Being With Him

A Horizons Series Novella

Zeb Araneda leaves his privileged but closely supervised life in the Philippines to study architecture at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where his new roommate is openly gay Luca Dilorio.

Alex Boulet is a successful print model who appears to have it all, but on closer inspection, the ready smile never reaches his mesmerizing green eyes. Tired of living alone, Alex moves in with fellow model Chyna Davidson, Luca’s boyfriend.

Away from his father’s watchful eye, and with Luca’s help, Zeb learns to navigate his new environment, and experiences freedom of choice for the first time. This fresh perspective allows him to step out of his comfort zone and act on his attraction to Alex.

The holiday season has always been difficult for Alex. Sappy commercials tug at his heart, and storefront windows depict idealized scenes that remind him of what he’ll never have: a loving partner willing to accept his truth. Will this Christmas be another disappointment, or will Santa finally make his wish come true?

Cover Artist: Kanaxa

Chapter 1


ZEB ARANEDA tried to concentrate on his roommate’s queer tutorial. With gay dads who led by example—and his own out and proud status—Luca Dilorio knew a lot about being in a same-sex relationship, and felt duty bound to teach him the basics.

Because Zeb was clueless.

And a recently hatched queer.

In love with Alex Boulet, the stunning trans guy who graced this month’s cover of GQ magazine.

“Dude, are you listening?” Luca asked when Zeb didn’t respond.


“Repeat after me so I’ll know you understand.”

“Quit it,” Zeb grumbled. “I might be new at this relationship, but I’m a smart guy.”

“In case you need a refresher,” Luca persisted. “Rule number one, no PDAs, rule number….” Zeb sighed and allowed Luca’s words of wisdom to trail off to another section of his brain. Great at compartmentalizing, Zeb tucked away today’s lessons, having every intention of revisiting at a later date.

He realized knowledge was crucial to the success of his romance, but right then, he couldn’t focus for shit. All he wanted to do was pack his bag and catch the bus to Manhattan to start Christmas Break with his lover.

Luca and his boyfriend, Chyna, Alex’s roommate, were flying off to Grand Turk Island to meet up with assorted family members. Which meant he and Alex would have the entire apartment to themselves—for seven days!

Zeb’s friendship with Luca had gotten off to a rocky start back in late August when they’d first laid eyes on each other. He could still remember the outrage in Luca’s voice.

“Dude! You’ll have to downsize. There’s no room for all your crap.”

“Right,” Zeb agreed. “Poor planning on my part.”

“I’m Luca,” he offered, sinking down on a bed. “We’re stuck with each other for a year, so let’s try and make the most of it. Why not start with some ground rules?”

“My name is Zeb, and rules work for me.”

“Good,” Luca said absently, glancing at his phone. He tossed it to the side. “Da fuck.”

“What’s wrong?” Zeb asked. “Girlfriend troubles already?”

“Boyfriend,” Luca clarified. “He’s not picking up his phone or answering my texts.”

Zeb blinked and did his best not to react to the revelation that Luca was gay. It was the last thing he’d expected but a huge relief. Maybe he’d finally get some answers to the questions that had been plaguing him for a while.

“Where is he?” Zeb asked.


“What’s he doing there?”


“Wow.” Zeb approved. “Sure beats college.”

Luca studied Zeb. “What are you doing here if you’d rather be somewhere else?”

“My parents decided I was going to be an architect the minute I was born. No one bothered to ask if that’s what I wanted.”

“That blows,” Luca said sympathetically.

“Back home it’s like that,” Zeb explained.

“Where’s home?”

“The Philippines.”

“My mom’s Filipino,” Luca mentioned. “She can be a bit Napoleonic at times. Drives my dad nuts.”

Zeb hooted. “Are they still married?”

“They never were.”

“Ouch. How come?”

“My dad’s gay,” Luca said evenly. “I was an accident, but he says it was the best thing that ever happened to him.”

“He can’t be that gay if he got it up for a chick.”

“No, he’s definitely gay. What happened with my mom was a one-off.”

“I can’t believe you’re so accepting,” Zeb commented.

Luca squinted. “Do you have a problem with gays? Tell me now and I’ll request a new roommate.”

“No, not at all,” Zeb said quickly. “I’m totally cool with your orientation, but my family’s strictly Catholic and they frown on same-sex love. I admire your self-confidence.”

“I’ve had my own run-ins with the Catholic Church, and I can tell you they’re full of shit. Love is love. Period. You’ll never hear me complain about my childhood. I’ve got the two best dads in the world, and my mom and her husband—who also happens to be my dad’s brother—have given me a great life.”

Zeb’s eyes widened in shock. “Did you just say your dad’s brother is married to your mother?”

Luca smiled. “Yup.”

Zeb leaned forward. “So he’s your uncle/stepfather?”

“Which part of this aren’t you getting?” Luca asked.

“No blood was spilled?”

“Nah,” Luca said. “It’s ancient history. We’re one big, happy blended family now. I have a half sister who’s also my first cousin.”

“Dude, that’s convoluted as hell.”

Luca snorted. “How about I unravel the mysteries of my family tree over pizza? It’ll take my mind off Chyna for a bit.”

Zeb still had a hard time figuring out Luca’s intricate family dynamic. As days turned into weeks, and more info was shared, a solid friendship was born. Perhaps it was because Luca was half Filipino himself and understood parts of Zeb’s culture most strangers found perplexing and somewhat annoying. Like Zeb’s complete lack of basic survival skills. When he first arrived at Cornell, he had no idea how to use a washing machine or dryer.

“Dude, you’re clueless,” Luca remarked the first time he watched Zeb frowning at his pile of formerly white undershirts and briefs. They’d turned an ugly shade of gray after he’d washed them with several pairs of black jeans. The jeans themselves were dotted with white lint.

“Am I going to have to buy new underwear?” Zeb asked plaintively. “Most of this stuff is brand-new. And those are Diesel pants!”

“Next time, separate the whites from the darks,” Luca advised. “We can probably salvage your underwear with bleach, or you can go commando.”

“Hell no! I don’t want my dick caught in the zipper.”

“Yeah, you’d end up in the ER for sure,” Luca predicted, shaking his head. “Grab the bleach.”

“What about the jeans?”

“We’ll wash them again,” Luca said. “Fucking high maintenance….”

Luca warned him to get with the program or end up spending all his money at the cleaners. So he did. Life lessons with his anal-retentive roommate had been painstakingly awkward at times, but more often than not, they reduced them both to hysterical laughter.

Zeb made up for his domestic malfunctions by killing it in the classroom. Always a great student, he excelled in math and drafting, very often helping Luca. It was his way of repaying the embarrassing hand-holding.

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