Desert Isle Keeper
College junior Walter Lucas is angry when he finds out he won’t be able to live off campus at his small Midwestern liberal college like he did the previous year with his senior friend. Instead, the college Casanova – who has big plans to spend the year in bed with a revolving series of freshmen – is given a choice of the available dorm rooms.
In one is freshman Kelly Davidson from Minnesota who lives in a Disney haze, ready to find gay friends but saving himself for the right person, for love, before testing his sexuality. He’s been given an air-conditioned room because of his allergies, but this is a mixed blessing since the dorm also houses a large collection of homophobic jocks. Also, the room was designed for only one person although the college says two can live in it.
Through serendipity and Walter’s I-don’t-care attitude, he and Kelly end up as roommates, and Cullinan’s impossible couple romance begins. As jaded Walter who’s from a dysfunctional broken home hangs out with shy, unsure but wholesome, kind-hearted Kelly, Walter finds his world view changing.
Walter’s only sounding board is a communications instructor who’s up for tenure and whose strong friendship and championship of Walter is keeping Walter from imploding. But when it looks like the instructor will be booted from the college instead of being added as a permanent instructor, Walter feels his safety net failing. It’s only his growing friendship and love of his roommate that keeps him grounded.
Cullinan writes character-driven stories and this is no exception. Key to enjoying this story is liking the flawed but essentially good Walter. He’s been hiding in protected sexual exploits and is threatened when he starts to have feelings for his high-maintenance roommate. Walter is the guy readers will want to hug and reassure that everything will be all right – if he can just calm down and stop feeling responsible for everything that happens.
Kelly, for all his insecurities and potentially debilitating allergies, sees the glass as half full and he’s ready to enjoy that half to the fullest. At first he doesn’t know what to make of the flirty, handsome Walter. And when Kelly starts to fall for Walter, he’s frustrated that Walter is sticking to his hands-off promise.
Both men have real problems that they need to address before they can come together happily. Fortunately, they both work toward coming to grips with their problems while they look after the other one. Cullinan knows that love isn’t a doorway that once entered makes life perfect, but a collaboration between two people who work to keep each other happy. Happily-ever-after is a job both people must take seriously for it to become true.
Cullinan’s genius shines as she illuminates the subtle steps Walter and Kelly take as they become a couple. Both are blindsided by love as it sneaks into their friendship and binds them. Particularly charming is Walter turning from Lothario to mother hen as he shields Kelly from potentially debilitating allergens.
Where other gay romances might be headlong dives into sex and love, Cullinan’s are subtle and sneaky journeys that promise the real thing, not just a mirage.