Friday, February 23, 2018

#FLASHBACKFRIDAY: Orientation, My Award-Winning Novel about Reincarnation and Love

With its brand new edition and brand new cover, I wanted to share a sample from my reincarnation love story, Orientation, which won the EPIC eBook Award in 2009 as the Best GLBT Novel of the Year. This excerpt takes place at Christmas, 1983. Get the Kleenex ready....

Christmas, 1983: A young man, Robert, tends to his soul mate, Keith, who is dying from AIDS. Robert tries valiantly to make this a special Christmas for his lover, but loses the fight late Christmas night.

Christmas, 2007: Robert ventures out late Christmas night and finds a young girl about to fling herself into the unforgiving waters of Lake Michigan. He rescues her, and the two form a bond forged from an odd feeling they share of familiarity, and even love. Neither understands it, since Jess is a lesbian and Robert has never been attracted to women. But there's more...Jess begins having strange dreams, reliving key moments she couldn't know about in Keith and Robert's life and courtship. Robert and Jess begin to wonder if their inexplicable feelings might be rooted in something much more mystical than a savior/victim relationship.

As the two move toward and pull away from each other, Ethan, Robert's younger lover, plots the unthinkable. His crystal meth-addled mind becomes convinced there's only one way to save himself, and that is through Robert's destruction. Christmas 2007 spirals downward to a shattering climax in which both love and lives hang in the balance.

There's a murder attempt...salvation...redemption...and a new love is born...


CHRISTMAS NIGHT WAS memorable for Robert, if only because it was the night the one great love of his young life was taken, stolen away by a disease he could never have imagined just a few years beforeThe night was also memorable because there was a kind of Christmas miracle, even if it lasted only a few moments. Keith came back to him. His Keith, the one who could make him laugh and make him feel “like a million bucks.” For the briefest of moments, the real Keith returned, smiling and making of his death mask face a hint of what had been there before: a handsome, distinguished man whose cheeks were no longer sunken and hollow, whose green irises were rimmed in yellow no more, and whose smile could light up a room.
Maybe seeing the old Keith, handsome, devilish, strong jawed from his Mediterranean heritage, was just a figment of Robert’s imagination, something he wished for so hard it came true. But the lucidity that came late that Christmas night was not his imagination. Something had clicked in Keith’s fevered brain and for just an instant, he came back.
            But it was only to say goodbye.
            Robert had spent the long afternoon cooking. He knew it was pointless. Keith, in his best moments, could only keep things like Jell-o and protein drinks down, and Robert had no appetite himself. But in spite of a decided lack of hunger around the Harris/Jafari household, Robert had made quite a testament to culinary expertise in the marble and glass kitchen. The counters were crammed with cutting boards where Robert had used his Wusthof cutlery to prep a garden of fresh herbs, mincing parsley, sage, basil, and thyme into stacks of fine green confetti. He cut garlic into translucent slices. Halved lemons lined up in an orderly row beneath the windowsill, waiting to release their juices. And there, near the sink, a twelve-pound goose waited for Robert’s touch, ready to have its skin loosened and lifted and for him to infuse it with chopped herbs, to stuff its cavity with lemons and whole garlic cloves, and, finally, to be buttered and rubbed lovingly with extra-virgin olive oil and trussed. It would spend the rest of the day basking in the heat of an oven, religiously basted every forty minutes. Robert had made oyster stuffing, rich with fresh-from-the-sea briny juices, sage, and fennel sausage. He had shorn the bottoms off artichokes, trimmed their leaves, and stuffed them with a mixture of bread crumbs, garlic and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. In the sink, a mound of Yukon gold potatoes awaited peeling. Brussels sprouts needed to be cleaned, steamed, and tossed in butter, lemon juice, and garlic.
            And when the kitchen windows fogged with steam from bubbling pots and the whole first floor of the penthouse was redolent with roasting bird, Robert went into the little powder room off the kitchen and threw up. He sat there by the toilet afterwards, gasping, and wiping angrily at his mouth and nose with Kleenex that left shreds on his stubbled face. He started to sob, the tears coming easily, hating himself for being such a coward, for spending all this time, all this money, to prepare this glorious yuletide feast no one would ever eat. He slapped his own face, punishing himself for being so stupid, stupid, stupid. Who was he trying to kid? Did making a Christmas goose with all the trimmings wipe out a year of love, passion, and happiness? Did all the cooking, decorating, and wrapping of presents put a different face on Death, who paced the penthouse, features furrowed, waiting to take his own Christmas present, which lay, just inches away from “delivery” on sweat-soaked Egyptian cotton sheets?
            Why couldn’t he accept what was happening? It was over. It was only a flame that had flared and then was snuffed out. He forced himself up, gripping the little pedestal sink, and splashed cold water on his face. He looked at himself in the mirror above the sink, hating the vibrant, rosy glow in his cheeks, his fine, small-pored skin, twinkling blue eyes that betrayed not a hint of his exhaustion and despair, and his shining blond hair, in ringlets because of the kitchen humidity.
            Why did Keith have to die?
            Why did Robert have to live?
            He closed his eyes and went into the kitchen, ready to feed the fabulous food to the garbage disposal. The work, just like the preparation of the meal, would take his mind off things.
            And then he heard Keith’s voice, watery, weak, a shadow of its former self, call out. If the garbage disposal had been on, he wouldn’t have heard it. But the sound of his own name coming from his lover’s lips filled him with a kind of insane joy and optimism. The irrational part of him wanted to take it as a sign, a U-turn in the road toward death.
            His Keith was getting better! Getting better in spite of the fact that all these other men with AIDS were dying quick, painful deaths. Keith would be the exception to the rule. He always had been. A sob caught in Robert’s throat and he hurried toward the stairs.
            “Robert?” Keith’s voice sounded again, querulous and weak as a kitten. But it was Keith and he was calling for him.
            Robert rushed up the spiral staircase, tripping once, a startled laugh escaping from his lips. Who knew? This AIDS thing was still so new. Who was to say there weren’t people out there who could beat it? People with imagination and fortitude.
            People like Keith.
            Robert hesitated outside the bedroom door. Inside, it was quiet, and he dreaded going in there and finding Keith on the bed asleep, a sheen of sweat clinging to his sunken cheeks, his breath phlegmy and labored. What if Keith’s call was just a momentary peek through the twin curtains of fever and consciousness? Or worse, the product of his own overly-hopeful imagination?
            What would be, would be (hadn’t some virginal blonde even once sung about it?). Robert steeled himself: deep, cleansing breath, let it out slowly. And entered the room.
            Keith was awake. His face looked even more drawn and tired—the color of ash. Robert would have said it was impossible for him to look any sicker even this morning, but now he did. In the air, despite the cinnamon and vanilla scented candles in the room, was the smell of sickness and shit.
            But oh, Lord! Keith was looking at him. Looking right at Robert. And he was seeing him! For the first time in forever, their gazes met and connected. Robert approached the bed warily, as if a sudden movement would send Keith plummeting back into unconsciousness.
            “Honey? Can you hear me?” Robert stood, wringing his hands, heart fluttering, beating against his ribs.
            “Of course.” Keith’s voice was a croak. Gone were the bass notes that had made him sound so sexy and assured. Keith reached a bruised hand out over the covers and patted the bed. “Would you sit next to me?”
            “Oh, of course!” Robert took two steps and weighed down the bed, reaching out to brush a strand of hair off Keith’s forehead, biting his own lip at the heat radiating off Keith’s flesh. “I’m so happy you’re awake.”
            Keith swallowed. The swallow took a long time and looked as if it took all of the sick man’s effort. He let out a weak sigh and turned his head. He looked up at Robert and managed a wan smile. Robert closed his eyes and gently laid his head atop Keith’s.
            And then Keith began to talk, his old voice suddenly returned, strong and sure. “I have just a few things to say, Robert. And I need you to shut up and listen. No interruptions. The first thing I want to say is ‘Merry Christmas.’ I’m so sorry I couldn’t be a bigger part of things for this, our first Christmas together, but that decision was taken from me and it doesn’t look like Mr. Claus is seeing fit to give me a chance to make it up to you.
“The second thing I want to say is that I love you with all my heart. I searched forty some odd years for you, for what I’ve always dreamed of, and what I thought I couldn’t have when you dropped, like a gift, like an angel, into my life last winter. You were what I hunted for all my life: a family. You are my family. Don’t ever forget how precious that is.
“The third thing I want to say is that you’re an idiot, running around, burying your head in the sand and trying to make a Christmas that neither of us has the capacity to enjoy. And last, I love you for that. I love you so much for trying…for hoping against all odds that this moment would come and I would let you know how much I appreciate you. For hoping that we might share one final kiss before I have to go. And my love, I do have to go.
But I couldn’t leave without you hearing these four words. You. Are. My. Family.”


Monday, February 19, 2018

#MondayMemories: Traveling Back to High School and Small Town Life

Big Love is the first book I’ve written which I set in a small-town high school. In fact, my fictional high school is very much like the one I attended. Writing about the turbulent emotions of adolescence, first loves, and beginning to come to terms with who you are was a challenging and thought-provoking trip down memory lane.

I thought I’d share a couple pictures and memories of my alma mater, East Liverpool High School in East Liverpool, Ohio (the only high school in town). Like the characters in Big Love, my high school years were a time of struggle, sometimes joy, and often a lot about coming to grips about who that person was looking back at me from within the mirror.

Here’s the small, pottery town of East Liverpool where I grew up, taken from the Ohio River. The town rises up from the river’s banks.

And here is the high school that I mentally traveled back to in order to draw upon the memories and feelings that eventually went into Big Love. The school sits on one of the hills surrounding the town, so there was always a good view of everything. As a personal aside, my eldest niece and her husband still teach at the very same school.

And here are the pictures you may or may not have been waiting for: me as a much younger version of myself. One is my high school graduation photo and the other is from a time when I was just entering the confusing and awkward torture of adolescence. Oh, the innocence of that young man/boy! He had no idea what was in store for him. I suppose that’s true for all of us, right?

BLURB for Big Love
Teacher Dane Bernard is a gentle giant, loved by all at Summitville High School. He has a beautiful wife, two kids, and an easy rapport with staff and students alike. But Dane has a secret, one he expects to keep hidden for the rest of his life—he’s gay.

But when he loses his wife, Dane finally confronts his attraction to men. And a new teacher, Seth Wolcott, immediately catches his eye. Seth himself is starting over, licking his wounds from a breakup. The last thing Seth wants is another relationship—but when he spies Dane on his first day at Summitville High, his attraction is immediate and electric.

As the two men enter into a dance of discovery and new love, they’re called upon to come to the aid of bullied gay student Truman Reid. Truman is out and proud, which not everyone at his small-town high school approves of. As the two men work to help Truman ignore the bullies and love himself without reservation, they all learn life-changing lessons about coming out, coming to terms, acceptance, heartbreak, and falling in love.

Dreamspinner Press ebook
Dreamspinner Press paperback
Amazon paperback (buy the hard copy and get the ebook for .99!)

Note: This post originally appeared on the wonderful blog, Joyfully Jay.

Friday, February 16, 2018

#FLASHBACKFRIDAY: HIGH RISK, my erotic thriller about a secret sex life, a handsome stranger, and a journey into a nightmare

WARNING! HIGH RISK is not for the faint of heart, nor the prudish.

High Risk is one of my oddest books because it features an anti-heroine, a damaged woman who's a sex addict. You could reasonably say she brought on the horror that befalls her in the pages of my book.

Her journey is filled with terror, tension, and suspense, but even I will admit Beth Walsh isn't an easy character to like or root for.

Yet I hope that sympathetic and discerning readers will peel back the onion skin of Beth's personality and see her for who and what she is at her core--a damaged soul who's desperate for love, with no real knowledge of how to get it.

I encourage you to come along with Beth on her harrowing journey toward redemption in High Risk. I like to think you won't soon forget her...or her story.

A secret sex life... 

A handsome, twisted stranger... 

And a journey into a nightmare. 

Beth Walsh seemed like such a demure housewife. But while her attorney husband was away at work, she engaged in countless encounters with strangers...until she met the one stranger who would change everything--for the worst. Abbott Lowery was every woman's dream; but the monster lurking inside his handsome, chiseled exterior was terrifying. And Beth's behavior is about to unleash the rage and madness inside. High Risk is a story of secrets, tainted histories, murder, and kidnapping--with an ending so searing and brutal, readers will be left breathless.

Amazon Kindle
Amazon Paperback
From the publisher, JMS Books

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

How to Write a Book Blurb: THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR

One thing I’ve always maintained with my writing is that the characters come first and the story follows. Sure, I have a general idea about the plot and where I want it to go, but it’s the characters that take me on a journey, often surprising me. Sometimes, I have no idea what will pop up when I sit down to write. I do trust my characters!

My latest, The Couple Next Door is no different.
I thought it might be interesting to go a little into the publication process (and especially the blurb used on the back cover and to sell the book), so here are some of the things I shared with Dreamspinner Press’s blurb writer.
Here’s what I wrote when they asked about the characters.
Jeremy Booth is a wannabe writer and an independent housecleaner in his thirties. He barely gets by, but is your typical nice guy–attractive, fit, but lonely. He dreams of being a writer and works on it, but has never seen any success.
Shane McCallister is his new next-door neighbor. Shane is younger, blond, handsome and Jeremy falls for him immediately. Shane also seems to be a victim of domestic abuse from the man with whom he lives, a man who is an enigma, a mystery.
Sometimes, this man dresses up in leather, calls himselfCole, acts hyper-masculine, and is physically and verbally abusive. At other times, he’s John, a friendly, and mild-mannered milquetoast. At still other times, he is Vera, a vivacious and sassy drag queen.
Multiple personality disorder? Or is there something more sinister going on? As the book’s tagline says, “Things aren’t always as they seem….”
The blurb information form asks about the specific crisis or obstacle the characters will face during the course of the novel. I think the information below gives a unique insight into the principle plot of The Couple Next Door:
It appears that the object of Jeremy’s love and affection, Shane, is trapped in an abusive relationship. As the plot goes on, there’s a lot more than meets the eye. What are Shane and the man he lives with fleeing? There are secrets about their past life in Chicago, because their story is always changing. Does Shane’s partner have multiple personality disorder? What, exactly, is their relationship? These mysteries, and the dangers that accompany them, are the driving force of the book, along with the romance–which blooms amidst all the questions and perils.
The form also asks about what critical information needs to included in the blurb (or at least hinted at):
The abuse, so the romance readers who abhor cheating will understand why Shane needs to get out of his relationship and will be rooting for him to do so, and be with Jeremy. The multiple personalities of Cole/John/Vera–this is a twist that’s intriguing and also crucial to the plot. The danger–as time goes on and Jeremy learns more, he can see that Shane’s, and maybe his own, life is in danger.
And last, the blurb composition form has a section called NO SPOILERS! It asks what information must not be revealed. Here’s what I put:
More than any other book I’ve written, there are spoilers that I hope will not get out. You need to read the book to know them, but I’ll reveal them here IN CONFIDENCE. [The information has been deleted because, well, no spoilers]. So, those are the things that CANNOT be revealed.


With the couple next door, nothing is as it seems.

Jeremy Booth leads a simple life, scraping by in the gay neighborhood of Seattle, never letting his lack of material things get him down. But the one thing he really wants someone to love seems elusive. Until the couple next door moves in and Jeremy sees the man of his dreams, Shane McCallister, pushed down the stairs by a brute named Cole.

Jeremy would never go after another man s boyfriend, so he reaches out to Shane in friendship while suppressing his feelings of attraction. But the feeling of something being off only begins with Cole being a hard-fisted bully it ends with him seeming to be different people at different times. Some days, Cole is the mild-mannered John and then, one night in a bar, he s the sassy and vivacious drag queen Vera.

So how can Jeremy rescue the man of his dreams from a situation that seems to get crazier and more dangerous by the day? By getting close to the couple next door, Jeremy not only puts a potential love in jeopardy, but eventually his very life. 


HOW MANY disappointing dates will I endure before I just give up?
I mean, here I am, a perfectly attractive, fit, self-sufficient thirty-year-old, and I’m still waiting to meet the man of my dreams. Mr. Right. Hell, tonight I’d even settle for that character who seems to come along on dates for most of us, the all-too-common Mr. Right Now. But even he isn’t on the seat beside me. In fact, I strongly doubt he’s anywhere in the vicinity of the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle where I live.
Believe me, I’ve looked.
Mr. First Date pulls his Ford Fusion up to the curb in front of my apartment building on Aloha Avenue. We sit in awkward silence for several long moments, listening as the engine ticks down as it cools. I can feel him looking at me. As he’s done most of the evening, he waits for me to speak. I turn my head and, in the dark, give him a weak smile. The date, dinner at a little sushi place on Broadway, had not gone well, full of uncomfortable silences, awkward pauses, and desperate looks around for avenues of escape—on both our parts.
Do I need to say we just didn’t click?
I didn’t think so.
So what he says now surprises me.
“Do you want me to come up?”
Really? We’ve just spent an hour and a half of agony together, trying to find a snippet of common ground that doesn’t exist, and he’s wondering if I want him to come up, which we all know is code for “Shall we make the beast with two backs?”
Seriously? The most irksome thing is, I’m considering it. I mean, he’s cute in spite of our lack of social connection. He’s a games developer for a software company here in town and looks it, with a sort of hipster/geek vibe going on. He has red hair, which I love. He has a beard, which I love. He wears retro glasses, which make him look paradoxically goofy and sexy—which I love.
Would it be so terrible to sleep with him? I mean, it’s been at least two weeks since I’ve enjoyed the charms of anyone other than Mr. Thumb and his four sons, so at least in terms of a release, maybe I should just say “Sure” and open the car door. If things go like some of my dates in the past, he’d follow me upstairs to my apartment and be back in his car in, like, fifteen minutes.
No, I tell myself. And then I tell him, shaking my head, looking sad, and saying the words countless heartbreakers have used over the years to stop ardent passion in its errant tracks.
“I’m sorry, Neil. But I have to get up early.” Lamely, I pat his hand. “Maybe another time.”
I don’t need to be psychic to know that we both know another time ain’t gonna happen.
Neil seems relieved as he restarts his car. He shrugs. “It’s okay. Club Z’s just a couple minutes away, right? Down Broadway and a right on Pike—easy.”
He grins at me, and I wonder if he expects me to laugh. Club Z is one of Seattle’s filthiest bathhouses, and yes, it’s only a few minutes away. He doesn’t seem to need directions.
It’s my turn to be relieved that I didn’t actually succumb to the temptation of inviting this jerk upstairs. Wordlessly I get out of the car and slam the door behind me.
Neil roars off into the damp and still night.
I pause and sigh, staring up at the building in which I’ve lived for the past five years. It’s an okay place, an old redbrick three story with none of the modern amenities—no stainless steel, granite countertops, or gas fireplaces. My apartment is homey. It even has the original tile, sink, and claw-foot tub in its single bathroom. The living room is large, with three big windows that look out on Aloha and let in lots of light—on the days when we have sun in Seattle (that means usually summer days). The floors are scuffed original hardwood. The kitchen actually has a pantry and built-in china hutch. I’ve painted the place a cheery, soft yellow.
Upstairs, the TV, with its DVRed episodes of at-odds Sons of Anarchy and Downton Abbey, awaits. Upstairs, there’s the gelato I love from Whole Foods in the freezer—hazelnut dark chocolate.
Such is my life. Comfortable and a little lonely.
Sometimes I wonder, like Peggy Lee, if that’s all there is.
I head toward the glass-paned front door. I grope in my jeans for my keys. The mail had not yet arrived before I left for my date, and I wonder if there will be any surprises in the vestibule mailbox. You know, like an actual letter from someone, standing out from the usual assortment of bills and solicitations by the cursive lovingly spelling out my name—Jeremy Booth.
My problem is I always have hope, even when there’s little reason to.
I open the front door, and that’s when everything changes. My life turns upside down. I go from bored discontent to panic in a split second.
The first thing I hear is someone shouting “No!” in an anguished voice. I look up from the lobby to see two figures on the staircase above, on the second-floor landing. One is a guy who looks menacing and so butch he could pose for a Tom of Finland poster. An aura of danger radiates from him. Aside from his imposing and muscular frame, he’s even wearing the right clothes—tight, rolled jeans and a black leather biker jacket with a chain snaking out from beneath one of the epaulets. His high and tight buzzed hair gives him a military—and mean—air. He has his hands on the shoulders of a guy who looks a bit younger and much slighter, making me want to call up the stairs, “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” The smaller guy, blond and clad only in a pair of pajama bottoms, struggles with his attacker, looking terrified. Their movements, clumsy and rough, would be comical if they weren’t so scary. The smaller guy is panting and batting ineffectually at the bigger one.
“Please! No! Don’t!” the smaller guy manages to get out, his voice close to hysteria.
I have never seen either of these men before. In fact, the whole scene has the quality of the surreal, a dream. The danger and conflict pulsing down the stairs makes my own heart rate and respiration accelerate, causing feelings of panic to rise within me.
And then the worst happens. The big butch guy shoves the smaller one hard, and all at once he’s tumbling heavily down the stairs toward me.
The fall is graceless, and it looks like it hurts. It’s over so fast that I’m left gasping.
I look up to see the leather-jacket guy sneer down at his mate, lying crumpled and crying at my feet, and then turn sharply on his heel to go back into a second-floor apartment that had been vacant yesterday. He slams the door. The sound of the deadbolt sliding into place is like the report of a shotgun. Both slam and lock resound like thunderclaps, echoing in the tile lobby, punctuation to the drama and trauma of this short scene.
I switch into Good Samaritan mode and drop to my knees at the sniveling, crumpled mess of a man lying practically at my feet.
“Are you okay?” I ask and reach out to lightly touch his shoulder.
He jerks away and, wincing, pulls himself up into an awkward sitting position. He stares at me for a moment, almost as though he’s trying to place me, with clear blue eyes. He finally looks away.
“My ankle is throbbing. It hurts like hell. Maybe I twisted it.”
I don’t know what to say, other than to ask, “Would you like to try and stand? Test it out?”
He nods.
I lean over to grip him under the arms—it’s damp there, and I can smell the ripe aroma of body odor, probably inspired by fear or panic—and pull. He comes up with me and then stumbles, wincing and crying out.
“Damn. I might have sprained it when I fell.” His eyes are so appealing, in both senses of the word, as he stares at me, as though seeking direction for what to do next. He leans on me, taking his weight off the injured ankle.
I keep my arm around him, and together we limp over to a bench set beneath the bank of common mailboxes. We sit.
“What do you want to do?” I ask.
“I don’t know. I think Cole may have locked me out for the night.”
I look up the stairs at the closed door and imagine the frame vibrating from its recent slam. I notice then that my new acquaintance is shivering. It’s a typical Seattle winter night—chilly and damp—and the vestibule has poor heat. Good thing, I think, that I’ve worn a hoodie over my T-shirt. I unzip it and take it off and then hold it out to him. “You could wear this.”
“Are you sure?” Without waiting for an answer, he takes it from me and puts it on. He zips it up to his throat and pulls the hood up over his thick blond hair.
“I’m sure.” I grin. “I’m Jeremy. Jeremy Booth. I live here in the building.” I stare down at the lobby’s worn linoleum floor, not sure what else to say or do.
“Shane McCallister. I just moved in today.” He casts a nervous glance up the stairs. “Well, John and I just moved in this afternoon. From Chicago.” He tries to give me a smile, but it comes out sad.
I nod. “I thought you said his name was Cole.”
Shane laughs and his cheeks redden. “Did I? I meant John. Sorry.”
We stare at one another for a second, a second in which I feel as though I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole.
They must have done their moving while I was out working this afternoon. I rub my chin and then say, because my mama taught me right, “Well, Shane, I can’t just leave you here like this. Do you want to come up to my place?” I think for a moment, get a better idea. “Or maybe I could take you over to First Hill, where all the hospitals are, get you to an emergency room so you can have that ankle looked at. It could be something worse than a sprain. You should do that, you know. I have a car. It’s parked in the back.”
Suddenly, chauffeuring this downtrodden stranger to one of the hospitals in the next neighborhood over seems more appealing to me, more exciting, than the date I just came home from.
“Oh, I couldn’t ask you to do that.”
I wave his protest away. “Yes, you could. You’re new in town, right? Do you have someone else you could call?” I pull my iPhone out of my jeans pocket and hold it out to him.
He looks at it strangely and just shakes his head. “We haven’t really made any friends here yet.”
“Well then, it’s settled. Let me run you over to Virginia Mason or Swedish.” I peer into those icy blue, yet magnetic, eyes. “Okay?”
“We don’t have health insurance,” Shane blurts out.
“Let’s not worry about that right now.” I stand and comb my fingers through my dark hair. “If your ankle’s broken or even sprained, you need to get it taken care of. That’s not something that heals on its own.”
He simply stares at me.
I sigh. “Look, I’m gonna run up to my place, get you some shoes—I have some shearling-lined moccasins that will probably fit—and they won’t hurt, much. I’ll grab you a shirt too. Are you gonna be all right here?” I glance nervously back up the stairs, but there’s no John, or anyone else, glowering down at us. The apartment building is still this Thursday night, caught in no-man’s-land between people getting home from work and departing for an evening of revelry farther south on Broadway at the gay bars.
“I’ll be okay,” Shane says softly.
He seems to shrink into himself, and my heart goes out to him. Poor guy! I have never understood why anyone would allow himself or herself to stay in an abusive relationship. At least that’s what I assume this pair have going on. I can ponder—or maybe even ask the guys themselves, although I already think I’ll be avoiding John—more about their situation later. Right now, duty calls.
I start up the stairs, and Shane calls out, “Jeremy?”
I turn, halfway up the stairs, realizing suddenly that these two are my new next-door neighbors. “Yeah?”
“Thanks. Not everyone would do this.”
“Sure they would,” I say, not at all sure that I speak the truth. I pause for a minute, still uncertain about what I’m getting myself into. That John character looked pretty menacing. What if he comes after us? Comes after me? What if he thinks my Good Samaritan act is an attempt to go after his lame boyfriend? I shake my head and continue trudging up the stairs. Sometimes life offers us very limited alternatives. I can’t just leave the guy on his own, friendless and hurt. And even taking him into my place is out of the question—he could be seriously injured. There are a million questions on my lips, and for right now I think the best course of action is to leave them unasked. “I’ll be right back.”
And then I hightail it up the stairs. In quick succession I unlock my door and dash into my apartment to hurriedly gather up the things I promised, fearing that at any moment John might return. He looked like the type who might do even more harm to Shane, and I don’t want any part of that. He appears to be a man who talks with his fists as much as his mouth, and my sympathy for poor Shane has manifested itself quickly and completely.
In record time I return with a plain black T-shirt and the aforementioned moccasins. I help Shane stand and get everything on. “My car’s out back in the lot. It ain’t much, but it’ll get us there.” I slide my arm around Shane and guide him down the central corridor that leads to the back door and the parking lot.
Somehow I have the feeling my life is about to change.


The Couple Next Door on Goodreads
Dreamspinner Press
Amazon US

Note: This post originally appeared on Prism Book Alliance 8 December 2015