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.
Will be available in both ebook and paperback with audiobook to follow!
Rick R. Reed © 2022
All Rights Reserved
I opened my eyes to a world of blue and green. An eel, long with zebra stripes, swam by, undulating. A school of goldfish with Margaret Keane eyes and puckered lips circled, putting me in the eye of a surreal hurricane. A flick of their tails and they swam off as one.
The bubbles floated up, pouring from my mouth and nostrils.
My lungs weren’t tight. There was no desperate need to breathe, no panic. Mentally, I went back and forth—remain underwater, watching the play of light and shadow and the undulating flora in its rainbow of neon colors, or kick and rise to the surface.
But what was above, beyond the water, was a mystery.
The threat of certain death caused me to ascend toward the light shimmering on the water’s surface.
I broke through, sucking sweet, cold air into my lungs. I smiled, treading water.
I was not afraid.
For the first time in so long—I. Was. Not. Afraid.
I swirled in the gentle waves, which were as warm as a comforting bath, despite the chill in the air. White birds, gulls perhaps, pinwheeled above me in a leaden sky, the color of pewter. All across the water’s surface, strands of mist lay. The mist extended toward a rocky shoreline, dotted here and there with driftwood.
Cliffs rose up, chalky white at the edge of the beach. At the top, stands of pine towered over the sea, sentinels. Tree-covered hills, in shades of deep emerald, reached to touch the leaden sky. The top ones were shrouded in mist.
Where was I?
I stretched out in the water, part of me unwilling to leave, but following an instinct for self-preservation, I swam slowly to the shore. It felt like I was far from it, maybe even by as much as a mile, yet I covered the distance in mere minutes.
I pulled myself onto the beach, breathing harder but not gasping, and lay among the pebbles. Oddly, it was as comfortable as my grandma’s feather bed once was.
I remained there for a while, staring up at the sky, where the charcoal clouds were beginning to be burned away by the sun. As the gray vanished, it was replaced with patches of blue.
I could lie here all day, resting.
And then I tensed. A memory floated into consciousness, making me recall a horrible night. When was it? Paradoxically, the memory could have been years or only minutes ago.
My name is Winslow Birkel, and this is one of the things memory is forcing me to confront:
I sank into the driver’s seat of my beat-up Nissan Versa. At the little riverfront park, I marked the slow progress of a river barge cutting through the dark water. Its lights, reflected on the water’s shifting black surface, were the picture of loneliness.
I could identify with loneliness. Separation. Isolation. These days, they were my only companions.
I also could identify with fanciful notions and, in my mind’s eye, realized how the reflections of the barge’s lights on the dark water, golden, appeared to be traveling upward. If I looked at them just the right way, I could visualize them as shimmering fountains contrasted against a black background. How I longed to enter a world of golden fountains casting off the darkness.
Even though now, on this beach, I felt totally free of pain as though someone had dosed me with morphine, the memory of pain in my ribs was there. I imagined the intensity of the hurt when I dared to draw in a deep breath.
Like a doctor in a film, I visualized the bruise on my lower back above where my kidneys were. I could still feel the dull, unrelenting throb. The red marks in the shape of fists darkened to purple, a malevolent blooming.
Yet even with the bursts of nauseating pain, what hurt the most wasn’t physical.
I knew I’d fled the house I’d once occupied—I’d never call it a home because home meant warmth, security, stability, and most of all, safety.
I’d dashed out, looking over my shoulder at a menacing figure standing in the open front doorway of our house, fists clenched. Chad Loveless, my partner—I’d never call him my beloved, or lover, or even friend, not ever again—glared.
What had it been this time? Oh yeah, I’d broken his favorite coffee mug, the one with a German shepherd cartoon figure on a black background, as I was washing dishes. The mug had been slippery in my sudsy hands, and it had dropped. I’d gasped as it shattered on the linoleum kitchen floor, the dread and terror way out of proportion, rising immediately.
And so did Chad. He hurried into the kitchen from his recliner in the front room and forced me to the floor by the back of my neck.
The most menacing thing about this man I’d thrown my lot in with (love no longer entered the equation) was—and this would be surprising to an outsider—his smile. The smile never wavered, not when Chad was berating me for some real or imagined fault, nor when a fist connected with a soft spot on my body—rarely my face—it was our little secret, hidden by the baggy jeans and sweatshirts I favored.
He’d smile and smile and smile, as though what he was delivering was not pain and casual cruelty, but joy.
Joy had not had a place in our house for such a long time. Back then I didn’t think I’d know if I’d recognize the emotion if it turned up at the front door wearing a ribbon.
Enough. Whether the memory was recent or long ago, I had a strange reassurance that it wouldn’t come back. It wasn’t a threat.
Was Chad Loveless someone I’d made up? Or was this monster real? A part of my history? I couldn’t be sure. I couldn’t be sure of a lot of things.
I got to my feet. Energy coursed into my limbs as I began to make my way up the shoreline to a path leading through the cliffs, up to where the pine trees towered.
Someone had been watching me from above. A dark figure, a man, stoop-shouldered, lingered at the cliff’s edge. I didn’t fear he was about to jump.
I felt as though he were about to welcome me.
But to what? To where?
I waved. He waved back as I continued my ascent up the side of the cliff.
When I got to the top, a bit out of breath, he waited. What was behind him? It was hard to say because everything was shrouded in fog, so only dim geometric shapes appeared, along with silhouettes of pines.
I eyed him. His face was wizened, the crags and clefts as sharp as those of the stone cliffs I’d just ascended. Yet, there was a clarity and intensity to his pale-blue eyes that was arresting and mesmerizing.
“Good morning.” The greeting tumbled from my lips, a little tentative, barely above a whisper. I paused to glance over my shoulder at the vast expanse of ocean behind me. More clouds had departed, and the sun peeked through what remained, dazzling, casting diamonds on the water.
When I turned back, the old man was also gazing out to sea. There was something wistful in his stare. I wondered if he’d been a sailor or a fisherman—someone with close ties to the water, anyway. He wore a navy cardigan and baggy khakis, a pair of battered hiking boots. His hair and beard were thick and silver. He reminded me of Ernest Hemingway. Here I was, with the old man…and the sea. I chuckled.
I closed my eyes for a moment, thinking. Should I simply tell him the truth? There was no reason not to, crazy as it might make me sound.
“No, nothing really funny. It’s just that, um—” I rubbed my toe in the pebbly earth at my feet. “It’s just that, well, I don’t know where I am.”
This certainly wasn’t New Hope, the little town in the foothills of the Appalachians where I’d grown up. The closest body of water to us back there was the brown Ohio River that snaked through the town. I didn’t even know which ocean this was.
And I certainly had no idea how I’d gotten here.
The man smiled and I saw kindness and a hint of youth in his features, maybe a dash of mischief in his eyes. “Why, you’re in Seaspray, son.”
“What ocean is this, then?” I was afraid I sounded like a lunatic. “Where is Seaspray?”
He reached out and laid a hand on my shoulder. The touch felt warm, as though he were transferring a golden light into me. “Where’s Seaspray? It’s here. Just here.” He pulled away and turned.
He walked off, vanishing into the fog.
I pinched myself to determine if I were dreaming.