Two broken souls live on the same street, sharing only a lawn. He barely knows her name, and she judges him by the bottle in his hand. Together, they’ll inadvertently help heal each other’s wounds. AH/AU Rated M or excessive bourbon consumption.
Word Count: 70,459
“Tiny steps forward. That’s how we did things.” Jasper’s late-chapter comment sums up Bourbon and Tea perfectly. Like the sultry heat of the summer storms they witness, this lovely story moves along at its own pace and is the richer for it.
Initially, the story starts with a bang. The first chapters introduce us to what I dubbed “the cul-de-sac of doom,” three neighbors in a group of beach bungalows. Bella, the hermit graduate student with a rescue complex, Jasper the musician alcoholic, and horny, crazy white-trash Rose, who would do Jerry Springer proud! Not to mention, a trio of garden gnomes who give Jasper the stink eye. Zigster’s references to the Exorcist, West Side Story, and ninjas had me in unexpected hysterics. By Zigster’s own admission in an author’s note, the story becomes unexpectedly serious, but also subtle and beautiful.
Jasper, in Texas fashion, is dropping g’s off the ends of his words (darlin’, ripe pickins) and casually beguiling Bella with his cowboy hotness, despite her reservations about his love of bourbon, and his daily and generous use of it. It’s his way of numbing him to something in his past. Bella hides herself away in her bungalow, drinking tea and struggling with a love-hate relationship with her dead mother’s guitar and memories of her abusive childhood. Rose is obsessed with Jasper and going down in flames, and becomes a bit of a stalker.
Zigster gives her readers a quick hint that there is more to these characters than their obvious issues. Bella cares too much, gives too much:
I hated the compulsions I constantly had that involved worrying about people. Worrying about people was a dangerous thing, because then you ended up taking care of them, and they, in return, ended up leeching off you until you were nothing more than a bloodless sack of skin.
Challenged with an ultimatum of sobriety from Bella, Jasper struggles with choosing her or his lifestyle:
Bella was special, I’d known it since I moved in next door, but did I want to give up the only comfort I had for a fragile relationship with this even more fragile girl?
The reader comes to realize, however, that Bella is at heart a caregiver, and while an alcoholic, Jasper is not so far gone or self-absorbed that he’s lost his inner southern gentleman or kindness. These two bond over NPR and comfortable silences on Bella’s porch swing. They find they can breathe in each other’s presence, something they struggle to do alone. Their relationship blooms slowly as they deal with their own issues, while learning to support one another and have faith in themselves.
Bourbon and Tea is well worth the read. Zigster’s writing is funny, snarky, serious and beautiful. Sometimes painful in where she takes you, but then she’ll write in some Hope, sneaking in back the door, and get you through it. And you’ll be glad you stuck with her.
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