Friday, June 7, 2019

In honor of Pride month, My AIDS Buddy Novel, CAREGIVER is On Sale for 99 Cents!



For Pride month, my award-winning novel (EPIC Award for Best Romance, 2013) is on sale at Dreamspinner Press for only 99 cents! My AIDS 'buddy' from Tampa in the early 1990s, Jim, inspired the book.

Here's the true story of our relationship. I hope you'll give the novel it inspired a chance. Get your copy here.

BASED ON A TRUE STORY
Picture it: Tampa Bay, Florida, 1991. A young man flees a troubled life in Chicago to begin anew on the Gulf Coast of Florida. White sand beaches and azure waters beckon. Shortly after landing in Tampa Bay, the young man, in a gesture of solidarity with his gay brethren who are dying by the thousands, volunteers to become an AIDS buddy, focusing his attention on one victim of the virus...
Actually, if you've read the blurb of my award-winning novel, CAREGIVER, you might think that the above is an alternate synopsis I wrote for the book. But the truth is it's about me. Like my main character in CAREGIVER, Dan, I too fled Chicago for a new life in Tampa, FL and I too joined a program that supplied AIDS buddies to those suffering from the virus. In 1991, the afflicted had a very bleak outlook. But sometimes, we meet a person who can overcome that bleakness with biting wit, humor, grace, and style. My buddy was just such a man--he left a mark on me that has stayed with me until this very day and will always be one of the most special people I have ever met. It took me more than twenty years to write about Jim, my AIDS buddy from 1991(who becomes "Adam" in the novel), my funny valentine who ended up dying in the Florida State Prison--but I think the results are ultimately worth it.

BLURB
It’s 1991, and Dan Calzolaio has just moved to Florida with his lover, Mark, having fled Chicago and Mark’s addictions to begin a new life on the Gulf Coast. Volunteering for the Tampa AIDS Alliance is just one part of that new beginning, and that’s how Dan meets his new buddy, Adam.

Adam Schmidt is not at all what Dan expected. The guy is an original—witty, wry, and sarcastic with a fondness for a smart black dress, Barbra Streisand, and a good mai tai. Adam doesn’t let his imminent death get him down, even through a downward spiral that sees him thrown in jail.


Each step of Adam’s journey teaches Dan new lessons about strength and resilience, but it’s Adam’s lover, Sullivan, to whom Dan feels an almost irresistible pull. Dan knows the attraction isn’t right, even after he dumps his cheating, drug-abusing boyfriend. But then Adam passes away, and it leaves Sullivan and Dan both alone to see if they can turn their love for Adam into something whole and real for each other.

BUY
Amazon
Dreamspinner Press


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

TORTILLA PIE, a Tasty Little Short, Is Now Available


I'm happy to announce that my short story, Tortilla Pie is now available on Amazon (1.99 or free if you have Kindle Unlimited) as an ebook.

The story was inspired by my volunteer work at Seattle's YouthCare organization, where I used to prepare and serve meals for homeless youth. I love that a romance could arise out of such a situation and the story reflects that.

Hope you'll pick up a copy!

BUY
Amazon (FREE with Kindle Unlimited, otherwise only $1.99)

BLURB
When Anderson, homeless on the streets of Seattle, first spies Josh, a volunteer at TeenCare, he immediately falls for him, even though TeenCare forbids client/volunteer interaction. Anderson thinks: "And speaking of noticed, I think I was, just a few minutes ago. One of the volunteers was coming by and we locked eyes. You know, the way two guys do. Two gay guys, anyway, who like what they see. It's not like a casual glance—those only last for a second or maybe two at the most—but when two gay dudes notice each other, man, that eye-to-eye lingers. You know what I'm sayin'?

"And that boy? He was fine. Or to roll back to one of my mama's expressions from back in her day—he was fly."

In spite of the youth center's policy of volunteers and clients interacting beyond the most superficial ways, will love discover a way around the policy, so Josh and Anderson can be together?

EXCERPT
By the time I arrived at TeenCare at the corner of Melrose and Denny, the purple-painted building looked welcoming in the cheerful sunshine. A few kids milled around outside, waiting for the doors to open in a couple of hours for lunch. One of them smiled at me, and I grinned back at him, a little shy.

Even though I was twenty-five, I didn’t look it. My build was slight and I had a baby face I thought I’d never shed. How I presented myself to the world also helped me blend in with the population we served. I had brightly colored floral tattoo sleeves running down both of my skinny arms. My hair (reddish brown) was buzzed pretty close to my skull. I had three piercings in my left ear, one in my nose, and favored ironic T-shirts (Speed Racer, anyone?), skinny jeans, and black Chucks. In other words, a typical Seattle hipster look. Whenever my mom, from conservative Bellevue on the east side, got together with me, she would lament my fashion sense and ask if I ever planned on growing up.

But I digress. I said this kid, young man, really, grinned at me when I walked up to the door, and even spoke. He was cute; I had to admit it. I would also have to admit even this tiny bit of attention from him set my strings to thrumming. But no, my attraction was not a pervy thing. He looked easily at the late-teen, early twenty upper limits of the kids we served. But still, one of the rules we lived by as volunteers was not to be too friendly with clients. Of course we could smile and chat a bit as we served them in line, but anything beyond that was expressly forbidden by the volunteer code of ethics.

I guess they didn’t want to attract the “wrong” kind of volunteers for the shelter. After all creeps preyed on these kids the moment they alighted from a bus from places with names like Yakima or Kittitas or Chelan. TeenCare was supposed to be a safe place, a refuge.

But still, this guy ticked off some boxes. His smile, his confident—and baritone—“hey” made me feel singled out, special. For a love-starved guy like me, it didn’t take much these days. What could I say?
The fact he was just my type was even more of a recipe not for tortilla pie, but for disaster. He was very dark-skinned, with the most amazing pale brown eyes, flecked with yellow, I’d ever seen. His hair, like mine, was buzzed close to his skull. And that smile? Who could resist such a wide grin? Such perfect teeth with just a hint of an overbite? That smile truly, if you’ll pardon the cliché, lit up his face with its joy and the fact that he seemed to want to pass that joy along to everyone he met.
I sighed and forced my eyes away from him.

Down, boy. You’re here to serve up, not hook up.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

RELEASE DAY! TORN Is Officially Out!


My new book is based on my first-ever trip to England with my best friend, hence the main character name, Ricky Comparetto (my given name plus my mother's maiden name). The "torn between two lovers" aspect really happened, as did many of the other events in the book, but I'll keep quiet on what was real and what was fictionalized. TORN is, after all, a novel, not a memoir.

BLURB
Ever been torn between two lovers? That's Ricky Comparetto's problem.

It's 1995, and Ricky is making his very first trip across the pond with his best friend. Ricky, hungry for love and looking for it in all the wrong places, finds it in the beach city of Brighton. His new love has the curious name of Walt Whitman and is also an American, which only serves to make him sexier and more intriguing. By the time Walt and Ricky part, promises are made for a reunion in Boston.

But the course of true love never runs smooth. In Chicago Ricky almost immediately falls in love again. Tom Green is a sexy blue-collar beast with the kindest heart Ricky has ever run across.

What's he to do? With a visit to the East Coast on the horizon and a new love blossoming in Ricky's home of Chicago, Ricky truly is torn.

BUY 
Amazon ebook 
Amazon paperback 
Dreamspinner Press ebook
Dreamspinner Press paperback

EXCERPT
I’m going to tell you how this story ends, but not with whom. That’s a fair promise to make, isn’t it?

So…. Yes, you’ll get your happy-ever-after ending—if there truly is such a thing—you just won’t be privy to all the details. Unless you read on….

Almost twenty-five years ago, I was thirty-five years old and privileged to cross the pond to merry old England for the very first time. I was finally able to say I’d traveled internationally by the grace of my best friend, a writer of boys’ adventure stories with the improbable name of Lord Boutros BinBin (no, he was not an actual Lord; he told me once he simply had parents who were “quirky” and “creative,” also known as “free spirits”). He wrote under the much plainer moniker Beryl Kensit.

At that time, and during that trip, I was also blessed to fall head over heels in love with a gorgeous, kind, and sensitive man I met at twilight on the streets of the beachside city of Brighton . He ticked every box on my imagined list for the perfect lover—exotically handsome, spiritual, artistic, amazing in bed, and… I could actually hold a conversation with him. Our silences were okay too, comfortable. We launched into a passionate affair and promised that we’d meet again.

But the course of true love, as they say, never did run smooth. Ain’t it the truth?


I returned home from those two weeks with a satchel full of memories, a sexually transmitted infection, and the knowledge that I’d found true love.

But then, only a week or two after settling back into my little apartment in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago , I found myself falling head over heels in love again—this time with a salt-of-the-earth, charming, and sweet man from the South Side. He was nothing like I ever imagined I would be compatible with—our tastes, educational background, intelligence, and cultural awareness made us like creatures from two different planets—yet somehow the magic, the spark, was there.

How would I reconcile the two? Whom would I choose? Could things ever end satisfactorily when, as in Mary MacGregor’s song, you’re “Torn Between Two Lovers”?

Read on, my friend, read on… and discover how the head won out over the heart.


Or was it the other way around?

BUY 
Amazon ebook 
Amazon paperback 
Dreamspinner Press ebook
Dreamspinner Press paperback

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

PENANCE is Back in Print!


Untreed Reads has just re-released a new paperback edition of my second novel about Chicago streetkids and the monster who preys on them.

This will be the first time PENANCE has been back in print in decades. For comparison, here's the original Dell paperback cover from 1991. 



BLURB 
Bound by misery. Marked by sin. Set free by death.

Barely into their teens, without homes, they dwell in neon shadows, the violent eddies of urban America. They trade their innocence for money, abuse their hopes, and then a monster comes...

A monster without fangs or claws, but more deadly. Because of them, he has lost everything: his wife, his family. And he vows to clean the streets of Chicago...for good.

One of the street kids and a man of the cloth form a desperate pact. Together, they will find the madman whose basement has become a chamber of horrors...

PENANCE was part of Dell Abyss' remarkable horror line, lauded by none other than Stephen King.
BUY


Friday, May 10, 2019

#FlashbackFriday: LOST & FOUND A Love Story: Doggy Style


Today, I'm thinking about Lost and Found and how it was inspired by my love for dogs...and for a good love story with a happy ending. Hope you'll let Barley the beagle and his human caretakers, Mac and Flynn, into your hearts today.


BLURB
On a bright autumn day, Flynn Marlowe lost his best friend, a beagle named Barley, while out on a hike in Seattle’s Discovery Park.

On a cold winter day, Mac Bowersox found his best friend, a lost, scared, and emaciated beagle, on the streets of Seattle.

Two men. One dog. When Flynn and Mac meet by chance in a park the next summer, there’s a problem—who does Barley really belong to? Flynn wants him back, but he can see that Mac rescued him and loves him just as much as he does. Mac wants to keep the dog, and he can imagine how heartbreaking losing him would be—but that's just what Flynn experienced.

A “shared custody” compromise might be just the way to work things out. But will the arrangement be successful? Mac and Flynn are willing to try it—and along the way, they just might fall in love. 

BUY
Dreamspinner Press ebook
Dreamspinner Press Paperback
Amazon Kindle (Also available in paperback)
AllRomance ebooks

Monday, May 6, 2019

For the Month of May, PERILS OF INTIMACY Is Only $1.20!


My "love triumphs over addiction" novel, THE PERILS OF INTIMACY, is on sale at Dreamspinner Press for only $1.20 throughout the month of May. Read the book that OnTopDownUnder reviews named their "Best Book of 2017." 


REVIEWS
“This story had me hooked from the moment I started reading…and that ending was the perfect touch…
Dog-Eared Daydreams 
***

“This story was truly everything I was hoping it would be. I was already a fan of Rick R. Reed’s books, but this one might just be my favourite so far.”
Love Bytes Reviews
***

“This book is about love, hope, second chances, and the reality of many gay men. It lets the reader into a very real world, with detailed descriptions of drug usage and recovery–of pain, wishes, mistakes, and transformations.  It might not be everyone’s perfect love story, but it is perfect for Marc and Jimmy. It’s their journey for us to learn and for them to tell.”
Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Reviews
***

“I highly recommend this one to those who love a gritty, emotional M/M romance. And if you like the works of Stephen King, you will likely appreciate that extra little touch this author, who I happen to know admires Mr. King, offers at the end of this story.”
Hearts on Fire Reviews
***

BLURB
Jimmy and Mark make an adorable couple. Jimmy’s kindness and clean-cut cuteness radiate out of him like light. Mark, although a bit older, complements Jimmy with his humor and his openness to love.

But between them, a dark secret lurks, one with the power to destroy.

See, when Mark believes he’s meeting Jimmy for the first time in the diner where he works, he’s wrong.

Mark has no recollection of their original encounter because the wholesome Jimmy of today couldn’t be more different than he was two years ago. Back then, Jimmy sported multiple piercings, long bleached dreadlocks, and facial hair. He was painfully skinny—and a meth addict. The drug transformed him into a different person—a lying, conniving thief who robbed Mark blind during their one-night stand.

Mark doesn’t associate the memory of a hookup gone horribly wrong with this fresh-faced, smiling twentysomething… but Jimmy knows. As they begin a dance of love and attraction, will Jimmy be brave enough to reveal the truth? And if he does, will Mark be able to forgive him? Can he see Jimmy for the man he is now and not the addict he was? The answers will depend on whether true love holds enough light to shine through the darkness of past mistakes.

BUY
Dreamspinner Press ebook
Dreamspinner Press paperback (if you buy the paperback, you get the ebook for FREE)
Amazon paperback
Amazon Kindle


Monday, April 29, 2019

New and Notable: A GRACIOUS HERESY: THE QUEER CALLING OF AN UNLIKELY PROPHET

This book is for anyone who wants to live an honest, authentic, and loving life, despite the risks they might encounter by doing so.

Connie Tuttle's spiritual journey is a must-read for anyone who has ever had to hide or even felt the need to hide who they are from the world. She demonstrates by example how difficult yet liberating living one's own spiritual and life truth can be.

This book is for all of us.

BLURB
Take one wildly naive, deeply flawed, completely unconventional woman and stir in God. Add to the mix that she is a lesbian, feminist, army brat, and single mom, and what you get is an earnestly radical Christian on a mission. Her response to an insistent call to prophetic ministry is acutely human and terminally messy. Prone to veer off course, she wrestles angels who repeatedly return her to her trajectory. The prophetic ministry to which she is called ends up taking place in hundreds of small daily acts rather than the great act that she had hoped for.

BUY
Amazon Kindle
Amazon Paperback




Thursday, April 18, 2019

PENANCE has a new cover!


Here's the cover for the brand-new reissue of the paperback edition (from Untreed Reads) of my novel about Chicago streetkids and the monster who preys on them.

This will be the first time PENANCE has been back in print in decades. For comparison, I'm also showing the original Dell paperback cover from 1991. 


BLURB 
Bound by misery. Marked by sin. Set free by death.

Barely into their teens, without homes, they dwell in neon shadows, the violent eddies of urban America. They trade their innocence for money, abuse their hopes, and then a monster comes...

A monster without fangs or claws, but more deadly. Because of them, he has lost everything: his wife, his family. And he vows to clean the streets of Chicago...for good.

One of the street kids and a man of the cloth form a desperate pact. Together, they will find the madman whose basement has become a chamber of horrors...

PENANCE was part of Dell Abyss' remarkable horror line, lauded by none other than Stephen King.

The new print edition will be available soon. In the meantime, you can buy the ebook here




Tuesday, March 19, 2019

BLUE UMBRELLA SKY Debuts Today!


Blue Umbrella Sky releases today! This is always a humbling, and kind-of "pinch-me" day for a guy who once despaired he'd never get anything published. And now, with Blue Umbrella Sky, I celebrate my 40th published book.

Gay Book Reviews says Blue Umbrella Sky is:
...a beautifully written story of loss, grief, addiction, failure, redemption and recovery...

BLURB
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?


BUY
Dreamspinner Press ebook
Dreamspinner Press paperback
Amazon paperback 

BLUE UMBRELLA SKY - CHAPTER ONE




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.
Surely.
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?”
“Stuff?”
“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.”
“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.