Wednesday, September 28, 2022



My new #book ventures into territory with which I don't have first-hand experience--the life of a transgender person. I do consider myself a passionate ally for living one's most authentic life and that's one of the themes of the book. One thing that's pleased me most since its release is the reaction I've had from #transgender readers--which is validating because I tried to always be respectful. For example, this review, from a trans man on Goodreads, made my heart sing:

"This is the kind of representation I've been dying to see. Seeing trans characters in books is spectacular, but let's not forget that not all trans people figure themselves out as teenagers or young adults...Seeing a trans main character that not only didn't come out until much later in life, but also did not come out until /after/ they'd already been well established in a life with a committed partner- that's some powerful stuff...

"There were so many things about Cara's journey that I felt deep down in my bones, because I had those thoughts, those feelings, and those experiences too, just as a trans person; but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Being able to see the fears and worries I've had to deal with, and sometimes still have to deal with, as a gay transman married to a very straight cisman, and being able to see a character experiencing all the same feelings I know my husband's felt- that's what's really making me loose my mind over this book...

"I hope this book gets a lot of readers, because it deserves the world."

For some thought-provoking reading, I hope you'll pick up a copy!


(Paperback coming soon!)

Saturday, September 24, 2022



I'm thrilled to share that my latest novel releases today. This one is a little different, branching out in to an area of queer identity I've never explored before, but I hope I've managed to write about the process of transitioning with compassion, kindness, deep respect, and empathy. Please read about my main character's poignant and challenging journey with love and an open mind. 


Carl Young’s biggest secret: he’s always felt like Cara Young. Through the years, he acknowledged his authentic female self in ways he kept hidden in the shadows. The makeup, the dresses, the shoes -- all of them represented his most longed-for desires and his deepest shame.

When Carl’s husband Roberto comes home early from work to discover Cara in her wig, makeup, dress, and high heels, he’s shocked. Who is this person he married decades ago? He flees, leaving their home in Chicago for the obliviousness of the sunny skies of Southern California.

Cara begins making tentative steps into a world she imagined would always remain secret. She ventures out, dressing the only way she feels whole. Publicly claiming her identity, she’s terrified, but also filled with joy when she discovers there are others like her, people who will welcome her with open arms and support.

But for both Roberto and Cara, their long-term and love-filled marriage is now a challenge with which they both must reckon. Does her transition mean following separate paths? Or forging a new one ... 


Milton had convinced her.

Despite protests of not being ready, of not being prepared, of being absolutely terrified, Milton had insisted Cara jump into the deep end of the pool.

On the phone the other morning, he’d told her, “Sweetheart, all we have is the present. Right now. You can wait around and wait around for some mystical, magical correct moment, but what if it never comes? What if, in actuality, it’s already here?” He blew out a breath. “Honestly, and I’m old, the correct moment seldom ever shows up.” He chuckled. “Maybe the correct moment is an elusive unicorn.”

Cara had had no answer.

Milton persisted. “I can tell that you, my darling, have been waiting all your life for someone else to open the door to your cage. But you have to bear in mind—only one person has been holding the key. And that person is you. You can go on as you have, barely tasting life on your own terms, or you can move forward. Sashay proudly into the future and claim it. It can be terrifying, but you’ll be happier. I promise.”

Because Cara didn’t have the strength or the wisdom—if it could be called that—to argue the point, she’d agreed to dine out with Milton.

As a woman. That would be her enormous leap.

She figured she could back out a couple hours or even a couple days after hanging up. No one was holding a gun to her head.

Yet here she was on Friday night, waiting for the text that would alert her that Milton waited outside. Her emotions were a bittersweet salad of anticipation, dread, and hope.

The honest-to-God truth was that she really, really wanted to do this. Milton was simply the bully/savior standing at the side of the pool, arms outstretched to shove her in the deep end.

And for that, she was grateful, even if she was terrified. Milton was an angel sent down to guide her in the right direction. Stasis had been her byword for far too long.

Roberto had left her. Permanently? That was yet to be determined. But she had no reason to hold herself back from what she’d dreamed of since she was a small child, burying a nose in Mom’s perfume-scented frocks and coats.

So here she was, seated in her living room, watching the dusk fade into night. For courage, she had a Grey Goose martini in front of her. For energy, she had a dance remix of the 1980s playlist on.

She took a sip of the icy vodka and stood. She’d had to look in the mirror when she applied her makeup, otherwise, she feared looking like John Wayne Gacy at a kid’s birthday bash.

Not funny.

But she’d yet to take herself in fully in a reflection.

She was scared to death of what might peer back at her. Would the effect be comic? Ridiculous? Milton Berle in a dress?

She had to face the woman in the mirror. No one else could judge her and, more importantly, no one else could love her as much as she knew she needed to love herself.

There was a silver-framed square mirror hanging above their blue velvet couch. It’d always been ornamental and Cara had passed it without really looking into it hundreds of times.

Now it was a litmus test.

Mirrors don’t lie.

She set down her drink and wandered over to stand before it. She didn’t even realize she’d closed her eyes the moment she was before the silvered glass.

She drew in a deep breath and allowed herself to open her eyes.

She immediately went to the old movie she’d adored as a little boy growing up, Gypsy. And her thought was of the scene when Natalie Wood as Gypsy Rose Lee encounters her adult self in a mirror, in a blue satin gown. Gypsy realizes, finally, she’s come into her own as a woman.

She’d said three profound words, “Mama, I’m pretty.”

Even as a small child in Ohio, Cara recalled how she understood that the character was, for the first time ever, discovering her own beauty. There was such power and grace in that moment.

Cara thought she was no Natalie Wood as she gazed into the mirror. She probably had at least twenty years on the tragic actress when she’d made the movie, for one thing. For another… Well, she didn’t want to admit how many more pounds she weighed, how her figure was, er, less than Greek.

Yet she spoke to her reflection with tears glistening in her eyes. “Mama, I’m pretty,” she said.

She didn’t laugh. She didn’t think she was being vain. She regarded herself, also in a dress made from blue satin. Coincidence?

She shook her head, taking a spin in front of the mirror. The dress was vintage with a scoop neckline, and belted at the waist with a rhinestone belt. Blue satin pumps on her feet. Her wig was perfect, looking to Cara like her own natural hair. Her makeup was subtle, with a good foundation, a little blush, some eyeliner and mascara and just the faintest hint of blue on her eyelids.

I don’t look like a woman.

I am a woman.

Just before turning away from the mirror, she gasped. Her mother stood behind her, one hand on her shoulder. Her nails were blood red. She squeezed and mouthed, “You are pretty.”

And then she was gone.

The ding ding of an incoming text tore her out of her reverie.

Milton was outside.


(Paperback coming soon!)

Saturday, September 10, 2022

THE Q and Inspiration

 The Q
is one of the books I'm most proud of. It also has the distinction of being the hardest to classify.

It chronicles one night at a small town gay bar in the foothills of the Appalachians (which is where I grew up) where all the locals gather. Through the course of one revelatory night, a memorable cast of characters come forward to share their stories—there’s heartbreak, missed connections, falling in love, falling out of love, making tough decisions, the exposure of secrets…and a lot more. 

There are a few books that inspired my desire to tell a story through individual glimpses into different lives over the course of one pivotal night. Spoon River Anthology, Winesburg, Ohio, and the Elizabeth Strout books, Olive Kitteridge and Olive, Again. All of these books basically weave short stories together to create a novel. I loved that idea and have had it in the back of my head for a while.

On a visit to my hometown, which is on the Ohio River and in the Appalachian foothills, I went with my sister one night to a dance club and casino in West Virginia. To draw people in to use the casino, the place has a live band for dancing every Saturday night and I watched all the regulars who come to dance and socialize and thought how they each have a story.

And therein my idea for The Q was born. 


Step out for a Saturday night at The Q—the small town gay bar in Appalachia where the locals congregate. Whose secret love is revealed? What long-term relationship comes to a crossroad? What revelations come to light? The DJ mixes a soundtrack to inspire dancing, drinking, singing, and falling in (or out) of love.

This pivotal Saturday night at The Q is one its regulars will never forget. Lives irrevocably change. Laugh, shed a tear, and root for folks you’ll come to love and remember long after the last page.


Nine Star Press

Amazon Kindle 

Amazon Paperback 

Friday, September 9, 2022

My Horror Collection, UNHINGED, is on Sale at Amazon!

For a limited time (and who knows why or how long?) #Amazon has priced the ebook & the paperback of my #horror collection, UNHINGED, at only $3.58. Grab a copy while the sale lasts! 


Horror. Romance. The two seem at odds, yet in provocative author Rick R. Reed’s hands, the pair merge like a match made in heaven ... or hell.

Prepare for a dark journey into an unhinged world populated by ordinary and extraordinary monsters. Unhinged brings you sometimes chilling, sometimes romantic, sometimes hilarious, but always thought-provoking tales.

Among them you’ll find a chilling and redemptive ghost story, a most unusual and shocking first meeting for two lovers, a story revolving around one of the 20th Century’s most horrific serial killers, and a darkly comic take on the vampire mythos. This collection will make your heart race with passion ... in all its forms.

Contains the stories: Echoes, How I Met My Man, The Man from Milwaukee, Sluggo Snares a Vampire, The Ghost in #9, and Incubus.


Thursday, September 8, 2022

My Urban Ghost Story, WOUNDED AIR, Gets a Rave

It's wonderful to stumble across a positive review you didn't know about for one of your books. This one, from A REVIEWER DARKLY had some very positive words for my urban ghost story revolving around addiction:

“The first thing a prospective reader should know before starting Wounded Air is that this is not an easy novel to read.  Reed is unrelenting and brutal in his portrayal of drug use and the destruction it brings.  The story jumps right in and does not pull any punches as it details the decline of the couple once they experiment with drugs.  Reed does recognize that there are some very difficult chapters in this novel and alternates between the past and the present to try to soften the blow but even the horror in the present only softens the blow while also seeming to somewhat amplify it as well.  This is definitely not a book for the weak of heart or stomach.  There were times I felt a bit sickened by the events of the novel but found that it was well worth the read.

“Wounded Air is as compelling as it is brutal.  It works on many different levels and Reed plays on the reader's emotions on multiple levels.  At its core, Wounded Air is a love story even though it is not a traditional love story.  This is a love story gone wrong through the best of intentions as an attempt to bring the lovers even closer ends up in destruction and isolation.  It is also the story of a man coming to terms with his place in the world and learning to make the tough but necessary decisions.  It is a tale of horror from beyond the grave and even greater horror on this side of death.  The novel is hard to describe without giving away key elements of it so I do not want to go much deeper.  What Wounded Air is harsh, scary, and haunting.  It is not the best book that I have ever read but I do think that it is one that I will probably never forget."

Read the whole review here:

Buy Wounded Air

Friday, August 19, 2022

My Most Autobiographical Novel Coming to Audiobook UNRAVELING

Thrilled to announce that David Allen Vargo will once again give voice to one of my works, UNRAVELING, which is my most autobiographical work to date--it's essentially my #comingout story.

The #audiobook will be available in November!

Can't wait? Read the book now: #ownvoices #LGBTQ #amwriting


Randy Kay has the perfect life with his beautiful wife and adorable son. But Randy's living a lie, untrue to himself and everyone who knows him. He's gay.

Marriage and fatherhood, which he thought could change him, have failed. He doubts if anyone can love him for who he really is--especially himself.

With his wife's blessing, he sets out to explore the gay world he's hidden from all his life.

John Walsh, a paramedic with the Chicago Fire Department, is comfortable in his own skin as a gay man, yet he can never find someone who shares his desire to create a real relationship, a true family.

When Randy and John first spy each other in Chicago's Boystown, all kinds of alarms go off--some of joy, others of deep-seated fear.

Randy and John must surmount multiple hurdles on the journey to a lasting, meaningful love. Will they succeed or will their chance at love go up in flames, destroyed by missed connections and a lack of self-acceptance?

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

New and Notable: Conspiracy by M.D. Neu


Title:  Conspiracy

Series: A New World, Book Three

Author: M.D. Neu

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 08/16/2022

Heat Level: 2 - Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 126800

Genre: Sci Fi, LGBTQIA+, Space travel, aliens, politics, grief, interspecies romance

Add to Goodreads


A little blue world, the third planet from the sun. It’s home to seven billion people with all manner of faiths, beliefs and customs, divided by bigotry and misunderstanding, who have been told they are not alone in the universe. Anyone watching from the outside would pass by this fractured and tumultuous world, unless they had no other choice.

It’s been a little over a year since Todd Landon’s life changed with the arrival of the Nentraee. Continuing his duties as Special Envoy for Terran Affairs, Todd finally feels at home with the aliens; gaining more responsibility and influence with both races. Plans are underway for two Interplanetary spaceports and additional solar exploration. It’s an exciting time for both the humans and the Nentraee.

Not everything is as perfect as some hope. Speaker General Mirtoff and Vice-Speaker Mi’ko of the Nentraee are worried that the Liberi Dei plot additional terrorist attacks and may have inside help. Threats are clear, but who can they trust? Could Todd be helping them unknowingly or worse covertly? Will these new space endeavors continue to bring the human and the Nentraee together or will a conspiracy hiding in the shadows fracture an already shaky alliance?


M.D. Neu © 2022
All Rights Reserved

The Security Training area appeared ordinary, especially since the space was in a secured part of the ship. Yes, the area had grass and a few shrubs outside the façade, but the endless sky feeling didn’t exist here; overall, this area had been built more for function and less for form. Still, Todd was glad he had access to the location, and the gym had everything they needed for a good workout. He had even managed to have the Nentraee bring up some human gym equipment for his use, as he didn’t want to risk his life on the Nentraee equipment. Sure, the human machines got a few odd looks from the Nentraee security when he and Dan used them, but Vi-Narm confided in him several of the security personnel had tried the pieces and used them when no humans were around.

He cracked his neck, thinking of his earlier conversation with Brad. Seeing his brother again would be a nice treat, and Brad had been correct: too much time had passed since Todd had seen Brad or the rest of his family down on Earth. The infrequent visits weren’t all his fault; so much had changed over the last year, and he had a lot of work to do, especially knowing Liberi Dei continued to lurk out there, waiting. A shudder ran down his spine. Martha’s words still haunted him.

Too bad you won’t live long enough to find out. What had she been organizing? Her death was a shame really, killed by her own people before he found out what she and Liberi Dei actually wanted. However, they were still out there planning. Which added to his frustration of late: Mi’ko and Mirtoff no longer included him in anything to do with the terrorist organization, saying keeping him detached from the matter kept him safe.

Todd had no reason to doubt them, but something tickled the back of his mind and he wasn’t sure if this was the only reason they kept him in the dark about Liberi Dei.

He missed the tick of his pocket watch.

So much has changed.

He dug through his bag, pulled out his pocket watch, and checked the time.

“Where is he?” Todd huffed and put the timepiece in his gym bag, his hand brushing along the cool surface of his datapad.

Dan should have been here twenty minutes ago; at this rate Todd would barely have enough time for their workout and for him to get changed and ready for the interview.

A chirp called his attention.

Todd reached into his bag and pulled out his datapad. Now what? He tapped the pad to activate the device.

“Dan!” Todd’s voice called out louder than he had hoped, but no one around him seemed to notice. “Where are you? You’re late.”

“I know.” Dan’s expression remained flat with no Danness to flavor his words. “Listen, I’m heading to Earth. I have to see my family and take care of some things.”

“What? Is everything okay?”

“Fine.” Dan’s tone faltered and his expression sank. “They’re fine, sorry; just a lot going on and my mom isn’t getting any younger.”

“I get it, my parents–”

“Look, I have to go. I’ll talk to you soon.”

“When you–”

The communications ended and the Nentraee seal appeared.

“What the hell?” Todd shook his head and dropped the pad into his bag.

Todd raked a hand through his hair. Well, now he would have plenty of time to get ready for the interview. He made his way over to the lockers to change into his work clothes and ceremonial robe. Once Todd cleaned up, he made his way out of the locker room.

“Special Envoy.” A deep familiar voice caught Todd’s attention as he left the facility.

He turned to see Vi-Narm standing there in the equivalent of workout wear: loose pants and a flowy top.

“Hi, Vi-Narm.”

“Shouldn’t you be getting ready to meet with GNN?”

Todd nodded. “I planned to get in some training with Dan today, but…”

“If you would like to train, I would be happy to workout with you, after your duties.” Vi-Narm tossed her long ponytail over her shoulder.

Todd picked at his deep-blue ceremonial cloak, the one given to him by Mi’ko and Mirtoff to represent his standing in Nentraee society. The cloak draped over his shoulders, and the wide embroidered collar with silver stitching sparkled as the threads caught the light. He checked the two large silver clasps with matching deep-blue stones attaching the cloak to his shoulders. The ends of the cloak fell to the floor, revealing the embroidery as the stitching continued down to each of the eight symbols representing the Nentraee clans and the one representing humans.

“Do I look okay?” Todd asked.

“You look respectable for your position and the purpose of your meeting,” Vi-Narm said.

“And with that not-so-shining endorsement, I’ll head off.” He winked at her. “Thanks for the offer to work out. I’ll have to take you up on the suggestion, especially if Dan keeps ditching me.”

On his way out, he gave one more glance over his shoulder to the facility and the surrounding area. Dan and he were supposed to work out twice a week, and yet over the last several months Dan had cancelled many of their get-togethers, not just the workouts. Each time they met, Dan appeared more preoccupied. More distant. Todd shook his head. At least he still had Brad’s visit to look forward to, even if he would be here for work and not play.

He felt the tick of his pocket watch and marched on in time with each tick. Once he found a viewport, he glanced out, seeing one of the Speaker General’s ship’s parks. A group of xĩmé flew by, the deep blue of their feathers a contrast to the yellow leaves of the nabutimaba tree. He chuckled and shook his head. Recent events seemed insane to him, like something out of some sci-fi series.

“What a year.” He sighed as he continued on.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

M.D. Neu is an award-winning queer Fiction Writer with a love for writing and travel. Living in the heart of Silicon Valley (San Jose, California) and growing up around technology, he’s always been fascinated with what could be. Specifically drawn to Science Fiction and Paranormal television and novels, M.D. Neu was inspired by the great Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas, Stephen King, Alice Walker, Alfred Hitchcock, Harvey Fierstein, Anne Rice, and Kim Stanley Robinson. An odd combination, but one that has influenced his writing.

Growing up in an accepting family as a gay man he always wondered why there were never stories reflecting who he was. Constantly surrounded by characters that only reflected heterosexual society, M.D. Neu decided he wanted to change that. So, he took to writing, wanting to tell good stories that reflected our diverse world.

When M.D. Neu isn’t writing, he works for a non-profit and travels with his biggest supporter and his harshest critic, Eric his husband of twenty plus years.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram


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Friday, August 5, 2022

DINNER AT JACK'S Warms Your Heart, Soul, and Belly



My redemptive story of food, love, and yes, PTSD--DINNER AT JACK'S is another romance with recipes. Prepare for a powerful story that combines food and love with an amazing couple, Jack and Beau! BLURB Personal chef Beau St. Clair, recently divorced from his cheating husband, returns to the small Ohio River town where he grew up to lick his wounds. Jack Rogers lives with his mother, Maisie, in that same small town, angry at and frightened by the world. Jack has a gap in his memory that hides something he dares not face, and he’s probably suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Maisie, seeking relief from her housebound and often surly son, hires Beau to cook for Jack, hoping the change might help bring Jack, once a handsome and vibrant attorney, back to his former self. But can a new face and comfort food compensate for the terror lurking in Jack’s past? Slowly the two men begin a dance of revelation and healing. Food and compassion build a bridge between Beau and Jack, a bridge that might lead to love. But will Jack’s demons allow it? His history could just as easily tear them apart as bring them together.
BUY Amazon

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

The First Chapter of my Lambda Literary Award Finalist BLUE UMBRELLA SKY


Blue Umbrella Sky is my novel about starting over and how love can heal wounds. It was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award.

I thought you might enjoy reading the first chapter to see if this tale of two lost souls finding redemption and love in each other might whet your appetite for more.


Milt Grabaur has left his life, home, and teaching career in Ohio to start anew. The Summer Winds trailer park in Palm Springs, butted up against the San Jacinto mountain range, seems the perfect place to forget the pain of nursing his beloved husband through Alzheimer's and seeing him off on his final passage.

Billy Blue is a sexy California surfer type who once dreamed of being a singer but now works at Trader Joe’s and lives in his own trailer at Summer Winds. He’s focused on recovery from the alcoholism that put his dreams on hold. When his new neighbor moves in, Billy falls for the gray-eyed man. His sadness and loneliness awaken something Billy’s never felt before—real love.

When a summer storm and flash flood jeopardize Milt's home, Billy comes to the rescue, hoping the two men might get better acquainted… and maybe begin a new romance. But Milt's devotion to his late husband is strong, and he worries that acting on his attraction will be a betrayal.

Can they lay down their baggage and find out how redemptive love can be?

NineStar Press


Milt Grabaur stared out the window of his trailer, wondering how much worse it could get.
The deluge poured down, gray, almost obscuring his neighbors’ homes and the barren desert landscape beyond. The rain hammered on his metal roof, sounding like automatic gunfire. Milt shivered a little, thinking of that old song, “It Never Rains in Southern California.”
He leaned closer to the picture window, pressing his hand against the glass and whispering to himself, “But it pours.”
That window had given him his daily view for the last six months, ever since he’d packed up a life’s worth of belongings and made his way south and west to Palm Springs and the Summer Winds Mobile Home Community. This same picture window, almost every single day, had shown him only endless blue skies and sunshine. An errant cloud or a jet contrail would occasionally break up the field of electric blue, but other than that, it was azure perfection. Milt reveled in it. He’d begun to think these expanses of blue, lit up by golden illumination, would never cease.
Until today.
At about three o’clock, that blue sky, for the first time, was overcome with gray, a foreboding mass of bruised clouds. Milt wondered, because of his experience in the desert so far, if the clouds would be only that—foreboding. The magical gods of the Coachella Valley would, of course, sweep away those frowning and depressing masses of imminent precipitation with a wave of their enchanted hands.
But the sky continued to darken, seemingly unaware of Milt’s fanciful imagining and yearnings. At last the once-blue dome above him became almost like night in midafternoon and the first heavy drops—fat beads of water—began to fall, first a slow sprinkle, where Milt could count the seconds between drops, then faster and faster, until the raindrops combined into one single and, Milt had to admit, terrifying roar.
And then an unfamiliar sound—the drumroll and cymbal crash of thunder. The sky, moments after, lit up with brilliant white light.
The rain fell in earnest. Torrents of the stuff.
The other trailers, his neighbors, nearly vanished in the relentless gray downpour. The wind howled, sending the rain capriciously sideways every few seconds. The palm trees in his front yard swayed and bent with the ruthless gusts, testimony to their strength, despite their appearance of being stalklike and weak. The wind tore dry husks of bark from them.
At first Milt was unconcerned, thinking the rain could only do good. It would bless the parched succulents, cacti, and palms that dotted the rocky, sandy landscape of the park, maybe even bring them to colorful life, forcing a brilliant desert flower, here and there, to bloom. His decade-old Honda Civic, parked next to the trailer, would get a wash, the thick layer of sand and dust chased away, almost pressure-cleaned.
For the half a year he’d been here, Milt had been amazed at how clean everything could look when, in actuality, anything outdoors was quickly covered in a veneer of fine sand, almost like gritty dust. Milt was forever wiping off his patio furniture, cleaning the glass surfaces of his car. But this minor inconvenience was more than outweighed by the stunning and almost surreal appearance of the Coachella Valley and the desert, a wild beauty which far surpassed anything even an optimistic Milt had dreamed of when he had made up his mind, somewhat suddenly, to shed his old life in Ohio and move out to Southern California.
He stared out at the gusts of wind, the flashes of lightning, and the almost-blinding downpour and realized he had no idea it could be like this. The trailer park was smack up against the San Jacinto mountain range, and Milt realized with horror that not only would the little park suffer from the copious water falling from the sky, but it would also be the beneficiary, like it or not, of runoff as it came hurtling down the mountain face.
As if to confirm his notion, Milt gasped as he noticed the street in front of his trailer.
It was no longer a street.
Not really.
No, now it was a creek. A creek notable for its rushing rapids. Water was speeding by at an unprecedented pace. Milt sucked in some air as he saw a lawn chair go by, buoyed up by the current. Then a plastic end table. An inflatable pool toy—a swan—that Milt supposed was in the right place at the right time. But the damp throw pillows whizzing by, like soggy oyster crackers in soup, were not.
Milt turned to look behind him at the sound of a whimper.
“Oh, what’s the matter, sweetheart?” He held out a beseeching hand to the gray-and-white pit bull mix he’d picked up from the Palm Springs Animal Shelter over on Mesquite the first week he’d gotten here. “It’s okay.”
She looked ferocious but was a big softie, easily frightened, shy, and with a disposition that made Mother Teresa look like a terrorist. Ruby, he’d called her on a whim, in honor of the kind lady that lived two doors down from him when he was a little boy back in Summitville, Ohio. That Ruby, like this one, had always been kind but retiring, shying from the slightest spotlight.
This Ruby, right now, was terrified, her tail between her legs, backing toward the shadowy corners of the room, eyes wide with fear. Milt reached out, trying to grab the frightened dog, but she scurried away and dashed out of sight down the narrow hallway leading to his bedroom, nails clattering, slipping and sliding on the tile floor. Milt sighed, knowing exactly what she was doing even though he couldn’t see her—scurrying under his bed to cower among the dust bunnies and cast-off shoes.
It would take hours—and treats—to coax her out. Milt knew from experience….
He returned his attention to the storm raging outside, which showed no signs of abating.
Plus—and this made Milt groan—there was a new wrinkle to the carnage. Not only were the streets around his trailer now rapidly flowing rivers; Milt also realized with horror he was about to get flooded.
He gazed down on standing water several inches deep spread out across his patio. It covered the outdoor rugs he’d bought, with their whimsical cactus design, soaking them like washcloths. It rose up the sides of his patio furniture. Milt swore he could see it getting higher and higher.
Worst of all, Milt watched the water hover just outside the sliding glass doors, waiting, perhaps, for an invitation to come inside.
Ah, the hell with it, the water seemed to say, why wait for an invitation? This party needs crashing!
And it began to seep in…. A little at first, and then faster and faster, until his entire floor was covered.
Milt involuntarily cried out, voice high-pitched and terrified, nothing like the butch forty-two-year-old he thought himself. “Help! Flood! Somebody, please!” The cry was pure panic. Logically, he knew no one would hear.
What that helper would do, Milt had no idea, but he simply wanted someone to be with him in his predicament. The thought flitted across his consciousness that he’d been here six months, and it wasn’t until today and the advent of a rainstorm of biblical proportions that he realized he didn’t want to be alone. He swore as warm water covered his bare feet at the exact moment his power went out, plunging his little sanctuary into murky dark.
And at this very unnerving moment, Milt realized—gratefully—someone just might have heard his pleas for help. There was a pounding at the back door, rattling the glass jalousie panes. He turned, confused for a moment—he’d cast himself as a sole survivor, a man against nature, alone.
The pounding continued. A voice. “Hey! You okay in there?”
Milt crossed the living room and the small galley kitchen to get to the back door. But when he opened it, there was no one there. The wind pushed at him, mocking, and the rain sent a drenching spray against him. Despite getting soaked, Milt leaned out, gripping the door’s frame with both hands for balance, and looked around.
Even though the covering of storm clouds had made it seem as though a dusky twilight had fallen, he could see that there was no one there.
He wondered if he’d imagined the knocking and the voice. He really didn’t know his neighbors, having kept to himself since he’d moved out here because he just wasn’t ready to connect with others again. He’d given so much to his Corky during those final tortured months…. Sometimes Milt felt he had nothing left to give anyone again ever.
And a dog, cowering and bashful as she might be, had been company enough.
His little reverie was shattered by a second round of knocking, this time at the sliding glass doors in his living room. “Okay, so I’m not hearing things.” Milt turned away from the back door and headed to the sliders.
Outside, a young man stood, drenched from head to toe, in a pair of neon-pink board shorts and, well, nothing else. Maybe there’s flip-flops. Milt couldn’t see the guy’s feet. His jaw dropped as he hurried to open the door. In spite of all that was going on—the storm, the flood, the risk of his home being destroyed—he couldn’t help his thoughts, notions he’d decided long ago died within him.
I am looking at an angel; that’s all there is to it. He’s going to sweep me away in those muscular arms, lifting me right up to heaven and setting me down gently next to my Corky.
Milt shook his head. A short burst of laughter escaped him, almost as if someone else were chuckling in his living room with him.
The guy was handsome, a tanned and buff dreamboat. Corky would have loved him, saying, once upon a time, that looks like this boy’s should be illegal, or at least sinful. Milt smiled.
Even though his hair was plastered to his head, Milt could tell it was thick and luxurious—right now the color of dark wheat, but Milt was certain that in dryer moments, it was as gold as the pure, unfiltered sunshine Milt had grown accustomed to being greeted by every morning. He had a body that made Milt, if only for a moment, forget the storm and the fact that he was a widower, still grieving nearly a year after losing his man. Muscles, smooth bronze skin, and a six-pack had the power of oblivion, of taking precedence over everything else.
Stop, he mentally chastised himself. He flung open the slider, noticing the rain had—at last—slowed to a patter and the winds had died down almost completely. Milt, though, couldn’t seem to put lips and tongue together to form a greeting or ask a question or to even say anything at all. His eyebrows came together like two caterpillars possessed of their own will.
“Hey there, man. I heard you calling out for help.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “I live in the unit behind you.” He smiled, revealing electric-white teeth that made Milt’s thoughts go even more blank or even more lascivious, he wasn’t sure which. He shivered.
The guy gave Milt a more tentative smile, the type you’d give to the kindly neighbor down the street who’d just emerged from home wearing nothing but a pair of saddle shoes and a big smile. Milt wondered if the guy thought he was encountering a person who couldn’t speak, or maybe someone whose mind had completely deserted him. Lord knew Milt was familiar enough with people like that, having  only very recently seen to every need of a person just like that.
“Are you okay, buddy?”
Milt managed a smile, despite the fact that his feet squished on the soaked carpeting. Oh Lord, is everything ruined? How much is this going to cost? Is it going to wipe me out? “Yeah,” Milt sputtered. He glanced behind him. “It looks as though I’m getting flooded.” There appeared to be at least a couple of inches of water covering the floor of his trailer. He groaned.
The young man leaned in to survey the damage and gave a low whistle. “Yikes!” He leaned back out so he could face Milt. “Bet you didn’t think you needed to worry about flooding in the desert?”
Milt shook his head. “Well, it wasn’t foremost.” He glanced behind him again, feeling like his sanctuary had been violated—as it indeed had. And what fresh hell would spring forth from the damage? “What am I gonna do?”
“Well, my opinion is you need to get yourself the hell out of there. As I said, I’m right behind you, up the mountain a tad, so I’m still dry. You wanna grab some of your stuff just in case and come on over?”
“Yeah, man, like, I don’t know, a laptop, maybe? Family pictures? Important papers? You know, just in case. The stuff you’d run out of here with if the place caught on fire.”
“Oh, right.” Milt sighed. “This is awfully kind of you.”
“Hey, we’re neighbors. At Summer Winds, we look out for each other. I’ve been wanting to meet you, anyway. Sucks that it has to be under these circumstances. But come on, I’ve got a dry house, air-conditioning, and enough candy to send you into a diabetic coma.” He laughed.
Milt stood, his mind beating a hasty retreat. He shouldn’t feel indecisive, but he did.
“Or if you have other plans…,” the man finally said. “Indoor pool party?”
“No. No! I’d love to come over.” Milt looked around his place once more. Most of his stuff was up high enough that it wouldn’t get wet, unless the trailer toppled over or something, but there was one thing he couldn’t just leave behind. “I need to get Ruby.”
“My girl, my dog!” Milt snapped, as if his visitor should know. He immediately regretted his tone, but his neighbor simply seemed to be taking his dire straits way too lightly.
“Ruby. Cute name. I’ve seen you walking her. She’s sweet. Go grab her. She’s welcome too. Animals of all varieties are welcome in my crib.” He winked. “I used to have a dog myself, a Yorkie, Bergamot, that thought he was a Doberman.” He frowned. “But he passed away last winter. Coyote got him.”
Milt jerked a little in horror. “I’m sorry.”
Milt couldn’t imagine losing his dog—he’d already fallen hopelessly in love with Ruby. He felt a deep-seated twinge of empathy. “The storm shook her up. Let me just see if I can coax her out from under the bed.” Milt didn’t think the task would be too tough, since it was now wet under the bed and Ruby hated water. He turned and started away, sloshing through the hateful water. Midstream, so to speak, he changed his mind and turned back.
He held out a hand. “I’m sorry. Milt. Milt Grabaur. I’d invite you in, but my place, as you can see, isn’t exactly presentable.” He laughed and then felt like bursting into tears.
“If you knew I was coming, you’d have baked a cake? A sponge cake?” He snorted and shook Milt’s hand with a big calloused paw. “Billy Blue.”
Milt smiled. “Seriously?”
Billy shrugged. “Yeah, my mom and dad had a great sense of humor. Or thought I was destined for the stage, instead of cashier at Trader Joe’s. The advantage of a name like mine, silly as it is, is that people tend not to forget it.”
“I think it’s a lovely name.” Milt met Billy Blue’s gaze—and thought how fortuitous it was that his irises matched the color of his last name. And you’re a lovely man. Handsome, built like a brick shithouse—and sweet as pie.
“I’ll be right back with Ruby.” He turned and this time did manage to slosh to the very rear of the trailer, where his wood-paneled master bedroom awaited. Before he even stooped down in the grimy water to coax, he began talking to Ruby. “Good girl. Nothin’ to be ascared of, honey,” Milt said in his most soothing voice, cadence and words dredged up from his boyhood memories of living near the river in the foothills of the Appalachians, in the northern panhandle of West Virginia. He squatted down, wincing a little as his knees came into contact with the spongy shag carpeting he’d hoped to replace one day, and lifted the bottom of the comforter, which was stained dark from the water.
Underneath the bed there was only a couple of inches of water, a pair of Keen sandals, and a metal storage box that contained Milt’s “toys”—and we’re not talking Fisher-Price here.
There was no Ruby. Nor any other living creature.
Milt got to his feet, groaning, and took stock of the entire bedroom, thinking perhaps Ruby had retreated to a corner or hidden behind the chest of drawers. But she was nowhere to be found, not even in the adjacent bathroom, which looked now as though Milt had taken a long, long shower and had simply not bothered to turn the water off.
Knowing she wouldn’t be there, but checking anyway, Milt opened the frosted glass shower door to find it empty.
He made a tour of the trailer, getting more and more anxious with each step, with each empty nook and cranny. “Ruby?” he called out several times, each time his voice growing louder, as though sheer volume would make her appear.
But she didn’t.
And the thoughtlessly left-open back door gave testimony to what had most likely happened. The poor terrified girl had probably tried to escape that way, running headlong into a fate worse than she was trying to escape. Milt hurried to the open door, peering out onto his little patio, hoping against hope she’d be out there, stub of a tail sending up splashes as she looked mournfully at him.
But Ruby was gone.
Milt felt as though his heart would break.
He closed the door behind him, sighing and wondering if he should leave it open, just in case she tried to return. Return to what? A trailer flooded with filthy—and probably bacteria-ridden—water?
He moved back to the sliders, looking over Billy’s broad shoulders, hoping Ruby would appear on the doused desert landscape.
Billy smiled at Milt’s return. “Dog?” he wondered.
Milt’s breath caught. The day, or not really the day but only, really, the past few minutes, had been a disaster. Disasters happen fast and savage in Palm Springs. He wasn’t sure he could speak without bursting into tears, without chastising himself for his own carelessness.
If only I hadn’t left that damn door open.
“She’s nowhere to be found.” Milt shrugged.
Billy frowned, and his gaze seemed to reach out to Milt in sympathy, which made Milt want to cry even more. “She’ll turn up.” Billy changed his expression to a reassuring smile. “She’s got it good—a man all to herself, and I assume a limitless supply of treats.” He winked. “I wish I could say the same.”
Ah, so he’s one of us. I thought so, but one doesn’t want to assume. “I’m sure you’re right,” Milt said, although he wasn’t sure at all.
“You still want to come over? I got carnitas cooking in the Crock-Pot. Homemade tortillas. I may be blond, but I cook like the locals.”
Milt managed a smile. The thought of food made his stomach turn, thinking of Ruby running around out there somewhere—with threats like coyotes, black widow spiders, and rattlesnakes all around, just to name a few. She might look fierce, but Milt feared she wouldn’t last long up against the desert’s more formidable predators.
At least it’s not raining anymore.
“You wanna gather some stuff up?”
Milt shook his head. “It’ll be okay.” Barefoot, morose, he stepped through the sliders and outside.
“Atta boy. We’ll get settled over at my place, and then we can do a little search-and-rescue mission. I’m sure she’s not far away.”
“I hope not.” Milt followed Billy Blue into the unseasonably damp day. Steam was already beginning to rise off surfaces not under water.
The sun was beginning to come out again, revealing blue skies.
Milt couldn’t see it, though.