Safe and Sound
E.M. Lindsey’s Safe and Sound is a second-chance romance between two guys who were deeply in love as teens, but who went their separate ways due to a variety of circumstances and spend twenty years apart. It’s a heartbreaking and gut-wrenching story – especially when reading about the shitty hand life has dealt one of the protagonists – but there’s beauty and hope and understanding to be found, too.
Regan Moulin and Isaac Mackinnon have been best Is friends forever, despite their very different circumstances. Isaac comes from a comfortably-off family while Regan’s mother abandoned him and his younger brother Reid when he was just a kid, and Regan’s life basically consists of beatings from his dead-beat dad and trying to protect Reid, doing his best to make sure Reid has all the things Regan never had. Thanks to his dad’s reputation, everyone has dismissed Regan and believes he’ll turn out to be just as much a no-good as his old man, and the one bright spot in his world is Isaac, the only person who believes in him and knows that isn’t true. It’s hard to read about the abuse Regan suffers and to realise just how broken down he is by that and by the fact that everyone thinks the worst of him; but he carries on, working crap jobs so he can look after Reid, putting up with the funny looks and knowing whispers because… well, what else can he do?
The first quarter of Safe and Sound shows Regan and Isaac navigating the waters of first love; the depth of their longing and love for each other radiates from the pages and there’s a real sense that these two are meant to be, even though the odds appear completely stacked against them. Isaac is soon to leave Dover to go to college in New York, and Regan knows he’d throw his dreams of becoming a teacher and his chance of a good life away if he, Regan, were to say the word and ask him not to go. Isaac has already suggested Regan should go with him – but Regan can’t leave Reid at the mercy of their father, and he’s worried that Reid is showing signs of going off the rails. By the time Isaac comes home for Christmas, Regan has made up his mind to do what has to be done. He refuses to burden Isaac, to drag him down into his shitshow of a life, but before he sends him away, Regan takes one thing for himself, the only thing he’s ever wanted, and they spend one night together.
Isaac isn’t surprised when he wakes up alone the next morning.
Twenty years later finds Isaac, now a moderately successful novelist living in California, struggling with writer’s block and in trouble with his publisher over his looming deadlines. When his editor suggests that maybe a change of scenery would motivate him and that he should go back home, Isaac is wary to start with; going back to Dover means seeing Regan again, and he’s both desperate and fearful of doing that. Isaac has never forgotten Regan or fallen out of love with him – but what if Regan doesn’t feel the same way? What if he’s not even there any more? But the more he thinks about it, the more Isaac realises Dover is where he needs to be.
It’s not until he’s on the verge of moving that he finds out the truth of what has happened to Regan in the twenty years they’ve been apart, and that his family deliberately kept the information from him. It hits him that he’s lived his life according to their expectations – he went to college, got a good job and has become successful – but they’ve only supported him when he did what they wanted; they went along with his friendship with Regan but always looked down on him and wanted him gone from isaac’s life. Finding out the extent of their deception is just one more thing that tells him he’s made the right choice to go back home.
When Regan learns Isaac is back in Dover, his instinct is to keep away from him. It’s been twenty years and Isaac did exactly what Regan hoped he’d do with his life; chances are he’s forgotten him and what they were to each other anyway. But Isaac is persistent and won’t let Regan push him away again although he knows he’ll have to tread very carefully. Regan has been through a lot – he lost his hearing, went to prison for something he didn’t do and nobody believed him or cared that he couldn’t hear until at last a visitor to the prison helped him learn ASL – and it’s very easy to understand why he gets so angry, why he just wants to be left alone – and why he doesn’t make it easy for Isaac, needing him to know and accept his day-to-day reality the way it is.
Isaac might not have had to face the same challenges as Regan, but he has plenty of baggage of his own, so their reunion is a mixture of joy and pain as they open up about the intervening years and start to get to know the men they have become. Working through their issues and challenges isn’t going to be easy and they have a lot of work to do, but there’s no doubt that the love they share is the thing that’s going to sustain them through the difficulties ahead.
The author has packed a lot into a fairly short page-count and the emotional impact of this story is considerable – but I couldn’t help feeling that there were some things missing. My main issue is that, given all the issues they’re dealing with, not enough time is given to the rebuilding of Regan and Isaac’s relationship. I also found it hard to get a handle on Isaac’s relationship with his family. In the early part of the book it seems Isaac loves them and misses them – but later it seems as though he’s become estranged from them, but we don’t know why or see anything of their relationship deteriorating. When he learns how they’ve lied to him, I was cheering at his reaction – but I also found it a bit abrupt because there’s no build up to it. Finally, although it’s clear Regan would lay down his life for his brother, we never meet Reid or see them interact, so it’s difficult to understand the extent of Regan’s devotion to him.
The characterisation of the two leads is excellent. Regan is so strong and resilient; he keeps going despite the truly horrible things that happen throughout his life, and I was so pleased when that resilience pays off and he starts to succeed contrary to all expectations. Isaac is a cinnamon roll but a very determined one; once he learns Regan is still in Dover, he sets out to prove that he meant what he said when he told Regan he’d love him forever. The author writes sensitively about Regan’s deafness, and his exhaustion and frustration at having to work so hard to make himself understood while the people around him don’t bother to attempt the reverse leap off the page.
Safe and Sound can be difficult to read, but its portrayal of life’s cruelty and unfairness is skilfully juxtaposed with the beauty of unconditional love and the promise of happiness, and Regan and Isaac’s HEA is all the sweeter for being so hard won.