More than an decade after leaving Colorado to attend college and escape his past, Isaiah Greene moves back and builds a life in Denver as a special education teacher. When he meets Ben Woods, the mentor of one of his students, the attraction is immediate. The revelations that they’ve both suffered traumatic childhoods form a bond between them.
Raised by an abusive grandmother, Ben is a recovering addict who has made a family with his construction worker boss, Hershel, and Hershel’s husband, Daniel—drag queen ManDonna. Adding Isaiah to his life gives Ben a glimpse of a future he’d never dreamed possible for himself.
Both Isaiah and Ben are survivors, but when guilt drives a wedge between them, the past threatens to end their relationship.
Ben and Isaiah embark on journeys of self-discovery. Though their path will be difficult at times, humor and love find a way to bring light to the darkness.
Title: Under a Sky of Ash
Author: Brandon Witt
Release Date: March 21, 2016
As a teacher/counselor for sixteen years, I always battled knowing how much was the just the right amount of myself to share with my students. I wanted them to see me as human, know that I wasn’t perfect, and that they could trust me. I also wanted to keep professional boundaries, retain my authority, and maintain a level of anonymity. In Under a Sky of Ash, such concerns are thrown out the window, at least for one kid. Aaron is a sixth grade student whose teacher is Isaiah Greene. Aaron also has a mentor from the Big Brother program, Ben Woods. Isaiah and Ben meet at one of Aaron’s disciplinary meetings, and sparks fly. Months later, after they’re dating, Aaron’s foster mom is deemed to be unfit and Ben provides emergency care for Aaron.
In this scene, Ben is driving Aaron back to his place after picking him up from the social worker, trying to decide the best way to let the kid know that he’s been dating Aaron’s teacher.
Personally, I can’t imagine a much more awkward conversation to have with one of my students. However, since it didn’t actually happen to me, it was a ton of fun to write.
I hope you enjoy!
“That must have been some fight.” Aaron reached across the truck and poked beside my eye.
“Ouch!” I smacked his hand away. “Sheesh, boy. Don’t make me ground you on your first night staying at my place.”
“You wouldn’t ground me.” Aaron was practically bouncing up and down in his seat, he was so happy. “I sure hope Ms. Deaner lets me stay with you. Maybe you can be my new foster parent!”
“Whoa. Slow down.” I pulled the truck onto Spear Boulevard and headed back to my house. “Number one, you bet I’ll ground you. And two, this isn’t to make me a foster parent, but I do think she’ll let you stay with me for a bit. There’s no need to do more transitions than we need to. You’ll stay until we find a foster family that’s good, and I’ll do everything in my power to make sure you approve of them too.”
What the fuck had I just agreed to?
“So, Aaron buddy, we need to talk about something before we get home.”
“Creepers! From Minecraft. Weren’t you listening?”
Oh, that damn game. The first day of our camping trip that was the only thing the kid would talk about. Until I threatened to find a bear that needed a soon-to-be sixth-grader-sized snack. “Honestly, kid, I wasn’t listening. But, still, I need to talk to you before we get home.”
He sighed. “Fine.”
Man, this was awkward. “Well, you know I’ve got a boyfriend now and stuff. He’s at the house at the moment.”
“Ugh!” Aaron shook his head, letting out a high-pitched squeal. “I do not want to see you guys kiss. Or other stuff.”
Looking away from the road for a second, I glared at him. “Well, there went all my plans for the day. Can you just listen for a bit?”
Aaron rolled his eyes. “Sure. Whatever.”
How the hell was I supposed to tell him I was dating his teacher without scarring him for life?
“Well?” More irritation.
“My boyfriend is Isaiah. I just wanted you to know before we got home and it shocked you.” I glanced over at him again, trying to see his reaction.
He bugged his eyes at me. “Okay. Great. So your boyfriend’s name is Isaiah. Got it. So anyway, this creeper was about to explode. They do that if you don’t—”
“Oh.” I realized my mistake before I had to learn any more about creepers. “My boyfriend is Mr. Greene. Your teacher.”
Aaron looked at me like I’d just spoken another language.
“You’re dating Mr. Greene?”
I nodded. “Yep.”
His brows furrowed. “Does Ms. Bello know?”
Wasn’t expecting that one. “Yeah. She does.”
“She’s okay with that?” Disgust filled his voice.
I hadn’t expected quite that reaction. Not anger. He’d always been fairly nonconcerned about the gay thing. Then I remembered and couldn’t help but laugh, which hurt the inside of my head like holy fuck. “Aaron, Isaiah and Charity, er, Mr. Greene and Ms. Bello were never dating. They’re just friends.”
He tilted his head as he glared from across the truck, like he didn’t believe me.
“Ask him yourself.”
“Fine. I will.”
I waited for more, but there didn’t seem to be anything else. “Are you okay with your teacher being gay and dating me as long as he’s not cheating on Ms. Bello?”
Another shrug. “Yeah, why should I care?”
I needed him to give my grandmother lessons.
“Can I finish telling you about the creeper now?”
I really enjoyed this story. I am a sucker for abused characters. I like seeing the journey they make to get to a better place. I think Brandon Witt did a really good job creating two heartbreakingly beautiful characters. Isaiah and Ben really got to me and I was rooting for them throughout the entire book. This definitely made my heart hurt and it was wonderful.
4 pieces of eye candy
Brandon Witt’s outlook on life is greatly impacted by his first eighteen years of growing up gay in a small town in the Ozarks, as well as fifteen years as a counselor and special education teacher for students with severe emotional disabilities. Add to that his obsession with corgis and mermaids, then factor in an unhealthy love affair with cheeseburgers, and you realize that with all those issues, he’s got plenty to write about….