Are you read to read an adorable (and queer!) sports novel? Then Running with Lions by Julian Winters must be on your to-read list. It releases this June… and we’ve got an excerpt that you can read right now!
Bloomington High School Lions’ star goalie, Sebastian Hughes, should be excited about his senior year: His teammates are amazing and he’s got a coach who doesn’t ask anyone to hide their sexuality. But when his estranged childhood best friend Emir Shah shows up to summer training camp, Sebastian realizes the team’s success may end up in the hands of the one guy who hates him. Determined to reconnect with Emir for the sake of the Lions, he sets out to regain Emir’s trust. But to Sebastian’s surprise, sweaty days on the pitch, wandering the town’s streets, and bonding on the weekends sparks more than just friendship between them.
Running with Lions releases on June 7 from Duet Books, the YA imprint of Interlude Press. Read an excerpt below!
Oakville isn’t officially a town. It’s a short stretch of narrow road with one gas station, a single traffic light, and a few attractions for summer tourists, like a cheesy ‘50s-style diner with wonky air conditioning but the best burgers Sebastian’s ever had. The ice cream shop has outdoor seating, and an old drive-in at the edge of town brings in a handful of townies at night. But the rest is mostly old shops selling “Greetings from Oakville!” postcards or antiques, owned by lifers who refuse to move out.
“Here it is, kids!” Mason says in a corny TV announcer voice.
A mile and a half off the main road, a summer camp has been renovated into their training facility. An ancient wooden sign hangs at the entrance bridge: “Camp Haven.” It used to be Camp Heaven, a Christian youth camp, but one of the E’s fell off a decade ago.
“Welcome to hell,” Mason says as they pass over the bridge.
Willie chuckles from the back seat while Sebastian takes it all in once again.
The modernized cabins fit two boys, a stupid rule according to Willie, but that’s because he wants all three of them to bunk together. Behind the cabins sits a massive lake that shines like black diamonds after sunset. Nearby is the old main lodge, now a cafeteria. Guys use the picnic area to sneak cigarettes at night.
Around the bend is a huge shed used for equipment storage, affectionately called “the Hot Box” because there’s no ventilation, a hard lesson Sebastian learned his first year. The locker room is bathed in an eternal stench of sweat and jockstraps, but the water pressure in the showers is amazing.
The vibe reminds Sebastian of Jason Voorhees, Camp Crystal Lake, and all those lame ‘80s horror movies Willie loves.
Mason grins and hops out of the car. “And look, most of the hellions have already arrived!”
Willie says, “Quit it, Mace,” as he pulls on his backpack. “This place is a sanctuary,” he announces. “A no-man’s-land, dude. Sacred.”
Sebastian snorts, dropping an arm around Willie’s shoulders and a hand in his sweaty hair.
“Very poetic, Will,” Mason mocks. “Keep waxing sweet haikus like that and I’m gonna marry you.” Clearly, Mason has no idea what a haiku is.
“Not because I’m a good kisser?”
Mason scrunches his face. “Dude, I’ll take your word on it.”
“You should.” Willie grins wryly. “I suck face better than I cook.”
Yep, these are Sebastian’s best friends.
Not too much later, the rest of the team pulls in. Sebastian’s eyes scan the usual faces along with rookies who trained with them during the spring. He’s not searching for anyone…
Captain Obvious, front and center.
High-fives and fist bumps are passed around. The bigger guys roughhouse, give noogies and headlocks, talk smack for the hell of it.
Mason chuckles and says, “They have no idea,” to Willie.
“Better call the ambulances now.”
The thing about soccer is, it’s a rough sport where the primary objective isn’t just getting the ball in the goal. It’s about maneuvering the ball toward the posts without being slaughtered on the way. All of them have racked up some harsh injuries over the years. It’s all worth it.
The brotherhood within the team is what attracted Sebastian and Willie. This team broke all the rules. He remembers Coach Patrick’s speech that first day: “No exclusions around here, boys! Be who you are! Be proud! Treat each other like family.”
Rumor was, Coach’s nephew Xander went to one of those blazer-and-tie Catholic schools and got kicked off the baseball team when he came out. Coach decided to change the system: Sexuality in sports became a nonfactor. Whom you were attracted to off the field didn’t matter. If you could get the ball to the goal without falling, you were in.
“At the end of the day, you’re a bunch of lost boys with big dreams, anyway. Screw the other BS!”
And that was that. No one cared when Willie came out, because he was the best defensive player they had. Mason’s make- out session with Miguel was forgotten the following Monday. Acceptance was huge for Sebastian. He had a place where he was safe and wanted. There was no turning back.