At thirty-eight years of age, Chandler finds himself single and caring for his brother Raymond, who suffers numerous health problems.
Mired in grief from the multiple deaths of close family members, he recedes into himself, crippled with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive tendencies.
Early one morning Chandler’s life is flipped on its end when he encounters his neighbor, twenty-five year old Marcus.
Nothing about a relationship with this young man makes sense. For one thing, Marcus is… well… YOUNG. He’s also biracial and has all kinds of tattooed muscles!
The streetwise Marcus introduces Chandler to an entirely different lifestyle, pulling the would-be hermit from his shell, albeit kicking and screaming. But how long can such a relationship last, and what about Raymond? Chandler fears a guy like Marcus, seemingly perfect in every way, won’t be able to truly accept Chandler with all his baggage.
An unexpected bombshell detonates and Chandler learns some unsavory details about Marcus, who he really is, and what he’s done in the past.
Having read Erno’s The Full Nelson series, I was interested to find out how much I would enjoy a romance by this author that wasn’t mystery based. As it turns out, I quite enjoyed Baggage. Then again, as Chandler is dealing with mental health issues of his own and his brother’s, for whom he is the sole caregiver, it was hard not to enjoy it as Erno did a great job of creating realistic characters. That there is a little bit of mystery for the reader as to the secrets Marcus is keeping merely upped the ante for me because I was rooting for these guys to find their happy ending – both individually and together.
Chandler has spent much of his adult life as a caregiver for family members. First for his mother after her stroke, then for his grandmother, then for his father, and now for his brother, Raymond. At some point, he also helped raise his nephew once Raymond’s bipolar disorder and other health conditions rendered him incapable of caring for his own son. Due to the nature of their needs, he lost his mother, his grandmother and his father to death, his long-term boyfriend for having too much baggage, and his nephew when he went away to college and began his own life. Faced with loss after loss after loss, it’s not surprising that Chandler clung to the rigidity of routine to the point that he withdrew from much of society. After all, it’s far easier to exercise control over your life in a smaller environment than in the world at large. But with one failed car battery, Marcus busted through Chandler’s walls and drug him back into the world, kicking and screaming when needed. What seemed to Chandler an unsurmountable barrier in the beginning – a thirteen-year age difference – served to be exactly what he needed. Marcus’s youth, thirst for life, and interest in Chandler meant that he was constantly pushing at Chandler’s boundaries in order to get Chandler to do more with him. Despite one or two failed attempts – the gay club being the worst – Chandler found himself excited to spend time with Marcus, feeling younger and happier than he had in years. Which is what makes what Marcus’s brother does especially cruel. But Chandler and Marcus learn an important lesson – out of tragedy can come happiness.
I loved the character Erno created Chandler. The man had baggage – trunks and trunks of it – and his anxiety and withdrawal were realistic coping mechanisms for what he endured over the years. Having dealt with his mother’s anxiety meant that Marcus was able to use that experience to help Chandler when the world closed in around him. This strengthened the feelings of safety that Marcus made Chandler feel. Watching them build their relationship was both sweet and sexy because they were very compatible sexually – hot! I absolutely hated that Marcus’s brother spoke out of turn to Chandler and I would love to say that Chandler overreacted, but there were too many times that Marcus kept his secrets when he shouldn’t have. So I got why Chandler did what he did and I cried right along with him even as I suspected that the situation wasn’t as black and white as it appeared. While it was one heck of a bumpy ride, I really liked the resolution gave Marcus and Chandler. As an aside, I loved Eileen!