Here in the Romance genre, we believe in our happy-ever-afters. If a book doesn’t end happily, we want our money back. And I don’t know about you, but I always feel a little cheated if a couple gets a happy ending in one book only to have it removed in a sequel.
That’s why writing Before was a risk. When Aftercare, the first book in my Ever After series, opens, Syed is on trial for the murder of his boyfriend and sub, Jamie. Of course he didn’t do it, and his lawyer (who’s the MC of the book) gets him acquitted. But that’s not the last we hear of Jamie. In Aftershock, Syed is trying to overcome his grief and go on with his life. He starts to fall in love with Dashiell, the other lawyer who helped get him acquitted, but he wrestles with his ongoing feelings for Jamie.
I don’t want to give anything away in case you haven’t read Aftershock yet, but Jamie makes a sort of emotional appearance, and ultimately Syed understands that it’s okay to love Dashiell without completely letting go of Jamie.
Often in Romance, the ex is awful, and even when they’re not awful, they’re supplanted. As in “yeah, I thought I loved him, but now I see how much more I love this new guy.” But does love always die just because it ends?
I’ve never been married. I guess I’m sort of commitment-phobic, but I like to joke that I don’t want to get involved in a situation where the best possible outcome is for someone to die. Because when you think about it, every marriage ends. And unless both people manage to die at the same time, someone is left grieving.
A sad ending and the grieving that comes after it shouldn’t negate all the happy that came before. Jamie dies, but Syed never forgets him, and Dashiell allows Syed to honor his memory. As Syed says, the man he is now loves Dashiell, but if Jamie hadn’t died, he would still be the man who loves Jamie. And to me, that’s romantic.
So I took a risk on Before, which is the story of how Jamie and Syed met and their first play session together. It ends with the promise of a happy life together, and we know they had that happy life. We also know it ended. Maybe, knowing that, you won’t want to read Before, but maybe, like me and Syed, you can honor what they had even though it didn’t last forever. Because despite being dead at the start of the series, Jamie is an integral part of all three books—basically their centerpiece. And this is his story.