“The warm scent of Martin lingered in his nostrils, reminding him that he craved so much more than non-sexual touch from the man sitting next to him.”
In a word: Read the thing. This one was a quick read, and the story and romance were really sweet. Alistair’s lonely childhood has turned him into an adult that fears/is repulsed by touch. It usually isn’t a huge issue in the grand scheme of things, but the success of a new business venture at his company relies on his ability to give and received physical contact (mostly hugs). His PA (and secret crush), Martin, offers his mother’s cuddle therapy as a solution for Alistair’s aversion. The set up is a bit forced and kinda nonsensical, but the emotions are real. Alistair and Martin are both sweet and awkward, and I wish we’d gotten to see more from Martin’s point of view. It’s not a long story, and it doesn’t really go very deep into the characters’ backgrounds or motivations (this could be, in part, because this story was originally fanfiction, where a lot of the finer details are left out because they were already covered in the source material), but it’s still a good read.
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
The Fanfiction Connection: I don’t know if this will make a difference to some people or not (it didn’t to me), but this novella started out as a Merlin fanfiction. This was a Merthur (Merlin/Arthur) story that the author pulled and published for a charity event. Jay Northcote explains this all on Goodreads, for anyone wondering. I haven’t watched Merlin (… yet) so I came at this nearly completely blind to any fandom tropes, in-jokes, or tiny details. Not that I was in any lost during the story. The story takes place in modern day and has nothing at all to do with the plot of the show (as far as I can tell anyway), so it was an alternate-universe fic.
The Couple: Alistair Pendleton is a business man living in London and working in his father’s company (that will one day go to him, I’m guessing). He’s good at his job, but he has an issue that might cause problems with some current clients. After a lonely childhood, with very little physical affection, Alistair detests being touched. He can’t handle it. It’s caused him problems all his life, most notably with his romantic relationships (of which he’s had little to none), but now he really needs to get over it. It’s his PA (and secret crush) of the past two years, Martin Ellis, who proposes a solution. His mother runs a cuddle therapy workshop and it might help Alistair with his intimacy problem, and Martin can probably pull some strings to get Alistair in the next session. Martin is technically Alistair’s employee, but he’s also his friend, so Alistair (with his father’s blessing) takes him up on his offer. Alistair and Martin aren’t anything more than friends, but Alistair is definitely interested in more, and it seems like Martin is as well (the whole story is in Alistair’s point of view). Alistair isn’t out, at all, so nobody knows he’s actually bisexual aside from the men he sometimes has one night stands with (he’s had slightly longer, more public relationships with women). The only reason for Martin to suspect that Alistair isn’t totally straight is that they once ran into each other in a gay club. Nothing really came of it though, since neither of them ever mentioned it. That is, until after the cuddling therapy when Alistair decides to take a chance on them. I think one of the more significant things (even before the boss/employee aspect, and his father’s potential reaction) that really kept Alistair from trying it with Martin was his revulsion to touch. The only times he actually has sex with people it’s usually one night stands and there’s little to no unnecessary physical intimacy involved. Alistair really likes Martin, and he doesn’t want their relationship to be just a fling. The cuddle therapy both helps Alistair work on his aversion, and also offers him the opportunity to be with Martin in a more long-term way.
The Cuddle Therapy: First of all: where can I get in on this? Second of all: this was cute. Martin’s mother runs a cuddle therapy workshop and I didn’t really know what to expect with it. It’s basically really touchy-feely group therapy for people who are uncomfortable with touch/physical intimacy. I don’t know how accurate it is to real-life cuddle therapy (it’s actually a thing), but it seemed alright. Although one issue I had with the whole thing is that it seemed to cure Alistair of his touch aversion after only one session. Alistair’s issues with physical intimacy mostly stem from always being alone as a child, but I still think that it would take more than one therapy session before he was completely comfortable touching people, especially since it had been such an issue with him in the past.
The Side Characters: There aren’t really any major side characters, since the story’s focus really is Alistair and Martin. Alistair’s father-slash-boss, Theodore Pendleton, is probably one of the most important side characters since he’s the one that technically gets the plot started (by telling Alistair that he needs to work on his issues with touch). We don’t know much about him, other than Alistair really craves his approval and he was basically an absentee father when Alistair was growing up. Martin’s mother, Poppy Ellis, is the other important side. She’s the one who runs the cuddle therapy workshops. Poppy is basically the opposite of Theodore, warm and loving where Theodore seems more cold and practical. Poppy was a single mother who raised Martin in the commune that she still lives in, and Martin turned out leagues better than Alistair in some respects. There are a few other random side characters (Poppy’s assistant and Martin’s ex-something Will, and Martin’s Uncle Greg, are the only ones I actually remember), but they don’t get much introduction or forward the plot in any way. Since I know that this was originally a fanfiction I have a theory that these characters are actually just cameos of characters from the source material that fans would get a kick out of seeing. I especially felt that way with Will, who was written in a way that felt like I was already supposed to know who he was and already feel a certain way about him when he first appeared.
The Sex: There’s a bit of UST between Alistair and Martin (though we only get Alistair’s point of view, so we really only get his feelings on the matter). They’ve kinda been dancing around each other for the past couple years. The cuddling therapy and sharing a room seem to be the final straw and gives Alistair the courage it takes to make his move. They have one sex scene at the end of the story, right before the epilogue. It’s the only sex scene in the book, and it’s mainly what the whole story was leading up to. It’s also, apparently, the only sex Alistair has had where he’s genuinely wanted to be cuddly with his partner (he’s only really had one-night stands before this).
The Writing: I liked the writing in this one. I did have some issues with the fact that the story felt kinda… shallow? I dunno. This was originally a fanfic, which may explain some of it. Fanfiction is written differently than original fiction in that there isn’t as much world building necessary, and the people reading it already know and are attached to the characters (although this one is an AU of the source material, BBC’s Merlin, so a little world building was required for the setting but not the characters). I only know very little about Merlin, so I required a little more world building, I guess. All that aside though, this was a quick little story that I enjoyed reading. I’ve only ever heard of cuddle therapy, but I’ve never before read it in a story, so that was interesting. Also I really did like Martin and Alistair, and I was happy that their relationship moved forward at a steady pace and that there were no mishaps or backtracking on their road to happily-ever-after.
[Why Love Matters was published June 14, 2016, by the author, it is only available as an ebook]