Monday, January 23, 2023

My Chilling Ghost Story: WOUNDED AIR

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

Rick and Ernie found the perfect apartment on Chicago’s West Side. Before they’re settled, Rick begins having all-too-real disturbing “dreams.” Each time, an emaciated young man with sad brown eyes appears, terrifying and obsessing him.

From their next-door neighbor, Paula, Rick learns about Karl and Tommy, who lived there before them. Tommy’s mysterious disappearance pains her. When she shares a photo of her with Tommy and Karl, Rick is shocked and troubled. Tommy is the man who appears to him in his dreams.

The ghostly visitations compel Rick to uncover the truth about Tommy’s disappearance. It’s a quest that will lead him to Karl, Tommy’s lover, who may know more about Tommy’s disappearance than he’s telling, and a confrontation with a restless spirit who wants only to—finally—rest in peace.

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EXCERPT

In this scene, our hero, Rick, yearns for an unusual apartment he’s seen a million times from the Chicago L train he takes to work every day. But now, there’s something different—the apartment is available.

I never imagined my dream would come true.

But it did. And in a funny way, what drove me to this particular apartment led to a lot of dreams coming true.

But dreams can turn to nightmares in the space of a single breath.

Fate stepped in one day and changed everything—past, present, and future—when I rounded the bend of the L tracks and my glass-walled apartment came into view.

On that day, there was a change, a difference of two words.

Hanging as though suspended in midair was one of those black-and-red signs one can buy at the hardware store. The sign proclaimed: FOR RENT. Below the bright red letters was a white rectangle with a phone number written in black marker.

Oh my god. It’s coming true. This place will be gone by the afternoon! I can’t let anyone else have it.

I dug inside my messenger bag, groping for paper and pen to jot down the number. I’d call the moment I got to work, already feeling like I was racing against some imaginary clock hanging just above my head. Such a unique place wouldn’t be on the market for long. Hell, someone else might have already snatched it up.

I wasn’t fast enough to write the number. Of course, I wasn’t. The train had stopped for only a minute, two at the most, long enough to let a few folks off and a whole bunch on. There was a lot of chatter, the huffing of the train, the pneumatic hiss of the doors closing, and the garbled announcement for the next stop.

The apartment—and the FOR RENT sign—sailed by as it always did, and the phone number along with it. I turned in my seat, straining to try to see the number from this distance, even though I knew it was a stupid and impossible move.

I knew, as sure as anything, if I waited until the next day, with my pen poised and ready over a pad of paper, the sign would have vanished. Someone else would take possession of what I felt, in a weird and possessive way, was rightfully mine.

There was only one thing to do.

I tried to be patient despite my thundering heart, waiting until we neared the next station. I leapt up and edged my way through the crowd toward the doors. When they slid open, I stepped out and stood on the platform, giddy with my own impulsiveness. This wasn’t like me. I was usually a planner, every decision carefully considered before moving forward—or not.

Impulsive was something other people did.

On the platform, I paused for a moment, watching the southbound Brown Line train as it continued its journey toward the Loop. In the distance, the skyscrapers of downtown rose. A breeze rustled my hair. Autumn was definitely present, even though the sun peeked out through scattered clouds, drifting downward in illuminated shafts, like a religious painting. There was an undercurrent of chill that, at the time, I attributed to nothing more than the changing of seasons.

But now I wonder—was the chill an omen, foreboding? Was fate trying to tell me to get back on the next train and get to work like the safe and dependable guy I was? After all, I had a home and in it was a man I loved, a man to whom I hadn’t even whispered a word about wanting to move.

It was late autumn in Chicago and the day had all the portents of the coming winter. Gray, low-hanging clouds amassed near the horizon, some of them so dark they verged on black.

In the short time I stood there, the weather made a dramatic change, which, if you’ve ever visited Chicago, you know isn’t unusual. “Don’t like the weather?” Self-proclaimed wits were fond of saying about the Windy City. “Stick around for a few minutes, and it’ll change.”

The little sun there was vanished, beating a hasty retreat behind a bank of fast-moving and bruised clouds. Drizzle hung in the air. A needling, cold mist crept into my bones, making me shiver. This was worse than a downpour because it seemed like no matter how much one bundled up against it, the cold seeped into one’s bones, making it nearly impossible to get warm. The wind, which blew off the lake two miles east, picked up, running at a breakneck pace, westward bound, down Irving Park Road. I watched from the platform as the people below rushed to get out of the inclement weather, their umbrellas turning inside out. The wind ripped the last of fall’s leaves from their branches.

In spite of the weather, I made my way along the old wooden L platform to its northern end so I could stand directly in front of the object of my desire.

It was the first time I’d actually seen it up close. And now it almost looked unreal, as though it were a movie location dreamed up by the guy who did the set for Hitchcock’s Rear Window. My current view had that same urban, surreal feel, that same voyeuristic quality.

Looking back, I wondered if it also had that same air of menace Hitchcock was so noted for.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2023

My Semi-Autobiographical Novel, UNRAVELING, is Now Out in Audiobook

 


Thrilled to announce David Allen Vargo, narrator extraordinaire, has lent his vocal and production talents to UNRAVELING, my most autobiographical work to date--it's essentially my #comingout story.

The #audiobook is available here.

ABOUT THE BOOK

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?
READER REVIEW
This is such a heartfelt story and absolutely feels like it comes from a place of personal insight and experience. Growing up I knew men like Randy, who were married to women [often for decades], and eventually gathered their courage and risked everything to come out. I found this book to be incredibly honest in its depictions of how Randy struggles with his sexuality. How he navigates through his journey of living openly as a gay man. All while trying to maintain the relationship with his [ex] wife and discovering/forging new connections. The portrayals of the MCs and their perspectives read so genuinely and truly gives you a sense of the landscape of what life was like in the mid 1980's in Boystown Chicago while AIDS forever altered this community.

David Allen Vargo gives a stellar performance on the audio... there are quite a few musical inserts throughout - which was unusual for me - and ended up rather enjoying how they added to the narrative.
Prefer a more visual experience? Read the book. Ebook Paperback
The #audiobook is available here.


Saturday, December 31, 2022

My Top 10 Movies in 2022

 


#Grateful for the movies I had the pleasure of seeing in 2022.

Without further ado, my #Top10*. 

1. The Banshees of Inisherin
2. Emily the Criminal
3. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris
4. Prey
5. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
6. Barbarian (yes, flawed, but fascinating and original)
7. Nope
8. Swan Song (2021, but watched this year)
9. Kimi
10. The Black Phone
* Haven't seen yet, but am optimistic about:
The Menu
Tár



Thursday, December 29, 2022

My TOP 10 Streaming/Television Shows of 2022


In no particular order and kind of off the top of my head, here are my TOP 10 TV/Streaming Shows of 2022.

1. The White Lotus (HBO Max)
2. For All Mankind (HBO Max)
3. The Bear (Hulu)
4. Dead to Me (Netflix)
5. American Horror Story, NYC (FX)
6. The Patient (Hulu)
7. Hacks (HBO Max)
8. Wednesday (Netflix)
9. Welcome to Chippendales (Hulu) 10. Abbott Elementary (ABC) 







Wednesday, December 21, 2022

SEASPRAY is OnTopDownUnder Reviews Best Book of 2022!


I was thrilled to wake to the news that the review site OnTopDownUnder had published a list of their best books of 2022...and my own Seapray was #1 on the list. Reviewer Cindi said:

"Seaspray isn't just one of my favorite books by Rick R. Reed. It's one of my favorite books of all time."

Read the whole review here (as well as see the excellent company I'm keeping on this year-end round-up).

ABOUT THE BOOK


Winslow Birkel is a sweet young man in his first relationship. But his boyfriend, the charming and fiery Chad Loveless, has become increasingly abusive to the point where Winslow fears for his life.

Everything changes in a single night when Winslow, fleeing yet another epic fight, goes out to a local bar and finds a sympathetic ear in a new friend, Darryn Maxwell. But when he comes home, Chad’s waiting. He’s got it in for Winslow, whom he wrongly accuses of being unfaithful.

The stormy night sends Winslow off on a journey to escape. The last thing he recalls is skidding off the road and into the river. When he awakens, he’s mysteriously in the charming seaside town of Seaspray, where people are warm and welcoming, yet their appearances and disappearances are all too inexplicable.

Back home, Darryn wonders what’s happened to the new guy he met during his first outing to the local gay bar, the Q. Darryn knows Winslow’s been abused, but he also feels he’s quickly fallen in love with Winslow.

Can Winslow and Darryn decipher their respective mysteries? Is it possible for them to reunite? Is Chad still lurking and plotting to make sure Winslow never loves anyone else? The answers to these questions await you in Seaspray, where you may, or may not, ever leave.

BUY THE BOOK
Digital
Paperback
Audiobook coming in 2023, narrated by David Allen Vargo 

Monday, December 19, 2022

My 2022 Writing Year in Review


Today, I'm #grateful for my #writing output for this year.

The three novels and one novella (Moving Toward the Light) pictured allowed me not only the opportunity to entertain and, I hope, enlighten, they also afforded me the chance to live for a while in the minds of a #transgender woman, a victim of #domesticabuse finding redemption in the mystical magical town of Seaspray, a man hungry for love after loss dipping into the treacherous waters of online dating, and a sexual abuse victim getting revenge on her tormentors via the help of a friend from beyond the grave.

The year also marked the beginning of a beautiful collaboration with audiobook narrator, David Allen Vargo, whose talents brought to life THE PERILS OF INTIMACY and will do the same for at least three of my novels in 2023. I was also blessed this year to be included in the fantastic mystery anthology, CUPID SHOT ME, along with some amazing author talents.


BUY

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

A New Take on The Little Match Girl for Our Times


I've always loved the darkly beautiful fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen. "Matches" is my gay take on "The Little Match Girl."

BLURB
Christmas Eve should be a night filled with magic and love. But for Anderson, down on his luck and homeless in Chicago's frigid chill, it's a fight for survival. Whether he's sleeping on the el, or holed up in an abandoned car, all he really has are his memories to keep him warm-memories of a time when he loved a man named Welk and the world was perfect.

When Anderson finds a book of discarded matches on the sidewalk, he pockets them. Later, trying to keep the cold at bay hunkered down in a church entryway, Anderson discovers the matches are the key to bringing his memories of Welk, happiness, and security to life. Within their flames, visions dance-and perhaps a reunion with the man he loved most.

BUY for .99 on Amazon Kindle 

EXCERPT
Anderson made his way down the stairs into the Grand Avenue subway station, the mildew smell of the station rising up as he descended. A rush of commuters passed him going up; a train must have just discharged them. People edged by, giving him as wide a berth as possible. Just as he neared the bottom, a young woman with short black hair, wearing a down coat trimmed in fur, stumbled on the concrete stairs. She dropped her purse and its contents spilled out. Anderson paused and spotted the makeup, the few dollar bills-and a CTA transit card. A part of him told him to grab it and run, that she could well afford another one. If there was enough money stored on the card, it could get him through a good part of the winter.

But no matter how cold it got, no matter how much snow fell, no matter how well the woman could afford to buy another card, Anderson couldn't do it. He just didn't have it in him to steal.

He reached down to help her gather her things and she recoiled, gasping at the sight of him and scooting back and away. "That's okay!" she said, quickly lowering her gaze to hurriedly pick up the things she had dropped.

It hurt Anderson to see the fear and disgust in her eyes.

In the station, Anderson didn't know what to do. To access the platform, you had to have a card. Sure, he could jump the turnstiles and risk getting arrested; he had seen it done. Some got away with it, more didn't.

Like stealing the woman on the stair's transit pass, it simply wasn't within Anderson to do something criminal.

Among the straggling commuters, Anderson spied an old woman who looked kindly. Perhaps she would take pity on him. With her upsweep of gray hair, her sensible wool coat, rubber boots, and hand-crocheted scarf, she appeared kindly, reminding Anderson of his own late grandmother. There was something lively and warm in her pale blue eyes.

Anderson stepped in front of her and smiled. "Excuse me, ma'am."

The woman stopped, regarding him.

"I hate to ask, but I need to get on the train and, honestly, I don't have a dime to my name." Anderson thought for a moment and came up with a small white lie. "I need to get to the south side, where my family is." He smiled again. "It's Christmas."

The woman didn't say anything.

"Do you think you could spare a couple dollars so I could ride?" Anderson gnawed at his lower lip, hating the position circumstance and the economy had put him in.

"Get the hell out of my way," the woman said quietly, edging by him. She called over her shoulder, "Get a job, why don't you?"

Anderson was taken aback by the coldness and the almost-hatred in her voice. It was so unexpected and so unnecessarily cruel.

Anderson felt the bright sting of tears at the corner of his eyes. His shoulders slumped. He was about to turn and leave the station when a young guy, about his own age, came up to him. Once upon a time, Anderson would have thought he was cute, and if he had opened the door a little, Anderson might have flirted with him. But now his only reaction was-what now?

"What a bitch," the man said, his gaze roaming over to where the old woman was mounting the stairs. He reached into the pocket of his worn denim jacket that looked too thin for the weather and pulled out a transit card. He held it out to Anderson. "Take it. There's only one ride left on there. I wish I could give you more, but I'm pretty strapped myself."

Tentatively, Anderson reached for the card. "Are you sure you can spare this?"

"I wouldn't have offered it to you if I couldn't." He wiggled the hand holding the card. "Go on."

Anderson took it, wondering if some guardian angel, or even Welk, was looking out for him.

"Thank you."

"It's nothin'. Merry Christmas."

Anderson swallowed hard, feeling a lump in his throat. "Merry Christmas to you too."

The guy turned and headed up the stairs, out into the snow.

And Anderson moved toward the turnstiles.

The card worked.

BUY for .99 on Amazon Kindle (FREE for Kindle Unlimited Readers)

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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

A Taste of THE Q, My Novel about a Small Town Gay Bar in Appalachia


My latest novel, The Q, takes place over the course of one pivotal Saturday night in a small town gay bar. Read on for a glimpse into just one of the characters my story chronicles.

EXCERPT FROM THE Q
©2021 Rick R. Reed 

Nobody to Love

Nelson DiCarlo wondered, for the thousandth Saturday night, why he didn’t stay home.

After all, he had regular cable, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and YouTube. He had a fully-stocked liquor cabinet and could make himself just about any cocktail he could imagine, from the simple—gin and tonic with a twist of lime—to the exotic—a Pimm’s Cup with orange and cucumber slices. His pantry was stocked with chips, cookies, and crackers to go with the cheeses and dips in his fridge.

His dog, Homer, a so-ugly-he’s-cute mix of dachshund and poodle, was always ready to cuddle or take a long walk in the night air. So, he couldn’t say he was lacking for company. Homer was short on judgment, long on love, and as long as Nels was paying attention, the dog never got bored. If Nels’s attention did stray, the dog reeled him back in by covering his faces with kisses.

No, really, there was no reason why he, at sixty-two years old, should be getting ready to go out to a bar on Saturday night. Really, he needed to simply accept his lot and stay in, go to bed early, like the old man he was.

Nearly entirely banished were the dreams that being out at the Q—the only gay bar in his little one-horse town of Hopewell, West Virginia—would conjure up a man who’d be everything Nels dreamed of: a passionate lover, a faithful companion, a best friend forever. He even held out little reason to believe the conversations he’d have with the same folks he saw every Saturday at the Q would be any different or more exciting than they had been on any other Saturday night, dating back years. 

He had no reason to think that, even if he’d given up all hope for a Mr. Right to come along on his white horse, he would meet a Mr. Right Now. There were a few of those in his past, but none lately. Not for a long time… So long, in fact, that Nels no longer pined for a physical connection with another man.

So why go out?

It was routine. It was a bore.

He was old. And so, so tired.

Yet, here he found himself, in the tiny blue and yellow ceramic tile bathroom of the house he’d grown up in—the one he’d inherited from his mom when she passed from lung cancer seven years ago—shaving in front of the medicine cabinet mirror.

It was funny, how he sometimes glimpsed the man he once was in that mirror, especially when half of his wizened face was hidden by Barbasol shaving cream.

If he squinted just right, he could look back in time and see the man he’d once been, hidden in the depths of the glass. He’d been handsome, what Mom would call a head-turner. On the shorter side at five-feet-eight-inches, Nels had been solidly packed with effortless muscle and good definition. Firm pecs. Bulging biceps. Thick black wavy hair and eyes so dark the pupils got lost in the irises. A perpetual five o’clock shadow that highlighted, rather than hid, the sharp angles and planes of his face, a contrast to his cupid’s bow lips. People, men mostly, used to tell him he should be a model.

That young buck hidden in the mirror was forever mistaken for being younger than he actually was. In his twenties, he was always asked for an ID. When he was in his thirties, everyone imagined he was in his twenties. In his forties, people guessed thirties. Even in his fifties, folks would guess mid- to late-forties and they were always surprised when Nels corrected them, because he never lied about his age. It was always a delight to get the compliments, “I never would have guessed!” “What’s your secret?” And that dreaded left-handed compliment, “You look great—for your age.”

And then, suddenly, and without warning, he looked his age. The revelation crept up without warning.

ABOUT THE BOOK

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.

BUY THE Q

Nine Star Press

Amazon Kindle 

Amazon Paperback

Audiobook 


Wednesday, November 23, 2022

My Rescue Dog, Joaquin, Celebrates His Gotcha Day!


Today, I’m #grateful for our #rescuedog, Joaquin. Today is his gotcha day (aka his adoptive birthday). He’s been with us two full years now, bringing joy and laughter at every turn. Here’s his #story:


Home. It's a concept not all dogs, rescue dogs especially, recognize. So many of them have been abandoned, abused, left behind that they become suspicious of the concept. For far too many of them, home is a pipe dream, a fantasy, a pot at the end of a rainbow that may never materialize.

For our Joaquin, home disappeared the day his owner died. He found himself alone in a kennel at the Palm Springs Animal Shelter. All around him were unfamiliar noises--the barking of numerous and strange dogs, humans talking, humans gawking. How did I get here? he must have wondered. He tried to escape and his attempts were viewed as comical by volunteers and staff. "Look at that little guy! He can climb right up those wire cage walls!"

I heard about Joaquin and his feats, but I only found his searching for an escape route sad. He was looking for home, I thought.

And then I saw him, a little man with the most incredible green eyes. He was a chihuahua mix, as so many of the shelter residents were. But it wasn't only his eyes that set him apart. Perhaps it was stress from losing his home, perhaps it was genetic, but Joaquin had almost no fur. His dark skin hid the fact. He was still unquestionably beautiful.

For me, a volunteer at the shelter, it was love at first sight. From the moment I locked my own green eyes with his incredible ones, I was a goner. We already had another shelter dog at home, a very good boy called Kodi, and we weren't looking to add another.

But, as the weeks went by (and Joaquin remained unadopted), I fell more and more in love. I'd get to my dog-walking shift early, so I could make sure I would be the one to walk him. He seemed to know me, and would look up at me from time to time as we walked. He followed me around during playgroup in the yard, ignoring the other dogs and pleading with me to pick him up.

And then Thanksgiving weekend arrived. I got to the shelter early, as usual, just so I could be sure to have my time with Joaquin. But this time, his kennel was empty. He was gone! I looked to the board where all the dogs were listed and saw that he was being fostered for the holiday weekend. I despaired. Anyone fostering this beautiful little boy with the big personality would surely keep him.

I'd lost him. 



I checked the board again and saw that the foster was a staff member at the shelter. I went right home and emailed her, saying I'd be happy to foster Joaquin if she had too much on her hands. She came back quickly with an email thanking me for taking him; she'd even deliver him to my house.

Joaquin has been a part of our family, our pack, ever since that day. His big brother, Kodi, got used to him in stages, but he too gradually fell in love with what he initially saw as a little interloper in his kingdom.

Now, we don't know what we'd do without Joaquin (or Kodi!). Rescue is truly the best breed. 

Sunday, November 20, 2022

TOXIC: Do We Really Know Who We're Speaking to Online?

 

#1 New York Times bestselling crime and thriller author Gregg Olsen says that TOXIC is...

 "...a smart, nuanced novel of dark and compelling relationships with sparks of wicked humor - an unmitigated triumph by a master of twisted suspense..." 


ABOUT THE BOOK

Connor Ryman thought he had it all—a successful career as a mystery novelist, a condo with stunning views of Seattle’s Lake Union, a supportive and long-term partner, Steve, and a loving daughter, Miranda, who was following in her father’s creative footsteps.

It all went bad when Steve left the family suddenly. Jilted and heartbroken, Connor begins to search for love online. So long off the market, he enlists his daughter’s help in crafting a dating profile.

His prayers are answered when Trey Goodall, smart and handsome, answers his ad. He’s witty, urbane, a wealthy attorney, and his sex appeal is off the charts. But he’s a liar, a monster under a pretty mask. Miranda sees through the red flags and senses something very wrong beneath the façade.

Can she convince her father to save himself before it’s too late? Or will Trey, a master manipulator with a very tainted history, play upon Connor’s innocence to ensnare him in a web of deceit, intrigue, and, ultimately, murder?

Excerpt

Toxic
Rick R. Reed © 2022
All Rights Reserved

“I know who you are and I saw what you did.”

The voice on the phone was tinged with acid, yet came out a little shaky and short of breath.

Despite the fear and acrimony in the voice, Trey Goodall hoped that the caller, a man named Jimmy Dale, was making a feeble joke, a lame reference to an old black-and-white thriller from the ’60s. Trey wasn’t ready for his game to be over.

“That’s funny, Jim. Did you watch that movie when you were a kid too? Back in the days of black-and-white TVs and Chiller Theater?”

“I’m not trying to be funny, Trey.” Jimmy halted, obviously frustrated. A slow grin creased Trey’s features. Jimmy sucked in air, obviously holding a sob in check.

There’s something delicious about when they cry.

Despite the delight in Jimmy’s pain, Trey feared it might come to this. This one, he knew, was too smart to stay in the dark for long. Sooner or later, Trey always got found out. He had a trail of broken hearts—and shattered bank accounts—behind him to prove it. Still, later was better because he could usually walk away with a little something in his pocket.

“Then what are you trying to be, dollface?”

“Oh, please save the terms of endearment—”

Trey interrupted. “Another movie reference! Bravo. When do I get a chance to play?”

His question, predictably, was answered with silence on the other end. Trey pressed the phone closer to his ear, listening for further telltale signs of tears, of trauma, of despair. Not that his aim was to instigate any of those emotions, but Trey was like a dog—any attention was good.

Finally, Jimmy spoke. “I don’t want to see or hear from you ever again.”

“Aw, you’re breaking my heart here.” Trey threw open the door to his motel room on Aurora Avenue. Outside, in the waning purple-gray light of dusk, a couple fought, seemingly to the death, in the litter-strewn parking lot. The woman had bleached blonde hair, a handful of which her companion had clutched in one hand. She wore an old flannel shirt, the sleeves cut off. It had come open and her dirty bra showed. The guy was a brute, big and hairy, and obviously had never learned how to treat a lady.

A kid of about eighteen, at most, sat on the curb in front of a parked rusted-out SUV. He was wearing a hoodie, ripped jeans, and a pair of work boots. His head was shaved and this, combined with his whitish pallor and skin-and-bones physique, made him look like a concentration camp survivor. A rheumy, bloodshot gaze moved dully over to Trey. The kid made a lame attempt to hide the meth pipe in his hand.

Trey slammed the door. He deserved better than this sordid dump. He should have been living in a luxury condo downtown overlooking Puget Sound, or maybe a house on Bainbridge Island with expansive mountain and water views.

Instead, here he was on Seattle’s Aurora Avenue, in one of a cluster of rundown motels where the clientele consisted of addicts, prostitutes, and those seeking to party with a capital T in one of the rooms.

He didn’t deserve enduring the chance of bedbugs or crabs. He didn’t like living amid cigarette-burned carpets and mold and hair decorating the bathroom fixtures.

“Stop.” Jimmy sucked in some more air. The guy’s gonna need an asthma inhaler soon. But Trey supposed he was trying to gain a measure of control. Jimmy was wounded, and of course he wanted to hide it, but he couldn’t. “Your heart can’t be breaking because you haven’t got one to break.”

“Ouch.” Trey chuckled, as though to demonstrate the insult was simply water off a duck’s back.

But it wasn’t.

Trey would never let on, but the reference cut like a knife to his very real heart, which was a broken thing.

In his mind, a vision arose. Trey chased it away as quickly as it appeared—but there it was: a vision of his mom, back in Trey’s old hometown of Wellsville, Ohio, burning him with her cigarette and laughing as Trey tried to be brave, tried desperately not to scream or wince because he knew if he showed his pain, his fear, it would only make things worse. Now it was his turn to try to buck up, be brave. “Things not working out the way you expected?”

There was no mirth in Jimmy’s laugh. Trey wanted to ask which was better—bitter laughter or abject tears. But he kept quiet and waited. He’d been through this before. Caught. Discarded.

There was always another sucker in the wings.

“What I expected…” Jimmy trailed off and started again. “What I expected was maybe a relationship. I’m forty-seven years old, Trey. I’ve spent my whole life pushing love away so I could build my career. Now I have a thriving law practice and make more money than I really know what to do with. But you know all that. You knew all that, I figure, before we even met, when you were researching me. I know you don’t have it in you to feel compassion or empathy, but all the money and success in the world doesn’t change the fact that I come home every night to a professionally decorated condominium in the clouds. Alone. Wishing I’d spent more time seeking love instead of that almighty dollar.” He drew in a breath that sounded like a shudder. “Ah, what do you care? You wanted my money. You’re not alone, but you were greedier and sneakier than most.”

Jimmy stopped and Trey listened again for some sign. Would it be worth it to try to save things? Maybe woo Jimmy with the old lines—this was all a misunderstanding. I really love you, man. I started off with bad intentions, but then you caught me. Can we start over? Sometimes crap like that worked. Trey was smart enough, and experienced enough, to know it wouldn’t here.

It’s too late, baby.

“Was any of it true?” Jimmy wondered.

Trey was getting bored. He had no use for this man with whom he’d shared so many recent days and nights. He was worthless now that he’d exposed Trey for who he really was. What Jimmy didn’t know, and didn’t need to know, was that what he’d discovered about Trey was only the tip of the iceberg.

It’s time to move on.

Trey glanced in the mirror over the bathroom sink and nodded approvingly. He still had it. Pushing fifty, but looking at least a decade younger, he was gorgeous. Black wavy hair, ice-blue eyes, full lips, a body taut and packed with muscle. He could always dazzle, and all the magic hadn’t escaped.

There’d be someone else.

And with that someone else, he might hit that elusive jackpot.

The laptop was already open on the desk. And there were eleven new messages.

For once, Trey might as well tell the truth. “No, kid. None of it was true. You’re pathetic. Weak. I feel sorry for you, more than anything else.” He said the words casually, as though they were discussing the weather or how the Seahawks were faring this season. “You’re a fool. A fool for love.” Trey chuckled.

And that broke Jimmy. He began to sob harder now, the grief confirmed and kicking its way to the surface.

Trey listened as the sobbing grew in volume and agony. This is a drag, a bore. He stared longingly at the door, wishing this would be over. How long did he have to listen anyway? Just to be polite? He cut to the quick. “You’ve been played,” Trey said softly. “Get over it.”

He hung up. The computer’s glow reminded him that it was time to find someone else. The right one. A chime alerted him he had yet another message.

But there would be time to attend to that in the morning. Time also for reading. He glanced down at his nightstand. A mystery novel, Cookie Cutter by Alfred Knox, lay there in its mass market paperback edition. It had a stark white cover with only an illustration of a heart-shaped cookie cutter which dripped blood into the crimson title. Below it, a stack of old magazines with articles about Knox, who lived only a few miles south.

Right now, though, Trey needed a little oblivion. He crossed the room and opened the door. The kid with the meth pipe still sat out there on the curb. He didn’t even bother to hide his glass pipe now.

Trey cast his most winning smile. “Wanna come inside?” He opened the door wider, stepping back and confidently waiting as the kid stood.

BUY

NineStar Press | Books2Read | Amazon

  

Monday, November 7, 2022

How a Fever Dream Inspired SKY FULL OF MYSTERIES

Sky Full of Mysteries is one of my more unusual novels, inspired by a fever dream, it plays with science-fiction elements to explore the lure of new love versus long-term established love and commitment.


ABOUT THE BOOK

What if your first love was abducted and presumed dead—but returned twenty years later?

That’s the dilemma Cole Weston faces. Now happily married to Tommy D’Amico, he’s suddenly thrown into a surreal world when his first love, Rory Schneidmiller, unexpectedly reappears.

Where has Rory been all this time? What happened to him two decades ago, when a strange mass appeared in the night sky and lifted him into the heavens? Rory has no memory of those years. For him, it’s as though only a day or two has passed.

Rory still loves Cole with the passion unique to young first love. Cole has never forgotten Rory, yet Tommy has been his rock, by his side since Rory disappeared.

Cole is forced to choose between an idealized and passionate first love and the comfort of a long-term marriage. How can he decide? Who faces this kind of quandary, anyway? The answers might lie among the stars….

BUY
NineStar Press
Amazon Kindle
Audiobook
Paperback also available

EXCERPT

Cole listened to the close of Tommy’s office door, the start of the new-age music he listened to as he wrote. Today it was Yiruma. Cole waited a moment, in case Tommy should open the door, and then headed down the hall to the master bedroom. He knew Tommy would not emerge until dinnertime, or even later, if he really got involved.

He sat down on the king-size bed, running his hand over the orange and gray quilt. Part of him simply wanted to collapse backward on it, close his eyes, and sleep for hours. The hum of the window air conditioner was soothing, and he knew he could be under within minutes if he allowed himself.

But no, it was the anniversary. He would do what he always did on this day. He pushed himself up and off the comfortable memory-foam mattress and walked to his closet. One of the advantages of the condo, which was built in the 1920s, was its massive size, a total of nearly 2500 square feet. Their bedroom was enormous and included two walk-in closets, one here and one they’d added off the en suite master bath.

Cole’s was in the bedroom, and even though he knew Tommy wouldn’t hear it, he opened his own closet double doors quietly, wincing at the familiar squeak of the hinges. Cole felt a rush of heat rise to his face, despite the frosty air-conditioned chill all around him. Guilt induced that heat, Cole knew. Like an addict, he’d told himself dozens of times he should put away his obsession with Rory. It wasn’t healthy, not for him, and certainly not for his marriage. Secrets never were. Tommy was understanding, sure, but Cole knew he didn’t realize the depth of Cole’s feelings for Rory, not after all these years. Tommy didn’t realize how much he still yearned for Rory, especially around this time of year.

Cole squatted down on the floor, pushing aside his rather sizable collection of running shoes, Cons, and sandals—no wingtips for this boy—and from the far back recesses of the closet, hidden by shadows and garment bags, pulled forth the old black Reebok shoebox. The box held his and Rory’s entire history. Sad thing was, there wasn’t even enough to fill it halfway.

As he opened the box, Cole wondered why he even bothered. In more logical moments, he told himself that the Rory he still loved didn’t even exist anymore, no matter what had happened. If he was alive, he would have aged, just like Cole, by twenty years. So much could happen, physically, emotionally, spiritually, to a person in two decades. Most people weren’t even close to the selves they were twenty years ago.

Still, he dug into the box. There were only a half dozen or so items inside, and Cole knew each and every one of them by heart. He could just as easily have sat in the kitchen and brought each item out in his mind, examined it, and put it back.

But there was something about touching the mementos. There was an electric connection to each item. He likened it to movies he’d seen about psychics—and how they could get a certain energy from a person off an object they’d touched.

First, there was his old ID for the Bally gym at Century City mall. Cole fingered it and laughed, remembering a time when he did have the energy for going to the gym on a regular basis. Thank God he did, because it was where he’d met Rory. At first sight, he knew that all he’d wanted to do was kiss the guy. He believed, and still did, in a way, that to kiss this kind of nerdy, uncoordinated, bespectacled young man would be a revelation and a kind of salvation for him. He’d be home. His wish had come true later that same day. And Cole had not been disappointed.

What they shared had been far too brief, but it had been real.

Next, there was a cereal box top Cole had hung on to through all these years, simply because it was Rory’s favorite breakfast food. It was kind of endearing that Rory loved Froot Loops so much. Cole used to kid him about how childish it was, that he should eat something more grown-up, sensible, something with a little fiber, for Christ’s sake. “Real men don’t eat Froot Loops,” he’d tease, playfully whacking the back of Rory’s head as he sat on their thrift-store couch, hunched over a mixing bowl full of the stuff, just going to town. “You want me to put some cartoons on?” Cole remembered asking, and Rory had nodded, grinning through a mouthful of milk and unnaturally colored, fruit-flavored confetti.

As the weeks and then months passed with no sign of Rory, he’d hung on to the cereal in the pantry. It wasn’t until he moved in with his sister, Elaine, and she was helping him pack up for his move, that he rescued the box of cereal from the trash, where she’d thrown it.

“Oh no, not this.” He’d snatched it out of the wastebasket.

“You and your sweet tooth,” she said, taking the box from him. She opened it and dug around inside, grinning at him. When she put some in her mouth, though, she spit it into the sink. “That stuff is stale, Cole. Tastes like sugary cardboard.” She replaced the box in the trash.

He waited until she was in the bathroom to rip off the top of the box as a souvenir. Even then it was stupid. But somehow the cereal was a concrete reminder of Rory, who could sometimes be a little kid in a very smart man’s body.

There was a poem Rory had written him, late one night after the third time they’d made love. It was scrawled on a yellow Post-it. Bad rhymes and nearly short enough to be a haiku, it was still the only poem a man had ever written to Cole, about Cole. Even Tommy hadn’t, and he made his living as a writer. Cole got a lump in his throat as his fingertips danced over the six lines and the words “You’re all my heart.”

He missed his sister too, although not nearly as much as Rory. She’d passed away the year before, much too soon, a victim of breast cancer. He knew he should get out to Arlington Heights more often and see his nephew, Bobby, who was in high school now.

He returned his attention to the contents of the box. Here was the photo of Rory unpacking in their new apartment. He wasn’t looking at the camera, his glasses had slipped down his nose, and his reddish-brown mop was a mess, sticking up in several different directions. Cole recalled Rory didn’t even know when Cole snapped the picture. He was too absorbed in what he was unpacking—his computer game software, his most treasured possession. Back then Cole thought the photo would be funny, something to rib Rory about once he’d had it developed at Walgreens.

But now, with the sunlight hitting Rory’s head just so, the youthful exuberance on his face, even the bend of that lithe young body, the photo had become sacred to Cole, a reminder of their beginning a new life together.

How short that life had been! If he had known it would all be snatched away just a few weeks later, would he have behaved any differently? That was the thing about life, though; we were never given the courtesy of a warning when something bad was about to strike. We could only mumble bitter what-ifs, which tasted like ash in our mouths.

Cole set the photo back in the box, eyes welling with tears. Why do I do this to myself? Once upon a time, it seemed there was a point to it, but no more. He was a middle-aged married man mourning a too-brief love from when he was in his prime. Pathetic.

He didn’t look at the rest—a takeout menu, a note Rory had left on the nightstand shortly before he disappeared, letting Cole know he’d gone to the gym—he simply put the lid back on the shoebox and then sat for a moment, cross-legged on the floor, staring at it.

As he did every year, he thought I really should get rid of that box. Burn it, maybe. And just like every year, he shoved it to the back of the closet, hiding it behind and under shoes.

It was his history. No one could take that away.

“Hon?” Tommy called from the hallway. “What are you thinking for dinner?”