about this one?” Leith pointed to a Japanese koi.

“It’s cool. But it doesn’t feel like you.”

“Yeah. Like if you got an eagle or something.”

“Yeah. Like that. Wait—”

Leith looked up again. He was close, so close Adam could feel his breath, but not so close he couldn’t look him in the eye. “It’s a falcon. Maybe some other hawk, but the symbolism is all wrong.”

“No. You’re right.” But the problem right then wasn’t the goddamn falcon; it was what was going on beneath it. Something had swollen, too large for Adam’s chest. His blood roared in his ears.

So much for hearing the river.

“Leith,” Adam tried to say, but it came out like a croak. Leith raised his eyebrows. Adam managed, “Would it totally ruin this moment if I kissed you?”

Leith blinked as if the question was a surprise. Then he tilted his head, closed his eyes, and pressed his lips to Adam’s. The book slipped off his lap; he brought his near hand up to brush Adam’s cheek, the five o’clock shadow making a soft bristly sound, felt more than heard.

This should not have been unexpected, but Adam froze. Or burned, maybe. He wasn’t sure, but his whole body went into a state of alarm, confusion, excitement, happiness at once. A second’s delay, maybe two, and he found himself again. Leaned into it, tilted his head. His eyes were closed, but he squeezed them shut tight.

He parted his lips slightly. Leith’s fingers made their way into his hair, curling into the floppy mess. He opened his mouth and pulled Adam into it all at once. His skin was cool, his hand, his body, but inside, Leith was warm. Hot. Wet. He searched out Adam’s front teeth with the tip of his tongue, and a new adjective occurred: hungry.

They closed it off by some unspoken mutual agreement, and Adam belatedly noticed that he had tucked his fingers into the waist of Leith’s jeans. He smiled as they parted, then pressed their foreheads together. Adam said, “I wanted to do that from the second you popped out of the water.”

“I wanted to do it from the second you popped out from around that tree.” Leith laughed, the river laugh, and Adam shivered. Leith went on. “Trying to rescue me.”

“Ha-ha.” Adam smiled so hard his face hurt.

“You’re all sweaty after you run. Your hair curls up. Your skin looks amazing.”

“You were the one in wet shorts, baby.”

They laughed and kissed again, slowly readjusting into a more comfortable position. Adam’s hands didn’t ask permission; they simply went where they wanted, feeling out the long, hard planes of muscle, the pale, cool skin he’d admired from afar.

Not too far. But too far, all the same.

He brushed the backs of two fingers down Leith’s stomach, over his navel, down to the waist of his jeans. Back up, over the ridges of muscle, to his side.

Leith laughed, twitching as if it tickled, and nudged him toward the wall until Adam’s back was against it. Leith tugged at Adam’s T-shirt, and they took turns pulling them off and throwing them over the counter above. Then Leith surprised him again—he straddled Adam’s thighs and leaned forward, propping himself up with both hands on Adam’s chest, one on the stylized black falcon in its ring.

Adam held his breath but reached out, took him by the waist. He tilted his head upward to get a good look at the pretty hovering inches from him, all sweet and welcoming. Leith tossed his hair out of his eyes and then sat down in Adam’s lap.

Defying the Laws of Physics

Adam chuckled. “See, that’s what happens to people who can’t defy the laws of physics.”

Leith started to laugh but then turned pink and bit his lip.

Adam flushed too. He hadn’t meant for it to just pop out like that…but he wasn’t sorry, exactly, either. “Hey. I’m not making fun. You know that, right?”

Leith nodded. His lip was turning white between his teeth.

“Do you not want to talk about it?” The more Adam thought about it, the more he knew they should talk about it. Treating it like a secret was treating it like it was shameful, somehow, the elephant in their perfect little room, when it should be anything but. The look on Leith’s face right now drove that home like a knife through Adam’s heart. But at the same time, it wasn’t Adam’s to talk about. If Leith wasn’t ready, he would respect it.

“I’m not…” Leith trailed off, paused, chewed on himself some more. “I know I’m not normal. It’s okay.”

“You’re better than normal. You’re amazing.”

Another long pause. Leith tabbed out, exited the game, saved, and put the computer aside. Adam took his hand and squeezed it.

Leith said, “I guess I didn’t know it was different for other people until I was maybe six or seven. Most people don’t even notice. No one except Dad.”

“What does he say?”

“Nothing. We just know.”

Adam’s heart swelled, threatened to crack. He turned and reached up with his far hand to brush Leith’s hair out of his eyes. “I notice. I noticed the first time I saw you.” So as not to leave him wondering how he felt about it, Adam smiled. “Course, I also stare at you a lot, so…”

Leith leaned in and kissed him, gentle and closemouthed.

That repaired some of the damage to Adam’s heart, but it still felt bruised. “If you don’t want me to talk about it, I won’t. I just want you to know that I see you. And I love you.”

Leith let his forehead rest against Adam’s. “You really don’t mind?”

“You wouldn’t be you without it.” Another little kiss. “When I say I love you, I mean all of you.”


“You know it. You’re not the one who has to worry; I’m the fucking boring one here.”

“Nuh-uh. You have some very interesting parts.” Leith smiled. “But I don’t know why I’m like this. I think he doesn’t talk about it because…”

“She was?”

“Where else could it come from?”

Adam considered it again, telling Leith what his father had said that night, about his mother going back to the ocean. Adam still couldn’t credit it—Leith’s subtle way with water, he’d seen with his own eyes, but the idea that it might have to do with his mother was so much conjecture, potentially hurtful. Would it make things better or worse? Easier or harder?

He couldn’t tell, so he asked, “Do you need to know? Do you want to find her?”

“I used to think so, when I was a kid. I used to think it’d be like a fairy tale.” Leith sighed. “But then I got older and realized how fucked up fairy tales are.”


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