Tommy Cabot Was Here (The Cabots Book 1)

Everett Sloane likes things neat, in tidy lines and ordered spaces. He’s a mathematician, and, if I’ve learned anything from my brother whose degree is in math, it’s that mathematicians do tend to love things with answers. (I went into humanities, and people are messy as hell.) But Everett’s carrying a messy secret past, and when it walks back into his life, it threatens to blow up his neatly ordered world.

Well, not really. Cat Sebastian‘s Tommy Cabot Was Here is a novella which starts off The Cabots, and I sure hope that there will be more Cabots to come, because, as is usually the case with Sebastian’s novels, it’s a hell of a book: a singularly lovely romance, with a lot of banging (written beautifully, I’ll have you know, and adding great depth to our already deep characters!), and a deep dive through not only what makes us human but the trade-offs and the balancing acts of being political and social animals in this awful, wonderful world of ours.

Everett’s messy secret is a guy named Tommy Cabot. Tommy Cabot Was Here is a second chance romance of the kind I actually like, which is rare: I’m dubious about second-chance romances. Tommy’s family sure looks like it’s loosely based on the Kennedys before all the tragedy (right down to that not-quite-smarmy charm and the Catholicism and the whole assholes who do important political work routine). Tommy was a golden boy, but after coming out to his family, he’s fallen—or been thrown—far from the home fires.

Everett, meanwhile, hasn’t come from warmth or privilege, and his surviving parent might not be very fuzzy, but while Tommy’s struggling to pick himself up, Everett’s on his feet, even if he doesn’t always feel like it. Indeed, in this time of second chances, as Tommy turns into a watering pot, it’s Everett’s chance to shine, his tenderness and acceptance bringing the other man home.

Everett and Tommy have a second-chance romance, beautiful and tender and more than a little sad, deeply anchored in the politics and the fear of the 1960s and the sociopolitical world of the exclusive boarding school they both once attended. Everett teaches there now—and Tommy’s kid, Daniel, is a student. Everett tries very hard to be The Serious Teacher, and ends up, in Tommy’s words, “‘the fun teacher.'” (Sebastian’s character development, in the fun teacher routine, is amazing. Truly excellent craft.)

But Tommy’s a Cabot, and even if we barely meet any other Cabots—his delightful ex-wife really doesn’t count—they loom over every word, just as, one assumes, the Kennedys might have loomed. (I mean, hell, my own family looms, and we’re not famous.) Politics and politicians are nuanced as hell, a mix of awful and decent, (some) working hard for the common good while often being narcissistic assholes at heart, and Sebastian does an amazing job of exploring those sides here (and in the second book, which I’ll totally discuss too).

Tommy has worked his whole adult life for his family (talk about a firm!), and carries anger and resentment and despair at having been cast so far from Cape Cod: “But that, too, was a loss. He has spent his entire career working for his brothers, and in his heart of hearts he believed that they were on the right side of history and doing important work. They had taken that away from him.” It’s heartbreaking, and infuriating, and Tommy’s anguish is drawn with a nuanced hand, a reminder of the complexities we all face in the voting booth. (We also get an amazing portrait of loving support, as Everett and Tommy’s ex-wife try to build him up again.)

Tommy Cabot Was Here is a beautiful little second-chance romance, a hot love story and a novella of trying to be true to oneself and trying to survive a pit of vipers. It’s a fast read, and a complex one, that will stick with readers for a long time to come.